If I really add them all up, I suppose I am now on my 14th paying actual job, which means that I have gone through the processes of getting to know my coworkers, finding break rooms, learning about the surrounding eateries, crunching out the commute routes, and mentally calculating the maximum possible amount of weeks/months/years I could theoretically do This Job Without Going Crazy more times than I could count on both hands and a three fingered foot.
Before Christmas I worked in “the greeting cards sector” and now I am technically working for a publishing company. What I do is basically email people, we use the AP style so I have to say email instead of e-mail now which I mean, come on, but whereas Japan saw me be a foreigner for money, I am now a professional organizer, I get information from one party, pick two parties to do a job for a fourth party, and then get it put all together to the satisfaction of all parties before passing it to the fifth party to print in the magazine to be read by an amount of other parties. I keep them all straight, I use GMail, my job is mails. I neither write nor photograph nor sell nor print, I just make sure everyone else does that stuff, and then I take all that stuff, and I give it to someone else. Also i look at google maps
Jessy and I drove 3,700 miles during a couple weeks over Christmas to go see everyone, man that was a lot of driving.
CURIOUS AMERICA THINGS OF THE NOW
– I used to think Japan had lots of flavors of stuff, let me tell you that America has the flavors, and so well-stocked, there are like eight flavors of Wheat Thins now, I was okay when it was “wheat” as the flavor
– Taco Bell constantly releases new products but most of them are just a burrito with the tortilla in a different shape
– It takes me half as long to go 25 miles to my new job as it did to go 5 from my apartment to work in Kobe
– The beer in this country sure is top notch
– Virtually every Chinese, Thai, Japanese, or Korean restaurant here serves things from every other country, they are all the same, they all have some name that includes “palace” or “paradise” or “royal” or “sushi” it does not matter nothing matters
– Everything is cheap END OF THINGS
My grandma in her house has a folder which contains every single entry from this very online repository, the sum totality of Nom A Day, all that has ever been written. Apparently my aunt, while I was living in Japan, took to printing off a month or two of them on paper at a time and bringing them to my grandmother for her to read since she does not have a computer or cellular telephone or any of that “computer stuff” but she does have cordless phones though. She showed it to me when we went back to visit her. It is a fat manilla folder, tied together with string like some sort of historical archive, which I guess it now is, if Historical Archive is a title allowed to be assigned to a collection of musings about how Christel Takigawa is my future wife and talking about dog poop. She noted that I had mentioned her in the Nom A Day only a single time, I have now made it two.
She calls them my “print outs” and seemed concerned that because she had them I might somehow no longer have them, I explained to her that I am in possession of the “originals” though really I am not sure what an original even is since all this shit is just on the WordPress thing here. Last year I downloaded the whole thing outta curiosity to see how much writing it actually was when I used to put out a couple thousand words a week on it and was surprised to discover the total was 135,000 words, roughly three times longer than Fahrenheit 451 or a quarter of the size of War and Peace. All of that about Tomomi Itano wearing assless chaps while driving a golf cart in the winter.
It is either depressing or uplifting that I ran outta Nom steam as I got closer to America, maybe I just need to look harder at this weird old country to find everything that’s as fucked up about it as the entirety of my daily life in the land of the rising sun.
If there’s a single decent thing about summer it is that it reminds me that life isn’t always this shitty like it is now, that no matter how much I hate sweating to death and being sapped of energy and moving, at all, things by default will be better when winter rolls around again. You ever heard of that made up mental illness called “SAD” which is short for seasonal affected disorder only I think they say it is from people who have no sunlight? Maybe I am the opposite of that. TOO MUCH SUN. Anyway, I don’t know how long it took me, in my life, to realize that I had seasonal preferences. Maybe it wasn’t until I even came to Japan that, like with my declared religious belief, favorite food, “hobbies,” and other menial answers to frequently asked questions, I firmly decided to Ultimately Choose that winter was my favorite and I hate summer. It just makes things easier, since nobody understands my ambling, self-exploratory responses that play around the edges of answers like people fingering the ridges of a quarter with the end of their thumbnail. One word answers are king here, where people would rather not have to work to understand what I’ve just said.
Maybe part of it is that there is literally nothing I would ever enjoy doing that would be much better in summer than it would be in winter, appropriately clothed at least. Beach party? Pf. WINTER beach party? Sign me up. Grilling outside in the scorching heat? Fuh. Cooking a pot of stew over a log fire while exposed to the elements? YEAH! What I mean is just that unless the occasion is “being scantily clothed outside,” and actually enjoying it, I will take winter, especially this pussy willow Kobe winter, where At Freezing makes people bitch and complain, and I am like “ah, this is great.”
On my sweaty walk home from a small office party last night, some crazy man followed me and my coworker through the ticket gate (he ducked under the barrier to avoid paying), then followed us onto our train, and for a few stops repeatedly gestured toward me while speaking to other random people sitting down, trying desperately to ignore him. He was saying stuff in Japanese like “hey, check out this foreign guy, don’t you want to take a picture of him, I bet he is American, they sure beat us in the war, they sure did their best in that war didn’t they, look at this tall gaijin, he sure ain’t Japanese.” I told me coworker that in America we have a nice phrase that goes something like “fuck off” that we would say to annoying idiots like this, but in Japan it is generally accepted that if you pick a fight, absolutely nobody else is going to help you, look at you, or say anything at all. I turned my back to him, occasionally making eye contact with other horrified passengers, a stupefied grin on my face, shrugging my shoulders like Michael Jordan hittin’ ethereal threes. “Sorry dudes, I just am so foreign.” then i killed the guy
WEIRD SHIT THAT SHOULD SEEM WEIRDER THAN IT DOES TO ME BUT I HAVE BEEN HERE TOO LONG
– Didn’t have my hanky yesterday cause I washed it and it needed to dry, felt tangibly uncomfortable all day with no hanky to dab my forehead with
– I ate a cow’s tongue last night and actually thought it was delicious
– Drinking almost exclusively green tea, am beginning to be able to tell the slight differences between different types
– Fake bands made of fake high-school girls wearing real bikinis continue their relentless popularity, “obviously”
– Of course you can’t buy beans in the grocery store, why would they need strange ethnic foods like beans in the normal supermarket ENOUGH
I’m taking three days off next week for summer leave, during which I plan to cook awesome food and visit a local beer brewery. For some reason I am thinking that the perfect accompaniment to my vacation would be a viewing of Doctor Zhivago, I am truly becoming insufferable.
My predisposition to “just going with it” has led me somehow to, through a series of 23% understood entirely-Japanese conversations with the principal of the night school I work at on Wednesday nights, register Jessica and I for a volunteer, 250-person chorus that we must attend practices for ten times between now and December. It culminates in a December 8th concert at a music hall in neighboring Akashi, where I will, surrounded by legions of middle-aged Japanese men likely possessing far greater vocal ability than I (though their karaoke skills are no indication), sing Beethoven songs for the locals while wearing a black suit. This might sound enjoyable if I had ever been a part of any choir in my post-fifth-grade life, or even enjoyed singing when not completely inebriated. According to Google’s automatic translation of the event page, we are to be the “protect food Jiro response rate” chorus.
