Spring is on it's way

I’ve traded my woolly coat for a lighter jacket during the daytime, birds are singing.. and the marketing and ad industries are cashing in on the soon-to-be-blossoming blossoms to sell beer, camcorders, sake, holidays .. anything in fact.

The cherry trees start blooming in Okinawa in January, in mainland Honshu in March/ April and finally in Hokkaido in May. Cherry blossom (sakura) is Japan's unofficial national flower, and cherry-blossom viewing parties or hanami are very popular during the week or so the trees are in bloom.


April is also the start of the new school year in Japan, so blossoms are more than ever associated with renewal and fresh starts, which does perhaps makes more sense than leaves falling as we go back to school in the UK.


The Cherry Blossom Forecast

Cherry blossoms are estimated to be opening earlier than usual due to relatively warm temperatures, so the estimated day for opening is March 26th in Osaka, with the optimum cherry-viewing period estimated to be March 31st to April 7th..

I’m guessing that the parks in Osaka will be full of picknickers competing for the best viewing areas, apparently it’s common practice to arrive early in the morning to stake a claim on a prime picknicking spot, with a sheet marked with the participants names and arrival times.. Crazy..

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 15:46 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment

Silver Divorce in Japan


I was talking to someone the other day about marriage. She told me that hers was an arranged marriage, which was a surprise to me as she was quite young, in her late forties. I asked her how it had worked out and she said "Oh, next time I'll have a love marriage." I asked her what she meant by that and she said breezily "When I retire!".

So, a few days later, this article caught my eye on the BBC website :

Divorce rates surge on retirement as couples find they don’t know each other
"The divorce rate in Japan has risen by 26.5% in 10 years, according to the health ministry.

The number of divorces among couples married for 20 years or more hit 42,000 in 2004, double those recorded in 1985."

"Marriage guidance counsellors are warning newly retired couples not to spend extended amounts of time together - recommending day trips over cruises."

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 15:39 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment

The Dating Game

On Friday night I was invited to a compa along with a few other friends, which I later found out is a kind of Japanese group blind date. It's usually an informal meeting of two evenly numbered groups of men and women. The dating situation for foreigners in Japan is pretty odd. Beautiful, intelligent Japanese women throw themselves at the foreign guys; it seems to be highly desirable to have a gaijin boyfriend. A colleague who has lived in Canada told me that many Japanese girls prefer Western boys because they say what’s on their mind, and are more likely to buy a girl a drink, or pay for the bill at a restaurant. She dated a Japanese guy who was unable to say which film he wanted to see at the cinema, then when they actually decided, he paid for his own ticket and bought himself a coke without offering to treat her. She claims Japanese boys find it hard to speak straight about anything, let alone tell Japanese girls they like them.

Maybe that’s why it’s difficult for foreign women meet Japanese men. In seven months here, the only come-ons I’ve received were from 12 year old students or leering 50 year old men... I’ve never once received any attention from anyone my own age. At first I just couldn’t understand why this was. I think we’re probably viewed as too pushy to attract a young Japanese man, especially when they’re shy and the language barrier is another hurdle to overcome.

For my single girlfriends in Japan it’s really hard to find a partner, and it’s a strong single woman who can live like this without starting to feel unattractive. Having already found the man of my life I’ve been even less likely to be in a situation to get close to any single Japanese males my own age, let alone test any of my theories... so I viewed this evening as an opportunity get closer to the truth ! I know plenty of older Japanese men and women, and Japanese girls my own age.. but I never get to speak to any young men.

We arrived at the restaurant fashionably late and were introduced to three young, scrubbed, good-looking men who worked at the same web company as our hostess-match-maker, Yoko. There was something innocent and boyish about them. After the initial awkward introductions we were seated boy-girl, boy-girl around the table. It was at this point that I started to feel kind of guilty for being secretly unavailable, as if I was there under false pretences and would be wasting my neighbours' time. I needn’t have worried, my non-existent Japanese and their limited spoken English made it a challenge to communicate anyway, even with Yoko’s sister as a translator. But once the beer got flowing we ended up relaxing and found we could communicate pretty well. Later in the evening the boys rotated around the tables and we all got fresh partners, which is when one of the guys asked me straight if I had a boyfriend and I felt better once I’d ‘come clean’!

My observations :

Chronic workaholism : All the boys work crazy hard, the boss of the firm (who’s only 33) claimed to sleep two hours a night ! A couple of the boys wore their security passes around their necks, which made me feel as if they were going to pop to the office between courses.

Canine companions : Many of the boys seemed to have miniature dachshunds back at home, and proudly showed us their pictures on their mobile phones.. I suppose dogs don’t complain about their masters never being home for dinner.

Every single boy was extremely polite and gentlemanlike.. there was none of the innuendo you’d get in a similar situation back home, or interest for that matter, I felt more that I was being coolly observed more as an alien life-form than as a prospective second date.

Oh, and the chain-smoking. I tried vanilla cigarettes, not bad.

Conclusion: I had a fun night and the whole thing seemed a lot less nerve-wracking than a blind-date with only one other person, and I suppose you have more choice! Plus it was great for language skills. My friend did exchange email addresses with one very good-looking guy, and has plans to meet up for coffee, so who knows… I did wonder whether these guys, nice as they were, actually had time for life partners, as their whole lives seemed to revolve around work. And with 6 days-a-week work schedules and only five consecutive days of holiday time per year their work must be their life.

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 15:37 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment

Horrendous gaijin

I commented to a Japanese colleague today that I sometimes find myself doing things that are considered horribly rude in Japan, like eating rice balls on the street or blowing my nose in public. I sometimes feel a bit naughty, but I still do it. I suppose I wanted to know exactly how rude I really am being in the eyes of the Japanese.. She told me that more and more Japanese women are doing the same because it’s regarded as cool for girls to break the rules like foreign women. She told me that her mother used to tell her she shouldn’t even speak to her friends on the street, for fear of what the neighbours would say. I felt guilty for encouraging bad habits and proud that I’m doing my bit, however trivial, for women’s lib!

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 15:33 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment