Ami- a Japanese Girl’s Sunday Outing
It is a beautiful August Sunday in Itabashi-ku (one of the 23 wards of Tokyo). Tokyo consists of 23 wards, 30 cities and two Islands. The 23 wards are bunched up together on the right half part of the 2188 square km of Tokyo, and are a pride of every Tokyoites as they exude class. Within the 23 wards, there are upper, middle and lower classes as well. Itabashi ward is more or less in the middle to lower class. It’s a bed ward, full of residential apartments. There are about 4 types of residential buildings in Japan.
The first type is a condominium building housing a lot of condominiums. Condominiums are normally built in concrete and are quite solid. They come with great administration service in most good neighborhoods, so they are pretty convenient. As a misnomer in Japanese – English the condominiums are referred to as “mansions”. So if you are looking into living in a condo, remember to say you want to live in a mansion to your agent,
The second type is a wooden apartment building. These types are quite traditional and these days they are kind of getting phased out in the city centers. They are cheaper compared to condominiums and they can be quite rickety as they age. Not a first choice for many.
The third type is Danchi in Japanese (Apartment complex). Danchi actually means a cluster of affordable public apartments or condominiums that house like the whole community. They are mainly built by the government to house low income families. That means for someone to live in a Danchi he must go to a city office or a municipality and present their case first. There are certain criteria that the applicants must meet before they are allowed to rent the Danchi.
The Fourth type is a detached housing unit. Many such houses are two or three storied buildings. Some come with a car parking space and others without. Many families prefer houses for privacy and for extra private space around. In Tokyo 23 wards, there is an acute land shortage. Many houses have no garden or garage contrary to the suburbs and country side where you can have a vast land around your house.
Ami just woke up in her family house in Itabashi ward. It’s a traditional two storied house. Upper floor has 3 bedrooms. A master bedroom for the parents, Ami’s room and one Tatami room that ply as a guest room when her uncles, cousins or aunts from Osaka and Hiroshima pay a visit.
The first floor has one big open space that is semi partitioned to form a living room, a kitchen and a dining. Next to this open space there is a tiny room that works as a walk in closet mostly used by her parents. Outside the living room there is a narrow corridor that leads to the bathroom, the toilet and the steep wooden staircase going to the upper rooms.
Everything seems compact. The ceiling is lower, the rooms are smaller and the furniture is made especially to fit in such cramped space. The living room has a tiny rectangular table that is literally sunk in the floor. Under the table there is a dugout to create room for the table to exactly stick halfway in the floor. Around the table there are seating cushions to make the sitting at the table comfortable. To sit, one needs to lower his feet in the dugout space then sit on the cushion. The table comes with a heater and a covering blanket to keep the hit in. In Japan this table is referred to as Kotatsu.
The Kotatsu is positioned in front of a TV cabinet and a 50 inches flat screen TV and it is where the family spend most of their time chatting while watching the TV or taking coffee and tea breaks. To the right of the Kotatsu when facing the TV, there is a large window that illuminates the Kotatsu area during the day. To the left of the Kotatsu there is a little passage across which there is a dilapidated Grand Piano against the right wall. At the back of the Kotatsu area there is a small partition that separates the kitchen and the dining space from the living room. The kitchen is at the back far wall of the open space. It is a long counter that harbors the kitchen sink, the gas cooking stoves and a space for drying cutlery.
Just in front of the long kitchen counter that is a square dining table for four. This is where breakfast is normally served. Kotatsu is used for lunch and dinner. Ami as usual sat at her favorite right corner of the compact dining table eating her mother’s homemade breakfast of rice, miso soup(Soybean paste soup), grilled Aji(Mackerel) fish and pickled plum. Her parents are very tradition; they rarely serve bread or any western dishes for breakfast. Ami can only enjoy such western breakfast once or twice a year on family trips.
Today Ami was kind of in a rush as she had a regular get together with her former workmate Eri, in Ginza. She gobbled her Aji, rice and miso soup in record time that could have put the infamous Gal Sone (Former Japanese eating lady champion) to shame. But the only thing that put her to test is her makeup. She normally takes over about an hour every morning posing like a peacock on various mirrors in her room. Today she had to cut that down to a whooping 30 minutes to catch the train which would have been her record, but she ended up with a decent 40 minutes. Anyway, Eri could wait a few minutes more. After all, Eri is not often on time.
Ami got on Saikyo line train that was 5 minutes later than she hoped for and changed to Marunouchi line at Ikebukuro (one stop away). The ride to Ginza was quite fast and since it was a Sunday there was enough room on the train to sit comfortably. Ami like many lady office workers commuting by train, she is toughened by the weekday commutes where riding trains and subways is like fighting for one’s life. At least today she can feel the fresh breeze on the train and not the stale sweaty smell or someone breathing on her face.
Japanese girls’ shopping
Today Eri was on time and was already waiting in front of the Café De Ginza where they always meet before going shopping around. They have a shopping routine that they worship. They normally start with Printemps – this is pronounced Pranta in Japan probably because it is originally French. Currently Printemps turned into Marronier Ginza.
Then hit Marui another strange name that is actually written like 0I0I. I remember how embarrassed I was when I read that literally like vowels oioi to the raucous laughter of my Japanese host family 17 years ago. The Marui in Yurakucho (Around Ginza) is quite popular.
Sifting through Printemps and Marui is normally a 2 to 3 hours affair and drains whatever glycogen they had so naturally lunch follows after that. Their lunch is normally well planned in advance. Whenever they meet, they decide on where to eat next whenever they discover an interesting spot. Today they had a plan to go to Dashichazuke, a restaurant that serves ochazuke – Rice served in kind of soup with specific extracts. The restaurant is conveniently located at the basement of the Marui building so it’s only an elevator ride down the building. This basement part is also popularly known as ITOCCIA. I wonder what that means.
