Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tokyo vs. Inaka

Ok, just wanted to put this out there while it's still fresh in my mind... although exactly how fresh my mind is in these wee early hours of the morning is highly debateable (it's not even 9 here yet, which is early for me).

So, Tokyo vs. Inaka (boonies, sticks, country, podunk county, land of "purty mouths", etc.). If you're wondering why I say Inaka, it's because just about everyone that's been here more than 2 weeks refers to it as Inaka, even when speaking in English. Now where the city ends and Inaka begins... totally different subject that varies depending on who you talk to and where they're from, but I think that holds true no matter where you're from to an extent. Let's just say that 'suburb' doesn't mean much to Japanese people, and Tokyo's pretty much like NYC in that according to Tokyo, there's only Tokyo and Inaka.

So anyway, one glaring difference in Tokyo/Inaka mentalities was brought to mind as I left the station this morning - there was a guy passing out little tissue packets with an ad attached, which is really quite standard around the country. Equally as standard was that just about everyone walks by the guy without even a second glance, but that's another story.

What is different though is that here in the Tokyo area (I can attest to the fact that this holds true in Chiba, a Tokyo suburb, as well), they much more frequently offer these to me as well as the locals. It's not only this, but also the people standing in front of stores are more likely to target everyone including the foreign faces... except for some of the most aggressive people around, the ones soliciting for the seedier places, who still stay away (this is mostly a good thing - unless you like paying 100USD+/hr. for girls to talk and drink with you). In Sendai, you could walk past these people all day and they wouldn't even attempt to give you anything if you were say, blond and obviously non-Japanese.

What does this mean? Does it mean that Tokyo people are less discriminatory than country bumpkins/inakajins, or are they just more used to seeing a foreign face and thus less likely to clam up? Are the foreigners in Tokyo more likely to speak Japanese and thus more approachable, or are their more English speaking Japanese willing to approach?

I'd have to argue the latter in both of these cases. There are more foreigners in Tokyo for sure, but to be fair there are more Japanese as well. I forget the exact figures, but something crazy like a third of the country's population is centered around its capital and the immediate surrounding area with plenty an Inakajin striving to make the big move to the Big Mikan. There's a lesser known movement in modern times for people to move back to the countryside, but it's still overshadowed by the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing in Tokyo. Just about any internationally-minded Japanese company with any clout has its headquarters in Tokyo, so most international jobs are here. As a consequence, you get more Western foreigners here and definitely more expats working for international firms - something you won't often find up in Sendai or any of the other non-Tokyo urban centers, with the possible exception of Osaka.

As for the foreigners, I'd say that foreigners in the Inaka on average know Japanese more as a matter of necessity since the local populations out in the sticks usually make it rather necessary to use Japanese to get around and have much of any meaningful interaction with the local population at all. In Tokyo, there are those like me and most of my friends that have no problem getting around, but for a lot of the English teachers/American military/expat crowd, it's easy for Westerners to get (relatively) spoiled since the general level of English ability is higher here than other places I've been around the country. I feel I should stress the "relative" part though as Japan is pretty bad about English, thus all the need for English teachers. I know that Japan ranks pretty low internationally and is below a few other places around Asia in that category including Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Bali and Hong Kong for sure, probably more.

So what pray tell was the ad the poor guy was getting paid probably 5-600¥/hr. to pass my way? An invitation for Eikaiwa! I hate to say it, but I guess this is one case where drawing the line between Japanese and foreigner might actually work... or maybe it's a case in which Inaka peeps just know better than Tokyoites that if I want some tissues I'll ask for them. ;P

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Another day, another adventure

Man, what an eventful month it's been... and yet the good times keep rolling! This week's tale promises not to disappoint as well.

So our story starts on a nice and sunny Saturday morning - unseasonably warm, which was fortunate for me for reasons you will soon understand. I asked Matt to borrow the Trailblazer from work for the weekend so I could take my bike into the shop. On this particular occasion we all had stuff to take care of, so all 3 of us were up and about at 11am, which for a Saturday is rather remarkable in our world. My plans had me in Shibuya at 2 to meet up with the roomies and 2 others to mess around, then later we were going to go out to a club close to Ebisu for some good ole drum n bass. Matt was in a rush, so he asks me to drive him to the station, like now. I had no problem with that, and figured since I was going to be right back there was no need to change out of my current garb of pajamas and t-shirt, but decided to grab my wallet since it's illegal to walk around here without a gaijin card.