While I filled out the papers, trying my hardest to conjure up the Japanese necessary to say I really couldn’t do it, or anything whatsoever, I had to mark whether I was a tenor or a bass, a point of self-knowledge I do not even slightly possess. Principal marked bass for me because he said “it sounds like this” and then sang “la la la la” and then marked it. There is a seventy dollar entry fee! Ostensibly it covers the costs of some big party we have or something, but I couldn’t figure out when the party is. We also get a CD and some sheet music or whatever, I don’t know how this shit works. I can’t even read the damned paper. I guess I’m supposed to go to this place on the map next Thursday after work. Someone might call me or something? It’s on the second floor of a building in a place I’ve never been. Jessy will be off to goddamned Australia so I will be going it alone the first week.
It’s getting to be summer which means it’s time for that annual tradition of “Cool Biz,” the guilt-mandated effort to wear dorky short-sleeved dress shirts with no ties or jackets so that we can keep the air conditioner barely running and sweat to death in the name of conserving energy for our soon-to-be-powerless country that has no nuclear reactors running. Another thing that it means is that it’s time for seasonal Pepsi, and this year it’s a doozy! “Salty Watermelon Pepsi,” which releases July 24th. Signs you’re in Japan: a soda release date is announced almost two months in advance of the product launch, and it finds immediate coverage all over the news.
I’ve been playing a game lately on my home video game console called Yakuza 4. It’s kind of a open-world game that takes place in Tokyo, and you play as some hardass and you run around and do minigames. I spent probably four hours last night doing a minigame that isn’t even really a game, where you click some buttons to set a training regimen for your virtual dojo’s virtual recruit, and his stats go up, and then you enter him in tournaments and he fights, only you don’t even get to fight with him you just WATCH HIM. But for some reason I couldn’t stop. Before I knew it it was like the old days, hammering away at the button to make the number go up, but why, why?!
It reminded me of my first experience in life where I was fully able to rationally recognize I had “wasted time.” It was when I was maybe ten years old or so and I had rented Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball for Super Nintendo. I got it home and spent all day playing. After a while I had figured out how to break the game, just had to keep grinding away. I think I needed $3 million to buy Bill Laimbeer himself. The whole time I remember some of my family was there, they were playing in the other room or watching a movie or whatever, and I was like “hey sounds fun but the job has to be done,” and so I kept playing to get money to buy Bill Laimbeer. Hours passed! Hours! Playing Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball! And then, eventually, I got the money to buy him. Oh! How sweet it was gonna be. I bought up that old white turd and stuck him in the fuckin’ game, he sure was the best player. And then I went out to check the other room and see what fun everyone was having, but it was too late. It was time for them to GO HOME. I ground the gears for a second. “What have I been doing with my life? All this shit for Bill Laimbeer?” I suddenly realized the ultimate futility of my actions, of the actions of humanity as a goal, in microcosmic space: burning my life away doing the same thing over and over to get three million dollars so I could buy Bill Laimbeer. Obviously I learned my lesson and never spent time on video games again.
Look at that piece of shit!
CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WHAT
– Today’s beverage of choice, which has for reasons I will never fully comprehend, become a totally normally-named grapefruit-tasting drink to me, called “POCARI SWEAT”
– The lady who called me on the phone last night and said like “hi mister ryota ishikawa” and I was like “that’s not me chigaimasu chigaimasu” and she was like “oh that’s not you” and I was like “nope not” and she was like “well do you have a minute to talk about insurance” and I was like “aha excuse me” and I hung up even though we don’t really “hang up” anymore we just push a button and it isn’t even a button anymore just a picture on a screen that says “end call”
– The lesson I’m currently teaching on Japanese haiku and English haiku and how we can use the haiku form to make English poems, during which I write a haiku poem in Japanese on the board to explain it and then someone points out that I should have made this one line before the other one in stroke order even though I don’t bother to point out that when they say “I like to watch birds frying” it doesn’t mean what they think it means what what
The other day in front of the elevators some young kids were waving these wands around to make big bubbles and then running away, leaving them suspended in the air. A lady and I happened to cross paths where the bubbles floated, and for some reason both of us stopped right there in the middle of the sidewalk, separated by this wall of shiny orbs, wondering if it really was safe to just walk right through and pop the bubbles, these temporary little things with no feelings or emotions that took less than a second to create. I walked around the side, on the grass, to avoid the bubbles, wondering for a second how many little bugs I was stomping to death in the name of beauty! A perilous existence up here in me.
At a fancy table I mentally fidget with my lines–I am a couple minutes away from getting up in front of everyone who holds any sort of employment at my school to give a short speech in Japanese. We’re all piled into a fancy dining room on an upper floor of the ridiculous monstrosity the “Meriken Park Oriental Hotel,” a triple-A lodgery which according to Wikipedia was designed by “a corporation” to resemble a luxury ocean liner “for some reason.” If you could move the upper image on my website a little to the side, you’d see it there, a staple of the waterfront view. I’ve had a few beers at this point, though it’s hard to say exactly how many due to the irritating yet awesome Japanese office party custom of always refilling the drinks of anyone next to you any time you see they aren’t completely full. When they call my name I realize that the speeches everyone else have given have been pithy, short introductory missives, cursory pap delivered obligatorily in the native language of this country. Mine is a two-and-a-half minute jaunt down ha-ha road, originally penned by myself in simple English, simplified even further for easy translation, translated by a co-teacher of mine, then personally re-simplified to make the Japanese sound like it could theoretically have been pieced together by my infant brain. Before I get up there, I realize I have no idea what the fuck I have done.
The topic of the speech, an introduction and farewell to one of my coworkers, who has been recently transferred to another school but returns tonight to receive the honor of this speech (along with a couple envelopes of money from the PTA), is the concept of the relative humor that we share, and how sometimes during our conversations in English, neither of us knew exactly what was funny and what wasn’t, leading us to ignore jokes and laugh at the mundane, which is perfectly enough what I tend to do even if I can understand you. In a case of art imitating life (intentionally), my speech, written in English and delivered in Japanese, finds itself bouncing around in my mind like an enigmatic memory, constantly analyzed: which section of this is precisely when “the joke” comes out? Will their sensibilities allow them to find it funny, or will they, fearing staff retribution, laugh only at the safe parts? Perhaps appropriately, even though I analyze my own speech on numerous occasions prior to delivering it, as I orate in a foreign language I barely understand even as speaking it, I receive laughs at unplanned junctures, and my perfect pronunciation of “Iwasaki-sensei wa naze KONna ni waratterundaroukaaaaa” gets only a few titters. Jessy suggests that perhaps the inflection of the line was too good, making me sound serious “why the hell were you laughin’ at that, Iwasaki?!” instead of endearing “wonder why she’d laugh at that, hmm!” It’s happiest for me to imagine that for just a moment I sound like a violent, rough-and-tumble Japanese gangster with a knife to the throat of my dear old lady coworker, but not at all out of line for me to believe that, as with English, they just can’t tell if I am being sarcastic or not. Then I tell them all to choke on their fried mayonnaise shrimp and flip themselves inside out.
