Clean, polite & trusting: surviving Japanese culture shock

The first thing I notice when I got to Japan was how nice everyone on the peak hour Tokyo subway smelled. Like the delicate fragrance of clean hair and freshly washed linen. The second thing I noticed was that the carriage was so quiet I was afraid to blow my nose, and a third of the passengers wore face masks.

“It’s not because they’re afraid of catching your germs, it’s because they’re sick and don’t want anyone else to catch theirs,” my partner explained.

To an Australian used to riding with the great unwashed, negotiating junkies, violent ticket inspectors and clouds of teenage girls’ Impulse, the Japanese are unnervingly respectful of other people’s personal space. Stand still and look confused, and within 30 seconds someone will have either offered you help, or else queued politely behind you (queueing is a phenomenon in Japan) for no apparent reason.

As much as I loved the consideration and the neatness of Japan, the manners and orderliness were so surreal I felt like I was living in some kind of Japanese-themed Disney snow globe the entire time I was there. Here’s what to prepare for:

Capsule dressing: why fashionistas swear by these simple 10 pieces

Confession: somehow writing about minimalist dressing inspired a powerful urge to run out and toot suite and buy a whole lot more stuff (aka ‘essentials’). PS. That’s my gorgeous student in the main photo and former travelling pal in the second. Who says columnists are lazy?

Tell the truth. When you read about the New York art director who wore the same simple but stylish outfit to work every day for three years, didn’t part of you think it was an act of genius? No more mornings madly trying on every combination in your wardrobe. No more forcing yourself to wear the NQR pieces you bought on sale to ‘shrink into’.

‘My sex work isn’t just a phase’

Ever a sticky-beak, I was dying to interview one of my students after she told me she was a sex worker. Pretty much all my assumptions were blown out of the water. Here’s her story:

Growing up, my only understanding of sex work came from movies. While I always thought “I could do that if I really had to”, I never seriously considered it. Soon after turning 18, my friend and I were walking down a Melbourne laneway when she pointed to an ad for an Australian porn company. She was joking, but I was curious. I’d always been the more sexual one among my friends, and after much research I started doing erotic modelling.

Why smart women still do the pre-wedding diet

Your super easy-going friend is getting married, but something is off. At a time at a time she’s supposed to be feeling her most blissed-out and beloved, you catch her Googling ‘ketosis’. For months she was fine – she didn’t buy into any of that ‘wedding as performance art’ malarkey, but two months out something changes.

Family violence does not have a colour

For this story I interviewed Lani Brennan – a freakishly strong woman who pushed through institutional racism to bring her attacker to court.

“I grew up in an environment where everyone was drinking and there was a lot of violence. I got together with my partner at 17, but I’d known him my whole life. We were both using drugs and alcohol, and it started with verbal abuse. I already had low self-esteem on account of being an alcoholic and addict, so I was primed to accept that kind of treatment.