Tag Archives: japanese

Various premium

Today’s the neon Times Square to the every-day corner bar: with about four times the screen real estate I am finding myself left feeling a little naked. Today instead of my diminutive Eee PC I’ve got my main laptop, the big ol’ Studio 15, with me here at night school, and it’s almost a little shocking to be typing a Nomaday on a full-sized keyboard instead of that cramped little wonder. The screen on this one is so vibrant and bright in this new setting that I actually had to dim it a bit to feel more comfortable.

I didn’t just lug this thing all the way out here for kicks though. Spurned on by an only semi-planned viewing last evening of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I took it upon myself to acquire said Motion-Picture in the highest of defs, and plan on showing it to my kids tonight as our final lesson until January 12th. All I want is what I have coming to me! All I want is my fair share! (This movie, upon further review, probably had more of a hand than I had consciously realized in shaping my own linguistic tendencies at a tender age.) Though the ending happens to be a little heavy-handedly Christian in its message, at least the damned thing deals with a Christian holiday. Christmas may very well be about Christ! I’m just not seeing it. Truly of all the Charlie Browns in the world, I’m the Charlie Browniest.

That said, I cannot imagine that my kids will be shocked, offended, put upon, or even aware of any sort of message that exists in the film which happens to be conveyed by dialogue, well-meaning but only-kinda-knowledgeable high schoolers that they are. This one will need to survive on charisma (and Snoopy) alone. The show is 25 minutes and my classes tonight are a shortened 35, so I’ll only need to blow a few intro and extro minutes with a bit of simple exposition (Charles Schulz invented these characters, they play this on TV every winter, it is 45 years old, yes Vince Guaraldi is the Man). Then we’ll be all set.

As luck would have it, it hasn’t been just any ordinary day that I chose to heft this weighty machine around. No, instead of going straight to work at the prescribed time, today I accomplished some most famous errands: the contest prize that I promised a lucky N-Sider reader has been verily, and tardily, sent off, with a few little toys and treats included as a bold repentance for my sins. In addition, after a somewhat linguistically baffling trip to the immigration office, I am now the proud bearer of a Japanese multiple re-entry permit, which allows me to enter (and re-enter) the country as many times as I do so wish until the day my visa bites the three-year big one. Of course to enter the country I must first leave the country, which I will most certainly be doing approximately a week from now. Hopefully in the future I’ll leave it again for at least India and Thailand, the only two places nearby that I really give enough of a shit to want to pay to visit. And at about sixty bucks for this permit I had better get my money’s worth! A final task this morning was to pay some slightly overdue bills, which I did at FamilyMart while buying a Monster Hunter Portable 3 branded bottle of soda and a piece of spicy breaded chicken in a paper envelope. (I chose the FamilyMart over Lawson specifically because I prefer FamilyMart’s spicy breaded.)

Kobe south of the station is decked out like a carnival and lit-up like Gary Busey thanks to the annual arrival of Luminarie, a massive exhibition/celebration in remembrance of the Great Hanshin Earthquake fifteen years ago. This thing consists of a variety of enormous white arches totally covered in thousands and thousands of little twinkly lights, set up over a street and ending in the community park. This has resulted in absolute throngs of people swarming the area for about a week now. I strolled through during the day today for not the first time, which provides an eerie duality: totally vacant but for the tarps of the street vendor’s tents. I haven’t been to see it at night this year, but if it’s anything like last year, and of course it is, the other side of the coin is feeling like a crayon in one of those 64-packs of Crayolas, and you’re in a case with other 64-packs, and the case is on a pallet with other cases, and the pallet is on a boat with a fucking million people slamming into you and stopping to take goddamned pictures all the time. If you are wondering, obviously I will go see it again this year, because I hate myself and I routinely do dumb crap.

Now ended, like many other things this time of year, is my Japanese class, which has shockingly improved my abilities to comprehend what others are saying while not entirely improving my ability to speak at anywhere near something approaching a conversational level above that of a broom talking to a wall. The only solution of course is to Speak More with People, but it’s hard to consciously take the mental hit and reduce yourself to broom level. As a compensation I have begun and will continue to study kanji and vocabulary, easily my weakest points. If I can read it and understand it I can interpret it and “translate” it, which is essentially endgame when it comes to my ultimate desires regarding the Japanese language. Now that I’ve turned in my acceptance form for a third year on my contract, I’m guaranteed to at least have some more chances to utterly embarrass myself in this foreign land that happens to be my home. I will never criticize anyone who is trying to learn a language again (as long as they are trying). Unless that language is Klingon.