One teacher later on in the evening stops by to refill my drink for the seven-hundredth time and tells me that my speech was “by far” the best one of the night, which mentally I assume is because I had actually written one and liken to defeating a gang of Antarctican six-year-olds in the indoor-heating knowledge Olympics. Still, the victory is sweet, sweet like Chinese wine, which I glug down until I cannot remember who I am. Another office party victory, filling myself up with open bar liquids and Chinese food that is too fancy for me to appreciate.
Yesterday’s solar eclipse offered the fun opportunity to watch various Japanese humans stop themselves in their tracks and stare directly up at the sun, searing their corneas into ash. I, never one to over-prepare, determined that I did not need the special glasses and that taking a peek using the reflection of my cellular telephone screen would be enough. It kind of was, I could see that the sun looked like a little ring in the sky. I read a story that at a zoo here all the lemurs went apeshit cause it got dark so they thought it was night and then it turned day again. I like to imagine how crazy that crap must be to you if you are a lemur. “Holy shit, the day only lasted five minutes and now it is night again, does that mean there is a new episode of Jeopardy already or.” Knowing that, if I was privy to that information ahead of time, I think instead of just planning to watch the eclipse I’d have tried to get me a ticket to the zoo and go watch the lemurs go crazy instead.
I also enjoyed considering what the prevailing mentality must have been way back in the turgid-cortex brainflop days, before people could understand at all what was happening and perhaps, for a time, assumed that this was truly the end of days. Did they resort to the mentalities of unrestrained monkeys, ranting and raving? Maybe for a time they all picked up ancient acoustic guitars and told it near the train station, hurry and adopt Our Lord And Savior before it is too late! At any rate, by the time I was at my desk doing my “job” which during midterms this year means “nothing,” things in outer space were all back to normal. I celebrated by eating a old rice cracker I found in my desk that tasted kind of like dried squid for some reason, and maybe the reason is that they made it taste that way on purpose.
Defying the odds, Mello Yello is somehow back, or maybe it just never left and they’ve brought it into higher distribution for the summer. I bought a bottle because I missed seeing it, which might lend some credence to the Coca-Cola company’s theory of seasonality. Surely if it had been here all along I’d have paid it no attention, a cruel and shocking allegory for what my daily life truly amounts to as I pump on through the days and nights. A few weeks ago just to make things different I switched the living room again. That’s when I move all the stuff that’s on the north wall to the south wall, and move the stuff on the south wall to the north wall. It tricks me into believing things are fresh and new, regardless of whether they are or not.
CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE LATELY
– Osaka’s mayor, who is on a personal crusade to fire anyone who has tattoos, is prohibiting dance clubs from allowing dancing, and who apparently never saw the movie Footloose and thinks the current year is 1928
– The popular American movie “The Avengers,” which, despite having been out in America for a few weeks, will not release in Japan until August 17th, by which point several people who are alive today will certainly be dead
– Television OH THAT WILL BE FINE
I’ve been doing a tongue twisters lesson in class for the last week or so and I have so many stupid tongue twisters memorized that I cannot handle it. If two witches could watch two watches which witch would watch which watch ripe white wheat reapers reap ripe white wheat right we’re real rear wheels scizzors sizzle thistles fizzle six thick thistle sticks eleven benevolent elephants betty botter made a batch of bitter batter but with butter it was better rory the warrior and roger the worrier were reared wrongly in a rural brewery.
I’m on this high speed ferry to Zamami island, barely inhabited town/landmass south of Naha, and we’re hitting choppy water like Jackie Chan, chop-socky, enough to make me wince just proceeding. I think back to bathtubs, plastic boats with peeled-off stickers, how I’d launch them off my leg waves, this grand landscape: porcelain walls and caulk rot, wonder how the little Playskool people are getting on in there. One of them turns to his notebook, to channel his thoughts. I like to consider the unrepresented horror beneath their unchanging facades, never-ending comas, as they cry out internally, thrusted forty bodylengths in the air at the whims of a young boy. Oh god, help me, they beg, but I am the only god they have, and I am angry as these very seas, a twisted psyche that knows no ends. Today the young boy is a Playskool man, thrusted at the whims of some other god, the keeper of the ocean, this grand landscape: sand-circled mountains and Sammo Hung waves, ebbing along like I’m rollin’ with my homies, only an island when I’m finished, only a rock in the water. We bank, begin the final approach of the boat world, I’m in the upright and locked position as the seas calm to welcome me, then we pitch down and my left hand digs into this spiral, for the amusement of a young child, for the amusement of my only god, carving nonsense into the Penco Progressive Recorder.
Otsukaresama deshita, they tell me, nice work. No problem guys, I did it all for you. I get off the boat, seawater salt and forty body lengths of trees. So this is Okinawa, but really this time, no trains or Lawson convenience stores, a group of kids on bikes in the alley, an empty shed on one side and a soba shop on the other.
As the last bit of daylight leaves us we barely light the charcoal before a man assists us. We met him earlier, in town, after he told us the local shop owner (who could sell us a lighter) was out harvesting his sweet potatoes but would be back in an hour. We sap the last bit of fluid out of a borrowed red clicker and he strolls up from behind our tent with a tabletop gas canister in one hand and a nozzle in the other, perhaps sensing our desperation from afar, then ignites the grill’s coal like firing pottery or field cauterizing an unexpected amuptation. I watch the reflection of the fire in his crazed eyes! On the metal grill skillet Jessy and I fry thawed chicken on skewers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and miniature hamburgers that we picked up from a different market earlier and let out at the camp site to de-freeze while we combed the beach for sea glass and ankle-deep skipped flat rocks off the waves. Dessert is a hearty metal can of Pork and Beans heated in the can and eaten with plastic spoons, a rare treat that somehow completes the night.
After a few hours of restless sleep I hear some rustling, some scrape-y sounds from outside our tent, and while figuring they are from some manner of hostile beastie I choose to investigate anyway with the aid of Jessy’s tiny broken-Crayola-sized travel flashlight. Under the space left inside the scalene triangle made with the ground, an off-kilter tree, and the propped-up grill tray, I see two large hermit crabs stretching their pincers out like Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam to scratch the bits of stuck-on chicken meat that still remain, and then I pan the light and see more of them and more, twenty or thirty of them congregating and marching through the place where we had tossed a couple tough mushroom stems, some oil from the griddle, poking at the ground. They prattle on, larger hermits with tiny ones following them, as the oceanic pied-piper, not but a hundred feet away from our tent, plays for them. The music for me is the ebb of the ocean, rhythm guitar to their tiny little steps over dried leaves and pine-needle kindling, sounds like we’re a piece of sliced banana in a bowl of active Rice Krispies and the world is snap crackle popping.
We do other things. We take a kayak out on the water, get caught in a thunderstorm while bringing home a bottle of wine, and peer at old garbage like lost histories washed ashore. We eat goya, a bitter melon, and shikwasa, a sour lime. We drink Orion beer, root beer, Dr. Pepper, eat fried bread with chicken inside it, chicken with potatoes around it, potatoes with cheese and chili on them, sesame seed ice cream, rice with taco meat, pasta, steak, Korean soup, Japanese breakfast. I eat a bowl full of pig ears slathered in miso sauce and walk through an open air market where the dead eyes of fish peer into my soul from beds of ice. I sit on beaches and stand on mountains just to look. We sit in bathtubs full of hot water outside and drink little glasses of mango juice. I wander into a two story arcade and destroy a huge gold robot with Chun-Li from Street Fighter and a guy that looks like Speed Racer. I buy Okinawan liquor and special salt to bring home, I ride a rented bicycle through puddles, I burn my skin in the sun.
