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Part 2: Read second

Well, that didn’t work very well. The previous post (in the draft phase) showed the picture that I uploaded, but it doesn’t look like it actually uploaded. Plus, it fucked up the draft a bit and made the writing difficult. Anyhow, guess I can’t show a picture of the illuminations on Roppongi Hills, but they are very nice.

While I was going to Roppongi Hills to check it out I stopped in a train station bathroom. I can’t remember, but I think food was just going through me that day. So yeah, I got the toilet that didn’t seem to flush. So, there was a button next to the toilet that said something about “for emergencies.” I knew right when I was pushing it that it wasn’t an “emergency flush” button, but probably something like an emergency “HELP!” button. After nothing happened, I just walked out. I’m guessing that the guard that ran by me as I was walking away was probably rushing to the scene. By that time though I was almost out of the station and figured there would be no use in trying to explain the situation, especially since I wouldn’t know really how to communicate that in Japanese. So, I went to see the lights.

That was probably a month ago that I went there. What are other things that happened a month ago? Hmmm…. I know there’ve been a lot, but I’m forgetting them at the moment.

Just returned from a trip down to visit family in Maebashi, in the Gunma prefecture. My mother came to Japan a week and a half ago, and we’ve spent the last week down there. Mostly eating and watching hilarious and strange television shows. The night of New Year’s Eve we were watching a show that had a group of five guys dressed like airline stewardesses (complete with short skirts), who were put into these situations where they had to try not to laugh. The show had a bunch of Japanese celebrities, and the scenarios took place on a public bus or in a prison, I think, or on a gameshow,  etc.. Everytime one of them laughed they got whacked on the ass with a baton. It must’ve not been too hard, because they got whacked maybe a hundred times. The show went on for something like three hours.  Even for not being able to understand a lot of dialogue,  the show was incredibly entertaining. It’s a bit hard to describe accurately, I guess.

It’s gonna get pretty busy for me from here on out. This is the last month of school and there’s a test just about every week. I can’t wait for school to be done with. I can already reflect upon my experience here and confidently say that school had little to do with me enjoying my stay in Japan. It was the annoying mosquito that wouldn’t go away, but I had to keep feeding it because I had a $4,500 dollar scholarship that required me to say how wonderful it was to have it biting me — on pain of paying back that huge sum. Yeah, that mosquito.

It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t blog for my scholarship, because I don’t know if I really could’ve pulled off being a phony bitch in blog post after blog post. How many times could I have really said something like “The Japanese are a proud people, who possess an almost “zen-like” patience,” and “hey, the Japanese say “Oishi” when they things are delicious,” and “ewwww…raw fish! I think I’ll pass, thank you!” or “Wow, look at my ‘Hello Kitty’ toothbrush,” and “isn’t it something that the Japanese hang their laundry out to dry on clotheslines?” or “campus life is so great; my group went to a temple, cause the Japanese are a very traditional people who believe in Buddhism,” etc…etc… Just another moment to try to create differences between people by commenting on “culture,” which paradoxically tends to be a barrier to understanding other people.

Realistically, the foundation wants you to be a certain type of student: one that doesn’t criticize the culture ever (or anything for that matter; just want you to be “positive”), one who doesn’t have a libido (no talking about the person or people you want to fuck. Well, if you are a straight guy or girl you can get away with probably saying something like ‘there are so many cute boys/girls here. Japan is so fun!’…just as long as you didn’t say something like “private karaoke booths are good places to fuck!” — which I’ve been told is actually a pretty common practice here, especially since they are 24 hours), and one who likes the cute things in life: the anime with the hello kitty and the big, doe-y eyes is preferred to the anime that includes bondage and tentacles. If you enjoy taking pictures of yourself making some sort of goofy face or with a landmark in the background, then you are the perfect poster-girl/boy for a scholarship foundation. Of course, every student is aware of it, and I know that every student puts on a fake front to get that money. This discussion has gone around in our own circle of exchange students. But there is still something so rank about having to censor yourself as well as presenting the culture and country as if it were a fucking theme park. I mean, this is an anonymous blog and all but I can write what I want to and can give you as much of an honest answer as I know how to.  I would’ve had to attach my name to a scholarship blog, and would’ve probably had to show pictures of me with other students, bonding and having a good time on campus — cause campus life is real life, and what better way to spend your study abroad experience than to spend most of it on campus. What would’ve probably happened is that that little cynical voice inside me would’ve somehow came through and then come off as so sarcastic as to defeat the purpose of promoting the scholarship.

