Tag Archives: kobe

Many foreigners have come and gone

I’m eating a piece of Pumpkin-not-cake-not-bread baked thing, prepared by my “head teacher” who speaks shocking, disorienting, English that would be almost perfect except for the occasional times he just doesn’t know a word. Imagine conversing with a good friend of yours but then every now and then you bust out a sentence like “My sooth-saying has been verily challenged by your keen insight,” and then your friend says “what is keen?” He got the recipe off a website of some girl from Iowa who apparently posts recipes for baking things on the Internet. Remember when I used to post things on the Internet? The baked thing is not bad. I am eating it while drinking a paper container full of “abundant milk cocoa,” which tastes sort of like semi-notable chocolate milk. In the refrigerator are two ham and lettuce sandwiches, I am going to eat them later after the novelty of pumpkin thing wears off.

I took a really long trip to Thailand and Laos over the winter break, it was a thing. I only wrote anything down once in my notebook, because writing full on out my brain with a pencil and paper is too slow and I cannot keep up. This is what I wrote. I was gonna write more later, but then I did not, and the longer I don’t write something the more all I do is think about writing it instead of writing it. So here is what I have got from my trip, typed directly out of them pages and onto this screen.

STUFF I’VE GOT FROM MY TRIP

The first person we meet in Luang Prabang, which is a city in Laos, which apparently is a country, before anyone that seems interested in checking us into the hostel we’ve strolled up to, is a shorter, slightly more pathetically facial-haired version of a beanie-wearing young Matthew McConaughey, Dazed and Confused era, named Reuter, or Rutger, or Ruben, maybe it was Ruben, or something.  He says yeah mate a lot and cheerses our 10,000 kip (~1 US dollar) beers over virtually anything it is possible to cheers, even the act of clinking the bottles themselves together, yeah mate what a nice sound I will cheers to that.

He is on holiday with his “crew,” literally all of which have followed him to this very hostel, ten or so of them.  I recognize the types but cannot be sure if they are merely emulations of the filthy backpackin’ hippies we all know from movies and Woodstock reels or if this is what passes for one now.  As we talk about our lives submerged in a bit of drink I notice for the first time in my life that I feel acutely older than someone I could theoretically consider a peer.  I think the phrase is “I remember when I was your age.”  I don’t say it but wonder if my relaxed disposition gives it away–I don’t have the energy necessary to chameleonize anymore, and I’ve seen where the roads lead.  The mystery of the unknown is gone.  Or maybe that’s just it, I can just make it out up ahead like a familiar billboard.

LiORdjf

When Rooper begins laying down “the rules” of what goes down here at the $3 a bed per night dorm-style hostel I feel like I’m actually back in college, I am eighteen years old.  I check out, my brain turns in the keys.  They go off to smoke and drink, I hit the sack at 8:30, the day after my New Year’s Eve in another country entirely, off a handful of zs.  Then I am awakened by a baby, or two, screaming and screaming.  And a rooster squawking so hard its voice gives out, which I did not know could happen.  And the tuk tuk drivers, who are insane, parked outside the place, revving their little motorcycle engines like if they do it hard enough some tourist will jar himself loose from the sky and fall into the back, pay him 500% the normal rate for a trip across town.

The next day most of them leave, a thing I am sure of because of the elephantine stomping that echoes through the old house.  I know it is old not only because it is old but because there is a handwritten sign in the lobby, pieced together presumably by the owner, using the English phrases that seemed appropriate to him at the time.

We shall never replace the building with modern luxuries like concrete and steel, it says, we will not alter the building and will preserve its natural history.  This note is glued to the wall, written in permanent marker.  Up around the top of the room, where the walls meet the ceiling, I can just see some ornate decorative painted designs that have at some point been painted over, I step on a hastily repaired piece of wood as I pace the room to check them out. It creaks a little bit.

WELP THAT IS IT

We did other things on our trip too. For instance, I took a propeller plane and tried to not be scared of anything, because my New Year’s Resolution this year was “don’t be afraid.” I tried to clarify the resolution with explanatory conditions but can’t quite get it perfect the way I want though. Don’t be afraid of anything!!! seems a little broad, we should probably fear some things. But then if I start making exceptions I have to consider each time I am afraid of something if it’s a thing I am allowed to be afraid of, which is just bullshit so maybe I should leave it, don’t be afraid. Anyway I lived, on the propeller plane, then I bought some Valium without a prescription and a half-hour before my next flight I took some and woke up in the air with a mere half-hour to go, that worked pretty well.

