Category: Japan

I just want to enjoy the fresh air (venting)

I’m having issues with some of my neighbors. It’s not that they let their children run around the street like wild animals, leaving their toys and scooters everywhere and just randomly screaming. It’s not that they themselves are always out on the street yelling at the kids or each other. It’s not their music. It’s not their cigarette smoke or their drunken slurring.

It’s just their fire pits. I live in a small community of townhouse style units. Nobody has a yard, and nobody is allowed to have a fire pit. That makes sense to me. If I can smell what the neighbors are cooking for dinner, and I can hear the conversations they’re having outside while I’m sitting on the second or third floor of my place, of course I can smell — and be completely overwhelmed by — the billows of smoke coming out of their fire pit…. that they’re not supposed to have.

I get wanting that feel. I get that some people like the smell of wood smoke. I get that a lot of these people are from the country where they probably grew up acres (or at least tens of yards) away from their neighbors, and burned wood all the time. I understand that country people like to do that more than, say, people from St. Pete, Florida, like me. But here’s the thing. We all like the cool, fresh, autumn air, right? So why pollute it? If you’re okay with inhaling known carcinogens, that’s okay too, but why force your kids to breathe that too? And why your neighbors? Isn’t there a way to have a good time without sitting in front of a fire pit drinking?

A lot of people would say, “close your windows,” but the bottom line is that the rules say fire pits aren’t allowed. Now it’s just a matter of getting the rules enforced. But even if it weren’t for the rules, why should I close my windows? If someone’s neighbors are blaring music so loud that his apartment is shaking, is the solution really, “Use some ear plugs?” Of course not. Why shouldn’t I get to enjoy the fall air after all these months of super hot and dry weather? Why shouldn’t I get to keep the windows open and lower my electric bill and my carbon footprint? I don’t do anything to bother these people. They do a lot to bother me, but I only complain about one thing.

A group of these neighbors came by my place around 10 last night. They started by saying, “We’re sorry if we…” but ended by saying, “You’ve pissed off a lot of people,” and other things like that. They were drunk, and they thought we had called security on them for their blaring music, which we had not done. (Apparently that means we are not the only ones annoyed by these inconsiderate people.) We told them we had never complained about the music or anything else except the fire pit. We were honest and said that we wouldn’t stop complaining about the fires ever, because they’re against the rules and we hate them, period. Of course they were drunk and talking over each other and getting emotional, and I told them if they really wanted to talk about anything, they should come ring my door bell when they were sober.

Some of them were mad that we had called security without talking to them first. Again, we didn’t call this time, but we have called about the fires before. As I explained to my one sober neighbor, I don’t confront groups of drunk people, let alone drunk Marines and their drunk hyper-aggressive wives. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s someone who’s trained to do that, whose job it is to do that in my neighborhood, I will by all means call that person.

So what to do now? Keep trying to talk to the leasing office or the district manager to get the fire pits contained. Keep having drunk crazy people cussing and complaining on the street because someone else justifiably called security because of their loudness?

I’m not even trying to get philosophical or anything. I’m a Christian, so of course I’ve tried to be considerate of my neighbors too. I get that they want to have a good time. That’s why I think it’s a reasonable compromise to not complain about them making tons of noise all the time, if they’re willing to do that without also burning wood upwind of my unit. It’s just frustrating. I try hard to be civilized. I cuss at home, but not to strangers, and definitely not at them. I definitely don’t use words like “motherfucker” around people I have never met before, or if there are children around. I try to be considerate. I don’t make noise. I’ve asked my next door neighbors if I’ve done anything to annoy them, and they’ve said no. I don’t gossip about anybody, ask anybody for anything, or get obnoxious when I drink (I rarely drink anyway, but still). Why is it so crazy to expect the neighbors to follow the community rules and let me enjoy having my windows open? Would not burning wood on the street really get in the way of them having a good time?

Stuff like this makes me miss Japan. I don’t even understand this. I’ve lived in places where everybody was single, and it’s not really surprising to hear music and parties and things; but I’ve never lived anywhere with neighbors who were this into partying and generally loudly socializing on the street… even though all of these people have families! I thought part of growing up was settling down. Putting the shot glasses and red Solo cups away when you have a couple of kids. Going to sleep before midnight because you and your spouse need to get up and go to work tomorrow. Responsibility. Courtesy. But I’m pretty sure living in the barracks as an airman wasn’t this bad. Living in a berthing with 50+ other people wasn’t this bad. Living in a dorm probably isn’t this bad. I just expected better I guess. And I’m sure these people all think I’m a bitch or something, when really I think I’m pretty laid back and liberal about all that goes on. *shrug*

I guess I’ll just get back to my homework until one of them decides to come ring on my doorbell and talk to me sober.

