Like the workings of regular, timed machines, Japan yesterday found itself overrun with 850,000 (according to the news) fresh young graduates clad in brand new suits all pushing themselves confused off to their first day of work at the company that will slowly murder them over the next forty-five years. Unlike businesses in America, most Japanese entities coincide their hiring period with the exact end of the school year, and the first day of work is right when the schools start back up again. That means that every year on April 1st they all march off like little superheroes in costume. I like seeing at what point you can no longer identify the seas of new hires, the more stalwart will continue to wear suits until well into the summer, while the people with some free-thinking generally switch to cool-biz attire (ha ha, as mandated) once May or June rolls around.
Last night on the news broadcasts they showed footage from the welcome ceremonies at Mitsubishi and Panasonic, two companies that happen to have huge headquarters and factories in Kobe and Osaka. A typical component of these ceremonies is all the new hires singing the company song–yes, the companies have songs–together, pledging their undying fealty to the emperor company president. Also, you can never leave the company or you will be ostracized and blacklisted from other big companies forever, ha ha april fools, we are just joking, but no that is also a joke do not come back
The cherry blossoms are in pretty close to what I’d call full bloom, I read somewhere that it happened almost two weeks earlier than has ever been noticed since official cherry blossom blossom records started being kept in like the mid 1950s. I think it is because my French/Japanese waifu Christel Takigawa is in all kinds of new commercials this season, and she is SO HOT THAT THE TREES ARE BLOWIN OPEN nah she is really just kind of cute not really hot, not as hot as duckface Tomomi Itano who still drives traffic to my website via bizarre google search results even though she has left AKB48 now, Tomomi Itano Tomomi Itano. P.S. sorry Jessica
but you knew it was coming
I AM A TOUR GUY
I led my mother around Japan for like the last two weeks as she visited us here, I have never been such a tourist in my entire life. We went to Chinatown and Arashiyama and Kyoto and sumo in Nanba and Nara and Awaji Island and all this stuff it was crazy. I cooked all the food that I am best at and we went to our favorite restaurants and watched Japanese television and Ghibli movies, did karaoke and went to a game center, ran through MEGA DON QUIXOTE and supermarkets, got our book signed at temples and shrines, drank under them cherry trees and oh so much more. It was great but also a little wack somehow, I felt like a tourist again since when there are three foreigners people will speak to you in English, a weird feel. Some old man who smelled like rotting coffee told me he loved New York, I was like that is nice dude I have never been there.
CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK OR MONTH, WHATEVER
– I bought a copy of Battle Arena Tohshinden for PlayStation because of its psychotic English text on the front, which says “Waw!? And now, what’s going on!? Toh Shin Den is about to present to you a super hot virtual battle, like one that you’ve never seen before at a rate of 90,000 polygons per second!”
– Rode a bus in Kyoto in which I was more squished than I have ever been squished, ever
– Have become totally hooked on kitsune udon, udon with sweet fried tofu on top, just in time to only have four more months to eat it all the time before I leave Japan forever
– Mad Men starts next week, oh god oh yes oh man this is not Japanese but CURIOUS ENDING OF JAPANESE WHATEVER
I was tasked with changing places in the staff room yesterday, the first time I believe the foreigner has ever not sat in their original seat, the shittiest one in the staff room: right in front of the door where all the students bug you and you get hit with the drafts from the hall and you have people always walking by you and behind you and all this crap. They moved me back a row so my back is now to a wall, which means essentially I don’t have to worry about anyone jumpin’ up behind me or kids asking me weird questions I can’t understand. I am also next to the refrigerator, so all my refrigeration needs are covered.
Lots of new teachers in fresh brand new suits came here yesterday. I wonder how long the suits will last.
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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.
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!”
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
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.
Welcome to Nom a Day®, and thank you for choosing this Inter Net to provide you with thousands of words. I here at Nom a Day have confidence that this Nom has been manufactured to the highest specifications and with the highest quality materials. It is guaranteed to provide you minutes of “entertainment.”
