Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Things I've learned in Japan, Part One

I have finally mastered ironing shirts. I gave up on it years ago, thinking it was a useless activity that only suckers partook in. I was incredibly wrong. I can now iron a shirt in under 30 minutes, which is impressive compared to my original time of 90 minutes with only minor burns. Added bonus; I don't look like a homeless person as much.

There are more kinds of tea then you could ever possibly imagine. Don't even bother trying to learn them.

Kanji is a language that was designed to separate the weak minded from the intelligent. And by weak minded, I mean white people. There are no actual rules for this alphabet. Just 30,000 characters of pure memorization pain that only stephen hawking could learn at a reasonably satisfying pace. And the joke's on us, because the Japanese share this language with the Chinese! So when the Asians rule the world (predicted for 2025), the inferior races will be recognized as illiterate.

Bicycles are awesome. When I was a teenager, I decided that bikes were no longer cool. It was around the same time that running also became uncool, and smoking became interesting (there's some correlation there, I just know it). But bikes and I have become friends again. You have shown me the way, bicycle, and I'm sorry I doubted you. I'll even forgive you for the bruised shins you have been giving me every time I use you.

Never underestimate the power of a shiny sticker to a 6 year old. I have found the cryptonite for children, and it comes with a mild adhesive.

Japanese names follow no particular gender/vowel rules. Most English girls names contain a lot of e's and a's. This is not the case here. Never ever assume it's a girl or a boy unless your told specifically. There are a lot of androgynous people here, with a lot of androgynous names. Yuki is a name for both boys and girls, and both in abundance. I have 3 in one class (classes of 8).

The game "hang man" is really taboo here. Hanging is still used as a form of capitol punishment, so it's really not okay to joke about it. To make matters worse, that's the number one way people commit suicide here. And japan has the highest suicide rate in the world... So yeah. Not a game for kids, apparently.

Electric cars are creepy. I know they're super awesome for the environment, but not so much for pedestrians. When an electric car comes to a stop at a light, it makes NO sound. Engineers are already installing an "idling" noise because of how many accidents are piling up. Also, I'm pretty sure that most of them are self-aware.

Where the hell are all the tampons? Oh that's right; not in Japan. Japanese women think tampons are unhealthy, so they're really difficult to find. You know what's unhealthy? Wearing a diaper to work. Nough said.

Music here is terrible. Now, there are some notable exceptions, but 99% of it is total garbage. This is why the standard conversation starter "what kind of music do you like?" is usually met with the response "I don't like music." If I had to listen to Jpop all day, I'd hate music too. Side note; this explains why karaoke with western music is so popular.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear Utsunomiya. Holy crap.

So I'm finally here. It took over a month, but I'm finally trained, weighed, measured, found fat, etc.
So now what, you may ask? Well, I'm obviously still taking pictures like a Downs kid with a camera! Observe;

These are from when I was still in Tokyo. QB House is this super Japanese version of a barber shop. They specialize in the 10 minute hair cut. You go in, you put your money into a machine (they always find a way to include a machine in any process, even if it really isn't necessary), you get a ticket. You then wait your turn (there's always a line), and get a very cheap, very mediocre haircut for 1000 yen. Thankfully, this is only available to men, or I might be tempted to try it. The barbers are the most efficient in the world, using two pairs of scissors simultaneously in some cases to maximize their use of the ten minute time slot. Heh heh... slot.  Speaking of inappropriate sexual references;
WHAT IS THIS ABOUT? SERIOUSLY?? There is no way that this restaurant owner went through the process of buying a license without consciously understanding what he was doing. I'm assuming it's a he, because no woman on the face of the planet would own a place called "Hole Hole." I really like the descriptive details on the sign.

"Excuse me Sir, I would like to try this 'Food' dish on your menu for 300 yen."

