Tag Archives: evangelion

Dakota!

Before I bust out the formal Japanese request, which will incorporate the word “show window,” because that is how you refer to a show window in Japanese, I consider my options regarding the thin piece of expensive plastic resting inside the case. The first option is to walk away as though I never saw this desirable item, and regret the choice for the rest of my life. The second option is the only real one, and that is to buy it immediately, because the only meaning that one can possibly assign to life in Japan is related to the purchase, consumption, and enjoyment of material goods.

Five thousand two hundred and fifty yen is not the most that I’ve ever spent on a relatively useless and mainly ornamental object, but it is certainly the most I’ve spent on a piece of plastic with no implied or provocative semi-nudity. However, unlike the lascivious indiscretions of years past, this particular thingy is absolutely one-of-a-kind, because there is only one like it! It is an animation cel from my favorite anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, a distinct single frame of animation! Have you seen the End of Evangelion movie? If you have, you’ve seen a real live picture of what I bought. People who make cartoons paint each frame onto a clear piece of plastic like this, then shoot them in sequence on top of backgrounds and poof magic is made. This one is from the final episode of the series, just before the crying character is liquified into glorious LCL goo. Observe!

As you, stalwort reader, have deduced, I’ve gone back to Mandarake, a geek-store I was first acquainted with last week in Fukuoka. This time I’m in Shinsaibashi, a trendy shopping district of Osaka–more specifically, I’m in “Amerikamura,” a subdivision still of Shinsaibashi. Amerikamura means essentially America Village, and there are all kinds of stores representing the Japanese projection of what American culture is like (everyone in America dresses like a hip-hop thug who accidentally signed up for a production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat).

After I buy the Evangelion cel, I wade into the section of the upper floor of this particular store devoted to hentai doujinshi, which means in English “fan-produced adult-geared magazines full of pervy drawings of your beloved anime and video game characters engaging in degrading, filth-ridden acts.” In narrow rows of bookshelves stacked from floor to ceiling with magazines in little plastic bags and multi-thousand-yen video tapes, I feel like a tiny mouse in a dark corner of the furthest recesses of the human id, where all twisted desires manifest themselves via the overeager pens of peculiar illustrators. As I am searching for a magazine that contains some characters I am familiar with being degraded just slightly enough for me to be comfortable putting it on my bookshelf, a man wearing a fanny pack scuffles past me, saying “‘scuse me!” in Japanese, then turns excitedly to look at a section I am sure he already knows is precisely there. Then he says “oh, it’s here!” and digs in, as though there is absolutely nothing strange about seeing a well-endowed female ninja drawn left looking like an Iowa State Fair corndog with a guitar stuck up her for better grip. Surely he is just browsing, like one casually browses the cereal aisle or the butter cooler in the supermarket, the Violent Hand Axe section of the local weaponry store. I don’t see what exactly he is looking at. It is perhaps for the best. The magazine I have just picked up involves a girl in a maid outfit who has been hooked up to some sort of bodily inflation device, at the seeming mercy of at least three ne’er-do-wells. The thing the guy picks up is nearby. Though I am barely aware of my surroundings I say aloud “nope not happening” and walk back to the CD section, staring at a Konami album to burn an image of Vic Viper into my brain instead of the latex-clad balloon ladies while repeating the Mr. Saturn mantra only five can ladder only five can ladder only five can ladder.

CURIOUS JAPANESE-ERY OF THE TIME
– A store in Amerikamura called “Global Junk Food,” in which we purchased a “macaroni cheddar cheese burrito” and eight tiny donuts that were actually deep-fried fun-size Snickers bars
– The Japanese television coverage of the New Zealand earthquake, which said little about the total number of actual casualties but presented us with a handy graphic reporting the status of people in New Zealand who are Japanese and whether they have been crushed or not
– A good bowl of ramen I had, called on the menu “Shiawase Ramen,” meaning “happy ramen” (it made me happy)
– My students’ final presentations, during which they need to present an imaginary “invention” that they created, and which are absolutely completely insane
– New Cup Noodle flavor PorkGinger, which is typefaced exactly like that and which, though I have not eaten it yet, I theorize tastes like pork and ginger
– My psychotic cat, who somehow gets both lazier and more spastic each day
END OF CURIOUS JAPANESE-ERY

It’s almost the end of February which means that like clockwork the weather magically does not completely suck any more. Today I was able to come to school without a scarf or mittens, and soon I won’t even need the heavy coat anymore. Though we celebrate the new year here on January first, all Japanese people know that the new year doesn’t really start until after the cherry blossoms start blooming and the new school terms kick in during April. Japan begins again, and for now I enjoy the end of the school year and an extended period of time during which I will absolutely not say “see you” to anyone.

