I’m writing this post on a cool Thursday morning. It’s in the 60’s around here these days. I am so thankful that it is fall now. As I have said over and over summer was unbearably hot and I am thankful it is OVER. I am kind of sick today with a head cold, but since I have been surrounded by lots of sick people for the past month I figure it’s about time I caught something.
My roommate Mary left this past Monday morning. It was a wild and wooly weekend between helping Mary pack up her things and hosting a million visitors who dropped by our apartment to say goodbye to her. I woke up at 4:30am Monday morning to see her off and she left our apartment around 5:30am for the airport. Many times during the past few days I have thought of something I had to tell Mary or wanted to ask her to buy something at the supermarket and then realized, “oh yeah…she’s not here.” It’ll be a hard adjustment without her, but I am making lots of plans to have people over for meals so that I won’t feel so lonely without her.
These days I am trying very hard to be more disciplined with my time. I spent some time at Starbucks the other night figuring out my priorities and making some lists of things I want to improve. I decided that I want to spend more time reading books and studying Japanese and that I need to get to bed earlier (so hard to do sometimes). I am trying to read more heavier things to challenge and grow me. I am plowing my way ever so slowly through a book by John Owen and a huge biography about Jonathan Edwards and I am finding it to be a very worthwhile effort. With regards to Japanese, I spend most of my time memorizing long lists of words and copying Chinese characters but I’d like to spend some concentrated time memorizing passages in the Bible as well as watching good TV shows to learn more slang and idioms.
So, I thought I’d write a little about my daily life here in Japan. First off, I live in an apartment complex called Maison Yamada. Lots of foreigners (mostly Christian teachers) live in my building and it makes it a lot of fun. I have a three bedroom apartment and the middle room is used for a living room. It’s pretty spacious and the rent is cheap, in my opinion! I live two minutes from a mini-mall called APITA and the basement level is a supermarket. I also live near a post office, bicycle shop, lots of restaurants, video store, used goods shop, and a Christian international school which is located across the street. The local monorail stop is a 4-minute walk and that takes me to the subway station which takes me downtown. I go downtown about once a week and to go costs about $8 round trip.
I am crazy about Japanese food and miss very little about American food. I love sushi, all kinds of noodles, rice, Japanese curry, Japanese bean paste desserts, basically anything and everything. I eat out fairly regularly because it’s so cheap here – last night I went out and got a huge serving of delicious mushroom curry with rice for 630 yen without a tip (that’s around $6 or so). I have a Japanese cell phone that I love but I rarely use to call people. Receiving calls here is free but making calls is quite expensive. There is no plan like the states where you get free minutes or free nights and weekend. When I got my phone I created my own email address so I send emails like crazy to all my friends.
Living is Japan is quite comfortable in a lot of ways. It’s safe, beautiful, clean, and the customer service is outstanding. The food is delicious, the stores are stocked with the latest in electronics and everything is so neatly packaged and super convenient. Personally, I think the hardest thing for me about being here is trying to figure out Japanese culture but not being able to do so. It’s such an ancient culture and I know I never will fully figure it out but in so many areas I can only conclude, “wow, I just don’t get it and I doubt I ever will.”
Here are some of my meager thoughts about Japanese culture. These days I am marvelling at the way Japanese KEEP THE RULES. They seem to obedient, submissive, and self-sacrificial to “the system.” I am not sure who is in charge of this system but it seems to cause my friends a lot of pain. For example men work long hours away from their families, kids go to more classes after school ends to get into the “right” school, and everyone does things they don’t really want to do. My Japanese friends complain and complain about what a pain in the neck many things in Japan are but in the end they submit themselves to a higher authority and keep on doing things the way it’s always been done for the sake of their country, for the better of society as a whole, to get the job they want…I’m not sure why. I think Americans are a lot more rebellious than Japanese and not at all as submissive.
Our cultures are similar in that Japan and America both tend to be modern, quite materialistic, way too busy and frenzied, and advanced technologically. But because Japan lived in glocal isolation for hundreds and hundreds of years, the similarities end at a surface level, I think. Japan lived under the emperor system for ages and the emperor was thought to be a living god until the end of World War II; that has created a strong hierarchal system that permeates all of Japanese culture. Other things I have noticed here are that in Japanese culture independent thinking is not encouraged, generally speaking. Group identity is very strong and hard for me, being an individualistic American, to comprehend. Being different is so hard in Japan – as they say, “the nail that sticks up will be hammered down.” It’s hard for some Japanese to think outside of the box – here’s a small example: my roommate Mary asked for cheese on her bagel and the waitress seemed taken aback and flustered. Mary was asking for something different from the way it’s supposed to be and in the end the waitress refused to give her the cheese. A friend of mine asked for two flavors of ice cream to be mixed and her request was refused – not the way it’s supposed to be. Anyway, those are just surface observations and I think about these things a lot.
So here are a few pictures. I haven’t been taking that many these days.
My Wednesday night class
One of my kids’ classes – learning the letter “I””
My last dinner with Mary – we went out for shabu shabu.
You are served this basket of veggies and tofu and you put it into the nabe (stew bowl) along with thinkly sliced beef.
Nabe and beef
Mary and Miho enjoying shabu-shabu!