Lunch today is two “korokke,” which I suppose you could use English by way of stolen French to call “croquettes” even though they’re kinda different. What they are is pretty much mashed potatoes and some microscopic chopped meat bits and some corn or something and then they roll it in flour and bread crumbs and deep fry it. I, being firmly of the mind that deep-fried anything is good enough, have no problems with either the methodology or composition of korokke. So I’ll hog ’em down and a rice ball too for good measure, a culinary polyglot.
The cheap (60 yen) morsels do quite handily clash with my extravagant dining sessions of the last couple days, however. Now that Jessy’s once again away, this time in America for her mother’s wedding, I have found myself (figuratively) all dolled up with (literally) no place to go. I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity not only by nomming shit that she would never touch (homemade sloppy joe sauce mixed with boxed macaroni and cheese, pork and beef curry over linguini noodles, salted grilled chicken dipped in nacho cheese), but also an assortment of fancy meals. On Monday I got me hence to the slightly-more-upscale of the few sushi-go-round restaurants that I know of and stuffed myself on tuna, shrimp, crab, and salmon, washing it down with an icy cold draft Sapporo. And just last night it was cook-at-home evening, for which I planned to make a nice steak and some fries but was torn between this idea and sushi again. I met myself halfway and just cooked a steak and and bought some pre-made sushi, an unconventional yet comforting surf-and-turf. As I chomped into the raw fish and savored the raw center of the steak it occured to me I was enjoying the benefits of the uncooked deaths of several distinct creatures, all of which shoulda known how tasty they were and that they had it coming.
I stopped by the local Uniqlo store the other day to pick up some more HEATTECH shirts, which are made of a delightfully smooth and stretchy material and purportedly insulate your body for maximum warmth in the winter time, because the Japanese have not yet engineered the technology enabling the house to be heated and so it is important to conserve every little bit of body heat. I also took the brash step of acquiring a couple wool button-up sweaters, and I am prepared to call them cardigans. I got a grey one and one that is sort of brown that when I look at it I think “burnt umber” but it’s probably lighter than burnt umber, maybe lighter even than umber but not quite beige, and there must be a color in there but I don’t know what it is. One of my students the other day said that I looked nice while wearing this undefinably-colored sweater, and I remember her because she looks exactly like this popular AKB48 girl who is all over the television and posters, and I remember her because in my mind, somewhere next to where I have stored “burnt umber,” I remember her name, which is Duckface.
In much the same way that Jack Nicholson’s Joker was completely unable to stop smiling, I also believe that Duckface (actual name Tomomi Itano) is incapable of making any sort of facial expression that is not the duck face. In conclusion I love Uniqlo, their clothes are always cheap and when I go there and I buy a medium-sized article it is actually sized for medium-sized people so it fits me instead of hanging off of me like a tarp.
The time I’ve spent not purchasing clothes and food this week has been mostly devoted to occupying myself with one type of game or another, be it of the card, board, or video persuasion. I finished a game called “The Ballad of Gay Tony” in which I at one point threw a man out of a helicopter and then skydived to catch him and then parachuted and missed where I was supposed to land and drowned us both to death. That was pretty neat! Also I have continued to practice my guitar playing every day with the assistance of that piece of software called Rocksmith, which gives me a little guidance and a game-type structure for practicing my techniques.
I’ve been sleeping in the spare room with the comforter over me. Each morning when I wake up it feels like I’m somewhere new.
So much has happened since last we spoke! Where do I even begin? Perhaps with last night’s meal at a place called Kura Sushi, which is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that is literally operated almost entirely by robots which pack the rice, ferry the food to you, and even pour your drinks.
DO ANDROIDS BREAM OF ECLECTIC FISH
Perhaps the New York Times did a better job just a few months ago explaining what makes Kura a neat place than I will. But for those of you who are reading my articles on devices unable to process hyperlinks (like paper), I shall explain! You sit down at a booth with a conveyor belt on one side. It repeatedly shuttles plates of sushi past you, and if you want one, you take it! Every plate is 100 yen. We had stuff like tuna, grilled shrimp with cheese, salmon, salad rolls, eel, shrimp tempura(!), and there’re even things like potato cheese gratin dishes, ice cream desserts, french fries, hamburger sushis, and onion rings.
If there’s something you want that you haven’t seen, you tap it in on a touch screen, and in a few minutes it is ferried to you exclusively on a separate, second conveyor belt, atop a cute little train that alerts you when it has arrived. When you’ve finished a plate, you drop it into a little dispenser under the conveyor booth, where it is automatically scanned by a mysterious sensor that detects a pickup on the bottom of the plate. The plate is added to a running total on your touch screen! Even the beer is served by a robot. You put in 450 yen and stick a mug underneath a nozzle on the machine, then hit a button. It tilts and fills the glass, then at the end even shoots some in at a high speed to leave you a little head. It fills it to the absolute top of the glass. When you’re done with your meal you hit another button which displays the total plates you’ve eaten, and summons a lady to come over and write the number on your ticket, which you bring to the register to pay. (We managed 45 plates between the seven of us, for an absurd six and a half bucks a head.)
