This week saw the the final three days of Golden Week. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at a very leisurely pace. I exercised, read and studied. Mostly though I tried to stay in and offset my expensive trip to Hakone! Luckily the weather is really starting to turn into summer here. So I kept my windows open the whole time. I think we’re now in the short period between spring and summer, where the weather is simply amazing. I enjoy it every day because I hear summer is going to be unbearable.
Thursday, the final day of Golden Week, was outstanding. I met Moto at noon and we set out for a day in the city. Our first trip was to Tsukiji. Tsukiji is a world famous fish market. If you’ve seen images of huge tuna fish being auctioned off for thousands of dollars before the sunrise, it’s likely Tsukiji.
We emerged from the subway into the bright sun. There were no signs pointing to the market but that wasn’t a problem, we only had to follow our noses. The strong smell of fresh fish hung in the air and we knew we were close. We turned a few corners and finally found the outside of the market. The market was actually more like a shopping town. Dozens and dozens of private shops lining tiny streets displayed fish caught fresh that day.It was lunch time so the streets were crowded with people. We pushed our way through the masses and found a well known eatery. The line stretched out the door and into the street. In Tokyo this is the sign of a good restaurant. We joined the line and prepared to wait. Much to our astonishment the host quickly took us inside and to the top floor. Eating in a pair is ideal in this city. And trying to find seats for more than four people… forget it.
We sat down at the table and on our small cushions. The bilingual menu was unnecessary. I needed only to see pictures of the fish. Moto and I carefully selected our sushi and placed an order for a bottle of nihonshu. The booze came first and we chatted over a cold glass.At long last our plate arrived.
“Itadakimasu,” and we began to eat. The fish was delicious. It was very apparent our lunch had been caught that day. And until not long ago, had likely been swimming in a tank downstairs. “Oishii!” We both agreed the food was delicious. We ordered a second round, savored some more and left satisfied. “Gochisoosamadesu,” I said to the host as we exited, and hit the street.
Next we visited Akihabara, the famed “Electric Town.” This city is just a few stops down from Tsukiji and is also world famous for the high percentage of electronic stores in the area. At first glance I was a little disappointed by what I saw. The “town” didn’t seem to be very big. But then I remembered we were in Tokyo, and square footage means nothing. As we wandered the streets my eyes got bigger and smile wider.
As we pushed further into Akihabara the sidewalks became crowded with nerds. I don’t mean casual nerds, like myself. I mean hardcore-Japanese-fanboy nerds. These young men dressed all in black. They carried Gameboys in their hands and anime-decorated bags over their backs. At every corner stood pretty girls dressed as maids handing our fliers to their businesses. People dressed in cosplay walked by nonchalantly. We found an outdoor video game expo and quickly passed through the sea of nerds. Here there were older men who took pictures of scantily dressed women. I’m sure the mothers of these men, who they likely still lived with, would be upset if they knew what the family camera was being used for. Scandalous.
Next we visited an arcade. This arcade was in the Akihabara 48, or AKB48, building. If you’re unsure who AKB48 is, simply click hereor do a wikipedia search of the group. They’re widely popular in Japan. Moto and I ascended the winding escalators to the top floor where we pumped coins into over sized arcade games. This was the only time of the day where we split up. We both become hugely engrossed with the massive screens inches before our eyes. Thick cigarette smoke hung in the air. I slipped away from Moto, stuck at the Tekken 6 machines, and found my own slice of Americana. A portion of the arcade occupied solely with shooting. I personally played an amazingly sophisticated 3D Metal Gear Solid Game. Outstanding.
As we took the escalators back down Moto’s eyes came across a gem of Japanese culture. Lady’s underwear in little plastic balls that could be bought for ¥500 out of a gatcha-gatcha machine. We both laughed out loud at the absurdity and took a picture. We exited the building making cracks about the kind of guy who would buy such a thing. I took a glance over my shoulder back in the building and could have sworn I saw someone pumping coins into the machine.
