Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tokyo Part III: Bars

Japan may be a mostly homogenous country, but going to Tokyo reminded me of the history Japan has with the rest of the world. Many Japanese people moved to Brazil during a time when economic prospects looked good in the South American country. When those prospects turned out to be not as expected, many ended up stranded in Brazil, assimilating as best they could into Brazilian culture. Many ethnically Japanese, culturally Brazilian people have returned to their grandparent’s home, along with other Brazilians. Thus, Japan has a history with the Portuguese-speaking country. As a fan of Bossa Nova and Samba, I wanted to find a piece of Brazilian culture in Tokyo. It turned out to be the first Brazilian restaurant in Tokyo. At Saci Perere, I was treated to a set that included the music cover charge, an appetizer sampler, and entree in one special price. I sipped on a Caipirinha, the deceptively simple Brazilian cocktail, while listening to a Brazilian and Japanese duo play some of the most fully orchestrated music I’d ever heard performed by only two people. The singer/guitarist’s Brazilian excitement and lively guitar chording were backed by a drummer with Japanese precision and complexity. It reminded me of the difference between coffee drinking and tea drinking cultures: Coffee drinking countries are upbeat, quick to make decisions, and with an infectious zest for life. Tea drinking countries are more methodical, focused, with a quiet determination to do things perfectly. 
Deceptively Cool Grooves
Hearing Portuguese sung and Japanese spoken made me hyper-aware of my place in history: Here I was, an American with Swedish and Irish great-grandparents, listening to a Black Brazilian man and a Japanese man play music of African, European, and American roots, in Japan. The mix of cultures left me feeling awe-struck. This was something that could only happen right here, right now. I, along with a handful of stylish regulars, awkwardly tried to step in time to the deceptively cool, polyrhythmic tropical grooves being pumped out of a Roland Jazz Chorus amp. I was glad I had just learned the word for “white people”, so I could explain how my genetic deficiency prevented me from dancing perfectly in time. After two courses of Brazilian food, three sets of samba, and an hour of casual Portuguese lessons, I left Saci Perere feeling welcomed in a place that is defined by the exchange of cultures. 

Idols Galore
Tokyo was largely shaped by the economic bubble of the 1980s. As an unabashed fan of 1980s aesthetics, Tokyo was a visual and cultural treat. Much of the architecture and graphic design had a clear 80s style, and I could feel the spirit of the economic miracle emanating out of the bold colored signs attached to sleek metal and concrete buildings. On Saturday night, I donned the new wave white-outlined blazer I had bought that day at Kashiki and hit the town Showa-style. I tracked down a bar that aired music videos of the bubble economy: Glamorous Italo Disco sung by idols and the smooth-jazz-and-funk favored by Japanese yuppies of the time called City Pop. At “Showa Boogie”, portraits of idols plastered the walls and the perfumed sounds of the uniquely Japanese interpretation of American and European music filled the air. After about 20 minutes of simply enjoying the once in-vogue videos, a man next to me struck up a conversation. I learned he worked at a record label, was from the southern island of Kyushu, and loved Prince and Bruce Springsteen. Like me, he was somewhat young to be listening to this music, but he knew it just as well as the middle-aged salarymen seated across from us, who were reliving their glory days. He explained as best he could the significance of each performer, and made comparisons to famous American musicians. At a certain point, the references became farther reaching, but I assured him that I didn’t need an American reference point, that I enjoyed the music for what it was. We chatted about and sang along to YMO, Tatsuro Yamashita, and the eurobeat classic “Dancing Hero” until bar close. I thanked him for the history lesson and headed back to my capsule hotel, walking amongst the ever-bright neon of Shinjuku. I imagined what it would have been like to see this place in its heyday. I imagined being a young professional getting off a hard day’s work at Panasonic or Toshiba, going to a bar playing the same music but at the height of its popularity. I wandered in this false-nostalgia amongst others who were ready to end their nights at the only time Tokyo allows you to rest: Right before dawn. 
Only pic I got of the interior before getting the shaming crossed fingers

On my last night in Tokyo, I realized I had not yet been to Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s busiest districts. However, after two nights in a row of staying out late, I was not looking to do anything too crazy. I decided to spend my last night in a juxtaposition: I went to the busiest intersection in Japan for a photo op, and promptly went to Ginza Panorama Bar, whose website calls it “a healing place for adults”. Ginza Panorama is a bar that features a miniature model of the Ginza district of Tokyo, complete with model trains running in clockwork around the tiny world. Light west coast jazz played as I was welcomed by the owner, a perfect example of Japanese hospitality. Cocktails were all “American style, Japanese-made”: The list read like any cocktail lounge in America, yet there was a great selection of Japanese-distilled whiskey and Japanese sake. Two other patrons were lightly chatting across the miniature world, and soon asked me: “Do you like trains”?. 

A relaxing time with a miniature world
Three hours later, I had learned that one was the son of a diplomat who grew up in Switzerland and had spent most of his young adult life in privilege, jumping between Tokyo and Kyoto. The other man was a systems engineer who worked with the Japanese Self Defense force, who in turn work with the American military. They were very interested in my Americanness, and our conversations centered around mutual understanding. They explained confusing aspects of Japanese culture to me and reassured me that I was doing very well navigating Japanese culture, which was difficult for even them as men of privilege. I tried to explain the complexity that is race in America, and taught them the difference between race and nationality. The owner stayed open an extra hour and a half for us to talk, and the conversation ended only after he politely reminded me that the last train to Shinjuku would be leaving soon. We parted with the Japanese phrase wishing each other to take care. I think both parties left feeling that they had learned something about each other. My reflective headspace after this experience allowed me to ignore the insanity of being crammed into the Yamanote Line with a gaggle of teenagers at Shibuya Station. It allowed me to float through the soon-to-be-hungover party district of Golden Gai, past the male exotic dancers tiredly consuming a late night convenience store meal and last cigarette of the night. I went to bed with the same feeling of the other nights: These experiences could only happen to me, in Tokyo. Tokyo is vast and overwhelming, but it’s because it’s clamoring to cater to everyone. I found the sliver carved out for me, and left feeling satisfied by what I was served. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Tokyo Part II: Shopping

Shopping in Harajuku

Many Japanese products seem perfectly designed for me: They are built or made for the average Japanese person, who is usually 5’ 7”, skinny, and possesses a neurotic attention to detail. For me, “Made in Japan” is analogous to high quality, deliberate design, and well-tailored. Naturally, shopping in Tokyo brought many pleasant surprises.
Tokyo is a vintage aficionado’s heaven. Japan imported boatloads of vintage clothes from America in the 1980s, and several neighborhoods in west Tokyo are jam-packed with immaculate old clothes. Prices are reflected accordingly, but the quality and uniqueness are well worth the price. My favorite store was Keshiki Menswear, located on the 3rd floor of an office building away from the teen-spirit of the rest of Harajuku. The owner of Keshiki had seemingly curated a perfect store for me: Classic menswear, both formal and casual, from the 1960s-1980s as well as more modern pieces. Bowie-esque suits, smart oxfords and loafers, 60s white levi’s, loud-yet-tasteful 70s shirts, and classic monotone tees were neatly arranged in this tiny shop. The only thing that prevented me depleting half the stock was my bank account.
This look brought to you by Keshiki

*Insert bleeps and bloops here*
1980s music was largely shaped by the Japanese. Affordable and innovative Japanese instruments changed how people made music worldwide. Groundbreaking instruments like the Yamaha DX7, 
Roland Juno series, and Roland TR-808 drum machine were all made in Japan. Tracking down remnants of this time proved to find some interesting spaces. FiveG, a synthesizer repair and retail store, was like walking into a museum of Japan’s greatest musical innovations. I had never seen so many vintage synths in person, let alone in immaculate condition. Shelves of Yamahas, Rolands, and foreign instruments from Oberheim and Sequential Circuits lined the walls, patiently waiting to be explored. I had only seen a real 808 once in my life, and it was through a glass window. I couldn’t believe one was out in the open for anyone to play. 

Shred, but not too shred
While I struck out on Tokyo’s famous Ochanomizu guitar street (most shops were small and only stocked new guitars), I found TC Gakki, a secondhand store stocking the best of Japanese affordable-vintage guitars: 1980s and 90s Fender Japan, 70s “lawsuit era” Gibson photocopies, and 60s mod/surf guitars. In the back corner, I stumbled upon the most natural addition to my guitar collection: A Fender Japan Stratocaster from what I’d call the “post-shred” era. The late 80s and early 90s saw guitar companies in a time of change. The gaudiness of hair metal and guitar virtuoso acrobatics was on its way out, yet grunge had not yet brought back the earthy rawness of the 70s back. Technical innovations for shredding had reached a peak, where companies, especially Japanese ones, knew how to make the perfect “Super-Strat”- a Stratocaster hot-rodded for speed, power, and performance. Yet the aggressive, sharp edges of these guitars were falling out of favor, probably due to the resurgence of vintage Stratocasters brought on by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and other white blues-lawyers. The strat I found was a perfect example of this time period: It had the usual super-strat features (louder, humbucking pickups, a locking tremolo bridge for Van Halen divebombs, a flatter/thinner neck for speed), but also took away the sharp, weapon-like lines in favor of the tried-and-true Stratocaster body and headstock shapes. My music aspires to this take on the 1980s: Take the parts that made it such an innovative time period, yet leave behind much of the gaudiness, questionable visual aesthetics, and cock-rocking masculinity that defined aspects the era.

Would you look at that!
Before I left TC Gakki, I saw a 90s reissue ’69 Fender Thinline Telecaster, the same make and model as my first real guitar. I was reminded of how much Japan has influenced my life and how American and Japanese cultures have influenced each other after World War II. Japan and I share a love of many things: Fender guitars, synthesizers, Levi’s, jazz, Snoopy, vintage clothing, striped t-shirts, coffee. They love the Americanness of these things, and I love the Japanese take on them. It is that unique connection our countries share that will have me forever attached to this place. While I hesitate to call it a second home, I see Japan as a place that will always be there for me to get inspired by. We share enough commonalities that while fundamentally different, myself and parts of Japan will be able to give each other a knowing nod. It’s a relationship defined by overcoming deeply ingrained differences in cultural norms, spoken and body language, and expectations for life. Those differences are overcome by meeting in the middle, sharing things we both like, where neither is totally comfortable yet not uncomfortable. I may never call Japan home; Home is a place of comfort and safety. Japan is more like an alma mater: A place where I was challenged, where I met many kinds of people, where I was allowed to explore possibilities. It’s a place I got lost, but learned to leave a trail to come back to. It’s a place I can return to with fond memories of being young and not knowing what I was doing yet. It is a place with room for growth, even in a tiny capsule hotel room.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tokyo, Part I

I was leisurely waiting on an escalator going to the train platform when I heard an impatient grumbling behind me. I realized the man behind me could not get past my overstuffed suitcase. I wanted to move it but it was too late: The escalator was done, and we both just made the train on time. I felt bad for getting in this man’s way, my suitcase a dead giveaway I was a dumb tourist. I did not actually see the man until we were on the train. We were both foreigners. This stoked my fears because now I would know exactly what the man would say to me if he decided to let me have it. However, after a few calming breaths, the man apologized to me for being impatient and didn’t mean to get mad. He explained that he knew Tokyo was overwhelming and that it doesn’t stop for anyone. 
        I learned he was from Louisiana but had lived in Japan for 27 years: Longer than I had been alive. He asked me how I was enjoying it, and I told him that quite frankly it was a lot at once, but once I was actually in a restaurant or shop, it had been very cool. He agreed with me, but rephrased that sentiment as Tokyo having “small pockets of sanity”. He often thought he had made the wrong choice in moving to Tokyo, but something kept him here and he has been enjoying his life despite the craziness. He helped me get off at the right station, even giving me directions once I entered the maze of Shin Okubo. “God bless you,” he told me as he disappeared into the sea of people going in the opposite direction. 
        Tokyo is probably the busiest place I have ever been. The average train station at a low ridership time is like a big game day back in the Twin Cities. Much like many Japanese phrases that cannot be directly translated into English, “cluster-fuck” is an English phrase that only vaguely describes how many people and sensory inputs in Tokyo.
Shin Okubo
Everyone going everywhere

The upside to everyone needing to be somewhere is that there are many ways to get to those places. The transit systems in Tokyo are some of the best I’ve ever experienced. I never waited more than five minutes for a train, and trains were quiet, clean, and efficient. While there are many different companies, color coding and English signs make things fairly easy to understand, and a catch-all transit card called an IC Card makes switching train companies less of a hassle. 
        Bicycles were everywhere, ranging from the classic Mamachari (European style city bike) to cargo bikes and minimalistic fixed gears. Cycling rules were a bit unclear. Many people rode on the sidewalk, but others rode in the street. However, I never witnessed any crashes or close calls. It reminded me of Amsterdam: Cycling culture, not cycling infrastructure. Grandmas, families, salarymen, and students all rode bicycles with a sort of patient urgency that I felt a lot in Tokyo.

All kinds of bikes for all kinds of people
The pedestrian is the top of the transportation hierarchy in Tokyo. Tons of pedestrian-only streets, back alleys, and frequent crossings made for a very walkable city. I never had any close encounters with taxis, who stopped for pedestrians even when they were walking against a crossing light. Kids walked without supervision from their parents, a testament to Japanese social harmony and trust. As long as you swam with the current, you wouldn’t have any trouble, yet your decision of where to go was largely dependent on you picking the right stream of people to jump into. 
        People look and act differently in Tokyo than in the area of Japan I live in. Maybe it’s the styles and makeup, maybe it’s their busy schedules, but going to Tokyo was in many ways like going to a different country. Body language and general attitude were different than up north. A few people lived up to the stereotypes I had heard from other Japanese people: Tokyoites are cold, impersonal, and stressed out. After spending some time in the city, I could see how the hustle and bustle of everyday life could wear one down. The number of elite schools and companies is large, and the stakes are high for many people. However, I never experienced outright hostility; it was more of a sense that people’s lives were enough to deal with on their own, let alone help a random stranger. It was much like New York, but if you exchanged east-coast frankness for Japanese stoicism (and passive-aggression). 

A small crowd in Tokyo
Everyone was a lot more fashion conscious. Styles ranged from designer suits to rainbow-vomit kawaii, 90s sportswear to French-inspired oversized menswear. Everyone had their own style, and it all seemed meticulously curated. Some people say the lack of space in Japan makes people really think about what they want to buy, as there is no room to store material goods. Therefore, people’s possessions are more prized and spending decisions are more thought through than the “buy as big as you can and as much as you can” sentiment in much of America. 
        Tokyo was not just stress, crowds, and superficiality. In fact, I loved my trip once I got my bearings. I met very interesting and friendly people on my trip. Conversations with shop owners, bar patrons, and a few musicians in Tokyo have been some of my most memorable experiences ever. In parts II and III, I will go into more detail of how these conversations left an impression on me.

A welcomed break in Shinjuku

Monday, March 5, 2018

Month 2

My outlook and experience in Japan has followed the season. My first month, January, was a cold, harsh reality; unforgiving to the inexperienced yet held moments of serene beauty. My second month, February, is beginning to warm up, but going through an awkward transition. Much like the weather, I have not yet warmed up enough to be comfortable, and the cold reality of being out of my element still makes up most of the day. Yet, the sun is coming out, snow is showing signs of a retreat, and paths once difficult to pass are easier to navigate. The paths, once obscured by a heavy blanket of ambiguity and illegible cultural ques, have been traversed enough where my mental map has been drawn and my internal compass leads the way. I look forward to a spring of fresh starts, blossoms of new friendships and routines, and a summer of exuberance and celebration.

I have had enough classes where I understand the dynamics between myself and the Japanese Teachers of English (JTE from here on out) for each class is. In my larger elementary school, I am the primary instructor and the JTEs are there to provide translation and facilitate group activities. I learned this after having my first lessons start out by the teachers giving me a panicked “well, do something!” look. In my smaller elementary school, JTEs take a slightly more active role in lesson planning  but are not fluent enough in English to feel comfortable teaching an entire lesson as the lead. My junior high school, where instructors teach one subject, I am more of a side-man. I am there to provide native accent, conversational practice, and be a model of just how big western noses can be. Now that I understand my primary role in the classroom, work has become less of a “flying on the seat of my pants” experience. 

Making a weekly “treat yo self” trip the local hot spring (onsen) is the world’s third most affordable luxury, after coffee and tea, respectively. I’m convinced there is nothing more relaxing than boiling in a vat of volcanic activity with a bunch of old, grunting, naked Japanese dudes. You really can’t put a price on that, but the entrance fee is only 350 yen. It’s a chance to get a decent shave, pick-your-poison hot water bath (your choice between still, jacuzzi, or slightly electrified), and listen to the soothing sounds of a genre of music I can only describe as “Japanese video game composers trying to figure out jazz”. 

