Tag Archives: mcdonalds

Now they grow up sharing McDonald’s and Disneyland

I’ve taken to wearing a beard and mustache, which I prefer to spell moustache, for no explicit reason. Having never actually witnessed what happens when I do not shave my face, I decided to give it the old college try for the first time last November, a month that some people have taken to dubbing “movember,” perhaps because mustache starts with an m and they want a sanctioned excuse to not shave and look like filthy mountain men. It was a short-lived experiment, I didn’t like the way it felt. When I left for Thailand at the end of December I decided not to bring my electric razor cause it was bulky. I haven’t shaved anything off since then except for a little trimming. So here I am, kinda mustachey, kinda beardy. It took a while before people at my schools started remarking on it, but things are in full swing now. It came to my attention the other day, via one of my good co-workers, that “many” of the students have been asking “why” I am now wearing hair on my face. I told him, as I struggled to come up with an answer, that I was basically doing it to see what it would be like. They thought it was hilarious, a reaction I often encounter when I say something that is not funny at all.

I told them that Jessy liked it, that it was just kind of interesting to see, personally, how it would come in, if my mustache and beard would ever connect (they won’t, it seems), what I would look like. I asked them if they had ever grown a mustache or beard and they said no. One of them is probably sixty, the other is two weeks younger than me. I considered asking why they had never tried it, just to put them in my shoes. I did not ask them. In a way this minor act of growing hair on my face almost makes me feel more foreign, since nobody at the school has a mustache or beard–I feel like I’m slowly re-Americanizing myself in preparation for the move back home.

Speakin’ of America I accidentally got into a conversation about old times today and found some pictures that I had of my room when I lived in Pittsburgh, and it sorta depressed me because I looked at them and the first thing I felt was man, I miss living in that place. Like you always think about a time when you are most happy or something, and I really felt “I was more happy then than I am now” and it was kind of a sad thought. I want to be happy! I wonder what it is I need to change or do. Maybe it is just the impermanence of living here that is driving me crazy, not that anywhere else I’ve ever lived has been any more permanent. It kind of seems like the times I get the most depressed are when I’m sitting here at night school doing jack shit except thinking about things that I used to do, which is probably confirmation of my brand new and groundbreaking theory that idle hands lead to minds that wish their hands weren’t idle but don’t have the ambition to make them move. Yes that’s it

– Today’s gummy snack from the FamilyMart, featuring three different flavors of gummies: melon soda, cola, and lemon sour, and named “Cola up! &Friends”
– My distinctly non-romantic idea that because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day me and Jessy should go on a date “to the curry restaurant in the basement in Sannomiya that we both really like” but hey she was like OH MY GOD YEAH and I was like take that, someone
– The loudspeaker van that I walked past on the way to school that was yelling in the top of its lungs about Japan needs to REVIVAL!!!!! but he sounded so angry about it
– Ate McDonald’s MEGA MUFFIN the other day for breakfast, it was pretty mega if i am to be perfectly honest with you. It is part of their annual “Big America” series of strangely-themed “American” sandwiches like Texas Burger and Idaho Burger that are both nothing like anything available in America and at the same time a good reflection of what a global burger company comes up with when they want to portray “America” to the average Japanese person

I went to karaoke last weekend again with some pals, a kind of renaissance of karaoke after having not really gone in over a year or so. Evidently, somewhere along the line, the Big Echo place replaced all their ancient fuckin’ TVs and the horrible stock videos that play behind the lyrics with brand new widescreen TVs and newly-shot HD videos. It’s kind of a bizarre change, updating the old fashions for the new. The old videos were really amazing in a way, most of them obviously shot at-or-around the turn of the century, full-frame, people in ridiculous clothes and dated storefronts, hilarious foreign actors recruited by Japanese companies to shoot these things. These new ones are sort of a strange anachronism, brand-new high-definition video matched up to goofy lyrics for Take Me Home Country Roads like some teenagers hangin’ out in an apartment eating pizza or whatever. I feel like there’s a short story in there somewhere, that whole scene must just be the weirdest goddamned thing.

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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.


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.


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.


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.

