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I Should Tell You…Part III October 31, 2007

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.

1. Apparently, Japanese men don’t wear underwear. I’ve been searching in vain for somewhere that sells underwear that doesn’t look like something a grandad would choose to die in. But nothing. Nada. My searches have proved fruitless. I even wandered into Zara, sure of some quality merchandise, only to be rebuffed by the salesman who politely informed me that they don’t stock underwear. How on earth does the male population of the country survive, without some sort of covering underneath? They all seem to have a veritable horde of vests and other undergarments to keep them warm during the winter, but their tackle down below seems to get left to the mercy of the Japanese seasons.

2. Japanese people don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between “in tune” and “so out of tune a dog just voluntarily jumped in front of a van to stop the screeching”. I sat through my school’s culture festival and was subjected to the singing contest. Somehow the judges managed to pick a winner, but I’m pretty sure that in the lunch break they pinned each of the groups to a dart board and whichever one was hit first was the winner. The thing is, they made all the students sing, regardless of whether or not they could carry a tune. That was surely their first mistake. Maybe I’m being too harsh and they can indeed distinguish between good and bad, and perhaps it’s just the famous Japanese politeness gone mad.

3. The epidemic of カタカナ英語 (Katakana English) is rife. I just had a class where I spent a good deal of time laughing at the kids’ pronunciation. Of course, that is what I’m here to rectify, which I duly did. I told them nicely that we don’t say things like “My favourito curu isu redo” because it makes us sound like dipshits. Instead, I emphasised that we (most of us in England (none of them in America)) spoke properly and enunciated our words, finishing them where they finished, rather than adding on superfluous vowels willy-nilly. They seemed to be able to laugh at themselves, which is good, because I certainly don’t stop myself, and then they seemed to be trying their hardest to get out of the habit. One class down – 87 to go.

4. Just when you think you’ve got used to how bizarre this country is, something happens to make you realise that you’ve only just started scratching the surface. Take, for instance, the incessant music. Once, whilst sat in a meeting at school, twiddling my thumbs as I couldn’t understand a word that was being said, I heard the dulcet tones of an mp3 of Edelweiss. Blasted across the town. I turned to another of the English teachers at my base school (we’ll call her Geraldine) and asked what was going on. “Well,” Geraldine mused, “It’s because it’s 10 o’clock”. That was it. No further explanation was proffered and I was left to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. This random music playing also occurs at 5pm and 9pm, just to inform those townsfolk who are without clocks, that it has now passed a certain hour. But they don’t stop at Edelweiss! I’ve also heard Moon River. And at 9pm something scarily Gothic like The Phantom of the Opera scares me witless. I’ve already decided that I’m going to petition the local government to include some other hits that I can readily enjoy, such as Born Free or, looking towards this century, Toxic. I can just imagine the hordes of commuters returning from wherever it is they disappear off to each morning, to the sounds of a lyric-less, tinny version of Britney’s classic sounding out over this sleepy idyll I call home.

5. I learnt this is Germany, but you can never be fully prepared for the questions English learners will ask. There are some that I just can’t answer, but know that I really should know. Why are there two different ways to say “a”. You have “ey” and “uh”. What’s with that? And then the – is it “thee” or “thuh?” Answers on a postcard, please…

6. Japanese bureaucracy seems to be much easier to deal with than that of their German counterparts. I had to go to Hiroshima to get a re-entry permit, so that when I return from Vietnam, they let me back in the country. I got to the office (having had to recruit numerous Japanese civilians in my efforts to track down the elusive building), bought the revenue stamp that I needed in order to hand over my (not so) hard-earned cash and proceeded to the right department. Once there I filled out the two forms required, handed them in and no more than 5 minutes later, was leaving the building with a brand new Japanese stamp in my passport, adding to the numerous ones there already. Compare that against a 3 hour wait just to de-register as a citizen of Cologne – a measure that, as it turns out, I needn’t have taken because it’s not all that important, and Japan comes out on top.

Anyway – enough of this character assassination of the country that is showing me (in some cases: reticent) hospitality at the moment.

Till next time!



1. Lucy - November 3, 2007

De-lurking! xx

2. Wendy - November 4, 2007

I can’t believe you paid £3.30 for a warm jacket and £10 for a pair of white pants! What’s going on??!!


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