Kura Sushi is the pinnacle of Japanese achievement. If you needed any further proof, for every fifth empty plate you drop into the hopper, a tiny video animation plays out on your screen, which you will randomly either WIN or LOSE, like a lottery scratch card. If you lose, oh well. But if you win, a large capsule machine mounted atop the conveyor belts screams a ding at you and kicks out a plastic ball with a tiny prize in it (we won two mini-magnet clips last night). Is Kura Sushi the greatest place on earth? Duh.
(Original picture of Kura Sushi and cute Japanese kid by some person on the Internet named yamakazz, not me, because I do not regularly dine with children.)
IN OTHER, NON-FOOD, JESSICA DOVEY NEWS
When she is not busy eating at robot-operated sushi restaurants, my companion Jessica Dovey now moonlights as a massiveinternetcelebrity. Jessica Dovey, Jessica Dovey, just to piggyback off the inevitable Google search results for Jessica Dovey. What happened was, she wrote a little line about her feelings on this whole Osama bin Laden thing on her Facebook, then followed it up with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote. And her friends reposted it, and those friends reposted that, and Penn, of Penn and Teller, reposted that, only somewhere along the way in the Internets the whole thing got made out to be a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, when only part of it was, and then we got her on Twitter and we had her say “hey, I wrote that,” and there it goes.
She has had articles about it and interviews with her in such media outlets as: CBS News, USA Today, BBC Radio, The Atlantic, kottke.org, and a million blogs. I figure probably three million people have read her quote and/or her name, which is about three million more than will ever have any idea who I am. I am… okay with this. Does any of this all sound weird? It is. It is also a situation almost impossible to explain elegantly, so riddled with odd paradigms of language mutation and memetic spread from person to person. The Kids Today like to say something like this is “going viral,” but to me that sort of sounds like a buzzword infection, and I’d rather not refer to diseases when it comes to people sharing things they like. “Hey dude, Jessica Dovey is going viral!” “Is she gonna be okay”
The true gem in all of this hullabaloo, however, is obviously JessicaDovey.com, which some random purchased bought and registered, and which now displays, in giant, ominous font, the phrase “MARTIN LUTHER KING JR VS OSAMA BIN LADEN VS JESSICA DOVEY.” This elicits the thought of a battle royale grudge match, keep it clean let’s come out boxing, during the course of which these three terrors will fight a battle of spoken ideals, and come out as best pals.
BEIN’ A GEEK IN AKIHABARA
We used the “Golden Week” holidays this year, which are a period of a few holidays that happen to fall together next to each other in May, to take a little trip to Tokyo and enjoy city life to the max. Some people dig going to temples and shrines and mountains and castles and seeing “Traditional Japan,” but I’ve already kinda done that. I have seen the best temple and the best shrines and climbed the most famous mountain and been in the greatest castle. So I dig kickin’ through the busy parts of the biggest cities and being surrounded by more people than I’ll ever have occasion to after I leave.
The busiest, dorkiest place in the world is probably the section of Tokyo known as Akihabara, where I stopped off briefly when I first came to Japan but returned to this week with two years of haggard grizzle and experience: not fearing the odd constructs of the culture allowed me to really dig in this time. I purchased six Seimitsu arcade buttons from a tiny store on a side alley as narrow as a bathroom stall so that I can modify the new fighting stick I bought recently. We went through anime stores and manga stores and game stores and smoky arcades, drank Dr. Pepper from vending machines, saw maids handing out flyers, and dodged the flannel masses in thick glasses with fanny packs. From other cultures and other countries they are yet my brethren, and as we rifle through shelves of discount, outdated gaming hardware there is an unspoken connection: we were probably both the same, once.
The rest of our journey took us to the top of a building in Shibuya where we drank white wine criminally underdressed, to a basement foreigner hangout called the Pink Cow(?) where we dined on enormous burritos and looked at expat creeps, to Shinjuku for fresh hot udon and izakaya beer, tall buildings, the Tokyo Tower, Asakusa and shrines swarming with tourists, and to a variety of places in between. It is a city I could never see entirely even if I had lived there all my life, which resonates with me in an interesting way–how would life be spread out in all directions forever? Ultimately we must choose a place, I suppose.