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SUPERMARKET FANTASY

I have taken to occasionally enjoying a cigar on my Tuesday evenings, just a small one. I usually pick one out from the pack tenderly like I’m examining a flip-top coffin full of grasshoppers, confused but interested in its grotesqueness. The ritual is still new to me. They are just little guys, the size of golf pencils, and finish in something like ten minutes, if I am paying attention to what I am doing. I always wanted to be a cigar smoker, but never a smoker. There have been times in my life when I’ve smoked, though I never considered my smoking making me one who smokes, just a man who at this time, and during times occasional in the past and future, has and will do the same.

It is a strangely isolated pursuit for me, most chiefly because of how I must do it. I can’t just curl up in my chair with a tiny implement and a game controller, or puff away in the kitchen. I need to proceed outside to my balcony, structured more for utility than enjoyment, and drag on among my drying clothes and air conditioning vent fan. I sit on the concrete, back against my sliding glass door, and peer between socks or undergarments out into the evening. On floor seven surrounded by monolithic apartment buildings I feel totally alone but also as though I am being watched–by anyone, by everyone, by someone, at least. But I am also low enough to the ground that I can peer over the railing at the people biking or walking. They are surely oblivious to the tiny man up on floor seven having a novel Cuban cigar and barely peeking through his railing. A miniature thrill.

I focus on the tastes that I notice: warm flavors, the tinge of wood, of sweetness. On the Internet they tell me that people often associate their cigars with spiciness, and it becomes immediately apparent, like eating chocolate with chilis in it. You are supposed to swish the smoke around in your mouth but not inhale it as you do with other smoked material. I do it wrong the first few times and realize my error.

This is my solitude, my Japanese isolation. I stream music through my Playstation and pump it out the screen door for something to break the ambient distance-grind of whining motorcycles.

I usually make it about seven minutes before going back inside.

It’s 27 degrees today, which is much hotter than it sounds to someone used to Fahrenheit, though I cannot give you the exact number without working to discover it. Me, I haven’t been fully able to internalize the conversion scales, both due to their complexity and owing to the fact that all it would do would be allow me to transpose one meaningless number for another. Instead, what I do know is that 27 feels about like this: uncomfortable, moist, the absence of pleasantness. The Firm Awareness that spring is over and I don’t want to be outside anymore. Each degree higher adds another level of discomfort. When we get to 30 or 31, as we were upon my arrival in Japan, the repeated cries of “hot, hot” throughout the office will be the only things I hear from the staff members that aren’t blowing days of paid time off in a row.

I have made it another week without turning on the apartment air conditioner, a minor achievement since I would have done it last night without Jessy’s unreasoned, threatless warnings not to. It is both my failing as an independent man and my escalating success as a future husband that I credit with this blind, defeatist patience. I have recognized that it is worth even less to get what I want than it is to preserve the effort I would need to expend to argue with that beast in my own defense. Hi, Jessy!

Things are as busy as they have been for a month or so now. The day job, evening Japanese classes, teaching night school, social functions of all sorts, and natural human fatigue are all working together to keep me from cooking up any magnificent schemes, the kinds of things testament to the potential of guys with too much time on their hands (can openers built from LEGO bricks, balloon-popping laser guns harvested from CD drives, pizzas topped with cheeseburgers). I tell myself on occasion that it is for the best, that this routine busy-ness will allow me to cherish the times I do have free. But it is a lie. When I find myself with nothing to do I am compelled merely to enjoy a beer and my wild cherry incense, staring blankly at the match-up screen for Super Street Fighter IV. True relaxation?

So what I’ve ultimately decided is that I am probably happier busy, but just get tired too quickly. I’ve gone from compulsively waking up at 6:45 to waking up at 6:00, and the last two days it’s been 5:15 with no desire to go back to bed. This usually results in my getting home from the day around 9:20 and immediately falling asleep on the living room rug while Jessy idles away on the PC until one a.m. for no reason. Did I mention it’s really hot right now?

As if to make matters somehow better, I received in the mail yesterday two video games I’ve been waiting on for a while, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. A joke! A cruel fucking joke from the universe to me. The bright spot at the end of this ridiculous tunnel is that Japanese classes go on hiatus beginning at the end of the month, and so do classes for summer break, leaving essentially the whole of July and August rather stress free. I will go in to the office as usual, but need not do any teaching or studying, and things will be good except for the Brutal Humid Heat!

As I mentioned last week, I did indeed make it to Osaka’s Nipponbashi (or Den Den Town), the Kansai area otaku’s holy Mecca of all things anime and retro-gaming. Inside one store, Englishized from the Japanese as “Retro TV Game Revival,” I found my Famicom, modified with AV cables so it can work on modern TVs. Work it does–and reminds me of the better (worse) times, when the mere display of an image on the TV was good enough to classify your system as working. The picture this thing puts out is Not Good, especially compared to the flawless output of my magical homebrewed Wii retrobox paradise. But it does output, which I suppose is all I ask. The controller cables are also a comical length, maybe three feet? And hardwired directly into the system. Joy!

JAPANESE BEE’S KNEES
– The new Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, a man who is known mostly for being not from a political family, and for being prone to irateness
– Goddamned McDonalds, who took my favorite menu item, the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi (red spicy deep fried chicken sandwich), which has been a regular menu item since I arrived last August, off the stupid menu and replaced it with nothing of any value
– The new Evangelion 2.22 movie finally coming out on Blu-ray and being the highest selling Blu-ray in Japanese consumer history
– A man in the station today, who on his bag bore a rubber keychain with an emblem reading in all capital block letters, “SUPERMARKET FANTASY,” and the consideration mentally of what exactly such a thing might be
– Online shopping in Japan, a process during which you select not only the exact day but the down-to-the-hour time range that you want the goods to be delivered (up to 9 p.m. even on weekends), and then pay the courier in cash for your stuff when he arrives
– New Cup Noodle flavor “MEAT KING,” which is loaded with chunks of dehydrated, brown-colored salty meat, and little bits of dehydrated chickeny meat, and which is really delicious, at least about as delicious as Cup Noodle can get
– The vending machines, which all humorously were switched out to stop offering the hot versions of their drinks on June 1st just as all the office workers changed their wardrobes
FEE FI FO FUM

I managed to order a random grab bag of ten Famicom cartridges with my cell phone entirely in Japanese last week, and they were delivered COD to my apartment tonight. More and more I come under the impression that my Famicom will be used less as a legitimate gaming device, and mostly as the tool with which to humorously cruise through these grab bags of cheap games. I am surprisingly okay with this. Inside this first bag, among the original Super Mario Bros., Tiny Toon Adventures 2, and some mahjong game, was a copy of a game literally translated as Princess Tomato of the Kingdom of Salad. It got an English release in 1991, the accomplishing of which I am sure involved some sort of miracle on the part of the guy pitching that one to the board (okay, you are a princess, and you are a tomato, and you are in a kingdom made of salad, and the game is a text adventure entirely in Japanese, and I want to translate it and sell it to kids for fifty dollars each). I will tell you what the man likely did after the board of directors gave him the go-ahead for that one: sat on his balcony and smoked a nice cigar, even if he wasn’t sure why.

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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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The backbone of America

This was a busier week as it seems retrospectively than as it occurred: I had essentially the entire span free of classes because of end-of-term exams.

My out-of-work free time remaining as it does normally, I did make it a point to pick up an old-style vertically scrolling shoot-em-up game for the 360, densely titled Mushihimesama Futari Ver 1.5, which (I think) translates to Two-Persons Honorable Beetle Princess (Version 1.5). You basically shoot everything and sparkly jewels fly out of them and they shoot so many bullets that the genre of game is referred to lovingly as “bullet hell” and you try not to get hit by the bullets. It was kind of expensive but it came with a limited edition 2 CD soundtrack and a fancy box.

