I forgot to take my phone off silent. Normally, in Japan, this isn’t an issue. Any uninvited noise emanating from your personal space is frowned upon over here, with the exception of slurping your food like you’re eating out of a bowl on ground level without cutlery. But this morning, it was a problem. Because my phone is also my alarm, and when the phone is on silent, the alarm ain’t very alarming.

So I overslept for the first time since arriving in Japan. During my frenzied bike ride to school, I visualised all the ways in which they would punish me. Embarrassing apologies to the principal, deductions from my paid leave, peltings with rotten fruit in the town square, all of it. So I snuck in. Seemingly morning meetings had already begun. It was like a ghost town. I’m in huge trouble for sure.

Because the Japanese base their entire existence around the notion of keeping up appearances. Even if you have nothing to do or contribute by remaining at your workplace, even if you would in fact be bothering your coworkers by your mere oversized gaijin presence, you are expected to stay. It’s J-group-think, or, as it is more commonly known around here, group-sink. If your co-workers are making the effort to be at their place of work, then of course it would be rude for you not to be there as well. If they are making the effort and keeping the world spinning by falling asleep at their desks or shopping for handbags online, then so should you. I just fail to see how I’m contributing anything by sitting around, trolling message boards, downloading games with the school’s bandwidth, listening to music on Myspace, and of course, the prescribed four or five hours of aimless Facebook patrol.

But that’s the way things are here. Long story short, I didn’t eat breakfast and pedalled like a bitch only to discover that they had quietly switched Monday’s timetable with Friday’s and I don’t have any classes today. Maybe I’m just not in tune enough with the J-lifestyle yet, but it seems like there are some discrepancies in communication versus expectation here.

In other great news, I have a stiff neck. This comes from sitting at my desk for hours upon hours with nichts zu machen. I discovered these two girls who like to play acoustic guitars in an adjacent classroom after school, so sometimes I invite myself in to jam with them. In this case, collaborative jamming actually means me butchering Elliott Smith songs, and them recording videos of me on their mobile phones. I keep saying ‘Youtube’ and making that J-style ‘do not want’ sign with my arms. The teacher I sit next to at work generously donated her sister’s unwanted acoustic guitar a few days ago, so that’s awesome. For those who are in any doubt, cycling home in strong winds carrying a hollowed-out guitar isn’t as easy or as fun as it sounds.

It’s getting cold. I don’t know how cold it is but I don’t like it. Things are looking grim. Last night I was wearing four layers, two of them woolen. We had okonomiyaki which was the one thing I specifically requested not to have because you never get enough food and it takes forever. It’s like a big fried noodle pancake that is drowned in the Japanese equivalent of barbecue sauce. Give me tonkatsu any day. We stopped at the foreign food store afterwards and descended upon it like ravenous zombies. The poor girl working there was probably so scared seeing the six of us blitz through the place. I feel kinda stupid sometimes when I go grocery shopping because Japanese people don’t often stock up on snacks and soft drinks and easy-to-prepare meals and bread and milk and cereal like us whities do. I can’t help feeling some degree of condescension each time I go through the checkout. In my defence, I do usually buy fruits and vegetables too, despite their outrageous prices (sometimes four or five dollars for a peach, that kind of thing). Last night I bought Cadbury chocolate and Tim Tams. Ohhhhh yeah.

This weekend won’t be as mental as the two preceding it. I think I’m staying more or less put. Considering going to a Halloween party on Saturday night and/or a house party. We have yet another public holiday on Monday, followed by the mid-year conference on Tuesday and Wednesday in the capital city. We’re kinda planning a trip to Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto) at the end of November, which I’m crazy excited for, but we need to book it soon or else spaces will run out.

Anyway, I had better go and attempt some more Japanese study. Or maybe I’ll just keep playing Metroid on my DS. Who knows.

So long, friends!

the tale of genki

October 21, 2008

No game plan whatsoever in the writing of this blog. Like I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I’ve been either too busy or too tired to even think about writing for the past couple of months. I don’t know what all these other JETs are complaining about.

Anyway. This past weekend was one of the biggest of my life and as I hunch over my desk in Nishigo I can barely keep my eyes open. I am a trashbag of the highest order and I’m sure my Japanese co-workers don’t appreciate it. OK, maybe it’s not that bad, but I get the idea that they expect me to be at my genkiest on Monday of all days, not the other way around. So let’s backtrack a bit.

On Wednesday I left school in Shirakawa early to go to Koriyama where the Global Citizens Festival was drawing to an end. Actually, my motivations were not quite so noble. I was going to check out the performance of my school’s synthesiser club (pronounced ‘sinsasaiza’). A few weeks ago I ‘helped’ them by reading out the lyrics to a song they were performing. Of course, the impressionable first-year girls thought this was the most exciting thing ever to happen (I suppose given the fact that we’re talking about Yabuki, they were probably right). I was so embarrassed. They sat me in a chair in the middle of the music room (one lonely, lonely chair) and gave me an a-cappella performance of this song in like twelve-part harmony that was like Southern Gospel quality. Then as I was leaving, made a guard of honour and applauded (I mean literally) for my help. Again, I was so embarrassed. But obviously it meant a lot to them, so I took a few hours off work on Thursday to go see them perform in Koriyama.

To tell the truth I wasn’t aware that I was even going to the Global Citizens Festival. Those of you that have seen my Facebook photos will have also seen the face-painting that went on last weekend (spreading international understanding through horribly butchered renditions of Australian flags slapped Jackson Pollock-style onto high schooler’s faces) – well, it turns out this is one of the biggest events on the prefectural calendar and attracts heaps of visitors. The closing ceremony was held at the Bunka (culture) Centre which is like a huge concert hall. It was packed, and there were TV cameras and giant mixing boards and ushers and the likes. There were hundreds of performers doing exotic foreign dances and stuff like that. I was duly impressed, and of course the Synth Club girls were awesome. Apparently the Emperor’s son was there too!

