Friday, May 30, 2008

The Kaisha bonding trip

That's right, I'm off to the countryside with my fellow comrades and co-workers for a company sponsored bonding sesh. Every year my company (let's call it the Kaisha for effect) sponsors an overnight trip for all the employees who have started within the past year. Apparently because the company is so big people find communication with others at work difficult and these trips are supposed to solve that. First of all, I can tell you the communication problems/lack of social skills isn't related to the size of the Kaisha. Nor am I convinced that getting naked and hopping in some natural spring water together is going to fix that.You heard me, we are off to an onsen resort for communal naked bathing and a big piss-up dinner followed by an after party and an after-after party. Don't get me wrong I love onsen but the thought of getting buck ass naked with the women I see everyday at the Kaisha is making me a bit nervous. This coming from the girl who modeled nude for art classes in the greater Tokyo area while an exchange student at university. I just don't feel like bonding that far with the women I see traipsing around the office everyday or the woman who I often do work for. I even went for a normal bikini wax last week instead of my normal brazilian so as not to freak people out (women here aren't exactly known for V area trimming). I'll give a more in depth pubic maintenance report on Monday however.

Several foreign women I've talked to have mentioned being stared at among other behavior directed towards them at onsen in Japan. I guess it depends on the woman and the area she is in (rural, urban etc.) but I've never felt too out of place (I mean, besides feeling like an Amazon). This is different though, because the Kaisha is very gossipy, especially among the secretaries. I can just imagine them discussing my white ass or my cooch over lunch on Monday. Ugh.

If the nakedness wasn't problem enough, I also have to worry about what to wear. Normally for a weekend trip you would think casual. But the Kaisha is basically a place for (arranged marriage) cleverly disguised as a Japanese company. Many of the secretaries are looking to snag one of the Professionals and look like they're dressed for a date most days of the week. I love fashion but not enough to want to wear heels and a skirt to a weekend frolic in the country. I know, I could just go in jeans and sneakers but don't tell me you wouldn't feel homely in that outfit among a sea of swishy skirts and heels. My co-worker and only-other-foreign-girl-in-the-office happily pointed out that the itinerary called for "comfortable shoes" but as I retorted, telling these women not to wear heels is like telling Japanese people not to eat rice. So there you have it. If nothing it will be a Cultural Experience.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's a miracle, hallelujah!!

Ever heard of Miracle Fruit? I first heard about them last year through the beau. I was hanging out at his work and his boss's husband brought in a small package of these red pods. He was having a party so he had ordered a bunch, but the beau cut one up for his boss and I to share. We chewed them for a few minutes and then spit them out. The beau then proceeded to give us each half of a lemon to eat. I like the sourness of a lemon but eating half is enough to pucker any one's mouth cat-ass style.

After chewing the miracle fruit the lemon tasted like a super sweet orange with sugar added! Apparently this African fruit contains a protein that tricks your sour taste buds into thinking you're actually tasting something sweet. This fruit used to be all the rage for awhile in Japan, with people bringing them to parties to freak the guests out. They were also popular as a diet food because sure, I'd rather eat a sugar sweet lemon than a huge slab of chocolate any day!! But actually, I think they were used more as an ingredient to cause bland low calorie foods to taste sweet. But still. Some amateur googling tells me there used to be a dessert place in Ikebukuro's Sunshine City that sold miracle-fruit laced cakes but it must have gone under as it's no longer in the directory.

Anyway the reason I brought this up is because the NY Times just did an article about it and seems like those crazy NYers are chewing miracle fruit like it's goin out of style. They are of course, upping the ante and eating all kinds of crazy shit like Tabasco sauce. I can see how it would be freaky deaky to think Tabasco sauce tastes like "hot doughnut glaze" and a trip to Krispy Kreme but how would your stomach/breath be the next day?!

That's right folks, Miracle Fruit! With just one of these puppies healthy desserts taste sweet!!
I think it may be time for a tasting party, but this time with something like umeboshi pickled plums. I remember when I did a homestay in high school here, all these junior high girls made me eat umeboshi because they got such a thrill from my reaction to their unrivaled sour taste. I'd love to turn the tables and have them try it after chewing miracle fruit!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sound Princess

音姫 I have developed sound paranoia after going to the bathroom for almost a year at a Japanese company. The bathrooms on my floor have about 10 stalls and they're all outfitted with the typical Japanese wonder toilet that people always marvel about. These toilets are the stuff of dreams really. With a handy menu panel running down the right side, you can adjust the seat warmer, partake in a bidet or a "just the butt" spray (temperatures can of course be adjusted), or press the mysterious "sound princess" button.

The first time I saw the characters above I thought I had gotten the kanji for princess wrong. Did it really say oto hime, or sound princess?! How cute. To check that I have in fact, been reading the sign correctly, I looked it up in Jim Breen's online J-E dictionary:

音姫 【おとひめ】 (n) melody or flushing sound played by a Japanese toilet to mask excretion sounds

That's right, mask excretion sounds. It masks all sounds actually. Farts, pee, "feminie hygiene product" wrapper crackling, you are good to go.

