Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the joys of renting in Tokyo

More so than cheating and extra-marital affairs, rent in Tokyo is one of this city's residents' dirtiest little secrets. Rent amounts are asked for in whispers at parties and given in barely audible tones or sign language, if at all possible. "How many mats?" you'll hear. "I don't do mats, but it's around 20m2" will come the reply. "Do you have a 1K?" "No, but I've got a 2LK." Drug talk and illegal arms negotiations? Nope, it's real estate talk. People in Tokyo are embarrassed about how much they pay in rent, especially knowing that moving east to Chiba or north to Saitama they could pay a fraction for more space. But then you wouldn't be able to make bad decisions after a night of drinking to drop 4000 yen on a cab home because it's close enough to justify in your inebriated state. Hell, I've justified it when I'm stone-cold sober on occasion. Some people prefer clean air, open space and easy living, while some prefer bars that aren't all snacks, the thrill of a salaryman's body pressed close during the morning rush (and on trains that run underground at that) and more Starfucks than you can poke a stick at. I respect people in the inaka, their experience is certainly different from my Tokyo existence and interesting to me because of that, but it's just not for me at this stage.

Living in close proximity to everything in Tokyo is something worth paying for in my books, and I find it has warped my sense of perception when I hear myself proclaiming a 120,000 yen shoebox to be a fabulous steal to someone I've just met. Someone I've just met and yet we are already airing our dirty real estate laundry, taking pains to assure one another that we both have great deals on our small and expensive apartments. It's a sickness, really.

Imagine how tickled fucking pink I was when the beau casually mentioned a couple months ago that we would have to pay two months' rent as a renewal fee once our two-year lease is up in the near future. Let me me clear: not two months' rent towards a deposit (i.e., comes back eventually) or two months' rent towards the first two months of the new lease, but two months' rent down the fucking toilet, off to nevernever land, sayonara 300,000 yen (yes you can do the math), never to be seen again and not to be used for any apparent purpose. The thought that we are in fact paying yakuza protection money actually crossed my mind, I'll admit. What else could explain this blatant price gouging??? I don't have the time to look into it at the moment but I'll go out on a limb and say it's related to the archaic (is it even?) practice of 'key money', a couple months' rent paid to the landlord as a 'please continue to think of us favorably' gesture. Quite the gesture don't you think? Especially considering that my landlord is not even a person but a huge real estate conglomerate with a bank as it's parent company.

Moving out isn't an option (hello six months' rent paid in advance for a new place) and truth be told, I am quite fond of our 'mansion' with its clean white walls and shiny new appliances that talk back. It just causes a pain like no other to flush perfectly spendable money down the toilet. An attorney friend advised me to try and negotiate with the Suits or tell them to piss off, something about a contractual loop-hole. Unfortunately I'm a bit of a goody-good and would not be able to ignore the PAY NOW notices that would come in fast and furious if we refused to pay the renewal fee.

Fast-forward to last week. The renewal notice came in the mail and it turns out we only have to pay one month's rent to the toilet demons. Still painful but I suddenly feel 150,000 yen richer. Let's go on an island holiday! I exclaimed to the beau. Well, maybe not, but I'll be able to put more money towards my student loan, investing in my already-gained knowledge I suppose. The next time someone whispers how much they pay in rent to me, I am going to break tradition and loudly rejoice at how we dodged a bullet, proclaiming with pride that I only have to flush 150,000 down the crapper.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Meet the palents

Not quite, I've met the beau's parents but this past-past Sunday when they came to Tokyo it was Serious Talk time. I'll warn you before going any further, I didn't embarrass myself or have something happen to make me cry or angry so on the whole, it was a fairly uneventful visit. There were also no underage girls running around.

Unskilled non-housewife that I am, I royally fucked up some of my kimono whites and had to buy new tabi from the Mitsukoshi near our house before the start of the week. As the parents also had to buy some expensive fruit to send to someone, we all made the trip there together. The beau and I hadn't really come up with a plan of attack but I figured the ball was going to drop over dinner that night. When the beau and I were alone after the department store however, I found out that he was very pleased with himself as he'd been able to slip in a vague and ambivalent comment about saving money for school in Canada when asked whether he was saving for a Ring by his mother. I was a little skeptical as to whether the full weight of this comment was felt but left it at that.

