Friday, 29 April 2011

Note on Leaving Japan

As part of my Creative Writing course with the OU, I wrote a piece about why I left Japan. For dramatic effect, I turned one good reason into the main reason. Writers lie.

It's not something I could post here - at least, not without heavy editing - largely because it mentions real people who might not want to be the subject of blogging, and because the place I lived was a small town, changing names wouldn't do much.

One aspect I touched on was the way living as a foreigner in Japan is a lot like being a minor celebrity. You're treated as a kind of curiosity - among the people but not of the people. It's really hard to integrate into Japanese society, especially if you're part of the foreigner community.

There's a song my friend Lenn shared with me before I headed out to Japan which I think captures the feeling perfectly. Listening to it reminds me of those days of trepidation before I departed, and makes me want to experience that weird way of life again. Here it is:

Thursday, 28 April 2011


I decided to request to join the team behind a new Nintendo-oriented website in order to get some more varied writing experience. I was graciously accepted and my first article is up on the website now. If it so interests you, you can find it here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Shantih shantih shantih

Glossed by T.S. Eliot in his mildly satirical notes to his modernist opus The Waste Land to mean 'The Jimijam which passeth his driving test", this word finds its place here, in this most joyous of weeks.

Truth be told, I had a test a few weeks ago and failed. In a really retarded way. I failed literally at the end of the first road, fifteen metres from where we were parked at the test centre. Waiting behind two other testees (unfortunately word choice, I apologise) at a give way line, I followed sheep-like as they turned without waiting. The rest of that test went more or less fine. I got the easiest reverse manoeuvre (you only have to do one now) - the 'turn in the road', and I didn't have to go on the bypass. To be honest, I'm not convinced I deserved to fail it. I didn't cause anything by failing to wait, which is usually the criteria for a minor fault becoming a major fault. Driving examiners in this country are more or less required to adhere to an average pass/fail ratio. If their pass rate is too different from the average, they risk getting fired. No lie. My friend Heather told me she booked her tests early in the week because at that point, the examiners don't know how many people they still need to pass or fail. My first test was on a Thursday afternoon. Asking for trouble.

This time, I booked Tuesday morning. The weather was lovely. I didn't tell my parents I was sitting the test so I would feel less pressure. Went out with my instructor for an hour before, stalled the car, but didn't let that get me down. Test went as expected, which is to say they made me go on the bypass, and I had to do a reverse park. I prefer that to reversing round a corner (who ever needs to reverse round a corner anyway?). I got six minor faults in total. I was so relieved when he told me I'd passed, I wanted to hug him. My instructor was delighted as well.

Now I need never drive again.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Hanami, Hanayu

It's springtime, apparently. And it's crazy times in the UK, and Scotland in particular - the weather has been consistently nice for weeks.

In Japan, it's just gone Hanami season. In April, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, friends and businesses host hanami - flower 'watching' parties. In reality, it's more about the drink and food than the flowers - everyone sits merrily on tarpaulins and rugs under the trees, enjoying each other's company and getting tipsy. The blossoms are largely forgotten.

This is the first time I've really noticed the blossoms here, however. Maybe it's just me coming back from a country where the things are revered and I'm more aware of them. We don't need flowers as an excuse to sit outside on nice days. We get so few of them that whenever it's warm and bright, Princes Street gardens fills with people making the most of the good weather. In Japan, if it wasn't a thing, if it wasn't organised, I don't think anyone would bother.

I don't know if I'm struck with an unusually sentimental streak, but I think some of our blossoms are most spectacular than the ones I was used to seeing in Japan. In Japan I remember more leafy foliage surrounded by pink, but here it looks like the whole tree is pink. Could be memory playing tricks.

Friday, 22 April 2011

JET Letter Days

I have a friend applying to JET. He got an interview in February and was waiting patiently for his letter. It arrived the other day. He's been named an alternate, which means he's still in the running, but isn't guaranteed a place. He'll get on if somebody who got a yes declines their place, if someone who originally recontracted decides to renege, or if someone who goes over this year freaks out and comes back in the first few months.

It surprised some of my friends in Japan to learn that I was an alternate, too. I stayed longer than most of the people who went in my year, and I was more into Japanese stuff and learning the language than most of the people who go over there. To some extent I think the interviewers try to weed out the ardent Japanophiles who might not take the job seriously. Still, a lot of people I knew who got an instant acceptance onto JET either left after one year or didn't even get through the first six months.

In my case, I was the beneficiary of a failed relationship. My predecessor had been dating a guy before she started JET, her boyfriend had joined her in Japan and proceeded to have a little more fun than she did. They were engaged, but they broke up after she had recontracted, leaving an opening for me. I got a call around the end of May telling me I'd been upgraded. I remember it was the day I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End at the cinema. I was so happy I skipped along the road to catch my bus.

In the end, I wound up in the first departure group, even though I'd been prepared to wait until potentially as late as October to get an answer. Things worked out funny like that. But it was good I got the call when I did, because I had literally no backup plan.

This year I wouldn't be surprised if swathes of worried parents will be forbidding their children to go to Japan with the nuclear crisis apparently not expected to be brought under control for many months yet. There might be more declined offers than usual, which may mean alternates have a good chance this year. I think Japan needs JET to continue at a tough time like this. Grassroots internationalisation for the win.

To anyone out there waiting to find out if they have a place on JET, I understand what you're going through. Hang in there. Good things come to those who go to Japan.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Pearly White

I spent twenty minutes this morning being water boarded by two young women with their fingers in my mouth.

Maybe water boarding isn't the best analogy. The ordeal was more akin to choking than drowning. And then at the end of it I got to spit out a load of blood with pink dentist water.

Still, I'm feeling pretty positive about this experience. The dentist said my brushing technique was probably quite good. I just gots ta floss bettah.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Why be Denny dentist different?

When I was growing up, I feared the dentist, in a natural sort of way. The dentist office in the village nearby was dimly lit and adorned with disturbing modern art featuring concrete blocks being winched through a hole in a building. And my dentist was a very imposing, exuberant Korean guy who frightened me a little bit. I only went just enough times to keep me registered, but when I went off to university I kind of fell off the books.

In Tokushima, I struck it lucky, in a way. Tokushima has the highest proportion of dentists to population in Japan. I think one of the universities has a good dental school or something. I was able to get fairly good treatment when I had the dreaded wisdom tooth problems.

Back to Edinburgh, I was dentistless again, and the local place wasn't taking NHS patients any more. And then the damned wisdom tooth pain returned and was worse than usual. Fortunately, a friend had had a leaflet through the door about a new surgery opening in town, so I went along to get registered. I had an appointment on Thursday and am going back tomorrow for a scale and polish, which I think is some kind of clean.

I'm pretty excited about it. I've never had a professional clean before. I'm feeling good about overcoming my alienation with dentists. I have, somewhat embarassingly, taken a photo of my teeth to see if I'll be able to tell the difference.

Osmond teeth here I come.