The Gaijin With the Koto Should Drop the Bike

You just got done with the midterm you’ve been dreading the whole week. You’re on the way back home for a much awaited and appreciated brunch the should get the blood pumping in your veins again, after a night of digesting Japanese grammar interrupted by two hours (or less) of sleeping.

You’re on cloud 9 as well as on your bike. You try to avoid another  non-gajin-biking, while simultaneously avoiding the poles in the middle of the side walk, a light pole on your left and a metal fence on your right. You use your brakes that should have been fixed three weeks ago but they don’t quite work (because they should have been fixed three weeks ago).

You fall and your face lands right through the bike then right on the ground…. And everything goes black.

You’re taken to a hospital and with your tongue you feel the blood covering your mouth and a vacant space occuping what used to be your tooth.

Bla bla bla, yada yada yada….

You’re back in your room, alone, with nothing but a dizzy head, your black thoughts, and to insure you your dream Halloween costume, an upper lip well stitched and  as swollen as an eggplant, making The Elephant Man look a little bit more than strangely familiar…

You wonder what in the world are you doing in that country…. why are you riding a bike in the first place? what is this place? why are you rolled up miserably in a futon on the ground wearing a mask on your face? why aren’t you sitting in your mother’s arms? why? why? why?

That was my week in a nutshell.


A mild exaggeration of what happened...


I think the pain resulting from my biking “incident” was emotional rather than physical. It was the first time I felt this horrible loneliness and the first time I actually wished I were in some polluted Cairene street cursing the traffic and the government instead of studying abroad in Osaka.

Add to that my pathetic skills in help-seeking. As a long time hate-to-be-a-burden person, I didn’t ask for help unless others offered…. And now I have learnt the lesson: if you need help, ask for it damn it!

If it were’t for all the positive vibes I received from people around here, the pain would have lasted for longer….  Be it a card, a bag of mini kitkats, bloomed orchids, nutella on toast, ready made soup or a message on my Japanese phone…Maybe small things make small minds happy, but I am too grateful to even care.


My little shrine on the coffee table...


The scars and the stitches will go away – it could have been worse. A lot worse. If only the angle with which I hit my head was a little bit inclined, I would have ended up in coma or left quadriplegic.

But I am げんき… and that’s what matters, right?

And now, having had my share of cheesy sentimental monologuing, any idea how I can remove the blood stains from my beloved Adidas T-shirt?

And yes, I’m fixing these demented brakes. Tomorrow. First thing. I promise.


Doing Time: My day at a Japanese Prison

No. I wasn’t caught shop lifting, I wasn’t caught drunk bike driving and I wasn’t caught in a Yakuza office  recruiting new members…

Along with my ever-fascinating professor and a few of his students, I got a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Japanese prisoner. And let me tell ya, it wasn’t bad. In fact, I am now a little bit more than tempted to go for some not-so-subtle shop lifting from Lawson and live a sweet suite life for a week or two.

It took us roughly one hour to arrive to the prison, which was located in a residential area, overlooking a pretty lake and surrounded by trees. Not bad at all…

We were seated in a conference room, where we watched a documentary about the prison, had a tour around the prison, which was followed by a Q and A sessions with the prison warden.

Japan hates to admit people to prison. You can say they prevent creating this “Sociology of Crime” by not admitting people to prison. In Japan, about 2 million crimes are reported per year, 95% of which are disposed of . In Japan, it is preferred to confess, admit, apologize, express your deepest sorrow for committing the crime rather than hire a lawyer. In Japan, lawyers evade truth. If you want to be a lawyer, the last place you want to be at is Japan, because you’ll be looked down upon, not to mention starve. Confession matters the most; force confession is quite common, too..

Why does it matter? You know if you confess you’ll be forgiven, and you know that if you hire a lawyer to proof that you didn’t commit a crime, it will 1. cost you a shitload of money,  2. waste lots and lots of time,  3. generally suck the life out of you and 4. won’t work anyway… Pretty easy to choose which route to go for now, isn’t it?

Anyway, the prison I visited is a “Class A” prison (there are 8 classes; juvenile prison, gaijin prison, women prison, etc etc). The institution is about 40 years old, but still looking pretty good. Prisoners are 26+ years old, and all of them are sentenced for no more than 9 years. No gang members. However, there was an 89 year old murderer who had killed a family member and who’s imprisoned for  6 years; 3 done and 3 to go. The rest of the prisoners were mostly involved in robbery, embezzelment or economic crimes.

