Japanese Sleeping Hours

A big differences I have seen between Australians and Japanese people is their perspective on sleeping. You can see this difference in high school. High school students in Japan are told that they only need five hours sleep each night. They are told that if they are getting more than five hours sleep a night, then they are not studying hard enough. This may make an Australian high school student wonder “How much time do they have to study each night?” That is because Australian high school students finish school between 3 and 4 pm. Japanese high school students don’t get home until around 7.30pm. That gives them an hour to eat dinner, an hour to have a bath, an hour to relax and then two or three hours to study.

Why Japan doesn’t care about Godzilla anymore

Why Americans just don’t get Godzilla

 

There are so many different titles I could give this article. So I settled on two. By the end of this article you should know why I say those two things. First up, let’s look at the Godzilla films and the others of its genre. The most important thing to know about these films is when they were made and where the Japanese psyche was at. They were made in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Otherwise known as post war Japan. A time when the Japanese people were rebuilding their nation after a defeat so crushing that crushing doesn’t actually cover it. A complete and utter defeat. They also found themselves without an army right next to two large famously aggressive communist blocks and an ally swearing to protect them that had only just destroyed their nation killing millions and levelling several cities. Sound familiar? It should, it happened recently enough that people who experienced it are still alive. It should also sound familiar if you know your Godzilla.

Let’s look at the Godzilla premise. A giant nuclear power unfeeling monstrosity that just comes in and crushes the shit out of everything. The Japanese army are always depicted as being totally useless against it. The creature mindlessly destroys regardless of threat posed. Now you may say something about how Godzilla is just traveling to its birthing place but that’s an American add-on. It’s not in the original. Godzilla comes in and just wrecks the place. The creature comes from an island of similarly nuclear powered monsters. It comes to Japan after some Japanese people first visit this island. Pearl Harbour much? The first half of all of these films is reliving the destruction of Japan at the hands of America. Yes, that’s right, Godzilla is America. Which is why I say that Americans don’t get Godzilla. There is also always a tipping point. This tipping point usually came right after a scene involving children in some way, often times them singing as a choir. The most innocent people you can get in a war. The Monster then becomes the defender against some other monster. Which is where post war Japan comes in. The other monsters are China and the Soviet Union and right in the middle of the fight is innocent Japan full of singing children and old people. These movies are both an enactment of Japan’s worst fears at the time; World War 3 with their nation as the battle ground; and coming to grips with having to rely on the nation responsible for dropping two nuclear bombs on them as well as completely burning Tokyo to the ground as their possible saviour in times of crisis. Note Godzilla always swims off into the sunset at the end. While Japan rebuilds itself from the ruins.

Fast forward to now. This story isn’t relevant to Japanese people anymore. Or I should say it served its purpose. It helped facilitate social recovery. Through it Japan was able to express its fears and doubts for the future and build an economic power house. Interestingly enough the prospect of World War 3 has risen again. There is a lot of discussion in Japan about a possible China versus the US war and the same fears are rising again that Japan will be right in the middle of it. In this climate you’d think that perhaps a Godzilla film would be just the ticket except that the complete destruction of a city is a distant memory. Something you learn in school. A place you visit with a museum that is incredibly depressing, awesome but incredibly depressing. Godzilla is not the monster / hero Japan wants right now.

Given all this it really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone American made homages to this genre aren’t popular in Japan. Why would they be? Remember the US is Godzilla. Think about that. That means Godzilla is making Godzilla movies. Sounds like the singularity. Now think about how completely insensitive that is. It’s basically rubbing it in.

‘Hey, remember that time when my nation preferred the idea of civilians dying horrible deaths to soldiers dying so we dropped more bombs on your people than any other nation in history and used the most horrible weapon humanity has ever made on you twice. Then you dealt with it by making an entire movie genre about monsters using Japan as a warzone as a metaphor for the inevitable war between the US and China or the Soviet Union, or both. Yeah, I made a film paying homage to that genre. Hope you like it.’

When the west first saw Godzilla they saw it as a good ol’ monster romp. When Japan first saw it they saw a replay of the past thirty years compressed into a bit over an hour. No wonder an entire genre spawned from it.

Now let’s look at how the metaphor holds up. In the American versions of Godzilla emphasis was placed on this event happening because the monster is female and wants to raise its young in the nation. Remember the metaphor, Godzilla is the US. By giving the monsters this motivation the writers unwittingly changed the core concept. The US is Godzilla metaphor holds true but it becomes kind of funny and really creepy. It makes the World War 3 metaphor about who gets to have young in Japan. Given current trends in white people coming to Japan and dating Japanese people the metaphor may very well be spot on.

