Nomadic Life

I’ve just moved house for the 21st time. Yes, since leaving the comfort of my parents’ nest 18 years ago, I have moved 21 times…including five country moves. On my recent endeavour to donate blood, the nurse made the mistake of trying to write the list of countries I’ve travelled to in one small box. He caved after the first ten, when his hand started cramping, and went in search of another piece of paper. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my nomadic life…

As a nomad, I find myself constantly grasping for a word in conversation and claiming it from another language or culture…saying dollar instead of pound, duvet instead of doona and I still feel the urge to say itadakimasu every time I sit down to a meal. I won’t even get started on the arguments I have with hubby about vegetable names…or the great pants vs trousers debate. He practically applauded me the other day for saying flip flops instead of thongs…showing just how rarely I get the context of my vocabulary correct. These days, talking to me is like having a conversation with Google Translate on a slow internet connection.

Establishing yourself in a new place is tiring when you’re a nomad…you need to seek out a new doctor, dentist, gym and hair stylist in every location you decide to set down vague roots. The result? I cut my own hair, the Olympics come around more frequently than my dentist visits and I’m contemplating prerecording my medical history for all future doctor’s appointments.

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As a nomad, I’ve come to realise that not all clothing sizes are created equal. In Australia I am a size 10…in the UK a 10-12 (the Heathrow Injection)…and in Japan, a size 20,000. The only item of attire I managed to purchase successfully in the Land of the Rising Sun were (men’s) Converse shoes. I gave up on clothing after buying a pair of XXL stockings, only to try them on and find the crotch taking up residence somewhere around my knees.

I married a Scotsman…who I met in Japan. If that doesn’t scream nomad, then I don’t know what does. When we tied the knot, I signed up to an ongoing life of long haul flights, missed family Christmases and birthday wishes sent from afar…and a day (week?) early or late. Hubby and I have conversations about which country to raise our (distant) future children in…realising that our decisions will impact their education, their access to extended family and will even dictate their accent.

A skill my travelling life does afford me, is knowing exactly which seat to choose on a long haul flight for maximum space, minimal noise and avoidance of the ‘toilet waft’. And trust me when I say, order a special meal. It’s worth it for no other reason to see your hungry neighbour give you the evil eye while you happily munch away with all the kiddie meal recipients.

When you are a nomad, no one believes you are staying for long. Ever. I start having heart palpitations unless I have some kind of trip planned…the walls start closing in and I feel suffocated. I experience cabin fever, post holiday blues and the travel itch like other people come down with a common cold. Nomads like me are a strange breed that thrive on change and look forward to the unknown. Unless the unknown ends up being a snoring neighbour in a hostel or a missed flight home from Barcelona, that is.

As a 34 year old nomad, I don’t own a house. Or a car (the one time I briefly owned a car, it didn’t end well). Hubby and I just bought our first real piece of furniture…a bookcase to hold the mountain of books I’ve been squirrelling away in Mum and Dad’s spare room over the years (I’m starting the think a Kindle might not be such a bad idea). A while ago, I calculated that if I’d saved all the money I have spent on travel over the years, I would have had enough for a deposit on a house. That’s probably two deposits by now…

Instead of a house, I have travel journals full of concert tickets, flight itineraries and memories of adventures had. I have a collection of used passports and stashes of leftover currency from countries visited. I don’t need a house…pieces of my heart are scattered all over the globe with the people and places I love. My home is with them and I will always adore my nomadic life.

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‘Straya

Well, it has now been three months since I left the shores of Australia (once again) to return to the United Kingdom. My nomadic ways continue and after three years back in the country where I was born, it is time for the next adventure to start…with my new husband. Yes, that’s right…things have changed since I last wrote two years ago (appalling I know), but that’s a post for another day.

14 weeks have passed since I left the sunshine, bugs and sweltering humidity of a Queensland summer to launch myself into the grey, cold clutches of wintery Yorkshire. Don’t get me wrong…I love the UK and my freckle spattered skin prefers the climate here too. But with every siting of a double decker bus or snowflake, comes the reminder of how different this place is to Australia. Which got me thinking…what is it that makes ‘Straya so unique?

