This was a highly productive week at work. I returned from training extremely motivated and eager to be the best worker I could. I arrived early and stayed late to work everyday. I accomplished all of my weekly personal tasks, and had time leftover to assist with office work however I could. Poor Moto had food poisoning on Saturday, so I even picked up some of his classes. A very good week indeed.
On three different days I visited the gym after work. The first night I went rock climbing with Hamish. The wall at the gym leaves much to be desired, but it’s still a wall. I asked one of the staff where the climbing gear was at. They made a call upstairs and a manager came down. He showed me everything and then patiently waited as I scaled up the wall and came back down. The look on his face summed up his thoughts, “Does this white boy know how to climb, or is he going to kill himself and make me stay late tonight?” I didn’t disappoint.
The next visit, I joined a cardio class, again with Hamish. This was “drum-class”, where we listed to loud world music and beat our drumsticks on fitness balls to the rhythm. I was early for class and Hamish was late. I sheepishly snuck into class and accidentally took a seat in the front row. The instructor came over and introduced himself. He game me a pair of drumsticks and explained what we would do in class. All of this was in Japanese. I didn’t know what words he was saying, but I got the general idea and replied back with several “Hai”s. Hamish made it just in time for class and took a seat next to me. The class itself was great. The teacher was a crazy man hell bent on giving his students a heart attack. However he was very charismatic and would occasionally spit out an English word or two for the benefit of the white boys in class. All the other students were middle aged Japanese women. I could feel all of their eyes fixed on me through the class. And I appreciated it.
I made the final visit alone. By now I had a decent idea of the layout of the gym, and I was beginning to understand the routines. I checked in on the fourth floor and went to the fifth floor to changed from a business suit into spandex. Before I could enter the locker room, I had to remove my work shoes and slip on slippers. I dressed up and went downstairs to a treadmill. Of course everything was in Japanese, so I did my best at pushing random buttons. I spent a half hour running until I had opened every pore in my body. I did a quick circuit on the weights and ended with some stretching. I skipped the communal showers and slipped back into my suit. I caught the train back to town and hoofed it home. Dinner consisted of rice, salad and water. How healthy.
In an attempt to adapt to my environment and look more Japanese, I’ve altered my workout routines. Previously when I was exercising regularly back in the States, I was bulking up. Now I’m choosing to go for the lean and cut look. My muscle mass has greatly been reduced in Japan, and my slim amounts of fat are melting away considering my healthy diet. Already in three months here I’ve lost more than 10 lbs. Still I would like to be smaller. If I want to fit in clothes here I can’t have massive arms or a huge chest. And I do want to fit the clothes.
Saturday night was a special occasion, twice over. It marked the conclusion of my 12 day work spree and it was Emma’s welcome party. After work approximately 30 students had gathered in the lobby. I slipped on my coat, and at the manager’s request, led our students to the restaurant. A short time later we arrived at “Mike’s” a Mexican restaurant. The same restaurant Emma and I had been at the week before. Everyone quickly took a seat and the night began.
Rie-sensei, my manager, was coming a few minutes after us. Before I had left work she requested I wait to toast until she got there. No problem, except the staff pored everyone a drink faster than we could sit down. I told the students at my table that it was okay to drink now and we would toast later. Still, they did not drink. I looked around the room and no one was drinking. I pushed out from the table and came to my feet. “Excuse me, friends. We will be toasting shortly, but please enjoy your drinks now.” Everyone stared at me with a blank face. “Lead by example,” I thought. I picked up my beer and took a drink. That was what they needed to see. The students smiled and picked up their drinks. They gave their neighbors a discreet “kampai” and drank. The Japanese group mentality never fails to make me laugh.
Rie and the other teachers arrived shortly after. Again I stood up and projected my voice. I gave thanks for their company, welcomed Emma and led a raucous cheers. What followed was a two hour nomihoudia. The students had paid good money to eat and drink with us tonight, and they sought to get their moneys worth. Mass quantities of beer were consumed. Cocktails were a popular choice, and many people seemed to alternate between the two. During all the eating and drinking, Emma and i shared a laugh. Nomihoudias would never work in Western nations. We like to drink too much. The Japanese like to drink too, but they don’t consume like we do.
All too soon our reservation at the restaurant was ending. We gathered our belonging and left for the station. I led a small number of people to the second party where we had drinks and snacks. This party was much smaller, but it was still fun and intimate. It was made even better when one student picked up the whole tab. Dang, if I had known he was going to do that I would have had more than one beer!
This weekend was nice and slow, a much needed break from all the work. I cleaned by apartment, went grocery shopping and caught up on some sleep. Very mundane, but important tasks. I was rather amused as I dressed myself for the evening. I slipped on a tshirt that fit very differently than the last time I wore it. This shirt, three months ago, had been a muscle shirt that I barely fit in. Now it hung off of me like a muumuu. The chest was too big and the sleeves made my arms look like twigs. I laughed at the changes and slipped on my coat. My coat, which I bought two months ago in Japan, now fit me differently. Where before it was snug, now it was loose. I’m going to come back a tiny, tiny man.
