A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Sunday, September 18, 2011

For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan - the book

If you enjoyed reading my tales about life as an English teacher on the JET Programme in Japan and would like to read more - you can!

I've finally finished my book: For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan - which is available for kindle (you can read it on a kindle, iPad, smart phone or PC/Mac) from Amazon now. A paperback version is coming soon.

Here's what the media are saying about it:

‘Witty and highly entertaining; a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary Japanese people’ – Helen Arnold, 1001 Escapes

‘Jocular and candid; essential reading for backpackers and Japanophiles’ – Ginny Light, former online editor, The Times

‘Really evokes that excitement of ‘discovering’ Japan for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed it’ – Jan Dodd, Rough Guide To Japan

For more infomation visit: ForFukuisSake.com or buy For Fukui's Sake from Amazon now!

If you do read it - I'd love to hear your thoughts - so please leave a review on Amazon.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Funky Drummer Has Left The Blogspot

Farewell Fukui. It's good bye to dramatic coastal cloud scenes like this one near Tsuruga.

This is it. In a few minutes I’m going to walk out of my apartment for the final time, get in my car and drive out of Ono, in the knowledge that I may never return.

The last week has been a series of sayonaras. People say that saying goodbye is difficult. I don’t think that's the right word. It’s awkward, sorrowful and painful.

So how do I sum up my two years in Ono, Fukui, Japan? Well, I’ll start by saying it’s been the best two years of my life so far, and I have got a tremendous amount of pleasure and satisfaction from living here, meeting the locals, learning a little lingo, and enjoying a life where everyday is an adventure into the unknown. Life as an English teacher in Ono is sweet.

By bike, snowboard, cross-country ski, kayak, snowshoe, car and foot, I have explored deep into the natural wonders of Fukui, perhaps delving deeper than many of the locals. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s eye to appreciate what locals take for granted

I’ll sign off by saying thanks to everybody who has been reading for the last two years, especially to those who’ve left words of encouragement. This blog was started simply to document my time in Japan for my own enjoyment, but I hope it has been of some entertainment value to you, and maybe amused you or even inspired you to come to Japan, or to go and explore more of the planet.

So what will become of thefunkydrummer you ask? Well, this blog will remain in cyberspace as a record of my time in Nippon and I may occasionally update it with news from home, but really, it’s the end of the line. Thefunkydrummer was all about Japan, and Japan is over now.

When I return to the motherland, I’m hoping to pursue writing in some form or another, and I already have several articles that will be published this year in various magazines, from a gourmet food mag to a cross ountry skiing mag, and of course, I have big plans for www.SnowSphere.com – but more about that soon.

So, thanks Ono, thanks Fukui and thanks Japan for giving me an incredible two years, which have changed my life, given me new direction and allowed me to meet so many beautiful people.

I’ll be back.

The funky drummer has left the blogspot.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sayonara Sadness

I cried. In front of the whole, god damn school. It was all going well, I had just delivered my farewell speech in Japanese which went fine, but when the two students who came up to the stage starting crying as they presented me with a parting gift, try as I might, I just couldn’t hold back the tears.

I hope this to be by far the biggest audience to ever witness this rare phenomenon. Back when I was a student, making a teacher cry was one of the highest accolades a class of students could achieve and was seen as a triumph, though this was normally down to despicable and cruel behaviour, rather than the sadness of leaving the people and a place that was held so dear.

I took Shiro the school dog for our final walk today. Though she will never know it, my time spent exploring the rice paddy roads has been one of my most cherished experiences of all at my place of work. Rather than sit at my desk and surf the net during the quiet times (as many ALTs do) I have always jumped at the chance to get out and about, enjoying the simple pleasure of walking a dog.

Through heavy snow, warm tropical rain, thick sticky air and just pleasant spring sun, we have roamed the land, taking in the ever changing scenes and smells of this beautiful locale; the mist shrouded mountains, the bamboo thickets and the native fauna such as wild tortoises, lizards, snakes and eagles.