– 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

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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All patterns alter


These gloomy days really take it out of me mentally, especially when I’m waking up
habitually at 6:30, Jessy’s sympathetic riser, nothing to do but exist until it’s time
to leave for work just before noon. These are my single mornings, spent responsibly
pre-work unoccupied on the couch with my animal, bowl of curry rice, and some video
game or another where I generally shoot robots with pulse weapons. It’s a warm day
today, which is done a disservice by all the clouds and the bit of rain, so I’ve tried
to energize myself with that “caffeine” stuff that all the people swear by. I have a
couple cans of coffee during my commute, one of which is called “GOOD START BLEND,”
ostensibly due to its extra amount of energy juice. It is failing to work its magic,
which can mean only one thing: should have secured some extra-rare Mountain Dew


Last Friday, a day not much unlike this one, I found myself beered and slightly damp
on a bleacher seat in Koshien Stadium for my second Hanshin Tigers baseball game. The
real value here came from our tickets, which were enticingly called “KFC PACK”
tickets, and KFC means the same thing in Japan as it does in the states. For roughly
the same price as a normal bleacher ticket each of us was given a draft beer, a few
chicken nuggets, and some spicy little drummies, which were delicious enough to prompt
me to order another beer from the cute lady who wanders around with a keg strapped to
her back. And that one was good enough for another, and another after that. By the
time we won the game I had not even realized it was over, which I suppose meshes well
with Brandon’s Spectator Theory of Baseball: when attending a baseball game, there are
often more important things than baseball. I personally like to think of the teams as
my indentured court jesters, performing for my pleasure regardless of whether I am
watching them or not. They will say “looky, looky,” but I will not look. Looking is
the thing I won’t do.

Also a man behind us relentlessly taunted the Enemy American player in left field.
His name was Sledge, which in Japanese sounds like “Suredji,” and we could not help
but join in, defectors, defying our upbringing. Yes, Suredji, yes. Embrace this.
Become a stronger man, as I slander your name and imply that grave events have indeed
occurred between myself and those who gave birth to you.


Why are you so cool? How are you? Are you handsome? Do you have girlfriend? Do you
have children? Do you like color? Do you like girls? How many girls have you ever
loved? What is your height? Why are your legs so long?


The upcoming week is called “Golden Week” here in Japan, named thusly because of its
high concentration of nearly consecutive holidays. At present our plan is to go to
Tokyo, for no specific reason other than it’s somewhere big to go that won’t be
totally impossible since every other person in Japan will be flooding the popular
areas. I plan on going to Akihabara where I hope to obtain 4,000 StreetPass tags for
my 3DS like a total geek.


– A door-to-door type salesman guy came to our apartment the other day to leave this
huge plastic crate of medicine with us. He explained that we could use it if we
wanted, and then he’d check back later and we could just pay him for whichever boxes
of stuff we opened or used. The prices being quite below what one pays at a store we
said sure whatever. Apparently it’s kind of a popular thing for some people here to
do. I looked up what this is called, and in Japanese it’s “haichiyaku.” The literal
translation of this word, according to the dictionary, is the elegant “medicine left
by a salesman and paid for when used”
– The games section of the newly remodeled electronics store downtown has been moved
from the second to the highest (sixth) floor of the building, perhaps signaling that
they figure Japan’s enormously popular gaming craze is going to subside and they’re
relegating the otaku back to the wings
– McDonald’s new sandwich here is called the Mega Teriyaki, and it looks like a Big
Mac with both burger patties smothered in teriyaki sauce. I want to eat it, but
haven’t yet
– Saw a sign inside one of the makeup stores I walk past on my way home the other day.
It had a pretty girl on it, with some cursive English lettering below it that said
simply “I’m virgin”
– We’re going to see this American action movie on Friday, which is called Sucker
Punch in the states. Its Japanese title is ANGEL WARS, which instantly elevates the
movie to a higher level


I have Internet here at night school now on my little Eee PC, twenty months after
starting work. All it took was my new co-teacher to actually tell the people in
charge that I needed it, an action that by Being An Action was something my previous
teachers never had the ambition to take care of. He has gained three “that’s
refreshing” points, which he can redeem at the end of the year to officially cement
his status in my mind as not a total bitch.

