Monthly Archives: June 2010

We lost because we didn’t win

I sat engrossed in a televised soccer game of all goddamned things last evening, palms sweaty from tension, absorbed in a sporting event which despite having gone on for two solid hours had seen literally no points scored by either team. Everything I have always proclaimed to hate about the sport on full display! Endless, ambling ball control with few attack strikes, wussy fake injuries from the slightest of impacts getting more blatant as the game rolled on, no instant replays to verify completely flagrant elbows to the face. And yet, at 1:30 a.m. I watched Japan and Paraguay (purportedly the best guay) duke it out to advance to the next round in the World Cup. Japan lost in the penalty kick shootout round, and only just barely, and then shed manly, emotional Japanese tears. I was more upset than when the Colts lost the Super Bowl, which just don’t make any kinda sense.

The World Cup Fever here, as with many other kinds of localized ailments, has been infectious: I cannot help but become swelled with nationalistic pride and hope for my little country. Despite always being an Iowan, an Amesian, a farmboyian, an industrial cityian, a Pittsburghian, an American–every day that passes is another one added to the “days since I’ve been in the States” column. I’ll never be a Japanese person, but it’s hard to argue that I’m, for example, less Japanese than bodybuilder, or say, more civil rights activist than citizen of Japan.

One gets the feeling here that for whatever reason, sportsmanlike to a fault, Japan really treasures the good that their teams and their representatives do. And even if it means television programming akin to last winter’s thirty-minute spotlight shows on Takahashi Daisuke’s figure skating bronze medal, it makes it all that much more significant. Even if it means watching a hundred and twenty minutes of a sporting event with no overhead passes or shotgun formations. Even if it means that all that exists is tension, stress, the pursuit of just one little point. Now you know why they scream and slide across the grass on their knees and fly around with their arms outstretched like NES-era Mario ready to take off whenever they score. A great weight, a couple hours of tapping rocks until that kindle is finally sparked. Tension tension tension, all the tensions of the world.

Lately I have been afflicted with a trifling bit of uninspired malaise, and I think it might have something to do with the dwindling of new and exciting experiences after coming off the highs of my arrival. I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’m now just a month shy of my first year in the country, and can’t help but make comparisons about how I feel now with how I believe I felt when I had just gotten here, as humans so errantly tend to do. Used to be every other weekend or more often would bring something new and exciting, and now things are less organic. Friday’s after-school drinking party was maybe my fifth or sixth, and the karaoke after that was definitively not the first time I’ve made a total dipshit out of myself in front of middle-aged men while drunk off all-you-can-slurp single malt whiskey. I haven’t left the city for Osaka or Kyoto or anywhere else too recently, surely due to combinations of elements: fatigue, money, the heat, other plans, and the laziness that such laziness ironically contributes to. I am even barely capable of enjoying such tiny joys as the UFO machines! My god.

To rectify every last bit of my existential lackadaisy, I have ordered an inexpensive commercial product from the Amazon website, just like real Japanese people do in their times of need. It is called an Otamatone, and like all good electronics manufactured here, is cute, novel, and ultimately useless. It is an object about the size of a ruler, shaped like a music note, with a music-playing touch-sensitive slider up the stem and a little face on the bottom like a rubber ball. You can squish its head to tweak the notes you play. Surely it will find a home among our perpetually grotesque series of living-room carnival attractions: busty PVC temptresses, die-cast metal robots with ejectable plastic eyes, outdated 1980s video game systems, art books featuring imaginary characters in improbable poses, and two giant posters advertising beer. Once I get it, I will set to work on playing assorted video game tunes, record them with the camera, and then put them on YouTube (and this website) for both of my readers to see. My ho-humness will be instantly obliterated by revolting joy.

