Thirteen Hours B.C.

Yamada Suita 8:41am
Time has always been important to me. There are only so many hours in the day. I know from experience that that my body will begin to shut down in about twelve hours from the moment I awake. I have to do all I want to do in that time.

So you may notice that I not exclusivel  use the clock to describe my day, but something I call ‘B.C’ time. No I am not waiting for the Second Coming, ‘B.C.’ stands for ‘Before Collapse’


I do apologise, did I mention I have a disability, specifically, left-sided spastic hemiplegia?

I can of course power through for a few hours or so longer, but not for that much longer, my body will require me to rest, I am living on borrowed time.

And did I mention that I live in Japan?

May ask you? How do you begin your day? Maybe a coffee and some carbohydrates , maybe a complaint about having to get up in the morning? I begin the day with this question: Is today a walking day?

Cerebral palsy, or to give the specific variation I have – left sided spastic hemiplegia often leaves me physically encumbered. I may live in Japan and would love to spend every non-working moment visiting the temples of Kyoto or the metropolis of Tokyo, but given my condition it’s something I really can’t do.

 The worst part about with being disabled is this: there are days when you can’t get out and about and yet you suspect that something interesting is around the next corner. Time becomes important to you when you have a disability. I know I have only a few hours of being useful, of being able to be physically active. You have to learn to use your time wisely, you have to plan, you have to make decisions. Will you be able to get up early? Is today a day you can walk up steps – Japan is home to many a steep staircase. Can you walk up the steel staircase and get back down it?

There are some days when my answer to these questions is no, but there are days when the answer is yes. Thankfully for moment the ‘yes’ days outnumber the ‘no’ days.

One Cane, One Umbrella, One Hand 

I don’t mind Mondays, but its rainy days that always get me down. It is now rainy season in Osaka and for the next thirty-six hours or so it will rain solidly, the kind of rain that that Bob Dylan used to sing about.

The rain itself really has a kind of beauty of about, it beats the ground with some force, and when it does the sound it creates, is a wall of sound of which Phil Spector would be proud. It really is amazing, if only for its duration. Rainstorms, in the country I hail from of at least, rarely last more than two minutes. Here in the Land of the Rising Sun, they last many hours, almost a day.

Of course you carry an umbrella. Really good and sturdy umbrellas are sold at every convenience store. And they are quite wide umbrellas; quite enough to cover your entire body, not a drop will touch you, unless of course you are carrying a walking stick in the other hand.

Welcome to the problem of one, stick, one umbrella, one hand. Not as sexy as two girls, one cup, I grant you, but important nonetheless. I cannot do much with my left hand, I can grab, but I do not have enough co-ordination to move. It is basically a robotic arm,that just happens to be on a human.

My balance goes completely. I attempt to dance the delicate ballet that is the dance of stick and umbrella. It is a rather violent dance which the stick usually wins. I simply cannot walk carrying both. I give up on the umbrella. After all it’s only water, what does it matter if I turn up to work on the brink of pneumonia?

And the rain is rather beautiful.

 

 

 

Notes from a Crowded Country

Virginia Woolf requested merely only a room of one’s own. Turns out she was too demanding, as in Japan our ambitions are more modest, here it appears that all we require is that little bit of the space-time continuum we currently occupy, with no further leg or elbow apparently being required.


Whether it be crowded trains to busy streets, from JR Shinjuku Station to Shibuya crossing; the former arguably  one of the busiest train stations in the world, the latter the busiest commuter area, it is fair to say that that Japan has plenty of rising suns but little space.


One of my favourite films is ‘Lost in Translation’ and in that film, one my favourite scenes is when Charlotte, taking time out from karaoke collapses into Bob’s shoulderExhausted from their singing, they take a time-out. Together alone, in a karaoke place in Tokyo, they relax in space that is their own, albeit temporarily. 


Finding such a space in Japan, especially a quiet place is rare. People back in the country I hail from ask me about culture shock, is there anything that disturbs me about Japan, anything I find difficult to deal with, I usually answer in the negative, I have genuinely never really experienced culture shock, but if pushed, I give this response – Japanese people appear to understand space differently – or at very least, the notion of space is dealt with differently here in Japan. Absolutely you can fit yourself and a rather large suitcase in between the foot wide space in a queue at a convenience storewhy wouldn’t you try to do that?


From busy trains to attendance levels akin to rock concerts during festivals and national holidays, Japan does seem to be a crowded place. Japan also seems to be a place that actually likes crowds, or at least, does not react to crowds as something to be avoided.  Instead they seem to be regard as an inevitable part of everyday life.


When I first came to Japan years ago, and was living in Tokyo I remember seeing a sign that read ‘please be considerate to other passengers and sit close to each other’. That sign was something I loved about Japan when I first moved here. You think the train you want to take seems to be over-crowded?  Nonsense, the Japanese people, it appears, laughs in the face of crowdedness and give the middle finger to the concept of not enough room. In Japan there are even people that well help squeeze you on to a train during busy hours, some of them even work for the train company, here there is no such thing as too full, there is always, at least on trains, room for one more.


