Japan: It’s Like Living in England Roughly Between 1980-1997

Since arriving here I have often compared living in Japan to the UK in the 1950s. Yet, I am a historian and heart, and it bothered me that this was a date I had plucked from the air without too much consideration.

So, on one walk home, I decided to put some moderate brain power into it and came up with the time frame 1980-1997. This is certainly less catchy to throw out there in those blaise moments of trying to understand my existence here, but it fits more accurately. Here is why…

Chalk board in schools and little wooden desks

So, I was born in the 80s (me and Calvin Harris wrote a song about it actually…) and I remember chalk boards and wooden desks at school. I remember coming home with splinters where I had rubbed my hands across the desk and it had bitten me back. I also remember the chalk boards being phased out for whiteboards, with those glorious smelling board markers…so by the time I started high-school in 1997, there wasn’t a chalk board to be found. In Japan, there is nothing but chalk boards in every classroom and little wooden desks where the students sit in rows. Concerning the curriculum, it does not develop or drawn on the ‘hidden curriculum’ teaching in the West often uses. It focuses on using textbooks and generally drilling the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers.

However, once in awhile a radical teacher wheels out a white board and a session on communication English only (not textbooks!), so change is in the air…Still, I was recently asked to help a teacher who has been recommended by the governors to be the one that demonstrates how ICT can be used in classrooms to other teachers. He is an English teacher, but he carries an Ipad, so fits the stereotype I assume. However, my jaw dropped when, after ten minutes setting up the projector, the ICT he brought out was a black and white PowerPoint full of the text copied from a textbook. So maybe baby-step change is in the air…

Getting petrol and being served, whilst also having your windscreen washed and mirrors cleaned

As I child I remember my mum always driving us to the same petrol station, where a little old man would jump up off his stool and serve us. He would put the petrol in the car, and then wipe your screen and mirrors. You would sit there and admire life or hell, even talk to him (days before smartphones…remember them?!) In Japan, you are waved into the petrol station by one man. Another will then give your car petrol, whilst a third and fourth set about wiping your windows. Sometimes there is even a fifth, observing the others to make sure they don’t feck it up. It takes me back to the days of high UK employment and pride in all jobs, rather than the current predicament of self service everything. Although, you may notice the term ‘one man’…it is not so progressive that you find many women working the forecourts of the motor industry. But then, we can’t exactly claim that in the UK either…What is better? Self-serve and save time and money, or high employment levels with too many people to do one job? I swing between the two, but there has to be something said for feeling pride as you get up and go to work each day, feeling a sense of self purpose.

Loving whoever

As of 2004, with the Civil Partnerships Act, and 2014, with the Marriage Equality Act, in the UK you can marry who you love. I remember this movement for partnership equality starting in the 1990s. Adults would discuss their thoughts and gay friends slowly started to make themselves known as change was in the air. The millennium was a big moment, as we crossed over into a new era. People marched and protested for love and equality and this was then enshrined in UK law. In Japan, same-sex marriage is not legal and civil-partnerships are very uncommon and only available in six cities, where same-sex partnerships are now offered. Same-sex partnerships offer couples the chance to apply for a partnership certificate, which allows them many of the same rights as married couples (but not all). Since 2013, a number of polls have been carried out across Japan, and a small majority seem to be in favour of same-sex marriage. However, being gay is still highly stigmatised in Japan, with only 8% of the population saying they know an openly gay person. Compare this to 58% in the UK and it seems Japan has some way to come on this equality front…

You are not so smart you flipping phoney

Flip phones are still a big deal here. In fact, we have one for emergencies! And, just like all of the old people that also have one, it’s big buttons and slow processor mean that to do anything on it requires me to slip my reading glasses down my nose and stick the tip of my tongue out of my mouth. Of course smartphones are also a big deal, it is Japan after all, most of them were invented here. But the fact is, the flip (un-smart) phone is the cheapest on the market. It is not now in a vintage shop or reaching hundreds of pounds on eBay…I remember, fondly, the days of texting on my Motorola Pebble phone under the dim glow of its green screen. I can now recreate that look in Japan, should I ever find the need to actually text someone that is!
So, all in all, I think that a lot of the time living in Japan is like living in the UK between 1980-1997. At this time in the UK the feeling of change was in the air too as the country started moving towards the New Labour movement. In Japan, whilst the ripples of change feel more subtle, that is just the way things are done here. Change is in the air though, afterall we are about to see the royals here reduced even further as Princess Mako hands back her crown to marry a regular guy.

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