Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Futon Adventures, Nagoya-yuki, and Bar Crawling with my Kogame Izakaya Crew

Any one of the things that happened today would be enough to fill a full entry. It's been one heck of an amazing, crazy good day! I woke up around 7:20am and decided that since today was due to be sunny and about 70 degrees, it would be a good time to air out my futon. A futon needs to be aired out for at least a few hours every week, ie: let to soak under the sun, so as to keep mold and critters from taking up residence in it. This also keeps your futon smelling nice. So I put mine out over the railing, facing the sun. This was done with a bit of trepidation because I live on the first floor, and I'm still not sure that if I leave my futon alone (ie: with me not in the apartment), will it still be there when I return. Which is why it aired for only two hours and then went back into my apartment before I left to go to Nagoya.

In addition to nervousness about futon theft, my decision to air out my futon today also lead to a bit of research about futon care in general. I learned that my habit of leaving the futon laid out while I was gone (instead of folding it up), in combination with not putting a mat between it and the hardwood floor was definitely poor futon care, ie: an invitation to mold and bugs. So no more of that.

This morning, I also had some wonderful conversations with my best friend and Uncle Lenny, which was fun and helped ground my day. I also spent a fair amount of time on the phone with Samsung Customer Support: my netbook has an annoying manufacturer's defect that makes the screen go white at random if it is positioned weirdly. In order to get that fixed by Samsung, I'd have to ship it back to the States, then have it shipped back some 6-8 weeks later. I'm not planning on living that long without my netbook (though I do have a mac-book here, so it is feasible to do), so I'm instead looking for a place in Japan that might fix it. Or I'm just going to keep jiggling the screen until it acts right.

After my morning conversations and futon adventures, I set off for Nagoya. I had three stops planned, two of which I made. The first was to Immigration. That required me to take the Blue subway line from Toyota-shi to Nagoya Station, then transfer to the Aonami line to Nagoya Something Else. It was smooth sailing to Nagoya station, and a quick movement through the station to Aonami. At the Aonami ticket booth, something truly revolutionary happened to me: a man (clearly foreign) asked ME for directions and I was ABLE to help him! He was heading to Immigration like me, and he needed help with the ticket booth and which train to catch. He asked me in Japanese, and I answered in my usual crappy Japanese with my usual array of charades style gestures. As we were both taking the escalator up to the train, we got to play another game that has become quite popular for me in Japan: “You look foreign, I look foreign, do both of us speak English?

I asked where he was from, and he said Pakistan. I said America. Then he busted out in English: “How are you!”


I asked him how long he'd been in Japan. He said 13 years, but that he'd traveled on the Shinkansen from Shikuoka in order to go to Immigration, and hence wasn't familiar with the trains here. I said I'd been here for a week and a half, and that he'd made my day because I'd actually been able to help him with directions. He complimented me on my direction giving ability. And we chatted all the way to Immigration. Because we were there for different things, we ended up parting paths at Immigration, but we exchanged contact information so if we're ever in each other's neck of the woods we can hang out.

My next stop was to find the Altia Head Office so I could drop off my contract. I could easily (more easily) have mailed it, but I wanted to find the place in case I needed it in the future, and since I was in the city, it seemed like a good idea to try it then. By the time I got there (map was missing some key features) I was running short on time to get back to Toyota for my Izakaya party, so I talked for a short time, handed off the contract and hurried back to the train. Still it was a warm interchange and I am feeling excellent about my company.

Alas, I did not have enough time to buy a printer, but Friday, I'll find a place in Toyota. I still need to buy a bike too. There's never enough time.

On the train back to Toyota, I took out my knitting. Knitting is a good way to watch people and things without being too obvious about it, and also to keep the hands occupied while the mind wanders. My knitting was the perfect socializing choice too today as an old lady sat next to me and soon we were in a conversation about knitting. In the course of this conversation, she took over my knitting needles and showed me a new technique for how to do a more effective knit stitch. She had a lot of commentary on the process, little of which I understood, but after about three tries, I did get the physical method of her technique, and it does work better. She said something to the accord of “it will heal your stitches” just before she left the train, heading to parts unknown to me.

I made it back to Toyota in time to make my Izakaya party, and my gosh was it amazing. Huge amounts of food major good company, nomihoudai (all you can drink), etc. My eating habits started out truly appalling. I had no idea how to correctly cook my meat in the boiling water; I used the wrong side of my chopsticks to get food; I spilled beer on my neighbor and forgot to Kampai before taking my first sip of my drink. But all was corrected with smiles and laughter and after a little bit I was eating like a pro.

