The Hit and Miss Series #1: I Will Miss…

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KARAOKE!

If you know me at all, even just a little bit, you will know just how much I love to sing. Anywhere, anytime you name it and I’ll belt out a ballad like there is no tomorrow.

So it comes as no surprise that the thing I will miss more than anything in Japan is the Karaoke culture!

What’s not to love about spending a couple of hours and a few dollars on a small room, unlimited song choices and unlimited (yet watered down) cocktails? Soft drinks are usually free so if you’re a diehard like my friends and I, you can always sneak in your own alcohol (they never check). What about free time from 11pm to 5am – all you can drink for less that twenty bucks? Don’t even need to book a hotel room! Life is always good with a little karaoke in it.

After 2 years of living here, I’m blessed to have some pretty fond karaoke memories. Like the time my eikaiwa friends and I decided to catch the last train to Kyoto and walk around at all hours of the night before finally settling on a couple of hours in the wee morning at a karaoke booth. Or the time I dragged my parents to karaoke on their trip last spring. They were under the impression that they’d have to sing in front of a bar full of people however on finding out we had our own room, they were over the moon and the afternoon was filled with the sounds of Celine Dion and ABBA. My favourite karaoke moment however will always be the very last time on the very last day with my amazing friends and co-workers. 2 hours, the largest karaoke room I’ve ever seen and enough alcohol to pull off spectacularly dramatic ballads and dance numbers in the middle of the room. And all for only 1000 yen!

While I feel perhaps my number one should have been something more profound like ‘the culture’ or ‘the people’, nothing has been more amazing to me than sharing drinks and songs with my friends.

Except for the amazing people I’ve met along the way. Whether they were short acquaintances or have become amazing, lifelong friends – I will never ever forget how you made my life in Japan the most wonderful time in my life to date. If it wasn’t for you guys, life in Japan just wouldn’t have been bearable. I love you to bits!

So what next? Well I’m currently writing this from Kansai International Airport on my way to Los Angeles. 2 months of travelling around the states with my friend Megan is definitely going to warrant some blog time. I’ll keep you posted.

じゃ、さようなら!

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The Hit and Miss Series #1: I will not miss. . . .

imagesBeing unable to blend in.

Australia is a country where it is almost impossible to tell whether someone is Australian or not just by looking at them. We have such a mix of cultures and ethnicities that not only call Down Under home, but are legal and patriotic citizens. It’s something I’ve always loved about home and something that I realise I’d been taking for granted my whole life.

Because here in Japan, I’m apart of the minority. 1.5% of Japan’s 127 million steady population are foreign and by foreign I mean not Japanese. Of that 1.5%, only 26% are non-asian (the largest amount of foreign residents coming from China and Korea). Oceanians make up less than 1% of the foreigners here in Japan.

So, as you can imagine, my appearance in this very mono-ethnic country can cause quite a stir.

It’s something that is both interesting and disheartening at the same time. A Japanese person could theoretically speaking move to Australia, learn English and if they so desire, become a citizen just by staying in the country for an extended period of time and taking a small history test. Easy. Simple. No one would ever know that they weren’t Australian just by looking at them.

Myself, on the other hand, can move to Japan, master Japanese to a near native level of fluency and live here for an extended period of time and STILL be considered foreign. In fact, there would be no point in my entire life where I wouldn’t be considered a foreigner, even if I’d lived here for 20 years and had a family. My appearance would always be the contrast in which the Japanese take pride in distinguishing themselves. There is so much psychological babble in the idea of being “purely Japanese” that it has made Japan perhaps one of the most racist countries in the modern world. If you are not Japanese, you cannot become Japanese and that is a sad fact in a contemporary world that seems to be moving along and leaving Japan in its stead.

I can understand why many foreigners who come to live here in Japan do not stay longer than a year. Being forever a novelty, being forever different (or different at all) is something most westerners are unaccustomed to. However it is a beautiful life lesson and something that I will carry with me for my whole life. It has given me an understanding of people who I never thought I would ever achieve.

The Hit and Miss Series #2: I will miss…

All you can eat and drink!

Everyone always comments about how expensive it is to eat out in Japan. (By everyone of course I mean anyone who has never lived in Sydney before). Sure, paying upwards of $30 for a meal can break the most modest of budgets and compared to places like America and South-East Asia it is a little on the pricey side.

Not, however, when you take into account that most Japanese establishments have an all you can eat and drink menu!

Seriously, It would never really work in Australia. Being able to have unlimited drinks for 2 hours at a restaurant would result in no food being consumed and a horrendous violation of the Responsible Service of Alcohol act.

But in Japan, where Salarymen are expected to drink their bosses under the table and women avoid drinking at all because it makes their face red, it works. And it works well. Depending on the kind of restaurant you go to, you can get unlimited dishes with unlimited drinks for anywhere upwards of 2500 yen (A$25).

My personal favourites include the Torikizoku party (2800 yen for 2 hours, as long as you have 8 plus people, unlimited food and drink) and Yakiniku (anywhere, all you can eat BBQ meats plus drinks for upwards of 3500 yen). There is nothing that makes me happier than BBQing endless steaks and washing it down with glass after glass of plum wine.

