Tuesday, December 30, 2014

良いお年を! Happy New Year!

I love Tokyo during the New Years season. Over a course of days the city slowly assumes an emptiness, with only 3 or 4 people in the space I am usually used to seeing 20. The trains, usually a scene of discreet shoving and lines of people wrapped in thick coats and thicker perfume, today dwindled down to just me. An entire train car to myself, as I make my way to work through the quiet shuttered streets.
At night I can hear the high clap of the wooden blocks, the same sound that announces the start of a kabuki play, as the local volunteers warn the shoutengai inhabitants to watch out for fire. A sound from a different era, which lulls me to sleep, giving a sense of safety and balance to the unusual quiet.

2014 was an odd year, punctuated with a series of highs and lows reminiscent of a jagged heartbeat. Ending on a high is certainly a great blessing, as are all the lessons I learned on the way. Here is hoping for a happy 2015, with more adventures, joys and tranquility.

(And, ladies and gentlemen, if you happen to pass a homeless individual today, be kind and buy them a ticket for a bowl of warm soba, to start the New Year right. I haven't seen the cheery lady I sometimes chat with in front of the station in a couple of weeks, and am worried about her...)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Revisiting the Past: Kitasenju

Recently, spurred by the desire to try a great Thai place which appeared on one of our current drama obsessions (Kodoku no Gurume), Matcha-kun and I ended up at Kitasenju.

To tell the truth, I had tried to ignore this (admittedly blameless) area for a good long while. When passing through the station on my way to my koto lessons, I whisked from one line to the next, and never left the station.

The reason is silly, but not entirely. Several years ago, I actually stayed in Kitasenju for about a week. I was in Japan to job hunt and visit my then-significant other. As Kitasenju is out of the way, and home to a lot of Tokyo's day laborer population, the lodging was really cheap. 

This was not a great time in my life. I was in grad school in London, so doing the long distance thing with my SO, and having absolutely no luck finding a job that would take me back to Japan. 

As the SO was also busy, I ended up spending a lot of time running around for interviews, then walking around alone. My last 2 days in the city were spent rambling about, missing this person who had been 'forbidden' (!!!) to spend the evenings with me... mostly because his parents were afraid he would get plastered right before his first day of work. 

Eventually he did show up on the eve of my departure, after his first day at work. Drunk after a welcome party for new recruits... not a good state. One of my major issues with him was his inability to stop drinking at a reasonable point, so you can imagine how upset this made me.

All in all, the whole mess left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. And I guess it made me irrationally dislike Kitasenju.
How different things are now. Exploring the long shoutengai shopping streets hand in hand with Matcha-kun, I could literally feel my heart lift. This place now has new memories affixed to it, the dark aura it had in my mind is gone.

Perception is a funny thing. The things, places and people we thought were so perfect or pursued so assiduously actually turn out not to be what actually makes us happy.
The total shitamachi-ness of Kitasenju now can actually speak to me. The long street with colorful hand-painted shutters, the cute little cafes and bars, the calls of merchants purveying everything from snacks to futon. During that visit I couldn't even see it.

But now I can. Forgive me Kitasenju, let's be friends.

Friday, December 5, 2014

3 Years On

Due to a friend's question about exactly when Matcha-kun and I started dating, I realized it has now been 3 years... give or take a bit.

That odd 'bit' is due to a couple reasons. The first being that I am terrible at remembering dates and anniversaries. Hence, my mental image and timeline of our dating is a biiiiit fuzzy.

The second is that, being two very different types, we have different concepts of when our relationship started.
Matcha-kun, in typical decisive Matcha-kun fashion, feels that we started our relationship on the first date. I, being more cautious and undecided, think that it was closer to the 7th or 8th. Not that it truly matters, but it does make for an amusing conversation.

My coworkers seem vaguely concerned about this. It is commonly thought that women are the ones that care about anniversaries, special holidays and other 'romantic' dates. But really, I don't mind. I much prefer daily kindness and care to a few expensive dates throughout the year.
And when does a relationship truly start anyway? First kiss? After an explicit agreement? After surviving the first fight? I think there are various stages in any long term relationship, and those transitions are equally worthy of being remembered...even if you can't pinpoint an exact date.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fall in Tokyo(ish): Rikugien, Kawagoe and Mukojima Hyakkaen

All I can say is, I hope ya'll like autumn leaves... because fall foliage is on the menu today! 

