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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cheers for our wonderful life!! [Hanging with the locals].

Saturday morning and I'm in the familiar position of being an inappropriately hungover mess (I realise my blog posts are starting to read like the lyrics to a Ke$ha album...). Last night, I went out drinking with some new friends! Seven ladies, and seven men, to be precise! We tabbi- and nommi-hodai'd the night away, and then afterwards I invited everyone back to my house for the nijikai (after party)!

I'd be lying if I said I knew what happened next. All I do know is that I woke up this morning at 6AM, on my bedroom floor, wearing my Rilakkumma onesie, with the Britney banging on full volume in the living room (I'm amazed I managed to sleep through it!). I really don't remember saying goodbye to my guests... I hope I didn't pass out while they were still here, but, degradingly, I think I must have! WHOOPS. Not exactly a great first impression, but my new friends were SUPER fun so I hope I haven't scared them off with my over-the-top-ness! A text I got this morning reassures me I haven't:

"Good morning, JIM!! I'm MEG RYAN :-) Do you memorize me? Last night was very very very fan!! Thank you very much for inviting us for out (=your room) !! I've forgotten that word... sorry... :P Next time!! Let's singing Sclub7's songs together!! Cheers for our wonderful life!! Have a nice day!"


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From mundane to muzukashii: my silly life in Japan:

So, it's almost three months since I've been in Japan now, and it's getting to that stage where things which used to be a real effort to work out are slowly becoming second-nature. That being said, it hasn't all been plain sailing getting to this stage... things which would have been mundane at home suddenly became MUZUKASHIIII (difficult) in a way I couldn't have foreseen, and although I'm over the worst of the culture shock now, here's one daily trial for each month I've been in Japan so far!


This caused a lot confusion when packing... we'd been told to bring "indoor slippers" to change into whenever we got to work. ...because, unlike at home, where it's perfectly normal to remain in the same shoes you walked to work in whilst at work, in Japan, things are a little different. Namely, you have your "outdoor shoes" and your "indoor shoes", the former of which you must remove at the special shoe-changing area in the entrance and replace with the latter.

A standard sight at all my schools' entrances... rows and rows of shoe boxes.

I don't know why we were told to bring "slippers"... you're definitely not expected to wear anything resembling what we'd usually call "slippers" with your work suit... normal shoes will do just fine. What's more, you don't even need to bring your own pair at all - every school I work at has HEAPS of guest shoes that you can change into. And it's not just at work, but at home too - without thinking now I'll take my shoes off at the entrance whenever I enter my own or somebody else's house... if it's my own house, I feel dirty and overburdened doing otherwise. I can definitely see this being a custom which will stick with me when I get home.
Toilet shoe designs are usually
a little spunkier than
their indoor shoe cousins'.
BUT the shoe subdivision doesn't end there: you've also got your "toilet shoes", provided for you at the front of all public (and some private) bathrooms. Of course, what this means is that if you're in a rush to do your business, there's no casual popping to McDonald's and letting it all out - instead, you've got to get inside, slip out of your outdoor shoes, put on your indoor shoes, locate the toilet, get out of your indoor shoes and pop on your toilet shoes...then go through the whole rigmarole in reverse when you're finished. That means you end up going through three pairs of shoes for one simple... *ahem* ... "transaction". In such circumstances, laces become your sworn enemy. So if you're anything like me, you'll get into the habit of never lacing your shoes up. Sure, I may trip occasionally, but when the shit hits the fan, who's going to be the one whose shit hits the pan in time? Of course, on a normal day, none of this is really that difficult - convoluted sure, but not complicated. Like most things in life, however, it becomes that little bit more difficult when you're a few drinks down. Luckily, this is where being a foreigner can bring you laughs where normally you'd get scorns (see previous post)... I mean, we've all walked back into the bar a little worse for wear still wearing out toilet shoes, right?


Sadly, the toilet humour doesn’t end here. No, Japan isn’t quite satisfied with just adding toilet shoes to your everyday bathroom visit... things are also shook up a little bit by the fact that Japanese toilets themselves are an entirely different creature from those we’re used to at home. In general, they look a little something like this:

Now, this being my first time in Japan, it took me a little while to get used to something so different. In fact, for my first month, I was using the squatters in the completely wrong position. It was only over a casual (and characteristically inappropriate) dinner time conversation that it struck me. “I hate it when the squatter’s raised on a platform... I’m always scared I’m going to fall backwards onto the floor”, a friend said. Nods of agreement whipped round the table, noticeably stopping with me. “Wait-“, I said, “how can you fall off BACKWARDS? You rest your back against the pipe”. Stunned silence soon turned into raucous laughter at my misplaced confidence. Seems I’d been facing 360 degrees in the wrong direction the whole time. Awkward.


Nothing says embarrassment
like being forced to face your
bin demons in public.
Finally, the Japanese rubbish system. God, what a load of garbage. I don’t think anything has single-handedly caused me more confusion in the past three months. It’s bad enough that there are approximately seventeen different categories of bin for your rubbish (literally a separate one for your bottle, its cap and its label), but, of course, everyone else intuitively knows what to put where like it’s written into their DNA. Red, blue, green and yellow bags all take different items. For the first month, I just didn’t take any of my garbage out – having changed tack as to what went where a good handful of times, I was certain it was going to be thrust back on my doorstep – so, rather than confronting the problem head on, I just amassed a pile of rubbish bags on my balcony. (#domesticgoddess). I even tried asking friends in other prefectures, but, helpfully, each area has ITS OWN RUBBISH SYSTEM. This was a problem I’d have to tackle alone, it seems. Luckily, the teacher who lived in my apartment before me had given me a stellar tip: if I wasn’t sure which bag to put something in, I should just wrap it in toilet paper and put it in the tissue bag... GREAT. Of course, this advice was rendered absolutely useless when I couldn’t even work out WHICH WAS THE BAG THAT TISSUE GOES IN. ARGGGGGGH.

You’d think there’d be a helpful pamphlet or something to decode the chaos of red, green, yellow and blue, and, while there’s certainly a pamphlet, helpful it is not. According to said pamphlet, the red bag is collected three times every week and the green bag once a month. “Oh okay, so red must be the bag for your most commonly disposed items and green for items you hardly ever use?” you ask. WRONG.

A quick consultation of the oh-so-useful picture chart reveals that the red bag is set aside for those items which you probably throw away every day. I’m, of course, talking about video tapes, footballs, shoes, DVDs and piping! The green bag, on the other hand, is meant for those items you probably never need to get rid of – things we don’t use much in the home like drink cartons, plastic bottles and noodle trays. WHY IS THIS LITERALLY THE DEFINITION OF COUNTERINTUITIVE?

Deciding my best bet was to ignore the pamphlet completely and just copy what my neighbours were doing (yes, a casual bin raid or two may have been involved), I think I've sussed it out now. Nothing's ended up back dumped on my doorstep, so either I'm spot on and have somehow worked it out... or, more likely I'd imagine, so WRONG that the rubbish collectors are taking pity on me!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The advantages of being a gaijin.

Evening! So, it seems the last 48 hours have taken me back to my first week here in Ainan of being endlessly wined and dined for no expense.

First, yesterday, I'm casually coiled up in front of my laptop, Sex and the City ready to go, when I get a phonecall from an unknown number on my phone. Being the curious type, I answer. "JIM WE DRINKING YOU COME?" a not-exactly-sober man bellows down the receiver. From my hazy, Friday-night memories, I could just about put a face (but definitely not a name) to the voice. "COME NOW", he continued with a suspicious urgency. Not wanting to disappoint the first local friends I'd apparently made, I obliged. And upon my nameless friend's discovering that he's the same age as my Dad, he thereupon dubbed himself my "Japanese Father" and insist that he paid for the night's boozing. It was a school night, so I wasn't going to town... but free drinks are always welcome! And of course, I did my best to pay him back with some English karaoke. Figuring the time for me to ask his name had apparently come and gone, his phonebook entry on my phone simply reads "JapaneseDad". So I guess that's what I'll be calling him from now on!

Then, tonight, my adult conversation class treated me to dinner at Joyfull... the local 24 hour-diner. Full of cheap, delicious food. Magic. We somehow managed to while away two-and-a-half hours chatting broken-Japanese-English. Sure, most of them are double my age, but they're adorable!

That's the thing: I couldn't imagine going out with a group of grandparents at home and having anywhere near the good time I did with them. And it's a great opportunity for me to practise my Japanese. I'd like to say all of their interest in me is some personal reflection, and maybe it partially is, but in reality, all I think it takes is foreign status to be popular in Japan. Of course, not everyone's as welcoming - there are still those I'll pass in the street who will stare back at me silently when I attempt a polite "Konnichiwa!", but the positivity you get from everybody else more than outweighs it. It's not really an experience you can prepare yourself for - going from your hometown where you're just a nameless face in a crowd to a country where you're unavoidably going to be stared at wherever you go.