It’s nice that a few people get it, and realize that the experience is supposed to encompass more than just doing homework, and that it may even be more important to have the experiences outside of the campus. It’s true that my Japanese language skills would’ve probably been a whole lot better if I would’ve spent time in one of the student lounges hanging out and conversing. Or if I would’ve gone to the izakayas to drink. Or go to the park late at night to drink. Or just mingled with students instead of just my host family and others I encountered on my travels around the city. I still suck at Japanese compared with the rest of the students, and that’s not an exaggeration at all: they are all better than I am. However, I have no complaints: I went to heavy metal concerts where I got offered drugs, went to a famous photographer’s all nude art gallery in Roppongi, tracked down a famous gay porn star and got an autograph, ate raw horse and raw cod testicles (not together, which would’ve been disgusting probably, though I know I’m not gonna sell anyone on either of those items individually), saw dozens of right-wing protests, got offered “tit” in Tokyo’s ghetto — known as “Kabuki-Cho”– went to one of the most controversial sites in Japan, namely Yasukuni Shrine, which causes diplomatic tension throughout Asia, and have actually walked a fair chunk of the area of the city: one of my walks was over four hours, which encompassed a huge circle of inner Tokyo. Know the trains pretty well at this point, too. Found the place which is the area for Japanese Otaku (Akihabara is mostly a tourist destination, but Nakano Broadway is where the Japanese guys go to get their Anime and Manga fix). In Nakano Broadway you can find all sorts of strange things: like a small toy sculpture of an old, naked, obese woman with large sagging breasts and a great big smile on her face like she’s singing a showtune. And on and on.

Of course, the other students are all having their experiences, too — maybe a lot of the same ones that I have had. Probably not meeting a porn star, or going to a nude gallery, or eating testicles: Did I really just pick the three gayest things on the list? There are many other things I’ve done, of course, because I’ve gone out everyday to do something. There have only been maybe two days where I’ve stayed at home the entire day. Even if it is just a small jaunt out to a coffeeshop… Most of the time it was an hour train ride somewhere unfamiliar, where I’d allow myself to get lost for a bit.

Anyhow, rambling like a motherfucker. It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything. The only unfortunate thing is, after all that I’ve said, I will have to perform some sort of presentation on behalf of the scholarship. It’s only one time that I have to sell out a little bit and present a sanitized version of what it means to experience life in a different country. Sumima-motherfucking-sen.

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Part1: Read First.

Yes, it’s been a pretty long time since I’ve posted anything. And a whole lot has happened in the interim. Been to a few new places.  Checked out what’s called here “illuminations,” which means “Christmas Lights.” They are up and down a few different streets. They tend to not be gaudy, but simple: like white and blue lining the streets. Maybe I’ve got a photo:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Is it that the elderly get upset?”

A shot of Tokyo from the Tokyo Towers. It was a while back when I went to the Towers, but I noticed that I haven’t posted any pictures on the recent posts, and I thought that it was about time.

I am at that point, I suppose, where I rarely take out my camera because it’s not as new as the first month or so. I still go to new places, but I just rarely think to take out the camera. I almost did today while I was in Shibuya because there was yet another right-wing rally happening near the entrance of the station. I’ve seen a few others, where a van is parked in front of a major train station and a guy is standing on the top of the van with a megaphone, or a microphone. Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tokyo station — these are areas with huge clusters of young people in them. However, it sure does seem like the majority of the people just keep walking by or just ignore them. The populace does not seem to be engaged much with demonstrations. I mean, barely any eye contact. A few people were taking pictures on their I-phones, but that was about it.

Then again, this is still from an outsider’s perspective. Don’t know enough of the language to have any real insight. And even if I did, it would take even more investigating. The language is just that way. It’s the ultimate polite language. “I can see where you’re coming from…” or “I agree with you, but…” or “that’s true, isn’t it? However,…” is so common. And the amount of times in a day that you say some form of excuse me, I’m sorry, I’m being rude, forgive me, I would like to ask a question, but… , is, well, a lot. When you think of it in some sort of English translation it sounds kind of strange:  “I’d like to ask you something but…(is it alright?)” You can, essentially, say “excuse me” when someone gives you change back at a restaurant, or any time there’s a transaction where you’re doling out cash. It replaces “thank you” or softens the tone by not being boastful.

As always, the language books have funny phrases that I can’t help but share with y’all. This is actually from my PSU language book:

“Is it that the elderly get upset?”

“(It is that) the elderly do get upset (don’t they)!”

It’s a strange phrase set against other ones that sound normal. At the very least it sounds like this language author maybe had a few unpleasant experiences dealing with old Japanese people.

