Monthly Archives: May 2010

It can never become clay again

Nearing the end of May now, stricken still with how quickly a year goes. We’ve been here for almost ten months, and summer is coming back, which I am unenthusiastic about. I remember now just how hot it was when we got here, sweat dripping off, clothes soaked upon getting back to the apartment, the only respite a cool shower since we had no air conditioner. Still, I fear for my summer houseguest: the spare room is well outside the reach of the conditioning unit, and we have but a single tiny fan. Maybe I will allow him to sleep on the living room floor, or standing up in front of the open freezer. Probably there is no option but to sweat sweat sweat (and drink lots of ice-cold beer).

Jessy and I, now both routinely busy all day with work and then evening Japanese classes (I on Monday and Thursday evenings, her on Tuesdays and Fridays), are regularly unable to spend any time with each other during the week except in Sannomiya for an hour after school. So usually we just meet for an hour and grab a bite somewhere. The variety of culinary treats now routinely available to me is exciting, and I am tickled to finally have opportunities to dine out instead of just cooking at home every night. I would be remiss, however, not to mention that I am (a mere three weeks in) beginning to miss going home after work to prepare a meal and watch some television programming/. Surely the benefit of gaining sufficient command in the Japanese language outweighs the possibility of constant apartment relaxation, but I certainly do now more concretely value my free time.

Last night I had the pleasure of chowing down a huge bowl of special Nakau gyudon with mushrooms and glass noodles on it during our scheduled meet-up. After we parted ways, and in an effort to really enjoy my time at home, I surrounded myself with enjoyable things: a Suntory Old whisky cola, some Belcube cheeses and saltine crackers, a little Jazz, balcony door flung open with cool breeze, the puff of one of the small cigars I got last weekend, a Super Famicom brawler I’m playing for N-Sider, and later some fragrant Kyoto incense and the last innings of a Tigers game on TV. We won 8-0 (but the Japanese table tennis girl I was watching earlier was beaten viciously).

Tonight, however, is Jessy’s night to chill as I am cooped up teaching at my night school, like every Wednesday (ironically, the only night neither of us have any classes of our own is the one I have to teach). In this instance, today anyway, I use the word “teach” loosely–it is exam night, which means my responsibilities start with me entering the class to read a short document aloud for the students to translate, and end when I stop reading it.

My nook is still getting heavy use, though it’s slow going now that I have started in on The Lord of the Rings. I am 163 of 1344 pages in, which is much further than I ever made it before, but feel like I could summarize those 163 pages in about three sentences: Biblo left Frodo a magic ring which Frodo is taking away from the Shire with his hobbit friends and they went through a scary forest and met the spirit of the forest and ate his cheese. That is one sentence. I will routinely “take a break” from reading it to read some other book in its entirety, come back for another fifty pages, and repeat the process.

After having spent months trying to mentally decide which instrument I’m going to start playing as a musical outlet, I have finally chosen the piano (a choice not lightly made, and as a result of much deliberation). Most specifically I suppose that means I’ll need a keyboard, primarily due to cost and size constraints, though there are nice ones with the full set of keys and weighted actions to make it feel like playing a real piano. This decision comes now as I have already accumulated more than enough distractions for the times I am spending at home, almost certainly guaranteeing that if I want one I will have to sacrifice another, a decision I am not really into making. Thankfully, it is easy to decide not to spend money on an object I will need to devote a lot of time to. All I need to do is nothing, which I am getting pretty good at.

Something else I’ve been getting better at is my Pad Thai, though I don’t really consider it “authentic,” whatever that would mean when dealing with a dish that literally varies wildly from cook to cook and place to place. Instead of the traditional flat rice noodles I’ve been using a more resilient Japanese rice noodle which remains chewy and is less prone to mushing, and I have also cut back heavily on my tamarind while adding lots of brown sugar, chili pepper, fish sauce, and beansprouts. I still include plenty of peanuts, egg, and chicken, which I guess is really close enough to fool my tastebuds. At any rate I have taken to just calling it Bran Thai, to preserve the sanctity of the actual dish. Mine is really more of a Pad Thai-style fried noodle dish. None of the nomenclature has any bearing on anything though–we still devour an enormous pan of it with barely a pause in the action.

