Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Do the Pachinko!

パチンコ Does Pachinko get your heart pumping? The rushing sound of the little steel balls, the flashy lights, obnoxious arcade game music, the heavy smoke?
My first encounter with pachinko was during a high school trip to Kyoto. We didn't have a lot of free time but on one of the evenings the cool group to which I belonged, decided to go out and buy alcohol. I remember snickering about the name of the store (Liquor Mountain) and then being amazed they had just sold a sixteen year-old a bottle of rum (or was it vodka?). A couple of us went even further and bought cigarettes from a vending machine (OMG!!), and I even found the flattened box a couple years ago while I was cleaning out some stuff at my parents' house, which I had kept as a memento-Hope Lights. Shorter and smaller than regular cigarettes, Hope Lights come in a small white box with a picture of a bow and arrow. How cute. How hopeful. Hope I don't get cancer.

On our way back to the hotel it started to rain just as we had conveniently happened upon a pachinko parlor. We all went inside and posed in front of the blinking machines for photos and then ran around picking up lost balls off the floor. I still have a couple of those too.

Fast forward a bit to when I found out that the beau plays pachinko. You what?! I asked, trying to conceal my disdain. This was several months in and I had neglected to ask him if he played pachinko on our first date, something I had always reserved in my mind for low-lifes. When I used to commute to school in Takadanobaba I would walk by the lines of mostly men and young blond Japanese guys waiting around for the parlors to open. And then I found out that the man I love is a Pachinko Player. Time to readjust my thinking? Strangely enough once I found out that he plays, all of these other previously unidentified players started coming out of the woodwork. His father, some young university students we know, part-time workers at bars and restaurants that we frequent. Every one's doing it! Some for the money but most for stress relief. I personally find entering an environment filled with a non-stop metallic waterfall sound and the smell of stale smoke to be stress inducing but what do I know? I didn't grow up here.

I would have to stage an intervention if the beau was actually losing money and ended up in debt to loan sharks like one of his close friends (charming I know) but when he comes home and offers to take me shopping with his winnings or out for some nice expensive meat, my stress is reduced. I even forced myself to tag along a couple times, you know, play the supportive-of-your-hobbies girlfriend role. And to be honest, despite my worst intentions, I did enjoy myself on those few Sunday afternoons, sitting side by side amongst the deafening roar and sucking in all the smoke I could ask for.

On those afternoons I also had a chance to observe the other patrons of the pachinko establishment and they weren't all deadbeat salarymen and peroxided youth. There were other couples, pairs of women and even some women on their own. And of course the requisite bunch of old women, possibly trying to make up for time lost years ago when they were sitting at home while their now-immobile husbands were off at the P Parlors (just to clarify, I mean pachinko parlors, not pink parlors or penis parlors). Granted I don't think I can speak to the deadbeat factor of the previously sighted couples and women, but at least the demographic spread was broader than I had imagined. Of course everyone stared at my white ass because really, what is a white girl doing in a P Parlor? To get into the carnival atmosphere once I even wore my Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction wig and pranced down the narrow aisles between the seats flashing smiles here and there. That day I won us around 70,000 yen and there was constant traffic behind my chair as people vied for looks at Whitie Winning it Big. I felt like reminding them skill and luck at pachinko has nothing to do with nationality.

Pachinko is everywhere. In the countryside it is some of the only entertainment around. There are people who are "professional" players, not holding down a job and relying on their pachinko winnings to get by. In recent years even the pachinko establishment has tried to clean up its image, producing one yen parlors (where the amount of money used is much less), smoke-free parlors and couples' parlors where there are rows of two machines paired with a love seat. The thing about pachinko is, I still don't like it, but I can certainly understand its place among salarymen working their lives away for very small salaries and those who don't fit the salary mold, working outside the salary-realm or holding down several low-paying jobs at once.

