Monday, October 11, 2010

Bitch, please

I think it could be a sign that you've really made it in Japan when you can verbally assault passersby in Japanese at the drop of a hat. If you'll humor me this hypothesis, then I can tell you that as of today, I have officially arrived.

The beau and I were prancing through Ginza this afternoon on one of the back streets when he stopped to look at a menu in front of a restaurant. There was a woman coming towards us on my side but I stopped and moved in towards the beau. I kind of actually hate when people randomly stop in the street to look at stuff but the beau had pulled over so what could I do. Stroller Bitch must have thought I should have waited for her to pass, because when she went around us (and P.S. there was plenty of room because it wasn't a street with raised sidewalks), she clucked her tongue and snarled "jama da yo" to me, which basically means "you're in the way" and not something you say to people in the street. Without missing a beat, I immediately shot back "omae ga jama da yo." I've discussed the use of "omae" before ("you") - I've seen it used to show familiarity among the beau and his family, and I've also gotten pissed at him for using it with me when we argue when it's used in a derogatory way. I was definitely not being familiar with Stroller Bitch when I spat it out at her.

Nothing more happened, she kept going and I turned back to the beau who was studying the menu with the concentration of a pro. Or that of one with a cray cray girlfriend prone to amuse and offend.

Immediately after the exchange I felt like crying like a little bitch. I think this was partly due to the fact that I was hungry and tired but I definitely felt uneasy about the whole thing. I've gotten into physical passive-aggressive shoving with people during my commute, which is well-documented, but I've never had such an exchange with someone on the street, no matter how many times I've wanted to. Which may account for my immediate and perfect response ("you're the one in the fucking way"). As with most humans, my response time is slow and I can only think of clever comebacks hours after the fact but today my delivery was pitch perfect. The practicing in my head has obviously and at long last paid off.

I feel pretty bad at the moment about the whole thing, although I really wouldn't have done it much differently to be honest: I don't know whether she would have said that to me if I was Japanese, I can only speculate, but I did want to make it very clear to her that I knew exactly what she was saying. I may have done a bad thing for foreigners everywhere just trying to make it here in Japan, and for that I am sorrry, but I refuse to take shit for something so trivial as not kowtowing to a woman who has decided to take her demon spawn out for a walk.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Let's Party

Yes, let's.

Starting with some hot pants to go under my pleated navy skirt for those windy days.

And then on to some "loose" socks, those scrunchy white wonders adorning the legs of only the most fashionable school girls.

Super wide for extra scrunch and volume.

I think it might be difficult to ever make oneself inconspicuous here as a foreigner - even dressing "local" would be like walking around with a cardboard cutout of a tree strapped to your front and hoping to blend in with the scenery - but should you ever feel in need of a good dose of attention whoring, might I suggest a Japanese school uniform? I've only ever received a lot of random vocal attention all at once when wearing kimono or yukata but the uniform punches it up to a whole new level: you become part of the collective national fantasy. There is even a party held sporadically in Tokyo where you can unite with other uniformed lovelies and dance in front of gold-framed mirrors with dead animal heads on the walls that stare blankly at the gratuitous chandeliers. Why yes, I am turning 27 in a few weeks.

Young hip things (i.e., my peers!) in Shibuya even yelled nice stuff at me from their groups huddled on the dirty sidewalk doing god knows what. I was forced to snub someone once at the end of the night when this guy kept getting up in my grill: he thought he was being a conversationalist, I thought he was being an ass^hat. He asked me if I like anime to which I gave a vehement no and explained that I had merely been out to a party. Where people dress in school uniforms. So much hotter than anime (no offense otaku). I want to run off and join the schoolgirl circus.

That is a Strong Zero that I'm holding - I was going to go for a Slat (whose unfortunate name conjures images of Beavis and Butthead saying "slut") but was lured in by its long sleek body. And I rarely even drink these bitch drinks anymore - give me a beer or a vodka rickey any day.

