Category Archives: JAPAN

Down to the ground

My March 11th began somewhat unceremoniously a couple weeks ago at school with the Janitor, who I often hear snoring and making other kinds of bizarre guttural noises in the row behind me, dropping a massive box of toilet paper from a height of two feet onto the floor next to me. My neighbor teacher, who I often teach with, proceeded to shout OH IT WAS SURPRISING!!! but using Japanese where it sounds even weirder. He tells me, I thought it was an earthquake, and we laugh like little chums, ahahah, and I knock the Slinky Junior on my desk over and go BKSHHH and he grabs the arms of his chair and starts wiggling around going “guruguruguruguru” and oh it’s a big old laugh!

Then later in that day there was that whole real earthquake, which I felt ever so slightly here in Kobe, and which I turned around in my row to confirm actually existed and wasn’t just me “feelin’ weird” and there was one dude who was like “yep” and which killed like what 25,000 people which was pretty terrible.

Then until now for the last two weeks I was totally occupied with other stuff so I didn’t write in here! I’ve been working on a fan translation/localization of an old Game Boy game with some other dudes on the Internet and that’s taken a lot of time, like a big big lot, like dozens of hours. And also I left night school a couple hours early last week, and so I couldn’t write this then either! I apologize profusely, from the bottom of the geographically lowest point of my anatomy.

It’s not even worth me writing about that big earthquake really because I am sure you have read and seen more than enough, except I should say that I and everyone I know are fine, all you could see on TV for a week was news and the first show back was some bizarre variety show, everything that most media outlets have reported is really horrible, I am not glowing in the dark, there is no significant radiation, lots of people have donated lots of stuff, and everything in Kobe is fine except you can’t really find batteries anywhere and there was a toilet paper shortage because apparently distant earthquakes make hoarders poop a lot. But the other people who were really messed up by it all, I feel for ’em! That is why I donated two dollars on my Playstation to the relief cause LOL! Also bunches and bunches of clothes and other goods, which were gathered from our apartment, the MAIN COLLECTION POINT for our little charity drive, in three truckloads. My father, not to be outdone, is working with his company and some others to donate over ten thousand pounds of egg to Japan, which I anticipate is many orders of magnitude more egg than I have consumed or will ever consume in my entire life.

SHIT OF THE DOOP
– I’ve been writing for five hours today and kinda don’t feel like writing this but I know I had better or it’ll just get easier not to do it next week
– I ate two pieces of string cheese today
– The weather sure is nice out there!
NERP

Spring break cruises ever onward, and I can tell it’s spring break because I actually have time for hobbies once more. Jessy and I are even watching anime again, and I’ve been flirting with the idea of completing the plastic Evangelion model I started building almost a goddamned year ago. Do you know what time of year it was a year ago, when I started building a plastic Evangelion model? I will give you one guess it was spring break. I can also tell it’s spring because the weather is getting warmer, though every time I say that it is, it becomes freezing the next day so maybe not. Our cat, who recently celebrated his six-month anniversary of beginning the total destruction of the tatami mats on which we sleep, is also enjoying his carefree life, and has been partying by lying around all over the place on everything and being so lazy.

I figure I have about three more weeks before I am fully back into the swing of teaching classes every single day, and that is goddamned fine with me. I think there is a closing ceremony here at night school tonight, though I have never attended one for this school before and neither am wearing nor possess a suit in this building. It has been suggested to me that I am most certainly “free,” meaning I can either go to the ceremony downstairs or stay in this room. I would much rather stay in this room, though they are closing the blinds and I feel like I might end up going. I do not know if they mean that they would rather I do or do not go, and I have no idea what my role or position would be. The perilous choices of an outsider.

Some guy around here has breath that smells worse than my cat’s, and you had better believe that is saying something. I theorize that his teeth, which he has presumably not brushed since the Showa era, are beginning to be frustrated with all the cigarette smoke, coffee, and raw dog kidneys he is ingesting right before bed, and have decided to secede from the union if you knowahmsahn. I am not far behind them, but have three hours to go before I can get the fuck out of here.

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Something in my cup

I know only that I want to buy what is left of a chicken after you take all the good stuff out–its husk, that weeping shell of a bird, made forcefully to part with sections of itself it once enjoyed so much. I Want The Carcass, though such a word makes me think only of the dried-up creatures of a desert, left to get tough and crispy under the sun, passed up by even the most starving carrion-lovers. In Japanese this construct, this thing, is called “gara,” or “kara,” depending on if you find it referred to in one alphabet or the other. I want the tori‘s gara, the tori no gara. The bird’s rent hull, beat.

I want to make chicken noodle soup for my useless, damaged woman, who is sick more often than Garbage Pail Kids and who is currently a heap of sputum wadded up on our couch, soiled with the stank crud of expired tissues and yet-virile germs. But I do not want to half-mast this shit, no. This is no time for mourning but rejoicing! I am interested not in thine bouillon, thine consomme, thine stocks and bonds, thine broths and willy waters. I am to do it up, pound the collagens and fats and marrows of the world into delicious submission, bent to my every whim–I am Man! all sternum and stockpot, boiling from within. Essentially, I want to bubble this dead bird’s old frozen skeleton in a pot of water with some vegetables until it leaves delicious liquid for me, which I will turn into soup. It is a process older than recorded history, to be replicated in my tiny kitchen.

In the grocery store, the name of which transliterates, despite their most earnest English-focused intentions, to what an average American would pronounce “Gooroomay Shitty,” I wander around what is ostensibly considered the meat counter before accosting a man unloading some fish. He ushers me to the area where, for two-and-a-half bucks, I can take home the last remaining vestige of a life.

