Posts Tagged ‘alien’

Q: What is Para-Para?

A: It is a style of dancing which is very popular amongst young people in Japan.



I went to my first para-para club the other day and it was interesting to see such a cult part of Japanese culture live and kicking. If I compare it to line-dancing, then it I’m sure it would give you completely the wrong idea about what it is – there are no badly dressed, cowboy hat wearing middle-aged folk here, this is where the young and the stylish come to show off their arm-waving skills in strict routines set to euro-beat/trance/techno music.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of geeks here too. Para-para is not something you can just rock up to a club and “do”; you have to study hard and learn the moves. As a result there are a large proportion of “otaku” who study daily (probably) to perfect routines, and once they know them they go to a para-para club to show what they can do. Normally “Gyaru” (the really girly girls with tonnes of makeup, short skirts and perfectly curled hair) and “otaku” (geeks with no dress-sense, bowl haircuts and a curry based diet) never mix together under any circumstances, but this is perhaps the main exception to that rule!

My friend Mina took me. She is actually an instructor back in Texas, and its because of this style of dancing that she came to like Japan in the first place! She knows a good 300 or so routines, no mean feat if you ask me. Although the moves all look kind of similar, and there is a lot of repetition, naturally every song is different.

At the club itself, everyone dances in lines and the most experienced dance on the stage to remind everyone of the moves. Occasionally the DJ pulls out a record from the early 90’s which nobody knows and at that moment, there is usually one geek who will know it, and that is their moment to shine!

After a while the music really got to me though so I don’t think I will be trying to pick it up anytime soon, but then again its always fun to try things out so who knows! Let me know what you think of the two videos!

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Question: what whips Japanese girls into a fury of baking, borrowing sugar, and locked kitchen doors? Valentines day of course!

Valentines Day in Japan is the complete opposite to what you would expect. The tradition here is that on February 14th WOMEN give MEN chocolates! And as if that wasn’t unromantic enough, they are nicknamed called “obligation chocolates” for the reason that they have to be given to male work colleagues, superiors, teachers, and all men who you interact with on a frequent basis. Its not all bad for women though; exactly a month later the men who received these chocolates have to return the favour by giving presents such as handkerchiefs or hand towels on what is known as White Day.

The fun part for the men is working out whether the chocolates are “Honne” (a gift from the heart) or “giri” (given out of social obligation). Obviously the more time you take to make them or the more expensive they are, the more love they show.

Rebbekah and I spent the best part of Saturday afternoon making home-made chocolates for our friends with fairly good results:

Valentine Chocolates

Valentine Chocolates

Oh and one other thing. To add another twist into the mix, and apparently due to the “influence of western customs”, one of the major chocolate manufacturers has brought out “reverse chocolates”. These are exactly the same as the normal chocolates except for the fact that the packaging is printed in reverse, and MEN are meant to give them to WOMEN in accordance with the usual Valentines day customs. And before you ask, no I am not joking.

Essentially, noone knows who to give chocolate to anymore.

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I have a new flatmate! Or, to be more correct, a fabulous new flatmate!

Some of the new exchange students have only temporarily moved in until their homestay family are ready for them, but luckily Bekka is a permanent resident. I don’t believe in Karma myself, but I am wonderfully relieved to have got a noral flatmate for this term. She is from Australia and is the complete opposite of my last flatmate – extroverted, tall, blonde and most importantly, slightly bananas which means we instantly clicked!

After living in a dingy, filthy flat for 4 months it is really refreshing to have someone else other than myself want to make it homely. All of last term I spent my free time anywhere but my own flat because it was not somewhere I wanted to be, but now I feel like I have a reason to hang out here and make it my home rather than the place I sleep.  Today we spent over 2 hours cleaning the fridge alone, removing all the food that was out of date and cleaning 4 years of encrusted food off the inside! We also rearranged things a bit and cleaned out all the cupboards – something I should have done when I first moved in!

