Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Day 3| Musashino Art Uni

Finally a proper nights sleep, no waking at 2am. At last i also had a mini lay in, which i so needed and a morning to myself. I went off to Ginza the expensive 'designer' area to meet an alumni at the Ginza graphic gallery. However i never got there...certainly got lost in Tokyo for almost two hours. I was told the 'young' people of this area would speak English and help with directions. Well when i manged to speak with a 'young' person they said right but pointed left, another said left and pointed right. As you can imagine i went in circles until my time ran out and i had to travel to Musashino (which is an hour and half away) for an afternoons teaching.

The afternoon session was more productive as students were busy progressing their alphabet designs. I do not think they have such short projects here and it felt as if they were relishing the challenge. 70% of the year group (and course) are girls and with no female tutors i think i have brought something new to them. I asked Prof Yoshiro why so many girls and not boys...'it's because the girls are much brighter than boys'. To attend this university you have to do an exam, part written and maths and the other drawing and colour tasks. Boys do not do well with the written and maths parts by all accounts. They have approx 1,500 applicants for 120 places!

So tomorrow i have a full days teaching followed by an early evening lecture which is open to all students and staff at the! They have even printed posters of the union jack to promote it.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

day 2|musashino

Day 2 at Musashino was a much better day as both myself and the students had settled into each others way of working. They had made good progress with the homework tasks as we began the day with a review of the letter forms that they had produced. Students began to view each letter form as an individual character and then the relationships with each letter as a whole unit.
By the end of a long day even laughter began to flow between us as better non verbal communication took shape. Prof Yoshiro's translations and my pointing techniques worked well as a double act.

Hoping for a night in front of Japanese TV, Yoshiro invited me out (once again) with his wife for sushi. You just can not say no, even when you are on your last legs. What a meal followed. The most adventurous sushi i have had. Jelly fish, collagen, rare seaweed with eggs, more urchin eggs and other things we did not know the translations for. It was a very challenging meal and i am rapidly needing sometime off fish. Obviously accompanied by sake. My poor internal system has had a bashing.

Looking forward to the morning off on Wednesday and a visit to Ginza Graphic Gallery to meet up with an alumni from Teals MA course at LCC. Then back to MAU for an afternoon session. But please no more meals for a bit...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Day 1|Musashino art university

Oh my god! I have just spent 13 hours on my feet with the Japanese professors, students and a Tokyo working day. It all began at 6.30am when the alarm rang, and i had only got to sleep three hours since (not due to partying but being awake). Breakfast on the 20th floor with stunning views of Tokyo's fake 'empire state building' and the sprawl of never ending buildings.
Travel there was relatively smooth and i meet Prof Yoshoiro outside Kokobunji station where we then boarded a packed bus to ride for 20 mins to the University.

Those in education may not want to read this next part. Teachers here have assistants. They make coffee for you in the morning, set up IT, prepare info and at times fend of students! What a different world. Perhaps that is were the differences end. Japanese students are like any others in the UK. They fall asleep during a talk! Yes i spotted two nodding off , at times look disinterested and others a little lazy. But then we also share the great parts when students, get excited about what they are doing, discuss their ideas openly, produce some surprising things.

It was an odd day really as i had an interpreter follow me until 2pm, almost like an echo but a different sounding echo. It is really odd as you have to stop for them to repeat what you have said, then you loose your rhythm and thoughts. Not an easy thing. But when she left things got difficult. A good days work from the students by the end of the day. I wonder if they will all turn up tomorrow? Yoshiro said over the years he has noticed a change in attitudes, commitment etc.

There are 'big ben' chimes that announce the start of sessions 9am and end of the day 4.10pm. It felt slightly like communism was somewhere. After the students left with homework tasks. We headed on a tour of the University. I met many other people, exchanged business cards and met a product designer from St. Martins on a weeks exchange.

My welcome meal was in Kokbunji apartment store at a typical Japanese restaurant with four men! A lovely meal of plenty and no surprises this time just sashimi. They laughed about the 'farewell meal'...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Eclectric Tokyo

My free day was a struggle at first as all i wanted to do was go back to bed after breakfast. But how many times do you get the chance to be in Tokyo? Fatigued or not i was doing to tackle Tokyo head on. My first port of call was the Japanese social thing shopping. Tokyo Hands, a department store that sold everything imaginable. Seven floors of gadgetry and wears. Those that know my shopping habits, know that this is a dream for me. Aisle browsing. Even their toilets were a treat.

