God how I would have loved to seat the design meeting for this one:
“- For our sign, we need something refined something that spells GLAMOUR…”
“- how about the silhouette of a woman sitting on her ass, spread-eagled, showing her crotch?”
“- Brilliant! That’s exactly what I meant!”

Japanese girl at local bar: Do your prefer Japanese girls or foreign girls?

Dave: Err… huh… dunno… Country doesn’t have much to do with it…

Japanese girl: Aaah, of course… It does not matter…

Dave: Indeed.

[…]

Japanese girl: Ok, so… Which type of girl do you prefer: long straight black hair or blonde with blue eyes?

When I first arrived to Tokyo, I noticed that, come the end of winter, weather forecast screens (in trains, on TV, wherever…) would start adding an extra line under the main sun/cloud/water-drop pictograms. Since the new icons usually depicted lovely little pink flowers or trees blowing in the wind, I naively assumed that this had something to do with upcoming sakura blossom (which wasn’t completely far off, considering most local newscast do have an official daily progress report around sakura season).

It is only a couple years later that I finally understood what this seasonal indicator actually referred to. The infinitely less enjoyable season of eye-puffing, nostril-irritating, headache-inducing, Japanese hay fever. The main reason behind these infamous surgical masks you see people wearing in every damn last “Nippon culture” TV reports.

However, it wasn’t until I moved to the Kansai countryside last month, that I started experiencing for myself what it might feel like. Apparently, my city-dwelling organism was sufficiently immune to Tokyo’s own brand of pollution-laden pollen to go through Kafunshō season unharmed, but much less happy about living in the middle of the woods. Woods no doubt entirely planted with deadly cypress and cedar.

If you happen to be walking in the hilly area surrounding Kyodai’s research campus in Ōbaku, these days, and spot a gaijin with puffy red eyes on the verge of tears, rest assured it does not [yet] have anything to do with feelings of sadness or elation at living more than 20 minutes away from the closest place selling proper balsamic vinegar or non-ersatz chocolate, it’s just the damn neighbouring conifers trying to copulate with my mucous membranes.

When leaving the residence, this morning, I found a note in my mailbox.

Under a delightful MS-Word Clipart-esque depiction of what your mum’s 60’s medicine cabinet might have looked like, sat an ominous “Urgent Warning” about the evils of (illegal) drugs, in big bold red letters. Promising resident researchers somewhat decreased health and much decreased freedom of movement, should they choose to ignore said warning during their stay in Japan.

The thoughts going through my head were, in that order:

  1. “What’s so ‘urgent’ about that warning? drugs are bad? Quick, somebody gets the message to Syd Barrett and Janis Joplin before it’s too late.”
  2. “You mean there are drugs within a 300 mile radius from here?”
  3. “Wait, what is this note doing in my mailbox. OH MY GOD THEY ARE ONTO ME!!!”
  4. “No, seriously, where are the drugs? And how come nobody’s told me anything?”

Location: Hair of the Dog, Golden Gai’s one and only true punk bar.
Yi and I having a heavily inebriated wednesday evening night out, group of young Japanese boys discussing their band’s next club night on the other side of the bar, 時計じかけのオレンジ projecting to the tiny corner screen, random punk score blaring through the speakers…

Barmaid: [handing a menu-like list of all-time punk records] Please pick anything you would like to hear from that list.

Dave: Huh… let’s see… I don’t know… how about Japanese punk…?

Yi: [showing rather random entry in the list] Hey! that Japanese punk band’s called So-Do-Mu!!! Tee hee hee…

Dave: Yay for Sodomu…

Yi: Tee hee hee…

Dave: [to the barmaid] How about playing some “Sodomu”…

Barmaid: Sure, Right on its way…

[couple minutes of fumbling around the mp3 collection on the computer, then finally the track changes…]

Yi: Hey! that doesn’t sound so bad actually…

Dave: Yea, I’m not sure that part is really their own… Probably an intro of sorts…

[Young japanese guys mumbling things about ongoing music in their corner]

Young Japanese Guy #1: Blahblahblah, right?

Young Japanese Guy #2: Blahblahblah… No, I don’t think so, this must
be Chopin…

Young Japanese Guy #3: Chopin? Mmmnnn… Blahblahblah

Dave: Actually, that’s Beethoven… Moonlight sonata.

Young Japanese Guy #1: Really? Oh… maybe…

Young Japanese Guy #2: Oh yea! of course…

Young Japanese Guy #3: Definitely Beethoven!

[All three guys: swooning to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata’s first movement, Adagio Sostenuto]

Dave:

Dave: So yea… this is one of Tokyo’s most hardcore punk bar.

Dave:

Shinjuku’s Don Quixote store, Sunday evening, 2:43am.

D. [handing in massive set of fireworks]: We’ll take these.

Cashier [in a bored monotonous tone]: Please remember that by Tokyo law you are not allowed to fire these in the middle of residential urban areas. Also please do not use late at night where it might disturb the peace.

D. & H. [as one person]: OF COURSE!

D. [to H.]: Oh… do we have any lighter?

H.: I don’t, do you?

D. [to cashier]: Do you sell lighters by any chance?

Cashier: Over there.

D. [grabbing one]: Great. We’ll also take this. Kthanx.

Aside from a brief emergency trip to an eye-specialist last Summer (literally a mom-and-pop operation, whose office was approximately half the size of my current bedroom), I have never, during my stays in Japan, been afflicted with illnesses serious enough to mandate a trip to the hospital. At least nothing that couldn’t be treated with a self-administered treatment based on quinine-rich tonic water (aptly sterilized and base-neutralized with proper dosage of gin and lime).

This morning, though, I had to check in at my neighbourhood clinic and undergo a whole series of health exams. Not that I was feeling in any particularly bad shape (nasty lingering chest cough and faint hangover from previous night’s gin&shochu outing aside), but the Japanese Ministry of Education and Research insists on making sure that I don’t have tuberculosis, cancer or bubonic plague before even considering shelling out some Yen toward my World Domination Plot research, otherwise known as PhD.

In the grand tradition of furthering cross-cultural enlightenment that has made this blog famous in the greater Shin-Nakano Sanchome area, I figured I would share some random observations about the experience: