The story of the miltdown man

Hey everyone, long time no see. So what’s going on with you? Great, just great. So listen, the other day I went to my very first enkai. Attending an enkai is one of the more distinctive Japanese experiences, so I was pretty excited.

The word ‘enkai’ itself is made of two kanji, 宴会. The second of these, 会 ‘kai’, is very common. It is normally translated into English as ‘meeting’, ‘gathering’ or some other synonym whereas the first, 宴 ‘en’, is typically read as ‘huge orgy’.

You really don’t want to see what’s under those mosaics

Despite these philological roots, the modern-day enkai contains very little free love. In reality, it’s co-workers binge drinking.

Spot on

This particular enkai was held in late March. Around this time the Japanese school year ends and the cherry blossoms bloom. These twin events place an extreme pressure on  Japanese people to go binge drinking. It’s a very pretty party season.

Go man go

I had been looking forward to the enkai for a long time. Seating was allocated on an entirely random basis, therefore I found myself next to a middle-aged art teacher to whom I had never spoken before. Initially, it was pretty awkward. However, twenty minutes and five drinks later, he finally broke the ice.

“Hmmmm, Japanese girls…how are they?”

I had no idea how to answer the question. I still don’t. Whatever answer I gave must have been acceptable as the conversation continued in this vein for….a long time. He was a curious man and had many, many questions.

‘Are you an erotic?’

‘Do you know erotic?’

‘How about English erotic?

The party eventually ended but my new friend suggested we go to a sushi bar. Sensing the chance to continue this world-class debate, I enthusiastically agreed. We made a group of four and took a taxi across town. We were led down an alley and into a small shop where we were seated at a counter.

The next hour or so followed a pretty strict pattern. The teachers would point to some kind of fish on display and ask me if I knew what it was. If I said I didn’t then they would order me some. They would then pass the time until the dish was served by cackling and rubbing their hands with glee.

Anyone living in Japan must be aware of the importance of showing respect to one’s elders. It’s rarely a good idea to directly contradict or refuse an offer from your senior co-workers. Given that there was an age gap of 90 between myself and the other teachers, I felt it was important to show unbridled enthusiasm for whatever was placed in front of me.

A teacher, whom I had never previously heard speak English, pointed at some indescribable white stuff in a tray.

‘You know shirako?’

‘No.’

I saw the sign placed in front of the tray. It read 白子, which literally means ‘white children’.

‘You should try’

‘Ok!’

There followed a particularly long period of cackling and hand-rubbing.

Eventually it arrived. I didn’t take a picture then, but this gives you the general idea.

 

I ate it all. Every last piece.

‘How?’

‘It’s good!’ (I’m a skillful liar)

‘Creamy?’

‘Err…yes, it is creamy’ (Not a lie)

After I finished I decided to check on my phone’s dictionary what shirako actually was. The entry read:

‘白子 - soft roe, milt, fish semen’

I looked back to the teacher, who was now leaning back in his chair looking very pleased with himself.

‘Creamy’ he said again, to no-one in particular.

It really was

 

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Zen and the art of pushing my patience

Ah, the evocative sounds of the Japanese night. Over the centuries countless poets have been inspired by the cry of the cicada, the rustle of grass in the summer wind and the ear-splitting racket of some cretin revving a motorbike really really loudly when I’m trying to sleep.

The view from my apartment. Taken about 8 seconds ago.

The Japanese word for this phenomenon is ‘bosouzoku’. Like other concepts deeply rooted within Japanese culture it’s difficult to provide a faithful English translation, however the phrase ‘dickheads on bikes’ has become the most widely accepted.

‘Pricks on motorcycles’ is also used.

Despite the name, ownership of a motorbike is not in itself enough to become a bosouzoku. After all any dick can simply own a bike. To truly attain true ‘dickead on a bike’-ness, you must first open your mind to the movement’s inherent spirituality. Only then can one be said to be being a dickhead in the proper manner.

Actually pretty Zen, really.

Firstly, one must clear one’s mind of all transient thoughts rooted in the impermanence of matter. Then you sit on your bike and rev it. And rev it again and again. And again. And then once more.

Repeat this sacred process until enlightenment is achieved.

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Don’t go home without your hard-off

Are you hard?

 

Not like that, though.

