Thursday, July 31, 2008

Work Work Watching!!

One of the university students that works for the beau introduced us to the wonderful world of Work Work Watching! This little anime series chronicles the life of interpreter Sujahta Yoko (I'm not really sure why she has an Indian name) as she interprets for Japanese director Todokoro. Watching it reminds me a little of the scene in Lost in Translation when the director gives Bill Murray really detailed instructions and the interpreter says it "all" in about 3 words. I'm not sure if this is really funny if you don't understand Japanese but I love love love Yoko's mangled and sometimes not even English interpretations. I think anyone who has had someone interpret for them in Japan understands the feeling that they are not really getting the full story, provided they get anything coherent at all. You can check out the whole series on YouTube and this blogger gives a good explanation of nori-tsukkomi, which I once tried to have my Japanese teacher explain to me and left thinking you basically just hit someone over the head if they do something stupid. Anyway it's good for a laugh and had the beau and I flapping our arms and saying "work work watching!!!" for weeks after.

Ready? Clear!!

Something at the gym tonight reminded me of another Kaisha plus. We have defibrillators! The gym story will follow but for now let's turn our focus to the defibrillators. I remember getting an email a while ago announcing their installation and thinking, shit that's exactly what I want, someone from the Kaisha shocking me with a defibrillator if I ever go into cardiac arrest. Fuck me! I don't think anyone is even qualified to use one let alone assess whether one needs to be used. Is this common in North America and I just don't know about it? At the Kaisha we are too serious about our work to fool around but it this was back home I'd probably be playing Grey's Anatomy and screaming "clear!" at my co-workers while waving the paddles around like a maniac.

I suppose it's a good thing, I mean with all the stress and long hours some one's bound to need it eventually right?

Where oh where did this stylish and sexay rubber slipper come from? Sorry to change the subject but once I start thinking of the Kaisha my mind floods with happy memories. One of the Professionals must have left it here. I've seen a couple secretaries wearing cloth slippers and slip on shoes around the office (obviously not if they're meeting someone from the Outside) which is pretty cool, no? Why wear heels all day when you can shuffle around in slippers and not pick your feet up off the ground which makes for a very annoying shh shh sound when you go down the hall?! Unfortunately some of the male Professionals wear these tres cool rubber slippers around the office. I suppose they should be allowed, after all they give their life to their work, at least their feet should be allowed to look like they don't care. It just doesn't streamline their overall look when they wear designer suits or tailored shirts with these industrial age monstrosities.

I'm proud to report however, that the ladies of the Kaisha do not ever wear shoes like this:

I had to wear something reminiscent of these sandals when my heel snapped off that time. I couldn't get my feet under my desk fast enough lest I be shunned for my shoes! These sandals are for nurses but are also classic OL shoes. Head out around Otemachi or Nihonbashi at lunch and you can see all the lovely OLs prancing around in these weird platform creations. Now that's hot.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Salaryman sandwich

Has anyone gotten a sneak peak at Tokyo Metro's "Please do it at home" campaign poster for August? I caught a glimpse on my way home tonight and it's great! A real action shot of a guy getting sandwiched between the train's closing doors. I've never gotten sandwiched because I generally consider it bad form to run for public transportation (and blinking pedestrian crossing lights). However I did once break down and throw my bag into the train carriage in an act of desperation. The bad got sandwiched and some nice man shoved it out from the inside. Sweet. The Tokyo Metro site doesn't even have August's poster up yet but I will hopefully get a visual tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More hanabi and dried fish

I just couldn't get enough so I went to watch the Sumida River hanabi on Saturday night. A few women at work invited the Other Foreign Girl and I to enjoy the fire flowers together, because really, oohing and aahing for one full hour is best done group style. There were no VIP seats like Yokohama the weekend before so we sat on the hard concrete with the rest of the plebians. Part of the road along the river is closed off from 6pm so when we arrived our Japanese co-workers were lined up on the sidewalk opened tarps in hand and chomping at the bit for the road to close. As soon as 6 hit and the last car drove by we experienced a mad dash of thousands into the middle of the road where groups threw down their tarps to snag a good spot.

Once we settled, I think the co-workers were a little surprised when I pulled out an ice-cold Asahi from my cute yukata bag and cracked it open. A couple of them apparently drink (and for some reason not that night) but the way they reacted you'd think we weren't sitting in a sea of Japanese people getting drunk as fuck waiting for the show to start. I was doing as the Romans do, but apparently not the nice lady ones. I seriously need to find some cool Japanese female friends but after the last couple years they have come to feel like the holy grail: non-existent and the stuff of legends.

The fire flowers were nice, I thought Yokohama was cooler but there were some cool graffiti-style ones and crazy pyrotechnic shooters that looked like they belonged on the stage at a Rolling Stones concert. After the show and some more unlady-like Super Drys later, we said sayonara to our co-workers and headed out for a drink in one of the more traditional areas of the city before going to dirty-ass Roppongi for a yukata party at Havana Cafe. Topped all that off with some cold zaru-soba at a nearby cheap-and-nasty and I somehow made it home.

The next evening the beau and I went to Anbai (あん梅), a himono restaurant in Juban. Himono refers to dried fish and when the beau took me there for the first time I was seriously worried we were going to be eating those tiny dried fish that salarymen eat with their beer on the train ride home. Luckily I was dead wrong and it is now one of my favourite restaurants in Tokyo. The fish is filleted and put out on the roof to dry for half a day and then marinated, grilled, whatever as usual. I don't know what makes it so tasty but it just is. The dried fish is a small part of the menu and they have a lot of other fish and Japanese food. I'm not so hot at describing this but I did find an article on it featuring the owner whom the beau knows and is a super nice guy. The only thing I would say that differs from the article is that himono at Anbai is not cheap. We ate a lot and had several drinks each but our bill was 13,000 yen and is usually in that ballpark. The best dish in my humble white opinion is the gindara saikyoyaki which is some kind of sablefish that has been marinated in Kyoto-style miso and grilled. It doesn't even seem like fish but some heaven sent delicacy. MM MM.