Ah, 食べ放題/飲み放題, how I will miss you so.

While parting will be such sweet sorrow, on the plus side on my return to Sydney, I’ll finally be reunited with my old friend, BYO.

The Hit and Miss Series #2: I will not miss…

Clubs closing at 1am.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’d be well acquainted with the “No Dancing Act” that popped up to destroy Osaka’s nightlife some time ago. A desperate move from a stupid government who still clings to old laws like they are they only thing stopping Japan from becoming just another western nation. Newsflash, late night dancing will NOT send everyone to hell nor will it mess with your cultural history. Mostly what it does is drive hoards of people onto the street at 1am to stumble around drunkenly in an attempt to find at least one open club that’ll let them boogie on down to their heart’s content. Because what Japan needs more of is drunk people (read: salarymen) crowding the streets late at night.

Especially annoying is having to still pay a cover charge upwards of 1500 yen to dance for the same amount of time it takes to watch a movie – which coincidently is just as over priced. (Note: I also feel sorry for men who, no matter what time of the night it is, nor whether they’re a member of the club or wearing a mini-skirt, are always charged at least 2500 yen. Sucks to be a man sometimes).

While there are quite a few decent clubs in Osaka, there are certain factors which make the nightlife experience here sub par to any other city in Japan or even the world. Stopping dancing at 1am? check. Hiring ridiculously old gaijin DJs who think they are cool because they supplement their english teaching wages with DJ jobs on the side? check. Charging large amounts of money for admission when a real international DJ happens to be in Osaka? check. Perhaps worst of all, scheduling excellent DJs for weekday nights instead of the weekend so as to draw mid-week crowds. DOUBLE CHECK! Seriously, some of us haven’t got the kind of lifestyle where it’s okay to stay up all night and go to work the next day (Not that I haven’t done it before, for the right musical act). But still, put that shit on a Friday or Saturday night for heaven’s sake.

I’ll admit that Sydney’s nightlife is not much better (or cheaper) but at the very least, there is no one stopping us from dancing the night away nor are there any clubs that close at 1am.

That would be absurd.

 

The Hit and Miss Series #3: I Will Miss…

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The convenience of living

I honestly don’t know how I will ever catch a train again in Sydney, not after becoming so accustomed to the Japanese rail system. The ease at which you get around (once you get your head around the train map or how to use Hyperdia) is simply divine and makes taking trips anywhere is an absolute pleasure and delight. It’s something that the whole world could look at and learn from.

More than that I’ll miss riding my little pink bike around town. Man I love that thing. It’s always so amazing when it can be quicker (and nicer) to hop on your bicycle rather than take the subway. Japan is very bike friendly. Wide pathways, even in the city areas, unlimited places to park (especially if you don’t mind parking illegally) and a general acceptance for bicycle travel that Sydney will never have.

Nothing says convenience like the local コンビニ, or in my case the several local conveniences stores scattered around my house (and the rest of Japan). 7elevens, Family Marts, Sunkus’, Circle Ks and Lawsons are amazing stores that have anything you could possibly need at any hour of the day or night. I’m always glad that the closest one is only a block away. It’s also amazing to know that no matter where you go in Japan, a combini will be close at hand – especially for all your daytime/transit drinking needs.

And who could forget the convenience of vending machines! Japan is famous for it. Drink machines littering each and every sidewalk means that I will never, ever go thirsty. Now it’s just a matter of finding exactly the kind of drink I want. Hot tea? Ice coffee? Coca-cola? The machine across from my house is famous for housing Dr. Pepper, all for no more than 150 yen (A$1.50). It’s going to be a very sad day when I return to Sydney and pay $3.20 for a bottle of water at the petrol station.

Thanks Japan! I shall never forget your efforts to be the world’s most convenient place to live.

Vivaコンビニ!

The Hit and Miss Series #3: I won’t miss…

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Incorrect uses of English

While reading signs with hilarious English mistakes is one of my favourite pass times, it also inspires a lot of anger inside me. There are so many native english-speaking people living here in Japan, surely it would not kill you to run a sentence past one of them before putting it up on a sign for foreigners to laugh at. SERIOUSLY! JUST COME AND ASK US!

Actually on second thought, no. Don’t come and ask. It’s just too funny.

The Hit and Miss Series: #4 I will miss…

The Two Perfect Weeks of Spring

I am convinced that Japan really only has two seasons – the scorching, sticky summer and the wet, wallowing winter. Summer itself can start from as early as May and doesn’t finish until around late September, early October where we are greeted with a considerable drop in temperature, growing steadily colder until the middle of March.

Between March and May you will see some really wacky weather. The wackiest of the whole year as we say good riddance to the long winter and say just a little bit longer to the impending summer.

Yes, you guessed it, It’s springtime! Which means… HANAMI!

Even if you’d spent the whole of winter curled up in your tiny apartment by your tiny space heater hating Japan for it’s coldness towards you, all could be forgiven once Cherry Blossom season rolls around. While the season is only fleeting, it’s the best time of year. The weather is warm but not stifling, everyone is out drinking during the day at Hanami parties everywhere and the blossoms themselves are the essence of happiness.

