Tag Archives: 100 yen

I do declare!

There’s this one black cat that I see every day I go to my main school, and he’s usually hangin’ out in this parking lot where he sleeps under a car or lies in the sun or on the windowsill. Sometimes he’ll wander across the street to this empty overgrown lot and just pounce around on shit. I wonder sometimes if he is there all night, all day, every day, if the trash pick-up area right out front serves as his food source. What reason could he ever have to leave?

I’ve been trying to think of the reasons I’d have to leave (Japan), just to play the advocate of devilry. It is a mostly stupid hypothetical musing, because I have no desire to leave, and because here I have a job, and enjoy my life. But here are some things that I wish were more available: really spicy food, cheap pizza, huge packs of meat, American football and ice hockey, really good beer (these go together), Family Members (aw).

But most of the things that I miss (and I use the term miss loosely, only to mean things that I can no longer engage in on a level that I am used to) are commercial. Activities like
– reading the ingredient lists on packages,
– fully understanding the numerous “point card” shopper reward systems and how I might best take advantage of them,
– possessing full awareness of restaurant menus and the items contained in the offered dishes,
– and best utilizing the quirky and numerous technology based conveniences fully (including but not limited to cell phone GPS, cell phone e-book reader, cell phone wireless train ticket payment system, cell phone music player, and other various things having to do with my cell phone).

None of these are deal-breakers. Despite our modern conveniences, we live a relatively minimalistic life here, and are afforded great conveniences by being in the middle of a large, bustling city with an entrenched English-speaking community of like-minded peers.

There is one thing that I wish was a little more simple though:

– placing reservations/pre-orders for anticipated products, most specifically the upcoming mega-behemoth Final Fantasy XIII Lightning-edition PlayStation 3 system bundle.

To the uninitiated, who I would anticipate are in no position to know of or read this website, and probably should not for any reason, every few years a new video game in the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series comes out here and the country is driven to a grinding productivity halt as enormous masses of people line up orderly and courteously for dozens of miles (ok not exactly) to get their hands on the juicy new title the moment it comes out. The newest one is the Thirteenth Installment in the Final Fantasy series, which I have been playing since the First Installment as a little tyke back in the early 90s on my big fat Nintendo. The makers of this game have seen it fit to create a special version of the PlayStation 3 system in honor of this bizarre milestone, and sell it together with a copy of said game. Having watched this madness from the outside through magazines and the Internet my entire life, and currently owning no PS3, I have decided that participation is the only choice!

If I already had a PS3 system and just wanted the game, I could be clinically retarded in a variety of ways and still manage to get one, probably. There are signs and advertisements all over the electronics stores, game shops, and even a variety of convenience stores, at which I could probably merely stumble to the counter, slap a ¥10,000 note on the tray, and say “Fainaru Fantajii SAATIIN GET ONEGAI SHIMAAAAAAS” (though such actions would likely cause my own body to self-destruct).

But I don’t, and so the only problem is figuring out how exactly one participates in the process of commercially declaring one’s intention to reserve not a copy of the game so popular that you can buy it at your local 7-11, but a Special Limited Edition System Bundle which is not pictured in any of the massive identical posters that hang from any number of surfaces and which I learned of due to my enthusiasm for specialist video game media. Jessy and I gave it a sporting conversational try (or should I say she tried, while I stood anxiously behind her trying to understand what was being said, biting my fingers and bobbing up and down), but had no luck until recently, when we discovered a new laminated placard in the RESERVATION KIOSK bearing a picture of the bundle and saying something like (we think) “orders for this item start on November 5th.” We got ourselves a membership card and I put the day on my calendar. The cashier said don’t worry, you will be able to get one, but I don’t trust him. I hear they are selling quickly, and I will be Damned if some punk gets one and I don’t (also I will murder him and take it).

So I guess I’ll just show up on the 5th and gesture wildly? These are situations in which a greater command of the language might be fortunate. Things like my actual job, paying bills, buying groceries? No problem! Popular but peculiar cultural pastimes: a bit more difficult. I figure, if I can get my students to bark with “woof woof” at each other like American dogs, I can figure out how to exchange money for this particular good. A suspenseful conflict awaits, avid readers!

