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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In Osaka on Saturday night, we ventured out for a few drinks near our hostel in the Namba area, which is all neon lights and noise. There were lots of girls hanging around on the streets, who were rather clearly ladies of the night - no major surprise there. While waiting for the fourth member of our group just down from the Namba train station - we were three girls, a little bit dressed up to go out - slight paranoia set in about the amount of businessmen in suits slowing their walk to have a look. We legged it before they could inquire about prices. With hundreds of bars, murky looking alleyways, dodgy gentlemen's clubs (don't worry Mother, it all feels pretty safe), you get the feeling that Osaka is a little bit like the Vegas of Japan.

It wasn't the girls looking for business that surprised us, but the boys. It takes a while to notice them, I guess if you're not expecting it, but then they're all over the place. Strange blonde cockatiel hair, whitened skin, light contact lenses and sharp suits started popping up everywhere we looked. Mostly outside bars but some just on the street too, cards and flyers in hand.

We went to a salsa bar - très traditional I know - so there weren't any in there, but on our way home we spotted one outside a bar on his own. He wandered off when he saw there wasn't any interest from our group but then a bar owner happened to come out of the one next door and started chatting to us as we passed. He was from Ghana but had lived in Japan for twenty years so we asked him about it. 

Apparently the guy we saw worked for a host bar next door, so his job was to lure in the ladies. Typically it is rich businesswomen who go, especially in Tokyo - those who are career-focused and don't have time to hold down a relationship. They aren't necessarily sad, lonely cat ladies with nobody to love them; Mr. Ghana attests to seeing some "sexy sexy" women frequenting next door. They go to be with someone to talk to, flatter them, laugh at their jokes and light their cigarettes. In certain cases, more can be negotiated for the right price.

The hosts themselves try to get the women to spend as much as possible on booze. The drink prices are pretty high - a few hundred euro for a bottle of wine - and it's not rare for women to spend an entire month's salary in a night. The most successful hosts are the ones who get their guests to rack up the highest bill for their bar. If they charm a lady enough, she may request only his company again and he becomes her designated host or shimeisha (thanks Google). Apparently in Tokyo alone the host industry is worth 300 million pounds a year. 

The unfortunate bottom-of-the-ladder hosts don't have the most glamorous working nights - they could be assigned to cleaning the toilets or taking to the streets to bring in women, like the chaps we had seen everywhere. The hosts are also required to keep up, booze-wise, with their ladies so the job is a daily routine of working, drinking and standing on the street all night, every night. A bit like being a student, but a lot less fun.

Mr. Ghana was quite the fountain of information on the subject. He seemed to find it all rather entertaining. And to top it all off, he seemed to be suggesting that, if it should so interest us ladies, working in a hostess bar can quite lucrative. At least there's a back up if the English teaching doesn't work out.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I think I'm developing a habit of being sent to rather dull locations against my will. First there was Missouri-gate in 2009 and now, Nagoya. Must stop volunteering to be put on a plane wherever people feel like shipping me off to. A more paranoid person than I may start to get the feeling they're being gotten rid of.

Actually, the realisation that Nagoya is not particularly exciting has come as a relief. Since this is the only part of Japan that I had seen, I was starting to think that this was it - hence the moany groany posts - but now, I have seen the error of my ways: I went to Osaka and I'm a born again Japan fan.

An excellent omen was the fact that we got on the bus, not exactly excited about the three and a half hour journey ahead of us, til we spotted this:

 Sega on a bus! On the back of every seat! Inspired. I played Sonic for a considerable amount of the journey. How long before Bus Eireann bring it in d'you think?

We squeezed just about all the sightseeing into one day, since you could get a one-day subway pass that let you into all the touristy stuff for free.  It's like the Japan that I had imagined before coming here - crazy neon lights and weirdly dressed people and just lovely chaos really. And if you go further north towards the river, it's all gardens, families, farmers' markets, food stalls and buskers. Basically just a very cool city. Token tourist photos below.
So we went to Osaka castle..

..got on a giant ferris wheel..

..saw Osaka from the sky..

..ate okonomiyaki - a delicious cabbage omelette thing..

..went up the Umeda Sky Tower..

..to see this (incredible)..

..went on a boat trip along the river..
..went to mental sweet shops..

..saw the groom turn up for his wedding with his best man dressed as the bride..

..ate super-delicious Korean battery pancake goodness with honey..

..went to the rose garden by the river for sunset..

..and saw a giant rubber duck.

On Sunday, we went from Osaka to Nara, which is an old capital city of Japan and has the biggest Buddha statue in the country.

It is also famous for its deer, which there are hundreds of just wandering around, chilling out on the pavement, walking down the street and wreaking general havoc.


