Tag Archives: ikea

As American as rotten breakfast soybeans

This is my second Japanese sports day, but surely my first “traditional” one, which is to say, the sports day which is a product of an entire body of students at one of the most prestigious high schools in the prefecture:

J-pop blaring, multi-dozen hundred meter relays, shirtless boys holding each other up like men riding on horseback lunging for each other’s hats, groups of students charging to grab tug-of-war sticks and pull them back to their own sides, a ten-minute club march with every person clad in full kendo/swimming/mountain climbing/tennis playing gear, a fully coordinated short-skirt dance-team cheering to the High School Musical theme song and spelling the name of my school with their pompoms while the gymnastics team tumbles to-and-fro.  Ceremony, oh god the ceremony, opening, closing, awards… but barely a time mentioned, and less made of the competition than of the teamwork: together you are everything.  There is barely condition for what to make of the individual.  Would the boundaries that maintain our physical shapes break down and render us goo were we to disband?  It is hard to say, but I am erring on the side of “probably, I guess.”  The sights and sound dash asunder any concept of togetherness or unity I ever could have conceived of as a member of American public high school.

I ran in the 100m relay with a “teacher’s team” made up of those of us who still feel spry enough in our age to sprint around a track for the amusement of a thousand teenagers.  All I remember of my half-track jaunt was taking off with the baton, hoping I didn’t fall down, watching my shoes stomp off the ground as I rounded the outside of the track, and the doppler effect of young girls screaming eeeeyaaaAAAAaaa!!!, then handing the baton off again.  Today my legs hurt, but the (male) gym teacher has now gone from a predominant casual indifference at my presence to a recent summons of one of my English-speaking co-teachers so that she could translate his remarks about me: I am so cool, so handsome, and how do they handle the conventions of Jr., Sr., the third, the fourth, etc. in American naming procedures?

My cafeterian lunchtime chopstick proficiency literally shames some of the people I eat with, who occasionally make self-deprecating remarks about their failures with them when it comes to more wet bowls of donburi.  Someone said their mother used to tell them they weren’t Japanese enough cause they’d reach for a spoon (this clashes expectedly with the stereotypical genki gaijin dipshit advice doled out to everyone who is about to move to Japan with a prior support network: “better eat every single grain of rice or they’ll think you’re just another rude American!!!”).  As it turns out, many people from Japan are actually people and not merely just a peculiar object of broad foreign projection.  Yes, some of them walk while drinking and eat while walking or forget to leave the train when it’s gone out of service or pay with the wrong coin cause those fives and fifties can be iffy sometimes.

Independently I might turn to goo, but as a part of society, I am everything.

(Menial daily-lifery recent developments and valuable first-time-resident advice: we went to a store called Nitori (ニトリ) and bought a TV stand (delivered to our door two days later for 900 yen), a washing machine shelving unit, a coat rack, a kitchen rug, a small bedside table, a garbage can, a stewpot, a spaghetti jar, and new pot holders.  It cost like 8000 yen?  Do not go to IKEA.  It is utterly idiotic and the goods are cheaply made and overpriced.  Go to Nitori.  If you don’t, basically you are a jackass.)


– The TV from Hard-Off that I bought a couple weeks ago is still awesome and used goods in this country are officially amazing,
– Japanese 360 controllers work on American systems
– I made Mabo Tofu but really thick and spicy and chunky and put it on rice and called it Mabodon and it was some delicious stuff to chomp on
– There is an enormous Category 5 “Super Typhoon” headed right for us to make landfall in the next day or two

Sometimes around dinner time, or during strange unrelated parts of my life, I remember what Triscuits taste like, and realize that despite this country’s culinary delights, you can’t ignore the fact that there ain’t a fucking Triscuit around.

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Is this the real life

Did I suddenly run out of things to write?

Life has become more normal.  Now that we are able to relax at home, normal-life things are no longer so alarming!  What is interesting is that I am finally teaching real actual classes with real actual students in them.  I teach at a few different places, which is interesting: I teach kids who have been given disadvantages by the world who speak fantastic English.  I teach kids who have everything and don’t even try.  I teach kids who know it all and are so shy they won’t look up from their desks.  I teach kids who know nothing but want so badly to learn that they never stop talking.  Every class, every lesson is something new, a brand new job every single day to adapt to, take on differently, and look back on with fresh regard.

I think that’s what I enjoy so much about teaching, the thing I never really thought about before: your “career” is not always about some sort of grand final ambition, the ultimate task.  Sometimes it is less defined, more simple: today, I am doing something new.  Every day I am doing something new.  It is discomforting, unsettling, but perfect.  The nerves of what cannot be anticipated begin to fade.  Instead of lamenting the unknown I embrace it because it is an inevitability.  I am perpetually aware that I am the outsider, the American, the tall white guy who every single kid thinks is cool (or an idiot) just cause he’s different.  It wears off on me, I feast on their curiosity.  I am my own brand new enigma, unravelled to every class differently, at my own pace.  To me this is what I always intended when I considered the idea of changing my life by coming here.  Not just the things I do but the way I approach events, thought processes, attitudes.  It’s exciting!

