Archive for May, 2015
(This post was an unposted blog entry from May 2005, during my second year of teaching English in Japan)
In an effort to save money, I am trying to spend some more time at the apartment hanging out with my roommates. We have a TV in the apartment, but Japanese TV is very hit and miss. There are some shows you can enjoy with limited language ability, but a lot of what’s available is not all that interesting when you can’t understand.
My roommates Azeroth, Palmer, and I took turns trying to locate some good, non Japanese shows we can all watch together while hanging out. I am proud to report that I introduced them to a fantastic Canadian show that is a great cultural ambassador for the country. A show that never fails to entertain or educate. A show that is as Canadian as hockey, maple syrup, and complaining about Celine Dion.
That show is Trailer Park Boys.
For those who have not had the pleasure of watching this show, it is a mockumentary about the residents Sunnyvale, a fictional trailer park in Nova Scotia, Canada. The main characters are serial criminals Ricky and Julian, and their best friend Bubbles. Most of the stories involve Ricky and Julian coming up with illegal schemes to make a lot of money and then retire. The end result is usually a return to jail at the end of the season after some drug and alcohol fueled mayhem.
The rest of the cast of characters is extremely colourful: Trailer Park supervisor Jim Lahey is a former cop and raging alcoholic, his assistant Randy never wears shirts, local wannabe gangster and very white rapper J-Roc asks “know what I’m sayin” about 30 times a sentence, and idiot henchmen Corey and Trevor can’t get anything right.
The show is absolutely filled with drinking, pot smoking, constant swearing, and occasional gunplay. It’s low brow, but it’s HILARIOUS. I would say it’s the funniest Canadian show not called “Kids in the Hall”.
So how are Trailer Park Boys cultural ambassadors? Despite being foul mouthed criminals, the boys care deeply about their friends and family. At one point Ricky publicly humiliates himself to ensure that his daughter gets a set of encyclopedias. In addition, the characters are all fiercely proud Canadians, and the show is ahead of it’s time with the acceptance of gay and lesbian characters; when Jim Lahey and Randy come out, nobody cares as long as they can keep playing street hockey.
Trailer Park Boys is definitely not a show for everyone, but Azeroth and Palmer absolutely love it. After a long day of teaching conversational English while wearing ties, there is nothing better than sitting back with some cold beer, unhealthy snacks, and then laughing our asses off watching Trailer Park Boys.
(2015 Update) The show is still going strong, having completed 9 seasons, 3 movies, and live tours around the world. I somehow got my wife (from Japan) hooked on the show! Check out what the boys are up to and see their new project at SwearNet.
One of the biggest differences between living in Canada and living in Japan is the disposal of garbage and recycling. Canada is a large, underpopulated country with lots of space to bury garbage. Japan is a small, densely populated country that doesn’t have the luxury of extra space. Garbage disposal in Japan requires some serious planning and lots of rules.
In Canada, most cities have weekly trash and recycling collection at homes. Some businesses and apartment buildings hire waste disposal companies to manage their needs. Garbage day in a house usually consists of putting some bags outside and an unsorted bin of recyclable materials. As long as you get the garbage out on the right day, all is well.
Garbage day in Japan is nowhere near as simple. Getting rid of garbage or recycling in Japan is a stressful, confusing experience. There is a never-ending amount of classifying, sorting, and then dealing with the neighbourhood garbage police.
Sorting, so much sorting
To prepare for garbage day in Japan, all garbage needs to be sorted into three main categories: burnable, non-burnable, and recycling. Burnable trash usually includes organic material (kitchen waste, etc) and waste paper. Non-burnable is anything that is not burnable or recyclable. Recycling includes anything with the recycling mark on it. There are some different local rules about what fits in each category, and the collection days might be different for all three. Schedules are usually only provided in Japanese, which is just one more great reason for English teachers to learn the local language.
Fear the garbage police
Since garbage sorting needs to be done correctly, some areas make use of the garbage police. This is my unofficial term for the volunteers who oversee garbage collection day, usually for an apartment or area with a central pickup location. Garbage police are volunteers, and they are typically the most cranky senior citizens that can be found in the area. I think they actually enjoy telling people they are doing something wrong.
