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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Oh That Smell

In honor of Vinny, or Vinnie or Vince - I know him by multiple names - comes this tail (sic) of first expectations in Japan.

Before I left for Japan, the Japanese Consulate in Toronto noted to us would-be assistant English teachers on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, that there could be an issue with bugs in our soon-to-be Japanese apartments IE home for the next year plus.

By "insects", they meant cockroaches.

I had never seen a cockroach live or dead in person before.

Either they were that good at hiding, or they didn't care for the type of houses I had lived in.

Centipedes and spiders and those armadillo bugs (on occasion) were more the norm, as our house in the west-end of Toronto was considered to have a 'wet' basement... I did once kill a centipede that was as large as my foot once... used my shoe... which was how I knew how large it was - 12-inches aka 30-centimeters. A big'un.

I have also been bitten twice by spiders (at that time)... three times if I include the one from a couple of years ago. In all instances, I react badly... finger, hand swelling... and in the last case, purple streaks like dead veins on my shin. I never saw the last spider, but did see the others as they landed upon me for that split second before I brushed them away in abject horror.

Needless to say, I don't like spiders or centipedes... and any insect with more than six legs.

But, even though a cockroach has six legs like most insects, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be a fan of them.

So... that first day upon arriving in my new home town of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, my bosses from the Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE) Kanemaru-san and Hanazaki-san took me to the front door of my apartment and handed me the keys to the palace.

With fumbling hands, I inserted the key into the lock and turned it... pushed open the metal front door and walked in.

I walked straight in with my shoes on ... and received a quick lesson on not doing that... and on how the faster you are, the less likely one is to have to wear the crappy pair of indoor slippers/shoes... by that I mean the tiny pink ones. You can read the full story, rewritten in 2015 HERE. It's pretty funny and sorta long... but, like I said, it's pretty funny.

What's not mentioned in it... is the following... what Vince, Vinnie, Vinny reminded me about during one of our many e-mails back and forth.

Skip ahead past the shoe snafu (situation normal all fugged up) (yes... that's what the acronym 'snafu' means.

As I got my slippers on and walked into my apartment with my bags... the first thing I noticed was a bug on the carpet staring at me.

No... I didn't notice the huge room... the wonderful view of the active, volcanic Nasu mountains 10 kilometers to the north... nothing... just that one dark brown insect... an effing cockroach.

I don't think my bosses noticed it as I walked up and smashed my luggage down upon its shiny exo-skelton.


What sort of country was I in, I wondered inwardly... a cockroach that just sits there and doesn't move when it sees you? Cockroaches that aren't scared of the light?

The bloody apartment was huge and well lit, and the sun was streaming through the northwest... weren't cockroaches nocturnal?

Holy crap! What was going to happen when it got dark?!

To cut a long story short (that's so not like me), I never did see another cockroach in my apartment.

It was because of that initial sighting that I, a near-26-year-old who had never lived on his own before, became a neat freak.

I vacuumed several times a week... always did the dishes before I went to bed unless I was sleeping with someone - then it was done in the morning... always threw out the garbage once a day, and did laundry many times a week.

It was that initial cockroach sighting that put me on the course of adulthood... that and maybe getting to second base with Ashley and knowing that since I had a girlfriend, I couldn't be a pig... I needed to impress.

Also with Ashley and Matthew coming by many times a week that first year - well... I didn't want my place to look like Grand Central Station (New York City) even if it felt like it (in a good way).

One slow... surprised cockroach.

It must have been surprised... no one had been in that apartment in a few weeks since my predecessor Cheryl had left to go back to England. It must have figured it was abandoned.

Ah... I did fib a bit.

After I went back home to Toronto at the end of Year 2 - gone for a month - when I arrived back in my apartment... again... again... one single brown, shiny cockroach sitting in virtually the exact same spot.. too stunned to see me back to have moved.

This time I stepped on it with my outdoor shoes... because 307 Zuiko Haitsu (my address in Japan)... this was Canada in Japan... therefore, my house, my rules.

Accordingly, whenever I knew that a Japanese person was coming over, so as to not offend, I would take off my outdoor shoes and be shoe-less.

Yes... I know the title has nothing to do with MY story, but it did with my friend and inspiration for this once-forgotten memory.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Today's blog title was inspired by Lynard Skynard's That Smell:


  1. I'm working like crazy to wrap up everything at work and at home before I head on out at the end of this month. I'm hoping that the country isn't as buggy as I remember ... but I know it is. There are large flying roaches that didn't scare me as a kid, but I'm afraid I'm more squeamish now. Plus the mosquitoes are brutal. Not to mention the smells ... {deep breath ... what does regret smell like? Kinda like this.} Thanks for the pretty roach picture ... and story ... lol!

  2. I'm sure things are different now - Middle class homes are probably just as flying roach free as they are back in your home State... I hope... I've never been there.
    But yeah... I hate bugs... hate'em.... I'm bug bait when it comes to mosquitoes. Just have me walk beside you and they'll leave you alone. The sights, the sounds, the smells... yeah... but after 10 minutes you forget about the smells. Flying roach... I can't recall at this moment where I saw one... but yeah - holy crap - scary. Why would god(s) create something like that with an exoskeleton that would allow it to survive a nuclear war? The next dominant species on Earth after a meteor wipes out humans... or at least causes us to forget how to use a cellphone.
    Enjoy your trip - and I know you will! I hope you have some great stories to tell when you come back! Remember... I'm living vicariously!