Monday, December 26, 2005

...for your information...

Some umm useful signs ive seen around the place in japan.

You shouldnt climb into the baggage storage lockers at the trainstation.

And this one should be self-explanatory.

If anyone knows a decent freeware/crackable batch thumbnail converter for windows please send me a link.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


I havent written an email in awhile, and so most of you wont have heard anything about what Ive been upto over here in freezing cold japan. Sadly im not in a story telling mood, so your going to have to wait awhile longer (im back home in 8 weeks).

For now ill just say that I am no longer a german POW, it didnt snow on christmas and despite being upto my third textbook, I still cant speak japanese.

If your looking for more details about my life here, you can stop reading now. All im going to say is abit about christmas in japan.

The only job ive had in japan where i needed to wear a suit. I wasnt complaining until they came at be with the tube of PVA glue...

EMAIL 6: Japanese Christmas traditions

They do have christmas here. They have plastic christmas trees, they have chubby middle aged white men dressed up as santa claus, they have shopping malls covered in christmas lights that tens of thousands of people crowd round to see, but most importantly they have amazingly overpriced cake.

In many ways its like christmas anywhere else in the world, capitalism at its best, the only real difference is that here there is no pretending that christmas means something. Except maybe for the 0.7% of the population who are christian. To everyone else its about kids getting gifts, tacky mass produced decorations, and eating cake.

Cake is from my observations central to christmas here, many people dont give gifts, or have a tree, or realise what the first 6 letters of christmas mean, but cake seems to be universal. And unlike in other parts of the world they arent picky about what kind of cake, there is no traditional christmas cake here, its simply a matter of what you feel like.

I asked my students what they would be having, chocolate cake, cheese cake, strawberry cake, fruit cake, sponge cake, ice cream cake, baum kuchen, melon cake, green tea cake, seasame cake, pound cake, etc. Oh and naturally cake comes either from cake shops or department stores, and all flavours have one thing in common, the price.

For a 17cm diameter cake you will pay $40 or upwards. I have seen cake advertised for as much as $250 (for a 19cm diameter cake, with a 15cm cake placed ontop). Why does cake cost so much? Students answer varied from "the chef is famous" to "strawberries are expensive in winter".

This 20cmish cake cost $47 from the local cake shop.

There is of course the matter of what to have for christmas dinner. For many the logic seems to go like this, in america they eat turkey for christmas, chickens are like turkeys, KFC is american company that sells chicken, lets go to KFC. And so is by far KFCs busiest day of the year here.

Well happy holidays, and see you in a few weeks. If your feeling bored between now and then you can always visit my blog, it has photos...


ps I didnt have cake today or KFC.

Friday, December 23, 2005


well its two days before christmas and id say there is about a 50% chance of it being a white one. Weve had snow on and off for over a week and as its still damn cold I wouldnt be surprised.

Started off just being snow on the occasionally car roof (no it wasnt that localised, the cars brought it with them), which was very frustrating. I wasnt sure how japanese people would react to finding a strange foriegner harvesting snow from their bonnet, and im not sure if my japanese is up to explaining that i needed it to build snowmen with.

I thought it might be easier to explain if i just built the snowmen on the car, but then i realised such snowmen would have had a significantly increased automobile accident mortality rate. Snowmen are generally short lived as it is, and i just didnt think it fair.

Eventually we got more snow, which was when i realised something surprising. Japanese snowmen are of a completely different genus than the ones ive met in the past. Unlike the ones im used to they are made of only 2 balls of snow and consider wearing a bucket as a hat highly fashionable.

A foriegn snowman

I got some odd looks, after having stacked two, when i went away to make a third snowball for the head. I asked my students about this, who seemed a little shocked by the possibility of giant foriegn snowmen, and it seems all japanese snowmen are of the 2 snowball variety.

Im hoping for a big snow sometime, i want to try building a japanese style snow house, which is likely as febuary is the coldest month so there is plenty of time.

have a nice warm christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2005 do you say karaoke in japanese?...

Im in japan to learn japanese, and when im not sitting teaching people english, or pretending to be german, i do spend alot of time studying it. I know im getting alot better at it, but as it always is with languages, i dont actual feel that i am.

Random (slightly) annoying things about japanese.