I will not explain the process of soup-making–the arcane chants required have no place in this text. What resulted after about five hours of incantations, however, was revelatory. Rendered into being from only the mysterious processes of cell growth and the gnashing of teeth, the magmatic stew shook the foundations of taste itself, delivering unto us most divine providence. Also I made some fucking noodles from some flour and eggs word son.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– 9% Chu-hi, a flavored, lemon-lime soda which happens to contain twice the amount of alcohol as exists in my blood stream
– Rock band “Galileo Galilei,” which has nothing to do with the dead guy of the same name, and other Japanese bands with totally normal band names: RADWIMPS, Mr. Children, HALFBY, Pia-no-jaC, Bump of Chicken, FUNKY MONKEY BABYS, and Flumpool
– Today’s sushi roll, which was the size of any normal sushi roll you’d get in the states, only I got it at a convenience store for a buck twenty five, and it was filled with mayonnaise and teriyaki chicken
– The year-long Japanese language class I’ve been taking, which is over now, and which has left me with the knowledge to probably pass the lowest-level Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N5), even though I still sound like a mentally stunted piece of corn when attempting to engage in conversation
– The Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo’s newest handheld video game system, which has sold something like a million systems in its first week, and which you can still not actually find to buy anywhere, and which I still have not seen anyone using in the wild, and which I am just trusting actually exists despite the lack of visual evidence
– The bizarre subgenre of television programming that seems almost solely devoted to young, mostly attractive women stepping into various onsens in Japan and then shouting in ecstasy KIMOCHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII
END OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK

Dear Nomaday reader,

If you routinely find yourself hard up for the garbage these fingers churn out, this week could likely be one most satisfying. Not only is this very Nom hittin’ the tubes, but N-Sider plays host to a multitude of new articles I’ve written. Of course, I am only capable of tricking myself into continuing to write by deluding myself into believing that angry reflections at a week in Japan are considered actual writing, and also that spewing forth pointless humor about video games targeted at a niche audience and understood by only a fraction of that audience is worthwhile. How is your family? That is nice.

The downside of writing things that I enjoy writing is that The Novel, which has barely changed in years, continues to languish un-worked-on. The very real possibility that I will never be depressed enough again to work on it is harrowing, and so I have devised a series of actions to be carried out in an attempt to depress me. In order of execution: insult all of my co-workers, verbally renounce the acknowledgment of any number of gods, beat Jessy to within an inch of her life, use my cat as a punching bag (and later, a pipe cleaner), and perhaps grind the bones of everyone I have ever loved into a fine paste which I will use as sandwich spread.

But instead of getting started on that list I am writing in a virtual journal read only by a mysterious, unknown constituent, and eating string cheese, both of which make me about as happy as I can get without purchasing rare, semi-pornographic merchandise. Worthy trade-off? I guess. For Now

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Sensible workplace procedures

On my desk there has been placed an attendance sheet on which I need to put a stamp indicating my “okayness” with the fact that I took a sick day at the beginning of last month, as though I somehow had no choice whether or not to be sick and as though I actually have some choice about whether or not to stamp it. This is essentially the punch clock if you will, that I stamp every week when I come to work at my night school. I am to use my personal inkan to put the little kanji for my name right there.
But I am not paying attention enough, and I stamp it in the wrong box. I am in Japan, so I already know that by putting it in the wrong box I have ruined the entire form, which has already arcanely needed and received stamps from people situated all over the goddamned building. So in an effort to please the secretary, to make her comfortable, to say “no look, I just made a mistake, it’s no big deal, you absolutely don’t need to throw away the entire sheet” I put a little whiteout over the place where I wasn’t supposed to have stamped. Naturally, it is the first thing she notices when she comes back to get the sheet, which I expected. “This is no good, she says,” and I tell her “I made a mistake, right there,” and she says “is that so,” and I say “yep that’s so,” and with a sigh she says “well maybe we’ll just have to do this whole sheet over one more time” and as she walks away I say “is that so” and she says “yep that’s so,” and then she leaves.

When she brings the new sheet back, the act of stamping which is obviously too complex for my foreign brain, despite the fact that I have carried out this exact process with no problems the last eighteen months I’ve done it and was able to communicate with her in her native language, she circles the squares I need to stamp with enormous, exaggerated pencil marks, and tells me kindly to stamp in the circles. The sad reality of the situation is that because of the vagaries of the Japanese language, even when I proceed to tell her “I understand (what to do)” she can interpret it merely as “I understand (your directions)” and so my being talked down to is without possible retort. My stamps are of course the first things that are to be put on the paper–even before the simple numerical date at the top–and surely this way if I just screw it up again well then at least she hasn’t bothered everyone else first.

This is one example of the nonsensical bureaucratic bullshit and of course, in my case, passive-aggressive belittlement that brings many types of formal business to a screeching halt in Japan and drives people so fucking insane that they leap from buildings a thousand a day. Sometimes it makes me wonder how they could have ever been allowed to be creative enough to invent gyoza, video games, ramen, animation, and comic books. Oh wait they didn’t invent any of that stuff.

What could possibly be the reason that instead of just saying “oh there was a mistake no big deal” they must re-fill the entire form? Are there trust issues with the higher-ups, and their higher-ups, and theirs? This is, after all, the country that has hired and pays a man to stand in front of my train station escalator which is being repaired and will be walled off for a month. His job is just to stand there, every morning, making it insultingly clear that yes, if the barriers didn’t tip you off, the escalator is closed. A scenario echoes through my head about what life must be like in buildings unlike mine, those technologically advanced enough to include hot water at the bathroom sink: a small speaker system echoes, forever, “remember, hot water is hot, and is not cold water, honorable person who is using the hot water, and remember to scrub your hands please.”

Are they afraid I somehow grossly, sloppily applied whiteout to the sheet and that by doing so I may have somehow scribbled in some sort of inaccurate information, despite there obviously being none? (The field I “corrected” was a field that I could in no way alter to my benefit.) Are they afraid that by whiting out my mistake I have somehow HIDDEN THE TRUTH and ruined the accuracy of the sheet, which contains no time verifications, dates, or other sorts of markings, and instead of my signature bears merely an ink image from a wooden stamp any fucker can buy at the dollar store?

The real forgery is about to come, as she wastes ten minutes preparing a replacement sheet that will be a beautiful lie and look identical to the first one, except the number 7 will be written on plain paper instead of on top of white out. Why even issue white out pens? Sometimes I really just don’t know about this place. But then I have a delicious plate of tempura and beat my Japanese wife for not cutting my sausages into the shape of an octopus for my lunch box and all is well again. No but really I like living here

SOME NON-CYNICAL STUFF THAT WAS GOOD ABOUT JAPAN THIS WEEK THAT I COULD NOT HAVE POSSIBLY EXPERIENCED ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD
– Bought a CD
– Got a couple books in the mail
– Left work two hours early yesterday
UH

I’ve been playing a game on my PSP called Xenogears and in like four days I have managed to put about three hours on it. Back in the day I was so fanatic about games I’d have put three hours on it before I even opened the package. Do you know what this means? Me either but it cannot be good.

