My Website Got Hacked

Cue sad face, not only have I been ignoring this blog for a while but it got hacked.

Hopefully it won’t happen again and I manage to retrieve everything except a few pictures.

I apologise and I also just about to go on holiday, I’ll  try to fix the posts after that. And tell you some new and exciting news.

Ta ta


What All Those Buttons Actually Do

During any given TV show about Japan at some point the presenter will invariably become oh so shocked and embarrassed when after going to the loo he accidentally pressed one of the buttons on the side. He will sheepishly record the water spraying across via a gorilla camera that just happens to be within spitting distance of a toilet.

Watching this stereotype over and over, gave me a deep fear of those buttons and the knowledge that I should never EVER touch them. As soon as I came to Japan I realised that it is very easy to flush and that the makers of those programmes must have gone to great lengths to get their money shot.

It has only been in the last few months that I have actually felt confident enough to investigate that control pad of buttons. An automatically rising seat in KFC was the closest I’d got to space age toilet tech until recently. Now I have given them a go, I realise that they are not as scary as they might seem.

The set of buttons that you may see to your right when you use a public toilet in Japan generally control a bidet along with an air freshener and occasionally an embarrassing noise cover upper.

Here is a useful bilingual guide to the control panel.

How to use a toliet

You will notice that there is a gauge marked water pressure there. A word of warning, this is usually set rather high by default. Please turn it down before you decide to save a few toilet roll sheets by turning the spray on.

I didn’t and felt quite violated.


Chlorine, Semen and Chestnut Flowers

Now that I have officially decided to leave Japan this year, it is finally time for me to sort out my Japan Bucket List. This is basically a list of things I want to do before I return to the UK. Given my procrastinating nature, even the very act of making the list has been difficult. Before I knew it, it has become too late to do some of the stuff that I would have loved to. Things like watching or even taking part in Yukigassen and visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival are now impossible. There are even some things on there that I know in my heart of hearts were impossible in the first place. It has long been a dream of mine to steal a train driver’s hat as he sticks his head out of the window when a train leaves the station. That is nothing but a pipe-dream from the very beginning though.

The first item on my bucket list to be chalked off was much easier to achieve. Kalk Zamen Kuri no Hana is, in my opinion, Shiina Ringo’s greatest album and therefore the best album ever recorded. Not an easy listen but certainly one that rewards you one hundred fold if you take the time to get into it. KZK just oozes a kind of class unusual for a J-Pop star. Heck, unusual for any pop star  Hell, unusual for a musician. Of course, it didn’t achieve the mainstream success that her other albums before and since did, so unlike her other albums from this period there has never been a vinyl reissue of it.

As a result, it has become pretty rare. Despite half heartedly searching for in for the last 3 years, I never saw it in the used record shops I would waste time searching. So, after finally putting down the money for a Yahoo Auctions account (Japan’s far worse version of ebay, which you have to pay extra to bid over 5000 yen). I finally found what I was looking for.

For the cost of a cool 8000 yen I picked this up. And just look at it, it’s a thing of beauty.

kzkFront

The musical treat contained within is not betrayed by the packaging. As the album is very Japanese in its construction the cover’s spine is on the right rather than the left. Pure class!

kzkOpen

Inside is a selection of the sheet music in gold plus bonus English Lyrics of Stem, odd since the English language version of this song doesn’t appear in the album.

kzkMusic

kzkLyrics

The records themselves aren’t so exciting but the lyrics sheets are super nice.

kzkInnards

Lovely Ringo on one side, turn them over for lyrics on the other.

kzkSheets

 As a special Bonus, here are the lyrics to Poltergeist, which is probably my favourite Shiina Ringo song (at least it is today).

kzkPoltergeist

And how does it sound? Well, like most LPs compared to it’s digital brethren it has a more woolly sound. Maybe it is because of the reduced sound quality but this version just feels like it envelops you in a way my iPod doesn’t. I can’t really judge the audio quality though. I’m far from an audiophile and my setup is blatantly not the greatest.

This version of the album also has a bonus song at the end and taken on it’s own merit Ichijiku no Hana is truly beautiful and lovely. But appearing at the end of this album it is a bit odd. It kind of spoils the already epic conclusion to the album and it’s original last song. It’s like that bit in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when A Day in the Life finishes and there is some strange warbling just after (except not as bad) . Apparently Ringo wrote this song for this album but cut it out. Maybe someone wanted to add it here as bonus but it spoils the flow a bit.

One thing I did forget about listening to LPs is that you have to  switch sides part way though. On a double album like this one, with only 3 songs a side, I am only just comfortable on my bed before I have to get up and turn it over. Which is super annoying. These days we really are pampered with 1000s of songs in our pockets.

 kzkBack

And what of the other items in my list? Well, you will hear about them soon enough….


