Monday, 29 May 2017

The Japan Files ~ Mental Health

I am not an expert.

I studied psychology for three years. I had a brief stint with Childline and I counsel (I say this loosely) my friends when they're in need, but I am far from qualified to talk about this topic. Nevertheless, I have made a few observations about Japan and it's attitude towards mental health issues, and I have also come to the following conclusion:

There seems to be no real acknowledgement of mental health in this country.

I have seen countless people running around who I know have issues but they're allowed to roam the streets freely. People who shout, clap, make other strange noises, people who talk to themselves or who try to talk to other people even though it's obvious that they're not in their right mind.

Photo courtesy of  Exposing the Truth
I booked an appointment to see a psychiatrist. I filled out a form and spent no more than a couple of minutes in the room with the doctor who asked me all of two questions and immediately prescribed me medication to help me "relax". I remember thinking "that was quick; that was easy". If I was a drug addict, I'd know where to go next time. But in the UK, it's not common practise to prescribe medication to just anyone. I would assume that with the prescription of drugs would come a little bit of counselling too and there just didn't seem to be any of that.

From what I've heard, mental health, other disabilities and associated issues are often swept under the carpet. As a teacher, I've met children who have had clear behavioural problems that often go unacknowledged by the parent. None of the teachers were trained to deal with that sort of thing but we were expected to deal with it anyway, no matter how taxing or difficult it made teaching the class.

Some people don't want to acknowledge that their loved ones may be suffering with something because in Japan, mental illness is seen as a sign of weakness, or a sign of "bad blood". And no one wants to be seen as "that family" with "that kid". He's just 元気(genki) - energetic, is all. There's nothing wrong with my son. He's completely normal.

And you know, it's not dissimilar from the black community too. Things are changing, but older generations didn't like to acknowledge mental illnesses either. A case is point happened to me during university when I had a bit of a dark period. My grandmother's solution was to simply "put it out of my head". But it's never that simple is it?

It isn't to say that Japan is a complete lost cause however. I've seen some families where a member is clearly unable and the family members appear to be taking care of them. I see a lot more of them now then when I first arrived in Japan. But I don't think Japan is the kind of country that likes to talk out it's issues.

With words like 我慢 (gaman) - perseverance - and 頑張る (ganbaru) - to do one's best - people are encouraged to overcome all obstacles; large and small. But when they can't gaman or ganbaru anymore, what can they do and who do they turn to?


I've said it before, but I think Japan is a country that - while very advanced in terms of technology - it's about fifty years behind in terms of interpersonal and sociological development. I don't think I'll see a dramatic shift in my generation, but I hope Japan takes the steps towards taking better care of the psychological well-being of its inhabitants and removing the stigmas attached to mental health issues.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Life and Times of being a Middle School Student in Japan.

I've been teaching children for over three years now, and it isn't without it's challenges, that's for sure. Whether it's made me more tolerant of children, I can't say for sure, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, Japanese children are just like any other children in the world. Some are good; some are terrible. Some are bright and some are dull. Some really like studying and some of them don't. But children in Japan - just like almost everywhere else - tend to follow the same patterns as their predecessors. They go to nursery, they attend primary school and then they start middle school (or junior high school for my audience across the Pacific). And middle school is no joke. Mess up here and it could spell doom for your future.

~

Entering Middle School

Pro: Primary school is a doddle but I get the vibe that when children become middle school students, it's really time to start buckling down. In a way, this is a positive as it starts to prepare them for the real world. Because we adults know that it's not all fun and games. We have to grow up, adapt, follow the rules and get in line. It isn't to say that we don't learn some of these rules in primary school either but I get the vibe that there's more of a sense of seriousness about middle school

Con: Say goodbye to your childhood. In my current job, it isn't uncommon for children to quit taking English lessons right before middle school. Maybe the parents consider English a little bit of fun before the real work starts; who knows? But tests increase, the workload gets harder and I feel like the freedom they might have experienced in primary school becomes considerably non-existent.


After School Clubs

Pro: The Japanese are usually quite slim. And I think one of the reasons why is because they promote lots of extra curricula activities; especially sports. In the UK, after school club happen once or twice a week for an hour at best. But in Japan, they take it very seriously. In a way, it's great for keeping kids fit or getting them to make friends with each other. It's also something to look forward to after class.

