Gaijin Eye

Nothing to do with atheism, just observations from living here.


Weather

The weather has changed suddenly.  This summer was madness. Japanese apartments being only the size of ovens, felt like bloody ovens too. Even the mosquitoes and spiders couldn't be bothered and were found cooked. Either that or they had topped themselves in true Japanese style.

Walking to a vending machine to get an ice-cold drink was a pointless episode, as I had sweated out more liquid than the inside of a can of coke during the 20 metre walk to get there.


Thank goodness for air-conditioning, except that this summer was so hot, even they were too knackered to work properly and could at best only lower a room's temperature to 'slightly less hideous'.

But now, almost overnight, 35 degrees has become 15. The locals have entered a state of panic and carry umbrellas at all times. Suddenly I am actually noticed as I stroll about in short-sleeves in the rain. Old ladies look and shiver to themselves. They probably think I come from one of those poor backward countries like England and I can't afford a coat. They are probably right.

I had an umbrella once, but made the critical mistake of opening it in a typhoon. I had to make a snap decision to let go of it or go flying into the railway track like a suicidal Mary Poppins.

I am told rain is dirty and polluted with bad stuff from China. Even more seriously, I suspect, is that it can remove make-up and ruin immaculate hair and that just won't do.

Anyway at last, thought I, the trains,buses and classrooms will be a little more bearable now. Oh how wrong I was. Heaters are now full on, as it's a 'freezing' 15 outside.

Sod this, for my summer holiday next year I plan to go somewhere cooler. Perhaps an all-inclusive weekend break, basking inside the main reactor core at Sellafield Nuclear Power Station.



Trains









Life plods on at a chaotic pace. That is Japan, a country of contradictions. The ultimate rat race, with so many trying so hard to find their own way in life, but with the vast majority finding exactly the same route, for fear of standing out from the crowd.
Unity is everything, making waves is bad. Popular is very popular.

"There goes that crazy gaijin again, see he doesn't even use an umbrella in the rain!
What a card. What a cad. Have to watch that one, potential criminal.
Also bound to be carrying deadly viruses, from all the colds he has got as a result.
Must adjust my face mask , even though it totally covers the 6 hours of makeup I put on this morning"


At the moment I do a little work here, a little there. I've probably already travelled longer on the Tokyo subway than any sane person ever should. For a start the map has so many intertwining lines that it looks like someone has barfed up an extra-large plate of spaghetti.

But this is not British Rail. Here, the trains here are impossibly clean and have a bizarre habit of arriving precisely on time at the right place , not derailing and not going on strike because smoking breaks aren't long enough. There are no mashed up chips down the side of the seats, or torn pages from The Sun floating about in carriages that smell of working class people.

Having said that, there is a sterile feel to them here. It's rather like travelling to work inside a giant hypodermic needle. Nobody looks at anyone either. I could enter dressed as machine-gun-toting terrorist complete with huge beard and turban, safe in the knowledge that nobody would actually see me. And on some days I've been tempted.

Fruitcakes like trains. Mental illness is still not properly faced here, as it has overtones of shame. People bottle it up until they suddenly decide to leap in front of a train and become one of the only reasons a train is ever late here. One line is known rather grimly as the suicide line, due to it's almost weekly death toll.
Jumping in front of a fast moving train is, of course, perfectly sane. Remember to agree with me and not make waves.
And fruitcakes like the inside of trains too. If someone is actually speaking on a train, odds are it's a nutcase gibbering to themselves in the corner. Or it could be me.




Cleanliness

Yes, it's jolly nice that it's so clean here.

The cockroaches seem to approve too. Who wouldn't?

I read the reason lies in the country's old Buddhist roots, where cleanliness is godliness.
But wait, don't we have that saying too? So why, in England, is the least likely place you will find litter is in a bin? It is most likely in the wake of any group of inbred Nike-wearing baboons bellowing 'Do wot mate?' in a cellphone that social services has paid for.

But it does seems a little over the top at times. I was queuing at the cash machine in the bank. As each customer finished using the touch screens, a bank employee suddenly rushed into action with a flurry of bows and a pink cloth to remove all traces of any Ebola or Anthrax the customer may have carelessly left behind.
She just got under my feet, as short people often do. I wanted to put a little lead around her neck and take her for a walk, to give her something better to do than clear smudges away.

I think it's the reason why the toilets are so elaborate here. On more than one occasion I've sat there, on the electrically-heated seat, trying to figure out which button on the high-tech control panel is flush, only to guess wrong and get my backside blasted by water, hot air, cold air, music or an audio recording of a flushing sound.

Even my dentist kindly showed me, in minute detail, how to clean teeth. I really wanted to explain that had in fact already invented the toothbrush long before Sony even existed.
But as we were both incapable of stringing together sentences of more than two words in each others' languages, that conversation was never really going to happen.
Going to the dentist in a foreign country opens up special opportunities for confusion and pain. Oddly enough my Japanese for beginners books didn't cover discussing having the nerve drilled out of one of my molars.

Oh yes, blowing your nose in public in unclean. So that means a local with a cold only has two options;either sitting there with rivulets of snot dribbling into their mouth or sniffing relentlessly. The sniffing option it is. It drives me up the wall. But only me, apparently.



