Dienstag, 2. April 2013

Cliches are there to be broken: Pachinko

All of this is based on what I experience and doesn't necessarily describe the true nature of Japan/japanese people.

You heard that story about Pachinko and how almost everyone in Japan played it?
Well, I have heard it and I know now: It's not true.
Most japanese people never even tried playing Pachinko. And many of those that had only did it once.


Because Pachinko is plain boring.
You have a console with many metallic sticks. Those sticks change positions every three days. Now you insert a small ball (you need to buy those, of course) and shoot it into the machine. Then the ball just falls and - hopefully - will end up in one of the three to five holes. Or - more likely - will disappear in the hole at the very bottom, meaning that you lost the game.
And that's it.

There are some professional gamers that watch which machine with which stick positions gets the most winnings, but most japanese people actually don't play. And if they do, then not for the fun (proven by the fact that most actually read or watch a movie on their mobile phone while playing), but because they can win valuable prizes. And - since I could see the Pachinko center of my area while eating my Ramen - no one actually enters that shop in a time frame of almost three hours at the evening.
Simply because most players are only there to do their stuff and leave and others just ignore the whole "fun".

But still, going into a Pachinko center at least once should be something that every visitor does. To see that big amount of machines, the people that just plainly stare at it as if sleeping with open eyes or even doing something else, the massive noise (because that game got it name for a audible reason, you constantly hear the loud "PACHIN" when the ball is shot inside and then a loud rattle while it falls, accompanied by many electronic noises from the machine itself). Maybe even play a bit, too. But don't waste more then 1000 Yen on it, the chance to win is very little.
Well, the man sitting there are sitting there since the center opened. Sitting in front of the machines with the highest probability of winning. If you win something, then you are simply incredibly lucky.

Fun Fact:
Since most free time activities like going out to drink with collegues, having some time with the family, watching TV, reading and simliar are seen as part of everyones life instead of actually being a "hobby" or "free time activity", Pachinko still is one of the top items of Free Time Activities whenever some scientists make a study about it, together with shopping and playing video games.

Facts you need to know: Politeness

All of this is based on what I experience and doesn't necessarily describe the true nature of Japan/japanese people.

As most people have heard, Japan is supposed to be a country of service.
That famous country where the people will greet you with a smile and don't accept any tips.

And they are right.
When I was slightly lost about the procedures at Osaka Airport, the workers there tried to help me. Even when they weren't able to speak english and noticed that I couldn't speak much japanese, they tried to explain everything, they even walked with me through half the airport or made funny gestures to show what they meant.
When I was at a drug store there was even a clerk that apologized for looking at me without me wanting something. Or another worker that made a deep apologetic bow when he realized that I couldn't understand what he told me about their discount offer. And when I looked for a plug adapter to use the electricity of my apartement I even suddenly had four workers around me, trying to figure out, if they had such a thing and if it would work or if I would waste money (and they were only at a price of 200 Yen).

The only untrue thing is that everyone is all smiles.
Most clerks don't smile at you, if they don't feel like it. Some force a smile, some just seem to be in a good mood, but most simply look like you would look, if you would be sorting stuff into a shelf for 6 hours already. But they are still very friendly and helpful.

Also the not-workers are very nice.
I had to ask a woman for directions and she hadn't gotten any idea. So - despite me saying that I don't really understand a lot of japanese - she talked to me for two minutes, pointing towards the directions that she guessed had the shop I was looking for. And she apologized around twelve times for not being able to give me a exact answer.
Or when my landlord thought that I must be at least 30 and the teacher of my tutors. Once she realized that I was the same age as them, she was so embarrassed that she apologized again and again, bowed a lot. And even when I met her later the day she immedately started apologizing and bowing again.
Even my tutors, who behave pretty "international" apologize for almost anything. They didn't directly understand what I asked? They apologize. They said something in english and I had to correct what they said (or, more actually, I just ask, if they mean "supportive" when they say "saportafu")? They apologize. Even when we looked for a parking spot and I wondered where we would go to, they apologized for not informing me about that. And - of course - when I mentioned that they use some words I never heard in my japanese lessons before, they apologized.

Bowing, apologizing and being thankful is something that everyone here does and that people obviously need to adapt. So people that are very proud and like to make a point or to have the last word will have a hard time getting used to the fact that here isn't just one person wrong. If someone like my landlord thinks I'm a teacher and apologizes for this mistake, then I need to apologize for her making the mistake. And it doesn't matter that I never actually wanted to do that.
Thats just the way the onigiri rolls here in Japan.

Fun Fact:
There are two words that are often used as a apology: "Gomenasai" and "Sumimasen"
Gomenasai is the actual word for an apology, meaning "I'm sorry". Said after a mistake, being rude or simliar.
Sumimasen is more like "Excuse me" and used when you will do something that others might find offensive and rude (like needing to get through a group of people) or when you simply want to get someones attention.
It's not too bad to mix those two up (at least for as long as you are obviously not japanese), but the difference is still there.

Facts you need to know: surgical masks

All of this is based on what I experience and doesn't necessarily describe the true nature of Japan/japanese people.

If you had seen at least one documentary about Japan, you will have noticed that many people there seem to wear those masks that usually the doctors would wear.
Well, it's not true that many wear them.
Almost everyone does.

If I only take those working in the town hall then I would say that surely 58% of all workers there had one. In the super markets about 40% have one. And every third driver of a car wears them.
And - since one of my tutors wears one, too - I went and asked what is behind that.

Japanese society is based on a few rules and one of those is: don't bother others.
So they will wear a mask once the don't feel well. To hide a running nose, to prevent themselfs from making others sick or to simply feel better once the throat hurts and you don't know, if it was from that karaoke session last night or from a incoming cold. But those masks are white and no one paints on them except for children and freaks (otaku). The latter are stared at (even more then at a Gaijin [foreigner] like me) and avoided. Even to the point where the shop clercs greet them pretty softly in comparison to the enthusiastic greeting the other customers get.
But yeah, those masks are everywhere. They are also amazingly cheap (89 Yen) and come in all kinds of variations, from simple paper ones over those you can wash, some with a "window" and the high quality ones even seem to smell of something.

So I guess that it is obvious that I will need to get those sooner or later, too.
At least, if I don't want to make everyone run away in pure shock and disgust when I start coughing and don't wear one.

Fun fact: Sneezing - on the other hand - isn't a sign of incoming sickness here. It is absolutly ok to sneeze, even without holding your hand/arm in front of your face. But don't dare to comment on someone sneezing like "Gesundheit!" or "Are you getting sick?" or even comment your own sneeze. Because sneezing is very embarrassing, since you can't stop yourself from doing it. Japanese people will totally ignore your sneeze and you should do it, too.

Ramen, shops and lots of paper

All of this is based on what I experience and doesn't necessarily describe the true nature of Japan/japanese people.

First things first:
I slept great. Despite the hard futon, but it was quiet, warm (and maybe I was just dead tired?).
Second thing:
It was freezing cold in my apartement.
Third thing:
I have absolurly no jetlag (I'm not even tired during the day), probably because I slept at the perfect time in the airplane and have matched up with the japanese time quite easily because of that.

The morning started with a litte walk around the blog. I just walked down a random street and returned some time later, prepared myself and met my three tutors at 9am.
We went to the university to get myself enrolled there, I got to wear public slippers for the first time and we visited the International Affairs Office for some documents.
We went to the town hall to put my adress on my alian registration card, get my insurance and get my pension forumlar (yep, need to pay for a never happening japanese pension).
Short: it started with a lot of paper.

