The city of Matsusaka, in the middle of Mie prefecture, prides itself on its beef production, boasting that “Matsusaka beef is better than even Kobe beef.” You can imagine this is a controversial declaration (at least amongst meat-making circles) what with Kobe beef being one of the most famous delicacies out of Japan and part of the best item available at the Cheesecake Factory. I’ve never eaten Matsusaka beef – I’m not a rich man – but I say let Matsusaka have the beef win. Because this city has absolutely nothing else going for it…and I’m not even knocking it for just being boring. No, after my first trip to Matsusaka, I regard the place as the 10th Circle of Hell where I experienced my first mini Dostoyevsky-ish episode of suffering.

JET folks planned on throwing a Halloween party in Matsusaka the night before the big scary day, and having heard how fun said shindig was, I decided to go. I donned my Mr. James garb (now with nametag!) and met up with the rest of the Nabari crew. The night started off well…our costumes (super detailed zombie, viking, pregnant Britney Spears, post-pregnancy Britney Spears) grabbed the attention of every Japanese person who had the fortune of crossing our paths. The convenience store workers enjoyed our get-up while the people on the train threw subtlety to the wind and straight-up went to another car when we sat down. Things were highly entertaining.

We arrive at Matsusaka and moseyed on over to Hunky Dories, the venue for the night’s party. The bash itself was cool, the only gripes I can think of being the usual “I’m a total dick when it comes to music” DJ criticism (but seriously, who starts a party with “I’m On A Boat?” Even my friend who used to have the Pashmina afghan bit as her GChat status like everyday admits she doesn’t really listen to “I’m On A Boat” anymore) and the fact the dancefloor was more like a groovin’ nook. One girl dressed as a fish (this is important, and serves as some eerie foreshadowing) threw up early on. For the most part, good times!

Like all things, though, the party eventually burned itself out. That, and the joint kicked everyone out at two in the morning. Which brings me to the turning point of the story…a twist that, admittedly, could have been snuffed out well in advance. Nobody from Nabari really figured out our overnight plans. The train system in Japan overall rocks, but they do stop running relatively early (11ish), making the likelihood of being stranded in whatever city you’ve traveled to a strong possibility. Knowing this, we still didn’t think out the after-party situation.

So, closing time came and everyone split off into smaller groups bound for various other places. I stuck with the two Britneys, as we are all first-years and thus equally lost. We did have a very loose gameplan…we had been told that there was an Internet cafe open 24 hours near the train station and that we could probably lounge around there until the first train rolled in at 5:30 a.m. Unfortunately, this meant we would need to walk half-an-hour in the frigid Matsusaka air…until someone with a car volunteered to drive us. Joy!

Our plans disintegrated, though, when the driver told us the Internet cafe didn’t exist anymore. It had shut down. We had no other place to stay. But the driver said there was an option…right near the train station was a hotel that, instead of paying for a room, we could hang out in the lobby if we were really discreet about it. Alarm bells should have gone off in my head at this point – how would loitering in a hotel lobby for three hours possibly work – but I was tired and cold (Mr. James doesn’t wear a jacket) and even a potentially unlawful bed sounded wonderful. We got to the hotel, the driver dropped us off and we went into the barely lit lobby. We saw nobody in sight. We quietly sat down on a nice sofa and prepared to nap for a few hours.

A minute into our snooze, a lady appeared at the front desk looking quite baffled. She started asking us things in Japanese and her tone grew aggravated with every new, alien-to-us sentence. We got up and left, having no idea what to do. Back into the cold night we went.

Unsure where to go now, we decided to check out the train station, hoping there might be some sort of moderately warm waiting room we could huddle in. After a brief walk through a creepy underground tunnel that seemed way to fitting for Halloween, we reached the station. Nothing was open. A few people were packing trucks in the general area, someone else refilling a vending machine (at 3 a.m.?). For a moment we considered sneaking into the pitch-black station, but decided the darkness was way too creepy and we’d already fought the law once and lost spectacularly. We decided to take our chances walking around the streets of Matsusaka.

