I woke up one day with Japan on my mind.
The Japanese have a bunch of wonderful words and phrases for everything, but it’s always somehow lost in translation when you experience it here. A quick dinner at a ramen shop, for example, always starts with a chorus of “irasshaimase”—spoken in such a way that you’d hear “sushaimasen” if you listen closely—and ends with a mawkish “thank you” by the time you step out. There are the Japanese discount stores that sell everything from almond seaweed cracker-sandwiches to xylophones, until you realize that one of the most popular ones isn’t exactly “Japanese.” The social pressure to add a “Japanese” feel to things is perhaps best expressed by the look on a real Japanese sushi chef’s face whenever you order a California roll.
Or if you ask the fish in a chirashi bowl to be cooked. Or lukewarm ramen, served with spoon and fork. It’s not right, but that’s just the way it is. There’s also karoshi: the familiar, the dangerous, the controversial.
And then there’s “hikkikomori:” in an article for Warscapes, Flavio Rizzo defines them as a “… lost generation of Japanese kids, post-modern hermits, a lost generation of young recluses who never leave their homes and rely on their parents to survive.” I don’t qualify for the “rely on their parents to survive” part, but I’ve always been fascinated by the whole idea. So much so that it is, in many ways, how I spend a weekend. Reclusive, shut in, working: emerging from my apartment on the next Monday with work done over the weekend, ready—and weary, at times—to take in more for the week ahead.
Back in elementary school, an English teacher would often tell us to write short compositions on what we would do during weekends. When you’re around ten or twelve, it’s fairly easy to run down that list of things you probably did: helped with housework, went to Mass, perhaps a short trip to some beach or farm. I sometimes think about how that composition would go along if I started writing it now. “I slept.” “I read a book cover to cover.” “I managed to create a new wall carry combo for Lili in Tekken 7 and really you should totally see how that works.” Or, in so many cases, “I took home work.” To your mind, this is how everyone spends their weekend.
I’ve reached the unquestioned assumption that the older you get, the less meaningful your weekends should be. Until, of course, you open Instagram stories and see how your friends have been attending weddings, going to the beach, wall climbing, and so on. Maybe—just maybe—you’re the only person not having one. It’s the rule that binds and defines all unquestioned assumptions: just because you’re experiencing it doesn’t mean that it holds true for everyone else.
And then you reflect on your non-working weekends, basically spent in your room developing a bedsore, reading a book with chopsticks (more on that when I feel like it). Or being so fascinated with French cuisine on YouTube—watching Jacques Pepin part a chicken, or the many nuances of canard à la presse—while eating an overcooked bowl of spicy ramen noodles. Or staring blankly into the TV, controller in hand, playing fighting games or shooters or your next play through of an RPG (which, in the case of Skyrim, working a build long enough to end up being just another stealth archer).
All of this done without ever leaving the house: that one FoodPanda order is enough to last you a full weekend and Monday’s breakfast. And work on the side.
I’m not sure where I read it, but some of these business blogs often say that weekends are better spent recharging the body. Something like: “well-rested people become more productive.” It’s as if we do what we do merely to keep doing what we’re doing: be a spoke in the wheel, a cog in the gear, and so on. I guess this is where we’ve come to—be the living and breathing batteries of the dynamo called whatever place we are—that we “recharge” ourselves like cellphones or laptops or whatever.
People talk about “work-life integration” beyond Buzzword Bingo, as if our work recharges us in the process: a lot like how car batteries are recharged by the simple act of driving. Any which way, any act of “recharging” must be accomplished by an experience of “life:” nature, travel, getting drunk. Or the entire industry providing recreational needs to the young urban professional (poor): breakout rooms, painting classes, shooting galleries, art (or what passes for it these days), experiential dining, trapezes, and so on.
And then I realize how much of our time each week is really spent on chasing weekends, as if five of seven days of our lives are wasted on uphill climb to being (at least for a semblance of it) free. We don’t really spend our weekends taking back lost sleep or resting our tired bodies and minds for the gruelling hump that is the work week. Instead, we feed our bodies with experiences of life we wouldn’t have otherwise. The days between have close to nothing, when you come to think of it: yet another pointless baton relay in the weekday grind. For many of us, though, life lives beyond the walls of the workspace, the limits of the desk, the corners of the cubicle.
On weekends, we recharge on that thing called “life:” the thing we miss out on, the very thing we drain energy from, five days out of seven.
I woke up one day with Japan on my mind.
And so this weekend—usually spent in the comfort of home, anxiously fidgeting and squirming over the things that lay out of my control (a.k.a. “the work and the world”), was spent on trying to experience “more Japan,” or what passes for it in the Filipino view of “what is Japanese.” It was more or less a laundry list of the “irasshaimase” that sounds like “sushaimasen,” come to think of it. Not precise, but close enough.
What better way to keep all that anxiety away than experiences beyond the comfort of a computer?
It was rather costly, but the experience was somewhat there. It was a weekend that started with a trip to the Japan-themed discount store for Japanese oddities: a sheaf of hairpins and stringy dried shrimp snacks and air fresheners and magnifying glasses for P88 each: all useless clutter in an already cramped living space. A quick lunch at a Japanese restaurant, stopping short of the more… adventurous, sashimi they had on the menu. Dinner at a Japanese ramen shop, watching the chef ladle all sorts of broths and ingredients in an open-view kitchen. A Japanese video game, with an online match against a Japanese player.
The one not-so-Japanese thing: a few rounds with friends who, over bottomless mojitos (which turned from sweetened water to the metro’s best drinks in three rounds), we discussed everything from my problems to the world’s problems to life itself. I think I left with a better understanding of the people I interact with on a daily basis, more than if I moped around at home reading about gay rights.
A Sunday morning spent watching Japanese wrestling: the kind with barbed wire and land mines thrown in. An attempt at Japanese cooking: salty miso soup, chewy teppanyaki made on an electric stove. Japanese game shows. A stroll along the street, seeing Japanese tourists walking along taking notes and pictures of everything. An affordable dinner of sushi rolls. About the only thing I skipped on was Karada, but we have our limits.
It makes me think of Japan even more. That in a weekend, I guess the close approximations I have had—in the one weekend in quite a while I didn’t spend not working—would probably pale in comparison to Japan itself, should I get to experience it for real. So I guess, in a way, life refuels to that trip.
Soon, hopefully. But that’s for another time. The next weekend may be Swedish, for all I care.