Curious Japanese Shit of the Week
– The delicious dressing on my chicken cutlet sandwich, labeled in the ingredients only as “dressing”
– The Yamada Denki electronics store’s PC area, which has an entire wall with a sign above it that says in katakana “Mouse Corner,” despite there being no corners at all in which you might find mice
– The fact that I bought a three-pack of meatballs the other day for 228 yen, with each meatball pack being an air-sealed pouch containing seven meatballs in teriyaki sauce
– Creepy fishing pole garbage bag man (I will talk about this man next time)
– The wide variety of “beer-like products” available in the beer section of my grocery store, many of which are created with non-malt or barley ingredients for the sake of dodging heavy taxes, rendering it a damned chore to actually try new beers that may or may not be beer at all
– Today’s new product, Blizzard L soda, which purports to contain lots of vitamins but really just tastes like Red Bull
The End of Curious Japanese Shit of the Week

I finished my Japanese class the other day, after roughly sixteen classes spanning eight weeks. Though I can’t say that my normal conversation skills have improved too significantly, I now at least command some of the basic foundation skills in statement making and–occasionally–understanding what others are trying to tell me. At certain points in the class our sample conversations transcended common use and ebbed into the sublime: imagine meeting a person for the first time, asking them what country they are from, and then proposing that together you should go to the department store to buy a necktie. For my efforts, I received a little certificate proclaiming that I indeed took the class, as though without it I would have forgotten completely that I did so.

I still see it as an accomplishment, though a preliminary, minor one on the way to my goal of functional conversational Japanese. I suppose it is better to have taken this first step than it is to keep telling people in my most stoic Nihongo that I onion red tall reading three people last year. Regardless, the next term does not start until the second week of September or so, which will thankfully give me all of July and August to completely forget everything I’ve learned.

First I plan on forgetting grammatical constructions, and then all my vocabulary, and finally how to read and write. By September I will be two years old, just in time to turn twenty-seven. For my birthday celebration I will charge into a convenience store, buy a dirty magazine and a six pack, and then watch Doraemon cartoons on TV with my blanky.

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Dizzy in the noodle

For a particular sect of the English teachers living in this country, there is apparently nothing more exhilarating than boisterously, obviously, and intentionally elevating oneself outside of society and into its expected role of the Strange and Curious Foreigners. This attitude is rendered into physical crystalline form thanks to the annual Kobe Scavenger Hunt (“cutely” referred to colloquially by those fresh from college as Scunt, a portmanteau of scavenger and hunt, chosen almost assuredly because of its sonic resemblance to a certain slang term for a part of the female anatomy that rhymes with “cunt.” AHAHAHAH ahem). Last Saturday night I tried to see what it would be like to be one of them.

Willful and enthusiastic participation in the Hunt involves for three hours assuming the role of misfit entertainer, to reluctantly become what you always hated about the most popular, well-loved, and douchiest people you have ever known, all in the name of a possible good time. You and your up to seven teammates must decide upon and acquire/construct a series of coordinating costumes, the first step that will set you apart from the private sector. You will give yourselves a team name, and then, as a horde, all teams will descend upon the meeting ground for youth downtown and proceed to most righteously mill about, shouting loudly if already drunk, before receiving their scavenger hunt lists: a series of objects, phrases, places, and ideas that must be located or represented physically, and then photographed. (To ensure maximum potential gaijin smashing, all team members must be included in the photos).

From here you will effectively perform the Internet message board equivalent of trolling, but in real life, by preying as a group on the good nature of mainly embarrassed but occasionally entertained Japanese citizens and workers for the sake of your team’s success. Things you will do:

– Attempt to get a photo of you flirting with an old man (but don’t worry, they will come to you)
– Fit your entire team onto the parked bike of someone who has left it there who you do not know
– Accost a group of five or more high-schoolers to cram into a purikura (print club) photo booth with you
– Perform such poses as the human pyramid
– Ask a karaoke promoter to remove his bright orange jacket so you can photograph yourself wearing it
– Barge into the person-wide aisles of Don Quixote to pull things from the shelves and put them back in places they do not belong
– Swarm a popular movie theater lobby on the top floor of a popular building with nearly every other team simultaneously and proceed to attempt crossing off the “take a photograph of all your teammates jumping in the air together” item at the same time as forty other people while bystanders just try to buy movie tickets

Over the course of the event I try to determine why this all makes me feel bizarre. Would I have the same problems with it in the United States? Is it because I know five other groups of people will be re-performing the same actions in close chronological proximity to me? Would it be different if I wasn’t wearing a costume, or just more embarrassing? Conversely, are we wearing costumes to allow us the extravagances of violating societal norms? Does that make it okay? Do these sorts of events ever occur entirely attended and run by the locals? Do the citizens who are amused more than make up for those who are annoyed? Are those who are annoyed really just embodiments of the fearful, critical mindset that we perceive as endemic to Japan? Are they annoyed because of my behavior, or because my behavior is occuring as part of a group of dozens of outsiders? Do I care that I can’t blend in? Would I feel as special if I really did? Do I actually care what this society thinks of me or foreigners or anyone’s behavior in general? Don’t I?