This morning I considered finally attempting to make homemade pizza rolls using eggroll wraps, and got halfway through it before realizing I had no pizza sauce or mushrooms. I had already cooked the hamburger so I threw it into some macaroni and cheese and now I have leftovers for my three-o’-clock meal here at school too.

This is the most interesting Nomaday ever written.

Is this what journal entries sound like when you write them with no emotions or expectations of being read? It’s been ten years since I ever wrote an offline journal entry. I have to admit, with all the game writing I’ve done this week, my heart is barely in the Nomaday this time! However, out of Duty and Habit, even if there is nothing to say, I will put it up.

Did you hear the one about my great-great-second cousin who was killed in a parachuting accident ninety years ago? Yeah, as it turns out he made the jump but they hadn’t invented parachutes yet.

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Finding a parade and getting in front of it

The “Friendly March” troupe are the second-to-last exhibitors in the seventy-five-group parade taking place here in Kobe for the Kobe Matsuri, its fortieth annual city festival. The Friendly March, quite contrary to its name–which was purportedly chosen to lend an air of non-threateningism, well-meanery, and well, friendliness to their presence–are hideous, horrifying men dressed in poorly chosen RuPaul-era drag costumes and peppering the street in a concentration akin to that of halved cherries in canned fruit cocktail. One of them marches ahead in a sparkling stars-‘n-stripes outfit. I am reminded that I am American.

Atop a converted Avis rentatruck is one fellow who looks like he is trying to be in The Cure a handful of years too late while another one, who is actually pretty enough to be a woman, is sitting as bored as string cheese. A Lady Gaga song literally thumps so loud from their massive speaker array that the Indian dancing group following them is just dancing to it instead of their own music, tinny and barely audible by comparison. I find myself un-concerned with Cure-guy’s sexual orientation and beliefs, and confused by his fashion sense. As a matter of course I am generally unwilling to string anyone up for wearing anything in particular; today the strings I see are already sufficiently up the places they’ve been positioned. Cure-guy’s face is painted white and black and I am afraid he is going to cast an evil samba curse over me like in voodoo New Orleans. Behind the truck, fruit salady, marches a handful of stragglers-on, one waving a gay pride flag. Friendly March, I think you’re going about this all wrong.

They are of note only because of the stark contrast they stand in compared to the prior exhibitors. The pinnacles of parade-going that I’m used to have mostly involved flatbed trailers from which Dum Dums are thrown, and so the Kobe Matsuri parade has had much to offer.

One group, a neo-modern (yes) salsa group dressed as extravagantly as Cirque de Soleil and twice as mostly-naked, gyrates wildly, a chiseled man leading the group eliciting more excitement out of the elderly woman who has rushed up beside me for a good look than she has likely had since breakfast. Her hair looks like that of Scrooge McDuck’s nephew, Dewy. She pumps her fist wildly in the air, overcome with emotion.

A later group of marchers, cheerleaders, most notably of the 14-and-under classification, stamps by, and I am almost immediately killed by the deep-zoom lens that flies up past my face, commandeered by a man the spitting image of the dictionary’s illustration for the entry “pervy old guy.” He has raced down here from earlier in the parade, backpack flapping with every step, for the sake of securing more shots–I hear his SLR snap away a dozen times or more before the girls finish striding past, and then he too is away to follow their quest like an INXS roadie.

We have also witnessed a group of unicycling youth, two dipshits in huge stuffed costumes from some governmental organization, rows of the elderly wearing yukata and twirling umbrellas upon which tiny stuffed Doraemons tumble like gymnasts, numerous junior and high school marching bands, and the Vissel Kobe soccer team (for the chance of a view we are shoved aside by the rabid masses).

