Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hi from Tokyo

This is Nana checking in from the Tokyo airport. I'm on my way back to the USA without Justin (GASP) to attend a college counselor training workshop in Washington, D.C. Justin will follow shortly but for now he's still in Fukuoka doing epic battle with the legendary Japanese driver's exam. (They are guaranteed to fail white male foreigners at least twice - and although it's certainly not official, nonwhite foreigners or females should apparently expect more fails than that).

Nothing to report except the consumption of a really large bowl of Tokyo-style soy ramen, and the fact that Terminal One's post-passport control food options are kind of lame. I had to walk 20 minutes to find this place. Otherwise, my options were "cafes" (read: packaged sandwich), McDonald's, or a Japanese restaurant serving fifteen dollar udon. If you connect through Narita and you have time, eat before security, which never takes long in Japan anyway. Terminal Two is much better.

So Justin and I will be back in the states for the summer soon. Email remains the best way to get a hold of us. Hope to see some of you soon!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Toilets of Asia: Tenjin Beer Garden

Today's featured toilet:

Gender: Male
Toilet type: beats me; I wasn't there
Special features: designated barfing toilet

Our friend Matthew arranged for us to spend an evening hanging out at a rooftop beer garden in Tenjin, in downtown Fukuoka, a week or so ago. Unfortunately I didn't get the name of this particular beer garden at the time, but some detective work (i.e., cutting and pasting " ビヤガーデン," or "beer garden," into Google Maps) suggest strongly to me that we were at Nishitetsu Plaza.

To understand the need for a designated barfing toilet, you must first know a bit about Japanese drinking culture. In a nutshell, drinking culture means you drink. A lot. Japan has lots of "all-you-can-drink" promotions (henceforth AYCD, because I'm too lazy to type it). I think this is illegal in the US, and in the British Isles, judging by the way our Irish friends cleaned a place out last fall, it's probably just bad business practice. Karaoke parlors, for instance, may be AYCD. Rooftop beer gardens (we went to another one just last night for the faculty end-of-term party) can also be AYCD. The price for AYCD beer and AYC eat food at the places we've been, karaoke and rooftop, were in the $30-$40 range. That's cheaper than a beer and a meal if you go to the Hard Rock Cafe.

AYCD beer gardens are particularly popular with businessmen. When Japanese businessmen go out to drink, they are expected to D.R.I.N.K. As long as the boss keeps going, so do you, regardless of your own personal tolerance and what time you have to be at work in the morning. It is my understanding that this is a pan-East Asian phenomenon: one of our Korean students included a drinking tableau in her art show, meant to show the difficulties faced by an older but still subordinate employee at that type of event. When I worked for the Ohio Department of International Trade, I read a pamphlet that suggested that you should include a woman in any trade delegation to China, because women culturally are not expected to keep pace with the drinking and will prevent you from agreeing to anything questionable. (Japanese beer gardens actually charge 2oo yen, or about $2.50, less for women). This jives with my study-abroad time in China, in which the Chinese host students seemed discomfited by the drinking capacity of the two women's rugby players in my program. I think they felt it was "unfeminine." If that's the case, I have the most feminine alcohol tolerance in the world.

With all this gender stuff going on, you may be wondering why I'm writing a blog post on a men's toilet. Well, it's because the women's toilet doesn't actually have a designated barfing toilet. After Justin spotted the one in the men's room, I immediately went to the ladies', only to discover to my vast disappointment that there was nothing special to see except rows of squatty potties. (More on those some other time). And no, I did not go to the men's room to see this fabled barfing toilet myself.

Justin felt it was awkward to take a picture in the men's room, so we don't have a large photo, only this shot covertly snapped by our friend on his cell phone on a different trip:

According to Matthew, who speaks and reads excellent Japanese, this is accompanied by a sign which says "People that feel ill, please use the machine on the right."

Overall verdict: Both hilarious and disturbing, and most of all, I don't want to know what it looked like at the end of the night.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Not moving, for a change

Justin and I calculated it, and if you count college summers (in which your entire dorm room has to be emptied out), I have moved every summer since my high school graduation in 2001, and Justin has moved every summer since 2002. This means that I have moved every year for the last decade, or for my entire adult life and married life: four years of college, one year after college in New Haven, one year in Washington, two apartments in Korea (first year here; second year here and here), one year in Edinburgh (here) and then here to Japan (on the old Educated Burgher blog here and here).

But this year, we're staying put. It's bewildering. I've moved so many times it's just a part of the annual routine. For us, spring is that magical time of year when a young man's fancy turns to dismay that he ever bought it in the first place. New life begins, old leases terminate; buds open, bank accounts close. March comes in like a lion and goes out in a cardboard box.

I'm genuinely worried that I'm psychologically unable to transition to summer without moving. For the last few days I've snuck downstairs to coworker Dayle's place to help her with her packing (she's on to Turkey next year). Today, I dismantled my entire classroom.

Don't get me wrong, moving really sucks. It's expensive, it's exhausting, it's disheartening and uncomfortable, and every year I reach the point where I consider pushing whatever I have left into a giant pile and setting it on fire. I think some years it might have been cheaper for us to start over than to pay shipping.

There's one thing I love about moving, though, and that's the annual purge of accumulated junk. Books I won't reread. Clothes I don't wear. Shoes that don't fit, no matter how much I want them to. (I'm still in denial on the cute black heels) Piles and piles and piles of paper, all into bags and into the trash, recycling, or donation bins, as appropriate. As painful as the moving process is, it is so satisfying to see those bags of junk flying out the door and out of my life. It is also great to arrive at the new place, unpack, and feel smugly Thoreau-ian, at least for the forty-five minutes it lasts before I clutter it all up again.

I suppose I can go through the apartment without moving... but without the sword of Damocles of imminent eviction, it is significantly harder to motivate myself!