When the world is telling you to be alone

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I was sitting on my bed per usual stroking my cat Lily when she decided enough was enough and swiftly jumped off my lap. The rejection stung for a mere 20 seconds and I got on reading my book. That’s something I’ve always respected about cats, when they want to be alone, they make it happen. No worrying about people’s feelings, no second guessing.  I used to be like that, when I wanted some alone time from the bustle of my life I took some time away from it. I would travel alone, climb a mountain, read a book, anything that allowed for those precious moments on my own.

Don’t confuse being alone for loneliness. I enjoy one but not the other.  Breaking up with friends, even if you haven’t fought, or splitting up with a boyfriend can leave you feeling lonely. I was rebounding from both. The problem wasn’t necessarily either, but this overwhelming obligation to go finding new friends and a partner almost immediately. You see being in my late 20s I’ve heard the phrase ‘you’re not getting any younger’ a lot. Despite my reluctance to ever be tied down by a husband or children, those words start to wear on you. The worst part is you start to believe that you should be following what society is ordering you to do.

However society and the world are not the same thing. As I aimlessly went from date to date, the world was giving me strong hints that I wasn’t ready to settle. Job offers from abroad started to appear in my inbox.  Friends living in different parts of world extending invites, my father at almost 82 reminding me it’s my life and telling me diligently on his hospital bed about his regrets for not experiencing more from life. I kept ignoring the signs, until one day lying in Bloomsbury Square appreciating the London sun while listening to The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, a final attempt to elevate my spirits, a student from South America asked me for directions. He was meeting friends at The Museum Tavern, I directed him the best I could with my broken Spanish. He thanked me back in English, not before saying ‘everyday is an adventure in London’. That’s when it hit me, I had lost the adventure in my life. My depression, lack of self esteem and excitement was down to my routine, the shear boredom of repeated days. When I got into that routine, I felt the time slip through my hands and it frightened me. No. It terrified me.

Then I went back to the library, opened a tab up and started searching for interns abroad, cheap plane tickets, field schools, anything- just adventure. And when I do find it, I’ll make sure to make the most of it.

Can you fall in love after a day?

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‘Six months from now, we’ll meet here,’ those are the parting words Jesse tells Celine after spending an incredibly intense day with her in Vienna. They promise each other to meet at the same spot in six months. Instead of dismissing it as simply a holiday fling, they recognise their love after just a day. During their time together they had connected, chatted about the existence of a god, reincarnation, death, and their failed romantic relationships then consummated their love in a public park. The first time I had watched the film (almost 10 years ago) I was left wondering: is it possible to fall in love after just a day? Is it totally plausible to meet someone,  connect on a deeper level and then realise that they’re your soul mate, love of your life, possibly even  life partner? The 19 year old me was a total sceptic but nevertheless kept returning to that movie and its sequel Before Sunset.

The truth was my 19 year old self loved the concept of Jesse and Celine in Before Sunrise, but as the years went by I realised I was more like Tom from 500 Days a Summer. But how do you define love or being in love? Does it matter if someone feels the same way? Does the depth of that love change when it takes longer for romantic feelings to develop? I’ve always wanted the sort of love that Celine had for Jesse.  Then it miraculously happened,  we met in an unconventional way but after the first exceedingly awkward ten minutes, we delved into social identity, travel, and archaeology. We would sit in the pub and talk for hours while slowly getting more and more drunk, we ‘d discuss the universe, parallel dimensions, photography, anything going. The next few days were invigorating, almost like I had only started living at 28. And like Celine, I can pinpoint the very moment I had fallen in love, he was standing in the kitchen talking on his phone and he looked up at me. I’d known him the grand sum of three days. Like Celine and Jesse I knew we would eventually part ways, I was too neurotic, while he was too laid back. Remember, the saying is not staying balanced in love, it is falling, losing your self to love.

Duration doesn’t matter,  it was surprising to me that I could have such intense feelings after three days despite being in long-term relationships that had lasted more than a year. Often it is that simple because being “in love” has so many variables including longevity. Being in love is such a beautiful thing and while it can be all-consuming and most definitely destructive, not everyone gets to experience that raw and deep connection. The experience is dramatic, intense and overwhelming. There are a lot of crazy choices you’ll make in life. If you get the chance, you should definitely allow yourself to be open to falling in love like Celine and Jesse… Even if it only lasts a day.