We went to Ganchan in Azabu for dinner, our favourite yakitori restaurant in the city. If you have a little extra money to spend and enjoy eating chicken and other delicacies on sticks, I would highly recommend it. A lot of geinojin go there but then again a lot of tourists seem to be frequenting it now as well, which does not attract me snooty girl that I am. It must have had the misfortune of being written up in Frommers or Lonely Planet. That aside though, it's a great place and has some tasty fancy skewers like shiitake muchrooms filled with minced meat and other unknowns and mini green peppers stuffed with shiso and cheese.

I love seeing the beau around his parents as it gives me a real sense of where he comes from and it certainly doesn't hurt that they can put him in his place when he needs putting. I think I tend to gloss over the whole international relationship thing, often citing to others that there are not that many differences, humans are humans. During our long conversation on Sunday however, it became crystal clear that on some issues, we come from very different places when it comes to cultural expectations. It's extremely hard to articulate, which gives me no end of frustration but I shall try to illustrate with an example, albeit shallow and simple.

Let's look at service at restaurants and bars in Canada. If you pay enough, you can expect top service with all of the trimmings but frankly, even at fairly pricey establishments, service or skill is often hit and miss. There is no real standard or uniformity in service as there most often is here in Japan. Coming from the mizu shobai the beau is a tough critic and in Canada we have had the misfortune of being served by someone who did not know how to open a bottle of champagne that we ordered, receiving a vegetarian quesadilla with chicken in it and having a server who could not for the life of her understand or remember what drinks we had ordered. I see these kinds of things as unfortunate glitches that happen from time to time but the beau sees them as part of a larger problem, that problem being that people in North America do not have the same skills and quality of service as those in Japan because they are inherently unreliable/sloppy or simply don't have perfection in their nature. While the beau takes serious issue with some of the ways in which people conduct themselves overseas, thinking they need vast improvement, I see it as the culture I grew up in, where professionalism has it's place but where people are much freer in the public sphere, away from the stifling anal rentionism that has covered Japan like a bubble. Well now I've just gone and been all ethnocentric myself there. It's a vicious cycle people, how do you deal with the differences in worldview of your partner without judging them from your own?

And now back to the point. The beau casually steered the conversation towards the subject of us leaving Japan and it went very well. This has nothing to do with the fact that we were about five beers in by that time, I'm sure of it. Really though, his parents were very supportive even though the odds were stacked against us in that he is the chonan (oldest son) and his parents have never left Japan. It went swimmingly in fact, and his mom went off on one of her 50-50 talks that she loves to give, telling us that it ain't right if we're not both happy about it and that her and "papa" are in our corner. I got a little choked up but pretended I had just gotten smoke in my eye. I even snagged an invitation sans beau to visit them up North in a couple weeks for a Tohoku region festival tour, which would be FANTASTIC except for the fact that I can't get away from work and need to save for NYC in September when I expect to hemorrhage money into the US economy (hello new fall wardrobe). I'm glad they know, it feels like a weight has lifted, not that I was all that worried in the first place. What's not to like about a Japanese-speaking, kimono-wearing, future high-powered corporate biatch like me? I think his mom's only stipulation is that we get married before heading to Canada but we shall see, there's certainly no rush and I still feel that 25 is a tender age no matter what the Japanese say. So that's that, gentle readers, that is if you made it this far and were able to wade through all the shit above that reads like someone garbling their speech.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back on my kimono horse

After a three-month break I climbed back up on it yesterday. Needless to say I was a little nervous about getting into my kitsuke classes again, especially since I haven't taken more than a week off since starting over a year ago. As with most hands-on skills however, it all came back fairly quickly and before long I was in kimono and sporting that ever-attractive summer sheen all over my face.

At the end of this shihan (master) course I am in the middle of, I have to qualify for national certification by dressing a model in furisode with a slightly complicated obi arrangement that is appropriate for that kind of kimono. During this course we learn three new ways of tying obi for a furisode ensemble and I have to choose one of them so yesterday I learned the last one. I still have about 15 classes left but need to decide on the obi for my test soon so that I can start practicing. I only have a few practical classes left, three of which are dedicated to bridal kimono, which will probably be more difficult than anything I've learned so far due to the number of layers and weight of the garments.

