Monday, June 30, 2008
We were just checking out some jewellery when the woman next to me starts screaming at this other woman. My friend just about jumped out of her skin and wanted us to leave (I'm not sure why she thought the woman was going to go after us next) but I insisted we stay for the show, hell everyone else was. The angry woman then proceeded to stomp her heels aggressively and ask the other woman what the hell she was doing. When I first heard the shouting and looked over, they seemed to be struggling over either the angry woman's wallet or a paper bag she was holding. Now the other woman (let's call her the perp) was dressed normally and apart from the fact that she stood there meek and mute before taking off, she seemed normal. It was almost more interesting watching the other customers because none of them did anything (including the two shop assistants), they just stood around with blank faces.
Soon after the stomping the perp started to leave the store with the angry woman hot on her heels. But by now she had switched to pointing at her forearm and yelling, What the hell is this?!?!?! My friend and I came up with two theories: a) the perp was trying to steal the woman's wallet and b) the perp was a customer who accidentally bumped the angry woman who reacted out of proportion to the situation. I'm thinking it was either a) or something similar. Or maybe it was a mistress-wife fight! If the perp had bumped the angry woman, she would have apologized profusely and the situation would have diffused. Anyway, it was a very weird situation and I've never seen a woman get publicly angry like that here (aside from drunk women in Roppongi). I will however, definitely have to incorporate the matador style stomping into my own routine.
The beau brought home two strawberries one night that his customer had given him. That may sound strange and possibly stingy but in their defence, they were 500 yen (5 bones) each and very voluptuous. They were also individually wrapped in these soft little white covers. Precious isn't it? Japan Post now has a catalogue of food from every region in Japan that can be ordered or sent as gifts. The link will take you to the fruit section but you can get just about anything. I've had meat come in the mail before. Yes, top-quality Japan domestic beef. We had a few points from JAL to use before December last year so we ordered some premium beef from their product catalogue which came frozen and cut into perfect squares, ready to be yakinikued. Mm-Mm! I love the fanaticism with food here! I mean, you can send meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables in the mail! They even encourage it so you don't have to hide it as you might, say, in Canada. Why send someone a gift they will never use when you can send the gift of food? I love it!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Having gone on a Friday night I think we missed the crowds, it was mostly after-work groups, couples and Chinese and Korean tourists, but I imagine weekends are zooish. After selecting our yukata from a range of 20 or so, we made our way to the baths. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety (pumped in from 1400m underground) - outdoor baths, one person rotenburo, milk baths, gold baths, baths with nitrium and other yummy ingredients, you get the picture. My friend and I splashed out a bit and went for 25 minute "rock salt/bedrock" baths. Which aren't actually baths but heated rock beds that make you sweat like a whore and feel great! They also have a bunch of other spa options including a sand bath where they immerse your body in hot sand. Ooh!
The rest of the facility was...carnival-like. The inside is constructed to look like a street/outdoor festival from back in the Edo period but comes off as a bit freakish and campy. Enjoyable for what it's worth but I'd rather skip the hoorah and just enjoy the magical waters. The food was disappointing Japanese - of mall quality and not unlike Japanese food served at identity-confused restaurants in North America.
See above? This wasn't taken outside on a summer night, but rather inside some nondescript building in Odaiba! Maybe I'm being too harsh, the carnival atmosphere was kind of fun, it was certainly fun running around in yukata sweating, bathing, eating, bathing, running from strange Japanese man who kept following us. The highlight was definitely when we were outside at this fantastic wading pool and I, not realizing the bottom was lined with small, very pointed rocks for massaging the feet and reflexology, stepped in putting my whole body weight on my poor right foot! I will never understand how people can walk on these!! The whole pool was lined with various degrees and patterns of these small rocks but the soles of my feet found them excruciating.
If you want to forget about Tokyo for a bit and just focus on the heat, this is most definitely the place. Apart from the local sento baths there are a number of so-called onsen in Tokyo now, minus the period theme. There used to be one in Shibuya and Roppongi run by the same company but after an underground explosion at the former, they have both shut down. Sure they don't compare to being in the middle of nowhere soaking in magic water, but it is how I plan to start ending the week!! (If you go after 6pm there is a 1000 discount and if you ever want to disprove the idea that all Asian women are small and have the same body type, spend a few hours at an onsen and tell me what you think.)