I ate lots of food out of dirty filthy street carts and paid almost nothing for it, except my life. I drank lots and lots of beer and slept in beds next to strangers. One day I took a “cooking” class and didn’t really learn anything. I saw three movies. On New Year’s Eve, a neat band rocked my head off in a small bar while we drank Coca-Cola and gin out of a literal plastic bucket with straws, maybe four of us to a bucket. I was propositioned by suit tailors approximately eighty-five times. Before we came home to Japan I bought a cheap duffle bag and went to the supermarket, then filled it with food and checked it as my piece of luggage.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE LAST HOW MANY FUCKING MONTHS HAS IT BEEN NOW
– There is a new convenience store next to the exit for my usual station, it is a FamilyMart which is maybe my favorite kind, and I actually thought “finally, a new convenience store” even though there are already two of them on my way to work within three minutes walk of each other but I am so damned sick of them ooooohhhhh
– The yen is tanking because everything in the country I guess is turning to shit
– One of my short stories that I like got translated into Japanese by a couple friends of mine, I would show you it but it’s all in Japanese
– I bought a new kind of gum, it’s called “Megashaki” and inside each huge piece is a reservoir of sour Pop Rocks goop and you are like “yowza” when you bite it
– You can buy 7-Up here now
THAT IS OK I GUESS

I added up all the words in every Nom a Day I have ever written the other day, it was some crazy number like 132,000 words which would be really great if it was anything worth a damn!

But it is just this stuff.

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Finding a parade and getting in front of it

The “Friendly March” troupe are the second-to-last exhibitors in the seventy-five-group parade taking place here in Kobe for the Kobe Matsuri, its fortieth annual city festival. The Friendly March, quite contrary to its name–which was purportedly chosen to lend an air of non-threateningism, well-meanery, and well, friendliness to their presence–are hideous, horrifying men dressed in poorly chosen RuPaul-era drag costumes and peppering the street in a concentration akin to that of halved cherries in canned fruit cocktail. One of them marches ahead in a sparkling stars-‘n-stripes outfit. I am reminded that I am American.

Atop a converted Avis rentatruck is one fellow who looks like he is trying to be in The Cure a handful of years too late while another one, who is actually pretty enough to be a woman, is sitting as bored as string cheese. A Lady Gaga song literally thumps so loud from their massive speaker array that the Indian dancing group following them is just dancing to it instead of their own music, tinny and barely audible by comparison. I find myself un-concerned with Cure-guy’s sexual orientation and beliefs, and confused by his fashion sense. As a matter of course I am generally unwilling to string anyone up for wearing anything in particular; today the strings I see are already sufficiently up the places they’ve been positioned. Cure-guy’s face is painted white and black and I am afraid he is going to cast an evil samba curse over me like in voodoo New Orleans. Behind the truck, fruit salady, marches a handful of stragglers-on, one waving a gay pride flag. Friendly March, I think you’re going about this all wrong.

They are of note only because of the stark contrast they stand in compared to the prior exhibitors. The pinnacles of parade-going that I’m used to have mostly involved flatbed trailers from which Dum Dums are thrown, and so the Kobe Matsuri parade has had much to offer.

One group, a neo-modern (yes) salsa group dressed as extravagantly as Cirque de Soleil and twice as mostly-naked, gyrates wildly, a chiseled man leading the group eliciting more excitement out of the elderly woman who has rushed up beside me for a good look than she has likely had since breakfast. Her hair looks like that of Scrooge McDuck’s nephew, Dewy. She pumps her fist wildly in the air, overcome with emotion.

A later group of marchers, cheerleaders, most notably of the 14-and-under classification, stamps by, and I am almost immediately killed by the deep-zoom lens that flies up past my face, commandeered by a man the spitting image of the dictionary’s illustration for the entry “pervy old guy.” He has raced down here from earlier in the parade, backpack flapping with every step, for the sake of securing more shots–I hear his SLR snap away a dozen times or more before the girls finish striding past, and then he too is away to follow their quest like an INXS roadie.

We have also witnessed a group of unicycling youth, two dipshits in huge stuffed costumes from some governmental organization, rows of the elderly wearing yukata and twirling umbrellas upon which tiny stuffed Doraemons tumble like gymnasts, numerous junior and high school marching bands, and the Vissel Kobe soccer team (for the chance of a view we are shoved aside by the rabid masses).

