Thursday, August 19, 2010

I know I got a bad reputation

and it isn't just talk, talk, talk.

Any of you know this song by Freedy Johnston? Most people who know me would probably not believe that I know the words to most of the This Perfect World album, but I do, somehow. I think my dad received a box of CDs from a friend/radio dj and Johnston's album somehow became a staple on road trips. I don't trust my memory so I had a squizz at his Wikipedia entry and apparently, "Johnston's songs are often about troubled loners, and cover topics like heartbreak, alienation and disappointment." Well fuck me sideways, I should have made one of the tracks my theme song for living here in Tokyo a long time ago!

I'm not sure if I've ever written it out loud, but you may have noticed that while I am fairly content to play the role of ostracized whitie at the Kaisha, I do try to "up" my, for lack of a better term, positive visibility, around the office when the opportunity presents itself. What do I mean by positive visibility? Well I know for a fact that people are rampant gossips but due to my sterile and minimum contact with so many of my Kaisha comrades, I don't get a chance to do a lot of personal PR. In other words, most of what goes around about me is based on some sporadic conversations with secretaries or observations you might make about an animal in the zoo - "G-san eats raw carrots," "Don't you think G-san looks a little peeved today?" or "G-san needs a haircut."

I don't mean to come off as a bitch on wheels around the office, but I'm afraid that's sometimes how my coping mechanisms are construed. On the rare occasion I engage in some kind of social activity or interaction that goes beyond perfunctory grunts, I try to act perfect, whatever that means. By my somewhat screwy logic, this will help to increase my P.V. (positive visibility, stay with me people!), and increase the flow of pleasant gossip tidbits that get traded behind cupped hands.

Yesterday I was finally invited to lunch by a Professional and two Secretaries. I say finally because I often do work for this guy and despite sitting in the same area and him twice sending his Secretary to me with cakes, I have only ever spoken to him on the phone. You may also find it interesting that said Professional walks by me on a daily basis because I am located near the smoking room (hello 1970s).

Let me just start by saying I think I have a new clush, which works out perfectly numbers-wise because my gyoza man is gone, much to my stomach's and eyes' collective dismay. How I would have liked to stroke that ponytail...

I never realized how attractive this Professional is because I only ever see him in profile, either passing in front of my desk, or reflected in the glass as he passes behind my desk. But trust me, he is damn fine. Or "fit" if you're in England. I didn't even mind the somewhat predictable conversation because I got to look at him the whole time, nodding and grinning so hard I woke up this morning with sore cheeks. When explaining away his sexily ruffled hair, he mentioned that he had slept on the floor of his office last night. Actual response: "Really? You look totally fine." Inner monologue: "Keep doin what you're doin, rarrr."

During the course of lunch, I was particularly careful to act over-enthused about everything, while still maintaining some modicum of lady-like posturing: "OMG you watch Gossip Girl too?!?!?!" "This gooey potato paste is super delish!" "You grew up in the Tokyo area? That's amazing!" Remember, I had one short hour to work my P.V. and hope that some tales of my goodness were spread around the office by 6. I didn't even miss a beat when my chopstick kung fu skills were praised, and when the Professional confessed to me after prodding by his Secretary that he had been wanting to have lunch with me for over a year but felt he needed to get his English up to snuff first, I just about flew across the table at him.

After lunch, I did the obligatory thank you email and got into an email exchange with one of the secretaries. I almost forgot how laughably over the top and childish my emails become when writing other women at the Kaisha. I normally would have said, "Thanks for lunch, let's do it again soon! G." But not here, here I go all out with, "Dear Secretary-san, Thank you so much for lunch today, I really enjoyed talking with you!!!♪♪ It was so fun. Please invite me for lunch again soon!!! (^ ^) Best regards, G." Now today's lunch actually was fun, but this is the kind of email I would send after a lunch spent checking my watch too. More on this later.