This is when the true shittiness of Matsusaka becomes clear. I’d heard nice things about the city…that it has lots to do and a very nice Italian restaurant. Walking around, though, I see none of the positive qualities apparently present in Matsusaka, instead only seeing an extremely boring collection of drab apartment buildings and foreboding industrial zones. I realize three in the morning isn’t the optimal time to explore a city, but we were wandering major streets right near the city’s major train station…and the most thrilling find was a Circle K. Nabari’s no New York, but it’s got a good amount of food places, bars, 24 hour karaoke and other all-night activities. Matsusaka had ominous refineries.

Well, it also had…a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. I’ve never been to a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl before even though they are pretty common in Los Angeles, so this seemed like a good time to experience Japanese fast food. Plus, that “24 Hours” sign looked mighty welcoming. We went in and ordered…the Yoshinoya menu seems to only have one food (beef) with slight variations on the side items you get with the mystery meat. I went with rice and a salad. Much like Burger King, Yoshinoya Beef Bowl’s food satisfies a deep craving late at night when you are drunk, but I would need an intervention if I caught myself eating here during the day by choice. The meat tastes…off. Like, it looks like beef but doesn’t really taste like any beef I’m used to. I ate the whole thing.

The original plan was to stay in the fast food establishment for as long as possible. This plan failed when we realized the average person spent about seven minutes in Yoshinoya Beef Bowl before jetting out. I hypothesize that this happened for two reasons…one, a lot of people were stopping in to get morning breakfast before heading off to work (more on that in a moment) and, two, the average Japanese person eats incredibly fast. So, since most customers were in and out in ten minutes, it seemed highly suspicious for us to be still hanging out after 45 minutes. Afraid to push our luck any further, we left and returned to the streets.

With an hour-and-a-half to go, we though about going back to the station and just waiting it out. En route, though, we noticed what appeared to be a bonfire in the middle of the street. A few people seemed to be loitering around it. Not wanting to walk near any fires or any fires surrounded by creeps out at 4 a.m., we took the logical step of walking down a back alley. We soon discovered a Blade Runner-esque world full of…dead fish.

Unlike the rest of Matsusaka, these streets were teeming with life – the glow of lights coming from storefronts, people walking about and the pungent odor of fish hanging in the air. This was the part of town where fish for the day were prepared, explaining why it was so buzzing at four in the morning. Through the windows, one could see the carcasses of fish, both small and huge, sliced up on tables. Boxes lined the street, presumably full of that day’s fish bound for all different parts of Mie. People gave us strange looks, looks we probably deserved as we were definitely out of place amongst the fish stores and fish bodies.

We navigated out of the stinky fish district and ended up back at the station. The doors were still locked. We spent the next hour sitting on a bench outside the station freezing to death. It was one of the longest and most uncomfortable stretches of time I’ve ever experienced. It was really cold out. I tried to get my mind off the pain by reading music reviews and hamburger blogs on my iPhone, but the cold cut through all my distractions.

Finally, the station opened up at ten until five, and the first train arrived at 5:22. At this point, all I really remember is a lot of fish people getting on the train carrying boxes of fish with them, and seeing a few junior high students going to school. On Saturday. Ouch. I promptly fell asleep on the train, woke up at our station, went home, and passed out again.

Maybe I need to go to Matsusaka during a summer day and with a hotel booked. Maybe then I won’t look down on it as a desolate, cold place where fires burn in the street and the Yoshinoy Beef Bowl staff seems eternally anxious for you to leave. But until that day, the only thing I can think of when I picture Matsusaka is stretches of darkness and the sickening smell of dead fish filling the air.

But hey, they might have good beef, I’ll give ’em that.

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At the start of the month I witnessed a very chubby comedian open a coke bottle with his bellybutton and also invited the crowd to hurl a big box of Pocky at his exposed girth. Once you witness something like that, you can’t unsee it. So, I’ve spent the last 30 days wondering…who was this magnificent bastard? With October almost over, I finally have the answer…he’s Garigarigarikuson.

As you can probably guess from the above video, Garigarigarikuson’s main schtick is he’s fat. Cue laugh track. Now, for all I know he’s got a really well thought out and insightful routine devised up and I’m just missing out. Then I watch a video where he smashes a box of chips with a broom in his underwear and realize no, he’s just flabby.

