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
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL, GAME
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.
POPULAR QUESTIONS ASKED ABOUT ME DURING MY INTRODUCTORY LESSONS WITH THE NEW FIRST YEAR STUDENTS
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.
FINALLY, CURIOUS JAPANESE STUFF LATELY
– 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
– 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.
Nomaday…. the only usually-weekly blog about Japan to give you premium quality in both regular and king size…
brings you Nomaday.
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. You’re a bored Internet user, a relative or friend of the author of this website. You’re trying to waste some time at home or work. From the link you clicked you expect this website may or may not be entertaining. Your job… read it.
A COOL ESTABLISHING SHOT
It was Wednesday, April 13th. It was warm in Kobe, Japan. I had just finished feeding my cat and was on the way out the door for work. My cat’s name is Kiki. My name’s Brandon.
NO BUT SERIOUSLY
we started listening to the old Dragnet radio show before bed. It’s pretty great, especially the last one we heard where they had this big shootout in this hotel building. My favorite part is the very end of the broadcast though when the guy is like “this is NBC” and it goes donn dannn dooon but it sounds all scary and radio-like. They call this hobby “Old Time Radio” but mostly I am just interested in Dragnet and cigarette advertisements from when it was still legal to be all like “these fuckers are good for you man! i smoke two packs a day cause it’s the best for me! smoke them, nothing bad will happen!”
Have you heard about this new Nintendo thing? It is called the 3DS, it is their new system, and it shows you the games in THREE-D on its top screen. It has this feature in it called StreetPass, which lets you meet other people that you cross in real life while you are walking around. Basically, it gives you rewards in the game for being near other people who also have 3DS systems. This sounds silly, but has pushed me to some bizarre travel lengths lately.
The last two days after work I have taken totally unnecessary detours away from the station and down to Center Gai, the big crowded shopping street full of humans, in hopes of StreetPassing people. I catch myself creepily swerving not to miss but to hit large swarms of people while walking between trains, pushing through them slowly so that my system has a better chance of seeing other ones. The other day I went up and walked through the game store with the intention of buying nothing, merely enticed by the idea that there might be other gamers there looking for the same thing, then found myself genuinely upset when I only got one tag after getting five on Monday.
I’m even planning on going to Osaka this weekend, a trip that is in part motivated by the very real knowledge that I will likely cross paths with a ton of people that have 3DS systems, and even as I write this I am prone to obsessively checking my system’s StreetPass light while sitting at my desk in the teacher’s room, where nobody is likely to have a 3DS.
What is the appeal here! Basically I get to see the little cartoon representation of another person with their name and a few little messages, and then they can give me pieces to complete some puzzles, or help me win hats in another little mini game. If they’ve been playing Street Fighter lately we can compare our FIGURE COLLECTIONS. I feel like a little kid yet at the same time strangely compelled to always carry it with me. It also acts as a pedometer and gives “coins” to buy in-game goodies as you walk, and tracks all the data so I can see how many steps I take each day and how long I play games for each day.
It has, interestingly enough, shown me that I take about 6200 steps a day, which is roughly three miles according to various Internet converters. Thanks Nintendo, for allowing me to track exactly how awesome I am!
HOW ABOUT THAT SPRING
After a supremely extended Spring Break, today marks the first one of my classes (and that’s it today, just one) since February. Though my main school won’t start up again until the 25th, it’s still just the slightest bit worrying to get tossed back into it once more (this time around with mostly new teachers again, due to the Japanese school system’s obsession with moving everyone around between grades, sections, and schools every March). I have lessons pretty much down from last year, though my night school will as always be a little more challenging until I figure out exactly how to deal with the students and how relaxed my new co-teacher is.
Speaking of relaxing, last week was a good week all around Japan for hanami, which is a word that pretty much means flower-viewing, in this case the cherry blossoms. Yes, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom all across Japan, and unlike our nearly suicidal trip to Hoshino last year, we decided to keep it local this time around. We found ourselves in a park off to the west part of Kobe with several of Jessy’s coworkers, engaged in revelry that only tenuously had anything to do with the cherry blossoms, which I remember looking at maybe twice.
For hanami, the traditional thing to do is get a huge blue tarp, put it down on the ground, sit around it, and get shitfaced drunk while eating a variety of fried and grilled goods. That’s pretty much what we did! I brought a bag of homemade beef jerky that was perhaps illegally sent to us from the States and let them marvel at how delicious it was–it was decimated by tiny, slight women who could not stop saying how good it was. For me the food of the evening was from the heart, which is to say I literally was eating heart, more specifically grilled chicken heart and cow heart brought by another person. You wouldn’t think so, but the chicken heart was delicious and chewy, with the cow being slightly more porous. Would eat again!
Our neighbors at the park across the way, obviously accustomed to doing this, brought themselves a noisy-ass diesel fucking generator and surrounded their tarp with florescent neon light tubes, which they used for about an hour and then they left way before us. After it got real dark, maybe nine or so, I found myself in a “snack bar” for the first time with the others, which basically resembled the finished basement of an elderly woman, complete with elderly woman, who was the only person working there. We dined on bowls of tiny, mushy fish that tasted like goop, and plates of tiny, chewy fish that tasted like brown sugar. I drank whiskey and waters and we karaoked the Evangelion theme song, then laughed at another one of the teachers, who is way more of a dork than me or any of us, for dancing with hand motions to some female idol songs from the 90s. The next day in front of our apartment building Jessy saw some idiot barfing all over the place, which is pretty much the end of the cycle for Japanese hanami-goers without strong American willpower.
CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– The konbini by the train to Port Island still has Mont Blanc Pepsi, which is odd since it was the seasonal drink during the fall, but makes sense because nobody in the country liked it except me so they are probably just shipping it to Kobe so someone will buy it
– Got a little packet of yellow mustard with my lunch yesterday, only the yellow mustard was not Yellow Mustard but Wasabi Mustard, which instantly obliterated my sinuses as wasabi often does to me
– Saw a TV show late at night last Saturday where they ask fifty foreigners who are somehow really great with Japanese to answer questions Japanese people have about those crazy foreigners, mostly useful questions with interesting cultural implications like do you shave your armpits and is Japanese pornography any good
– Well over a month and a half since my Hanshin station escalators were cordoned off for repairs and they are still not finished, yet someone continues to pay the same man to stand at the top of the escalator every single day and direct people to the massive stairway immediately adjacent
– Ray Romano’s Japanese doppelganger is a new teacher at my night school, he looks the same as Ray Romano and he might have a good comedy act I dunno I can’t understand him
– Will never cease to amaze me how chicken breast is the useless chicken meat here and is sold for 33% or less of the price of dark meat, because the white meat is not covered in that desirable, fatty skin that gets all delicious when you fry it and is so juicy and good and oh god what is this country doing to my culinary preferences
END OF JAPANESE CURIOSITIES,
but speaking of culinary preferences I should point out that I bought a deep fryer off Amazon last week, and any concept that you might have about “deepness” when it comes to fryers is like the ocean compared to this thing I tell you what. It holds about 500mL of oil and is about the size of half a grapefruit. The first stuff we cooked it in was gyoza, which is absolutely delicious deep fried. Sometimes I like to make hashbrowns in it but you can’t really do more than one at a time. Other things we have fried, like true citizens of the western world: fresh mozzarella, Oreo cookies, Snickers bars. Wonder if I could batter and deep fry corn? That would really be great. The fryer’s name is TWINBIRD.
EXISTENTIAL ASIDE: ARE ALL HUMANS NOSTALGIC FOR THE PAST?
Sometimes I feel like there’s something a little wrong with my life, a little off, a little wrong all the time. In my apartment, in my living room, maybe inside my refrigerator, in my closet. I catch myself wondering what exactly I need to set straight to be happy, what needs to be what way for me to relax comfortably, what I have to do to make going home or being home really feel right. Sometimes I feel like I need a smaller room, a smaller house altogether and my apartment ain’t that big. Sometimes I think back on the days that we first arrived and had nothing, sleeping on our floor with all the cash to my name laid out in front of me, an incorrectly-assembled fan sucking all the air off me and replacing it with sweat, our eager, early meals cooked fresh every night with dashi and simmered.
Sometimes I remember when we got the Playstation 3, when we got our first ridiculous half-naked anime figure, when I took my first big trip to Osaka, when we traded couches, welcomed Kiki. Or further back, cleaning my deck and all its shit off, making me its king. Buying our rice cooker at the second-hand store under the tracks.
With so much done, it seems like there’s always less to do. But what do I do now, with all of it finished and still feeling incomplete? Is what life ends up boiling down to at any point an endless repetition of the same day with small variance each time? Chicken instead of spaghetti, Suntory instead of Asahi, the couch on the north side instead of the south side.
