The Annual Migration of ALTs

The month of March marks both the end and beginning of the Japanese school year. As a result some ALTs (Assistant Learning Teachers) will decide to leave, meaning that new recruits will soon start to arrive. Understandably, various companies’ Facebook pages have been flooded with question about visas, training and suggestions on what to bring. But amongst them, as always, have been some bewildering questions or statements; Continue reading “The Annual Migration of ALTs”

Valentines in Japan: An obligation to love and work

Up until last year I had never been in a relationship during Valentines Day. Not that I really cared. In fact like with everything these days, it’s just another example of mass commercialisation in our consumerist society. Now that I’m in a relationship, I still harbour the cynicism towards it. But I put in some effort to make it a special occasion. Last year my girlfriend and I took a weekend trip to Osaka, but unfortunately this year it’s on a Tuesday. So I’ll probably end up getting her some flowers and taking her to dinner. Continue reading “Valentines in Japan: An obligation to love and work”

Halloween in Japan

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Halloween has only recently become a cultural phenomenal in Japan. Masses of young adults have started to dress in costume and party the night away, to the confusion of many onlookers. On Saturday night in Hiroshima there were numerous “cosplay” competitions, culminating in a parade through Hondori shopping arcade. Meanwhile at school, I’ve been informing the students on Halloween as a part of “English culture” though no-one seems particularly interested, me included. Like the many people I’ve overheard discussing the meaning behind the festival, I can’t help but feel that it’s completely meaningless and just for corporations’ pockets.

My Halloween memories aren’t of real note. To be brutally honest, my family and I never really celebrated it. As a child, I never went trick or treating because I didn’t see the point. If I wanted sweets I would ask Mum, whose answer would always be “No!”. Anyway, we’d carve a pumpkin, give chocolates to the few children that came knocking on the door and maybe watch a “scary” film on TV. But we never went anywhere near the extent that some Brits and Americans go to. When I went to university we’d hit the bars and clubs in stupid outfits, but that was about it. The common image of Halloween was never of its historical/ religious origins, but of children, sweets, pumpkins and company profit margins.

Here in Japan, it’s suddenly become a recognised event that has prompted stores to put up Halloween decorations amongst the early Christmas ones. Company brands like Pocky, Kit Kat and Starbucks offer “limited edition” goods based on the festival, usually pumpkin related. However the concept of trick or treating has and will likely never catch on, unless it’s in predetermined and organised events. The thought of children knocking on strangers’ doors in a country known for its conservative values and sometimes disturbing attitude towards children, isn’t a reassuring one. Instead, young adults have started to indulge in the enjoyable side of Halloween.

I spoke with one of my teachers about it all. Last year, her family were invited to the Iwakuni US Marine Corps Air Station’s festivities. Her children liked it so much that she’s been drafted into organising a small-scale version for her street. She’s been emailing neighbours, sending letters and instructions to friends in order to coax them into participating. My mother would never do anything like that! When asking other teachers, they seemed to be under the impression that Halloween was just an opportunity for companies to make more money from selling costumes and goods.

Speaking of costumes, Don Quixote, a store in Japan that practically sells everything, is the go-to place to buy Halloween stuff. Walking through their temporary “Halloween Section”, you’ll find the usual fake blood, prop and decorations. But one thing you’ll notice is that most of it is aimed towards an adult audience. The usual outfits are there; Where’s Wally?, Mario and Cinderella. But then you entire racks dedicated to the raunchy, “sexy” versions of innocent Disney characters, nurses, dominatrixes and school girls. It’s all rather uncomfortable and very off-putting.

It’s clear that Japan’s youth uses Halloween as an opportunity to dress up in something fun, and party. But I still don’t get Halloween’s purpose. I understand the historical nature of it all, but it’s current cultural form is one that is bewildering and utterly pointless. If it’s to scare people, then the barrage of news story and stuff online that we watch is far more scarier than the £10 costume someone made. If it’s for the sole purpose of acquiring chocolate, isn’t that the point every holiday (Easter/ Christmas). I guess it’s more for the kids. It’s a time when children can pretend to be their favourite monster and roam the streets causing mischief without feeling out of place. Yet here in Japan, it’s just an excuse to dress like a zombie and drink too much. So for now, I’ll watch John Carpenter’s The Thing or Halloween, gorge on my girlfriend’s homemade pumpkin pie and lay on the couch. Happy Halloween? 

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?

This Blog

I’m a Yorkshireman who recently turned twenty-five. I love to swear and I love to criticise everything. One of my Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs), astonished me by using the term “cynical” when jokingly referring to my constant use of the word “but”. I laughed and said “You’ve hit the nail on the head!”, she laughed too but didn’t get the idiom.

Yes, I live in Japan. I’ve been here for two and a half years as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). It might not be as exotic as Cambodia or Venezuela, but I enjoy it. While I never expected to see myself standing in front of 35 students drilling pointless English grammar or explaining the “politics” of Brexit, it’s been a challenging yet entertaining experience.

Anyway, I’ve started this blog to collect my thoughts, critiques and photographs of both my life in Japan and life in general.  It’s also something to do during my lengthy “夏休み” (summer vacation). To any normal office-worker, salary-man or service employee, the thought of having a month long holiday is a dream come true. Yet over my years of working and living in Japan, it’s become an increasingly frustrating time in which boredom quickly sinks in. So why not?