Life in Japan #1: Spending Time With the In-laws

(Hi! This is the first in a semi-regular series of posts on my life in Japan. Loads of people are already making blogs/vlogs about Japan, but most of that’s either (a) flashy Japanese travel stuff, or (b) incredibly depressing ‘everyday Japanese life’ GoPro vlogs where the person does nothing but walk around a 7-11 and talk about how much they hate their job. 

So I decided to make something of my own – something that’s neither flashy travel stuff, nor depressing (hopefully), but instead an honest, middling-to-moderately funny look at some aspects of living in Japan that don’t usually get much attention. 

Also, some background for anyone who doesn’t know me all that well: I live in Japan, working as an interpreter. I have a wife (who’s Japanese), and we’ve been living together for a few years now. Okay, here we go!)

Recently my wife left for Paris on a three month business trip, meaning I’m currently living alone for the first time in years.

Before you roll your eyes – don’t worry, this post isn’t going to be one of those stories like: “man left to own devices by wife, immediately reverts to eating takeout pizza standing over the sink, accidentally burns house down trying to do laundry”.

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I can take care of myself, on account of being a big, grown-up boy, and I’m actually the household cook (a fact which absolutely blows the minds of 90% of Japanese people I meet, because (due to a mysterious time anomaly) Japanese gender norms are forever trapped in the 1950s).

So I’m fine living alone for a few months (if you’re wondering: yes, of course I miss my wife (and if you’re my wife reading this: yes, of course I miss her so much all the time I can’t live without her)).

But a few days before she left we went to see her family, and my mother-in-law seemed very worried about me being left all by myself. She even invited me to come round and have dinner with them sometime while my wife is away. I like to think I’ve made a pretty good impression on her (she likes my weird, foreign cooking), but she still seemed worried about me (either she was just being motherly, or she wasn’t 100% convinced that I wasn’t going to turn into some kind of feral, trash-eating dog man the moment my wife was gone).

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I have a good relationship with my in-laws, and I was very happy to be invited, but honestly the thought of going there without my wife filled me with a hefty serving of dread: not only would I have to make conversation all afternoon, I’d have to do it in Japanese, and all without my wife to help me out.

Now, I should stop and emphasise this point again: I’m an interpreter. My job involves me standing around all day talking to people in Japanese. Speaking Japanese is literally something I’m good enough that I get paid to do it. So of course I can speak to my in-laws in Japanese.

But there’s this weird thing about anxiety – reality is only relevant when it’s giving you a reason to be anxious.

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You’ve been learning Japanese for a little while and now you have to speak to some Japanese people? Better get really anxious about it. It’s years later, and you’ve spoken Japanese countless times in countless different personal and professional contexts? Well, that’s all well and good, but what about a slightly different context? Better get really anxious about it all over again.

My wife was a little embarrassed that her mum invited me round, and said she was probably just being polite – that I didn’t have to go see them. But I kind of wanted to (I obviously didn’t want to, but you know what I mean). I mean, her family is now my family, and I should make the effort to build as good a relationship with them as I can.

So a couple of weeks after my wife left, I went round to see my in-laws for the afternoon. I didn’t commit any terrible faux pas. I didn’t accidentally insult my mother-in-law’s cooking or burn their house down, or recreate that Fawlty Towers episode and repeatedly bring up the Nanjing Massacre.

Instead, I stayed for a few hours, had dinner, chatted for a bit, and then went home. Oh, and I helped out with some farming in my mother-in-law’s vegetable garden. Which I managed just fine, thank you.

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It isn’t a particularly fascinating or life-changing story (sorry), it kind of meant a lot to me.

It gave me more confidence speaking and being friendly with my in-laws – people who are going to be part of my life for the rest of my life. And it gave me more confidence in my Japanese abilities (even though I know I’m just going to find something else to get anxious about in the future).

Learning a language (at least for me) generally takes the form of a steady grind where I barely notice any improvement – at one point I’ll think: “Man, I’m struggling to talk about the weather”, and then three years later I’ll think: “Man, I’m struggling to talk about Brexit” And in both cases I’ll feel like an absolute dipshit who can’t speak at all.

But occasionally there’ll be a moment – this afternoon with my in-laws being a great example – where all of a sudden I look back at where I used to be, look at where I am now, and see how far I’ve come. All through hard work and perseverance, and a lifelong drive to play all those cool Japanese PS2 games I read about as a kid, but that were never brought over to the UK a desire to learn more about high-brow aspects of Japanese culture like haiku and ikebana.

