The Land of Confusion (Japan)

Japan ~ Osaka – 2015

What do you think of when you hear Japan? Probably a lot of things flash by in an instant…from the deep rooted cultural elements, to the checkered history, the strange and bizarre…all the way to Pokémon and Dragonball Z (as well as so much more) – it’s safe to say that Japan has always painted a colorful tapestry for themselves, one unlike any other place on earth.

Like most western folks I confess I have a rather bare knowledge regarding the so-called land of the rising sun…but that’s alright – as it’s always more exciting and rewarding to go into a place totally unprepared! Every sense is more receptive – your eyes wide like a newborn baby…not wanting to blink so as not to miss anything as you stare up and around at all the newness in front of you. Like being unplugged from The Matrix – all of the preconceptions and travel guides can go out of the window, as you are witnessing it all first hand…you are truly living it in real time. And if you are lucky, nothing will be like it seemed from your armchair back home.

Exhilarating right? RIGHT! So how would all of these aesthetic commodities manage to impossibly mesh together then ? I didn’t have the foggiest idea – but of course I was still beyond curious! I mean…what would I find behind Japan’s veil of mystery?

Curtain GIF

Well my friends I will say this…Japan is weird and wonderful – no actually, wait – let me rephrase that…Japan is weirdly wonderful. You see many things in Japan are weird; very very weird – but the weirdness often makes them wonderful…and the things that are wonderful, wellllll they still often cling to a certain sense of weirdness. Sorry…I know I’m sounding like some sort of deranged Willy Wonka right now…but this is the best way I can think to sum it up! 

You see there’s battles on every single street corner! And by “battles” I don’t mean Pokémon battles (to my great disappointment), but battles between juxtaposing cultural elements…it’s bizarre, it’s crazy…but they manage to meld together in the strangest of ways…it shouldn’t work…they shouldn’t be able to coexistbut somehow they do in a way only Japan can manage. 

Think the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that form together in perfect unison…well yeah it’s like that except rather than good/evil, or light/dark it’s Buddhist temples and pornographic manga characters…to give just one of many examples…

Unbelievable GIF

There’s also a perfect fusion between the old and the new which I found rather fascinating. On the one hand you are ordering your food through a machine in a restaurant rather than dealing with humans…very Bladerunner-ish…but then on the other side of things you are paying in coins to get a paper ticket stub to ride a rather dated subway!  I like this idea though…not everything has to be updated, smooth, and futuristic – then again I’m biased as I still dream of living in a castle with a moat in the next ten years, so perhaps you shouldn’t pay attention to silly old me!

Mind one thing I didn’t quite enjoy as much was the confusing nature of the transport system…it actually seemed intentionally difficult. The lines criss-cross in the most nonsensical ways imaginable – I would assume because they were just built one after another, and so the map took shape without forward-planning…either that or the architect dropped a bowl of noodles and thought “mehhhh, good enough!”

Anyway, what that means for the user is that they are sure to pull their hair out attempting to understand that which cannot be understood! I’m not even talking about the fact that it is all strictly in Japanese; which sure is frustrating but as I was in Japan I felt was fair enough! I’m really just raving at the layout of the tracks, and routes…my advice is this; attempt to be constantly partially intoxicated on Japan’s surprisingly good, and cheap selection of beers – that way you won’t mind as much, and will just go with the flow!

“Oh, we went the wrong way by 20 minutes? Never mind…these things happen! Let’s go!” as opposed to: “FUCCCCK! WHY DOES THAT LINE GO THAT WAY?! WHY DOES IT HAVE THE EXACT SAME STATION NAME MINUS ONE NUMBER! WHY AM I NOT DRINKING BEER RIGHT NOW?!” – it’s really your decision, but I feel comfortable with my choice.