As my parents were in town (and due to the persnickety weather) I didn't have quite as much time as usual to run around the various parks and indulge in my love for koyo. However, what parks we did manage to visit were splendid.

I am particularly pleased with several of the shots taken in Rikugien. Matcha-kun, my parents and myself managed to get there during the golden hour, when the setting sun and fog made the whole place magical.
The two pictures below are from the little known Mukojima Hyakken. It is a very small garden, but the combination of the actual trees, lamp posts and Sky Tree is quite lovely.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dating in Japan: Moving In

The common reaction I got/get when telling local friends or coworkers that I moved in with Matcha-kun are a bit bemusing. Basically, they can be summed up as:

'OMG! He proposed! *squeeee* You are getting married, OMG when is the wedding?!? Show me your riiiing...wait, where is your ring?!'

Uh, whoa. I didn't realize we had slipped back in time to the 50's, when sharing a dwelling was equated with matrimony.

Besides the repeated necessity to explain that cohabitation and marriage can indeed be separate things, I think the Matcha- Godzilla household is proceeding quite well. For the most part things go along smoothly, with much silly dancing and weird noises by both parties. Occasionally we spat, about things like laundry drying and other such world shaking matters, but resolve things quickly with a minimum of nastiness.

For the most part we are both flexible about things, although I must say he is more amenable than I. It probably comes from having several siblings. While I am not always good with change, he takes it in stride. And while I am better at creative problem solving and spatial reasoning (very important when it comes to furniture and textiles), he is better at more concrete issues... and of course anything that requires reading complicated kanji.

Like many intercultural couples before us, we realize communication is key. Sometimes you literally have to spell out what you are thinking, because the 'default mode' just doesn't work. Obviously this is not just a cultural thing, but it becomes more pronounced. 

Household duties have been divided fairly, so the apartment is usually quite respectable looking. Since cooking daily is not something either of us is interested in doing, we make a few large batches on the weekends, supplemented by a couple meals by me during the week. And on weekends, he makes fancy vegan pancakes and other yummy things (yay!) And does all the dishes (more yay!), because I hate dishes and prefer doing laundry.

There will always be points of contention (like his insistence of leaving suits airing all over the place, or my annoyingly early alarm clock) but such is life. On the whole we have a good time watching odd dorama online (like Shinya Shokudo or Kodoku no Gurume... yes, food porn), running around the cit, eating far too much French bread and being silly.

Not earthshaking, and that is (in the words of Martha Stewart) a GOOD thing. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Here it Comes!

Strap on your seat belts and prepare for much enthusiastic blithering... for autumn has finally hit Tokyo (well, Tachikawa, but close enough). Behold, photographic proof!
The ginkgos of Showa Kinen Park have turned that glorious shade of goldenrod which delights the hearts of all koyo fanatics. As Tachikawa is about 3-5 degrees colder than Tokyo proper, we got a sneak peak of the autumnal glory which should hit the city in around 2 weeks.

In other, vaguely related news, for some reason the IKEA in Tachikawa is much less crowded than the one in Yokohama. And their delivery service is much faster! Good to know for peeps seeking cheap chairs and printed fabrics (!!!).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

可愛いのに (Even Though You are Cute...)

Recently I came across a phrase that gave me pause, and as it has been tumbling about in my brain for a bit without coming to a satisfactory conclusion, it shall end up here for public(ish) debate.

The perturbing phrase was: 
'Even though you are so cute, you still care about/are interested in the homeless'.

Now, just take a minute to let that sink in and roll around your brain for a minute.

Since when does cuteness have anything to do with humanity? 

I have heard people here make comments about (primarily women) who volunteer a lot and are not blessed with media-sanctioned good looks on the lines of : 'yeah, she looks like she would volunteer a lot'. Does this mean that only 'homely' women volunteer? Perhaps the implication is that they are not attractive enough to find a mate to snarf up their time? How incredibly narrow minded, should that be the case.