I rarely try to bore you with non look-I'm-in-Japan content (isn't that all I can think about anyway, being in Japan?!), but seeing as I am dressed as a schoolgirl with a little jungle flava above, I feel it has provided a sound opener to draw your attention to the It Gets Better Project headed by the only sex columnist worth listening to, Dan Savage. With my dark heart things rarely make it in there these days but this has managed to. If you know a LGBT or questioning youth, let them know that it gets better.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Like two bikes passing in the night

I was going to title this "Love at first bike," but then I found an even better platitude to make you cringe. One night last week on my way home from work, I paused at a busy intersection on my bike and looked up to see the beau across the street on his bike and on his way to work, waving. I suppose this was bound to happen eventually but given the number of different routes I've been using to get back and forth and the fact that our work places are on opposite sides of the Imperial Palace, I was taken completely and blissfully unaware at the coincidence in this anonymous capital and our being able to steal a quick kiss on the corner before going our separate ways. It's truly the moments like these that make all those fist-clenching ones easier to simply let go. (No more gaggy love stuff, promise.)

I'm not in a habit of naming inanimate objects, but I feel like my bike should have a name. What better name than Mavis? I can't pin point where my obsession with the name Mavis started, possibly around the time I was at an all girls' college in Wellington, but there was a definite era when I named everything Mavis.

I haven't had a bike since I was on exchange during uni, so getting on a bike, my Mavis, was incredible. Riding her home that first night past the Imperial Palace, dark and still, was nothing short of thrilling. It reminded me of my first car ride in Tokyo ever. Now I am used to taxiing through the city at inappropriate hours and even having been behind the wheel a couple times myself (rental car, not taxi), it no longer feels special, but when I was at uni here, I hadn't been in a car in months and I certainly wasn't taking taxis - I was at Pure until 5am and falling asleep on the train home, only to wake up in fucking Mitaka. But my first car ride after months spent popping up from underground at various spots around town and hurtling by the buildings on above-ground trains felt very foreign. Foreign and not a bit luxurious, sitting next to my first private student - an older lawyer type - in his Mercedes, as we glided through the Shinjuku neon. No, I probably shouldn't have gotten into his car, but I made a judgment call based on his business card, the fact that our first lesson was at the Hyatt, and that I could probably have taken him if it came down to it. If you ever get to the point where you feel you really know a city, try a different mode of transport - bike, double-decker bus, car, piggy-back and legs all come with their own unique perspective.

One first I did have last week, was the pure joy of riding a bike while listening to music. Do other people know about this stuff?!? I feel like I've been missing out all this time. Half-way through my ride home I decided to stick in my ear buds and HELLO WORLD!! I suddenly felt like I was starring in my own private music video on a bike and had to resist trying to dance while pedalling. I was content to think that biking itself was enough but this whole biking while musicing combo has just turned it up to eleven. Thrilling, I tell you, thrilling. I've had a similar feeling at the gym when I suddenly feel the urge to frantically twist my hands around in time to the Bollywood driving my workout forward or to start shaking my bootay to a particularly inspiring piece of rap. Try it. You can thank me later.

If you are on two wheels in Japan, check out these sites and articles about biking . Note that when I say "biking" when referring to myself, I am literally just propelling myself forward on a two-wheeled vehicle in a very perfunctory manner and am no way experienced, sporty or non-threatening to pedestrians. Regardless of whether you have a bike with gears or a mama-chari, the above sites should still prove interesting. With the feeling of fall creeping up, fashion magazines are dishing out forecasts on the next "it" accessory to have for this season but if you ask me, it's a bicycle hands down.

Ode to Osaka

Can I just say that I think I belong in Osaka? Granted, Tokyo is uber hip and fast-paced and I can get my nails done with a cocktail in one hand, but the stuck up Kanto bitches pale in comparison to the fun-loving Osakans. And before you jump down my throat for generalizing, I understand that living somewhere is leagues away from actually living there. Just look at all the happy tourists who love to raaaaaaaaave about how damn friendly and genuine Japanese people are. When they say "genuine" I don't think they are talking about the smiling elevator lady who is picturing bitch slapping you in the same instant that she purrs irrashaimase.

