Category Archives: KOBE

You don’t know nothing

It’s my thirtieth month as a high-school English teacher in Kobe, and there is nothing of any profound and shaking significance to report. This morning an old vagrant sat across from me on the train, then moved next to me and said hello, and immediately asked what country I was from, before volleying into some kind of conversation about my 3DS, which he could not see because he was sitting beside me, and it’s in 3D. He was like “can’t see it, can’t see it” and I was like “you sure can’t” and he was like “aha aha” then he got off the train before me. The two businessmen across from me to my right made some comments about how the weird vagrant man was a weird vagrant. One of the businessmen was wearing a facemask, which is totally normal.

We started watching this series called “Game of Thrones,” it uses a high-fantasy setting and started as books, which means I will never read them. The series was produced by HBO and, as I understand it, cost $60 million over the course of its ten episodes. One of the more charming points of the show is that the Exceptional Content is never wishy-washy–the series opens with two lingering decapitations, is followed by a minute-long scene of full nudity by not one but several women, contains conversations in which people bypass the social pleasantries of gateway curses and skip straight to Fuck, also some relatives bang each other and later in the series some throats are ripped/bitten out and or stabbed, also more banging. The characters have names, but I’ll be Fucked if I remember any of them, they’re all like Hodor Dargantio or L’Orealdrious Salafoop. The few that I remember are: Agent 006, Dwarf, Hot Naked Savage Wife, Tinymouth Bitch-boy, Bastard, Climby, and The Fat King. This show is pretty sweet let me tell you.

grapefruity slatherhog

JAPANESE MINOR ENCOUNTERS
– That soda called Citra is back, it’s called Citra, I haven’t had it in like fifteen years and here it is in Japan
– Ate a “chicken nugget sandwich” today, it was literally a chicken nugget on a bun, wrapped up and sold in the cooler section of the convenience store
– A man is balancing on one foot in front of the small gas heater, he has taken the shoe off of the foot and is trying to get the foot warm, I think he is finished now
– I thought I’d make some pilaf the other day with supper, thought I’d just see if I could find a pre-packaged rice mix of some sort to boil up all quick, but that is not a thing in Japan, I made homemade dumplings instead aw yeah
EAHRG

Jessy was gone for like three weeks during Christmas and I was all alone, so I had a forgotten taste of the bachelor life. I engaged in such scandalous activities as roleplaying as a female and marrying another female in a video game. Also I drank alone and with friends, watched Masters of the Universe back-to-back with Dragonslayer, ate at the sushi-go-round, stayed up until six in the morning twice, bought grass for my cat, and I guess some other stuff. Sometimes it was awesome to be alone again, and other times I remembered that the thing I notice the absence of most when Jessy’s gone is my random source of entertainment and companionship. On the other hand I did get like 70 hours of video games played.

I made mochi last week with the night school kids, and I remember to wear my jacket when the beatings happen because the splatter. I wielded Big Hammer, our third encounter, and it was like hoisting an old friend high above my head then slamming him down against a pile of squished grains to make stretchy goop. We ate the mochi with anko and the other orange powder that I forget what it’s called all the time, oh, kinako. It tastes like crushed up Cap’n Crunch cereal. Also we had ozoni, which is “soup.” You put the mochi in the soup. Another weird old vagrant next to me asked some questions about American Baseball, then when I mentioned the Orioles he said “Buruku Surobinson Buruku Surobinson.” I was like “yep he was good” but I dunno man Brooks Robinson stopped playing like six years before I was born.

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I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah

I ask my father, as I am about to leave the research outpost, which we have rigged to explode because we accidentally built it on a live Sloar colony that not only contains Sloars but is itself a giant Sloar–if he could write some sort of final note to me on this piece of paper that I have been carrying around for the last couple of hours. He scribbles something down that I can’t see while cracking some sort of joke about Eddie Murphy’s stupid t-shirts, what the hell is Eddie Murphy doing wearing these stupid t-shirts lately, and with a Predator-esque Dylan You Son Of A Bitch man-shake we laugh maniacally as I escape in the Pod, a single tear rolling down my cheek. I glance down at the paper. There is no note but a crude pencil drawing of the research lab we were just in, it looks like a toddler made it. “Thanks Dad.” The thrusters blast off and I see the entire Sloar explode and the credits roll. This is the construct of my remake of a six minute amateur film originally shot by James Cameron, his first film, the re-imagining of which I have been tasked to complete as a master auteur on the fiftieth anniversary of its release. My finished short will be used as a promotional vehicle for the release of Mr. Cameron’s newest cinematic masterpiece. For my trouble I am to receive a special vending machine that can open plastic drink bottles automatically and dispense the contents into a separate cup, this is some kind of revelation to me, I cannot live without one.

I had this dream last night after eating dozens of nigirizushi at our local-ish sushi-go-round, Kura, the one where almost every plate brings you two pieces of sushi for a hundred yen and you can order specific pieces off an electronic touch screen and then enjoy them after they are automatically carried to your booth by a little train with slots for your food. I got home barely able to speak, so crammed full with fish and rice that I lied down on the bed at about 6:30 and didn’t wake up until about twelve hours later. Actually I briefly stirred at around eleven in the evening and asked Jessy what time it was, she told me it was eleven and I was like “psh whatever it has to be at least four in the morning” but it was indeed eleven. Then the cat went to sleep on my head and I didn’t fight it.

The holiday season is HERE, with the brunt of my break approaching more quickly than I had previously imagined it would. Beginning Friday I’ve got fully twelve days of vacation from work, during which I plan on digging into a huge box of media that I have ordered from Amazon to be shipped to my parents in the States, in the hopes that they will kindly pack it all up and ship it to me in one enormous box of joy. Since Jessy will be in America with her family for the season and I’ll be here in Japan owing to the massive cost of my student loan payments and the equally massive cost of flying to America, in addition to the media I will likely enjoy a holiday season in Japan as the Japanese do: by eating lots of food, going to a shrine with thousands of people on New Year’s eve, and perhaps drinking myself silly in the company of others. What I probably won’t do is find a nice lady to get in the sack on Christmas Eve, which is primarily the goal of Christmas in Japan–think of it as a sort of New Year’s Eve and Christmas role-reversal from America.