‘Straya is a place where we love to leave couches on our footpath, even when Kerbside Collection isn’t coming around for another year…

‘Straya is a place where people fall into one of two camps…those that get Southern Cross Tattoos…and those that hate them…

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‘Straya is a place full of people with a keen and sophisticated sense of humour…

‘Straya is where we abbreviate everything

And you have to listen hard to catch what we actually mean…

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‘Straya is a place where we try to put a ‘z’ in every name possible…from Dazza (Darren) to Lozza (Lauren) and Kezza (Kerryn).

‘Straya, where shoes are optional…

Here in ‘Straya, we tell it how it is…

Everything can kill you in ‘Straya…

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In ‘Straya, we like…err…

This could be your neighbour in ‘Straya…

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We’ll try Vegemite with anything in ‘Straya…

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You can judge a person by their number plate in ‘Straya…

In ‘Straya, our bins are bird proof, not bomb proof…

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‘Straya is full of excellent drivers…

In ‘Straya, comfortable clothing is encouraged…

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And lastly…you can take the girl out of Australia, but you can’t take ‘Straya out of the girl…

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A Poem For Pop

On the day I was born, right from the start,

A bond was forged, between our hearts.

I, the first grandchild, and you…my Pop,

An unbreakable love, nobody could stop.

My earliest memories, are of you in your shed,

And naps together, on top of your bed.

You pushing my stroller, and beaming with pride,

Watching me play, your smile so wide.

The Pop I remember, from my childhood days,

Has a tool in his hand, and is working away.

He is swimming in a snorkel, and doing his laps,

Or arriving at the door, with a rat-a-tat-tat.

As I got older, our bond grew too,

And at times we noticed, I was just like you.

Determined and stubborn, wanting our own way,

But with me, your will, always buckled and swayed.

‘I’ll bump your heads together’, we often heard,

But action never followed, the threat inferred.

No Pop, you never did have us fooled,

Us grandkids knew, it was we who ruled.

When I moved abroad, you sent me off with a wave,

‘Watch out for those Pommies’, the advice you gave.

You always encouraged me, to chase my dreams,

And hid your sadness, when I decided to leave.

We started writing then, letters sent and received,

‘Dear Granddaughter’, ‘Love Pop’, and all the words in between.

I treasured those letters, of our connection they spoke,

Even though you complained, the postage was sending you broke!

The Pop I’ll remember, is always walking at pace,

And whistling a tune, a cheeky grin on his face.

A story teller of sorts, sharing tales from the past,

Or a swimming technique, ‘This will make you go fast!’

Walking with hat on your head, to the railway and back,

Energy and enthusiasm, you never did lack.

Collecting found objects, from the side of the road,

By the end of your walks, gathering quite a load.

Pop on Tabletop Mountain

When at 80 you asked, that we climb Tabletop,

I looked at you in wonder, would you ever stop?

But you made the journey, proud as could be,

Even if the adventure, ended in Emergency.

Pop on Tabletop Mountain

In later years, I didn’t see you so much,

Though as I wandered the globe, we stayed in touch.

And when I returned, you always took the time,

To have a cuppa, with your oldest grandchild.

You once said to me, ‘Don’t settle for less,

Than a man who will treat you, just like a princess.’

But I think you forgot, it was clear to me,

You were that man, I’d found him already.

I’m sure Pop, you’d say, ‘Stop making a fuss’,

If you were here today, watching all of us.

But we’ll think of you often, and share memories of you,

Shed tears of sadness, and laughter too.

May 12th is the day, that you left this earth,

32 years, after I met you at birth.

And while I’ll never see, your smile again,

Our bond and my love for you, will always remain.

Gone Postal?

I haven’t voted in an Australian election since I was at university…which the Australian Electoral Commission reminded me of with a $300+ fine earlier this year. The fine was waived after I (AKA Mum) made a sheepish apology for failing to inform them I had moved to Japan. At least I think it was waived…they never wrote back to confirm. Anyway, I am now back in Australia and no amount of excuses or apologies will get me out of the task this time around.

Yes, I know, I already hear all you political buffs out there scorning my lack of interest in how my country is run…ready to launch into a lecture as to why I should vote for one party or another. I appreciate that to some, this Saturday, 7th September is an opportunity to stand up and have a say in who we should have leading our country. I myself, will not be one of those people. Not because I am not voting…but because I have elected (see what I did there?) to vote from the comfort of my own home, via postal vote.

