Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From mundane to muzukashii: my silly life in Japan:

So, it's almost three months since I've been in Japan now, and it's getting to that stage where things which used to be a real effort to work out are slowly becoming second-nature. That being said, it hasn't all been plain sailing getting to this stage... things which would have been mundane at home suddenly became MUZUKASHIIII (difficult) in a way I couldn't have foreseen, and although I'm over the worst of the culture shock now, here's one daily trial for each month I've been in Japan so far!


This caused a lot confusion when packing... we'd been told to bring "indoor slippers" to change into whenever we got to work. ...because, unlike at home, where it's perfectly normal to remain in the same shoes you walked to work in whilst at work, in Japan, things are a little different. Namely, you have your "outdoor shoes" and your "indoor shoes", the former of which you must remove at the special shoe-changing area in the entrance and replace with the latter.

A standard sight at all my schools' entrances... rows and rows of shoe boxes.

I don't know why we were told to bring "slippers"... you're definitely not expected to wear anything resembling what we'd usually call "slippers" with your work suit... normal shoes will do just fine. What's more, you don't even need to bring your own pair at all - every school I work at has HEAPS of guest shoes that you can change into. And it's not just at work, but at home too - without thinking now I'll take my shoes off at the entrance whenever I enter my own or somebody else's house... if it's my own house, I feel dirty and overburdened doing otherwise. I can definitely see this being a custom which will stick with me when I get home.
Toilet shoe designs are usually
a little spunkier than
their indoor shoe cousins'.
BUT the shoe subdivision doesn't end there: you've also got your "toilet shoes", provided for you at the front of all public (and some private) bathrooms. Of course, what this means is that if you're in a rush to do your business, there's no casual popping to McDonald's and letting it all out - instead, you've got to get inside, slip out of your outdoor shoes, put on your indoor shoes, locate the toilet, get out of your indoor shoes and pop on your toilet shoes...then go through the whole rigmarole in reverse when you're finished. That means you end up going through three pairs of shoes for one simple... *ahem* ... "transaction". In such circumstances, laces become your sworn enemy. So if you're anything like me, you'll get into the habit of never lacing your shoes up. Sure, I may trip occasionally, but when the shit hits the fan, who's going to be the one whose shit hits the pan in time? Of course, on a normal day, none of this is really that difficult - convoluted sure, but not complicated. Like most things in life, however, it becomes that little bit more difficult when you're a few drinks down. Luckily, this is where being a foreigner can bring you laughs where normally you'd get scorns (see previous post)... I mean, we've all walked back into the bar a little worse for wear still wearing out toilet shoes, right?


Sadly, the toilet humour doesn’t end here. No, Japan isn’t quite satisfied with just adding toilet shoes to your everyday bathroom visit... things are also shook up a little bit by the fact that Japanese toilets themselves are an entirely different creature from those we’re used to at home. In general, they look a little something like this:

Now, this being my first time in Japan, it took me a little while to get used to something so different. In fact, for my first month, I was using the squatters in the completely wrong position. It was only over a casual (and characteristically inappropriate) dinner time conversation that it struck me. “I hate it when the squatter’s raised on a platform... I’m always scared I’m going to fall backwards onto the floor”, a friend said. Nods of agreement whipped round the table, noticeably stopping with me. “Wait-“, I said, “how can you fall off BACKWARDS? You rest your back against the pipe”. Stunned silence soon turned into raucous laughter at my misplaced confidence. Seems I’d been facing 360 degrees in the wrong direction the whole time. Awkward.


Nothing says embarrassment
like being forced to face your
bin demons in public.
Finally, the Japanese rubbish system. God, what a load of garbage. I don’t think anything has single-handedly caused me more confusion in the past three months. It’s bad enough that there are approximately seventeen different categories of bin for your rubbish (literally a separate one for your bottle, its cap and its label), but, of course, everyone else intuitively knows what to put where like it’s written into their DNA. Red, blue, green and yellow bags all take different items. For the first month, I just didn’t take any of my garbage out – having changed tack as to what went where a good handful of times, I was certain it was going to be thrust back on my doorstep – so, rather than confronting the problem head on, I just amassed a pile of rubbish bags on my balcony. (#domesticgoddess). I even tried asking friends in other prefectures, but, helpfully, each area has ITS OWN RUBBISH SYSTEM. This was a problem I’d have to tackle alone, it seems. Luckily, the teacher who lived in my apartment before me had given me a stellar tip: if I wasn’t sure which bag to put something in, I should just wrap it in toilet paper and put it in the tissue bag... GREAT. Of course, this advice was rendered absolutely useless when I couldn’t even work out WHICH WAS THE BAG THAT TISSUE GOES IN. ARGGGGGGH.

You’d think there’d be a helpful pamphlet or something to decode the chaos of red, green, yellow and blue, and, while there’s certainly a pamphlet, helpful it is not. According to said pamphlet, the red bag is collected three times every week and the green bag once a month. “Oh okay, so red must be the bag for your most commonly disposed items and green for items you hardly ever use?” you ask. WRONG.

A quick consultation of the oh-so-useful picture chart reveals that the red bag is set aside for those items which you probably throw away every day. I’m, of course, talking about video tapes, footballs, shoes, DVDs and piping! The green bag, on the other hand, is meant for those items you probably never need to get rid of – things we don’t use much in the home like drink cartons, plastic bottles and noodle trays. WHY IS THIS LITERALLY THE DEFINITION OF COUNTERINTUITIVE?

Deciding my best bet was to ignore the pamphlet completely and just copy what my neighbours were doing (yes, a casual bin raid or two may have been involved), I think I've sussed it out now. Nothing's ended up back dumped on my doorstep, so either I'm spot on and have somehow worked it out... or, more likely I'd imagine, so WRONG that the rubbish collectors are taking pity on me!

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