If you want to see more clips of Garigarigarikuson doing stuff in his skivies just hit up YouTube. Otherwise…just visualize a big box of Pocky colliding with that gut, and you’ll have visualized my brief run-in with Japanese comedy.

The city of Iga (birthplace of the ninja, fun fact) held another festival. Unlike the last one which featured performances in the street, this event saw a series of large shrines being carried through the streets. People sat in the shrines playing instruments. I was told they have to be in the things starting at 8 in the morning, so I can’t imagine many jobs more boring than that. This festival was very similar to the last festival, save for an increased number of french fry booths and the “pickle on a stick” merchant. Lets check the pics!

That's a lot of octopus

That's a lot of octopus

Side street

Side street

The main street

The main street

Bleh

Bleh

It was crowded

It was crowded

Doggy!!! In costume!!!!

Doggy!!! In costume!!!!

So I bought these Doraemon treats...

So I bought these Doraemon treats...

They don't really look like Doraemon

They don't really look like Doraemon

Basically the Mt. Rushmore of Japan

Basically the Mt. Rushmore of Japan

Coke cans here are weird

Coke cans here are weird

Shrine!

Shrine!

What a terrible job

What a terrible job

My very fist meal in Nabari came at a Yakiniku restaurant across from the supermarket where I bought my first every life-in-Japan groceries. It was a hell of an introduction to my new life – Yakinikku restaurant serve mostly small plates of meat, mostly beef, that are relatively cheap and easy to get carried away ordering. The twist – the meat comes to your table raw and it’s up to you to cook it on a circular grill-thingy built into the middle of the table. It’s fun, it’s delicious and it’s gluttonous. After stuffing my maw with beef for an hour-and-a-half, I vowed to myself to never pass on an opportunity to go to the Yakiniku Restaurant. High probability of contracting gout be damned.

I made my triumphant return this past week, but the evening ended up being a lot more adventurous than I expected. The first time I went the food came exclusively from a cow. I struck out to Yakiniku with a much more daring group than before – we still ordered plenty of straight-up beef, but also a handful of more bizarre items lurking on the menu. I honestly don’t know how I ended up some of these things, as at any other point in my life I would have preferred being shipped to a desert island than even look at some of these meats. I guess Japan has tricked my body into being more open to strange food. Lets check out some of the stranger things I ate item by item, shall we?

Cow Tongue – Cow tongue comes to the table looking more like a big pepperoni instead of something once inside a bovine’s mouth. Still, knowing what part of the cow this circular meat hails from still made me apprehensive about eating it. That nervous feeling grew after the meat got slapped down on the grill – whereas most meats just change color under intense heat, the tongue sort of wiggled inward and shrunk. It was doing a grotesque dance that made it look less appetizing with every shimmey. Once it was sufficiently cooked, I grabbed the tongue with my chopsticks and ate it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad…it had no weird taste and just tasted like a thinner piece of beef. So, not nearly as traumatic as I expected. Though I’d prefer never to watch it cook ever again.

“Hormone” – The Japanese use the word “hormone” differently than the good ol’ USA, though I think I might prefer to eat the American version. When the “hormone” came to our table, all I saw were some rather white blobs. I was told these are actually cow organs. Which organ? Nobody knew. Unflinching, the mystery organs were thrown onto the grill. They ended up tasting like nothing at all. But they were very chewy. And, as noted, a mystery cow part. I stopped at one.

Squid – Squid is actually delicious when you grill it! Pleasant surprise of the night. Also, the most normal thing on this list.

Chicken Cartilage – This is the one meat I almost refused to eat, but caved in at the last moment. I should have followed my first instincts. I mean…who eats cartilage??? Each piece has a little bit of normal, non terror-inducing meat on it which tastes fine. Then you bite into the stick of cartilage…snap. Just…it’s basically like biting into a softened-up bone. The textures just bizarre. It’s both crunchy and kinda soft, and this feel so weird. Oh, and it doesn’t taste good. I was thoroughly weirded out by my cartilage experience.

Pig’s Tongue – Oh dear goodness, this actually looks a little bit like a tongue. And it becomes more tongue-like after you cook it!!!! I cheated on this one because I absolutely doused the thing in sauce before I ate it. The shape creeped me out big time. Getting shivers as I type this.

