Thursday, May 28, 2009
But instead of using her brain and thinking just over the edge of the box, she has taken the liberty to call me Green, when she should be calling me Geisha-san. Phew. What a fucking mouthful! In a perfect world we would all go around calling each other by our first names at the Kaisha but that's not done so I'm just playing by the rules. I guess since I am the exception to the rule at the Kaisha the rules don't apply to me. I tried signing my name at the end of an email "Green-Eyed Geisha" to give her a hint but no-go. Sec's head might explode if she tried to divert at all from the example email Friend Sec gave her and of course she couldn't possibly analyze the email content and decide that calling me by my first name wasn't really appropriate. CAN YOU SAY ROBOT LAND?! OK enough caps, I'm not Kanye.
I have learned many things about name calling in Japan, or rather the way you address those around you. I tried explaining it to my brother and his girlfriend last month in Paris when we were talking about how one would do such things in French. I ended up realizing how very muddled it is and even when you know it, you don't. It's like a fucking free for all that always manages to show you exactly where you stand among those around you.
When I first started with Japanese we used anata in simple sentences to mean "you", much as we would in English. While in Japan my teachers would discourage us from using it most of the time, claiming it could come off as rude and that we should be referring to someone in the 2nd person by using that person's name, essentially referring to them in the 3rd person. This would sound like we were talking to a child or the elderly in English. During this time I had anata used on me at places like the city hall when questions were being asked or by polite old people. Fast-forward to my first trip North with the beau where I discovered that family members often use anta among themselves and very liberally. Then there are the annoying women in soap operas who use anata with their husbands/lovers/boyfriends, which makes me want to vomit for some inexplicable reason.
The beau calls me Green-Eyed or honey, while I call him Beau or darling (and a host of pet names you don't want to know). Among Japanese couples it seems honey is used by the guy while darling is used by the girl but I don't know why or when this distinction was made (the movie "The Break-up" is called "Honey versus Darling" in Japanese). I get called omae when the beau is mad or is talking down to me. He knows it drives me crazy and I know it doesn't have to be offensive but I resent it nonetheless. I have taken to calling him omae on the last couple occasions I was mad but it just sounds stupid so I have since stopped. If I am being honest with myself I actually kind of like it when the beau calls me omae because I can pretend I am in some old-skool and patronizing relationship with a man who orders me around. I see the beau using omae with his younger brother and the part-timers who work for him when he wants to say you in a rough and emphatic way. I have seen the beau's mom call him and his brothers omae. I saw a guy in an elevator once dressing down his male assistant and snarling omae at him.
Big shock, many people here can't figure out which of my names is my first name and so when they should be calling me Geisha-san, they call me Green-san. It doesn't help that I introduce myself and sign off on emails using my first name when I should be using my last but I prefer people to call me Green.
I get introduced by the beau to his customers and others as Green-chan. I obviously don't call these people -chan although I do use -kun and -chan with the beaus friends in the same way he does. My place is obvious when people I barely know call me Green-chan but I guess it is kind of endearing so I should just shut-up and act cute. I introduce the beau to friends as Beau, although I always get a bit stuck introducing him to colleagues or people not in my posse. Luckily in Japanese I can usually say This is my boyfriend and the beau will then introduce himself using his last name. Why do I get stuck? Because it would sound weird introducing the beau by his last name since he is in my posse but I would expect those non-posse people to call him by his last name, just as he would them.
I call the beau's parents otousan and okaasan if I have to call them anything. But luckily I can work my way around that in Japanese most of the time. I call his younger brothers by their first names and the whole family calls me Green-chan. The beau's younger brothers should be calling him onii-chan but the one with loli-con calls him Beau because he has inferiority issues as the middle child.
The same loli-con brother once dated an ojou-sama which made us think his loli days were over. Obviously we were wrong. What do I mean by ojou-sama? I mean she was a "young lady from a good family" and what I really mean is that she acted like a spoiled put-upon princess. Anyway, she used to make steam come out of my ears when she called the beau onii-sama. I almost vomited all over her frilly white dress. I came this close to slapping her and explaining that she should just call the beau Beau-san or onii-san. She also spoke in a high-pitched voice and ordered the brother around like a small dog. Bitch drove me crazy, what can I say. I have never used -sama with anyone.
