Tag Archives: school

I played in Joe Louis in a playoff game

My predisposition to “just going with it” has led me somehow to, through a series of 23% understood entirely-Japanese conversations with the principal of the night school I work at on Wednesday nights, register Jessica and I for a volunteer, 250-person chorus that we must attend practices for ten times between now and December. It culminates in a December 8th concert at a music hall in neighboring Akashi, where I will, surrounded by legions of middle-aged Japanese men likely possessing far greater vocal ability than I (though their karaoke skills are no indication), sing Beethoven songs for the locals while wearing a black suit. This might sound enjoyable if I had ever been a part of any choir in my post-fifth-grade life, or even enjoyed singing when not completely inebriated. According to Google’s automatic translation of the event page, we are to be the “protect food Jiro response rate” chorus.

While I filled out the papers, trying my hardest to conjure up the Japanese necessary to say I really couldn’t do it, or anything whatsoever, I had to mark whether I was a tenor or a bass, a point of self-knowledge I do not even slightly possess. Principal marked bass for me because he said “it sounds like this” and then sang “la la la la” and then marked it. There is a seventy dollar entry fee! Ostensibly it covers the costs of some big party we have or something, but I couldn’t figure out when the party is. We also get a CD and some sheet music or whatever, I don’t know how this shit works. I can’t even read the damned paper. I guess I’m supposed to go to this place on the map next Thursday after work. Someone might call me or something? It’s on the second floor of a building in a place I’ve never been. Jessy will be off to goddamned Australia so I will be going it alone the first week.

“fuck”

It’s getting to be summer which means it’s time for that annual tradition of “Cool Biz,” the guilt-mandated effort to wear dorky short-sleeved dress shirts with no ties or jackets so that we can keep the air conditioner barely running and sweat to death in the name of conserving energy for our soon-to-be-powerless country that has no nuclear reactors running. Another thing that it means is that it’s time for seasonal Pepsi, and this year it’s a doozy! “Salty Watermelon Pepsi,” which releases July 24th. Signs you’re in Japan: a soda release date is announced almost two months in advance of the product launch, and it finds immediate coverage all over the news.

I’ve been playing a game lately on my home video game console called Yakuza 4. It’s kind of a open-world game that takes place in Tokyo, and you play as some hardass and you run around and do minigames. I spent probably four hours last night doing a minigame that isn’t even really a game, where you click some buttons to set a training regimen for your virtual dojo’s virtual recruit, and his stats go up, and then you enter him in tournaments and he fights, only you don’t even get to fight with him you just WATCH HIM. But for some reason I couldn’t stop. Before I knew it it was like the old days, hammering away at the button to make the number go up, but why, why?!

It reminded me of my first experience in life where I was fully able to rationally recognize I had “wasted time.” It was when I was maybe ten years old or so and I had rented Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball for Super Nintendo. I got it home and spent all day playing. After a while I had figured out how to break the game, just had to keep grinding away. I think I needed $3 million to buy Bill Laimbeer himself. The whole time I remember some of my family was there, they were playing in the other room or watching a movie or whatever, and I was like “hey sounds fun but the job has to be done,” and so I kept playing to get money to buy Bill Laimbeer. Hours passed! Hours! Playing Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball! And then, eventually, I got the money to buy him. Oh! How sweet it was gonna be. I bought up that old white turd and stuck him in the fuckin’ game, he sure was the best player. And then I went out to check the other room and see what fun everyone was having, but it was too late. It was time for them to GO HOME. I ground the gears for a second. “What have I been doing with my life? All this shit for Bill Laimbeer?” I suddenly realized the ultimate futility of my actions, of the actions of humanity as a goal, in microcosmic space: burning my life away doing the same thing over and over to get three million dollars so I could buy Bill Laimbeer. Obviously I learned my lesson and never spent time on video games again.

Look at that piece of shit!