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WARMUP, AND PERSONAL ANECDOTE
By virtue of it being totally filled up with a bunch of crap, my workspace at night school today is a small corner of the desk approximately 18 inches by 12 inches, meaning my decision to bring the netbook today instead of the laptop was a prophetic one. Really all this does is clarify my job duties at night school, and the relative perception of the staff regarding what I do: “just put all those crates full of shit on Brandon’s desk, he’s only here one day a week and we have positively no idea what he’s saying.” This is fine, however, because I have a miniature keyboard and a blank screen, and far less has gotten me through far more.
It’s fully spring, I’m prepared to say, and today I have Dressed Myself in a fetching baby blue v-neck sweater over a “waishaatsu,” which is how the Japanese people say “white, collared button-up shirt.” My belt matches my shoes, pants, and socks, I am drinking a hot mug of masala chai, I have string cheese in my desk and maguro sushi in the fridge, and there are seven hours to go. I wonder if I could write a Nom for seven hours straight? Dear lord I hope not.
We went to Costco last night, which is suicide on the weekend and just a mere annoyance any other time. Getting there and getting back takes much longer than actually shopping for stuff, which is usually accomplished by us telling each other there are only a couple of things that we want, then going up and down every aisle and throwing tons of shit into the cart and not leaving without spending less than two-hundred bucks on enormous jars of pickles and other such sundries. It’s usually a surprise three or four days later when our purchases arrive at our apartment, carefully shipped for a mere five bucks a box, COD–in addition to a ten pound sack of onions I know I am expecting an enormous bag of gummy bears and some Dr. Pepper, but I can remember little else about what I actually purchased. I may have purchased a slab of apple smoked bacon, and perhaps some dried cherries? It is possible these are only the wishes of a lucid, waking dream.
Dining at Costco always presents a unique conundrum as opposed to eating at most Japanese restaurants I frequent. In most cases I am able to easily eliminate 80% of the menu for being pickled, runny, or genitalia, but at Costco the few options are all what we fighting game players would refer to as “god tier.” Do I choose the pizza? It’s big American pizza! A massive Korean bulgogi bread roll with cheese and sauce and beef? The soda is 80 yen and refillable–it is like the deranged wish of a Japanese man, for an hour. Am I living in America? It is no wonder we are uniformly enormous–we do not know how good we have it, because we know nothing else. Know this! The next time you idly roll your loading cart through Sam’s Club and figure the $299 LCD televisions are too expensive, you are actually experiencing the result of American persistence. For the efforts of your forefathers you can purchase the most affordable consumer electronics and foodstuffs in the world, and complain about their prices.
Anyway, I got the combo pizza, and it was just like getting pizza at any Costco in the states, which says more about it than I could. They have literally boxed up America and sent it over on a massive boat, dozens of pallets wide and tall. The beer still costs fifty bucks a case though and there is no Macaroni and Cheese or ranch dressing packets in sight not that you’d be able to find sour cream to mix it with anyway.
CURRENT CULTURAL NOTE
My coworkers are over there laughing so hard they are literally crying, there is water coming out, because of some Internet soundboard that has something to do with this cultural phenomenon AC commercial. For the uninitiated, following the big earthquake and tsunami on the 11th every television channel in Japan went pretty much to a nonstop news format for about a week solid. During this time, despite the fact that almost every set in Japan was probably turned on and had eyes glued to it, companies were (understandably) reluctant to run advertising for their products, 30-second monuments to absurdity packed full of giggly dipshits who continue on in their pre-recorded worlds totally unaware of the huge disaster up north, chomping on seasoned rice and doing stupid dances and taking chugs of beer with a “kyaaaa!”.