I am glad to have started these routines because other aspects of my life have been anything but. I am fighting a black mold problem in my poorly ventilated shower room. After showering, I was having asthma-like symptoms, and upon further investigation, I discovered a colony of black mold in a crevice of the shower door. I believe this was the culprit of my sickness. I quickly quarantined the room with “Kabi Killer”, and promptly went to the doctors. I’m sure I gave the doctors water cooler (No one drinks water. Tea kettle?) material for months: A foreigner bursting in mumbling something about “breathing mold” and showing them his questionably translated symptoms on his iPhone. I like to imagine I sounded like Collin in the Secret Garden (“The spores! The spores! ). Something must have gotten across, because I was prescribed a mouthful of pills to be taken three times a day, and they seem to be helping.

I left America with the thought that the worst that could happen is that I realize how much I appreciate my family, friends, and my own culture. That is the best worst-case scenario to have. I believe this is happening. Most days I wish I were home. While my work is not stressful, and most day-to-day activities have become routine, I have realized how important my friendships are back home. I have also realized that the things I want to do in Japan are not contingent on living here. Many people come to Japan to start new lives as expats, but I don’t believe I am one of them. My long-term life goals cannot be achieved in Japan. It took coming here to realize that, so I am glad I took a chance and came here. I have plenty of time and space to think about what I really want out of life, and I believe even just 7 months in Japan will leave me feeling refreshed and ready to work on creating the life I want.

Like most 20 somethings, I’m still figuring out what I “want to do with my life” (whatever that means). I have learned that the only way to know if something is right for you is to experience it yourself. I am a Meyers-Briggs INTP (one of the most eye opening things for me, I highly recommend this site: I mostly live inside my head. I often write things off as not for me before actually experiencing them. I create how I want things to be in my mind and then I am disappointed when reality is different than my own mental construct. Therapy and zen meditation has helped me to start experiencing, rather than thinking. Had I not come to Japan, my mind may have created an idealized image of what it would have been like, where Japan is nothing but City Pop, green tea, and cool vintage guitars. I would have suffered because I would have never found that mental image. However, I did come to Japan, and I know what my experience is. I’ll never wake up wondering what it would have been like, because I will have done it and experienced it. I am finding what I looked for in Japan, but also finding surprises, and dealing with things just not going the way I want them to sometimes. That’s life though: For every cool 80’s Fender Japan-exclusive guitar, there is also plague-like mold, out of shape salarymen hanging out with nothing but a little hand towel on their head, and people staring at you as if you were a zoo animal. The only true reality is that which is, and I’m choosing to accept it.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Update #1

My stomach sank as I got onto the plane. “Holy shit, I’m actually doing this” I thought to myself as the perfectly polite Japanese staff walked us through the safety features of the plane. There was no going back. 

My orientation was a blur. I was quickly brought to a hotel in Narita, given a hurried description of where and when to meet, and that was that. The next morning, I had my first misunderstanding because of the language difference: I thought we were eating breakfast together as part of orientation, but apparently I was supposed to go on my own. If you know me, I am the definition of “hangry” (so hungry you are angry). So, being in a foreign environment with only some vending machine coffee in my system was not setting me up for successfully adjusting to my new setting. I met seven other new JETs in the lobby. We all loaded into a van and were off to Tokyo. The other JET participants seemed more fluent in Japanese, which, along with the lack of calories, surged my anxiety level through the van’s roof. 

We arrived in Tokyo to an overcast sky, which seemed to complement the shade of concrete Tokyo is made of. After a quick run-down of the bureaucratic structure of JET, CLAIR, and my CO (contracting organization), I was shuffled into Tokyo Station, told to eat lunch, and then I was off on the shinkansen (bullet train) to my town. The train ride was a blur, but I just remember thinking “Wow, I’m actually here”. Futons hanging from clothes lines. Signs in walls of kanji (the Chinese characters the Japanese language uses). Streets littered with bicycles. People wearing hospital masks to prevent spreading the flu. The place I had seen pictures of, read about. I was finally there. 
I was quickly greeted at Shichinohe-Towada station by a local ALT and my supervisor. After some half Japanese, half English salutations we went to the supermarket. I was given a chance to quickly buy some groceries (I bought the bare minimum, as I could only recognize about half of what I saw), and was brought to my house. A quick demo of how to use the appliances, signing my official contract, and my ambassadors were off and I was left in my strange Japanese house by myself. 

My house was full of great surprises: It talked to me to tell me the hot water was on, the faucets turned on the opposite way that they do in America, my only source of heat was a kerosene heater. Despite this, I could finally take a breath. 

