Street on Taketomi Island, Okinawa

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Japan and the “SUPER TYPHOON!”

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Typhoon Chaba starts to hit Japan

It’s a stereotype, but a genuine observation that British people love to comment on the weather. In fact, talking about the weather is probably the easiest way to start a conversation with anyone. We even ask the students “How’s the weather?” every single class, even though nobody gives a flying toss. Yes, here in Japan it’s no different. My daily conversations with the Japanese teachers often begins with “The weather’s really nice today” or “It’s too humid and hot”. I guess it’s a subject that everyone can make a simple observation no matter your level of Japanese or English comprehension.

Today was slightly different from the usual remarks as “Super Typhoon” Chaba landed on Japan’s mainland. During the months of August, September and October, Japan and the rest of East Asia are bombarded by tropical storms and typhoons spawning from the Pacific Ocean. As a British person, heavy rain, strong winds and grey clouds are a formality that we’ve simply adapted to, not that watching the BBC news or reading the Daily Mail would suggest. So when it comes to typhoons, earthquakes, landslides and heavy snowfall, it’s all a bit foreign to me. But I’ve managed to survive so far. I think that’s in part to Japan’s well-organised and efficient coverage, warning and response systems. For example, I occasionally get the local alarm/P.A system screaming about the impeding doom that awaits us from earthquakes, typhoons and the Autumn festival taking place on the weekend. There’s even a detailed log of all the tropical storms on the “2016 Pacific Typhoon” wikipage.

Of course like the Daily Mail and the BBC, “extreme” weather is the source of 24/7 news courage. Back home, reporters standing in the rain, or in a puddle, or at the bottom of some slippery stairs have been deemed to be genuine journalism. It’s exactly the same story in Japan. Flashy graphics, holograms and cute, cartoon mascots attempt to inform the populace about the dangers and horrors of 60mph winds. Television studios have also implemented sidebars that give live updates on the typhoon during their scheduled programming. Watching a period, samurai drama with dramatic pictures of flying debris and the words “SUPER TYPHOON” plastered on the side, is quite a sight. The worst has to be the miserable reporters standing outside the studio offices in Tokyo, while light drizzle starts to fall. Meanwhile the typhoon lies wait in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Utterly pointless, and further showcases Tokyo’s omnipresence in everything Japanese related.

Of course, with aggressive winds and heavy downpours, schools are required to take precautions and inform their students and parents of possible closures or safety implementations. I work in  what happens to be the toughest educational district on the planet. Here the bosses are not ones to close their doors for some mere “Super Typhoon” or three metres of snowfall. The sight of a student battling against the elements is seen as a sign of determination, strength and maturity, instead of the health and safety nightmare it would be back home. I myself don’t have the sheer determination and willpower to wade through flooded streets and dodge oncoming debris just to get to work. Understandably, neither do the teachers or students. This morning, the majority of the teaching staff were expecting a day off, only to find themselves at school at 7:30 preparing lessons. Meanwhile the students gazed out the windows, analysing every detail of the weather and wind speed. Some of them enquired about the possibility of closing school early due to the distressing nature of the clouds. The school principal wasn’t having any of it, and we were amusingly ordered to close the curtains.

In the end, it turned out that with all the super-computers and digital simulations, the Japanese Meteorological Agency incorrectly predicted the typhoon’s path. Thus the “Super Typhoon” didn’t really affect the Hiroshima area. At 2:00pm, it’s predicted arrival, it had turned into a cloudy and slightly breezy day. In fact, I’m currently finishing this blog post on the train, and the weather is warm, mid-twenties, and the sun is shining. “Bloody weather.”

Update: Unfortunately news has broken of storm-related casualties in South Korea.

It’s The Small Things: Pubs

During my first year in Japan, it became clear that I really missed the “pub culture” of home. That’s not to suggest that I’m a heavy drinker. On the contrary, since graduating from university my alcohol intake has drastically decreased. Even more so since I moved to Japan. Instead, I miss pubs as a place to meet friends, play darts, watch sports, and drink a couple of pints. Pubs are one of the most historically important, and iconic institutions of British culture, history and way of life. Famous writers, events, and figures have emerged from their walls. They’re such a quintessentially and intrinsically British thing that whenever I mention my nationality, most Japanese people understand the concept of one.

