Travelogue - Home

Date: 21 August, 2003
Time: 01:19 (GMT +9)
Subject: Unbearable Cuteness of Being

Its been an incredible week.  Unfortunately, my ability to write about it is becoming increasingly hampered by the popularity of this website.  My boss, my coworkers, some students, my parents, ex girlfriends, present girlfriends, roomates, friends, best friends, strangers.  Metaqueasan.  To all my relations.  My father has asked that I not talk so much philosophy, and he'd rather not hear about my sex life.  So where do we add color to what would then be a rather dry account of my life in Japan...

I never really considered myself a secretive person.  As far as my personal proclivities extend, I do not care what is known of my life.  However I must be sensitive to the feelings of others.  Also, I'd rather not put my boss in a position where he'd have to terminate my employment...  Its a bitch.  So, I play the dangerous game of implication and subterfuge.  I yearn for a day when I can write "the tell-all account."

Let's start with my favorite topic.  Toilets.  Japanese Toilets are fairly standard.  Western style toilets are becoming the norm, but my favorite toilets remain the squatters.  These are yogically superior, as any biotropically sensitive (and fairly flexible) individual will agree.  However, when I say "western," there are two technological inovations which should not be overlooked.  Firstly, a "toilet room" and a "bath room" are kept meaningfully separate.  In the toilet room, there is not a sink.  The business of washing one's hands is accomplished by a spigot mounted over the top of the tank.  Therefore, the flushing water, is first circulated above the tank and used to rinse one's hands.  The "sink" then mounted in the top of the tank is often adorned, in private Japanese houses (inhabited by women who care), with plastic flowers, stone arrangements, and other beautifications.  Giving a whole new spin on Japanese rock gardens and Ikebana.

The second technological innovation is the toilet seat.  These plug in to the wall.  So.  Why would a toilet seat plug in to the grid?  Well, to HEAT the seat for starters.  Also, there is often bidet feature built in.  The range of buttons confounds me, however, you can press the green one and wash one's posterior with, yes, warm water.  A truly unique and effective procedure.  Toilet paper then is provided for drying.  There is also a pink button expressing a seperate functionality for women, which I'm at a loss to explain.  The bidet action is accomplished by two jets, strategically placed beneith the back of the seat.  And, the whole apparatus is pressure sensitive; by sitting is it activated. 

This has been the longest week since I've been in Japan. Today is wednesday.  Last tuesday through thursday I went to Nagoya to visit my friend Miyuki.  She and I met in Bangkok.  Its one of the rare pleasures of travel to have reunions with people you've doubted you'd ever see again.  I met her on practically my last day in Thailand.  I sat at her table in a pub, and we drank beer after beer after beer together.  One thing led to another... and I saw her again last tuesday in Nagoya. 

Nagoya is the third largest city in Japan.  During WWII, we Americans carpet bombed, and effectively levelled the city.  Since then its been densely rebuilt and remains a major port city.  However, as a consequence, there is very little to see of "historical" interest.  The lonely planet pans it as a wash; "nothing to see here, move along..." And so forth.  Just a big concrete Jungle.  I can't say I disagree with this assessment, but then I find most cities to be like most others.  I would say the same of Osaka... But then, we levelled that one too.  (hell, they started it...).   So about the city, there is little to say.  Its "nice".  They have an aquarium at the port, a "people's park" with a statue dedicated to two Japanese dogs that were part of an expedition to the South Pole, but had to be abandoned when the expedition failed.  They miraculously survived the winter, and were found the following spring 8 months later, or so.  A true testimony to the japanese spirit.  Also, one of the main Jingu or Shinto Shrines is located in Nagoya.  Shinto shrine are organized by "familial relations."  The main ones are Jingu, the grandchildren are Jinja.  Hiein Jingu is in Kyoto, for example. 