Osaka how I love thee, with your throngs of yankii boys and girls, love of eating and drinking, and ability to converse with anyone. A break down of our trip in parts:
Part 1 - Osaka, gangsta style

Y-san, of Yakuza and Hotel Room fame, came to pick us up from our hotel in a tinted-window Lexus and drove us to a nearby spot with reggae and cold beer. The drinking commenced at 6 and didn't let up until around 3 the next morning and that was only because we all lost the ability to accurately aim the rim of a glass at our own mouths. While I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of a negotiating table from him, Y-san is such a sweetheart as only a cute yakuza with tattoos can be. He kept thanking us for coming down to Osaka to see him and had lunch planned for us the next day.

Part 2 - Osaka, okonomiyaki style

We struggled to get up at noon and headed downstairs, this time to a van with tinted windows and a mad sound system. It was time to see what all the Osaka okonomiyaki fuss is all about. Hello fluffy sweet, sweet heaven. We lazed around our tables for a four-hour lunch while Y-san tried to hit on the waitress, a cute exchange student from China. While I would normally cringe at this kind of thing, I couldn't help but beam at Y-san like a fond younger sister as he kept exclaiming how pretty she was in a totally non-threatening way. He even showed her his full back tattoo, which I think was more the alcohol talking than a regular yakuza. Still, the one thing that surprised me the most was his readiness to discuss his job with us. I'm sure if we had been closer to his in-group it would be completely different, but it was like hanging out with a cool uncle who happens to have a shady job. When we rolled out of there buzzed it was dusk, making it feel like we had just transitioned from one night to the next, skipping those mandatory daytime hours in between.

Part 3 - Osaka, blond style

I ditched the beau and went off for some blond bonding with the fabulous Corinne, who I now really wish lived here in Tokyo. Not being married (with children) I kind of fall outside the foreign wives circle here so there's not a lot of you-have-a-Japanese-partner-too? bonding for me in Tokyo, which made it even more special to hang out with someone who knows the score only too well. Corinne was equal parts lovely and funny, and extremely patient when it came to giving the beau instructions on how to locate us (seriously, why don't Japanese men use GPS or ask for fucking directions?!). Girl, you need to visit Tokyo ASAP!

Part 4 - Osaka, baseball style

I had no idea that when I first wrote about Japanese highschool baseball two years ago that I would find myself there in person this summer, sweating in the stands and contemplating opening my parasol. I saw a few other women with open brellas but couldn't bring myself to do it and so got a lovely diagonal flash of burn from my one shoulder top. Hot.

I have always said that baseball is eight innings too long and to be perfectly honest, if there were no hot dogs or beer, I wouldn't ever step foot inside a stadium. I can see how the highschool baseball tournament here could be exciting to watch - unlike the pros, there are much more mistakes and sudden turning points to the games - but I enjoyed watching the cheering section much more. Each school brings their own cheering squad with matching uniforms, which includes both a marching band and actual cheerleaders with pom poms. At one point in the game, the beau pointed out a student standing at the very back of the cheering squad who was holding a huge school flag pole diagonally, and informed me that this poor schmuck had to do this for the entire game without rest, and that, get this, it was an honor!

I forgot to bring our binoculars, so unfortunately I was not able to hone in when the losing team began furiously scooping up dirt while crying, which is possibly the most riveting parts of the game for me. Highschool baseball is such a quintessential Japanese experience, and you know you're not in Kansas anymore when the teams line up in front of their respective cheering squads and bow before and after the game.

Part 5 - Osaka, night style

After getting lured into a love hotel area by all the pretty lights, we soon found there were no watering holes to be found. Where do these people hydrate after sex? Some more wandering and we found Osaka's Shinjuku ni-chome, and while there was a very interesting lady waiting for customers, any customers it seemed, in front of Bar Chicago, we decided to press on. This became a running joke for the rest of the trip - that we could always count on Bar Chicago to be there if all else failed. Patience wearing thin after entering another area with not much open, we saw this blue neon sign calling us with its siren song from the depths of a dark and narrow alley. I am partial to dark and narrow alleys, so obviously I dragged the beau's ass in there. With an upstairs loft area and 5 seats at the counter, we were soon engaged in raucous conversation with the bartender and the couple next to us. We were practically tripping over each other to experience the locals, and they in turn, seemed equally fascinated by these strange creatures from Tokyo visiting "for fun." I think their Osakan charms made the beau a little too comfortable, because before long we were discussing the whole "curtain/carpet" thing and when I was asked whether mine matched, the beau blurted out, "She doesn't have any!!!" Thanks for that, darling. Discussion on Brazilian waxing ensued...

