Monthly Archives: September 2010

The mute appeal to sympathy for our decay

I wrote an essay last week for the high school’s English journal, where my pieces are frequently accompanied by a silly bishounen pretty-boy manga-style drawing of myself, done, I presume, by some commissioned student. The teacher before me had one of her too, and they are both too caricaturely spot-on to be stock illustrations, unless someone’s got a folder titled “goofy gaijin clip-art” sitting around on a hard drive somewhere. In the essay I talk about how invigorating it is that summer, that bitch, is finally gone, and how nice it is to be able to breathe the crisp air again, and how I really love not losing 5% of my body weight in sweat every time I walk to work. I do not know if anyone read it, but I told them this is their chance for a fresh start! A chance to take a nice deep pull on that grassy breeze and re-evaluate their lives! So I did it, and things are mostly the same, but with minor adjustments. For example, the other day I got rid of nearly all the non-jeans clothes I came here with, cut for big wide western boys instead of slim Japanese boys, and noticed how 92% of my wardrobe is now comprised specifically of clothes to be worn to work. Then I decided I want a good kitchen knife, and conned Jessy into asking me what I wanted for my birthday so I could tell her the exact model number and specifications of the knife. Then I ate potato chips. That doesn’t have anything to do with the essay.

Anyway, it’s all true! My favorite time of year is finally starting to show its head and good god is it ever overdue. A couple days outside of October and we were finally able to put the air conditioner off (for good?) about a week ago, opting to just keep the sliding doors open. Our increasingly brave feline also enjoys the change, and it allows him to plop down and stare longingly out through the screen doors at the pigeons, which I am sure he dreams of brutally, mercilessly murdering. This makes us fast friends by default, though he has taken to rubbing and brushing and head-nuzzling at all opportunities he has anyway in case I didn’t get the picture. The other day when I was achieving a 90% completion rate on Space Invaders Infinity Extreme my eyes fogged over and I dreamt again of catching one of those birds and tying it up, only this time I would put it in a cardboard box and then drop the cat in and close the lid and treat what happened in there as our little secret, our dirty evil secret don’t tell your mother or father this is just between us and it feels so nice.

And how about that cat. In about a month’s time he’s gone from refusing to emerge from the couch at all to coming out when beckoned to coming out at the sound of shaking food, to just staying out unless he’s sleeping during the day. Things he is talented at: laser-focusing on every rug in the house and messing them up, eating all his food within seconds, losing his toys, licking toes, getting in the way of your feet while you walk so that you accidentally step on/kick him, refusing to sit still for two goddamned seconds so I can take a picture of him with my slow cell-phone camera. I worry sometimes about the decision we made to adopt this Kiki, because I, unlike Jessica, sometimes think about the future, and the enormous day-long plane ride in the cargo hold that he’ll need to endure, and the ways we’ll need to care for him as we transition back to life in the States ourselves. But those things, like most things, can be overcome, and for now it’s nice to have our occasionally psychotic and always loveable magic cat prowling the apartment.

We left him alone for a day last weekend to go with a group of friends to Universal Studios Japan, a hop/skip/shuttle train/staircase away from Kobe over in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan is sort of horrifying as an American because it is done up to look like some bizarrely idyllic America itself, which is one of the major draws to Japanese tourists. I tried to imagine what something like “Hello Kitty World Minneapolis” would look like, but couldn’t stop thinking of the other Japanese amusement park I had recently attended for the third time, Costco. In the spirit of this situation I decided to kick off the morning by eating a chicken sandwich from Lawson and downing it with an 8:15 AM Asahi Super Dry (which I casually referred to as “vitamin B,” my finest hour). PROTIP: The B stands for beer.

It had been over a year since I had seen a traditional red stop sign, but they’re everywhere in USJ, lining the fake streets where there is no traffic, and where I felt paranoid walking because I was afraid the non-existent cars would run me over. At one point I saw an honest to goodness blue United States Postal Service mailbox beside a fake store; the lid was welded shut. Even our sort-of-bartender at the sort-of-Irish pub Finnegan’s was cut from the American mold: born in Bangladesh, speaking conversational Japanese, and using his naturally-accented English but strange phrasing on us, he offered us green beer (in September) to go with our plate of beef stew. Accompaniments: four green beans, three potato wedges. Across the street was a hot dog cart and Spiderman’s ride. In the middle of the park Peter Pan and Wendy floated around with wires, and then I sat in a fake DeLorean while Japanese-dubbed Christopher Lloyd screamed to me that I needed to stop “Biffu! Biiiiiffuuu!” My friend thought that later in the day I was just screaming “beef” for fun even though I was impersonating Japanese Doc Brown. At the end we watched scenes from the early 1990s movie Backdraft, with videos featuring director’s commentary from a dubbed Richie Cunningham, and then an enormous million-lightbulb freak parade happened. It was a weird day.