None of this is really important.  I went to Nagoya to see Miyuki.  She invited me to stay with her, at her parent's house.  Most single Japanese women live with their families.  Sons are expected to get on with their lives, but daughters are more worried about.  Therefore, an unmarried single woman will live at home well into her forties.  Miyuki, 34, is no exception.  So my visit was also a visit to her family.  This was my first true insight into Japanese in situ.  And a bizarre experience it was.  I met my first Japanese toilet seat at their house.  I also can now say that older, lower middle-class Japanese apartments resemble the equivilent in america.  Knicknacks, fishing trophies (here they simply make a print of the fish on paper, however), family photos, etc.  Dinner was served on the coffee table.  Nobody kneels at the table.  Except me, cause yoga teaches this posture is ideal for digestion.  I knelt for a while at least.  Dinner was gyoza, a chinese dish known as Momos in Nepal, and potstickers (?) in america.  also, a four ounce cut of white fish, a side dish of potatoes and octopus.  It was delicious.  We all drank beer, and mom and daughter smoked together, in the house, at the dinner table.  As did I.  The TV was on all through dinner, and in fact, whenever anyone was in the house.  In all there was little to distiguish the situation from what would have occurred were I to have found myself in a similar demographic in america. 

Miyuki works as a hostess.  This means she pours drinks for customers, and if they cop a feel, she gets to slap them.  She talks with the clients of the bar, nothing more.  A hostess does not take off her clothes, is not expected to provide "services" outside of the bar.  However, there is a stigma about this kind of work, and it was only through prying, and by much reassurance (I kinda read between the lines and figured this was her job) that she admitted to her occupation.  She's worked as a hostess for twelve years or more.  Her salary and her living situation permits her to spend two months out of the year on the road.  Last year I met her in Thailand.  This year, when I arrived in Japan, she was in France, returning from Italy, again via Bangkok.  There are definite advantages to living at home, hey?   Teaching at Nova is not unlike being a hostess.  But instead of pouring drinks, we serve up grammar points, connotation, and idiom.   In the end, we're both paid for conversation.  And flirting, as appropriate, certainly helps.

This week has been very busy at work.  The full moon in August is O-Bon.  In effect, this is equivalent to Christmas.  Its the time of the year when everyone goes home to visit their families.  The entire week is a national holiday, and most middle-management is given five to nine days off.  Everyone goes back to their hometown.  The holiday is the time of year when the ancestral spirits return home.  Many go to their family shrine (jinja) and prays.  Many go to the Buddhist temple and pray.  Most don't really give a damn about religion and ghosts and simply go visit mom and dad.  I can't emphasize enough how godless a people the Japanese really are. 

Perhaps the festival that is synonomous with Kyoto is the Daimonji Festival.  Photos may be forthcoming...  tonight even!  Yes.  Maybe I'll go develop photos at four am!  They're Holga photos, shot at night, pushing the film like 5 stops, with flash, of fire on a mountain two miles away!  Four AM developing seems perfectly in keeping with the spirit!  Or not. Why don't I just be slack...  Goto to this guy's site and see his photos:

This is the Kanji for "Great."  The mountain is called Daimonji.  Anyway this festival is held every year on the Sixteenth of August.  Together with my coworker Ronoel, her boyfriend, And three of her friends, we went to see the Dai.  We were on the river to see the Dai, then when the fire got lit, everyone walked north a bit to see the Boat pictograph.  There's no where to see the all six at the same time.  They only burn for about twenty minutes; So you have to chose wisely.  We saw two.  Next time I'm in Japan, I guess I'll go see the Myo Ho Kanji....  Oh hey.  It has another name apparently.  Gozan Okuribi.  News to me... Well there ya go.  The festival is very crowded with hoards of people taking in the scenes, promenading, seeing, being seen.  Girls get decked out in Yukata (summer kimono).  Everyone takes pictures with their cellphones. Some dedicated folks set up tripods.  And the even more dedicated will go to a different kanji every year for six photos.  Most of my students, however, had never been to this festival.  But then, they live in Shiga, and there seems to be a certain disdain for Kyoto festivals in Shiga...   So Saturday night, we watched them set the mountains on fire.  It was pretty cool. "Ring of Fire" and "Fire on the Mountain" competed in my head for soundtrack rights.  Okay, I'm not going to develop photos tonight...  You'll have to wait.

