5 things I’ll miss about Japan (and 3 that I won’t)

1- Customer service

You have never experienced customer service like Japan’s. Every visit to a convenience store, post office or restaurant makes you feel like you’re just about the most important person in the world.


It was a shock, when I visited home last summer, to see Aer Lingus’s flight attendants. I had always thought they were the final word in customer service, boy was I wrong.

I remember feeling vaguely offended by the bored look on the F.A.’s face as she ran through the seat-belt demonstration for the umpteenth time.


I actually had to stop myself, and remember that I’m a grown up, and I should know how to operate a seat-belt, and that her reaction was perfectly normal.


2- Views like this

Seriously, this is my school


My town


and a temple on a nearby mountain


Right now, it’s cherry blossom season in Japan, and streets, parks and mountains are covered in the little pink leaves. Japan is obsessed with cherry blossoms, so much so that they put out maps, with dates of when the blossoms are going to be at their most beautiful.



3- Napping at work

As I write this, I’m on a bit of down-time at work. The last term is over, and the spring term is still about a week away. Most of the curriculum for the coming school term has been decided, arranged and timetabled… which means it’s nap time!



And this is at a senior high school no less. But why do my co-workers and I get to nap? Because it’s Japan of course!

In Japan, not only is it ok to nap at work, but it’s actively encouraged. If people are seen to be falling asleep at their desk back home, we assume that they had a rough night and are barely fit to work. Over here, however, they view these desktop dreamers as being so devoted to the job, working so hard, that they physically can’t stay awake.


Sometimes, people will even fake being asleep so it seems like they’ve been working harder.


4- working out what the ‘Engrish’ means…

Ah Engrish, I love you really. Once I got past your incredibly confusing packaging for eating my…I learned to love you


Seeing posters, shop names, slogans and other things written in Engrish lights up my day, and if there are a few foreigners around, trying to work out what these signs mean, is a great way to pass the time if you’re stuck in traffic


(what exactly is ‘Hot Communication’?)


5- Finding something awesome tucked away down dark alleys

Usually, if somebody says that they had a good time down some small alley in the middle of town, it’s time to back up and exit the conversation

But Japan, with it’s confusing, higgledy-piggledy streets, and tiny restaurants and cafes, is something of an exception. Last weekend for example, I discovered a tiny little sandwich shop near Nagasaki’s train station.

Only open from 11:00-16:00, café on the route caters strictly to the lunch crowd, and serves up, what are, without a doubt, the best sandwiches that I have had in Japan.

The owners are a funny bunch, using simple enough English, which most Japanese people can understand, while also attracting English-speaking customers. The stairs up to the café proclaim ‘only six more steps to sandwich’, while the notice-board has little cartoon additions every day.


And the food! Just see for yourself




1- Finding raw egg in my food

Unfortunately, for all the awesome dietary discoveries, there are also bad ones. I’m not a fan of eggs at the best of times, but Japan has an odd obsession with raw eggs. They even have a dish called ‘’ or ‘parent and child’. This refers to the fact that just prior to serving, a raw egg is cracked over the rice and chicken, (hence the name: ‘parent and child’) leaving the egg to cook, using the heat of the meal.


I’ve also found eggs hiding beneath sauces in my curries before! It’s gotten to the point where I’m scared to order food in a restaurant in case it secretly comes with a raw egg.

They even put it on that most sacred of dishes: Pizza




2- Doing the ‘what’s this?’ sniff.

Have you ever been in a restaurant, seen something beside your real food, and wondered: ‘what the hell is that?’ Well, come to Japan, and you can experience that at every meal!


In the end, you have no choice to break out that old reliable instrument, the nose.


Oh how I long for the simplicity of spudz!


3- Toilets


Oh god. The horror! How are you supposed to use that?