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.”
The last week and a half has seen me become a drifter, free of obligation or mental roadblock, free of the famous Jessica Dovey, who may or may not have been dead at any given moment in the Himalayan mountains but ended up being not dead and actually gets back home tonight. While she was gone I engaged in a variety of scandalous activities that would be forbidden if she was around, like: leaving the air conditioner on even while I slept sometimes, occasionally leaving the toilet seat up, and one time I smoked a cigarette on the balcony and did not close the door to the house. The illicit things that I did are even more scandalous. For instance, I cooked linguine noodles instead of the spaghetti ones and I drank two entire Mello Yellos on a weekend evening and stayed up well past 9 PM.
While she was gone, in typical Japanese fashion the massive social hoopla built and built for Typhoon Ma-on, which was first a Category 5 super typhoon, then slowed down, then was on a direct collision course with Kobe, then wasn’t, then hooked up back toward us, then didn’t. It ended up being about the biggest non-event in history, the non-event to end all non-events. At its most troublesome it stole away some of humanity’s precious three-dollar plastic umbrellas, and I fear we shall never see them again. I, tasked with caring for Jessy’s garden plants on our balcony, did an admirable enough job saving the tomatoes, though the useless little green beans in their tiny pods were a casualty of the wind, tossed to the ends of the earth.
As penance for my slight transgressions, I took it upon myself to finally throw away the Christmas tree she had stashed there on our balcony, dead for seven months and wrapped in a red fleece blanket, secured with shoelaces that look like the pullstrings for purple Zubaz pants. I believe that it was serving as a reminder, a grave one, to the living flora and fauna: do you see what we do to you, if you die? You will finish your days in this place covered in synthetic fibers and left to roast in the sun like a carcass for the vultures, and not even the smallest creature shall mourn you. Opening the blanket up was like unearthing a mystical coffin containing Santa Claus. Pine needles fell all over everything, and I was reminded of that magical Christmas of 2010, which we spent with a fresh tree until December 17th when we left the apartment for weeks. She had tricked me into letting her buy the Christmas tree from IKEA by pointing out that if you brought it back after Christmas with the receipt they would give you a special gift card for store credit, something she absolutely “would do.” I am an elephant, woman, and I will not forget this savage, cruel deception. This year there will be only a Christmas box, which will be a box in the corner of the room, and inside it will be other, smaller boxes, and inside them will be nothing, and it is all for you, and you will be happy to receive it.
A beneficial side effect of cleaning off our balcony was that I remembered I had twenty cans of V8 stashed out there from a Costco trip, so I moved them inside. I think they enjoyed being next to their vegetable brethren for a while though. It must have been more fun out there than it is in our refrigerator’s pull-out beverage drawer, where the only friends are a huge jar of pickles and a pineapple, which, according to the tag, is named “Sweetie-o.”
One thing they will not find in there is a spare bottle of today’s new taste sensation, another new limited Pepsi flavor. This summer it’s Caribbean Gold Pepsi, which is stylized on the label in a way that elicits memories, for me, of perhaps my mother’s mysterious sun-tanning lotion in the early-to mid-90s. Or perhaps some brand of VHS pornography, or maybe a kind of stereotypical name of rum? It does not seem like a typeface for the year 2011 is what I am saying. The I in Caribbean is even a palm tree. The flavor itself is purported to be “WHITE SAPOTE FLAVOR” and I had no idea what a sapote was until I looked it up online (it is a kind of fruit, I guess, “from the Caribbean”). This necessary research finds itself among comfortable previous experiences vis-a-vis the time I spent looking up the previous Pepsi flavors, chief among them Shiso Pepsi, Azuki Pepsi, Baobab Pepsi, Mont Blanc Pepsi, and now Caribbean Gold Pepsi. One thing is for sure: this shit is sweet. If you can imagine an even sweeter Pepsi, this is it! Unlike the superior (now, inevitably, discontinued) Mont Blanc, which had a delightful coffee taste, this one is just sweet. SWEET! I will never drink it again, but it’s okay I guess.
Japan switched from analog to digital television broadcasting over the weekend, and celebrated it on television by setting up tons of old TVs then showing them go to a blue error message at exactly noon on Sunday. I suppose it is kind of a hard event to publicize or cover, at least that is what you would think, though this being Japan it was accompanied by a series of bizarre stuffed mascots, tons of confetti, people dashing at the camera and yelling “uwaaaa!!!!” and other such things. Speaking of weird television I watched a segment on a variety show last night the name of which I do not know but that I’m calling “Sanctioned Sexual Harassment Mega Excite,” the concept of which is this, as I imagine it was pitched: two hideous men, both slightly fat, and one with a farmer’s tan, will put on Speedo swimsuits and go to a swimming resort, where young girls in bikinis will model for them as they make insensitive remarks. To allow the guise of information we will say this is an overview of “the popular bikinis of 2011.” The uglier of the two men will assign “point values” to the quality of the women, while measuring their curves and breast size with a giant plastic protractor. He will carry a little foam finger on the end of a stick, with which he will poke the women in the soft places until they tell them to stop, which they will not because no means yes! At the end, he will yell “DYNAMITE BODY!”
Obviously I watched the whole thing.
CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE LATELY, AS THOUGH THOSE ARE SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAN WHAT THESE ARTICLES ROUTINELY DEAL WITH IN THE NARRATIVE ANYWAY
– My local import store, which recently received Hot & Spicy SPAM and is now selling it for 650 yen a can
– Me, for buying one at that price, which with the soaring yen value equates to buying a can of SPAM for something like eight U.S. dollars, and not regretting it even a little
– The goddamned cicadas, which produce a deafening, alarm-like scream in the wee hours of the morning, and which I can hear even while standing in my kitchen or toilet room by way of the overhead vents
– Oreo brand chocolate bar, which is the size of a Heath but instead of toffee is just Oreo and macadamia nuts
– This guy I saw yesterday, who was following his dog around, and the dog looked like he was poppin’ a squat to take a dump, and instead of waiting for him to finish then scooping it up into a bag or something the dude pulled out a paper plate and stuck it under his ass and the dog took a shit on the plate I am seriously not joking I left before I could see what he did with the plate UGH
I went in for my annual health check yesterday, a requirement of the school system or something like that. I left work at noon to go to the clinic, where, despite being told I would not have to submit to a urine test, I was asked to submit to a urine test. Lucky for me I usually have some of that around. Anyway, the way it works is you are marched on a path around this building kind of like a cow being led to his slaughter, stopping along the way at each little station for the next part. The first station is of course the bathroom. Next to the sink there is a little rack with paper cups and markers, and you take one and write your name on it. You’re supposed to go in it up to the line, then you set it in this window, a window between the office part and the bathroom part, like a drive-thru, like going to Taco Bell, only I am the restaurant, I am cooking up what they have ordered, which is a steamy cup of my piss. They have asked for it, so here, please wait gotta get it ready, and then I set it on the little window and that completes the order.