Though the weather is getting nice again, my schedule is unfortunately unable to say the same things about itself. I am now bogged down with obligations, owing in no small part to the resumption of my Japanese language classes, which I was first told I didn’t get into, and then was later told I did get into. That means I lose Monday night and Thursday night every week for the negligible benefit of a two hour language class, with Wednesday night always gobbled by my night school, giving me Tuesday night and Friday night free (conveniently, the very same two nights that Jessy has her own Japanese lessons). This virtually ensures that we will rarely, if ever, see each other, and is a blessing for the continued sanity of us both.

RETURN OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW
– My new Nintendo Game and Watch, which is a reproduction of a 30-year-old electronic toy, and which Nintendo had made by the actual guy who made the original, working from only original units and virtually no documentation, and which I love
– A new orange beverage I got at the Daily Yamazaki called “Morning Rescue,” which I figured contained vitamins and stuff, but which I didn’t read closely enough to see that it actually contains ukon, an anti-hangover drink, and which I believe has caused the people around me to believe I may be drunk, which I kinda wish I was
– A promotional video for the new video game Dead Rising 2, which consists of a somewhat weird-faced woman wearing a bikini and sitting on a yoga ball while playing the game and bouncing up and down, the camera doing wild zoom shots on her cleavage instead of the actual game the video means to promote
– I’ve been to not-my-favorite ramen place several times recently for their tomato ramen, while my favorite place, with WILD BOAR COUNTRY RAMEN and a frozen lychee, remains neglected, and I need to change this immediately
– The old-ass NEC laptop on the desk next to me, which looks really, really old, and which, merely sitting there idle, sounds like an electric pencil sharpener
– Fucking McDonald’s, which has still not brought back the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi sandwich, and which I am going to get very mad at unless they do it soon
– Sofmap clearing out a lot of their old PS1 games, which means that yesterday for fifty yen each I got Cool Boarders, Bust-A-Move, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Parasite Eve all in immaculate condition
– My Japanese PS1 game collection in general, on which I have not spent more than a dollar for any individual game, and now numbers fifteen titles
– A new fashion trend among dolled-up young Japanese ladies, which involves hanging a fox tail from your belt loop regardless of whether you are a professional trapper of wild game or not
THIS HAS BEEN CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW

On Friday it’s my school’s sports day, a bizarre and confusing event in which participation, like English education, is compulsory for all students. They grunt and slave together through a variety of strange events and then a class is rewarded for their crushing victory. Though not officially compulsory for me, this marks the second year now that I’ve been asked to run in a relay race with other teachers. As with last time my only real prayer is that I manage to find a good seat in the right place, enjoy watching the events of the day, and most importantly don’t fall down when I am running. Dear lifeforce just keep those feet pushing off the ground and don’t get overanxious. I don’t even care if I slow the whole damned group just keep my face off the gravel please. And when I am done, I will drink beer, and it will be delicious, and it will be the weekend, and I will try yet again to light my goddamned coals.

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I’m Pat Sajak and Vanna White

I can always tell when someone’s from somewhere else cause I get stuck on the escalator. Yet another unwritten rule of Japan: in Kobe you stand on the right and walk on the left. When I’m parading down the left side all “la-dee-dah gonna miss my train” and see a traffic jam I look ahead to whomever’s in front, comfortable in the knowledge that they are not one of us, that they are the outsider, and that even if they don’t realize it, they understand how I once felt here. For the tiniest moment, I have something significant in common with a random stranger passing through, and I want to tell the poor shit to take a step to the right you dumbass, and open your fucking eyes. But I usually just exchange glances with a surly looking elderly person nearby, glances which say “normally we would hate each other, but let’s hate that person screwing up the escalator instead, together. Man that guy sucks.”

In other news yesterday Japan made the bold political decision to do nothing regarding the selection of their current Prime Minister to the office he already holds, a leader who they did not elect, but who they have now elected merely by striking everything they said last year down and admitting that no, we thought change was good when we chose the LDP, but Hatoyama was a nutjob, and then we got Kan, and Kan’s okay right? it’s easier to just leave it this way, change is bad, Yes We Kan(‘t), let’s enjoy Hokkaido butter. I agree with all of that except the Kan stuff, which I basically have no opinion about because since I am a dirty foreigner I can’t vote anyway so who gives a shit. The yen is now at a rate of 82 for a dollar! I’m rich, or would be if I could actually save any money and didn’t have to send tons of it home every month to make the minimum loan payments.

