Japan is CoolMy sister Pat worked as a model for 10+ years in Japan. When you buy something that was made in Japan and you have printed advertising or a printed instruction book most of that stuff was made and printed in Japan.
They import tons of American models to be used in the advertising. And my sister was one of them. First she worked in Tokyo and then in Osaka.
I visited my sister in Osaka. Osaka is Japanís second largest city. It is a big dirty industrial city which is comparable to Chicago in the USA. But it is still a cool place. Crime is very rare. And if you lose your wallet it, along with the money in it, will almost certainly show up in a police station when someone fines it.
If you look around you can get real cheap rates to both Europe and Asia. I checked the ads in the Los Angeles Times to find cut rate dealers of plane tickets. I got a round trip flight for $400 from Los Angeles to Tokyo thru the cut rate dealers. I could have shaved $100 off of that if I started looking earlier. If I had gone thru a travel agent it would have cost me $1,000 or more.
I flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles. At LAX I flew non-stop to Tokyo. I flew on Varig Airlines which is out of Brazil. The flight started in Buenos Aries or San Paulo, touched down in LA just long enough for me and a few other passengers to board. From LA it flew non-stop to Tokyo. I think it took 8 hours to get to Tokyo from LA.
I found out that Brazil has the largest concentration of Japanese people in the world outside of Japan. Even though they spoke in Portuguese, I could talk to them and understand some of them by speaking in Spanish. They kept calling the Pacific Ocean the Atlantic Ocean. But I would do that too if I was from the east coast. Hell when I went to Chicago I called lake Michigan the ocean.
They take the polar route to Japan. Instead of going west from LA they went north along the California coast, past San Francisco, and then I suspect followed the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and then back couth to Japan.
When my mom went to visit Pat they took a different route. They flew from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and then to Tokyo.
The one thing I remember about the plane flight was the seaweed I ate. It was delicious. Mmmm I like seaweed.
Despite the fact that because of my hair and dress I look more like a drug dealer, religious crack pot or terrorist the customs folks in Japan waved me thru customs and didnít search or question me. They asked me what I did for work and I told them I was an engineer. It has been so long they may have asked me one or two other questions and then they quickly waved me thru. It was easy.
They did however shake the guy down who I sat next to on the plane. The guy was around my age. He was Japanese. I donít remember if he lived in Japan, Brazil or the US. I do remember they treated him rather badly and shook him down real good.
In Tokyo they have two airports. Narita is international airport and I landed there. I took a bus from there which passed the Japanese Disneyland to Haneda Airport which is for flights with in Japan. From there I flew to Osaka which is about 400 miles west of Tokyo.
The flight to Osaka scared the shit out of me. We flew thru a very violent storm with lots of lightning and thunder. The storm violently shook the plane. I suspect this happens all the time in areas with crummy weather, but it was the first time I had ever flown on a plane in violent weather.
Some time after this I flew from Los Angeles to Phoenix and we flew thru a summer monsoon. That storm was a minor wimpy storm compared to the Osaka flight.
Osaka time is 8 hours before Phoenix time. So if it is 3 in the afternoon in Phoenix it is 7 am in the morning in Osaka. So you never call people in Japan before 3 pm Phoenix time unless you want to really piss them off by waking them up early in the morning.
My sister told me the best way to deal with the time zone change is not even think about it. Who cares what time it is in Phoenix. But it is odd because here I am in Osaka eating lunch at 8 pm Phoenix time which is really 11 am Osaka time. Or even worse I am eating dinner at 3 in the morning Phoenix time.
When I got up in the morning on my second day in Japan I woke up about 4 am because I still had jet lag. I went out and wandered around the streets of Osaka. One odd thing I noticed was the hookers all have these things that look like baseball cards. The cards have a picture of the hooker, the price, and a phone number to call. And they leave them every where.
In this early morning adventure I also ate my first junk food in Japan. I found a 7 Eleven near my sisters house and bought some potato chips and Coke.
I asked my sister what they were and she confirmed that they were hooker baseball cards. She said the religious prudes people rip them down early in the day. In Japan prostitution is legal. My sister friend who runs owns a travel agency in Kobe even offered to send me on a sex tour to Thailand. He told me that the hookers are much cheaper in Thailand then in Japan. Because of that it is big business in Japan running sex tours to Thailand. Location wise a flight to Thailand from Japan is like flying to Los Angeles or San Francisco from Phoenix.
Another amazing thing I discovered was they have Coke machines that sell beer and hard liquor on street corners. You put a 100 yen note in the machine and out pops a can of beer. You put a couple hundred yen in the machine and out pops a bottle of sake hard liquor. Shove a few hundred more yen and you can get an expensive bottle of heavily taxed Jack Daniels liquor.
