Tag Archives: donburi

Must swim three times

I am surrounded by men, women, antsy kids, Jessy, and television screens in a multi-floor building as nice as a hotel. I’m near Shin-Kobe station, and on the third floor of this big place, where a man has hung a little plastic card around my neck that says Guest. In a tiny room adorned with what I can only classify as “exotic brick-a-brac” we watch the television screens together. It’s a live broadcast from an area near Mount Fuji. Highlights: man screams and shoots an arrow into a bush which is then lit on fire, man chops at the air with a sword to cleanse it from barriers to self-realization, old lady wearing little hat does hand motions while holding tiny sticks, which are then tossed into the fire. Together the people chant around me in a language I cannot understand, a situation I figure I should be more used to than I am by now. I am attending a special Buddhist service as a visiting member of the Shinnyo-en school, which literally means “Borderless Garden of Truth.” As believers we seek the awareness of the self through meditation and Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Am I a believer? What’s there to believe but that I am or am not? I figure in general it’s harder to not believe in stuff than it is to believe. After temple I buy a bag of chickpeas because we’re gonna make some hummus this week.

Japan is currently doing what it is it does, gearing up in much the same way as it did last year for the full arrival of fall. Though fall is technically officially here it’s still occasionally warm enough for people to get the wrong idea, and until the light scarves and jackets come out I hesitate to wave the flag. My true barometer is merely the appearance of special food products and fall-themed drinks, which haven’t really started popping up yet in any great numbers. I did spot new Cup Noodle flavors today, Beef Stew and Cream Stew, which I guess are kind of fall-y, but these seem to be some sort of microwave-requiring things which is just a bunch of crap. To be perfectly frank I myself am dreading the end of fall, which is slightly preventing me from enjoying it now: in the middle of December I’ll likely be embarking on a grueling couple-dozen hour journey across the ocean and back to the rolling plains of Iowa to spend the holidays, my first trip back to home soil since I arrived here. I am “not fond” of flying, which means it is my least favorite thing in the entire world except maybe getting stabbed.

Speaking of favorite things I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of my existential angst is not that I don’t have enough free time, but merely that I like too many things. My pesky nook e-reader has done precisely what I intended: made acquiring books so painless and reading so simple that it is my new default activity for my morning and evening commute. I read nine books in September, and the PSP and DS weep, because they want attention too. I will not even start in on the home activities, which command not only the time there but often the television. The result of all this is that I am forced to choose one of my hobbies at a time and I never get too far with any of them. It’s good to have options, I guess, but it means it just takes twice as long to do what I want. There is no point to these ramblings, just a sort of reminiscent defeatism: remember when you were 16, had no social life or significant obligations, had virtually nothing other to do than play games, and did so most veritably? If only I could go back in time and relive the same late November snow day for years and years.

Speaking of years, I ran the numbers the other day and figured out that since I’ve lived here for fourteen months and had the equivalent of about two months where I taught no classes, I’ve essentially taught twelve months of about fifteen classes a week. If you add it all up that comes to seven-hundred-and-eighty classes that I’ve taught now, which at least outnumbers the Nomadays, N-Sider articles, and every journal entry, poem, and story I’ve ever written, combined, in number (though just barely). What else have I even done 780 times this year? I’ve only woken up about 432 times. I suppose I’ve had at least 780 meals since arriving. Have I eaten popcorn 780 times in my life? Have I watched over 780 movies? Surely I’ve played over 780 video games since the age of ten or so.

At any rate I encourage you to run your own numbers, to become shockingly aware of the time we spend, without concrete markers, doing what it is we do.

Yet another thing that I’ve been doing lately is attending Japanese classes, which is enjoyable in that I am actually learning more concretely how to communicate with the people who literally surround me every single day. These skills also assist me with things like navigating the internet and securing exciting products from various websites, products which excitingly get to compete with everything else that I do for my attention.

