Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Intercultural has moved!

I have moved my site to Wordpress.  Please join me at:  theintercultural.wordpress.com.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sexual Harrassment Space


Now that 'sekuhara' is no longer a male right and is increasingly being considered a crime, weirdos have to pay for it at places like these.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

5 Challenges of Working for a Major English Conversation School in Japan

There are few foreigners in my neighbourhood but when I do see them it is usually in Geos, the DVD rental store.  I sometimes stop by in the evening on my way home to return a DVD that I may have shown an excerpt of in class.  Jamie Oliver is quite popular here, and the modern BBC version of Sherlock has just come out.fl

There are two kinds of foreigners in Geos.  The first is the 7-foot blonde Russian girls who drop off their DVD's on their way to work at the local hostess bars.  The second are the language school teachers.  They also work evenings.  I have never been a language school teacher although I have known a few.  They are generally recent graduates who have come to Japan for a year or two to pay off student loans.  They are generally treated appallingly badly by their employers and so return the favour by showing less than professional attitudes to their jobs.  Language schools tend to recruit young people who look more attractive to students, but they usually have no language training whatsoever except being native speakers of English.   If they recruited qualified teachers they would have to pay a living wage and benefits (many language schools don't even provide any health insurance options), and that would cut into their profits.  And English after all is a business in this country, one that it losing more and more money in the recession.

I am sometimes asked about such jobs and I found this article in Japantoday.com, '5 Challenges of working for a major english conversation school',  which may be useful.

http://www.japantoday.com/category/opinions/view/5-challenges-of-working-for-a-major-english-conversation-school/comments/popular/id/2720304

Some are the comments are interesting too.  Here are couple of excerpts:

"Taught English at Shane for 6 years. Back in the UK did Pgce and now in 2nd year of teaching. Will be back in Japan next summer with spouse to live permanently. I will be glad to teach in Japan again after the nightmare that is the British school system. Yes, school finishes at 3.30, however most evenings preperation and marking keep me at my desk until 9/10 pm. Point being that I find the "dullness" of eikaiwa quite relaxing in comparison. I feel the rewards outweigh the negatives. Frienfly keen students, reasonable salary No need to take work home. If you think management at your typical eikaiwa is overbearing and petty, try tge average UK school."


"Most of the small English schools are treating the teachers are lower than office furniture. They make contract signed that if you are dismissed the job or you resigned then you have to pay the money for a new person`s recruitment which include advertising and other expenses. And all ways make pressure or bully by so called manager.. The reality of the teaching and the advertisement or the welcome at the interview are different.. beware of it before you come to Japan. Need website to share the difficulties of each schools which people want to share..."


"teaching english" in Japan for 98% involved shud be something that is done for 1yr............2MAX!
Then get the hell out! It is seriously deadend stuff, by all means come to Japan for a bit & "teach" but unless you have the nads to open your own small school & TRULY ENJOY teaching, its best to only do for a short period so it doesnt hurt your career path or do something else in Japan!"


I think a website for foreign teachers to share information is a good idea however, the majority of foreigners who come to Japan stay for around two years and then go back to 'real' jobs.  Therefore there may not be enough people with an interest in such a site.

People sometimes ask me about teaching and life in Japan so I have interviewed a few friends and colleagues about it and I will put those interviews online soon.





Thursday, 20 September 2012

On the Road ...


I'm on the road at the moment, doing what academics do in the summer:  taking a holiday, staying in cheap hotels which don't break the research budget and going to conferences.  Mind you, I do like the Richmond chain of hotels in Japan and I applaud their efforts to save paper.  But what's with the quotes?

I'll be back soon...

Monday, 30 July 2012

High Calorie Hell!




 
I have been interviewing students prior to their departure to study abroad. They are going to the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. When I ask them if they have any worries about going abroad they always say 'food'. Foreign food is 'high calorie' and they don't want to 'gain their weight', they say.

"But there is plenty of healthy food abroad", I say, "You can find fruit and vegetables easily". But they disagree with me. 'Foreign food is bad for health and full of fat and too much meat and foreign people don't eat enough vegetables. Japanese food is the healthiest in the world'.

