David Notkin's and Cathy Tuttle's "Japan Stories" (1990-91)

21 June 1990, Japan Stories #2: Life in Tokyo

I got paid this week. All in cash. But the more remarkable thing is that they paid me in the middle of June for all of June (prorated to the day I started). Now if I can only figure out how to deposit money ...

On Sunday Cathy and I were out for a walk. There was a baby in a stroller wearing a cap that said "Lusty." And there is a Honda that sits in the parking lot outside of the building my office is in. It has a bumper sticker that says: "My Other Car is a Rolls-Royce."

Matsumoto-san found a notice in the newspaper about a contest to find the most interesting, unusual, or somesuch beard. She's going to enter my picture. She says if we win we get 200,000 yen (well over $1000), which she I and would split. Stay tuned.

The main laboratory here has the usual array of workstations, printers, manuals, etc. There are only two unusual things to point out. The first is that it's dirtier and messier, by far, than any lab I've ever seen in the US (and this is saying something). The second is that people smoke (constantly) in the lab, and there are huge piles and cans of cigarette butts scattered all over the lab.

Wait! An update on the state of the lab. Matsumoto-san just called and had Kevin and me go downstairs. (As usual, I couldn't even guess why.) But, it was really a big occasion. The students had just cleaned the lab up, apparently for the first time in four years. And they were having a party, with noodles and (I kid you not) Kahlua. At least there was a Kahlua bottle there. During the clean-up Shinoda-san found a camera he had been missing for awhile. They also found a mouse-pad with a pin-up girl on it, it's called a Bachelor's Pad. But, not to worry. By the time the party was over, there were well over a half-dozen cigarette butts in most of the cans. I figure it'll look just like before by the time I leave at the end of August.

Kellen has been looking for jobs speaking English, which has been complicated because she has only an entry card (not even the same as a tourist visa) and because she's not willing to lie about how long she'll be in Japan. She has gotten at least something, though, with a slimy guy named Mr. Sato who runs what appears to be a slimy business. In any case, she got a copy of the dress code for teachers. It says that you can't wear Hawaiian shirts, disco outfits, or zoot suits. So now Kellen has to go buy a whole new wardrobe, just so she can teach.

The Tokyo Journal, a monthly magazine for foreigners like us, had a couple of interesting tidbits. The first was an add for a new bar called Olympics. And yes, it theme is the Olympics. But it's a certain Olympics. And yes, it is the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Remember, it's the one with Hilter. If that isn't a cool theme, I can't imagine one. The other item was a classified add selling Gaijin-sized condoms. This reminds me of the condom dispenser on the street the other day, which dispensed mint-flavored condoms. Now, maybe the way to make a buck is to combine the two ideas...

Last weekend we went to Harajuku, where teenagers get dressed up in 1950's, '60s, '70s, and '80s American-style outfits. There was one group of maybe 8-10 Japanese Elvis impersonators. (One might actually have been Elvis, but I couldn't get close enough to tell for sure.) All as thin as could be. All in black leather (and it was *hot* out). All dancing to Elvis tunes from a boom-box with huge speakers. Further down the line there were break-dancers, punk rock groups, and such. There was almost no separation between the bands, so the noise was deafening. It didn't seem to bother the groupies for each band, who stood in front and danced in perfect step with one another. Even when the Japanese rebel, they do it in a standardized way.

Because it's so hot, we asked Matsumoto-san about finding a place to swim. She said there was a pool on campus, but that it was a dangerous place to go swimming because it was, and I quote, "too deep." Hmm...

On the gardening front, Cathy did finally get a tomato plant. It is a nice one, although she didn't have a lot of choice since there were three Japanese women (Matsumoto-san, a friend of hers, and the sales lady) all telling Cathy that this was the perfect plant to buy. Cathy also has radishes growing (from seed, and they're already about an inch high), as well as lettuce. She's been inspired by the incredible gardens people have in pots and boxes on their doorsteps.

As you may remember, we are visiting Matsumoto-san's house, and her tea teacher's house, this Saturday. Today Matsumoto-san told us that we each have to bring an extra pair of clean socks to change into when we go to her tea teacher's house.

Last night on TV was a (prime-time) show apparently intended to help Japanese learn English. The cast was mostly native English speakers, with one Japanese fellow who spoke perfect English. There were a lot of ridiculous skits, which the Japanese guy explained beforehand. But the highlight was the end of the show, where the entire cast, two of whom played guitars, sang four full verses of "Que Sera, Sera". Off-key. We sang along --- it felt just like home.

Another foreigner taking Cathy's Japanese class told about a rule he encountered seveal times when searching for an apartment. "Sorry, no pets, no pianos, no foreigners."