The biggest cause for error on garbage day is recycling. Unlike most places in Canada where you can throw all of your recycling in one bin and forget about it, in Japan you need to sort everything by type (paper, plastic, metal), and then by colour. This leads to a large assortment of different boxes and bins outside the apartment building.
It’s easy to earn the wrath of the garbage police. Putting a clear glass bottle in the box for brown glass bottles? Wrath. Throwing out a bundle of newspapers that aren’t tied up with twine? Wrath. Throwing out plastic bottles that aren’t clean enough to use again or still have labels on them? Wrath and more wrath. With the wrath comes an element of public shaming as your neighbours can all see how poorly you sort your recycling.
Survival techniques for English teachers
My roommates and I came up with two strategies to make garbage day easier. The first option was to use the bins at the 7-11 across from our apartment as much as possible. Since most of our trash is packaging of food or drinks that we bought at 7-11, we did not feel very guilty about this.
Throwing away home garbage at convenience stores must be a fairly common practice, since most stores have a sign asking people not to dispose of their family garbage in the convenience store bins. Many English teachers “conveniently” miss this sign if it is displayed in Japanese only, but will obey English signs. The thought is that if the store made the effort get an English “don’t dump your family garbage here” sign, then the teachers should make the effort to dispose of their garbage properly (or find another convenience store).
Our other strategy was to send out Palmer with the garbage. My roommate Palmer is a 192cm (6 foot 3) bald Australian with big muscles who doesn’t like to wear shirts with sleeves. Whenever we had a difficult day with some questionable trash, Palmer would take it out, scowling and flexing at anyone who gave him a second look. The garbage police never said a word.
This strategy only works if you are large and can look intimidating. My other roommate Azeroth and I both look about as threatening as tax accountants, so we could not have pulled it off.
The best advice for people living in Japan is to learn the local rules and plan ahead for garbage day. Putting forth a good effort on garbage day will make a good impression on your neighbours, and will reduce the stress of last minute sorting or getting chewed out by the garbage police.
For a much better written article about garbage disposal in Japan with lots of pictures, check out “Getting Down and Dirty with Japan’s Garbage” by Verity Lane.
When people think about moving to another country, they usually get excited about the big things – exploring, learning the language, trying the food. When you arrive, you realize that there are other things that need attention as well. Not many people consider small everyday tasks that they will be experiencing, like doing laundry.
What I was used to:
In Canada I either lived with my parents or in an apartment. My parents, like most Canadians, own a washer and dryer. Most washing is done with warm or hot water, and clothes are either hung up to dry or put into the dryer. Due to the long cold winters, it’s not common to hang up clothes outside for large parts of the year. An indoor drying rack is a must have.
All of the apartment buildings I lived in had laundry rooms with coin operated machines. Most apartment laundry rooms close at a certain hour to avoid noise for nearby apartments. This, and the fact that you were using the same machines as everyone else in the building, meant some planning ahead was necessary.
Washing clothes in Japan:
Both of the places I lived in Japan had free laundry machines, however they only used cold water for washing. Cold water works fine for most items of clothing, but I found that tough stains don’t go away as easily. For the first time ever, I had stains on the collars of my work shirts that wouldn’t go away. This required occasional visits to a dry cleaner.
Finding a good dry cleaner is important. When I lived in Kawasaki, there was a cleaner between Hello House and Noborito station that all of the English teachers used. The staff was very polite despite the general lack of Japanese language skills of the teaching community. They did a fantastic job – the crease they put on my pants was so sharp I probably could have cut bread with it. They also kept a list of the local teachers’ names in English and katakana (Japanese script for foreign words) to help with pronunciation. I wish I had remembered the name of the cleaner so I could give them some free advertising!
Don’t forget drying:
Drying clothes is almost always done by hanging them up outside. One of the most useful things a person can own is what I like to call a clothes octopus. It is a plastic hanger that clips on to your clothesline and has a number of small vertically hanging clips on the bottom. They are very useful for hang drying anything that you can’t put on a hanger.
