Tag Archives: beer

The only allowance for milky pork

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

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

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

1. Eat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big Hammer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gecko and Fox

With five hours left to go on my 4,923 mile trip across the Atlantic and other occasionally rocky-looking landmasses, the dryness of the air scratches at my prefrontal cortex like fine-grit sandpaper, with every breath: I am reamer, rout, roto-rooter, it says, and your body, the minefield, is this week’s episode of New Yankee Workshop. I have already watched three movies, gotten three hours of sleep, eaten my meal, done some reading, and drank two beers. There is nothing left for me on this aircraft, absolutely fucking not. In the agony of dryness I cover my face with a blanket, try to create humid air. I consider wetting my fingers with water and stuffing them up my nose, then refrain for unknown reasons. I look out at the wing, and am so tired that I watch it wobble in the air, unusually convinced that by looking at it, I am causing it to bear a greater load, which will cause it to break, plunging us into the icy depths.

Stomach increasingly fucked from the headache’s pain, I convince myself I am about to die, and adopt a new philosophy of life for the year 2011: Impermanence, love, and melodrama in reverse order, while I’m still in my 20s and everything’s beautiful. I write it down and it reads true to itself if not a little stupid, so I change it to “choose life” and realize that sounds like an anti-abortion ad and also the tagline from Trainspotting. I further revise my revised philosophy: just love and impermanence, but not impermanent love, and not necessarily the love of impermanence. I guess what I’m trying to say is that most innovatively I find myself in conflict with the desire for permanence and impermanence in material ways, which perhaps brings about the true mantra: only love! But John Lennon already kinda said that. Underarching really seriously true mantra: Know thyself.

(Complication: making thyself a person worth knowing, myself)

New year’s resolution, 2011: achieve utter and total harmony, through love and knowing thyself

In noise-cancellers courtesy of lucky random upgrade to Economy Premium I feel behind glass, a Hermes object looked at but never disturbed, then flick the noise-canceller switch on and off to hear the difference. During a scene in Wall Street, one of the featured on-demand in-flight movies, in which characters at one point converse aboard a plane, I switch the cancelling off only to discover that the actual ambient noise of the aircraft I am on is quieter than the airplane noise coming from the movie, and I commit ritual seppuku.

The second in-flight meal is a treat, a real joy: a warm, soft, foil-wrapped foccacia sandwich with roasted tomatoes, pesto, and stringy, stretchy mozzarella cheese, which for my dollar they can put on fucking anything and I’ll eat it. Side dishes: fruit cup, yogurt cup, cup of coffee.

Walking into my apartment is like walking into a room carpeted, wallpapered, and filled entirely with JELL-O brand pudding snack, a rich, lush, velvety wave of relief and comfort washing over me as completely as spray tan. My cat indifferently greets me at the door, then resumes being totally insane, while the delightful Kaori, who has been using our apartment as a palace of twisted immorality for the last two weeks, informs me that she has already run the bath for me, because she saw that I said I wanted one on my Facebook. This is further evidence that we truly lived in a connected world, but also that Kaori is obviously too good a person to be staying in our apartment. That night I cooked a box of Deluxe Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese that I brought home in a box with a ton of other unhealthy American delights, then slept the best five hours of my life before waking up fully rested at four A.M. thanks to the jet lag. Remedy? Eating all the leftover mac and chee and playing video game pinball until it was time to go to work. Downside: I’m sitting at my desk with seven hours to go and I’ve already been awake for six hours. Upside: it’s Friday, and Monday’s a national holiday.

But what about America? I will remember it as two things. The first is as a blitzkrieg of wild, excessive consumption the likes of which are unfathomable in Japan, eating more food items than exist meals in the day, spending meager amounts of money for hulking, unfinishable plates of food, and drinking to excess at a rate such that the number of beers total is a variable Bt and the number of showers total is a variable St and the variable Bt fits in the equation Bt > (St * 2) and is a valid expression.

The second thing I will remember it as is a re-centering trip, an inspiring, internally touchy-feeling reconnection with the things I never realized I loved about the place I’m from and a wake-up call regarding the Japan I call home. What makes me American is that I’m from America. Japan doesn’t want me to be Japanese, because I can’t be and I’ll never be. The shame of being myself had started to creep up on me so slowly in Japan I had barely noticed, and today I stood up straight and walked to work with a different awareness. Before, I had found myself acutely obsessed with the duality of my presence here: believing I was both an exotic object of desire or a reviled, repeatedly sounding klaxon I mentally positioned myself as an object that all persons had an opinion of. Lost in the sea of anonymity that besets those citizens of the United States I was able to experience what someone might interpret as “a lack of self-consciousness,” and, having returned to Japan, I find it a thrill to apply it in a society where I can still feel unique without even needing to dress myself in freakish black eye makeup.

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I’m Pat Sajak and Vanna White

I can always tell when someone’s from somewhere else cause I get stuck on the escalator. Yet another unwritten rule of Japan: in Kobe you stand on the right and walk on the left. When I’m parading down the left side all “la-dee-dah gonna miss my train” and see a traffic jam I look ahead to whomever’s in front, comfortable in the knowledge that they are not one of us, that they are the outsider, and that even if they don’t realize it, they understand how I once felt here. For the tiniest moment, I have something significant in common with a random stranger passing through, and I want to tell the poor shit to take a step to the right you dumbass, and open your fucking eyes. But I usually just exchange glances with a surly looking elderly person nearby, glances which say “normally we would hate each other, but let’s hate that person screwing up the escalator instead, together. Man that guy sucks.”