Last but not least I have seen young women referring to themselves in the 3rd person, which makes me want to cry tears of red hot scorn. In case the reason behind this is beyond you (it's beyond me), it is apparently cute and endearing to refer to yourself by your own name. A Japanese friend once explained it, calling the girls who did this Bri-chan. I think she said this Bri person was a famous celeb who had the above mentioned annoying habit and lucky for us, passed it down to Japanese girls everywhere. Either that or it has something to do with Britney Spears. Would you still read Green's blog if Green starting writing like this??
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
If you missed the first installment of my part-advice, part-mockery column based on questions people pose to Google, which then kindly directs them to my blog, you can find it here. If you didn't, then sit back, relax and find out yet again, why Google shouldn't be sending advice-seeking people to my blog.
onsen "cleaning lady" naked embarrassed - I couldn't make this up if I tried, could this be anything other than p*rn? Or am I being to cynical and this person wants to know what Japanese cultural mores would dictate if one found themselves in such a situation?
why do my heels keep snapping off my shoes - You know, I was asking myself this same question last year and thankfully have not had any more snappage (touch wood). However, I did have the pleasure of attending a recent meeting with another kaisha and what do you know, my heels were so rough around the edges from the beating they take on the sidewalk that they kept sticking to the carpet, meaning every time I had to move from a standing position I looked like a mouse with its feet stuck to a trap! I do recommend having your heels resoled every so often, especially if you live in Tokyo where the sidewalk might as well be a heel-gobbling monster.
time to take off your bra miss - Now for some reason I imagine a British guy saying this. Either way who types such an uppity thing into Google?!
should women remove hair on their arms - This seems to be a bit of a geographical quandary and I would say Yes if you are in Japan, no one has arms as smooth as a babies without employing a good sharp razor and there are a whole lot of baby-smooth arms up in here. Almost every Japanese woman I know shaves her arms. And yet, several women here have complimented me on my blond arm hair, remarking on how good it feels.
sexy kaisha - What exactly was this lone wanderer looking for? I had to laugh - I have not written anything sexy about the Kaisha, namely because there is nothing sexy about it. Unless you think men and women shuffling around in rubber sandals is sexy.
geisha vs prostitute in catfight - I would pay actual money to see this. In fact maybe I could start an underground gambling ring in Tokyo that pits some of the local geisha against the soapland girls. I will suggest it to the geisha I know and see how it goes over.
eating carrots at desk work and eating sweating - Damn did these two people have my number or what! I've done all of the above and at the same time. It wasn't pretty. I wouldn't recommend it.
japan, course, dark, hair - I don't know whether to say Ew or Rarr. Vomit. Which also leads me to Japanese women chest hair. Not touching this one.
green-eyed jew - Maybe this is what I should have name my blog. Green-eyed Jewess Does Tokyo. This one made me laugh, especially when I imagined Borat saying it. At least I don't get the "you don't look Jewish" thing in Japan, just blank stares and gaping mouths.
do I look like obama - I don't know, do you? Either way is OK though, you could still land an acting gig in Japan playing Obama, as long as you are a black man. I still think the guy in the Softbank family is super cool, regardless of the fact that he doesn't look like Obama. In fact, I think he might be one of the coolest gaijin on TV!
dress up games that you can take off the bra - Wouldn't they be "dress down" games if they included taking off "the" bra? Gentle readers, is this not proof enough that I am talking out of my ass most of the time if I get hits from the phrase "dress up games that you can take off the bra"?!?! There are more, so many more, but I will leave more of the insanity for next time.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
There is a professional that I rarely see but when I do just makes me want to laugh. I've never even been properly introduced to the man but whenever I see him he has this "man about town" smarmy-yet-charming smile that he shoots my way (our way when I used to huddle in the corner with Other Whitie and trade gossip at a mile a minute) as he says hello. In fact, in my head I always imagine he is winking and simultaneously doing the gun shoot-em thing with his hand at me. So I play along and give him the best blond whitie smile that I can muster along with a perfectly-timed eye twinkling that of course is extra special when done with my gaijin green eyes. And that is basically the kind of thing that can make my day at work. I am so attention starved (ANY kind of attention) that I find smarmy-yet-charming smiles amusing. A few weeks back he came swooping by my desk and in passing asked if I had changed my hair. Be still my beating heart!!! Seriously, secretary, Professional, cleaner, if you make a point of saying hello to me I get heart palpitations from the sheer excitement of it. I even begin to think that the conspiracy is all in my head. What, me simply neurotic? No-ooo...
