Lacucaracha, la cucaracha, lalalalalalalaaaaaaaaaaa…

 

I have a new arch nemesis. 

 

Ever since I found out that my previous arch nemesis (most badly behaved child in the school, hobbies include violence and spitting) has Aspergers’ Syndrome (yeah, embarrassing for me, I know), I’ve been on the lookout for a worthy foe.

 

I have found it. Them. 

 

Or rather, they have found me. I have cockroaches. I’ve looking for two hours hoping to find this one fucker who legged it across the kitchen floor and then completely disappeared in that way that only cockroaches can. No luck. 

 

After some research (what would I do without the internet) I’ve discovered that the best way to prevent infestation is… cleaning. Ugh. 

 

I guess I have to go shopping tomorrow for chemicals. It’s time to bring out the big guns.

Gender Differences

giant-spiderImage by Not Quite A Photographr

 

Today in work I saw something horrible. 

 

A spider as big as my hand. 

 

The girls and I all freaked out while the boys all ran to have a look.

Reasons To Clean

As said before, I live alone. I find it hard to motivate myself to clean when no one else will see it. Also, the apartment is tiny and I haven’t gotten around to acquiring storage furniture (plastic boxes). 

It’s not actually dirty, just very very untidy. Piles of books, clothes, blankets, bits of paper, cosmetics, you know. 

Today though, I think I’m going to have to clean. 
1. I seem to have lost all my clothes. Particularly socks. I just wear the same few pairs over and over again (I do wash them). 
2. Right now there is a bug so big I can hear it moving around and I can’t find it in the mess. 
Arg. I’m fairly sure I have a bag of cleaning products around here somewhere…

Mikan!


I got my first gift in work today!

My area is famous in Japan for producing mikan – they’re really sweet mandarin oranges. They’re particularly easy to peel and have very little pith. The whole town and surrounding area is filled with mikan trees, which have slowly been turning orange since I arrived.

Above is a picture of my very first mikan. I was given a whole bag of them (maybe 20, you can see half of them in the background of the photo) by one of the mothers in the school. I’m happy to report that even though I generally don’t like oranges, this one was delicious. I’ve eaten half the bag already and now my keyboard is all sticky. Yum.

It was a nice gift, they sell here for 4 dollars for a bag of 6, I’m sure they’re more expensive elsewhere in Japan.

It’s the very start of the season so hopefully I’ll get a few more bags for free. When they’re on all the trees around my apartment I just can’t justify spending so much on them.

Oh, and for those that celebrate it – Happy Thanksgiving! (I had beef on rice… no oven here.)

I Am White Trash

This was the first post I wrote, way back when I first arrived. I didn’t actually post it anywhere though. It’s a little out of date, but hey, I’m not perfect.

  1. I live in a tiny apartment surrounded by farmland.
  2. My tiny garden is full of trash – bags of rubbish, piles of cardboard, assorted broken electronics (including a tv).
  3. I mostly wear a vest and knickers.
  4. I have given up religion, save the worship of the aircon unit.
  5. I am illiterate.

How did this happen? I used to live in the capital city of a European country! I used to frequent wine bars! I used to work in finance! I used to commute goddamnit!

I moved to Japan. To a small rural town.

Why? Well, for the laugh. Teaching English seemed like a fun thing to do while I’m still young and child/mortgage-free, so I ditched the hated job in finance, packed some stuff, and here I am.

One piece of advice – if you are not from a hot country, do not move to Japan in summer. It’s hot. Like 35C. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so damp. It’s the humidity that’s giving me this headache, not the heat. So, that’s why I only wear clothes to go outside (oh irony – it’s hotter outside than in the apartment). Incidentally, the humidity also means that even though the temperature is in the 30s (celsius), most of my clothes have been hanging on the line for three days. And they’re still wet. As for point 4, I wasn’t religious before I came here, but now, that aircon unit is the object of all my praise.

