Category Archives: JAPAN

A fly lives 10,000 years

I got on the train after work the other day, had been stayin’ late with the ESS (that’s English Speaking Society, though I often feel like the only member), and all I wanted to do was sit down and play some Fire Emblem on my little game thing.  And it was so full, I had to stand, and we weren’t moving, so I walk over into the next car right, and I sit down and get ready to play and this kid he sits down right there next to me, almost on me, starts jangling the little plastic chef thing I have hangin’ off my laptop bag like he’s a farmer and I’m the bull to be used in his latest foray into husbandry, floppin’ em around there.  And I kinda check over at him, yo man, what you doing there, and he gives me this weird distorted thumbs up, like his thumb is bent all the way backward.  He must be like fifteen or sixteen, whatever, I figure you’re janglin’ my sack around a little bit if you dig it roll on my daddy-o, I will be into Sannomiya in like five minutes.  But we just keep sitting there!  The damned train ain’t be moving.  And then he starts getting frisky.  Before long he has his hand slid under my bag onto my thigh, and he squeezes it a little bit, and I say like “whatchoo doin, there, guy,” only obviously he can’t understand me and I don’t feel like straight up telling him to fuck off in Japanese yet, and then he kinda slides his hand into my pocket, he is right on goddamned top of me!  There are seats free in this car, I should say, like all the way over to the edge.  I sit for a while he’s just grabbin’ on me, I figure whatever the kid is obviously mentally Disadvantaged and whatever I will be to Sannomiya in like five minutes, BUT WAIT WE ARE NOT MOVING YET WHAT

Eventually I pick his hand up off my leg and put it over onto him, and say “No” and shake my head, no, but he puts it back, I look around the car to see if anyone is getting this shit and every single person has their head turned as far away from me and this situation as possible, like only Japanese people can do, like I am emitting a blinding, sun-killing light and they have to turn their faces away, oh god, oh god don’t let it get in my eyes, eergh, eughhh, aghhhh, but there is nowhere left for their heads to turn cause if they turn them too far they will be up in someone’s FACE, and I say aloud, 

“nope”

and I get up and walk off the train and not sprint or anything but brisk walk down the train platform to a different car, get in it, go through the inner-car-door to a different car, and sit down in a free seat and pull out the goddamned Fire Emblem.  “Then it still takes for fucking ever for the train to get to Sannomiya” jesus christ i swear it took like 45 minutes for that train to go 10 minutes there was some crap on the track or maybe the kid ran into the conductor’s booth and started grabbin’ his coin purse or something holy god.

CURIOUS JAPANESE DOINKS OF THE PERIOD OF TIME ELAPSED BETWEEN BEFORE AND NOW
– Gotta give a presentation in the computer class at night school here tonight, they told me “just do something” and so I am going to show them where I am from on Google maps then nervously stammer for the remaining 44 minutes
– Jessy is sick again somehow and my throat starts to act up every now and then but then gets better, it’s just kinda tellin’ me, hey, hey you, I could kill you if I wanted you know
– Wait does that count as a Japanese thing of the week
– The new Twinbow gummies come with a VITAMIN SOUR pouch in them now, you’re supposed to empty the sour pouch into the gummy pouch and shake it up to make them double sour, I did it and man they were lyin’
– I tried explaining some Iowa foods like a breaded tenderloin sandwich and tater tot casserole to some Japanese person the other day, that sure did not work out as I had planned
– Tomomi Itano is graduating from AKB48!!! How on earth will people find my blog via google search now without lots of references to tomomi itano duckface tomomi itano naked pictures akb 48 akb48 girls with mysterious smile and expressions cpt. pee pee jumbo book osaka dogfart game
– I kinda felt like going and doing something jappy during our upcoming three day weekend cause of the holiday, but instead Jessy scheduled us a dentist appointment ha ha ha thanks baby
– Wait does that count as something Japanese
END OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS

The other night I went to a Sukiya place for dinner with my peeps, it is my favorite “beef bowl” place and man it sure was good.  For a minute I was like “oh gosh if i leave japan i cannot eat beef bowl at sukiya anymore” but then I remembered that I know how to cook and also you can buy “international foods” in America so I will just cook it and pretend I am at Sukiya when I eat it. Or maybe I could just eat 30 pounds of awesome Texas barbecue and Mexican food, yeah I think I will do that instead.

Speaking of food, last night I made a food my grandfather used to fondly refer to as Shit on a Shingle, though I don’t know how fondly.  Turns out that apparently I love to eat shit.  I am a shit eater

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Look at what I’ve done

It’s been forever in here, mainly because I’ve put my authorial weight back behind N-Sider and all the writing I do ends up being game stuff that shows up there instead of here. For the last six weeks I have literally had whooping cough, I went to the doctor’s place twice and spent all kinds of time for them to tell me that. I even got a chest CT scan, it felt like I was in Ghost in the Shell or something with all this crazy machines.

It’s been three years since I came to Japan, and most of the things I’m doing are the same as they were last year at this time. The heat is disgusting and oppressive, the air conditioner is doing its job. My classes are over until September and finals are finished, so I’ve mostly been wasting time doing nothing. I have to renew my residence status here for Japan pretty soon so they don’t extradite me to a place that is not Japan.

Mainly, to you, self, and people who read this, I am sorry! I always prided myself on at least writing something in each calendar month, but I missed last month, and that is just terrible.

I already wrote an article for the site today too and I don’t have it in me, I’m reaching down there for something but there isn’t anything.

You could do what I do sometimes and read what I was doing a year ago at this time. That is what I’ll do, while I remember what it was like to have something to say. Three years really oughta be the longest I ever stay anywhere, this is liable to make a man wacky in the brains, this comfort.

I played in Joe Louis in a playoff game

My predisposition to “just going with it” has led me somehow to, through a series of 23% understood entirely-Japanese conversations with the principal of the night school I work at on Wednesday nights, register Jessica and I for a volunteer, 250-person chorus that we must attend practices for ten times between now and December. It culminates in a December 8th concert at a music hall in neighboring Akashi, where I will, surrounded by legions of middle-aged Japanese men likely possessing far greater vocal ability than I (though their karaoke skills are no indication), sing Beethoven songs for the locals while wearing a black suit. This might sound enjoyable if I had ever been a part of any choir in my post-fifth-grade life, or even enjoyed singing when not completely inebriated. According to Google’s automatic translation of the event page, we are to be the “protect food Jiro response rate” chorus.

While I filled out the papers, trying my hardest to conjure up the Japanese necessary to say I really couldn’t do it, or anything whatsoever, I had to mark whether I was a tenor or a bass, a point of self-knowledge I do not even slightly possess. Principal marked bass for me because he said “it sounds like this” and then sang “la la la la” and then marked it. There is a seventy dollar entry fee! Ostensibly it covers the costs of some big party we have or something, but I couldn’t figure out when the party is. We also get a CD and some sheet music or whatever, I don’t know how this shit works. I can’t even read the damned paper. I guess I’m supposed to go to this place on the map next Thursday after work. Someone might call me or something? It’s on the second floor of a building in a place I’ve never been. Jessy will be off to goddamned Australia so I will be going it alone the first week.

“fuck”

It’s getting to be summer which means it’s time for that annual tradition of “Cool Biz,” the guilt-mandated effort to wear dorky short-sleeved dress shirts with no ties or jackets so that we can keep the air conditioner barely running and sweat to death in the name of conserving energy for our soon-to-be-powerless country that has no nuclear reactors running. Another thing that it means is that it’s time for seasonal Pepsi, and this year it’s a doozy! “Salty Watermelon Pepsi,” which releases July 24th. Signs you’re in Japan: a soda release date is announced almost two months in advance of the product launch, and it finds immediate coverage all over the news.

