My bag packed with four identical plush keychains modeled in the image of a bafflingly popular cute bear named Rilakkuma (an exciting Japanese portmanteau of the word relax and kuma, meaning respectively “to chill out” and “a bear”), I consider whether the few bucks I popped into the UFO machine to win them Just Because I Could were worth it. For me, anyway, UFO machines are so often more about the thrill of the hunt, the flirtations with success, than the stupid prize. The result hinges on an almost intangible moment somewhere between commitment and the evaluation of perception, a sliding scale of success that starts at 100%, plummets, and then inverts the longer you’re confident that you at least haven’t lost. For me the prizes are merely a token of my having outwitted a rigged game in the name of humanity: for you I shall capture it all.
Did you know that the company that created Rilakkuma, San-X, holds its employees under obligation to create at least one “cute character” per month? Also, Rilakkuma once lied to its friends, Kiiroitori and Korilakkuma (a tiny white bear and chicken), by telling him that his ears were made out of castella, a scrumptious pancake-like snack popular at fairs and carnivals. After Rilakkuma told this lie, the white bear and chicken proceeded to bite his ears. Some friends!
Disregarding the equally cute but slightly more anachronistic chibi-style super-deformed Ultraman plushie that I had already won, these four Rilakkumas were my only wins of the night at the acknowledgably bizarre ROUND1 amusement complex, a giant 12-ish floor building crammed to the sills with token-wagering machines, UFO catchers, virtual drumming games (like the one I played a while back at that arcade called COO or GOO or whatever), virtual weird tapping games where you tap buttons in some sort of mysterious rhythm, jumbo-sized Tetris with joysticks the size of small children, a tank battle game where little Taro and Hiroshi get their photos taken and proceed to blast the virtual shit out of virtual each other, and a game that simulates the act of “up-ending the tea table.” To play this game, you either tap on a plastic table in front of you (to represent your anger), pound heavily on the plastic table (to represent your violent anger), or flip the entire thing up in the air from the bottom (to represent fuck this i’m outta here).
On the upper floors are the real draws: a wall of the only dart boards that I or anyone else I am acquainted with seem to know exist in the city of Kobe, a side-room full of pool tables, and upper floors dedicated solely to bowling. ROUND1’s slogan, printed in massive, hundreds-upon-hundreds point font on an enormous vinyl banner hung to the side of the building and viewable from the train, reads:
Do you like bowling?
Let’s play bowling.
Breaking down the pins
and get hot communication.
As it turns out, I do like bowling. But this night was unfortunately not the night that I would play bowling or breaking down the pins or get hot communication. The wait time for bowling was thirty to forty minutes. So our ragtag crew played pool instead. Between shots I took a moment to watch a nicely dressed group of four seeming co-workers (two men, two women, all in suits) rowdily storm up to one of the dart boards to play. Apparently unfamiliar with the rules to this non-bowling game, each one of them threw one dart before running up, removing it, and pressing the button to advance to the next player, counting the two darts that they did not throw as total misses. It was difficult to watch.
On the ground level of this self-proclaimed Amusement Park is a McDonald’s restaurant. I ate there once before when I had first moved here (two McPorks and a medium Coke, I recall!) but could have had no concept of the brutal amusement-based amusements which rested a mere twelve stories above.
Later in the week, the glories of stripes and solids still fresh in my mind, I took it upon myself to ensure future amusement of the visual type by
stealing borrowing indefinitely from a massive group of hundreds of decentralized pseudo-acquaintances the entire original run of landmark anime series Mobile Suit Gundam, which, by virtue of being the first Japanese animated program to discard the trappings of the Super Robot and instead focus on “real robots,” mobile suits piloted in actual wartime environments by humans, integrated and entwined itself completely with modern Japanese culture. As part of our nightly commercial-free hour of anime, a block of programming I would be proud to witness on any modern television network, it now finds itself both appreciated and enjoyed alongside (currently) Code Geass, a modern alternate-future wartime mecha anime, and Furi Kuri, a six episode OVA that is virtually impossible to describe (mysterious girl uses electric guitar to beat local boy Takkun into submission while he sprouts strange robotic aliens from his head?).