In other news yesterday Japan made the bold political decision to do nothing regarding the selection of their current Prime Minister to the office he already holds, a leader who they did not elect, but who they have now elected merely by striking everything they said last year down and admitting that no, we thought change was good when we chose the LDP, but Hatoyama was a nutjob, and then we got Kan, and Kan’s okay right? it’s easier to just leave it this way, change is bad, Yes We Kan(‘t), let’s enjoy Hokkaido butter. I agree with all of that except the Kan stuff, which I basically have no opinion about because since I am a dirty foreigner I can’t vote anyway so who gives a shit. The yen is now at a rate of 82 for a dollar! I’m rich, or would be if I could actually save any money and didn’t have to send tons of it home every month to make the minimum loan payments.

Speaking of using money wisely, on Friday after work I’m hopping on a bullet train to Tokyo, from where I will zip along the bay to Chiba for my first trip to the Tokyo Game Show, a dream I’ve had since I was but a wee young lad. As N-Sider’s Japanese correspondent I will deliver a variety of articles under the guise of journalism. At the Tokyo Game Show an attendee is surrounded by lines of people who are waiting to play the brand-new barely-ever-seen unreleased games that he would like to play, but cannot because there are too many people. I assume. Also there is a thing called Cosplay Alley, where young males and females of varying levels of attractiveness exhibit the costumes they’ve spent fortunes on by dressing up like characters from anime, manga, and video games, 10% of which are mainstream enough for a person to recognize. Am I making it sound like I have been to TGS before? I haven’t. These are just guesses, like how I am guessing that tomorrow will still be not cold.

With the secret of the pressure-activated ass-blasting nozzles now firmly revealed (I read an article about them, during which I discovered that the bidet people found the “best angles” by collecting data from upwards of fifty seriously devoted company employees), there are now precious few mysteries remaining as I continue to persist here in this off-beat land. I set about tackling a couple of them in tandem the other night: special giveaway contests and online Japanese auctions. See, in Japan you can participate in a giveaway contest for almost every field and with nearly every product. They are usually targeted to obsessive otaku geeks like me (I am in the process of sending away five “special stamps” from limited edition packets of Cup Noodle for a shot at one of a thousand special Cup Noodle plastic Gundam models). Another easy target is shut-in losers with nothing else in their lives to look forward to or derive pleasure from but a contest win, a category I don’t particularly desire to place myself in but well.

Invariably these things are called “campaigns,” and they will always successfully terminate with a “present,” the number of which will be given away always being clearly stated. The word campaign used to make me think of only politics or military war events before I moved to Japan, and now all I can think of is photographing QR barcodes on the backs of gummy packages and limited edition Yoshinoya beef crossovers with Daily Yamazaki convenience stores for special gyudon steamy buns. For kicks, I sometimes imagine these are military activities anyway and that the Japan Self Defense Force is secretly manufacturing Coca-Cola sandals in an effort to protect themselves from North Korea.

My personal vice is gaming, and so one of the first courses of action I took when I arrived in Japan was registering for Club Nintendo, a point-accumulation reward program that delivers menial amounts of points to you as you spend godforsaken amounts of cash on Nintendo products and type in the special codes that are included on little papers that come inside the box. Accumulate enough points in one October to September campaign period (400), and you reach “platinum status” for that year, entitling you to a free, mysterious present that they announce and ship out roughly six months after the period has ended. In the past they have given out stuff like special-design accessories, a TV remote that looks like a Wii controller, plush Mario hats, and last year an exact replica of the first Nintendo Game and Watch (Ball). For dweebs like me the elements of fan-servicey fan-service combined with the knowledge of a proven track record for platinum gifts along with the mystery (oh god if I don’t hit platinum status I won’t get the free prize even though I have no idea what it will be but I am sure it is going to be GOOD!) synthesize a brutal cocktail–there was simply no “deciding” whether or not I was going to get platinum status, I Must.

Therein lies the rub. Despite going out of my way to this year purchase three Wii Remotes, a MotionPlus accessory, two Classic Controller Pros, Mario Kart Wii, an extra steering wheel, a black nunchuk accessory, Wii Fit with a Balance Board, Sin and Punishment 2, Captain Rainbow, Super Mario Strikers Charged, and some other shit I am surely forgetting, I now have (two weeks from the end of the campaign year) a paltry, insulting 285 points, relegating me to pathetic “gold” status, for which I will receive the shittiest calendar known to man.

Enter mystery number two: Yahoo! Auctions! I mean, why not? There have to be lots of people who are addicted to selling stuff in online auctions instead of chasing impossible contests, right? As it turns out, yes! A cursory Yahoo! Auctions search turned up a man who for the low price of only about 15 bucks was willing to sell me a full 400 points worth of Club Nintendo codes, enough for me to hit platinum this year and get me damned close next year. So I bought it! (Well, after I spent thirty minutes making my Japanese Yahoo account, registering it for the auction website, and figuring out how to actually bid.) After I won the auction I realized there was a problem and that problem was that I had no idea how to pay the man without a credit card. So I sent him an insultingly simplistic Japanese language e-mail asking “where does the money go” and he responded with a list of Japanese banks and numbers and his name and all this shit that I tried and failed to type into the ATM last night and so I haven’t given him his money yet but I sure will try again soon. In conclusion I am doing some stuff in Japanese that I didn’t think I could do but I seem to be capable of doing (sort of). Mysteries obliterated! Was that interesting to read? I doubt it.