I love picnics AND I love drinking during the day so even without the blossoms and the warm weather, it’s a win-win for me. Unfortunately for those not living in Japan (those of us who go to at least one Hanami party for every weekend in April), it’s hard to plan when to come to Japan to see the Cherry Blossoms as the season can be fickle and brief.

My suggestion? Just come for a whole month. Start from Kyushu and work your way up, following the blossoms as they bloom with the warm weather.

Oh day drinking, how I’ll miss you

 

The Hit and Miss Series: #4 I will NOT miss…

Lines for Sweets

Long Lines for EVERYTHING

I wrote a post a very long time ago about the Japanese obsession with waiting in line. The simple presumption being that if there is a line snaking around the corner then whatever is at the front of said line MUST be worth the wait!

No, I say. Nothing could possibly be worth waiting two hours in line for. But then again, I’m not Japanese.

Sometimes I think that it’s this simple premise that whatever’s at the end of the rainbow must be good that motivates people to jump into these exhaustive queues. But then I think, how much of this results from Japan’s collective psyche and the expectation to do exactly what everyone else is doing? Hmm, interesting but perhaps too deep for a sunny, Saturday morning. Let’s explore that idea another time.

The funniest thing about this phenomena stems from the type of things that Japanese people will wait for. Restaurants, Museums, Theme Park Rides and anything that’s been recently opened to name a few. But the one obsession I don’t think I’ll ever understand is Japanese people lining up for sweets.

Seriously, I have seen long, winding queues take up entire Shotengais just to find a small Shu-Cream (cream bun) outlet at the mouth of it. Yet there are like 5 other Shu-Cream stores on the same Shotengai. What makes this one so special? Oh it’s only just opened up? Oh it has some famous pastry chef? Oh it tastes EXACTLY LIKE EVERY OTHER SHU-CREAM EVER MADE?!

Perhaps I just don’t understand the subtle complexities of the Shu-Cream world.

Most likely I’m just the world’s most impatient person.

#sayNOtolonglines

The Hit and Miss Series: #5 I Will Miss….

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Living on my own!

While Sydney actually comes in behind Osaka on the 2012 list of most expensive cities, being able to rent a small studio apartment close to the city is more than just a pipe dream here. In Sydney, it is almost impossible for young people who are either studying or earning next to nothing to rent a place on their own. In the great city of Osaka, with the plethora of apartment complexes (especially of the Leo-palace variety) it’s easily affordable to live on one’s own. In a good area, a small one-room studio or LDK can set you back anywhere between 50000-80000 yen a month (A$135-$210 a week). Compare this to Sydney where an equally large studio with the same proximity to the city would set you back upwards of A$350 a week.

And at only $350 it’ll probably be rundown, super old or on the first floor.

Boo Sydney property market!!!

Making the conversions the other day, I worked out that I’m actually paying LESS for my studio apartment here in downtown Namba than I was for my tiny room in the apartment in Randwick I shared with six other flatmates . How crazy is that? To be working full-time, earning more money than before and paying less in rent? #irony #lifedoesnotmakesense

So what this means for me is that on returning to Sydney, I’m eventually going to find myself sharing a house with (eek!) other people! Again! Going from a solo-occupant to a flattie is going to take some minor (read:considerable) behavioural adjustments

Such as:

1. Actually doing my dishes after I’ve cooked and eaten and NOT leaving them in the sink for a week.

2. NOT dancing around the apartment with no pants/in my underwear/butt naked.

3. Cleaning the hair out of the drain/off the floor on a REGULAR basis, rather than just when I have overnight guests.

4. Considering others, especially those who DON’T enjoy music at odd times of the evening/early morning.

5. Being mindful that NOT EVERYONE enjoys hearing me sing Celine Dion ballads from the shower.

The question is, can all these crazy, solo-living behaviours be erased to make me a human fit for sharing a house with others?

Sounds like the start of an excellent sitcom.

Faster than we like but not fast enough

ByeBye

I wrote a post several months ago about time, how it can move so slowly in that days and weeks seem endless and yet months and years fly by. Before you know it, you’re coming up on two years of your life spent living and working abroad. How can such a huge chunk of one’s life seem like it lasted only a matter of seconds? Time, you continue to baffle me.

As such, I find myself in the incredible position of having only 5 more weeks left in this amazing and crazy place.

It’s been an amazing almost two years living in Japan, with more ups and downs than a functioning elevator. I’m both sad and excited, a warring of emotions inside me  that begs to be explored in print.

And so, starting next week I’ll be posting a series of blogs called “Things I will miss about Japan” followed closely by “Things I won’t be sad to leave behind”. You can look forward to one hit and one miss each week until I leave. After which I’ll be commencing a two month sojourn of the English-speaking west! (the US and the UK) fitting after spending so much time in the oriental east. Oh and a bit of Iceland and Spain thrown in just for good measure.

Then, as it happens, I’ll be returning to Sydney. I’ve missed that wonderful city more than I can currently express. I’m even looking forward to a Sydney winter – something I don’t think I’ve ever said before. Life abroad has certainly changed me.

For the better? Well, only time will tell.

Till next week