Shi-sa on Taketomi Island

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Losing My Hair

Balding

Many people say that confidence comes from “a full head of hair”. While other attributes are fundamentally more important, my receding hairline has become a slightly depressing thought. I’ve been losing my hair since I was about fourteen years old. At the time, I thought nothing of it, instead focussing more on my “big boned” problem. During my days at secondary school (junior high school) and sixth form (high school) I had chosen to follow the fashion craze of growing my hair until it became annoyingly long. However with the “rapid growing speed” of the back of my head, I unfortunately and frequently ended up with a mullet. But I didn’t really care.

Back in July of this year, I turned twenty-five years old and took a long look in the mirror like every melancholy, movie character does. Overweight, bearded and lacking the luscious locks of my previous years, truly a bastion of male beauty. While trimming my beard and reducing my ice cream intake would help with the first two, overcoming hair loss is an impossible one. So where did it all go wrong? Was it genetics? Was it excessive washing? Or exposure to Fukushima radiation?

When I think down the family line, my father is the only one that suffers from male baldness. People had reassured me that it “skips a single generation”, but recent scientific studies and my scalp have proven that to be a load of bollocks. Every time I Skype my parents, my mother is always sure to comment on my hairline and jokingly blames my father.

After graduating from university, I took it a bit more seriously. I researched it online, seeing if it was common for men at my age. I even started using Regaine Hair Loss Treatment back in 2012 to little avail. Plain and simple, it’s just natural and it’s something that I’ve just got to accept. I’d always stated that when the time came, I would shave the entire lot off and just be done with it. Of course losing a bit of weight would help, the thought of being a bald sumo wrestler isn’t a gratifying one. Meanwhile the notion of holding onto every strand isn’t one that appeals to me. In Japan, man’s attachment towards his hair has resulted in the undignified utilisation of combovers, and of unfortunate title of  バーコード人 (“barcode man”). And that is definitely not for me.

It’s The Small Things: Roast Dinner

Roast Dinner
Traditional Roast Dinner. But no Broccoli? And what’s with the sprig of Rosemary?

They say that “Culture Shock” is a big problem when staying in a foreign country for an extended time. While it hasn’t affected me to the same degree as others, there are some small things I miss from home aside from family and friends. And Roast Dinner is one of those.

I love food, my wide frame is a good indication of this, and it’s undoubtably clear that the Japanese do too. Food is an essential part of any culture, but here in Japan it’s quite simply ridiculous. In fact when I competed in a Japanese Speech Contest back in 2015,  I spoke about my bafflement towards it’s prominence in all facets of Japanese life. My speech got some laughs, hopefully not from the sight of a large British man in yukata and small geta sandals. And I actually came third place which wasn’t too bad.

After retreating to the glorious buffet at the back of the room, various people came to discuss my talk, most sharing similar thoughts to my “critique”. Others ironically suggested that I should write a guidebook or blog about Miyoshi, and it’s local wine, food and eateries. I actually spoke jokingly about how Japanese guidebooks or tour magazines offer page after page of local delicacies and key places to eat rather than sightseeing locations. Meanwhile Japanese TV constantly barrages the population with variety shows showcasing endless segments from kitchens and restaurants, all with endless, orgasmic cries and screams from it’s guest “stars” and “live studio audience”. Half the time I feel I’m being duped into watching subtly and ingeniously devised food pornography rather than the baseball highlights. Food is everywhere in Japan, and there’s no escape from its tempting allure.

From Ramen to Tonkatsu (breaded deep-fried pork cutlet), my students and Japanese friends always ask me about my favourite Japanese food. I often retort the question by asking “What British Food do you like?”, to which I’m met with hesitance and bewilderment. It’s clear that Japan’s concept of “British Food” largely surrounds our love for Fish and Chips, and our “Tea and Cake” culture. Ironically, I was talking to one of my fellow teachers who had watched a programme about Great Britain. He explained that the show had rated British food as some of the worst on the planet. Additionally it concluded that our roads are full of pot-holes, but there’s some truth to that. Apart from those two topics of sheer importance, apparently the rest of Britain’s culture was deemed too irrelevant to comment on by the presenters. Fucking Japanese TV.

Sunday Roast Dinner has a cultural significancy in Britain that is hardly addressed outside the country. But while it’s origins surround Christian traditions and the customs of Sunday Church, my atheist family never gave a crap about the religious relevance. We all just sat down at the table and stuffed our faces with Roast Beef, Roast Potatoes, Yorkshire Puddings, Vegetables and Gravy. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t Sunday, we’d have Roast Dinner on Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we didn’t give a flying toss.