After Anbai we headed over to Prego for some more drinks and as an added bonus, were shown pics from a recent party with the manager and two other guys standing naked in the bar. I know more guys who get naked when they're drunk here. It's a bit like streaking came to Japan late and is only now catching on. Good times.

I heart my Kaisha #2

If I didn't have enough reasons to heart the Kaisha, I discovered another one today: sneak peaking. I just had my cascading stripper hair cut off over the weekend to just below my chin. When I say cascading I'm talking, I could hide my nipples with it like Alanis Morisette in that super old music video. Why do I remember that you may ask. Well let's just say I had the unfortunate experience of fooling around with a high school bf while that video was playing.

So aside from a few brave souls who !shock horror! actually came to talk to me about my hair, there was a lot of double-taking and sneak peaking around the file cabinets today. Even my "secretary" snuck some looks but didn't bother coming to say hi. They must think I am so out of it on my little white cloud (pun intended) that I don't notice a damn thing. I was hoping I would catch one of them gossiping about me so I could turn around and tell them I had woken up like this and was going to the doctor to have it checked later, but haven't yet had the pleasure. I'm still waiting for the day when I decide to go dark and really scare the shit out of them. The only person who was really straight with me was the cleaning lady who, when she came around to collect my garbage said, Oh you cut your hair eh? That style is good too. This coming from a rough but sweet 60 plus lady who either grunts when I thank her or is super sweet, telling me I've lost weight or that she likes my hair in that clip.

Well if a drastic hair cut won't work I don't know what will. These people won't talk to me!!! I didn't even get to show off my knowledge of the term ime-chen which is short for imeji- chenji or image change and popular with the young folk these days. I'm going to make these people love me if it kills me! I'm already plotting how to ambush everyone at the Kaisha personally and individually to deliver souvenirs from Canada. No I am not due in Canada until next week hurrah! but I have been counting the number of omiyage I need and we are looking at over 60!! So I will probably buy some ghetto maple cookies and take them round. I am planning to stop by everyone's desk or office on my floor when I get back, whether I know them or not. At least if I give them a cookie they won't be able to think I'm a bitch, even if they still refuse to acknowledge my presence.

Here's hoping and more on the weekend later!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Capsule community

As I wrote a while ago, I was going to reveal the identity of the prey in my architectural hunt and I have finally gotten around to it. If you want cooler picture from artsy people I suggest searching on Flikr or google images because not only was I working with my little digi cam, I was doing so under the influence of a Brazilian waxing which does not lend itself to movement or creative thinking.

Anyhoo the Nakagin Capsule Tower (中銀カプセルタワー) was designed by Kisho Kurokawa and completed in 1972. Located in Shinbashi near Ginza, it is not a capsule hotel but an apartment building consisting of stacks of 2.3m x 3.8m x 2.1m capsules. People still live there today but the courts passed down a final decision last year and the structure is slated for demolition (when I'm not sure). What's worse is poor Mr. Kurokawa died last year asking that his building not be torn down.

The tower is located along a main street with a highway overhead, making it a bit difficult to get a good look at it and limiting most photos to a worm's eye view. It's clear it has fallen into disrepair and is in need of a good wash, but it is still very cool. Looking at it again further reinforced my wish to be one of the pod people living up in their concrete tree houses. The tower reminded me of the kind of place Wes Anderson would use in one of his movies. Probably because of the ship/airplane-like 70s interior of each capsule box and the eccentricity of the building as a whole and probably those who live there. Here is a picture of the interior.

If you visit the tower, there is a capsule on the ground floor that you can peak into to see for yourself. That and a whole row of vending machines and a couple signs warning people to keep out. No fun!! If you were walking along at street level I can see how you might even miss the tower, as there is a convenience store on the ground floor and the wackiness doesn't
start until one floor up.

Due to the core structure of the tower, each capsule is a detachable single unit but I doubt they plan to do anything of the sort and will probably just come in with a wrecking ball. If you like kooky architecture or want to imagine life as one of the pod people, check this cool tower out before it comes down.

As one reader beat me to the punch in pointing out, there is even a blog out there written by someone on the inside! It's in Japanese but if you're interested check-check-check-check it out.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I say hambaaga, you say hambaagu

Recently the beau and I worked up an appetite for some meat and headed down to a burger joint we had just discovered in our neighbourhood. Burgers in Japan fall into either the hambaaga category or the hambaagu category, the latter of which is a Japanese hamburger which is usually a grilled patty with some kind of gravy, ponzu or demiglace sauce served with veggies and rice. Despite never being a fan of rice with my burger instead of fries, I long ago lost the "I say hambaaga, you say hambaagu" battle with the beau. As with most things concerning food and drink, I have to bow to his superior palate. I can now think of nothing better than dipping a bite of hambaagu in some sauce and washing it down with some rice. Heaven I tell you!

But it is also inevitable that I still sometimes crave hambaagas of the bun and fries variety. Burgers are certainly getting gourmet here but first you have to wade through all the teriyaki burgers, katsu burgers and McPorks. I'm sorry but does "McPork" not sound dirty and wrong to everyone else? Anyway we went to Brozers' in Ningyocho and waited outside for half an hour for a table. It has recently been written up in a couple magazines or else all the trendy Japanese scenesters would not be going to Ningyocho to wait in line for burgers. I too, am anti-line, but as I hardly eat red meat outside of restaurants, I wasn't going away without a fix. I went for a standard cheeseburger that came with three onion rings and some fries (1000 yen) and it was quite tasty. The patty seemed a little thin but I was stuffed afterward so I guess it was just right. Tasted like North America. I'd go back.

I have still never been to Freshness Burger because the name puts me off, and although burgers should be fresh, it still strikes me as an oxymoron. Mos Burger, Japan's other burger chain, is great though. They cook to order and a chalkboard in each store lists where the vegetables used that day came from (all farms in Japan). Fresh natural veggies and Aussie beef is what they pride themselves on and their website even lists all the farms around Japan that they buy from. Again, the cheeseburger is good stuff.