But it’s okay, because while wandering about, we eat steak on a stick, a burger made with steak, an eggroll which has steak in it, and some other things that do not contain steak. Then for supper we eat at Saizeriya, where I forego the opportunity to order steak to order spicy chicken wings, carbonara pasta, meat sauce doria, and beer instead.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– The promotional figures attached to two bottles of Pepsi Zero that I bought solely because of the promotional figures: tiny “Be@rbrick” toys that are based on the movies Beverly Hills Cop and The Godfather, and which are plastic representations of those movies’ main charaters, but with bear heads
– Saltine crackers, which, despite being sold in a box, are distributed inside by way of being individually wrapped into ten packages of six crackers each, leaving a massive amount of packaging for a greatly reduced amount of crackers
– The fact that I am actually starting to become capable of distinguishing the qualities and varieties of various packaged curries due to the fact that they make a delicious and easy Wednesday morning breakfast food before I go to night school
– Pepsi Zero, which is disgusting, but at least I got my Be@rbrick toys
– Finding for roughly the first significant timespan in my life that, despite doing little actual work at my job, I am still frequently so strapped for recreation time that my pointless hobbies, designed to eliminate useless excess time, are being left neglected, probably due in no small part to the fact that I now attend Japanese language class for two hours a night two nights a week
– Today’s bento, by virtue of not being a bento and instead being two sandwiches, which I selected just cause I was feeling in a sandwichy kind of mood
THE END OF CURIOSITIES

Despite my relative lack of recreation time, I think it would be best to focus said recreation time in such a way that even while recreating, I end up with a satisfying and constructed result. I am typing it here merely so that I am mentally held to task: I like video games, and I like writing, and even though I currently play games and write, it is about goddamned time that I do some more writing about video games (old ones). I am going to write an article about the game Alcahest by next Thursday at this time, and it is going to be my article for that week. And I am going to write an article for the week after that, and we will proceed from there. I have been warned.

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The sauce to meat is ceremony

One of my kids the other day, when trying to tell me in English that a particular person was, as we would politely put it in the states, a little Husky, a little bit portly you know, rounded out, packin’ heat, used the matter of fact phrase “he wears meat,” which didn’t register as anything other than nonsense for a moment or two until I thought about it and deemed it logical. This fellow’s skeleton, after all, must find some level of comfort and protection in it, wearing it, all clad in meat as it were. The mental picture also conjures up images of scrumptious delights, full-body steak-vests embroidered with bacon highlights, fried chicken shoes and socks, turkey gloves, a real belle of the meat ball.

Somewhat bored recently with the idea of watching more animation to connect with our new culture, Jessy and I have turned to the delightful world of Japanese dramas, which are essentially what they sound like: hour-ish long evening drama programs that air on TV for ten or twelve episodes and then, their conflicts and issues resolved, drift away. Through the magic of the Internet (and conveniently educational English subtitles) we’ve given a few series the old evening run-through, an episode each night while we have supper. Last night we started a new one, “Kekkon Dekinai Otoko,” which means basically The Man Who Can’t Get Married. This show is about a very bizarre forty-something architect who is kind of a primadonna. Last night the episode ended with him about to receive a rectal examination from an attractive middle-aged doctor for his raging polyp, after having stressed himself out by climbing across a balcony wall three stories in the air to check on his neighbor and her dog, Ken-chan, who the man thought was the girl’s boyfriend. It is a pretty weird show, which is probably why I am going to like it. Last week we finished a show called “Gokusen,” which is about a 23-year-old female fourth-generation heir to a notorious Yakuza family. She decides to become a high school teacher and berate her deliquent students. It is impossible not to realize there was a certain personal enjoyment in projection for me in this case, though I am unlikely to punch any of my students in the face or fight large gangs barehanded to come to their aid. If television in the US was this good, I probably would actually miss it.

For my birthday dinner I decided it would be more satisfying to cook my own meal at home than to go to a restaurant, which kind of began as a tradition last year with our weekend retreat to the Pennsylvanian cabin and our gluttonous indulgence in all manner of foods including but not limited to stew with dumplings, pan-fried scallops with risotto and asparagus, and bacon-stuffed cinnamon rolls. This year I chose to tackle a new ingredient: wagyu (Kobe-style beef). Though there are a variety of articles about it on the Internet, this is Kobe’s “famous” food to the masses–expensive, delicately marbled beef that melts in your mouth and costs an arm and a leg. We ended up forgoing any thick, teppanyaki-ready steaks, instead grabbing a combination pack of thinly cut pieces of assorted qualities ranging from the more lean to the heavy marbled good stuff, just for variety. My inexperience with outrageously expensive meats notwithstanding, I think it turned out pretty well with a quick salt-assisted sear on each side and accompanied by some mixed stewed veggies (potato carrot onion mushroom) and a scoop of new autumn rice. Another new birthday tradition: why dink around with cakes when we live in the pudding capital of the world (well kinda)? We each grabbed our own special made puddings. Jessy went with a standard chocolate cake/mousse affair while I selected a more understated layered custard with a cocoa layer, thick whipped cream, pecans, mint, and chunks of powdered sugar cake on top. We even put a candle in it!

