Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Random People Love Me

I am a magnet for cultists and weird people. 

This evening, I took a trip to Village Vanguard for the first time in a month or so. Village Vanguard is an interesting place; it's got manga, costumes, porn, snacks from overseas, backpacks, and more. The stores themselves seem to be crammed floor to ceiling. Aisles are tight. It's like being in a maze with loud music blasting. A more claustrophobic version of Urban Outfitters.

So, anyways, I'm standing looking at some manga when a girl approaches from my left side. She starts talking about shoulder pains or body aches and as far as I can tell, it doesn't look like she's wearing a uniform despite giving me what sounds like a sales pitch. I asked her if she was asking me to go somewhere with her, and she told me she wanted me to point to a place on my body that had pain.

I looked her over and knew that she was looking to pull me into a cult thing. I'm a single female, wearing clothing that's not particularly statement setting with an agreeable facial expression; perfect target. Of course I agreed to allowing her to work her magic. She asked me to tell her how I felt after her, and her partner who appeared to my right, worked their magic on my stiff shoulder. With no where to run to, I pulled my bag in front of me (can never be too careful!) and closed my eyes.

The girl who approached me made light conversation while holding her arms around my body and squeezing her fists; obviously pulling out my bad energy. She asked if I had sleeping problems, if I had worries from work...honing in on my chest area when I said I had sleeping problems, "Most people with insomnia have pains here." I guess that was supposed to make me forget my shoulder pain.

I stood there, sweat slowly forming in my pits, waiting for her and her friend to stop making desperate grasps at the air around me. It was like they were pulling handfuls of invisible fat from around my body. Luckily, I was able to use the few moments of silence to close my eyes and think about how to respond when they finished. Do I tell them I'm not interested in any more religions? Do I tell them that my pain was only temporarily alleviated by deep breathing and shifting my bag? Do I give them a fake email and name when they inevitably ask?

With a few grunts, pulling out my last bits of air fat, the girl asked how I felt. "Better, right?" "Yeah, sure." Her face lit up, this was the response she hoped for. Her in. She grew excited and told me that I too had the power to heal myself and that if I went with her and her friend to their teacher, she would teach me because they were looking for "models" (Oh! Magic word that any plain-looking female would love to hear!!) and hoped that I'd be one. What's more is that this week their place in Nearby Area was going to be open until 9pm this week, so, if not today, what about tomorrow?

After 5 minutes about how I was busy after work and this week wouldn't do, I gave into giving the girl my email address, and with that they were gone. Poof. I didn't get the name of their organization, only that they would have me come in constantly to get work done on my aches and pains (without touching my body!!) and that I could learn their secrets, too.

The last time I was approached by a girl like that, I went to their cult room, watched a video about Mother Teresa and was pressured into giving 3,000 yen to start me on a payment plan to become a member of the group. Hopefully dodged that bullet. Guess it's time to make a fake email for all the creepers again.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tough Talks

Had another very brief talk with my mom over Skype about all of the things. As our conversation began to wind down, she started asking me when I was coming back home.

This is hard. I told her that I needed to pay off my loan and save up at least $10,000 before I think about returning home. I'm so close to finally paying off my loan. I have about $1,400 left. Of course she had to tell me that she's not getting any younger and doesn't want to die before I finally see her again; it's been over three years since I've set foot in the US.

I feel like if my sister was more willing to try and spend time with our mom and if I didn't have money issues that prevented me from buying tickets home for Christmas or New Years, that she'd feel lot more comfortable with me here.

To be honest, I have a lot of days where I hate being in Japan. I know what I need to be happy: money and a respectful job. I want to be able to buy an airplane ticket to wherever I wish at the drop of a hat without worrying about money. I know that at the moment, whether I'm in the US or in Japan, I'm not going to be happy unless I can feel free.

So, then I think about what things would be like if I went back home. I'd be OK at first, but I like to move around...and I get comfortable in one place. Two things that should be at odds with each other.

*sigh* I don't know what to do with my life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

More on New Years

In the previous post, I gave a very condensed and simplified version of what goes on during New Year's in Japan. 

To continue on that theme, I want to say a little about the enjoyability of New Years.

If you are vacationing in Japan, and have a ton of money to spend or if you have Japanese friends to spend the holiday with, you'll probably have a pretty good time. Japanese friends or their family will show you what a true Japanese New Year is like: You'll probably be treated to a New Year meal (o-setchi) and when you are taken to the temple, they'll probably explain what you should pray for, how to pray and what various things represent. 

If you have a lot of money, and friends to spend the New Year with, you'll probably have fun. There are sales! Things to be bought! And, things are usually funner in a group of like-minded friends.

Now, if you don't fit into any of those two groups, and you haven't bought your ticket home, your holiday will probably suck hairy balls.

O-setchi? Uh, sure. Since I can't make it, let me just order a $50 (cheapest, if you're lucky) ready-made one and pick it up at 7-11. Now that I've got this, let me just google what each food represents. Or not. Because what meaning is there in that?

