Japanese Culture

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #12

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman Always Ready to Help you With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One

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Dear Gaijin Girl,

I’ve bee invited to my coworker’s Wedding in Tokyo. What should I expect?

Slightly stoked,

Kelly

Dear Kelly,

Be prepared to be poor! Just so you know, Japanese weddings come in parts of three and they don’t come cheap.

The first part is the actual ceremony. It is the exchanging of vows in a Shinto or Christian style shrine, church, chapel, hotel or beachfront. This ceremony typically lasts no more than twenty minutes and only the bride and groom’s closest family and/or friends attend. ( Count yourself lucky that you are not close friends because that makes things even more expensive for you along the way.) None of these ceremonies are legally binding, by the way. All the legal documents are handled a month or more before or after the ceremony at City Hall in the Department of Marriage, Death and Divorce, where the employees there make bets on why you’ll be visiting them next time.

(I’ve seen Mickey and Minnie sign as witnesses on a Marriage Certificate in a ceremony at Disneyland. I can’t think of a shakier foundation for a marriage unless the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had signed instead. ) The ceremony might last up to an hour or more at a Christian church. At one wedding I attended, the pastor told a long story about how the love between the bride and groom reminded him of the love a child with Down’s syndrome had for the local life guard. I don’t remember what happened in the story other than it was very long and touching but I do remember the bride and groom looking at each other throughout the whole story as if to say, “So, am I the kid with Down’s syndrome or is that you?!”

The second part is the main event and is a cross between a fancy five course dinner and a community theater talent show starring the groom’s company boss. It is customary/mandatory that you give the couple $300 in a special celebratory envelope you can buy at you’re local 7-11. Be sure not to buy the envelope for funerals right next to it. It sends a mixed message and delivers bad juju to the newly joined couple. (You really don’t want to jinx the marriage, because if your coworker divorces and then marries again, you have to gift yet another $300.) Japan’s Got No Talent/Why I Kept My Day Job Showcase part of the ceremony can go on for hours as selected coworkers, friends and family sing songs, act out hastily written comedy sketches, present PowerPoint  presentations on how the bride and groom first met while ancient relatives live Skype simultaneously their congratulations and guilt trips for not having a wedding party closer to their respective hometowns. Tears flow freely and often. (Mostly because of the guilt trips.) Not to worry, so much good food will be coming your way that you’ll be too busy cutting your steak into bite size pieces to notice most of the waterworks. (I always am.) The grooms boss at some point will make the equivalent of the best man’s speech, only duller. Japanese style speeches leave much to be desired. They don’t like to get to the point. They would much rather beat around the bush until it’s obliterated. Fortunately, by time the bossman goes to the podium to speak, you’ll be too drunk to care.  As you leave the party, one of two things will happen. The bride and groom will give you either a”Thanks for coming” gift, such as a candle or a fancy photo frame, or they will give you a catalogue of gifts ranging from jewelry to home appliances to sports equipment for you to take home and choose a “thank you”to be delivered to your home. (The gifts range in quality from Cracker Jack toy to Argos.)

Part three is the “after party” that will cost you anywhere from $20-$100. It is usually a bar with an all-you-can-drink 2 hour plan. Typically, there is one table for boys and one table for girls. Welcome to the 8th  grade with alcohol. Hardly anybody hooks up because of or at a Japanese wedding party. (That includes the bride and groom) Under no circumstances are you to dress sexy.  Cute is the order that rules the land. Dress as you would for senior prom circa 1955. There will be very little or no dancing or mingling, just a lot of people asking you when you are getting married again, planning to have a child, and exactly when you plan on retiring to raise your still nonexistent children. In other words, bring a book.

Good luck,

Gaijin Girl

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #11

Always Ready to Help you With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One Unknown-1

Dear Gaijin Girl,

I’ve just started working at a Japanese office and I have been invited to go to a cherry blossom viewing party with my colleagues but I don’t like to drink. What should I do?

Seriously sweating,

Tom

Dear Tom,

Oh my poor, sweet and ridiculously silly Tom. If you do not like alcohol, why in the name of Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker and Shirley Buddhist Temple are you in Japan of all places?! Did you fly in direct from Salt Lake City or what?

