Just as the title says, I’ve just moved myself to Osaka, Japan and it’s official: shit is going down. People are driving on the left side of the road, there are little men sprinting through green doors on exit signs, there is plastic food in the window of every restaurant. And best of all, not one building ever has a legible address.
After a 13-hour flight (not so bad) from Detroit to Osaka, I met up with a few other instructors in the airport and a Nova representative (Nova is the company for whom I’m working) handed out train tickets, apartment keys and various other directions and insurance information. I was immediately shocked and a bit dismayed that they were not placing me with the semi-Shia LeBoeuf-ish boy from Connecticut for my apartment accommodations. It’s all right though. There’s always this weekend. I don’t think he’s even gay anyway, but he’s from CT so he might need to let out some pent-up regression after a few sake shots, you never know, really.
By the grace of emperor Aikhitu I end up at my apartment, comically misnamed the Lion’s Mansion. It is no mansion. But it’s not a dump either. Of course, you must remove your footwear at the entryway and all the lights are fluorescent and circular, very peculiar. The floors are made of straw mats and the doors are all sliding and as paper thin as the walls. My room is quite cozy to say the least. It’s about 8x6ft but has this massive shelved wall closet with sliding doors. It’s not a walk-in but it’ll certainly store my cumbersome suitcases (whenever they arrive). I sleep upon a thin futon mattress covered with a quilt and some sheets and believe it or not, it’s very comfortable. I just wish I had more room to hula hoosp and what not. Curiously enough, one wall of the room is lined with about 4 mini entertainment center-like display cases, which I use for clothing storage and bookshelves. I guess the last person who lived in my room had a penchant for garage sales. There are two other rooms that belong to my flatmates who are absent upon my arrival. I’m sorry, but if I had a roommate moving in, I’d at least have a fruit basket waiting.
The bathroom is probably the oddest room of them all. It has no door, but a shower curtain in the doorway. That’s ok. Inside the bathroom there is one main room with two smaller rooms jutting off on either side. The main room has a plastic apparatus that looks strangely similar to a Fisher Price play sink but it’s functional. Next to that is the cold-water-only washing machine that looks like it can fit about three of my boxer briefs. Looks like my sheets won’t be getting washed this year. One side room contains the toilet and one must put on special little red slippers before entering this room. The Japanese have this rule that you can’t wear your house slippers in the bathroom and you can’t wear the bathroom slippers in the house. Why not just get rid of the slipper rule all together? Things don’t make sense here and they make less sense upon hearing explanations for the various rules. The last tiny room is the shower/tub room. You’re supposed to shower first in the middle of the room, which has a drain in the floor. Then, you’re supposed to get into the tub and sit in the hot water but not use any soap whatsoever in the tub. That’s just impolite, considering that every member of the family is supposed to use the same bathwater. Eww. Just eww. I will not be taking baths this year, principally because the bathtub looks like a prop from “Big People, Small World”.
So upon arrival, I shower and dry myself with the t-shirt I wore on the plane all day because I forgot to pack towels. It’s ok though. No one’s home to know I did that. Wait a minute, my roommate Andrew just walked in. He’s cute, British and semi-twinkish but it’s ok because he doesn’t know it. He’s also undeniably straight and a bit timid. Says he doesn’t go out to bars and hasn’t even done karaoke yet. He’s been here for six months. Why hasn’t the boy done karaoke yet? The other roommate comes in as well. He’s Patrick, 40ish, not cute and not that social either. So I ignore him and eat some trail mix. Now I write this note. My first hours in Japan are over and I’m pretty content and somewhat tripping out on not sleeping. I’m going to sleep now.