Why are deer always portrayed as cute and timid and loveable? These deer gave Bambi a bad name. You can buy special deer biscuits to feed them with, which we did straight away and regretted even sooner. I was attacked by three of the greedy buggers, all butting and pucking me for the bloody biscuits, and then one of them bit my leg. While I doubt deer bite was ever listed as a cause of death, it is quite a painful thing, let me tell you. No biscuits for them.

Nara feels quite small and it was a beautiful Autumn afternoon so we just wandered around seeing all the shrines and temples.  There were lots of traditionally dressed people at the last shrine we went to, as there was a wedding and a christening (not the same couple), so behold my favourite photo of the weekend.

Kimono girl at Kasuga-taisha shrine, Nara
A successful weekend. No complaints. Fin.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Smart Japanese stuff Vol. I

Umbrella stand outside buildings. Lock your umbrella like a shopping trolley. Needs to be in Ireland.

(Yes this is my second toilet picture) Sink on the back. Clean water going into the cistern comes out of a tap to wash your hands. Say one thing for the Japanese, they are friends of the environment. When they're not killing whales.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

After lashing into Japanese men a couple of days ago, I guess it's only fair to turn my attention to the ladies. As I mentioned before, I teach all girls - which can be a challenge sometimes. They are sweet and polite, in line with the stereotype. For the most part, they're a pleasure to teach, as long as you keep it all happy bubbly skippy perky sparkly pink Hello Kitty fun.

What can be frustrating is the lack of individual thought and opinion. Perhaps it's because I come from teaching in Spain, where all you have to do is mention cheese or socks or a football team and your students are up in arms, arguing with each other, and as a teacher, you can just sit back and watch. As long as they're speaking English eh?

Here, the girls are squeaky clean. The legal age for drinking alcohol is 20 and the average age of my students is 19. In Ireland, it goes without saying that the legal age doesn't mean much to a lot of people. Here, mention drinking underage and cue shocked faces, shaking heads, tutting noises..they just about restrain themselves from going into full blown shock. Ditto smoking, at any age. (I've seen only one woman smoking in four weeks)

It's nice, in a way, to see that there's still some innocence, but slightly alarming when it crosses the line into a lack of individuality, or opinion, or even strong ambition. If I throw out a question any more demanding than 'what's your favourite colour?', something requiring an opinion, and tumbleweed starts blowing around the classroom. Ask where they want to travel, what they want to do in the future, what they think about politics, the media, money... it goes down like the proverbial lead balloon. Even knowledge of other cultures, or their own culture, is practically non-existent.

Disclaimer alert - I'm speaking generally and from my experience. I don't want to seem like I'm being unfair but there's something discouraging about seeing a country which is so developed in so many ways, yet the girls still act like Stepford Wives. When I want to guarantee a reaction, I mention getting married, getting pregnant, going shopping, make-up or Arashi - the notorious devilishly handsome boy-band. Haven't you heard of them?

Me neither until a week ago.  Now I want them to leave my life.

They're not completely different to girls from other countries of course. There are the cooler ones and the less cool ones, and ones who like reading and some who like rock music. It's not like we're dealing with an army of clones. Although you wouldn't know it when you see them at university - all perfectly made up, four-inch heels, tiny skirts, shorts and dresses (apparently here it's okay to have lots of leg showing as long as your chest is all covered up) and sitting around curling or straightening their hair between classes. Or taking pictures of themselves or each other. For 80 minutes straight. No lie.

On the whole, they're pleasant and lovely to teach. It just feels a little strange when you still have girls declaring that what they want to do after university is get married. They plot and plan how to get a boyfriend, going to different open days of mens' universities in the hopes of finding someone. That's what's weird about this country - it's a completely advanced, first-world, modern country, with amazing infrastructure, technology and business but when it comes to women's thinking, it's back in the 1950s.
Third post in - you might think I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel to start talking about the subway here, but given I spend maybe an hour and a half on it every day getting to and from work, it's a bit like a second home. There's a depressing thought.

The subway here is not quite up there with Tokyo standards:

One of the advantages of not working in Tokyo. Christmas shopping there before I go home should be..an experience.

Apart from the pushing above, the subway system is all rather weirdly polite. There's a little office beside the ticket stiles and a man sits in there greeting and thanking nearly every single person who walks through. They pipe sounds of birds singing into the station. Though at night, that just lends itself to you feeling a bit like you're in the mines with the bloody warning canaries.

There's a women-only carriage for rush hour to ward off male gropers or grinders. Lesbians have a field day, though. I'm not quite sure what the punishment is for a man who gets on this carriage - lots of handbag bashing and dirty looks, if last week is anything to go by, when I saw it happen. The guy in question didn't seem that bothered, and he had a carful of lady loveliness to look at for half an hour. The dirty looks were a small price to pay for him, I think he liked his women angry.

