Literate

Norseen & Teko Cave

 

Week:

This week I’ve gotten really serious about studying Japanese. I’ve decided after near a year that it’s high time I speak some of the language. Since hitting the books hard I’ve learned one-third of the Japanese writing system, hiragana. Hiragana is the most basic part of their writing system but is a critical building block to greater comprehension. I now have the ability to phonetically read some Japanese out loud. But now I’ve come to another problem, I have no idea what I’m saying. Time to increase my vocabulary!

Wednesday the 15th typhoon of the season came through Tokyo. Whereas hurricanes are named, typhoons are numbered. Originating far to the south, most of these storms have lost a lot of power by the time they come this far north. This storm was an exception and was one of the most severe to sweep across Tokyo in years. From start to finish the storm only lasted five hours. I was totally unaffected by it because I was at work during the whole thing. However I was able to see how it affected those around me.

When number 15 came in to town it brought with it heavy rain and a strong wind. In fact the wind was so strong that all of the trains in Tokyo were shut down. This created huge congestion problems at all of the stations. Many of my friends were stuck at train stations for hours. In fact at work we had two students stay with us through the evening because they needed a train to get home. So the two gentlemen waited patiently in one of our rooms for more than five hours. The majority of my classes for the rest of the day had no students, because everyone stayed home. So I played cards and drank coffee with the students.

After work I visited the station downstairs. The trains were running intermittently but were playing catch up from being shut down. I looked at the platform and saw hundreds of people waiting for the next train. I decided to skip them. So I made the walk back to my apartment for the first time since moving. The streets were packed with cars and people. However as I got further from the station it calmed down. The weather was also supreme. It was the calm after the storm. Clear skies, cool air. Nice. After a brisk 30 minute walk I arrived home. I watched the news in English and decided the worst was over. With nothing more to do I went to bed.

Friday was a national holiday and so we didn’t have work. Neither did my girlfriend, Mari, so we spent a long day together. We visited a recreation center called “Spo-Cha.” Here we paid ¥3,000 for three hours of play. All of the arcade games were set to free. We played 1-on-1 basketball, bad mitten, putt-putt; we hit up the batting cages and tried archery; we cracked some balls at the driving range; we played racing arcade games; I taught her how to shoot an air gun and we even got in some roller skating. It was a great time and made me feel like I was in junior high school again! But the best part of all the games, was the music. The soundtrack playing through the speakers was amazing. It was like someone had made a playlist for couples in 1990. All of the best date songs from the 80’s were blasting out. Totally sweet.

After playing games we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. I really enjoyed the cuisine and have to decided to eat more southeast Asian food. It’s delicious and so healthy compared to cheeseburgers!

The positive week had a downside on Saturday night as I picked up a minor case of food poisoning. For lunch I ate sushi from the grocery store in the station. I was fine until the last class of the day when I suddenly felt very sick. I managed to push through and teach my special lesson until 8. After class my staff told me how bad I looked. I let them know I didn’t only look sick, but I felt it too. They chased me out of the office and I went home. After a quick bowl of rice I was in bed and slept for 10 hours. I woke feeling much better!

 

Weekend:

The Husker football game was at 6:30 PM CST this weekend. Which meant I could sleep in until 8:30 AM JST, Sunday. Such bliss! I started my day slow, lounging in bed watching the first quarter. For the rest of the game I moved about my apartment, cleaning, cooking & studying. All morning I kept my windows open a crack. A cool autumn air came into my apartment and made me wear a sweater. Yes between the football and the weather it really feels like the season is changing here in Tokyo.

At noon I was forced to give up on the game early and leave my apartment. I was going to play futsal in the afternoon. I grabbed my duffel bag and set out for the fields. We played against Masaru’s team, the gang of crazy boys. Mari came out to play too. The clouds from the morning cleared and we were given a beautiful sun to play in. When not playing I laid on my back and enjoyed the afternoon sun. Sunday was off to a great start.

After the game we hit the showers. Standing naked in the locker room, Ban ambushed me.

“Alex, are you and Mari dating?”

“Hai.” My reply was simple and short.

Ban’s reaction was not so tame. “えーーーー?!”

And so it became known that I have a girlfriend. A girl who many of my friends & some students already know. I hoped it wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, we’re adults.

After the game I went to dinner with Moto, Daisuke, Ban and Mari. All three of the guys kept flipping me grief, in Japanese, about having a girlfriend. I didn’t hold it against them. They left early to attend a group date so they could find their own lady.

After dinner Mari and I went back to my place to make dessert. We bought apples, bananas, kiwis, cashews, chocolate syrup and a little bit of ice cream. We diced the fruit and mixed it all together into a bowl. A delicious, and partially healthy, dessert! Preparing our food we stood in the kitchen we listened to the Beatles’ “Help.” 46 years later and that album still strikes the perfect mood.

