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INSTRUCTION MANUAL

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.”

CAUTION

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.

TRAVELOGUE

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

RANDOM OBSERVATION

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.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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.

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Annie, are you okay, are you okay Annie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Keep an eye on the cat and another on the frying pan

I have harbored our new cat Kiki for the last four days now, but if you entered the apartment you’d be hard-pressed to believe me if I told you (were it not for the litter tray and dishes of food, which let’s be honest, I could be using myself). You see, the cat is in my home, but he lives so mysteriously! Like a sun-allergic breakfast sausage he spends the entirety of my waking hours tucked into the empty, cloth-covered space behind the couch, unreachable, invisible, uncoaxable, unresponsive to everything. To that end, following in the footsteps tread by the best footage suppliers of America’s Most Horrifying Security Camera Videos, I have today engineered my computer to act as a motion-detecting video recorder, trained on the main area of the living room in an effort to monitor this secretive beast while I am out humpin’ for yen as a tool of the Japanese public school system.

I’m not sure what I expect to see when I get back home and Go To The Tape. The only things routinely disturbed are the handful of anemic flowers which sit inside a ceramic vase on the table, and they’re not even so damaged, just knocked around, a single joint in the stem of each flower. Will I see him nuzzling the television? Rearranging all the furniture with his head then pushing it back to normal two hours later? I left a small, catnip-stuffed squishy mouse in direct view of the all-seeing eye in an effort to coax him into providing entertaining viewing, but am unsure if my efforts will yield watchable television.

Kiki must be so proud of his considerate handiwork. He seems to be an exceptionally harmless cat–he hasn’t broken anything or torn anything apart or bitten or scratched us during his secretive night-time exercises. Even when I ruined myself in his eyes forever by trying to yank him out of the couch and move him to a smaller room for his own comfort, he never once attacked or yowled or bit, just slunk further into the couch. He has begun recently to start acknowledging his strange new self-contradictory thought processes, which we figure go something like this:

“I am a cat, and my situation is very new and frightening, but I crave the love and attention of the two humans who inhabit this weird place! I will leave my safe and cozy tunnel now, and perhaps I will watch them sleep, meowing just outside the entrance to their bedroom as though I desire contact, but then THEY SAW ME OHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIIIIIIIIIIohshit”

The crux of the situation is that the cat eats, drinks, sleeps, and uses the litter box routinely, just not during any time when we are in view. He occasionally lets out a few tiny squeakmeows, presumably to say either “what the fuck where am I” or to verify whether we are or are not around by listening for a response to his yip. Caught between fear and desire, we figure it will just be a matter of time before the mere sight of us does not cause him to arch his back like the McDonald’s logo. I suppose the real question is whether the duration of that period will be a few more days, weeks, or months. I want to tell him “we do not want to hurt you, and in fact want to love you,” but I am having a hard time translating that into cat.

BONUS: security cam footage of the cat jumping on the table from today since I just got back home!

Oh god, have I become one of those people who talks about their cat all the time? I assure you it is only because my life is devoid of more exciting tropes at the moment. Close runner-up: classes are back in session, and I’ve already taught ten of them with two more on the way and it’s like I never left. In my English Speaking Society yesterday (a smallish club populated with two first-year girls and a boy), we were having a conversation about winter in Iowa, and then they asked me if I ever “burned marshmallows” before, and then I proceeded to tell them about S’mores (the word is short for “some more,” I explained, because they are delicious, and you always want some more of them). Being presented with the concept of the graham cracker seemed to be an Earth-shaking, revelatory experience for them.

“The graham cracker is a cracker, made with honey,” I tell them. They ask me “is it a biscuit?” “Well, no.”

In conclusion, we will be using the English Speaking Society’s meeting time to make S’mores at some point in the near future, once I figure out how to get big marshmallows and graham crackers in Japan.

