Tag Archives: tokyo

Jessica Dovey, Jessica, Dovey, MLK jr

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 massive internet celebrity. 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.

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I don’t know no Snakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finishing in Tokyo, Akihabara, and oddities

Every meal here in our hotel comes with a tiny, limp bread roll and creamy margarine that feels like salad oil in my mouth, and the eggs have a similar consistency–like instant, but creamy?  Goopy perhaps?  With pepper on them I have almost forgotten how fucked it is.  Random announcements pour forth from overhead speakers nearly everywhere I go.  My pockets are routinely filled and then immediately emptied of 100-yen coins, which are accepted in every single coin-slot-having machine (and there are more of them than even I had allowed myself to believe prior to coming here).

I just purchased a bag of snack chips called “Mammoth meat!?” and I opened the package and by god if it doesn’t smell like popping open a jar of dried beef.  Each chip pops apart into individual sections too.  I could write individual entries on everything I’ve done in the last two days.  I think the theme of the week is more or less sensory overload: overwhelmed, overburdened, overstimulated, overjoyed.

We got to Akihabara tonight by taking the JR Rail system, a feat so gargantuan it’s difficult to describe, but feels somewhat like what I imagine it is to be a salmon swimming upstream.  I went to a store called Super Potato, which I think must be the most extensive and cramped retro video game store in the world.  I ate katsudon at some restaurant and bought the new black Wii Classic Controller Pro at Sofmap.  Tomorrow I take the Shinkansen to my new home in Kobe. Life is pretty weird right now.

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I am in Tokyo, Japan

It was a long day and a Xanax-addled 13-hour flight from Chicago’s O’Hare to Narita airport in Tokyo, but we’re here at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku with an Internet connection and a moment to stop and relax.

Everything’s new and different (but not really). I bought a Coke at the first vending machine we saw after arriving at the airport. It was “Refreshing & Uplifting,” which I attribute to the actual sugar they use in soft drinks here instead of high fructose corn syrup. We’ve been inundated with paperwork, badges, our hotel keycard (Jessy and I somehow got our own room), and various uniformed kindlies saying “domo” and “passport kudasai.”

She’s taking a shower right now in the bathroom, the toilet contained featuring a series of buttons, dials, and images from which you can control the water pressure of the bidet. It even is smart enough to know only to activate when you’re sitting on it, lest you get a spray of water to the face.

After this we’re off to meander. I’ve got a hankering for something to eat, and I see tiny faces poking in and out of sight from windows in other buildings. We are on the 19th of 45 floors.

An image gallery awaits below! For now, happy trails, and konnichiwa, Japan!

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