Let me start by saying, I was drunk at least once a day for 21 days. The Japanese like their hooch. And they enjoy the good stuff like soju and sake which for me, doesn't usually result in over drunkenness or hangovers. So essentially, it's an alcoholic's paradise. See for yourself.
The very first night my friend's parents took us out to dinner. Everyone was understandably worried whether or not I would enjoy Japanese cuisine. I mentioned that I like sushi, and before I knew it, one of the cute little silver fish in the tank next to us was on our table sashimi style. The head was on the plate. His mouth was still opening and closing. The tail kept moving.
Japanese television is hysterical. Sumo wrestling matches, home shopping channels, soap operas and lots of variety shows. You'll turn on what you think is a game show, and the next minute they’re reviewing food; and before it's all over you'll see a musical number, pet tricks, and an infomercial for this. Most of the commercials are for beer, green tea or mobile phones, and contain an adorable animated animal. My favorite is an ad for...hell I don't know, where these three little koalas come out and do a groovy ass-shakin' dance, and proceed to remove their noses which they then use at mobile phones. I finally just got the link to them and I found out the commerical is for car insurance.
Here’s a snippet of funny tv. Late night tv provides the Japanese with a show on learning English. One night we found the show taking place in an office setting teaching the phrases, “I’m fed up”. And “Do it yourself”. Leave it to us to kill the sweet obliging nature of the far East.
When you enter stores and restaurants in Japan you’re greeted by employees calling out, “Irrasshaimase” (pronounce Irra-sha-ma-say). It can also be used when trying to lure people into establishments. To hear what it sounds like when you’re in a mall and within earshot of about eight different shops shouting the greeting, who are also blasting varying hyper-techno music, click here.
Customer Service in Japan is heavenly. We were in the train station one day and accidentally purchased tickets when we already had a Japan Rail Pass. We asked a ticket taker if there was anything we could do, and she suggested pressing the call button on the ticket machine; she said someone would be over to help us. So we pressed the button and kept an eye out for someone who would be walking over to help us, when a woman popped out of a panel in the wall surrounding the ticket machine. “Nobody sees the wizard! Not nobody not no how”! In less than a minute we had cash back for our blunder. Later when we were on the train and I was using the toilet, I saw a call button next to the sink. I cracked myself up imagining where the toilet service rep might pop out of! And speaking of toilets…
Japanese bathrooms were an experience all their own. The first unique feature I found was a button and speaker on the stall wall, similar to an intercom, and when the button is pushed it emits the sound of running water so others can’t hear…well, so all others can hear is running water. Other facilities were much more elaborate. An arm rest attached to the toilet with options of sound, scent, and varying degrees of bidet. The one time I was adventurous enough to meddle with the bidet feature was a scene out of The Three Stooges. The instant the stream made contact, it tickled so badly that I leapt off the bowl and water saturated my pants, splashed against the stall door and left a telling puddle on the floor.
We went out one night to a Tokyo fashion/fetish show. We certainly didn’t see anything that would shock anyone who’s been living in San Francisco for seven years, but it was interesting seeing the Japanese take on it. Everything was very cutesy. The outfits, the décor, and even when two girls dripped hot wax on each other on stage, the one on the receiving end was nodding and giggling rather than moaning or acting erotic. The scene was a great mix of jovial Europeans and Japanese, and the music kept me wiggling. Several Japanese men wanted their picture taken with me (being a round eye and all) and one gentleman told me, “Japan and America best friends. I want American wife. You are very beautiful”. If only American men were so direct.
We stumbled upon the most adorable café in the world, (okay the cutest I’ve seen on four continents) in Harajuku. It’s in the basement of an unassuming office building, sharing the floor with a dingy Chinese restaurant. It’s very tiny, seating about 12-15, warmly lit, with shelves floor to ceiling filled with children’s books. The tableware was vintage American so it was more than peculiar to be 10,000 miles away from home, in a subterranean Japanese café, only to be drinking tea from a U.S. Navy issued mug that I had used as a child that my dad swiped off his submarine.
We rode the Shinkansen down the coast to Kyoto and Hiroshima. One night we stayed a night at a hot springs resort in Izu that was surreal. Waterfalls, 28 natural hot springs (two in caves) and a warm lap pool, all set in the lush green forest next to a creek. On the night of a famous festival we took a night time stroll to a waterfall guided by paper lanterns. It was haunting and romantic in the most beautiful way.
I had one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve ever had in my life with my friend’s mother regarding Japanese sounds. Animal sounds, weather sounds, motion sounds and for the Japanese, even adjective sounds. Since I live to communicate I found it revelatory! Here are a few examples:
pig : bu-bu (boo-boo)
dog : wan wan ( one one )
something slippery : tsuru tsuru(tsulu tsulu)
something sparkly : kila kila
rain ( hard) : zaa zaa
rain ( little ) : shito shito
sunny : san san
wind ( strong ) : byu byu ( view view )
wind ( weak ) : soyo soyo
Here are some of my favorite general words/phrases I learned while I was there:
onaka suita-i'm hungry
onaka nemui-i'm tired
kowaii-scary (very distinct pronunciation from kawaii, and makes people giggle when you use the wrong one when trying to compliment a newborn baby)
ne-added to the end of a word for emphasis like when it's 100 degrees you say "atsui ne" which is roughly "It's hot as hell right"?
watashi mo-me too
diskii-i really like it
chotto baka-a little stupid
daego bu-i'm okay
The Japanese culture as a whole is orderly, polite, creative and comical. I find most people to be friendly when I travel, and the Japanese add pride, integrity and humor that I felt really close to. And of course, my friend’s family and friends: her parents were thoughtful and nurturing, and her sister, a new mother to precious a baby boy, was a delight. Her friends were comfortable and very entertaining. I’m hoping to venture to Nihon again in the fall to experience the colors, smells and tastes of another season there. Thank you again Ayano and Chris for your generosity and making this amazing experience possible.