Saying “Hello” in the Work Bathroom

It’s gotten to the point where I have to write something about it. Talking at the urinals, is it a faux pas?

I have no issue with continuing a conversation with a friend or someone I really know, while taking a piss. Whether I’m drunk or livid about how the football match is going, I don’t have a problem. But for some, visiting the restroom is a hellish nightmare. Strangers unzipping and aiming, the foul stench from the stalls, the long line of people waiting and the crusty, bearded man making unwanted eye-contact. Every…bloody…time.

Anyway, at school it’s become a slightly awkward endeavour. Is it normal to greet someone while in the bathroom? Some teachers will say “Hello” or “Good Morning”. Other teachers will do a casual bow. And others will avoid eye-contact altogether. I wouldn’t say I go into a panic, but it’s an uncomfortable situation. Are they striking up a conversation? Are they simply saying “Hi”? Do I need to talk about something?

Unlike everything and everywhere in Japan, there are no signs on how to deal with this sort of situation. No FAQ or Troubleshooting sheet explaining the correct procedure. No anime character cheerfully demonstrating how to deal with a talkative stranger. It’s up to you on how to proceed. I know these teachers on a professional level, but I wouldn’t say I’m at that whole social, “converse while using the urinal” level. So I tend to follow what the other teacher does. 

There’s one interaction that often makes me chuckle. Japan has a phrase “otsukaresama desu”, which loosely translates into “Thank you for your hard work/ effort”. We say it when we’ve finished work, when we’ve helped each out or after we’ve listening to some long-winded lecture. Now, in some cases teachers have said this to me in the bathroom. It’s obviously referring to work. But I can’t help but feel that it sort of fits with the act of using the toilet. “Thank you for your effort in correctly and efficiently urinating”.

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……Damn Jet Lag

I’m currently writing this at four o’clock in the morning with the sun yet to rise. I got back from a three-week vacation last Wednesday and the jet lag has unfortunately set in. As I’m not blessed with the ability to sleep on planes, the eight hour difference between the UK and Japan was been made even worse. Adapting to UK time wasn’t a problem three weeks ago. But getting reaccustomed to Japan Time has been increasingly frustrating. I just about managed four hours of sleep yesterday, but it’s still been a stressful mess.

A friend once stated that the general rule of thumb is that for each hour of time difference between destination and starting point, that will roughly correlate to the number of days required to get over the jet lag. Well, it’s been nearly a week and while it’s certainly getting better, it ain’t over yet. School starts this Friday, so I shouldn’t have any trouble getting up. But whether I’ll be able to stay awake in class is the real question. We’ll just have to wait and see.

School Alert: Watch out for BEARS!

After finishing class, I received a “Public Announcement” letter from the local Board of Education. Using my limited kanji ability, I was able to decipher that I definitely needed to improved my kanji ability, and that there was a bear wondering around the local area.

Being from the UK, the only animals that “terrify” the British public are either the rogue foxes attacking babies or false widow spiders, both making “appropriate headline news” for the tabloid press. Here in Japan, mother nature seems a bit more hostile and sinister. From giant huntsman spiders to hissing centipedes, or the abundance of mosquitoes and the occasional venomous viper, Japan isn’t all kimonos, cherry blossom and cutesy characters. In fact recently, Japan’s population of bears has made the headlines, and not for doing something adorable.  Continue reading “School Alert: Watch out for BEARS!”

My High School Experience

Across Japan, junior high school third graders have started their three years of high school education. And with all this talk about the students entering an important part of their lives, I got back to thinking about my high school days. England’s educational system is structurally different from the likes of America and Japan as you can tell from the table below;

England’s Education System

Grade

School

Age

Nursery

Nursery

3

Reception

Reception

4

Year 1-6

Primary School

5-11

Year 7-11

Secondary School

11-16

Year 12-13

Sixth Form / College

16-18

Anyway my “high school days” found me at a completely new school, surrounded by new teachers and new classmates. Those stressful two years were a nightmare of examinations, coursework and social toxicity. After five years of studying at my secondary school, making close friends and building an attachment to my teachers, I found myself unable to study the subjects I wanted to at a Sixth Form level. My parents were also deterred by the school’s underwhelming test averages and university prospects. Thus we decided that it would be best if I changed schools for my A-Levels. And so it was decided that I would go into private education for two years.

I was overweight, my GCSE grades (Year 11) weren’t as high as everyone else’s, and I didn’t drive to school in a Mercedes. Though these never presented a direct problem for myself, I could tell that there was a divide between those students that were overly-privileged and those who weren’t. My friend was constantly ridiculed for being sponsored to study at the school, as his parents couldn’t afford the fees. And this underlying fact that a private school meant money, was ever present in every facet of school life. BMW cars, Swiss watches and lines of coke in the bathroom definitely didn’t make me feel comfortable. This even stretched to the school’s financial dealings. The Sixth Form building had been funded by some gentlemen whose name I can’t recall. Anyway, he had returned to the school for a visit and had witnessed an impromptu water fight. We got a prompt scolding from the principal who stated that “we should be ashamed” for losing funding for the school’s future projects. None us really gave a f**k.

What particularly stands out was that Sixth Form was a period of adult themes and hurried “maturity”. This wasn’t the group of classmates that discussed The Simpsons or the weekend football scores. Instead sex, booze, calculus and rugby were common topics of conversation. A confusing mix for me. I’d never had sex, drunk booze, studied calculus or even watched a game of rugby before entering high school. Talking about sex was always an incredibly nervous experience as an overweight individual. My innocent minded couldn’t grasp the terminology or justification for bragging about it. Under-age drinking was prevalent throughout the school. In fact the school grounds were surrounded by two pubs, one in particular was the “drinking hole” for many students. I’d never touched a beer or a shot of vodka before and the peer pressure was incredibly persistent, even on school trips.

In terms of actually studying. My teachers were a mixed bag, all possessing unique personalities and foreign teaching styles to what I was used to. I had two history teachers. I always looked forward to my English History lessons purely because of the teacher. She was kind and understanding. Lessons wouldn’t be a lecture, but a discussion of opinions and ideas. Meanwhile, I loathed studying about Bismark and the Russian Tsars. Not only was it uninteresting but our teacher was an traditionalist and eccentric who had studied at Oxford University, something he was overly proud to remind us of. I loathed going to his lessons or handing in homework for the fear of being ridiculed.

In the end all that mattered was that I got the grades I needed to go to the university. I made some friends, enjoyed studying some of the material, but I never felt any connection to the school. I hated the over-privileged atmosphere of under-age drinking, drugs and pampering that was ever present. The phrase “you are an ambassador of this school” was thrown around by the principal, but it wasn’t something I was proud to be associated with. I was very fortunate to have been brought up in a family and I’m grateful that my parents were willing to invest in my education to that degree. But my high school experience wasn’t something I’d like to repeat.

If you had $1 billion dollars,….

During this week, the school’s dedicated English teacher and I decided to pose this question to the students; If you had one billion US dollars, what would you do?  It’s a question that I sometimes ask my friends while drinking. “A new house”, “private jet”, “2 girls at the same time”, are some of the answers that frequently come up. Heck, when I posted the same question on Reddit, the answers were “burn it”, “buy everyone a donut”, and “2 girls at the same time”, which Continue reading “If you had $1 billion dollars,….”

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.