Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

It IS, therefore it is okay

aka: "it's the Japanese way."

I have a thing about acceptance of something just because. My mother used to be a believer (hell, she probably still is, but how would I know) that because something IS, it is okay. You know, the government says something, therefore it MUST be correct. Something is in the shops, therefore it MUST be in fashion and so on.

I guess I'm a bit more cynical / stubborn / realistic / awkward though. I question things. I have very strong opinions about a lot of things and have to constantly try to think before I speak. I'm generally pretty good at this, I think. And if something pisses me off... I don't want to always be polite and nice and accepting about it.

Of course, that isn't the Japanese way.

It's only little subtle comments from the Japanese that let you know they aren't as happy with things as they like you to think they are. Such things as, 'my husband is away on a business trip. It's SO relaxing without him here.' ETC.

Anyway, I want to go further into this: Take two conversations I had with Japanese friends today:

We went to Nikko today (photos will be uploaded / downloaded (I don't know the difference) as soon as I get the chance). I've been to Nikko before but we explored some other bits that I'd not previously been to, such as the lake area and the waterfall, as well as the temples I saw last time I went there. The weather was lovely and we had a really fun day.

Taking a taxi from the station to the waterfall: the taxi driver approached the four of us (two Japanese, two Gaijin) and told us the taxi would be cheaper than the bus. Naturally, because I'm so streetwise (aka: bloody suspicious/cynical/paranoid) I wasn't immediately convinced and thought we could be being scammed. Not so my J. friends. Anyway, it turns out the (bloody expensive) taxi may have worked out cheaper than a bus, but we were charged 1000 yen (about £5 or US$10) EACH for a 40 minute taxi ride (4000 yen total for the ride). And we had to take another one later on.

Commenting on this later, I said it was an outrageous amount. My J. friends said, yes, but it's cheaper than the bus and is 'the countryside'. I said, yes, but the bus is hideously overpriced and a total rip-off, compared to a 290 yen bus ride in Tokyo of a similar time period. My J. friends said, they had to make a living. I said, it wasn't right or fair or reasonable just because it was a little bit outside of Tokyo.

I gave in and changed the subject eventually, realising nobody was going to give on this argument and it was going round in circles.

Earlier, whilst in the taxi, one of my J. friends started talking about a monkey show. I was angry. Now, maybe I'm a hypocrite as I eat meat and have a few pairs of leather shoes BUT I feel very strongly about how animals are treated by people (in laboratories, in captivity, to entertain people, etc. Even dogs being left in the house, alone all day, or birds in cages really pisses me off). Anyway, words like 'sweet', 'cute', etc got me pretty riled on the subject and I launched into a little opinionated piece about drugging, beating, punishing, extracting teeth, starving if they didn't perform, etc.

My J. friend said: 'but they enjoy it'.

Worse still, later on, when she was talking to taxi driver number 2: she turned to me and said: 'Jo, you're right. They beat them. Often until they bleed.'

My point is: I wish people would stop just accepting things.

Another thing, and I apologise for this whole rant because we did have a fantastic and very fun day:

Nikko area is beautiful. Really beautiful. Driving through it though saddened me deeply. I realised there wouldn't have been a single moment I could have taken a photograph of the wonderful scenery without a bloody electricity pylon or cable in view. It amazed me. In a bad way. And then I remembered: Alex Kerr, in 'Dogs and Demons', had spoken about the exact same thing.

How could this have been allowed to happen? Such an area of beauty, littered with such an ugly sight?


I did spot a wild monkey sitting at the roadside though which made me happy. Actually, we were going around a steep curve at the time and I kind of shrieked with excitement. I guess the driver was used to that kind of reaction. Luckily!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Love-Hate Relationship

I've been thinking about my last post. What it really comes down to, for me, is a mixture of things but, primarily my relationship with Japan and the Japanese people is a love-hate relationship. I'm sure many, if not all, foreigners living in their non-native country feel this from time to time.

I love how safe I feel here. I love having my own apartment. I love my job (most of the time and apart from the politics) and I have some great friends (Japanese and Gaijin) here. The food is great. The drink is great. The karaoke is fucking fantastic. The culture (when I can be arsed to go and see / experience it) is awesome. The spring and autumn are beautiful. The bilingual news is fucking hilarious. My local DVD shop has DVD's for 50 yen (25 pence) every other weekend. Some of my students are awesome, some are very amusing, some are boring, but you can't have it all. Most Japanese people will go out of their way to help you.

