Monthly Archives: December 2009

A Very Chicken Christmas

The new rug has done us more of a favor than I had anticipated: where once there was wood, a vast expanse between disliked couch and adored TV, there now are soft, sound-damping fuzzies, bridging this heartless divide. Much as the sink-front rug revitalized the kitchen, so too has this latest endeavor in our living room, and quite homey do we now feel in this winter-time. New toys to enjoy join the fray as well: the long-desired, early-reserved special edition PS3 entered our custody and took up residence on the final shelf of our TV stand Thursday, completing the current-generation system trifecta all clad in white. Also white: our first Wii Fit balance board, which is so much more enjoyable to use with stocking feet now that we can step off of it and onto that carpet. The PS3 being a more than exemplary Blu-ray player, we took it upon ourselves to watch our first one, this year’s Star Trek, a gift from Jessy’s mother, and found it exceedingly Crisp, not unlike the air lately.

When I walk out into our entryway, the hall and its adjoining rooms, from the early morning heat all captured inside our living space proper, it hits me like Iowa at the farm, the air so cold and in such opposition that it almost has a smell, kind of tinny, of steel, some metal anyway, with a tang. It reminds me of going out to start the car before you’re off to work and of gas station coffee. In the train station I can see my breath like Superman even all the way up the escalator, and for a buck twenty can buy a Kirin Hot Lemon from one of any number of machines, a 280ml plastic bottle full of piping, winter-curing The Description’s In The Name goodstuff.

The grocery stores (or, cutely “SUPA”s, being short for supermarkets) are now stuffed to the gills with their Christmas items. Most plentifully, specifically through my observation, are the Christmas meats, which seem to run the gamut from finally-available bone-in chicken leg/thigh quarters (a surprising scarcity), to smoked turkey drumsticks (1,290 yen), to peppered ham, and derivations in between. Adorned with stickers urging you to have a happy Christmas, these meats know what time of year it is: you will either wait in line to pick up your pre-ordered KFC or you’ll get a goddamned brain and make fried chicken at home. I got a pack of wings just so I can give it a bit of a trial run before Friday. Battering and frying meats has always been one of my weaknesses and I used to just opt for the simplicity of Shake ‘n Bake, which I am pretty sure does not exist here along with big ovens. I suppose that meat and oil thermometers are in the cards, once I can figure out where exactly to find them.

Tonight is the office bonenkai, or “forget the year party,” for which occasion we will visit some eating and drinking establishment, and drink, and eat. These things are always pleasant and usually involve sitting together at a big table in a cozy low-lit room while successive food courses are brought to you and you drink all you can order before your time runs out. At the last enkai we had marinated raw tuna, chicken ramen, karaage, salad, ice cream, pizza, and a variety of other stuff. Tonight’s affair is a five-thousand yen attendance fee, which is Japanese for “expect awesome things.”

Day after writing but pre-posting postscript: we had a giant hot pot stew made primarily of angler fish, which my boss was not fond of. Later I made my first karaoke song The Beatles’ “In My Life” and all was right.

The enormous break is coming soon, and I find myself voraciously excited, despite not really having any plans. I think the prospect of merely enjoying my life, my home, my city–without the necessity of attending work–will be enough. Some people of my language teacher persuasion are going to or have already left for places like Thailand or Australia… excitingly, the place that I’ve always wanted to visit is now the place I live, and does not require travel to anywhere else (though assuredly Thailand is in the cards some time during the next few years for sure).

Laurence Fishburne is on TV and he sounds funny in Japanese.

