Tag Archives: shrine cats

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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It’s not easy being green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I do declare!

There’s this one black cat that I see every day I go to my main school, and he’s usually hangin’ out in this parking lot where he sleeps under a car or lies in the sun or on the windowsill. Sometimes he’ll wander across the street to this empty overgrown lot and just pounce around on shit. I wonder sometimes if he is there all night, all day, every day, if the trash pick-up area right out front serves as his food source. What reason could he ever have to leave?

I’ve been trying to think of the reasons I’d have to leave (Japan), just to play the advocate of devilry. It is a mostly stupid hypothetical musing, because I have no desire to leave, and because here I have a job, and enjoy my life. But here are some things that I wish were more available: really spicy food, cheap pizza, huge packs of meat, American football and ice hockey, really good beer (these go together), Family Members (aw).

But most of the things that I miss (and I use the term miss loosely, only to mean things that I can no longer engage in on a level that I am used to) are commercial. Activities like
– reading the ingredient lists on packages,
– fully understanding the numerous “point card” shopper reward systems and how I might best take advantage of them,
– possessing full awareness of restaurant menus and the items contained in the offered dishes,
– and best utilizing the quirky and numerous technology based conveniences fully (including but not limited to cell phone GPS, cell phone e-book reader, cell phone wireless train ticket payment system, cell phone music player, and other various things having to do with my cell phone).

None of these are deal-breakers. Despite our modern conveniences, we live a relatively minimalistic life here, and are afforded great conveniences by being in the middle of a large, bustling city with an entrenched English-speaking community of like-minded peers.

There is one thing that I wish was a little more simple though:

– placing reservations/pre-orders for anticipated products, most specifically the upcoming mega-behemoth Final Fantasy XIII Lightning-edition PlayStation 3 system bundle.

To the uninitiated, who I would anticipate are in no position to know of or read this website, and probably should not for any reason, every few years a new video game in the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series comes out here and the country is driven to a grinding productivity halt as enormous masses of people line up orderly and courteously for dozens of miles (ok not exactly) to get their hands on the juicy new title the moment it comes out. The newest one is the Thirteenth Installment in the Final Fantasy series, which I have been playing since the First Installment as a little tyke back in the early 90s on my big fat Nintendo. The makers of this game have seen it fit to create a special version of the PlayStation 3 system in honor of this bizarre milestone, and sell it together with a copy of said game. Having watched this madness from the outside through magazines and the Internet my entire life, and currently owning no PS3, I have decided that participation is the only choice!

If I already had a PS3 system and just wanted the game, I could be clinically retarded in a variety of ways and still manage to get one, probably. There are signs and advertisements all over the electronics stores, game shops, and even a variety of convenience stores, at which I could probably merely stumble to the counter, slap a ¥10,000 note on the tray, and say “Fainaru Fantajii SAATIIN GET ONEGAI SHIMAAAAAAS” (though such actions would likely cause my own body to self-destruct).

But I don’t, and so the only problem is figuring out how exactly one participates in the process of commercially declaring one’s intention to reserve not a copy of the game so popular that you can buy it at your local 7-11, but a Special Limited Edition System Bundle which is not pictured in any of the massive identical posters that hang from any number of surfaces and which I learned of due to my enthusiasm for specialist video game media. Jessy and I gave it a sporting conversational try (or should I say she tried, while I stood anxiously behind her trying to understand what was being said, biting my fingers and bobbing up and down), but had no luck until recently, when we discovered a new laminated placard in the RESERVATION KIOSK bearing a picture of the bundle and saying something like (we think) “orders for this item start on November 5th.” We got ourselves a membership card and I put the day on my calendar. The cashier said don’t worry, you will be able to get one, but I don’t trust him. I hear they are selling quickly, and I will be Damned if some punk gets one and I don’t (also I will murder him and take it).

So I guess I’ll just show up on the 5th and gesture wildly? These are situations in which a greater command of the language might be fortunate. Things like my actual job, paying bills, buying groceries? No problem! Popular but peculiar cultural pastimes: a bit more difficult. I figure, if I can get my students to bark with “woof woof” at each other like American dogs, I can figure out how to exchange money for this particular good. A suspenseful conflict awaits, avid readers!