Maybe I just need to get out more. Either that or this is what CRIPPLING MENTAL DISORDER sounds like
I’ve got a haircut tomorrow, during which I will have five months of growth replaced with nothingness. I meant to do it today, before my first class, so that my kids wouldn’t be faced with the eventuality that now rests before them: no matter how much they remember what I look like after class tonight, I’m gonna look completely different next week. I get my hair cut lately at BILLY Hair Studio, which is named after their pet dog Billy, whose stuffed corpse greets you cheerfully at the door. They give a pretty considerable discount to foreigners, which is racism that saves me fifteen bucks. There are a variety of reasons that I have theorized they do this, none of which bother me because I am used to making money for being foreign. At it turns out, I am pretty good at it too.
Welcome to Nom a Day®, and thank you for choosing this Inter Net to provide you with thousands of words. I here at Nom a Day have confidence that this Nom has been manufactured to the highest specifications and with the highest quality materials. It is guaranteed to provide you minutes of “entertainment.”
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WARMUP, AND PERSONAL ANECDOTE
By virtue of it being totally filled up with a bunch of crap, my workspace at night school today is a small corner of the desk approximately 18 inches by 12 inches, meaning my decision to bring the netbook today instead of the laptop was a prophetic one. Really all this does is clarify my job duties at night school, and the relative perception of the staff regarding what I do: “just put all those crates full of shit on Brandon’s desk, he’s only here one day a week and we have positively no idea what he’s saying.” This is fine, however, because I have a miniature keyboard and a blank screen, and far less has gotten me through far more.
It’s fully spring, I’m prepared to say, and today I have Dressed Myself in a fetching baby blue v-neck sweater over a “waishaatsu,” which is how the Japanese people say “white, collared button-up shirt.” My belt matches my shoes, pants, and socks, I am drinking a hot mug of masala chai, I have string cheese in my desk and maguro sushi in the fridge, and there are seven hours to go. I wonder if I could write a Nom for seven hours straight? Dear lord I hope not.
We went to Costco last night, which is suicide on the weekend and just a mere annoyance any other time. Getting there and getting back takes much longer than actually shopping for stuff, which is usually accomplished by us telling each other there are only a couple of things that we want, then going up and down every aisle and throwing tons of shit into the cart and not leaving without spending less than two-hundred bucks on enormous jars of pickles and other such sundries. It’s usually a surprise three or four days later when our purchases arrive at our apartment, carefully shipped for a mere five bucks a box, COD–in addition to a ten pound sack of onions I know I am expecting an enormous bag of gummy bears and some Dr. Pepper, but I can remember little else about what I actually purchased. I may have purchased a slab of apple smoked bacon, and perhaps some dried cherries? It is possible these are only the wishes of a lucid, waking dream.
Dining at Costco always presents a unique conundrum as opposed to eating at most Japanese restaurants I frequent. In most cases I am able to easily eliminate 80% of the menu for being pickled, runny, or genitalia, but at Costco the few options are all what we fighting game players would refer to as “god tier.” Do I choose the pizza? It’s big American pizza! A massive Korean bulgogi bread roll with cheese and sauce and beef? The soda is 80 yen and refillable–it is like the deranged wish of a Japanese man, for an hour. Am I living in America? It is no wonder we are uniformly enormous–we do not know how good we have it, because we know nothing else. Know this! The next time you idly roll your loading cart through Sam’s Club and figure the $299 LCD televisions are too expensive, you are actually experiencing the result of American persistence. For the efforts of your forefathers you can purchase the most affordable consumer electronics and foodstuffs in the world, and complain about their prices.
Anyway, I got the combo pizza, and it was just like getting pizza at any Costco in the states, which says more about it than I could. They have literally boxed up America and sent it over on a massive boat, dozens of pallets wide and tall. The beer still costs fifty bucks a case though and there is no Macaroni and Cheese or ranch dressing packets in sight not that you’d be able to find sour cream to mix it with anyway.
CURRENT CULTURAL NOTE
My coworkers are over there laughing so hard they are literally crying, there is water coming out, because of some Internet soundboard that has something to do with this cultural phenomenon AC commercial. For the uninitiated, following the big earthquake and tsunami on the 11th every television channel in Japan went pretty much to a nonstop news format for about a week solid. During this time, despite the fact that almost every set in Japan was probably turned on and had eyes glued to it, companies were (understandably) reluctant to run advertising for their products, 30-second monuments to absurdity packed full of giggly dipshits who continue on in their pre-recorded worlds totally unaware of the huge disaster up north, chomping on seasoned rice and doing stupid dances and taking chugs of beer with a “kyaaaa!”.
The companies’ pulling of most of their advertising left gaps in the TV schedules for commercial breaks with which there was now no material to fill them, and these channels need breaks some time! Enter AC, the advertising committee of Japan, and their public service announcements. For a week solid, virtually the only ads you could see on TV were PSAs from AC, running the gamut from breast cancer prevention to properly using your greetings and everything in between. (Think “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs.”)
AC announcements are instantly recognizable by citizens of Japan because of the distinctive jingle that follows them: on a white screen with the blue letters AC, the sing-songy voice of a woman warbling “AY SHEEEEEE” rings out. Since these PSAs are usually fifteen seconds long, in an average commercial break an unsuspecting TV-viewer could hear “AY SHEEEEE” six, seven, eight times in succession–often following repeats of the exact same “check your boobs, ladies” announcements back to back to back. This became a sort of cultural lynchpin in an era where less and less people all watch the same television programs like they did in the 90s–everyone’s stuck to the TV for the news, and everyone sees the same stuff. Though perhaps not commanding the most refined senses of humor, the Japanese people have a delightful, almost sublime grasp of the absurd, and so like a bad manzai comedy catchphrase, “AY SHEEEEEE” became a rally cry. Some people eventually got so annoyed with it that AC removed the tune from the end of all their PSAs; it has yet to return.
The real sticking point here was a commercial about using greetings, with little animated cutesy characters spouting common daily phrases like “konnichiwa” and “arigatou” with singalong subtitles at the bottom. Everyone in the damned country knows the words to this fucking thing now and it has gotten out of control. I’ll just embed it here so you can see it!
It’s so out of control, in fact, that people are making bizarre edit versions of them and posting them on YouTube. My favorite is this one, where the little pink thing morphs into a giant robot ala Gunbuster and powers up with a little AC emblem in the middle of her helmet that, upon appearing, sings the “AY SHEEEEEE” song. Hell why not just embed that one too for kicks.
Moreno than the high school baseball games, Monster Hunter or Arashi or Asahi Super Dry, this commercial is what Japanese people are all culturally tuned into, and it would not surprise me in the fucking least if these goofy bastards found themselves turned into marketing mascots with corresponding plush toy lines. To me, it’s as much a symbol of the quake as anything else. It still feels weird to see an AC commercial without the jingle at the end, and I imagine the day it returns will be a triumphant one.
To finish up the thread from before, this soundboard my coworkers found lets you play the various phrases from the commercial. (I actually found it on the net, you can play with it by clicking the word DOOP after this sentence. DOOP They seem to find it pretty funny. When the head teacher came back they all slinked back to their desks snickering like high schoolers, and I sipped my drink.
A GEEKY ASIDE DEALING WITH THE NINTENDO 3DS
Because the people of this country had not gotten enough portable gaming already, Nintendo put out a new handheld system last month that displays images in THREE DIMENSIONS, by using a special screen that sends a slightly different picture to each eye, fooling you into parting with 250 dollars of your money. I have placed an order for the North American, English version of this system, mostly because I am an idiot but also for the privilege of playing a re-release of the second version of the fourth game in a series of fighting games I have purchased handfuls of times already. The game is the almost absurdly named Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and with it I will pierce the heavens using only these mighty thumbs and a wireless Internet connection.
One of the neat things about this system is that when you are carrying it around, it can wirelessly detect if other people are carrying one around too, and then it swaps data between you without you even knowing until you check it later. This means little caricatures of people can show up in your system and you can use them to battle monsters and crap, and also you can virtually fight each others’ collectible figures, and all kinds of other junk. This, by extension, means that it is good to be carrying your 3DS when you are surrounded by a group of people, because more swapped data means MORE FUN!!!!!!
I would like to believe that I have not actually seen any Japanese person carrying around a 3DS in a month because they are all squirreled away secret in their bags trying to detect other systems, but the fact of the matter is that I just don’t know if that is the case or not. Once I get mine (maybe another week or two?) I’m going to go Osaka on a weekend and cruise through Yodobashi and maybe park my ass in Doutonbori and see how many I get. This is what I have paid money for–virtual, real-world wireless fishing for humans (it also includes a fishing game).
Another neat thing about it is that you can play games that have to do with the camera. There is one game called “Face Raiders” where you take a picture of something’s face, then it maps it onto the enemies in the game and you have to spin around and shoot them out of the air. Naturally I plan on photographing my cat, so that every time he rips up my tatami mats I can turn on the 3DS and rip up his face with phasers.