I’ve been playing a game lately on my home video game console called Yakuza 4. It’s kind of a open-world game that takes place in Tokyo, and you play as some hardass and you run around and do minigames. I spent probably four hours last night doing a minigame that isn’t even really a game, where you click some buttons to set a training regimen for your virtual dojo’s virtual recruit, and his stats go up, and then you enter him in tournaments and he fights, only you don’t even get to fight with him you just WATCH HIM. But for some reason I couldn’t stop. Before I knew it it was like the old days, hammering away at the button to make the number go up, but why, why?!

It reminded me of my first experience in life where I was fully able to rationally recognize I had “wasted time.” It was when I was maybe ten years old or so and I had rented Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball for Super Nintendo. I got it home and spent all day playing. After a while I had figured out how to break the game, just had to keep grinding away. I think I needed $3 million to buy Bill Laimbeer himself. The whole time I remember some of my family was there, they were playing in the other room or watching a movie or whatever, and I was like “hey sounds fun but the job has to be done,” and so I kept playing to get money to buy Bill Laimbeer. Hours passed! Hours! Playing Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball! And then, eventually, I got the money to buy him. Oh! How sweet it was gonna be. I bought up that old white turd and stuck him in the fuckin’ game, he sure was the best player. And then I went out to check the other room and see what fun everyone was having, but it was too late. It was time for them to GO HOME. I ground the gears for a second. “What have I been doing with my life? All this shit for Bill Laimbeer?” I suddenly realized the ultimate futility of my actions, of the actions of humanity as a goal, in microcosmic space: burning my life away doing the same thing over and over to get three million dollars so I could buy Bill Laimbeer. Obviously I learned my lesson and never spent time on video games again.

Look at that piece of shit!

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WHAT
– Today’s beverage of choice, which has for reasons I will never fully comprehend, become a totally normally-named grapefruit-tasting drink to me, called “POCARI SWEAT”
– The lady who called me on the phone last night and said like “hi mister ryota ishikawa” and I was like “that’s not me chigaimasu chigaimasu” and she was like “oh that’s not you” and I was like “nope not” and she was like “well do you have a minute to talk about insurance” and I was like “aha excuse me” and I hung up even though we don’t really “hang up” anymore we just push a button and it isn’t even a button anymore just a picture on a screen that says “end call”
– The lesson I’m currently teaching on Japanese haiku and English haiku and how we can use the haiku form to make English poems, during which I write a haiku poem in Japanese on the board to explain it and then someone points out that I should have made this one line before the other one in stroke order even though I don’t bother to point out that when they say “I like to watch birds frying” it doesn’t mean what they think it means
what what

The other day in front of the elevators some young kids were waving these wands around to make big bubbles and then running away, leaving them suspended in the air. A lady and I happened to cross paths where the bubbles floated, and for some reason both of us stopped right there in the middle of the sidewalk, separated by this wall of shiny orbs, wondering if it really was safe to just walk right through and pop the bubbles, these temporary little things with no feelings or emotions that took less than a second to create. I walked around the side, on the grass, to avoid the bubbles, wondering for a second how many little bugs I was stomping to death in the name of beauty! A perilous existence up here in me.

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A parked taxi with the meter running

The last week and a half has seen me become a drifter, free of obligation or mental roadblock, free of the famous Jessica Dovey, who may or may not have been dead at any given moment in the Himalayan mountains but ended up being not dead and actually gets back home tonight. While she was gone I engaged in a variety of scandalous activities that would be forbidden if she was around, like: leaving the air conditioner on even while I slept sometimes, occasionally leaving the toilet seat up, and one time I smoked a cigarette on the balcony and did not close the door to the house. The illicit things that I did are even more scandalous. For instance, I cooked linguine noodles instead of the spaghetti ones and I drank two entire Mello Yellos on a weekend evening and stayed up well past 9 PM.

While she was gone, in typical Japanese fashion the massive social hoopla built and built for Typhoon Ma-on, which was first a Category 5 super typhoon, then slowed down, then was on a direct collision course with Kobe, then wasn’t, then hooked up back toward us, then didn’t. It ended up being about the biggest non-event in history, the non-event to end all non-events. At its most troublesome it stole away some of humanity’s precious three-dollar plastic umbrellas, and I fear we shall never see them again. I, tasked with caring for Jessy’s garden plants on our balcony, did an admirable enough job saving the tomatoes, though the useless little green beans in their tiny pods were a casualty of the wind, tossed to the ends of the earth.

As penance for my slight transgressions, I took it upon myself to finally throw away the Christmas tree she had stashed there on our balcony, dead for seven months and wrapped in a red fleece blanket, secured with shoelaces that look like the pullstrings for purple Zubaz pants. I believe that it was serving as a reminder, a grave one, to the living flora and fauna: do you see what we do to you, if you die? You will finish your days in this place covered in synthetic fibers and left to roast in the sun like a carcass for the vultures, and not even the smallest creature shall mourn you. Opening the blanket up was like unearthing a mystical coffin containing Santa Claus. Pine needles fell all over everything, and I was reminded of that magical Christmas of 2010, which we spent with a fresh tree until December 17th when we left the apartment for weeks. She had tricked me into letting her buy the Christmas tree from IKEA by pointing out that if you brought it back after Christmas with the receipt they would give you a special gift card for store credit, something she absolutely “would do.” I am an elephant, woman, and I will not forget this savage, cruel deception. This year there will be only a Christmas box, which will be a box in the corner of the room, and inside it will be other, smaller boxes, and inside them will be nothing, and it is all for you, and you will be happy to receive it.

A beneficial side effect of cleaning off our balcony was that I remembered I had twenty cans of V8 stashed out there from a Costco trip, so I moved them inside. I think they enjoyed being next to their vegetable brethren for a while though. It must have been more fun out there than it is in our refrigerator’s pull-out beverage drawer, where the only friends are a huge jar of pickles and a pineapple, which, according to the tag, is named “Sweetie-o.”

One thing they will not find in there is a spare bottle of today’s new taste sensation, another new limited Pepsi flavor. This summer it’s Caribbean Gold Pepsi, which is stylized on the label in a way that elicits memories, for me, of perhaps my mother’s mysterious sun-tanning lotion in the early-to mid-90s. Or perhaps some brand of VHS pornography, or maybe a kind of stereotypical name of rum? It does not seem like a typeface for the year 2011 is what I am saying. The I in Caribbean is even a palm tree. The flavor itself is purported to be “WHITE SAPOTE FLAVOR” and I had no idea what a sapote was until I looked it up online (it is a kind of fruit, I guess, “from the Caribbean”). This necessary research finds itself among comfortable previous experiences vis-a-vis the time I spent looking up the previous Pepsi flavors, chief among them Shiso Pepsi, Azuki Pepsi, Baobab Pepsi, Mont Blanc Pepsi, and now Caribbean Gold Pepsi. One thing is for sure: this shit is sweet. If you can imagine an even sweeter Pepsi, this is it! Unlike the superior (now, inevitably, discontinued) Mont Blanc, which had a delightful coffee taste, this one is just sweet. SWEET! I will never drink it again, but it’s okay I guess.

Japan switched from analog to digital television broadcasting over the weekend, and celebrated it on television by setting up tons of old TVs then showing them go to a blue error message at exactly noon on Sunday. I suppose it is kind of a hard event to publicize or cover, at least that is what you would think, though this being Japan it was accompanied by a series of bizarre stuffed mascots, tons of confetti, people dashing at the camera and yelling “uwaaaa!!!!” and other such things. Speaking of weird television I watched a segment on a variety show last night the name of which I do not know but that I’m calling “Sanctioned Sexual Harassment Mega Excite,” the concept of which is this, as I imagine it was pitched: two hideous men, both slightly fat, and one with a farmer’s tan, will put on Speedo swimsuits and go to a swimming resort, where young girls in bikinis will model for them as they make insensitive remarks. To allow the guise of information we will say this is an overview of “the popular bikinis of 2011.” The uglier of the two men will assign “point values” to the quality of the women, while measuring their curves and breast size with a giant plastic protractor. He will carry a little foam finger on the end of a stick, with which he will poke the women in the soft places until they tell them to stop, which they will not because no means yes! At the end, he will yell “DYNAMITE BODY!”