The companies’ pulling of most of their advertising left gaps in the TV schedules for commercial breaks with which there was now no material to fill them, and these channels need breaks some time! Enter AC, the advertising committee of Japan, and their public service announcements. For a week solid, virtually the only ads you could see on TV were PSAs from AC, running the gamut from breast cancer prevention to properly using your greetings and everything in between. (Think “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs.”)
AC announcements are instantly recognizable by citizens of Japan because of the distinctive jingle that follows them: on a white screen with the blue letters AC, the sing-songy voice of a woman warbling “AY SHEEEEEE” rings out. Since these PSAs are usually fifteen seconds long, in an average commercial break an unsuspecting TV-viewer could hear “AY SHEEEEE” six, seven, eight times in succession–often following repeats of the exact same “check your boobs, ladies” announcements back to back to back. This became a sort of cultural lynchpin in an era where less and less people all watch the same television programs like they did in the 90s–everyone’s stuck to the TV for the news, and everyone sees the same stuff. Though perhaps not commanding the most refined senses of humor, the Japanese people have a delightful, almost sublime grasp of the absurd, and so like a bad manzai comedy catchphrase, “AY SHEEEEEE” became a rally cry. Some people eventually got so annoyed with it that AC removed the tune from the end of all their PSAs; it has yet to return.
The real sticking point here was a commercial about using greetings, with little animated cutesy characters spouting common daily phrases like “konnichiwa” and “arigatou” with singalong subtitles at the bottom. Everyone in the damned country knows the words to this fucking thing now and it has gotten out of control. I’ll just embed it here so you can see it!
It’s so out of control, in fact, that people are making bizarre edit versions of them and posting them on YouTube. My favorite is this one, where the little pink thing morphs into a giant robot ala Gunbuster and powers up with a little AC emblem in the middle of her helmet that, upon appearing, sings the “AY SHEEEEEE” song. Hell why not just embed that one too for kicks.
Moreno than the high school baseball games, Monster Hunter or Arashi or Asahi Super Dry, this commercial is what Japanese people are all culturally tuned into, and it would not surprise me in the fucking least if these goofy bastards found themselves turned into marketing mascots with corresponding plush toy lines. To me, it’s as much a symbol of the quake as anything else. It still feels weird to see an AC commercial without the jingle at the end, and I imagine the day it returns will be a triumphant one.
To finish up the thread from before, this soundboard my coworkers found lets you play the various phrases from the commercial. (I actually found it on the net, you can play with it by clicking the word DOOP after this sentence. DOOP They seem to find it pretty funny. When the head teacher came back they all slinked back to their desks snickering like high schoolers, and I sipped my drink.
A GEEKY ASIDE DEALING WITH THE NINTENDO 3DS
Because the people of this country had not gotten enough portable gaming already, Nintendo put out a new handheld system last month that displays images in THREE DIMENSIONS, by using a special screen that sends a slightly different picture to each eye, fooling you into parting with 250 dollars of your money. I have placed an order for the North American, English version of this system, mostly because I am an idiot but also for the privilege of playing a re-release of the second version of the fourth game in a series of fighting games I have purchased handfuls of times already. The game is the almost absurdly named Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and with it I will pierce the heavens using only these mighty thumbs and a wireless Internet connection.
One of the neat things about this system is that when you are carrying it around, it can wirelessly detect if other people are carrying one around too, and then it swaps data between you without you even knowing until you check it later. This means little caricatures of people can show up in your system and you can use them to battle monsters and crap, and also you can virtually fight each others’ collectible figures, and all kinds of other junk. This, by extension, means that it is good to be carrying your 3DS when you are surrounded by a group of people, because more swapped data means MORE FUN!!!!!!
I would like to believe that I have not actually seen any Japanese person carrying around a 3DS in a month because they are all squirreled away secret in their bags trying to detect other systems, but the fact of the matter is that I just don’t know if that is the case or not. Once I get mine (maybe another week or two?) I’m going to go Osaka on a weekend and cruise through Yodobashi and maybe park my ass in Doutonbori and see how many I get. This is what I have paid money for–virtual, real-world wireless fishing for humans (it also includes a fishing game).