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Other crap I bought this week:
– A bunch of Final Fantasy stuff in anticipation of the upcoming game including two tiny “trading arts” mini-figures, an electronic Chocobo which chirps when you touch its feet, and several cans of Final Fantasy XIII Elixir, a promotional beverage that you can read my review of over at N-Sider.
– A Robocop Kewpie charm for my cell phone
– Evangelion 2.0 calendar from Lotteria burger restaurant and small gashapon figure from the machines on the way out of massive toy/game/electronic/appliance store Joshin
– Two new Wii Remotes for multiplayer New Super Mario Bros. (pink and baby blue)
– Wireless adapter for my 360 so we don’t need to have a cable running directly across the middle of the apartment floor for it to be online
– Another work shirt, sweater, and some t-shirts
– A huge box of American Blu-rays during Amazon’s crazy Black Friday online sale
– A big chunk of debt pay-off from my Pittsburghian credit card

Obvious and apparent necessities that I should have bought instead of all that stuff, but didn’t:
– A couch
– A sukiyaki hot plate and clay pot
– Some self respect

Jessy has made a sort of bargaining agreement with me to the extent that if I stop buying little 300/400 yen gashapons all the time and get rid of many of the ones that I already have, I can save the money I would have spent on them and instead buy nice bigger figures that don’t fall apart and are actually capable of being (somewhat) tastefully displayed. Maybe some of you can look forward to receiving my offal in gift packages.

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Friday night we visited the Kobe Luminarie, a once-per-year ten-day-longish exhibition in memorial of the Great Hanshin Earthquake (January, 1995). This Luminarie thing is pretty impressive. They set up massive archways entirely made of lights hung over one of the big streets leading from the Motomachi area into downtown Sannomiya. Once you finish walking underneath them you enter a large area with a sort of light-castle set up and scads of booths selling snacks, souvenirs, and hot beverages. This trip was prefaced by a trip to the once-elusive Mexican cafe “Gitchi,” which we had failed to locate on prior occasions but located this time. I had the distinctly fusion-Mex Taco Rice, and Jessy had a barbecue chipotle beef taco plate. Mexican food is such a rarity here that I can hardly remember if it was even good. What it was was Mexican food, which speaks for itself.

We had the pleasure of going to a Vissel Kobe soccer match on Saturday, a day that started really cold and shitty but ended up cold and pretty nice. You may recall my last post wherein I mentioned that I might need some mental lubrication to really enjoy the game: this was true, and after a nice big paper cup full of fresh stadium Asahi Super Dry I was quite pleased to be there. Of particular note (more so than the game itself, which was a 90-minute affair during which each team scored once ending the game in a tie) were the food offerings, my favorite of which turned out to be Cup Ramen. Yes, you can buy hot cups of ramen at soccer games here, and for only 200 yen they are an incredible and delicious bargain, massively shaming the extortion-class prices for food at ball games back in the states. The brand name of the ramen we got was “NOODLE GOO!” which means basically nothing in either English or Japanese. There was even a little speech bubble coming out of the ramen on the package which proclaimed “GOO!” I have never seen this brand of ramen before in my life.

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Curious Japanese Shit of the Week:
– Five girls dressed as tall human-sized Pikachus hopping around in the Luminarie courtyard in a circle
– Passing a couple of youngish students who neither Jessy nor I believed to be ours, as they waved at us and said “hello!”
– Noodle Goo
– A man at a ramen shop we went to yesterday suggesting the garlic shoyu and then becoming so enthusiastic about greeting another patron that he proceeded to somewhat humorously sound like he was having some sort of seizure (this one is hard to describe but is surely rooted in the perceptible projection of seeming subservient to the customer re: irrashaimaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee etc.)
– Baking a refrigerated pizza at 230 degrees Celcius (447? Fahrenheit) in my microwave oven, with mayonnaise sauce instead of tomato, and teriyaki chicken, cheese, and corn toppings
– Paying 295 yen for one large pear, wrapped in weaved foam
– Beginning to watch the excellent program Mad Men and finding myself being personally alarmed at “how good their English is” (this is an American TV show)

With winter break and the closing of schools impending the question becomes exactly what will we do with our time off, knowing fully that all the other poor overworked salarymen of the country will be flocking to everywhere anyone would want to go? I don’t think either of us know quite yet, though we have essentially convergent periods of time off from around Christmas till several days after New Year’s. We indeed will stay in Japan this time around, but that’s about all we know.

As for Christmas, well. I can see no better way to spend it than with a traditional Japanese Christmas Meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken, some festive sparkling Chu-hi, and a Christmas cake (I am not joking, KFC is the Japanese Christmas food, Colonel Sanders has been dressed up in a Santa suit since Halloween).

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The Easter Bunny Vespucci

The time difference has introduced peculiarities into the measures with which I am to judge precisely at what rate I am decaying: though I took my first glance at this Earthy place at around four in the morning, in Iowa time, I suppose the demarcation of one’s “Birth Day” does indeed cover all hours of the associated unit.

