Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Putting culture into practice

You know all that Japanese culture rhetoric that insists maintaining the harmony with those around you is one of the most important factors contributing to how Japanese people act within society? I got to experience that firsthand today. Well I actually had the option of throwing a good old-fashioned North American hoe down with stomping feet, emails laced in shittiness and general upsetting of wa but miracle of miracles I held it together and acted like a Japanese person. And by that I mean I put group harmony above my own desires, which if pursued, probably would have led to me being seen from far and wide as a big old-fashioned cheapskate motherfucker.

But let's back up a little here.

Wasn't that incessant rain refreshing this morning Tokyoites? Just enough moisture to add a little frizz to your 'do. I was carrying my new 500 yen see-through umbrella that I had purchased two days ago after getting soaked between the LSAT and Saizeriya. When I arrived at the Kaisha I left it in an umbrella holder that is in an area only accessible to Kaisha bitches. Now I often hang my umbrella on my cubicle ledge but when it's wet I let it drip dry with the other umbrellas. Imagine my intense and immediate pleasure when I went to grab it before heading out to lunch only to discover it was cheating on me with someone else. Thank my lucky stars it had stopped raining and *might* stay dry for the rest of the day but if it had been raining/does rain, I am shit out of luck unless I want to buy another umbrella and add to my growing collection at home.

I have to say, I am pretty disappointed in my Kaisha comrades at the moment. I borrowed a long untouched umbrella to pop out at lunch once but I made sure to return it in case it hadn't actually been abandoned. My umbrella would have still been wet so it's not like the snatcher could have thought anything but that they were conducting an umbrella-snatching. Shit, listen to me, I should be on Law & Order with the paces my mind has been going through. It probably wasn't a Secretary, since we know they all have at least one folding umbrella in their bags at all times. It was more likely than not a Professional who in his arrogance and disregard for those around him thought it would be fine to grab a wet and recently used umbrella that was clearly not his (no other see-through brellies in sight) instead of taking his rubber sandal-wearing ass down to the Lawson's to buy his own.

I have no qualms admitting that I actually considered sending an email to everyone on my floor asking whoever "borrowed" my umbrella to kindly return it. Or at least asking my Secretary for advice on what to do. In emailing everyone however, I would not only have to describe the object I felt so precious as to merit the email ($5 clear and white plastic umbrella), but I would have to describe this to, oh, over one hundred people. On the other hand, Akuma Geisha argued, no one but those around you could have taken it and within three hours of leaving it unattended in the first place.

I had to call my resident Japanese etiquette and social mores specialist, the beau, to ask how to appropriately proceed with this. In the end he talked me down from the ledge and the contributing factors to his ruling that I should keep my pretty mouth shut were: a) it was a cheap plastic umbrella, b) the umbrella wasn't taken from my desk and c) raising a fuss that one hundred people are privy to would exacerbate the situation and cause a shit mess. If weighed in Japanese-made scales these three points far outweigh smoking out the culprit. For me however, it is still a toss up and I have made at least ten trips past the umbrella stand to see if it has been returned.

Now here is the tricky question. If I hadn't been in Japan would I have emailed a polite plea for the return of my cheap see-through umbrella? Would you? I clearly understand how A equals B in this situation and upsetting everyone over my umbrella (and they would get upset) is much worse than just me being upset and probably only for the next 24 hours at that. My umbrella was certainly an easy target with no LV or Samantha Thavasa markings indicating it was loved and purchased for a hefty sum, but that doesn't take away from the fact that I still don't have an umbrella to get me home dry if it starts raining again. What can I say, I'm still a fan of 24-hour honne with none of this keep quiet for the greater good tatemae horse shit.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'd like to thank the President and the members of the Academy

Reason #577 I love Tokyo. Thanks to a visit from Korea's President, the uyoku were out with flags flying and their ear-piercing speakers in Juban yesterday. Right.in.the.middle.of.the.
LSAT. This did not please me or any of the other test takers. I don't know what kind of exciting distractions occur at testing sites in Canada or the States, but I would be willing to bet that they don't involve crazy right-wingers in old school black vans spouting their conservative Imperialist (or whatever it is they are actually saying) filth. And of course there wasn't a damn thing any of us could do. I think the whole of Tokyo's police force was out on the streets of Juban yesterday and none of them were actually doing anything. After the test we witnessed a pathetic mini-demonstration of less than ten people arguing and getting in each other's faces over a piece of paper on the ground that was rapidly disintegrating in the downpour. TV cameras were in on the action and around 30 po-po were hovering protectively around the commotion. Next thing we knew everyone was clapping and dispersing. I should have known something was up seeing a cop on every corner on my way to the test. I must have been too busy worrying about how crazy I looked carrying nothing more than a big plastic zip-lock filled with items not prohibited at the test.

