In my best Japanese I sound like an unintelligible toddler, at its worst I must sound reanimated with 4% brain functionality. I gave my first “all Japanese” speech today, a cursory introduction to some new co-workers who I’ll see only once a week and decided to practice on. A rough translation of what I hope I said:
Hello. Nice to meet you. My name is Brandon. I am 25. I am from America, in Pennsylvania, in the city Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is famous for Pittsburgh Pirates baseball and enka singer “Jero.” I don’t know much Japanese. I am trying to learn. Please be good to me.
What I probably said was that I lack abilities pertaining to spatial and linguistic functions and processes, and that I was a very poor choice for a colleague (please be good to me). They applauded at least, either to make me feel good or because there are flies in the air and they are showing me the one thing I can do around here to be of any discernible use.
On the bright side (very bright), I purchased a can of “BOSS COFFEE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN BLEND” on the recommendation of an Internet Friend who I met in Kobe for some udon last night. The udon was really delicious and this coffee is too. I think I am totally gonna get used to this canned coffee thing. Icey cold and eerily refreshing!
On the homefront, things are picking up. We had our first domestic couple-experience of purchasing a major household appliance on Sunday, it is a washing machine, and the sales processes (and machine itself) operate entirely in Japanese. We got it during some wild sale for around ￥26000 (down from ￥32000!) and they delivered it and installed it the next day, exactly when they said they would, for free. We so much enjoyed our purchase from Yamada Denki that we immediately bought a wall-mounted air conditioner/heater from them during the 1-day-5-units-only blowout special for a frankly insane ￥37000 (half-price!), which is so cheap compared to all others we’ve seen that I literally defecated on the floor as we made the purchase. They will be delivering and installing the aircon on Saturday. Both appliances being Toshiba-made, we now routinely operate our Toshiba rice cooker, refrigerator, washing machine, my Toshiba Biblio phone, a Toshiba laptop at work, and soon our new Toshiba heating and cooling unit. I feel an odd sense of Japanese brand loyalty and pride that stirs me deep inside.
Having recently received a massive salvo of goods left by my predecessor from the school, we now also have a small table and two chairs, a sorta-coffee table, an iron, a toaster oven, a tiny vacuum cleaner, and even my own futon with comforter. All this really leaves on my Oh-God-I-Can’t-Be-Comfortable-Until-I-Get-This-Stuff list is a big fucking plasma television and Internet access, the acquisition of either most assuredly actions that will be not unlike those of a similar harbinger of most resplendent fortunes: descending slowly upon our living room an astral choir shall irradiate the area with blessed light, produce from within a holy instrument, and interface the communal knowledge of Gods with our spongey corporeal cortexes. In conclusion I want a TV and some Internet.
The TV at least I know won’t come for another three months or so–I’ve been telling myself (and all who would dare to ask) that “my birthday” is the planned pick-up date, far enough ahead to allow me time to save, close enough to seem like a plausible future event. Internet is more nebulous: I guess technically Jessy arranged service with Yahoo BB while getting her phone. We got a paper with today’s date on it in the mail, but she knows nothing about it and neither of us are home during most of the regular weekday hours. I can’t even call Yahoo to find out what’s going on–my language skills prevent me from saying anything other than My name is Brandon computer Internet please hamburger supermarket nice to meet you cool interesting delicious Monday, and this will get me nowhere. My laptop thirsts for world-juice, it has been deprived since the final Tokyo morning fifteen days ago and at night I hear it sneaking to the balcony and whirring idly at the moon. I want to tell him it will be O.K., that everything is on the way, that we’re gonna make it through this, but the strange mail makes no sense and all I can read on it is something about an octopus which I am guessing is wrong.
To keep our minds off TV and Internet we have taken to cooking. Two nights ago we made honest to goodness gyudon, or “beef bowl,” which is thinly-sliced beef boiled in a sauce composed of dashi (a ubiquitous stock-like broth), mirin (a sake-containing sweet cooking liquid), soy sauce, sugar, and onions, then poured atop a bowl of rice. When I told one of my fellow teachers I made gyudon, he said “oh, you went to Yoshinoya?” (A popular fast-food gyudon restaurant.) I said no, I made gyudon, and he went “eeeeeh sugoooi!!!!” which roughly translated means “Oh! Brandon! You are more incredible and industrious than any man I have ever known!” I was like yeah I know.