KIKIWATCH 2010

Here, look at my fucking cat:

Man Kiki is just the coolest. He is comfortable enough now to actually be out and about as long as we don’t make any crazy sudden movements involving our scary legs. The other day I found him just chillin’ in the bathroom sink, all like “what.” He sometimes comes up on the couch now, he plays with his toy which is a little fuzzy thing on a stick, and he also really loves it when I give him this special meat snack thing which is like a big hunk of moist fish jerky. Also, when the fatass runs out of food and water at 3:35 in the morning, he walks into my bedroom, plops down on the floor next to me, and meows until I wake up and refill them. Surprisingly enough this doesn’t fill me with rage and hate like it used to do with other pets, perhaps because I know that this one is my pet, and this apartment is my apartment, and if I refuse to be kind to the cat there is nobody else for him to bother except Jessy, who is more of a loose cannon. I heard her saying “shut up shut up shut up” to the cat yesterday morning at 3:35, which is just stupid since he is a cat and he can’t understand you because he is Japanese and doesn’t speak very good English you twerp.

END OF KIKIWATCH

I guess I should be proud that I made it through twelve weeks of this year at night school before not really knowing what to do anymore–my kids here are of such disparate skill levels that to play any game that implies or requires English ability is essentially a wash with most of them, and a game that requires equal participation from everyone is equally futile since generally none of them want to be here. The best games are of the kind where students are prompted for no more than a letter, number, or word of their choosing, and after Pictionary, a number counting game, a mystery word game, hangman, vocabulary bingo, Jeopardy, and a few other things, I am all but tapped out. Tonight I will take a big leap to a new game I have made up called hot seat, where I will present the class with a basic list of adjectives, and then for the first half of class I will describe simple objects using basic adjectives and get them to try to guess what I am talking about. For the second half I will force a sampling of students to describe a mystery object themselves to the rest of the class, which will likely fail miserably.

Or I’ll just play hangman with point values and call it Wheel of Fortune then drown my sorrows in vending machine beer on my walk home.

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In a cat’s eye, all things belong to cats

Every time I think it can’t get any hotter it does, perhaps a sentiment crystallized by one of my co-teachers the other day:

“This year, the summer has been exceptionally uncomfortable.”

Tell it Kenzo! It reached 35 degrees Celsius yesterday in Kobe, a number which I now associate with a feeling divorced entirely from the United States scale. Google tells me it’s 95 degrees by that measure, a number I can no longer remember in context of any specific temperature. I have mostly been avoiding the heat by sitting inside my air conditioned apartment with the curtains drawn during every moment that I am not occupied with either traveling to or being at work. But I did take a little time off from sitting on my ass to launder and dry my sweat hanky, because it smelled like a dead cat barbecued over formaldehyde briquettes.

Speaking of cats, but (optimistically) not dead ones, we’re getting a cat! It is a decision that comes after much rumination and the repeated viewing of YouTube videos involving lazy Japanese cats being cute and loveable. His name is Kiki, and he is three years old, and he is a black rescue cat, which means that he saves people from impending danger. Ha ha I am just joking. It means that before he was ground up into slurry by a neglectful owner or the mean streets, some people with too much conscience and not enough resources rescued him from an unenviable fate and decided to store him in their shack with forty-five other animals. But now we get to take him away from that madhouse and make him a happy member of the family! I have run the numbers, and my calculations are showing me that he will provide about 28% more fluffiness and cuddliness to the apartment over what we have now, and I anxiously await finding little black cat hairs in and on everything I eat, sit on, touch, or wear. Ha ha I am joking about that too. I do not await that at all. Bonus: if Kiki survives our stay in Japan, we can take him home with us to America without any extra fees or medical quarantines, because Japan is recognized as a “rabies free country,” a decision I assume was made by someone who does not watch television here between the hours of seven and nine in the evening.


Actual photo of Kiki!

But it seems like the right time and the right place. It’s been a long while since I got to joyfully stroll down the cat food aisle and decide I would probably eat most of this canned food, and it’s been even longer since I got to assist a small feline in gettin’ high off the ‘nip. It will also be a good trial exercise to see if I can keep something that is not Jessy’s fish or plants alive, just in case I am ever saddled with human spawn one day (thanks Mom and Dad). I am already figuring out how I can take everything ornamental or cool or fragile that I possess and put it somewhere where nobody will ever see it again so the cat does not eat or destroy it. I do not think cats are intimidated by scantily-clad anime statues.

Jessy’s back in Japan after a long trip to the states as I write this! I haven’t actually seen her yet on account of the fact that I am at school right now, but I’m taking a half-day of paid time off so that I can get back there and cook up a dinner feast for my woman. I got some chocolate tiramisu cups for dessert, do women like chocolate? Ha ha I am joking. I don’t care about the feelings of women.