REGARDING YESTERDAY’S LUNCH
When I first started working here, I noticed a strange man coming in each day around the same time, then leaving, then coming back with a metal lunchbox full of various foods for people. As I later learned, he is a food delivery guy for a local restaurant who services a variety of local workplaces in the neighborhood. I have ordered from him on a variety of occasions: average oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice), sub-par tannindon (beef and egg on rice), the saltiest curry I have ever tasted, and other things. Yesterday I wrote on the paper that I wanted the makizushi roll, except he never came to get the paper, and so he never brought the food! Apparently since lots of teachers are gone taking spring vacations right now he didn’t feel a need to come up. So me and another teacher just went to the restaurant instead.
He had told me I could see a Traditional Japanese restaurant, and it was kind of the equivalent of a really old small-town American diner, with some twists–in the glass case there were no pastries, but instead deep-fried fish pieces and strange pickled salads, and the room offset from the dining area was a tatami room with a television playing baseball. I got my sushi roll, which was a salad roll with egg and crab stick and some other weird things in it, and was eight massive pieces for about three bucks. As I ordered it a taxi driver said to me in Japanese “whoa, Japanese food is no problem for you?!” and I had to say of course not, and he asked where I was from and I told him America, and he said whoa, I thought all Americans ate was steak! and I said that would be nice but no, and he said and beer! and I said well that would be nice too but I don’t see any beer here, and I saw a twinkle of rebelliousness in my coworker’s eye but nothing happened.
The microwave in this joint was from like 1975, it made a sound like Mr. Rogers’ trolley when it finished warming up some dude’s fish.
ABOUT MY CAT
Due to a widespread sentiment that our delightful Kiki was getting “too fat,” despite most people having no idea how fat too fat is for a cat, I have instituted a diet for out cat, which works kind of like this:
1. In the morning, feed the cat half a can of food
2. At night, feed him the other half
It’s working out pretty well I guess, not that I can really tell how fat the cat is since he is entirely black and usually not standing upright. The downside is that he wakes me up at 5:30 every morning by first sinking his claws into the covers and trying to pull them off of me with absolutely no effect, then secondly by climbing up on my head and licking my hair till I wake up. He has also officially taken the title of “most able to relax” from any other previous cat I have ever had. Just last night I held him like a shovel with his head as the spade, one arm under him for support, and he was totally cool with it. Sometimes when I am playing games at the table or sitting upright, I will plop him down on my lap like a human baby, and he will just sit there, feet sticking out, front paws hanging there, being all like “sup.” What a lazy cat this cat is.
20 CLEVER WAYS TO NOT DO WORK AT WORK, EVEN THOUGH YOU STAY WAY AFTER THE TIME YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE, BUT YOU DON’T LEAVE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO APPEAR LIKE YOU ARE BUSY WITH WORK, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO WORK AND YOU OBVIOUSLY ARE NOT WORKING, BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY COWORKERS
1. Reload the Yahoo! main page repeatedly, perhaps to see what the new banner advertisement is this time
2. Look at clothes shopping websites, then minimize them and get out your wallet and dig for a credit card
3. Print some documents you do not need printed, then crinkle them up
4. Read a book
5. Put a book on the desk in front of you, then lean over it so it looks like you’re reading with your arms crossed, then go to sleep
6. Repeatedly drink coffee and fill the hot water heater back up with water
7. Go to Yahoo Auctions to search for the clothes you almost just bought with your credit card but didn’t actually buy
8. Discuss the same local cafe for almost fifteen minutes, going back and forth while you each say exactly the same things as the other person
9. Instead of using whiteout on one of the hundred identical misprinted forms and making new copies of it, use whiteout on all one hundred identical misprinted forms
10. Have another person read numbers to you off student tests while you type them in, instead of reading and typing at the same time (bonus points, this occupies two people)
11. Stand up, examine the schedules and information on the white board, sit down, look at some other people, stand up, walk around the room, then look at the information on the white board again
12. Visually confirm that the plastic recycling bin is indeed full, and discuss it with your coworkers, then don’t do anything
13. Ask if it is hot in here, open every window, declare it is cold, close all the windows, then open just one window
14. Leave the room and walk down the hallway, then walk back to the room
15. Find something to put in the paper shredder
16. Type loudly on your keyboard, even though your screen is off
17. Write a grocery list with devoted intensity
18. Look over at a group of people having a conversation, acting interested
19. Wikipedia (personal favorite)
20. Go to the sink, take a couple clean dishes from the drying rack, and wash them again
One of the books that has been left here on my desk (cover price 1600 yen) says in katakana “Chorus Laboratory Party,” but the way the katakana is rendered, when you say it out loud it kinda sounds like “Call Us Lavatory Party” which is maybe something a fledgling band would say.
As April arrives again and the sakura consider blossoming, it again is time for teachers to transfer away to other schools. Though I haven’t had even close to the same severity of rank decimation around me as I did last year, when I lost all my principals and all but two of my co-teachers across three schools, I am sad to admit that my exceedingly cool co-worker who lived in Leeds, joined this school last year, and has the habit of inserting gratuitous curse words into everything today quits this school for a supreme adventure!
Despite the insistence of his superiors, he has defied the traditionally Japanese idea of working the same job for ever and ever and decided to relinquish his public teaching certificate and volunteer for the Peace Corps, already accepted to ship out in September and live in Fiji until 2012. We always spoke very casual English together over vending machine coffees, and he always made a genuine effort to speak to me and make me feel welcome. He’s only about six years older than me and I felt something of a kindred soul in him and his ideals and approach to life. He said that a man should be global, and asked for my support over Skype, before saying that leaving this country for volunteer work in another country would be his “last great adventure.” But when I consider the courage it takes to do something different in a work culture where consistency is king, I think it might just be his first one.
At 9:20 in the morning we are first vertically-packed Shinkansen green beans, then kings with power outlets, grabbing free seats all opportunistic, and in my seat is where I crack the first beer of the trip, gulping it so excitedly that I swallow handfuls of air and pay for it, kanpai! As the can drains we scream across the rails of Japan through the snow. It whips in February swirls off us like cream in coffee, tumbling around above the metal strings. I exit JR Hakata station in Fukuoka after a two-hour-and-change trip from Kobe and see a man waiting to catch us just outside the gates.
I figure he is a homeless guy who speaks a little English and is going to accost us for money, based primarily on his Winnie the Pooh stocking cap and slightly haggard appearance, but mostly it is the Winnie the Pooh stocking cap. But then he asks if we are Jessica from USA and it’s either a lucky guess or he runs the hostel we’ve booked. We follow him to his car, rain turning to snow and back right on the cusp of either. I sidle into the back seat of the two-door and come to realize it has been recently upholstered at Oily Rags Car Interior and Detail. In the side pocket I spot a manual called Introduction to Islam. The man runs a recently-opened guest house near downtown, which, he tells me, was rejected from being opened thirty-two times because of a “difficult to deal with” woman from the city health department. I am instilled with confidence. He has lived in the United States he tells me, in “Hawaii,” which I have since come to understand is indeed a United State. Such love he has for English and the Home of the Brave that he tells us his name is Ken, which he chose because he was tired of his “difficult” Japanese name, Kazuo. I want to suggest he just run with Kaz, but he seems to have enough to do.
He accompanies us to a local ramen shop, which is Priority One on our to-do list, a one-item chronicle that looks something like this:
It’s not that we’re not interested in tourism so much as we aren’t interested in Tourism, or what the city has identified as its totally unique things that are in fact so unique as to not represent the place they are located in at all.
After we park off-street, illegally, I watch Ken scavenge for change and consider offering to pick up his meal but don’t want to insult the guy. His insistence on driving us all over tarnation borders on the fanatical as it is.
Before we enter, we are treated to the rich history of this particular ramen shop and the few that surround it, all with exactly the same name: in the harsh, vanguard days of yore there was an “worker mutiny” which resulted in a mass exodus of employees leaving, new employees joining, other stores being started, and three literally identical ramen shops within less than a city block of each other. It was, apparently, “big news in Fukuoka,” a city which is passionate about nothing if not their Hakata ramen: chewy, straight ramen noodles in an almost opaque, creamy soup called tonkotsu, made from the heavy, extended boiling of crushed pork bones and collagen all thick and delicious.
The place we go to is family-style, and we’re seated around large tables like Arthur and his knights, or perhaps the annual church soup supper, heaping bowls brought out, topped with coin-sized chopped onions and thick, rich slices of dissolving pork. If you want more noodles–and this, the locals are quick to point out, is a Fukuoka original–you just shout “kaedama” and plunk down another buck: here comes another serving of noodles for your soup. The broth is rich and flavorful, and tableside you can add sesame seeds, strong red-colored pickled ginger–benishouga–or condensed soup mix. We eat what would end up being the first of four bowls of ramen, and I am surprised that even though I’m full I find myself shouting kaedama, freshly beset with nearly an entirely new bowl, squirreling it away into expanses of my stomach I barely knew existed but would become quite familiar with by the time I departed.
