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.