I think my short hour of happy Kaisha love time will be enough to last me another half year, at least. Unless of course, my P.V. strategies start working and fill my inbox with invitations. But I'm a realist - you and I both know that ain't happening. A few posts later I am bound to start in on the woe me, Kaisha bitch, schtick after I realize that no amount of personal PR is going to reverse the position I have entrenched myself in.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Event of the Season (II)

This has been a long time coming, but I will use the excuse the beau's mother gave me last week: "I have been completely drained since the wedding in April." A child was born however, over the weekend in fact, so I feel I should at least get through the wedding before writing anything about its tiny catalyst with big eyes.

So where were we? Lights, costumes and fire fit for a carnival I believe. There was no proper ceremony with faux priest, but Baby Mama and Baby Daddy stood on their little white platform and exchanged vows, rings and an extremely chaste peck (come on, I think a bun in the oven means the jig is up). Unfortunately I wasn't smashed enough by that time to yell "stick ya tongue down her throat!" and it is my humble opinion that such a display was sorely lacking.

Keep in mind, if you will, that this whole thing was being narrated by the hotel's wedding MC, with a voice and tone not dissimilar from those used by shopgirls. Just in case we missed some small detail, the MC was right there spooning it down our throats. Aside from the waiters and other minions running around, there was also the wedding coordinator, who wasn't coordinating in the way you might imagine, she was more like a puppet master. Yes, I like that, let's call her the Puppet Master. She was there not to ensure the smooth running of things behind the scenes, but that the whole wedding went off like a well-rehearsed play. A play where the director comes on stage and gives the actors directions as they perform. I wish I was joking.

There were toasts and as the eating began, so did the speeches. An employer and friend from each side gave speeches and when Baby Daddy's rowdy boss got up, he encouraged us to shout Banzai! after each of his toasts and just when I was wondering whether everyone else present knew this was a shotgun marriage, he toasted to the little baby growing inside Baby Mama's belly. Banzai! That took care of that and I had to force myself not to look at the beau's mom at this point to see how she was taking it. Let it be acknowledged that these people don't smile in pictures. For reals. When my mom saw the photos of me, mama and aunt, the first thing she said was that they looked very severe. This has caught on, and I find myself looking at cameras with a blank face these days, resulting in photos with me looked seriously ticked off. I honestly don't know whether the no-smiling thing has to do with this particular series of events or whether it is simply cultural. Any thoughts? I'm used to wedding pictures with people smiling their asses off so I can only imagine what Baby Mama and Daddy's album will look like: lots of lights, frothy white tulle and unsmiling guests. When I did look over at the beau's mom, she didn't look like she was celebrating at all, our whole table in fact felt a bit like that, and I did allow myself to feel a twinge of sadness. I'm not chalking it up to the whole shotgun thing, although that would certainly contribute, but I feel like part of it is the fact that, as family, we are supposed to mostly stay out of the way at the wedding.

Half way through, BM and BD disappeared behind the scenes and then when the MC instructed, we had to stand up and clap for the new couple again as they entered through French doors to a crazy light show going on up towards the ceiling. Their second outfits felt very Harajuku meets Versailles. I purposely didn't crop it to show you that every guest at the wedding was like a member of the paparazzi, snapping camera and cell phone pictures at every chance they could get. I put the beau in charge of my camera so at least I didn't have to pretend to be interested in taking photos at every small milestone as the wedding progressed. No camera = more time to swill wine.

In their new outfits, the new couple then did the candle lighting ceremony that I have only ever seen at a Japanese wedding, but I suspect Japanese people think comes from us. As they made the rounds to each table with the torch, the Puppet Master was right there with them, ensuring they made all the right movements and didn't scorch some bitch's big hair. I should probably mention here that during this whole ridiculous display, there was some awful flighty music that was probably supposed to encourage tears, and goddamn it if I didn't feel myself getting a little teary. I solved this by looking at the beau's mom, who still looked pissed off, which shocked me back into reality.