At the last stop the doctor needs to check my heartbeat and the guy asks, can you please lift up your shirt, then I start doing it but almost as I reach for it the older lady assistant rushes out from a pocket in space time, like I have no fucking idea where she has come from, and starts jerking up on my shirt, she is literally trying to rip it off me, so politely at the same time though, apologizing as she subjects me to this sort of violation. It is a slim-fit shirt, I tell her, you can’t lift it up let me un-button it, and she does not listen, tugging it up, it is rolled back, crushing me, I am horrified oh god, let me help me. The doctor says my heart rate is high, no shit doc. “Take care of yourself,” he tells me. I cannot think about anything except the guy who put the paper plate to catch that dog’s shit, man that was so fucked up.
These gloomy days really take it out of me mentally, especially when I’m waking up
habitually at 6:30, Jessy’s sympathetic riser, nothing to do but exist until it’s time
to leave for work just before noon. These are my single mornings, spent responsibly
pre-work unoccupied on the couch with my animal, bowl of curry rice, and some video
game or another where I generally shoot robots with pulse weapons. It’s a warm day
today, which is done a disservice by all the clouds and the bit of rain, so I’ve tried
to energize myself with that “caffeine” stuff that all the people swear by. I have a
couple cans of coffee during my commute, one of which is called “GOOD START BLEND,”
ostensibly due to its extra amount of energy juice. It is failing to work its magic,
which can mean only one thing: should have secured some extra-rare Mountain Dew
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL, GAME
Last Friday, a day not much unlike this one, I found myself beered and slightly damp
on a bleacher seat in Koshien Stadium for my second Hanshin Tigers baseball game. The
real value here came from our tickets, which were enticingly called “KFC PACK”
tickets, and KFC means the same thing in Japan as it does in the states. For roughly
the same price as a normal bleacher ticket each of us was given a draft beer, a few
chicken nuggets, and some spicy little drummies, which were delicious enough to prompt
me to order another beer from the cute lady who wanders around with a keg strapped to
her back. And that one was good enough for another, and another after that. By the
time we won the game I had not even realized it was over, which I suppose meshes well
with Brandon’s Spectator Theory of Baseball: when attending a baseball game, there are
often more important things than baseball. I personally like to think of the teams as
my indentured court jesters, performing for my pleasure regardless of whether I am
watching them or not. They will say “looky, looky,” but I will not look. Looking is
the thing I won’t do.
Also a man behind us relentlessly taunted the Enemy American player in left field.
His name was Sledge, which in Japanese sounds like “Suredji,” and we could not help
but join in, defectors, defying our upbringing. Yes, Suredji, yes. Embrace this.
Become a stronger man, as I slander your name and imply that grave events have indeed
occurred between myself and those who gave birth to you.
POPULAR QUESTIONS ASKED ABOUT ME DURING MY INTRODUCTORY LESSONS WITH THE NEW FIRST YEAR STUDENTS
Why are you so cool? How are you? Are you handsome? Do you have girlfriend? Do you
have children? Do you like color? Do you like girls? How many girls have you ever
loved? What is your height? Why are your legs so long?
The upcoming week is called “Golden Week” here in Japan, named thusly because of its
high concentration of nearly consecutive holidays. At present our plan is to go to
Tokyo, for no specific reason other than it’s somewhere big to go that won’t be
totally impossible since every other person in Japan will be flooding the popular
areas. I plan on going to Akihabara where I hope to obtain 4,000 StreetPass tags for
my 3DS like a total geek.
FINALLY, CURIOUS JAPANESE STUFF LATELY
– A door-to-door type salesman guy came to our apartment the other day to leave this
huge plastic crate of medicine with us. He explained that we could use it if we
wanted, and then he’d check back later and we could just pay him for whichever boxes
of stuff we opened or used. The prices being quite below what one pays at a store we
said sure whatever. Apparently it’s kind of a popular thing for some people here to
do. I looked up what this is called, and in Japanese it’s “haichiyaku.” The literal
translation of this word, according to the dictionary, is the elegant “medicine left
by a salesman and paid for when used”
– The games section of the newly remodeled electronics store downtown has been moved
from the second to the highest (sixth) floor of the building, perhaps signaling that
they figure Japan’s enormously popular gaming craze is going to subside and they’re
relegating the otaku back to the wings
– McDonald’s new sandwich here is called the Mega Teriyaki, and it looks like a Big
Mac with both burger patties smothered in teriyaki sauce. I want to eat it, but
– Saw a sign inside one of the makeup stores I walk past on my way home the other day.
It had a pretty girl on it, with some cursive English lettering below it that said
simply “I’m virgin”
– We’re going to see this American action movie on Friday, which is called Sucker
Punch in the states. Its Japanese title is ANGEL WARS, which instantly elevates the
movie to a higher level
I have Internet here at night school now on my little Eee PC, twenty months after
starting work. All it took was my new co-teacher to actually tell the people in
charge that I needed it, an action that by Being An Action was something my previous
teachers never had the ambition to take care of. He has gained three “that’s
refreshing” points, which he can redeem at the end of the year to officially cement
his status in my mind as not a total bitch.
Nomaday…. the only usually-weekly blog about Japan to give you premium quality in both regular and king size…
brings you Nomaday.
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. You’re a bored Internet user, a relative or friend of the author of this website. You’re trying to waste some time at home or work. From the link you clicked you expect this website may or may not be entertaining. Your job… read it.
A COOL ESTABLISHING SHOT
It was Wednesday, April 13th. It was warm in Kobe, Japan. I had just finished feeding my cat and was on the way out the door for work. My cat’s name is Kiki. My name’s Brandon.
NO BUT SERIOUSLY
we started listening to the old Dragnet radio show before bed. It’s pretty great, especially the last one we heard where they had this big shootout in this hotel building. My favorite part is the very end of the broadcast though when the guy is like “this is NBC” and it goes donn dannn dooon but it sounds all scary and radio-like. They call this hobby “Old Time Radio” but mostly I am just interested in Dragnet and cigarette advertisements from when it was still legal to be all like “these fuckers are good for you man! i smoke two packs a day cause it’s the best for me! smoke them, nothing bad will happen!”
Have you heard about this new Nintendo thing? It is called the 3DS, it is their new system, and it shows you the games in THREE-D on its top screen. It has this feature in it called StreetPass, which lets you meet other people that you cross in real life while you are walking around. Basically, it gives you rewards in the game for being near other people who also have 3DS systems. This sounds silly, but has pushed me to some bizarre travel lengths lately.
The last two days after work I have taken totally unnecessary detours away from the station and down to Center Gai, the big crowded shopping street full of humans, in hopes of StreetPassing people. I catch myself creepily swerving not to miss but to hit large swarms of people while walking between trains, pushing through them slowly so that my system has a better chance of seeing other ones. The other day I went up and walked through the game store with the intention of buying nothing, merely enticed by the idea that there might be other gamers there looking for the same thing, then found myself genuinely upset when I only got one tag after getting five on Monday.