Postal Vote Package

It’s a good thing too, because when I opened up my postal voting package this week, I burst out laughing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the leadership of our country should be approached with a pretty serious tone from the candidates trying to win our votes, right? That’s my view on things at least…even if I suffer political apathy, the people who actually want to lead our country need to be fairly businesslike about the endeavour. Yet here I am, with my postal ballot paper and pen, left wondering, have all the politicians gone postal?

The first party to catch my eye after skimming over the usual suspects was One Nation. No matter how much time passes, whenever I read those two words, all I can think of is Ronald McDonald and this…

Hardly a great start to my voting process for the political future of Australia. The next party option however provided me with a glimmer of hope…

Building Australia Party

Surely these guys are a bunch of tanned tradies sporting manly facial hair and getting around in sunnies and high vis shirts…because they’d get my vote for sure. But if they don’t turn out to be tool wielding superheroes paying home visits to do my odd jobs, then maybe I can look to give this next party my vote?

The Pirate Party

You know, once they are done pillaging the seas and being the only thing between Stop The Greens well, stopping The Greens. At this point as I was examining my postal ballot card, I was beginning to understand why one of my friends said it reminded her of a kids’ novel. But then again, I don’t think kids’ books contain this kind of thing…

Sex Party

And yes, in case you were wondering, I did misread ‘Shooters and Fishers’ as ‘Hooters and Fishers’…I’m sure it had nothing to do with having sex on my mind. Even if I could stop thinking of them as ‘Hooters and Fishers’ now, I recently read a piece of chalkboard wisdom saying: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll never see him again’. On that note, I’m not sure I really want a bunch of hooters and fishers running Australia.

So what are my other options then? Oh…more amphibian loving politicians…

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I could always go for one of those very serious sounding parties nestled in next to the fisherman, but everyone knows they’ll never win…your party name has to be five syllables or less for ease of pronunciation on the national news. So I guess as a nicotine hating non-smoker, that just leaves me with one last option then…

Smokers Rights

So now you might understand when I say that while I have had this postal vote in my possession all week, I have yet to put pen to paper and choose my poison. On a (slightly) serious note, if you do want to make your vote count but like me, don’t know much about politics or the parties’ policies, head to Vote Compass. Answer the questionnaire and they will give you a guide as to which political party best aligns with your future vision of life in Australia.

Of course (hypothetically speaking), to get a valid option, you might want to avoid answering ‘neutral’ or ‘I don’t know’ to 90% of the questions…

Happy voting!

Picture This…

Yes, I know…long time no post. I’ve been home in Australia for three and a half months now and paperdoll has taken a backseat to the adventures of resettling back into life here. I admit it…and I apologise. What can I say? I love being home and every time I sit down to write paperdoll I get distracted by…well…everything.

Having said that, lately the first signs I may be missing Japan have crept in (natsukashi)…it started with a craving for ramen…then there was an emotional reaction to a letter from one of my past students…and let’s not forget that living with my parents again has me pining for my 42m² Japanese apartment. Every. Single. Day.

Yes, I have begun to miss Japan and all of it’s crazy, quirky ways. But much like A Picture Says a Thousand Kanji, when I am missing Japan and need a fix, I can just picture this

Sleeping in Japan

Japanese student letter

English signage in Japan

Japanese dessert

Stretching

Dashboard

Takeout menu

Japanese antenna

Japanese fashion

Japanese Kit KatsEnglish sign in Japan

Japanese laundry

English in Japan

Japanese Hello Kitty Mask

Japanese shredder

Japanese Aquarium sign

Japanese glitter suits

Japanese Pepsi flavour

Japaese toilet paper

Japanese Clothing Engrish

Japanese fashion

Funny English in Japan

Japanese Architecture Osaka

Japanese Beauty Products

Japanese giant vegetables

Japanese sign

Train etiquette in Japan

Japanese gift explanation

Japanese fashion

Japanese trinkets

Japanese fashion

English textbook Japan

Japanese ice cream

Japanese toilet slippers

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese signage

Japanese cars

English in Japan

English in Japan

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese beauty products

Japanese toilets

The Good, The Bad and The Aussie…

In case you didn’t hear me shouting the news from the rooftops, I finally got off that island (Japan). I escaped from the bubble. I jumped ship. I got the truck out of dodge. After three years of life as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I hitched a flight home to Australia and those people who had begun to forget they’re my family. Some of you might be wondering what will happen to paperdoll now that I’m back? Surely without 400+ junior high school kids and the perils of culture shock to contend with every day, I mustn’t have much to write about now? I beg to differ…