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Dry-cured sliced thin and uncooked

It dawned on me, during my hellish, dazed stupor lasting the duration of my morning and continuing on through my train ride(s) and walk to school, and still persisting, that sitting at my desk typing is probably the closest I can get to sleep without actually sitting here with my eyes closed or just staring off into the distance, the lines of pages of backwards-tucked books in front of me, a window into what walls must feel like, my scenery someone’s document shelf. I have caught something, which is to say that something’s caught me, and it toys with me as though I’m its furnace, raising and lowering my temperature (and with it, my temperance), scrambling my brains, left at its mercy. I try to resist its steely desires to have me cough, lest my cover be blown–of course gentle co-workers and citizens I only seem ill, and I don’t need to wear the ubiquitous guilt mask, mighty trapper of germs, testament to your own horrible neglect in hygiene since you are now Sick and it is All Your Fault.

Because of the arcane logic applied to health matters in the workplace, the scenario is presented thusly: if you are sick enough to stay home, you are sick enough to go to the hospital, which you must do in order to get a doctor’s note as proof of your absence, if you wish to claim sick leave instead of taking one of your paid days off. Perhaps because of, rather than in spite of this faulty reasoning, I have determined that if I am “sick” enough to be forced to get out of bed and leave my apartment and go to the hospital instead of recuperate, I am most certainly sick enough to just go to work. Which I have been since Monday!

I’d feel almost a little bad if it wasn’t a near lock that I got it from one of them to begin with, they undoubtedly having considered their situations the same way that I have and deciding to come to work anyway, damn the torpedoes. It’s like a Dilbert comic with one more level of obfuscation basically, and for all of the lily-scented procedures and precautions, welcome to Flu Town, Population Everyone.

The homefront consequences of this illness’s onset cut a wide swath: I have essentially been wearing the same dress shirt under my sweaters for the last handful of days, evening meals are quick and uninspired (boil pasta and add sauce/sauce packet), the dishes accumulate both in/around the sink and in other areas of the house, and the organization level of the place has reached critical lows. Any further and we will have achieved unenviable Pauly Shore territory, desecrating our foreign palace to the point of a homeostatic imbalance, ruining the carefully planned experiments of the Bio-Dome scientists.

The bright, shiny spot at the end of this raw flesh-ribbons throat-tunnel is the impending release of the video game I’ve only mentioned like twenty times on this website, Final Fantasy XIII, in the form of an oh-so-desirable limited edition system+game bundle that, assuming we correctly filled out the mystical hieroglyphics, will be ours tomorrow (or most specifically Jessy’s, as she is the one who will be picking it up from the Circle K, where it is totally normal to buy video game systems). After that we approach autopilot mode as the finishing line rush towards winter break begins with workdays devoid of classes, a December 23rd national holiday, and the last hurrah: the Christmas Eve lesson–my last work day until January 6th–during which I will become Brandon Santa despite resembling the well known Mr. Claus in mannerism only (I love milk and cookies, but might hesitate to drink it warm from random mantles), and distribute Christmas cards and presents to blind and visually impaired children via a sort of pseudo lottery. If it sounds bizarre, well, that’s cause it basically is, and I think if I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, and for some reason I chose this, that one day I’d dress as Santa Claus in Japan to give out presents to small school children, old me would probably beat the hell out of future me and then loot the body for cash.

Curious Japanese Shit of the Week Not Related to Work:
– Increasingly frequent post-card sized flyers arriving unsolicited in our mailbox and covered with full-nudity images of women, amounts of time, lewd katakana phrases, and prices
– Attempting to buy soothing throat lozenges but somehow getting rose petal “collagen troches” which assist in the maintaining of supple, hydrated skin and do not soothe the throat in any way
– Finding a UFO catcher crane machine in which you can push a small token into the hole and win your selection of one of the live caged hamsters which scurry about inside the cabinet, leering at your claw anxiously all bug-eyed
– Saizeriya, being an ass-whippingly awesome value-oriented Japanese Italian restaurant with dozens of menu items including but not limited to “meat sauce doria” (yellow rice baked with cheese and meat sauce), a tiny cupcake-tin-looking ceramic plate containing six delicious garlic butter escargot, a “hamburg” plate (consisting of a hamburger patty with an egg on it, corn, three french fries, and steak sauce), and a chicken-flavored risotto that tastes more like Rice-a-Roni than anything I’ve eaten since getting here
– A TV show during which two idiots stay at Saizeriya for multiple days and attempt to eat all one-hundred items and item variations on the menu sequentially while being taunted by youth through the storefront window, without leaving and pausing only to sleep on the floor (highlight: generously-sized guest eater showing up and devouring both the prosciutto and double-sized prosciutto plates in single hammy bites)

