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20 Years in Japan

September 25th, 2005

I just realized that I have an anniversary coming up: my 20th anniversary of my coming to live in Japan. I thought I had let it slip past in August, but after checking my old passport, I found that it is instead coming soon: October 8th. I haven’t lived here for 20 years straight–I went back twice for a total of about five years to get my higher degrees. So I’ve lived here for 15 years, but it will have been 20 years since my first working visa became active, in a few weeks, give or take. Probably when that day comes, I’ll blog on the experience of getting here. Until then, I want to touch on some changes since the good old days–how things have changed.

I was on the phone with my father last night, and we spent more than an hour and twenty minutes chatting. We realized that such a long call was going to cost maybe six or seven dollars on his present calling plan, and a lot less on a plan he is considering joining. I myself pay maybe 8 cents per minute calling the U.S. This is all in contrast to what we used to pay 20 years ago. Or more accurately, what I had to avoid paying in Japan. Back then, KDD was it–the only long-distance carrier, period, and calling the U.S. cost a few bucks every minute. Calling from the U.S. wasn’t cheap, either, but it sure was by comparison. So we had a system: I would call via the operator, making a collect call, saying that Quincho was calling for Malachi. Those names belonged to our dog and cat, respectively. So when my dad got a call from an international operator saying that the dog was calling the cat collect from Japan, he knew I wanted to talk. So he would tell the operator that the cat was out, but would call the dog back in 15 minutes. The code was necessary because the operator would not let us hear each other, and would relay only limited messages. But it was enough so that I knew my family was home and I would be getting the call back soon.

That was back in the days when people actually used public phones. When the phones in Japan were red, yellow, green, pink, and I think pale blue, and you needed a scorecard to figure out what the colors meant. Back when you had to pay a 70,000 yen non-refundable deposit to get a phone line, instead of signing up for a cell phone. There was no email, no voice-over-IP, no instant messaging.

So one of the things I want to do this week is to be an old fart and tell you about how I had to walk for miles in the snow to get an English-language magazine, and how there was only one bilingually-broadcast English-language movie on TV each week, and it was usually Death Wish III with Charles Bronson and we were grateful for it. And believe it or not, the last sentence was actual truth. So sit right back down, you young whippersnappers, and get ready for some nostalgia.

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  1. September 25th, 2005 at 05:25 | #1

    But Luis, you forgot the wolves snapping at your heels while you went for the magazine! hehehee I am REALLY looking forward to this as I have only been going to Japan since 2000. The only phone’s I have seen are green, grey and a bizarre pink one outside a resturant. Heck, even I have a cell phone while I am there. (yay for rentals) Should all be very interesting!

  2. ReyLynda
    September 25th, 2005 at 09:17 | #2

    CONGRATULATIONS on the big 20 for life in Japan! Your blog has also become an often-used bookmark of information on many things Japanese, which has been helpful for a recent transplant like me. And we feel your pain in military housing here regarding your former skinny buffet of movie choices. With Armed Forces Network and limited basic cable we STILL only get the oldest, most randomly edited, second run flicks — complete with the fuzzy cable reception and strobe flicker.

    Wow, time has passed….I remember seeing Death Wish ONE on the big screen (my Mom brought me thinking it was another Hope Lange movie — I think she was apalled that the lovely actress was tanked in the first reel so I spent the entire first half of the film with her hand over my eyes).

    Congrats again!

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