Speaking of using money wisely, on Friday after work I’m hopping on a bullet train to Tokyo, from where I will zip along the bay to Chiba for my first trip to the Tokyo Game Show, a dream I’ve had since I was but a wee young lad. As N-Sider’s Japanese correspondent I will deliver a variety of articles under the guise of journalism. At the Tokyo Game Show an attendee is surrounded by lines of people who are waiting to play the brand-new barely-ever-seen unreleased games that he would like to play, but cannot because there are too many people. I assume. Also there is a thing called Cosplay Alley, where young males and females of varying levels of attractiveness exhibit the costumes they’ve spent fortunes on by dressing up like characters from anime, manga, and video games, 10% of which are mainstream enough for a person to recognize. Am I making it sound like I have been to TGS before? I haven’t. These are just guesses, like how I am guessing that tomorrow will still be not cold.

With the secret of the pressure-activated ass-blasting nozzles now firmly revealed (I read an article about them, during which I discovered that the bidet people found the “best angles” by collecting data from upwards of fifty seriously devoted company employees), there are now precious few mysteries remaining as I continue to persist here in this off-beat land. I set about tackling a couple of them in tandem the other night: special giveaway contests and online Japanese auctions. See, in Japan you can participate in a giveaway contest for almost every field and with nearly every product. They are usually targeted to obsessive otaku geeks like me (I am in the process of sending away five “special stamps” from limited edition packets of Cup Noodle for a shot at one of a thousand special Cup Noodle plastic Gundam models). Another easy target is shut-in losers with nothing else in their lives to look forward to or derive pleasure from but a contest win, a category I don’t particularly desire to place myself in but well.

Invariably these things are called “campaigns,” and they will always successfully terminate with a “present,” the number of which will be given away always being clearly stated. The word campaign used to make me think of only politics or military war events before I moved to Japan, and now all I can think of is photographing QR barcodes on the backs of gummy packages and limited edition Yoshinoya beef crossovers with Daily Yamazaki convenience stores for special gyudon steamy buns. For kicks, I sometimes imagine these are military activities anyway and that the Japan Self Defense Force is secretly manufacturing Coca-Cola sandals in an effort to protect themselves from North Korea.

My personal vice is gaming, and so one of the first courses of action I took when I arrived in Japan was registering for Club Nintendo, a point-accumulation reward program that delivers menial amounts of points to you as you spend godforsaken amounts of cash on Nintendo products and type in the special codes that are included on little papers that come inside the box. Accumulate enough points in one October to September campaign period (400), and you reach “platinum status” for that year, entitling you to a free, mysterious present that they announce and ship out roughly six months after the period has ended. In the past they have given out stuff like special-design accessories, a TV remote that looks like a Wii controller, plush Mario hats, and last year an exact replica of the first Nintendo Game and Watch (Ball). For dweebs like me the elements of fan-servicey fan-service combined with the knowledge of a proven track record for platinum gifts along with the mystery (oh god if I don’t hit platinum status I won’t get the free prize even though I have no idea what it will be but I am sure it is going to be GOOD!) synthesize a brutal cocktail–there was simply no “deciding” whether or not I was going to get platinum status, I Must.

Therein lies the rub. Despite going out of my way to this year purchase three Wii Remotes, a MotionPlus accessory, two Classic Controller Pros, Mario Kart Wii, an extra steering wheel, a black nunchuk accessory, Wii Fit with a Balance Board, Sin and Punishment 2, Captain Rainbow, Super Mario Strikers Charged, and some other shit I am surely forgetting, I now have (two weeks from the end of the campaign year) a paltry, insulting 285 points, relegating me to pathetic “gold” status, for which I will receive the shittiest calendar known to man.

Enter mystery number two: Yahoo! Auctions! I mean, why not? There have to be lots of people who are addicted to selling stuff in online auctions instead of chasing impossible contests, right? As it turns out, yes! A cursory Yahoo! Auctions search turned up a man who for the low price of only about 15 bucks was willing to sell me a full 400 points worth of Club Nintendo codes, enough for me to hit platinum this year and get me damned close next year. So I bought it! (Well, after I spent thirty minutes making my Japanese Yahoo account, registering it for the auction website, and figuring out how to actually bid.) After I won the auction I realized there was a problem and that problem was that I had no idea how to pay the man without a credit card. So I sent him an insultingly simplistic Japanese language e-mail asking “where does the money go” and he responded with a list of Japanese banks and numbers and his name and all this shit that I tried and failed to type into the ATM last night and so I haven’t given him his money yet but I sure will try again soon. In conclusion I am doing some stuff in Japanese that I didn’t think I could do but I seem to be capable of doing (sort of). Mysteries obliterated! Was that interesting to read? I doubt it.