The most popular songs you hear around this time in Japan are of course Christmas songs, but, due to this obsession with couple-try, every Christmas song you are subject to as they are endlessly piped through the myriad sound systems draping the country has to do with LOVE! Last Christmas, All I Want For Christmas Is You, SIM-PLY HA-VIN A WON-DERFULCHRISTMASTIME–these are the mainstays. If I ever become a recording artist I am going to release an album entirely full of Christmas songs that only have to do with filthy filthy screwing and get a good Japanese record deal that will pay me royalties in perpetuity. I will fill it with such holiday classics as:

– Please Tell Me We’re Boyfriend and Girlfriend First
– All I Want For Christmas Is You (And Some KFC)
– Allow Me To Show You the True Meaning of Christmas
– I Like You
– Let’s Make This Quick, I’m Going In To Work After
– Let’s Go Back to Your (Parents’) House
– I’m Gonna Bang You (I’ll Apologize Before)
– I Learned a New Trick at Cram School
– Is It Alright If I Take Off Your Most Esteemed Blouse, Well Here I Go
– Let’s Shame the Names of Our Families Tonight

The titles probably sound better in Japanese.

I took it upon myself to home-make some Egged Nog on Sunday night, because the pre-made stuff is unavailable in grocery stores around here. I whipped up eight raw eggs, added about a half a cup of sugar, and mixed in nutmeg, vanilla, milk, cream, and a healthy amount of rum. It’s easy to remember when it was just raw eggs swirling around, which seems a little offputting at first, but then you drink it and it tastes just like it had ought to. I’ve taken to putting a little egg nog in my morning iced coffee instead of cream and sugar. I suggest it!

The other day the guy who is always singing Jesus songs in front of Kosoku Nagata station handed me “MANGA MISSION,” which is a Japanese comic-style interpretation of various Bible stories, from the dawn of human life to the death of Jesus. The best part is the ridiculous kid-friendly drawings, depicting Satan as a massive evolved semi-robot angel that looks like he’s something out of Evangelion, and Gabriel as a smooth-lookin’ ladies’ man that happens to slip all swank into Mary’s room and be like “yo, you’re havin’ Jesus.”

It would be no small wonder, I think, if a young kid read this and was like “hey Christianity is pretty bad-ass!” I know I would be converted. Even now it is a pretty interesting story! Also there’s some partial nudity in the Adam and Eve section, which is aces for everyone.

CURIOUS JAPANESERY OF THE LATELY
– The beer companies are releasing their “special winter edition” macrobrews lately, which taste virtually identical to all of their other beers, and, for that matter, all canned beers in Japan
– The pre-orders for Christmas Kentucky Fried Chicken and cakes are closed, yes, there is a pre-order reservation system for KFC, it closed three weeks ago
– Had an “American-size” hamburger at a Hawaiian restaurant last weekend, but it was still just a Japanese hamburgu on a bun, a sort of burger/meatloaf patty mixed with egg and bread crumbs and definitely not American-size but I still ate it and was impressed that it came with ketchup
– Enjoyed going to see the new Mission Impossible movie on Sunday and, while laughing at Simon Pegg’s sarcastic humor, read the Japanese subtitles and realized nobody else was laughing because the subtitles played everything he said completely straight
THAT’LL do

I had my Bonenkai a couple weeks ago, a year-end event which always involves crowding into a sort of sectioned-off ballroom with all of my co-workers and getting unabashedly shitface plastered on Chinese wine and Asahi Super Dry while my cup is constantly refilled by anyone who notices any empty space in it. This year it was again a Chinese course set packed with delicious morsels. We played a bingo game, as is tradition, and though I got first place last year, this year I came in about thirtieth. Last year’s first place prize? A hand-machined decorative desk pen machined with aircraft-grade metal by Seiko, approximate retail value about $120. My prize this year? A multi-input power strip with independent on/off switches. Guess which one I use more? If you guessed the pen you are wrong.

One year ago today I was in America for Christmas, gorging myself on gas station burritos, getting drunk and killing everyone at beer pong in some kid’s college dorm with Catlin, smoking illegally smuggled-in Cuban cigars in the front seat of my step-brother’s car, watching Tron: Legacy in 3D, drowning myself in some television show called Pawn Stars, and enjoying the devastating cold weather. Today I’m sitting at my desk at school wondering if I should eat the anemic ham and lettuce sandwich I got from the convenience store now or in a half-hour or so, which is almost certainly an inferior arrangement, albeit one that I have fewer chances to experience as time passes. For now I will try to remember the odd smell of the gas heater in the opposite row, the feeling of understanding about 8% of the words people around me are saying, and being able to just barely see the tops of everyone’s heads over the massive stacks of files and papers built up like tiny forts on every desk while I crunch away at this keyboard as though I could possibly have any actual work to do before mid-January.

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Real plums

I did a Thanksgiving, my first one, by ordering seven pounds of frozen bird over the Internet and then hacking it apart from bird form to part form in my kitchen without using any guides or advice or instructions. In retrospect perhaps I should have, because Jessy asked me at one point where the wishbone was, and all I could say was that it was probably attached to the other bones, you know, the ones that I bent until they snapped wet like fresh branches, buried in the carrot peels likely, over in that tied up bag, if you wanna dig for it. She did not. I managed to save The Backbone, after busting it in half and cramming it into a Ziploc. When I open my freezer I see it and wonder what a compulsive person-killer must think as he slides open his freezer and sees a hand or something. “Yes, backbone, I cut the parts from you and later I’ll make soup.” But for now it’s just chillin’, hee hee.

Jessy lugged back two boxes of Stove Top instant bread-stuffing from the America, and I cooked them, remembering fondly my poverty-stricken Pittsburgh days. I once purchased a box of it ($1.39!!), and then later in a bout of rip-roaring self-abuse just ate the entire box of Stove Top for dinner. It was excellent and I will do it again, I will do it. My Japanese Thanksgiving meal was rounded to a close by a batch of old-style noodles which I enjoy calling Peasant Noodles because it makes me sound like a peasant, and also I braised the turkey on a bed of vegetables that I later mushed up to make some manner of gravy. Did I mention the Oreo-crust cherry cheesecake. I seriously cooked some food, it is undeniable. No pictures exist of this feat, despite me at one point thinking “hey, maybe we should take some pictures of our first self-cooked homestyle Thanksgiving.” Instead we did not. In the last three days I have been e-mailed two different pictures of me asleep with the cat also sleeping on some part of me. Jessy took them, and they are pictures I now have. We also ate cranberry sauce.

