Saving my 500s

I remember owning a football-shaped “piggy bank” when I was a child. I’d save my weekly allowance, birthday money and loose change in order to fund my video game addiction. The last time I checked it, I think there was still a fake diamond earring that I’d found in Las Vegas, some badge pins, and a few football coins from an Alan Shearer World Cup. I think I had three Nicky Butts and two Terry Sheringhams. But as soon as I had a bank account, my days of hearing the “ding” from coins hitting my tin “piggy bank” were over. Instead it was all about that magic “virtual” money, baby.

Yet starting this year, the piggy bank has returned. I’ve been saving my 500-yen coins in a glass jar. Strawberry jam, if you wanted to know. Essentially whenever I buy something and receive a 500-yen coin in my change, I hold onto it and stick it in the jar. And that’s it. With 500 yen equating to about £3.35, it’s a good amount to be saving and not something that you worry about.  Plus they’re gold in colour, so it’s like real treasure.

It seems to be a fairly common way of saving money in Japan as most people here still use cash over card.  I paid for my wife’s engagement ring with a wad of cash, like some cockney geezer. In fact, there are still a large number of shops and restaurants that won’t accept credit and debit cards. Even online purchases can be paid in cash when delivered, which is a fantastic service.

Anyway, in a couple of months I’ve easily managed to save 25,000 yen from saving my 500-yen coins. My Irish mate who introduced me to this way of saving cash, actually used his coinage to fund his trips back home. It’s a simple and effective way to save a little extra each month, and one that can be a little addictive.

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Damn, it’s hot!

My daily walk to the shops has become somewhat of trek through the Arabian Desert. A scene reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. A sort of Lawrence of Hiroshima, if you will. Yep, the sun has been set to “Incinerate” mode as Japan experiences a historic heatwave with record-breaking temperatures reaching 41.1 degrees. After the recent devastating flooding and landslides in Western Japan, which left 225 people dead and more than $6 billion in property damage, it seems that “Mother Nature” refuses to let-up. More than 70 people have died and more than 22,000 have been hospitalised due to the persistent heat. And it doesn’t seem as though it’ll get cooler anytime soon.  That’s a slight concern seen as though August is usually Japan’s hottest month, and it’s still July.

Air-conditioning is the almighty saviour. Yet not everyone has it. Those living in cooler regions of Northern Japan don’t usually experience these insane temperatures and thus haven’t seen the need for one until now. Meanwhile, only around 42% of public elementary and middle schools have air conditioning. I previously worked in schools that had no AC, and instead had a set of ineffective fans attempting to cool the students. Those particular schools insisted that as long as the students suffered from the heat, then the teachers would too. So the staff room’s air-conditioning wouldn’t be turned on until the students had left for the day. The reasoning may be economic and/or environmental, but there’s a distinct mindset in Japanese society to improve one’s moral resolve by enduring. In this case, blistering temperatures. But I’d rather they just install AC so students wouldn’t complain all the time.

Experts have warned that this could well be the “new normal” for the country. A truly terrifying thought for the future. 

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”.

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”