Tag Archives: osaka

How happy he who crowns in shades like these

Like the workings of regular, timed machines, Japan yesterday found itself overrun with 850,000 (according to the news) fresh young graduates clad in brand new suits all pushing themselves confused off to their first day of work at the company that will slowly murder them over the next forty-five years. Unlike businesses in America, most Japanese entities coincide their hiring period with the exact end of the school year, and the first day of work is right when the schools start back up again. That means that every year on April 1st they all march off like little superheroes in costume. I like seeing at what point you can no longer identify the seas of new hires, the more stalwart will continue to wear suits until well into the summer, while the people with some free-thinking generally switch to cool-biz attire (ha ha, as mandated) once May or June rolls around.

Last night on the news broadcasts they showed footage from the welcome ceremonies at Mitsubishi and Panasonic, two companies that happen to have huge headquarters and factories in Kobe and Osaka. A typical component of these ceremonies is all the new hires singing the company song–yes, the companies have songs–together, pledging their undying fealty to the emperor company president. Also, you can never leave the company or you will be ostracized and blacklisted from other big companies forever, ha ha april fools, we are just joking, but no that is also a joke do not come back

TREE STUFF

The cherry blossoms are in pretty close to what I’d call full bloom, I read somewhere that it happened almost two weeks earlier than has ever been noticed since official cherry blossom blossom records started being kept in like the mid 1950s. I think it is because my French/Japanese waifu Christel Takigawa is in all kinds of new commercials this season, and she is SO HOT THAT THE TREES ARE BLOWIN OPEN nah she is really just kind of cute not really hot, not as hot as duckface Tomomi Itano who still drives traffic to my website via bizarre google search results even though she has left AKB48 now, Tomomi Itano Tomomi Itano. P.S. sorry Jessica

but you knew it was coming

8636353-755725

I AM A TOUR GUY

I led my mother around Japan for like the last two weeks as she visited us here, I have never been such a tourist in my entire life. We went to Chinatown and Arashiyama and Kyoto and sumo in Nanba and Nara and Awaji Island and all this stuff it was crazy. I cooked all the food that I am best at and we went to our favorite restaurants and watched Japanese television and Ghibli movies, did karaoke and went to a game center, ran through MEGA DON QUIXOTE and supermarkets, got our book signed at temples and shrines, drank under them cherry trees and oh so much more. It was great but also a little wack somehow, I felt like a tourist again since when there are three foreigners people will speak to you in English, a weird feel. Some old man who smelled like rotting coffee told me he loved New York, I was like that is nice dude I have never been there.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK OR MONTH, WHATEVER
– I bought a copy of Battle Arena Tohshinden for PlayStation because of its psychotic English text on the front, which says “Waw!? And now, what’s going on!? Toh Shin Den is about to present to you a super hot virtual battle, like one that you’ve never seen before at a rate of 90,000 polygons per second!”
– Rode a bus in Kyoto in which I was more squished than I have ever been squished, ever
– Have become totally hooked on kitsune udon, udon with sweet fried tofu on top, just in time to only have four more months to eat it all the time before I leave Japan forever
– Mad Men starts next week, oh god oh yes oh man this is not Japanese but
CURIOUS ENDING OF JAPANESE WHATEVER

I was tasked with changing places in the staff room yesterday, the first time I believe the foreigner has ever not sat in their original seat, the shittiest one in the staff room: right in front of the door where all the students bug you and you get hit with the drafts from the hall and you have people always walking by you and behind you and all this crap. They moved me back a row so my back is now to a wall, which means essentially I don’t have to worry about anyone jumpin’ up behind me or kids asking me weird questions I can’t understand. I am also next to the refrigerator, so all my refrigeration needs are covered.

Lots of new teachers in fresh brand new suits came here yesterday. I wonder how long the suits will last.

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Ace’s guitar flies through space

Friend,

Maybe I should have changed the name of the page to Nom a Month.

