Monday, June 6, 2016

One Year Japanniversary

I could've told you it was going to be a really good day when a woman rode by on her bike singing Let's Get Physical (~physical, I wanna get physical~) and doing a surprisingly good job of it as I crossed the street after the railroad tracks on my way to the station.
The beginning of March, almost a year to the day since we'd landed in Tokyo.

To say that the contrast couldn't have been starker would be not only trite but a complete understatement.

When we landed we were both unemployed, and I scrambled to secure us a room in a sharehouse full of disgusting man-children that I would end up despising to the point of literally screaming. Hannes' start date at his job kept getting pushed further and further back, so he spent a lot of time reading in bed and trying not to fret, and I took the first shitty job offer I got while we ate through all of my savings. The eating was pretty good, actually; except that I realised it was true that I could no longer tolerate soy, at least for the time being, but had opted for the inflammation, chest pain, difficulty breathing, etc., instead of the ridiculously daunting prospect of trying to maintain a vegan diet also free of it and gluten as well. Having mostly avoided these things I'm a bit better now, but I still don't eat tofu. I don't know when I'll be able to without irritation again or if the doctor I've seen can find a specialist who will be able to help me, but I have options, I've gotten weirdly used to it, and I'm optimistic.

Coming back from the States was the turning point - you know, the New Year and all, making efforts here and there to be better people and to do more of this and less of that - but March was when things really started to pick up. It was the busiest month I'd had in Tokyo so far in terms of actually going out and doing things that weren't 1) commuting, 2) applying and interviewing for jobs, or 3) dragging myself to a job I hated so much that I hoped for the Big One or a train derailment on my long commute out to Saitama nearly every morning, rationalising that I was/we were both very likely to survive without serious injury.

This time I regret not writing about things in a more timely fashion because, to be honest, I really couldn't have told you the rest of what happened on this Good Day after the spirit of Olivia Newton-John coasted by me like some odd celestial harbinger of fortune and basic contentment before going through the photos and checking the dates. But the fact remains that it was a good day.
I do not hate my job. As a matter of fact, I like my job very much and am good at it, and it pays very well, even if I don't have enough hours for that to matter right now. My schedule varies enough that I get to see a lot of the city and easily avoid getting bored by any semblance of routine, and when my company recently made the decision to keep me, the biggest source of stress in my life lifted and faded into the distance like an intentionally-freed balloon, more interesting in its leaving forever than it ever was being hung on to for no real reason.

Things aren't perfect, but we're comfortable, and we have a place here. We've both visited several prefectures and have a social scene as well as a couple of friends we each see separately every few weeks. I still don't feel like I actually live in Japan, or Tokyo, and would definitely not recommend it to anyone, but at the same time, we're at a point where we can enjoy it for what it is. While it's clear that the Japanese government and many of its people absolutely do not want anyone non-Japanese taking up residence on this struggling, sinking mid-80's time capsule, it would be ridiculous to say that life isn't good. We've still got at least another year, so here's to making it to Hokkaido and Okinawa in that time, which most people never get around to (partly because it's cheaper to go to Korea or Taiwan, and both those places are a lot better).

So anyway, you're probably like, alright, that's nice, but what about March? The Olivia Newton-John Epiphany was 3 months ago, so are you going to catch us up, or what? Yes. Yaaaaasss. Of course. Let me tell you more about this much-built-up day and the rest of that week.
So to start with, I realised as they started blooming that there are a lot of peppermint-patterned flowers here, and that they remind me of an early 90's character whose scented stickers I had, Peppermint Rose. So, you know, they're like, my new favourite.

Mentioned this stupid entertaining Street Fighter can of coffee in the weird snacks post lol

There's a Thai place right around the corner from my company's main office, where I was working almost full-time just then, and even though egg was still making me pretty sick, I was willing to try my luck when I found out that they have no difficulty understanding what "vegetarian" means. The only vegans you find here are people willing to tough it out and go hungry during their week or so of vacation, seriously. It's impossible to maintain this diet. 
But this Pad Thai is really good! ><

I'd settled for the Thai place after trying to find a Taiwanese one and failing. 
But look! I did find more peppermint camellias!

