A One Time Event

“Let’s try it once, so we can say we’ve done it. And then let’s never do it again.”

“Agreed.”

I’ve been curious, so very, very curious.

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I have a lot of angry feelings about how Japan harvests from the sea – the tuna population is in collapse, changes to yearlong trawling practices are going slowly and against a hungry market that demands cheap fish. Then there is the whaling. Japanese whaling has faced a lot of criticism because Japanese ships sail well into the ocean to harvest whales, and does so by exploiting (a strong word, but an accurate one) loopholes in the global ban on commercial whaling.

It’s a part of Japanese history. It’s also on the menu at the sushi restaurant Liam and I found at Yokohama. I’ve been looking for a replacement conveyor belt sushi restaurant ever since my favorite shut down. We found this friendly, smelly restaurant tucked in behind a pachinko parlor and across the street from a trendy new pizzeria bar. The waiter provided us a flashcard menu with pictures accompanied by Japanese, Korean, and English names.

I have avoided whale since coming to Japan on moral grounds, but I have also been curious about the taste. What could be so alluring about whale that it continues to be hunted for food, despite not accounting for any significant portion of the Japanese diet?

One portion, one piece for each of us.

The meat was a dark – almost purple like the skin of an eggplant, except it was also red. Full of mild, moral trepidation, I ate the whale. I would like to say it tasted horrible, or had a bad mouth feel like a chunk of squid. It did not.

I don’t know if it’s ok to tell you, my reader, what the whale tasted like. I do not want to encourage you to try it and see for yourself. While I did not find the taste repulsive, I didn’t find it delicious enough to condone the practice of getting it.

That is perhaps what you should take away from my experience – whale tastes fine, but it doesn’t taste good enough to warrant killing the whale for it. Don’t go out and see for yourself. Take my word for it.

A Very Long Hiatus

Oh dear.

I did not do a good job of updating this blog. At all.

Alright. I’m going to do something I should have done months and months ago….

I’m going to set up a schedule.

The goal: Bi-weekly posts. I live in Japan. I teach EFL. I go places and do things. There is no reason I should not be updating, except for business coupled with laziness.

Sorry guys.

Out of the Frying Pan…

I got a failed delivery notice from the Post Office. I get these a lot – I’m at work during normal delivery hours. So I went through the arduous process of rescheduling. By “arduous,” I mean scanning a QR code and translating the different boxes so I know which information to put where. I selected a night delivery, since I knew I’d be home. In the process of doing so, I forgot to add my name. This reset parts of the form, which I did not realize. This detail will become important in the next bit of the story.

I got a second failed delivery notice from the Post Office. They had tried delivering while I was technically on my commute home. How had this happened? Well, when the form reset, it reset the delivery time. I harumphed up to my confirmation document, and sure enough, under time, it did not say “19-21.” It said something in Japanese, which I know is not a good sign. I put two and two together, and realized that when the form reset, it changed my time to “any.”

There is a rule I had learned – one of the many rules I had been trying to follow. It is this: never miss the second delivery.

I asked my coworker Harry what I should do. “Babe,” he said. “Never miss the second delivery.” (I like Harry. This was not helpful.)

I asked up the chain of command, to one of our PCs.
“Was this the first delivery?” She asked me.
“…No.” I had to grudgingly admit, sensing the answer.
“Ah,” was her response, followed by a solemn pause. “Well, you must call the number. They will have your package. And maybe they will resend it.”

So I called the number, which had been conveniently programed into my work cell phone (I must not be the only one to break the commandment). After a long message letting me know how much the phone call would cost down to the tenths of yen, I spoke to a nice gentleman who I am going to call “Charlie.”

“This is *Charlie*, how may I help you?”
“Yes I need to reschedule delivery of a package.”
“May I have the package number?”
“Yes” *reads package slip number*
“One moment…ah.”
“What?”
“This package cannot be delivered unless released by the sender. Who is the sender?”
“The slip says ‘Japan Post.'”
“No, Ma’am. At the top of the slip, under the line labeled ‘Addressee’ you will see a line labeled ‘Sender.’ Please read me the name on that line”
“It’s in Japanese, but I had it translated. The sender is ‘Japan Post.’ You are the sender.”
“We cannot release the package unless it is released by the sender.”
“You are the sender.”
*Frightening long pause*
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I cannot help you with this. Maybe you must go to Kawasaki and reclaim your package in person.”
“I don’t understand. If you’re the sender, then you should be able to release my package for delivery.”
“Yes ma’am. I don’t know why it’s labeled that way. That is a strange decision. But we cannot help you. Will there be anything else?”
“I suppose not. Thank you.”

I have seen glimpses of the bureaucratic web here in Japan, touched the outer edges with the help of a native speaker. Mostly I avoid it as much as possible. There’s too much paperwork, too many redundancies that must be crossed and recrossed. I think that’s why the rule is so simple. Don’t miss the second delivery.  And I did catch the popular speech pattern of “maybe/must.” The Japanese don’t like to speak in absolutes, though they certainly use them. In order not to offend, a “must” gets softened with a “maybe.” But the must is still there, iron under all that linguistic cushioning.

Japan Post sent me something from Japan Post, and Japan Post could not resend it until it gave itself permission to do so, which it could not do. This is the sort of kink that might send one to Kawasaki, to the customs and immigration mail depot.

No, I’m not going to Kawasaki. I’m convinced that something will happen to right this situation. I’m also wondering what the package might be. I think I have all my important Japanese documentation – what could Japan Post be trying to send me? Why is it standing in its own way?

I was going to find out what happened in about ten days. I will write the conclusion in my next post.

One Fork. One Spoon.

Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Instant Coffee

When my family got stationed in Greece, I remember walking into our house on Kolokotroni Street, taking in the old amber lighting, the brown linoleum floor in the kitchen, and my small white twin bed, and feeling thoroughly overwhelmed. The pieces were there, but it did not feel like my home.

Our shipment of household boxes from the States wasn’t expected to arrive for at least a month, so in the interim we were given a “care package” from the Embassy. It had movies, pots and pans, cleaning supplies – basically everything that one needed to quickly acclimate and get to living (except the movies. The movies were not helpful – they weren’t even that good as I remember). Our embassy contact took us to the sprawling Carrefour, and walking us through the Greek foods, showing us how the coin-operated shopping carts worked. In essence, there was a system in place to help us with the culture shock of being in a foreign environment.

To some extent, my Japanese company does the same thing. We had a corporate representative take us to the municipal office to get our residence cards (so we can pay taxes), and then to the post office to set up bank accounts. I have no idea what is going on, much like when I was in China, so I’m grateful for the hand-holding. There is so much trust required – you give all your details over to strangers, who begin integrating you into their system. I wonder how my identity web stretches over the world…

Paperwork is one thing. Living, however, is another.

Last post, I lamented my blank canvas apartment on which I was not to paint. But I was assured that we’d get a care package box that would help us through that initial hurdle of living. Here is what was in the box when it arrived:

-one fork
-one (soup) spoon
-two plastic bowls
-a plastic mug
-one chef’s knife
-cutting board
-laundry hanging device
– five hangers
– trash can
-toilet paper

And that’s it. It goes a long way towards explaining why the company recommended bringing about half a month’s salary with us before we arrived; they give us very little to help with the transition. Let me be clear: I was not expecting a second embassy experience. Naturally, things are going to be different not only because of the country, but also because I’m working for a private Japanese company. I’m independent now (whee!), not my Mom’s dependent. And I’m just one person, not a family, so I don’t need as much.

Still. I brought two suitcases with me – one with clothes, the other with supplies. But I did not bring coffee mugs, plates, etc. When I moved in the States, I filled my car with the things I felt I needed, some of it necessary, a portion of it decorative. When I went off to college, I had a similar set of supplies. It’s not the same thing, starting from the contents of that one box. One spoon. One fork.

This is a good thing, I tell myself. This will teach me to live with less. This will help me figure out what I really need.

What I really need, it turns out, is a butter knife.

You don’t know what you miss till it’s not there. I use my small frying pan as a strainer when I boil vegetables or make ramen. The small pan also serves as a sort-of lid for the pot when needed. I toast bread in the pan as well. I boil water for tea and (instant) coffee in the pot. I make all my sandwiches with an eight-inch chef’s knife. I have to wash everything immediately because I only have one of anything.

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***

I’m saying this a little out of order. I’ve been to a grocery store and bought some basics – ramen, eggs, miso paste, etc. (I didn’t know about miso paste. One of the teachers showed me where it was). I went up the 100 yen shop and bought a water glass and a proper ceramic coffee mug. I picked up some chopsticks and a tiny teaspoon (I realized I couldn’t eyeball instant coffee with a soup spoon). I don’t know what I need until I need it, and then I have to decide if I really need it. For example, I keep wanting to make carrot sticks, but I have no peeler. I opted to buy a smaller knife instead, because I can do more with the knife than the peeler.

There is also the time factor. Whether I choose to renew my contract or not, I most likely won’t be staying in the same place. The company moves teachers each contract, so whatever I buy I either have to sell, take back home with me, or pay to have removed. It means that every purchase has to be weighed on a timeline. It’s why I only bought one glass instead of four – I’m not going to play hostess here if I have to get rid of everything in five months time (especially if I have to buy it again). So do I really need it? Will I use it for six months? What will I do with it once the contract is done?

Finally, there is money. I won’t get paid for several weeks. Do I really need item A, or can I wait? If I can wait, how long can I wait? Can I wait long enough that I don’t need it? These are the “positive” questions I ask myself – questions that force clarity and make me face my inner drive to accumulate things.

We have a small lull before work starts, which is why I have the luxury of complaining about having to start from scratch. I imagine once this whole teaching things kicks off I will be properly distracted. That is my hope. Because I hate mooning over mixing bowls.

 

 

 

Rules of Gion

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The Rules of the Gion district

  1. No smoking
  2. No eating or drinking
  3. No littering
  4. No selfies

And most important: NO BOTHERING THE GEISHAS

 

I didn’t see a single Geisha, by day or by night. I finagled B. to go the Gion district twice because I really hoped to see a Geisha. No such luck – but I did see this sign. Which is at least humorous.