In Japan, alcohol does not merely help lubricate social and work events, it is the fuel that propels society, family and business into the future. As an employee and team member you will be required to eat and drink with your boss and colleagues more often than you ever will with your spouse. You’ll be obliged to pour your boss’s beer again and again whenever the tiny glass threatens to go empty. You are never allowed to pour your own drink. Someone else will be in charge of filling your own glass, probably a coworker that is three years your senior and already hates your guts because your English is much better than his and you get paid slightly more than him as you are as considered part guest, part circus sideshow and part office pet, in that you aren’t expected be around in two years time. This man will do everything in his power to oblige you to bow to the social pressure of drinking too much and then eating ramen until you are projectile vomiting all over your boss at the train station. (A sublime job perk not mentioned in your contract. )

Sakura (cherry blossom) season is upon us. It’s the time when the nation collectively responds to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” with “Who cares?! Look at the pretty flowers! Here, drink this and when you feel sick just be sure to aim away from the blue tarp. We don’t want anyone thinking it’s a monjayaki buffet.”

There are a lot of Japanese people who do not drink. They are a silent minority that frequently “pass” as drinkers in order to escape being socially and ultimately monetarily punished for not “being a team player”. Many pretend to be wildly drunk, dancing around the bar or izakaya singing Elvis Presley until everyone looks as uncomfortable as George Bush did when Koizumi had a religious experience in Graceland.

Women have it easier in that they are not expected to drink nearly as much but also have to sidestep comments from male and female colleagues about their breast size, backside and speculation as to whether they’d be maguro (move like a dead fish) in bed. There may or may not be any groping to contend with. Oddly, I’ve been groped by Japanese women far more than I’ve been groped by men. Women have grabbed or “honked” my breasts on a train platform in the middle of the day.  I’d yell at them, “What are you, crazy?” Stop it!”  They wouldn’t. My offended reaction egged them on so I learned through exasperation that the only way to make them stop was to grope them in return. If  a woman  “honked” my boob, I’d honk them right back. If they grabbed my ample life raft of an ass, I’d manage to get a handful of their nonexistent one. It worked.

Once, I was groped on the street by a man on a bicycle. I had just stepped out of a taxi and turned around to go up the street and suddenly this bald dude that was sweating  alcohol was in my face. He gave my boob a hard squeeze. I screamed, he grunted and then he took off on his bike. If you have to be sexual assaulted,  that’s the kind you want, quick and relatively painless but it really irked me that someone could be so mentally ill and have such good coordination and balance skills at the same time. It’s just not fair. In hindsight, I wished I’d been grocery shopping earlier and had a tin can of tomato sauce to hurl and dent the other side of his bald head with as he rode away. Call me a romantic, it’s just a better end to the story.

Anyway, you will sooner or later be required to drink with your coworkers, clients, and future in-laws. Japanese style bars frequently have plastic potted plants near the table for you to discreetly dump your drink if you want. Learn how to act drunk. Also, develop a repertoire of different kinds of drunk, ranging from mildly tipsy to wandering naked in a park so you are ready for any occasion or alcohol level. Don’t be afraid to get yourself in embarrassing situations. Japanese love nothing more that to be told a story about how you woke up at the station in a pool of your own vomit, decided to write your bicycle home where you lost control, hit the curb, fell off face first into the sidewalk, breaking your jaw. They LOVE stories like that because it’s what their wife did last week after the PTA meeting. (Actually that example came from a Japanese grandmother. That jaw break earned her all kinds of street cred and is now considered a legend in her community.) It’ll bring you closer together as coworkers and comrades.

I don’t judge you for not liking drinking. I don’t drink much myself. (My drug of choice is sugar) It’s just so much easier to fit in Japan if you do. I’m not saying you’ll be any happier or more financially secure. I’m just saying people will be less annoyed with you and see you less as an outsider.  I guess what I’m saying is, “ If you’re not planning on becoming a drinker, GET OUT OF HERE!" If you don't, it's only a matter of time before you're cleaning up your inebriated coworker's urine puddle at the station with spare tissue you found at the bottom of your briefcase, on a Saturday night.  I seriously doubt your company pays you enough to put up with that.