CURIOUS THINGS
– Mitsuya Cider “THE PREMIUM,” which apparently cost me about forty yen more than a standard Mitsuya Cider, and which comes in a glass bottle with a metal lid and gold label, and which bears a label proclaiming its 99.9% naturalness percentage, and which says in cursive script White crystal sugar is used for various premium sweets, which is a phrase that not only tells me nothing but instills in me little to no confidence that white crystal sugar is actually used in this drink because they are too busy using it in various premium sweets
– Modern complex board games, namely one Arkham Horror, to which I was semi-introduced by a friend, being yet another potential hobby that promises to be expensive, time-consuming, space-consuming, and virtually impossible to seriously engage in so long as I live on this island four thousand miles from America
– Last weekend’s Chinese course meal and all-you-can-drink birthday party, which absolutely loaded me with draft beer, eggdrop soup, spicy rice noodles, chicken salad with peanut sauce, deep-fried orange chicken, Mabodoufu, hot Chinese wine, and Krispy Kreme donuts for dessert
– The ensuing karaoke fiesta, which started with six and ended up with nearly twelve people in a room the size of a hotel bathroom with a TV at the front, two microphones, two tambourines, unlimited whisky highballs, and the theme song to Married with Children
– This bitchin’ beef stew that I made last night with huge chunks of carrots and potatoes and beef and which I instinctively prepared a huge pot of rice for while thinking that “you can’t have stew without rice” and which I ate with rice anyway and which was bitchin’ like I said
– My cat, who while I slept last night, came to rest on my pillow, wrapped himself around my head, and meticulously groomed with his tongue the entirety of my visible hair, which is after my recent cut now short enough that it felt like my head was being brushed with a dish sponge, and who I tried to stop once but lacked the persistence to follow through with, and who I eventually just let go because fuck it it’s your mouth, cat (I will not be returning the favor)
CURIOUS THINGS

I’ve taken again, as I often do in cycles, to playing some games on my PSP lately instead of reading or listening to music during my commute and down time. The most recent one is a game called Half-Minute Hero, which initially consists of an RPG where you have to save the world from the Dark Lord. The trick is that as soon as the game starts he casts a spell which will end the entire world in thirty seconds, so you need to level up, buy equipment, and get to the castle and kill him before thirty seconds are up. More games should be like this, because my attention span is pretty bad alrea

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Must swim three times

I am surrounded by men, women, antsy kids, Jessy, and television screens in a multi-floor building as nice as a hotel. I’m near Shin-Kobe station, and on the third floor of this big place, where a man has hung a little plastic card around my neck that says Guest. In a tiny room adorned with what I can only classify as “exotic brick-a-brac” we watch the television screens together. It’s a live broadcast from an area near Mount Fuji. Highlights: man screams and shoots an arrow into a bush which is then lit on fire, man chops at the air with a sword to cleanse it from barriers to self-realization, old lady wearing little hat does hand motions while holding tiny sticks, which are then tossed into the fire. Together the people chant around me in a language I cannot understand, a situation I figure I should be more used to than I am by now. I am attending a special Buddhist service as a visiting member of the Shinnyo-en school, which literally means “Borderless Garden of Truth.” As believers we seek the awareness of the self through meditation and Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Am I a believer? What’s there to believe but that I am or am not? I figure in general it’s harder to not believe in stuff than it is to believe. After temple I buy a bag of chickpeas because we’re gonna make some hummus this week.

Japan is currently doing what it is it does, gearing up in much the same way as it did last year for the full arrival of fall. Though fall is technically officially here it’s still occasionally warm enough for people to get the wrong idea, and until the light scarves and jackets come out I hesitate to wave the flag. My true barometer is merely the appearance of special food products and fall-themed drinks, which haven’t really started popping up yet in any great numbers. I did spot new Cup Noodle flavors today, Beef Stew and Cream Stew, which I guess are kind of fall-y, but these seem to be some sort of microwave-requiring things which is just a bunch of crap. To be perfectly frank I myself am dreading the end of fall, which is slightly preventing me from enjoying it now: in the middle of December I’ll likely be embarking on a grueling couple-dozen hour journey across the ocean and back to the rolling plains of Iowa to spend the holidays, my first trip back to home soil since I arrived here. I am “not fond” of flying, which means it is my least favorite thing in the entire world except maybe getting stabbed.

Speaking of favorite things I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of my existential angst is not that I don’t have enough free time, but merely that I like too many things. My pesky nook e-reader has done precisely what I intended: made acquiring books so painless and reading so simple that it is my new default activity for my morning and evening commute. I read nine books in September, and the PSP and DS weep, because they want attention too. I will not even start in on the home activities, which command not only the time there but often the television. The result of all this is that I am forced to choose one of my hobbies at a time and I never get too far with any of them. It’s good to have options, I guess, but it means it just takes twice as long to do what I want. There is no point to these ramblings, just a sort of reminiscent defeatism: remember when you were 16, had no social life or significant obligations, had virtually nothing other to do than play games, and did so most veritably? If only I could go back in time and relive the same late November snow day for years and years.

