Welcome to Day 4 in Ohtawara (one weak in Japan. Yes, the spelling is intentional).
It’s early in August 1990 for those of you ensuring my continuity remains intact.
Like August in Toronto, August in Ohtawara is hot and humid. It was about 34C not including the humidity, and considering my part of the world was considered sub-tropical, I was moist. My apartment lacked air-conditioning, but at least when I opened up the windows and doors I was able to let even more hot, wet air in.
Still, because of the newness of the situation: new country, new friends, my first ever apartment, I wasn’t going to complain. Everything was beautiful.
Heck, even though my 24-inch television only got 12 channels (that’s all there were – remember, this is pretty much before satellite TV and before Bob Dole invented the Internet!), three of the stations played American shows every once in a while: like the aforementioned Incredible Hulk, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dynasty. What was particularly cool was that these stations broadcast their signals with a bilingual feed/cut, meaning if you had a bilingual television, you could hit a button and either watch it in English, Japanese or a mish-mash of both.
I had a bilingual television. I also had a built-in VTR (video tape recorder that we used to call a video cassette recorder). I didn’t have anything to watch, however.
Aside from Holmes, I pretty much watched Japanese television – especially the cartoons. I figured if a young Japanese child can understand it, I might be able to. I also like cartoons.
As for food – ah, what’s a guy to do? Because this was my first time away from home – ever – I really had no clue how to cook. Or even how to shop for food. Add to that the fact that I didn’t really know where to shop and I had problem.
Luckily my fridge was pre-filled with foods my Japanese bosses thought the average Canadian might like: daikon radishes, Japanese pears, pineapple, artichoke (it might’ve choked Artie, but it ain’t gonna choke Andrew, and some canned beverages called Pocari Sweat, and Calpis. What the heck is that? For the uninitiated, I personally have kept six Coca-Cola bottling plants in operation thanks to my consumption and subsequent elevated blood-sugar levels (Coke Zero for me, now).
I swear, these guys must be watching me - like I’m part of some television show – but the doorbell rang. There was Hanazaki-san offering to take me out to the local grocery/department store.
He drove me out to a place called Iseya (e-say-ya), about two minutes from my place – it was large and was set up the way most Walmart’s are nowadays… a full grocery store combined with a department store – including a kiosk where I could get film developed (anyone else remember film for camera’s? It’s why I have to scan my thousands of photos first before putting them online!)
Iseya had all of the food types I needed. Bread, luncheon meats, mayo, hamburger, veggies, cup of soups, fruits, milk, juice and gawd-help me, Coke. All of which I bought and paid for myself with the remnants of money I brought with me from Toronto. Despite having been set up with a bank account, I don’t think I was paid yet for only four days of being in Ohtawara – or maybe I was? No one told me.
I tried to take food items that required very little cooking skill, as I had never actually cooked anything before and had little desire to know how quick the fire department could respond.
Satisfied with my purchase, and making Hanazaki-san proud of my purchase of the daikon radish and the Japanese pears, he dropped me off home convinced I might actually survive my time here.
I bought the Calpis, but not the Pocari Sweat, as that was still in my fridge daring me to crack it open. I’m not sure I want to drink sweat – who’s sweat was it? Besides, the humidity was providing me with enough sweat of my own, thank-you.
Realizing that I came to Japan to try new things – and not because I was trying (still) to get laid – I tried the Calpis. Cow-piss is more like it. Ugh. It’s a milky-watery beverage that tastes like bad yogurt, and is full of lactose – or so I learned much to my lactose-intolerant regret.
Twenty minutes later, I was in my library/washroom with my intestinal tract twisting and screaming.
I feared my insides were ripping apart, as the pain was so intense that it felt like the walls to my bathroom were shaking. While my stomach suddenly stopped spasm-ing, I noticed that the walls continued to shake.
I could hear things falling from their perch in my kitchen and living room. I could hear the pipes groaning.
It was an earthquake! My first ever!
And here I was, in the bathroom. It’s strange the thoughts that enter one’s head when you think you are going to die, but I immediately thought about how embarrassed my folks would be when they heard of this indignity.
He died with his pants down around his ankles – but at least he didn’t soil himself.
It was over in about 30 seconds. I sat there for another minute afraid to move.
When I finally did move, I opened up the bathroom door and peeked out. It looked the same. I got up went to the living room and picked up the few items that had fallen during the quake and walked outside onto my balcony to see if my neighbourhood was okay.
People were out of their homes and were laughing and slapping each other on the back and having a smoke. No one showed any sign of panic.
Why were they so calm? Does this happen often? Mom? Dad? Get me the hell out of here!
Somewhere squeezing the Charmin,
Andrew Sensurround Joseph
Musical title by The Isley Brothers (not The Beatles, who also did a fantastic version of the Isley's Bros. hit).