First of all in the course of planning a lesson today I came across this photo.


Secondly today I saw something that you would only see in the East. A monk in bright orange robes (with a black robe over the top) waiting for the bus. There is no better way to start the day. Alas, no pictures.

Thirdly today was Valentine’s Day in the land of rising suns and madness. In Japan Valentine’s day as we understand it is actually split into two festivals. On Valentine’s day women give presents, typically chocolate and usually something they made themselves, to men. On White Day, in March, men return the favour by giving women something white, usually marshmallows or white chocolate but if it’s an actual couple then lingerie is quite a popular gift.

Obviously being thousands of miles away from my sweetheart makes Valentine’s day a wee bit sucky. However to compensate for this I was given some chocolates today by Misa, one of my JTE’s. No, she isn’t trying to hit on me, rather some women in japan feel obliged to give presents on Valentine’s day to all their male co-workers even if they’re married. Now since buying chocolates for all the guys in the school would get expensive really quickly Misa opted to just give me some to be friendly. I didn’t even get a chance to thank her properly as she shushed me to keep it a secret. I’ll just have to re-pay her on White day.

They were really, really nice chocolates by the way. I only got four but oh my were they delicious.

Right then, things are slow and no adventures are forthcoming so here are

5 Awesome things about Japan. Number 2 in a series.

1. Kotatsus

Kotatsus are basically a table with a detachable top. When you remove the top a frame is left to which a heater is attached pointing down. You place a blanket over the heater and put the top back on so that the blanket is now between the heater and the top of the table. Then you sit underneath the table and relax. It’s like a snugly little heat cocoon. Although winter is technically over it’s actually colder at night now than it was for most of December so I have been retiring to the safety of my bedroom and my kotatsu every night recently. It’s really cosy and warm and (dare I say it) snugly and I sit in warmth and happy bliss watching telly on my laptop for about an hour before I go to bed. In general central heating is more convenient and more effective but it isn’t as cool (using the informal meaning of course)as a kotatsu nor does central heating make you fell like you’re retreating into a tiny and very, very warm world of your own.

2. Food in shop windows.

I can’t believe it took me this long to mention it but one of the truly defining things about Japan is its displays of food outside every shop window. Fake food I mean, made from plastic. Often these looks incredibly real. In fact the food in the window and the food served to you are usually indistinguishable other than a glossy sheen. It’s a damn site more trustworthy than the photographs you get in fast food places in the U.K.; where a kebab photo looks like some kind of gourmet cuisine prepared by grecian gods and appears in your hand looking like a limp dog turd. You always know exactly what you’ll be getting before you order it in Japan. Sure that removes a little bit of the surprise in life but its more honest. Any street in Japan is a riot of shrieking colours and adverts all baying for attention and the plastic food is one of the cooler and more interesting examples of the japanese business tendency to go “look at us, LOOK AT US!”.

It might be that the Japanese as a people are so scared of ever drawing attention to the themselves that makes the businesses overcompensate but regardless of the reason it is the insane advertising that is one of my favourite things about japan.

3. Engrish.

Engrish is the use of ungrammatical or nonsensical English, usually in advertising but sometimes in clothing and packaging. Much like we think Kanji looks cool and slap it on products and shirts without knowing what it means the Japanese think roman letters look cool and use it everywhere. However what it says is not always what they think it says.

This website is in part dedicated to Engrish as Mummyboon is the most
Engrish t-shirt I have ever seen. I seek out engrish in clothes shops all the time and Mummyboon was the first and thus far the best example I have personally owned.

however, it isn’t my favourite Engrish shirt. That would be this one, found on the website

“dog look at airplane”

it tells it like it is.

Other examples of engrish include……..

And of course my last post was full of Engrish.

4. Robots.

Okay, most of the “Japan is a technological wonderland stuff” is sadly a load of bollocks. This is a constant source of dissappointment to me but i deal with it. However, they really do have a lot of robots here. Mostly the robots are just toys but one robot in particular has a a major role in my day to day life and an even greater one in my friend Jools’s. You see, my friend jools lives on Port Island. this is a man made island in the ahrbour of kobe and is accessible only by monorail. The monorail is a robot. I don’t mean it occasionally transforms from a mono-rail into a humanoid machine and fights Godzilla (although frankly I would not be surprised) but rather that it has no driver, either on the train or back in the station. It has a man monitoring it for safety but the train drives itself.
To go to work everyday jools has to get into a robot.
How cool is that!

5. Festivals and Holidays.

Do you know how many bank holidays there are in Japan per year? 16. In England we get 9 (factoring in Christmas and Boxing Day). Now admittedly were I a Japanese person I would work insanely long hours during the rest of the year nd this would be the compensation for it. But I’m not Japanese, I’m a lowly gaijin. This means I work standard gaijin hours as we would expect in the west and get lots of holidays!

Discounting the benefits of a day off Japanese festivals are still brilliant although they are basically the same thing each time and roughly equivalent to a village fete. There’s a stage or some form of visual entertainment (i.e. looking at pretty lights, or people dancing, or people riding horses, or matsuri floats) and an unbelievable amount of stalls selling food. Quite varied food too. No stall really sells more than one kind of thing so there are individual stalls for okonomiyaki, takoyaki, grilled corn, burgers on sticks, fried chicken, noodles, etc, etc. The protocol is go get food, position self to see visual entertainment, eat food. If it’s a religious festival go do whatever odd “lucky” thing is associated with the festival (religion in Japan is big on the celebrations and pretty low key on the rules and services business) and possibly buy a fortune.

They may all be samey but they’re fun!

And really the only difference between them and the village gala is a) the lamentable lack of a play your cards right stall and b) the displays are usually much, much more interesting than majorettes or some bloke with a falcon. And I like falcons so that’s saying something.

Next week you can look forward to a re-cap of my plans on Saturday to run around a mountain in the snow in a loincloth fighting other men for lucky sticks.

And every part of that sentence was true.


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