If you ever do catch the p-bug, I would highly recommend the game based on a period drama about a band of old skool assassins called Hisatsu Shigotonin. It's the only game I play and if you appreciate a combination of old Japanese movies and tacky Vegas lights, it may be the game for you.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Etchi na sketchy

How can you not love the cleverness of the Japanese language? One of the ways to say "have sex" is to say "do H". Except it's Japanese so they say pronounce "H" as "etchi". Asking you if you'd ever heard of "hentai" is probably like asking if you'd heard of say, Oprah. Except hentai Overseas tends to be used to describe porn, anime, manga and other sexy stuff that is Japanese. In Japan it is an adjective that is most frequently used to mean sexually perverted. Can you see where I'm going with this? The Japanese then took the "H" from hentai and now use it all on its own as either the verb for fucking or as an adjective to describe something pervy, sexual, porny (?!), etc.

Sorry for the lesson, I thought I should preface the actual blog with an explanation for the post's title. Right, glad we cleared that up.

Last night I embraced my fear of being in a new social situation while creating art in front of other and checked out Tokyo's Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. I'd seen ads for it in Metropolis and other places around town and wrote it off as some strange-sounding cult. However, the Other White Girl and I looked into it recently, discovered it was not a cult but a very cool evening put on once a month in Tokyo, and decided to embrace that shit together. I really didn't want to go-although it sounded cool I was more into the idea of it rather than actually putting 4B pencil to paper and trying to draw someone. Let's not forget the "in public" part here. But alas in my recent attempts to improve on my at time overwhelmingly lonely and socially-lacking life, I forced myself to go.

First off, I am no Toulouse-Lautrec. Other White thought that I could have some latent talent a la my mom but I think it is safe to say I don't. My dalliances in art and poetry were just that-when I was little I would read a novel about a poet or artist and for a couple weeks after that I would try out a new career only to give it up after realizing it was a farce.

Last night I did manage to draw half the model's body in somewhat correct proportions during one of the sets. Maybe I should quickly explain just what kind of art school I was at. Originating in NYC, Dr. Sketchy's is a burlesque-style life drawing "class" that meets once a month at a restaurant in Tokyo. There is lots of drawing sexiness-last night's model was a gorgeous belly-dancer-but there are also competitions, drinking and a DJ! Fearful for my life, I thought perhaps they would put me on stage and critique my stick figures with earrings and breasts, but it was so laid back I had a fork and a glass of wine in my hands more often than a pencil. Clearly my idea of the perfect drawing class is one that involves no actual drawing of pictures.

I faced my fears and am happy I did. Will I go back next month? Probably. Do I still feel like when I walk into a room everyone knows each other except me? Definitely. I possibly mistakenly revealed to Other White that I used to sit (and stand and lay) for art classes here when I was a student, so towards the end of the night she tried to pimp me out to one of the organizers as a model. I don't think my experience of getting naked for every art class in the greater Tokyo area qualifies me for a Dr. Sketchy's class and as the organizer pointed out, it's less naked but more sexy. I can't quite decide whether to put this particular "fear" into the forget about it box or the maybe later one, after all, who doesn't like pasties and feather boas?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The March of Mankind

In honour of Respect for the Aged day, we did a little retro tour of Tokyo on the Toden Arakawa Line, which runs from Minowabashi (oft mentioned in Nagai Kafu's stories) to Waseda. For 400 yen you can get a one day pass that allows you to get on and off an unlimited number of times along the 50 minute route. I think a lot of our Japanese elders were also celebrating their day, as the passengers on Tokyo's only streetcar line all seemed to date from the Showa period, which is when the line was first constructed. Tokyo used to have streetcars running all over the place, but all that remains is the Arakawa Line. If you want to see old school, down and dirty Tokyo, I suggest an afternoon spent on these delightful trams.

Arakawa-shakomae station is right in front of the yard where all the trams sleep at night and there is an area open to the public where you can get up close and personal with some retired ones like the one above that was once bound for the Ginza. At the other stations there are local shopping streets, a sketchy amusement park, temples and down-home restaurants. We also got off at Asukayama station, right in front of Asukayama Park, and home to the Paper Museum. Unfortunately it was closed when we arrived or I would have paid 300 yen to see just what a paper museum entails. According to a plaque outside, paper has contributed to the march of mankind, so I guess they know what they're talking about.