As you can read, I don’t really have that much to say. My life and schedule have become a bit more normalized. There’s almost something like a routine now. There are new places here and there that I go to, but most of my days can’t be days to explore since there needs to be homework-doing on those days. So, I usually hit up the same coffeeshops in Shinjuku. While not a fan of Starbucks normally, I have found that they tend to be the best coffeeshops for studying. They have larger tables and more room and seem to not be too worried about how long you stay there. Starbucks coffee is the same everywhere you go, apparently, so it’s bitter and burnt…but strong. It’s expensive as shit here in Tokyo (with the exchange rate, I’m guessing it’s about $5 for a Grande). Even more expensive than that is a Matcha Green Tea Latte, but they are damn good. If you like green tea ice cream, then you’d like this. It’s basically hot, foamy green tea ice cream. Depending on who you are, that last sentence is either going to make you think “that sounds delicious” or “that sounds fucking disgusting.”

I usually don’t think in terms of dollars because I realized that it was just gonna drive me crazy. You have to think “that’s a good deal in yen,” rather than “I can’t believe I’m spending twenty dollars on a plain white tee shirt.” I saw a picture of a canteloupe that was wrapped up in fancy paper, and the price tage read 100,000 yen: basically, a hundred and thirty or forty dollars for some special canteloupe. It’s from some area up north? Or, it’s imported….either way, an imported canteloupe can’t be that fucking expensive, and how special can a single melon be from any place in the world? I’m guessing it’s just  a gratutious show of wealth from the asshole that buys it. 

On the other hand, for being a city like Tokyo there’s a suprising number of really cheap eats here. And they’re good. Sure, there’s Macdonald’s, but there are other cheap eateries that have amazing food for the price. Straightforward food that seems relatively healthy, and is just as fast as any fast food. And what’s more, you can just put money into a vending machine, push the button with the picture that looks good, grab the ticket that it spits out, hand it to the cook, and five minutes later your eating good. You don’t need to bullshit with a waitperson; you can just eat and get the fuck out. Brilliant.

The clothing store that I frequent, Uniqlo, is the equivalent of American Apparel in the U.S., but in my opinion better quality. I believe it’s actually cheaper, too. And even thinking of purchases in dollars is okay at a place like Uniqlo. This must be the secret to it’s success — and they are successful. There is a Uniqlo is every major train station and in just about every department store. I’ve probably been in over twenty different branches of Uniqlo, and surely there are so many more. I don’t know what the comparison would be in the U.S. because I don’t know of any store that is as prevalent. I’ve gone and bought enough items that I am sometimes self-conscious that I stand out as a Uniqlo-whore: “Oh, is that scarf and that hoodie and that sweater and those thermals and those jeans all from Uniqlo? Oh, your underwear and socks, too? Don’t worry, you barely notice, barely notice.” While I’d like to shop at other clothing stores,…it’s Tokyo. It’s a fashion capital. The store I went to the other day, called “Topman,” has a DJ spinning records (every day from what I’ve been told), and they have coats and jeans and sweaters that are all in the hundreds of dollars range. And that’s probably even cheap for Tokyo clothing stores. Still, it’s at least fun to window shop. People are bold here with their fashion choices, which is actually comforting.

Well, rambling on. Haven’t gotten around to posting those videos that I mentioned in the last post. Maybe next time?

 

Already half-way through…

Just finished the last of my mid terms. A Kanji midterm that sort of went like this: study about 150 Kanji characters, both the Chinese and Japanese variation of them, know the hirigana translation (another much easier Japanese writing system) and then study the three or four words associated with each kanji character: and the midterm will randomly test you on about thirty words. And yeah, it’s about as difficult as it sounds, especially for a class that is only one credit. It is what it is, and at the very least I saw that other people were stressing out about the test, too — people who’s Japanese is a hell of a lot better than mine.

So yeah, the last couple of weeks have been spent in preparation for these tests, so that’s the reason for my absence from this blog. Tomorrow is another national holiday so I have a little mental break now. I am not sure what this national holiday is — I never really do, actually. I sometimes ask and it’s usually met with a kind of vague response. I think it’s go to an Izakaya and drink national holiday. I’m not sure.

I’m not sure that I have much to report. I mainly wanted to break this silence.

If anything, I’ve still been having frustrating days due to my lack of language ability. Really, it comes down to seeing, basically, every other fucking student in my group and in my class being better at the language than me. There’s a part of me that thinks “Well, they’re all ten years younger,” but maybe that’s not such a good excuse. I could say that that’s why they retain information better than I can, but I have no real proof of that. I could claim that I’ve taken lots of mind-altering substances in the past and that’s why I have a hard time remembering (which is kind of lame), but many of these other students are drinking until five in the fucking morning and then showing up to class and speaking Japanese and turning around and doing it all over again. Unreal.

Well, enough about that. Everything else here is good. If only school would just fuck off then I could have an even better time in Tokyo. Alas, I have to put in some sort of effort, in part because I think my scholarship sort of depends on it and that’d be a hefty bill to have to pay back if I, say, wrote the foundation saying “Yeah, I decided to slack off and just hang out, and I used your foundation’s gift money to buy clothes and to go to expensive restaurants and shit!”

