Tag Archives: gyudon

A fly lives 10,000 years

I got on the train after work the other day, had been stayin’ late with the ESS (that’s English Speaking Society, though I often feel like the only member), and all I wanted to do was sit down and play some Fire Emblem on my little game thing.  And it was so full, I had to stand, and we weren’t moving, so I walk over into the next car right, and I sit down and get ready to play and this kid he sits down right there next to me, almost on me, starts jangling the little plastic chef thing I have hangin’ off my laptop bag like he’s a farmer and I’m the bull to be used in his latest foray into husbandry, floppin’ em around there.  And I kinda check over at him, yo man, what you doing there, and he gives me this weird distorted thumbs up, like his thumb is bent all the way backward.  He must be like fifteen or sixteen, whatever, I figure you’re janglin’ my sack around a little bit if you dig it roll on my daddy-o, I will be into Sannomiya in like five minutes.  But we just keep sitting there!  The damned train ain’t be moving.  And then he starts getting frisky.  Before long he has his hand slid under my bag onto my thigh, and he squeezes it a little bit, and I say like “whatchoo doin, there, guy,” only obviously he can’t understand me and I don’t feel like straight up telling him to fuck off in Japanese yet, and then he kinda slides his hand into my pocket, he is right on goddamned top of me!  There are seats free in this car, I should say, like all the way over to the edge.  I sit for a while he’s just grabbin’ on me, I figure whatever the kid is obviously mentally Disadvantaged and whatever I will be to Sannomiya in like five minutes, BUT WAIT WE ARE NOT MOVING YET WHAT

Eventually I pick his hand up off my leg and put it over onto him, and say “No” and shake my head, no, but he puts it back, I look around the car to see if anyone is getting this shit and every single person has their head turned as far away from me and this situation as possible, like only Japanese people can do, like I am emitting a blinding, sun-killing light and they have to turn their faces away, oh god, oh god don’t let it get in my eyes, eergh, eughhh, aghhhh, but there is nowhere left for their heads to turn cause if they turn them too far they will be up in someone’s FACE, and I say aloud, 

“nope”

and I get up and walk off the train and not sprint or anything but brisk walk down the train platform to a different car, get in it, go through the inner-car-door to a different car, and sit down in a free seat and pull out the goddamned Fire Emblem.  “Then it still takes for fucking ever for the train to get to Sannomiya” jesus christ i swear it took like 45 minutes for that train to go 10 minutes there was some crap on the track or maybe the kid ran into the conductor’s booth and started grabbin’ his coin purse or something holy god.

CURIOUS JAPANESE DOINKS OF THE PERIOD OF TIME ELAPSED BETWEEN BEFORE AND NOW
– Gotta give a presentation in the computer class at night school here tonight, they told me “just do something” and so I am going to show them where I am from on Google maps then nervously stammer for the remaining 44 minutes
– Jessy is sick again somehow and my throat starts to act up every now and then but then gets better, it’s just kinda tellin’ me, hey, hey you, I could kill you if I wanted you know
– Wait does that count as a Japanese thing of the week
– The new Twinbow gummies come with a VITAMIN SOUR pouch in them now, you’re supposed to empty the sour pouch into the gummy pouch and shake it up to make them double sour, I did it and man they were lyin’
– I tried explaining some Iowa foods like a breaded tenderloin sandwich and tater tot casserole to some Japanese person the other day, that sure did not work out as I had planned
– Tomomi Itano is graduating from AKB48!!! How on earth will people find my blog via google search now without lots of references to tomomi itano duckface tomomi itano naked pictures akb 48 akb48 girls with mysterious smile and expressions cpt. pee pee jumbo book osaka dogfart game
– I kinda felt like going and doing something jappy during our upcoming three day weekend cause of the holiday, but instead Jessy scheduled us a dentist appointment ha ha ha thanks baby
– Wait does that count as something Japanese
END OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS

The other night I went to a Sukiya place for dinner with my peeps, it is my favorite “beef bowl” place and man it sure was good.  For a minute I was like “oh gosh if i leave japan i cannot eat beef bowl at sukiya anymore” but then I remembered that I know how to cook and also you can buy “international foods” in America so I will just cook it and pretend I am at Sukiya when I eat it. Or maybe I could just eat 30 pounds of awesome Texas barbecue and Mexican food, yeah I think I will do that instead.

