Thursday, May 26, 2011

Things I've learned in Japan, Part Two

I don't know if it's a conscious decision, but Japanese people love Dr. Seuss. More specifically, the tree designs in Dr. Seuss' books. They like to prune them into adorably cartoonish cloud shapes.

Fear of parental scorn is a billion times more important here than at home. Probably because people live with their entire family until they get married most of the time. But if a kid is being "unruly" in the classroom, the phrase "I'm gonna tell your mom" is possibly the most powerful thing you can say.

Playing video games is not a hobby here, it's a lifestyle. Some people pour their entire paycheck into giant multistory arcades, so that they can push buttons and see shiny colors all day, everyday. The arcade industry is a multi-billion dollar one, which rivals only the vending machine industry and the hair product industry.

What your hair looks like is far more important that what your teeth look like. Especially if you're a dude. The amount of complicated hair cuts and styles I've seen everyday is too high to count. It's totally normal to spend hundreds of dollars on product and styling a week here, particularly if you're a guy. The news anchors all have immaculate hair, as is normal in their profession. But when they smile, it looks like they eat a bowl of nicotine flavoured glassy-o's for breakfast every day. And by that I mean they have incredibly crooked yellow teeth. Dental hygiene just doesn't seem to be as important as the rest of their health. The Japanese people are so health conscious, that most of their makeup comes with built in UV protection. From someone who spent 5 years with braces and other sadistic metal contraptions in my mouth, I ask why, Japan? Why?

The stereotype about Japanese drivers being terrible is true. I don't care if you disagree with me. The number of times here I've almost been hit by a car running a red light is too high to count.

Germophobia is a really serious mental disorder in japan. People are always terrified of catching cold or the flu, so there's always at least one person on every bus who is wearing a face mask and white sterile gloves. One of my adult students told me that agoraphobia is on the rise as a byproduct of this fear. And with the recent disasters in japan, it's only getting worse.

No one here says anything when someone sneezes. There's just an awkward silence afterwards, when the person wipes their nose. Also, covering your mouth when you cough is not as common as you'd think, considering how many germophobes there are in this country. That's another point for the pro-mask enthusiasts, I suppose.

You must never, EVER, under any circumstances eat while walking. It is hugely not okay to do this. I don't know why... merely questioning it is considered rude. Eating while standing is also considered a mild infraction... and may Jebus help you if you eat while standing in a street. People will literally stop and glare at you. Children will point. (And not just because you're the first white person they've ever seen). Old men will spit on the floor in your general direction. People will physically avoid you, lest they be associated with the hungry person in public.

711 owns 1/3 of Japan. I could do an entire post on this company alone. They are the equivalent of Walmart in America... they have their fingers in everything. Like the No-Name brand back at home, they have a cheaper version of all kinds of products. There are thousands of little 711 convenience stores all over Japan. Like freckles on a Ginger; they are everywhere. They have also cornered the bill payment market. So if you have an electricity bill or a gas bill or any bill at all, you can just take it to the convenience store and pay it there. Most of the convenience stores have a grocery section, a pharmacy, and a book store... in case you want to just hang out.

Gifts are huge here. When you go on vacation anywhere, you're expected to bring back gifts for EVERYONE. Your family, your friends, your co-workers, your teachers, your gynecologist, your crazy neighbourhood cat lady. As a result, I have been the receiver of many little tokens from far and not-so-far away places. Mostly little chocolates or sweets, but sometimes a student goes full out and gets me something really nice. This is a tube of hand cream a little old lady brought me back from Korea. Super awesome.

The rumours are true; Fruit really is that expensive in Japan. I saw a watermelon on "Sale" for 5000 yen the other day. Today I went grocery shopping and saw this;
Those are peaches. In little over-packaged groups of two... for 980 yen. That's about $5 a peach. Sugoi.
Also this;

This is a poorly taken picture of cherries, which just came into season. A package of about 20 cherries; 300 yen. I bought them. It seemed like a better deal than the peaches or the watermelon. Truthfully, they are some of the best cherries I've ever had. Thank jebus for that, I guess.

The Japanese have invented a little device that looks like a meat thermometer to determine how much fruit should be priced. Apparently there's a finite science based on the sucrose levels in the fruit to tell how ripe and sweet the fruit will taste. So grocers can price fruit according to how good it will taste, and how ripe it is. It's freaking science!

Here are some more random pictures I took;

Yes, the last one is my laundry. Dryers are not so popular here. So I have become a superstar at hanging everything I own to dry.