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I came to the end of my trip seriously wanting more…which has to be a positive? Sure there had been some lows – losing on Tekken to a young Japanese kid which basically destroyed my entire belief that I was a master of that game…continually relying on body language rather than spoken words, so much so that I now feel like a professional body-popper…and finding out there are so few vegetables in the Japanese diet that I may have scurvy, BUT – despite all of this it has piqued my interest massively as both a country, and as a culture – due to that I want to return very soon…next time Tokyo I reckon, so I can experience a change of pace – mind, I’ll still be going in as a rather clueless and ignorant tourist; and you know what?

That suits me just fine. 

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Scream Train

Public transport is a funny thing isn’t it? Not haha funny, but you know…weird. Odd. Strange. Often horrifying. That kind of funny – so not really funny at all I suppose, but still – often eventful…

I find the Seoul subway is actually quite tame for the most part, perhaps because I am comparing with the trains in my hometown…filled with youths attempting to use your face as a punching bag, and piss-smelling strangers trying to tell you their life story over their first morning beer. The Korean experience differs somewhat. People are just in their own personal space, on their phones or books – generally keeping themselves to themselves.

I’ve adopted this side of their culture; and consequently no longer punch people in the face, piss my pants, or have morning beer. So big pat on the back for me – hopefully I’ll never relapse. Instead I smile politely, pop in my earphones, and either play the Pokemon Fire Red emulator I have on my phone – or read the New Yorker articles I had bookmarked during the day (depends if I wake up feeling like a child, or an adult). Anyway, I basically blend in – as anything else would be breaking strict protocol…

Personal Space GIF

So on my way home last night it was to my shock and horror that I heard a wild screaming match taking place (even over the top of some pretty blaring earphones!) It sounded shrill, rage-filled, and totally out of control…a domestic thing of some description – not my business, so I kept my back turned to it…but couldn’t help but peer into the small window of the door to catch a reflection of the drama…

But there was no heated argument, no back and forth; it was just one woman, clearly intoxicated – yelling, and cursing things out at random. She was middle aged, with greasy black hair draped over her dark sunglasses…I’m not quite sure she knew what she was saying, but my goodness was she going to say it anyway. As a result people were evacuating left, right and center, as if she was a mad hate filled hurricane one must get out of the way of as soon as humanely possible…meanwhile others were just staring at the floor, or glancing across nervously whenever they thought she wasn’t looking.

It was all very very polite, but was still very very weird. 

Uncomfortable GIF

I tried to tune into what her mad Korean ravings were actually about, if anything. I could make out that she wanted everyone to fuck off, and that everyone but herself was a massive prick (not her words, but her actual words were a little more harsh), but apart from that it was anyone’s guess. Until she caught sight of me in the door’s reflection.

That’s when I became the target, something about “English, English, English – fuck off is this Korea, or England?!” She was shouting and balling with such ferocity it was like dragon fire on my back…well, I was certainly sweating like it was anyway. My entire being was emblazoned red with embarrassment, and my palms were so moist with nervousness it was becoming difficult to even hold my phone. I slipped it into my pocket instead, and decided all I could do was do my time…stare at my feet like the others…and do my time.

Awkward GIF

Eventually she exhausted herself – or possibly ran out of offensive vocabulary to use against me, so switched and went back to telling the rest of the carriage to fuck off – instead as well as continuing to remind them all of the fact they are massive pricks, just in case they had forgotten. So back to the status quo then, that’s alright…

But oh no, the story doesn’t stop there my friends! Just as I thought it was over, out of nowhere a dwarf man…sorry – what’s the politically correct way to say that? Not midget I know that much, so let me Google it; smaller man, little person…ah – person of slight stature. Yeah anyway he popped up, and started to talk with her – trying to get her to calm down by a series of soothing tones, and a weird sort of shoulder massage thing (what a brave, and possibly stupid gent!) Unfortunately for whatever reason she didn’t take kindly to the treatment, and unleashed a frenetic and hate filled inferno of insults towards him – so loud that I thought the window screens would split and smash as a result…I couldn’t tear my eyes away – I thought at any second he was going to get a swift kick in the bollocks, or a fork to the eyeball.

