about Japan

Tokyo train etiquette

Tokyo train etiquette

is fucked up.

It’s like this:

  1. NO talking on cellphones*
  2. Position your backpack to your front so you’re not unwittingly whacking people with it.  Place briefcases & cumbersome bags on the racks above the seats (if you can reach them)
  3. NO eating
  4. NO drinking
  5. No loud convos
  6. Guys should put their hands where we can see ’em°
  7. Don’t cross your legsª
  8. Give up your seat to: old people, pregnant women, hurt folks
  9.  WAIT in an orderly line, just wait until everyone has gotten off before getting on
  10. Tetris your position so you’re not rudely pushing past people when it’s your stop.  Even if it’s sofuckingcrowded you didn’t know it was possible for ten people to push into you at once, bruising your ribs in the process¹
  11. TURN OFF your damn cellphone
  12. God forbid you touch someone

So I’m running late but I’m on a train which makes me debate: do I suffer the wrath of my boss (for not calling and giving a heads-up) or the multiple death stares of the general public?  I choose the former.  Thrice.  I get that this is probably just plain dumb on my part but people on trains are scary, silent bullies.  I’d rather my boss think me deeply imperfect and unprofessional because open hostility just isn’t my bag I’m mental like that. 

° Otherwise you could be accused of feeling up some cute Japanese girl and she will embarrass the fuck out of you.  Also, silencing the shutter sound is not an option on ALL cellphones sold in Japan.  Because men like to take panty shots on trains.

ª Built-like-a-bouncer Tokyoite told me: “It makes me VERY angry.  I might trip over your feet.”  Yikes, just talking about it makes this dude pop forehead veins and see red.  When I say, “Oops.  I’ve totally done this,” it makes his eyes bulge something scary at me.  

¹ Good luck keeping your hands in the air, guys.  

♥ I horrified the crap out of a 40-50 year-old businessman when I accidentally slammed into him during a particularly jerky ride.  I apologized but his unflinching face told me I sure as hell wasn’t forgiven.

Tokyo paradox #78:
No eating or drinking on trains but retching and pissing happens on the regular.
I’ve stepped over it and sat in it.

P.S. If you’re a foreigner most infractions are forgiven.

about Japan

Japanese guys have no tact

Japanese guys have no tact

so please gimme beer float to deal.

Because sometimes I just want alcohol.  And ice cream.  Together.  At home.
Which makes me an alcoholic in Japan.
Not kidding.

Ok, this is fucked up.
Me: I can’t believe people in Japan don’t drink at home.  Seriously?!
FB (friend-boy): Yeah…no, they don’t.  It’s very rare.  Do you?
Me: Sure.
FB: Alone?
Me: Sometimes.
FB: Are you an alcoholic?
Me: Frealz?! Okay, he’s being serious.  No, I’m not an alcoholic.  Enter speedy, defensive thoughts on the immediate: sometimes I really like a beer when I get home.  Or a whiskey.  Especially after working and running around this crazy city for 8, 10, 14 hours straight and having felt sweat rivulets streaming down my back since my first train at 8am.  Wait, why do I feel I have to qualify my drinking?  Fuck that, FB.  
FB: Hmm…

Dude: Did you get your hair done?
Me: Yep. Wow, dude actually noticed; perhaps I’m not giving him enough credit.
Dude: Did you add new color to cover up your greys?
Me: Nope, giving him exactly the credit he deserves.  I don’t have any grey…yet.  I debate telling him that his line of questioning isn’t going to win any cute Japanese girl hearts.  But then again he’s like 12 22 so…perhaps better for him to learn this on his own.  Growing pains, dude.

And most recently,
Him: Did you answer the intercom just now?
Me: Um…yes.
Him: Wow, your Japanese is very pretty.
Me: I am incredulous, in disbelief.  Really?
Him: Yeah, it’s really strange but not strange like the way most other foreigners speak it.
Me: Mm-hmm.  So probably he doesn’t know what pretty means?  I am so confused by his unsolicited critique on my language skills that I’m sure it shows on my face, furrowed brows and all.
Him: No, I mean it’s very cute.  And strange.

Can I have that beer whiskey float now?

about Japan

This is my brain

This is my brain

not on pot.  In Japan.

I guess my brain art doesn’t really indicate a sober state.  It’s some emotional hormones, whiskey, fried bird wing and…what the fuck am I writing?

THIS: Pot is seriously illegal in Japan.

