The many meanings of May… also who is Morris?

Readers readers readers… in a convenient reflection of my state of mind this weekend, this update has been lounging about unhurriedly in my drafts for almost A WEEK, in which time developments have begun to pile up and I have fallen woefully behind. In an attempt to bring you smoothly up-to-date with the Japanese happenings, I have gone for general coverage of events over coherence of theme – I hope that your enjoyment is not curtailed in the process!

18641652_10158722335115300_996540097_oSuccessful haircut. Happy to report that, after much prevarication, I finally got myself down to the hairdressers and had a healthy 10 cm lopped off of the mane. Unsurprisingly refreshing considering what fell on the floor around my chair wouldn’t have looked out of place on top of a cottage in the Cotswolds. Most satisfying of all, however, was the opportunity for some top-quality language practice, a fortuitous bi-product of sitting motionless for an hour whilst being circled by someone for whom being affable and indulgent is just under “can cut hair” on her job description. Relieved that I had had the sense to nail some key hair vocab en route, I sat with my genial stylist and braved the key topics of length, volume and layering, before moving on to the intricacies of fringes, feathering and frizz control… I even got to slip in a lament of my appalling eda ge (split ends). My hair vocab all but spent, we moved on to general travel/work/leisure-related chit-chat, and I felt the warm trickle of satisfaction that comes from rooting vocab out of your brain, successfully deploying it ,and receiving signs of comprehension in return. I left the salon with a head of much healthier hair and a face flushed with linguistic triumph. This lasted all the way to the supermarket, where I promptly mis-read the characters on an innocuous-looking soup carton and walked out with 500ml of chicken stock. I wonder if there’s an equivalent expression in Japanese about pride coming before a fall…

Work developments. Term is fully back in swing now, and I must say I am bloomin’ loving it. The days are long, but the students are as industrious and sweet-natured as ever, not to mention (usually unintentionally) hilarious. Particular highlights from the past week include students’ bemusement at being told that the Yorkshire pudding is not, in fact, a real pudding, and amusement at the naming and practice of Morris dancing (“But Katrina, who is Morris?”). Later in the week, I asked students to complete a visual ‘My Life So Far’ shield, which included a section in which they had to write down each other’s personal strengths. I feel the following responses do a good job of demonstrating the extent to which the Japanese resist self-congratulation of any kind. Some of the top personal strengths recorded:

“I like cycling, and therefore I personally have strong legs.”

“I am strong at sleeping for the same amount of time each night.”

Whether the question had been wilfully misinterpreted or not, I was all at once pained, delighted and tickled… They’re an truly excellent bunch, really. My only wish is that they find it in themselves to push themselves less in terms of hours spent working and more in terms of self-belief, trying out new language without being quite so prodded. I can’t complain though really; classroom discipline is utterly unnecessary, they are willing, curious and receptive, and they’ve kept me topped up with a steady stream of everything sugary from matcha lozenges to pigeon-shaped cookies since term began… so all in all I’d say that Dokkyo University is currently playing host to one pretty happy English sensei.

The many meanings of May. Turns out the fifth month is a pretty significant one here in Tokyo, with said significance ranging from the celebratory to the frankly morbid. I was moaning about the uncharacteristic train delays at Kita Senju over dinner with Mayu the other week, to which she responded that I’d better just get used to it this month as gogatsu-byou (May Sickness) was about to set in. This is not, as I initially imagined, a flu strain contracted only by train staff, but something far more sinister: a suicide epidemic in which scores of desperate Tokyo-ites seek the ultimate respite from the extreme pressures of the new academic and financial year by chucking themselves onto the tracks. Horrific. I made an immediate mental note to tell all my students how extra especially well they are doing, in the interests of preventing that unparalleled work ethic from sliding into irreparable masochism.



RIGHT at the other end of the significance spectrum, the weekend just gone has been one big celebration of May-time warmth, hope and promise (emphasis on the warmth – it is getting bloody baking over here!) Sweaty, sun-burnt tourists and equally sweaty (but rather less sun-burnt) locals poured into the streets of Asakusa for the Sanja festival, which featured hundreds of teams of traditionally-clad mikoshi-bearers spreading luck from the gods onto the hoards of onlookers. Mayu and I squeezed our way through the crowds, ending up at a stage at the far end of the shrine complex, where our people-shoving efforts were rewarded by a show more bewitching than any I have thus far been treated to here in Japan. As a musical duo struck up a haunting drum and shamisen accompaniment, a series of immaculate, chalk-faced dancers glided out from behind silk screens and began a routine of ineffable grace and poise, their every move a masterclass in suggestion and subtlety, their faces fixed with smiles of Sphinx-like inscrutability. I was utterly enchanted.


I’d best be off now loves – lesson planning and some French correspondence are beckoning… Leaving you with extra updates of the visual variety (see below). Will do my level best to chuck in a new post sooner rather than later next time in order to avoid omitting a ton of happenings, as has been the case here! Until then, sending you oodles of Japanese May-time good fortune – and given my and Amanda’s new collection of four- (and FIVE-)leaf clovers gathered on a perfect, lazy riverside Saturday, I’d say I have a fair bit of luck to spare 😉


Big love everyone x x x x x




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