Another neat thing about it is that you can play games that have to do with the camera. There is one game called “Face Raiders” where you take a picture of something’s face, then it maps it onto the enemies in the game and you have to spin around and shoot them out of the air. Naturally I plan on photographing my cat, so that every time he rips up my tatami mats I can turn on the 3DS and rip up his face with phasers.
REGARDING YESTERDAY’S LUNCH
When I first started working here, I noticed a strange man coming in each day around the same time, then leaving, then coming back with a metal lunchbox full of various foods for people. As I later learned, he is a food delivery guy for a local restaurant who services a variety of local workplaces in the neighborhood. I have ordered from him on a variety of occasions: average oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice), sub-par tannindon (beef and egg on rice), the saltiest curry I have ever tasted, and other things. Yesterday I wrote on the paper that I wanted the makizushi roll, except he never came to get the paper, and so he never brought the food! Apparently since lots of teachers are gone taking spring vacations right now he didn’t feel a need to come up. So me and another teacher just went to the restaurant instead.
He had told me I could see a Traditional Japanese restaurant, and it was kind of the equivalent of a really old small-town American diner, with some twists–in the glass case there were no pastries, but instead deep-fried fish pieces and strange pickled salads, and the room offset from the dining area was a tatami room with a television playing baseball. I got my sushi roll, which was a salad roll with egg and crab stick and some other weird things in it, and was eight massive pieces for about three bucks. As I ordered it a taxi driver said to me in Japanese “whoa, Japanese food is no problem for you?!” and I had to say of course not, and he asked where I was from and I told him America, and he said whoa, I thought all Americans ate was steak! and I said that would be nice but no, and he said and beer! and I said well that would be nice too but I don’t see any beer here, and I saw a twinkle of rebelliousness in my coworker’s eye but nothing happened.
The microwave in this joint was from like 1975, it made a sound like Mr. Rogers’ trolley when it finished warming up some dude’s fish.
ABOUT MY CAT
Due to a widespread sentiment that our delightful Kiki was getting “too fat,” despite most people having no idea how fat too fat is for a cat, I have instituted a diet for out cat, which works kind of like this:
1. In the morning, feed the cat half a can of food
2. At night, feed him the other half
It’s working out pretty well I guess, not that I can really tell how fat the cat is since he is entirely black and usually not standing upright. The downside is that he wakes me up at 5:30 every morning by first sinking his claws into the covers and trying to pull them off of me with absolutely no effect, then secondly by climbing up on my head and licking my hair till I wake up. He has also officially taken the title of “most able to relax” from any other previous cat I have ever had. Just last night I held him like a shovel with his head as the spade, one arm under him for support, and he was totally cool with it. Sometimes when I am playing games at the table or sitting upright, I will plop him down on my lap like a human baby, and he will just sit there, feet sticking out, front paws hanging there, being all like “sup.” What a lazy cat this cat is.
20 CLEVER WAYS TO NOT DO WORK AT WORK, EVEN THOUGH YOU STAY WAY AFTER THE TIME YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE, BUT YOU DON’T LEAVE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO APPEAR LIKE YOU ARE BUSY WITH WORK, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO WORK AND YOU OBVIOUSLY ARE NOT WORKING, BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY COWORKERS
1. Reload the Yahoo! main page repeatedly, perhaps to see what the new banner advertisement is this time
2. Look at clothes shopping websites, then minimize them and get out your wallet and dig for a credit card
3. Print some documents you do not need printed, then crinkle them up
4. Read a book
5. Put a book on the desk in front of you, then lean over it so it looks like you’re reading with your arms crossed, then go to sleep
6. Repeatedly drink coffee and fill the hot water heater back up with water
7. Go to Yahoo Auctions to search for the clothes you almost just bought with your credit card but didn’t actually buy
8. Discuss the same local cafe for almost fifteen minutes, going back and forth while you each say exactly the same things as the other person
9. Instead of using whiteout on one of the hundred identical misprinted forms and making new copies of it, use whiteout on all one hundred identical misprinted forms
10. Have another person read numbers to you off student tests while you type them in, instead of reading and typing at the same time (bonus points, this occupies two people)
11. Stand up, examine the schedules and information on the white board, sit down, look at some other people, stand up, walk around the room, then look at the information on the white board again
12. Visually confirm that the plastic recycling bin is indeed full, and discuss it with your coworkers, then don’t do anything
13. Ask if it is hot in here, open every window, declare it is cold, close all the windows, then open just one window
14. Leave the room and walk down the hallway, then walk back to the room
15. Find something to put in the paper shredder
16. Type loudly on your keyboard, even though your screen is off
17. Write a grocery list with devoted intensity
18. Look over at a group of people having a conversation, acting interested
19. Wikipedia (personal favorite)
20. Go to the sink, take a couple clean dishes from the drying rack, and wash them again
One of the books that has been left here on my desk (cover price 1600 yen) says in katakana “Chorus Laboratory Party,” but the way the katakana is rendered, when you say it out loud it kinda sounds like “Call Us Lavatory Party” which is maybe something a fledgling band would say.
As April arrives again and the sakura consider blossoming, it again is time for teachers to transfer away to other schools. Though I haven’t had even close to the same severity of rank decimation around me as I did last year, when I lost all my principals and all but two of my co-teachers across three schools, I am sad to admit that my exceedingly cool co-worker who lived in Leeds, joined this school last year, and has the habit of inserting gratuitous curse words into everything today quits this school for a supreme adventure!
Despite the insistence of his superiors, he has defied the traditionally Japanese idea of working the same job for ever and ever and decided to relinquish his public teaching certificate and volunteer for the Peace Corps, already accepted to ship out in September and live in Fiji until 2012. We always spoke very casual English together over vending machine coffees, and he always made a genuine effort to speak to me and make me feel welcome. He’s only about six years older than me and I felt something of a kindred soul in him and his ideals and approach to life. He said that a man should be global, and asked for my support over Skype, before saying that leaving this country for volunteer work in another country would be his “last great adventure.” But when I consider the courage it takes to do something different in a work culture where consistency is king, I think it might just be his first one.
WHEREAS one cannot possibly consider an abundance of space an important comfort; and WHEREAS the value of an experience may not necessarily be based on its relative uniqueness; and WHEREAS the mere act of looking at something is critical enough to necessitate three-hour-plus-each-way road and rail trips; BE IT RESOLVED that going to Yoshino, near Nara, in Japan, to view the cherry blossoms before the following day’s impending rain blows them away, is A GOOD EXPERIENCE and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that it is FUCKING DUMB. APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers a-tappin’.
Racked with early Saturday-morning distractions (weird guys in spandex suits fighting monsters on TV, early registration for a Japanese language class, Oreo cookies with milk), we finally leave the house around noon, prepared for a trip that is going to take a while longer than we really figured.
Three-and-a-half hours later, halfway up the mountain, which is split by a winding road illustrated on our complimentary bus map (two-person fare Y700), I start listening to the young couple behind us, both peering out the window, and begin to decipher her Japanese language yelps of glee. They amount to “So pretty! It’s pretty, huh? Really pretty! Wow! Look look! Preeeeeeeetty!” Following this I become acutely aware of the fact that everyone else on the bus, the rolling definition of stuffed to the gills, sardines in a tin can, bursting at the seams, is saying these things too. For fun, I lean over as best as I can to Jessy, and say “IT’S PRETTY NEEEEEEE?????” She is not amused.
