Tag Archives: yakitori

A broad national consensus

I’m on this high speed ferry to Zamami island, barely inhabited town/landmass south of Naha, and we’re hitting choppy water like Jackie Chan, chop-socky, enough to make me wince just proceeding. I think back to bathtubs, plastic boats with peeled-off stickers, how I’d launch them off my leg waves, this grand landscape: porcelain walls and caulk rot, wonder how the little Playskool people are getting on in there. One of them turns to his notebook, to channel his thoughts. I like to consider the unrepresented horror beneath their unchanging facades, never-ending comas, as they cry out internally, thrusted forty bodylengths in the air at the whims of a young boy. Oh god, help me, they beg, but I am the only god they have, and I am angry as these very seas, a twisted psyche that knows no ends. Today the young boy is a Playskool man, thrusted at the whims of some other god, the keeper of the ocean, this grand landscape: sand-circled mountains and Sammo Hung waves, ebbing along like I’m rollin’ with my homies, only an island when I’m finished, only a rock in the water. We bank, begin the final approach of the boat world, I’m in the upright and locked position as the seas calm to welcome me, then we pitch down and my left hand digs into this spiral, for the amusement of a young child, for the amusement of my only god, carving nonsense into the Penco Progressive Recorder.

Otsukaresama deshita, they tell me, nice work. No problem guys, I did it all for you. I get off the boat, seawater salt and forty body lengths of trees. So this is Okinawa, but really this time, no trains or Lawson convenience stores, a group of kids on bikes in the alley, an empty shed on one side and a soba shop on the other.

As the last bit of daylight leaves us we barely light the charcoal before a man assists us. We met him earlier, in town, after he told us the local shop owner (who could sell us a lighter) was out harvesting his sweet potatoes but would be back in an hour. We sap the last bit of fluid out of a borrowed red clicker and he strolls up from behind our tent with a tabletop gas canister in one hand and a nozzle in the other, perhaps sensing our desperation from afar, then ignites the grill’s coal like firing pottery or field cauterizing an unexpected amuptation. I watch the reflection of the fire in his crazed eyes! On the metal grill skillet Jessy and I fry thawed chicken on skewers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and miniature hamburgers that we picked up from a different market earlier and let out at the camp site to de-freeze while we combed the beach for sea glass and ankle-deep skipped flat rocks off the waves. Dessert is a hearty metal can of Pork and Beans heated in the can and eaten with plastic spoons, a rare treat that somehow completes the night.

After a few hours of restless sleep I hear some rustling, some scrape-y sounds from outside our tent, and while figuring they are from some manner of hostile beastie I choose to investigate anyway with the aid of Jessy’s tiny broken-Crayola-sized travel flashlight. Under the space left inside the scalene triangle made with the ground, an off-kilter tree, and the propped-up grill tray, I see two large hermit crabs stretching their pincers out like Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam to scratch the bits of stuck-on chicken meat that still remain, and then I pan the light and see more of them and more, twenty or thirty of them congregating and marching through the place where we had tossed a couple tough mushroom stems, some oil from the griddle, poking at the ground. They prattle on, larger hermits with tiny ones following them, as the oceanic pied-piper, not but a hundred feet away from our tent, plays for them. The music for me is the ebb of the ocean, rhythm guitar to their tiny little steps over dried leaves and pine-needle kindling, sounds like we’re a piece of sliced banana in a bowl of active Rice Krispies and the world is snap crackle popping.

We do other things. We take a kayak out on the water, get caught in a thunderstorm while bringing home a bottle of wine, and peer at old garbage like lost histories washed ashore. We eat goya, a bitter melon, and shikwasa, a sour lime. We drink Orion beer, root beer, Dr. Pepper, eat fried bread with chicken inside it, chicken with potatoes around it, potatoes with cheese and chili on them, sesame seed ice cream, rice with taco meat, pasta, steak, Korean soup, Japanese breakfast. I eat a bowl full of pig ears slathered in miso sauce and walk through an open air market where the dead eyes of fish peer into my soul from beds of ice. I sit on beaches and stand on mountains just to look. We sit in bathtubs full of hot water outside and drink little glasses of mango juice. I wander into a two story arcade and destroy a huge gold robot with Chun-Li from Street Fighter and a guy that looks like Speed Racer. I buy Okinawan liquor and special salt to bring home, I ride a rented bicycle through puddles, I burn my skin in the sun.