And carrying on with last week's theme, here's my friend enjoying a milkshake a little too much;

To be fair, it was a really good milkshake. I'm going to make this guy internet famous, I can just feel it :)

さようなら !

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oh Mr. Post Office, What Have I Done to Upset You?

So about a week ago, I theoretically received my first full paycheck from ECC. The paycheck is theoretical because it's a direct deposit into my bank account... and I don't yet have a bank card. All my fellow teachers have gotten them already in the mail, but the post office has apparently forgotten about me. I'm waiting one more day, and then I'm going to have to go to the bank myself and reorder the card in person. In Japanese. Should be fun. You don't realize how complicated some things truly are in life until you have to do them without the gift of fluency. And unlike Tokyo, my city does not have a resident English speaker at every major company.

Learning Japanese is a steep uphill war, with many little battles along the way. And I do not believe I am ready for the Battle of the Bank Card yet. Oh boy.

But as I predicted, within two days of being back at work, I was sick again. It's never anything serious; just a minor cold/cough with the occasional stuffy nose. I've started back on my diet of oranges and vitamin C supplements, but as my mother used to say, it's "Like a fart in a wind-storm." Not going to be very effective. I have several hundred little germ-riddled students, breathing the same air as me everyday. I can only hope that with time, my immune system will become so strong that it'll withstand these cooties. Heck, draw some blood from me in a year, and you might find the anti-bodies to kill cancer/tuberculosis/male-pattern baldness/herpAIDS. I will be invincible, but I digress.

Something they don't tell you when you move to Japan is the mailing system is totally different than any other country in the world. I know this because I've done a considerable amount of research recently on international mailing systems for my own personal amusement. When the post office is holding your paycheck hostage, they suddenly become VERY interesting.

When you move into an apartment in Japan, you will obviously get a mailbox. On your first day in your apartment, you'll open your mailbox to find several week's worth of junk mail, which seems to be an international standard. However, hidden in this pile of trash is a tiny 3 by 4 inch piece of recycled paper with your name and address on it. This piece of paper will not stand out in any way, and will actually look like someone else's garbage. With no instructions given to you, you must immediately know through a National Telepathy Brain Wave that you have to take this piece of trash to the post office ASAP. I can only assume that telepathy is used, since everyone just assumes I should know what to do. I'm clearly the delinquent foreigner who has yet to figure out the f*cking postal system.

Once you have found where the post office is, you must present yourself to them to prove that you are indeed, the person picking up the mail. IF YOU DO NOT DO THIS, YOU WILL NOT GET ANY MAIL. But of course, you'll know this because you have telepathy superpowers. Obviously. Once you've given your wallet sized piece of garbage to the mail room lady, she will spew Japanese words at you, and you might catch "ashita," the word for 'tomorrow.'  That means they won't give you the mail they're holding for you right behind the counter while your standing there. Like any bureaucratic system, they must take the longest possible route to the solution. Even if you can see your mail 3 feet away behind the counter, you still must wait until a postman delivers it to your house.

But the Post Office's version of Ashita is not 24 hours. It's apparently whenever they damn well feel like it. Because I still haven't gotten my f*cking bank card.

I'm not bitter. Just a little disappointed in you, Mr. Post Office. You are an integral part of the Japanese system, which for all intensive purposes, has been labeled one of the most efficient in the world. But you're not, Mr. Post Office. You're seriously lacking in the efficiency department. I respectfully request that you hurry the f*ck up and give me my money. Because back in my country, we have a saying about the words "going postal." And I am seriously close to showing you just what that means.

On an unrelated note, here are some pictures;

I don't know what "Power Squash" contains, but it sounds like it's made from equal parts of disgusting and amazing. "Indulz Dream" is a quaint little Jazz bar that I like to frequent, with some beautifully talented musicians. Also there's a park.

And here's a blurry picture of some impromptu break-dancing that happens outside of the train station late at night. You gotta love these people;

And finally, here is a friend of mine *cough* eating garlic bread;


おやすみ !!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

We're back in Kansas, Dorthy.

So, the honeymoon’s over…
That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the marriage (to my job), but coming back from an amazing vacation with the knowledge that you will not have one for several more months kinda takes the spark out of the relationship. Back to lesson plans and hourly baths in hand sanitizer, but let’s focus on the good memories.
So I decided that I desperately missed Tokyo and all its glory, so I spent the majority of my week off there, crashing on a friend’s floor. And it was the best floor ever, thank you :) 

The first part of my vacation is documented in my previous post, but what I have left out is the second (and far more entertaining) part of my visit. I really love Tokyo, with all its nooks and crazy crannies, with every possible thing you could ever imagine a mega-asian-mega-city containing. 

