Another tame week. No complaints here. Only one short story to share with you.
Thursday evening between classes I was standing behind the front counter with Sari San. A student coming in to the office stopped at the desk for a quick comment. “Jeez, Alex, you’re getting really thin.” I smiled, “Thank you, my friend. And that’s a sharp-looking haircut you’ve got!” He smiled back and kept walking. It seems recently everyone is making a comment about my appearance. It’s a bit unusual but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it.
First and foremost, I am losing weight. I would guess that in eight months I’ve lost approximately 15 lbs. Most of this is lost muscle mass. Although I briefly returned to the gym during my early months in Japan, I’ve now abandoned it. Although I am of course still running to keep my heart and lungs healthy. I’m in a unique position to become a very slender person while in Japan. So I’ve decided to pursue it.
I’ve also lost some fat. This has come mostly through a diet change. I’ve almost completely stopped eating red meat. A big enough hamburger will now make me sick. I rarely keep meat in my refrigerator. Instead I’ve been spending my money on whole grain rice and vegetables. Once a week I’ll splash out and buy a cut of fish. And keeping sweets in the apartment, forget about it. If you’re visiting and lucky, I’ll share a piece of fruit with you.
My new diet started as a game. I wondered which vegetables I could eat and learn to cook. However the game soon morphed. I acquired a taste for vegetables. In fact, I now enjoy vegetables so much that they constitute the bulk of my diet. Beyond the taste, there are the health benefits. I actually feel healthier having a diet based on veggies.
My Japanese diet and exercise routine have started to have an affect on my outward appearance. My chest and arms have shrunk. My shirts and suit jackets hang off of me. My waist has come in and my slacks can actually fall off from my hips. And most noticeably, my neck and face have slimmed down. I’m looking more Japanese every day!
I feel I should now reassure my mother and mother-like relatives at this point. I am still healthy and as fit as an ox. I exercise and eat well. I get plenty of rest and am otherwise taking care of myself. All of these changes are natural. I feel great.
To bring this back around, my student issued me a compliment. I smiled but was otherwise expressionless. Sari San then leaned in next to me and said, “Yeah, Alex, you should keep dieting.”
I laughed out loud.
“Why should I keep dieting, Sari San?” I asked.
“Because it’s fun.”
“It’s fun? What do you mean?”
“It’s fun for us to see the changes you’re going through. Dieting is fun for you!” Sari smiled at me.
I laughed, “Okay, I’ll continue. But only for your amusement.”
And so I will.
I had a special visitor this week. My friend, and former university professor, came to spend the weekend with me. His name is Nick. Nick was a great help in getting me to where I’m at today. He used to work for the same company. When I was his student he made the suggestion that I apply and move to Japan. So I did. Just a few months after our first conversation, I had my first post-college job.
Nick had just finished living a year in Germany and was visiting his in-laws in Japan for a month. We had kept in touch throughout our adventures and I knew he was coming through. Fortunately he was able to get away for the weekend and come to the other side of Honshu to stay with me.
Nick arrived at the station at 7 AM Sunday morning. He called my phone and shook me from a deep sleep. I tossed on some clothes and walked down to pick him up. We came back to my apartment and I promptly put a kettle full of water on the stove. Then we sat and talked. And talked and talked. We each had three cups of coffee before our conversation had time for a break. That was just the chance we needed to get up and go back outside. We took a short walk down to a diner and ordered some breakfast. And we drank more coffee. We polished off our plates and went home. I suited up for a half day of work. At half past 11 I left my apartment jittery from caffeine.
I worked a short half day and Nick met me when I was finished. I gave him a brief tour of our facilities. It was a total flashback for the guy. We left work and went downstairs to meet one of my students, Makoto. The three of us stopped at an outdoor cafe and ordered a round of pints. The drinks went down quickly and soon Masaru showed up with his wife. We said goodbye to Makoto and went to dinner with Mr. & Mrs. Masaru. We had arrived for happy hour and ordered all the food and drinks from their menu. Having had food and drink fit for a king, we paid our tab and left. Next up; karaoke. Two hours of singing, and two beers later, we split with our friends and were on our own.
