Whenever I think I’m making a breakthrough in studying Japanese, some new twist comes into play that rattles my brain big time. I’ve spent the last two weeks diligently (ehhh, semi-diligently) memorizing my hiragana flashcards so I could wow my teacher this Tuesday. I usually dread Tuesdays – Japanese class usually makes me feel completely deflated and ready to check out United tickets back to America. But not this week! I could get through 85 percent of my flashcards fine! I was going to own the language this week.

Surprise! The situation to flex my memorization skills never came. The first hour of class – devoted to hiragana – instead saw me trying to trace a slew of Japanese characters. My English handwriting is bad enough, so you can imagine just how badly I mangled a series of intricate characters needing to be precisely right or else they become something else entirely. My teacher helplessly tried to get me to get the correct writing down, but eventually gave up and just left me trace away on my worksheet like a toddler. A discouraging start.

But my chance at redemption arrived – the teacher wanted us to repeat after her as she went over the entire hiragan alphabet-thing. I though “here’s my chance – I’ve gotten a lot better at pronouncing this stuff. Time to shine!” I waltzed through it – until we reached the “ra ri ru re ro” column.

I said the five sounds the way Scooby-Doo might talk. This wasn’t right. The instructors explained the “r” sounded more like an “l.” “So, like ‘la li lu le lo?” I offered. No, that was wrong to.

Turns out the correct sound lied in the middle – a sort-of combination of “l” and “r.”

How do you join those two together??????? I spent what felt like the entire two-hour lesson (only really like two minutes) trying out every combination of “l” and “r” but sounded like I’d just eaten a large handful of chalk. When the teachers talked, it sounded like they were just saying “ra” or “ru,” but when I tried I failed for not drizzling enough “l” onto it. They eventually moved on, realizing this was one unsalvageable wreck. Defeated by Japanese again.

I’ve started just laughing hysterically after class because the alternative is breakdown in tears.

(Japanese Fun Fact #20 – Whenever I tell students I was born on August 6, the first thing they say is “Hiroshima Day!” Yes, excited and everything like they just found a leprechaun. Making the situation even stranger is that all week at school I have to listen to student recitations about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It’s like they want me to get up and shout “Harry Truman was a monster!”)

Another new week, another round of introducing myself to just-pubescent kids who could care less about my love for tacos. I’ve reached the point in doing this where it has gone from exciting to boring to thrilling once again – I’ve masted my introduction so well I now feel like a seasoned comedian delivering his bound-to-kill routine to a sold-out arena. This also has something to do with my latest English teacher giving me a fake microphone to talk into, so now I strut around like Patton Oswalt or something. I’ve basically lost my mind.

Like most showman, I’ve come to realize my acts peppered with various inaccuracies that have stood out the more I do this schtick. Since they weigh heavy on my conscience and I have absolutely nothing else to write about, here are some lies I tell. Enjoy!

– I’ve admittedly been doing it for years, but the “I’m from L.A.” line has become so ingrained in me I don’t even mention the desert I’m actually from anymore. I’m just from Los Angeles proper, guys. I tried to tell the students about beautiful Acton, but it just killed the momentum of everything because Acton is boring. I thought I might be able to spin it as “many movies are shot here” but soon realized none of the students have seen any of the movies I could think. “You all see the new Star Trek movie? No?”

– My undergraduate career has been simplified to “I studied journalism and worked for a newspaper for four years” because literally two kids so far have know what journalism is and none of them read newspapers (new media joke goes here), so I try not to dwell on it.

– Brett Favre isn’t my favorite football player, I’d actually like to drive a snowmobile into him.

– I don’t think I stress just how bad the Los Angeles Clippers are to the students…I just make it sound like they’ve had a bad season or two, when in reality they should be sold to China for manual labor purposes.

– Tacos in Los Angeles aren’t great just because it’s north of Mexico and “they are the best at making Mexican food.” Also – that explanation might be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said in any capacity.

– I don’t live an hour away from Disneyland.

– I also don’t really like Disneyland, honestly. But I can’t think of a better way to alienate myself from the Mickey-shaped-pencil-box-toting students (I didn’t think it possible to create so many school supplies using only Donald Duck) than saying I don’t love love love Disney. So I’ll go on saying “it’s a really fun place” when I could buy lots of booze, stay home and YouTube A Goofy Movie and get similar results.

