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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 #8

Always ready to give advice on life and relationships because she never has one. 200px-Japanese_The_Spoken_Language_-_Book_1_-_Jorden_Noda

Dear Gaijin Girl,

I’m 16 years old, live in Iowa and want to learn Japanese. What’s the best way to do that?

Sincerely Stoked,

Lori

Dear Lori,

Dear sweet Lori, I know exactly how you feel. You see a Kurosawa, an Itami film or some anime and are blown away by how exotic and mysterious the people and culture seem to be. Whenever people make a list of all the places they’ve visited on their website or in conversation, Japan is always mentioned last because it is culturally and technologically the closest you can get to the moon. Hell, you could have gone to the moon and set up a self sustaining colony there and people would still say, “Really? You’ve been to Japan? That’s fascinating!”

Let me save you hours upon hours spent scribbling thousands upon thousands of angled pretzels into little green boxes or conjugating infixes.  Don’t bother learning Japanese, nobody is saying anything interesting.

I studied Japanese for three years in high school, four years in university (it was my major.) before coming to Japan to find out no one is debating the meaning of life or how many reincarnations it takes to reach enlightenment.  They’re talking about how much cuter their rhinestone Hello Kitty smartphone case is compared to the “old” one they bought two months ago. (and that’s just the men)

One of my Japanese language classmates translated a book and some letters written in pre-Word War II Japanese into English. Because of this, he won an award and got to meet the emperor and empress. (He said they were nice and cordial enough but that their heads were so disproportionately large compared to their tiny little bodies that they looked like bobble-heads on a dashboard.) The night before he flew back to America we took him out for a drink that turned into several. Then this man who I looked up to and whose Japanese ability I absolutely envied said, “Why the hell did I study Japanese! Where can I go? Where will this take me other than Japan?! I should have studied Spanish or French, I’d be able to travel around Africa independently if I spoke French! Where the hell can I go with Japanese?! “ At this point, a Japanese friend and classmate raised a glass proposing a toast in his nonnative English, “May you never remember your time here forever!”  “Here, here!” said my my award winning classmate as glasses clinked. Last I heard, he became a best-selling science fiction writer.  I have no idea if he translates his books into Japanese himself, but somehow I doubt it.

By the way, just so you know, many Japanese people don’t want you to learn Japanese.  It’s much more charming and romantic if you don’t. One summer, I went to the ocean. A twenty-something woman and her two friends approached me in the water.

“Where are you from?” she asked in Japanese.

“From the States. “ I answered.

“Cool, here, you can use my inner tube. Do you like Japan?”

“Sure, it’s great.”

“Your Japanese is pretty good. How long have you been here?

“Thanks, I’ve been here twelve years.”

“Ugh! Give me back my inner tube. You’re not any fun. You know too much about us!” she said as she took back her flotation device and swam in the direction of Westerners with tattoos on their forearms. Fat chance they’d been in Japan longer than a week unless they loved wearing long-sleeved shirts  year round.

If I still haven’t deterred you from studying Japanese even after I tell you that unless you live in California, Hawaii, are Asian or work as a translator for a Midwestern soybean farm, people are going to assume you are pretentious and loaded since you have the time to study such a seemingly superfluous language.  I recommend you have a “Japanese and…” plan. You can only learn a language effectively  if you have something to talk about so pick some skills you can master, get paid for and then talk about. Do you like Japanese manga or anime? Learn how to draw and research the words and phrases that come up during rape. Do you like politics? Practice throwing people under the bus and then become proficient at avoiding direct questions about it. Maybe one day, you’ll be the American ambassador to Japan and when a dispute over whether Japan, Korea or China owns a particular island, as well as, the natural resources under it, you can bust out a pair the binoculars on the first bullet train to Kyoto and say,”My, what beautiful temples you have here!”

My advice? Learn how to code.

Sincerely,

Gaijin Girl

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #7

Always Ready to Help You With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One cute-babies-wallpapers-free-download-17

Dear Gaijin Girl,

My American husband and I are going to have a baby in ten months. I want to quit my job to be a full time mom. My husband wants me to go back to work soon after the baby is born. I’m confused. I thought he was supposed to take care of me? What should I do?

Seriously Shocked,

Yuri

Dear Yuri,

First of all, congratulations on bearing the fruit of unprotected sex, as well as, not having anywhere near enough communication on what you or your husband expects, needs and/or wants out of marriage ahead of time. You are going down a path so bilingually beaten you’re actually standing in a queue.