Con: Unlike the UK, after school clubs are a little bit over the top. I once taught a girl who was in the tennis club. When she arrived for my lesson, she was so tired after having trained for well over five hours; there was an up and coming tournament apparently. Some kids go to club every day. As I said, the Japanese are really particular about their extra curricula activities. But it can get to the point where they suck the fun completely out of it.


Uniforms

Middle school boys wearing gakuran
Pro: We've seen the anime. And I've seen enough kids (and adults) to know that uniformity is another thing that is taken very seriously here. You will look polished and you will represent your school well; even when you're not attending class. I actually quite like the 学ラン(gakuran) style uniform as it really does look quite smart.

Con: Like most uniforms the world over, there isn't really much chance for self expression. In school, dying your hair (a reasonable colour) or make up is not allowed. The most I've seen kids do is unbutton the blazer or wear the undershirt. If the kid plays sports, they must wear their PE kit - even on a weekend. A child represents their school everywhere. And sometimes when it's not even school related - a dance club, for example - there are uniforms for those too.


Cram School

Pro: Also known as (juku). The minute a kid is due to start middle school, the salesmen come knocking apparently. Cram school is a way in which middle schoolers keep on top of their grades. It's useful for kids who fall behind in certain subjects or for the kids that want to be at the top of their game. I benefitted from an after school "cram class" of sorts when I was in secondary school and it really bumped my grade up. In the UK, these types of schools aren't so apparent however, but in Japan, they are everywhere.

Con: On top of all the homework and after school clubs and piano lessons and English classes, juku is another thing to add to a middle schooler's long list of things to do. Unfortunately however, like all childrearing in Japan, cram school does not come cheap at all and most parents feel pressured into sending their kids to cram school out of fear or them falling behind their peers.

~

Middle schoolers can undergo some very long days in Japan. I've seen students riding their bicycles home at around 10pm at night which completely boggles the mind considering that in the UK, most kids are home well before dinnertime. I've had children arrive at my lessons completely famished - having not even eaten due to their long schedules. But in a way, it's almost indicative of what is to come because when one enters the workforce, overtime is eminent. Getting home late is eminent. Skipping a meal is on occasion eminent and it doesn't seem to be changing any time soon.


So I commend the students here. They work really hard and go through some tough times. I often hear however that once they overcome this hurdle and enter a decent high school, it gets easier after that. Even university is a piece of cake apparently but that's a entry for another time.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Call of the Wild ~ Curse of the Rebound

I think it's time to unearth this series.

...even though there were only two episodes.

Because it's that time of year, folks. Or at least, it is in Japan. In the west, Spring (and Summer) supposedly make people crazy. Birds are tweeting, mammals are humping and people start looking a lot more desirable. But in Japan, it's that time around December where it starts getting colder and everyone's looking for someone to keep them warm (or hot) on Christmas Eve (Japan's real Valentine's Day).

I'm still plodding along and dating - albeit hopelessly - around and I'm starting to see a pattern in some of the people I have spoken to. Because let's be real here. Today's dating culture is built for men. They can contact someone at the blink of a text message, can make the necessary arrangements and because sex is so readily available both online and off, there isn't really much work to be done like there was several decades ago. The courting method has changed and I'm starting to realise there are far more people on the internet more interested in getting physical as oppose to actually truly connecting, which is making my conquest fruitless.

And there is nothing more fruitless for a person looking to connect when they keep on bumping into people who seek the ominous rebound.

What is a "rebound", you may or may not ask? It's the period that happens just after you exit a relationship where some people don't know how to deal with their feelings. The break up might have been brutal or they simple forget how to be single and so they peruse the clubs, bars and of course the internet in search of someone to comfort them or replace the connection they once had. And sometimes it's planned; it's wanted; it's negotiated, but more often than not, it isn't. Said rebounder gets involved with a new person, gains some relief but ultimately, it's temporary. The rebounder realises that said new person can't really truly replace what they once had and they end up disposing of that new person. And if said new person isn't strong enough, they too might fall victim to the emotions associated with a "break up" and thus the cycle repeats itself.

I have fallen victim to this curse. Never the rebounder; always the reboundee. Thus I can often spot it a mile off. Let's take a couple of cases, shall we?