THE SCHOOL CELEBRATES CULTURE WITH FRIED FOOD AND SHORT SKIRTS
Hundreds of my students are hanging out the windows as swarms of humanity mill about in the school courtyard, chowing down on cheap teenager-made food and listening to music and dances performed earnestly by Other Students. One all-girl band just busted out a not-half-bad rendition of “I Love You Baby” to the cheers of the student body and their parents and community members, which took place after the dance club, clad in not-just-a-little-suggestive black skirts and purple backless lace-up tops, performed a significantly inappropriate series of gyrations to a Lady Gaga song.
This Is FES, the banners say, where FES means festival, most specifically the school’s yearly bunkasai, a festival of culture. This means performances for two days by every club and group we have here. The brass band busted out forty-five minutes of tunes, some conducted by club members, culminating in an enjoyable Disney medley, while the drama club today put on a full production of “DEATHNOTE,” which is a popular anime-manga-movie franchise here that I have never seen. The choir performed to a house so packed that the old ladies had to fan themselves with their programs.
What this all means for me is that for two weekend days, Saturday and Sunday, I am here at school, at work, during a time traditionally reserved for Not Work. In addition it means I am accosted by students begging me to buy their wares, foods, snacks, pose for cell-phone pictures, and visit the rooms where their club activities are on display. Actually, despite the whole shebang requiring me to wake up at 7 am both days of my weekend and proceed to work as though it’s just another weekday, it’s actually pretty entertaining, and definitely a uniquely Japanese school-spectacle, since these kids have stuff to show off that are the fruits of actual (significant) over-practice, unlike the half-assery often on display back in the US of A.
As compensation I get Monday off, and another Monday next month. That’s fine I guess! As the resident foreigner the day off cannot come too soon–it is easy to understate how exhausting it can become merely being Looked At by every kid you have ever taught, their friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, community members, and their pets. Suffice it to say that after today I will be ready to get all the eyes off me by heading home and setting my hands to work cooking up some steak burritos with the meat I’ve had marinating all day, and sinking these teeth into it, and chilling down with a couple beers while absolutely nobody watches me.
Perhaps this is the counterpart to celebrity: it can get a little tiring knowing how many people are always preoccupied with you instead of themselves. Maybe I’ll ask Jessica Dovey how it feels.
Welcome to Nom a Day®, and thank you for choosing this Inter Net to provide you with thousands of words. I here at Nom a Day have confidence that this Nom has been manufactured to the highest specifications and with the highest quality materials. It is guaranteed to provide you minutes of “entertainment.”
DO NOT STORE IN EXTREME TEMPERATURES.
DO NOT IMMERSE IN WATER.
DO NOT CLEAN WITH BENZENE, THINNER, ALCOHOL, OR OTHER SUCH SOLVENTS.
Nom a Day®
WARMUP, AND PERSONAL ANECDOTE
By virtue of it being totally filled up with a bunch of crap, my workspace at night school today is a small corner of the desk approximately 18 inches by 12 inches, meaning my decision to bring the netbook today instead of the laptop was a prophetic one. Really all this does is clarify my job duties at night school, and the relative perception of the staff regarding what I do: “just put all those crates full of shit on Brandon’s desk, he’s only here one day a week and we have positively no idea what he’s saying.” This is fine, however, because I have a miniature keyboard and a blank screen, and far less has gotten me through far more.
It’s fully spring, I’m prepared to say, and today I have Dressed Myself in a fetching baby blue v-neck sweater over a “waishaatsu,” which is how the Japanese people say “white, collared button-up shirt.” My belt matches my shoes, pants, and socks, I am drinking a hot mug of masala chai, I have string cheese in my desk and maguro sushi in the fridge, and there are seven hours to go. I wonder if I could write a Nom for seven hours straight? Dear lord I hope not.
We went to Costco last night, which is suicide on the weekend and just a mere annoyance any other time. Getting there and getting back takes much longer than actually shopping for stuff, which is usually accomplished by us telling each other there are only a couple of things that we want, then going up and down every aisle and throwing tons of shit into the cart and not leaving without spending less than two-hundred bucks on enormous jars of pickles and other such sundries. It’s usually a surprise three or four days later when our purchases arrive at our apartment, carefully shipped for a mere five bucks a box, COD–in addition to a ten pound sack of onions I know I am expecting an enormous bag of gummy bears and some Dr. Pepper, but I can remember little else about what I actually purchased. I may have purchased a slab of apple smoked bacon, and perhaps some dried cherries? It is possible these are only the wishes of a lucid, waking dream.
