By Jonah Kondro
Hobbes and I decided that we needed to check out Japan. Visiting our longtime friend Levi was a good excuse to set everything aside and occupy a country where being white is a visual minority. When I stepped off the plane in Tokyo, I knewI was going to be an oddity.
I’ve spent four days already on a foreign continent. I haven’t encountered anyone else with neck tattoos and cowboy boots.However, I have seen two people with noticeable tattoos: one Japanese gentleman (I saw in the Ueno area) had a singles leeve of tattoos; the other person was a Japanese girl living in the same building as Levi.
Tattoos or irezumi are still heavily associated with the Japanese underworld, with miscreants, with the yakuza. I look like a North American super villain.
I am writing this column from Levi’s dorm room. His room or, as we have been jokingly calling it, his dojo is a four story share residence in Nishi-Funabashi on the outskirts of Tokyo. I discovered that these share residences or share homes are not that common in this country. Places that are uncommon tend to attract uncommon people—people like my group of friends.
The building Levi is living in operates like a quasi-hostel, but this place is cleaner, everyone has their own room, and everyone wears slippers. Hobbes and I have been sleeping sprawled out on Levi’s bamboo laminate floor.
Levi is a white guy and has been working in Japan as a geologist since January. He received his Master’s Degree from the University of Alberta last winter and got on board with a one year program to work abroad. Levi works in an office; and from what I understand, he basically builds maps and attempts to figure out how oil and gas are interacting in a reservoir.
My friend Hobbes and I had to sell our souls to afford to visit our friend. At the moment we are all taking a break from one another to enjoy a quiet moment to ourselves.
Levi had to cycle to the office for a meeting and discussion. (He has been trying to assemble some of his research from Argentina into a presentation). I just stepped into the kitchen for another cup of coffee; I heard Hobbes playing some New Orleans tune on the piano in the share home’s ‘theater room.’
I’ll admit that writing this column is difficult. If it wasn’t for the air conditioning in Levi’s room, I’d be dead from the heat and humidity in this country. It also doesn’t help that I’m in a perpetual sake hangover, with a heavy dose of jet lag.
All personal aliments aside, the language barrier is pretty dense. I don’t speak Japanese, nor do I understand any of the Kanji symbols. Thankfully there is a lot of Romanji on signs and such: Romanji is basically Japanese spelled out in letters I understand.
Speaking and receiving Japanese hasn’t been easy. I know some very basic phrases. I have a difficult time thinking and then articulating Japanese. When I think of something to say in English, I can ‘hear’ my voice in my head saying the words; then I say the phrase in English — it’s easy. When I think of something to say in Japanese, I hear Levi’s voice saying the words in my head, and it comes out of my larynx all garbled. Being immersed in a foreign language has been an interesting experience.
I did my best, one night, to describe Hawaiian pizza in English to a handful of Japanese girls who live in the share residence.It didn’t help that both parties had enough sake to dissolve two separate languages into a hot mess of words.