Actually, the mediterranean dieat is supposed to be the best in the world but I don't contradict them.

So over the 3 days that I interviewed them when I went to the combini to buy my lunch I stood behind the students and chose the same meals that they chose. Here they are.

The first is a typical obento lunch box.  It contains a portion of rice with a pickled plum and some sesame seeds on top, half a chipolata, a mini-hamburger, a slice of salmon, a fried shrimp, a potato croquette, a square of fried egg and some seaweed.  There are also some slices of sukemono (pickles) but I didn't eat them.

The second is Chinese noodles with beansprouts, spinach and half a boiled egg.  The brown sauce was soy, I think.  (It didn't taste like meat).

On the third day I cheated and bought a pumpkin salad from the deli at my local station.

All the meals were less than 500 calories.  The first two were 360 Yen.  The salad was 700 Yen.

There are very few vegetables in the first two meals and a lot of starch.  However there was also very little actual fat. 

But I think the real reason that students 'gain their weight' when they go abroad is that the portion sizes are much larger.  That, and when I ask them where they ate they always say 'MacDo'.

When one student returned recently having gained her weight, 5kg, she said that she was looking forward to eating Japanese food again.  Since she had been away during the earthquake and Fukushima incident I asked her if she had any worries about Japanese food.  She replied, "I don't care about it because if I care about it, I can't eat anything".  Which I think is the attitude of most people here now.

Me, I am getting out of this burning summer heat and flying to England where I am looking forward to rain, beer and fish and chips.  I may gain my weight ....

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sick and tired ...



Another semester draws to a close. I haven't blogged much this semester because I have been too busy, and now I am too tired. I think Japan is tired too. Sick and tired of TEPCO for a start. One of my colleagues joins the regular Friday evening protests against the restarting of the nuclear reactors. These are rarely reported in the Japanese news and even when they are, she says, police and newspapers are under-reporting the number of protestors. Last Friday she was headed over to PM Noda's district. I later heard that 170,000 protesters turned out for that one. The problem is that the government is supported - some say run - by big business so it will ignore the wishes of the people. Big business also runs the newspapers.

I am also tired because I spent five hours at the Immigration Centre yesterday trying to get my working visa renewed. This meant that I also had to get the new Resident's card which has replaced the Foreigner's gaijin card. I arrived at 10am, got to the front of the queue at 11am where I submitted my passport and old gaijin card and then waited a further 5 hours for something to happen. So did about 800 other people. There were 100 seats. I sat for 3 hours and stood for 2. The screen said the estimated waiting time was 1,876 minutes. It also said, "The direction of the following numbers comes Counter of No. 4".

I enjoyed watching the other foreigners acting according to their cultural traits. The Chinese attempted to queue-jump, the Filipinos constantly shouted to each other across the room, shouted down their phones to their friends and possibly shouted to their relatives back home in the Philippines, the Indians sat quietly playing with their children, and a German woman loudly harangued her Japanese husband who put his earphones in and refused to answer back.  The Brazilians sat in couples with their arms around each other.  Several of the foreigners were obviously working girls with their Japanese pimps (flashy suits and sunglasses indoors).  The Brits read books.

One person, apparently a man, wore a hat with a large towel hanging down underneath, a face mask, sunglasses, a neck cover, a track suit and white gloves.  You couldn't see an inch of his skin. It was very suspicious (and rather worrying in light of the recent Dark Knight shooting) but none of the officials took any notice.  How he got his Resident's card when he could not be seen, I don't know.  But I come from a suspicious culture.  Here, I often see motorcyclists withdrawing money from banks without taking their helmets off and no-one bothers.

The Immigration Centre is a bus ride away from Shinagawa station. It's right on the docks so that anyone who isn't granted a visa, can be put on the next boat out. Allegedly.   At the bus stop back to Shinagawa, Falun Gong were trying to recruit the Chinese.

Anyway, 5 hours of waiting gave me time to catch up on my reading. I have been enjoying the TEPCO report because it is so true. It is true not just for the Fukushima disaster but for the entire Japanese nation.  Anyone who wants to understand the Japanese people should read this document.

