Another normal week. Eight hour days, eight hours of sleep and some personal time squeezed in between. The only point of interest this week was my extreme budgeting. This is the final week before my monthly paycheck, and it was evident. My last paycheck had two months rent taken out of it. In addition to the double rent and heavy taxes, I also had my winter break in the mix. Some of my activities included rock climbing, snow boarding, New Years, commutes all around Tokyo and plenty of meals eaten at restaurants.
A meager paycheck, combined with poor budgeting, meant this was a tight week. I withdrew the last of my money from my bank and went to the grocery store. I had to buy enough food for three meals a day to last seven days. All on 10,000 Yen, approximately 100 dollars. I loaded up my basket with the staples of a bachelors’ diet; rice, ramen, bread, milk and other basic supplies. It wasn’t glorious, it wasn’t exotic, but it was sustenance. Per usual, I created a scene at the checkout. I may not know Japanese, but I know when someone is talking about the huge Westerner who is buying out the store. However will they be able to feed their children after I make off with the whole store in my basket? I bagged my groceries and left the store behind.
The rest of the week was spent packing lunches and declining invitations to get a drink after work. On Saturday someone offered to cover my share for dinner until payday. I politely refused, I am now practicing a new fiscal policy. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Seems simple to me. Come Saturday after work I hadn’t spent a Yen all week. I treated myself to a single beer from the 7/11. I drank it and promptly fell asleep. After a full week, and an especially busy Saturday, I’m too wiped out for anything but bed.
On a brief, positive note; I was an unstoppable force on Saturday. I taught six classes, had eight check tests (for self study students), a mid-contract counseling with a student, and two interviews with potential students. Both potential students signed with us. I remembered everyone’s names and even managed to find a few minutes to chat with our regional manager who visited for the morning. All in an honest day’s work.
By Sunday morning I had 4,000 ¥ in my wallet. I skipped town and met up with Moto and the rest of our footsal team. I missed the previous game last month, so I was hell bent to make an appearance. We played five games in a round-robin tournament. We lost all five. This was a far cry from the last time I played in Totsuka and we won first place. All the same I had a great time and enjoyed being the only white guy as far as the eye could see.
After the game we changed into our street clothes. I paid Moto 2,000 ¥ for our entry fee. He left for a wedding and I led our team, and our two spectators back to the station. We ventured back to Sagamiono for a drink, our typical post-footsal tradition. However most izakayas don’t open until 5 pm, and we were back at 4:30. We spent the next half hour walking around the shopping district. We walked through a massive Sega arcade which was amazing.
I had almost forgotten that I was in Japan until seeing the arcade. It was three stories of games. The first floor was full of crane games where you tried to retrieve stuffed animals bigger than the average Japanese, but still smaller than me. 😉 The second floor hosted amazing mech games. “Mech” games are very popular here, and to a lesser extant in the States. These games simulate controlling a gargantuan robot built for destruction. I’m not normally a fan of this idea, but I was drooling at these games. The 2,000 ¥ in the back of my pocket was beginning to burn a hole. We went to the third floor where people were playing pachinko, like slot machines, and they played horse racing simulation games. None of which was my cup of tea.
The clock struck 5, and we returned to the izakaya. As I was afraid, one drink quickly turned into two hours of food and drinks. I drank slowly and ate quickly. It was nice spending time with these five people, all of whom are my students. As the conversation slowed we requested our check and split the difference. I walked out the door with 500 ¥. Phew, I had just barely made it. While inside the restaurant the sun had set and a mist had rolled into town. Just this morning I had convinced myself we were in the midst of Tokyo’s dry season. I took a big bite of crow, walked home and went to bed.
I had planned on meeting the girl from Nebraska for a cup of coffee in the evening on Sunday. However she flaked out and the whole thing fell through. I wasn’t especially surprised or disappointed. I’m becoming convinced courtship is dead in America. I suppose I’ll have to test the Japanese waters.
Monday was spent giving my apartment a deep clean. I vacuumed my wood floors. Yes, vacuumed the wood, just like real Japanese people do. But hey, it worked. The rest of my day was spent skyping and reading. It was a very nice, relaxed day.
While in Japan I have learned that the female obsession with shoes is not exclusive to the States. Women here love shoes. Love might be an understatement. Shoes stores are like Starbucks, they’re everywhere. Previously I had take minimal attention to a lady’s shoes, enough to compliment her and mean it. Otherwise dress shoes all looked the same to me. Now I know that a woman’s shoes are her identity. Her image. A good compliment here holds extra meaning.
In Japan this obsession is particular to high heels. In the States, heels are often reserved to accompany a dressy outfit. However in Japan, high heels are very common place, no matter the occasion. It doesn’t matter the time of day, the nature of a person’s business or what she’s wearing, because she will be wearing high heels. I admit I have a limited knowledge of fashionable footwear, but typically the style seems to be acceptable. In some instances I laugh or cringe at what these ladies voluntarily wear. All told though, there seem to be many more style choices here than in the US.
What is perhaps as noticeable as all the women in heels, is how they walk in them. They can’t. They twist and turn. They walk toe to heel. They teeter waiting at the crosswalks. They struggle with balance on the escalator. Imagine if a professional model drank her weight in alcohol, had both ankles broken, and tried to walk the catwalk. That’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s what I see everyday. I would have better luck slipping on a pair. I’m not sure if they’re oblivious that there is a correct way to walk in heels, or if they just don’t care. I’m mesmerized and amused by this everyday.
That having been said, I really do appreciate the effort these women put into their wardrobes. Their shoes compliment their outfits, and it’s not easy hobbling about all day. Heels are also a symbol of femininity and I find it an attractive quality. And let’s be frank, it brings a smile to my face to see a pretty girl “strut” herself.
This is very much a minor cultural difference. By itself it amounts to nothing. However this cultural contrast, in combination with thousands of others, makes for a society drastically different than my own. I don’t have to look high or low to be reminded that I am indeed in a different country. I just need stubble reminders like this to keep appreciating those variations.