The truth is that I’ve been occupied with real, honest-to-goodness stuff! I started reading an enormously long book called 1Q84, written by a pretty notable Japanese author named Haruki Murakami. In Japanese you pronounce it “ichi kyu hachi yon,” and it’s kind of a fun little pun because in Japanese the letter “Q” and the number 9 are both pronounced “kyu,” and a q and 9 look kinda the same and the book is sort of about an ALTERNATE 1984. But in the book’s English-translated form it doesn’t mean shit. Also I got this game for my Playstation called Rocksmith, and how it works is you hook any electric guitar up to it with a special cable, and you can learn to play songs along with it. I’m getting pretty good. Just last night I played a four-song set at the “Mouse Hole” and even performed an encore. I asked Jessy if she liked my “whip-ass bends,” but she did not seem to notice. The calluses on my left fingers are becoming formidable. I plan on using them to light strike-anywhere matches pretty soon, and once they are lit I will set fire to Jessy and ask if she likes my whip-ass bends now.

Work’s also been busy. We had exams last week, which meant I got to check and grade 320 separate English composition essays for the communication class I lead, in addition to 320 more essays that we wrote for a “presenting your opinions” review project we just finished. It was a pretty frantic time, during which I was alarmed at how not-bored I happened to be when I had work to do.

The weather is getting colder yet, with us, nearing the end of October, having finally entered the realm of temperatures that are routinely in the mid-60s during the day. Aside from a couple freakishly warm days last week, I can say that I’ve been unequivocally pleased with the general state of nature in my life lately. Sometimes we have the doors open, and the cold autumn wind rolls through, and I imagine how all those people who love summer must feel, and then I laugh a vengeful cackle as my black bones chill to their iron cores. It is my time! MY TIME

AMAZING, NOTABLE THINGS ABOUT ME AND THE THINGS I DO
– I went to the “Hard-Off” store about a week ago and got a ton of old Famicom shit for about 20 bucks, and it was the greatest day so far in my life
– On Monday I forgot to bring lunch, and when I got home I made linguini with homemade tomato sauce and a pound of burger in it and ate it with a huge chunk of crusty garlic bread like a savage and it was the greatest day so far in my life
– Got some beer the other day
– Captain America was a pretty awesome movie
– My birthday is in a couple weeks, I will officially turn 13 years old and finally outgrow this childish video game phase
– Jessy’s leaving for America pretty soon and while she is gone I will give her half of the wine bottles I open to our cat, who will not be seen with me around our friends when I act like this what is your problem
– One of my students wrote a review of Eric Clapton and called him “her god” and I thought girl you are too good for this country

MMMMM goodies

My work-snacks today have been based around three cans of clearance mandarin orange drink I got for fifty yen each at the Yoshiya store, they have little bits of orange pulp in them. Also I ate a rice ball with a slice of egg and a slice of bologna on it, and Mom always used to tell me there’d never be any market for the Eggy Meaty. Who is laughing now? It is me, I am the one laughing.

No but seriously all my time lately is being used on being at work, reading during my commute, cooking and eating supper at home, and playing guitar or some old video game with the time I have left. The last two weekends Jessy and I have packed up the picnic bag and took it down to the harbor and had a little picnic and it’s been pretty nice. It rained last Saturday and I wanted to go to Osaka and prowl around for a copy of The Goonies for Famicom but then it was raining and I was like nah I don’t wanna go to Osaka. No big adventures, no big trips, very few biting insights about Japanese culture here during my 26th month of life in Japan. Life continues.

Fondly,

You

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Dakota!

Before I bust out the formal Japanese request, which will incorporate the word “show window,” because that is how you refer to a show window in Japanese, I consider my options regarding the thin piece of expensive plastic resting inside the case. The first option is to walk away as though I never saw this desirable item, and regret the choice for the rest of my life. The second option is the only real one, and that is to buy it immediately, because the only meaning that one can possibly assign to life in Japan is related to the purchase, consumption, and enjoyment of material goods.

