Happy New Year in Japan

The year, 2014. The place, Shimane. As you’d expect it I was here because of a dame. Three actually. My wife and my three girls. The day was New Years or osougetsu as they call it here. We come to the same place every year. It’s tradition. There were no wild parties as you’d expect back home. New Years eve was as quiet as a mouse living with a crazy cat woman. In the big cities you could find something and the foreigners always huddled together with a sparkling remembering the old country. We weren’t in the big smoke though. Outside was nothing but cold and blistering wind.

We sat in watching the NHK New Year’s concert. They played all the hits of the year along with a bunch of oldies. Come 11 we had the traditional soba and sake. You’re meant to think about longevity when you were eating it. Me I was thinking about that guy that wears a black great coat white make up and claims he’s a one thousand year old devil. I guess that counts as thinking of longevity.

Jiji came as joined us after we ate all the soba missing out on his own. He wasn’t pleased about it. He joined us in front of the TV though quickly getting frustrated that he didn’t know any of the songs. I guess I can understand what that’s like. After all i don’t know any of the songs. When Jiji gets grumpy it kills the mood pretty fast. We all ended up retreating to bed before twelve. Usually we’d go to the shrine to ring the bell for the new year. It suited me fine. It was too cold outside and I was already in my pajamas.

The next day, 2015, we woke up to a cup of sake and pippy soup with rice cake in it. Since we didn’t make it down to the shrine at midnight we went in the morning. It’d been snowing for a few hours now but we thought it’d be OK. The wind was fierce blowing snow in our face making visibility difficult. We fought on to get to the shrine. We were rewarded with more sake and a bowl of soup. You know it’s fierce when they’re giving out soup. I felt like some vagrant begging at a church.  It’s true what they say. Soup  is at it’s best when you’re freezing your balls off. We went round to the all the shrines. Usually i clap and don’t think anything. Just stand there with my head bowed. This time though. Well maybe it was the cold but I asked whatever gods were at those shrines if they’d get people around the world to do something about climate change. While I was at it I asked the fox god to get rich people to spend the their money on making the world a better place for other people, not just themselves. I shrugged my shoulders doubting anything would happen. The wind picked up making it a frozen hell for us getting back. Our daughter couldn’t handle it and started screaming. We got back to the place as quick as we could. She was still screaming for a good ten minutes once inside as we desperately warmed her up.

Happy New Year

Cultural Difference YOLO

For those of you who haven’t heard YOLO it means you only live once. I wouldn’t normally talk about YOLO since in Australia it has come to mean acting like a complete dickhead. I thought about it today though because through YOLO I found a distinct cultural difference between Japan and Australia, as well as the rest of the countries founded by Great Britain.

To set the scene I was teaching a class of grade nine students. I should note that while grade nine in Australia is the most reviled grade, in Japan it is one of the most hard working grades. To answer why in one sentence is nigh impossible. It has a lot to do with responsibility though. In Japan grade nine is the final grade for middle school. They have a great big, extremely important, will decide the rest of your life, test at the end of it. Actually it just determines which high school you can attend but that then determines the quality of your high school education, and ability to get into university. In short it is a pretty important test. That’s just a tangent though. Perhaps one day I’ll write a blog about it.

Back to what this blog is about and setting the scene. The students had to write answers to various English questions. One of the questions in this list was: What is the most important for you? I didn’t write the questions so don’t get up me for not adding thing or in life. While most of the students wrote things like friends and family a couple of them wrote life because YOLO. Well actually they didn’t quite write that. One wrote; if you die than you can’t do anything and the other wrote; you only have one life.

This got me thinking about what the sentence means to the two cultures. In Australia a person who says you only live once is about to skydive, drive at 160 km/hr in a 50 zone or smash a bottle on table and glass someone in the face with it. Basically be a bogan. Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with skydiving. There is a percentage of YOLOians in Australia that use it to mean something pretty wholesome like YOLO so I’m going to go live my dream instead of YOLO so i’m going to be a dickhead.

In Japan it means something quite different. It’s nothing about living life to the maxtreme. pursuing your dream or being a dickhead to everyone because fuck those guys, Instead it’s YOLO so don’t fuck it up. A grade nine kid in Japan inspired by YOLO will study harder, Aim for higher grades. Try and get into a the better high school so they can get the best University they can. Look for a good partner have kids and inspire them to travel the same path. A Japanese YOLOian is a paragon of Japanese self discipline and inspirational to all. To me, a fifteen year old kid that decides life is the most important thing so I’m going work hard is a pretty amazing thing to witness.

It’s a pretty big difference. It makes me wonder. If YOLO creates a paragon in Japan, does that mean the same for Australia. Are the YOLOians in Australia paragons of what it means to be Australian? Perhaps so. As mentioned there isn’t just one kind of YOLO in Australia. There is the kind that use it to push themselves to fulfill their dreams. In Japan it may mean to work hard but working hard doesn’t necessarily equal fulfilling your dream. For example, I want to be a famous writer. One thing that pushes me to keep on writing everyday is YOLO. I would hate it if at the end of my life I sit there on my death bed and think I should have worked harder on my writing. Even if I never get anywhere with my writing I want to be able to say I tried. Writing isn’t my day job though. I’m also an English teacher. If I only worked hard at being an English teaching then I would never fulfill that dream. In Japan, someone who YOLOed their whole life. Worked hard, got a good job, made a nice family etc, may at the end of their life look back and think yea but I never did that thing I really wanted to do.

Conclusions? Both are right. Well not those that say YOLO so I’m going to be a dickhead. They’re dickheads. A merging of the two would be ideal. YOLO so work hard at everything you do. Make that perfect life but also fulfill your dream. Be fucking awesome because you only live once. I guess the trouble comes down to defining awesome.

The land of no kisses or hugs この国はキスとほうようがない

The most noticeable thing about living in Japan is that there are no kisses or hugs.  Reading this you may be thinking surely not.  This is no exaggeration.  At first I thought that this was just something you didn’t do outside.  Upon investigating though I found out that it’s also something you don’t do inside.  Kissing and hugging is an entirely private thing in Japan.  You don’t even want family members to see.  So I asked around to find out why this was.  The answer was simple.  It’s to do with morality.  So of course I asked which moral? Turns out it is embarrassing for everyone involved.   Parents don’t kiss or hug in front of their kids because their kids will be embarrassed.  Parents will in turn be embarrassed for their children.  So kisses and hugs don’t occur in the house.  It’s easy to then see that kisses and hugs don’t occur out of the house because when the children become adults they think that kissing is embarrassing.  It’s probably one of the major cultural differences between the European culture and Japanese culture.  If you kiss and hug in front of your kids then your culture will produce people who enjoy kissing.  If you are too embarrassed to kiss in front of your children then they will grow up to be embarrassed by it.