Monthly Archives: October 2010

A wounded deer leaps the highest

Quite unwittingly, my name is Mr. Ooshika. That’s because my last name just vaguely happens to be composed of syllables that are represented in the Japanese language. Due to the flexible (read: hapless) organization of my contractors, when I arrived in Japan I found myself without an inkan–a little wooden stick about the size of a pack of Smarties–that every Japanese citizen is required to have. On the end of this stick sits your name, in stamp form, which is how you “sign” your name for business matters, in red ink. Since I didn’t have one, my helpful buddy at work decided to take on the task of helping me get one, and fast–without it, I would be unable to get a bank account, telephone, Internet service, and all that other crap.

So we begun placing a custom order for the katakana version of my name, Daiker, which would likely transcribe to “da i ka-” (ダイカー), with a nebulous construction time of up to a week. Perhaps hurried on by duress and the fear of authoritative retribution, my helper realized that da and i and ka could be arranged as dai ka, two actual words with representative, pre-made inkans at the inkan shop that we could just pick up off the shelf. The teachers had a good laugh at seeing my kanji inkan, an exceptional rarity for a foreigner in Japan, reading dai ka, which they told me meant “big deer.” This is true, but not really, because the first kanji (大) is usually read “oo” and not “dai,” and the second one (鹿) is somewhat nonsensically read “ka” instead of “shika” which is what it actually says, all of it a stretch in the name of expedited service. My literal Japanese last name according to my inkan is then not Daika at all, but Ooshika, (大鹿) meaning big deer. The actual name Daika would more likely be something like big mosquito, a joke that perhaps I have gotten a year too late.

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Anyway this leads to entertaining incidents when I order from Amazon.jp and the Japanese Club Nintendo store and have delivery men coming to the house for Brandon Ooshika. Behind this name I have invented another identity, one with the grace and cunning of massive deer, my new family by association. Ooshika-san, Mr. Big Deer. I feel sort of like I am committing some sort of identity fraud, but not really. It is a freeing change of pace to become someone and then slowly realize you are a different man.

To crib from Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, the only gateway I have into what is happening in the world of American football and who could be telling all lies and I wouldn’t know and without whom I would feel disconnected from the only non-hockey sport I ever really loved, CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK will this week become

TEN THINGS I THINK I THINK:

1. There is no better toy for a cat than a shoelace or piece of string and anyone who tries to tell you differently or sell you something else is a confused and horrible person/cat product government lobbyist.
2. Japan, you had better not sell out of the new Kirby game tomorrow before I get out of work or else I am going to be just really frustrated in a way that mid-to-late twenties males should not get upset about games starring cute pink mascots made out of string.
3. The something that is refreshing about an after work beer on Friday becomes confusing when you realize you are enjoying a leisurely before-work beer on Wednesday morning.
4. Under the right circumstances, it is possible to draw a salary by screening the first half of The Princess Bride for a room full of seventeen-year-olds.
5. If you have any sort of interest in old Famicom games, you would make it a point to click here and read my newest pithy article dealing with them.
6. There is only one episode of Mad Men left in the season, and I feel like suddenly I understand the pain that regular television watchers feel annually.
7. Slices of melted mozzarella cheese on a cajun-seasoned chicken breast sandwich never taste so delicious as they do when they are the most expensive and difficult-to-obtain ingredient except for the pickles.
8. If the electronic version of a book I really wanted cost fifteen bucks and the paper one was free, I would pay for the electronic one.
9. Sometimes I remember the time in my life when packets of ramen were ten for a dollar or twenty cents a piece and I laugh at myself and realize that could not have possibly been true, except it was.
10. I almost spent ten dollars on a package of muscat grapes last night, which is nowhere near the most money I could spend on a single piece of fruit at the supermarket.

THOSE WERE SOME THINGS I THINK I THOUGHT

WARNING DIARY-LIKE PHILOSOPHICAL BARF FOLLOWS THIS LINE

My most recent mental crisis has been related to my own personal analysis of whether or not I am actually a happy person, or whether I feel like I am accomplishing anything in my life, or whether accomplishment brings happiness and what actual accomplishment is. It has gotten so pathetic that I try to convince myself that even consuming media is accomplishment, but then I decide that merely enjoyment isn’t enough and I should somehow leech some other benefit outside of just indulgence, and then I decide that something more isn’t doing it, and then I don’t even consume media I just sit around or sleep. Even though I’m writing fifteen hundred words of Nomaday every Wednesday and writing for N-Sider when I can and working five days a week and attending Japanese class twice a week I still feel strangely empty. When I got here the money and the new surroundings and the constant wonderment made me happy because I had nothing to complain about, and now I still have nothing to complain about but I have sabotaged it by convincing myself that nothing to complain about does not mean something to be happy about.