I know that if you put a coke machine that dispensed beer outside of a Circle K in Phoenix there would be a line of kids at the machine until the machine was out of beer. Because of this I incorrectly assumed there was not drinking age in Japan.
My sisterís friend Ari told me there is a drinking age in Japan. I think he said it is 20. But he said the Japanese kids are real honest and would never illegally buy beer from a liquor machine.
Later on I would notice that all the money in Japan is clean. No dirty money like in American. Also they have vending machines every where that take paper money. And the machines always take the money. Itís not like in the US where you have to shove 3 different bills into the Coke machine before it takes your money. The machines always take your money on the first try.
For my whole stay in Japan in the day time I would wander around the streets of Osaka looking at stuff. Osaka is a big city like New York and it is a real interesting place. Even though city has several times the population of Phoenix it is very small area wise. You could fit it in South Scottsdale between McDonald Drive and McDowell Roads.
And subways are all over the place. I doubt if I was ever more then a half of a mile away from a subway. And I used the subways all the time to get around. In fact my biggest expense in Japan was my subway fare. If I was really lazy I could have used buses to travel which are on just about every other street.
In fact I used to hang out at a subway station near my sisters house. It was more like a mall with 6 or 7 levels of stores and restaurants.
One odd thing about Japan is only major streets get names. Minor streets are not named. So an address you use to send mail to someone canít be used to find there home. When people give directions to their home or a business they usually give you an address, plus a map on how to find it. The map will show the exact location, and will also show the major cross streets which are named. The models when they are given locations to go to are always faxed maps which show how to get to the site.
The first meal I ate in Japan was at a Korean place where my sister took me and we ate beef with forks and knives just like that. But after that it was only chop sticks which I quickly became able to use. Although I wasnít an expert using chop sticks until after a few days.
The first meal I ate on my own was a bowl of soup I bought at a restaurant in the subway mall near my sisterís home. I bought it because I figured I could drink it with a spoon. But the noodles were too big to eat with a spoon. So I had to use chop sticks to grab each noodle.
At first it is real frustrating to eat with chop sticks because it is so hard to move the food from the plate to you mouth. But you very quickly get good at using them.
During the night time in Japan I would hang out with my sister and here friends after she came home from work. For the American models it is an event when someone comes to Japan from America so they like to hang out with them. My sisters also had some Japanese friends who taught me a lot of cool stuff about Japan.
My sisterís friend Ari taught me how to write my name in Japanese. It is:
マイクLiterally it translates to English as
ma i kuwhich is how a Japanese person would pronounce my name of Mike.
He also taught me how to read and write a bunch of other Japanese words in katakana and kanji. He taught me the numbers which are useful. This pissed off my sister. She could speak Japanese but at the time she could not read or write it. In fact it pissed her off so much that she went on to learn how to read and write kanji, hiragana, and katana Kanji are the picture words. The Japanese stole them from the Chinese. Hiragana and katana are two phonetic alphabets with an identical set of sounds. Kind of like comparing English script letters to block letters. Hiragana is curvy like English script letters, and katakana is mostly straight lines like English block letters. Hiragana is used to spell words of Japanese origin. And katakana is used to spell foreign words.
Ordering food is real easy in Japan. In every restaurant in Japan with the exception of the McDonalds they have the entire menu in the store window. The menu items are made of plastic food which looks just like how the food will be served. The prices are almost always written in Arabic numbers, which is what we English speaking people use. Although in few places the prices will be written in Japanese kanji picture words. Thatís why I asked Ari to teach me the Japanese numbers.
After you have decided what piece of food you want to order you just walk into the restaurant, grab the waiter to the front of the store and point at the item you want to buy. You donít have to worry about the price because itís printed on the menu. And you donít have to worry about what youíre ordering because what the waiter will bring you will look exactly like the plastic food in the front window.
I met an American butcher and he told me that Japan is the only country in the world where meat is more expensive then marijuana. He was probably right. At least about beef being incredibly expensive. I went to several stores where I saw beef being sold and the price was $100 to $200 for a kilo of beef. Thatís about $50 to $100 for a pound of beef. Part of that is due to taxes, and part of it is do to the Japanese lifestyle.
My sisterís friend took us to eat at a beef restaurant. I donít remember where. I suspect that it was a very expensive. The beef was incredibly soft. I used my chopsticks to rip it apart. I insisted on using chopsticks because I wanted to get good with them. This seemed to impress my sisterís Japanese friends.
