Assistant Abroad part 3: Of mobile phones and mosquitoes

This post is brought to you by the BOSS! Suntory Boss is the boss of them all since 1992 (and probably using brand names of slightly dubious racial implications since then too!)

This post is probably going to be an amalgamation of more observations and some opinions, along with a bit of news on what I’m up to!

Mobile Phones and Mosquitoes

Being a foreigner, I have to be 20 to be allowed to buy a phone. While this is massively inconvenient, there are the usual ways to get around this, i.e. getting your 20-year-old friend to sign for you. It has taken me about a week to manage a) to get to the konbini (convenience store) on campus and b) with a 20-year-old in tow. But finally I have a phone!!! It’s pretty basic as Japanese phones go, which says nothing.

Meet the SoftBank phone! Yes, it’s basic as Japanese phones go, but by Western standards, well, wow! 2.0 megapixelcamera, the ability to get on the internet, infrared means that you can wirelessly pass on all your contact details to your friend’s phonebook automatically and best of all: you can attach phone charms to it! Being in Japan, it’s almost wrong to have a phone and not get charms for it at some point.

However, the real selling point is email. This phone can send email messages to any email address in the world FOR FREE. This means that if you’re always emailing your friends, you won’t spend any money and have all the credit you started with, therefore saving credit for important calls to your host family such as “I’m lost! I have no idea where I am, help please!” or “I’m very sorry, while you were out shopping I broke a sliding door”.  (NB: These examples are NOT from personal experience!)

As for mosquitoes or 蚊 (か – ka), this is a massive problem. Me being me (i.e. pretty unaware of important things), I assumed that all mosquitoes were big and resembled daddy-long-legs and also made noise. With this in mind, I wandered around Japan for a couple of days feeling safe and secure as I hadn’t seen even one. Some people would show their mosquito bites and complain about them, and I thought “Oh dear, poor them! Lucky me, maybe mosquitoes don’t like me!”

Then my world view was shattered. Sitting in the car with my host family, I watched a fruit fly hover around the inside of the windscreen and there were mentions of “Ka!” I watched it being swatted and then was informed that “ka” meant mosquito. What?! So, it turns out that mosquitoes are the same size as fruit flies and make no noise. Chances are that I’ll end up with large red welts all over my arm because I’m generally oblivious… this is why I flail wildly at any flying thing that comes close, leading to me looking rather stupid in front of peers!


  • Vehicles

They are square. There is simply no other way to describe them. All cars seem to be descended in some way from some kind of primordial ancestor that was probably a shipping container. I was blissfully unaware of this until someone pointed it out about 10 minutes into my first drive through Japan and into Osaka. From then on, the squareness of the vehicles positively assaulted my eyesight. However, I’m still slightly amused by the number plates, which are pretty similar to English ones- they have one kana (which can very roughly be compared to an English “letter”) and then four numbers.

In bus news, my admiration of buses has bloomed into full-grown love. My new route to university involves taking a bus to the train station then another on onwards to university. The ease with which I can use the bus combined with my new shiny one-month bus pass means that I’m enjoying my commute far too much to be healthy. There’s a chance that in time it will get boring once I start to take it for granted, however. Until then, pleasant journeys for all!

  • Suntory
The Boss is watching you. He is everywhere you go. He watches you from the back of lorries, from the sides of vending machines. Suntory is the Boss of them all and he knows what you are doing…
Anyway, enough of how Boss is hypnotising me- you’ve now seen enough photos of the Boss to last you a lifetime, but I’m going on to report my Boss Watch ™ findings. During the past few days, I’ve seen an advert for him on TV, and a character drinking Black Boss on an episode of Bakuman along with his face on half the vending machines around and a lorry branded with his face which drove past one day! It turns out that Suntory, the company behind the Boss, also make a massive range of drinks, including alcohol. Sadly for me, they aren’t Boss-branded products.
P.S. (What I would like to know is whether “Mitsuya cider”, which looks just like a sports drink, is alcoholic or not. It’s apparently like lemonade… Names are so misleading… incidentally, apparently Rick Astley was the face of Mitsuya cider during the 1980s and 1990s!)

  • Bakuman!
(Apologies for the quality, cameras don’t like TVs!)
I was remarkably surprised to catch an episode of Bakuman on TV because I had no idea that it had been made into an anime. With my knowledge of the events in the manga, I managed to place the time setting of this episode, but because of my initial struggle with hearing swift Japanese, it seemed really boring. All they did was talk and ride bicycles, which obviously is what happens in the manga, but I could understand the manga!

  • Children’s television
Once you stop watching television with the typical foreigner’s view of “Ehh? This is really weird! This is nothing like our TV!” and actually compare it… it’s not that different. While I was still full of wonder about this new country back at the university accommodation, I spent Saturday evening watching children’s television. What struck me was the similarity! Photos are included for purposes of comparison: CBBC presenters in Japan, and a Japanese take on muppets!

  • QOO
I’ll say it right now, I probably need an intervention.

This drink, “Qoo” (as they inexplicably romanised “ku”) is not just apple juice. “Apple juice” is a term invented by the Western markets to sell a disgusting acidic creation that doesn’t even deserve to be called a beverage. This “Qoo” drink is what happens when you take real red apples, simply remove the inedible parts and then blend it into liquid. It’s delicious and tastes like real apples. “Qoo” is real apple juice! After a stressful few hours, I get a bottle of this and everything is OK. I am about three days away from planning entire journeys around vending machines just so I can get hold of it.

  • And finally… Osaka-ben
I want to learn it. Osaka-ben is a dialect spoken in Osaka and in the Kansai region, and apparently it isn’t “high-class”. However, a large number of comedians come from Osaka as for some reason, the Japanese find the accent makes a person funnier. After explaining to my host mother, haltingly in Japanese, that everyone speaks like farmers where I come from (there may have been generalisation involved…), it’s now turned out that I’ll be getting a great opportunity to learn as much Osaka-ben as I can!
These are but a selection of my observations recently, as I get into a habit of making a large number of them and forgetting to note them down! Now that classes have started, I’ll probably find some aspects of them to blog about- I’ll be studying Japanese monsterology (to sum it up) and padding the numerous gaps in my knowledge of Japan’s history, so there’ll be no shortage of material for posts! Until next time!

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