This would also be a good time to mention hiring practices of the Japanese.  When you graduate from University, you apply for a job with "a company" and base your decision mostly on that company's reputation.  You are then hired by "Toray" or by "Toyota" and then expected to relocate to wherever it is you are needed, and train in the job that is available.  This explains what seemed absurd to me at the time about Nova's hiring.  I applied for a job with Nova.  Where I was located was not my concern.  What I would ultimately be doing was not my concern.  A worker should be loyal to the company as a parent;  One does what one is told.  This practice results in the majority of the reasons for people moving away from home in the first place.  Hence, if someone is an engineer, you can be fairly certain they are from a different part of Japan than where they're living; same for most upper management.  Most have been transferred from their hometowns shortly after graduation for Jobs with Toyota in Nagoya, or Toray in Seta and Ishiyama.  Let me reiterate.  You do not apply for a "job" you apply to a company.  Hence, O-Bon, is the time of the year when the company, which has taken you away from your home town, gives you nine days to go back and visit.  In net result, its not very different than America, but then, in net result, no place is really very different than any other.  The creapiest thing about my intensive and exhaustive examination of human life, human society, human cultures as a whole is that difference dissappears; ockam's razor becomes less effective the sharper it becomes.  We are left with a self-contradictory differance where we are merely performing algebraic transformations across an equal sign.

I've made friends with a couple other people in Japan.  I should mention, however, that Tues-Thursday involved waking up with minor hangovers every morning.  Friday and Saturday went a little way toward recovery.  However, sunday night was particularly rough.  One of my friends just moved into a new place in Seta.  Saturday night the city was having their fireworks festival.  Every city, during summer holidays (o-bon) holds a fireworks celebration, and Seta is no exception.  So I went to my friend's new condo, and we drank.  There were four of us.  One woman didn't speak any English.  The other two women were reasonably fluent in English, so long as I kept it simple.  (You have no idea how complicated it is to get drunk, juggle social convention, avoid linguistic innuendo, yet use implication nevertheless).  I can't go to much into this night, for at least four of the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph of this episode.  We all had a delightful time.  Our hostess for the evening prepared a lovely dinner, some really great food.  We all had a lot to drink, Beer, red wine, Umeshu (plum wine), etc, etc, etc.  The fireworks were interesting in their duration.  They lasted about two hours.  An equivalent display in America would have lasted 20 minutes for as many fireworks as they launched.  Where we go to fireworks (hana-be; flower-fire) for a quick spectacle, the Japanese make a much longer show of it.  It becomes a backdrop for a picnic, or other social gathering. In our case we watched from the condo.  In the end, I missed the last train home at 11:45.  So we went back to the condo and drank for another two hours.  We gave one of the guests a ride home, and since the driver had been drinking, she didn't want to drive by a parked "police car" with its lights on.  (it was an ambulance).  We were in a neighborhood.  So three of us ended up walking the last half mile.  This meant that for the walk back to the car, I was drunk, walking for ten minutes with a woman who spoke no english.  Nevertheless, she talked the entire walk back.  I finally made it to sleep around 3:30.  The following morning, I was awaken at 6, driven to the train station, and somehow managed to find my way home.  An hour later I was back in bed.  Then up at 11pm for work at 1.  I had follow-up training that day.  Thank god I only had to learn and not teach.  I was feeling a little sick all day, and only by 7:00 when I actually DID have to teach did I really feel capable of doing so.

So today.  I went for Kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi).   I wrote this email.  But more than that, I IMed with Buster 'n Krista; then Corey 'n Dana, then Justis.  All day I've been listening to KEXP out of Seattle, via the Internet.  I tried riding my skateboard in flipflops.  In short, I did absolutely NOTHING all day.  It was sooooo nice.  Super hella relaxing.  I have needed this SOO Bad.  Its been a fantastic week.  Tomorrow I'm going out with another friend.  She and I are going to meet at Starbucks, then go to the river in Kyoto and shoot fireworks, discuss philosophy, and maybe computer programming (she's a computer programmer).  The fireworks are a summer tradition.  The rest, a more surreal twist.   Anyway, when she and I first met, we discussed French Deconstruction as it contrasts with Analytical philosophy of Bertrand Russell.  You could say we were fast friends.   

I'm tired.  If you can read this, you've read too far.  [3:59AM]

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