Sunday, October 12, 2014

Akihabara: Land of the Weird

Last week I fulfilled the oddest work assignment I have had to date: attending an Alice Project 地下アイドル('underground idol') live show, and writing a review about it. Suffice to say, this was not your average AKB48 show. On the 7th floor of a Pasela building in Akihabara, I stepped into an odd world populated by girls in hockey masks wielding colorful chainsaws, girls in Wizard of Oz costumes and others in fake armor singing over remixed versions of Irish folk tunes. And don't forget the fans...

As an ethnomusicologist I am familiar with the fan culture surrounding idols, but have never seen it up close. I do have to say that they are extremely respectful, taking turns approaching the stage to whoop and call out to their favorite idol... but it was truly odd. Seeing them all sit on the floor when the girls were talking (in typical, high-pitched kawaii fashion) was quite a sight.

After the live show, I was taken around a few of the major maid cafes run by one of our clients. Yet more high-pitched voices and pouting ('Master, Milady, are you leaving already?!'). I did my utmost not to give into my desire to scream about the effects of sexualizing infantilized women, but it was a close thing.

As I walked back to Iwamoticho station, slightly dazed, I came across the highlight of my night: a congregation of weird vending machines.
Just in case you suddenly need a jar of assorted bells, a toy train or yakitori in a can. Some of the items on sale had been taken from their original packaging and placed into plastic jars (like the chocolate soccer balls and candy above).
I don't know if this is someone's personal hobby, or something set up for a clientele that doesn't like to interact with others much (perhaps hikikumori?). But, if you find yourself in Akiba late at night and need an aroma candle, a can of oden or a pack of emergency rations, this odd little corner awaits your patronage.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dating in Japan: Reactions

Notice: While I am dealing with the whole moving process, I will be bringing back a few of my most popular posts for an airing. Once things have settled down a bit more, I will be back to regular posting.

One of the unexpected parts of dating Japanese guys is the reaction one gets from women. I am well-aware that the Asian Male/Non-Asian Female couple is still considered a bit of a minority in the relationship arena, so knew that people might be a bit surprised. However I did not expect to hear from my Japanese female friends:

'Why would you date them?! Japanese guys aren't nice!'

Really? In all the countries I have lived in and visited, I have never experienced such widespread disparagement about the local males (except perhaps Italy).

I find this very odd because, unless for some reason I am only aquainted the best of the bunch, I have found most of my male aquaintances here to be perfectly nice, likeable people. Infact, comparing with my home country, I would say there is a higher rate of respectful men here.

Perhaps this is because I don't play into the roles so many women think they need to take on to have a relationship. While for the first couple dates I may be a bit more demure (Rule #1: It is impolite to broadcast your personal craziness indiscriminately), that soon fades away, and the full force of my personality is apparent. Take it or leave it, honey.

As I see it, if you act like a burikko, you are going to attract people who are into being the powerful one in a relationship. If you give your power away so freely, you have a much higher chance of ending up with a nasty boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever.

I am opinionated, silly and outspoken. I demand respect, and will immediately take someone to task if they say something I do/say/believe is because I am female/gaijin(hate that word)/whatever. I pay my part of the bill, and do not expect to be treated differently. And, lo and behold, guys don't flee from me... quite the opposite. I stick to the idea that people are people, wherever you go.


Other positive and negative reactions I have experienced so far and their common perpetrators (sheesh, this is starting to sound like some kind of primer!) are:

- Being photographed without you or your partner's consent, usually by elderly Japanese men with overly large cameras
- Being asked about 'size', interestingly from both Asian and non-Asian men (sorry, I have not conducted a full demographic study on the matter, nor do I intend to)
- Joy on the part of cafe owners ( 'Ya'll look so stylish, please sit near the window'!)
- Giggling high schoolers of both genders (minds=blown)
- Reaaally annoying the Nationalist guys in the nasty black trucks, especially when you start giggling at their ridiculous proclamations (Note: this is also a solo sport)
- Being told 'your children will be sooo cute' by women of all ages (eeesh...any 'children' I have will be furry, four-footed, and infinitely more adorable than a human child)

As with all dating, at times amusing, at times exasperating. All I can say is that, personally, so far there have been a lot of fun, respectful times!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Of Planes and Trains (and food)

The writer Jan Morris once wrote that food eaten in movement, while travelling, is somehow more satisfying.

I agree wholeheartedly with this, except when it comes to plane food (*shudder*). If a flight is less than 7 hours I will usually not eat on board, unless they provide fruit or some vaguely healthy cracker/sembei. Unfortunately, for long haul flights, my metabolism does require food... if you can call vegetarian plane meals such...eeesh.

However, trains are entirely another matter. I have fond memories of munching through giant onigiri, local cherry tomatoes and mikan juice as I slowly wound my way around Northern Kyushu. I have stopped in Hiroshima for okonomiyaki, and sampled vegetarian oshizushi as I watched Tsuwano's carp-filled canals and tiny orange torii fade into the distance.

