Tag Archives: enkai

He ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends

If there’s a single decent thing about summer it is that it reminds me that life isn’t always this shitty like it is now, that no matter how much I hate sweating to death and being sapped of energy and moving, at all, things by default will be better when winter rolls around again. You ever heard of that made up mental illness called “SAD” which is short for seasonal affected disorder only I think they say it is from people who have no sunlight? Maybe I am the opposite of that. TOO MUCH SUN. Anyway, I don’t know how long it took me, in my life, to realize that I had seasonal preferences. Maybe it wasn’t until I even came to Japan that, like with my declared religious belief, favorite food, “hobbies,” and other menial answers to frequently asked questions, I firmly decided to Ultimately Choose that winter was my favorite and I hate summer. It just makes things easier, since nobody understands my ambling, self-exploratory responses that play around the edges of answers like people fingering the ridges of a quarter with the end of their thumbnail. One word answers are king here, where people would rather not have to work to understand what I’ve just said.

Maybe part of it is that there is literally nothing I would ever enjoy doing that would be much better in summer than it would be in winter, appropriately clothed at least. Beach party? Pf. WINTER beach party? Sign me up. Grilling outside in the scorching heat? Fuh. Cooking a pot of stew over a log fire while exposed to the elements? YEAH! What I mean is just that unless the occasion is “being scantily clothed outside,” and actually enjoying it, I will take winter, especially this pussy willow Kobe winter, where At Freezing makes people bitch and complain, and I am like “ah, this is great.”

On my sweaty walk home from a small office party last night, some crazy man followed me and my coworker through the ticket gate (he ducked under the barrier to avoid paying), then followed us onto our train, and for a few stops repeatedly gestured toward me while speaking to other random people sitting down, trying desperately to ignore him. He was saying stuff in Japanese like “hey, check out this foreign guy, don’t you want to take a picture of him, I bet he is American, they sure beat us in the war, they sure did their best in that war didn’t they, look at this tall gaijin, he sure ain’t Japanese.” I told me coworker that in America we have a nice phrase that goes something like “fuck off” that we would say to annoying idiots like this, but in Japan it is generally accepted that if you pick a fight, absolutely nobody else is going to help you, look at you, or say anything at all. I turned my back to him, occasionally making eye contact with other horrified passengers, a stupefied grin on my face, shrugging my shoulders like Michael Jordan hittin’ ethereal threes. “Sorry dudes, I just am so foreign.” then i killed the guy

– Didn’t have my hanky yesterday cause I washed it and it needed to dry, felt tangibly uncomfortable all day with no hanky to dab my forehead with
– I ate a cow’s tongue last night and actually thought it was delicious
– Drinking almost exclusively green tea, am beginning to be able to tell the slight differences between different types
– Fake bands made of fake high-school girls wearing real bikinis continue their relentless popularity, “obviously”
– Of course you can’t buy beans in the grocery store, why would they need strange ethnic foods like beans in the normal supermarket

I’m taking three days off next week for summer leave, during which I plan to cook awesome food and visit a local beer brewery. For some reason I am thinking that the perfect accompaniment to my vacation would be a viewing of Doctor Zhivago, I am truly becoming insufferable.


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Kissing a girl who is leaning away from you

At a fancy table I mentally fidget with my lines–I am a couple minutes away from getting up in front of everyone who holds any sort of employment at my school to give a short speech in Japanese. We’re all piled into a fancy dining room on an upper floor of the ridiculous monstrosity the “Meriken Park Oriental Hotel,” a triple-A lodgery which according to Wikipedia was designed by “a corporation” to resemble a luxury ocean liner “for some reason.” If you could move the upper image on my website a little to the side, you’d see it there, a staple of the waterfront view. I’ve had a few beers at this point, though it’s hard to say exactly how many due to the irritating yet awesome Japanese office party custom of always refilling the drinks of anyone next to you any time you see they aren’t completely full. When they call my name I realize that the speeches everyone else have given have been pithy, short introductory missives, cursory pap delivered obligatorily in the native language of this country. Mine is a two-and-a-half minute jaunt down ha-ha road, originally penned by myself in simple English, simplified even further for easy translation, translated by a co-teacher of mine, then personally re-simplified to make the Japanese sound like it could theoretically have been pieced together by my infant brain. Before I get up there, I realize I have no idea what the fuck I have done.