So we all were hungry and thought about food first thing once we were in the car.
My tutors recommended Ramen, so we went. I got a huge bowl with noodles, soup, meat, kamaboko (pressed fish meat that looks funny [mine looked like a sakura flower]) and seaweed. Also some Gyouza (some kind of dumpling with vegetables and meat inside) and a bowl of rice. It was very tasty, even though I probably still need to get used to slurping the noodles in without making a mess from the splashing soup.
Fun fact: In Japan there are many american restaurants. I saw Mc Donalds and KFC, I heard that Subway and Burger King are also there. My tutors also declared a restaurant called "Big Brother" as american, but that seems to be from Malaysia...

We went shopping afterwards, getting things for cleaning, stuff like toilet paper and tissues, some cooking utensils and a new electricity converter (because I can obviously write to you today). And I have to say, there is really a lot of interesting stuff in this shops.
The electricity shop was simply gigantic (and this isn't even a big town like Tôkyô) and had all kinds of funny stuff. The drug store was like a super market, only missing animal food (and it had a vending machine for little plastic guns in the entrance ôo). And the Hyaku Yen Shop (100 ¥ Shop) had such beautiful soup bowls that I wondered why I had bought such a small one for 259¥ instead of a big and nice one for 100¥.
Fun Fact: If it isn't food, make-up or electronics, then you should always look in a Hyaku Yen Shop first, because they have almost everything there, but simply for 100¥ instead of 200¥ or more.

We then tried  to figure out my classes, how my air conditioner works (and now it is just the right temperature) and what we will do tomorrow.
Oh and I seem to look extremly old in comparison to my tutors...
We are pretty much the same age, but MY landlord saw us four and asked me, if I wanted to look after my students. She obviously thought I was the teacher of my tutors. Well, she was extremly emberassed and we had a good laugh about it. Well, the smallest of my tutors didn't find it that funny, too (she barely reaches my chest in height), but nobody was angry at anybody.

Maybe I will try to find that Hyaku Yen Shop by foot now, I still need stuff like wrapping paper and a stool and bowl for my shower. 

Montag, 1. April 2013

Pans in Niigata, 24-hour shops and the mystery of air conditioners

All of this is based on what I experience and doesn't necessarily describe the true nature of Japan/japanese people.

And, well...
I arrived at Niigata, three super nice students got me and brought me to my apartement. Which is pretty beautiful, still bigger then I had feared and...without any cooking utensils.
So we went to a supermarket and bought a pan, a rice bowl, a soup bowl, some eating sticks, a knife (no forks needed here), my breakfast for tomorrow (toast and marmelade, soooo japanese xD) and dinner for today. They invited themselves in (something that is supposed to be rare in Japan, but I'm european, so why should I care?) and we ate together.
Shrimpsalad, baked chicken, vegetables with joghurt, cheese sticks and bread where the ham and the chocolate is INSIDE the bread. We sat on the ground around my little table and ate and talked. And I have to say: it was a lot of fun. I had feared that japanese people might be a bit shy or quiet, but no. They asked me questions, we talked to each other, they tried to speak german (Drrrrrrrrei) and I explained what horrible japanese I had heard in Germany (like "Za-Zus-Ke" instead of "Saske" for the japanese name Sasuke).
We will meet tomorrow at 9 and finish my registration (and maybe get me a bike).
Oh and I noticed that my power adapter is wrong xD" I have the problem that my PC might suffer from electricity loss soon...

But oh well, I later tried out one of those famous convenience stores that are open for 24h. Well, it was open at 10pm and also pretty full. I got some crisps since I had just left out of boredom and when I returned I realized that the room is fricking cold. Well, I can read Hiragana, but my air conditioner is full of Kanji, making it impossible for me to actually know what that I would press there...
So I will go to bed straight (yep, no japanese bath, but mainly because there isn't anything in, I don't have a washing seat, no bowl, nothing :'D). The futon feels pretty hard, so I will see how my back will feel tomorrow, I guess ;)

Airplane movies, the Thrill of Delay and Pokemon Land

All of this is based on what I experience and doesn't necessarily describe the true nature of Japan/japanese people.

