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.