The Mos cheeseburger comes with tomatoes, onions, mayo, mustard and this zesty meat salsa sauce stuff. Eating the thing is a whole other game and it's impossible to do it without a mess. But a tasty mess nonetheless. Mos also has rice burgers which I've never seen anyone order because come on, Japanese people don't go to a burger joint looking to eat rice.

Just give me the goods

Me: So I ran out again and can't make it until my next run to Canada

Him: OK how was the quality of the last stuff I gave you?

Me: Fine, fine, basically on par with what I can pick up in Canada

Him: I see, you need anything else?

Me: Nah just give the the pills

Yes another fun trip to my pill gyno today. I am such a gyno whore-I go to one for my pills if I run out and since I am still on the fence about whether I should trust him to look at my cooch, I go to another for actual examinations. I literally sat in the chair, had this very brief exchange with him and was out the door 2 minutes later. I don't know why I even bothered sitting down.

On another pleasant note I am about ready to start taking the stairs instead of the elevator up to my floor at work to avoid the uncomfortable elevator etiquette that arises whenever there are more than two people riding. Yesterday for example: two male Professionals, one secretary and myself riding up with one of the Profs on the right-hand buttons and the secretary manning the left. We are all getting off on the same floor. Doors open and are held open by P and s so I start to head out when s realizes she can also alight from the shaft-craft. This ensues in me pulling back, her pulling back, the guys getting confused and saying go ahead and eventually Amazonian I is the first one off. Behind me I can hear one of the Profs saying "it's ladies first" to the secretary who then thanks them and apologizes profusely. Made me want to smack her and remind her that she need not act like the Profs had just given her a Louis Vuitton bag instead of just letting her get off the elevator first. It has gotten to the point that I just want to avoid all the elevator baggage.

This whole "ladies first" thing in Japan is kind of a joke. As in the above situation, after the one Prof made the ladies first crack they both had a laugh about it. Many other times when I've heard ladies first mentioned it is always accompanied by snickers and snorts. It's this foreign concept that has been introduced as something that should be followed but as it is not necessarily instinctive, it is often an afterthought. Like, oh right! must remember ladies first next time. It sometimes seems like everything in Japan comes in a ladies size, ladies version, ladies price. I am a fan of ladies day Wednesday at the movies when tickets are 1000 yen for ladies only. But I'm also convinced it is a ploy to convince Japanese women that they are now treated equally, if not better, than men. Well excuse me for saying this but it's going to take a lot more than a cheap movie day and free dessert at lunch for ladies only to call things here egalitarian. This is going to turn into another post, I can feel it.

By the way, my office is on the 30th floor of a high rise.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Graduate

Good news dear readers, I graduated from kimono school yesterday and am one step closer to becoming a docile and domesticated Japanese woman. If only it were true! (The becoming docile and Japanese part, that is.) (Well actually the wanting to become any one of those things too.)

Last week they TIMED me getting dressed. I thought they were fucking with me when they pulled out the stop watch, like hey, let's play watch whitie panic! But no, apparently to get the certification for the foundation course you need to go from panties to tied obi and smoothed seams in under 25 minutes. Being yours truly, I passed although not before my sensei noted that I had started to develop a bad habit of tying everything slightly off centre. They said my balance was off and that I needed to find my centre. As I told my mom later on the phone, I didn't need a kimono class to tell me that!!

The logical explanation is that because my right arm is stronger I tend to favour it and pull harder than with my left. I'm personally convinced that my emotional state is subconsciously showing itself through my kitsuke product. Will have to keep an eye on that.

Yesterday was a review class where I tied a bunch of different obi knots to refresh my memory and I think I finally got my collar to sit right! It's really been bothering me lately because I can never get it to sit just right but I think the key is to pull it down in the back prosti-style and once you tie the front it will sit appropriately.

My sensei is so sweet, when she handed me the certificate she started going on about how it pleased her that I was interested in kimono culture and that in the next level course I'll learn even more (I took this to mean they'll have me back). Then she tells me that she saw a TV program featuring a foreign woman who runs an onsen who "wears kimono properly and everything" and that she is so steeped in Japanese culture she puts Japanese people to shame. Putting her hands on my shoulders she then said, But don't worry! you don't have to go that far. Thank god for that. I smiled inwardly as I remembered when the school mistress sewed half a collar onto one of my undergarments and told me to finish up the rest at home. This entailed actually adding pieces of fabric with a needle and thread. I promptly gave up at home that night after attempting to attach a piece of fabric haphazardly cut from a 100 yen apron with a 100 yen sewing kit.

The next week the mistress saw that no progress had been made on my top and said, Oh you don't sew? No lady, I went to an actual university, not a home-ec college in some rural town south of Tokyo. Scornful as I am, I do actually wish I could sew so I could fix some of my antique kimono. I wish I could cook better too but that will come in due course after I start taking Japanese cooking lessons next month! Don't worry, it stops there, I'm only interested in eating home-cooked Japanese food and textiles.

If the onsen's foreign okami-san (mistress, proprietress) has piqued your interest - a quick google tells me her name is Jeanie Fuji of the Fujiya Ryokan. She has also written a book called Japanese People Are Not Japanese Enough (in Japanese for the Japanese). I'd be curious to read what she has to say...But until then, I have my next three month kimono class to think about.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Car navi yes, but teeth navi?!

Just when you'd given up on brushing your teeth for lack of technique...

Japan saves the day again and pops out a tooth brush with its own navigational system!! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the commercial for it on TV! They really have gone bat-shit this time. You've seen those books called "100 craziest Japanese inventions" with shoe umbrellas and the like, so obviously this doesn't really top that but it just seems so ridiculous.

I will now refrain from making a snide comment on the state of people's teeth in this country and how something like this is well overdue...