Speaking of years, I ran the numbers the other day and figured out that since I’ve lived here for fourteen months and had the equivalent of about two months where I taught no classes, I’ve essentially taught twelve months of about fifteen classes a week. If you add it all up that comes to seven-hundred-and-eighty classes that I’ve taught now, which at least outnumbers the Nomadays, N-Sider articles, and every journal entry, poem, and story I’ve ever written, combined, in number (though just barely). What else have I even done 780 times this year? I’ve only woken up about 432 times. I suppose I’ve had at least 780 meals since arriving. Have I eaten popcorn 780 times in my life? Have I watched over 780 movies? Surely I’ve played over 780 video games since the age of ten or so.

At any rate I encourage you to run your own numbers, to become shockingly aware of the time we spend, without concrete markers, doing what it is we do.

Yet another thing that I’ve been doing lately is attending Japanese classes, which is enjoyable in that I am actually learning more concretely how to communicate with the people who literally surround me every single day. These skills also assist me with things like navigating the internet and securing exciting products from various websites, products which excitingly get to compete with everything else that I do for my attention.

There’s a bakery on the basement level of the Sogo department store and it’s called Donq, a name that you might expect to be the only Donq-sounding place of business in Kobe but in fact there are two others: Don Quihote (shortened colloquially to just Donki) and Bikkuri Donkey, a restaurant which literally translated means SURPRISE DONKEY. It is a hamburger steak restaurant, and scarily I enjoy eating there, perhaps because I enjoy the taste of donkey when I am expecting something that is not donkey. Anyway I have been enjoying going to Donq and buying baguettes lately, really delicious crispy-crusted bread with chewy, stretchy crumb. Last night after work I got one and had a big hunk of it eaten before I even finished walking home, then assembled a chicken breast sandwich with it and some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some Cookies’ barbecue sauce, a bottle of which I brought over here last year and which I still steadfastly am working at using up. I think it will take a lot of chicken sandwiches. The moral of this story is that I love Donq.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– My psychotic Japanese cat, who sometimes believes so fervently that the little stuffed mouse is stalking him that he’ll take one swat at it and run away so fast that his feet cannot provide enough traction to prevent him from sliding sideways into the wall like an out-of-control racecar
– A trip down memory lane at my soon-moving pal Jools’ place, during which I laid eyes upon 6+ years of gaming goodies, including but not limited to an unopened case of Cowboy Bebop gashapon figures, Morrigan and Lilith bookends (these came home with me), a variety of Japanese DS games, a couple Club Nintendo prizes from 2004, multiple variations of special peripheral controllers used to simulate shaking/strumming/beating/dancing, and a stack of Edge magazines that found their way into my apartment somehow
– My new favorite donburi place, where I can slide a bill into the machine, press two buttons, and be given an ice-cold draft beer and a big bowl of rice topped with thick slices of juicy fire-grilled skirt steak, lettuce, and spicy sauce for about nine bucks (you can also get grilled dark meat chicken or Korean beef)
– One of my teachers here at the night school, or more specifically the huge plastic bag full of green and red peppers and eggplant that he dumped out over next to the computer, which he grew on his farm and has extra of, and the resulting pile of vegetables, of which I am going to take, bring home, and nom
– A beverage I drank during a break, which said “hot cake flavor,” and was indeed a sweet, milky drink that tasted like a cross between drinking pancake syrup and cereal milk
– There’s a special red Nintendo DSi coming out for the Mario 25th anniversary, and the first I heard about it was seeing a video advertisement on the LCD screen mounted to the back of the cash register while I bought a melon soda at 7-11
END OF CURIOSITIES

I always manage to get through it all but I’m so tired today that I’ve almost fallen asleep at my desk twice. The bad news is that since it’s my late day I won’t even be teaching for another three hours, and I likely won’t be home for another six. Tapping my foot isn’t really doing it and I already ate my two string cheeses and drank my soda. I took a little stroll down the hall to the restroom too, just to see if I might snap out it. No luck! If I have the energy once I’m out of here, I am buying the nicest beer a handful of change will get me, and sucking it down as I breathe in the wind on the way to Kosoku-Nagata and home.

