Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thanks for all the fish Blogger

Folks, I love blogger. It's a great, easy to use platform, so many great blogs around, but the time has sadly come to fully move my blog over to Wordpress. It takes longer than I thought to post everything twice, and so from now on I will only be blogging on Wordpress - aiming for 5 posts a week. You can subscribe by RSS, Email or through Wordpress, so there's three ways to make sure you don't miss a post!

Here is the World Journeys home - 


 And here are some of the latest blog posts you may have missed -

 A Day in Hakone 

Sunday Spotlight - York  

Japan Survival Guide Part Five - The Classroom

My Travel Bucket List 

Please do continue to follow me at my new home!
May the journey never end!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Spotlight: Bukhara

Bukhara streets

Hello! And welcome to the Sunday Spotlight. Each Sunday I aim to provide a post about somewhere in the world I’ve visited that is pretty darned awesome, in my opinion at least. I hope this Easter everyone is safe and enjoying a relaxing weekend with their families and friends. As for me, well, I am off to Mount Fuji today, finally getting up close and personal with this iconic landmark of Japan.

Main Square in Bukhara with lake.

But it’s too Uzbekistan I’m taking the blog to, and the Silk Road city of Bukhara, an ancient place with a middle eastern feel. It’s really the perfect place to appreciate Islamic Architecture and feel a part of history that many tourists worldwide have never considered and have never heard of. And Uzbekistan has loads of this sort of stuff, but the old quarter in Bukhara is quite self contained, great to roam the streets and alleyways, and is somewhat away from the bustle of the larger, more modern part of the city.

Getting there? Well the train from Tashkent, when I visited a couple of years back now, took around 7 hours, but they have since bought Talgo trains so the journey should be somewhat faster.

Sleep where? I slept at a great little guesthouse called Sarafon Bed and Breakfast. Uzbekistan has a great collection of Bed and Breakfasts, and this is no exception. Rooms are $25-30, comfortable, have bathroom and air conditioner, and the owners are friendly and eager to help. Good location in the old town.

Eating – Plenty of restaurants around, try the one in the main square Lyabi Hauz, I had a good meal with a couple of drinks for around $8.
Some of the things to see in the town include (from my ebook ‘Short Journeys: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan’ –

Kalon Mosque
Kalon Mosque and Minaret from outside.

Wandering the streets is, on its own, a real highlight of visiting Bukhara. Dusty streets, high walls, many of them were pretty much deserted as I wandered around and then suddenly – Bang! A tour group. But I also passed Medressas and mosques in the amazing streets of Bukhara. The Kalon Mosque has a striking minaret which you see above the houses and walls in the area north east of Lyabi-Hauz. It’s kind of nestled between houses and such and it springs up on your out of nowhere.

Inside, the Kalon Mosque continues to impress with its great beauty. It features wondrous high arches and a blue dome, and isn’t quite as popular with the tourist as some of the other attractions in Bukhara. It’s big and mosaic work is exquisite. There are lots of corridors with arches in what are sort of cloisters, it’s also really peaceful. A real highlight of Bukhara.

The Ark
‘The Ark’ – with a name like that, I expected a big boat! Except of course that I’d researched already and knew it wasn’t. It’s actually a big citadel, reputedly the oldest part of Bukhara that was bombed by the Soviets in 1920. So what you see today is mostly rebuilt. But nevertheless, it’s very impressive.
From Lyabi-Hauz you walk past the Kalon Mosque and Minaret, through to the Registan area. The Registan is the square outside the Ark. You’ll see the Ark rising above the buildings as you close in. Then past a whole stretch of tourist shops selling artefacts and carpets and if you’re lucky postcards (postcards in Central Asia are rarer than hen’s teeth. Well, almost!).

Then there she is, rising out of the sand with huge turrets, a huge entrance, it’s almost a sand castle that got bigger than the kids had intended and will now stand forever. What’s inside? Well it starts with an impressive passageway past the opening gate opening up at the top with various buildings and so forth to explore.
Central inside the citadel is the Juma (means ‘Friday’) Mosque. It’s not massive, but it is interesting. It dates back to the 17th century and inside are many different Korans. There are a couple of courtyards you’ll find once you start exploring. Everything may have basically been rebuilt, but it’s still quite striking and impressive. Be aware if you are there in summer as I was it will be very hot, and as in all of Bukhara there is very little shade.
If you explore the buildings and courtyards you will come across a couple of different museums. I always find the history of the last century or so more interesting than that of ancient times with broken pottery and the like, both are on show here. Perhaps what is best though is the view across Bukhara. Definitely worth the admission price (double if you have a camera) to get up there and look out across this amazing city that was once part of the Silk Road.