– I’ve never been to the top of the Sears Tower, and it’s not even called the Sears Tower…it’s the Willis Tower. Lie after lie after lie.

– Kosuke Fukodome may not actually be a famous Japanese baseball player – I never see any Cubs gear in this country whereas I can’t turn a corner without seeing Ichiro or Dice-K in some incarnation. I’ve seen more White Sox hats here for God’s sake! But Fukodome…I mean, geez, sometimes the students actually laugh when I say his name. Poor Cubs, they really do have it rough, you’ve got to feel for them. Until you remember 80% of the people at Wrigley are the most annoying buffoons you’ll ever meet in Chicago.

– “America’s great kids!!!”

– Chicago isn’t bigger than Los Angeles?!!?!?!?! Like, the actual city, not including outlying cities? Oh god I didn’t even lie I’m just stupid = (

– Obama isn’t technically from Chicago, but my fabricated answer still beats most of the student’s answer which is Africa. Birthers win again.

I hope none of these kids ever visit America, they’ll be so confused.

Attrocity. Photo courtesy of jasja dekker on Flickr under Creative Commons

Attrocity. Photo courtesy of jasja dekker on Flickr under Creative Commons

Natto is the ultimate Japanese culinary test. Every foreigner in this country eventually gets asked “have you had natto?” and the answer says a lot about who you are. Not as a visitor, not as a wannabe-Japanese person, but as a human being. It’s a right of passage, though I’m not quite sure what it leads to.

Natto is a fermented soybean. It’s said to be incredibly healthy for you. It’s also incredibly divisive. Some Japanese love natto…others can’t stand it. You can’t not have an opinion on natto. It’s either one of the best Japanese foods you’ll ever eat or an infraction against the Geneva Convention.

Two months of life in Japan and I’ve been able to dodge natto. I came close to sampling the stuff at a dinner party, but I simply nudged the bowl aside and ate everything else in front of me. I’d put off the inevitable taste test…for the moment. I carried on a completely natto-free existence.

Until yesterday, when I ate natto. A Japanese friend (note: yes, I have Japanese friends here!) coaxed me into eating it. There were no other dishes on the table to distract with. My moment came. Out came the natto.

The first thing you notice after the seal comes off is the smell. It’s strong, and resembles industry-grade wood varnish. But so much worse. This would not be tolerated at Guantanamo Bay and it shouldn’t be tolerated at the dinner table in any country, especially a quote-un-quote first world nation.

Then you study the natto’s texture. It looks reptilian, and easily could have been peeled off of intergalactic bounty hunter Bossk. Yet then you stir it up, stir it until it resembles a still-shot of a Red Asphalt film.

At first, the taste isn’t so bad. Given the smell and appearance, I expected natto to kill me the moment I put it on my tongue. But at first it doesn’t taste bad, rather bland really. This is what everyone is making a fuss over?

Seconds later it hits.

The texture is horribly slimy and each bite feels like I’m eating varnish Jell-O. Swallowing natto isn’t easy. Taking a second chopstick-full…even more challenging. I’d rather not spend much time writing about the actual eating of natto as it constitutes a traumatic experience.

I realize everyone’s different. Some people like macaroni and cheese, some don’t etc. etc. Yet I honestly can’t comprehend how someone can enjoy natto. Tolerate…maybe. But actually get home from work and say “mmmmmm I sure could go for a nice plate of fermented beans tonight?” I find it reassuring that a large amount of Japanese people, who willingly eat mayo-and-corn sushi, find natto too intense. I truly have never tasted anything as vile as this stuff and would rather eat a wad of ketchup packets or a can of Crisco than be subjected to this again. The United Nations should do something about this.

So yeah, count me in the bracket that doesn’t like natto.

(Japanese Fun Fact #19 – OK, maybe not representative of all Japan, but my latest junior high school doesn’t have a basketball court…so they play the game on a dirt field. Huh.)

