Hajime Mashite

First:  Fly Japan Air.  Anywhere.

The seats are comfortable, roomy, and you get fed….all the time.  There is a built in touch screen television in the back of EVERY seat where you can watch movies on demand, they have about 15 new releases to choose from.  Then you can flip over your little built in remote and play Street Fighter and Pacman and loads of other games.  Or you can just look at a big map of the world, or see your progress across the pacific.  It was really awesome.  Not to mention the fact that I had the entire left side row by myself….so I had lots of room to stretch out.

No one sat next to me from Canada all the way to Osaka…it was awesome…but then toward the end it got depressing…I wanted to interact with my horrible Japanese.

I soon got to do that.  Don’t worry.

As we are pulling into Narita outside Tokyo…an old man grabs my arm and looks at me…he flexes his arm and goes “You…big body….play sport?” I just laughed and was on the verge of explaining my complete lack of love for typical sports and the like and had taken in a big puff of air to do so, when I realized he wasn’t going to understand me at all.  So I let the breath out slowly and sadly…and just smiled….and nodded.  Much simpler just to tell him what he wants to hear.

The first time I touched down in Japan…I walked immediately into the first store I could find and just reveled in the weirdness.  Oh, and weirdness abounded.  I grabbed the weirdest looking drinking and went to the counter to pay.  Up until this tantamount moment…I wasn’t 100 percent sure that the money I had was actually ACTUALLY yen.  Having no basis for comparison it could have easily been a scam from the exchange kiosk in Washington…Turns out…it was real enough.

 

Figuring out how to get from Osaka to Tokushima was daunting….especially when I am completely out of my element like I have been since I got here.  But I somehow managed.

 

So began the era of the lone white guy.  From the second I got on the bus in Osaka…I have seen 4 Americans.  Two of which don’t count since they are Joanna-Sensei (the woman I am replacing) and her fiance.  The other two were a little boy and his mom on the streets of Tokushima City.  Other than that….nada.

 

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I got on the bus at Osaka, made the very first bus out…made it to Sannomiya..and was supposed to wait 40 minutes for the next bus, where I was going to call and update everyone.  No go.  I wanted to first get my ticket and figure out when to be back…but No one at the station spoke english…but my broken Japanese carried me as far as letting the guy know where I wanted to go…and I kid you not, forty seconds after I got off the bus in Sannomiya…the Tokushima bus arrives and I just get right back on and take off again.  So that puts me ahead of everyone’s schedule by about two hours and no one had any idea.  Oh well.

 

This time a 16 or so year old girl and her okasan (mother) wanted to practice their English with me.  I was more than happy to have someone to talk to.  They started by touching my arms…and asking if I was a football player.

 

….

….

…..sigh. 🙂

 

They luckily let me borrow their cell-phone…where I was able to call Junko-Sensei and let her know I was WAY ahead of schedule.  Sounds good right?  Sounds like everything was going off without a hitch right?

 

Thus began my first stranded Japanese experience.  The nice mom and daughter left at Naruto…and I assumed that the NEXT stop after Naruto was going to be Tokushima…not realizing that Tokushima was a GIANT station…I just got off in the podunkery Matsushige.

 

Shame on my bus driver.

 

Long story short…after 26 hours of daylight and no sleep…I was crashed on a bench in the middle of Japan…waiting for Junko-Sensei.  Letting her know where I was was a fun game.  I walked up to a cab…the back door opened up by itself…I overlooked this witch craft in lieu of being lost…and had a fun five minute game of charades with the driver…miming the use of his phone.  He eventually figured out what I wanted…and called Junko.  She would be there in about an hour and a half.

 

So I waited…with a LOT of heavy luggage.  About 45 minutes later that same cab pulls back in.  The driver gets out and as he was going to the bathroom he sees me and laughs.  He said something in rapid Japanese…and all I could understand was Junko-San then he laughed and shook his head.  I don’t need to speak the local language to know when I’m being made fun of.  It was a ridiculous situation.  So I just laughed too…even though he was a jerk.

 

Running on fumes but finally rescued…to crash hard in my new apartment. In Japan.  Finally made it.

 

So.

 

What is Different about Japan?

 

Pretty much everything and nothing at the same time.

 

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Coins actually have value.  They aren’t just your personal percussion ringtone.  You will actually use them all the time.

Driving on the left hand side of the road makes way more sense.

Rice Fields are EVERYWHERE. I’m ok with that…because they are really pretty.

That thing about not being able to find clothes in your size?  Total BS…I found my size in every store I went into.  Granted I was flirting with the biggest size available…they still stocked me.

America is a wasteful, wasteful mess.  In Japan, you recycle what you can, and seperate the rest into what is burnable (wood, paper, etc) and what is not (plastic, rubber, etc.).  Such a system gives you a warm fuzzy feeling of environmental care.