In fact, I am so starved for contact at the Kaisha that at a recent Kaisha nomikai I thought that an older Professional calling me "princess" was super charming and cute instead of, well, wrong and unacceptable, feminism 101, rah rah rah. In his defense though, he is a sweet older man who likes to act big-pimping so who am I to deny him that? It was truly more of a funny surprise then anything creepy or threatening. I did get a whiff of a term that was being thrown around in jest however that piqued my interest: walking hara, as in, walking harassment. I couldn't tell though, whether it referred to someone who could be considered a "walking harassment case" or the "act of harassing someone while on the move". Can anyone clear up this fascinating linguistic nugget?
At the same nomikai, said big-pimper started a lively but short-lived discussion about who I (and my male gaijin colleague) would play in a movie. They decided on some kind of scientist or crazy mathematician for him and for me, Cleopatra. Flattered to be sure, despite my blondness among many other things making that choice more than a little off the mark. But I played along and offered up that I happen to have an Uma Thurman circa Pulp Fiction wig gathering dust at home. At the end of the party I was called up for an impromptu speech, did an utterly horrendous job and received showers of attention and clapping for it. It was truly my six minutes of fame and left me craving more, or at least hoping that this year would have in store a lot more nomikai. It's not just the alcohol (although it does have a starring role) but in the environment of Kaisha nomikai, I am actually, dare I say it, a little popular. Now if only I could figure how to bring the nomikai atmosphere to the Kaisha on a regular basis...or at least a congo line.
There are maybe four secretaries out of about thirty potentials who have gone out of their way (five high-heeled wobbles down the hall) to give me omiyage from their Professionals but I don't know that I have ever gotten any omiyage love from real live secretaries. This is more than a little distressing if you have a sliver of a clue as to how important and ritualized the whole omiyage thing is. It's not as if none of the secretaries have stepped foot outside of the greater Tokyo area in the last year, so what gives? After another walk of shame involving some Choco Apple Rolls after my trip to the great north over New Year's, I decided on my recent trip to Paris/London that I couldn't take the pressure any longer and nothing short of buying everyone a round of Louis Vuitton wallets was going to ever get me within spitting distance of the inner circle. Just in case you were wondering, I actually aborted the Choco Apple Roll mission halfway through, not bothering to hand out the rest of the Rolls to the secretaries (and in turn, their Professionals) that I missed on my first turn around the office. There were some Professionals I specifically wanted to target with said mission but I just couldn't bear the uncomfortable introduction of the omiyage and ensuing forced cha-cha with the relevant secretaries. I have half a box sitting of aforementioned Rolls in my desk drawer if anyone is interested.
Where am I going with all this you ask? I certainly couldn't fit all this on a postcard even if I employed a magnifying glass. It must have been the spring air because after Golden Week I almost choked on my tongue when a secretary pops out from nowhere bearing omiyage for me. What does this mean? Am I back in the loop? Is my one-woman omiyage-giving boycott over? I think I can safely say no as I have seen some illicit exchanges taking place in my peripheral vision which just adds to the hurt. My next big trip is to take a bite out of the Big Apple in September so I have until then to marinate on the idea of once again, holding my pride in one hand and a box of omiyage in the other and making the rounds.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Strike two occurred today. We were on our way to pick up bento and were tempted by another new Italian place. Well fuck me, if that place was Italian I must be Japanese. After being lured in by the full menu outside, we found that the lunch menu had four choices of ick, ick, ick and a Japanese dish (?!). I went for ick 3, a pepperocino pasta with bacon and seasonal vegetables. I picked out the nasty looking hunks of bacon and started in on the rest. I think the pasta sauce consisted of chicken broth with some oil, salt and pepper mixed in. Great I thought, here we go again. I was also unaware that bits of corn, celery, what looked to be a tomato skin, thin slivers of garlic and one possible asparagus stalk were seasonal vegetables and said as much in a loud voice until the beau shushed me.