Classes are over for the semester which means I’ve got about six weeks to regain my workplace sanity and buck up for the new class of incomers in mid-April. A year-end party with my co-workers on the eleventh might be a good start, because there will be lots to drink. Yet, try as I might, I am beginning to feel more and more like I cannot fill my happiness-holes with nostalgic Japanese toys and games and will instead need to look into myself for the seeds of mental comfort ooh look it is a Final Fantasy VIII sticker book.

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Dakota!

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.

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The only allowance for milky pork

At 9:20 in the morning we are first vertically-packed Shinkansen green beans, then kings with power outlets, grabbing free seats all opportunistic, and in my seat is where I crack the first beer of the trip, gulping it so excitedly that I swallow handfuls of air and pay for it, kanpai! As the can drains we scream across the rails of Japan through the snow. It whips in February swirls off us like cream in coffee, tumbling around above the metal strings. I exit JR Hakata station in Fukuoka after a two-hour-and-change trip from Kobe and see a man waiting to catch us just outside the gates.

I figure he is a homeless guy who speaks a little English and is going to accost us for money, based primarily on his Winnie the Pooh stocking cap and slightly haggard appearance, but mostly it is the Winnie the Pooh stocking cap. But then he asks if we are Jessica from USA and it’s either a lucky guess or he runs the hostel we’ve booked. We follow him to his car, rain turning to snow and back right on the cusp of either. I sidle into the back seat of the two-door and come to realize it has been recently upholstered at Oily Rags Car Interior and Detail. In the side pocket I spot a manual called Introduction to Islam. The man runs a recently-opened guest house near downtown, which, he tells me, was rejected from being opened thirty-two times because of a “difficult to deal with” woman from the city health department. I am instilled with confidence. He has lived in the United States he tells me, in “Hawaii,” which I have since come to understand is indeed a United State. Such love he has for English and the Home of the Brave that he tells us his name is Ken, which he chose because he was tired of his “difficult” Japanese name, Kazuo. I want to suggest he just run with Kaz, but he seems to have enough to do.

He accompanies us to a local ramen shop, which is Priority One on our to-do list, a one-item chronicle that looks something like this:

1. Eat

It’s not that we’re not interested in tourism so much as we aren’t interested in Tourism, or what the city has identified as its totally unique things that are in fact so unique as to not represent the place they are located in at all.

After we park off-street, illegally, I watch Ken scavenge for change and consider offering to pick up his meal but don’t want to insult the guy. His insistence on driving us all over tarnation borders on the fanatical as it is.

Before we enter, we are treated to the rich history of this particular ramen shop and the few that surround it, all with exactly the same name: in the harsh, vanguard days of yore there was an “worker mutiny” which resulted in a mass exodus of employees leaving, new employees joining, other stores being started, and three literally identical ramen shops within less than a city block of each other. It was, apparently, “big news in Fukuoka,” a city which is passionate about nothing if not their Hakata ramen: chewy, straight ramen noodles in an almost opaque, creamy soup called tonkotsu, made from the heavy, extended boiling of crushed pork bones and collagen all thick and delicious.

The place we go to is family-style, and we’re seated around large tables like Arthur and his knights, or perhaps the annual church soup supper, heaping bowls brought out, topped with coin-sized chopped onions and thick, rich slices of dissolving pork. If you want more noodles–and this, the locals are quick to point out, is a Fukuoka original–you just shout “kaedama” and plunk down another buck: here comes another serving of noodles for your soup. The broth is rich and flavorful, and tableside you can add sesame seeds, strong red-colored pickled ginger–benishouga–or condensed soup mix. We eat what would end up being the first of four bowls of ramen, and I am surprised that even though I’m full I find myself shouting kaedama, freshly beset with nearly an entirely new bowl, squirreling it away into expanses of my stomach I barely knew existed but would become quite familiar with by the time I departed.

Our room at the guest house is an “extra” one, meaning that this section of the guest house used to be used as a sort of spare room and is not intended to harbor guests. Tonight Ken is three over capacity, which is a statistic I derive by applying some social hacking: we have learned that one of the health violations was because guest houses in Japan require one toilet for five people so he had to install a second one. We have also learned that tonight there are thirteen people in the guest house. Out of a seeming feeling of guilt our rate is cut by 20% and we are given enough futons to smother a large dog. I find nothing wrong with the arrangement. Peculiarly enough, however, the toilet situation necessitated the removal of the men’s toilet seat due to lack of space and when asked how, presumably, a man might sit on the toilet I can only come up with the answer “he can’t” and commit myself to toilet use requiring sitting being conducted elsewhere.

In the evening we find ourselves winding through the back-streets of Tenjin, a wet, post-rain residential Japan, occasionally crossing paths with a stray biker, couple walking somewhere, or small dog being taken for a walk. The infrequent yellow streetlights eventually give way to neon reflections in spare puddles as we approach Canal City, one of Japan’s bizarre monuments to lavish excess and perpetual construction. According to the official English website,

“The concept of Canal City is ‘a city theatre’. The leading actor of this theatre called Canal City is not the buildings or its functions, but ‘people’. The visitors here may find themselves watching a show as an audience or performing as an actor. Various stories are created by people visiting here for different purposes.”

What it actually is is the largest private development in the history of Japan, costing over 1.4 billion dollars, and looking totally visually unlike anything else in Fukuoka. It is called “the city within the city,” which it is, and it is also the city within the building, as it is almost totally enclosed save for a series of connecting exterior pathways and fountains, many of which were being reconstructed and repaired at the time of our visit (as was the upper dining section called “Ramen Stadium” where you can sample ramen from eight different restaurants). At any rate it has brought massive amounts of positive cashflow and growth to the area, which is most apparent to a traveler like myself because they have a store entirely devoted to Ultraman products, and it is right across the hallway from a store devoted entirely to Pokemon products.

Canal City also boasts an art installation which is an entire wall of television screens. Allow me, again, to let the website explain:

“‘Fuku/Luck,Fuku=Luck,Matrix’ by Nam June Paik, the worldly famous genre founder of video art, is installed. The fragments of images picked by Paik, including sophisticated and vulgar images, Western and Asiatic landscape images tangle up on as many as 180 TV monitors, making an information chaos.”

