February 25, 2008

Once again, I shall be blathering on about Japanese drinking culture. Today’s lecture is all all about the….gokon.
A “gokon” is a fun Japanese custom for young single people, essentially a group blind date. A guy approaches a girl he likes, then they each invite three or four single friends of the same gender as them, for a little party. “Go” means combination, and “kon” comes from “konpa” (“party”). So gokon means “combined party,” as in two groups of friends mixing together.

It’s quite a nice concept I think, and cuts out the awkwardness of solo dating. The Japanese are famously shy and retiring, so having the company of your pals makes dating significantly less nerve-wracking. At a gokon, even the most timid soul can meet a member of the opposite sex without crapping their pants or developing a stress ulcer. Also, for the girls, it’s a much safer alternative to having a date on your own with a total stranger, who may or may not be the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper.
There are other perks to the gokon method of dating. If none of the girls or boys at the gokon take your fancy, you can just get drunk, play party games, or chat to your friends. Plus, if you do plan on getting serious with anyone you meet at a gokon, you know in advance what kind of annoying friends you’re going to have to put up with in the future.

I, myself, was once persuaded by a friend to attend a gokon. He had taken a shining to a girl who worked in the Subway sandwich shop he went to for lunch most days, and he asked her out. The girl proposed a gokon, with three other girls from the shop, so my friend dragged me and two other curious mates along.
We all went to a funky sci-fi-themed izakaya called Dementia, or something like that. As is customary at gokons, the girls all sat along one side of the table, and the boys on the other side. Apparently it’s normal at these shindigs for the two groups to whisper among each other about who they’re keen on, or even email each other on their phones. “I got first dibs on the one on the left. Hands off!” I wasn’t aware of this custom at the time, and thought the girls’ conspiratorial behaviour was quite unsettling. What were they plotting? I was getting quite paranoid.

One major setback that we hadn’t was anticipated was that only one of the girls could speak English and none of us guys could speak Japanese, which meant the conversation was about as absorbing as reading the back of a shampoo bottle. Doh! This was a grim turn of events for someone who enjoys a little flirtatious wordplay. There was only one thing to do in that situation. Drink!

In the end, my gokon experience was pretty uneventful, and no coupling happened (that I know of!) but I’m in favour of the gokon system in theory. If you and your friends are single, you could do worse than setting up a gokon. Just, whatever you do, don’t coyly approach a stranger and suggest a “gokan” because “gokan” means “rape.” This pronunciation mistake, as I have learned from experience, does not go down well at all.

Mobile Mishap

February 22, 2008

The other night, after another barnstorming booze binge, I clumsily fumbled with my keys outside my tiny apartment, trying not to piss-off the neighbours, before tumbling through the door. I’d had a debauched and hedonistic night with my friends in a string of bars, including a karaoke place which had a selection of novelty costumes for its patrons to wear. A mental time was had by all, and I’d used my phone camera to capture my pals and myself in various states of drunken abandon, jiving and singing in schoolgirl uniforms and the like.

Someone begged me to share these hilarious pictures over the internet, so I decided to send them from my phone to my PC, so I could stick them on Facebook. With my drunken sausage fingers I selected “ME” from the list of contacts on my phone and sent the pictures to my computer email address. Hey presto! Isn’t technology wonderful?
With hindsight, I should have waited until I was sober before attempting this minor act of technological wizardry.

When I later checked my email, the photos hadn’t arrived. Upon examining my phone I realized where I’d gone wrong. Thanks to the alcohol-induced blurred vision, I hadn’t mailed the pics to “ME,” I’d mailed them to “MIE,” who is my landlady. Mie is a rather reserved middle-aged woman, who is constantly nit-picking about the correct separation and disposal of rubbish, and other such matters. Quite what she thought when, at four AM, she received a picture of me dressed in a much-too-small monkey costume and guzzling from a pitcher of beer, is anyone’s guess but I’m expecting the eviction notice any day now.
Oh well, it could have been worse. I could have been trying to send naked pictures of myself to “Adult Friend Finder.” That would have led to all sorts of confusion.

Little Cat

February 18, 2008

The Italian restaurant below took my interest not because they spelled “Italian” with an “R”, but because its name is not Italian but English, and it has nothing at all to do with cuisine (unless they serve kitten pizzas.) Apparently the Japanese obsession with all things cute even infects the restaurant industry!

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2008

Today is Valentine’s day. In Japan this means men are lovingly showered with gourmet chocolates and gifts, and women get absolutely nothing at all. Yes, the roles are entirely reversed, like in some weird parallel universe! At home I’d be lucky to get anything more than a card on February the 14th, but that’s not the case here. When I was working for a conversational English school, Japanese housewives and schoolgirls would indulge me with boxes of expensive chocolates and home-made cakes. While this is brilliant news for me, it’s an utterly crap day for Japanese women.

The concept has been freakishly warped en route to Japan. March the 14th is “White Day,” which is when men, in turn, are expected to buy presents for the women who gave them chocolates. By then, of course, there’s no risk involved! A guy can give a gift to a girl, safe in the knowledge that she is keen. There’s no embarrassment, rejection or hurt pride (unless, of course, you’re a Japanese girl.)
So, in a curious twist on traditional romantic roles, the men take on the timid, submissive role, while all the boldness, risk-taking and chivalry is done by the ladies. Gotta love this country!
And they wonder why so many Japanese girls run off with foreign men.

What am I doing tonight? Well, my boss has decided to have a leaving party for a co-worker, and I have to go. On Valentines day of all days! Clearly he has all the romantic instincts of a nine year old misogynist. If I had called my ex-girlfriend in England on Valentine’s Day and said “Sorry, let’s cancel dinner tonight, I’m going out drinking with the boss!” I would have arrived home to find my clothes and belongings strewn all over the front lawn, shortly before having my balls ripped off with a pair of pliers. Evidently, Japanese wives are endlessly patient. And at least, if hubby spends the most romantic day of the year out boozing with his pals, it means the wife doesn’t have to spend all day slaving in a hot kitchen, baking chocolate cakes.
Ah, Tokyo, city of romance.

Tokyo Sunrise

February 7, 2008

Here’s a great video a friend of mine has made of Tsukiji fish market in the morning. He has a knack of making Japan look foreign and exotic to me, even after being here for six years.
(Or maybe it’s just because a lazy sod and I’m not usually up that early in the morning, unless I’m staggering home from an all-night booze-binge!)