After the test I found myself with a beer in hand at the ripe hour of 1 p.m. at a family restaurant, followed by more drinks in Pongi with a couple guys who had also taken the test. I felt much lighter than I have in a month, partly due to the buzz and partly owing to how good it was to speak with some people going the same way I am. And cool gaijin guys at that! Is it an ex-pat thing that you can spend the whole afternoon talking to people whose names you don't even know? After realizing I hadn't eaten anything more than an energy bar that morning, I scarfed some nachos, promptly got a headache, and turned in with the beau for an early night at 7. On the upside, no more Hostess cupcakes for a while.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Non-Twitter tweet

If I had Twitter like all the cool kids, at approximately 8:53 this morning mine would have read: Almost killed a salaryman this morning.

Just one of those super fun mornings that had me seeing red before I even made it in the elevator at work. Some of us are better than others at coping with, shall we say, some of the difficulties and frustrations of living in Japan. I like to think I have been on the up and up for the most part lately, enjoying life and working hard towards future plans and more often than not forgetting that I actually live in Japan, which may sound strange but it's possible and doesn't involve speaking only English and going for beers at Heartland. All that high and mighty shit went right out the proverbial window this morning when the monsoon gods conspired against me before I even set foot out the door.

It started with me getting almost shoved off the sidewalk by people's umbrellas or into those fucking dirt patches they are trying to grow something in spaced evenly along the pavement. Even had one of the old "I'm going to stop right in my tracks and make you step off the sidewalk into the street or into a sea of people going the opposite direction" technique pulled on me. I say let's stop encouraging Japanese women to procreate, there isn't even enough space on the fucking sidewalk for me to get to work and contribute to saving Japan's economy. How are we going to support all these potential future children?! By the time I was practically making love to the wall along the subway stairs because I almost couldn't make it down into my station, I was throwing the lowest insults out at people right and left (silently of course and with an intensiveness only my green eyes can emanate) and conjuring up every petty and tear jerking thing that I had been ignoring or holding onto over the past couple months that those salary peeps are lucky I haven't sharpened the point of my umbrella lately. Jokes. But seriously I was so frustrated and upset and my heels were pooling with water. Boo fucking hoo I know but living here I am sometimes reduced to the temperament of a child on the verge of a major tantrum and can do nothing but hurl petty insults, albeit from the inside of my own head. Living in the financial district has its downsides what can I say? I might have to hire an escort just to get me in the station every morning. I'm happy to say it's no longer raining, and outside it is balmy and pleasant. Almost sweet. I've just done a lap around the Imperial Palace and am ready to do battle again tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The valley

It is often observed that women in Japan show more leg than any other body part. I would have to agree and even say that I always feel a bit scandalized when I see a woman showing cleavage here, something that you can find in abundance in North America. When I returned to Vancouver after my year at university here in Tokyo, it was summertime and I was shocked and horrified to find midriffs being flashed everywhere. Not to mention women wearing swimwear around town like the concrete was in fact sand. Who are these barbarians, I wondered. And don't even get me started on the dirty hippies of Commercial Drive. After living in cosmopolitan Tokyo where, I would still have to argue, the fashion isn't all that great, I became accustomed to seeing people more put together. We are not talking unrivalled fabulousness, but at least it seemed that people tend to dress up more here. I don't even like wearing flip flops in Tokyo in the summer as it's not really done by the locals and let's be honest, it's kind of a bum look.

I realize that laid back Vancouver is not a great comparison fashion-wise as we think wearing expensive yoga wear around town is hot. But even so, it was eye-opening for my 20-year old self to realize how living here had shaped my take on how people present themselves.

