Life in Japan – Part 4

Written on November 25, 2010. Written by .

Well, my 3 month stay in Japan is almost over. It’s a bit sad to be leaving so soon. I’ve become really accustomed to living here and I want to spend more time with the great friends I’ve met. And I still have a long ways to go with learning Japanese.

After my last post, I decided to move to Osaka to experience the different culture there. On the way, I stayed in Yokohama to visit some friends that were introduced to me by a mutual friend living in New York. We had a fun time exploring China town and the beautiful new developments near the harbor.

The next day, I stopped in Nagoya to visit a friend that I met during my first week in Tokyo. During the day, I explored the city and the famous castle on my own. I felt that foreigners were more rare in Nagoya becase a young man waved at me, a child said “The foreigner… (something I didn’t hear)”, and an old man kept trying to tell me where to go, but I couldn’t understand him because his voice was so raspy. After my friend was done with work, we had dinner together and walked around while she told me about her city.

When I arrived in Osaka, there was only one guy I knew in the city and he didn’t respond to my message for weeks, so initially I was totally on my own. The first night I stayed in a cheap hotel called the Chuo Oasis, which is new and clean, in a pretty central location, and only $40 per night. The next day I found a monthly apartment called the Melon House in a little Korean-town near the Namba district and signed the lease. The apartment was pretty bare-bones. There was no real heating or insulation, so I was usually freezing. And there were really low door frames, so I had to duck 3 times to go from my futon to the bathroom. But overall it was fine because the location was really good and the one-month lease was really convenient.

Namba
Nightlife district of Osaka. I went here almost every day while living in Osaka.

The Namba area is one of the most exciting places in Osaka. For the first couple weeks, I was going there every night to talk to random people on the street. I verified what my friends had told me: people in Osaka are more friendly than people in Tokyo. I only got ignored half of the time when approaching people. And I immediately noticed many differences from Tokyo. Osaka is really dirty looking, people throw cigarrette butts on the ground like its a fashion statement to do so, and you can see two or three people riding on a regular bicycle all the time. It’s amazing how many bicycles there are in Osaka. Why can’t we do this in American cities? I also thought it was funny how about 50% of the people in McDonald’s were girls who were putting on makeup using huge mirrors and intense-looking makeup equipment.

One thing that I couldn’t have guessed is that there are more male “hosts” than female “massaji” girls. I talked to some of the hosts and did a little photo shoot with one of them because his style was so interesting (see the Osaka gallery). While I was taking shots, one of the other hosts started taking pictures of us on his cell phone because he thought it was funny that I was taking pictures of them. I also randomly met some “nanpa” (pick-up) experts during my own nanpa escapades (starting conversation on the street with strangers is considered nanpa, even if it is guy to guy). I asked one if I could watch him and he said he would ask his gang if it was ok. I overheard them say that I wasn’t good enough at Japanese and so they didn’t let me watch. I ended up running into them a couple more times during the course of the month though.

I-chan
My friend’s friend’s daughter.

Currently, Japan is famous for being one of the few first-world countries in the world with a declining population. But I saw so many young mothers carrying their babies around, I can’t imagine what it would look like if they didn’t have a declining population. My friend who took a long time to respond ended up introducing me to his adorable friend who was a 22-year-old single mother of a 3 year old, living with her mother in a three-generation, all female household. I even got to meet her kid, who was super cute, though initially she was really scared of me because I was the first foreigner she ever met.

Japan definitely has a different attitude about Alcohol than the US. Outside my apartment, there was a vending machine that said “Liquor Store” in English. Any kid with some pocket change could go and buy a beer there. And I saw some pretty drunk men in the subway. One was stumbling so much that the station attendant ran after him. He stumbled toward the tracks just as a train was rushing in. If the station attendent hadn’t caught him, he probably would have died. Another time, I saw a man crawling toward his briefcase that he had dropped about 10 steps back. I asked him in Japanese if he was ok because at first I didn’t realize he was drunk and he responded in English “Will you be my friend? (unintelligible mumbling)”.

The whole time I’ve been in Japan, I’ve only met one Christian. He knocked on my door in the morning and immediately started talking in English. “Thank you for coming to the door. I want to ask you a question about the Bible. Some people think it’s the word of God and some people think it’s just a book written by the white people. What do you think?”

One of the coolest things I did in Osaka was make friends with several people who didn’t speak English. If I hadn’t studied Japanese, then I never could have met them. I even became friends with some Koreans using Japanese, which was a foreign language for both parties. I also met up with a group of friends in Kobe that I met in the US. They showed me around their city and we had some delicious Shabu-Shabu. Kobe seems like a nice-sized city to live in. I was originally planning on living there the whole time, but it’s harder to find short-term housing there.

Mamushi
One of the two most venomous snakes in Japan.

I also got to see some of the beautiful nature of Japan. I went hiking with friends in Koya-san, Yoshino, Tateyama (Toyama-ken), and Unazuki. Koya-san has many beautiful temples that you can see for free; I would say it is one of the best tourist destinations in Japan that I’ve seen. In Yoshino, I took a picture of a Mamushi, one of Japan’s two most venomous snakes, from about 1 meter away. I didn’t know it was so dangerous at the time, but thankfully I’m still alive. In Tateyama, I hiked through the 1.5m deep snow of the Japanese Alps wearing sneakers and carrying my camera and tripod. Sometimes you can walk on top of the snow, but sometimes we ended up falling into the snow and getting buried up to the waist. Unazuki had a gorge with brightly painted red bridges, huge dams, and autumn colored trees lining the sides.

Onsen Resort in Tateyama
The Grand Sunpia Onsen Resort in Tateyama was only 5000 Yen per night per person including a magnificent breakfast buffet! Amazing deal.

In terms of learning Japanese, things went about as I expected. I definitely made some progress, and I think I made a bit more progress than if I was taking a class, but with less time expended and stress endured. I realized that the main bottleneck I have in learning Japanese is that I have so many other interests that I don’t want to focus entirely on studying Japanese. Even for 3 months, being completely focused on one thing doesn’t feel balanced.

So now I’m back in Tokyo, catching up with the some of the friends that I haven’t seen for a month, and also trying to figure out what’s going to happen when I get back to the US. At this point, I don’t even know what city I’m going to live in. Only a few days left to decide!

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