The only logical explanation for this would be that it's a front for yet another rub-n-tug. There are SOOOOO many of them on every corner. It's completely shameless. But understand, that most business men work 80 hour work weeks here, and don't have time to commute to the wife to get their rocks off. Japan's about efficiency, people!

Moving along. So the housing manager decided to throw a party the night before we left Tokyo. Supposedly it was for my friend's birthday (again). This guy has gotten 2 birthday cakes already from people he barely knows. Talk about horseshoes, I guess...
But in Japanese fashion, I took a picture of the m*ther f*cking food;

So there was enough food for 50 people. It was kind of hilarious. I also decided to go one step further (because I like to be ahead of the game), and take a picture of my friend taking a picture of the food. Do you see that barrel in the last picture on the left? That's just rice. There were 2 of those. Seriously.
I also learned a new phrase that day. Sushi Chugokugo, or Chinese sushi. When a Chinese person tries to make sushi, apparently they usually end up stuffing it too full and end up looking ridiculous like this fellow on the right. There's always this slight animosity between Japanese and Chinese people. Probably something to do with the millennia-long wars and killing sprees between both sides. Could be anything. Moving on.

So we finally got to Utsunomiya after all that, and this is what I saw on my first day;
To anyone who's ever been to Guelph, Ontario, you will think this statue looks familiar. It is. Apparently the same guy who designed the super-homo-incestuous statue in Guelph, got contracted to do another one in Utsunomiya. (For all you super-keeners, the sign in the background says 'Ah-Ko-Mu-Something.').

The tree blossoms are still going strong. Which reminds me, I've learned something more about why everyone wears those stupid masks all the time. Apparently, pollen allergies are a serious problem here, and too much exposure can actually clog your sinuses to the point of death. So all Japanese people aren't total wimps for shielding against "cooties". Also, apparently you can get an allergic reaction even if you wouldn't normally be allergic to tree pollen, cause this stuff is super duper wicked strong... or something.

Oh yeah, and I found a jewelry store that specializes in discount pearls. I just found the place where I'm gonna blow all my money. Can you say "pearl necklace"??

Not that you probably care, but these were 1/10th of the price back in Canada. Mom, I know what I'm getting you for your birthday :) Maybe Dad too...

You can't really tell, because my camera decided it wasn't important, but this building is riddled with cracks up the walls from all the earthquakes. There's almost an earthquake once a week now, and the rest of the week is filled with aftershocks, which are more mini earthquakes. I've gotten used to them now, to the point where I'll just automatically open all my doors and go back to what I was doing beforehand. A lot of them happen around 10 am, which is when I usually wake up. Some of my friends and I call them the Japanese Alarm Clocks.

Oh yeah, and work is awesome. I'm loving my job, although it's hard as hell and physically exhausting. I'm also not allowed to speak of it. I signed a confidentiality agreement which forbids me from going into too much detail about my work, lest someone uses it for evil. I can say that kid-wrangling all day can be a serious work out, and if you have too many little boys in one room you're going to end up with a tug of war over something. 

On an unrelated note, I'm going to buy a bicycle tomorrow for the commute around town. I'm looked down upon for not having one, and it makes no sense to go without, since I live a brisk 20 minute walk away from downtown, and there are no redeemable qualities about my neighbourhood. I chose a cheap apartment, and got a crappy neighbourhood. But the apartment itself is actually really nice, and big by Japanese standards. I must take a picture of the outside of my building for the internet's amusement, because it is possibly the ugliest design known to man. Just think of beige and gray horizontal stripes... and that's my building. But it's the inside that counts, right guys? Guys??

I really wish this picture turned out better, because it's such an awesome thing I was trying to capture. This is a party favor, like balloons and streamers, but these are fake inflatable boobs. You're supposed to put on this plastic bra, under your shirt, and then suddenly inflate it later on in the night when you've run out of conversation topics. There's also a big inflatable shlong for girls.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Can I rent a Sherpa for my luggage?