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WHAT
– Today’s beverage of choice, which has for reasons I will never fully comprehend, become a totally normally-named grapefruit-tasting drink to me, called “POCARI SWEAT”
– The lady who called me on the phone last night and said like “hi mister ryota ishikawa” and I was like “that’s not me chigaimasu chigaimasu” and she was like “oh that’s not you” and I was like “nope not” and she was like “well do you have a minute to talk about insurance” and I was like “aha excuse me” and I hung up even though we don’t really “hang up” anymore we just push a button and it isn’t even a button anymore just a picture on a screen that says “end call”
– The lesson I’m currently teaching on Japanese haiku and English haiku and how we can use the haiku form to make English poems, during which I write a haiku poem in Japanese on the board to explain it and then someone points out that I should have made this one line before the other one in stroke order even though I don’t bother to point out that when they say “I like to watch birds frying” it doesn’t mean what they think it means
what what

The other day in front of the elevators some young kids were waving these wands around to make big bubbles and then running away, leaving them suspended in the air. A lady and I happened to cross paths where the bubbles floated, and for some reason both of us stopped right there in the middle of the sidewalk, separated by this wall of shiny orbs, wondering if it really was safe to just walk right through and pop the bubbles, these temporary little things with no feelings or emotions that took less than a second to create. I walked around the side, on the grass, to avoid the bubbles, wondering for a second how many little bugs I was stomping to death in the name of beauty! A perilous existence up here in me.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Even in the bathroom, I can save

DRAGNET INTRODUCTION

Sound off for Nomaday.

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.

(BEAT)

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!”

ON DORKERY

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

FINALLY

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Sensible workplace procedures

On my desk there has been placed an attendance sheet on which I need to put a stamp indicating my “okayness” with the fact that I took a sick day at the beginning of last month, as though I somehow had no choice whether or not to be sick and as though I actually have some choice about whether or not to stamp it. This is essentially the punch clock if you will, that I stamp every week when I come to work at my night school. I am to use my personal inkan to put the little kanji for my name right there.
But I am not paying attention enough, and I stamp it in the wrong box. I am in Japan, so I already know that by putting it in the wrong box I have ruined the entire form, which has already arcanely needed and received stamps from people situated all over the goddamned building. So in an effort to please the secretary, to make her comfortable, to say “no look, I just made a mistake, it’s no big deal, you absolutely don’t need to throw away the entire sheet” I put a little whiteout over the place where I wasn’t supposed to have stamped. Naturally, it is the first thing she notices when she comes back to get the sheet, which I expected. “This is no good, she says,” and I tell her “I made a mistake, right there,” and she says “is that so,” and I say “yep that’s so,” and with a sigh she says “well maybe we’ll just have to do this whole sheet over one more time” and as she walks away I say “is that so” and she says “yep that’s so,” and then she leaves.

When she brings the new sheet back, the act of stamping which is obviously too complex for my foreign brain, despite the fact that I have carried out this exact process with no problems the last eighteen months I’ve done it and was able to communicate with her in her native language, she circles the squares I need to stamp with enormous, exaggerated pencil marks, and tells me kindly to stamp in the circles. The sad reality of the situation is that because of the vagaries of the Japanese language, even when I proceed to tell her “I understand (what to do)” she can interpret it merely as “I understand (your directions)” and so my being talked down to is without possible retort. My stamps are of course the first things that are to be put on the paper–even before the simple numerical date at the top–and surely this way if I just screw it up again well then at least she hasn’t bothered everyone else first.

This is one example of the nonsensical bureaucratic bullshit and of course, in my case, passive-aggressive belittlement that brings many types of formal business to a screeching halt in Japan and drives people so fucking insane that they leap from buildings a thousand a day. Sometimes it makes me wonder how they could have ever been allowed to be creative enough to invent gyoza, video games, ramen, animation, and comic books. Oh wait they didn’t invent any of that stuff.

What could possibly be the reason that instead of just saying “oh there was a mistake no big deal” they must re-fill the entire form? Are there trust issues with the higher-ups, and their higher-ups, and theirs? This is, after all, the country that has hired and pays a man to stand in front of my train station escalator which is being repaired and will be walled off for a month. His job is just to stand there, every morning, making it insultingly clear that yes, if the barriers didn’t tip you off, the escalator is closed. A scenario echoes through my head about what life must be like in buildings unlike mine, those technologically advanced enough to include hot water at the bathroom sink: a small speaker system echoes, forever, “remember, hot water is hot, and is not cold water, honorable person who is using the hot water, and remember to scrub your hands please.”

