I’m still here. This blog is still here. Watch this space, more posts coming again soon!
In the meantime, have a picture I liked.
Anyone want to try a more natural translation? I mean, this one’s cute though.
I’m still here. This blog is still here. Watch this space, more posts coming again soon!
In the meantime, have a picture I liked.
Anyone want to try a more natural translation? I mean, this one’s cute though.
As someone evidently from Gaikoku, it’s easy to impress some Japanese people with your sugoiness by professing an appreciation of sake, or 日本酒。’Can you drink Japanese sake!?’ It’s somehow always unexpected. Apparently though, it’s not unexpected to like shochu, which I don’t. I don’t know many Gaikokuers that don’t like日本酒… Those that do dislike it often turn out to have overdone it at some point.
There is some delicious stuff around and it’s much cheaper here than in Australia (like many things). A while ago at a friend’s birthday I tried some Dassai. I didn’t know the name, but it turned out to be famous and made not far away. It’s so famous and renowned that Abe gave some as a present to Obama when he came to Japan a couple of years ago. When I tried some of Dassai’s sake at this birthday, I liked it so much that I made a note of it, and then later telling another friend about it, they recalled my trying a sake by the same maker on a day trip in Yamaguchi nearly a year ago – that time, too, I’d enjoyed it so much that I’d taken a photo of the menu item and been excited that it was being made so close to Hiroshima. So when I found out that they did tours of the brewery, it was just a question of when. There are only two tours a day, for a maximum of 5 people per tour, and it’s booked out quite a while ahead (even more than the 2 weeks for high tea at the Mandarin Oriental in Honkers). We booked our tour a month in advance. There are English interpreter options but we thought we’d be OK in Japanese, which turned out to be more or less true.
Getting there was a process. There were 5 of us going and we all wanted to do a tasting, which meant none of us would drive (have I written before? The blood alcohol limit in Japan is 0.03%, but Japanese attitudes are 0.00, as in, not so much as a sip. In contrast in Australia, the limit is 0.05 and if you are driving around wineries doing tastings, the driver can legally taste the wine, at more than one place if they spit it out).
We got the train from Hiroshima to Iwakuni in Yamaguchi, then the single-carriage train on the Gantoku Line to the closest station, Suō-Takamori, from whence it was another 8 km, or 15-minute drive to the place. Having left at 10:15 am, we arrived at 11:56 am for the 2 pm tour – the next train would have arrived at 1:46pm, cutting it a bit fine. So we had lunch at one of the two restaurants in the town that were open on Sunday and then piled into 2 taxis out to the sakagura.
It was pretty cool.
It was also, like my outfit (apparently), uncool in some ways. I had decided to wear a comfortable light skirt with a longish, sleeveless shirt, but my friend said it was dasai ( ださい), a.k.a. daggy/unfashionable. Maybe just the shirt was, I’m not sure, but I wore it. Herein lies one of the important differences between English and Japanese: geminates that distinguish between phonemes, i.e. Dassai だっさい、獺祭 the renowned sake brand, and dasai ださい (dowdy/uncool). The long consonant sound is the difference between saying ‘unity’ (or also ‘at all’) ittai いったい and ‘painful’ itai いたい . I’ve written a bit about this concept before.
English does make sounds like this, consonant sounds with kind of delayed onsets, like the /th/ sound in ‘get the bus’ or the /n/ in ‘in national politics.’ But generally it’s only for ease of pronunciation if you’re talking quickly – if you’re talking slowly in English and separating words to be clearer, there won’t be any long consonant sounds. Double letters don’t make long sounds in English either, as in ‘happy,’ ‘silly,’ ‘running’ or ‘nugget,’ which is why Italians think native English speakers sound silly at best when we say ‘spaghetti’ in English, and why ‘cannon’ and ‘canon’ sound the same. One of the difficulties that the nonstandardised nature of Japanese spelling in romaji leads to is that if the foreign word has a double letter, Japanese assumes it’s supposed to be a long consonant, like in mamma mia. This means ‘hammock’ in Japanese is pronounced like ‘han-mock’ and ‘shopping bag’ is ‘shop[glottal stop]-pingu bagu.’ So as a non-native speaker of Japanese, which if you’ve got this far in this English I assume you are, do not ignore double letters in Romanised Japanese words. It really is kon-nichiwa, not k’nichiwa.
Uncool things at Dassai included: the appearance of the guests on the tour once we were all wearing our coats and hair nets; and arguably, the extent to which most of the production process is mechanised. The mechanisation leads to a consistently, objectively high quality product that can be made all year round, but for some consumers it takes out the more personal charm of more human traditional methods. I’ve only seen a few sake breweries in Hiroshima, Kyoto, Akita and Gifu, but they were all basically wooden, including much of the equipment. Dassai had quite a different atmosphere, with very little wood in the brewery itself.
Our guide was cool. Though he was working at a prestigious and fancy kind of place, he was down-to-earth and happily answered all our questions honestly and clearly. I later learned that this honesty might be an important part of Dassai’s attitude, despite their high-tech methods. It seems that some merchants and restaurateurs want Dassai, high-quality maker that it is, to make still fancier and more expensive sakes – but the maker believes the main ones they’re making already are already pretty refined, isn’t especially interested in making special exclusive ones for profit and at one point actually went so far as to publish an ad telling consumers not to pay exorbitant prices for sake. Dassai wants people to enjoy the flavour – on their English page they write that they brew sake for ‘sipping and enjoying,’ juxtaposing this to the idea of brewing for drinking or just for sales. There you have it.
