Monthly Archives: April 2010

Focus on this play, this moment!

I am in the front row of a section of seats in Koshien Stadium, it is hotter than it has been in days, and a drunk man of this country has decided he will carry on a conversation with me while baseball occurs out in the field. I, in an effort to represent the entirety of the group I accompany (60+ natives of other countries), abandoned in favor of the pursuit of fried chicken by my Japanese-speaking other half, decide to tackle this issue head on.

“America and Canada and Japan.” My answer to what I believe is a question asking where we, or some amount of us, are from

“I think our power is really big!” My response to some comment issued while he was gesturing at the scoreboard (we are, at the time, losing 8-1)

“Curry rice, delicious, isn’t it?” My question, offered in response to a question that may have nothing to do with the food I was holding

“The, I, this, uhh…” My answers to nearly everything else said, interspersed with smiles, looks of terror, and nodding

Eventually his wife comes along and drags him away as he resists. It is fortunate, because we have arrived at a point where I am sure he is demanding some sort of answer that likely centers on information and examples, and I sense the game is up. My friends, sitting next to me, ask if I could understand what he was saying. I tell them “a little,” which must be about 23% true.

To my horror, he later returns, eager on continuing to tap at the rich vein of cultural exchange we began with earlier. He is immediately interrupted by our team’s first sign of life in this game, a Grand Slam Home Run, the onset of which brings deafening cheers of glory and sends the man and all around him into a frenzy. As though shaking out a dirty rug he grabs me by the hands and yanks me up from my seat, jangling me like a marionette who must dance for quarters. I am far too tall for his efforts at jerking me around, size comparisons considered, and soon he’s just holding me by the wrists, the elbows, begging for mercy, oh please god, oh please, oh. He switches to High Fives, pleading for them, fives for the poor, fives to feed the children, and begins to five everyone in sight.

The stylish young woman with the beer keg mounted on her back taps one for somebody (only 600 yen) as she is left just another Cheerio in the bowl, all knocked around with each other. It is about this time that our pal Dan comes back from his own chicken run, and is promptly devoured by the five-lust of the local drunk, fived to fucking death, meat. I avert my eyes, unable to witness the grave anathemas of this thing they call “baseball.”

In the seventh inning, everyone in the stadium inflates balloons that look like giant tiger-striped phalli, then, courtesy of plastic propulsion inserts, release them skyward with great shouts. Before they can hit the ground like dead rubbery sky jellyfish the cleaning crew is waiting in the outfield to scoop them up.

After three more innings of being goddamned useless, Hard-luck Hanshin loses 8-5. I am relieved, but only because I cannot predict what may have happened to me had we won.

Having guests is much like visiting someone else yourself–the dynamic of your dwelling twists, the played-out, boring schedule changes, the activities are altered through the eyes of a fresh situation. On Friday we eat tomato ramen and gyoza from one of our favorite places in north Sannomiya, then drink alcohol at a bar for foreigners, where some English teacher’s coworker is forced to do the Moonwalk.

On Saturday, with our visiting couple from Canada firmly entrenched, we invite another couple from just across the way in the other building over for some Mario on Wii. It is a wonder that “parties” even existed before this game.

As we carry out our calculated video crimes against humanity to each other (crushed by huge drill, thrown into fireball, forcibly advanced off edge of screen), we do our part to upset the neighbors with the vulgar shouts of Engrish phrases so heinous that even they might recognize them. Front-runner, and so good I can’t believe it actually exists, is printed on Dan’s new shirt: DON’T WANNA DO A SUCK. We begin to refer to Mario merely as “red Toad,” which is so inexplicably funny to me that I start replacing Mario’s name in game titles mentally (Super Red Toad Brothers 3, Super Red Toad World, Red Toad Power Tennis). Jessy, frequently murdered and relegated back to “floating around the level in a bubble” status, begins to chant “BURST ME, BURST ME, BURST ME,” while flailing the remote wildly, and from there it is all over, the rollercoaster clacking its last clack before screaming down the hill. We eat Miracle Fruit Tablets off eBay, which make lemons taste sweet. There is a bag of candy-coated french fries-like potato snacks on the floor, and chocolates, and gummies, and spicy dried squid, which I am instructed to “never open in the house again,” presumably because it smells like spicy dried squid. On the other side of Kobe, the man from the baseball game applies lipstick and smokes a cigarette.