Five thousand two hundred and fifty yen is not the most that I’ve ever spent on a relatively useless and mainly ornamental object, but it is certainly the most I’ve spent on a piece of plastic with no implied or provocative semi-nudity. However, unlike the lascivious indiscretions of years past, this particular thingy is absolutely one-of-a-kind, because there is only one like it! It is an animation cel from my favorite anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, a distinct single frame of animation! Have you seen the End of Evangelion movie? If you have, you’ve seen a real live picture of what I bought. People who make cartoons paint each frame onto a clear piece of plastic like this, then shoot them in sequence on top of backgrounds and poof magic is made. This one is from the final episode of the series, just before the crying character is liquified into glorious LCL goo. Observe!

As you, stalwort reader, have deduced, I’ve gone back to Mandarake, a geek-store I was first acquainted with last week in Fukuoka. This time I’m in Shinsaibashi, a trendy shopping district of Osaka–more specifically, I’m in “Amerikamura,” a subdivision still of Shinsaibashi. Amerikamura means essentially America Village, and there are all kinds of stores representing the Japanese projection of what American culture is like (everyone in America dresses like a hip-hop thug who accidentally signed up for a production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat).

After I buy the Evangelion cel, I wade into the section of the upper floor of this particular store devoted to hentai doujinshi, which means in English “fan-produced adult-geared magazines full of pervy drawings of your beloved anime and video game characters engaging in degrading, filth-ridden acts.” In narrow rows of bookshelves stacked from floor to ceiling with magazines in little plastic bags and multi-thousand-yen video tapes, I feel like a tiny mouse in a dark corner of the furthest recesses of the human id, where all twisted desires manifest themselves via the overeager pens of peculiar illustrators. As I am searching for a magazine that contains some characters I am familiar with being degraded just slightly enough for me to be comfortable putting it on my bookshelf, a man wearing a fanny pack scuffles past me, saying “‘scuse me!” in Japanese, then turns excitedly to look at a section I am sure he already knows is precisely there. Then he says “oh, it’s here!” and digs in, as though there is absolutely nothing strange about seeing a well-endowed female ninja drawn left looking like an Iowa State Fair corndog with a guitar stuck up her for better grip. Surely he is just browsing, like one casually browses the cereal aisle or the butter cooler in the supermarket, the Violent Hand Axe section of the local weaponry store. I don’t see what exactly he is looking at. It is perhaps for the best. The magazine I have just picked up involves a girl in a maid outfit who has been hooked up to some sort of bodily inflation device, at the seeming mercy of at least three ne’er-do-wells. The thing the guy picks up is nearby. Though I am barely aware of my surroundings I say aloud “nope not happening” and walk back to the CD section, staring at a Konami album to burn an image of Vic Viper into my brain instead of the latex-clad balloon ladies while repeating the Mr. Saturn mantra only five can ladder only five can ladder only five can ladder.

CURIOUS JAPANESE-ERY OF THE TIME
– A store in Amerikamura called “Global Junk Food,” in which we purchased a “macaroni cheddar cheese burrito” and eight tiny donuts that were actually deep-fried fun-size Snickers bars
– The Japanese television coverage of the New Zealand earthquake, which said little about the total number of actual casualties but presented us with a handy graphic reporting the status of people in New Zealand who are Japanese and whether they have been crushed or not
– A good bowl of ramen I had, called on the menu “Shiawase Ramen,” meaning “happy ramen” (it made me happy)
– My students’ final presentations, during which they need to present an imaginary “invention” that they created, and which are absolutely completely insane
– New Cup Noodle flavor PorkGinger, which is typefaced exactly like that and which, though I have not eaten it yet, I theorize tastes like pork and ginger
– My psychotic cat, who somehow gets both lazier and more spastic each day
END OF CURIOUS JAPANESE-ERY

It’s almost the end of February which means that like clockwork the weather magically does not completely suck any more. Today I was able to come to school without a scarf or mittens, and soon I won’t even need the heavy coat anymore. Though we celebrate the new year here on January first, all Japanese people know that the new year doesn’t really start until after the cherry blossoms start blooming and the new school terms kick in during April. Japan begins again, and for now I enjoy the end of the school year and an extended period of time during which I will absolutely not say “see you” to anyone.