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Now Sayuki isn't just any geisha, she is being touted as Japan's first foreign geisha. I personally think my academic hero Liza Dalby was the first foreign woman to be accepted into the geisha ranks (whether or not she actually registered as a geisha) but it seems more sensational to say that after 400 years a whitie has finally broken through the closed ranks of the geisha. (If this had an audio component there would be some da da dun tune right about now.) So yes, Sayuki has beaten me to it! Now I can never be "the first".
Sayuki comes from Australia and from seeing her on the show tonight, she seems to be in her late thirties maybe? I'm terrible with ages but she is definitely older than any Japanese woman when making her geisha debut. She has an impressive academic history, having studied at Keio and Oxford, and I think I read that she is planning on making a documentary about her life as a geisha. Many of the articles are saying that she has been welcomed into the Asakusa community because the geisha association there is hoping she might help to revive the culture. I'll be interested to see if she will continue as a geisha for some time or if after a year she will have had enough experience as a participant-observer to complete what seems to be her fieldwork. I also look forward to this rumored documentary but I wonder how much she will actually be permitted to film. She seems to know what she's doing and has the history to back it up, so maybe she will write a book too-it would be nice to have an updated study, as I think Dalby's was done in the late 70s- early 80s. Sigh. Here I was hoping to be the next Dalby, but instead of Kyoto I would conduct my study in what remains of the Tokyo flower and willow world. My hopes have been dashed! Oh well, wasn't planning on debuting in the Asakusa district anyway.
The NHK program itself wasn't interesting but I'm glad I got to see her other than in photographs. Her website is equally unhelpful-it basically gives the same paragraph that is being reprinted in every article about it with a couple professional photos. I will have to see if my geisha acquaintance has heard anything through the sisterhood grapevine and what she thinks about it all. Either way, I've got to hand it to Sayuki-what she's doing is impressive!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
花魁 A reader's comments reminded me to post about the lavish and visually gorgeous movie Sakuran, about a courtesan in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters. Except rather than being a stuffy period drama, it is filled with swearing and catfights and feels more like a racy carnival. The movie came out last year but I missed it while it was at the theatres. Thinking I was going to go see it however, I bought the manga it was based on by Moyoko Anno.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago when I finally watched Sakuran when it was on tv for the Sunday night movie (I think they edited parts out?). From what I could understand I was hooked. I certainly liked the cinematography and costumes. The story was easy enough to sort out with the beau's help but they were speaking old skool Japanese and with lots of rough rolling Rs. I ordered the DVD on Amazon and it arrived last week! Watching it with English subtitles cleared a lot of stuff up and now I can watch it in Japanese with Japanese subtitles (oddly helps seeing the dialogue). The story line is nothing new and quite anti-climatic which seems to be pretty characteristic of movies and dramas on this subject matter. It has a rocking soundtrack though (unfortunately not released) and as I said before, it is sumptuous to watch. Not only the costumes but the use of colour, the floating feeling throughout using a goldfish theme and the slightly modern pop-ish feel to the architecture and interior of the Yoshiwara are enough for me to watch it again. And again.
One scene I especially liked was the one above when Kiyoha becomes the highest-ranking oiran (courtesan) in her house and she has an oiran douchu (oiran parade) down the streets of the Yoshiwara. I will have to go back and check what song is used but it's perfect for her attitude and her courtesan walk which can only be done by dragging the feet in outward circular motions (like doing figure eights) and was supposedly right sexy in those days. In case you're interested this is called soto hachi monji (外八文字). Just found a nifty sight explaining the history of this particular walk and an older style also used by courtesans in Kyoto and Tokyo. There is even an illustration! (You might have to open the pic in a new window to see it move.)
I thought Anna Tsuchiya was tres cool in this film but have just read an interview with her in which she says she really enjoyed the Passion of Christ among some other things that make her look like a bit of a flaky idiot. I'd like to think that due to poor translation she didn't "get" the film but she has definitely gone down a notch in my books.
While I'm on a roll with the pleasure quarters, Kei Kumai's the Sea is Watching should be up next.
安 I was out on Saturday for a dear friend's going away party. We started out at a restaurant bar where the beau's friend works because she asked to have it there and he gave us a good all-you-can-drink deal as a favour to me/the beau. I haven't been out with a group of foreigners to any kind of establishment offering all-you-can-drink since I was a student here. I'm not above it, that's not the point, but I don't go out with the aim of getting sloshed anymore and if I do get drunk it's on alcohol that was paid for by the glass not on a how much I can consume in two hours basis.
I should have known things were going to get hectic when the guys started talking about how much they would need to consume to make it worth their 2500 yen (not much) and that because our final destination Muse is pricey, they would need to make the most out of it. Bottom line is I was embarrassed and mortified by the end of it all. There ended up being about 25 of us and there were guys and girls who were ordering 6 drinks at a time! I felt so bad for our bartender friend, I think he was just as surprised as I was. The group was a mix of teachers and visitors to Japan and I understand teachers don't make a whole lot, but there is a difference between pinching pennies and being downright cheapskate gluttons. Maybe I'm turning Japanese but I couldn't believe that despite the fact that they knew the bartender was a friend, they treated him like some lackey at an izakaya ordering several rounds of drinks before the ones they were drinking had even been touched. Maybe it isn't a Japanese-Western thing, maybe it's just you either have social decorum or you don't.
I love my friend but I couldn't believe how things had turned out with her friends and I couldn't apologize enough when I swung by the bar again after dancing at Muse. If you can call it dancing. What happened to having space where you can actually bust a move?! The most I could do on Saturday was bop up and down it was so crowded which frustrated me so much I left early. I hadn't been out dancing in forever and I had so looked forward to a good ass shaking but it just wasn't meant to be. What happened to the days when there was dancing at least once a week?!
That aside I'm not sure what I'm going to do without my friend here. With her down I'm basically at zero again. I have a couple "friends" here but we're not good friends, I can't call them up anytime to hang out and I don't even want to. I find as I go up in my twenties the more I realize who true friends are-the pick up where you left off friends. There will always be friends, acqaintences and people you click with on some level but the real friends are the ones you want to see any time and who you don't have to watch what you say with. It may sound pretentious but I can't help but just write people off who I don't really click with these days-I'd honestly rather spend my time alone than hang out with people just to be around others. I bet you're thinking beggars can't be choosers right? Well even if that is the case I have really learned what it's like to be alone (and lonely sometimes) these last couple of years in Tokyo and I don't mind spending time by myself. Still though, I do see friends together when I'm out and about and can't help but feel envious that I don't have any good friends here. Or I'll meet someone who seems like a potential keeper but they already have friends and don't have room or time for more. That's the thing though, it takes time to become good friends and I don't have that kind of time. It seems adults don't have that kind of time and I keep wondering if I'm ever going to meet someone in Tokyo who I can really call my friend. I need someone now!
I went to school with the friend who is leaving when we were 13/14 and I haven't lived in the same country as her since that time. There is something so special about old friends like that, the ones who knew you at your dorkiest, when you were all awkward and innocent. I saw her again when I was 18 and then last year when she moved to Tokyo. We've been meeting weekly since. I will probably never live in the same country as her again after this, after finally taking for granted us being together again. I'm going to miss you K!!!
Monday, June 23, 2008
And just for fun I though I'd include a photo I took in Akihabara a few weeks ago. The top floor of Yodobashi Camera is a restaurant floor so the beau and I wandered around for about 20 mins before finally deciding on a place. I love restaurant floors but we always have a hard time deciding what to eat because it's like, what if we don't ever come back?! We have to find the best place! Anyway as we were leaving we walked by a restaurant and I spotted a maid's legs through the low window. See the frilly apron? I guess she was on a paid date perhaps? I haven't heard of maids going on paid dates like hostesses but maybe they do, or maybe she freelances...
Friday, June 20, 2008
蓄妾 【ちくしょう】 (n,vs) keeping a mistress (concubine)
This one had me looking twice because the first character contains a kanji used with words having to do with cattle but I'm not sure if there is any connection there.
籠の鳥; 篭の鳥 【かごのとり】 (exp) (1) caged bird; (2) person whose freedom has been restricted (esp. a prostitute, mistress, concubine, etc.)
I had seen the term "caged birds" being used before to refer to courtesans in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters but had forgotten about it until today. I like the image it conjures (not that of indentured slaves but I think the term is fitting).