All that most people in Japan seem capable of talking about right now is the summer and its associated phenomena: “it’s hot,” “it sure is hot,” “this is a very hot time,” “it is not a cool day,” and so on. It makes for a thoroughly boring societal experience, bombarded by uncomfortable, humid weather, unpopulated with any sort of seasonal festivities, and lacking the refreshing charm of a season that has now been dragging on for well over three months. The one thing we did have in August was a thing called Bon, a time period distinctly uninteresting to foreign people, during which the people of this country recognize the deceased family members they have known in the past. Their spirits return to the world and then leave it again. I personally am more fond of cherry blossom season, where you celebrate by sitting outside in “some shady” by a tree, looking at the tree, and drinking beer. Yes, I hate the summer. When will it be October? Oh, in about a month. Something in my life doesn’t seem as refreshing as it used to be, and I am blaming the summer and the fact that leaving my balcony door open would be like running a garden hose in the living room right now. It is the air, the air, the air. It’s gotta be! Maybe it is something else.

AND NOW, A BRIEF ASIDE DEALING WITH MY OBVIOUSLY DEPLORABLE CONDUCT IN THE SOCIAL COMPANY OF OTHERS

Oh hi! The other day Jessy and I went to a little party on the island with some new people on the program and it was pretty fun. I drank some gin and colas and listened to some relaxed and nice people talk about Dungeons and Dragons, whisky, the Sega Saturn, and other excellent things. Then on our way home while we were talking to a nice couple who taste wine as a hobby and play Jazz music together and who made couscous and ordered a piano or something, I made the mistake of asking Jessy about a facet of her “special” school, a topic which she brought up! Here is a representation of the conversation:

Jessy: “In my nakayoshi school (translator’s note: nakayoshi means “special friend”) the kids got injured while they were trying to make a human pyramid!”
Me, somewhat quietly, directly to Jessy, in total deadpan: “Retarded pyramids?”
The other couple, non-verbally, apparently, cause Jessy told me about this since I didn’t actually look at them since I was not considering their reaction to my stupid joke: Total mouth-agape shock
Other non-American friend, in damage-control mode: “Did you know Americans still use the word ‘retard’ seriously? It’s true!”
Me, American: “I had no idea.”
Mosquito: Bites me
Jessy, later: “Brandon you asshole!”
Me: What

But I do not mean to blame the victim-couple for having no sense of humor, or even for being from another country with vastly different political-correctness sensibilities (they elected a woman as Prime Minister, after all). In fact, the wife of the couple laughed at one of my jokes earlier (it was funnier than the word retard, and I cannot remember it). One time a while ago they visited our house to comment on the overbearing sweetness in a bottle of eight-dollar peach wine that Jessy bought and invited them over to try, because they like to taste their liquor. I thought that was pretty funny! (At the recent party, Jessy tasted “pretzels and licorice” in one of the wines, but I am not sure if those are valid wine-taster tastes to notice.) Anyway at that time I did a horrible thing by inviting them to the living room to play Mario with me and Brenden, then they got bored, and so I am a bad person because we kept playing Mario even though they were bored. I went from being a good host to being a jerk so easily! Should I too have attempted to detect pretzels and licorice?

I guess what I am wondering is, is it worth the effort to make friends? Or should I just spend time with people who are naturally disposed to being friends with me with as little bullshit involved as possible? Oh, what am I talking about, anyway!

I had better watch out what I say in here, this might end up like that time when I was drunk and I told someone at a party that I “couldn’t stand 95% of the people in this room” and some people overheard it and actually believed I was talking to them instead of the person I was talking to and then held unreasonable silent grudges against me until they actually talked to me and discovered I do not actually warrantlessly hate all people and that alcohol changes my demeanor from “says very little” to “will say dumb shit.” Besides, there were only like fourteen people in the room, it’s impossible to hate everyone and then just a fraction of someone else.

So, couple-who-I-said-retard-in-front-of, if you ever read this, please know that I did not intend to mine your political sensitivities and deliver a precision ‘tard strike in your vicinity. (I meant not to mention the word “retards” again and make another senseless joke at the hands of the impaired, but censoring myself in text is one of my handicaps and going back through to edit my personal journal is kind of mentally challenging)

I mean, the people who write all those offensive jokes for comedy shows are probably pretty nice people, right? You guys seem pretty nice too, and I also think it is nice of you to taste things in wine, cause all I can taste in Japanese beer is piss, and I stopped looking for it after a while. You guys should come over for some Scrabble, I will even accept Australian spellings! Also I am not a horrible person, honest! Well maybe a little horrible. I guess what I am asking is, do you hate me? I know what it’s like to hate, because after all it has come to my attention that I hate 95% of all people (but don’t worry, there are lots of persons with notable mental disadvantages in that other 5%, especially Jessica, with whom I live for christsakes).

