July 27, 2010

Title pretty much says it all…I’m taking a two-so-week vacation from writing mostly because I won’t be around to write. I’m actually going places so when I actually do find time to deal with this again I might have something more captivating than “I ate such and such today.” A few small notes before I get away from this for a while.

– I wrote something about this story, but never finished it for whatever reason. I think it showcases one of the biggest problems facing Japan today…the country’s refusal to confront certain societal problems like suicide. Interesting stuff.

– If you ever wondered what the weather in Japan is like post-rainy season…it’s just like Chicago in the summer, except maybe a little hotter.

– So I’m an idiot. Today my supervisor wasn’t in the office because she went to watch her son play in a big prefectural baseball tournament. The game appeared on TV. I managed to catch the ending of it. I thought the team she was supporting had won 6-3. I went upstairs and told the people I work with who seemed pretty happy. Fun times.

Until, 15 minutes after I left work, it became clear I mixed up the result…the other team had won. I still want to punch myself in the face and feel pretty terrible (which is kinda a testament to how this year hasn’t been that bad, because it’s not THAT big of an issue).

Still, for therapy reasons, I should admit small stuff like this tears me apart. I just feel so dumb and my self-confidence gets shredded to ribbons. It hits me on a lot of levels. Sorry to be so LiveJournalish, but I sometimes feel this dumb WordPress blog is the only place I can really vent or let my troubles sneak out. Which is stupid, since everyone on the Internet could see it. But hey…big shock right?

Have a pleasant summer, stay cool.

(Japanese Fun Fact #77 – Some community centers play J-Pop really loudly. That’s weird.)

Credit this one to the power of packaging. I’ve never played a single second of any Dragon Warrior/Quest, but any kid who had a subscription to Nintendo Power at some point in their life can recognize the game’s famous blue slime creature. I have no idea what the blob’s purpose serves within the game, but when I saw a new drink served inside a bottle shaped just like it, I bought it no hesitation. Can’t beat novelty packaging I guess.

The one drawback to being drawn to a beverage exclusively by the bottle it comes in is you have no idea what to expect from the actual taste. So how did the strangely blue drink fare?

Well, after a few initial sips…lets cover two extremes shall we? The most negative way I could describe the blue slime drink would be as having a medicine taste, but not even close to the “fun” cough syrup that has turned Lil’ Wayne’s brain into mush. I’m talking the stuff only a doctor can prescribe and that they will only sign off on because it’s the only treatment left. A more positive way to talk about the drink would be…it tastes like a melting, blue popsicle. Except it isn’t “blueberry” flavored but rather some strange Seusian-berry that looks really interesting but tastes gross.

One surprise though…as the bottle became emptier, the taste got much better. Strange, considering most drinks become far less enjoyable when you hit the “residue” bit at the bottom. But with less of a bleh kick, things got much more tolerable as the liquid vanished. Though I wouldn’t recommend anyone to endure the initial disgustingness to get to this mediocrity.

Never trust packaging kids!

(Japanese Fun Fact #76: It’s summer, so that means all the ladies want to be as white as possible. In the past week I’ve seen so many goofy black-or-white sleeves made to keep arms from tanning. Such a weird obsession.)

JK LOL I’m not depressed about life, just my attempts at writing. I had a big long post ready to go but decided I hated it and instead made this cop-out of a thing. Hate when that happens, but I didn’t want to bore you with pointless ramblings. Instead, I’ll bore you quickly with a bullet point version of what I was working on.

– Read this article about the “low-tech belly” of Japan.

– Understand this article became the big source of debate on various message boards occupied by foreigners living in Japan. A lot of folks didn’t like the article because of it’s negative tone regarding Japan (fair enough) and because the numbers seemed suspect.

– Understand how weird this sounds to me, because the only counter to the facts and numbers laid out in the article are anecdotal stories akin to “I know a Japanese dude who totally uses the Internet!” That, and the total ignorance of folks not understanding this is written for a Western audience by an industry desperate to make money/score page views. Basically, I have a journalism degree and think I understand some of this more than other people making dumb claims and I kinda want to punch myself in the face.

– Realize technology in Japan is kinda in the middle! The internet gets used far less, but cell phones do all sorts of stuff and people seem to be glued to those.

– I listened to “Ballad Of Big Nothing” as I wrote about 500 words on this subject because the more message boards I read, the more I thought this whole deal was sorta pointless.