Since I am already thinking about video games, perhaps it would be prudent to remark on the amount of free time I now have to play them. Let me just say that I took my fifteen-minutes-on-foot commute to work in Pittsburgh for granted. A fifty- to sixty-minute walk/train commute to work each way isn’t bad (and I can even get in a little time on the handheld games while I ride), but waking up early in the morning and going to bed early in the evening is certainly a bit of an antithesis of the way I had gotten used to living my life over the last three years, a life composed largely of strolling in for my ten hour workday at noon, staying up far too late with whatever happened to be distracting me, and sleeping in to my heart’s content, with Friday off and the weekends free. Now I have this thing called a live-in significant other (though the apartment is in her name, so does that mean I am the live-in?), a forty-hour five-day workweek, supper for two to cook (or otherwise acquire) every night, and one television (which needs to be either used at the same time or traded off). For some reason this combination of elements has resulted in my personal perception of having far less available “now I can be lazy” time than I am used to, and has led me to understand maybe why the handheld games are more popular in this country than the big TV ones: you gotta be home to play those, and your family in your tiny one-TV apartment wants to do something other than watch you shoot guys and level up (I have been watching Jessy level up her Lost Odyssey characters for over thirty hours in the last few weeks now, and it is a Disheartening other side of the coin).

Where is the time? How am I supposed to stay up late when I wake up at six, and how am I supposed to get up early to play before work when I wake up at six? More importantly, should it always be my goal to somehow find more time to play video games, when there are other things that I like doing too?

I think maybe that black cat has the answers, which is why I’m thinking that one of these days I’m going to sneak that can of tuna I got at the Daiso with me to school, then crack it open for him on my way home, and ask him what he thinks, how he is able to live such a totally chill kinda life. I know that a lot of people here frown on eating in public, but I saw an old man slurping some oden out front of the toy store today, and cats are just cats, and this tuna was already here, wakarimasen, sumimasen, I don’t speaking any Japanese sorry bye.

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Oh My Gashapon

In the states you drop in your quarter (or two or three or four), turn the crank, and are delivered a totally worthless piece of shit: a sticker, a flimsy plastic football helmet with a sticker you must apply yourself, a capsule full of slimy goop that will stain the walls of all your friends’ houses.

In Japan, they’re called Gashapon, because of the noise the machines make when you turn the crank and the bubble drops into the receptacle for you.  Gasha… PON!  Here, you pay a little more, dropped into a coin slot like a gambling machine.  For the junky stuff, it’s only a buck (¥100).  This includes things like cute little dogs, non-licensed keychains and cellphone straps, and other stupid figurines.  For the better stuff, it’s 200–this will get you cool licensed stuff like small-ish Shinkenger keitai charms, little noise-making devices, one of a variety of ridiculously detailed Wii sets, one of eight Mario Kart power-up toys (I got the golden King Mushroom from a machine outside Toho last night).

Drop 300 and now we are talking: my favorite Evangelion ones come from 300-yen machines and are extravagant: a cellophane roll of painted and shaped body parts that come in large baseball-sized twist-open capsules, fitted with pegs so you can assemble your little treasure yourself. I am woefully pathetically unable to resist their calls, and the suspense of wondering which of the (usually six) possible objects of the set that you will get is simply too much. I’ve gotten a Ritsuko, a Rei, and an Asuka from those (Eva machines are kind of rare, surprisingly).

There are Mos Burgers, a set of Wii stuff next to a Sukiya near Sannomiya station, a whole array of goodies (including one of my known Eva machines) out the back entrance of Tsutaya/Yamada Denki on Center-gai, and something like ten Eva machines in the theater where we saw the movie (sadly out ten minutes from Motomachi station and too far to casually dump money into). There’s a set of machines near this big 100-yen shop that has Ultramans and monsters, Konami characters from Rumble Roses, and dozens of anime characters.

100-yen coins, I hardly knew ye. Let us hasten our search for a shelf that can contain the manifestation of my adolescent desire for tiny, cheap Japanese figures, and fervently pray (in inevitable vain?) that this distraction does not cross over into the realm of multi-thousand-yen PVC figures in various states of undress.

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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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