I miss Japan, or My neighbors are rude (rant)

I’m missing Japan, as usual. One thing I’ve been thinking about is the neighbors. Japanese people are generally very considerate of others all the time, so they make great neighbors, in my experience. As my old Japanese professor said, With such a dense population, you have to be polite just to survive. Makes sense! … Too bad that’s not the philosophy in densely populated American cities (as much).

When I lived in an apartment in Japan, I didn’t talk much to the neighbors. We all had pretty different hours, and my Japanese skills weren’t (aren’t) amazing. Now and then I talked to someone while waiting for the elevator. Those exchanges were usually something like, “Hot, huh?” “Oh yeah, so hot!” in Japanese. A huge amount of communication is done non-verbally, too, but…

Anyway, I loved my neighbors because I never heard them or smelled any bizarre products they were using or had my place jarring from their heavy bass in the middle of the night. And even though I saw dogs and cats all the time — one of my favorite things was looking out from the balcony onto the rooftops of other, shorter buildings, where people would often hang laundry and play with their dogs — not once did I lose sleep or study time because one of those dogs was barking constantly. And all that is despite the fact that some windows and doors in Japan are literally made out of paper! If Japanese people can train their Shibas and Yorkies and mini-poodles to be quiet even while living in very small apartments, then I don’t understand why so many Americans can’t. Oh wait. Could it be because they can, but they just don’t?

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I just wrote a ton about what makes my neighbors assholes, and I deleted it. It made me feel better to write, but it’s not necessary to share the stuff because… why complain? No one wants to read it.

It’s just that I don’t understand why Americans are generally so much less considerate of others than Japanese. Driving through a neighborhood with BLARING music. Burning wood in the driveway when you live in an apartment complex. Not picking up your dog poop. This stuff doesn’t happen in Japan — and maybe that’s why Japanese people aren’t always getting into fights and cussing each other out (and for that matter, shooting each other). I try not to piss off my neighbors, and I TRY to be kind to them even when they piss me off. But some of them…. I know that they’re not only not considering other neighbors, but actively not giving a fuck. There are people here who like to burn wood in a portable fire pit (which isn’t allowed in the community anyway), and they do it despite multiple complaints being made, and the “courtesy patrol” tell them to put it out. The only explanation for it is that they do not give a damn about anybody but themselves. It’s just shitty. Why is it like that here? How can I have pride in my country when really I am treated better in a foreign country? How can I ever enjoy being part of a community when no one seems to care about living in harmony with others? It depresses me that people are so inconsiderate.

I’m not trying to preach either. I’m sure I annoy people or have annoyed them — but if I know, then I stop. If someone says something, I apologize. I never knowingly bother anybody. If I even think my music might be a bit loud, I lower it. I don’t do anything that fills anybody’s home with smoke, that’s for sure. And when I drink, I save my beer bottles until the next day, so that I’m not waking up half the street throwing them in the empty metal dumpster at midnight. I don’t know. The point is that I try. I do think of the neighbors, even if I really want to tell them to go fuck off sometimes. I don’t try to get back at them. I don’t try to out-asshole them. I still consider them. I know I’m not the only considerate American, but…

We just have an asshole epidemic. Possible a pandemic. It’s depressing and frustrating, and also reason #46755725134675 why I want to go back to Japan. It’s just nice to be around people who are non-confrontational, non-obnoxious, non-aggressive. People interested in peace, who actually live the Golden Rule, despite not many of them even professing any religion. For a nation of Christians, we Americans are selfish and rude.

I’ll get back to Japan! I will. I will. I will.

I miss Japan

This morning is cool and pleasant, not too dry, and the sun is finally taking its time to rise. It’s fall. Summer here didn’t remind me much of Japan, probably mostly because I have spent far more time in Japan during winter than summer. Partly perhaps because there are no lively cultural festivals around here. Partly I am sure because no matter how hot it gets in Southern California, the humidity never approaches that of old seaside Yokosuka.

