As I walked along Dotonbori for what I realized would be the last time before I head back to the U.K. tomorrow, I got thinking about what knowledge I could have done with when I first arrived. You always hear the same old insights -‘take and give with both hands’, ‘bow at this angle’, ‘never do the thumbs down gesture – it means death’, ‘don’t walk and eat’. Well, once you get here you realize that those aren’t really that important. In fact, rigorous compliance to Japanese etiquette in an awkward, put on way really just draws attention to how un-Japanese you are. As these little rules are put in place to make social transactions go more smoothly, you’d be better off being aware of them but not indulging in them until you’d sufficiently mastered basic manners – for example, how loudly you speak. I’m always astonished at how unaware people are of their own volume, or the contrasting volume of the situation around them. But, that’s just a general useful tip. As an ALT, what would have really helped me… knowing more Japanese pop culture. 

The thing about the Japanese (here, please imagine a vague waving gesture of one non-committed hand as The Watanabes, my other Japanese friends and the lovely Japanese I have yet to meet that don’t fall into this wide sweeping statement)… that was a long proviso, let me start that sentence again with aforesaid proviso set in place. Ahem. The thing about the Japanese is that they love themselves. Japan is in love with the notion of Japan. They dedicate TV programmes to themselves, touring up and down the country for Japanese only products, Japanese only experiences. Japanese history lessons focus on the samurai era, the Meiji Restoration… other areas, receive a sort of ‘oh and then….er *WW2* and the horrible west bombed us for no reason’. A true anecdote from a co-worker: second graders were set the essay topic ‘which country would you like to visit?’ – 95% chose Japan. Tell the kids about your country… they’re not interested, they just want to hear about what you’ve tried in Japan and that it’s better in Japan. So there I was, trying to be ‘down’ and ‘hip’ with the kids (truly a sign one is aging) but failing miserably with my pop culture references. I thought they’d be interested in Adele, Eastenders / [insert other crappy soap set in another area of England]… nope. But, if I mentioned Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to them – they’d go wild. Big Bang, Watanabe Naomi (not related to The Watanabes), Exile, HeySayJump!, Piko Taro… Suddenly I was ‘in’ and interesting. Basically, just validate that the corporate manufactured pop entities vomited out by the Japanese entertainment industry are leading revolutionaries. Perpetuate the Japanese #1 propaganda. Of course I want to be liked by my students (it’s not supposed to be a popularity contest but it’s amazing how much more receptive to learning they are if they do), I’ve just never been a fan of shit music. 

The thing is that over here idols have a lot more to do with their look than their talent. Even their looks aren’t unique, their personalities and appearance are decided by talent agencies. Now, I’m aware that is the case for every individual whose career is built on media attention. The thing is the vulgar obviousness of the lack of talent, then how quickly mass-produced a concept is. PPAP being a prime example. Suddenly there were literal pineapple-apple pens, CDs, costumes, figurines, snacks, wristbands, phone charms, mobile games -Justin Bieber even got in on an advert with Piko Taro. And the mob lapped it up. I’d like to think we’re a little more discerning in the U.K. Even if we indulge a fad, the companies wouldn’t go *too* crazy on the follow-up merchandise because they wouldn’t insult our intelligence. But the Japanese (remember the proviso)… only one question: is it a Japanese produced marketing gimick? Great. We’ll go all in and carbon copy ourselves. 

It’s about the look, not the content. Contrary the whole ‘Japanese has so many layers, so many deep meanings behind every act’ – no. Modern Japan is vanity embodied as a nationality. You may have guessed from previous posts that I loathe vanity. 

Why do I hate vanity? 

I guess it’s because I’ve always hated how I look. Therefore, the notion of being overly enamoured with myself is not only inconceivable but  repulsive. I vary what parts of myself I hate the most. It’s easier when it’s something tangible. Let’s say my teeth. First they were crooked, then I hated my brace-face, then I hated how big they looked without the braces on. A fondness for sugar, black coffee and red wine combined with an aversion for brushing my teeth at night is the cause for my current dental dislike. 

Oral hygiene. I know that’s what just crossed your mind. But let me stop you there. Just because I hate how they look does not mean I’m a fetid creature.

First, there are the exceptions. If I brush my teeth an hour before I go to bed, it’s fine. Strong mint flavours have a caffeine-like effect on me and it’s impossible to sleep straight after. It annoys me that I’ll be perfectly sleepy but then in the routine of getting ready for bed, I do something to counteract the desired end result. Second exception, I’m drunk. In an inebriated state, I stick to the logic that if I have the foresight to brush my teeth then I cannot have totally disgraced myself. Also, there’s nothing worse than the sweetness of cocktails draining away and leaving a pure alcohol coating over your tongue. 

After the exceptions, come the cleansing routines of my boyfriend. At once exasperating and endearing, The Freshen is a highly specialised and sacred ritual. I’m not party to all the secrets but there’s over two products and a separate hand and face towel involved. I appreciate the metrosexual phenomenon – especially as my significant other tempers it with a healthy love of rugby, Liverpool FC and inherently male blindness to beard trimmings around the sink. The Freshen was compounded by the opening sequence of American Psycho. It may have been on dubious grounds before but after the cult film became one of our mutual favourites (I YouTube ‘Try getting a reservation at Dorsia’ every few weeks for an instant feelgood), The Freshen became a real life parallel of the Batman-donning-suit montage. 

Where this left me was the stark contrast between post-Freshen him and loathing-late-minty-molars I. Obviously it’s intolerable so my only option is to do a feeble imitation to reduce the distance between us. 

Here at The Watanabes, it’s my last night and it’s just gone 12 past 12 midnight. I brushed my teeth hours ago. 

ALT thought. When revising body parts, reference AKB48’s Totomi Itano


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