But it’s okay, because while wandering about, we eat steak on a stick, a burger made with steak, an eggroll which has steak in it, and some other things that do not contain steak. Then for supper we eat at Saizeriya, where I forego the opportunity to order steak to order spicy chicken wings, carbonara pasta, meat sauce doria, and beer instead.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– The promotional figures attached to two bottles of Pepsi Zero that I bought solely because of the promotional figures: tiny “Be@rbrick” toys that are based on the movies Beverly Hills Cop and The Godfather, and which are plastic representations of those movies’ main charaters, but with bear heads
– Saltine crackers, which, despite being sold in a box, are distributed inside by way of being individually wrapped into ten packages of six crackers each, leaving a massive amount of packaging for a greatly reduced amount of crackers
– The fact that I am actually starting to become capable of distinguishing the qualities and varieties of various packaged curries due to the fact that they make a delicious and easy Wednesday morning breakfast food before I go to night school
– Pepsi Zero, which is disgusting, but at least I got my Be@rbrick toys
– Finding for roughly the first significant timespan in my life that, despite doing little actual work at my job, I am still frequently so strapped for recreation time that my pointless hobbies, designed to eliminate useless excess time, are being left neglected, probably due in no small part to the fact that I now attend Japanese language class for two hours a night two nights a week
– Today’s bento, by virtue of not being a bento and instead being two sandwiches, which I selected just cause I was feeling in a sandwichy kind of mood
THE END OF CURIOSITIES

Despite my relative lack of recreation time, I think it would be best to focus said recreation time in such a way that even while recreating, I end up with a satisfying and constructed result. I am typing it here merely so that I am mentally held to task: I like video games, and I like writing, and even though I currently play games and write, it is about goddamned time that I do some more writing about video games (old ones). I am going to write an article about the game Alcahest by next Thursday at this time, and it is going to be my article for that week. And I am going to write an article for the week after that, and we will proceed from there. I have been warned.

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I trust cows more than chemists

How time flies: tomorrow it’s Jessy’s 6th birthday, and what a good girl she has been! As a reward I will be taking her to Saizeriya, the restaurant for which she commands the most disparate affection to justification ratio of any eatery we have come to know. Liking (nay, desiring) Saizeriya is somewhat akin to being fond of reruns of The King of Queens: once you’re there there isn’t really anything wrong with it, and Leah Remini is pretty attractive, but do you realize what else is on? Jessy’s love of Saizeriya is like looking up these reruns in TV Guide and setting her VCR to tape them off TV as she watches them, being quick-draw-McGraw on the remote so she can pause out the commercials. Presumably while Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus plays concurrently on another network (I am just assuming that this movie is awesome). But it is her birthday, and so we shall go buy plates upon plates of mildly flavored and inoffensive Japitalianese, and consume them with frenzied teeth gnashing. Afterwards I will buy a glass jar of sake from a vending machine, drink it, and then ride the escalators in Joshin up and down until they close the store and disable the escalators, stranding me between the refrigerator floor and the one where they yell at you about lightbulbs.

I am now the proud owner of a “nook” eBook reading device, which has offered me, finally, the chance to use a battery-powered portable gadget to perform the function of something that absolutely did not need replacing (dead trees with ink on them). The most convenient reasoning behind it is simply enough that dead tree with ink on it (for the sake of this conversation, a “book”) takes up physical space, while a collection of electronic data representing the same information takes up no physical space whatsoever. In such a way, one need not pay any manner of courier to transport said “books” from their country of origin (the United States) to my country of residence (Japan), which is a powerful argument for the existence of the electronic book and what seems at first blush like a luxury device. The truth is that it is a luxury device only in so much as one considers reading a luxury as opposed to a necessity, which I must admit I do not. In fact, the arrival of this toy has brought exciting new life to tales most certainly un-new, most prominently that modern and relevant tale of The Hobbit, which just came out recently in 1937, and which I never could bring myself to get through in its dead tree form. Have you heard of this fellow named “Bilbo?” This story is going to be big, real big! Seventy-five years from now we might even see a movie about it.

