This Mofo is Loco — in a Good Way

Loco and I right before he disappeared, like in "The Time Travelers Wife"

See?

See?

Today I met up with one of my favourite bloggers, Loco of Loco in Yokohama.

It…was…AWESOME!!!!111one

There’s a reason this man’s blog has such a following. Get over there right now if you don’t know him. Go. Here’s the link again if you’re too lazy to scroll the mouse up: Loco in Yokohama.

We had conversations that would have made my philosophy 101 prof in university shed a tear of pride. Never a dull moment with Loco!

One Month and Going Strong

It’s my one month Japaniversary!

One Month in Japan Fireworks

Yes, as impossible as it seems to me I’ve already been living in Japan for a whole month. I’m shocked at how easy it’s been, almost to the point of being mundane. Here in Tokyo it’s probably easiest for a foreigner to fit right in…kind of. There’s English on all of the train signs, and many people have a basic understanding of English, even if they can’t/don’t want to speak it. I’ve been dealt the beautiful hand of having a roommate that speaks both English and Japanese, and she’s been a huge help in getting settled. Also spotting foreigners isn’t a huge deal here…maybe a big deal, but not a huge deal.

So what have I accomplished in one month of living in Japan?

  • I’ve taught four kids classes (back-to-back)
  • I went to Harajuku three times
  • I went clubbing in Tokyo two times
  • I’ve japaniphized one cell phone

    Japaniphized phone

    Mariah Carey would be proud.

I haven’t been able to hit up too many tourist traps, and that’s how I know I’m really living in Japan. Work takes up a lot of time. But I have been introduced to the joys…ish of Japanese TV. I only have like 9 channels or something like that, but from what I’ve seen it’s pretty much all variety shows - a term which I use ironically — there is no variety here. They mostly involve a panel of celebrities talking about other celebrities, or celebrities eating something ultra-delectable. You can tell what they’re eating is better than anything you, the poor peasant watching at home, could ever dream of getting your grubby hands on by the way they close their eyes in happiness when they take a bite, like they’re eating the food of the Gods. Then they savour it ever-so-sweetly for 4.37 seconds, and after that exclaim “honto-ni oishii!” (sooo delicious!). Although once in a blue moon I come across something both unique and hilarious, the kind of shows that end up on you tube as examples of how cool Japanese TV is, a myth I bought into until we got our own TV. For example there was one show where we got to watch celebrities having the highlights scared right out of their perfectly coiffed hair in what was actually a pretty terrifying haunted house. Now that was funny.   

And if you attempt to watch TV in Japan, you will quickly get sick of seeing these mofos on the left here.

Arashi

Japanese N Sync. The one in the middle is Justin.

They’re in a group called Arashi, and they’re frikken everywhere! They’re on so many variety shows, when do they have time to make music? And even though I see them at least once every day on TV, I still hadn’t heard them sing at the time of writing this post. For the purposes of this fabulous and informative blog, I had to Google them. I am underwhelmed.

I broke down and went to McDonald’s for the first time, because I got coupons outside a train station and they were going to expire. Right now at McDonald’s in Japan they have this atrocity called the Idaho burger, part of the “Big America 2″ burger line-up,  which I believe is part of McDonald’s diabolical plan to export obesity to one of the skinniest counties on Earth. The commercial for the burger features some redneck farmers in Idaho doing something with a truck, I can’t remember what. Anyway the Idaho burger is made up of the burger, bacon, and cheese, questionable sauce and a hashed brown on top. That’s some artery-clogging goodness right there.

Idaho Burger and Friends

Idaho Burger and Friends

 If culture shock and homesickness suddenly hit, and I become suicidal, I’ll eat the Idaho burger in the hopes of inducing cardiac arrest.

I’m Comfortably Uncomfortable

But its Tokyo

This could be any big city, but it's Tokyo.

Right now, everywhere I go I feel like I’m listening to everyone talking with a towel over their mouth or something : Japanese sounds familiar, it sounds like something I should understand, but nothing makes any sense. It’s a strange and unsettling feeling, and one I’m anxious to fix. Too anxious, it seems. Here’s a story:

Every day on my way to work I pass a small family- owned (I assume) grocery, where a little old man with a bent back stands stooped over his vegetables. He always gives me a nod when I walk past, and I got it into my head that I wanted to be friends with this old man. He would become my unofficial Ojiisan (Grandpa), and he would teach me Japanese, and be delighted at my adorable attempts to learn his language — and he would give me free groceries.  So the other evening as I’m walking by, I gave my best casual wave to him and called out “Oyasumi”.  My roomate, who’s walking next to me, bursts out laughing. I’m thinking “oh man, what’d I do now?” She tells me I basically told the old man something along the lines of “you have a good sleep now”. It was about six in the evening. The old man’s response? He just nodded as usual, as if to say “yup, as expected.”