Are they afraid I somehow grossly, sloppily applied whiteout to the sheet and that by doing so I may have somehow scribbled in some sort of inaccurate information, despite there obviously being none? (The field I “corrected” was a field that I could in no way alter to my benefit.) Are they afraid that by whiting out my mistake I have somehow HIDDEN THE TRUTH and ruined the accuracy of the sheet, which contains no time verifications, dates, or other sorts of markings, and instead of my signature bears merely an ink image from a wooden stamp any fucker can buy at the dollar store?

The real forgery is about to come, as she wastes ten minutes preparing a replacement sheet that will be a beautiful lie and look identical to the first one, except the number 7 will be written on plain paper instead of on top of white out. Why even issue white out pens? Sometimes I really just don’t know about this place. But then I have a delicious plate of tempura and beat my Japanese wife for not cutting my sausages into the shape of an octopus for my lunch box and all is well again. No but really I like living here

SOME NON-CYNICAL STUFF THAT WAS GOOD ABOUT JAPAN THIS WEEK THAT I COULD NOT HAVE POSSIBLY EXPERIENCED ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD
– Bought a CD
– Got a couple books in the mail
– Left work two hours early yesterday
UH

I’ve been playing a game on my PSP called Xenogears and in like four days I have managed to put about three hours on it. Back in the day I was so fanatic about games I’d have put three hours on it before I even opened the package. Do you know what this means? Me either but it cannot be good.

Classes are over for the semester which means I’ve got about six weeks to regain my workplace sanity and buck up for the new class of incomers in mid-April. A year-end party with my co-workers on the eleventh might be a good start, because there will be lots to drink. Yet, try as I might, I am beginning to feel more and more like I cannot fill my happiness-holes with nostalgic Japanese toys and games and will instead need to look into myself for the seeds of mental comfort ooh look it is a Final Fantasy VIII sticker book.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

If I were Boyardee

A few observations, based on my students’ reactions to the things I brought back from America for them to look at, under the guise of a lesson plan:

Firstly, it’s true, everyone does want a Slinky. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese appeals to fifteen- and sixteen-year-old Japanese boys and girls and American toddlers alike (frequently heard comment, lovingly translated by me: “WANT TO EAT”). The kids are intimately familiar with the pyramid structure on the back of the dollar bill (“free mason free mason”). The students are impressed at photographs of big American pork chops. The students are adept at posing intriguing written questions on their comment sheets, such as:

“who is person drown in bill of 20$”
“Which do you like RICE RONI or Japanese sobameshi?”
“How many does Stride gum has?”
“Do you put fruits on Triscuit?”
“Do they eat cookies for lunch in America?”
“Can this candy eat?”
“Is ‘APPLE JACKS’ more popular than ‘CORN FROSTRY’ in America?”
“Is the kitty famous in America?”
“What is DORITOS NACHO CHIPS”

And perhaps, most interestingly, one group of four boys was absolutely obsessed with the can of Chef Boyardee, leaving me this comment sheet, containing a variety of questions and an artistic, tender drawing, based on the can’s illustrated portrait of Chef Boyardee:

I am a personal fan of the hypothetical question “If you were Boyardee, what would you do” though the existential ramifications of “Who is Boyardee” cannot be ignored. Italian food pioneer? Human-turned-marketing icon? A teacher suggested that perhaps Boyardee is like Colonel Sanders, a compelling argument I could not discredit. What is DORITOS NACHO CHIPS