As someone whom, back in Britain was denied access, on more than one occasion, to both buses and trains on the grounds that were ‘too many children and handicapped people’, one admires, for the most part, Japan’s attitude towards transport.  As a physically encumbered man hoping to get back home on a busy train running late at night, I really appreciate it, here even during busy times, a disabled person, along with the pregnant or young  is given ‘priority’, there are seats that are called just that ‘priority seats’, so it’s all good.


However, I am left wondering about following: I am sure they are all very kind people, but I doubt that the pregnant lady, the kindly old age pensioner nor the teenager, actually wanted to give up their seat for me, of course not, they are deserve the comfy chair. And I worry about the culture towards space here, there appears to be no maximum occupancy to a train, and if the train is obviously too full, well there’s an app for that, here no passenger will be left behind apparently, if need be we shall push you on to the train.


So whether I am coming back from work or a late night on the tiles, I prefer to leave early (so I guess it’s not so late!so as to be able to choose which train I get on, I’ll get on the less crowded train. Space is important to person with a physical disability like me, by walking with a cane and possibly bulkily paraphernalia like a wheelchair or by wearing a calliperAs a person with disability, you sometimes view your personal space like thisyou are yourself and one foot in any direction, and you are always thinking the following; where next does my body need to go and can I get there? 

And my body spasms, and on a rare occasion quite violently, but also quite in voluntarily, so I worry about injuring people, on busy trains my only defense against this is a wide stance, which makes me the worst kind of gaijin, one whom hogs space on a train. And on a not entirely unrelated note, there is a concern in Japan about chikan, men who use the excuse of a crowded to grope and assault girls. Obviously men should simply not do that, but it is equally true that it’s exceedingly difficult to assault someone you not physically near. 

So instead of encouraging people to sit closer to each other, why doesn’t the sign read like this:


‘Please keep a respectful distance from your neighbor.’ 

Home Thoughts from Abroad Revisited

I am visiting Britain again. This seems to becoming a ritual for me, I was here in February 2014 and am here again in February 2015. It’s not entirely by accident, the academic year, in Japan runs from April to mid February. This is is a bit like Summer break in the west, the longest holiday of the school year.  I was a bit too apprehensive about coming back last time, and whilst it was great to see family, friends and old and now not so familiar places, and was feeling too much of a prodigal son to enjoy it.

This time it’s different, maybe it’s only because this is the second time I’ve returned, that it not being the first time allows me to feel less pressure but I’m certainly enjoying it more this time. I still feel a bit of a stranger here but still more connected than last time. It’s an odd feeling that I can’t quite give adequate expression.

I’m still not quite ready to return to Britain to live, and perhaps I never will be entirely at ease with Britain, one day, the work in Japan might dry up and I’ll have to return, but at least now I don’t feel that having to return would mean the end of the world.

Tsukumodai, Suita 8:41AM

How do you begin your day? Maybe a coffee and some carbohydrates , maybe a complaint about having to get up in the morning? I begin the day with this question: Is today a walking day?

Cerebral palsy, or to give the specific variation I have – left sided spastic hemiplegia often leaves me physically encumbered. I may live in Japan and would love to spend every non-working moment visiting the temples of Kyoto or the metropolis of Tokyo, but given my condition it’s something I really can’t do.

The worst part about with being disabled is this: there are days when you can’t get out and about and yet you suspect that something interesting is around the next corner. Time becomes important to you when you have a disablity. I know I have only a few hours of being useful, of being able to be physically active. You have to learn to use your time wisely, you have to plan, you have make decisions. Will you be able to get up early? Is today a day you can walk up steps – Japan is home to many a steep staircase. Can you walk up the steel staircase and get back down it?

There are some days when my answer to these questions is no, but there are days when the answer is yes. Thankfully for moment the ‘yes’ days outnumber the ‘no’ days.

Preview of my next article in The Japan Times

So, anyone who comments critically about Japan, and writes in English, apparently must have ignoble intentions — and/or be lazy, according to Thorn. He then goes on to offer a fourth possible explanation for this rash of apparent Japanophobia: that people who write about Japan in English are only doing so for the money. He’s also honest enough to admit that he has done such jobs, and would “cheerfully” do so again. I suppose I have done the same, having being published twice in The Japan Times — but I wasn’t told what to write, nor what tone the article should take: I wrote something that was accepted by the publisher, and each time I initially did not expect to be paid.

To read more read The Japan Times on Monday 12th January!

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Thanks for Reading & Merry Christmas!

As I write this it the early hours of Christmas Eve 2014. I haven’t written much on this blog for the last few weeks, but I have been busy teaching at the university and writing my second e-book ‘Japan: Notes from the Obstacle Course’ which shall be all about being disabled in Japan.

Thanks for reading this blog this year, and for buying my e-book Gaijin Story

Next year I hope to post much more and to publish more both in the print media and on this blog, and my second e-book should be out next year.

Once again thanks for reading and a merry Christmas, see you in 2015.