December 30, 2003
On Saturday I went on a one-day holiday with some of the teachers from the high school. We went to another Okinawan island, Ie-jima, which you can see on the horizon from high places on my island. It’s very different from my island, though, being flat with the exception of a small, very steep mountain in the middle, and with large cliffs that fall sharply into the frothing, white sea.
Ie-jima is a very beautiful place, with its caves, cliffs, and mountain, but as the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the end of World War II, it has a history that is tragic even by Okinawan standards. Many Okinawans strongly believe in ghosts, and one of the teachers was bothered by a weight like a hand on her left shoulder, which disappeared shortly before we left the island. While I don’t believe in ghosts, this story unnerved me because of its similarity to a story N-san told me on Christmas Day. About ten years ago, he took a photo of some friends of his at a place on mainland Okinawa. When he developed the photo, the left-most person in the photo had a solitary hand resting on their left shoulder. Since it was a right hand, it couldn’t have been the hand of any of the other people in the picture. N-san burnt the photo.
December 26, 2003
Last Saturday I had my first scuba-diving lesson. I’m learning with Emiko, a girl I know on the island. I was advised by an English diver I met on the mainland that I should learn with an English-speaking instructor, and while that seems sensible, I like and trust N-san (the diving instructor on this island), and Emiko speaks pretty good English, so I’ve decided to learn on the island with a Japanese-speaking instructor.
On Saturday, we went to N-san’s house for our first lesson. It was cold and grey, so we didn’t go in the sea. We stayed in his yard, and learnt to set up and check the equipment, and then take it apart again. Tuesday, though, was a bank holiday, and the weather turned beautiful, so we had our second lesson, and this time we went into the sea. We stayed in shallow water and learnt how to re-fill our mask with air if it gets knocked off, and to recover the regulator if it gets knocked out of your mouth. We also saw a ミノカサゴ, or scorpion fish – one of Okinawa’s more dangerous fish – asleep on a rock. Very poisonous, but also very beautiful, with long, sail-like fins, and a red-striped body. In the afternoon, the weather was still fine, so we went up one of the island’s small mountains, and then around the west edge, taking lots of photos. I’ve found out how to get higher shutter-speeds on my camera, and, consequently, I can now take better sunset photos…
December 25, 2003
Happy Christmas. I hope you’re happy and well and pleasantly full of mince pies and warm booze.
This Christmas is rather different from usual for me. Firstly, I’m at work. It’s the last day of term, so I’m writing this in the staffroom, while all the kids tidy up the school. Secondly, it’s the warmest Christmas I’ve ever known. Until a few days ago, the weather was getting pretty chilly – cold wind, drizzle. Familiar British weather, really – necessitating winter coat and woolly hats outside, and an electric heater inside. But on Monday, after two or three weeks of increasingly cold weather, it suddenly cleared up, and since then it’s just been beautifully sunny.
My reason for going on about the weather is not so much to rub in the fact that I’m on a small tropical island, but just that with this warm sunny weather and me in a t-shirt, I’m having trouble getting my head around the fact that it’s Christmas.
Considering how ‘bah, humbug’ I usually get around Christmas time, though, a small Japanese island is probably not a bad place for me: the extent of the Christmas celebrations here seems to be that people eat a cake, perhaps with a Father Christmas on top. No month-long build-up to a shopping frenzy to mark the birthday of someone who would really probably not have been that into shopping frenzies, and this year I’ve only heard Paul McCartney’s horrible ‘Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time’ once. So, Christmas on a small Japanese island: strange, but not too bad.
Still, a bit of mulled wine and a mince pie wouldn’t go amiss…
as of 12:00pm PST (3:00am GMT), air temperature was 24C. there were a few small clouds at approx. 3500ft. visibility was hazy (<7miles).
December 19, 2003
Last week we had a fire drill at school. It was on Monday afternoon, and although I don’t work Monday afternoons (I get the afternoon off because I teach a class in the evening), I was still at school, writing emails. So my reaction was “oh, great. A fire drill. Now I have to hang around doing nothing for a chunk of my afternoon off.” I put my hat on and trudged outside, hoping it would all be over quite quickly. All the pupils and teachers gathered outside on the football pitch, the pupils all lined up and a register was called. “Great.” I thought, “Now we can all go back inside.”
This was where the resemblance to a fire drill in a British school ended.
Suddenly, a couple of fire engines screeched onto the school grounds. Firemen jumped out, rapidly unwound a big hose, and – despite the notable absence of an actual fire – proceeded to turn their high-powered jets of water on the school. They sprayed the whole front of the school for a couple of minutes, until the imaginary fire was finally brought under control, and then extinguished.
Next, they brought out half an old petrol drum, filled it with kerosene, and lit it. The kids then got to take it in turns to use a fire-extinguisher on the blaze. After each go, a fireman re-lit it using a burning rag on the end of a stick, and this went on until the playground was hidden in clouds of foul-smelling fire-retardant. Obviously, it was all pretty cool, and I was glad I’d stuck around at school despite having the afternoon off.
December 11, 2003
Things I saw on TV last night:
- A man, dressed as a woman in a very skimpy dress and with frankly quite disturbingly realistic fake breasts, who would suddenly flip from lispy and girlish mode to running round smashing things and gurning horrifyingly. At one point he ate a plate and then burst into tears.
- A show called ‘Kiss League’ on which men arm-wrestle a very strong man called ‘No Kiss Man’ – their prize, should they beat him, being to kiss a pretty lady. Nobody managed to.
- A man with Michael Jackson’s ponytailed haircut, slightly oversized pale blue aviator sun-glasses, a very solemn expression on his face and an eye painted on his hand (which he used to ‘see’ by holding out palm outwards in front of him), bursts in on an art class and sets about trying to unnerve the life-model. He puts a leaf in her hand, and a blue feathered mask on her face, and then sits down and begins to sketch. Instead of drawing her, he draws a map of Hokkaido – Japan’s northernmost island.
Sometimes, Japanese television is exactly like my dreams.
Also: an advert in which David Beckham turns to camera, smiles, and says: “Like blooming flowers: One love. Be sweet.” Incidentally, Beckham is massively popular and famous in Japan – quite possibly even more so than in Britain. He and/or Victoria seem to be on just about every other advert. Probably only the pop band ‘Smap’ out-do them for number of television appearances per day… but then Smap actually present every other programme…
December 10, 2003
This paragraph removed on account of being extremely boring. Sorry. I just looked at it again and found I couldn’t get more than a couple of lines into it without starting to drift off. I’ll try to be more careful in future.
What it said was:
- I went to the big city.
- I saw a Brazilian / Okinawan band.
- I met some members of the island’s taiko group.
- I bought a new futon and chair, which have made my house much more comfortable.
- I tidied my house and, in doing so, also claimed to have “tidied my mind.”
While I am confessing things, I might as well also add that I have also removed some italicisation from various places as well. I was getting carried away there.
This is in danger of getting as boring as the thing I removed, so I think I’ll stop now.
December 2, 2003
It is now about six days since the sea was calm enough to allow a ferry to reach the island. For that reason, the supermarket’s shelves are now all empty, and I think I am on the verge of developing a vitamin deficiency (I’ve been eating the Japanese equivalent of Pot Noodle for the last few days).
Can I also add that the coffee here is rubbish?