Our guide talked us through the process, explaining the various stages and showing us videos for a few of them. I won’t explain them all here, but if you’re interested there’s an explanation with videos on the Japanese Sake page.
The rice used for brewing Dassai’s biggest 3 sakes, all daiginjo, is polished to from 50% to 23% of the original size of the grain, as you can see in the photo above. To classify as daiginjo, the grains must legally be polished down to 50% of what they were when they were brown rice.
We read that the when the maker decided to make the 23% one, on the right, it was for the purpose of having the most highly refined grain of any Japanese sake, and while this did make Dassai famous and unique, it didn’t automatically result in a great-tasting sake. So they worked on that and now it’s very polished and also tastes excellent… but some of our group agreed it seems a shame about the other 67% of the grain.
It was a good, and interesting, day. If you go, I recommend having a designated driver rather than getting the train, unless you like trains a lot.
The factory tour and tasting cost us a total of 500 yen each, which is about $5 US or $6 in AUD. The shop is open every day and you can just waltz in and do tastings, which a few groups did while we were there. Asahishuzo’s English website is here.
Our taxi driver on the way back to Suōmori Station told us that none of the locals actually drink Dassai but generally choose something called Gangi. Guess that’s where we’re going next.
A while ago, about a month ago now, it was Golden Week. Golden Week is one of three holiday periods in Japan, when it’s common for people to go away. The other ones are Obon which is for honouring your ancestors and going to the cemetery, and New Year where you make your resolutions and go to a shrine. Golden Week doesn’t have any spiritual significance: it’s just where a few national holidays happen to fall on the same week. Somehow, it’s rare for them all to fall on consecutive days – more often, there’ll be a gap, e.g. Monday off, Tuesday and Wednesday working days, and then Thursday and Friday will be holidays. In some workplaces you’re lucky enough to be able to take the full week off anyway. Most schools don’t.
The fact that there are more than 2 consecutive days off and it’s no longer cold means that most of Japan is travelling around doing whatever touristy, holiday-y things they can, so hotels and flights are at peak prices and full, and you probably won’t get a seat on the Shinkansen unless you reserve one*.
This all means it’s a bit hectic travelling during Golden Week and I wouldn’t recommend coming to Japan during that time unless there’s something on specifically at that time that you’re coming for, like Takayama Spring festival or something.
I was lucky enough to get out of Japan, escaping the Japanese crowds to have a holiday instead in the crowds of Honkers, a.k.a. Hong Kong.
To be honest, I don’t usually go for crowds and I’d rather have a holiday out in the sticks than in a big city, so I’d never really considered going to HK until I had a stopover there on the way back from Australia earlier this year. From the airport I could see mountains and wanted to go and have a closer look. They looked a beautiful hiking spot.
Then a friend asked what my plans were for Golden Week and if I wanted to get out of the country. Hong Kong, Vietnam and a couple more Asian countries were on the list of potentials, and one way or another we ended up going with Honkers. For me, hiking and food were the main attractions. We all also wanted simply to go to more places that we hadn’t been to before. The others had other reasons, too, like learning more about the Umbrella Revolution or other political/historical things – which I was also interested in but not to the point that it was a major attraction.
When we arrived, the transport was impressive. Getting to our accommodation was confusing because the recommended station exit was under construction, and being underslept at the time, I found the area a bit overwhelming. Tsim Sha Tsui, the area we were staying in Kowloon, was hot, busy, and dirty, and it took us longer than it probably should have to find the place. I blame our reliance on the Internet for the decline in – is it navigational skills, or organisational? Either way, in familiar territory, I’m used to being able to just aim for the area and when I seem to be getting close, look up the details on Google Maps. In unfamiliar territory I rely too much on GMaps and don’t get so much of a sense of orientation as with a paper map.
So I was hot and bothered, and my first thought upon getting to the air-conditioned hostel room and looking out the window onto the concrete jungle was ‘why did we come to this s###hole?’ I managed to refrain from mentioning this to my travel companion for about half an hour, by which time I was in a better mood and able to realise that by the time we’d had a few fun adventures it might not seem such an awful place. This was right, by the way. After a day in the city I was pretty much tearing my hair out, but after the next day hiking I was feeling much more positively disposed, and by the time we’d been there four days I had decided it was a great place.
Eating and drinking
Hong Kong was more hipster than I’d anticipated. As well as having lots of more stereotypically Asian-seeming poorer Chinese areas with cheap eateries, there were quite a few coffee shops with soy milk and flat whites** and the like.
On the recommendation of Lisa at Caffeine 86, we went to the Cupping Room, later remembered by my friends as the ‘Sipping Cup.’ At the Cupping Room I had some really good pasta and they served Australian-style all-day breakfast, you know, like smoked salmon and avocado with poached eggs for AUD22. There, too, though, the soy cappuccino was pretty average – maybe they’d had it curdle in the past so they were trying to fix the problem by putting very little coffee in it.
Back in TST, I’d decided to stop taking the risk of paying through the nose for mediocre soy cappuccinos and had an Americano with breakfast at N1 Coffee & Co. It was strong and tasted quite acidic – maybe I’d have been better with an espresso. Nice bagels.
So, many of the places made disappointing attempts at soy cappuccinos. But there was one place called the Coffee Academics, inside a shiny shopping centre full of ridiculously posh shops, that had the most delicious almond milk cappuccino I’ve ever had. It also had the first rose petal and strawberry jam that I’ve ever tasted, which I think I’ll never forget. It was served with what must have been clotted cream, which made me finally understand why some people think you should put cream on the scone before the jam.