it's on the right

The topic of the speech, an introduction and farewell to one of my coworkers, who has been recently transferred to another school but returns tonight to receive the honor of this speech (along with a couple envelopes of money from the PTA), is the concept of the relative humor that we share, and how sometimes during our conversations in English, neither of us knew exactly what was funny and what wasn’t, leading us to ignore jokes and laugh at the mundane, which is perfectly enough what I tend to do even if I can understand you. In a case of art imitating life (intentionally), my speech, written in English and delivered in Japanese, finds itself bouncing around in my mind like an enigmatic memory, constantly analyzed: which section of this is precisely when “the joke” comes out? Will their sensibilities allow them to find it funny, or will they, fearing staff retribution, laugh only at the safe parts? Perhaps appropriately, even though I analyze my own speech on numerous occasions prior to delivering it, as I orate in a foreign language I barely understand even as speaking it, I receive laughs at unplanned junctures, and my perfect pronunciation of “Iwasaki-sensei wa naze KONna ni waratterundaroukaaaaa” gets only a few titters. Jessy suggests that perhaps the inflection of the line was too good, making me sound serious “why the hell were you laughin’ at that, Iwasaki?!” instead of endearing “wonder why she’d laugh at that, hmm!” It’s happiest for me to imagine that for just a moment I sound like a violent, rough-and-tumble Japanese gangster with a knife to the throat of my dear old lady coworker, but not at all out of line for me to believe that, as with English, they just can’t tell if I am being sarcastic or not. Then I tell them all to choke on their fried mayonnaise shrimp and flip themselves inside out.

One teacher later on in the evening stops by to refill my drink for the seven-hundredth time and tells me that my speech was “by far” the best one of the night, which mentally I assume is because I had actually written one and liken to defeating a gang of Antarctican six-year-olds in the indoor-heating knowledge Olympics. Still, the victory is sweet, sweet like Chinese wine, which I glug down until I cannot remember who I am. Another office party victory, filling myself up with open bar liquids and Chinese food that is too fancy for me to appreciate.

Yesterday’s solar eclipse offered the fun opportunity to watch various Japanese humans stop themselves in their tracks and stare directly up at the sun, searing their corneas into ash. I, never one to over-prepare, determined that I did not need the special glasses and that taking a peek using the reflection of my cellular telephone screen would be enough. It kind of was, I could see that the sun looked like a little ring in the sky. I read a story that at a zoo here all the lemurs went apeshit cause it got dark so they thought it was night and then it turned day again. I like to imagine how crazy that crap must be to you if you are a lemur. “Holy shit, the day only lasted five minutes and now it is night again, does that mean there is a new episode of Jeopardy already or.” Knowing that, if I was privy to that information ahead of time, I think instead of just planning to watch the eclipse I’d have tried to get me a ticket to the zoo and go watch the lemurs go crazy instead.

I also enjoyed considering what the prevailing mentality must have been way back in the turgid-cortex brainflop days, before people could understand at all what was happening and perhaps, for a time, assumed that this was truly the end of days. Did they resort to the mentalities of unrestrained monkeys, ranting and raving? Maybe for a time they all picked up ancient acoustic guitars and told it near the train station, hurry and adopt Our Lord And Savior before it is too late! At any rate, by the time I was at my desk doing my “job” which during midterms this year means “nothing,” things in outer space were all back to normal. I celebrated by eating a old rice cracker I found in my desk that tasted kind of like dried squid for some reason, and maybe the reason is that they made it taste that way on purpose.

Defying the odds, Mello Yello is somehow back, or maybe it just never left and they’ve brought it into higher distribution for the summer. I bought a bottle because I missed seeing it, which might lend some credence to the Coca-Cola company’s theory of seasonality. Surely if it had been here all along I’d have paid it no attention, a cruel and shocking allegory for what my daily life truly amounts to as I pump on through the days and nights. A few weeks ago just to make things different I switched the living room again. That’s when I move all the stuff that’s on the north wall to the south wall, and move the stuff on the south wall to the north wall. It tricks me into believing things are fresh and new, regardless of whether they are or not.

– Osaka’s mayor, who is on a personal crusade to fire anyone who has tattoos, is prohibiting dance clubs from allowing dancing, and who apparently never saw the movie Footloose and thinks the current year is 1928
– The popular American movie “The Avengers,” which, despite having been out in America for a few weeks, will not release in Japan until August 17th, by which point several people who are alive today will certainly be dead
– Television

I’ve been doing a tongue twisters lesson in class for the last week or so and I have so many stupid tongue twisters memorized that I cannot handle it. If two witches could watch two watches which witch would watch which watch ripe white wheat reapers reap ripe white wheat right we’re real rear wheels scizzors sizzle thistles fizzle six thick thistle sticks eleven benevolent elephants betty botter made a batch of bitter batter but with butter it was better rory the warrior and roger the worrier were reared wrongly in a rural brewery.