STUFF FROM THE DAYS RECENTLY
– Band of Brothers, an 8+ hour HBO miniseries about World War II, which I watched while I had all my free time with Jessy gone, and which is really awesome, and which features Ross from Friends in a minor part, Jimmy Fallon for ten seconds, and the Office Space guy as a major star
– Our new favorite darts bar which is called either Swordfish or Swordtail I can’t remember, and where during Happy Hour (before ten P.M.) you can play darts for only a hundred yen a player, and where we have been so often lately that the crew remembers our complex foreigner names like “Bob”
– The bizarre realization that at 150 yen each way, my 4-days-a-week work commutes cost me 1200 yen a week, and at four weeks in a month that’s 4800 yen, and for three months that makes 14400 yen, while the three month commuter pass costs 14880, and so I’m not going to buy a commuter pass until January when I’ll get a new six-month pass (compelling)
– The grapes here are fucking awesome and at six bucks for a tray of them they had damn well better be, which they are so I love them
– The exchange rate of the yen against the dollar, which is so strong lately that it’s like I get a ten dollar a month raise every day for doing nothing
ALRIGHT THEN

Last weekend after some good decisions that always seem poor as I am making them, I found myself at “the club” a couple hours after midnight. We decided to create stories for the people who were standing around engaging in “party-making,” but I am afraid I forgot all of them except one guy who I figured worked at McDonald’s for no reason other than McDonald’s was on my mind. Last week they had a special promotion where you could get a Big Mac for only 200 yen. I celebrated yesterday by clogging my guts with two of them and it was amazing.

Anyway at the club I was rather intrigued to discover that very few of the people were actually bumping and grinding, let alone even dancing. A smattering of people threw their hands in the air, but even fewer did so [as though] [they] just [didn’t] care. Even acutely aware of my poor self-parodical efforts I didn’t feel too out of place, which maybe had something to do with the fact that I was the only American in there and I am now more comfortable being completely isolated from people of my own race than I am when I find myself around them. If I even end up standing next to someone who may or may not be an English-speaker or shit even a Westerner I find myself uneasily on edge, like they’re going to find my secret out, like they know they are better than me, like they have already judged me. Sometimes I worry about what it’s going to be like to go back to the States and live again among people who could if they so desired speak to me at any moment. Maybe I’ll just get a sign that says “I’m deaf, no talking to me” and tape it to my shirt.

I’ve only been at work for forty minutes and I’m already chomping at the bit for my last few hours to be over. You’d swear I had a new video game waiting for me at home or something, but surely all that waits for me is the promise of continued verbal abuse at the hands of the female. Perhaps that feels most like home.

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A day which will live on in green tea

The bachelor life means steak for supper, a big one with corn on one night and literally two steaks the next night with soumen, and as I enter hour four of my non-stop marathon of the descriptively named “WWII in HD” TV series with my steak and my beer and my full plump Japanese grapes I realize I have become an old man and it is fucking sweet.

Brenden is back to Canada and Jessy’s still in America which means that as the Master of My Domain I am free to do as I damned well please when I damned well please how I damned well please, a revelation both invigorating and selfish, only occasionally tinged with loneliness. For the most part I enjoy the fact that I can have a glass of tea, leave my glass on the table, go to work the next day and come home to my same glass in the same place, rinse it out, and pour another glass of tea. I am living the same awesome day over and over in perpetuity, which is the glory and curse of solitary singledom.

The other night I briefly consider totally eschewing perpetual domination by that woman in favor of lighting a cigar inside the house as I sit on the couch, but then I wonder well will the smoke alarm go off, and so I go and deactivate it and I think I have it deactivated and I sit back down on the couch and I swear to god as I am about to strike the match she appears on the TV screen in the creases of MacArthur’s pressed pants and she says “Brandon of our apartment you fuck, I have returned, and I have total control over your daily life” and I put the cigar back down on the table gently like it’s a mine and eat another grape and examine the pattern on the wall.

At night school on Wednesday I didn’t write a damned thing on account of I bought this book called Live from New York, which is basically an oral recount of the history of Saturday Night Live, and it in its printed form is about 680 pages, which meant in its eBook form I was capable of reading it for seven straight hours and not finishing it. I alarmed myself with my dedication so concretely that I went ahead and finished it the next day and bought Chris Farley’s biography too, to totally tap out this rich vein of potentially interesting subject matter and to ensure I will never find it compelling again.

In the interest of getting this over with this time I will merely state that last week in a couple of day span I managed to play foosball, Street Fighter IV, and darts against a variety of human opponents and I never lost. It felt right.

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There are no karaoke dreamers

In Sannomiya’s Super Jankara karaoke box 332 no one can hear you scream, a literal truth, making it all the more appealing. Right thumb all painful from tapping on a tambourine, I eat a convenience store sandwich in about thirteen seconds, drink a glass of Coke spiked with snaked-in Suntory whisky, and assist as the four of us deliver the psalms: Sunday Monday Happy Days, Tuesday Wednesday Happy Days, Thursday Friday Happy Days, the weekend comes, my cycle hums, ready to race to you.

This is not the first time this has happened.

Hours ago I was witnessing the annual Kobe Shootin’-Fireworks-For-Who-Knows-Why fireworks festival over the Kobe harbor, which is to say I watched fireworks from behind a tree while surrounded by women in casual summer kimonos and men who put far less apparent effort into their appearances but still nearly universally carried purses. My purse contained five cans of beer.

Now, in Super Jankara karaoke box 332, it contains just one, which I forget even exists until I get home, following a four-a.m. conversation in completely repugnant Japanese with a female taxi driver who did not see the fireworks, and I said we saw them, a little bit, and the fare is very affordable, and she calls us handsome. The next day for me gets started at about seven-p.m., the first time of day I find myself capable of eating food.