Luckily for me, I'm naturally quite an attention-seeker anyway, so I really don't mind it. Being in such a minority certainly has its advantages, and I don't mean just the free food and drink: first of all, nobody really expects you to understand the Japanese way of life, so even the most elementary mistakes you make will be put down to unfamiliarity rather than stupidity. That's really a blessing when you lack any form of common sense like I do. Nobody has to know you're actually an idiot! What's more, if you find yourself the subject of an unwelcome question ("Jim, do you have girlfrriend?", "Do you want girlfriend?", "Can I be your girlfriend?!"), you can always just pretend you didn't understand it, smile blankly and go about your business.

In short, if there's one thing that I've learnt these past two months, it's that being lost in translation can be as much a blessing as a curse... and that being a gaijin gives you the perfect licence to get yourself conveniently and unapologetically LOST.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Summer Wars: A Review

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After an exhausting week teaching, and an even more exhausting Friday night drunkenly falling into rice fields,

Saturday was my designated Duvet Day. Japan's such an awesome country and I love getting out and exploring, but sometimes you just need a day curled up on the sofa, eating junk and watching films. So that's exactly what I did.

Summer Wars:

Summer Wars is an animated feature set in modern-day Japan. Central to the story is the digital world of Oz: a kind of omnipresent, social-networking site more akin to Second Life than Facebook. That is, Oz isn't just a place where you can chat and play games, but a fully-fledged virtual society with its own shopping centres, business districts and more. What's more, Oz is also the motherboard from which modern society itself is able to function. Traffic signals, sewage maintenance, even space exploration - every walk of society is controlled by local governments through Oz. So, when the American military chooses Oz as the arena in which to test LoveMachine: billed as the world's first form of A.I. with an inbuilt desire to know, all kinds of shit starts going down. As LoveMachine invades government infrastructures on Oz, the effects in the real world start to materialise. Phone lines go down, traffic signals fail and sewage systems start to overflow. And when LoveMachine redirects an orbiting satellite onto a collision course with a nuclear power plant, it becomes clear that what happens in the virtual Oz has the potential to cause a lot of very real damage in the outside world.

Amongst all of this, hero of the story Kenji finds himself drawn into the escalating catastrophe after he is mistakenly blamed for the security breach which allowed LoveMachine entry to Oz. In a bid to clear his name and reverse the impending disaster, Kenji, with the help of faux-girlfriend Natsuki and her extended family, resolves to eradicate LoveMachine and restore the world to its former state. The decision to include the American military in the story certainly has echoes of Hiroshima in 1945 (the Americans choosing to "experiment" with their uncertain, new technology regardless of the consequences for human life): a parallel which the addition of a nuclear threat in the latter half of the story only strengthens.

Hero of the story: Kenji
All in all, it's a great story, expertly told, with the same high drama and epic scale which made Princess Mononoke such a personal favourite. Director Mamoru Hosoda also takes the opportunity to show real progress from his previous work, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Whereas the former was noticeably bottom-heavy in its delivery (it felt like 90% of the film's story came in the last quarter), the plot here remains consistently tense and exciting throughout. Kenji, too, is certainly a likeable protagonist (if sometimes edging towards the status of stock lead character with his bashful denseness) and is supported by a colourful cast of allies, not all of whom make it to the story's conclusion.

If there's a criticism that could be levied against Summer Wars, it's that, although Hosoda has certainly delivered a fast-paced, eventful film, it occasionally feels that, in doing so, he has sacrificed the kind of tightness of plot that characterises the work of say, Hayao Miyazaki. The comparison is an obvious one, perhaps, but if Hosoda is really to step into Miyazaki's shoes as the father of Japanese animation (which he is certainly capable of), then his plotlines need a greater attention to subtlety so that we, the audience, don't have to try so hard to suspend our disbelief. It's confusing to see Kenji enthusiastically break a code he receives by text message from an unnamed enigma, only to discover that enigma was in fact LoveMachine... are we really to believe that any hero, no matter how bashful, would be that reckless? And then there's the fact that, when Natsuki's family declare war on LoveMachine, they have, within minutes, inexplicably assembled a fleet of ships, planes and trucks to assist their grand plan. Of course, a little hyperbole is to be expected in the anime medium, but when Hosoda runs away into the world of the ridiculous so patently as this, the legitimacy of his storytelling suffers.