THIS HAS BEEN A BRIEF ASIDE DEALING WITH MY OBVIOUSLY DEPLORABLE CONDUCT IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS

More excitement this week: I didn’t get my application in lightning-fast enough this semester to get a spot in the impossibly popular (and free) Hyogo Japanese language classes, the first section of which I finished in June. This guarantees there will be plenty of spots for real achievers like the couple guys I had class with last time, who have lived in Japan for five years, are still speaking at an introductory level, and who have failed the last three times they have taken it, mostly because despite getting a spot they never actually go to the class. Anyone know a place I can take some lessons and learn at a good clip (need not be free)? Full details please, responses akin to “I know a guy who gives me lessons out of his basement for a hundred yen a month and he cooks me free curry and taught me how to massage my prostate with an ancient artisan calligraphy brush but he’s all booked up and no you can’t have his number lol” will be summarily the cause of me saying “I hate you a lot” and erasing you from my world (assuming you are already in it).

TINY STUPID CRAP OF LATELY
– Months after its release I finally got around to buying Bayonetta for my PS3 (you can read some impressions I wrote based on the E3 demo more than a year ago over at N-Sider by clicking this link). I bought the new edition, which has a cool reversible cover, and inside the case rests a fun game, and it’s fun partially because you can bite demons in half with your evil hair, which is also your clothing, yes I am saying your hair is your clothes in this game
– I have finally woken to the pleasure of Google Reader, an RSS management service that lets you read all the updates from your favorite sites in a handy aggregated list, and I bet that if you are the kind of guy or gal that is used to checking many different websites often and wants a faster way to see what’s new you’d really enjoy it, and also my site has an RSS feed so you can add it to be sure you never miss a gripping update
– The money exchange rate for the dollar is down to 1 USD = 84.84 yen, which means if you were planning on buying/importing stuff from Japan any time soon it just got more expensive for you to do it and which also means since the 23rd of August I’ve gotten a thousand dollar increase to my yearly salary which is mostly useless since all I do with US dollars is pay off the education loanwhores
– The Tsukimi (moon-viewing) Burger is back (back from where?) at McDonald’s, completing a yearly cycle that I wrote about last year, and making that two McDonald’s mentions in this very entry
– In the last week I have conned Jessy into watching Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, and True Lies, three movies she would never agree to see normally, and the latter two of which she really liked, further evidence that Judge Dredd is just no good no matter how bad you want it to be
– If someone tells you that you are eating a BLT sandwich in Japan and they hand you the sandwich, you know that they are liars, because what they call a BLT is not a BLT at all, but I eat them anyway and trick myself into believing they are
– I wonder what the cat is doing right now don’t you
GOOD THING I HAVE A SPYCAM TRAINED ON HIM AHAHAHAH!!!!! aha

Last week I for some reason agreed to go to Costco with Jessy tomorrow. If you have been reading Nomaday since May you know how I feel about Costco in Japan (summary: it is a outlaw ranch/family amusement park). I do not want to go, but perhaps I will be able to secure a few 24 packs of contraband American soda–a fine reward for braving the hellish gauntlet of culturally shocking warehouse shopping.

What can Jessy possibly want to purchase? Knowing her, cleaning supplies and nothing else. Maybe I will beg for another five pound bag of gummy bears. Maybe I will buy five more webcams, and wire the entire apartment to record the harrowing and mesmerizing adventures of Kiki, the scaredy-cat who watches me while I sleep. Maybe I will sit in the parking lot, gripping my knees, and rock back and forth, shrieking until the moon comes out (and then I will view it). When the employees ask me if I am okay, I will climb them like a jungle gym and defecate explosively, launching myself into space, where it is not summer, and where I love 95% of all people, and where my cat plays the keyboard and unlocks the mysteries of the universe.