We turned around at Otsuka station and headed in but once the fall truly arrives I plan to go back for more exploring. I'm not a train otaku by any means but I'm a sucker for anything old Tokyo and an afternoon rumbling down the tracks in Northern Tokyo and wandering around quiet neigbourhoods with no high rises was exactly what I needed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The culturally sensitive Kaisha

The big wigs at the Kaisha almost elicited a tear from me today when they finally and after much public emailing back and forth, approved two days off for me to celebrate the Jewish new year. When I say almost I was half-expecting them to email me back with something along the lines of, bitch you ain't religious! No, but working for them has nudged me a little further from the corporate and more towards the let's heal.

The main problem wasn't whether I could take days off, it was whether I could take them unpaid. I get 10 paid days off every year and that is supposed to cover everything. There is no separate allotment for being sick or just needing a personal day. To the Kaisha you need no personal days. I don't know many people who would then use 2 of those days to go and pray. More than that though, I don't want to be paid for a day when I'm not supposed to work. Granted this is Japan and their idea of a religious holiday is eating KFC on December 24th with their significant other, but I think the Kaisha is man enough to wake the fuck up to the rest of the world and realize that maybe everyone doesn't fit in the same box.

When I first handed in my application form I was told they would need to get approval from the Top. Preempting any confused emails I tried my best to clearly explain what is was I planned to do on these 2 days and why I was asking for the never-asked-for unpaid holidays. Although I was only communicating with one of the women in HR, for some reason she kept Cc'ing one of my colleagues and three other HR people in her replies, enabling them to read our email chain. What the mother fuck?! I can just imagine trying to get time off for something really personal and she would make sure it made the rounds to every last person at the Kaisha. Even the hot mail room boys. I talked myself out of sending her an emailed edged in snarkiness entailing how I felt about her affinity for the Cc button, as I figured it would be one less thing to apologize for come Yom Kippur.

I have had some interesting reactions from Japanese people in the past including a Japanese professor at my CANADIAN university who practically told me she didn't believe my Jewish holiday story and my teacher at an INTERNATIONAL language school in Tokyo who informed me that no, the school had no policies on religious holidays and wasn't prepared to discuss any now. In the end the Kaisha actually did right by me, despite my expectations. I had even prepared a little speech to give to one of the Top Professionals if they had decided to put the kabosh on my plans. I guess that's 1 for the Kaisha but still about 10 for me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Geisha's acting debut

I arrived at work today to an email about the Christmas party. No not the one this month, the one in late December. I think the time span alone gives you an indication of the kind of production the Kaisha puts on for its annual Christmas do. In short, there is food and no shortage of alcohol, usually a Kaisha-made video and a stage production put on by the newbies. The stage production usually involves lip-syncing, cross-dressing and general let's make fools of ourselves. Does anyone else know and love Kojima Yoshio (he is a little last year I realize)? We had someone dress up and do him last year. By dress up I mean wear a Speedo. In front of the whole Kaisha. For someone who has practically danced around naked in front of 600 of his closest colleagues, this Professional now takes himself much too seriously.

Back to the email. In the past those of us in the untouchable class (foreigners) have not been involved in the stage production but this year they want us to participate and have asked for some skit ideas. Here are some of the ones I've come up with so far:

-A parody on the line of secretaries at the bathroom mirror every day after lunch, obsessively applying make-up and doing their part to contribute to office gossip.

-A satire on the Professional and secretary relationship. They meet at the Kaisha, get married, she quits to stay home and then gets increasingly jealous and irate after realizing that she spent more time with her Professional when they were colleagues than as man and wife. To make it worse, she is worried he is cheating on her with one of the young and barely-twenty new secretaries. There's always someone younger and more fuckable honey.

-White girl ghetto. Kind of a funny piece that also makes you want to cry: the other foreign girl at the office and I will do a small series of skits showing what it is like to be less than a minority.