KIKIWATCH 2010

Here, look at my fucking cat:

Man Kiki is just the coolest. He is comfortable enough now to actually be out and about as long as we don’t make any crazy sudden movements involving our scary legs. The other day I found him just chillin’ in the bathroom sink, all like “what.” He sometimes comes up on the couch now, he plays with his toy which is a little fuzzy thing on a stick, and he also really loves it when I give him this special meat snack thing which is like a big hunk of moist fish jerky. Also, when the fatass runs out of food and water at 3:35 in the morning, he walks into my bedroom, plops down on the floor next to me, and meows until I wake up and refill them. Surprisingly enough this doesn’t fill me with rage and hate like it used to do with other pets, perhaps because I know that this one is my pet, and this apartment is my apartment, and if I refuse to be kind to the cat there is nobody else for him to bother except Jessy, who is more of a loose cannon. I heard her saying “shut up shut up shut up” to the cat yesterday morning at 3:35, which is just stupid since he is a cat and he can’t understand you because he is Japanese and doesn’t speak very good English you twerp.

END OF KIKIWATCH

I guess I should be proud that I made it through twelve weeks of this year at night school before not really knowing what to do anymore–my kids here are of such disparate skill levels that to play any game that implies or requires English ability is essentially a wash with most of them, and a game that requires equal participation from everyone is equally futile since generally none of them want to be here. The best games are of the kind where students are prompted for no more than a letter, number, or word of their choosing, and after Pictionary, a number counting game, a mystery word game, hangman, vocabulary bingo, Jeopardy, and a few other things, I am all but tapped out. Tonight I will take a big leap to a new game I have made up called hot seat, where I will present the class with a basic list of adjectives, and then for the first half of class I will describe simple objects using basic adjectives and get them to try to guess what I am talking about. For the second half I will force a sampling of students to describe a mystery object themselves to the rest of the class, which will likely fail miserably.

Or I’ll just play hangman with point values and call it Wheel of Fortune then drown my sorrows in vending machine beer on my walk home.

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If I don’t fight, I’ll eat this planet

Go back to 1978 and clone Wal-Mart somewhat unsuccessfully with a drop of Japanese sweat thrown into the tubes and you’d end up with Kohnan (unrelated to Barbarian, Detective, and red-haired talk-show host), a self-proclaimed Home Center that sells everything from drinks to power tools, office supplies, and home decorations. Also they have forty gashapon machines. I went there with Jessy last night under the pretext of securing some supplies for our future-cat Kiki, who is now beginning to enter Earth’s atmosphere and will meteorically impact our apartment some time this weekend.

In the back of Kohnan there is a place called “Pet Land,” which sells all kinds of animals for totally exorbitant prices. The cats they have start at around 300 dollars, topping off at over a few thousand. For a mere $8,900 you could take home a genuine Harry Potter owl and watch him brutally murder your other pets to shreds then leave a rock hard excreted pellet of fur and bones on your sofa as he swivels his neck 270 degrees to watch you shit your pants.

Me, I enjoyed the fact that to purchase a prairie dog you’d literally have to shell out $3,800, and had past- and future-pity on any parents or outliers who were convinced by little Toshi that they really needed to welcome a prairie dog to the family. Is this the kind of shit that housewives spend their husbands’ money on, and is that why the suicide rate is so high in this country?

In my mind I played out a very real series of events beginning with a bunch of Midwestern folk loading their rifles, and ending with dozens of liquefied, mutilated prairie dog corpses littering the aisles while sobbing salarymen try to resuscitate them and protect their investments. Instead of gunshots ringing out there are only the clangs of cash registers, and at the end the Folk have subtracted a billion yen from the economy of Japan. While they listen to “More Than a Feeling,” the hunters construct World Champion Belts out of exhausted six-pack plastic rings then drape them around themselves like Persian silk before shouting “ya-heeeew” in unison and ejaculating wildly all over each other.

Though I steadfastly resisted the prospect of ever buying any sort of clothing items for my cat, one horrible decision was made in the form of a ten-dollar plush hat that velcroes to an animal’s head and makes them look like they are actually some kind of citrus fruit. I was powerless to resist Jessy’s tossing it in the basket, because I imagined my cat as a citrus fruit and it melted my decision-making center. I have spent more money on things in the past that brought results far less satisfying than photographs of my pet with a plush citrus fruit hat on his head will be, and that is a fact, as my limited edition Lotteria Evangelion hamburger calendar can attest to.

