Feb 7, 2007

A Jaunt Through Dirty Kansai

"They're not sending you on the shinkansen?"
"No, the email says they want me to go by bus." I was not thrilled by taking the bus.
"We always go to Osaka by shinkansen," said the Lady Manager, "I'll get you a ticket."
I was told by the company's head office to come to Osaka for two days for training. My summons had said that I was to travel by bus, which would maybe take about two hours. The Lady Manager, however, would have none of it. She got on the phone, talked to someone for about thirty seconds, and hung up.
"Ok," she said, "you can take the shinkansen."
"That's it?" I asked, marvelling at the brevity of her phonecall.
"Yeah," she gave me an envelope of money, "go get a ticket."
I was thrilled. "You are the wind beneath my wings," I said, accepting the envelope.
"What?"
"Arigato goziimasu."
"Oh. You're welcome."
I was actually looking forward to training. Prior to coming to Japan to teach, I did have a few days of training in Vancouver, and my coworkers have been helping me out, but for the most part "on the job training" is the best sort of thing to describe this position. I was not only glad to get away from teaching for two days, but I also welcomed the opportunity to learn a few things, and actually see Osaka. Tuesday, I got on the Shinkansen and zipped to Japan's third largest city in an easy forty five minutes. I transferred at the subway, found the head office, and the training began.
The teacher trainer was the same guy who picked me up at Kansai International Airport, a guy whom I'll refer to here as the Fat Guy. The Fat Guy is actually a pretty cool dude, and defintely knows the ropes of teaching. I believe that "his shit is tight" is the appropriate idiomatic phrase to describe his pedagogical prowess. So, that was productive, and I won't bore you with details of teaching how to. I will say, that I learned less what to do, than how to do things, which was actually far more useful than it might sound.
After the first day of training, the Fat Guy took us out for dinner, and informed us that the company was paying, which was nice. He also informed us that the place we went to was nomihodai, i.e., "all you can drink," and he entreated us to imbibe as much as we cared to.
Osaka is known for its food, and the place we ate at was no exception- I have no idea what any of it was called, but there was this highly tasty fried tofu, some very tasty ground up raw fish with chives, lovely noodle soup, and some fairly perfectly cooked chicken. 'Twas delicious. There was also a seemingly endless supply of Asahi beer coming towards the table.
(Funny side note- Some people get horny when they're drunk. Others get angry. Still others get tired. It seemed that we got geeky. I got into a spirited conversation with one of my coworkers about whether The Punisher is a sociopath or not [he isn't] and it occured to me that I wouldn't really do that with strangers while sober. I believe the other side of the table was arguing about video games.)
You can probably see where this is going. This is another one of those "I drink a lot" posts. We were probably overdue for one.
Towards the end of dinner, this drunk Japanese guy leaned over towards our table, and started saying some stuff in completely slurred Nihongo. He was almost immediately grabbed by his friend who had this panicked look on his face, and said "so sorry, so sorry. He is drunk." The drunk guy continued to talk at us, a table full of foreigners, even as his friend forcibly dragged him away with more and more "so sorrys."
"What the hell did he say," I asked the Fat Guy.
"I have no idea, probably something like, 'Oh, look! Foreigners!'"
We proceeded to go to two more bars, and soon I realized that it was two thirty in the morning, we are all quite drunk, and we needed to be out of the hotel by ten and at training by twelve. For some reason, I took it upon myself to be everyone's mom and remind them of this. I drank a few pints of water, got myself as sober as possible, and attempted to round up my drunken coworkers. The phrase "herding cats" comes to mind.
I could have gone back by myself if I was so inclined, but, for some godunknown reason I felt like I had some sort of duty to get my stupid-drunk coworkers back to our accomadations. That, and we were also the only people remaining in the place, and it seemed that the bartenders were a bit eager to go home. At about three fifteen a great, writing mass of booze-soaked gaijin wriggled from the establishment, and we proceeded to go on to the hotel. While walking, I noticed something- graffiti. Lots and lots of graffiti. It was an intensely welcome sight, actually. There's almost none here in Okayama, so seeing various walls despoiled with illegible tags, some in English, some in Kanji, some in Hiragana, was lovely to see. It was a mark of civilization and urbanness that I'd forgotten about.
Meanwhile, a clutch of my coworkers decided that they were going to break off in search of another place that was open. At this point, I decided that I really didn't care what happened to them, and if they passed out drunk in a gutter or fell asleep on a filthy park bench that was their business. The rest of us returned to the hotel, and I slept for about five hours.
I can't really sleep in the light, no matter how little I've slept the night before. When the sun woke me up, I could feel the exhaustion of little sleep and an aching, dry hangover creep over me. As hangovers go, it wasn't that bad. It's the sort that merely blurr things, cause some slight discomfort. Sartre-style naseau wasn't in the picture, but things definitely weren't optimal inside my skull. Checkout time, for some reason, was ten.
I stepped alone from the hotel, and into Osaka. I had two hours on my own in the city. I got my bearings and began to explore. The roads were thick with people, far more than Okayama's ever are and the stores and businesses seemed to piled on top of each other. I walked past shops and restaurants, gambling places, sex shops and game arcades. I crossed the river, and saw that each side was girded with cranes, industrial deritritus, and overhanging architechtural oddities. I found myself wishing that I'd brought my camera.