The report was written by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, professor emeritius at Tokyo University.  He says that the disaster was the result of a "multitude of errors and wilful negligence" by the government, safety officials and TEPCO.  (TEPCO who are going to put our electricity bills up by 8% from the autumn).

He writes,

"Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to 'sticking with the programme'; our groupism; and our insularity.  What must be admitted  - very painfully - is that this was a disaster 'Made in Japan'."

"We believe that the root causes were the organisational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual.  ... Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organisation that deals with nuclear power.  We found disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety".

You can apply all that to pretty much any Japanese organisation.  However, I would like to point out that it is those same cultural traits that got major roads repaired within the week. Whatever occurs, Japanese keep doing what they always do. They keep on getting up and going to work and staying late to get sometimes pointless jobs done because they have been told to do it from further up the chain of command. Which reminds me, I must write about the "Paperless Inkai".  Until tomorrow ...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

NEET Home Security


Nice to see that the students have a sense of humour regarding their poor future job prospects in this recession.

Thanks for this, Tsubasa.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Pot meet Kettle


"I think Japanese people like to look at strange things with curiousity, for example, many Japanese people look at foreign people on the train. We always look at things that are unusual in Japan. I'm one of them, but I think it's funny".

Excerpt from a Japanese student's essay. 

Backatcha.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Female Role Model

Last week in Intercultural Communication class we discussed gender issues and I put some controversial statements up for the students to discuss. Unfortunately, most students agreed with them.  Here are some of their responses.

WOMEN ARE BETTER PARENTS THAN MEN.

Yes, we are together many times.

Yes, because mother had born us.

Yes, mother usually take care of children and do housework.

Yes, I like my mother.

Yes, father doesn't stay at home most of the time.

Yes, mother knows everything about me.

Yes, mother is easy to talk.

Yes, mothers do housework to us.

Mother and children spend most time together.

Mother thinks of children more than fathers.

Yes, I tell my mother more than my father.

No, because they give me same loves.

No, both of them have good points.

No, my father lets me alone.

We can't compare them.

No, both of them are important for me.  I can't compare.


MEN ARE BETTER AT BUSINESS THAN WOMEN.

Yes, women's happiness is money.

Yes men have a power than women.

Yes, women have housework and take care of children

Women can't compartible housework and business.

Yes, men is ore powerful than women,

It is difficult for women to keep up her physical condition good.


I WANT MY FUTURE HUSBAND/WIFE/PARTNER TO BE BETTER EDUCATED THAN ME.

Yes, we like smart men.

I don't care.  We don't need educate.

We don't care because we think his character is most important point.

No, I can't grow to worse educated than me.

******************

It's very difficult to open students' eyes to the gender discrimination inherent in the Japanese cultural system.  For more on this, see my article in the Times Higher Education:

Burton, From Where I Sit - Female Role Model, Times Higher Education, 31 May, 2012. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=420106&c=1

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

More British Culture and Society Answers

The second part of my British Culture and Society final exam consists of short answer questions, some testing their knowledge while the last two are opportunities for the students to write their ideas more freely. Here are some excerpts from students' answers.


HISTORY: HOW DID ENGLISH BECOME THE MOST POPULAR LANGUAGE IN THE WORLD?

There are three reasons. First, the British Empire covered one quarter of the world and ruled over one quarter of the world's population. Next, the ships were invented in 15th century. And it was easy to go other country. Finally, England earned money from trade. So English became the most popular language.

British had many colony. Many people spoke English. British won the World War II.


CUISINE: WHY DID FISH AND CHIPS BECOME SUCH A POPULAR DISH IN ENGLAND?

Because the food that saving the working classes. Fish and chips was the cheapest food to buy. The working classes were able to buy. In addition, it sits on the stomach a while. So, they could work a long time.

Because the food that saved the working class. Fish and chips was cheapest to buy. And they could eat without circumstance. Because fish and chips are rolled by newspaper.
The dish is cheap, so the dish is saved the working class people. Also potatoes are easy to grow.

Because it was the cheapest food to buy. It can eat at street.

I think that England is surrounded by sea. Therefore, England got a lot of fish.