Bolo-Hauz Mosque

Pretty much opposite the Ark, you’ll find the Bolo-Hauz Mosque. It’s a really nice place inside, and worth a peak. If you’re lucky you won’t have too much company, although the tour groups kept coming in and out of there whilst I was there sadly. Its façade features thin wooden columns and a sort of lattice-worked wooden roof, then you enter and look up to a beautiful white dome. There are many arches, and the floor is covered with interesting carpets. It dates back to the early 18th century and was specially built for the Emir of the time.

Outside there is something of a pond and a water tower between the mosque and the Ark. Apparently you can climb the water tower for great views. I didn’t, I hate heights and no-one else was climbing whilst I was there so decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

If you’d like to learn more about Uzbekistan and my experiences there, check out my ebook available on Amazon Kindle – Short Journeys: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Japan Survival Guide Point 4 – Food and grocery shopping.

So, you’re coming to live in Japan. You’re going to teach English probably, and you’ll have your own apartment and quite often you’ll be cooking for yourself. What’s that like? What is Japanese food like and what are my choices when I eat out?
Shopping in Yokohama for food.
These are all important questions. Let’s start with self-catering and seamlessly melt into eating out via the convenience store, a big part in the lives of people in Japan, foreigners and Japanese. The first question you may have is – ‘Are supermarkets significantly different to those at home?’

Well, yes, and no. Firstly, fruit and vegetables are very seasonal here. I come from Australia, and things are not so seasonal at home because of our mild to non-existent winters. In Japan there’s plenty of snow, so that affects produce. Also, there simply isn’t that much land here to farm, and so much of that land is used for, you guessed it, rice.
We studied chapters at school which talked about Japan’s importing of food, and there’s so much that is imported. A high percentage of the beef and meat comes from other countries, including Australia. They like to marble the beef with strains of fat, so lean beef is not so easy to find. That’s the way they like it here. You will also find that meat is often sold in small, thin ‘strips’, rather than fillets.

There are a lot of noodle products, usually plenty of vegetables with an unhealthy obsession with radishes. Vegetables, I feel, are pretty expensive, especially in winter. A tomato could cost you $1.50 or more for one, and they tend to price per unit, not by weight although that is not always true. There are plenty of chips on the shelves and it’s often hard to know what flavour they are by the packet.

Lots of ice cream too, and you’ll find green tea is a very popular flavour here for it. And many other things as well. Ham and cheese especially are disappointing for quality and choice. Sausages are hard to find, unless you are looking for wieners. Self-raising flour is very rare. Bread is ALWAYS sold as a half loaf, is usually white and sweet and cut into very thick pieces. 1.5 cm is pretty standard and it gets thicker from there. That’s why I have made my own bread for two years in Japan, I want it cut thinner, I want it brown and with less sugar and chemicals. You can leave you bread in the fridge for weeks here and it doesn’t change. Yes, bread is disappointing. I HAVE seen bread as thick as an INCH.

I could go on but you get the idea. Then you get home and most houses, apartments and whatnot don’t have an oven, just a stove. And that usually doesn’t come with your apartment, so you end up renting or buying a one burner stove and that’s what you cook with. So no baking for you! Or roasting. Keep that in mind when you try to whip things up of an evening. Also, I find prices more expensive here in Yokohama than I did in Iwate which makes little sense, unless it’s sales tax.

If you’re in a rush, you can do what everyone does and that’s go to a convenience store, or as they call it here, a ‘conbini’. 7/11, Lawson, Family Mart, Sun K us… there are a legion of them here, I have never seen so many. They carry bentos (a kind of prepared lunch pack), sandwiches (not advised, will send you to the loo!), hot dogs, some very nice fried chicken, hot pockets, chips… for a few dollars you can sort a meal out for yourself with a bit of variety. Of course, it’s unlikely to score well in being healthy. But this is what a lot of Japanese people do and they love their conbinis very much.
Then you could go to a restaurant. And truly, of course you must try some Japanese food whilst you’re here. Here are some examples.