Himeji Castle

September 23, 2009

Whoa, I'm actually being cultured = O

Whoa, I'm actually being cultured = O

Open up any Japan travel book and you’ll see this country boasts a lot of historical castles. Don’t let Lonely Planet trick you though – the dirty secret is a huge chunk of these landmarks are just pale imitations of once majestic places. I learned (in college! Whoa!) most of Japan’s castles were burned down…so the current incarnations are remade buildings, not the real deal as the real deal was turned into smoldering ash like 200 years ago. This is like going to Legoland to see the Eiffel Tower.

But then there’s Himeji Castle. Unlike all the phonies hanging out in Japan, Himeji is the real deal – this is the more-or-less (give or take minor renovations here or there) the original structure. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whatever that is. Wikipedia tells me it’s the most visited castle in all of Japan. Himeji Castle means business.

I rationalized that, to make the most of my stay in Japan and become slightly more cultured, I should visit Himeji Castle at some point. A few problems though – I’m lazy and also highly low-class, in that I’d probably skip on the history to wander around staring at pretty lights and looking for silly things (“whoa, Subway! Do they have the five-dollar footlong???”).

Thankfully, friend here told me Himeji Castle will be closed to the public starting this Fall to undergo renovations, and the project will take two years to finish. Well, that settled that – it was either see the castle on my day off or never see it outside of Google Image Search. Away to Himeji I went!

Himeji!

Himeji!

Himeji the city seemed pleasant enough. The place had a huge combination train station/shopping mall, lots of shopping arcades tucked down alleys and a French restaurant. The more we progressed down the main street, though, the clearer it became that Himeji really just exists for the castle. As we inched closer to the famous place, more food stands and souvenir shops started popping up, peddling fried foods and knick-knacks to visitors with cash to blow. Himeji went from “nice city with a big 7-11” to “exhibit at EPCOT-lie.”

Neon Whale

Neon Whale

Not sure why this stood out to me

Not sure why this stood out to me

Ahhhhhh yeah

Ahhhhhh yeah

Nothing says "Himeji" like Pokemon

The castle grounds itself are huge. Tourists enter through a big wooden gate straight out of a Kurisowa film and then enter what is basically a giant park. Walk a little further and you run smack dab into the hour-long line to fork over 600 yen and get into the castle proper. Our group apparently wasn’t alone in knowing the castle is shutting down for a bit.

(While milling about in line, I noticed a nice little change of pace – at Himeji Castle I received questioning glances mostly from other foreigners. I don’t know why, but the other non-Japanese people walking around the park tended to glare in our general direction when they neared us. Then again, I was wearing this…)

I was going for arty

I was going for arty

In case you didn't notice, it drizzled a bit

In case you didn't notice, it drizzled a bit

The actual castle experience is a bit tough to write about. Mainly, after waiting an hour in a line to pay we only had like five minutes to wander around before hitting another line to get inside the castle structure. This wait lasted two-and-a-half hours. On the plus side, the place you stand offered plenty of cool glimpses at various parts of the Himeji Castle grounds. Downside – stood in a line for two-and-a-half hours (note to others – don’t do this trip during the summer, you might as well stand in front of an oven for four hours). Once we finally made it inside the castle, the wait had drained me (nothing more physically taxing than standing) and I felt less excited about seeing artifacts and more pumped to sit down. At least EPCOT has the Fast Pass.

EPCOT does Fast Pass, right?

EPCOT does Fast Pass, right?

Who am I kidding I've never been to Disneyworld I'm just making things up

Who am I kidding I've never been to Disneyworld I'm just making things up

If that comes off as a bit of a downer, I should clarify Himeji Castle is a totally cool place to visit and legitimately a “things I must see in Japan” honoree if you dig history. Not to mention the views at the top of the castle make all the waiting and ascending stairs worth it. Plus, there is a little box you throw money in and you apparently get good luck. Hope 5 yen works wonders!

Uhhh, now you've seen the view from the top. I guess you don't have to go

Uhhh, now you've seen the view from the top. I guess you don't have to go

(Japanese Fun Fact #18 – Well, the good luck didn’t come right away…we ate dinner in Kobe [more on that someday] but missed the last train bound for Nabari. This meant we were stranded. The good news? We made it to Osaka, so we at least got marooned in an awesome place. After a much more pleasant stay in a capsule hotel than the first time – mostly because I actually used my sheets this time around – I woke up and went home. But I didn’t get far without noticing this little wall showcasing two things Japan loves – Dragonball and the Wu-Tang Clan. If you can’t make it out, it says “RIP ODB” under Goku. Big Baby Jesus would be proud.)