Dining at Costco always presents a unique conundrum as opposed to eating at most Japanese restaurants I frequent. In most cases I am able to easily eliminate 80% of the menu for being pickled, runny, or genitalia, but at Costco the few options are all what we fighting game players would refer to as “god tier.” Do I choose the pizza? It’s big American pizza! A massive Korean bulgogi bread roll with cheese and sauce and beef? The soda is 80 yen and refillable–it is like the deranged wish of a Japanese man, for an hour. Am I living in America? It is no wonder we are uniformly enormous–we do not know how good we have it, because we know nothing else. Know this! The next time you idly roll your loading cart through Sam’s Club and figure the $299 LCD televisions are too expensive, you are actually experiencing the result of American persistence. For the efforts of your forefathers you can purchase the most affordable consumer electronics and foodstuffs in the world, and complain about their prices.
Anyway, I got the combo pizza, and it was just like getting pizza at any Costco in the states, which says more about it than I could. They have literally boxed up America and sent it over on a massive boat, dozens of pallets wide and tall. The beer still costs fifty bucks a case though and there is no Macaroni and Cheese or ranch dressing packets in sight not that you’d be able to find sour cream to mix it with anyway.
CURRENT CULTURAL NOTE
My coworkers are over there laughing so hard they are literally crying, there is water coming out, because of some Internet soundboard that has something to do with this cultural phenomenon AC commercial. For the uninitiated, following the big earthquake and tsunami on the 11th every television channel in Japan went pretty much to a nonstop news format for about a week solid. During this time, despite the fact that almost every set in Japan was probably turned on and had eyes glued to it, companies were (understandably) reluctant to run advertising for their products, 30-second monuments to absurdity packed full of giggly dipshits who continue on in their pre-recorded worlds totally unaware of the huge disaster up north, chomping on seasoned rice and doing stupid dances and taking chugs of beer with a “kyaaaa!”.
The companies’ pulling of most of their advertising left gaps in the TV schedules for commercial breaks with which there was now no material to fill them, and these channels need breaks some time! Enter AC, the advertising committee of Japan, and their public service announcements. For a week solid, virtually the only ads you could see on TV were PSAs from AC, running the gamut from breast cancer prevention to properly using your greetings and everything in between. (Think “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs.”)
AC announcements are instantly recognizable by citizens of Japan because of the distinctive jingle that follows them: on a white screen with the blue letters AC, the sing-songy voice of a woman warbling “AY SHEEEEEE” rings out. Since these PSAs are usually fifteen seconds long, in an average commercial break an unsuspecting TV-viewer could hear “AY SHEEEEE” six, seven, eight times in succession–often following repeats of the exact same “check your boobs, ladies” announcements back to back to back. This became a sort of cultural lynchpin in an era where less and less people all watch the same television programs like they did in the 90s–everyone’s stuck to the TV for the news, and everyone sees the same stuff. Though perhaps not commanding the most refined senses of humor, the Japanese people have a delightful, almost sublime grasp of the absurd, and so like a bad manzai comedy catchphrase, “AY SHEEEEEE” became a rally cry. Some people eventually got so annoyed with it that AC removed the tune from the end of all their PSAs; it has yet to return.
The real sticking point here was a commercial about using greetings, with little animated cutesy characters spouting common daily phrases like “konnichiwa” and “arigatou” with singalong subtitles at the bottom. Everyone in the damned country knows the words to this fucking thing now and it has gotten out of control. I’ll just embed it here so you can see it!
It’s so out of control, in fact, that people are making bizarre edit versions of them and posting them on YouTube. My favorite is this one, where the little pink thing morphs into a giant robot ala Gunbuster and powers up with a little AC emblem in the middle of her helmet that, upon appearing, sings the “AY SHEEEEEE” song. Hell why not just embed that one too for kicks.
Moreno than the high school baseball games, Monster Hunter or Arashi or Asahi Super Dry, this commercial is what Japanese people are all culturally tuned into, and it would not surprise me in the fucking least if these goofy bastards found themselves turned into marketing mascots with corresponding plush toy lines. To me, it’s as much a symbol of the quake as anything else. It still feels weird to see an AC commercial without the jingle at the end, and I imagine the day it returns will be a triumphant one.
To finish up the thread from before, this soundboard my coworkers found lets you play the various phrases from the commercial. (I actually found it on the net, you can play with it by clicking the word DOOP after this sentence. DOOP They seem to find it pretty funny. When the head teacher came back they all slinked back to their desks snickering like high schoolers, and I sipped my drink.
A GEEKY ASIDE DEALING WITH THE NINTENDO 3DS
Because the people of this country had not gotten enough portable gaming already, Nintendo put out a new handheld system last month that displays images in THREE DIMENSIONS, by using a special screen that sends a slightly different picture to each eye, fooling you into parting with 250 dollars of your money. I have placed an order for the North American, English version of this system, mostly because I am an idiot but also for the privilege of playing a re-release of the second version of the fourth game in a series of fighting games I have purchased handfuls of times already. The game is the almost absurdly named Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and with it I will pierce the heavens using only these mighty thumbs and a wireless Internet connection.