My 'welcome party' had been grafted onto an awards dinner for their golfing group, so awards were also being given out for everyone on the team: who had the best handicap, etc. At least half of them passed their gifts onto me, which left me with a huge stack of goods and a warm feeling in my heart. About an hour into the dinner, suddenly, everyone was putting on their coats and leaving. It seems this dinner was only scheduled for an hour, and when that hour was up, whether you were mid-bite or drink, that's it, you were done and we were out!

I figured at that point I'd just go home, but after I left the Izakaya, one of my other Jyouren waved me towards him. We were on our way to another club, where there would be drinking, women and Karaoke. This turned actually a hostess club: a club where young women are dressed to the nines and serve customers (almost 100% men) drinks with the intention of getting them to drink as much as possible. While there were many fun aspects (karaoke and camaraderie especially), it was also a really bizarre experience. Certain aspects of it definitely had my feminist hackles up, but when in Rome...

For example, one thing that it seems to be perfectly appropriate to say to women (at least in the Hostess club): your breasts are really big “oppai”. I also got questions about my cup size, and me and one of the other hostesses were compared to each other and agreed to be “oppai”. In the USA, I can't imagine a guy blatantly asking you about your cup size, but it was clear here that none of this was meant with ill intention. There was a distinct line that remained uncrossed, but the placement of it was a bit off from my cultural norms. It's also really weird to be considered large breasted. In the USA, I'm so not “oppai” which I did explain to the guys to their surprise.

The club time also lead to some really wonderful conversations. One of the hostesses “Ran-chan” explained to me that most girls worked at the club at night, and usually had an afternoon job as well. She was a nurse for the elderly. Her great grandmother had had Alzheimers, and that's what got her interested in nursing care. She also gave me information about where to find movie theaters, which was highly useful. Also, with another of the bar regulars (who I've been calling Yakuza-chan, long story), we got into a fairly involved conversation about people from the USA and how outgoing or not they are. Because there was dance music in the background of the hostess club and I had had a fair amount to drink, I was ready to start dancing. But that was definitely 'dame' as was explained to me. It would shock the natives.

We had a fair amount of conversation also about how while women were okay to come into these clubs, they rarely did. Which lead to a conversation about embarrassment, where I explained that I'm rarely embarrassed by anything, but that I was a bit rare for being quite so outgoing. Which was a surprise to him, because he felt that Americans didn't suffer from embarrassment (hazukashii) at all. I explained that it depended on the person. Of my friends, maybe 2 out of 10 are as hard to embarrass as me (or close), another 4 out of 10 can be easily lead to be lead to that if others are acting crazy, and the other 3-4 out of 10 are more reserved. This was very surprising to him, but interesting I think. Also, reading over this blog, it's kind of amazing to me how much communication in Japanese (and mostly Japanese) I've been able to manage over the course of a day. Practice definitely leads to improvement.

Again, after a predetermined period, our time was up and we were rushing to another bar. There we ran into the owner and employees of Kogami, my Izakaya, and had more food and drink. I also ran into two other Japanese men (a little younger than my regulars, but I think a friend of one of them), one of whom, Yamada-san, had spent a year and a half in Kentucky. Both spoke decent English, and we had a long conversation shifting between Japanese and English about life in Toyota, etc. I shared my finding my apartment story, which lead to much amusement. I also exchanged contact info with Yamada-san, so now I have another Japanese friend! (note: he just emailed me back and yes, we are now friends!)

Soon after, we were all leaving the bar and going out separate ways. It was goodbye until next time, waving and heading home slightly tipsy to completely drunk. Ito-san (who had been ridiculously helpful to me all night), walked me part of the way back to my apartment before heading back home himself. And so I continued home, with a bag full of (re)gifts and a light feeling in my heart. Another beautiful day in Toyota. Tomorrow I'm heading for Kyoto to see the Temples under Sakura in bloom. Every day here is another adventure. I go to bed tired but happy, and wake up ready for something new and exciting.

Tomorrow: Kyoto-yuki (yuki in general means snow, but at the end of a destination means bound for that place, as I learned today listening to the train. This helps me better understand the title of a song that I have on my iPod: Nagori-yuki, though I still need to look up Nagori)