We get out and talk about how nice the weather is for a drive and how funny it is that I'm about to go return some videos to Tsutaya (Japanese version of Blockbuster) in my pj's and sandles... hahaha, falala-lala. "Man, I have absolutely no sense of shame", I comment, and Matt thoroughly agrees with approval at my wanton disregard for the rules of fashion and society. I drop him off and come back with no hitches, except for a little traffic, all set to shower up and set out for the day. There's only one problem.

I come back and try the door - it's locked. Where are my keys? Inside. What about my phone? On the table, next to the keys. I am locked out since our other roomie had already set out for the day to run some local errands while I was gone, leaving me with a wallet, car keys, pj's, a t-shirt and some sandals - I hadn't even taken a shower yet, so I stunk a little with Einstein hair and a slight case of the morning breath. Of course, given our modern day dependence on technology to supplant our memory for such things, I can't recall the numbers or phone mail addys of any of my friends in order to ask someone for help (I later found that I was only one character off from remembering one friend's though). After trying the door I try all the windows - nothing. I even went in the back and climbed up to our 2nd-story balcony (in sandals!!), but all the windows and doors were locked!

Great - here it is 11:30, and I have to meet people at 2. I figured that if I was going to make it in time I would have to set out about 1 or so, and sit in the car til 12:45 in the hope that my roomie would stop back by the apartment before heading into town. No dice. The time in the car allowed me to think long and hard about my options... should I go to the super and see if there's a spare key? Well, the apartment isn't in my name and they don't technically know I live there, so I decided against that. Should I sit in the car all day and wait for someone to come back? Well who knows how long that would take, I could be there all night - besides, that's boring. So I go with the option that in my mind makes the most sense - I go to Shibuya, in my pajamas and with a couple small cuts from the balcony stunt (kids, do not try this at home). I have no key or phone and no sense of shame, but I do have a wallet, meaning I have money and a train pass. It's a good thing I have no shame, right? At least the weather's nice!

So first stop is the corner store, where I buy some gum to take the place of toothpaste. Next, I get on the bus... some staring, but that's to be expected. I shrug it off. Now at the station, I make a stop in the bathroom to take a makeshift traveler's shower with ice-cold water and hand soap. Mmm, refreshing! I get on the train and ride into town - there's some HS girls in their uniforms staring and laughing, but no biggie for me... I'm more concerned about who if anyone will show of the 4 people I was supposed to meet with since they all (supposedly) knew Shibuya station at 2, but no one but Kei knows exactly which exit since they were all supposed to call/text for more details upon arrival. I'm figuring if one person shows up then they'll have numbers of other people and everything'll work out.

I get to the station - 1:45. I head for the most common exit, Hachiko, and cross my fingers. After about 30mins. of walking around and staring at the gates as hundreds of people pass by in one of the busiest stations in the world much less the country, I rest on a wall right by the exit. Then, Kei shows up! What a relief. So after explaining the situation and sharing a laugh at my miserable state, we go to grab a bite - no one else showed and Kei doesn't have my roommates' or any of my other friends' numbers, but I'm not alone now and that's all that matters. Kei is so awesome. ;P

So she sticks around, as we figure that our next opportunity to meet up with others will be at the club at 11ish- Kei wasn't coming for DnB night since she had already bought tickets for another event, but she didn't want to leave me alone and said she'd stay til the last possible moment. We get to Ebisu close to the club, and wanting to grab a bite we go off to an English-style pub I discovered the other day for a Guinness and some fish & chips. After finding a seat I go to order. I go to the counter to pass the guy my ticket for the food, then turn around and there's Matt!! Totally out of the blue, we both decided to stop by the same place to waste some time til the club started up. After a few excited screams, I relay to him the day's escapades as we have a good laugh and resolve to have a beer. Where was he at 2? Well, over in Harajuku looking for me since I mentioned something about a possible picnic in Yoyogi earlier due to the weather. I grab Kei and drag her over to Matt's table, and after a few more excited screams we both melt in a mutual sigh of relief together in the corner. Matt pulled out his handy dandy cell as we agreed that this event must be properly documented with visual evidence of just what a pitiful mess I was at this point - again remember that this is me at about 10pm in front of a bar, looking exactly as I did at 10am. If you'll look closely, you may notice that I'm also still wearing the same dress socks I had on for work on Friday... a more total bum I could not be.