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Keep an eye on the cat and another on the frying pan

I have harbored our new cat Kiki for the last four days now, but if you entered the apartment you’d be hard-pressed to believe me if I told you (were it not for the litter tray and dishes of food, which let’s be honest, I could be using myself). You see, the cat is in my home, but he lives so mysteriously! Like a sun-allergic breakfast sausage he spends the entirety of my waking hours tucked into the empty, cloth-covered space behind the couch, unreachable, invisible, uncoaxable, unresponsive to everything. To that end, following in the footsteps tread by the best footage suppliers of America’s Most Horrifying Security Camera Videos, I have today engineered my computer to act as a motion-detecting video recorder, trained on the main area of the living room in an effort to monitor this secretive beast while I am out humpin’ for yen as a tool of the Japanese public school system.

I’m not sure what I expect to see when I get back home and Go To The Tape. The only things routinely disturbed are the handful of anemic flowers which sit inside a ceramic vase on the table, and they’re not even so damaged, just knocked around, a single joint in the stem of each flower. Will I see him nuzzling the television? Rearranging all the furniture with his head then pushing it back to normal two hours later? I left a small, catnip-stuffed squishy mouse in direct view of the all-seeing eye in an effort to coax him into providing entertaining viewing, but am unsure if my efforts will yield watchable television.

Kiki must be so proud of his considerate handiwork. He seems to be an exceptionally harmless cat–he hasn’t broken anything or torn anything apart or bitten or scratched us during his secretive night-time exercises. Even when I ruined myself in his eyes forever by trying to yank him out of the couch and move him to a smaller room for his own comfort, he never once attacked or yowled or bit, just slunk further into the couch. He has begun recently to start acknowledging his strange new self-contradictory thought processes, which we figure go something like this:

“I am a cat, and my situation is very new and frightening, but I crave the love and attention of the two humans who inhabit this weird place! I will leave my safe and cozy tunnel now, and perhaps I will watch them sleep, meowing just outside the entrance to their bedroom as though I desire contact, but then THEY SAW ME OHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIIIIIIIIIIohshit”

The crux of the situation is that the cat eats, drinks, sleeps, and uses the litter box routinely, just not during any time when we are in view. He occasionally lets out a few tiny squeakmeows, presumably to say either “what the fuck where am I” or to verify whether we are or are not around by listening for a response to his yip. Caught between fear and desire, we figure it will just be a matter of time before the mere sight of us does not cause him to arch his back like the McDonald’s logo. I suppose the real question is whether the duration of that period will be a few more days, weeks, or months. I want to tell him “we do not want to hurt you, and in fact want to love you,” but I am having a hard time translating that into cat.

BONUS: security cam footage of the cat jumping on the table from today since I just got back home!

Oh god, have I become one of those people who talks about their cat all the time? I assure you it is only because my life is devoid of more exciting tropes at the moment. Close runner-up: classes are back in session, and I’ve already taught ten of them with two more on the way and it’s like I never left. In my English Speaking Society yesterday (a smallish club populated with two first-year girls and a boy), we were having a conversation about winter in Iowa, and then they asked me if I ever “burned marshmallows” before, and then I proceeded to tell them about S’mores (the word is short for “some more,” I explained, because they are delicious, and you always want some more of them). Being presented with the concept of the graham cracker seemed to be an Earth-shaking, revelatory experience for them.

“The graham cracker is a cracker, made with honey,” I tell them. They ask me “is it a biscuit?” “Well, no.”

In conclusion, we will be using the English Speaking Society’s meeting time to make S’mores at some point in the near future, once I figure out how to get big marshmallows and graham crackers in Japan.

All that most people in Japan seem capable of talking about right now is the summer and its associated phenomena: “it’s hot,” “it sure is hot,” “this is a very hot time,” “it is not a cool day,” and so on. It makes for a thoroughly boring societal experience, bombarded by uncomfortable, humid weather, unpopulated with any sort of seasonal festivities, and lacking the refreshing charm of a season that has now been dragging on for well over three months. The one thing we did have in August was a thing called Bon, a time period distinctly uninteresting to foreign people, during which the people of this country recognize the deceased family members they have known in the past. Their spirits return to the world and then leave it again. I personally am more fond of cherry blossom season, where you celebrate by sitting outside in “some shady” by a tree, looking at the tree, and drinking beer. Yes, I hate the summer. When will it be October? Oh, in about a month. Something in my life doesn’t seem as refreshing as it used to be, and I am blaming the summer and the fact that leaving my balcony door open would be like running a garden hose in the living room right now. It is the air, the air, the air. It’s gotta be! Maybe it is something else.