So last Wednesday, I woke up with a driving urge to see monkeys. A ton of monkeys. And bears. And lions. And tigers. Oh my. So some friends and I went down to the Ueno Zoo, which is apparently one of the oldest and hugest zoos in the world. And oh man, I saw so many monkeys. And every freaking animal on the planet. Including a couple million humans, who also apparently woke up the same day with the same violent need to see primates. The zoo was PACKED. To be fair, it was ‘free trip to the zoo’ day in Tokyo on a national holiday, which probably had something to do with it, but STILL. So many humans. The only animal I didn’t see at the zoo was the m*ther freaking panda. Apparently, there is only one panda exhibit in the whole world, because there was a 5 HOUR LINE TO SEE THE FREAKING PANDA. So I didn’t see the panda. Instead, I took thousands of pictures of other creatures, and none of them are any good, but I’ll show them to you anyways… 

 There were also too many different species of birds to count;

And then of course, there were all the other animals I was like "Oh man, I have to take a picture of this guy..."

That one on the left is a tiger's ass, because he was moving too fast for my camera. I bet his only remaining pleasure in life is taunting the stupid people like me who try to take pictures of him standing still. That, and the giant pieces of red meat he probably eats on a daily basis. 

There are also a great deal of pictures of my butt and the inside of my pocket, because Captain Awesome doesn't know how to put her camera on standby. 

After the zoo, we went to this Super Nerd District I can't remember the name of, but is nothing but streets filled with stores that sell computers. There were also a couple stores that sold smaller parts of computers, and accessories for computers. Oh yes, and these gems;

Amazing. I really do love this country. Here's the rest of my day;
 This is a mousepad you can win from one of those coin-operated claw games. It's a mousepad. The um... *cough* elevated area is for your wrist so you don't get carpel tunnel from playing computer games your entire life. Because wrist pain will be the least of your problems...

 These are my new boyfriends, although they don't know it yet. I've chosen them because of how casually they wear their amazing outfits. Nothing says confidence like ordering lunch in a LIFE SIZE PIKACHU COSTUME. With your friend, also dressed like a cartoon character. *Gasp* What if they're boyfriends? Maybe that's their "thing"...

 One more unbelievably creepy statue to add to my photography portfolio of creepy life size statues. Have you noticed that all of these looming life-sized pieces of plastic are all standing in corners, just out of plain sight? That doesn't seem very fung-shuy to me.

So after the Nerd Town visit, I went to this amazing Jazz concert at this super swanky restaurant in Rippongi (a very big piece of Tokyo). I can't remember the name of the singer, but she was amazing! The restaurant overlooked the skyline of Tokyo and I desperately wanted to take a picture, but that would have required getting up on stage and ruining the show. So I didn't do that. Afterward, we went to a couple clubs and danced the night away. It was a great day.

And we're back in my little town again. Although there was a couple things that caught my eye here to;

There is a beautiful little shrine near the train station. And near that shrine is a pub with the greatest menu ever. Why, do you ask, is it the greatest menu ever? Because of the typos! See how many you can count... I got up to 5 on just one page;

This place is an "English pub." Note how English it is.

Oh yeah, and I went to the mall and saw a Japanese animated kids movie, 20% of which I completely understood! So that goes to show you that all that drunken practice I'm doing talking to locals in bars is paying off. Who needs formal lessons? Not this chick! (kidding).

There were also FREAKING LLAMAS at the mall. Just hanging out. Like it's totally normal to have llamas at the mall. Totally normal.

The black one looks pissed. Probably because I'm pointing at it so much saying "Holy crap!!! Why are there llamas at the mall???"

So that's that. Oh yeah, and I also took some weird photobooth pictures with some friends of mine. The photobooths in Japan are sentient beings that automatically locate your visual flaws and photoshops them without you even asking. And they have settings so that you can make your eyes bigger and your skin smoother. They also read your temperature and change the air in the room accordingly. I may have made that last part up, but still. Fantastically creepy. We took tons of them;

Oh yeah, I also met this chick;

But I did leave out the part where my wallet got stolen by a bunch of strippers... but that's a bedtime story for another night. :)

Sweet Dreams!