Category Archives: Japan: living

It’s freezing this morning

Currently wearing: bed socks; knee socks; wool pajamas; a dress; a jumper; the daddy coat; a hat.

The daddy coat is a padded tartan housecoat/smoking jacket sported (usually) by the discerning Japanese pensioner-around-town, which I picked up for a song in the local village store.


At The Hop

The eponymous S has a blog!

In the short time he’s been posting (less than 1 week) he’s already managed to write much more about the day to day experience of living here than I’ve done in a year. So if you want to find out about fire festivals, Hanshin Tiger games and life as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in a Japanese school, then I shamelessly recommend you pop over there and read it.

Oh, and leave him a comment, he’s feeling neglected.

In which some things get cleared up

This week has been a week of pronunciation mix-ups slightly reminiscent of a 1970s British sitcom. In one of my classes I was teaching language to use for the internet. Two students had a conversation practise, which went something like:
“What do you use the internet for?” (the practise question.)
1st student, excitable salaryman in his 40s: “I use it to do my wanking!”
2ns student, trainee buddhist monk and keen yoga enthusiast, good at English: “Wanking?”
1st: “Yes, wanking, anytime is convenient, day or night.”
2nd: “Banking?”
1st: “Yes, online banking.”

Also, I found out that I had been mispronouncing the word ‘curry.’ In Japanese, this word is written in katakana, the alphabet used for foreign imported words; they use the English word ‘curry’, although it is written as “ka-re” and pronounced something like kah-ray. However, lots of things are written like that, eg オレンジジュース ‘oh-ren-ji-jyuu-so’ and, although they say the word as it is written in Japanese they will understand the English pronunciation also. Not so with curry, which would always be met with blank stares until I said ‘kah-ray’. Well, I found out that there is a reason why they don’t write it transliteratively – the Japanese slang for clitoris is ‘kuh-ri’. Turns out I’ve been asking the man in the shop for the wrong sort of ramen for nearly two years.

Wet weather

I woke up this morning to a beautiful sound – the thrum and trickle of rain falling on the balcony outside the apartment window. The temperature had fallen to 27 and outside, the mountains on the horizon were swaddled in a duvet of mist. Does this mean the back of the sauna summer has been broken? I hope so… for the first time since late June, there’s no need for fans or air-con today.

I must admit to a prejudice in favour of wet weather – it’s my favourite kind. I love the rain. All kinds of rain. From the fine drizzle that’s more like a damp coat to the lashings of hurled water that accompany a thunderstorm. When I was a kid I used to sit with my legs dangling out the bedroom window, getting my toes wet and watching the night sky light up. In my opinion, almost any landscape is transfigured and improved by the rain.

Two sorts of karaoke

So this weekend just gone, we finally had the “wedding party” – a karaoke party. Knickers actually had a karaoke party the weekend before for his birthday, the copycat, but it’s ok as his mates all live in Osaka -plus there can never be enough karaoke in Japan. For K’s, we went to Osaka and he had it in this massive place called Aria Blu which is dead swanky in the middle of town.

They have lots of ‘party rooms’ there and we were in the one called ‘disco saloon’ which had leopard skin walls, revolving disco balls all over the ceiling and a stage!!!! There’s also a costume room and a spa room there. There were about 20 people who went, and k had booked the room from 11pm to 5am with ‘all you can drink’ so we just kept phoning the waiter for more and more was fab. It costs about £15 per person at that time, cheap as ten as I think everyone drank at least that.

So this saturday was our party, also a karaoke party but a more contrasting setting could not be imagined. We had it in the local shop/ izakaya (a sort of tiny pub cafe) / karaoke room. In the middle of our village there is one old guy who has a shop selling beer etc. It’s a very traditional, wooden sort of Japanese building (like the temple-style buildings they have here with ornate rooves). One day S & I went there in the evening to buy some beer or something, and the old guy came out of the back and beckoned us inside. Mystified, we followed him into a dark passageway and then into a surprise secret karaoke parlour he has built on the back of the shop! It’s very old fashioned, with old Japanese posters (probably from before the war) and bamboo on the walls, with a strange old karaoke machine that you put money in a slot on the side of it. But it’s actually quite a big room, with stools and tables and stuff, and we thought perfect for a party, which it WAS. I even organised a small buffet! It felt a bit like a family wedding party, we had some guests from America, New Zealand, Ireland, England and Japan. I love that – guests from 4 continents. Everyone got wasted and sang and even danced – all in the middle of the day (haha! there’s never any natural light in these places so it always feels like evening anyway). Only one plate got smashed and there was even the cutest 3 year old Japanese girl dancing.. Cunningly, I didn’t “open” the buffet until 2 hours after the party had started, and the old man had served everyone at least 3 beers etc. I discovered the secret of a good party… the other secret is to kick everyone out while they are still enjoying it…I like to think that everyone was disappointed that they had to go, haha! in fact they went out somewhere after. K, S & I stayed in the place with the old guys and some Japanese people we knew for the second party (that’s what they call it here) – which meant drinking more wine, sake, getting extremely drunk with the odd song (one which K sang whilst sitting on the shoulders of a -very strong – 70 year old man and being walked round the room, how I WISH I’d got a photo of that) then back to mine for food when certain people could no longer stand up (not me. Brain was still riding her bike! As old men say, “very strong!” – ie, I can drink lots of alcohol)