Roast Beef was always my favourite, whilst Pork and Chicken made their regular appearances at the dinner table. We never had Roast Lamb though. My mother and my brother weren’t keen on the strong flavour. Meanwhile Yorkshire Puddings were only served with Roast Beef, and occasionally sausages. No mash potato was allowed and “Veg” only included Potatoes, Broccoli, Carrots, Peas, and occasionally Cauliflower, in cheese form. And there was always plenty of Gravy. Being a middle-class family we had two types of the “good stuff”. One was the expensive Marks and Spencer‘s vacuum-sealed variety, and the other was the legendary Bisto brand, my personal choice.

Sure it’s not as delicate as sashimi, or as refined as tofu, but I really miss sitting around the kitchen table, the smell of slow-cooked meat and the indulgent taste. So what’s stopping me from making it over here in Japan? Well, the lack of a decently-sized oven and the uncommonness of large joints of meat doesn’t help.  I’ve actually found two spots in the Hiroshima area that offer “Sunday Roast Dinner”; the Irish Pub Molly Malone’s and Cafe Mike and Shirley. The latter is a personal favourite, definitely worth the hour and a half train ride to cure my longing for proper, British home-cooking.

Common Courtesy and Politeness in Japan

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Hondori Shopping Area in Hiroshima.

I recently went to Miyajima to get out of my apartment and take advantage of the gorgeous weather. Going there alone and being a foreigner, I continuously became the photographer for many travelling families, couples and individuals. I’ve no problem with being asked to take pictures. But what I do have a problem with is a lack of respect and politeness. About sixty percent of those that asked said “Thank you” or something similar. Yet the remaining forty percent merely took their camera back and fucked off. Did they forget? Was it something I said? Or were they “just a bunch of fucking bastards”? My conclusion was the latter.

I’m a stickler for politeness and common courtesy. And while I’ve certainly slipped up my fair share of times, I’ve still made sure to say “thank you”, “sorry” and “please”. My parents are to blame for my strict compliance to the norms of social etiquette. My mother in particular, instituted a stringent regime all the way until my fifteenth birthday, and I think I’m a better person for it. I still curse like a Yorkshireman, but only when understanding the atmosphere, for instance; a football match or with friends. Yet my friends, Japanese teachers, and previous bosses have often commented on my civility, stating that I’m almost too nice. But the fact of the matter is that deep down, I’m a bit of grump and an unfair judge of character, another nod to me being British. But don’t tell anyone.

Living in Japan, arguably one of the most polite countries in the world, manners and courtesy are an integral part to its history, culture, politics, and social framework. When it comes down to it, Japanese society is very different from that of America and Britain. While America and Britain have increasingly become infatuated by the strength of the “individual” and the social freedoms that come with that, Japan chooses not to flaunt those freedoms to a similar degree. Instead it’s a society that takes pride in acting appropriately and fitting into its surroundings, unless alcohol is involved. I’ve witnessed my fair share of hushed muttering and unnerving glares from morning commuters towards obnoxious or immature individuals. It’s clear that respect and integrity are key principles to life in Japan, and they should for other countries too.

The notion was brought up in a recent conversation with a Japanese teacher. She was complaining about a group of noisy Americans on the train from Iwakuni, where the Marine Corps Air Station Base is located. I’ve had my fair share of frustrations and tension with a number of Marines at various restaurants and clubs, probably not a smart move. Consequently, my teacher asked me about Britain and whether this sort of ignorance was the same over there. I responded that “it depends on the situation, and where.” Coming back on the train after a football match is it’s own unpredictable experience, but in the quiet hamlets of Yorkshire there’s a genuine sense of geniality. But after the recent pursuit of Brexit, the social climate of Britain seems to be a tenuous one, so I’m not a hundred percent sure at this time.

Funnily enough when talking with Japanese people, I get the impression they believe us Brits to be much more considerate and well-behaved than other nationalities, especially the Chinese. I went to Koya-san last year in October, and had a friendly, short conversation with an English-speaking, volunteer guide. She asked if I needed her services which I politely said “Thank you for the offer, but I think I can manage. Have a nice day.” An instant smile came over her face, and she immediately responded with “You must be British. British people are always so nice”. I laughed and said “I’m sure that’s not the case”.

In our temperamental society where we’d rather stare at screens than have real conversations, it’s refreshing to be regarded with decency. When I offer my seat for a mother with kids or when I go to a doctor’s clinic, there’s a level of respect and gratitude that isn’t commonly present in western hospitality, especially back home. While it may be superficial at times (my experience in the retail industry), it’s still pleasant to be treated like an individual rather than a nuisance. Japan clearly deems politeness and consideration with incredibly high-regard and that’s why it’s garnered its reputation as being one of the most polite countries. I wish some of us Brits and other nationalities would take some of this onboard. However while I may create an image of Japan being a nation of benevolence and purity, it’s very conformity to it’s ideals of social behaviour is one that has proven to be a frustration to both foreigners and Japanese citizens. But I’ll discuss that another day.