I had a conversation with someone while we were playing board games as a group last weekend, more of a communal conversation really, about tapping the top of your beverage can when you open it, presumably to “dispel the impending explosion.” At that exact moment I realized that such a thing was impossible, that I had been wasting my fingertap effort for years. I mean since my late teens anyway it was really just a formality, I wasn’t even tapping it with the force necessary to do a damned bit of good. And in the process, I tried to ask you know, at what point can our finger-tap force really counteract whatever shaking has occurred? What is a normal amount of shake, I ask, by tilting my new, unopened beer slowly to one side and then the other. What is the amount of real-world shake that a can undergoes in the time from procurement to refreshment? Then this guy, who I think I have met but I don’t know really and I just kind of am going with mentally “I think I met you but we didn’t meet enough to have met really,” he takes my beer and shakes it pretty violently maybe three times, and says that is a real world shake. Why would you do that, beer-shake guy whose name I forgot maybe it is like Shawn? Cause I was going to drink the beer. Maybe where you come from it is a real dog-eat-dog world up in that bitch, and you need to get your shots in early, like making sure nobody gives you a wedgie, or you gotta ink some swear words onto the chemistry test of the kid next to you, and you are just conditioned to be the Alpha drink shaker so nobody calls you gay while you are waiting in line at the Powerade machine. Later in the game I had the chance to deny him one thousand dollars, and I did so to penalize him for his errant fuckery. Then I opened the twist-off lid of the water bottle I had used to pre-mix rum and cola at home, and it sprayed on my hands. I won the game. I won all the games.

My friends bought me a gigantic sheet cake for my birthday from Costco. The logistics of purchasing it and bringing it back to my apartment are staggering to think about. They mentioned that they gave it to me because it needed to be refrigerated, though they had the social graces to at least sing Happy Birthday to me first. After it was given to me it became “my problem,” fortunately for them. It said “Princess” on it. It was a princess cake for me, and I ate some of it. Then, it barely fit in my refrigerator so I had to move all the milk to somewhere else. Every time I opened my refrigerator it was all like “Princess.” The cake was bigger than any reasonable measure of cakes. No human could possibly have eaten the entire cake. I threw some of it away, at last, carrying it to the garbage area of my apartment in a coup de grâce, which is French for coup of grâce, tossed into a garbage bag by itself. There was an old man digging through the discarded items, kind of like how I found my most recent television set. I sort of wanted to say, here dude, here’s a fucking bag of cake, it’s all cake in there, straight up. It was, I wouldn’t have been lying or anything. Just a bag of cake, not like I put anything else in there. It was probably still good but let’s be honest, I wasn’t gonna eat any more of it. I like to imagine that after I left, he checked out the bag to see what the foreigner was throwing away. And maybe he tied it onto his wooden dowel and carried it over his shoulder back to the apartment, and told his woman look at his fresh kill, a wild bag of cake, and he stripped it and cleaned it like a squirrel, and all he could decipher were the letters ncess. “This cake once belonged to a person of real esteem, this cake can teach us about how They live.”

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Where your taste buds are at

Lunch today is two “korokke,” which I suppose you could use English by way of stolen French to call “croquettes” even though they’re kinda different. What they are is pretty much mashed potatoes and some microscopic chopped meat bits and some corn or something and then they roll it in flour and bread crumbs and deep fry it. I, being firmly of the mind that deep-fried anything is good enough, have no problems with either the methodology or composition of korokke. So I’ll hog ’em down and a rice ball too for good measure, a culinary polyglot.

The cheap (60 yen) morsels do quite handily clash with my extravagant dining sessions of the last couple days, however. Now that Jessy’s once again away, this time in America for her mother’s wedding, I have found myself (figuratively) all dolled up with (literally) no place to go. I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity not only by nomming shit that she would never touch (homemade sloppy joe sauce mixed with boxed macaroni and cheese, pork and beef curry over linguini noodles, salted grilled chicken dipped in nacho cheese), but also an assortment of fancy meals. On Monday I got me hence to the slightly-more-upscale of the few sushi-go-round restaurants that I know of and stuffed myself on tuna, shrimp, crab, and salmon, washing it down with an icy cold draft Sapporo. And just last night it was cook-at-home evening, for which I planned to make a nice steak and some fries but was torn between this idea and sushi again. I met myself halfway and just cooked a steak and and bought some pre-made sushi, an unconventional yet comforting surf-and-turf. As I chomped into the raw fish and savored the raw center of the steak it occured to me I was enjoying the benefits of the uncooked deaths of several distinct creatures, all of which shoulda known how tasty they were and that they had it coming.

hgnghsnarrrf

I stopped by the local Uniqlo store the other day to pick up some more HEATTECH shirts, which are made of a delightfully smooth and stretchy material and purportedly insulate your body for maximum warmth in the winter time, because the Japanese have not yet engineered the technology enabling the house to be heated and so it is important to conserve every little bit of body heat. I also took the brash step of acquiring a couple wool button-up sweaters, and I am prepared to call them cardigans. I got a grey one and one that is sort of brown that when I look at it I think “burnt umber” but it’s probably lighter than burnt umber, maybe lighter even than umber but not quite beige, and there must be a color in there but I don’t know what it is. One of my students the other day said that I looked nice while wearing this undefinably-colored sweater, and I remember her because she looks exactly like this popular AKB48 girl who is all over the television and posters, and I remember her because in my mind, somewhere next to where I have stored “burnt umber,” I remember her name, which is Duckface.

quack

In much the same way that Jack Nicholson’s Joker was completely unable to stop smiling, I also believe that Duckface (actual name Tomomi Itano) is incapable of making any sort of facial expression that is not the duck face. In conclusion I love Uniqlo, their clothes are always cheap and when I go there and I buy a medium-sized article it is actually sized for medium-sized people so it fits me instead of hanging off of me like a tarp.