Your job as a guest is never done at a Japanese wedding by simply taking your seat. If you are a work friend, employer, school friend or part of the family, you must make the rounds to each table to pour beer for everyone and pay your respects. This looked exhausting but luckily my special unmarried whitie exemption precluded me from this onerous chore, and I got to remain seated while reaping the benefit of liquid respect paid to the beau and his family. I would put the time Baby Mama's parents came over with beer among the highest on the shotgun wedding Uncomfortable Moment List. You may recall my musings on how I would be introduced as the illegitimate white daughter-in-law sideshow and once again, the inappropriateness of Japanese politeness saved me. Every guest had a table chart showing who was who, so when Baby Mama's parents came over bearing a bottle of Sapporo, they knew who the beau was and there were perfunctory introductions by his father. None of which included me, the smiling freak show in kimono sitting next to him who looked like someone had just pressed the repeat button on her smile-and-nod-furiously function. I guess I shouldn't have expected any drawn swords or rolled r's, but I was mildly disappointed at my weak shock value.

Towards the end, which was timed down to the minute, Baby Mama read a letter to her parents before her and Baby Daddy presented each set of parents with flowers - par for the course. I believe at some weddings here, the bride reads a letter to her mother-in-law, begging for her kind favour and pleading for a married life out of her line of fire. Having only met the beau's mom once before this felicitous event, however, I guess that kind of letter wouldn't be super apprope. Before the grand finale and encore of applause (all dictated by the drill sergeant MC), the Puppet Master lined up Baby Mama and Daddy with the parental sets and you could see her going down the line telling them to step into place and when exactly to bow. Way to make an awkward moment even more cringe-worthy. I felt a bit sorry for the parents, really, being made to stand under the harsh stage lights while being groped and fondled by the Puppet Master. Final thank yous were given by the papas-in-law and Baby Daddy, and then we were basically told to get the hell out.

What would a recap be without a post-mort?! Stay tuned for the final part in this wedding trilogy, which includes the revealing of the surprise guest.


While I was waiting for my lunch companions at the entrance to a restaurant today, an old man literally walked right into me from behind and then drifted off in the other direction muttering something to himself. A group of office ladies lunching nearby had seen the whole thing happen and were tittering about it to themselves. When I glanced over and caught one's eye, she gave me a huge knowing smile. I grinned back. It was such a pedestrian social interaction but one that I haven't had for what feels like years. I felt like shouting Yes! I am human too!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Road kill

I've never owned a car or motorized vehicle of any sort, but from what I hear about them, I am kind of glad to be living in Tokyo with the web of trains connecting all points in the city: the money I would pay in insurance and up-keep can be used for clothing and footwear, and I only have to rely on my legs and the trains to get me from point A to B. This has now been tested. Again.

I thought the first time my heel snapped off and I had to quite literally hop to the cobbler where I was given a pair of ugly Office Lady shoes to wear to work while he fixed them was horrific enough. Apparently not.

The shoe gods put me in my place once again at the exact moment I crossed the main Shibuya intersection. I could feel something strange going on down there but as in the first stage of grief, was in denial that anything was happening. That didn't make the problem go away so I stopped and inspected the damage - the cork wedge heel was starting to come unstuck from the rest of the shoe, threatening to turn it into a flat. I decided there was no time for triage and that if I walked carefully and with purpose, it would remain stuck on. For about five steps.

The next thing I recall was feeling the ground flat beneath my foot and looking back, only to find the carnage laying a few feet behind me. I tried to do the whole picking-up-the-heel-of-my-shoe-that-just-fell-off-is-soooo-natural thing and quickly tucked it into my bag like a dirty tampon. I then did the whole walking-with-one-shoe-that-is-three-inches-higher-than-the-other-is-soooo-natural thing down Center Gai, which would have been par for the course post-Pure at 5am six years ago but not so much today. Luckily my shoe decided to commit suicide in Shibuya, where there are many a store selling cheap shoes, instead of Ginza, where I would have been one fucked puppy indeed.

I ended up with a ghetto pair of flip flops that are vastly inferior to cherry red wedges, but thankfully the wonderful and totally not Generic Jen B did not bat an eye at them, for which I will be eternally grateful. There isn't much of a moral to this story, but you can be sure I no longer trust my shoes to get me across the city and might have to consider a permanent space for a pair of plan B shoes inside my purse, because you know this shit is going down again some day.