I’m even planning on going to Osaka this weekend, a trip that is in part motivated by the very real knowledge that I will likely cross paths with a ton of people that have 3DS systems, and even as I write this I am prone to obsessively checking my system’s StreetPass light while sitting at my desk in the teacher’s room, where nobody is likely to have a 3DS.
What is the appeal here! Basically I get to see the little cartoon representation of another person with their name and a few little messages, and then they can give me pieces to complete some puzzles, or help me win hats in another little mini game. If they’ve been playing Street Fighter lately we can compare our FIGURE COLLECTIONS. I feel like a little kid yet at the same time strangely compelled to always carry it with me. It also acts as a pedometer and gives “coins” to buy in-game goodies as you walk, and tracks all the data so I can see how many steps I take each day and how long I play games for each day.
It has, interestingly enough, shown me that I take about 6200 steps a day, which is roughly three miles according to various Internet converters. Thanks Nintendo, for allowing me to track exactly how awesome I am!
HOW ABOUT THAT SPRING
After a supremely extended Spring Break, today marks the first one of my classes (and that’s it today, just one) since February. Though my main school won’t start up again until the 25th, it’s still just the slightest bit worrying to get tossed back into it once more (this time around with mostly new teachers again, due to the Japanese school system’s obsession with moving everyone around between grades, sections, and schools every March). I have lessons pretty much down from last year, though my night school will as always be a little more challenging until I figure out exactly how to deal with the students and how relaxed my new co-teacher is.
Speaking of relaxing, last week was a good week all around Japan for hanami, which is a word that pretty much means flower-viewing, in this case the cherry blossoms. Yes, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom all across Japan, and unlike our nearly suicidal trip to Hoshino last year, we decided to keep it local this time around. We found ourselves in a park off to the west part of Kobe with several of Jessy’s coworkers, engaged in revelry that only tenuously had anything to do with the cherry blossoms, which I remember looking at maybe twice.
For hanami, the traditional thing to do is get a huge blue tarp, put it down on the ground, sit around it, and get shitfaced drunk while eating a variety of fried and grilled goods. That’s pretty much what we did! I brought a bag of homemade beef jerky that was perhaps illegally sent to us from the States and let them marvel at how delicious it was–it was decimated by tiny, slight women who could not stop saying how good it was. For me the food of the evening was from the heart, which is to say I literally was eating heart, more specifically grilled chicken heart and cow heart brought by another person. You wouldn’t think so, but the chicken heart was delicious and chewy, with the cow being slightly more porous. Would eat again!
Our neighbors at the park across the way, obviously accustomed to doing this, brought themselves a noisy-ass diesel fucking generator and surrounded their tarp with florescent neon light tubes, which they used for about an hour and then they left way before us. After it got real dark, maybe nine or so, I found myself in a “snack bar” for the first time with the others, which basically resembled the finished basement of an elderly woman, complete with elderly woman, who was the only person working there. We dined on bowls of tiny, mushy fish that tasted like goop, and plates of tiny, chewy fish that tasted like brown sugar. I drank whiskey and waters and we karaoked the Evangelion theme song, then laughed at another one of the teachers, who is way more of a dork than me or any of us, for dancing with hand motions to some female idol songs from the 90s. The next day in front of our apartment building Jessy saw some idiot barfing all over the place, which is pretty much the end of the cycle for Japanese hanami-goers without strong American willpower.
CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– The konbini by the train to Port Island still has Mont Blanc Pepsi, which is odd since it was the seasonal drink during the fall, but makes sense because nobody in the country liked it except me so they are probably just shipping it to Kobe so someone will buy it
– Got a little packet of yellow mustard with my lunch yesterday, only the yellow mustard was not Yellow Mustard but Wasabi Mustard, which instantly obliterated my sinuses as wasabi often does to me
– Saw a TV show late at night last Saturday where they ask fifty foreigners who are somehow really great with Japanese to answer questions Japanese people have about those crazy foreigners, mostly useful questions with interesting cultural implications like do you shave your armpits and is Japanese pornography any good
– Well over a month and a half since my Hanshin station escalators were cordoned off for repairs and they are still not finished, yet someone continues to pay the same man to stand at the top of the escalator every single day and direct people to the massive stairway immediately adjacent
– Ray Romano’s Japanese doppelganger is a new teacher at my night school, he looks the same as Ray Romano and he might have a good comedy act I dunno I can’t understand him
– Will never cease to amaze me how chicken breast is the useless chicken meat here and is sold for 33% or less of the price of dark meat, because the white meat is not covered in that desirable, fatty skin that gets all delicious when you fry it and is so juicy and good and oh god what is this country doing to my culinary preferences
END OF JAPANESE CURIOSITIES,
but speaking of culinary preferences I should point out that I bought a deep fryer off Amazon last week, and any concept that you might have about “deepness” when it comes to fryers is like the ocean compared to this thing I tell you what. It holds about 500mL of oil and is about the size of half a grapefruit. The first stuff we cooked it in was gyoza, which is absolutely delicious deep fried. Sometimes I like to make hashbrowns in it but you can’t really do more than one at a time. Other things we have fried, like true citizens of the western world: fresh mozzarella, Oreo cookies, Snickers bars. Wonder if I could batter and deep fry corn? That would really be great. The fryer’s name is TWINBIRD.
EXISTENTIAL ASIDE: ARE ALL HUMANS NOSTALGIC FOR THE PAST?
Sometimes I feel like there’s something a little wrong with my life, a little off, a little wrong all the time. In my apartment, in my living room, maybe inside my refrigerator, in my closet. I catch myself wondering what exactly I need to set straight to be happy, what needs to be what way for me to relax comfortably, what I have to do to make going home or being home really feel right. Sometimes I feel like I need a smaller room, a smaller house altogether and my apartment ain’t that big. Sometimes I think back on the days that we first arrived and had nothing, sleeping on our floor with all the cash to my name laid out in front of me, an incorrectly-assembled fan sucking all the air off me and replacing it with sweat, our eager, early meals cooked fresh every night with dashi and simmered.
Sometimes I remember when we got the Playstation 3, when we got our first ridiculous half-naked anime figure, when I took my first big trip to Osaka, when we traded couches, welcomed Kiki. Or further back, cleaning my deck and all its shit off, making me its king. Buying our rice cooker at the second-hand store under the tracks.
With so much done, it seems like there’s always less to do. But what do I do now, with all of it finished and still feeling incomplete? Is what life ends up boiling down to at any point an endless repetition of the same day with small variance each time? Chicken instead of spaghetti, Suntory instead of Asahi, the couch on the north side instead of the south side.
Maybe I just need to get out more. Either that or this is what CRIPPLING MENTAL DISORDER sounds like
I’ve got a haircut tomorrow, during which I will have five months of growth replaced with nothingness. I meant to do it today, before my first class, so that my kids wouldn’t be faced with the eventuality that now rests before them: no matter how much they remember what I look like after class tonight, I’m gonna look completely different next week. I get my hair cut lately at BILLY Hair Studio, which is named after their pet dog Billy, whose stuffed corpse greets you cheerfully at the door. They give a pretty considerable discount to foreigners, which is racism that saves me fifteen bucks. There are a variety of reasons that I have theorized they do this, none of which bother me because I am used to making money for being foreign. At it turns out, I am pretty good at it too.