Our room at the guest house is an “extra” one, meaning that this section of the guest house used to be used as a sort of spare room and is not intended to harbor guests. Tonight Ken is three over capacity, which is a statistic I derive by applying some social hacking: we have learned that one of the health violations was because guest houses in Japan require one toilet for five people so he had to install a second one. We have also learned that tonight there are thirteen people in the guest house. Out of a seeming feeling of guilt our rate is cut by 20% and we are given enough futons to smother a large dog. I find nothing wrong with the arrangement. Peculiarly enough, however, the toilet situation necessitated the removal of the men’s toilet seat due to lack of space and when asked how, presumably, a man might sit on the toilet I can only come up with the answer “he can’t” and commit myself to toilet use requiring sitting being conducted elsewhere.
In the evening we find ourselves winding through the back-streets of Tenjin, a wet, post-rain residential Japan, occasionally crossing paths with a stray biker, couple walking somewhere, or small dog being taken for a walk. The infrequent yellow streetlights eventually give way to neon reflections in spare puddles as we approach Canal City, one of Japan’s bizarre monuments to lavish excess and perpetual construction. According to the official English website,
“The concept of Canal City is ‘a city theatre’. The leading actor of this theatre called Canal City is not the buildings or its functions, but ‘people’. The visitors here may find themselves watching a show as an audience or performing as an actor. Various stories are created by people visiting here for different purposes.”
What it actually is is the largest private development in the history of Japan, costing over 1.4 billion dollars, and looking totally visually unlike anything else in Fukuoka. It is called “the city within the city,” which it is, and it is also the city within the building, as it is almost totally enclosed save for a series of connecting exterior pathways and fountains, many of which were being reconstructed and repaired at the time of our visit (as was the upper dining section called “Ramen Stadium” where you can sample ramen from eight different restaurants). At any rate it has brought massive amounts of positive cashflow and growth to the area, which is most apparent to a traveler like myself because they have a store entirely devoted to Ultraman products, and it is right across the hallway from a store devoted entirely to Pokemon products.
Canal City also boasts an art installation which is an entire wall of television screens. Allow me, again, to let the website explain:
“‘Fuku/Luck,Fuku=Luck,Matrix’ by Nam June Paik, the worldly famous genre founder of video art, is installed. The fragments of images picked by Paik, including sophisticated and vulgar images, Western and Asiatic landscape images tangle up on as many as 180 TV monitors, making an information chaos.”
Inside Canal City on Friday evening, we create this story: Once upon a time, a boy and girl from America but living in Kobe bought a Pokemon spoon and some stickers, gazed longingly at sickeningly overpriced Ultraman goods, avoided dozens of clothing stores, and ate spicy ramen at a place called Ichiran, before getting an Oreo milkshake for dessert at exotic restaurant ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. After this they bought a small bar of soap at the FamilyMart, then went back to their guest house.
Saturday is a day of no plan except “go north,” and north is where we go, strolling through a Bic Camera shop, an extravagant underground shopping district, a tall shopping mall called TENJIN CORE, and onward past a supermarket and a bunch of nothing. The snow we see is unlike anything we’ve had in Kobe so far, huge big flakes and clusters whiting out the air but not accumulating. We grab a standard Indian lunch at a standard Indian restaurant and Jessy boldly storms out (after finishing her meal) in protest of the Japanese businessmen smoking cigarettes while she is trying to eat.
To repent for her haste, she allows me to stop into the slightly pervy and very otaku-looking store next door, called MANDARAKE, which is officially the greatest store in history and my new favorite place in Japan. On the second floor, squatting in an aisle of figurines, is a slightly portly man who seems to be examining a plastic fifteen-year-old’s breasts, preventing me from accessing the rest of the area. I go around the other side and he is still there, looking, entranced. I grab another, nearby figure and find myself drawn in as well, considering the fact that even if I stared at her plastic jubblies for an hour it would not be nearly as long as either That Guy or the person that originally designed the toy.
As we go I geek myself senseless through four floors of games, systems, manga, toys, action figures, DVDs and other crap, ultimately buying an original Donkey Kong Game & Watch from 1982 for about thirty bucks (first game to ever use a directional pad) and an animation cel from the movie Spriggan for about three bucks (a guy getting his teeth kicked out). Things sadly left un-purchased: original animation cel from an episode of Evangelion (280 dollars) and a mint condition in-the-box contest reward Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch (1300 dollars!).
Later on we trek out to the middle of nowhere to take an elevator up to the middle of nowhere: the Fukuoka Tower, a discomfortingly tall structure with a little meter inside the elevator which tells you exactly how many meters up you are. I plunk a hundred yen into a pair of the big binoculars that you can use to see far away from the upper deck, and find myself staring into an occupied apartment in the high-rise just across the way. The binoculars have already been angled into this apartment by the person that used them before me, and, I figure, perhaps the person before them, and I wonder for how many hours the binoculars have been pointed at this particular apartment. I look into the other ones that have lights on just for good measure–welcome to Japan, your mind is now ruined.
Our evening meal, almost the last of the trip, is spent at one of the many Fukuokan specialties: the yatai, a street-side food vendor bigger than what you’d call a stand and a little smaller than what you’d call a restaurant. Inside we are surrounded by plastic sheets to insulate us from the cold, and we enjoy beer and sake with a variety of other talkative locals who seem much more friendly here in close quarters. We eat ramen, gyoza, mentaiko wrapped in omelet (Fukuokan specialty, spicy fish eggs), grilled pork on sticks, and massive potato korokke, the Japanese approximation of croquette, a deep-fried ball filled with mashed potatoes and topped with ketchup. I talk to the man running the stand and compliment his cast iron saucepan: it is thirty-nine years old, he says, then wipes the side of it and displays the grease to me. I am proud of him for his pan.
In the station the next morning we stock up on omiyage which is Japanese for “gross snacks for your coworkers meant to reflect the fact that you are thinking of them and of work even while you are enjoying your personal life.” The ones we bought are a sort of cake with a kind of cream filling inside. I have my theories about what it’s made of exactly, but it would not be an errant guess to figure it is some sort of fermented bean paste, perhaps mixed with sugar and something rotting. I assume (rightly) that because I find them semi-repulsive, my coworkers will love them.
Ultimately it’s all just a bunch of stuff to buy, new places to buy it, and for different prices–but in changing our environment if only a little superficially I feel new, unaware, in my exploration a new city. Even if we discover things we already know, the experience of striking out rings true, and I find the mundanity of comfortable life eroded slightly. How strange that the comfortable life is now a city in Japan, with all its alleys and vending machines, convenience store nudie mags and gashapon stores, plastic-wrapped rice balls and old men carrying Nintendo DSes and cans of coffee. On the Shinkansen home I feel reinvigorated, immersed in modern Japanese society, wondering what’s next. On Monday I board the same old train to work, vertically-packed green bean with five more weekdays to go.
I am surrounded by men, women, antsy kids, Jessy, and television screens in a multi-floor building as nice as a hotel. I’m near Shin-Kobe station, and on the third floor of this big place, where a man has hung a little plastic card around my neck that says Guest. In a tiny room adorned with what I can only classify as “exotic brick-a-brac” we watch the television screens together. It’s a live broadcast from an area near Mount Fuji. Highlights: man screams and shoots an arrow into a bush which is then lit on fire, man chops at the air with a sword to cleanse it from barriers to self-realization, old lady wearing little hat does hand motions while holding tiny sticks, which are then tossed into the fire. Together the people chant around me in a language I cannot understand, a situation I figure I should be more used to than I am by now. I am attending a special Buddhist service as a visiting member of the Shinnyo-en school, which literally means “Borderless Garden of Truth.” As believers we seek the awareness of the self through meditation and Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Am I a believer? What’s there to believe but that I am or am not? I figure in general it’s harder to not believe in stuff than it is to believe. After temple I buy a bag of chickpeas because we’re gonna make some hummus this week.
Japan is currently doing what it is it does, gearing up in much the same way as it did last year for the full arrival of fall. Though fall is technically officially here it’s still occasionally warm enough for people to get the wrong idea, and until the light scarves and jackets come out I hesitate to wave the flag. My true barometer is merely the appearance of special food products and fall-themed drinks, which haven’t really started popping up yet in any great numbers. I did spot new Cup Noodle flavors today, Beef Stew and Cream Stew, which I guess are kind of fall-y, but these seem to be some sort of microwave-requiring things which is just a bunch of crap. To be perfectly frank I myself am dreading the end of fall, which is slightly preventing me from enjoying it now: in the middle of December I’ll likely be embarking on a grueling couple-dozen hour journey across the ocean and back to the rolling plains of Iowa to spend the holidays, my first trip back to home soil since I arrived here. I am “not fond” of flying, which means it is my least favorite thing in the entire world except maybe getting stabbed.