Spreading The Word With Tissues

Tissue AdvertGo to any town centre or shopping district these days and it is almost certain that people will try to give hand you things. Not useful things mind you, I’d love to walk down the road and for someone to hand me a free TV but no, take any trip to the town and you will have had tons of paper thrust in your face.

Leafleting is annoying, there is no getting away from that. 90% of leaflets handed to you are for things which are not at all interesting, so many people’s reaction to leafleters is to ignore them and hope they leave you alone as you pass. It is no fun for the poor people leafleting either. In fact as I read in (or more accurately, a friend read and told me about) the Dalai Lama’s book The Art of Happiness, he says that it is good to take a single leaflet from them so they can get their job done quicker. Making a small sacrifice like that will allow the leafleter that little bit more happiness. Having people constantly ignore you is no good for the soul and I guess they would quite like to be able to hand out all that paper so they can get out of the cold.

Even hostess bars are in on the act. People need tissues day or night.But what if picking up a leaflet was not a sacrifice, what if you could actually make it beneficial to take what is being handed out. Companies have tried to do this by including money off vouchers but if the service is not something you think you’d be interested in, why pick up a voucher for it?

Some time ago, back in the mists of time, Japanese companies hit upon the solution and I’m shocked that the idea has not caught on elsewhere. Often when handing out flyers, little packs of tissues are included. Of course, tissues are ALWAYS useful. It’s a rare day when people aren’t happy to receive a free pack of tissues.

The underside of the tissue pack is less interesting.So if people pick up your tissues they will probably look at your little leaflet for at least a couple of seconds longer that just a sheet of paper, the leafleter will be about to stop earlier because people will take what they are handing out and everyone will be more aware of your business. Everyone wins.

Unless you are Kleenex, no one needs to buy packs of tissues in Japan.

 


Foreigners Are All The Same

I Wanna Know What Love IsIn Japan, in the foreign community there seems to be some kind of argument at the words gaikokujin and gaijin are racist. In not sure that I agree with this stance, these word simply mean foreigner. How else can you describe someone not from your own country? Seems fairly safe to me. BUT, I have noticed that there seems to be a very us and them attitude in the way Japanese people express themselves that gets more and more disconcerting the more I hear it.

“Foreigners are loud”, “Foreigners drink too much”, “Foreigners smell bad”, “Foreigners can’t queue properly”(!), “Foreigners are taking our jobs and our women”. These are things that I think people say no matter where they are from, not unique Japanese complaints (except for that thing about queuing). People are scared of differences and just assume that because they saw one person who is different do something once, they are all the same. I don’t condone such views but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

No, my issue is that your average nice Japanese person (not talking about nationalists here) seems to think there are 2 places in the world, Japan and Aboard. I have had people say to me things like “What do foreigners do?” or “How would a foreigner eat this?, “What is popular with foreigners?”. In my internal monologue I think, “How am I supposed to know?”. The only place I feel qualified to talk about is England, that is the only other place I have lived. How I supposed to know what all foreigners do? Sure, I’ve seen some stuff about Brazil on TV but Aboard is a big place!

Urgent!Another occasion, a friend’s girlfriend started speaking Japanese with a silly accent and saying “This is Japanese like a foreigner would say it”. This stuck me as odd and I think my friend was trying his best to ignore her. It is odd because she was speaking Japanese like someone whose first language was English reading romaji badly. Not like a ‘foreigner’. I’m sure we have all put on accents to sound like an Italian, an Indian or a Scouser or whatever but I find that English people name the vague area that the person being mimicked is from. Go one, try to speak English ‘like a foreigner’, you may be able to come up with something but it would not be based on anything tangible.

I have tried to subvert the Japanese usage of the word foreigner but it often falls on deaf ears. I have been with Japanese people in a bar who have said “There are loads of foreigners here”, I have replied with, “Yes, there are a lot of Japanese people here, aren’t there”. After receiving confused looks I explain that as an Englishman they are the foreigners to me and that I am living Abroad. I think that people don’t see were I am coming from because of my poor Japanese skills though. I managed to explain it to my Japanese teacher once but that was with the aid of an iPad and some diagrams.

Gaijin, meanwhile has become one of those words that foreigners say when they are speaking English. Unlike some others like genki, mendoukusai and shouganai there is already a perfectly acceptable English word in our lexicon. Why say gaijin when we can simply say foreigner?

Well, once I was in Hub, a pub which is basically where people go to pick up girls, and a woman in my group of people came back from the toilet exasperated. “I hate gaijin!”, she said in English, matter of factly. As she was an American and having drinks with people from a plethora of different countries, I challenged her on this. I explained that she had basically just stormed in and said that she hated me and most people around the table.

“Oh, no”, she said, “I didn’t mean you. These two guys were trying to chat me up”. She then pointed to 2 fat blading white guys.

So to her Gaijin means “fat sleazy old white men”.

Perhaps it is racist after all.

Looking out of the Window, comtemplatingly