The rest of the classes remaining are lectures, where I get to sit at a little table on the floor and stare up at either my sensei or the head of the school while they teach me about kimono history, fabrics, manners and practical application. I always imagine this is what it must have been like in the Olden Days. If you recall from my previous posts, you'll know that lectures are my favourite type of class as they require me to sit in seiza for a couple hours. I can shift around a little and sit with my legs to the side but it really doesn't help and I am about ready for surgery with no anesthesia by the end of the lesson. I asked my teacher for some tips, which were helpful if you were sitting for 20 minutes but I find after the 30-minute mark all bets are off. I don't understand how Japanese people do it. They also complain about sitting seiza but I don't see any of them throwing in the oshibori faster than me. It's puzzling, as people here in their twenties and thirties probably didn't sit seiza much growing up unless they were participating in some extra-curricular activity requiring them to do so. So are they in fact better at seiza or just at forgetting about the pain? After all, gaman is slung around here so often you'd think it was going out of style. I'd love to know.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pop & Prep party report

When my friend forwarded me the e-vite for a Pop & Prep party, I was intrigued. The name conjured images of a new dance move: instead of popping and locking, it was now popping and prepping. I imagined preppy Upper East Side kids in knee high socks, blazers emblazoned with school crests and girls in patent leather headbands trying to dance to hip hop. I was clearly a little off the mark. I was dancing to hip hop in a black headband and argyle skirt around 3 a.m. though, doing my part to contribute to the new dance craze that lives only in the confines of my imagination.

The P & P party was themed - preppy with a little pop. I added my pop with saturated pink heels. The attendees - a mix of half kids, Japanese kids in their twenties who had attended international schools as children, foreign twenty-somethings somehow affiliated with the former two and the hangers-on. By this I mean Japanese girls whose only foreign language skills are the names of luxury brands and random Japanese guys who got dragged by their friends. It was a good crowd and since you can't hear my tone of voice I will tell you that I'm not being sarcastic. I even saw an investment banker I know wearing low riders.

Upon arriving everyone got to choose a pair of colour-framed Ray Ban wayfarers. Well, maybe it was actually Roy Bon now that I think about it. How cool! No one gives out party favours anymore. The party was held at an event space called Tangerine in Shibuya, so the vibe was good without any of that nastiness that so many clubs here reek of these days. People were friendly and silly, generally attractive and you could dance uninterrupted (except for a white-girl hunter I let talk to me for a little too long). Except for an unfortunate period of techno music (aren't they all) that made me feel like I was in the doldrums, I really couldn't complain. Even said hunter didn't ask too many inane questions about the kinds of Japanese foods I can't eat and was passably cute. The only real downer was when a girl (hanger on variety) walked into my stationary cigarette (for real) and decided to tell me "" I don't approve of burning people and do conscientiously watch my lit tips although I do think she deserved a slap for acting like a righteous princess and assuming I spoke English. For all she knew I could have been Romanian. Of course these thoughts came to me after I apologized and then continued to imitate her with my friend like the adults we are. Next time I'll plead ignorance in English. Either that or stab her with the sharpened arm of my Roy Bons.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Notes from the subway

A man fell into my lap in the subway yesterday - just another day in the life of a salarygirl. Unfotunately he didn't look like Ken Watanabe or Kim Taku. My shins hurt after taking a hit from his foot and his wheelie bag. Nothing was said, no apology, no nothing. It was almost as if the whole debacle never happened. He must be one of those millions of uber polite Japanese people that the tourists write postcards home about.

It was actually a human pile-up if I am going to get specific. Shinbashi station has got to be one of the more hellish stations on the fair Ginza line and today the shoving got particularly violent when three men fell over and into each other, resulting in said man falling into my lap. I just adore the nothing-happened technique. You know when something embarrassing happens when you're alone with no one to mock you, so you just keep on trucking, pretending nothing happened? Like farting in a yoga class. I have recently employed the nothing-happened technique when my heel got so stuck in the pavement crack that I literally couldn't move and had to extricate my foot from the shoe and wrench it out by hand. Or when I walked up to someone I thought was a colleague in the elevator hall and gave him a loud "Hey!" only to discover it wasn't him but someone I had never seen before. Luckily the man was gracious and asked how I was, but I was too stunned to say "Sorry I thought you were someone else" like a normal person. So yesterday in true polite Japanese form, the salaryman who fell in my lap said absolutely nothing, he didn't even make a sound on impact. He and the other two in the human pile-up just stood up, adjusted their suit jackets and pretended that absolutely nothing had happened! Someone got the shit eye let me tell you.