One of the neat things about this system is that when you are carrying it around, it can wirelessly detect if other people are carrying one around too, and then it swaps data between you without you even knowing until you check it later. This means little caricatures of people can show up in your system and you can use them to battle monsters and crap, and also you can virtually fight each others’ collectible figures, and all kinds of other junk. This, by extension, means that it is good to be carrying your 3DS when you are surrounded by a group of people, because more swapped data means MORE FUN!!!!!!
I would like to believe that I have not actually seen any Japanese person carrying around a 3DS in a month because they are all squirreled away secret in their bags trying to detect other systems, but the fact of the matter is that I just don’t know if that is the case or not. Once I get mine (maybe another week or two?) I’m going to go Osaka on a weekend and cruise through Yodobashi and maybe park my ass in Doutonbori and see how many I get. This is what I have paid money for–virtual, real-world wireless fishing for humans (it also includes a fishing game).
Another neat thing about it is that you can play games that have to do with the camera. There is one game called “Face Raiders” where you take a picture of something’s face, then it maps it onto the enemies in the game and you have to spin around and shoot them out of the air. Naturally I plan on photographing my cat, so that every time he rips up my tatami mats I can turn on the 3DS and rip up his face with phasers.
REGARDING YESTERDAY’S LUNCH
When I first started working here, I noticed a strange man coming in each day around the same time, then leaving, then coming back with a metal lunchbox full of various foods for people. As I later learned, he is a food delivery guy for a local restaurant who services a variety of local workplaces in the neighborhood. I have ordered from him on a variety of occasions: average oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice), sub-par tannindon (beef and egg on rice), the saltiest curry I have ever tasted, and other things. Yesterday I wrote on the paper that I wanted the makizushi roll, except he never came to get the paper, and so he never brought the food! Apparently since lots of teachers are gone taking spring vacations right now he didn’t feel a need to come up. So me and another teacher just went to the restaurant instead.
He had told me I could see a Traditional Japanese restaurant, and it was kind of the equivalent of a really old small-town American diner, with some twists–in the glass case there were no pastries, but instead deep-fried fish pieces and strange pickled salads, and the room offset from the dining area was a tatami room with a television playing baseball. I got my sushi roll, which was a salad roll with egg and crab stick and some other weird things in it, and was eight massive pieces for about three bucks. As I ordered it a taxi driver said to me in Japanese “whoa, Japanese food is no problem for you?!” and I had to say of course not, and he asked where I was from and I told him America, and he said whoa, I thought all Americans ate was steak! and I said that would be nice but no, and he said and beer! and I said well that would be nice too but I don’t see any beer here, and I saw a twinkle of rebelliousness in my coworker’s eye but nothing happened.
The microwave in this joint was from like 1975, it made a sound like Mr. Rogers’ trolley when it finished warming up some dude’s fish.
ABOUT MY CAT
Due to a widespread sentiment that our delightful Kiki was getting “too fat,” despite most people having no idea how fat too fat is for a cat, I have instituted a diet for out cat, which works kind of like this:
1. In the morning, feed the cat half a can of food
2. At night, feed him the other half
It’s working out pretty well I guess, not that I can really tell how fat the cat is since he is entirely black and usually not standing upright. The downside is that he wakes me up at 5:30 every morning by first sinking his claws into the covers and trying to pull them off of me with absolutely no effect, then secondly by climbing up on my head and licking my hair till I wake up. He has also officially taken the title of “most able to relax” from any other previous cat I have ever had. Just last night I held him like a shovel with his head as the spade, one arm under him for support, and he was totally cool with it. Sometimes when I am playing games at the table or sitting upright, I will plop him down on my lap like a human baby, and he will just sit there, feet sticking out, front paws hanging there, being all like “sup.” What a lazy cat this cat is.