I bought a little cake made with sake and a peculiar bean-paste stuffed pancake kinda sandwich from some of the marketing students today. I think they experienced a certain kind of joy in taking all the money from their English teacher, who is now powerless to buy cakes from anyone else on his walk home.

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The backbone of America

This was a busier week as it seems retrospectively than as it occurred: I had essentially the entire span free of classes because of end-of-term exams.

My out-of-work free time remaining as it does normally, I did make it a point to pick up an old-style vertically scrolling shoot-em-up game for the 360, densely titled Mushihimesama Futari Ver 1.5, which (I think) translates to Two-Persons Honorable Beetle Princess (Version 1.5). You basically shoot everything and sparkly jewels fly out of them and they shoot so many bullets that the genre of game is referred to lovingly as “bullet hell” and you try not to get hit by the bullets. It was kind of expensive but it came with a limited edition 2 CD soundtrack and a fancy box.

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Other crap I bought this week:
– A bunch of Final Fantasy stuff in anticipation of the upcoming game including two tiny “trading arts” mini-figures, an electronic Chocobo which chirps when you touch its feet, and several cans of Final Fantasy XIII Elixir, a promotional beverage that you can read my review of over at N-Sider.
– A Robocop Kewpie charm for my cell phone
– Evangelion 2.0 calendar from Lotteria burger restaurant and small gashapon figure from the machines on the way out of massive toy/game/electronic/appliance store Joshin
– Two new Wii Remotes for multiplayer New Super Mario Bros. (pink and baby blue)
– Wireless adapter for my 360 so we don’t need to have a cable running directly across the middle of the apartment floor for it to be online
– Another work shirt, sweater, and some t-shirts
– A huge box of American Blu-rays during Amazon’s crazy Black Friday online sale
– A big chunk of debt pay-off from my Pittsburghian credit card

Obvious and apparent necessities that I should have bought instead of all that stuff, but didn’t:
– A couch
– A sukiyaki hot plate and clay pot
– Some self respect

Jessy has made a sort of bargaining agreement with me to the extent that if I stop buying little 300/400 yen gashapons all the time and get rid of many of the ones that I already have, I can save the money I would have spent on them and instead buy nice bigger figures that don’t fall apart and are actually capable of being (somewhat) tastefully displayed. Maybe some of you can look forward to receiving my offal in gift packages.

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Friday night we visited the Kobe Luminarie, a once-per-year ten-day-longish exhibition in memorial of the Great Hanshin Earthquake (January, 1995). This Luminarie thing is pretty impressive. They set up massive archways entirely made of lights hung over one of the big streets leading from the Motomachi area into downtown Sannomiya. Once you finish walking underneath them you enter a large area with a sort of light-castle set up and scads of booths selling snacks, souvenirs, and hot beverages. This trip was prefaced by a trip to the once-elusive Mexican cafe “Gitchi,” which we had failed to locate on prior occasions but located this time. I had the distinctly fusion-Mex Taco Rice, and Jessy had a barbecue chipotle beef taco plate. Mexican food is such a rarity here that I can hardly remember if it was even good. What it was was Mexican food, which speaks for itself.

We had the pleasure of going to a Vissel Kobe soccer match on Saturday, a day that started really cold and shitty but ended up cold and pretty nice. You may recall my last post wherein I mentioned that I might need some mental lubrication to really enjoy the game: this was true, and after a nice big paper cup full of fresh stadium Asahi Super Dry I was quite pleased to be there. Of particular note (more so than the game itself, which was a 90-minute affair during which each team scored once ending the game in a tie) were the food offerings, my favorite of which turned out to be Cup Ramen. Yes, you can buy hot cups of ramen at soccer games here, and for only 200 yen they are an incredible and delicious bargain, massively shaming the extortion-class prices for food at ball games back in the states. The brand name of the ramen we got was “NOODLE GOO!” which means basically nothing in either English or Japanese. There was even a little speech bubble coming out of the ramen on the package which proclaimed “GOO!” I have never seen this brand of ramen before in my life.

