2:00 PM, Nagata-ku, Kobe
On Sunday morning I spent the good part of an hour typing up an incredibly frustrated diatribe about how expensive everything in Japan is: ￥78,000 for a basic air-conditioning unit for example (roughly $780, just move the comma to the right a space to divine US dollar values for most yen amounts), 20,000 yen for a new futon, 28,000 for a clothes washer (not bad, but still…). Because the basic household appliances that facilitate comfortable life were prohibitively expensive to us at the time, we had realized we were anything but comfortable… one pot, one pan, two bowls, and silverware, no way to wash clothes, to stay cool, no TV. We were both so worn out and frustrated that we actually sought out Kobe Grocery, a foreign buyer’s club north of Sannomiya where we paid the US equivalent of $3.20 a box for two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (we ate one and reserved one, “in case of emergency.” Americans back home: please send Mac and Cheese some day).
Because we have no Internet I couldn’t post it, and though I copied it to a flash drive to be uploaded once I did indeed acquire said access, I left the flash drive at home and it just wouldn’t be representative of my current situation and mindset to post it now! (Perhaps once I get ahold of a copy I’ll backdate it and sneak it in before this one so nobody knows the difference until they get to this entry and notice the anachronistic remarks)! (This way in normal chronology I’ll appear totally impervious to culture shock, but in retrospect allow my true colors to shine, a human after all.) (OK, I added it, just look below this entry! –B)
Since then I’ve been introduced to a natural wonder a mere two minute walk from my apartment, a little guy I had heard of but never really understood called “The 100 Yen Store.” Unlike the gimmicky dollar stores of the United States, where things may or may not actually cost a dollar, and are actually frequently priced at increments wholly independent of our monetary unit, the 100 yen store most assuredly prices every object housed therein at 100 yen, with no discrimination as to the actual or perceived value of the item. Kitchen knife? 100 yen. (Well, technically 105 after the tax.) Plastic spatula for our two new non-stick pans? 100 yen. Tiny useless trinket? 100 yen. Wastepaper basket, deck cleaning bucket, scissors, hand towel, pasta strainer, tiny frog loofah, four-pack of clothes hangers, broom, door mat and more and more and more: 100 yen a piece. At the end, when we went through the check out line, our items were rung up not based on any sort of barcodes or in recognition of what they actually were, but merely by count: ichi ni san yon go roku nana hachi kyuu juu juuichi juuni etc. etc. etc.
I think we spent 2,300 yen there and got more stuff than we had gotten at the hideously overpriced IKEA and the strangely Wal-Martian Izumiya department store combined for a fraction of the cost. New residents: find and love your local 100 yen shop.
It doesn’t put air conditioning in our apartment, but reassembling the fan, which had been mistakenly put together backwards before we got to the damned place, has aided airflow in the apartment greatly. We also made an exciting pilgrimage during the rain yesterday to an area of Kobe called “Motoko Town,” which is a series of kitzchy, flea-markety type trinket, antique, and “recycle” shops situated literally beneath the bridge on which the JR rail tracks run, where we saw all manner of goods running the gamut from used Famicom cartidges to American toys of our youth to brined pickled rat corpses illuminated under red lighting to better pronounce their skeletons (NO PHOTO PLEASE) to toy Shinkansens from decades ago to Kirin Cola to real live pets to dozens of racks of vintage and new clothing to what we were actually there looking for: a rice cooker that didn’t cost 5,000 yen for the most basic model like in all the stores we had visited. Our (not) new cooker, a used model with more switches and buttons on it than any appliance I’ve ever owned, and which I have absolutely no idea how to use, was gotten for 2,000 yen, or twenty bucks, just a shade under what I paid for my Rival cooker back in the states that had one button. It’s made by Toshiba, who now coincidentally controls the refrigerator, mobile phone, and rice cooking segments of my product life.
On our way home, we stopped at my first Yoshinoya beef bowl (gyudon) restaurant, where, for 380 yen, I almost instantly received an enormous bowl of rice topped with marinated thinly sliced beef and onions, as well as a once-refilled cup of nice cold green tea. It was goddamned delicious. Wiki even says that foreigners don’t often realize that you can order free extra sauce and onions, which I now know, and will do, at my next convenience (after memorizing the requisite Japanese).
So, things are getting better. I’m learning to use my phone, our apartment isn’t so brutally fucking hot (but is still hot), Jessy washed some of our clothes in the sink which was pretty awesome, we got a rice cooker and some rice and groceries and are making chicken curry once I’m home from school tonight, we’re learning the trains, seeing the city, and I met some of my students today who all thought it was pretty cool that I played the saxophone (they play drums, piano, flute, guitar, and harmonica, respectively).
Yesterday I even cleaned the deck. It’s my deck, I cleaned all the pigeon shit off of it with a little 398 yen wooden deck brush, and it’s on the seventh floor of a high rise on an island in a city of Japan! Soon we will be drying clothes on it just like the regulars, and the next pigeon I see I will literally capture and beat within an inch of its life before tying its wings and tossing it from the balcony.