Still Alive: One Year in Japan

At the risk of sounding like Koji Oe, here’s a personal post about my time thus far in Japan…

As the title says, it’s been just over a year since I first arrived here in Japan dazed and confused. I’ve learned a lot, and there’s been plenty of happy times and sad times, but luckily the sad stuff was nothing I couldn’t handle, and the happy times have been good.

I’ve built up a decent social life over this past year–I have an okay amount of both Japanese and Gaijin friends who I see on a regular basis, and find myself with something to do every weekend. Since whether or not I can live here forever is not certain, I want to experience this country as much as I possibly can. But there’s always those weekends every now and again when you don’t have anything to do.The solution? A-Button! It’s a place where everybody knows your name!

I kind of want to talk about A-Button in more detail in a future post, but for now I’ll just say that it’s a cool place to hang out. You don’t really have to like games to dig it, but if you do that makes it better. Me? I like the regulars, and the owners are super nice. If you need an excuse to practice your Japanese, a place like A-Button is perfect. All it costs is the price of a few drinks, and everyone there is very nice and sociable. Sure, you can pay a bit more at a maid massage parlor, but that would involve going into a maid massage parlor.

(I’ve been to one.)

But now I don’t frequent such establishments. Why? Because I finally have a girlfriend for once in my life. Yes, there were some false starts (screwed up on the first date) but I’ve finally met someone, and we’ve been seeing each other for around two months now. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m happy for now.

You know, I never thought I’d say this, but those international parties aren’t a bad way to meet people. That’s how I met the woman I’m seeing now. I know they have a lame image to them–doubly so if they’re held in Roppongi–but in my limited experience, there’s usually people there actually interested in meeting a new boyfriend or girlfriend, and not just looking for a one-night fling. What if you’re not hot on the girls obsessed with learning English and Lady Gaga? I know I’m not, but that’s no problem, because those kinds of girls will sometimes bring their not-so-good-at-English and so-so-on-Lady-Gaga friend along with them. As far as my tastes go, those are the girls to shoot for.

Another good thing about these parties is that the odds are in your favor. These Japanese people are usually paying slightly more than you are at the door–granted ladies only pay a pinch more–but it’s way more balanced than the otaku thing, where women don’t take it seriously because they pay significantly less (I got lucky the first time, and blew it. But then again, I don’t want to date a girl who can’t appreciate OLH. Just for the record, the few times after that were all duds.) In the setting of the international party, you are the target audience. And the people? Not as bad as you think–I’ve spoken to some great people at these parties. I think all the trash collects at HUB or Gas Panic. The only potential issue I can see with these parties for some folks is that the participants skew somewhat older. Case in point: My girlfriend is quite older than I am. In my experience most girls in college are either busy with their job search or thesis, while the recent grads are busy at their new jobs. So if you want to aim young, I guess the only option is high school graduates? I imagine they have tons of time.

Getting back on track: I know it sounds dumb to say this, but Japan feels far more “real” to me now than it did when I studied over here. When I was here for the first time, I was really passive and had a hard time talking to people. My current lifestyle is far more active, resulting in me seeing more things and going to more places. Can you believe that when I studied over here I didn’t do karaoke even once? Now I go on a weekly basis. And hey! I’m going to an onsen in December. I’ve been down to Kansai twice! All-in-all, it’s been alright. Hoping to get better at saving money and find someone to go on a trip with. I think a week or two throughout Honshuu would be great. Who’s with me?

On the subject of money, it flows through my fingers like water over here. While I spent all my money on doujinshi, DVDs and figures last time I was here, this time my cash is constantly blown on drinks and/or food. It’s not a bad life, but maybe I should up for a another figure or two. It’s been a while. I also want Natsu no Arashi on DVD.

(Incidentally, now that I have a system set up, I’m going to start taking orders for used otaku stuff as a little aru-baito. Watch this space for more details!)

Japan has been quite good to me. That said, after a year I’m feeling slightly home sick. I’ve been speaking Japanese a bit too much, and I’d like more chances to speak English. Also, watching US TV like The Daily Show, Colbert and the like kind of makes me want to do a few more years in the US before I commit to Japan–if it turns out that I want to commit. I’d love to live in New York for a bit. (Not right now obviously, but you know. Of course, my thoughts and feelings go out to everyone caught in that crazy storm. I got friends over there and I’m glad they’re okay.)

One really weird thing about living here–and this goes back to the country feeling more “real” to me–is having to express strong emotions in Japanese. I’ve had a few emotional experiences over the past year, and having to express myself in a language that’s not my own is rather… difficult, to say the least. Strange, too.

Anyway, it ain’t perfect, but it’s pretty good over here. Year One was slightly bumpy, but it got better as time went on. If I keep going out and continue to explore, I’m sure Year Two will turn out great.


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