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Curious Japanese Shit of the Week:
– Five girls dressed as tall human-sized Pikachus hopping around in the Luminarie courtyard in a circle
– Passing a couple of youngish students who neither Jessy nor I believed to be ours, as they waved at us and said “hello!”
– Noodle Goo
– A man at a ramen shop we went to yesterday suggesting the garlic shoyu and then becoming so enthusiastic about greeting another patron that he proceeded to somewhat humorously sound like he was having some sort of seizure (this one is hard to describe but is surely rooted in the perceptible projection of seeming subservient to the customer re: irrashaimaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee etc.)
– Baking a refrigerated pizza at 230 degrees Celcius (447? Fahrenheit) in my microwave oven, with mayonnaise sauce instead of tomato, and teriyaki chicken, cheese, and corn toppings
– Paying 295 yen for one large pear, wrapped in weaved foam
– Beginning to watch the excellent program Mad Men and finding myself being personally alarmed at “how good their English is” (this is an American TV show)

With winter break and the closing of schools impending the question becomes exactly what will we do with our time off, knowing fully that all the other poor overworked salarymen of the country will be flocking to everywhere anyone would want to go? I don’t think either of us know quite yet, though we have essentially convergent periods of time off from around Christmas till several days after New Year’s. We indeed will stay in Japan this time around, but that’s about all we know.

As for Christmas, well. I can see no better way to spend it than with a traditional Japanese Christmas Meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken, some festive sparkling Chu-hi, and a Christmas cake (I am not joking, KFC is the Japanese Christmas food, Colonel Sanders has been dressed up in a Santa suit since Halloween).

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How many licks

For as often as I’m emphatically told “we have four seasons in Japan” as though it is some sort of rare anomaly specific to this country, it’s sure hot today, the second of December, a month I have traditionally associated with the season of winter. By the time I made it up to school I think I even started to break a sweat, though it may merely have been because of the embarassment of running into a few kids on the steps who tried asking me bizarre questions like “handsome desu ne” and “singuru or melly,” which I assume are only removed one level from the stage of outright vulgarity due to their merely lacking the ability (or confidence) to deliver it. Perhaps this trio could learn something from last week’s electronic dictionary outburst, courtesy of the guy I now know literally only as “ecstasy kid” in my mind.

It’s exam week again, which means for the most part the children are cramming as much knowledge as they can into their creamy chocolate centers while trying to Tootsie Pop harden the exterior and prevent any of it from escaping. Most of them just seem really stressed, which I can understand. The real victims though are the teachers, one of whom told me he was at school until eight in the evening doing work on the test stuff. I told him to take a break, but I’m not sure how simple a process that is for the Japanese office worker (actually I am, and it is not). Those bearers of the 35-40 hour work week in the States rejoice: at least you (and I) are afforded the option to have a life.