I have a friend back home actually who cannot have anyone listen to her pee and I have run water from the taps in public bathrooms for her to facilitate this. So it's not just Japanland and I don't think every woman in Japan feels acutely embarassed about other women hearing her pee. So are we simply being polite to our neighbours? Are we pretending that nothing is really going on behind the closed stall door?! The kanji characters have nothing to do with what they define. I must ask around and see if the men's menu panels are also outfitted with "sound princesses". Or maybe 音王子, sound prince?

Either way I have definitely developed a neurosis about people hearing me pee or excrete. Even when I'm alone in the bathroom at work I get panicky at the clicking of heels and can't push that button faster. The worst is when your business takes longer than the appointed sound princess time! So you have to push the button again which alerts anyone else present to the fact that you are really busy in there. Thus defeating the point of masking the activity at all. So now when I'm in ghetto bathrooms sans Princess, I can't stand the sound of my pee which sounds like the niagra falls and so pedestrian compared to the light and uplifting sound of the Princesses at work.
*** Will try to get a pic of the Princess joy button later, of course masking the sound my camera makes with the Princess.

The Gap

格差社会One of the things I hear coming up again and again in the news here and as a "buzz" topic my teachers at school would make us talk about, is the society gap. The kakusa. I think it was PM Koizumi who used to talk about it a lot, how society in Japan is becoming stratified and more divided by socio-economic status. This was always compared with the States and basically how there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor.

I had never given this much thought until last weekend. Now that I've had a few days to distance myself from it, I'm not as upset but I am still really surprised at how much I was bothered by the whole situation.

The beau and I went to a do for my work which we both knew in advance might be a little tough. The people attending would mostly be foreigners, most of whom don't speak that much Japanese. The beau speaks even less English (which we are trying to work on together) so he was reticent from the get-go. Because he works in the mizu shobai our schedules are totally out of synch. Couple this with the fact that in Japanese company social situations you don't bring your spouse, we had never been to a work function of mine before. The social situations we find ourselves in together either involve people related to his work, his friends, or my friends (of which there are very few here and because they are my friends they humour my rough interpreting and cope amongst themselves with broken English and Japanese). I have introduced the beau to some Japanese people I work with, but obviously there was no language-barrier.

Back to the work do. After preliminary introductions we find ourselves drinking together off to the side. Everyone else is coupled or grouped in small numbers so nothing amiss there. The beau mentions that he may leave early so I can socialize better which upsets me because I wanted him to meet the people I work with, the people I gossip to him about, and it was our only night of the week together. He is a very social guy around my friends even though they speak through me but I think the work element really changed things for him. I don't know of many social situations like this (house party type thing) in Japan where people bring other non-related people and you have to schmooze and talk to strangers. Usually group things are organized by one's affiliation with one another: work, school, hobby group or whatever. I personally don't like mingling social situations like this either-once I make a connection with someone I can talk for days but the whole walking up to people I don't know and trying to make small talk makes me nervous and I just want to run away.

While we are debating the various merits of him going home, one of my lovely co-workers came and talked to us and from there, a couple others did too and before you know it, we were several hours into the party and seemingly enjoying it. The beau was smiling and laughing but I know that he was probably only half-enjoying it because of the amount of care he would be expected to take when meeting people (read: my Japanese "superiors") for the first time. For example, the level of Japanese that he would use with people he has just met compared with my level of English with someone I have just met is much more formal, and so although he smiles and laughs, really he is just trying to get through the conversation. This smiling but not really enjoying it thing ties into the whole honme and tatemae duo which I won't even start to talk about here as this post is already way too long. Luckily he doesn't pull that duo stuff with me but I can't expect him not to do it, even if only a little, outside our relationship.

When meeting my superiors the story of how we met was told many times, and you can't tell the story without him mentioning that he works in the mizu shobai. Now the people I work with all have professional degrees and even though the beau works in one of the most exclusive parts of the mizu shobai he is immediately judged by his job. Until living in Tokyo I never fell prey to or really experienced much prejudice related to what school you went to or what work you do which I'm sure is partly because of the countries/areas I grew up. I read the NY Times article about young professional women "dating down" and until the beau I hadn't ever seriously dated someone who hasn't been to university. I love the beau and if he wasn't smart (degree or no degree) I wouldn't have fallen for him. Although I'm sure some people are thinking "how is she going to get serious with this person" it doesn't bother me a bit because at the end of the day, we take care of each other. I don't have to apologize for having a "good job" (if only they knew the truth) or spending a year at an ivy school in Tokyo with the beau, he constantly brags about me to other people and isn't insecure when it comes to our backgrounds.