Speaking of favorite things I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of my existential angst is not that I don’t have enough free time, but merely that I like too many things. My pesky nook e-reader has done precisely what I intended: made acquiring books so painless and reading so simple that it is my new default activity for my morning and evening commute. I read nine books in September, and the PSP and DS weep, because they want attention too. I will not even start in on the home activities, which command not only the time there but often the television. The result of all this is that I am forced to choose one of my hobbies at a time and I never get too far with any of them. It’s good to have options, I guess, but it means it just takes twice as long to do what I want. There is no point to these ramblings, just a sort of reminiscent defeatism: remember when you were 16, had no social life or significant obligations, had virtually nothing other to do than play games, and did so most veritably? If only I could go back in time and relive the same late November snow day for years and years.
Speaking of years, I ran the numbers the other day and figured out that since I’ve lived here for fourteen months and had the equivalent of about two months where I taught no classes, I’ve essentially taught twelve months of about fifteen classes a week. If you add it all up that comes to seven-hundred-and-eighty classes that I’ve taught now, which at least outnumbers the Nomadays, N-Sider articles, and every journal entry, poem, and story I’ve ever written, combined, in number (though just barely). What else have I even done 780 times this year? I’ve only woken up about 432 times. I suppose I’ve had at least 780 meals since arriving. Have I eaten popcorn 780 times in my life? Have I watched over 780 movies? Surely I’ve played over 780 video games since the age of ten or so.
At any rate I encourage you to run your own numbers, to become shockingly aware of the time we spend, without concrete markers, doing what it is we do.
Yet another thing that I’ve been doing lately is attending Japanese classes, which is enjoyable in that I am actually learning more concretely how to communicate with the people who literally surround me every single day. These skills also assist me with things like navigating the internet and securing exciting products from various websites, products which excitingly get to compete with everything else that I do for my attention.
There’s a bakery on the basement level of the Sogo department store and it’s called Donq, a name that you might expect to be the only Donq-sounding place of business in Kobe but in fact there are two others: Don Quihote (shortened colloquially to just Donki) and Bikkuri Donkey, a restaurant which literally translated means SURPRISE DONKEY. It is a hamburger steak restaurant, and scarily I enjoy eating there, perhaps because I enjoy the taste of donkey when I am expecting something that is not donkey. Anyway I have been enjoying going to Donq and buying baguettes lately, really delicious crispy-crusted bread with chewy, stretchy crumb. Last night after work I got one and had a big hunk of it eaten before I even finished walking home, then assembled a chicken breast sandwich with it and some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some Cookies’ barbecue sauce, a bottle of which I brought over here last year and which I still steadfastly am working at using up. I think it will take a lot of chicken sandwiches. The moral of this story is that I love Donq.
CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– My psychotic Japanese cat, who sometimes believes so fervently that the little stuffed mouse is stalking him that he’ll take one swat at it and run away so fast that his feet cannot provide enough traction to prevent him from sliding sideways into the wall like an out-of-control racecar
– A trip down memory lane at my soon-moving pal Jools’ place, during which I laid eyes upon 6+ years of gaming goodies, including but not limited to an unopened case of Cowboy Bebop gashapon figures, Morrigan and Lilith bookends (these came home with me), a variety of Japanese DS games, a couple Club Nintendo prizes from 2004, multiple variations of special peripheral controllers used to simulate shaking/strumming/beating/dancing, and a stack of Edge magazines that found their way into my apartment somehow
– My new favorite donburi place, where I can slide a bill into the machine, press two buttons, and be given an ice-cold draft beer and a big bowl of rice topped with thick slices of juicy fire-grilled skirt steak, lettuce, and spicy sauce for about nine bucks (you can also get grilled dark meat chicken or Korean beef)
– One of my teachers here at the night school, or more specifically the huge plastic bag full of green and red peppers and eggplant that he dumped out over next to the computer, which he grew on his farm and has extra of, and the resulting pile of vegetables, of which I am going to take, bring home, and nom
– A beverage I drank during a break, which said “hot cake flavor,” and was indeed a sweet, milky drink that tasted like a cross between drinking pancake syrup and cereal milk
– There’s a special red Nintendo DSi coming out for the Mario 25th anniversary, and the first I heard about it was seeing a video advertisement on the LCD screen mounted to the back of the cash register while I bought a melon soda at 7-11 END OF CURIOSITIES
I always manage to get through it all but I’m so tired today that I’ve almost fallen asleep at my desk twice. The bad news is that since it’s my late day I won’t even be teaching for another three hours, and I likely won’t be home for another six. Tapping my foot isn’t really doing it and I already ate my two string cheeses and drank my soda. I took a little stroll down the hall to the restroom too, just to see if I might snap out it. No luck! If I have the energy once I’m out of here, I am buying the nicest beer a handful of change will get me, and sucking it down as I breathe in the wind on the way to Kosoku-Nagata and home.
I wrote an essay last week for the high school’s English journal, where my pieces are frequently accompanied by a silly bishounen pretty-boy manga-style drawing of myself, done, I presume, by some commissioned student. The teacher before me had one of her too, and they are both too caricaturely spot-on to be stock illustrations, unless someone’s got a folder titled “goofy gaijin clip-art” sitting around on a hard drive somewhere. In the essay I talk about how invigorating it is that summer, that bitch, is finally gone, and how nice it is to be able to breathe the crisp air again, and how I really love not losing 5% of my body weight in sweat every time I walk to work. I do not know if anyone read it, but I told them this is their chance for a fresh start! A chance to take a nice deep pull on that grassy breeze and re-evaluate their lives! So I did it, and things are mostly the same, but with minor adjustments. For example, the other day I got rid of nearly all the non-jeans clothes I came here with, cut for big wide western boys instead of slim Japanese boys, and noticed how 92% of my wardrobe is now comprised specifically of clothes to be worn to work. Then I decided I want a good kitchen knife, and conned Jessy into asking me what I wanted for my birthday so I could tell her the exact model number and specifications of the knife. Then I ate potato chips. That doesn’t have anything to do with the essay.
Anyway, it’s all true! My favorite time of year is finally starting to show its head and good god is it ever overdue. A couple days outside of October and we were finally able to put the air conditioner off (for good?) about a week ago, opting to just keep the sliding doors open. Our increasingly brave feline also enjoys the change, and it allows him to plop down and stare longingly out through the screen doors at the pigeons, which I am sure he dreams of brutally, mercilessly murdering. This makes us fast friends by default, though he has taken to rubbing and brushing and head-nuzzling at all opportunities he has anyway in case I didn’t get the picture. The other day when I was achieving a 90% completion rate on Space Invaders Infinity Extreme my eyes fogged over and I dreamt again of catching one of those birds and tying it up, only this time I would put it in a cardboard box and then drop the cat in and close the lid and treat what happened in there as our little secret, our dirty evil secret don’t tell your mother or father this is just between us and it feels so nice.
And how about that cat. In about a month’s time he’s gone from refusing to emerge from the couch at all to coming out when beckoned to coming out at the sound of shaking food, to just staying out unless he’s sleeping during the day. Things he is talented at: laser-focusing on every rug in the house and messing them up, eating all his food within seconds, losing his toys, licking toes, getting in the way of your feet while you walk so that you accidentally step on/kick him, refusing to sit still for two goddamned seconds so I can take a picture of him with my slow cell-phone camera. I worry sometimes about the decision we made to adopt this Kiki, because I, unlike Jessica, sometimes think about the future, and the enormous day-long plane ride in the cargo hold that he’ll need to endure, and the ways we’ll need to care for him as we transition back to life in the States ourselves. But those things, like most things, can be overcome, and for now it’s nice to have our occasionally psychotic and always loveable magic cat prowling the apartment.
We left him alone for a day last weekend to go with a group of friends to Universal Studios Japan, a hop/skip/shuttle train/staircase away from Kobe over in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan is sort of horrifying as an American because it is done up to look like some bizarrely idyllic America itself, which is one of the major draws to Japanese tourists. I tried to imagine what something like “Hello Kitty World Minneapolis” would look like, but couldn’t stop thinking of the other Japanese amusement park I had recently attended for the third time, Costco. In the spirit of this situation I decided to kick off the morning by eating a chicken sandwich from Lawson and downing it with an 8:15 AM Asahi Super Dry (which I casually referred to as “vitamin B,” my finest hour). PROTIP: The B stands for beer.
It had been over a year since I had seen a traditional red stop sign, but they’re everywhere in USJ, lining the fake streets where there is no traffic, and where I felt paranoid walking because I was afraid the non-existent cars would run me over. At one point I saw an honest to goodness blue United States Postal Service mailbox beside a fake store; the lid was welded shut. Even our sort-of-bartender at the sort-of-Irish pub Finnegan’s was cut from the American mold: born in Bangladesh, speaking conversational Japanese, and using his naturally-accented English but strange phrasing on us, he offered us green beer (in September) to go with our plate of beef stew. Accompaniments: four green beans, three potato wedges. Across the street was a hot dog cart and Spiderman’s ride. In the middle of the park Peter Pan and Wendy floated around with wires, and then I sat in a fake DeLorean while Japanese-dubbed Christopher Lloyd screamed to me that I needed to stop “Biffu! Biiiiiffuuu!” My friend thought that later in the day I was just screaming “beef” for fun even though I was impersonating Japanese Doc Brown. At the end we watched scenes from the early 1990s movie Backdraft, with videos featuring director’s commentary from a dubbed Richie Cunningham, and then an enormous million-lightbulb freak parade happened. It was a weird day.