Oh hi! The other day Jessy and I went to a little party on the island with some new people on the program and it was pretty fun. I drank some gin and colas and listened to some relaxed and nice people talk about Dungeons and Dragons, whisky, the Sega Saturn, and other excellent things. Then on our way home while we were talking to a nice couple who taste wine as a hobby and play Jazz music together and who made couscous and ordered a piano or something, I made the mistake of asking Jessy about a facet of her “special” school, a topic which she brought up! Here is a representation of the conversation:

Jessy: “In my nakayoshi school (translator’s note: nakayoshi means “special friend”) the kids got injured while they were trying to make a human pyramid!”
Me, somewhat quietly, directly to Jessy, in total deadpan: “Retarded pyramids?”
The other couple, non-verbally, apparently, cause Jessy told me about this since I didn’t actually look at them since I was not considering their reaction to my stupid joke: Total mouth-agape shock
Other non-American friend, in damage-control mode: “Did you know Americans still use the word ‘retard’ seriously? It’s true!”
Me, American: “I had no idea.”
Mosquito: Bites me
Jessy, later: “Brandon you asshole!”
Me: What

But I do not mean to blame the victim-couple for having no sense of humor, or even for being from another country with vastly different political-correctness sensibilities (they elected a woman as Prime Minister, after all). In fact, the wife of the couple laughed at one of my jokes earlier (it was funnier than the word retard, and I cannot remember it). One time a while ago they visited our house to comment on the overbearing sweetness in a bottle of eight-dollar peach wine that Jessy bought and invited them over to try, because they like to taste their liquor. I thought that was pretty funny! (At the recent party, Jessy tasted “pretzels and licorice” in one of the wines, but I am not sure if those are valid wine-taster tastes to notice.) Anyway at that time I did a horrible thing by inviting them to the living room to play Mario with me and Brenden, then they got bored, and so I am a bad person because we kept playing Mario even though they were bored. I went from being a good host to being a jerk so easily! Should I too have attempted to detect pretzels and licorice?

I guess what I am wondering is, is it worth the effort to make friends? Or should I just spend time with people who are naturally disposed to being friends with me with as little bullshit involved as possible? Oh, what am I talking about, anyway!

I had better watch out what I say in here, this might end up like that time when I was drunk and I told someone at a party that I “couldn’t stand 95% of the people in this room” and some people overheard it and actually believed I was talking to them instead of the person I was talking to and then held unreasonable silent grudges against me until they actually talked to me and discovered I do not actually warrantlessly hate all people and that alcohol changes my demeanor from “says very little” to “will say dumb shit.” Besides, there were only like fourteen people in the room, it’s impossible to hate everyone and then just a fraction of someone else.

So, couple-who-I-said-retard-in-front-of, if you ever read this, please know that I did not intend to mine your political sensitivities and deliver a precision ‘tard strike in your vicinity. (I meant not to mention the word “retards” again and make another senseless joke at the hands of the impaired, but censoring myself in text is one of my handicaps and going back through to edit my personal journal is kind of mentally challenging)

I mean, the people who write all those offensive jokes for comedy shows are probably pretty nice people, right? You guys seem pretty nice too, and I also think it is nice of you to taste things in wine, cause all I can taste in Japanese beer is piss, and I stopped looking for it after a while. You guys should come over for some Scrabble, I will even accept Australian spellings! Also I am not a horrible person, honest! Well maybe a little horrible. I guess what I am asking is, do you hate me? I know what it’s like to hate, because after all it has come to my attention that I hate 95% of all people (but don’t worry, there are lots of persons with notable mental disadvantages in that other 5%, especially Jessica, with whom I live for christsakes).


More excitement this week: I didn’t get my application in lightning-fast enough this semester to get a spot in the impossibly popular (and free) Hyogo Japanese language classes, the first section of which I finished in June. This guarantees there will be plenty of spots for real achievers like the couple guys I had class with last time, who have lived in Japan for five years, are still speaking at an introductory level, and who have failed the last three times they have taken it, mostly because despite getting a spot they never actually go to the class. Anyone know a place I can take some lessons and learn at a good clip (need not be free)? Full details please, responses akin to “I know a guy who gives me lessons out of his basement for a hundred yen a month and he cooks me free curry and taught me how to massage my prostate with an ancient artisan calligraphy brush but he’s all booked up and no you can’t have his number lol” will be summarily the cause of me saying “I hate you a lot” and erasing you from my world (assuming you are already in it).

– Months after its release I finally got around to buying Bayonetta for my PS3 (you can read some impressions I wrote based on the E3 demo more than a year ago over at N-Sider by clicking this link). I bought the new edition, which has a cool reversible cover, and inside the case rests a fun game, and it’s fun partially because you can bite demons in half with your evil hair, which is also your clothing, yes I am saying your hair is your clothes in this game
– I have finally woken to the pleasure of Google Reader, an RSS management service that lets you read all the updates from your favorite sites in a handy aggregated list, and I bet that if you are the kind of guy or gal that is used to checking many different websites often and wants a faster way to see what’s new you’d really enjoy it, and also my site has an RSS feed so you can add it to be sure you never miss a gripping update
– The money exchange rate for the dollar is down to 1 USD = 84.84 yen, which means if you were planning on buying/importing stuff from Japan any time soon it just got more expensive for you to do it and which also means since the 23rd of August I’ve gotten a thousand dollar increase to my yearly salary which is mostly useless since all I do with US dollars is pay off the education loanwhores
– The Tsukimi (moon-viewing) Burger is back (back from where?) at McDonald’s, completing a yearly cycle that I wrote about last year, and making that two McDonald’s mentions in this very entry
– In the last week I have conned Jessy into watching Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, and True Lies, three movies she would never agree to see normally, and the latter two of which she really liked, further evidence that Judge Dredd is just no good no matter how bad you want it to be
– If someone tells you that you are eating a BLT sandwich in Japan and they hand you the sandwich, you know that they are liars, because what they call a BLT is not a BLT at all, but I eat them anyway and trick myself into believing they are
– I wonder what the cat is doing right now don’t you

Last week I for some reason agreed to go to Costco with Jessy tomorrow. If you have been reading Nomaday since May you know how I feel about Costco in Japan (summary: it is a outlaw ranch/family amusement park). I do not want to go, but perhaps I will be able to secure a few 24 packs of contraband American soda–a fine reward for braving the hellish gauntlet of culturally shocking warehouse shopping.

What can Jessy possibly want to purchase? Knowing her, cleaning supplies and nothing else. Maybe I will beg for another five pound bag of gummy bears. Maybe I will buy five more webcams, and wire the entire apartment to record the harrowing and mesmerizing adventures of Kiki, the scaredy-cat who watches me while I sleep. Maybe I will sit in the parking lot, gripping my knees, and rock back and forth, shrieking until the moon comes out (and then I will view it). When the employees ask me if I am okay, I will climb them like a jungle gym and defecate explosively, launching myself into space, where it is not summer, and where I love 95% of all people, and where my cat plays the keyboard and unlocks the mysteries of the universe.

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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!

– 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

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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Liftoff, Space Cosmoship

The electronic dictionaries that my students possess are so wondrous that yesterday one of those little hellions set to work on something nefarious, culminating in a freshman coup-de-grace: room silent between snippets of conversation, a digital female voice emerges and says, in English,


and the kid and his buddy are losing it over there and I try not to, because dammit I’m a teacher. But I remember what high school was like, and if I had an electronic dictionary that said whatever I wanted it to say when I was in high school I’d have been in detention a lot more than I was. I couldn’t help it, I laughed anyway. It was a harbinger of sequelitis, certainly, this punk’s behavior validated, and later in the class we all got an “UHHHHH” from the same voice, in the middle of some kid’s speech. That one I tried not to react to, lest some real whoppers follow. What’s next after “ecstasy” and lascivious moaning? Scallywag? Consarnit? Poppycock? Actual cock? I dare not investigate any further.

This was after one of the students told me I was “lookin’ suave,” wherever the hell they learned that. I can barely conduct routine conversation in Japanese and these kids can say “lookin’ suave” in English. Obviously I need some lessons. I told the kid “nice pants.” He looked at his pants.