Case One: The Peurto Rican

I tried a different means of meeting new people at someone's suggestion - Craigslist (I seriously must have hit rock bottom or something). I was contacted by a Puerto Rican guy who didn't really look amazing in his pictures but we had a hellova lot in common. That was until he sent me a more recent picture of himself and I came to see that he had gained an exponential amount of weight. Call me shallow if you will, but let me finish. The distance between the pictures he initially sent and the picture of him recently was no more than a couple of months. I came to find that he had just gotten out of a relationship a couple of months prior and had decided that rather than deal with, he would eat his feelings. He assured me that he was taking back control of his life but I was pretty much assured out the window.

Case Two: Mr. "I Dunno What I Want"

Looked pretty good in his pictures but very early on told me he wasn't looking for a relationship. I shut him down immediately because I realise now that men generally say what they mean and it's a waste of my time, if we're not looking for the same thing. He persisted and asked to be friends. I declined. He persisted again and stated that most of his relationships has started on a whim and that there might be a chance. He then mentioned that he was happy being single however. I later came to find that he had actually just exited a relationship and was supposedly looking for another. I was done at that point.

Case Three: Mr. Childhood Sweetheart

I didn't actually find out about this guy's situation until I met him. He seemed nice enough and had made an effort to find places of interest to take me but as we chilled out for a bit and had an in depth conversation, I came to find that he had gotten out of a twelve-year relationship only six months prior. Now six months sounds like a long time but my alarm bells were going off because twelve years is an insane amount of time (it's a marriage for some people). We didn't actually end up meeting again. He blamed it on the language barrier but I honestly think that he needs to take at least another year off to deal with that kind of loss.

Case Four: The Aspiring Professor

I call him that because he was actually studying to become a professor. Thus he was younger than my designated age range but sometimes I stop and talk to people out of boredom and listen to their stories. (I usually have no intention of meeting them though; I know it's wicked). This one said he was looking for friends but asked a lot of relationship-esque questions. Ultimately, however, it came out that like all the others, he had just exited a three-year relationship and had joined a "dating app" to "find female friends". I assured him that he was probably better off looking for other ways to take his mind of things but what young guy is going to heed wisdom really.

I just see continuous patterns. Lots and lots of guys who want to muck around and "fill the void". Men call us women emotional but I think in their own way, they're not taught how to deal with their own emotions; their taught to keep a stiff upper lip; they taught not to discuss things openly, whereas us girls will cry and vent to our friends and let it all out.

When I became newly single, I purposely remained that way for at least a year and took back my life. It got easier every day. And I will continue to encourage people to do the same. A quick knock about the bedroom isn't going to make it all better again.

I guess I can't just blame the men because some women do it as well. They rope men into a false sense of security, lead them on and then drop them when their hook, line and sinker. But I can only look at the world from my perspective and my experience. So my advice to anyone recently out of a relationship would be to avoid the dating apps and temptations. Take back your life first and then get back out there again.


I'm sure my advice will fall on deaf ears....or....blind eyes though...

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Japan Files ~ Gateway to Sleepytown

Imagine this.

A night out on the town with your mates. You just got off work on a Friday or you're dolled up to the nines on a Saturday. The pre-drinks. The bar hopping. The club stomping. The midway beers and after "shots". And by about three o clock in the morning, although you're exceedingly happy, you are absolutely, completely trashed. But the only way you're getting home really is a taxi. And we all know that cab prices double come the early morning. So you're stuck on the street somewhere dying in your heels or freezing your bollocks off as you wait for the first train. And maybe you feel it. And maybe you don't. But not only are you drunk, you're also exhausted. So what do you do? 

Well, in England, you'd stick it out - biting cold and all; stiff upper lip. But in Japan? Well, you've certainly got a bit more variety to keep you warm after a drunk-filled evening. So allow me to introduce the many ways in which you can find yourself some sort of bed in the land of the rising sun.

~

Hotel

We have these almost anywhere. And you might have to shell out a bit of money depending on where you are -cough- Roppongi -cough- but you're definitely guaranteed a bit of luxury if you opt to stay at a hotel. Some come with kimono and slippers - potentially the Japanese equivalent to indoor wear so you can get comfortable. No need to worry about shampoo or toothpaste because in addition to towels, that's usually provided too. And what's better than actually sleeping in an actual bed? I very rarely get this luxury these days. What's better still however is that you're actually divided by walls so providing the person in the next room doesn't sound off like a foghorn, you're guaranteed a relatively peaceful and uninterrupted sleep at least until the 11am check-out.

