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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Weirdo on the Train

My daily commute involves taking a 40 minute train ride. I’ve no problem with this. I can usually get a seat and the train is comfortably air-conditioned, a necessity in this humid weather. The other passengers consist of Japanese office workers and high school students. It gets busy, but not “Tokyo busy”, so it’s not an arduous task each morning. Yet yesterday and today have be notable for one strange, slightly infuriating passenger. Continue reading “Weirdo on the Train”

My Thoughts on The Last Jedi

This past winter break, my girlfriend and I had our annual visit to the cinema to see the latest Star Wars entry. If I’m being brutally honest, this time felt more of a chore than a genuine wish to see the next instalment of my childhood franchise. And after watching The Last Jedi, I’ve been left bitter and disappointed towards Disney’s treatment of Star Wars. Continue reading “My Thoughts on The Last Jedi”

Fun Times at the Driver’s Licence Centre

I recently had the ordeal of renewing my Japanese driver’s licence. In fact, during the summer I actually had to renew my UK Driver’s licence too. Unlike Japan, the process is a lot more simple over there. You can actually do it online. I chose to renew mine at the post office, where they took my soon-to-expire licence, took a photo in a “special” booth, and recorded my electronic signature. After paying a fee and waiting a couple of weeks, my new licence arrived. Continue reading “Fun Times at the Driver’s Licence Centre”

……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.

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.

My Spring Vacation

Spring vacation has unfortunately ended and it’s time to head back to work. This year’s holiday thankfully didn’t involve the stress of moving apartments or changing schools like last year’s. Instead it took the form of general laziness and “relaxation”, which ended far too quickly.

I headed up to Miyoshi on two separate occasions. Both to visit some of my good friends who had taught me at a “Japanese Evening Class” when I was living there. We’d arranged to go to the Wakunaga Garden in Akitakata on it’s opening day with the hopes of seeing the spring flora. Instead we got a couple of centimetres of snow and freezing temperatures. Typical luck for someone from England. We instead indulged in a Sunday Roast dinner at Cafe Mike and Shirley. The fragrances of lamb cooked with rosemary and pork with sage were glorious. So too were the Yorkshire Puddings and gravy. The lovely owners were celebrating their third year of business, so we got a free slice of cake.  I just wish that their cafe was closer to home, instead of the two hour train ride.

Meanwhile the annual “Cherry Blossom Festivals” across the prefecture were right at the start of April. But with the prolonged winter weather, the blossoms had failed to truly reach their peak. My Instagram feed was awash with pictures of locals sat under sparse branches, a rather depressing sight. And with a three-day spell of rain forecasted for this weekend, it could prove to be a rather disappointing viewing experience this year.

There was plenty of sitting in front of a screen though. I managed to played through the entirety of Horizon: Zero Dawn, a stellar action-adventure/ RPG with an interesting approach to the post-apocalypse genre. And I continued to gain useless experience from shooting WWI-era soldiers in Battlefield 1. Exciting stuff.  I also attempted to binge-watch Netflix’s Iron Fist, but its lack of genuinely interesting characters or really anything of particular note saw me throw in the towel after five episodes. And with Ghost in the Shell’s release here in Japan, I had a look at the two anime series that followed the original 1995 cult classic. Both were entertaining, but lacked the charm and atmosphere that made the original such a classic.

Finally, the last few days were devoted to spring cleaning. There’s always a sense of accomplishment when you sell or throw away a crapload of stuff that you never knew you had. Last year I was astonished at the amount of clutter I had collected over the course of two years. All in all, it was a pretty good spring.