Despite my constant struggles with the language, I did manage to use it to do a Secret Special Order at Yoshinoya the other day (the popular beef bowl restaurant) by asking for my gyudon “tsuyudaku,” or with extra sauce. This was during the lunch break of my Mid-Year Conference, mentioned in the last entry. I hoofed it from the government building to Sannomiya and ordered up then walked back stuffed with beef and rice and onions. After that was over I stopped off and bought a Kirin six-pack and a bottle of Suntory Old Whiskey then went home and played Modern Warfare 2 for a long time. It was awesome! (take my word for it)


Curious Japanese Shit of the Week:
– One person’s perception that Hot Cocoa (which exists here) and Hot Chocolate (which apparently does not) are distinct and separate beverages, with Hot Cocoa being “really sweet” and Hot Chocolate necessarily being “even sweeter”
– The only clearance flavor of Hi-Chew candy that I’ve ever seen, and the flavor is “American Cherry,” not that I knew American Cherries had such a distinct taste as to necessitate their own classification as an artificial candy flavoring
– Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino speaking English on a Japanese evening cooking show on television and being the two celebrity judges in a cooking contest between two chef duos, consuming hot pot clam chowder, steak, and attempting to slurp noodles before imploring the viewing audience to go see their new movie “Inglorious Basterds” (actual spelling), which is about Nazis
– Guy outside main center street shopping area downtown standing on precariously balanced plank-on-cylinder while juggling knives to a huge audience of almost totally unenthusiastic bystanders
– Being corrected on my katakana-pronounced order of a “Quarter Pounder with Cheese” at McDonalds by having “Quarter Cheese? Quarter Cheese?” repeated to me (wrapper that sandwich arrives in says Quarter Pounder with Cheese on it)
– A 350ml bottle of cherry soda designed to look exactly like a Tabasco sauce bottle but saying Tabasco nowhere on it nor tasting anything like Tabasco


We used our Japanese Thanksgiving Day on Monday to take the ropeway line to the upper areas of Mount Rokko. Our cable-car-companions were a young, stylish couple, the man in which was being relentlessly teased by the woman for “being scared.” I couldn’t blame him cause the thing was honestly kinda fucking terrifying. I dunno maybe the girl has ridden all the perilous-looking fiberglass composite gondolas suspended from braided wire in Japan or something. From the top of the mountain you can drop a hundred-yen coin into those mechanical binoculars and really get a good view of the city. I could see our apartment complex from there, and tiny boats cruising around in the sea. Then we took the hiking path down, behind a few tourist retards including one girl who was literally wearing heels trying to hike down a mountain and failing miserably. I resisted the urge to help her down with a soccer-style ass-kicking. We saw a waterfall further down, a picture of which you can find over in my Twitter feed in my Twitpic. How twittly! Excited, I got to jogging so quickly down a stone path that I almost fell off the side, but reached out for a railing bar and grabbed it, flipping myself about upside-down.

(not my photograph)

Speaking of physical pain, I had my second encounter with the Japanese health-care system on Saturday morning, having slowly developed agonizing inner-lower-left back pain that flared up whenever I’d engage those trunk muscles. I wanted to let it be, but it hurt even worse after waking up, and so that inconsiderate live-in harpy who’s hogging the air in our apartment (hi jessy) insisted that I go to the hospital (virtually across the street) to make sure I wasn’t going to die or something. As it turns out, I am going to die, but probably not because of this injury, which is just some kind of muscle sprain or spasm caused by my getting drunk and subsequently dehydrated Thursday night at the Sky Buffet (which was as awesome as I predicted), waking up Friday, going to Mid-Year Conference which involved walking four miles, and wolfing down an L-size beef bowl in the meantime. They gave me an ultrasound and discovered I am not pregnant, then “prescribed” me four tiny shitty painkiller pills that don’t work at all. Still, for my appointmentless 8 AM emergency room visit (with an English-speaking doctor, and including the aforementioned ultrasound, blood pressure tests, a urine-check (can’t be too sure I guess), and the cost of my medicine), I only paid about 3,000 yen, or about twenty-seven bucks at the current exchange rate. Thanks Japanese national healthcare system, for your questionable success rate but affordable peace of mind! Anyway it’s mostly feeling better now as long as I don’t do the Locomotion or anything or practice my hula hoop skills out in the yard (I don’t have a yard).