NOTABLE MINOR HAPS SINCE THE PRIOR NOM
– During a self-introduction class for one of my new sections of first years in high school, being asked “do you like boys or girls,” answering “I like everyone, how about you,” and then watching a fifteen-year-old troublemaker turn red
– In the same, bizarre class, being asked by one of the girls “why are your legs so long,” a question I could barely answer
– New “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker” promotional Mountain Dew soda, which, while tasting the same as any other Mountain Dew in this country, is adorned with artwork of characters from the namesake video game, lending the soda a clout which represents the presentation of one of the first opportunities I have actually had to buy Mountain Dew in a convenience store here, instead of the one vending machine in Kobe that I know to sell it
– Today’s bento, clocking in at an admiral 906 kcals, which contains a layer of rice and is topped with sweet barbecue beef, a breaded and fried fish fillet with a glob of tartar sauce, one massive chicken nugget, and some shredded lotus root and cabbage (tiny building-block shaped grilled egg sits in a compartment on the side), and which is totally goddamned perfect
– New “Qun” gummies, sweet and chewy, with sour sauce inside, decorated with a picture of a sun making approximately this face, presumably due to the incredible pain the sour has caused him: >_<
– The onset of fiber-optic Internet in our apartment, which, while not ascending to the touted and lofty "HYAKUMEGA" speeds we were drugged with during the sales pitch, certainly hit a download/upload speed of 34Mbit/15Mbit up here on the seventh floor last night, or roughly fast enough to download a 6MB MP3 file in two seconds
THOSE WERE SOME HAPS

We leave this weekend for Hakone during the string of holidays called Golden Week. Hakone is a town most notable for being near Mt. Fuji and providing some supposedly good views of said mountain, and notable to me for being the city where the fictional Evangelion anime series was “set.” This week they even decorated a Lawson convenience store that has a bunch of special Evangelion items in it, and I am afraid I am going to have to track it down and fill my bags with dumb crap I totally don’t need. We are taking the bullet train, which will mean my second chance to ride it, and I am excited. While I am gone, the new Super Street Fighter IV video game will arrive at my apartment. It is a fighting game which features an oil wrestler who grabs enemies and squirts them out of his rippling muscles to inflict damage.

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Out there blowing hard

Already the twenty-first of April, and quite admissible if the weather is any bargaining chip representing the relentless passage of time: it’s the nicest day we’ve seen in a good long while, and the shrinecats are out wandering, the chopstick salesman on Nagata’s shopping street is hawking, and I am seated at the right hand of the garbage, front row view of florescent light and this month’s schedule. Off to the side I can at least detect “brightness,” mostly because I know it is there, since I was out in it on my walk here, and such a thing owes no thanks to the heavy green curtains draping the walls like ceremonial rugs (in Japanese schools when the weather is horrible and freezing they leave the windows slung wide open, and when it’s nice, close all the windows and run the fans, I guess).

My personal conspiracy theory mentality suggests that by keeping the windows open in winter they are saying to the broken staff: “Look how shitty it is out there! Man, it sure is cold! All that cold air, and wind blowing around! Hey, why don’t you let this hit you for a while. Boy you’re much happier here in the office than you are out there, huh? Better keep these things open, just so you can see how terrible it is! Gosh it’s a fine day to be at work until nine in the evening!” In the spring though, they close the curtains and shut it all out: “Boy oh boy ain’t a thing going on out there in the sweltering heat is there. In fact it is so unremarkable out-of-doors we are just going to keep these pesky nature-holes shut. Feel that cool fan breeze on your face? Gosh it’s a fine day to be at work until nine in the evening!”