Food
There is no doubt about it, food is of higher quality here. Lettuce actually tastes like a green leafy vegetable and not the 'Essence of Weedkiller' so favoured by Tesco. Even tomatoes have the bare-faced cheek to taste so much better than a ping-pong ball.

The Japanese demand good food. They vote with their wallets and they've got bigger wallets than us. They are big on health too, being quite prepared to pay a lot for a good healthy meal, then enjoy it with a relaxing cigarette.

But you do have to be careful here with food that looks familiar. That green packet of crisps is probably seaweed flavour. That innocent looking biscuit you were about to dunk in your coffee is shrimp flavoured. I still have nightmares about a jacket potato that burst open to reveal a mass of squid tentacles in an enticing pink mucus, reminiscent of a scene from Alien.

Then there are these mad urges to combine food in unnatural ways. Some of these concoctions are just plain wrong and should be banned under some sort of culinary International Law; noodle sandwiches, doughnuts containing curry sauce and pizzas topped with octopus.

Sometimes their notion of foreign food is a little wide of the mark too. There is a chain of 'British-style' pubs here that includes our most traditional pasta dishes. I knew it was grasping at straws asking for a pickled egg. But what surprised me was the barmaids reaction when I explained what they were. You would have thought I was asking her to pickle her own grandmother for me to munch on.

Yet I don't think it's realised how unusual a lot of their own food is. They look at you in surprised disappointment when you politely refuse raw horse, sea urchin or beans covered in a sticky slime from fermenting in their own juices.

It's all good fun, but don't go looking into the freezers in the seafood department in supermarkets, as you never know what's going to be looking back at you.



Stupid Jobs

I have noticed a number of jobs that, by our standards, are very trivial indeed.

Take the elevator girls. A glamorous hostess-type girl spends her day opening and closing elevator doors and travelling with her 'passengers' to their exotic destinations of 'up' or 'down'. I half expect her each time to serve drinks or point out the exit signs. It's part of the feel-good shopper experience, but surely she is bored to tears behind that perfectly manicured smile?

Another more common example is men (always men) waving lighted sticks about in roads.
Any form of roadworks seems to need 2-3 of these men to patrol the area intensely, waving along traffic and warning pedestrians that the big hole in front of them is probably best walked around.

Then there are the bicycle collectors. The patrol the streets in a flatbed van and capture any illegally-parked two-wheeler. And they find a lot too. Bikes are commonplace here. You can't walk far before some shortsighted granny on a bike attempts to overtake you. The fate of these abducted bikes is a special bicycle prison yard, where a guard awaits their guilty owners' return and subsequent payment of a fee.

Some of the most pointless are the special bank staff whose sole responsibility seems to be greeting customers and making sure the entrance is free of bikes. Similarly there is a warden here who stands outside the bicycle park outside McDonalds all day. His mission is to pounce on lazy high-school kids that rebelliously attempt to park their bikes outside the officially marked zone, a shocking crime that must be stamped out immediately.

That brings me to perhaps the most pointless job of all: English teacher. The daily struggle to undo years of bad English instilled into people at school here, let alone teaching them anything new. Despite millions of pounds of investment, the fact remains that the English level here is one of the lowest in the entire world. You have more chance striking up a decent conversation with a Aborigine who is pissed out of his skull, in the outback of Australia.

If I hear "I am go to shopping" one more time, I am going to crazy.



 Television

Internationally known for being a bit whacky, but is the stereotype justified?
Yes.

At this moment in time, there are five grown men dressed as schoolboys, their objective being never to laugh, no matter what sudden random acts of lunacy are thrown their way.  If they do laugh, a man with a stick comes and whacks the offender's backside.

Flicking channels reveals a girl dressed as a panda trying to sell us insurance whilst doing some apparently amusing jig. 

There is netball on the next channel. Sport seems to be covered very thoroughly indeed.  Unfortuately, I am about as sporty as a bacon sandwich.

Next up, another impossibly cute girl dancing around in pink, with two nerdy looking business men who are trying to look fun too, but end up just looking like the girl's creepy stalkers.

And then we come to the variety show with a panel of guests, drawn from whoever is popular this month. They sit and watch various news clips whilst the top-right corner of the TV flicks between close-ups of their faces so we can follow their reactions.
What are we supposed to make of this?
Watch how the immaculately made-up girls weep predictably at sad puppy stories and effeminate pop star boys pretend to be amazed by some new brand of non-stick glue or whatever.

Many of these personalities are apparently comedians and each seems to have to rely on some exaggerated visual prop in case you forget who they are!
We have the well-known Man with glasses stuck up on his forehead,  Girl with heavily-pencilled eyebrows and the unforgettable Fat man with basin haircut.

Hilarious.

Another trend seen on TV here is 'dumb is cute'.  These girls have risen to new heights by changing their style from 'Just another cute girl' to 'I am so empty-headed and therefore 100 times cuter.'

Watching them in action is amazing as they alternate between smiling dumbly and saying shyly "I don't understand."

That is literally their job, being paid a fortune for being stupid.

There again, politicians have been doing that for years