But the party. I actually overheard him telling another Japanese man that he really feels "the gap" at work because of the social status of some of his customers and the people he meets. It was weird hearing him just put it out there like that, because he is very close to some of his customers and while I know in their eyes they are not on equal levels, the polite nuances of their relationships often make it seem as if they are. Him and the man then went on to discuss how the educational background of everyone at the party was very high which totally frustrated me that they were buying into the way people here react when you say you went to this school or work at that company. I know if the beau feels this gap and inferiority in status to some people there is nothing I can do. He knows I respect and love him but that day I felt it wasn't enough. I was mad at Japan for making him feel like he has to declare that he is only a "insert job title". After we went home I tried to say something but it just sounded trite. I guess you can't reverse something so engrained.

I realize this is something we will just have to deal with and as long as "we" are OK the rest doesn't matter. But I am SO frustrated that the way people view the school you went to and the job you do as the factors to decide whether you are worthy or not. And that this attitude has made the beau feel that way too. Yes part of it was the English and the new social situation but I think most of it was the social status thing. I'm not explaining it well but I felt so deflated Monday morning. I really wanted him to enjoy it and I feel crappily responsible for putting him in a social situation where he feels unusually uncomfortable. I say unusually because he's not one of those follow the rules, meek, yes sir no sir suits but usually an out-going and open person. To see him acutely feel the Gap broke my heart.

Is this something that people can feel strongly elsewhere or is it particularly strong in Japan? The few Japanese female friends I have always meet the beau and complement me on how he is so sweet and so kakkoii, so cool. But in all honesty they would probably not settle down with someone who doesn't have a regular suit job. I don't think they could even fathom what it might be like to be with a partner who will probably make less than them, or in a marriage where they can't automatically be housewives. I remember one of my friends asking if the beau paid all of our rent. I was fucking shocked. I felt like saying, why the hell would he pay all of our rent? I work too!! Are most of these women just looking for someone to pay the rent?! To be continued if I can get my head on right...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Feel Stylish, Feel 100% Light!

It always amuses me when hot-shot stars from Hollywood come to Japan in the form of advertisements they wouldn't normally do back home. Are people like Scarlett Johannson and Angelina Jolie that hard up for money that they have to appear in ads for ice coffee and lip gloss here in Japan? According to Wikipedia, aka my internet bible, back in The West, appearing in these ads "can be perceived as selling out by their fanbase or the critical public at large". So what, Japanese people don't consider them sell outs? Or is there no concept of selling out here?

Either way I was a bit surprised when I found myself face to face with SJP while indulging in an ice cold diet coke. That's right, here she is!
Telling me to "Feel stylish. Feel 100% light". Ahh if only it were possible.

With the popularity of Sex & the City here I guess the ad execs figure we will look at her, and at the "No calorie Coca-cola" (not Diet Coke here) and somehow equate drinking it and suddenly turning all thin and fab like SJ Parker. Sigh.

Actually there's an ad on TV for diet coke now ending with "the light taste of people whose style shines" or something along those lines. I'm not sure how to interpret the ad exactly, but they do seem to be using a toned down female version of the village people. It seems to imply that whether you are a Suit, a construction worker or a couple other characters I can't quite work out (librarian?! doctor?!), as long as you exude style and confidence (and drink diet coke!) you are stylish and sexy. If only that actually applied here in Japanland.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Konnichiwa bitches...

as Dave Chapelle would say. Greetings from Tokyo, Japan where I live and work (NOT as an English teacher) (not that there's anything wrong with that) as a non-Japanese 20-something.

If anyone actually ends up reading this, I am obviously not a geisha so please don't give me any flack about using the name in my blog title. I have long had an interest in both the geisha culture and in their predecessors from the licensed pleasure quarters. I've read every book on the subject that I can get my hot little hands on and it is with a bit of sass that I call myself the green-eyed geisha. Yes, that's exactly it- poking a little fun at how "mainstream" geisha have become thanks to Arthur Golden and more recently, the film Sayuri. Both of which, while entertaining, can hardly to be used as references to anything but some Western wet dream of the Orient. It seems like every article out there about Japan starts off with some fluffy description about the seasons, followed by a reference to Japan as the land of the samurai and the geisha...right because both are so common these days. I guess it's a step up though from people referring to Japanese women as 'geisha girls' or 'gals' which is even worse!

So it is that I call myself the green-eyed geisha. My eyes are greenish, yes. And I also have a bit of a jealous green streak which has certainly caused me some problems in my relationship. Hell, if people who don't know any better are going to liken any Japanese woman (or any Asian woman for that matter) to a geisha, I'm about as close to one as any of them! So excuse the campiness, and please call me geisha.

Time to go カランコロン (karan koron which is the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound geta make) down the hall to wait for the Dominos pizza I ordered. Just a few of the flavours I managed to resist:

マヨシュリンプ Mayo shrimp
メートママ Meat mama (no joke)
マヨナゲ Mayo nugget (chicken nuggets, corn, mayo, and BBQ sauce ON A PIZZA!?)
まよツナ&コーン Mayo tuna and corn
テリチケ Teriyaki chicken
マヨじゃが Mayo jaga (mayo, potato, bacon, peppers, onion and of course, CORN!)

It was certainly a toss up, as tasty as the mayo nugget pizza sounded, but I'm more of a cheese and pepperoni kinda girl.