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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Killing Time In Japan

Someone recently asked me if things in Japan became a bit more routine for me AFTER my first year.

Yes, to a certain degree.

I was certainly more comfortable with the Japanese language, and while not enough for me to carry on a conversation with any one off the street, I certainly could talk either swell enough English or passable Japanese to get my face slapped nine out of 10 times in a bar.

But, that tenth time - that's magic, folks.

Like most people, whether you mean to or not, one falls into a routine.

In my second year of teaching junior high school English to the then seven junior high schools in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken as a part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, I still had my own desk in every teacher's office, still had my own desk at the Board of Education office that I visited every Friday to 'make reports' on my week and to write letters home and to write Wonderful Rife columns and other short stories on the computer they gave (this was between 1990-1993, and the Internet was not yet a part of everyone's daily life.)

I would work anywhere from one to four classes a day - occasionally five, but that might be my revisionist history at work...

I would eat lunch with the kids, play with them after lunch, chat with them while they did clean-up, participate in whatever club activity I felt like for never more than 60 minutes after school...

I NEVER did English club activities - except maybe to help kids with a speech or two for a prefecture-wide competition. I did, baseball, judo, kendo (Japanese fencing), softball, soccer (I coached community women's soccer with my pal Rob Jones, and coached the Humber College women's soccer team - I have a Harley Hawk to prove it!, music (I can play all brass, woodwinds and keyboards - and taught clarinet and piano back in Toronto to help pay my way through Humber College's journalism program before being chosen to go to Japan), and occasionally art... my extreme weak point... though I was probably equally inept at basketball and volleyball.

I would go home then ride out to the store and buy a prepared dinner and a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola - unless a full shop was required...

If it was Monday, I had to eat quickly. I might watch Sherlock Holmes on TV in English on my stereo TV for stereo broadcast programs, and then ride out to my adult teaching class that would go from 7-9PM... then I'd go to a video store and maybe rent a movie to watch for the evening... then read a book and crash at 1AM. Laundry and vacuuming would be done somewhere in there.

I'd get up every morning at 7AM, by the way.

Tuesday... the same - except maybe Ashley would come over and we'd eat the leftover chili con carne I made over the weekend that I would have already shared with her or Matthew.
We'd watch a movie - perhaps a video tape sent to me by my folks in Toronto, or her folks in Augusta, Ga.

Or, if Ashley and I were on the outs, I might go out after 9PM to the 4C bar and have a drink and wait for Japanese people to come up and talk to me. I'd talk, laugh, and if possible tray and get the woman to come back to my place. It wasn't that difficult, to be honest. And that's with ME and my Grade 1 or less Japanese language skills.

Before going to the bar, laundry and vacuuming would be done.

Wednesday night - regardless if Ashley and I were on the outs, she'd come over, we'd go to Mosburger for dinner and then wait for my boss Kanemaru-san to take us to our kyudo (Japanese archery) lesson that he and a master would give us for free.

If we were NOT on the outs, after archery Ashley might come up and we'd fool around - I always had to make the first move. Then I would ride my bicycle with her to her town 30 minutes ride northwest to see her home, and then ride back... laundry and vacuuming might be done.

Does anyone else see a pattern with regards to my laundry and vacuuming?

My place was grand central station - so I kept it spotless, 90% of the time.

Thursday night... unless Ashley came over - usually not - I might spend a lot of time on the phone with other AETs (assistant English teachers) in my prefecture or outside - my favorite always being Kristine South, a sassy, sexy American of Japanese descent that I thought (and still do) think is one of those all time beauties... we'd flirt - oftimes those talks would border on one-handed phone sex - but despite that we never managed to hook up. The now hopefully happily-married (and mom) Kristine recently told me that 'yeah, I would have slept with you' at least makes the world feel a bit more in sync.

Most of my phone calls were to check up on people in their first year on the programme, however... so I played telephone psychologist - and by merely being on the other end of the phone, they did the same for me.

Friday night - that's the weekend, baby. By this time, Matthew had a girlfriend - now married to her and having two lovely kids! - so I didn't see him as much as either of us would have liked, but Matthew still made the time and effort to come over and see me - he was and is a very good friend.

If Matthew wasn't around, Ashley and I might do dinner - I'm buying all the time - because I would offer - because I was vagina-starved sucker - and then we'd go out to the 4C, where if I could get enough drinks into her we could go back and spend several sweaty hours on that poor couch or under the queen-sized bed I had.

If no Ashely because it was that time of the month and we were on the OUTs - I never broke up with her once, by the way - I was just a sucker with no self-esteem. I would eat a prepared Japanese meal and then go out to the 4C.

I think the Japanese figured out my schedule quite quickly and would show up for as much as the hunk New Zealand bartender (Mark) who worked there as they did to either practice their English on with me, or for the women to chat me up to sleep with me - and I was always in a bit of a competition with Mark, because although he was way better looking than me, I didn't have his work schedule and could leave the bar at 9:45 with a woman knowing she and I had an hour of sack time together before she would have to towel off and head home to make her curfew. At least on the weekends, it might be a midnight curfew for the single, Japanese women.

Mark- he had to work long past those curfews, but was able to get any woman who didn't have a curfew.

I was also blessed with having an apartment a mere three minute drunken stagger from the 4C and the rest of entertainment district.