Every single morning I wake up and thank the god of electrical appliances for the happy invention of air conditioning. I would happily work anywhere, ANYWHERE, so long as it has aircon. I know that when winter comes I’ll have abandoned my new found love in favour of some sort of heating, but for now, it’s my baby. I am so grateful to the god of electrical appliances that I can easily forget about the pile of broken items littering the garden. Anyway, it’s not his fault. It’s the Japanese.

I used to be a recycling evangelist. I used to take the plastic off my cigarette packets and put the cardboard bit in the recycling bin, and the plastic in with the trash. I dutifully rinsed out the milk cartons. I pontificated to my mother who refused to bother, about saving the planet, or money, depending on my mood. Now, I want to abandon it all. Refuse is collected every weekday, and it’s a different kind every day. There is no regular trash here. There’s burnables, non-burnables, plastic recyclables, cans, glass and PET bottles (drink bottles).

There’s no way to tell what goes in what bin. Obviously, bottles go in the bottle bin, but what about the caps? And the labels? Recyclable plastic? Burnable? There’s nothing like standing over your five bins with a bottle cap in your hand, fretting over which bin to put it in to make you feel like an outsider. Note to the Japanese – Everything is burnable! Just turn up the heat!

And it’s not like you can just chuck it and forget about it. Noooo. Trash isn’t collected from your house. You have to put it in a clear plastic bag (throwing out something embarrassing? Everyone knows….), label it, and then bring it to your trash centre. Which could be a 15 minute cycle from your house. Imagine cycling through your Japanese town with a stinking bag of rubbish clutched in one hand, sweating in the heat and humidity. You used to work in finance? Now your hair is a scrubby bush, you’re drenched in sweat, and there’s bin juice on your flip-flop clad foot. Welcome to humility.

Sometimes, your bag won’t be collected, it’ll be deposited back on your doorstep. Clearly, you’ve put something in the bag that shouldn’t be there, but there’s no explanation. You just have to figure it out. Which means going through the rubbish, because they won’t collect it until it’s fixed. Or, you can just put it in your back garden and forget about it. See point 2.

All this could probably be easily solved, if only you could speak Japanese. Or, failing that, read. In most countries, with the help of a dictionary (or the internet) you can figure out most things. But getting a leaflet about the trash and it being filled with little picture things like this 余帯? You’re sort of screwed. It’s not like you can just type it into google translate. And living in the inaka means there’s noone to ask. So, you just stumble on, hoping that some day you’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, your garden fills up with bags and all the locals know you as the white person with all the trash.

I am white trash.

Living In The Inaka – Part Three

Apart from the staring, the other two factors to consider if you are moving to the inaka are 1) the lack of anonymity and 2) the almost total lack of English.

I’ve only lived in my town for a few months and already everyone knows who I am. They know my name, where I’m from, my age, marital status, how many brothers and sisters I have, where I live, what my cellphone provider is, whether I have the internet, what Japanese food I like and don’t like, my favourite colour and whether I can speak Japanese.

They like to tell me where they’ve seen me – on my bike, in the bank, at the store, on the train. They look in my basket at the supermarket and comment on the contents – “EEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHH?!?!?!?!?! You like rice?!?!”

I should point out that none of this is in any way nasty. They’re just trying to make conversation. Also, it seems that asking inane questions is the way to make friends here. It’s sort of expected to be asked what your favourite Japanese food or place in Japan is, but your favourite colour? Animal? Number? Weird.

The English thing is a bit more difficult. Now, I know that coming to Japan with little to no Japanese is a bit foolhardy, but I came here to learn. I try my best. I study. I try to practice. But all of a sudden basic things like shopping become exhausting trials, never mind anything more complicated like posting something, or opening a bank account or buying a cellphone. Standing in the condiment aisle for over ten minutes trying to figure out which is salt and which is sugar, giving up and buying both gets tiring, as does carrying around a large dictionary.

There is one person in the area who speaks good English – my boss. While she’s very helpful for some things, I can’t really be calling her up for every little salt/sugar emergency. Mostly I don’t want her to think I’m an idiot, and partly because it’s all part of the fun (?)