Tomorrow I have to move again. I am so sick of dragging all my suitcases all over Japan. Granted, the company is offering us a considerable amount of money as an incentive at the end of this journey, but what if the journey never ends?

You can choose to ignore that last bit, I'm feeling rather dramatic today.

So yesturday was a friend's birthday, which is good as any excuse to be rediculous and get hammered. This guy is one of those really down to earth sweethearts who just happened to grow up around douchebags, so he speaks a little 'Douchebag.' (Please note that I will be using the word douchebag as a noun, verb, adverb, and anything else I so desire from now on. Suck it.) It's not his fault; he's from California. So for his birthday, I demanded that he gel his hair like a douchbag, and complete the ensemble with a popped collar. Poor guy even had a polo golf shirt on hand. He had no chance at any visual redeeming qualities after that.

I'm still kind of impressed with myself for convincing him to dress like this on his birthday. But anyways, we got rediculous;
I would also like to point out that this was the BEST picture I could find of myself from that night. I was having one of those absolutely-not-photogenic days, where I was subconsciously jutting out my chin and making stupid faces every time someone snapped a photo. It only got worse as my BAC increased. I'm not showing you.

But here's the rest of his birthday pics, since I promised to post them;

In true Japanese EVERYTHING MUST BE ADORABLE style, I found a birthday cake that had a diameter of about 2 inches (that's 5cm for all of you on the metric system).

We then went out and got hammered. The End.

On a much more important note, this happened;
I gots me a cover for my phone. And it's AMAZING. 'Nough said.

So my fellow ECC'ers and I have started a tradition where we salute the company every time we see an advertisement for it. It's a bit ridiculous, since the company advertises EVERYWHERE, but it makes seeing a reminder of your boss everywhere more tolerable. Wow, that sentence was terrible. Sorry about that. But instead of going back and editing my work, I'm just going to show you more pictures;

 Not quite sure what that last one was about, but it's there. He's channeling Captain Morgan, I guess. Moving on!

Sunsets and skyscrapers. I think this last picture's actually an opera house. But I'm not sure. Wakaranai.

Something that has dawned on me since I've arrived here is that Japanese people are OBSESSED with food. I can't emphasize that enough. Food is like a hobby to them.No, it's actually more like a crazy excessive passion. You would think there would be more fat people here with all the crazy amounts of food-related media in Japan. There are entire tv shows where some random dude just sits there and eats. And a panel of judges talks about the food while he eats and comments on how he's eating it. They even have close-up shots of the dude chewing and nodding FOR EVERY BITE. I've seen hours of this (probably why I don't watch a lot of tv). Talking about food, eating food, talking about where you'd like to eat food, reminiscing about food, thinking about rubbing food on your face, is all part of Japanese culture. I've seen whole conversations about what he or she had for lunch today. It's insane. That being said, I caught myself starting to catch the food fever, when I took a picture of my sandwich at work;
Granted, this sandwich was amazing. It was a bacon salad sandwich. Think 'potato salad' and substitute the potato for tons of bacon, and that's what you get. But you can't actually see the bacon because I suck at taking pictures and I left the flash on. My bad.

And now, a picture of a Japanese house;

This house is 3 meters wide. Adorably Japanese.

And finally,
Some fantasic rainbow tie-dyed mc hammer pants that i saw in the subway. I laughed, but I think I secretly want a pair. It would definitely cover my costume needs for Halloween next year.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Back to Tokyo

