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My Biggest Mistake in Japan

mistake

Recently I was in a Japanese restaurant with some Japanese friends. The conversation was flowing, but then I stopped dead when I heard a certain song. It was a song I’d long forgotten, a song that took me right back to the school I worked at while I was in Japan.

I worked at a junior high school, and in Japan, all JHS students should choose one club activity. It’s fairly hardcore, and the kids have to practise their chosen activity every day – even on weekends.

When I arrived at the school, I was told there was a baton twirling group. I couldn’t believe it! Of all the schools in the prefecture, I got the one that did twirling! From the age of 7 I was a majorette in a troupe called The Sapphires. We were the top in England…though I wasn’t that good myself. The winter months were spent planning our new routines, spring would be village fetes and carnivals to hone our moves then in the summer we’d travel all over the country to competitions – most of which we won.

So to have a team right there in Japan – I could show them all our training exercises and get them to be top of their game! They’d love me forever and we’d all live happily every after, right?

Wrong.

In Japan, it’s not the level of skill that you have that matters, it’s going through the motions. So, as long as you join the club and go to the meetings, it doesn’t actually matter if you put in any effort or not. You’re there as part of the team, not to be amazing at whatever it is yourself. Proving this cultural observation of mine, there are teachers assigned to each group, but the chance of them being an expert in that activity is slim, and they rarely turn up to train the kids. The kids train each other – meaning that bad habits are passed down from year group to year group.

So I turned up to their training session on the top floor of the school to find them sitting down, copying each others’ homework, playing with their phones. I asked to see their routines, and they were technically very very good. They’d been given some great tricks to learn – some of which I couldn’t replicate later at home when I tried… But their dances were set to slow music…love songs where the beats dragged on.

April came and the 3rd graders graduated and tiny little 1st graders joined the team. I saw an opportunity to start a new training regime and to oversee them practise so I could pick out any bad habits they were learning. The kids hated it. They hated me butting into their ‘downtime’, they hated me trying to change things, they hated the music I was suggesting for their dances. They just wanted to sit down with the team and chill out for a bit – even while the school’s famous sporting teams were showing dedication by training really hard outside the window.

I tried to show them videos of other Japanese baton groups who are just spectacular. I thought maybe they’d be inspired and want to be like them. They said that those girls were different. They were just country girls so they would never be as good as that. Then they went back to playing with their phones.

Around the time of me being exhausted trying to think of ways to make the girls be more passionate about baton twirling, some nasty bullying happened. A nasty 1st grader girl was picking on a slightly eccentric teammate. The bullied girl stopped coming to practice, and then stopped coming to school all together. I was fuming. As someone who suffered with bullying, I spotted the signs early on and told the Japanese teacher in charge. She said to leave it be, and the girls will sort themselves out. Of course, that didn’t happen and I felt rotten that a little girl was missing out on an education just because this wasn’t sorted out earlier, and more so that there was nothing at all being done about it. As a foreign teacher, I had no right to discipline the kids and I wasn’t even meant to be left in a room with students without a Japanese teacher there (though this rule was conveniently forgotten each time the Japanese teacher was sick and I was asked to lead classes alone).

The mistake that I made with my experience with the baton twirling group was that I, as a foreigner, can’t just come in and project onto the kids the things that I assume people strive for. In the west, we are taught to be the best that we can be. I am proud to say that I was in the top English majorette group, and I trained hard in my garden every night to try to be as good as the other girls. In Japan, they are taught to be a team. As long as they were together at the right place at the right time, even doing the least amount of work possible to qualify for that activity, then that’s OK.

I also can’t assume that education works the same all over the world. Bullying is dealt with seriously in the UK, but it isn’t in Japan. Me standing over a Japanese teacher tattle-telling on a spiteful girl won’t make Japan change its stance on how to deal with bullying. They are in charge of their own country’s children and I should treat this with an open mind, even when kids are staying home from school because of it.

I did a lot of good for the team, as well. After me prompting and then preparing them, they performed at the summer festival in the village, and were simply wonderful. Two of my favourite girls performed a duet and even pushed themselves to do much more difficult moves than they’d previously tried – which they aced on stage without a single baton dropped. They also performed at the local old peoples’ home, showing that just because they themselves chose the baton team to get out of much harder sports, they can still use their skills to make other people happy.