Without a good grasp of Japanese it’s hard to make friends in the inaka. There are no other foreigners around. There is however another gaijin girl who lives on the same local train line who is lovely, and I can get a local train and then a Japan Rail train into the Big City. If I time the connection right it takes about an hour, so probably not something I’ll be doing that often. I’m imagining that I’ll be spending a lot of time just pootling around the countryside, at least until the snowboarding/skiing season starts!

The town has everything you need for daily life – it has a supermarket, 3 convenience stores (in Japan their food is unreal, nice, healthy and cheap), a giant pharmacy, a gas station, a liquor store and a LOAD of craft shops/paper shops/traditional Japanese stuff shops. Also, you can buy rice almost anywhere (like in the place where you pay your gas bill). For western food or books in English, I’ll have to go into the city.

The one thing that keeps me sane though, is the library. Opening an account was the usual ordeal of dictionaries and bowing, but I got my card and now have access to any of the materials in any of the 20-odd Big City and surroundings libraries (some day I will figure out the computer system). As well as thousands and thousands of books, there are a few hundred dvds. Most of them have and English language track! The selection isn’t amazing – they have more back seasons of ER than Disney movies, but it’s still sweet. The old man in the library knows me well by now, I go there weekly, and he’s always super helpful and never fines me when my stuff is back late. Actually, I think he’s just terrified of having to try to explain “fine” in English, another joy of being a gaijin.

Of course, there are a lot of things that are really good about living in the sticks. The celebrity aspect can be great – people are always willing to help you out if then can. They want to make you feel welcome and show you the best side of Japan. If you make the effort to learn Japanese and talk to people you’ll slowly become part of the community. People will be happily surprised with your efforts and do their best to understand you. The countryside is beautiful – clean air, wonderful scenery, lots of greenery. There’s never any traffic to speak of. The pace of life is slower. There are no crowds. People are nicer. Everything’s cheaper. You can see the stars at night and hear crickets and frogs calling out into the silence. The dirt and noise and crowds and expense of Tokyo seems like another country.

So, with my dvds, bike, coffee shop and year’s supply of salt, I’m pretty happy to be living in the inaka.

Living In The Inaka – Part Two

I don’t start work until 3 or 4, so I used to spend the mornings pottering around the house. When the flat got too claustrophobic I would make my way down to the local coffee shop. It’s run by a husband and wife team, and they sell coffee, tea, slices of toast an inch thick, cut into three and spread with some sort of bean paste, ice cream and curry. This fine establishment is usually filled with elderly people.

Now, at home, “elderly” means 70 or so. Not in Japan. What with their diet of fish and whatnot, coupled with cycling around the place and working in the fields, the Japanese get old. 80, 90, 100. The oldest man and the oldest woman in the world are Japanese. These old people aren’t sitting at home either, they’re congregating around the entrance to the supermarket, pushing bikes up hills, hanging out at the bank in noisy huddles and going out for ice cream and coffee. This is where I usually run into them.

Anyway, they seem to have worked out some sort of schedule for the local coffee shop (the only one in town). There’s only ever loads of old ladies OR loads of old men. God help the one that gets the day wrong, they’ll be sitting alone forlornly trying to finish their ice cream as quickly as possible so they can go find their friends. Whichever group it is, when I walk in with my basic Japanese textbook they all turn around in unison and stare. The women usually start in with the “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH?!?!?!?!?!” and then screech with laughter and giggles. Sometimes I can catch a word here and there – “gaijin“, “kawaii“. The men just give me the “EEEEHHH?!?!?!?!” and then exchange surprised looks. (Bear in mind I’ve been going there at least twice a week for nearly three months.) I sit down, order my coffee and break out the textbook. The women take it in turns to come over, look at what I’m doing, marvel as I struggle through the most basic hiragana sentence while reporting back to her cronies. The men slide into the chair opposite me and ask me where I’m from, why I’m here, have I been to Kyoto and so on. (All in Japanese. I can pick out bits and pieces by now, because I get the same questions over and over.)

All this was quite sweet at the start. I thought they were friendly and interested. Now, it’s a bit exhausting. It’s every single time I go in there. I just want coffee! I never thought I’d yearn for the anonymity of St*rbucks, but I do now.

Japan! What have you done to me?