Three Random Thoughts

August 10, 2009

1. Conveyor belt sushi – something I know they have in America – isn’t the most crazy activity I could partake of here in Japan, but being able to say I’ve experienced it in Japan is still pretty neat. Instead of ordering dishes, you watch as lots of little plates float by on a conveyor belt and grab whatever foodstuff looks most appealing to you. The trick, at least for an un-cultured schlub like myself, comes at figuring out what food is actually revolving around me. The names of everything are in Japanese, and since I’m still new to the sushi game (ate it for the first time late in college, much to the shock of my friends who assumed I exclusively ate Chex-Mix and Burger King. Which, to be fair, was pretty much true) I can’t identify anything based on sight. I grabbed sushi because it looked red enough to be candy (it wasn’t, but still good) or let a dish pass by because I think I saw a tentacle (unvarified). Or, more alarmingly, I saw a roll composed of nothing but corn and mayonaise, two unfortunate staples of the Japanese diet. If you did have an idea what you wanted but didn’t want to wait for it to scoot by, you could also use a touchscreen thing on your table to order a specific dish. It then comes by in a special red tray which means don’t touch.

I don’t want to say the food tasted better just because I’m in Japan, but it was some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. Again, I stress I don’t have the most advance tastebuds, but I really liked everything I ate, even the roll filled with what appeared to be Jell-O salad. Plus, at the restaurant we went to, they had a pretty sweet incentive to put away as many plates as possible – every five plates earned you the chance to play the prize game affixed above the table. Once you slide five plates into a notch next to the table, a video starts playing. If you are lucky, you win a capsule toy. Or, like me, you lose and suddenly want to soldier through a full stomach to eat five more dishes so you can try to win a set of stickers worth approximately five cents
Very sneaky, Japan, very sneaky.

2. Japanese children, I’m told, worship the following: anything spawned by Disney, Pickachu, Ichiro, a boy band that answers the never-asked question “what if you mixed 98 Degrees with So You Think You Can Dance” with a resounding “shit,” and Doraemon. I was familar with all of these coming to Japan (spend an hour with any drunk college girl with access to her iTunes and you realize the timelessness of boy bands) save the last one. This is Doraemon:

Doraemon has one of the most grooviest back stories and children’s character can possibly have. Read all about it here, but I’ll try to sum it up. He’s not a cat – he’s a robot cat. FROM THE FUTURE. He has a magic pouch in his stomach that can hold any zany gizmo he wants. He has no ears because mice ate them off, leaving him with a rodent-phobia. I caught an episode last Friday night, and was hypnotized by it. I couldn’t tell what was going on (what with the no knowledge of Japanese deal), but it looked pretty sweet. I Doraemon and some kids went inside another kids head to cheer him up/wake him from a coma, and inside his brain were all sorts of crazy images more apt for a Lisa Frank trapper keeper. He’s a giant blue robot cat from the future who can go into people’s heads – what isn’t to like?

Japan loves them some Doraemon. He’s been around (in manga form!) since the late 1960s, so he’s the rare character a kid can grow up with and then actually share with their kids, especially since companies pump out anime series and movies featuring Doraemon like clockwork. And he’s everywhere in this country. There is a poster at Nabari City Hall featuring Doraemon telling me how to fill out important documents. A fair number of commercials have Doraemon in them. The town’s Coco’s has about eight banners along the road they are located that have Doraemon wearing a chefs hat and cooking something (aside: Japan features various American chains like Cocos, Big Boy and Dennys, but they don’t serve anything like they do in America. They offer more traditional Japanese food, and keep only the name of the restaurant. Strange times, man.) I’m told if I want to seem cool to my students, I should work Doraemon into my work. Like, if on the top of an assignment I have a picture of Doraemon and have a speech bubble coming out of his mouth saying “Good job!” or “Great Effort!” or “Just stop trying, trust me,” I’ll earn mad cred with the kids.

Doraemon puts on for Cocos

Doraemon puts on for Cocos

See, who needs to know a language when you can connect to someone via a robot cat?

3. I probably should have seen this coming, but Japanese karaokee keeps everything in the original song intact. This means all sorts of bad words pop up. And this lead to a little bit of an awkward moment for me.

Since I’m so cool, I decided to sing a Kanye West song my second time up (I had decided to be an ironic prick my first go, busting out my Scott Stapp voice for Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open”). Everything went according to plan until the chorus – you see, the chorus features the “n” word, and I completely forgot that. So, my white guilt flared up and I had no idea what to do – sing the offending word or pull a lame protest like move and not say it. I basically ended up being all over the place about it, initially singing said word (being surrounded by white people made it slightly less/maybe more awkward) and then reverting to the radio edit of the song, which clunkly replaces the aforementioned word with “broke” once more.

This problem actually resurfaced later on during another song I chose, but nobody seemed to notice. Mainly, because it was “The Thong Song” and you can’t take any of that junk seriously.

Japanese Fun Fact #5 – Tofu can actually be really tasty, more to come.

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