The calm before the storm

A strange day

The Japanese are known for having many cultural rules and procedures that they often ignore when convenient- and living in Japan I know this quite well.

One of the more known rules is the request for silence on trains “to provide a comfortable atmosphere for other passengers” according to Kintetsu that is. But today from Tsu train station to Nabari train station (which is about 60 km or around an hour by train), and including a transfer at Ise-Nakagawa it was silent. Eerily silent.

What made this slightly worse, is that all trains were packed more than usual for a Friday night- as people were travelling straight home without the customary drinking sessions. This is to say ALL trains including limited express trains.

Today, Japan is holding its’ breath. There is cancellation of train services, flights, busses etc across Japan and even lines like the Kintetsu are considering the possibility of suspending services for “safety reasons”, but what actually got me worried was the announcement of this update in English. Most information, detailed information that is, is usually kept in Japanese.

This combined with the silent eery journey on the way back- where everyone was looking worried- has caused me to double check my bug-iut bag. I’ve never felt this paranoid about a Typhoon before.

But why are so many people worried?

This typhoon- number 19 (keeping with the Japanese theme or 台風第19号) is the largest of the year so far, its is extremely strong, set to potentially land in major urban areas, and has the potential to cause country-wide problems.

Additionally, warning about it are ALL over social media, the news, TV, in stations etc. There are many companies that are suspending workdays tomorrow and are advising to only go out if needed- advice I will be following.

The cherry on top for me, was watching people taking supplies home with them. Prior preparation and planning may prevent poor performance but if all Japanese people are doing it, that just worries me- they seem to like to wing it.

Stay safe all, gather supplies and know where your evacuation areas are.

Thank you for reading and stay safe.

Opinion: the subtle insult

The Japanese will never say it, implications are a different matter

It’s late and I’m just waiting for the train back from work and being slightly lazy, I bought a healthy bento from a convenience store.

I may have had difficulty finding my wallet so I explained in Japanese that’s hidden at the bottom (I was right) and the assistant just chuckled.

She then gave me a fork for a salad, which is normal. I know this was not intended as an insult but it got me thinking.

How do the Japanese show their displeasure at someone? How do they show their displeasure at someone who may not speak Japanese?

One way is the automatic giving of a knife or fork in lieu of chopsticks or giving you water instead of tea when going to a restaurant. These subtle actions are their way to differenciate those accepted or seen to be accepted and those who are not.

There even more subtle gestures, the standing up to get off at the next station extra early when you sit down, the automatic “English no” when you say すみません or excuse me.

There’s an overview of subtle Japanese gestures and there are many more besides.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Consumption tax: environmental consequence

The 2% increase has a knock-on effect

A set meal (with added plastic…)

 On midnight on October 1st, consumption tax in Japan increased by 2% for some products. This has mostly affected ‘luxuries’ including alcohol, tobacco and sit in meals.

The last one has had strange effects, Japan Today reports that supermarkets have removed benches as they don’t want to be seen as a sit-in eatery and thus people are required to pay an extra 2% (how this would work after checking out I don’t know).

While watching a daytime talk show at the gym (strange I know), they were reporting that many people are now getting food to go rather than sit in. Personally, this seems a bit petty. For example, if you order 牛丼 (ぎゅうどん-gyuudon) or a beef bowl with rice, it may cost 380 JPY to go or 387 JPY to sit in. That saving of seven yen has resulted in more and more people getting their food to go instead of sitting in. This has resulted in further use of single use plastics as bowls, wrappings for chopsticks, wrappings for serviettes etc.

Or simply put, a saving of seven yen may help your wallet, but it may further destroy the environment.

What can be done? There would need to be a change of customer service culture in Japan and an attitude change towards sustainability i.e. allowing the use of reusable containers. Such changes are coming extremely slowly- so don’t expect miracles.

For the moment, plastic is king in Japan- the environment is second.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Opinion: you couldn’t make this up

Cultural experience day on 6th of October

As I am catching the train to get to work, I see a poster for Iga International friend association fair this Sunday, which seems like a bit of fun. So I pickup a leaflet and start checking it out.

Under the section which highlights some of the things you can do, there is the usual international offerings: calligraphy, making badges, wear different national costumes, smoking experience…. You read that correctly. As the leaflet was in more than one language, I make sure I understood the English correctly and the Japanese clearly states: 煙道体験 endotaiken.

Once again smoking seems to take, literally, central stage in a cultural experience. Hopefully when I go, it’ll be at least informative and not “look at me smoking, aren’t I cool?” type of vibe.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Axtos gym

A good gym for the price?

I will say I am a member of Axtos gym under the anytime plan with insurance. The reason why I say this is that it costs me just over 10,000 JPY a month to go (and I may have been quite bad in the last month…). But is Axtos worth it?

Axtos offers several levels of membership from daytime (mornings), anytime, professional, to evenings and weekends only. It is a strange system, but the most basic package is 7000 JPY (for daytime), and each additional time that you can go, increases the price. Insurance is an extra 500 JPY a month- but you do get a discount card for quite a few places across Japan.