The other recent arrival is that of a friend I am never too far from: Mr. Throat Itch. He showed up recently to ruin my life, and is doing a pretty decent job of it on a daily basis. He did such good work a few days ago that I actually called in sick to the office for the first time ever so I could stay home and party with him. In an unexpected twist, I actually felt Japaneseily guilty for shirking my workplace duties by staying home, a development I quickly dealt with by ceasing to care whatsoever. He was even kind enough to offer me some interesting situations during my first Japanese language class, where at least I was able to use the excuse “I guess I’m allergic to Japanese,” but only in my mind.

What do I have left to say? It has been nine months since I came to Japan and I simultaneously remember the day I arrived like it was yesterday and a decade ago. I am at home and a stranger, an outsider and a citizen. I dry my clothing on the porch, take my shoes off when I get home, and have a closet full of Kraft Dinner. I have a photograph of the first vending machine I ever saw in Japan, and now it’s just a photograph of a vending machine.

MOST QUAINT STUFF OF THE LAST TIME UNIT
– Today’s bento, which, at a paltry 709kcal, is barely worthy of mention, but consists of a huge bowl of rice atop which sits a hamburger slathered in mysterious red sauce and a fried egg
– Cough drops here are useless, cost 220 yen for a ten-pack, and taste like what would happen if you crossed those Ludens cherry throat lozenges with the full dosage of a 100-man study on the effectiveness of a new medication on causing fatigue, only the pill is a placebo
– When I got to Japan there was a song they used to play on TV with three “girls” singing about how it’s okay to fart all over the place because farting is natural, and it is still being played regularly, and in this country it is rude to blow your nose in public
– Parsing the convenience store clerk’s question of if I would like my bento heated, answering appropriately in comfortable Japanese, and then being looked at hesistantly as I am asked, with comically wild gesture, if chopsticks are okay, finding myself disappointed I lack the skills to say that no, they are not okay, because I eat only with my fingers, and am allergic to sticks
IS THAT ENOUGH YET I AM PRETTY EXHAUSTED

Tonight there are no classes, because the kids are learning about how to drive in Japan. I do not envy them because I am sure driving down these meter-wide streets is fucking impossible, but last time I had class my lesson was that we would go to the downstairs classroom and watch Speed Racer on Blu-ray. I think I have done my part to prepare them for the imminent and very real world of futuristic automobile racing.

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The seat of the soul

The nicest toilets in Japan will clean your ass for you chipperly, blasting water at your choice of areas via a couple of angles selected to most efficiently Neutralize The Threat, and with a level of pressure that you dial in with a little knob. Bad night? Dial an 8! The seats are heated, to encourage your productivity and free spirit. Some of them even play music which I have not yet determined to be one or the other: specifically for masking noises or just used as a reward mechanism. The units are called Washlets, and replace what sits on top of your bowl outright. Many westerners consider them magical, and I find myself in a conundrum: fascinated with the technical workings of the device, curious as to what exactly they are doing under there, under there, while I rest atop it, a time when it is impossible to examine the mechanisms, and to investigate any further during a time I do not care to utilize the functions of the Washlet I feel would be a betrayal of trust.

Sometimes, while I sit, I dream up possible delivery scenarios. Is the mechanism like a fire extinguisher, ready to go at any moment and swiveling into play when necessary? When I switch between angle one and angle two I hear a sort of robotic whirring. Is there a tiny robot arm that swings out prevented only from winning my prize due to the fact it is not a vertically oriented UFO claw and is designed to shoot water instead of capture stuffed toys? What could be in there, and what is it doing? I can’t bring myself to look. It is one of the mysteries I have left, and I clutch to it, perhaps just as to that stuffed toy, ready to drop at any moment.