Speaking of food, last night I made a food my grandfather used to fondly refer to as Shit on a Shingle, though I don’t know how fondly.  Turns out that apparently I love to eat shit.  I am a shit eater

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I speak two languages, Body and English

Today, to verify my virility, my ability to voraciously vilify those foes who would unwoeful wax skeptic of my Vitruvian nature, I was informed of the nomenclature I’d need to be loosely guided like radar in the direction of battery: most righteously, the nurses said, remove thine shirt, English boy, that we might X-ray up in that shit, cause are you dying or not?

In these trying times, not but the most heady rapscallions be immune to the ‘berculosis. In the Hospital Wagon Party Van, a massive RV filled with gear like I imagine They use to cause the mysterious disappearances of political ne’er-do-wells, I am inspected.

In the mother tongue of this island nation, I believe I tell them this: “Until now, I have never come to this place. It’s my first time, so please endure it.” It is a signal, a grave beacon of false pretenses. Those resonate something like this: “I understand the terminology you are using, and command the facilities to respond to it verbally, as prompted.” Such unspoken grandeur, so pompous!, shortly before I find myself–under a moment of sweaty-foreheaded duress–unable to figure out what the Japanese word sha-tsu means (PROTIP: it means shirt).

The fancy trick of this operation, prior to my inspection, was preparing a sample of my liquid waste. So that the Docs might aquire my sample, they issued me prior to my exam, by three days, a plastic envelope containing: a fold-open waxed-paper envelope, a smaller envelope with my name on it, and a little 10mL plastic bottle the kind you use to squirt barbecue sauce or mayo onto your bento, with the plastic squish resistance of Arthritis Barbie’s specially-designed turkey baster. In the States they never quite come out and say “please enter the bathroom with this Lion King Dixie cup and pee all inside it until it’s as full as a glass of Sunday-school Kool-Aid, and Japan, especially through the veil of language, did me no favors in the explanation of these three new apparati.

To personally acquire this sample, I deduce from the various diagrams, I am supposed to first open up the waxed paper envelope, then pee into it, then suck the pee out of it by squishing the bottle, putting the opening into the pee, and sucking it out like with an eye-dropper. Eye-dropper it ain’t, and I dare not underfill for fear of being required to re-fill, lord in heaven. Eventually I get it. Then I put the little bottle into the envelope with my name on it and stick it in my pocket like a pack of baseball cards, carrying it around for forty-five minutes until it’s my turn to give it to the lady, who proceeds to screw off the little lid, squirt it out into a cup right there in front of me, stick a piece of special testing strip in, and compare a variety of colors with those on a laminated chart on the table. I do not see what happens to the cup when she is done, and I make no effort to look back.

After I finish a height and weight check, an eye check, and a heartbeat examination, they take my paper from me and tell me nice work. Then I leave. I figure I’m okay, if only because they made no attempt to tell me I’m not. Not that I’d would be sure if they did.

JAPAN JAPAN BO BAPAN BANANA FANA FO FAPAN MEE MAI MO MAPAN, JAPAN
– The stupid weather, which is humid, and makes me feel like I am sleeping on blankets inside a recently drained totally enclosed dormitory swimming pool
– Yesterday’s package of bread, which I purchased as a substitute for absent hamburger buns, containing four massive slices, each heavier and thicker than Texas toast
– Creamy milk cocoa in a paper box for a hundred yen from a vending machine icy cold frosty fresh
– Apparently the 1961 downtempo Americana cornerstone song “Stand By Me” is the “image theme” for the large chain of Japanese nutteries, Mister Donut
– The Sukiya the other day was all out of the spicy sauce for their gyudon, which is just a huge load of bullshit
OKAY ENOUGH

Last Friday, well before my health examination, I find myself, shirted and tied, inexplicably in attendence with Jessy as one of the two youngest guests at an upper-class benefit slash buffet-style dinner for Afghani children. We are the guests of a somewhat eccentric but well-regarded and extremely well-spoken Japanese man who releases better-considered English than I do. We met him as a business acquaintence through Jessy’s father–apparently they have been working together in some capacity for a while. He is like a mad scientist with an MBA. He details the varieties of what he admits are bizarre schemes that he is currently digging his nails into. One of them has to do with extracting oils from plants? I imagine him as the landlord of a 30-floor think-tank in urban Tokyo, ushering creative minds in to freewheelin’ly sip joe and put together their dreams with raw materials.