This puppy from Braun costs around 19,000 yen, has 4 different modes and 3 "navi" systems which time how long you've been brushing for, point out where you should brush next and let you know how much pressure to apply in each area. Wow amazing! Whatever happened to good old-fashioned brushing and flossing? Floss is hard to find here, the beau had never seen it before I showed him! Looks like Japan has skipped flossing and jumped straight into the space age with this one.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fire flowers

花火 Last night I went out to Yokohama with the beau and one of his friends to see the big fireworks festival. Or fire flowers, if you do a direct translation from the Japanese, which sounds much more exciting and old skool. Mostly because of our work schedules we have never been able to go to watch hanabi together so we made the most of it and went pimped out in yukata (above) and jinbei (him). Jinbei are a style of clothing consisting of shorts and a top that has a shape similar to men's yukata. Instead of yukata, many guys will wear jinbei out in the summer but only to casual events. Let me just say here that I love a guy in yukata or jinbei. I don't know what it is but the beau looks so cool in both and when I spotted a group of young guys in yukata, I thought to myself, "thank god for hot Japanese boys in yukata". If you are a foreign woman here and you don't get enough attention as it is, try going out in yukata or kimono some time. You would think they had just discovered sliced bread or something.

I got my yukata four or five years ago from Uniqlo. Every summer they release a new collection and for a yukata/obi set it's only 3900 yen. Granted you and a million other girls will have the same yukata, the big population helps to tone that down and I was happy not to see anyone else with my pattern last night. Plus you can buy geta or other accessories elsewhere to customize your look.

The hanabi in Yokohama are set off from a barge in between two large piers on the shoreline and there is special reserved seating along both piers for a pretty penny which we went for because really, hanabi come but once a year. It was well worth it though to be right where the action was and to be close enough that my heartbeat kept getting thrown off by the boom of the fireworks. What a great show! One full hour of hanabi sponsored in sets by different Japanese companies. There's nothing quite like hanabi to encompass the feeling of summer in Japan. And the Japanese know how to do summer.

There are still a bunch of hanabi festivals left this summer but nothing could top our seats or the atmosphere last night. The Sumida-gawa hanabi are next Saturday but I'm going to stay down the river around Ryogoku to test how much of it I can see from my hood.

The only downer of the night was when this old man got on the train and started puking. Instead of getting off at the next station his wife just put down newspaper on the train floor and gave him a CLEAR plastic bag to do it in next time. Which he did, and then started sorting through it with his hand for some reason I didn't quite catch. I felt sorry for the poor guy, and maybe they just wanted to get to where they were going, but they should have gotten off the train. The beau said as much under his breath and some foreigner standing in front of us tried to impress his gf by saying that the beau should be more considerate and nice. Unfortunately I didn't hear the exchange or I would have asked him if he wanted to join the old guy in sorting through his spew. Hey, maybe next month's subway poster will touch on this issue!

All in all a great night and relaxing long weekend. And in the further spirit of Japanese summer, the beau and I went to the Mitsukoshi depachika (department store basement) tonight to buy unagi among a lot of other stuff. I could spend hours in those basements and every time we go we end up buying way more than we can eat because it all looks so damn enticing. When eaten in the summer unagi is supposed to help increase energy and it is often said to increase male virility. As with many of our food ideas, we were watching a food program on TV that was featuring unagi and so of course, that ends up being our dinner. Which I am now going to eat. Itadakimasu!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fold my chopstick bag!

ホット Sooo if you live in Japan you've had to have seen Hot Pepper magazine and maybe even girls in cowboy hats passing copies out on the street. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, it's a monthly coupon magazine with a different version for each part of town (so for example I currently have one covering Ginza, Nihonbashi and Kanda etc). The mag mostly covers restaurants and lounges/bars with every page filled with pictures of either food, drink or interior shots (not a good idea to read it when you're hungry with no food within arm's reach). But it also has beauty salons, lessons and some shopping info. I've never actually used one to decide where to go out for dinner but I always pick one up when I need something to read on the train and I secretly love looking at all the restaurants even if I'm not in the market for one.

Recently when I flicked through one I made a great discovery: paper chopstick envelope origami!!! Next time you're at the izakaya and waiting for
your food, impress your friends and lovers with origami animals!




In a small note to the side it lays out the main uses of this intriguing and ancient Japanese Tradition:

1. To fill gaps in the conversation
2. To fill time between dishes
3. To fill space in your heart

Aw how kitsch is that! I think this whole chopstick envelope thing is going to catch on so I want you all to go out and get folding!!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Kaisha

Yesterday the boys at the top decided to give me more money and more holidays in celebration of signing a new contract. I feel strangely void (albeit relieved that I have more money to throw at my student loan) and hopeful that I will not work out the next one-year contract. Mine is a great on-paper job but in reality I find myself ready to poke sharpened pencils in my eyes just to spice up the work day. My dad tells me 1) I should be so grateful for the life I have. true. The beau tells me 2) most jobs suck. true. So bear with me while, in celebration of my life and my contract, I compile a list on the Kaisha.