In cultures with concubinage systems, concubines were basically common-law wives (with the exception of those who were actually slaves) and a few more dictionary searches confirmed this. When I looked up concubine in English, it gave two definitions:
1. Common-law wife
2. Wives other than lawfully wedded wife
Then when I looked up the Japanese for common-law (内縁, naien) which is probably what the translator did, it came up with both common-law and then further down it translated it as concubine (when used in the context of a concubinage system). Still, I'm not sure why the translator thought concubine would be more fitting but at least I got a laugh out of it and have the phrase "a concubine in nature" to add to my arsenal.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
It should be said though, that CoCoichi is not as bad as places like Yoshinoya and Matsuya. The two main places to go for gyudon or stewed beef on rice ("beef bowl" to some) are even worse! At least CoCoichi has some tables and booths but at these beef bowl shops there are usually only long winding counters where you can go to rub elbows with the local salarymen. Even cheaper than CoCoichi you can get a beef bowl and miso soup for under 500 yen. Score! I ONLY do takeout at these places unless I'm with the beau, because it's just so...well the environment is prohibitive to eating there. As a woman not only are you spotlit by the lovely overhead lights but you'll be the only person with a vagina in the whole place with a bunch of salarymen sneaking glances at you in between scarfs at their beef bowls. Add being a foreigner into the mix and it's too much! I've never actually seen a woman by herself at these places and the beau's explanation for this is a combination of it being a) salaryman territory, b) cheap and nasty (in a tasty way) fare, and c) not aesthetically pleasing. Plus we all know real ladies (if you've seen Little Britain you can picture the accent I would use when saying this) wouldn't eat at places like this even if they have to spend twice as much elsewhere for the same amount of food/quality.
I can't really introduce CoCoichi without mentioning that it is a salaryman haven. Just in case anyone gets the wrong idea and thinks I am introducing gourmet fare, be forewarned. It's gourmet enough for me and you can't beat the price. Unfortunately however, it's basically salaryman fast food which means the inside decor is yellow and brown plastic lit up by fluorescent bulbs. Nice right? And you will rarely see women eating at these joints. When I'm working I'll duck in for a meal but I'll often get it to-go to avoid feeling like I've entered alien territory. There's obviously nothing wrong with salaryman fast food and I personally embrace it, but it can be so depressing sitting in these places, nary another female to be found. I always think Yes!!! Female curry lovers!! on the rare occasion I see another woman eating at CoCoichi.
The beau once pointed out a ramen place in Roppongi to me that has divided its long counter into very small booths so that women will feel more comfortable getting down and dirty with their ramen. I understand that. When I'm out for a meal during work which is more often than not alone, I would love some cheap and nasty salaryman fare but I also don't want to have to rush through my meal so the next guy can sidle up to the counter (I might go so far as to compare it to animals at a trough but without the mess). I also don't like feeling like I'm in a fishbowl as I get that enough at work. I guess that comes at a price doesn't it? At least I still have CoCoichi!
When I got to the end of the article expecting at least a punchy ending, it just sort of fizzled out . I will be the first one to rant about messed up male-female relationships in Japan and the cult of the Japanese housewife, but this article was over the top and completely out of touch. Yes, there are mama's boys in Japan but who doesn't know at least one in countries other than Japan?! Not only that but Liddell fails to even touch on the fact that part of Japan's population problem is attributed to more women working, marrying later and deciding not to have children, if not much later in life than earlier generations. So where are all these crazy housewives? He doesn't even qualify what generation he is making these sweeping generalizations about either, so he's still not off the hook.
Even if Liddell is drawing his examples from the countryside, I don't think there is even a dividing line between city and country anymore. Take for example, the beau's mom. She is of the baby boomer generation and definitely lives in the country, has worked full time her whole adult life and raised three boys at the same time. (This is however, vastly different to her and her husband's parents who both had 9 or 10 kids!!!) The beau and his brothers were taught to pitch in around the house, folding laundry and getting the rice cooked before she got home from work, and none of them appear to have strange residual mommy issues. So his mom wasn't a housewife, but I really don't think that's the only factor contributing to socially inept men here. I could be reading too much into it, but how convenient is it to blame the problems of these grown men on women? Why look at these problems as the product of a particular society when you can blame them on the women, many of whom are housewives because society dictates that is what they should aspire to?!
For Liddell to say "This whole unbalanced society-from the drunks on the last train to the ridiculous caricatures of women called hostesses to the lonely housewives slowly going dotty over their morose, 'fatherless' kids-all goes back to one source: the Japanese mother" is not only a stretch but makes me think maybe Liddell has a personal vendetta against not only Japanese mothers and women, but Japanese men too. Why not also talk about how women contribute to messed up male-female relationships in Japan? Liddell lists the rigorous schedule the hypothetical Japanese boy embarks on from the age of 2 but what about the hypothetical Japanese girl? She gets music lessons and is sent to juku cram schools too, so why all the mother bashing when it only relates to Japanese men?
