Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thoughts: Q and A

Q1: Is Burger King disgusting to you now?
I don't particularly care for the overwhelming majority of fast food to begin with... I can count on one paw how many times I've been to a Burger King since coming to Japan (I believe a total of 3). I've had McDonald's probably a few more times (I'd guess 6 or 7?) as they are so ubiquitous - there are two within a 10 minutes walk from my apartment. I've never had KFC here. I've been to a Subway maybe 3 times? I do most of my cooking at home. I did appreciate some of the more "gourmet" options that were available at the fast food outlets in Japan; prosciutto and ricotta cheese subs, for example.

2: How often are you lonely?
It varies... I spend every working day interacting with anywhere from 20 to 100 customers, one on one, which tends to exhaust my social energies. Usually by the end of the week I just want to be left alone with a book...that being said, I DO get lonely at times, it's unavoidable. I haven't seen any of my friends or family back home in over a year. People I loved have passed away or have gotten ill and I was 6,000 miles away unable to offer much in terms of comfort, let alone companionship. Somedays I really wish I could just give my loved ones a hug, but so it goes. The time difference compounds the issue, since I'm usually at my most conversational/social and open when it's an ungodly hour back home, so it's exceedingly rare that I ever catch anyone on the phone.

3: Do you think leaving that country will cut out a big part of you?
The short answer is yes. I DO love Japan. I love the people, the language, the scenery, the food, the culture... back in the US I'm going to be seeking out places where I can just hear fluently spoken Japanese again. I find it comforting. Japan will always have a special place in my heart. This was the first place I've ever lived or traveled alone, I've met many wonderful people, learned a lot about myself and grown immensely... 

4: Can you get a date? Are the guys too shy?
I've been on a handful of dates, actually, with the most romantic being in Marunouchi, a nice area of Tokyo with lots of public art and beautiful avenues. My friend and I met up there last winter when there were illuminations (pretty light displays) and bouquets of flowers decorating the street. We walked to Hibiya park and shared a box of chocolate, had lunch at a French bistro, then looked at the city lights from a free observation deck inside one of the skyscrapers. He was a pleasant, intelligent young gentleman and I found his efforts to translate or explain cultural nuances endearing.  

 In general a lot of men seem curious or interested; I've been asked on other dates that I declined... The foreigner aspect serves as an intimidation and a fascination (fetish, really). Lots of men here ARE shy, but I notice that more during work when they start getting anxious or drip with sweat in the dead of winter. Poor things!

5: Do you ever want to go to a Disney Park ever again?
Not if I can help it! I was never a particularly big fan to begin with... I remember going to Disneyland in California as a child and finding it creepy. The people in costume terrified me. Once you see beyond the magic you can never go back, man. It's like 'Nam with dwarves. 

6: Do you miss Taco Bell?
Yes! Taco Bell, Del Taco and In-n-Out were my biggest fast food weaknesses. I also miss Fuku Burger and Mexican food in general... I loved the random hole-in-the-wall taco places. Carnitas are one of the most glorious foods humanity has ever invented. Interestingly enough, I ran into a girl working inside Disney who had a Fuku Burger shirt on…evidently she had worked on a show in Vegas and tried their grub. 

7: Can you watch and understand popular Japanese TV now?
Sometimes. I don't have cable, but I can catch the gist of most TV or commercials. I get all my commercials on YouTube! I've reached the point where I notice incorrect subtitles while watching anime or films, though, which I find simultaneously exciting and annoying.

8: Are you comfortable with the way Japanese culture understands sex? Relationships?
There are some things I like and other's I dislike. In general people seem more comfortable and healthy in their approach to sex as a natural element of life or simply in being nude...but it's hard for me to say definitively from my limited experiences and knowledge. The overall attitude seems to be more casual.

The censorship of pornography is strange to me. You can buy some raunchy magazines (often featuring cartoon characters, i.e. hentai) that are openly displayed in every convenience store at children's eye-level, yet videos of consenting adults sold in shops where you're carded have pixelation. I've heard there's a black market for uncensored videos! The Internet makes that unnecessary, though, as many American or international pornography websites are readily available and unfiltered/uncensored. Then there's tentacle porn... 