Capsule Hotel

Brilliant if you're a man. There are some capsule hotels about that do cater to women however - (and couples apparently). Things are changing these days (even I managed to stay in one). A little bit cheaper than a typical hotel because all those little luxuries I mentioned above are pretty non-existent and you're pretty much sharing space with around thirty to fifty other people. You're allocated a locker for your belongings before making your way to the morge-style booths that are stacked next to and above each other in two storey fashion. The only real privacy you get is separated by a curtain usually. Check-out time is typically even earlier at 10am because staff need to clean in preparation for the next set of guests. But a good place to crash temporarily after a night out. Heck, you won't even notice the snoring if you've drunk enough.

Manga Cafe

Even cheaper still, the manga cafe or mangakisa is a comic book nerd's fantasy. Wall upon wall of manga, unlimited drink bar and food if you order it, and you're own personal computer-with-internet booth to enjoy it all in depending on what package you select. Some even have a shower and a ladies area for those of us who wish to be away from prying eyes. Of course, before you think about staying in one, you usually have to become a member first. Japan has a thing about loyalty after all. Then of course, there's the fact that a lot of manga cafes allow smoking and even if they have non-smoking areas, there's always going to be some crossover. The one I stayed at offered darts, billards and karaoke as extras but all I wanted to do was crash. Then there's the incessant clicking if you're a light sleeper. An 8 hour package was not enough in my opinion but if you're only going to stay until first light, then it's no problem

Karaoke Booth

I have very fond memories of singing karaoke into the night and then leaving and passing by the room next door only to see a gang of about six guys completely flaked out on the sofas. I smirked at the time but I look back now and think to myself, why not. Karaoke bars usually offer a "freetime" package during their least popular hours - usually either in the middle of the day or in this case, the early hours of the morning. This means that you can karaoke all night long usually from around 11pm to 6am all for one price. And of course, you're drunk. All night karaoke is going to seem like a viable possibility. But evidently, you will lose your voice and you will fall asleep, but at least you won't be waiting outside in the cold.

Train

Picture courtesy of jprail.com
There are so many stories about Japanese people flaking out on trains after an evening of hard liquor (or even just hard work). People so drunk that they sprawl out across three or four seats, suspend themselves from the hand rails swaying side to side, or sometimes using their fellow commuters as a pillow. But in some cases, there are actual trains that are designed to accommodate sleepers as their travel from one part of the country to the next. Creatively called "Sleeper Trains", these trains offer bedtime accommodation for the overnight traveler so as a tourist, you can travel from one part of Japan to another without actually losing a day. Of course, it doesn't come cheap and some in-carriage areas are a lot less luxurious than others. You definitely get what you pay for, but it is definitely an experience and if you're already drunk, luxury won't really matter to you. Just don't miss it obviously.

Floor

I'm starting to think that this is some sort of rite of passage for Japanese salarymen. To get so drunk that you simply end up rock bottom...literally. And I have seen it all - an old businessman completely knocked out in the middle of a train carriage. A young twenty-something rather uncomfortably conked out in a bush. A middle-aged commuter who decided that the park bench would be the safest bet. I've yet to see a foreigner end up in this predicament but I'm sure it has happened. Because come Friday or Saturday night, people just seem to wind up anywhere. And Japan is safer than most places, it really is. But even I wouldn't want to wake up in the middle of Tokyo somewhere wondering exactly what happened to me the night before.

~

So seriously folks, take note of all that opportunity. In England, it's either cab or bust for most people but in Japan, you've certainly got a lot of variety. Take advantage of it.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Dating in Japan ~ Tinder Exploits

I have got to hand it to Tinder. 


For all the slander I used to give it, it has actually put me in contact with the bulk of my dates. Like any dating or social networking platform however, you still have to sift through the masses to find someone who's on the same wavelength as you but I can't complain. Because I've said it before that this app is used a lot differently in Japan. People use it to find friends and unsurprisingly, they also use it for language opportunities. There will always be those looking for hook ups but there are also those seeking something more meaningful which is nice. Sadly, while none of my dates have actually ended up being a sure thing, they've certainly been interesting experiences so here's to the second round of contestants.