EDUCATION: WHAT ARE SOME DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BRITISH EDUCATION SYSTEM AND THAT OF YOUR OWN COUNTRY? WHICH DO YOU THINK IS BETTER? WHY?

Compulsory on the British education is from 5 to 16. On the other hand, Japan is from 6 to 15.

Japan has many universities, but British has a few universities. So Japan can enter the university you like.

First differences between the British education system and Japanese one is that almost British universities are state school. Second is the British universities are difficult to get in, so students motivations for study are higher than Japan. I think the British education system is better than Japanese, because Japanese universities are easy to enter so students are not study for pass the examination. Also, British women are more study hard than men are good points.

In UK, it is difficult for Britis people to enter the university. Because they have to get high level. And, the people of A level do not usually run their own entrance examination. To get into good universities they need good A level grades and to pass an interview. But Japan is different. Japan have about 800 universities. (UK is 115). So Japanese people can go to the university if they don't get high level. (Because Japanese universities are to high levels from low levels). but All people have to take entrance examination. I think Japan is good (heart symbol) Because I want to go the university even if I am stupid!

Japanse people think that after graduate high school student should go to university in the time and their parents pay a lot of money for them. However, British people has different idea. 558,1000 out of a total of 925,700 university student over 21, and 90% of student work part time. They pay school expenses by themselves. It's very good thing, because I think studen who pay by themselves study more than student who pay by their parent.

In Japan, it is easier than UK to enter university. Japanese students don't study so hard and enjoy their school life. On the other hand, It is very difficult to enter university in UK. Students in UK study very hard and there are few universities. Needless to say, UK is better than Japan. There are too many universities in Japan and that is why the entrance examination is easy.

I think Japanese education system is better, because it is freedom. I don't think that education is the most important thing for us.

Japanese system is boring because I just listen to teacher's explain and just take a notebook. However the British system, students research a topic in advance and discuss about it. I'm interested in studying by the British system than Japanese system.

I want to choose Japan, because I can choose school in many universities.

I think Japan's system's are better because when I will mother we can deposit a baby.


CLASS: WHAT IS THE BRITISH CLASS SYSTEM? WHICH CLASS WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE AND WHY?

I would like to be working class because working class people have pride like John Lennon. I would like to live with strong pride.

I'd like to be lower or working class, because I want to be a working class hero and give courage and hope to other working class people. In addition, I want to stop discrimination by classes.

I would like to be lower middle classes. I have reasons that I think so. I don't want to work hard and do jobs which require professional qualifications.

I'd like to be middle class. Middle class has various office jobs and I want to work.

I would like to be middle class because I would like to spend ordinary life.

I'd like to be the middle class. I want to have a rich life in my future. But it is not too rich means I don't want to be a princess or famous person in the world. Because there are many paparazzies around them to get gossips. I can't live with that. That's why, I'd like to be the middle class.

I'd like to middle class because I am Japanese, so I like middle one. 90% of Japanese people consider themselves to be middle class because of they work in offices. I would like to win job hunting at a office.

I'd like to be middle class people. Because I want to have a secure position.

I'd like to be middle class. Because my dream is to be a professional of tax system. If I'm upper class, I think I can be satisfied with this circumstance and I can't get achievement in my life.

I would like to be in the upper classes. I would live with comfortable, and I want use upper class languages. It sounds cool. That's why I chose it.

I would like to be upper class because upper class people look elegant, and it's just my image. Such people always enjoy riding horses.

I don't want to be the upper class, because they look like boring. I love to do job!

I want to be a upper class because, I want to have own land. So I'll get married with upper class man in British.

I'd like to be upper class because I'd like to take high education and live laxuary. Like Kate Middleton, I'd like to hold wonderful wedding.

I'd like to be Upper class because I love milk tea that's tea is more than milk.

If I were, I want to be upper class, because I want to taste elegant feeling.

High class. because I want to be a rich and I want to enjoy rich man life.


PEOPLE: IN WHAT WAYS ARE THE BRITISH DIFFERENT FROM THE JAPANESE?

British has a class system. Japanese doesn't have one.

Japanse and British are polite, but Japanese are too strict. British will be relaxed and humourous at the beginning.

In Japan, many people stand on ceremony, and humour isn't considered acceptable. In British, people are relaxed and humourous because being humourous is a skill which they must learn and become good at.

British has humour, but Japanese are very nervous.

British people try to show they are funny at first time. Japanese people try to show I am sincere people.

I think sence of humor the life is funner than Japanese. Because Japanese think 'laugh' is a humiliation sometimes. We think if a person commit a crime, we ridicule the person and his family and maybe his friend also. So the difference is a humore.

The Japanese must present a serious face especially in business, but the British have a sense of humour. So the British are always smiling. (It's my imagination).

Most of Japanese are shy, and also many Japanese don't have any beliefs to believe eagarly. In addition, the UK has class.

The Japanese have tatemae and honne. For introductions and formal situations humour is not considered acceptable. On the other hand, the British also have tatemae and honne but they will be relaxed and humourous at the beginning. They will show you their serious face when they know you better. The Japanese is serious and the British is funny!

First, British have humor. Humor is very important in UK. Second, British are diligent than Japanese. Moreover, most British have their beliefs. For example, there are drudism, protestantism.

UK is so cold, so the British take in high calorie, like so sweet snack. But the Japanese, especially women don't like high calorie food because the Japanese worry about them looks. They don't want to grow fat, always want to be a slim body especially women.

The sweets of UK are too sweet! Japan is not!
British people drink the tea many times in a day! Japan is not!

British people frequently drink tea from 4 times to 5 times per day. I think they drink it too much! I'm worried about their health. Although I don't know tea is good or bad for health, I think drinking too much tea is not good for health. I recommend that British people drink tea moderately!

Cuisine. British people had to have calories because England is a cold island country, so there are many sweet and fat cuisine.
Religion. 71% British people are christianity. Japanese believe something spiritulal, but don't believe a god very much.

In British, People do not start eating before everyone has been served. But Japanese people start eating before everyone come back to home. The manner is so wonderful. The second is the British people do not speak with your mouthfull. The manner is so graceful for me. The Japanese people don't think that.

First, beliefs. British believes in their own regions (I think they mean religions) but Japanese doesn't. British people drink 4 to 5 cups of tea in average. British have class system clearly. They love humour.

Death penalty was abolished in 1964 in Britain. But it is still executed in Japan. I disapprove of death penalty. Because even if someone killed people, we don't have a right to kill him or her. British people knew early that than Japanese people. I think that British people are superior to Japanese people in the matter of death penalty.

I think British people love their countries. Japanese people don't really like Japan.

British seem to think cultures are important.

First, appearance is different for example, hair, height. Second, food is different. British people eat sweet and oily foods.

Language, skin.

Sorry, I don't know.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

BUMS

This is an office near my house. I don't know what it's for but I'm determined to get to the bottom of it ...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

I'm back and I'm broody



When I see the prams lined up outside my supermarket I like to take a look inside because I'm feeling broody ... for a dog! This is how they roll in Japan, in their own customised dog prams. This little cutie was wearing a yellow baseball shirt.

Yes, Japan is suffering a birth dearth but there still are plenty of prams being wheeled around.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Blog Hiatus


Last June, I posted that my non-smoking sister had just been diagnosed with lung cancer at age 39. She died on February 26 this year.

I have just returned to Japan from the UK and will start posting again once the new semester starts.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

British Culture and Society Quick Questions

I teach a course called British Culture and Society. The final exam begins with 20 quick questions. These give me an idea how much of the course the students have retained. Students can refer to the weekly handouts of my PowerPoint presentations so they simply have to find the right slide to know the correct answer. Nevertheless, here are some of the students' wrong answers.

NAME THE FOUR COUNTRIES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM?

Wales, Scotland, London, Northern Ireland

WHO WROTE THE SONG 'AULD LANG SYNE'?

Richard Branson
Arthur Conan Doyle
The EIGHTES
Oasis

WHO IS THE PRIME MINISTER?

James Brown
Morris Dancer

WHO WROTE THE SHERLOCK HOLMES' STORIES?

Agatha qulisty
Agatha Christie
Connan Doile
Konan Dyle
Conan Doil

WHO INTRODUCED CHRISTIANITY TO BRITAIN?