In the west entrance portion of Shinjuku Station there are occasionally buskers, because it's much more spacious, quiet, and always much less crowded; that perfect spring day this darling woman was there playing her ocarina. As I approached her she was taking a break, and when I asked, "Is that an ocarina?", she was so surprised that I knew what it was (Come on though, really? Unlike everyone else my age I never even played Legend of Zelda) that she thought I must be Italian. She loves it because it sounds just like a little bird singing. I didn't get her name, unfortunately, but if anyone can provide it I'll happily attach it to the video.

Way too adorable, right?

Since I'd gotten off work pretty early in the day, I made a couple of stops on the way home after watching the ocarina player. I found some real gems at my much-loved neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall used book store, including this vintage 1950's Doll Festival card 
(it was the day before ひな祭り).

Boom, The Little Prince, hardcover, in Japanese. I need to get this on eBay at some point.

And check this out: a very Disney-esque 1960's propaganda booklet 
brought to you by Monsanto.

It's funny looking back at stuff like this, from when everything was powered by clean, safe plutonium! and whatnot. I'm sure that people 40 or 60 years from now will facepalm even harder at all the stupid shit we're doing.

And very near our place - oh! Glorious! 
Even better than the camellias, these perfect little fluffy ones.

What is the science behind this, anyway?! Enquiring minds want to know!

Before the vintage book and paper ephemera shop I'd stopped at this money pit of a store called Its'demo that I specifically avoid, because I went in there looking for a gift for someone else and emerged with the above sickeningly adorable Poke-polish and Poke-pen. Oh, and I'd gotten cherry blossom-flavoured dango for an afternoon snack.

Hrnnng the polish is really nice and wears very well

This is the next day, by the way, after the weekly evening lesson I used to have in Odaiba.

And look! Hannes brought home a beautiful bouquet.

Between the bouquet and these adorable ひな祭り snacks from the traditional sweet shop, the table was a little crowded but looked very springtimey for boozy brunch that Saturday morning.

It turned out really good! 
We had quinoa with fresh veggies (theirs had an egg broken into the middle and was stuck in the broiler so that the top would cook), cinnamon sugar apples (very simple; just peel, slice, and shake in a tupperware container with cinnamon and sugar until coated!), and some leftover sweet rolled omelette, tofu, and kimchi from the shop with a white wine-grapefruit juice cocktail.

Actually, I had tried to keep broozy brunch a fairly regular thing, but haven't done one in a while.. We're long overdue.

That night we headed to a show at Moonstep that ended up being the best, most interesting one either of us had been to in Japan up until that point.

And this was why: Pangrok Sulap's Rizo Leong was there. He started this punk rock art collective in his native Borneo to empower people to stand against predatory capitalism and other types of exploitation when he was taught woodblock carving and realised how quickly and effectively it could be used to spread important messages.

Maybe you can view or Google a larger version of this; it's the size of a wall and is very powerful in person. It's the kind of thing that stops you mid-stride in the middle of the room.

The exhausted logger has clear-cut all the trees, and the orangutan offers the last banana leaf they have for shade. It took a team of people two weeks to carve this, and all the animals on the bottom are really worth a closer look.

I knew right away that I was going to buy one of their shirts; in addition to the wonderful prints hung up all around Moonstep's bar and the delicious vegan Malaysian food I had for only 400円, I couldn't resist the layers of colourful folded goodies with fantastic messages and images printed on them.

Here's a good article about Pangrok Sulap from that month. 
Support them and their homeland if you can, they're great people!

Here's the one I got; I wore it the following Tuesday when I had lunch with NiQui at Shamaim. It reads "Don't Buy, Make Yourself".

Cheerio put on a super entertaining set that was easily one of the most fun 
I've seen in Japan so far.

Here, have a creepy selfie

... and a weirdly festive and fun toilet?

We had a great time finally meeting more interesting new people than we had in several months before this combined, including a Swiss gutter punk Hannes could even speak German with.

... even if Jordan did go completely mental in the cab!
No, really. Completely mental. lol.