The reasonable thing, of course, would be to focus less on “doing things” and more on just being happy, though I wonder at what point one becomes “as happy as possible” and it isn’t enough to just be happy anymore. It is like the cup that you fill up maybe? Once you’re full of happiness, you can’t just add more happiness, the cup starts to overflow. You can’t get more happy than your cup will let you be. A few options: one, I need to figure out somehow if it is possible to get a bigger cup, or two: I need to fill the cup with things other than just happiness? maybe it is not a cup but like one of those TV trays with different sections for each thing. It’s been almost a year and a half since I was allowed to feel the high of knowing I got the job in Japan, and I built this up to be so ultimate for me at the time that I don’t feel like I’m pushing toward anything anymore, just floundering. Blah blah blah it’s my goddamned blog I can complain if I want!

At any rate, though it may be an error in judgment, my most recent thinking is that the only way to feel true achievement is to truly achieve and so I’ve decided that instead of pouring my fifteen hundred words into the comfortable Nomaday each Wednesday night, I’m going to pour them into Edmund and do the best I can to get my novel more completed than it has been since I finished school. These Internet-less evenings are now so often consumed by my own personal outpouring of daily Nominutia that I rarely have the energy to switch projects once I finish them, and I usually just opt to read instead. I don’t know if I really can make the mental switch the way I will need to in order to get back into it, but I’m sure going to try.

So if you do not see a new Nomaday next week it will be because I am working on something that I think ultimately will make me feel invigorated to be working on and satisfied to have finished, even if only so I can say “it’s done” and never look at it again. As it is I feel like I tied a huge amount of my own self-perception into that story and then to not have it finished has left both the story and I at the same stagnant place of hiatus. So it’s time to move them on into the new year and into the future!

Or whatever, maybe I will just try to start it next week and say “oh fuck it” and write more Nomaday garbage. If you look forward to these things every week and this makes you sad, you are probably my mother, and so I say to you “chin-up moms I gotsta do it!” If this makes you happy, you are either a wise and wondrous person who has my best interests in mind and who would do well to not remove me from your Google Reader because I will be back before long, or you are a mean and shitty person.

Love,
Ooshika

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Must swim three times

I am surrounded by men, women, antsy kids, Jessy, and television screens in a multi-floor building as nice as a hotel. I’m near Shin-Kobe station, and on the third floor of this big place, where a man has hung a little plastic card around my neck that says Guest. In a tiny room adorned with what I can only classify as “exotic brick-a-brac” we watch the television screens together. It’s a live broadcast from an area near Mount Fuji. Highlights: man screams and shoots an arrow into a bush which is then lit on fire, man chops at the air with a sword to cleanse it from barriers to self-realization, old lady wearing little hat does hand motions while holding tiny sticks, which are then tossed into the fire. Together the people chant around me in a language I cannot understand, a situation I figure I should be more used to than I am by now. I am attending a special Buddhist service as a visiting member of the Shinnyo-en school, which literally means “Borderless Garden of Truth.” As believers we seek the awareness of the self through meditation and Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Am I a believer? What’s there to believe but that I am or am not? I figure in general it’s harder to not believe in stuff than it is to believe. After temple I buy a bag of chickpeas because we’re gonna make some hummus this week.

Japan is currently doing what it is it does, gearing up in much the same way as it did last year for the full arrival of fall. Though fall is technically officially here it’s still occasionally warm enough for people to get the wrong idea, and until the light scarves and jackets come out I hesitate to wave the flag. My true barometer is merely the appearance of special food products and fall-themed drinks, which haven’t really started popping up yet in any great numbers. I did spot new Cup Noodle flavors today, Beef Stew and Cream Stew, which I guess are kind of fall-y, but these seem to be some sort of microwave-requiring things which is just a bunch of crap. To be perfectly frank I myself am dreading the end of fall, which is slightly preventing me from enjoying it now: in the middle of December I’ll likely be embarking on a grueling couple-dozen hour journey across the ocean and back to the rolling plains of Iowa to spend the holidays, my first trip back to home soil since I arrived here. I am “not fond” of flying, which means it is my least favorite thing in the entire world except maybe getting stabbed.

