Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Irrational Fears

Living in Japan has become quite comfortable. I can carry on basic conversations, run errands, have a laugh with my student who works at the local supermarket, order my coffee like a pro, fill up my tank with their wacky machines or at full service (makes you feel like a superstar for yennies more!), buy tickets on all forms of transportation, and find my way when/if I get hopelessly lost in the countryside. With all of these previous worries under my belt, one would think I was confident.

Well, today I will share with you some fears that I still have about living in Japan.

Fear 1. The dry cleaners. J thinks this one is quite funny, and I agree it is silly. It stems from my lack of experience in dry cleaning ever, no matter what country I was living in. I realize all I have to do is walk there, drop my suits/futons/etc. on the counter, give them my address and name, then skeedaddle out of there. But, for some inexplicable reason, I haven't done it. Maybe it's not fear, I think it's just laziness.

Fear 2. Japanese vegetables. Often, I feel a bit brave and purchase some mystery veg at the supermarket. I bring it home, ponder over it's origins, and attempt to cook it in a way I think would suit it. Sometimes I succeed, but more often than not, I fail miserably. I eat dinner at my sensei's home every Wednesday, and routinely quiz his wife on her recipes, making mental notes of which veg to use where, and what spices and oils they are intended to marinate in. My experiments have become slightly more successful. Huzzah!


note: this photo is of another ken's gomi instructions

Fear 3. Crazy gomi day. Japan has an elaborate garbage/recycling system. It is divided by neighborhood, where the obaasan mafia get together and decide what insane rules will be instituted so as to drive the other residents mad. Also, it gives them something to do a few times a month, where they can yell at all their neighbors and feel self-righteous. Ahh... to be old and insane. My neighborhood uses the 3 bag system. Stay with me here.

Blue bags are used for anything burnable. This sounds simple, right? Well and good until you consider that at a high enough temperature EVERYTHING is burnable. To simplify, food waste, plant waste (as long as it is in small quantities), discarded clothing or cloth (as long as it is cut into small pieces and distributed throughout the rest of the trash), paper, plastics that are too dirty to clean off (they get pissy about this one, though), and things that don't make sense to throw into the other bags (but you have to wrap them in thick layers of paper, so that the gomi ladies don't find out that you sinned). Also, you must purchase the blue bags from a local store, and they must be the official blue gomi bags, or they won't accept them. I made the mistake of buying opaque blue bags by accident once. That was an ugly incident. I still have nightmares.

Now pink bags. This one is still perplexing to me. I was babbled at by a little old man this morning, as he rifled through my bag and told me it was wrong wrong wrong. I just smiled brightly and said "I have no clue what you are saying!" In Japanese of course. What I gathered from watching was styrofoam is not legit pink bag content afterall. It gets put in a clear bag (where does one acquire such a thing?) and on a different pile. So, in the future, I will have to separate all the styrofoam and either bring it to the local foreign food store, or cross my fingers and hope that same little old man doesn't break them for disobeying him. Soft (grocery bag) plastic seems to go in it's own bag, and hard plastics, like a bento package, in another.

On to yellow bags. I don't have to buy these or the pink, they are delivered several times throughout the year, and I have actually accumulated enough to build an inflatable couch. I should get on that project soon... Yellow bags can contain glass bottles and jars, aluminum cans, and tin cans. Wow, you think, this one sounds easy! No no no. Each different type of material requires its own bag. Glass bottles and jars in one, but not the lids or caps. Also, large glass bottles, like sake bottles get placed in a row alongside the other trash. I think that's just an aesthetic preference on the part of the gomi collectors. Or, they are performing a social experiment and seeing how much alcohol our neighborhood consumes bi-weekly. If the glass is broken, you must wrap it in paper and place it in the burnable garbage, kinda like a bomb (I am not being sarcastic here, that one is 100% according to the written regulations). The tin cans must be rinsed, labels removed (ha ha, nope), and put into their own bag. The aluminum cans share a similar fate. At least the last two are simple. Instead of dealing with that nonsense, I took all the aluminum cans out and will deposit them in the recycle container at the conbini late at night instead. Mwaa ha ha. Oh no! I nearly forgot PET bottles! This is the name for your average plastic beverage container. There are two sizes of PET bottles that must be separated. The really big ones, that you would take camping, or that (if you are an old or superstitious Nihonjin) you fill up at "holy" or particularly "oishii" water sites around the ken. Mine were from Kamiichi's infamous delicious AND holy water. Beat that! The big bottles get their own bag. Then the normal to small sizes are put in a separate one as well. I didn't even mention the hard plastics like household cleaner bottles, dishsoap bottles, etc. Those likely get their own bag, too.

If you are keeping count, I would have had to have 8-9 different bags in 3 colors, and still am not sure if I am correct. In addition to all that...

Cardboard. It must be cut up to a B3 approximate size (not specific, but small enough to carry comfortably, think briefcase size), and bound together in a stack with twine. All lables and tape must be removed.

Oversized gomi. Today this included my old broken vaccuum. Blessedly, this seems to be the simplest section because it has the least amount of stuff for the gomi-folk to sort through.

All of this information came through 3 years of trying to decipher the illustrated instructions, screams of dismay from gomi-folk, and whispers in the garbage scented wind. This morning, I managed to learn a lot, as I brought my gomi 5 minutes late to the drop-off site, and thusly had 6 gomi men (we are lucky that we have men instead of crazy ladies!) rooting through my trash. If I had been earlier, others would have stolen away their attention and they would have been none the wiser to my evil sorting ways. Alas, I was alone with a LOT of gomi to unload. The men were really sweet, and knew exactly where I lived. Apparently, I am now the only foreigner in my neighborhood, so they were really kind and tried to help me understand the proper gomi techniques that have been passed down through the generations.

I must do them proud. Next time, I am going to sort like they've never seen a gaijin sort before! I will amaze them with my separation. Wow them with my twine bundling! They shall fall at my feet praising my prowess. Or maybe the ojisan just won't babble at me angrily anymore.

1 comment:

Emily at Curry said...

this post was amazing, and so amusing that I read it aloud to a friend here who has never been to Japan...she just raised her eyebrow at me. I especially enjoyed the suggestion that sake bottles are separated from the rest of the trash so the neighbors can keep tabs on your alcoholism. I miss you. Come home to FL this summer!