House Party!

I had a house party this weekend, or as we would simply describe it in the States, “A party at my house.” A house party is actually pretty rare in Japan amongst Japanese. Space is a premium and living spaces are often small. When I first lived in Japan in 2004 for a few months, I had a much more representative “mansion” – about 12 tatami in size, or about 216 sq ft. That was fine for a few months, and I felt very Japanese. I’ve posted some old pictures below to get the idea.

Mito, 2004

Mito, 2004

Mito, 2004

Mito, 2004

 

You can imagine though, if you were really living is a place this size, it would quickly become cramped. I had a very limited number of personal items so it wasn’t so crowded.

When I came here in 2008, my apartment allowance was very generous. I knew I wanted a guest room and a home office space, so I started looking at 3 bedrooms. I was lucky to find my place which is on the smaller three bedroom range, but fine for one person. As a matter of fact, I’m a little bit embarrassed that to my Japanese colleagues it is decadent at about 750 sq ft.

However, the space allows me to have a few people over for a party, and that’s what I did this weekend. The idea was to have the Fuji Rock crew come over, but in the end only about half of the Fuji Rockers made it over. However, friends and friends of friends came by and I had about 12 people including me. That was perfectly sized for my place.

Here’s the picture before everyone knew the picture was coming.

House Party!

 

And of course, what is a picture in Japan without a peace sign?

House Party!

 

I did the usual thing, bought too much food and alcohol but nobody left hungry or sober so I did my job well. I was actually the only non-Japanese at the party as well and I find that pretty cool. Somehow I guess I was able to communicate mostly in Japanese and some occasional English words thrown in. After two beers my Japanese really improves (or so I think), and having the party is a great way to practice. Maybe I was actually too busy being the host to communicate very frequently. I was afraid I would end up feeling left out of my own party with people bringing friends who spoke only Japanese but I didn’t. Nothing worse than being lonely at your own party!

Returning to the usual lack of house parties – as I’ve said before restaurants serve the purpose of a social meeting place. Many restaurants have large rooms for groups of people to get together for a night of eating and drinking. Houses are just too crowded to host people and they are very private spaces for family only.

I had big help preparing for the party with Kanamori-san taking me to the grocery store in his car and helping me transport things much easier.

Thanks to all for the help and a good time.

安全

安全 (anzen) means safety in Japanese. I’ve always felt Japan was a very safe place. Rarely have I felt scared walking alone late at night. Even walking around Kabukicho in Tokyo doesn’t feel dangerous to me. Expats who have perhaps been in Japan too long lament that the country is a far more dangerous place than it used to be and a lot of crime goes unreported. While I would imagine it is more dangerous than it used to be and while I know there can definitely be coverups, my home is in Los Angeles and in comparison, Japan is a very, very safe place.

The health and safety flag, often flying at construction sites

On Tuesday, I was preparing to go to Japanese class. It was a nice night and I thought it would be nice to get on the ママチャリ and pedal to class. Except I couldn’t find my usual key. I had my backup key, but my single key was missing. At that point I started wondering, “Did I leave my key in my bicycle lock?” And if I did, would my bike still be there? I had last ridden my bike on Saturday.

I grabbed my extra keys and headed to the bicycle parking area with a little bit of butterflies in my stomach, wondering if my bike would be there and wondering if the mystery of the key would be solved. My bike parking area is not protected by any locked doors. It is simply separated from the sidewalk by a wall, but there is a very open walkway to the bikes. My bike is pretty close to the entrance as well so I think it is visible from the street.

I arrived downstairs, my bike was still there, and sure enough, the key was in the lock, ready to be unlocked and rolled away.

Honestly, I was lucky. Bikes are frequently stolen here. When I related my story to my Japanese teacher, she told me she has had two bikes stolen. Yikes. I’m glad my bike was fine, and I need to be more careful.

A further study of the hate bus, and worse

I have the New York Times app on my iPhone. It sounds very worthy, I know, but unfortunately I find Twitter and Facebook far more interesting on the train from work. I should be studying vocabulary in that time anyway. I must have had a particularly slow time because I went to my New York Times app and quickly found the article titled, “New Dissent in Japan Is Loudly Anti-Foreign.”

I thought perhaps that the article would be about the hate buses, which I have previously described. Instead, this article goes on to describe an even more aggressive emergence of ultranationalism. As a matter of fact, the article almost accepts the hate bus as a check and balance on the current system.

According to the article,

… The December episode was the first in a series of demonstrations at the Kyoto No. 1 Korean Elementary School that shocked conflict-averse Japan, where even political protesters on the radical fringes are expected to avoid embroiling regular citizens, much less children. Responding to public outrage, the police arrested four of the protesters this month on charges of damaging the school’s reputation.

More significantly, the protests also signaled the emergence here of a new type of ultranationalist group. The groups are openly anti-foreign in their message, and unafraid to win attention by holding unruly street demonstrations.

Since first appearing last year, their protests have been directed at not only Japan’s half million ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other Asian workers, Christian churchgoers and even Westerners in Halloween costumes. In the latter case, a few dozen angrily shouting demonstrators followed around revelers waving placards that said, “This is not a white country.”

The article goes on to describe the emergence of this new nationalism through the internet and blames the rise on socioeconomic issues plaguing the country.

What is interesting, and disturbing, is the hate buses are almost revered and accepted for their professionalism and place in Japanese society.

They are also different from Japan’s existing ultranationalist groups, which are a common sight even today in Tokyo, wearing paramilitary uniforms and riding around in ominous black trucks with loudspeakers that blare martial music.

This traditional far right, which has roots going back to at least the 1930s rise of militarism in Japan, is now a tacitly accepted part of the conservative political establishment here. Sociologists describe them as serving as a sort of unofficial mechanism for enforcing conformity in postwar Japan, singling out Japanese who were seen as straying too far to the left, or other groups that anger them, such as embassies of countries with whom Japan has territorial disputes.

Members of these old-line rightist groups have been quick to distance themselves from the Net right, which they dismiss as amateurish rabble-rousers.

“These new groups are not patriots but attention-seekers,” said Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser of the Issuikai, a well-known far-right group with 100 members and a fleet of sound trucks.

But in a sign of changing times here, Mr. Suzuki also admitted that the Net right has grown at a time when traditional ultranationalist groups like his own have been shrinking. Mr. Suzuki said the number of old-style rightists has fallen to about 12,000, one-tenth the size of their 1960s’ peak.

Hate bus

Perhaps even more telling is that the “new Net right” don’t think they are racist. Instead, they model themselves after the Tea Party movement in the US. Hmmmm, as much as I don’t like the Tea Party movement (I liked them SO much better when they were tea bagging (snicker, snicker)), I don’t think they are this extreme. Although, who knows. I haven’t been to one of their tea ceremonies yet.

サザエさん and other syndromes

Yesterday evening I was lamenting to a Japanese friend of mine that I was suffering from the Sunday Night Blues. I’ve had this problem off and on since school days. Sunday night rolls around, and I didn’t have my homework done, or maybe I didn’t have enough fun over the weekend, or maybe I just didn’t want the week to start because I wasn’t ready to deal with what the week had to offer. Usually, the feeling was mostly a general malaise, but punctuated with occasional dread, and even physical manifestations of anxiety like an elevated heart rate, the shakes, and other fun symptoms. Sound familiar? It would have been nice to have outgrown that feeling but it carried on through work as well. And after the ridiculous email I just got and foolishly read on my BlackBerry I understand why I still get this anxiety even as a seasoned worker.

Actually, in 2010, I wasn’t actually lamenting to a friend in person, or even by the telephone. This lament came by iPhone instant messaging. You can lament and respond at your own pace it seems [wait, let me check Twitter to see if anyone responded to my latest 140 characters or less … nope … OK, continuing …] using instant messaging. Two hours after my complaint, I got a response, “It’s Sazaesan syndrome in Japanese.”

Hmmmm. I tried to look up Sazaesan in my dictionaries. About the best I could get was, “サザエ” which apparently is a “turban shell (any mollusk of the family Turbinidae, esp. the horned turban, Turbo cornutus).” That doesn’t really apply at all. It was late, I was tired, and I didn’t want to bug my friend anymore, but I fell asleep wondering what the heck a mollusk had to do with my anxiety.

In the morning, I asked my colleagues, “Does anyone know what Sazaesan Syndrome is?” “No, but Sazaesan is TV anime show that has been on forever.” Google was my next resource. Finally, from Wikipedia,

Sazae-san

Sazae-san (サザエさん) is a Japanese comic strip created by Machiko Hasegawa.

Sazae-san was first published in Hasegawa’s local paper, the Fukunichi Shimbun (フクニチ新聞), on April 22, 1946. When the Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞) wished to have Hasegawa draw the comic strip for their paper, she moved to Tokyo in 1949 with the explanation that the main characters had moved from Kyūshū to Tokyo as well. The comic dealt with contemporary situations in Tokyo until Hasegawa retired and ended the comic on February 21, 1974. As one of Japan’s longest running and oldest comic strips and animations, the series is known to nearly every Japanese person, young and old.

The comic was very topical. In the beginning, Sazae was more interested in being herself than dressing up in kimono and makeup to attract her future husband. Hasegawa was forward-thinking in that, in her words, the Isono/Fuguta clan would embody the image of the modern Japanese family after World War II.

Sazae was a very “liberated” woman, and many of the early plotlines revolved around Sazae bossing around her husband, to the consternation of her neighbors, who believed that a man should be the head of his household. Later, Sazae became a feminist and was involved in many comical situations regarding her affiliation with her local women’s lib group.

Despite the topical nature of the comic, the core of the stories revolved around the large family dynamic, and were presented in a lighthearted, easy fashion. In fact, the final comic, in 1974, revolved around Sazae’s happiness that an egg she cracked for her husband’s breakfast produced a double yolk, with Katsuo remarking about the happiness the “little things” in life can bring.

Today, the popular Sazae-san anime is frequently taken as nostalgia for traditional Japanese society (since it lacks modern marvels such as video games and otaku culture), even though it was leftist to the point of controversy when it originally ran in Japanese newspapers.

In October 1969, Fuji Television started an animated comedy series, which is still on the air today and currently in production (making it the longest-running animated TV series in history). It has been broadcast every Sunday from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. and contains three vignettes. The animated series has some characters, like Katsuo’s classmates, who don’t appear in Hasegawa’s original works.

Well, I’m not Japanese but now I know too. But what does this have to do with a syndrome? Note that the TV show broadcasts EVERY SUNDAY from 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm. For many, it is a reminder that the weekend is quickly ending and the work week is approaching. The gloom they experience (as I described above) around this time on a Sunday night is Sazae-san Syndrome. Pretty cool, huh? Here’s a good article about Hasegawa, the strip, the TV show, and the syndrome.

This is covered in multiple blogs and mine is just another one, but it was new to me and that is what this blog is about. And now instead of saying, “The Sunday Night Blues” I now can label my melancholy as a syndrome.

 
 
But that’s not the only syndrome that I know either. There’s another great syndrome, metabolic syndrome. Folks use it a lot in Japan for drinking too much beer and getting older, not exercising, and generally getting squishier.

I thought it was a just a Japanese thing, but then I checked in, yup, Wikipedia and found it is, “a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.” I won’t link because there is a really gross picture.