Proof that you never know what’s around the corner… last week I was rushed into hospital with cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder) and gallstones.
I’ve already had my first emergency procedure the night I was brought in which has controlled the inflammation, and I’m due to get my gallbladder removed tomorrow morning.
Japanese doctors aren’t really forthcoming with a lot of information, they really seem to take it one day at a time and I’ve really have had to politely but firmly badger them for information.
I was a little freaked when I was first admitted as you can imagine. My Japanese still isn’t great and I only have an interpreter with me when I have an actual operation. But all of the staff are really kind and we rely on broken English, broken Japanese, gestures and Google translate. I’m also well brushed up on hospital lingo now!
But onwards and upwards – let’s hawk this thing out then it’s the finishing stretch.
NOTE:The sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants has been banned for two months already in several prefectures in Japan – including Shizuoka, and looks like it’ll be extended until October. Just know that I’m absolutely clamming for a pint.
Just like the UK, Japan has a big drinking culture. From cheap beer to expensive sake, if you enjoy hitting the sauce then there really is something for everyone.
With inhibitions lowered, Japan transforms into a different place at night – akin to a session down the Bigg Market in Newcastle on a Saturday night.
The same people who go to work with their heads down, eyes fixed on their phones, nodding and bowing and agreeing and hai hai hai-ing all day really know how to let their hair down at the weekend. In a matter of hours these same people are shouting, screaming, singing, hugging in the streets well into the early hours.
Public transport stops pretty early in most cities – around 11pm-midnight, so your options are run for the last train, pay for an expensive taxi or – the most popular option – stay out all night until the first train home at 5am. (Karaoke is a good call for this. 24-hour McDonalds are commonplace too.) Most train stations even have guards stationed at the weekend to stop merrymakers falling onto the tracks.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve almost been steamrollered by a group of guys holding each other up, almost tripping over the most kawaii of kawaii girls puking in the street while their friend holds their hair back, or people flat out fast asleep in bars, on walls, in bus stops, on the pavement still in their black business suit.
As you can expect of course, the last train home is definitely an experience. One of my favourites was a group of salarymen literally threw their colleague (who was wearing a silly hat) out of a train carriage presumably at his station. He waved and shouted a hearty おはようございます (“Good morning!”) as the doors closed. As the train pulled away, we all saw him fall backwards in the direction of a bemused guard, a look of elation on his face.
But as always – what comes up, must come down. Even as someone who is a bit of a seasoned drinker (annoyingly, Felipe can still outdrink me) and a Geordie, living in Japan has blessed me with some of the worst hangovers (“futsukayoi” in Japanese…as I’ve now learned) in my life.
Thankfully, Japan is well prepared for such situations because of course they are. Here are my favourite hangover remedies…
Before (and/or after): Ukon no Chikara
As always in life, it’s all about preparation, preparation, preparation.
There are a plethora of little bottles of liquid cures in every conbini containing ingredients such as tumeric, vitamin C, B, and iron which are believed to help break down toxins and alcohol during the night. They’re also pretty helpful the day after – but some are pretty gross tasting (such as Ukon no Chikara above, the top seller) and difficult to keep down after a particularly heavy night. Apparently.
It’s very popular amongst Japanese drinkers to stop at a ramen place for a pick-me-up.
Personally, I can’t stomach a bowl full of rich broth and noodles while drinking (my drunk food is McDonalds) however at my last niji-kai before the ‘rona, I told my co-teachers I would just order a pop. But because they were all half-cut and eager to treat me, I suddenly found myself with five glasses of Coca Colas in front of me.
After: Pocari Sweat
My favourite hangover remedy is a cold bottle of Pocari Sweat, a delicious electrolyte drink with a terrible name. Similar to Gatoraid in the US and Lucozade in the UK it contains potassium and magnesium to rehydrate you. However unlike them, it doesn’t have a lot of carbonation or a strong taste – a little citrusy and a little salty which I appreciate.
It’s available in convenience stores, but most vending machines also have it – really easy to grab a bottle (or two) as I’m stumbling home.
Also trust me, it pairs perfectly with a few 7-11 hash browns. *chefs kiss*
So there you have it, you’re now prepared for a big Japanese night out. After the ‘rona, of course. Stupid ‘rona.
Recently some of the kids asked if I’d like to meet their class pets. The class pets:
For some godforsaken reason, it’s somewhat of an annual tradition for Japanese kids to spend the summer raising and caring for these beetles (kabutomushi and kuwagatamush), dutifully feeding them fresh fruits and jellies. Apparently, they’re “cute”.
After living away from your home for an extended period of time, it’s kind of inevitable that you start looking back on your life retrospectively:
“What have I achieved? What did I come here to do? What is there still for me to do?”
