Tag Archives: gyoza

Even in the bathroom, I can save

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A COOL ESTABLISHING SHOT

It was Wednesday, April 13th. It was warm in Kobe, Japan. I had just finished feeding my cat and was on the way out the door for work. My cat’s name is Kiki. My name’s Brandon.

(BEAT)

NO BUT SERIOUSLY

we started listening to the old Dragnet radio show before bed. It’s pretty great, especially the last one we heard where they had this big shootout in this hotel building. My favorite part is the very end of the broadcast though when the guy is like “this is NBC” and it goes donn dannn dooon but it sounds all scary and radio-like. They call this hobby “Old Time Radio” but mostly I am just interested in Dragnet and cigarette advertisements from when it was still legal to be all like “these fuckers are good for you man! i smoke two packs a day cause it’s the best for me! smoke them, nothing bad will happen!”

ON DORKERY

Have you heard about this new Nintendo thing? It is called the 3DS, it is their new system, and it shows you the games in THREE-D on its top screen. It has this feature in it called StreetPass, which lets you meet other people that you cross in real life while you are walking around. Basically, it gives you rewards in the game for being near other people who also have 3DS systems. This sounds silly, but has pushed me to some bizarre travel lengths lately.

The last two days after work I have taken totally unnecessary detours away from the station and down to Center Gai, the big crowded shopping street full of humans, in hopes of StreetPassing people. I catch myself creepily swerving not to miss but to hit large swarms of people while walking between trains, pushing through them slowly so that my system has a better chance of seeing other ones. The other day I went up and walked through the game store with the intention of buying nothing, merely enticed by the idea that there might be other gamers there looking for the same thing, then found myself genuinely upset when I only got one tag after getting five on Monday.

I’m even planning on going to Osaka this weekend, a trip that is in part motivated by the very real knowledge that I will likely cross paths with a ton of people that have 3DS systems, and even as I write this I am prone to obsessively checking my system’s StreetPass light while sitting at my desk in the teacher’s room, where nobody is likely to have a 3DS.

What is the appeal here! Basically I get to see the little cartoon representation of another person with their name and a few little messages, and then they can give me pieces to complete some puzzles, or help me win hats in another little mini game. If they’ve been playing Street Fighter lately we can compare our FIGURE COLLECTIONS. I feel like a little kid yet at the same time strangely compelled to always carry it with me. It also acts as a pedometer and gives “coins” to buy in-game goodies as you walk, and tracks all the data so I can see how many steps I take each day and how long I play games for each day.

It has, interestingly enough, shown me that I take about 6200 steps a day, which is roughly three miles according to various Internet converters. Thanks Nintendo, for allowing me to track exactly how awesome I am!

HOW ABOUT THAT SPRING

After a supremely extended Spring Break, today marks the first one of my classes (and that’s it today, just one) since February. Though my main school won’t start up again until the 25th, it’s still just the slightest bit worrying to get tossed back into it once more (this time around with mostly new teachers again, due to the Japanese school system’s obsession with moving everyone around between grades, sections, and schools every March). I have lessons pretty much down from last year, though my night school will as always be a little more challenging until I figure out exactly how to deal with the students and how relaxed my new co-teacher is.

Speaking of relaxing, last week was a good week all around Japan for hanami, which is a word that pretty much means flower-viewing, in this case the cherry blossoms. Yes, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom all across Japan, and unlike our nearly suicidal trip to Hoshino last year, we decided to keep it local this time around. We found ourselves in a park off to the west part of Kobe with several of Jessy’s coworkers, engaged in revelry that only tenuously had anything to do with the cherry blossoms, which I remember looking at maybe twice.

For hanami, the traditional thing to do is get a huge blue tarp, put it down on the ground, sit around it, and get shitfaced drunk while eating a variety of fried and grilled goods. That’s pretty much what we did! I brought a bag of homemade beef jerky that was perhaps illegally sent to us from the States and let them marvel at how delicious it was–it was decimated by tiny, slight women who could not stop saying how good it was. For me the food of the evening was from the heart, which is to say I literally was eating heart, more specifically grilled chicken heart and cow heart brought by another person. You wouldn’t think so, but the chicken heart was delicious and chewy, with the cow being slightly more porous. Would eat again!

