Last week was AKP’s fall break, and I finally had a bit of free time to go and have adventures. I went to Arashiyama (about 20 minutes away from where I live) with a friend on Friday, among other places. But I don’t really want to talk about Arashiyama or other places I went to for this blog post. Here’s a collection of pictures from my Arashiyama trip if you’re curious about that, though:
Instead I’m going to focus in on three important experiences I had this week that effected me just as much or more so than the beauty of Arashiyama’s autumn colors. Getting my flu shot, having dinner with my host family, and going to a Japanese barber.
On Wednesday I got vaccinated against the flu. I wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed in Japan or what I was in for, but I did know that my host dad had graciously agreed to take me, and since we would be going together, my host mom recommended that he get immunized as well. We were in this together.
He drove me to the local clinic, which was pretty small. For some reason I was expected that we would go to the nearby hospital for our flu shots, but hostdad pointed out that that would take a long time and we’d have to wait in long lines. True. We walked in and sat down on plasticy couches. The room was small and full of old people, like in America–but not like in America, the room wasn’t lit up so brightly. It was nice. I waited on the couches with hostdad till the nurse came out and called my hostdad’s name, someone else’s name, and the first two syllables of my name before furrowing her brow. I held up my hand and she laughed a bit and seemed relieved that I hadn’t let her continue.
The nurse took us to a back room and asked us about our medical history in Japanese. She came to my name and stumbled again until my host dad said, “Moneyhun. Jesse Moneyhun.” It was nice to have him on my side. He seemed a little annoyed, and to be honest I was a litle confused too since my name is spelled out phonetically because I’m a foreigner (モネハン). Whatever. She was nice and she was doubly relieved when it turned out I spoke alright Japanese. She took all of our temperatures and led us to a turquoise squeakyrubby bed that we all sat on until our name was called to be vaccinated by the doctor.
First it was the stranger, hostdad, and then me. Hostdad came back and told me “switch!” with a wink. He was holding his arm but he assured me that it “didn’t hurt all that much.” I went back to see the doctor and was met again by tension and then relief when the doctor and nurse realized my Japanese was ok. He swabbed me up and we talked about where I was studying (“Oh, Doshisha!”), and why Japanese, and before I knew it he’d given me my shot.
I went back to the bed and sat next to my host dad while we both pressed cotton swabs against our arms. “Yeah, it wasn’t too bad.” We sat in silence for a while on that bed, smiling in parallel, not looking at each other but knowing that we were sharing that experience. It felt like a Wes Anderson film or something.
We tossed the swabs and went out the door after my host dad paid for the shots. On the way home we laughed about how no one could pronounce my name and how we were both grateful that the shots didn’t hurt at all. He told me that the doctor at that clinic graduated from Kyoto University, so “even though it’s a very small clinic, he’s a hell of a guy.” Sounds like a TV show.
It’s always interesting to be presented with info in such a way that it seems like its supposed to be common sense. That was the second time that week that I’d heard a similar comment about Kyoto University graduates. I’ve heard similar things about Doshisha students. It’s funny to be put in a situation where you know nothing about your position, but you’ve already been incorporated into it.
I really felt close to my host family right then.
On Saturday I came down the stairs for dinner feeling like I’d caught a cold. I know I hadn’t. It might have been a side effect of the flu shot. But that was also the day when the world was all abuzz with news from Lebanon, Japan, Mexico, and live reports from Paris. Facebook had exploded. I felt so tired. I came downstairs to have dinner with my host parents and my host sister’s family (husband, son, and daughter).
Saturday was 7-5-3 day in Japan, which meant that kids who are 7, 5, or 3 years old got to wear super elaborate kimono and be congratulated at shrines across Japan. Since my hostsister’s son is 5 and her daughter is 3, they both got to take part. I’d seen them come through the door a few hours before, waddling around splendiferously. By the time I came down to eat dinner they were both free from their kimono and playing around. Hostsister’s daughter was bopping around to her favorite kids program and her son was playing with trains and making sarcastic comments about random things.
Everyone was so happy.
We sat down and ate a huge amount of food. I wasn’t that hungry, but everything was so good that I ate a ton anyway. The kids finished first and the rest of us stayed around the table and talked about work and public transportation and things. There was a quiet moment and I made a joke–one of my first successful ones in Japanese–about my host mom not being about to open a package. Everyone laughed and I felt a little better.
It got quiet again and my host mom turned to me and asked if I’d seen the news about France. I told her I had. Everyone shook their heads and sighed. Then I told my host mom about Lebanon. And Mexico and Japan, too. She was shocked to hear that all that had also happened too. The rest of my family seemed to have heard about most it. It got quiet again and the conversation shifted. Saki (my host sister’s daughter) came over around that time and grabbed my host dad’s hand. She pulled him over to the floor and they started to play together. Just then I had a crazy thought that somehow made me feel better.
I thought about everyone who was hurting and who had hurt people in those last few days, and I imagined them playing with young kids. When a kid comes up to you and asks you (or pulls you over by your finger) to play, you have to. I know it’s a lot more simple in my head, but imagining everyone who was involved with those recent tragedies and everyone who’s arguing over it–It’s a very humbling, humanizing experience to play with someone that small.
If more people had to play with babies the world would be a better place.
On the way out Saki told me goodnight and gave me a little head bobble, and she also gave me a goodbye handhold without me even asking. I felt happy before that I was lucky enough to spend time with my family here and have a relatively normal night. But I also felt a little guilt somehow. After Saki’s handhold, I gave in and just felt grateful instead.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but that dinner made me feel a little better about everything.
I’ve been needing a haircut for a while. On Sunday a friend took me to a barbershop he’d gone to before and really liked. When we walked into the shop, two people were just getting their hair finished. After they left, my friend and I were the only customers there. The barber/hairstylist was quiet, but I told him what I wanted in Japanese and then showed him a picture to give him an idea. He said he could do it and we were off.
The whole cut probably took about 40 minutes. He cut my hair in multiple ways (scissors, clippers, straight razor), styled my hair with multiple tools (hair straightener, gel, spray), and then gave me a brief massage. Wow. Relaxed. At the end he was clipping individual hairs and I felt like a bush being shaped by a master gardener.
By the end of it I looked at myself in the mirror and I was impressed. It wasn’t really what I’d expected walking into the shop, but he definitely did a great job. It was sort of a Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises vibe.
It was surprisingly cheap too! Haircuts in Japan are notoriously expensive, but this one was right around $15. I thought I’d misheard and I kept handing handing him too much money. He and his wife thanked us for coming and we headed back. It was fun riding on the train with my new do. Not sure if I got more or less looks than usual.
When I got home my host mom was pretty surprised. She laughed and asked me if I was a 25 year old salaryman.
I’ve since washed out the gel and spray and put a part back in my hair, but it was fun to get a real Japanese haircut. Maybe even more than a kimono or other things, I felt like I was wearing Japan.
He’ll be seeing more of me in the future.
Fall is slowly changing into winter. Everyone here tells me it gets really cold in Kyoto. We’ll see I guess. No central heating. Lots of blankets.