On occasions when I find myself separated from my group for some reason (waiting outside a convenience store, working on winning a crane game prize) I feel even more isolated in my plastic hat and sequined bow-tie. Without the others looking equally ridiculous around me I am broadcasting my foreignness, quite at odds with how I normally try to fit into daily life as well as I can in ways obviously excluding physical looks (and the occasional language hurdle). I try removing my costume but feel only more isolated from my friends, though tenuously part of society. I think of the uniforms that most workers or students wear here. Am I really only capable of feeling comfortable when I am behaving like I have seen others behave?

I don’t come up with any concrete answers to my questions as we parade around snapping pictures, but for one reason or another never find myself capable of making the full jump into carefree this-town-is-my-playground abandon, a peril of an overactive mind in the realm of the fully real and non-virtual.

As we stride through the train station on our way across town, our fake-mustached top-hat wearing female Japanese team member elucidates her embarrassment to me, and I concur. She says, to lightly paraphrase because I cannot remember the precise phrasing, “no, it’s different for me, I don’t want [other Japanese people] to recognize me because then they’ll think you [foreigners] have brainwashed me.” This, my friends, is cultural exchange at work! As a curious cap to the night we end up almost en masse at a popular “foreigner bar,” rendering my views even more obscured. Wouldn’t it be in the spirit of the night to at least loudly plop down somewhere where we would be less welcome? But perhaps I am too cynical. When I wasn’t actively intruding on others I kind of enjoyed myself! Is it even possible for me not to be an intrusion? A strange and self-defeating question.

At one point in the evening I am briefly consumed with something that feels like anger at every person I see, convinced that they are mentally being critical of me even right now, this very moment, not because I look like a fucking goon, but just because I am of a different race than they are. It feels like preemptive, anticipatory racism, me hating them because of who they are before they can hate me for the same reason. I catch myself and feel dirty and remorseful, and confused, and I wonder for a second if it isn’t just intentionally boosted-up self-confidence or if my name has been changed overnight to Spike Lee.

– On Sunday morning, two men from the TV company honored their no-cost appointment to come to our house at 10 a.m. and change the cable jacks in our wall. While they were doing this, one fellow set up my all-Japanese language television for me to receive the free digital HD broadcasts that I couldn’t figure out how to get, and then commented that my new Family Computer sitting next to the Wii made him feel nostalgic
– I never once imagined it would be a good idea to even try it, but for the last couple of days Jessy and I have eaten seasonally-popular cooked cold soumen noodles with cold dashi broth on them as accompaniments to our evening meals, and they are goddamned delicious
– The other day I started playing a hardcore-styled dungeon-crawling RPG on the DS called Etrian Odyssey, and in it you have to make your own maps with the touch screen, and I get brutally killed all the time cause it is ridiculously difficult, but for some reason I am hooked on it and am spending all my train time playing it
– Next week is the last week of classes for me to teach at work and it’s also the last week of the Japanese language class that I attend, and neither will start back up again until the end of August, which is just great
– Watching strange Japanese variety shows has never been so strange as it is in HD

For as many times as I have heard that “Japan has four seasons,” in my mind there are only two: the times of year when one is compelled to use their air conditioner, and the times of year when one is not. Maybe you can relate, cause now it’s the first one.

I hate summer everywhere in the world that I have been, and Japan is certainly no exception. People often say this, as though it isn’t totally obvious, but it is “not so much the heat that is horrible, it’s the humidity”. Walking around now, in the heat, here in the dead of “rainy” season, is similar to how I imagine it must be like to be combing the edges of the tropical forests in Avatar hunting for neon hyena rats or whatever the fuck they did in that movie.

