I guess someone is trying to find me

As I was running though my access logs, I found the following,

“http://www.google.com/search…=expat+fish+jonathan+Nagoya&spell=1”

Hmmm, I guess they knew what they were looking for. I had multiple searches all from the same IP address that had some variant of the search. Hey, I have a cyber stalker out there! It is an IP address assigned to Softbank. Interesting. I hope they are enjoying the blog. I accept all lurkers that find this blog entertaining.

But then again, the following search ALSO showed up in my access logs,

“http://www.google.com/search?q=soapy+massage+in+nagoya.”

You know, I have NO idea how that leads to my blog, but it does.

お通夜

I try to keep my blog light and more focused on the quirky or quirkily mundane rather than the issues that face expatriates that are more serious, or at least amplified because we are away from our usual surroundings. But that is part of the experience over here, and while I am not going to dwell on the “downers” it is important balance if I’m trying to explain my life here.

The past couple of weeks have been very difficult. I found out my boss was leaving sooner than I thought and I was working really long hours trying to resolve various issues, and I really didn’t have an option to not work those hours. However, far worse than those complaints is that last weekend one of our expatriate colleague’s children died suddenly.

Certainly in any small office, friendships develop and people in the office care for one another. In an expatriate office, we of course care a lot for each other. But everyone in the office somehow seems a little more like family than when I am in the office in the States. Here in Nagoya, we are all thrown in to this big mélange of new experiences, confusion of how to do some of the simplest things, uncertainty as to the duration of our assignments, and even uncertainty in what our roles are. Although we don’t socialize that much since everyone does have their life here, we do some important things as a group and with families. For example, we do a major community event in May, we have a group Thanksgiving dinner, we had a bowling party / food drive, we sponsor orphans at Christmas time, we have 忘年会 (bounenkai – forget-the-year party), 新年会 (shinnenkai – New Year party), and simple 飲み会 (nomikai – drinking party). We’ve even as a group ended up at a hole-in-the-wall bar and taken over the karaoke machine. My point is we pull together, know each other’s families, and look out for each other.

One of the things I’ve always worried about as an expat is something happening to my family in the States, or something happening to me while I am here. Several members of our team have lost parents or grandparents and have had to travel back to the States. Other colleagues have been traveling back because of parents that are ill. Although I live a long distance from my family when I’m in the States, the distance isn’t so great. Living across an ocean makes the distance feel very far.

Medical care is hard enough to navigate in the US – I can’t imagine what it would be like here to really get what you needed. One time when I had strep throat, I got these pills that looked like children’s aspirin and had to take them forever. It took a long time to remotely start to feel better. How I longed for a Zithromax 3-pack (mind you, I am not an antibiotic pill popper – I can only remember these two cases of antibiotics in the past 10 years. The Zithromax wiped out a case of pneumonia I had picked up after traveling LA – Hong Kong – Kuala Lumper – Tokyo – LA in less than one week).

So of course the death of our colleague’s child was shocking. Without going in to too much detail, the Nagoya media speculate that he died due to complications of H1N1. That can’t really be confirmed though, but his death was sudden and unexpected, and he did test positive for H1N1. He was 4 years old. Many of my colleagues have young children of their own with them in Nagoya, and this news was particularly difficult for them. Fortunately, our company has a program to assist employees in these situations and an American counselor residing in Fukuoka was dispatched to Nagoya to talk to our team.

Over 75 families attended the wake (otsuya – お通夜) on Tuesday night. There was a Buddhist prayer from in the home of my colleague and then a viewing / wake, still in the home. My colleague is Japanese-American and his wife is Japanese, so they had a more traditional Japanese wake than a western wake. Almost everyone from the office went. There’s a lot of mixed information out there surrounding otsuya, so for once I’m not going to make a link. If you are curious, you can do the research on your own.

Once again, I’m not going to dwell on the serious difficulties we face at times as expatriates. My next entry will be frivolous and lighthearted. There is no way that I know to seque from this topic to any other topic, so forgive me in advance.

Hey, I’m a mosquito

Tomo and I are going to see a Muse concert tonight. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, our tickets are floor general admission, so if we line up early enough we are able to get to the front of the stage. Yippee. Tomo is a dedicated live music aficionado, so he thinks nothing of arriving at a venue many hours before a show in order to line up to get in. And so it is today. I may not have the energy for the front row as I’m a little sick today.

The venue is actually pretty close to my apartment, so I said I would walk to Starbucks and then the venue with Tomo to help him get there. I was joking around in the elevator and pulled my faux-fur edged parka hood over my head. It is quite a large hood and my head was buried deep inside. “Hey, you are a mosquito,” said Tomo.

“What?” I could imagine a reference to Kenny from South Park, but a mosquito? It made no sense to me.

“No, no, not a mosquito, an Eskimo.”

Am I a pest?

[photos in public domain, Eskimo family by Edward S. Curtis, Library of Congress]

 

Ah, yes, that made a lot more sense. Indeed, I did look like an Eskimo. And here was a perfect example of two words that you don’t think could ever get confused, yet have enough similarities that it is just possible to accidently confuse. I thought it was funny.

Now when I say kowai (怖い, こわい) and kawaii (可愛い, かわいい) interchangeably, I won’t be so embarrassed. Kowai means “scary” and kawaii means “cute.” There is a big difference of course, but I always mess them up.

The Japanization of my hair

As I’ve talked about before, I enjoy getting a haircut in Japan. It’s the shampoo, the massage, the meticulous cut, and the attention to service. My “stylist” moved from Toni&Guy to his own place, Hair Make Arm’S. I have no idea what the name means. What’s in a name anyway? I know where to go so it doesn’t matter.

He chose to start his own salon just as the economic crisis was hitting, and I worried about it. At first it seemed he was not very busy at all, but it seems he is doing OK now so hopefully things will remain good for him. When he left however, I lost the assistant who acted as a translator for my cuts. It is hard enough to communicate what you want in English, much less for me to communicate in Japanese. To solve the problem, I was just keeping my hair short. Hey, it isn’t so hard to keep it short. Get it cut often enough and things will be fine.

Lately, though, I’ve decided to grow my hair out. Perhaps it is a reaction to noticing that my forehead has become larger in recent pictures of me, maybe caused by a retreat of my hairline. Also, I’ve noticed that my scalp is more visible than it used to be. Midlife crisis perhaps? Ah, well, yeah, maybe. Don’t worry, I’m not going with the compensatory pony tail accompanied by a bald pate. Besides, long scruffy hair seems to be rather cool. I’ll never by Zac Efron because I actually open my eyes, but he seems to be all about his hair so why not take a page from his book?

The problem with my hair as it gets longer is that often I have to wear a baseball cap at work. It is a silly safety rule that when I am in certain parts of the site, a cap is required. No protective eyewear, but a baseball cap is required. So with short hair I could take off my cap, mess it up with my hand, and there was no impact. With longer hair, I can get hathead pretty quickly. Plus, unlike the uberstraight hair of my youth, when it gets longer it starts to curl, especially around my ears. The result was little wings flipping out at my ears. Scruffy, and a little goofy.

Today I tried to communicate what I wanted, but I knew in the end that I would just end up getting whatever 秋山さん (Akiyama-san) decides is what he wants to cut and I start resembling anime character. Indeed that is what I got. I feel an 80’s revival approaching, as I now have a lot of weight on top and in the back, but trimmed pretty tight around the ears. Hmmm, was that I wanted? After so much time growing out have I taken a step backward?

Of course, leaving a haircut, your hair is overstyled compared to every day use. This time he even added a touch of hairspray to volumize the back. Excellent, but that’s not what I am going to do. However, I do think I’m becoming more Japanese from a style point of view every day I’m here.

Self portrait after haircut

Self portrait after haircut

[Unfortunately I need a shave. It is always hard to take a self portrait with a small camera and a wide angle lens held at arm’s length]

 

Pretty soon I’m going to dye my hair black and then maybe bleach it to brown. Then I’ll really be Japanese.

On Facebook, a friend noted that, “David Sedaris reports ear boxing from the Japanese barbers.” That’s sort of true, actually. I don’t go to a barber, I go to a salon. There is actually a big difference, but I suspect the massage happens at either place.

Today my routine was as follows:

  • Arrive and have my manpurse, coat, and muffler taken away and hung up by the staff.
  • Have a quick discussion with 秋山さん regarding the direction I want to take this cut.
  • Shampoo with an assistant where we discussed in Japanese my recent trip to LA and Indiana, including gas leaks, Lady GaGa, and my family. The shampoo is very nice. The assistant has magic hands.
  • Move to the cutting chair where the assistant gave me a head a neck massage. While massaging my scalp, they spray something on your head that tingles. This massage one was a little different, and it varies by assistant. This one did box my head a little bit more than usual, massaged my shoulders, but didn’t work down my spine as much as I would have liked.
  • The cut, using various clips, etc, to keep longer hair long. At times, the assistant would softly brush my face with a soft brush in case any hairs had fallen there.
  • Post cut rinse and slight massage.
  • A hot towel to refresh my face.
  • Back to the chair for styling.
  • My manpurse and coat were brought to me with the bill. I paid and then made an appointment for the next time.
  • An assistant escorted me out the door and down the stairs, and I was done for the day (except I had to go back because they forgot my scarf. Horror of horrors!).

As for the David Sedaris reference, I have previously noted his take on Japan in my blog. He is a funny guy and he is definitely on target.

I found The Messiah in Nagoya

I found The Messiah in Nagoya. I am not talking about the great work by Handel. Although it is as much an Easter piece as it is a Christmas piece, I haven’t seen any production listed here recently. Nor have I had any particular epiphanies and found, you know, Him.

While killing time before I got my haircut, I walked around the neighborhood of Hair Make Arm’S. Yes, that is the name of the place where I get my hair cut. I have NO idea why the last S is capitalized, but it is. As I was walking, I noticed a restaurant and found that, strangely enough, it is called Messiah. According to the dictionary on my Mac,

mes·si·ah |məˈsīə|
noun

1 ( the Messiah) the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Hebrew Bible.
• Jesus regarded by Christians as the Messiah of the Hebrew prophecies and the savior of humankind.
2 a leader or savior of a particular group or cause : to Germany, Hitler was more a messiah than a political leader.

DERIVATIVES

mes·si·ah·ship |-ˌ sh ip| noun

ORIGIN Old English Messias: via late Latin and Greek from Hebrew māšīaḥ ‘anointed.’

In this case, the Messiah appears to be Italian, and even offers a Messiah Party Plan (メサイア·パーティープラン).

Restaurant Messiah

Restaurant Messiah

Restaurant Messiah Menu

 

Interesting. I do hesitate somewhat posting this as it is sure to generate some even stranger hits and more spam comments. Oh well.