Already I’ve mentally assumed the role of Director of Programming, living out the repressed network executive fantasies of my youth by concertedly seeking out new and exciting shows that not only appropriately fill any voids created by the ending of various series, but seem like candidates worthy of inclusion (and enjoyable mutually by Jessy and myself). After Furi Kuri wraps up I’m going to replace it with another short series, maybe thirteen episodes, and am currently going back and forth between Elfen Lied (teenage girl with horns telekinetically wreaks murderous vengeance upon human racists) and Oh! Edo Rocket (firework maker in Edo period of Japanese history attempts to build massive rocket to carry people to the moon). The Internet’s the limit!
For a moment on Sunday, as I considered the various shows that I might integrate into the lineup, my thoughts drifted to my ever-so-beloved series Neon Genesis Evangelion, and I couldn’t help but notice that while Yoko, of Gurren Lagann fame, found herself immortalized in plasticine atop our TV stand, no representatives of Tokyo-3 were so fortunate. Enter indiscretion #2, lovingly modeled by figure makers Yamato after an original image by Shunya Yamashita:
It was the last one on Amazon.co.jp, which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have purchased it anyway, only that the condition hastened the process: ordering online and issued a payment number via e-mail not long after, I hoofed it downstairs to the FamilyMart and used their “FamiPort” terminal to print off an order slip, which I paid for with cash at the register. Literally 36 hours later the figure had arrived at our house, which seems to be alarmingly typical of the Japanese postal service and private couriers, in my experiences with purchasing online goods. I was able to rationalize this purchase by telling myself that it is an interestingly designed figure, that she is costumed differently than in the show and looks more adult and modern, that it is okay to own a nice piece of memorabilia as a reminder of my time spent inundated in outdated fanpage series analyses, in senior cyberpunk thesis rewatches, of seeing the second movie shortly after moving to Japan. But I was not necessarily the one that needed convincing.
I didn’t tell Jessy we would soon be welcoming a new harlot to the family until after I had wooed her favor with a White Day meal calculated to win her affections (bowtie pasta with sauteed crab meat and mushrooms in truffle cream sauce, steamed carrots and broccoli, garlic toast, raspberry torte), and I think the situation was left better for it. “Oh god it’s not Shinji is it?” was a comforting initial question from her about the purchase before I told her what exactly it was. It wasn’t Shinji, at least, though I displayed a bit of trepidation before actually giving her a link to the photographs. However, now that it is said and done, it is worth noting that one scantly-clad toy begets another, and as far as I am concerned the roads to moral oblivion are now paved.
Speaking of Jessy (but only so I can talk about food again), last weekend while I was living it up at ROUND1 and getting drunk on malt beverage, she was day-trippin’ around Shikoku with some of her teachers from work. Visiting many of the same places that her and I did back during Silver Week, they sampled a variety of udon, those delicious noodles so famous in these parts by virtue of being “sanuki” udon in those parts: slightly chewy and ever-so-delicious. Being the prophetic future-teller that she is, she figured I’d appreciate her bringing some back for us, and did she ever: we now have boxes of fresh udon that will deliver no fewer than eight two-person meals, and all the tasty dashi stock and spicy seasoning we need to go with it. On Monday we stopped by Daiei and grabbed a variety of tempura-fried objects with which to inaugurate our first batch: shrimp, strange vegetable clusters, and even green beans. Hot, flavorful, and happily slurped the udon likely found themselves on cloud nine at our table, dispatched with care. On Friday I plan to go home from work early and merely soak myself in a tub full of hot dashi stock, the closest I will likely ever come to becoming udon myself.
Also on Friday are the coming-to-pass of two blue color-coded Personal category events I have had on my Google calendar for the last few weeks:
The first, Steak, is self-explanatory: the meat of a cow (steak), lovingly cooked with fire (grilled) and then savored by way of consumption. I think this is it guys, the big kahuna, my first restaurant wagyu. Presumably it will be of higher quality and preparation than my own birthday-time supermarket aquired and self-cooked home efforts, not any sort of Special feat but certainly one worthy of merit. I can already taste the salty steak seasonings, the pepper, the lightest bit of caramelization and char where the meat meets that grill, smell the Smoke Of The Ages wafting through the air.
