風になりたい! Kaze ni naritai! 

A look at life in Japan through big, round, gaijin eyes. Relfections on life in Japan, America, from the faceless streets of Tokyo. Let's blogging!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Snow Days


Last week I went up to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, with some Japanese friends from Yamanashi for 2 days of snowboarding in the village of Nozawa Onsen, at the northern tip of the Japanese Alps. Being a weekday trip, the slopes were wide open. Fresh powder snow was silently falling all around. Snowboarding is a sport I've taken up since I've come to Japan. As a sport, it has an image of being an "X-treme" haven for punks and tricksters - the Mountain Dew crowd vs. wine and cheese eating skiers. For me, skiing was all about speed and being on the edge of control (granted I did almost all my skiing as a teenager), and I find snowboarding to be much more relaxing. Since I've learned what I'm doing on a snowboard, everything has slowed down. Now it's the snow running underneath my board, the wind blowing in my face, the angle of the mountain beneath me, and me carving my way down the hillside. Beautiful. Peaceful.

Saturday the snow came to me, and it was my first real snowfall in TOkyo. This time, it's a good thing it was a weekend, as train delays, slippery roads, and general chaos would have made it a very sloppy commute. That's why I went to the one quiet place I know in Tokyo--Meiji Jingu shrine. Even in the busiest city in the world--beautiful. Peaceful.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Monday Morning Football!

Sweet Moses. Best game I've watched since the first Pats' Superbowl win. Pleeaaaase Jerome, don't do that to me at 6 in the morning when I've stayed up all night to watch you play. Last thing I need is to get fired for sleeping through work AND have the Steelers lose on an impossible fluke. I had just called my dad to celebrate the victory when Jerome Bettis almost fumbled away the game right as my sister handed over the phone to him.
Final score, Steelers 21, Colts 18. Thank you Mr. Idiot kicker.

My hands are shaking. Go Steelers!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust


Could this be the end of my favorite website? Congratulations to P-chan, my boy and 同級生 (classmate) from Gtown, on landing a sweet new job working in the high-powered world of hardcore financial reporting. This should not be confused with his night job as a big player in the high-rolling, er... still-wristed world of hardcore pachinko playing.

Good luck in your new job man! I hope you remember all the little people you had to step on to get to those lofty heights... and laugh sometimes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tissue Tussle

One of the things about Tokyo is that the area around every big station and shopping area teems with part-timers trying to hand out flyers and free giveaways to passersby. Inevitably, 90% of the folks are handing out little packages of tissues (that have printed advertisements on the package), which actually come in handy for some people, considering that a few public restrooms require you to pay for toilet paper. Btw, these people are dumb, because convenience stores have much nicer bathrooms, are open 24 hours, and always have tp.

Anyway... It is impossible-- I repeat, IMPOSSIBLE-- to walk around a major station to the other without encountering someone distributing something, i.e. tissues. Oftentimes the distributing is being done by very nice looking "campaign girls," but that is a different story, and I can't find a good photo. Instead, I found a picture of a chick in a maid outfit handing out advertising tissues, which will have to do. I'm not going out on a limb by guessing she's in Akihabara. Maids are big in Akihabara. As are maid cafes. To an akiba-kei, she is a costumed goddess, I assure you. I digress.

Today I had a cold, and a runny nose. Having used up half a box of tissues at home, I decided to pick up some spares on my way to the gym. Of course, the best place for this was not at the store, but in front of Shinagawa Station. Yet lo and behold, when I walked humbly past the tissue people making appropriate interested facial expressions, expecting some of their plastic-packaged bounty, they wouldn't give me any frikkin tissues. I milled about for a few minutes looking plaintive, and slowly became more and more agitated and sniffly. One time I made a grab for a packed, only to have the guy dodge nimbly and hand the pack to an unsuspecting grandma, who was so startled she slammed into the guy walking in front of her. Growing desperate, I stooped to asking some guy politely (these tissue people are the lowest form of life in Japan) for his FREE TISSUES he was GIVING AWAY to EVERYONE ELSE, but his tissues were only for women (despite the fact that he had given some to a middle aged man not 8 seconds before. "Look, I'll give them to some woman, after I use one, but just PLEASE LET ME BLOW MY NOSE!" He was sorry, but he didn't really think it was alright to recruit me into a phone club for high school girls and...

Oh the laugh the tissue people must have had seeing my drippy nose and then pretending I was invisible and didn't speak Japanese. Apparently I am not the first person to encounter this sort of ironic treatment while sick. Fortunately, today was 成人の日(Seijin-no-hi), or Coming of Age Day, and I took my revenge by wiping my nose on the dangling sleeve of some girl's $25,000 kimono as she was standing in front of me on an escalator.

I am just kidding. (But I thought about it.)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Are We Biased by our Subconscious Mind?

I've just finished a book I borrowed from a friend called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell, about making rapid inferences in "the first two seconds of looking." The book is about the power of the unconscious mind, and though it does little to explain how to improve your own powers of rapid cognition, it does by example show how there are instances where you should listen to your gut instints, and other times when you should be wary that you are making what you think are concious, rational decisions under the influence of unconcious, potentially irrational factors that you didn't know were there. It was an easy, fun read, and I recommend it to anyone who doesn't look at it too seriously (if only for the chapter about Paul Van Riper).