I don't post much non Japan-related content but you should know I love fashion. I spend a lot of money on clothing and a lot of time shopping online. Tokyo is said by many a snobby accent to be uber fashionable with out of this world fashion, but I really don't see it. I see quite a few women on the street whose fashion sense I admire, but there are even more whose ensembles causes me to wonder whether they got dressed quickly and in the dark. Shopping wise, there seems to be a huge range of clothing on the far ends of the spectrum, but not much in the way of mid to high end clothes. Then there is the tendency to carry only one size fits all and while many women here are small, they are certainly not all built the same. When I go to department stores here, it seems like the stock hasn't changed from when I used to shop here as a student five years ago. Look at the magazines here. The Japanese Elle and Vogue seem to feature up-to-date fashion on par with Europe and North America but look at the Japanese publications, and you will find a whole lot of the same. Why does Japan, home to innovative architecture and textiles, and great designers like Issey Miyake, seem so fashion-stagnant? Tokyoites are unquestionably more put together but as I've said before, just because a woman is wearing heels and a skirt it doesn't guarantee that she looks good.

The whole point of this was to tell you about how my cleavage is being oppressed so let's move on to that shall we and I'll leave the philosophizing for another time. Remember our bartender friend in Roppongi who asked for sex advice and broke up with his girlfriend (did I mention that?)? Well his relationship with my sometimes exposed décolletage has gone from bad to worse. I don't tend to flash my chest around much anymore just for the sake of it. If something I'm wearing allows for it fine, but the whole got-it-flaunt it thing doesn't mean breasts on display 24/7 now does it. In the last couple years I'd like to think I've evolved past thinking the only way to be sexy is to show some flesh. That's not even the half of it though. If you so much as give men a peep here you will be barraged with sukebe looks. Not appreciating eyes or stolen glances that you can pretend to ignore, but full on nasty hunger-in-their-eyes stares that make me wonder whether they've ever had a flick through the "idol" magazines at their local Family Mart. I don't need to provide something to look at during my commute to work to totally undeserving salarymen, so I don't.

When I go out after dark sometimes it's a different story. Said bartender (and his girlfriend for that matter) started out as very appreciative and in awe of my chest. This changed one night in May when we were all out at Sheesha Bar and I was wearing a dress with a bit of a plunging neckline and feeling really good about myself. Bartender started fucking with my vibe by trying to cover me up with the wrap I had brought along. We were all drinking merrily so I tried to make a joke about it, saying "They're big - sho ga nai" but he did it a couple more times (the Cowgirl can attest to this). I decided to just ignore it, I mean the guy was drunk and acting like an annoying child. This all came to a head a couple weeks ago when, at his bar, he actually asked me to pull my top up a bit more because I was showing too much. In my defense I was wearing a fantastic top that had no plunge but the neckline is heavy with jewels and so tends to get weighed down when I'm not sitting up straight. That really fucked me off and as I whined to the beau he gave me no sympathy whatsoever and said the bartender was just trying to be nice because you know, friends don't let friends show cleavage. God you'd think I was wearing lucite prosti heels or something!

Not one to let it go, I continued to complain about it to the beau the following day, for some reason expecting him to explain to me Just who the fuck the bartender thinks he is and why he thinks it's OK to say that to me and why he doesn't tell girls to pull their skirts down closer to their knees. I'd have more luck plucking out my eyelashes one by one.

In the week following I became resolute and decided to stay away from that bar for a while to keep my blood pressure down. Clearly I'm not one to hold a grudge, as I found myself uncorking a couple bottles of bubbly there this past Sunday night. I'd like to think I know tasteful cleavage but it seems maybe they should just delete the damn word from the Japanese language.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The dangers of standardized testing

I haven't had a whole lot to say recently, mostly because I am in the throes of studying for a certain well-known and infuriating standardized test used by universities in Canada and the U.S. to measure one's willingness to drop a grand on a Kaplan class. I have gotten myself extremely stressed out about it to the point that I think I have shed tears around 3.5 times so far. I have now reached that mild zen state seven days before D-day but mid last week when I was in the depths of despair I started eating everything in sight but what I really wanted was some Reese's peanut butter cups. I knew that the Foreign Buyers' Club wouldn't deliver in time to satiate me before the test and so I turned to FBC Express, guaranteed to my door in 5-7 days. Cost-wise I figured I could either eat everything in sight without really getting what I want, or I could just cut the crap and go for the good stuff. It started out innocently enough. And as with so many things as of late quickly spiralled out of control and $100 later I had Cheerios, Betty Crocker frosting and cake mix, a bag of Reese's mini cups, Twizzlers, Kraft Mac n Cheese and Hostess Cupcakes in my shopping cart. What can I say, it was either gain 10 pounds with stuff I didn't really want or maybe a couple pounds with well, stuff I need.