There’s a bakery on the basement level of the Sogo department store and it’s called Donq, a name that you might expect to be the only Donq-sounding place of business in Kobe but in fact there are two others: Don Quihote (shortened colloquially to just Donki) and Bikkuri Donkey, a restaurant which literally translated means SURPRISE DONKEY. It is a hamburger steak restaurant, and scarily I enjoy eating there, perhaps because I enjoy the taste of donkey when I am expecting something that is not donkey. Anyway I have been enjoying going to Donq and buying baguettes lately, really delicious crispy-crusted bread with chewy, stretchy crumb. Last night after work I got one and had a big hunk of it eaten before I even finished walking home, then assembled a chicken breast sandwich with it and some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some Cookies’ barbecue sauce, a bottle of which I brought over here last year and which I still steadfastly am working at using up. I think it will take a lot of chicken sandwiches. The moral of this story is that I love Donq.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– My psychotic Japanese cat, who sometimes believes so fervently that the little stuffed mouse is stalking him that he’ll take one swat at it and run away so fast that his feet cannot provide enough traction to prevent him from sliding sideways into the wall like an out-of-control racecar
– A trip down memory lane at my soon-moving pal Jools’ place, during which I laid eyes upon 6+ years of gaming goodies, including but not limited to an unopened case of Cowboy Bebop gashapon figures, Morrigan and Lilith bookends (these came home with me), a variety of Japanese DS games, a couple Club Nintendo prizes from 2004, multiple variations of special peripheral controllers used to simulate shaking/strumming/beating/dancing, and a stack of Edge magazines that found their way into my apartment somehow
– My new favorite donburi place, where I can slide a bill into the machine, press two buttons, and be given an ice-cold draft beer and a big bowl of rice topped with thick slices of juicy fire-grilled skirt steak, lettuce, and spicy sauce for about nine bucks (you can also get grilled dark meat chicken or Korean beef)
– One of my teachers here at the night school, or more specifically the huge plastic bag full of green and red peppers and eggplant that he dumped out over next to the computer, which he grew on his farm and has extra of, and the resulting pile of vegetables, of which I am going to take, bring home, and nom
– A beverage I drank during a break, which said “hot cake flavor,” and was indeed a sweet, milky drink that tasted like a cross between drinking pancake syrup and cereal milk
– There’s a special red Nintendo DSi coming out for the Mario 25th anniversary, and the first I heard about it was seeing a video advertisement on the LCD screen mounted to the back of the cash register while I bought a melon soda at 7-11
END OF CURIOSITIES

I always manage to get through it all but I’m so tired today that I’ve almost fallen asleep at my desk twice. The bad news is that since it’s my late day I won’t even be teaching for another three hours, and I likely won’t be home for another six. Tapping my foot isn’t really doing it and I already ate my two string cheeses and drank my soda. I took a little stroll down the hall to the restroom too, just to see if I might snap out it. No luck! If I have the energy once I’m out of here, I am buying the nicest beer a handful of change will get me, and sucking it down as I breathe in the wind on the way to Kosoku-Nagata and home.

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Sake it to me

Thanks to the overnight sleeper-bus “Southern Cross,” we arrive here in Hiroshima at an unprecedented hour: 7:00 a.m. or thereabouts, standing at the base of what they call quite descriptively “the Atomic Bomb Dome.”  Not too far from the hypocenter of the blast, this place has been meticulously preserved to remain precisely as it was left on the day of the bombing, and I can’t imagine too concretely that it doesn’t.  Over there’s the target, the T-shaped bridge used as a sight-up by the pilots from the air.  There’s barely anyone around this early, not even the swarms of American cruise-line tourists have arrived yet.  We joke about how many of them will pose in front of this thing with a thumbs-up–check it out, look where I am!!

While we wait for the museum proper to open we chomp on donburi at nearby order-from-a-ticket-machine 24-hour establishment Nakae, where at 8:15, to commemorate the exact moment that the thing exploded, I eat gyudon in a modern building in an area that even an educated bystander would be unable to recognize as one where anything out of the ordinary happened. In the museum they talk about how people were instantly vaporized, run demo reels of atomic bomb tests, show scale models of the blast range before and after. You can even touch certain artifacts recovered from the debris (you can touch these, they are safe), convenient Japanese/English placards read.