As it is common they didn’t buy anything of substance today but they decided what to buy for their Halloween drinking party and for their boyfriends for Christmas. However, they didn’t come empty handed as they tested almost every lotion, perfume and bath scrubs. Now they smell so sweet that they could attract the whole hive of the famous Ginza bees. All this time during shopping their talk was light as they size up product after product.
At Dashichazuke there was a bit of a queue, but luckily they could find a place to sit on the tiny stools that could only accommodate their bums that were set up by the restaurant for their customers. Ever been wondering what girls in Japan always talk about here is your chance to snoop.
Japanese Girls’ chit chat
“So do you think your boy friend is going to propose any time soon?” Ami broke in as they sat on the artistic wooden stools of Dashichazuke.
“No, I guess that would never happen. He always avoids the topic and after all he is too shy!” Eri quipped.
“Oh sorry to hear that,” Ami said softly.
“That’s ok, how about you? I bet your guy is bold enough to propose”, Eri said enviously.
“Yeah, you are right, but I am kind of tired of this relationship,” Ami said thoughtfully.
“What?! I thought you too were great together,” Eri was a bit astonished.
“Yup, we are great together, but meeting once or twice a month isn’t that exciting. He is kind of married to his work,” Ami lamented.
“Yeah, I understand. I am in the same boat too,” Eri said in agreement.
Then Eri added “Maybe we should have more fun and try to find the right guys.”
“Now you are talking!” Ami couldn’t hide the excitement in her voice.
After lunch, they decided to go check out Loft (A popular gifts shop) to get cute stationers for their work, nice stickers and birthday cards. Then they passed by Mitsukoshi as if in a hurry as they didn’t want to linger their long as the sales staff there are quite convincing. Many Japanese girls are victims of convincing high end sales people as they feel embarrassed to say no lest they look cheap. So they most often end up buying things they don’t need.
Mitsukoshi department store is usually their last stop before parting ways to go home, but since today they opened up their hearts on their sour relationships, they decided to go for a drink in a famous pick up standing bar in Ginza – the 300 hundred Bar, in an effort to get out of their predicament.
Pick up Bar Scene
The 300 bar at Ginza 5 chome, is a basement affair. It is probably the cheapest bar in Ginza but don’t get it wrong. The drinks are of great quality and everything is served in real glass, no plastics as in other cheap standing bars in Shibuya. The only thing is you have to stand but you can walk around. That means there is a chance to meet and talk to new people. Usually girls don’t need to walk around as men will always go to them.
At the 300 yen bar, they bought two tickets each. A ticket is ￥315 tax inclusive. The ordering process proved tricky as both Eri and Ami have only been to Izakaya all their lives. They were used to drinks with Japanese names. Now they found themselves with a list of over 40 drinks all in English. Although there was katakana and Japanese explanation, they didn’t know where to start. To avoid holding the queue, they blurted out “chotto amakutte, tsuyokunai – Omakase!”, meaning a little sweet and not too strong please!.
All along they could feel eyes trailing them. As soon as they settled in one of the round tables, two young men approached them. The guys in their black suits looked like they just came from a funeral but their jolly young faces and their excitement give them off as newly hired office workers.
Importance of family names in Japan
The first guy introduced himself “Kuro desu,” but there was no reaction. Then he repeated his name this time fully with gestures step by step “Kuro!” as he pointed at his suit signifying black, then “Waki!” as his raise is arm and grabbed his armpit signifying armpit and finally he made a circle with both arms and said “Maru”, meaning circle. Suddenly everyone cracked up! His name was Kurowakimaru which means Round black armpit.
The second guy introduced himself as “Toire desu!” meaning Toilet. Another wave of raucous laughter came from the girls and they both exclaimed in Japanese “What?” Then Toire stated his actual name “Mitarai desu!” Actually one meaning of the word Mitarai is bathroom. It was commonly used some years ago, but due to the complaints of people with Mitarai family names, this name has been gradually dropped from bathrooms. What an encounter!
The introductions set up the stage for merriment. The drinks kept coming. The girls didn’t have to queue for drinks or buy extra tickets. Mitarai and Kurowakimaru were real entertainers and knew how to treat heart broken girls. Of course, they didn’t know of their real stories as the girls didn’t disclose about their boyfriends. They knew such a disclosure won’t work well for them. They needed to put themselves on the market. The boys too might have had their secrets as well, but who cared. Everyone was happy as the time ticked away.
Finally, it was the time for the girls to get home. Ami had a curfew to beat. Although Ami is a fully grown adult at 25, her father is still ruling with an iron fist. The house rules haven’t changed much except for a bit of laxity that happened as she aged. Back in her University days her curfew was 10 pm. Now she is adult her curfew is 12 midnight. The clock was at 11:15 so the girls had to excuse themselves after exchanging line contacts with the guys. Eri on the other hand didn’t have any curfew. Growing up with a single parent, she had never seen her dad. Her parents divorced when she was two, so she doesn’t remember anything about her dad.
As they climb out of the 300 bar, they were so tipsy yet excited. A lot of stuff started going into their minds. They started envisioning regular dates with the guys they mate. But oblivious to all of them, they were all thinking of one guy. The lucky guy – Kurowakimaru! He wasn’t actually the better of the two. Mitarai was more handsome by any standards and cooler, but the name was off-putting. The girls were thinking far ahead. They were thinking of getting married and adopting a new family name. They were thinking of their kids having a good family name too.
The trauma a family name can cause to kids in school is well-known in Japan and probably in other countries as well. Their decision to go for Kurowakimaru despite that he wasn’t so handsome and his name wasn’t so cool either but slightly better than the name Toilet was a pure maternal instinct!