At the Kaisha...
**You can't get to the sink in the ladies washroom after lunch to wash your fucking hands because there are at least 10 secretaries lined up at the sink redoing their hair and make-up.
**It's OK to be drunk at work, how else would you go out for dinner and a drinking party and then return to work?
**On Valentine's Day, you can see secretaries scurrying about with bags of designer chocolates strung up to their elbows to distribute to the Professionals (the men that is).
**When male Professionals go out for conferences or whatever and come back, their secretaries greet them with itterashaimase and okaerinasai or otsukaresama deshita, much like their wives would at home, except more polite.
**Some Professionals and secretaries will blatantly shut the door behind them in the elevator hall, even though they know I am behind them and that I work there. Kinda fucking hard to miss!
**There is no ladies first with doors unless you take it like the aggressive bitch you are.
**People you do work for and who sit directly BEHIND you will ignore you in the hall when you pass each other.
**There are smoking rooms on each floor. Rumor has it, one even has a crystal ashtray. Keep in mind of course, these are almost strictly Male Professional zones. You would not catch a secretary in there and only rarely can you see a Top Professional woman heading in for a smoko (and even then, she's not exactly vying for male attention).
**Secretaries marry Professionals all the time. They of course quit when this happens. I was once told by a wise Foreign Woman before me, it's really an omiai (arranged marriage) gathering masquerading as a Japanese company. And I'm just caught up in the middle of it all masquerading as someone who gives a shit.
*There are more male Professionals than female,
I don't know why I bother writing this seeing as it is such a given. The ones who make it to the very top probably wouldn't be considered doable.
**There is an empty office with a pimped out space ship massage chair. Go in, shut the door and ooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhaah.
**There are voluntary health checks annually. And do not worry, the results are only released to the person in charge of "health" at the Kaisha. We're talking physical and mental health checks here people.
**The "newcomers" are responsible for providing the entertainment
at the annual Xmas party, which more often than not involves air guitar, cross-dressing and running around in tight speedos.
**Secretaries invite you to lunch once, and then you never see them again after receiving an email letting you know that it was Super Fun Times despite the fact that you were bored out of your skull.
**Secretaries who have been Overseas don't understand boundaries or the proper usage of "xoxo" and I have gotten "Best regards, Yumi xx" from chicks I've never even met before.
**Word has it a Former Foreigner with a quick eye saved the Kaisha from distributing a "Pubic Massage" instead of a message intended for the public once.
**Most of the people I work for I have never met in person. Who needs real contact when you can fantasize about what that person looks like through their email style.
**When I get work from someone for the first time, I immediately look them up in the Kaisha directory and decide whether I am happy to do their work or not depending on how they look.
**If I get a curt or urgent email that does not please me, I look the person up in the directory and make fun of them in my head.
**There is a guy who has rage issues and sends his underlings nasty messages like "Die!" at 3am. These messages are cc'd to everyone on the floor.
**Some of the not so smart secretaries accidentally hit SEND ALL on emails that say shit like "Hey princess, what's up? So where did you like, go for lunch today?" Seconds later a second email from the same dimwit: "Dear all, I'm terribly sorry for the interruption. Please excuse me for I have been rude."
**When emails get sent round offering free tickets to sports games, restaurant coupons, shopping sale invites etc. from clients, it takes literally ONE minute for the next email coming in to say thanks for your interest but we have given them all away. Aren't these bitches doing any work?!
**There are floor dinner parties welcoming new people, at which I get routinely and embarrassingly ignored. They know I speak Japanese. I smile and try to get involved in the conversation but the male Professionals ain't having none of that. Whoever said all Japanese people are super polite are super fucking off the mark. Funnily enough, when I've asked my Japanese girlfriends about this and the general ostracization of Me at work, they say it's because I'm too cute so people can't talk to me or think I'm snobbish. Right, either that or they're all just assholes.
**I don't get to sit with anyone. There are three empty spaces by me but the Kaisha has left them empty. I guess if a secretary is bad they will banish her to my white ghetto.
**One day I'm going to go crazy on everyone and build a blue tarp fort around my desk like the homeless guys on the Sumida.
**One of the Professionals who has an office by me sneezes, horks his phlegm and cuts his toenails so loudly I can hear him through the wall. He also swears to himself, complains to no one and at night puts his gf on speaker phone so that he doesn't have to hold the receiver. All this from a tiny little man whose head barely grazes my tits.
**People actually run down the halls of the office. I don't know that they are doing something so life-threateningly urgent, but sprinting down the hall sure makes it look like they are working hard and super diligent.
**Have I mentioned before I am like the office Amazon? I feel like fucking king kong when I pass some of the tit-grazing guys in the hall. Even when I bow my head to them it's like tyrannosaurus Rex coming through the forest.
**It's common knowledge who the kyabakura kings are and which Professionals like young nubile girls. Ick.
**In order to improve work place relations, they held a donut day and ordered in 1000 Krispy Kremes, I kid you not. Try pulling the stuck-up stick out of every one's tight asses guys.
**Every day is the senior prom. To look at them, you would think the secretaries were going on dates everyday with all the lace, glitter and silk. Fur stoles and ballgowns actually make an appearance at the Xmas party.
**There is only paid vacation, no sick day allowance. If you get sick and have to take the day off, it's coming out of your 10 days of paid holiday. Don't even think about taking unpaid time off.
**Every one knows who is sporting a toupee.
**Secretaries and young female Professionals alike decorate their desks and offices with stuffed animals and pink glittery shit. The secretaries I understand but the Professionals?! This is a professional environment right? I feel like taking them aside and saying look honey, you're a Professional. No amount of girly crap on your desk is going to land you a date.
**There is a hot food vending machine like at the conbini. Who knew a vending machine could pop out spaghetti, curry rice and gratin?!?!
**After big holidays you get omiyage bombed by people you don't even know but feel an obligation to give you something from their trip to Shinjuku.
**There are company trips to onsen where you are given the chance to get naked and bond with your dear coworkers.

Well this has turned into an opus but I know as soon as I hit the pillow tonight more memories will come rushing back. I love the Kaisha, I really do.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Scarlet Mona

不輪 For a country that has practically hailed cheating by men as a national past time, they sure don't like it when their women follow suit. Unfortunately I'm not very up on which public figures have cheated and been publicly admonished for it but I'll generalize and say that most male public figures who get caught with their dick out tend to apologize in a news conference and carry on with their lives. That and whatever organization they work for will try to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Cheating women, I'm not so sure.

Yesterday afternoon the TV talk shows all covered announcer Mona Yamamoto's affair with baseball player Nioko. Keep in mind that these are the same shows that a) Yamamoto has appeared on as guest and colleague and b) laugh and joke about men cheating all the time. I don't quite know why I was so surprised, people love to attack public figures when they're down but I guess I viewed her as a fairly popular gei no jin (entertainer) and as part of a team of announcers who regularly appear on TV. She wasn't just ridiculed and picked apart, she was dropped from all of her shows.