Sunday evening I met up with the girls in Tokyo for dinner. We went to a burger joint and then crashed a nomihoudia for two hours. Another nomihoudia, ugh. Unnecessary. We had a good time drank some beer. After the bar I left the girls and caught a train back home. I got off one stop early in Machida to visit the Hub. The Hub is a British style pub chain that is very popular with Westerners. I dropped by intending to just get one drink. Needless to say, I stayed longer than anticipated. I ended up sharing a table with some Army soldiers. They were already drunk when I had showed up, so they were very welcoming. The three guys all took turns buying rounds of whiskey shots. How generous. I’m not one to leave a favor unreturned so I order a round of tequila. Ohh tequila, always a great idea at the time, always a terrible decision the next morning. It was shortly after the tequila that one of the guys decided to vomit outside the bathroom. Because opening the door and using the commode was too difficult, he just grabbed a chair and let it out. It was about that time I slipped out of the bar.
Picture this, inebriated Alex walking down a small hallway to use the bathroom. I turn and right in the corner is a massive soldier slumped over in his chair, vomit around his feet. His buddy, even bigger than the man in the chair, straightens up from lighting two cigarette and gives me a glare. What better way to celebrate some binge drinking than with a cigarette. “Just coming to say goodbye,” I said. I shook the standing man’s hand and turned for my coat. I bid goodbye to the other soldier at the table and hit the door.
On my way back to the station I made friends with a group of beautiful women. The language barrier didn’t slow us down from hitting it off right away. We mulled around looking for a diner, well I was looking for a diner. I have no idea what they were looking for. However one of the girls didn’t like me a bit and made a big production in the middle of the street. Being the only white guy for as far as the eye could see, I quickly evaluated the situation. I gave a bow and graciously said goodbye. I popped in my headphones and managed home.
The next morning began with the familiar sensations after tequila shots. I spent the first part of my day licking my wounds and reading text messages from the night before. I looked in my wallet to assess the damage from the night. Luckily I had more money than I expected. Unfortunately, I had also bought cheap tequila. We call this a zero-sum.
The latter half of my day was filled with movies and lesson planning. This coming week at work we are hosting “expo” week. We are not teaching regular lessons. Instead we’re teaching workshops and special seminars of our choosing. Of course students have to pay for these classes in addition to what they’re already paying. I’ll be teaching a Michael Jackson class and US history. The Jackson class will be mostly listening to his songs and reading lyrics, followed by the moonwalk. I can’t wait to teach my students how to moonwalk. I’m really not very good at this dance, but I’m better than the average Japanese.
My preparation for these classes began a few weeks back when I had to make a promotional poster for the hallways. We were to use a general template that provided class details, but we were allowed to be creative when choosing the center graphic. I did a google image search for “US history” and came across the famous painting of Uncle Sam proclaiming, “I want you for US Army.” It’s simple, it’s recognizable, it’s American. I chose the picture and edited the text to read, “I want you for US History.” I posted the advertisement in my classroom that day. My smugness was quickly turned into horror later in the day. Hideo, one my advanced students and 80 years old pointed to the poster. “That’s from World War II,” he said. I was mortified at my cultural insensitivity. I quickly took the posters and replaced them with a more generic US imagery. However I did keep one of the original posters, and now it’s a bootleg artifact.
My US history class is proving to be very popular, perhaps the most popular class next week. I’ve really gotten a kick out of preparing for this class. I’m teaching two sections, pre and post-antebellum classes. Today I typed up outlines and brushed up on my history. I really want my students to practice speaking English, since that’s what they’re paying for. But it’s going to be very hard not to lecture for 50 minutes. I’m planning to lecture for 20 minutes and have group discussion the remaining time. We’ll see how this goes.
Obviously, I am a minority in this country. Japan is a very homogenous society, 99% of the country is Japanese. I, am not Japanese. I really stand out in a crowd here. All of the foreigners do. Sometimes we garner more attention than others. Although this is almost always relative to how far from Tokyo you are.
Being a minority has made me identify with other minorities, especially white people. They apparently, feel the same way I do. There is a subtle acknowledgement that occurs when two foreign people cross paths here. I’ve taken to calling it the ” nod.” No matter the place or time of day, the “nod” is real. It’s a way of saying, “Hello. You’re not from here and neither I am. Keep it up, we’re in this together.”
The “nod” is sometimes accompanied by verbal recognition. I’m partial to saying “howdy” just to get a reaction out of some people. Often times they will return with a “hello.” Sometimes their headphones are too loud and they leave it at a nod. Yet still, I greet other foreigners who are not English speakers. I’ve had my share of different languages returned, all very fun. Sometimes I’ll even feel silly and greet obvious tourists with a friendly “konnichi wa.” Their befuddlement is always humourous.
Then occasionally you’ll get the westerner who has been in Japan too long and won’t make eye contact. Maybe their too proud of their Japaneseness to acknowledge the kid with a dumb grin on his face. Or maybe they have simply forgotten their identity and think they’re Japanese. Too bad for them, it’s their loss.
The “nod” is a silly practice that I’ve picked up, but one that I’m continually delighted with. I now feel a stronger connection with these strangers than I ever would have living in Lincoln. And if they’re anything like me, they’ll perk up just a bit bey getting some friendly recognition.