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.
I’m going back to the UK for the Summer Holidays. So when I recently called home, my mother asked what I wanted to eat when I arrived. I instantaneously answered with “Fish and Chips”. Whether it be sitting in the garden of our family house back when I was a kid, or in the pub before an away football game, I have fond and delicious memories of eating them. In Japan, it’s not uncommon to find a rather underwhelming offering in Irish Pubs. But for a nation that slaps tempura batter on everything from prawns to asparagus, it’s strange that they’ve yet to understand the beautiful romance between the potato and white fish. That’s not to say the Japanese have no idea about the dish. On the contrary, if there’s one thing that Japanese people know about the UK aside from the Queen, Peter Rabbit and David Beckham, it’s “Fish and Chips”.
Occasionally the Mitsukoshi Department store in Hiroshima organises a regional food and goods fair based on a specific area of Japan or from around the world. During this past week, there’s been a British Fair offering “real” Britishness in the form of various stalls and temporary cafes. I tend to avoid these foreign attempts at British culture. Usually my critical and cynical side takes over and it typically ends up being a disappointment. Toad in the Hole without gravy, scones the size of pennies, and serving milk tea with syrup are a few examples I’ve unfortunately experienced. But with my girlfriend intrigued by British Culture and especially baking, I found myself being dragged along. Continue reading “A British Fair in Japan”
I’ve already explained my fondness for Christmas Mince Pies, and its seems that I’ve unfortunately inflicted my girlfriend and her family with this seasonal, baked addiction. My wonderful mother has been sending M&S pies in her care packages, but they’ve always been gobbled up in a couple of days. And it seems that Christmas Stollen has stolen
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 inwhat 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.
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‘svacuum-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’sand 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.