Welcome to Nom a Day®, and thank you for choosing this Inter Net to provide you with thousands of words. I here at Nom a Day have confidence that this Nom has been manufactured to the highest specifications and with the highest quality materials. It is guaranteed to provide you minutes of “entertainment.”
DO NOT STORE IN EXTREME TEMPERATURES.
DO NOT IMMERSE IN WATER.
DO NOT CLEAN WITH BENZENE, THINNER, ALCOHOL, OR OTHER SUCH SOLVENTS.
Nom a Day®
WARMUP, AND PERSONAL ANECDOTE
By virtue of it being totally filled up with a bunch of crap, my workspace at night school today is a small corner of the desk approximately 18 inches by 12 inches, meaning my decision to bring the netbook today instead of the laptop was a prophetic one. Really all this does is clarify my job duties at night school, and the relative perception of the staff regarding what I do: “just put all those crates full of shit on Brandon’s desk, he’s only here one day a week and we have positively no idea what he’s saying.” This is fine, however, because I have a miniature keyboard and a blank screen, and far less has gotten me through far more.
It’s fully spring, I’m prepared to say, and today I have Dressed Myself in a fetching baby blue v-neck sweater over a “waishaatsu,” which is how the Japanese people say “white, collared button-up shirt.” My belt matches my shoes, pants, and socks, I am drinking a hot mug of masala chai, I have string cheese in my desk and maguro sushi in the fridge, and there are seven hours to go. I wonder if I could write a Nom for seven hours straight? Dear lord I hope not.
We went to Costco last night, which is suicide on the weekend and just a mere annoyance any other time. Getting there and getting back takes much longer than actually shopping for stuff, which is usually accomplished by us telling each other there are only a couple of things that we want, then going up and down every aisle and throwing tons of shit into the cart and not leaving without spending less than two-hundred bucks on enormous jars of pickles and other such sundries. It’s usually a surprise three or four days later when our purchases arrive at our apartment, carefully shipped for a mere five bucks a box, COD–in addition to a ten pound sack of onions I know I am expecting an enormous bag of gummy bears and some Dr. Pepper, but I can remember little else about what I actually purchased. I may have purchased a slab of apple smoked bacon, and perhaps some dried cherries? It is possible these are only the wishes of a lucid, waking dream.
Dining at Costco always presents a unique conundrum as opposed to eating at most Japanese restaurants I frequent. In most cases I am able to easily eliminate 80% of the menu for being pickled, runny, or genitalia, but at Costco the few options are all what we fighting game players would refer to as “god tier.” Do I choose the pizza? It’s big American pizza! A massive Korean bulgogi bread roll with cheese and sauce and beef? The soda is 80 yen and refillable–it is like the deranged wish of a Japanese man, for an hour. Am I living in America? It is no wonder we are uniformly enormous–we do not know how good we have it, because we know nothing else. Know this! The next time you idly roll your loading cart through Sam’s Club and figure the $299 LCD televisions are too expensive, you are actually experiencing the result of American persistence. For the efforts of your forefathers you can purchase the most affordable consumer electronics and foodstuffs in the world, and complain about their prices.
Anyway, I got the combo pizza, and it was just like getting pizza at any Costco in the states, which says more about it than I could. They have literally boxed up America and sent it over on a massive boat, dozens of pallets wide and tall. The beer still costs fifty bucks a case though and there is no Macaroni and Cheese or ranch dressing packets in sight not that you’d be able to find sour cream to mix it with anyway.
CURRENT CULTURAL NOTE
My coworkers are over there laughing so hard they are literally crying, there is water coming out, because of some Internet soundboard that has something to do with this cultural phenomenon AC commercial. For the uninitiated, following the big earthquake and tsunami on the 11th every television channel in Japan went pretty much to a nonstop news format for about a week solid. During this time, despite the fact that almost every set in Japan was probably turned on and had eyes glued to it, companies were (understandably) reluctant to run advertising for their products, 30-second monuments to absurdity packed full of giggly dipshits who continue on in their pre-recorded worlds totally unaware of the huge disaster up north, chomping on seasoned rice and doing stupid dances and taking chugs of beer with a “kyaaaa!”.
The companies’ pulling of most of their advertising left gaps in the TV schedules for commercial breaks with which there was now no material to fill them, and these channels need breaks some time! Enter AC, the advertising committee of Japan, and their public service announcements. For a week solid, virtually the only ads you could see on TV were PSAs from AC, running the gamut from breast cancer prevention to properly using your greetings and everything in between. (Think “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs.”)
AC announcements are instantly recognizable by citizens of Japan because of the distinctive jingle that follows them: on a white screen with the blue letters AC, the sing-songy voice of a woman warbling “AY SHEEEEEE” rings out. Since these PSAs are usually fifteen seconds long, in an average commercial break an unsuspecting TV-viewer could hear “AY SHEEEEE” six, seven, eight times in succession–often following repeats of the exact same “check your boobs, ladies” announcements back to back to back. This became a sort of cultural lynchpin in an era where less and less people all watch the same television programs like they did in the 90s–everyone’s stuck to the TV for the news, and everyone sees the same stuff. Though perhaps not commanding the most refined senses of humor, the Japanese people have a delightful, almost sublime grasp of the absurd, and so like a bad manzai comedy catchphrase, “AY SHEEEEEE” became a rally cry. Some people eventually got so annoyed with it that AC removed the tune from the end of all their PSAs; it has yet to return.
The real sticking point here was a commercial about using greetings, with little animated cutesy characters spouting common daily phrases like “konnichiwa” and “arigatou” with singalong subtitles at the bottom. Everyone in the damned country knows the words to this fucking thing now and it has gotten out of control. I’ll just embed it here so you can see it!
It’s so out of control, in fact, that people are making bizarre edit versions of them and posting them on YouTube. My favorite is this one, where the little pink thing morphs into a giant robot ala Gunbuster and powers up with a little AC emblem in the middle of her helmet that, upon appearing, sings the “AY SHEEEEEE” song. Hell why not just embed that one too for kicks.
Moreno than the high school baseball games, Monster Hunter or Arashi or Asahi Super Dry, this commercial is what Japanese people are all culturally tuned into, and it would not surprise me in the fucking least if these goofy bastards found themselves turned into marketing mascots with corresponding plush toy lines. To me, it’s as much a symbol of the quake as anything else. It still feels weird to see an AC commercial without the jingle at the end, and I imagine the day it returns will be a triumphant one.
To finish up the thread from before, this soundboard my coworkers found lets you play the various phrases from the commercial. (I actually found it on the net, you can play with it by clicking the word DOOP after this sentence. DOOP They seem to find it pretty funny. When the head teacher came back they all slinked back to their desks snickering like high schoolers, and I sipped my drink.
A GEEKY ASIDE DEALING WITH THE NINTENDO 3DS
Because the people of this country had not gotten enough portable gaming already, Nintendo put out a new handheld system last month that displays images in THREE DIMENSIONS, by using a special screen that sends a slightly different picture to each eye, fooling you into parting with 250 dollars of your money. I have placed an order for the North American, English version of this system, mostly because I am an idiot but also for the privilege of playing a re-release of the second version of the fourth game in a series of fighting games I have purchased handfuls of times already. The game is the almost absurdly named Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and with it I will pierce the heavens using only these mighty thumbs and a wireless Internet connection.
