Before I bust out the formal Japanese request, which will incorporate the word “show window,” because that is how you refer to a show window in Japanese, I consider my options regarding the thin piece of expensive plastic resting inside the case. The first option is to walk away as though I never saw this desirable item, and regret the choice for the rest of my life. The second option is the only real one, and that is to buy it immediately, because the only meaning that one can possibly assign to life in Japan is related to the purchase, consumption, and enjoyment of material goods.
Five thousand two hundred and fifty yen is not the most that I’ve ever spent on a relatively useless and mainly ornamental object, but it is certainly the most I’ve spent on a piece of plastic with no implied or provocative semi-nudity. However, unlike the lascivious indiscretions of years past, this particular thingy is absolutely one-of-a-kind, because there is only one like it! It is an animation cel from my favorite anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, a distinct single frame of animation! Have you seen the End of Evangelion movie? If you have, you’ve seen a real live picture of what I bought. People who make cartoons paint each frame onto a clear piece of plastic like this, then shoot them in sequence on top of backgrounds and poof magic is made. This one is from the final episode of the series, just before the crying character is liquified into glorious LCL goo. Observe!
As you, stalwort reader, have deduced, I’ve gone back to Mandarake, a geek-store I was first acquainted with last week in Fukuoka. This time I’m in Shinsaibashi, a trendy shopping district of Osaka–more specifically, I’m in “Amerikamura,” a subdivision still of Shinsaibashi. Amerikamura means essentially America Village, and there are all kinds of stores representing the Japanese projection of what American culture is like (everyone in America dresses like a hip-hop thug who accidentally signed up for a production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat).
After I buy the Evangelion cel, I wade into the section of the upper floor of this particular store devoted to hentai doujinshi, which means in English “fan-produced adult-geared magazines full of pervy drawings of your beloved anime and video game characters engaging in degrading, filth-ridden acts.” In narrow rows of bookshelves stacked from floor to ceiling with magazines in little plastic bags and multi-thousand-yen video tapes, I feel like a tiny mouse in a dark corner of the furthest recesses of the human id, where all twisted desires manifest themselves via the overeager pens of peculiar illustrators. As I am searching for a magazine that contains some characters I am familiar with being degraded just slightly enough for me to be comfortable putting it on my bookshelf, a man wearing a fanny pack scuffles past me, saying “‘scuse me!” in Japanese, then turns excitedly to look at a section I am sure he already knows is precisely there. Then he says “oh, it’s here!” and digs in, as though there is absolutely nothing strange about seeing a well-endowed female ninja drawn left looking like an Iowa State Fair corndog with a guitar stuck up her for better grip. Surely he is just browsing, like one casually browses the cereal aisle or the butter cooler in the supermarket, the Violent Hand Axe section of the local weaponry store. I don’t see what exactly he is looking at. It is perhaps for the best. The magazine I have just picked up involves a girl in a maid outfit who has been hooked up to some sort of bodily inflation device, at the seeming mercy of at least three ne’er-do-wells. The thing the guy picks up is nearby. Though I am barely aware of my surroundings I say aloud “nope not happening” and walk back to the CD section, staring at a Konami album to burn an image of Vic Viper into my brain instead of the latex-clad balloon ladies while repeating the Mr. Saturn mantra only five can ladder only five can ladder only five can ladder.
CURIOUS JAPANESE-ERY OF THE TIME
– A store in Amerikamura called “Global Junk Food,” in which we purchased a “macaroni cheddar cheese burrito” and eight tiny donuts that were actually deep-fried fun-size Snickers bars
– The Japanese television coverage of the New Zealand earthquake, which said little about the total number of actual casualties but presented us with a handy graphic reporting the status of people in New Zealand who are Japanese and whether they have been crushed or not
– A good bowl of ramen I had, called on the menu “Shiawase Ramen,” meaning “happy ramen” (it made me happy)
– My students’ final presentations, during which they need to present an imaginary “invention” that they created, and which are absolutely completely insane
– New Cup Noodle flavor PorkGinger, which is typefaced exactly like that and which, though I have not eaten it yet, I theorize tastes like pork and ginger
– My psychotic cat, who somehow gets both lazier and more spastic each day
END OF CURIOUS JAPANESE-ERY
It’s almost the end of February which means that like clockwork the weather magically does not completely suck any more. Today I was able to come to school without a scarf or mittens, and soon I won’t even need the heavy coat anymore. Though we celebrate the new year here on January first, all Japanese people know that the new year doesn’t really start until after the cherry blossoms start blooming and the new school terms kick in during April. Japan begins again, and for now I enjoy the end of the school year and an extended period of time during which I will absolutely not say “see you” to anyone.