Tag Archives: konbini

It’s not easy being green

It got downright cold here in Kobe this week following an unusually warm Halloween, almost as if the ghastly presence swooped in, leeched all the heat off everything, and zipped away. In a human sense, this is nearly what happened: we attended a Halloween event at one of the usual “gaijin bars” downtown called the Polo Dog, wherein hundreds of costumed foreigners (and native residents with an interest in foreigners) crammed themselves together in all manner of costumes running the gamut from Snow White to superheroes, proceeded to sweat profusely, barely able to move, then dispersed like the warm weather.

I was a frog, by way of that I wore a Frog Mask, which was acquired at The Daiso (you’re surely getting to know your hundred-yen stores by now), for one hundred yen. I use the term Mask loosely, as it seemed more like a green fabric hood with a couple of little frog eyes on top that did not want to stand straight up and kept falling down, making it look like I was just a green hood for Halloween. My t-shirt was kind of orange, causing one person to ask if I was a carrot. I could be a carrot, I said, and there was no reason why not, if it suited their fancy.

Jessy was some manner of hula girl, an impulse costume spurned by the fortunate sighting of a ¥1750 beginner’s ukulele at our nearest Hard-Off second-hand shop, the same one I got my Supreme Plasma Television at a few months ago. She tied it to some string and wore it around her neck along with an assortment of hundred-yen flower leis. As a member of an ignorant death-pact, wherein I was obligated to wear my frog mask so long as she remained inexorably in costume, riding the Port Liner train from our island to downtown was perhaps one of my most poignantly embarassing moments on record, a literal outsider in a goddamned frog mask failing miserably at Halloween even by Japanese standards and the fucking eyes wouldn’t stand up right.

You see in Japan, though they use Halloween as an excuse to buy cute seasonal candies and festively decorated packages, very few people actually dress themselves in costumes or do any of the things you likely English-speaking readers have come to associate with the holiday. Though my ego had already been crushed by the time we arrived in Sannomiya (the downtown district), Jessy let me take the frog mask off to go into McDonalds and try their new Bacon+BBQ Quarter Pounder (a scrumptious onion-bearing hybrid flavor experience eliciting a thoughtful consideration of the result of the theoretical breeding of a McRib sandwich with a standard Quarter Pounder). The damage had already been done, of course, but the sandwich made it mostly okay.

In an effort to mentally bleach this traumatic experience away completely, we spent yesterday with another couple in Kyoto, the fabled historical hotbed of the Kansai region (and most of Japan). It was the first trip there for Jessy and I, for some reason (Kyoto’s a ¥1000, 50-minute rapid train away), and we had a very cultural time! Fitting, as Tuesday was national Culture Day, an annual holiday celebrating a former emperor during which residents are encouraged to connect with culture! Mainly, as seems to be a trend in the more populated areas of this country, I spent more of Tuesday connecting with thousands of other people who all had the same idea as we did and decided to slam Kyoto in school trip buses, on bicycles, on foot, by car, by van.

But we got to see a pretty large temple holding 1,001 statues of Buddha (the Sanjuusangen-do, and that was awesome (in a historical sense). We also went to another big temple up on the mountain and got our stamp book calligraphied in and stamped by some monk-type dude. On the way back down the mountain to the city proper we stopped along the way for goodies (a famous cream puff, some chocolate crepes, and free looks at a variety of souvenir shops–and I even saw a real-life geisha just walking around).

Famished as we were we ignorantly stumbled into a misleading Japanese restaurant courtesy of some jackass restaurateur who beckoned us in with an English menu then proceeded to serve us the things we ordered only in tiny minuscule portions belying the prices we paid for them, the fellow having never mentioned anything about this bizarre divergence from usual dining establishment convention (highlight: a ¥1180 plate of “grilled duck with Kyoto green onions on a mulberry leaf” which turned out to be three bite-sized slices of duck meat with onions and no mulberry leaf). After our “meal” we got the bonus privilege of paying ¥500 each for a decidedly un-tasty Now and Later-sized cube of fish gelatin that we were served without ordering it shortly after we arrived. “Everyone must get it,” the waiter said upon our objection at the bill. I felt great anger well up inside me and wished for enough language skill to tell the tiny little man that he should be ashamed of himself for his deception, then for the sake of the harmonious Buddha, placed the experience out of my mind with the help of my friends Cheap Convenience Store Alcohol and Steamy Bun.

Today at work I have made the conscious effort to totally drown myself in cheap, filling, unhealthy food as a sort of mental remuneration for my stomach’s lingering disappointment, consuming in the last five hours:
– a shelf-stable packaged udon bowl with sweet kitsune-style fried tofu slice (¥200)
– a package of “Hokkaido Choco Potato” chocolate-covered crispy potato snacks (¥160)
– one pouch (27g) of average Daiso beef jerky (¥100)
– one pack of CRATZ brand pretzel and almond snack mix, bacon pepper flavor (¥100)
– a handful of festive winter chocolate-covered almonds dusted in fresh cocoa powder (full box, ¥180)
– a Yamazaki baking company cheese pizza bun, a hamburger-sized bun stuffed with delicious pizza filling (¥90)
– two 500ml cans of Fanta soda, grape and orange (¥100 each)

Total cost something like ¥1030? Which is way less than my three slices of grilled duck and gelatinous fish cube. Take that, random Kyoto restaurant whose name and location I can no longer remember (I hope you go out of business, and as you move your equipment out, are destroyed by a really pretentious meteor!)!

Outside the wind rages about blustery, tossing the trees and causing the shrine cats to huddle up. They even have a meteorological term for it here (kogarashi). They assign it to these strong crispy winds that gust in from the mountains, I think? and cut through our houses and cause coldness. I think when I woke up this morning around 6:00 AM it happened to be about five degrees outside (Celcius, as we do). In Fahrenheit I think that’s about 44?

Compared to the oppressive heat of Halloween, it’s a frosty revelation: Monday marked our three-month anniversary of arriving in Japan, winter is on its way, and time relentlessly marches on.

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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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