Though the recurring theme trends toward fermented malt beverages in my mind, I gingerly note that while affected by The Vapours I have far fewer qualms about embarrassing myself completely in a foreign language. Even though my command of Japanese resembles that of a growth-impaired turnip I resort to it earlier in the week while having a look around Osaka with Brenden, and most specifically I use it to try to divine the location of a big bright busy section of town called Dotonbori, which as it turns out is totally not anywhere near where I stumble into a Lawson and say “I’m embarrassed but where is Dotonbori I don’t know.”

Thirty-seven years later we find it and are plunged mouths-first into adventure with the assistance of a guy who looks like one of my first-year baseball kids after getting married and divorced and then falling asleep in a tanning bed for ten years. He says as we are walking by “HEY WHAT’S UP!!” and I, conditioned to respond in kind to the streetwise pavement slang of my generation, issue a “what’s up” back. The response I get is one virtually the same in English and Japanese, and sounds like the word beer, and so we go for one, and it is beery.

In the bar I resort to my conversational fallbacks in much the same way that celebrities being paraded around from talk show to talk show on the promo junket retell the same stories on Conan and Kimmle, only none of the things I have to say are interesting or intentionally funny and are instead just the only things I know how to say. With command of no more than three verbs I spin a compelling tale of international intrigue: I came from America, and now, I am a teacher at a high school. My friend, he came from Canada. We like to drink beer. Today, the weather is hot. No, not here in the bar, but there, there out there it is hot. In here, don’t worry. Is that woman there your lover? No? Well, we are going.

In the NHL ’96 video game for Super Nintendo, Brenden and I are currently in command of a heavily modified Detroit Red Wings team, a team which neither of us particularly endorse or support in reality but which has the highest base statistics in this game. To start the season, we immediately create two players named after ourselves using a cheat code to turn us into 100-point dynamic gods, then release the shitty players we are replacing into free agency. Our goalies, we decide, are no good, so we create two goalies of the worst possible skill named Derp Herp and Pee Man, sign them to the Blackhawks, release Ed Belfour into free agency, and sign him. Much to our chagrin, Derp Herp is now the 33rd ranked save percentage goalie in the league, while Ed languishes near the bottom.

We are frequently terrorized by a man named Joe Sacco, who in 1995 played for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, unremarkably, and who scores on us with seven seconds to go in regulation to snatch our wins away. Sometimes, the organ plays the same song eight times in a row. After a few cold Sapporo Mystery Kanji and Hops beers, we discuss the underlying elegance of the gameplay mechanics and physics in NHL ’96 for the Super Nintendo, and ruminate on how we might reiterate this game for today’s people exactly like us. Then we eat banana cake pudding, Kobe’s delicious specialty.

EXCITING JAPANESE IS THING AND FOR TO THE
– New, limited-edition Cup Noodle, which brings back my favorite flavor Chili Tomato in three varieties: regular, with cheese, and five-spice, and adds miniature plastic Gundam models snapped onto the top of the cup, raising the price to 498 yen and being unavailable without the Gundam, as is my Chili Tomato curse
– New Spicy Grilled Chicken Cup Noodle, which does not have any Gundam livery, and which is available for the actually reasonable price of 138 yen
– The Osaka aquarium, which we went to, and where I saw really weird glowy jellyfishes that looked exactly like the Metroids in the tubes from Super Metroid and I think I know where they got That Idea
– Our trip to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Noodle Museum, where we got to decorate and formulate our own Cup Noodle flavor (I chose standard broth with pork cubes, asparagus, cheese, and potatoes), and which may or may not be the third item on this list that involves Cup Noodle
– The arcade next to Ikuta shrine, which I basically totally forgot slash didn’t realize was even there, where we played co-op Espgaluda II and where I was completely housed by some Japanese guy at an arcade fighting game called Melty Blood, the duration of which involved me trying to kill him with two young girls dressed up like Little Red Riding Hood who fight with a mop and a frying pan
– The new Kirin commercial, which depicts baseball hero Ichiro taking a big slag of beer and then looking at the can with a facial expression of delight and/or shock so devastating that it looks like his throat is being ripped out of his ass
THAT’S ENDING

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to live in Japan during the “Happy Days” of the 1950s like in the TV show, and to imagine it what I do is I take Happy Days, replace all the cast with Japanese youngsters, and then instead of Pat Morita I basically imagine Sylvester Stallone.

その上に座ってPotsie!

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I don’t know no Snakes

I have not seen Harry and Marv take such a beating in ten years but I remember it like it was yesterday. Tonight, with a vending machine beer in hand, I watch Home Alone with Jessy and Brenden, we being three of only four souls inhabiting the Tokushima Youth Hostel in Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku, a landmass to which I am no stranger.

A fan oscillates in front of us and next to me is an enormous magazine rack filled with old manga and magazines from 2006. One series of magazines features the same attractive woman in a slightly different pose and outfit on each cover for months and months. Home Alone is on VHS, and has been selected by us from among a variety of video tapes arranged in their thick plastic cases on a wooden bench next to the small television. It is a “SAMPLE” copy, as are several of the other tapes, and I figure they must have bought out a closing store’s advance copies. The large white block letters SAMPLE are burned into every frame’s upper right corner. The movie is subtitled in Japanese that reads simplistic to me when compared with the actual dialogue, when I can translate it, leaving the true intonations of phrases such as “keep the change you filthy animal” up for debate.

The movie starts halfway in, presumably because the prior (possibly Japanese) viewers were unable to glean the intense cultural sensibilities necessary to understand Kevin’s unique plight (summon scary cops to arrest burglars, or attempt to kill them?) and chose to hit stop, foregoing the option to be kind and rewind. The video resumed at around the part where Kevin slides on his knees to go underneath a bumbling police officer’s legs in an attempt to evade prosecution for stealing a toothbrush, the first of his soon-to-become-increasingly-violent crimes.