Writing about Shinbashi station reminded me of this clip that was going around back when I was on exchange at university here. I managed to find it attached to an old email and for the first few minutes wasn't so impressed but by the end I was laughing on the inside. If this doesn't have you holding your nose and announcing the stations along the Yamanote line with a nasally voice in a repeated and obnoxious way that annoys whoever you're with, I don't know what will. As for me, I have a "pop and prep" party to attend in Shibuya tonight so I'll just say the stations to myself in the quiet apartment as I don my pearls and argyle mini skirt.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dan 暖

I finally made another visit to a ganbanyoku (hot stone spa) last month when Other Whitie came back for a visit (we always seem to end up doing weird stuff together such as getting naked and scrubbed or lying on hot stones and sweating). Instead of the place I went before, which was in Yokohama, we tried 暖 (Dan) in Ginza, just a short walk from the station and right behind the Kabuki-za. For first-time visitors (ladies only, sorry gentlemen) there is no membership fee and it's only 2000 yen for a 90-minute sweat fest.

The changing rooms are nice and clean and the hot stone room itself was pretty nice. One advantage it has over the Yokohama spa is the basket of smooth stones at each station that you can place on yourself (e.g., down your spine) to target certain areas to heat up. The Yokohama spa allows you to use stones for an extra fee but at Dan they are included. The only thing I wasn't so hot (ha) on was that the room wasn't scented. The Yokohama spa used scented water to clean each station after use, which gave the room a nice cleansing spa smell but at Dan there is no smell, just oppressive heat, and for me, it wasn't as refreshing as it could have been in that way.

The set-up is basically the same as that in Yokohama with a shower to use after if you so choose. This time I decided to go with their suggestion of not showering afterward (nasty I know but apparently it is clean sweat and good for your skin) and I was only planning to study that afternoon so it didn't seem like the worst idea. And you know what? It wasn't, but despite my glowing skin I felt kind of like, well, like I hadn't showered after sweating in a very hot room. Big revelation I know. In any case, I've said it once and I'll say it again, GO to one of these hot stone spas if you get a chance, they are the perfect place to take a break from the mean streets of Tokyo and to truly feel refreshed and all cleansed (with the shower afterward of course). If you're a guy, there are several places in Tokyo that are like more upscale sento you can go to if you want to get away for an hour or two, which I'm sure are present in other cities too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sayonara Sensei

I gave my Japanese teacher the heave ho today and I am going on a three month break from her. I've been finding her lessons increasingly unproductive and her pressure increasingly high. In order to avoid another lesson of me sitting scowling with my arms crossed like an pouty schoolgirl in grown-up clothes, I've decided our relationship needs a break. She is a cool obachan but refuses to stop harping on me about upping my kanji and well, upping my kanji. We've had a lot of laughs together, I even took her out drinking for a one-on-one bonenkai last December but her big mouth was the tipping point for me.

I think I've mentioned that she takes meticulous notes on my life and weekend activities. What was the name of your friend you discussed the inflation of the Japanese yen with over garlic saute tiger prawns? she'll ask. Wait a minute, how old is you brother again and what is the nationality of his girlfriend? It goes on like this and I should really get a photocopy of her notebook as a diary for my life this past year. Several of the peeps in my small group of non-Japanese colleagues take lessons from my sensei and we like to have a laugh over this peculiar practice of hers. Being her only female student I often heard tidbits about other students, some harmless and some that should not have been related to me. I'm not sure why I thought I was the exception to the rule but on a night out, one of my colleagues mentioned the JLPT last year and that he'd heard about my toilet trouble. Do you recall that story? In short I truly thought that I might pee my pants during the listening section and came extremely close to just walking out so that I wouldn't. Not a big deal, I have told most people I know this story. BUT, the fact that she is going around telling it kind of stressed me out. Not the fact that I was petrified of standing up and finding a wet seat but that if she is telling that kind of stuff to my colleagues what else is she spilling? Granted I never say too much but I have been known to start up a bitch session every now and then and honestly, I don't want my colleagues knowing stuff about me that I'm not ready to tell them.