But we too, are bastards, here under false pretenses: though we are intrigued by the dome, the visiting of the memorials and the museum, the park, the paper cranes–and perhaps because of them–we really want to drink.  You see, though we may have come for the depression, we stay to also blow it to oblivion with lots of sake at the annual Hiroshima Sake Matsuri, a ridiculous extravaganza of which this is the 20th, and admission to which costs about fifteen bucks and gets us each a tiny sake cup.  From here the massive hordes walk around a tremendously crowded park-turned-fair, with occasionally placed booths separated by regions of Japan (Shikoku, Kinki, Chubu, etc).  At each one you hold your cup out and have it filled by an attendee with Some Kind Of Sake.  Apparently there exists some sort of method to determine which of the literally several hundreds you have already tried.  It seems a feat so counter-intuitive in its implementation that it must simply exist as some sort of elaborate Japanese joke–after eight or twelve or fifteen gulps of sake you cannot remember (or care) which ones you’ve tried, or how many, or from where, and to attempt to chart your progress would be an endeavor most meaningless.  I imagine fair organizers laughing heartily as they black-magic-marker off certain wines from the entrance list, organized by call letters and code names most menacing:  “Yamanake-san! H-32 is all gone!  Sure it is!  AHAHAHA!!!!” while the solemnly OCD checklist makers weep silently in the corner, then stop caring cause they are all so blitzed they don’t even know what checklists are anymore.

At and around the vicinity of this fair, we eat steak on a stick, deep-fried battered chicken meat with skin still attached all hot and bubbly, a tray of yakisoba, an ice cream bar, and maybe some other stuff?  I drink lots of sake.  As I wait near the exit for Jessy, I witness one stumbly-Joe drop his tiny sake cup and immediately stagger backwards, stepping right on it, while his friends try to hold him up.  One younger woman bends over to pick up the two halves of the neatly destroyed cup and I wonder maybe if the souvenirs from past Sake Matsuris are perhaps more quaint if they are left on a shelf busted in half: here’s the one from the year I drank a lot of sake, and here’s the one from the year I drank really a lot of sake, and here is the one that etc. etc. etc.

Deftly navigating the trains half-catatonic back to the city proper among hordes of like-minded individuals is a feat justly rewarded by our viewing of music-oriented stage production Blast!, which is performed by a cadre of talent including a way-back trumpet-playing acquaintance of Jessy’s. Meeting up with him outside the venue afterwards has to rank up there with the experiences I’ve had most resembling those I would have if I were in some way notable or famous, as simply Looking American while hanging around talking to him ensures I am accosted by swarms of schoolkids, elderly music enthusiasts, and passers-by tugging on my jacket to say “burasuto!” or hold up their program and a pen for an autograph. No, no, I’m nobody, do I even resemble anyone you’ve seen before? I should have signed their programs anyway, if only for the amusement. “American guy,” the most famous and rare of the Blast! entourage!

I have considered including a feature in upcoming Nom installments in which I recap notable tweets of the last week or so. It occurs to me that I often merely throw up a quick picture or tweet of items and events that maybe are worth writing about, but are relegated to a recent-few notification list on my sidebar or a fleeting stint as a Facebook status. I have been informed that however revelatory, my grandmother is now reading my Internets by way of a family member who creates printouts of this text and delivers them in person. (Hello from Kobe, Grandma!) She probably misses a good amount of the short Twittery updates, as do more infrequent readers or fly-by-night Google searchers inexplicably pointed in my direction.

I assure the rest of my readers that this knowledge will not do a disservice to my speech or content. I think Grandma is familiar with colorful language, even in black and white!

This weekend we are taking part in some sort of community luncheon/dinner, which I believe operates thusly: all participants prepare some portion of what could be considered a meal, and leave it stable in their apartment while they meet up with everyone else. From here, the swarm moves from place to place, cutely complimenting each abode while munching on the food they prepared. I am not one to take such a challenge lightly, and will be straining my culinary skills of experimentation to the breaking point by preparing a variety of totally bizarre sushi rolls. I see this meet-and-greet as a perfect opportunity to experiment on my own secret project in the form of a long-planned and carefully guarded sushi-roll secret recipe. To execute it carefully would be to ascend to the highest echelons of supreme notoriety, while to let the information fall into the wrong hands could be disastrous. The only question is where am I going to find American-style processed cheese in Kobe? I might need to do some exploring.