Ari also took us to eat sushi. Him and my sister played a little joke on me and told the cook to lace the sushi with wasabi. Wasabi is a green form of horseradish. So of course when I ate it, the wasabi made my nose run. Now I love hot spicy food so I though that sushi is pretty good. Well at least the wasabi part of sushi is pretty good.
Ari kept asking me if I liked the food. I kept telling him that it was ďgood shitĒ. He didnít understand my American slang so finally my sister told him I liked the sushi, and I loved the wasabi.
Really sushi is just a rice burrito. It is stuffed with pickled fish and rice. It is wrapped in a sheet of green seaweed instead of a tortilla. And when I make or eat sushi I always lace it with wasabi. You also have a tiny cup that you fill with soy sauce and then mix in some wasabi. Then you dip your sushi into that bowl.
My sister takes pride in that her Japanese is good enough to order dinner over the phone. She will call up the restaurant on the phone and order dinner. A guy on a bicycle will bring the order to her home complete with dishes and stuff. Then after she eats she leaves the plates outside by the door and the restaurant will come and pick up the plates the next day. I found that out when I asked her why people in Japan leave plates by their front door.
In Japan real estate is super expensive. And their homes are super small. Most of the models Pat worked with lived in apartments that were half the size of a one car garage. And FOUR models lived in one of these tiny apartments.
My sister had a huge apartment. It was in Shin Osaka, which means New Osaka. It was as big as a single car garage and had only one room, besides the bathroom. By American standards tiny, but by Japanese standards huge. I slept on one side of the floor at night and she slept on the other side.
Despite being so small it had a 70 gallon hot water heater. Which if you ask me is huge by American standards. But she said those Japanese people love to take long hot baths, hence the huge water heater.
In Japan the people roll out mats at night and sleep on them. In the day time they roll up the mats and use the same space for living space. Often homes are measured by the number of sleeping mats they can hold. Since there is no privacy people rent motels when they want to have sex. I think they rent the space by the hour. It has been a long time since I went there.
If you rent an American style hotel with large American style rooms it will be very expensive because of the large amount of space. If you want to save money rent a tiny Japanese hotel room. It will be much cheaper, and much smaller.
I stayed at my sisterís house so my rent in Japan was for free. If I had rented a hotel it would have been my biggest expense.
My sister took me to a big party at a lawyerís house. By Japanese standards his home was huge. It was 3 or 4 floors high. But by American standards it was not that big. It was only as big as the 3 bedroom track home I grew up in south Scottsdale.
I scared the krap out of my sister one night because of the small room we lived in. She rented a movie about some cops. The movie was in English but it had Japanese subtitles. Since I have had my civil rights violated so many times by crooked cops the movie caused me to have a nightmare about a cop beating me up. My screaming scared my sister.
Japanese TVs and VCRs are different then American ones. I think they use the PAL system while we use the NTSC. If you shove an American VCR tape into a Japanese VCR you have to fast forward it to get it to look normal. I may have gotten it backwards but you can get the picture. For some video that they shot of my sister in Japan she got the engineers where she works to make a copy that could be played on America VCRs.
When I was there I looked at TV while I waited for my sister to come home from work. The main thing I remember was the Japanese submarine that sunk a boat and didnít rescue the people. It was all in Japanese which I didnít understand a word of. The only reason I knew what was going on was because I read the English language newspaper each day I was there.
My sister took me to Kyoto on the bullet train. The bullet train is really cool. I think it goes 200 kilometers an hour. Which is about 120 miles an hour. If you walk down the isle and look out the window at the same time your senses get mixed up and you want to fall down. I saw Mount Fuji from the train.
In Kyoto we went to some famous temple with a rock garden. It was the most serene place I have ever been in my life. Really cool place despite the fact that I am an atheist.
My sister also took me to the modeling studio she works. It was pretty cool. I talked to a bunch of the model and watched them shoot some stuff. But I think she and the other models do most of their work at their customer sites. She also gave me the address of one location where they were shooting her and I went there. I told them my sister was a model there and they let me in to watch the stuff. It was a large Japanese corporation. I donít remember the name but it was something like a Sony or Mitsubishi.
The models go on interviews where the customers decide which models they want to have in their commercials and ads. Since most of the models canít speak Japanese the customers will be honest and tell the salesmen stuff like ďthat model is too fat, skinny, ugly or whateverĒ. But since my sister and a few of the other models are fluent in Japanese it is a problem when my sister goes on interviews. The salesman in this case will ware the customers to shut up and keep their opinions to themselves when the model understands Japanese.