Tinder: Ego-boosting one-night-stands

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After a tough break up, I wanted to discover what it was like to go on a few casual dates. Casual being the key word. As a trailblazer for optimism I decided that I would try Tinder, after getting a bit of a repetitive strain injury in my thumb from swiping right and left all the time I decided on three guys I would go on dates with. It’s quite amazing, we are in the age of fast-food dates.  Who cares about getting to know a person, right?

Tinder is a basically ‘would you fuck or not?’ app. I got bored with messaging them; avatars don’t feel like real people and  I’m from a generation where sex is similarly instinctive along with appetite for immediacy. My narcissistic curiosity and appetite for constant validation were fuelled by Tinder’s addictive swipe function.  And I can only assume feeds that caveman part of a male brain that places women in hot or not  categories, viewing them as a piece of meat a la Sports Illustrated.

So you’re asking what about the dates? First there was Dan, member of a band, bartender in the evenings. He was the nicest and  I can safely say (in hindsight) authentic. He was the kind of guy who liked to hold your hand under the table.  He let me watch him play in his band a couple of times, and gave cute kisses on the cheek before he went on stage.  He was a keeper, and not the poster boy for Tinder. Why the hell was he on Tinder?

Then there was Oliver, exactly the sort of 20-something that Tinder or OkCupid would welcome: trendy, active on social media, possibly polygamous (a cheat), but honest about it. We went on a couple of dates, it was easy to talk to him, nothing was off the cards.  That made everything almost too comfortable. I felt my 16 year old self come out again when a cute but undeniably self-involved hack shows interest, but at 28, why let myself be deluded?

Last but not least there was Dean, Shoreditch, 29, who I never even managed to meet up with. As he thought it would be a good idea on his first phone call to ask if I liked big gentalia. But unfortunately that’s the typical male message on Tinder. Dean gives me the impression he has Tinder-banged so many women in London that three in 10 children born in the next generation will be his.

Unlike some of my male friends, I was going on dates and receiving messages – but I felt ugly. I thought being validated through compliments and matches would give me a sense of confidence. I mean after 24 hours I felt a little uglier as a person. You put a picture of yourself up, and after 48 hours, you get men messaging you. But the experience just left me feeling hollow. I lost all my looks. I no longer had it. The world might not have  decided I was ugly but I did.

I wanted to be one of the guys, to think I could have casual flings. I realised I can’t switch it off; the need for real deep connections. Call me old fashioned, but what ever happened to that amazing moment where you bump into each other in the supermarket or meet at a party, and start connecting? I’ll wait for that moment. Tinder deleted.

Adventure near the Base of Mount Fuji (Shibazakura Matsuri)

Photography © Franki Webb

It’s been awhile since my last post, but to be honest it’s been awhile since I’ve done anything remotely exciting. I think about my life in Japan and all the happy times I’ve had, and it’s sad to say; most of those times were during my year on exchange. Working has now has zapped almost all the excitement out of my once adventurous life. Now I’ve turned to going abroad to find my thrills, China, Korea and Thailand seem so much more exotic to me now.
I do have one adventure to share with you though, last week I decided to venture out of Tokyo for a bit. I had seen posters all over the trains promoting the flower festival near Mount Fuji as I was taking the train to work. I needed an escape, I had to leave the chaos of Tokyo and breathe some fresh mountain air.
The festival is located near Kawaguchiko so on Tuesday morning at 6am along with my housemate, I boarded a bus straight there. The journey took almost two hours. We got off the bus welcomed with that fresh pine air, grabbed a coffee and lined up for a bus that would take us straight to the festival.  The humidity was overbearing in our retro 60s bus and took almost as long. I started becoming impatient, but I don’t regret the road-trip though, as soon as I stepped off the bus I could smell the fresh flowers which this festival is famous for. We were lucky enough to have clear day with a mild breeze that kept us cool from the harsh rays. The fields were covered with rows and rows of pink shibazakura, the pink was so vibrant it almost hurt my vision if I stared at it too long, but at the same time I couldn’t keep my eyes away. Two years prior, I had visited Chichibu’s Flower Festival which was equally as stunning. However, the one thing that Kawaguchiko had that Chichibu didn’t was Mount Fuji, standing at 3900m,  the combination of the pink fields and mountain seemed almost too surreal as if one were in a fantasy-setting. We lingered at the festival, trying to take detailed images with our memory and sniffing the fragrance. It wasn’t until almost two hours later we decided to venture around the town. The bus back took a more scenic route, we got off at Kawaguchiko station and found the path towards the lake.
(For 2,700yen I would say you get a good deal, especially if you’re blessed with perfect weather. If you live around Tokyo or Yamanashi, take some time out and visit. I promise you, there’ll be no regrets. )