This is Yoshino, where “they” say you can see a thousand cherry blossoms in one view, one solitary gaze off into the distance. It would not be a stretch to say that if you were high enough, you could probably also see that many people milling about, waterfall-streaming from the bus drop off and bouncing around like the white dots of a badly received TV signal, pass the Chee-tos. The paths to wherever, where wherevers are places that you would be happy to unroll your tarp or blanket and sit, are lined with stores, restaurants, and (not) surprisingly enough, the houses of the poor bastards who have to actually live here and deal with the throngs of humanity pulsing in every spring for their shot at that hundred million yen view.
Salmon denying instinct, we push against the flow at one place where they’re grilling sticks of chicken meat slathered in sweet sauce on little metal grates over hot coals (the beloved yakitori). I can’t tell if it is an established business. I am leaning toward “some guy’s house” because the coal pits look kind of like emptied-out flowerbeds, and I think I can see into his porch. For a few hundred yen, I embrace the flavor. Later on down the line we stop into what actually is some guy’s concrete-paved yard, outside anyway, and feast on the goodies of the full-sized flat grill/deep fryer he’s standing behind. Hot, crisp tofu donuts (just like the ones from Kyoto that we love so much) and some sort of sauced, deep-fried tofu wedge open the way, and then I lust explicitly for one of the enormous hamburger steaks he has cooking, but the line has become far too long, and we have flowers to look at!
By the time we meet up with the people we know, we have already confusingly walked the perimeter of the village outskirts, cutely arriving atop a hill from which we can easily see the place the bus dropped us (we went north, and now we are south). They are packing up, some of our people, but not before I sample some homemade umeshu (this is a kind of sweet plum liquor) from a paper cup. I contemplate how early these people must have had to leave to get here, and then another friend arrives, having been ground to meat in the transport gears of Kansai, opting for the cable car instead of our bus route. Finally we’ve made it nowhere, and as I pass through a nearby cemetery confusingly littered with a handful of lost Yu-Gi-Oh cards, I figure looking ahead to the mountainside must be that hundred million yen view, sakura everywhere I can see, so long as I tilt my head up a bit to exclude the high-and-tight power lines. They are every shade of red and pink and lavender and white and eggshell and slightly pink eggshell and slightly eggshell red and all of those other ones and the hillside looks like hundreds of flowery birdshot wounds. It is pretty, and I left the house so long ago, and I figure that next spring I will find just one tree close to home, stick my head up inside the branches, and open my eyes. I joke with another person that I will merely tape glossy printouts of the sakura to my ceiling, which would be funny if I hadn’t been so close to considering what fun it would be to have such a colorful ceiling.
After an hour or two, which is all we have left if we want to catch the last bus to the station, excitingly departing at 6:00 PM, we make our way down the side of the hill past people who appear to have made the decision to wait it out, that pesky nightfall, and defy it like pitchfork villagers with rackets and badminton birdies, bags of Calbee consommé double punch potato chips, and, by now, mountains of empty beer cans, be gone knave!
My idea of food-based revelry comes to pass back in Osaka, with the most traditional of Japanese foods: Indian. I have been here before, and order the set and a half-price beer–spicy chicken curry and hot naan has tasted this good before, but not today until now.
We did it though, for the sake of doing it, for saying we did it, which I tell myself I am pleased of even though I am certain it is the same reason every other person in Japan went there. I wonder, have they seen sakura before? Is this their first time to Yoshino? I imagine a man, who, unable to deal with the concept of himself, attaches long strips of Velcro to his arms and fingers like jellyfish feelers and snaps at everyone wearing fuzzy coats just to pull them near, to be surrounded by a pulsing blob of mankind, and stands for a few hours, and decides to do it again soon. I am scoping out my tree already, a nice one with a view of my balcony.
HEY WANNA KNOW SOME THINGS ABOUT JAPAN THAT I FOUND ODD THIS WEEK?