A colourful arrary of avatars in the world of Oz.
Nevertheless, Hosoda's anime is, as a category, much more adult than Miyazaki's. Miyazaki's films have their own beauty, but, being targeted primarily at children, are not characterised by the same complex plot work (with, perhaps, the exception of Mononoke) that keeps Summer Wars so engaging throughout. Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro, in particular, are two Miyazaki films almost devoid of plot entirely. That is not to say that their classic status is undeserved - indeed, their simple, unpretentious storytelling is what has made them so popular with child audiences in the first place - but that they can sometimes seem not to fully satisfy the appetite of an adult viewer. Hosoda, on the other hand, is able to deliver the best of both worlds: a sophisticated feature which adults can enjoy, with a simple enough message (of the need for unity in times of a crisis), such that children will not find themselves lost in the unfolding chaos.

To say Hosoda is the "next Miyazaki", then, is a statement of perceived status, rather than substance. That is, the substance of the two directors' works is, in a sense, incomparable... but, if Hasoda is able to tighten his craft, then he may just one day acquire the same status which has made Miyazaki a household name in Japan. Summer Wars is certainly evidence of his potential.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's a small, small world... [The Return to Hiroshima!]

Phew. What a weekend. It's Wednesday now and I've been back from my second trip to Hiroshima for a few days... so I guess it's about time I filled you in!

Saturday saw Hiroshima host its annual Sake Matsuri (festival) - a chance for locals and gaijins alike to pile into the City and sample over 500 different flavours of sake. Obviously I was sold as soon as I heard of it, so the second work was over on Friday night, I hopped on a bus to Matsuyama to let the weekend's festivities begin!

...well, I say I hopped on a bus to Matsuyama. Truth is, I hopped on a bus going in the COMPLETE OPPOSITE direction. And didn't realise this until 30 minutes into my journey when I was spat out, clueless, on the side of a motorway. Two months into my stay here, I was miffed I still hadn't learnt which bus to take, but even more miffed when the busstop I got off at had conveniently had its timetable ripped off. Not wanting to be stranded in the middle of nowhere indefinitely, I walked back the way I came. 

An artist's interpretation of an all-too-frequent occurrence in my life
Luckily, two minutes into my walk, I stumbled upon a quaint little motorway-side hotel. Venturing inside, I managed to scramble together enough Japanese to ask the owner to ring me a taxi, which she did... and then she not only came outside and waited with me till it arrived, but also made sure the taxi driver knew exactly where I wanted to go and saw me off with a wave. JAPANESE HOSPITALITY MAKES ME SO HAPPY. 

Next morning, (having, for better or worse, made it to Matsuyama) it was time to jump on the ferry to Hiroshima! 

All aboard! Destination: Shitfaced.

  Annoyingly, by the time I ended up arriving in Hiroshima (having slept in later than anticipated), it was pretty late... so much so that the Sake Festival was all but winding down. I was just about ready to cut somebody in retalation for having come all this way for nothing when, walking down the street, I bump into my literal JET BFF: Rachel, my partner-in-crime from the Great Takashimaya Break-in back in August. Thrilled that we've just so happened to be in the same place at the same time, we hop on a train to Hiroshima City where we spent the night at Southern Cross, a local gaijin haunt which seemed to be populated by literally every JET I've ever met ever. Talk about turning the night around. 

Chance encounter in Hiroshima #1

 And although I may not have been directly privy to the Sake Matsuri's delights... the surrounding streets were enough to paint a fairly clear picture of what I missed. I've never seen so many twatted people in such a concentrated space (usually because if I've been in such a place, I've been one of them). And although I would've preferred to have been joining the carnage, having seen what I saw, it was definitely a memory I'm glad wasn't diluted by booze. Whole armies of policemen had been employed to create a human-shield in front of the railway tracks just so those too-drunk-to-walk didn't unwittingly find themselves under a train. And then there was the woman who ripped her boyfriend's glasses of his face just so she could slap him better before yelling, attempting to storm off and falling flat on her arse. People were passed out in bushes, on stairs, under makeshift coat-beds in the middle of the pavement... pure debauchery. Oh, Japanese people, I love you.

Having somehow found myself in the big city when I was meant to be staying with Tom in the inaka, I ended up crashing Rachel's hostel. The grouchy door attendant wasn't so keen on seeing one man stay with three girls in the same room, but after telling him that I was their older brother (quick thinking there from Catherine), he let it slide.

When in Rome... Rachel does her best to imitate the locals.