Saturday - I would sleep in... If no Ashley, I only made eggs, bacon baked beans for one... If I was lucky enough to have a Japanese woman spend the night, she got my breakfast, and then we might have more sex, showers and a unspoken promise to maybe do this again whenever she wanted.

I did have the occasionally booty call presented to me, but more often than not, the single, young women of Ohtawara-shi would take turns chatting me and having sex at my place.

Really. Ashely once came over in the morning (we weren't a couple then) and smiled saying she could smell sex all over the apartment -which meant that if she was spending the day with me as a friend, we would probably have sex that night.

She trusted me, so I was her booty call. I didn't mind... she was every bit as good as I was.

I might do some some laundry and vacuuming, probably some grocery shopping... eat in or eat out... hit the bars, give free English lessons to middle-aged Japanese salarymen who would buy me drinks, then talk with the local yakuza boss who would "buy" me a whiskey and ask about his delinquent junior high school student son and how much I liked Japan, or maybe a curious young woman would come over to... well.. you know... I don't even know their names... I mean... I must have... I always took great pains (at the time) to pronounce everyone's name properly...

... but it was pretty obvious that everybody was using everybody to get what they wanted. At least no one was being hurt by this, so I have no problem with the system as it existed.

The point being, that I was a very approachable fellow.

I always had a smile on my face - and that was even before I became a male lesbian. I had arrived in Japan nearly 26-years-old, and a virgin.

Back in Toronto, I was too shy to talk to a woman.

After one complete year in Japan, I might still have been too shy to talk to women - at least make the first conversational fragment (still am), but I have no problem after that.

Despite Japan being a country where the Japanese are all supposed to be shy and too involved in themselves, i didn't find that at all... especially in a bar.

Alcohol + 2 people = Conversation lubrication.

Everyone talks - even if it's a slowly sipped beer or a slowly sipped soda water - being in a bar seems to loosen the inhibitions on everyone. I've done that - because you can't be ON all the time.

I don't mean to imply one MUST drink booze - I said 'soda water', but drinking together is part of the whole bonding process for the Japanese in Japan. Hell... people everywhere, I think (though you can bond over many other things, of course).

In Japan... the Japanese go out with co-workers to bond as a team. For the gaijin (outsider/foreigner), you HAVE to participate in the reindeer games, dear Rudolph... not only do you have to drink along with the Japanese with whatever they are drinking - you have to do them one better and drink more.

You are the outsider in Japanese culture, and in order to belong, or at least fit in better, you have top destroy the Japanese perception of the gaijin.

I was lousy at destroying the Japanese perception that all gaijin men want to boink Japanese women - BUT I will say this... whenever I was asked if like Japanese women, I would say sure.. but I also like German, women.. French women... blah-blah-blah... that I don't care where they are from as long as they are nice people.

I would get a lot of nods from my students and teachers who would translate that for me... I meant it.

I slept with a lot of JET women as well as Japanese women. I was an equal opportunity male lesbian.

To say anything else would be to shoot yourself in the foot, and limit one's opportunities... I still dislike doing that.

Anyhow... the point is... study your ass off all you like while you are in Japan... do it on SaturDAY and SunDAY... but fer crying out loud, go out and be seen by your local community.

Every day someone in my city would see me crying in front of the ATM as I tried to decode the kanji, or appearing dazed in the grocery store as tried to figure out if I image on the carton I was purchasing was chocolate milk, green tea or bull testicles.

I would be seen at the book store/video game rental shop... at the sports shop purchasing packs of Japanese baseball or soccer cards... at the video game shop buying the latest game for myself... out with my gaijin friends on our bicycles having lunch or dinner or teasing our students... talking to the neighbors and sharing a glass of sake... waving to the women across the street as I hung my underwear up on the laundry line as they did the same at their house - or raising an eyebrow when I would hand a pair of women's underwear causing the men across the street to volunteer to help their wife hang laundry for the first time ever....

Maybe I'd even ride my bicycle around the city and do some sight seeing... maybe I won't get lost this time... fail...

Whatever... even when I relaxed and read a book, I would perch myself on my balcony ledge and sit in plain view of my city, my home, my community and say "hello" whenever I would be spotted!

I hid in plain sight.

Now... no one can be on every day all the time, so obviously there were days when I would go home, unplug the phone and hide from everyone for a few hours to recharge my batteries - but the next day or two latter... those undercover blues would fade in vibrancy, and I would be back to being myself.

You don't have to do any of what I just said, of course... but for me, it was how I not only survived Japan, but had a wonderful life in Japan.

I don't know about you, but I don't think mine was such a bad rut to fall into.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

2 comments:

  1. Hey Andrew,

    Just happened to stumble upon your blog and was what you thought and if you'd recommend the JET program for someone fresh out of University?

    More than happy to email you or alike if that helps.

    Kind Regards,

    Vince

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    Replies
    1. Hey Vince - Yes. I recommend the JET Programme - especially right out of university.
      Of course - it depends on what you think your job prospects are out on the 'real' world.
      Mine were slim, so leaving a job I had with a newspaper summer internship with little prospect of being hired on due to a tanking economy, made sense for me.
      JET is now taking applicants who are older, but I'm unsure if that's better or worse. More experience, more mature... versus enthusiasm. It depends on the individual, of course.
      It's not a party atmosphere everyday, no matter how much I might have appeared to have spun events. It is, and it's not.
      Vince - there's nothing wrong with trying something new.
      Why not? It's better than having regrets.
      Cheers!
      AJ

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