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My Web Site -- Japan

McDonald's Hamburgers Invading Japan
by Masami Teraoka

Back to the Beginning · About Me · Resume
2001 Aug - Dec
2002 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
2003 Feb Mar Apr

(Click on images for larger view)
April 2nd (In Which I Sort Out Insurance)
I'm mentally preparing myself today to lay down about $1,000 for car insurance. My friend Kaname is helping me and as we were driving to my friend Ike's house to get all the necessary paperwork, he was asking me about the term "birthday bitch" (he saw it on the March 30th entry). He wanted to know whether a "birthday bitch" was the woman who jumped out of the big cake and stripped at stag parties and the like. I said I didn't see why not. At Ike's, we sat on his lovely front porch (with a hole through the middle to accomodate the huge tree that passes through it) and drank Costa Rican coffee on 3-legged chairs.

April 5th (In Which I Go to Okinawa)
I'm on my way to Okinawa today. Adam has kindly agreed to let me borrow his digital camera, so I'll actually have some photos to post on this site when I get back.

Office life is definitely weirder without my English speaking boss around. I was told that I wouldn't be teaching on the 22nd of this month because I have to go to the post office to become a post master. So, apparently, my office has arranged a bit of a career change for me.

April 8th (In Which I am in Okinawa)
So I did Okinawa. Actually, I just did Naha. I didn't see much of the island other than Naha. Naha is the largest city on the island and the capital of the prefecture.

The flight down went a lot more quickly than I expected. It took only about 40-45 minutes. We flew over the length of Amamioshima, which looked absolutely breathtakingly beautiful from the air. I could see all the coral surrounding the coast and the deep blue of the sea fading gradually into a light turquoise as it lapped toward the shore. The overall impression was of a bright blue aura surrounding the island. I'm not biased, though. Really, I'm not. I wish I had thought to snap a photo of it. We flew over Okinaerabu, poor little homely thing. It's a perfectly round, brown mound and it made me think of a giant ant hill sitting in the middle of the sea. Before I knew it, we had reached the northern tip of Okinawa. I looked out the window anticipating lush green ridges and valleys, but I was surprised to see that it was fairly flat and dull-looking, its surface divided into neat rectangles of farmland. I didn't see anything else until we landed in Naha.

Naha was fairly flat, smoggy, hot, and horribly crowded, but just amazing for shopping. I went crazy in the shops on the first day. I dropped about three man (about $250) in less than a few hours. On the second day, I went to Shuri-jo Castle. Shuri-jo is a very, very old castle dating back to the 13th century that was almost completely destroyed during WWII but entirely reconstructed in the early 1990s. The only original part of the castle still remaining is a few foundation stones. So, basically, it's a replica of Shuri-jo. It was worth a visit, anyway.

One of the main gates at Shuri-jo.

Naha as seen from Shuri-jo.

The main castle. It's very Chinese-looking. The stripes on the ground are for helping people line up in straight lines during ceremonies.
The main drag, Kokusai Doori, which is lined with shops from here until Kingdom Come.
April 12th (In Which I Suffer Allergy Agony and Japanese TV Weirdness)
I've been suffering from allergies, so I went to the hospital today to see the English-speaking Ii-sensei (pronounced ee-sin-say), which literally means "good doctor" in Japanese. I had to wait over an hour for him in the reception area, where I started watching a Japanese soap opera about a JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) who, having recently returned from America, finds herself in conflict with Japanese customs. In a meeting with three old Japanese men, she is outspoken and defiant, whipping her head around wildly and yelling something about seku-hara (Japanese for sexual harassment). One feeble old guy pounds his fist on the table and begins to protest, his lips hardly moving, his eyes burning with indignation. She comes back at him with triple force and he recoils in astonishment. I thought, "You go girl!" But, then, everyone at school starts talking behind her back, saying that she is now an American, not a Japanese. Everyone ignores her. Students do not obey her. No one will eat lunch with her. So she reforms her ways and goes about proving to everyone that she *is* Japanese and not American at all. The next day, humbly, submissively, she serves tea to the three old geezers that she had met with the previous day, saying "ocha desu"as she does so in that wispy, sugary way, avoiding eye contact, and bowing very low. They are stunned but pleased. At lunch, she noisily sucks down her udon noodles and later she plays pachinko. She sits in the pachinko parlor with all the other Japanese people, her black-haired head blending in perfectly with the rows upon rows of other black-haired heads sitting mesmerized in front of blinking metal machines. In a meeting with a male Japanese English teacher, she backs down without even a whimper when they disagree on a teaching method. She capitulates. She blends. She proves herself to be Japanese. Peace is restored. Everyone is happy. She helps a student with the lyrics to "An Octopus's Garden". The End.