– Speaking of! I think most people who want to cut JET tend to be people on JET for some reason. Because whenever I talk to a Japanese person about it they really like the program and would like to see it stick around.

– They seem really shocked when I mentioned a lot of JETs think Chinese should be taught instead of English, too.

– One friend of mine compared Chinese to a Grandma and English to a lover. A nifty metaphor if you think about it from a Japanese perspective (hint: Japanese descends from Chinese, English doesn’t so it takes way more effort to learn). Though I’d like it because I’d much rather fool around with English than Chinese.

– Someone reading that just laughed.

– Moral of the story…sometimes foreigners don’t know everything about what the Japanese think!

Read this blog if you want to stay up to date on Japanese happenings, it’s really good. Pretend Rupert Murdoch doesn’t have anything to do with it.

– The new chicken sandwiches at McDonald’s taste amazing.

– So good, in fact, I’ve suddenly become self-conscious about my body again and am now eating nothing.

– Just kidding mom! Maybe.

– What I’ve listened to while writing this post…this, this and this.

– A very important personal anniversary passed recently, and when this crossed my mind I realized how happy I am at the moment and felt overjoyed at how everything shook out in the end. Basically, I love life at the moment. Sorry, Elliott Smith brings out these vague emotions.

– Friday I agreed to sing “Thriller” in front of the entire student body of one of my schools in October. Hooooo boy.

OK, just in at 500 words! Saved ya a lot of needless reading.

(Japanese Fun Fact #75: If enough people get drunk at an enkai, the night will end with all the male teachers taking turns throwing one another into the air like they just won a critical football game. Needless to say, I was tossed in the air three times.)

GMail Chat Window With A Friend

Me: You gonna eat raw horse
Him: do they?
Me: Yep
I had it once
A local restaurant serves it
It’s not bad save for the mental image that you are eating a horse
Him: oh you bastard!
trip canceled, you monster
Me: Ahahahahahahaha
Him: way to hid this from japantrick
Me: Everyone else was doing it
I thought I wrote this? I might have just told my parents
Him: i don’t think you did
Me: Well, now you know my dark secret

Man, maybe turning 23 really does mean I’m getting old because I swore I wrote about this before. But turns out I didn’t…an absolute shocker considering how many entries I’ve devoted to “weird” potato chip flavors that actually just taste like BBQ. So this is wellllllll past its expiration date but hey gotta post something.

As indicated by sushi, the Japanese aren’t intimidated by eating raw meat. But it goes way beyond tuna rolls. You can eat all sorts of weird stuff raw…I’ve heard of places serving raw whale and of course there is always the fabled establishments offering dolphin. The most terrifying, at least to me, would be raw chicken meat…that just seems especially dangerous, though maybe no worse than salmon eggs. I won’t eat it though.

Then there is horse. Whereas the above items most be seeked out, you can apparently get raw horse at a major chain restaurant, which is where I experienced my first (and last) brush with the food. I forget the specific details…I know it was late at night…but a few of us ended up at this joint and somehow thought “hey what if we tried raw horse meat?” as if that was just a natural thing to do. Somehow nobody objected to this and we ordered some.

Everything about the experience is mental…the actual dish looks like any raw red meat (though, I don’t know why this illusion makes eating uncooked meat any better) but once the thought you will be consuming Mr. Ed enters you’re head, it’s hard to shake. My family owned horses when I was little and we were attempting to fit into the caught-in-the-gold-rush town of we just moved to, so suddenly being confronted with the opportunity to eat them threw me for a loop. I wasn’t alone. Getting over the mental hurdle was the ultimate challenge.

Once I did though…spurred by being really hungry…eating the horse was pretty easy. As for the taste…it was kinda tasty for raw meat, but also raw meat so not a particularly high bar. I would never order it again.

Well, hope waiting seven months for this story was worth it.

(Japanese Fun Fact #74: At 3-D movies in Japan, you don’t get those flimsy glasses you usually throw into a recycle box after the film. You get these bulky goggle-things more apt for a coal miner or a pod racer.)

I write about this despite two huge red flags waving about frantically. Those danger signs being:

– This seems to be only slightly better sourced than the LeBron James free agency whirlwind. Having a guy who claims to be working with the organization in question seems a step up from “sources told ESPN” and “DIDDY JUST TWEETED HE SAW LEBRON IN NEW YORK KNICKS HERE HE COMES!”