– Too bad I don’t feel like thinking of any today YEP THAT’S ABSOLUTELY EVERY LAST THING
As promised, classes have definitely begun. I had my first set of them at high school yesterday, the same awkward affairs of my arrival but honed by a wiser and more experienced hand: group work from the get-go, a brazen and unabashed class devoted entirely to Me, and things about Me and forcing the kids and their groups to come up with questions for Me dealing with things that pertained to Me. I do it so that to balance the karma, next week will be solely about Them, and Them talking about Themselves endlessly, the things They like, hate, and are indifferent to. I will use it as an opportunity to get their names (in both Japanese and English lettering) on papers with their student numbers, information cards of a Total Student Profile that I can consult easily any time I am tired of referring to a student as “yes, please” or “you.”
As we move forward I shall subject my kids to the rigors of my first year of work, those poor original guinea pigs, with all of the disgusting chaff cleanly nipped away and in its place polished shiny grains, morsels of streamlined edutainment, entercation, twenty-five minute action-packed fun-fests filled with me drawing cute elephants on the board and informing the girls that if they want to know my exact height (180.34 cm) or my birthday (I’m a Scorpio) that they had better bring presents.
My night school students, I am sure, will continue to not care about anything except cell phone e-mail.
Still, even though it’s initially a bit nerve-wracking to know I go up on display again, I can’t help but catch myself having fun from time to time, watching the minutes breeze by, enjoying how effortless it feels now to stretch two sentences on a class outline to an entire period, to gesture wildly, write Brandon in huge letters on the board without screeching the chalk.
WHEREAS I am finally in a position to carry out the duties of my job description; and WHEREAS spring pushes forward, leaving the fallen petals of the cherry trees in its balmy wake; and WHEREAS I am invited to two different school drinking parties in the next two days; and WHEREAS I finally start Japanese lessons in May; and WHEREAS we have some pals from Canada visiting the country soon; and WHEREAS I ordered an eBook reader and will finally be able to browse English-language manga on the train; and WHEREAS everything old is new again; BE IT RESOLVED that things are pretty NICE and GOOD; APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers done tappin’.
It’s still Spring Break, in so far as that I am teaching no classes. This will all have changed by the time you read the next Nom, which is a fact I’m not sure if I should be stressed about or not. To be sure, actually filling my day with some kind of activity other than idly browsing the Internet, typing these articles, or reading whatever book I can get my hands on will almost certainly be an exciting and welcome change, albeit one requiring slightly more effort than total stasis. Do I even remember how to do this anymore? I can literally barely remember the last class I taught. I am pretty sure it was like the 23rd. Of February.
But anyway, think of it! A whole grade full of fresh first-year high schoolers, all mine to destroy. This time, they are mine from the beginning. I will remember their names, interests, pets, and favorite foods. (Yeah right.) The boy to girl ratio with this class is, unlike my first group’s 1:1, tipped significantly in the favor of those bearing the double X chromosome, which seemingly foreshadows a high occurrence rate of more of these kinds of student poems during our haiku lesson:
He is a big smile
His face is very smallish
His name is Branton!
The changing of the term has brought a variety of personnel changes as well, as I have mentioned before. Though I haven’t yet had to deal with many of them significantly enough to form concrete opinions, I do have a new co-teacher at my night school who is now in his first year teaching at a not-cram-school, and he greeted me today with “what’s up, man,” which I am firmly in support of. He also invited me to go out to the vending machines for coffee, which puts his “voluntarily offered to do something with me” count at 1, on parity or higher than the counts of nearly all my other co-workers. As a somewhat young fellow, he has been very forward in approaching me, which I also firmly support. Also he has a propensity to, perhaps because he spent a year living in Leeds, insert the word “fucking” seemingly at random into his speech. If you were wondering, this too is an action I support, firmly.
