the end is close

I left Japan on 3/29/2001, after a whole year in Japan, a whole year since I first put my feet on Japanese soil, leaving behind that Air France plane. It was a year full with invaluable experiences, which I take back home, while I can share a part of it with this weblog. Everything following this posting are articles I didn't post yet, no new stories. Anyway, I plan to return to Japan as soon as possible, maybe already this summer.

No Joe Cartoons with Superfly, no slipper-squieker, no disgusting left-overs from two weeks before in the sink, no sadistic janitor, no "watashi ha oishisou", no Japan Times in the lounge, no Sento, no American Pie and Galaxy Quest citations, no Pornmaster and his carpet burn, no friendly Japanese, no "German Phannkuchen", no 450 gramm Spaghettibowle, no Fargo-Fuckyou, no "oh my god, Richard!", no Cartoons on my walls, no wonderful lounch in Ritsumeikan's cafeteria ... I'm, going to miss it.

As I already left Japan, I started a new journal, this time about Korea, I plan to write about the differences and parallels of the two cultures as well.

Thank you very much for reading, I hope it was interesting.

Tomislav Grabic

P.S.: I'm looking for a successor for this journal. If you are halfway fluent in English and staying in Japan at the time you read this, you are eligible. Please send an eMail to me.


strange German

Every friday night I go to martial arts in a hospital in the northwest of Kyoto. The guys have the nice habit to sit together after the training and to eat, talk, drink, exchange views... Last week we started to talk about peculiarities of the German language. Articles. Who ever had some Japanese, knows that there are comparitively few grammatical structures to learn. After some wine and beer the discussion turned hilarious. Why is "table" male, "door" female? Why is "cap" female, but "hat" male? Why is a skirt male, but trousers female? Even more, if a (male) man sees a beautiful (female) women, he admires her (male) bum! Ridiculous! And men don`t wear skirts, right? Anyway, it was plausible that bottles are female while wine is male, after all women are "containers" and men "go inside". Roaring laughter came up when I mentioned that "rocket" is female...

If one is not familiar with a foreign language, I can understand that it racks your brains and that it is hard to understand why "rocket", obviously a phallic symbol is female. The concept is simple, but perspicuous. I couldn`t explain how gender is assigned to words. I`m not sure, but I guess the feeling for a language is important. A wrong article just sounds odd. With newly invented words or assimilated foreign words the feeling decides, provided that there`s no related word in German. Oh well...



"If somebody bows, bow back" That`s a tip from the movie "The Rising Sun". Unfortunately it`s not that easy. Bowing in Japan is as important as a hand shake in the West. You squeeze the other guy`s hand or hold it like a dead animal, and there goes your image.... Your body language is mostly subconscious - and about two third of all communication - but you can influence on how to give somebody your hand. The same is true for bowing. If you don`t bow low enough, or too low, it is either inappropriate or impolite. It is the basic form of greeting, mostly in a standing position. The angle is important as well, if you meet an older person and you don`t bow lower, it`s impolite. The "hi, how are you"-everyday-bow has about 15 degrees, if you meet somebody for the first time, it`s about 30 degrees, to express you deepest feelings, it`s about 45 degrees. There one form, which is sometimes seen on TV: LDP politicians or some policemen are bowing with a 90 degree Angle, in that case something terrible happened and they apologize in front of the public. A Japanese friend told me once that sometimes foreigners don`t bow but just nod with the head, what can put off people, especially, if they are not accustomed to foreigners.



One of the things that remind me why I like Japan is, when I`m treated much more human or friendlier in an unexpected situation, than it would be the case in my home country.

How often did it already happen? You went to a party to have fun, but you barely escaped a brawl with some scrappers, because they were offended by your south-european appearance or your short hair and heavy shoes? Who didn`t experience at least once that hostile reaction while moving through the partyroom, just looking at people to see who`s there, and being suddenly being snapped up at because they felt you looked at them too long? To pick up a less popular stereotype, if you want to talk to the DJ and exchange a few words, you need to know the DJ personally in order to not to be ignored or give the security a treat...

How are things in Japan? The crowd is mostly peaceful, people are drinking, but quarreling is less frequent than in Germany. If you look at the people, they`re mostly just surprised and look somewhere else (o.k., I`m a foreigner here, alright ;-), but there`s nobody who wants to cut my face with a butterfly just because of my curiousity. The DJ`s are usually much friendlier as well. One of the DJ`s at Imagium in Kyoto (Kiamachi) even comes up to you for a chat, treating with a beer, not even a suggestion of arrogance. To have parties like that in Germany, you have to go to ones like the "Cafe Rosa Mond" in Duesseldorf. ;-)


special cosmetics

Have you seen them once? One of those girls with make-up that makes her looking like a negative picture, a ganguro? If you take a closer look, you`ll notice they are prepared for everything, carrying a complete make-up and nail set, spare clothes, a mobile with the melody of the latest J-Pop chartbreaker... but what do they use behind the scenes? What exactly is the inventory of the die-hard ganguro? You`ll only find that out, if you spy around a little in their territory, the hygiene- and beautyshops.

I have been surprised by that breast firming gel in hygiene shops, which is supposed to be smeared regularily on the breasts. I don`t know if there`s stuff like that in european sexshops, but I certainly haven`t seen them in hygiene shops. There`s one problem with the use of that product: As my absolutely objective and representative survey about breast size shows, are Japanese breast so small that those extravagant expenses would be much ado about nothing. ;-)

A maschine described in a manga for young girls made me almost die of laughter: It looked like some kind of plumper with a suction pump, adolescent girls, presumably not matching the propagated ideal breast size in the media, are supposed to put them over their breast and suck them so they grow bigger! If young girls are the target group of such mangas, then I don`t wonder why people have so many complexes later in life...


Modern Japan

When I arrived in Japan at the Kansai Airport last year in April, I took the train to Kyoto. On my way I was very surprised to see the poor state of the infrastructure in the area. Japan, the world`s economy number two? How does that fit to all those old houses made of wood and tinroofs, the chaotic telephone and electricity poles, the homeless under the bridges (yes, I know, they have those elsewhere, too) and the generally poor condition of the economy?

You get a different picture walking through Dendentown in Osaka or the Ginza in Tokyo. Miniturization at it`s best on every corner. Mp3-Player as small as a lighter, flatscreens as flat as a book - I was standing speechless in front of a foil on a shop window, somehow they managed to project a pin sharp TV picture on that. The new digital TV called BS is not bad either, the resolution great. The mobiles are also smaller than anything you can buy in Germany, and I guess you can wait a few years until they sell those MDLPs, too.


To the end of my year in Japan, I have to leave the foreign students dorm and look for an appartment or a homestay in the aera of Kyoto. The main problem is - and always has been - the money. First, I tried to find a family for homestay myself, posting into newsgroups, asking friends, writing handbills and have them displayed at busy places... but all that didn`t really work. Luckily, I heard about the Kyoto International Center, where foreigners can find everything from accomodation, sales, Internetaccess, personal counseling to free japanese classes, a huge blackboard for personal ads, tourist information, journals and local magazins in several languages, etc.
They have two files with over 50 accomodation offers, appartments, homestays as well as houses as a whole. Homestays in Kyoto are very difficult to find, and some are not what the file says it is. The staff is very helpful and rings up the owners of the places you find suitable. A direct meeting is neccessary in any case!
I have found appartments which seemed to have survived one or two world wars, as cheap as 15.000 Yen or even free in exchange for four hours of english conversation in return. The downside: No heater - and walls as thin as a book - no bed or futon, no shower or bath, no washing maschine. If you want, you can live like your grandparents... ;-)