Even then, the money they gave me wouldn’t last terribly long in this city if I were to blow it. If you can buy a twelve dollar cup of coffee in a cafe in Ginza, then imagine how much some stylish new outfit would run you? Like I mentioned before, a single soft drink in a bar can be more expensive than a lunch set. If you figure out how to live on the cheap here, then it’s pretty cool. So far, I’ve been able to do that pretty good. Lunch is substantial and not expensive, the subways are not too expensive, and convenience stores sell lots of cheap, good treats. Having a cheap routine allows me to occasionally go a little more extravagant.

My favorite clothing shop here is called Uniqlo, which is like the equivalent of American Apparel in the U.S., but maybe cheaper since it routinely has big sales. Half-off sales. And the sizes here fit me really well. Merino Wool sweaters, simple and sleek tee-shirts. There’s also H&M, which is a Scandinavian company, I think, that has some relatively cheap and stylish stuff.

That’s the thing about Tokyo: it’s fashion-conscious here. No young-ish person here looks like shit, unintentionally. If they do look absolutely ridiculous, you can bet that it’s probably the new trend. It’s mostly in Shinjuku and Shibuya. There, you’ll find every style you would and wouldn’t like to see. When Mr. T came to Tokyo I took him to Shibuya, and when we were walking around the main area we saw a bunch of teenage girls sitting outside of a department store filling out applications for an event. It was probably a fashion shoot because they were all decked out in wild dresses and had cartoonish rouge circles painted on their cheeks. And glitter and shit. And the kind of disturbing thing was that they all had bleached blonde hair and big eyes — and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they had that done. I mean, Anime-style eyes! Maybe that’s not a real procedure, but I wonder. It does seem to be what’s hot: to have female models that have large eyes. I see it on ads on the subway every day. I’ve seen some girls going for the stereotypical Parisian look — and when I mean stereotypical, I mean like a dumb American’s stereotype of a Parisian. Basically, girls that look slightly like mimes and who also wear berets. All they need is a fucking cigarette. I saw a guy wearing a salaryman suit…with a pair of hiking boots. But you know, it’s what makes it really fun here. There’s always something to see.

For the most part, it’s things like this that I’m able to report on. Since I don’t know enough of the language, it’s hard for me to present any sort of accurate depiction of the Japanese “character” or culture. I can’t describe cross-cultural relations because, for the most part, I’m unable to have a real conversation with someone. I mean, I can say some topical things like “Wow, the weather is really nice today, isn’t it? Do you think it’s going to become rainy?” Or something chunky and clunky, like “return. because. host family’s house. from there, sometimes, I eat a lot. It’s delicious. Lots of food, isn’t it?” It’s getting a little better, but you know,…I’m still at the point where I sound like someone who’s had a stroke.  

 Though there are some pretty specific things one can point to when viewing Japanese culture, such as the levels of politeness and the hierarchical system, it’s still quite difficult to get a read on what people are really like. When I have a little more brain power I can talk about that one, because it’s a subject that sort of deserves it’s own blog post. It’s kind of extensive, and there’s a video that I might direct y’all to, in order to hear the perspective from a white guy from New Zealand who has lived and worked in Japan for the last ten or fifteen years. He seems to get it. There’s also a link to this whiney piece of fuck white guy Otaku motherfucker that thinks that the word “Gaijin” is the equivalent of calling someone “nigger,” and is really upset at how much of an outsider he feels as a foreigner living there. He thinks it’s an outrage that, all of a sudden for the first time in his life, he’s feeling like an outsider. And he posted a video because he thinks that it’s a pretty unique and important situation that he’s found himself in. Maybe some of you out there in the world can relate.

More on that on the next post. Now, gonna catch up on some sleep. Till then…

Sha-Sha-Sha—Shimo

Sitting here right now eating some molasses-flavored pocky-like biscuits that my host sister brought back from her trip to Okinawa, bout a month ago. They are damn good. The other cookie that I have stashed away in my room is called “Shiroi Koibito,” which I think translates into “White Sweetheart.” Koibito is like sweetheart, or girlfriend, or boyfriend. It’s a white-chocolate cream and shortbread sandwich cookie. It’s not gender-specific, unlike “Pocky for Men.” Hey, that’s the name of this blog. But seriously folks…

I don’t think there are any comedians who use “…but seriously folks,” without irony. But really, what lots of comedians seem to do now is just to do a long, drawn out “uuuuuhhhmmm…” as a transitioning device. Usually after a one-liner. Bout the same thing. Anyways, “uuuuhhhhmmmmm….”

