Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cultural Notes: Not Rude in Japan.

I'd like to start a series of quick cultural notes about my new life here and certain experiences. This first one is about what is NOT rude in Japan, and what I've found.

First off, there is an ample number of things that aren't rude in America, but most certainly are here. There are far too many to list, but a few are talking loudly in a train/elevator, audibly chewing gum, eating while walking, physical contact beyond being shoved in a train, not standing on one side of an escalator to let people walk, discussing money, asking for a 'doggie bag', and so many other things I can't mention. What I've found is a few things that are rude in America, but perfectly acceptable in Japan.

  • Public Intoxication: Every Friday and Saturday night,this is something I often see. I don't mean someone's had a few beers and can't quite walk a straight line. I see falling down on the sidewalk, stumbling, slurring, belligerently drunk people of all ages and social classes. I've seen businessmen in suits and ties too drunk to walk and women dressed to the nines being carried by their friends home. I'm not sure if "rude" is the right term for this one, but it certainly is somewhat socially acceptable.
  • Slurping Noodles: Not only is this not rude in Japan, it's actually considered rude if you DON'T slurp noodles. Slurping means you enjoy your meal. I, and other Americans I've talked to, have a hard time slurping as it's been ingrained in me that slurping = rude. I went to eat soba noodles with a Japanese friend of mine and he was slurping away and I just couldn't. He kept giving me this look of disgust, like I was the rude one. Which, in that case, I was.
  • Talking with food in your mouth: I'm not exactly sure how 'not rude' this is, but I've seen/heard it enough to get the impression that it's not the worst thing in the world. As far as I'm concerned, talking with a mouth full of food is quite possibly one of the rudest things you can do. It may still be rude here, but not nearly to the caliber that it is in America.
  • Lack of Eye Contact: When it's a stranger on a train, no big deal, but when you're having a nice conversation with someone, it'd be nice if they looked me in the eye. This isn't always true, but it's often. I'm personally not so great at eye contact so it doesn't bother me too much, but I've certainly noticed it.
  • Asking someone's Age: This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I think age should not be a priority in how you deal with someone, so I think it's a useless question. That's not the case here. I've had people ask me right away "What's your name? Where are you from? How old are you?" I know it relates to the Sempai/Kohai culture and how they honor those older than them, so I let it slide. But, the truth is, it really does bug me.

Anyways, those are a few things I've found since getting here. As always, comments are welcome.

Busy times.

Things have been quite busy lately. Now that I'm healthy, I've been getting out more and doing some of my favorite things.

I've been meeting a TON of new people at school. It's almost getting out of hand, but I really like it. It's a bit weird, though. I've never met this many cool people at once. It's a bit overwhelming. It's also a bit strange, as this is what I expected to happen as soon as I got to school, not a semester later. Oh well. Whatever.

So, what have I been doing? Well, I haven't been taking a lot of pictures. I've been going to places I've already been to, and spending more time enjoying people's company and less time seeing new things. Not to say my spirit of exploration is dying, but I've been enjoying my company more than new sites.

I did see something new the other day. I've studied subliminal advertising before, but I've never seen something like this. Here's an ad for (I think) pachinko. I know they're Avengelion characters.

Why is that robot's hand located THERE of all places? I'm sure that's not an accident.

Anyways, 2 weekends ago, my friend's mom was in town. We took her around and showed her some of our favorite sites. One of which was the Village Vanguard Diner. I've been there 2 times before, but I never noticed the odd spelling on the sign.

Vilidg?? Huh? Sure it sounds the same, but it's... Well, nevermind. And is that spelled "Vanga:d"? Well, whatever. It's the same as the Shimokitazawa sign.

And of course, it's not the spelling of the sign that matters. It's this:

That has avocados, chili, and salsa on it. It was great.

Later on, we went to Harajuku. We saw the rockers there, as I've seen before, but they were REALLY rocking out. It was quite amazing. Also, in front of them was this:

That looks out of place in America, but in Japan, it looks REALLY out of place.
Also, in that day we went all around Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Kichijoji. It was a lot of walking and it felt great to get outside and get a lot of exercise. Too bad it's bitterly cold still.

The next day, I went to go see one of the most enjoyable bands I know. They're called (I think) BB Mojaco.

They are truly delightful people and a ton of fun to watch preform. The first time I saw them play, we hung out afterwards and it was a blast. This time was on a holiday Monday (I had off on Tuesday, but they didn't), so there wasn't that much hanging out, but it was still a blast.

Other than that, I've been doing a lot of normal things. I went to this amazing bar last night that was filled to the brim with a ton of weird toys and lighters and just wacky things. I'll probably go back, so I'll take pictures then.

I've been lazy all day today. I was going to go out, but the wind is blowing like I've never seen before. It's pretty crazy, actually.

Anyways, that's my life now. I think I left a shirt or two hanging up to dry. Now I need to see if I can find them.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Snow in Tokyo!

For everyone who's been asking about my health, thanks for your concern. I'm feeling a lot better, like almost normal. For the last few days, anyone who's talked to me lately will know that my voice has been terrible. Today I've done nothing but rest, and my voice has definitely improved. I almost sound normal! Also, something that's not so noticeable is I've been having trouble with deep breaths and it felt like I was wearing a really tight shirt at all times, constricting my breathing. That feeling is almost gone too! At any rate, I'm back to normal!

But, I'm not here to talk about my health today. I'm here to talk about last Sunday. Last Sunday was my breaking point. I'd spent so much time cooped up in my room doing nothing and/or homework, I couldn't take it any more. I HAD to get out. If I had to sit in my room for one more day and do nothing, I would have gone crazy. Keep in mind, at this point, it had been over two and a half weeks since I'd left my house for recreational purposes.

So, I mailed my friend, asked if she would humor me and tolerate my terrible voice for lunch in Kichijoji. Her response was "I've been hankerin to get out too.. Snooow!" My first reaction was "Snow?" And then I looked out my window.

Yeah. Snow. For those of you who don't know, it snowed in Tokyo last Sunday. And it snowed pretty hard for Tokyo. From what I've learned, it doesn't snow every year, and while it's not a BIG deal, it certainly is worth paying attention to.

My street was unusually quiet.

Mitaka was fairly dead for a Sunday, but the most bored security guard in the world was out.

So, me and my friend went to eat some tasty, tasty Korean food and then headed to Inokashira park. The first thing I saw entering the park was a lovely snowball fight.

Seeing that completely warmed my heart. Which was good, because it was damned cold out!

But the whole park was quite lovely.

I even saw a bird (quail?) in a tree.

Umbrellas seem to be the norm around here. No rain jackets, few ponchos, tons of umbrellas. Also, this next picture kind of gives you an idea of how hard it was snowing.

The ducks didn't seem to care too much, though.

It was bitterly cold. The wind was raging too. Here's another good example of how harsh it was out.

So, what does one do on a day like this?

Go inside for a cup of coffee!

There is this cute gelato shop that was also a cafe. It's right next to the park, so we thought it would be good to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and get warm. It was really a nice place. I didn't get any gelato, though.

And here's the shop from the outside.

If that wasn't enough, we walked maybe half a block and spotted this really cute cafe. They also had signs out for cake. After being cooped up for so long, I was certainly not anxious to go home, so we went in. The cake was amazing.

It looked even better than the picture showed. It was not cheap, but it was great. Also, the waiter was amazing. My friend dropped a 10 yen coin on the ground and even before it stopped moving, he was on his hands and knees with a flashlight looking for it. He was so overly charming, even if the coffee and cake was bad, I would recommend it just for that.

And on the way home, I noticed a snowman in front of Freshness burger!!

I'm not sure about today as it's been raining, but as of yesterday, portions of this snowman were still standing.

So, that was my snowy Sunday in Tokyo. It was a lot of fun. I'm sure it wasn't good for my physical health, but it was necessary for my mental health.

Now that I'm feeling better, I expect my adventures to be more frequent.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Health update.

I'd like to write about all the exciting things I've been doing, but since January 15th, I've really done nothing. I've gone to school sometimes and spend a lot of time lying in bed.

It's not all grim because I am feeling a lot better. On Tuesday, I went to the doctor for a second time. It turns out I've got a bronchial infection, which essentially means my lungs are infected. This often times follows a flu and explains why I'm feeling the way I do.

Any amount of exercise leaves me feeling really tired really quickly. This wouldn't be too much of a problem, but it means things like running for the train are out of the question. Walking slowly to my train station isn't a big deal, though. It's just more time consuming.

I have a bit of a cough, but it's not so bad. It's a lot better than it used to be, which is good. The real problem is my voice.

I lost my voice sometime almost 2 weeks ago and it's still not back. I can make some crazy grunting sounds that are close to words with a little bit of pain. I can also whisper just fine, but having a conversation in whispers is really hard unless it's absolutely silent. Even so, my lack of ability to communicate on my own terms has been very depressing to say the least.

I have to give a lot of credit to my friends/former dorm mates. Yesterday, they had me join in a normal conversation, taking the time and patience to understand my whispers. It really improved my spirit.

Other than that, I'm feeling a lot more energetic and a lot more 'normal'. Besides the talking thing, I feel pretty decent these days.

Well, that's all I have to say now. Sorry for not having anything fun to write about.