Also, my wife was very happy I made the effort and spent time with her family while she was away. And It’s always nice to get brownie points.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this post you can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. or you could be the loveliest person alive and support me on my newly-opened Patreon, while also getting some nice rewards for yourself.

 

 

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RPG Autopsy #9: Vampyr (Part Nine – Whoso Eateth My Flesh)

(Welcome to part nine of our mini-series on Vampyr. If you missed part one, you can find it here. Today we’ll be heading back to the docks,  investigating a murder, and following the trail of the most Irish man in the world.)

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When we arrive back at Pembroke Hospital things are in a right bloody state. We find Dr. Swansea locked in a rather tense standoff with Geoffrey McCullum – leader of the vampire-hunting Guard of Priwen. When McCullum sees us he immediately clocks us as a vampire (or, in Guard of Priwen rude anti-vampire language: ‘a leech’), and the gears shift from ‘tense’ to ‘imminent bossfight’.

Fortunately, after a long staring contest, McCullum finally blinks. He leaves, and Dr. Swansea gives us some (more) bad news: apparently the man we saved back at the docks – the priest Sean Hampton – was infected, and has now become a skal. It seems he killed a patient – one Harriet Jones – and fled into the night. As a result, the Guard of Priwen is now convinced the hospital is harbouring vampires (which, I mean, it is).

Since Dr. Swansea’s very keen to avoid a public investigation (possibly because of all the vampires), it’s up to us to track Sean Hampton down.

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We will definitely not be seeing McCullum again, no siree. No foreshadowing here whatsoever.

This takes us back to the docks. Looking at the District menu, we see Hampton is the ‘Pillar’ of the docks – i.e. the person who keeps the whole community together in the face of the epidemic. Killing the Pillar of a district is bad news, which we saw when we (accidentally) killed Nurse Crane back in Whitechapel – the Health Status of the whole district plummeted, coming terrifyingly close to ‘Hostile’ (at which point everyone in the district disappears, you lose all their side quests, and it becomes full of high-level enemies for the rest of the game).

So I’m not super keen on killing Hampton – hopefully there’s a way to solve this grisly murder amicably.

When we arrive at the docks we’re greeted by a dead body splayed out in the street. It’s being examined by one Ichabod Throgmorton – a ‘vampire hunter’, and man who’s genuinely called ‘Ichabod Throgmorton’. While Throgmorton declares the death the work of a vampire, and acts like he’s the world’s foremost expert on vampire hunting, it’s immediately obvious that he’s either a charlatan, or an absolute idiot (possibly both).

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There are some great NPCs and side quests in the docks, but I’ll save that for another time.

 

The conversation with Throgmorton is great, because Reid is obviously having the time of his life. Throgmorton is a delightful mix of pompous and utterly clueless, and when Reid asks him about the vampire threat there’s a constant tone of barely-suppressed mockery in his voice. Throgmorton is bang on about the existence of vampires, sure, but (a) he can’t even recognise one when he’s looking right at it, and (b) he’s clearly never actually fought a vampire, and wouldn’t last two seconds if he tried.

Not getting too much useful information from Throgmorton, vampire hunter extraordinaire, we turn to the rest of the locals. Asking around, we quickly learn that Hampton is a Catholic priest, and that he runs a ‘night asylum’ for the homeless in the western part of the Docks.

We can technically go confront him right now. But I don’t want to rush things – looking at Hampton in the NPC menu, I notice there are two as-yet undiscovered Hints about him. So we ask some more NPCs about him, and learn the following:

  1. He was abandoned as a baby back in Ireland, and raised at a catholic orphanage
  2. While there, he was molested by a priest, but his faith has remained strong
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I just noticed how weird the shelves in the background look, and now I can’t unsee it.

I’ve talked before about how well Vampyr handles these kinds of Very Serious topics, and this is no different. It’s not sensationalised, and it isn’t just there for the sake of giving the game the feeling of being a grown-up game for grown-up people. These kinds of traumas are sprinkled throughout the game because this is a game about people, and these kinds of traumas are sprinkled throughout people’s lives. It’ll also prove relevant soon, as we’ll see in next week’s post.

With all of Hampton’s Hints unlocked, we head to his Night Asylum (I’m not going to mention this every time we travel somewhere, but don’t forget that whenever you move between safe zones in Vampyr you’ll constantly be interrupted by fight after tedious fight with by-now very boring enemies, and almost no reward for your troubles).

When we arrive, we find that no only is Hampton a card-carrying skal, he’s not particularly upset with that fact – or particularly interested in hiding it. While he’s not going about telling mortals he’s now a vampire, he’s more happy to talk to us about his new condition.

