Sunday, November 21, 2004

Reality check

It's been a while since my last post, as many of you have noticed. While there's plenty to write about Japan, a couple of things have kept me from my keyboard. The first is my work schedule, which sometimes leaves me feeling too exhausted to write. The other reason is that I've been processing so much stuff over the past five months or so that I felt like I just needed some time to step back and look at it from a new perspective.

Most of my first few months in Tokyo were spent trying to get around, find housing, deal with the intense heat, earthquakes and typhoons, adapt to my new job, and adjust to the problematic bureaucratic system here.

The past couple of months, while I wasn't writing in my blog, I've been processing everything I've experienced so far in Japan and trying to decide what to think about it all.

While I never thought it would happen, I think I went through a bit of culture shock recently. Everything about Tokyo really started to get on my nerves and irritated me.

Especially the unnecessary noise.

In a city where there are about 12 million people, there's already enough noise. Trust me. We don't need added noise from such things as pickup trucks driving around neighborhoods with PA systems announcing their desire to acquire your old, used "mini-compus" (computers), CD players, etc.

Then there are the garbage trucks with their own PA system that sounds like a phone ringing, with a recording reminding people that they're picking up trash. On the trucks that don't have a PA system, there's the repeated yell of the trash collectors as the truck backs up to the pile of trash, which sounds something like "OYE OYE OYE OYE OYE" barked out in the loudest voice. What's that about?

Been to the supermarket lately? There's another whole world of noise, especially on weekends! It seems that almost every aisle, and particularly the fresh fish, meat, and produce aisles, have men yelling out the specials of the day. Try walking down the frozen dessert aisle, and you'll hear a boombox advertising "aisu creamu" or something that sounds like that. It seems that no matter which aisle you try, there are boomboxes or shouting clerks everywhere! I want to shout back: can everyone just be quiet? (or worse, depending on my mood at the time)!

Another annoyance is the thriving ambulance business here in Tokyo. Together with the constant police car sirens, it would seem that there are more "emergencies" than people living in Tokyo! Is it really necessary to race through narrow streets, sirens blasting, to deliver an elderly sick person to the hospital? I would think the patient riding inside would suffer more stress and physical harm from the rush to the hospital than from any illness of an emergency nature. UPDATE NOTE: I talked with a medical doctor about the use of ambulances in Tokyo; he said that most ambulance visits are not true emergencies but rather people with fevers! It seems that the government pays for ambulance trips so people use them freely!)

There are also the street vendors selling fresh tofu or hot, grilled sweet potatoes. The tofu vendors use some type of mouth-blown horn to announce themselves as they pull their cart through the streets. The sound is two notes, with the last note higher than the first. The sweet potato vendors have another attention-grabbing pitch, but I seem to have blocked it out at the moment.

Trains are another constant source of noise. They have all sorts of Train Platform Jingles, announcements and other mind-numbing noises--including the intense screeching of wheels as they go around curves. The jingles are irritating in that they always sound so urgent! People are rushed enough, yet the train system seems to think they need to be rushed even more.

But, worst of all I think, are the incredibly nasal shop girls as they hawk outside their shops in the train stations or on busy street corners! Where did they get those voices? They're absolutely eardrum-piercing!

Now that I've gotten some of the unnecessary noisemaking off my chest, I will post a column soon about the unrestrained and unavoidable bureaucracy.

I know that writing about these things is cathartic, and that I will soon grow to love Tokyo again, but for now there are so many things that just make no sense at all. Because I want to remember all the feelings I've experienced while in Japan, I've included them in this blog. It doesn't mean that I'm not having a good time over here. I really am, but in all honesty, I feel I must include those things I've had to confront as a foreigner--the things that can make living here a challenge. To omit them would be to give the impression that everything is perfect here, and it's not. But then no where's perfect, right?

No comments: