Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday - Catholics go to Mass, the Japanese go discount store shopping. Today I went to Don Quijote, a chain of discount stores, for the first time in search of a suitcase. You can literally find everything there. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I couldn't even make out half of what the stuff was, just that it was strange.

Discount underwear, always a good thing.


Discount booze. So far, so good.

Hello Kitty crap.

No idea what this is. You put your face in it like the picture. Any idea?!

Ear piercers.

Beautiful shoes.

Again, no idea. Intrigued by the picture on the right of what appears to be a column of a wax-like substance.

Very important.

Everyone needs a Happy Warmmy.

Singing Minnie. Is it just me that thinks she looks a bit like a blow-up doll though?

Giant birthday hats.

Dog clothes.

Yum, creamy collon!

Vanilla cream McVitie's actually sound very good. Better than Creamy Collon.

Mickey Mouse frying pan - nothing is complete without a cartoon character in Japan.

Air purifiers

Face & body shaver. Ok!

Not disturbing at all.

Wigs galore

Surely a bit disrespectful to Buddha but anyway..

Lovery Minnie indeed

No idea what Gold Premium is but if it helps me look like him..

Rain suit for Ladies

Eyelid pushing device. "Don't you want to make your eyes bigger?" Sounds threatening.

No idea what this was - they looked like bean bag boobs but they seem to be causing her some pain

Nothing worse than dusty air.

Hair dyes with interesting names

Maybe a dusty mouth is worse than dusty air

Bubble bath to make you skinny

"One piece" cartoon toilet paper.

The whole shop had these little screens playing mad videos advertising stuff, like this ad for No-No hair remover.

I've saved the best for last - the men's underwear section. The eyes cannot unsee.

I didn't get the suitcase but the memories alone were worth the trip.

Oh, Don Quijote, the pleasure was all mine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I won't lie - when I first got here, the face masks that people wear kind of freaked me out. On the right person, they look a tad Hannibal Lecter. I also thought folk wore them to prevent inhaling germs and pollution and the like - try not to be overwhelmed by my scientific lingo and knowhow - but it turns out that they wear them when they're sick to prevent others. This may not be news to you but anyway..

However, it doesn't make much sense since they just whip them on and off whenever they feel like it. Bus drivers wear them, which figures I guess, as they don't want to pick anything up from the wonderful array of select characters who use public transport. Most entertaining though, is the fact that the reason why lots of the girls at my university sport them is because they're not wearing their make-up that day, or because they have a spot. Again, it baffles me how much effort these girls put into their appearance for going to an all-women's university every day but I won't start banging on about that again.

What's kind of sad is that lots of shy girls wear them literally just to hide behind. The amount of strangely, painfully shy and withdrawn girls who walk around with their head constantly bowed never ceases to amaze me. And then they wear these masks almost every day as a way to withdraw even more, you feel sorry for them.

Though it is kind of frustrating as a teacher when you want them to speak and they sound like they're talking through a duvet. As if they sometimes weren't hard enough to understand with the L/R confusion, vowels thrown in at the end of words ("and-o","but-o") and general low level of English, you get to try and decipher it like they're talking to you from inside a womb, and you're not even able to lip-read. The fun never ends.

One thing I'll say for the masks is, come Halloween, all you need is some markers and you're sorted - check out my students below (personal favourite is second from left). Every cloud..

Sunday, November 18, 2012

If I haven't stated this plainly before: the Japanese people are bizarre. Maybe it's not fair to brand the entire population, but why stop now eh?

I was really bored today so I went into the centre of Nagoya to have a walk around and there were Christmas decorations and music everywhere. But a Japanese Christmas is different to the one we know - here, it's more of a couples' holiday, a bit like Valentine's Day. They buy each other presents or do something romantic - apart from that, it's just a normal working day. There's a bit of peer pressure to be in a relationship in the run-up to Christmas, so some girls tend to just start dating someone around November in order to have a boyfriend - and therefore, presents - on the day itself. Then those poor blokes find themselves single again come the new year. You might think those girls are right slags but dating is such a slow process here - they dance around each other for a while, then go on loads of group dates with friends, maybe then break off into proper dates and perhaps THEN start holding hands, with months or a year usually passing before even a first kiss. So they're not slags, just materialistic users.