20 CLEVER WAYS TO NOT DO WORK AT WORK, EVEN THOUGH YOU STAY WAY AFTER THE TIME YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE, BUT YOU DON’T LEAVE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO APPEAR LIKE YOU ARE BUSY WITH WORK, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO WORK AND YOU OBVIOUSLY ARE NOT WORKING, BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY COWORKERS
1. Reload the Yahoo! main page repeatedly, perhaps to see what the new banner advertisement is this time
2. Look at clothes shopping websites, then minimize them and get out your wallet and dig for a credit card
3. Print some documents you do not need printed, then crinkle them up
4. Read a book
5. Put a book on the desk in front of you, then lean over it so it looks like you’re reading with your arms crossed, then go to sleep
6. Repeatedly drink coffee and fill the hot water heater back up with water
7. Go to Yahoo Auctions to search for the clothes you almost just bought with your credit card but didn’t actually buy
8. Discuss the same local cafe for almost fifteen minutes, going back and forth while you each say exactly the same things as the other person
9. Instead of using whiteout on one of the hundred identical misprinted forms and making new copies of it, use whiteout on all one hundred identical misprinted forms
10. Have another person read numbers to you off student tests while you type them in, instead of reading and typing at the same time (bonus points, this occupies two people)
11. Stand up, examine the schedules and information on the white board, sit down, look at some other people, stand up, walk around the room, then look at the information on the white board again
12. Visually confirm that the plastic recycling bin is indeed full, and discuss it with your coworkers, then don’t do anything
13. Ask if it is hot in here, open every window, declare it is cold, close all the windows, then open just one window
14. Leave the room and walk down the hallway, then walk back to the room
15. Find something to put in the paper shredder
16. Type loudly on your keyboard, even though your screen is off
17. Write a grocery list with devoted intensity
18. Look over at a group of people having a conversation, acting interested
19. Wikipedia (personal favorite)
20. Go to the sink, take a couple clean dishes from the drying rack, and wash them again
One of the books that has been left here on my desk (cover price 1600 yen) says in katakana “Chorus Laboratory Party,” but the way the katakana is rendered, when you say it out loud it kinda sounds like “Call Us Lavatory Party” which is maybe something a fledgling band would say.
As April arrives again and the sakura consider blossoming, it again is time for teachers to transfer away to other schools. Though I haven’t had even close to the same severity of rank decimation around me as I did last year, when I lost all my principals and all but two of my co-teachers across three schools, I am sad to admit that my exceedingly cool co-worker who lived in Leeds, joined this school last year, and has the habit of inserting gratuitous curse words into everything today quits this school for a supreme adventure!
Despite the insistence of his superiors, he has defied the traditionally Japanese idea of working the same job for ever and ever and decided to relinquish his public teaching certificate and volunteer for the Peace Corps, already accepted to ship out in September and live in Fiji until 2012. We always spoke very casual English together over vending machine coffees, and he always made a genuine effort to speak to me and make me feel welcome. He’s only about six years older than me and I felt something of a kindred soul in him and his ideals and approach to life. He said that a man should be global, and asked for my support over Skype, before saying that leaving this country for volunteer work in another country would be his “last great adventure.” But when I consider the courage it takes to do something different in a work culture where consistency is king, I think it might just be his first one.
It’s feeling a lot like fall in Japan, which apparently means it’s time to roll out the seasonal goodies: rich cocoa flavored Pocky and chocolate-covered almonds, big signs proclaiming something I can’t read (but mostly they are fall-colored), FALL SALES!! (save 5% on this sandwich), Mushrooms In Stuff, and, at my school anyway, the cool winter uniforms and the quaint predisposition to chopping off the branches on all the schoolyard trees so there aren’t any leaves that need to be cleaned up? (An article I read a while back about some other town doing this same thing leads me to believe it’s not just isolated thinking, bizarre as it may be.) The street vendors are out selling their roasted chestnuts and I don’t in the slightest object to the aromas, all sugary on the crispy breeze as the hellfires of summer Japan finally seem to slink primarily away for the rest of the year.
What it also means is midterms for the kids, who I now routinely see cramming information into their gooey liquid centers while huddled about in any number of hallways or nooks, being explicitly forbidden to enter the teachers’ office lest they catch a glimpse of that forbidden fruit in the form of the fabled answer key. I personally have participated by way of lending my million-dollar pronunciation skills to audio recordings of strange dialogues in which I, Hiroshi, help a lost tourist find his way to a local shrine, and tell one man via telephone that I am interested in throwing a party for his brother, but could move it to Saturday if Friday is not good. These incidents eerily echo events that routinely occur in my normal daily life and the lives of many native English speakers that I know.
To follow up on something I referenced last time: we did indeed hold our “community dinner,” and after a variety of errors and frantic adaptation, I prepared platters of three specifically nontraditional sushi rolls. The first of these was the Hamburger Roll, with cheese sandwiched in-between pieces of meat, and surrounded with Mac-esque thousand island dressing, lettuce, pickles, and sesame seeds. Locating thousand island dressing was easier than I had planned, due to the peculiar propensity of producers to put in numerical form “1000 Island Dressing” on the bottles all squished in there between kanji I can’t read. The pickles, strangely, proved elusive. Though the standard Japanese box lunch will often contain a wide variety of pickled items so strange as to be confounding (try playing “Is This Fish Or Not” and enjoy being wrong), the familiar old “pickle,” in the form of one pickled cucumber, is difficult to find. Eventually I did, near the scant offerings of canned vegetables and the considerable offerings of canned fish (one of which I inexplicably purchased): a tiny, solitary jar of baby sweets for the bargain price of what I could buy a jar much larger for back in the States.