That being said, there was one think Gladwell talked about which I have a great deal of interest: subconcious attitudes and predispositions that arise due to the societal values we absorb in our everyday lives. Certainly my time in Japan has been colored by dealing with reactions from Japanese people who see me and unconsciously expect me to act in a certain way that is counter to the evidence in front of their eyes: e.g. the person who can't understand me or talks to me like I am a child though I speak perfect Japanese, or the waiter who offers me a fork after I've eaten half of my meal with chopsticks etc. Gladwell looks at problems like racism and prejudice (albeit superficially), and shows that it is very difficult to avoid them living in our society. For instance, he introduces a study where black students' test scores drop automatically if they have to indicate their race on the top of a test page because presumably it evokes negative racial stereotypes that they themselves carry about their abilities because of their race.

Gladwell also introduced a tool where you can test some of your own unconcious biases, a website run by psychologists at Harvard. There is a short registration process, but I have tried it out and I think it's pretty cool. So far I have discovered that I am slightly biased toward accuracy over speed, slightly prefer the concept of self vs. other, and am equally predisposed toward giving and receiving. So far the topics I've been given have been random, but I'm looking forward to finding out more about whether or not I really do have certain biases that I never knew about.

Why don't you give it a try yourself?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Booze and Death by Overwork - Back to the Office

Yesterday was one of those days at work that made my more experienced (American) coworker shake his head and say, "Even after all these years in this country, sometimes it still doesn't make any sense."

So New Year's is a big thing in Japan, and the whole country pretty much shuts down (with the possible exception of retail and service jobs...sometimes) from the 29th of December to the 3rd or so of January. Thus yesterday was the first day back of 2006. Of course I took a long vacation, so I missed out on the last day of work, a week ago, when those of my coworkers who stuck it out (about half) did a huge office wide clean-up and then drank away the afternoon in the large conference room... The first day back, of course, is a slightly different animal.

That doesn't mean that drinking wasn't involved though, and sure enough, at 11am, everyone--not just my section but the ENTIRE office of nearly 100 people) got up and headed off to that same conference room for the official starting ceremony of 2006. The room was well stocked with tables laden with large bottles of soft drinks, beer, wine, sake, and all sorts of snacky foods (the "best" being packets of dried squid jerky entitled LITTLE FRIEND...ugh). One of my boss's bosses was called upon for a few words, and offered up a rambling toast to ring in the new year of the Dog, which he explained will apparently be an especially lively and good year because of some sort of astronomical alignment. I especially liked his closing toast, when after he had explained the special significance of 2006 in the most complicated Japanese I have heard this side of a parliamentary meeting on TV, he added, "Of course, I'd be lying if I said it that this year won't suck for half of you. Happy New Year! Konpai!"

And with that, a full-blown bacchanalian ensued until EXACTLY 11:59am, at which point the room emptied faster than the average fashion trend rolls through joshi kosei in Shibuya.

Around 2pm, my bemused senpai (older colleague) finished off his remarks about being surprised about Japan by looking around the bustling, everyday looking workplace by saying, "I know that I'm not the only one who was trashed about an hour ago. What a country."

Which brings us to the final macabre detail of the whole bloody mess that is my working environment: the welcome back bash was short one of my Japanese co-workers, a fellow we half-affectionately refer to as [mad] Max. Poor Max had a stress overload and passed out at an intensive language class he was taking, and had to be hospitalized. Nobody knows anything for sure, but it rumor has it that he did a complete face plant on the floor and busted up his teeth pretty good. How did the chronically overworked Max build up all this stress over the week off: he spent it with his wife in Hawaii.

Unbelievable.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Goodbye 2005, Harro 2006!


明けましておめでとうございます!Happy New Year!

2005 was a year where I finally grew up--got a "real job," started to feel like I needed to spend a little more time in the gym--and started to find that doing so was increasingly difficult. In 2005 I said goodbye to people I have grown to care about in Fujiyoshida, and to the profession of teaching, at least for now.
I accomplished a lot of things I'm proud of in 2005. For instance, I continued polishing my Japanese enough so that I can say I am fluent without any hesitation. On the other hand, I created some doubts about whether or not I have the drive to sustain and grow off the things I accomplished. I won a big karate tournament in May, and won an award for "oustanding performance." Yet by November, I was looking for a place to practice my karate, and regretting the bulge around my waist. 2005 saw me lose focus a number of times--so that I hope that 2006 will be a year where I can have a little more control over where I'm directing my energies.

2005 saw me fall even more deeply in love... and realize anew just how much goes into loving someone. 2005 is also the year when I first felt how fast time goes by, and how long I've been away from people I love back home. In 2006 I'll be coming to grips with my decision to STAY far away from those people, at least in terms of physical distance.
It's not hard to wax poetic about the passing of one year into the next. It is hard to do it without being too cheesy. Yeah. Um, 2005 was the year of the chicken, and 2006 is the year of the dog. Which means it's time to work hard. So all the best to all of you in 2006, and I'm gonna keep doing my thing, a little better than last year, if I can.