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Kawaguchiko translates as Lake Kawaguchi in English, so there is no surprise that there’s a lake in town. I’m not sure if it due to my city upbringing, but I felt tranquil n this environment, no sirens, no pachinko music, no loud voices; it wasn’t just me –everyone seemed to be at peace. There is so much we take for granted living in the city that we don’t appreciate the little perks of the country.
The lake was surrounded by miles and miles of greenery, even the freeway built over the lake to connect the divide couldn’t distract me from the beauty.  We sat down by the lake and ate our energy bars, by the time we got to there our energy had almost run out.  I peered at the tops of one of the shorter mountains close by and noticed a cable car going up to the summit.
“Why don’t we try it? There might be a temple at the top or something?” I said. I wasn’t ready for the adventure to be over, I wanted more.   The two of us pondered over the boat on the lake and whether it would be a better option, but since the winds had become stronger over the past hour we decided against it and took the cable car up to the mountain.  The mountain was called Mount Kachi Kachi. It was famous for tanuki and rabbits or according to the brochure we were given.  I doubt that people went up to the mountain especially to worship the tanuki, rather they went up to see the spectacular view of Mount Fuji.  We were welcomed by a photographer, who eagerly practiced a little English on us before taking our picture in front of Fujisan (as the Japanese say). We went up a little further and saw some more breath-taking views of the surrounding area. It wasn’t just me, everyone eyes were glued to particular areas, the mountain range on our left, Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi. On top of the summit was a little shrine where we paid our respects (once we caught our breaths). We then climbed down, eager to enjoy the fresh air and get a chance to exercise.  By the time we got down to the bottom, it was time to make our way home, the air became a lot cooler and we started to shiver under our thin clothing. Unfortunately, our quest to find a non-Japanese restaurant failed (we were tired of Japanese food) and we “enjoyed” the cuisine 7-11 had to offer. We took our bus back at around 8.10pm hoping to get home before 10.  I wanted to stay longer, I just didn’t want my little quest to end and to return to the daily grind of city life.

Is Chivalry Alive in Japan?

I’m from a country that most Japanese women like to associate the term, “gentlemen” with; England. No, I’m not going to go all patriotic again, and discuss how British men surpass the Japanese man. This post is merely to ponder over the question, “Is chivalry alive in Japan?” I’m exclusively referring to the behaviour associated with courting and not the knight’s code of honour, – or samurai seems to be more appropriate here-.  I’ve heard contradictory opinions on the matter.  Unfortunately, I have a rather obscured view on the matter, so most of this post’s sources come from;  friends, students, acquaintances (and sometimes from myself).

The thought occurred to me today actually, when I was discussing the matter with my university students.  It was clear that there was a strong divide  in the room, some agreed it depended on the man, others flat out refused to believe that there were men in Japan who would hold the door for them.  In my own experience, I can’t recall a man ever holding the door for me in Tokyo, but that can be largely blamed on the urbanite’s way of thinking. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had much experience dating in Japan, but I won’t mention so much of my own disasters at dating (maybe sometimes).  I have, however, had a lot of interaction with Japanese men, partly due to my job as a teacher and also my experience attending a Japanese university.