This rose petal jam is one of the things Hong Kong is famous for, for which I assumed we could thank the English. But it turns out it’s actually originally a family heirloom of the pastry chef at the Mandarin Oriental, who is originally from Switzerland. It was his mum’s recipe and he was on his way to Australia when he started working in Hong Kong more than 30 years ago, and is still there. The rose petal jam is famous as a souvenir and pretty expensive, and it seems only to be available to buy at the Mandarin Oriental cake shop. The Mandarin Oriental is a very expensive, fancy and popular place for high tea. We tried to go but it turns out they’re booked out a couple of weeks in advance. High tea, though, we did do at some other fancy place called AMMO.
We had bubble tea (or boba, if you like) a couple of times, which was pretty good, if about 3 times the size I wanted. You could choose the sweetness and amount of ice.
We also went to an upmarket rooftop bar with delicious and interesting cocktails, though the experience was marred for me by the pungent cigar smoke of the only white man in the place at the time, sitting behind me. Some other young white men in suits turned up after a while, one of whom had a southern English accent so posh I wanted to laugh. They didn’t do anything stinky, so I liked them.
I had yum cha, or dim sum if you prefer (though we were served tea every time) 3 times, the most disappointing of which was at the famous Michelin-starred chain restaurant Tim Ho Wan. The other two times were excellent, even though one of them was at Victoria Peak where if it was Australia you’d pay a huge amount for the view and the food would almost definitely be pretty mediocre.
I had congee only once, unfortunately – didn’t get around to it until the day before we left. It’s not much to look at but it tasted fantastic. My friend and I were also pretty excited to be eating at this place because were surrounded by Japanese people who had no idea that we knew they were Japanese or could understand any of what they said. The place must have been written up in a Japanese travel guide, and I think they must often have a lot of Japanese customers because the wait staff explained to the couple next to us in Japanese that the chopsticks were in a drawer under the table.
One night we had Lebanese food which was fantastic, though the service was pretty wanky. I think maybe travellers often go to that place looking for cheap kebabs not realising that if you sit down it’s a proper meal with proper prices. They were all right once they believed we knew what we were getting in for. The food was great.
Another night, when I was in a bad mood, we went to a kebab place. The other two really liked their kebabs. I was muttering darkly to myself inside my head about the likelihood of getting food poisoning from this place and didn’t enjoy the food. We also had some pretty ordinary noodles the first night, although they were cheap, and another night we had Peking duck, which though the duck itself was good, the pancake that came along with the duck, cucumber, spring onion and sauce was doughy and not enjoyable.
The last night we went to a place called Little Bao, which serves ‘bao burgers.’ You know the bready part of a steamed pork bun? If you’ve ever had yum cha in Australia, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a sweet, steamed bread. Well, they’d made a bread roll/burger bun of that, and then it had kind of Chinese fusion fillings. Mine was pork belly with something. It was sensational. We also had smoky eggplant salad and something else. The drinks we got were a bit too out there – I think a beer would have gone better with the burger. Anyway it was great.
The appeal of the food in Honkers seems to be due to its cultural diversity. Certainly most of what we ate in Hong Kong would be difficult, if not impossible to find in Hiroshima. Hiroshima has one Turkish restaurant which is nice, but just nowhere near the level of what we had at the Lebanese place in Honkers, which was across the road from another place that had more delicious Middle Eastern food. And egg tarts do not seem to exist in Western Japan, i.e. west of Osaka, let alone BBQ pork buns. Maybe in Osaka.
After hearing about an ex-housemate’s experience, I was prepared for people to be rude in Hong Kong, but actually, with the exception of the white man and his stinky cigar, it was completely fine. People were more direct than they are in Japan, and it’s definitely a different style of hospitality to what you get in Japan, but I guess not really different to Australia. I found it honest and refreshing, and I found that I felt more able to express myself than in Japan where I’m always worried about being watched, overheard and judged. My friend commented that I was making a lot more remarks about people’s appearance than I ever do in Japan. I guess Hong Kong just seemed a lot freer and accepting in many ways, and everyone was talking loudly, so I just didn’t care as much. In Japan I feel the pressure of being an ambassador for Gaikoku, as usually the only white person in the vicinity. In Hong Kong I didn’t care because not only were there more white people, there were people from all over Asia and Europe too, and half of them had tattoos or were showing midriff or bra straps, and there were quite a few people wearing hijab or other cultural garb.
Shop assistants spoke competent English without a hint of panic, routinely switching back to (what I assume was) Cantonese when the next local-looking customer came in. At all the touristy places I went to, I heard several different languages spoken, and nobody looked twice at me or my friends. At the end of a week of this, and let’s be honest, a week away from work, I felt a changed woman.
After the trip with its adventures and unavoidable ups and downs, coming back to work was pretty hard. I was mired in gloom for a week or two, which I think has more or less retreated for the moment – helped by friends and things to do on the weekends and occasional weeknights.
Speaking of mental health, actually, on the radio the other day I heard that Justin Heazlewood (the Bedroom Philosopher) has written a book about growing up with a mum who had schizophrenia. It’s called Get Up Mum. It sounded interesting and got me wondering if anyone would write and publish such a memoir in Japan, or if mental health is still too taboo. What do you think?
