On Monday, with Fran off to work at school, I pottered around Chez Fran
tidying for a bit luxuriating under the kotatsu, then put on my big coat and went for an explore. I didn’t get go far, nor see much exciting apart from a bunch of buildings and a little graveyard under a spreading tree, and I’ve already done my self-indulgent ramble about architecture, so here are some photos instead. The (few) locals about mid-morning on a Monday stared at me, mostly without malice, though I got the most ferocious glare off an older-looking dude on a bike wearing a facemask. Cycling on pavements is standard procedure here, though people ride in a slower and more chilled-out fashion than at home; nobody wears helmets or any of that godawful lycra cycling crap; it seems to just be viewed as a sensible way of getting around.
Heading back into town, I located a “Family Mart” for lunch and, using only pointing and smiling, successfully purchased a sort of bready meaty dumpling and a battered thing which turned out to be a giant chicken nugget, for a couple of hundred yen. I love virtually all kinds of cheap street food, and that this was given to me in individually-taped packages with happily smiling mascots and packages carefully designed to be half-opened for minimum finger greasiness made it no less genuine and excellent than the sickliest 2am Rooster House.
In the afternoon I got to meet the Tendo Board of Education, a lovely bunch of people in a thoroughly cheerful office atmosphere; Fran told me to stand up and do a self-introduction, which I winged completely but seemed to go down well (possibly because she translated it for me), and while the ALTs were away for a meeting the staff all grilled me through the one lady who had the best English. The regional superintendent (I think; there were lots of impressive-sounding titles flying around) came over and talked to me about his two children in London in pretty good English, but when he asked me about a football game and I said I wasn’t really into sports, looked rather disappointed and went back to his desk. I shook lots of hands and was very polite and respectful, which I think went down well. The whole building was sweltering hot – when the Japanese heat rooms, which apparently isn’t often, they really heat them – and one of Fran’s co-workers gave us some giant apples and some boiled sweets, as you do.
For dinner, Team Tendo and I went to Fran’s favourite restaurant, a joint run by a wonderfully friendly chap named Yasuhiro Kuboki with dyed blonde hair and (apparently) a strong regional accent, who served excellent katsudon (pork cutlet on rice) with a smile, cheery conversation and high-fives. He got out a tablet with a translation app and had me speak into it, and it translated with remarkable effectiveness (except that once it heard “restaurant” as “restroom”, so rather than effusive praise for his establishment, it sounded like I was giving effusive praise to his facilities.) After our meal, he gave me a little shoulder bag (blue! The best colour!) which I think is actually going to be really handy, and, as we were leaving, cracked open the vending machine in the car park and gave us all a free drink. Spurred by curiosity, I had grape Fanta, which was odd but nice.
After that, we all went to English conversation club at a room in a nearby community centre place, where at the door you changed your shoes for open slippers that were far too small for my feet. The club’s usual suspects were a tiny, rambunctious yet charming chap called Shoji; a lady named Takeko who I’ve seen in some of Fran’s photos of kimonos, another lady, Nobuko, who teaches Fran and Mindy to play koto, and a slightly mournful gentleman named Tetsu. All were pretty ancient, but genki (energetic, healthy) as hell; Japanese people don’t really seem to age (though Tetsu, rather gloomily, said in his introduction “I fear I do not have much time left”.) We wrote my name up on the board and I told them about the histories of Bristol and Birmingham (Bristol being a total bitch of a word to pronounce for Japanese people, due to the L-R phonemic confusion, but they did pretty well) and just sort of happily chatted in English while Aaron chided Shoji; then we all went to an American-themed diner place for huge ice cream sundaes, and let Shoji try on my coat (which reached the ground).