The time I’ve spent not purchasing clothes and food this week has been mostly devoted to occupying myself with one type of game or another, be it of the card, board, or video persuasion. I finished a game called “The Ballad of Gay Tony” in which I at one point threw a man out of a helicopter and then skydived to catch him and then parachuted and missed where I was supposed to land and drowned us both to death. That was pretty neat! Also I have continued to practice my guitar playing every day with the assistance of that piece of software called Rocksmith, which gives me a little guidance and a game-type structure for practicing my techniques.

I’ve been sleeping in the spare room with the comforter over me. Each morning when I wake up it feels like I’m somewhere new.

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Ace’s guitar flies through space

Friend,

Maybe I should have changed the name of the page to Nom a Month.

The truth is that I’ve been occupied with real, honest-to-goodness stuff! I started reading an enormously long book called 1Q84, written by a pretty notable Japanese author named Haruki Murakami. In Japanese you pronounce it “ichi kyu hachi yon,” and it’s kind of a fun little pun because in Japanese the letter “Q” and the number 9 are both pronounced “kyu,” and a q and 9 look kinda the same and the book is sort of about an ALTERNATE 1984. But in the book’s English-translated form it doesn’t mean shit. Also I got this game for my Playstation called Rocksmith, and how it works is you hook any electric guitar up to it with a special cable, and you can learn to play songs along with it. I’m getting pretty good. Just last night I played a four-song set at the “Mouse Hole” and even performed an encore. I asked Jessy if she liked my “whip-ass bends,” but she did not seem to notice. The calluses on my left fingers are becoming formidable. I plan on using them to light strike-anywhere matches pretty soon, and once they are lit I will set fire to Jessy and ask if she likes my whip-ass bends now.

Work’s also been busy. We had exams last week, which meant I got to check and grade 320 separate English composition essays for the communication class I lead, in addition to 320 more essays that we wrote for a “presenting your opinions” review project we just finished. It was a pretty frantic time, during which I was alarmed at how not-bored I happened to be when I had work to do.

The weather is getting colder yet, with us, nearing the end of October, having finally entered the realm of temperatures that are routinely in the mid-60s during the day. Aside from a couple freakishly warm days last week, I can say that I’ve been unequivocally pleased with the general state of nature in my life lately. Sometimes we have the doors open, and the cold autumn wind rolls through, and I imagine how all those people who love summer must feel, and then I laugh a vengeful cackle as my black bones chill to their iron cores. It is my time! MY TIME

AMAZING, NOTABLE THINGS ABOUT ME AND THE THINGS I DO
– I went to the “Hard-Off” store about a week ago and got a ton of old Famicom shit for about 20 bucks, and it was the greatest day so far in my life
– On Monday I forgot to bring lunch, and when I got home I made linguini with homemade tomato sauce and a pound of burger in it and ate it with a huge chunk of crusty garlic bread like a savage and it was the greatest day so far in my life
– Got some beer the other day
– Captain America was a pretty awesome movie
– My birthday is in a couple weeks, I will officially turn 13 years old and finally outgrow this childish video game phase
– Jessy’s leaving for America pretty soon and while she is gone I will give her half of the wine bottles I open to our cat, who will not be seen with me around our friends when I act like this what is your problem
– One of my students wrote a review of Eric Clapton and called him “her god” and I thought girl you are too good for this country

MMMMM goodies

My work-snacks today have been based around three cans of clearance mandarin orange drink I got for fifty yen each at the Yoshiya store, they have little bits of orange pulp in them. Also I ate a rice ball with a slice of egg and a slice of bologna on it, and Mom always used to tell me there’d never be any market for the Eggy Meaty. Who is laughing now? It is me, I am the one laughing.

No but seriously all my time lately is being used on being at work, reading during my commute, cooking and eating supper at home, and playing guitar or some old video game with the time I have left. The last two weekends Jessy and I have packed up the picnic bag and took it down to the harbor and had a little picnic and it’s been pretty nice. It rained last Saturday and I wanted to go to Osaka and prowl around for a copy of The Goonies for Famicom but then it was raining and I was like nah I don’t wanna go to Osaka. No big adventures, no big trips, very few biting insights about Japanese culture here during my 26th month of life in Japan. Life continues.

Fondly,

You

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It is big enough to take care of itself

On Tuesdays & Fridays in front of Kosoku Nagata station there’s a man who sings about God, and I wonder if he thinks Jesus rides Hanshin cause that’d be the only person listening. We pass by him like he is noise pollution, like we ignore so much here, though he tries harder than the election vans with their huge black megaphones, all so noisily screaming their pleasantries, as though the phrase “please be kind to me” is really so effective when piped robotically through speakers at a hundred decibels while I’m just fucking trying to sleep in on a weekend. No, this man is after something more, or less. He brings his own little speaker, all worn out like I should be finding next to a couch in 1976, and instead of a guitar hooked up to the input it is a rubber, coiled wire, some of the coating flaking off, connected to a square mike all Orson Welles or some shit. It is covered in a hand-crocheted little cozy, though I cannot determine if the man crochets or if this was made for him by someone, and who? Who would make it? I imagine him in the shower, imagine what he’s thinking about. Gotta get moving out to the station this morning. Got some new things to say cooked up. Gotta make sure my speaker battery is charged up. Does he eat fish for breakfast? Does he ride his bike to work or walk? What does he do when he is finished? When is enough enough? What can anyone hope to accomplish, assembling together their personal thoughts and shouting them to the abyss, to all who pass by? Ah ha ha.

The teachers in this school have over the course of the last three hours completely disassembled an old printer with screwdrivers in an effort to remove the ink cartridges, now that we’ve received a shiny new printer. I assume they know how to change the ink cartridges the normal human way, which raises two possibilities. One, they are doing something to the inside of the old printer I cannot possibly comprehend, the result of which seems to involve them removing the ink cartridges and putting them into the new printer. Two, they are wasting time to seem busy. There are three of them there, and one of them just removed about twenty screws. He seems to now be putting them back in, having done nothing apparent. They are chuckling.