Monday was to be a grand day. I woke early. Did my chores. Grabbed a coffee to go and took a train south. I was going to meet with my old friend, Norseen, and my new friend Carlos. We were going to do some rock climbing outside. Moving south things turned sour 20 minutes outside of town. It started to rain. Rock climbing in the rain is very difficult if not impossible. However I retained my optimism.

I started to get worried when one of my trains left the station 10 minutes late. I had planned my transportation to arrive exactly on time. Any delay would mean I was going to be late. I arrived at the next station nervous because I was behind schedule. The station was unfamiliar and very confusing. Feeling rushed, I saw what I thought was my train and hopped aboard. I looked at the map above the door and realized I was on the wrong train. I turned to exit and the door closed shut. I was on the express for the wrong direction! I exited and turned around as soon as possible. The silly detour added another 20 minutes on to my transport time. Back at the station I had to wait 10 minutes for the next train. Finally it came and I took the train out-of-town. I arrived in Yokosuka, my final destination, 35 minutes late. Humiliating.

I called Norseen when I couldn’t find him at the station. He told me where he was, Keikyu-Yokuska. Apparently there was some miscommunication. A different station across town. I looked at the city map. My best chance was to get there fast was on foot. I zipped my jacket and ran through the rain to the next station. I called him. He told me another part of the station name, chuo-Keikyu-Yokosuka. Which made it a different station. More miscommunication. Carlos took the phone told me to stay put and they came to me. By the time we shook hands I was an hour late. Embarrassing.

Standing under an overhang at the station we decided to grab lunch at a Thai restaurant. The food was great and made me happy to eat southeastern Asian food again. Lunch was followed by an intense two-hour discussion about international politics, dogmas, Japan, and the potential of humanity. I especially enjoyed listening to Carlos’ ideas. He’s older than me and has seen a lot more too. As the conversation began to stagnate we looked outside. The rain hadn’t let it up. We weren’t going to climb today.

Not wanting to waste the day we went north to Yokohama to climb at Carlos’ gym, Teko Cave. We spent the rainy afternoon with the windows open and listening to Rage Against the Machine. Carlos gave us some great pointers and technical climbing advice too. Come dinner time we ordered some take out and enjoyed. As the evening came over the city I said goodbye to my friends. Norseen I wouldn’t see for years. The Teko people I would see again soon.

I fell asleep on the train home. By chance I opened my eyes at the right station and saw, in hiragana, the station name. I hopped up and jumped off the train. My new Japanese skills are already paying off. A slight redemption from my earlier errors too!

 

-Vampires-

I didn’t know it until I moved here, but Japan is a nation of vampires! Of course I’m joking. But I have noticed that there are many people in Japan who go to great lengths to shield themselves from the sun. And I think it’s worth noting.

I’m going to go ahead and make some generalizations here, so please forgive me. But from my observations, it is mostly women who are so concerned about the sun and their skin. Of the women who are cautious, most are over the age of 30. In fact you could probably design an experiment and draw a relation between an increase in age and an increase in protective wear!

Now to describe their protection! Almost everyone carries an umbrella in otherwise perfect weather, to shield themselves from the sun’s rays. Long sleeves that resemble tube socks are also a popular choice. The really serious ladies will wear a massive tinted visor that covers their entire face. I really like seeing the combo package; when someone is decked out with everything on. It’s great!

Another assumption: they’re going to these great lengths to look attractive. Lighter skin is prized in Japan. I’ve been told it’s to distinguish themselves from other Asians. I’ve also been told it’s because their emulating western culture. Of course it could be to demonstrate their socioeconomic standing; they’re wealthy enough to not work outside. Maybe it’s so they can retain their youth for as long as possible. I’m not sure the real reason here. But I would bet money it’s a mixture of the above reasons.

There is of course a rejection of this practice by many Japanese people. Some younger folks look like they sleep all day under the sun. Which of course makes them look just as silly as the people who cover every inch of their bodies.

Personally I think there is a healthy balance to strike. Wear sunscreen when you’re outside. But if you’re going to be outside enjoy it! A light suntan isn’t a bad thing. Yes, a little common sense can get a long ways!

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About japanesealex

Alexander lived in Japan from 2010 to 2013. He is now pursuing a career in public service in Honolulu, Hawaii.

3 responses to “Literate”

  1. Max Wheeler says :

    We even see the shielding from the sun on campus with international students. It’s been around for a while in Japanese culture, after some minimal research I found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiteness_in_Japanese_culture

    Also, when will we be seeing pictures of this M-Chan?

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