What about the other recent homage to the genre, Pacific Rim? There should be even less surprise that this was unpopular in Japan. For one thing it’s a terrible homage. The person responsible for it either had no grasp of the metaphor or was incredibly aware of it. After all it was called Pacific Rim a direct link to World War 2. The metaphor completely falls apart in this film. The monsters in that film don’t become the defenders. Remember the monsters are other nations. So in this version other nations are irredeemable. In typical American movie style the military saves the day by building massive robots, something that actually Japan is far more likely to do. Have already done so actually. So on the one hand you could say that this movie is very empowering to Japan. Putting their fate in their own hands fighting off the monstrous other using their superior technology. Except the film wasn’t made by Japanese people therefore the empowerment is lost. It’s still about America saving the day. It’s just that they’ve made America squeaky clean. America is no longer another monster. They’ve removed the fact that America destroyed Japan. Typical of America rewriting history. Of course there is still plenty of city destroying in the film but America is no longer responsible for it.

The world has moved on since Godzilla. There was no World War 3 and Japan became a leading economic powerhouse. World War 3 didn’t happen and the US and Japan became friends. The Godzilla films are no longer relevant and don’t touch the same nerve that they once did which is the real reason the Japanese don’t care about Godzilla movies anymore no matter how accurate to the source material they are. The Godzilla remakes tells far more about the American psyche. Interestingly enough America wants to keep on reliving the glory of World War 2. It was the moment that redefined their nation and turned them into the war machine they are today. Of course they want to keep on making movies about it. So while I say Americans don’t get Godzilla, perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps they get Godzilla too much. After all they are Godzilla.

 

Talking about toilets

So it’s about time I wrote about toilets. I’ve been meaning to write it for the past year. Toilets are a surprisingly annoying part of parenting. Annoying may not be the right word. More an inconvenience that shouldn’t be one. Our eldest daughter has been reasonably toilet trained for about a year and a half now. This blog isn’t about toilet training though. It’s about public toilets and how shit they are when it comes to having small kids.

First things first. I’ll do some generalisations about public toilets. The standard public toilet in shopping centres, train stations, parks etc are designed solely for adult use. Some will have a changing table in the women’s toilet. Often they’ll have a changing table in the disabled toilet. This situation is shit, so to say and what follows is why.

For starters, if the changing room is only in the women’s that excludes me, not a woman, from easily changing my kid’s nappy. Don’t blame me if you have to see a baby getting their nappy changed on the floor in a shopping centre. Secondly, the disabled toilet? Seriously? On the one hand it’s at least an attempt to acknowledge that dads do change nappies but it’s a disabled toilet. If you make it the place parents change nappies then you are making it busy. My wife’s dad is disabled and he gets pretty pissed off about disabled toilets being busy. So just give me a changing table in the men’s toilet and be done with it.

So your kid is toilet trained now, no longer in nappies but wait, theirs no toilet for them. That’s right, we often just had our toilet trained kid in nappies when going out because using the toilet was such a pain in the arse.  Notice in my description above I said toilets designed for adults.  Did you know there is such a thing as a kids toilet? Yeah, shocking isn’t. They are the perfect size for a toddler. Literally scaled down to their size. When I see a public toilet with one of these I am very happy and that much more likely to go back to that place. There was one of these at the park near our old residence. It was in the women’s toilet and thus I had to break taboo to allow my kid to use it but they had one and it made me happy knowing I could take my kid to the park without worrying about the toilet. The number of public toilets that have kids toilets is very low. Most of the time they’ll be adult sized. You may wonder why that is an issue, can’t you just balance the kid on the toilet or bring around you’re own kids toilet extension to put on the adult toilet? Honestly I don’t want to have to carry a toilet around with me. That’s what public toilets are for, so I don’t have to. As to the first point. It’s really annoying balancing a kid on a toilet. They are that much more likely to be too uncomfortable and not go. So just give me a kids toilet. I can’t imagine it’ll cost that much more to put one in and it’ll see a lot of use.

That’s all I really had on the topic. Two things to make a public toilet toddler friendly. That’s all I want. They exist too, these ideal public toilets. This platonic toilets. They have a little kids toilet section as well as the adults and they aren’t just lumped in with the women’s.

I will sign of with an anecdote. I’m very proud to say that my eldest daughter, 3, can pee standing up at a urinal. Doesn’t get in on the floor at all. Absolutely fantastic. Why can she do this? One she saw me do it and wanted to mimic me. Fair call. Two because often she didn’t want to use the sit toilet or the squat toilet. So yes, while I rant about how shitty public toilets are I will say that it helped teach my daughter how to pee standing up.

Why Australians have so many words for things there are already words for

This post is the definitive answer to the question I have been asked many times by non-southern hemispherians. Why do Australians have so many weird words? This question along with people ‘correcting’ my pronunciation are actually quite offensive akin to an Englishman asking a Scot why he speaks funny. This post isn’t a rant though. I aim to give the answer why we have such a unique and beautiful collection of words and phrases.