Not only do I detest spending money on questionable food, I resent the calories and that I now have to wait until dinner time to eat something decent. Pasta in Japan is a gamble but I've been so lucky recently I let my guard down. I think the key is to avoid any places that don't look either expensive or have cheesy Italian decor, but it can be so hard sometimes, these Japanese places are getting wily. I know it's immature but I am now calling the kind of pasta exhibited in A and B above, poosta.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Now judging from my above tone, you may think I was dragged kicking and screaming on this adventure of sorts. Not true. In fact, it has been three years in the making. Shortly after I arrived on Japan's fair shores I was watching TV at my little apartment in Nakano and managed to catch part of a special on ideas for a short trip to Chiba during Golden Week. And what do you think was being featured? That's right, takenoko, which you can not only drive far to eat in a fabulous and never-ending course meal, but can experience digging for from the ground with your own two hands. Truth be told, if I used the word "scrumptious" I would tell you that the takenoko course meal featured on that TV show looked positively scrumptious. It didn't hurt that it was served in a quaint little minshuku in a huge tatami'd room with floor to ceiling windows opening onto a bamboo forest. So I grabbed a pen and scribbled down whatever I could catch about the name of the place and where it was and after a quick google I had my target picked out. (I never realized how exponentially information on Japan increases when you actually google shit in Japanese...funny that.)
Anyway I have often dreamed of the takenoko since that time and declared to myself that I would make the bamboo pilgrimage to Chiba to eat some before leaving Japan. I believe it was last year that we first tried to make a reservation and ended up calling around to five places to learn that you have to book WAY in advance. Disappointed, I took it in stride (after a short tantrum) and this year in March I dispatched orders for the reservation call to be made. (In fact, there is a very high possibility that I had something like "RESERVE BAMBOO" pencilled in my diary around February 16.) Well what do you know, doing stuff in Japan isn't always impossible and frustrating - we secured our reservation for one of the days during GW.
I don't think I've ever gotten so excited about eating such a root-like and phallic vegetable before (those black spikes in the picture above are the growing bamboo). For days leading up to the big day, the beau and I spoke in urgent whispers about how exciting our takenoko adventure was going to be and speculated on just how many courses would be served (answer to follow).
You can buy packaged takenoko any time during the year at the supermarket here and I think if you are served it any time other than Spring it has probably been imported from China. But usually from around March to May each year, restaurants in Tokyo will add takenoko to their seasonal menu along with some other unique and delicious spring veggies, and well, it's just great. In the past I've only had it as tempura, steamed or simmered in a broth but I love the texture and couldn't wait to try it in other forms.
A lot of takenoko comes from Chiba, so if you want to eat a full course meal consisting of takenoko, takenoko and more takenoko, there are several places there to accommodate you. You can also try digging for takenoko yourself if you want the full experience, both at the places serving a course meal and at roadside stalls selling fresh takenoko. Apparently the best time to go bamboo-hunting is at the crack of dawn, when the takenoko is just starting to make a mound in the earth from growing upward. Once the tip breaks the surface, the takenoko should no longer be dug up for food, so it truly is a hunting situation when you have to crouch and peer at the earth for the tell-tale signs that a takenoko is under there, just waiting to burst forth. In the city I had only seen small takenoko, presumably already "husked" from the outer layers but the takenoko being sold out in rural Chiba were sometimes a foot or more long and weighing a good number of kgs.