Japanese is a VERY VERY onomonopia-based language.  I feel like I am living in a comic book where everyone keeps making their own personal sound effects for what they are doing.  It is awesome.

They look at the world differently.  They put hot dogs, corn, and mayonnaise in pastries.  They dress their children alike so they can know which ones are theirs as they run around all over the place.  When you pay for downtown parking you are assigned a SPOT in the garage that is on your ticket…so you know exactly where to go.  If you get sick…you wear a white surgeons mask so as not infect others.

 

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They are about 5 years ahead of the U.S. technologically.

They mix things that you would never think to mix…but are simply genius.

For example:

 

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You don’t hand your money to a cashier…you put it in a little tray…then slide it to them.

They don’t bag your groceries…they give you bags and you go to a counter behind the registers and do it yourself.

No one locks up their bike.

Speaking of Bikes….it is a VERY bike centric culture…lots of room for bikers…We have the right-of-way…everyone seems to HAVE a bike…I am in heaven…

Children go places by themselves all the time.  They will ride the train by themself before they leave kindergarten.

You will say the phrases “arigato gozaimashita, yoroshiku onegaishimasu, and a couple more select phrases…all the time….and i mean ALL THE TIME)

Touch screens in restaurants, personal hot water spouts at every table for tea, service request buttons, absolutely no tipping.

Huge sidewalks.

Shrines

 

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Extremely entertaining attempts at English everywhere.

When you get a ticket to ride a bus or train…you are supposed to give it BACK when you get to your destination…thank god I didn’t throw mine away once I boarded.

Pale is the new tan.

There is a lot more french scattered throughout Japan then I would have expected…I expected none…because that doesn’t make any sense.  It is there though.

Food Packages are tiny.  No big boxes of cereal…no gallon or even half gallons of milk…only cartons.  Fridges are small, and storage space is small, so the size of portions and box sizes reflect that.

But the thing is…even after all these differences….

 

People are still people.

 

Women still worry about their appearance.  Men still worry about THEIR appearance.  Old women still act like the whole world is out to get them, and old men…well old men still don’t give a crap about anything.  I watched an old man walk into the restaurant I was in…undo the top button of his pants…eat in 5 minutes…and then walk out…not caring to re-button said pants.  Children are still Children.  Dispel that notion of the solemn, dour Japanese school child now.  They aren’t as disrespectful as american children can be, but they are still just as goofy, off the walls, and energetic as every other kid.  Running around Chiarii (Charley) drug store with my bosses daughters is proof enough of that.

 

Have you ever tried to play an afternoon game of charades with 8 and 10 year old Japanese girls?  I highly recommend it.  Most entertaining afternoon ever.  From them trying to show me what shampoo I should get to me trying to explain to them that I am left-handed…oh my…I laughed so much.  Language Barriers can be a LOT of fun…it all just depends on how you look at it.  While it does sort of embarass me that I cannot speak good Japanese as of yet, I realize that NO ONE expects me too.

 

So it is all good.

 

By the way…America…if you are listening…install SuShiRO restaurants immediately…everywhere.

 

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SushiRO is a restaurant in Japan where there are little conveyor belts everywhere carrying random pieces of sushi…that go around and around the tables and you just pick what you want as it trundles by.  Not seeing what you want?  there is a touch screen menu that you can flip through and order exactly what you want…a few minutes later…DING DING…order up…indicating that your order is about to roll on by!  Coolest restaurant in existence….Did i mention that it is EXTRAORDINARILY cheap?  Yes.  I went to town on some sushi…had dessert. and only paid maybe 12 bucks.  If you are a sushi person at all…you should realize that this is REALLY cheap….i ate probably 30 pieces of sushi.  105 yen a plate…and they just measure the height of your plates to see how much you owe.

 

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Then there is Japanese Curry.  I spent all day in Tokushima today, walking around and going into different stores and eventually I got soo ridiculously hungry that I kept standing outside of restaurants trying to work up the courage to go in.  For some reason I was under the impression that the language barrier would be a huge problem with service…turns out when I finally got the courage to do so…or my stomach won out over my fear…it was the easiest thing in the world….she didnt really understand me…nor I her…but it didnt hurt anything…because she assumed I didnt speak japanese anyway.  She asked me “spicy?” and I pointed to the second hottest, thinking “Japan isn’t known for hot food, how bad can it be?”

The answer: Extremely hot. oh my gosh…talk about intense…but delicious. and only 600 yen!

 

So overall….good first couple of days.  Not going to lie…Extremely different…but extremely new and nice.

 

I would like to point out that biking in Japan is more fun that the U.S. because I constantly have to remind myself to go on the left side of the road.  But pretty much the funnest thing ever is to bike down the country roads of japan and see the mountains and rice fields.

 

I am going to catch yonjuu winks on my futon…so I will talk to you next trip.  When I can think more coherently and update you with finite musings of intelligent speech and wonder.

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