Australia is a young nation. Only being a federation since 1901 before that we were a colony. A penal one no less. The first fleet arrived in 1787 to start the first European colony in Australia. That’s a bit over a hundred years of pottering around down south before federation. In that time the full effects of isolation in a desolate land were being felt by those that had settled there. Travel to and from Europe took just under a year to undertake and was never done lightly or on a whim. It was more often than not a one way trip. Making Europe very very far away to the average Australian settler. The nature of the European mind at the time meant they looked at their Asian neighbours with a mix of fear and superiority. Further cementing a sense that they were on their own. It wasn’t until around the 1970s that this isolation was lifted and Australia finally opened itself up to Asia politically while the advert of mass commercial flight meant the West was finally only a day at the most away. That’s a bit under two centuries of language and cultural development with limited outside influence. It’s also a century and a half of inventions. Australians invented a great deal of things which we gave our our names to. These same things were often invented in other nations and given different names. Thus we name something one thing while others name it another. Many Australians don’t realise just how much of their vernacular is Australia only. I really do need to keep a list of the words I’ve been shocked to find are not universal English.

I hope this answers the question that really shouldn’t be asked. We should celebrate the different Englishes of the world instead of trying to put them down. The Australian dialect is as much a way of life as it is a different way of speaking English.

Music may be universal but instruction isn’t

I have been learning Tsugaru Shamisen now for about three years. I love the instrument. I’ve tried to learn several instruments in my life. This is the first time I’ve found an instrument that speaks to me.  For those who don’t know what a shamisen is. It is a three string percussion instrument.  In English it is often called a three string guitar, but this isn’t an accurate description. Having learnt the guitar as well I can say these two instruments are very different. As you can see in the picture below the instrument has a drum. While at times you do pluck the strings usually you strike the string along with the drum. In a room with good acoustics this has an amazing effect on the music you are playing.

tsugaru shamisen

I have a lesson three times a month with my instructor. Instruction is all done by ear. There is no sheet music. The teacher will play the piece then I will copy it. We go through this several times until i have learnt the piece by rote. In this way I have memorised seven pieces of music. I also film each lesson so that I can get my practice correct at home. The skills I’ve learnt in this class have really helped me develop my listening skills. I also think, although I haven’t tested this theory, that I may be able to learn new songs by watching people perform on video provided. Hopefully I can get it to the stage that I can learn new songs by listening. The whole experience has been rewarding.

There have also been bumps along the way due to language barriers. My teacher speaks no English and while my Japanese listening skills are good I have never developed a good rapport with my teacher. I find her very difficult to talk with. One problem is my manner when explaining that I am having difficulty with something ends up being very abrupt. Not at all what my teacher expects from her student. Thus I have had two incidences where the teacher has stormed out of the room refusing to teach me. I guess considering I’ve been learning from her for three years twice is a pretty good record.

Both times, her reaction has caught me completely by surprise. The first time she was playing through a piece of music i wasn’t feeling confident with at the full speed it’s meant to be played. I felt very frustrated and eventually called out that she was playing too fast and I couldn’t keep up. She rebuked me saying I wasn’t practicing enough and told me to get out. At the time I felt very incensed since I had been practicing as often as I could but just didn’t feel like I knew the song.  The second time was yesterday. I was having difficulty with part of a song I was playing. My instructor corrected the part and I was trying to play it by myself. I saw her reach for her shamisen to show me how to play it and I put out my hand to say ‘No, I can do this.’ In English this is a sign of my determination to get it right by myself. In hindsight instead of saying ‘Dekiru’ i should have said ‘Yattemiyou’ meaning I want to try it.  She sat there watching me play through the piece. I had no idea she was angry and when i looked up at her asking if I got it right. Her response puzzled me. She said ‘I don’t know, what piece were you playing?’ She then berated me for saying that I can do it when she thought I couldn’t. She ended the lesson there much to my shock and anger.

Looking back I realise she was taking my words as a hostile act. In her mind if the teacher thinks you can’t do it then you stop and let the teacher correct you. You do not say ‘No, I can do it.’ I love playing the shamisen and I have enjoyed the way it is taught but these times where the teacher has refused to finish a lesson have soured my feeling toward the teacher herself.  I suspect though that this is they way music is taught in Japan. You must respect the teacher. You cannot question. Teacher knows best. I’ve always had a problem with respecting people. To me respect is not something you demand. It is something you give to someone you feel is worthy. I guess this is just another cultural difference I must overcome if I want to learn the instrument I love.

Travel Blog: Aso Kuju Japan

Aso Kuju is in Kumamoto and Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan, Earth. It’s also one of my family’s favourite vacation locations. We’ve been there around about five or six times in the past three years and have found a few places that are definitely worth checking out.