Though the weather is getting nice again, my schedule is unfortunately unable to say the same things about itself. I am now bogged down with obligations, owing in no small part to the resumption of my Japanese language classes, which I was first told I didn’t get into, and then was later told I did get into. That means I lose Monday night and Thursday night every week for the negligible benefit of a two hour language class, with Wednesday night always gobbled by my night school, giving me Tuesday night and Friday night free (conveniently, the very same two nights that Jessy has her own Japanese lessons). This virtually ensures that we will rarely, if ever, see each other, and is a blessing for the continued sanity of us both.
RETURN OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW
– My new Nintendo Game and Watch, which is a reproduction of a 30-year-old electronic toy, and which Nintendo had made by the actual guy who made the original, working from only original units and virtually no documentation, and which I love
– A new orange beverage I got at the Daily Yamazaki called “Morning Rescue,” which I figured contained vitamins and stuff, but which I didn’t read closely enough to see that it actually contains ukon, an anti-hangover drink, and which I believe has caused the people around me to believe I may be drunk, which I kinda wish I was
– A promotional video for the new video game Dead Rising 2, which consists of a somewhat weird-faced woman wearing a bikini and sitting on a yoga ball while playing the game and bouncing up and down, the camera doing wild zoom shots on her cleavage instead of the actual game the video means to promote
– I’ve been to not-my-favorite ramen place several times recently for their tomato ramen, while my favorite place, with WILD BOAR COUNTRY RAMEN and a frozen lychee, remains neglected, and I need to change this immediately
– The old-ass NEC laptop on the desk next to me, which looks really, really old, and which, merely sitting there idle, sounds like an electric pencil sharpener
– Fucking McDonald’s, which has still not brought back the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi sandwich, and which I am going to get very mad at unless they do it soon
– Sofmap clearing out a lot of their old PS1 games, which means that yesterday for fifty yen each I got Cool Boarders, Bust-A-Move, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Parasite Eve all in immaculate condition
– My Japanese PS1 game collection in general, on which I have not spent more than a dollar for any individual game, and now numbers fifteen titles
– A new fashion trend among dolled-up young Japanese ladies, which involves hanging a fox tail from your belt loop regardless of whether you are a professional trapper of wild game or not
THIS HAS BEEN CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW
On Friday it’s my school’s sports day, a bizarre and confusing event in which participation, like English education, is compulsory for all students. They grunt and slave together through a variety of strange events and then a class is rewarded for their crushing victory. Though not officially compulsory for me, this marks the second year now that I’ve been asked to run in a relay race with other teachers. As with last time my only real prayer is that I manage to find a good seat in the right place, enjoy watching the events of the day, and most importantly don’t fall down when I am running. Dear lifeforce just keep those feet pushing off the ground and don’t get overanxious. I don’t even care if I slow the whole damned group just keep my face off the gravel please. And when I am done, I will drink beer, and it will be delicious, and it will be the weekend, and I will try yet again to light my goddamned coals.
I can always tell when someone’s from somewhere else cause I get stuck on the escalator. Yet another unwritten rule of Japan: in Kobe you stand on the right and walk on the left. When I’m parading down the left side all “la-dee-dah gonna miss my train” and see a traffic jam I look ahead to whomever’s in front, comfortable in the knowledge that they are not one of us, that they are the outsider, and that even if they don’t realize it, they understand how I once felt here. For the tiniest moment, I have something significant in common with a random stranger passing through, and I want to tell the poor shit to take a step to the right you dumbass, and open your fucking eyes. But I usually just exchange glances with a surly looking elderly person nearby, glances which say “normally we would hate each other, but let’s hate that person screwing up the escalator instead, together. Man that guy sucks.”
In other news yesterday Japan made the bold political decision to do nothing regarding the selection of their current Prime Minister to the office he already holds, a leader who they did not elect, but who they have now elected merely by striking everything they said last year down and admitting that no, we thought change was good when we chose the LDP, but Hatoyama was a nutjob, and then we got Kan, and Kan’s okay right? it’s easier to just leave it this way, change is bad, Yes We Kan(‘t), let’s enjoy Hokkaido butter. I agree with all of that except the Kan stuff, which I basically have no opinion about because since I am a dirty foreigner I can’t vote anyway so who gives a shit. The yen is now at a rate of 82 for a dollar! I’m rich, or would be if I could actually save any money and didn’t have to send tons of it home every month to make the minimum loan payments.
Speaking of using money wisely, on Friday after work I’m hopping on a bullet train to Tokyo, from where I will zip along the bay to Chiba for my first trip to the Tokyo Game Show, a dream I’ve had since I was but a wee young lad. As N-Sider’s Japanese correspondent I will deliver a variety of articles under the guise of journalism. At the Tokyo Game Show an attendee is surrounded by lines of people who are waiting to play the brand-new barely-ever-seen unreleased games that he would like to play, but cannot because there are too many people. I assume. Also there is a thing called Cosplay Alley, where young males and females of varying levels of attractiveness exhibit the costumes they’ve spent fortunes on by dressing up like characters from anime, manga, and video games, 10% of which are mainstream enough for a person to recognize. Am I making it sound like I have been to TGS before? I haven’t. These are just guesses, like how I am guessing that tomorrow will still be not cold.
With the secret of the pressure-activated ass-blasting nozzles now firmly revealed (I read an article about them, during which I discovered that the bidet people found the “best angles” by collecting data from upwards of fifty seriously devoted company employees), there are now precious few mysteries remaining as I continue to persist here in this off-beat land. I set about tackling a couple of them in tandem the other night: special giveaway contests and online Japanese auctions. See, in Japan you can participate in a giveaway contest for almost every field and with nearly every product. They are usually targeted to obsessive otaku geeks like me (I am in the process of sending away five “special stamps” from limited edition packets of Cup Noodle for a shot at one of a thousand special Cup Noodle plastic Gundam models). Another easy target is shut-in losers with nothing else in their lives to look forward to or derive pleasure from but a contest win, a category I don’t particularly desire to place myself in but well.
Invariably these things are called “campaigns,” and they will always successfully terminate with a “present,” the number of which will be given away always being clearly stated. The word campaign used to make me think of only politics or military war events before I moved to Japan, and now all I can think of is photographing QR barcodes on the backs of gummy packages and limited edition Yoshinoya beef crossovers with Daily Yamazaki convenience stores for special gyudon steamy buns. For kicks, I sometimes imagine these are military activities anyway and that the Japan Self Defense Force is secretly manufacturing Coca-Cola sandals in an effort to protect themselves from North Korea.
My personal vice is gaming, and so one of the first courses of action I took when I arrived in Japan was registering for Club Nintendo, a point-accumulation reward program that delivers menial amounts of points to you as you spend godforsaken amounts of cash on Nintendo products and type in the special codes that are included on little papers that come inside the box. Accumulate enough points in one October to September campaign period (400), and you reach “platinum status” for that year, entitling you to a free, mysterious present that they announce and ship out roughly six months after the period has ended. In the past they have given out stuff like special-design accessories, a TV remote that looks like a Wii controller, plush Mario hats, and last year an exact replica of the first Nintendo Game and Watch (Ball). For dweebs like me the elements of fan-servicey fan-service combined with the knowledge of a proven track record for platinum gifts along with the mystery (oh god if I don’t hit platinum status I won’t get the free prize even though I have no idea what it will be but I am sure it is going to be GOOD!) synthesize a brutal cocktail–there was simply no “deciding” whether or not I was going to get platinum status, I Must.
Therein lies the rub. Despite going out of my way to this year purchase three Wii Remotes, a MotionPlus accessory, two Classic Controller Pros, Mario Kart Wii, an extra steering wheel, a black nunchuk accessory, Wii Fit with a Balance Board, Sin and Punishment 2, Captain Rainbow, Super Mario Strikers Charged, and some other shit I am surely forgetting, I now have (two weeks from the end of the campaign year) a paltry, insulting 285 points, relegating me to pathetic “gold” status, for which I will receive the shittiest calendar known to man.
Enter mystery number two: Yahoo! Auctions! I mean, why not? There have to be lots of people who are addicted to selling stuff in online auctions instead of chasing impossible contests, right? As it turns out, yes! A cursory Yahoo! Auctions search turned up a man who for the low price of only about 15 bucks was willing to sell me a full 400 points worth of Club Nintendo codes, enough for me to hit platinum this year and get me damned close next year. So I bought it! (Well, after I spent thirty minutes making my Japanese Yahoo account, registering it for the auction website, and figuring out how to actually bid.) After I won the auction I realized there was a problem and that problem was that I had no idea how to pay the man without a credit card. So I sent him an insultingly simplistic Japanese language e-mail asking “where does the money go” and he responded with a list of Japanese banks and numbers and his name and all this shit that I tried and failed to type into the ATM last night and so I haven’t given him his money yet but I sure will try again soon. In conclusion I am doing some stuff in Japanese that I didn’t think I could do but I seem to be capable of doing (sort of). Mysteries obliterated! Was that interesting to read? I doubt it.
