The problems with sudden freedom

Daytime Tokyo is a strange place and one I have experienced surprisingly little until now. My days used to be spent at work and the 500 meter bubble around it, and the long commute to and fro, with occasional weekends here and there, which doesn't count. No, the Tokyo of weekday daytime is something altogether different. It's less crowded for sure, but it's also strangely noisy with workmen doing this and that and builders building as well as garbage men garbaging.

The biggest shock, though, comes from the old people, who are literally everywhere. Not just old, but ancient they are and have earned the nickname "obatarian" from the more daring young folks. The word is derived from "obaba", or granny, and "batarian", zombie. And they are. They float around town in their own little bubble, not caring a jot for others. They cut queues, push you around the supermarket if you happen to stand in their way and take over tables in coffeeshops previously reserved by others by use of a coat or bag. They simply don't care. When they do care, they are worse still. They take the role of citizen Stasi, vocally forcing people to adhere to rules, either real or imagined.

I was standing in a train, minding my own business, thumbing an email on my mobile phone, when one of these obatarian approached me. "Is that a mobile phone?" she asked me, in Japanese obviously. Slightly surprised by the question I smiled and said yes; possibly she had never seen one before? Or was surprised to find a dirty foreigner with his hands on such amazing Japanese technology? But no, "Switch it off!" she said. My smile dissipated and I told her I was just emailing, knowing full well it's very bad etiquette to talk in your phone on the train. Japanese trains are very quiet due to this little rule and I personally quite like that. She wasn't impressed, "off!" she demanded. Not quite knowing what to make of all this, as the obatarian returned to her seat, I noticed an older woman standing next to me shooting daggers at the granny. This gave me the impression that yes, this obatarian was just a busybody, insane maybe even. I ignore her and continued my email. A few seconds later she approached me again with the same demand. I flipped my phone shut and turned away from her with, I was hoping, obvious disrespect. At the next stop a young Japanese girl came in holding her phone open. No sooner had she boarded or the old witch approached her too with the demand, much to the girl's shock. At least the woman was just insane, not racist.

Later I found out what she harping on about. They recently changed the rules somewhat; phones are asked to be switched off near the elderly priority seats, indicated now by yellow hand grips, rather than the white ones. This amounts to about 2 square meters at the end of every other carriage. A ridiculous concept, like a smoking section next to a non-smoking section, even if phones were to be proven to be harmful, which they haven't. I was still miffed at the woman though, for she wasn't actually sitting in a priority seat, and had I taken a small step to the left I'd have been out of the "zone", something I wish I had known and rubbed into her face. Either way, who appointed her police of Tokyo railway's manner rules? Next time 'll be better prepared. Mind you, I was already in a bad mood because earlier that day another obatarian ignored the queue in the supermarket and just went straight through as if she was the only 120 year old on the planet.

Another small problem I found with my sudden freedom from work is an acute caffeine withdrawal. Now usually these come as headaches, occasionally on the weekends, as I used to drink an awful lot of coffee at work. I'd have, say, 1 on the way to work, 1 when I arrived, one or two every hour until lunchtime, one during lunch and the last one of the day just after lunch. A good 10 orso cups a day, if not more. When I quat I didn't drink any at all and my body revolted. No headaches this time, but pure nausea. I spent one whole day in bed, my head swimming sickeningly. No fever, no runny nose, so no cold, but I couldn't do a thing. I have since upped my coffee intake enormously, with the plan to cut down little by little over the next few weeks. I think one or two cups a day should be my eventual goal.

Then, of course, there is Little Big Planet...oh boy. I knew from the Beta I would like this game, but I had no clue it would grab me so entirely. Hours and hours I've spent on it, playing the game, collecting the bubbles, creating my on "masterpieces"... the game is an absolute wonder, the game of the decade, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Sure, it still has some issues, and the servers seem to go up and down a lot, but generally, it's pure awesome. I recommend it to anyone. If you want to check out my first level, one I spent a disgraceful amount of time on, as well as many sleepless nights as my imagination pondered the many things I wanted to create, search for "Count Sackula's Castle". Even if you hate the level, which you might, you'd do me a tremendous favour if you "heart" it, and me, as the "author". Apparently Sony's derivative trophy system has also got its hooks in me! This game will be the first for which I shall unlock all trophies, one way or another.

As you can see...a productive start to my creative freedom. To be fair, I haven't had a holiday in quite a while, so a little downtime is deserved, I recon. But maybe I should try thinking of spending it on something other than Little Big Planet.


  1. I'll be sure to look out for your level, if i can ever connect to the servers -_-

  2. you say they changed the rules recently?

    It's been around for years...surprising you haven't noticed.

    say the old lady had a heart pacer and was sitting on a priority seat? She could've been just scared.

  3. @kasi: not on my train. They really just recently started putting up the posters and changing the handle colours. And no, she most most definitely a busybody, like that old guy who ran after me and crossed a busy street, while hollering, when I was smoking on the street a day after they put in the no smoking pavement slabs a few years back.

  4. I had to give up coffee entirely because of the caffeine withdrawal problems. :-(

  5. Nice post, as always. If you don't mind, I'll do the usual and add my own unsolicited input.

    - Obatarian
    I love this word. It's worth mentioning that "batarian" refers to a very specific type of zombie (regular zombies are just called zombies). Dan O'Bannon's 80's film "Return of the Living Dead" was released in Japan under the title "Batarian" (a transliteration of the English word "Battalion"). This title was derived from the concept of a large number of zombies attacking at once (akin to an army battalion) and may also have been influenced by the military reaction to the zombie threat in the film. What happened was that Japanese filmgoers mistakenly assumed that the zombies themselves were called bataria. Further, the obatarian word (melded with obasan) specifically means a pushy old hag who gets into other people's personal space and generally acts selfish. You give a great example with the cell phone stuff. Other prime obatarian antics include stealing plastic bags from grocery stores and cutting in line. So, what's the connection with zombies? It turns out that it's because zombies are simply rude. They are selfish and don't care about the needs of others.
    Did I mention that I fucking love that word?

    - Turning cell phones off on trains
    An arbitrary barrier may seem silly, and you are correct in pointing out that cell phone use has not been proven to be harmful (I also see you're a fellow Skeptic's Guide listener, so I shouldn't expect anything less), BUT they - like microwave ovens - are very harmful for people with pacemakers. Harmful as in deadly. That's part of the purpose of the silver seat section - for regular old folks, handicapped folks, pregnant chicks, and people with pacemakers.

  6. Hah, I'd say go on an adventure with your free time. I love hearing your stories

  7. When I was in Tokyo this summer there were signs all over the bloody place telling me to switch my phone off near the priority seats. I wasn't there two days before I saw the (English) signs. You LIVE there and you weren't aware? Which line were you travelling on?

  8. I had an old woman jump me in the supermarket queue the other day as well :-/. I figured she just didn't know what was going on and had made a mistake, but maybe I should be more cynical :).

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