In his off-the-mark article Liddell launches a two-pronged attack on both Japanese mothers and Japanese men which not only incensed me but many other readers, judging by the letters to the editor. What he writes offends both Japanese men and women, who are shown to be respectively meek and tyrannical. The writer really cocked up what could have been an interesting and insightful article and instead of shedding light on the issue, simply reinforced some much traversed cultural stereotypes. I vote him off the island!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
How did it all go wrong? Even as I handed over my card the bells in my head were ringing. I have no problem with commitment but to commit to taking care of an animal for a decade? I want to travel and be able to come and go at this point in my life without worrying about where the dog is going to stay. I would not be prone to become a dog person, someone who treats the dog like their baby and can't do anything without thinking about the dog. Which is actually unfair to the pet isn't it? Why should I buy one if I'm not willing to make it the center of my universe? What am I going to do when we leave Japan? So many questions as to not seem like the best of ideas, and I still handed over my card. I looked over at the beau and asked him if he was thinking clearly-we'd only had a couple drinks and can both handle our alcohol but what we were about to do seemed a bit loopy.
We had started with a great evening sitting outside at Orange at Midtown, eating organic corn soup and Cajun-spiced lobster. Then we swung by a nearby bar to see if our friend the bartender was there and had a couple drinks before going to the pet shop. Everyone knows this pet shop. Anyone who has been to Roppongi has probably been inside this pet shop. Horrible lighting and small pathetic cages, cheap incense to mask the smell of piss. If you go upstairs it gets more exotic and smelly and there are monkeys and reptiles for sale. The beau and I had visited many times but always said we would buy a dog from a better, less-dodgy shop IF we ever got one. But that night we met Choco who had eyes for me only and decided to take her home on the spot.
After getting home sans Choco I started to backtrack and as much as I wanted that dog, I knew that ultimately my life would be a lot less complicated without her. I then proceeded to have a major fight with the beau that was non-dog-related. I ultimately believe that people are people regardless of their nationality/culture/whatever but sometimes I have a hard time deciphering whether certain aspects of the beau are male or Japanese. Not that I could change any regardless of which one they are, but sometimes it would be nice to know how to better interpret them.
Are we absolutely fucking crazy to move overseas in the future? Not only does my lovely beau have no English, but no college degree either. Certainly not impossible but bloody hard for the first few years and that's providing we don't kill each other in the process. He is ready to move with me no matter what but I worry the pressure of it all is going to do irreparable damage. So I carry this guilt that despite the fact that living here is "easier" I am making us take the most difficult road, which will most definitely not let up until several years into it. Somewhere between the arguing and the crying I said that no, of course we aren't going to pick Choco up tomorrow.
My eyes were so swollen and alienesque the following day I had to go into work late so as not to scare people. I have never cried as much as I have these past couple years in Japan. This country makes me cry and I resent not having such a thing as sick days at work, to be able to stay home all by myself on those shitty shitty days that come around a few times a year, and do all those things that you do on sick days and rainy days. This time I will have to rely on practising kitsuke, tying obi knots over and over again to calm me down.
Friday, June 13, 2008
やはりえもんを多めに抜くと商売っぽくなりがちですね. I mistakenly left this line at the bottom of the previous post without explaining it. As I was trolling the net for information on the degrees to which the collar of a kimono can/should be pulled down, I found a note in a Japanese blog about it. The author said that when walking in the Ginza one evening they saw a young lady whose back collar was shockingly low. Apparently it had been pulled down to just above the "mountain top of her drum-knot". Scandalous!
This is of course, similar to how a maiko would wear hers. Or even a geisha when wearing her kimono in a certain style. However, the young lady spotted in the Ginza was neither maiko nor geisha, and the author mentions that she didn't even have her hair up! The story finishes up with the line above which basically means, if you pull your collar down quite far you will have a tendency to look like someone in the business. Call me crazy but I think it's hot.
Back to the website I mentioned below. According to its author, this is the breakdown of pulling down your collar:
The amount one separates her collar from her neck is a way to express individuality and personality, and depending on the type of kimono being worn, there is criteria for each level. [[[Seems a bit contradictory to me but OK.]]]
Brides: pull down to the extent you can see the back.
Young unmarried women in furisode (kimono with long swinging sleeves): the amount exposed should be the size of one fist (approx. 10-11cm). [[[To put this in perspective, geisha and maiko are said to pull theirs down about two fist sizes.]]]
Formal kimono such as black crested tomesode or houmongi: about four fingers should be able to fit (approx. 7-8cm).
The site then explains that when wearing everyday kimono, the general rule is "not to pull it down too far". In other words, you can pull it down as far as three fingers will fit (5-6cm max), as illustrated by the photo in my previous post. The author then hammers home that anywhere from 3-6cm is the range to aim for because if one pulls the collar down too far, it will look sexy and erotic. "The impression that you are setting out for night work" is how it is put. Just in case we still don't understand the site states, "even if you can't tell yourself, it is very noticeable to other people, so when you dress please check yourself in a mirror".