Our neighbors at the park across the way, obviously accustomed to doing this, brought themselves a noisy-ass diesel fucking generator and surrounded their tarp with florescent neon light tubes, which they used for about an hour and then they left way before us. After it got real dark, maybe nine or so, I found myself in a “snack bar” for the first time with the others, which basically resembled the finished basement of an elderly woman, complete with elderly woman, who was the only person working there. We dined on bowls of tiny, mushy fish that tasted like goop, and plates of tiny, chewy fish that tasted like brown sugar. I drank whiskey and waters and we karaoked the Evangelion theme song, then laughed at another one of the teachers, who is way more of a dork than me or any of us, for dancing with hand motions to some female idol songs from the 90s. The next day in front of our apartment building Jessy saw some idiot barfing all over the place, which is pretty much the end of the cycle for Japanese hanami-goers without strong American willpower.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK

– The konbini by the train to Port Island still has Mont Blanc Pepsi, which is odd since it was the seasonal drink during the fall, but makes sense because nobody in the country liked it except me so they are probably just shipping it to Kobe so someone will buy it
– Got a little packet of yellow mustard with my lunch yesterday, only the yellow mustard was not Yellow Mustard but Wasabi Mustard, which instantly obliterated my sinuses as wasabi often does to me
– Saw a TV show late at night last Saturday where they ask fifty foreigners who are somehow really great with Japanese to answer questions Japanese people have about those crazy foreigners, mostly useful questions with interesting cultural implications like do you shave your armpits and is Japanese pornography any good
– Well over a month and a half since my Hanshin station escalators were cordoned off for repairs and they are still not finished, yet someone continues to pay the same man to stand at the top of the escalator every single day and direct people to the massive stairway immediately adjacent
– Ray Romano’s Japanese doppelganger is a new teacher at my night school, he looks the same as Ray Romano and he might have a good comedy act I dunno I can’t understand him
– Will never cease to amaze me how chicken breast is the useless chicken meat here and is sold for 33% or less of the price of dark meat, because the white meat is not covered in that desirable, fatty skin that gets all delicious when you fry it and is so juicy and good and oh god what is this country doing to my culinary preferences

END OF JAPANESE CURIOSITIES,

but speaking of culinary preferences I should point out that I bought a deep fryer off Amazon last week, and any concept that you might have about “deepness” when it comes to fryers is like the ocean compared to this thing I tell you what. It holds about 500mL of oil and is about the size of half a grapefruit. The first stuff we cooked it in was gyoza, which is absolutely delicious deep fried. Sometimes I like to make hashbrowns in it but you can’t really do more than one at a time. Other things we have fried, like true citizens of the western world: fresh mozzarella, Oreo cookies, Snickers bars. Wonder if I could batter and deep fry corn? That would really be great. The fryer’s name is TWINBIRD.

EXISTENTIAL ASIDE: ARE ALL HUMANS NOSTALGIC FOR THE PAST?

Sometimes I feel like there’s something a little wrong with my life, a little off, a little wrong all the time. In my apartment, in my living room, maybe inside my refrigerator, in my closet. I catch myself wondering what exactly I need to set straight to be happy, what needs to be what way for me to relax comfortably, what I have to do to make going home or being home really feel right. Sometimes I feel like I need a smaller room, a smaller house altogether and my apartment ain’t that big. Sometimes I think back on the days that we first arrived and had nothing, sleeping on our floor with all the cash to my name laid out in front of me, an incorrectly-assembled fan sucking all the air off me and replacing it with sweat, our eager, early meals cooked fresh every night with dashi and simmered.

Sometimes I remember when we got the Playstation 3, when we got our first ridiculous half-naked anime figure, when I took my first big trip to Osaka, when we traded couches, welcomed Kiki. Or further back, cleaning my deck and all its shit off, making me its king. Buying our rice cooker at the second-hand store under the tracks.

With so much done, it seems like there’s always less to do. But what do I do now, with all of it finished and still feeling incomplete? Is what life ends up boiling down to at any point an endless repetition of the same day with small variance each time? Chicken instead of spaghetti, Suntory instead of Asahi, the couch on the north side instead of the south side.