Sushi – you know sushi and sashimi right? A sort of rice ball or tube with raw fish, or vegetables, or egg or maybe something else on top or inside? You’ll find them at supermarkets, conbinis and restaurants and they are actually pretty healthy.

Okonomiyaki – well this one is a sort of omelette thing I guess. It involves egg, cabbage and a mixture of various other vegetables, often sprouts, a bit of meat maybe, restaurants specialise in this one. You can often make it yourself with a little hot plate included on your table! Cook it yourself and then smother it in ketchup, mayo or brown sauce. It ends up not being really healthy, and I don’t much go in for it, but many love it.

Yaki-soba – can be really delicious. It’s a sort of noodle thing mixed with cabbage, pork (or some other meat) and other vegetables. Really really nice! My favourite Japanese food.

Natto – this one is more for the brave I think. Strong smelling beans in a sort of sauce served usually with rice. It hails from Iwate I believe, and to be honest is not my cup of tea. But it might be yours!

Ramen – and if none of these appeal to you, try a bowl of ramen noodles. I like it with pork slices on top, the ramen noodles are in a delicious soup with vegetables too.

Tempura – well tempura can be many things from chicken to vegetables to shrimp. It’s basically just a Japanese take on covering something in batter and frying it. And yes it can be pretty darned tasty, and no, it’s usually not healthy.

You might also want to try –
Yakitori – grilled chicken on a stick in a sauce, really nice.
Onigiri (Rice balls) – People here LOVE rice balls for lunch or snack, usually wrapped in seaweed. Me? Not so much.
Soba, udon – more interesting kinds of noodles. There are many!
Curry & Rice – known more simply as Curry Rice, it’s usually a curry with maybe a little potato or other vegetables, and rice. It’s very popular up in Iwate, tastes okay and is usually not particularly hot.

So there are a few quick ideas to start you off for eating in Japan. Japanese cuisine is varied and usually tastes very strong, they don’t like things mild here. Again, I have only touched the surface there are so many different Japanese dishes. Be adventurous, but be aware you may end up with a bowl of something you can’t stand! Japanese food is really a love or hate it sort of deal. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Evening in Shinagawa

If Shibuya is Tokyo being pretty darned trendy, Shinagawa is Tokyo perhaps getting down to business. Well, my wife told me it was a business district, although to me there seemed to be a few hotels and restaurants there. It features the most impressive, in my opinion, of Tokyo’s stations. There’s a big arched roof above a walkway that runs from the north to south exits that people bustle through. That’s where you find the Japan Rail entrance to the station. It’s a really big station too, one that’s pretty easy to get lost in.

I headed to Shinagawa yesterday evening to meet my wife and some of her friends for dinner, and I was a bit early. So I thought I’d take a stroll around and snap a couple of pictures. Pretty much attached to the station was a Pachinko/slot place. They are unbelievably popular here. I once wondered where the good people of Ichinoseki all were as the main streets were often dead, and one day I went into a pachinko place and found 90% of the machines taken and there were hundreds in that place, possibly over a thousand. Almost definitely. And there are dozens in my old hometown.

Pachinko is almost a cross between a pinball game and a slot (pokie) machine. You get a whole bunch of gold balls and try to guide them into a winning position – the machine is upright though, and you have very little control, much less than a pinball machine for example. Anyways, outside this place there were two guys dressed up and dancing trying to get people to go inside. They weren’t having much luck. I wonder if I could get a part time job doing that?

On the north side of the station, after passing people walking through the arched walkway which was seriously grand, was the part of Shinagawa I haven’t really explored at all. It seems a lot of restaurants are in that area, 6-8 people were out hawking for their restaurants with menus in hand and aprons on. Business men and women with stern faces took the escalators up to the station on their ways home, and every now and again one person would be smiling and laughing, relieving my worries that everyone in Tokyo is just working until they die with no enjoyment from life whatsoever.

Inside the restaurant.

There was little to none of the Harajuku colour, the artisan spirit, the outfits and non-conformity that you can see in other places in Tokyo in Shinagawa. And then it was time for dinner as my wife arrived and we met her friends at a French Restaurant on the other side of the station called ‘Aux Bacchanales’.