All of this is irrelevant tonight, because the first part of the show involves a man who plays classical piano with only his left hand. The whole piano with just the one hand! He isn’t tucking his right hand behind his back as he plays, or holding it up in the air all “la-dee-dah check it out ladies” or anything so at first I am not sure that is what he is doing. But then I listen carefully and catch a glance and yep sure is only just using that left hand.

I see him deftly grip a microphone in his right hand between songs anyway, which makes me for a moment entertain an exciting fantasy: that this man has full use of his right hand too and is just playing left-handed secretly to show off, be a real smug fuck all cocksure and clandestine. But it turns out he just has his nerves all bunged up in there and can’t use it for piano, so it becomes impressive and inspiring instead of just a dick move on his part. Maybe.

I ignore all of that shit later as I stuff my face with plates full of sliced prime rare beef and lamb, tempura green beans, chunks of crab and lobster meat the size of string cheese, hayashi beef stew with rice, and glasses of champagne, wine, and beer. Later, it is dessert time, and the cherries, oh god the cherries. I consider for a moment the peeing that I will be doing later on in the week, certain that I am laying the foundation for a most enviable specimen.

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It can never become clay again

Nearing the end of May now, stricken still with how quickly a year goes. We’ve been here for almost ten months, and summer is coming back, which I am unenthusiastic about. I remember now just how hot it was when we got here, sweat dripping off, clothes soaked upon getting back to the apartment, the only respite a cool shower since we had no air conditioner. Still, I fear for my summer houseguest: the spare room is well outside the reach of the conditioning unit, and we have but a single tiny fan. Maybe I will allow him to sleep on the living room floor, or standing up in front of the open freezer. Probably there is no option but to sweat sweat sweat (and drink lots of ice-cold beer).

Jessy and I, now both routinely busy all day with work and then evening Japanese classes (I on Monday and Thursday evenings, her on Tuesdays and Fridays), are regularly unable to spend any time with each other during the week except in Sannomiya for an hour after school. So usually we just meet for an hour and grab a bite somewhere. The variety of culinary treats now routinely available to me is exciting, and I am tickled to finally have opportunities to dine out instead of just cooking at home every night. I would be remiss, however, not to mention that I am (a mere three weeks in) beginning to miss going home after work to prepare a meal and watch some television programming/. Surely the benefit of gaining sufficient command in the Japanese language outweighs the possibility of constant apartment relaxation, but I certainly do now more concretely value my free time.

Last night I had the pleasure of chowing down a huge bowl of special Nakau gyudon with mushrooms and glass noodles on it during our scheduled meet-up. After we parted ways, and in an effort to really enjoy my time at home, I surrounded myself with enjoyable things: a Suntory Old whisky cola, some Belcube cheeses and saltine crackers, a little Jazz, balcony door flung open with cool breeze, the puff of one of the small cigars I got last weekend, a Super Famicom brawler I’m playing for N-Sider, and later some fragrant Kyoto incense and the last innings of a Tigers game on TV. We won 8-0 (but the Japanese table tennis girl I was watching earlier was beaten viciously).

Tonight, however, is Jessy’s night to chill as I am cooped up teaching at my night school, like every Wednesday (ironically, the only night neither of us have any classes of our own is the one I have to teach). In this instance, today anyway, I use the word “teach” loosely–it is exam night, which means my responsibilities start with me entering the class to read a short document aloud for the students to translate, and end when I stop reading it.

My nook is still getting heavy use, though it’s slow going now that I have started in on The Lord of the Rings. I am 163 of 1344 pages in, which is much further than I ever made it before, but feel like I could summarize those 163 pages in about three sentences: Biblo left Frodo a magic ring which Frodo is taking away from the Shire with his hobbit friends and they went through a scary forest and met the spirit of the forest and ate his cheese. That is one sentence. I will routinely “take a break” from reading it to read some other book in its entirety, come back for another fifty pages, and repeat the process.

After having spent months trying to mentally decide which instrument I’m going to start playing as a musical outlet, I have finally chosen the piano (a choice not lightly made, and as a result of much deliberation). Most specifically I suppose that means I’ll need a keyboard, primarily due to cost and size constraints, though there are nice ones with the full set of keys and weighted actions to make it feel like playing a real piano. This decision comes now as I have already accumulated more than enough distractions for the times I am spending at home, almost certainly guaranteeing that if I want one I will have to sacrifice another, a decision I am not really into making. Thankfully, it is easy to decide not to spend money on an object I will need to devote a lot of time to. All I need to do is nothing, which I am getting pretty good at.