Here’s what, according to Japan Today:

Japan’s marijuana laws are not their own. The Cannabis Control Act, implemented by the U.S. in 1948 to legitimize its own anti-pot legislation, is in direct opposition to hundreds of years of cannabis use in Japan. No, the Japanese weren’t sitting around, red-eyed and playing Ben Harper songs on a shamisen, but they were making clothing, rope and bowstrings from hemp and using cannabis in Shinto ceremonies. The harsh view of marijuana in Japan is the result of the American laws; it was never the impetus behind them. If the U.S. has so radically changed its own stance on medicinal marijuana, shouldn’t Japan follow suit?

See the complete article here if you like.

So jump backwards to August 2012 and the juxtaposition of a very green Cali (duuuude, pura vida- thank you bra, loves you very much):

cali green

©Seralyn Campbell 2012

with serene and sober Japan:

japan green

©Seralyn Campbell 2012

All of this within a week made my brain go, “Wow.”

So maybe I don’t need drugs to refresh my head-space but lots of jet lag and beautiful scenery.  Okay, why am I even writing this?  To showcase the difference, people:
CA- legal, Japan- illegal.  It’s important.  We’ll talk about Thailand and Mexico later.

about Japan

Women shave what in Tokyo?

Let's get it straight

Their faces.  Their arms.  On the regular.

It’s true.  It’s culturally unattractive to have hairy arms (meaning any hair) and anything less than smooth-as-whipped-butter faces (read: shaved, exfoliated and perfectly moisturized).  I’ve shaved my face before (what?  I was curious, I try shit out and there are special teeny, tiny razors specifically for this purpose, in an array of pretty pastel colors) but I haven’t done it since moving here because I’m lazy.  

Actually I’m not lazy but Tokyoites will absofuckinglutely deem you lazy if you don’t wear makeup.  Believe.  Like, don’t subject the general public to your unmade-up face.  You’re not even going to make the effort to look like you put forth an effort?  How rude.  My American mindset thinks, jeez, judgmental much?  But here, it’s viewed as having consideration for others; make like you give a shit, don’t make it hurtful for others to look at you because they have to look at you.  Thirteen million or so of you.  Everyday.  So, shaving your face and arms is part of the cultural ideal for a Japanese woman.

GF told me I should try shaving my arms (of course she would and thus keeps proving how much more with it she is at being a woman than my bio-femme ass).
Her: It’s not going to grow back hairier.
Me: I don’t know…
Her: Trust me, you’ll like how it feels.
Me: But it seems like more maintenance that I’m not sure I want to commit to.
Her: By the way, women here are not as hairless as you think they are.
Me: What are you talking about?  They so are.
Her: No. They’re not.  I saw a woman on the train today who had leg hair matted down by nude hose.  In fact that’s why so many woman wear nude hose (with sandals, by the way, which is a pet peeve of mine), to hide their hairy legs.
Me: Seriously?  I thought it was because it’s considered a tad indecent to bare your legs.

Oh Japan, yet another cultural aspect that I don’t understand…hose in the hot-and-humid-as-fuck summer to cover beast legs coupled with meticulously shaved faces and arms, arms that are covered with anti-UV ray arm warmers, by the way.

Oh, and the perfectly made-up faces?  The makeup itself might be questionable but the skin?  Fucking astoudingly beautimous.  Like the stereotype.  Like porcelain.

about Japan

The H in HMU

the H in HMU

is crucial.

I maintain that awesome hair is the best accessory and girlfriend can back me on this.  I had some serious anxiety about finding a stylist in Tokyo; we both fretted over finding stylists for two very different and valid reasons.

Me: I had a superstylist in the States, someone who instinctively knew what avant-garde-ish cut I wanted before I did, got what looked best on me and steered me clear of potential regrets.  Asymmetry? Duh.  Supershort bangs? Um, no.  Really? They look so damn cute on everyone!  Yeah…I’m not doing that on you.  Ducktail mullet? Yea!  Fauxhawk? NO. Seriously, NO.

Her: Having naturally curly hair looks awesome but can be devastatingly difficult to maintain, especially when you’re transitioning and you’re getting your first proper lady cut in a city where 98% of the population has thick, stick-straight, coarse hair and we’re about to enter the rainy (Most. Humid. Climate. Ever.) season.