It was very ‘colonial’ in design, reminding me of décor more attuned to the 40s I guess, and somewhat reminiscent of a restaurant (also French) I went to in Yaounde, capital of Cameroon. I really loved the look of the place, although the waiter who served us, who was French, didn’t crack a smile until the end of the night when we were paying the bill and I said to him ‘Please smile, you look so stressed’, and then he did. Which was a relief.

In fact this was the third French restaurant I have been to inside a week! And no, I didn’t choose any of them! The menu was limited, but we were in the lunch/bar area. It was great for my wife to catch up with her friends, and I must remember what it’s like when we move back to Australia to be at a table and understand less than 10% of the conversation. Although my wife speaks a lot more English than I do Japanese, it will still be very hard for her. Listening is always the hardest thing!

And so we walked back to Shinagawa station to take the train back to Yokohama and beyond (we are in the suburbs here). The train was packed, lots of standing, but apparently nothing like peak hour. Take care everyone, more coming tomorrow. From now on on Sunday I will be posting a retrospective on a place I visited in the past, in an attempt to not be posting everyday about Japan.

Don’t forget to have a listen to the podcast. It’s the main feature of yesterday’s blog. Each podcast will get its own dedicated blog post.
The station at night.

Tomorrow it’s back to the Japan Survival Guide – I’m going to talk about Japanese foods! And a little bit about grocery shopping! May the journey never end!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The World Journeys Podcast is here! Episode One!

Howdy all! Yes, it has finally arrived! The World Journeys Podcast!

Michael Eastwood - our very first guest!
I, your humble host, Andrew Boland, will be interviewing and chatting with a number of people this year about travel-related topics, the best of countries, the worst of countries, backpacking, taking a show overseas, the experience of living in another country and so much more.
The topic or theme of 'travel' is a wide one and there are so many possibilities, so please join me as I begin this new adventure, my first ever podcast. Podcasts aim to be between 25 and 40 minutes.

The first mini-series of 6 episodes features a range of interviews I have and will conduct with people here in Japan, and focuses mainly on living, working and teaching in Japan. I have a great line up of people with various experiences in Japan, and it's a really good look at expat life in North Asia (principally).

Episode One is an interview with Michael Eastwood, who has spent the last eight years living in Japan teaching initially for the JET program and subsequently for a company called Joy Talk. We talk about the different companies and pros and cons, and about the JET program. We talk about the highlights of living here in Japan, about the food and about the people. It's a great listen and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I recorded it. It goes for about 30 minutes.

So without further ado - Series One, Episode One is here!

Fish Markets and Kabuki

I certainly had a busy day yesterday. I visited the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and took in a single act performance of Kabuki Theatre, then discovered some more of Tokyo’s secrets (that’s for another blog because this one is going to be long enough).

My mother-in-law had suggested that I go to the Tsukiji Market with her, but my wife didn’t think I’d been keen on the idea. It’s not an unreasonable reaction, my hatred of fish has not been kept a secret which has limited some of my eating options here in Japan. However, I thought it would be interesting and at the very least offer a chance for some photos. I hadn’t seen it and it was something to do!

There be fish this way!
So it was that we headed out yesterday on the train to Higashi Ginza station, below the Kabuki-za theatre and a short walk from the market. Or ‘markets’ is possibly a better way to describe it. I mean, it is the biggest fish market in the world! I can strike that off my bucket list now!

There are two markets principally – the inner and outer fish markets. The outer market is a grid of streets where people sell to the public and there are numerous small restaurants and food stalls. There were a couple of small ramen shops with people grabbing a bowl of noodles, and we had a sort of sweet egg thing so not everything is fish-based.
Ramen shop.

You can wander around and see all types of different fish for sale, and you may even see whale meat. The whole whale meat argument is one, folks, I am not entering into because I am here in Japan and my wife is Japanese and in Japan you don’t talk about religion, politics and whales. But I was told that this photo is of whale meat.

Reputedly whale-meat

Inne Market, note the trolley- things!
From there we went to the inner market, which is, from what I understand, a wholesale market. It’s the sort of place where you see people at work and the world go by. I saw some interesting looking seafood there, took a number of photos, and watched these really cool buggies driving about the place. Only part of the inner market is open to tourists, and you can’t enter before 9am. But all in all both were interesting places to see. I also noted so many TOURISTS! WOW! Even at the Cup Noodles museum in Yokohama most visitors were Japanese, but yesterday I saw more foreigners than I have for 12 months I think.