Instead as her tirade continued, the man didn’t flinch at all…instead he chuckled broadly and then turned to face me with a wide smile and two over-enthusiastic thumbs up…A THUMBS UP!? IN THIS SITUATION MAN, LIKE…REALLY?!

Thumbs UP GIF

Don’t bring me into this?! I’m just an English guy…an English guy in Korea!

She lost it upon seeing this – and was suddenly reminded of her beef with myself mere moments ago…I span back to staring at my shoes, as the rage echoed throughout the carriage once more. It was then that I realised she literally hadn’t stopped for breath ever since stepping foot on the subway…maybe she’d pass out soon, and give our ears a break…

Well it could have happened, but instead she stood up – gave one last mad Chewbecca warble, before pointing at myself and marching out at the next stop. Phew. I had been saved, and returned the thumbs up to my miniature hero a few minutes later upon finally reaching my station. Thanks my friend, I owe you one… 

So that’s the story, just another day on public transport people, another weird, odd, horrifying – yet funny day. I’m suddenly very tired.

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Genius on the Subway!

As we all probably know…it’s often a challenge to get a seat on the subway, especially at rush hour! But this young genius had the answer…

Subway Seat

Spotted somewhere near Seoul – proven way to be guaranteed a seat! Brilliant!

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The Odd Shoes…

You can probably guess this already, but I am a big fan of unusual people. You know? The ones who set themselves apart, not intentionally, but simply by being themselves. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the maniac flasher, or the guy who stares without blinking…that’s a whole different post.

The reason why I like the unusual, or ‘eccentric’ element – is that it invites questions; who, what, where? How, and why? And with these questions comes conversation, and from that comes a different perspective…

So with that in mind, it’s a shame that I couldn’t ask a young lady I spotted today all of those things; I mean she was a stranger for one, and then you have the language barrier to consider too…but anyway, here’s what happened:

I was on the subway, squashed in as usual as it gets so busy on the weekends. I had to stand in front of the people who were sat down, trying to tame my blushes as my mind went into a crazy fit shouting “YOUR GROIN IS AT THEIR EYE LEVEL! YOUR GROIN IS AT THEIR EYE LEVEL!”  I flicked through my phone…no WIFI…so I was just randomly looking at old pictures, or at least pretending to. I thought about turning around, so my butt would be in the seated grandma’s faces…perhaps that is better? But then I recognised I’d be face to face, groin to groin, with the grunting sweaty man behind me. So I stayed put. 

Awkward Look GIF

Someone did catch my eye though. She had a rather unassuming look, with typical Korean style clothing – that is to say colorful, and well put together. She was playing a phone game, like 99% of the other people on the carriage. But one thing stood out…you see…she had, well…odd shoes on…

…like…different shoes, not just an alternating colour. Completely different. I’m talking one New Balance, and the other Adidas. I looked away after I realised I had been staring for a while, and felt my face scrunch up involuntarily as I tried to make sense of what I had just witnessed. I had so many questions!? What’s the story there…?

Perhaps she couldn’t make up her mind? She wanted to wear both…so then she thought – well why don’t I?! Or perhaps she has a brother with one leg…and she always takes the spare? Well no, because then she would have two ‘right foots’ or two ‘left foots’ – that wouldn’t work. Erm…maybe she…I don’t know – I JUST DON’T KNOW!?

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And the sad thing is, I’ll never know…her odd shoe story will go forever untold. UNLESS I SEE HER, AND THEN I AM TOTALLY ASKING – I’LL JUST USE BASIC SIGN LANGUAGE! (Point, point – shrug, shrug – point, point – shrug!)

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Maddening Meatballs

Are you sitting down? Because, you certainly need to be seated for this…as what follows here, may be the most excruciatingly painful bit of news you will here for some time…a horrendous event that has certainly scarred me for life, and has depressed me to no end. 