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The mute appeal to sympathy for our decay

I wrote an essay last week for the high school’s English journal, where my pieces are frequently accompanied by a silly bishounen pretty-boy manga-style drawing of myself, done, I presume, by some commissioned student. The teacher before me had one of her too, and they are both too caricaturely spot-on to be stock illustrations, unless someone’s got a folder titled “goofy gaijin clip-art” sitting around on a hard drive somewhere. In the essay I talk about how invigorating it is that summer, that bitch, is finally gone, and how nice it is to be able to breathe the crisp air again, and how I really love not losing 5% of my body weight in sweat every time I walk to work. I do not know if anyone read it, but I told them this is their chance for a fresh start! A chance to take a nice deep pull on that grassy breeze and re-evaluate their lives! So I did it, and things are mostly the same, but with minor adjustments. For example, the other day I got rid of nearly all the non-jeans clothes I came here with, cut for big wide western boys instead of slim Japanese boys, and noticed how 92% of my wardrobe is now comprised specifically of clothes to be worn to work. Then I decided I want a good kitchen knife, and conned Jessy into asking me what I wanted for my birthday so I could tell her the exact model number and specifications of the knife. Then I ate potato chips. That doesn’t have anything to do with the essay.

Anyway, it’s all true! My favorite time of year is finally starting to show its head and good god is it ever overdue. A couple days outside of October and we were finally able to put the air conditioner off (for good?) about a week ago, opting to just keep the sliding doors open. Our increasingly brave feline also enjoys the change, and it allows him to plop down and stare longingly out through the screen doors at the pigeons, which I am sure he dreams of brutally, mercilessly murdering. This makes us fast friends by default, though he has taken to rubbing and brushing and head-nuzzling at all opportunities he has anyway in case I didn’t get the picture. The other day when I was achieving a 90% completion rate on Space Invaders Infinity Extreme my eyes fogged over and I dreamt again of catching one of those birds and tying it up, only this time I would put it in a cardboard box and then drop the cat in and close the lid and treat what happened in there as our little secret, our dirty evil secret don’t tell your mother or father this is just between us and it feels so nice.

And how about that cat. In about a month’s time he’s gone from refusing to emerge from the couch at all to coming out when beckoned to coming out at the sound of shaking food, to just staying out unless he’s sleeping during the day. Things he is talented at: laser-focusing on every rug in the house and messing them up, eating all his food within seconds, losing his toys, licking toes, getting in the way of your feet while you walk so that you accidentally step on/kick him, refusing to sit still for two goddamned seconds so I can take a picture of him with my slow cell-phone camera. I worry sometimes about the decision we made to adopt this Kiki, because I, unlike Jessica, sometimes think about the future, and the enormous day-long plane ride in the cargo hold that he’ll need to endure, and the ways we’ll need to care for him as we transition back to life in the States ourselves. But those things, like most things, can be overcome, and for now it’s nice to have our occasionally psychotic and always loveable magic cat prowling the apartment.

We left him alone for a day last weekend to go with a group of friends to Universal Studios Japan, a hop/skip/shuttle train/staircase away from Kobe over in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan is sort of horrifying as an American because it is done up to look like some bizarrely idyllic America itself, which is one of the major draws to Japanese tourists. I tried to imagine what something like “Hello Kitty World Minneapolis” would look like, but couldn’t stop thinking of the other Japanese amusement park I had recently attended for the third time, Costco. In the spirit of this situation I decided to kick off the morning by eating a chicken sandwich from Lawson and downing it with an 8:15 AM Asahi Super Dry (which I casually referred to as “vitamin B,” my finest hour). PROTIP: The B stands for beer.

It had been over a year since I had seen a traditional red stop sign, but they’re everywhere in USJ, lining the fake streets where there is no traffic, and where I felt paranoid walking because I was afraid the non-existent cars would run me over. At one point I saw an honest to goodness blue United States Postal Service mailbox beside a fake store; the lid was welded shut. Even our sort-of-bartender at the sort-of-Irish pub Finnegan’s was cut from the American mold: born in Bangladesh, speaking conversational Japanese, and using his naturally-accented English but strange phrasing on us, he offered us green beer (in September) to go with our plate of beef stew. Accompaniments: four green beans, three potato wedges. Across the street was a hot dog cart and Spiderman’s ride. In the middle of the park Peter Pan and Wendy floated around with wires, and then I sat in a fake DeLorean while Japanese-dubbed Christopher Lloyd screamed to me that I needed to stop “Biffu! Biiiiiffuuu!” My friend thought that later in the day I was just screaming “beef” for fun even though I was impersonating Japanese Doc Brown. At the end we watched scenes from the early 1990s movie Backdraft, with videos featuring director’s commentary from a dubbed Richie Cunningham, and then an enormous million-lightbulb freak parade happened. It was a weird day.