As the professional American around the workplace I have a handy resistance to such chronic overwork, though only to the extent that I recognize the fact that I needn’t work longer than my contract dictates, information so thoroughly obvious to many that the idea one might stay longer, Just Because, often baffles those who haven’t spent time as a member of the Japanese workforce. But it’s true. (Too long didn’t read version: workers are made to know they are tiny, show honor to their bosses by staying at the office for a dozen hours of unpaid overtime a week, then die of overwork, an affliction they even have a word for here: karoshi, occupational sudden death!) Not that I find this any kind of a super-interesting topic for my precious Nomaday, a venue best spent on telling my four readers all kinds of other dumb crap.

Let me get to the heart of what really matters: this morning in video game land, I picked up a street thug from off the ground I had just beaten him to, by his feet, and then proceeded to swing him around violently before crushing his back on a conveniently nearby lightpole. After this, I removed a crowbar from the possession of one of his friends by beating said friend with someone’s bike (it was just sitting there by the street) until it broke in half. Then I punished the lightpole man with said crowbar over the head so hard that it bent like one of Uri Gellar’s spoons. My name is Kiryu Kazuma, I am the former fourth chairman of the Tojo clan, and I am prowling the streets of Shibuya to totally remove the teeth and money from anyone who would dare Get All Up In My Face. (After a month of pointless bullshit, Yakuza 3 finally arrived at my house last week, much to my delight.)

Other sweet and awesome things I have virtually done this week: become a master at karaoke enka music, accumulated over one million yen in a few hands of super-high-stakes blackjack at a secret underground casino, skillfully won a variety of stupid prizes with nothing but my UFO catcher mastery at Club Sega, caught an enormous fish using an order of Smile Burger fries as bait, pushed down thousands of salarymen just for being in my way, and photographed an old lady flipping through the air on her moped with my cell phone.

Yesterday Jessy and I went to the Hyogo International Association building to take placement tests for the upcoming Japanese language lessons we are to be enrolled in. I consider it a placement test in the same way that you might consider a Home Run Derby at Wrigley Field starring your local tee-ball league compelling viewing. The only placement that the results of this test will indicate is that of “idiot,” an irremovable branding slapped across my Record: “Warning: fool” yet I actually fear that I may have guessed enough of the first baffling questions correctly that I will be placed in a section wholly inappropriate for a bumbling miscreant such as myself. I knew that I had reached as far as I could go when I got to a spot in our dialogue that asked me to select the appropriate conversational response for the question “Is this coffee squid?” and the only answers were “let’s eat,” “thank you” and something else that seemed to me like selecting it would be answering a question with another question so I picked that one, and then left immediately. That night, I had rice and a package of Japanese-style curry called LEE x20 SPICY that was so spicy I was physically exhausted by the time I finished. I have now determined that at twenty times the “usual” level, Japanese food is quite spicy indeed. I covered it with shredded processed melty-cheese, and ate it while watching a show on TV about some kid in China jumping ninety jumpropes at the same time 189 times in a row to set a Guinness world record. The sight and the taste combined to make me feel a little bit like Gulliver, suddenly topped with dozens of tiny fellows, stabbing at me with forks.