But now it is feeling like fall, when I am out in the early morning, I remember Japan. I remember putting on leggings under my uniform to combat the chilliness. I remember how empty the streets were for the most part, as I rode my bike through the dim light toward where my ship was moored. Sometimes there would be drunk Japanese people just leaving the bars in my neighborhood around six in the morning. There would be crows as big as some people’s lap dogs tearing open discarded bento boxes. There might be an alley cat or a tanuki sneaking around the corner as you approached.

But it’s almost silly to describe the peacefulness of a morning in Japan. It is always peaceful in Japan, after all. Of course there are commuting hours, crowded trains, and long lines to deal with at times. Of course there are hungry people and others who struggle with mental illness, homelessness, and more. There is no Utopia. But all I know is how any fights and assaults and insults and hostile expressions I see all the time in America — and I do not even venture out as much here as I did in Japan. In Japan though — I know I am beating the dead horse of my memories — I was amazed by the strangers who went out of their way to be considerate of me, a foreigner, let alone their own countrymen. My Japanese professor here said that in a country so densely populated, only a polite society could survive. This makes sense, but I am living in quite a crowded American city, and… Here we do not seek harmony as a means of survival; we see it all as dog eat dog. If I don’t cut you off on the freeway, I’m not working hard enough to get to work on time. Your children are trying to fall asleep? Too bad for them that it is my right to drive down your street with music so loud it vibrates the kids’ beds.

I don’t mean to write again about how much more peaceful I found living in Japan to be than living here, but it is hrs not to. It is hard to be reminded of a place where I was so happy, then go about my day in a place where… Where surely I have my fond memories, but where I am daily facing conflict and rudeness and dirtiness and frustration. I have often thought that America’s greatness really owes to its vast landscapes of mountains, seaside cliffs, canyons, and more. Truly there are awe-inspiring natural vistas here — and not far from where I currently live either. But even this saddens me because by and large, we Americans love to litter and destroy our beautiful continent. Why? Fuji-Yama is not dirty! When I walked, biked, hiked, and rode trains all around Japan, I rarely saw candy wrappers and fast food cups strewn about…

Again, Japan is not Utopia, but I wish America would learn some Japanese virtues… And really I wish to go back to Japan.

But for now, I will just be going to my physics lecture.

Finely shredded cabbage

In Japan, salads are so different (except for Caesar salads, which seem to be available all over the world). The dressings are different. There might be tuna; there might be cold, soft tofu; there might be pieces of corn; there might be seaweed. And there’s a good chance there will be some finely shredded cabbage.

When I was in Japan, I got to really liking the shredded cabbage salads, and I’d regularly buy bags of the plain, shredded cabbage that was available in all the grocery stores and most of the convenience stores. Now that just reminds me of one thing–the food you can get in a Japanese convenience store. Sure the 7-11’s here always have coffee and cigarettes and various deep-fried weird snacks, hot dogs, and maybe nachos. But sometimes when you get off work in the middle of the night, even though you want something cheap and quick and pre-made to eat, sometimes you’d really like it to contain vegetables… maybe even be fresh. That’s a fantasy in America, but in Japan, those things are available. I can’t count the number of times I’ve purchased fresh salads and hard boiled eggs at 7-11 in Japan. Sometimes I was cooking at home and I’d realize I needed some cucumbers or lemons or mushrooms, and I could actually go down to the convenience store and get those things! A dozen eggs, milk, juice, coffee, tea, no problem. A reasonably fresh bento meal, no problem. I shake my head thinking about it.

Anyway, this isn’t about how easy and convenient it is to get decently healthy food in Japan. It’s about the cabbage. See, I got to loving that cabbage in my salads, and eating it almost daily while the ship was in port. Then when I got back to America, I couldn’t even find it in the Japanese markets. I tried to shred my own cabbage, but failed. Then I just got back to eating boring, lettuce based salads like everybody else here… which is nothing to complain about, I guess. But the finely shredded cabbage was something I really did miss, until today I found some in my local Albertson’s. Granted it’s for “Angel Hair Cole Slaw” or something like that, but to me it’s just salad cabbage.

It’s nice to be able to recreate some of the foods I used to enjoy so much in Japan. I’ve learned to make several Japanese dishes at home because I’ve yet to find a very authentic Japanese restaurant in the US. I can get the spices, and I can even find the produce I want (things like lotus root or mitsuba or certain mushrooms). I can make katsu, though I can’t do tempura. I can do some types of ramen and soba. Now I can do salad.