So it all started off relatively normal, I was hungry…which is always a vulnerable state to be in…you fall for marketing ploys more easily, and the lovely smells start to take on that cartoonish effect – where they basically carry you into the nearest restaurant! I wanted something quick, as I had places to go, people to see. So thought I couldn’t go wrong with good ol’ Subway. With being in Korea, I thought it would be a rare taste of the staple Western cuisine we all know, and love…this has been true throughout the world for me – actually I remember at the foot of The Great Wall of China, there was a Subway…and I held up the whole tour group (accidentally), when I decided I shouldn’t miss the chance to snag a foot long sandwich…I didn’t expect them to wait for me…but they did…so I had to  endure the rest of the walk up there with jealous faces staring at me, as sauce ran down my face…

kevin-smith-sandwich GIF

Anyway, I just got sidetracked, sorry…so yeah, I walked into the Subway, and was ecstatic to find that the meatball sub had some kind of special set menu deal thing going on…like a lunch time offer I guess. This was great news, because then I could tell myself that I did really well, that I was saving money, I was being a thrifty so-and-so, and that the money I hadn’t spent – could now be put towards something more productive…or even charity…yeah! It’s lucky I actually decided to come here, good for me…and more so, good for the WORLD!

So there I was waiting in line, planning out which veggies I may put in this, soon to be Nobel Peace Prize winning sandwich. And as I was doing so, I noticed the guy in front of me was ordering three foot long sandwiches…THREE! I would be amazed if they were all for himself, but it’s highly likely he is bringing them for some of his pals in the office…man, I wish I was his friend…that’s a true friend. Throwing you a sandwich, and giving the nod that says; no big deal (even though you BOTH know this is love of the highest kind). Or perhaps even leaving it by their computer with a little post-it note…slightly more sentimental…you could be like, “I love you thiiiiiis much!” Because…foot-long…foot is a measurement…and…alright, that’s only good advice, if you want to be the office weirdo. Apologies.

It was soon my turn, so I snapped out of my usual daydreams, and ordered what I wanted by a mixture of terrible Korean, English, and vividly illustrious pointing. I am a really good pointer…pointing is good in every culture, every country…smile, and point…smile, and point. Sounds like a workout DVD…but seriously, it WORKS. 

Pointing Bale GIF

“Aaaaahhhh! Meatuh-bol?” YES! She understood! We were in business! Once again the handy old index finger had came in…err…handy…anyway, I watched as she pulled out the bread, I couldn’t help but lick my lips in anticipation…she then cut it in half, and I nodded, almost like I was greeting it…she then opened up the metal tray for the meatballs – so far so good, nothing amiss! 

AND THEN THE WORLD WENT TOPSY-TURVY – STARK, RAVING MAD. PIGS WERE FLYING, I REPEAT – PIGS WERE FLYING.

I did think it was weird she put her hands in the tray…not a scoop, or a spoon…but I wanted to believe that it couldn’t be true. But before I knew it, I could no longer keep lying to myself. She pulled out a few rotten grey, grandpa testicle lookin’ balls, and threw them on the bed…I did one of those mini sick in your mouth things, but held myself together. I began to wonder what parallel universe I had wandered into…what version of hell is this?! The balls were so sad there on the bread, so alone…they were crying out for some marinara sauce…they were screaming, pleading with me…but there was nothing I could do, there was glass between us – it was as if they were on death-row, and I was coming to visit them one last time. But then the prison warden, the sick bastard she was…went, and made it about three hundred times worse…this must be how she gets her kicks…she picked up a mysterious bottle…everything began moving in slow motion…as she squirted lashings of ketchup across the balls, over, and over, and over again…drowning them into oblivion…

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…this was served to me with a grin…a cruel, cruel grin…as she held it out to me…“Meatuh-bol!” 

I gazed longingly at the poster next to me…it had been so full of promise – now all I have is a soggy ketchup testicle bun. The horror, THE HORROR! I cried bitterly as I ate it…and spent the rest of the afternoon skipping rocks across a lake, and thinking deep thoughts, about life…and why we are here…and how can there be a God if cruel things like this exist in the world?

I don’t know…it was just a lot to handle…I’m tearing up just re-living it…I have to go…

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