Thursday, March 27, 2008

お疲れ様でした- O tsukaresama deshita

Being the eve of our computer being stuffed into a box, this is indubitably the sayonara entry...such a sudden, ignoble end is not what I had in mind for this blog, but the past few weeks have proved that leaving Japan (especially in the manner we have chosen) is possibly even more difficult than coming here in the first place. Presenting a "final word" on an entire country seems premature after such a relatively short time here, so I will satisfy myself with...

What I won't miss about Japan

Xenephobia (although I know what to expect in the UK)
Being asked if I can use chopsticks
Being complimented on my language skills for saying "hello".
Certain students

What I will miss about Japan

The public transport system
Certain students
Certain teachers
My flat
My landlord
The food

Tonight, for the first time, I had the chance to eat fugu, or puffer fish, that most famous of Japanese fish-stuffs, prepared by the most skillful of chefs, deftly separating the meat into that which is palatable and that which is deadly poison.

It really does taste like chicken.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008



Sankyuu berry macho.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Sayonara Sale

B'Jayzuz, we have some stuff to get shot of before we leave...if anyone fancies a peek, here is a website cataloguing the aforementioned. Dozo, irasshaimase.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Manner Mode

I loathe mobile phones. The only reason I have one of the damn things is that my company insisted that I have some means of being communicated, and as far as setting up goes, it was far less troublesome than a land line.

In defence of mobile phones over here, they are equipped with that most pleasing of functions, "manner mode," the miracle button which silences the caterwauling of contemporary pop hits rendered into dial-tone soundbites.

The beauty of manner mode is that in locations where one is requested to set it to "on" (trains, buses and hospitals), there is also the expectation that people refrain from talking on the phone. This generally ensures a peaceful commute for all concerned, free from being unwillingly privy to when ones' fellow passengers are going to meet their friends, and what colour underpants they're wearing. This prohibition is, of course, enforced with that most rigid of state police, the complicit public.

Not a month ago, I found myself aboard a bus. The mobile phone of an elderly woman suddenly went off, shattering the silence with all the cooth of a sloppy fart. That was more than enough to direct the contempt of all and sundry towards this old dear. The fact that her conversation partner seemed to be speaking from inside a wind tunnel and was struggling to make themselves heard, further soured the bile poured over her.

"Turn that mobile phone off!" bellowed the bus driver over his omnipresent tannoy.
"I'm sorry, I can't talk now..." muttered the unfortunate granny to her oblivious friend, who nattered away without a thought in the world.
"Kindly turn it off." commanded a fellow passenger.
I'm sorry, no,, I can' is really...I'm, no, no, NO, I...GOODBYE!"

Abruptly, the sound ceased. Suddenly, the desolation, the solitude, became unendurable. After maybe thirty seconds of being the centre of attention, our senior citizen could once again disappear into anonymity.

I compare this encounter to my first half hour of re-aquaintance with the UK in 2005, on the Tube, listening to an unbearably vulgar woman yakking away on her mobile, and wishing that I didn't understand what she was saying.

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Moving House

In about three months, Hayley and I will be saying sayonara to our flat and Japan, slowly working our way back to England via a variety of other countries. We've started a new blog here. I'll still be writing about Japan here until the end of March...

Monday, December 24, 2007

So here it is...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sushi War

I return, drunker by far than I should be at this hour on a Wednesday, fresh from a midweek sesh with the clerk from one of my schools, who also happens to teach in the weekly assembly of studious foreigners and native Japanese volunteers I've been frequenting since September. Apart from a mutual love of Eberhard Weber, I have learned also of the profound battle between Sushi chef and customer.

Apparently (and bear in mind that at the time of writing, I am pretty damn drunk) when entering a sushi restaurant (a real sushi restaurant, not one of those Kaiten [conveyor belt] places frequented by plebs) the first thing one orders is Japanese style omlette, a.k.a yakitamago a.k.a gyoku. This is the initial yardstick by which the merit of the establishment is measured. The pernickity, overtly sadistic or just plain savvy customer will first examine the colour and aroma of this offering, then taste it. At this point, the chef, or sushi-ya-san will be fretfully awaiting the connoisseurs judgement. As an alternative to a speedy "bill please," the customer may decide that the gykou is good enough to warrant staying, at which point they will order hot sake

Relief for the sushi-ya-san!...for now...

There then follows a battle of the wills, both chef and customer testing the others depth of knowledge in this chosen battlefield. The customer will ask the chef to recommend the days special, a challenge which will reflect on the chef, as he no doubt chose the special himself from the fish market at some ungodly hour in the morning. This is a ritual battle with one victor. The cunning customer could potentially walk away from a sushi banquet fit for a Daimyo for as little as twenty-five quid, the alternative being twice as much if the sushi-ya-san works out that his opponent is in fact blagging it.

This confrontation with the chef is apparently typical of Japanese cuisine, and now this factoid has been imparted to me, it makes perfect sense. In most of the restaurants I've been to here, there is naught separating chef from customer but a modest kitchen counter. Here, the cook is completely responsible for what is served in their restaurant, with none of this hiding behind the double-swinging kitchen doors. If a customer doesn't like what they've been served, then the chef will answer to their complaints, before the entire shop if need be.

Diving deeper into the Japanese consciousness and acknowledging a profoundly militaristic culture, this practice presumably has its roots in the tea ceremony - Samurai, preparing to go into battle would have a nice cup of tea beforehand. Perhaps they had families and children. Perhaps they would go on to win a great victory for their Lord and lands. Perhaps they would die in trying. Perhaps this would be the last cup of tea they would ever drink. Better then, to make it the best cup of tea ever, before them, to make it with all the effort one would put into fighting for their home and to be answerable to ones comrades before death and glory.

It's funny and frustrating that I feel I'm only just getting a handle on this amazing country with only four months left of being here.

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