SOME THINGS THAT I ENCOUNTERED THIS WEEK WERE SORT OF PECULIAR, AND, TAKEN TOGETHER, CAN BE READ AS A COLLECTIVE STATEMENT ABOUT THE CURIOUS MINUTIA–THE POTPOURRI OF THE DAILY JAPANESE EXPERIENCE–AS IT PLAYS OUT IN MY LIFE, BECAUSE OF THE INHERENT STRANGENESS OR NOTABILITY OF THESE ENCOUNTERS TO ONE WHO HAS SPENT A PREDOMINANT PORTION OF THEIR LIFE RESIDING IN THE UNITED STATES OR A SIMILARLY WESTERNIZED COUNTRY, AS I HAVE. WHAT FOLLOWS IS A COLLECTION OF RECOUNTS OF THESE EVENTS
– Today’s bento, which I purchased immediately after reading the label (Hamburger bento Ba-Bi-Q sauce), despite being a simple 679 kcal affair, merely because I miss the flavor of barbecue sauce, and also cause it looks like there’s a little portion of fettuccine there under that hamburger and next to the curiously corn-enhanced potato salad
– My plastic container of snacks now sitting at home, purchased from the local psychotic madness retail store “Don Quixote,” filled with strips of dried smoked spicy squid, vaguely resembling beef jerky in appearance and texture, but definitely not beef
– A large, formal, ten-thousand-yen-attendance-fee party I went to with my coworkers from the school for the blind, at a big Chinese restaurant, concluding with yelps of glee and detailed English explanations that “at this restaurant, they will give you a special box that you can put food in that you didn’t eat, and take it home and then eat it later,” as though the concept of the “doggy bag” was as foreign to me as fermented soybeans with mustard for breakfast
– My ever-so-darling first year students, who, despite being the grade level and age equivalent of American high school sophomores, are uniformly terrified of the opposite sex, and sit as male and female groupings on either side of the room, with a column of buffer desks in between, if at all possible
– No longer finding it strange that I can go to my hair place and get a full cut, shampoo and conditioning with five minute scalp massage, a hot towel for my face, a styling, a free bottle of green tea while I wait for Jessy, and the business card of my stylist for 2100 yen with no tipping permitted (and when I am done having the door held open for me, being walked to the exit, offered my choice from a tray full of little pieces of candy, and then bowed to as my elevator descends from view)
THE PRECEEDING SECTION IS SURELY NOT A REFERENCE-LEVEL COMPENDIUM OF ALL THE NOTABLE JAPANESE EVENTS THAT I EXPERIENCED DURING THE LAST WEEK, BUT THE COLLECTION IS SUFFICIENT TO PROPERLY REPRESENT SOME OF THE QUAINT HAPPENINGS THAT DID INDEED OCCUR IN MY PRESENCE OVER THE SEVEN DAYS PRIOR TO NOW. IN READING THEM, YOU TOO MAY HAVE GAINED SOME IDEA OF THE DAILY MACHINATIONS WHICH OCCUR HERE, AND, IN DOING SO, FOUND YOURSELF ENJOYABLY LIGHTENED, A RESULT WHICH WOULD BE PLEASING TO ME

As I mentioned in brief last week, some friends from Canada will be visiting Japan for the next few weeks, and spending some time in our presence starting tomorrow. They are not newcomers to the country, which is to say that they previously toured a year or two ago for a bit, but I have faith that we can still do our best to present a variety of fun Japanese experiences. On my list are getting lost in rows of plastic robot models at Yodobashi Camera, drunkenly gorging ourselves on meat served on sticks–meat which may or may not have come from the necks of an assortment of animals–and, perhaps, seeing if we can catch any old men reading porn newspapers on the train. There are other things too, but who cares.

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No such thing as a stranger

WHEREAS one cannot possibly consider an abundance of space an important comfort; and WHEREAS the value of an experience may not necessarily be based on its relative uniqueness; and WHEREAS the mere act of looking at something is critical enough to necessitate three-hour-plus-each-way road and rail trips; BE IT RESOLVED that going to Yoshino, near Nara, in Japan, to view the cherry blossoms before the following day’s impending rain blows them away, is A GOOD EXPERIENCE and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that it is FUCKING DUMB. APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers a-tappin’.

Racked with early Saturday-morning distractions (weird guys in spandex suits fighting monsters on TV, early registration for a Japanese language class, Oreo cookies with milk), we finally leave the house around noon, prepared for a trip that is going to take a while longer than we really figured.

Three-and-a-half hours later, halfway up the mountain, which is split by a winding road illustrated on our complimentary bus map (two-person fare Y700), I start listening to the young couple behind us, both peering out the window, and begin to decipher her Japanese language yelps of glee. They amount to “So pretty! It’s pretty, huh? Really pretty! Wow! Look look! Preeeeeeeetty!” Following this I become acutely aware of the fact that everyone else on the bus, the rolling definition of stuffed to the gills, sardines in a tin can, bursting at the seams, is saying these things too. For fun, I lean over as best as I can to Jessy, and say “IT’S PRETTY NEEEEEEE?????” She is not amused.