Inside Canal City on Friday evening, we create this story: Once upon a time, a boy and girl from America but living in Kobe bought a Pokemon spoon and some stickers, gazed longingly at sickeningly overpriced Ultraman goods, avoided dozens of clothing stores, and ate spicy ramen at a place called Ichiran, before getting an Oreo milkshake for dessert at exotic restaurant ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. After this they bought a small bar of soap at the FamilyMart, then went back to their guest house.

Saturday is a day of no plan except “go north,” and north is where we go, strolling through a Bic Camera shop, an extravagant underground shopping district, a tall shopping mall called TENJIN CORE, and onward past a supermarket and a bunch of nothing. The snow we see is unlike anything we’ve had in Kobe so far, huge big flakes and clusters whiting out the air but not accumulating. We grab a standard Indian lunch at a standard Indian restaurant and Jessy boldly storms out (after finishing her meal) in protest of the Japanese businessmen smoking cigarettes while she is trying to eat.

To repent for her haste, she allows me to stop into the slightly pervy and very otaku-looking store next door, called MANDARAKE, which is officially the greatest store in history and my new favorite place in Japan. On the second floor, squatting in an aisle of figurines, is a slightly portly man who seems to be examining a plastic fifteen-year-old’s breasts, preventing me from accessing the rest of the area. I go around the other side and he is still there, looking, entranced. I grab another, nearby figure and find myself drawn in as well, considering the fact that even if I stared at her plastic jubblies for an hour it would not be nearly as long as either That Guy or the person that originally designed the toy.

As we go I geek myself senseless through four floors of games, systems, manga, toys, action figures, DVDs and other crap, ultimately buying an original Donkey Kong Game & Watch from 1982 for about thirty bucks (first game to ever use a directional pad) and an animation cel from the movie Spriggan for about three bucks (a guy getting his teeth kicked out). Things sadly left un-purchased: original animation cel from an episode of Evangelion (280 dollars) and a mint condition in-the-box contest reward Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch (1300 dollars!).

Later on we trek out to the middle of nowhere to take an elevator up to the middle of nowhere: the Fukuoka Tower, a discomfortingly tall structure with a little meter inside the elevator which tells you exactly how many meters up you are. I plunk a hundred yen into a pair of the big binoculars that you can use to see far away from the upper deck, and find myself staring into an occupied apartment in the high-rise just across the way. The binoculars have already been angled into this apartment by the person that used them before me, and, I figure, perhaps the person before them, and I wonder for how many hours the binoculars have been pointed at this particular apartment. I look into the other ones that have lights on just for good measure–welcome to Japan, your mind is now ruined.

Our evening meal, almost the last of the trip, is spent at one of the many Fukuokan specialties: the yatai, a street-side food vendor bigger than what you’d call a stand and a little smaller than what you’d call a restaurant. Inside we are surrounded by plastic sheets to insulate us from the cold, and we enjoy beer and sake with a variety of other talkative locals who seem much more friendly here in close quarters. We eat ramen, gyoza, mentaiko wrapped in omelet (Fukuokan specialty, spicy fish eggs), grilled pork on sticks, and massive potato korokke, the Japanese approximation of croquette, a deep-fried ball filled with mashed potatoes and topped with ketchup. I talk to the man running the stand and compliment his cast iron saucepan: it is thirty-nine years old, he says, then wipes the side of it and displays the grease to me. I am proud of him for his pan.

In the station the next morning we stock up on omiyage which is Japanese for “gross snacks for your coworkers meant to reflect the fact that you are thinking of them and of work even while you are enjoying your personal life.” The ones we bought are a sort of cake with a kind of cream filling inside. I have my theories about what it’s made of exactly, but it would not be an errant guess to figure it is some sort of fermented bean paste, perhaps mixed with sugar and something rotting. I assume (rightly) that because I find them semi-repulsive, my coworkers will love them.

Ultimately it’s all just a bunch of stuff to buy, new places to buy it, and for different prices–but in changing our environment if only a little superficially I feel new, unaware, in my exploration a new city. Even if we discover things we already know, the experience of striking out rings true, and I find the mundanity of comfortable life eroded slightly. How strange that the comfortable life is now a city in Japan, with all its alleys and vending machines, convenience store nudie mags and gashapon stores, plastic-wrapped rice balls and old men carrying Nintendo DSes and cans of coffee. On the Shinkansen home I feel reinvigorated, immersed in modern Japanese society, wondering what’s next. On Monday I board the same old train to work, vertically-packed green bean with five more weekdays to go.

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Pizza Weiner

Apartment smells like lemongrass and an Indian knick-knack store, some Japanese jazz pianist tickling recorded ivories as I struggle against a bottle of wine corked harder than Life Goes On. Kiki wanders the place unaware of his impending playdate with visiting cat Momo, who ultimately will not return anything considered affection but will happily play with his toys. On the stove simmers a curry, newest iteration of a recipe I’ve been working on the last few days, originally a variant on Palak Paneer Tikka, heavy with softened onions and some grated ginger for a base, but evolved now into something almost Cambodian, heavy with amok spices, coconut milk the primary liquid, a few tablespoons of tomato paste held over, Japanese cottage cheese giving it a little more thickness.

These are the best parts about living in a place which is mine: I can cook whatever I want, I can keep the whisky next to the potatoes, I can light cheap, dirty incense, and my Wii remotes always have charged batteries. In my closet there are unfinished plastic robot models, still waiting in the boxes, next to a dozen tiny jars of paint, used exclusively to articulate bloody armor holes and shot eyes on an Eva-01.

After we and our friends finish eating I find the night capped off with a little two-player Battletoads, endlessly retrying the third level, the speeder bike stage, you know the one. Later, there is a resounding victory for Russia against China in some NES Ice Hockey, and then a quick couple minutes each of Mega Man X2 and Star Fox, with a Twinbee 3 chaser.

Having ruminated on the topic for a few days now, I can safely compose and present to you this informative chart about coconut milk:

Things That are Really Great About Coconut Milk
1. Good in curry
2. Fun to open with the pointy part of the bottle opener like those big cans of Hi-C that we used to get where you put the vent hole on one side
3. Exotic?

The best part of the Super Bowl on Monday was that I got to watch it this year, albeit on a recorded time-delayed stream that sometimes dipped down to fifteen frames a second, making it feel a little like watching football on a slide projector that a child was advancing after eating a variety of sweets. The Pittsburghers did Not Win the game, largely by fault of their own and not necessarily due to the fortitude of the opposition. But I did my part, by consuming four cans of Asahi Super Dry and conjuring up arcane, infernal curses against the televised men, curses unlike any of those some of the surrounding Japanese surely had ever theorized were even grammatically possible. At one point The Black Eyed Peas performed some musical numbers, and then Slash rose up through a trap door in the stage, and then Usher descended from the heavens as though a spirit, and then with fully two minutes left to go in the game, the entire recording ended, having automatically stopped after pulling four hours of video. Our host graciously spoiled the game for himself by pulling up some highlights on the Internet and showing the last drive to us–another man had recorded parts of his own recording off the television, then posted this recording on YouTube. It was, I believe, the closest I got to approximating how it might have looked to witness the disappointment on shaky feet in a Pittsburgh bar, though the destructive oblivion I’d have medicated myself into some years ago was absent.

OTHER, LESS FOCAL THINGS OF NOTE
– One of today’s convenience store lunch items, purchased for 210 yen, titled merely “Rappers” and taking a form somewhat like that of a burrito, only inside is a “Pizza Weiner”


– Favorite local breadery named DONQ, which I am sure I have mentioned in here before but just felt like pointing out again because it’s called DONQ
– Lost 800 yen the other day attempting to win a cute-ified stuffed version of an Evangelion character out of a crane machine at Namco Land, firmly cementing my crane game skills as having officially atrophied forever, never to return
– Spent an hour watching the annual school Karuta card game contest, during which the students need to listen to the teachers say one of one hundred famous poems and then reach for a card that contains the final lines of the famous poem (which they have memorized), and also during which I was privy to the twistedly enjoyable screams of agony and pain emanating from my three hundred and twenty first year high schoolers beaten to the cards by fractions of a second
ENOUGH I GUESS

I took it upon myself this weekend to talk Jessy into watching our first Bollywood movie together, mainly because I had located a real whopper: the most expensive Indian movie ever made, clocking in at around $36 million, this one, titled Endhiran, features the second-most famous Asian actor (after Jackie Chan) and the almost inconcievably beautiful Aishwarya Rai, both of which change costumes at least three times in each outlandish song-and-dance sequence. The greatest parts of this movie, aside from the plot itself–which revolves around a scientist who invents a super-robot who begins to develop emotions and attempts to seduce his girlfriend–certainly arrive near the end of the film, when the robot and his dozens of clones begin to gratuitously destroy everything. Even better? Halfway through the THREE HOUR picture we get a single scene of the robot walking slow-motion toward the camera, having just decided like any man that he is going after Ms. Rai, lifting his arms up as if to say “so what” and then a huge, comically-styled INTERMISSION bumper on the side of the screen.

I have since proceeded to download three other Bollywood movies to fill this new void in my life. I trust that a silly Indian man–with a full head of hair so thick it could be sold as a two-man toupee–and a variety of attractive women warbling like injured felines will do the trick.

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Good luck team with the sporting match

Instead of watching the Super Bowl last night, on Sunday, which most people do but would have been impossible for me unless I had the ability to jump through time to today, record it, and bring it back to the past, I spent the evening at a little restaurant on an upper floor of a featureless building downtown, flanked by Jessy and six friends, dining on 150-yen skewers of roasted lamb, cooked by a man in the hallway operating a grill, and rolled in spices, washed down with hot Chinese wine, sugar, and pickled plum. Somewhat similarly to a dining experience I had just a week ago–though not anatomically similarly–during which we dined on the horumon of pig (offal, for us English speakers, consisting of raw, cold liver, grilled stomach, jaw, heart, cartilage, head, and others), I shovel heap after heap of rice into my mouth, coated with the spicy juices of the lamb chunks, collagen and muscle melting away like thicker, richer roast beef, and wonder how the night could get any better. The answer of course is: if the Super Bowl was on a television next to me.

Have you heard of the Super Bowl? Men in various kinds of gear strategize on how to attack with and defend from the advances of a pointy brown oval, while millions gather to witness this event on television as though a rabid massing of tribesmen.

Me being in Japan means of course that essentially concurrent with the composition of these words plays out the very game of which I speak: Japan is fourteen hours ahead of east coast time, which means that about when whoever is kicking off kicks off, I’ll be talking to Japanese teenagers about their final composition project, for which they need to invent and advertise some imaginary product in English (my demonstration was an impassioned treatise for “Super Moon Boots,” which allow you to jump 50 meters in the air but offer no solution for landing from a height of 50 meters). To be sure, the stakes here are not quite as high as those for Mr. Roethlisberger and Mr. Rodgers. The point is that I don’t want to know what is happening in the foot-ball game, so I have to stay away from interfaces that might allow me somehow to defy my true wishes and contact the outside world: my phone, Facebook, Google Reader, e-mail–all are beasty creatures which want to spoil the game for me like Snape Kills Dumbledore: “Pittsburgh 24 Green Bay 13!” (my official prediction, to be mocked later).

I’m meeting someone and going somewhere to see the event itself tonight, via tape-delay at 7:00, recorded and preserved like a time capsule, Super Bowl Sunday mysteriously transmogrified into Super Bowl Monday. Watching a recording of an event that I believe to be occurring presently promises to be a sublime experience, akin to looking at old pictures of your parents aware that you are now older than they were in the photographs, drinking a beer before work at 7:30 in the morning, or watching your students try to grasp the mysteries of the Slinky, a toy they have never before played with. At best, whatever the situation, I will find myself magically returned to Pittsburgh, surrounded by psychosis and rabid fans. At worst, it will be what I expect.