Culture shock update – July 20, 2007
I’m semi-bored. Fuck that, I’m very bored. My first day here, I had to register myself at Suita City Hall as a legal alien and that was an event in itself. As I’ve commented before to several friends, the Japanese are extremely efficient but they’re so fucking peculiar. When they hand paperwork or cash back from a register, they hand it to me using both hands and bow their heads just a tad as if the item being passed was the fucking constitution or something else of equal paper-like importance. I guess it’s just a humility issue. Other than that, the fashion is very fun to admire. Most girls are dressed for runways. Leggings are very big here but coincidentally so are arm-ings, if that’s what you can call them. Girls will be walking around in 90 degree weather with these hot outfits on, like straight out of magazines, but they’ll also be wearing these fancy sock-like things on their arms, no matter what the temperature is. Some armings have glove-like extensions attached and most don’t even go very far above the elbow but either way, they’re very popular. I think that people are sensitive to the sun here. Most women walk around the city carrying umbrellas, wearing hats, very large visors and in the younger cases, these questionably fashionable armings. Whatever, at least the guys aren’t wearing them.
Speaking of the guys, I can’t tell who’s gay here and who’s not. At least not yet. Pretty much all the guys look either very angry or aloof like a coked-up model. Some of the aloof guys are kind of good-looking but all of the angry guys are very scary and I do not want to approach them. However, when asking for directions or something, I usually approach older women because they look the friendliest. However, not one older woman has been able to reply to me in English so far, so maybe I need to change my approach.
Speaking of older women, I was approached in the grocery store today, which is called Gourmet City, by two senior citizen women in the rice aisle. Out of nowhere I hear, “Hahahahahaha! Herro!!! How arrrre you! Hahahaha!” I didn’t use a question mark because it wasn’t a question. The phrase was pretty much just shouted at me. I turn to the ladies and I see one has a sporty rainbow fisherman-style hat and the other is just as clueless as hell and has about as many teeth as I do Japanese words in my vocabulary. They’re obviously excited to practice their limited English with me so I smile and say, “I’m great. How are you?” Of course, they continue to laugh and don’t even realize that they asked me a question and I just did the same to them. I guess that was the only phrase they knew. So then I say to them, “Nihongo wakarimasen”, which means, “I don’t understand Japanese”. This was kind of a warning to them that they could either speak to me in English or just go away and nod happily. Nope. They decided to start up a conversation with me in Japanese, pointing to various things in the aisle and in their baskets throughout the (no exaggeration) 5-minute one-sided conversation. It was more of a speech, I guess. Then finally, they looked into my basket, pointed at my food and said with the famous double-entendre Ms. Wong intonation, “Banana-wine, eh?” True, I did have bananas and a bottle of rose wine in my basket but she said the phrase in such a way that I thought she was offering me her prostitute son or something. And so I just rubbed my belly in response, saying, “Yes. Delicious.” After that, I was pretty uncomfortable so I just turned around and left the aisle. Enough of that.
By the way, the supermarket is a trip in itself. About 5 items in the entire store were labeled in English and every single package is as bright as a Pokemon cartoon. Every single piece of food looks like it’s going to be sooo much fun! Then I got upstairs to the second floor and found a whole section of nothing but raw, scaly fish packaged like chicken should be. Yes. Whole fish in those styrofoam plates covered in plastic. So I steered clear of that shit. When I finally did find the limited chicken section, it was ridiculous. It’s no wonder the Japanese are so fucking tiny. The chicken was packaged as follows: two raw chicken tenders laid side by side on the styrofoam plate and covered in plastic. All together, the package cost $1.40. Why even bother to waste all that material for two fucking tenders? Just put more in there! So I bought about eight of those packages and can not believe how many carbon shares I’m going to have to buy to offset the amount of pollution I’ll cause this year. Way too much to ask. I think I’ll just stick to Cup o’Noodle, which is as popular here as oxygen, which brings me to another point. The Japanese expect me to eat my cupped soup with chopsticks? You’ve got to be kidding me because that shit is hard enough to manage with a fork, let alone two splintery sticks. I’ll have to update you all with my chopstick progress as the time goes on.