This contains spoilers… So if you’re interested in watching this anime then DON’T read this!
My wife’s cousin is a bit of a nerd and he’s the awesome kind of nerdy older relative that buys me game consoles and new video games, stops by once a week to drop off fresh issues of JUMP, burns me DVD’s of DBZ, and he’s always awake at late hours of the night so you can call him drunk and incoherent and he’ll cruise over in his Skyliner GT and pick you up.
He also tells me what animes he thinks I should be watching and what mangas he things I should read. Now our taste for such things differs ever so slightly. As a lit major in college I have trouble just appreciating stuff without over analyzing it in a pretentious condescending way. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy anime and manga.
I bring up my wife’s awesome older cousin because he made me watch an anime called Code Geass. This was way back in 2008… but I was reminded of it last week because of the KONY2012 movement that has taken the world by storm.
Code Geass is a depressing fucking story and the ending is kind of terrible (more on that later). But if you’re a fan of mecha and emo-level depression, then this might be for you. (Think Machiavelli meets Gundam meets Evangelion)
This is an anime set in a sort of parallel universe where the evil empire, Britannia, has rolled over Japan in the year 2010 and stripped the Japanese of pretty much all rights and freedoms. To top it off they’ve renamed Japan “Area 11” and the people are called “elevens.” (How that’s worse from being called Japan and Japanese, which are also not in the Nihongo lexicon, I don’t know)
The protagonist of this story is an anorexic exiled prince of Britannia with a tongue twister name: Lelouch Lamperouge (it’s even worse in Japanese, レレーシュ Lehlehhhshu). His father, Charles zi Britannia, is the evil douchebag running the show, and his mother was “murdered” some time ago. As a character he’s pretty well constructed, not an idiot, and a bit of a tragic hero, which I dug. He’s motivated by his desire to protect his sister Nunnally, who for most of the show is confined to a wheelchair and blind; trying to figure out what happened to his mother; and his intense desire to personally destroy his father and the empire of Britannia.
Lelouch and his sister live in Japan at a sort of boarding school for social elites and royal leftovers. On his way home in the first episode, Lelouche happens to meet up with a green haired witch girl who enters into some sort of “contract” with him which grants him the power of “geass.” There are several characters with geass and like snowflakes, no two geass are alike. I think they’re determined based off of the owners personal disposition or something like that.
Lelouch’s geass grants him the ability to command people to do whatever the hell he wants as long as he can come into direct eye contact with them. His first use of this power is ordering some Britannia soldiers that are trying to kill him to shoot themselves in the face while he watches.
Then, Lelouch hooks up with some resistant fighters called the Black Knights. He becomes the leader pretty much right away and adopts an alter ego named “ZERO” that is a mix of Darkwing Duck and Voldo’s mask when he’s wearing his really gay outfit.
There’s a lot of cool battles and one-on-one fights. The nightmare frames are updated more times than an Apple product so the action sequences manage to keep an edge without getting repetitive, plus the introduction of different and unique geass keeps things fresh. The geass are also not without weakness, which is a nice touch.
I’m sure that any educated reader of my blog knows that every seven years the human body completely regenerates. From your eyes to your bones, every seven years a completely new you is created from within.
As individuals, we humans are little different from our cells. We group together to build families, societies, and countries. None last forever, but most are not so weak than any little thing will end the line indefinitely.
I’ve seen some tragedy, more than some, much less that so many others. I’ve buried a brother, tagged along to AA meetings with my father, watched the Twin Towers collapse while praying none of my family was in that vicinity, and cleaned away the wreckage of modern civilization left by more than one hurricane.
But last year I saw my first tsunami as it raked the north-eastern shores of Japan. People, cars, homes, schools, and entire towns were leveled, crushed, and swept away in mere moments. The survivors watched powerlessly as their homes and neighbors were swallowed whole by the rising black water.
Humanity, like humans, is perhaps more resilient than it should be. Our lives are not calm predictable things. Lots of things change the current of our personal evolution. Loss of a job, substance abuse, crime, accidents, stock markets, tsunamis… catastrophic events might always be just around the corner. And when they come sometimes we survive. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t even have an option. Yet for those that do we have that magical and almost spiritually pure thing that repentant villains in family films covet… a second chance.