The other rolls proved easier, as I had already obtained the tricky necessities for each one: the parmesan cheese for a sauteed crab/mushroom/parm roll, and the peanut butter in a modern-day retelling of the legend of the ants on their log–banana, raisins, and peanut butter all squished inside a roll and slightly frozen.
This banana roll was apparently the far and away hit among the visitors to our apartment, even though every piece of every roll was gone by the time the herd left my house–I will take their second- and third-hand word for it: I was either too drunk or too distracted to actually try any of them outside of the mistakes I made during preparation. At any rate I have no desire to smell as much nori (translator’s note: seaweed) wrapping as I did in the timespan of the few hours it took me to prepare sushi rolls for twenty-two twenty-somethings.
But all this is rather boring in the scheme of things, when considering the following: we were the recipients of a grandmother-sent enormous box of macaroni and cheese dinners the other day, something like a dozen, which was such a comforting sight that we immediately prepared a box of spirals having just finished eating supper no less than a couple of hours prior. Some particular commendation is in order when considering the massive expenses one must incur to send such cheap goods such a long way–tangibly grateful, we will savor every noodle with the American appreciation of expensive imported two-dollar ramen packets, rare Kewpie mayo, and now-unavoidable Pocky, from the other side of the coin.
Daily life ebbs strangely from level to chaotic–I’m past the point of being able to say that things will “eventually settle down,” because this is my three months so far, and I’ve never not had much to do. I even find myself occasionally joyful at missing the fast train and being stuck on the slower, local one: here are a few more minutes to play a game on my DS. Sometimes I’ll even get off at the stop and just sit on a chair like I’m waiting for another train, but I totally am not, and just need to kill another evil video shrimp or two.
There are elements of the flitting simplicity of this life that I have come to love, even as I see the ever-creeping threats of continual business or permanence changing them just like the season: enough forks and spoons to get by, but more show up somehow, always, with furniture, real lighters instead of stove-fired chopsticks for candles, more paper goods, with stockpiled food, with a paycheck and electronics and little toys and tangible knowledge and Internet access and saran wrap and cleaning supplies and extra towels and a case of canned coffee. The tiny array of elements that had to be so artfully managed upon arrival pulse outside the borders of their numbers to ones that only make sense to me as “enough not to worry about them” anymore. It’s a blessing and a curse, as micromanagement has always been rather tiresome, but keeps one’s mind off the lazy time-sucks of the world in favor of the more difficult and rewarding ones–in a world without conveniences we would all surely seek to damn our chores, but in one with too many the allures to be gobbled up by them persist in strange ways! I continually seek to stave off these laze-bringing impulses by committing myself to certain enjoyable and fulfilling pursuits: the preparation of homecooked meals, the writing in this very Nomaday, the rare contributions to the video game website, concerted efforts in lesson conception, occasional cultural pilgrimages, fighting the peculiar desire to go the same, functional way home or to work every day or to buy the same thing from the konbini. They work, but some of them only in so much as that they make me a trifle uncomfortable, which I suppose is what I am usually after, as a means to new comforts, anyway. Still on the list: get some more Japanese clothes, buy some kind of musical instrument, study this language regularly, make udon from scratch, etc.
And despite the come and go and to and fro, or maybe because of it, yet and yet, life seems happier, at least, with so many of the desires of even a year-ish ago mainly realized: it’s not hard to remember what things were like last October as separately we decided to put together applications and put things into storage, to see if we might move to a new apartment or a new country. Ironically the one that seemed so much easier back then is difficult to imagine anymore, as the place we now live relentlessly marches towards becoming our home.
Thanks to the overnight sleeper-bus “Southern Cross,” we arrive here in Hiroshima at an unprecedented hour: 7:00 a.m. or thereabouts, standing at the base of what they call quite descriptively “the Atomic Bomb Dome.” Not too far from the hypocenter of the blast, this place has been meticulously preserved to remain precisely as it was left on the day of the bombing, and I can’t imagine too concretely that it doesn’t. Over there’s the target, the T-shaped bridge used as a sight-up by the pilots from the air. There’s barely anyone around this early, not even the swarms of American cruise-line tourists have arrived yet. We joke about how many of them will pose in front of this thing with a thumbs-up–check it out, look where I am!!
