Tag Archives: summer

In a cat’s eye, all things belong to cats

Every time I think it can’t get any hotter it does, perhaps a sentiment crystallized by one of my co-teachers the other day:

“This year, the summer has been exceptionally uncomfortable.”

Tell it Kenzo! It reached 35 degrees Celsius yesterday in Kobe, a number which I now associate with a feeling divorced entirely from the United States scale. Google tells me it’s 95 degrees by that measure, a number I can no longer remember in context of any specific temperature. I have mostly been avoiding the heat by sitting inside my air conditioned apartment with the curtains drawn during every moment that I am not occupied with either traveling to or being at work. But I did take a little time off from sitting on my ass to launder and dry my sweat hanky, because it smelled like a dead cat barbecued over formaldehyde briquettes.

Speaking of cats, but (optimistically) not dead ones, we’re getting a cat! It is a decision that comes after much rumination and the repeated viewing of YouTube videos involving lazy Japanese cats being cute and loveable. His name is Kiki, and he is three years old, and he is a black rescue cat, which means that he saves people from impending danger. Ha ha I am just joking. It means that before he was ground up into slurry by a neglectful owner or the mean streets, some people with too much conscience and not enough resources rescued him from an unenviable fate and decided to store him in their shack with forty-five other animals. But now we get to take him away from that madhouse and make him a happy member of the family! I have run the numbers, and my calculations are showing me that he will provide about 28% more fluffiness and cuddliness to the apartment over what we have now, and I anxiously await finding little black cat hairs in and on everything I eat, sit on, touch, or wear. Ha ha I am joking about that too. I do not await that at all. Bonus: if Kiki survives our stay in Japan, we can take him home with us to America without any extra fees or medical quarantines, because Japan is recognized as a “rabies free country,” a decision I assume was made by someone who does not watch television here between the hours of seven and nine in the evening.

Actual photo of Kiki!

But it seems like the right time and the right place. It’s been a long while since I got to joyfully stroll down the cat food aisle and decide I would probably eat most of this canned food, and it’s been even longer since I got to assist a small feline in gettin’ high off the ‘nip. It will also be a good trial exercise to see if I can keep something that is not Jessy’s fish or plants alive, just in case I am ever saddled with human spawn one day (thanks Mom and Dad). I am already figuring out how I can take everything ornamental or cool or fragile that I possess and put it somewhere where nobody will ever see it again so the cat does not eat or destroy it. I do not think cats are intimidated by scantily-clad anime statues.

Jessy’s back in Japan after a long trip to the states as I write this! I haven’t actually seen her yet on account of the fact that I am at school right now, but I’m taking a half-day of paid time off so that I can get back there and cook up a dinner feast for my woman. I got some chocolate tiramisu cups for dessert, do women like chocolate? Ha ha I am joking. I don’t care about the feelings of women.

– Band of Brothers, an 8+ hour HBO miniseries about World War II, which I watched while I had all my free time with Jessy gone, and which is really awesome, and which features Ross from Friends in a minor part, Jimmy Fallon for ten seconds, and the Office Space guy as a major star
– Our new favorite darts bar which is called either Swordfish or Swordtail I can’t remember, and where during Happy Hour (before ten P.M.) you can play darts for only a hundred yen a player, and where we have been so often lately that the crew remembers our complex foreigner names like “Bob”
– The bizarre realization that at 150 yen each way, my 4-days-a-week work commutes cost me 1200 yen a week, and at four weeks in a month that’s 4800 yen, and for three months that makes 14400 yen, while the three month commuter pass costs 14880, and so I’m not going to buy a commuter pass until January when I’ll get a new six-month pass (compelling)
– The grapes here are fucking awesome and at six bucks for a tray of them they had damn well better be, which they are so I love them
– The exchange rate of the yen against the dollar, which is so strong lately that it’s like I get a ten dollar a month raise every day for doing nothing

Last weekend after some good decisions that always seem poor as I am making them, I found myself at “the club” a couple hours after midnight. We decided to create stories for the people who were standing around engaging in “party-making,” but I am afraid I forgot all of them except one guy who I figured worked at McDonald’s for no reason other than McDonald’s was on my mind. Last week they had a special promotion where you could get a Big Mac for only 200 yen. I celebrated yesterday by clogging my guts with two of them and it was amazing.