*The Shinkansen is always expensive. Most Shinkansens have non-reserved carriages, usually carriages 1-3, whose tickets are cheaper than for the rest of the train where you have allocated seating.
** Wiki reckons a flat white has a double espresso in it. Does it? It was news to me.
I believe in some parts of the world (America?), a futon is a kind of couch that you can fold out flat and sleep on, more comfortably and easily than a sofa bed.
In Japan, the word futon 布団 is used for coil-less bedding on the floor. It refers to both the mattress part and the doona/comforter part of the bedding. The bottom futon, which goes between you and the floor, is called a shikibuton 敷布団 and the one you put on top is a kakebuton 掛け布団. This post is mostly about the shikibuton 敷布団, which bears the weight of the sleeper and generally causes the most grief in its maintenance or lack thereof.
The shikibuton is basically a firm, overgrown rectangular cushion, so you can fold it into thirds and put it away somewhere during the day and use your floor space for something else. Because it lies directly on the floor, it doesn’t get air circulation, so as well as folding it away every day, you’re supposed to air it out regularly, preferably in the sun. If not, it will get mouldy sooner or later. This is also true for the kakebuton to an extent, but it’s much rarer.
You can expect to sleep on a futon if you stay in a ‘Japanese-style room’ in a ryokan or hotel in Japan: this means a tatami room. You can also expect to find a futon in some state of mouldiness in the
house apartment of any ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan, especially if they’re in their first couple of years, because it’s the cheapest form of bedding and your company will arrange for you to get one. I think the growth of bacteria/mould/gross stuff happens more slowly on tatami than on hard surfaces like floorboards.
Last year I moved from a place with a tatami room to one without. My futon wasn’t getting quite enough sun in the winter, because I was working long days and it wasn’t sunny enough on the weekends – and what sun there was wasn’t strong enough. The futon wasn’t getting mouldy, but it was getting sweaty and a bit smelly so I decided to try washing it, despite the ‘do not wash’ advice on the tag. Apparently some kinds of futons can safely be washed – well, not that this was unsafe exactly – so we lugged it to the boot of the car and then heaved it out and over to the washing machine at the coin laundry.
It took a while to wash and dry.
Cycling rules and customs in Japan seem pretty well-documented already, but here’s my take, comparing them to Australia as always. My family has all degrees of enthusiasm when it comes to cycling, from one of us who refuses to ride a bike (except when she went to South America and allegedly nearly died and/or caused someone else to die) to one who has about 6 bikes including one for road racing and one for velodrome racing. Which I’m sure has a proper name. Not as in a Proper Name in the grammatical sense, but an actual term that should be used to refer to it.
In some ways, cycling in Japan is more like driving than it is in Australia – and in some ways, much less.
In both Australia and Japan, a lot of people cycle. In Australia there are commuting-to-work cyclists, sports cyclists, who may just cycle as a hobby or may do amateur racing or work towards cycling professionally, and family cyclists. These aren’t official groups, I just made them up, but that’s who you see on bicycles. Family and sports cyclists ride for pleasure. Sports and commuter cyclists ride to get to places. Commuters might ride in their work clothes, but sports cyclists are too serious about their cycling and will be too sweaty and dirty, so they’ll bring a change of clothes if they ride to work, unless they live really close. Sports cyclists ride up hills for fun on the weekend and wear lycra, you know, the swimwear-material riding costumes like they use in the Tour de France. And they often have special cycling shoes that are fitted to special pedals. The little divots that the shoes have to fit to the bits on the pedals are called cleats. I think. The shoes might also be called cleats. Or the pedals might. I dunno.
Cyclists who are solely commuters wouldn’t ride up mountains for fun. Australian commuters use backpacks, side bags or panniers to carry their stuff to work.
Sports (and sometimes commuter and family too) cyclists have nice bikes, by which I mean, often, mountain bikes or road bikes. Mountain bikes and road bikes generally have the handlebars quite low and forward relative to the seat, so you’re in a somewhat streamlined position to ride. Some commuters have hybrids, which sit you in a more upright position – less aerodynamic but more comfortable, which is especially valuable if you’re not too into cycling as a sport. Do hybrids have baskets? Not that many Australian cyclists have baskets on their bikes, but some do. Some commuters also get motors to assist them on their bikes. A sports cyclist wouldn’t do that, not in Japan or Australia.
In Japan, almost everyone rides, from little kids to really quite elderly people. Depending on where you live, it’s faster than driving. In Hiroshima city it’s the fastest way to get around. Most people ride to get to places, like, the cinema, supermarket, work, school, the station. So most people ride what is known as a ‘mamachari,’ a ‘mama chariot’ or ‘mum bike’ with a basket on the front or back. They’re similar to hybrids in their upright stance. They have low seats relative to the handlebars, which took me a while to get used to. The way I learned to ride, your leg gets nearly straight when the pedal is at the bottom of its rotation. But the way people ride in Japan, it’s really bent all the time because of the low seat (I found mine too low after I’d extended it all the way up). I think people in Japan like to be able to put at least one foot, preferably two, flat on the ground at any time when they’re cycling. I mentioned this one time to a Japanese friend, that I found it strange, and she said something like ‘Do you mean you would ride so high that you can’t properly put your feet on the ground? Isn’t that scary?’
Japanese bikes also usually have a stand, and a lock that’s part of the bike, and they’re really leg-powered utility vehicles that can go anywhere (except on stairs). If you have a young kid, you can get a kid’s seat on the front or back, or both, probably hence the name ‘mama-chari.’ Motor-assisted bicycles are also not that uncommon in Japan.