Inspectah Deck would probably be that guy who always gets beat up

Inspectah Deck would probably be that guy who always gets beat up

In one of my more daring moments, I decided this past Sunday to go into Osaka and see a random concert. Never heard of the bands, had no idea what they sounded like (I skipped over MySpaces for a more “surprising” experience), barely knew how to get there. But it has been a long time since I’ve been to a club for a concert and might as well have an adventure. Here are some observations from the show:

– The venue, 2nd Line Osaka, was one of the coolest music venues I’ve ever been to. Picture Chicago’s Empty Bottle, but even smaller and located in a side alley in what appeared to be a former storage space. One drawback – the venue existed directly below a train line…an active train line. Trains passed over every few minutes and this got to be annoying over the course of three hours.

– After you buy your ticket at the front desk, the people working there give you a big stack of advertisements for upcoming shows and promotional materials from the bands playing as well. I felt like I was going to a business orientation not a concert at this point.

– I got a drink ticket along with my sea of papers, but the only beverages I could redeem with it were Schmirnoff Ice, some sort of schnapps-like drink and the alarmingly ever-present Zima. I opted for the Schmirnoff. Don’t judge me too much.

– Japan apparently didn’t get the memo telling them how lame it is to wear the t-shirt of the band performing. This sin paled in comparison, however, to a member of one of the band’s playing sporting his own outfit’s shirt.

– I don’t know if this is common-place in Japan, but each of the three bands playing Sunday came on stage to little introductions. Sort of like in wrestling how they walk out to some terrible modern rock track as fireworks blow up all around them – except they came out to various old rock songs and no pyrotechnics.

– I was the only non-Japanese person at this concert. Good times.

I bet you want to know how the actual show was (right? Right???). Well…time for that big announcement I promised ya!

(Prepare to be let-down)

I’ve started yet another blog, this one devoted to a subject I know people love hearing me talk about – music!. Say hello to Make Believe Melodies, where you can watch me spout off about the music scene in Japan. I’m still setting everything up (like, that “About” page needs some major work) but feel free to read my takes on this Sunday’s concert and my ramblings about J-Pop techno-poppers Perfume. Or, more likely don’t.

(Japanese Fun Fact #17 – The Japanese charge wayyyyyyy to much for merch at a show.)

…here are some photos from my latest jaunt into Osaka. Nothing fancy, just photos of buildings. Stay tuned though…tomorrow, I have a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT sure to let down all y’all.

Buildings

Buildings

Building with the semi-visible satelites houses a major TV channel

Building with the semi-visible satelites houses a major TV channel

More buildings, joy!

More buildings, joy!

Only America's finest gets over here

Only America's finest gets over here

Life Without Buildings...great band and a philosophy I should adopt for photography

Life Without Buildings...great band and a philosophy I should adopt for photography

Peace

Peace

OK, this post won’t be entirely of photos, as I found possibly the one place in all of Japan that acknowledges the existence of the NFL in Osaka. Dubbed “QB Club,” this store was part of a bigger sports establishment also featuring “Alleyoop” (selling mostly Lakers championship shirts) and “LAX Kong” (selling, uh, nothing but lacrosse equipment).

LAX Kong is no Donkey Kong

LAX Kong is no Donkey Kong

The football portion of the store had everything you’d want from a football store in Japan. Mini-helmets! Framed pictures of Peyton Manning! A Florida University championship shirt (what)! So much Super Bowl memorabilia that I’m deadly curious how it got all the way to Osaka. There also were small hints – like a jersey and a helmet – indicating that “Japan Football” existed somewhere. I didn’t spend long in QB Club, but I hope to one day dig deeper into it’s USC replica jerseys and Terrell Owens bobbleheads.

Super Bowl hat collection

Super Bowl hat collection

After last week’s false start, I considered not writing this post because 1.) I already said everything I needed to say about Buzzer Beat last time around and 2.) nobody cares about a J-Drama except like two people I know and random people on the Internet. A quick glance at my blog stats, though, reveals this post offers the most promise at gaining triple-digit views, and my ego could use such a pointless boost at the moment. Plus, tuning into the show directly before the extra long (!) finale made me realize this is a pretty special moment. For TV, at least.

