To see a list of all of the posts in this series, click here. (*^-^*)
Maybe I should complain about Japan more, because I got a lot of comments very quickly on my last post. Yess!! I try to be positive in life because I believe that it leads you to take more risks, and sunshine is brighter than clouds, but people really like negativity for some reason. Hmm.. 😉 Well, let me assure you, I have an endless number of complaints about Japan. I have good things to say, too, but the list of things that I personally don’t like is about a mile long, so I’ll probably get around to them eventually.
But first, let’s return to the story for a little bit and clear our heads! \(^o^)/
The picture on the right was taken in Shinjuku by talented journalist Albert Siegel, who was kind enough to interview me during this time!
Where was I? Oh yes, I had just learned that my roommates were leaving, and I was going to be without a house unless I found someplace right away, or paid $1800 in rent all by myself. I wouldn’t be able to pay the phone, water, internet, power, or buy any food after that, though, so what wasI to do?
I put it all off for a few days.
I was so, so sooooooo busy already these days, and this piled on top of everything was just a little bit too overwhelming. First, remember that I mentioned that I’d been recruited to be in a new TV show as the host? Not the thing with the NHK from the last post.
Well, I had the first recording session for that TV show that I’d been hired for on Thursday. We got out of the manga studio late Wednesday night, I didn’t get home until after midnight, and as I had no computer yet in the studio, I only scraped together a few hours’ sleep and a quick read of the script.
Our first shooting was at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo, and I was lost as to what to do. I wasn’t even sure what this program was really about. Scared, too, because I thought that a) I was ugly, and b) I had no desire to be on tv AT ALL SO WHY WAS I HERE? (Oh yeah, because they were going to pay me money). Somehow, with the use of cue cards, and me pretending that the camera was just another friend who happened to have a lens for a face (the producer called me a “natural,” and she might have been lying, but I am friendly, tall, and cheerful, plus a bit silly, and I always give it my all, so maybe it was true?), I got through it. It was NOT easy, and it sure didn’t feel natural.
I was exhausted but needed to unwind and complain to someone about my housing situation, so I headed over to Akihabara to hang out with Adrian again, and then, again, got home around midnight. My fault, and I totally take responsibility for it.
Day two of putting it off began with waking up super early and heading over to a place called Second Harvest Japan. I’d been wanting to volunteer for a long time, which I used to do in high school, and so because I wasn’t busy enough, I spent Friday morning preparing food to give out to homeless people in Ueno park. I went straight from 2HJ to Tokyo International Anime Fair and made some friends at the Otakon booth, gossiped about mangaka, and THEN went back into Shinjuku because Leyla Aker, the editor for the Viz English version of The Prince of Tennis was in town, and she wanted to take me to dinner. Free dinner, who could say no? 🙂
Thank you for dinner, VIZ!!
(Leyla and I)
The next day (Saturday), I headed out to volunteer again with Second Harvest; this time actually serving and handing out lunch to people in need. It was very nice. At this point, a friend sent me an email, and was like, “Arudou Debito is in town screening his new documentary, do you want to go see it and meet him?”
(Here are Debito and me. Notice how progressively tired-looking I’m getting.)
Obviously, I went, and only barely stayed awake during the movie (not the movie’s fault). It was like I was trying to live an entire month’s worth of activities in just the few days that we were out of the studio, mostly because during the rest of the month, I couldn’t even come home. So, it was either that or become a hermit. I hadn’t yet found a balance.
On Sunday, I finally, finally, went out to look for an apartment. But I just could not afford all of the down-payments necessary to rent a new apartment, so I ended up choosing a room in something called a guest house, or a gaijin house (Gaijin = slang for foreigner in Japanese, and many of these places are filled with foreigners because they’re cheaper to rent than an apartment). They usually cost more in rent than an apartment would with the same amenities, but you only have to pay a small security deposit (mine was 50,000 yen, around $500) and the first month’s rent, and it’s all yours.