But, but, but.... there is also a long list of things that wind me up and really annoy me, and sometimes I can't see the wood for the trees.

However, today was a cool day so I just wanted to clarify it's not all bad. Today one of the little 5-year olds I used to teach, came running out of her class at the end of the lesson with another teacher, saw me, and ran up and hugged me. That was SO sweet. Then she drew me a picture.

After work, I went out drinking with most of my adult students from the day. It was totally fun and they are lovely people, which is why I asked them to come.

I also happened to try horse sashimi (raw horse) tonight for the first time. I was curious. It was a lot tougher than beef but not too bad. Neeeiiiiggggghhhhh! (Also had a kahlua banana drink, a couple of mango-shochu drinks and a couple of kiwi-shochu drinks).

And of course, there are two more teaching days before a ten day Golden Week break. YAY!!!

(Oh, and as a special treat, I'm in the process of (finally) sorting out the Vietnam photos).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


This blog is very google-able now, which means people from work and people who know me (but are not friends, etc) have and do stumble upon it, or find out about it. For this reason I have considered setting up another more anonymous blog - but can't really be bothered to do so.

My reason for this would be that I'm constantly self-censoring what I really want to say on here which defies the object of the blog really. But it all comes down to doing the 'right' thing and being politically correct, and not offending anyone, doesn't it? Sometimes I just wish I'd chosen a less obvious name. Not that I'm objecting to anyone reading what's here: it's just strangers are strangers and people who know who you are... well, it comes down to keeping people happy I guess.

There are many many things I'd like to say about life in Tokyo and Japanese people that just couldn't be sufficiently sugar-coated that I could get away with it.

As for work: work bitching is okay between people who work in the same company but I firmly believe it shouldn't really go outside of that. Apart from bitching about the BBC that is.

Having said all this though: I have one receptionist who is absolutely lovely but has left me speechless a couple of times in the last few months. Yesterday she told me I shouldn't give one of MY students any homework because the girl was too sensitive. A few months ago, when I was encouraging a parent to use a picture dictionary with a kid, the receptionist 'suggested' to the mother, she should write all the words in katakana for the kid. Now this would totally fuck up any attempt at correct pronunciation -- but the receptionist believed it would be fun. GAH!

I'm rambling. I'm gone...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hot on the heels of the ear post

I bring you the feet! - Unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to link directly to the video, but go here and look at the left side. Then play the clip under 'BBC News: Video and Audio'. Enjoy!

A new foot treatment in Japan involves bathers dipping their feet into a
pool filled with fish that nibble away dead skin.
Kangal fish could cure
some skin conditions but for some Japanese it is about getting clean feet.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Stand by your man

"Many women want to learn how to remove earwax to please men. Akiko Inaba is even thinking of starting classes to teach women ear cleaning and massage as part of their bridal training."

I'm kind of speechless.

The tea ceremony lessons. The kimono wearing lessons. The flower arranging lessons. All of this I accept and can pretend to understand. But this... Just NO. Will toe picking lessons be next?

Another article

Actually, the whole 'bridal training' thing is, er, interesting.

I think my point, might be, that sometimes for brief periods I start imagining things in Japan and the UK to be similar. And then, WHACK, something comes thundering out to remind me of just how I'm deluding myself.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Oo me! me! massage ME regularly with sake!

Ah, the life of a Japanese cow. Massaged regularly with sake, and fed on a beer enriched diet. Then slaughtered and sliced into an £85.00 sandwich and sold in Selfridges in London.



On another note, Japanese like standing and reading entire books or magazines in shops. It feels that way often anyway. Here's a story about one old man who was so unhappy about being told to go away, that he returned. With a chainsaw.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What did I do? Am I being raided?

I just had immigration officers at my door. At least, I believe, they were from immigration. They showed me their ID and there was a bunch of them with my apartment number and the numbers of the other teachers in the block, written down, BUT, you don't actually know, do you? I mean, I don't know what immigration ID should look like.