Vowel length. The difference actually matters between saying "o" and "oo"! When i was in tokyo there were two train stations, oyama and ooyama, which was somewhat confusing. Now the reason this is not just annoying is that oyama means small mountain, and ooyama means the exact opposite, big mountain. I think somehow that could be simpler...

Intonation. Its not as bad as in chinese, but sadly it too, matters in japanese. Depending on it, "kaeru" means either "return", "can buy" or "frog".

And then there are all the loan words from english. I acutally find these quite funny, I was at a restaurant last week when the girl behind me ordered:

chizuu omreisu esu seizu

Looks reasonably japanese right? well its based completely on english words:

cheese ommlette-rice s-size

Oh and just in case your feeling hungry there is also emu and eru sizes:)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

...can you buy this here?...

Had a lesson a couple of weeks ago where i was asked "what do New Zealand people put on their toast at breakfast?". Peanut butter, jam, nutella, were easy enough to explain, but then i came to vegimite. I spent abit of time trying, but knew i wasnt making much progress once i heard "so its like vegetable jam?".

It may have been slightly cruel, but i decided i would have to demostrate. I had one single serve packet of vegimite left from the ones i had borrowed from a cafe at auckland airport so took it to last weeks lesson.

It was my bosses son who had asked the question, so it was easy enough to arrange a piece of toast (butter was harder). I was expecting the normal reaction, one bite, and then a second just to be sure that it really tasted that bad. I was looking forward to a piece of toast for lunch, but in less than a minute my dreams of lunch were gone, as was the toast.

I thought this could just be him being polite, but he then asked me where he could get it in japan. Seemed rather disapointed that i didnt know. Thought it tasted abit like miso. Go figure.

Friday, November 25, 2005 fine thank you, and you?...

Its time to say abit more about teaching in japan, which i feel must be one of the easiest jobs possible (prehaps only second to being a movie extra).

At the moment im teaching 2 days a week, which gives me more than enough money to survive here. I normally get paid around 2700yen an hour (about $33) and japan isnt that expensive, so im not having to do that many hours. I think overall ive saved abit since getting here, but the currencies dropped so overall i think ill come home with the same amount I brought with me.

So heres abit about english teaching in japan.

Teaching in Japan

All junior high school students in japan are taught the following exchange:

"Hello, how are you?"
"Im fine thank you, and you?"

Nothing overly wrong with it, except that everyone here seems to believe this is the only proper way to start a conversation in english.

First result of this is regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, japanese people are always "fine" (Ive had a student litterally in tears, who around sobbing, was able to tell me she was "fine").

Second result, its very easy to confuse people by asking them something other than "How are you?" at the start of a conversation. ie

"Hello, im luke, whats your name?"
"ahhh....ummm....Im fine thank you and you?"

Ive had this conversation atleast 20 times and have given up being creative. It would be wrong to say that all people follow this pattern without exception, there are those who seemingly slept through junior highschool english class:

"Hello, how are you?"
"Hello, my name is hiroshi"#big smile#
"My name is Luke, and how are you?"
"eeeee?" #smile disapears#

Its normally about this point that some bright students decides enough is enough, and adds:

"He is fine thank you and you?"

I spent several lessons today trying to convince by students they dont need to be perpetually fine, but im sure come next week theyll be fine again.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

...let them eat cake...

Just got back from a week in Tokyo, which was very interesting, and leeds me to believe that there are many strange things about Japan that I havent even considered yet, for example, cake.

Sometimes I like coffee, sometimes I like cake and coffee, and sometimes I can afford both these things so it seems perfectly sensible to goto a cafe and buy them. This is a sensible course of action in japan as well. Be warned however, if for some reason you feel like cake, but not coffee, your misguided common sense could lead you into trouble. Mine did.

I went to a cafe while in tokyo that had some really nice looking (and eventually, tasting) cakes on display in the window. Id had alot to drink at lunch, so didnt really want anything more, I just wanted the shiny chocolate cake. Reasonable enough right? Well on the menu it only had the price for coffee and cake sets, but this shouldnt really be a problem, so we ordered it. Just to be safe hiroko asked how much the cake was going to be on its own.

This line of questioning made the waitress feel slightly uncomfortable, to the point that she had to run away and ask the manager. This was to be as far as cakes independence from coffee was going to get, apparently cake and coffee are inseperable in certain parts of tokyo. I never found out why, prehaps cake just gets lonely easily?