---

The "Japanese Only" Guy Date

As the title suggests, this guy spoke zero English so when we first started communicating, I was convinced that it wouldn't even get off the app. Nevertheless, I saw it as an opportunity to use my somewhat limited Japanese ability. In my day to day life, I barely use Japanese at all but via text, I can communicate fairly well. We spoke for about a week and then one evening, he asked me to lunch on a Saturday. I accepted and for the first time since I'd started dating, I was actually nervous. Texting is one thing; speaking is another ball game. Nevertheless, we met up and despite looking as he did in his pictures, he was a whole lot shorter than me. Starting off, things went well however. I liked the fact that he was pretty quick at finding places to go despite having never traveled to the area before (hurray Google Maps). But as the date progressed, I began starting to find it difficult to communicate effectively. My spoken ability is still beginner at best. He was very patient nonetheless but eventually conversation began to dry up due to the fact that my brain simply couldn't handle the sudden influx of "foreign language". It lasted roughly four to five hours and was a good date overall but by the end of it, my head hurt and I knew that logically nothing else was going to come from it.

The Older Guy Date

When I first started communicating with this one, his profile had indicated that he was 31 years old. After communicating for some time and scheduling a date with him, I came to find out that he was actually 40 years old instead. I was gutted. You see, I have both a lower and upper age limit where dating is concerned because I feel like I'll have very little in common with, or very dissimilar mentalities from those who are much younger or older than me. But as I'd already agreed to the date in the first place, I went on it anyway. He was late which annoyed me further but when he arrived, I had to admit, he was extremely attractive. He did not look forty at all so I brightened up a little. As the date progressed however, I soon discovered that we had absolutely nothing in common. He would bring up a topic that I knew nothing about and vice versa. What's more, his mentality seemed a hellova lot younger than his age. He didn't seem to completely have his act together and everything (and I mean "everything") was a joke with him. I braved the time we spent together to give him a chance but ultimately ended it. What I'd suspected before had come into fruition so we parted ways. I was polite and thanked him for the date but ultimately I never heard from him again and rightfully so.

The Ugly Guy Date

He was tall, older then me and also, within my age range, and he asked me to meet one Saturday afternoon. His pictures weren't completely clear however and that should have been my first clue because when I met him in person, I physically recoiled. I have never done that before. Physically, everything else was perfect - height, stature...etc - but he had not been gifted in the face department unfortunately, and I think maybe he knew this as well. Nevertheless, I'm not one to completely rule someone out so the date continued. He reminded me a lot of one of my students who likes to talk a lot and he also possessed similar alpha male characteristics to the date I mentioned in my previous entry. Unlike the others however, I could tell based on his body language (and the occasional body touch) that he found me attractive. He also told me so, although I think his words were more PG then what he was really thinking. He was alright however and our conversation was good (when he wasn't sneaking in a text message to someone). He was also kind enough to help me catch the train I needed to get to my next destination. I just found it very difficult to look at him.

The British Guy Date

I'd been speaking to this guy for a long time and had given him the benefit of the doubt because his work life had been crazy; I'm talking about no days off for at least a month. But ultimately, rather then let him take his sweet time to ask me out, I asked him out and we settled on a quick two hour "coffee date"as we both had places to go in the evening. What was ironic however, was that this guy wasn't British at all but had spent a considerable amount of time in the UK to make me feel like I was dating a guy from back home. His accent was extremely weird - a mix of Japan and southern England - but it was refreshing to hear vocabulary that I hadn't heard in such a long time. I couldn't read him however. Sometimes he would screw up his face and I couldn't tell if it was a facial twitch or a display of annoyance. He bought me lunch which I didn't finish (I felt bad for this) and then we spent an hour singing karaoke where he picked songs that reminded me of my childhood. I couldn't tell if he was serenading me or simply taking me on a stroll down memory lane but it was good fun. Whenever I finish a date with a Japanese guy, as public displays of affection aren't a thing here, I usually shake hands or wave but this guy actually went in to give me a hug which both surprised and didn't surprise me at the same time. "British guy" right? Just like home.