Being here in the night school office where they have the key to the air conditioner locked up like the nuclear fucking football and only the chief and the principal know the access codes does not make for happy Brandons (the other workers don’t seem overjoyed either). It’s actually cooler outside right now, which shatters my theories about decent weather and the office (the windows are supposed to be closed when it’s nice out and open when it’s freezing). For the last hour I have periodically been taking little strolls over to the sink because there is a window over there, but I am running out of parts of my body to wash and I think it is becoming clear to the workers nearby that I do not actually have anything in the refrigerator that I need to open it up so often to look for. Perhaps if I were dressed like some sort of demon or garish spectacle they would let me get away with it.

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I speak two languages, Body and English

Today, to verify my virility, my ability to voraciously vilify those foes who would unwoeful wax skeptic of my Vitruvian nature, I was informed of the nomenclature I’d need to be loosely guided like radar in the direction of battery: most righteously, the nurses said, remove thine shirt, English boy, that we might X-ray up in that shit, cause are you dying or not?

In these trying times, not but the most heady rapscallions be immune to the ‘berculosis. In the Hospital Wagon Party Van, a massive RV filled with gear like I imagine They use to cause the mysterious disappearances of political ne’er-do-wells, I am inspected.

In the mother tongue of this island nation, I believe I tell them this: “Until now, I have never come to this place. It’s my first time, so please endure it.” It is a signal, a grave beacon of false pretenses. Those resonate something like this: “I understand the terminology you are using, and command the facilities to respond to it verbally, as prompted.” Such unspoken grandeur, so pompous!, shortly before I find myself–under a moment of sweaty-foreheaded duress–unable to figure out what the Japanese word sha-tsu means (PROTIP: it means shirt).

The fancy trick of this operation, prior to my inspection, was preparing a sample of my liquid waste. So that the Docs might aquire my sample, they issued me prior to my exam, by three days, a plastic envelope containing: a fold-open waxed-paper envelope, a smaller envelope with my name on it, and a little 10mL plastic bottle the kind you use to squirt barbecue sauce or mayo onto your bento, with the plastic squish resistance of Arthritis Barbie’s specially-designed turkey baster. In the States they never quite come out and say “please enter the bathroom with this Lion King Dixie cup and pee all inside it until it’s as full as a glass of Sunday-school Kool-Aid, and Japan, especially through the veil of language, did me no favors in the explanation of these three new apparati.

To personally acquire this sample, I deduce from the various diagrams, I am supposed to first open up the waxed paper envelope, then pee into it, then suck the pee out of it by squishing the bottle, putting the opening into the pee, and sucking it out like with an eye-dropper. Eye-dropper it ain’t, and I dare not underfill for fear of being required to re-fill, lord in heaven. Eventually I get it. Then I put the little bottle into the envelope with my name on it and stick it in my pocket like a pack of baseball cards, carrying it around for forty-five minutes until it’s my turn to give it to the lady, who proceeds to screw off the little lid, squirt it out into a cup right there in front of me, stick a piece of special testing strip in, and compare a variety of colors with those on a laminated chart on the table. I do not see what happens to the cup when she is done, and I make no effort to look back.

After I finish a height and weight check, an eye check, and a heartbeat examination, they take my paper from me and tell me nice work. Then I leave. I figure I’m okay, if only because they made no attempt to tell me I’m not. Not that I’d would be sure if they did.

– The stupid weather, which is humid, and makes me feel like I am sleeping on blankets inside a recently drained totally enclosed dormitory swimming pool
– Yesterday’s package of bread, which I purchased as a substitute for absent hamburger buns, containing four massive slices, each heavier and thicker than Texas toast
– Creamy milk cocoa in a paper box for a hundred yen from a vending machine icy cold frosty fresh
– Apparently the 1961 downtempo Americana cornerstone song “Stand By Me” is the “image theme” for the large chain of Japanese nutteries, Mister Donut
– The Sukiya the other day was all out of the spicy sauce for their gyudon, which is just a huge load of bullshit

Last Friday, well before my health examination, I find myself, shirted and tied, inexplicably in attendence with Jessy as one of the two youngest guests at an upper-class benefit slash buffet-style dinner for Afghani children. We are the guests of a somewhat eccentric but well-regarded and extremely well-spoken Japanese man who releases better-considered English than I do. We met him as a business acquaintence through Jessy’s father–apparently they have been working together in some capacity for a while. He is like a mad scientist with an MBA. He details the varieties of what he admits are bizarre schemes that he is currently digging his nails into. One of them has to do with extracting oils from plants? I imagine him as the landlord of a 30-floor think-tank in urban Tokyo, ushering creative minds in to freewheelin’ly sip joe and put together their dreams with raw materials.

All of this is irrelevant tonight, because the first part of the show involves a man who plays classical piano with only his left hand. The whole piano with just the one hand! He isn’t tucking his right hand behind his back as he plays, or holding it up in the air all “la-dee-dah check it out ladies” or anything so at first I am not sure that is what he is doing. But then I listen carefully and catch a glance and yep sure is only just using that left hand.

I see him deftly grip a microphone in his right hand between songs anyway, which makes me for a moment entertain an exciting fantasy: that this man has full use of his right hand too and is just playing left-handed secretly to show off, be a real smug fuck all cocksure and clandestine. But it turns out he just has his nerves all bunged up in there and can’t use it for piano, so it becomes impressive and inspiring instead of just a dick move on his part. Maybe.

I ignore all of that shit later as I stuff my face with plates full of sliced prime rare beef and lamb, tempura green beans, chunks of crab and lobster meat the size of string cheese, hayashi beef stew with rice, and glasses of champagne, wine, and beer. Later, it is dessert time, and the cherries, oh god the cherries. I consider for a moment the peeing that I will be doing later on in the week, certain that I am laying the foundation for a most enviable specimen.

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I have taken to occasionally enjoying a cigar on my Tuesday evenings, just a small one. I usually pick one out from the pack tenderly like I’m examining a flip-top coffin full of grasshoppers, confused but interested in its grotesqueness. The ritual is still new to me. They are just little guys, the size of golf pencils, and finish in something like ten minutes, if I am paying attention to what I am doing. I always wanted to be a cigar smoker, but never a smoker. There have been times in my life when I’ve smoked, though I never considered my smoking making me one who smokes, just a man who at this time, and during times occasional in the past and future, has and will do the same.

It is a strangely isolated pursuit for me, most chiefly because of how I must do it. I can’t just curl up in my chair with a tiny implement and a game controller, or puff away in the kitchen. I need to proceed outside to my balcony, structured more for utility than enjoyment, and drag on among my drying clothes and air conditioning vent fan. I sit on the concrete, back against my sliding glass door, and peer between socks or undergarments out into the evening. On floor seven surrounded by monolithic apartment buildings I feel totally alone but also as though I am being watched–by anyone, by everyone, by someone, at least. But I am also low enough to the ground that I can peer over the railing at the people biking or walking. They are surely oblivious to the tiny man up on floor seven having a novel Cuban cigar and barely peeking through his railing. A miniature thrill.

I focus on the tastes that I notice: warm flavors, the tinge of wood, of sweetness. On the Internet they tell me that people often associate their cigars with spiciness, and it becomes immediately apparent, like eating chocolate with chilis in it. You are supposed to swish the smoke around in your mouth but not inhale it as you do with other smoked material. I do it wrong the first few times and realize my error.

This is my solitude, my Japanese isolation. I stream music through my Playstation and pump it out the screen door for something to break the ambient distance-grind of whining motorcycles.

I usually make it about seven minutes before going back inside.

It’s 27 degrees today, which is much hotter than it sounds to someone used to Fahrenheit, though I cannot give you the exact number without working to discover it. Me, I haven’t been fully able to internalize the conversion scales, both due to their complexity and owing to the fact that all it would do would be allow me to transpose one meaningless number for another. Instead, what I do know is that 27 feels about like this: uncomfortable, moist, the absence of pleasantness. The Firm Awareness that spring is over and I don’t want to be outside anymore. Each degree higher adds another level of discomfort. When we get to 30 or 31, as we were upon my arrival in Japan, the repeated cries of “hot, hot” throughout the office will be the only things I hear from the staff members that aren’t blowing days of paid time off in a row.