The show in question showed a bunch of clips from other famous J-Drama finales. Actors kissing one another, not kissing one another, staring longingly at one another, straight up dieing. You know, your typical series finale. Yet the boxes in the corner of the screen, featuring famous Japanese people reacting to said clips, showed people absolutely losing it. They cried and clapped at what might have been significant media moments from their life. I know these types of TV finales are a big deal anywhere – I am not ashamed to admit I cried for like six minutes after seeing the last episode of Six Feet Under – but this still seemed interesting. I realized the real significance of this finale – I probably will never watch another J-Drama as long as I live. Unless they make a journalism-centric one (and even then, it would need a pretty cool theme song), I am not going to be pulled into a drama the way Buzzer Beat got me with the (fake) promise of basketball. So, this is my one brush with the series finale of an extremely popular J-Drama.

Plus, it’s a finale, they might go all out. Something might explode!

OK, onto thoughts from the FINAL EPISODE OF Buzzer Beat!

Spoilers Probably Start Here, Interested People

– Where we are at going in – main character dude and main love interest girl apparently parted ways. Tears were shed. Lights went out. Dramatic music played.

– I wonder how much a commercial during a big episode of a J-Drama like this runs?

– The main love interest girl seems to be moving somewhere. She has boxes and everything. I smell huge life decisions in need of deciding on the horizon.

– Holy shit, they are playing a piano version of “A Day In The Life” over this. That’s awesome.

– Main character guy left some sort of message (curse you Japanese!) on a billboard in front of love interest’s apartment. Cue the single tear down the face!

– OH MAN OH MAN PRETEND THE DRUDGE REPORT SIGNAL IS HERE THEY ARE PLAYING BASKETBALL!!!!!

– Uh oh, we’ve fast-forwarded to 2010. Don’t see any robots yet, future looks pretty boring = /

– Main character guy totally recovered from his injury in the future, and can play basketball. And luckily, they are playing a team with absolutely no defense. Like, they literally just stop moving when someone gets under the net. So there playing the Golden State Warriors, nice.

– Main love interest lady saw main character dude get on a bus and she chases after it, trying to get his attention. Alas, she fails. Don’t mess with public transit, lady.

– OK, OK, hearing “A Day In The Life” once was cool, but now I think this was the only piano version of The Beatles they could afford.

– I’m sorry, but this dramatic speech between two characters just doesn’t work with the big banner proclaiming “Get Top!” in the background.

– Wouldn’t somebody clean the message he graffitied onto the billboard after a year? I thought Japan was the cleanest place in the world next to Ikea.

– Whoa, they got an American to appear in this show!!!! He said words I understand. Yes!

– Gahahahahahaha, white dude all be “do you love the young man?” Main love interest girl suddenly speaks English and then American guy says something to the affect of “everything is good! Love makes you strong.”

– Soft-rock guitar solo!!!

– Uh OK…so main love interest just ran into the arena (don’t you need a ticket) and just starts yelling at main character guy right before he is going to take a crucial free-throw. Isn’t there security at these games? Plus, nobody is making any noise…not even the large contingent of visiting fans. And…this is ridiculous.

– Just atrocious defense. And this team’s celebrating like they won something significant…I thought this was the first game of the season?

– Oh…oh….oh….

– And they kiss! Happy endings for all, except the losing team.

– Whoa, wait, I think the next scheduled J-Drama has lots of guns in it. Looks like I won’t be abandoning J-Drama just yet!

Welp…a happy ending and nice to know Japanese TV is just as illogical and over-the-top as American television. Farewell Buzzer Beat, you’ll always live on in my heart.

– This week’s school isn’t in the boonies by any stretch of the imagination – it’s surrounded by residential neighborhoods and all sorts of suburban conveniences. Yet it is up in the mountains of Nabari, so some strangeness was bound to occur. My first day at the school one of the teachers came up to me stretching out a piece of paper with a big black lump on it. Big black lump turned out to be a beetle. But not a small, cute beetle – one of those scary beasts with two big horn-like things jutting out of its face that should be destroying supply depots, not be in my general area. The teacher found it roaming around in the grass outside the office, and decided the new English assistant would just love to see it up close. I stared at the thing for a good five minutes, anticipating the exact moment it would lunge at me. Thankfully, this never happened – the beetle only moved its head up and down a few times. Later in the day, a big plastic bucket full of murky water and tadpoles appeared in the middle of the room. I have no idea what’s up with nature and this school.