During my three years at university, my friends and I would go to our “local” three or four times a week, drink beer, chat about random things and watch the football. My clubbing days lasted a year and a half at most. After that I just couldn’t stand the atmosphere, music and the clientele. I just didn’t see the point. To dance? To shag girls? To drink? Yeah, while other students chugged cheap vodka from bottles and lay comatose on the dance-floor, we’d move from one pub to the next, “sampling” ales, talking about nonsense and going to our local Turkish eatery at the end of a night. That was always a solid night out. After finishing university, I used to go drinking with my dad and his friends. And after a Sunday shift at work, I’d go to the pub with my workmates to watch the football and attempt to throw darts. In fact, some of my fondest memories have occurred in pubs, which may seem rather underwhelming.

Sure Japan has “Pubs”; Irish/ English versions with flags, pictures of the queen and leprechauns, and serving Guinness and Bass (the first foreign beer to be sold in Japan). Like any cheap imitation, they lack the certain atmosphere and charm that those back home have. Everything feels fake, they’re always playing crappy music too loud, and a pint of anything costs the equivalent of seven British pounds (so….London prices). The Japanese equivalent would probably be an izakaya. Essentially an establishment where office workers and businessmen drink, smoke and chat about their wives, while indulging in Asahi SuperDry and a variety of fried goods. After which, said wives complain about their lateness and them wasting money. I can definitely see the comparison, but it’s a different style of culture.

I guess I’ve grown into a bit of a snob when it comes to pubs. I probably take after my father in that regard. He avoids chains such as Wetherspoons, preferring more local establishments where the choice of drink isn’t reduced to Fosters and Strongbow. He’s fortunate to now live in York, where there’s a decent pub on nearly every street. Lucky him. But this genetic “pub snobbery” has definitely influenced my reaction to Japan’s attempts at “British Pub Culture”. Maybe I should but my criticisms and cynicism behind, and give them another go.

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My university local “Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem” in Nottingham

Growing Old?

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“How old are you?” is a typical question that’s asked by many of my students. With the whole emphasis on student participation, I usually reply with “how old do you think?”. A big mistake. After gesturing “lower, much lower” for an extended period of time, it quickly dawns on me that no one has said a number below thirty-five. I feign frustration which gets a laugh. But do I really look that old? Am I not the epitome of the modern twenty-something year old?

Of course after thirty minutes someone eventually gets it correct, by which time the school bell rings and the class ends.  “Yes. I’m twenty-five years old” I say, and a barrage of comments like “really!” and “that’s a lie!” are hurled from around the class. I continue to feign shock and horror, which continues to get a laugh. The real kicker is that my teachers and people outside of my job often appear surprised to find out my real age. I’ll admit that physically, my appearance doesn’t exactly screams youth or good-looks, except for my beard (yeah!). My pudgy exterior, slowly receding hair-line, the first signs of grey hairs, and my weight continuously fluctuates, contradict a relatively active lifestyle. Just two months ago I successfully climbed to the top of Mt.Fuji. My image is not a huge concern of mine. I’ve never really cared about how I look, never straying away the beard, medium length hair, jeans, t-shirt and a jacket. I could care less about fashion. Shopping for clothes was more a case of comfort rather than appearing in an issue of GQ. I’ve always been more of a judge character and personality rather than looks.

Maybe it’s not entirely a physical observation but also a mental one. I’m frequently told by co-workers, family and friends that I’m mature for my age. My daily conversations with friends back at university would be about films, T.V, music, games and stupid crap that we found funny. Now, they’re more about the English language, education, politics and other intuitive thoughts (I think). My manner of speaking has changed dramatically. My grandparents frequently comment on how my Yorkshire accent has weakened, and my speech has become more deliberate and measured.

I feel that my thoughts have changed also changed. The sense of independence and responsibility required to live and work in Japan has forced me to focus on being an adult. I’m thinking about my future, career, money, and health with much more mindfulness. The constant profanity still rears its head when talking with my brother or friends, or when I’m annoyed. But it has subsided in general, primarily because of my current employment, I can’t really be swearing at the students though sometimes it feels deserved.  And while this blog was created as a space for me to rant and critique things in my life, it’s evident that I’m still holding onto my cynical way of thinking and conceding to negative thoughts too often.

Maybe it’s a trait of people from the Asian Continent, in that they find it hard to guess a person’s age. My mother often says that its true about Japanese people. About 10 years ago, my father, brother and I arrived at Nagoya Airport, and a Japanese “Custom Declaration” officer asked “Are these your grandchildren?” to my father. He wasn’t amused. But do I care about growing old and the thought of my elderly, wrinkly self? No, not really. But I sometimes find it interesting to hear what people think about it. In the end, it’s an inevitability that people try to prevent, but ultimately fail in a pile of expensive surgery, and a toxic slurry of anti-ageing cream. And I have no intension of doing any of that. So for now, I’ll gracefully accept the “mature for your age” remarks, and just go with it.