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As American as rotten breakfast soybeans

This is my second Japanese sports day, but surely my first “traditional” one, which is to say, the sports day which is a product of an entire body of students at one of the most prestigious high schools in the prefecture:

J-pop blaring, multi-dozen hundred meter relays, shirtless boys holding each other up like men riding on horseback lunging for each other’s hats, groups of students charging to grab tug-of-war sticks and pull them back to their own sides, a ten-minute club march with every person clad in full kendo/swimming/mountain climbing/tennis playing gear, a fully coordinated short-skirt dance-team cheering to the High School Musical theme song and spelling the name of my school with their pompoms while the gymnastics team tumbles to-and-fro.  Ceremony, oh god the ceremony, opening, closing, awards… but barely a time mentioned, and less made of the competition than of the teamwork: together you are everything.  There is barely condition for what to make of the individual.  Would the boundaries that maintain our physical shapes break down and render us goo were we to disband?  It is hard to say, but I am erring on the side of “probably, I guess.”  The sights and sound dash asunder any concept of togetherness or unity I ever could have conceived of as a member of American public high school.

I ran in the 100m relay with a “teacher’s team” made up of those of us who still feel spry enough in our age to sprint around a track for the amusement of a thousand teenagers.  All I remember of my half-track jaunt was taking off with the baton, hoping I didn’t fall down, watching my shoes stomp off the ground as I rounded the outside of the track, and the doppler effect of young girls screaming eeeeyaaaAAAAaaa!!!, then handing the baton off again.  Today my legs hurt, but the (male) gym teacher has now gone from a predominant casual indifference at my presence to a recent summons of one of my English-speaking co-teachers so that she could translate his remarks about me: I am so cool, so handsome, and how do they handle the conventions of Jr., Sr., the third, the fourth, etc. in American naming procedures?

My cafeterian lunchtime chopstick proficiency literally shames some of the people I eat with, who occasionally make self-deprecating remarks about their failures with them when it comes to more wet bowls of donburi.  Someone said their mother used to tell them they weren’t Japanese enough cause they’d reach for a spoon (this clashes expectedly with the stereotypical genki gaijin dipshit advice doled out to everyone who is about to move to Japan with a prior support network: “better eat every single grain of rice or they’ll think you’re just another rude American!!!”).  As it turns out, many people from Japan are actually people and not merely just a peculiar object of broad foreign projection.  Yes, some of them walk while drinking and eat while walking or forget to leave the train when it’s gone out of service or pay with the wrong coin cause those fives and fifties can be iffy sometimes.

Independently I might turn to goo, but as a part of society, I am everything.

(Menial daily-lifery recent developments and valuable first-time-resident advice: we went to a store called Nitori (ニトリ) and bought a TV stand (delivered to our door two days later for 900 yen), a washing machine shelving unit, a coat rack, a kitchen rug, a small bedside table, a garbage can, a stewpot, a spaghetti jar, and new pot holders.  It cost like 8000 yen?  Do not go to IKEA.  It is utterly idiotic and the goods are cheaply made and overpriced.  Go to Nitori.  If you don’t, basically you are a jackass.)

Also:

– The TV from Hard-Off that I bought a couple weeks ago is still awesome and used goods in this country are officially amazing,
– Japanese 360 controllers work on American systems
– I made Mabo Tofu but really thick and spicy and chunky and put it on rice and called it Mabodon and it was some delicious stuff to chomp on
– There is an enormous Category 5 “Super Typhoon” headed right for us to make landfall in the next day or two

Sometimes around dinner time, or during strange unrelated parts of my life, I remember what Triscuits taste like, and realize that despite this country’s culinary delights, you can’t ignore the fact that there ain’t a fucking Triscuit around.

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