One Thing You Must Never do in Japan

Fruit flies.  I woke up on my futon and all I could see were fruit flies, which for some reason, eh, didn’t seem all that unusual.  Probably because when you live in Japan, strange stuff just happens.  I don’t know why.  Like the other day I rolled over to find my futon soaked with sweat and my apartment about 140 degrees, despite having cranked on the A/C the night before.  Hey, is it my fault that “heater” and “air conditioner” share the same kanji?  That’s more of a product-safety issue for the thermostat manufacturer, I think.  A lesser individual might have perished in his sleep.  Good thing I was well hydrated with malt liquor before turning on the heater and going to bed.

Japanese Do’s and Don’ts.  Or just Don’ts.

Anyway, all that hotness really seemed to explode the old fruit fly population, adding to an ever-lengthening list of stuff one shouldn’t do in Japan:  Don’t press buttons you don’t fully understand.  Don’t go outside without a shirt on.  Don’t wear your shoes into the house.  Instead, wear these tiny slippers.  But don’t wear them on the carpet—that’s only for socks.  And don’t wear them into the bathroom either; instead, wear these other tiny slippers.  See how they’re different?  No?  Well, they are.  Stepping out on the balcony without a shirt?  What are you, a idiot?  Put on a robe, and the balcony slippers, for God’s sake.

To be honest with you, the county’s laid with traps from floor to ceiling.  Like, last weekend’s a good example, since I was at this Japanese girl’s apartment, and we were savoring a bottle of sweet white wine and a can of Pringles.  Hey, Ken Seeroi’s the kind of guest who doesn’t show up empty-handed.  I mean, like thoughtful, because who doesn’t enjoy the subtle flavors of sour cream and onion?  Please.  And she had this lovely glass lamp hanging from the ceiling in the middle of her apartment.  It was beautiful.  You can probably see where this is going.  So when I walked in, the very first thing she said, even before Hello, was, Don’t hit your head.  Yeah, well, that lasted about a minute.  Can I help it if I’m descended from people with amazingly durable skulls?  That’s actually genetic advantage.  Google it and you’ll see, I’m pretty sure.  Anyway, you’d be surprised how much glass one small lamp is capable of producing, as were we.  I was just glad I’d put the lid back on the Pringles.  Safety first, I always say.

The Japanese Psyche

My point is—if I can remember where I was going with this—is that something about the Japanese psyche seems to revel in saying “Don’t,” as opposed to, Oh I dunno, hanging your damn lamp a couple inches higher.  Sorry, my bad.  Anyway, there’s no end of the “Don’ts.”  Don’t get in the bathtub without showering first.  Don’t pour soy sauce on your rice.  Don’t assume that hot girl waiting for a bus wants to chat with you.  So many small rules to be aware of.  She was probably on her period anyway.  Don’t take it personally.

But with all the helpful advice Japanese people give me on a daily basis, somehow they neglected to mention the one thing you must never do in Japan:  Don’t leave a wet plastic bag of potatoes on your balcony for two weeks.  Maybe it’d be okay in winter, I don’t know.  I’m not a scientist.  But in summer, I feel confident in saying that, whether you put on the balcony slippers or not, when you open that bag, bad things are waiting.

Honestly though, I thought all those fruit flies were just from the plums.  That would make sense, because I also had a wet bag of plums in the front hall.  Not to mention the pumpkins, mushrooms, and zucchini.  See, I got back from the Japanese farm a couple weeks ago, dripping with rain and struggling with my muddy boots, and I had craploads of crops. And not your neatly arranged farmer’s market vegetables and fruits either.  I’m talking a full crapload of produce.  That’s a lot.  It’s a technical term.

Working on a Japanese Farm

I don’t even like working on the farm, honestly.  But since I’ve got these Japanese friends who are farmers and they send me emails like, Ken, when do you want to harvest with us? there’s not much I can do.  I’m always like, How does “never” work for you?  I mean, farming involves two things that I’m morally opposed to:  mud, and hard work.  It’s common knowledge that civilization solved those problems over a hundred years ago, back in the Dark Ages.  That’s why we have the internet, so we don’t have to use oxen and stuff.  But since they’re genuinely nice guys, I put on my boots and gloves and went to the farm again to plant some stuff and pick some other stuff.  Who knows what it was, vegetable matter or something.  And my buddies were invariably helpful, saying things like, “Don’t hold the shovel like that, hold it like this,” and “Don’t get bit by snakes.”  Farming’s great, let me tell you.

But the main problem with working on the farm, aside from horrible dirt and bugs, is all the crops I get.  Farmer guys are always like, Want some onions?  Great, here’s a hundred.  And I’m like, first of all, there’s no way I can carry eighty pounds of onions home on the train, nor do I have space to store them, and most of all I don’t even cook because it’s a pain in the ass.  That’s why I have a real job and I’m not a freaking farmer, to make money so I don’t have to do stuff like that.  But how you gonna say no?  They’re all like, but these are the delicious onions we all planted together.  Here, take at least fifty.  So I came home in the rain, on the train, with my onions, and my plums, and all these other freaking crops, and got into my apartment and took off my muddy boots and put on my slippers and then took them off again when I reached the carpet and then started trying to stash all these wet bags of produce around my tiny apartment.  I put a bunch out on the balcony, after carefully putting on a robe and changing into the balcony slippers, and a few dripping bags in the bathroom while wearing the appropriate bathroom slippers, before hopping into the tub after showing first.