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Annie, are you okay, are you okay Annie

My weekend began on Friday with a call from a vaguely Indian-sounding man who provided my caller ID service with no information. Thinking it was Jessy calling with Skype, I answered the call “yeah,” before realizing it was not, in fact, Jessy, and was instead the Indian-sounding man. As it turns out, he was calling on behalf of Jessica, with three messages:

(1) “Jessica wants me to reassure you that outsourcing her life will not be expensive”
(2) “Jessica has a hair appointment at 7:30 this evening”
(3) “Jessica will meet you at the bar”

He then asked if I had any messages for Jessica, which I didn’t because I was three minutes away from the bar. This man, obviously, was Jessica’s personal assistant, which is a totally normal thing for a 24-year-old school teacher who is not a business owner, has no client or employees, attends no meetings, and has virtually no responsibilities of any sort to have under his or her employ.

The irony of the phrase “outsourcing her life” was not lost on me as a man who oscillates between being of few and of too many words: ostensibly, to “save time,” she is to use this personal assistant remotely by telling him to accomplish various tasks (primarily information gathering, as it is all Internet-based). What this “saved time” will be used for exactly I am not sure. Of the tasks she has issued him, I believe only a single one has been accomplished thus far, and it happened last Friday, and I am the only person who can confirm the task was completed because it was the phone call I just told you about. This fact lends the whole thing even more irony: surely the amount of time spent devising and inputting descriptions of these still-unfinished tasks could have better been spent just doing them herself. I have considered logging into the control panel when she leaves it open on her computer and submitting a request to “fire my ineffective, lazy personal assistant” and providing the details of the very site I am logged into, but I do not yet feel quite vindictive enough for it, and anything that lets my life feel a bit more like a Seinfeld episode for even just a little longer is fine with me.

I also learned last Friday, in addition to the fact that my girlfriend has a personal assistant, that my friend Mitsuki is now a part-time security guard, which is hilarious because she is Mitsuki.

Defying all reasonable probabilities, I took my twenty pounds of coins into the bank today and stammered out words like “yokin yokin coin” which was pretty much useless because of course they know the word “deposit”–it is written in English above the deposits counter. After they dumped the two huge bags of coins into their grinding machine it spat out a little piece of paper that they delivered to me in a tiny plastic dish (in addition to my Ziplocs, which they kindly returned). The paper said 44,225, which is the amount of money that I got from all that metal, and is equivalent to something like $530 at the current exchange rate. If you recall, I did about the same thing last March (March 3rd to be exact), a hundred coins at a time over thirteen separate ATM transactions. The total at that time was 44,589 yen–a mere 364 yen more.

This money, like last year’s coin-salvo, could be used for a variety of things: buying dozens of useless ornamental statues, lining my walls with posters of Korean girl bands, buying around 380 cans of Mountain Dew from the vending machine, importing several expansion sets for my Munchkin card game. The more attractive option is possibly the HP Pavilion dm1z, an 11.6″ more-than-a-netbook-less-than-a-notebook which would replace this ailing old Eee quite handily and serve as a laptop as competent as and exceedingly more travel-worthy than my current Studio 15 back home, which is still waiting for its replacement parts. Even better? Expenses for a Golden Week excursion around Japan. Better still? Replacing our boring table with a heated kotatsu table and some floor chairs. What I’ll probably do with the money is just leave it in the bank account, using it ultimately for nothing special, which is a real shame.

A more boring thing I could use it for is as compensation for the trip to Costco that we took last night with a couple of friends, during which Jessy and I spent a combined total of around 33,000 yen on a massive cart full of American objects that will be delivered to our house on Saturday morning. Among them: Tide and Woolite detergents, paper plates, stew meat, white cheddar cheese and processed cheese cubes, a bag of frozen tropical fruits, frozen fried rice, three bags of Friskies cat food, four bottles of wine, Heinz ketchup, Prego spaghetti sauce, a case each of canned V8 and Dr. Pepper, several gallons of soymilk, Thai noodles, Caesar salad mix, contact lens solution, almonds, pickles, tortillas, and god knows what else. We finished our shopping excursion at almost 8:00 in the evening exactly, the store’s closing time, and as we rolled our carts full of goods to the delivery counter the young employee groaned, knowing the nine boxes of stuff he would have to pack and tape before his evening was up. I felt like a jerk, but only because I have done those jobs and been in that position before–which is the same reason I was subsequently able to cease caring whatsoever.

They are sending it all to us from Amagasaki for about twenty bucks, cash on delivery, which will make Saturday an eventful day: in the morning, we will accept four boxes of goods, then proceed to town for delicious spicy ramen, then come back to the island for an afternoon beer-consumption session which I expect to enjoy. Speaking of delivery, even as we speak three boxes are heading to my apartment to be accepted by Jessy most graciously, and contain the following: an external DVD drive for my computer, one of two new pairs of purchased shoes, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker on Blu-ray, Pikmin 2 for my Wii, and the hard drive mounting bracket that will make restoration of my Studio 15 finally possible (once the warranty-replaced hard drive itself arrives, which it won’t until I actually send away the defective one, which I am almost completely too lazy to do.

WHAT
– On a package of cashews I’m eating, “Let’s have joyful talking with FRESH NUTS. Every time and every where, it’s so delicious. Best of the world FRESH PACK”
– Went to a bar last week where ALL DRINK 500yen and had a Gin Buck and played UNO on plastic cards at the table
– Forced spastic first year student to have his winter break conversation in front of the class, and when I asked him where he went for New Year’s Eve he said “I went to shrine late at night, in the dark, alone. I asked shrine to get a girlfriend”
– Ordered a take-out Pan pizza from the Pizza Hut last weekend, large size, and it only cost 1600 yen and it was all pretty similar to the States except when we left the shop with our ‘za the guy opened the door for us, took his cap off, and bowed as we exited
– Saw a show on TV this morning where they were making a meat and potato stew, and the cute co-host girl was wearing a hairband that had two plush potatoes on it, marking likely the only time that her wearing that particular headband could possibly be appropriate
oh

Despite having eaten a huge bowl of curry rice with chicken at about ten this morning, and a cheeseburger with fries and ginger ale from McDonald’s no less than two hours later, and a baggie full of cashews and a handful of gummies about ninety minutes after that, I find myself still here at work, at four in the afternoon, having consumed probably over 2200 calories today thus far, completely completely hungry. When I get home I’ll eat a half a package of linguini and with any luck another chicken breast, and digest it almost immediately. I’m half-reading a book called The Four Hour Body that suggests that with a dietary plan of consuming tons of chicken breast and doing a minimum amount of exercise over a month-long period one could gain twelve or fifteen pounds of lean muscle. I am beginning to wonder if perhaps the eating part, for me, would not at all be difficult.