So why all the decorations if Christmas isn't even a holiday here? Why indeed. These are some of the things that seem strange to me about here - Christmas, Halloween, the love of baseball and Starbucks are all arguably part of the Americanisation that's happening pretty much everywhere but sometimes in Japan it looks to me like they're trying really hard to be something they're not - I can't quite put my finger on what exactly is a bit off. Though with blue eye contacts, skin whitener, weird fake eyelid things to give "Western" looking eyes and cream to turn nipple skin from brown to pink all on the shelf in drugstores, it's pretty clear that some Japanese girls are definitely trying hard to be something else.

The materialism is undeniable though. Shopping is basically the number one national pastime. I can't shop here - all the shops, apart from H&M and Uniqlo, are ridiculously expensive. Today I wandered into a shop full of people, thinking it must be affordable since so many people were buying stuff, but it was about 200 big ones for a hat, never mind any clothes. The shops like Louis Vuitton or Chanel, that are usually tumbleweed-worthy at home, always have customers here. I've been told that there's a lot of personal debt here, as people take out loans to buy clothes and nice cars and keep up the general illusion that they have money, when they really don't. I don't know if it's true or not, but it makes sense.

I am aware that I sound like a total knobface preacher type - exactly the type of person whose blog you want to read - but the superficiality just gets a bit frustrating now and again. And this is coming from someone who loves buying crap, spending money, posting pictures of my dinner on Instagram and generally being quite superficial too. Again maybe I'm just exposed to an unfortunate demographic in my job, surrounded daily by the girliest of teenage girls trotting along in five inch heels and curling their hair in the classroom.

I'm not doing a great job of showing my affection for Japan, the Japanese or my students, who I do actually love (for the most part). There really is so much that I like about here; it's just much easier to write about the strange or different stuff and no fun to gush about all the things I love, like puppies and rainbows. Well, that's what I tell myself as I increasingly feel like a moany geriatric, complaining about technology and the length of girls' hemlines. Whatever helps me sleep (on my too-thin, too-short futon in my small, noisy apartment) at night, right?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This is the classy joint across the street from my balcony. It's a karaoke bar and though it doesn't look much by day, just check out it out come nightfall.

Every night the neighbours and I are treated to tuneless wailing, always male. It closes pretty early so it's not the worst, mostly entertaining. I have been tempted to go a couple of times, but I've been told that this is the sleazy male-dominated variety of karaoke bar. Yes, there is apparently more than one variety of karaoke bar. And yes, men just come here, every night of the week to sing all their troubles away.

I've only been to one so far, for my birthday, but I do plan to go again. Sit in a room with your friends, choose a song from a catalogue the size of the Yellow Pages, sing out of tune and bring your own booze in - what's not to like? Not all of them are bring your own booze, mind, just the ones that poor English teachers opt for.

Having your own room is not as intimidating as standing in front of a crowd of strangers and I've discovered that for the most part, people really can't sing so you can check your dignity at the door and howl away to your heart's content. Plus there's usually more than one microphone so no solo numbers are necessary, unless you want to get your X-Factor on (there's always one, eyes closed, fist clenched, the works).

Karaoke really is as big in Japan as you think. Our students skip class in the middle of the day to go. One girl was telling me the other day how her and her mate went to one for six hours last weekend. Not to drink or before going out or anything - just to go, the two of them, for six whole hours. They all have their favourite numbers that they like to perform, mostly Disney or animé songs (like the theme tunes from cartoons) from the sounds of it. If it wasn't Japanese enough before, that's what they choose to sing.

I reckon karaoke needs to be bigger at home. Fire up some rebel songs or a bit of Christy Moore and we'd be off! Bodhrán's an extra tenner.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I remember seeing comedian Andrew Maxwell in Vicar Street a few years ago, and he was taking the piss out of the amount of Polish immigrants working in Ireland at the time.

"The Polish LOVE working, don't they?! Just love it! Any work they can get. They just bloody love working," he said, or something similar, which made me laugh at the time. It's been floating around my head for the last few days, except now I just substitute "Polish" with "Japanese". While he was saying it with tongue firmly in cheek, because the Polish were all slaving away to send money home to family or just save, and not really for the love of it, the Japanese really just generally seem to like work.