Fruit Fly Fixer

Then over the next week I labored like Hercules cooking, freezing, and giving away crops to coworkers and random girls waiting for buses, until all I had left was a bag of plums.  It took me till midnight, but I finally managed to submerge those fruity bastards in some white liquor to make Japanese plum wine, before collapsing onto my futon amidst a swarm of fruit flies.  I took to blasting them with hair spray, which worked pretty well.  My hair looked great too, but it sure did make the floor sticky.  Well, there’s some drawback to pretty much everything, I guess.

But they kept coming.  They multiplied like, I dunno, some sort of winged insect.  I was like, Where the hell are these coming from?  They were everywhere, especially on the balcony.  That’s eventually what led me outside in my slippers and robe.  And I have one piece of advice for anyone in Japan who discovers a wet bag of potatoes on his or her balcony:  Don’t look inside.

Pandora’s Bag

You know Pandora, like with the box and all?  Yeah, well at least at the bottom she still had Hope.  But when I opened my bag a hellish smell rushed out, and what I saw inside wasn’t freaking that.  It turns out you can produce something that looks and smells exactly like baby poo even without the actual baby.  So full of mysteries, nature.

I threw off the robe and raced though my apartment still in the balcony slippers while grabbing every bottle of liquid I could find—Fabreez, Listerine, soy sauce, plum wine, bleach—bleach, that’s the ticket, I thought, and poured the contents of the bottle into the bag of potatoes.  Of course, it should be immediately obvious to anyone that pouring bleach into a bag of rotting potatoes is a poor decision, but you know, hindsight and all that.  The smell got much, much worse, and the bag started oozing liquid something horrible.  So I grabbed more bags.  I put everything inside two other plastic bags.  Then I double-bagged that.  And still the smell continued.  That’s when I realized it wasn’t trash day.

Trash Day in Japan

In Japan, you can’t just throw out your trash whenever you want.  There’s a big sign in front of my apartment that says “Don’t discard garbage on the wrong day.”  This essentially makes everybody’s balcony into a personal trash collection facility.  Like, it probably took my friend a month just to throw out her wine bottle and broken lamp.  That’s why I forgot about my potatoes, because they were buried under a bag of malt liquor cans on my balcony.  See how complicated Japan is?  It’s not just me, I think.

So I decided to take my potatoes for a little walk.  It may not be trash day in my neighborhood, but it’s damn well trash day somewhere.  But you know in Japan, you can’t just go outside without looking good.  Don’t forget to shave.  Don’t wear a bathrobe.  Don’t stroll around with a sack that smells like baby shit.  So many cultural mores.  But there’s also a Japanese solution for all that:  the surgical mask.  Got acne?  No makeup?  Socially inept because you grew up in this country?  Yo, problem solved.  I decided a beanie and some sunglasses might also be a nice touch, then set out amidst the salarymen in suits and women with small dogs with my terrible cargo.  I am the veritable ambassador of good will.

Toxic Waste in Japan

I’m not going to tell you that I walked for two hours looking for a neighborhood in which it was trash day, sweating like a bonsai tree in a barbershop.  I’m not going to say that I eventually tossed my stash into the garbage area of a large apartment complex two towns away then set off running.  Ken Seeroi in no way implicates himself in the dumping of toxic waste in Japan.   Let’s just say that the problem worked itself out, and my fruit flies have returned to normal levels.

Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff you shouldn’t do in Japan.  I know because I’ve done pretty much all of it.  But it’s best not to dwell on the small things too much, because they just distract you from the big things you really shouldn’t do, anywhere.  Like, well, farming.  That’s why God invented restaurants, to save us from things we don’t have to do any more.  And that’s just where I went after another long shower, to a nice Japanese restaurant.  And looking at the menu, I briefly reviewed my list of what not to do:  Don’t pour soy sauce on the rice, don’t start eating without saying itadakimasu, and sure as hell don’t order the potato salad.

How to Use Chopsticks

I’d been in Japan for almost a year before somebody finally gave me an honest answer.

Now going back in time, funny story, I started using chopsticks when I was just a kid.  I don’t know why.  It’s not like my parents are secret ninjas or something.  I guess I just like challenges, or maybe I’m retarded or whatever, but anyway I started using them at a super young age.

My recollection is mostly that I couldn’t pick up a darn thing and my hand hurt like crazy.  But—and you know this is so me—once I made up my mind, I wasn’t going to quit.  Kind of like how I decided I would never speak English once I moved to Japan.  And that’s worked out just . . . uh, what’s the opposite of “great”?  Well, whatever, that’s another story.  Anyway, pretty soon I was this kid who was eating Cheerios with chopsticks, and Shake ‘n Bake chicken, and meatloaf.  (Culinarily speaking, I had the whitest upbringing ever.)  Continue reading “How to Use Chopsticks”