Maybe I just need to get out more. Either that or this is what CRIPPLING MENTAL DISORDER sounds like

FINALLY

I’ve got a haircut tomorrow, during which I will have five months of growth replaced with nothingness. I meant to do it today, before my first class, so that my kids wouldn’t be faced with the eventuality that now rests before them: no matter how much they remember what I look like after class tonight, I’m gonna look completely different next week. I get my hair cut lately at BILLY Hair Studio, which is named after their pet dog Billy, whose stuffed corpse greets you cheerfully at the door. They give a pretty considerable discount to foreigners, which is racism that saves me fifteen bucks. There are a variety of reasons that I have theorized they do this, none of which bother me because I am used to making money for being foreign. At it turns out, I am pretty good at it too.

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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

SOME NON-CYNICAL STUFF THAT WAS GOOD ABOUT JAPAN THIS WEEK THAT I COULD NOT HAVE POSSIBLY EXPERIENCED ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD
– Bought a CD
– Got a couple books in the mail
– Left work two hours early yesterday
UH

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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The only allowance for milky pork

At 9:20 in the morning we are first vertically-packed Shinkansen green beans, then kings with power outlets, grabbing free seats all opportunistic, and in my seat is where I crack the first beer of the trip, gulping it so excitedly that I swallow handfuls of air and pay for it, kanpai! As the can drains we scream across the rails of Japan through the snow. It whips in February swirls off us like cream in coffee, tumbling around above the metal strings. I exit JR Hakata station in Fukuoka after a two-hour-and-change trip from Kobe and see a man waiting to catch us just outside the gates.

I figure he is a homeless guy who speaks a little English and is going to accost us for money, based primarily on his Winnie the Pooh stocking cap and slightly haggard appearance, but mostly it is the Winnie the Pooh stocking cap. But then he asks if we are Jessica from USA and it’s either a lucky guess or he runs the hostel we’ve booked. We follow him to his car, rain turning to snow and back right on the cusp of either. I sidle into the back seat of the two-door and come to realize it has been recently upholstered at Oily Rags Car Interior and Detail. In the side pocket I spot a manual called Introduction to Islam. The man runs a recently-opened guest house near downtown, which, he tells me, was rejected from being opened thirty-two times because of a “difficult to deal with” woman from the city health department. I am instilled with confidence. He has lived in the United States he tells me, in “Hawaii,” which I have since come to understand is indeed a United State. Such love he has for English and the Home of the Brave that he tells us his name is Ken, which he chose because he was tired of his “difficult” Japanese name, Kazuo. I want to suggest he just run with Kaz, but he seems to have enough to do.

He accompanies us to a local ramen shop, which is Priority One on our to-do list, a one-item chronicle that looks something like this:

1. Eat

It’s not that we’re not interested in tourism so much as we aren’t interested in Tourism, or what the city has identified as its totally unique things that are in fact so unique as to not represent the place they are located in at all.

After we park off-street, illegally, I watch Ken scavenge for change and consider offering to pick up his meal but don’t want to insult the guy. His insistence on driving us all over tarnation borders on the fanatical as it is.

Before we enter, we are treated to the rich history of this particular ramen shop and the few that surround it, all with exactly the same name: in the harsh, vanguard days of yore there was an “worker mutiny” which resulted in a mass exodus of employees leaving, new employees joining, other stores being started, and three literally identical ramen shops within less than a city block of each other. It was, apparently, “big news in Fukuoka,” a city which is passionate about nothing if not their Hakata ramen: chewy, straight ramen noodles in an almost opaque, creamy soup called tonkotsu, made from the heavy, extended boiling of crushed pork bones and collagen all thick and delicious.

The place we go to is family-style, and we’re seated around large tables like Arthur and his knights, or perhaps the annual church soup supper, heaping bowls brought out, topped with coin-sized chopped onions and thick, rich slices of dissolving pork. If you want more noodles–and this, the locals are quick to point out, is a Fukuoka original–you just shout “kaedama” and plunk down another buck: here comes another serving of noodles for your soup. The broth is rich and flavorful, and tableside you can add sesame seeds, strong red-colored pickled ginger–benishouga–or condensed soup mix. We eat what would end up being the first of four bowls of ramen, and I am surprised that even though I’m full I find myself shouting kaedama, freshly beset with nearly an entirely new bowl, squirreling it away into expanses of my stomach I barely knew existed but would become quite familiar with by the time I departed.