No no no. I mean, are you hard?

Come on now, there’s no shame in it. No, I won’t ask you to stand up.

Here’s a place that can cater to the needs of those millions of people worldwide who suffer from excessive hardness.

Does EXACTLY what it says on the sign.

Hard-off’s can be found throughout Japan, such is the, ahem, huge demand. The buildings themselves are often very, ahem, large and have a lot of sections.


Some presumably hard customers being overawed by what they find.

There’s all kinds of delights to be had. Although this particular section was a little too…esoteric for my tastes.

 


You do NOT want to see what was on the shelf below this one

I would go on, but that would be NSFW.

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Crouching pyjama-bottoms, hidden pyjama-tops

I love pyjamas, me. That’s why I moved to Japan. Because everyone knows no-one knows pyjamas like the Japanese.

Virtuoso stuff.

But what about the history of pyjamas, I hear you ask. Well, it’s accepted by most scholars that the earliest precursors to pyjamas originated in China over two thousand years ago.

Old school pyjamas


As they spread throughout Asia many different styles of pyjama developed.

 

Less old school, but pyjamas nonetheless

In Japan many excellent styles of pyjamas developed. Over time they became so good that they achieved worldwide fame.

A keen pyjama enthusiast shows his wares

Their popularity is so great that a fine set of pyjamas is now considered an important status symbol. Accordingly the very best pyjamas command high prices and bring prestige to their owners. As you would expect, this rampant consumerist desire can lead to some ugly scenes around this time of year.

Blue is this season’s must-have colour, you see

Out of curiosity, I recently decided to try pyjamas for myself. So I went to my local budokan (literally: ‘pyjama changing salon’).

Guess who forgot their pyjamas today

Unfortunately I had a pyjama-related accident and had to spend a few weeks in hospital. Luckily this meant that I got to wear nothing but pyjamas for two whole weeks. You can imagine how glad I was.

He who laughs last….

 

 

 


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Kan’tchou feel it?

First of all, I’d like to apologise for the lack of updates recently. I hope this makes up for it.

 

I love it when photos don’t need captions.


Hilarious pictures aside, I would now like to talk about a serious and troubling issue. The Japanese name for it is 浣腸. Even if you’ve never heard of it before there is a strong chance that someone you care about will have had direct experience of it.

 

Until recently I myself was totally ignorant of 浣腸. All that changed, however, in the blink of an eye when I was working in an elementary school last Wednesday. The day had begun just like any other and the morning’s lessons had been pretty unexceptional.

 

The Japanese educational system largely relies on the lecture method.


After lunch I was walking down a corridor when I was surrounded by a mob of seven-year olds. Being darling and lovable children, they stole my chopsticks and started climbing on me. So far so normal. After a few minutes of this one boy lurched forwards with a look in his eyes that was part-human, part-wild animal. ‘KANCHOOOOOU!’ he screamed at the top of his lungs. I had no idea what this word meant so I was completely unprepared for what happened next. He put his hands together with both index fingers protruding upwards, and….

 

….pretty much


Luckily I was able to overpower the seven-year old, but that was definitely the end of playtime. Looking over my shoulder the entire way, I returned to the staff room.

 

Unfortunately ‘Maru maru,mori mori’ was playing over the school intercom at the time, so for the rest of life this will forever remind me of that traumatic experience.

 

Chilling

P.S.

Out of curiosity I looked up 浣腸 (kanchou) in the dictionary.

And I quote:

‘ 浣腸 – kanchou – (to give) an enema’.

Of course.

Off to claim another victim.

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The banzai in Kansai falls mainly on the manzai

I had a little holiday last month. So I took a 9 hour bus-ride to Osaka.

It’s Japan, but not as you know it. It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly, but everything’s just a little…better.

 

Do not adjust your television set

It was my first time to visit Osaka. Naturally I went to Osaka castle.

Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s place

Where I experienced some real history first hand.

Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s wheelchair lift

Like many people, I enjoy visiting prisons. So the next stop was Osaka Aquarium.

Don’t drop the soap.

I managed to get some great photos.

Nature in all her blurry majesty

Hold that pose…..

Maybe just one more?

Beautiful!

For a extra fee the aquarium offers a range of fun activities that allow you to interact with some of the animals. I didn’t bring enough yen, which is a real shame because they look great.

