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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