-An amusing piece on the Dos and Don'ts of acting like an adult in the working world. DO introduce yourself when asking someone you have never met to do work for you. DON'T assume I can't speak Japanese and walk by my desk noting to your colleague that I must be lonely in my otherwise unoccupied cubicle quad (true story).

Incidentally, I was mistreated again yesterday. I believe I mentioned this before when I was raving about how much I heart my Kaisha but I will do a quick re-cap. When entering and exiting the elevator hall I have often had the door closed in my face by the person in front of me. Not that it's too hard to figure out, but a person who knows I work on the same floor. I had actually forgotten about the geriatric Professional until yesterday.

The first time he snubbed me we were going into the Kaisha and he gave me a dirty look like I was from a rival Kaisha and trying to sneak in, and then shut the door behind him instead of allowing me to pass through the same air space as him. Yesterday we were waiting for the elevator and this time he gave me a dirty look that said, Oh it's you again. How did you manage to sneak in this time? First of all, how did he manage to sneak through the system without being made to retire? The guy is past the golden oldies age and should be home gardening or otherwise occupied in gentler pursuits. The next time he snubs me I am going to ask him if he is on the wrong floor and actually looking for the geriatric ward in the building.

One more piece of titillating news on the Kaisha front. I am going to one of the Other Asian Countries in the next couple months and am getting my vaccinations in order. My sweet mom sent me a list of the ones I've had by email with a subject line that reads "immunization record with love". I clicked print and then realized the printer was going into overdrive for one of the secretaries who was printing out thousands of pages. When it looked like hers had finished I check the top sheet and my email was nowhere to be found. Computer savvy people: did it get cancelled? did it get printed in the middle of all those pages? Obviously I can't just ask the secretary if she's seen it. So either it didn't print or some client is going to find my immunization record nestled in the report we sent them this afternoon. Fuckity fucking great.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shout out

As some of you may already know, the fabulous movers and shakers of the Tokyo blog community had their inaugural meeting this past weekend. The first part of the evening involved me being handcuffed, as it was held at the ever trendy Lock-up izakaya where they can't seem to decide on a theme so there is a little bit of mad scientist, PVC fetish, boogieman and jail theme going on. Nothing says "social science project" like a group of adults no longer able to hide behind their written personalities but I was very pleasantly surprised. I had completely different ideas about who might be showing up, not better or worse, just different, which perhaps goes to show how unimaginative I am, or bad at reading online personalities. A special thanks to the Foreign Salaryman, who put it all together and for some reason kept getting Tokyo Cowgirl and I confused (does that mean you think I'm the intense one?!).

Unfortunately the Cowgirl and I had a date with an igloo so we missed out on the alleged male bonding that took place at the after party. Will definitely not skip such a telling experience next time!

Thousands of wannabee fashionistas descend upon the Ginza

To answer my own question, I was fucking crazy to even consider going to Tokyo's first H&M store on opening day. Or the first three days for that matter. Depending on whose account you believe, between 3 and 5 thousand people lined up (for 2 to 4 hours) to shop there on opening day. I am an avid believer of fashion on the cheap so I couldn't be more thrilled that H&M has gotten its ass over here, but I do not subscribe to the sheer frenzy of these people. How could I possibly know how crazy they are? you may ask. Thanks to reader XF, I am now a card-carrying member of Mixi, Japan's online "networking" community.

Granted, if I was a Japanese person reading say, gaijinpot, I would not read too far into most of the shit that is flung around the message boards there. By the same rule, I shouldn't believe everything I read on Mixi, but strangely enough I find myself having more faith in the Japanese and their use of message boards. Thanks to computers, camera phones, and Mixi I had a play by play account of the H&M opening ALL weekend. From Friday night the message board was a hub for those crazy mofos lining up the night before, and those of us at home, to check on how long the line was getting, what kind of goodies were being passed out, and finally, to receive reports from those brave soldiers returning from battle.