The light and crowds of the city stung me through my hangover, which gradually receded. I sat in a coffee place for a bit, and picked up again, and headed into a more business/fashion oriented area. Salarymen with dull suits moved about in indistiguishable packes, puctuated by younger people in more outlandish clothes. At about ten to twelve, I went back to the company offices.
My coworkers were universally silent and woozy, hungover and tired all. The Fat Guy jaunted in and asked with far too big a smile, "How is everyone today?"
"Mrrr." said us.
"I feel great!" said the Fat Guy, "I was up at seven, had a jog, hit the gym, ate some breakfast! Now, we've got a lot of stuff to cover today..." I could tell that he was chiding us. He'd probably drank more than anyone else in the room, and I doubt, given his proportions that he "has jogs" or "hits gyms" with any frequency. "You're all a bunch of lightweights," was his message.
With the help of coffee, we eventually perked up, but soon the training was somewhat disrupted by the annoyingly loud sounds of Japanese opera and bombastic speechifying blaring from the street below. Speaker trucks. We thought that they would go away fairly quickly, but their obnoxious broadcast just kept up. I found out why when we broke for lunch- the South Korean embassy was nearby, and they were intent on harrasment.
At lunch, I wanted to see this for myself. The enormous sheet of the South Korean flag waved in the breez behind the thirty or so cops. It's actually quite a nice flag, the Korean banner. The yin-yang and pictographs are pleasantly eye-catching, I think. The blue cop uniforms matched the yin-yang's blue half nicely, as if someone had arrayed them for a photo shoot.
The police had arrayed a series of brutal looking tire-busting/crowd impeding metal constructs in the lane closest to the embassy, and a rather ominous looking police van loomed in front of the main entrance.
The calvacade of black vehicles was headed up by a single car, painted black and bedecked with gold and red calligraphy. I could see a woman driving and an old man yelling into the microphone. The noise was far louder than the car's speakers would suggest, and his words bellowed against the crowd, embassy, police and into alleyways and offices. Behind the car were a series of trucks, painted likewise and also arrayed with speakers, following. Only one was actually broadcasting, and it blared out an histrionic brass-heavy fanfare that beat underneath the old man's words. People on the street stopped what they were doing, watching the black vehicles, watching the police, wondering if anything ugly would happen.
I asked one of my Japanese-speaking coworkers what was coming out of that speaker, and he explained to me that they were a radical right wing political group from Hokkaido who, among other things, want Japan to retake the Kuril Islands from Russia. When I told Hip-Hop about this later, he surprised my by saying, "Those aren't even Japanese. They really belong to the Ainu." I thought this was an interestingly enlightened position, for some reason.
The meeting was over, and I made my way to the subway station, which was teeming with people. When I got on the train, I was followed by a group of thug-wannabe looking boys. They type of guys who had seen a few rap videos and were trying their damndest to look hard and intimidating in their down jackets, knit caps, and baggy pants. All of them were visibly proud of their fashion achievements, and they were followed by a gang of girls who appeared all seemed to have crawled out of a Gwen Stefani video.
Anyway, I thought this was great- being on a messy train with a bunch of thug wannabes was something that definitely brought back memories of the states. So, the guys and girls are clustered in two different groups, and one the girls (wearing a big shit-eating grin) surreptitiously goes behind one of the guys, steeples her forefingers, and jams him in the ass. The hard-looking thug wannabe proceeded to let out a little high-pitched "meep!" as his posterior was violated, and everyone around him exploded in laughter. It was hilarious.
I left the subway and the hilarious ass-thugs at Shin Osaka station, and found a shinkansen for Okayama. I lingered a bit in the station, browsed at a few shops, bought some cookies to bring for my coworkers, and eventually got on the bullet train.
I've decided that I need to return to Osaka. Not only that, but I need to do this sort of thing more often, i.e., get out of Okayama. There's a fair amount of Japan, and I aim to see it.

4 comments:

Eric said...

Good to hear from you Llama. We all missed your stories. I really think you need to toss in some more personally awkward anecdotes. When I think of The Llama, I think of personal humiliation. Remember that one time you stabbed yourself in the eye with a spoon? Good times.

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

aw shit. I think I've done the extra perky to piss off my just as hungover coworkers, too. It's not a 'you're a lightweight' jab as much as a 'I'm not going to tell you HOW to be mature, but you ARE NOT too young to know better'

snappy.

many bars in Tokyo never close as long as there are customers. I believe that with out the phenomenon of the last train, many workers would drink straight until it was time to get back to work.

you should hear some of the stories of the drinking that went on at the Korea training. whoo. now those blokes were champs.

Joseph said...

Dude! I'd totally forgotten about the spoon!

I've definitely been irresponsible about drinking on a weeknight, before (showing up to work the next day, still drunk, is something I would rather not do again), but you'd think people would be smart enough not to do so immediately before a conference or training or the like.

Kristin said...

Sounds like fun! Did you Ever get that letter I sent you? Let me know if you did, I'm getting really curious.