Obviously I watched the whole thing.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE LATELY, AS THOUGH THOSE ARE SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAN WHAT THESE ARTICLES ROUTINELY DEAL WITH IN THE NARRATIVE ANYWAY
– My local import store, which recently received Hot & Spicy SPAM and is now selling it for 650 yen a can
– Me, for buying one at that price, which with the soaring yen value equates to buying a can of SPAM for something like eight U.S. dollars, and not regretting it even a little
– The goddamned cicadas, which produce a deafening, alarm-like scream in the wee hours of the morning, and which I can hear even while standing in my kitchen or toilet room by way of the overhead vents
– Oreo brand chocolate bar, which is the size of a Heath but instead of toffee is just Oreo and macadamia nuts
– This guy I saw yesterday, who was following his dog around, and the dog looked like he was poppin’ a squat to take a dump, and instead of waiting for him to finish then scooping it up into a bag or something the dude pulled out a paper plate and stuck it under his ass and the dog took a shit on the plate I am seriously not joking I left before I could see what he did with the plate
UGH

I went in for my annual health check yesterday, a requirement of the school system or something like that. I left work at noon to go to the clinic, where, despite being told I would not have to submit to a urine test, I was asked to submit to a urine test. Lucky for me I usually have some of that around. Anyway, the way it works is you are marched on a path around this building kind of like a cow being led to his slaughter, stopping along the way at each little station for the next part. The first station is of course the bathroom. Next to the sink there is a little rack with paper cups and markers, and you take one and write your name on it. You’re supposed to go in it up to the line, then you set it in this window, a window between the office part and the bathroom part, like a drive-thru, like going to Taco Bell, only I am the restaurant, I am cooking up what they have ordered, which is a steamy cup of my piss. They have asked for it, so here, please wait gotta get it ready, and then I set it on the little window and that completes the order.

At the last stop the doctor needs to check my heartbeat and the guy asks, can you please lift up your shirt, then I start doing it but almost as I reach for it the older lady assistant rushes out from a pocket in space time, like I have no fucking idea where she has come from, and starts jerking up on my shirt, she is literally trying to rip it off me, so politely at the same time though, apologizing as she subjects me to this sort of violation. It is a slim-fit shirt, I tell her, you can’t lift it up let me un-button it, and she does not listen, tugging it up, it is rolled back, crushing me, I am horrified oh god, let me help me. The doctor says my heart rate is high, no shit doc. “Take care of yourself,” he tells me. I cannot think about anything except the guy who put the paper plate to catch that dog’s shit, man that was so fucked up.

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Send toast to ten tense stout saints’ ten tall tents

I am eating a hamburger, a double hamburger to be precise, with cheese, and salsa, and it is so drippy and disgusting that it makes sense, just works like a hamburger should, it is like a chorus in harmony. Next to my plate is the coup de grace, a genuine root beer float, and when I ordered it the guy said Da-dzu oa Ei ando Daburu? And I chose the second one. It is revelation, epiphany! Ice cream and root beer. But then, there are cake sprinkles on top, and yep I guess I am still in Japan. With every delicious sip I get those little bits of plastic-flavored crap-wax, fucking up my drink, and it is just one of those things. I work up the energy to lose my mind, to abandon my tenuous deathgrip on reality, but can’t do it, can’t let it fly. This is my ambition, and the wax sprinkles sink it to the bottom, beneath the surface.

The diner rings “American” though really all you have to be to be American here is “vaguely western,” and the DVD selection, which I could decipher by way of the spine katakana, rings true, America’s Greatest Hits. If you ever wonder what Japan thinks of America, just watch these movies: Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Top Gun, E.T., Rocky, Transformers. I have chili-flavored hot sauce with my fries just to mix things up, and finish the rest of my burger with a fork. The meal costs me about fifteen bucks. I am certain I have gotten a good deal.

The summertime beats us now, as regular as television variety shows and Jehovah’s Witnesses. One day I forget to bring my Patented Japanese Sweat Hanky with me to school, and I find myself wondering how exactly to dab the wetness off my forehead, materially challenged as I am. I resort to fanning myself with a plastic fan, emblazoned with the image of a comic book boxer. I drink green tea by the liter. My cat, ever a moron, cries for me to let him escape from our air conditioned living space into the hallway, which I would rather rent out to men for use as a post-workout sauna.

In an attempt to illusorily deceive myself into believing I am a regularly happy and fulfilled person, I have undertaken and completed a variety of tasks in the last couple of months. The largest of which, a fan-translation and script edit of a 19-year-old video game, finished up yesterday. I also write a bunch of junk about video games for the video game website. I watched the first Dirty Harry movie while Jessy was gone the other day, and we also went through a few Tarantino movies for kicks.

Last Friday I went combing through an under-the-tracks area called Motoko Town, in Motomachi, where you may remember we bought our first ricecooker. This time I was looking for some old games on floppy disks, and I found a couple in a store packed more completely with junk than a Goodwill donation dumpster. For ten bucks the man let me take a couple, then snuck back out into the alley to meet me, secreting a bonus item into my hand. It was a copy of the Super Mario Bros. 2 strategy guide, published in 1986. Cover price 310 yen. I used it over the weekend in an effort to beat the evil game, and lost all my guys on world 7-4, just like a kid.

Jessy’s balcony garden has begun bearing fruit, tomatoes most specifically which are technically fruit but which I use like vegetables. I’ve taken once again to making my own spaghetti sauce while our pasta boils, and the fresh tomatoes add their own brand of flavor, on those rare occasions when I can get them into the pot before Jessy pops them from the vine into her mouth directly. I suppose it is only fair–she cares for them every day and all I do is fill her plastic bottles with water.

The stupid humidity has had the annoying effect of, as usual, causing our tension-rod clothes bar to slip and fall from our bedroom closet, meaning that all of my clothes now must rest haphazardly, still on hangers, in the closet itself. I have eyes on picking up some metal hanging rings to support the bar, but that will involve actually progressing from one place to another out-of-doors, an experience that is not in any sense of the word a pleasant one. Though it seems to be raining slightly today I cannot imagine the water to feel any more comfortable than being spat on by a professional wrestler. I will find out in about an hour, after I leave this desk, where I am not needed.

Exams and classes are finished; until mid-September I am dead weight. I can continue to be professionally foreign during this time, though I cannot really announce it to the youth. They will need to, with their sports and clubs, do with out me, and merely imagine the faces and personalities of foreigners as a way to amuse and distract them from their routines.

Jessy goes to China pretty soon, to do some mountain climbing or rock climbing or something somewhere. I don’t know much about it, but she bought a small one-person tent and set it up in the living room. After she’s done there she will go train the new teachers in Tokyo before returning home, about ten days after that. I expect that before too much longer she will be doing things outlandish enough that to merely mention them will be all I have left. “Oh, Jessy’s hunting toucans in Peru with the coffee guy from television.”

It’s been so long since I wrote in here, hasn’t it? I’m sorry. I blame the general lack of new developments, as well as my concerted efforts to focus my attention on less introspective pursuits. Two years is now officially the amount of time you can live somewhere before it’s boring, or at least it is for me. I search and search for something new, but all I find is truth, justice, and the Japanese Way: buy something, and once it stops making you happy, go ahead and buy something else. I’ve started putting my money in a bank account, and leaving myself, as it were, to my own devices.

Keepin’ up with the Joneses

One of my younger students at the school for the blind has invented a new month, “Octogus,” which comes after June and before May. It is a confusing hell, Octogus, cursed with the onset of autumn winds while facing the dead of summer. I ask him, which month is it now? It is always Octogus, my fate, my curse. For Christmas last year he said he wanted Yui-chan, my fourteen-year-old girl with big glasses who loves dogs, and if he couldn’t have Yui, he would settle for the music teacher, a mere forty years his superior. He is twelve, and when we all play costume dress up for Halloween I secretly put the little chicken hat on him, because it is just too fucking cute.