Axtos in Nabari has a swimming pool, free weights, cardio equipment, Sauna, and general weight training equipment. But there is one VERY importance difference compared to western gyms- etiquette.

You arrive to the gym in whatever footwear you desire, then take them off, put them into a shoe locker and go to the changing room. You only put on your training shoes once you enter the exercise area- want to do yoga or use the mats? Take off your shoes. Forgot something in the locker room? Take off your shoes.

This is a classic example of inside and outside culture in Japan but more likely at Axtos is for hygiene reasons.

The last bit of etiquette is that you are expected to clean any equipment you use (and clean well). This is one policy I wish all gyms in the UK followed so strictly.

Do I enjoy going? Yes, I love it (I’m known as the foreigner who goes to Axtos). Do I think there could be more equipment and weights- definitely? Why haven’t I gone? Lazy/ I did not go with an injured foot (didn’t stop working out without the gym though). Is it the best gym in the world and 100% worth the money- I’ll use the German word Jein (yes and no). Why haven’t I changed gym then?

Nabari doesn’t have much choice and it is the best and most convenient gym in this area.

Overall, (this will sound strange) I would continue to go even if there was another gym. All the staff are professional, I have had some brilliant conversations with people- and seeing a 60-year-old do full on yoga when you cannot touch your toes is humbling. DO I wish it was cheaper, of course but the price ensures that I go (ignoring the last month).

My one word of caution, Japanese only. But if you do have a Japanese friend who’s a member and they refer you, you’ll get a 1000 JPY gift card- it’s a little something at least!

When will I go back? I’m there now- go health month!

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Japan’s true plague: Alcohol

To drink or to drink, there seems to be no question

The alcohol section at a convince store

Today is the start of the consumption tax increase- which seems to have so many people worried, but I, personally, am wondering will there be an effect on Japan’s systemic drinking culture.

For those of you who were wondering, alcohol addiction is in Japanese (it has a word at least) and it’s: 飲酒癖 in-shu-heki or drink-alcohol-habbit- a 101 of word formation as it were.

The first thing to note about Japan is that it is NOT morally wrong to drink- there has never been a cultural nor religious argument against it, so it is accepted. This can be seen by the myriad of drunks getting on trains, drinking wherever they would like and the common availability of alcohol to those over 20 (we’ll ignore the alcohol vending machines where anyone can by unlike the cigarette vending machines that require a TASPO card).  

Please note, the following information has been taken from the 2016 WHO Alcohol consumption report on Japan with tourist figures removed from the final results.

In terms of pure alcohol Japan consumes the following per capita in drinkers only:

  litres
Males (15+) 19.0
Females (15+) 6.6
Both sexes (15+) 14.1

Please note that most beers in Japan are 5% per 500 ml- so each can has 25ml of pure alcohol. Therefore, if a male were to just drink beer, that equates to 760 beers annually or 63 a month or 16 a week or 2.2 a day. With beer set a about 700 JPY for a 6 pack, that is a massive 88,000 JPY a year or 815 USD.

But the WHO has an even more telling statistic: abstainers- those who have not drunk at all within a set time period. The following table shows the percentages of the entire population who did not drink in 2016:

  Males (%) Females (%) Both sexes (%)
Life Abstainers 4.3 13.7 9.1
Former drinkers* 24.4 42.6 33.8
Total 28.7 56.3 43.0

*’Former drinkers’ was defined by those who have not drunk within the last 12 months.

With a populate on 127 million in 2016, and 48.85% of that being males (world population review),

the total of males who drank alcohol in Japan (out of a male population of 62 million) was just over 44 million males, and 28 million female drinkers which is a total population of 72 million drinkers- more than the entire population of the UK in 2019.

Question 1: does Japan have a drinking problem just based on numbers?

Based on this number alone, it seems to be the case, but what about the numbers of heavy drinkers? There is one more statistic to look at and that is the prevalence of heavy drinking and I will only look at drinkers within the alcohol drinking population not the average for the population.

  Drinkers only (aged 15+) %
Males 53.0
Females 20.3
Both sexes 40.0

But what does this mean- this table looks at the percentage of the drinking population that have drunk more than 60 g of alcohol on at least one occasion in the last month. To use numbers to highlight this further:

Of the 44 million males that drink in Japan, over 23 million have drunk heavily within a month. Of females this is significantly lower at only 5.6 million heavy drinkers. This equates to 28.8 million people regularly drinking excess amounts of alcohol.

Out of the entire Japanese population, this is representative of 23% of the total population drinking excess amounts of alcohol.

What is Japan doing to compact this?

Firstly, drink manufactures like Suntory, Sapporo etc have pages on their websites dedicated to drinking smart. There are taxes on alcohols and government sponsored support available for those who seek it. However, alcohol is readily available and can be drunk wherever one pleases. There is no regal restriction on alcohol advertisement or placing and you can readily but 3 litre sake boxes at the supermarket.