Speaking of favorite things I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of my existential angst is not that I don’t have enough free time, but merely that I like too many things. My pesky nook e-reader has done precisely what I intended: made acquiring books so painless and reading so simple that it is my new default activity for my morning and evening commute. I read nine books in September, and the PSP and DS weep, because they want attention too. I will not even start in on the home activities, which command not only the time there but often the television. The result of all this is that I am forced to choose one of my hobbies at a time and I never get too far with any of them. It’s good to have options, I guess, but it means it just takes twice as long to do what I want. There is no point to these ramblings, just a sort of reminiscent defeatism: remember when you were 16, had no social life or significant obligations, had virtually nothing other to do than play games, and did so most veritably? If only I could go back in time and relive the same late November snow day for years and years.

Speaking of years, I ran the numbers the other day and figured out that since I’ve lived here for fourteen months and had the equivalent of about two months where I taught no classes, I’ve essentially taught twelve months of about fifteen classes a week. If you add it all up that comes to seven-hundred-and-eighty classes that I’ve taught now, which at least outnumbers the Nomadays, N-Sider articles, and every journal entry, poem, and story I’ve ever written, combined, in number (though just barely). What else have I even done 780 times this year? I’ve only woken up about 432 times. I suppose I’ve had at least 780 meals since arriving. Have I eaten popcorn 780 times in my life? Have I watched over 780 movies? Surely I’ve played over 780 video games since the age of ten or so.

At any rate I encourage you to run your own numbers, to become shockingly aware of the time we spend, without concrete markers, doing what it is we do.

Yet another thing that I’ve been doing lately is attending Japanese classes, which is enjoyable in that I am actually learning more concretely how to communicate with the people who literally surround me every single day. These skills also assist me with things like navigating the internet and securing exciting products from various websites, products which excitingly get to compete with everything else that I do for my attention.

There’s a bakery on the basement level of the Sogo department store and it’s called Donq, a name that you might expect to be the only Donq-sounding place of business in Kobe but in fact there are two others: Don Quihote (shortened colloquially to just Donki) and Bikkuri Donkey, a restaurant which literally translated means SURPRISE DONKEY. It is a hamburger steak restaurant, and scarily I enjoy eating there, perhaps because I enjoy the taste of donkey when I am expecting something that is not donkey. Anyway I have been enjoying going to Donq and buying baguettes lately, really delicious crispy-crusted bread with chewy, stretchy crumb. Last night after work I got one and had a big hunk of it eaten before I even finished walking home, then assembled a chicken breast sandwich with it and some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some Cookies’ barbecue sauce, a bottle of which I brought over here last year and which I still steadfastly am working at using up. I think it will take a lot of chicken sandwiches. The moral of this story is that I love Donq.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– My psychotic Japanese cat, who sometimes believes so fervently that the little stuffed mouse is stalking him that he’ll take one swat at it and run away so fast that his feet cannot provide enough traction to prevent him from sliding sideways into the wall like an out-of-control racecar
– A trip down memory lane at my soon-moving pal Jools’ place, during which I laid eyes upon 6+ years of gaming goodies, including but not limited to an unopened case of Cowboy Bebop gashapon figures, Morrigan and Lilith bookends (these came home with me), a variety of Japanese DS games, a couple Club Nintendo prizes from 2004, multiple variations of special peripheral controllers used to simulate shaking/strumming/beating/dancing, and a stack of Edge magazines that found their way into my apartment somehow
– My new favorite donburi place, where I can slide a bill into the machine, press two buttons, and be given an ice-cold draft beer and a big bowl of rice topped with thick slices of juicy fire-grilled skirt steak, lettuce, and spicy sauce for about nine bucks (you can also get grilled dark meat chicken or Korean beef)
– One of my teachers here at the night school, or more specifically the huge plastic bag full of green and red peppers and eggplant that he dumped out over next to the computer, which he grew on his farm and has extra of, and the resulting pile of vegetables, of which I am going to take, bring home, and nom
– A beverage I drank during a break, which said “hot cake flavor,” and was indeed a sweet, milky drink that tasted like a cross between drinking pancake syrup and cereal milk
– There’s a special red Nintendo DSi coming out for the Mario 25th anniversary, and the first I heard about it was seeing a video advertisement on the LCD screen mounted to the back of the cash register while I bought a melon soda at 7-11
END OF CURIOSITIES

I always manage to get through it all but I’m so tired today that I’ve almost fallen asleep at my desk twice. The bad news is that since it’s my late day I won’t even be teaching for another three hours, and I likely won’t be home for another six. Tapping my foot isn’t really doing it and I already ate my two string cheeses and drank my soda. I took a little stroll down the hall to the restroom too, just to see if I might snap out it. No luck! If I have the energy once I’m out of here, I am buying the nicest beer a handful of change will get me, and sucking it down as I breathe in the wind on the way to Kosoku-Nagata and home.

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