I’ve only been back in Australia a month, but I’m already experiencing reverse culture shock after living abroad for six years (yes, there were another three years in the UK too…my addition skills aren’t that bad). So you see I’m home…but I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Even my family can’t believe I’m back for good and I swear my mother keeps pinching herself every time she sees me (which is a lot…since I’m living with my parents again…but that’ll be a whole other blog entry).

Right now, Japan and the UK are my most recent reference points for home and Australia is this strange land I am getting reacquainted with. As I get resettled, I will continue to write about my aventures in Japan (I still have so much to say about it all) and these new experiences of reverse culture shock…or as I’m now calling it…the good, the bad and the Aussie

The Good…

My family.

It’s the end of April…mid Autumn, with winter coming…and it’s around 25°C every day. Forget hellish Japanese winters!

NO MORE SQUAT TOILETS.

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The Bad…

Green tea in Australia sucks. Period.

Red lights actually mean stop, not three-more-people-can-make-it-through-the-intersection-still.

No road cones to feed my weird addiction…

The Aussie…

People wave acknowledgements of kindness from their cars instead of bowing or flashing their hazard lights.

I can say spesh, noice, netty, chook, suss, arvo, sanga, Maccas, cuppa and all other manner of Aussie slang and be understood.

Meat pies.

The Good…

The earth doesn’t shake every day…or…well…ever.

I don’t have to eat rice.

I now work for myself and I love it (WARNING: imminent, shameless self promotion: threefold.com.au)

The Bad…

Australia stinks…literally. After living in Japan I can’t handle strong fragrances anymore.

The speed limit is actually the speed limit.

NO ORIGAMI PAPER.

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The Aussie…

Everyone is up for a chat…the postman, the checkout chick and the pizza guy…

Men. With the ability to grow facial hair. With muscles. With height. With masculinity. Enough said.

Tim Tams, Vegemite, Caramello Koalas…nomnomnom…

The Good…

Anonymity. Sweet anonymity.

One word…organic.

I keep reaching for XL size clothing in stores…only to remember I’m not a giant in this country.

The Bad…

I can feel my Japanese ability leaching out of my brain with every English conversation I have.

Small showers.

No fan club of adoring teenage kids to stroke my ego every day.

The Aussie…

Competitive sport.

Fresh, un(less?)polluted air.

Thongs are things people wear on their feet and there aren’t many Kiwis, Americans or Brits around to refute the point.

The Good…

I can enjoy a restaurant meal without having cigarette smoke billowing in my face.

I don’t have to carry a wad of cash around in my wallet (though the card charges from my first night out in Australia might make this a moot point…).

I sleep on a bed…not the ground.

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The Bad…

No rainbow of KitKat flavours…though this might in fact be a good thing…

My Converse addiction will cost me double than what it did in Japan.

No amusing Engrish.

kinkakuji toilet sign

The Aussie…

Triple J music.

The Hills Hoist in the back yard…which virtually snap dries my clothing immediately.

This…

The Attack of the Cones

Road cones, pylons, traffic cones, witches hats…whatever you call them, they fascinate me. From back in my university days when I aspired to have one of my very own (mission accomplished on a late night raid of a nearby roadworks site) to my present life here in Japan, where road cones are plentiful and varied.

I mean what’s not to love about road cones, apart from their obvious purpose for existing? They’re stackable, aesthetically pleasing (no, just me?), fun to have around and as the crew from Toy Story 2 proved…everyone respects them and their authority.

Japan has fueled this fetish (let’s just call a cone a cone) and Instagram (that’s a whole other problem) has enabled me further with the forum to express the appreciation I have for these inanimate objects. They may just be hollow pieces of plastic lifelessness to you, but to me, they have character…

Zebra crossing

There was conecrete evidence of his break and enter attempt

Greenpiece

Conetemplation

‘He’s been doing lines again’

The tip off lead to his incarceration.