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Sensible workplace procedures

On my desk there has been placed an attendance sheet on which I need to put a stamp indicating my “okayness” with the fact that I took a sick day at the beginning of last month, as though I somehow had no choice whether or not to be sick and as though I actually have some choice about whether or not to stamp it. This is essentially the punch clock if you will, that I stamp every week when I come to work at my night school. I am to use my personal inkan to put the little kanji for my name right there.
But I am not paying attention enough, and I stamp it in the wrong box. I am in Japan, so I already know that by putting it in the wrong box I have ruined the entire form, which has already arcanely needed and received stamps from people situated all over the goddamned building. So in an effort to please the secretary, to make her comfortable, to say “no look, I just made a mistake, it’s no big deal, you absolutely don’t need to throw away the entire sheet” I put a little whiteout over the place where I wasn’t supposed to have stamped. Naturally, it is the first thing she notices when she comes back to get the sheet, which I expected. “This is no good, she says,” and I tell her “I made a mistake, right there,” and she says “is that so,” and I say “yep that’s so,” and with a sigh she says “well maybe we’ll just have to do this whole sheet over one more time” and as she walks away I say “is that so” and she says “yep that’s so,” and then she leaves.

When she brings the new sheet back, the act of stamping which is obviously too complex for my foreign brain, despite the fact that I have carried out this exact process with no problems the last eighteen months I’ve done it and was able to communicate with her in her native language, she circles the squares I need to stamp with enormous, exaggerated pencil marks, and tells me kindly to stamp in the circles. The sad reality of the situation is that because of the vagaries of the Japanese language, even when I proceed to tell her “I understand (what to do)” she can interpret it merely as “I understand (your directions)” and so my being talked down to is without possible retort. My stamps are of course the first things that are to be put on the paper–even before the simple numerical date at the top–and surely this way if I just screw it up again well then at least she hasn’t bothered everyone else first.

This is one example of the nonsensical bureaucratic bullshit and of course, in my case, passive-aggressive belittlement that brings many types of formal business to a screeching halt in Japan and drives people so fucking insane that they leap from buildings a thousand a day. Sometimes it makes me wonder how they could have ever been allowed to be creative enough to invent gyoza, video games, ramen, animation, and comic books. Oh wait they didn’t invent any of that stuff.

What could possibly be the reason that instead of just saying “oh there was a mistake no big deal” they must re-fill the entire form? Are there trust issues with the higher-ups, and their higher-ups, and theirs? This is, after all, the country that has hired and pays a man to stand in front of my train station escalator which is being repaired and will be walled off for a month. His job is just to stand there, every morning, making it insultingly clear that yes, if the barriers didn’t tip you off, the escalator is closed. A scenario echoes through my head about what life must be like in buildings unlike mine, those technologically advanced enough to include hot water at the bathroom sink: a small speaker system echoes, forever, “remember, hot water is hot, and is not cold water, honorable person who is using the hot water, and remember to scrub your hands please.”

Are they afraid I somehow grossly, sloppily applied whiteout to the sheet and that by doing so I may have somehow scribbled in some sort of inaccurate information, despite there obviously being none? (The field I “corrected” was a field that I could in no way alter to my benefit.) Are they afraid that by whiting out my mistake I have somehow HIDDEN THE TRUTH and ruined the accuracy of the sheet, which contains no time verifications, dates, or other sorts of markings, and instead of my signature bears merely an ink image from a wooden stamp any fucker can buy at the dollar store?

The real forgery is about to come, as she wastes ten minutes preparing a replacement sheet that will be a beautiful lie and look identical to the first one, except the number 7 will be written on plain paper instead of on top of white out. Why even issue white out pens? Sometimes I really just don’t know about this place. But then I have a delicious plate of tempura and beat my Japanese wife for not cutting my sausages into the shape of an octopus for my lunch box and all is well again. No but really I like living here

– Bought a CD
– Got a couple books in the mail
– Left work two hours early yesterday

I’ve been playing a game on my PSP called Xenogears and in like four days I have managed to put about three hours on it. Back in the day I was so fanatic about games I’d have put three hours on it before I even opened the package. Do you know what this means? Me either but it cannot be good.