Other things I don’t have: the day off tomorrow, unlike all you lame-guys back in the States, during which you will gorge yourself on roasted bird, stuffing, and whatever other gruesome spreads you are able to secure for yourselves. My Thanksgiving lunch will literally consist of a special-school-prepared government-supplied calorie-rich rice and grain combination, somewhat flavorless miso and seaweed soup, vaguely room-temperature high-fat milk from a glass bottle, a lightly mayonaissed salad likely containing some kind of root or pickled vegetable, and a main dish that odds support being heavily stewed vegetables or fish in some type of sauce. Handily offsetting this (I hope) seems to be the endeavors of one of the western locals, who will be hosting an evening meal more in line with what we’ve come to expect from the occasion. I’ll bestow upon her a Pot of Dumps, dumplings in the true spirit of my mother and her mother and all other dumpmakers back in that rich line, flour and egg and the tiniest bit of water and salt all boiled up hot and tasty. I will eat them all myself except for one, and then as it is reached for, snap it away with adept chopstickery and flick it into the air like a flipped coin before plucking it from the air with my prehensile lizard tongue. It will be my most memorable moment ever, and probably the greatest and best of history.

Tonight I’m going to have the kids play Battleship, only it’s English Battleship where you can only attack by putting together parts of sentences instead of a letter and a number. So instead of a room full of people saying C-5 I’ll have a room full of people saying I would like to… walk to the store (or “remain totally silent with fear”). Anyway, because regular Battleship is lame, I’m making this into SPACE BATTLESHIP, which is fucking rad. They will have Space Battleship, Space Cruiser, Space Cosmoship, Space Ferry, and Space Guppy. The Space Guppy is obviously the one-square ship. They will say “You sunk my Space Guppy,” and things will be okay for me, for tonight at the very least.

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Tamago Double Mac out, Tsukimi Burger in

As with all things Japan, the obsessive seasonality of the culture has infiltrated.  Lately is it McDonald’s, which is not only ubiquitous here but popular, because every Japanese kid loves a hamburger (I know, they told me).  They are also really cheap.

Recently, McDonald’s of Japan has come under fire for their “racially insensitive caricature” Mr. James, who is an idiot tourist who came to Japan solely to eat the four new sandwiches that they are rolling out during the summer and fall this year.

You may recall Jessy and I trying the scrumptious Tamago Double Mac earlier. Here is a photograph of what it looks like when you order it, shortly before you stuff it in your head:

If you wanted to try one, and are visiting Japan soon, too fucking bad! Since nothing is ever available here for more than a month, you are totally screwed. What you can try, however, is the new hotness: the second of four sandwiches in the “Nippon All Stars” limited sandwich line-up.

THE TSUKIMI BURGER (literally, the “moon-viewing burger”). It just came out today! It is basically a hamburger with a fried egg, bacon, and a special MOON VIEWING SAUCE on it, which I theorize is made of hand lotion and bleach.

(This is a picture of someone else’s from last year. Apparently it is a fall tradition!)

Anyway, I cannot goddamned wait to try one of these things. Luckily I walk past a McDonald’s store in the train station nearly every single day. Soon, burger, we will view the moon together, and then I will take a bite out of you.

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A (brief) evening wandering Shinjuku

I suppose it’s painfully obvious to almost anyone on first blush, but to say that confusion is the order of the day when entering a foreign country is a bit of a misstatement.  You see, it’s not entirely confusion, but wonderment–as in, I wonder what the hell I’m doing?

Peculiarities I was unprepared for noted during our couple-hour stroll around evening Shinjuku:

  • Tiny umbrella sheaths that you insert your rain-stopper into as though a sword into a stone, then pull out from the side to detach from their holster
  • A multi-floored, multi building Yodobashi Camera megaplex
  • My peculiar desire to visit a McDonald’s (where I ordered a spicy chicken sandwich that truly was spicy)
  • Visiting a video arcade that contained dozens of games, UFO catchers, candy machines, pachinko games, and even a lower floor that consisted only of people playing Tekken 6, Street Fighter IV, King of Fighters 2002, and other games of their ilk, at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night

I’ve added another Picasa image gallery as is sure to become the norm.  I’ll have to add a link to the Picasa site proper eventually.  But for now it’s late and we have orientation early.  Oyasuminasai (おやすみなさい)!

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