Mostly everyone just sleeps, like dead people hanging forward, which is apparently because they're up all night playing video games. A bit of a generalisation perhaps but seems to be true. One advantage about Japan is it mostly does live up to most of the stereotypes - saves me from doing a lot of that description business really, so I can just post photos of toilets and prattle on about the subway.

That about sums it up I think. Do come back soon for a no-holds-barred account of the price of fruit and vegetables in Japan.

Lowering the tone

Shot of a Japanese toilet anyone? Too strange not to share.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I think it's fair to say that I haven't had the best impression of Japanese men since arriving here, which is possibly not fair on the male population as a whole - after all, there are almost 9 and a half million of them - but at least I can say I've seen a few men doing things that I haven't seen at home. This thought is fresh in my mind because I have just arrived home, at 6pm, from the local convenience store where there were three middle-aged men in suits lined up browsing, shall we say, magazines aimed at their gender. Well, I did go in for milk, something for dinner and a glimpse of some topless Asian women myself. Unfortunately it appears that even Japan isn't safe from the economic crisis - the poor chaps couldn't scrape together the yen to buy themselves a copy, they just had to stand and look at all of them right there in the shop.

On another evening, I went to the centre with some other teachers to have dinner and there was a performance on the street by some school girls, possibly 13 or 14 year olds, singing a pretty brutal pop song in their school uniforms (think pre-mental Britney) and hopping around in unison. It was all very sweet and Japanese. Turn your eyes to the onlookers, possibly 70 people gathered around to cheer them on, and could we count a single female? Not a one. All middle aged to plain old men smiling and watching. I'm not implying anything but it was statistically rather unusual.

These, along with the recent opening of a cuddle café in Tokyo, hint that there are some interesting man-folk around these parts. But of course, the vast majority who I pass walking down the street are normal mind-your-own-business kind of lads. I feel perfectly safe (nothing to do with the fact that I'm half a foot taller and wider than the average male around here) and while all the above is a little bit pervy, it's perviness on a very polite, smiling, typically Japanese level.

Part of me feels sorry for Japanese men. Guys swoop in from America or the UK or wherever and could probably have any girl they wanted here, having not even been able to get a phone number back home. You start to see it everywhere here - Western man, complete with beautiful Japanese girl on his arm. The male English teachers at my university have girls literally queuing up outside the office - a slightly ginger one is particularly successful because they think he looks like 'Lon' from Harry Potter.

It's much more unusual to see a foreign girl with a Japanese man, though it does happen. But you have to feel pity - the Japanese girls prefer other nationalities, the foreign girls stick to their own.. Maybe all there is to do is go and stand in the 7-Eleven and look at some dirty magazines. Down the cuddle caff you pay 1,000 yen to watch some bird change clothes - in the shop in broad daylight, it's free!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Finding myself with too much free time at a computer in work and a four year journalism degree that should surely be put to some sort of use, I have decided to start a blog for the short time I have here in Japan. As much as I would like to declare that it will contain all types of interesting insight into the Japanese psyche, it will more likely feature lots of photos of pretty things I see, like this view of the sunset from my office window:

 Or of the funny, cool or strange stuff that you come across on a daily basis, like this:

And quite possibly, a lot of food pictures. Quite unavoidable when there are as many amazing and strange snacks as there are here.

Turns out purple rice is seaweed flavour. Go figure.

I'm currently teaching English in an all-women's university in Nagoya, and will be doing so until Christmas. Although I was apprehensive at first about teaching all girls, it is kind of interesting to see how different they are from girls at home. The average age of my students is 19 - most have never drunk a drop of alcohol, their weekends are filled with "working part-time job" and they've never been to a nightclub. In contrast, the vast majority of them dress like a mildly conservative prostitute to come to (an all-women's) university.
Teaching them is a bit like teaching girls of a secondary school age at home. On my first day they asked me if I preferred Disney or Hello Kitty and were shocked to discover I didn't really have a preference. (In hindsight, it's clearly Disney.) They think I'm 26 - a two year addition to my real age - and when they found out I didn't have a boyfriend there was a resounding 'awww' laced with pity around the classroom. My declarations that it was my choice and I really was a valid human being despite being single fell on deaf ears. Not to be engaged by about 27 here is not good.

And so I learn something new every day. Some days it's an interesting observation into society - like that a lot of Japanese girls diet to crazy extents to maintain the tiny figures we think are naturally Asian or Japanese; other days it's not so deep - like that most people here are convinced beyond persuasion that watermelon is, in fact, a vegetable. I can't promise that the former will outnumber the latter but I'll try my best.

Until the next time!