While we wait for the museum proper to open we chomp on donburi at nearby order-from-a-ticket-machine 24-hour establishment Nakae, where at 8:15, to commemorate the exact moment that the thing exploded, I eat gyudon in a modern building in an area that even an educated bystander would be unable to recognize as one where anything out of the ordinary happened. In the museum they talk about how people were instantly vaporized, run demo reels of atomic bomb tests, show scale models of the blast range before and after. You can even touch certain artifacts recovered from the debris (you can touch these, they are safe), convenient Japanese/English placards read.
But we too, are bastards, here under false pretenses: though we are intrigued by the dome, the visiting of the memorials and the museum, the park, the paper cranes–and perhaps because of them–we really want to drink. You see, though we may have come for the depression, we stay to also blow it to oblivion with lots of sake at the annual Hiroshima Sake Matsuri, a ridiculous extravaganza of which this is the 20th, and admission to which costs about fifteen bucks and gets us each a tiny sake cup. From here the massive hordes walk around a tremendously crowded park-turned-fair, with occasionally placed booths separated by regions of Japan (Shikoku, Kinki, Chubu, etc). At each one you hold your cup out and have it filled by an attendee with Some Kind Of Sake. Apparently there exists some sort of method to determine which of the literally several hundreds you have already tried. It seems a feat so counter-intuitive in its implementation that it must simply exist as some sort of elaborate Japanese joke–after eight or twelve or fifteen gulps of sake you cannot remember (or care) which ones you’ve tried, or how many, or from where, and to attempt to chart your progress would be an endeavor most meaningless. I imagine fair organizers laughing heartily as they black-magic-marker off certain wines from the entrance list, organized by call letters and code names most menacing: “Yamanake-san! H-32 is all gone! Sure it is! AHAHAHA!!!!” while the solemnly OCD checklist makers weep silently in the corner, then stop caring cause they are all so blitzed they don’t even know what checklists are anymore.
At and around the vicinity of this fair, we eat steak on a stick, deep-fried battered chicken meat with skin still attached all hot and bubbly, a tray of yakisoba, an ice cream bar, and maybe some other stuff? I drink lots of sake. As I wait near the exit for Jessy, I witness one stumbly-Joe drop his tiny sake cup and immediately stagger backwards, stepping right on it, while his friends try to hold him up. One younger woman bends over to pick up the two halves of the neatly destroyed cup and I wonder maybe if the souvenirs from past Sake Matsuris are perhaps more quaint if they are left on a shelf busted in half: here’s the one from the year I drank a lot of sake, and here’s the one from the year I drank really a lot of sake, and here is the one that etc. etc. etc.
Deftly navigating the trains half-catatonic back to the city proper among hordes of like-minded individuals is a feat justly rewarded by our viewing of music-oriented stage production Blast!, which is performed by a cadre of talent including a way-back trumpet-playing acquaintance of Jessy’s. Meeting up with him outside the venue afterwards has to rank up there with the experiences I’ve had most resembling those I would have if I were in some way notable or famous, as simply Looking American while hanging around talking to him ensures I am accosted by swarms of schoolkids, elderly music enthusiasts, and passers-by tugging on my jacket to say “burasuto!” or hold up their program and a pen for an autograph. No, no, I’m nobody, do I even resemble anyone you’ve seen before? I should have signed their programs anyway, if only for the amusement. “American guy,” the most famous and rare of the Blast! entourage!
I have considered including a feature in upcoming Nom installments in which I recap notable tweets of the last week or so. It occurs to me that I often merely throw up a quick picture or tweet of items and events that maybe are worth writing about, but are relegated to a recent-few notification list on my sidebar or a fleeting stint as a Facebook status. I have been informed that however revelatory, my grandmother is now reading my Internets by way of a family member who creates printouts of this text and delivers them in person. (Hello from Kobe, Grandma!) She probably misses a good amount of the short Twittery updates, as do more infrequent readers or fly-by-night Google searchers inexplicably pointed in my direction.
I assure the rest of my readers that this knowledge will not do a disservice to my speech or content. I think Grandma is familiar with colorful language, even in black and white!
This weekend we are taking part in some sort of community luncheon/dinner, which I believe operates thusly: all participants prepare some portion of what could be considered a meal, and leave it stable in their apartment while they meet up with everyone else. From here, the swarm moves from place to place, cutely complimenting each abode while munching on the food they prepared. I am not one to take such a challenge lightly, and will be straining my culinary skills of experimentation to the breaking point by preparing a variety of totally bizarre sushi rolls. I see this meet-and-greet as a perfect opportunity to experiment on my own secret project in the form of a long-planned and carefully guarded sushi-roll secret recipe. To execute it carefully would be to ascend to the highest echelons of supreme notoriety, while to let the information fall into the wrong hands could be disastrous. The only question is where am I going to find American-style processed cheese in Kobe? I might need to do some exploring.