This is Yoshino, where “they” say you can see a thousand cherry blossoms in one view, one solitary gaze off into the distance. It would not be a stretch to say that if you were high enough, you could probably also see that many people milling about, waterfall-streaming from the bus drop off and bouncing around like the white dots of a badly received TV signal, pass the Chee-tos. The paths to wherever, where wherevers are places that you would be happy to unroll your tarp or blanket and sit, are lined with stores, restaurants, and (not) surprisingly enough, the houses of the poor bastards who have to actually live here and deal with the throngs of humanity pulsing in every spring for their shot at that hundred million yen view.

Salmon denying instinct, we push against the flow at one place where they’re grilling sticks of chicken meat slathered in sweet sauce on little metal grates over hot coals (the beloved yakitori). I can’t tell if it is an established business. I am leaning toward “some guy’s house” because the coal pits look kind of like emptied-out flowerbeds, and I think I can see into his porch. For a few hundred yen, I embrace the flavor. Later on down the line we stop into what actually is some guy’s concrete-paved yard, outside anyway, and feast on the goodies of the full-sized flat grill/deep fryer he’s standing behind. Hot, crisp tofu donuts (just like the ones from Kyoto that we love so much) and some sort of sauced, deep-fried tofu wedge open the way, and then I lust explicitly for one of the enormous hamburger steaks he has cooking, but the line has become far too long, and we have flowers to look at!

By the time we meet up with the people we know, we have already confusingly walked the perimeter of the village outskirts, cutely arriving atop a hill from which we can easily see the place the bus dropped us (we went north, and now we are south). They are packing up, some of our people, but not before I sample some homemade umeshu (this is a kind of sweet plum liquor) from a paper cup. I contemplate how early these people must have had to leave to get here, and then another friend arrives, having been ground to meat in the transport gears of Kansai, opting for the cable car instead of our bus route. Finally we’ve made it nowhere, and as I pass through a nearby cemetery confusingly littered with a handful of lost Yu-Gi-Oh cards, I figure looking ahead to the mountainside must be that hundred million yen view, sakura everywhere I can see, so long as I tilt my head up a bit to exclude the high-and-tight power lines. They are every shade of red and pink and lavender and white and eggshell and slightly pink eggshell and slightly eggshell red and all of those other ones and the hillside looks like hundreds of flowery birdshot wounds. It is pretty, and I left the house so long ago, and I figure that next spring I will find just one tree close to home, stick my head up inside the branches, and open my eyes. I joke with another person that I will merely tape glossy printouts of the sakura to my ceiling, which would be funny if I hadn’t been so close to considering what fun it would be to have such a colorful ceiling.

After an hour or two, which is all we have left if we want to catch the last bus to the station, excitingly departing at 6:00 PM, we make our way down the side of the hill past people who appear to have made the decision to wait it out, that pesky nightfall, and defy it like pitchfork villagers with rackets and badminton birdies, bags of Calbee consommé double punch potato chips, and, by now, mountains of empty beer cans, be gone knave!

My idea of food-based revelry comes to pass back in Osaka, with the most traditional of Japanese foods: Indian. I have been here before, and order the set and a half-price beer–spicy chicken curry and hot naan has tasted this good before, but not today until now.

We did it though, for the sake of doing it, for saying we did it, which I tell myself I am pleased of even though I am certain it is the same reason every other person in Japan went there. I wonder, have they seen sakura before? Is this their first time to Yoshino? I imagine a man, who, unable to deal with the concept of himself, attaches long strips of Velcro to his arms and fingers like jellyfish feelers and snaps at everyone wearing fuzzy coats just to pull them near, to be surrounded by a pulsing blob of mankind, and stands for a few hours, and decides to do it again soon. I am scoping out my tree already, a nice one with a view of my balcony.