I wrote a guide and left it at home so Jessy can prepare some curry tonight, which Japanese-style is super-often eaten and sold in dozens of forms nearly everywhere. I think she’s putting carrots and chicken and potato and corn in it? I won’t get home until late tonight, but I can already smell that distinctively spicy aroma.
We’ve also made spaghetti a few times, notable most specifically because of Japanese spaghetti sauce, which mostly comes in two or three varieties, and always in feeds-two non-resealable plastic pouches: “Neapolitan,” which tastes mostly like ketchup and contains bits of green pepper and mushroom, “Meat Sauce,” which is sweeter than standard American spaghetti meat sauce but still weirdly delicious, and then an odd variation of Neapolitan, composed mostly of oil? and tasting kinda like stuffed shells or something. They’re all edible anyway, and at ￥88 or so a pouch I can’t really complain.
Another area of existence here that is finally beginning to be less of a crapshoot is the train system. Used to be, on a given day I’d take four trains: two to work from home and two to home from work, at an average daily cost of around ￥850, for a weekly five-day cost of about ￥4250, a whopping ￥17000 a month! But I got wise–turns out there are these things called “Commutation Passes,” which you buy at your local station and which enable unlimited trips to and from two points on a single train line for three months. My total cost for those passes (for the two train lines I take each day) was ￥41130, which seems like a lot up front but does not require absolute intelligence to make itself an obviously better deal when compared against the total of twenty normal day-per-month average travel costs for three months (￥17000 x 3 = ￥51000). It’s a massive savings of ￥10000 in a three month period! And not only that–unlimited trips means no more paying to go downtown and back at night after coming home or on weekends and holidays. Take that, Japan! Even as I write this my brain churns, frantically devising new and industrious ways to get better deals and monetary savings, which I can promptly annul by spending hundreds and hundreds of yen on gashapon capsule machine toys (totally worth it).
On that note, we are even getting better at the grocery store, checking the “discounted” areas of the bakery and produce sections in the evenings when the Japanese obsession with freshness goes corporate and leads to sweeping 40% discounts on many daily perishables. Among my favorite scores: “Pizza Bread,” a wholly different entity than anything that moniker would elicit an idea of in the states–a paperback book-sized soft fresh bread, brushed with pizza sauce, garnished with tiny bits of pepperoni and thin slices of onion, then topped with cheese and individually wrapped. At night they go all the way down to ￥60 sometimes, a sum that has never tasted so good. Popped into the in-range grill for a few seconds in the morning the doughy delight makes a delicious breakfast. And while I’m on the topic of bread do the Japanese ever love theirs.
In addition to the “standard” white bread (sold in weird packs of five texas-toast dwarfing enormous pillowy slices), you can get melon bread (sweet and crispy), curry bread (a deep-fried bread filled with Japanese curry), choco bread (a baguette stuffed with chocolate sauce), and even burger breads, which actually have a burger, mayo, and teriyaki sauce inside and sit there with the other bread, wrapped up in paper like a fast food burger for ￥100. You can microwave it, toast it, or just nom it as is. They are alarmingly delicious. Disarmingly delicious even. I cannot comprehend how they do it. Anyway it all works out for us to get an expiration discount on bread that doesn’t “expire” for another two days anyway since we’re used to the states where they’ll sell you anything as long as you forget to check the sell-by label first.
So, we are moving right along. We have the trains mostly figured out and walking paths to and from the stations to work and home are beginning to stabilize. We can shop, cook, do laundry, sleep normally (finally), use our mobile phones, and even utilize Japanese bank accounts. Most importantly, we can do it all without looking like befuddled tourists, a personal element of pride offset only by our looking genetically like Americans no matter what we do. In this case, I think I’ll take what I can get.