After that, for reasons that remain unclear to me, I watched an hour-long show about the virtues of tape. They weren't selling, but merely informing. A panel of Japanese people, one of them a woman that had to be the most adrogenous-looking creature I have ever seen, gushed and raved about the infinite value of tape, how versatile it was, how many wondrous uses it had. On a metal tray, they displayed all the different kinds of tape, thin and thick tape, brown tape and blue tape. The caressed and complimented the tape, discussed the different kinds of tape. They performed several tests and demonstrations with the tape. They sealed the bottom of a box with tape and then placed iron weights inside the box and lifted it to demonstrate the strength of the tape. At one point, I sat and watched as two Japanese women removed packing tape from a sheet of newspaper, one woman pulling and the other blowing on the tape with a blow drier. When the tape came off with nary a rip, one of the women clapped her hands and squealed with delight. Who knew that a roll of tape could bring so much joy into our lives. My eyes have been opened.
April 13th (In Which We Go Down South)
On Saturday, I took Matt and Adam down south to Koniya to visit Keith and Adrian. We went to a beach called Shirohama. It was pretty amusing to spend the entire day with 4 guys. At one point, they were throwing large concrete blocks into the sea and calling them "depth charges". I felt like I was back in kindergarten.

Adrian and I engage in idle chatter on the beach as Matt toes his way into the frame.

Posing with the boys. From left: me, Keith, Matt, Adam, and Adrian.

Another view of the beautiful beach at Shirohama.
April 14th (In Which We Go Up North)
On Sunday, Suzanne, Michelle and I went up to a lighthouse on the northern cape of the island. On the right is a photo of the view from the top of the lighthouse.

April 23rd (In Which I Become a Japanese Mail Carrier)
Today, I am sitting in the office on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon. The kacho (section chief) just belched loudly and I thought it sounded rather like the bark of a seal. He does that often. I was feeling so lethargic earlier that I thought I would keel over, so I drank a vitamin drink and now I'm feeling sooo much more genki (energetic). Those drinks are great. Wish they had them in the states.

On Monday, just as my office had promised, I became a Japanese post master. I was told to go to the local post office at 8:30 a.m., which I did. When I got there, I was ushered inside a room where I was given a mail carrier uniform to put on. It was rather uncomplimentary ensemble consisting of green trousers, a blouse with vertical pink and white pinstripes, and a green string tie somewhat resembling that of KFC's Col. Sander's, but a bit shorter. I was then taken to the post office head honcho's room. Before entering, I said "Shitsureishimasu", which literally translates to something like "Forgive me for the very rude thing that I am about to do" and is the polite way to enter a room in Japanese polite society. The honcho and I sat and engaged in idle chatter for a while. I was given a sash to wear with a bright red fake carnation attached at the shoulder. Some ancient-looking city dignitaries arrived, including the mayor. They were all wearing fake red carnations, too. They all sat and chatted away in incomprehensible Japanese while I sat there, nodding occasionally and smiling vacantly at no one in particular. A woman brought us all green tea and the most exquisite little bean cakes which no one ate. I was the only one who thanked her when she put them in front of me. We had some sort of ceremony in which all the post office employees attended. I had to stand in front of them all and introduce myself in Japanese. There was a great deal of speech-making and bowing, bowing to each other, bowing to the stage, bowing to the audience. I really regretted that I wore my hair down as every time I bowed, it fell into my face and stuck to my sweaty cheeks and forehead.