Are the cute exempt from responsibilities to their fellow (wo)man? Are they too busy traipsing along in high heels on the arm of some dude? Is it 'dangerous' for cute women to be close to the homeless? Is their time considered more valuable? 

Perhaps it is more a societal issue. Homelessness is often seen as being due to some flaw in that person, when in fact people often become homeless due to reasons beyond their control (escape from abusive situations, loss of home due to illness, mental illness, sudden firing after the age of 50 etc). So, are these people not worthy of support? Considering some of the reactions I have personally heard when going to help out at food pantry events, this is a persuasive argument.

Or maybe it is a comment on the lady in question instead. Are cute people supposed to be vapid and innocent to the messier sides of society? 

It is the のに (even though) part of the phrase that bothers me. Why couldn't it just be 'you are super cute and your concern for other people is praiseworthy'? Telling people they are awesome is certainly a nice thing to do, but it doesn't have to come with a side of comparisons.

Thoughts, suggestions or comments welcome.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nagano in a Nutshell

There is a very famous phrase, written by Kawabata: 'トネルを抜けると、そこは雪国であった' (On the other side of the tunnel, there lay snow country).

That was my image of Nagano in the winter, covered in thick coats of snow, which appear suddenly after the long tunnel after Omiya.

Man, was I in for a surprise when visiting last New Years! After much thought about what to wear and how to layer, the temperatures were pretty much the same as Yokohama....sans snow.
I really like Nagano.

First of all, many of their regional specialties are things I can actually eat (apples, peaches, soba and the fantastic oyaki). Oyaki, for the uninitiated, are chewy dumplings filled with all types of seasoned veggies. They are truly amazing, and on this trip I found a little store purveying an apple pie version!

Secondly, it is rather unpretentious. Like many mountainous, dangerously snowy and cold places, people tend to be a bit more practical. For instance, Nagano is the prefecture with the most uniform-less schools. Students can wear things that actually keep them warm (aka pants in winter for girls).

They are practical in many different ways *cough cough* (yes, that is an adult toy store).
Thirdly, Meiji era buildings galore!

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.

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? ;)
                                                                                                                                          *edited by Miss Godzilla     
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!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Phone Photos: Glimpse into everyday weirdness

Today we have a special guest appearance, and a selection of recent interesting events.

Sooo, Matcha-kun is patient beyond belief. I love to mess with his hair (that truly black, never-been-bleached colour that some Asians have) and am generally a pest. Yet somehow he doesn't mind (much). I twirl my hair bands into it, and he comes out looking far better than I do!
Another Matcha-kun trait is that it takes a great deal of effort to wake him. Which means that, if he decides to take a nap when I am hyper, there is a high risk of me staging impromptu photoshoots... with my wardrobe. The photos are used with permission, by the way.
I have written before about my love/hate relationship with vending machines. On the whole, I am now pretty much immune to drink machines... but unusual ones still catch my attention. Everyday I pass an icecream machine, selling this pumpkin and cookie flavored temptation. In the name of culinary science, I had to try it (because pumpkin!). The verdict: it tastes like a very rich cookies and cream icecream, not pumpkin-y at all. Sad.
On the topic of irresistible things, I saw this sign and am now obsessed. I want a giant coffee mug emblazoned with this phrase. Although I must say, I have cut back my coffee habit, which was getting waaay out of hand.
My parents (who are awesome, if a bit nuts) sent this fabulous t-shirt. Yes, it is indeed emblazoned with corgis. This makes the 4th corgi themed gift I have received so far, and am very pleased with this trend!

What else did they send, you ask? Well, that would be Jabba the Corg.
I hope everyone had a good week, the weekend is just around the corner!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Quit my High-Powered Job... AND THAT'S OK

So, some people seemed to be wondering what the hell was up with my previous post about job hunting in Japan. After all, it wasn't so long ago I announced to the world that I was taking on a fancy new position, right? Was that post just a random thing, or a late compendium of thoughts?


I have actually accepted another job, my second in less than 9 months. I quit my previous company and then spent 2 months soul searching, job hunting and confronting a lot of my prideful demons.