I took a day off on Friday which I was well entitled to do and went to Tokyo. I met up with Midori in Ginza and we went out on the town. Midori is heaps and heaps of fun. Her English wasn’t as good as I recalled though, probably cause when I met her we were all so drunk we weren’t making sense anyway. Not to worry. Turns out she is from Osaka which explains her genkiness. She took me to an Irish pub. I’m not sure why. But there were so many repulsive Americans there. The whole time we were there ths group of three of them were talking in their obnoxious accents about frat parties and smoking weed and getting ‘blitzed’ and ‘blazed’ and those other disgusting Yank colloquialisms that all amount to the reasons why Americans are so unpopular with the rest of the Western world. It was really distracting. Not to worry though cause they left after a while, only to be replaced by this old British guy who sounded like Michael Caine. He showed up with three Japanese women, who all looked as if they were in their forties, who spoke fluent English. Michael Caine said he had been in Japan for ten years but the whole time he was there didn’t speak a word of Japanese.

Midori is a beautician in one of those ridiculously expensive boutiques in Ginza. I have never been anywhere so glamorous in all my life. Every minimalistic shop front houses two or three brand name accessories that probably amount to the value of the rent of the stores themselves. We’re talking Louis Vitton, D&G and upwards here. Maseratis parked on the sides of the roads. I mean even the taxis are luxury cars. Not to worry. Some of the smaller streets, crowded with restaurants and bars, reminded me of Melbourne. As if I needed any more justification in my love for Melbourne, but while Ginza is awesome and impressive, its style is very materialistic and affected, unlike my home city. Thankfully, despite being totally stylish and beautiful, Midori herself is unencumbered by any of this. She is humble and not too embarrassed to attempt English sentences which are way beyond her ability, which makes me feel more comfortable about speaking Japanese. Anyway after we left the gaijin-infested Irish pub we went to a san-byaku-en bar. I did not know places like this existed in Japan, let alone Tokyo, but for those that haven’t already figured it out, all the drinks are three-hundred yen! Bargain basement lunacy. The place was horribly over-crowded with trendy locals and a minimum of foreigners.

All the disgruntled middle-aged salarymen in Melbourne would do well to take note of J-business attire. Sure, most of these lemmings think about necking themselves every other night, but at least they will look good doing it. They all have nice shoes and nice suits and nice briefcases and the girls all wear black stockings and high heels and everyone in Japan owns a designer wallet or handbag (males included), but now I’m only repeating myself.

So my night out with Midori was loads of fun. The following morning I got up nice and early to head to Hibiya. This would have been more of a problem if the weather wasn’t the best we’ve had since I arrived in Japan. The last four or five days have been absolutely beautiful. Met up with Ian for the Tokyo Run for the Cure! We scurried about registering and getting changed and finding a place to stash our bags then headed down to the Imperial Gardens with the other thousand people. There were heaps of foreigners this time around. Ian and I started the race at the front of the pack and more or less stayed there. I got entangled in a sprint-finish with this absolute tank of an American guy and another white kid who was maybe twelve years old and barely five feet high. Long story short, I finished maybe fifth out of a few hundred! Totally stoked, as I didn’t eat dinner the night before, barely slept and haven’t been regularly exercising in months.

We walked aimlessly around Hibiya after the run looking for a place to eat and relax. We eventually got knocked back from a capsule hotel in central Tokyo because they don’t accept business from people who can’t speak fluent Japanese. This was the first case of obvious, inveterate, structural racism I have encountered in Japan. To protest would be completely useless. To make cultural generalisations in Japan is almost expected, in the sense that everyone assumes a white face is an American face and that we are loud and rude and can’t use chopsticks. In a sense this is true, and as a JET I am currently leeching of the government to a degree that would cause a six-week controversy on Today Tonight back home in Australia, but that’s no excuse.

We eventually crashed at Ian’s friend’s apartment in Roppongi. We happened to arrive at the exact moment of the official green-carpet (yeah, I know, wtf?) opening of the Tokyo International Film Festival. So there were heaps of VIPs and punters there. Ian slept under the coffee table for a while before we went out for Chinese food. After a seriously placating meal of dumplings and sticky rice we jumped on a train to Chiba for GANBAN Night 08! Mental! The lineup for this event was simply insane, and I’m not even into electro music. The party was at this stadium and was the biggest thing I have ever seen. Thousands upon thousands of people were there. Saw Bassment Jaxx and Justice (among others) and partied harder than I have in a long, long time (without actually drinking that much). Caught a train back in a semi-conscious and deliriously exhausted state at about 6am.

We picked up our bags from the coin locker (re: rocker) and stumbled around looking for a McDonalds in the same manner that the undead crave living flesh. We found one and watched a girl apply her makeup and curl her hair for over two hours while we waited for our bus back to Fukushima. This was the most measured and immaculate procedure I have ever witnessed. I was intoxicated by her unflinching steadiness of hand (as well as just being intoxicated in the conventional way). She was a pretty girl but to my mind didn’t look any better at the end than she did when we walked in. But who knows, maybe after another few hours she will have been completely transformed, as if from humble caterpiller to stunning butterfly. I will always wonder what she was getting ready for, where she was going, who she was meeting. We went to the bus terminal at 9am and came back home.

And that’s why I’ve only had about 10 hours sleep since Thursday.

Ja ne!