With these considerations in mind and Jessy, Liz, and Dan in tow, I set out last weekend to Hakone, and most memorably a place that has a real name that is inconsequential, because we named this place Fart Mountain. It is the natural absence of Washlet, touted for this fact: active, sulfuric springs bubble and steam below and on top of and in all nooks of its rocky surface. The sulfurous gas smells, naturally, like sulfurous gas, and the Japanese, in their elegiac euphoria, at some point in the past, decided that they could boil eggs in the sulfury hot springs which pool up on the face of this olfactory hell. As it turns out, the water not only boils a fine egg but also turns the shell a powdery black due to some sort of “sulfite reaction,” which means that eating one egg will extend your life by seven years, or so they say. A pretty good value proposition at five eggs for five bucks, not that I could prove it. It is ingenious really, and we witnessed this process: a zip line holding a metal crate carrying cases of fresh, white eggs is jimmied up the mountain from the shop at the bottom, and then at the top they are unloaded, soaked in the hot springs, and then loaded back into the crate to be sent back down and sold for many times their actual worth. Modern day egg alchemy! If I die in the next six years, three-hundred-and-fifty-eight-days, I’m demanding a refund. Other black things that I ate on or near Fart Mountain, solely touted due to their blackness:

1. Black steamed meat bun stuffed with meat, ginger, and some spicy stuff

Fart Mountain is something like the halfway point of the prescribed trip around Hakone, a sprawling day-long affair involving every form of unorthodox transportation that one could likely utilize for mass transit. The first leg was a seriously long bus ride, made all the more agonizing due to the presence of a couple idiot American children up front, a brother and sister, the sister prodding at the boy’s Tommy Hilfiger duffle, and the boy belting out his best kazoo rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, only he didn’t have a kazoo. To our right, of no fault of his own, a mentally confused child who took every opportunity to vocalize his feelings to everyone in the middle of the bus (he was either pleased or disappointed).

After this came A Big Lake Whose Name I Forget, in which you can see a little red temple gate off in the distance, and which we traversed (after eating a station hot dog with shredded cabbage) by fucking pirate ship, a means of travel which exists there for some reason I yet fail to grasp. To me it seemed like riding in a train covered with plastic to make it resemble a Ferrari, or flying in an airplane decorated like a bird. Only this is Japan, and most specifically Hakone, where there are no pirates, and where pirates mean nothing to anyone outside of isn’t Johnny Depp a pirate. From the middle of this lake we caught our first peeps of Fujisan, the fabled Mount Fuji, enormous mountain, real big rock. Famously elusive, we were happy to see him standing at attention, only partially obscured by a sidelong wisp of cloud.

On the other side of the lake, there was only a building, and in the building you buy dumb souvenirs and board the ropeway gondolas, and jesus christ do I ever hate riding on ropeway gondolas. After the gondolas? Well it’s Fart Mountain. I watched the faces of the bystanders progress from cautious optimism, to mild interest, to fatigue. I imagined sticking my head up an ass and leaving it there.

We took a cable car at one point, and all I wanted to do was get home, and then we took a regular old train which apparently is some kind of special train cause it is old and slow and needs to stop twice to do a switchback and change directions. I stared into the soul of the conductor as I clutched the overhead bar. Inside his pupils I took a nap, and then uttered, in the obsolete language of the Demon King: get me out of here. It was ineffective.

Fifty-seven hours later we returned to our lodging, the Hotel Okada, which was notable for harboring what is literally the saddest, most pathetic “game corner” I have ever personally witnessed in Japan, which has to count for something. Whereas a native English speaker would likely translate the Japanese katakana and actually sensible “game corner” to “arcade,”–had they actually decided to translate it in the first place–the hotel staff instead chose the excitingly colloquial “Amusement Saloon” for their floor map, which made it all the more depressing, my conjured mental images of feisty card games and spittoons and root-toot-tootin’ and yee-haw rootbeer sarsparilla and six-shooters notwithstanding. After we realized there was no amusement to be found in the five shitty redemption games and half-broken racing game, we figured of course that the saloon was also absent. It is no stretch for me to declare that the arcade on the Jumbo Ferry, a boat we took to Takamatsu several months back, was orders of magnitude more entertaining, and it was on a boat.