We also bought the cat lots of food that looks mostly like canned tuna, but it is in little pouches, and we bought the cat some meaty smoked snack sticks, which also look like canned tuna. I am not going to lie, I am wondering how long it will be until I taste the cat food.

Because buying bunches of shit for a cat I don’t have yet soured me, I needed to buy something for myself which had strong and immediate ramifications: a small metal grill with fold out legs and an adjustable grill rack, along with two kilograms of “coconut charcoal,” charcoal shaped like little donuts which smells kinda like coconut. This is my first grill in Japan, and it only cost ten bucks, which is a marked value when you consider other stupid purchases I have made in the past, like a plush citrus fruit hat for my cat to wear on his head. I plan on buying some meat, heating the charcoals, frying some rice on the stove with garlic butter, MSG, a dash of soy sauce, and some peas, and then cooking the meat and enjoying it all with a nice frosty Coke. I say Coke now not wanting to think about beer, because in the spirit of the heat I drank four cold beers not long before bed last night, and now it is two in the afternoon, and I am at work, and I have the most shameful mini-hangover in history. I’m such a weak shithead that I barely have the motivation to insult myself, and doing that is a pretty core element of my basic mental functions.

Jessy, if you’re reading this as I write it, which is impossible because I won’t be able to put it online until I get home, I am sorry that our apartment looks like you snuck in while you were gone and destroyed everything and used up a hundred dishes and didn’t pick anything up. In the future I will try to leave the house looking more like you’re used to seeing it after I’ve been home for a while, and less like I’m used to seeing it after you’ve been home for a while. P.S. you left your iPhone in the closet, P.P.S. I love you

THIS WEEK’S NOTABLE THINGS NOTABLE FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN BEING NOTABLE
– Today is the first day of September, and although that signals the beginning of fall in my mind, it has no bearing on the actual climate or weather or temperature, which is still as hot or hotter than it was yesterday and has been for the last three months and which makes me hate everything
– Corn on the cob, which you can so rarely find in Japan, and which I bought at the grocery store this week for $1.25 an ear, and which I felt all nostalgic shucking, and which was so, so goddamned delicious
– The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy, a book by Bill Simmons (a.k.a. The Sports Guy), which is 734 pages long and which I just finished today after a week of reading, despite having no concrete interest in either modern or historical basketball, and which is fantastic, and which at one point concerns itself with a multi-hundred page list of the 96 players Bill Simmons considers to be the best ever, and which contains hundreds of footnotes that I read, and which I really do not know why I kept reading but I read six times more of it than I have ever read into The Lord of the Rings
– My shoes, which are falling apart, and which bear now-flaking black paint, ensuring that nobody can possibly believe these are leather anymore
– Simple pleasures like crunchy plums, juicy grapes, Chili Tomato Cup Noodle, corn on the cob, and Jimmy Dean breakfast sausages, made all the more special by the fact that like many other things in Japan, their appearances are rare and fleeting, their prices high, and their tastes exceptional
PERHAPS THAT IS ENOUGH

Classes start up again at my main school in a couple of days, which means that after two months of twiddling my thumbs I’ll be back in front of the kids, being sized up by every pair of eyes, evaluated, silently judged. I have already blown several of my good games and activities on them throughout the first term so I think I’ll start off strong with a tell-me-about-your-summer-not-vacation-cause-you-were-at-club-activities-every-day lesson, then follow it up with Jeopardy trivia the following week to re-endear them to me. After that I can probably have them work on filling in speech bubbles for comic strips for a couple weeks, which will result in dozens of “I am gay I love you” jokes for me to read, and that brings us into October! Look, I just did four weeks of work in one minute.

In an effort to change our lives, my younger co-teacher (the one who is prone to inserting superfluous fucking curse words) has suggested that we go into business together. The kind of business will be “burger,” he says. We will have one item on the menu, the burger, and it will be the only thing that people will be allowed to buy. I suggested that we sell some fried potatoes (the term they use for French fries here), but no, just the burger. When the people come to order, we will ask “how about a burger,” and the customer will say “ok,” and if he says no, that is too bad because do not have anything that is not the burger. The name of the store will be “Burgers of Tom,” which he claims will be a good name for a burger shop because it is like the phrase Peeping Tom, even though the only two people that work there will be he and I, and there will be no Tom. Burgers of Tom, meet world.

So averse to the idea of beginning to teach classes again after our two months off, he mentioned to me that tomorrow he will surely see “some scenes of hell.” Most people have a concept of heaven and hell, he tells me, but most of the time he only experiences hell. The one way to ease the suffering of teachers returning to work, preparing to meet with scenes of hell?

Surely a delicious burger from Burgers of Tom.

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