What's interesting is that one would normally think formal equals less neck, but according to this guide, it's the everyday kimono that requires the least neck. Perhaps this is because with the various types of formal kimono (including bridal wear and furisode), you can usually tell what kind of place the woman is going. But with an everyday kimono, well, you could end up looking like a street walker. Plus, these days there are not many young unmarried women running about in everyday kimono, which leaves old, married women (by old we are talking past mid-twenties) and no one wants to see a married woman looking like a whore, right?
With that knowledge now imparted, I better make the most of my twenties! And not just with the back collar. My sensei told me last week that because I am still young (phew) I can get away with showing more of my white under collar under the front fold of my kimono. Even if people do think I've been sold into the white slave trade, I will continue to pull down my collar because let's face it, kimono look so much better with a bit of neck showing. As parting wisdom and encouragement, the collar site says "as you become accustomed to wearing kimono you will come to understand how far your collar should be pulled down. Then, your individuality will come out".
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I found a great kitsuke school which is both convenient and unpretentious. There are a lot of big commercial schools that are more like factories turning out women who can now dress like proper ladies. These schools also tend to be like finishing schools for women, cramming in lessons about manners and are a bit too hoity toity for my liking. Many people in the kimono industry are starting to realize that if they want to keep this culture alive they need to stop acting so preachy towards younger women and loosen some of the rules that govern how kimono are worn, in what colour and pattern coordination and in what situation. Wearing kimono does come with a set of manners and body movements to prevent any unsightly exposure but I don't want to pay for lectures on how to be a lady. I'm lady enough.
I love the smell of tatami mats and the feel of sliding over them in tabi socks. I love the feeling when all the wrinkles in a kimono I'm wearing are smoothed out and the collar sits just right. I especially love the feel of putting the pieces together, folding the fabric and getting the right lift on an otaiko musubi. It's like putting a puzzle together and when the pieces are properly put together, you know you've tied it right. I'm still surprised sometimes when I'm practicing, at how well everything fits together when done properly, and I can't help but marvel at the ingenuity of it all.
I just found a fantastic page that explains the kimono collar and how the degree to which it is pulled down indicates how much of a whore you are. Coming up in part 2...
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I discovered today why my high heeru (high heel) shoes are always getting banged up only around the heel stem - it's the mean streets of Tokyo. Last year I kept noticing that the fabric on all the heels of my shoes was getting ripped and scrunched up and the beau kept saying it's because I use the shoe on the other foot as leverage when taking them off. But no! Today on the way to work I had another heel-stuck-in-the-pavement-but-trying-to-look-cool-about-it moment. Luckily I was walking right next to a building so I ever so casually used the wall for balance as I wrenched out my heels while trying to look fabulous and carefree. When I took these babies (above) out this morning they were fine, fabric intact. Now upon examination I see they got ripped up when my heel got stuck in the man hole cover earlier today. Agh!
When I got to the cobbler he said it was serious and would have to put some screws in the heel to keep it on. This would take several hours. I had to get back to work. So he loaned me an awful pair of dowdy Office Lady shoes - the kind those dark and dated no-name neighbourhood shoe stores sell (you know the ones if you live here). Kind of orthopedic but desperately trying to be trendy with a stubby square heel and a toe that can't make up its mind to be square or pointy. Plus they were at least a size too small so I could hardly walk. I didn't leave my desk the whole afternoon for fear of being seen in the OL shoes.
I never see Japanese women getting stuck, but I guess they are lighter on their feet than I. I've never seen shoes so beat up as I have here though. Before I found my first shoe cobbler I was convinced there were none after seeing so many women hobbling around on heels that had been worn down to metal nubs.
