Tag Archives: gundam

I’m Pat Sajak and Vanna White

I can always tell when someone’s from somewhere else cause I get stuck on the escalator. Yet another unwritten rule of Japan: in Kobe you stand on the right and walk on the left. When I’m parading down the left side all “la-dee-dah gonna miss my train” and see a traffic jam I look ahead to whomever’s in front, comfortable in the knowledge that they are not one of us, that they are the outsider, and that even if they don’t realize it, they understand how I once felt here. For the tiniest moment, I have something significant in common with a random stranger passing through, and I want to tell the poor shit to take a step to the right you dumbass, and open your fucking eyes. But I usually just exchange glances with a surly looking elderly person nearby, glances which say “normally we would hate each other, but let’s hate that person screwing up the escalator instead, together. Man that guy sucks.”

In other news yesterday Japan made the bold political decision to do nothing regarding the selection of their current Prime Minister to the office he already holds, a leader who they did not elect, but who they have now elected merely by striking everything they said last year down and admitting that no, we thought change was good when we chose the LDP, but Hatoyama was a nutjob, and then we got Kan, and Kan’s okay right? it’s easier to just leave it this way, change is bad, Yes We Kan(‘t), let’s enjoy Hokkaido butter. I agree with all of that except the Kan stuff, which I basically have no opinion about because since I am a dirty foreigner I can’t vote anyway so who gives a shit. The yen is now at a rate of 82 for a dollar! I’m rich, or would be if I could actually save any money and didn’t have to send tons of it home every month to make the minimum loan payments.

Speaking of using money wisely, on Friday after work I’m hopping on a bullet train to Tokyo, from where I will zip along the bay to Chiba for my first trip to the Tokyo Game Show, a dream I’ve had since I was but a wee young lad. As N-Sider’s Japanese correspondent I will deliver a variety of articles under the guise of journalism. At the Tokyo Game Show an attendee is surrounded by lines of people who are waiting to play the brand-new barely-ever-seen unreleased games that he would like to play, but cannot because there are too many people. I assume. Also there is a thing called Cosplay Alley, where young males and females of varying levels of attractiveness exhibit the costumes they’ve spent fortunes on by dressing up like characters from anime, manga, and video games, 10% of which are mainstream enough for a person to recognize. Am I making it sound like I have been to TGS before? I haven’t. These are just guesses, like how I am guessing that tomorrow will still be not cold.

With the secret of the pressure-activated ass-blasting nozzles now firmly revealed (I read an article about them, during which I discovered that the bidet people found the “best angles” by collecting data from upwards of fifty seriously devoted company employees), there are now precious few mysteries remaining as I continue to persist here in this off-beat land. I set about tackling a couple of them in tandem the other night: special giveaway contests and online Japanese auctions. See, in Japan you can participate in a giveaway contest for almost every field and with nearly every product. They are usually targeted to obsessive otaku geeks like me (I am in the process of sending away five “special stamps” from limited edition packets of Cup Noodle for a shot at one of a thousand special Cup Noodle plastic Gundam models). Another easy target is shut-in losers with nothing else in their lives to look forward to or derive pleasure from but a contest win, a category I don’t particularly desire to place myself in but well.

Invariably these things are called “campaigns,” and they will always successfully terminate with a “present,” the number of which will be given away always being clearly stated. The word campaign used to make me think of only politics or military war events before I moved to Japan, and now all I can think of is photographing QR barcodes on the backs of gummy packages and limited edition Yoshinoya beef crossovers with Daily Yamazaki convenience stores for special gyudon steamy buns. For kicks, I sometimes imagine these are military activities anyway and that the Japan Self Defense Force is secretly manufacturing Coca-Cola sandals in an effort to protect themselves from North Korea.