The Monastery Guy Date

I call this guy the "monastery guy" because he described his life as just that - a relatively simple one with no drama and absolute peace. He also described himself a naturalist; very food conscious, into yoga and very internationally minded. His intense dislike of crowds cropped up in conversation often. He'd also spent 6 years in Belgium and when I saw his profile, it was worded as if he had returned to Japan. What I found out later however was that despite the fact that he was looking for a relationship, he hadn't actually left Belgium. He was actually on holiday visiting his family and had no intention of returning to Japan for now. But to get out of the house one Sunday afternoon, I agreed to a "beach meetup", where we grabbed a bottle of water each, sat across from the sea and chatted for a couple hours. So I guess it doesn't really constitute a date but I can't say it wasn't cool chatting to a complete stranger without having to worry about how I came across or whether we had an interest in each other. By the end of the date, I think we'd indirectly agreed that nothing was going to come from it but we did decide to keep in contact.

The American Guy Date

Of all the dates I've been on, this is the first fellow foreigner I'd actually managed to meet in person. I'd talked to other foreigners before but conversation often fizzled out so I thought I'd hit a milestone here. Unfortunately for me however, I hadn't actually read the guys profile properly when I swiped him and it was only later after talking for a while that I saw that he too was a little bit outside my age band. Nevertheless, after talking for a while and coming to the conclusion that he was relatively normal, I decided to give him a chance. We met up and had a pretty short but amicable date. We swapped stories about our lives and our experiences in Japan (and outside of it). Him being ex-military had taken him on some adventures. He was definitely the most mature and levelheaded of all the people I'd been on dates with. I wondered if I ever met him again, would I be the immature party this time? With a southern drawl, Not used to my British accent, however, he found it difficult to understand me on occasion - which we both found humorous. It was also nice to be able to wear heels and have someone still hold a centimetre or two over me.

---


I think I'm quite lucky in that I haven't had any major disasters while dating via Tinder. I'm either screening people very well or I've just been very lucky. But I'm still very much single so I'm wondering if I'm doing it right. It just goes to show however that you really shouldn't knock something until you've tried it. So by all means ladies and gents, get out there.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Pursuing Japanese ~ Ulterior Motives

"Could you become a friend to exchange language?"

This message was sent to me by an old lady I met at a language event. I have to admit, I was furious when I saw it. And why, you may ask? It's only fair, right? If I'm learning Japanese from someone, then I should at least provide them with something in return. But simply put however, I'm sick and tired of people only taking interest in me because I happen to speak a certain language. And I feel like with every new person I meet, they fail to see the person underneath with a personality, opinions and interests; they simply see a walking opportunity for themselves.

Recently, I've realised my Japanese has been waning due to lack of study. I still go to class once a week but on occasion, I've had to cancel due to work commitments. Similarly, I still do my language exchanges in the week but again I may have had to cancel or my partners have had to cancel due to their own commitments. The consistency just hasn't been there. Additionally, I go to work where some Japanese ability is necessary and I still struggle to speak in spontaneous situations. Often I don't understand completely or I do and I can't respond competently. I get very nervous very fast and it shows. But ultimately, I only have myself to blame. It's become a problem so I decided to start taking action again.

I feel like this is somehow permanently affixed to my forehead
I attended a language event last weekend that was a little different in that it was strictly time enforced by the host. We spent fifteen minutes in English and fifteen minutes in Japanese. Then we would break and repeat two more times. I ended up being the only foreigner on my tables of four. Every thirty minutes, I'd meet a new set of Japanese people and quickly felt like I was the weakest link because not only was my Japanese poor but their English was usually pretty good. During the Japanese segments however, I noticed that no matter how many times I would ask my "exchange groups" to slow down, they would speak at break-neck speed meaning that I often got lost during conversation. As annoying as this was however, I had to remind myself that these were not teachers. These were ordinary people who didn't really want to speak Japanese at a language exchange event. They wanted to speak English. And when the event came to an end, mine was the first table to disperse. Details were exchanged but I knew that I would never contact those people, let alone see them again.

I found another language group however and this group grasped my interest because unlike typical language events where people feign wanting to exchange, this event was geared towards foreigners who wanted to speak Japanese. English speaking was not a requirement. It was really early in the morning for me but as I needed to be in Tokyo anyway, I decided to go.