The first thing I do when I return to America is go to In-N-Out and eat Double Double after Double Double. No cartilage for this guy ever again.

(Japanese Fun Fact #27: They call the equivalent of the AL/NLCS here the “Climax Series.” Heh Beavis, he said “climax” heh.)

– At the end of every school day, the students engage in “cleaning time.” In a sly move that removes janitors from the school environment, the kids clean up everything in the school, from their classrooms to the hallways. It’s a very cute sight. The school I visited this week, however, gives the students an added treat…one driving me bonkers. They play music over the school’s PA system during the cleaning period. Tragically, they play the same songs, in the exact same order, everyday. It starts off with some generic J-Pop joint, moves over to a tune sounding like the Backstreet Boys doing a Sandals commercial, jumps to a slow ballad, then dives into the Buzzer Beat theme track. I’m glad the kids get to listen to something during this…but couldn’t they switch it up just a tiny bit? I’d settle for “Party In The U.S.A.” at this point.

– I work in an office full of semi-Yankees fans. The Matsui tins sits behind me, the Yankees handbag in front of me and I’ve seen some pinstriped pencils floating around. Considering a certain sporting event happening at the moment, this week has felt somewhat claustrophobic.

– The third-year students this week wrote essays about where in the world they want to visit. A lot wanted to visit Italy (“I want to eat a pizza and a paste”) and France (“I want to eat bread”), but the big winner was Australia. Nearly all the students who wrote about visiting the outback wanted to go because they might have a chance at meeting a cuddly koala. “Koalas are the cutest animals” and “I want to meet and touch a koala” stood out as especially awesome quotes. And being the cute animal enthusiast I am, told them they did great. On the opposite end of the cuteness spectrum, one kid wanted to visit the North Pole so he “could see the wild seal and then eat them.” He even offered up a description of what he’s been told seal tastes like.

– Because I’m an idiot, I made a glaring typo on a Halloween worksheet I prepared for the second-year students. They had to listen to me talk and fill in the blanks on their sheet, but for one part I wrote the answer (“apples) right next to the blank. Instead of take the five minutes necessary to fix and print out new worksheets, I instead inserted an adjective into the blank space. The word I chose was “yummy.” This word fascinated the kids…it sounds hilarious and offered a jolt of excitement in the middle of a rather boring activity. The moral here – sometimes mistakes lead to great stuff! Even if you have to explain why the “an” before the blank shouldn’t be there.

-My big assignment for the week – come up with a lesson on Halloween for the first-year students. And I did not blow it off – I took this one seriously and thought it out all week long, even staying up until midnight (late for a work night) drawing out what to do. I only received 20 minutes to spread the gospel of Halloween to the children of Nabari, but I’d make them a damn good 20 because I’m a big Halloween fan.

The day of the class comes and I’ve got everything ready. Pictures of pumpkins and mummies, a Bingo game and a plastic pumpkin bucket-thing jammed with candy. I even wore black pants and an orange shirt because I wanted to showcase Halloween colors/am a huge dweeb. Lesson starts…and the kids seem to like it! They love my pictures, they laugh at my wardrobe and even have a short discussion on the state of Pokemon after I showed them the picture of Pickachu carved into a pumpkin. Then came the centerpiece of my lesson – the trick-or-treat simulation. I planned on having small groups of students come up and pretend to trick-or-treat. I even planned on giving them a piece of candy.

Then I found out you aren’t allowed to give Japanese students sweets.

Japan, I thought you were cool. Classes here seem much more relaxed than back in America…students can doze off or talk or, in some cases, walk around. But they can’t get a fun sized piece of candy for Halloween (errrr, Halloween lesson)? LAME. It’s not like Japan is Mississippi and morbidly obese…these kids spend an hour playing soccer before school even starts. Lighten up Japan, let the kids enjoy a Three Musketeers bar for the first time.

Anyway, I adjust accordingly for the next class, replacing candy with Halloween stickers. And much to the credit of the students, when I ran out of stickers the students actually shared with one another. This was a quite welcome sight, considering the school I worked at in America featured students who considered sharing anything they got as the ultimate sin (the kids loved Obama, but acted like amazing Republicans). So my lesson still ended up being pretty good.