Starting Saturday I will have–thanks to weekends, two national holidays, and three nicely timed uses of paid vacation–nine consecutive days with which to not go to work. Jessy and I have “made plans” to “go” “somewhere,” which means we have done literally nothing regarding the planning of this time off. Will we go to the north, where we have already been? The south, where it is 190 degrees? Somewhere close and affordable? Somewhere impossibly far and expensive? Will airplane tickets magically appear in our hands, or will we actually have to take action in order to execute this trip? Get back to me on Saturday, as we have a huge argument around 2 P.M. about how terrible we both are and how it is not [my] fault that we never planned anything about this trip four months ago, before making plans definitely to “do something” “this week.”

Lately I wonder more acutely than ever what kind of person I am. Common wisdom from “the wise” suggests that it’s never too late to change the kind of person you are, never too late to learn, always time to grow and get wise and shit! But I’m thinking, what if I’ve already got it figured out? Is it okay to be happy with myself, flawed as I am? I figure I’ve probably got some behavioral flaws, some mental flaws. What if I feel like I’ve tried all the alternatives and I like this way better? Maybe the people who are wise aren’t really so wise. Maybe in being what the wise people think is unwise, I will attain true wisdom! In the words of the famous real human Popeye, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” In the words of fictional rock band Arctic Monkeys, “Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.” In the words of American President Frank Zappa, “You are what you is.” As stated elegantly by idiots, “You are what you eat.” Obviously these thaumaturgical ideologists have it all figured out. But, knowing that only I am truly in control of myself and must look inside, not outside for influence and inspiration, will I be able to completely judge what my personality is and exactly what I need to do to become and remain happy? Perhaps I will look to the words of a notably successful human. In the words of groundbreaking visionary slash average student Dan Quayle, “I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.” If only I can aspire to such potential greatness.

JAPAN
– The yen is sinking in value against the dollar. This is good for the paying of my loans, since I make more money when I send yen home to convert to dollars. It is bad when I go to buy grapes, since I make the currency conversion in my head and realize I am spending ten dollars on a bag of them.
– They seem to have installed speakers on my escalator. Through them a recorded woman shouts some announcement that nobody listens to or cares about.
– There is a new Prime Minister now, whose name is Noda, and who it only took eight days to become mired in scandal. On the plus side, the scandal this time did not involve his crazy wife, unlike ex-ex-PM Hatoyama, whose crazy wife claimed to gain power by eating the sun.
– There is a “world cup” of rugby going on right now, which Japan is “competing” in, and by competing I mean getting beat. Rugby is like American Football without any rules and a totally different ball on a field of a completely different size with no passing and with most of the strategy removed in favor of coordinated man-dances.
JAAAAAAAAA

Tonight’s class will have a new “WORD OF THE WEEK,” which this time is “welcome back,” despite that phrase being two words. I will attempt to say it without adding “mistah Kott-aiuhhh” to the end.

What a cute name for a coat

I tried making curry rice this morning without the rice, which is perhaps evidence of how desperate my mental condition has become in this terrible “mushi atsui” (Japanese for humidity, literal translation “insect heat”). I got the bright idea to use “shirataki noodles,” which are a kind of “noodle” “made” by cutting a food that nobody in America has ever heard of called konyakku into strips. The first time I ate it I asked an English teacher what the hell it was and they told me in English it is called “devil’s tongue” which is almost less useful than literally knowing nothing. It’s made through a mysterious process that creates a bizarre, chewy jelly that they feed children in schools here so they don’t have to actually feed them food, which is way more expensive than questionable-origin chewy gel. A neat thing about shirataki noodles is that they contain no carbohydrates, sugar, or any sort of food energy at all. Eating them is like eating nothing, except it goes inside you, even though there is always nothing inside of you too, so it is kind of just replacing Void Area with Filled Area, for a time at least, until your body itself works back to Void Area. I ate the noodles with the curry, anyway, and it was slightly better than eating curry with nothing, which is to say that I will not be doing it again. To make up for my transgressions I hogged down a curry bread bun thing from the convenience store and a totally self-indulgent Piece of Bread with Mayonnaise and Chicken on it; any willpower I may have been exerting was ultimately for nothing and I’d have been better off with the rice.

But why willpower? Why any mention of what “food actually contains?” Soft, dear reader: newly armed with Knowledge, I have decided as a matter of personal challenge to specifically attempt to “not eat a lot of sugars, carbohydrates, and refined oils.” I like all of those things, don’t get me wrong! I am pretty much just seeing if I can do it. It has the bonus side-effect of making Jessy think that I care about her diet and consciously plan healthy meals while I crank out chow for us every evening, which is one more mental superiority I can lord over her after she decides to divorce me for Joey Lawrence from the Blossom TV show. “Remember how I cooked such healthy food for you? Whoa”

Anyway, I’ve all but totally stopped drinking soda and sugary beverages in favor of huge bottles of green tea, specifically “iyemon cha” which is Japanese for “iyemon tea” ahahah no really. Iyemon doesn’t mean anything I don’t think, but it is the brand name of a kind of green tea I have taken a liking to, because it is light in taste and does not smell like rotten feet covered in old beans. I have pretty much been drinking it and milk exclusively, though Japanese milk is so fucking terrible compared to delicious Pennsylvania milk that I have to squirt a blast of Hershey’s syrup in there and pop some icecubes in it before it becomes really delicious, which has 24 grams of carbs in two tablespoons and kind of defeats the whole not eating a lot of sugar thing but who gives a shit, I’m not gonna beat myself up over it.

One benefit of not drinking soda though is that my crippling, devastating heartburn hasn’t made much of an appearance on the local stage lately, which has allowed me to consume more delicious beer without suffering the perpetual unholy punishment of esophageal destruction, an unending ever-death.

The point of all this is that part of choosing the noodles was because my rice cooker, the little bitch, I think realized that we didn’t need him as much anymore, so he started to get all angry and overheat and never shut off and now any time I even plug him into the outlet he trips the entire breaker and kills all the electricity to the kitchen. I can make rice in a pot just fine but it is not the same. It does not incorporate “fuzzy logic” or “induction heating” when I cook it in a pot, and I prefer buzzwords when it comes to rice.