Anyway at the club I was rather intrigued to discover that very few of the people were actually bumping and grinding, let alone even dancing. A smattering of people threw their hands in the air, but even fewer did so [as though] [they] just [didn’t] care. Even acutely aware of my poor self-parodical efforts I didn’t feel too out of place, which maybe had something to do with the fact that I was the only American in there and I am now more comfortable being completely isolated from people of my own race than I am when I find myself around them. If I even end up standing next to someone who may or may not be an English-speaker or shit even a Westerner I find myself uneasily on edge, like they’re going to find my secret out, like they know they are better than me, like they have already judged me. Sometimes I worry about what it’s going to be like to go back to the States and live again among people who could if they so desired speak to me at any moment. Maybe I’ll just get a sign that says “I’m deaf, no talking to me” and tape it to my shirt.

I’ve only been at work for forty minutes and I’m already chomping at the bit for my last few hours to be over. You’d swear I had a new video game waiting for me at home or something, but surely all that waits for me is the promise of continued verbal abuse at the hands of the female. Perhaps that feels most like home.

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Dizzy in the noodle

For a particular sect of the English teachers living in this country, there is apparently nothing more exhilarating than boisterously, obviously, and intentionally elevating oneself outside of society and into its expected role of the Strange and Curious Foreigners. This attitude is rendered into physical crystalline form thanks to the annual Kobe Scavenger Hunt (“cutely” referred to colloquially by those fresh from college as Scunt, a portmanteau of scavenger and hunt, chosen almost assuredly because of its sonic resemblance to a certain slang term for a part of the female anatomy that rhymes with “cunt.” AHAHAHAH ahem). Last Saturday night I tried to see what it would be like to be one of them.

Willful and enthusiastic participation in the Hunt involves for three hours assuming the role of misfit entertainer, to reluctantly become what you always hated about the most popular, well-loved, and douchiest people you have ever known, all in the name of a possible good time. You and your up to seven teammates must decide upon and acquire/construct a series of coordinating costumes, the first step that will set you apart from the private sector. You will give yourselves a team name, and then, as a horde, all teams will descend upon the meeting ground for youth downtown and proceed to most righteously mill about, shouting loudly if already drunk, before receiving their scavenger hunt lists: a series of objects, phrases, places, and ideas that must be located or represented physically, and then photographed. (To ensure maximum potential gaijin smashing, all team members must be included in the photos).

From here you will effectively perform the Internet message board equivalent of trolling, but in real life, by preying as a group on the good nature of mainly embarrassed but occasionally entertained Japanese citizens and workers for the sake of your team’s success. Things you will do:

– Attempt to get a photo of you flirting with an old man (but don’t worry, they will come to you)
– Fit your entire team onto the parked bike of someone who has left it there who you do not know
– Accost a group of five or more high-schoolers to cram into a purikura (print club) photo booth with you
– Perform such poses as the human pyramid
– Ask a karaoke promoter to remove his bright orange jacket so you can photograph yourself wearing it
– Barge into the person-wide aisles of Don Quixote to pull things from the shelves and put them back in places they do not belong
– Swarm a popular movie theater lobby on the top floor of a popular building with nearly every other team simultaneously and proceed to attempt crossing off the “take a photograph of all your teammates jumping in the air together” item at the same time as forty other people while bystanders just try to buy movie tickets

Over the course of the event I try to determine why this all makes me feel bizarre. Would I have the same problems with it in the United States? Is it because I know five other groups of people will be re-performing the same actions in close chronological proximity to me? Would it be different if I wasn’t wearing a costume, or just more embarrassing? Conversely, are we wearing costumes to allow us the extravagances of violating societal norms? Does that make it okay? Do these sorts of events ever occur entirely attended and run by the locals? Do the citizens who are amused more than make up for those who are annoyed? Are those who are annoyed really just embodiments of the fearful, critical mindset that we perceive as endemic to Japan? Are they annoyed because of my behavior, or because my behavior is occuring as part of a group of dozens of outsiders? Do I care that I can’t blend in? Would I feel as special if I really did? Do I actually care what this society thinks of me or foreigners or anyone’s behavior in general? Don’t I?

On occasions when I find myself separated from my group for some reason (waiting outside a convenience store, working on winning a crane game prize) I feel even more isolated in my plastic hat and sequined bow-tie. Without the others looking equally ridiculous around me I am broadcasting my foreignness, quite at odds with how I normally try to fit into daily life as well as I can in ways obviously excluding physical looks (and the occasional language hurdle). I try removing my costume but feel only more isolated from my friends, though tenuously part of society. I think of the uniforms that most workers or students wear here. Am I really only capable of feeling comfortable when I am behaving like I have seen others behave?

