Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Viv emailed me some questions about life in Nihon  to answer on this blog, and since I love talking about myself, I dutifully (though perhaps occasionally, obnoxiously) responded:

Q: Okay, let's jump into everyone's favorite topic: food. What are the best and grossest things you have eaten in Japan so far?
A: The ramen here is out of control awesome... I also really like yakitori. On the weekends the supermarket near me has a nice bento selection and also pretty good sushi and sashimi, so one of my great pleasures so far is buying bento and eating it while watching some illegally downloaded episodes of Mad Men. I also like going to izakayas, which are pubs that have little Japanese tapas--everything from fried chicken to raw horsemeat (seriously). As for gross, there are occasional mystery objects in my school lunch with soft or gummy textures that don't really do it for me. I have yet to try the notorious natto, made from fermented soybeans, which apparently tastes rotten.

Q: Besides Catticus, who or what do you miss most about the U.S.?
A: I miss bagels. I would murder a small Japanese child for an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox right now. Oh yeah, and my family and friends.

Q: Do you constantly feel like a character in a Murakami novel? If so, which one do you most resemble?
A: I should hope not, because all Murakami character seem to me to have some form of low-grade autism and/or find themselves in horrific situations, like watching a man get skinned alive. But I guess I most resemble the talking cat from Kafka on the Shore.

Q: How is the dollar doing over there? Are the Japanese as obsessed about the Recession as we are?
A: The dollar is almost historically weak against the yen, which makes it nice for me when I transfer money home. I can't really tell how concerned people here are about the economy because I don't understand anything they say on the news, and everyone I talk to is a co-worker, thus employed. They do seem to think Americans have it worse right now.

Q: Do you have cable TV over there?
A: Nope, just five basic channels I get for free. I often leave the TV on in the hopes I'll absorb Japanese knowhow through osmosis, but it's not working. I do have a favorite children's show--Zenmai Zamurai, about a boy who spreads peace and averts crises by throwing dango into people's mouths.

Q: Why won't Jonathan join Facebook?
A: It's a time suck, and his time is better spent watching NBA highlights.

Q: If you had to categorize your overall experience in Japan as "working" or "vacation," which would it be?
A: Well, I definitely go to work every day, but the pace is so easy for me I feel a little guilty to even call it work. I think what ends up being draining is the constant feeling of being vaguely on edge, because I attract attention wherever I go, and never know when a seemingly small task is going to become a huge hassle because of the language barrier. So in that sense, I don't feel like I'm on holiday. On the other hand, I have way more free time and money than I'm used to having.

Q: What's the deal with those used underwear vending machines? Has anyone explained this phenom to you? Is this an aspect of Japanese culture that just gets highly exaggerated in Western media or is this brand of "interest" explicitly common?
A: I'm guessing it's super exaggerated because I haven't seen anything of the kind. The Japanese are definitely obsesssed with cuteness, and no one's cuter than schoolgirls, but I can't imagine a sexual attraction there because they are SO immature. The teenagers here, generally speaking, seem a lot younger and even less physically developed than the teenagers in America. Blame it on the hormones in our food or our Puritanical/oversexed culture, I guess, but the schoolchildren here are more like... children.

Q. Given the opportunity, would you live in Japan 4-EVA?
A: Definitely not. I love it so far, but I also know that I could NEVER be considered an insider, no matter how long I lived here or how fluently I spoke the language, and I think that would get super lonely after a while. On the one hand I enjoy my outsiderness, but on the other I'm sure I'd get sick of relating to people at a more superficial level than I could do with even just a select few at home.


  1. Okay, you must tell one of your Japanese friends to recommend a place where you can yamakake, which is my FAVORITE DISH IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. Thanks for the interview! If I had to choose a Murakami character that I resemble most, it would be Yuki from Dance Dance Dance who is really the same as May Kasahara in Wind Up Bird Chronicle.

  2. What's yamakake? Mountain something?

  3. It looks like this: It's mashed yam, usually over rice and with some sort of fish on top. Delicious!

  4. Ooh that does sound pretty おいしい!

  5. Fantastic interview......thanks for the entertainement.....

  6. Wow, this is so interesting! My brother lived in Japan for a few years, and he loved it. His favorite food was the ramen, too. You can't get it here in America, not the same AT ALL. I can't believe they don't have bagels. Sad! It's probably why they all stay so skinny. LOL.

  7. It's the Japanese technology that amazes me when we have exchange students here. They were bringing over card-sized, speaking pocket translators years ago when the only ones available here in the US were the size of books and available only in the Neiman Marcus Wish Book. What's hot now, and thus on the horizon for us in several years?

  8. OMG, I love that kids show. Back before I broke my TV I would watch it every morning before work.