This morning the shipment arrived and I felt like one must feel when the Red Cross drops a food aid box on your patch of desert. Was that inappropriate? Probably.

From the outside the box was a lot larger than the small number of items I ordered but I quickly found out why. I think in my haste to click "add to cart" I overlooked the fact that the box of Hostess cupcakes in question contained 24, or in my delirium didn't fully comprehend what 24 Hostess cupcakes truly entailed. What I found when I opened the box was a very heavy box of Hostess cupcakes meant for display at a fucking 7-Eleven. A box which promptly went in the bottom of my closet before the beau could see. The bag of Reese's was also about ten times larger than I expected. I kept blinking at the purchase order form trying to figure out how you can buy so many cupcakes for only twelve dollars. No wonder some Americans are so large, they have HUGE boxes of cupcakes on sale for only twelve dollars. It's so cheap to gain weight in the land of plenty! There is also the little problem of the cakes being good until July 7, which means I am going to have to substitute 400 calories of food I would normally eat for two cupcakes every day in order to get rid of the evidence of my panic-induced dirty secret junk food buying spree. Either that or only eat cupcakes for a 48-hour period until I hit cardboard. I'm telling you people, the next time you find yourself about to click "purchase," remember me fondly and then make sure you have at least a couple friends to give away half the food to.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Postcard from you-know-where

I came this close to finally having a cubicle-quad mate. Closer than you think. So close the Sec brought her fucking computer and purse over to the neighbouring cube, took one look at my white ass, spun around on her kitten heel and took off for the hills. I had just sent an email to a colleague telling him that I was getting a potential new friend too. Guess not. I can't tell you where she went but I can tell you that the cube is still empty. This has happened twice now. I am officially in omiyage-less purgatory hell.

In other news, I ran into that Professional who wants to pimp my ride buying a card in a bookstore by the office. He gave me the typical I-am-way-hotter-in-my-mind look and showed me the traditional Japanese card, asking if I knew what the kanji said. "Marriage" I parroted and his face positively BEAMED at me, I think I might even feel some sunburn coming on as I type. "However do you know how to read that?" He asked and I just smiled my dumb gaijin smile and told him that shock horror and surprise, I can read fucking Japanese. You'd think I had just converted my undergrad degree into one in rocket science from the way he was looking at me. I then considered a) telling him my blondness is deceiving or b) I knew the kanji because I hoped (batting my eyelashes so fast I could take off at this point) it would apply to me some day. very. soon. Then I kept my mouth shut and promptly said goodbye.

And on a sweet note, a Professional via his Sec brought me a slice of expensive chocolate cake (this is the way into my good graces for future reference). I have been doing a lot of work for him as of late (never even met the guy once of course) and always at a breakneck pace. His Sec emailed me in the middle of completing something, to see how far it was from being finished, which technique I adore by the way, so I sent her something back along the lines of working.on.it.right.now. She then came over about half an hour later bearing expensive hotel boutique cake to thank me for all the work I have been doing lately for her Prof. I don't usually mind feeling like a bitch, but it was one of those moments that I felt a little twinge of regret at getting pissed at her when-will-it-be-done emails. Apparently the Prof was too shy to speak English to come with the cake himself, and although she told him I speak Japanese he still couldn't muster the courage (yes, I am still talking about a real grown-up company with adults here). I then felt the need to send her a thank you email after thanking her profusely in person, to which she replied that the Prof often walks by my cube on the way to the smoking room, so could I please try to talk to him? Sure, I'll just jump up and yell whassup when he comes by next.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Leave my nose out of it

I discovered the joy of eyebrow threading while in London two months ago and could not believe it hasn't caught on in Tokyo, or that there is not at least one Indian woman doing it out of some shady salon. We know that Japanese women shave their arms (there goes another key Google search phrase) but did we know that most of them shave their eyebrows and faces as the preferred method of hair removal? I did, although I didn't know that there was so much cheek-shaving going on. I am personally a fan of peach fuzz.