Yakuza 3 is less self-explanatory, but that is where I come in. You may be familiar with the Yakuza, a term commonly and somewhat errantly Americanized as “the Japanese Mafia,” due to a variety of media avenues promoting their efforts: Fukasaku Kinji’s five-film series Battles Without Honor and Humanity is still probably the most famous Yakuza representation in the movie realm, while Takeshi “Beat” Kitano did stuff like Sonatine and Brother more recently. Notoriously in Kobe anyway, the Yakuza are known for having actually mobilized their structure so hastily as to provide assistance and supplies to citizens in the wake of the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in 1995, before even the city’s official support system was able to fully activate.
In the realm of video games, however, there is in modern times really only one Yakuza, the (ironically) English-release title of the even less-English-sounding-than-Yakuza “Ryu ga Gotoku” (Like a Dragon) series of games. This one’s the third one in the series, now playable on our fancy PS3. In this game, I will take control of a Yakuza dude, and do things certainly including the following: beat up jerks who think they can take me but can’t, run around a convincingly realistic rendering of the red-light district of Tokyo Shinjuku solving mysteries, stop into a variety of places like convenience stores, karaoke bars, arcades, pool halls, onsen/table-tennis parlors, and batting cages and do the things one expects to do in them, accrue vast sums of virtual yen, hone my skills as a noted and feared ass-kicker, take trendy young women on dates, create new weapons with which to more convincingly kick ass, and catch big tuna with my fishing rod.
Being now less removed from the life of a Japanese citizen than I was as an American one, but still firmly removed from the life of a steely-faced Yakuza with a heart of gold, the game (which arrives on Friday) pulls double-duty wish fulfillment for me. Not only is it seemingly an entertaining video game in which I get to do all the stuff above, but it also concerns itself most specifically with Japanese culture and settings (even if they are based around the dramatized life of a Yakuza), which I am now somewhat familiar with via actual contact in the physical realm. Just as playing an open-world video game where I am allowed to enter Wal-Mart and buy bags full of Sam’s Choice cookies might now seem a trifle less interesting, being able to enter a Lawson and walk away with arms full of C.C. Lemon and Suntory Premium Malts holds an immediate and peculiar attraction relevant to my daily life. On top of that I get to experience these aspects of the culture from the comfort of my living room as an ass-kicker known for kicking ass, which is something that I like to kick. I am excited for this game.
TRI-RETURN OF WEEKLY JAPANESE CURIOSITIES GIGA UPPER
– Realizing I would like some Miracle Whip for a sandwich, then remembering lunchmeat for sandwiches basically does not exist in Japan
– Catching a re-run of a show I saw last Wednesday about a young boy who is afraid to climb onto his dad’s boat for a party because he is afraid of being on the bridge over the water, and identifying it as a rerun after only seeing it for ten seconds
– From the convenience store clerk I have purchased meals from on a regular basis for months now, “are chopsticks alright?” No, I eat with my fingers and my own personal ivory fork
– Today’s 480 yen bento, emblazoned with kana translating to “Mighty Volume,” purchased from said clerk, which includes a hamburger patty, potato salad, fried chicken, rice, mayo, a fried curry potato croquette, and a little bottle of sauce labelled merely “sauce,” and which I selected partially because of the name but mostly because it looked delicious. Also it has 46.6 grams of fat and 1,226 calories
HALT! CURIOUS JAPAN BU-REKAAAAA INFINITY! IIIYAAAAA
Today it is St. Patrick’s day, notable primarily because for the first St. Patrick’s Day that I can recall I am actually wearing green, not just a dress shirt striped in green but a green sweater as well, and even green socks. I feel a little more green actually than I am admittedly comfortable being, especially among the prevailing seas of blacks and whites. To be honest, my wardrobe situation would be greatly simplified if I merely Turned Japanese in this regard; owning a handful of identical white shirts, black socks, a suit or three in slightly differing styles, and a variety of ties would ensure I never needed to think about how to dress or devote myself towards getting a particular article washed for a certain day. You’re on notice, wardrobe-variety-ballyhooers, for the stress of color-coordinating will eventually be just too much for me to deal with anymore.
If these Nomadays only make it sound like my life revolves around arcades, anime, Jessy, alcohol, slutty toys, video games, and food, it’s because often times those are exactly the things it revolves around (or rather, they are the things that revolve around me?). These are the stories of a teacher whose schools are on spring break, and which exclude the other, larger part of my life: sit at a desk for forty hours a week and find something, anything, to do. Case in point: this entry is the longest Nomaday to date! (Grandma, I hope you bought lots of paper for your print-outs.)