I have made it another week without turning on the apartment air conditioner, a minor achievement since I would have done it last night without Jessy’s unreasoned, threatless warnings not to. It is both my failing as an independent man and my escalating success as a future husband that I credit with this blind, defeatist patience. I have recognized that it is worth even less to get what I want than it is to preserve the effort I would need to expend to argue with that beast in my own defense. Hi, Jessy!

Things are as busy as they have been for a month or so now. The day job, evening Japanese classes, teaching night school, social functions of all sorts, and natural human fatigue are all working together to keep me from cooking up any magnificent schemes, the kinds of things testament to the potential of guys with too much time on their hands (can openers built from LEGO bricks, balloon-popping laser guns harvested from CD drives, pizzas topped with cheeseburgers). I tell myself on occasion that it is for the best, that this routine busy-ness will allow me to cherish the times I do have free. But it is a lie. When I find myself with nothing to do I am compelled merely to enjoy a beer and my wild cherry incense, staring blankly at the match-up screen for Super Street Fighter IV. True relaxation?

So what I’ve ultimately decided is that I am probably happier busy, but just get tired too quickly. I’ve gone from compulsively waking up at 6:45 to waking up at 6:00, and the last two days it’s been 5:15 with no desire to go back to bed. This usually results in my getting home from the day around 9:20 and immediately falling asleep on the living room rug while Jessy idles away on the PC until one a.m. for no reason. Did I mention it’s really hot right now?

As if to make matters somehow better, I received in the mail yesterday two video games I’ve been waiting on for a while, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. A joke! A cruel fucking joke from the universe to me. The bright spot at the end of this ridiculous tunnel is that Japanese classes go on hiatus beginning at the end of the month, and so do classes for summer break, leaving essentially the whole of July and August rather stress free. I will go in to the office as usual, but need not do any teaching or studying, and things will be good except for the Brutal Humid Heat!

As I mentioned last week, I did indeed make it to Osaka’s Nipponbashi (or Den Den Town), the Kansai area otaku’s holy Mecca of all things anime and retro-gaming. Inside one store, Englishized from the Japanese as “Retro TV Game Revival,” I found my Famicom, modified with AV cables so it can work on modern TVs. Work it does–and reminds me of the better (worse) times, when the mere display of an image on the TV was good enough to classify your system as working. The picture this thing puts out is Not Good, especially compared to the flawless output of my magical homebrewed Wii retrobox paradise. But it does output, which I suppose is all I ask. The controller cables are also a comical length, maybe three feet? And hardwired directly into the system. Joy!

– The new Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, a man who is known mostly for being not from a political family, and for being prone to irateness
– Goddamned McDonalds, who took my favorite menu item, the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi (red spicy deep fried chicken sandwich), which has been a regular menu item since I arrived last August, off the stupid menu and replaced it with nothing of any value
– The new Evangelion 2.22 movie finally coming out on Blu-ray and being the highest selling Blu-ray in Japanese consumer history
– A man in the station today, who on his bag bore a rubber keychain with an emblem reading in all capital block letters, “SUPERMARKET FANTASY,” and the consideration mentally of what exactly such a thing might be
– Online shopping in Japan, a process during which you select not only the exact day but the down-to-the-hour time range that you want the goods to be delivered (up to 9 p.m. even on weekends), and then pay the courier in cash for your stuff when he arrives
– New Cup Noodle flavor “MEAT KING,” which is loaded with chunks of dehydrated, brown-colored salty meat, and little bits of dehydrated chickeny meat, and which is really delicious, at least about as delicious as Cup Noodle can get
– The vending machines, which all humorously were switched out to stop offering the hot versions of their drinks on June 1st just as all the office workers changed their wardrobes

I managed to order a random grab bag of ten Famicom cartridges with my cell phone entirely in Japanese last week, and they were delivered COD to my apartment tonight. More and more I come under the impression that my Famicom will be used less as a legitimate gaming device, and mostly as the tool with which to humorously cruise through these grab bags of cheap games. I am surprisingly okay with this. Inside this first bag, among the original Super Mario Bros., Tiny Toon Adventures 2, and some mahjong game, was a copy of a game literally translated as Princess Tomato of the Kingdom of Salad. It got an English release in 1991, the accomplishing of which I am sure involved some sort of miracle on the part of the guy pitching that one to the board (okay, you are a princess, and you are a tomato, and you are in a kingdom made of salad, and the game is a text adventure entirely in Japanese, and I want to translate it and sell it to kids for fifty dollars each). I will tell you what the man likely did after the board of directors gave him the go-ahead for that one: sat on his balcony and smoked a nice cigar, even if he wasn’t sure why.