The human body regenerates after seven years they say. I say, that’s nothing compared with the human spirit.
So you’ve made it to Japan. You’ve left the plane, passed through immigration, convinced customs that those weren’t the droids they were looking for, and you’re officially a gaijin.
So after you get over the taxis with the SKYNET smart doors, smack your forehead a couple of times into low hanging door frames, and check into your hotel for your training; you’ll have to begin the long road of learning to live in a foreign country. Here are some pointers and insights to help you through the transition.
Be careful where you party
I’m not talking about avoiding places that don’t serve foreigners. I’ve never seen such a place and I probably wouldn’t be turned away anyway… I’m talking about partying efficiently. If you love bars/pubs then you’re used to spending plenty of $$ for a night out on the town. As for me, I was used to Kansas house parties and hot co-eds crowding around my keg-o-rator I kept stocked with Boulevard Wheat. When I did go out, my drinks were usually on the house or set over by groups of giggly farm girls.
Japan is connected by trains and the major cities will have large train stations full of stores and restaurants. Tokyo has lots of very large stations. Your training period won’t be in some little hick town, mine was in Tokyo, but Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Shizuoka are also popular training locations. Cities of that size will have decent sized main stations that are central locations that make for good landmarks for meet-ups.
A general rule of thumb is to avoid drinking at the station. Or if you want to drink at the station make sure your party is subterranean. Basement level establishments at the station and/or places that are 1-2 blocks away from the station have much lower rent and are much more affordable places to drink away your inhibitions or at least drink until that one chick with the dragon tattoo jumps from a 4 to a workable 7…
Sure, washboard abs, forearms that look like steel cables wrapped in skin, and a dark wash pair of jeans paired with any high quality wool top will show everyone that you have a gym membership and a subscription to GQ, but if you want to really impress a bunch of brand new gaijin then be a little prepared.
Don’t be that douche that knows everything about everything and won’t STFU about it. But keep a little notebook and write down some different foods you’d like to try. Then when you’re out and everyone is ordering off the pictures in the menu you can try something you’re actually interested in trying.
Two things you’ll want to ask about are nomihodai’s and tabehodai‘s. A lot of different restaurants and even karaoke joints will have a nomihodai option. It’s all you can drink from a limited drink menu, usually draft beer, red & white wine, and a few different types of sake. Yakiniku restaurants will often have a tabehodai option, which like the nomihodai, is all you can eat from a select menu.
Buy old sushi
Supermarkets typically close around 8:00 p.m. Around an hour before they lock their doors, all of the prepared food they have left-over will go on sale. This includes all bento boxes, onigiri, and sushi & sashimi. If you wait to shop then you can save a ton and still eat like a king.
I used to buy bento boxes with assorted foods for around ¥270. I bought shredded crab over rice for around ¥450. Boxes of sushi dropped down between ¥300-600 depending on the contents.
This, and raiding the local vegetable gardens is how I survived my first year in Japan.
Japan has 2nd hand shops that make the thrift stores I shopped at in Kansas look like… well… like thrift stores you’d expect to find in the middle of Kansas.
They’re called “Recycle Shop” and like you’d expect of Japan they’re clean, safe, and meticulously maintained. The electronics work, the clothes are clean, and the porn is… well… plentiful.
Shopping at a Dollar Tree in America is a mission to actually find something worth a $1… one that usually ends in failure unless you place a higher value on plastic harmonicas and bubble wands than normal people… The Japanese relative of the dollar store is the aptly named “hyakuen” which just means “100 yen.”
Now ¥100 shops are actually ¥105 with tax, but they’re still great places to get office supplies, hangers, dishes, eco bags, cleaning supplies, slippers, etc. It’s actually difficult to not find something that would in some way improve your life in Japan.
I always recommend getting on the National Health Insurance. If you work for Interac they’ll recommend a 3rd party international insurance company called Global Health Insurance. Japan doesn’t recognize this company. You’ll have to pay all costs up front in full, save your receipts, and then file more paperwork to get reimbursed. Being that I hate paperwork I opted to get onto the National plan as quickly as possible.