Good luck,

Gaijin Girl

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #9

Always ready to give you advice on life and relationships because she never has one kindergarten-class

Dear Gaijin girl,

My 45 year-old son isn’t married and still lives at home. How can I get him married or to move out of the house?

Sincerely sick and tired,

Yoshiko

Dear Yoshiko,

For the love of Buddha and the wife and child he abandoned, stop doing your son’s laundry! Stop cooking for him! Stop providing him a rent and utility free existence that enables him to buy enough electronics, game consoles and porn to ensure he doesn’t have to have any real human interaction until there is an electronic apocalypse or too many blisters on his right hand.

I also want you to ask yourself a few questions. If you are married, do you enjoy your marriage? Have you, at any point and time, told him that the only reason you are in the marriage was for your son’s benefit? If you have, you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame by giving him absolutely nothing to look forward to. The relationship between parent and child is typically stronger than between husband and wife in Japan. There was a time when this was necessary for survival but not anymore. (I seriously doubt your husband is a samurai riding horseback around the country burning down temples and shrines. If he is, well done. That’s much sexier than a salaryman getting drunk with his coworkers and projectile vomiting in the station.)

In the West, as you grow older, you gain more and more freedom along with control over your life. In Japan, it’s the opposite. As you grow older, you lose your freedom. That’s why a child under the age of 5 in Japan can resemble a wild animal. Once they enter the school system, the social pressure to conform is as swift and as intense as Anne Sullivan teaching Hellen Keller how to fold a napkin. In a way, life peaks at the age of 6 in Japan. You are surrounded by educated adults whose primary concern is your welfare. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically work past midnight every night (unpaid mandatory overtime) to decorate classrooms, put together activities and festivals in a manner that puts Broadway production values to shame. The typical elementary school classroom resembles Disneyland with desks and slightly better food. (F.Y.I. Disneyland food sucks balls) University is the last shot at freedom before entering a life sentence of doing desk work in a gray office in a gray building in a gray suit while being financially responsible for a family. Ask the average Japanese university student, “What are you reading?” They will reply, “What do you mean ‘reading?’ Why would I be reading? I’m going to Thailand to eat mushrooms and buy a T-shirt in a language I don’t understand that says, “I took home an exotic dancer and all I got was this pukey t-shirt.”

In the West, it’s completely different. Most parents swiftly kick their children out of the house when they are 18 and turn the child’s room into a gym or a dungeon filled with geriatric fetish furniture to host munches. This may seem harsh at first but the nice thing about kids being kicked out at that age is after they leave home, you never have to see them ever again unless you really want to and isn’t that a nice choice to have? You’ll be much less tempted to kill your son in his sleep, which is another option albeit a messy one. I should warn you that freedom works both ways. An American friend living in Japan complains about his mother in New Jersey constantly calling him asking him to visit. I tell him he doesn’t know how to leave a country right. He should have never given her his number.

Your son is fully aware of the fact that life can’t possibly get any better for him than it is right now so make life more difficult for him. Kick him out. Make him pay rent. Try and initiate sex with your husband in front of him. You don’t have to do that but try to rekindle the romance in your marriage anyway. A pickle tickle wouldn’t hurt you none. Frankly, you probably need it. (Oh and stop calling your husband ‘Dad’ your son doesn’t need the reinforcement to call him that anymore plus, it’s unsettling.) If this seems too difficult, move. Move away or get on the Peaceboat if you like just leave all your son’s stuff in garbage bags in front of the home you’ve vacated and don’t tell him where you’ve moved to for at least a year. That’ll get him out of the house and into a pachinko parlor or soapland but at least he won’t be your problem anymore. You’ve been a great mom but now is the time to cut the crusty cord and to stop fantasizing about the death of a person you are supposed to love before you end up on a wideshow for CO poisoning everyone in the house.