Also, there are so many snack foods and candies and chips and dried fish jerkies and restaurants that I could never try them all.  I can get a new drink from the vending machines every day for months. 

We are anticipating the delivery of an IKEA as-is clearance mattress which is in perfect shape but was returned by someone and stuck in the clear-it-out room for ¥9900.  It is a glorified futon, and I can’t wait to wake up without feeling like my spine is made of walnuts.

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We are in Kobe, and don’t have much

2:20 PM, Nagata-ku, Kobe

It’s been a weird day and a half.  Wednesday morning we each left Tokyo for Kobe in our own ways: Jessy took an airplane to the Kobe airport (just south of our home island) and I took a more convoluted route: bus to Tokyo station, the Shinkansen bullet train to Shin-Osaka station (bitchin’), then a bus to the “Yashiro Prison,” a term (affectionately?) used by nearly all the long-time JETs, and (humorously enough) many of the Japanese teachers as well.  It’s the Hyogo prefectural training facility for the Board of Education, and where I met the supervisor (an English teacher) from my high school for the first time yesterday afternoon. 

He took me in his car down through the mountains into Kobe, where I met the teachers and administration of my main high school in Nagata ward, as well as my predecessor, who has been infinitely helpful.  They had taken to calling me “Burapi” before my arrival, how the Japanese affectionately refer to their beloved American Movie Star Brad Pitt (really).  I think it’s because in Japanese my name starts bu-ra(-n-do-n) and they just tack a -pi on the end for convenience and humor’s sake.  The vice principal also called me “kakkoi” which likely marks the first time I have been called cool by anyone, ever.

I was reunited with my suitcases for the first time since checking them in Washington D.C. (and briefly moving them from baggage claim to be checked again in Tokyo), then my English teacher drove me home through downtown Kobe to Port Island, where after some struggles I got all my shit up to the seventh floor of our building in Minatojima Nakamachi and met up with Jessy, who had apparently arrived about an hour earlier.  The place is big enough to house God (and a sampling of other possibly Japanese deities), which is doubly humorous since we don’t own a damned thing anymore.  The apartment is rife with peculiarities that have already begun to grow on me due to their pragmatism and uniquity:

  • 3 plugs to every outlet by way of the Japanese plug standard omitting a ground pin, even though a few outlets in our place have them, just because
  • Three separate “bathroom” areas, with there being a room that is just a toilet (you go, flush, then wash your hands in the water that flows from a nozzle above the tank and then ends up as the water you use to flush the thing the next time), a room containing a sink, mirror, and recessed area for a clothes washer that serves as an entry way to the bathing area proper, and said bathing area proper, being a nicely sized room covered in tile with a half-the-room-sized tub and a shower hose, there being a room-drain underneath the tub so you can either bathe or shower or do both in the room and get water all over the place with no consequence
  • A small, two-burner stove with a broiler tray, the gas flames being ignited by a mechanical flint powered by 2 D-sized batteries which are fitted in an adorable slide-out compartment
  • A fridge that’s really small
  • An enormous balcony on which we will hang our clothing to dry, since there are no dryers, since nobody uses dryers in Japan
  • More built-in sliding door storage cabinets than I have ever had access to in my entire life

Cutely, we have water, gas, and electricity, but no:

  1. Internet (argh!)
  2. Air conditioning
  3. Dishes
  4. Cell phones
  5. Bank accounts
  6. Pigeon-shit free balcony (it’s grotesque)
  7. Supplies to clean the balcony, not that we can dry our clean clothes on it anyway, since we have no clean clothes, since we have no
  8. Clothes washer

They are all on the way, of course, but it results in the rather unfortunate situation that I am coming to you from the computer lab here at the Hyogo school for the blind, where I have been all day and where there is little to do on account of it being summer vacation in all Japanese schools until roughly the end of August.  Hence, I can provide no pictures of our apartment, or of any kind whatsoever!  When we have Internet access at home (maybe in the next week or two?) we will be able to update with more pictures and videos.

The situation is unfortunate because last evening we finally saw the harbor from the promenade on the west side of Port Island, and it looks just like it does in the picture at the top of the website here, and it is beautiful, and I cannot believe I live here yet.

In two hours I will need to find my way home on two trains: one from Takinochaya to Sannomiya, and one from there back to Port Island.  I think I can do it!  Like so many things in the last few days, it is new, completely bizarre, horrifying, and really exciting.  Today I believe Jessy is going/has gone to IKEA with some of her Kobe-shi JETs to secure some basics of living for us, which I will be happy to see upon my return to the apartment.  Tomorrow I go back to my main high school, and then thankfully we have the weekend to attempt to settle in a bit more.  I think I could get used to it here.

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