Aside from the broken heel incident I have constantly gotten my heels stuck in sidewalk cracks, subway grates and the runners of sliding doors. Up until now I never realized how much momentum I build when walking. This becomes painfully clear when your foot is almost ripped off when your heel gets jammed behind you. So even now I test the sturdiness of my heels every so often but I still feel phantom wobbling when I walk.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Despite the fact that there are more geisha fans today than in 1963 when the first translation was completed, both translations include the word geisha in the title which simply means "rivalry" in Japanese. I looked up the title in Japanese (see the kanji above) for the first time and it had never occurred to me that the word would be comprised of "arm" and "competition" or "comparison". They should have just called it A Tale of Arm-wrestling Geisha. Mr. Richie muses that the new translation and cover choice have been spurred by the Geisha Phenomenon. Obviously, so have a ton of other photography books and biographies. Apart from the general authoritative Books on Geisha (Liza Dalby's thesis-turned-book is the only one to read as far as I'm concerened) or revenge autobiographies (Mineko Iwasaki), I'm glad books like Sayo Masuda's autobiography and this sexy version of Kafu's novel are getting picked up by publishers because I just can't get enough and perhaps one day I too, will be able to translate something fantastic.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Once I got home and watched the news again, it was clear from the footage that the station was empty because everyone was crowded around the intersection where it happened, watching the police clear away the mess. I've noticed this before, but the news in Japan always features blood. If there is a murder or some kind of accident, you can be sure there will be a close up of the blood on the pavement. I didn't watch TV for several years before coming back to Japan, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but I can't ever recall seeing blood shown in such a way on the news. I don't think I can expect people to look away at the scene of an accident, I've certainly done my share of neck craning to see an accident, but zooming in on a victim's blood and blood drenched medical equipment seems a bit sick and disrespectful to me. If I was the victim or the victim's family, I certainly wouldn't want my blood on the news.
The killer who was nabbed by the police a short time later apparently said that he had come to Akihabara to kill people. Who is this guy and how did he manage to kill seven people with a knife??? I understand it was crowded as Akiba always is on a Sunday but the logistics of it are a bit mind-boggling: how did he manage to get around to so many people without either alerting others to the fact that there was a lunatic brandishing a knife, or causing enough of a scene for people to start running away? I mean, he drove a big moving truck into a pedestrian zone, hopped out and started stabbing people.
It will be interesting to see what happens after this to ideas about public safety in Tokyo. Akiba is known as many things: tourist destination, electronic town, home to maid cafes and street performances by young female idols that reclusive and nerdy men flock to. And today it will also be known as the scene of a massacre. I can't help but think there but for the grace of god...I've been a pedestrian several times there in the last few months, shopping for things to make my life more comfortable and looking at the nerdy men with cameras in disgust.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
1) Is the first poster showing four different scenarios or is it a progression of one? If so, is the woman depicted getting angry at her lover and then being pacified? Or is she knitting her brow and yelling because there is no cell reception in the subway and the person on the other end of the line can't hear her life or death message?
2) What would you like to see on the posters in coming months?
I'm thinking one discouraging puking would be nice. A depiction of a salaryman projectile vomiting onto a fellow passenger could work nicely. Or one asking little old ladies to keep their elbows to themselves when rushing for the only seat left in the carriage. Oh! Or one that discourages drooling on the shoulder of your neighbor as your head lolls dangerously close to them. How many months is that? Can the Metro think tanks really come up with 12 "manners" that can be deemed problem enough to fill one year of posters? I've seen some interesting behavior on the trains but compared with some of the sketchy shit that goes on in other cities, it all seems rather tame and amusing.
I don't know that any of the millions of passengers riding the subway through Tokyo everyday are going to take heed of these posters, except maybe to appreciate them as I do-depicting some of the behavior that either pisses or puts me off. I do hope they come up with an explicit and shocking one of a chikan (molester) feeling up some poor woman. Most of the posters in the anti-molestation campaigns that I have seen either depict only women or they show a shady silohuette of a man in the background of the message telling women to speak out against molesters on the train. I would hope that putting the problem out there a little more explicitly might make some people uncomfortable enough to stop treating it like an annoying occurrence on the way to work and actually speak out a bit more. Or is that just illogical thinking on my part?
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
The worst part is, I can't help it. I have to pay the sucker's price for travelling during the obon period in Japan. Now if people were actually returning to their hometowns within Japan to pray and wait for their ancestors to return maybe international travel wouldn't be so expensive. But for many people this is the only time they can get off work so they go international. Like the beau. So we are stuck travelling at the busiest and most expensive times ALWAYS. I am aware of my whininess but I am really fucked off right now-if taking time off work wasn't so stigmatized here I wouldn't be getting screwed over by the Suits. We had tried to go earlier this year but the beau's evil conniving boss couldn't give him time off so we have to go in August. She is such a biatch! The beau runs things for her yet she never raises his salary AND he is forced to travel during the most expensive times. I constantly feel like I am getting screwed here except it's not the kind I like.
So pair that with the return of the umbrella battle season and I am just fucking thriiilled right now. I think this year I may buy I giant black golf umbrella to step up my game on the streets. My friend aptly called these "salaryman umbrellas" the other day because you often see these salarymen walking down the always small and busy sidewalks with gargantuan umbrellas which leaves everyone around them shielding their eyes and ducking out of the way. I often do silent battle with these men by shoving back with my own umbrella which ends up serving no purpose other than to further piss me off. Yes, this year it's time to upsize.
