Japalentine’s Day

Japalentine’s Day
Semi-based on a true story

“I got you chocolate.”

“Why?  It’s Valentine’s Day.”

“Uhh, because it’s Valentine’s day.”

The girl frowned, brow curling with the starting pangs of sudden confusion. He felt his own “Look at me being all grown up and buying chocolate for people on Valentine’s Day” grin beginning to subside.

“It is Valentine’s Day, right?”

He reached into the breast pocket of his suit to retrieve his cellphone. He liked to keep his phone there, he was an adult now, after all.

The Bossman cleared his throat and nodded towards an empty classroom. Without a word, he let the chocolate sit.

“First year in Japan, right?” the Bossman asked, shutting the door as he followed his bemused subordinate in.

“Yeah.”

“So you don’t know then.”

The Bossman took a swig of coffee from a paper cup. When he pulled it away his mustache was dripping.

“Know what?”

The bossman paused, looked him over through thin barely there glasses.

“Better if you find out for yourself. I’m sure the staff’ll let you know what you need to know. Hell, they’ll enjoy it.”

Of course, explaining Japan’s various customs, rituals, and odd practices started by well-planned retail campaigning to the resident dumb gaijin seemed to be everyone’s favorite pastime here.

“Uh huh.” He always hated being explained to and hated the Bossman more for setting him up for it every time.

“Anyways, I was actually checking your file just the other day and it said you used to play football.”

“A little, I guess.” Small talk. He hated small talk. It was already what he did for a living. Make small talk in English. Make sure there were no horrible errors being made. Give the customer a nice list of new words to be digested, just to make sure they felt they were getting their money’s worth.

“What position?” The Bossman always kept his questions short and concise. Like he was teaching a class and the teachers under his supervision were his students.

“Linebacker.”

“Oh. Linebacker. Right right.” The Bossman nodded in full acknowledgment even though He knew that the Kiwi probably hadn’t the faintest idea of what that position entailed. “Anyways, your next class assessment will probably be next month.”

“Right. Awesome. Is that all?” He got up, ready to show himself the door.

“Yeah. Let’s get a drink next time I come to town.” He had said the same thing the last five times he had made the rounds to this branch school and every time there had been no drinks.

“Can’t wait.” He let the door slam shut behind him.

The receptionist had been eagerly awaiting his return, no doubt anticipating the chance to tell the dumb foreign person more about how Japan worked. His chocolate gift sat unaccepted atop cheap plastic countertop.

He gave a resigned sigh and let her take command.

“Mister Stephen, boys don’t give chocolate until White Day.”

“White Day?”

“Yes. Next month. Today is girls only.” The receptionist handed the unopened box of department store chocolate back to the dejected teacher.

“Oh right. Cool.” It wasn’t.

He ate the chocolate alone in his classroom before going home that night.

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Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Chocolate Instant Yakisoba

In case you’ve somehow forgotten, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day which means it’s once again time for Japanese food companies to make their best (or, in some cases, their worst) effort to capitalize on the season.  Case in point:  This limited edition chocolate-flavored instant yakisoba.

Now, I’m told that this particular strange food concoction was also in circulation last year but I evidently didn’t notice or at the very least didn’t care so it’s all new to me. Continue reading

Winter in Japan, Alternatively Titled “You’re Going to Catch a Cold No Matter What”

As the hordes of old people in their puffy Michelin Man jackets would tell you, the dead of winter has come to central Japan.  Surgical masks are flying off the shelf like magic.  The ubiquitous vending machines all seem to have at least one row devoted to “hot”, well, more like lukewarm, beverages.  There are more sniffles on the train than a whole movie theater of middle school girls watching The Notebook for the first time.  Yes, it’s that time of year.  Cold weather has arrived and with it cold season.

While there are definite benefits to living in the biggest city in the world, nothing can make you rue the day you moved to Tokyo more than the day some old drunk dude coughs right into your mouth on the train home.  I’m sure you’ve heard about how crowded Japanese cities can be and no where is this more obvious than the country’s highly regarded public transit system, clean, on time (when there hasn’t been a suicide by train), and chockfull of sick people just waiting to get you sick.

Make no mistake, Japan might be sanitary on a surface level but it has a dark, dirty, stanky underbelly that’ll drag you down and knock you out with nary a second to spare.  I was naive, too, when I first moved here but three bouts of the flu in two years and countless head colds later I am now a hardened veteran of the Japanese winter.

So Stephen, you ask, how does one avoid getting knocked down for the count by a winter cold in Japan? Continue reading

Five Things You Should Know Before You Come to Japan

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Stereotypical Tokyo Tower picture.

I know, I know.  This is a horse that’s been particularly beaten to death over the years and there are like five-thousand other articles out there on the internet with the exact same title, most of them probably better than this one.

But, ever since What’s Manzai?!!! went live on Netflix, I’ve started to receive a steady stream of the typical “Hey, I want to come to Japan but totally don’t know where to start so I just randomly decided to contact a dude that I saw in a random TV show on the internet” message (most of these for some reason landing in my personal email account, Facebook Messenger, and, in one case, through text message on my phone).  Rather than answering each query one by one (while I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time out of your life to contact me, I don’t have the time or resources to come up with a satisfactory response that doesn’t make me seem like the total asshole that I probably am), I thought I’d kill thirty birds with one stone, something that should totally be an Olympic sport by the way, and start answering some of these questions somewhere everyone could see them.

Which brings us to our main course for today:

Five Things You Should Know Before Coming to Japan

Continue reading