Though the weather is getting nice again, my schedule is unfortunately unable to say the same things about itself. I am now bogged down with obligations, owing in no small part to the resumption of my Japanese language classes, which I was first told I didn’t get into, and then was later told I did get into. That means I lose Monday night and Thursday night every week for the negligible benefit of a two hour language class, with Wednesday night always gobbled by my night school, giving me Tuesday night and Friday night free (conveniently, the very same two nights that Jessy has her own Japanese lessons). This virtually ensures that we will rarely, if ever, see each other, and is a blessing for the continued sanity of us both.

RETURN OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW
– My new Nintendo Game and Watch, which is a reproduction of a 30-year-old electronic toy, and which Nintendo had made by the actual guy who made the original, working from only original units and virtually no documentation, and which I love
– A new orange beverage I got at the Daily Yamazaki called “Morning Rescue,” which I figured contained vitamins and stuff, but which I didn’t read closely enough to see that it actually contains ukon, an anti-hangover drink, and which I believe has caused the people around me to believe I may be drunk, which I kinda wish I was
– A promotional video for the new video game Dead Rising 2, which consists of a somewhat weird-faced woman wearing a bikini and sitting on a yoga ball while playing the game and bouncing up and down, the camera doing wild zoom shots on her cleavage instead of the actual game the video means to promote
– I’ve been to not-my-favorite ramen place several times recently for their tomato ramen, while my favorite place, with WILD BOAR COUNTRY RAMEN and a frozen lychee, remains neglected, and I need to change this immediately
– The old-ass NEC laptop on the desk next to me, which looks really, really old, and which, merely sitting there idle, sounds like an electric pencil sharpener
– Fucking McDonald’s, which has still not brought back the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi sandwich, and which I am going to get very mad at unless they do it soon
– Sofmap clearing out a lot of their old PS1 games, which means that yesterday for fifty yen each I got Cool Boarders, Bust-A-Move, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Parasite Eve all in immaculate condition
– My Japanese PS1 game collection in general, on which I have not spent more than a dollar for any individual game, and now numbers fifteen titles
– A new fashion trend among dolled-up young Japanese ladies, which involves hanging a fox tail from your belt loop regardless of whether you are a professional trapper of wild game or not
THIS HAS BEEN CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW

On Friday it’s my school’s sports day, a bizarre and confusing event in which participation, like English education, is compulsory for all students. They grunt and slave together through a variety of strange events and then a class is rewarded for their crushing victory. Though not officially compulsory for me, this marks the second year now that I’ve been asked to run in a relay race with other teachers. As with last time my only real prayer is that I manage to find a good seat in the right place, enjoy watching the events of the day, and most importantly don’t fall down when I am running. Dear lifeforce just keep those feet pushing off the ground and don’t get overanxious. I don’t even care if I slow the whole damned group just keep my face off the gravel please. And when I am done, I will drink beer, and it will be delicious, and it will be the weekend, and I will try yet again to light my goddamned coals.

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We lost because we didn’t win

I sat engrossed in a televised soccer game of all goddamned things last evening, palms sweaty from tension, absorbed in a sporting event which despite having gone on for two solid hours had seen literally no points scored by either team. Everything I have always proclaimed to hate about the sport on full display! Endless, ambling ball control with few attack strikes, wussy fake injuries from the slightest of impacts getting more blatant as the game rolled on, no instant replays to verify completely flagrant elbows to the face. And yet, at 1:30 a.m. I watched Japan and Paraguay (purportedly the best guay) duke it out to advance to the next round in the World Cup. Japan lost in the penalty kick shootout round, and only just barely, and then shed manly, emotional Japanese tears. I was more upset than when the Colts lost the Super Bowl, which just don’t make any kinda sense.

The World Cup Fever here, as with many other kinds of localized ailments, has been infectious: I cannot help but become swelled with nationalistic pride and hope for my little country. Despite always being an Iowan, an Amesian, a farmboyian, an industrial cityian, a Pittsburghian, an American–every day that passes is another one added to the “days since I’ve been in the States” column. I’ll never be a Japanese person, but it’s hard to argue that I’m, for example, less Japanese than bodybuilder, or say, more civil rights activist than citizen of Japan.

One gets the feeling here that for whatever reason, sportsmanlike to a fault, Japan really treasures the good that their teams and their representatives do. And even if it means television programming akin to last winter’s thirty-minute spotlight shows on Takahashi Daisuke’s figure skating bronze medal, it makes it all that much more significant. Even if it means watching a hundred and twenty minutes of a sporting event with no overhead passes or shotgun formations. Even if it means that all that exists is tension, stress, the pursuit of just one little point. Now you know why they scream and slide across the grass on their knees and fly around with their arms outstretched like NES-era Mario ready to take off whenever they score. A great weight, a couple hours of tapping rocks until that kindle is finally sparked. Tension tension tension, all the tensions of the world.