Matt offers me his key and says I could probably still just make it if I wanted to go home and change before the club, but screw that. Hell naw, with all kinds of Durgitude blaring and pj's blowing in the wind, I blaze my way to the club for a night of livelihood and general ruckus. Good times. I finally wound up ditching DnB and sticking with Kei after making sure everyone had each other's numbers... leading to another less random meetup with Matt at our station at about 6am on the way home. Again, documentation was necessary - sweater by Gap, bought in Shibuya earlier because of all the chilly wind; shoes by Don Quixote, bought since I can't dance in sandals. When I got home I checked my phone: 14 missed calls, 8 emails and 2 texts. A personal record for missed calls!

Now at least one or two of you may actually recall that this is not the first time that I have shown up to a club in sleep wear - even discounting last year's Halloween festivities, there was a certain foam party I remember at the old Buzz in DC in which I did not want to get my clothes wet and thus decided to go without... it's slightly problematic getting into a club in just boxers though as they don't have pockets to hold stuff like wallets and id, but I made due and didn't get any clothes wet! Anyone want to bet whether that will be the last time?

So let this be a lesson to us all - make sure that precautionary measures are taken in case of such emergency incidents as getting locked out, or you too may find yourself in downtown Tokyo wandering around in pajamas for hours and have loads of fun. Even my tragic disasters are fun lately - life is good!

Oh, and I rounded off the weekend by taking my bike in to the shop, making about $100 on 2 hours work translating, and grabbing some tasty pizza at California Pizza Kitchen since Yokohama has like everything. Mmm, mmm, bitch!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Et tu, mother?

Ok, this one just gets a big wtf... I come home to find a letter from my mom - pretty standard issue stuff, especially for someone who hasn't quite caught up with that whole interweb thingermabobber, right? Well if you think so then just have a closer look...

wtf, my name's not "Doglas"!! This is the kind of shit you expect from random solicitors, not the woman you burdened for 9 months before causing her excruciating pain and pulling a "camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle" trick, only to cause her more angst and suffering over the next 18-25 years of your life! Was it the time I sat on you with the poof pillow? That (repeated) time(s) I did a burnout(s) in your car with you in it when I was still on my learner's permit? Subjecting you to years and years of rap and loud metal? The time I... oh wait, you might not know about that one. *sheepish grin*

"Doglas"... sorry I gotta publicly call you out on this one mom, but it was just too bizarre to let go the fact that the person that picked my name in the first place, the woman who prides herself on good grammar and spelling and has inspired me to correct and nitpick at people on no less than 2 continents, misspells her own son's name.

It makes me wonder where you got confused... Doug gets confused with dog all the time here in Japanland, but you certainly don't have that one to fall back on. I'm certainly no "dog lass"... at least I don't think I'm a bitch. It is true that I am rather "dog-less" at the moment, as I don't have room for a dog out here and the family dog kicked it a while back after living the dog's equivalent of a George Burns lifetime.

I find this rather perplexing to say the least. I don't how I'll sleep at night... guess I'll just have to think up ways of striking back, like naming your grandkids cool stuff like Darth, or Megatron, or Hayabusa... or buying you a size 4 dress and refusing to visit until you fit into it. Hmm... Darth Durgee...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I'm invinsible!!!

...or maybe I just have a golden horseshoe wrapped in a thick layer of 4-leaf clovers and sporting like 10 rabbit's feet dangling from it planted firmly between both cheeks of my pasty white buttocks. This weekend I have once again proven that I am much less of a Polock than my old man by not only narrowly escaping seemingly inevitable peril, but coming out completely unscathed and still smelling like peaches (I use scented shampoo).

You see, yesterday a frickin car hit me on my bike... check out the battle damage on the left: note the bent front wheel which is most definitely not facing the direction it should. But you see, that's to be expected when a FRICKING CAR RUNS OVER YOUR BIKE WITH YOU ON IT. You really gotta hear the play-by-play on this one though, pieced together from my own recollection and information relayed to me by my roommates Matt and Hiro, told from the vantage point of a whole 2-3 meters behind me.