Road riders, sports cyclists, seem to be on the rise in Japan. You can see them with their lycra, road bikes and helmets, riding on the roads. Not every day, but sometimes.
In Japan when you buy a bike you have to register it and yourself as its owner. Bike shops do it, though according to Surviving in Japan, it’s supposed to be the prefectural police office. I’m not aware of such a practice existing in Australia.
I bought a new bike once in Japan, and registered it at the shop where I bought it. Wasn’t too hard. But then I was going to move halfway across the country and it was too much bother to try to take the bike with me, so I decided to sell it to a friend. We tried to do the proper thing and transfer the registration, which turned out to be nearly impossible. It seemed so time-consuming and frustrating that we just didn’t bother. But if you’re prepared and have enough time, it can be done. My friend who’s just sold me a bike said he de-registered it at the big police station in town, so I guess I have to re-register it there.
In Australia, you legally must wear a helmet when cycling, no matter who or how old you are. Not sure what the law is on private property. Custom is also that everyone has a helmet, and most people wear them properly. There are people who hang their helmets from the handlebars, or just put them on their heads and don’t do them up, but they are not the norm. The majority of cyclists of any kind in Australia wear helmets and are in favour of everyone doing so, and in such a way that they’ll be effective.
In Japan, generally only children wear helmets, up until the age of 15. Sports cyclists have them too, as they ride on the road with their cleats and stuff. Most commuter cyclists don’t have helmets. The attitude is something like, ‘Why would you?’
Where you ride
In Australia, you can ride on designated bike paths, and in other places you have to ride on the road. Children under the age of 12 can ride on the footpath (sidewalk, if you insist, Americans) and so can adults riding with them. Otherwise, if it’s not a shared path, you don’t ride on the footpath. On many roads there are bike lanes, which are fantastic except that they’re often next to lanes that cars use for parking, which puts cyclists at risk of being doored by inattentive getters-out-of-cars. Where there’s no bike lane, bicycles ride on the left of cars (as you know, in Australia cars drive on the left of the road, with the driver in the right-hand side of the car). Cars overtaking bikes are supposed to allow a berth of at least a metre, which means sometimes they have to wait a while for space to open up in the right lane. This frustrates some drivers, who like to cut cyclists off or abuse them at traffic lights and say things like ‘get off our roads.’ Driver-cyclist politics have been an issue for quite a while in Australia.
There are a number of shared paths for bikes and pedestrians, which are marked as such and which have their own usage rules. I’m not talking about footpath next to the road here, but walking/cycling paths through parks, next to rivers etc. In Melbourne there are a number of well-used and quite well-known bike paths, such as the Main Yarra Trail, where you can ride for 20-ish kilometres without having to ride on a road apart from the occasional crossing.
In Japan, the law says something similar to Australia in that you’re actually not allowed to ride on footpaths except where there is signage that you can. Such signage is so often there that it’s usually assumed that it’s OK, and almost everyone rides on the footpath unless there is a very good reason not to (e.g. no footpath, or too many people on it). There aren’t many paths intended just for cycling (and/or walking) in Japan. Maybe Australia’s got the luxury of having plenty of space for them.
In Australia, the main place where bike parking is an issue is at stations where there needs to be an assigned secure spot for people to leave their bikes all day. In other places, in the city there are bike racks on the footpath (free) or you can lock your bike to signposts or wherever.
In Japan, bike parking can be quite an issue. Workplaces, apartments and shops have designated parking areas that you can use if you’re a customer/client, or if you’ve got a permit. But for areas with no real space available, like in shopping areas where shops front onto the street itself, you have to make a choice. There are bike parking garage areas in stations and central city areas. Legal bicycle parking is usually paid. There’s no legal free parking (much like car parking). Unlike car parking, though, usually it’s only 100 or 200 yen ($1-2) a day.
Lots of people don’t want to go to the trouble of either finding a legitimate parking spot or paying the fee, so they park in other convenient places. In popular illegal parking places, the city council or someone comes and impounds it. They leave little stickers on the ground on the place where the offending bike was taken from. It costs money (something around 2000 yen) and often a fairly long trip to get it out.
I believe they have to put warning papers on the bikes first, as in, ‘This bicycle is illegally parked and if you don’t move it we’re taking it.’ I’ve received such notices on my bike once or twice, but I’ve heard tell of people parking, going shopping, and when they come out their bike is gone. A friend who sold me his bike recently said he’d only had it taken twice, and the second time he got there as they were loading it onto the truck. I’m not sure how hard he begged them, but they did the equivalent of ‘Sorry, mate’ and carried it off all the same.
One of the rules of using cycling trails and shared walking/cycling paths in Australia is that you have to ring your bell to let people know you’re there (and going to pass them). It lets them know so they can make sure there’s space for you to pass, and also so they won’t either suddenly move and you crash into them, or get a huge fright if a cyclist whooshes past them. The custom I was familiar with when I used to do a bit of cycling in Australia was that you’d ring when you were close enough for most people to be able to hear it, and then when you got closer, you’d call out ‘Passing on your right’ or ‘2 bikes passing’ or something so they’d know what’s going on.