At any rate, this lesson has firmly brought the hot wet American flair to this freezing winter at high school. The kids are endlessly interested in these bizarre American treasures, as rudimentary as they are. Who ever could have figured I’d get paid to show children such delights as packaged pastas, supermarket advertisements, and used train tickets, extolling them as sacred and rare artifacts? I celebrated the resounding success of my effortless lesson personally last Friday evening, getting so drunk off gin and tonic that by the time we made it to karaoke I was drinking straight whisky, believing that it was a highball because it “didn’t taste whiskey-y enough.” I then proceeded to select and ensemble sing the Happy Days theme song, repeatedly shake the tambourine, and then, apparently, and I am only stating this through hearsay, ram into my friend on the escalator, lose a single contact (confirmed the next morning), and then bet Jessy fifty cents that I would take the three headache pills that she gave me before I fell asleep (I lost the fifty cents). The next day I cooked two boxes of Macaroni and Cheese (WANT TO EAT) and everything was better.

Life without my computer is largely proceeding, with the only noticeable annoyances being that I am incapable of outputting downloaded television shows and movies to our television, and that I cannot add any books or music to my portable devices since my libraries were wiped out in the crash. I have taken the first step of ordering a new mounting bracket and SATA cable for the eventual new hard drive, though I first plan on running this final, really-it, totally-last-ditch software I got to see if I can possibly recover the pictures from the last eight months. But mostly, life is just the same as it ever was. Japanese class too proceeds on schedule, with the first review session finishing uneventfully.

In five weeks the third semester will be over, marking my first totally complete full school year (April to March), and leaving me with a repertoire of lessons running the full gamut. From here, the stress of lesson planning will assuredly be almost totally eliminated as I have a sufficient library of quick diversions and multi-week projects to pull from, only 4% of which have anything to do with Chef Boyardee.

LONGWINDED CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– McDonald’s has new burgers again this year with the second series of their “Big America” campaign, just as they did last winter. The first one this year is a new version of last year’s most popular “Texas Burger” with chili beans and other stuff. But the other, forthcoming ones are stranger: the “Idaho” has a slab of hash brown on it, while the curiously named “Miami Burger” has salsa and tortilla chips, two things I am not entirely sure the average American associates with Miami
– Monday marked the sixteenth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake that happened here in Kobe in 1995 and killed over six thousand people, destroying some part of almost every form of infrastructure that existed, sandwiching entire floors of office buildings, and setting fire to most of the old houses in the ward of Kobe where I work. We observed the day with a minute of silence in the morning, though I half expected one of those stupid election or nationalist trucks to round the corner with its rinky-dink loudspeaker music playing and ruin the whole damned thing
– I today had a lunch-time conversation with one of my co-workers entirely in Japanese, about where I lived, where we got on the train, and what we did for winter vacation. From what I can make out, he lives in Suzurandai, has two kids in Kyoto and one in Tottori, we both agree that there’s nothing to do on Port Island, and octopus tall sixteen dancing must captain ship frequent
– Though an entire box of Rice-a-Roni contains about 900 calories when prepared, making it “unhealthy food” in the eyes of my students and coworkers, the packaged bento I purchased today, consisting of beef with sauce on rice, contains 806, making it obvious diet material
– I yesterday had an incredible craving for Texas toast with garlic butter and melted cheese on it, which would have required some extra effort if all the bread in Japan wasn’t already sliced like Texas toast and sold in packages of five slices
– A recent survey doing the rounds on the Internet states that one in three Japanese men aged between something like fifteen and nineteen has either no interest in sex, is indifferent toward sex, or actively finds sex distasteful. They say that this has something to do with the “herbivorification” of Japanese men, who have become complacent and are content not pursuing women. I initially interpreted this survey as saying “one in three Japanese men aged fifteen to nineteen are clinically mentally deficient.” But then I considered the financial commitment necessary by two out of three Japanese men aged fifteen to nineteen, who are apparently funding young women all over Kobe well-enough that they afford numerous pairs of knee-high black leather boots and thigh-bearing mini-skirts, which they wear in the middle of winter (having an appreciable effect on one out of one American man aged twenty-seven)
– In an recent effort to interpret katakana with incredible haste, strengthening my quick-reading skills, I last evening misread a package of ice cream single-serve cups as “Cookie Banana” flavor, when in actuality they are “Cookie Vanilla” flavor. Still delicious, but distinctly un-banana’d
– The other day, just as I left work, I kind of felt a little pang of sadness that I wasn’t in America. But then I went to CoCo Ichibanya and had a big plate of hot cheesy chicken katsu curry with the little pickled whatever squares and I was like “Japan ain’t so bad.” Later I paid two dollars for an individually wrapped carrot
– In our first game of Carcassonne, the tile-based kingdom-building-and-control board game I brought back from the States, Jessy beat me by a huge margin of points, which has nothing to do with Japan and isn’t really that curious and actually didn’t even happen this week, but that doesn’t matter because I’m going to murder her in her sleep with a pillowcase full of ice
END OF LONGWINDED CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK

My newest computer-related acquisition, meant to ease the access of and safeguard the small, personal files that I had almost always ought to have on me (writing, lesson plans, and other irreplaceable documents), is a solid metal key, which instead of containing mere metal, actually contains an impossibly small eight gigabyte flash drive. In addition to being significantly durable and finding a home on my keychain, where I can never possibly forget it unless I also forget to lock my apartment on the way out, it offers the appearance of a truly luxurious and resplendent personal existence: that is to say, it gives the impression that I own more than one thing by virtue of being the second key on my keychain.

Tagged , , , ,

As stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after

I went to Ikea last Saturday and though we intended to get a lazy morning breakfast in their restaurant section we were indeed too late to break fast. So for some reason instead of getting the meatball plate I chose the daily special, curry rice with a pork katsu. It was in retrospect a bizarre and uninspired decision, because who goes to Ikea’s restaurant for breakfast, and who goes there and in the absence of breakfast chooses the meal equivalent of “spaghetti with sauce?” The only things more common on the dinner table than curry rice in Japan are either seaweed or stuff with their eyes still in them, perhaps covered in some sort of vinegar (the curry rice was, expectedly, of a middling to low quality).

Speaking of frightful things, today I actually expressed some excitement to a coworker about making mochi again on January 12th at my night school. Last year’s mochi-making day was the coldest evening I have ever experienced in this country, the weight of which was tempered only by the deliciousness of hot chicken soup with beaten, gooey rice wads in it. You may recall this particular event being mentioned to me last year by way of my now dearly-departed principal, who cryptically warned me about it with just a single line: “Cover your jacket with something when the beatings happen because the splatter.” (This phrase has since become a sort of personal life mantra, applicable in nearly all situations.) I anxiously await the return of Big Hammer, and all the stretchy rice-based delights that will come with it.

As an aside, I think those guys who were turning Japanese could not possibly have had the brash outspokenness necessary to record an electronic pop song declaring it so if they actually were turning Japanese. (I really think so)

I’m already starting to feel separation anxiety a bit, still two weeks out from when I’ll be boarding a series of public transit devices to fly away from the place I’ve called home for the last sixteen months. I’ll only be gone for three weeks, generously, but look what I’ll miss: Christmas cake, Kentucky Fried Chicken, drinking myself stupid, nabe party? Receiving bad-luck fortune at Ikuta Shrine, NHK’s year-end celebrity-filled singing competition, silly grab bags full of random goods, Paul McCartney’s Christmas crime against humanity being piped through all PA systems in every store in the country nonstop for days.

Of course making a list of all the stuff that I already miss and will get to enjoy will take much longer. I am kind of excited about the following things, excluding family, the obvious but not-entertaining bullet-point: Buying a carton of milk which is a full gallon and wondering how anyone could ever fit that inside of a refrigerator. Enormous, affordable pizza with thick buttery crust and lots of cheese and absolutely no mayonnaise. Strolling through a Target store and being all like “whoa” at the Blu-rays priced under sixty dollars. Shootin’ guns! Television, signs, and conversations in my native language, football and people who know that football isn’t soccer, Taco John’s, Subway, Arby’s, Chik-fil-a, Thai Kitchen, Cocost, Hickory Park, steaks from a grill that have names other than “cut steak”, cheap beer, cheap fruit, cheap everything. Finally, seeing some men my age dressed worse than I am, and also snow. I trust I will get to revel in the carefree and brazen excesses of most of, if not all of, these things.