If you were out and about in Tokyo on the weekend, chances are you spotted people strutting around with their glossy H&M bags. I wonder if these glossy paper bags are going to be a permanent fixture to boost the company's standing/reputation, or if they will be switched for the cheap and nasty plastic bags that are used in other countries. Shopping bags are definitely a status symbol here in Tokyo and I'm not referring to when they are holding freshly-bought goods. They are used to show everyone where you have shopped, and judging by the wear and tear on some of the Gucci and LV shopping bags I've seen, often a very long time ago. The general message seems to be, I am not wearing anything from which you can derive a brand name but I did shop at Hermes a couple years ago and I'm going to keep using this tiny Chanel shopping bag (that once probably held 3000 yen nail polish) until things start falling out of the holes in the bottom. Talk about the shame I have felt riding the subway carrying a recycled grocery bag, or worse, a Gap bag! Not only do you have to compete in the brand war using your handbag in Tokyo, you have to step it up a level by also showing off the paper shopping bag it came in!

I was recently befriended by a secretary who mistook my fake Chanel bag (bought in an apartment off some sketchy alley in Hong Kong) for a mutual love of brands. I ran into her in the bathroom last week and she was just thrilled to show me that she had the same bag! I didn't have the heart to tell her that mine cost a fraction of what she had paid. Although really, hers would have come with a Chanel shopping bag so maybe it works out in the end.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Turning Japanese

How fucking crazy am I to consider going to the H&M opening in Ginza tomorrow morning? This is Japan, so I think it's fairly safe to say that there will be a line of thousands...

Blue-Eyed Geisha

蝶々 I just had to throw this out here. This is the vintage Japanese poster of the American movie "My Geisha" (the Japanese title is Blue-Eyed Chocho-san, which is what they call Madame Butterfly in Japanese minus the eye colour part). It was shamelessly copied off of some random site that was selling it.

If you want to see Shirley MacLaine pretending to be a geisha so as to fool her husband and with some nice 1960s touches, go out and rent this immediately. I don't remember the details as it has been a very long time since I saw it, but I would assume there is a lot of un-PC talk and cringe-inducing dialogue.

Two somewhat legitimizing factors are that the cinematographer was Japanese and make-up god Shu Uemura transformed Shirley, which I think was how he broke into Hollywood. I was reminded of the movie when I went to see a Shu Uemura retrospective thing at the Mori Art Museum a while back and judging by his letters and photographs with people like Clark Gable, I gather he was quite the man about town in L.A. at that time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I would also like to ask...

Further to my fruit love post, I also meant to question how people here know to peel their fruit? What are parents doing to turn their children into Peelers? Is it simply that they follow the examples of those who came before or do they verbalize it to little Michiko and Hiroshi?

This brings to mind a few other learned habits that I have been thinking about as of late. They mostly relate to women but gentlemen, I would appreciate any Y chromosome input as well. First, how is it that any Japanese woman worth knowing knows to carry a hand towel, folding umbrella, oil-blotting papers and small stationery store in her purse? If you're away from home and need something, chances are its in the purse of the woman standing next to you. Now maybe I'm of the simple-purse-contents camp, which is regardless of culture, but damn these women are prepared!

Another example: the toilet paper triangles. I doubt men have experienced this in public washrooms but if they've had a Japanese lady friend over, they may have witnessed the elusive TPT. The purse stuff I can see coming from one's mother, maybe. But the TPT? Here's where it gets a little more tricky. For the uninitiated, I have been in more toilet stalls in Japan in which the end of the TP roll is folded into a neat, polite little triangle. We are not talking about hotels where the last person in the washroom was the attentive maid, this is in toilets across the nation. It's like the Japanese secret handshake for women, folding our TP ends into triangles for the next woman down the line. I usually skip the TPT, not being accustomed to doing origami while using the toilet, but I have added it to my ever-growing list of Japan paranoia. For example, if I am at a small bar and I use the washroom, the TP is getting folded. Who knows who will use the washroom next, discover a non-origamid TP end, and come to the conclusion that I am unfit to be a lady, having grown up in a non-TPT environment. I know I'm crazy, but what would you do if you had to contend with TPT everyday?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

To peel or not to peel

I don't know if you have to have lived with a Peeler to realize this, but when eating fruit, most Japanese people remove anything vaguely resembling skin. We are not talking bananas or kiwifruit, but peaches, grapes, apples, pears and plums. They would probably peel the individual sections of raspberries if they could find an efficient way to do it.