I should have bought a subway pass when I went to Osaka, since subway fare was the most expensive part of my trip. The Japanese people my sister worked with taught the models how to ride the subways for less.
When you buy a month long subway pass the cost is based on the distance youíre allowed to travel. With the most expensive subway pass you can get on at point A and go to point Z. A subway pass like that would have the locations A and Z printed on the pass.
When you enter the subway you show the guard the part of the pass that says youíre allowed to get on at point A. And when you leave the subway tunnels you show the guard the part of the pass that says youíre allowed to get off at point Z.
If an American enters a subway station and covers up the part of the pass that shows where he is allowed to enter the subway, the guards will just think he is a dumb American who canít read kanji and let him. Same for when the American leaves the subway station.
So many of the models will buy the cheapest subway pass which goes from point M to point N. Then they will enter the subway at point A and cover up the M on the pass that says they are only allowed to enter at point N. Then when they leave the subway at point Z they will cover up the part of the subway pass that says they are only allowed to leave at point N. This little trick only works for foreigners who claim not to be able to read Japanese.
Some of the models who didnít make a lot of money modeling worked as geisha girls. I didnít go to any geisha bars but from what I understand it is kind of like going to a topless bar in the USA. Men go to these bars to meet women. I think the men just hang out there. I donít think prostitution is involved. As I said earlier prostitution is legal in japan.
I donít gamble but my sisterís friend took me to a Pachinko place. It is kind of a place where they have some type of Japanese pin ball machines that are some how related to gambling. Pat said the Japanese mafia is usually connected with these pachinko places. She also mentions that often the mafia members get a part of their finger cut off as some sort of ritual to be accepted by their mafia brothers.
In Japan public restrooms are squat holes which are just a hole in the ground which you squat over, dump, and then flush. They donít have free toilet paper either. As a result of that they hand out free toilet paper which has advertising on it on the street. I was proud to say that a number of Japanese people gave me free toilet paper as I walked the streets of Osaka despite the fact that I canít read or write a word of Japanese.
But if you go to a restroom in a restaurant or bar they will have restrooms with real toilets and free toilet paper like we have in the USA.
The monks sure got a racket going on in Japan. I went to several grave yards. People go to them and leave all kinds of nice stuff on the graves of their relatives. Food, beer, and other good stuff. I think my sister told me the monks take it in at night and use it for themselves.
Ari told me that even though Buddhism and Shinto religions exist in Japan that they have really turned into one religion. He said that the government more or less forced them to merge so that they did not become too powerful.
The Japanese have these cool business cards. On one side everything is printed in Japanese and on the other side everything is printed in the Roman letters and Arabic numbers that us English speaking people use. Since I thought they were cool Ari had a set printed up for me and gave them to be before I returned to the USA. I thought they were pretty cool.
The oddest thing I saw in Japan was this woman paid a monk to burn her on the back with a cigar or something. My sister saw it too. She thought it was weird and didnít have any idea either of why the woman was paying this religious person to burn her.
My sister also said I asked too many questions. I am curious about everything. I wondered why all the telephone poles in Japan were made out of cement or concrete. She didnít have an answer for that. Nor did her friend Ari. I suspect wood rots because Japan gets so much rain. Maybe steel rusts. Or maybe concrete is just cheaper then steel or wood.
The only thing my sister couldnít translate was when I used specialized words that she didnít use. Words like volts, amps, and other electrical engineering terms and computer geek terms I used she couldnít translate.
The only time I saw pictures of my sister in Japan was when she took me to a Japanese version of park and swap. They had a poster hanging up of some pantyhose ads she had modeled. She didnít like that.
The best food I ate in Japan was at two places. One was a salad I ate at a Thai restaurant. The other place was an Indian restaurant. I remember eating some green stuff that was very good. My sister didnít know what it was and nobody else did. I brought the menu back to the USA but it was lost when the City of Tempe seized my home.
The worst thing that happened was when I came back to the USA and went thru customs at LAX. I was treated like a piece of shit by the thugs in the US Customs department. I was just waved on thru by the Japanese customs. But in my own country I was treated like shit.
I have entered the USA a number of times and each time they only ask if you have anything to declare and then when you say no they wave you on thru. At Los Angeles International Airport Customs I was given the riot act.
The other bad news was my boss got fired while I was in Japan. He was railroaded. His name was John Nunley. He was accused of sending computer mail to a woman in who worked at the Albuquerque site. He was a good worker. And he was treated unfairly.
The manager of information systems was the guy that got him fired. That guy has a reputation for being an asshole and demanding server punishment for trivial crimes.