Lately I have been afflicted with a trifling bit of uninspired malaise, and I think it might have something to do with the dwindling of new and exciting experiences after coming off the highs of my arrival. I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’m now just a month shy of my first year in the country, and can’t help but make comparisons about how I feel now with how I believe I felt when I had just gotten here, as humans so errantly tend to do. Used to be every other weekend or more often would bring something new and exciting, and now things are less organic. Friday’s after-school drinking party was maybe my fifth or sixth, and the karaoke after that was definitively not the first time I’ve made a total dipshit out of myself in front of middle-aged men while drunk off all-you-can-slurp single malt whiskey. I haven’t left the city for Osaka or Kyoto or anywhere else too recently, surely due to combinations of elements: fatigue, money, the heat, other plans, and the laziness that such laziness ironically contributes to. I am even barely capable of enjoying such tiny joys as the UFO machines! My god.

To rectify every last bit of my existential lackadaisy, I have ordered an inexpensive commercial product from the Amazon website, just like real Japanese people do in their times of need. It is called an Otamatone, and like all good electronics manufactured here, is cute, novel, and ultimately useless. It is an object about the size of a ruler, shaped like a music note, with a music-playing touch-sensitive slider up the stem and a little face on the bottom like a rubber ball. You can squish its head to tweak the notes you play. Surely it will find a home among our perpetually grotesque series of living-room carnival attractions: busty PVC temptresses, die-cast metal robots with ejectable plastic eyes, outdated 1980s video game systems, art books featuring imaginary characters in improbable poses, and two giant posters advertising beer. Once I get it, I will set to work on playing assorted video game tunes, record them with the camera, and then put them on YouTube (and this website) for both of my readers to see. My ho-humness will be instantly obliterated by revolting joy.

Curious Japanese Shit of the Week
– The delicious dressing on my chicken cutlet sandwich, labeled in the ingredients only as “dressing”
– The Yamada Denki electronics store’s PC area, which has an entire wall with a sign above it that says in katakana “Mouse Corner,” despite there being no corners at all in which you might find mice
– The fact that I bought a three-pack of meatballs the other day for 228 yen, with each meatball pack being an air-sealed pouch containing seven meatballs in teriyaki sauce
– Creepy fishing pole garbage bag man (I will talk about this man next time)
– The wide variety of “beer-like products” available in the beer section of my grocery store, many of which are created with non-malt or barley ingredients for the sake of dodging heavy taxes, rendering it a damned chore to actually try new beers that may or may not be beer at all
– Today’s new product, Blizzard L soda, which purports to contain lots of vitamins but really just tastes like Red Bull
The End of Curious Japanese Shit of the Week

I finished my Japanese class the other day, after roughly sixteen classes spanning eight weeks. Though I can’t say that my normal conversation skills have improved too significantly, I now at least command some of the basic foundation skills in statement making and–occasionally–understanding what others are trying to tell me. At certain points in the class our sample conversations transcended common use and ebbed into the sublime: imagine meeting a person for the first time, asking them what country they are from, and then proposing that together you should go to the department store to buy a necktie. For my efforts, I received a little certificate proclaiming that I indeed took the class, as though without it I would have forgotten completely that I did so.

I still see it as an accomplishment, though a preliminary, minor one on the way to my goal of functional conversational Japanese. I suppose it is better to have taken this first step than it is to keep telling people in my most stoic Nihongo that I onion red tall reading three people last year. Regardless, the next term does not start until the second week of September or so, which will thankfully give me all of July and August to completely forget everything I’ve learned.

First I plan on forgetting grammatical constructions, and then all my vocabulary, and finally how to read and write. By September I will be two years old, just in time to turn twenty-seven. For my birthday celebration I will charge into a convenience store, buy a dirty magazine and a six pack, and then watch Doraemon cartoons on TV with my blanky.

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SUPERMARKET FANTASY

I have taken to occasionally enjoying a cigar on my Tuesday evenings, just a small one. I usually pick one out from the pack tenderly like I’m examining a flip-top coffin full of grasshoppers, confused but interested in its grotesqueness. The ritual is still new to me. They are just little guys, the size of golf pencils, and finish in something like ten minutes, if I am paying attention to what I am doing. I always wanted to be a cigar smoker, but never a smoker. There have been times in my life when I’ve smoked, though I never considered my smoking making me one who smokes, just a man who at this time, and during times occasional in the past and future, has and will do the same.