I don’t come up with any concrete answers to my questions as we parade around snapping pictures, but for one reason or another never find myself capable of making the full jump into carefree this-town-is-my-playground abandon, a peril of an overactive mind in the realm of the fully real and non-virtual.

As we stride through the train station on our way across town, our fake-mustached top-hat wearing female Japanese team member elucidates her embarrassment to me, and I concur. She says, to lightly paraphrase because I cannot remember the precise phrasing, “no, it’s different for me, I don’t want [other Japanese people] to recognize me because then they’ll think you [foreigners] have brainwashed me.” This, my friends, is cultural exchange at work! As a curious cap to the night we end up almost en masse at a popular “foreigner bar,” rendering my views even more obscured. Wouldn’t it be in the spirit of the night to at least loudly plop down somewhere where we would be less welcome? But perhaps I am too cynical. When I wasn’t actively intruding on others I kind of enjoyed myself! Is it even possible for me not to be an intrusion? A strange and self-defeating question.

At one point in the evening I am briefly consumed with something that feels like anger at every person I see, convinced that they are mentally being critical of me even right now, this very moment, not because I look like a fucking goon, but just because I am of a different race than they are. It feels like preemptive, anticipatory racism, me hating them because of who they are before they can hate me for the same reason. I catch myself and feel dirty and remorseful, and confused, and I wonder for a second if it isn’t just intentionally boosted-up self-confidence or if my name has been changed overnight to Spike Lee.

– On Sunday morning, two men from the TV company honored their no-cost appointment to come to our house at 10 a.m. and change the cable jacks in our wall. While they were doing this, one fellow set up my all-Japanese language television for me to receive the free digital HD broadcasts that I couldn’t figure out how to get, and then commented that my new Family Computer sitting next to the Wii made him feel nostalgic
– I never once imagined it would be a good idea to even try it, but for the last couple of days Jessy and I have eaten seasonally-popular cooked cold soumen noodles with cold dashi broth on them as accompaniments to our evening meals, and they are goddamned delicious
– The other day I started playing a hardcore-styled dungeon-crawling RPG on the DS called Etrian Odyssey, and in it you have to make your own maps with the touch screen, and I get brutally killed all the time cause it is ridiculously difficult, but for some reason I am hooked on it and am spending all my train time playing it
– Next week is the last week of classes for me to teach at work and it’s also the last week of the Japanese language class that I attend, and neither will start back up again until the end of August, which is just great
– Watching strange Japanese variety shows has never been so strange as it is in HD

For as many times as I have heard that “Japan has four seasons,” in my mind there are only two: the times of year when one is compelled to use their air conditioner, and the times of year when one is not. Maybe you can relate, cause now it’s the first one.

I hate summer everywhere in the world that I have been, and Japan is certainly no exception. People often say this, as though it isn’t totally obvious, but it is “not so much the heat that is horrible, it’s the humidity”. Walking around now, in the heat, here in the dead of “rainy” season, is similar to how I imagine it must be like to be combing the edges of the tropical forests in Avatar hunting for neon hyena rats or whatever the fuck they did in that movie.

Being here in the night school office where they have the key to the air conditioner locked up like the nuclear fucking football and only the chief and the principal know the access codes does not make for happy Brandons (the other workers don’t seem overjoyed either). It’s actually cooler outside right now, which shatters my theories about decent weather and the office (the windows are supposed to be closed when it’s nice out and open when it’s freezing). For the last hour I have periodically been taking little strolls over to the sink because there is a window over there, but I am running out of parts of my body to wash and I think it is becoming clear to the workers nearby that I do not actually have anything in the refrigerator that I need to open it up so often to look for. Perhaps if I were dressed like some sort of demon or garish spectacle they would let me get away with it.

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It can never become clay again

Nearing the end of May now, stricken still with how quickly a year goes. We’ve been here for almost ten months, and summer is coming back, which I am unenthusiastic about. I remember now just how hot it was when we got here, sweat dripping off, clothes soaked upon getting back to the apartment, the only respite a cool shower since we had no air conditioner. Still, I fear for my summer houseguest: the spare room is well outside the reach of the conditioning unit, and we have but a single tiny fan. Maybe I will allow him to sleep on the living room floor, or standing up in front of the open freezer. Probably there is no option but to sweat sweat sweat (and drink lots of ice-cold beer).