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The lighting in this game really works wonders at times.

 

We learn from Hampton that skal are not just crappy vampires, but that their diet is completely different – while ‘true’ vampires like us (i.e. Ekons) must drink fresh human blood, skals merely (merely!) eat human flesh. As a result, while we kill anyone we drink from, skals can – if they control their hunger sufficiently – survive on the flesh of the already-dead.

He also tells us that his status as a horrible flesh-eating night monster is actually a blessing from the lord. While my eyes immediately rolled at this, he actually makes a pretty decent point – as an immortal, he’s immune to disease, so he can help people suffering from the epidemic without fear of infecting himself. Also, while us Ekons are repelled by holy symbols, Hampton is not, and proudly wears his crucifix even now.

After getting school by Hampton on scripture, Reid accuses him of killing Harriet Jones.  Hampton is shocked by this accusation, and tells us that he didn’t, and that he can prove his innocence. He gives us a key to the sewers and tells us we’ll understand more if we go there. If we still think he’s a threat when we get back, well: “I’ll surrender myself to your judgement”

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I do slightly resent being lectured by a flesh-eating gremlin man.

He seems to be telling the truth. I mean, he certainly seems to be on the up and up, and his friendly Irish accent is incredibly disarming, but who the hell knows at this point? Guess it’s down into the sewers, where we’ll most likely find a trap the truth behind all this.

THIS WEEK’S INSIGHTFUL GAME DESIGN LESSON: 

(bit of a minor one here) Deciding whether or not you trust someone who seems on the level, but could be lying through their teeth is inherently compelling.

Something RPGs could benefit from focusing on more of is this exact kind of stripped-back human drama – sometimes being forced to answer gut-feeling questions like ‘is this person bullshitting me?’ or ‘do I think this person has really changed?’ is sd compelling as any amount of investigation and gathering of iron-clad evidence.


Next week we’ll head into the sewers and find out what happened to the apparently-murdered Harriet Jones. In the meantime, as always,  you can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. And if you like RPG Autopsy – why not be lovely by supporting me on my newly-opened Patreon? Alternatively, if you’ve read this far out of some misguided sense of hate – why not spite me by supporting me on my newly-opened Patreon? Find that Patreon here.

 

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RPG Autopsy #8: Vampyr (Part Eight – Funeral Bites)

(Welcome to part eight of our mini-series on Vampyr. If you missed part one, you can find it here. Today we’ll be learning more about vampires, attending funerals, and confessing our sins.) 

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With Nurse Crane out of the way, we’ve finally solved Lady Ashbury’s blackmail problem – no longer will she have to fear anyone spreading rumours about her feeding on the hospital’s patients. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, was worth turning Nurse Crane’s brain to soup, and completely gutting her clinic (you know, the one that provided vital medical services for the poor and downtrodden of London).

When we walk in to tell Lady Ashbury the good news we find her…feeding on one of the hospital’s patients. Reid acts bafflingly surprised, considering (a) she’s a vampire, and (b) Nurse Crane literally told us Lady Ashbury kills patients that’s what this whole thing was about Reid.

She tells us that she only feeds on those hopeless, already-dying patients, so it’s probably all fine really. At this point I trust her about as far as I can throw her, but she’s our only contact in the vampire world, so we can’t really afford to get on her bad side (also, Reid probably fancies her, because of course that’s a thing that’s going to happen).

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Lady Ashbury, seen here drinking someone’s blood in a busy, crowded hospital, later lectures us  repeatedly on the importance of discretion.

In return for our efforts in clearing her good name, she gives us some important information about vampires, and this whole vampire situation we’ve found ourselves in. As always with Vampyr, these worldbuilding bombs are short, sharp, and genuinely interesting, and while I did sometimes feel frustrated when Reid decided not to ask some particularly obvious follow-up questions, this long conversation works well (it also helps that a lot of these points are things that we’ve seen hints of before, meaning this conversation feels less like a lore dump, and more like finding the answer to juicy mysteries).

She clarifies some things we’ve been guessing at, such as:

  • the nature of vampires (vampires as we know them = Ekons. Other species of vampires = exist. Skals = deformed offspring of ‘lesser’ vampires, that are ‘slaves to their base instincts’)
  • the Guard of Priwen (an ancient secret society dedicated to destroying all vampires, lesser now than they once were), and
  • miscellaneous vampire facts (vampires create new vampires by giving a mortal some of their vampire blood to drink, but it’s very frowned upon to sire new vampires without then showing them the vampire ropes, so Reid’s creator must be a bit of a dick).

