It seems that my nonchalant attitude to the typhoon season tempted fate....last night,Japan experienced a strong typhoon. School finished early yesterday afternoon and everybody was under strict instruction to go straight home, and stay inside until the typhoon had passed. After hearing that I was worried about the typhoon, a really kind hearted student came to the teachers room and said "I will protect from 'tayfoon' for Isabel". What a sweetie.
I took the typhoon warning very seriously (I am from mild British climes and did not know what to expect!) and promptly cycled to the supermarket to stock up on food before whizzing straight home to the safety of my apartment.
Whilst cycling down Route 11 (the highway that leads from school to the supermarket)however, I saw a sizeable population of Marugame Josei Senior High School students looking carefree and happy in the games arcade. A precious and temporary release from the clasps of the Japanese education system, why go home!
The typhoon came and went without causing any damage in Marugame. I woke this morning to an incredibly still day outside. The sun was hazy and it felt strangely tranquil as I cycled to school. The only signs of the typhoon were the five enormous frogs I saw enjoying the puddles. I have an irrational fear of frogs. They make my skin crawl. Japanese frogs are monstrous! I had to prepare myself and close my eyes each time I cycled past one...I was seen doing this by several of my students, who found the sight of a tall western girl in a floral rain coat, squealing as she rode past frogs, hilarious.
The deputy headmaster at Josei high school is very friendly and each time I come to school, he is always interested to know about what I've been doing at the weekend. I hadn't seen him for a while so told him about my trip to Naoshima. Apparently there is a Bond 007 museum on Naoshima...he then told me that I looked as beautiful as a Bond Girl. It made me laugh, what a tenuous conversational link! Come to work in Japanese high schools if you want an ego boost!
Last weekend, I felt a little homesick. All is well now after doing three things.
1. On Tuesday, I didn't have to go to school so I downloaded some new music for my ears, hopped on my bike and cycled for hours,finally stopping to rest in a little cafe. Recently, I think I have been experiencing stage two of culture shock: hostility. I have been getting very upset and frustrated that I am unable to sit in a cafe or go to the supermarket without a thousand eyes being on me (and the contents of my basket or plate). This time, I decided I would stay in the cafe and what is more, try to communicate with the starers. It worked! Two very old ladies ended up squeezing in beside me, twittering away to me in Japanese. They kept on asking me to stand up so that they could see how tall I was. They bought me a green tea cake. It felt so nice to be acknowledged in a positive way.
2. That very same day, I decided to take a visit to the pet shop. It made me feel so much better. Animals are the same the world over: I could make the same cooing sounds as I do to Alfie and Josie back home and their Japanese counterparts would respond in just the same way. It was very comforting to know that some things are the same here.
3. This evening, I went to get my hair cut. I had attempted to get it cut last night. I shall tell you the reason for hair cut postponement; I popped into a very inconspicious but cosy looking hair dresser's just by school. There was only one hairdresser in there and no customers. I told her (in good Japanese, as I had been told exactly what to say by my colleague Suzuki-sensei) what I would like done. Despite the shop being empty,she told me that she was busy. I think she felt nervous about cutting a foreigner's hair/spending time alone with a foreigner....I was a little hurt by this response but tried again today. This time, at an amazing hair dresser's - this is where the young creatives in Marugame dwell! I have found them, finally! My hair dresser was so beautiful and looked like she had come straight from the arty neighbourhoods of one of the more cosmopolitan Japanese cities. It made me forget all about yesterday's disastrous trip. She rushed to the pile full of artfully arranged magazines and plucked the one from the top, pointed to it, then back to me, whilst nodding her head excitedly. I gather that she thought I looked like Nicole Richie....somehow I think our only resemblance lies in our disparity from the entire female population of Japan; we don't have dark hair.
I also had an experience, similar to the one I had in the pet shop. The beautiful hairdresser asked me all of the usual questions one is asked in a hairdresser's; 'Have you got any plans for the weekend?' 'Have you got a boyfriend?' and all the small talk that accompanies. Hairdressers are a universal phenomenon too.... :-)