Except now I have a pumpkin full of candy I will surely eat entirely myself.

(Japanese Fun Fact #26: Burger King only exists in the greater Tokyo area. None exist out here in Kansai country. I learned this today after reading an article about this monstrosity:

Now we've gone and done it

Now we've gone and done it

The worst part of this foodstuff somehow isn’t the fact it’s seven Whopper patties stacked on one another. No, it’s the fact it’s advertising Windows 7. Something about branding a burger after an operating system seems so amazingly stupid I’m not even sure exactly why it confuses me so much. I think it has to do with the classic high school argument “PC vs. Mac” and how terrible talking about operating systems is.

I still want to eat this, in case you were wondering. And it only costs like $8! That’s revolting!)

Pepsi doesn’t know when to stop. The soft drink company behind the bizarre Pepsi summer flavors, including the war-crime worthy Pepsi Shiso, has expanded the seasonal offerings to the fall. Because nothing quenches the thirst like the months where leaves fall off of trees and people gut pumpkins for Halloween!

Pepsi Azuki kicks off the (hopefully not) annual fall flavor. The Azuki bean is usually grinded down into a paste (dubbed “red bean paste” around these parts) that tastes extremely sweet. Azuki shows up most often in Japanese desserts, either as a filling in pastries or as a sort of drier Jell-O-like creation that doesn’t taste bad but boasts the same texture as a water bed. It also is a popular ice cream flavor.

That's my work desk!

That's my work desk!

The new drink hit shelves today – during my routine stop at Circle K to buy my lunch (read: a banana, an energy bar, a bag of Doritos), I spotted an entire row of pink Pepsi in the cooler. I should have learned from my Shiso experience, but I couldn’t resist the almost-medicine colored soft drink staring at me. I bought one.

Admittedly, Pepsi Azuki frightens me a little less than Shiso. The few times I’ve eaten Azuki, I’ve only been put-off by the texture, not the taste. This soda involves no chewing (I hope…), and might actually be good. Famous last words.

So…how is it?

Just like Pepsi Shiso, Pepsi Azuki tricks you at first sip. Where the Shiso drink tasted kind of good before the aftertaste revealed something more in common with a pine tree air freshener, Azuki tastes like absolutely nothing at first. Give it a second, though, and the aftertaste kicks in – it’s not nearly as repulsive as Pepsi Shiso but it’s a bit…disconcerting. The faintest traces of sweet pop up, and it sorta reminds me of a fruity marshmallow. This isn’t necessarily I want in my soda. It isn’t a huge deal, though, because said aftertaste is extremely faint.

Pepsi Azuki is far from offensive to the tongue, but it’s also not very memorable. I’ll take my memory of Pepsi Shiso with me to the grave, but Pepsi Azuki…I’ll probably forget about in like a week. It isn’t tasty enough to warrant a second purchase. It is just sort of…there. I expected much stranger from you, Pepsi.

I don’t know why the English-teacher-approved bar in Nabari threw a Halloween party two weeks before Oct. 31, but the prospect of getting a chance to see how Japan approached the holiday. Plenty of Halloween imagery starts showing up in October – the local supermarket becomes loaded with products plastered in pumpkin stickers and “limited edition Halloween party crispy pizza” Pringles – but I’ve been told nobody actually celebrates Halloween proper. My big assignment for the week is to write up a lesson introducing Halloween to first year junior high students. I don’t think they get any of the Halloween hallmarks – the trick-or-treating, the Jack-O-Lanterns, the dressing up as Balloon Boy to appear relevant. So, they miss all the best parts.

This early party, then, offered a chance to see how the Japanese took the idea of Halloween and made it their own. Unfortunately, this get-together only revealed that the Japanese don’t mix things up to much – they bust out ghost decorations, a creepy spider decoration and put The Nightmare Before Christmas on loop. Some people go all out with their costumes, some people put on cat ears and call it a day. I’ll avoid the low-hanging fruit of hypothesizing that the Japanese don’t get as amped up for Halloween because a lot of people here dress like Corpse Bride on a daily basis (ohhhh, didn’t avoid it!). At the end of the night all I truly learned is that everyone loved Tootsie Pops and Nightmare Before Christmas is a lot shorter than I remember it.