Our room at the guest house is an “extra” one, meaning that this section of the guest house used to be used as a sort of spare room and is not intended to harbor guests. Tonight Ken is three over capacity, which is a statistic I derive by applying some social hacking: we have learned that one of the health violations was because guest houses in Japan require one toilet for five people so he had to install a second one. We have also learned that tonight there are thirteen people in the guest house. Out of a seeming feeling of guilt our rate is cut by 20% and we are given enough futons to smother a large dog. I find nothing wrong with the arrangement. Peculiarly enough, however, the toilet situation necessitated the removal of the men’s toilet seat due to lack of space and when asked how, presumably, a man might sit on the toilet I can only come up with the answer “he can’t” and commit myself to toilet use requiring sitting being conducted elsewhere.

In the evening we find ourselves winding through the back-streets of Tenjin, a wet, post-rain residential Japan, occasionally crossing paths with a stray biker, couple walking somewhere, or small dog being taken for a walk. The infrequent yellow streetlights eventually give way to neon reflections in spare puddles as we approach Canal City, one of Japan’s bizarre monuments to lavish excess and perpetual construction. According to the official English website,

“The concept of Canal City is ‘a city theatre’. The leading actor of this theatre called Canal City is not the buildings or its functions, but ‘people’. The visitors here may find themselves watching a show as an audience or performing as an actor. Various stories are created by people visiting here for different purposes.”

What it actually is is the largest private development in the history of Japan, costing over 1.4 billion dollars, and looking totally visually unlike anything else in Fukuoka. It is called “the city within the city,” which it is, and it is also the city within the building, as it is almost totally enclosed save for a series of connecting exterior pathways and fountains, many of which were being reconstructed and repaired at the time of our visit (as was the upper dining section called “Ramen Stadium” where you can sample ramen from eight different restaurants). At any rate it has brought massive amounts of positive cashflow and growth to the area, which is most apparent to a traveler like myself because they have a store entirely devoted to Ultraman products, and it is right across the hallway from a store devoted entirely to Pokemon products.

Canal City also boasts an art installation which is an entire wall of television screens. Allow me, again, to let the website explain:

“‘Fuku/Luck,Fuku=Luck,Matrix’ by Nam June Paik, the worldly famous genre founder of video art, is installed. The fragments of images picked by Paik, including sophisticated and vulgar images, Western and Asiatic landscape images tangle up on as many as 180 TV monitors, making an information chaos.”

Inside Canal City on Friday evening, we create this story: Once upon a time, a boy and girl from America but living in Kobe bought a Pokemon spoon and some stickers, gazed longingly at sickeningly overpriced Ultraman goods, avoided dozens of clothing stores, and ate spicy ramen at a place called Ichiran, before getting an Oreo milkshake for dessert at exotic restaurant ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. After this they bought a small bar of soap at the FamilyMart, then went back to their guest house.

Saturday is a day of no plan except “go north,” and north is where we go, strolling through a Bic Camera shop, an extravagant underground shopping district, a tall shopping mall called TENJIN CORE, and onward past a supermarket and a bunch of nothing. The snow we see is unlike anything we’ve had in Kobe so far, huge big flakes and clusters whiting out the air but not accumulating. We grab a standard Indian lunch at a standard Indian restaurant and Jessy boldly storms out (after finishing her meal) in protest of the Japanese businessmen smoking cigarettes while she is trying to eat.

To repent for her haste, she allows me to stop into the slightly pervy and very otaku-looking store next door, called MANDARAKE, which is officially the greatest store in history and my new favorite place in Japan. On the second floor, squatting in an aisle of figurines, is a slightly portly man who seems to be examining a plastic fifteen-year-old’s breasts, preventing me from accessing the rest of the area. I go around the other side and he is still there, looking, entranced. I grab another, nearby figure and find myself drawn in as well, considering the fact that even if I stared at her plastic jubblies for an hour it would not be nearly as long as either That Guy or the person that originally designed the toy.

As we go I geek myself senseless through four floors of games, systems, manga, toys, action figures, DVDs and other crap, ultimately buying an original Donkey Kong Game & Watch from 1982 for about thirty bucks (first game to ever use a directional pad) and an animation cel from the movie Spriggan for about three bucks (a guy getting his teeth kicked out). Things sadly left un-purchased: original animation cel from an episode of Evangelion (280 dollars) and a mint condition in-the-box contest reward Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch (1300 dollars!).