We were all on our way to the station to head into town and catch up with Musafar, a friend from the Chiba days of yore in town from Osaka - Matt and Hiro were just commenting to one another how all the parking lot exits for the shops along this stretch with their big walls are nothing but a gauntlet of blind corners and how much it would blow if a car suddenly pulled out right in front of you... like THAT!!

Almost as if they somehow magically overheard the conversation, this minivan pokes its head out of the Denny's parking lot to get a peek of the road traffic, jutting directly in front of me with less than a split second to react. Now I remember the takeoff and the sensation of flying through the air, but as it all happened in a flash and it was all more natural reaction than voluntary motion anyway, I can't do any better than to give you Matt's account of what transpires from here.

So the van pulls out from my left - my front tire hits the front corner of the vehicle with enough force to send it under the van and me flying over the handlebars. As Matt and Hiro tell it, it looked as if I bailed the bike to my left as, with cat-like agility and adroitness, I almost appeared to jump to the right over the handlebars, performing a tightly-formed full front flip, landing squarely on my right shoulder/bicep and going into a textbook monkey roll. I sprung up instantaneously from my maneuvers in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, looking as if I had just performed a perfect 10 dismount from a gymnastical apparatus. So my condition after my 1.5 rotation dismount? Not a scratch, bruise or any other distinguishable blemish, which is more than I can say for either the bike or the van... which leads me to feel I could go a round with Mr. T in the tree-eating category. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my master Bruce Lee for teaching me to be like water - Johnny Knoxville, eat your heart out!

With all kinds of witnesses, I must've had at least 5-6 or so people coming up in befuddled utter disbelief as they check to see if I'm ok, only to find that there isn't even as much as a speck of debris on my jacket evidencing that I had just had a close run-in with a minivan would have easily sent a lesser man to a hospital bed for a while had the landing been awkward. The driver and his wife must've asked me at least 10 times between the two of them alone. Personally at that point, since I was feeling fine I was more concerned that we were going to be late meeting Musafar, so I just exchanged contact info and asked them to give me a ride to the station... the least they can do, right?

Now this certainly does leave me with a nice little story to tell, but it still means that I have no bike to ride until mine gets out of the shop, which may not happen until next week given scheduling and a store that closes as 5pm... grr. At least the driver of the van, with family in tote no less, was cool about things and says he's fine with paying to get the bike fixed. Here's hoping I haven't used up my luck on this one yet.

If you're wondering how the rest of my day went, we did finally meet up with Musafar before he left albeit a little late, and had an otherwise enjoyable evening chock full of sushi, Harajuku, a small live show and karaoke... basically business as usual.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

New videos

Just finished uploading a bunch of videos onto the youtube account - check them out here:

This includes stuff from my Christmas visit back home and my recent snowboarding trip to Hakuba in Nagano, tons of fun!!

Japanese people's love/hate relationship with the cold

Given the snowy conditions today, I find it rather apropos to take this opportunity to comment on something that's always boggled my mind - Japanese people's reaction to winter weather. If you've ever been here in the winter, it really doesn't matter where you find yourself or whether that area is actually cold or not, you will inevitably hear them complaining pretty much daily, sometimes hourly or more depending on circumstances, that it's cold in rather exaggerated fashion. Allow me to examine this with a bit more depth if you will, as the more I think about it the more I find this to be most decidedly bizarre.

First, it's rather unbelievable how much they bring up the cold unless you've experienced it yourself - they'll start saying it's cold and making shivering motions like a small chihuahua if it hits 10C (40F) or so... amusing if not annoying, but more like sweater weather if you ask me. 10F is cold, but 10C?? Get real. This might be slightly understandable in a place like Tokyo where it rarely snows or reaches freezing temperatures, but I heard the exact same from people up in Sendai where it gets at least as cold as back home. Well, I guess to be totally fair I should mention the fact that they did stuff like leave the windows open in the bathroom in the middle of January among other things... another Japanese mystery to me.

Now contrast that with this... 1st, to the right is exhibit one:

First off, I must note how disturbing it is to google for children's school uniforms in Japanese and have trouble finding images that don't make me feel dirty just for looking at them, but I'll leave that one for another day...