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Must swim three times

I am surrounded by men, women, antsy kids, Jessy, and television screens in a multi-floor building as nice as a hotel. I’m near Shin-Kobe station, and on the third floor of this big place, where a man has hung a little plastic card around my neck that says Guest. In a tiny room adorned with what I can only classify as “exotic brick-a-brac” we watch the television screens together. It’s a live broadcast from an area near Mount Fuji. Highlights: man screams and shoots an arrow into a bush which is then lit on fire, man chops at the air with a sword to cleanse it from barriers to self-realization, old lady wearing little hat does hand motions while holding tiny sticks, which are then tossed into the fire. Together the people chant around me in a language I cannot understand, a situation I figure I should be more used to than I am by now. I am attending a special Buddhist service as a visiting member of the Shinnyo-en school, which literally means “Borderless Garden of Truth.” As believers we seek the awareness of the self through meditation and Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Am I a believer? What’s there to believe but that I am or am not? I figure in general it’s harder to not believe in stuff than it is to believe. After temple I buy a bag of chickpeas because we’re gonna make some hummus this week.

Japan is currently doing what it is it does, gearing up in much the same way as it did last year for the full arrival of fall. Though fall is technically officially here it’s still occasionally warm enough for people to get the wrong idea, and until the light scarves and jackets come out I hesitate to wave the flag. My true barometer is merely the appearance of special food products and fall-themed drinks, which haven’t really started popping up yet in any great numbers. I did spot new Cup Noodle flavors today, Beef Stew and Cream Stew, which I guess are kind of fall-y, but these seem to be some sort of microwave-requiring things which is just a bunch of crap. To be perfectly frank I myself am dreading the end of fall, which is slightly preventing me from enjoying it now: in the middle of December I’ll likely be embarking on a grueling couple-dozen hour journey across the ocean and back to the rolling plains of Iowa to spend the holidays, my first trip back to home soil since I arrived here. I am “not fond” of flying, which means it is my least favorite thing in the entire world except maybe getting stabbed.

Speaking of favorite things I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of my existential angst is not that I don’t have enough free time, but merely that I like too many things. My pesky nook e-reader has done precisely what I intended: made acquiring books so painless and reading so simple that it is my new default activity for my morning and evening commute. I read nine books in September, and the PSP and DS weep, because they want attention too. I will not even start in on the home activities, which command not only the time there but often the television. The result of all this is that I am forced to choose one of my hobbies at a time and I never get too far with any of them. It’s good to have options, I guess, but it means it just takes twice as long to do what I want. There is no point to these ramblings, just a sort of reminiscent defeatism: remember when you were 16, had no social life or significant obligations, had virtually nothing other to do than play games, and did so most veritably? If only I could go back in time and relive the same late November snow day for years and years.

Speaking of years, I ran the numbers the other day and figured out that since I’ve lived here for fourteen months and had the equivalent of about two months where I taught no classes, I’ve essentially taught twelve months of about fifteen classes a week. If you add it all up that comes to seven-hundred-and-eighty classes that I’ve taught now, which at least outnumbers the Nomadays, N-Sider articles, and every journal entry, poem, and story I’ve ever written, combined, in number (though just barely). What else have I even done 780 times this year? I’ve only woken up about 432 times. I suppose I’ve had at least 780 meals since arriving. Have I eaten popcorn 780 times in my life? Have I watched over 780 movies? Surely I’ve played over 780 video games since the age of ten or so.

At any rate I encourage you to run your own numbers, to become shockingly aware of the time we spend, without concrete markers, doing what it is we do.

Yet another thing that I’ve been doing lately is attending Japanese classes, which is enjoyable in that I am actually learning more concretely how to communicate with the people who literally surround me every single day. These skills also assist me with things like navigating the internet and securing exciting products from various websites, products which excitingly get to compete with everything else that I do for my attention.