Good luck,

Gaijin Girl

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #5

Always Ready To Give You Advice On Life And Relationships Because She Never Has Oneimages Dear Gaijin Girl, When I was dating my American husband two years ago, he said he would move back to the States and take me with him. Now he says that he never wants to go back but I want to live in America. What should I do? Troubled in Tokyo, Megumi

Dear Megumi, I can see where you are coming from, but have you been watching the news lately or ever? If you haven’t, let me fill you in on a tinny tiny development, America has done lost its mind. If you see a restaurant advertisement in the States proclaiming the food will “blow your tastebuds away” it’s because the chef can’t handle criticism, can’t afford his meds and carries a concealed semiautomatic gun at all times. And unless you plan on living in New York City or downtown Chicago, you are going to have to buy a car. Buying and maintaining a car in America is like having a financial caesarian every five to ten years: It’s ridiculously expensive and there is always the possibility you might die in it. ( Because somebody shot you.) Oh, and if you move to America, you won’t be able to save a seat at Starbucks by placing your brand new iPhone 6 on the table anymore because people STEAL SHIT there. In Japan, people aren’t robbed so much as we are collectively screwed over blind and we take comfort in the knowledge that everyone is screwed over together, keeping the paramount virtue of harmony perversely in tact. Oh yeah, and being screwed over in Japan doesn’t involve getting shot. That’s a lovely thing about Japan. If someone doesn’t like you, they don’t shoot you. They just make your life so miserable that you want to kill yourself. Anyway, it is easy to project our hopes and dreams onto a country that we’ve never lived in but think we know a lot about. I’m guilty of that myself. I thought I’d move to Japan, meet a nice man and be embraced by his family. Instead, well, let’s just say that did NOT happen and I’m kind of glad my Japanese isn’t good enough to understand every single racist and sexist slur hurled my way. One day on a Tokyo train, what looked like a 6 year-old boy told his father he thought I had pretty hair. The father turned to his son and said, “Don’t you ever bring a white woman home!” before going off on a tirade on how a woman like me would walk all over him, take all his money and leave him with nothing!” When he finished, I walked up to them, look at the little boy in the eyes and said in Japanese, “Listen to your father. Do exactly what he says. He knows what he’s talking about.” and got off the train. I wasn’t upset, I was too flattered that I was skinny or even remotely pretty enough to remind him of the Russian hostess that stole his money. I think you need to evaluate your relationship. Did you marry your husband because he looked like your love handled green card to America or did you want to build a life with him wherever you may be? If you REALLY want to live in America, you don’t have to marry or be married to an American to do it. You can figure something out. One more thing, if you decide to leave your husband and go to America on your own, don’t date a drug dealer, and don’t let them keep drugs in your house/apartment. I know too many Japanese women who got mixed up with drug dealers and ended up in American jail for two years before being deported back to Japan. (And by too many, I mean one.) Life is not a movie or a music video. (That said, her English got really, really good as did her Spanish but don’t you finish this letter thinking American jail is the new Rosetta Stone.) Good Luck, Gaijin Girl

Naked in Japan

20130217-150148.jpg Before I came to Japan, I was told that Japanese people were incredibly mature about the naked body. Not so. The first time I went to a public bath, within seconds of disrobing my boobs were poked and prodded by old ladies like I was an exotic animal at the petting zoo. I was met with a barrage of questions. " Why are your nipples pink?" " Why do your boobs move?"

When I had knee surgery in Japan. I had to have all my vitals checked beforehand. This included a heart monitoring. The head nurse, brought in a group of nursing school students to watch her hook me up. As I sat half naked on the table, the nurse, a woman in her forties, started to put petroleum jelly on my chest. She then stopped, looked a bit perplexed and said, "Forgive me." as she flipped my boobs over, one at a time, to finish applying the jelly. "I've never had to do that before!" she whispered into my ear. Even though it was a whisper the entire room heard and the nurses, students and doctors giggled till they cried as they attached the monitors.

Later I was told I would have to be naked during my knee surgery "Umm... how many people are going to see me naked? " I asked. " Oh, lots of people." The nurse giggled.

My favorite naked in Japan story is a friend's. Japanese gym locker rooms typically have two sets of lockers stacked on top of each-other. My friend was getting something out of a bottom locker when she felt, what she thought was a strand of her hair, tickling her cheek. Since her hands were full and the gym was so crowded, she attempted to get rid of the hair with a cock-eyed blow or two. When that didn't work, she turned her head to find out that the buck naked woman using the upper locker's bush had been tickling her face the whole time! The next time people try to tell you the Japanese are mature and polite, don't believe them.