Here, look at my fucking cat:
Man Kiki is just the coolest. He is comfortable enough now to actually be out and about as long as we don’t make any crazy sudden movements involving our scary legs. The other day I found him just chillin’ in the bathroom sink, all like “what.” He sometimes comes up on the couch now, he plays with his toy which is a little fuzzy thing on a stick, and he also really loves it when I give him this special meat snack thing which is like a big hunk of moist fish jerky. Also, when the fatass runs out of food and water at 3:35 in the morning, he walks into my bedroom, plops down on the floor next to me, and meows until I wake up and refill them. Surprisingly enough this doesn’t fill me with rage and hate like it used to do with other pets, perhaps because I know that this one is my pet, and this apartment is my apartment, and if I refuse to be kind to the cat there is nobody else for him to bother except Jessy, who is more of a loose cannon. I heard her saying “shut up shut up shut up” to the cat yesterday morning at 3:35, which is just stupid since he is a cat and he can’t understand you because he is Japanese and doesn’t speak very good English you twerp.
END OF KIKIWATCH
I guess I should be proud that I made it through twelve weeks of this year at night school before not really knowing what to do anymore–my kids here are of such disparate skill levels that to play any game that implies or requires English ability is essentially a wash with most of them, and a game that requires equal participation from everyone is equally futile since generally none of them want to be here. The best games are of the kind where students are prompted for no more than a letter, number, or word of their choosing, and after Pictionary, a number counting game, a mystery word game, hangman, vocabulary bingo, Jeopardy, and a few other things, I am all but tapped out. Tonight I will take a big leap to a new game I have made up called hot seat, where I will present the class with a basic list of adjectives, and then for the first half of class I will describe simple objects using basic adjectives and get them to try to guess what I am talking about. For the second half I will force a sampling of students to describe a mystery object themselves to the rest of the class, which will likely fail miserably.
Or I’ll just play hangman with point values and call it Wheel of Fortune then drown my sorrows in vending machine beer on my walk home.
For a particular sect of the English teachers living in this country, there is apparently nothing more exhilarating than boisterously, obviously, and intentionally elevating oneself outside of society and into its expected role of the Strange and Curious Foreigners. This attitude is rendered into physical crystalline form thanks to the annual Kobe Scavenger Hunt (“cutely” referred to colloquially by those fresh from college as Scunt, a portmanteau of scavenger and hunt, chosen almost assuredly because of its sonic resemblance to a certain slang term for a part of the female anatomy that rhymes with “cunt.” AHAHAHAH ahem). Last Saturday night I tried to see what it would be like to be one of them.
Willful and enthusiastic participation in the Hunt involves for three hours assuming the role of misfit entertainer, to reluctantly become what you always hated about the most popular, well-loved, and douchiest people you have ever known, all in the name of a possible good time. You and your up to seven teammates must decide upon and acquire/construct a series of coordinating costumes, the first step that will set you apart from the private sector. You will give yourselves a team name, and then, as a horde, all teams will descend upon the meeting ground for youth downtown and proceed to most righteously mill about, shouting loudly if already drunk, before receiving their scavenger hunt lists: a series of objects, phrases, places, and ideas that must be located or represented physically, and then photographed. (To ensure maximum potential gaijin smashing, all team members must be included in the photos).
From here you will effectively perform the Internet message board equivalent of trolling, but in real life, by preying as a group on the good nature of mainly embarrassed but occasionally entertained Japanese citizens and workers for the sake of your team’s success. Things you will do:
– Attempt to get a photo of you flirting with an old man (but don’t worry, they will come to you)
– Fit your entire team onto the parked bike of someone who has left it there who you do not know
– Accost a group of five or more high-schoolers to cram into a purikura (print club) photo booth with you
– Perform such poses as the human pyramid
– Ask a karaoke promoter to remove his bright orange jacket so you can photograph yourself wearing it
– Barge into the person-wide aisles of Don Quixote to pull things from the shelves and put them back in places they do not belong
– Swarm a popular movie theater lobby on the top floor of a popular building with nearly every other team simultaneously and proceed to attempt crossing off the “take a photograph of all your teammates jumping in the air together” item at the same time as forty other people while bystanders just try to buy movie tickets
Over the course of the event I try to determine why this all makes me feel bizarre. Would I have the same problems with it in the United States? Is it because I know five other groups of people will be re-performing the same actions in close chronological proximity to me? Would it be different if I wasn’t wearing a costume, or just more embarrassing? Conversely, are we wearing costumes to allow us the extravagances of violating societal norms? Does that make it okay? Do these sorts of events ever occur entirely attended and run by the locals? Do the citizens who are amused more than make up for those who are annoyed? Are those who are annoyed really just embodiments of the fearful, critical mindset that we perceive as endemic to Japan? Are they annoyed because of my behavior, or because my behavior is occuring as part of a group of dozens of outsiders? Do I care that I can’t blend in? Would I feel as special if I really did? Do I actually care what this society thinks of me or foreigners or anyone’s behavior in general? Don’t I?
On occasions when I find myself separated from my group for some reason (waiting outside a convenience store, working on winning a crane game prize) I feel even more isolated in my plastic hat and sequined bow-tie. Without the others looking equally ridiculous around me I am broadcasting my foreignness, quite at odds with how I normally try to fit into daily life as well as I can in ways obviously excluding physical looks (and the occasional language hurdle). I try removing my costume but feel only more isolated from my friends, though tenuously part of society. I think of the uniforms that most workers or students wear here. Am I really only capable of feeling comfortable when I am behaving like I have seen others behave?
I don’t come up with any concrete answers to my questions as we parade around snapping pictures, but for one reason or another never find myself capable of making the full jump into carefree this-town-is-my-playground abandon, a peril of an overactive mind in the realm of the fully real and non-virtual.
As we stride through the train station on our way across town, our fake-mustached top-hat wearing female Japanese team member elucidates her embarrassment to me, and I concur. She says, to lightly paraphrase because I cannot remember the precise phrasing, “no, it’s different for me, I don’t want [other Japanese people] to recognize me because then they’ll think you [foreigners] have brainwashed me.” This, my friends, is cultural exchange at work! As a curious cap to the night we end up almost en masse at a popular “foreigner bar,” rendering my views even more obscured. Wouldn’t it be in the spirit of the night to at least loudly plop down somewhere where we would be less welcome? But perhaps I am too cynical. When I wasn’t actively intruding on others I kind of enjoyed myself! Is it even possible for me not to be an intrusion? A strange and self-defeating question.
At one point in the evening I am briefly consumed with something that feels like anger at every person I see, convinced that they are mentally being critical of me even right now, this very moment, not because I look like a fucking goon, but just because I am of a different race than they are. It feels like preemptive, anticipatory racism, me hating them because of who they are before they can hate me for the same reason. I catch myself and feel dirty and remorseful, and confused, and I wonder for a second if it isn’t just intentionally boosted-up self-confidence or if my name has been changed overnight to Spike Lee.
BUT SERIOUSLY IT’S TIME FOR SOME LIGHTER STUFF OKAY
– On Sunday morning, two men from the TV company honored their no-cost appointment to come to our house at 10 a.m. and change the cable jacks in our wall. While they were doing this, one fellow set up my all-Japanese language television for me to receive the free digital HD broadcasts that I couldn’t figure out how to get, and then commented that my new Family Computer sitting next to the Wii made him feel nostalgic
– I never once imagined it would be a good idea to even try it, but for the last couple of days Jessy and I have eaten seasonally-popular cooked cold soumen noodles with cold dashi broth on them as accompaniments to our evening meals, and they are goddamned delicious
– The other day I started playing a hardcore-styled dungeon-crawling RPG on the DS called Etrian Odyssey, and in it you have to make your own maps with the touch screen, and I get brutally killed all the time cause it is ridiculously difficult, but for some reason I am hooked on it and am spending all my train time playing it
– Next week is the last week of classes for me to teach at work and it’s also the last week of the Japanese language class that I attend, and neither will start back up again until the end of August, which is just great
– Watching strange Japanese variety shows has never been so strange as it is in HD OKAY THEN
For as many times as I have heard that “Japan has four seasons,” in my mind there are only two: the times of year when one is compelled to use their air conditioner, and the times of year when one is not. Maybe you can relate, cause now it’s the first one.
I hate summer everywhere in the world that I have been, and Japan is certainly no exception. People often say this, as though it isn’t totally obvious, but it is “not so much the heat that is horrible, it’s the humidity”. Walking around now, in the heat, here in the dead of “rainy” season, is similar to how I imagine it must be like to be combing the edges of the tropical forests in Avatar hunting for neon hyena rats or whatever the fuck they did in that movie.
