Lock the kids in the closet because we'll be talking about boys, music, and nudity!
It's taken me 25 years to gain the little knowledge I have of men, and a move to Japan to wipe out all of this knowledge. A barrier of language and ingrained cultural differences keeps me from understanding the other gender, but 2 car rides and a conference helped me chip away a little bit of the wall.
My interaction with men is pretty limited here. I have teaching (aka work) and the occasional friendly chatter with a few of the cute male teachers at my schools. Initiating and keeping up the friendly banter takes a lot of effort on my behalf, so many times I stay quiet and try to stay engrossed in my desk work. Because of this, I feel I have regressed from being the smart, confident single gal who could chat up a fellow and could work on getting a phone number (if interested) to a troll hiding under her bridge scaring everyone off. Back home in America I enjoyed many friendships with males, and here I have watched no such comradeship form. Somehow I was thrown into a carpool of 3 Japanese guys. 3 guys hovering around the age of 20.
I instantly clammed up as they bantered back and forth. They made me laugh a bit with their goofy (and very limited) English knowledge of slang and textbook-style dialogue lines. They were working on reducing my quietness (bless their hearts). We played a rousing game of shiritori (a word game) then they tried to figure out a song we could all sing. It started with the Japanese and American national anthems (I don't know the Japanese lyrics and for them... vice-versa) and continued with going through a list of artists and songs, including grammar school songs. In the end, we failed to find something we could all sing, but I enjoyed their effort and singing.
Here's a picture that will give you an idea of who these guys are:
On the drive home, having spent a few days together at conference and having a more 'chummy' relationship, we had discussions. With Japanese people, if love and dating ever comes up as a topic of discussion, the big question that always gets raised is "what type of guy/girl do you like?" I've had the answer to this question extensively discussed with female Japanese coworkers and elementary school boys ask me this question as a way to make me laugh embarrassedly. Since I was stuck in a moving vehicle with males for a couple hours, the topic came up. We had a lot of fun comparing our cultures and POVs. Asking a Japanese person, let alone a male, for his personal opinion, feelings, and experience on such topic is probably something you proceed with caution with. We laughed it up and got each other embarrassed. Later, we got back on the "find a song we can all sing" game, where I desperately tried to find something Japanese on my Ipod that they know. This brings me to my next topic: music.
I would have to say my music taste is pretty ordinary. I'm not an indie worshiper who only listens to bands no one has heard of and I definitely don't listen solely to what's on the radio. I rely a lot on other people's recommendations and stumbling around online for things I like. Now that I'm in Japan, I can't keep up with any sort of American music (can't use Pandora in Japan... shame) and I don't get many suggestions. Thus, I feel like an old fossil listening to music I put on my Ipod 9 months ago (I know, that really isn't a long time, but it is in entertainment). Thanks to school, I hear mainstream Japanese pop, but like most of American pop, I want to ignore it. I'm very picky with Japanese music, since I find most of it uninspired. Japan is forever in the boy band phase and has an overabundance of female pop idols. I don't listen to much in the Japan music world. During the above-mentioned car ride home, I asked the boys for suggestions. I was going to take their ideas with a grain of salt, knowing my pickiness and lack of knowledge of their musical tastes. They asked me what I liked genre-wise, and they gave me some rock to try. Some of it isn't too bad. I think it's growing on me. For example, the Radwimps. They're a mishmash of rock, pop, indie, rap with both English and Japanese lyrics. I think I enjoy them because it reminds me of the past weekend's cultural collision in a car.
Next.... we have NUDITY!
The Japanese love baths. It's their way of relaxing after a long day. It isn't a way to get clean (you always shower thoroughly before entering the bath) but a way to unwind. Public baths and hot spring baths are a way of life, a way to feel like a comrade. As a prude American, I couldn't understand the concept of being completely naked in a bath with other people, especially friends. Before I go any further, I must note most public baths/onsens are separated male/female, so they are safe. Over the conference weekend, I learned the place we were staying at only had a bathhouse. The girls I was bumming around with said we should all go together, so I accepted without hesitation (while inside my head I was yelling "DON'T FLINCH AND DON'T STARE"). I completely understand why they are ingrained into their culture. Frankly, once I got my clothes off, I felt relaxed and without self-consciousness. I was a fat foreigner in a room of skinny Japanese girls, but it didn't bother me a bit. Sitting in a nice warm bath with girl friends chatting it up is a great stress reliever, and with how busy and stressed this country is, I see why they exist. Once I got over the initial shock, I focused on the activity and the chatter and loved it. I'm an American who has mastered the 3 minute shower, so it was important to slow down and enjoy this easy way to re-energize.
Here's some non-bath related chumminess:
Yeah 2nd place in the group sports event. Glad there was some fun activities to promote friendship and fun.