Monday, February 8, 2010

Snow... ice... and other frozen things.

February is full of interesting things in Japan.
It is the coldest month, though according to the calendar it is supposed to be the start of Spring.
There are snow festivals all over the show, the biggest one in Sapporo and a smaller one happening not far from me in Toga (by not far I mean quite the bus ride away).
People ski, people snowboard, people travel.

However, in the past week there has been an influx of snow, wind, ice and other such frozen goodies. People haven't been able to travel. Lots of my friends had plans to go to the Snow Festival in Sapporo this past weekend. Lots of friends had planes and trains canceled. This not such a cool prospect and it certainly isn't a warm one either. However, personally, I would rather be tucked up safe and warm in my shoebox apartment than spending extra time in the air or on a train waiting for conditions to be right for landing or indeed proceeding further on the journey.

I've come to despise "big snow". This much snow should be illegal and the thing is that this isn't even that much. It snowed for 4 days running and the highest it got naturally was about my knee, so about 50cm-ish. Snow is frustrating in so many ways! When you don't have a car it's even more frustrating. When you need to get to an electronics store so you can get the necessary adaptor to be able to straighten your hair it's even worse. It's all manner of annoying.

The level of annoying hasn't exactly been helped this week by the frosty looks I've been getting from some of my colleagues who could, if they felt like it, help me out a little on my short walk to work by making my not have to lift my knees so high. But no no, the foreigner can handle it. I've got friends who are in a far worse boat, walking much further than me to work and taking public transport to get there.

I've also been in a bit of a frosty mood. The weather hasn't helped my level of happy and when I found out that some of what I learned at high school about the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu, was in fact not the whole truth. I learned about these people in 1998 when I started learning Japanese, how is it that they were mentioned in our culture lessons but not officially recognised by the Japanese government until 10 years later? I could not understand and had a fit. I can't say that I slept entirely well that night.

I've been working long hours preparing some students for some tests next week too. Frosty mood + tired would usually equal grumpy guts but these girls have been so enthusiastic about learning English this week that at the end of each day I've managed to leave work with a smile on my face.

My smile only got wider last night when, having frozen my butt off watching a friend play ice hockey, the team lost and he acted out the committal of ritual suicide (seppuku) with his hockey stick for his team's inability to win. It was the funniest thing I'd seen all week!

Yesterday was Waitangi Day and given that I had been thinking about Japan-Ainu relations earlier in the week I took a moment or two to think about how I felt being a person of white skin with blue/green/sunflower (as my student described them on Friday evening) eyes from New Zealand in Japan. I did this last year too, but I hadn't noticed things as much, having not been out of Japan in the 6 months that I had been here at that point.
Over the past 18 months I have been stared at, analysed, stalked, flashed, touched vaguely inappropriately by a potentially mentally a bit off man, and just generally felt as though I don't belong. Be it a frosty stare or curiosity it makes me feel uncomfortable. I am sometimes assumed to be Russian so it can often be a stare of distrust that I get. It's often not until I open my mouth that people warm to me. I was even the perfect target as the devil monster that the little kids threw beans at for setsubun this week, I mean sheesh, just because I am different... sigh, anyway.

This weekend I watched the New Zealand media with interest as Waitangi celebrations proceeded and as the country celebrated 170 years since its founding document was first signed. Waitangi Day is almost always a flash point. I used to look on through the eyes of the majority, but I think having been a minority for a while I can understand how people feel back home sometimes. When I return home in August to start my life in New Zealand off again I think I will find myself much more proud of who I am and where I come from as a New Zealander. I am proud of how far NZ has come in the past 170 years and I hope that we can continue on the path towards compensation, reconciliation and harmony. It's something we need and it's something that we are a darn sight further along on than some places. Long may it continue.

And so, a frosty week turned into a warm weekend. Today was the perfect day to go for a walk in the snow. I took myself out for coffee and hung out with a friend that I hadn't seen in a while. I now have blisters on my feet but that is all good, it was worth it. Besides, perhaps tomorrow will be frosty enough that any swelling that goes along with the blisters will go down quite quickly.

No pictures this week. It was too cold and I was too lazy to go out and take them.

Now, where is my ice cream!