Speaking of Shiroi Koibitos, mine is showing up this weekend. We are set to stay in Shinjuku, in the infamous Ni-Chome area of Tokyo. I don’t have any pictures yet, but I will be sure to get some soon. Ni Chome is Tokyo’s gay district, boasting somewhere around 250 gay bars in the district. The district is only about three blocks. So, wrap your head around that number. It’s quite hard to imagine by just strolling through the district. It’s only when you look up that you start to notice the many different signs, stacked one on top of another, advertising for each bar. And, from what I’ve been told, these bars cater to different “scenes.”

Another thing I’ve been told is that many of these bars only seat a dozen people at the most. And…many of them only cater to Japanese. No Gaijins allowed in many of them. And many are gender-specific: no dudes allowed in the lesbian bars and no ladies in some of the bars. Either that, or there is a large cover charge for women. However, the Gaijin bars are for everyone, gay and straight. And you can tell those bars: the crowds spill out onto the street, yet another remix version of Cher’s “Believe” is blasting out the fucking door, and all the guys are wearing designer denim and have scultped hair.

Me and another Oregon student (one of the ones stranded with me in the California airports) went to Ni-Chome last weekend. He’d been there already five weekends in a row, staying out till it was time to catch the first train in the morning (5:00 am), but this night was relatively mellow; both of us caught our last trains back (around midnight) to our respective home-stay abodes. While we were there, though, I had him show me around a bit. This pretty much included just scoping out the scene from the outside since many of the bars have cover charges.

We did go to  one bar, though, called “Dragon Men.” It’s totally a Gaijin bar: the waiters are not Japanese, and they take your drink orders wearing nothing but designer boxer briefs. The Gaijin bars are full of foreigners and the Japanese guys who are into them. That works the other way around, too. I might even say especially so since many westerners tend to be a bit more aggressive in their approach. My friend had mentioned that there is definitely an element of old white unattractive dude scoping out his young prey, and yeah, that’s exactly what I saw. The guy who has the Asian fetish. Of course that usually means the young, boyish-looking guys who look like they’re fourteen and submissive, not really the muscular, gym- types. I found this to be part of that theme I had wrote about in one of my previous posts. My friend had mentioned that he felt the same way, almost as if this sort of behavior is a byproduct or remnant of a colonial past. Again, Edward Said’s “Orientalism” in a modern context.

My friend has friends all over Asia, and in talking with them he’s noticed that trend that it’s always rich white guys looking to play the role of sugar-daddy, making offers to young guys in the Phillipines or in Thailand. And not just “hey, wanna fuck?” but more like, “hey, wanna be my possession?” With that said, the same could possibly be said of Japanese businessmen in the Phillipines and in Thailand — countries that were colonized by Japan during the war. Bangkok’s “Soi Cowboy” district, from what I’ve read, was basically set up as a “relief district” for American military guys during the Vietnam War, so that they could at least go to Thailand and have the most uninhibited sex ever. This goes for both straight and gay, by the way. The trend continues to this day, but with businessmen visiting Soi Cowboy and getting it on with a ladyboy.

So yeah, Ni-Chome is, at the very least, fun for people-watching. I’ll be sure to report any new findings in the area when I go there next. That is only one of the places we’ll be heading to, of course. I got the weekend planned for a little Tokyo tour with lots of oishi fucking food and main attractions, like the Shibuya crossing, known as the “scramble,” which is still in the Guiness Book of World Records for something like most-people-ever-to-cross-the-street-at-one-time. Seriously, you ain’t seen nothing yet until you see that shit during rush hour. I haven’t even been there on a weekend evening, which I’ve been told is even more of a spectacle. The Starbucks that overlooks the crossing is also the busiest Starbucks in the world. From what my host sister said, they only have one size because they are too fucking busy. I don’t know if that also means that they have limited options on their menu, but I imagine so. I think you have to tent outside the night before if you want a table to sit at. “uuuuuhhhhhmmmmm….”

On a completely different note, this morning in my Japanese language class I saw something I’d never seen before. It’s a pretty common sight to see students with their heads down on the desk, napping ever so briefly, just before the class begins. Our teacher was doing it, though. I was there before her, so she came in, said “Good Morning,” answered a question I had, saw another student come in, seemed to be working on something, and then when the next student came in he had a smile and a sort of confused look on his face and then pointed in her direction. And yeah, her head was down and her hair was spread out all over the table. It was the way that drunk people sleep on tables or hard surfaces. And the next student to come in noticed too, and tip-toed into the room. She finally woke up after about ten minutes and then just went right into the lesson. I guess it’s not that weird, but it was pretty funny. It was a very human thing to do, but nevertheless I was holding my face in a way that didn’t reveal how much I was laughing.

By the way, Mr. F (@ Omnicollective), I wrote this post while listening to the ambient mix you sent. This post took as long to write as the mix played, which is to say that I’m a relatively slow writer, but wanted to let you know that it was great. I could hear the Woob influence. I barely noticed that the time went by.