The minshuku we went to was fantastic and just like in the TV program. We ate takenoko in a simmered dish with other seasonal vegetables, as crunchy karaage (pic), roasted in foil, in miso soup, in takikomi gohan (rice dish), as tempura, and as thin slices of sashimi (pic). The only non-takenoko dish served was ayu, a small fish ("sweetfish"?!) that I understand is seasonal and not too abundant in Tokyo. Despite what the pictures below (y'all know this isn't a food blog), everything was Super Tasty. The karaage was hands down the best, simply because they got the fried (and lightly seasoned) shell so nice and crispy that it contrasted nicely with the softer fibrey crunch of the takenoko inside (it is precisely descriptions like this that explain why this is not a food blog). The only thing missing from the meal was a cold draught beer.
After we were stuffed and had both declared we were just about set for takenoko consumption until Spring next year, we paid and made the trek back to Tokyo. And despite being Japanese, I was somehow able to resist making us stop off at the famous Umihotaru rest area (and so much more) built on the fake island in the middle of the Aqua-line. It too, has been featured quite often on TV shows lately ("how to enjoy a fun day at a rest area") but the takenoko hunting was about as much excitement as I could handle in one day. One thing I have realized - it is actually pretty fun being Japanese.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
If you've ever had enough of living in a big city in Japan and wonder where your rockstar status has gone, go to the countryside and you will feel like you've just landed in Japan for the first time again. I discussed my hair colour, the length of my nose and disclosed whether I was wearing mascara or not with no less than five people in the course of the night. I was asked whether I had any blond gaijin friends I could introduce twice. I listened to the restaurant's attractive and buff owner talk about how he has wanted to get a "taste" (I didn't confirm whether he was speaking literally or not) of a foreign women ever since he was young and in the next breath disclose that he is married, but his wife gives him the freedom to do as he pleases, once.
After the restaurant closed we went off into the dark Saitama night (and it is dark) to see what other delights we could sample. We ended up at a cute local counter bar where the native Saitamians welcomed the beau and my white ass with open arms. I even had the mama-san of a local snack calling me "daughter" by the end of the evening. I love Saitama, I thought as I tipped back my third vodka ricky. Put me in the countryside with a bunch of locals who treat me like a rare zoo animal and I know how to pimp my foreignness-I was truly in my element last night.
All good things must come to an end however, and when the bar closed at 3 things started to go downhill and account for the reason I will forever think of Saitama as Dasaitama* (if you are living in Saitama and reading this, I'm not talking about you, you're fabulous).
We made it down the street and into the brother's apartment, which was a surprisingly tiny bachelor's pad (I thought the one trade off of living in Saitama was the space). He claimed to be hungry and said he would have some food "dropped off" and then proceeded into the bathroom to make a phone call. OK I thought, who might be bringing us food? He assured me earlier in the evening that he no longer had a girlfriend (that 19 year-old from New Year's up north is long gone) so I was not sure who we could be expecting. On a side note, the brother also mentioned that he had a "driver" who could take us back to Tokyo by car if we wanted, something I found a little suspect.
Imagine my surprise when 15 minutes later, the woman with the great laugh who was sitting next to me at the bar shows up with bags of conbini goodies and more alcohol. Well, well, well. I had to elbow the beau to keep him from saying something because I could see him giving the brother and her the shifty eye and putting two and two together. Although probably correct, that particular equation didn't seem to add up to either of us. I've mentioned before that the brother has a loli-con and we haven't seen him with anyone who looks like they've hit puberty, well, ever. And this lovely woman was at least the brother's age and twice his size. In fact, I believe the beau later used the word "busu" to describe her, which while not nice, is unfortunately true when compared to his previous girlfriends. That's right, I had come face to face with the elusive "sex friend" in Japan. Yes I could be getting my signals crossed and it certainly wouldn't be the first time but let's consider the evidence: she got a call asking her to bring over food after she had gone home and she did; she warmed up the food for the brother without being asked; she knew where all the blankets were kept; she didn't scold the brother for falling asleep as soon as she arrived but was clearly happy when the beau did. All I could think was, That poor woman. The brother is most definitely not being straight with her.
