You may have noticed that I am quite prone to Tokyo! But...I have decided to make way for the Kansai region because I know there are some Osaka lovers out there, in particular the lovely Mads from Lovegeek (who I also mentioned here)! Mads just returned to Sydney after one year of living in Osaka and today she shares some of her favourite memories from Japan.
Like me, you seem to be in love with Japan! Can you tell us how you first become interested in Japan?
I guess I was always really interested in Japan and Japanese culture. It started out in my teens with old Japanese Manga like Ninja Scroll and Akira. I then fell in love with Miyazaki at University (I studied film) and around that time I also realised that the most innovative and crazy motion graphic designers were all coming outta JPN! I love the difference in storytelling between western and Japanese culture, which can be seen in a lot of their moving image works. Then there was the Fruits exhibition at The Powerhouse (around 6 years ago...I think) that my Swedish flat mate dragged me to. It was when fruits first became big, before the Goth/Lolita fashion, and I just thought the girls were the coolest things ever!
How is Japan a part of your current life? Are you working in a Japanese company, researching Japan, or have another link with Japan?
I have just returned from a year living in Japan. I have a lot of Japanese stuff in my house now, and the language is still slipping out here and now, which is quite awkward...
Have you been to Japan a few times or lived in Japan? Please tell us about your time there.
My year in Japan was my first time there. I lived in Osaka, and I was teaching babies at first (1-2 year olds!) but I soon grew exhausted from that, and took a job teaching in Osaka Public Schools. It was the best thing I could have done. I was the only gaijin at all the schools I taught at. That was really hard most days due to my cultural retardation, but I had amazing access to Japanese school and work culture on a day-to-day basis. I met a lot of characters (teachers and students alike!) and I loved the kids so much. It took me a while to realise that they viewed me as a teacher, and not as one of them. It was really funny as they treated me with such authority and respect, and little did they know I had never taught before and didn't really know what I was doing!
Osaka was great, but the best times were getting on the Shinkansen and travelling around Japan. We managed to do a lot, but there was one place I really wanted to go to, Okinawa, but we missed it this time around :(
What is your favourite city in Japan and what do you love about it?
I have a soft spot for Hiroshima and Kyoto, but I have to say Osaka.
The people in Osaka and Kansai in general are just so full of life and are such characters. A lot of Japan's most famous comedians are from Osaka and I found a lot of the kids would tell me they wanted to be comedians when they grew up. I worked with a lot of people that were Osaka born and bred, and would scoff at the idea of moving elsewhere, especially to Tokyo. Osaka has amazing food, it has all the shops you'd find in Tokyo but on a smaller scale (which suits me), and it is home to the Hanshin Tigers and Koshien Stadium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koshien_Stadium) - the most famous Baseball ground in Japan. It's also really affordable to live and is only 40 mins from Kyoto, Nara AND Kobe.
Do you speak Japanese? Any tips for anyone interested in learning Japanese? Most useful Japanese phrase for beginners?
To be honest I can't speak Japanese very well, which is shocking for someone that has spent an entire year there! My boyfriend at the time spoke Japanese fluently, so that made me a little lazy, and I was also quite shy when it came to talking to people! But I can understand a lot more than I can speak, which is helpful. I did learn a lot of excellent Osaka-ben from the Kids at school. The word they used most frequently was zen zen wakarahen (instead of wakarimasen) which means I don't understand AT ALL - doesn't say much about my teaching skills does it? I attempted to learn the words to an entire SMAP song to show it off at Karaoke, but never quite got past the first verse.
The most useful phrase for anyone ever visiting Japan is most definitely sumimasen. It can be used to say sorry or excuse me, and Japanese people manage to use it in approx. 90% of their conversations.
A little bit off topic, but my favourite Japanese phrases are Nani Kore (The e at the end it usually dragged out like eeeeeeeeehhhhhhhh, which I translate as WTF? but it literally means 'what's this') and okini! which is Kanasi ben for Thank You. If you want to get a laugh out of shopkeepers in Osaka use this and I guarantee smiles.
Your favourite Japanese food? (Don’t tell me it’s Natto! He he)
Do you cook Japanese food in your hometown? If so, what sorts of foods? And do you have any websites, blogs or magazines you refer to for recipes?
I have only been home for two months, so have been avoiding Japanese food thus far! But there are a lot of great places to eat Japanese food in Sydney, so I never really attempt to cook it at home.
Where do you go to stock up on Japanese food / books / treats when in your home city?
I wasn't too obsessed with Japan before I left, but I know I will be living at Kinokuniya in the city, and there is also a great supermarket in World Square which had Japanese candy, which is something I really miss.
Your favourite Japanese cultural quirk?
When you watch Japanese variety shows on TV and something happens and everyone yells 'eeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh?'. This is my favourite thing in Japan, ever. The kids at school all did it to me when I told them my eyes were green, it was so hilarious. I find myself doing it in Sydney, but here I just sound silly.
Your favourite thing to do in Tokyo?
Oh, I actually only made it to Tokyo for four days, but it was super rad. I LOVED Harajuku but I know there are places that I missed visiting and will definitely be buying tickets in the next Jetstar sale to go back! I loved going to the Mori Museum where I got my favourite Plushie Shacho which is one of Takashi Murukami's toys. I also went to Disney Sea, and it was a very very magical day.
Do you have any funny stories about being lost / lost in translation in Japan?
Do I ever! Almost too many for this interview.
Everyday at school was Lost In Translation for me, but you have to learn to embrace it. Mostly I was just constantly amazed at how different and efficient everything was. My catch phrase became 'of course they do it like that in Japan’; it was always nice to discover new ways of doing things.
What is your most memorable moment in Japan?
One day at one particular school one of the more confident boys came up and introduced me to his cute girlfriend. I said 'Ahhhhh Kawaii!' in my most excited voice and they both laughed so much. He said agreed that she was totemo kawaii and it was the cutest thing I've ever seen. Young love huh?
What are you like at karaoke? Or, like me, do you stick mostly to purikura?
I can't get enough of Karaoke. We took every guest we had to this amazing Karaoke place in the Shotengai near our place where they had 1000YEN/hour KARAOKE NOMIHODAI. They got to know us pretty well after 12 months...
Chu-hi, Sake or umeshu? Which one is your favourite?
And what about Onsen and Super-cento’s – like them much? Do you have any favourites in Japan?
I love going to Onsen, especially when I was in the snow. There is something really liberating about the experience.
Favourite Japanese themed websites / blogs?
Favourite Japanese magazines?
I really got into this magazine called SPOON, it has really beautiful photo shoots and images. I also loved Pretty Style, Japanese Nylon, Elle Girl (Super Kawaii) and Japanese Dazed and Confused. All of these I couldn't read, but they were way cheaper than foreign magazines.
If you could live anywhere in Japan where would it be and why?
If I went back, I think I'd have to say Tokyo. I've seen a lot of Kansai, and would love to lose myself in the city.
And finally, what do you miss most about Japan?
I miss my friend Amy. I miss people being nice. I miss no phones on the trains. I miss the trains. I miss the train conductors. I miss the cute kids everywhere. I miss the temples in the middle of the city. I miss the craft shopping. I miss the men with crazy hair that try to get women to come to their host clubs. I miss SMAP x SMAP on the TV. I miss my local Family Mart. I miss Asahi cans. I miss Magic Candy Bar in Namba. I miss Spinns (best clothes store in Osaka). I miss my pink bike.