The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 27 July 2007

Random musings about Japanese things

Tsukareta (tired)! Cleaning, some packing (still have more to do), writing farewell/thank-you notes and baking lots of treats for my collegues. And I had my final sobetsukai (farewell dinner party) last night with my collegues from school (and I saw one of my favourite teachers, Kitano-sensei, who was transferred to another school in far away Wajima! :>). I will post lots of photos and blog about them when I have Rob's laptop at my disposal when he is at work next week - his laptop is so much faster.. this old laptop will be given to Kim and Richie who really needs one.

The house inspectors arrived 2 hours early on Wednesday because they were scheduled to inspect Alex's apartment next door at 2pm. I was glad I got all the cleaning done by lunchtime. Plus, I was relieved that I'd asked Kami-sensei to come a few hours early to help me mend one of the shoji screen (it was still being mended when the inspectors came, but at least Kami-sensei was around). And them turning up unexpectedly meant that I didn't have time to build the nerves and paranoia up in my head about whether or not I'd get a full refund of my deposit (a hefty sum of 135,000yen). This is my first Japanese house inspection, and I must admit it was kinda strange - they took photos of everything (the closet space weren't very tidy :P). Other than that, it went well.

Here's a photo of the shoji on the floor, awaiting for the glue to dry.

I have a lil time on my hands, since I woke up at 04:50 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep.. I still have quite a bit of packing to do and have to do a few things with this laptop before giving it away (backing it up, deleting and setting up new accounts etc etc) before my flight later this afternoon, but I thought that since I'm moving to begin yet another chapter in my life, I'd reflect on what I've learnt since arriving in Japan in August last year (I won't go into what I've done since I've chronicled it in this livejournal).

This last year, I've observed the Japanese habit and way of segregating everything into seasons and categories. For example, winter food like noodle soups and nabemono (hotpots) are only for winter, and summer sweets like warabi mochi are only for summer. Which is understandable, but what if you're craving for some nabe in summer or some cool sweets in winter? It's considered strange if you do anything outside of its season. Another season-related observation: people really (and I mean really) look forward to sakura (cherry blossom) seaason - April is when the year begins; towns and cities plan their events and festivals based on the meteorology's cherry blossom forecast; hordes of people all over Japan (and the world) flock to the prettiest gardens during this period; and food and sweets revolve around the cherry blossoms - eg only during this period can you get sakura mochi and yummy sakura-flavoured baked goods. Another thing that is segregated is food by age. Children's food are for children, so if you're an adult and eating an ice cream without any accompanying children, you will be thought of as okashi (strange).

That said, this Japanese habit of separating things is not really a bad thing - it shows that the Japanese are very disciplined. For example, they are really hard workers, but outside of work/school they sure know how to have fun! The matsuri is a great prime example of that. And I've had my fair share of enkais to see normally reserved collegues let loose after a bit of eating and drinking.

I thought I'd also give a list of 5 will miss/won't miss things about the Noto (it's not in any particular order, just as it comes to my head):

Will miss: The awesome matsuri (festival) experience, and superbly fresh seafood.
Won't miss: ... (the food is pretty awesome here) ...

Will miss: Being treated special because of gaijin status.
Won't miss: Being stared at because of gaijin status.
(these not so much when I'm by myself because my appearances blend in, but mostly when I'm with Rob)

Will miss: My girl students going "Kawaii" (cute/pretty) to things I wear, say or do.
Won't miss: The Kawaii culture here in Japan can sometimes be a little OTT.

Will miss: Boy students' wide-eyed wonder and "Uso!" (lie) when I answer that I ride to school on my bike from Ukawa.
Won't miss: It takes freakin' long just to get anywhere.

Will miss: New students wondering "Who is this person that can speak English so fluently?
Won't miss: People mistaking me for a Japanese teacher in the staffroom and starts talking to me in Japanese.

Will miss: Being surrounded by beautiful nature, and I love the summer sounds here - birds tweeting, cicadas chirping and various other 'summer' sounds.
Won't miss: The abundance of bugs. Now, I like bugs, just not in my house! How the heck do they get in anyway? I hate killing bugs unnecessarily (also because dead things grosses me out more than live ones) but nowadays I don't have any qualms about sqooshing them if I find any inside the house.

Will miss: Simple things like taking out my camera to take photos of food, and collegues admires my camera and asks about it (happened last night).
Won't miss: How difficult it is to get some stuff out here in the countryside.

Anyway, I really need to get back to it. Hopefully this will be a good enough read for my readers (if there are any...) until my next post!


  1. Wow ... what an experience! I hope to do JET one day too, though it'll probably be later rather than sooner. It just sucks that they start the program in the middle of the year instead of the start of the year.
    How strange that they are so strict when it comes to food! Did you follow with what the customs over there were?

  2. Its so nice to miss places and food and thing...I want to miss Perth already...but unfortunately it doesn't seem like its gonna happen anytime soon :S

  3. Hi myrial_pearls,
    I would encourage you to go on the JET program - it's a great way to explore Japan, and it's a nice-paying job with lots of benefits for fresh uni grads.
    Food is a big culture in Japan. It's amazing how food-centric they are. When I cook at home, I can't say that I follow the customs (for eg, as much as how refreshing cold noodles can be in summer, I like my noodles hot, y'know?). But when it comes to eating out, or buying food, then I have to go with what's in season.
    Speaking of what's in season, I love summer fruits! The peaches are so d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s! Expensive in Japan, but hey, it's worth it :) The quality of fruits in Japan are pretty good, whereas I've found that fruits in Perth have been kinda hit-and-miss in the past couple of years, especially with stone fruits.

  4. I always say - don't delay doing the things you can do now :) Back in Perth, one of my fears was delaying the exploration of the world until I was too old and 'settled' to wanna do it..
    Funny thing, someone on the plane on my Friday flight to Tokyo asked if I miss Perth - I said no, because I like to travel. I wonder if I will miss the Noto?
    Life is too short to experience everything!