First Tuesday Five Random Facts about Japan!

Since it’s four in the morning (I’m not tired, due to having an afternoon nap – which involved a very bizarre dream about searching a library of war archive records for the memoirs of a man named Roberts, of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment) I’ve decided to start a new trend. One of the main reasons for this blog is so I can look back, with tears and laughter and life ever after (hopefully), in years to come and remember what it’s like to live here. Being as I have the memory of someone in their dotage, i.e. it is entirely possible for me to watch an entire film without realising until the last scene that I actually saw it a year ago, unless I keep a record I shall forget everything. So here goes with this Tuesday’s five randoms:

1. The Japanese have lots of different names for tuna. My favourite is “Sea Chicken,” which is what tuna is called when it’s in tins. Or at least that is what it says on the tins. Maybe there really is such a thing as a sea-chicken, which tastes and smells incredibly like tuna, and is only available in tins, in Japan. Anything is possible, right?

2. Men cross their legs, but women always keep both feet on the floor. Especially on the train. I think its supposed to be unfeminine to cross your legs one over the other here. A certain friend claims it is actually a more masculine way for men to sit (instead of the legs-spread posture macho guys seem to adopt at home) because, he claims, a crossed-legged man is always aware of his, er, package. In fact he says it was at one time the preferred position for English gentlemen (of the country squire, riding and hunting stripe). I’d like to see a queer theory dissertation on that. I’m sure one exists.

3. Toilets come in different varieties. They range from this to this. When visiting a new toilet for the first time, you never know what you’re going to get; it’s a bit like a lavvy version of what’s in the box. (Although, helpfully, some department store toilets have pictures on the front to help you decide which flavour you’d like today). Ours doesn’t have a flush but instead, you have to operate it with a foot pedal, and every three months a man with a big hose comes to empty the tank. (Once, the tank got blocked. For a whole week. I’m not going to talk about that, but let’s just say there was rationing involved.*) I’m very jealous if I go to a friend’s house and they have a washlet with a control panel (the ones which are like a mini-shower with a warmed seat) but once I went to this girl’s party and she had what appeared, on first inspection, to be a normal toilet. Then I looked in the bowl and discovered it was a FREAKING 100FT HOLE, like a well, right down into the bowel of the mountain she lived on. There were lots of questions I would have liked to ask her, but I didn’t know her that well, nor was I drunk enough at the time to boorishly bring it up.

4. The concept I found most difficult to explain to my students so far was how Japan gets called ‘the land of the rising sun.’ They just didn’t get it. It wasn’t that they didn’t literally understand the English of the phrase, they just claimed not to understand the reasoning. I think they were pulling my plonker, but its hard to tell.

5. My TV has a bilingual button, so you can instantly switch from Japanese to English and back again. I mostly use this to amuse myself when watching programmes such as Murder She Wrote, by noting to myself how the Japanese obaasan who does Jessica’s voice has captured the exact tone & inflection of a crochety know-it-all. The other salient point to note about this fact is exactly how long it took me to work out that this button existed (about three months). Yes, I know I was a dunce for not realising I could actually watch TV in English all that time, but imagine the excitement on the day that I discovered it. Idiocy really did create bliss!

*It’s not that I don’t want to discuss it, but quite frankly, the anecdote’s already been done to death in my best-selling Marriage: How to Keep the Romance Alive .

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