We expats go about the world and take with us ideas of how things should be, and what is right and wrong. It takes some failure to realise that you have to relax these jerk reactions in response to things that you think are wrong. And we can’t go into things like a bull in a china shop, as I did. This was my biggest mistake in Japan.

 

How Many of These German Expat Mistakes Have You Made?

German Expat Mistakes

I’ve written a lot about how wonderful it is to live as an expat in Germany, but today I’d like to flip and talk about the mistakes new expats can make here. Especially to other Europeans, coming to Germany is so easy. We don’t need any visa or much planning at all and as long as we’re registered to live here when we get here, it’s all good.

BUT there are things that can go wrong…

  1. Register as Christian

A lot of British people, as well as American people (I assume) would say that their religion is generically Christian. It’s the default option because a lot of people grew up in Christian education and culture. I myself went to Christian primary and middle schools and although I went through a short spell of taking my little sister to church every week when she was curious, I’ve never been one for actually going to church. I am Christian by culture, not by religion, I guess.

So when you come to Germany and, when registering, you’re asked what religion you are, should you say that you are Christian? Well, maybe not. If you do, you will have to give money from your wages (around 9% of your salary) every month to the church. Of course, if you are church-going, and are very serious about being Christian, then this is no problem. But for lazy Christians like myself, this is probably not something we want to do.

  1. Phone contract

How long are you planning to stay in Germany? If you are there on a whim and are trying out a new job I advise you to refrain from getting a phone contract. German phone contracts usually last for 2 years, and you have to inform the company 3 months in advance at the end of the contract if you want to end it. If you do not do this, it automatically rolls over another year.

Canceling the contract when you move back home is a pain in the bum. There are loads of horror stories about people who have been given trouble when they try to do this, but luckily, (TOUCH WOOD) it’s been OK for me so far. I first sent a letter to O2 informing them that I will be going home in June. Next, I’ve had a string of emails back and forth giving them various bits of information. After this, I should pay the remaining 300 euros for my actual mobile phone. Then, in the last week of me being in Germany, I’ll send them the confirmation from the town hall that I have deregistered.

It’s all so much faff that I wish I’d just been pay as you go the whole I’m I was here.

  1. Downloading

Now you’re in Germany, you can’t catch up with your favourite shows from home any more, so you switch to downloading them, right? WRONG!

Germany is VERY strict with downloads so there is a much, much higher chance of people who use torrents getting caught and having to face a large fine. It’s happened to two people I know, and even the whole “only downloading, never uploading” doesn’t seem to work.

There are lots of legal ways to watch things these days – I know a lot of people who pay for things in the iTunes and so on. Some people also use a proxy to watch the BBC iPlayer and so on, which is still dodgy, but not enough to get you in trouble.

Extra – TV Licence

I’ve put the German TV licence – GEZ – as an extra because there are two ways to go about this. In Germany you should pay the GEZ for a TV licence even if you don’t have a TV – even owning a radio, computer or mobile phone counts. But this has changed recently and you are to pay it just by existing here. When you register here in Germany, GEZ will be given your address and they will start asking you to pay.

Some people say they have never paid this, and tell you to ignore the letters and to refuse the GEZ people entry to your home. Other people just pay up, as it’s our responsibility living here in Germany. They can, however, get it wrong sometimes as even though I replied to their initial letters saying that my flatmates pay a cover for the whole flat and that I should not have to pay, they are still sending me scary-looking letters demanding money.

I don’t have an answer for this one, but Toytown has extensive information on their forums about it, so if you are worried about this then please have a read.

What German expat mistakes have you made? Are there any that I’ve missed off my list?

10 Twisted Myths about Japan – Debunked!

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When I tell people I’ve lived in Japan, people usually reply asking me if something about Japan is true. Usually, it is not. I’ve written before about how frustrated I get when people think Japanese culture is all about weird sexual preferences, but I thought I’d write again about 10 things that just aren’t true.

  1. Japanese men are not all perverts.

Nope. I mean, some of them, sure. But no more than any other place, I bet.