It is a nonstop barrage of new, inexplicable experiences at the school for the blind, even though I’m going on two years now. On an average day I am serenaded by a young student whose mother forces her to wear glasses despite the fact she is completely blind, then conversed to in endless Japanese by one limited-vision student who has been playing Grand Theft Auto IV for almost 18 months straight. Later I’m made the leader of a psychotic cadre of children on their way to the lunch room, where we are fed somewhat soggy boiled fish paste in a thin soup for cafeteria lunch. They all seem to enjoy it, not that I’m sure a lot of them really have enough experience with non-cafeteria lunches to care much about the difference between soggy goop and something else.

What is less fluid are my normal schools, the ones where I am an actor delivering one of a series of performances chosen from the folder, rehearsed sixteen times a week until my timing is impeccable and I can do it without notes and achieve a 95% synchro ratio between each lesson. Who knows how many hundreds of times I’ve gotten up in front of a class now and done my lessons. I am so comfortable in front of an audience now that it shocks me! I taught a lesson to 300 kids in the gym last year like it was nothing. BRING ON THE MASSES

It’s interesting though that such seemingly disparate types of schools ultimately offer me equally strange daily scenarios, which now pass me by only barely registering on the weird-o-meter–using squat toilets, ending nearly all conversations with “see you,” often writing my last name first on papers even in English, carrying my sweat hanky for mid-walk brow pats, and surely dozens of others that I can no longer differentiate from my former reality in the States.

Even my Nomaday reality fails to grab me as it used to, despite my devotion to the cause: am I so interested in the account of my daily life any longer? I’m writing more creatively, which I suppose is that warm trouble that people who write love and hate to come into: the creep of dissatisfaction, from joy, dissonance. We need it and don’t need it.

CURIOUS JAPANESE STUFF LATELY
– Mountain Dew Grape, a new flavor of Mountain Dew, recently released to vending machines in Kobe despite regular Mountain Dew being virtually impossible to find anyway
– The Japanese Prime Minister, who everyone called to resign, who said he would resign soon, who then passed the no-faith vote to stay in office instead of being forced out, partially due to his statement that he’d resign soon anyway, and who then said “welp not resigning just kidding”
– The local police officers at the Port Island station, who helped me inadvertently file a police report for my missing notebook, which fell out of my bag on my way to the train, and who took a painfully detailed account of the notebook (small, brown-colored notebook, dropped between 7:30 and 8:00 am, containing contactless train fare card loaded with approximately three dollars), and who then called the report into the main station on a rotary phone instead of using any kind of fax machine or computer (I noticed a printer in the back room, it looked unplugged and had all the cords wrapped around it)
– My favorite guilty pleasure electro-J-Pop group Perfume’s new single, which is titled Re-Za-Be-Mu, which means laser beam, and which they say in the song as “laser bea-mu”
– A kid I walked past on my way home the other day, who was riding his bike as I talked to Jessy on the phone, who said, upon hearing me, “IT’S ENGLISH!!” only he said it in Japanese
SURE OK

Sorry it’s been so long, whoever reads this, even if that may be you one day, Brandon. Remember how it was for those couple of weeks? You had the holiday, you were tired, the schedule changed… you were building your arcade stick with all Seimitsu parts! You had that new 3DS to play with and then E3 happened and Nintendo announced the Wii U. Do you still have one of those Wii Us? Do your kids play with it? Do you have kids? If you do, get them something newer than Wii U for christsake.

Jessica Dovey, Jessica, Dovey, MLK jr

So much has happened since last we spoke! Where do I even begin? Perhaps with last night’s meal at a place called Kura Sushi, which is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that is literally operated almost entirely by robots which pack the rice, ferry the food to you, and even pour your drinks.

DO ANDROIDS BREAM OF ECLECTIC FISH

Perhaps the New York Times did a better job just a few months ago explaining what makes Kura a neat place than I will. But for those of you who are reading my articles on devices unable to process hyperlinks (like paper), I shall explain! You sit down at a booth with a conveyor belt on one side. It repeatedly shuttles plates of sushi past you, and if you want one, you take it! Every plate is 100 yen. We had stuff like tuna, grilled shrimp with cheese, salmon, salad rolls, eel, shrimp tempura(!), and there’re even things like potato cheese gratin dishes, ice cream desserts, french fries, hamburger sushis, and onion rings.

If there’s something you want that you haven’t seen, you tap it in on a touch screen, and in a few minutes it is ferried to you exclusively on a separate, second conveyor belt, atop a cute little train that alerts you when it has arrived. When you’ve finished a plate, you drop it into a little dispenser under the conveyor booth, where it is automatically scanned by a mysterious sensor that detects a pickup on the bottom of the plate. The plate is added to a running total on your touch screen! Even the beer is served by a robot. You put in 450 yen and stick a mug underneath a nozzle on the machine, then hit a button. It tilts and fills the glass, then at the end even shoots some in at a high speed to leave you a little head. It fills it to the absolute top of the glass. When you’re done with your meal you hit another button which displays the total plates you’ve eaten, and summons a lady to come over and write the number on your ticket, which you bring to the register to pay. (We managed 45 plates between the seven of us, for an absurd six and a half bucks a head.)

Kura Sushi is the pinnacle of Japanese achievement. If you needed any further proof, for every fifth empty plate you drop into the hopper, a tiny video animation plays out on your screen, which you will randomly either WIN or LOSE, like a lottery scratch card. If you lose, oh well. But if you win, a large capsule machine mounted atop the conveyor belts screams a ding at you and kicks out a plastic ball with a tiny prize in it (we won two mini-magnet clips last night). Is Kura Sushi the greatest place on earth? Duh.


(Original picture of Kura Sushi and cute Japanese kid by some person on the Internet named yamakazz, not me, because I do not regularly dine with children.)

IN OTHER, NON-FOOD, JESSICA DOVEY NEWS

When she is not busy eating at robot-operated sushi restaurants, my companion Jessica Dovey now moonlights as a massive internet celebrity. Jessica Dovey, Jessica Dovey, just to piggyback off the inevitable Google search results for Jessica Dovey. What happened was, she wrote a little line about her feelings on this whole Osama bin Laden thing on her Facebook, then followed it up with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote. And her friends reposted it, and those friends reposted that, and Penn, of Penn and Teller, reposted that, only somewhere along the way in the Internets the whole thing got made out to be a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, when only part of it was, and then we got her on Twitter and we had her say “hey, I wrote that,” and there it goes.

She has had articles about it and interviews with her in such media outlets as: CBS News, USA Today, BBC Radio, The Atlantic, kottke.org, and a million blogs. I figure probably three million people have read her quote and/or her name, which is about three million more than will ever have any idea who I am. I am… okay with this. Does any of this all sound weird? It is. It is also a situation almost impossible to explain elegantly, so riddled with odd paradigms of language mutation and memetic spread from person to person. The Kids Today like to say something like this is “going viral,” but to me that sort of sounds like a buzzword infection, and I’d rather not refer to diseases when it comes to people sharing things they like. “Hey dude, Jessica Dovey is going viral!” “Is she gonna be okay”

The true gem in all of this hullabaloo, however, is obviously JessicaDovey.com, which some random purchased bought and registered, and which now displays, in giant, ominous font, the phrase “MARTIN LUTHER KING JR VS OSAMA BIN LADEN VS JESSICA DOVEY.” This elicits the thought of a battle royale grudge match, keep it clean let’s come out boxing, during the course of which these three terrors will fight a battle of spoken ideals, and come out as best pals.

BEIN’ A GEEK IN AKIHABARA

We used the “Golden Week” holidays this year, which are a period of a few holidays that happen to fall together next to each other in May, to take a little trip to Tokyo and enjoy city life to the max. Some people dig going to temples and shrines and mountains and castles and seeing “Traditional Japan,” but I’ve already kinda done that. I have seen the best temple and the best shrines and climbed the most famous mountain and been in the greatest castle. So I dig kickin’ through the busy parts of the biggest cities and being surrounded by more people than I’ll ever have occasion to after I leave.