Which brings me onto toilet etiquette here. There are toilet doors with different signs. Japanese style, international & ones with spray symbols on them.A vast choice when in a hurry. My first experience was at the airport. Going into a 'spray' marked one uncovered a hidden world for me. This toilet had a extra unit attached to it, with many buttons and symbols. You could play an imaginary flushing noise while doing your business or wash your parts with different temperatures, different spray powers and even have a heated seat. Perhaps this is just too much. However, with one very similar in my hotel room I am now practised.

After aisle browsing i took myself off in search of greenery, but got lost and seemed to be trapped in the neon streets of shops for ages. East has met west. Universal shops everywhere!
I finally returned to a familiar place and plucked up the guts to try a train/metro trip to a place. Now that sounds easy but it's the biggest station in Japan! It has more exits and lines/platforms than clapham does by a long way. Plus the volume of people, confusing signs and oh the Japanese script. To get to my destination was an achievement. Now, I feel i can tackle almost any trip.

My afternoon transformed me into a typical tourist and i went to a shrine, a walk in the park and took photos of the famous teddy boys and harajuku girls. (Photos attached of them and the dog!)
By the time i returned worn out it seemed Shinjku had even got busier.

Now to prepare for tomorrow's teaching and an early start. Meeting Yoshiro (which means i have to navigate a different line at rush hour) at a station and then we need to catch a bus to Musashino. What will the day hold....

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Tempura House/first meal

Its all surreal at the moment but that is the lack of sleep, i expect.
I met Yoshiro and his wife (who's name has escaped me) at the hotel reception at 6pm.
They took me across neon streets to a smaller street in Shinjuku area to a traditional tempura house. Shoes off and we entered a medium sized room and sat legs wrapped in uncomfortable places (especially after a long day travelling). They took over, which i am pleased happened. A waitress came out and showed us the raw ingredients, which then asked me if that was OK. How did i know, there were things there i had never seen!
What followed was an introduction into tempura eating and thats not the same as my local in Brixton. There were small dishes of salts (sea, wasabi, +?), radish paste dishes that you mixed with a soya sauce tea. The starter i won't have again. I tried not to show the distaste on my face (which is difficult to hide) but it was a mini paste shape thing, that was so rich ad salty that I had to almost down the beer. Yoshiro got his electronic translator out, it translated into urchin eggs! I had not idea urchins had kids...Other more successful tempura dishes were lotus fruit, hen of the woods (mushrooms), manila clams, eel, squid, jellied agar with the usual accompaniments
A lovely introduction and the I was the only western there! And chopsticks skills did not let me down. My hosts walked me back to my hotel and we made arrangements for the first teaching day onMonday. Oh yes that's why I am here.

I have to comment from previous post: arrival. This hotel is amazing in terms of views. At night it really is a sprawl of lights, that do not seem to end.
However, I could not live here. There is not enough greenery.

In transit

The flight almost seems ages away, but only a few hours ago. Some observations that are still with me, which i thought i would share. Once abroad the plane England had almost vanished, as 90% of the passengers were Japanese. Many of them began to don themselves in face masks. Was there something i should be aware of, swine flu on the plane? When the young man/boy put his on then i was very aware of my own air supply.
It was the quietest, calmest flight i have taken. No screaming children or drunk holiday makers. Infact it was so quiet i wondered if swine flu had been that fast and taken afew out!
My young seat companion was in his early twenties and very sweet, with the odd nod at times. Until seven hours had past and human need for contact emerged. He struck up a conversation and what transpired was he was a student with UAL at Wimbledon and lived in halls at Elephnat & Castle. So our conversations covered visa, foundation art, London, murder, racism and then back to a nod as tiredness took us over.
Another odd image was of an elderly Japanese man on the opposite aisle. Wearing his face mask,which he only pulled down to eat or drink at times. He had the interactive page on for 12 hours, watching every km covered and every time zone crossed. The interesting thing apart from that was his wrist. He wore two watches, one large and one smaller. I wondered which was Japanese time and the other Greenwich time?
Face masks, bento boxes for airline food, no noise, no drunken passengers, lots of films, ice creams at 3am made it a pleasant trip, that's if flying can ever be pleasant.


I am sitting on the 29th floor of my hotel room. Extremely dazed and confused. With 50mins until i meet my Japanese hosts for dinner I am wondering how i can make myself human. The view is breathtaking, even with my vertigo.

Friday, 25 September 2009


Its eleven thirty and i have time to kill before a twelve hour flight. This is my first blog, a virgin blogger at 42!
Slightly nervous all round; the flight, Japan, the teaching, the language, etiquette etc...
but also very excited to be off on a cultural adventure.
This blog will begin when in the hotel room in tokyo.
Stay turned for a 8 day blog through my teaching exchange experineces at Musashino Art University.