Tag Archives: kewpie

Moeagare, Moeagare, Moeagare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The backbone of America

This was a busier week as it seems retrospectively than as it occurred: I had essentially the entire span free of classes because of end-of-term exams.

My out-of-work free time remaining as it does normally, I did make it a point to pick up an old-style vertically scrolling shoot-em-up game for the 360, densely titled Mushihimesama Futari Ver 1.5, which (I think) translates to Two-Persons Honorable Beetle Princess (Version 1.5). You basically shoot everything and sparkly jewels fly out of them and they shoot so many bullets that the genre of game is referred to lovingly as “bullet hell” and you try not to get hit by the bullets. It was kind of expensive but it came with a limited edition 2 CD soundtrack and a fancy box.

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Other crap I bought this week:
– A bunch of Final Fantasy stuff in anticipation of the upcoming game including two tiny “trading arts” mini-figures, an electronic Chocobo which chirps when you touch its feet, and several cans of Final Fantasy XIII Elixir, a promotional beverage that you can read my review of over at N-Sider.
– A Robocop Kewpie charm for my cell phone
– Evangelion 2.0 calendar from Lotteria burger restaurant and small gashapon figure from the machines on the way out of massive toy/game/electronic/appliance store Joshin
– Two new Wii Remotes for multiplayer New Super Mario Bros. (pink and baby blue)
– Wireless adapter for my 360 so we don’t need to have a cable running directly across the middle of the apartment floor for it to be online
– Another work shirt, sweater, and some t-shirts
– A huge box of American Blu-rays during Amazon’s crazy Black Friday online sale
– A big chunk of debt pay-off from my Pittsburghian credit card

Obvious and apparent necessities that I should have bought instead of all that stuff, but didn’t:
– A couch
– A sukiyaki hot plate and clay pot
– Some self respect

Jessy has made a sort of bargaining agreement with me to the extent that if I stop buying little 300/400 yen gashapons all the time and get rid of many of the ones that I already have, I can save the money I would have spent on them and instead buy nice bigger figures that don’t fall apart and are actually capable of being (somewhat) tastefully displayed. Maybe some of you can look forward to receiving my offal in gift packages.

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Friday night we visited the Kobe Luminarie, a once-per-year ten-day-longish exhibition in memorial of the Great Hanshin Earthquake (January, 1995). This Luminarie thing is pretty impressive. They set up massive archways entirely made of lights hung over one of the big streets leading from the Motomachi area into downtown Sannomiya. Once you finish walking underneath them you enter a large area with a sort of light-castle set up and scads of booths selling snacks, souvenirs, and hot beverages. This trip was prefaced by a trip to the once-elusive Mexican cafe “Gitchi,” which we had failed to locate on prior occasions but located this time. I had the distinctly fusion-Mex Taco Rice, and Jessy had a barbecue chipotle beef taco plate. Mexican food is such a rarity here that I can hardly remember if it was even good. What it was was Mexican food, which speaks for itself.

We had the pleasure of going to a Vissel Kobe soccer match on Saturday, a day that started really cold and shitty but ended up cold and pretty nice. You may recall my last post wherein I mentioned that I might need some mental lubrication to really enjoy the game: this was true, and after a nice big paper cup full of fresh stadium Asahi Super Dry I was quite pleased to be there. Of particular note (more so than the game itself, which was a 90-minute affair during which each team scored once ending the game in a tie) were the food offerings, my favorite of which turned out to be Cup Ramen. Yes, you can buy hot cups of ramen at soccer games here, and for only 200 yen they are an incredible and delicious bargain, massively shaming the extortion-class prices for food at ball games back in the states. The brand name of the ramen we got was “NOODLE GOO!” which means basically nothing in either English or Japanese. There was even a little speech bubble coming out of the ramen on the package which proclaimed “GOO!” I have never seen this brand of ramen before in my life.

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Curious Japanese Shit of the Week:
– Five girls dressed as tall human-sized Pikachus hopping around in the Luminarie courtyard in a circle
– Passing a couple of youngish students who neither Jessy nor I believed to be ours, as they waved at us and said “hello!”
– Noodle Goo
– A man at a ramen shop we went to yesterday suggesting the garlic shoyu and then becoming so enthusiastic about greeting another patron that he proceeded to somewhat humorously sound like he was having some sort of seizure (this one is hard to describe but is surely rooted in the perceptible projection of seeming subservient to the customer re: irrashaimaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee etc.)
– Baking a refrigerated pizza at 230 degrees Celcius (447? Fahrenheit) in my microwave oven, with mayonnaise sauce instead of tomato, and teriyaki chicken, cheese, and corn toppings
– Paying 295 yen for one large pear, wrapped in weaved foam
– Beginning to watch the excellent program Mad Men and finding myself being personally alarmed at “how good their English is” (this is an American TV show)

With winter break and the closing of schools impending the question becomes exactly what will we do with our time off, knowing fully that all the other poor overworked salarymen of the country will be flocking to everywhere anyone would want to go? I don’t think either of us know quite yet, though we have essentially convergent periods of time off from around Christmas till several days after New Year’s. We indeed will stay in Japan this time around, but that’s about all we know.

As for Christmas, well. I can see no better way to spend it than with a traditional Japanese Christmas Meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken, some festive sparkling Chu-hi, and a Christmas cake (I am not joking, KFC is the Japanese Christmas food, Colonel Sanders has been dressed up in a Santa suit since Halloween).