I ended up with a drink... good cake though. Strange cafe.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

...the ghosts in the machine...

well it finally happened, robots have decided they are better than us and are going to do something about it.

It happened yesterday, I went to visit some robots on display at ATR labs, and as I walked past one of them raised its heavily padded arm and punched me in the back. It may simply have been resentful that I had patted it on the head, or it may be a sign of something deeper...

Monday, October 31, 2005

...let there be packaging...

here is yet another diversion from luke in japan.

Random happenings.
I got a call from my umm agent(who i seem to have acquired from my movie job) asking me if i wanted to audition for a television commercial. It was an ad for curtains, and my role would have been to look out the curtains at some girls standing outside. Despite this being the only job conceivably easier than teaching english I had to turn it down as I already had work on the day of the audition.

Last friday was my birthday, and I am having a party this saturday, to which you are all welcome to attend. Might be abit out of the way for most of you, however there will be cake.

If you are the sort of person inclined to feel bad about not wishing me a happy birthday, please dont. My email account was bouncing all incoming messages so I dont know who actually did:) and besides, i have either forgotten, or will forget, most of yours anyway...

So that its easier for me to send pictures and things, Ive decided to turn these emails into a blog. The address is:

This way people can comment and point out any of my glaring inaccuracies.

EMAIL 5: Japans packaging fetish.
Since getting here ive noticed that most stores are abit overzealous when it comes to how they pack things.

First an example of what I mean, lets look at the traditional sushi you can buy in nara. The only thing making this sushi more traditional (and expensive) than regular sushi is the fact that it is wrapped in persimmon leaves. This was a nice enviromentally friendly form of packaging in the days before plastic.

But moving to the present things have changed, first you take your traditional leaf wrapping, and then wrap in a layer of paper, place in a box, wrap again in paper. Now add chop sticks (also wrapped) and place in a plastic bag, finished.

Five layers of wrapping means you probably shouldnt order this if your in a hurry to eat, or if you actually like the environment, but it does taste good once you get to it.

Things arent normally this bad, but generally anything you buy is given to you in a plastic bag, even if its something you are obviously about to eat as soon as you walk out the store or something that is in a bag already. I think the strangest thing so far was when i bought a table, somehow they managed to find an extra large bag for it:(

Because of this it took me less than a week to work out how to say "I dont need a bag", but still I have abit of a collection in my room from all those times where i just wasnt quick enough. This wouldnt be so bad, but most japanese families go shopping everyday...

well ive got to get up before 5am tommorow to get to the movie on time, so thats enough for now. cya


This was the third scene we shot of us crossing a bridge, so far we have been tired, happy and sad. Strange Movie.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

In the beginning...

It may simply be an overdose of hello kitty shapped chocolates, but I thought it might be a good idea to turn some of my emails into a blog.

Of course eventually i will run out of chocolate and go in search of real food, so please dont expect me to post regularly, but in the meantime here are some random photos:

A very umm, natural, looking japanee garden.
The overly friendly and rather hungry deer from Nara park.

The robots at the toyota pavillion of the Aichi EXPO.

Alas, the chocolate wore off.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


As pointless emails go, this one has reached new heights, please disregard it.

The only things of any real interest are the following two japanese english sentences:

"Once you try our pizza, bouno gonna shoot you!" (ad at the local pizza shop)

"Please go back to the places where you were tommorow" (instruction from my movie job)

Email 4: Lukes random friends

There isnt that many european foriegners in japan, so the ones who are here are treated as abit of a novelty by some people. These are some examples of interactions I have with the locals...

Primary School Trips.
Alot of schools come to nara on school trips from osaka and their teachers march them around the city like minature armies (the military style school uniforms really adds to the effect). Now alot of the time the teachers make them wait in one place for ages, for reasons known only to the teachers, and the students look desperately for some relief from the boredom. So you can imagine their relief when a foriegner comes by, for this is there chance to display their amazing english skills (consisting of "hello", "how are you?" and "Im fine, thank you"). This of course takes courage, so generally it start with one or two kids (invariably boys) who call out "hello", now if their prey shows signs of responding, ie smiles, waves, the chorus of hellos spreads quickly. But god help him if he actually says "hello" back...

