It’s been kind of a busy, slightly insane last few weeks. If you know me, you know why, and if you don’t… well, you’ll just have to take my word for it. (Of course, the first thing to suffer when you’re busy is anything that you kinda want to do but also kinda don’t, and therefore I haven’t really blogged in a while.)
But I really have been busy. It’s been a kind of madness, and yesterday afternoon when I finally got the last thing done, I got home, sat down, looked at the Hubster and was like… “What should we do now?”
He looked at me with that pitying look that the chronically at ease generally reserve for the chronically unable-to-sit-still. “Sit down and relax.”
“Really? But… don’t we have stuff to do?”
“No. Just relax.”
Of course, I couldn’t, so I chanelled my nervous energy into doing the dishes. I thought about going out, but I figured it would just cost money. Then I painted my toenails. Then I wandered aimlessly around the kitchen for a while – quite a feat given that our kitchen is about the size of a shoebox. Then I put a second coat of nailpolish on my toenails. (They’re now a glorious mint green, in case anyone was wondering.) Then I went and lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a while and had a brief nervous breakdown. Then I tried on about fifteen different outfits. Then I lay on the bed again for a while. Then I got up and announced to the Hubster that we were going a) to Uniqlo and b) out for dinner.
So after indulging myself with a couple of gloriously garish new Andy Warhol print T-shirts (I like to think that I’m paying tribute to Andy Warhol by wearing pop art on a 990 yen T-shirt, and one is covered in dollar signs), we drove through to our favourite okonomiyaki joint in the next town.
This place is famous – at least to everyone in the local area. The decor harks back to the early sixties, a time that – in Japan as much as the West – was as idyllic as it was unsettling. We like to hit the place up every couple of months and drink Wilkinson’s Dry Ginger Ale out of green glass bottles, and cook our own okonomiyaki on the teppan. For those who might be unfamiliar with those terms, the teppan is a large flat metal plate in the middle of the table that is heated from underneath, and everyone sits around cooking their own food. Okonomiyaki is often called Japanese pizza, but that’s a description that is both misleading and inaccurate. In fact, the word okonomiyaki literally means, “whatever you like, fried”. It’s a mixture of cabbage, egg and whatever other ingredients you fancy (pork, squid, shrimp, corn, cheese, vegetables, noodles… sometimes all of the above at the same time.) You mix it all up and fry it on the teppan for about five minutes a side, then you top it with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise and ginger and this green herb thing and bonito fish flakes, and it is the food of the Gods.
It was a delicious meal, and we got home around ten o’clock. At that point I probably could have just stripped off my okonomiyaki-smelling clothing (the sole disadvantage of that restaurant) and hopped into bed, but in fact I didn’t. I spent the next two hours checking out camel hair art on StumbleUpon (I’ll post a link later), chatting on Facebook, pondering the correlations between my life and various songs, browsing Etsy and – I admit it – playing Draw Something. By the time I actually fell asleep it was well past twelve.
I woke up this morning at six-fifty from a horrible dream that somehow combined me returning to my old high school at the age of twenty-seven and being sent to the school psychiatrist’s for being unable to conform to the rules. (In my dream I kept thinking, “But I’m twenty-seven for goodness’ sake! I know all this stuff!”)
It might have been the dream and it might have been the late night, but I woke up feeling like crap and wondering if there was a better, more relaxing way that I could have spent my Sunday afternoon. I wanted to go out rather than be trapped at home, but Japan really lacks two crucial components for the perfect Sunday: al fresco cafe culture and botanical gardens. There’s nowhere to simply go and kick back without either hiking/ shopping/ doing something. You can’t really go anywhere green in this area without having to worry about bears. Coffee shops tend to be stilted, formal places with the possible exception of Starbucks, and that’s always far too busy to be relaxing.
So wait a second. Have I become so affected by Japan’s weird culture of always-trying-to-be-busy that I just can’t switch off anymore? (Say what you like, but any foreigner absorbs at least some of the local culture by osmosis.) It seems to me that in general people here don’t spend nearly enough time just… kicking back. Strolling around. Lying in bed reading. Everyone always seems to be busy, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re productive. I feel – and I’m being honest when I say this, not mean – that a lot of Japanese people waste a lot of time (especially at the office) busying themselves with meaningless tasks that take up time but achieve little. There’s a culture of staying at the office until nine o’clock at night (or later), but I wonder how many Japanese teachers could go home at six if they just sat down and did what they needed to do in a solid chunk of concentration.
So here it is: how the hell do I just relax? How do I retrain myself to enjoy my free time without either wasting it or filling it with tiring activities? Is it OK if the activities are productive, like washing the dishes? I don’t know. Any ideas?