I feel I should say something about today’s picture. Normally I’ll optimize and tweak the digital photos I post here to compensate for the sometimes flat contrast produced by my point-and-shoot digital camera. Even then it’s just some color correction and contrast adjustment, but today’s photo hasn’t had a pixel touched. I simply stepped outside at 6pm the other day and the world was orange, just as it looks in this photograph. The sky seemed really opaque almost like it was just a painted wall a few hundred feet away. There was only orange, black and shades in between. It was one of most creepy and pretty things I’ve ever seen.
Since we’re on the subject of photos, I invite you to gaze upon the best photo I will ever post (well maybe it ties with this one).
This so perfectly captures everyday life on a lazy Fukuma evening that I can’t even hope to enhance it with words. I’m not sure what’s better, the retarded look on my face as I get schooled, or the car-salesman look on Fletcher’s face as he rockets another ace past me. Simply amazing.
Man, look at this. The DeLorean news just keeps rolling in around here. I’m not even going out of my way to look for this stuff, it’s just falling out of the sky.
Recently Heard in Fukuma
Fletcher: Is it rude if I walk around in the office barefoot?
Scott: I think you just made it into this weeks’ ‘Recently Heard in Fukuma.’
Fletcher: …no, but I’m serious.
As promised, I have finally got around to listing some of the things that I actually like about Japan, lest you all thought that I live from day to day in a constant rage at all the stupid shit I have to put up with around here. For those that missed it, I posted some of my favorite Rants about Japan a few weeks ago. This is the Raves counterpart that balances it all out.
Nay, lighten your hearts fellow web-travellers, for there is much to love about this fair nation called Nihon (the native pronunciation of Japan). And I will proclaim these same things hence.
Jidohanbaiki (Vending Machines)
Okay, hands-down THE coolest thing about Japan is the absurd number and variety of vending machines. Call me shallow, but I’m stickin’ to my guns on this one. If you close your eyes and throw a rock, chances are it’ll hit… a Japanese person. BUT, if all the Japanese people went inside or were really quick to get out of the way of your rock, it would probably go on to hit a vending machine.
And what’s great is, not only are they everywhere, like even outside (in fact, mostly outside) but the sheer variety is staggering!! There’s not just drink vending machines (which also includes beer and whisky machines, I might add), they also sell batteries, huge bags o’ rice, hot soup, porn (magazines and videos) and there’s even the incredibly rare, fabled used-schoolgirl-panty vending machine (no I haven’t actually seen this one for myself yet). Try and get THAT out of a machine back home!
Enkais(Dinner Parties) and Work Relations
I’m not sure how it is in other western nations, but in the U.S. anyway, it seems that there is a clear delineation between work and private lives. There’s the people you know at work, and then you go home to your other friends and aquaintances. The two groups stay in their own separate worlds and happily ignore that each other exist.
In Japan however, it’s more or less expected that you hang out with your coworkers after hours in the hopes that you will get to know each other a little better and thus become more effective at your jobs.
There’s all kinds of workplace activities that are motivated by nothing more than to get together and strengthen the bonds between everyone. If I imagine something like that back home, it would just be so full of pretense and everything would constantly be getting related to ‘how this experience will be used at work’ that I have to start laughing. But here, it just seems to be for the sake of the experience itself which I find brilliant and my own experiences (which you can read about here and here) have been extremely positive.
Of course, one of the problems you might see with this idea is that Japanese people are polite…..very, very super ultra-mega-polite and this often means that they have trouble lightening up and getting things on a personal level that isn’t wrapped in 10 layers of etiquette.
Enter Nomunication. No, I’m not making up my own words again, the Japanese are. ‘Nomu’ is the verb for drink snipped and pasted onto the front of ‘communication’. The idea being, if you haven’t got it yet, that once everybody’s had a beer…. or ten, that things get a lot easier to talk about and it’s in this way that interpersonal relationships are able to be formed despite the constant fear of offending someone. You can say things that you wouldn’t normally say to a stranger and it’s perfectly all right because everyone knows you’re trashed. Try using that logic back home and see where it gets you. 😛
Even though there’s the danger of feeling like hell the next morning at work (something that’s made easier by the fact that you know that everyone else feels just as bad as you since they were at the same party), I tend to like this idea of nomunication especially in the context of Japanese culture.
As sad as it sounds, that you need alcohol to properly communicate, in practice it really does work quite well, and I think they may be on to something. It was about two weeks after I arrived at my school before we had our first enkai. Before that, I would just smile and nod at people and they would smile and nod back. After the enkai, I knew everybody and they knew me. Of course some of us still had nothing to say to each other, but the tension was completely gone. All from one evening of eating and drinking together. Amazing.
You just have to be careful that you don’t overdo it with the alcohol and ‘nomunicate’ all over your boss’ silk tie.