Christians (no, he didn't get a point for being a smart arse)
Saint Patrick
Agath christie
Anglo-Saxons
King Henry VII
Charles the first
Agatha Christie
Patrick
Maurice

WHICH EXPENSIVE BUT POPULAR FOOD ITEM WAS GROWN IN THE WEST INDIES?

Laverbread
Eggs or milk
Cheese
Fish and Chips

WHAT LANGUAGE DID WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR BRING TO ENGLAND IN 1066?

Viking words
Viking words: old Norse
English
Anglo-Saxon language
Latin
He brought the language of the ruling classes.

DOES THE UNITED KINGDOM HAVE THE DEATH PENALTY?

No,he doesn't.

HOW MANY WIVES DID HENRY VIII have?

One.
two
5 wives
8
He had 9 wives.
twelve
seven
He had 7 wives.
12
9

(From last year's paper) WHAT EVENT WILL TAKE PLACE ON 29TH APRIL 2011?

It is Showa Emperor's birthday. (This is technically true although the Showa Emperor died in 1989. And he wasn't British.)

Some short answer questions tomorrow.

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Four Seasons Hotel at Chinzan-so, Tokyo



Most Japanese universities run orientation weekends for their new students. Such weekends are supposed to help students to bond with each other and to foster group loyalties: to the school, the faculty, the seminar teacher. I've been on a fair few of these, mostly to Nazi-run mountain retreats where I have enjoyed hiking the trails while my seminar students dawdle behind me moaning about how it's too far and too hilly and too 'outside'. And the panic that sets in when they can't get a phone signal ...

Last year, however, the first-year retreat was cancelled because our university's orientation venue is a Hawaiian resort in ... Fukushima. At that time, you had to get official permission to enter any of the disaster zones and you needed special government-issued chitties to be able to buy petrol there. So that trip was obviously out of the question. Instead, on Monday, all first-year students were treated to a table manners lesson and lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel, Chinzan-so.

Each teacher was seated at a table with a group of students, presumably to encourage conversation although I found it had the opposite effect, especially as I don't teach first-years and didn't know any of them. The students were extremely intimidated by the opulence of the ballroom and the rows of silver cutlery and tended to speak to their friends in hushed whispers, or else they sat in cowed silence. The table manners teacher, a manager from the Four Seasons I think, taught us that we should make light conversation and I did my best in both languages but by the soup course I was exhausted from having to hold a conversation largely with myself. So I suggested that we photograph our food (see above). Japanese young people are not the best conversationalists, especially since many Japanese are told that it is rude to speak at meal times or in the presence of someone of higher rank. Hence, I had to make all the conversation.

We started with seafood 'audible', it said in katakana which I assumed was French until on the train home I was reading the table manners booklet we had been given and discovered that it was Japanese for 'Hors d'Oeuvres.' Then there was soup, a fish course and a meat course with a grapefruit sherbet in between to cleanse the palate, then coconut and pineapple parfait with cocktail fruits, and a macaroon with the university's name and logo on it.


Watching the students pick up each item of cutlery was like the moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey when the ape wields the bone. And they had no idea what to do with the fish knives. I demonstrated although I have to say that I can't use a fish knife because I am left-handed and I have never come across a left-handed fish knife. At this point I think we would all have liked to have been given chopsticks. It is actually easier to eat fish with chopsticks.


The student next to me jumped when the waiter leaned in to offer bread rolls. There was a whispered discussion then one student asked me when they were supposed to eat the rolls. And their faces when, having got one roll out of the way, the waiter leaned in and put another one on their plates! The same thing happened when they finished their fruit juices. I told them they could just leave what they didn't want. "You mean it is OK to waste food?" They asked. I explained the idea of leaving a little on your plate to show that you had eaten enough but they weren't keen on the idea, even though several of the women at my table did not particularly like the food. One hated seafood. "But you are Japanese", I said. "How can you survive?" But looking at her I thought it was touch and go. Japan is the only first-world country where the birth weight of babies and of women is actually decreasing. But when I watched the women at the table just playing with their food, tasting a bit and making a face, I could believe it. And it was nouvelle cuisine. Each course was tiny. The only course they all finished was dessert.