The Super Market Sample Lady.

Its her job to give out free samples of products to shoppers, which would have been enough to make her my friend, whenever she see me she calls me over and gives me something to try. If it looks like i like it, she gives me another sample, followed by another, until i run out of hands. We also talk (in japanese), and im reasonably sure our last conversation ended with her telling me details of how to get to a cheaper supermarket down the street and pointing out that this one was a rich peoples supermarket.

Helpful Unemployed Guy.

I always run into him when im shopping, and like the sample lady, he also occasionally offers me samples of things (however unlike her, they are not his to offer). I met him when studying in the food court oneday, he came upto me and just started talking, asking me if i had any questions about the japanese, what i thought of nara etc. Then he found out i spoke german and I had a new best friend.

There are lots of other people as well, like the highschool girls who wave at me and then trip over the gutter if i wave back, or the english students who got school 6 days a week and also goto cram school for 6hours a day 4 days a week (in addition to english class) or little kids who shout "gaijin gaijin" (foriegner foriegner) and go hide behind there parents. Yeah, some people are strange, but there all friendly. luke

Friday, October 21, 2005


Just a short one,

EMAIL3: ice cream.

Summer here must be nasty, i only caught the tail of of it, but this still
often ment leap frogging from one air conditioned building to the next if
you wanted to go anywhere in the middle of the day. Temperatures were
often 30+, but the real killer was the humidity that was not at all

To overcome this, there is of course, icecream. Now like every other
western seeming thing in japan, it has been subtlely changed into something
japanese, that would occasionally be unrecognisable to most westerners.
With ice cream, this process has produced a real interesting assortment of

Since being here i have tried the following:

black sesame seed
sweet potato
red bean
green tea
red bean and green tea

There were also to others which i have no idea what they were, but im sure
you ive never seen them before. Greentea is actually really nice, sesame
is good if you dont have to much, but then it just starts tasting weird.

im sure ill find more,



hi, yes, i know its been 2 months and i havent written anything to most of you, i sat down about three times to write a nice long email describing all the unusual things ive done but never had time to finish it so i gave up... Hence lukes new plan, short emails that dont really mention much of what ive been doing, but that will hopefully be more plentiful. EMAIL2: Luke new job. Well i quite my old job at berlitz for reasons that ill explain elsewhere and have been looking for something that will let me have time to explore and learn japanese. My first new job is a teaching position that i got offered last week, it pays $200NZ for a 7hour shift once a week. Is a teaching job, and isnt overly interesting, so just imagine luke sitting somewhere encouraging a room full of old ladies to practice speaking english. However my other job, which i started today is slightly more interesting, the only downsides being crap pay, long hours and the fact that ive got to travel over an hour to get there. I got a job as an extra in a movie:) And a low budget world war one movie at that:P So after coming all this way to japan, what ive ending up doing is pretending to be a german POW in a japanese prison camp. There are of course a certain lack of people who look anything like germans here, so it was eay to get the job, all i said was im from new zealand and speak some german and they hired me over the phone. First day today, go to the studio in kyoto, they dress us up in really low quality generic uniforms, that look more like british army than german ones, and then asked us to wait for two hours, then we walked over a bridge looking unhappy, then we had lunch break, followed by 15mins of practicing a chant, followed by an hour break, and then for something a little different we walked in a straight line looking unhappy. Its great, i have loads of spare time to practice japanese, they feed me lunch, and the other people are an interesting mix, because most of them are people who cant get english teaching work, which just means theyre non native speakers. Including as many german speakers as the company could find in kansai, which was good practice for me. We were supposed to take photos, but we all did anyway, ive attached a small one of some of the people in uniform. I also have an interview for more teaching work on the weekend, but the cool thing about this is i can just do it on whatever days i have free:) ill write more soon, luke summary: i am having fun as a prisoner of war...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