I first discovered this shocking local custom when I noticed the beau's brother's ex-girlfriend popping her grapes, every single one, out of their skins before they saw the inside of her mouth. Now I thought a great number of things were strange about this cute little girl who looked like she was in grade school (yes, the idea that his brother has a loli-con, or Lolita complex, has crossed our minds) so I thought this was a custom in the realm of cute girls and fruit. Until the beau peeled an apple before slicing it up for me. When I mentioned that I was hardly ill-equipped to handle foreign objects in my mouth and could probably eat an apple without choking on the skin, he replied that he was merely protecting me from all those nameless toxins. The skin of an apple is the best part! How do you know you're eating an apple and not some sweet starchy mess if there is no Crunch?! And grapes! This whole nation is missing out on the feeling of puncturing a tight grape skin with one's teeth.

So that I am not thought completely Euro centric I will mention that there are several Japanese blog entries about how strange we are for eating fruit with skin intact. Some people mention the toxins, others are of the opinion that a peach tastes better without its skin, but most of these bloggers only discovered our strange non-Peeler customs when living across the Pacific. It's time to spread the fruit skin love! I have failed in my personal attempts and now fruit at Chez Geisha is half-peeled and distributed according to whether you are a Peeler or a non-Peeler.

For those of you who are corporate bitches in Japan, if you really want to start a revolution try eating an unpeeled apple WHOLE at your desk. Or a raw carrot. From people's reactions you would think you had just pulled out a raw chicken drumstick and started gnawing on it. Very caveman 2008.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Go ahead, bait me

I had a glimmer of hope yesterday at the Kaisha. I had just returned from dinner to see that I had missed an email from one of the Professionals in my area. After I apologized and explained that I had been at dinner, he asked me how it was. Now keep in mind this is a guy who has always been really nice via email but when I see him in person he doesn't say hi or if he does, it's like he's embarrassed to have run into me. Mr. Email Personality. After my apology email, he should have just said "don't worry" or not sent anything in return. Instead, he had to go and lengthen our exchange by way of a question and put my hopes up. I thought the guy was leading into asking me to dinner some time (not in a romantic way). Like, hey Geisha you've been working here a while and I know absolutely nothing about you and everything about all the secretaries in our area, so how about it? But no, he was just asking how my dinner was. Great.

That didn't top my physical run in yesterday afternoon though. I was going back up to the office and was heading parallel to the wall where the doors to the elevators are. A skizzy oyaji was heading right towards me, and I could see we were going to collide right in front of the doors, and also that he was not going through the doors while it was very clear that I was. So the million dollar question is of course, what did he do? As we come face to face in front of the doors and I start to try to head through them, that old fucking bastard decides that instead of stepping out of the way he is going to jab his elbow into me as I walk by because I am intruding on approximately one inch of his space. NO ONE walks so close to those doors unless they are going in and there is constant heavy traffic in and out of them. Had I not been going through them I would have stayed far from the wall, thus not obstructing anyone like fucking asshole illustrated for me in full colour. I need to do some hooping or some kimono kitsuke and fast or I am going to lose it one of these days. I also feel the need to ask Japan, What is your fucking collective attitude problem? There are bastard old men everywhere (by old I mean before they are called geriatrics but after 40) but I have never been treated as poorly as I have been here. Most old men ex-Japan would graciously move to the side if a younger woman who was not totally minging was trying to go through some doors.

As a consolation prize, the old man who runs the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki place in Roppongi was more than a gracious host last night and totally made my day.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hoop it up

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking a hooping workshop here in Tokyo. That's right, I took a class on how to hula hoop. Apparently hooping is very hot right now, maybe even the new pole-dancing? I figured the class would be easy but an experience last month should have forewarned me. I was shopping at one of those mega electronic stores that happened to also sell hula hoops for children. Look! I told the beau, did you ever do this when you were younger? (No) Then, while remembering how easy it used to be, I proceeded to make a total fool out of myself in the toy aisle trying to get this damn ring of plastic to swing around me. Fall to the floor at my feet was more like it.