Conefrontation

Conecrete jungle

Why did the cone cross the road? To make a conection.

Coneverse

Living on the edge

Red carpet treatment

The Cone Ranger

Walk the line

Houdini and friend

Conwalled

Twin peeps

‘I’m tired’

Sting operation

Pole dancing conevention

Conelogical numbering

Coneposition

Leave her bee.

Conepany

Coney Island

One for cone and cone for all.

‘I’ve fallen for you’

  Green threes

Conefusion

 Barcone

Conestruction

Conecaine addiction

You coneplete me…

Fortunately For Me…

The last time I put stock in fortune telling was when I was 15 years old and I read my horoscope religiously over a bowl of cornflakes every morning before school. Given the only other thing I took notice of in the paper was the Garfield comic, it’s safe to say that neither I, or the horoscopes, could be taken too seriously.

This fact, combined with my feelings about love (The ‘L’ Word) should give you a clear picture of how my eyes rolled when I was coerced into getting a ‘love fortune’ during my recent Christmas travels. I was skeptical to say the least (about the fortune and my love prospects), but in the spirit of the moment, with my three lovely travelling companions, I paid my ¥100 and fished out a little slip of paper (omikuji) from the timber box.

After a quick view of the fortune and realising I could only read a quarter of it’s content, I handed it over to Ms. French-Fluent-Japanese-Speaker for the translation…

Each omikuji contains five sections, the first being an indicator of whether you have received a bad, average or good fortune. The scale is long and detailed and looks like this. My fortune was an average one (吉), which (for me) seemed like a pretty good start.

The next section is the ‘song’ of your love fortune…which is where things got a little weird. Loosely translated, my ‘song’ was this:

Ice cream is bittersweet and heart break will invite the recollection of heavy love.

The following section goes into greater detail of what the ‘song’ means (really…it seemed so clear to me…?!). This is where my skepticism wavered a little…

Unrequited love is here. No matter how long you wait and how sweet the ice cream (love) tastes at the time, inside a sad cold rain has been crying and made for a bitter heart. Your heart has been crying for a long time.

Hmm. When Ms. French-Fluent-Japanese-Speaker read this, it was like she was reading it straight from my soul. This is exactly how I feel about love and my experience of it to date. But then the fortune felt bad about pointing this out and tried to lift my spirits…

But the day will surely come when your love expectations are met. Don’t close yourself off and stay open and positive about love. The future is positive.

And the fortune didn’t just give me hope…in the next section it also gave me a very specific check list to look out for in my future partner. Apparently this is what awaits me in my perfect guy…

– Mr. Right should be a Sagittarius…if not, a Taurus or Aries will suffice

– Mr. Right should be within three years of my age, older or younger…it doesn’t matter (so I’m free to be a cougar)

– Mr. Right should be blood type B or O, but definitely not A (A guy won’t mind a blood test on a first date, right?!)

– Mr. Right should have been born in either the year of the sheep or pig

– Mr. Right should be the one to choose the first date, but I should avoid someone who talks about marriage too soon (Keen but not clingy, got it)

Mr. Right will not be rich but he will be honest and a good match (Of course Mr. Right will not be rich…that is just my luck)

So ideally, I’m looking for an honest, B or O blood type guy, born between November 23rd and December 20th in 1979 or 1983, who is willing to ask me out on a (modest) date and not be so clingy as to want to wed me straight away. Well, if I’d known it was that easy I would have been onto this years ago.

And just when I was getting my head around all of that, like Jerry Springer, the fortune had some final thoughts for me…

You have a bad memory. Work on improving it.

Fortunately for me, the fortune wasn’t bad enough to tie up and leave behind at the shrine, but my memory is bad enough that I might just forget about it anyway…

Who Cares if They’re Naughty or Nice?

Three weeks before Christmas, I initiated an ‘English Christmas Challenge’ for my students. The concept was simple…if they wrote me a Christmas story or letter in English, I would write them a reply and give them a small present in return. The only rules were that they had to write a minimum of three sentences and they could only receive two presents…any letters after that were purely for the joy of corresponding with me in English (ha).