BEST STRAIGHT-FACED OUT-OF-CONTEXT SECTIONS OF PLOT SUMMARIES ON WIKIPEDIA THAT I’VE NOTICED IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS
– “One night when she’s doing a rowdy move while having water poured on her, Violet’s dad Bill decides to pay her a visit at work and gets angry at her. Then Bill gets in a massive car accident.” –Coyote Ugly
– “Fishbone, a wino, complains that he has no friends and quickly discovers he has many when a vagrant steals his wallet and is later killed in a car accident. Everyone assumes Fishbone is the one that was killed and they hold a wake with a magnificent turnout, which Fishbone witnesses, dressed in drag as a mourner at the wake.” — Good Times, Season 5, Episode 11
– “In ‘The Final Judgement of Beavis,’ after Beavis knocks himself out by crashing into a wall of the house (imitating a maneuver by Robocop on television), Butt-Head revives him by dumping a bucket of cold water on him. Butt-head loves nachos and will do all most anything for them.” –entry for Butt-head, section “Relationship with Beavis”
– “Katie again attempts to talk to Stifler, who again brushes her off. She bets Stifler that if she wins at poker he has to apologise to her and run naked in the snow. Stifler loses and is forced to apologise and go outside naked, where he is raped by a moose.” –American Pie: The Book of Love
I LOVE WIKIPEDIA

After a prolonged, exceedingly dull summer break during which I have continued going to work but not actually had any classes to teach, I find myself now faced with the reality of beginning classes again this coming Monday. Having not been a teacher for over two months I once again find myself in a familiarly unfamiliar situation, asking myself the nervous question “DO I REMEMBER HOW TO TEACH???” The answer, of course, is yes, though it’s quite easy to forget how things go after so long being a cantankerous pull on the prefectural government’s budget.

The good thing about this fall semester beginning soon is that the word “fall” is included in it and that means the goddamned heat will soon be coming to a close, signalling the prelude to the beginning of the exclusively seven or eight months when it is actually fun to live in this part of Japan.

Speaking of the fun parts of living in Japan, I’ve taken it upon myself to undertake the truly useless tasks of doing something geeky! What a shock. This time my quest is to assemble a collection of every game that Nintendo published for their Famicom Disk System add-on, a Japan-only floppy-disk drive that was available starting in 1986. I also want to collect them all “complete,” which means with their original plastic cases, manuals, and all that shit. There are 43 total, of which I am missing 18. Of the 18, six will be prohibitively expensive; of the six, two are so expensive that to even think of obtaining them would be laughably insane. I have not yet decided what I’ll do about adding those six to my collection. Current thought is I will cut out pieces of cardboard in the approximate shapes of the missing games and tape pictures of Alex Trebek to all of them, his glazed, emotionless eyes peering at me from the Other Realm forever.

CRAZY JAPANESE THINGS OF THE LATELY
– The poster for the Chicken Tatsuta sandwich at McDonald’s, which has a tiny white circle slapped on it with text inside that says “come back!” as though it is some sort of emotional plea to the Chicken Tatsuta sandwich, oh god please come back! but no they mean like it is the “comeback” of the Chicken Tatsuta sandwich, which let’s be honest nobody was fucking asking for
– Fresh lettuce, which was goddamned 298 yen a head last night, which if you wanna make it sound more expensive by factoring in the current exchange rate is the equivalent of $3.91, which is way too much to pay for lettuce sweet juicy lord
– Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who mentioned during a speech that he was “not stylish,” that his “looks were not a selling point,” and that he is “a loach,” which this sentence about the Japanese loach describes quite entertainingly: “[loaches] like to dig and burrow into the substrate, often burying themselves.”
– Korean pop music
– Japanese pop music trying to be like Korean pop music
– A famous Japanese hammer thrower won a hammer throw competition the other night and the announcer just about cried all over how manly he was, the announcer was a man, I thought the announcer was gonna take off his jockey shorts and swing them over his head and throw them at the hammer throw guy good god man get a hold of yourself this is your job
END OF JAPANESE THINGS

Do you know about omurice? Japanese people call it “western food,” which is what you might think it is until you are told what it is and have over two seconds to process it. First they fry rice in a mixture of ketchup and chicken bits and call it “chicken rice,” then they fry a thin layer of egg like an omelet, and then they wrap the big wad of “chicken rice” inside the omelet and cover it with more ketchup. “No,” I tell them, “that is Japanese food.” “Ah ha ha ha,” they say back. “That is impossible.”

After initial cultural fatigue

2:00 PM, Nagata-ku, Kobe

On Sunday morning I spent the good part of an hour typing up an incredibly frustrated diatribe about how expensive everything in Japan is: ¥78,000 for a basic air-conditioning unit for example (roughly $780, just move the comma to the right a space to divine US dollar values for most yen amounts), 20,000 yen for a new futon, 28,000 for a clothes washer (not bad, but still…).  Because the basic household appliances that facilitate comfortable life were prohibitively expensive to us at the time, we had realized we were anything but comfortable… one pot, one pan, two bowls, and silverware, no way to wash clothes, to stay cool, no TV.  We were both so worn out and frustrated that we actually sought out Kobe Grocery, a foreign buyer’s club north of Sannomiya where we paid the US equivalent of $3.20 a box for two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (we ate one and reserved one, “in case of emergency.”  Americans back home: please send Mac and Cheese some day). 

