Sunday, October 12, 2014

White Drama in Saitama

Since I arrived last Saturday (a week ago tomorrow, I realize as I type this), my routine has been pretty rigid. Follow instructions on how to get the train and subway to the school's head office, spend the day with native English speakers, train & subway home, sleep, repeat. I've tried to punctuate it with mini-adventures, or what this untraveled boy perceived as mini-adventures, like trying to use my Japanese wherever possible and navigating basic social situations; buying stuff at the (many, many, many) convenience stores (Konbini's) or ordering a coffee or food without resorting to English. Admittedly that usually resorts to pointing and grunting, which is probably worse in the long run, but the point is that my routine was so rigid and English language based that it hadn't really felt like I was actually in Japan. Yesterday I went to Shinjuku. Welcome to fucking Japan.

Shinjuku rules. Let's just get that out there right now, but we'll go into that shortly. My day started with something much less exciting; registering as a foreign resident of Saitama and opening a Japanese bank account. Registration was complicated, but ultimately successful, so much so that I was able to enquire (in Japanese) about Japanese lessons in the vicinity and acquire said information. Small victories. Opening a bank account wasn't the nightmare I expected it to be either, the staff at Shinsei Bank spoke just enough English to make the process straightforward and quick. And my modest Japanese came in handy too.

Sidenote: I can't tell you how thankful I am to have learned Katakana and Hiragana before I came out. There is a ton of Kanji everywhere that might as well be egyptian hyroglyphs, but being able to read station names and being able to write my name in katakana came in very handy at the bank, and the next quest; buying a phone. Onward to Shinjuku and to what surely must be the best electronics store in the world: Yodobashi Kamera. Spaced out across several blocks and several stores, this place is like a giant electronics market that has everything. Like, everything. Everything electronic. Anything electronic you want, you can find it in one of Yodobashi Kamera's sections, which are so labyrinthentine that staff actually hand out actual maps.

Apparently there was a huge problem in Japan where foreigners would sign up for a year long contract with a phone company then fuck off home with the fancy phone. As a result, phone networks now demand a two year contract and having a one year visa makes it very difficult to get around that. Thankfully Yodobashi Kamera had some English speaking staff who negotiated with various networks on my behalf. Eventually I left with a spiffy new phone for only slightly more than I had intended to spend, but the guy translating, as it turned out, worked for a rival network to the one I signed with. As I left and he returned to his post I realized that he'd spent an hour (along with the Korean guy who had to think in English AND Japanese to try process my application. He told me he was nervous at one point. Not as much as I was I assure you) helping me get a phone with A DIFFERENT company and would not see any commission on that sale. I felt well and truly out of my depth.

And then it was dark and I was supposed to meet my friend Chie for dinner. Japan, it must be said, is a different place by night. By day, Shinjuku was impressive. By night, it was majestic. I couldn't help but stand there dumbstruck by the neon onslaught, the rain and the noise and the sheer volume of everything around me was astounding. I felt well and truly out of my depth. And I loved it. Welcome to Japan.

Myself and Chie wandered around after dinner and I dragged her to Yodobashi Kamera's game store. It was relatively small, in comparison to the other sections, but it was was more than enough. Within seconds I'd found, without even trying, two Japanese games I'd considered ordering online less than a month ago for less than half of what I would have paid for them. I can't understand shit when playing them, but I'm going to use them as incentive to get my act together with the language.

Tonight, as you probably saw, I managed to order a pizza from a local pizzaria called Komugi. I spoke Japanese the entire time, but I'm not sure it counts as the guy was clearly eager to practice his English (or subtly hinting that I should cease butchering his language as he's better at mine) and we basically switched languages for the duration of the transaction. It was pretty great. I now have a local pizzaria, and can at least sort of navigate a nearby urban metropolis.

Now I feel like I'm in Japan.

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