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Congratulation this story is happy end

You can tell it is summer because Cool Biz is in full swing, kicked off for this fifth year by then-Prime Minister Hatoyama yesterday. Cool Biz is a humorous government initiative which is so subversively lovely that I cannot believe it actually was rendered into being. In 2005, one of Koizumi’s cabinet lackies somehow got this initiative going, which says that instead of wearing a suit and tie all summer and sweating your face off, employees of companies should wear light, breathable pants, shirts with starched collars and the top button undone, and no ties. Apparently this baffled workers, who, when confronted with the idea of needing to vary their wardrobes, simply locked up: many people brought their jackets to work anyway and kept their ties in their pockets. The other part of the initiative is that of eco-friendliness: as part of this deal, offices should keep their air conditioners at no lower than 28 degrees Celcius, which according to useless statistics produced by the Ministry of Something or Other saved Millions and Millions of units of measurement of CO2 emissions. The necktie companies–understandably–were pissed.

It was so interesting to the media when it first started in 2005 that people speculated about instituting something that would be called Warm Biz, which I guess would involve wearing turtlenecks? It was a stupid idea and never happened, presumably because it is easy to be warm in a three-piece suit and tie and offices never turn their heat on anyway.

Anyway, like I said, Cool Biz was officially kicked off on the first thanks to Hatoyama, who, in his humorously final effort as the Prime Minister of Japan, showed up to be photographed in one of his famously bad fashion sense trademark ridiculous Okinawan floral shirts, cool as a fucking cuke. Today, of course, the goon announced his resignation on public television, most chiefly many believe as a result of his continual failure to “solve the Futenma issue” (relocation of some United States army bases in Okinawa), whatever solving that would entail. Also there was an issue of tax fraud by one of his cabinet members, and a scandal about inheriting lots of money from his mommy early in his tenure, and the fact that he is a weak, shriveled carrot, weeping in the rain. One thing that probably didn’t hurt him but should have is his verifyably legit wacko wife, who is on record as saying she derives powers from consuming the sun, among other bizarre assertations.

All of this led to a frantic and confused scene as I passed through Sannomiya station on my way to work today, with big camera crews asking people what they thought as the bored elderly pretended to be surprised at this shocking turn of events for their chance to show up on the news. Giant one-shot newspapers were taped up on the support columns as though not every single person in the fucking country owns a cellphone that likely immediately informed them of this as it happened. I saw some people walking up to the paper distributors to secure a copy of this newspaper, ostensibly for their records, as a memento of that one time when the fourth Prime Minister in five years vacated office.

What does this mean for Japan? Only that soon it will be time for new McDonalds sandwiches, I will need to drag my sweat hanky out of storage, and a variety of seasonal beverages will assault the convenience store shelves. Just like that, the first circle nears completion: four whole seasons in Japan, the only country with seasons (didn’t you hear?). It was not so long ago I would fall asleep at 5 P.M. and wake up at 3 A.M., confused that I was still in Japan and annoyed that I had no clothes washer, air conditioner, dishes, Internet, television, or food.

In an exciting contrast, I am currently of 66% of a mind to take some of the small amount of money I have left after being reamed by my student loans and paying for my new three-month transit passes and go to Osaka on Friday, which happens to be a compensatory day off for me. I am peculiarly thinking of going after something I really don’t need but really do want, as it goes with most things: an original Famicom system and a handful of games. A piece of technology released four months before I was born, designed to play games taking up data space no more than one of the images on this page, outputting signals through RF modulation to my high-definition television. This, despite the fact that I can already play every Famicom game ever made and then some on my Wii, with progressive D-terminal video and sound, wireless controllers, and save-anywhere options.

But the problem is not in functionality, the problem is that I grew up in the States, and not in Japan, and so I feel like I missed out on something (even if what I got in its place was just great). I feel the underpinnings of some desire, some element of society seeping into my mind, the urge to connect, the voices of a sub-culture that doesn’t exist anymore, preserved in password books and old magazines and circuit boards in cluttered stores. It’s not the same picking the game from a menu and holding a Wii controller! I missed out on brightly colored hunks of plastic! I wanna flip the little red lid up and slam in a Famicom game! And why shouldn’t I be able to?