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The seat of the soul

The nicest toilets in Japan will clean your ass for you chipperly, blasting water at your choice of areas via a couple of angles selected to most efficiently Neutralize The Threat, and with a level of pressure that you dial in with a little knob. Bad night? Dial an 8! The seats are heated, to encourage your productivity and free spirit. Some of them even play music which I have not yet determined to be one or the other: specifically for masking noises or just used as a reward mechanism. The units are called Washlets, and replace what sits on top of your bowl outright. Many westerners consider them magical, and I find myself in a conundrum: fascinated with the technical workings of the device, curious as to what exactly they are doing under there, under there, while I rest atop it, a time when it is impossible to examine the mechanisms, and to investigate any further during a time I do not care to utilize the functions of the Washlet I feel would be a betrayal of trust.

Sometimes, while I sit, I dream up possible delivery scenarios. Is the mechanism like a fire extinguisher, ready to go at any moment and swiveling into play when necessary? When I switch between angle one and angle two I hear a sort of robotic whirring. Is there a tiny robot arm that swings out prevented only from winning my prize due to the fact it is not a vertically oriented UFO claw and is designed to shoot water instead of capture stuffed toys? What could be in there, and what is it doing? I can’t bring myself to look. It is one of the mysteries I have left, and I clutch to it, perhaps just as to that stuffed toy, ready to drop at any moment.

With these considerations in mind and Jessy, Liz, and Dan in tow, I set out last weekend to Hakone, and most memorably a place that has a real name that is inconsequential, because we named this place Fart Mountain. It is the natural absence of Washlet, touted for this fact: active, sulfuric springs bubble and steam below and on top of and in all nooks of its rocky surface. The sulfurous gas smells, naturally, like sulfurous gas, and the Japanese, in their elegiac euphoria, at some point in the past, decided that they could boil eggs in the sulfury hot springs which pool up on the face of this olfactory hell. As it turns out, the water not only boils a fine egg but also turns the shell a powdery black due to some sort of “sulfite reaction,” which means that eating one egg will extend your life by seven years, or so they say. A pretty good value proposition at five eggs for five bucks, not that I could prove it. It is ingenious really, and we witnessed this process: a zip line holding a metal crate carrying cases of fresh, white eggs is jimmied up the mountain from the shop at the bottom, and then at the top they are unloaded, soaked in the hot springs, and then loaded back into the crate to be sent back down and sold for many times their actual worth. Modern day egg alchemy! If I die in the next six years, three-hundred-and-fifty-eight-days, I’m demanding a refund. Other black things that I ate on or near Fart Mountain, solely touted due to their blackness:

1. Black steamed meat bun stuffed with meat, ginger, and some spicy stuff

Fart Mountain is something like the halfway point of the prescribed trip around Hakone, a sprawling day-long affair involving every form of unorthodox transportation that one could likely utilize for mass transit. The first leg was a seriously long bus ride, made all the more agonizing due to the presence of a couple idiot American children up front, a brother and sister, the sister prodding at the boy’s Tommy Hilfiger duffle, and the boy belting out his best kazoo rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, only he didn’t have a kazoo. To our right, of no fault of his own, a mentally confused child who took every opportunity to vocalize his feelings to everyone in the middle of the bus (he was either pleased or disappointed).

After this came A Big Lake Whose Name I Forget, in which you can see a little red temple gate off in the distance, and which we traversed (after eating a station hot dog with shredded cabbage) by fucking pirate ship, a means of travel which exists there for some reason I yet fail to grasp. To me it seemed like riding in a train covered with plastic to make it resemble a Ferrari, or flying in an airplane decorated like a bird. Only this is Japan, and most specifically Hakone, where there are no pirates, and where pirates mean nothing to anyone outside of isn’t Johnny Depp a pirate. From the middle of this lake we caught our first peeps of Fujisan, the fabled Mount Fuji, enormous mountain, real big rock. Famously elusive, we were happy to see him standing at attention, only partially obscured by a sidelong wisp of cloud.

On the other side of the lake, there was only a building, and in the building you buy dumb souvenirs and board the ropeway gondolas, and jesus christ do I ever hate riding on ropeway gondolas. After the gondolas? Well it’s Fart Mountain. I watched the faces of the bystanders progress from cautious optimism, to mild interest, to fatigue. I imagined sticking my head up an ass and leaving it there.

We took a cable car at one point, and all I wanted to do was get home, and then we took a regular old train which apparently is some kind of special train cause it is old and slow and needs to stop twice to do a switchback and change directions. I stared into the soul of the conductor as I clutched the overhead bar. Inside his pupils I took a nap, and then uttered, in the obsolete language of the Demon King: get me out of here. It was ineffective.

