Friday, August 6, 2010

The Most Japanese Thing I Have Ever Done, Pt. 2

Since I work at a public school and promotions/placements are decided by the BOE (1), there is little point to sucking up and participating in the office trip, thus we were a mere nine souls rolling down the highway for Hiroshima (2) on that crotch-meltingly hot summer's day. But thankfully at least three of those folks had bladders the size of a grape so we were able to stop at absolutely every single rest area between northern Osaka and Hiroshima (3) which should be a four hour drive but why not make it six!

The rest stops however are a delight.

For starters there is the food - nary a McDonald's or Roy Rogers in sight! Instead we actually had lunch at a restaurant.


Also - clean bathrooms, and coffee vending machines where you can control the amount of sugar and milk, as well as convenience stores, soft-serve ice cream, and local souvenirs (called omiyage) so you can have an answer to the kids' question "what did you get me!?"

Tomorrow, we may actually get to the part where we are in Hiroshima...

(1) Board of Education - not every one has a joke, sorry
(2) Hiroshima means "wide island", and for the record Tokyo (東京) means "east capital", Kyoto (京都) means "capital city", and Nagasaki (長崎) "long cape" - the geographical kind, not the clothing. But along with the literal names come some interesting ones like Tottori (鳥取) which means "bird take", Iwate (岩手) which means "rock hand" and Chiba (千葉) which means "1,000 leaves" - although to think that Japanese people take these more fanciful name literally would be a mistake.
(3) The highway system in Japan is all toll roads so the rest areas are all built on the highway - no pulling off and hunting for something.
(4) Bonus! The Japanese are strangely known for mopping the floors with us when it comes to eating contests - TV is lousy with teeny tiny people eating comical amounts of food - apparently this restaurant played host to such an event:

She ate two of these - can't wait to bring her home to mom!

The Most Japanese Thing I Have Ever Done, Pt. 1

This mark --> (1) will be for footnotes. I think my wild tangents have been making the reading as smooth as a bike ride on train tracks, so look for the numbers in parentheses and check at the bottom for more boring and flawed insights!

Last week I did something more Japanese than anything I have ever done before. But of course I can't just tell you what that is without a profoundly long-winded and round-about back story. So grab some popcorn, crack a beer (or soda) and possibly skip ahead to where the pretty photos are to save yourself three minutes you are never getting back (I try and stay true to the subtitle of this blog).

In Japanese the word for society is shakai (社会) and the word for company is kaisha (会社) which are the same two characters in reverse. Much has been made (2) of this in the sense that the company is in fact your entire life. Of course we have all heard of lifetime employment, although even Japan has been trimming back on that in recent years. In some cases the company even provides your wife (3). Your are there from dawn til dusk most days, and when the boss finally knocks off at around 8:00, you all go drinking together until you stumble home around 12:00 only to rise at 6:00 the next morning to live the dream all over again. Your whole life - social, romantic, economic - was centered around the company, so it should come as no surprise that Office vacations are a common practice. Why plan your own trip to somewhere you want to go when you can let the collective hivemind decide for you! Hate skiing? Tough shit slope-a-phobe! You better buck up and participate if you want to show the boss you have the right spirit! Hot springs not your bag? Better grin and prepare to see all your same-gender coworkers in the buff or you can count on low-level middle management for the rest of your life!

So if you haven't guessed, I participated in this years Office trip, not because I am in line for a promotion (4), but because I had read about them and thought it would be a good experience (5).

And so two Saturdays ago, I found myself in a car bound for coastal Hiroshima prefecture, for two days, one night, and a figurative mountain of Red Snapper.

More in the next post!

(1) See! First one!
(2) I read this once in a book somewhere, so "much" may be overstating it. But inaccuracy is the hallmark of this blog.
(3) Not really in the contract negotiations, but in the sense that your future cohabitant may well be one of the lovely OL (office ladies) puttering around and serving tea and hot photocopies.
(4) We Assistant Language Teachers serve at the pleasure of the Board of Education, just like the federal attorneys, but with less Alberto Gonzales - so really a step up!
(5) The $250 price tag for one night was NOT mentioned at the time of registration