The busiest, dorkiest place in the world is probably the section of Tokyo known as Akihabara, where I stopped off briefly when I first came to Japan but returned to this week with two years of haggard grizzle and experience: not fearing the odd constructs of the culture allowed me to really dig in this time. I purchased six Seimitsu arcade buttons from a tiny store on a side alley as narrow as a bathroom stall so that I can modify the new fighting stick I bought recently. We went through anime stores and manga stores and game stores and smoky arcades, drank Dr. Pepper from vending machines, saw maids handing out flyers, and dodged the flannel masses in thick glasses with fanny packs. From other cultures and other countries they are yet my brethren, and as we rifle through shelves of discount, outdated gaming hardware there is an unspoken connection: we were probably both the same, once.

The rest of our journey took us to the top of a building in Shibuya where we drank white wine criminally underdressed, to a basement foreigner hangout called the Pink Cow(?) where we dined on enormous burritos and looked at expat creeps, to Shinjuku for fresh hot udon and izakaya beer, tall buildings, the Tokyo Tower, Asakusa and shrines swarming with tourists, and to a variety of places in between. It is a city I could never see entirely even if I had lived there all my life, which resonates with me in an interesting way–how would life be spread out in all directions forever? Ultimately we must choose a place, I suppose.

THE SCHOOL CELEBRATES CULTURE WITH FRIED FOOD AND SHORT SKIRTS

Hundreds of my students are hanging out the windows as swarms of humanity mill about in the school courtyard, chowing down on cheap teenager-made food and listening to music and dances performed earnestly by Other Students. One all-girl band just busted out a not-half-bad rendition of “I Love You Baby” to the cheers of the student body and their parents and community members, which took place after the dance club, clad in not-just-a-little-suggestive black skirts and purple backless lace-up tops, performed a significantly inappropriate series of gyrations to a Lady Gaga song.

This Is FES, the banners say, where FES means festival, most specifically the school’s yearly bunkasai, a festival of culture. This means performances for two days by every club and group we have here. The brass band busted out forty-five minutes of tunes, some conducted by club members, culminating in an enjoyable Disney medley, while the drama club today put on a full production of “DEATHNOTE,” which is a popular anime-manga-movie franchise here that I have never seen. The choir performed to a house so packed that the old ladies had to fan themselves with their programs.

What this all means for me is that for two weekend days, Saturday and Sunday, I am here at school, at work, during a time traditionally reserved for Not Work. In addition it means I am accosted by students begging me to buy their wares, foods, snacks, pose for cell-phone pictures, and visit the rooms where their club activities are on display. Actually, despite the whole shebang requiring me to wake up at 7 am both days of my weekend and proceed to work as though it’s just another weekday, it’s actually pretty entertaining, and definitely a uniquely Japanese school-spectacle, since these kids have stuff to show off that are the fruits of actual (significant) over-practice, unlike the half-assery often on display back in the US of A.

As compensation I get Monday off, and another Monday next month. That’s fine I guess! As the resident foreigner the day off cannot come too soon–it is easy to understate how exhausting it can become merely being Looked At by every kid you have ever taught, their friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, community members, and their pets. Suffice it to say that after today I will be ready to get all the eyes off me by heading home and setting my hands to work cooking up some steak burritos with the meat I’ve had marinating all day, and sinking these teeth into it, and chilling down with a couple beers while absolutely nobody watches me.

Perhaps this is the counterpart to celebrity: it can get a little tiring knowing how many people are always preoccupied with you instead of themselves. Maybe I’ll ask Jessica Dovey how it feels.

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All patterns alter

TITLE CARD

These gloomy days really take it out of me mentally, especially when I’m waking up
habitually at 6:30, Jessy’s sympathetic riser, nothing to do but exist until it’s time
to leave for work just before noon. These are my single mornings, spent responsibly
pre-work unoccupied on the couch with my animal, bowl of curry rice, and some video
game or another where I generally shoot robots with pulse weapons. It’s a warm day
today, which is done a disservice by all the clouds and the bit of rain, so I’ve tried
to energize myself with that “caffeine” stuff that all the people swear by. I have a
couple cans of coffee during my commute, one of which is called “GOOD START BLEND,”
ostensibly due to its extra amount of energy juice. It is failing to work its magic,
which can mean only one thing: should have secured some extra-rare Mountain Dew
instead.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL, GAME

Last Friday, a day not much unlike this one, I found myself beered and slightly damp
on a bleacher seat in Koshien Stadium for my second Hanshin Tigers baseball game. The
real value here came from our tickets, which were enticingly called “KFC PACK”
tickets, and KFC means the same thing in Japan as it does in the states. For roughly
the same price as a normal bleacher ticket each of us was given a draft beer, a few
chicken nuggets, and some spicy little drummies, which were delicious enough to prompt
me to order another beer from the cute lady who wanders around with a keg strapped to
her back. And that one was good enough for another, and another after that. By the
time we won the game I had not even realized it was over, which I suppose meshes well
with Brandon’s Spectator Theory of Baseball: when attending a baseball game, there are
often more important things than baseball. I personally like to think of the teams as
my indentured court jesters, performing for my pleasure regardless of whether I am
watching them or not. They will say “looky, looky,” but I will not look. Looking is
the thing I won’t do.

Also a man behind us relentlessly taunted the Enemy American player in left field.
His name was Sledge, which in Japanese sounds like “Suredji,” and we could not help
but join in, defectors, defying our upbringing. Yes, Suredji, yes. Embrace this.
Become a stronger man, as I slander your name and imply that grave events have indeed
occurred between myself and those who gave birth to you.

POPULAR QUESTIONS ASKED ABOUT ME DURING MY INTRODUCTORY LESSONS WITH THE NEW FIRST YEAR STUDENTS

Why are you so cool? How are you? Are you handsome? Do you have girlfriend? Do you
have children? Do you like color? Do you like girls? How many girls have you ever
loved? What is your height? Why are your legs so long?

HOLIDAY DISPATCH

The upcoming week is called “Golden Week” here in Japan, named thusly because of its
high concentration of nearly consecutive holidays. At present our plan is to go to
Tokyo, for no specific reason other than it’s somewhere big to go that won’t be
totally impossible since every other person in Japan will be flooding the popular
areas. I plan on going to Akihabara where I hope to obtain 4,000 StreetPass tags for
my 3DS like a total geek.

FINALLY, CURIOUS JAPANESE STUFF LATELY

– A door-to-door type salesman guy came to our apartment the other day to leave this
huge plastic crate of medicine with us. He explained that we could use it if we
wanted, and then he’d check back later and we could just pay him for whichever boxes
of stuff we opened or used. The prices being quite below what one pays at a store we
said sure whatever. Apparently it’s kind of a popular thing for some people here to
do. I looked up what this is called, and in Japanese it’s “haichiyaku.” The literal
translation of this word, according to the dictionary, is the elegant “medicine left
by a salesman and paid for when used”
– The games section of the newly remodeled electronics store downtown has been moved
from the second to the highest (sixth) floor of the building, perhaps signaling that
they figure Japan’s enormously popular gaming craze is going to subside and they’re
relegating the otaku back to the wings
– McDonald’s new sandwich here is called the Mega Teriyaki, and it looks like a Big
Mac with both burger patties smothered in teriyaki sauce. I want to eat it, but
haven’t yet
– Saw a sign inside one of the makeup stores I walk past on my way home the other day.
It had a pretty girl on it, with some cursive English lettering below it that said
simply “I’m virgin”
– We’re going to see this American action movie on Friday, which is called Sucker
Punch in the states. Its Japanese title is ANGEL WARS, which instantly elevates the
movie to a higher level

ENOUGH

I have Internet here at night school now on my little Eee PC, twenty months after
starting work. All it took was my new co-teacher to actually tell the people in
charge that I needed it, an action that by Being An Action was something my previous
teachers never had the ambition to take care of. He has gained three “that’s
refreshing” points, which he can redeem at the end of the year to officially cement
his status in my mind as not a total bitch.