And so I’m going to leisurely assemble over the next however many years a mini-library of my favorite old inexpensive Nintendo games, clad in Japanese clothing. I do not want to be a “collector,” to buy rarities and troll for garbage, just a game player! I can do it totally on the cheap, and it will give me a reason to frequent the retro-game stores and buy hundred-yen clearance pit specials, something I desperately need as an excuse to get my ass outside and feel the culture, especially since I moved on from dropping coins on gashapon months ago with the end of our torrid love-affair. Also a classic Famicom will look bitchin’ sitting under my plasma television. Just look at this tall glass of water:

Ain’t she a beaut? How could a reasonable gamer such as myself find no necessity in this? How could he pass up the opportunity to embark on such a quest now, in this country, surrounded by it? It is so obvious. I will type one-sentence reviews of my hauls, annotate them with photographs and prices, and force N-Sider to post them handfuls at a time, drowning any actual content that may have existed. It is going to be glorious and awesome, and on a hot summer night, seated under the air conditioner with a Suntory THE PREMIUM MALT’S (actual spelling), I will stay up until two, beat Super Mario Bros., hit an 8-bit home run, bust fools in Dig Dug, and get a zillion points on Galaga. And it will be great (?).

– New Baobab Pepsi, which has a good flavor that may taste like baobab, not that I (or probably anyone in Japan) would know what that tastes like since it is the name of a Madagascarian tree bearing a fruit that I have never eaten or even seen
– Also new Bacon Potato Mayo Cup Noodle, which tastes sort of like a theoretical “bacon soup” with ramen in it, and is really not as awesome as it sounds
– Today my office smells kind of like basement, which I think may be a result of them kicking on the air conditioners on-schedule, after several months of winter dormancy
– Seriously getting fucking tired of being given non-chopstick eating utensils at the convenience store with my bentos, like today I got a gyudon bento, which is strips of beef and onions on rice, and I got it to work and sat down to eat it and there is not a fork, not a spork, but a spoon, a goddamned spoon in there, like how on planet shit with dogfart clouds am I supposed to eat strips of beef and onions with a spoon, goddammit, and I had to go into my bag and find a pair of forgotten wooden chopsticks at the bottom that were age and moisture-warped into the shapes of fucking pirate-ship slats and it was still easier to eat my gyudon with those than it would have been to eat it with a damn spoon, like I mean is it cause I’m obviously a white person? cause if it is I mean I made it to Japan, you know, I am dressed in Cool Biz, I have a keitai strap, you idiot, I am making a living in your country here and I think I am obviously smart enough to eat with two sticks, like I most certainly must have encountered oh every day for the last three hundred days, and if you just are giving spoons to every Taro Yamamoto that comes in this store, what is your goddamned problem anyway? fuck
– Carrying the garbage on the elevator on my way to work and meeting two kind ladies in the elevator down from my apartment who greeted me with a konnichiwa, asked if I spoke Japanese, asked where I was from and what I did and where and made me feel really good about how my basic Japanese skills are progressing, then asked me in English if I knew the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I said yes I know them and they gave me a pamphlet and we said thank you have a nice day and it was a good thing I was already going to the dumpsters
– All television commercials, news programs, variety shows, and other programming

Last weekend I went with one of my friends to play some darts, a place up on the fifth floor of some building in Sannomiya. The name of the bar was Club Bee, which a man on a loudspeaker pronounced “BEE-eh, BEE-eh, BEE-eh” whenever a new customer entered. Stepping off the elevator was a challenge in itself, as the entire entryway is clad in shiny metals, with no less than four distinct doors and no indication which is the correct one to enter. Touching any door handle actually causes the sultry voice of a female to exclaim, presumably in ecstasy, over the speakers: “Stop it!” or “Ooh, that’s sexy…” When we finally found the correct door, we were presented with a situation worthy of our efforts: hundred-yen dart boards, drinks, and air conditioning. In Cool Biz season, such simple pleasures are essentially all I require.

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