Well, to get to Japan, most people need to enter a airplane.

My journey started in Düsseldorf, went to Frankfurt, then to Osaka and I finally arrived in Niigata.
Well, except from some (selfproduced) chaos at the first airport (and a seemingly endless search for a parking spot) everything went fine. The start was great, the landing soft, the flight relaxing.
Except for the fact, that the plane had a 30 minute delay...

So instead of just walking out, getting back to the airport and waiting for my next flight, I was called out of the plane by name, entered a special bus (with four other people) and we just ignored all the things like pass control, VISA control, handpackage control and whatever and went to the new airplane.

At a side note, when I saw the first plane, I was really surprised, because we entered via stairs and I wondered, if all planes are so small that I could actually jump to reach the door. But when I arrived at the plane to Osaka, I just saw a gigantic airbus and felt awfully small all of a sudden...

The flight COULD have been fine, if...I hadn't had gotten the seat right next to the wings.
Well, hey, in case of an emergency I would be one of the first ones to get out, but...
It was loud. We flew for around 10 or 11 hours and I had a constant "BWMMMMMMM" in my ears. I tried to listen to the music that the plane provided, but I heard almost nothing. Tried watching a movie, same result. Tried to read, but my head started to hurt. And when the lights went off to enable people to sleep for the main time, I begged for ear plugs to at least make it slightly softer (but it didn't help a lot).

The landing was great, because it was really rumbly and shaky. But hey, once we were on the ground and the stewardess gave us the last instructions in german, english and japanese, the (german) captain just said "Well, it could have been worse, like - for example - I could have gotten killed by the Langoliers." Well, only the german and some of the american/english people got the joke and laughed, but it was still pretty fun.

Well, if I would need to describe Japan in one word by what I saw first, it would be: Pokemon.
No joke, the first thing I saw was the legendary Pokemon Airplane. When I was out of the plane, a pokemon sign said something for childrens regarding some kind of passport. Once I was in the central hall, there was a gigantic pikachu sign showing you where the line to the check-in starts. When I walked to the airport mall, every shop had Pokemon merchandise. I went with a bus that connects the Kansai (International) Airport with the Itami (National) Airport which had Pokemon on the outside (but that seemed to be advertising, since I also saw busses with smiling vegetables and one with a gigantic diamond ring). Of course, at the Itami airport, there were also Pokemon snacks.
And I would soon realize that in Niigata, every second supermarket has at least one kind of Pokemon merchandise, too...

Well, I ate a Tamago Onigiri (Egg Riceball), drank a vegetable-fruit juice and ate a Daifuku (a sweet riceball with Anko-filling) and I really have to say, it tastes different then what I had eaten in Germany (or better: in the Japantown of Germany, Düsseldorf).

The next plane was one with airscrews instead of turbine, so the sound was SLIGHTLY different (but I was still next to the wings, so more noise for me, yay!).
Funny was that until the actual start and after the landing there was Beethovens NO.5 played, making me amazed about this idea and still slightly uncomfortable about the choice of music (DAM DAM DAM DAAAAM xD). Well, the flight was fine, even though the presumed one hour flight became almost two hours, I fell asleep halfway and the landing was so rough that most passangers hit their head against the row in front of them. But since no one even made a sound or change of expression, that seemed to be a normal thing...

So I just hurried to get out, got my luggage, was TOTALLY CONFUSED about a weird box where some people threw paper in (some threw the signs from their luggage in, others their tickets, others just random paper) and met with the three wonderful students that took me to my apartement.
And - even though this doesn't actually have a lot to do with Japan itself yet - it was a lot of fun and especially the end was something that would soon prove to be more then fitting for what the japanese society seems to be about.

Btw, I saw this plane (but since my camera was in my handpackage and out of my reach since I had a window seat, I couldn't photograph it myself):