Fifty-seven hours later we returned to our lodging, the Hotel Okada, which was notable for harboring what is literally the saddest, most pathetic “game corner” I have ever personally witnessed in Japan, which has to count for something. Whereas a native English speaker would likely translate the Japanese katakana and actually sensible “game corner” to “arcade,”–had they actually decided to translate it in the first place–the hotel staff instead chose the excitingly colloquial “Amusement Saloon” for their floor map, which made it all the more depressing, my conjured mental images of feisty card games and spittoons and root-toot-tootin’ and yee-haw rootbeer sarsparilla and six-shooters notwithstanding. After we realized there was no amusement to be found in the five shitty redemption games and half-broken racing game, we figured of course that the saloon was also absent. It is no stretch for me to declare that the arcade on the Jumbo Ferry, a boat we took to Takamatsu several months back, was orders of magnitude more entertaining, and it was on a boat.

The Okada is of the traditional ryokan variety, which means that for a time we pranced around in our yukata like good little Japanese boys and girls, and then separated along those lines to go to the onsen on floor eight, where we stripped down and bathed publically, in the total nude, until we became so overwhelmed with the hot water that our arms tingled. As I was getting ready to leave the jacuzzi area near the end of my second and final onsen session of the trip, one man strolled up, took a step in from the side, and, presumably expecting a ledge or something, dropped in completely from the brisk outside air into the boiling magmatic pool. He laughed, obviously embarassed, and all I could muster up in Japanese was “big huh,” a comment I really hope he took as meaning the drop was big, and not anything else that might have been swinging around a foot and a half from my face. I left promptly, feeling myself coming to a rolling boil.

Should I mention the meals, massive and delivered to our room? To outline the entire process of a ryokan meal would be dry. I will say this: on one of each of our plates rested a tiny squid, the size of a Tootsie Roll, and when it was chewed, you could feel its brains explode out of its head like the juice inside a Fruit Gushers fruit snack. Or so I was told. I was content to eat the other morsels, which impressively all consisted of or contained some kind of fish or seafood in some capacity. It was around this time that I was stricken with the overwhelming urge for a large plate of hot spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic toast, a desire for which the only option of satiation was the breakfast buffet, where I ate a pasta and cheese casserole containing clams, and approximately two quarts of fruit cocktail.

As I mentioned briefly last time, Hakone is also the setting for my favorite animated show Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Hakone, sensing otaku greenbacks, has decided to capitalize with a variety of Eva omiyage cookies and cakes that you can bring back for your depressed coworkers. More exciting, however, were the “Hakone Instrumentality Project” maps, which provide reference points to view actual scenes from the show and movies as they appear in reality. To obtain this map Liz had to enter the tourism booth and fill out a special card indicating her profession and length of stay in Japan. When she emerged successful Dan and I descended on the booth like vultures, insistent that no we couldn’t share maps and yes we needed our own. My profession was “Schooler” and my length of stay in Japan was “years.” I got the map and left immediately. The next day, Jessy tried to get her own map and was flatly refused by the panel, who presumably have more pressing uses for the maps than using them to promote tourism.

Excitingly, and beautifully, the special convenience store (in actuality, a Lawson store), all dressed up like Evangelion to be the OFFICIAL TOKYO-3 LAWSON, was bombarded by sweathogs with fanny packs almost immediately after opening, creating lines to enter the convenience store, parking hazards, and–I’m just guessing here–severe employee unrest. And so, the store was stripped of its identifying Eva decor and closed after a mere three days, a fitting end. I never even saw where it might have been. Someone told me “in the mountains somewhere, a rural area,” but for me it might have just as well been in the actual Tokyo-3, committed to celluloid, a figment of imagination, cups of instant udon adorned with Reis and Asukas, and boxes of NERV brand tissues, to wipe your nose just before you are rendered a puddle of pure LCL goo.