So…instead I’ll use this post to gloat about how I won a costume contest. I decided to go as endearing/offensive (?) McDonald’s advertisement Mr. James because 1. it was timely and 2. the Japanese might get it and 3. my work wardrobe featured all the necessary clothes to look like a total goober.

Oh wow that pose is horrible. Sorry, this is the best pic I got

Oh wow that pose is horrible. Sorry, this is the best pic I got

Gahhhhhh, what a horrible pose. The costume is extremely un-intricate, the glasses probably being the most “adventureous” part. But thankfully the character beat out craftmanship and I was voted the winner (technically, I tied, but the other winner was one of the bar employees’ mother so I think that warrants a big ol’ asterik). Who knew becoming a walking billboard for Tomago Big Macs could pay off?

I won 1000 yen, which I promptly spent at a convenience store. But the glory…the glory remains.

(Japanese Fun Fact #25: A sick kid used the telephone at school today, presumably to phone home. After the student left, the Vice Principal put on gloves and got to work covering the whole phone in hand sanitizer to make it clean again. They take the getting sick thing seriously here.)

– Students get really excited when they learn a new phrase in English, usually to the point they love to repeat said phrase over and over again to me. This week, one student learned how to say “I’m dying!” and showed off his 911-worthy sentence to me for about three minutes. I imagine this is what being haunted by a ghost might be like.

– If you ever find yourself in a Japanese school staff room, here’s how you can impress the staff – make flashcards. I made some katakana flash cards at work this week and it seemed like everyone stopped by to cheer my studying ways on. I felt very popular, all while making squiggles on cards!

– I got to plan nearly an entire lesson by myself this week, on the very vague topic of “how much does that cost?” The big finale to my lesson was a game called “Bargain,” where students would utilize the phrase of the day “how much does that cost?”) while also learning the invaluable skill of haggling. This also saw me deliver a cringe-worthy explanation that basically boiled down to the pro-capitalism mantra “the goal is to make lots of money!” The first three classes I played this game in went OK, but the last class of the week went absolutely bonkers. Instead of peacefully negotiating with one another to reach a reasonable price on an eraser, these kids basically chased one another around the room and beat one another up to score a good deal. It was pretty much pandemonium, but the Japanese teacher I worked with just sort of laughed it off. To be fair, these kids did pull off some great deals, so maybe violence really is the answer.

– Earlier in the week I mentioned all the third-students weren’t allowed to come to school. They got the whole week off! That’s a pretty sweet deal, at least for the kids who weren’t actually sick. But then, mid-week, all first grade classes got sent home to. The school became very desolate as only the super-immune second graders remained. This also meant a lot of teacher were just chilling out in the staff room.

– The Nabari Board of Education organized a volleyball night at a local community gym-thing today. I expected an hour or two of friendly volleyball competition. What I got was…a bit more elaborate. To keep it simple, it was more like a really long practice featuring a warm-up session of “Red Light, Green Light” that had scorekeepers who weren’t actually paying attention and just arbitrarily awarding points on whoever touched the ball last. It was strange.

But the end made everything completely worth it. Everyone got prizes for participating, and I’m not talking about a plastic medal. These were legit prizes. Everyone in my squad won a free mini-chair…this thing would be great for a small dog. Then, I got to pick out a random individual prize. I drew…Dino Slippers.

!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!

I cannot stress how awesome these slippers are. I’m now pumped for the winter to come because I want to wear these dino shoes every minute of the day. Thank goodness for the bizarre Japanese custom of giving out really nice stuff (read: probably re-gifting) at uber-amateur sport outings.

An Update

October 15, 2009

If you check this blog daily (right? RIGHT????) you’ve probably noticed a slight drop in posting. I wish I had some sort of exciting reason for this but…nothing really bloggable, even by my lax standards, has happened. Work has been surprisingly busy – I even had to prepare an entire lesson! I almost have hiragana memorized…but katakana looms large on the horizon. The 10-year-old chef on TV just made chocolate covered pasta, is that normal? But yeah, it’s honestly been a little quiet recently. I almost wrote a rambling, indulgent “wahhh wahhhh” post but gathered my senses enough not to. So, here are a few small happenings if you missed them.