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The mute appeal to sympathy for our decay

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.

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There are no karaoke dreamers

In Sannomiya’s Super Jankara karaoke box 332 no one can hear you scream, a literal truth, making it all the more appealing. Right thumb all painful from tapping on a tambourine, I eat a convenience store sandwich in about thirteen seconds, drink a glass of Coke spiked with snaked-in Suntory whisky, and assist as the four of us deliver the psalms: Sunday Monday Happy Days, Tuesday Wednesday Happy Days, Thursday Friday Happy Days, the weekend comes, my cycle hums, ready to race to you.

This is not the first time this has happened.

Hours ago I was witnessing the annual Kobe Shootin’-Fireworks-For-Who-Knows-Why fireworks festival over the Kobe harbor, which is to say I watched fireworks from behind a tree while surrounded by women in casual summer kimonos and men who put far less apparent effort into their appearances but still nearly universally carried purses. My purse contained five cans of beer.

Now, in Super Jankara karaoke box 332, it contains just one, which I forget even exists until I get home, following a four-a.m. conversation in completely repugnant Japanese with a female taxi driver who did not see the fireworks, and I said we saw them, a little bit, and the fare is very affordable, and she calls us handsome. The next day for me gets started at about seven-p.m., the first time of day I find myself capable of eating food.

Though the recurring theme trends toward fermented malt beverages in my mind, I gingerly note that while affected by The Vapours I have far fewer qualms about embarrassing myself completely in a foreign language. Even though my command of Japanese resembles that of a growth-impaired turnip I resort to it earlier in the week while having a look around Osaka with Brenden, and most specifically I use it to try to divine the location of a big bright busy section of town called Dotonbori, which as it turns out is totally not anywhere near where I stumble into a Lawson and say “I’m embarrassed but where is Dotonbori I don’t know.”

Thirty-seven years later we find it and are plunged mouths-first into adventure with the assistance of a guy who looks like one of my first-year baseball kids after getting married and divorced and then falling asleep in a tanning bed for ten years. He says as we are walking by “HEY WHAT’S UP!!” and I, conditioned to respond in kind to the streetwise pavement slang of my generation, issue a “what’s up” back. The response I get is one virtually the same in English and Japanese, and sounds like the word beer, and so we go for one, and it is beery.

In the bar I resort to my conversational fallbacks in much the same way that celebrities being paraded around from talk show to talk show on the promo junket retell the same stories on Conan and Kimmle, only none of the things I have to say are interesting or intentionally funny and are instead just the only things I know how to say. With command of no more than three verbs I spin a compelling tale of international intrigue: I came from America, and now, I am a teacher at a high school. My friend, he came from Canada. We like to drink beer. Today, the weather is hot. No, not here in the bar, but there, there out there it is hot. In here, don’t worry. Is that woman there your lover? No? Well, we are going.

In the NHL ’96 video game for Super Nintendo, Brenden and I are currently in command of a heavily modified Detroit Red Wings team, a team which neither of us particularly endorse or support in reality but which has the highest base statistics in this game. To start the season, we immediately create two players named after ourselves using a cheat code to turn us into 100-point dynamic gods, then release the shitty players we are replacing into free agency. Our goalies, we decide, are no good, so we create two goalies of the worst possible skill named Derp Herp and Pee Man, sign them to the Blackhawks, release Ed Belfour into free agency, and sign him. Much to our chagrin, Derp Herp is now the 33rd ranked save percentage goalie in the league, while Ed languishes near the bottom.

We are frequently terrorized by a man named Joe Sacco, who in 1995 played for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, unremarkably, and who scores on us with seven seconds to go in regulation to snatch our wins away. Sometimes, the organ plays the same song eight times in a row. After a few cold Sapporo Mystery Kanji and Hops beers, we discuss the underlying elegance of the gameplay mechanics and physics in NHL ’96 for the Super Nintendo, and ruminate on how we might reiterate this game for today’s people exactly like us. Then we eat banana cake pudding, Kobe’s delicious specialty.

EXCITING JAPANESE IS THING AND FOR TO THE
– New, limited-edition Cup Noodle, which brings back my favorite flavor Chili Tomato in three varieties: regular, with cheese, and five-spice, and adds miniature plastic Gundam models snapped onto the top of the cup, raising the price to 498 yen and being unavailable without the Gundam, as is my Chili Tomato curse
– New Spicy Grilled Chicken Cup Noodle, which does not have any Gundam livery, and which is available for the actually reasonable price of 138 yen
– The Osaka aquarium, which we went to, and where I saw really weird glowy jellyfishes that looked exactly like the Metroids in the tubes from Super Metroid and I think I know where they got That Idea
– Our trip to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Noodle Museum, where we got to decorate and formulate our own Cup Noodle flavor (I chose standard broth with pork cubes, asparagus, cheese, and potatoes), and which may or may not be the third item on this list that involves Cup Noodle
– The arcade next to Ikuta shrine, which I basically totally forgot slash didn’t realize was even there, where we played co-op Espgaluda II and where I was completely housed by some Japanese guy at an arcade fighting game called Melty Blood, the duration of which involved me trying to kill him with two young girls dressed up like Little Red Riding Hood who fight with a mop and a frying pan
– The new Kirin commercial, which depicts baseball hero Ichiro taking a big slag of beer and then looking at the can with a facial expression of delight and/or shock so devastating that it looks like his throat is being ripped out of his ass
THAT’S ENDING

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to live in Japan during the “Happy Days” of the 1950s like in the TV show, and to imagine it what I do is I take Happy Days, replace all the cast with Japanese youngsters, and then instead of Pat Morita I basically imagine Sylvester Stallone.

その上に座ってPotsie!

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I don’t know no Snakes

I have not seen Harry and Marv take such a beating in ten years but I remember it like it was yesterday. Tonight, with a vending machine beer in hand, I watch Home Alone with Jessy and Brenden, we being three of only four souls inhabiting the Tokushima Youth Hostel in Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku, a landmass to which I am no stranger.

A fan oscillates in front of us and next to me is an enormous magazine rack filled with old manga and magazines from 2006. One series of magazines features the same attractive woman in a slightly different pose and outfit on each cover for months and months. Home Alone is on VHS, and has been selected by us from among a variety of video tapes arranged in their thick plastic cases on a wooden bench next to the small television. It is a “SAMPLE” copy, as are several of the other tapes, and I figure they must have bought out a closing store’s advance copies. The large white block letters SAMPLE are burned into every frame’s upper right corner. The movie is subtitled in Japanese that reads simplistic to me when compared with the actual dialogue, when I can translate it, leaving the true intonations of phrases such as “keep the change you filthy animal” up for debate.

The movie starts halfway in, presumably because the prior (possibly Japanese) viewers were unable to glean the intense cultural sensibilities necessary to understand Kevin’s unique plight (summon scary cops to arrest burglars, or attempt to kill them?) and chose to hit stop, foregoing the option to be kind and rewind. The video resumed at around the part where Kevin slides on his knees to go underneath a bumbling police officer’s legs in an attempt to evade prosecution for stealing a toothbrush, the first of his soon-to-become-increasingly-violent crimes.

Whoever was watching this fucking thing first didn’t even get to the whole point of the movie: watching Joe Pesci get his ribs broken with a crowbar! Retrospectively, with a position favoring the criticism of a movie I have seen well over a hundred times, the movie becomes ghastly, gruesome Schadenfreude: the acts against humanity committed by the demonic eight-year-old human child “Kevin McAllister” are heinous and he revels in watching them play out in ways akin to torture. To witness his vile acts is to stare into the face of the Dark Lord and laugh at his joyful demeanor while he rips the fingernails from your hands and licks them clean.

