My Summer Holiday in Hindsight

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Hirakubo Lighthouse in Ishigaki

I’m currently sat in the teachers’ office, while the students practice for their sports festival in 30°C heat and 90% humidity. It’s still very much summer over here in Japan even with Daiso (100円 store) and various supermarkets displaying Halloween decorations and autumn colours. I begrudgingly came back to work last Thursday, tired but tanned. And as soon as I reached to open my shoe locker, I was bombarded with questions from my teachers asking me “How was your Summer?”

I wrote a blog post back in July complaining about my “Summer Holiday Blues” while stuffing my face with ice cream and watching crappy Michael Bay films, the epitome of happiness. “Oh the humanity!”. One and a half months of holiday, “Oh, the pain of it all!”. A true punishment from the powers above. But in hindsight, I actually did have a pretty eventful summer holiday in Japan despite my initial outcry;

-Bought a new camera.

-Climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji.

-Went to the beach twice.

-Travelled to Ishigaki in Okinawa.

-Canoed amongst the mangroves.

-Trekked up a waterfall.

And had plenty of ice cream

Of course, I was instructed to give a talk about my “Summer Vacation” to the students.  So I presented a selection of photos that I had taken during my trips with my superb narration. While many were in disbelief over my “professional” photography skills, the frequent phrase uttered was “いいね〜” (“how nice” or “lucky”). Consequently I asked the students, in English, “What did you do during your summer vacation?”. There were a couple of prominent answers; 1) Studying  2) Going to the Fireworks Festival and 3) Nothing.

Unlike many fortunate Brits back home, most Japanese families don’t travel to another country or fly to the beaches along the Costa Del Sol. My father was a solicitor and had the benefit of a large chunk of holiday time, so we would often go abroad during the summer. We flew everywhere from America to Norway, we were very fortunate enough to travel regularly. It’s clear that Japanese people can’t indulge in that luxury. It’s a case that the average office worker struggles to get consecutive days of time off, and is forced to persevere through the excruciating heat and banality. Not even teachers are given the comfort of a real summer holiday. Instead they continue to march to school, fill out paperwork and complete training. Obon is Japan’s real summer vacation during August in which families return to their ancestral relatives’ homes in order to pay their respects to the departed. But with only four or five days off, and living on the other side of the world to Europe or America, many only venture short distances. The lack of time-off is one of my fears of working in a real, Japanese environment.

In regards to homework, I can’t recall it being as brutally intense as it is over here in Japan. In fact at junior high school level, the students are expected to come for a week of lessons halfway through their vacation. Many students actually go to summer schools and cram schools further showcasing adolescent Japan’s stressful education period. I remember writing an essay or two, but nothing that induced the sheer hardship experienced by Japanese students.

So yeah, in the end I did have an enjoyable summer holiday. Sure my exercise regime fell through; hard to imagine when you travel to a region famous for it’s yakiniku barbecue and Blue Seal ice cream brand. And I failed to watch a fireworks display, a quintessential event in Japan during the  summer. But I can’t really complain after hearing the exciting tales of adventure from the students. I’m sure it won’t be long until the “Post-Summer Holiday Blues” will hit, along with the cold weather.

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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.