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Even in the bathroom, I can save

DRAGNET INTRODUCTION

Sound off for Nomaday.

Nomaday…. the only usually-weekly blog about Japan to give you premium quality in both regular and king size…

brings you Nomaday.

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. You’re a bored Internet user, a relative or friend of the author of this website. You’re trying to waste some time at home or work. From the link you clicked you expect this website may or may not be entertaining. Your job… read it.

A COOL ESTABLISHING SHOT

It was Wednesday, April 13th. It was warm in Kobe, Japan. I had just finished feeding my cat and was on the way out the door for work. My cat’s name is Kiki. My name’s Brandon.

(BEAT)

NO BUT SERIOUSLY

we started listening to the old Dragnet radio show before bed. It’s pretty great, especially the last one we heard where they had this big shootout in this hotel building. My favorite part is the very end of the broadcast though when the guy is like “this is NBC” and it goes donn dannn dooon but it sounds all scary and radio-like. They call this hobby “Old Time Radio” but mostly I am just interested in Dragnet and cigarette advertisements from when it was still legal to be all like “these fuckers are good for you man! i smoke two packs a day cause it’s the best for me! smoke them, nothing bad will happen!”

ON DORKERY

Have you heard about this new Nintendo thing? It is called the 3DS, it is their new system, and it shows you the games in THREE-D on its top screen. It has this feature in it called StreetPass, which lets you meet other people that you cross in real life while you are walking around. Basically, it gives you rewards in the game for being near other people who also have 3DS systems. This sounds silly, but has pushed me to some bizarre travel lengths lately.

The last two days after work I have taken totally unnecessary detours away from the station and down to Center Gai, the big crowded shopping street full of humans, in hopes of StreetPassing people. I catch myself creepily swerving not to miss but to hit large swarms of people while walking between trains, pushing through them slowly so that my system has a better chance of seeing other ones. The other day I went up and walked through the game store with the intention of buying nothing, merely enticed by the idea that there might be other gamers there looking for the same thing, then found myself genuinely upset when I only got one tag after getting five on Monday.

I’m even planning on going to Osaka this weekend, a trip that is in part motivated by the very real knowledge that I will likely cross paths with a ton of people that have 3DS systems, and even as I write this I am prone to obsessively checking my system’s StreetPass light while sitting at my desk in the teacher’s room, where nobody is likely to have a 3DS.

What is the appeal here! Basically I get to see the little cartoon representation of another person with their name and a few little messages, and then they can give me pieces to complete some puzzles, or help me win hats in another little mini game. If they’ve been playing Street Fighter lately we can compare our FIGURE COLLECTIONS. I feel like a little kid yet at the same time strangely compelled to always carry it with me. It also acts as a pedometer and gives “coins” to buy in-game goodies as you walk, and tracks all the data so I can see how many steps I take each day and how long I play games for each day.

It has, interestingly enough, shown me that I take about 6200 steps a day, which is roughly three miles according to various Internet converters. Thanks Nintendo, for allowing me to track exactly how awesome I am!

HOW ABOUT THAT SPRING

After a supremely extended Spring Break, today marks the first one of my classes (and that’s it today, just one) since February. Though my main school won’t start up again until the 25th, it’s still just the slightest bit worrying to get tossed back into it once more (this time around with mostly new teachers again, due to the Japanese school system’s obsession with moving everyone around between grades, sections, and schools every March). I have lessons pretty much down from last year, though my night school will as always be a little more challenging until I figure out exactly how to deal with the students and how relaxed my new co-teacher is.

Speaking of relaxing, last week was a good week all around Japan for hanami, which is a word that pretty much means flower-viewing, in this case the cherry blossoms. Yes, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom all across Japan, and unlike our nearly suicidal trip to Hoshino last year, we decided to keep it local this time around. We found ourselves in a park off to the west part of Kobe with several of Jessy’s coworkers, engaged in revelry that only tenuously had anything to do with the cherry blossoms, which I remember looking at maybe twice.

For hanami, the traditional thing to do is get a huge blue tarp, put it down on the ground, sit around it, and get shitfaced drunk while eating a variety of fried and grilled goods. That’s pretty much what we did! I brought a bag of homemade beef jerky that was perhaps illegally sent to us from the States and let them marvel at how delicious it was–it was decimated by tiny, slight women who could not stop saying how good it was. For me the food of the evening was from the heart, which is to say I literally was eating heart, more specifically grilled chicken heart and cow heart brought by another person. You wouldn’t think so, but the chicken heart was delicious and chewy, with the cow being slightly more porous. Would eat again!

Our neighbors at the park across the way, obviously accustomed to doing this, brought themselves a noisy-ass diesel fucking generator and surrounded their tarp with florescent neon light tubes, which they used for about an hour and then they left way before us. After it got real dark, maybe nine or so, I found myself in a “snack bar” for the first time with the others, which basically resembled the finished basement of an elderly woman, complete with elderly woman, who was the only person working there. We dined on bowls of tiny, mushy fish that tasted like goop, and plates of tiny, chewy fish that tasted like brown sugar. I drank whiskey and waters and we karaoked the Evangelion theme song, then laughed at another one of the teachers, who is way more of a dork than me or any of us, for dancing with hand motions to some female idol songs from the 90s. The next day in front of our apartment building Jessy saw some idiot barfing all over the place, which is pretty much the end of the cycle for Japanese hanami-goers without strong American willpower.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK

– The konbini by the train to Port Island still has Mont Blanc Pepsi, which is odd since it was the seasonal drink during the fall, but makes sense because nobody in the country liked it except me so they are probably just shipping it to Kobe so someone will buy it
– Got a little packet of yellow mustard with my lunch yesterday, only the yellow mustard was not Yellow Mustard but Wasabi Mustard, which instantly obliterated my sinuses as wasabi often does to me
– Saw a TV show late at night last Saturday where they ask fifty foreigners who are somehow really great with Japanese to answer questions Japanese people have about those crazy foreigners, mostly useful questions with interesting cultural implications like do you shave your armpits and is Japanese pornography any good
– Well over a month and a half since my Hanshin station escalators were cordoned off for repairs and they are still not finished, yet someone continues to pay the same man to stand at the top of the escalator every single day and direct people to the massive stairway immediately adjacent
– Ray Romano’s Japanese doppelganger is a new teacher at my night school, he looks the same as Ray Romano and he might have a good comedy act I dunno I can’t understand him
– Will never cease to amaze me how chicken breast is the useless chicken meat here and is sold for 33% or less of the price of dark meat, because the white meat is not covered in that desirable, fatty skin that gets all delicious when you fry it and is so juicy and good and oh god what is this country doing to my culinary preferences

END OF JAPANESE CURIOSITIES,

but speaking of culinary preferences I should point out that I bought a deep fryer off Amazon last week, and any concept that you might have about “deepness” when it comes to fryers is like the ocean compared to this thing I tell you what. It holds about 500mL of oil and is about the size of half a grapefruit. The first stuff we cooked it in was gyoza, which is absolutely delicious deep fried. Sometimes I like to make hashbrowns in it but you can’t really do more than one at a time. Other things we have fried, like true citizens of the western world: fresh mozzarella, Oreo cookies, Snickers bars. Wonder if I could batter and deep fry corn? That would really be great. The fryer’s name is TWINBIRD.

EXISTENTIAL ASIDE: ARE ALL HUMANS NOSTALGIC FOR THE PAST?

Sometimes I feel like there’s something a little wrong with my life, a little off, a little wrong all the time. In my apartment, in my living room, maybe inside my refrigerator, in my closet. I catch myself wondering what exactly I need to set straight to be happy, what needs to be what way for me to relax comfortably, what I have to do to make going home or being home really feel right. Sometimes I feel like I need a smaller room, a smaller house altogether and my apartment ain’t that big. Sometimes I think back on the days that we first arrived and had nothing, sleeping on our floor with all the cash to my name laid out in front of me, an incorrectly-assembled fan sucking all the air off me and replacing it with sweat, our eager, early meals cooked fresh every night with dashi and simmered.