Whoever was watching this fucking thing first didn’t even get to the whole point of the movie: watching Joe Pesci get his ribs broken with a crowbar! Retrospectively, with a position favoring the criticism of a movie I have seen well over a hundred times, the movie becomes ghastly, gruesome Schadenfreude: the acts against humanity committed by the demonic eight-year-old human child “Kevin McAllister” are heinous and he revels in watching them play out in ways akin to torture. To witness his vile acts is to stare into the face of the Dark Lord and laugh at his joyful demeanor while he rips the fingernails from your hands and licks them clean.

My favorite part, upon this rewatching, was seeing Harry have his head lit on fire by a blowtorch, and then Kevin running away, fists-a-pumping, screaming “Yes yes yes yes yes.” I also enjoyed watching him make the financially poverty-stricken pizza-delivery boy deal with a twenty-cent tip and then lead him to believe he is about to be murdered by gunfire. He is obviously a man who takes pride in his work. I debate with Brenden and Jessy the relative merits of each bandit’s incredible punishment, mentioning the conversations my sister and I used to have about which bandit, theoretically, it would be better or worse to assume the role of, based on the levels of their abuse. In the moment I figure Marv takes more blunt damage, while Harry has to suffer having the image of the house’s doorknob (a large M, for McAllister, the initials of his fiendish overlord) melted into his hand by way of an electric coil heater. He even screams, whimpers in pain, and tries to blow on the fucking thing to cool it off. Jesus!

The weather in the hostel is as hot as the opposite of Chicago during Christmas, as depicted in the movie Home Alone, which is to say that it is goddamned hot. Our room contains four beds via two bunk setups, and a tatami area with a table. The air conditioner is cutely coin-operated: a 100 yen coin gives two hours of cooling, as low as we can turn the remote (20 degrees Celcius, full-blast fan, and boy do we ever need it). The hostel’s proprietor, a pleasant elderly-ish lady, gives us three coins to use as we check in. While we eat the supper she’s made us (fried pork cutlet with cabbage, peanut-dressing salad, miso soup, rice, cold soumen with dashi sauce, hot tea, and god knows what else), I see who I presume to be her husband meandering around in the definition of Tiny Little Running Shorts.

There is a beach here at the foot of the hostel’s property, though a sign forbids swimming. Still, it seems to me a rarity thus far in Japan, and I even see and smell groups of people grilling meat. For a moment I believe I am in America, and then the cicada calls deafen me and destroy my capacity for rational thought immediately. I rectify my hollowness by skipping rocks from the shore out into the water, skip skip skip.

As we relax that evening I fight metal slimes in Dragon Quest IX on my DS, a now-proven companion capable of getting me through any time period that could be considered even slightly boring. The two-hour bus rides from Kobe and back serve as excellent opportunities to test its mettle, and are felled admirably.

The next day sees us tour a special old-town where we are beckoned into a small shop by a husband and wife who woo us with green tea, mochi, and pickled cucumbers and tomatoes. We are guilted into the purchase of a kilogram of homemade miso paste from them, which we later mux together with some other ingredients for use as a sauce on our own cabbage salad back at the apartment. This has left me with approximately .99 kilograms of miso paste that I have absolutely no idea what to do with.

EXCITING JAPANESE HERPS OF THE DERP
– Lawson cheese chicken breast, being a deep-fried piece of breaded chicken and melted cheese all together under one crust and the perfect size for a bun
– A special certificate, presented formally to me by my principal, indicating that I have successfully held my job for one entire year
– CoCo Ichibanya curry restaurant, which delightfully provided Brenden and I with plates of piping hot and delicious curry rice for a low fee
– Namco Land arcade and its Street Fighter IV machines, which I didn’t realize were there on the second floor and which look totally easy to hop onto for a game or two
– San Plaza gashapon and game shops, ensuring that if I ever really need a bunch of little plastic toys I will be able to find precisely the ones I need
– Sanuki udon self-serve shop in Tokushima city, bearing delicious niku udon with a piece of shrimp tempura, ice cold water, and boilin’ hot broth
ENOUGH HERPS

Today is the one day this week that I actually have work, which in August is the term that I use to mean I have to be in the office. I just completed a five-day stretch of delightful time off (three weekdays and two weekends) and that means that today serves as both my Monday and Friday, as I also have the next four days off (two weekdays and two weekends). It feels weird to not be working, but not that weird, because I’ve been pretty busy trekking around Kansai the last few days, and will likely get into a good deal as much in the next few.

Jessy leaves for the States on Saturday, which saddens me, but mostly will just be strange because aside from one overnight trip she took with her teachers a few months ago, we have not spent any full days away from each other since we moved to Japan. She’ll be there for a couple of weeks, and is treating the impending nature of the trip so lightly that it boggles my mind. She knows that she’ll be going from “Osaka to Tokyo to Taipei or somewhere and to America” which is just lackadaisical enough to cause my chest to go all aflutter. I have instructed her to get her ass back here with a refilled prescription of the Xanax, which I am sure as shit going to need when I take my trip back home for Christmas this year. In her stead of course I have Brenden, who on the upside will probably not complain to me about household matters, but who on the downside will probably not do my laundry.