It is a strangely isolated pursuit for me, most chiefly because of how I must do it. I can’t just curl up in my chair with a tiny implement and a game controller, or puff away in the kitchen. I need to proceed outside to my balcony, structured more for utility than enjoyment, and drag on among my drying clothes and air conditioning vent fan. I sit on the concrete, back against my sliding glass door, and peer between socks or undergarments out into the evening. On floor seven surrounded by monolithic apartment buildings I feel totally alone but also as though I am being watched–by anyone, by everyone, by someone, at least. But I am also low enough to the ground that I can peer over the railing at the people biking or walking. They are surely oblivious to the tiny man up on floor seven having a novel Cuban cigar and barely peeking through his railing. A miniature thrill.

I focus on the tastes that I notice: warm flavors, the tinge of wood, of sweetness. On the Internet they tell me that people often associate their cigars with spiciness, and it becomes immediately apparent, like eating chocolate with chilis in it. You are supposed to swish the smoke around in your mouth but not inhale it as you do with other smoked material. I do it wrong the first few times and realize my error.

This is my solitude, my Japanese isolation. I stream music through my Playstation and pump it out the screen door for something to break the ambient distance-grind of whining motorcycles.

I usually make it about seven minutes before going back inside.

It’s 27 degrees today, which is much hotter than it sounds to someone used to Fahrenheit, though I cannot give you the exact number without working to discover it. Me, I haven’t been fully able to internalize the conversion scales, both due to their complexity and owing to the fact that all it would do would be allow me to transpose one meaningless number for another. Instead, what I do know is that 27 feels about like this: uncomfortable, moist, the absence of pleasantness. The Firm Awareness that spring is over and I don’t want to be outside anymore. Each degree higher adds another level of discomfort. When we get to 30 or 31, as we were upon my arrival in Japan, the repeated cries of “hot, hot” throughout the office will be the only things I hear from the staff members that aren’t blowing days of paid time off in a row.

I have made it another week without turning on the apartment air conditioner, a minor achievement since I would have done it last night without Jessy’s unreasoned, threatless warnings not to. It is both my failing as an independent man and my escalating success as a future husband that I credit with this blind, defeatist patience. I have recognized that it is worth even less to get what I want than it is to preserve the effort I would need to expend to argue with that beast in my own defense. Hi, Jessy!

Things are as busy as they have been for a month or so now. The day job, evening Japanese classes, teaching night school, social functions of all sorts, and natural human fatigue are all working together to keep me from cooking up any magnificent schemes, the kinds of things testament to the potential of guys with too much time on their hands (can openers built from LEGO bricks, balloon-popping laser guns harvested from CD drives, pizzas topped with cheeseburgers). I tell myself on occasion that it is for the best, that this routine busy-ness will allow me to cherish the times I do have free. But it is a lie. When I find myself with nothing to do I am compelled merely to enjoy a beer and my wild cherry incense, staring blankly at the match-up screen for Super Street Fighter IV. True relaxation?

So what I’ve ultimately decided is that I am probably happier busy, but just get tired too quickly. I’ve gone from compulsively waking up at 6:45 to waking up at 6:00, and the last two days it’s been 5:15 with no desire to go back to bed. This usually results in my getting home from the day around 9:20 and immediately falling asleep on the living room rug while Jessy idles away on the PC until one a.m. for no reason. Did I mention it’s really hot right now?

As if to make matters somehow better, I received in the mail yesterday two video games I’ve been waiting on for a while, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. A joke! A cruel fucking joke from the universe to me. The bright spot at the end of this ridiculous tunnel is that Japanese classes go on hiatus beginning at the end of the month, and so do classes for summer break, leaving essentially the whole of July and August rather stress free. I will go in to the office as usual, but need not do any teaching or studying, and things will be good except for the Brutal Humid Heat!

As I mentioned last week, I did indeed make it to Osaka’s Nipponbashi (or Den Den Town), the Kansai area otaku’s holy Mecca of all things anime and retro-gaming. Inside one store, Englishized from the Japanese as “Retro TV Game Revival,” I found my Famicom, modified with AV cables so it can work on modern TVs. Work it does–and reminds me of the better (worse) times, when the mere display of an image on the TV was good enough to classify your system as working. The picture this thing puts out is Not Good, especially compared to the flawless output of my magical homebrewed Wii retrobox paradise. But it does output, which I suppose is all I ask. The controller cables are also a comical length, maybe three feet? And hardwired directly into the system. Joy!