Cut a long story short, I found a Japanese woman who runs a small threading salon out of her apartment in Tokyo and promptly made an appointment. I initially thought you could opt for just eyebrow threading but apparently all that is on offer is a full-face package. Alright, I thought, and I arranged beforehand to just have my eyebrows done anyway. The lady who runs it, Matsuoka-san, was very sweet and I was getting some good vibes from her. Things started to go downhill when she said that a) she has never threaded a gaijin before and b) I am the first person to only get my eyebrows done. Are you sure? she asked. I explained that while I may indeed have minute hair on my face, it is blond and therefore basically invisible. No need to get self-conscious about a little invisible hair now is there? She agreed enthusiastically and even went so far as to say that it was probably really cute when the light hits my invisible blond facial hair and makes it sparkle. Great, now I am the supergaijin with magic light-reflecting facial hair!!!

So she starts threading and things are going OK until she starts commenting on how my takai gaijin nose is making it hard for her to do certain spots. Come on, I think, if you are a professional offering threading services I can't imagine a little nose getting in the way - she is used to threading entire faces for fuck's sake. We laughed and chatted for the first few minutes and then all I could hear was the sound of her breathing as she (I imagine) anxiously inspected at my brows. Things on the threading side starting to slow down a bit and it felt like she was doing piecemeal work, removing one hair at a time instead of a whole line as is par for the threading course. Minutes ticked by and I started to break out in a nervous above-the-lip sweat thinking that an hour had gone by and I was going to open my eyes to no eyebrows. She got out the tweezers, which should be unnecessary when threading, and proceeded to target certain areas with them while giving me the most painful tweezing I have ever received. A bikini wax doesn't hurt that much. For real.

She finally finished and handed me the mirror with stress and anxiety written all over her hairless face. It was only then that she started gushing non-stop about how she had never realized before how different gaijin hair is and that she really learned something today. She did an OK job and I don't regret going to her, but she seriously lost her shit over my gaijin-hair eyebrows. Minus 10 points. I'm sure my hair is different from Japanese hair but I still don't see how that and my nose could truly stand in the way of a professional. The thread she uses to remove hair doesn't discriminate, why should her technique? I am trying not to get frustrated but I don't understand why it is so hard to adapt for some people here, but I guess that explains the foreign-run beauty salons here in Tokyo. I wish I was in London where the Indian woman doing your brows wouldn't blink if you were black, white or hot fucking pink.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Please do it outside

The metro gods have stopped punishing us and are back to mildly interesting themes. I love the manner poster for this month (happy wet June by the way), especially their warning to "please be careful when handling a wet umbrella." Kind of on par with "please be careful when handling a shotgun" or "please be careful when handling nuclear waste." In fact, changing "handling" to "wielding" might be more appropriate in Tokyo, where I am constantly battling with my fellow umbrella-wielding commuters who have their samurai techniques down pat. I'm sorry I just made a Japan-centric umbrella-sword/samurai comparison, it won't happen again.

This poster was especially well-timed given the last few days, which seem to herald the arrival of this year's rainy season. I have yet to invest in a huge golf umbrella to fend of the vicious attacks from the black salaryman umbrellas but I don't know if there will be room for the two of us in this town. What is proper umbrella etiquette really? Do you move your umbrella to left and right angles to avoid others? Pump your umbrella up and down to make room for the breadth of another? Or do you stubbornly clutch your umbrella and ignore the constant jilts it receives after bumping into another umbrella on your walk to the station? I have gotten a little aggresive in the last year, big surprise there I know, although I do try my best not to poke out any eyes.

For some reason I still remember a listening question I heard a few years ago at my Japanese language school when practicing for a proficiency test. We had to listen to a conversation between a man and a woman and then answer a question about why the woman was so mad. Apparently she was incensed because during a recent commute someone had placed their wet umbrella on the mesh shelf above the train seats and it dripped on her for the whole train ride. Why had this stuck in my mind? I don't know, but every time I ride a train on a rainy day I can't help watching everyone wield their umbrellas to see how conscious they are of who is getting dripped on or dampened from a wet umbrella pressed against their leg. As for the piston technique, I think it goes without saying that I am a fan.