So, naturally, I was worried. Well, a little bit, I was mainly annoyed because they were stopping me from showering and drinking tea before rushing off to work. The tea before work is VERY important.

Anyway, they checked my gaijin card and passport, made a phone call, jotted down my gaijin card number and, luckily, one of them spoke a bit of English which was used alongside the Japanese they used to explain to me!

My understanding was that Koreans are committing a lot of crimes around stations so door to door checks are now being made. Or something like that... Odd start to the day anyway, seeing a bunch of immigration officers outside your door.

Week Two with The Toddlers

Did I mention that the toddler I trial lessoned, joined? Well, he did, and last week was the first lesson with both toddlers. There's about 6 months between them, so a pretty big gap. Last week, the older one was pretty attentive and co-operative, whilst the younger one ran around grabbing things and being whacked around the head my the mom.

Today, was week two. The older toddler (he's about 2 years and 5 months I think) wasn't in such a co-operative mood today for much of the lesson. His mom thought he was being shyer today. The younger one (almost 2) was a lot calmer, thankfully, but still not really into doing anything other than his own thing.

But, as there were no tears and no tantrums, I wasn't too bothered and carried on regardless of being ignored most of the time. The two mums, however, were totally into the lesson, which made it quite funny:

Picture the scene - At one stage, I'm pre-teaching some actions and then playing a song. The kids aren't interested. Both mums and I are lying on the floor, pretending to sleep; walking around the classroom; running around the classroom; jumping around the classroom; hopping around the classroom; skipping around the classroom. And the kids are just watching, with the mums occasionally trying to get them to join it. It WAS very funny. I can't imagine what the kids must have been thinking, while they watched three adults racing around the classroom with one very strange one saying something lots of things they couldn't understand!

The mums enjoyed it though, and they're the ones forking out the cash. Sooner or later the kids will join in more. It's cool. And very funny. I wonder what I should get the mums to do next week?

Interestingly though, whilst I don't expect ANY interaction between the two boys, I've also seen very little interaction by the mums to the 'other' kid. Feels like I'm teaching two classes, not just two kids! But I'm enjoying it, and I DO adore kids that don't cry!!!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

All about eggs

Today I ate a Cadbury Creme Egg. It was the first one in almost two years. I was given it. They don't sell them in Tokyo. I savoured every single little bite, from scraping the chocolate with my teeth, to sucking out the gooey middle. Utter heaven :D

Dance, egg, dance - this is so utterly ridiculous I have to share it. It's a game to make the Creme Egg dance to a tune you control. Ridiculous. Utterly.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Everyone has their own private hell

This is mine: Hell. Vanilla in Roppongi. On the plus side, it only cost 1000 yen to get in, and that included two free drinks. And, er, er, er, that's it. I can't really think of any other pluses. Oh, one more: it was cheaper than having to get a taxi across Tokyo, or sit in an internet cafe, or in the street until first train. But that's it. I dislike nightclubs. (oh, unless they are trashy, have places to sit, and / or play cheesy music). Vanilla was too big, too crowded, too smoky and too full of people shoving their way about. Just NOT my thing. At all. I mean, back in the day, when I enjoyed taking the odd bit of whatever, I quite enjoyed going to clubs. But alcohol alone is not enough to drown out the crowds, smoke or noise.

But I'm a bit hungover now, so rantings are part of the territory.

One of the sad things about living the life we do here, is that, inevitably, people will be constantly leaving. On the plus side, it also means new friends are potentially always arriving too. Last night, however was yet another farewell party. It wasn't in Vanilla, that was the after restaurant after bar after bar location.

I'm not sure I'd find the restaurant again, but Nikki and I found a cute little Thai place somewhere in Shibuya/Omotesando/Harajuku in which to bolt down some food and a quick beer before going to Tokyo Salon, which was a fab place for a leaving party. With cute Brazillian/Japanese bar staff WITH serious attitude. The deal was nomihodai so I'm not sure how much I drank but, combined with the drinks thoughout the evening, and the headache this morning, could have been a few. We had the place to ourselves, apart from a very odd guy with a huge tattoo on his chest (why?) and a feather (!) sticking out his hat. Anyway, it was fun. And of course, seeing your boss pissed for the first time is ALWAYS amusing. Especially when you're not so pissed...!