There were seven of us in total and only two foreigners including myself. The minute I arrived, I was greeted in Japanese so I felt like this was the real deal. We entered into a restaurant, introduced ourselves and the conversation began. I got talking to an old lady and a guy that I had met at a previous event, while the other four broke off into their conversation. It was very rare that we used English even though it was clear that some of the Japanese natives could speak it. Conversation was very broad and I even learnt some things that I hadn't before; not just about the language but about culture, sports...etc. When it ended, the host mentioned something I felt like was very true. That usual "language exchange" events often end up with foreigners mostly speaking English and that he created the group to give us an opportunity to speak Japanese. I felt so thankful.

I exchanged details with the old lady and then me and the guy hung out for a bit afterwards. We went to Akihabara and played games even though he had told me he had no interest in games whatsoever. As I had a met him at an event before, our conversation lapsed into English which I thought nothing of at the time but as I'm sitting here writing this, I can't help but wonder if the reason he'd decided to tag along was to get his fill of English. He had expressed interest in British culture however which may have been another reason but ultimately, I'm not so sure what his motives were.

When I returned home, I saw a message from the old lady who had sent me a picture of cherry blossoms. I replied in Japanese and then she replied in English. I replied again in Japanese and she sent me a message back in Japanese with some English at the end. All subsequent messages then came in mostly English followed by the question up top. She also asked me asked me if the sentence was grammatically correct sparking off realisations within me. This woman may have come to an event meant for foreigners speaking Japanese but her motives were clearly to find someone to help her with her English. She'd done her part by participating in the event, it was her turn to get her fill.

I was quite annoyed. I'm an English teacher and people pay me to speak and teach them in English. And despite living in Japan where English ability isn't particularly that great, I live about 70%-80% of my life in English. If this was any other country, I feel like I would have been forced to learn the language (I've heard that the French are particularly unforgiving) whereas in Japan, people drop in thank you's and hello's at random. I realise that the Japanese don't get much opportunity to practise using English themselves but I feel like Japan is the only country where the people are so borderline desperate to speak the language that they forget that foreigners are more than just an opportunity; they are people too; they might want to learn a language too; they might want to make friends too; heck, they might not even speak English in the first place.

I haven't responded to this woman yet. I already have two language exchange partners who I'm rather happy with. I'm not interested in having anymore. But I guess the fault lies with me, myself. The lady was nice and all but she did often drop random English words into the conversation at the event now that I think about it. We're also generations a part so we could never really truly be friends. And most people are not so kind as to want to help anyone without getting something in return.


I want to attend that event again and I've already decided that I'm going next weekend as well but I'll just have to be cautious. There's always a catch, isn't there?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Dating in Japan ~ Online to Offline Exploits

Just in time for 2016's approaching Valentine's Day (which is actually for men as oppose to women), I thought it time to introduce this little number to my Japan exploits. After all I feel like I have everything right now. I have my own apartment (although it's rented). I have a job. I have an income. I have friends. And I have a fairly decent social life these days but sadly, I've been single for a very long time. So I decided that even Japan, with its language barrier, cultural differences and differing standards of beauty wasn't going to stop me. Foreign women all over Japan often say that dating in this country is very difficult. Japanese men themselves are shy and reserved so as a woman, I would need to take the initiative and pursue them. And as for foreign men - well, it is said that they are less interested in their foreign counterparts and more interested in the natives. So what's a foreign girl to do really?


Well, take to the internet of course.


Now back in England, I'd done online dating before. But my criteria had been a bit different back then. I'd been very naive twenty-two-year-old and perhaps a little scared. I didn't fully commit to the idea of dating people (I remember specifically putting "seeking friends" in my profile) and I ruled out people pretty quickly if they weren't prepared to go at my speed - which was very slowly I might add. In Japan however - and maybe it's because I'm older, wiser and know exactly what I want - I think I've fully committed to it now.