In Japan, the law says you must have a bell on your bike *if riding at night* (as well as a light). Custom says not to use your bell, because it’s rude and seen as aggressive, as in, ‘Get out of my way.’ For your average cyclist, your bike may be getting a bit old and somehow making enough noise that sooner or later most pedestrians will hear it rattling away behind them and make space for you to pass. But if it doesn’t make any noise, or if pedestrians ignore it, then you either ride slowly and wait until there’s a place where you can overtake, or you ride off onto the road to overtake. At least that’s what I do. Sometimes cyclists say ‘excuse me’ in such a situation to let people know they’re there and want to get past.
According to Koichi of Tofugu, some people are less concerned with social niceties and just ring their bell apparently, but in my experience it’s rare. A user on a Tokyo Cycle forum says you’re only really supposed to use them in an emergency and makes the good point that cars are also not supposed to honk their horns at pedestrians – but cars do honk at bikes. I’ve had that a couple of times and nearly fallen off my bike in surprise.
It’s illegal to do lots of things on bikes in Japan, and most of the things that don’t directly and immediately harm other people are very common in Japan, such as:
You can get liability insurance as a cyclist in Japan, which can cover you in the event of your colliding with a pedestrian and injuring them, and paying their medical bills. Insurance is less than 10,000 yen a year (less than $100) but I don’t know many people who bother. A 2015 Japan Times article wrote about liability insurance becoming compulsory in Hyogo after a couple of cyclists had to pay huge amounts of money after cycling/pedestrian collisions where they the pedestrian was killed or made bedridden.
*Foreigner paranoia alert*
A company I used to work for strongly recommended this and they also said that if we hit a kid, we had to call the police and report the incident. This was because even if the kid seemed fine, said ‘I’m fine’ and went home, if they later turned out to have a bruise somewhere or some minor injury and their parents noticed and said ‘What happened’ they would explain, ‘Oh, this foreigner ran into me the other day’ and the parent might investigate, and people would ask around and figure out that it was the foreigner working over at Eastern Elementary School, and then the police would turn up at school to ask you about it and tell you that you should have told the police. The school would be embarrassed, all the kids and teachers would gossip about it (kids with kids, teachers with teachers), it would make you and the company look bad, and you might lose your job or at least get very uncomfortable. Everyone would be better off if you’d just reported it in the first place.
If you’re interested, here are some cycling rules and fines across Australia.
As someone who grew up in Australia, there’s something special about gum trees for me. They’re just so iconically Australian and when I see them, I know I’m home… or not, as in the rare cases when I come across them in Japan. Japanese people generally think eucalyptus stinks, but I like it. Maybe the same as how lots of Westerners (including me) really dislike the smell of natto, but lots of Japanese people like it (? right?).
There’s one particular eucalypt that’s exceedingly special for a few reasons. The first time I saw it, I was kind of gobsmacked because I hadn’t expected to find a eucalyptus in Japan, in the first place, and especially not on a field trip to a castle with a kindergarten.
This tree survived the atomic bombing of 1945.
My bomb-surviving-tree-expert friend reckons you can see scarring on one side, and there are many more roots and more growth on the other side. I don’t seem to have attempted to photograph the scarring.
I’m glad the tree is here and doing so well.
There’s a sign or two nearby about the tree, and my aforementioned tree expert friend wrote a piece about the survivor trees in Get Hiroshima last July. She’s also translated a book about them, which isn’t available in full yet, but there’s a section from it on this eucalyptus here, including a photo of how it looked soon after the bombing.
A Japanese friend reckons he’s going to learn an Australian accent from this video.
While not all Australians speak (or look) like this one, he’s definitely the real deal, or should I say a dinkum Aussie? Dunno what happened to his teeth, but he reminds me of Nek Minute (who is actually from New Zealand).
Nek Minute dude is your stereotypical bogan, which apparently I haven’t mentioned before. How..? Bogan is a really Australian word. If you try to describe it in English, it’s closest to chav in Britain, or redneck or white trash in North America, so says Wiki (and I agree). Bogan is a derogatory term and a popular concept in Australian contemporary culture. If you try to go off Nek Minute, you might think you have to be missing teeth and wearing a singlet tan to be a bogan, but Kath and Kim, popular TV characters, are also pretty bogan.
By the way, the underpants man from the first video above doesn’t seem to be a bogan, in my opinion. His physical appearance might make you think he’s one but he just seems way too nice, too likeable. I especially like how the Today host says something about superheroes wearing their undies on the outside so he must be one, and he’s flat out against it because that’s ALL he had on.
As for the accent and Australian English, well, as I briefly mentioned, not all Australians sound the same. To a lesser extent, it’s similar to how not all British people or American people sound the same. Australian accents vary less by region than by other demographics… educational background, ethnic background, social groups etc. I also know that within myself and others in my family, our accent varies depending on our surroundings. To use my sociolinguistic terms, we converge our accents towards, or diverge from, those of our interlocutors depending on how we want to perform our identity. Or in more layperson’s terms, I sound more Australian (my accent gets ‘broader’) when I’m with other Australians, especially when I want to create a closeness with others I perceive as having a broader Australian accent, i.e. like Underpants Man. But my American friends in Japan will tell you I don’t sound that much like him. Right?
I’ve also noticed, being in an international kind of environment over a few years, that occasionally I do pronounce Rs where as an Australian, I shouldn’t. I’ve been trying to tell myself that it’s when I’ve been planning to say something where anyone WOULD pronounce it, and then changed the utterance halfway through, like
‘We were at the supermarket’ and changed it to
‘We were tossing up between whether to go with Italian dressing or sesame.’
In the word were, in the first sentence, anyone who speaks Australian English natively will naturally pronounce the R unless there’s a good reason not to, but in the second, nobody will (unless there’s a good reason to).