Finally, I should mention for the sake of posterity that a year ago today I was ironing my too-big suit shirt to go under my too-big suit jacket at the too-big Keio Plaza hotel in Tokyo, having just recently arrived in Japan and having been completely overwhelmed with everything. I remember being terrified and excited and ready to go and meeting my teachers in Kobe and moving my huge suitcases into the apartment and I remember the first two weeks here feeling like ages and the next few months breezing by and the terrible heat of the summer and my birthday pudding in November and Christmas cake in December and Hokkaido in January and cherry blossoms in March and the school year ending in April and Japanese class starting and Fuji in July and here I am again in August with a year gone so quickly. That’s not to say there’s any point to recalling it now, only just to say that it was so. So it was!

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I speak two languages, Body and English

Today, to verify my virility, my ability to voraciously vilify those foes who would unwoeful wax skeptic of my Vitruvian nature, I was informed of the nomenclature I’d need to be loosely guided like radar in the direction of battery: most righteously, the nurses said, remove thine shirt, English boy, that we might X-ray up in that shit, cause are you dying or not?

In these trying times, not but the most heady rapscallions be immune to the ‘berculosis. In the Hospital Wagon Party Van, a massive RV filled with gear like I imagine They use to cause the mysterious disappearances of political ne’er-do-wells, I am inspected.

In the mother tongue of this island nation, I believe I tell them this: “Until now, I have never come to this place. It’s my first time, so please endure it.” It is a signal, a grave beacon of false pretenses. Those resonate something like this: “I understand the terminology you are using, and command the facilities to respond to it verbally, as prompted.” Such unspoken grandeur, so pompous!, shortly before I find myself–under a moment of sweaty-foreheaded duress–unable to figure out what the Japanese word sha-tsu means (PROTIP: it means shirt).

The fancy trick of this operation, prior to my inspection, was preparing a sample of my liquid waste. So that the Docs might aquire my sample, they issued me prior to my exam, by three days, a plastic envelope containing: a fold-open waxed-paper envelope, a smaller envelope with my name on it, and a little 10mL plastic bottle the kind you use to squirt barbecue sauce or mayo onto your bento, with the plastic squish resistance of Arthritis Barbie’s specially-designed turkey baster. In the States they never quite come out and say “please enter the bathroom with this Lion King Dixie cup and pee all inside it until it’s as full as a glass of Sunday-school Kool-Aid, and Japan, especially through the veil of language, did me no favors in the explanation of these three new apparati.

To personally acquire this sample, I deduce from the various diagrams, I am supposed to first open up the waxed paper envelope, then pee into it, then suck the pee out of it by squishing the bottle, putting the opening into the pee, and sucking it out like with an eye-dropper. Eye-dropper it ain’t, and I dare not underfill for fear of being required to re-fill, lord in heaven. Eventually I get it. Then I put the little bottle into the envelope with my name on it and stick it in my pocket like a pack of baseball cards, carrying it around for forty-five minutes until it’s my turn to give it to the lady, who proceeds to screw off the little lid, squirt it out into a cup right there in front of me, stick a piece of special testing strip in, and compare a variety of colors with those on a laminated chart on the table. I do not see what happens to the cup when she is done, and I make no effort to look back.

After I finish a height and weight check, an eye check, and a heartbeat examination, they take my paper from me and tell me nice work. Then I leave. I figure I’m okay, if only because they made no attempt to tell me I’m not. Not that I’d would be sure if they did.

JAPAN JAPAN BO BAPAN BANANA FANA FO FAPAN MEE MAI MO MAPAN, JAPAN
– The stupid weather, which is humid, and makes me feel like I am sleeping on blankets inside a recently drained totally enclosed dormitory swimming pool
– Yesterday’s package of bread, which I purchased as a substitute for absent hamburger buns, containing four massive slices, each heavier and thicker than Texas toast
– Creamy milk cocoa in a paper box for a hundred yen from a vending machine icy cold frosty fresh
– Apparently the 1961 downtempo Americana cornerstone song “Stand By Me” is the “image theme” for the large chain of Japanese nutteries, Mister Donut
– The Sukiya the other day was all out of the spicy sauce for their gyudon, which is just a huge load of bullshit
OKAY ENOUGH

Last Friday, well before my health examination, I find myself, shirted and tied, inexplicably in attendence with Jessy as one of the two youngest guests at an upper-class benefit slash buffet-style dinner for Afghani children. We are the guests of a somewhat eccentric but well-regarded and extremely well-spoken Japanese man who releases better-considered English than I do. We met him as a business acquaintence through Jessy’s father–apparently they have been working together in some capacity for a while. He is like a mad scientist with an MBA. He details the varieties of what he admits are bizarre schemes that he is currently digging his nails into. One of them has to do with extracting oils from plants? I imagine him as the landlord of a 30-floor think-tank in urban Tokyo, ushering creative minds in to freewheelin’ly sip joe and put together their dreams with raw materials.

All of this is irrelevant tonight, because the first part of the show involves a man who plays classical piano with only his left hand. The whole piano with just the one hand! He isn’t tucking his right hand behind his back as he plays, or holding it up in the air all “la-dee-dah check it out ladies” or anything so at first I am not sure that is what he is doing. But then I listen carefully and catch a glance and yep sure is only just using that left hand.

I see him deftly grip a microphone in his right hand between songs anyway, which makes me for a moment entertain an exciting fantasy: that this man has full use of his right hand too and is just playing left-handed secretly to show off, be a real smug fuck all cocksure and clandestine. But it turns out he just has his nerves all bunged up in there and can’t use it for piano, so it becomes impressive and inspiring instead of just a dick move on his part. Maybe.

