Episode 03: Hanami
You know you're still in Japan when...
...the cherry soda you thought you bought from a vending machine on
closer inspection turns out to be red bean paste soda instead.
Complete with beans floating around on the bottom of the can.
I actually liked it, but then again I'm an anko-junkie, unlike
anybody else I know here...
...the local convinience store sells baloney (that's lauantaimakkara
to you Finns) in packages of three (3) slices, priced at 160 JPY.
If 3 slices weigh 33 grams, the price per kilo of baloney is a mere
4800 JPY (240 FIM).
I think I've been complaining about prices too much, so here's a list
of stuff that's cheap in Japan:
* Tofu: Hey, it may have no color, no smell, no taste, and no texture
but at least it's cheap at 75 JPY/package!
* Mung bean sprouts: See above. 45 JPY per big bag, making it probably
the only thing I've seen here that costs less than 50 yen.
* Tissues: Just walk out of any station holding out your hand and
you'll get a few kilos in minutes, all of them in small hard-to-open
packages advertising Eiffel life insurance or phone sex.
* Public toilets: Not only are they free and omnipresent, but they're
(tolerably) clean as well. And many even have Western seats!
Aside from baloney, the culinary scene in Japan remains... interesting.
Given that Japan is a mountainous island country, I can understand
that people eat sea slugs, kelp, raw octopus, etc. I can even
understand them attempting to fit Western food to their tastes,
with innovations like squid pizza or seaweed-flavor potato chips
(both of which are less hideous than you might think). But one thing
I can't understand: why do they insist on mixing perfectly good
Western foods together? A brief cruise through the restaurant
floor of Ikebukuro's massive Tobu complex unearthed such monstrosities
as spaghetti omelettes and potato salad pizza...
Talking of scenes, I finally went to my first techno party here, the
one organized by the folks I met last weekend at Yoyogi. They were
surprised and overjoyed to see me, and I was treated like an honored
guest for the rest of the night to an almost embarrassing degree.
At one point, I managed to lose my earplugs. I thought the
bartenders (who were cleaning tables & stuff) might have seen them,
but I couldn't get my message across in Japanese, so I asked one of
my newfound friends to translate. She did, the staff understood
and came out to search with flashlights, the message spread like
wildfire and soon everybody in the club was crawling on the floor
on their knees and looking under sofas for the next half hour
despite my attempts to say that it's really not that important...
but no, I was their guest and it was their duty. I'll be more
careful the next time I make a request... actually, odds are I
lost the case when we went to a Chinese restaurant a few blocks away,
but at least I was careful enough not to suggest that too forcefully
or soon the whole neighborhood would've been looking for my stupid
Excessive hospitality aside, the night was quite fun and I got to
know the two English speakers of the group, Satoshi-kun and
Kanako-chan ("ei" on vastaus kysymykseen, te suomalaiset irvileuat),
quite a bit better. Both were former exchange students, so they
had a rudimentary grasp of English, but the others spoke English
as badly as I speak Japanese. Actually, I had my first Nokia-
sponsored Japanese lesson on Wednesday, and while my comprehension
is way up (the teacher spoke almost entirely in Japanese but I
still understood most of it) speaking remains a major headache.
From now on, I'll study grammar and kanji on my own, and the
lessons will be devoted to conversation. But back to the club:
I picked up a huge stack of flyers (around 50!), got a listing of
good record shops in Shibuya, and exchanged phone numbers.
The longer I stay here, the more I become convinced that coming
here was the coolest thing I've ever done. Just yesterday, I was
lying on the grass underneath a little kuromatsu tree at the Odaiba
Kaihin Kouen just outside Tokyo, basking in the sunshine and
reflecting on the fact that right now, and for the next six months,
I have absolutely no worries, no deadlines, no hassles, no studying,
no-thing whatsoever; just a fairly monotonous but tolerable job
for 40 hours a week, with the remaining 128 hours left for me
to explore this astounding country. Daiba and the rest of the
Tokyo Teleport TownTM is a good example: constructed largely
on artificial islands, Daiba is a high-tech resort town complete
with lagoon, sandy beaches, grassy slopes, all for free to anyone
who takes the Yurikakome New Transport from Shinbashi.
New Transport? Ee-yup: it's subway train on bus wheels that drives
on a monorail track high above Tokyo. Other sights include the
Fuji TV building with its famous restaurant-in-a-ball suspended
24 stories high (imagine a building made from Tinkertoys and you'll
get the idea) and the gravity-defying upside-down-U-shaped Telecom
Center. There's also a "Tokyo Big Sight", which evidently contains
Big Sights for Big Sightseeing, but I still haven't discovered what
they are. Anyway, the entire area didn't exist only a few years ago and is
still partly under construction, which means most guidebooks don't
even acknowledge its existence. Check it out while you still can,
since as soon as the mainland's 30 million people find it, it'll be
And last but not least: it's cherry blossom season! Now I understand
why the Japanese are so fanatical about them: it really is astonishing
to see a skeleton of a leafless tree suddenly just burst into
flower, pure white blossoms covering the branches like heavy
snowfall. And when you fill a park with these trees so that
they're everywhere you look, place a nice tatami mat under the
tree to sit on, and grab your obento and bottle of sake... the first
hanami weekend is now over, but with any luck they'll still be around
next weekend as well -- right in time for another uniquely Japanese
matsuri. Find out next time on another exciting episode of J2J!
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