Over the Golden Week holiday and beyond I was very lucky to be joined here by my father. Being the staunch Englishman that he is, I was unsure how he would take to eating sushi instead of pork pies and soy sauce instead of mint sauce. He seemed to really like the food here though, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. He still decided to order chips with everything.
As he was here I took the opportunity to go to Hiroshima and Kyoto on the Shinkansen, it wasn’t a cheap trip but you only live once. Hiroshima was a real eye opener for me, it’s such an amazing place simply for the fact it is a normal city. The peace museum there was perhaps the most depressing 2 hours I’ve had in a long time but I implore everyone reading this to go sometime. Nasty, nasty things happened to those people but it is an interesting experience to learn more about it.
In Kyoto I noticed that nearly every single temple I went to had been burnt down by fire at some point, the people living there should really be more careful with matches. The journey to and from these cities was an odd one. Travelling by Shinkansen is perhaps more like a plane trip than train travel, except with more leg room. Perhaps that’s why my dad enjoyed it so much… I remember the joyful expression he gave me when I told him that “aeroplane” is “hikoki” is Japanese. Suddenly our surname made sense to him.
Anyway I’m going to leave you with a poem that my dad wrote on a postcard about his experiences in Japan, I was super impressed:
Tokyo is a huge city,
busy, vibrant and clean.
But when the building begins to sway
you wish you had never been.
Hiroshima is all quite new
for reasons you ought to know
Kyoto is full of temples and shrines
built long, long ago.
But best of all is the Shinkansen
rocketing along its tracks.
It’s very fast, frequent and on time.
If British railways were half as good
no one would ever be late.
But always at the back of one’s mind,
there’s that moving tectonic plate
Recently the weather here has been a bit random, raining one minute, boiling hot sunshine the next. So there I was sweltering in my coat, struggling to get to work, sweat pouring off my brow and then I heard a ringing: “Ding Dong De Ding Dong” (to the tune of ‘O Sole Mio‘, obviously).
“Ice Cream!”, I thought, “Just what I need to cool down!”
So I ran round the corner, down the road, following the sound. I felt like a kid again, remember those days? Hearing the ringing from a few streets away, hoping that you would be able to get your pennies from mum before the van goes past.
A moment later, I snapped out of my childhood nostalgia, the jingle was deafening by this point but I could not see any ice cream van. There was however a strong smell of petrol in the air and to my disgust and surprise I realised where the music was emanating from…
It was a bloody mobile petrol tank thing! There someone was, just in front of me, gleefully filling up a jerry can while having his ear drums shattered by the sound of bad and stupidly loud music. My brain really can’t comprehend why they use the tunes which once caused British children to run onto the street with delight, to sell planet destroying petrol. Where is the logic?
A friend who recently arrived in Japan asked me where he could get a haircut in this country the other day. This was a great excuse to tell him about QB House. The QB House is an interesting idea, it reduces the complication of getting a haircut to the same level as visiting your local supermarket’s delicatessen counter. You walk in, put your 1000 yen note in the slot, take your numbered ticket and then wait for your number to be called. While you wait you must remember to ask for a haircut and not a gammon steak.
It’s the moment you are called up for a haircut that, for a foreigner at least, problems arise. As my Japanese language skill is beginner level at best I have no idea how to ask for the type of hair cut I want. All I usually do is point at my hair, shape my hand like a pair of scissors and say “Snip, snip onigai shimasu”. The fact that I feel like a right idiot doing this is not helped by the look the hairdresser usually gives me afterwards, contempt would be a good way to describe it. This action does the job though and he generally realises what I want after a few confused half Japanese, half English ramblings.
I once heard that public speaking was generally considered to be a person’s biggest fear, but personally I think getting a haircut can easily match it. A least with public speaking it will all be over quite soon, get a bad haircut and you could be stuck with it for months! So why oh why do no language textbooks have a chapter in them entitled “Getting a Haircut”. In all my years of teaching (yes all one of them) I have yet to come across anything like this. Having a haircut is stressful enough normally but the stress can be magnified many times if you can’t even say what you are after.
I’m sure that a chapter in a language textbook, or maybe even a handy pull out pamphlet, with translations for phrases such as “A short back and sides”, “Just a trim” or even “Grade three” would be incredibly useful and maybe even turn the book into a million seller.
It’s all very good to be able to say “The book is on the table”, but it really doesn’t help me get the hair cut I want!