Continuing with the vast reorganization of my online presence, I have corralled the contents of my previous blog into this one, which include posts from my two years living in central Japan while on the JET Programme. Teaching in a Japanese school, hanging out with other JETs from around the world, and living in the midst of a strange but delightful culture for two years… its all here, as well as other musings on Japan from after I returned to America in 2007. Enjoy!
I can’t believe how many of my Japan-related stories involve karaoke in some way, or the amount of times I’ll hear something on my iPod or the radio and exclaim, “Oh this was so great to do at karaoke.”
So now I need to hear from those of you who were in or still reside in Japan and have had fabulous karaoke experiences. What are your ultimate karaoke songs? Group sing-a-longs, things to attempt only when very drunk, solo numbers that you tear up like a diva, give ‘em to me! What song did you leap for the remote box to program into the machine, what songs did you cheer for?
This shout-out includes all of you guys who read my posts via notes on Facebook – get outta the lurking shadows and comment! Make your voice heard – FOR GREAT JUSTICE!
I go through jags of missing Japan every once and a while, but there are some times when I look about and think, “Thank god I am not there anymore.” Most of these instances involve very hot or very cold weather.
Let’s start with the hot. My town in Japan was around the same latitude as Atlanta in the USA, so it was much warmer in general, and there was the general presence of the ocean to muck about with weather patterns. I live in close proximity to many bodies of water, but dealing with lakes and rivers is much different than dealing with an ocean. I don’t mind warm weather at all, and enjoy a sun-bask like anyone else, but as the saying goes: “Hell – it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”
I abhor humid weather, and learned the Japanese word for it (蒸し暑い, mushi-atsui) as soon as I could. Minnesota can be deadly humid on occasion as well, and that kind of weather has been creeping up on us. I don’t have air-con in my apartment, and have taken on a few occasions to taking a respite in the basement, chilling out on the cooled concrete in the dark with the circuit breakers and someone’s laundry that has been drying on a line for approximately four months.
Minnesota’s humidity is rendered bearable, however, by the fact that it breaks spectacularly. A humid day usually leads to violent weather, with sheets of rain, hail, thunder, lightning, the sky turning pea-green and the occasional tornado. After you ride out the storm, the humid weather is cut away and you’re left with a week or two of the best summer weather anywhere on the planet.
When I got to Japan, being forewarned that the walls in my house would literally sweat (and they did), I was on the lookout for clouds, waiting for the storm break. I saw them roll in, familliar black and green across the mountains, and plucked my laundry in from the line, ready to go out and enjoy some cool weather after the front passed. Storm, boom, bang, crash, whoosh – and it was gone… but the humidity remained! I came to find out that the humidity begins around late May or early June and can persist easily through September or early October.
The other extreme was the cold. Given that I endured some deepy bone-chilling -20F (-28C) weather in Minnesota this winter, you think I’d miss the comparatively mild Japanese winters, where the temp rarely dropped below 0C (a balmy 32F). We had snow a handful of times in my town, whereas I was blanketed in the stuff while moving into my south Minneapolis apartment during a blizzard on December 1 of last year.
Minneapolis homes, however, are made for the six months of chilling winter. Insulation, central heating, sealed and double-paned storm windows. Japanese houses are made to fall down in a neat pile if there is an earthquake, hence my paper-walled reed-floored house was an icebox. I get shit from locals about being “too cold” during 32F weather, but I tell them to try sticking it out in a sawdust house with only a CO2-belching kerosene heater and an electric blanket. The only person who still thinks this sounds like fun is my father, who likes winter camping and is also crazy.
Sometime around the long two week spell this past January when the wind chill raged below zero on a regular basis, the radiator in my room clicked off in the middle of the night. I woke up around 6am with my face and nose absolutely freezing and was convinced I was back in Japan, as that was how I would wake up every morning: warm body under futon with electric blanket, and everything from the neck up damned-near frostbitten. “Oh crap oh crap what time is it is there gas in the scooter I have to get to work and make a lesson plan and make copies and set up the room and… oh. Oh wait, no. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.”
Boing Boing recently featured a write-up on the situation surrounding the Yamanote Halloween Party in Tokyo. I participated in a similar party in Osaka on the Loop Line my first year in Japan, and for the uninitiated, this is basically how it goes:
Costumed folks (most drinking heavily) amass on platforms 1-2 at JR Osaka station, and at 9pm, an empty special train pulls up. Everyone jams on the train, and the thing takes off on a circle route around the city. At each station, the doors open and people dash from car to car, shouting and hollering, and then cram back in. Rise and repeat, with a 30 minute bathroom break at Tennoji (the halfway point). Once back at JR Osaka, you’re done, and head off to continue reveling or just ride your train back home.
It was a riot when I did it, but I felt bad for the poor JR men who had to work that train. A lot of people were disrespectful – tearing down adverts, littering everywhere. The train was a mess by the time we left it. Because of this, the police came to keep an eye on the Loop Line last year (and this year as well, I’m sure) and we were warned away. We partied it up other places, but kept our distance from the kanjo-sen.
Reading the Boing Boing section, I was still a bit torn. I had a hysterically fun evening on the train with my friends, in costume and rocking out, and a lot of the Japanese people we talked to and waved at didn’t seem bothered. It was a Saturday night at 9pm – hardly rush hour – and before our special train showed up, people made sure actual commuters could get on and off their trains. But I can understand how things can get out of hand, wrecking the wa and all that. Out-of-the-ordinary fun is great, especially in Japan, but be respectful.
Still, if you live or have lived in Japan, check out the comments section for some serious ranting! Everything from what gaijin means (and is it offensive), to Debito Arudou, to NOVA and the work situation, to Japanese cops being awesome or horrific (I’ve experienced instances of both, personally), to xenophobia – it’s all one big daikon.
Psst, but don’t let them fool you! Japan IS really a “magical wonderland,” where you can scrape out a sweet tax-free paycheck if you play your cards right. And then drive a giant robot to your place of employ and enjoy stomping over Tokyo as you go. Hey, someone has to – Tokyo Tower isn’t going to knock over itself!
海を渡るのが 見えたんですそれで ぼくも
|As I was walking down a towering alley
In the outskirts of the city
I saw beyond the blotched fog
A streetcar still sluggish from sleep
Crossing over the sea
So that’s why I want to gather the wind
As I passed through a beautiful sunrise
So that’s why I want to gather the wind
When I was killing time one morning
So that’s why I want to gather the wind
Goodbye, dear my dear Sanda City, and all of my friends in Japan. Some of you I will see again, some of you probably have paths that won’t ever run across mine outside of these two years. I watched the giant orange sun sink down in the west last night, and woke up slowly to chilled daylight about an hour ago. My train goes in an hour, my plane goes in six and a half. And I step off this continent for a good long while. And I cry looking backwards, and looking forwards.
Oh yes, it’s all been very good.