Failure to answer these questions and one living in Japan could perhaps find themselves in what I call ‘ALT-limbo’ – simply drifting from home to school, school to home, lather, rinse, repeat.
While the pandemic has moved these goalposts somewhat through nobody’s fault, it’s sometimes hard to see the 森 for the 木 so to speak. But I also don’t want to become another resentful, bitter gaijin; burdened and resentful of one of my favourite countries in the world.
Japan is currently going through its *counts on fingers* fourth state of emergency, mostly a consequence of a government who are frantically scrambling to save an Olympics that no-one wants. It was golden week in May, a 5-day weekend that pretty much everyone in the country gets off – and just like last year, everyone was encouraged to stay home.
After the best part of five months I recently reinstalled my social media apps on my phone. While I’m usually pretty good at keeping up to date with the happenings in jolly old Blighty, I don’t think I’d realised how much the UK is beginning to open up again.
I saw my friends smiling and waving and clinking glasses in places I know. My mam sent me a selfie in Primark. My best-friend Sam threw a peace sign from our favourite pub in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, for the past few months it’s mostly just been me in my apartment. Alone.
“What the f*ck am I doing here?” I actually said aloud to the four walls on particularly gloomy Saturday, and threw my phone huffily away from me after an hour of scrolling through happy reunions at pub gardens and bottomless brunches.
“What have I achieved? What did I come here to do? What is there still for me to do?”
Too much time indoors means too much time to think.
Japan isn’t my first time living abroad. I left Australia in 2013 after living there for a year and it felt right. I was ready. Honestly I don’t think I even cried properly. I caught my flight from Melbourne with nothing but excitement and anticipation ahead of me. There wasn’t a single regret in my bones as I landed at Heathrow, caught the tube and saw Sam waiting tearfully at the Kings Cross barriers.
So, when do you know that it’s time to leave Japan?
I had this conversation with my friend Liz – who is actually leaving Japan this summer – over a socially distanced al fresco lunch as she prepares for a period of uncertainty and unemployment ahead.
“Six years in Japan is quite enough for me,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever know if it’s right.”
She’s right about the six years thing. After just two years, I sometimes find myself weighed down with cultural fatigue.
My pal once described Japan as “one big, awesome theme park.” I sort-of get what he means, but living in Disneyland would do your nut in after so long.
After two years at the same schools I now feel like part of the furniture – which has it’s pros and cons. I’m sure teachers letting me have free reign in class comes from a good place as they find me reliable and have confidence in my lessons, but working in the confines of a tight schedule plus ad-hoc duties, I have extra responsibilities compared to a lot of ALTs.
However I am given the greatest gift of all: that I’m usually left alone to my own devices. Many ALTs find themselves under constant surveillance from their schools. But long as I look busy and don’t take the piss, I’m free to do whatever I want between classes.
While age is a social construct (at least that’s what I keep telling myself), I recently turned 32 and it’s kind of unavoidable to look towards the future.
Sure, if I was a 21 year old fresh out of university with body parts that are still perky and a back that didn’t worryingly creak first thing in the morning, then staying in Japan for years and years and years would definitely be a good option. But there are simply other things in my life that I want to achieve.
It’s easy when you’re living on the other side of the world to put higher stock in connections made here as you find yourself content in your gaijin bubble, warm and fuzzy like mold.
The longer I stay in Japan, people I’ve grown close to inevitably move on, either elsewhere in Japan or back to their home country. I find constantly both making new connections and letting friendships go mentally taxing, often akin to the grief of a break-up.
Unfortunately, that’s just a fact of expat life and comes with the territory. This didn’t bother me much when I was a young’un in Australia, staying in hostels and taking day trips to see koalas with people I barely knew and would probably never see again. But the older I get, the less tolerant I am of such relationships, preferring a deeper attachment with a smaller group of people. It’s exhausting to constantly be saying farewell.
So while I’m not saying I’m about to split from Japan anytime soon, I am asking myself when will the (rising) sun begin to set on my time in Japan?
I’ve always toyed with the idea of moving to Japan ever since my friend Hayley suggested it to me nearly ten years ago now over pizza in her Sydney apartment, recounting tales of working at an eikaiwa during the day then partying in Tokyo until the early hours.
I started officially planning to come to Japan in 2017, then actually applied in January 2019 for an Autumn arrival.
During this time at my old job in the UK – through every crappy shift, being yelled at down the phone day-in-day-out, through every event I declined, everything I sold on eBay – I counted down the days until the big move.
Is there really a perfect time to leave Japan? Honestly, I’m not sure.
Even when the day comes and my plane touches down in Newcastle, I don’t think I’ll ever be sure.