Jessy and I, now both routinely busy all day with work and then evening Japanese classes (I on Monday and Thursday evenings, her on Tuesdays and Fridays), are regularly unable to spend any time with each other during the week except in Sannomiya for an hour after school. So usually we just meet for an hour and grab a bite somewhere. The variety of culinary treats now routinely available to me is exciting, and I am tickled to finally have opportunities to dine out instead of just cooking at home every night. I would be remiss, however, not to mention that I am (a mere three weeks in) beginning to miss going home after work to prepare a meal and watch some television programming/. Surely the benefit of gaining sufficient command in the Japanese language outweighs the possibility of constant apartment relaxation, but I certainly do now more concretely value my free time.

Last night I had the pleasure of chowing down a huge bowl of special Nakau gyudon with mushrooms and glass noodles on it during our scheduled meet-up. After we parted ways, and in an effort to really enjoy my time at home, I surrounded myself with enjoyable things: a Suntory Old whisky cola, some Belcube cheeses and saltine crackers, a little Jazz, balcony door flung open with cool breeze, the puff of one of the small cigars I got last weekend, a Super Famicom brawler I’m playing for N-Sider, and later some fragrant Kyoto incense and the last innings of a Tigers game on TV. We won 8-0 (but the Japanese table tennis girl I was watching earlier was beaten viciously).

Tonight, however, is Jessy’s night to chill as I am cooped up teaching at my night school, like every Wednesday (ironically, the only night neither of us have any classes of our own is the one I have to teach). In this instance, today anyway, I use the word “teach” loosely–it is exam night, which means my responsibilities start with me entering the class to read a short document aloud for the students to translate, and end when I stop reading it.

My nook is still getting heavy use, though it’s slow going now that I have started in on The Lord of the Rings. I am 163 of 1344 pages in, which is much further than I ever made it before, but feel like I could summarize those 163 pages in about three sentences: Biblo left Frodo a magic ring which Frodo is taking away from the Shire with his hobbit friends and they went through a scary forest and met the spirit of the forest and ate his cheese. That is one sentence. I will routinely “take a break” from reading it to read some other book in its entirety, come back for another fifty pages, and repeat the process.

After having spent months trying to mentally decide which instrument I’m going to start playing as a musical outlet, I have finally chosen the piano (a choice not lightly made, and as a result of much deliberation). Most specifically I suppose that means I’ll need a keyboard, primarily due to cost and size constraints, though there are nice ones with the full set of keys and weighted actions to make it feel like playing a real piano. This decision comes now as I have already accumulated more than enough distractions for the times I am spending at home, almost certainly guaranteeing that if I want one I will have to sacrifice another, a decision I am not really into making. Thankfully, it is easy to decide not to spend money on an object I will need to devote a lot of time to. All I need to do is nothing, which I am getting pretty good at.

Something else I’ve been getting better at is my Pad Thai, though I don’t really consider it “authentic,” whatever that would mean when dealing with a dish that literally varies wildly from cook to cook and place to place. Instead of the traditional flat rice noodles I’ve been using a more resilient Japanese rice noodle which remains chewy and is less prone to mushing, and I have also cut back heavily on my tamarind while adding lots of brown sugar, chili pepper, fish sauce, and beansprouts. I still include plenty of peanuts, egg, and chicken, which I guess is really close enough to fool my tastebuds. At any rate I have taken to just calling it Bran Thai, to preserve the sanctity of the actual dish. Mine is really more of a Pad Thai-style fried noodle dish. None of the nomenclature has any bearing on anything though–we still devour an enormous pan of it with barely a pause in the action.

This morning I considered finally attempting to make homemade pizza rolls using eggroll wraps, and got halfway through it before realizing I had no pizza sauce or mushrooms. I had already cooked the hamburger so I threw it into some macaroni and cheese and now I have leftovers for my three-o’-clock meal here at school too.

This is the most interesting Nomaday ever written.

Is this what journal entries sound like when you write them with no emotions or expectations of being read? It’s been ten years since I ever wrote an offline journal entry. I have to admit, with all the game writing I’ve done this week, my heart is barely in the Nomaday this time! However, out of Duty and Habit, even if there is nothing to say, I will put it up.

Did you hear the one about my great-great-second cousin who was killed in a parachuting accident ninety years ago? Yeah, as it turns out he made the jump but they hadn’t invented parachutes yet.

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