Later on we trek out to the middle of nowhere to take an elevator up to the middle of nowhere: the Fukuoka Tower, a discomfortingly tall structure with a little meter inside the elevator which tells you exactly how many meters up you are. I plunk a hundred yen into a pair of the big binoculars that you can use to see far away from the upper deck, and find myself staring into an occupied apartment in the high-rise just across the way. The binoculars have already been angled into this apartment by the person that used them before me, and, I figure, perhaps the person before them, and I wonder for how many hours the binoculars have been pointed at this particular apartment. I look into the other ones that have lights on just for good measure–welcome to Japan, your mind is now ruined.

Our evening meal, almost the last of the trip, is spent at one of the many Fukuokan specialties: the yatai, a street-side food vendor bigger than what you’d call a stand and a little smaller than what you’d call a restaurant. Inside we are surrounded by plastic sheets to insulate us from the cold, and we enjoy beer and sake with a variety of other talkative locals who seem much more friendly here in close quarters. We eat ramen, gyoza, mentaiko wrapped in omelet (Fukuokan specialty, spicy fish eggs), grilled pork on sticks, and massive potato korokke, the Japanese approximation of croquette, a deep-fried ball filled with mashed potatoes and topped with ketchup. I talk to the man running the stand and compliment his cast iron saucepan: it is thirty-nine years old, he says, then wipes the side of it and displays the grease to me. I am proud of him for his pan.

In the station the next morning we stock up on omiyage which is Japanese for “gross snacks for your coworkers meant to reflect the fact that you are thinking of them and of work even while you are enjoying your personal life.” The ones we bought are a sort of cake with a kind of cream filling inside. I have my theories about what it’s made of exactly, but it would not be an errant guess to figure it is some sort of fermented bean paste, perhaps mixed with sugar and something rotting. I assume (rightly) that because I find them semi-repulsive, my coworkers will love them.

Ultimately it’s all just a bunch of stuff to buy, new places to buy it, and for different prices–but in changing our environment if only a little superficially I feel new, unaware, in my exploration a new city. Even if we discover things we already know, the experience of striking out rings true, and I find the mundanity of comfortable life eroded slightly. How strange that the comfortable life is now a city in Japan, with all its alleys and vending machines, convenience store nudie mags and gashapon stores, plastic-wrapped rice balls and old men carrying Nintendo DSes and cans of coffee. On the Shinkansen home I feel reinvigorated, immersed in modern Japanese society, wondering what’s next. On Monday I board the same old train to work, vertically-packed green bean with five more weekdays to go.

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Man cannot have a pure mind who refuse gyoza

This will not be the first time in my life that I am separated from everyone I know–quite contrary! It is nearly an annual occurrence, and perhaps unchange would be more notable. To that end, for several of our closer friends, time in Japan is up at the end of July. I have consciously chosen not to fully analyze exactly how many Good Men And Women we’re losing to time’s weathering, but the count is at least everyone we usually hang out with, and at most all those plus fringe components of the various social circles. Mostly it’s people who have decided for one reason or another to leave the teaching program, some after a year, some because they’ve been here for a few already and have just had enough, some because they’ve been here a lot longer than that and it’s just time to go.

The upside, if there can possibly be one, is that we’re soon to be barraged by the new recruits, some of who may be cool people. The downside is that those new recruits are not yet our friends, and I really hate having to make friends! Another, smallish upside is that we are getting a bunch of everyone’s shit that they don’t want anymore (maybe a downside depending on exactly how much we take).

As a result of this madness I took it upon myself to financially bolster some pals of mine by buying their old breadmaker at a bargain rate. If I thought using the microwave in Japanese was a task, hoo baby. Actually, with only a little bit of guesswork we ended up pumping out a quite competent loaf the evening we got it, and Jessy took the experiment a little further the next day with a loaf a bit more dense. It’s really a pretty clever gadget! It even has what literally translates as “automatic yeast launch,” which drops your active dry yeast from a little blast pocket on an outer lid at the correct post-mixing time. There is also an auto-launch tray for raisins and nuts, which I have considered filling with cheese and herbs or pieces of frozen banana, just to see what happens. The only drawback of the breadmaker, which would have now already paid for itself if bread was twenty-five dollars a loaf, is its massive size. It’s too large to fit on the shelf where we keep our toaster oven and rice cooker, and so it has been relegated to pantry status, bottom shelf. It’s not that we don’t love you, breadmaker, it’s just that you are too big for Japan.