– I made my triumphant return to The Daily Northwestern last week…sorta. Go to the very end of this article and check out my quote. Just can’t quit that campus media!

– My Japanese music blog does regularly update and I’m slowly but surely getting more confident with it. I might even e-mail a band in an effort to gain connections! Look at me go!

– I need a Halloween costume for…this Saturday. Ideas?

– As you could probably guess, I’m currently amped up on the Angels’ playoff run. I haven’t felt such a rush from sports like I did when the team swept Boston since…I went to the Alamo Bowl to cover NU football. I’m currently riding a baseball high, and am super excited for the upcoming series against the Yankees.

– The new McDonald’s “Nippon All-Star” item looks absolutely terrifying. It’s got shrimp and weird sauce in it….ughhhh.

Well…that’s about it. I’m sure more interesting things will happen soon. Enjoy your day!

Like Working In A Hospital

October 13, 2009

Upon getting to work today, I entered the staff room where I was greeted by the sight of nearly everyone wearing a surgical face mask. I can’t think of many creepier ways to start the day than going to your place of work and seeing everyone dressed up like a dirty bomb went off. I said my usual “ohayo gozaimas” and sat down, hoping I wouldn’t be shortly escorted out of school for not having a face mask.

It’s sick season here in Nabari and it’s no joke around these parts. The amount of masks you see around town has shot up the past few days. Couple this with the still-going-strong Swine Flu worries and you can imagine the paranoia. I think I had a very minor cold over the weekend, but I wouldn’t tell a soul at work out of fear of being hosed town by a toxic-cleanup squad. I just chugged bottles of C.C. Lemon (a drink boasting “70 lemons worth of vitamins” in each serving) and soldiered on. Schools take sickness super seriously.

My first clue to this actually came before I saw my co-workers surgical mask fashion show. The bike area, usually crammed tightly with student’s bikes, was nearly desolate. Turns out all third-year classes weren’t allowed to come to school because too many of them were sick. Another teacher told me the week before that if two or more students in a class caught the flu, that class couldn’t come to school. But how many students had to come down with an illness to prevent more than a hundred kids from school? It’s like a much more plausible snow day…if this existed when I was in high school I’d do everything in my power to cover my classmates in used Kleenex so I could get a day off to play Star Fox.

So a huge chunk of students couldn’t come to school, leaving an entire of the school eerily empty. And everyone had to wear a mask…including me. Another teacher came around passing them out, so for the next seven hours I had the privilege of looking like a surgeon. It seemed kind of cool at first, but after about an hour it starts getting very itchy.

My new fashion accessory did offer a fun new twist on an old favorite. I’m still not done with my self-introductions (gahhhhhh) and had one to do today. But, a new challenge! Could I do it while wearing this itchy mask? I found out shortly after the teacher passed out a face mask to every student in the class. Staring down a bunch of students dressed extra spooky, I gave my usual self intro…but it was probably the most annoying go around yet. My mask kept falling off and I needed to hold it up, since I figured my exposed mouth would lead to everyone getting sick. I’m all about the kids.

After that, I had no classes so I just sat around doing various little things all while constantly tugging at my face mask in hopes of making it less itchy. Since a few hundred students weren’t here, a lot more teachers were just hanging out in the staff room. One confided in me he “had done nothing at all” this Tuesday. I don’t think he was the only one.

I came up with one big question at the end of my work day – where do people buy personalized surgical masks? I didn’t see a Hello Kitty surgical mask or anything, but some people definitely had special guards. Some appeared to be made out of different materials, which is fair enough, I’d have killed to have something that didn’t make my face feel like an ant hill. But others had ones in different colors – blue? Pink? Where do you get those? Is there a store devoted to selling just surgical masks? I want to know.

I’m hoping the sick-mania dies down a little bit tomorrow as I don’t want to wear a mask again and I have more classes to teach. Whatever happens though, I do have a new appreciation for surgeons and what they have to put up with.