Hokka Hokka Tei
Ahhh, Bachellor-chow™ at it’s finest. Hokka Hokka Tei (or Hokka-ben as it’s usually referred to in conversation) is a chain of bento-stores and one of the things that makes life in Japan a joy. I guess you could consider it Japan’s version of fast food. There’s nowhere in the store itself to sit and eat, you just walk in, place your order and in 5-10 minutes (so not quite fast food. Perhaps swift) you’ve got a freshly made bento, or donburi or sukiyaki or whatever. And as far as ‘fast food’ is concerned this stuff is actually not that bad for you. Granted it’s not that great for you either, but holy shit is it tasty!! I could live on Chicken-nanban-don until my dying day, I’m telling you what!!
I know it’s not a very deep topic to Rave on, but like I usually say, it’s the little things that make Japan cool.
In contrast to a little thing like Hokka, this is a big thing that makes Japan cool. As most people who know me know, I adore the urban landscape. There’s just something about taking in the footprint of civilization that I find utterly spiritual. I just cannot get enough of endless scores of buildings, connected by concrete and power lines with antennae shooting out the tops and sides, light reflecting off glass….oh man, I’m getting worked up here, better get on to my point.
Most large Japanese cities had the holy hell bombed out of them in the war, so there was a lot of rebuilding to be done after it was over. Needless to say, the economy of postwar Japan wasn’t too great, so everyone was scrambling to get things rolling again, thus little thought was put into urban planning and more into just getting businesses up and running again. Thus, most of these cities are now complete chaos devoid of any zoning, grid systems or planning of any kind (there are some notable exceptions, such as Sapporo which have a well-known grid system layout). This makes it hell when you’re trying to track down a specific address and heaven when you just want to go exploring. (I, of course do the latter far more often than the former, so I’m happy.)
By the same token, you just gotta love the Japanese countryside. Whereas the cities have the whole ‘beauty in chaos’ thing going on, the countrysides have the whole ‘harmony with nature’ thing going on. I don’t have a whole lot to say other than just riding your bike through silent rice fields on a bright sunny day is just about hella relaxin’, foo’.
Living in a Country With “History”
You’ve got to admit that in the large scheme of things, the U.S. is a child (please, no comments about it being a fat, stupid arrogant child that needs a swift kick in the groin). I’m mean, we’ve got a pretty impressive history for what we got, but we’re pretty much just getting started. I think that’s why it’s so interesting to live somewhere where things have been carrying on for close to 1700 years now, especially when you take into account how small Japan is. It ensures that no matter where you are, there is some significant history that happened near you.
One of the things I love, especially about living in a rural area, is that you never know when a little Shinto shrine is going to jump out at you (I hear FOX is filming ‘When Little Shinto Shrines Attack’ in my area. Be on the lookout for it). It’s really neat when you find them hidden away somewhere and it’s obvious that everyone has forgotten that it exists. I can’t really describe the atmosphere, but it’s kinda like you stepped into somewhere where the world has the pause button on. Hmmmm, that didn’t really make sense. Well, I told you I can’t really describe it, what do you want from me? Get offa me!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!
The Little Things
Finally, I’m going to switch gears and put the sarcasm button on hold for a minute (somebody insinuated to me recently that the way I talk about it sometimes, it’s hard to believe I actually like Japan). As I’ve hinted at a few times through these raves and indeed through the past year of this site, what I love about Japan keeps coming back to the little things.
Last night I was riding the train home from some errands in town at around 9pm. The train was dead silent with Salarymen, Office Ladies (OL’s) and High School students heading home who were all sleeping or wanted to be sleeping. Except for this one salaryman who was maybe 50, standing near the door studying English out of a little worn paperback book. I was pretty tired myself and really didn’t feel like talking to anyone, much less some stranger on a train. But as I looked at this guy, probably in some job he hates (I mean, do you stay at work until 9 because you want to?), putting all his wasted time on the train to use by studying a language he most likely never gets the chance to use.
Almost without realizing it, I found myself switching off my headphones and turning around.
“You’re studying English? Erai (great/admirable).”
“Oh, but I cannot speak well.”
“But you’re speaking fine just now,” I said with a smile so he wouldn’t feel as nervous as he looked.
We continued to talk until we arrived back at Fukuma. I found out that he was planning on visiting the U.S. and the U.K. next year and he was studying English so he and his wife could get around. When we finally parted ways he said, “Thank you for speaking me. I am very happy for today,” and we both went our separate ways.
When I started writing these Raves the other day, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to wrap all this up neatly, but as I was walking home after this random encounter, with an everyday Joe on a late train home, I realized that this is what I’ve been trying to get at.
Without quite being able to explain why, I can tell you that it’s things like this, that are what make living in Japan worth the effort.