As I mentioned the “maids” before, I should probably return to it for just a moment. “Maid Cafes” are very popular in Toykoand especially in Akihabara. If you choose to visit an establishment like this you can expect the following: very likely a cute young lady will meet you at the elevator and escort you inside. You’ll pay an absurd amount, perhaps ¥2,000 for 10 minutes of talking time. You’ll get taken to a very public looking bar where you’ll sit and she’ll pour you a glass of your choice. Then this cute girl will play card games and simply talk with you for however long you paid for. All the while she’ll be doing her best cutesy act. Then your time is up and you’re seen back to the elevator. I think the whole experience is catering to a certain type of Japanese man with… a unique… preference for women. While the whole experience sounds silly I will likely end of visiting one of these simply for the experience. And then never return.
After Akihabara, Moto and I took a train to Yokohama. Here we split up for the day; Moto with his friend and I to see my new friend. I had dinner with a young lady at the wonderful Bay Quarter. This is a string of high rise restaurants that sit next to a river entering the city. The food, Indian, was great. The conversation, even better. Though this relationship may not pan out, it is still a delight to have a civil & intelligent conversation with a beautiful woman.
Friday and Saturday I was back at work for a very easy week. I taught only seven classes between the two days. I accomplished a lot around the office and left Saturday night ready again for the weekend.Saturday night I had dinner and drinks with some of the staff and some students. The medium age of the party was probably 40. And the conversation tended to drift towards Japanese more often than not. Yet I still had a great time practicing my listening skills and talking about anything. One student even invited me to attend his community karate class. I of course was very excited to take him up on his opportunity. Then he told me the teacher of the class, the Sensei, was an 80 year old man who could do push ups with his index fingers. I was beyond sold. “I’ll be there first thing,” I told the student. And I will be.
Sunday was also a hoot. It was a friend’s-friend’s birthday. I met a wealth of new people. I had dinner and sang karaoke with a group of 20 people. Being a single, straight, white man at the party put me in an extreme minority. But hey, I’ve seen a Lady Gaga concert before. Nothing new here. All the same I had a great time and made some wonderful new friends.
Monday was a step closer to reality. I cleaned my apartment and ran errands. I did however see my friend Hamish, whom I had not seen since shortly after the earthquake. Emma and I visited him in his new home. Which we found out was the home town of “Hello Kitty!” What a treat! We reminisced, enjoyed some giyoza and beer and split up. By the end of the night I was in bed before midnight and couldn’t have been happier with the last two weeks.
Am I making myself clear? I am really enjoying it here.
For those of you that know me well, you’ll know that I have a healthy ego. I know I’m good at some things and I’m not bashful However this is tempered by the obviousness that I do have my shortcomings and no one likes a smug guy. Thus, I have a “healthy” sense of self worth. Yet on occasion there are events in my life that stroke my ego and make me a bit overconfident. These events occur more rather often here, in Japan.
Just last week my ego was boosted. I was waiting patiently in the lobby for a single-student class. The student arrived a few minutes late very flustered. I welcomed her and escorted her back to my classroom.
“You don’t look very good today, what’s the matter?” I asked her.
She gave me the details of her morning and I listened to sympathetically. However the end of her story took an unexpected turn.
“But I was determined to come to class today. I wanted to see you!” I turned my head sideways. That was a borderline inappropriate comment from a married woman.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because you always make my day better. You are such a happy person that you make me happy.” I blushed.
“Thank you but that’s not true. I just help you and the other students realize that you’re also happy inside. You just need a good reflection!” I tried to politely deny the compliment. I could see the gears in her head translating what I said into Japanese.
I quickly forged ahead, “Well thank you for coming today. Let’s get started!”
This is an extreme example of someone praising me directly. But truth be told, I encounter mild moments like this every week. I find it very common for students to describe me with positive adjectives such as; cool, friendly, outgoing etc. I am always quick to deflect such comments, as is the Japanese way. Yet I can’t help but feel a little pride from comments like that. While I arrived here with a healthy ego, I’m finding the Japanese are not only maintaining it, but they’re making it grow.
I do to try to take all of this with a grain of salt. Mostly I attribute such compliments to the Japanese admiration of all things Western. So I figure that it’s not really me, Alex, they’re complimenting. It’s actually the loud and confident Western Culture I symbolize. For many Japanese people, I am the only Westerner they have regular contact with. And as if I wasn’t confident enough already, I am now an indirect representative of the West. Yep, there goes my ego again…