After Dan and Liz went back to Canada, and before our Golden Week holiday had ended, we decided we wanted to do something really dumb, so we went to Costco. Let me tell you about Costco in Japan.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT COSTCO IN JAPAN

Costco in Japan is strikingly similar to Costco in the states, except that it is in Japan, which makes a remarkable difference. I have been there fully three times now, and each time I hope I will come up with a better way to say what I really think about it, but I never do. At this point, the best way I can sum it up is to say that Costco seems to serve as kind of a family amusement park. You bring the little shits and your wife on your holiday in your small boxy car, there is nowhere to park it, you wait in line for an hour to sign up to be let in, and then you pay the 4200 yen “membership price” (admission fee). Finally, after you grab a hulking behemoth of a novelty cart, you can proceed to ingest the stereotypical example of “American culture” in the bizarre shopping environment, which apparently involves trying to move around in the store when everyone has a Monster Cart and doesn’t even know how to walk normally let alone when encumbered with said cart.

For many, the highlight seems to be the restaurant area (much as it is in the relatively similarly-regarded IKEA on Port Island). To enter the restaurant area, which is set off as a “space” with little extending barriers and employees who only direct people-traffic and which serves essentially the same huge food at the same tiny prices, you must push through a sea of humanity, and will absolutely never find a seat. People stand around eating their 300 yen slices of pizza that are as large as Actual Japanese Pizzas with a look of desire in their eyes: am I doing it right? Am… am I in the group? Am I Costcoing?

The hilarious irony of Costco in Japan of course is that in a country where many people rely solely on public transit and have refrigerators the size of shoeboxes they can’t possibly ever have a use for ten cans of refried beans or a 2000 yen slab of pork, let alone some fucking place to put it. Bulk shopping is just a gag, a theory, a suggestion of the weird possibility that your problem would be too much space and not enough stuff to put in it instead of the other way around. The prices are good (decent) but offset in such a way by the membership fee and the absolute hell of the experience that just buying your stuff on a daily basis like everyone else probably makes more financial sense.

The only thing that I can think is that for many people in Japan Costco is not valued as a legitimate financial move in the realm of grocery shopping. Look at it this way: an average Japanese man is smaller than an average American man, he has a smaller fridge, he has a smaller house, he has a smaller car, he eats less, he doesn’t need a gallon of salsa, and all this massive stuff probably looks even bigger and more ridiculous than it does to a well adjusted fellow like myself. Once he opens the three quart bottle of ketchup, where will he put it? He will clear a space in his fridge, and make his children apply ketchup to everything for the next five months in order to use it all up before it expires. He will take home something as a souvenir. “Remember the time we all went to Costco and got that 40-pack of muffins? Those were the days.”

The kids mob the aisles like savage fleas digging for blood, it is their play area, these packages are too big to be called food and are instead obviously entertainment. If you are an idiot you can buy a 24-pack of Coke From The United States, made with good old-fashioned all-natural high fructose corn syrup instead of the superior sugar-based Coke they sell everywhere else in Japan. One family we saw had a huge cart full only of bottled water and potato chips. Surely it has not come to this.

As I stand being mobbed by the overeager women literally diving at a pallet of Ultra Downy fabric softener nearby, I contemplate my options. I am reminded of off-days in Iowa spent leisurely strolling through a deserted Sam’s Club with my stepbrother. Costco in Japan makes as much sense as the US changing all cartons of milk to quarts, eliminating frozen pizza, and refusing to sell packages of cheese containing more than six ounces. And yet the business is so routinely crowded that I can barely move, often times before I even get through the front door.

Costco is Universal Studios, only instead of riding on a rollercoaster, you push a cart and buy three pounds of cheddar cheese and some deck chairs.

Of course, we spent two hundred dollars there on bags of tortilla chips and gummy bears so large we can not ever possibly finish them all, two pounds of grated Parmesan cheese, a case each of vanilla soymilk and Dr. Pepper, and 1,400 Post-it notes.

THAT’S ABOUT IT FOR COSTCO

At school today I decided maybe it was time to see how the robot arm or the firehose or the Roto Rooter or whatever the shit it is that pops out of the Washlet really does its job, so cursorily, after visiting the sink to wash my hands, I popped in to the Washlet-equipped stall, locked the door, and pressed the spray button. As I did so, I suddenly realized that this would likely mean that some sort of nozzle was going to be blasting me in the face with toilet water as I peered over it.

But there was no cause to worry. In addition to being heated, the Washlet seat is also pressure sensitive, and denied my request with a polite beep. All this means is that I am dry, and I am going to have to come up with some other way to steal a look at that mysterious robot business.

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