Taking out the Trash

No seriously, it was hard.

Imagine one day suddenly deciding to move to another country. Now imagine that you have to do it as soon as possible because you aren’t completely sure you’ll be safe in the event of an escalation in a nuclear catastrophe. I did it in three days.
It was kind of like going to the toilet super drunk. You have a clear idea of your goals: get out of the country/relieve the pressure in your bladder. But then when you go about the task you discover that thinigs aren’t as simple as you expected – you have to jump through hoops to cancel your lease / you need to excersise your motor skills and get that fly undone. You see the toilet bowl, it’s right there, but now you have to do all this stuff to actually do it? Damn.

Now imagine you are in a country where the toilet system is unfamiliar to you and totally weird (which by the way traditional Japanese toilets are). You can’t ask anyone for help because it’s embarrassing and anyway you don’t speak the language perfectly. In the act of awkwardly pulling off your jeans and squatting over that alien toilet you are acutely aware that you may be doing it wrong, and offending all kinds of customs in the process of trying to achieve your goal. But your goal is important and there is significant time pressure. You have to be the sort of person who will sacrifice social niceties in order to get what you want. You have to be the sort of person who, in the event that you can’t actually figure out how to use this damn toilet, pee outside the bowl.

I did that – I did some things I really didn’t want to do and inconvenience some innocent Japanese people in order to leave the country as soon as possible. I left my employer in the lurch by cutting my contract. It was sad but I dumped our faithful bicycles in a public area, becuase there was no other way.

In Japan they have an idiotic trash seperation/collection system. Certain kinds of garbage must be sorted into categories and only certain kinds of garbage can be collected on specific days. Sounds good, you say? Sounds environmentally conscious or something? Well I say “idiotic” because while the Japanese are seemingly unanimous as to the importance of properly disposing of one’s own trash, when asked what the purpose of this strict system of categorisation and seperation is no one can offer an answer. Is it recycling? Who knows. Why are plastic bags sometimes considered “Burnable” trash? No answer can be given. People are very willing to talk self-righteously about the social responsibility of garbage disposal without actually knowing why. Not only this but since the collection days for garbage are set and you can only throw out your trash little by little over the course of a week, in a tiny Japanese apartment you are left with a significant pile of trash (often containing rotting foodstuffs) that you cannot throw out when you need to. If you do throw it out early then be prepared to face the anger of your neighbours. In our case because we lived in an apartment block filled with foreigners, we had regular problems with tenants not disposing of their garbage on the proper day and thus rotting garbage sat outside our block for days, sometimes strewn across the street. In the last couple of months in our stay we had a recurring problem where our bicycles were vandalised and the air in the tires were let out, the caps for the airtube stolen. This was almost certainly a neighbourhood retaliation for the garbage problem.

I am the sort of person who loathes inconveniencing strangers, especially if they are Japanese. Being half Japanese myself I know just enough about the culture to know how much i don’t know, and that I am in constant danger of committing a terrible disservice to those around me with my gaijin ways. For the most part the Japanese are extremely generous regarding foreigner faux pas but this doesn’t serve to make me feel any better about putting my foot in it.

Social Blunder

So it was with a great deal of nervousness that I discovered, given the time pressure, I could not PROPERLY dispose of certain articles of trash left in my apartment, one of them being an inconveniently long metal laundry pole. I’d been informed by my employer that if any trash was left in the apartment upon my leaving then the real estate company would charge large sums of money, hundreds of dollars, to dispose of it themselves – regardless of the size or the amount of trash. Considering we had already lost thousands in our desperate scramble to leave the country this was not something I could afford to have happen. I regarded the offending object with fear and hatred, and wracked my brain for an answer to the problem at hand. Dumping the bicycles was heartbreaking, but also physically easy: I rode them, one by one and on seperate days, to a bike parking lot and just left them there. Totally inconspicuous.

Totally inconspicuous.

Getting rid of this damn laundry pole on the other hand could land me in some significant trouble. I had no idea what the penalty was for dumping trash in Japan but considering The Law’s scarily draconian attitudes towards gaijin transgressors in the past, I didn’t want to risk being spotted and I kind of had no clue where an appropriate dumping ground would be anyway. I had to be careful about this. I had to be… smooth. That’s when I had this brilliant idea.

Ingrid and I had witnessed our next door neighbour fleeing the country a few days prior. His balcony was possibly within reaching distance from ours. They weren’t exactly real balconies: they were tiny cramped affairs specifically for housing the air conditioner and for hanging laundry, so I was sort of afraid the whole thing would collapse under my weight. When I dropped the pole with a loud CLANG I couldn’t hurry back inside: Since my weight on the balcony was a problem I had to escape veeeery sloooowly, and then I had to climb awkwardly back into the window. So that is what I did, in the freezing cold of a Japanese winter, trying to be as quiet as possible and hoping I wouldn’t be spotted, during a blackout in Omiya.

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7 Comments »

  1. chromefist Said:

    Extended toilet metaphors can go so horribly wrong, but I think you pulled it off. Definitely no pun intended.

    Cool ninja balcony skills, bro.

    • thatgaijinguy Said:

      Thank you, sir. If you are ever in need of Balcony Ninja skills, you know who to turn to.

  2. Ania Said:

    Hey Alan, Ingrid!
    It’s Ania from Poland, introduced by Chiyuki in English Pub, Kokubunji ;). Yeah, I don’t think it was necessary to write all these info, but I did it just to be sure you won’t think about any other Ania from Poland while reading this comment.

    Wanted to say, your blog is awesome. I am having a lot of fun reading it, and your way of describing things, Alan, alongside with great comics is simply hillarious. Abbandoning stuff at deserted balcony? lol. It reminds me of my shameful disposal of an umbrella in the day of my flight to Poland. I simply left it in the nearby of an elevator at the train station. I felt like committing an unforgivable crime but I had no other choice- a huge case, backpack and 2 bags were simply enough. Such an abominable gaijin’s behaviour, eh?
    See you guys around in Japan someday again!

    • Ingrid Said:

      Hahaha, I wouldn’t feel too about that if I were you! From what I’ve seen, public toilets in train stations often double as mass graves for unwanted umbrellas.

    • thatgaijinguy Said:

      Ania! Hey! Good to hear from you, it’s nice to know you got out safely, both in terms of knowing how you are doing and also because it makes me feel better for leaving. I hope you continue to have fun reading our blog, and maybe we’ll see you in Japan again soon? We should do some anime-related stuff!

  3. Ivan Nisevic Said:

    Funny. You guys need a holiday in Serbia. A bit of lawlessness could do you good!

    • thatgaijinguy Said:

      I agree… maybe lawlessness would be a nice, drastic change of pace.


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