Because we have no Internet I couldn’t post it, and though I copied it to a flash drive to be uploaded once I did indeed acquire said access, I left the flash drive at home and it just wouldn’t be representative of my current situation and mindset to post it now!  (Perhaps once I get ahold of a copy I’ll backdate it and sneak it in before this one so nobody knows the difference until they get to this entry and notice the anachronistic remarks)!  (This way in normal chronology I’ll appear totally impervious to culture shock, but in retrospect allow my true colors to shine, a human after all.) (OK, I added it, just look below this entry! –B)

Since then I’ve been introduced to a natural wonder a mere two minute walk from my apartment, a little guy I had heard of but never really understood called “The 100 Yen Store.”  Unlike the gimmicky dollar stores of the United States, where things may or may not actually cost a dollar, and are actually frequently priced at increments wholly independent of our monetary unit, the 100 yen store most assuredly prices every object housed therein at 100 yen, with no discrimination as to the actual or perceived value of the item.  Kitchen knife?  100 yen.  (Well, technically 105 after the tax.)  Plastic spatula for our two new non-stick pans?  100 yen. Tiny useless trinket? 100 yen.  Wastepaper basket, deck cleaning bucket, scissors, hand towel, pasta strainer, tiny frog loofah, four-pack of clothes hangers, broom, door mat and more and more and more: 100 yen a piece.  At the end, when we went through the check out line, our items were rung up not based on any sort of barcodes or in recognition of what they actually were, but merely by count: ichi ni san yon go roku nana hachi kyuu juu juuichi juuni etc. etc. etc.

I think we spent 2,300 yen there and got more stuff than we had gotten at the hideously overpriced IKEA and the strangely Wal-Martian Izumiya department store combined for a fraction of the cost.  New residents: find and love your local 100 yen shop.

It doesn’t put air conditioning in our apartment, but reassembling the fan, which had been mistakenly put together backwards before we got to the damned place, has aided airflow in the apartment greatly.  We also made an exciting pilgrimage during the rain yesterday to an area of Kobe called “Motoko Town,” which is a series of kitzchy, flea-markety type trinket, antique, and “recycle” shops situated literally beneath the bridge on which the JR rail tracks run, where we saw all manner of goods running the gamut from used Famicom cartidges to American toys of our youth to brined pickled rat corpses illuminated under red lighting to better pronounce their skeletons (NO PHOTO PLEASE) to toy Shinkansens from decades ago to Kirin Cola to real live pets to dozens of racks of vintage and new clothing to what we were actually there looking for: a rice cooker that didn’t cost 5,000 yen for the most basic model like in all the stores we had visited.  Our (not) new cooker, a used model with more switches and buttons on it than any appliance I’ve ever owned, and which I have absolutely no idea how to use, was gotten for 2,000 yen, or twenty bucks, just a shade under what I paid for my Rival cooker back in the states that had one button.  It’s made by Toshiba, who now coincidentally controls the refrigerator, mobile phone, and rice cooking segments of my product life.

On our way home, we stopped at my first Yoshinoya beef bowl (gyudon) restaurant, where, for 380 yen, I almost instantly received an enormous bowl of rice topped with marinated thinly sliced beef and onions, as well as a once-refilled cup of nice cold green tea.  It was goddamned delicious. Wiki even says that foreigners don’t often realize that you can order free extra sauce and onions, which I now know, and will do, at my next convenience (after memorizing the requisite Japanese).

So, things are getting better.  I’m learning to use my phone, our apartment isn’t so brutally fucking hot (but is still hot), Jessy washed some of our clothes in the sink which was pretty awesome, we got a rice cooker and some rice and groceries and are making chicken curry once I’m home from school tonight, we’re learning the trains, seeing the city, and I met some of my students today who all thought it was pretty cool that I played the saxophone (they play drums, piano, flute, guitar, and harmonica, respectively).

Yesterday I even cleaned the deck.  It’s my deck, I cleaned all the pigeon shit off of it with a little 398 yen wooden deck brush, and it’s on the seventh floor of a high rise on an island in a city of Japan!  Soon we will be drying clothes on it just like the regulars, and the next pigeon I see I will literally capture and beat within an inch of its life before tying its wings and tossing it from the balcony.

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We are feeling a little culturally fatigued

6:55 AM, Our Apartment, Port Island, Kobe, Japan

It’s been one week, and in that time, despite accomplishing a relatively great deal, we have accomplished markedly little to aid us in our daily life. Part of the peculiar reason for that is that most common household tools, freely available and affordable in the U.S., are ridiculously, prohibitively expensive here, with bizarre exceptions.

Want a clothes washer? A baseline model, low-end, will run you roughly 29,000 yen here (just move the comma to the right to approximate a dollar value (in this case, about $290)). Pretty affordable! (Not that we’d know how to use it or get it to our house to begin with yet.) If you want a clothes dryer, however, an object which virtually nobody in Japan owns and which the local Wal-Mart-like store (Izumiya) carries only one model of, be prepared to pay upwards of 62,000 yen. So we’ll dry our clothes on the deck! Sounds fun and totally Japanese! I don’t need no clothes-shrinking dryer! At the “accessory shop” in Sannomiya (Tokyu Hands), you can pay 2,000-4,000 for a ready-to-blow-away plastic clothes-drying rack, or (I kid you not) 18,000 for a metal one that feels like a twelve-dollar K-mart special. On the other hand, my brand-new cell phone, the Toshiba Biblio, with e-mail capabilities, a 5 megapixel camera, an e-book reader, a TV antenna that picks up broadcast TV for free, and a host of other idiotic goodies, costs a grand total (including the price of the phone over a two-year contract, I paid nothing up front) of roughly $40 a month.

An air-conditioner (commonly called air-con)? No houses in Japan have central air or heating, so they all need to use wall-mounted AC units that sit up near the ceiling and attach onto metal bolts. The cost for the most basic air-con at Izumiya, now, in the middle of summer so hot that we were out in Kobe yesterday for three hours and felt like dying? 79,000 yen (that is seven hundred and ninety dollars). If you want one that also heats in the winter, add another 30,000-40,000 yen. Feel like going the cheap route and stocking your place with tiny electric fans? The one our apartment came with, weighing somewhere around three pounds and having a diameter of roughly 14″, retails for 3,990 yen. A miniature desk fan the size of a CD case literally costs 1,490 yen.

We paid 1,000 each for a tiny non-stick pot and pan, and had to pass on an iron and rice cooker (cheapest models 4,000 yen each). Even the new and enormous IKEA store here on Port Island has adopted the Japanese Way: identical stand-up torchierre-style floor lamp, which I purchased one of in Pittsburgh for $9.90, retails for a confusing 2,490 yen.