So a few days ago, my fellow trainees and I were shipped back to Tokyo with all of our luggage and our brand new knowledge of how to teach English. The trip back from Nagoya wasn't nearly as difficult as getting there. There were no panicky thousand-people-long lines to get out of the city, so the ride was actually enjoyable. To be clear, there is NO THREAT OF DEATH in Tokyo. There is actually less radiation here than in downtown Hong Kong. Once we got back to Tokyo, we were directed to a guest house in the Futakoshinchi area, which is very close to where I was staying when I first got to Japan. We were then herded to the ECC headquarters, where we were given loads of information about more training, and edge-of-your-seat details about legal policy and protocol. Three exhilarating days later, we finally got our f*cking contracts! I've never received more training for any job in my entire life, but I am truly glad I went through it. My class schedule in Utsunomiya looks promising. It's all kids all day, which through rigorous repetition, I am fairly confident in doing now. After all, there are only so many times you can practice giving high-fives before you feel like a master champion. Insider's trick: just hold your hand in the air and let the kid come to you, that way you never miss and never accidentally hit the kid's hand too hard. I also have a higher level adult class, which should be a nice change from the song and dance routine I'll be preforming for children all day.
But here are some pictures;
Now before you start thinking "What is she doing in a men's bathroom?"... THIS WAS IN THE WOMEN'S BATHROOM. Actually. There are normal stalls on either side, and I don't understand what the urinal's purpose is in middle. For a country that is super strict on not wasting space, this bathroom seemed out of place. You know, aside from the porcelain urinal statue in the middle of the room. Maybe it's meant to taunt us about our inability to stand while we pee. It seemed to call to me;

"See what you could be using if you had a man-junk? You losers have to sit on suspicious public surfaces to go to the bathroom... suckers!"

 On our last night in Nagoya, we tried this cute little restaurant near our hotel. The place had absolutely no English, so we played a little game that we have coined "Menu Roulette." The rules are pretty simple. One person holds up the menu and another closes their eyes and points. Then they must order whatever he/she has pointed to. I was super excited to try something new, and joyfully stabbed at the page all blind and innocent. This is what I got;
McDonald's fries. You should have seen my face when this arrived. I was so disappointed by my utter failure to pick something to eat, EVEN AT RANDOM. Luckily, I'm constantly surrounded by boys, who will (as in their nature) eat anything put in front of them. So the fries didn't go to waste, but I still sulked for a while afterward.

So we arrived in Tokyo;

I've lost count as to how many times I've ridden on a train in the past month. It's almost everyday now that I take a subway/shinkansen/EL train. But I do love Tokyo. There's something odd and interesting around every corner, and you can never get bored. Yes, it's expensive, but the price is worth the experience.

This Hello Kitty furry was giving away hugs and pictures in exchange for donations to the Tsunami victims. There are tons of beggars on the street asking for money for the homeless up North. This country's solidarity is so impressive, it really puts us white people to shame.

On a less serious note, here's a picture of me trying to force feed one of my roommates a sausage;
HAHAHA! Wieners. 

And the never-ending parade of vending machines. I've gotten used to them being absolutely everywhere, to the point that a subway station looks empty without at least 5.

Flowers and miniature snowmen!

After the nuclear reactors were put into emergency shutdown mode up north, all of Tokyo was told to drastically cut back on the electricity consumption in order to avoid mandatory blackouts. So all the big screens in downtown are turned off. The big black gaping spaces are very ominous and a constant reminder of what's going on in the rest of the country. According to the news, Tokyo has actually exceeded the required cut-backs, and so there is enough power left over to restore almost all of the local train routes, which have been on limited schedules until recently. There is even enough energy for basic air-conditioning, which will become a necessity in the coming months. These people are going to rule the world, so we had better play nice with them. Luckily, I'm getting used to the new world order ahead of time :)

So after we signed our contracts with the company, we went out for a little celebration at an English pub. I'm unsure as to why exactly, but we felt the need for some Guinness;

So I'll be staying in Tokyo as a substitute teacher for the next couple days, until our housing in Utsunomiya is finalized. The process takes a little time, since it will be my permanent residence for about a year. This is the view from the balcony where I'm staying right now;
 And with that, you're almost up-to-date with my life thus far. I'll leave you with this message;

"Skoshi" or "a little bit" is what this sign is supposed to demonstrate, supposedly. But all it reminds me of is the Kids in the Hall skit "Crushing your Head" .