As I mentioned before, I’m spending eight weeks or so teaching English in elementary schools. I’ve just finished my first week, so what is it like?

Well, it’s fun. My job doesn’t really involve imparting any significant amount of information; that’s not my remit. I’m only seeing each class a couple of times. My task, according to the manual from the Japanese Ministry of Education etc etc, is to “foster interest and desire [to learn English].” It feels more like stand-up comedy at times! I’m managing pretty well, so far, I think. I’m doing the same lessons over and over for a week at a time—in a sense, I’m polishing my act, although it would surely get boring if I were doing it for a long period.

I have to get up early. On the other hand, I finish work and get home early too. Every day is in a different school from the previous day, which is slightly disruptive. It would be nice not to have to carry everything with me every day!

One irritating quirk of Japanese schools: you have to take off your shoes. Unlike houses, there is no particular barrier between inside and outside, and no obvious reason or benefit to doing so. In fact, there is a considerable overlap between the outdoor shoe area and the slipper area. It’s just another arbitrary convention, and all the more infuriating for it.

The students and teachers have sports shoes that they use indoors 1 . I get to use the crappy standard-issue vinyl slippers that just about fit onto my feet. My feet, by the way, are a perfectly normal size by Japanese standards, so it’s not just some big-footed foreigner thing. I can barely walk with the guest slippers, but I can’t carry around an extra pair of shoes everywhere with me, especially not when taking a crowded train in the morning.

Actually, even though I have to take the train, I’m relatively lucky. I live near the terminus of the line, so I can invariably get a seat and spend the journey in a soporific stupor. Since I started recording radio programmes via web radio onto my Minidisc Walkman every evening, I can avoid boredom without even having to open my eyes.

I’m completely exhausted now. I think I need to sleep.

1. “Indoors” is a slightly inaccurate term to use when talking about Japan. Buildings in Japan have two requirements, as far as I can work out:

  1. Not fall over in an earthquake
  2. Keep the rain off

They generally fulfil the second requirement; I am less sure about the first.

However, the standard of Japanese buildings is pretty low. Thin walls and no heating beyond free-standing electric heaters or kerosene stoves (a brilliant idea for an earthquake zone, jet fuel sloshing around in your living room...) means that it is bitterly cold in the winter. Even if you can get the place warm, within five minutes of turning the heater off, the ambient temperature will match that outside.

As for corridors, they are never heated, and often open to the elements, for reasons I cannot fathom.