Classes are over for the semester which means I’ve got about six weeks to regain my workplace sanity and buck up for the new class of incomers in mid-April. A year-end party with my co-workers on the eleventh might be a good start, because there will be lots to drink. Yet, try as I might, I am beginning to feel more and more like I cannot fill my happiness-holes with nostalgic Japanese toys and games and will instead need to look into myself for the seeds of mental comfort ooh look it is a Final Fantasy VIII sticker book.

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We lost because we didn’t win

I sat engrossed in a televised soccer game of all goddamned things last evening, palms sweaty from tension, absorbed in a sporting event which despite having gone on for two solid hours had seen literally no points scored by either team. Everything I have always proclaimed to hate about the sport on full display! Endless, ambling ball control with few attack strikes, wussy fake injuries from the slightest of impacts getting more blatant as the game rolled on, no instant replays to verify completely flagrant elbows to the face. And yet, at 1:30 a.m. I watched Japan and Paraguay (purportedly the best guay) duke it out to advance to the next round in the World Cup. Japan lost in the penalty kick shootout round, and only just barely, and then shed manly, emotional Japanese tears. I was more upset than when the Colts lost the Super Bowl, which just don’t make any kinda sense.

The World Cup Fever here, as with many other kinds of localized ailments, has been infectious: I cannot help but become swelled with nationalistic pride and hope for my little country. Despite always being an Iowan, an Amesian, a farmboyian, an industrial cityian, a Pittsburghian, an American–every day that passes is another one added to the “days since I’ve been in the States” column. I’ll never be a Japanese person, but it’s hard to argue that I’m, for example, less Japanese than bodybuilder, or say, more civil rights activist than citizen of Japan.

One gets the feeling here that for whatever reason, sportsmanlike to a fault, Japan really treasures the good that their teams and their representatives do. And even if it means television programming akin to last winter’s thirty-minute spotlight shows on Takahashi Daisuke’s figure skating bronze medal, it makes it all that much more significant. Even if it means watching a hundred and twenty minutes of a sporting event with no overhead passes or shotgun formations. Even if it means that all that exists is tension, stress, the pursuit of just one little point. Now you know why they scream and slide across the grass on their knees and fly around with their arms outstretched like NES-era Mario ready to take off whenever they score. A great weight, a couple hours of tapping rocks until that kindle is finally sparked. Tension tension tension, all the tensions of the world.

Lately I have been afflicted with a trifling bit of uninspired malaise, and I think it might have something to do with the dwindling of new and exciting experiences after coming off the highs of my arrival. I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’m now just a month shy of my first year in the country, and can’t help but make comparisons about how I feel now with how I believe I felt when I had just gotten here, as humans so errantly tend to do. Used to be every other weekend or more often would bring something new and exciting, and now things are less organic. Friday’s after-school drinking party was maybe my fifth or sixth, and the karaoke after that was definitively not the first time I’ve made a total dipshit out of myself in front of middle-aged men while drunk off all-you-can-slurp single malt whiskey. I haven’t left the city for Osaka or Kyoto or anywhere else too recently, surely due to combinations of elements: fatigue, money, the heat, other plans, and the laziness that such laziness ironically contributes to. I am even barely capable of enjoying such tiny joys as the UFO machines! My god.

To rectify every last bit of my existential lackadaisy, I have ordered an inexpensive commercial product from the Amazon website, just like real Japanese people do in their times of need. It is called an Otamatone, and like all good electronics manufactured here, is cute, novel, and ultimately useless. It is an object about the size of a ruler, shaped like a music note, with a music-playing touch-sensitive slider up the stem and a little face on the bottom like a rubber ball. You can squish its head to tweak the notes you play. Surely it will find a home among our perpetually grotesque series of living-room carnival attractions: busty PVC temptresses, die-cast metal robots with ejectable plastic eyes, outdated 1980s video game systems, art books featuring imaginary characters in improbable poses, and two giant posters advertising beer. Once I get it, I will set to work on playing assorted video game tunes, record them with the camera, and then put them on YouTube (and this website) for both of my readers to see. My ho-humness will be instantly obliterated by revolting joy.

