Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Culture shockafeller skank

It's November, which means I've been here three months now. This is precisely the time that the dreaded phase 2 of culture shock is supposed to set in, and I think I am experiencing it a little. So far, it's not too bad; compared to the emotional torture of finishing a PhD, this is a walk in the park. On Prozac. Culture shock is also known as culture fatigue, and while this sounds less cool I think it's a more accurate description. Gradually, one's enthusiasm for greeting strange new experiences is depleted, and being permanently confused due to one's inability to speak the language gets a little tiresome. But I've just got to keep studying Japanese, try not to become too much of a hermit (I just bought a hi-def TV to go with PS3) and ride it out into stage 3.

Fortunately, I have something to look forward to. My family are coming to stay with me for a week from this friday - they should already be in Tokyo. My own personal Jesus Hosokawa-san pulled some strings so I have the whole week of their stay off work. I'm looking forward to some big sightseeing, and freaking them out with various raw seafoods and naked bathing opportunities. I think my house is more or less ready for their arrival; I have bedding sorted out, I've got a big can o' kerosene, and I've found the power cable for my kotatsu. What I didn't realise previously is that the heat is produced by incandescent bulbs, meaning that I essentially have a coffee table with ground effects. I feel like Tim Westwood.

I guess I'll give you a quick roundup of what I've been doing. In the last week I have not once but twice been out-drunk by Japanese women about half my weight. Wednesday night was a trip to my town's swanky Italian restaurant with Marie-san and friends. (It occurs to me that I've never really explained who she is. She and her husband own a sake shop in Akayu, and she also tutors maths and English part time. Thus she speaks excellent English, and has been a friend to all of the ALTs that have come to Nanyo over the years. She has shown me an extraordinary level of kindness since my arrival.) In my last post I vowed to stop getting drunk on wednesdays, and I stuck to this resolution, but it wasn't easy. I had to weather a storm of peer pressure, with them telling me that they all had work in the morning too, go on, have another. I honestly can't understand how they can drink so much and function at work the next morning. Maybe there's some miracle substance in natto that confers invincibility to hangovers? Or maybe I'm just a big wuss. Anyway, I managed to limit myself to four beers and bed before midnight, and let me tell you, it was glorious going to Japanese class with a clear head the next day.

On friday night, despite (or possibly because of) having work the next day (more on that below) I really had that friday feeling. I treated myself to a trip to Kappa Sushi, and I think I enjoyed it all the more because I was imagining going there with my family soon. After that I cashed in one of my booby prize tokens and went for an onsen here in Akayu for the first time. It was an upmarket joint, and had two separate pools, one of which was extremely hot while the other was merely very hot. I'm convinced you stay hot for some hours after an onsen; it's like Ready Brek. I rounded off the evening by sitting wistfully by the shrine looking out over the town. How's that for an evening of Japanese entertainment?

The second time I was drunk under the table (where at least it's well illuminated) was saturday night. A female ALT from a nearby town was going out drinking with three teacher friends of hers, and invited me along. We kicked the evening off with - what else? - nomihodai at an izakaya. These ladies were downing beers at an almost alarming rate, determined to get their money's worth. Their English was incredibly good, and there was a pleasing absence of Japanese formality - after a few drinks we were having a very amusing discussion about K-Y Jelly. Once our time was up we moved on to a karaoke place, where they displayed a surprisingly thorough knowledge of Western pop music from the 1970s to the present. I wowed them with one of my better renditions of Creep.

I was working on saturday because it was the 'Chorus Festival' for the school I'm currently teaching at (see last post). A whole day of competitive choir singing did get a little tedious, but when all 300-odd students linked arms and sang together at the end I was actually quite touched. The most surprising event of the day was when the parents and teachers of each grade took to the stage to sing a song. I was expecting fairly ramshackle performances, but no - they were in tune and split up into different harmonising parts. I asked someone whether they had rehearsed. Oh yes, I was told, they all came in between 7 and 9pm four or five times to practice. I'm still struggling to get my head around this. Parents gave up ten hours of their free time to practice singing for their kids' school concert? With that kind of work ethic, I'm starting to see how Japan managed to recover so quickly from losing the second world war.

Anyway, I had monday off because of that, and today was yet another public holiday: Culture Day. The closest I came to doing anything cultural was an epic Rock Band session last night. Another ALT expressed an interest in Rock Band, so I invited him round. When he showed up with a drum-stool, I suspected he was hardcore. Turns out he's an actual drummer and guitarist (though the latter is of less use for the game) and also played Rock Band obsessively before coming out to Japan last year. He was more than a little handy. We played more-or-less solidly from 7pm to 1:30am, trying to tackle career mode on expert. It was good to play with someone who took the game that seriously, but I think maybe 6+ hours is too much - I had all sorts of addled rhythm-based dreams last night.

Alright, now I'm going to watch Return of the Jedi. I identified that Star Wars is a very conspicuous gap in my nerd knowledge; I probably have seen them all (the originals that is, I really don't care about episodes 1-3) at some point in my life, but definitely not in the last ten years. However, from the likes of Spaced, Kevin Smith movies and the work of Adam and Joe I feel like I pretty much know the plot, so I figured it was time to actually watch the trilogy. Between teaching, socialising and Playstation, it's taken me weeks to get around to them, but I think tonight is the night to put it to bed.


  1. Tip: If asked, say that The Empire Strikes Back is the best, that's what everyone says.

    What are the stages of Cultural Fatige, are they similar to the stages of Body Melt?

    Stage 1: Glandular
    Stage 2: Brain Explosion
    Stage 3: Body Melt!


  2. I think you'll find the stages are actually:

    1: Hallucinogenic
    2: Glandular
    3: BODY MELT

    Brain explosion would render the 3rd stage a little redundant.

  3. Oh, also, I would concur that Empire is the best. I thought Jedi was disappointing. A very similar quality trajectory to Back to the Future, actually.