– Met my first Jonas Brother obsessed Japanese teenager this week. She wrote “I LOVE THE JONAS BROS” and “DO YOU KNOW THE JONAS BROS” all over her worksheet. I once again weep for my country and what it has done.

– The last school I went to loved asking about my favorite Japanese foods – do you like sushi? Do you like octopus? This school could care less about my preference regarding sashimi and rather worried about my relationship status. Every single class, when given the chance to ask questions, immediately inquired about my girlfriend-status. “Do you have a girlfriend” or “are you single” or “are you married” (what) became commonplace this week. This has led to a very depressing series of worksheets where under the “three things you learned about Patrick” section most students wrote “Doesn’t have girlfriend” or “He is single” or, most painful, “NO GIRLFRIEND.” Yes, all caps. I never knew homework could hurt so much.

– This line of questioning also led to the hands-down most awkward question posed by a student thus far. He wanted to know (surprise surprise) if I had a girlfriend but didn’t know how to say that. Instead of asking the teacher for help, he went with a phrasing he did know: “are you a virgin?” Yikes. In Tokyo they taught us one way to defuse embarrassing questions was to throw them right back at the student – like, if they ask if you have a crush on a teacher you shoot back “do you!” I felt this response wouldn’t be terribly appropriate, so I laughed and moved on.

– Today the teacher who sits next to me in the staff room made an extra sandwich for me because she thinks I don’t eat at lunch. I do eat at lunch! Just…very poorly. Continuing in my college-developed tradition of eating most major meals out of vending machines, I mostly snacked on some yummy chips and a soda at lunch. This is normal for me, though clearly a disturbing dietary trend to both responsible adults and most Child Service agencies. So, a teacher made me a sandwich today and I’m now reevaluating the way I live. This is almost as bad as the time the Burger King cash register dude started referring to me by my first name. God damn, what have I done with my life?

– Did you know you have to cut the wrappers off of soda bottles in Japan? Found that one out the hard way today.

In high school we had a day-long event called “Jog-A-Thon.” I don’t recall the specifics but I remember the general idea was you spend an hour of the day jogging/walking around the school. You had to pay to participate (or was it get people to pledge money for each lap you “jogged?” The money all went to a Catholic high school, so it was wasted all the same) and after kinda running for 60 minutes there were all sorts of events set up to enjoy. Besides the teacher dunk tank (“fuck you Algebra II teacher!”), most of these things were incredibly stupid. “Check out our car show, featuring all the rich kids cars! Bet ya wish you could be this cool!”

Japan thankfully does not have the Jog-A-Thon, but they do have the Sports Festival. Replacing mindless celebration of Capitalism with mindless competition, the Sports Festival is an all-day affair where a school’s classes divide into teams and square off in various games. The Sports Fest is kind of a big deal – the whole shebang lasts the entire day, meaning no classes for the kids…or us teachers. That alone is a good enough reason to love the Sports Festival.

As noted, the Sports Festival is a major happening. Monday we spent half-an-hour pretending to be prison inmates as we picked up rocks from the yard where the games would be held. Wednesday, we had a two hour practice Sports Festival. And not just for the opening and closing ceremonies – they actually practiced the events themselves. That’s like rehearsing the Academy Awards and announcing the winners.

Yet actually seeing the official Sports Festival sort of explained why they do this. This event actually draws a crowd…I’m sure most of the adults setting up lawn chairs were family (or members of the PTA, as revealed later), but still…a good number of people came out to this. The local media sent two photographers to cover this – in America they would have sent a “mojo” (mobile journalist, for those not in the know) and slapped together a blog post. Based on the amount of pictures they were snapping I have a feeling this is front-page material.