Another consequence of the regime change at night school is that finally, after nearly eight months, I have a power outlet via extension cord on my desk, with which to plug in my computer. The best I can figure is that this is a result of me brazenly running my netbook’s power cable across the floor to the other outlet every Wednesday for months on end, resulting in a variety of nearly broken limbs and joints. Still no Internet here, which I figure will never happen. No matter–the lack of this distraction gives me time to catch up on eating peanuts, staring listlessly into space, and talking to myself with a keyboard.
HOW STRANGE, THESE THINGS, WHICH IN A WAY SERVE TO COMPARTMENTALIZE MY CULTURAL EXPERIENCES
– Last Saturday, after the tapering off of a game of Scrabble, brought to the point where virtually no play opportunities or liquid word formations remained and turn times approached infinity, flipping through the TV channels idly and settling on oil wrestling, wherein grossly mismatched men and women threw their respective body types into each other for no more than four seconds before violently slamming into the ground all lubricated with viscous, mucus-looking snot-goop
– Serious personal consideration of a potential purchase of a specialized metal file which retails for 2100 yen and which has only one purpose: to be gently abrasive against bits of plastic left connected to larger pieces of plastic which were once connected to even larger pieces of plastic, manipulated for the sake of assembling tiny models of imaginary robots
– A smallish embroidered patch for clothing, spotted at the craft store, drawn in a juvenile fashion and intended to be placed presumably on childrens’ articles, bearing a representation of a colorful police vehicle, lights swirling, with the English text “GOING PLACES”
– Being presented with some sort of mysterious business card from a representative of what seems to be some kind of retirement consultant, “life plan advisor,” or “total life consultant,” while sitting at my desk, following a string of Japanese I could barely understand, and uttering merely in said language “thank you very much,” to which I got the “your Japanese is very good,” was assaulted with another string of impenetrable speech that may have contained the word for “three,” and then being bidden farewell to
– Met at my apartment door by two men, one tall and attractive in a dorky way, the other short and homely, and being convinced to upgrade my Internet service by way of the terms HYAKU MEGA! and SPEED UP COST DOWN, then watching the short guy beg the tall guy for a chance to use his props, which included a large magazine-sized calculator and a pop-up book with a 3D modem in it, shortly before the tall guy smacked him on the head with a folder THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO LIVING IN JAPAN
On the home front, things are generally as usual as ever. We are cruising through anime and movies nightly at a pace I have never experienced, turning to the visual arts to both “do something together” and in some odd enough reason experience our new culture (or a sub-element of it anyway). The humor comes in when considering I initially scrounged up some other anime more Jessy-geared than Gundam, so I could get her okay with watching Gundam (my true desire). Now, though such distractions are likely no longer necessary, I have accumulated dozens of series and movies totaling hundreds of hours of video, which we move through just the same. Next into the rotation is a show called Canaan, which seems to be about some sort of foreign assassins. I am okay with that.
Last night, to accompany our viewing with nutrition and satisfaction, I boiled some chicken legs in bouillon stock with onions, garlic, and carrots, then shredded the meat and tossed it back in the broth with a bowl full of hand-dropped dumplings just like mama told me how to make. They were hyper delicious, and accompanied by a totally unsatisfying All Malt Beer, the likes of which disturbingly taste less and less shitty to me as the last memories of decent brew pass through my mind like bananas in a pasta strainer.
As though I, or the fine people of this fine country, needed any other sort of excuse, let alone a seasonal one, to drink, one has finally begun to arrive: the viewing parties which are now occuring all over the place in honor of the blooming sakura, the cherry blossoms adorning a variety of trees. To properly hanami, or engage in a party of this nature, it seems that one needs to complete a variety of tasks:
1a. Get some beer
1b. Get some liquor that is not beer
2. Get some food
2.75 (optional) Get some people
3. Go outside, by some of the cherry trees
3.5. (optional) Find “some shady”
4. Watch them
I am not sure I have yet fully grasped the nuances of the hanami, but with enough of tasks 1 and 2 I think I might grow pretty receptive to learning.
Once spring ends, it will be summer. Did you know that Japan has four seasons? It does.