Then, Kabuki Theatre. What is really great is that you can get pretty cheap tickets to see a single act of the show, which may or may not be a complete story. We went to the Kazuki-za Theatre, which is a very modern building – it was completed in 2013 after the previous theatre was considered unsafe and the one before I think burnt down. It was massive and they must have been able to seat a few thousand in there.
Our tickets were 800 yen each, about 8 dollars. So for the tourist it won’t break the bank and for 500 yen more you get an earpiece with English translation. They have a limited number of spots, you need to be in the first 90-100 to get a seat. You are given entrance according to your ticket number. It’s a good idea to buy the tickets a couple of hours before the performance from the little booth outside the theatre, the single act tickets go on sale a little over two hours before that show. Note – I have no photos of the performance, because they are not allowed.
Kabuki-za Theatre

I saw an act called ‘The Dance of the Quiver and the Monkey’. The story is about a female Samurai who wants to take a trainer’s monkey to skin it and make a quiver out of it. However, the monkey starts to dance and the Samurai relents. Apparently the man playing the monkey trainer is a very famous Kabuki actor who had been ill for 12 months and was making his comeback. The entire theatre, which seemed pretty full (single act area was completely sold out) applauded when he came on stage and shouted his theatre-name aloud, which is apparently the tradition to praise the actors this way.

Kabuki theatre, from what I understand, is an offshoot of Noh Theatre, an older Japanese style of performance. The actors all dress up in amazing colours and paint their face and showing body white, speak very loudly and extremely theatrically, and there is a slow, deliberate kind of dance used as well. Kabuki means sing, dance & skill. The actors are accompanied by singers and players of the shamisen, a sort of Japanese ancient guitar (it’s the best I can describe it). The music is slow and the singers warble, rarely in tune and to be honest, it sounds bloody awful as non-appreciator of the art form.  But everything has its own skill set.
Kabuki-za promotional poster.

The stage is set. A long way back!
The female samurai was played by a male actor who specialises in female roles, and the monkey was played by a child and frequented received calls of ‘kawaii!’ from the audience (‘cute’!). He was the best thing about the show from my perspective. It moves rather slowly and is the complete opposite to naturalism. Which is interesting in itself, when I look at Japanese television (see my previous blog post) it very much is naturalistic. Whereas today’s movies and television in the west often err on the side of realism, being gritty, in Japan the dramas and indeed talk shows are very much over the top and ridiculous (with dramas less so, but the acting does appear very OTT).
Stunning work on the backdrops.

I found it really interesting. The crowd really enjoyed the performance and it’s so good to see, a little like East Europe and ex-USSR countries, that people still appreciate culture other than you know, hip-hop. Haha sorry to alienate my younger audience, but I’m 38 going on 70 here!

If you are in Tokyo, why not try a slice of culture? The stage is not so much a traditional, rotating Kabuki stage, but it featured a number of gorgeous backdrops as we waited for the play to begin that kept rolling over one another. Must have been serious work painting those. One act might be 20-40 minutes, so if you don’t like it, you’re not stuck for three hours and you haven’t shelled out your entire daily budget either. The play’s the thing, as someone rather important once said. JK Rowling I think it was.

My ebook Short Journeys: Japan has many more things to do, see and experience in Japan, and a few stories too.

Tomorrow (Thursday 17th April) is a very exciting day for World Journeys, the World Journeys Podcast is beginning. You will find it here, but also it should be going up on itunes and I would LOVE subscribers there! It might take until Friday for it to be available on Itunes though, will let you know! Please do watch this space, and may the journey never end!

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to be on TV in Japan

For two years I lived in Iwate in a small apartment with just my laptop for entertainment. I could choose what I watched and the like and the world of Japanese TV was far away, as I didn’t have one. But for the last two weeks I have been with the in-laws in Yokohama, and although I’ve done my best to avoid watching TV, during the evening hours it is on when have dinner and sit and chat and the like and well, I’ve seen ENOUGH!
How can this be explained? I don't want to know!