Most of my time was spent sitting around watching the various events, broken up by the occasional walk to the other side of the field to get a different vantage point. The majority of contests seemed to be foot races – mostly dashes that often ended with the winning student breaking out the Usain Bolt pose. All of these races were soundtracked by various patriotic United States songs – I don’t know why the Japanese think “Hail to the Chief” makes great running music, but more power to them. Actually, all the music played during the festival was abysmal – besides the displays of American pride, the rest of the day featured atrocious techno remixes of otherwise great songs. Songs like “Living in America” and, most ear-wrenching, “Imagine” were gutted of all traces of humanity in favor of copious amounts of laser sounds and vocoder. They also used a Mariah Carey breakup jam about waiting for your hero (spoiler: the hero is you) during warm-up stretches. I can’t think of less “get pumped” music than that.

As lame as the music might have been, the rest of the events more than made up for it. Games ranged from the “bucket relay” (carry a bucket of water from one end to the other, team with the most water in the bucket wins) to the “descend on a pile of tires like vultures” game (exactly as it sounds). My personal favorite was a competition where one kid wearing a paper hat was hoisted into the air by three other classmates and they had to move him around as he tried to snatch hats off of other classmates. It looked like a game of Chicken gone hay-wire, and from my spot on the sidelines it was very entertaining.

Even though I spent most of my day watching other kids beat the crap out of one another (and realized the reason we moved all those rocks wasn’t as much the students would fall on them as much as they would chuck them at one another while waiting to compete), I couldn’t be a benchwarmer the entire day. Immediately after lunch, all the teachers took part in a relay race. I would have to run an entire 50 meters while holding onto a baton. I hoped my team didn’t have high hopes of vanquishing a bunch of fourteen-year-olds as one, I’m slow and as coordinated as corral and two, there was a very good chance I’d either drop the baton and/or go into cardiac arrest running the tiny distance.

Somehow, though, when I grabbed the baton out of the hand of one of my English teachers I neither tripped on my own feet or collapsed five steps in. I sprinted as fast as I could (read: not that fast) and handed the crudely painted pipe off to another teacher. My burden was complete – I could go back to sitting in a chair and saying “hello” to random students.

Or so I thought.

I went into the school to use the bathroom (errr, check the score of the Angel game. Hate you Boston). Inside the staff room, one of the teachers had changed out of his exercise clothes into a monkey costume. I imagine walking in on this generates the same feeling most David Lynch characters feel during the course of his films. He looked absolutely mortified to be stuck wearing this get-up, and I couldn’t blame him – they even included a bright red ass for ultimate humiliation. I saw him and laughed a laugh that could only mean “oh man that sucks.” Apparently, he would be doing a folk dance dressed up this way.

“Would you do the dance with me, Patrick?” he asked. He clearly didn’t want to suffer the laughs of 300 junior high school students alone, and needed someone else to enter the fray with him. Having done much more humiliating things before in my life, I said “of course!”

So there we went, a man and a monkey-man, into the middle of a field surrounded by kids. Predictably, the kids went (sorry) apeshit at the sight of the monkey costume, laughing and grabbing his tail. After several minutes of groping, things calmed down and the dance was about to begin. Nobody briefed me on what the actual moves were, so I felt a bit surprised to suddenly be caught in a circle of 14-year-old girls spinning around and kicking our feet. I can’t really explain what happened, but it was a bit like a Bar Mitzvah mixed with a virgin sacrafice. I clapped my hands a lot. I danced with upwards of 30 teenage girls. A man dressed as a monkey was next to me. The local press took so many photos of me and the monkey-man you could sink my not-to-be Senate run from the get-go.

Things got considerably more normal after the pagan monkey dance. Awards were distributed, chairs were put away and I stood around unsure of what to do. All in all, it was a fun albeit slow day, and it was good to see the students get a chance to run around in an aimless circle instead of sleep through my self-introduction. And hey, I didn’t have to teach it. Love you, Sports Festival.

Though I don’t want to see tomorrow’s paper.

(I Am Not Qualified To Teach Children #2 – I wore mismatching shoes today, and didn’t realize it until lunch. Seriously, one foot had an LA Lights exercise shoe and the other had a white Addidas. My Nikes socks made me the ultimate corporate shoe whore. I don’t know if I was really tired, or it was dark, or I’m just an idiot, but I somehow put on two completely different types of shoes. Once it dawned on me that I looked like a total putz, I felt highly embarrassed the rest of the day, though nobody else noticed. Errrr, I should say nobody said anything. Anyway, anybody incapable of matching up shoes probably shouldn’t be allowed to leave the basement, let alone be allowed into a school.)