Reflecting my post-birthday ultimate downgrade I now sit at work with a tall grape Fanta, a package of ramune/cola gummies, and a hundred-yen packet of “consomme” flavored potato crisps. It is all pretty good in a nutritionless way, but depressingly steak-free.

One thing that I had naively anticipated for my birthday was a copy of Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to 2007’s stupidly popular first-person shoot-’em-up game for the 360. I take a certain amount of pleasure in virtually engaging a variety of individuals in simulated modern combat on my television over the Internet, and this particular video game software does it better than any other one I’ve used. The release date for the game was November the 10th, in the states anyway. Residing in Japan I am subject to the whims of the Postal Deities, who have passed down the law from upon high: All games that Brandon orders to be delivered to him in Japan will arrive precisely ten days after shipping! So for me the release date is November the 20th, and that is not very exciting because it’s nine days away! Modern wonders being what they are I’ve taken it upon myself to watch videos and read reviews and monitor discussions in online gaming forums, but I fear this is of little use. All it does is remind me that I have nine days to go.

Interestingly, I’ll be heading east to Osaka, the second-largest city in this country, this Sunday, for the Japan Game Festa. I don’t know much about it, but I think it’s some sort of Festa about Games in Japan. Probably I might get to play some of them, and put together an article. Excitingly enough it’s Wednesday right now, which means only a few more days until the week’s over and delightful pay day rolls around on its per-monthly basis. This time I get the pleasure of dropping maybe seven hundred bucks on new six-month train passes, which I’d be pissed at if it wasn’t such a massively good deal (refer to much earlier entry for information on multi-month commuter pass savings).

It’s rainy as all get-out today, but one of the shrine cats didn’t seem to mind. He was just sitting out in his parking lot like every day, getting rained on, camping the garbage pile for chow. Perhaps if he eats enough, he will start wearing meat.

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The Easter Bunny Vespucci

The time difference has introduced peculiarities into the measures with which I am to judge precisely at what rate I am decaying: though I took my first glance at this Earthy place at around four in the morning, in Iowa time, I suppose the demarcation of one’s “Birth Day” does indeed cover all hours of the associated unit.

That said, it’s my birthday right now, where I am, anyway, here in Japan, by Japanese time. But my body’s clock senses the lie. It knows that not for another hour will it have become the tenth in Iowa, where I came from, and it feels slighted. However, joy of joys: I will celebrate for all of my Japanese birthday, and then, at three p.m. Japan time, when it becomes the tenth in Iowan time, I will Start My Birthday Over Again, to fanciful effect.

I have spent the day teaching my children about Thanksgiving, the mysterious United States version of the holiday anyway, a compelling story that begins formally in the year 1621, when some people from England decided they wanted to believe basically the same things as the government said but a little differently, and then brought a bunch of diseases to the people of America as a present. One of my students, after having been told the story of Squanto (in English) had only this to say when I asked him “Who was Squanto?”:

Santa Claus.

Of course! The Famous Native American Santa Claus, who helped the pilgrims survive their stupid adventure and then took the next day off to drop presents in all their chimneys.

It’s okay if you can’t understand the history of Thanksgiving, I tell them. It’s mostly about being a pig and eating a lot of food, then maybe watching football on TV if you are ambitious enough to hit the power button on your remote. They also really enjoy it when I tell them what gravy is, and extol its virtues.

The last several days have been what I have come, generally, to expect, with a few exceptions: after a delicious stop at a ramen place in Sannomiya, Jessy and I popped into NAMCO LAND, which is an enormous video arcade with an entire wing devoted to UFO catchers, which I have talked about in here before I think. These are crane games, only in Japan they are actually popular, and have awesome prizes, and there are Arcade Attendants who monitor the machines and restock them right after you win stuff, and basically ensure a bitchin’ time. In fact I probably need to write a Nomaday some time about all the different varieties that they have. Anyway the exception is that I actually won something cool: an Evangelion statue figure thing.

When I won it went PING as the little claw flicked the ring holding the box up off of the peg, and then I felt like the most sweet and cool person alive and it was the best. Also this week I finally picked up Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii from the library of games I brought over and proceeded to get all the stars in it and unlock the Luigi mode which was pretty cool.

Tonight I think I might go out for that fabled delicious Kobe beef steak for the first time, as a birthday treat. If I never write again, know that it was because the steak was so delicious that I am comatose, or that I choked on it.