Many of my posts and pictures on this very blog have been created and captured whilst out with Shiro, as we walk by the paddies, whether covered in crisp white snow, flooded to create miniature inland lakes, or as now – bright and lush, accompanied by the sound of a billion rustling blades, as a breeze ripples the surface of a green rice sea.

I’m about to leave school for the final time.

I’ll miss it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

DVD Giveaway: Cutting Contours Snow Film

My ever expanding project, SnowSphere.com (the travel mag for snow lovers) has teamed up with Sketch Book Films to give you a chance to win a copy of their latest production "Cutting Contours".

Filmed exclusively in Les Arcs, this great snow movie showcases a stunning area of the French Alps and steps behind the scenes of the resort to bring us a bite of life from the locals.

If you're into trees, threes, or avalanche dogs, you'll want to see this movie.

To read the full review and for a chance to win a copy of Cutting Contours, check:www.SnowSphere.com

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

At F**king Sui

Hot Hot Heat - this house got so hot it spontaneously combusted. Ono, Fukui, Japan.

In my previous post I said I had a “whole lotta love” for Japan, which is true. But one element of my life here that I don’t got a whole lotta love for, is sitting in the staff room, when it’s 32C, and 95% humidity, in my shirt and smart trousers.

My shirt is stuck to my back, my worksheets stick to my arms when I lean on them, and I'm thankfully not even a big sweater. I really feel for the heavyweight perspirators at this time of year...

Right now the weather here is not only hot hot heat, it’s hyper humid, and this is the problem. It’s fine when you’re in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, but the thick, still air offers no hope of a breeze, and it has a terrible effect on the uniformed clad students and teachers alike.

Like a bee keeper’s soporific smoke that calms his swarm, the humid air sends everyone into a docile stupor. No one wants to be sitting in a horrible, hot, humid classroom. Me included. I counted 7 students asleep on their desk in my class yesterday – but did the teacher do or say a thing? Negative.

I feel sorry for the kids – none of the classrooms even have air conditioning, but at least the teachers room is equipped with a unit, though it’s yet to be activated. And that’s what really pisses me off. The fact that a quick flick of a switch would put an end to everyone's pain. Instead of walking around saying “Atsui, Atsui! It’s hot!” all the time, why the f**k won’t they turn just turn on the AC?

Everyone is suffering, motivation to do anything is rock bottom, yet they still insist on the pointless notion of gamaning (enduring) - the unpleasant conditions, when there’s simply no need.

It’s one of the oddities I discovered here, in that often the environment seems to be ignored, in favour of certain rigid rules. The same thing happens in winter – they won’t turn the heating on until a certain date, even if there’s snow on the ground outside and people are wearing hats and gloves indoors – because it states in the school rules that it must not be switched on until [insert random date that bears no connection to the actual weather here].

I’ve got this crazy idea that I think might just be the answer to everybody's suffering – how about when we’re too cold, we turn the heating on, and when we’re too hot, we turn the a.c. on– yes – I know it’s a lot to get your head round, but have a think about it...

I’ve already documented the terribly designed buildings here that seem as if no thought has gone into them. This is the type of conversation I think must take place during the planning stages of any building in Japan.

Japanese Architect 1: “Our country is sub-zero all winter and plus 30C all summer, how shall we design our buildings to cope with our harsh and extreme environment”.

Japanese Architect 2: “This is indeed quite a problem, but do not fear, for I have found a solution. Let us build our houses and schools with no double glazing, no insulation of any kind, and no central heating.”

Japanese Architect 1: “Yes. This truly is the best way to ensure the comfort of our people.”

I love you Japan, but you’ve still got a few problems you need to work through.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The End Of The Funky Drummer is Nigh

Paddles up; crusing the crystal clear Kuzuryu lake is one of the things I'll miss most. Ono, Fukui, Japan.

It is with mixed emotions that I come to write what will be one of the final few posts on thefunkydrummer. In just over two weeks time, my two years in Japan will be over and I’ll be packing up my life and heading home.