But what about the weird stuff? Will it be difficult to get used to the fact that I can’t get very good food at a convenience store, or that trains can’t zip me around wherever I need to go, or that I can’t just walk somewhere with five hundred dollars worth of cash in my pocket and feel safe about it? Will I god forbid have to drive a car (on the right side of the road)? Will I cope with eating every meal with a fork? Yeah probably.

I got a haircut the other day at “BILLY” which is a hair salon I’ve been to twice now that allows racism to work in my favor: specifically, though a cut for any old Japanese person is about 4500 yen, a cut for a “foreigner” is only 3000. The place is run by a guy and his wife, who both speak English and worked (I believe) in London for a time. That thirty dollars gets me a pretty meticulous and careful cut, a shampoo and conditioning with minor scalp massage, a blowdry, and even a little dab of product all up in there, about forty-five minutes of attention. The place is named after their one-time pet dog, BILLY, who is taxidermied and watches over you as you are trimmed. On one side of the place is a weight bench covered with magazines; I like the guy’s commitment to simultaneously working out and staying informed about what Ms. Kardashian is up to.

I can’t quite figure out why it’s cheaper for me to get my haircut there unless they see it as kind of an occasional and random way to keep their English sharp by having a chance to practice with real foreign people–it’s the only thing I can think since the foreigner discount isn’t really posted anywhere in the store and they give it to you without your asking. Now, if I go to my Real Japanese Place, a kind of trendier but franchised salon called END, I can get the works for only about 2500 and they spend maybe an hour on me (you even get a hot towel on your face while they wash your hair, a more vigorous scalp/head massage, a free drink while you wait, and a piece of candy and grateful bow as you leave). The rub with that whole thing of course is that I have to speak Japanese, which gets pretty pathetic for both me and my stylist pretty quickly. Making an appointment can also be… troublesome. This time I just got my hair cut as short as possible to prolong the amount of time before I’d need to get a cut again. I’m happy with it, though after my first day back in the real world I received the following occasionally confusing comments:

– Is that from hazing or something (guy at Japanese class)
– Miss Misumi says a handsome guy is a handsome guy either way (teacher at school)
– You are same, same (a student pointing to his friend, head totally shaved)
– It’s like a David Beckham haircut (Jessy, akin to maybe someone saying “it’s like a Ronald Reagan haircut”)
– Your new hairstyle is very nice (a third-year kid, followed by the class erupting in unbridled, monkey-like shrieks and laughter)

At any rate I feel colder, though it is a fact that the weather itself is cooling off. And I think I actually caught a bit of a cold last afternoon, though I can’t attribute it specifically to the hair. Copious amounts of chewable vitamin C seem to have mostly helped me bounce back after only a day or so though (thanks for sending it Mom!).

Oh I almost forgot about the CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEE k
– Ringer Hut, a restaurant where you can order champon, a kind of chewy noodle dish with thick soup, offering either standard size, 1.5x size, or double size, all of which are the same price (and I only ordered 1.5x because in a totally un-American moment I thought “I know it’s free to get more but I don’t know if I can eat all that”)
– Monster Hunter Portable 3, probably this year’s biggest non-Pokemon game, for the PSP, which comes out today and which many of my students (and several of my teachers) have been talking about for the last two months, and which I can’t play cause I am sure there is a Butt Load of Japanese, not that I’d have any goddamned time for it anyway
– Red Ginger soda from Suntory, which is totally bright pink in color, and adorned with a black and pink wrapper that looks like some sort of lascivious corset, and which I bought without really considering how girly it looked because I like ginger ale and I like red, and which tastes exactly like regular ginger ale, a fact I only discovered by shamefully drinking it at work like a total woman
– Went to the music store to find Square Enix’s Christmas album and got sidetracked looking at the Jazz, which is conveniently separated into “Jazz” and “J-Jazz” sections to totally confuse me when I can’t find any Japanese artists in the Jazz section
– Mos Burger’s Mos Burger, which is a burger with a slice of tomato and this special red sauce that is kinda like a big dollop of meat sauce with cream cheese in it and Jesus Christ would probably come back from the dead to eat one jeepers is it ever fucking delicious I want one now immediately I will buy one after work.
THAT’S QUITE ENOUGH isn’t it

