Mar 062005
 

I woke up at 9:30 this morning in a capsule across the river from Osaka.

Wait. Let me start over.

I know I promised plum blossom photos aWHILE ago, but they’re just gonna have to wait – last night was too strange not to document immediately.

So, here goes.

Even though sushi has been one of my favorite foods since long before I came to Japan, I’ve only eaten it at one place since I got here: かっぱ寿司 (kappazushi). It’s a hugely popular 回転寿司 (kaitenzushi) restaurant (“conveyor-belt sushi”) where each order is a mere 100 yen – and they have EVERYTHING. The quality isn’t the greatest in the world, but how can you complain at 100 yen for sushi??

Just to change things up a bit, as this week’s self-reward for being on target with the Kanji study I treated myself to a trip down to Osaka. Tomoyo and I had some sushi dinner at the most AMAZING すし屋 (sushiya) I’ve ever been to. First off, the environment of the place was great – the chefs and waiters were all very high-energy, cheering whenever anyone came in or left. But more importantly, the sushi was absolutely fantastic. You’ve never seen sushi this big – most pieces I ordered took at least three bites to finish, and NOT because they give you too much rice. It’s making my mouth water just thinking about it…

Also, since it was a Saturday night the place was packed with drunken サラリーマン (salaryman), always an amusing thing to watch. Especially when one of them gets belligerently drunk and starts a fight with one of the waiters!

After dinner we hit up a nearby bar, slipping in without paying the door charge (which was actually an accident, I didn’t notice they were charging people until later – and when we entered we just happened to be behind a huge group of Japanese people so nobody noticed 🙂 ). The bar itself was crazy with live music and a dance team and everything. Much more than I expected, as last time I went there it was just a few people having some quiet drinks.

At some point during the night Tomoyo and I went outside to grab a hot dog from a street vendor, and while we were eating we made friends with a couple of people who were sitting nearby. We all went back inside, chilled out for awhile, and then headed to the train station…

But apparently I’d lost track of the time, because not only did I miss the last Hankyu train to Kyoto, but I missed the last ANY-kind of train. Tomoyo had to take off because she had work early the next day, so I headed back to another bar where I knew some of the bartenders. We hung out and played pool until it died down around 2:00. Then I started looking for a nice alley to sleep in.

But before it came to that, I MAJORLY lucked out and ran into our two new friends on the street!

Actually, let me make a comment about Japanese people in general before I get too far into this. Just bear with me, you’ll see why I’m telling you this in a bit.

It’s no big secret that the way things work here is pretty much as different as possible from how they do in the west; these differences have both advantages and disadvantages.

The biggest advantage is that people are so astonishingly friendly, so helpful, so courteous that they’ll go to amazing lengths to help you with whatever you need. This is pretty much the exact opposite from the US.

Crime is also incredibly low here because nobody breaks the rules – they don’t even think of doing it. For many things, they don’t even have punishments. For example, libraries have due dates, of course – but when you return a book after the due date, there’s no late fee. The punishment is that you can’t check out books for awhile. How long? Until you’ve learned your lesson. It’s a “why don’t you go home and think about what you’ve done” type of punishment; they don’t actually forbid you from checking out books at all, you’re just “not supposed to” for awhile.

That’s how a lot of things work here. People lock their bikes simply by putting a small loop through the spokes on a tire, so that the tire can’t roll. Back home, such a system would be totally useless – we use gigantic chains and locks, wrapping them around trees or posts. Yet I don’t know anyone who’s ever had their bike stolen here. In fact, you don’t even think twice about leaving $150 worth of textbooks or anything in your bike’s basket while you go inside to get a bite to eat. You just know nothing will happen. Now that I’m sitting down and really thinking about this I’m starting to realize how much I’ve gotten used to it. I sure hope it doesn’t cause me any problems once I get back home 🙂

Here’s another example. A few months back Dylan left his $250 electronic dictionary on a city bus. The next day, when he realized he’d lost it, he called the city. They told him that he could come down to the bus depot and pick it up from lost and found. 24 hours later he had it back, not a scratch on it. I’ve even seen people pick up lost cash from lost-and-found offices. Cash!

They have this thing here called サービス (saabisu) (from the English word “service”) whose meaning is nothing more than “something that’s given to you for free.” It happens all the time – you’ll go into a restaurant, they’ll be busy so you’ll have to wait an extra three minutes for your food, and so they’ll give you a free appetizer as サービス, to apologize. At Starbuck’s the other day one of the employees asked if I could move to another table so that a large group of people could sit together, and for my trouble she gave me a サービス of free coffee.

It’s really amazing.

But, of course, there are downsides to this “perfect” society. For instance, their flawless following of rules often leads to a complete lack of independent thought. No exceptions will be made to the rules. Never.

Back home, if you’re buying a hamburger for $2.89 but you only have $2.88, it’s no problem – just a penny. Once I was one yen short in a supermarket here, but the woman at the register couldn’t comprehend that I was trying to pay a lesser amount than the cash register said. She looked at the money, looked at the screen, and said “it’s one more yen.” I asked her if it would be alright to pay the amount I’d given her, otherwise I’d have to break a 10,000 yen bill. She gave me a confused look, counted the change in her hand again, and requested that I pay the extra yen.