Oh, and one last thing. If you ever find yourself in Tokyo for late night drinks, be prepared for the cost of a night out at one of these bars. My soft drink, my coca-cola in an eight oz. glass with ice cubes was 600 yen. Basically, my watered-down coke from a bar gun cost me about $8 or so. There was no fucking alcohol in it! I got played like a Ni-HOme. “uuuuuhhhhhhmmmm….”

Gaijin.

A while ago my host sister and I were talking over dinner one night and she told me about something called a Teiju Visa. Or Tei Juu Visa. It hardly matters how it’s spelled. However, the details of that visa are pretty cool. It’s a relatively new visa (last 15 years or so) that a child of a Japanese national can get. With that visa, my host sister said, there is no time limit to your stay and you can work full time and receive any of the benefits of a Japanese citizen. She also mentioned that it’s the strongest visa, next to a marriage visa — but even then, if you divorce your Japanese partner then you’re out. So technically it’s the strongest visa to have for a foreigner. It’s a Japanese green card, essentially. I guess you have to renew it semi-frequently at first, but after you’ve been in the country for a while those times get longer and longer in between. It’s called something like Child of a Japanese National Visa, but it’s not only for a child of a Japanese citizen. My host sister mentioned that it extends to two more generations or something, so in theory my sister’s children’s children could technically get it. I guess you just have to prove that you are a descendant from someone Japanese.

Guess who’s mom is still a Japanese citizen?

My mother is supposed to report back to me when she heads up to Portland for some required visit to the Japanese consulate. When she’s there she’s gonna inquire about the visa and what needs to be done. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m gonna be living in Japan soon; I just want to know my options. If I did return to do more schooling, or if I just wanted to be able to come and work for a bit, it’d be a hell of a lot easier than having to go through all of the requiste bureaucratic hell. And I could work a real job. And there’d be no “you’ve been behaving badly so we’re sending you back,” for whatever it’s worth. And if this visa sounds as good as it does, then it’s kind of like having dual citizenship. And that would be fucking sweet.

So hey Sister P, you can look into this, too. Google Tei Ju or Teiju or Tei Juu, one of those, and see what comes up. When mom goes up to Portland try to remind her before she leaves that she needs to get that info, for all of our sakes. By the way, Happy belated Birthday.

The TeiJu Visa — again, from what my host sister tells me — came into existence as a way of making reparations to descendants of Japanese expats. I guess the majority of kids who have the visa are from South America; children or grandchildren of poor Japanese farmers who were sent off by the Japanese government to South America in the early part of the 20th century to try and cultivate the land there. That didn’t work so well due to the drastic change of environment, especially for rice paddy cultivation, and so these farmers starved or just remained poor and were not allowed back into the country or something. This is all from a story, so please don’t quote me.

There were also issues with Okinawans. Japanese citizenship needs to descend patrilineally, or something, and since there were a lot of white military dudes stationed on Okinawa, they had lots of kids and then deserted them by coming back to America. These kids, while born and raised in Okinawa, were technically without citizenship since their fathers were American citizens. Therefore, they were in limbo. I believe that these reasons are why the Teiju visa was created. So yeah, I would be taking advantage of something that was set up for those less fortunate than myself, but you know…

If anything, it’s just nice to know that I could stay for an extended period of time if I so desired. I’m realizing that I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of this city in the five or so months that I’m here. There’s just too much to see, and I feel like I’ve already seen a lot in just two months. The sheer amount of people is not bothersome; it’s what makes this city buzz. Exploration is endless here; that alone is worth the price of my semester in school. Also, the host family I have is damn cool, and I have the feeling that they’ll be my Tokyo people for years to come.

I haven’t been using the camera much in the last couple of weeks; don’t know why, really. I need to get on that because I’ve still been going to different districts and seeing awesome, or funny, or absolutely ridiculous things that need to be snapped. There are many little police boxes around the city that are like mini-stations with, like, only a couple of cops stationed there. I need to make a comparison with the police boxes in small residential areas and the police box in the Ginza district. The one in Ginza looks more like a piece of modern art rather than a police station. This is set in the most expensive shopping district in Tokyo (or at least so I’ve heard). It sits up against Cartier, and Louis Vutton, and DeBeers, and other amazingly expensive places. The Abercrombie and Fitch store in Ginza is twelve or so stories high, and it has more of an atmosphere of nightclub rather than clothing store. The couple of times I’ve been to Ginza, the doors of the AberCro were open and it was very dark inside. They were blaring the techno beat and had pinpoint lights circling around the floor. All they needed was a fog machine and a bartender.

And no pictures…What the fuck, right? I’ll get on it.

