Oct 29, 2006


After some thirteen hours in the air, I touched down in Japan and didn't even notice. Even as I went through Kansai International's overlong immigration maze, nothing seriously occured to me other than "this is an airport." Airports, of course, are always anonymous, and in this case that masking seemed to extend to nationality as well. When I finally got through immigration, baggage, and all manner of shuttling and walking, I was pleasantly surprised to see a besuited man with a sign that said my name on it. Honestly, I expected to be stranded for some time, sitting there, alone, in an anonymous airport, with my pickup horribly late. Nothing like that at all. He was there, waiting for me, and quite helpful in getting my bags sent to my hotel.
He introduced himself, we made some smalltalk, and he took me to the train station. On the platform was a small food kiosk, and he asked me if I was hungry or wanted a drink. I said sure, and that that particular seaweed looking thing would be great, and I thought about getting some tea.
"How about a beer?" he asked.
"What?" I said dumbly.
"Beer. They sell beer here. You're in Japan now." I remembered knowing that Japan's alcohol and open container laws were far laxer than what I was used to, and had not thought about it until now. "Sure," I said. The beer (which was, surprisingly, actually cold rather than tepid) was less good than what my spoiled Oregonian tastebuds were used to, but much more palatable than something like Pabst or Budweiser. Admittedly, I felt like some sort of wino standing there and drinking on a subway station, especially with the flock of schoolchildren that were next to us. (If it is socially acceptable for normal people to pop a cold one in Japanese train stations, one wonders what the winos are like.)
We boarded the train, beer in hand, and my pickup began to hold forth on all sorts of miscellaneas details such as the legal loopholes of pachinko parlors (Gambling is illegal in Japan. Pachinko parlors get around this detail by not technically giving out money. If you win at pachinko, the machine spits out a given number of small metal balls. You take those balls to a counter, and give them to a clerk who puts them into a hopper and then gives you a requisite number of chips. That's the end of things, legally, at the parlor. However, the owners of the parlor always have a place next door, down the street, or whatever, that "buys" the chips from you. Obviously this flaunts the law, but apparently no one cares.) and Japanese ideas about what's "rural," i.e., what I would consider suburban.
My pickup had to leave at Osaka, and told me to get off in three stops at Okayama. A note on the shinkansen, aka, bullet train: They're not kidding. Those things are fast. Very fast. Amtrak, I'm afraid, is only worthy to grovel in a piteous heap at the feet of the shinkansen, such is their speedy might. We need some of those. A supertrain from San Diego to Vancouver, B.C., would be a fixture of the world that would make me very, very happy.
Another company employee met me at the train station, and took me to one of the two schools that I work at here in Okayama. The one she took me to is considered the "main" school, but I only work there on saturdays. The school seemed nice and clean, if a little lacking in pegagogical decorative bits. The managers and other teachers introduced themselves, and a few of my new coworkers asked me if I wanted to go out with them for drinks. In all honestly, I would have loved to have crashed right there, but I wanted to make a good first impression, so I said yes. They introduced me to the local gaijin bar, run by an Australian guy. My first impression was that it looked pretty much just like any other bar, what with the TVs and beer, though after the fact I thought about what a godsend it could be for foreigners to find a perfectly normal bar in a weird country.
"So," said one of my coworkers after a while, "do you like anime?"
Now, I love anime. Sure, I've seen some that I think is total crap, for the most part I totally geek out over stylishly-haired characters who gleefully violate the laws of physics. Hell, I've been to an anime convention. I went to a weekly social gathering known as "anime night" among my friends (though we didn't always watch anime). But, I certainly didn't want to sound like some pathetic otaku who was in the country because of the cartoons. I hedged.
"I've seen some that I liked quite a bit," I said.
"Like what?" Another coworker bent her head in our direction, joining the conversation.
"Well, I really liked Cowboy Bebop." Cowboy Bebop, I thought, is reasonably hip enough to like without being thought a total geek.
"Yeah, that's a good one. I love anime, and she's nuts about it," he refered to the other coworker. Relief. We proceeded to geek out about why the end of Evangelion was a total botch of a good show. Sometime later, I looked at my watch, did some time zone calculation, and realized that I'd been awake for something like 26 hours. Quite the way to beat the jet lag, it seems.


Anonymous said...

Ooh! I'm first to comment! So nice to hear from you, Joe, and I'm enjoying the picture you're painting. And you never told us that you had a weekly anime gathering. Man, you make the rest of the sci fi book club look positively hip by comparison :). Keep us posted!

Kristin said...

Sweeet! You exist on teh internets. I'm glad you enjoyed your first few hours in Japan. I wouldn't worry about being geeky over there, I mean, they created a lot of "geeky" stuff, it's probably the totally awesome in-crowd thing to be into. Post some pictures soon!