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… Continue reading Still Learning


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.’… Continue reading Discipline


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… Continue reading Driving


“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.… Continue reading Unemployed


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,… Continue reading Environment


I had little patience for cyclists. Most people have mamachari – the ladies bikes with baskets on the front – just for getting to the station or shops and back. So cyclists have all the rights of pedestrians as well as the rights of vehicles, but most people stick to the footpaths. I’d been hit… Continue reading Cycling


Chauvinism is only the visible surface in the Japanese culture. Outwardly, it’s a very male dominated society where men work and women look after the home. In a traditional relationship, the women walk behind the men. My father had seen an example of this at the station where he watched a man, seemingly oblivious of… Continue reading Chauvanism


Pride is the factor that makes it impossible for a gaijin to really integrate into Japan. Most Japanese take pride in having a gaijin friend, but we’re usually seen as a kind of pet – a mascot. We’re proof that the Japanese are superior because we make mistakes and fail to understand the Japanese culture.… Continue reading Pride


All the men and boys wore business suits, most of the women were in elegant western dresses and older ladies and girls wore kimono. “Which is the couple?” “They don’t come until everyone else has arrived.” As if on cue, the groom entered the room in a commanding short, white kimono with divided martial hakama… Continue reading Wedding


A couple of hours later, we were in a ski shop in Osaka where Kayo was trying on various boots. The shop assistant was very knowledgeable and helpful, explaining how long the board should be, what shape she’d need for downhill as opposed to freestyle, and the benefits of ‘step-in’ bindings. Typical of the Japanese… Continue reading Snow