Sometimes I remember when we got the Playstation 3, when we got our first ridiculous half-naked anime figure, when I took my first big trip to Osaka, when we traded couches, welcomed Kiki. Or further back, cleaning my deck and all its shit off, making me its king. Buying our rice cooker at the second-hand store under the tracks.

With so much done, it seems like there’s always less to do. But what do I do now, with all of it finished and still feeling incomplete? Is what life ends up boiling down to at any point an endless repetition of the same day with small variance each time? Chicken instead of spaghetti, Suntory instead of Asahi, the couch on the north side instead of the south side.

Maybe I just need to get out more. Either that or this is what CRIPPLING MENTAL DISORDER sounds like

FINALLY

I’ve got a haircut tomorrow, during which I will have five months of growth replaced with nothingness. I meant to do it today, before my first class, so that my kids wouldn’t be faced with the eventuality that now rests before them: no matter how much they remember what I look like after class tonight, I’m gonna look completely different next week. I get my hair cut lately at BILLY Hair Studio, which is named after their pet dog Billy, whose stuffed corpse greets you cheerfully at the door. They give a pretty considerable discount to foreigners, which is racism that saves me fifteen bucks. There are a variety of reasons that I have theorized they do this, none of which bother me because I am used to making money for being foreign. At it turns out, I am pretty good at it too.

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Your newest acquisition

INSTRUCTION MANUAL

Welcome to Nom a Day®, and thank you for choosing this Inter Net to provide you with thousands of words. I here at Nom a Day have confidence that this Nom has been manufactured to the highest specifications and with the highest quality materials. It is guaranteed to provide you minutes of “entertainment.”

CAUTION

DO NOT STORE IN EXTREME TEMPERATURES.
DO NOT IMMERSE IN WATER.
DO NOT CLEAN WITH BENZENE, THINNER, ALCOHOL, OR OTHER SUCH SOLVENTS.

Nom a Day®

WARMUP, AND PERSONAL ANECDOTE

By virtue of it being totally filled up with a bunch of crap, my workspace at night school today is a small corner of the desk approximately 18 inches by 12 inches, meaning my decision to bring the netbook today instead of the laptop was a prophetic one. Really all this does is clarify my job duties at night school, and the relative perception of the staff regarding what I do: “just put all those crates full of shit on Brandon’s desk, he’s only here one day a week and we have positively no idea what he’s saying.” This is fine, however, because I have a miniature keyboard and a blank screen, and far less has gotten me through far more.

It’s fully spring, I’m prepared to say, and today I have Dressed Myself in a fetching baby blue v-neck sweater over a “waishaatsu,” which is how the Japanese people say “white, collared button-up shirt.” My belt matches my shoes, pants, and socks, I am drinking a hot mug of masala chai, I have string cheese in my desk and maguro sushi in the fridge, and there are seven hours to go. I wonder if I could write a Nom for seven hours straight? Dear lord I hope not.

TRAVELOGUE

We went to Costco last night, which is suicide on the weekend and just a mere annoyance any other time. Getting there and getting back takes much longer than actually shopping for stuff, which is usually accomplished by us telling each other there are only a couple of things that we want, then going up and down every aisle and throwing tons of shit into the cart and not leaving without spending less than two-hundred bucks on enormous jars of pickles and other such sundries. It’s usually a surprise three or four days later when our purchases arrive at our apartment, carefully shipped for a mere five bucks a box, COD–in addition to a ten pound sack of onions I know I am expecting an enormous bag of gummy bears and some Dr. Pepper, but I can remember little else about what I actually purchased. I may have purchased a slab of apple smoked bacon, and perhaps some dried cherries? It is possible these are only the wishes of a lucid, waking dream.

Dining at Costco always presents a unique conundrum as opposed to eating at most Japanese restaurants I frequent. In most cases I am able to easily eliminate 80% of the menu for being pickled, runny, or genitalia, but at Costco the few options are all what we fighting game players would refer to as “god tier.” Do I choose the pizza? It’s big American pizza! A massive Korean bulgogi bread roll with cheese and sauce and beef? The soda is 80 yen and refillable–it is like the deranged wish of a Japanese man, for an hour. Am I living in America? It is no wonder we are uniformly enormous–we do not know how good we have it, because we know nothing else. Know this! The next time you idly roll your loading cart through Sam’s Club and figure the $299 LCD televisions are too expensive, you are actually experiencing the result of American persistence. For the efforts of your forefathers you can purchase the most affordable consumer electronics and foodstuffs in the world, and complain about their prices.

Anyway, I got the combo pizza, and it was just like getting pizza at any Costco in the states, which says more about it than I could. They have literally boxed up America and sent it over on a massive boat, dozens of pallets wide and tall. The beer still costs fifty bucks a case though and there is no Macaroni and Cheese or ranch dressing packets in sight not that you’d be able to find sour cream to mix it with anyway.

CURRENT CULTURAL NOTE

My coworkers are over there laughing so hard they are literally crying, there is water coming out, because of some Internet soundboard that has something to do with this cultural phenomenon AC commercial. For the uninitiated, following the big earthquake and tsunami on the 11th every television channel in Japan went pretty much to a nonstop news format for about a week solid. During this time, despite the fact that almost every set in Japan was probably turned on and had eyes glued to it, companies were (understandably) reluctant to run advertising for their products, 30-second monuments to absurdity packed full of giggly dipshits who continue on in their pre-recorded worlds totally unaware of the huge disaster up north, chomping on seasoned rice and doing stupid dances and taking chugs of beer with a “kyaaaa!”.

The companies’ pulling of most of their advertising left gaps in the TV schedules for commercial breaks with which there was now no material to fill them, and these channels need breaks some time! Enter AC, the advertising committee of Japan, and their public service announcements. For a week solid, virtually the only ads you could see on TV were PSAs from AC, running the gamut from breast cancer prevention to properly using your greetings and everything in between. (Think “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs.”)

AC announcements are instantly recognizable by citizens of Japan because of the distinctive jingle that follows them: on a white screen with the blue letters AC, the sing-songy voice of a woman warbling “AY SHEEEEEE” rings out. Since these PSAs are usually fifteen seconds long, in an average commercial break an unsuspecting TV-viewer could hear “AY SHEEEEE” six, seven, eight times in succession–often following repeats of the exact same “check your boobs, ladies” announcements back to back to back. This became a sort of cultural lynchpin in an era where less and less people all watch the same television programs like they did in the 90s–everyone’s stuck to the TV for the news, and everyone sees the same stuff. Though perhaps not commanding the most refined senses of humor, the Japanese people have a delightful, almost sublime grasp of the absurd, and so like a bad manzai comedy catchphrase, “AY SHEEEEEE” became a rally cry. Some people eventually got so annoyed with it that AC removed the tune from the end of all their PSAs; it has yet to return.

The real sticking point here was a commercial about using greetings, with little animated cutesy characters spouting common daily phrases like “konnichiwa” and “arigatou” with singalong subtitles at the bottom. Everyone in the damned country knows the words to this fucking thing now and it has gotten out of control. I’ll just embed it here so you can see it!

It’s so out of control, in fact, that people are making bizarre edit versions of them and posting them on YouTube. My favorite is this one, where the little pink thing morphs into a giant robot ala Gunbuster and powers up with a little AC emblem in the middle of her helmet that, upon appearing, sings the “AY SHEEEEEE” song. Hell why not just embed that one too for kicks.

Moreno than the high school baseball games, Monster Hunter or Arashi or Asahi Super Dry, this commercial is what Japanese people are all culturally tuned into, and it would not surprise me in the fucking least if these goofy bastards found themselves turned into marketing mascots with corresponding plush toy lines. To me, it’s as much a symbol of the quake as anything else. It still feels weird to see an AC commercial without the jingle at the end, and I imagine the day it returns will be a triumphant one.