Apparently she has now acknowledged her transgression and publicly apologized but when I saw a clip of her yesterday she was saying that the taxi had stopped in front of the love hotel and that's just where they got out. OK. Denial is a powerful urge. But the fact that she was dropped from everything and now literally has no career is shocking. Now she was also caught last year with a married politician and at that time she was also dropped from her TBS mainstay. So just as she had erased that from people's memories and was back in the good books she does it again with a married athlete (she by the way, is not married).

I am the first person to condemn cheating (I figure unless there are extenuating circumstances you should have gotten out of the relationship before doing someone else) and to acknowledge that public figures in particular are asking to be caught if they cheat, my main beef lies with the fact that Japan is still shocked and horrified that surprise! women can cheat too. Not only that, but they also punish them far more severely than cheating men. Get with it Japan!

Kickin it with the carnies

What July is complete without the Mitama matsuri at Yasukuni shrine? With some relation to the upcoming obon festival in August, the Mitama festival is a "soul festival" but without looking into the history of it, it has all the elements of many other summer festivals around Japan: parading of mikoshi, food stalls as far as the eye can see, taiko drumming, obon odori dancing and my personal favourite, men in thongs.

To look at the throngs of couples, teenagers and families you would never guess that this was all taking place at one of the most controversial spots in Japan.

I love summer festivals in Japan, especially the carnie-like quality that many of them have. Have you ever looked closely at the people working behind the games and food booths? Either young tanned high school dropouts or old sweaty ojichan or obachan, and definitely carnies. Yesterday some of the tents were set up under a group of dark trees surrounding the shrine and reminded me of a scene from Beat Takeshi's Kikujiro.

My main strategy when approaching a festival is to basically eat my way through it. There are really no other times when one can justify eating such greasy nastiness with such pleasure so I always try to take full advantage. A sampling of what I tend to go for:

Yakisoba - goes with out saying. Festival standard.

Okonomiyaki - often makes me feel a little sick but is hot and tasty on the way down.

Jaga bataa - a magic combination of potatoes and butter (and other toppings if you're not a purist like me).

Karaage - they know how to fry their chicken, that's for sheez.

Cheezu boru - cheese balls!

Baby kasutera - cake batter poured into little ball molds (ball sponge cake?!) doesn't sound too appetizing but these babies are tasty!

Wataame - cotton candy, also a staple at carnie fairs Overseas.

A little off-putting? Tell me that when you're walking between two rows of stalls in a tight crowd of people, you're looking for an accompaniment to your beer and you can smell this stuff. Really, festival food here should have its own food group. There's also squid on sticks, candied fruit, flavoured ice, yakitori, oden, ramen, chocolate bananas, and roasted corn. I think the thrill for me of eating this stuff is not only that I've drunk the carnie Kool-aid but also that in a typical Japanese kitchen (ie. sans oil tanks and industrial flame grills) you can't make most of this stuff. Who am I kidding, I just like it period.

Yesterday I didn't just eat however. There was dancing to take in, and also a lantern display that had large rectangular white lanterns which had been signed/drawn on/painted on by sumo wrestlers and other celebs in Japan. I also found myself mother to some goldfish by the end of the evening.

The beau and I partook in the ancient Japanese art of goldfish, well, fishing. Or kingyo sukui. For usually around 300 yen you get a small bowl and a flat net made of paper and then you squat down in front of a small pool of water and try to catch as many little goldfish as you can before the net breaks. I don't mean to say there are people frantically shovelling goldfish into their bowls, but if you aren't gentle the net will break immediately. 11 goldfish between the two of us and not much oxygen for all of them, we booked it to Donki for a small tank and then raced home in a taxi. Well actually my mind was racing but the taxi, not so much. Two of them looked like they weren't going to make it and I considered CPR in the taxi but ultimately decided against it. Time of death: 20.30 and 20.33.

So now I've got a tank of goldfish in my apartment, how very Sakuran of me I know, and I've got to worry about whether they are going to fry in the heat every day. What would I be doing now if I had gotten that puppy?!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Architectural treasure hunt

Can I first just say, when did it become summer?! All through June and the beginning of this month there have been hot summery days and I've definitely been schvitzing, but then again I schvitz all year as long as I'm moving so that's not exactly a reliable measure of the outside temperature. Today it was the first day that felt like the oppressive Tokyo summer I know and despise. There was even a freak squall! I only heard the thunder in Kanda but at that very moment it was raining and blowing like a tropical storm across town in Shibuya and Odaiba.

As I mentioned in a previous post I was planning an architectural tre
asure hunt. I didn't make it after work as I got waylaid until last train at this very cute cafe/bar in Naka-meguro called Combine. It sits right above the river and the whole wall is lined with art and architecture books. There is even a cute European guy on staff who danced around and did some endearing hip jerks for my friend's birthday.

Cute isn't it? It's even better at night with the twinkling lights and the river.

So. I headed out into the thick evening air from Shimbashi station tonight hoping it hadn't yet been torn down. I first discovered it through an article in a Japanese magazine I was reading at the laundromat by our old apartment. I did something I would normally never do-I tore out the whole article and took it home. I forgot about it a short time later until I was doing a search on Tokyo tower and it popped up coincidentally. The building owner was planning to tear it down and build something in its place but the architect who originally built it was fighting this in court. I started searching the Japanese news sites franti
cally, hoping I hadn't missed the chance to see it in person. The most recent article I could find said that in October 2007 the court ruled against the architect and he died the same year, appealing to the world to save his building...

I had a vague idea of where I was going, I knew I had to find a big highway overpass and the building would (hopefully) be on the other side of it. As I neared the highway I scanned the tops of the buildings peaking over it and there was the sign I had been looking for from photographs I had seen!!!
I ran up on to the pedestrian overpass to get a better look and saw one of its inhabitants staring out his round window at me. There were a couple other lights on and I felt a little sad watching the building like a stalker, thinking that only lonely people could live there. For all I know there could be lots of hip young things living there but for rooms so small and eclectic, I imagined all the original inhabitants still lived there, trapped in the same lives they led when it was first erected.