First though a bit about Aso. It’s the biggest caldera in Japan. Smack right bang in the middle of this caldera is two active volcanoes. One of them smokes quite regularly. You can go up to the top and look down into it on a good day. Of the trips we’ve only been able to do it once. We were up there for five minutes before they told us the gas was too dense and could result in death if we stayed there too long. To be honest though, while the volcanoes are pretty cool, there is way more to see and do in Aso than check them out.

Aso is a resort area. Resort in this case means a place with great big hot spring baths and table tennis. We haven’t actually been to many of them because there’s actually places better. There’s called pensions which is probably from French not English. Basically they are B&Bs. One of them that we always go back to is called Holahoo. It’s German themed with plenty of wooden nutcracker models everywhere. Although that’s not why we go there. They also serve the best food I have ever eaten. This is not an exaggeration. I have eaten some damn good food in my time but this place takes the cake. They also serve beers from Germany, Belgium and Czech. Not to mention a very smooth organic red wine. There usual deal is stay two nights get one dinner and two breakfasts. The dinner is a six course meal. The breakfast a one course. Another bonus of this place is that they are kid friendly. The owners are a family of three. On the first floor they have a well decked kids room. Not only that but if you obviously need a bit of a break the mum will help keep an eye on your kid. That alone makes this place one of our favourites.

Another place worth doing a day trip to is Kurokawa onsen village. For those not in the know an onsen is a hot spring bath. This place has at least twenty five different places to go. You can go to the information centre and get a three bath pass for 1300 yen. About $13 give or take. We debated whether or not we’d do three baths but honestly it’s quite easy if you’re doing the day there. In fact if you manage to do all the baths in the area you get massive prizes. The baths were all very warm. In fact the taps were usually dishing out eighty degree water. Making the average temperature about 55 degrees. Of course I’m talking Celsius here. You may wonder what’s so special about hot spring baths. It’s something you really need to experience to truly understand why it’s great. It’s really everything a bath should be. Relaxing and cleansing with a good atmosphere. What’s more if you have a baby that doesn’t like bathing I guarantee a few trips to hot spring bath will cure that. Our second little girl used to scream her guts out at the prospect of a bath. A few hot springs later and she is not a happy bather. As the link shows there are tonnes of places to stay there but you don’t need to stay the night to enjoy the baths.

A third place I must give a mention to is Kuju Kogen. This place has very large rooms you can easily fit a couple of families in. A nice restaurant. Not as good as the Holahoo but it’s still good food. There’s also a mirco-brewery nearby that does a good beer. The big win about this place is the location of it’s hot spring bath. This place hands down has the best view from a hot bath I have ever seen. It’s on a plauteau that stretches out for several kilometres. On the horizon you can see the two volcanoes smoking away in the distance.

Giving Birth in Japan

We have two kids. My wife gave birth to our first in Australia and the second in Japan. To me the procedures for both births looked about the same. I’m sure there were differences but I couldn’t tell. One thing that is a major difference though is drugs. My wife gave birth to the second baby with nothing but a sports drink and an oxygen mask. What’s more remarkable about this is that it is standard. Women in Japan tend not to have epidurals. Before anyone says their babies are smaller. The average size in Japan is around 3.5 kilograms. Not massive I know, but not tiny either. So are they built of sturdier stuff? Probably not. I’m not sure what the difference here is. Why for the first kid my wife had everything they had to give her and the second she needed little. My wife was impressed by the way they went about it though and swore she’d only ever give birth in Japan from now on. So there must be a difference. Perhaps I’ll write another blog on that one when I find out more. What happens after birth in Japan is more interesting though.

After birth the mother stays in the clinic she gave birth at for a week. You get your own private room and three meals a day in very generous and delicious portions. Of course there are also showers and toilets you can use. The baby is cared for for three days by the midwives at the clinic fed on bottled milk. They also pump breast-milk from the mum so the baby gets what it needs from that too.  On the third day the baby is brought into mum for full time care. Of course the midwives are still all there if the mum wants help. At the end of the week mum can go home. When my wife and I tell Japanese people what happens in Australia, one day and you’re out, they can’t believe it. My wife said the experience was fantastic and really helped her adjust to having the baby at home when she got out.

Another difference in giving birth is the first month. In Japan it is common wisdom to not take your baby out of the house for the first month. I’m honestly not sure if this is a good idea or not. At first it seems a little tough on the carer if they can’t go anywhere for a month. The logic behind it though is pretty reasonable. There are two reasons for it. First is to make sure the baby isn’t exposed to any illnesses. Secondly to unsure the transition to outside the womb living is stress free and simple. Perhaps there is something to it.