But I digress! For after the beau started to fall asleep she left me sitting wide awake watching some alien movie with Keanu and drinking all the half-finished beers in the hope it would either put me to sleep or 5am would roll around so I could get the hell out of town. My crank level was rapidly starting to rise, especially after I had time to consider the fact that I could not take my contacts out, I had strong-armed the beau into agreeing to take a taxi home to Tokyo earlier in the evening and yet I was stuck in a small shitty room in Saitama with the beau and his brother, the latter of which was snoring up a fucking hurricane. I was also wearing some of the brother's clothes, which I felt weird about and couldn't wait to get back in my dress and my city.
As 5 started to roll around I frantically woke the beau and told him we were leaving. Now. He was sleeping the sleep of a drunk and I started to get tearful as I pleaded with him to wake up, please, because I can't sleep here and we need to get back to Tokyo. The panic started to set in, what if I had to stay there awake and alone for a few more hours until the beau could get up?! And with that my adrenalin must have kicked in because I managed to get the beau up and out the door into the hazy Saitama morning. Although the trains were running I had absolutely no idea where we were so my only goal was to find a taxi. How naive of me, there was nothing resembling a car for as far as my eyes could see. At this point the beau decided he was hungry and so we went to a family restaurant across the street where I made some bad decisions that resulted in me eating a hambaga and rice at 5.30 a.m. and immediately wishing I had the guts to stick my finger down my throat.
Outside the restaurant I began to unravel. Still no sign of a taxi or a station so I began to argue with the beau on the way to what we had been told was a distant train station. Looking around at the industrial wasteland and cursing the fact that there were no taxis I couldn't stop the words coming out of my mouth. Nor could I stop myself from giving the shit eye to every old man and high school couple that couldn't tear their eyes away from the blond in leopard print heels clicking down the sidewalk in a funk and arguing with a man in shrill Japanese. I was at that point seriously convinced that Saitama was conspiring against me by taking away all the taxis and trains and giving me kilometers of concrete sidewalk. About halfway down the sidewalk to infinity I started to laugh at how stupid we were, getting stuck in Saitama with the brother and his sex friend and then not being able to find a train to save our lives and in general just being Tokyo snobs, and just as we put our arms around each other in a show of solidarity, a train station materialized as if from a mirage and we discovered we were 79 minutes from Tokyo. My bed has never felt as close to heaven as it did at 8 o'clock this morning after I managed to get my contacts out which had as good as welded themselves to my eyeballs.
Needless to say I won't be going back to Saitama for a while, at least not without a map, the number for a local taxi service and a list of love hotels.
*Dasaitama is a friendly nickname we Tokyoites have for Saitama, which combines the word dasai (uncool) and Saitama, and you get the general picture.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
I can't believe I used to actually wear blue flares and plastic "candy" jewelry and willingly pay to listen to music like that at raves when I was 16. It must not have been trance. What happened to jungle and drum n bass music? There are far too many good spaces in Tokyo being used for trance parties, such a waste.
At around 4am this morning as we stumbled out of Prego nicely sauced on vodka tonics and leaving wafty hints of garlic in our wake I decided we had to go dancing. Hip hop was obviously my only choice but what would be open past 5? So instead of a short cab ride to a hookah bar where I could shake it next to Russian "models", we let our post-break up friend convince us that it would be fabulous to go to Warehouse. I knew the music would be bad and yet even as I heard it thumping through the door at the entrance, I dubiously (read drunkenly) shelled out 6000 yen for us to enter the club, do a turn around the dance floor while inhaling a drink in a shitty plastic cup and stand around for about 5 minutes before declaring that the music made us want to vomit and why don't we just go home? Tokyo's slogan for its 2016 Olympic bid should be "Tokyo: where your cash is as fleeting as the sakura".
Interestingly enough, 6000 yen can also buy you a Brazilian wax at Tokyo's new (and only) waxing salon Nua. It is high time the time-honored ritual of waxing came to Tokyo and I couldn't have been more excited to learn my waxer yesterday was actually Brazilian. I mean really, if you're going to go to Brazil you might as well have a Brazilian take you there. I wonder how long it will take to catch on among the native ladies here. Judging by what I've been seeing at the gym, quite a while.