This is the translation of 明けましておめでとうございます, which is used in place of ‘Happy New Year’ in Japanese.
This post was intended to be a few thoughts and also a checking-in to tell you, I’m still here and Bijinjapan is still here, just on the backburner (as it has been since I started working in a kindergarten last March, really!). But it’s just turned into a report of how I personally spent the Christmas-New Year period.
I had a really nice Christmas with my family in Australia. It was honestly wonderful to be together at Christmas. I know it’s not the same for everyone, and the pressure for everything to be beautiful/perfect/amazing can mean it’s extremely stressful for some, and horribly lonely for others. You can go broke at Christmas, too. It can be miserable for some. Luckily for me, especially because I escaped the pressure of the build-up by being in Japan during that time, the Christmas of 2017 was lovely.
It was also great being in Australia for Christmas. Summer in Victoria, when there are no bushfires, is gorgeous! I’d forgotten. Warm days – hot and burny in the sun – and cool nights.
However, soon after Christmas, we had a death in the family. The funeral was organised to be held before I came back to Japan, luckily. I’m glad I was able to be there.
Grandad was 96, nearly 97. He lived in the country, 3 hours out of Melbourne by car. I went up with Mum on the same day he died. Dad came too. Then Mum and her siblings, my aunties and uncles, got together and got organising. There was a lot to do. I hadn’t ever had to really think before about all the things that have to be done when someone dies. They spent the first day calling people to let them know, which was quite a process. They got a notice arranged to be put in the paper and made sure all the necessary people were notified by phone as soon as possible so that they wouldn’t hear about it via social media in some form.
There were a lot of things to be gone through and the funeral arrangements to be made, and the eulogy to be written. This was between Christmas and New Year so lots of things were closed and people away, and some of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren live a couple of thousand kilometres away so they had to book flights to get there. It was extremely nice to see a lot of the people who came. Some of Mum’s high school and uni friends came. It was naturally a hugely sad and pretty tiring thing for everyone involved. The day of the funeral, everyone who’d attended was exhausted, including the girlfriends and boyfriends of Grandad’s grandchildren and most (though not all, apparently) of the great-grandchildren.
During all of these goings-on, New Year came and went. I spent New Year’s Eve with Dad at home. We got pizza and beer and put the TV on. At New Year in Australia, most people are having parties or going to Falls, and not many people are watching TV, unlike in Japan where it’s said that watching TV on New Year’s Eve has become a tradition. You either watch Kōhaku, a big singing event with lots of different artists from different genres and eras, divided into two teams (red and white, of course) or you watch Waratte wa Ikenai. What they had on in Australia on the ABC was kind of similar to Kōhaku actually, a bunch of local music acts who had been on the show ‘Countdown‘ over the years, which was pretty decent.
Over this time I also read ‘La Belle Sauvage,’ the first volume of The Book of Dust trilogy that is a prequel to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. This isn’t on the same level for me, but I still very much enjoyed it. I played with my sister’s dog and my brother’s dog, separately and together, walking them, playing fetch, picking up poo, going to the dog park. That was a lot of fun, with the exception of the poo. A plus was that I had a cold and lost my sense of smell. I went on a bike ride or two. I drank a few soy cappuccinos. Cappuccini? For this, not having a sense of smell was not optimum, but some hardships must be borne. I also tried an almond milk cappuccino. I think I liked it, but need to try again with all senses working to be sure.
I met up with the writer of blossomkitty, who it turns out is a cook! and also, I already knew, a reader of this BijinJapan. I spent quite a bit of time with my Dad’s mum, who is known in my family as Nanna. I got to watch her 1.5-legged magpie friend, Charlie, and his butcher bird rivals. I saw the Book of Mormon and was impressed. I met up with some friends I’m very glad to have. I picked raspberries, cherries, peaches, tomatoes and lettuce. I also ate them. And Christmas ham and turkey, and Thai food, and drank a few bottles of my brother’s home-brewed beer, and a glass of allegedly very nice wine (again, wasted on me that day because I couldn’t smell).
Then it was time to come back to Japan, and were it not for a few particular people here, I’m not sure I would have come back. It was so, so nice being at home in Melbourne with family, and, well, the work situation in Hiroshima isn’t ideal for me. But! Those particular people keep me going. At work I’m doing my best and changes are being set in motion, and there are plans for things to do and projects to work on for as long as I’m here. So. Watch this space.
As always, thanks for reading.
A while ago, when Japan hadn’t quite become a real place for me yet, I was enamoured with the way the various media seemed to interact. Every time I discovered new Japanese music groups, it seemed they would have become known through having a song in an anime, other TV show or movie. How great that Japanese TV helped its musicians in this way!
Later, I realised this is not at all unique to Japan. Australia does it too. I found a page that had a little bit about local content requirement here (if this is real), here (which is definitely real) and here (which is also real) but I couldn’t find the regulations/requirements anywhere that specifically relate to music on Australian TV shows. But they must exist. I remember discovering some great local artists through Australian TV shows and movies… and non-local artists, too.
So this post is for sharing some music that’s been featured in Australian and Japanese film and TV productions.
Song: We’ve Started a Fire, performed by Vika & Linda Bull, written by Paul Kelly. This song was in an episode of SeaChange, an Australian TV show that I used to love watching with my family on Sunday nights. SeaChange was a pretty popular show that I think a few people might feel a bit nostalgic to remember. One of my favourite moments was magistrate Laura’s frustration when the enigmatic Diver Dan refused to allow her to call him Dan. ‘No, you can’t call me Dan. You can call me Diver?’