It is a problem that will not disappear anytime time soon.

Thank you for reading and I hope you have a bit more knowledge on another of Japan’s plague.

Happy exploring.

One of the main sources for this article: https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/profiles/jpn.pdf?ua=1

Review: Club sega

A nice distraction but don’t expect to win

Club sega is your typical Japanese arcade with UFO machines (offering the chance to win figures and food), medal games (slot machines using metal tokens), music games, classical arcade games, and photo stickers.

While there is a lot, arcades like this are almost systemic in Japan. While gambolling in Japan is illegal, there is room for interpretation with pachinko, slots and arcades.

The club in Nabari is nothing special- but it doesn’t need to be. Nabari is in the 田舎(INAKA- or country side), and while there is a generalisation that such places don’t have much- it can be true for Nabari.

All-in-all, it’s a bit of fun, but make sure that it stays that way- set a budget before arrival and stick to it- I stuck to 1000 JPY (and I didn’t win anything) and while I could have spent more, you need to be aware of how much things generally cost. If I won a figure I wanted, it may have cost 5000 JPY to win but I could buy it for 1500 JPY. It’s all about what’s more important to you: winning no matter the cost (literally) or balancing a bit of fun with the change of winning.

I much prefer watching people play on YouTube while they waste their money.

If you go have fun but be warned.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

English speaking learnt I have not?

Random English use in Japan: part 1

Japan has a fascination with foreign languages – most noticeable its use on everyday products. There are many such examples and I could dedicate the blog to bad English use in Japan- but that would get repetitive. I will however choose weird use, while not necessarily bad, you must question why this was chosen.

The first picture features a lovely phrase on a recycling container. Grammatically it is fine, but the message is a little existential for a recycling container. “Would you like to review what your life should be…?”- where shall I begin?

Firstly, “like to review”, think over your life and evaluate it but do nothing? Or review your live and put an implement an action plan to have the live you want? Next, “what your life should be”, is okay but wouldn’t “where you life should be up to”, read a bit better or as the message is trying to say “are you happy with your lot in life?”

Regardless of this, it’s a recycling bin- why are such questions being asked on this to people who most lively will not understand the English on it?

Grammar my old friend please come back to Japan again….moving on. “Today’s schedule with [a] smile”, is okay but what about tomorrow’s schedule or next weeks etc? It seems a little bit fixed in addition to this, there is no theatre in Nabari so there’s that problem.

Or does the schedule consist of cleaning and that’s it- which is a slightly darker look on Japanese households. Also, are you supposed to check once completed? The message is a bit confused.

These 2 are just the start of a series of Japenglish to come, in addition to Japench (Japanese French) which is usually used correctly.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring  

Opinion: the decline of Daiso

Know as Japan’s dollar store, but should it be?

Daiso I known to many as being the epi-centre of all things cheap. From Electronics, to cosmetics, food, DVDs etc. It has it all.

Additionally there are many YouTube videos that feature tag lines such as “I buy dollar store makeup”, “I buy food from the dollar store” (note: if you want to see how prolific this is, just search ‘daiso’ on YouTube- the hits DO NOT END).

But the problem is that not all items are 100 JPY, some are 300, 400, 500 or higher and that is my first problem- it is NOT a dollar store nor is it as true 百円ショップ (ひゃくえん-100 yen)shop and It never claims to be- despite so much western media attention depicting it as that.

Another problem is that, while they have a good selection, shopping there makes you feel cheap or to put it a different way- it’s 100 yen, I suppose I can buy it at that price. Which is NOT how you want to feel shopping, it should be more “I can’t believe that it is only 100 yen”. Additionally, some items are of a poor quality which makes you as a very basic question- what am I buying.

But is there an alternative?

Of course, its Japan at the end of the day. My favourite and true 百円ショップ is Seria which to put briefly here (as the review is to come), seems to have much better quality of stock, has themed sections and displays, is always busy (having a lot of other people in a store helps your confidence when buying), and most importantly everything is actually 100 JPY + tax (so 108 JPY at time of writing).

Opinion: Fiore Maede Casa Florist

Here’s a little that’ll grow on you

Occasionally when you look around your apartment, it just looks a bit empty. There’s something missing- I take it you know what I mean?

I went a little out of my way this week to Aeon Town Iga Ueno (イオンタウン伊賀上野) in Iga-city and while there I noticed a florist and immediately, I knew what was missing.

I went in and there was a good selection and the arrangements were also quite spooky- it is coming up to Halloween after all. The plants (the important bit) were looked after and the attendant was extremely friendly and happy for me to take a photo (the important bit!). Additionally, it is very reasonably priced (the most important aspect).

The chain of florists are all located in Mie Prefecture (三重県―みえけん) in three cities: Matsusaka (松阪市), Tsu (津市), and Iga (伊賀)- so there are quite clustered together.

If your close to one and you have a need for a nice plant- either indoor, outdoors or flowers for a grave, please check it out- it is definitely worth a visit.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.