There’s really only a few main areas I have yet to hit up. One of which is called Roppongi. The Roppongi area is the area for westerners and the Japanese chicks who like them. I’ve been told from just about every source that it is douchebag central, so I’m not in any hurry. Besides, most westerners in Japan are fucking annoying. The trend seems to be that people come here and think they know a thing or two and then put on airs about being culturally learned or some shit. I don’t know if this is a white guilt thing, where some dude desperately needs an identity, but it sure does feel like it sometimes. I don’t know if it’s because Japan is still viewed as, you know, “The Far East,” or something, even though it’s an extreme amalgamation of hyper-modernity and tradition, and until recently was only second to the U.S. in terms of  its economy — to be replaced by China, no less. And Japan has been this way for a long fucking time. But maybe there’s something exotic about the kid who ventures to Asia. He has some sort of bragging rights because he’s in a culture that’s perceived to be so very different from his own. But if you read an earlier post you know my hypothesis on that one: deep down, they really just want to fuck Asian chicks.

It’s hard to explain, but I have that feeling that there’s still a lingering “Orientalism” in the minds of foreigners coming to this country; a propensity to categorize Asians more than they would, say, a European country that was less developed. Edward Said drew attention not only to the negative stereotyping of Asians and Arabs and the Orient, but also to the so-called positive ones that still managed to trivialize or fetishize the people. You know,  all arabs live in caves — except the ones who live in Riyadh or fucking Dubai. “The Japanese are a clean people,” was what some person in my student travelling group said to my friend, as she instructed him to use a wet-nap. Or at least that’s what he told me. But she’d only been here for, like, a day. So, how the fuck does she know who’s a clean “people.” That’s like saying Americans are an inherently loud people, and while that may seem like a culturally true stereotype when you witness many of them abroad, it is still simple-ass shit. Really, it’s laziness: it’s a shorthand attempt to make sense of your surroundings, because it’s easier to do that than to judge people individually. It’s like the beginnings of an college sociology course: “Wow, it’s a really big world out there, isn’t it?”

I realize that I even fall into these traps occasionally. Sometimes I have that mindset where I think of a “people.” I try not to, however, because I think it tends to be a disservice and doesn’t get to the truth of what people are about. Also, I tend to look for things and people who are not as easily stereotyped or brought into the homogenous whole of society. I knew they existed, and I’m finding them, and I’m glad that I am finding them because I can’t do “quaint” all the time.

Anyhow, it’s getting late.  More to come soon.

 

 

 

Please eat as much as you can.

This is a portfolio-sized coupon for this place. The Oregon students met up here with the program directors for a Friday night dinner(?) That was what was funny: this place is a dessert buffet. They had three rotating pastas on the menu, along with a clear mushroom broth and a rice and shrimp dish. The rest was dessert. To tell the truth it was a little strange. This restaurant was set in the back of a department store in Shibuya, but this is a chain in Tokyo. The program directors paid for the buffet, which was very nice of them to do, but I left dinner with a sugar high rather than the sense of being full. Since all of the students are required to take Japanese language classes, we all have roughly the same test schedules. The next morning was our first language test, so everyone was tired and probably a little preoccupied with the upcoming test. Or, at least a few of us were. So, the dinner was just a quick get-together to eat as much pasta and dessert as we could and to sit there and try to be social.

That was the strange. On the contrary, almost everything else I’ve had to eat here has been great. My host mother loves to cook, and so far dinner has never been the same since I started living with them. Breakfast, too, is a frequently rotating menu. It helps that I will try just about anything; it’s even better that I like so many different foods, so I don’t have some weird long laundry list of can’t-eats. Breakfast and dinner is provided by my host family, and lunch is on my own. 

Typically, lunch is ramen. There are so many Ramen shops here it’s hard to keep track. In general, there are so many small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants here in Tokyo: every block has them. Every block. I’ve so far not seen a city block that doesn’t have a couple of restaurants of some sort on it. There’s a chain Ramen shop I go to that’s nearby the campus; I think it’s called Hidakaya. However, they are all over the place in Tokyo, and even though it’s a chain and it’s cheap,…it’s still really fucking good. For roughly five dollars you can get a large bowl of Ramen with roasted pork, hard-boiled egg, nori, and a really rich, pork-based broth — that might have milk in it,…I’m not quite sure. Add a couple dollars and you can get an order of pork gyoza. The nice thing is that you don’t have to spend time thinking about the tip since it’s basically computed into the price. You pay for what you order.

Sometimes, lunch is tonkatsu or some sort of katsu: basically, meat that is breaded in panko and fried. The panko crumbs give it a sensation of being lighter, probably because it’s crispier than other kinds of fried foods. Sometimes, you get a small mortar and pestle to grind toasted sesame seeds before you add your tonkatsu sauce. Usually, this comes with a cabbage salad, miso soup, and  a bowl of rice, and maybe some pickled vegetables.

