Sunday, 15 August 2010

PostHeaderIcon Return to the Summer Festival

I arrived in Japan just over 3 years ago.  One of my first memories of my time here was the summer festival in my town.  I have been home the last two years so I haven't been able to attend the festival in my town since then.  It turns out I wasn't missing out on anything and my fond recollection of the festival must have only to have been due to the initial excitement of living in Japan.  Also, I think an important factor was that I spent tonight walking about on my own and my only communication was with the students I teach.  It speaks volumes about the relationship I have with my town and work where I can't comfortably go up and talk to people I have known for years.  Personally, I don't think my town is friendly and a number of individuals walk about with a face like a smacked arse.  I have continually felt more welcome when I go to the neighbouring towns of Umaji, Nahari and Muroto.  I blame myself to an extent because I've not taken the initiative enough to involve myself in town events since my first year.  Still, there comes a point when you realise that the people in my town are old women and young families.  They don't want to socialise with a foreigner at their summer festival.  They want to drink with neighbours and their briefly returning children.  I like Japanese festivals and like to drink beer and stuff my face.  I'm also envious of the community aspect of them as every town in Japan (or at least Kochi) tends to have their own.  I always find it a shame that such events are a lot less common back home.  It was a bit of a boring and depressing evening though.  No worries though, I have tea and I'm watching the football online.  I included the picture below because I like how he didn't care about anything but cooling himself.  Also, far be it for me to mock people with the balls to perform on stage but the bands and  karaoke singers were truly awful tonight.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

PostHeaderIcon Saturday's Shopping

I placed all my shopping on my kitchen table like this because my life now revolves around my blog and I thought that it would make a good picture.  Also, it's one of the few times my Saturday breakfast and lunch hasn't consisted of pizza and gyoza.  This trip to the supermarket was exciting because they had some lemons and onions imported from New Zealand.  I can buy both here but they're locally grown and a change is always nice.  Incidentally, it is almost impossible to find limes in the supermarkets in my area.  They are the true treasure of a Japanese countryside supermarket.  Also, C.C Lemon is the best fizzy drink that Japan has to offer.  It's a better alternative to coke and my poor replacement for my beloved Irn-Bru.  More importantly, it has 70 lemons worth of Vitamin C in every bottle.  The small can is a Yuzu drink from the town up the road.  Yuzu is a local citrus fruit that is sort of between a grapefruit and a lemon.  I bought some tuna and teriyaki sauce for lunch.  However, I also put a bit of teriyaki into my omelette mix.  There's a little secret for you all.  When I say secret... I mean... copy me and then praise my culinary genius please.
Thursday, 5 August 2010

PostHeaderIcon The Japanese Samaritan

Naomi took these two paparazzi style shots last week in Tokyo.  We were riding the train back from Yokohama after we had another fun dinner with the Japanese side of her family.  The carriage we were in was quite empty apart from these two young lassies.  The drunk girl slowly slid down until her face was planted in her friend's lap.  Things remained calm for a few stops but it suddenly became apparent that their journey was coming to an end.  When the train stopped the conscious girl attempted to wake her friend by giving her a quick shake.  It was a token gesture as she must have known a more valiant effort was required.  She immediately stood up to let the comatose head collapse onto the seat.  The next course of action was an attempt to lift her up.  Both of them probably weigh less than a bag of sugar but such a weak frame meant that the girl struggled to help her friend off the train.  Eventually the drunk girl managed to stand but she moved with the agility of a mad cow.  There was a brief period when it looked like they were both going to make it off the train but then the girl vomited all over the seat and floor, before collapsing on the latter.  It was at this point that Naomi and I moved to go and aid them both but we were reasonably far from their door.  Also, we stopped because a few people sitting and some new passengers entering the train looked like they were about to help but then decided to step back and avoid them both.  It's a typical scene that I've seen far too often in Japan.  It's like the Japanese brain is in a constant process of conflicting thoughts.  All of the passengers initially stepped forward to help the girl when she fell to the ground.  However, as always, I noticed a small switch labelled 日本人 flick in their head and they lunged back into a frozen glare of uselessness.