Well, this isn’t one of the most stylish cities in the world for no reason.
Thank god.
I asked a very cool chick with a damn fine cut where she suggest I go…and that’s how I found my Perfect-san.  I thought I went wrong at the first salon because I didn’t have images to show the stylist so I loaded my iDevice, only to have superpro guru say, “Why don’t you leave it up to me?”  Hell. Yes.  Thank you, immense relief and yes please.  I now feel very spoiled because I don’t have to do any pre-salon thinking and I walk out every time feeling like a badass beauty because he guarantees “you’re going to look fucking rad today” (except it’s in Japanese, which sounds even cooler) and his word is GOOD.

For GF, we investigated salons that specialize in curly hair (because they have those here) and she chose one that gave her good vibrations.  Her person turned out such beautiful results, not only were GF’s curls perfectly loosely ringlet-ed and cool bob perfect for her face, her new ‘do really upped her transition process a lot, like multiple magic mushroom level-ups.

So, Tokyo salons?  They fucking rock.  Do they cost more?  Of course but holy shit, it’s so full service that I get antsy, like: Can this be over yet?  How much longer are they going to massage me?  Do they really need to shampoo me again?…Because I’m that kind of grateful.

about Japan

Is it legal?

Is it legal

Prostitution, that is.  In Japan.

Well…yes and no.  Such a typically Japanese answer, meaning one that begs clarification, especially for the individuals who have asked this question upon my moving to Tokyo.

Ok, here’s the breakdown:
If you are one of the few houses that were granted a special certificate from the government waaay back when (serious generations ago), then you are legal to offer coitus, which is the one act that is deemed illegal in Japan.  No new certificates have been issued since said way back when and these establishments are serious family businesses.  Even people who have prominent and demanding careers will maintain the family business (oh the ¥ value); for example, the individual conducting obligatory new prostitute interviews at night might very well be an accomplished engineer/researcher/doctor by day.

If you are not fortunate enough to have one of the carte blanche certificates then your employees are legally allowed to provide any service other than coitus…which is a considerable number of acts and scenarios.

How strictly is the law enforced?
Depends on the establishment, who owns it, location, what ties they have to the Yakuza and where those ties fall on the hierarchy.  Suffice it to say many a blind eye is turned.

And the available channels for service is pretty astonishing: soaplands (think waterproof mattresses and lube), fashion health massage parlors, health delivery services (seriously convenient), pinsaros (or pink salons, oral specialists), imekuras (image clubs where costumed fantasies are let loose) and so on…Tokyoites and tourists love their kink.

Speaking of tourists, here’s a recent article from The Tokyo Reporter about some complaints among Tokyo prostitutes.

It’s very interesting stuff, the multitude of articles and media coverage that arise when prostitution is mostly legal.  I certainly appreciate the bit of informative light that gets shone on this facet of Japan…very different attitude and tone from the American news (or non-news, I should say) regarding this subject.

about Japan, trans talk

The thing about Tokyo…

The thing about Tokyo

…most people don’t give a fuck.

It’s been awesome to witness the acceptance and encouragement a transsexual in transition is given in this crazy, crowded megalopolis.  Transition ain’t easy; in fact, it may be the most difficult (and defeating at moments) experience I have observed in this life.
And I am so glad that she is able to do it in Tokyo.

Tokyoites (mostly) not giving a rude fuck about someone in transition isn’t why we chose to move here but it is a decided perk.  It’s a strange and beautiful thing that the inhabitants of this city can be so conformist yet respectful of an individual’s self-expression.  Yes, there is a massive sea of businessmen and office ladies in their requisite suits and skirt-suits with black pumps, respectively, but behind those 9-5 (attached with massive overtime) outfits are characters who let all kinds of freaky flags fly into the wee hours, or not.  Point being that people here recognize and respect that everyone is multidimensional and who are they to judge?  Not only are there all kinds of daily queer sightings, gender-bending has always been a part of popular culture here, from the historic Noh theater to the beloved transsexuals on popular variety shows to the crossdressers in the cosplay neighborhood of the anime capital of the world.  In the states, especially in the South where we were living, there is no way she would have gotten the support she currently receives from her university peers, faculty and administration whilst transitioning. Just the other week, a very concerned teacher called twice, left a voice-mail and texted because she realized she had unintentionally hurt my girlfriend’s feelings and wanted to remedy the hurt and misunderstanding ASAP…that’s the thing about Tokyo.

I’m not saying that people can’t be hurtful with their stares or what might be downright dirty looks, even, but that’s as bad as it has been thus far.  No slurs, no bullying, no discrimination and certainly no acts of violence for crossing genders.

Tokyoites really embrace one of my golden rules:
As long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, do what you want.

And that’s pretty damn cool.