Who says conservation can’t be fun?

 

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Jun, I’m only cooking

Many visitors to Japan find themselves impressed by the general high standard of most restaurants. This is largely due to the consistently high attention to detail, excellent sourcing of ingredients and huge abundance of dishes. In fact, Tokyo alone has more Michelin starred restaurants than London, Paris and Los Angeles combined.

Despite all this many chefs remain excruciatingly modest.

So it’s little surprise that many Japanese dishes have become popular all over the world. However, some people may still feel that Japanese cooking is a little confusing or mysterious. This doesn’t have to be the case. The truth is that with a little explanation anyone can understand its manifold secrets. So that’s why I’ve written my a little guide to help you understand the various complicated steps involved in eating a typical Japanese meal. The pictures come from a fantastic Tokyo restaurant I visited just last week.

As is common in Japan, the dishes on offer are on display outside.

Enticing you inside…

Once you’ve made your choice a highly-trained chef will pour boiling water into the polystyrene container in a highly ritualised and ceremonious manner which, if carried out improperly,  can result in death or some spilled water. Then comes the traditional five minute wait.

It’s considered polite to keep the five minute egg timer to the left of the tray

Many people pass the time by admiring the fine craftsmanship evident in the plastic chopsticks or perhaps the fox placemat thingy. Once it’s ready the diner can can peel off the top and enjoy what’s inside.

Words can only go so far

It was so transcendent I had seconds. This particular dish is normally only found in Hokkaido, making it something of a regional delicacy.

Luckily the ingredients had lost none of their original freshness.

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All about the ‘phoontang

It’s my favourite part of the year; typhoon season! It’s a special time of celebration that runs from late August to early September. During this time many parts of Japan will normally experience at least one typhoon, which is just great, if you happen to enjoy terrible terrible weather. So let’s take a look at what one looks like.

It’s very very swirly

A typhoon works by using its huge cloud hands to scoop up a vast amount of water from the Pacific Ocean and then randomly deposit it somewhere inland. The power of these meteorological phenomena is so great that huge areas of Japan can remain completely underwater for up to two weeks at a time.

Visitors to Tokyo are advised to bring appropriate clothing

If drowning isn’t on your travel itinerary then don’t worry, as Japan offers a wide range of durable rainwear to keep you both dry and alive.

Some go for the vintage look


Others prefer something a little more subtle

There’s no reason your beloved pet can’t join in the fun.

What is it they say about clouds and silver linings?

 

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Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head, do they not?

Particles are one of the most distinctive features of the Japanese language. They are short words that are added to the end of phrases or other words to alter the meaning or to provide a grammatical function.

A common example is か, pronounced ‘ka’, which turns a normal statement into a question.

So,

東京へ行きます - ‘You are going to Tokyo’

add か

東京へいきますか - ‘Are you going to Tokyo?’

Any questions?

 

No worries chief

Fantastic.

Some other particles aren’t so easy to translate into English.  ね , pronounced ‘ne’, is a good example. It’s commonly used in conversation to show that the speaker expects the listener to agree or to sympathise with what he is saying. The most suitable English translation depends on the context, so most dictionaries give several different possibilities such as ‘isn’t it?’, ‘don’t you think?’ or ‘is it not?’.

For example

すばらしい犬です - ‘It’s a wonderful dog’

すばらしい犬ですね - ‘It’s a wonderful dog, isn’t it?’ or ‘It’s a wonderful dog, am I right?’ or ‘This is a wonderful dog, please agree with me’

ね crops up a lot when Japanese people are bitching about the weather, which everyone here loves to do. This is because all Japanese people hate anything in the least bit meteorological. In fact, in any casual conversation it’s only polite to point out just how much you dislike the day’s weather at least three times.

Probably not Japanese

I’ve provided an eavesdropped example from my own experience. I can guarantee that on any slightly warm day most Japanese people will have this exact conversation several times.

こんにちわ。暑いですね

Hello. It’s hot today, is it not?

そうですね

Yes you are right, are you not?

昨日、東京へ行きました。すごく暑かったですね

Yesterday I went to Tokyo. It was super hot, was it not?

そうですか。たいへんですね。

I see. That’s too bad, is it not?