Sigh.

If I had my way I’d be fluent in Japanese in the next month, too bad that’s impossible. But I still feel I’ve made an excellent choice in Japan, specifically Tokyo, as the place where I will begin to expand my horizons. It’s like slowly dipping into the cold ocean. Even though I’m well out of my comfort zone, there’s something so familiar about this place. It’s got the same big-city feel as Toronto. And I’m finding, to both my amazement and relief, that it’s perfectly possible to live here without knowing how to speak Japanese.  Yep, I can get by just fine on the King’s English, but can I learn anything? Can I really understand this place, and in doing so better understand myself? No, I don’t think I can.

And although there are quite a few things that are familiar, there’s still a lot that’s different.  Say I go out and buy lunch. I take it back to work. I’m the break room, laughing it up with the coworkers, having a good time right? But then it comes time to throw out the container. I’m suddenly darting my eyes around, waiting for someone to make the first move, because I never quite know where the hell I’m supposed to throw the thing. It’s plastic, but there’s still food in there. Or it’s plastic, but what about the chopsticks? The garbage system here freaks me out man, because  –  and no one’s told me this officially yet but — I’m pretty sure that if I throw something in the wrong bin red lights will start flashing and alarms will go off, and a spotlight will centre right on the criminal who so thoughtlessly put non-combustible material in the combustible bin, and Japanese police will rappel down from the roof and crash through the windows to haul me off to garbage jail. I must have been lucky so far, but I’m dreading the day it happens.

Whoa…I’m in Japan?

Outside Shibuya station. Not sure where to look? Neither was I.

Oh, how perfectly I have named this blog. I’m surrounded right now by this bubble of the surreal, and I think that may be what’s keeping me from freaking out entirely. It’s real now. I’ve been living in Tokyo for almost a week. I’ve been one of thousands hustling under the crazed neon glare of Shinjuku. It’s no longer something shiny in the distance, but I still can’t quite believe I’m living this life.

What will it take to convince my brain that what’s going on here is reality, and not some unusually long dream? It’s not enough that I can’t talk to any salesperson anywhere? It’s not enough that no one looks anything like me? It’s not enough that even the crows speak a different language? (Here it’s not “caw” but more like “ahou”). What about the fact that I haven’t eaten ketchup in six days? (Absurd, I know).

And despite my desire to be a positive person, and only focus on positive things, I must admit I have been on the lookout for the ugly. Maybe I’m just trying to be realistic? As it is, I haven’t yet experienced the “gaijin” seat on the train. I did get randomly stopped and asked for my passport while waiting for the Narita express from the airport. The cop was nice about it, but still it wasn’t fun standing around while he wrote down God knows what on his little notepad.  I’ve had some staring, mostly from kids, but I just wave back at them. One time two old men were on the train and one looked at me, leaned over and started whispering to his buddy, but I like to think he was saying something along the lines of “look at that exotic gaijin (foreign) woman, oh ho ho if I were a younger man…”. Yes, I like to think that.

I expereinced the Tokyo clubbing scene and…it was exactly like clubbing in Toronto except I was surrounded by Japanese people. Alright, there were some differences. For example there were a few guys in business suits — you’d never see that in Toronto. And at one point a man came out of the woman’s bathroom (one of the guys who worked at the club). Not sure what that’s about but according to my room mate I should “not be too surprised”.

I even got to cross off one of the experiences in my “Top 7″ list. I had Kaiten Zushi my first day in Tokyo. I’d like to tell you it was everything I dreamed of and more, so I will. It was pretty cool, a good place to eat out for cheap. Although I did order one roll that…well it was nothing short of nasty, but I ordered it special so I had to man up and eat it. Thank God for pickled ginger.

I feel like I’ve made a huge twisting leap and now I’m trying to stick the landing. In my first few days here I was afraid to leave my house alone  because it’s in a residential area and all the houses and roads look the same. Now I can get to the  train station and back. As with anything, it’s just a matter of learning the ropes.

And on the teaching front, I’ve had my first day of training, and so far this job seems like it will be very close to what I expected. Tomorrow I get to observe some classes, so I’m looking forward to learning more about what I’m up against.

For the big finish, a picture of my pad. It’s a luxurious 1 bedroom plus den mansion with…oh wait there goes my wishful thinking impulse again. It’s a typical Tokyo room, see for yourself :) .

My Tokyo Guest House Room

On the upside, it's great for pretending I'm a giant.