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If I were Boyardee

A few observations, based on my students’ reactions to the things I brought back from America for them to look at, under the guise of a lesson plan:

Firstly, it’s true, everyone does want a Slinky. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese appeals to fifteen- and sixteen-year-old Japanese boys and girls and American toddlers alike (frequently heard comment, lovingly translated by me: “WANT TO EAT”). The kids are intimately familiar with the pyramid structure on the back of the dollar bill (“free mason free mason”). The students are impressed at photographs of big American pork chops. The students are adept at posing intriguing written questions on their comment sheets, such as:

“who is person drown in bill of 20$”
“Which do you like RICE RONI or Japanese sobameshi?”
“How many does Stride gum has?”
“Do you put fruits on Triscuit?”
“Do they eat cookies for lunch in America?”
“Can this candy eat?”
“Is ‘APPLE JACKS’ more popular than ‘CORN FROSTRY’ in America?”
“Is the kitty famous in America?”
“What is DORITOS NACHO CHIPS”

And perhaps, most interestingly, one group of four boys was absolutely obsessed with the can of Chef Boyardee, leaving me this comment sheet, containing a variety of questions and an artistic, tender drawing, based on the can’s illustrated portrait of Chef Boyardee:

I am a personal fan of the hypothetical question “If you were Boyardee, what would you do” though the existential ramifications of “Who is Boyardee” cannot be ignored. Italian food pioneer? Human-turned-marketing icon? A teacher suggested that perhaps Boyardee is like Colonel Sanders, a compelling argument I could not discredit. What is DORITOS NACHO CHIPS

At any rate, this lesson has firmly brought the hot wet American flair to this freezing winter at high school. The kids are endlessly interested in these bizarre American treasures, as rudimentary as they are. Who ever could have figured I’d get paid to show children such delights as packaged pastas, supermarket advertisements, and used train tickets, extolling them as sacred and rare artifacts? I celebrated the resounding success of my effortless lesson personally last Friday evening, getting so drunk off gin and tonic that by the time we made it to karaoke I was drinking straight whisky, believing that it was a highball because it “didn’t taste whiskey-y enough.” I then proceeded to select and ensemble sing the Happy Days theme song, repeatedly shake the tambourine, and then, apparently, and I am only stating this through hearsay, ram into my friend on the escalator, lose a single contact (confirmed the next morning), and then bet Jessy fifty cents that I would take the three headache pills that she gave me before I fell asleep (I lost the fifty cents). The next day I cooked two boxes of Macaroni and Cheese (WANT TO EAT) and everything was better.

Life without my computer is largely proceeding, with the only noticeable annoyances being that I am incapable of outputting downloaded television shows and movies to our television, and that I cannot add any books or music to my portable devices since my libraries were wiped out in the crash. I have taken the first step of ordering a new mounting bracket and SATA cable for the eventual new hard drive, though I first plan on running this final, really-it, totally-last-ditch software I got to see if I can possibly recover the pictures from the last eight months. But mostly, life is just the same as it ever was. Japanese class too proceeds on schedule, with the first review session finishing uneventfully.

In five weeks the third semester will be over, marking my first totally complete full school year (April to March), and leaving me with a repertoire of lessons running the full gamut. From here, the stress of lesson planning will assuredly be almost totally eliminated as I have a sufficient library of quick diversions and multi-week projects to pull from, only 4% of which have anything to do with Chef Boyardee.

LONGWINDED CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– McDonald’s has new burgers again this year with the second series of their “Big America” campaign, just as they did last winter. The first one this year is a new version of last year’s most popular “Texas Burger” with chili beans and other stuff. But the other, forthcoming ones are stranger: the “Idaho” has a slab of hash brown on it, while the curiously named “Miami Burger” has salsa and tortilla chips, two things I am not entirely sure the average American associates with Miami
– Monday marked the sixteenth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake that happened here in Kobe in 1995 and killed over six thousand people, destroying some part of almost every form of infrastructure that existed, sandwiching entire floors of office buildings, and setting fire to most of the old houses in the ward of Kobe where I work. We observed the day with a minute of silence in the morning, though I half expected one of those stupid election or nationalist trucks to round the corner with its rinky-dink loudspeaker music playing and ruin the whole damned thing
– I today had a lunch-time conversation with one of my co-workers entirely in Japanese, about where I lived, where we got on the train, and what we did for winter vacation. From what I can make out, he lives in Suzurandai, has two kids in Kyoto and one in Tottori, we both agree that there’s nothing to do on Port Island, and octopus tall sixteen dancing must captain ship frequent
– Though an entire box of Rice-a-Roni contains about 900 calories when prepared, making it “unhealthy food” in the eyes of my students and coworkers, the packaged bento I purchased today, consisting of beef with sauce on rice, contains 806, making it obvious diet material
– I yesterday had an incredible craving for Texas toast with garlic butter and melted cheese on it, which would have required some extra effort if all the bread in Japan wasn’t already sliced like Texas toast and sold in packages of five slices
– A recent survey doing the rounds on the Internet states that one in three Japanese men aged between something like fifteen and nineteen has either no interest in sex, is indifferent toward sex, or actively finds sex distasteful. They say that this has something to do with the “herbivorification” of Japanese men, who have become complacent and are content not pursuing women. I initially interpreted this survey as saying “one in three Japanese men aged fifteen to nineteen are clinically mentally deficient.” But then I considered the financial commitment necessary by two out of three Japanese men aged fifteen to nineteen, who are apparently funding young women all over Kobe well-enough that they afford numerous pairs of knee-high black leather boots and thigh-bearing mini-skirts, which they wear in the middle of winter (having an appreciable effect on one out of one American man aged twenty-seven)
– In an recent effort to interpret katakana with incredible haste, strengthening my quick-reading skills, I last evening misread a package of ice cream single-serve cups as “Cookie Banana” flavor, when in actuality they are “Cookie Vanilla” flavor. Still delicious, but distinctly un-banana’d
– The other day, just as I left work, I kind of felt a little pang of sadness that I wasn’t in America. But then I went to CoCo Ichibanya and had a big plate of hot cheesy chicken katsu curry with the little pickled whatever squares and I was like “Japan ain’t so bad.” Later I paid two dollars for an individually wrapped carrot
– In our first game of Carcassonne, the tile-based kingdom-building-and-control board game I brought back from the States, Jessy beat me by a huge margin of points, which has nothing to do with Japan and isn’t really that curious and actually didn’t even happen this week, but that doesn’t matter because I’m going to murder her in her sleep with a pillowcase full of ice
END OF LONGWINDED CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK

My newest computer-related acquisition, meant to ease the access of and safeguard the small, personal files that I had almost always ought to have on me (writing, lesson plans, and other irreplaceable documents), is a solid metal key, which instead of containing mere metal, actually contains an impossibly small eight gigabyte flash drive. In addition to being significantly durable and finding a home on my keychain, where I can never possibly forget it unless I also forget to lock my apartment on the way out, it offers the appearance of a truly luxurious and resplendent personal existence: that is to say, it gives the impression that I own more than one thing by virtue of being the second key on my keychain.

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Big Hammer

Three days deep into the first workweek back and I’ve yet to teach any actual “classes,” owing to Monday being a holiday, yesterday being my school’s opening ceremony day, and today being the annual “mochitsuki,” a ceremony slash event where we beat cooked rice with Big Hammer into a stretchy goo and form it into balls and eat it, which is totally a normal thing to do. I’m not sure what tomorrow at the blind school will bring, but Friday is most definitely a class day, during which I will have to explain about my trip to America without the help of the pictures and videos that I took, all lost to a random and cruel hard drive failure three hours before my flight back to Japan (along with all other pictures and videos we’ve shot since April 15th, my last backup). Are you reading this, Brandon of the future? Have you signed up for one of those handy persistent online backup things yet? To make a long story short, I can’t replace the hard drive or reinstall an operating system until I get a couple spare parts from the States, and that probably won’t happen for a few weeks or so (I’ve still got Jessy’s to check e-mail and Internet when I need to).

So, because of the lifestyle shakeup, I’m finding myself unconsciously acknowledging that I don’t have my friendly computer to sit comfortably in front of and sink time into, and am instead sinking time into other, valid pursuits: waking up and preparing breakfast, diddling around with some of the Playstation games I brought back, and endlessly tormenting my cat with the best $2.49 I’ve ever spent: a compact laser pointer that projects a single, emotionless red dot whereever there a surface be, unchanging like the bright eye of Lucifer, made manifest via three watch batteries and the souls of the Torment’d. Fixated upon it, the cat will spin circles on the ground as though a malfunctioning, indecisive Roomba vaccuum cleaner, ready to obliterate the particle of dust, if only he could catch it. And when he does, where does it go? Onto the back of his head, invisible to him, destroyed but perpetually revived, an eternal plaything and nemesis. I use it as mind control: just trace the path you want the cat to follow and watch him bend to your every whim, even leaping diagonally at the walls in an effort to strike the dot from its perilous arc up and off the floor.

Perhaps the biggest trouble I’ve had with re-integration to the society of Kobe is sticker shock, especially in the realm of fresh foods and produce. To go from paying 49 cents for a pound of apples to potentially 500 yen for a single, though surely tasty apple, is bizarre. The stores, devoid of any sales or discounts, are massively less exciting for bred consumers such as myself than the ones in the States; upon check-out from our local supermarket the other day I received an automatically generated coupon from the machine next to the register. It was for ten cents off my next single can of Suntory beer and lo there was rejoicing, and by rejoicing I mean I urinated due to pure glee so divine I lost my bladder control at the very sight of those two numbers one and zero right next to each other dear god ten cents off.

This is to speak nothing of course of the annoyance that comes at again being incapable of confidently conducting casual, reasoned conversations with shopkeeps, coworkers, and ne’er-do-wells in my vicinity. Right now I find myself in the somewhat annoying position of having about twenty pounds of coins that I’d like to deposit into my bank account, which I can apparently only do from the hours of 9 to 3 on weekdays, hours when all normal people are working. The one possible day I could do this is Wednesday morning, because I go into work late for night school. The idea of bringing two huge bags of coins into the bank and slapping them down on the counter by myself without actually being able to express any sort of thought related to “put the money in my account please,” assuming no possible denials of service or “count it yourself”s, is a bit unsettling, especially since I’ll have twenty pounds of coins in my possession and carrying them out of there once I’ve brought them in is not something I care to do. In the U.S. the process would be simple: call the bank and ask “can you put twenty pounds of coins in my account if I bring them in?” and then do it. In Japan, asking such direct questions is impossible, you are meant to divine the answers to questions through the careful reading of blood types, tea leaves, and phases of the moon. I think the etiquette for depositing twenty pounds of coins is to bring them to the bank, take a number like at the DMV, and then place them on the counter with your passbook while bowing and apologizing profusely for all this damned money you have. Then they will take it to the back room, make you wait for ten minutes, and return to the counter, saying only “we have intercepted your honorable money, is that okay?” Then they will wait for you to leave. Anyway I’m going to have these coins forever is the point. Hey future Brandon who now does the online backups of his data, do you still have the coins? Oh that’s terrible.

BULLET POINTS OF CONSEQUENCE
– I have now seen Tron Legacy in theaters three times, which is probably the most I have seen a movie in the theater since Mortal Kombat
– We made salads the other day from a whole head of lettuce, an apple, some carrot, chicken, and raspberry dressing, and they were way more awesome than you generally figure a salad to be
– We also watched that Baz Lurhmann movie Australia, and it was pretty alright despite needing some editing in the first third awful bad
– I’ve made breakfast burritos the last few days with some tortillas I brought back from the States and they are slammin’
– The sole literally fell off my shitty worn-out black shoes yesterday, and I sat in taffy in my newly dry-cleaned suit pants
– Somehow, the taffy came off the pants
WHOA GRIPPING

The best thing about being back in Japan is ironically that things are now “back to normal,” here in the land of good convenience store food, hyperactive nonsense television, tissue-packet distributors, ramen shops, and all-girl 48-member idol bands. It is thanks to Jessica that I find an anchor, as occasionally worrysome an anchor as it is, though not as worrysome as Big Hammer, which I have to be careful of tonight when the mochi beatings happen “because the splatter.”

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