Since I am already thinking about video games, perhaps it would be prudent to remark on the amount of free time I now have to play them. Let me just say that I took my fifteen-minutes-on-foot commute to work in Pittsburgh for granted. A fifty- to sixty-minute walk/train commute to work each way isn’t bad (and I can even get in a little time on the handheld games while I ride), but waking up early in the morning and going to bed early in the evening is certainly a bit of an antithesis of the way I had gotten used to living my life over the last three years, a life composed largely of strolling in for my ten hour workday at noon, staying up far too late with whatever happened to be distracting me, and sleeping in to my heart’s content, with Friday off and the weekends free. Now I have this thing called a live-in significant other (though the apartment is in her name, so does that mean I am the live-in?), a forty-hour five-day workweek, supper for two to cook (or otherwise acquire) every night, and one television (which needs to be either used at the same time or traded off). For some reason this combination of elements has resulted in my personal perception of having far less available “now I can be lazy” time than I am used to, and has led me to understand maybe why the handheld games are more popular in this country than the big TV ones: you gotta be home to play those, and your family in your tiny one-TV apartment wants to do something other than watch you shoot guys and level up (I have been watching Jessy level up her Lost Odyssey characters for over thirty hours in the last few weeks now, and it is a Disheartening other side of the coin).

Where is the time? How am I supposed to stay up late when I wake up at six, and how am I supposed to get up early to play before work when I wake up at six? More importantly, should it always be my goal to somehow find more time to play video games, when there are other things that I like doing too?

I think maybe that black cat has the answers, which is why I’m thinking that one of these days I’m going to sneak that can of tuna I got at the Daiso with me to school, then crack it open for him on my way home, and ask him what he thinks, how he is able to live such a totally chill kinda life. I know that a lot of people here frown on eating in public, but I saw an old man slurping some oden out front of the toy store today, and cats are just cats, and this tuna was already here, wakarimasen, sumimasen, I don’t speaking any Japanese sorry bye.

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In My Life

This is every morning around 8:20, as I pass the shrine and crane my neck to see if the cats are here. There is a white one and a striped one. Sometimes the white one sleeps on the rock, sometimes he is just in the dirt. In the morning, the two of them rarely patrol the streets but today I catch the striped one crossing back from the photograph place. The Powers That Be seem to actively dislike the cats’ presence, putting up signs telling people who read Japanese not to feed them. They place full water bottles strategically around the perimeter, a non-confrontational approach designed to ensure the cats somehow see glimmering light or their reflection and are horrified to the point that they will never return. The same method is employed to prevent pigeons (hanging shiny CDs from string on your balcony), who to be fair are mostly stupid, and cats are on to your bullshit. It obviously does not work. I wonder what they are getting into when they are gone: rummaging through the impeccably bagged trash, terrorizing those stupid birds, snaking the hallways behind Mister Donut. At night on the way back to the station I take a look for them too, another seasonal fifty-fifty lottery chance like all the stupid gashapon machines I play. When they are there I’ve won for five seconds, look at the cats, look at the cats, time to keep walking.

In front of one of the alcohol vending machines (yes), there is a squishy green mat. I had walked over it every day for weeks because it was placed at such a nice break point in my walk, and it felt good under my brown work-things. One morning I was early enough to see the store keeper hit a button, lurch his metal garage door to life, declare his store open. At the door’s halfway he emerged with a squishy green mat and put it in front of the alcohol machine. I don’t walk on it anymore.

In the Sannomiya station sometimes there is a man with a traditional cone straw hat who seems inaudible until you are within fifteen feet, and then you hear the “ommmmmmmmmm” from his throat, the solemn gaze he gives out in front of him, through the escalator, like he’s eternally pondering the Sukiya menu, the gyudon or the cheese curry rice, what do I pick, oh jeez, omm. I am afraid if he makes his choice his glance will turn to me, and he will analyze the deepest faults of my inner character. For now it seems he is content to solicit donations for a cause that surely must be important enough to scare everyone who walks by. One day it was a lady, but I don’t think that helped.

Tonight my teachers are having a party for me at an “izakaya,” which is a Japanese-flavored drinking and snacking establishment where one pays a flat fee, and in exchange can drink mainly anything they want, and as much of it as they want, for a certain amount of time. There are also snacks routinely delivered to the table. In partial English muxed with worthless Japanese myself and another man made it clear to each other that we are individually Very Fans of The Beatles, and that the new remasters are excellent. One person said that he is very familiar with sake, and I think through someone’s errant translation he was told that I have a drinking problem. More alarming was his look of pleasure and excitement. I think tonight could either be really horrible, or really horrible.

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