Finally I crossed over and down so that I was standing right under the front eaves of the building. There were several signs in Japanese and English telling people to Keep Out! and No Trespassing! which I guess indicates that there have been some unwelcome tourists trying to enter the building or harassing the people living there. I'm going back in the daylight tomorrow to get some pics and will explain more then.

Unless of course, you already know what my treasure is.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Geisha in conflict

Last week I won an argument in Japanese but lost some pride in my normal fairly polite Japanese composure. I wanted to exchange a jacket for a different size at FCUK and had arranged with the salesperson the day before to do so. This was apparently a problem because I had bought it at another store and silly me! I should have known to tell the salesperson every fucking detail about the purchase. Once they saw I wasn't falling for the sorry-we-can't-do-it-line they tried to pull another one on me by claiming it was past the return-by date. Well that was one detail I managed to convey to the salesperson the day before so her fault again. Back and forth we went as the problem got handed off in the end, to three different people. Phone calls were made to the branch I bought it at, messages were left with the salesperson "helping" me the day before and a lot of standing around. One woman who I presume was as close to a manager as any of them, kept getting me to repeat my conversation with the salesperson the day before. I wanted to ask her, If my story is different than hers, you're going to believe her? Or, if my story checks out, you're going to help me?

I'm not usually a difficult customer and I have thrown a lot of money at FCUK here in Tokyo. If it had been a Japanese store I would NEVER even ATTEMPT to return something as it isn't done so much here. Some places accept exchanges and returns but they don't much believe in buyer's guilt in Japan. This wasn't even guilt, I just wanted a different size and because it was FCUK I figured they should be able to hook me up. But no. The manager kept trying to tell me that it was past the date and that they couldn't do exchanges from other branch stores. Throughout the whole thing I remained positive and friendly, remembering back to one day in Japanese language school when we did a unit on conflict resolution and making complaints in Japanese. I thought I was doing pretty well.

I told them that if they had such strict rules the salesperson should have fully investigated the details of my purchase the previous day. I came all the way (I specifically said this) to Shibuya before work to do this but she still wouldn't budge. So she explained the impossibility of it all again. And then had
the nerve to ask, do you understand? That's when conflict resolution went out the door and working my foreign ass came in. I said I did understand but the salesperson clearly knew that I had bought the jacket several weeks before. Manager bitch (yes I'm reduced to calling her that now) said that we must have had a communication misunderstanding (code for you are a stupid lying foreigner) and again laid out why it would be oh so difficult to give me a different size jacket. I could see this wasn't moving along anywhere new so I was very very bad and said to her, So what? Which was a very shitty thing to say in Japanese and in the tone I used. She drove the resolution out of me and I needed to exchange my 17000 yen jacket. MB looked down for a few shocked moments and then said, Because you brought it in with a receipt, tags, and in perfect condition we will do it just this once. Like I'd attempt to go through that again! It wasn't just that though, she had treated me like some crack ho who had swiped a jacket and was trying to return it for cash instead of the nicely dressed customer who paid with plastic and kept the tags on.

When I got to work later and looked over my victory jacket, I noticed that they had taken the tags off!!! Just in case I showed up again trying to pull some more crazy shit because hey let's face it, I've got nothing better to do than argue with retail bitches about who said what.

It's hard knowing how to behave here. In some ways I feel I should just speak Japanese the way I speak English and act how I normally would. In other ways, I know enough Japanese to know how to speak properly in different situations and I might have mentioned before how my voice gets higher in Japanese. It feels like I'm selling out but I also feel the need to conform in some ways to be better understood and respected. It's a compromise either way and in all honesty, I'm glad I pulled the bitch out of the bag at FCUK that day.

Tokyo Tower is an envious woman

Tokyo Tower was green with envy** this past Sunday night. She is being replaced with an upgraded version that is almost twice her 330 metres. Her only consolation is that the new younger woman is going to reside in Sumida-ku. I couldn't believe this when I heard it! What would suit the old, quiet and sometimes rundown neighbourhoods in Sumida-ku more than a huge silver gleaming monstrosity of a tower?! Wiki said the new tower is "designed to have graceful curves similar to samurai swords and traditional Japanese buildings so that it does not detract from the surrounding scenery". Riiiight, we won't even know it's there. Give me a break!! The planned site is around Oshiage station AKA where the fuck is that?! The construction website for the silver phallus informs us "Now Oshiage is silent town". You bet your ass it is.

Although the old Tower (how insensitive am I calling it old when the new one doesn't yet exist?!) is somewhat of an eyesore, I do get a cheap and easy thrill when I see it poking through various open spots in the city (but will not admit this to anyone). And yet I climbed up her red iron skirts for the first time on Sunday when the beau and I had some time to kill before dinner. But don't worry, despite the romantic tanabata atmosphere and the twinkling lights we didn't hoochie-coo like some other cheap thrill seekers. I've also decided that the Tower is best appreciated from the outside, because the big pimp view of Tokyo is from Tokyo City View at Roppongi Hills.

Thanks to some net trawling to find out more about the Other Woman, I discovered a building I've wanted to see in person may or may not exist anymore. So I am going on an architectural hunt tonight, and that building better not stand me up!!!

**Despite my jealous woman analogy, it was actually green to promote environmental stuff or some shit for the G8 conference in Hokkaido this week. I hope those mega-power lights are environmentally friendly.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

But I'm a lady...

After being a student here and going to expensive foreign clinics before deciding it was time to go Japanese, I have been to several different Japanese doctors. I am lucky to be in good health and have never really been seriously ill except for the time I contracted the norovirus from some sushi and even then I only felt like I was dying for 3 days. Most of the doctors seemed capable, albeit very clinical, and they always prescribed a plethora of meds which included pills, liquids and powders. And that was for a cold. They all worked though.