My Japanese progress for example. Unfortunately I am not really accustomed to failing. Failing to stop myself from eating Hostess Cupcakes yes but failing at the big stuff, no, not so much. This does not mean I am special or holier than thou, just that I've always been a highish achiever and have only failed in what I really want to do a handful of times. This means I don't take failure well and often fail (ha) to take into consideration the fact that an endeavour might actually fail. So do I want my sensei talking to my colleagues who are probably just waiting to take my ass down about my utter lack of motivation to get beyond this annoying Japanese slump that I'm in? No, not so much. I'm known as Geisha with the good Japanese so no, I'd rather keep my plateau struggles to myself on this one and maintain what pride I have left after it being chipped away at by Kaisha culture.

So I avoided the awkward conversation and took a break from sensei by email. Don't you love email? The taking a break part wasn't hard but I couldn't help myself and before I knew it had typed a couple lines asking her to treat everything said in lessons as private and not to discuss me with other students as I am not particularly close with them. The words were Japanese but the sentiment was not, there is no nice way to put that. How do you deal with conflict in Japanese and still maintain a sense that you're not lying down and taking it like a bitch? Thankfully she didn't take too long to reply and interestingly enough, said that there is a possibility she has said things she shouldn't during lessons with other students, which she is sorry for, and she will try to be more conscious of it in the future. Well I guess I couldn't have hoped for a better answer than that could I? I was no doubt surprised however, when she acknowledged having acted inappropriately. Does this mean she knows better and does it anyway, or she has now seen the error in her ways?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Please do it later.

I am LOVING the July manner poster! It is definitely at the top of my would-like-to-steal-it list of the manner posters so far. My only gripe is that they should have pictured the women as gyaru or more faked-out younger women, to make it more representative of the group that would be most likely to exhibit such behaviour.

It looks like Creepy's wife/lover/girlfriend/paid escort is with us for the long haul now, having appeared continuously in the last few posters. I like how they frame the scene for us with the couple placed diagonally from each other, always on the outside looking in...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

This just in

The beau's parents are coming down for the weekend of the 12th. Although I don't think there will be any big family gatherings that include a certain someone's a) jail-bait girlfriend or b) over the hill sex friend, there will certainly be fodder for my blog. Those other stories will have to wait to be made over New Year's. This is big news however, as we will probably be having "the talk" whereby I confess that I am planning to go back to school in Canada and take the beau with me. For good. Immigration papers getting filled out good.

That sounded rather ominous didn't it? We only see the beau's parents a few times a year and so have not yet broached the subject of us leaving Japan one day (and funnily enough it hasn't occurred to them to ask whether my white ass plans to stick it out here, it's not like they can forget I'm not a Yamato Female). Not only that but they probably wouldn't believe us in the same way that the beau's mom went hard of hearing when he said those magic magic words, My Girlfriend is a Gaijin. I'm not really worried, they adore me (like that is any surprise), although I have told the beau that we are not going to give them some ambivalent drivel about how we might be leaving. I think it's only fair that they know well in advance that I am already looking ahead to apply to schools and that we are on a non negotiable two-year plan. Well now I just sound like Stalin.

I'm looking forward to seeing them and excited about the next few years so I hope it goes well and they get themselves some passports so that they can visit. In any event, I'm sure there will be at least one note-worthy story that will involve me being embarrassed, shamed or shocked, so look forward to an update!

Just do it

It is July 1 today but no sightings of this month's manner poster yet, is the anticipation killing you? First check out this fabulous series "based" on the manner posters for Tokyo Metro. The first page is all in Japanese (which should be read if you can read it) but if you check out the previous entries the artist has included English versions. I am personally loving the first date poster with the girl saying "ラブホ行こうぜ" (let's go to a love hotel) and of course the terrorist party train is a classic as well. I mentioned this before but I still think it would be hot to do a photo series of the manner posters, using the same angles and what not. Maybe fool around with the colouring in the prints...

Anyway, I also wanted to direct your attention to this article written about the man behind the posters. If you're interested in the background of the manner posters or the graphic artist who designs them, check it out. It even gives an explanation for the inclusion of Creepy Sweepy and his chester the molester glasses.