Curious Japanese Shit of the Week:
– Student “review” lessons coming through in the win department full sail ahead:
Ka-Ru is king of snacks!
I like Ka-Ru very much. I eat it everyday.
Ka-Ru is king of snacks because.
It is very delicious. This taste is oriental miracle!
It is very beautiful. This body looks like gold!
I think that Ka-Ru achieves God territory.
Thank you the creator for wonderful present.
Let’s eat Ka-Ru.
– One student telling me this movie was the “moungliest” she had ever seen, whatever being moungly is
– New “TIROL Cheetos+Chiroru”, which appear to be chocolate-covered Cheetos even though I have not opened up the package for a taste yet
– The day after Jessy puts in for a day off from school later this month to pick up Final Fantasy XIII for us, a commercial begins airing on Japanese TV in which a teacher announces to his students that he is going on a short vacation, because he’s been waiting for this game for three years
– One of my students being apparently oblivious to the real meaning of his red, yellow, and green pencil tin bearing an illustration of a giant marijuana leaf and the word “CANNABIS” in huge block letters
– Old cranky lady with a grey old-style Nintendo DS muscles past me to get on the train first, cuts to the right to go for a seat, then is cut in front of by another old cranky lady who takes the seat instead
– New Cookie flavor Kit-Kat is the greatest Kit-Kat I have ever eaten, and I think they know it because it’s only sold in tiny boxes of ten or so super-minisize Kit-kats instead of the larger bags that the other kinds come in, the punks
– One kid telling me “you are cool, you have girlfriend?” and me saying “maybe” and once the kid leaves my teacher saying in nice English “that bastard” and laughing maniacally

I had the most interesting Thanksgiving-evening meal in my relatively abbreviated history last Friday, aboard a cruise ship “Concerto” as part of the year-end office party (similarly to the Mid-Year conference, taking place decidedly at a time that is not exactly the end of the year). Between trips to the expansive Chinese buffet, as I sipped on Asahi Super Dry and hot cinnamon wine, one teacher reminded me that the American holiday was currently taking place. I had thought of it the day before, Thursday, in terms of the holidays coming with me to Japan as though they could have all just packed onto the plane, but this particular bit of information stuck around in my head. Holidays in the U.S. continue without me, whenever the hell they may please, even if that means that Thanksgiving is on my Friday, and steamed dumplings are my mashed potatoes.

As a sort of door-prize distribution system, we played bingo, with the first bingo-ers getting the better prizes. It turned out to be good Japanese practice for me, as all the numbers were obviously not spoken in my native language. I won late, pathetic, and took home a pair of fuzzy “high socks,” the packaging adorned with oddly phrased sentiments comparing their pastel rainbow color scheme to a warm melted candy. They became Jessy’s, after I threatened my teachers that I’d wear them to work.

Unrelated segue: I want a drum set. There’s not a goddamned place I’d be able to play it in my apartment without likely pissing someone off, and I’m trying to think around that. There’s also the matter of it being probably impossible for us to move it from the Hard-Off (where I’d buy it) to our apartment, which is much further away. Also I have never owned a drum set before. But that’s kinda why I want one. Alas, I feel this particular endeavor will likely end up on the Japanese cutting room floor with the surround-sound speakers, full-sized arcade cabinet, pinball machine, soda fountain, pool table, electronic dart board, and other weighty monoliths to the space-occupying excess that is totally possible in the U.S. and retardedly outlandish here. At least I can cradle my only occasionally obscene PVC action figures as I cry myself to sleep (dear future self: send money, i spent it all on lady ninjas and transforming secretaries and a black mage thx bye).

It’s almost an afterthought for me to consider mentioning such a thing in here, since I haven’t actually seen a game all season, but the Colts have won every one they’ve played so far, and all under the leadership of a new post-Dungy coach. I’m sure they’ll drop a game eventually, but it sure is nice to know they’re winning for now. I read Peter King’s Monday Morning QB (on Tuesday) and check Sunday scores on Monday night. It’s not exactly the same as strong beer, crispy pizza, and excited friends, but it works. Kinda.

On Saturday we’re going to our city’s enormous “Home’s Stadium” for the last J-League soccer game of the year (Vissel Kobe), on the goodwill dime of a can’t-attend fellow teacher of Jessy’s. If my longstanding axiom holds true–that sports which for me are unwatchable on TV (baseball, soccer, golf) become tolerable in person only while under the influence of alcohol (beer, whiskey, shochu)–then I anticipate becoming some kind of temporary soccer fan until Sunday morning.

For now the weapon of choice is Fanta Melon, and hours to go before I sleep, and hours to go before I sleep.

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