By NICK NARIGON
The honeymoon is over.
We have lived in Tokyo for over eight months. At first, everything was beautiful, everyone was so nice and the sushi was served by Poseidon himself.
The welcome wagon has closed up shop and rolled on its merry way. And reality settled in.
It turns out not everybody is warm to foreigners. Not every Japanese is a happy drunk. It’s hot as balls in in the summer. And in the winter, even though the average temperature is 45 degrees, there is no central heating, so our apartment is as frigid as my stepmother’s disposition.
The first time I went to the post office, they were so helpful and friendly. Then last month when I went to deliver my Christmas presents, I stood outside the building, pausing for a moment to put away my headphones. A middle-aged lady was parking her bike in front of the post office and she made eye contact with me. Then she looked at the packages in my hands. Next, she literally ran into the post office in order to get in line ahead of me.
While I understand her reasoning, she didn’t have to be so obvious about it.
Then, as was inevitable, the neighborly housewives have turned against us.
I planted the first seed of discord a few months ago when Lisa and I finished cleaning the parking lot.
See, we have this apartment complex cleaning schedule. There are eight units in our building. We have to rotate turns every week sweeping the parking lot and sidewalk. It’s not a big deal. It takes about an hour.
Lisa and I had to take our turn the weekend after we moved in. So on top of jet lag, unpacking, shopping, organizing, drinking and dusting, we had to sweep leaves.
All right. Fine. We did it. I figured it was a bit of ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ hazing. I’m a good sport.
However, four weeks later, it was our turn again. This didn’t seem right. After all, our turn shouldn’t have been for another four weeks.
This is when I got a spur in my craw.
The way they determine whose turn it is to clean is they hang this key chain on your mailbox. At the time it was a little green goblin-looking keychain you might have found in a 25-cent toy machine.
You know, those little toy figures that come in the plastic eggs.
Seeing that green goober hanging from the handle is like seeing an email from the CEO in your inbox.
But we’re good people, so we cleaned for the second time in one month. However, being the American that I am, rather than hang the keychain on the next mailbox, I went in reverse order.
Maybe this way our turn wouldn’t come so quickly next time. I knew this was going to create havoc down the road. But I went ahead and did it anyway.
Lo and behold, four weeks later the keychain popped up on our mailbox again.
Agitated, Lisa and I decided to hold on to it for a little while. We had guests visiting on the weekends, we climbed Mount Fuji, we had important crap to do. The leaves weren’t going anywhere.
This cavalier attitude did not sit well with the housewives of 43-1 Oohara Way.
A couple of weeks into our holdout, we discovered a neatly typed note in our mailbox thoroughly explaining the rules of the cleaning schedule. There were even detailed instructions on the proper keychain order.
Then that night Lisa received a phone call at work. One of the bored housewives had way too much time to spend on this dilemma.
The housewife portended to call Lisa under the auspices of a friendly neighbor. She told Lisa that she had bought a new keychain because the old one seemed to have disappeared.
Lisa, not realizing the severity of the situation, casually told her, “Oh, we have it.”
The lady feigned shock. Lisa told her we would take care of it. So now we had a second keychain that we were holding on to.
I should add this lady is not even in charge of the cleaning schedule. That duty belongs to our downtstairs neighbor Yamazaki-san. She is cool and doesn’t worry about such trivial things.
Apparently this other housewife is married to a middle management schlep whose career track has stalled. She would be what my father refers to lovingly as a “Methodist mommy.”
Some of Lisa’s co-workers shared similar stories. In Japan there are very strict rules about sorting your recyclables. Cans and glass products are picked up on Wednesday. Plastic bottles are picked up on the second and fourth Saturday (I think. This schedule is still a bit hazy. We tend to hide our plastic bottles inside our regular garbage).
Anyway, one of Lisa’s co-workers didn’t sort her recyclables correctly. Thus, her helpful neighbor apparently brought them in to her own house and called the co-worker to tell her she was holding on to her cans and bottles for her.
Then, here is one of my favorite anecdotes. This big Russian guy I work with lives with his wife’s Japanese parents in a residential area. Every morning he walks to the store to buy the newspaper.
One morning his neighbors called the cops on him. Apparently the locals are leery of large eastern European men walking on the sidewalks during daylight hours. Racial profiling?
The lesson – don’t mess with order in Japan. Follow all the rules and don’t sneeze in public. And at least my neighbors haven’t called the cops on me yet.