But the feeling of wanting to go back has not subsided, like people said it would. My desire to travel in general has decreased, and the older I get, the more appealing it is to actually settle down and buy a comfortable sedan or something. I don’t think I’m as romantic as I used to be by a long shot… but Japan… I just want to go back there. I can remember so many things, so many little details. I know I didn’t like everything. I know the wind is a killer there, and the humidity goes sky-high in summer. I know that it’s an expensive place to live, and that it’s difficult to get a queen sized bed into an apartment there. I know that even if my Japanese improved drastically, I’d always be an outsider. I know Japanese society and government is not perfect, and I have seen homeless people suffering there as they do here. They have typhoons and earthquakes and tsunami. I know, I know.

But always when I was in Japan, I was happy to be there. I never thought I wished I could go back to America. I never thought I didn’t like the Japanese culture. I never thought anything but that I’d like to stay. Everywhere I’ve gone, whether I was stationed there, lived there for a while, or just went for vacation, I was ready to go by the time I was scheduled to depart. I mean, I was mentally and emotionally at least somewhat enthusiastic to leave that place. I was happy to say good-bye. But with Japan it was not this way. I didn’t want to leave, and ever since I did, I have insisted within myself that I will go back. But for how long? Can I? When? I don’t want to go back on vacation. I want to go back go back. Stay. Live there again. Run my daily errands there. Work there. Run there. Get soaked in the torrential rain there. Look like an idiot American there, if need be.

It’s difficult. I know I must seem stupid. I know there are people, Christian Iraqis, for example, who are displaced by violence from their homes– their own native homes. Realistically, will they get to go back? I’m sure I can’t even imagine how some of them must wish they could. And here I am wishing I could go back to a place that feels like home even though by birth, by law, by anything except my own feelings, it isn’t home. Who am I?

I don’t know, but I’m going to try to get back there. It will take years, I know, but I can’t forget how much I love it; so I have got to get back there. But at least for now I have my cabbage salads.

I miss Japan

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Today I have a lot of physics work to do. I wish I could get everything done early, but I can’t. There is nothing on the agenda except physics, physics, physics, and Mass. But this morning after breakfast, I decided to screw around on the Internet a little, before beginning my work. A little Catholic reading, a little physics reading, and a little Japan reading. I should know by now that I shouldn’t bother reading about events in Japan, JET participants’ blogs, or anything else like that. I miss Japan so much, and my number one career goal is actually to get back to Japan — a significant reason why I’m still considering applying to OCS when I graduate. Lord, help me to graduate.

When I got back to the US, a friend of mine who had spent some years in Japan before me, said that it was a matter of time until I quit pining for Japan. The time has certainly flown by since then, but I miss every little thing about that country just as much now as I did the day I left. I miss the cheap umbrellas that are broken and lost in alleys after every heavy storm. I miss every one walking their shiba ken dogs. I miss the general cleanliness, politeness, and quiet even in city centers. I miss the sense of seasons in Japan. It isn’t only the weather, but it is a series of holidays and festivals and ways of decorating. It’s the seasonal food. It’s the seasonal fashion, even though very short shorts and skirts are never out of style in Japan.

I miss spending a lot of money for seemingly basic things, but not feeling like I’m getting ripped off at all — because everything I’ve bought in Japan has been great quality.

I even miss the unpleasant-at-the-time things, like getting soaked in rain as I biked to work, or not being able to have a conversation while hiking in the woods because the bugs were so loud. I miss getting drunk despite only meaning to have one beer, because some happy drunk Japanese guys would not stop being all of my friends and I Budweisers, so we could keep singing karaoke. I miss how things that seem so ridiculous in the US are totally okay, if not viewed in a positive way, i.e. cute, in Japan. I miss tasting the probably hundreds of different drinks sold in vending machines around the country (even in more rural parts), then desperately seeking a bathroom, only to find the “traditional” style, and, well… figuring it out.

I only remember one experience in Japan that I wish hadn’t happened, really. K. and I were in a crowded Kansai subway, and, long story short, I collided with a woman who turned out to be blind. It was embarrassing, frustrating, and made me feel like a horrible person. Also, by the time I realized that I actually had the ability to apologize (sometimes I forget that I actually am able to say things in my second languages), it was too late. I still feel horrible about that. I think few things in my past make me feel that bad, in fact. But a funny way to look at it is that if that had happened in the US, I probably would’ve gotten arrested, assaulted, or cussed out. And that’s the wonderful thing about Japan versus home in America: I don’t have to constantly work to avoid conflict. In America, you can be polite, drive safely, mind your own business, and still get victimized or at least hassled anyway. Sorry to say, but if you’re poor, or especially black, it seems like you still might just get shot. That’s just how it is. People yell at you because they perceive you looked at them a certain way. Some communities are worse than others, of course. But in Japan, the only hassle you’re likely to have is from another foreigner. Even then, it’s not as likely. In all my time in Japan, I was shouted out while in uniform by one Russian. The same night actually, a Japanese man did seem upset, but he wasn’t loud or threatening (a Japanese woman had drunk herself to unconsciousness, and he blamed Americans). The only violence or threat of violence… or even loud arguing I ever saw was among my fellow Americans, and sometimes an Australian who worked in the same area.