Something else I’ve been getting better at is my Pad Thai, though I don’t really consider it “authentic,” whatever that would mean when dealing with a dish that literally varies wildly from cook to cook and place to place. Instead of the traditional flat rice noodles I’ve been using a more resilient Japanese rice noodle which remains chewy and is less prone to mushing, and I have also cut back heavily on my tamarind while adding lots of brown sugar, chili pepper, fish sauce, and beansprouts. I still include plenty of peanuts, egg, and chicken, which I guess is really close enough to fool my tastebuds. At any rate I have taken to just calling it Bran Thai, to preserve the sanctity of the actual dish. Mine is really more of a Pad Thai-style fried noodle dish. None of the nomenclature has any bearing on anything though–we still devour an enormous pan of it with barely a pause in the action.

This morning I considered finally attempting to make homemade pizza rolls using eggroll wraps, and got halfway through it before realizing I had no pizza sauce or mushrooms. I had already cooked the hamburger so I threw it into some macaroni and cheese and now I have leftovers for my three-o’-clock meal here at school too.

This is the most interesting Nomaday ever written.

Is this what journal entries sound like when you write them with no emotions or expectations of being read? It’s been ten years since I ever wrote an offline journal entry. I have to admit, with all the game writing I’ve done this week, my heart is barely in the Nomaday this time! However, out of Duty and Habit, even if there is nothing to say, I will put it up.

Did you hear the one about my great-great-second cousin who was killed in a parachuting accident ninety years ago? Yeah, as it turns out he made the jump but they hadn’t invented parachutes yet.

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Liftoff, Space Cosmoship

The electronic dictionaries that my students possess are so wondrous that yesterday one of those little hellions set to work on something nefarious, culminating in a freshman coup-de-grace: room silent between snippets of conversation, a digital female voice emerges and says, in English,

“Ecstasy”

and the kid and his buddy are losing it over there and I try not to, because dammit I’m a teacher. But I remember what high school was like, and if I had an electronic dictionary that said whatever I wanted it to say when I was in high school I’d have been in detention a lot more than I was. I couldn’t help it, I laughed anyway. It was a harbinger of sequelitis, certainly, this punk’s behavior validated, and later in the class we all got an “UHHHHH” from the same voice, in the middle of some kid’s speech. That one I tried not to react to, lest some real whoppers follow. What’s next after “ecstasy” and lascivious moaning? Scallywag? Consarnit? Poppycock? Actual cock? I dare not investigate any further.

This was after one of the students told me I was “lookin’ suave,” wherever the hell they learned that. I can barely conduct routine conversation in Japanese and these kids can say “lookin’ suave” in English. Obviously I need some lessons. I told the kid “nice pants.” He looked at his pants.

Despite my constant struggles with the language, I did manage to use it to do a Secret Special Order at Yoshinoya the other day (the popular beef bowl restaurant) by asking for my gyudon “tsuyudaku,” or with extra sauce. This was during the lunch break of my Mid-Year Conference, mentioned in the last entry. I hoofed it from the government building to Sannomiya and ordered up then walked back stuffed with beef and rice and onions. After that was over I stopped off and bought a Kirin six-pack and a bottle of Suntory Old Whiskey then went home and played Modern Warfare 2 for a long time. It was awesome! (take my word for it)

NEW WEEKLY FEATURE

Curious Japanese Shit of the Week:
– One person’s perception that Hot Cocoa (which exists here) and Hot Chocolate (which apparently does not) are distinct and separate beverages, with Hot Cocoa being “really sweet” and Hot Chocolate necessarily being “even sweeter”
– The only clearance flavor of Hi-Chew candy that I’ve ever seen, and the flavor is “American Cherry,” not that I knew American Cherries had such a distinct taste as to necessitate their own classification as an artificial candy flavoring
– Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino speaking English on a Japanese evening cooking show on television and being the two celebrity judges in a cooking contest between two chef duos, consuming hot pot clam chowder, steak, and attempting to slurp noodles before imploring the viewing audience to go see their new movie “Inglorious Basterds” (actual spelling), which is about Nazis
– Guy outside main center street shopping area downtown standing on precariously balanced plank-on-cylinder while juggling knives to a huge audience of almost totally unenthusiastic bystanders
– Being corrected on my katakana-pronounced order of a “Quarter Pounder with Cheese” at McDonalds by having “Quarter Cheese? Quarter Cheese?” repeated to me (wrapper that sandwich arrives in says Quarter Pounder with Cheese on it)
– A 350ml bottle of cherry soda designed to look exactly like a Tabasco sauce bottle but saying Tabasco nowhere on it nor tasting anything like Tabasco

