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Out of the frying pan, and into the fire...(08/08/00)


Iím not going to write an airport guide or any of that useless nonsense (like you really need to know which European airport has the best restrooms) but I will start by telling you about the single most important item that youíll need before you can get through customs, an embarkation/disembarkation card. Now this one caught me out real good and there is nothing worse than arriving in Japan for the first time, almost passing out due to the lack of sleep and intense heat, only to be sent away because you havenít got this poxy bloody card.

Sure you need one for every country in the known world but when you start heading to a place where English is not the main spoken language, its all the more important to sort it out BEFORE you arrive. If you land at the airport without one then youíre going to have one hell of a tough time and its no good making up some dumb excuse because most of the airport the staff wonít be able to speak English. I think that the only words they know are ďNoĒ and ďFuck off or dieĒ or something like that, thatís all they said to me anyway.

The best thing to do is to sort it out before you arrive at the Japanese airport. If your stopping off at somewhere like Amsterdam half way then do it there (just ask one of those airline babes while putting on an over the top Swedish accent for cheap laughs) because if you need help then youíll want it in English right? Once you start leaving English speaking countries things will start to get very difficult, you just try miming your address and the purpose of your visit in Japanese.

And be prepared to have all the details about your visit, not just your personal information but also the address of where your going to stay, what your going to be doing (tourist, business trip etc), how long for etc. Even with just one blank box left you still wonít be let through. Once thatís done and they let you pass you can breathe a sigh of relief (and believe me its going to be fucking huge) before making your way out of the airport and into that crazy country of the east.

One more thing, lads if you donít want to get searched then try to have a clean shave and wear some respectable clothes. I made the mistake of walking around looking like a Colombian drug lord (what do you expect after spending 2 days in different European airports?) and the security boys gave me a full search right out in the open. Try wearing a shirt and tie and you should be safe. I donít think the ladies have anything to worry about though, no matter what you look like.

Now before you go off in search of that seedy little night-club you saw on a late night documentary back home or to find that Japanese girl youíve been writing to for the last six months, there are a few more things that you should know. After spending so much time on the plane youíre going to feel the call of nature, perfectly normal and you should find plenty of restrooms in Japan. The only problem is when you come across the Japanese style toilets.

Sometimes you can get away with holding it until you find a western toilet but sooner or later your luck is going to run out so youíd better swallow your pride and go native. If youíve never seen a Japanese style toilet before then try to imagine a long (not deep) hole dug into the ground and um, thatís about it. Now Iím going to leave this open to the rest of you because I have no idea on how to use them correctly. It took me awhile to figure it out in Kansai airport but Iím still not sure, I mean, do you sit on them or squat above and get a good aim?

Donít worry though, for those of you that only need a number 1 then theyíve got the usual shanks too. However while menís toilets are men only back home, donít be too surprised if a sexy young girl starts cleaning the shank next to you while your doing the business. Its pretty weird the first time it happens but you soon get used to it (some of you guys may even start to like it) and the same thing happens in public baths too.

ATTACK OF THE VENDING MACHINES:

Man do I love Japanese vending machines! If I wasnít so busy trying to get myself in and out of sticky situations (hmm, that sounded better in my head) then Iíd probably start up my own vending machine appreciation society or something equally as geeky. Forget those machines back home that only sell drinks and cigarettes and are covered in slogans telling you who shagged who during the new year celebrations, Japanese vending machines are like mini supermarkets minus the babes behind the counter.

Donít fancy making a total fool of yourself in a Japanese restaurant? Then go to the nearest vending machine and buy a 3 course meal, hot or cold. Ever woken up at 4am with the uncontrollable urge to buy a wind up clapping monkey toy (well I know I have)? Again just run down to the vending machines to build up your army of happy chimps. First time visitors to Japan will get the most amusement by reading all the English names on Japanese drinks, my favourite being Pocari Sweat (spelling?) but let me know if you find anything worse.

There was one question that always bugged me while I was out there, if there are so many vending machines all over Japan, how come you never see anyone going around to fill them up with new stock? Isnít there some sort of secret network of vending machine men that check to see what machines are empty? And one more thing, I know that this has nothing to do with vending machines but why is it that in Japan you use chopsticks to eat noodles but use a fork and spoon to eat spaghetti? Anyone?

GAIJIN WARS:

Although most Japanese are friendly and trustworthy, there are going to be times when youíre going to feel the need to talk to someone Ďnormalí before you break out into a cold sweat and severe culture shock sets in. Yeah I know it sounds racist but after living in Japan for a few weeks youíll see what I mean, youíll quickly get tired of talking in a loud voice using very-slow-English-so-that-every-one-can-understand-what-you-say and youíll soon want to hunt for other gaijin to make you feel at ease.

Thankfully itís not all that hard and chances are that youíll find them when youíre not actually looking. I dunno, maybe its like that force thing in Star Wars? One day youíre on the train minding your own business (or trying to get a sly look at the babe sitting to your left) when suddenly you spot a head of naturally blonde hair in the crowd. But donít get your hopes up yet because gaijin bonding can go in two ways.

The first way is that you meet some really cool people with totally different backgrounds to your own. When I was out there I met Australian, German, Chinese, Spanish, American and each guy had his own story to tell. Some were there for the culture experience while others were there because of a drunken marriage proposal, either way your going to have some good times swapping different stories and helping each to conquer Japan.

The second way that gaijin bonding can turn out is that youíll get yourself into a turf war because there are going to be some gaijin (although quite rare), who are against you moving into the same area as them. Why? Well maybe its something to do with the fact that we like to think of ourselves as being special and different from the other folks back home for being able to make a lifestyle in Japan. But with the increasing number of gaijin, that Japanese lifestyle is going to seem less special now that others are living it, try to look at it from their point of view:

John has been living in Japan for almost 7 years now, after working extremely hard to get his working visa, he finally went there to follow his dreams of teaching English. John has settled down in a nice apartment in his town and although heís the only gaijin there, he loves it. Why? Well heís the guy everyone goes to for English lessons, heís the guy that restaurant owners give the extra attention to and the one that all the women down the shopping mall love to talk to. Heís Mr Special and he knows it.

Then one day you come along, you didnít have to work that hard to get to Japan and youíve already found a good job with a decent apartment. People start to notice you around and some of Johnís young female students have quickly taken a liking to you. The restaurant owners start trying out their new menus on you and you spend hours telling the women down the shopping mall about your past adventures. Do you see whatís happening? Poor old John is no longer Mr Special and this time you both know it.

The easiest way to spot a potential turf war is if your new gaijin buddy starts asking you things like how long youíve been in Japan for, how much Japanese can you speak and how many traditional Japanese activities have you taken part in. Keep in mind that whatever you answer, heís always going to have something better. Youíve been there for 2 months and heís been there for 2 years, you can speak enough Japanese to get by and heís fluent in the language, youíve been to a hot spring and heís been to a summo match, held a geisha party and taken part in some buri-buri.

Itís a no win situation because what ever you answer, heís always going to stay one step ahead. But like I said before, getting into a turf war with another gaijin is quite rare so donít worry about it. Strangely though when you first arrive youíre the only gaijin thatís a bum, everyone else seems to have a steady job or a legal way of staying in the country. How long do you have to be there before you get to welcome new bums to the area and give them stories of what you did when you first arrived?

By James


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