hi, ive been here 10 days and ive done some reasonably interesting stuff, so its about time to prove most of the people receiving this wrong, and actually write an email about it. im sending this to everyone who gave me their email address, i know ive missed a few people so if anyone is complaining about not hearing from `that bastard in japan` please get them to send me their address. this could be a long mail, so for those with better things to do, i am now in japan, i have a job (surprisingly enough as an english teacher) and am renting a room in a house in Nara. I have eaten alot of sushi, seen 3 different festivals and learnt a little japanese. the rest of this email is mostly irrelavant, so please disregard it. Far more detail than most of you will want to know day 0) got to the airport at some horribly early time, after having gotten up and an even more horrible time. Standing in the checkin queue realised that 3 people in front of me was a friend of mine who turned out to be going to china, but were on the same flight as me to auckland. Also happened to be seated next to each other, so made that flight slighlty more interesting. On the next plane i was seated beside a retired japanese guy who was very happy at his new found chance to practice his english with me. I was more interested in sleep, so as soon as the seatbelt lights went off i dashed for a block of 3 unoccupied seats in the middle of the cabin. I was met halfway by a japanese guy with a similar idea and what ensued was a battle of attrition which i eventually won and was able to lie down and sleep alot of the way to japan. The food was horrible, but thats to be expected. Before getting off the plane the old guy who i had been sitting next too on and off during the flight handed me his email address on a piece of scrap paper, incase i got in trouble. While putting it away i turned it over, was written on the back of a note from his doctor explaining how he had a viral throat infection and should have bed rest for a few days. Hmm would explain the coughing, but wasnt exactly what i wanted to catch on my first day here. Getting off the plane in japan I was surrounded by comments of "atsui yo", "atsu" and "atsui desu ne", all of which mean to one degree or another "hot isnt it?". The temperature wasnt to bad 33C, but the humidity was awful. Met Hiroko at the airport and she helped me through the warren of the osaka subway to the business hotel where i stay the first few nights in the centre of the city (near osaka castle park). Day1) went to the working holiday makers association where they list lots of jobs available to foriegners. Picked up a copy of the local english language classifieds paper. Had lunch at an all you can eat soba noodle shop, was great, and very cheap. That night went to see fireworks in Nara, the weather was terrible, but the fireworks were great, sitting on the banks of a river they lasted about 75minutes and afterwards all the food stores were fun. day2) went to internet cafe to apply for a couple of jobs from the paper. also had going-around sushi... day3) moved to my next cheap hostel in the slightly dodgy though interesting south part of osaka. Got an email back from one of the jobs, called them up, interviewed on the same day. Went to the toukae festival in nara, parks full of hundreds of thousands of candles, was beautiful. day4) went shopping for a cellphone in nipponbashi. Heard back about the job, i got it. day5) started and completed the 9 day training sesion in 1 day. Am now supposedly "a highly qualified and trained teacher" if u believe the advertising... day6) start teaching classes at berlitz gakuenmae nara. 2 lessons with adults and 1 with a child, was umm interesting. earnt about $65 kiwi. went wandering in the evening and found another festival involving people writing on candles and monks walking round in circles. I actually walked past this school everyday on my last trip to japan and didnt even know it was there. day7) long lunch with hiroko followed by teaching finishing at about 10pm. got home at 11 and went to the 100yen shop to find dinner. Hundred yen shops are like 2 dollar shops, except slightly cheaper and with significantly better range and quality. day8) had 6 classes in a row starting at 9am. I didnt get much sleep. But earnt $140ish. Went to see about a flat in nara, $100 a week including utilities, and wireless internet, sweet. Went to a day laborer noodle house for dinner, $2 for a big bowl of udon, pity i couldnt taste it, i burnt my tounge. day9) moved into the aforementioned flat and now live in nara 2 train stations from my job. about a 4 minute walk to my favourite temple from my previous trip. went to buy a futon bed, and bedding. The cheapest pillow happened to be a meter long and shaped like a fish of some kind, comfy though. What i failed to take into accound is that even in japan fish shaped pillow cases are something of a rarity. day10) went to the japanese equivalent of the libary of congress with hiroko. very cool, hmm interesting modern architecture, dunno if i like it, but they have all the books published in japan, and free access! yes yes i know i cant read japanese, but all the technical stuff is in english anyway. (Grant did u go there on your trip by any chance?) that pretty much takes me upto now, except for assorted battles ive been having with my clothes line and a fair number of strange new foods ive tried. Sorry about the length, the next one will be shorter, mainly taken up with the issues im having with my job. Generally Im good, employed, housed and well fed. luke cellphone (Japan) 090-6371-5216 address luke McCrohon 562-28, horen-cho. Nara-city, Nara, Japan 630-8113
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