I’ve been asked to leave the gym here for wearing jeans instead of workout pants, for wearing the wrong type of shoes, for working out while a team had the gym reserved (but only two teammembers had shown up and were doing nothing but stretching in the corner), I’ve been told I can’t listen to music while I’m working out because it’s dangerous, etc. I’ve even been asked to move one seat over on an empty train because I was talking on my phone in the “no talking on your phone” seat.

The same type of thing carries over to their work ethic, which is the reason why you see almost no foreigners working for Japanese companies. In the west, it’s normal – it’s expected – that someone will change jobs a number of times during their life. But here, the job you get out of college is the job that you have until you retire. No one quits, no one even changes positions within a company. If you get hired by Toshiba as a Quality Assurance Specialist that’s the job you’ll do until you retire. So they just don’t hire foreigners, because they know foreigners can’t offer that level of commitment. It’s the modern-day samurai code. Pretty intense.

Anyways, back to my story. So, I ran into my friends outside one of the bars and they invited me to get a bite to eat with them. I didn’t realize that they were going to take me to a really nice, expensive, upscale 居酒屋 (izakaya) (it’s a “Japanese-style bar” where you order lots of little dishes and drinks that everyone shares). I told them I couldn’t really afford to eat there, but I’d love to sit and chat with them.

“What?? No, no, of course you don’t have to pay! Please, order whatever you like! Please!”

I felt kindof bad so I just got one really small thing, but the second I finished anything they’d put another beer or dish in front of me. “Don’t worry about it, that’s Japanese style!” they kept on telling me. To the left is a picture of me as we were leaving, unfortunately you can’t really get that much of a sense for what type of place it is…but it’s the best pic I had from there.

So, I thanked them profusely for dinner and started on my way. But, of course, they’d never hear of that either – allowing me to sleep on the street?? Are you kidding?

Just let me remind you that I’d met these people no more than three hours earlier while eating a hot dog outside of a bar.

They pulled me into a cab with them and brought me to a nearby capsule hotel.

Now, for those of you who’ve never heard of a capsule hotel, it’s basically a filing cabinet for people. Here’s a picture of four “hotel rooms.” The opened one was mine. It’s essentially a really cheap way for you to spend one night somewhere, i.e. if you miss the last train home, if you have a layover on a business trip, stuff like that. And while it was definitely no five-star accommodation, I was quite surprised at how nice everything was – perfectly clean, even included my own set of PJs. Definitely a unique experience, and definitely something I’m glad I did.

Here’s a picture from inside my capsule. By the time I got to sleep it was somewhere around 4:00am and although I thought it was silly to be paying for lodging when the trains would be starting up again in an hour and a half, they seemed really set on having me sleep somewhere and I didn’t want to be rude.

The next morning was a bit odd, as I had quite a hangover and didn’t really have any idea where the hotel was, since we took a cab there. Plus all of the Japanese businessmen seemed shocked to see a gaijin coming out of one of the capsules. The moment I came out everyone sort of stopped and looked at me in disbelief for a second or two. I don’t really mind being the center of attention, but it was particularly strange when they were all staring at me as I changed from my pajamas back into my street clothes.

I went to the desk and with my broken Japanese I checked out, only to find that my friends had already paid for the room.

Now begins the task of figuring out where the hell I was. After leaving the hotel and wandering around for a bit trying to get my bearings, I came to a main street which led me down to the Yodo River. I’d woken up in Juso, the first town across the river from Osaka. Here’s a view of the famous Umeda Sky Building.

What a night. I finally got home and, well, here I am. I honestly really love experiences like these. Regardless of being hungover, regardless of missing the train home, these are the types of things that make life memorable. One of my most prominent memories from my trip across Europe was when we bought the wrong train tickets and had no choice but to sneak onto a train without reservations only to find that it was completely packed and we’d have to sleep on floor of the food car.

Until next time!**

  7 Responses to “What A Night”

  1. That is hilarious…..you slept in a capsule and were a circus freak for japanese business men when u woke up 🙂

    BTW……i don’t like the new small text at all….it is like 1/4 the size of the regular text and thiner which makes it impossible to read

  2. great story. i thought that they only had little pod-rooms in that ship in the fifth element.

  3. Andy: small text? To my knowledge I didn’t change the text size at all…or are u just talking about the little text over the Japanese?

  4. yeah….the superscript text (i don’t see any japanese)

  5. Dude, you better be planning on getting your friends who paid for everything a really nice Omiyage. Okaeshi should, as the rules of Japanese etiquette go, be equal to half the value of what was given to you. They will act like they weren’t expecting it, and will seem surprised when you give it to them, but trust me, it IS expected.

  6. The text looks fine here. It is the normal size and Japanese is working just fine (Safari/Firefox on OS X). The only thing that doesn’t work is the superscript when mousing over the kanji and such…maybe one of those IE only features?

  7. A’aight, you know what? Just for the sake of simplicity, I’m gonna stop using the Japanese-text dealy. Back to Romaji it is. No worries, it’ll just be easier since some of you are having problems viewing/reading it 🙂

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