My personal vice is gaming, and so one of the first courses of action I took when I arrived in Japan was registering for Club Nintendo, a point-accumulation reward program that delivers menial amounts of points to you as you spend godforsaken amounts of cash on Nintendo products and type in the special codes that are included on little papers that come inside the box. Accumulate enough points in one October to September campaign period (400), and you reach “platinum status” for that year, entitling you to a free, mysterious present that they announce and ship out roughly six months after the period has ended. In the past they have given out stuff like special-design accessories, a TV remote that looks like a Wii controller, plush Mario hats, and last year an exact replica of the first Nintendo Game and Watch (Ball). For dweebs like me the elements of fan-servicey fan-service combined with the knowledge of a proven track record for platinum gifts along with the mystery (oh god if I don’t hit platinum status I won’t get the free prize even though I have no idea what it will be but I am sure it is going to be GOOD!) synthesize a brutal cocktail–there was simply no “deciding” whether or not I was going to get platinum status, I Must.

Therein lies the rub. Despite going out of my way to this year purchase three Wii Remotes, a MotionPlus accessory, two Classic Controller Pros, Mario Kart Wii, an extra steering wheel, a black nunchuk accessory, Wii Fit with a Balance Board, Sin and Punishment 2, Captain Rainbow, Super Mario Strikers Charged, and some other shit I am surely forgetting, I now have (two weeks from the end of the campaign year) a paltry, insulting 285 points, relegating me to pathetic “gold” status, for which I will receive the shittiest calendar known to man.

Enter mystery number two: Yahoo! Auctions! I mean, why not? There have to be lots of people who are addicted to selling stuff in online auctions instead of chasing impossible contests, right? As it turns out, yes! A cursory Yahoo! Auctions search turned up a man who for the low price of only about 15 bucks was willing to sell me a full 400 points worth of Club Nintendo codes, enough for me to hit platinum this year and get me damned close next year. So I bought it! (Well, after I spent thirty minutes making my Japanese Yahoo account, registering it for the auction website, and figuring out how to actually bid.) After I won the auction I realized there was a problem and that problem was that I had no idea how to pay the man without a credit card. So I sent him an insultingly simplistic Japanese language e-mail asking “where does the money go” and he responded with a list of Japanese banks and numbers and his name and all this shit that I tried and failed to type into the ATM last night and so I haven’t given him his money yet but I sure will try again soon. In conclusion I am doing some stuff in Japanese that I didn’t think I could do but I seem to be capable of doing (sort of). Mysteries obliterated! Was that interesting to read? I doubt it.

KIKIWATCH 2010

Here, look at my fucking cat:

Man Kiki is just the coolest. He is comfortable enough now to actually be out and about as long as we don’t make any crazy sudden movements involving our scary legs. The other day I found him just chillin’ in the bathroom sink, all like “what.” He sometimes comes up on the couch now, he plays with his toy which is a little fuzzy thing on a stick, and he also really loves it when I give him this special meat snack thing which is like a big hunk of moist fish jerky. Also, when the fatass runs out of food and water at 3:35 in the morning, he walks into my bedroom, plops down on the floor next to me, and meows until I wake up and refill them. Surprisingly enough this doesn’t fill me with rage and hate like it used to do with other pets, perhaps because I know that this one is my pet, and this apartment is my apartment, and if I refuse to be kind to the cat there is nobody else for him to bother except Jessy, who is more of a loose cannon. I heard her saying “shut up shut up shut up” to the cat yesterday morning at 3:35, which is just stupid since he is a cat and he can’t understand you because he is Japanese and doesn’t speak very good English you twerp.

END OF KIKIWATCH

I guess I should be proud that I made it through twelve weeks of this year at night school before not really knowing what to do anymore–my kids here are of such disparate skill levels that to play any game that implies or requires English ability is essentially a wash with most of them, and a game that requires equal participation from everyone is equally futile since generally none of them want to be here. The best games are of the kind where students are prompted for no more than a letter, number, or word of their choosing, and after Pictionary, a number counting game, a mystery word game, hangman, vocabulary bingo, Jeopardy, and a few other things, I am all but tapped out. Tonight I will take a big leap to a new game I have made up called hot seat, where I will present the class with a basic list of adjectives, and then for the first half of class I will describe simple objects using basic adjectives and get them to try to guess what I am talking about. For the second half I will force a sampling of students to describe a mystery object themselves to the rest of the class, which will likely fail miserably.