Now the National plan is based off of your salary from the previous year. As you are new to Japan, you did not collect any salary last year so there is next to no price difference between Global and the National plan. However… your second year in Japan your insurance rate will probably double, which turns some people off to the National plan, but you should still probably get on it.
Japanese companies are required by law to either provide company based insurance or enroll their employees in the National Health Insurance. How dispatch companies and English schools skirt around this I’m not sure, but there are plenty of angry bloggers who have already discussed that issue.
The thing that I want you to be aware of is if you’re in Japan for a long time and using a 3rd party international insurance and then want/need to switch to the National coverage, you’re up a metaphorical creek of excrement without any means of propulsion or steering… You’ll be expected to make back payments for those years you’ve been in Japan not paying for any health insurance that Japan recognizes. Now there are ways around this, or at least I’ve heard rumors of people who have been able to dodge the bullet, but again… that’s more work than I want to do.
I could go on and on about tips for living in Japan. But being dervishly witty and a humorous rake gets old after a while…
If I’ve made any mistakes or your experience has been otherwise please let me know. If you have any other hints that might help the 新外人, then please let me know!
Christmas in Japan is governed by clever marketing more than evolved pagan and Judeo-Christian traditions.
Yeah… I’ll read that right after I finish Twilight…
Maybe the one thing that Xmas in Japan gets right is that lights and decorations need to come out about a month before the actual day. They string them up around the stations and department stores, the malls will erect giant corporately decorated trees. But the similarities in traditions end there really.
Well… maybe we’re not so different after all…
Some how Christmas dinner equals a whole roast chicken from KFC. There’s a limited number that each location can provide you have to reserve yours in advance. It comes with sides, but the bill will run you around $70… for a fricking chicken, the kind that you can get at Walmart for under $10. You can actually stop by any Costco in Japan and get a whole roasted chicken for around $10. If you ask any Japanese person what a traditional Christmas dinner is, they’ll 90% of the time say chicken, even if they never bother ordering an overpriced bird of their own. Kudos to KFC though, I wonder what kind of genius marketing campaign they ran where they managed to take the most abundant bird meat around and charge people like they’re ordering a slab of endangered tuna…
¥5600… for a chicken… in a bag…
The other food that Japanese people love to eat on Christmas is the “Christmas cake”. Now I’ve never eaten Christmas cake, but cakes in general are very popular in Japan. They love to buy tiny little cakes that are intricately decorated like little edible pieces of art. Christmas cakes are typically white frosted short cakes decorated with strawberries. Not being a fan of sweet foods, I’ve never tried them, but I’m sure people who like eating sugar would enjoy them.
Don’t be fooled, it’s probably only the size of your fist…
Sometimes people mistake Christmas Eve and Christmas day. For some people Christmas Eve is much more important because it’s a popular day for couples to go out on the town, have a nice dinner, visit a bar, stop by a love hotel, just spend some quality time together.
With the Santa outfit on this is still kind of weird for me…
You don’t really get Christmas presents. A child might get one from their parents, but it’s usually nothing huge. I made the kids write down what they wanted for Christmas and the very question seemed to catch them by surprise. Some of them said very normal sounding gift ideas like video games, game consoles, iPods, and Walkmans, but some of the gift wishes threw me entirely like a carrot for a pet rabbit, edamame (boiled soybeans, a cheap snack), a book, pizza, miso soup, a pen, a pencil case, and some just couldn’t think of something they wanted for Christmas.
OMG!!! Edward’s skin flakes!!!
People are also overall ignorant about Christmas, or at least American Christmas. They know that there’s a reindeer with a likely radioactive nose that flies around the sky pulling an over weight senior citizen to the homes of sleeping children. But they can’t tell you the name of that red-nosed reindeer. I asked them where Santa Claus lives and they named everywhere, but the North Pole (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Russia, America, Brazil, Italy, Norway, Hong Kong…)
Artistic rendition of a Hong Kong Santa
Overall, I loved my childhood Christmases. And when the day comes that I have a child or children of my own then I’ll try my best to make Christmas a fun and special time for them as well. Yet as an adult, it’s kind of nice to not be in a country where people go mad about Christmas. I don’t have to worry about offending anyone over writing Xmas shorthand. So Christmas stays with me in frozen memories and snapshots of Christmases past, while Christmas in Japan has no pressure and little stress.