The following night I was starting to approach the brink of bitchy when we couldn't find a place local enough to drink at, when a young thing approached the beau with a flyer. I of course was sceptical, thinking she was customer fishing for a hostess club, but nonetheless we followed her into a building filled with bars and cabaret clubs. Where we ended up was a typically Japanese nomiya with white leather and gold interior decor happening. With only one looong counter, it used to be a girls' bar, but after the turn in the economy, they made it an everyone's bar. I'm not sure how well that is working out though, as all the customers I saw were male. Not that I can blame them - apart from the male manager, the other bartenders were these super cool Osaka girls. I've never seen Japanese women like girls from Osaka - brash, loud and with a very particular conversation style, I immediately girl crushed on them. If Japan was highschool, the girls from Osaka would be the wild, funny, popular girls that every other student is intimidated by. We spent hours there, talking to the manager and a couple of the female bartenders; I even had the ole standard of beauty conversation with one husky-voiced bartender with a sparkly headband holding back her long caramel curls. As always, it began with praise for my big nose, which is fast becoming competition for my breasts. Why are some women here surprised that foreigners find them exotic and enviable? Granted, I don't necessarily (hello highschool in Vancouver), but you know, people from the sticks of middle America and manga-obsessed Europeans. I am so used to Asians that quite frankly, I am a little surprised every time I look in the mirror and see some white girl staring back.

I think we were a little shocked at the friendliness. The bartenders we encountered immediately begin engaging customers, smoking and drinking along with them to encourage a kind of camaraderie. Not that there aren't friendly bartenders in Tokyo, there are, but there are so many places in Tokyo where you can go for a drink and the bartender says nothing more to you than what is required for taking your order. To put it succinctly, we were smitten.

Also, can I just say for the record that Kinryu ramen is so-ho overrated? Yes, it's cool that you sit on raised tatami platforms to eat but the ramen itself is a major disappointment and the reviews make me think the ravers have never had ramen outside of Osaka.

Osaka has definitely made a play for my heart, and I may never look at Tokyo with quite the same love again. I am already planning how to get down again there for a clandestine meeting. Don't tell Tokyo.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm gonna Shanghai you

It's like a bread line for the train! I wish this poster had been out a few months back when I saw red and threatened to cut a bitch (all in my head of course) when she tried to nudge me off the tracks. In fact, I think Tokyo Metro should market and sell a pack of yellow cards with the manner posters printed on them. I would carry them around in my purse for ease of reference so that whenever I spot a violation, I can pull the relevant one out and "yellow card" the offending party. I would do this while giving them my best "back off bitch" eyes.

I'm feeling rather groovy about this month's poster, possibly because I didn't have to see it this morning because I BIKED to work! Now that I have finally found a fairly non-populated route and my ass has stopped feeling like I just had anal sex for ten hours straight, things are looking waaaay up in the commuting department. I almost want to laugh maniacally as I buzz by on my bike because it feels so ridiculously good to be on it (but not in a bad anal sex to good anal sex way), pesky pedestrians and all.

I'm feeling so good about this month's poster, in fact, that my first reaction on seeing it was that we should all just make like we're in China, since that's what everyone is itching to do anyway. I just got back from a little exploratory voyage to Shanghai and I am so over the passive aggressive behaviour here - give me aggressive rock-out-with-your-cock-out craziness any day. The Shanghainese have no qualms about putting it all out there and rushing into that train before anyone can blink, and after seeing some similar behaviour here in Tokyo, I think it's time to drop the facade Tokyoites. Although there is the slight problem of comparing the Japanese to the Chinese; I think it could be one of the worst insults out there to a Japanese person. Take for example, exhibit A: I want the beau to stop spitting outside, so I tell him he is acting just like they do in China. Fastest behavioral turnaround I. have. ever. seen. For reals though, let's start gunning for it like they do in China.