I’m beating a dead horse, even though I have physics work to go do. But I just miss Japan very much. The fact is that life there is different from life here. The food, the furniture, the company, and even the movie theater. The malls, restaurants, transportation… and of all the moving I have done in my life, I was sorriest to leave Japan, because that is where I first felt at home. So many kind people, so much childlike joviality, so much natural beauty.

Well, I’d better go. If I don’t study, I don’t know how I’ll make it back there.

Missing Japan & Cooking Dandanmen

Today being my last day of freedom before school starts again, I thought I’d make one of those things for lunch that by mid-semester will seem like way too much effort. That something is dandanmen (sometimes tantanmen), which is actually a Chinese noodle dish, but which I used to eat in Japan a lot. Here’s a picture of today’s version:

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My better half and I used to go to a place on the 8th floor of the mall above/next to Yokosuka-chuo station called Benitora for this stuff. Of course, they made over three versions: one with white, red, or black sesame paste, plus deluxe bowls with big chunks of pork and other ramen fixings like that. After eating at Benitora, we’d often go all the way to the basement of the same mall to a bakery called St. Germain’s ( http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g298174-d6056505-Reviews-Saint_Germain_Yokosuka-Yokosuka_Kanagawa_Prefecture_Kanto.html), usually for the mini chocolate cake donuts they sold for about 80 yen a piece.

Anywho, here’s some info on making dandanmen for any non-Asians who may come across here wanting help:

Here’s a link to start with:

Cooking With Dog Dandanmen

The first time I made this, I followed the video, but now I just use their ingredients list (minus all the soy milk — I only use one or tablespoons per serving).

Once all the ingredients are mise en place (I think), I start a big pot of water boiling, and heat a pan to cook the pork in.

I get two large bowls (or one for each person you’re serving), and mix each person’s broth separately. If you use CWD’s ingredients list, simply put everything listed under “Broth” in each bowl… except for the soy milk. And if you don’t have/want to use chicken stock, what I typically do is put a little powdered chicken bouillion in each bowl, then simply draw 5 oz of water for each out of the pot of boiling water I started before.

At the same time, or maybe once I’ve started boiling noodles (follow package directions), I cook the pork. Again, use CWD’s ingredients list. The pork, garlic and ginger cook first, and the sake, soy sauce, etc., is added after a few minutes. To the pork mixture, I also add this stuff:

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It’s optional, but definitely adds depth or umami or something. I don’t know, I’m not an insane foodie. Use the kanji or the anglocized word “Tianjiangsomething,” both shown in the photos, to find this tasty chili paste in a Chinese or Japanese market near you (or maybe the Internet). Oh, and when I add this, I go with about a half teaspoon for a quarter pound of pork (which is enough for two adults).

Noodles and pork should be done! Man, that was relatively quick and easy, despite using a ton of different ingredients, and some of them kind of weird/intimidating to the Western home cook. Anyway, there it is. Ittadakimasu!

Oh, and the noodles — supposed to be ramen, but I use soba because I think they’re healthier. Do what you want. It’s good to use half ramen and half soba, which kind of gives you some benefits of soba, while keeping that special ramen flavor…

I can’t even write about Japan. I miss it so much, and it’s depressing to have been “home” for over a year now. School starts tomorrow too, and I’m bummed because I’m not taking third semester Japanese due to schedule conflicts. I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep up/maybe get A’s in physics, calculus, and chemistry, AND practice Japanese (especially kanji) in my “free time.” I have no free time between commuting, exercising, and studying. How do people do this and work or have children? Am I slow or something? It just seems like too much to have on my plate. Anyway, I’d better just do my best. One way or another, I’m hoping to both finish college AND get my ass back to J-land. Whew. That said, I guess I’ll go load up my phone with Pimsleur and Genki and stuff to listen to/speak with while commuting. Going to Mass in the evening, ready for it!