City skyscape photo that I took from Odaiba

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I eat fish testicles

Yesterday, we had our "New Year Party" for the teachers and management staff at my school. We ate at one of our favorite izakayas, Watami. Now, I have already had my fair share of new kinds of foods at this particular izakaya, including grilled pregnant fish (shishamo), deep fat fried chicken cartilage, and cow tongue salad, but yesterday I got to add one more exotic food to the list: fish testicles.

And the conclusion: fish testicles are creamy, fishy, salty, flavorful, and actually pretty tasty. The cow tongue salad is delicious (whatever dressing they use is fabulous) and the cow tongue just taste like beef. The pregnant fish is alright by taste (crispy on the outside and soft where the eggs are), but a bit nerve-raking by sight (see the pictures below) -- they come whole, are about three to four inches long, look slightly bloated, and when you bite into them you can see all the little white eggs inside. And the deep fat fried chicken cartilage is crunchy, chewy, oily, and generally just unappetizing to my Western palate. The pregnant fish and chicken cartilage are a favorite among the Japanese staff, so I usually just let them eat my share. :)

So what did I eat last night? Sashimi, three different kinds of salads, nabe, pizza, yakitori, and fish testicles. All in all, it made for a most delicious kick off to the New Year in Japan. :)

Staff favorite: shishamo -- grilled pregnant fish

Monday, January 28, 2008

sexually repressed?

I have heard and read that Japan is "sexually repressed." For the most part, I would say there is not very much sex appeal used in advertising here. And while people do seem extremely conscious of how they dress and present themselves, celebrities and regular people alike tend to dress less provocatively than in the U.S. Now, making no comment on the pros or cons of a culture being "sexually repressed," I will say that sex seems to come out here in ways that I have been unaccustomed to.

For example, I often see people reading magna, a kind of Japanese comics, on the train or in convenience stores (it is perfectly acceptable to read magazines in stores with no intention of purchasing them). Magna takes on many different forms, but one kind, called seinen, is geared for young adult males and often contains pornographic material. Usually, I avoid looking at people or what they are reading while on trains -- because people usually keep to themselves here, and so I would feel intrusive -- but one of my coworkers says she has often seen people reading this seinen magna on the train.

Seinen can also be found in anime, a type of Japanese cartoon. For example, I was watching TV the other night, just before midnight, and I saw a series of anime girls become undressed. They started out wearing (mostly schoolgirl) clothing, but as a car drove over the curves of their bodies, the clothes would disappear to reveal nothing but barely-there lingerie. The series went on for long enough, that I had time to be semi-shocked (I don't even have cable), and still to grab my camera and actually record a few of the scenes. If you want to watch, the video clip is below:

This video clip brings up another point. There seems to be a (sexual) fascination with school-aged girls. Many schools require uniforms, and I have been surprised by how short some of the pleated skirts are. It seems to be okay for older men to have an interest in them as well.

And this brings up the point that I have had a few interactions with older (including married) men flirting with me, which I find quite uncomfortable. This isn't at all the norm, by any means, but it has surprised me how the age differential (and the married factor for that matter) didn't seem to be an issue for them. Now, no need for anyone to be worried, I have been able to deflect and defend myself fine from these come ons. I just find the seeming acceptableness of this off-putting.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I get a haircut in Japanese

Today I got a haircut near my apartment at a Japanese-speaking salon! :) It was very fun to successfully get my hair cut speaking Japanese and to feel like I was integrating myself into a regular salon that local people use.

Previously, I had went to an English-speaking stylist that one of my coworkers recommended, who was used to foreign hair, and who I really liked. However, I made an appointment for my haircut right before I went home for New Year's. When I came back a week later and showed up for my hair appointment, I was told the salon had been suddenly shut down and the boss fired... They said it wasn't opening again until late February... Meanwhile, I have taken at least 10 coupon fliers from people passing them out in front of my subway station for a nearby hair salon. It was really cheap for a haircut in Tokyo, ¥2,300, and included a free shampoo. So, I decided I would go there to get a trim.

Armed with my Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook with a small section on hairdressing and a few phrases one of my Japanese coworkers helped me with, I successfully got a trim. Plus, the stylist was very nice, and we were even able to make some very basic conversation in Japanese, something quite exciting for me. He asked me simple questions like where I was from and what I was doing and about my Japanese studying/understanding. He told me he had been to Hawaii, and that he has a Japanese friend living in Beverly Hills right now. We talked about a few other things too, and also didn't understand each other for a few things, but just laughed when we lacked the ability to communicate. All in all, it was very empowering. I was nervous to go beforehand, but I'm delighted I did. :)

Here is an article on Tokyo hair salons in Metropolis, the most widely distributed English-language magazine in Japan:

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Japan has awesome toilets.

The one in my apartment (the first picture) has a heated toilet seat, big flush/little flush option depending which way you turn the handle, and a faucet on top where the water that comes out to refill the tank when you flush doubles as the water for you to wash your hands.

Many toilets have various bidets and extra features, including the one we have work. Squat toilets are also common.

Additionally, public restrooms sometimes have motion sensors that make flushing sounds while you are in the stall in order to cover up "toilet noises." Apparently, too much water was getting wasted by people flushing the toilets only for their audio effects. And many stalls also have "emergency buttons;" I haven't completely figured that one out.

I think the toilets here can be a great analogy for Japanese society. You find a mix of traditional (squat toilets) amidst the Western styles. But then the western styles take on a uniquely Japanese form. Cool gadgets are added to improve the design and overall customer satisfaction. Some aspects of the design seem very environmentally-conscious (like low-flush options, using the water for washing your hands before it fills the tank), while some of the more flashy features seem like unnecessarily energy-wasting additions (like motion sensors to automatically lift the lid or continuous loud flushing audio while you are in the stall) -- but even so, they're still cool features to oo and ah over. :)

One of the first things I noticed (audibly even) when I went home for New Year's was how cold the toilet seats were.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Metro system

Tokyo's metro system is wonderful. It's a complex and well-designed train/subway network that results in insanely efficient transportation. And therefore, it's also quite crowded.

Luckily for me, I avoid any rush-hour traffic on my commute, as I live closer to the center of the city than where I work and my hours are a bit later than normal (afternoons and evenings), so I always have a seat for my 10 minute subway ride to and from work.

When I go into central Tokyo though, sometimes I do find myself on very crowded trains. It is interesting, because while people are very polite in Japan and there are still rules for how to line up, wait, and enter/exit the trains, some people become rather aggressive to get the empty seat or just get on the train. Granted though, it is out of necessity that we all push each other forward in a mini-stampede in order to guarantee those already inside make room for us.

Hypderia is a wonderful website I use to help me navigate from point A to point B:
Additionally, my cell phone (as well as everyone's mothers') can look up train routes. It can also show the "last train" schedule, so I know by when I need to be on board in order to not have to catch a taxi, walk, or stay out until the morning schedule starts.

I live 15 minutes away from Shinjuku Station, which is the busiest train station in the world. It is the first major station (and therefore transfer point for me) on my line. The station itself is also a odious maze that has left me running an untold number of times now trying to find my line before the last train or meeting point with friends. Therefore, in general, if I'm not hanging out in Shinjuku, I try to avoid transferring there when possible.

Overall, I love the metro system here. I can get almost anywhere I need to go in an efficient manner. Before I came here, I by far spent more time studying metro system maps than the Japanese language itself. It definitely did pay off in allowing me to get to places, fairly easily for a newcomer; albeit, I couldn't communicate with people or read signs upon arriving. ;)