When travelling around Japan by train I find the journey equally important as the destination. Watching the fields and mountains give way to beach, or the flat expanse of Aichi slowly turn to Mt.Fuji and then Tokyo.  All from the comfy seat of an unhurried train.

But planes... planes are unnatural. Squashed  into tiny, knee-bruising seats, without being able to walk about or watch the scenery pass by. The cold, recycled air drying out nostrils and any bit of exposed skin.

Every once in a while it can be cool. On a return flight from Singapore I got to watch a thunderstorm from above, flying over the US I briefly saw the aurora and the view of Mt. Fuji from the air is stunning. But, personally, I find that planes are not well-suited to rambling contemplation, while trains are.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Vegetarian in Tokyo: Deva Deva (Kichijoji)

Even as a vegetarian, sometimes you just want to sink your teeth into something burger-like and protein-packed. In Japan veggie burgers and other TVP based faux-meat products are hard to find, so when the cravings get overwhelming I jump on the Inokashira line to Kichijoji, and head to Deva Deva.
 They cater both to vegans and vegetarians (a bonus, as I find myself becoming increasingly picky about animal products with age), and their fried 'chicken' burger is a work of art. Even Matcha-kun, who does still eat meat (although considerably less so, as my cunning plan to convert him seems to be working, whahaha!), is a big fan. Stick with the burgers, salads and desserts, as the pizzas are a bit more hit or miss.

Why Open Offices are Not Cool

Recently I read the book 'Quiet' by Susan Cain, which deals a lot with introversion, and how extroversion and 'group think' are considered to be better by society. There was an interesting section about the business world and office layouts, which really struck a chord. Research has shown that people (but introverts in particular) are less productive when working in 'open offices'.

This chapter made a lightbulb to off in my head, and I totally agree with her point. In Japan open offices, where everyone is in the same room at long rows of desks, are very common. Even non-Japanese companies, particularly those involved in tech and online services, have increasingly been using this kind of layout. A lot of people seem to think they look cool, but, to be quite honest they aren't at all that they are cracked up to be.

Why, you ask? Well, here goes:

1- All Calls, All the Time

Not surprisingly, since these offices are basically one big room stuffed with people, open offices are noisy. I can hear the calls of the sales team, the dude getting rebuked for an error, people shredding papers or dropping things, phones ringing and nearby conversations. And it is super distracting, especially for someone high strung. When I am 100% focused on creating marketing material, I almost jump out of my skin when someone  rings the interphone!

2- AXE Attacks

Not the sharp kind, the overpoweringly smelly kind. Several times a day someone (*cough* engineers *cough*) will douse themselves with body spray, perfume or scented lotion... and sometimes it can be truly eye watering. 

3- Introvert Hell

There are people in front of you, to your sides, behind you, all over the bloody place. 8 to 10 hours of this a day can be intensely tiring, because it takes so much more concentration to remain focused on your tasks and developing your ideas. My job has some creative aspects to it, so focus is a necessity. A nice little nook would be so appreciated.

4- Working Longer than Thou

I pride myself on the speed and quality of my work. I make sure to get all my tasks for the day done, prep for the following day, then leave. Basically, one can always find more work to do, and this is not a good thing! While my company is pretty good about the whole work/life balance thing, there are always those people who stay late every day. And when you leave sometimes they give self-satisfied little looks of 'you're leaving already?!', since everyone can see and hear you heading out. I ignore it, because I thoroughly enjoy having a life, but I can imagine it could be tough for others.

5- Germs Galore

Yup, without all those nice little rooms and doors to keep things a bit separate, colds get passed around very efficiently. I am by no means germ phobic, but three of my nearest colleagues have gotten the same cold... and I am just waiting for when it shall inflict itself upon my lungs. 

So, what do ya'll think? Any cubicle fans out there?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guest Post: The Trials and Tribulations of Dating in Japan

Today we have a guest post from a friend of mine, Seira, who has some entertaining (at least for us) dating stories to share! You can find her blog at translatorytokyo.wordpress.com.

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So far, my only real "dating" experience has been in Tokyo. I'm 28 and until a year ago I was in a mostly long-distance relationship with another American, but we broke up after six years together. He was my first boyfriend and I'd never done the whole dating thing before him. 

A couple months after the breakup, I was ready to get back out there, so I dusted off my Okcupid profile and started talking to guys and going on dates. Pretty soon, all things considered, I found someone who I liked and who asked me to be his girlfriend. Voila', my very first Japanese boyfriend. We only dated for three months though, and I broke up with him shortly after Valentine's Day. This was mostly because: he neglected me as soon as his job got busy, was obsessed with his own success, acted weirdly controlling sometimes (telling me I should shave my arm hair, not complain in Japanese in public, and only give him my half of the bill after the cashier couldn't see us anymore), and would defend Japanese people's biased treatment of me as perfectly logical.

Since then, I've gone on quite a few dates. But, it's getting to be ridiculous. I'd like to find a cute, fit, nice boyfriend I can go on regular dates with, but it's just not happening. In the meantime, here are a few examples of the gentlemen (?) I have met over the past six months or so.