Though I’d like to think that one day I’ll return, the truth is, the Japan chapter of my life is about to come to a very abrupt end and I’ll be leaving in the knowledge that I’ll probably never see many of these people and places again. Goodbye cheap apartment, pimp car, cool river, deserted lakes and snowy mountains.

During the last few weeks, I’ve found myself quite up and down in terms of feelings about leaving Japan. Although I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with my family and friends from home, and walking once more on the soil of the motherland, sometimes I feel quite melancholy about the prospect of leaving a place that I gotta whole lotta love for, to the point where my eyes well up if I think about it too hard.

Whilst many JETs have been tearing round the country trying to tick off the final “must see” destinations, I’ve been taking a more local approach, and have just been maximising my time with the people and places that I will dearly miss on my departure.

Ironically, despite the fact that I have never been more far removed from a local population in terms of physical appearance, linguistic ability and cultural awareness, it is here, in a small, rural town, considered a backwater by most Japanese, that I have felt more of a local, than anywhere else in the world I’ve ever lived.

Whether it’s hiking through snow on some deserted peak in the Okuestu mountain range, playing football with the local team, kayaking with Sam or my J-sis on a beautiful clear blue lake, or banging out some drum beats at the local bar, myself, and my fellow Okuestu gaijin (Caitlin and Brandon) have been made to feel very welcome here.

The generosity and open heartedness of the Ono locals has made my two years here very special. A few days ago our ‘man of the mountain’ and local bar owner Yasu, threw a little sayonara party for us – it was perfect – good friends, good food and some music performed by us and our Japanese friends.

Bran Van and I presented Yasu with a little annotated photo album entitled “Yasu’s Adventures with the Gaijin” which documents our back country expeditions together. I think it was the perfect gift to remember us by, and he proudly showed it off, saying it was a “treasure”.

It was good that we had the sayonara party then, and not right before we leave. That way, we can kid ourselves into believing that we will see our friends (Japanese and other foreigners) again, allowing us the liberty of saying “see you again”, rather than the painful, yet inevitable “goodbye”.

The one thing that I do keep reminding myself, is that there are still so many cool places to see and people to meet in the world, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of the planet’s beautiful places.

I’m also looking forward to ditching the teaching. It’s been fun, but I’ve had my fill and I’m really looking forward to pushing other projects – like www.SnowSphere.com, which will soon have a new sister publication -www.DirtSphere.com.

The countdown continues...

On the road to the Kuzuryu Lake, a ramshakle house advertises a hotel, most likely a product of Japan's ski bubble that burst in the 90's, leaving empty accomodation to fade away.

Sam paddles in a pool on the Kuzuryu River, overshadowed by a lush forested cliff.

Finally my J-sis concedes; Lake Kuzuryu is beautiful after all.

Sam walks the path to enlightenment at a local temple.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Singing in the Rainy Season

I love rain. Maybe it just reminds me of the motherland...? Picture stolen from the net.

It’s come late this year, but the rainy season, or tsuyu has arrived. Lasting for about a month, it’s generally a season the Japanese don’t enjoy, but although I dislike the intense humidity that builds up at this time of year, I do have a deep appreciation for the rain.

The earthy smells, the moody grey skies, the feeling of quiet calm a day of rain brings. The sound of big tropical drops splashing down on the roof tops, the cosy feeling of being indoors during a storm, or the delights of walking outside whilst the warm rain batters your umbrella. Rain is one of the pleasures of life, but though I expect many would disagree, is it not better to embrace and enjoy it, rather than detest and avoid it?

I love how the elements can completely alter not only the scenery, but the feelings experienced by a human on any given day. From balmy summer evenings that evoke memories of beer gardens and barbeques, to the raging snow storms that assert nature’s authority over us, the weather shapes our emotions as well as our landscapes, and in an urban age when man moves ever further from the natural world, it reminds us that Earth still has some powers we cannot control.