Japanese TV is a strange beast, to say the least (ooh! Little rhyme). Dramas exist, but I haven’t got to see many. The dramas here appear to be shot a little like documentaries, with a sort static use of the camera. The actors do SEEM to be over acting, quite a bit but that I think comes from Kabuki Theatre and the style that has been used for centuries on the stage in Japan.

Come the evening though, it’s a kind of talk show / game show thing that is hard to describe. Well, no easy to describe, harder to define. What seems quite common is a story being told, and a group of maybe 15 Japanese celebrities watching and commenting. They stop the story, chat, go back to it. Usually there’s a little screen in the top right corner of the main picture showing the celebrities’ reactions.

These stories vary greatly – two nights ago they were talking and watching a story about a famous actress who threw herself off a building, last night it was about a guy who ghost-writ a famous song. Other times they have had stories about mystery illnesses and so forth. The sets are garish and packed with colour, the sort of thing that would go do well as a backdrop for a drag show. Sometimes the celebrities answer quiz-like questions. They had a show all about the top 50 most influential people on the world - interestingly, half or more were Japanese. They seemed to dumb it down a little. The most interesting thing about Mozart was apparently that he wrote a song about ‘poo’. A man conducted the celebrities as they sang this song in Japanese.

Then there's food shows. It's not like My Kitchen Rules, which to me is equally as appalling but in different ways, but they love to eat food, show food and remark on how delicious something is as part of the show. Then there was the show when they had to guess how much each dish cost! This reminded me of a show back in January I saw where celebrities went into rich people's houses and had to guess how much their valuables cost. And these shows go on for like 2-3 HOURS!

Other times it turns into a full-on game show with strange challenges. For example, on Saturday there was a show where celebrities had a sort of stick attached around their stomachs with a giant baseball glove on the end and they had to pass balls along a line and get them into a bucket.
The days starts with typical breakfast shows as you get in Australia, the US or UK, and when it hits prime time it’s the same kind of show pumped to the max with speed. The celebrities’ opinions are clearly very important, despite them just being, you know, celebrities.
So. Imagine you want to be on Japanese TV. What are the boxes you need to tick to get on?

1/ Don’t be a woman.
This isn’t quite fair, there are women on Japanese TV. Usually hip youngsters. The number of middle-aged to older women is even less. You’d better have been a famous actress in the day. I would say 70% or maybe more of the people on Prime Time talk/game/whatever shows are male. It’s ok to be an older male, and wear a tie. That seems to help.

2/ If you are a woman, be young, be very cute and don’t have much to say.
The girls from Sanrio Puroland get asked to host shows from time to time.

Usually in a panel of 15 or so, I’ve noticed one of the co-hosts will be a cute girl who is less than thirty and is good at laughing. Then there will maybe another young, cute girl in the panel, who almost never, ever gets called on to pass a comment. The men are usually pretty loud and over bearing.

3/ If you aren’t young and cute, you can be a woman if you are really a man.

Ummm what can I say? Japanese TV is fertile ground for career opportunities if you are a transvestite. There really are quite a number of them on TV here. Last week a show had no less than 3 transvestites on its panel, and no it was not a panel about transvestites, changing your sex or anything like that. In Tokyo it’s not that uncommon to be a transvestite, so this is something society is able to accept. In fact, at one of my schools several boys dressed up as girls for the school festival and did a number on stage. It’s not seen as weird or strange as it might be in western society, although being gay is not nearly as accepted outside Tokyo as in the west.
The most famous transvestite is ‘Matsuko Deluxe’. She is a little portly, shall we say, and gets her face on every show she can. She seems to be regarded as an expert on everything and appears in quite a few commercials as well.

4/ There are two kinds of men on Japanese TV. You are respected and revered, or you are a clown.

This here is Yuki Himura, half of the Japanese comedy duo ‘Bananaman’. I don’t know if they’ve heard of the TV show from the UK voiced by ‘The Goodies’ or not. He has a strange haircut as if they used a bowl and acts as dumb as possible for laughs. Well hey, it worked for Adam Sandler, right? No, I don’t like him either.
There’s always a comedian or two on the shows, and usually they speak funny and act stupid. Balanced by a straight, sensible and knowledgeable guy. That’s your other option.

5/Be this guy.