I'm not exactly sure what it is with this country but there is a strange culture of people not wishing to get involved in other people's matters.  I don't think it is exactly them being cold hearted or mean but rather something built into their mentality that they should not interfere in a matter if it is outside of their responsibility.  A strange example of this I've heard a few times is that someone might see a person drop their wallet at a crowded station and instead of chasing after them and making a scene, they'll just send them it in the post.  A number of my friends have had this happen to them and they were returned with absolutely nothing missing from them.  If the same situation happened in Scotland then I  assume that most people would chase after and hand the wallet back.  However, I'd say a large minority who found a wallet on the ground would either steal it or take the money out before sending it back.  Personally I would hand it into the police... more because there is a chance the post office workers would steal it themselves.

There is no doubt that this honesty is an excellent virtue that the Japanese have but it is part of the same mentality that means that nobody will come to the aid of a drunk girl collapsed on the floor of a train.  A few days later we were at Fuji Rock and the ground had become quite slippy and muddy due to the rain and masses of people.  Naomi was leaving the Muse gig when she slipped and fell on the ground quite badly.  She told me there was about half a dozen Japanese guys staring down at her with vacant expressions as they watched her pick herself up.    I think Naomi made sure they knew how she felt about their actions.  Incidentally, last year she driving and noticed an old man fall off his bike and struggle to get up again.  She watched a number of fellow Japanese walk past him as he did a fine impression of a turtle stuck on its back.  Eventually she had to stop and get out her car to help him herself.  I was walking across a pedestrian crossing in Kochi City once and I noticed that an old lady's shopping bags had burst in the middle of the road.  Again I witnessed about twenty people avoid her and her desperate attempts to gather her things.  Sadly, it was only myself who stopped to help her.  I even went into a shop and asked for some spare bags.  She was very thankful but I think she was embarrassed at the incident and that an illiterate foreigner was helping her.

It raises a lot of questions about the initial incident with the girls.  For example, was the girl's friend helping her because she was concerned and cared about her friend's well being?  Or was it more the case that this fell into the category of her responsibility?  Indeed, is this even different in Japan or do girls just react exactly the same back home?  I'm not exactly sure what I think.  I'd say on the face of it they are exactly they same situations and I'm well aware that I've had to help vomiting friends in the past because they were my friends.  However, I can't help but feel there is a little bit of a different mentality in other instances.  I could be wrong and racist of course but I can't help but feel they are more consciously aware of their actions in these instances.  It's like they initially go to aid someone as they act on human instincts but then they are held back by something.  This could also be said about the situation of finding a wallet.  Does a Japanese person originally think "Wow 50000 yen" before succombing to their 日本人 as honesty is what is expected in Japanese society?  I tried to imagine the same situation in Scotland if two drunken girls started vomiting on the train home.  I wondered if I would be so ready to help them or would I have some prejudice towards their idiotic, binge-drinking, orange tanned nedness?  I might be more reluctant to help some rough Glaswegian lassies but I'm pretty certain I'd still immediately help them when it was apparent they required it.   I've tried to understand and explain why Japanese people act like this but it can be hard to see beyond the fact that the vast majority more often than not act like cowardly arseholes.  You may think I have topped myself again at failing to understand the differences in cultures and what have you but if you're Japanese and reading this... perhaps you should help the next 80 year old you see in trouble.

I really wanted to make a pun about the Japanese having a samuraitan soul or something but I couldn't quite work it out.  I'm not entirely comfortable with my wild assumptions and generalisations in this entry but I'll post them anyway.  Also, I remember reading the story of a JET who had just arrived in Japan a few years ago.  She was walking over a bridge in a busy part of her city.  As she was coming down the stairs she went over her ankle and fell down to the bottom.  I can't remember the details but I think she ended up breaking an arm, some ribs and was covered in blood.  Anyway, streams of Japanese people flowed past her without acknowleding her.  She had little Japanese and was not sure how to call anyone for help.  The saddest part of the story is that the first person who helped her was another foreigner... a good few minutes after she had fallen over.  Also, just to add another example to this increasing list.  I broke my leg playing football with some Japanese guys in my town.  I tried to walk away before realising I couldn't walk and sat down at the door clutching my leg.  About ten of them walked past me as they went off to have a smoke break.  Who was it that helped me that night?  A foreigner and my supervisor... probably because he felt he had to.
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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.