From there we went to What the Dickens, by which stage I was on full talking bollocks mode. Nice place. Very hard to find though. The highlight, apart from fun company, was the exTREMEly nice packets of Salt and Vinegar and Cheese and Onion crisps they had there. They weren't Walkers, but fuck they were good!

Of course, this is where the problem of the having to go to Vanilla came about. By the time we got to What the Dickens, I had a choice between having one drink and going home... or staying out all night. Which pisses me off. Anyway, I wasn't ready to go home so that's how that all came about.

And, up until the point of getting to Vanilla, it was a really good fun evening. It's just such a shame somewhere like Tokyo has such a crap transport system*. London spoiled me. London has nightbuses. You can get from anywhere to anywhere, on public transport 24/7. I mean, you might need to get two buses to do so, but the point IS it's possible without costing the earth. And it amazes me that other cities don't do so too.

Anyway, I crashed out at about 6.30 this morning, have a hangover now, and should be eating and drinking with some friends. Motivation, where are you?

* Okay, in it's favour, during the day the trains are very regular, and very clean, but they ARE overly crowded and stop too damn early. Plus, my location is very convenient for the places I work in, but not so much for going out / coming home at night.


Dear Liver,

I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me. I know I forced a vat load of vodka through you last night. Did you enjoy that as much as I did? I hope you did. I had no intention to cause any suffering to you, I'm sure you realise that.

Further more, I'm aware you and I didn't get into bed until 6.30am and that, after just a few hours break, we hopped on a train and went out to the leafy laned area of wherever-it-was-that-we-were and that I, again, made you suffer a large amount of shochu and wine.

But it was so lovely to sit in a garden wasn't it? And on a terrace? And in a real living room? With good company, sukiyaki, cheesecake, sponge cake and more.

And let's be fair, wine is made from grapes, and they have vitamins in them, right? And the shochu's were mixed with vitamin rich lemon / grapefruit / apple juices, so it wasn't all bad, eh?

And besides, you allowed me to walk around with the size label on my new t-shirt, in full view of everyone, and didn't say anything to me. I can forgive you that, please forgive me for the alcohol. I promise we'll drink nothing else for at 24 hours now, maybe even longer.

Your friend,


Thursday, April 06, 2006

oishii, ne?

oo bargains, gotta love them. In Ikebukuro station this evening my attention was caught by a stand offering seven packets of things for 1050 yen (about £5). I wandered over and saw lots of dry fish things, nuts, dried fruit, chinese crackers, etc.

One of the salesmen came over to me offering me a dry fish sample. I politely declined. I have eaten dried fish before, but find them a bit, er, too chewy for my liking. He put the packet away into a pocket in his apron and pulled out another packet, this time offering me some dried 'sqeed'. The dried sqeed were in little unrecognisable balls. He then started saying 'mouse', 'mouse', and I started wondering if he meant dried squeaky things. When he elaborated to 'squeed mouse' I figured out he probably meant 'squid mouth' and, as much as the idea of eating some dried up balls of squid mouth didn't appeal, I graciously smiled and took one. EUW!!! Crunchy, yucky, stick in teethy EUW! But I just smiled and tried to subtly dislodge the crunchy bits from my teeth when he left me.... . Nice.


On Tuesdays now I don't have any students I can have a conversation with before 8pm. Utterly exhausting.


On Wednesdays now I have a new class with two toddlers. One's 2.5 years and the other isn't quite two yet. 'Interesting' is one way to describe the class. 'Impossible' is another. The older kid can speak and can concentrate and can remember. The younger is a little 'lively'. 'Lively' one has an older sister I teach. She's also 'lively', but she's 5 and I can control her and she draws me pictures and writes 'I love Jo' on them [creep!] I also teach the mother (all three of them separately, just to clarify!) and the mother will shout to control the 5 year old if she misbehaves. In the toddler class, mother of 'lively' and 'creep', just hit him on / around the head to control him. I was a tad shocked. So was mother of 2.5 kid.