HEY WANNA KNOW SOME THINGS ABOUT JAPAN THAT I FOUND ODD THIS WEEK?
– Too bad I don’t feel like thinking of any today
YEP THAT’S ABSOLUTELY EVERY LAST THING

As promised, classes have definitely begun. I had my first set of them at high school yesterday, the same awkward affairs of my arrival but honed by a wiser and more experienced hand: group work from the get-go, a brazen and unabashed class devoted entirely to Me, and things about Me and forcing the kids and their groups to come up with questions for Me dealing with things that pertained to Me. I do it so that to balance the karma, next week will be solely about Them, and Them talking about Themselves endlessly, the things They like, hate, and are indifferent to. I will use it as an opportunity to get their names (in both Japanese and English lettering) on papers with their student numbers, information cards of a Total Student Profile that I can consult easily any time I am tired of referring to a student as “yes, please” or “you.”
As we move forward I shall subject my kids to the rigors of my first year of work, those poor original guinea pigs, with all of the disgusting chaff cleanly nipped away and in its place polished shiny grains, morsels of streamlined edutainment, entercation, twenty-five minute action-packed fun-fests filled with me drawing cute elephants on the board and informing the girls that if they want to know my exact height (180.34 cm) or my birthday (I’m a Scorpio) that they had better bring presents.

My night school students, I am sure, will continue to not care about anything except cell phone e-mail.

Still, even though it’s initially a bit nerve-wracking to know I go up on display again, I can’t help but catch myself having fun from time to time, watching the minutes breeze by, enjoying how effortless it feels now to stretch two sentences on a class outline to an entire period, to gesture wildly, write Brandon in huge letters on the board without screeching the chalk.

WHEREAS I am finally in a position to carry out the duties of my job description; and WHEREAS spring pushes forward, leaving the fallen petals of the cherry trees in its balmy wake; and WHEREAS I am invited to two different school drinking parties in the next two days; and WHEREAS I finally start Japanese lessons in May; and WHEREAS we have some pals from Canada visiting the country soon; and WHEREAS I ordered an eBook reader and will finally be able to browse English-language manga on the train; and WHEREAS everything old is new again; BE IT RESOLVED that things are pretty NICE and GOOD; APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers done tappin’.

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In full bloom

It’s still Spring Break, in so far as that I am teaching no classes. This will all have changed by the time you read the next Nom, which is a fact I’m not sure if I should be stressed about or not. To be sure, actually filling my day with some kind of activity other than idly browsing the Internet, typing these articles, or reading whatever book I can get my hands on will almost certainly be an exciting and welcome change, albeit one requiring slightly more effort than total stasis. Do I even remember how to do this anymore? I can literally barely remember the last class I taught. I am pretty sure it was like the 23rd. Of February.

But anyway, think of it! A whole grade full of fresh first-year high schoolers, all mine to destroy. This time, they are mine from the beginning. I will remember their names, interests, pets, and favorite foods. (Yeah right.) The boy to girl ratio with this class is, unlike my first group’s 1:1, tipped significantly in the favor of those bearing the double X chromosome, which seemingly foreshadows a high occurrence rate of more of these kinds of student poems during our haiku lesson:

He is a big smile
His face is very smallish
His name is Branton!

The changing of the term has brought a variety of personnel changes as well, as I have mentioned before. Though I haven’t yet had to deal with many of them significantly enough to form concrete opinions, I do have a new co-teacher at my night school who is now in his first year teaching at a not-cram-school, and he greeted me today with “what’s up, man,” which I am firmly in support of. He also invited me to go out to the vending machines for coffee, which puts his “voluntarily offered to do something with me” count at 1, on parity or higher than the counts of nearly all my other co-workers. As a somewhat young fellow, he has been very forward in approaching me, which I also firmly support. Also he has a propensity to, perhaps because he spent a year living in Leeds, insert the word “fucking” seemingly at random into his speech. If you were wondering, this too is an action I support, firmly.

