01 Mar The Land of the Rising Pun: Dispatches from Japan
The Land of the Rising Pun: Dispatches from Japan
Fireworks festivals, earthquakes, early morning missile warning wake-up calls, all-you-can-drink bars, crap Irish bars, excellent Goth bars, a Reggae bar that is more like a house party back home, the never-ending awkward bow competition and don’t forget a month of making sure my desk is warmed to the most perfect temperature while I eagerly await the start of the new school term. I’ve lost weight, joined a flash mob, been busted by hotel security in a restroom (you can fill in the gaps), made a whole new network of friends in a short amount of time, visited ancient shrines, taken an escalator up a mountain, had a coffee made for me by a vending machine with a TV on it displaying precisely what’s going on inside as it goes to work and I’ve even returned to the world of public school education. They even let me teach. It’s much better than feckin’ night shifts in an XL shop.
The locals are kind and polite on a level that I have not experienced thus far in my human years. For my birthday, I was given a lovely blue tie, a big bottle of whiskey, an anime poster, a Japanese calligraphy set and a boatload of FIREWORKS!!! These are some of the things that I have experienced in Japan, where I have been living for the last month. A far cry from oul’ Letterkenny, however Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima is where I lay my head now, and wherever I may roam, where I lay my head is home.
Yes. THAT Fukushima… the nuclear one. Well, actually a bit less than 2% of Fukushima is a no-go zone after the big disaster in 2011. The rest of it is healthier to inhabit than New York, London, Paris and Tokyo in terms of air pollution so stick that up your arse. Fukushima is a beautiful area. I’ve seen a few cities and areas around it by now and have been in awe on a number of occasions at the sights, smells, sounds and all those buzz words you should include in a travel entry of any kind. And I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.
One of my favourite things about Japan is that talking and making noise on public transport is heavily frowned upon. So if you are on a long journey home, tired and grumpy, you don’t have to tolerate listening to ignorant pricks shouting down through the bus, or an old biddy yappin’ on the phone about Mary’s 3rd place finish in the cunt competition. Contrary to the opinions I have just expressed, the level of respect and decency shown to total strangers is significantly higher than people in western societies often show towards their closest friends.
I was in Fukushima City for my birthday, as part of a training seminar (a bunch of foreigners on the razz for a few days). The city must have heard because they put on a massive firework display down by the river for me. Closest thing you’d get to that in Ireland is a banger through your windshield. I hope I don’t sound bitter; I do love Ireland. However, I am in the midst of what you’d call the euphoria phase of culture shock. Everything is shiny! Everything just works.
Right now I feel as if everything at home is absolutely wrong, and everything in Japan is absolutely right. However, as I have lived in South Korea before (had to get that in there, but it’s relevant, I swear) I have found myself to be far less shocked and confused by these new conventions and attitudes than I was eight years ago. You see I’m a tenured 31-year-old specimen of a man now, and have been through the trenches of early adulthood. I have accepted the futility of our efforts and realise now that how you accept what is happening to you is far more important than exactly what is happening. My mathematical formula is Life = 10% your life events + 90% your reaction to said events. So when I wake up to my building trembling due to an earthquake, or a warning on my phone saying that a North Korean missile is steaming across Northern Japan, I seem to just grab a coffee and a smoke, as if to say “fuck it, I’ve had my fun and that’s all that matters”.
To conclude, this weekend I’m entering a sumo tournament deep in the mountains somewhere in Fukushima. They get you drunk on their award-winning Saki beforehand too so, if this is my first entry, I hope it is not going to be my last, due to death. I aim to be back, with the tale of how I slayed every bracket to claim the Yokozuna title… or at least how I managed to make it out alive. I am a whopping 11 stone after all.