After a tumultuous evening, next morning we decided to do something altogether more cultured and set off for Hiroshima's Peace Museum for a completely different experience. Having come all this way, I felt it was something I couldn't go home without seeing: like going to Paris and not glimpsing the Eiffel Tower. Well, it was certainly an experience that's for sure.  

One of the few buildings in Hiroshima not to be completely flattened by the bomb.

   I'd read quite a lot about the Hiroshima bombings before, but, more than any impersonal Wikipedia article, the real human stories and exhibits which the museum showed added a level of personalness to it all.  It wasn't a bitter or finger-pointing account of the bombings at all. (Which I thought was amazing in itself). Rather, it was a plea to visitors to see the real danger of nuclear weapons, regardless of the nation which possesses them. Needless to say, we were all feeling pretty emotionally fragile by the time we got out. [And there you were thinking I couldn't do serious?]

Sitting in the Peace Park afterwards, it was there that I had my second chance encounter of the week... this time with Ben, a friend I'd made all the way back at London Orientation and who'd been on my flight to Tokyo from Heathrow. Taking the chance to catch up over lunch, we headed to Okonomiyaki Town to stuff our faces...  


 For the unitiated, "okonomiyaki" is Japanese for "fucking delicious pancake thing". There are two main types: Hiroshima's come stuffed with noodles, and Kansai's come without. I've heard okonomiyaki referred to as "the Japanese pizza", but the only real similarity between the two is their shape: okonomiyaki is a pancake stuffed with meat, herbs, spices, special sauce and a slathering of mayonnaise. All in all, a God amongst foods. The only downside? When the chef adds fish flakes on top... not only do they taste of fish (obviously), but the rising heat makes them flap and move, so it looks like your pancake is covered in moths flapping their wings. Fucking creepy.

Having been booze'd, museum'd and okonomiyaki'd out (I ended up having it for lunch AND dinner), it was time to jump on the ferry home where, lo and behold, I ONCE AGAIN have a chance encounter with some JET friends! This time, the Uwajima Crew who I went karaoke-ing with a few weeks back! 

Me and Sam on the ferry home!

Me, Sam and Emma

 I had a troll when I was little (well, my sister did, but I used to pretend it was mine), that sang "It's a small, small world..." when you pushed the star on her belly. I didn't take much notice of it at the time, but from my THREE chance encounters this week, I'm willing to admit... although her hair was purple, the bitch had a point.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Maru maru, mori mori...

I've just got back from a three-day weekend in Hiroshima which I need to blog about, but after TEN HOURS TRAVELLING, I'm currently too tired to think straight!  ... so, for now, I'll leave you with THIS. My favourite Japanese song right now... my elementary kids all walked down the corridor singing it in unison the other day. Incredible.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

A hungover hike and a hostess bar.

My original plan this weekend had been to go visit a friend in Saijo and then spend Saturday evening in Niihama at a JET Party that was going down there. Arriving at school on Monday, however, I learned that there was a town-wide Sports Festival going down on Saturday which my school was going to be apart of and which I should probably attend.  So, glumly, I cancelled my plans... I should've learnt by now, however that, like Madonna preached before me, in Japan, nothing is what it seems. And the bitch was right... from a doubtful start, I ended up having my most enjoyable weekend in Japan so far!

First there was the Sports Festival itself. It was kind of like an undokai on steroids... there were different sports events scattered at different venues all over town, with all the town's Junior High Schools participating. Football, tennis, ping-pong, volleyball, basketball, kendo... everything! And, not being a participant (THANK THE HEAVENS), I had free rein to pick which ones I wanted to go watch.

"You bitch!", "You cow!"

So, I started the morning by popping along to kendo, considering I'd never actually watched a kendo match before. And what an eye-opener! Once their armour was on, the timid kids in my class who shyed away from answering questions were transformed into bolshy little samurais, shrieking as they swung their shinais like professionals. One girl at my school had, just last month, come SECOND IN THE COUNTRY in a national competition... needless to say, she floored all of her competitors without really trying: her first match lasted approximately the length of one human blink. Badass.  It was so strange to see my kids transformed so drastically... I never knew they had it in them!