I joined a couple of websites, filled in my details and started searching.  I landed my first date within a couple of weeks. The guy asked me out for the end of the same week we started communicating. (In the past, I'd been too afraid to meet people too soon but I realise now that it's better to meet sooner rather than later). We spoke for about three days. He disappeared until the actual date day itself and then he contacted me and asked if he could cancel. No contact for a while and a cancellation on the day spelt red flags to me but evidently, the date still happened despite overall poor organisation. He was also late despite living a station away from where he had suggested we meet. The date itself was okay - dinner and karaoke - but I'm a stickler for first impressions and I decided that he wasn't for me. I think a piece of him is still hoping I'll change my mind however.

A week later, I contacted another guy and my second date was scheduled. This guy had spent some time overseas and seemed to have his act together. He was good looking and he pretty much contacted me for a week straight up until the date itself. We had a good time; he rented a car; we went to a few places but sometimes our conversations weren't free flowing despite his assurance that he wasn't nervous. At the end of the date, there was talk of a second but he disappeared shortly after never to be heard from again. Can't say I wasn't disappointed but to make myself feel better, I bit the bullet after so many years of slandering the app and I downloaded Tinder.

Now Tinder has a reputation of being a hook up app but since downloading it, I'm starting to think that the Japanese use Tinder in the same way they use a lot of online mediums; for a language opportunity, to make friends or to see what's out there. A LOT said that they were "looking for friends" but when I interrogated some of my matches, the truth often came out sooner or later; some were very direct from the get-go which was nice.

I got speaking to a third guy one morning and arranged to meet him the same day actually. The date itself was pretty good but I kind of felt like the guy was a) not being himself and b) trying a little too hard. We had fun on the day but it ended quite suddenly when rather then walk me to the station, he rather abruptly shook my hand, told me goodbye and stormed off in the opposite direction. I distinctly remember thinking that he'd been so rude and I wouldn't be seeing him again. But despite this occurrence, this same guy asked me out a second time. My mind was completely blown. Thus we ended up on a second date. Naturally, I confronted him about his actions and it had turned out that he'd needed to go back to his office to collect something quickly before he missed his last train. He hadn't communicated this however - in true Japan fashion. I forgave this and this date actually went very well. 

But I had also scheduled a fourth date the very next day...

We ended up heading to an indoor amusement park of sorts. In comparison to all the others, his English wasn't outstanding and he was also very nervous; he denied it obviously but towards to end of the date I finally got the truth out of him. It was busy so we spent a lot of time queuing. I've always said that a theme park would be my ideal date but even though this date went swimmingly, I'm wondering if an amusement park would be a better third or even fourth date instead. Queuing can be rather exhausting after all, and coupled with nerves and forced conversation, it can feel almost unnatural. After, he bought me dinner and then saw me to the station. We parted amicably but ultimately it just wasn't meant to be. He had been a nice guy though and I'm sure he'll find someone. I however, had scheduled yet another date two days later...

This guy had told me from the get-go that he was very aggressive. Unlike some of the others who had used the "looking for friends" medium, this guy had very boldly stated he was looking for a girlfriend. Bonus points for honesty. We met up, ate at a cafe, played darts, had dinner and ended up in Starbucks to finish it off. Whenever we were on the move however, conversation was very basic but whenever we were stationary, we would have some of the most interesting and almost in depth conversations. Now I love a good conversation - I'm a sucker for it - but when we ended the date, I couldn't help but feel like this guy would have made a much better mate, then a boyfriend. What particularly stood out about him was that he encompassed some of the stereotypes that I associate with alpha types in Japan. In the restaurants, he wasn't rude but almost borderline arrogant when he would order or call for the waiter - as if he was used to doing so at work. He didn't open any doors for me (not that I require it but all my other dates had done this almost naturally) and his general manner just screamed assertive.

There had been another date scheduled actually but this one ended up getting cancelled and I never did end up meeting this individual. Not a big loss as with this last guy, we didn't have a lot in common. Somehow we managed to talk for a solid three weeks however...

So there you have it - five dates set up across a two month period; I can definitely say that I've done well for myself. There are many blogs, guides and forums that talk about what you should do to date in Japan; I will admit that I have read a lot. But I decided that going into these dates, I was going to be completely myself. I was going to order all the meat in world; I wasn't going to expect the man to pay for everything; I was going to bring conversation to the table and I was going to have a good time. So foreign women in Japan, maybe it's been said to death, but get out there. Give online dating a try, or if online isn't your thing, head to some events and see what and who's out there.

Dating in Japan isn't going to happen by itself.