Fast forward to the hooping class. The class began and everyone picked up their adult-sized hoops and started hooping like it wasn't no thang. Who the hell are these bitches I wondered?! Didn't I sign up for the beginners class?! You are probably laughing at me by this point, I don't blame you, I mean how hard can hula hooping be? Quite hard, I discovered. By the end of the class I finally managed to get the hang of it but not without feeling like a total dunce! And I used to think I knew how to use my hips! I have now been schooled. Luckily the teacher was absolutely fantastic and could even make a dunce like me feel like doing it again. Just in case you're wondering, it's not just about the hip hooping, so don't imagine a room full of people spinning hoops around their waists for hours and hours. These hoop pros have really thought out of the box on this one and it's basically turned into a new dance form. There are even performances at "hot spots" around town.

Lucky for me the class wasn't too new agey or let's embrace the inner goddess because quite honestly, being a corporate bitch has sucked every ounce of spirituality out of me and I just don't have the patience. How sad does that sound? Well I am getting a hoop very soon I hope and despite what the locals think I will soon be spinning around the park by my apartment embracing my inner something and letting out all those Kaisha toxins. More than the hoop tricks I really need to learn how not to bruise myself as after that class, I had a mother of a bruise that looked a bit like Papua New Guinea snaking around my left hip, which concerned some people in the changing room despite my reassuring smiles that it was all in the name of hoop love.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Loud teeth-brushin secretaries

Either I have a secret admirer, someone is trying to poison me or one of the people in my "area" have come back from a trip. I went with the last scenario and promptly popped the two pieces of candy that were sitting on my desk when I arrived today into my mouth. Unaccompanied by a courtesy note, I probably should have more carefully considered my social standing within the Kaisha before devouring the unidentified but probably harmless candy. Probably. If I suddenly stop blogging for more than a week with no word, you'll know it was actually the second scenario. In the interest of having a more positive outlook on my working life however, I am going to continue with the assumption that my Coffee Crisp mission has just been anonymously rewarded and may even allow me to receive omiyage from others until at least December. Oh joyous day! It will certainly take me until at least December to recover my voice and my pride, at least sufficiently enough to go another round with some new omiyage.

As I mentioned last week, the secretaries were recently scolded via group email and told to get in line. Lunch time at the Kaisha begins at noon on the dot and must be finished by 1. During lunch time at the Kaisha, secretaries position themselves in little cliquey groups in empty offices, conference rooms, photocopying areas and kitchenettes. Apparently they have not been using these spaces in moderation as of late, and have now had to be reminded twice that aside from cleaning up after themselves, brushing their teeth and finishing their bathroom routines by 1, they must be back in their seats by that time. And at the same time, keeping the noise at a reasonable level as there are always some unfortunate secretaries who have to work through lunch. Frankly I don't know how they manage to eat lunch and spend 30 minutes in the bathroom reapplying their make-up and ensuring their hair and teeth are free from any evidence that they had been eating. Although I will concede that no one finds a Professional husband with less-than-perfect hair and food residue-free teeth!

I'm actually a bit scared of the secretaries at lunch. Luckily I don't have to encounter them much at the moment but from October I am going to be at the Kaisha during lunch time every day. It gives me anxiety just imagining it. I'll walk up to a group of secretaries clutching my pink bento from home and it will be like a scene in some bad high school movie where the lonely girl opens her mouth to ask the popular girls if she can join them and is promptly ignored or shunned. Inevitably it will be accompanied by shrieks of laughter at something one of the popular girls has just said. Luckily for me the secretaries around here never say anything vaguely funny so at least I won't have to walk away with laughter at my back. Just cold silence.

