Japantown

Posted: May 20, 2016 in Real life stories about reality
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Japan, or as the locals say, Japah; the place where I expected to find the craziest bunch of crazies that ever walked the big blue earth.

Turns out they’re not so crazy after all, but they do do some weird things.

I’ve been here for a while now, not sure how long. The first week was difficult. I quickly found that my usual preparations for visiting a new country were, on this occasion, woefully inadequate.
Without even knowing it, my travels had lulled me into a false sense of security, thinking, surely every being here on earth knows English by now. What a fool I was!
The places I’ve explored, they were merely former British colonies! Practically my own back garden.
I was not prepared for a place that does not use the Latin Alphabet, does not understand me or my noises or provide much assistance in doing so.
It’s taken me until the age of 28 to truly empathise with foreigners in my own country. I cannot tell you how isolating and lonely and frustrating it is to start a language from scratch, a language which shares no similarities with your own mother tongue.

After being dropped off at my place of residence by my new employer, with no japanese mobile phone number and no smart phone (in hindsight, not a smart decision), I was left to fend for myself, a task I have never found particularly difficult.

So, after a night of rest, I began my quest. The first thing I found was that my house was hidden away in back streets, and in fact, everywhere in japan is hidden away in back streets, even the cities and big buildings and trains, all in a muddled back street (unsurprisingly perfect for ninjas), and my house was difficult to find. It had taken my employer and me over two hours to find the place.

The reason for this was that the street numbers here make no sense whatsoever. The ward (like a suburb) I live in is separated into large square-looking areas, which have a given name, then within that area the houses are given seemingly random numbers, which do not relate to the house next door to it or the street. They seem totally random. There do not seem to be any street names, except for main roads. So, I was worried to stray too far from my house, fearing that I would not be able to find my way back. But, I had to get food, and on top of that, I found that there were no adaptors available for australian plugs that have three prongs. Some australian devices have two prongs, and there are adaptors for those, but my laptop charger for example, had three, and so I had no means of contacting anyone or finding anything or looking at google maps.

So, I picked a direction and started walking. I was tempted to leave a breadcrumb trail, but had no bread at the time. I walked for hours looking for a place to buy a map or a dictionary or a computer shop, (not knowing that there was a massive shopping centre 5 minutes from my house in the opposite direction). Eventually I found a place to buy a map, but all the names on the map and in the directory were in japanese script, and so, the map was useless. It took me the first week to find out where the hell my house was on the map of Nagoya. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I became lost many times and have had great difficulties due to not being able to read anything around me. It truly is crippling not being able to read.

Going to the supermarket for the first time was like going to a tropical zoo. I knew only a few phrases in Japanese, and one of them was ‘kore wa nan desu ka?’ which means, ‘what is this?’ I must have said that twenty times on my first visit to the supermarket.
Even now my supermarket trips take me atleast an hour as I try to figure out what the hell things are and whether I can or should eat them.

I live in a town called Arimatsu, which, as far as I can tell, does not get many foreigners. I figured this out rather quickly, due to the gawking stares and gazes of wonderment. I’ve had some rather extreme reactions though. I’ve had two occasions now where a person has seen me and fled, presumably for their dear lives. I’m sure it wasn’t the Godzilla t-shirt I was wearing. I’ve also had students who have burst into tears upon realising that I was their new teacher, and/or refused to enter the classroom.
I’ve actually got one class who have cried for the last four weeks straight. Every time they line up for my lesson they start to tear up. I’m really not strict or mean or anything, I’m just huge and white and terrifying!

You don’t have to spend much time in Japan to see the effects of the hundreds of years of isolation. For a long time the military leader of Japan, the Shogun, made it illegal to leave Japan, or for foreigners to enter (punishable by death), and this law only ended in the 1800’s at the intervention of the American navy.

One unpleasant experience I have had recently was at an onsen, or public bath. It’s quite normal here to go to the public bath on a regular basis, and my housemate was excited to bring me on my first try.

You strip off completely naked and get into a bath with a bunch of other dudes.

Me and my housemate, Dae Ho, went outside to the hot bath area, and I had two japanese guys sat on either side of me, not even trying to hide their awkward staring, and one nine or ten year old boy stood at the edge of the water staring down into my crotch. Previously I had been under the impression that everything down there was rather normal, but apparently not.
It was very uncomfortable, so I just had to close my eyes and pretend they weren’t there. Maybe I should have jumped up and down and shown them the dance of my people.

People in Japan are very polite, and will often try to help, and when you do meet a Japanese person who can speak some English they are always super keen to speak with you. The people are so polite that you can often find yourself having bowing/thankyou matches with shop staff, just seeing who can out-bow the other one. It’s a little ridiculous. Sometimes it is quite nice though, like, even people in cars will often bow to you while driving past you, and they often give way to pedestrians/cyclists. In fact, I’ve liked every Japanese person I’ve met here. But, you never forget that you’re a foreigner.

There is so much more to say, but I don’t get paid to stay up late writing long blog entries, so it will have to wait til next time. If you have any questions in particular, or anything you’d like to know, feel free to ask me and I’ll address it in the next entry.

Sayonara

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