Or I’ll just play hangman with point values and call it Wheel of Fortune then drown my sorrows in vending machine beer on my walk home.

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Moeagare, Moeagare, Moeagare

It seems that the people of Japan are primarily disinterested in being Taros-of-all-trades, or at least you would not be far off-base for thinking so upon your first trip into one of the large hobby stores to be found around here. For the purposes of this examination, the Yuzawaya in downtown Kobe, a multi-floor gargantuan packed with all manner of crap, though multi-floor around here means far less than single-floor. Back home, people dabble, or commit casually to some time-gobbling pursuit: the knitter, the cook, the card player. In Japan, I can come away with no better observation than to say that people pick one, and commit hard. On my favorite floor there is a jigsaw puzzle section larger than a variety of restaurants I frequent. There are puzzles there, arranged by series, and not lumped in with board games: licensed character series, environment series, photos of Japanese attractions series, sorted by piece count, price, and god knows what else. There is also a section of frames, which are not frames for pictures, oh no. These are frames for puzzles only, the puzzles that you have built, applied one of a variety of clear coatings to, matted with one of the hundreds of colors of puzzle-sized papers you can buy, and presumably displayed in your house. There is everything for puzzles.

Other things there are everything for: everything. Next to the puzzle everythings: tiny trains, and the motors, axels, wheels, fake scenery, and electrics to make them work.

In the spirit of everything and Japan, I evaluated my recent mental state, and decided that because I am unable to refurbish pinball machines due to cumbersome size, non-existent availability, and impossible expense, I would build small scale-model plastic robots from boxes of injection-molded colored pieces attached to plastic skeins, which must be clipped away tenderly, sanded, assembled, tenderly inked, possibly painted or clear-coated, posed, and admired lovingly. I started this hobby like any reasonable American would, with a handful of cash, having done no research, and owning no essential supplies. I was ready. Until I opened the box and realized I had no way to separate the parts from the plastic they were attached to. But a hundred yen trip to the coin store later and I was crudely on my way!

This hobby is known colloquially as “gunpla,” a portmanteau (the Japanese love portmanteaus) of the words Gundam, which the model robots are based usually based on, and plastic, the substance from which the models are crafted. The models themselves are called Gunpla, and the act of and/or practices relating to building them is/are also called gunpla, such to the extent that one who gunplas Gunplas is a gunplaer, one who enjoys Gunpla, and gunplaing said Gunpla. I, as a first time Gunpla gunplaer, Absolutely Suck.

This is the result of two hours of work, and it looks larger than it is. It is my own, meticulously crafted, remarkably enjoyable to have built five inch tall Gundam, the HG RX-78-2 Ver.G30th, a variant of the original Mobile Suit Gundam from the anime series made in 1979-1980 (hence the 30th, for the 30th anniversary). Do you see all the little tiny pointy parts sticking out everywhere? These are the places that I failed, and there are at least three of them on every one of the hundreds of pieces that make up one of these goddamned things. This is because I was using a pair of crappy 100 yen wire cutters.

The beauty of gunpla is that the models themselves (these five inch versions, anyway) cost no more than ten or twelve bucks here in the Land of the Rising Fun, and even one like this, which I brazenly set out to complete as quickly as possible “just to see,” was a considerably decent cost-to-time-entertained value. Where the deal is sweetened is in the Hard Commitment, and what a rich canvas of options the gunplaer has to choose from. From the methods used to remove the pieces from their trays, the tools used to do this, the surfaces one works on, the incorporation of “panel lining” (where one traces in the ridges of parts using special Gundam Markers to add an offset emphasis), painting, clear coating, and who knows what else, the Fun Literally Never Stops. It actually continues forever, until it reaches the end of forever, which cannot happen.

