Tag Archives: games

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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I do declare!

There’s this one black cat that I see every day I go to my main school, and he’s usually hangin’ out in this parking lot where he sleeps under a car or lies in the sun or on the windowsill. Sometimes he’ll wander across the street to this empty overgrown lot and just pounce around on shit. I wonder sometimes if he is there all night, all day, every day, if the trash pick-up area right out front serves as his food source. What reason could he ever have to leave?

I’ve been trying to think of the reasons I’d have to leave (Japan), just to play the advocate of devilry. It is a mostly stupid hypothetical musing, because I have no desire to leave, and because here I have a job, and enjoy my life. But here are some things that I wish were more available: really spicy food, cheap pizza, huge packs of meat, American football and ice hockey, really good beer (these go together), Family Members (aw).

But most of the things that I miss (and I use the term miss loosely, only to mean things that I can no longer engage in on a level that I am used to) are commercial. Activities like
– reading the ingredient lists on packages,
– fully understanding the numerous “point card” shopper reward systems and how I might best take advantage of them,
– possessing full awareness of restaurant menus and the items contained in the offered dishes,
– and best utilizing the quirky and numerous technology based conveniences fully (including but not limited to cell phone GPS, cell phone e-book reader, cell phone wireless train ticket payment system, cell phone music player, and other various things having to do with my cell phone).

None of these are deal-breakers. Despite our modern conveniences, we live a relatively minimalistic life here, and are afforded great conveniences by being in the middle of a large, bustling city with an entrenched English-speaking community of like-minded peers.

There is one thing that I wish was a little more simple though:

– placing reservations/pre-orders for anticipated products, most specifically the upcoming mega-behemoth Final Fantasy XIII Lightning-edition PlayStation 3 system bundle.

To the uninitiated, who I would anticipate are in no position to know of or read this website, and probably should not for any reason, every few years a new video game in the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series comes out here and the country is driven to a grinding productivity halt as enormous masses of people line up orderly and courteously for dozens of miles (ok not exactly) to get their hands on the juicy new title the moment it comes out. The newest one is the Thirteenth Installment in the Final Fantasy series, which I have been playing since the First Installment as a little tyke back in the early 90s on my big fat Nintendo. The makers of this game have seen it fit to create a special version of the PlayStation 3 system in honor of this bizarre milestone, and sell it together with a copy of said game. Having watched this madness from the outside through magazines and the Internet my entire life, and currently owning no PS3, I have decided that participation is the only choice!

If I already had a PS3 system and just wanted the game, I could be clinically retarded in a variety of ways and still manage to get one, probably. There are signs and advertisements all over the electronics stores, game shops, and even a variety of convenience stores, at which I could probably merely stumble to the counter, slap a ¥10,000 note on the tray, and say “Fainaru Fantajii SAATIIN GET ONEGAI SHIMAAAAAAS” (though such actions would likely cause my own body to self-destruct).

But I don’t, and so the only problem is figuring out how exactly one participates in the process of commercially declaring one’s intention to reserve not a copy of the game so popular that you can buy it at your local 7-11, but a Special Limited Edition System Bundle which is not pictured in any of the massive identical posters that hang from any number of surfaces and which I learned of due to my enthusiasm for specialist video game media. Jessy and I gave it a sporting conversational try (or should I say she tried, while I stood anxiously behind her trying to understand what was being said, biting my fingers and bobbing up and down), but had no luck until recently, when we discovered a new laminated placard in the RESERVATION KIOSK bearing a picture of the bundle and saying something like (we think) “orders for this item start on November 5th.” We got ourselves a membership card and I put the day on my calendar. The cashier said don’t worry, you will be able to get one, but I don’t trust him. I hear they are selling quickly, and I will be Damned if some punk gets one and I don’t (also I will murder him and take it).

So I guess I’ll just show up on the 5th and gesture wildly? These are situations in which a greater command of the language might be fortunate. Things like my actual job, paying bills, buying groceries? No problem! Popular but peculiar cultural pastimes: a bit more difficult. I figure, if I can get my students to bark with “woof woof” at each other like American dogs, I can figure out how to exchange money for this particular good. A suspenseful conflict awaits, avid readers!

Since I am already thinking about video games, perhaps it would be prudent to remark on the amount of free time I now have to play them. Let me just say that I took my fifteen-minutes-on-foot commute to work in Pittsburgh for granted. A fifty- to sixty-minute walk/train commute to work each way isn’t bad (and I can even get in a little time on the handheld games while I ride), but waking up early in the morning and going to bed early in the evening is certainly a bit of an antithesis of the way I had gotten used to living my life over the last three years, a life composed largely of strolling in for my ten hour workday at noon, staying up far too late with whatever happened to be distracting me, and sleeping in to my heart’s content, with Friday off and the weekends free. Now I have this thing called a live-in significant other (though the apartment is in her name, so does that mean I am the live-in?), a forty-hour five-day workweek, supper for two to cook (or otherwise acquire) every night, and one television (which needs to be either used at the same time or traded off). For some reason this combination of elements has resulted in my personal perception of having far less available “now I can be lazy” time than I am used to, and has led me to understand maybe why the handheld games are more popular in this country than the big TV ones: you gotta be home to play those, and your family in your tiny one-TV apartment wants to do something other than watch you shoot guys and level up (I have been watching Jessy level up her Lost Odyssey characters for over thirty hours in the last few weeks now, and it is a Disheartening other side of the coin).

Where is the time? How am I supposed to stay up late when I wake up at six, and how am I supposed to get up early to play before work when I wake up at six? More importantly, should it always be my goal to somehow find more time to play video games, when there are other things that I like doing too?

I think maybe that black cat has the answers, which is why I’m thinking that one of these days I’m going to sneak that can of tuna I got at the Daiso with me to school, then crack it open for him on my way home, and ask him what he thinks, how he is able to live such a totally chill kinda life. I know that a lot of people here frown on eating in public, but I saw an old man slurping some oden out front of the toy store today, and cats are just cats, and this tuna was already here, wakarimasen, sumimasen, I don’t speaking any Japanese sorry bye.

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Finishing in Tokyo, Akihabara, and oddities

Every meal here in our hotel comes with a tiny, limp bread roll and creamy margarine that feels like salad oil in my mouth, and the eggs have a similar consistency–like instant, but creamy?  Goopy perhaps?  With pepper on them I have almost forgotten how fucked it is.  Random announcements pour forth from overhead speakers nearly everywhere I go.  My pockets are routinely filled and then immediately emptied of 100-yen coins, which are accepted in every single coin-slot-having machine (and there are more of them than even I had allowed myself to believe prior to coming here).

I just purchased a bag of snack chips called “Mammoth meat!?” and I opened the package and by god if it doesn’t smell like popping open a jar of dried beef.  Each chip pops apart into individual sections too.  I could write individual entries on everything I’ve done in the last two days.  I think the theme of the week is more or less sensory overload: overwhelmed, overburdened, overstimulated, overjoyed.

We got to Akihabara tonight by taking the JR Rail system, a feat so gargantuan it’s difficult to describe, but feels somewhat like what I imagine it is to be a salmon swimming upstream.  I went to a store called Super Potato, which I think must be the most extensive and cramped retro video game store in the world.  I ate katsudon at some restaurant and bought the new black Wii Classic Controller Pro at Sofmap.  Tomorrow I take the Shinkansen to my new home in Kobe. Life is pretty weird right now.

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