We also tell her about the voice in our head, and ask if it might be the voice of our creator. She tells us to keep this a secret, as only Incredibly Powerful Vampires can telepathically speak to their progeny, and that means there’s an unknown Incredibly Powerful Vampire skulking around London (which is not good for vampire high society).

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Dr Swansea breaking the news of our sister’s death to us, our sister’s killer.

After our chat, we analyse the blood we took from Nurse Crane’s patient, and learn that while he did have the Spanish Flu, his blood also had that same unstable nature we previously saw with Skals. Which makes sense, considering the epidemic seems to be creating lots of Skals. Like, hundreds upon hundreds of Skals on the streets of this borough alone. Has no one else gone outside recently?

We report our findings to Dr. Swansea, who, while intrigued, also has some bad news for us – our sister Mary is dead. We know this, obviously, since we killed her, but in something of a dick move, we don’t tell Dr Swansea (who seems very uncomfortable being the bearer of bad news) that we already know.  Regardless, the funeral’s being held soon at the local ceremony, and Reid decides to attend.

So we head to Stonebridge Cemetery, and fight half the population of London on our way there.

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Don’t ever say this game doesn’t isn’t good at framing a shot.

I may have said it before, but this game really has a problem with this kind of thing. You’re constantly moving around the city between quests, and every time you do so you bump into dozens of enemies. Either you choose to fight each group you encounter (all of whom are incredible damage sponges on hard mode), which takes time and provides genuinely pathetic rewards (around 8xp for killing a group of enemies, in a game where the smallest upgrade costs 300xp), or you do the smart thing and just learn to run past them all.

THIS WEEK’S INSIGHTFUL GAME DESIGN LESSON: 

Every combat encounter in your game should be to a purpose. If a combat encounter is ‘give the player something to do while they’re travelling back and forth between quests’ then that combat encounter’s purpose is ‘wasting the player’s time’

Regardless of how interesting your game’s combat is (and Vampyr’s is B- for an RPG), your players will get bored of it after the fifteenth time they’re forced into combat on the way to their next quest.

By all means, fill your game with interesting, authored combat encounters, but there’s no reason to make players fight random goons over and over again. It’s not interesting, it wastes time, and it just makes your game world feel strangely small and artificial. 

After decimating the population of London’s East End, we arrive just in time to pay our respects to our dead sister Mary – making sure to watch from afar, as Reid decides this probably isn’t the best time to let our grieving mother know we’re back in London.

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Lady Ashbury tells us not to abandon our humanity, a few minutes after draining all the blood of her latest victim for her undead sustenance.

After the funeral, Reid heads to Mary’s grave and begins to half grieve, half beg his sister’s forgiveness for accidentally vampire murdering her. Almost immediately we’re interrupted by Lady Ashbury.

She warns Reid to hold onto his humanity, but she also warns us that our ‘enemies’ (!?) want us weak, and that we’re weakest when we’re consumed by guilt and grief. Continuing her attempts to tell us exactly how we should be responding to the death of our sister, she suggests we make a confession at Saint Mary’s Church (forgive me, but I think it might be a bit heavy-handed that the church shares Mary’s name).

On the way to the church we’re accosted by a frankly gigantic grey man, who introduces himself by telling us we ‘reek of guilt and pointless compassion’ (again, harsh), and talks mysteriously of ‘Ascalon’ – a name we’ve heard before, but have no real context for just yet.

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We’ll be seeing more of Big Grey Man later, don’t you worry.

After gently threatening us with a smashing if we don’t abide by Ascalon’s laws that we know nothing about and that he doesn’t explain, he vanishes into the night. Slightly shaken by our encounter with…whatever that was, we make our way to Saint Mary’s Church.

There, we talk to the vicar, and Reid kind of freaks out a little bit, immediately trying to back out of this whole confession thing. It’s a great scene, and Reid’s voice actor consistently sells his delicate, unsteady state of mind very well. It’s clear that not only is Reid struggling to deal with his sister’s death (and his own role in it), but that he also is having a really tough time throwing aside his sceptical, materialist worldview and opening up to the possibility of religious forgiveness.

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Good stuff. Good lighting. Great nose.


Next week we’ll be continuing our investigation into the epidemic, and heading back to find out more at the docks.

For now, though – as always,  you can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. And if you like RPG Autopsy – why not be lovely by supporting me on my newly-opened Patreon?Alternatively, if you hate RPG Autopsy – why not spite me by supporting me on my newly-opened Patreon? Find that Patreon here.

 

 

 

 

 

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