I will not lie: The culture shock has hit me as hard as the cold of the Tohoku winter has. My brain had a 404 error trying to process real, living Japanese. Although I have had an introduction to the language, my chances to practice speaking were essentially nonexistent. Shopping takes about three times as long as it does at home, as I spend a lot of the time trying to figure out what I’m buying (at least I’m getting more kanji practice). 

This cold has been the coldest cold I have ever felt. That’s quite the statement, considering I have lived my entire life in the tundra of Minnesota. The lack of central heating makes staying warm a struggle, both to stay warm and to get out of bed. I dream about the radiators at Cahoots nearly every night. 

Driving on the other side of the road reminded me of bicycling in Copenhagen: The first journey was short, thrilling (read: terrifying), and made me audibly gasp/curse. Although it takes a bit more mental energy to remember to stay on the left side, adjusting only took about a week’s practice time (A side note: I am glad I live in 2018, where Google Maps has mapped the entire world. I might have been writing this from inside a rice paddy had I not had Google Maps). 

Despite these surprises (along with the millions of others I cannot recall at the moment), I have become comfortable in my new environment. Maybe it is better to say I have made peace with being uncomfortable. I have accepted my preschool literacy and infant conversational skills. Every day I make small victories. Driving is easier, shopping has become routine, and I have become better at accepting ambiguity. Small kindnesses go a long way helping me feel like this journey was worth the effort. Whether it is a coworker suggesting music to me or the lady who works at the soba restaurant saying hi to me in the grocery store, these small things help me feel like less of an outsider, and more like a welcomed guest. 

My welcoming party helped assuage my fears that I was the stupid gaijin and nothing more to my Japanese coworkers. People really warmed up to me after a couple drinks and said things they wouldn’t dare say during a normal workday. They urged me to stay another year, which shocked me as many of them had barely spoken to me during my first three weeks. In particular, one coworker I had never heard speak opened up and we chatted about baseball, fishing, and traded turns belting out karaoke. I sang Hitori Bouchi (in America: Sukiyaki), and received a knowing nod from the Super Intendant. In that moment, I felt a strange acceptance of my own foreignness. I will never be Japanese, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect Japanese culture to the best of my knowledge and ability. 

Although many times I feel like a gaijin monster destroying all that is precious about Japanese manners, I look forward to continuing to learn the language and culture of Japan. One of my favorite writers on learning Japanese, Koichi of the fantastic website, says the best way to learn a language is to make as many mistakes as possible. I need to remind myself that you learn a language by using it, not studying it. My natural tendencies to analyze things at an analytical distance need to take wayside to me stumbling and mumbling through the language, building a vocabulary, and hopefully being able to be understood a little better every day. I’m building intelligence, not just knowledge. Knowledge is just a set of facts. Intelligence is knowing what to do with those facts.

Moving forward, I am looking forward to building a disciplined daily routine. I am excited to begin a study regiment for Japanese, rebuild my Zen meditation practice, and to continue writing music. Before leaving home, I wrote a list of things I needed to do while in Japan. I remind myself daily of these goals and make sure I am working towards achieving them.
There are so many other things I’ve experienced that I can’t recall at the moment, but I will end my first update with this: I’m known to one of my friends as someone who enjoys very subtle humor. Here’s a list of some things in Japan that I find endlessly amusing: 

-People back into parking spots only. Seeing my car being the only one facing the wrong direction in the parking lot is a pretty apt metaphor for my experience trying to navigate Japanese culture.
-The muzak in thrift stores is basically 90s video game pause screen music
-Everyone brushes their teeth after lunch
-There are no towels or hand driers anywhere. 
-On that note: Public sinks only have freezing cold water
-Music is played on the hour at 6am, Noon, and 6pm no matter where you are. It is always some sort of MIDI version of a classical song everyone in the West forgot about. Light, whimsical music plays at school during the students' cleaning time, to which the students descend into their cleaning regiments like something out of a Disney movie
-My school bell is a Yamaha DX7, one of the synthesizers I own
-No one drinks water here. They found it very interesting that I drank a glass of water.

Despite these day to day quirks, Japan is not too dissimilar to any other industrialized capitalist country. It has its mundane day to day activities, junk food, consumerism. It is not as strange and outlandish as the internet would suggest. I believe orientalist thought still pervades the West today, and I remind myself that although there are many differences, at the end of the day Japan is just another country on this planet, and there are many ways to be human. There are no right or wrong ways to do that.