Monday, January 30, 2006


It's amazing that here in Japan the shop assistants really make an effort to welcome you into their shops. Or maybe it's not really that amazing, it's just that I was brought up in a society where people treat you like your some sort of annoyance when you enter a store. I was having this conversation with another English human being who'd just recently been back for a couple of weeks, and thought it strangely funny how we Brits are extremely rude with the whole customer service thing compared to the Japanese.
I remember my first day here in Hiroshima when I popped over to my 24 hour supermarket to food shop. As soon as I stepped foot into the vicinity I heard an echo of "Irasshaimase's" coming from all areas of the shop floor. I picked up a basket and strolled to the fruit & veg area where I was shocked to see that a melon cost over a fiver. In the same instance I received another "Irasshaimase" from the shop assistant standing right next to me, I turned to smile but she wasn't even looking in my direction. So I meandered round all the fresh food arangements still with an empty basket, and ended up in the 'bread' section. Picking up a loaf of bread (and when I say loaf, it's actually 5 pieces of bread in a bag) I dropped it in the basket and turned to move off when I got another "Irasshaimase" in my face. I was beginning to wonder if I was being spied on?! I decided to go and find the milk, and whilst pondering over what the differences were between all of the milks I sensed a shop assistant standing next to me and was waiting for the sudden outburst. Surprisingly this shop assistant said "may I help you?" as I was turning my head and responding with "no thank you" at the same time, he'd walked off. Now, I thought that was quite weird and stood there for a bit thinking he was going to turn around but he disappeared down an aisle.
I continued to walk around in my own little world, not having any idea what the foods were I was staring at, and every now and again jumping from the "irasshaimase's" coming my way. After about 20 minutes of food shopping (and all I had in the basket was milk, bread & butter. Oh the shame of it!) I headed for the till. There was one till open and one customer paying, so standing waiting for approximately 10 seconds, a shop assistant dashes over and opens up the till beckoning for me to come over. What I can't believe is, you would never get that at Tesco's. More often than not, you've got a trolley load of stuff and a wait of 7 people in front with just as much stuff, and as it gets to your turn to load your shopping on the conveyor belt the till staff stick a bloody sign on it saying "closed".

I'm now leaving the supermarket, stunned, just stepping out of the door and hear an echo of "arigato gozaimashta". The thing is though, I get this everytime I go (and so does everyone else). In all shops, people are genuinely welcoming you. I couldn't tell you if they actually really enjoyed their jobs, if they don't, then they're very good at disguising the fact.
When I was waitressing, I used to roll my eyes if anyone came into the restaurant and make them stand at the door for a bit until I'd finished my conversation with my mate of what happened in EastEnders the night before! Even worse when I worked in a clothes shop, I just used to lean on the clothes stands or pick up a selection of clothes and go to the changing rooms for a trying on session. Avoiding customers as much as I could, and basically try to do as little work as possible.
OK, another new determination: to be more good natured when it comes to work (and I'm talking about working back in England, as I'm working with kids here, so I'm constantly behaving like an imbecile - out of work too when I come to
think of it).

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Beware of the cyclist!

FACT: "Bike crashes kill 900 people every year and send another 567,000 to hospital emergency rooms with injuries."
I'm thinking that I could possibly hold a world record of the highest amount of bike accidents a person can achieve in such a short space of time. This week alone I've fallen off a bike 4 times, crashed full on into Vernon's beautiful mountain bike & cycled into a signpost. As a result I probably hold a world record of the biggest bruises a person can receive ... EVER!
I must say, one of the crashes was pretty impressive. I'll set the scene: I was the cyclist (under the influence of 'screwdriver') and my passenger was Dan (under the influence of sho-chu), we turned a corner into a not so busy back street in Hiroshima's china town on our way to a bar. Infront of us to the left was a taxi, to the right was a crowd of people saying their goodbyes to eachother and in between the obstacles was enough room for me to cycle through. But no, I'm riding as fast as I can ringing the little bell on the handle, shouting 'move out the way'. I plough through the crowd who luckily move out of the way before sustaining any injuries, I then swerve to the left and hit the taxi on the bumper. Dan flies off the back and I soon follow. It takes a minute or so to realise what had just happened, I'm being helped up by Dan and then we're looking in astonishment at the chaos we've caused. The crowd have now surrounded the taxi and the driver is annalysing his car, but nobody is looking in our direction, so we sneak off. The thing is, it was hilarious (although it wasn't the next day when I couldn't move). However on a more serious note I may write to the Japanese government suggesting that they pedestrianise bar areas and have some sort of crowd prevention sign (preferably hanging from a building as I might cycle into it), aiding cyclists to get to the bars on time to meet their friends.