Wednesday, June 27
Wednesday after work I joined a few students for a drinking party (飲み会). Two-hours open bar (飲み補題) plus a big plate full of barbecued meat all for ¥3,000. It was fun of course to chat with everyone but the fun ends there. I feel like now I’ve been in Japan a while and I’m getting older. I really don’t enjoy these two-hour open bars anymore.
To begin with, it was Wednesday night. I work Thursday. I don’t want more than a quick drink in this situation. So paying for two hours is a very poor investment. Even if it’s Saturday and I want to drink I can rarely drink enough to make it worth my money. And then there’s the meat. I’m practically a vegetarian these days. Meat, and especially red meat, is not appealing. And expensive. But because of the culture, I go with it. I order a few more beers and take a few bites when normally I wouldn’t. And of course I pay my even share.
Here’s the real kicker, drinking is rapidly losing it’s appeal. I do enjoy a beer as much as the next man. However I don’t often enjoy getting drunk. In the heat of the moment when everyone’s having a good time and enjoying themselves I do the same. But the headache that comes the next day is painful. And worst of all is; the guilt. I always think about how I could have better spent my time the previous night than drinking. It’s enough to keep me away from the bottle for several days. And it’s enough to keep me from getting drunk too often.
When did I start getting old?
Sunday, July 1
A quick aside about Japanese baseball team names. All of the teams have a corporate sponsor who affix their company name to the team’s name, i.e. the Yoimiuri Giants. Compared to the States where the city name is prefixed to the team, i.e. the Boston Red Sox. A minor difference really since fans in both country refer to the team simply as the Red Sox or Giants.
Mari’s grandfather owns stock in Yakult Co. One of his stock perks is a free pass to select baseball games. He gave Mari the ticket so she and I could enjoy a game. Thanks grandpa!
We visited a convenience store (コンビニ) to secure drinks and snacks for the game. We passed security and entered the ballpark. I got a shiver knowing that Babe Ruth had actually played in the same stadium. We took our seats in the outfield with the Tigers fans, the away team. Having no allegiance to either team we didn’t protest. The game started and we enjoyed the show on and off the field. Japanese baseball fans are sometimes more entertaining than the game itself.
After the fourth inning we changed seats and joined the local team’s fans. They had a better view of the Tokyo skyline. But they were much more tame than the visiting team. We sat in the mist enjoying the shoot out for another three innings. Unfortunately a heavy rain rolled in and chased us out of the park. We couldn’t finish the game but we had a good time nonetheless. And thanks to grandpa’s pass we can go back for another game soon!
Monday, July 2
I was riding the Sotetsu line home from Yokohama. Midway between stations our train came to a total stop. The conductor made an announcement, there had been a “human accident.” In other words: our train had hit and killed someone.
The passengers started moving around the train, trying to see what they could. I joined them. I suppose it was a morbid curiosity that got me out of my seat. I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted to see the action.
It didn’t take long for the train crew, police, paramedics and firefighters to find where the body was. I couldn’t see him. But I knew he was caught up directly below my feet. There was a big production outside the train. They drew a curtain so pedestrians on the street couldn’t see. A firefighter crawled out from under the train and handed the police chief a piece of paper. I saw it. It was a blood spattered suicide note. I felt my stomach drop out. It wasn’t an accident. This man knew what he was doing.
It took me a few minutes to figure it out. But the grand production was actually a diversion. I walked to the other side of the train and saw what was really happening. They had pulled the man out and were carrying him away under a blanket and tarp. I saw the top of his head and blood profusely dripping down.
I had seen enough. I walked back to my seat and sat in silence. What a tremendous loss. Soon our train started moving. It had taken less than an hour to “clean up the mess.” We arrived at the next station where new passengers pushed on the train. They were totally clueless about what happened. And the world moved on.
In closing I want to mention the behavior of the people during the clean up. Outside the train residents watched the whole thing go down. Children stood next to their parents and stared at the man twisted up under the train. Everyone in the train moved around to see the action. Young boys cracked jokes. Businessmen were irritated to be late. Others’ expressions were blank. No one cried.
The whole thing made me feel tiny and alone. It was not a great experience.