“But Charlotte, what about those weird pervy manga comics? Don’t they even read them on the trains?” Yeah, but come on, in the UK we have a topless woman on the 3rd page of one of the (sadly) most popular papers. And then there are lads’s mags, which are full of semi naked women posing between articles. These things may be very different to dodgy manga, but they are still on a similar level of perviness.

  1. It’s unlikely you’ll be molested on the trains.

“Wait, don’t they have to have women’s train carriages in Japan because the men can’t keep their hands to themselves?!”

If you’re a Japanese woman, the sad fact is that there is a chance of you being touched on a busy train. I once tried to ask Japanese friends about it, so I could understand how often this happens, but they weren’t very keen to talk about it. If you are a foreign woman, Japanese men would probably be way too scared to lay a finger on you.

And anyway, if you’re worried about this, you can always use the women’s carriages of trains. It differs from city to city but the Nagoya ones at least ran as female-only from 5pm – 8pm on weekdays, since that’s when the rush hour was (and having lots of people squeezed next to each other makes it easy to grab someone). If you are a man, be aware that if you are in a women’s carriage when the clock strikes 5pm, you’ll end up being pretty embarrassed.

  1. You won’t be finding used underwear machines.

They are illegal. It is a myth.

  1. Japanese women don’t need you to save them.

When I went to study in Japan I was at a university for women. It’s one of the most prestigious women’s universities not academically but for producing young ladies of the highest quality – fit to marry any politician or high profile, high earning business man.

One day, I said to the Japanese guy I was dating that I felt sorry for my classmates since they have no choice in life but to work in a meaningless job for a year or so, then find a guy to marry, then quit their job, have a baby and then be a housewife for ever more. He told me that they don’t need me to feel sorry for them, that they are perfectly happy with this situation.

True enough, in speaking with my classmates, they really did just want to have lovely families. Sure, there were probably some of them who probably wanted to be career women, but in the same way that in the culture I grew up in it’s common for women to aspire to have jobs, it’s common for Japanese women to aspire to have families.

Japan has one of the largest gender gaps in the developed world, but it seems there are women fighting for the gap to be closed. Whether they are close to doing that or not, I don’t know. But what they don’t really need is for the west to look down on them while they work this out, and they don’t need rescuing because that’s just patronising.

  1. Japanese people cannot automatically speak Chinese, and vice versa.

English is like German. Just because you can understand English doesn’t mean you can understand German. Oder?

  1. Japan isn’t all skyscrapers with busy streets.

The Japanese countryside is gorgeous. Hills and fields and trees…ahhh I swear Japan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

  1. Manga doesn’t equal porn.

Just like how novels come in all kinds, manga (Japanese cartoons – NOT anime which is animation) also comes in all kinds. There are kids’ manga, girls’ manga, boys’ manga, women’s manga…and dirty old men manga!

Before you start judging manga, do a little research. There’s so many great titles that have been translated into different languages today and many chain bookshops stock manga these days. I love girls’ manga from the late 80’s…like Tenshi Nanka Jyanai and Itazura na Kiss.

  1. Japanese people DO know English…

Japanese adults have learnt English from junior high school to high school, and Japanese young people have probably learnt it from elementary school. BUT, especially from junior high on, they learn grammar so that they can pass tests. They don’t learn how to have a conversation. So if you are lost in Tokyo there may be a brave person who wants to use their English on you but a lot of other Japanese people will be scared that you’ll ask them something and they won’t understand.

  1. Japanese isn’t that hard.

“Oh, you speak Japanese, that must mean you’re clever!”

Haha, I wish. Here’s an awesome link from Tofugu explaining why Japanese isn’t that hard at all.

  1. Gaming isn’t making Japanese people forget about sex.

Late last year the BBC was craping itself over having created an amazing story to tell – that Japanese guys prefer 2d girls to sex with real women. Only, that story wasn’t true. Some Japanese men (and women!) like to play dating gaming but it’s no more worrying than men who like page 3 girls in Britain. There may be men who like to spend a lot of alone time with pictures of the topless models, and in Japan there may be men who prefer to spend all their efforts on fictional girls in games. But neither country is suddenly sexless because of either of these things.