Curious Japanese derps of the week
– Being strangely intruded on by a slightly Asian-looking person handing out flyers on the bridge the other day switching to completely fluent English, cause she was an American from Seattle advertising their Christian gospel concert, which I absolutely did not attend even though I totally said I’d tell some people I know, which I didn’t
– New promotional video game tie-in beverage “Dragon Quest Syrupy Slime,” which I didn’t figure would actually be syrupy, but is
– A Foreign Buyer’s Club catalog given to me by a co-worker, from which I could order some of my favorite American foods: Kix cereal (one box, $11.00), Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli (one can, $4.00), Velveeta Shells and Cheese (one box, $6.00), and Beef Noodle Hamburger Helper (one box, $6.50)

– My delicious two-person evening self-prepared meal of twenty-four crispy, hot gyoza with a couple bowls of cold dashi-accompanied soumen noodles, total cost less than a can of Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli
– The rice ball that I bought for today, which I thought said mayonnaise and chicken, but actually seems to say mayonnaise and “shi-chikin,” which, now that I think about it, this being Japan, probably means “sea chicken,” which, now that I think about it, this being Japan, probably of course means it’s canned tuna in there
– It hasn’t stopped being rainy for like five fucking days and the only good thing you’d think is that hey at least it cools off the temperature outside since summer is so hot but no, all it does is make it more humid
That’s it for Curious Japanese derps of the week

I’m playing this video game lately called Dragon Quest IX and it’s all I can think about. I am sitting here at work twiddling my thumbs knowing that the game is right here on my Nintendo DS and I could be playing it if I didn’t happen to be working (irony: I am not working). It came out in Japan exactly a year ago and now that it is finally in English I feel both up to speed and out of touch with the game culture here. There is a mode in the game where if your system wirelessly sees anyone else who has set their Dragon Quest IX to be in “tag” mode you can get some treasure maps and stuff. But is there even anyone in Japan still playing a year later? I’m going to set off on an adventure to find out some time I think. Maybe trek over to Osaka and wander around large groups of the local youth. The benefit of me finding some people would be some virtual treasure maps and maybe an exciting N-Sider article. The drawback is that no matter what happens I am still a huge nerd.

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The middle of somewhere

This one is an irregular week, a classification of week which I endorse–often heartily. My next two days involve a “mid-year seminar” through the board of education (with generous lunch breaks and located much nearer to my apartment than my school is). The term is a bit confusing, “mid-year,” especially since I’ve only been here for three-and-a-half months, and I can’t help but wonder to which people this is the middle of anything except November or maybe one of the three school terms.

Accenting the affair is a purportedly delicious meal on the evening of the first day at somewhere called “Sky Buffet,” which I could know nothing of outside its name and still endorse, whatever ventures may be involved: it is a buffet, it is in the sky, it is a Sky Buffet. As a divine bonus, a sort of ethereal gift, Monday of next week is a national holiday, making it quite a stretch of time where Brandon doesn’t have to teach any school. The flip side is that were I still in the States I’d have the whole of next weekend unspoken for cause of Thanksgiving, which they most certainly don’t even know about, let alone celebrate, here. I drew a turkey on the board last week, and some of my students converted it into a type of egg-laying robot with lasers before asking if it was a chicken. It is fair to say I won’t be finding any turkey for my non-Thanksgiving. Jessy and I have decided to compromise in a somewhat acceptable way: I will boil some cute Japanese chicken, cobble together some kind of gravy and mix it together, throw down some homemade dumplings and stewed veggies, and try to find some decent beer. It will be a weekend feast that would only be made better if for some reason our apartment had a fireplace, and I will give thanks by raining delicious hellfire upon my kitchen and all those who enter (t)here.