Wednesday, July 4
The Fourth of July. Feelings of patriotism swirled in my apartment. I dressed for work and left the house humming the “Star Spangled Banner.” On my way to work Mari sent me a message.
“Are you going to celebrate tonight?”
I hadn’t thought of celebrating, but it was a good suggestion!
I emailed Trevor. He was down for a beer. I arrived at work and saw Luke sitting at the front desk. Luke is English.
“No taxation without representation,” I shouted. He jumped out his chair.
“Down with the crown! Long live freedom!”
“Bloody Yank,” I heard him mutter.
After work Moto and I met Trevor and three of his coworkers. The six of us went to Angie Cafe for an after work/celebration beer.
We stayed for some time. I was coaxed into getting a second (large) beer against my better judgement.
Sometime later we left the bar and I found my way back home. I unlocked my door this time humming “Oh Susanna.” I took a shower to wash the bar’s smoke off and thought to myself, “Didn’t I just say I’m tired of drinking?”
No time to answer. I laid down to sleep. I had a slight headache waiting for me in the morning.
Sunday, July 8
Living in Japan I have discovered a wonderful food: curry. I know it sounds strange. Cury & Japan. But I had never eaten curry before and have since fallen in love it with. I’ve also learned to cook some pretty tasty curry that I regularly take to work for lunch. Everyone seemed to be intrigued by the unique odors coming from my lunch box. So I finally decided, I would have a curry party. I invited a bunch of people over to my house to try my special recipe and have a good time.
First I had to clean my apartment. I keep my place very tidy and organized, but I’m not great about cleaning between the cracks. Thankfully my wonderful girlfriend, Mari, was helpful. Together we cleaned my room from top to bottom.
Finally it was time to cook. I cooked a pot of my (now) famous curry. The special ingredient is pineapple. I cooked enough for 15 people. When I finished Mari took over. She made a smaller pot of Thai curry, or “green curry.” When we finished it was five o’clock and the room smelled like a curry shop. We walked down to the station to pick up our guests. Seven in total, nine including the hosts.
Back in my apartment we made a circle in the bedroom, on the floor, and started eating appetizers and drinking. I fired up the hot plate and soon everyone had a bowl of curry in front of them. We chowed down. The reaction to the pineapple curry was mixed, but generally positive. Next came Mari’s curry. It was delicious but very spicy. And Japanese people generally don’t like spicy things. More drinks.
We finished the evening playing cards and at 9 PM everyone fled my apartment. I was sad to see them go but it was nice to have an empty apartment again. Already I’m planning my next party. What else can I cook?
Alex in Japan. One of these is not like the other. Can you guess?
If you guessed the blue eyed, blond haired, large nosed, light skin, barrel chested person, Alex, then you are correct!
Everyday in this country I am reminded that I am different. Be it by staring, or how I’m spoken to, or how I’m treated. I know I’m not alone in feeling this. In the eyes of many Japanese I look different. And because I look different I will never be one of the group. Everyday I am reminded that I am a permanent outsider.
I’d like to draw on other people’s experiences to give this observation more weight. I’ve spoken with enough people to know that non-Japanese can never be fully assimilated here. If you’re an expat with Japanese citizenship and speak perfect Japanese, you cannot truly belong. Even if you are born and raised in Japan but don’t have a typical Japanese appearance, you will never belong.
The “us and them” mentality is as much a part of the Japanese identity as is rice and fish. Some people claim it’s a good thing. That it creates cultural homogeneity. Others deny this practice. And yet most don’t even know they do it.
I suppose this has given me a good outlook on the world. I grew up in the majority and have spent two years in the minority. Believe you me, the minority is not a comfortable position, unless you’re a Shia in Syria. I’m looking at you Bashar al-Assad. But having lived as a member of the majority and minority has taught me a lot about tolerance
I find this all fascinating as well. Japan’s population is falling rapidly. The most logical solution to this problem is to (slightly) increase immigration. Immigration, many Japanese fear, would be the end of Japanese culture. So it is a solution best ignored.
And then there’s me. A young, middle-class, college educated person, working full-time and trying hard to learn the language & culture; and dating a Japanese citizen. I would be an ideal immigrant to this country. But honestly, Japan, you’re not doing a very good job making me feel at home.
I suppose I’ve changed one person’s mind. That’s a start.