Around the time the BBC’s documentary and article came out, a Japanese speaking friend went through and tried to find the Japanese sources of all the BBC’s facts. Guess what? Most of them were greatly misquoted and some seemed to be made up. So even with the BBC, don’t believe all you’re told!

 

So there we have it! Do you know any myths about Japan that need to be debunked? Let me know in the comments!

12 Tips for Bikram Yoga

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I’m by no means an expert on Bikram yoga. I only started being able to do the whole routine all the way through without sitting down on the floor trying not to vomit a week or so ago.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m just less fit than the other women there, but I tend to be affected by the conditions in the room more than most people. I’ve nearly finished my 20 session card and I still am barely better than a newbie. BUT, this means that I am great at finding ways to make the uncomfortable situation slightly less so. Every session I go to there is at least one new person, and I wish that I could sit them down and tell them all I know about how to make that hour and a half suck less.

Instead, I’ve compiled a list of what I have learnt helps during classes. If you happen to be a Bikram-er then please do add your own tips in the comments!

Dress the part.

You will SWEAT like never before. Try to wear as little as you are comfortable with, and have your armpits and back as free as you can. Some girls wear bikinis to class. Some wear hot pants and sports bras. I have two outfits – grey soft yoga pants that are nice and flattering but come down to the ankles, and baggier black sports trousers that are shorter. I wear the former when I feel good about my body and the latter when I do not. Added to this are a load of tank tops. I don’t like to shower afterwards with the others because, you know, communal nakedness. So I throw an old baggy jumper over my sports bra and trousers and go home.

Take your makeup off.

Imagine you are taking a shower, because that will be your moisture level at the end of it. You don’t need makeup.

Get equipped.

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For your first few goes you don’t need all of this, but once you know you’re going to be a Bikram Babe/Dude-babe, you should get the whole set –

Big bottle of water (necessary)

Yoga matt (your studio may rent them to you)

A long towel with rubber blobs on the other side to stop it moving about (this covers your matt. I got mine – shown above –  from Amazon, but you can use a bath towel until then)

A smaller towel for your face/to help with certain poses

Watch your food intake.

This is my biggest bit of advice. If you eat too much at lunch, you will feel terrible during yoga. I usually go for a soup and salad on yoga days. I ate too much before going out to yoga the other night; I had a small bowl of vegetarian meat balls for protein, but I actually felt them coming back for a reunion later. Try some fruit or veg + hummus no less than an hour and a half before your class.

Use your water wisely.

Drink a bottle of water an hour before the class and you should be fine. Only take in water when the teacher says so – except for the one just before the triangle pose, because it really makes you feel weird when there’s water sloshing about inside of you. You need to keep taking in water, but try to limit it a little and not drink too much otherwise it’ll just end up making you feel much, much worse.

Position yourself.

Check out the room and work out the best place to stand. In our room there are two heaters on the ceiling – it’s not good to stand right under these. They also have horrible lights, except for the square skylight. I make sure to stand under the skylight as the normal lights bug me.

Don’t push yourself too far.

This is another big tip which should be common sense. The teacher will tell you that it’s ok if you feel sick or dizzy. Don’t listen to them. You know your own body and when it’s had enough and needs to sit out a move then do so. Don’t let peer pressure force you to hurt yourself.

Don’t leave the room.

It is best to stay in the room and stay sitting down for a bit – if you leave the room then no one can check if you are ok. For your own safety stay in the sight of the teacher.

If your knees wobble, don’t extend.

There are a few poses that ask for you to stand on one leg and then do something fancy with the other leg. Until your base leg stops wobbling, don’t attempt the fancy stuff. Just stand there holding your foot until you can balance enough.

Stop looking at other people.

The second you do, you’ll wobble and fall. I know, it happens every time.

Squeeze your bum.

One of the best bits of advice that was given to me is that if you squeeze your bum, you will be able to balance a lot easier. It works…until I forget to squeeze my bum.

Make sure to take something in after.

I always have a pick-me-up, or reward, waiting for me at the end of the class. Mostly, it’s these little fruit bars from DM or a coconut water. It’s pretty important to refuel afterwards.

SO that’s my list! Got anything to add? Pop it in the comments!

Happy Thursday!

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