Shortly after breaking up with my ex I installed Tinder on my phone. At first, it was great - so many hot guys! So much fun swiping! But after going on some Tinder dates, the truth was revealed (dun dun DUN!).

My first-ever Tinder date was with a Japanese med student, and it was an eye-opener. We met at the station on a weeknight and I was pleased because he was pretty cute in person. We had fun talking and flirting at an izakaya, when suddenly he leaned across the table and kissed me! Into it, I suggested we go walk around nearby Inokashira Park. Let's just say we weren't the only couple there... but the evening ended (relatively) chastely. We even met again the following weekend. 

I wasn't expecting much, but he messaged me soon after to say that it was rare for him to have that free time, and from now on he was going to be too busy with his tennis club to be able to see me again *eyeroll*. That last part ("sorry babe, too busy with tennis club to meet up again, ever") makes quite the story though. I've already amused some Japanese coworkers with it (leaving out the earlier bits, of course).

The next interesting character was an American working for a vinyl-toy maker. I guess this one's kind of ongoing, but who knows! During our two dates he talked a lot about  the toy industry world in Tokyo and abroad, which I found mildly entertaining. However, the kicker was at the end of the second date. I was expecting us to hug goodbye or something, but instead he stuck out his hand. For a handshake. I shook it and we went our separate ways.

I mean, a handshake?! I gave him up as a lost cause. But, a few months after that second date, we met up again for cute animal-decorated doughnuts. Still not sure what to make of him though.

After getting sick of the hook-up nature of Tinder, I went back to OKCupid. 

The next one was particularly weird, as on our first date he told me he had schizophrenia and a few other issues (Asperger's etc), so I probably dodged a bullet. At first he mispronounced schizophrenia, so I had no idea what he was trying to say, and then when I got it I was just shocked. I've always thought of it as a fairly serious disorder. All I could ask was if he was on meds, because usually you need them. He said he wasn't and was having trouble with his psychiatrist. This was at a cute restaurant in Shibuya, after he had picked me up in his car (well, family/parents' car - and his license was about to get revoked for speeding) near my workplace. I later found out that (unless he was lying to me) it had been 5 years since he'd had sex with someone. Yeah...
I even ended up referring him to my psychiatrist!

Finally, for the end of this brief introduction to my dating disasters, we come to the section I like to call: 'finance guys don't like me'. In pre-date chatting and messaging, we'd discovered that he'd studied abroad during high school in my home state and within 25 miles of where I grew up, so that seemed like a cool connection. He'd gone to Yale for college and had basically perfect English. We met on a Saturday afternoon in Kagurazaka, and I think it became clear to both of us pretty early that there was no spark, physically or mentally. He just came off totally humorless and I'm sure I seemed illogical and incomprehensible to him (as demonstrated by his remark "wait, you sleep in until 2 or 3 O'CLOCK on weekends?!"). So, nope. Nope, nope, nope.

So, there we have it. Anyone have any advice? What am I doing wrong? Anyone you want to introduce me to? Any cute, single boys out there? ;)
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Thanks Seira! If anyone has ideas for her, leave them in the comments!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Apartment hunting in Tokyo: The Search Commences

Now that Matcha-kun and I have decided to live together, the hunt is on for a Tokyo apartment large enough to accommodate two slightly oversized people. And I am thrilled, there are few things I like more than looking at oodles of real estate.

However, this does not mean that this is a simple endeavor. While Matcha-kun's requirement list is quite short (as large as possible, nearish a useful train line), mine is a little more elaborate: as new as possible, 2nd floor or higher up, no tatami, lots of storage, quiet, if possible near some greenery. Finding a 2LDK within budget is going to be challenging.

The first hunting trips have been an eye opening experience. I have found that, in general, architects seem to think storage is optional, and that double glazed windows are a rarity, even when the apartment is near a major thoroughfare. 

Also, dealing with real estate agents is an exercise in patience. Although I get that this is partly due to the fact that Matcha-kun will probably be the one with his name on the lease (as being a Japanese national makes it easier), agents only ask him questions. I will be paying half the rent (a fact we explained) and yet they don't ask what my job is, where I work or anything. Since we have let them know that I will be the one deciding on the apartment, as my requirements are more numerous and am more familiar with real estate, this seems like bad business practice. 

When I showed up alone to look at a rather expensive place, Mr. Agent was all nervously aflutter about the fact my 'goshujin' (husband... yeah, ugh) wasn't with me. It is all so very heteronormative and annoying, but such is life.

It seems like each place we/I have visited has a major minus flaw or two. The gorgeous designer apartment was far too small for two people. The two incredibly large flats were either in a building that looks like a set from The Ring or right in front of a major noisy street. The house(!) had the most ridiculous layout and no space for a fridge... along with the most hideous floral wallpaper I have had the doubtful pleasure to set eyes on.

Next week is another round, wish me luck!