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Letter from Lisa in Japan
Don't be pissed off at me for not writing. I've just been through one of the most difficult, exhausting, discombobulating months of my life... My workdays average 12 hours, my weekends are mostly spent recovering (and I didn't have internet access from home until recently, because Alex didn't like my using her computer. she's in Europe now, so I can write at my leisure - whatever leisure is these days...)

I want to tell you lots of stories, but I am - to be honest - rather blocked creatively lately. I'm exhausted, I guess. And confused. It is intensely off-putting to live in a huge city where only the main street signs and the main subway stops are posted in English, where there are no English-lang subway maps available from the clerk, where most restaurants offer menus written only in Japanese, where few people speak more than 10 words (and I'm being generous here) of English. Where recycling is a dogmatic religion adhered to with fervour by followers who search for and punish violators the way the Puritans searched for and punished satan worshippers. Where the Gap carries nothing larger than size 10 and a request for size 10 shoes causes the elegant saleswoman's perflectly plucked and pencilled eyebrows to meet her widow's peak.

I work in a big office, located on the 24th floor of a very elegant new building in the central banking district called Akasake. On a clear day, I can see Mt. Fuji from the bathroom window. The bathroom is cleaned several times per day by a stooped, uniformed old Japanese lady, who never meets my eyes as she bows, and mutters, "Ohio goziyu mas" (good morning) as I enter to pee. She folds the tongue of toilet paper into a triangle, makes sure that the knob on the console next to the toilet is adjusted so that the seat is warm and the bidet water just the right temperature. Japanese women press the button with the little musical note on it, it causes the toilet to emit a flushing sound to mask the sound of your waste hitting the water. Then you press another button, and a little nozzle emerges from the inside rim of the toilet bows, and bathes your private parts. There is one button for a bidet function, and another for a wash-your-ass-afte!! r-you-shit function.

You never have to touch a door handle in Tokyo. Flag down a taxi and the driver pushes a button that causes the passenger door to open for you. The driver wears white gloves. The metre starts at US$6.50. Stand in front of the glass door leading into any business - from the Chanel shop to the local noodle shop - and it will slide open. The waiter will bring you a hot towel to wash your hands before your food arrives.

Last week there was a little earthquake while I was at work. The building swayed and the objects on my desk jumped around a bit, and I wondered whether I should crawl under my desk - or maybe head for a door jamb (where did I read about that?) for safety. Then I thought, fuck it, I'm on the 24th floor; if this is the "big one" I'm a goner no matter what. But then the building stopped trembling and everyone sat down again. Japanese are as blase about earthquakes as Israelis are about terrorist attacks, I guess...

Later, one of my Japanese colleagues asked me where I was from. "Isra-er? Ha? Vedy dahn-jeru, no?" Earthquake. Terrorist attack. Pick your source of fear.

The first three weeks were the hardest: I was working non-stop, with almost no breaks, on tight deadlines, from 8:00 AM until 10:00PM (a couple of times I was in the office until 11:00 PM). I slept on a 3-cm thick futon, laid out on a hard wooden floor, in Alex's dark, ground-floor, windowless apartment. I discovered that Alex is a neurotic control freak who made a face if I used her phone, made it clear that she didn't like me using her computer, wouldn't allow me to have internet access at work, and made a fuss when I took 5 minutes to answer an urgent personal email from work. I didn't know how to get to work, I didn't know where I was, I didn't know how to say "excuse me" when I needed to get past somebody to exit the elevator.

I work with a mixed bunch of Euros (mostly Brits), Japanese, and a few Americans and Canadians. It seems that I am the only westerner who speaks no Japanese; quite a few are very fluent.

It is true that western men want Japanese women, and that Japanese men aren't very interested in western women. It is true that most of the western women are totally resigned to being single as long as they live in Japan. It is true that the Japanese women tend to speak in high voices, spend a lot of time on their appearances, and don't work after getting married.

I think that I'm going to be offered a full-time permanent position, and I'm pretty sure that I'll take it 'cause the situation in Israel is beyond terrible. But I am very homesick. And I don't like working so hard. And I am not the corporate type. Gal thinks that he might come live with me in Tokyo, which would be amazing. But it depends on whether he finds a job here.

I do want to write more, but I am so, so tired. Please keep writing me. I'll try to write again this weekend. Less disjointed, more stories. I'll try. .

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