The Okada is of the traditional ryokan variety, which means that for a time we pranced around in our yukata like good little Japanese boys and girls, and then separated along those lines to go to the onsen on floor eight, where we stripped down and bathed publically, in the total nude, until we became so overwhelmed with the hot water that our arms tingled. As I was getting ready to leave the jacuzzi area near the end of my second and final onsen session of the trip, one man strolled up, took a step in from the side, and, presumably expecting a ledge or something, dropped in completely from the brisk outside air into the boiling magmatic pool. He laughed, obviously embarassed, and all I could muster up in Japanese was “big huh,” a comment I really hope he took as meaning the drop was big, and not anything else that might have been swinging around a foot and a half from my face. I left promptly, feeling myself coming to a rolling boil.

Should I mention the meals, massive and delivered to our room? To outline the entire process of a ryokan meal would be dry. I will say this: on one of each of our plates rested a tiny squid, the size of a Tootsie Roll, and when it was chewed, you could feel its brains explode out of its head like the juice inside a Fruit Gushers fruit snack. Or so I was told. I was content to eat the other morsels, which impressively all consisted of or contained some kind of fish or seafood in some capacity. It was around this time that I was stricken with the overwhelming urge for a large plate of hot spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic toast, a desire for which the only option of satiation was the breakfast buffet, where I ate a pasta and cheese casserole containing clams, and approximately two quarts of fruit cocktail.

As I mentioned briefly last time, Hakone is also the setting for my favorite animated show Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Hakone, sensing otaku greenbacks, has decided to capitalize with a variety of Eva omiyage cookies and cakes that you can bring back for your depressed coworkers. More exciting, however, were the “Hakone Instrumentality Project” maps, which provide reference points to view actual scenes from the show and movies as they appear in reality. To obtain this map Liz had to enter the tourism booth and fill out a special card indicating her profession and length of stay in Japan. When she emerged successful Dan and I descended on the booth like vultures, insistent that no we couldn’t share maps and yes we needed our own. My profession was “Schooler” and my length of stay in Japan was “years.” I got the map and left immediately. The next day, Jessy tried to get her own map and was flatly refused by the panel, who presumably have more pressing uses for the maps than using them to promote tourism.

Excitingly, and beautifully, the special convenience store (in actuality, a Lawson store), all dressed up like Evangelion to be the OFFICIAL TOKYO-3 LAWSON, was bombarded by sweathogs with fanny packs almost immediately after opening, creating lines to enter the convenience store, parking hazards, and–I’m just guessing here–severe employee unrest. And so, the store was stripped of its identifying Eva decor and closed after a mere three days, a fitting end. I never even saw where it might have been. Someone told me “in the mountains somewhere, a rural area,” but for me it might have just as well been in the actual Tokyo-3, committed to celluloid, a figment of imagination, cups of instant udon adorned with Reis and Asukas, and boxes of NERV brand tissues, to wipe your nose just before you are rendered a puddle of pure LCL goo.

After Dan and Liz went back to Canada, and before our Golden Week holiday had ended, we decided we wanted to do something really dumb, so we went to Costco. Let me tell you about Costco in Japan.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT COSTCO IN JAPAN

Costco in Japan is strikingly similar to Costco in the states, except that it is in Japan, which makes a remarkable difference. I have been there fully three times now, and each time I hope I will come up with a better way to say what I really think about it, but I never do. At this point, the best way I can sum it up is to say that Costco seems to serve as kind of a family amusement park. You bring the little shits and your wife on your holiday in your small boxy car, there is nowhere to park it, you wait in line for an hour to sign up to be let in, and then you pay the 4200 yen “membership price” (admission fee). Finally, after you grab a hulking behemoth of a novelty cart, you can proceed to ingest the stereotypical example of “American culture” in the bizarre shopping environment, which apparently involves trying to move around in the store when everyone has a Monster Cart and doesn’t even know how to walk normally let alone when encumbered with said cart.

