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.

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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.

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.

The Summer Holiday Blues

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With the Summer Holiday’s in full swing, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated and restless. I’m only managing to sleep about 4/5 hours on a “good day”, but I don’t necessarily feel tired. I just feel unmotivated and rather glum. A month ago, you would have heard me saying “Why can’t the summer holidays start sooner?”. But now, dare I say it, I want to go back to work.

Back when I was a kid, the summer holidays were the best. Meeting up with friends, going on family vacations and not having a care about the encroaching school term. But now that I live on the opposite side of the world and have entered “adulthood”, the notion of “wasted time” is becoming more of an anxiety of mine. It may seem shallow for my young self to complain about the luxury of having a month holiday, but I’d guarantee that if you were in the same situation; in 35°C heat, without a car and with all you friends still working, you’d probably feel the same. Mind you, this Summer hasn’t entirely been boring. Back in mid-July, I successfully climbed Mt. Fuji with a couple of friends, and two weeks ago my girlfriend and I drove to Tsunoshima for a day trip. In the eyes of many people, that would seem like a pretty eventful holiday. But with this amount of time off, I feel that I should be doing more.

Currently, there’s a lot going on in my head. From the important; my finances and my future, to the laughably trivial; what to cook for dinner, these have become my “daily worries”. But understand this, I’m a guy that tends to fret and contemplate over everything. I rarely back my choices a hundred percent, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

“Well there’s no use just sitting there doing nothing”, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m also not an individual who would comfortably spend an entire week stuck in his apartment. Back at university it was so simple; either go to the pub with my friends, go watch a film at the cinema or play video games. Yet here in Japan, it’s a bit more difficult to deal with. It’s not culture shock, it’s not that I miss a can of Heinz Baked Beans (which I do) and it’s certainly not that I miss what’s going on it Britain, except for my family.

I like to travel, see and do things either alone or with friends. Whether that be hiking in the mountains or visiting historical buildings, I like to do stuff. My mother suggested I get a part-time job, or maybe do some tutoring (which I did last year) but I’m hesitant to do so. I’ve recently tried to follow an indoor exercise regime to lose some weight and build some muscle. While it hasn’t proved to be successful in reducing the kilos, I certainly feel more fitter. I used to jog when I got frustrated, but with temperatures reaching the mid 30s in Japan, I’m afraid my brain would melt and pour from my ears. I’m currently sat in my apartment at a temperature of 26°C, while outside its about 34°C. As a Brit, anything above 20°C is deemed too hot, and necessitates t-shirts to be removed in public, not the case in Japan though.

Photography has provided an outlet, and so too has this blog. Like I said in my previous blog post, taking pictures has been genuinely satisfying, and writing about my thoughts and getting them out there has provided something of a mental workout. My girlfriend has been a saving grace, but with her own turmoils and pressures to deal with, I feel guilty when complaining about my insignificant issues. It’s not all doom and gloom though. I’m going on holiday with her in late August, which seems miles away. We’re off to Ishigaki, Okinawa which will be pretty awesome. Let’s just hope that the weather will stay like it has been.

So is this just seasonal depression? Or the heat? Or is it just a symptom of being a miserable Brit? Well who knows, but I hope the rest of my summer vacation, and yours, will be relaxing and eventful.

How do you guys deal with this sort of lull?

My Hobby: Photography

Photography has become an hobby of mine since I arrived in Japan two and a half years ago. I’m still an amateur who has only a basic understanding of aperture and ISO, and I’ve never really touched Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. The constant improvement in smartphone technology has resulted in a society that now has the ability to take good quality photos and video of anything, anywhere. While I still take my trusty iPhone 5c all over, I’ve also decided to carry my mirrorless camera with me at all times.

Before I came to Japan I purchased a Nikon 1 J2, my first real camera. Previously I’d been using my parents’ compact Panasonic to take pictures during our family holidays and day excursions. If I’m being brutally honest, my mother was the main “photographer” of the household while everyone else were the “models”. Yet after purchasing my own, I now understand the attraction and fascination with photography. There’s an overwhelming sense of enjoyment to taking photos of landscapes, events and people. While it’s an obvious medium to record memories throughout our lives, it also a challenge or puzzle to capture both the subject/s, and the emotion or atmosphere felt during the situation. And sometimes, it’s the details you didn’t realise you had recorded that are genuinely fulfilling.

There’s also a satisfaction to showing others your pictures, not simply friends and family but other enthusiasts. I had originally started a Tumblr blog that largely consisted of photographs I’d taken during my two years in Miyoshi, Japan (before I move to my current location). I still regularly update it, but I’ve recently started uploading my photos to 500px, which offers much more of a community feel amongst photographers. It’s been gratifying to read comments and advice from actual professionals about my “work”, which has resulted in my greater interest in the hobby.