I have finally become confident enough in my passive spatial awareness to permit myself to listen to music during my train-and-foot commutes to and from school without the fear that I’ll miss an audio announcement and thus, my stop. Doing so has allowed forgotten wisdom to re-envelop me: life’s a lot better with music in it. The bee’s knees of this week is an album from a totally relaxing one-man band ironically called Ohashi Trio, who sings in both Japanese and alarmingly good English with some really melodic pseudo-classical jazz type shit going on at the same time. I accidentally saw part of a video on some bizarre late-night Japanese music countdown last weekend, and sought out some samples on the Internets as soon as I could. The commute is exactly long enough one-way to allow me to listen to the entire album (his newest, called “A Bird”), and I plan on nabbing his previous effort “This is Music” posthaste. Just for kicks I might even hoof it to the Tower Records downtown and see if I can find actual copies and pay Real Money for these. Maybe.

The entertaining side-effect of music while I go is all the new soundtracks for the stuff I’m used to seeing in much the same ways every day. Different parts of different albums come up at points during my walk, which allows me to look at the scenery in fresh new ways. What’s the bridge with Eleanor Rigby? Shrine Cats to Heaven? The other day I even had an unexpected feeling of excitement upon briefly reconsidering my still incomplete Edmund story. Maybe now, having left Iowa and written one section, I can write another section having left Pennsylvania. I can feel it all gathering up back there in little bits again and I’m just left wondering when it will feel like moving its way on out. It took a few months after the last move. Maybe it’s about time.

I went to Osaka last weekend for my first Japanese gaming event, an unassuming little guy called the Games Japan Festa. Your interest in such material may be minor, but you can view the article at N-Sider here. The highlights of the trip: people dressed up in costumes like anime characters, a prize drawing in which I won stupid bookmarks instead of something awesome, and a post-show meal at an Indian restaurant where I made the mistake of assuming I was in Japan, ordering the curry “very spicy” and receiving the spiciest food I have ever eaten in my life (painful but delicious).

It’s getting really cold lately, such to the extent that I personally have actually mustered up a desire to go shopping for clothes, a relatively rare event. I need a few more sweaters, and it’s probably about time to replace my winter coat. Surely mother if you are reading this you are likely rejoicing, but know that I got a good 6+ years out of it, and your purchase was not a bad one (even if you would have had me toss it to the street years ago in favor of something new).

For the most part, Japanese clothes are great for me, because I am thin, and the clothes here kind of just assume that you are, with the largess of the European geneset being the exception rather than the rule, and no such thing as “XXL” found in any stores I’ve visted anyway. Clothing is “slim fit” almost by default, which works well for me, and the nice, well-tailored pants right off the store shelves make my old ones look like they may have been owned by one M.C. Hammer. The only problematic areas are in the shirt sleeves, which to be fair barely were long enough for my freak monkey arms back in the states yet certainly aren’t any longer here. Most dress-shirt sleeve ends rest a comfy two-and-a-half inches above my wrist, rendering necesssary a little cheating: when it was warmer I could just roll them up and tuck them, but it’s so cold now that to do so is both uncomfortable and draws light indirect criticism from my coworkers: “You must be cold! Aren’t you getting cold?!” The solution is sweaters, bigger sized to fit over the shirts, and with the beneficial side effect of longer, stretchier sleeves. Still, if I could grind a few inches out of these bones it would probably make my life a little easier, the only negative being the inevitable destruction of my basketball career.

Perhaps the postal deities heard my whining in the last entry, because Modern Warfare 2 arrived three days ahead of schedule last night. After telling Jessy she could not have the TV and to get bent, she fell asleep at eight o’clock and I stayed up for five hours playing it. The advent of the coming “mid-year seminar,” and its subsequent weekend and Monday holiday, are bold and fortuitous Winbringers which shall be filled, daintily, with as much game time as I can muster while still maintaining some illusion of daily human function. This morning, after I had just finished a match and begun to fry my traditional Wednesday breakfast gyoza, some Jehovah’s Witness people came to the door, perhaps because their beacon indicating virtual military combat went off, and said some things in Japanese. One lady spoke some English and I told her I was comfortable with my beliefs. Perhaps sensing that she didn’t have the language skills to deal with what was about to come next, she repeated my answer, to which I replied thanks for visiting me please have a nice day thank you! Then, bowing frequently like one of those water-sipping plastic cranes, I allowed my door to carry itself shut, the tiny visible slivers of the Witnesses’ cute winter mittens shrinking, shrinking, shrinking like the temperature.

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