The next day we went to a BBQ with the old men which we had agreed to the night before in a drunken haze. It was actually OK, with everyone sitting in one of the guy’s yard, on tatami, round a meat grill on the floor and eating lots of meat plus weird stuff like octopus and liver. As soon as we got there we were each given a pint of beer, a glass of wine and a glass of sake. I don’t know why this is, but Japanese people always seem to give the guests at least 3 drinks concurrently. maybe it’s supposed to be polite or something. You can also smoke all the way through the meal and nobody ever thinks its rude. Me and Knickers of course love this.

We were the youngest people there and I was the only female. The next youngest was our friend Mr T who is 46. The oldest was about 81. Old people in Japan are so different from old people in England though. It’s like they worked hard all their lives and now they are retired they want to have parties everyday. Plus these guys were all probably fitter than me as they are like farmers or something (it’s pretty common to see 90 year olds on bikes going like the clappers). Old people and small babies here – you never see them with walking aids. They’re all small and wry – running about like Madam Gau from Raise the Red Lantern. God knows how old the ACTUAL decrepit ones you sometimes see are – probably about 120. I like them althouh they do tend to ask questions like “baby – when?” whilst pointing at my stomach; when I say “not yet” they say “yes! make babies! many sons!” Actually not all of them say that but the ones that do also think “ladies first” is a hilarious concept. They pour my drinks first and chuckle to themselves – “ladies first!” Then tell us, “in Japan, it is NEVER ladies first!”

Turning the other Chikan

Does western hair smell different from Japanese hair? This was the burning question in the mind of at least one chikan riding the Osaka subway one sunny afternoon.

You hear a lot about the “chikans” (gropers) in Japan – and people had told me to watch out for these on the trains/subways here. I therefore used to keep my eyes peeled for odd, sweaty, furtive men in dirty coats whose hands seemed to be twitching so I could show off with some recently learned Japanese swear words at the first contact. Disappointly, however, the only chikans I ever encountered were the scare-signs they put up at railway stations like this one. (There’s a poster up at one of my local railway stations, outside the ladies’ toilets, pointing out that flash photography up skirts is forbidden, with a lovely drawing.)

Indeed, I had begun to believe that chikans were not quite the ubiquitous threat that they were made out to be, even if the perception of said threat was so great as to warrant women-only carriages on the subways here. Either the remaining chikans had confined themselves to visiting the sorts of clubs which featured mock-train carriages and charged them for ‘groping’ the passengers/hostesses, or I just wasn’t chikan-friendly material…

Then, one day on the subway a bizarre incident occurred. I was sitting in an empty-ish carriage, on the end of one of the bench seats next to the doors. There was a man standing some way down the carriage, about fifty or so, quite nondescript looking. I only noticed him because there were so many empty seats and he was the only one standing. I was listening to my MP3 player and not paying much attention when he started to make his way down the swaying carriage towards me. He paused next to where I was sitting. I thought nothing of it as I presumed he was simply positioning himself in front of the doors, ready for disembarking at the next station. I’d noticed him looking at me but thought it was just because I’m foreign. Also, it was a little odd that the guy had walked past a couple of other doors to stand by my door, but, well, some people just have a favourite exit point – don’t they?

Then he started sniffing my hair.

Let’s be clear here. This man did not have a cold. He was not politely inhaling the delicious aroma of a spring day inside a metal people-box. He was sniffing so hard I was alerted to it over the sound of the music in my headphones. He was also leaning over towards my head, less than a foot away. I looked up at him – he looked away. Hands in his pockets, he stared blankly out of the glass doors as the train pulled into the next stop. The doors hissed open. He didn’t get off.

No, what he did was slowly saunter back up the carriage to stand in his previous spot as the subway juddered back into motion. I think he was still there when I got off at my stop.

Long Dark Night of the Slipper

This blog has been brought to you with the help of Japan’s many-legged poisonous friend, the mukade.

A couple of days ago, S found one in our apartment. Now, maybe it was the muggy rain outside or the workmen leaving the door open while delivering parts for our new shower that brought it in: but we couldn’t be sure that we didn’t have some bad-tempered, non-rent-paying occupants living in the tatami.

Three thoughts flashed through my mind:

  • 1. Mukade travel in pairs.
  • 2. If you get bitten by one then you need to go to the hospital…
  • 3. …I don’t have health insurance.

We actually had to bug-bomb the apartment, but until we could do that, we spent the next couple of nights sleeping in shifts. So it was, in the quietly ticking hours of the dawn, during a lonely mukade watch/patrol, that this blog was born.