I took her to get her registered as an Alien, showing her the very over-complicated rubbish disposal methods* and helping her get settled in, so we’ve been hanging out a fair bit. Actually most of the new exchange students are pretty cool, so its nice to be able to help them get sorted before term kicks in.

*I can’t remeber if I wrote about recycling/rubbish disposal but we have a collection on four days of the week; twice for combusitible rubbish, once for recyclable materials such as paper, plastic wrap/assorted plastics, PET bottles, and incombustibles, cans and glass bottles (all seperated out by type, washed and PET bottles have to have their labels and caps removed), and there is another collection for reusable or recyclable stuff which doesnt fit into any other category! They all have various different places where you have to leave them out for the dustmen as well so its a little bit effortsome to get accustomed to! Showing the newbies all this kind of stuff reminds me how weird it actually is… Its all just second nature now!

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The strange thing about living in Japan is that you can simultaneously feel very at home but also like a fish out of water. I know the language (enough to get by comfortably!), how to get around Nagoya, all the do’s and dont’s of Japanese culture. I know a fair bit of Japanese history. I even know how to say “your pants are showing” in comical sign language. But I am still a foreigner. Now, this does have its advantages – if I make faux pas linguistically or otherwise, Japanese people very generously give me the benefit of doubt! However, I am getting slightly tired of always being treated as an outsider. (If I had 100 yen for every time someone asked me if I can eat raw fish…)

We were trying to get into a members club the other night and my half-Japanese friend George rang ahead to see if we could get without being members. The lady told him that it was no problem, that membership was not required. We then went up to the 9th floor and entered reception, where we were told that George could indeed get in without membership as he is fluent in Japanese and looks Japanese. The rest of us (foreigners) would not be able to enter, since we were not members. As it turned out, Japanese people do not have to be members but gaijin do. And to become a member you have to obtain three letters of recommendation from Japanese friends, proof of valid visa status, an Alien Registration Card, and a completed application form. I could of course join, but would I want to join a club which essentially resents my presence? I wouldn’t mind so much if everyone had to apply for membership but such blatant double standards are something I am not used to.

Anyway, it didn’t really matter. We still went on to have a hilarious evening out! It just goes to show that it is the company you hold and not the places you go which define an fun time.

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I’m already feeling very settled in my new life here, I cant believe its only been a week. Settling in has been very easy as the Japanese students in my dorm have made me feel so welcome and helped me all with getting to grips with everyday life. Some things are incredibly different (like recycling) and other things are surprisingly similar.

Yesterday I went with a few others to get registered as an alien (still makes me giggle a bit!) and to get health insurance. So now I am officially allowed to be here and once I receive my 外人カード I will be able to do a lot more stuff like open a bank account. After that we went to get our 携帯 cell phones. Although it is essentially a very simple process (you pick a phone, you sign a contract, everything works) it was made so much harder by the sheer variety and choice of phones on offer! They all come in about 5 colours and have so many features that I’ve never seen before. For example, on my phone, the screen rotates 90 degrees to the right to make it wide screen which optimises TV viewing. It has a camera with a macro and a standard lens, it subscribes to Asahi news which scrolls across my screen every couple of hours with the news headlines, it can play music, blue-tooth, and if I wanted to pay extra, I could use it like an Oyster card at convenience stores or on the subway. But the best part is how cheap it is; it works out as around 5 pounds per month on a contract which I can cancel at anytime for free. Now I no longer have to rely on fate to meet up with people since calling all my friends on the same provider is free! We even got given a free 1GB memory card and a whole goody bag – if only getting a mobile at home was so easy!

I’ve registered for my classes and other than the compulsory language classes, I’m taking Hanga (woodblock carving) , Shodo (calligraphy) , a seminar on War and Peace from a transnational perspective, and Japan and American foreign relations. I could have taken another class (or even done one less class), but I decided that would be enough for the moment and I will see how it goes. Tomorrow I actually start classes, and Im excited to see what its going to be like.

Right, well I’m off to the cafeteria for a bowl of ramen. GB 1.50 cant be wrong! It feels slightly extravagant eating out so much but when its so cheap AND delicious…!

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