SP recognized as fashion-forward

While catching up on the glossies at the hair salon, I made the pleasing discovery that the ole SP has made it onto the hallowed pages of British Vogue. I wouldn't consider it brilliant though, not when you have to worry about whether it's going to run out on you every day...

Postcard from the Kaisha: masked edition

Welcome to those of you finding your way over via Loco in Yokohama. If you're already a gentle reader of mine, please check out Loco's site for a different and well-written spin on Japan.

I suspect that I was recently schooled by my secretary but as always, I can't be sure. I've done a Kaisha Health Edition before, but recent events have given me pause to consider the issue again.

Last week (or was it the week before?) I developed a narsty cough but showed up at work diligently nonetheless. I say diligently but I'm sure others would called it stupidly, for who wants to sit next to an audibly sick person? I for one, do not.

However, not being able to take time off, I came in anyway and tried to be as courteous a cougher as possible. The next day, I arrived to my secretary in a mask. Exploring the possibilities, I can only think that she was sick herself, or else was making a passive aggressive gesture to encourage my donning of a mask as well.

Parasols, manic thank yous and apologies, and secretive toileting I can do, but I cannot get on board with wearing a mask when sick here. It looked like my secretary was wearing a small white muzzle. This put me in mind of a tiny dog I saw the other day fitted with a tiny muzzle, which made me wonder whether it would even be able to get its petite mouth open wide enough to do any real damage.

I think masks look creepy. I realize with stuff like swine flu around, there has been a big contagion scare, but this mask obsession has been around in Japan far longer than the flu scare. I understand the implied courtesy behind wearing a mask when sick and I'll admit to turning away from someone openly coughing, but the look is too freaky for me. I don't want to become known as Contagious Whitie (as opposed to Eating Whitie, Audibly Peeing Whitie or Ostracized Whitie - hey! collect all three!), but I am a bit stumped as to what to do when sick at work other than religiously taking my over-prescribed medicine from the Dr. I would love to know the statistics on whether common cold transmission is lower here or whether these masks are a total farce. I of course am inclined to think that the masks are fairly useless and have become more of a cultural thing, but I have most definitely been wrong before.

For the time being, I will just have to wonder whether my secretary is trying to beam a message at me from behind her little white mask.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Please do it again, man

We can safely assume now that Mrs. Creepy has had a baby and yet she still looks positively geriatric in the August Metro poster. I find it interesting that they have used this young afro'd Japanese guy as the beacon of courtesy this month. I am a bit of a fan of Japanese men in their native footwear in the summer, but doesn't the rest of his look seem a little dated? I think a yanki guy would be a more accurate portrayal, as I can only assume that this guy with his Hawaiian shirt is supposed to represent the "type" of people in Japanese commuter society who are not courteous. And if that is indeed their intention, then a regular old fucker of a salaryman would be spot on, no?

You'll have to excuse my tone, but I have just gotten back from a mini tour of the big summer festivals up in the Tohoku region and it was a harsh fall back into reality to be confronted with all the jerks in their suits, the subway and yes, the Kaisha. I've been totally immersed in festival fever for the past three days, in and out of three different cities, and the drum and flute melodies that were floating around in my head immediately fled like startled children upon my return to the corporate world. If there was a sound effect, it would be that of a record player that's been bumped, sending a nice scraa-atch sound out of the speakers. I don't think I would do very well in the countryside - I thrive on concrete and the smell of new clothes in boutiques - but the last week has made me want to run away and join the matsuri circus. Did I mention that my chaperones on said tour were the beau's parents? I went up there by myself like a big girl, minus the beau, and was accordingly treated like a young lady in Jane Austen's time: on the road alone and susceptible to highway robbers and all other manner of bad characters. There are no real horror stories to tell on that front, but I think we ended up drinking at a snack in Aomori city despite the beau's dad telling us it was a regular watering hole. Pictures to follow.