To finish up the thread from before, this soundboard my coworkers found lets you play the various phrases from the commercial. (I actually found it on the net, you can play with it by clicking the word DOOP after this sentence. DOOP They seem to find it pretty funny. When the head teacher came back they all slinked back to their desks snickering like high schoolers, and I sipped my drink.

A GEEKY ASIDE DEALING WITH THE NINTENDO 3DS

Because the people of this country had not gotten enough portable gaming already, Nintendo put out a new handheld system last month that displays images in THREE DIMENSIONS, by using a special screen that sends a slightly different picture to each eye, fooling you into parting with 250 dollars of your money. I have placed an order for the North American, English version of this system, mostly because I am an idiot but also for the privilege of playing a re-release of the second version of the fourth game in a series of fighting games I have purchased handfuls of times already. The game is the almost absurdly named Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and with it I will pierce the heavens using only these mighty thumbs and a wireless Internet connection.

One of the neat things about this system is that when you are carrying it around, it can wirelessly detect if other people are carrying one around too, and then it swaps data between you without you even knowing until you check it later. This means little caricatures of people can show up in your system and you can use them to battle monsters and crap, and also you can virtually fight each others’ collectible figures, and all kinds of other junk. This, by extension, means that it is good to be carrying your 3DS when you are surrounded by a group of people, because more swapped data means MORE FUN!!!!!!

I would like to believe that I have not actually seen any Japanese person carrying around a 3DS in a month because they are all squirreled away secret in their bags trying to detect other systems, but the fact of the matter is that I just don’t know if that is the case or not. Once I get mine (maybe another week or two?) I’m going to go Osaka on a weekend and cruise through Yodobashi and maybe park my ass in Doutonbori and see how many I get. This is what I have paid money for–virtual, real-world wireless fishing for humans (it also includes a fishing game).

Another neat thing about it is that you can play games that have to do with the camera. There is one game called “Face Raiders” where you take a picture of something’s face, then it maps it onto the enemies in the game and you have to spin around and shoot them out of the air. Naturally I plan on photographing my cat, so that every time he rips up my tatami mats I can turn on the 3DS and rip up his face with phasers.

REGARDING YESTERDAY’S LUNCH

When I first started working here, I noticed a strange man coming in each day around the same time, then leaving, then coming back with a metal lunchbox full of various foods for people. As I later learned, he is a food delivery guy for a local restaurant who services a variety of local workplaces in the neighborhood. I have ordered from him on a variety of occasions: average oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice), sub-par tannindon (beef and egg on rice), the saltiest curry I have ever tasted, and other things. Yesterday I wrote on the paper that I wanted the makizushi roll, except he never came to get the paper, and so he never brought the food! Apparently since lots of teachers are gone taking spring vacations right now he didn’t feel a need to come up. So me and another teacher just went to the restaurant instead.

He had told me I could see a Traditional Japanese restaurant, and it was kind of the equivalent of a really old small-town American diner, with some twists–in the glass case there were no pastries, but instead deep-fried fish pieces and strange pickled salads, and the room offset from the dining area was a tatami room with a television playing baseball. I got my sushi roll, which was a salad roll with egg and crab stick and some other weird things in it, and was eight massive pieces for about three bucks. As I ordered it a taxi driver said to me in Japanese “whoa, Japanese food is no problem for you?!” and I had to say of course not, and he asked where I was from and I told him America, and he said whoa, I thought all Americans ate was steak! and I said that would be nice but no, and he said and beer! and I said well that would be nice too but I don’t see any beer here, and I saw a twinkle of rebelliousness in my coworker’s eye but nothing happened.

The microwave in this joint was from like 1975, it made a sound like Mr. Rogers’ trolley when it finished warming up some dude’s fish.

ABOUT MY CAT

Due to a widespread sentiment that our delightful Kiki was getting “too fat,” despite most people having no idea how fat too fat is for a cat, I have instituted a diet for out cat, which works kind of like this:

1. In the morning, feed the cat half a can of food
2. At night, feed him the other half

It’s working out pretty well I guess, not that I can really tell how fat the cat is since he is entirely black and usually not standing upright. The downside is that he wakes me up at 5:30 every morning by first sinking his claws into the covers and trying to pull them off of me with absolutely no effect, then secondly by climbing up on my head and licking my hair till I wake up. He has also officially taken the title of “most able to relax” from any other previous cat I have ever had. Just last night I held him like a shovel with his head as the spade, one arm under him for support, and he was totally cool with it. Sometimes when I am playing games at the table or sitting upright, I will plop him down on my lap like a human baby, and he will just sit there, feet sticking out, front paws hanging there, being all like “sup.” What a lazy cat this cat is.

20 CLEVER WAYS TO NOT DO WORK AT WORK, EVEN THOUGH YOU STAY WAY AFTER THE TIME YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE, BUT YOU DON’T LEAVE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO APPEAR LIKE YOU ARE BUSY WITH WORK, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO WORK AND YOU OBVIOUSLY ARE NOT WORKING, BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY COWORKERS

1. Reload the Yahoo! main page repeatedly, perhaps to see what the new banner advertisement is this time
2. Look at clothes shopping websites, then minimize them and get out your wallet and dig for a credit card
3. Print some documents you do not need printed, then crinkle them up
4. Read a book
5. Put a book on the desk in front of you, then lean over it so it looks like you’re reading with your arms crossed, then go to sleep
6. Repeatedly drink coffee and fill the hot water heater back up with water
7. Go to Yahoo Auctions to search for the clothes you almost just bought with your credit card but didn’t actually buy
8. Discuss the same local cafe for almost fifteen minutes, going back and forth while you each say exactly the same things as the other person
9. Instead of using whiteout on one of the hundred identical misprinted forms and making new copies of it, use whiteout on all one hundred identical misprinted forms
10. Have another person read numbers to you off student tests while you type them in, instead of reading and typing at the same time (bonus points, this occupies two people)
11. Stand up, examine the schedules and information on the white board, sit down, look at some other people, stand up, walk around the room, then look at the information on the white board again
12. Visually confirm that the plastic recycling bin is indeed full, and discuss it with your coworkers, then don’t do anything
13. Ask if it is hot in here, open every window, declare it is cold, close all the windows, then open just one window
14. Leave the room and walk down the hallway, then walk back to the room
15. Find something to put in the paper shredder
16. Type loudly on your keyboard, even though your screen is off
17. Write a grocery list with devoted intensity
18. Look over at a group of people having a conversation, acting interested
19. Wikipedia (personal favorite)
20. Go to the sink, take a couple clean dishes from the drying rack, and wash them again

RANDOM OBSERVATION

One of the books that has been left here on my desk (cover price 1600 yen) says in katakana “Chorus Laboratory Party,” but the way the katakana is rendered, when you say it out loud it kinda sounds like “Call Us Lavatory Party” which is maybe something a fledgling band would say.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As April arrives again and the sakura consider blossoming, it again is time for teachers to transfer away to other schools. Though I haven’t had even close to the same severity of rank decimation around me as I did last year, when I lost all my principals and all but two of my co-teachers across three schools, I am sad to admit that my exceedingly cool co-worker who lived in Leeds, joined this school last year, and has the habit of inserting gratuitous curse words into everything today quits this school for a supreme adventure!

Despite the insistence of his superiors, he has defied the traditionally Japanese idea of working the same job for ever and ever and decided to relinquish his public teaching certificate and volunteer for the Peace Corps, already accepted to ship out in September and live in Fiji until 2012. We always spoke very casual English together over vending machine coffees, and he always made a genuine effort to speak to me and make me feel welcome. He’s only about six years older than me and I felt something of a kindred soul in him and his ideals and approach to life. He said that a man should be global, and asked for my support over Skype, before saying that leaving this country for volunteer work in another country would be his “last great adventure.” But when I consider the courage it takes to do something different in a work culture where consistency is king, I think it might just be his first one.

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