END OF NEW WEEKLY FEATURE

We used our Japanese Thanksgiving Day on Monday to take the ropeway line to the upper areas of Mount Rokko. Our cable-car-companions were a young, stylish couple, the man in which was being relentlessly teased by the woman for “being scared.” I couldn’t blame him cause the thing was honestly kinda fucking terrifying. I dunno maybe the girl has ridden all the perilous-looking fiberglass composite gondolas suspended from braided wire in Japan or something. From the top of the mountain you can drop a hundred-yen coin into those mechanical binoculars and really get a good view of the city. I could see our apartment complex from there, and tiny boats cruising around in the sea. Then we took the hiking path down, behind a few tourist retards including one girl who was literally wearing heels trying to hike down a mountain and failing miserably. I resisted the urge to help her down with a soccer-style ass-kicking. We saw a waterfall further down, a picture of which you can find over in my Twitter feed in my Twitpic. How twittly! Excited, I got to jogging so quickly down a stone path that I almost fell off the side, but reached out for a railing bar and grabbed it, flipping myself about upside-down.


(not my photograph)

Speaking of physical pain, I had my second encounter with the Japanese health-care system on Saturday morning, having slowly developed agonizing inner-lower-left back pain that flared up whenever I’d engage those trunk muscles. I wanted to let it be, but it hurt even worse after waking up, and so that inconsiderate live-in harpy who’s hogging the air in our apartment (hi jessy) insisted that I go to the hospital (virtually across the street) to make sure I wasn’t going to die or something. As it turns out, I am going to die, but probably not because of this injury, which is just some kind of muscle sprain or spasm caused by my getting drunk and subsequently dehydrated Thursday night at the Sky Buffet (which was as awesome as I predicted), waking up Friday, going to Mid-Year Conference which involved walking four miles, and wolfing down an L-size beef bowl in the meantime. They gave me an ultrasound and discovered I am not pregnant, then “prescribed” me four tiny shitty painkiller pills that don’t work at all. Still, for my appointmentless 8 AM emergency room visit (with an English-speaking doctor, and including the aforementioned ultrasound, blood pressure tests, a urine-check (can’t be too sure I guess), and the cost of my medicine), I only paid about 3,000 yen, or about twenty-seven bucks at the current exchange rate. Thanks Japanese national healthcare system, for your questionable success rate but affordable peace of mind! Anyway it’s mostly feeling better now as long as I don’t do the Locomotion or anything or practice my hula hoop skills out in the yard (I don’t have a yard).

Other things I don’t have: the day off tomorrow, unlike all you lame-guys back in the States, during which you will gorge yourself on roasted bird, stuffing, and whatever other gruesome spreads you are able to secure for yourselves. My Thanksgiving lunch will literally consist of a special-school-prepared government-supplied calorie-rich rice and grain combination, somewhat flavorless miso and seaweed soup, vaguely room-temperature high-fat milk from a glass bottle, a lightly mayonaissed salad likely containing some kind of root or pickled vegetable, and a main dish that odds support being heavily stewed vegetables or fish in some type of sauce. Handily offsetting this (I hope) seems to be the endeavors of one of the western locals, who will be hosting an evening meal more in line with what we’ve come to expect from the occasion. I’ll bestow upon her a Pot of Dumps, dumplings in the true spirit of my mother and her mother and all other dumpmakers back in that rich line, flour and egg and the tiniest bit of water and salt all boiled up hot and tasty. I will eat them all myself except for one, and then as it is reached for, snap it away with adept chopstickery and flick it into the air like a flipped coin before plucking it from the air with my prehensile lizard tongue. It will be my most memorable moment ever, and probably the greatest and best of history.