One of the neat things about this system is that when you are carrying it around, it can wirelessly detect if other people are carrying one around too, and then it swaps data between you without you even knowing until you check it later. This means little caricatures of people can show up in your system and you can use them to battle monsters and crap, and also you can virtually fight each others’ collectible figures, and all kinds of other junk. This, by extension, means that it is good to be carrying your 3DS when you are surrounded by a group of people, because more swapped data means MORE FUN!!!!!!
I would like to believe that I have not actually seen any Japanese person carrying around a 3DS in a month because they are all squirreled away secret in their bags trying to detect other systems, but the fact of the matter is that I just don’t know if that is the case or not. Once I get mine (maybe another week or two?) I’m going to go Osaka on a weekend and cruise through Yodobashi and maybe park my ass in Doutonbori and see how many I get. This is what I have paid money for–virtual, real-world wireless fishing for humans (it also includes a fishing game).
Another neat thing about it is that you can play games that have to do with the camera. There is one game called “Face Raiders” where you take a picture of something’s face, then it maps it onto the enemies in the game and you have to spin around and shoot them out of the air. Naturally I plan on photographing my cat, so that every time he rips up my tatami mats I can turn on the 3DS and rip up his face with phasers.
REGARDING YESTERDAY’S LUNCH
When I first started working here, I noticed a strange man coming in each day around the same time, then leaving, then coming back with a metal lunchbox full of various foods for people. As I later learned, he is a food delivery guy for a local restaurant who services a variety of local workplaces in the neighborhood. I have ordered from him on a variety of occasions: average oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice), sub-par tannindon (beef and egg on rice), the saltiest curry I have ever tasted, and other things. Yesterday I wrote on the paper that I wanted the makizushi roll, except he never came to get the paper, and so he never brought the food! Apparently since lots of teachers are gone taking spring vacations right now he didn’t feel a need to come up. So me and another teacher just went to the restaurant instead.
He had told me I could see a Traditional Japanese restaurant, and it was kind of the equivalent of a really old small-town American diner, with some twists–in the glass case there were no pastries, but instead deep-fried fish pieces and strange pickled salads, and the room offset from the dining area was a tatami room with a television playing baseball. I got my sushi roll, which was a salad roll with egg and crab stick and some other weird things in it, and was eight massive pieces for about three bucks. As I ordered it a taxi driver said to me in Japanese “whoa, Japanese food is no problem for you?!” and I had to say of course not, and he asked where I was from and I told him America, and he said whoa, I thought all Americans ate was steak! and I said that would be nice but no, and he said and beer! and I said well that would be nice too but I don’t see any beer here, and I saw a twinkle of rebelliousness in my coworker’s eye but nothing happened.
The microwave in this joint was from like 1975, it made a sound like Mr. Rogers’ trolley when it finished warming up some dude’s fish.
ABOUT MY CAT
Due to a widespread sentiment that our delightful Kiki was getting “too fat,” despite most people having no idea how fat too fat is for a cat, I have instituted a diet for out cat, which works kind of like this:
1. In the morning, feed the cat half a can of food
2. At night, feed him the other half
It’s working out pretty well I guess, not that I can really tell how fat the cat is since he is entirely black and usually not standing upright. The downside is that he wakes me up at 5:30 every morning by first sinking his claws into the covers and trying to pull them off of me with absolutely no effect, then secondly by climbing up on my head and licking my hair till I wake up. He has also officially taken the title of “most able to relax” from any other previous cat I have ever had. Just last night I held him like a shovel with his head as the spade, one arm under him for support, and he was totally cool with it. Sometimes when I am playing games at the table or sitting upright, I will plop him down on my lap like a human baby, and he will just sit there, feet sticking out, front paws hanging there, being all like “sup.” What a lazy cat this cat is.
20 CLEVER WAYS TO NOT DO WORK AT WORK, EVEN THOUGH YOU STAY WAY AFTER THE TIME YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE, BUT YOU DON’T LEAVE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO APPEAR LIKE YOU ARE BUSY WITH WORK, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO WORK AND YOU OBVIOUSLY ARE NOT WORKING, BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY COWORKERS
1. Reload the Yahoo! main page repeatedly, perhaps to see what the new banner advertisement is this time
2. Look at clothes shopping websites, then minimize them and get out your wallet and dig for a credit card
3. Print some documents you do not need printed, then crinkle them up
4. Read a book
5. Put a book on the desk in front of you, then lean over it so it looks like you’re reading with your arms crossed, then go to sleep
6. Repeatedly drink coffee and fill the hot water heater back up with water
7. Go to Yahoo Auctions to search for the clothes you almost just bought with your credit card but didn’t actually buy
8. Discuss the same local cafe for almost fifteen minutes, going back and forth while you each say exactly the same things as the other person
9. Instead of using whiteout on one of the hundred identical misprinted forms and making new copies of it, use whiteout on all one hundred identical misprinted forms
10. Have another person read numbers to you off student tests while you type them in, instead of reading and typing at the same time (bonus points, this occupies two people)
11. Stand up, examine the schedules and information on the white board, sit down, look at some other people, stand up, walk around the room, then look at the information on the white board again
12. Visually confirm that the plastic recycling bin is indeed full, and discuss it with your coworkers, then don’t do anything
13. Ask if it is hot in here, open every window, declare it is cold, close all the windows, then open just one window
14. Leave the room and walk down the hallway, then walk back to the room
15. Find something to put in the paper shredder
16. Type loudly on your keyboard, even though your screen is off
17. Write a grocery list with devoted intensity
18. Look over at a group of people having a conversation, acting interested
19. Wikipedia (personal favorite)
20. Go to the sink, take a couple clean dishes from the drying rack, and wash them again
One of the books that has been left here on my desk (cover price 1600 yen) says in katakana “Chorus Laboratory Party,” but the way the katakana is rendered, when you say it out loud it kinda sounds like “Call Us Lavatory Party” which is maybe something a fledgling band would say.
As April arrives again and the sakura consider blossoming, it again is time for teachers to transfer away to other schools. Though I haven’t had even close to the same severity of rank decimation around me as I did last year, when I lost all my principals and all but two of my co-teachers across three schools, I am sad to admit that my exceedingly cool co-worker who lived in Leeds, joined this school last year, and has the habit of inserting gratuitous curse words into everything today quits this school for a supreme adventure!
Despite the insistence of his superiors, he has defied the traditionally Japanese idea of working the same job for ever and ever and decided to relinquish his public teaching certificate and volunteer for the Peace Corps, already accepted to ship out in September and live in Fiji until 2012. We always spoke very casual English together over vending machine coffees, and he always made a genuine effort to speak to me and make me feel welcome. He’s only about six years older than me and I felt something of a kindred soul in him and his ideals and approach to life. He said that a man should be global, and asked for my support over Skype, before saying that leaving this country for volunteer work in another country would be his “last great adventure.” But when I consider the courage it takes to do something different in a work culture where consistency is king, I think it might just be his first one.