Monthly Archives: February 2011

Small Town Star: or How to become a minor celebrity in small town Japan

There are certain things I expect when I go to the bakers in my town. One, that I’ll spend way too much money, two, that I’ll glance at the pizza menu with a covetous eye and finally, you know…bread. I wasn’t however, expecting to be told I’m handsome and on top of that famous by my fifty something year old baker. A charming man he may be and a purveyor of quite delicious baguettes most certainly, but previous conversations have tended to remain in the safer arena of weather-based small talk.

Perhaps I ought to offer some context.

The week before this peculiar incident my boss leaned in the window to our office and informed me that a journalist would be attending my next kindergarten class. This was not something I considered to be good news. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching that class. Kindergarten kids are the best students you could possibly hope for. At that age their brains are sponges and so long as new vocabulary is accompanied by a funny picture or a silly look plastered across my ugly mug they’re happy.  However, the content of these lessons is heavily based on my ability to be amusing to five and six year olds. This of course involves no small amount of silly faces, funny voices and general exaggeration of everything I do. In that context I’m not the least bit embarrassed, however add a video camera to the mix and I’ll be more than a bit self-conscious. It would be safe to say that I have little desire to see what my version of pantomime farce looks like on film.

Fortunately, it was a newspaper reporter, so the most embarrassing thing would be what he could potentially write about me and the inevitably bad photo he would, most certainly, get of me. I am quite un-photogenic indeed. Although in all honesty, my feelings towards the camera are more to do with it revealing the reality of my looks than distorting them in any real way. I simply consider ‘un-photogenic’ to be kinder to my fragile ego.

So the lesson rolled around and there sure enough, sat in the corner of the room was the journalist. He asked me no questions. Asked my boss only two i.e. what’s his name and what country is he from? Then appeared markedly uninterested for the remainder of the lesson. Fortunately for me I was teaching ‘like’ to the kids using food so they had far more fun than the yawning reporter. You’d be amazed at how much controversy and yelling of, ‘eeeeeeee?!’ can be elicited by just one child declaring that they don’t like fried chicken.

It’s probably worth noting that this wasn’t the first time I’ve been in the local paper. In small town Japan the possession of a non-Japanese face naturally affords one a certain amount of celebrity. If you are a teacher doubly so as there is little likelihood of privacy when you teach over a hundred people in a place where six degrees of separation is whittled down to two. Add to that a classroom of adorable kids and it becomes incredibly unlikely that one might ever avoid the spotlight in small town Japan.

In all honesty though, despite the minor intrusion and yawning reporters, it’s worth it.

You only have to look at the photo to see that.

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Adults Onry

The other day, while I was dashing around between lessons, running a few errands and the like, I stopped by the local convenience store, otherwise known here as a konbini. While there, I saw a most unusual sight; a Japanese man, that busiest of breeds, finding time for a moment of relaxation in his otherwise busy schedule… to peruse the porn.

For a country with a declining population, a youth apparently less and less interested in sex and a general lack of privacy Japan is surprisingly open about its pornography.

I remember when I used to work in a petrol station mini-supermarket the elaborate dances people would go through in order to somehow, “stumble” across their chosen fare. First to the fridge at the back of the store, then a slow and meandering stroll past the pet food and then… “oh, how did I end up here?” Indeed one of the saddest sights I ever saw was a lorry driver whose basket was filled with a single can of extra strong beer, a pack of ten party sausages with dipping sauce and a Nuts magazine. I almost directed him to where we kept the man sized tissues.

In Britain the more risqué magazines are of course generally kept out the reach of the young and the unusually short by dint of their location on the top shelf. Yet, in Japan the magazines in convenience stores aren’t lined up against a wall in a tower of glossy mediocrity and z-list celebrity gossip. Instead they are kept on a rack just below the shop’s front window where passers by and those parking their cars out front can see who is reading them quite clearly.  Generally, these magazine racks are seen as a local library and it’s not unusual to see four or five people standing in front of them enjoying a leisurely leaf through the pages of a magazine. That they choose to do so even with porn continues to astound me, as I live in a country where the adjective most people would use to describe themselves is, ‘shy.’

Although, I should note that there is a place in my town to buy porn away from the prying eyes of children, a shop that the bus always passes on its way out of town that loudly declares itself as being for, ‘Adults Onry.’

However, this behaviour is not only confined to the konbini. When my father came to visit me last summer I’d mentioned in passing to him about how dirty Japanese men could be and in particular how flagrant they’d be about it. After his first few days in my sleepy little town we hopped on a bus bound for Tokyo. Some hours into the long journey he nudged me and said, ‘Matt I see what you mean, look over there.’ Across the aisle and a few seats ahead was an older Japanese man, admiring the centerfold in his porno mag, holding it vertically so as to fully appreciate the two-page spread.

A friend of mine while visiting Japan was rather stunned by just how visible pornography is here and asked me, “Why on earth don’t they have a top shelf like everywhere else?”

In a country with an average height of five foot seven, the more pertinent question might just be; how would they reach it?