That said, it’s my birthday right now, where I am, anyway, here in Japan, by Japanese time. But my body’s clock senses the lie. It knows that not for another hour will it have become the tenth in Iowa, where I came from, and it feels slighted. However, joy of joys: I will celebrate for all of my Japanese birthday, and then, at three p.m. Japan time, when it becomes the tenth in Iowan time, I will Start My Birthday Over Again, to fanciful effect.

I have spent the day teaching my children about Thanksgiving, the mysterious United States version of the holiday anyway, a compelling story that begins formally in the year 1621, when some people from England decided they wanted to believe basically the same things as the government said but a little differently, and then brought a bunch of diseases to the people of America as a present. One of my students, after having been told the story of Squanto (in English) had only this to say when I asked him “Who was Squanto?”:

Santa Claus.

Of course! The Famous Native American Santa Claus, who helped the pilgrims survive their stupid adventure and then took the next day off to drop presents in all their chimneys.

It’s okay if you can’t understand the history of Thanksgiving, I tell them. It’s mostly about being a pig and eating a lot of food, then maybe watching football on TV if you are ambitious enough to hit the power button on your remote. They also really enjoy it when I tell them what gravy is, and extol its virtues.

The last several days have been what I have come, generally, to expect, with a few exceptions: after a delicious stop at a ramen place in Sannomiya, Jessy and I popped into NAMCO LAND, which is an enormous video arcade with an entire wing devoted to UFO catchers, which I have talked about in here before I think. These are crane games, only in Japan they are actually popular, and have awesome prizes, and there are Arcade Attendants who monitor the machines and restock them right after you win stuff, and basically ensure a bitchin’ time. In fact I probably need to write a Nomaday some time about all the different varieties that they have. Anyway the exception is that I actually won something cool: an Evangelion statue figure thing.

When I won it went PING as the little claw flicked the ring holding the box up off of the peg, and then I felt like the most sweet and cool person alive and it was the best. Also this week I finally picked up Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii from the library of games I brought over and proceeded to get all the stars in it and unlock the Luigi mode which was pretty cool.

Tonight I think I might go out for that fabled delicious Kobe beef steak for the first time, as a birthday treat. If I never write again, know that it was because the steak was so delicious that I am comatose, or that I choked on it.

I have to teach a class in a minute, so this will be a little short for a Nomaday. In the words of myself, as I often end class, “See you next time! Okay you can go. Please leave now goodbye.”

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Little Shop of Horrors

“A little weird, so…”  He gestures to my nose, points what looks like an airbrush at my face.  To numb me, he says, to numb the insides, the nasal canal.

I have told him about the problems I sometimes have with my right ear, the way everyone’s voices become echoey, the way I can hear my heartbeat, hear myself breathe, that moving my jaw around like I’m some sort of dead-faced Mask-era Jim Carrey makes it occasionally start or stop.  I’m at a Japanese hospital, one that even touts itself as international.  Like all places and services tolerant of and/or designed for foreigners in Japan however, today I’m the only American there.

He sprays it up there, the little paint well filled with piss-colored anesthetic, some primordial nasal date rape to get me acquainted with the idea of his foot-long thick-spaghetti-sized endoscope travelling up (and then down) my nose/throat/whatever.  I literally see him lube it up in front of me, but I’m looking past the blob of viscous gloop and to the TV monitor, upon which is projected the image from the end of the endoscopic camera.  “Maybe we can even take a look at your vocal cords,” he says gleefully as he slides it in.  I watch him part the hairs of my nose from inside, a red sea, then vague images of pulsing matter.  “Your eustachian tubes are fine!”  A droplet of cold lube drips down from one nostril but I cannot speak or move, all Neo-from-the-Matrix only the fucking thing is down my throat instead of in a port at the back of my neck.  I can’t remember if I’m breathing, the images get stranger and stranger as I start focusing less on the TV and more on the fact that I just want the goddamned thing out, but he cannot get enough.  “Look at this!  Do you see this opening!  This is where blah blah blah whatever man I want it out.  I cough on it, feels like someone’s got a hunk of Twizzlers stuffed down there, but this man is all glee.

“Remember we said we’d look at your vocal cords!”  He shoves it down further and I’m being mined for precious ore, all I can muster is a vague gesture, an anemic dual-handed kung-fu push-off, a geriatric Hadouken, eyes half-squinted but transfixed on the peculiar images on TV, pull it out pull it out jesus christ!