I was not used to hanging my clothes to dry, so it felt a bit strange displaying all of my laundry on the balcony for everybody to see. It’s not like I had anything particularly embarrassing, it was just unusual to display my wardrobe to the public. However, the more time I spent in Japan, the less self conscious I felt about it.
Folding it up:
If you are in another country for a short time, you remember the big exciting things that you get to see and do. Spending a longer time in another country provides a great opportunity to appreciate some of the mundane, everyday things as well. I would have never imagined when I moved to Japan that I would end up being able to write 500 words about washing my clothes, or that someone might actually want to read it! However, a quick Google search shows that this is a common concern. Check out some of these other (likely better) articles on the subject:
Hello readers, as you may already know, “Drinking in Japan” is a repost of my original travel blog when I lived in Japan from 2003-2006. I am currently in Winnipeg, Canada rewriting and reposting my original blog entries 10 years after they were posted the first time.
In May 2005, I had a bit of blog burnout and stopped posting for a few weeks. To avoid having this blog go quiet for two weeks, I will be writing some new posts based on things that were happening at the time. I hope you enjoy them!
And if not, please enjoy the picture of delicious ramen in this post. Mmmmm, ramen.
Today I had the worst kids class in my entire time teaching English in Japan. I can’t go into too many details because I am still working there and don’t know who is reading my blog, but if I have to continue teaching this class I will start considering my career options. I need a vacation!
(2015 Update) I don’t remember the exact details, but I am pretty sure that my original post was about a terrible experience covering one of Kasparov’s classes because he was “injured”. The kids were completely out of control and just went nuts for 40 minutes, running, screaming and throwing stuff. To make matters worse, Kasparov was looking through the window from the adjacent Voice classroom and laughing at me.
Kasparov (obviously not his real name) was a dick.
Something strange happened today; something that has never happened in my 19 months in Japan so far. Something I didn’t even think was possible.
I think I did too much karaoke tonight after work.
It was another typical day of teaching English at Mishima NOVA. After work, I stopped by the local video shop to rent Jackie Chan’s “Around the World in 80 Days”. It was a typical odd couple buddy movie that was not classic Jackie, but there were still some cool stunts.
Today I had another shift at Fuji school. Like every other day of the week, I have a group kids class here as well. Fortunately this class only has 2 students, and they were pretty good.
It’s much easier to keep the interest of 2 kids that don’t really want to study English than 8 kids who don’t really want to study English.
After a few nights out with work the next day, catching up on sleep is good.
Tonight was the next in a series of recent farewell parties. This one was for Charlie, who had recently moved to Mishima NOVA from Fuji NOVA.
Charlie had only been in Japan for about 6 months, and never really got used to life here. She was a very nice, friendly person, but she never really got used to living in Japan: she didn’t study the language, didn’t want to eat Japanese food, and didn’t always get along with other teachers. One of the factors in this was that she didn’t drink, and wasn’t all that interested in going to places where people would be drinking. Not drinking is not a problem, but if you want to spend some time with coworkers, you still have to be willing to go to izakayas or karaoke occasionally.
Not a lot of other teachers were planning on showing up at the farewell party. I had been working late Saturdays with Charlie and she specifically asked me, so I made sure to attend. The small group of people who showed up did have a pretty good time. We spent a few hours at a karaoke room that had pizza on the menu. Charlie seemed to have fun, so it was a successful farewell.
A note about the karaoke: Most karaoke machines have shortened versions of certain songs. For example, one of my staples is Copacabana by Barry Manilow. I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing. Take your time. Anyway, the original version of the song has a 2 minute long instrumental section in the middle. This may work in a live music performance, but at karaoke the singer basically has to stand around for 2 minutes while listening to a crappy midi instrumental solo. It seems like all of the English songs in this particular karaoke machine had the same issue. If I ever go back to this karaoke box, it’s going to be an all Ramones lineup.