I ignore all of that shit later as I stuff my face with plates full of sliced prime rare beef and lamb, tempura green beans, chunks of crab and lobster meat the size of string cheese, hayashi beef stew with rice, and glasses of champagne, wine, and beer. Later, it is dessert time, and the cherries, oh god the cherries. I consider for a moment the peeing that I will be doing later on in the week, certain that I am laying the foundation for a most enviable specimen.

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It can never become clay again

Nearing the end of May now, stricken still with how quickly a year goes. We’ve been here for almost ten months, and summer is coming back, which I am unenthusiastic about. I remember now just how hot it was when we got here, sweat dripping off, clothes soaked upon getting back to the apartment, the only respite a cool shower since we had no air conditioner. Still, I fear for my summer houseguest: the spare room is well outside the reach of the conditioning unit, and we have but a single tiny fan. Maybe I will allow him to sleep on the living room floor, or standing up in front of the open freezer. Probably there is no option but to sweat sweat sweat (and drink lots of ice-cold beer).

Jessy and I, now both routinely busy all day with work and then evening Japanese classes (I on Monday and Thursday evenings, her on Tuesdays and Fridays), are regularly unable to spend any time with each other during the week except in Sannomiya for an hour after school. So usually we just meet for an hour and grab a bite somewhere. The variety of culinary treats now routinely available to me is exciting, and I am tickled to finally have opportunities to dine out instead of just cooking at home every night. I would be remiss, however, not to mention that I am (a mere three weeks in) beginning to miss going home after work to prepare a meal and watch some television programming/. Surely the benefit of gaining sufficient command in the Japanese language outweighs the possibility of constant apartment relaxation, but I certainly do now more concretely value my free time.

Last night I had the pleasure of chowing down a huge bowl of special Nakau gyudon with mushrooms and glass noodles on it during our scheduled meet-up. After we parted ways, and in an effort to really enjoy my time at home, I surrounded myself with enjoyable things: a Suntory Old whisky cola, some Belcube cheeses and saltine crackers, a little Jazz, balcony door flung open with cool breeze, the puff of one of the small cigars I got last weekend, a Super Famicom brawler I’m playing for N-Sider, and later some fragrant Kyoto incense and the last innings of a Tigers game on TV. We won 8-0 (but the Japanese table tennis girl I was watching earlier was beaten viciously).

Tonight, however, is Jessy’s night to chill as I am cooped up teaching at my night school, like every Wednesday (ironically, the only night neither of us have any classes of our own is the one I have to teach). In this instance, today anyway, I use the word “teach” loosely–it is exam night, which means my responsibilities start with me entering the class to read a short document aloud for the students to translate, and end when I stop reading it.

My nook is still getting heavy use, though it’s slow going now that I have started in on The Lord of the Rings. I am 163 of 1344 pages in, which is much further than I ever made it before, but feel like I could summarize those 163 pages in about three sentences: Biblo left Frodo a magic ring which Frodo is taking away from the Shire with his hobbit friends and they went through a scary forest and met the spirit of the forest and ate his cheese. That is one sentence. I will routinely “take a break” from reading it to read some other book in its entirety, come back for another fifty pages, and repeat the process.

After having spent months trying to mentally decide which instrument I’m going to start playing as a musical outlet, I have finally chosen the piano (a choice not lightly made, and as a result of much deliberation). Most specifically I suppose that means I’ll need a keyboard, primarily due to cost and size constraints, though there are nice ones with the full set of keys and weighted actions to make it feel like playing a real piano. This decision comes now as I have already accumulated more than enough distractions for the times I am spending at home, almost certainly guaranteeing that if I want one I will have to sacrifice another, a decision I am not really into making. Thankfully, it is easy to decide not to spend money on an object I will need to devote a lot of time to. All I need to do is nothing, which I am getting pretty good at.

Something else I’ve been getting better at is my Pad Thai, though I don’t really consider it “authentic,” whatever that would mean when dealing with a dish that literally varies wildly from cook to cook and place to place. Instead of the traditional flat rice noodles I’ve been using a more resilient Japanese rice noodle which remains chewy and is less prone to mushing, and I have also cut back heavily on my tamarind while adding lots of brown sugar, chili pepper, fish sauce, and beansprouts. I still include plenty of peanuts, egg, and chicken, which I guess is really close enough to fool my tastebuds. At any rate I have taken to just calling it Bran Thai, to preserve the sanctity of the actual dish. Mine is really more of a Pad Thai-style fried noodle dish. None of the nomenclature has any bearing on anything though–we still devour an enormous pan of it with barely a pause in the action.

This morning I considered finally attempting to make homemade pizza rolls using eggroll wraps, and got halfway through it before realizing I had no pizza sauce or mushrooms. I had already cooked the hamburger so I threw it into some macaroni and cheese and now I have leftovers for my three-o’-clock meal here at school too.

This is the most interesting Nomaday ever written.

Is this what journal entries sound like when you write them with no emotions or expectations of being read? It’s been ten years since I ever wrote an offline journal entry. I have to admit, with all the game writing I’ve done this week, my heart is barely in the Nomaday this time! However, out of Duty and Habit, even if there is nothing to say, I will put it up.

Did you hear the one about my great-great-second cousin who was killed in a parachuting accident ninety years ago? Yeah, as it turns out he made the jump but they hadn’t invented parachutes yet.

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