I have some news for you, Yuri. You’re going to be a full time mother whether you quit your job or not. That baby is going to take up more time, energy and money than you ever knew was possible. It appears that your husband is aware of this though he may not be aware that your office is expecting you to quit because it’s easier (and cheaper) for them to throw a farewell party and buy you a bouquet of flowers than grant maternity leave or offer flexible working hours. Japanese companies and medical institutions have a long way to go when it comes to women in the workplace/modern world . (After examining me, my male Japanese gynecologist while still looking at my who-ha, slaps me on the inner thigh shouting, “Good girl!”)

By the way, don’t tell Westerners when you’re 9 and 1/2 weeks pregnant that you’re 9 1/2 weeks pregnant. You’ll scare the shit out of them. They don’t know that you count from the last period instead of the last missed phantom period you were “supposed to have”. It sounds somewhat superhuman, like you are going to give birth to an action hero whose only weakness will be math.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, Yuri but ain’t nobody going to take care of you except you. Don’t misunderstand, I am not telling you to simply look out for #1 nor am I telling you to help your husband look out for #1.  I am saying, “Welcome to world of readjusted life expectations!” You might want to take notes with an erasable pen.

Hopefully, you two will learn to look out for, live for and take care of each other. I’m not exactly sure how that works as I am never in a relationship due to my zero tolerance to bullshit. However, as far as I can gather from the 3% of healthy couples around me, this is a learned skill that develops over time through earnest trial and error, as well as, honest and consistent communication.  Yuck! I know, it sounds hard and not anywhere near as sexy as the muddled montage of dubbed Beverly Hills 90210, Little House on the Prairie and Full House episodes that has been playing in your head since elementary school subconsciously shaping your international marriage expectations and priming you for epic disappointment. I suggest watching reruns of Roseanne, Married With Children, Raising Arizona and old family movies of my uncle at dinner desperately trying not to laugh while near deaf Grandpa hocks an epic and deep-seeded loogie a foot away from the table before announcing to all that I, his granddaughter, was not a picky eater as a baby, in fact, I “never did let go of that tit.” These are not accurate depictions of what family life should be like either but they will make you feel better about your current situation.

Good luck Momma, you are going to need it,

Gaijin Girl

Delicious Pain: A Tale from a Tokyo Hospital

IMG_0464.JPG Since being born blue a month early, head to head, with my identical twin in photo finish fashion (Nobody knows which one of us was born first. I think it was me because she was dead at the time.) I've spent more time than my fair share in a hospital. Over the past ten years, I've had four knee surgeries in Tokyo. Several years ago, I snapped my ACL ligament doing a jump kick in karate class. (I know, I'm a jackass.) The doctor at the time wouldn't fix it because, in the doctor's words, "You're not an athlete. You're a woman." As a result, I've needed patch up surgeries over the years. This year, I've finally got the ACL repaired. Here's one thing I've learned over the years.

In Japanese hospitals, pain is considered a relatively good thing. When my kneecap broke in three places and my leg started to spasm, causing me to internally stab my thigh over and over, I screamed for morphine. The doctors and nurses laughed. " You're not getting morphine! You don't have brain cancer." I was encouraged by the ER nurse to look around and see all the other patients correctly suffering in silence as they waited to be treated. I look up and sure enough, there in front of me was a salary man with a samurai sword through his head waiting patiently as he pretended to be asleep, or maybe he was dead. I don't know. All I know is that the only other people screaming were two, what looked like 7 year-old boys with broken fingers. The three of us locked eyes and began screaming in unison, creating a Bermuda Triangle of Pain. By that, I mean everyone around us pretended we didn't exist. A few minutes later, the doctor agreed to give me a "mild morphine". However, they only had suppositories. Yep, that's right, the home of the space-age toilet doesn't have chewables. The nurse said,"We will have to remove your clothing." "I can't move!" "What do you want us to do?" "Cut them off and stick the morphine up me!" "But they are nice clothes!" "They are from Uniqlo. Cut them OFF!" Had I been in America, the nurse would have been cutting through my clothes with massive shears as I was wheeled into the ER saying something along the lines of, " Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to wear your wedding dress again?"

Perhaps the best example of just how comfortable Japan is with pain is the fact that friends smuggled drugs into the hospital for me. Yup, I routinely got gifted chocolate, Starbucks and a bottle of valium. I soon became a model patient:)