My favorite part, upon this rewatching, was seeing Harry have his head lit on fire by a blowtorch, and then Kevin running away, fists-a-pumping, screaming “Yes yes yes yes yes.” I also enjoyed watching him make the financially poverty-stricken pizza-delivery boy deal with a twenty-cent tip and then lead him to believe he is about to be murdered by gunfire. He is obviously a man who takes pride in his work. I debate with Brenden and Jessy the relative merits of each bandit’s incredible punishment, mentioning the conversations my sister and I used to have about which bandit, theoretically, it would be better or worse to assume the role of, based on the levels of their abuse. In the moment I figure Marv takes more blunt damage, while Harry has to suffer having the image of the house’s doorknob (a large M, for McAllister, the initials of his fiendish overlord) melted into his hand by way of an electric coil heater. He even screams, whimpers in pain, and tries to blow on the fucking thing to cool it off. Jesus!

The weather in the hostel is as hot as the opposite of Chicago during Christmas, as depicted in the movie Home Alone, which is to say that it is goddamned hot. Our room contains four beds via two bunk setups, and a tatami area with a table. The air conditioner is cutely coin-operated: a 100 yen coin gives two hours of cooling, as low as we can turn the remote (20 degrees Celcius, full-blast fan, and boy do we ever need it). The hostel’s proprietor, a pleasant elderly-ish lady, gives us three coins to use as we check in. While we eat the supper she’s made us (fried pork cutlet with cabbage, peanut-dressing salad, miso soup, rice, cold soumen with dashi sauce, hot tea, and god knows what else), I see who I presume to be her husband meandering around in the definition of Tiny Little Running Shorts.

There is a beach here at the foot of the hostel’s property, though a sign forbids swimming. Still, it seems to me a rarity thus far in Japan, and I even see and smell groups of people grilling meat. For a moment I believe I am in America, and then the cicada calls deafen me and destroy my capacity for rational thought immediately. I rectify my hollowness by skipping rocks from the shore out into the water, skip skip skip.

As we relax that evening I fight metal slimes in Dragon Quest IX on my DS, a now-proven companion capable of getting me through any time period that could be considered even slightly boring. The two-hour bus rides from Kobe and back serve as excellent opportunities to test its mettle, and are felled admirably.

The next day sees us tour a special old-town where we are beckoned into a small shop by a husband and wife who woo us with green tea, mochi, and pickled cucumbers and tomatoes. We are guilted into the purchase of a kilogram of homemade miso paste from them, which we later mux together with some other ingredients for use as a sauce on our own cabbage salad back at the apartment. This has left me with approximately .99 kilograms of miso paste that I have absolutely no idea what to do with.

EXCITING JAPANESE HERPS OF THE DERP
– Lawson cheese chicken breast, being a deep-fried piece of breaded chicken and melted cheese all together under one crust and the perfect size for a bun
– A special certificate, presented formally to me by my principal, indicating that I have successfully held my job for one entire year
– CoCo Ichibanya curry restaurant, which delightfully provided Brenden and I with plates of piping hot and delicious curry rice for a low fee
– Namco Land arcade and its Street Fighter IV machines, which I didn’t realize were there on the second floor and which look totally easy to hop onto for a game or two
– San Plaza gashapon and game shops, ensuring that if I ever really need a bunch of little plastic toys I will be able to find precisely the ones I need
– Sanuki udon self-serve shop in Tokushima city, bearing delicious niku udon with a piece of shrimp tempura, ice cold water, and boilin’ hot broth
ENOUGH HERPS

Today is the one day this week that I actually have work, which in August is the term that I use to mean I have to be in the office. I just completed a five-day stretch of delightful time off (three weekdays and two weekends) and that means that today serves as both my Monday and Friday, as I also have the next four days off (two weekdays and two weekends). It feels weird to not be working, but not that weird, because I’ve been pretty busy trekking around Kansai the last few days, and will likely get into a good deal as much in the next few.