It does seem that there's more of a fan base of women and more marketing geared toward them in the pornography industry. My friend has told me about attending a meet and greet with some of her favorite adult actors; sounded like it had a pretty good turn out. The actors are handsome...there are also the hostess and host clubs, where you can pay to spend time flirting with attractive people of the opposite sex. They exist catering to both genders and to a wide array of interests: some host clubs feature gothic or vampire themed hosts, or there are some where they dress and act as butlers (the male equivalent of the maid cafes) for example. Some hostess bars encourage light touching. It's like strip clubs without the stripping, essentially, but I find the gender equality in marketing encouraging. While there are male-strippers in the US, most of them are either of the beefcake Chippendale variety or geared towards homosexual men.... I like my men nerdy, more bookish artsy guy than brawny, so the stereotypical beefed out male stripper does nothing for me.

I don't particularly like the comfort with or approval of infidelity that seems widespread here. It's a convoluted issue, though; cultural differences, population density, work and social life, social obligations and pressures, etc... 

One thing I do find amusing is the ubiquity of Love Hotels. Given that I can hear my neighbor's sneezes, it makes sense. There also seem to be a proliferation of adult shops (I've seen one in Akihabara that was over 7 stories tall!), some awkwardly tucked into the corner of a comic book store full of kids. There are also stores dedicated entirely to condoms, which I find hilarious. Lots of French ticklers and novelty rubbers, understandably. When you specialize in ONE particular disposable item it makes sense to diversify your stock.

9: Are you figuring out how to merge the best parts of Japanese and USA culture together into a new utopia?
I wish. Neither culture is perfect but I'm certainly not wise enough to craft a utopian society. There are things that I'd like to see more of in America, though, for sure: the politeness, customer service, consideration of other's, recycling, team work, cheap healthcare, convenience, public transportation, etc..

I think it would be pretty amazingly awesome if the US could integrate machines like "LOPPI" into the convenience stores. LOPPI machines let you pull up orders from the Internet, such as on Amazon or travel websites, and let you print out a receipt to take the register where you can pay for the service/items with cash. You can also pay your bills, order concert tickets, buy credits for Skype (used to make cheap international calls), etc. I would love to see that back home!

10: Do you love walking and riding your bike and always being next to great food and cool stores?
Yeah, I have to admit that's pretty nice. I really like how cyclist-oriented the culture is here in general! City hall, libraries, train stations, grocery stores all have bike parking...and riding a bike is fun! I recently read a study that correlated self-guided transportation (walking, biking) as one of the keys to positive lifestyles in cities... I provides an entirely different experience of the urban environment AND exercise. Win/win. 

Also, it'a nice living close to a sushi restaurant...and there are two farmer's markets within a comfortable bike ride from my apartment. Yay for fresh produce!

11: Have you gotten any embarrassing words wrong?
All the time. I still do. The words for cute and scary are very close in pronunciation... So are the words for pretty and hate. Not a good mistake to make when trying to compliment a woman, haha.

12: Do all white people look alike? Do they dress like pasty fat slobs?
haha! Yes and no. Technically, every face is unique and Caucasian people have a pretty stark contrast in eye colors (blue, green, hazel, brown, all shades in between) and hair colors.. But I see them in more stereotypical, broad strokes than I might have before... Also, I'm more shocked by the obesity than I had been before. While there are more overweight people in Japan than there used to be, it is still a fractional amount compared to the US. You can generally tell which groups are from the US and who are from Europe... And yes, many of my people dress rather sloppy. 

13: Are you angry when your friends misunderstand the Japanese people?
Sometimes…but it's understandable. We all have preconceptions about other countries and cultures that may not hold up in actuality. The only way to really alter those is through experience or exposure, and even then we all tend to hold to our own biases deep down. My Japanese friends would sometimes have misunderstandings or stereotypes about Americans that I found baffling or unsettling, but I think it's just the nature of humanity.   

14: Are you angry when you see Chinese actors in movies about Japan?
Ehh…Personally, I would love to see more Asian actors of all heritages acting in more American media. I definitely see it as a bit silly when there are surely talented actors and actresses of Japanese heritage available to play Japanese characters (all hail George Takei!).

15: Do you desperately want someone to be rude to you so you can be rude back?
 Hahaha! Sometimes. One of the things that bothered me the most was the lack of confrontation or earnest communication. I only ever found out that people had problems in a very roundabout way and that bothered me to no end. I'm far more fond of hashing things out directly; if I do something wrong I'd rather be told so then and there so I can adjust the behavior than to find out someone is scared of me 6 months later. To be fair, though, I was really pleasantly surprised with the politeness levels and pleasantry I encountered upon returning to the US. My transfer through LAX was one of the most pleasant travel experiences I've had, which is astounding to me considering I had to navigate through customs, checking overweight luggage, catching my connection and culture shock while terribly jet-lagged. Of course, awaiting my return in Vegas were my friends, who had long-missing vulgarity and crassness aplenty to offer me. ;)

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