Thursday, August 23, 2007

toilets, trains, and migraines


Ok, so being in Japan doesn`t stop me from getting migraines; that`s a little disappointing. We were heading from our meeting with a Board of Education bigwig, to go chat with a Global Issues highschool english club, having just stepped off the subway, when the familiar and detested splotchy patches appeared on my vision.

Follows: a squeamish sub ride home, 5 hours of the day wasted trying to sleep the pain and naseau away, then soreness, achiness, and just general unpleasantness which will linger all night and greet me the next morn as well.

But the subway system, at least, is quite remarkably efficient, though slightly expensive. The payment is electronic and easy, your trips recorded on the back of your prepurchased card; you don`t even have to slow down as the machine reads your ticket, though the turnstiles WILL rapidly swing shut their hip-level plastic mini saloon-style doors and barr your path if you try any shenannigans.
I think I mentioned already that the city only has three intersecting subway lines, but they can get you pretty much anywhere important lickity split without too much headache - unless you`re me, apparently.

Since I am here in the J-spot, and I haven`t pointed out any glaring exoticisms, I figured I should mention a few random things.

It is not just a stereotype: Japanese-style toilets truly ARE just a hole in the ground, that sort of looks like a half-buried, elongated and skinny toilet bowl which you somehow squat over, facing the wall, with your pants down, and do your business, with nothing to help hold you up, and without getting anything on your pants and feet. Many public places have at least one western style toilet though, thankfully. Toilets often have a tap above their fill-tank that runs after you flush, so you can wash your hands right there. I don`t understand this, because I usually like to get away from the toilet as fast as I can...

There is meat in EVERYTHING (though I don`t know why I go straight from toilet to food), even if it is not obvious from the label. It took a lovely grocery store till lady about 5 minutes to find the meat ingredients on some plain tomato pasta sauce I bought the other day. You buy a nice looking danish that would clearly taste awful with meat in it. You examine it carefully first, to make sure there isn`t any meat in it. Excited, you bite into it and think you have hit the jackpot, until you take your second bite and realise that the meat has been hidden in the very centre of the danish, cleverly and impossibly disguised to look like just more danish!!! People still look at me like I am crazy when I try to tell them I am a vegetarian.

One thing that I like is the Japanese predilection for drain-basins. The entire counter area of the kitchen is a shallow basin that will drain into the sink, which is actually quite convenient. In the bath, the tub takes up half the room, and a handheld shower head hangs from the wall beside it. But the entire floor of the bathing room slopes toward a drain in the middle, so you actually have tons of room to wash away the humidity-induced permasweat. Lastly, the cute little washing machine sits in its own little drain basin. I don`t have much to say about that; it`s just cute. Nobody has drying machines, so everything gets hung up outside. There is something very quaint and enjoyable about this whole process, not to mention its energy conservation.

All you can drink parties are the norm, which is strange as Japanese people (I hear) can`t actually hold their liquor very well. In any case, you pay your 20oo or 30oo or 40oo yen (if it comes with all you can eat), and then you have two hours to get stuffed and stupid. If it`s a club, you pay the cover charge and drink away the night. There are bars, but one drink is usually extremely expensive. All conbini (convenience stores) sell alcohol, some very cheap, so it is kinda like all you can drink, anywhere you go, at any time. So, if that`s your bag, this is the place to go.

Quiet time is 9pm. That`s that, so quiet down. If you aren`t quiet after 9pm, your neighbours above and below and around will call your supervisors and you should be very embarassed. I imagine it doesn`t happen that way for everybody, but that`s how it happens for us foreign assistant language teachers!

I feel like I am being a little bit negative right now. That might be influenced by my migraine yesterday, and by the fact that I am hurriedly trying to squeeze stuff in before I head home for the day. I have so many positive things to talk about, but they demand more patience and contemplation to formulate, so I guess I am just sort of leaving them out.

Hopefully I find some more time to write tomorrow, and I wil think of more randomata exotica as well.

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