“Look at the vocal cords!  Say one two three four five!  AHAHAH!!!!”  He is actually literally saying this.  He is a maniac.  Then he says “enough?” as he twists the fucking thing, I am gagging, there is a Wendy’s Frostie maker in my sinuses, then it’s out like a T-1000 metal rod, gel dripping out my nose.

All I can muster is a “jeez, sorry.”  His expert diagnosis: we don’t have any specific treatment, whoops!  I tell him, I need to, you know, I gotta talk to teach, I gotta hear the volume of my voice.  He laughs!  He laughs at me!  “Maybe your own solution works well enough,” he says, and I assume he’s referring to my swinging my jaw around like it’s connected with a slack balljoint.  I tell him no, no it doesn’t really, and that is it.  In Japan I pay only 30% of the bill for their trouble, a scant ¥810 for the privledge of violation.  I have, upon further review, made far worse personal decisions in this life than this.

Later, after being “cured,” I sought retail therapy with Jessy.  We came away with a festival bounty, Mark III, a ten-ton walrus stuffed with goodies:  UNIQLO clothing.  A book and DVD set about a Japanese cat named Maru (book title “I am Maru”) who is famous for being lazy, sliding in boxes, and doing stupid shit while looking cute, or in other words, famous for being a cat.  Two separate ass-whipping gashapons (Eva Unit 01 and a “Lunar Rabbit” girl Mina with a giant carrot weapon), the best ones of each set on our first try.  A bag full of snacks from “Donki,” which is a store which bears the actual name for some reason of “Don Quixote.”  Chicken and egg okonomiyaki, a variety of dumb shit from the 100-yen store, and a spicy homemade stir-fry donburi capped the evening.

At night, I listen for the wails of the doctor, and sense the slick black endoscopic plastic slithering along my tatami.  It cries “this is not the last time, this is not the end.”

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Oh My Gashapon

In the states you drop in your quarter (or two or three or four), turn the crank, and are delivered a totally worthless piece of shit: a sticker, a flimsy plastic football helmet with a sticker you must apply yourself, a capsule full of slimy goop that will stain the walls of all your friends’ houses.

In Japan, they’re called Gashapon, because of the noise the machines make when you turn the crank and the bubble drops into the receptacle for you.  Gasha… PON!  Here, you pay a little more, dropped into a coin slot like a gambling machine.  For the junky stuff, it’s only a buck (¥100).  This includes things like cute little dogs, non-licensed keychains and cellphone straps, and other stupid figurines.  For the better stuff, it’s 200–this will get you cool licensed stuff like small-ish Shinkenger keitai charms, little noise-making devices, one of a variety of ridiculously detailed Wii sets, one of eight Mario Kart power-up toys (I got the golden King Mushroom from a machine outside Toho last night).

Drop 300 and now we are talking: my favorite Evangelion ones come from 300-yen machines and are extravagant: a cellophane roll of painted and shaped body parts that come in large baseball-sized twist-open capsules, fitted with pegs so you can assemble your little treasure yourself. I am woefully pathetically unable to resist their calls, and the suspense of wondering which of the (usually six) possible objects of the set that you will get is simply too much. I’ve gotten a Ritsuko, a Rei, and an Asuka from those (Eva machines are kind of rare, surprisingly).

There are Mos Burgers, a set of Wii stuff next to a Sukiya near Sannomiya station, a whole array of goodies (including one of my known Eva machines) out the back entrance of Tsutaya/Yamada Denki on Center-gai, and something like ten Eva machines in the theater where we saw the movie (sadly out ten minutes from Motomachi station and too far to casually dump money into). There’s a set of machines near this big 100-yen shop that has Ultramans and monsters, Konami characters from Rumble Roses, and dozens of anime characters.

100-yen coins, I hardly knew ye. Let us hasten our search for a shelf that can contain the manifestation of my adolescent desire for tiny, cheap Japanese figures, and fervently pray (in inevitable vain?) that this distraction does not cross over into the realm of multi-thousand-yen PVC figures in various states of undress.

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I saw Evangelion 2.0, and it was really sweet

I feel as though I have accomplished something great!  But really all I did was go see an anime.  And bought a toy from a capsule machine.  And a little art book/movie pamphlet.  And downloaded a screensaver.  Oh, life!

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