In regards to editing photos, I’ll leave that to said professionals. I use iPhoto (seriously) to organise, and occasionally crop, adjust brightness, saturation and add a “classy” filter. But you could call me a “purist” (or lazy), as the notion of altering an image to the point where it’s unrecognisable is something that I take issue with. It’s an untruth. Sure your photograph will look fantastic, but having imperfects removed, relocating the position of the Sun, and adding extra details isn’t part of the purity of looking through the viewfinder and hearing the shutter click. Let the photo speak for itself, not your ability with Photoshop, unless you’re that bad.

I’ve just upgraded my three-year-old Nikon to a Panasonic GX80 (or GX7 Mark II) after spending a month researching and contemplating. I think I’ve made the right decision, and with my new purchase I hope to continue taking photographs and enjoying this creative hobby. 

You can have a look at a selection of my photographs on this blog’s Photograph page

Or you can visit my 500px page here

Pokemon Go

My early childhood was one of music, sharks, Star Wars, and of course Pokemon. Being a child of the nineties, my brother and I would wake up every Saturday morning to catch the latest episode of the TV series. My memories of primary school consist of friends trading Pokemon cards and struggling to understand the actual game behind them. I seem to recall a close friend jumping over the school fence and running home in tears after a sour deal, to which the school enforced a ban on the cards. From the video games, of which I had Yellow, Blue and Red, to the numerous film adaptations, Pokemon was and still is an unstoppable money-making, friendship-ruining and money-making franchise thats popularity has never really subsided, clearly evident from the arrival of Pokemon Go.

I’ll admit that Pikachu still holds a place in my heart. However now being at the grand old age of 25, I’ve understandably moved on from the show and the franchise. Yet with technology ever evolving, transforming and it’s prices soaring, we have something that comes more akin to every child’s dream of becoming a Pokemon Master. Well I say “child’s dreams”, but it’s become increasingly evident that the large proportion of players range anywhere from their 20s to their 60s.

Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm, invading everywhere from Holocaust museums, to Bosnian minefields. And coincidently, it’s provided “quality news outlets” with countless horror stories and hilarious incidents to distract us from the shitstorm known as current affairs. The game only arrived here in Japan a couple of weeks ago, and to no surprise everyone and their mums has been swiping their fingers to catch Pidgeys and Zubats. I recently found myself strolling through Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, only to be greeted by a swarm of teenagers, cyclists, and salary-men taking advantage of the local Pokemon hotspot, and the free Wi-Fi. The local police have made their thoughts on the game clear, carrying out patrols in the area throughout the day and night, loudly and politely asking loiters/ players to vacate the park to no avail. Subsequently, Hiroshima has applied for the Peace Memorial Park to be withdrawn from the game days before its annual memorial ceremony on August 6th. Pokemon Go players in HiroshimaPokemon Go has been intended to get players to “explore the world around them” while enjoying the thrill of catching Pokemon. And while it’s certainly got people out of their homes, it’s also created news story after news story of people getting robbed and others unwittingly wondering into private property. The game has thus become an inhibitor of common sense and a unequivocal threat to humanity’s sanity, safety and existence. Maybe I exaggerate a tad, but the constant stream of stupidity written on the front pages of newspapers and reported on TV has resulted in a palm-shaped depression quite visible on my forehead. 

I have no issue against the game itself . While I understand it to be a buggy, unfinished, feature-lacking and overly-simplistic representation of Pokemon, I haven’t experienced the game first hand. This is not simply because of my reluctance to follow the trend, but my fear about what its effects will be on my iPhone’s Data Usage, and the obvious dread of my soul being slowly sucked out through a 4.7 inch screen with 16:9 resolution and “Retina HD Display”. Thus I’m not qualified to assess Pokemon Go as a video game. But being the cynic I am, I feel that I can complain about it’s accession to cultural phenomenon, and the resulting abandonment of common sense by many people.

To avoid sounding like a complete idiot (unlike this writer), I’ll simply say this; Play the game, “explore” your surroundings but for god sake, use your head. If a police officer is continuously telling you to “Leave the premises!”, then leave the premise. If you see a shady individual wielding a baseball bat while staring at their mobile, don’t assume they’re a fellow Pokemon Master. And when crossing a road, please don’t rely on the consideration of drivers travelling at 40mph. It’s come to the point where Japanese train stations are now regularly announcing that passengers should mind their surroundings while playing games on their smartphones, something that surprisingly wasn’t present before Pokemon Go’s arrival.

People and Pokemon Go can co-exist, but whether that’s in one piece is not the fault of the game itself or the developer, but you as a player. While the injures and problems associated with the game hopefully only represent a small percentage of players, it still showcases our devotion and bondage to technology, while also further highlighting the incurable undercurrent of idiocy each of us has. However like so many people, I don’t think Pokemon Go has the legs to continue on past the next two months. Developer Niantic can churn out their promises of peripheral devices and additional features, but modern society has become one of short attention spans and exhausting the fun out of everything astonishingly quickly. So before it goes the way of Flappy Bird, stay safe and relive your childhood you glorious bastards.