Tonight I’m going to have the kids play Battleship, only it’s English Battleship where you can only attack by putting together parts of sentences instead of a letter and a number. So instead of a room full of people saying C-5 I’ll have a room full of people saying I would like to… walk to the store (or “remain totally silent with fear”). Anyway, because regular Battleship is lame, I’m making this into SPACE BATTLESHIP, which is fucking rad. They will have Space Battleship, Space Cruiser, Space Cosmoship, Space Ferry, and Space Guppy. The Space Guppy is obviously the one-square ship. They will say “You sunk my Space Guppy,” and things will be okay for me, for tonight at the very least.

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The early taste of domesticity

In my best Japanese I sound like an unintelligible toddler, at its worst I must sound reanimated with 4% brain functionality.  I gave my first “all Japanese” speech today, a cursory introduction to some new co-workers who I’ll see only once a week and decided to practice on.  A rough translation of what I hope I said:

Hello.  Nice to meet you.  My name is Brandon.  I am 25.  I am from America, in Pennsylvania, in the city Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh is famous for Pittsburgh Pirates baseball and enka singer “Jero.”  I don’t know much Japanese.  I am trying to learn.  Please be good to me.

What I probably said was that I lack abilities pertaining to spatial and linguistic functions and processes, and that I was a very poor choice for a colleague (please be good to me).  They applauded at least, either to make me feel good or because there are flies in the air and they are showing me the one thing I can do around here to be of any discernible use.

On the bright side (very bright), I purchased a can of “BOSS COFFEE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN BLEND” on the recommendation of an Internet Friend who I met in Kobe for some udon last night.  The udon was really delicious and this coffee is too.  I think I am totally gonna get used to this canned coffee thing.  Icey cold and eerily refreshing!

On the homefront, things are picking up.  We had our first domestic couple-experience of purchasing a major household appliance on Sunday, it is a washing machine, and the sales processes (and machine itself) operate entirely in Japanese.  We got it during some wild sale for around ¥26000 (down from ¥32000!) and they delivered it and installed it the next day, exactly when they said they would, for free.  We so much enjoyed our purchase from Yamada Denki that we immediately bought a wall-mounted air conditioner/heater from them during the 1-day-5-units-only blowout special for a frankly insane ¥37000 (half-price!), which is so cheap compared to all others we’ve seen that I literally defecated on the floor as we made the purchase.  They will be delivering and installing the aircon on Saturday.  Both appliances being Toshiba-made, we now routinely operate our Toshiba rice cooker, refrigerator, washing machine, my Toshiba Biblio phone, a Toshiba laptop at work, and soon our new Toshiba heating and cooling unit.  I feel an odd sense of Japanese brand loyalty and pride that stirs me deep inside.

Having recently received a massive salvo of goods left by my predecessor from the school, we now also have a small table and two chairs, a sorta-coffee table, an iron, a toaster oven, a tiny vacuum cleaner, and even my own futon with comforter.  All this really leaves on my Oh-God-I-Can’t-Be-Comfortable-Until-I-Get-This-Stuff list is a big fucking plasma television and Internet access, the acquisition of either most assuredly actions that will be not unlike those of a similar harbinger of most resplendent fortunes: descending slowly upon our living room an astral choir shall irradiate the area with blessed light, produce from within a holy instrument, and interface the communal knowledge of Gods with our spongey corporeal cortexes.  In conclusion I want a TV and some Internet.

The TV at least I know won’t come for another three months or so–I’ve been telling myself (and all who would dare to ask) that “my birthday” is the planned pick-up date, far enough ahead to allow me time to save, close enough to seem like a plausible future event.  Internet is more nebulous: I guess technically Jessy arranged service with Yahoo BB while getting her phone.  We got a paper with today’s date on it in the mail, but she knows nothing about it and neither of us are home during most of the regular weekday hours.  I can’t even call Yahoo to find out what’s going on–my language skills prevent me from saying anything other than My name is Brandon computer Internet please hamburger supermarket nice to meet you cool interesting delicious Monday, and this will get me nowhere.  My laptop thirsts for world-juice, it has been deprived since the final Tokyo morning fifteen days ago and at night I hear it sneaking to the balcony and whirring idly at the moon.  I want to tell him it will be O.K., that everything is on the way, that we’re gonna make it through this, but the strange mail makes no sense and all I can read on it is something about an octopus which I am guessing is wrong.