Curious Japanese Shit of the Week
– The delicious dressing on my chicken cutlet sandwich, labeled in the ingredients only as “dressing”
– The Yamada Denki electronics store’s PC area, which has an entire wall with a sign above it that says in katakana “Mouse Corner,” despite there being no corners at all in which you might find mice
– The fact that I bought a three-pack of meatballs the other day for 228 yen, with each meatball pack being an air-sealed pouch containing seven meatballs in teriyaki sauce
– Creepy fishing pole garbage bag man (I will talk about this man next time)
– The wide variety of “beer-like products” available in the beer section of my grocery store, many of which are created with non-malt or barley ingredients for the sake of dodging heavy taxes, rendering it a damned chore to actually try new beers that may or may not be beer at all
– Today’s new product, Blizzard L soda, which purports to contain lots of vitamins but really just tastes like Red Bull
The End of Curious Japanese Shit of the Week

I finished my Japanese class the other day, after roughly sixteen classes spanning eight weeks. Though I can’t say that my normal conversation skills have improved too significantly, I now at least command some of the basic foundation skills in statement making and–occasionally–understanding what others are trying to tell me. At certain points in the class our sample conversations transcended common use and ebbed into the sublime: imagine meeting a person for the first time, asking them what country they are from, and then proposing that together you should go to the department store to buy a necktie. For my efforts, I received a little certificate proclaiming that I indeed took the class, as though without it I would have forgotten completely that I did so.

I still see it as an accomplishment, though a preliminary, minor one on the way to my goal of functional conversational Japanese. I suppose it is better to have taken this first step than it is to keep telling people in my most stoic Nihongo that I onion red tall reading three people last year. Regardless, the next term does not start until the second week of September or so, which will thankfully give me all of July and August to completely forget everything I’ve learned.

First I plan on forgetting grammatical constructions, and then all my vocabulary, and finally how to read and write. By September I will be two years old, just in time to turn twenty-seven. For my birthday celebration I will charge into a convenience store, buy a dirty magazine and a six pack, and then watch Doraemon cartoons on TV with my blanky.

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In My Life

This is every morning around 8:20, as I pass the shrine and crane my neck to see if the cats are here. There is a white one and a striped one. Sometimes the white one sleeps on the rock, sometimes he is just in the dirt. In the morning, the two of them rarely patrol the streets but today I catch the striped one crossing back from the photograph place. The Powers That Be seem to actively dislike the cats’ presence, putting up signs telling people who read Japanese not to feed them. They place full water bottles strategically around the perimeter, a non-confrontational approach designed to ensure the cats somehow see glimmering light or their reflection and are horrified to the point that they will never return. The same method is employed to prevent pigeons (hanging shiny CDs from string on your balcony), who to be fair are mostly stupid, and cats are on to your bullshit. It obviously does not work. I wonder what they are getting into when they are gone: rummaging through the impeccably bagged trash, terrorizing those stupid birds, snaking the hallways behind Mister Donut. At night on the way back to the station I take a look for them too, another seasonal fifty-fifty lottery chance like all the stupid gashapon machines I play. When they are there I’ve won for five seconds, look at the cats, look at the cats, time to keep walking.

In front of one of the alcohol vending machines (yes), there is a squishy green mat. I had walked over it every day for weeks because it was placed at such a nice break point in my walk, and it felt good under my brown work-things. One morning I was early enough to see the store keeper hit a button, lurch his metal garage door to life, declare his store open. At the door’s halfway he emerged with a squishy green mat and put it in front of the alcohol machine. I don’t walk on it anymore.

In the Sannomiya station sometimes there is a man with a traditional cone straw hat who seems inaudible until you are within fifteen feet, and then you hear the “ommmmmmmmmm” from his throat, the solemn gaze he gives out in front of him, through the escalator, like he’s eternally pondering the Sukiya menu, the gyudon or the cheese curry rice, what do I pick, oh jeez, omm. I am afraid if he makes his choice his glance will turn to me, and he will analyze the deepest faults of my inner character. For now it seems he is content to solicit donations for a cause that surely must be important enough to scare everyone who walks by. One day it was a lady, but I don’t think that helped.

Tonight my teachers are having a party for me at an “izakaya,” which is a Japanese-flavored drinking and snacking establishment where one pays a flat fee, and in exchange can drink mainly anything they want, and as much of it as they want, for a certain amount of time. There are also snacks routinely delivered to the table. In partial English muxed with worthless Japanese myself and another man made it clear to each other that we are individually Very Fans of The Beatles, and that the new remasters are excellent. One person said that he is very familiar with sake, and I think through someone’s errant translation he was told that I have a drinking problem. More alarming was his look of pleasure and excitement. I think tonight could either be really horrible, or really horrible.

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