Gross! No wonder plenty of visitors to Japan react like this:


I can hardly wait


6 Things you Need to Know About ‘Enkai’ (drinking parties)…

It’s the end of the school year in Japan, which means there are a whole load of work parties to slog through. The Japanese love office parties, for a few reasons. They give the lower level employees a chance to voice concerns with their bosses, they let people from different departments mingle (important, since Japan’s birth rate is collapsing), and they have all you can drink alcohol…


all the beers


We had the end of year party for retiring teachers and the English department had a separate one for the departing English teacher. Next weekend, after the new term has officially started (but thankfully, before any classes) we’ll have another big party to welcome the new teachers, then the English department will have YET ANOTHER party to welcome the new teacher.


In a short couple of months, I will be leaving Japan for the cloudy skies of Ireland, and


If you were an alcoholic in Japan, it would be very easy to hide it, what with all the unlimited booze parties.



1- They are expensive

All that beer and food has to come from somewhere, and the average enkai will cost upwards of 5,000, ($50). Enkais up to 10,000, are not unheard of, and usually the big parties clock in at around that price tag.


For all that money, you could be forgiven for wondering where it all went, after all, it didn’t go on the food. Hotels and restaurants serve up the tiniest portions of food that they can get away with. Undoubtedly, it’s tasty, and of a decent quality, we just wish there were… more of it.




2- All you can drink, means all you can drink (to an extent)

Yes, what I said earlier is true, these parties are all you can drink, except you’re limited in two ways.


– you cannot fill your own drink. It’s a weird custom that since everybody is friends at an enkai you should never have to fill up your own glass. So, if you run out of beer, wine, whiskey or sake, you need to fill up somebody else’s glass to give them a gentle reminder that your throat’s as dry as the Sahara.


-the glasses are tiny. In keeping with the control of the food portions, the beer glasses hold (at most) 100ml of beer. Thankfully, there are large bottles of beer on every table, now all you have to do is remind a co-worker that you’re running empty, and try to avoid the temptation to take two of the bottles and attempt to recreate the ‘Edward 40-hands’ scene from ‘How I Met your Mother’.




3- Even though you are drinking, you must still be polite

Yup, this is Japan, and even while drunk, you have to follow the rules. At some stage during the party, you will have to stumble your way over to the boss’s table, make some polite conversation, fill up his drink and get out of there as smoothly as possible.




4- The nijikai (second party) is all but compulsory

Every enkai is followed by a nijikai, usually this happens when the ‘all you can drink’ time at the first place expires. The most hardcore of drinkers will stay for the sanjikai (third party), but you don’t need to concern yourself with that. After all, if you’re not completely polluted after four hours of non-stop drinking, what will two more do?


The nijikai is even more focused on the drinking than the first one (if that’s possible), and it’s where all the office gossip, promotions, assignments and schedules are arranged. Make sure you attend, or you’ll find yourself out of the loop when your co-workers are getting all the choice jobs.




5- You will make new friends (for an evening)

In my school, there is a teacher who only talks to me at enkais, seriously. This guy’s English, combined with my Japanese means that we can have a grand old chat together. At the last party, he got… a little tipsy, and started comparing the female teachers’ breasts to fruit, from grapes to melons.


Did you know that there was a size difference between apples an oranges? Or that kiwi is an acceptable measurement for cup size? Me neither, but this guy did…




But the point is, this guy won’t talk to me if he doesn’t have a glass full of Dutch courage in his hand. Apparently, he’s shy… (I’ll never be able to look at pears the same way again.)



(How I think I look)

6- If you’re foreign everything you do will be remembered

Seriously, I don’t need to say much. This picture summarizes it perfectly.




Remember when the foreigner (and everybody else) couldn’t handle their drink? Great times!’



It might seem like I’m coming down on enkais, and I suppose that I am, a bit. I still love them, they’re a great way to let your hair down with your co-workers, as well as have some fun, interesting, and downright terrifying conversations.


But hey, if Japan is anything, it’s fun, interesting, and a little terrifying!


“A journey of a…

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Laozi

In my case, the journey is just under 6,000 miles, but the idea is the same. Over the next few months I will be packing up my life here in Japan, and moving it home.


My journey starts here.