I figured that it was a good stopgap measure until I could get my own apartment. The only problem, now, was that I was moving from a 3BR house to a tiny room the size of a closet, and what would I do with all of my stuff?
(This is the only surviving pic of my room. I was sitting on the single bed against one wall, taking a picture of the other wall. Think single dorm and then cut it in half.)
Bye-bye nearly everything cool that I owned. Out of necessity, I donated, gave away, or threw out almost everything that I owned, including a ton of really neat doujinshi. I just didn’t have a choice. It’s okay, that’s just how life is sometimes, unless you have a lot of money to fall back on. But I’ll say it again:
Being a manga assistant just doesn’t pay that well.
I worked erratic, unpredictable days. Basically, Konomi-sensei would call us into the studio two or three days before hand, by sending a group text message to all of the assistants at one. It would say something like,
“Work starts from 11 am on Wednesday. We’ll be working for 3 days.”
This would come n a Monday night, and eventually, we all came to realize that three days usually meant a week, and if he said “one week,” it would actually be closer to two. Usually, when we were in the studio, the “go home” day would just pass by and there would be no mention at all of actually going home. Us assistants would talk amongst ourselves. Then, Konomi-sensei would suddenly announce, three or four days, or a week later, “I think we should take a break. Go home and come back in two days at 11 am.”
That’s partly why, when I went home, I would get right to work without rest. There was never any way to know when I would be working or exactly how much time I was going to have off.
And of course, work in the studio would generally be 16 hours of work with no breaks except to eat and shower, and then sleep a few hours. Rinse, repeat. Quitting time varied (usually it was around 2am), and it was always at Sensei’s whim. We literally had to draw or pretend to, even if we were dying from exhaustion, until he said, “Work’s over! Wake time is at…. *looks at clock* 11 am.” Once, he even fell asleep upstairs (in the bath, he claimed), and come morning some of us had fallen asleep more than once, but we still plugging away when he came in to find us more-or-less functional. But THAT is a tale for another time! It was another few months before this happened, and before I lost it.
Don’t get me wrong! This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I was happy to do it. There was no feeling in the world like seeing my work in print, in a manga magazine and making a living off of drawing manga. But actually having a life outside of the studio was nigh impossible if you didn’t want to burn out.
And the pay? I was paid $300 my first month back in September (granted, it was only 3 days of work), $600 my second month (again, only a few days long), and by January we were working 20 or so days a month and I had worked up to my full salary of $2000/mo (I’m converting from yen. It was 200,000 yen, for reference). It wasn’t a super-high wage, but certainly livable, especially when you’re not usually home to spend your money and most of your meals are in the studio and therefore free.
My new room in the guest house was basically a single bed with a desk and a closet about 1foot square, 7 feet tall, and a mini fridge. There was a sink, about the same. But that was it. It was about 50 square feet total, and the bathroom, kitchen, living room, and everything else was shared accommodation downstairs.
Also, a few good things happened in brief succession, right as I moved house and squeezed myself into this tiny little guest house room.
A friend told me that I could have her old bicycle if only I would pay the fee (it had been impounded by the city for being parked somewhere they didn’t like). I did, and whee, a new bike!!
Sensei announced that he was going on vacation next week, so there was zero chance of being called in to work. A WEEK OFF!!!! YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tenimyu (Shitenhouji myu) was coming up the following weekend, and so I asked Sensei if he was planning on going. He said yes, and invited me to come, too! Just the two of us. (^3^)
Then, Saitou Yasuka invited me to his play and gave me free tickets, so whee!!!
So, not everything was bad! Life had just thrown me a few curveballs, and it had taken some footwork and sleepless nights to work through them. I was just really hectic and busy. These good things were, at the moment, to stave off the eventual blowup that I was going to have. A few months later, because of it, I was nearly fired.
And you will be able to read about it all very soon! *^^* (I’m just trying to get you to keep coming back! Remember that I’m posting every day now!) ^o^
Comments! Leave me comments, pleeeeasssseeee!!! I check them every morning, and look forward to them like you have no idea. <3