So what do elementary school kids have to do with this you ask? No, I have not been here long enough to develop a pre-pubescent lolicon, I just wanted you to check out their *WINTER* uniforms, which are actually quite conservative in relation to the reality which I witness on a daily basis. For the private school kids I see at the station on my way to work, I'd say take that boy's shorts and move them up to the point where you can't tell the difference between shorts and underwear and throw a goofy little cap on his mop, and that's what they all look like - whether it's 5 or 15C outside. They make these kids endure the cold in pretty minimal clothing... probably telling them it "builds character" or some such nonsense.

Moving along, women's winter fashion. These pictures are all taken in December in Shibuya, which is usually populated by the young who wish to be seen as trendy and fashionable. If you asked any of these girls I'm sure they'd tell you up and down that they're cold, but skirts rule in male-centric Japan and fashion and form supersedes comfort and warmth. I'm especially amused with the girls that just look like they're wearing a coat and boots... leggings/stockings cannot possibly be that warm, can they??? Anyway, looks to me like they can deal with the "cold"... if you wanna say that Tokyo is cold, that is. They also keep this form over function mindset with accessories as well... I could probably write a whole entry about that though.

I have a certain friend in particular that always seems particularly cold and was surprised when mentioning snowboarding to hear that she boards too!! This despite mentioning not liking the cold weather... I guess I can understand it being warmer when you're active and all, but this kind of thinking is still mind-boggling to me.

So how do I reconcile their insistence that it's cold with their bizarre wardrobe choices? How does a whole nation of people go from booty shorts and mini skirts as kids to shivering chihuahua adults?? Well, my theory involves two things. The biggest thing I'd say is temperature difference - they keep our office thermostat set at a blistering 26C (79F)! It's the same in the summer, with them keeping the A/C set at I'm guessing like 18-20C (64-68F) all around town. The drastic temperature changes make it feel super cold outside in the winter and tire you out real quick in the summer - I actually shiver sometimes entering a train or store in the summer with their A/C blasting. Such a waste if you ask me though to train the kids to deal with the cold with those uniforms, then ruin it all with the crazy temperature control. And the clothing thing... well that's just form over function taken to the extreme. They just care more about appearances than comfort or practicality, so they get what they ask for in that respect.

In closing, one last thing that makes me go hmm?? regarding the thermostat thing is how hypocritical it is for a country that's supposedly all about energy and resource conservation... yet another topic I'll have to save for another time since there's plenty to mention there too.

Ok this is getting long... I'll stop for now.

It's snow!!

Yey, yesterday I got my book about pirates and the Terps won!!

Then today I wake up this morning greeted by the wonderful wetness of... snow!! To the left is a pic of the snow adorning the entrance of the new subway line out front of my apartment, set to open next month. I probably won't use it that much since although it's convenient having a 30-second walk to the station, it'd cost me probably 2-300yen more a day roundtrip since it's a different line... hopefully others won't feel the same though and will flee en masse to the newest, coolest train evar and leave my train alone, thus substantially reducing my ever-growing urge to kill babies upon the mere sight of trains in the morning. If any of my neighbors are reading this, forget the weird station name and take the Green Line!! Think of the helpless babies!!!

So anyway, at first I was all excited at the prospect of rolling around and sliding in the snow, but upon closer inspection it's one big wet mess, just a step away from rain. Still, this is the most snow I've ever witnessed locally (without traveling specifically to see it, that is) in my short time in the 'pan. It's even the 2nd time this year there's been snow in Tokyo!

I must say, something strange is afoot in the world this year. It's a year which saw snow in Baghdad (insert "cold day in hell" comment here), a year in which southern China is being downright pummeled with snow, and now a year in which snow actually comes to Tokyo?? And sticks?!?

I mean sure, the 1st snow in a Middle Eastern city in 70 or so years and the worst snow in 50 years in other parts of the world is shocking news (especially after last year), but that's waaaay the hell over there - out of sight, out of mind right? And now I hear that back home in a land that I've personally seen up to 2' of snow (60+ cm), it was a balmy 50-something?? Crazy, but still has very little to do with me at the moment.

If it snows in southern California or Florida then I will take it as a sign of impending catastrophe and run around outside flailing my arms above my head in disarray and panic. Meh, I might do it anyways right now and make a snowman while I'm out there. ;P