Jessy leaves for the States on Saturday, which saddens me, but mostly will just be strange because aside from one overnight trip she took with her teachers a few months ago, we have not spent any full days away from each other since we moved to Japan. She’ll be there for a couple of weeks, and is treating the impending nature of the trip so lightly that it boggles my mind. She knows that she’ll be going from “Osaka to Tokyo to Taipei or somewhere and to America” which is just lackadaisical enough to cause my chest to go all aflutter. I have instructed her to get her ass back here with a refilled prescription of the Xanax, which I am sure as shit going to need when I take my trip back home for Christmas this year. In her stead of course I have Brenden, who on the upside will probably not complain to me about household matters, but who on the downside will probably not do my laundry.

Finally, I should mention for the sake of posterity that a year ago today I was ironing my too-big suit shirt to go under my too-big suit jacket at the too-big Keio Plaza hotel in Tokyo, having just recently arrived in Japan and having been completely overwhelmed with everything. I remember being terrified and excited and ready to go and meeting my teachers in Kobe and moving my huge suitcases into the apartment and I remember the first two weeks here feeling like ages and the next few months breezing by and the terrible heat of the summer and my birthday pudding in November and Christmas cake in December and Hokkaido in January and cherry blossoms in March and the school year ending in April and Japanese class starting and Fuji in July and here I am again in August with a year gone so quickly. That’s not to say there’s any point to recalling it now, only just to say that it was so. So it was!

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Congratulation this story is happy end

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.

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Moeagare, Moeagare, Moeagare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The middle of somewhere

This one is an irregular week, a classification of week which I endorse–often heartily. My next two days involve a “mid-year seminar” through the board of education (with generous lunch breaks and located much nearer to my apartment than my school is). The term is a bit confusing, “mid-year,” especially since I’ve only been here for three-and-a-half months, and I can’t help but wonder to which people this is the middle of anything except November or maybe one of the three school terms.

Accenting the affair is a purportedly delicious meal on the evening of the first day at somewhere called “Sky Buffet,” which I could know nothing of outside its name and still endorse, whatever ventures may be involved: it is a buffet, it is in the sky, it is a Sky Buffet. As a divine bonus, a sort of ethereal gift, Monday of next week is a national holiday, making it quite a stretch of time where Brandon doesn’t have to teach any school. The flip side is that were I still in the States I’d have the whole of next weekend unspoken for cause of Thanksgiving, which they most certainly don’t even know about, let alone celebrate, here. I drew a turkey on the board last week, and some of my students converted it into a type of egg-laying robot with lasers before asking if it was a chicken. It is fair to say I won’t be finding any turkey for my non-Thanksgiving. Jessy and I have decided to compromise in a somewhat acceptable way: I will boil some cute Japanese chicken, cobble together some kind of gravy and mix it together, throw down some homemade dumplings and stewed veggies, and try to find some decent beer. It will be a weekend feast that would only be made better if for some reason our apartment had a fireplace, and I will give thanks by raining delicious hellfire upon my kitchen and all those who enter (t)here.

I have finally become confident enough in my passive spatial awareness to permit myself to listen to music during my train-and-foot commutes to and from school without the fear that I’ll miss an audio announcement and thus, my stop. Doing so has allowed forgotten wisdom to re-envelop me: life’s a lot better with music in it. The bee’s knees of this week is an album from a totally relaxing one-man band ironically called Ohashi Trio, who sings in both Japanese and alarmingly good English with some really melodic pseudo-classical jazz type shit going on at the same time. I accidentally saw part of a video on some bizarre late-night Japanese music countdown last weekend, and sought out some samples on the Internets as soon as I could. The commute is exactly long enough one-way to allow me to listen to the entire album (his newest, called “A Bird”), and I plan on nabbing his previous effort “This is Music” posthaste. Just for kicks I might even hoof it to the Tower Records downtown and see if I can find actual copies and pay Real Money for these. Maybe.