The two doctors that stand out in my mind would have to be the guy who said he was going to do a test on my "vageena" (this even had the beau snickering as we had recently been discussing its proper pronunciation) and the older female doctor who wore pink leg warmers with her white skirt and lab coat. Now I think you get the all-mighty doctor syndrome anywhere, but I get the feeling it's going out a style a lot slower here. Doctors are "god", second opinions are not often asked for and of course, you've probably heard that if you are terminally ill here, your doctor won't inform you of such. These types of things are changing but I have little faith in the Japanese system after hearing/seeing all this.

I had been putting off my yearly pap smear for ages, mostly because while you can walk into a doctor's office here and ask for one, I have always gotten the feeling it's just not done. When I asked a doctor once about yearly paps he said once every few years was fine and that most women here didn't do them until they were thinking about becoming with child.

I looked up several "ladies clinics" (no joke, this title is apparently supposed to induce feelings of wanting to go to the gyno) and a lot of them didn't take health insurance. I ended up at one that didn't (18,000 yen later for a urine and blood test and a quick poke with a swab) but even clinics that do take health insurance aren't often covered for tests (I'm not sure about paps but STDs and other tests are not covered). And they said Japan was progressive. Progressive in that they try to make a trip to the ladies clinic feel spa-like by offering courses named after flowers and shit. Like "Blue Lotus Course: Urine sample, PAP smear, uterus echo, oral consult". Gosh I get so warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. My favourite was the "bridal check" which gave me images of tent people in the desert checking some 12 year old bride to make sure her hymen is still intact. But no, here it just means a big extensive check-up including STD tests and reproductive organ checks before you get married. Loved that shit. Why worry about your sexual health or whether you have protected yourself from STDs before marriage? Because you don't really matter, we are doing this to protect your future husband. Not much better than the desert people if you ask me.

Okay so I digressed. I have to give props to the doc I ended up sitting across from today. He actually shook my hand when we met and looked me in the eye during the consult. Perhaps we're not down the rabbit hole after all I thought to myself. I of course, spoke too soon. After the consult I was ushered into another room divided by a huge white curtain with a chair placed right under the dividing line. The nurse told me to take off my stockings and panties, hike my skirt up around my waist and sit in the chair. I also got the option of having the curtain open or closed (open). If it was closed I thought, I would be sitting in this chair, staring at a white curtain, my legs on the other side of it. The chair was no-nonsense and straight-backed so that I sat on a small shelf like seat, with two separate parts supporting my thighs while my legs dangled in the air. When it was show time the seat of the chair basically fell away, I was hoisted up to eye level (by "I" I mean my cooch) with the doc and the two leg parts spread me open. There I was in my pearls and skirt, in some horror movie chair with the doc saying "I'm going to touch you now". Which by the way, he didn't. He managed to scrape some cells from my cervix without actually touching my body. What a man!

I guess you just gotta laugh. The dated and oppressive feeling that I get here from tampons being wrapped in brown paper bags, from pills claiming to enhance beauty and stockings to make you lose weight just by walking, and from gynecology offices being called "ladies clinics" to make them seem nicer, would be too depressing if I didn't.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Boo boo taboo

I went to see [Beau·ti·fied Ta·boo] this evening, a one night-only art exhibition at SuperDeluxe in Roppongi. The website promised a "dangerous art exhibition," which I think is a dangerous statement to make. SuperDeluxe is a cool space that tends to book interesting events but I just wasn't into it. For the amount of installations and mini-exhibitions they had going on in such a crowded space, it felt more like a party in some one's basement than a place to appreciate what the artists had set up. Plus the crowd. Now I don't know what I was expecting but it was a little poser-heavy. We're all posers, but the trendy art posers have got to be some of the worst.

I had hoped to catch a "body sushi" live installation but missed it and walked in during the middle of a butoh performance. Call me crazy, but hasn't everyone already seen people splatter-paint their bodies and dance around to drums?! If you google the exhibition you can find photos from the sushi installation which is actually naked men laid out instead of women, which would have been great to see. The photo above is of an installation in the corner of this woman in a very large red dress. Between her feet and on the pedestal she is propped on, there was a little TV monitor. I looked over at one point in the evening and there were two frat boy types sticking their heads under the skirt fabric, like, gee isn't this an original and appropriate thing to do?! The woman changed at one point, to a very pretty white girl, and I have my suspicions they wouldn't have gotten away with those antics under her skirt.

The most entertaining part of the evening was when a (I would assume inebriated) woman took it upon herself to start stripper dancing with the band and then even after they had finished she made the rounds, one would assume looking for a mate. I didn't realize the whole groupie thing was still cool but damn, girl was working the room like hip grinding was going out of style.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Feelin' groovy

OK first of all who plugs their ears with their pinky fingers!?!?!?!!? I'm sorry but it needed to be said.

The metro poster for July warns, "Please be careful of noise leaking from your headphones in the train". In English would we spell this out so explicitly if there was an accompanying picture? Or would it say something like "please be conscientious of others" or "please refrain from listening to loud music"? I'm not sure how 音漏れ (oto more) would translate into English, but I think if the Tokyo Metro is going to say something that sounds as awkward as the above they might as well translate the phrase directly and warn us, "Please be careful of sound leakage on the train". At least it would be awkward English with style. In terms of the actual message, I would have liked to see two pictures, one illustrating sound leakage with a guy wearing iPod headphones and one illustrating sound containment with a guy wearing big headphones like the ones in the actual poster.

Of course, the creepy man is featured again but this time we get a body shot! And now I am convinced he is the Man. A tool. I'm going to call him "the Tool" from now on. Is he wearing TWO watches?! I can understand the kid is wearing a sweatband but what is the deal with the Tool? Anyway you almost have to feel sorry for the guy. In the first few posters he is portrayed as a creepy perv and now he is sporting a tie clip, short sleeves because he is practising a cool biz summer, pince-nez glasses and a comb-over that doesn't quite reach. Not only that but it looks like he might even be suffering from metabolic syndrome, or metabo to those in the know. Maybe it will be the instability from sound leakage that will eventually drive him to molesting female passengers in the months to come.