Being here in the night school office where they have the key to the air conditioner locked up like the nuclear fucking football and only the chief and the principal know the access codes does not make for happy Brandons (the other workers don’t seem overjoyed either). It’s actually cooler outside right now, which shatters my theories about decent weather and the office (the windows are supposed to be closed when it’s nice out and open when it’s freezing). For the last hour I have periodically been taking little strolls over to the sink because there is a window over there, but I am running out of parts of my body to wash and I think it is becoming clear to the workers nearby that I do not actually have anything in the refrigerator that I need to open it up so often to look for. Perhaps if I were dressed like some sort of demon or garish spectacle they would let me get away with it.
You can tell it is summer because Cool Biz is in full swing, kicked off for this fifth year by then-Prime Minister Hatoyama yesterday. Cool Biz is a humorous government initiative which is so subversively lovely that I cannot believe it actually was rendered into being. In 2005, one of Koizumi’s cabinet lackies somehow got this initiative going, which says that instead of wearing a suit and tie all summer and sweating your face off, employees of companies should wear light, breathable pants, shirts with starched collars and the top button undone, and no ties. Apparently this baffled workers, who, when confronted with the idea of needing to vary their wardrobes, simply locked up: many people brought their jackets to work anyway and kept their ties in their pockets. The other part of the initiative is that of eco-friendliness: as part of this deal, offices should keep their air conditioners at no lower than 28 degrees Celcius, which according to useless statistics produced by the Ministry of Something or Other saved Millions and Millions of units of measurement of CO2 emissions. The necktie companies–understandably–were pissed.
It was so interesting to the media when it first started in 2005 that people speculated about instituting something that would be called Warm Biz, which I guess would involve wearing turtlenecks? It was a stupid idea and never happened, presumably because it is easy to be warm in a three-piece suit and tie and offices never turn their heat on anyway.
Anyway, like I said, Cool Biz was officially kicked off on the first thanks to Hatoyama, who, in his humorously final effort as the Prime Minister of Japan, showed up to be photographed in one of his famously bad fashion sense trademark ridiculous Okinawan floral shirts, cool as a fucking cuke. Today, of course, the goon announced his resignation on public television, most chiefly many believe as a result of his continual failure to “solve the Futenma issue” (relocation of some United States army bases in Okinawa), whatever solving that would entail. Also there was an issue of tax fraud by one of his cabinet members, and a scandal about inheriting lots of money from his mommy early in his tenure, and the fact that he is a weak, shriveled carrot, weeping in the rain. One thing that probably didn’t hurt him but should have is his verifyably legit wacko wife, who is on record as saying she derives powers from consuming the sun, among other bizarre assertations.
All of this led to a frantic and confused scene as I passed through Sannomiya station on my way to work today, with big camera crews asking people what they thought as the bored elderly pretended to be surprised at this shocking turn of events for their chance to show up on the news. Giant one-shot newspapers were taped up on the support columns as though not every single person in the fucking country owns a cellphone that likely immediately informed them of this as it happened. I saw some people walking up to the paper distributors to secure a copy of this newspaper, ostensibly for their records, as a memento of that one time when the fourth Prime Minister in five years vacated office.
What does this mean for Japan? Only that soon it will be time for new McDonalds sandwiches, I will need to drag my sweat hanky out of storage, and a variety of seasonal beverages will assault the convenience store shelves. Just like that, the first circle nears completion: four whole seasons in Japan, the only country with seasons (didn’t you hear?). It was not so long ago I would fall asleep at 5 P.M. and wake up at 3 A.M., confused that I was still in Japan and annoyed that I had no clothes washer, air conditioner, dishes, Internet, television, or food.
In an exciting contrast, I am currently of 66% of a mind to take some of the small amount of money I have left after being reamed by my student loans and paying for my new three-month transit passes and go to Osaka on Friday, which happens to be a compensatory day off for me. I am peculiarly thinking of going after something I really don’t need but really do want, as it goes with most things: an original Famicom system and a handful of games. A piece of technology released four months before I was born, designed to play games taking up data space no more than one of the images on this page, outputting signals through RF modulation to my high-definition television. This, despite the fact that I can already play every Famicom game ever made and then some on my Wii, with progressive D-terminal video and sound, wireless controllers, and save-anywhere options.
But the problem is not in functionality, the problem is that I grew up in the States, and not in Japan, and so I feel like I missed out on something (even if what I got in its place was just great). I feel the underpinnings of some desire, some element of society seeping into my mind, the urge to connect, the voices of a sub-culture that doesn’t exist anymore, preserved in password books and old magazines and circuit boards in cluttered stores. It’s not the same picking the game from a menu and holding a Wii controller! I missed out on brightly colored hunks of plastic! I wanna flip the little red lid up and slam in a Famicom game! And why shouldn’t I be able to?
And so I’m going to leisurely assemble over the next however many years a mini-library of my favorite old inexpensive Nintendo games, clad in Japanese clothing. I do not want to be a “collector,” to buy rarities and troll for garbage, just a game player! I can do it totally on the cheap, and it will give me a reason to frequent the retro-game stores and buy hundred-yen clearance pit specials, something I desperately need as an excuse to get my ass outside and feel the culture, especially since I moved on from dropping coins on gashapon months ago with the end of our torrid love-affair. Also a classic Famicom will look bitchin’ sitting under my plasma television. Just look at this tall glass of water:
Ain’t she a beaut? How could a reasonable gamer such as myself find no necessity in this? How could he pass up the opportunity to embark on such a quest now, in this country, surrounded by it? It is so obvious. I will type one-sentence reviews of my hauls, annotate them with photographs and prices, and force N-Sider to post them handfuls at a time, drowning any actual content that may have existed. It is going to be glorious and awesome, and on a hot summer night, seated under the air conditioner with a Suntory THE PREMIUM MALT’S (actual spelling), I will stay up until two, beat Super Mario Bros., hit an 8-bit home run, bust fools in Dig Dug, and get a zillion points on Galaga. And it will be great (?).
CRAZY JAPANESE WHOOPTY-DOOS OF THE WEEK
– New Baobab Pepsi, which has a good flavor that may taste like baobab, not that I (or probably anyone in Japan) would know what that tastes like since it is the name of a Madagascarian tree bearing a fruit that I have never eaten or even seen
– Also new Bacon Potato Mayo Cup Noodle, which tastes sort of like a theoretical “bacon soup” with ramen in it, and is really not as awesome as it sounds
– Today my office smells kind of like basement, which I think may be a result of them kicking on the air conditioners on-schedule, after several months of winter dormancy
– Seriously getting fucking tired of being given non-chopstick eating utensils at the convenience store with my bentos, like today I got a gyudon bento, which is strips of beef and onions on rice, and I got it to work and sat down to eat it and there is not a fork, not a spork, but a spoon, a goddamned spoon in there, like how on planet shit with dogfart clouds am I supposed to eat strips of beef and onions with a spoon, goddammit, and I had to go into my bag and find a pair of forgotten wooden chopsticks at the bottom that were age and moisture-warped into the shapes of fucking pirate-ship slats and it was still easier to eat my gyudon with those than it would have been to eat it with a damn spoon, like I mean is it cause I’m obviously a white person? cause if it is I mean I made it to Japan, you know, I am dressed in Cool Biz, I have a keitai strap, you idiot, I am making a living in your country here and I think I am obviously smart enough to eat with two sticks, like I most certainly must have encountered oh every day for the last three hundred days, and if you just are giving spoons to every Taro Yamamoto that comes in this store, what is your goddamned problem anyway? fuck
– Carrying the garbage on the elevator on my way to work and meeting two kind ladies in the elevator down from my apartment who greeted me with a konnichiwa, asked if I spoke Japanese, asked where I was from and what I did and where and made me feel really good about how my basic Japanese skills are progressing, then asked me in English if I knew the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I said yes I know them and they gave me a pamphlet and we said thank you have a nice day and it was a good thing I was already going to the dumpsters
– All television commercials, news programs, variety shows, and other programming NO MORE WHOOPTY-DOOS THIS WEEK
Last weekend I went with one of my friends to play some darts, a place up on the fifth floor of some building in Sannomiya. The name of the bar was Club Bee, which a man on a loudspeaker pronounced “BEE-eh, BEE-eh, BEE-eh” whenever a new customer entered. Stepping off the elevator was a challenge in itself, as the entire entryway is clad in shiny metals, with no less than four distinct doors and no indication which is the correct one to enter. Touching any door handle actually causes the sultry voice of a female to exclaim, presumably in ecstasy, over the speakers: “Stop it!” or “Ooh, that’s sexy…” When we finally found the correct door, we were presented with a situation worthy of our efforts: hundred-yen dart boards, drinks, and air conditioning. In Cool Biz season, such simple pleasures are essentially all I require.