Sadly, I left my blue facepaint at home...
After kendo, I went along to watch Johen's football team. And whereas the atmosphere in the kendo hall had been one of tense silence, spectators clapping but not daring to say a word, at the football stadium, getting rowdy was the name of the game! When I said I'd join in chanting for Johen, I didn't realise exactly what that entailed. This was more like hymn-singing than any football chanting I'd seen at home. One kid at the front recited a chant, and all of the surrounding Johen supporters yelled it back whilst clapping in rhythm... and this went on for the ENTIRE DURATION OF THE MATCH. Literally, as soon as one chant stopped, the next begun...non-stop for ninety minutes. And, of course, each chant had its own clap routine which the kids all seemed to know instinctively. The good thing was that, there being a limited roster of chants, we ended up cycling through the same ones again and again, so it got to the stage where even I'd mastered the right clap routine for each chant... even though I had no idea what the words I was singing meant. Oh, and lest I forget this was an actual competitive event, Johen TROUNCED the competition, beating rival schools Ipponmatsu and Misho 9-1 and 3-1 respectively. Weyyyyyy.

With the whistle blown on Ainan's super undokai for another year, it was time to do what the Japanese always do to celebrate... DRINK A SHEDLOAD OF BOOZE. I literally love my work enkais. You get to hang out with people you see in the office, but never really speak to and realise that, after they've had a few, their English is actually not that bad. Of course, when the drink is flowing, that has its disadvantages... suddenly, you can speak to, and understand each other, and all this newfound communication (not to mention the seemingly self-refilling pint glass in front of you) can go to your head. The result? You do silly things like agree to hike Ainan's biggest mountain the next morning with one of your co-workers. LOL.

So, that's what I did:

The top of Mt. Sasayama, baby!

I'd been promised that hiking Sasayama was an easy hike, and I'm sure that it probably should have been... but you should never underestimate my physical fitness. I wasn't exactly assured of the ease of the task before me when, on the drive to the hiking trail, we suddenly stop the car to avoid an oddly-shaped obstacle in the road... getting out of the car, I realise that this "obstacle" is, in fact, a decayed deer's skull. Lovely. So even the wildlife are killing themselves to get away from the exact place I'm now headed.

Putting that delicious sight behind us, on we continued and, thankfully, I somehow managed to make it to the top, skull in-tact.  Go me!

Chillin' on the steps in front of the shrine atop Mt. Sasayama.

At the top of Mt. Sasayama, there was a little shrine. We bowed to the God, clapped twice to wake him and then, in case he still hadn't got the message, shook his bell (LOL) to make sure he knew we were there. Poor guy, he climbs all the way to the top of the mountain to get some fucking rest and these stupid hikers come along and insist on waking him up. I'd be pissed.

And I promised myself that, as a reward, pissed was exactly what I was going to be that evening when I got back to Johen. Before that, however, we had chance to stop by this stunning waterfall:

On the drive home, we also passed Ainan's "Floating Islands" - this kind of awesome mirage where the boundary between sky and sea blurs, so it looks like the islands are floating in the sky above the mountains. Sadly, we sped past them in a car so I didn't get a chance to snap any photos, but I'm going to make it my mission to head back there and get a few shots!

Finally back in Johen, it was time for some nighttime festivities. Having discovered a plethora of bars literally on my doorstep at Saturday's enkai, I figured it was time to explore a little deeper and ventured out into the night to see what was on offer. I was pretty surprised when, the first bar I walked into, the barmaids greeted me with an enthusiastic "Jim!". Apparently we'd been here the night before. Was a revelation to me. Then, barely two sips into my beer, I'm thrust into sober karaoke. Being in Japan, it's to be expected, so I got over my fear of it a long time ago. (I know I sound like a twat, but karaoke's not about talent, it's just about having the balls to not give a shit). What I didn't expect was to find myself slow-dancing with the hostess whilst a local belted out some Japanese ballad. Oh dear.

Also, at some point in the night, me and the locals, a few drinks down admittedly, found ourselves on the topic of "cherry boys". Again and again I'm asked if I'm a "cherry boy". It's only through ten minutes of some pretty dubious gesturing later that I discover what it means... "virgin". Hahahaha. I don't want to bring my blog into disrepute enough to detail the exact gesture which gave it away, but it was simultaneously the most fucked-up and hilarious thing I've seen here so far.

As all the slow-dancing and crazy locals may suggest, these "hostess bars" aren't like your typical Western bars. You'll walk in and be greeted by a hostess, who will look after you for the night. In return, every drink you buy yourself you'll be expected to match by buying one for her too. As funny an experience as it was (albeit slightly uncomfortable and conceptually just WRONG), there's got to be a cheaper way to get drunk around here: I told myself that it'd be a test night... I'd go out, have a laugh and see how much it cost: 7000 yen later, I'm thinking hostess bars aren't the way forward if you want to get boozed on a budget.

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