JAPANESE BEE’S KNEES
– The new Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, a man who is known mostly for being not from a political family, and for being prone to irateness
– Goddamned McDonalds, who took my favorite menu item, the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi (red spicy deep fried chicken sandwich), which has been a regular menu item since I arrived last August, off the stupid menu and replaced it with nothing of any value
– The new Evangelion 2.22 movie finally coming out on Blu-ray and being the highest selling Blu-ray in Japanese consumer history
– A man in the station today, who on his bag bore a rubber keychain with an emblem reading in all capital block letters, “SUPERMARKET FANTASY,” and the consideration mentally of what exactly such a thing might be
– Online shopping in Japan, a process during which you select not only the exact day but the down-to-the-hour time range that you want the goods to be delivered (up to 9 p.m. even on weekends), and then pay the courier in cash for your stuff when he arrives
– New Cup Noodle flavor “MEAT KING,” which is loaded with chunks of dehydrated, brown-colored salty meat, and little bits of dehydrated chickeny meat, and which is really delicious, at least about as delicious as Cup Noodle can get
– The vending machines, which all humorously were switched out to stop offering the hot versions of their drinks on June 1st just as all the office workers changed their wardrobes
FEE FI FO FUM

I managed to order a random grab bag of ten Famicom cartridges with my cell phone entirely in Japanese last week, and they were delivered COD to my apartment tonight. More and more I come under the impression that my Famicom will be used less as a legitimate gaming device, and mostly as the tool with which to humorously cruise through these grab bags of cheap games. I am surprisingly okay with this. Inside this first bag, among the original Super Mario Bros., Tiny Toon Adventures 2, and some mahjong game, was a copy of a game literally translated as Princess Tomato of the Kingdom of Salad. It got an English release in 1991, the accomplishing of which I am sure involved some sort of miracle on the part of the guy pitching that one to the board (okay, you are a princess, and you are a tomato, and you are in a kingdom made of salad, and the game is a text adventure entirely in Japanese, and I want to translate it and sell it to kids for fifty dollars each). I will tell you what the man likely did after the board of directors gave him the go-ahead for that one: sat on his balcony and smoked a nice cigar, even if he wasn’t sure why.

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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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The early dawn, the shades of time

The conversations of my world occupy a strange battleground between background noise and inescapable linguistic immersion: at times so impenetrable as to be no greater than trying to understand the language of crows, and at other times glimmering with rare brilliance.  This is what nothing sounds like, this is what everything sounds like.

I try not to talk too much about school in here, but today at my school for students needing special attention in regards to their visual and mental capacities (as close as I can put it to the Japanese, in English), I was shown how to do a special folk dance by three kids, and how to do the “radio stretch,” which you may be familiar with from seeing a huge field of Japanese youth doing stretches while a voice barks out over some series of speakers.  They taught me so that on Saturday I can attend their school’s sports day and participate in the activities. At lunch in the cafeteria we had Mapo Doufu, a dish consisting almost entirely of huge chunks of tofu, which I somehow ate happily and totally enjoyed (one of my fellow educators suggested a way I could cook it at home and make it more spicy than the tame version they served to the kids here, as “Mapodon,” or this dish over rice, or in other words, right up my alley). I drink milk out of a glass bottle here. Just now a little girl and her teacher came in and sang a song then the girl used the keyboard and I listened to it say those mechanical letters outloud, once more with every tap of a key, a a a a a a a a i i i i i i i i i u u u u u u u u u u u u u e e e e e e e o o o o o. One teacher says she will be my mother while I am here, and brings me cookies and shows me how to use the hot green tea machine. A small boy in a wheel chair asks questions and has full conversations with me about Michael Jackson in better English than several of the teachers can speak. He is completely blind and has the use of three fingers.

My ability for the language waxes and wanes like any sensible moon: today I fully read the two kanji for “densha,” meaning train (電車), and so what if it’s only cause I know them as part of a Japanese TV drama series. The full context I saw them in was as the name of a sports day activity on our program called DENSHA DE GO! which barely means anything, but pretty much translates into GO BY TRAIN! It is a game for kindergarteners, and involves them I think holding onto each other and running around like a big train. I will also see how to play “floor volleyball,” and “soft baseball,” which are both modifications allowing the sightless to participate in some of the most popular of Japanese sports.

Last night I cooked an honest to goodness double hamburger in my fry pan from some store-purchased after-20:00 half-price ground beef, coated it in black and white pepper for that authentic Japanese burger flavor (really, their burgers are all peppered), then melted shredded cheese on it and nommed it with ketchup. Aside from the occasional ¥320 box of imported Mac and Cheese, it was probably the closest I’ve gotten to replicating the flavor of America for my own tastebuds in the last 47-odd days. I savored every bite, and washed it down with a totally American Yebisu All-Malt Beer and a Caramel Salt Kit Kat.

I’ve put a combined 32 hours of gameplay time into Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (two PSP games) in the last three weeks or so.  I basically only play on the train, which gives you an idea where most of my (and many Japanese people’s) time goes.  The sick part is how much I love it.

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