So I was laying on the floor last night, actually trying to study Japanese, which is increasingly rare, since eating sashimi and drinking shochu with Japanese geezers at the local bar has replaced more formal study as of late. But, seeing as it’s the new year and all, I thought I’d get off to a healthy start by cooking up an enormous cauldron of vegetable soup and doing something other than boozing. Yes, this is the year Ken Seeroi finally gets his life together in Japan. Plus it was raining, and anyway I blew all my yen drinking the night before.
Now, perhaps you’re the kind of person who hears a lot of explosions, but I’m not. Like maybe a car crash or a big earthquake once in a while, but that’s about it. So when this enormous, earth-shattering ka-boom shook the building, I thought, well, that’s a bit odd. I’m calm like that. And then the fire alarm went off and I smelled smoke. I opened my window. It was still raining cats and dogs. The smoke smell got worse.
I live by three simple rules. Eat healthy, get plenty of exercise, and go to bed early. I don’t follow any of them, but hey, they’re still good rules. Oh, and Rule Four (a recent addition): Don’t burn to death inside a Japanese apartment building. To hell with calm, it was time for a rapid late-night stroll. I grabbed my wallet, laptop, a hat, a pile of coins, a banana, and then I thought maybe I ought to stuff everything into a backpack, and then my phone, and my parka, a folding umbrella, and ran out the door. No keys. Where the hell are my keys? Crap, why can I never be more organized? The fire alarm seemed to be getting louder and louder. I rushed back in, decided to take some gloves, and my phone charger, and some Chapstick, and my passport, and finally found my keys and bolted for the staircase.
It was quite the scene outside. There was glass everywhere and half the neighborhood was huddled together under umbrellas. We looked up. A window on the third floor had blown to pieces. It must’ve been a hell of an explosion, because the window had been the Japanese version of safety glass, with wire mesh embedded in it, and now wire and glass were lying in large chunks all over the wet street. The apartment where the window had been was dark. “He must be dead,” someone said.
Deaf is More Like it
That seemed a reasonable assumption, so we were pleasantly surprised when the front door of the apartment creaked open and one presumed-dead neighbor stepped slowly onto the third-floor landing. The fire alarm was still ringing like mad. “It’s okay,” he called down, “you can go back in.” He didn’t look very okay. Then the door closed again. Nobody moved. A car drove by in the rain, over the glass. “That glass is really dangerous,” someone said. “Yeah, that’s a hazard,” someone else said. Everyone agreed. That glass in the road sure was bad. Another car drove over it.
You know, I get the whole Japanese thing, and try to fit in most of the time, but for Chrissakes, sometimes you just gotta be the white guy. I walked into the road holding my umbrella and slowly started sliding chunks of glass to the curb. Everybody watched. It took a couple of minutes, but I finally got all the major pieces safely out of the way. The fire alarm stopped. “Is the fire department coming?” someone asked. “Someone should call them,” another person said. Everyone agreed they should come. I went back inside and up to the third floor, where I met another neighbor in front of his apartment. “Kerosene heater exploded,” he said.
We use kerosene heaters a lot in Japan, because they’re cheaper than running the apartment heating unit. I’ve never heard of one exploding before, but anytime you mix fire and flammable liquid, I guess that can happen. But hey, I’m not a scientist or anything. I use an electric heater.
Thirty minutes later, the fire department showed up. Then the police, and the building management. Then an ambulance. I went back outside. There were about a hundred emergency personnel ready to rescue someone, albeit half an hour late. I took a couple of pictures, then went in, ate some vegetable soup, spread out my futon, and went to sleep listening to the rain. It sure is a crazy country.