As I’ve previously mentioned, living a short walk to the downtown area I enjoy eating out at the weekend – but as we all ride Japan’s fourth wave of the ‘rona, I’m still trying to stay home as much as possible and have been ordering in instead.
Also notably, 99% of the time I don’t eat breakfast during weekdays. I know this is really bad and breakfast is so important, but when I have a 5:30am alarm I’d prefer to trade this in for an extra half an hour in bed.
LUNCH: Soup with veggies and pasta shells, currypan and a custard pudding. (¥270)
DINNER: Mondays are really stressful at work so I stopped at the conbini on my way home. Pasta salad with proscuitto, tomatoes and cheese (¥496), karragebo (¥180), rice in tofu (¥213) and kimchi (¥110).
DESSERT: Two kiwi fruits. (Discounted from the supermarket ¥100)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with milk.
LUNCH: Soup with veggies and bean sprouts, two spring rolls and minted pickles. (¥270) (We also had rice but I took mine home as I don’t like to eat a lot of carbs if I have afternoon classes as it brings my energy down.)
DINNER: Aubergines and mushrooms in a sticky Korean-style sauce, the rice from school lunch, miso soup with tofu and the rest of the kimchi.
DESSERT: Discounted fruit salad from the supermarket. (¥250)
SNACKS: Cheese puffs. (¥180)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with milk and a potato croquette (¥120) as I waited at the bus stop.
LUNCH: Creamy soup with mushrooms and pasta, chicken karaage, bread with chocolate sauce. (¥270)
DINNER: Spaghetti with mentaigo (cod roe) sauce
DESSERT: Daim bar (thanks, mam!)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with soy milk.
LUNCH: Creamy soup with pasta and sweetcorn, fried fish, cabbage. (There was also bread but I didn’t eat it) (¥270)
DINNER: I went to KappaSushi for dinner. 7 plates of sushi and a beer. (¥1300)
SNACKS: Cornetto-like ice cream. (Multipack – 5 for ¥350)
BREAKFAST: English breakfast tea with soy milk.
LUNCH: Special bento for the school sports day. (¥800)
DINNER: Cheese and ham baguette sandwich (¥300) and pizza crisps (¥130).
DESSERT: Coconut Pocky. (¥150)
SNACKS: Vanilla mochi ice cream. (¥200)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with soy milk, greek-style yoghurt with granola and honey.
LUNCH: Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake made with cabbage), the rest of the mushrooms and fried aubergine.
DINNER: I ordered a personal-size Dominos pizza and potato wedges. (¥1600)
SNACKS: Another Daim bar! (Thanks again, mam!)
BREAKFAST: I ordered a McDonalds breakfast – sausage egg McMuffin, two hashbrows and an iced latte. (¥960)
LUNCH: Japanese-style curry (¥250, but I already had the sauce in my cupboard) and rice with the rest of the edamame.
DINNER: None. I wasn’t hungry for dinner as my breakfast and lunch were pretty heavy so I just snacked in the evening…
SNACKS: Cheese crisps (¥120), Black Thunder chocolate (my favourite Japanese chocolate!!) (¥100)
I actually enjoyed doing this and want to do something similar in the future!
As Tokyo is once again in a state of emergency (despite the Olympics being mere weeks away…), here in Hamamatsu I’m reminiscing about my favourite city in the world and how eager I am to go back when it’s safer.
Looking through pictures on my phone, I totally forgot to post about the incredible afternoon tea I had late last year at the Tokyo Grand Hyatt with my friend Farrah.
While the spring Marie Anotinette theme (Marie Antoinette’s Sweet Haute Couture) had a very pastel, sweet aesthetic – this event was called The Queen’s Masquerade, which was more alluring with a sort-of spooky opulence; lots of blacks, pinks, purples and gold – perfect for Halloween!
While special events are usually served buffet-style, due to the pandemic nearly everything was table service.
Anything you did have to get yourself had a strict queuing system. If you wanted to take photos of the settings (I mean, who wouldnt???) we were called up table by table.
It ran like clockwork and all the waiting staff were so amazing under such difficult circumstances.
Of course afterwards, there was purikura to be had:
It was such a special day, and I’m dying to go back and experience some of their other themed events.
In most Japanese towns and cities, you can hear a gentle sound and a short announcement around 5pm. This is known as the 五時のチャイム or “5pm Chime.”
This is used for two reasons: as a daily check to ensure the speakers are working correctly in case of emergencies, and also giving children a gentle nudge that it’s time to make their way home before it gets dark.
Kids are not supposed to be out at all after 10pm – but that doesn’t deter some of the more rebellious teenagers in Hamamatsu, who hang around conbinis in the evening in their “LA-style” streetwear, eating ice cream cones and thinking they’re solid. (The Lawson next to Shin-Hamamatsu station seems to be the place to be.)