Saying “Hello” in the Work Bathroom

It’s gotten to the point where I have to write something about it. Talking at the urinals, is it a faux pas?

I have no issue with continuing a conversation with a friend or someone I really know, while taking a piss. Whether I’m drunk or livid about how the football match is going, I don’t have a problem. But for some, visiting the restroom is a hellish nightmare. Strangers unzipping and aiming, the foul stench from the stalls, the long line of people waiting and the crusty, bearded man making unwanted eye-contact. Every…bloody…time.

Anyway, at school it’s become a slightly awkward endeavour. Is it normal to greet someone while in the bathroom? Some teachers will say “Hello” or “Good Morning”. Other teachers will do a casual bow. And others will avoid eye-contact altogether. I wouldn’t say I go into a panic, but it’s an uncomfortable situation. Are they striking up a conversation? Are they simply saying “Hi”? Do I need to talk about something?

Unlike everything and everywhere in Japan, there are no signs on how to deal with this sort of situation. No FAQ or Troubleshooting sheet explaining the correct procedure. No anime character cheerfully demonstrating how to deal with a talkative stranger. It’s up to you on how to proceed. I know these teachers on a professional level, but I wouldn’t say I’m at that whole social, “converse while using the urinal” level. So I tend to follow what the other teacher does. 

There’s one interaction that often makes me chuckle. Japan has a phrase “otsukaresama desu”, which loosely translates into “Thank you for your hard work/ effort”. We say it when we’ve finished work, when we’ve helped each out or after we’ve listening to some long-winded lecture. Now, in some cases teachers have said this to me in the bathroom. It’s obviously referring to work. But I can’t help but feel that it sort of fits with the act of using the toilet. “Thank you for your effort in correctly and efficiently urinating”.

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Weirdo on the Train

My daily commute involves taking a 40 minute train ride. I’ve no problem with this. I can usually get a seat and the train is comfortably air-conditioned, a necessity in this humid weather. The other passengers consist of Japanese office workers and high school students. It gets busy, but not “Tokyo busy”, so it’s not an arduous task each morning. Yet yesterday and today have be notable for one strange, slightly infuriating passenger. Continue reading “Weirdo on the Train”

“Flipping the bird” in Japan

As I was walking back from the supermarket, an elementary school girl sped past. She smiled at me and then proceeded to cheerfully give me the middle finger. I wasn’t shocked, it was pretty funny seeing an innocent little girl flipping off trees, cats and cars. Remember that scene near the end of The Bean Movie where Mr. Bean is casually giving everyone the finger? (See above) It was essentially like that…..except a lot more innocent and Japanese. She must have been in the first or second grade of elementary school.  So I thought about telling that it wasn’t a nice thing to do. But… Japan…bearded foreigner…small girl…talking…not the safest of options.

Meanwhile I often see school kids and teenagers swapping Japan’s stereotypical “kawaii” peace sign (V-sign) for the reverse version (palm facing inwards). It’s constant use by bands and TV personalities trying to be “cool”, like everything, has made it the new pose of choice for many. Now for Americans, this gesture is pretty harmless. But from a British perspective it’s another way of “showing the finger”. I kind of way of saying “f••k off”. So you can imagine my reaction as my entire class posed for their class photo.

 

Tortillas: Out of Stock

Japan periodically has a shortage of something. Two years ago it was potatoes and butter. This year, Japan had to suffer through another potato-related shortage as companies decided to cut down their vast ranges of flavours to cope with the problem. Customers flocked to supermarkets to stock up on their cherished “Pizza” flavour crisps. I’ve tried them, they’re not very good.

Instead it’s the shortage or absence of flour tortillas in Hiroshima that has been a bit of a problem. Yes, first world problems. I cook chicken fajitas once every month. It’s my “steak” night, one meal where I splash out a bit. Homemade avocado salsa, sour cream, a couple of Coronas and a frying pan sizzling with chicken, peppers and onions marinated in my own spice concoction. No flavour packets in this household.

While Tokyo and Osaka may be swimming in the abundance of tortillas and fajitas, in my area the likes of sour cream, red onions, coriander and flour tortillas aren’t readily available in my local supermarket. I usually have to make a trip to Hiroshima City Centre or one of the bigger shopping malls. But over the last couple of months I’ve had to make do with tortillas “bowls”, which aren’t the same. Sure, I could begrudgingly flatten into some sort of resemblance of a traditional tortilla, but it wouldn’t work. And no, I certainly couldn’t force myself to make homemade versions either. So for now, I’ll just have to wait until “Mexico” lifts its embargo on trade with Japan.

Watching “Thor: Ragnarok” in Japan

Last week, I decided to go and watch Thor: Ragnarok at my local cinema. It was a late showing but there was a fairly sizeable audience, especially for a Marvel film here in Japan. I bought my popcorn and melon soda, found my seat and proceeded to enjoy two hours of brainless entertainment. But as I laughed at the jokes and the entire stupidity of the spectacle, a middle-aged man in front of me kept staring back with a look of distain. It was clear that I was somehow in the “wrong”.  Continue reading “Watching “Thor: Ragnarok” in Japan”

Halloween and North Korean Missiles

Today was Halloween, and while I’ve already discussed the festival’s growing popularity in Japan’s modern “culturescape”, I was introduced to another recent addition to Japanese life. At 9:30 this morning, the local emergency sirens and a guff voice could be heard through the speakers. It was a clear day so it couldn’t have been about a typhoon or tsunami. The ground wasn’t shaking and there wasn’t a raging inferno. Instead, the word “missile” was continuously used throughout the 3-minute period. It turned out that the city’s “Incoming Missile Alert System” was being tested.  Continue reading “Halloween and North Korean Missiles”

Fun Times at the Driver’s Licence Centre

I recently had the ordeal of renewing my Japanese driver’s licence. In fact, during the summer I actually had to renew my UK Driver’s licence too. Unlike Japan, the process is a lot more simple over there. You can actually do it online. I chose to renew mine at the post office, where they took my soon-to-expire licence, took a photo in a “special” booth, and recorded my electronic signature. After paying a fee and waiting a couple of weeks, my new licence arrived. Continue reading “Fun Times at the Driver’s Licence Centre”