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Humour and Culture

Not everyone understands the Australian sense of humour. Sometimes it’s even beyond Australians. Some of my countrymen have complained about the Prime Minister’s recent video declaring that the end of the world is nigh. In one case, a mother of a young autistic man has had to convince her son that the Mayan calendar can’t influence the physical world and the seemingly authoritative video didn’t help. Aside from a few such cases, most Australians love the fact that […]

By |21st December 2012|Australia, China, Japan|0 Comments

Pedestrian Collisions

Until I moved to Europe, I assumed that people randomly chose the direction they moved to avoid oncoming pedestrians. In Belgium, I found myself stepping to the same side of the footpath as my counterpart almost every time. It didn’t take me long to realise that I always stepped to my left while they stepped to their right, and that both of us stepped to the side that we drive on in our home countries (right in Africa, Europe and the Americas, left in Japan, India and the UK).

Looking back, I’d rarely had […]

By |10th February 2012|Australia, Belgium, Japan|0 Comments


2011 has been a big year for me. In March, my first book Dragon Bones was released in Hong Kong. In May it was released in the US. In June, I moved into my new flat – the first place of my own that I’ve ever lived in. It’s right on the train line, but it’s large and the sound proofing is excellent. A few weeks ago I submitted my thesis on culture in virtual teams that completes my

By |31st December 2011|Australia, Bhutan, Japan|0 Comments

Earthquake Gets Personal

I only experienced one significant earthquake when I lived in Japan. Five years after the famous Kobe earthquake, I was sitting at my desk on the 17th floor of a 30-story office building on a reclaimed island just off the Kobe coast. The building I was in had been evacuated after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, but had been deemed safe for occupation two years later. Wherever I pulled up the false floor to check […]

By |16th March 2011|Japan|0 Comments

Still Learning

My life here has been rich, but the country seemed determined to make me regret leaving. I was drafting a letter – which would form the basis for this chapter – in my head one afternoon on the way into Sannomiya when, on boarding the train, I found that the driver had left the blind up between his compartment and ours. I’d never seen this before and spent the trip watching both the driver and the person standing beside him, who appeared to be a trainee. Every twenty seconds or so, the driver would raise his gloved right hand, […]


Towards the end of my stay, I came home to find a tent set up in the empty block next door. “It’s Takeshi’s punishment,” I was told, though not what the crime was. “He has to sleep outside for three nights.”

‘Cool,’ I thought. ‘Not much worry about curfews if you’re sleeping in a tent.’ It was set up quite comfortably with a futon and a cassette deck, but apparently Takeshi didn’t like it. When I came home the following day, the tent was gone.

“He was too scared to stay outside,” Okaasan told me, laughing, “so he came inside at […]

It’s Not Wrong

“It’s not wrong – it’s different.”

Three years ago I sat on a plane to Japan repeating that mantra. I was on my way to start a new life in a foreign world – an expatriate Australian in the confused traditional / modern world I’d come to love – and knew that the phrase was essential to my survival. Already speaking the language and having lived there before, I had perhaps a better start than others, but I knew it would be a challenge. This would be my first time working in a company, my first time living on […]

By |9th September 2001|Japan|0 Comments


I pulled up at a set of traffic lights – red, yellow and blue lights laid horizontally – and waited until they turned blue, then began to pull out. Another car screamed across our path, horn tooting, and I remembered that traffic rules in Japan are considered more as guidelines than obligations. Nagoya is famed as the city with the highest rate of car accidents and I recall cowering in the back seat on a number of occasions when Okaasan drove through lights up to thirty seconds after they’d turned red, or drove down the wrong side of the […]


“It’s so unfair,” said Kayo, breaking the silence. “It’s not my fault that the economy is bad at the moment.”

“You’ve been with the same company for seven years. Maybe it was time to move on, anyway.”

“That’s not the way it works in Japan. We’ve been brought up to be loyal to the company. It’s like joining a new family, and we’re supposed to be part of it for life. We work hard for the company and it looks after us.”

That attitude was changing. When the bubble burst in the nineties, many companies and businesses were shut down, leaving people […]


The rock walls rose steeply on either side of us, and the river gently pushed us towards the rapids ahead. There was time enough to get back to the raft and prepare for those when we got closer. For now, the members of the hiking club were free to float in the clear, blue water, looking at the sky, the rocks and the sandy riverbed.

“So this is what a river is supposed to look like.”

I turned to see Okada-san’s wistful expression, and felt my own eyes brim.

“You know,” she continued, “I always wanted to travel overseas, just to see […]

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