On my train ride home from night school last week I had a beer and sat in the front seat of the Port Liner with the big front window, and there was one of those huge manga magazines that someone had left there. So a little tipsy I made the decision to pick it up and as I flipped through it looking at the bikini models in the front and the colored-paper comics in the back while the lights of the city shot past me I realized for a second that nobody who saw me reading the comics could possibly know I didn’t understand the things that were happening in them. They might have even thought I bought the book myself, who knows! I felt like a real cock of the walk, which was also part of the illusion. For ten minutes I could pretend to read manga while looking at the pictures like anyone else, and nobody was the worse off for it, like I got to operate myself from outside, a simulation, a battery of tests. I have come to realize that for an often-inhibited and occasionally inexplicably-depressed sociopath such as myself, this is why alcohol works: not to alter the world around you, but to alter you around the world.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , ,

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!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The early dawn, the shades of time

The conversations of my world occupy a strange battleground between background noise and inescapable linguistic immersion: at times so impenetrable as to be no greater than trying to understand the language of crows, and at other times glimmering with rare brilliance.  This is what nothing sounds like, this is what everything sounds like.

I try not to talk too much about school in here, but today at my school for students needing special attention in regards to their visual and mental capacities (as close as I can put it to the Japanese, in English), I was shown how to do a special folk dance by three kids, and how to do the “radio stretch,” which you may be familiar with from seeing a huge field of Japanese youth doing stretches while a voice barks out over some series of speakers.  They taught me so that on Saturday I can attend their school’s sports day and participate in the activities. At lunch in the cafeteria we had Mapo Doufu, a dish consisting almost entirely of huge chunks of tofu, which I somehow ate happily and totally enjoyed (one of my fellow educators suggested a way I could cook it at home and make it more spicy than the tame version they served to the kids here, as “Mapodon,” or this dish over rice, or in other words, right up my alley). I drink milk out of a glass bottle here. Just now a little girl and her teacher came in and sang a song then the girl used the keyboard and I listened to it say those mechanical letters outloud, once more with every tap of a key, a a a a a a a a i i i i i i i i i u u u u u u u u u u u u u e e e e e e e o o o o o. One teacher says she will be my mother while I am here, and brings me cookies and shows me how to use the hot green tea machine. A small boy in a wheel chair asks questions and has full conversations with me about Michael Jackson in better English than several of the teachers can speak. He is completely blind and has the use of three fingers.

My ability for the language waxes and wanes like any sensible moon: today I fully read the two kanji for “densha,” meaning train (電車), and so what if it’s only cause I know them as part of a Japanese TV drama series. The full context I saw them in was as the name of a sports day activity on our program called DENSHA DE GO! which barely means anything, but pretty much translates into GO BY TRAIN! It is a game for kindergarteners, and involves them I think holding onto each other and running around like a big train. I will also see how to play “floor volleyball,” and “soft baseball,” which are both modifications allowing the sightless to participate in some of the most popular of Japanese sports.

Last night I cooked an honest to goodness double hamburger in my fry pan from some store-purchased after-20:00 half-price ground beef, coated it in black and white pepper for that authentic Japanese burger flavor (really, their burgers are all peppered), then melted shredded cheese on it and nommed it with ketchup. Aside from the occasional ¥320 box of imported Mac and Cheese, it was probably the closest I’ve gotten to replicating the flavor of America for my own tastebuds in the last 47-odd days. I savored every bite, and washed it down with a totally American Yebisu All-Malt Beer and a Caramel Salt Kit Kat.

I’ve put a combined 32 hours of gameplay time into Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (two PSP games) in the last three weeks or so.  I basically only play on the train, which gives you an idea where most of my (and many Japanese people’s) time goes.  The sick part is how much I love it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,