Two days and 20 letters into the challenge, the teachers started calling me ‘Santa’ as I wandered the halls giving out presents from my Christmas stocking (it’s all about the theatrics…not the hundred yen gifts). With a total of 434 students, I started to wonder…had I bitten off more than I could chew? Come the end of semester, was I going to end up with carpal tunnel from hours of writing replies? Would I be rocking myself in the fetal position having nightmares about the 2nd year boys trying to pillage my stocking?!

I came to realise that children can be bought (quite cheaply apparently) and by the end of the challenge I had received 164 letters in total. I had been Santa to these kids and received letters from all kinds of students. From the ones who can write English in their sleep to the ones who still can’t spell their own names after three years of study. From the kid who never opens his English textbook in class, to the cute little 1st year girl who writes to me every week. The letters and the students who wrote them were many and varied, but in the end I realised… who cares if they’re naughty or nice? As long as they use English…

There were the cute letters with declarations of adoration and love…

There were the comments/pictures regarding my appearance…

There were letters about music (good and bad)…

There were the students channeling Yoda into their writing…

There were the sweet talkers (who were clearly only in it for one thing)…

Then there were the unexpected presents. Some cute…

And some not so cute (a picture of Arashi and a scrunchie)…

And some just weird…like ear buds these pellets that expanded in water?!

There were the letters to make me laugh…

There were the letters containing Engrish…

Oh and then there were the letters from the Gods…

And lastly, there were the hand made Christmas cards from my special needs students…

The experience was possibly more entertaining for me than the students but nonetheless, it got them reading, writing, listening and speaking English more than they would on a usual day.

While I am secretly glad I don’t have 20+ students writing to me every day, I was happy to receive these cards in the mail over winter break and know that at least some of the kids will continue writing for the joy of an English exchange with me…even now that the presents have dried up and Santa has retired…

Still, Only in Japan…

…are VPL (Visible Panty Lines) acceptable in public…or at all.

…are Lilo & Stitch actually popular.

…are snowmen made of only two parts and not three.

Japanese Snowman

…are people only considered sick if they have a fever.

…are you expected to fully wash yourself before getting into a bath.

…are aprons a fashion statement for housewives.

Still, only in Japan…

…does sock glue need to exist.

Girl's gotta have sock glue...

…do shop assistants yell ‘irashaimase’ (welcome) at you repeatedly throughout the duration of your time in their store.

…do elementary school children raise their hand in the air to cross the road.

…does using your hazard lights give you the ability to break any traffic law without penalty.

The hazards of driving in Japan

…do most houses not have an oven.

…do construction workers warm up before starting work with a stretching routine that resembles the YMCA.

…do people’s car dashboards look like a Disney Store shopfront.

Shoe horn?

Still, only in Japan…

…is playing the pokies/slot machines deemed an enjoyable pastime for people under retirement age.

…is it considered rude not to slurp your noodles/soup/tea/any edible substance.

…is Christmas celebrated with KFC and sponge cake.

KFC Christmas

is dancing illegal.

…is there an irrational fear of bugs.

…is a 2.4km race referred to as a ‘marathon’.

Still, only in Japan…

…can peanuts appear on the school lunch menu at least once a month without a student going into anaphylactic shock or their parents suing the school.

…can a person face jail time if a stranger drinking in the same bar as them gets behind the wheel of his car and breaks the law.

…can you make a sport out of sumo and geisha spotting.

Sumo spotting

Geisha stalking

…can I step out of my front door, walk 100 metres in any direction and find a vending machine.

…can trying to heat your apartment become a game of Russian roulette.

…can you find cleaning products sold in gift sets.

Cleaning gift pack? Oh, yes please!

Still, only in Japan…

…will people send New Years cards, as opposed to Christmas cards.

…will you find people own cars bigger than their apartments.

Giant car

…will the movie title ‘This Means War’ be changed to ‘Black & White’.

…will a cars be given names like ‘moco’…which means ‘booger’ in Spanish.

…will you see teenage boys being more openly affectionate with each other than dating couples.

Still, only in Japan are there so many cultural quirks that I could write this threequel to ‘Only in Japan’ and ‘Again, Only in Japan’