There are cheap tempura shops and curry restaurants around the campus area, as well. It could be that I haven’t had the best of the best to be able to have a standard to judge by, but most of the food I’ve gotten at these cheap restaurants has been pretty good. Hell, the onigiri (triangles of rice with things like smoked fish, or umeboshi plum, or salmon roe in the middle, wrapped in crispy nori paper) from the 7-11 is good. It’s about a buck fifty.

Sashimi is always expensive, but as I mentioned in an earlier post it is always fresh. It’s not thawed, so it doesn’t have that grainy-texture that you get from eating, say, frozen maguro tuna. It’s buttery, and it’s best when it’s served at room temp rather than really cold. I haven’t eaten as much sashimi since I’ve been here, but that’s okay because it makes eating it a special occasion. It’d be a shame to be burned out on sashimi. The main difference you notice is the variety: there’s only so many kinds of sashimi you get in, say, a typical American sushi restaurant. Here, I can find something new all the time. I’m not gonna make this sound appetizing, but I’ve had crab brains, different kinds of mackerel, dozens of different kinds of fish eggs, cod, raw fish liver (maybe cod? I want to try monkfish liver: “foie gras of the sea.”),…and on and on. It may sound gross, but that may also be an idea of fish as naturally smelly, or the equivalent of “gamey.” But when you have sashimi (or even any of the organs, for that matter) from something so fresh that it smells almost sweet, then that’s another thing. If your sashimi tastes and smells like sea water, then it’s a good thing. It makes a huge difference.

Most who know me know that I have a sweet tooth. Fortunately, Japan has that covered. There’s really more options for desserts than anywhere I’ve ever seen. There’s both traditional and more modern styles. I have had some of the traditional sweets, but not an incredible amount. Most traditioal Japanese sweets feature red adzuki beans in some form. A common dessert that you can get right off of a griddle is called Taiyaki. It’s basically waffle dough baked into a fish-shaped griddle, with sweet adzuki beans in the center. However, there’s different types of adzuki beans: some are more like smooth pastes, others are more chunky, like chunky peanut butter, where you get a bit of the toothy textures since it hasn’t been rendered completely into a paste. Initially, I was wondering why adzuki beans were so prevalent in Japanese desserts. So many desserts feature them, in some form: in cakes, in ice cream, in popsicles. It’s almost like jam. But then I realized that I don’t question western-style desserts when it comes to cream-based fillings and toppings in french or American or German desserts. Cream-based desserts, or cream toppings, are pretty much the norm for European style desserts. It’s roughly the same with adzuki. So yeah, Taiyaki is really good. A hot, sweet, crusty waffle with Japanese-style jam — that’s a good way to think of it.

Another dessert that is really popular in Japan (though I’m told is not actually Japanese, but Chinese) is a pudding called Annin-Dofu. It’s basically the softest tofu possible and it’s sweetened and has taste similar to rose-water, but faint. Here’s a pic:

Well, a pic of the package, I guess. How about the center:

Okay, these are terrible pictures, I’ll admit. Unfortunately, I haven’t remembered to take photos of my food once I’ve sat down to a meal. I don’t really know how to transfer pictures from a cell phone, so I use an actual digital camera. Maybe it’s because it’s a bit clunky to whip out. It also has a pretty bright flash which could be distracting for others around me who are trying to just eat their food.  

What else…I’ve had some interesting cheesecakes. Green tea cheesecake, edamame cheesecake, and umeboshi cheesecake, all of which were fucking good. Chesnuts are in season right now in Japan and so they are showing up in many different desserts. Sometimes, you can find vendors on the street with fresh roasted chesnuts. I’ve had chesnut yogurt, and some sort of meringue cake that had smooth chesnut cream on top. I’ve also had a dessert that was just pure roasted chesnut passed through a sieve and mixed with sugar, formed into balls, then the outside lightly bruleed.

The list really can go on forever. There’s always something new to try. So far, I haven’t found the really weird vending machine foods, but I hear they exist. I watched a documentary that showed some of the things you could get: hot french fries in a can, a hot pancake drink, curry soup. I have seen the vending machines that sell hot Ramen.

There’s a great food culture here in Japan, so that works well for me.

Anyhow, I will have time this week to write a bit more since there are three holidays in a row. I can’t remember what the holidays are; maybe Mothers who are proud of their sons celebration day, or Watch people do sports out on the street celebration day, or Banging on large drums celebration day. There are a lot of holiday day-offs in Japan I’m noticing, one of which I really think is about watching the sporting events taking place around the city. There was a sports day celebration not too long ago that was basically all about runners.

Till then…