Monday, June 2, 2008
新人旅行 As promised, a report on the Kaisha sponsored bonding trip last weekend.
The ryokan we stayed at was lovely actually, it was like a huge villa with several gardens in the centre and ponds filled with koi (carp), and there were huge rocks placed everywhere (including our rooms). We didn't stay at "Hotel Oh!" featured to the left, which I saw from a bus window, but at this lush place to the right. There were six other women in my room so we slept like sardines in two rows of futon and we all pretended not to mind sleeping so close to people we didn't know. In terms of bonding success, I had a great time hanging out with the other-foreign-girl-at-the-office but didn't exactly hit it off with anyone else. I'm just not interested in having an in depth conversation about whether I'm going to bring omiyage souvenirs back for people at the office or what I should talk to the Top Professionals on the trip about. Yes, this is what the secretaries chatted about while we passed the time before dinner. Dinner was a large enkai banquet in a huge room where we all sat on the floor in rows with our own small tables. There was a seating chart passed out beforehand and the secretaries in my room were stressing about what they could talk about with the Professionals or Top Professionals they were seated next to. There were also sighs over how they would have to continue plying them with beer as soon as their cups began to look low (a common practice here). When one began worrying that she didn't know how to properly mix whiskey or bourbon, another informed her rather matter-of-factly that she could just order it and it would come to the table mixed. God how worldly are we?! I felt like screaming at them to stop worrying so much about this bullshit but I guess when you always have to be Switched On it's par for the course.
The enkai was quite fun actually, the food was delish and because I am a foreign amazon I was also plied with lots of beer. I too was worried about who I would be sitting next to but for different reasons. I've had a couple work parties so far when I have been completely ignored by the male Professionals. I don't mean in a showering me with attention way, but in a I am a fellow human why do you pretend I'm not here kind of way. So much for the sweeping generalization that Japanese people are sooo kind. ANYWAY. I was seated next to a cute young Professional who was very kind and let me talk his ear off and then told me about backpacking through India. Finally a real conversation! And with a Local! I was a bit horrified with myself however, when I noticed that I was using hand movements that I would never use in English. What you ask? Covering my mouth when I laugh (my teeth are nice and why should I be ashamed about laughing with my mouth open?!) and shaking my hand back and forth to indicate no I would never do tha-at, or no, stop! you are TOO amusing! I must learn to speak Japanese like I speak English and stop unconsciously imitating Japanese women. It's just not my style.
After dinner it was time for the second act, or the nijikai (after party in Japanese). This was orchestrated with a new seating chart and more alcohol to really help us bond. Act two consisted of an interactive bingo game on drugs where the male Professionals were called up on stage to do something embarrassing while an equal number of secretaries were called up to assist them in this. There were really no parts of the game in which the secretaries actually embarassed themselves or had to do anything gross, nor was there much room for the female Professionals to participate. Some of the games included telling the difference between $10 and $100 wine, tying four people together by putting stockings over their heads and having them try to pull apart, eating French pastries laced with wasabi, and drinking coke which had been laced with hot sauce, raw eggs, milk, you name it. For most games, the participants pointedly asked that a puke bucket be placed in front of them, because how normal is that?! As I said before, the female Professionals are really left out because this is secretly an omiai for the secretaries and male Professionals and the rest of us are just along for the ride.
The onsen was the best part and seeing the Professionals come to dinner wearing yukata bathrobes was so refreshing compared to seeing them slaving away in suits at the office. It's hard to imagine them leading lives outside of work (most of them don't) but seeing them unwind and wear jeans made me feel a little more sympathetic than I usually do. I unfortunately have no stories about being shunned or pointed at in the onsen as when I took a midnight and early morning dip I was almost the only one there. The main bath was a roten iwaburo which is a natural-looking outdoor pool surrounded by large rocks and other foliage. Having not left Tokyo's concrete jungle for quite a long time it was luxurious to soak in the onsen especially with so few people and no irritating conversations. For as crazy as they work the Japanese know how to do relaxing baths.
As annoying as the office politics are and the fact that I despise most of the secretaries I enjoyed the weekend despite myself. There's no use fighting the bullshit so I'm trying to do as the romans do (as much as my sanity will permit) and just let it all be.
This sign for Pachinko Ruby has no meaning and the parlour itself is long out of business but when I saw it during our treasure hunt on the first day I had to snap the trendy retro sign.