The tour around the prison was mind blowing, to say the least. Attached to the prison there’s a factory were prisoners work. According to the Japanese constitution, every Japanese citizen must work, and these people are citizens, so they work too. They work in a factory though, producing everything from bed sheets to carton bags to futons to carpets to wooden ornaments. These things are then sold and the revenue goes to the Ministry of Justice. What do our prisoners in سجن طره do? Make small rocks out of big ones??

Not to mention how the Japanese reward their prisoners: more work = more food +  a mark on the uniform to indicate that this prisoner has been well behaving for a period of X months/years (how good and how long varies with the color).

Prisoners also are welcome to join clubs: music, literature, all kinds of sports, of course, and even calligraphy.

The cells looked more spacious, cleaner and even more fun than my own dorm room , to say the least. (The fact that  each cell has a TV set says it all). Prisoners can order books, magazines, Manga, board games and the like online.

The guards in the prison don’t carry guns. The prisoners in the factory work with knives. Escape attempts? Organized violence? None.

After a prisoner has done his time, he goes through a graduation ceremony, and receives a certificate with cute Japanese calligraphy that says that he has successfully completed “the program”.

So, how about some barefaced Kelptomania?

On a Japanese Afternoon


On a Japanese afternoon, I might go grocery shopping. An experience through which I have to forget about my Egyptian grocery shopping habits. Like, you don’t buy cucumbers using kilograms as your primary measuring unit. Why? Because in Japan, one cucumber costs you what’s equivalent to EGP 12~15.

But, on a Japanese afternoon, I can make up for my vitamin deprivation by drinking the much-loved vegetable juice.

On a Japanese afternoon, I might go on a 30 minute bike ride through the narrow streets of Hirakatashi.

This is when I am able to practice my Japanese because I have to repeat “Sumi masen” (excuse me), whenever I bump into someone. I repeat it so much that it comes out now perfectly pitched and -almost- fluent… If it weren’t for my Egyptian looks, one “sumi masen” from me and people would think I am a local.

The bike ride also gives me a chance to ponder upon some of the heavier stuff: How to make the most of this experience? To what extent will I have chaged by next June? Do I really miss Egypt? Should I consider doing my grad studies in Japan instead of the States? and…. what is Tommy Lee Jones doing on iced coffee vending machines?


“Well, think me up a cup of coffee and a chocolate doughnut with some of those little sprinkles on top, while you’re thinking.”


On a Japanese afternoon, I might do my Japanese homework while watching Sumo wrestling.

On every Japanese afternoon, I convince my self I am spending a Japanese afternoon, a fact I still can’t quite fathom…

Until I realize that I have 4 more pages of Japanese homework to go through…

The Persistance of Time – New and Improved?

<emo monologue>

Sometimes, no, most of the time, I only see the empty half. It’s basically the problem of my life, if you will. Now that I have been here for five weeks, my negative persona shines and my positive one is put on “hibernate”.

All I can think of is that the length of my stay here has been diminished by 5 weeks and that before I know it, it will all be over. All I can think of is my list-of-things-to-do-in-Japan is growing but time spent in Japan is shrinking.

I’ve done quite a lot of things; from Karaoke to ancient temples to attending festivals to sushi restaurants to biking in the rain to making green tea pudding to riding trains that later turn out to be going towards an opposite destination to climbing hills through the shrines to spending nights mentally idle in the park outside my dorm to eating (drinking?) raw eggs so as not to offend my Japanese hosts.

I am spending next weekend in Hiroshima, which will be super interesting. And in order to go there, I will be riding the Shinkansen, which will be super breath-taking, at least for someone used to the Egyptian National Railways.

But it’s never enough, is it?

I feel time is slipping through my hands like sand. Evaporating like cheap nail polish remover.

Then I berate myself for thinking so negatively and wasting even more time while doing it.

I know it’s normal to have good days and bad ones, regardless where you are; be it in the crazy streets of Cairo, the narrow bike paths of Hirakata, the swamps of Botswana or the waterways of Venice. One day you’ll feel good, and the following morning you’ll feel you’re at the end of your rope.

So, my plan for the day is to try an accept these few facts. This, of course, will be followed by a self-blaming session for wasting an afternoon and not going deer-stalking in Nara.

</emo monologue>

October 2010
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