Going to a temple at midnight? Cool. Let me just, line my foreign ass up, standing out like a sore thumb and do my little thing at the temple. What, uh, thing is this temple for? Am I bowing correctly? Why do they give me sake? I guess I'll add that to my list of things to google when I get back to my empty apartment.

Now it's January 1. Wanted to wake up at 5am to get showered so I could get to Starbucks and get their fukubukuro; woke up at 10:30. That's ok, I'll still go out and oh. Well. It's all families who have coordinated their fukubukuro attack, like a bunch of New Year's Day Black Friday planners. Call up Japanese friends to hang out? Nope. Not gonna happen. They are with their families, and calling them to hang would be like calling someone during Thanksgiving dinner to go see a movie.

There's probably a way to chill with people but I don't know any Japanese people who aren't married, like karaoke, and who are really laid back. So, for someone like me, New Years is a week spent in virtual isolation. Society moves around me. I talk to shopkeepers and people I really don't want to talk to. After a while, I forget how to use my voice. My reality and dreams melt into one and I type posts with my thoughts. 

Why Japanese People?

I'm sure that a lot of us in Japan or studying Japanese have thought "WHY???" about a lot of things. Using kanji as his starting point, this American going by the stage name of Atsugiri (Thick Cut) Jason screams his concerns.

He starts with the kanji for "big,"(大) agreeing that it does convey largeness. By adding a small tick at the bottom, it changes to the kanji for "fat.(太)" True, fat people are big. But, move the tick to the upper part and it now becomes "dog.(犬)"


All the dogs he's ever seen in Japan are small, why??

He then moves to numbers, getting up to number 3(三), he thinks he's spotted a pattern when...
The kanji for "touch(触)" is made of the characters "horn" and "bug." Who thinks to touch a horned bug??

The kanji for begin(始) is made up of woman and table, but what is supposed to begin when you put a woman on a table?

He ends with the kanji for "depression(憂鬱)" or "gloomy," screaming while he writes out the difficult character, saying "it's too much!"

Check out the sketch below!

Atsugiri Jason is an IT worker and according to a Japanese blog I found, he was born in 1986, has a wife (!!) and two kids (!!!) and graduated from Michigan State University.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Can't Believe it's 2015

Another year. Wow. Time flies.

I would like to start the new year on a positive note, but, nah.

Let me tell you how New Year's in Japan feels. Personally, I feel like there are three holidays in Japan that get people here really geared up; Valentine's Day, Christmas (Eve) and New Year's. Native Japanese holidays like Children's Day or, I dunno, obon, just don't churn up the same feelings of urgency that the previous three do.

Christmas (Eve), is for couples. It's like a second Valentine's Day in the winter with Santa, KFC and cake. The 24th is the big day, with the 25th playing second fiddle. Which, I can kind of understand. When I was a kid, the night of the 24th was when all the magic'd happen.

The next week, literally, the NEXT. WEEK. is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that for most Japanese people, the Big Cleaning that takes place before the New Year happens almost as soon as Christmas is over. Thorough people will take this opportunity to clean their homes from top to bottom. You want to get all of that old dust from the old year out and have your place nice and clean to welcome in the New Year.

The 26th of December (Friday), was my last day of work for the year, meaning that I had 5 potential full days of cleaning ahead of me (if I was into that, and I did try!). Not only is there cleaning for them, but nengajo, which are new year's cards (delivered early on the morning of January 1, like a present from a postal Santa) and o-sechi-ryori, which is New Year's food. I went to the basement of a department store on the 31st. The basements of department stores serve as delis/supermarkets/other food related stuff. 

It was like the Black Friday of food shopping. Everyone, and by everyone I mean women, was clamoring over each other for the last scraps of food to complete their o-setchi. There were booths of people screaming about having the last crab legs or last bits of mentaiko (fish egg sacs) and whatnot. 

After you've eaten your toshi-koshi-soba (soba you eat on new year's eve with a wish for a good new year), your family is probably settling into the living room to watch NHK Kouhaku (a really long show of singers) or perhaps some comedy groups do their thing. As it gets closer to the New Year, temples in the area start hitting a gong. I think it's 180 hits. Even until 11:58pm there's no countdown on the TV screens. It's so different from the US. It's like the stations are just trying to charge through everything and hope that they come out alive.

I found one network that had a countdown and did a Happy New Year kind of thing. It was so uneventful. You could have been forgiven for thinking that they just wanted to remind us that it was a new day. Now that it's the new year, the first thing to do is to head down to your neighborhood temple. From what I've been told, any temple is fine. And in any area, you've got your popular temples that have huge lines where people wait hours for their "hatsumode," which is the first visit to the temple of the new year.

At the temple, you'll: toss your money into a large money chest thing (5 yen is ideal), bow twice, clap twice and bow once more...or...clap twice, bow twice and clap once more...err...
The priest (?) will bless you, you'll get some new year's sake and you can go off and buy your o-mamori. Finally between January 1 and 3 you can fight with a bunch of other people (women) for fukubukuro (lucky bags).

Work starts on Monday.