Here they have a completely different attitude to what I know. The concept of TGIF doesn't really exist; people don't complain about work and similarly, don't seem to understand when we foreign folk complain about being tired or working hours or anything labour-related. It's just in our blood to complain about working really I think and who would question tradition?

It's a good thing really. Complaining is a bit of a waste of time. Also, the Japanese take pride in any work, no matter what kind it may be. No grumpy checkout staff at the supermarket or bored bitchy old women at the post office - everything is done with a smile.

It's just that sometimes, it's work for the sake of work. The cleaning staff come into our little two person office twice a day to empty the bin and to meticulously clean the whiteboard that has not been used since the last time it was cleaned. Head office staff from Tokyo come to observe our classes, arriving on campus at 8am (classes start at 9.10) and staying around til after 6, even if they only have to watch one 40 minute class. They seem to just create work for themselves to do and prolong meetings with lots of awkward silences, and head back to Tokyo late, meaning they don't get home til after 9pm. Then they work on Saturdays and Sundays, when they could probably get it all done during the week with a bit of thinking.

The post office here doubles up as the main bank and sending money home to my Irish bank account took far longer than was necessary because it was all done on paper with carbon copies. When I had to go back to give them another code, it took them ten minutes to find my file because they had to dig through a mountain of paper. This is Japan - the country people associate with high speed technology and digital everything - and the national post office and bank are still working by carefully printing everything character by character on paper. It's nuts.

The problem is when foreign folk like us work for a Japanese company like mine. I've been finished work for two hours and here I am, with another hour and a half on the clock. There is genuinely nothing else I can do today. One of my superiors came in a while ago and I didn't even bother to hide the fact that I was reading the news. I work 45 hours a week and teach 8 of those hours, with maybe two more hours of tutor type classes on top of that. I still have to sit here for the rest of the time, hence the aforementioned creeping insanity. My colleague had a fall two weeks ago on her way to work - didn't get the day off, even though she had to go to the hospital to get stitches and the dentist because she chipped her tooth - and is now having ongoing dental work, twice a week, from 7pm - 9pm because they won't let her leave an hour early, despite having nothing to do.

This might just be my company who are, on the whole, a bit bonkers.

Generally, though, it does seem like they could be a bit more efficient. Sometimes there are lots of people doing one person's job. Then, on Saturday, we get on this one-man train (quite poetic but it is actually called that) where one dude drives the train, then stops, opens up the window into the carriage, takes everyone's fares, keeps an eye to make sure no one's hopping off, legs it on to every platform and into an office to collect something, gets back in, sticks his head out the window to check the coast is clear and gets back to driving.

What's becoming clear about Japan is that it is very advanced in many ways, but seriously backwards in others, like this, and womens' attitudes like I've said before. What's also becoming clear is that to travel here is one amazing, must-do experience; to work here is something entirely different.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Over 700 views?! I have no idea who's reading this, or if anyone is checking back but I do apologise for the lack of posts lately. The thing is I'm slowly losing my mind, and I'd like to keep that as private as possible to avoid embarrassment.

I joke, of course. Kind of. Since Osaka, I haven't really travelled because it is seriously expensive and I'm trying to save my yen for the new year, so I'm going a bit stir crazy.

Last weekend, I went to the zoo near my university, which was possibly the most depressing zoo in the world, all plastic trees and grey walls and the animals going a little bit mad just pacing back and forth. Which is a bit like me waiting for the clock to tick 6pm on a weekday.

The weekend before we joined in Nagoya's Gay Pride parade, which was much bigger than we had previously thought. It's kind of a conservative city and what I had heard of the general attitude towards homosexuality wasn't great. Generally same sex couples can be turned away from hotels and hostels and I haven't seen any openly gay couples out and about, excuse the pun. But the parade managed to draw a lot of people, and there were some pretty fierce looking guys in drag. As it was the weekend before Halloween, there were a lot of people in fancy dress, and we weren't sure if they actually knew they were walking in a gay pride parade. They seemed happy though.

Next I shall go to Kyoto, hopefully at the end of the month, and be filled with cheer, wit and anecdotes galore. Until then I'll be pacing..

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Doing the odd article for expat website GaijinPot. It's a much nicer, much less politically incorrect me.

Here, here and here.