Japan is pretty fucked up. This is a fact that I tend to bury deep in my subconscious on a daily basis, as dwelling on it would only accelerate the inevitable descent into insanity that, according to my new roommate, is the fate of all foreigners who live here for an extended period of time. He should know; he’s taught English in Japan for six years and is also 6’5″, a height which brings automatic authority to most statements regarding Japan and gibbering madness.

As a result of my futile attempts to shelter my sanity by shoving the alien nature of my surroundings into a dark little corner of my brain I tend to describe my life here as “uninteresting” and quite “normal.” I am occasionally reminded that this is not the case – most recently by rizzou, whose visit prompted me to take a fresh look at my surroundings. Yes, I reaffirm. Japan is FUCKED UP.

What may follow, if I can get my act together, is a series of glimpses into the odd world of the English teacher in Japan; if nothing else, presented here as documentation of my descent into the mouth of madness.

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

On the Capacity Limits of Japanese Cars

I’m on the road for work an average of two hours a day. I spend much of this time staring at the back sides of cars and contemplating their significance. One of the first things I noticed was the extraordinary range of muffler pipes protruding from beneath them (and sometimes through holes in the bumpers), from the modestly narrow apertures sported by cars of the “K” (tiny) size class, to huge gaping monstrosities sprouting from riced Skyline rear ends. It isn’t the exhaust pipes that really hold my interest, though. Most cars here have stickers pasted somewhere on the back advertising the vehicle’s carrying capacity, in kilograms, and like the pipes they range from the tiny (200 kg K-cars) to the enormous (10,000+ kg in big industrial rigs).

This weight allowance is always listed in 50 kilogram increments, and having nothing better to think about during my commute I began to ponder the significance of this mystical weight. In practical terms, what physical item of freight would most accurately represent that increment? The answer was obvious: an average Japanese woman.

A K-car could safely hold four of them; this isn’t a stretch. When moving to higher capacity ranges, though, packing in the requisite amount becomes a Jenga tower of physics. A small flatbed Isuzu Elf could fit twenty of them by weight, but the volume would be a challenge – do you pack them like logs, or stand them straight and have them hold onto each other for support? Do you hang a few off the sides, or build advanced geodesic structures from them to attain maximum balance and structural integrity?

The larger the vehicle, the greater the challenge. An 8,000 kg truck should fit 160 women, but its volume is a serious constraint. Even when disassembled into its component parts, the average Japanese woman is not dense enough to fit side by side with 159 of her counterparts in the space afforded by the truck’s large metal bin. What to do? This is the question that consumes my thoughts for hours on end as I travel the narrow roads of suburban Japan.

If I find myself losing concentration on this imaginary vehicle-bound Japanese female erector set, I can always fall back on mental comparisons of Skyline exhaust pipes to goatse.cx, another profitable enterprise. All told, it’s a wonder I ever find myself on the verge of falling asleep at the wheel.