SeaChange had a great all-Australian soundtrack that introduced me to a lot of music I might never have otherwise heard, including the Backsliders, Kavisha Mazzella and Daddy Cool (OK, might have heard Daddy Cool).
Song: Koi 恋, performed and written by Hoshino Gen 星野源 . This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Nigehaji 逃げ恥, a.k.a. Nigeru wa Haji Da Ga Yaku Ni Tatsu 逃げるは恥だが役に立つ. In 2016 the dance from the end credits took Japan by storm. Instructional videos popped up on Youtube. School students of all ages all over Japan were doing it between classes and at lunchtime. Towards the end of my last school year as an ALT, the Year 8 boys had to learn it. The PE teacher was walking around with a music player at lunchtime, appearing suddenly in the doorways of classrooms, and the boys had to stand up and start dancing, otherwise there would be some penalty for them (push-ups or something).
Nigehaji was extremely popular and is a funny and at times, moving show. The Japanese title translates to ‘Running Away is Shameful But Useful,’ but the English title was ‘We Married as a Job!’ The storytelling is done in a predictable way, but it’s a lot of fun watching it unfold.
Song: When We Swam, by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. This is famous for being featured in the opening credits of Offspring, an Australian comedy/drama about an obstetrician/gynaecologist and her disastrous family life, set in Melbourne. Unlike SeaChange, which was made by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Offspring is made by Channel 10. Being a commercial channel, I don’t know if Channel 10 has different requirements for local music, but there is plenty of Australian music on the show. Buuut, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down are based in San Francisco. There’s plenty of international music used in Offspring, but there’s also the likes of Sydney’s Andy Bull, Flight Facilities and Bonjah, originally from New Zealand but now apparently based in Melbourne.
One of the main characters in Offspring is also a musician, played by musician Eddie Perfect (yes, real name), and some of his songs are in the show. I’d like to share my favourite one here but it’s quite a spoiler for the first season, so I won’t. He’s excellent, though.
Song: Re: Re: by artist Asian Kung-fu Generation, a.k.a. AKG or AKFG. I’m shouting out to them here for their song on the credits of ‘Erased,’ or Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi 僕だけがいない街 not because it’s my favourite song by them – it’s not – but because the show was great and I strongly recommend it if you can get a hold of it. It’s an anime that I watched on Netflix earlier this year, despite having gone off anime years ago (for mostly feminist reasons). But Asian Kungfu Generation has had so many anime songs it’s silly. They had Rewrite (a better song, in my opinion) as the theme for Fullmetal Alchemist, and had songs on mega-anime series Naruto and Bleach, and some movie called Soranin, says the Wiki. AKG is really pretty famous, and I’m sure it must be at least partly due to getting so much media exposure through TV and film.
Not to mention, Radwimps have been around for ages but completely blew up in mid-2016 when they did the songs for the huge hit animated feature film, ‘Your Name’ Kimi no Na Wa. The songs from the movie are some of a number of recent popular Japanese songs that I find somehow unnecessarily fast. I want to investigate this sometime. Just reduce the tempo a few clicks, people, and let the music speak for itself. Anyway, probably the most popular of those songs was Zenzenzense (前前前世). Myself, I quite like Nandemonaiya (何でもないや) – maybe because it’s not quite so fast.
As for Kimi no Na Wa, as a film, I quite liked it, but everyone was so nuts about it that it didn’t live up to the hype. The story is about a boy and girl who wake up having somehow switched bodies. They don’t know each other and it turns out they aren’t even living at the same time. If you’ve never heard of it, I think it’s worth a watch.
The last film I want to mention in this post is another production featuring David Wenham, but this time he plays an addict. Thanks, Dad, for getting me to watch it. It’s called Gettin’ Square and its soundtrack is fantastic. Lots of it is Australian too, though my favourite track from the soundtrack is Madder by Groove Armada from Britain. Nick Cave’s Into My Arms also has a prominent role in the scene where it’s used. Gettin’ Square is called both a ‘crime comedy’ and a ‘caper story/drama.’ It’s funny and it’s set on the Gold Coast with its criminal underworld.
So there are my TV shows and movies with their music that I like or is remarkable in some way for myself. Have you watched any? Got any you would like to mention?
Thanks for reading, as always 🙂
Here’s a round-up post of some of the things I’ve done this autumn.
The first was a ‘country living’ tour that I did as an experiment for the tour company, at the invitation of a friend who was helping with interpreting and translation. They called it a ‘monitoring tour’ because it was an experiment to try to figure out how to get foreign travellers to discover rural Hiroshima. This meant that it was free and we had to do a substantial-ish survey giving our opinions. There were 7 of us who went on the tour to Tsuta, an area inland from Miyajima in Hiroshima Prefecture.
We went to a farm house, cooked a meal using old-fashioned equipment and spent a while hanging out in the country, which I loved. Then we went back into the town to an autumn harvest festival.
Here endeth the Tsuta activities, and following are some more general autumn things I’ve been doing.
So there you have it for now. Upcoming intended post topics include: more on religion; various media productions (TV shows, books etc.) and maybe some strange things that working with kids has revealed to me. Some of the things they say can be like things cats say in speech bubbles on the internet, like saying ‘night lunch’ instead of ‘dinner.’
As always, thanks for reading 🙂