そうですね.。じゃあ、そろそろしつれいします

Yes it is, is it not. Well, it’s time for me to be going.

はい、すみませんね

OK, I’m sorry am I not?

またね

Goodbye, is it not?

Right. Any questions?

 

No worries chie…never mind

 

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How not to not speak Japanese

Sometimes not understanding Japanese has its uses.

Ignorance is bliss

I was reminded of this fact recently as I was paid a visit by the NHK man. For the uninitiated, NHK is Japan’s public broadcaster and, much like the universally beloved BBC, charges an ‘obligatory’ license fee to anyone who owns a TV. Unlike the BBC however, you cannot be prosecuted or fined for refusing to pay. This is where the NHK man comes in. Essentially, he is a nice person in a suit who comes to your house and guilt trips you into paying for something you never use by being all friendly and polite and everything.

But why rely on the unadulterated facts when you can read real-life testimony from real-life people? I present to you my own personal experience, accurately translated from the original Japanese.

 

SCENE : My flat. A seemingly normal Thursday evening.

Doorbell rings

Me: I wonder who that could be?

Looks at door monitor

Me: Oh it’s a man in a suit, wonderful.

Opens door. Enter man in suit with large bag, NHK clipboard and smile.

NHK Man: Good evening! I am an employee of NHK.

[ At this point I somehow ascertain this has something to do with NHK.]

Me: Good evening.

NHK Man: Ah, is Japanese OK?

[I realise that he has come to ask for money. I decide that feigning total ignorance of Japanese is a good way to deal with the situation.]

Me: Errrrrrr……

NHK Man: Do you have a television?

Me: Te-le-vi-shun?

NHK Man: This is a Leopalace apartment right? [It is] So you have a television right? [I do]

I realise this is the crucial moment. I pull the blankest of fake blank looks.

The NHK man pulls out a leaflet. On the leaflet is a picture of a person watching a TV. He points to the person and  then to me. Big smile, awkward silence. I’m getting a little embarrassed, I can’t keep up this charade. I crack.

Me: Ah, television!

NHK Man: Yes! Television! That’s right. So, I am from NHK. You owe us money for the last two months. Is that OK?

Me: Err, television is it?

NHK Man: Yes, that’s right. Your Japanese is very good. Please, have this leaflet. Please, look at this price. So, this is the price.

Me: Hmmmm.

NHK Man: So, do you have the money now?

[My strategy of feigning total ignorance of Japanese has failed. Luckily, I think of another savvy way of avoiding the fee.]

Me: I don’t have money.

NHK Man: Ok, well do you have this amount?

Points to a smaller figure. Another big smile and awkward moment.

Me: Oh, actually I have money. Wait a moment, please.

Returns with many small coins.

NHK Man: OK so please fill out this form. I’ll need your name, address and phone number.

Me: Roman letters OK?

NHK Man: Kanji is good. My face drops. Can you write?

Me: Maybe I write a little yes. Or maybe you write?

NHK Man: Of course, is that OK?

Me: Yes.

NHK Man: So, I will write the address, OK?

Me: Yes.

NHK Man: Prints receipt. So, this amount is only enough to cover your viewing until today. I can scan your bank card through this machine. Hands me leaflet with picture of a portable card reader on it. Is that OK?

Me: Yes.

NHK Man: Thank you. Pulls out card reader. This is OK?

Me: Yes.

NHK Man: Your card please.

Me: Yes.

NHK Man: So, I will send this to the bank. Points over his shoulder. I guess there’s a bank in that direction. OK?

Me: Yes.

NHK Man: This is your bill, you take this to a bank.

Me: Ah, I understand [I don’t.]

NHK Man: OK?

Me: Yes, very OK.

NHK Man: Any questions?

Me: Yes, very OK good.

NHK Man: Thank you very much. Goodbye.

Me: Yes.

END SCENE.

 

If you have enjoyed the above post then please show your appreciation by paying the (obligatory) landoftherisiblepun license fee. A cheque for 2, 690 yen should cover it.

In fact, it doesn’t matter if you enjoyed it or not, if you own a computer and have internet access than you owe me money. I mean it. Don’t make me come round to your house and be all smiley and polite and everything.

 

We’ll have a great time, trust me.

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