I can’t fully determine if these prices are just because we live in a relatively large city, or if things would be cheaper in a semi-urban setting, but all that this means is that until Friday (glorious payday) we’ve decided to reserve the meager amounts of money we have so that we can take the trains to work, and also so we can eat. In the mean time, Jessy is literally washing our essential clothing items in the rather spacious sink with dish soap, so that we can hang them up on our kitchen storage rack to dry (we’d hang them outside, but our deck is covered with months of uninhabited-apartment pigeon shit. (I got a deck brush, but owning no bucket with which to transport water to said deck, might prove limitedly useful.)

Did I mention the trash system? First of all there are basically no trash cans anywhere so prepare to hang on to your junk if you’re just out and about. At one of my schools, in order to throw away a plastic soda bottle, you must tear off the plastic label (they are perforated for this purpose) and put it in one can, remove the lid and put it in another can, then crush the bottle and put it in a third can. On our island, we are restricted less (only three separations, for recyclable containers, burnables, and non-burnables), but we own no trash cans (tiny, bathroom sized cans were 1,490), and everything must be placed in specially labelled trash bags (available in packs of five at your local Toho supermarket).

At our orientation, they called this level of cultural fatigue (often confusingly referred to as “culture shock” despite it being not at all a sudden process) “Stage 2,” wherein the new arrivals stop noticing the quaint similarities and exciting differences in culture and begin to focus only on the negative elements. I am willing to bet that a couple months down the line, when I have a TV again, when I can Wash My Clothes, when I can know that I will be able to sleep tonight without waking up sore-throated in a puddle of my own sweat, when we have more in our kitchen than two bowls, a pot and pan, and silverware (and a tiny bag of 400 yen cereal), when I have Internet access at home and can learn a damned thing about anything (I’m typing this in Notepad on a Sunday morning at home)–maybe then I’ll move on to “Stage 3” and finally begin to feel comfortable in my day-to-day life. Until then, god dammit.

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We are in Kobe, and don’t have much

2:20 PM, Nagata-ku, Kobe

It’s been a weird day and a half.  Wednesday morning we each left Tokyo for Kobe in our own ways: Jessy took an airplane to the Kobe airport (just south of our home island) and I took a more convoluted route: bus to Tokyo station, the Shinkansen bullet train to Shin-Osaka station (bitchin’), then a bus to the “Yashiro Prison,” a term (affectionately?) used by nearly all the long-time JETs, and (humorously enough) many of the Japanese teachers as well.  It’s the Hyogo prefectural training facility for the Board of Education, and where I met the supervisor (an English teacher) from my high school for the first time yesterday afternoon. 

He took me in his car down through the mountains into Kobe, where I met the teachers and administration of my main high school in Nagata ward, as well as my predecessor, who has been infinitely helpful.  They had taken to calling me “Burapi” before my arrival, how the Japanese affectionately refer to their beloved American Movie Star Brad Pitt (really).  I think it’s because in Japanese my name starts bu-ra(-n-do-n) and they just tack a -pi on the end for convenience and humor’s sake.  The vice principal also called me “kakkoi” which likely marks the first time I have been called cool by anyone, ever.

I was reunited with my suitcases for the first time since checking them in Washington D.C. (and briefly moving them from baggage claim to be checked again in Tokyo), then my English teacher drove me home through downtown Kobe to Port Island, where after some struggles I got all my shit up to the seventh floor of our building in Minatojima Nakamachi and met up with Jessy, who had apparently arrived about an hour earlier.  The place is big enough to house God (and a sampling of other possibly Japanese deities), which is doubly humorous since we don’t own a damned thing anymore.  The apartment is rife with peculiarities that have already begun to grow on me due to their pragmatism and uniquity:

  • 3 plugs to every outlet by way of the Japanese plug standard omitting a ground pin, even though a few outlets in our place have them, just because
  • Three separate “bathroom” areas, with there being a room that is just a toilet (you go, flush, then wash your hands in the water that flows from a nozzle above the tank and then ends up as the water you use to flush the thing the next time), a room containing a sink, mirror, and recessed area for a clothes washer that serves as an entry way to the bathing area proper, and said bathing area proper, being a nicely sized room covered in tile with a half-the-room-sized tub and a shower hose, there being a room-drain underneath the tub so you can either bathe or shower or do both in the room and get water all over the place with no consequence
  • A small, two-burner stove with a broiler tray, the gas flames being ignited by a mechanical flint powered by 2 D-sized batteries which are fitted in an adorable slide-out compartment
  • A fridge that’s really small
  • An enormous balcony on which we will hang our clothing to dry, since there are no dryers, since nobody uses dryers in Japan
  • More built-in sliding door storage cabinets than I have ever had access to in my entire life

Cutely, we have water, gas, and electricity, but no:

  1. Internet (argh!)
  2. Air conditioning
  3. Dishes
  4. Cell phones
  5. Bank accounts
  6. Pigeon-shit free balcony (it’s grotesque)
  7. Supplies to clean the balcony, not that we can dry our clean clothes on it anyway, since we have no clean clothes, since we have no
  8. Clothes washer

They are all on the way, of course, but it results in the rather unfortunate situation that I am coming to you from the computer lab here at the Hyogo school for the blind, where I have been all day and where there is little to do on account of it being summer vacation in all Japanese schools until roughly the end of August.  Hence, I can provide no pictures of our apartment, or of any kind whatsoever!  When we have Internet access at home (maybe in the next week or two?) we will be able to update with more pictures and videos.

The situation is unfortunate because last evening we finally saw the harbor from the promenade on the west side of Port Island, and it looks just like it does in the picture at the top of the website here, and it is beautiful, and I cannot believe I live here yet.

In two hours I will need to find my way home on two trains: one from Takinochaya to Sannomiya, and one from there back to Port Island.  I think I can do it!  Like so many things in the last few days, it is new, completely bizarre, horrifying, and really exciting.  Today I believe Jessy is going/has gone to IKEA with some of her Kobe-shi JETs to secure some basics of living for us, which I will be happy to see upon my return to the apartment.  Tomorrow I go back to my main high school, and then thankfully we have the weekend to attempt to settle in a bit more.  I think I could get used to it here.

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