Having seen these damned things stocked up in piles taller than even the grandest umbrellas, but not knowing exactly what they were before I took up this hobby, I now find myself with a new paradigm of Japanese Culture to explore, and explore it I shall: tomorrow I have a paid day off, and I am going to Osaka, and I am going to buy more stupid Gundams, because not doing so would be dumb.

SHIT OF THE WEEK WHICH IS WEIRD
– Frying a slab of fish with the skin on and being like oh hey that is not very gross
– Gunpla, obviously
– seeing a 2 liter bottle of Coke at the grocery store, the biggest container of soda I have seen in seven months, proudly touting +500ml! on it, 500ml larger than the normal large containers, available for exactly the same price as the small ones, and being ignored, because welcome to Japan (I bought one it barely fits in my fridge)
– Being struck with the revelation this morning that some cheese would be good on my curry, and putting seven or eight little anemic bits of shredded cheese on it, and saying oooh it’s so cheesy
– Getting my mail, looking through it and seeing a flyer with a completely naked young woman on it, a list of sex acts, prices, and times, and thinking “oh it’s just another flyer advertising sex for money”
ENOUGH OF THAT

This is the time of year for farewells, as I mentioned last week. During this time, a variety of every school’s teachers are randomly selected to be uprooted from their jobs and moved to other schools entirely. Excitingly, the person who I met first, my go-between, the one who coordinates between myself and my main school, who picked me up and drove me to the school from nowhere and helped me get my bank account and took me for a coffee, has been transferred, as has my go-between at my night school, and one of my three main teachers at my blind school! Also both of the principals at my main and night schools. Also every young, cute, or decent-at-English person I work with save for one or two lifers who have been transferred to other grades in the same school, and thus away from where I sit. This leaves me now in a somewhat bizarre position, outlasting the people who served to get me acquainted to these totally weird environments in the first place, and in some places reducing my “people I am friends with here” count to 0 (a number relatively challenging to bolster when you speak virtually no conversational Japanese and no longer have the “I’m the curious new foreigner try to talk to me” thing going anymore).

They all say they will do their best and they know they have to do it but here’s how it sounds to me: You’re fired! but here’s a job where you don’t know anyone and which will require you to change your life and routine entirely now pack your shit you have a week left bye! The rest of you: you could be next! One guy was there for twelve years now oops, time to go. The wheels of Japanese bureaucracy grind ever onward, leaving exactly what was expected in their wake. “These blind adherences to procedure and policy are often neither beneficial nor effective, but by doing things this way will we be doing them the same ways we’ve been doing them for years dammit and by god we are going to continue not doing anything to change that!” I am stricken again with one of those inconvenient observations of discord, where the seams peel back and you see underneath for a moment, with the ironic contradictions between ideal and policy: the harmonious Japanese Wa, the peaceful unchanging balance, the togetherness of the workforce, upset by things like the transfers, the unbalance. The expressed desire to integrate with cultures and harmonize, offset with the negative perception of the Inquisitive American vs the gaman spirit: do not ask questions, just accept your situation. Let’s live peacefully, all by ourselves, with everyone!

Note to self and concerned know-it-alls: I am not an angry person, I am not undergoing culture shock, I am trying not to stereotype, I am not “finally seeing Japan for what it really is,” I am not jaded or bitter or disenchanted, my “fantasy” was not “better than my reality,” this is not “the first step,” and I make no presumptions about being any sort of cultural anthropologist, nationalistic apologist, blind Japanophile, deaf Americanist, or curator of the world’s great unjustices. I am just a guy who is happy with his life, and a little irritated about certain things that happen in it as a “member” of the Japanese work force. Other things that irritate me: American Idol, umeboshi candy, and iCarly. Time for some fried chicken with mayonnaise on it!

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