There’s a bakery on the basement level of the Sogo department store and it’s called Donq, a name that you might expect to be the only Donq-sounding place of business in Kobe but in fact there are two others: Don Quihote (shortened colloquially to just Donki) and Bikkuri Donkey, a restaurant which literally translated means SURPRISE DONKEY. It is a hamburger steak restaurant, and scarily I enjoy eating there, perhaps because I enjoy the taste of donkey when I am expecting something that is not donkey. Anyway I have been enjoying going to Donq and buying baguettes lately, really delicious crispy-crusted bread with chewy, stretchy crumb. Last night after work I got one and had a big hunk of it eaten before I even finished walking home, then assembled a chicken breast sandwich with it and some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some Cookies’ barbecue sauce, a bottle of which I brought over here last year and which I still steadfastly am working at using up. I think it will take a lot of chicken sandwiches. The moral of this story is that I love Donq.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– My psychotic Japanese cat, who sometimes believes so fervently that the little stuffed mouse is stalking him that he’ll take one swat at it and run away so fast that his feet cannot provide enough traction to prevent him from sliding sideways into the wall like an out-of-control racecar
– A trip down memory lane at my soon-moving pal Jools’ place, during which I laid eyes upon 6+ years of gaming goodies, including but not limited to an unopened case of Cowboy Bebop gashapon figures, Morrigan and Lilith bookends (these came home with me), a variety of Japanese DS games, a couple Club Nintendo prizes from 2004, multiple variations of special peripheral controllers used to simulate shaking/strumming/beating/dancing, and a stack of Edge magazines that found their way into my apartment somehow
– My new favorite donburi place, where I can slide a bill into the machine, press two buttons, and be given an ice-cold draft beer and a big bowl of rice topped with thick slices of juicy fire-grilled skirt steak, lettuce, and spicy sauce for about nine bucks (you can also get grilled dark meat chicken or Korean beef)
– One of my teachers here at the night school, or more specifically the huge plastic bag full of green and red peppers and eggplant that he dumped out over next to the computer, which he grew on his farm and has extra of, and the resulting pile of vegetables, of which I am going to take, bring home, and nom
– A beverage I drank during a break, which said “hot cake flavor,” and was indeed a sweet, milky drink that tasted like a cross between drinking pancake syrup and cereal milk
– There’s a special red Nintendo DSi coming out for the Mario 25th anniversary, and the first I heard about it was seeing a video advertisement on the LCD screen mounted to the back of the cash register while I bought a melon soda at 7-11
END OF CURIOSITIES

I always manage to get through it all but I’m so tired today that I’ve almost fallen asleep at my desk twice. The bad news is that since it’s my late day I won’t even be teaching for another three hours, and I likely won’t be home for another six. Tapping my foot isn’t really doing it and I already ate my two string cheeses and drank my soda. I took a little stroll down the hall to the restroom too, just to see if I might snap out it. No luck! If I have the energy once I’m out of here, I am buying the nicest beer a handful of change will get me, and sucking it down as I breathe in the wind on the way to Kosoku-Nagata and home.

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No such thing as a stranger

WHEREAS one cannot possibly consider an abundance of space an important comfort; and WHEREAS the value of an experience may not necessarily be based on its relative uniqueness; and WHEREAS the mere act of looking at something is critical enough to necessitate three-hour-plus-each-way road and rail trips; BE IT RESOLVED that going to Yoshino, near Nara, in Japan, to view the cherry blossoms before the following day’s impending rain blows them away, is A GOOD EXPERIENCE and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that it is FUCKING DUMB. APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers a-tappin’.

Racked with early Saturday-morning distractions (weird guys in spandex suits fighting monsters on TV, early registration for a Japanese language class, Oreo cookies with milk), we finally leave the house around noon, prepared for a trip that is going to take a while longer than we really figured.

Three-and-a-half hours later, halfway up the mountain, which is split by a winding road illustrated on our complimentary bus map (two-person fare Y700), I start listening to the young couple behind us, both peering out the window, and begin to decipher her Japanese language yelps of glee. They amount to “So pretty! It’s pretty, huh? Really pretty! Wow! Look look! Preeeeeeeetty!” Following this I become acutely aware of the fact that everyone else on the bus, the rolling definition of stuffed to the gills, sardines in a tin can, bursting at the seams, is saying these things too. For fun, I lean over as best as I can to Jessy, and say “IT’S PRETTY NEEEEEEE?????” She is not amused.

This is Yoshino, where “they” say you can see a thousand cherry blossoms in one view, one solitary gaze off into the distance. It would not be a stretch to say that if you were high enough, you could probably also see that many people milling about, waterfall-streaming from the bus drop off and bouncing around like the white dots of a badly received TV signal, pass the Chee-tos. The paths to wherever, where wherevers are places that you would be happy to unroll your tarp or blanket and sit, are lined with stores, restaurants, and (not) surprisingly enough, the houses of the poor bastards who have to actually live here and deal with the throngs of humanity pulsing in every spring for their shot at that hundred million yen view.

Salmon denying instinct, we push against the flow at one place where they’re grilling sticks of chicken meat slathered in sweet sauce on little metal grates over hot coals (the beloved yakitori). I can’t tell if it is an established business. I am leaning toward “some guy’s house” because the coal pits look kind of like emptied-out flowerbeds, and I think I can see into his porch. For a few hundred yen, I embrace the flavor. Later on down the line we stop into what actually is some guy’s concrete-paved yard, outside anyway, and feast on the goodies of the full-sized flat grill/deep fryer he’s standing behind. Hot, crisp tofu donuts (just like the ones from Kyoto that we love so much) and some sort of sauced, deep-fried tofu wedge open the way, and then I lust explicitly for one of the enormous hamburger steaks he has cooking, but the line has become far too long, and we have flowers to look at!