Update: There is a reason I’m not in journalism right now…I handle facts about as well as Kanye handles award shows. Commenter Reed points out that there will actually be a 75 minute special next week (they announced this before SMAP Bistro, which I promptly turned off) so…everything written below is a complete waste. Radical. Well, uh, pretend I’m talking about the penultimate episode instead and tune in next week when I do the same thing like the chump I am.

(NOTE: It is your fault and your fault alone if you go on and read all these words about the TV I watch. You’ve been warned.)

A paraphrased version of a GChat conversation I had with my friend in Tokyo

Me: I need to get ready for Monday. I have work and introductions and Buzzer Beat
Her: Hahaha yeah I’m sad it’s the last episode though = (
Me: WAIT WHAT

——————–

Whereas American television does all it can to milk a series for as long as possible (Law and Order what?), the Japanese apparently are OK letting a hugely popular show end. Much to my dismay, Buzzer Beat comes to a close tonight if my friend is right – and she speaks Japanese, so I think she knows what’s going on. I don’t get it – I see the Buzzer Beat dude on all sorts of magazine covers and variety shows…don’t you want to drain this for everything it’s worth? Or maybe I’m too American-thinking and should learn to let the dudes in pink uniforms go away.

Buzzer Beat was never what you would call my favorite show – my thoughts on the show can be summed up by a Google search that led some poor soul to this blog that goes “will they actually show basketball on buzzer beat?” I tuned into the show because of the loose basketball theme, received a heapin’ pile of melodrama I couldn’t understand with about three training montages sprinkled in. I kept waiting and waiting for some basketball……and it never really came.

And still…I’ll kinda miss the show. Mostly because it was one of the few points of regularity in my Japanese life so far. I realize relying on a J-Drama for comfort is extremely pathetic, but it’s that or Music Station and at least I get out most Friday nights so I can’t watch that. My Mondays now exist just so I can catch up on NFL football and get pumped for Greek. It might have been pathetic…but so are most of my other weeknight activities (“maybe if I listen to the new Jay-Z album two more times, I’ll like it more”).

Anyway…here are some as-they-happen thoughts from the final episode. I can’t think of anyone reading this blog who would actually be worried about having this spoiled but, uh, for any of you lost Googlers…I’m stunned you’ve made it this far. Thank you so much, but turn back!

– Where we stand going into this – the main character guy is a total moron and can’t really figure out which of the two gorgeous girls he should go for. He eventually chooses the violinist and as he rushes towards her housw armed with a single sunflower (nice on Romeo) his head coach, who also likes this lady, is meeting her. Set fazers to drama!

– One thing I won’t miss about this show is the lame basketball metaphor that popped up every episode. The ball represents…ones-self? So sometimes the main character is feeling distraught and he can’t make a single basket. In this episode, the coach holds a basketball but then gives it to main character guy…to signify the ball (read: girl) is now in his court. Doing this once or twice might have been cool, but every single episode…c’mon, at least work in some sort of traveling analogy.

– Conflict for the final episode – main character guy hurt his leg and can barely walk. Cute girl he likes just got accepted into some sort of music conservatory and/or Soviet army.

– OK, scratch the music school angle I think she just got accepted to participate in some fancy performance. Semi-liveblogging foreign TV is hard work. Oh, and at said recital main protagonist dude isn’t there for his girl and she’s looking out at the audience but then the door opens and…COMMERCIAL!

– Welp, turned out to be main character guy. He bought a whole boquet of sunflowers this time, much classier.

-I think something depressing is happening. People hugging and talking at the same time, I feel that isn’t a good sign.

– Yep, the lady is crying. Bad times.

– Ahhhhhh, main character just had a single tear go down his cheek. Now that’s quality acting.

– Wait, did the show really just end like that? The main character and the girl walk away crying and then the lights just cut out and the music stops? Damn, that’s bleak Japan. We can’t even get a nice “hey, everyone ends up OK!” montage to close this out? Damn.

– Total amount of basketball in this episode – two shots of practice coming in at about 12 seconds total. No basketball and more hopeless than the black plague? See ya later Buzzer Beat, it’s time for SMAP Bistro!