The waiters reappeared and took orders for tea or coffee. The woman next to me said, "Anything is OK" which is the standard Japanese answer. In polite society your host is supposed to be attentive to your needs and provide what you want without you having to make any difficult choices. I have been to family dinners where friends have had to stop their mothers from piling food onto my plate by shouting, "She's a foreigner! She can choose for herself! Let her decide what she wants!" Anyway I said to the student that was OK to choose something but in the end she chose nothing. The woman on my other side chose tea but sat and stared at it like it was hemlock.

"Do you often go out for meals like this?" I asked the students, but they all said, no, that this was the first time in their lives they'd had such a meal, which surprised me. In Europe, we pick up good table manners as children and I hadn't thought there was much to learn about western-style dining. I was wrong. To the uninitiated it is an etiquette nightmare.


At the end of the meal, I asked them if they had enjoyed themselves and they said they would much rather have gone to Fukushima. But me, I loved it. And afterwards, I took a walk in Chinzan-so, the garden attached to the hotel. I hear that the Shangri-La is supposed to be the best hotel in Tokyo. I think the Four Seasons would come a close second. It's just a pity it is rather far from any of the main shopping or tourist centres.



Saturday, 28 January 2012

Snow Days

(Preview of the panoramic view I'm going to have when S Building falls down and takes my office wall with it.)

Hello and a belated happy new year. For the first time in years I went back to the UK for Christmas. I didn't want to advertise the fact that my apartment was empty so I didn't blog. I don't actually know anyone who has been burgled in Japan, in fact I know many people who leave their doors unlocked when they go out. When I ask why they say that if anyone stops by they don't want them to have to wait outside because that would be bad manners. Still, apologies to those people who wrote and asked where I had gone. (I had gone to the Marks & Spencer sale for new velour trackie bottoms).


Now I am back in Japan and looking forward to a more upbeat 2012 albeit one without peppers, peaches, courgettes, carrots or spinach, all of which are in my supermarket right now but all of which are from Fukushima. And people are buying them. A Japanese colleague - the one who said that Japan was 'not like before' - also said that Japanese people 'feel it's our fault if we don't want to buy' things from the affected areas, like they're letting the side down. If they want to take the risk that is fine - the chances of adults becoming ill are apparently small - but they are also feeding the stuff to their children. You may have read of the Meiji milk incident where the company was forced to admit - after a consumer did their own testing and then made a complaint - that their baby formula contained radioactive Cesium 134 and 137.


And now we hear that there is a 70% chance of a 7 in Tokyo some time in the next 4 years. I think it may be sooner. I had just got into my Lush Vanilla Fountain bath last week - the night of the Chinese New Year as I recall - when all the water began to slosh from side to side and the shampoo bottles fell over but I refused to get out because it is freezing cold outside and the snow is still piled up at the roadsides. We had tremors just about every day last week. At one point I was talking with a student in my 9th floor office when her mobile phone quake warning alarm went off. "We are going to have an earthquake" she said and we waited. Then she dived into her bag and brought out her i-phone which said that the quake was up north again.

Yesterday I arrived at my office to find a brand new hard hat sitting on my desk. I put it on and adjusted it, and then jammed it into my locker. Not two minutes later the floor began to shake, the locker door swung open and the hat fell on the floor. Perhaps I'll keep it closer to my desk. When the next big one hits and I'm on the 9th floor of a 12 story building, that hat's going to be my first line of defence...

'S' building - which stands for Sincerity not shaky or shoddy - is being pulled down in the next couple of months, apparently before it falls down by itself according to office gossip. The word is that it is no longer quake-proof. It has a lot of hairline cracks running along the corridors and it abuts one wall of my office which has a wide crack in it too which seems to be getting wider the longer I stare at it (the crack not noticeably my office). I imagine myself sitting at my desk (with my hard hat on) during a quake and suddenly finding myself with a panaromic view of western Tokyo.


Now to the chores. I was woken up before 8am this morning by a cluster of little quakes so I got up and vowed to get all my errands done before the next Big One. Then I had a cup of tea and went right back to bed.