By the time we meet up with the people we know, we have already confusingly walked the perimeter of the village outskirts, cutely arriving atop a hill from which we can easily see the place the bus dropped us (we went north, and now we are south). They are packing up, some of our people, but not before I sample some homemade umeshu (this is a kind of sweet plum liquor) from a paper cup. I contemplate how early these people must have had to leave to get here, and then another friend arrives, having been ground to meat in the transport gears of Kansai, opting for the cable car instead of our bus route. Finally we’ve made it nowhere, and as I pass through a nearby cemetery confusingly littered with a handful of lost Yu-Gi-Oh cards, I figure looking ahead to the mountainside must be that hundred million yen view, sakura everywhere I can see, so long as I tilt my head up a bit to exclude the high-and-tight power lines. They are every shade of red and pink and lavender and white and eggshell and slightly pink eggshell and slightly eggshell red and all of those other ones and the hillside looks like hundreds of flowery birdshot wounds. It is pretty, and I left the house so long ago, and I figure that next spring I will find just one tree close to home, stick my head up inside the branches, and open my eyes. I joke with another person that I will merely tape glossy printouts of the sakura to my ceiling, which would be funny if I hadn’t been so close to considering what fun it would be to have such a colorful ceiling.

After an hour or two, which is all we have left if we want to catch the last bus to the station, excitingly departing at 6:00 PM, we make our way down the side of the hill past people who appear to have made the decision to wait it out, that pesky nightfall, and defy it like pitchfork villagers with rackets and badminton birdies, bags of Calbee consommé double punch potato chips, and, by now, mountains of empty beer cans, be gone knave!

My idea of food-based revelry comes to pass back in Osaka, with the most traditional of Japanese foods: Indian. I have been here before, and order the set and a half-price beer–spicy chicken curry and hot naan has tasted this good before, but not today until now.

We did it though, for the sake of doing it, for saying we did it, which I tell myself I am pleased of even though I am certain it is the same reason every other person in Japan went there. I wonder, have they seen sakura before? Is this their first time to Yoshino? I imagine a man, who, unable to deal with the concept of himself, attaches long strips of Velcro to his arms and fingers like jellyfish feelers and snaps at everyone wearing fuzzy coats just to pull them near, to be surrounded by a pulsing blob of mankind, and stands for a few hours, and decides to do it again soon. I am scoping out my tree already, a nice one with a view of my balcony.

HEY WANNA KNOW SOME THINGS ABOUT JAPAN THAT I FOUND ODD THIS WEEK?
– Too bad I don’t feel like thinking of any today
YEP THAT’S ABSOLUTELY EVERY LAST THING

As promised, classes have definitely begun. I had my first set of them at high school yesterday, the same awkward affairs of my arrival but honed by a wiser and more experienced hand: group work from the get-go, a brazen and unabashed class devoted entirely to Me, and things about Me and forcing the kids and their groups to come up with questions for Me dealing with things that pertained to Me. I do it so that to balance the karma, next week will be solely about Them, and Them talking about Themselves endlessly, the things They like, hate, and are indifferent to. I will use it as an opportunity to get their names (in both Japanese and English lettering) on papers with their student numbers, information cards of a Total Student Profile that I can consult easily any time I am tired of referring to a student as “yes, please” or “you.”
As we move forward I shall subject my kids to the rigors of my first year of work, those poor original guinea pigs, with all of the disgusting chaff cleanly nipped away and in its place polished shiny grains, morsels of streamlined edutainment, entercation, twenty-five minute action-packed fun-fests filled with me drawing cute elephants on the board and informing the girls that if they want to know my exact height (180.34 cm) or my birthday (I’m a Scorpio) that they had better bring presents.

My night school students, I am sure, will continue to not care about anything except cell phone e-mail.

Still, even though it’s initially a bit nerve-wracking to know I go up on display again, I can’t help but catch myself having fun from time to time, watching the minutes breeze by, enjoying how effortless it feels now to stretch two sentences on a class outline to an entire period, to gesture wildly, write Brandon in huge letters on the board without screeching the chalk.

WHEREAS I am finally in a position to carry out the duties of my job description; and WHEREAS spring pushes forward, leaving the fallen petals of the cherry trees in its balmy wake; and WHEREAS I am invited to two different school drinking parties in the next two days; and WHEREAS I finally start Japanese lessons in May; and WHEREAS we have some pals from Canada visiting the country soon; and WHEREAS I ordered an eBook reader and will finally be able to browse English-language manga on the train; and WHEREAS everything old is new again; BE IT RESOLVED that things are pretty NICE and GOOD; APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers done tappin’.

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