Eventually I was taken downstairs and introduced to a group of kindergarten-aged children. I had no idea what they were doing sitting in the middle of the mail sorting room. I had no idea what I was doing there, either. We regarded each other with an uncertain gaze for a few moments before we were instructed to come outside. We were led over to a big red mailbox and some guy came over with a bucket of dustcloths. I followed the kids' example by taking a cloth and began wiping the mailbox. At this point, a bunch of people are gathered around, local citizens, the newspaper people. People passing by in the street were staring. Here I was in my Col. Sanders post office uniform and sash, cleaning a mailbox with a bunch of kids on a busy street in Japan. I was struck by such a sense of the absurd that I just had to grin as I was standing there. It was definitely one of those "Where the hell am I and how did I get here?" moments in life. Later, the kids all stood in a row and sang a song about the post office. Everyone clapped and cheered. Then the post office people and I all headed down to the shopping arcade. A man holding a big sign with my name on it walked behind me as I was handed a bunch of letters and instructed to enter one shop after the other, give the bewildered owner his or her mail as newspaper guys snapped photos of us. After that, I was escorted back to the post office lobby where I was given a basket of candy and instructed to offer it to the customers. So I walk around the lobby with this basket of candy, holding it out to people, smiling and saying "Douzo" (Please). If I missed someone, the post office employees would quickly point the candy-less customer out to me. Thankfully, that didn't last very long. Subservience just isn't my style at all.

Later, I had lunch with the post office employees, was allowed to change back into non-postal attire, and was stunned when they handed me a huge bag filled with gifts: laundry detergent, fabric softener, green tea, candy, a bunch of pamphlets that may as well have been written in hieroglyphics (I threw them all away when I got home), and ichi man yen (about $100)! I figure all those goodies, especially the cold cash, were well worth my looking and acting like a complete idiot in public for a few hours.

The post office boss and I smile for the cameras as he ceremoniously bestows the Post Master-for-a-Day certificate upon me.

I pose in full Post Master regalia with the post office officials flanking me.

The post office boss makes his speech. Behind him are the Japanese flag and the post office symbol. I have no idea what the 69 represents in this context.

I make my speech (in Japanese)!

The attending dignitaries valiantly endure the endless speechmaking.

The post office boss gives everyone a little pep talk before commencing the wiping of the post box.

The models of community service hard at work. This photo went into the papers. This truly was an surreal experience for me.

I bask in the glory of Post Master fame.

Performing my duties as Post Master. The guy behind me is holding up a placard with my name in Japanese written on it.

Giving a surprised shop owner her mail. That guy with the sign followed me around to about 10 different shops as I delivered mail.
April 24th (In Which I am a Renegade Motorist)
I've been driving my car to school lately, which is a big no-no for reasons as yet unclear to me. It's such an exhilirating feeling of liberation being able to actually control the time at which I arrive to and depart from work. I'm slowly becoming addicted to this sense of autonomy and I know I'm not gonna quit until somebody makes me. Hopefully, though, that won't ever happen.

Went to my friend Ike's yakimono (Japanese pottery) class yesterday evening. We all sat around in Ike's pottery studio, working our lumps of clay, chatting away in Spanish and inhaling the fumes from the mosquito coil below our feet. Two
charming little boys that Ike and his wife give lessons to every week were running about the place, impaling moths on the end of sticks and then shoving the specimens in our faces. Mercifully, their mother came to get them before I gave into my urge to introduce their behinds to the flat side of that impaling stick. I told my doctor/friend about the post office ordeal and he replied, "Do they invite men to those things? I think it's rather sexist, don't you?" It hadn't occurred to me that while I was out there delivering mail and cleaning mailboxes, I was an unwitting aid to the purveyors of sexist ideals in Japanese culture. Too late, though. I spent the cash almost immediately and I'm already using the fabric softener.