For many, the highlight seems to be the restaurant area (much as it is in the relatively similarly-regarded IKEA on Port Island). To enter the restaurant area, which is set off as a “space” with little extending barriers and employees who only direct people-traffic and which serves essentially the same huge food at the same tiny prices, you must push through a sea of humanity, and will absolutely never find a seat. People stand around eating their 300 yen slices of pizza that are as large as Actual Japanese Pizzas with a look of desire in their eyes: am I doing it right? Am… am I in the group? Am I Costcoing?

The hilarious irony of Costco in Japan of course is that in a country where many people rely solely on public transit and have refrigerators the size of shoeboxes they can’t possibly ever have a use for ten cans of refried beans or a 2000 yen slab of pork, let alone some fucking place to put it. Bulk shopping is just a gag, a theory, a suggestion of the weird possibility that your problem would be too much space and not enough stuff to put in it instead of the other way around. The prices are good (decent) but offset in such a way by the membership fee and the absolute hell of the experience that just buying your stuff on a daily basis like everyone else probably makes more financial sense.

The only thing that I can think is that for many people in Japan Costco is not valued as a legitimate financial move in the realm of grocery shopping. Look at it this way: an average Japanese man is smaller than an average American man, he has a smaller fridge, he has a smaller house, he has a smaller car, he eats less, he doesn’t need a gallon of salsa, and all this massive stuff probably looks even bigger and more ridiculous than it does to a well adjusted fellow like myself. Once he opens the three quart bottle of ketchup, where will he put it? He will clear a space in his fridge, and make his children apply ketchup to everything for the next five months in order to use it all up before it expires. He will take home something as a souvenir. “Remember the time we all went to Costco and got that 40-pack of muffins? Those were the days.”

The kids mob the aisles like savage fleas digging for blood, it is their play area, these packages are too big to be called food and are instead obviously entertainment. If you are an idiot you can buy a 24-pack of Coke From The United States, made with good old-fashioned all-natural high fructose corn syrup instead of the superior sugar-based Coke they sell everywhere else in Japan. One family we saw had a huge cart full only of bottled water and potato chips. Surely it has not come to this.

As I stand being mobbed by the overeager women literally diving at a pallet of Ultra Downy fabric softener nearby, I contemplate my options. I am reminded of off-days in Iowa spent leisurely strolling through a deserted Sam’s Club with my stepbrother. Costco in Japan makes as much sense as the US changing all cartons of milk to quarts, eliminating frozen pizza, and refusing to sell packages of cheese containing more than six ounces. And yet the business is so routinely crowded that I can barely move, often times before I even get through the front door.

Costco is Universal Studios, only instead of riding on a rollercoaster, you push a cart and buy three pounds of cheddar cheese and some deck chairs.

Of course, we spent two hundred dollars there on bags of tortilla chips and gummy bears so large we can not ever possibly finish them all, two pounds of grated Parmesan cheese, a case each of vanilla soymilk and Dr. Pepper, and 1,400 Post-it notes.

THAT’S ABOUT IT FOR COSTCO

At school today I decided maybe it was time to see how the robot arm or the firehose or the Roto Rooter or whatever the shit it is that pops out of the Washlet really does its job, so cursorily, after visiting the sink to wash my hands, I popped in to the Washlet-equipped stall, locked the door, and pressed the spray button. As I did so, I suddenly realized that this would likely mean that some sort of nozzle was going to be blasting me in the face with toilet water as I peered over it.

But there was no cause to worry. In addition to being heated, the Washlet seat is also pressure sensitive, and denied my request with a polite beep. All this means is that I am dry, and I am going to have to come up with some other way to steal a look at that mysterious robot business.

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