Some of my students told me, they were surprised to hear that in Europe a lot of men paid for the women’s meals. Though, to be honest I thought Japanese men were renowned for their generosity, or at least that’s word on the streets in London.  In Europe, this is true to an extent, in all my time in the U.K, I only paid for a meal a couple of times, when in the presence of male friends. This could be attributed to the fact that the company I kept was always older than me, by at least five years or so. I’m not here to discuss if men should pay for women; frankly that’s a sexist attitude, which is clearly on its way out. Though one could argue, since women haven’t been endowed with full equality, (women still receive 20% less salary than men in England and it’s far worse in Japan), is it not proper that maybe a man with higher earnings -not because of his skill, but because of his gender- pay for the woman?

I have to share one of acquaintance’s  nasty experience on a date in Japan, so much so that she wishes she could extinguish it from her memory. When one is invited on a date, you expect that person to pay -regardless of gender- not only did she pay for her share -she also paid for his (smack face!) Later, when she was invited to karaoke and had run out of money, he told her nonchalantly that he would pay for her this time, but next time she would have to pay him back, (Mind you, this was after she’s paid for his dinner). What an assumption!  As if there would be another date;  I was glad to hear that he was unapologetically let down. (I must express that this is the only time I’ve heard about this sort of thing, whilst in Japan; usually the guy -foreign or Japanese- pays for me.)

It might not be the lack of consideration, holding a door, and paying for a meal are all superficial worries after all.  What I have heard however, numerous times, over and over again is that Japanese men lack – romance.  I’m going down a slippery slope here, since I believe it all depends on the sort of man one dates. However, I can’t pretend that this notion is not vital in understanding the problems with dating or courtship in Japan.  One factor that I think contributes to the reason why Japanese women have all, but given up; Japanese men find it difficult to express their feelings to their partners. These are a few complaints I’ve heard;

“Why doesn’t he say he likes me?”
“He always calls me cute, not beautiful.”
“He doesn’t kiss me goodbye.”

In England, most of the time,  despite people’s stereotype of the English being reserved, a boy will let a girl know when they’re interested,  and of course, vice-versa.   This issue could be attributed because many Japanese nowadays grow up with fewer siblings, so therefore lack the social skills to communicate with others, but that wouldn’t be exclusive to just men.  I’ve known very forward Japanese men, funnily enough from mostly the rural parts, where family sizes are a lot larger. Therefore, maybe this sentiment does has some validity.

According to the Japan Times, many Japanese men are now scared of the idea of commitment, or so the Japanese media would have us believe. However, what I can gather from the evidence is that a lot of Japanese men are fairly emotionally shy, some friends have used the words, “emotionally immature.”  But, one shred of proof that backs up women search for more assertive men,  is the rising number of  Japanese women who are on a mission to look for a foreign boyfriend. So the age old story in Japan is that foreign men are emotionally mature in comparison to the Japanese.  I never understood this myself, I’ve met immature and mature men from different countries.  Can Japanese men really be that different from the foreign counterparts, especially since “foreign” in Japan is a very loose term. What is foreign? European? Korean? Chinese? American? And are we all painted with the same brush?

I’ve heard many things of late about Japan’s declining population, many pointing fingers at women for being too career-focused, others blaming the high cost of living in Japan. While some of the blame has been placed on young Japanese men themselves. One prime minister accusing them of not being “macho” enough. I’ve only once been interested romantically once in a Japanese man of late,  enough to try and pursue something and believe me I did. I’m not saying a boy has to do the chasing, but it got to a point of blatant irresolution that I quickly gave up.  It’s like a misconception I have now,  because of the constant moaning everywhere.

Four years in Japan and I can now understand how the phrase “Herbivore boy” came to existence, despite hating labeling . The current question is; have Japanese men got weaker?”  Herbivores are the type of  men who prefer to go holidaying around Japan than go abroad- or even worse stay at home, shocking, (especially for someone like me, who can’t even sit still for ten minutes.)    Apparently Japanese women aren’t taking this sitting down, and a new term has been coined to describe women who actively pursue the guys; carnivorous women, sounds like a group of yokai (ghouls), right?   Although this might not be such an alien concept to most Japanese women.  Unlike the West,  where it’s mostly the male’s responsibility to buy chocolate or presents for their girlfriends, in Japan it’s the women’s job. Furthermore, White Day, which happens in March is the day where the male returns the favour.  So maybe chivalry hasn’t died after all, maybe it has just found a new home. And perhaps it’s better this way…