Another consequence of the regime change at night school is that finally, after nearly eight months, I have a power outlet via extension cord on my desk, with which to plug in my computer. The best I can figure is that this is a result of me brazenly running my netbook’s power cable across the floor to the other outlet every Wednesday for months on end, resulting in a variety of nearly broken limbs and joints. Still no Internet here, which I figure will never happen. No matter–the lack of this distraction gives me time to catch up on eating peanuts, staring listlessly into space, and talking to myself with a keyboard.

HOW STRANGE, THESE THINGS, WHICH IN A WAY SERVE TO COMPARTMENTALIZE MY CULTURAL EXPERIENCES
– Last Saturday, after the tapering off of a game of Scrabble, brought to the point where virtually no play opportunities or liquid word formations remained and turn times approached infinity, flipping through the TV channels idly and settling on oil wrestling, wherein grossly mismatched men and women threw their respective body types into each other for no more than four seconds before violently slamming into the ground all lubricated with viscous, mucus-looking snot-goop
– Serious personal consideration of a potential purchase of a specialized metal file which retails for 2100 yen and which has only one purpose: to be gently abrasive against bits of plastic left connected to larger pieces of plastic which were once connected to even larger pieces of plastic, manipulated for the sake of assembling tiny models of imaginary robots
– A smallish embroidered patch for clothing, spotted at the craft store, drawn in a juvenile fashion and intended to be placed presumably on childrens’ articles, bearing a representation of a colorful police vehicle, lights swirling, with the English text “GOING PLACES”
– Being presented with some sort of mysterious business card from a representative of what seems to be some kind of retirement consultant, “life plan advisor,” or “total life consultant,” while sitting at my desk, following a string of Japanese I could barely understand, and uttering merely in said language “thank you very much,” to which I got the “your Japanese is very good,” was assaulted with another string of impenetrable speech that may have contained the word for “three,” and then being bidden farewell to
– Met at my apartment door by two men, one tall and attractive in a dorky way, the other short and homely, and being convinced to upgrade my Internet service by way of the terms HYAKU MEGA! and SPEED UP COST DOWN, then watching the short guy beg the tall guy for a chance to use his props, which included a large magazine-sized calculator and a pop-up book with a 3D modem in it, shortly before the tall guy smacked him on the head with a folder
THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO LIVING IN JAPAN

On the home front, things are generally as usual as ever. We are cruising through anime and movies nightly at a pace I have never experienced, turning to the visual arts to both “do something together” and in some odd enough reason experience our new culture (or a sub-element of it anyway). The humor comes in when considering I initially scrounged up some other anime more Jessy-geared than Gundam, so I could get her okay with watching Gundam (my true desire). Now, though such distractions are likely no longer necessary, I have accumulated dozens of series and movies totaling hundreds of hours of video, which we move through just the same. Next into the rotation is a show called Canaan, which seems to be about some sort of foreign assassins. I am okay with that.

Last night, to accompany our viewing with nutrition and satisfaction, I boiled some chicken legs in bouillon stock with onions, garlic, and carrots, then shredded the meat and tossed it back in the broth with a bowl full of hand-dropped dumplings just like mama told me how to make. They were hyper delicious, and accompanied by a totally unsatisfying All Malt Beer, the likes of which disturbingly taste less and less shitty to me as the last memories of decent brew pass through my mind like bananas in a pasta strainer.

As though I, or the fine people of this fine country, needed any other sort of excuse, let alone a seasonal one, to drink, one has finally begun to arrive: the viewing parties which are now occuring all over the place in honor of the blooming sakura, the cherry blossoms adorning a variety of trees. To properly hanami, or engage in a party of this nature, it seems that one needs to complete a variety of tasks:

1a. Get some beer
1b. Get some liquor that is not beer
2. Get some food
2.75 (optional) Get some people
3. Go outside, by some of the cherry trees
3.5. (optional) Find “some shady”
4. Watch them

I am not sure I have yet fully grasped the nuances of the hanami, but with enough of tasks 1 and 2 I think I might grow pretty receptive to learning.

Once spring ends, it will be summer. Did you know that Japan has four seasons? It does.

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