I have to teach a class in a minute, so this will be a little short for a Nomaday. In the words of myself, as I often end class, “See you next time! Okay you can go. Please leave now goodbye.”

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Picture Pages with William Henry “Bill” Cosby, Jr.

Now that we finally have Internet at home, it’s time for a picture post! So here are some random images from the last few days.

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We are in Kobe, and don’t have much

2:20 PM, Nagata-ku, Kobe

It’s been a weird day and a half.  Wednesday morning we each left Tokyo for Kobe in our own ways: Jessy took an airplane to the Kobe airport (just south of our home island) and I took a more convoluted route: bus to Tokyo station, the Shinkansen bullet train to Shin-Osaka station (bitchin’), then a bus to the “Yashiro Prison,” a term (affectionately?) used by nearly all the long-time JETs, and (humorously enough) many of the Japanese teachers as well.  It’s the Hyogo prefectural training facility for the Board of Education, and where I met the supervisor (an English teacher) from my high school for the first time yesterday afternoon. 

He took me in his car down through the mountains into Kobe, where I met the teachers and administration of my main high school in Nagata ward, as well as my predecessor, who has been infinitely helpful.  They had taken to calling me “Burapi” before my arrival, how the Japanese affectionately refer to their beloved American Movie Star Brad Pitt (really).  I think it’s because in Japanese my name starts bu-ra(-n-do-n) and they just tack a -pi on the end for convenience and humor’s sake.  The vice principal also called me “kakkoi” which likely marks the first time I have been called cool by anyone, ever.

I was reunited with my suitcases for the first time since checking them in Washington D.C. (and briefly moving them from baggage claim to be checked again in Tokyo), then my English teacher drove me home through downtown Kobe to Port Island, where after some struggles I got all my shit up to the seventh floor of our building in Minatojima Nakamachi and met up with Jessy, who had apparently arrived about an hour earlier.  The place is big enough to house God (and a sampling of other possibly Japanese deities), which is doubly humorous since we don’t own a damned thing anymore.  The apartment is rife with peculiarities that have already begun to grow on me due to their pragmatism and uniquity:

  • 3 plugs to every outlet by way of the Japanese plug standard omitting a ground pin, even though a few outlets in our place have them, just because
  • Three separate “bathroom” areas, with there being a room that is just a toilet (you go, flush, then wash your hands in the water that flows from a nozzle above the tank and then ends up as the water you use to flush the thing the next time), a room containing a sink, mirror, and recessed area for a clothes washer that serves as an entry way to the bathing area proper, and said bathing area proper, being a nicely sized room covered in tile with a half-the-room-sized tub and a shower hose, there being a room-drain underneath the tub so you can either bathe or shower or do both in the room and get water all over the place with no consequence
  • A small, two-burner stove with a broiler tray, the gas flames being ignited by a mechanical flint powered by 2 D-sized batteries which are fitted in an adorable slide-out compartment
  • A fridge that’s really small
  • An enormous balcony on which we will hang our clothing to dry, since there are no dryers, since nobody uses dryers in Japan
  • More built-in sliding door storage cabinets than I have ever had access to in my entire life

Cutely, we have water, gas, and electricity, but no:

  1. Internet (argh!)
  2. Air conditioning
  3. Dishes
  4. Cell phones
  5. Bank accounts
  6. Pigeon-shit free balcony (it’s grotesque)
  7. Supplies to clean the balcony, not that we can dry our clean clothes on it anyway, since we have no clean clothes, since we have no
  8. Clothes washer

They are all on the way, of course, but it results in the rather unfortunate situation that I am coming to you from the computer lab here at the Hyogo school for the blind, where I have been all day and where there is little to do on account of it being summer vacation in all Japanese schools until roughly the end of August.  Hence, I can provide no pictures of our apartment, or of any kind whatsoever!  When we have Internet access at home (maybe in the next week or two?) we will be able to update with more pictures and videos.

The situation is unfortunate because last evening we finally saw the harbor from the promenade on the west side of Port Island, and it looks just like it does in the picture at the top of the website here, and it is beautiful, and I cannot believe I live here yet.

In two hours I will need to find my way home on two trains: one from Takinochaya to Sannomiya, and one from there back to Port Island.  I think I can do it!  Like so many things in the last few days, it is new, completely bizarre, horrifying, and really exciting.  Today I believe Jessy is going/has gone to IKEA with some of her Kobe-shi JETs to secure some basics of living for us, which I will be happy to see upon my return to the apartment.  Tomorrow I go back to my main high school, and then thankfully we have the weekend to attempt to settle in a bit more.  I think I could get used to it here.

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