The entertaining side-effect of music while I go is all the new soundtracks for the stuff I’m used to seeing in much the same ways every day. Different parts of different albums come up at points during my walk, which allows me to look at the scenery in fresh new ways. What’s the bridge with Eleanor Rigby? Shrine Cats to Heaven? The other day I even had an unexpected feeling of excitement upon briefly reconsidering my still incomplete Edmund story. Maybe now, having left Iowa and written one section, I can write another section having left Pennsylvania. I can feel it all gathering up back there in little bits again and I’m just left wondering when it will feel like moving its way on out. It took a few months after the last move. Maybe it’s about time.

I went to Osaka last weekend for my first Japanese gaming event, an unassuming little guy called the Games Japan Festa. Your interest in such material may be minor, but you can view the article at N-Sider here. The highlights of the trip: people dressed up in costumes like anime characters, a prize drawing in which I won stupid bookmarks instead of something awesome, and a post-show meal at an Indian restaurant where I made the mistake of assuming I was in Japan, ordering the curry “very spicy” and receiving the spiciest food I have ever eaten in my life (painful but delicious).

It’s getting really cold lately, such to the extent that I personally have actually mustered up a desire to go shopping for clothes, a relatively rare event. I need a few more sweaters, and it’s probably about time to replace my winter coat. Surely mother if you are reading this you are likely rejoicing, but know that I got a good 6+ years out of it, and your purchase was not a bad one (even if you would have had me toss it to the street years ago in favor of something new).

For the most part, Japanese clothes are great for me, because I am thin, and the clothes here kind of just assume that you are, with the largess of the European geneset being the exception rather than the rule, and no such thing as “XXL” found in any stores I’ve visted anyway. Clothing is “slim fit” almost by default, which works well for me, and the nice, well-tailored pants right off the store shelves make my old ones look like they may have been owned by one M.C. Hammer. The only problematic areas are in the shirt sleeves, which to be fair barely were long enough for my freak monkey arms back in the states yet certainly aren’t any longer here. Most dress-shirt sleeve ends rest a comfy two-and-a-half inches above my wrist, rendering necesssary a little cheating: when it was warmer I could just roll them up and tuck them, but it’s so cold now that to do so is both uncomfortable and draws light indirect criticism from my coworkers: “You must be cold! Aren’t you getting cold?!” The solution is sweaters, bigger sized to fit over the shirts, and with the beneficial side effect of longer, stretchier sleeves. Still, if I could grind a few inches out of these bones it would probably make my life a little easier, the only negative being the inevitable destruction of my basketball career.

Perhaps the postal deities heard my whining in the last entry, because Modern Warfare 2 arrived three days ahead of schedule last night. After telling Jessy she could not have the TV and to get bent, she fell asleep at eight o’clock and I stayed up for five hours playing it. The advent of the coming “mid-year seminar,” and its subsequent weekend and Monday holiday, are bold and fortuitous Winbringers which shall be filled, daintily, with as much game time as I can muster while still maintaining some illusion of daily human function. This morning, after I had just finished a match and begun to fry my traditional Wednesday breakfast gyoza, some Jehovah’s Witness people came to the door, perhaps because their beacon indicating virtual military combat went off, and said some things in Japanese. One lady spoke some English and I told her I was comfortable with my beliefs. Perhaps sensing that she didn’t have the language skills to deal with what was about to come next, she repeated my answer, to which I replied thanks for visiting me please have a nice day thank you! Then, bowing frequently like one of those water-sipping plastic cranes, I allowed my door to carry itself shut, the tiny visible slivers of the Witnesses’ cute winter mittens shrinking, shrinking, shrinking like the temperature.

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The sauce to meat is ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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