Student Y, my dog trimmer student, and I were discussing her diary today, as always. She's a fairly low level student but two private lessons a week means she progresses pretty quickly and English lessons are the highlights of her week, as she's written several times now. From a couple of days ago she'd written her father had told her she was fat. I was SO shocked by this. Firstly because that is such a bastardish thing to do, but mainly because Y is attractive and the size of a typical Japanese woman, ie skinny. I asked her if she thought she was fat and she just said she'd put on weight since last summer. I resisted asking if it was just a gram. I also resisted teaching her the words 'bastard', 'weight complex', and 'fuck off, old git'. GAH!


Student K, a tiny elderly student, has a dog. We were talking about hanami and she told me she could see sakura in the park through the window of her house. I asked if she walked her dog in that park. She laughed and said no. I asked if she walked her dog in the streets. She laughed and said no. I asked her WHERE she walked her dog. She laughed and said something about its feet. I asked if it was hurt. This went on for a while before I could figure out what she was talking about. Finally she clarified: she won't let the dog out of the house because it's dirty outside and she doesn't want the dog to get dirty. GIVE ME STRENGTH SOMEONE. PLEASE!!!


Sometimes during the day, if I think of something I want to blog about, I write myself a note. So, for example, today I wrote: 'fat dad', 'dog dirt', etc. I also wrote 'cheers', and have NO idea what that's meant to be. Cheers anyway, if you're reading this and drinking.


Today I think I successfully pulled off looking cool whilst squirting myself with salad dressing. I had lunch in Yoshinoya (a chain of quick and cheap restaurants) and settled down to eat some ginger pork, salad, rice and miso soup. I had some salad dressing in a blister pack. Actually, I'm not sure what the proper name is for them but they are little plastic sachets type things with two compartments full of dressing. You bend the compartments and the dressing shoots out. If you hold it the correct way, the dressing shoots out over your food. If you don't, then it goes over your scarf, head, and the chair next to you.

Guess which I did?



Monday, April 03, 2006

Of Windy Days and Crowns

It's been rather blustery of late. Definitely not contact lens weather and cycling can be a bit of a challenge too. In fact, my poor little bike is covered in dents from being blown over in the last few days with other bikes on top of her. I took some pictures of typical bike scenes today. There are bikes lying around like corspes everywhere. I have been picking some up from time to time - remember bikes are free-standing and lock to themselves here, but they blow over again pretty much straight away:


Saturday night was my friends' hen night. Amazingly it was the first hen night any of us had been on. After drinking and getting ready we then walked through Shinjuku, all wearing little crowns:

Except for the bride-to-be, who had a veil with little beads:

Amazingly for Tokyo, we got some very funny looks from people. Amazing because you see people, like this every day:

Anyway, we went to The Christon Cafe (again) and ate, drank and took photos basically. And Christon Cafe is one of the few places I've been to in Tokyo that serves jacket potatoes. Although they serve it was about eight little dishes of things including tuna and green beans. They make it for you at the table and set it alight. Most bizarre:

And it was all finished off with a cute little cake, to which we actually sang 'Happy Wedding To You'. Well, people had been staring enough at us, so I guess it was a matter of 'what the hell'!

In all, a good night, although I disappeared after the restaurant, came home and started pissing around with the camera:

So now you've had a glimpse of me!

And I'm off to be productive now:

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Yee Ha!

My student, M, is currently very excited. M is a very low level student who I have been teaching for maybe 7 or 8 months or so. She’s an adult and very sweet and tries really hard, and is progressing slowly but steadily.

M adores pink. Today, in a typical get up for M, she wore a pink and white striped shirt under a pink jumper. She had pink nail varnish and a pink hair accessory. Her textbook unit has been clipped into a pink file and she uses a Hello Kitty pencil and eraser which she takes from her Hello Kitty pencil case. All of which is kept in a pink bag, or course. When she isn’t wearing pink hair accessories she wears tiara style hair bands. She’s bought me a few little presents in the past including a pink hair accessory and a Mt. Fuji Hello Kitty pen. Both of which, of course, I use regularly!

M works for a company that designs horse riding and horse care products. This is my understanding anyway as her conversational abilities are pretty low, as I said already. Today we were looking at the diary she keeps for me every day and, as if there isn’t enough pink in the world already, she had written that her and her colleague had designed a pair of pink checked riding jodhpurs, which they felt were sure to be a big hit with females everywhere….

Now, please form an ORDERLY queue!