This is Takeshi Kitano. So revered is he my spell check recognises his name and doesn’t underline with red. He has done it all – acted, directed, written, he is basically the ultimate heavy-weight in Japanese entertainment. As such, he appears in so many shows on TV. His views are widely respected and agreed with.
In Japan, age is respected, regardless of the individual. So you see a number of elderly (usually) gentleman asked for their opinions on stuff. I don’t speak Japanese, but I am guessing that they are not experts on most of the stuff they comment on. But they’ve made it past 60 or 70 and their opinion is important.

And so, if you can push yourself into one of those categories, you have a good chance of making onto Japanese Prime Time TV to sit on a panel and comment on stuff you know little to nothing about. I am off to get a bowl hair cut and wander the city saying ‘wakarimasen’ in a low, slow voice. If that fails, I’m going to have to see if there’s a shop that sells dresses that fit me. In Japan, that’s probably unlikely. Wait – where does Matsuko Deluxe shop

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Culture Shock: Part Three - Returning Home.

Today, I am writing about the inevitable reality that almost all travellers face, unless they are travelling professionally that is and when they come home it’s only to say hello, and pack for the next trip. Coming home can be a serious ‘culture’ shock that is not easy to deal with, and I am facing that in less than a month. At the moment I am in a sort of holding pattern as it were here in Japan as my wife and I are living in Yokohama for a month with her family as she has some seminars that she needs to attend before we fly back to Australia in May.

Today - Yokohama

Me, I am at home most days blogging and writing and pretty daunted by the long list of tasks that await me when I get home. Finding a job, a car and all that jazz. IF I can get a number of things sorted before I get home, then it won’t be too bad I am hoping. A place to live is sorted at least. But the whole getting back into the grind of things can be more difficult than travelling to a place and realising it’s more than you bargained for.
May - home 'sweet' home - Melbourne

The first time I went solo backpacking, I came home after seven months around the world and pretty quickly fell into a bit of depression. I was working thankfully, however, I was working at night which didn’t help and I had to adjust to life back home. People seemed less interested in my trip than I had expected. Well, that’s usually the case for backpackers after a long trip. Sure you’ve had an amazing time and met people, seen things and taken a swag of photos, but back home everyone else has had work, work, life, families and reality to deal with, and it’s nice that you’re home but their lives are not going to suddenly stop because you’re back.
For me, this time it’s a little bit different because I’ve been working here for two years so it’s not like it’s been a big long holiday. I’ve had to wake before 6am and clean snow off my car and work 40+ hours a week. To be honest with this 4-6 weeks of inertia I am experiencing right now I will be desperate to start work as soon as is humanly possible.
Then there is the internal realisation that will probably happen to me this time. I’ve been away, seen amazing stuff, done stuff, and I got home and everything seems completely different. SO surreal and weird. Except, after a couple of weeks, this feeling goes into reverse, and everything appears to be the same. Friends, family – the same. Roads, places – the same. How could I go away for so long and nothing has changed at all? Woah, even television is the same? (except there’s always one new show that everyone’s watching)
It’s really quite difficult to deal with, and it’s not really true but coming home after six or more months overseas you do have a somewhat warped way of seeing what you encounter at home, it’s undeniable. And people will tell you you have changed. You’re accent has changed (I definitely now have a bit of an American twang to my accent, mostly with my ‘r’s), you’re different in ways you haven’t noticed.
It’s not that people don’t care that you’ve been away, and are now back, but living 9 to 5 takes its toll on everyone and although the first time you catch up with old friends is full of hugs and happiness, after that it’s ‘as you were’.
How about you? Have you experienced this sort of ‘reverse culture shock’ before? Comment below please!
And this is why I say ‘may the journey never end…’

PS. A little development for everyone. Yesterday I lost literally half the day working on the upcoming World Journeys Podcast. It’s coming! I am aiming to have it Itunes ready by Friday (April 17th). I have completed the first episode, it is edited. I talk to the charismatic and very interesting Michael Eastwood about living in Japan, the JET program, Aomori Prefecture here in Japan and more. Stay tuned for that please! I have it mostly sorted – I am clearly not a tech-head because it has been doing my non-tech-head in trying to work out all this stuff about uploading, bandwidth and RSS feed. But after a period of preparation, we are set to go! Watch this space!