Nick and I then visited my favorite izakaya, Shanto. We ordered drinks and appetizers. Next we took a train back home where we happened across another of my students. He suggested getting a beer, and we happily obliged. We drank two more pints with my friend and made the two block walk home. Halfway back, my friend Nick suggested one more beer. We grabbed two cold ones from the convenience store and went home. Back home, Nick smoked a cigarette on the balcony and I played DJ from inside. Midway through my beer I decided I was drunk, and didn’t need anymore. I poured the rest down the drain and brushed my teeth.
I opened the sliding glass door and poked my head out.
“Nick, I’m going… I’m going to bed now. Do whatever you want, but I expect to see the apartment still standing in the morning. Goodnight.”
I closed the door and was asleep before I had laid down.
5 AM. The bright sun was shining in through windows. I could feel the onset of a hangover. I rolled out of bed to drink a gallon of water and eat two pain killers. I opened the door and returned to my bedroom. It smelled like a brewery. I climbed over Nick who was dead asleep. I pulled the curtains tight and crawled back into my blankets. I set my alarm clock for eight AM. “Play hard, work harder…” I said to myself and drifted back to sleep.
I would like to take a brief moment to dispel any idea that I’m an irresponsible drunkard. This was an unusual occasion. Throughout our evening I had always kept myself together. I maintained a strict 3:1 ratio, of three beers to one water. At one point I ordered five consecutive waters before ordering another beer. Although I was tipsy, I never lost my composure. Because my home and work are so close, I always run the risk of seeing a student. It’s true the Japanese like to see someone having a good time. But no one likes to see a lush. And in the end, when I finally felt myself succumb to the effects of alcohol, I was finished. No if’s, and’s or but’s. Goodbye beer, hello water and bed. When I woke the next morning, I set myself by my mother & father’s motto; “play hard, work harder.”
Three hours after I had woken, my alarm destroyed our peaceful slumber. I shot up and pulled myself to my feet. I opened the drapes and windows and turned off the a/c. I nudged Nick with my foot. “Get up soldier, we’re not done yet.” It took some time but we finally got ourselves moving. After a deliciously greasy lunch at McDonald’s we decided our next course of action: a movie. We took a few trains and arrived at the theater. We bought tickets for the movie “Super 8” and sat down in the dark theater. In case you’re wondering, the movie was great. I highly recommend it.
After the movie we had some dinner and played cards for a few. Soon the day grew long and the sun set. I said goodbye to Nick and he left for the station. Back at home I took care of my chores. Cook, clean, clean and clean. Still reeling from the effects of the night before, I called it an early night and went to sleep. Play hard, work harder…
-Women & Children-
“Women and children, first. Women and children, please!”
These words and this concept were ingrained me from an early age, when I was reading books about the Titanic. To me it meant, a man should be a gentleman and selfless. To put others before himself, especially the fairer sex and young children. Throughout my life I have adjusted my behavior by such an idea. And in Japan, it’s often been my motto.
I can think of no better example of giving women and children preference in Japan than the trains. Seats on the train here are a real commodity. If you see an opening, you have to take it as quickly as possible. This is especially true for any ride longer than 30 minutes. However I often have a strong sense of guilt when I’m sitting and others standing. It just feels wrong.
To counter this problem, I’ve created a rule. I will always offer my seat to a lady, a child, or a senior citizen. So basically I’m offering my seat to 75% of the population here. The only people I will not give my seat to, are men between the ages of 13-60. They can stand and I’m not going to feel bad at all about that.
Because I so often give up my seat to others, I’ve recently stopped taking seats at all. In general, the longest commute I make is 45 minutes. That is not a long time to stand. And the way I see it; the Good Lord saw it fit to give me two healthy legs, so I’m going to make the best of them. Besides getting a little exercise and being chivalrous, I am also afforded a better view of the train car. Which lets me react quickly if I need to.
What really gets my goat, and is the reason for this cultural entry, is the behavior of other young men. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been on a train and been mortified. It never fails actually. The train pulls up to the platform and the doors open. A young couple will step on and run for the nearest seat. Then the boy will hand the girls their shopping bags, and he will have a seat on the train. Leaving her to stand and hold the bags. Even though I can’t speak Japanese, I often have half a mind to walk over to the couple and chew the punk out. Despicable.
Maybe I’m a westerner. Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m just weird. But I think that young men have a responsibility to everyone else in this world. We are afforded countless opportunities other’s aren’t. Giving proper respect and appreciation to others, be it even a small act like offering your seat, means a great deal. So gentlemen, get with the program!