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Up and autumn

It’s feeling a lot like fall in Japan, which apparently means it’s time to roll out the seasonal goodies: rich cocoa flavored Pocky and chocolate-covered almonds, big signs proclaiming something I can’t read (but mostly they are fall-colored), FALL SALES!! (save 5% on this sandwich), Mushrooms In Stuff, and, at my school anyway, the cool winter uniforms and the quaint predisposition to chopping off the branches on all the schoolyard trees so there aren’t any leaves that need to be cleaned up? (An article I read a while back about some other town doing this same thing leads me to believe it’s not just isolated thinking, bizarre as it may be.) The street vendors are out selling their roasted chestnuts and I don’t in the slightest object to the aromas, all sugary on the crispy breeze as the hellfires of summer Japan finally seem to slink primarily away for the rest of the year.

What it also means is midterms for the kids, who I now routinely see cramming information into their gooey liquid centers while huddled about in any number of hallways or nooks, being explicitly forbidden to enter the teachers’ office lest they catch a glimpse of that forbidden fruit in the form of the fabled answer key. I personally have participated by way of lending my million-dollar pronunciation skills to audio recordings of strange dialogues in which I, Hiroshi, help a lost tourist find his way to a local shrine, and tell one man via telephone that I am interested in throwing a party for his brother, but could move it to Saturday if Friday is not good. These incidents eerily echo events that routinely occur in my normal daily life and the lives of many native English speakers that I know.

To follow up on something I referenced last time: we did indeed hold our “community dinner,” and after a variety of errors and frantic adaptation, I prepared platters of three specifically nontraditional sushi rolls. The first of these was the Hamburger Roll, with cheese sandwiched in-between pieces of meat, and surrounded with Mac-esque thousand island dressing, lettuce, pickles, and sesame seeds. Locating thousand island dressing was easier than I had planned, due to the peculiar propensity of producers to put in numerical form “1000 Island Dressing” on the bottles all squished in there between kanji I can’t read. The pickles, strangely, proved elusive. Though the standard Japanese box lunch will often contain a wide variety of pickled items so strange as to be confounding (try playing “Is This Fish Or Not” and enjoy being wrong), the familiar old “pickle,” in the form of one pickled cucumber, is difficult to find. Eventually I did, near the scant offerings of canned vegetables and the considerable offerings of canned fish (one of which I inexplicably purchased): a tiny, solitary jar of baby sweets for the bargain price of what I could buy a jar much larger for back in the States.

The other rolls proved easier, as I had already obtained the tricky necessities for each one: the parmesan cheese for a sauteed crab/mushroom/parm roll, and the peanut butter in a modern-day retelling of the legend of the ants on their log–banana, raisins, and peanut butter all squished inside a roll and slightly frozen.

This banana roll was apparently the far and away hit among the visitors to our apartment, even though every piece of every roll was gone by the time the herd left my house–I will take their second- and third-hand word for it: I was either too drunk or too distracted to actually try any of them outside of the mistakes I made during preparation. At any rate I have no desire to smell as much nori (translator’s note: seaweed) wrapping as I did in the timespan of the few hours it took me to prepare sushi rolls for twenty-two twenty-somethings.

But all this is rather boring in the scheme of things, when considering the following: we were the recipients of a grandmother-sent enormous box of macaroni and cheese dinners the other day, something like a dozen, which was such a comforting sight that we immediately prepared a box of spirals having just finished eating supper no less than a couple of hours prior. Some particular commendation is in order when considering the massive expenses one must incur to send such cheap goods such a long way–tangibly grateful, we will savor every noodle with the American appreciation of expensive imported two-dollar ramen packets, rare Kewpie mayo, and now-unavoidable Pocky, from the other side of the coin.

Daily life ebbs strangely from level to chaotic–I’m past the point of being able to say that things will “eventually settle down,” because this is my three months so far, and I’ve never not had much to do. I even find myself occasionally joyful at missing the fast train and being stuck on the slower, local one: here are a few more minutes to play a game on my DS. Sometimes I’ll even get off at the stop and just sit on a chair like I’m waiting for another train, but I totally am not, and just need to kill another evil video shrimp or two.

There are elements of the flitting simplicity of this life that I have come to love, even as I see the ever-creeping threats of continual business or permanence changing them just like the season: enough forks and spoons to get by, but more show up somehow, always, with furniture, real lighters instead of stove-fired chopsticks for candles, more paper goods, with stockpiled food, with a paycheck and electronics and little toys and tangible knowledge and Internet access and saran wrap and cleaning supplies and extra towels and a case of canned coffee. The tiny array of elements that had to be so artfully managed upon arrival pulse outside the borders of their numbers to ones that only make sense to me as “enough not to worry about them” anymore. It’s a blessing and a curse, as micromanagement has always been rather tiresome, but keeps one’s mind off the lazy time-sucks of the world in favor of the more difficult and rewarding ones–in a world without conveniences we would all surely seek to damn our chores, but in one with too many the allures to be gobbled up by them persist in strange ways! I continually seek to stave off these laze-bringing impulses by committing myself to certain enjoyable and fulfilling pursuits: the preparation of homecooked meals, the writing in this very Nomaday, the rare contributions to the video game website, concerted efforts in lesson conception, occasional cultural pilgrimages, fighting the peculiar desire to go the same, functional way home or to work every day or to buy the same thing from the konbini. They work, but some of them only in so much as that they make me a trifle uncomfortable, which I suppose is what I am usually after, as a means to new comforts, anyway. Still on the list: get some more Japanese clothes, buy some kind of musical instrument, study this language regularly, make udon from scratch, etc.

And despite the come and go and to and fro, or maybe because of it, yet and yet, life seems happier, at least, with so many of the desires of even a year-ish ago mainly realized: it’s not hard to remember what things were like last October as separately we decided to put together applications and put things into storage, to see if we might move to a new apartment or a new country. Ironically the one that seemed so much easier back then is difficult to imagine anymore, as the place we now live relentlessly marches towards becoming our home.

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