To keep our minds off TV and Internet we have taken to cooking.  Two nights ago we made honest to goodness gyudon, or “beef bowl,” which is thinly-sliced beef boiled in a sauce composed of dashi (a ubiquitous stock-like broth), mirin (a sake-containing sweet cooking liquid), soy sauce, sugar, and onions, then poured atop a bowl of rice.  When I told one of my fellow teachers I made gyudon, he said “oh, you went to Yoshinoya?” (A popular fast-food gyudon restaurant.)  I said no, I made gyudon, and he went “eeeeeh sugoooi!!!!” which roughly translated means “Oh!  Brandon!  You are more incredible and industrious than any man I have ever known!”  I was like yeah I know.

I wrote a guide and left it at home so Jessy can prepare some curry tonight, which Japanese-style is super-often eaten and sold in dozens of forms nearly everywhere.  I think she’s putting carrots and chicken and potato and corn in it?  I won’t get home until late tonight, but I can already smell that distinctively spicy aroma.

We’ve also made spaghetti a few times, notable most specifically because of Japanese spaghetti sauce, which mostly comes in two or three varieties, and always in feeds-two non-resealable plastic pouches: “Neapolitan,” which tastes mostly like ketchup and contains bits of green pepper and mushroom, “Meat Sauce,” which is sweeter than standard American spaghetti meat sauce but still weirdly delicious, and then an odd variation of Neapolitan, composed mostly of oil? and tasting kinda like stuffed shells or something.  They’re all edible anyway, and at ¥88 or so a pouch I can’t really complain.

Another area of existence here that is finally beginning to be less of a crapshoot is the train system.  Used to be, on a given day I’d take four trains: two to work from home and two to home from work, at an average daily cost of around ¥850, for a weekly five-day cost of about ¥4250, a whopping ¥17000 a month!  But I got wise–turns out there are these things called “Commutation Passes,” which you buy at your local station and which enable unlimited trips to and from two points on a single train line for three months.  My total cost for those passes (for the two train lines I take each day) was ¥41130, which seems like a lot up front but does not require absolute intelligence to make itself an obviously better deal when compared against the total of twenty normal day-per-month average travel costs for three months (¥17000 x 3 = ¥51000).  It’s a massive savings of ¥10000 in a three month period!  And not only that–unlimited trips means no more paying to go downtown and back at night after coming home or on weekends and holidays.  Take that, Japan!  Even as I write this my brain churns, frantically devising new and industrious ways to get better deals and monetary savings, which I can promptly annul by spending hundreds and hundreds of yen on gashapon capsule machine toys (totally worth it).

On that note, we are even getting better at the grocery store, checking the “discounted” areas of the bakery and produce sections in the evenings when the Japanese obsession with freshness goes corporate and leads to sweeping 40% discounts on many daily perishables.  Among my favorite scores: “Pizza Bread,” a wholly different entity than anything that moniker would elicit an idea of in the states–a paperback book-sized soft fresh bread, brushed with pizza sauce, garnished with tiny bits of pepperoni and thin slices of onion, then topped with cheese and individually wrapped.  At night they go all the way down to ¥60 sometimes, a sum that has never tasted so good.  Popped into the in-range grill for a few seconds in the morning the doughy delight makes a delicious breakfast.  And while I’m on the topic of bread do the Japanese ever love theirs.

In addition to the “standard” white bread (sold in weird packs of five texas-toast dwarfing enormous pillowy slices), you can get melon bread (sweet and crispy), curry bread (a deep-fried bread filled with Japanese curry), choco bread (a baguette stuffed with chocolate sauce), and even burger breads, which actually have a burger, mayo, and teriyaki sauce inside and sit there with the other bread, wrapped up in paper like a fast food burger for ¥100. You can microwave it, toast it, or just nom it as is. They are alarmingly delicious. Disarmingly delicious even.  I cannot comprehend how they do it.  Anyway it all works out for us to get an expiration discount on bread that doesn’t “expire” for another two days anyway since we’re used to the states where they’ll sell you anything as long as you forget to check the sell-by label first. 

So, we are moving right along.  We have the trains mostly figured out and walking paths to and from the stations to work and home are beginning to stabilize.  We can shop, cook, do laundry, sleep normally (finally), use our mobile phones, and even utilize Japanese bank accounts.  Most importantly, we can do it all without looking like befuddled tourists, a personal element of pride offset only by our looking genetically like Americans no matter what we do.  In this case, I think I’ll take what I can get.

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