Let me make it crystal clear: I adore my previous company. This is not lip service, I had fantastic colleagues (whom I am still in close contact with), great pay, nice corporate culture, and a lot of support. The product is amazing, and the technology truly top notch. It was because of all of these factors that I stayed on as long as I could, even past the point that was probably mentally healthy.

The only issue was, I hated the job: sales. Towards the Japanese market.

As someone who likes to speak to people and give presentations, I thought sales would be a good fit. I had done something related before, and was excited to dive into the tech world and prove myself.

But pure sales turned out to be a very different experience. Cold calls, pushing clients, constant back and forth over technical issues, pressure and late hours. All this done in Japanese.

I did my best, taking company-sponsored keigo classes, researching competitors, gleaning info from my sempai, calling company after company, mailing list after list. Eventually, I was waking up every morning with a cannonball of dread in my stomache, breaking down in tears of fear and frustration, and waking up at 5:00am in a panic. I ignored it for as long as I could, because I liked the company so much.

I have a huge sense of responsibility, and so whenever I saw my numbers stagnating or not rising as rapidly as predicted (even for reasons outside of my control), I felt horribly guilty that I was letting down the team. My self-worth attached itself to those numbers, and left me in a constant state of anxiety. What made it worse is that my teammates were all so kind and helpful, giving advice on how to resolve technical issues or boost results. It would almost have been preferable if they had been mad at me, thus reflecting how mad I was at myself for not being able to reach the level I thought I should.

Sales people, those who actually love the thrill of the chase and are motivated by bonuses and KPIs, are amazing. Watching my sempai in action was a masterclass, as he took hold of the power balance and brought huge accounts in again and again.

But it isn't for me. And that, I eventually figured out, is ok. No matter how much you may want to, you can't be good at everything, or make yourself like something you truly do not.

Now I have found a position much closer to my interests (travel), that uses my language skills, and that is challenging without making me an anxious mess. It is still IT-related (a must), venture-like and allows me to tell stories, which I love.

I have figured out what I can and cannot live with, although my pride took a giant hit in the process. 

The more you know, right?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sundays in the Shitamachi: Arakawa Line

The charming little Arakawa line is one of Tokyo's hidden gems. An old-fashioned tram, it snakes (very slowly) from around Waseda all through the shitamachi, before ending up Minowabashi.

The trams themselves are a bit of a mishmash, with modern streetcars mixed in with adorable older models, all papered on the inside with advertisements that seem to have remained the same since late Showa. 

The tracks are tightly sandwiched between houses and shopping streets, the little free space often taken over by impromptu gardens of roses and hydrangeas. In short, a nostalgia buff's idea of heaven. 

After buying a cheap all-day pass (only 400 yen, yay!), we jumped on near Ikebukuro and headed towards Sugamo.
Sugamo also happens to be known as 'Grandma's Harajuku', with the average age appearing to be somewhere around 60-70. The long shopping street, which is quite close to Koshinzuka station, is well-stocked with tea, old-style breads and snacks, along with the famous shops purveying bright red underwear (said to promote health...by what means, I choose to not inquire).

Our first stop, inspired by Matcha-kun's desire for coffee, was at a little wood paneled coffee shop, across from a crazy umbrella store. The iced coffee came in tall, brass goblets. Perhaps not the most convenient vessel, but certainly an entertaining one, ideal for proposing silly, caffeine-fueled toasts.

After checking out Asukayama park, with its fanciful playground and fun concrete elephant, we headed back towards town (and dinner). The final stop of the day was at Zoshigaya cemetery. Thanks to the tradition of cremation (ie. no zombies), Japanese cemeteries hold no fear for me, and in fact are a special favorite for walks, checking out unusual tombs and the giant cats that often populate them.
While a whole bunch of famous historical figures are buried here, I cam looking for two in particular. Ogino Ginko (the first female doctor in Japan) and Natsume Soseki (the famous writer). Sadly, despite checking maps and roaming back and forth, we couldn't find John Manjiro (one of the first Japanese people to visit the United States) whom Matcha-kun wished to visit... perhaps his spirit wasn't interested in guests right then?