Being a geisha and not a secretary, I don't have to take lunch at the same time as them so I think I will be able to avoid shame most days by taking lunch after they are all safely seated at their desks by 1. Eating is as much a social thing as it is a necessity to me. Eating at home by yourself doesn't count and eating out alone as long as it isn't during work or school is fine by me, but somehow eating alone during lunch at work or school seems tragic. Not that I haven't experienced both many times. I suppose the general idea is that you are surrounded by comrades at both school and work, so you should have people to eat with. We know it's not like that at the Kaisha, where I hardly have any lunch comrades. When I think back to my lonely days of ostracization at Japanese school when I practically hid myself from others at lunch time so they wouldn't catch on that I was always eating by myself, I try to remember my resolve that after graduation, no matter how uncomfortable I may feel in certain social situations, I would always make an embarrassingly concerted effort to eat with others at lunch. That resolve went right out the window my first week at the Kaisha. It's not just that the secretaries ignore me, there are a couple nice ones, but lunch with them on the rare occasion I've had it, has been excruciatingly boring. There is usually a lot of giggling and conversation revolving around hobbies and pets. I have neither.

I could just eat desk at my lunch but that would conjure up a whole new breed of paranoia. There is glass in front of my desk so I can check out the reflection of people walking behind me on the down low. After discovering this nifty feature I soon learned that an alarming number of people slow down when passing behind my desk, I imagine to either see what I'm eating, or to see what is on my computer screen. Whatever the reason I don't appreciate being inspected like a geisha in a zoo. Even after I decided not to eat anything at my desk, my fears were further confirmed by a Professional who always brings me chocolate. At first it was OK but now I feel it's a ploy to make me suffer through a conversation in English with the guy. Because he gives me chocolate, I can't cut him off. It's very calculating and sinister on his part. On one of his recent chocolate deliveries he asked if I was embarrassed to eat chocolate in front of other people. I replied No, and he said he was happy to hear that because most of the secretaries are embarrassed to be seen eating sweets or chocolate in public. I'd hardly call the Kaisha public but his comment validated my strict no-eating policy.

Looking over some of these senseless thoughts of mine, I start to get a picture of how crazy the Kaisha is making me. Things I would never think twice about have become huge issues in need of dissection and discussion and my only consolation is that I have until October to figure out my bento attack game plan.

Please do it on the mountain

These manner posters are on a fast downward spiral if you ask me. What seemed innovative and full of possibility at the outset has now turned into a play-it-safe campaign that does nothing to shock or stun.

I mean please, do it on the mountain?! Now maybe I'm taking the phrase too literally when all the Metro people mean to say is the phrase printed below ("Please be considerate of others when holding bulky belongings"), but I'd like to see some relevance people! The only train carrying people with "bulky belongings" or hiking gear is the Chuo line out to Mt. Takao. And frankly, if we were to accept this hiking scenario, the woman should be in heels because really, what's a little mountain climbing if you can't look good doing it?

If we are going to look beyond the mountain analogy and consider all "bulky belongings", I think we should start with foreigners because I for one, never see Japanese people struggling like idiots with large items on the train. They know what's up and when travelling with large suitcases they use a luggage delivery service. The lack of elevators and wheel-friendly features at train stations is not welcoming to the carrier of bulky belongings. Many foreigners of course don't know this and think dragging their suitcases from train to train will be a piece of cake. Perhaps a piece of shit cake. I've said it before and I'll say it again-the postal delivery system of this fair nation is incredible. You can send anything anywhere in the country and usually in less than 24 hours. Want to send your golf clubs ahead so that you don't need to schlep them on the train? No problem. Want to send some frozen meat to your relatives down South? Sure. Bought some furniture at Muji and need it sent to your home? Right this way. Yes yes yes.

So it is that I've come to the conclusion that this month's manner poster is just not realistic or representative of city life in Tokyo. Sure creepy sweepy is on board pretending to read a book when he is really looking for some ass to grab, but even he is being prevented from doing his job by this fictitious Tanaka-san with his many backpacks and flat-heeled woman. I for one want to see some action. I want to see the nitty gritty of what people really experience on the subway. Leering stares, vomit and sharp elbows. This is a plea to the people at the Metro to get back their edge!! Who's with me?