– All roads lead to an online petition, the most futile feeling activism on the Internet. I’m all for grassroots movements, but online petitions always seem so…doomed. Plus, I’m still waiting for Nintendo to release a Super Mario RPG 2 I virtually signed something and everything.

With those two points in mind…some dude working for the JET alumni magazine in New York claims the JET Programme is on the government chopping block. Read about it here. He claims it is “the most direct threat” the government-run program has faced in its history. There is an online petition meant to save the program, which you can sign by clicking the link below.

I’ve already touched on this issue before, but for the quick version…JET probably needs a little revamping but is still really valuable. Some of the criticisms laid out by critics in the comments section of the original blog post are simultaneously well intentioned…the desire to have more languages outside of English brought to Japan…and naive…if they cut JET, it would be a clear message Japan isn’t keen on welcoming in more people. Heck, I’d say the same thing if JET stays put.

Anyhow, I don’t think it really matters if you sign the petition above…even the folks who saved Chuck had to buy Subway sandwiches or something. Honestly, I don’t think JET can work in the current Japanese education environment because of the emphasis on test…as long as that remains the case JET will always feel slightly out of place. And I doubt anyone will be clamoring for such an overhaul so…JET is either doomed or facing massive reform.

Welp, that’s a dramatic ending!

(Japanese Fun Fact #73: Recently a friend of mine in America mentioned a certain obsession of mine on this blog – he was reading one of the numerous World Cup related posts when bam up pops a photo of a soda bottle. He noted how I do this a lot on this here blog. And, to continue that tradition…bam, soda can.

This is Pepsi Strong Shot, Pepsi with enough caffeine added in to warrant caution tape I guess. It’s not all that exciting…tastes like any Pepsi around…but it also boasts extra carbonation, which means it potentially could explode in you’re face. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened to me. But never know! If it does, I’ll write more about soda!)

The realization that I’ve been in Japan for a whole year…well, almost a whole year, but let’s shave off those pesky three weeks for now…always strikes me with the same paradoxical feelings I should be used to now. An entire year! The time just flew by! Errrrrr, wait…no it didn’t. It’s the same reaction I had following the conclusion of college, the initial mix of wondering how time could zip forward before the realization that, no, they didn’t jet by at all…it was four long years that at times truly put the emphasis on “long.” It’s the usual “life is so short/life is so long” conflict made even more specific, the right answer clearly being not to dwell on either extreme for fear of becoming one of those “what do/did I do people.”

Still, I always have to pause when I let these thoughts to occupy my mind. It goes from the positive side of the spectrum – look how far I’ve come! – before swinging towards the pessimistic – dear God I’ve done nothing. As I’m apt to do, the negative always take precedent over the upbeat and I dwell on the unchecked items. At the one-year mark, those empty boxes take on an especially urgent role – an entire year just flashed by…what’s stopping it from happening again?

Of course, it’s easy to forget just how great of strides I’ve made here since 365 days ago. Though Japan’s not nearly as daunting to adapt to as many make it out to be…that is, if you aren’t miffed by never being truly part of Japanese society and are OK always being a slightly sore thumb…I still came to the country an absolute cultural dimwit who couldn’t speak a lick of the language and could barely tolerate fish. Most of all, though, everything about Japan made me bright-eyed…if you’ve got the time, just check the blog archives and see how much more I posted initially because EVERYTHING blew my mind. Nowadays, life here feels natural and things I would have spazzed out about before (“you’ll never GUESS what zany thing I saw in a commercial the other day!”) are just accepted. Despite my tendency to beat myself up over it, I have improved markedly in my language abilities…a tough thing to mess up when going from no knowledge at all. I like sushi, except the ones with little red egg-things in it. I choke every time on those.

Yet I never let my improved tastes linger around in my head. It’s always the things that didn’t happen. I didn’t see enough of the country. I didn’t see enough of the continent. I’m young, shouldn’t I be partying every weekend before I get old and saddled with responsibility and a mortgage? To some degree, these superficial worries actually signal a big leap forward in my personal well-being…out of college, I concerned myself with BIG ABSTRACT THOUGHTS like “what’s the point of my writing?” or “what’s the point of this degree?” or “what’s the point?” Now I’m almost Paris-Hilton-surface level in my worries, bogged down thinking “when am I going to see Sapporo?” or “why am I shy around the opposite sex?” I’m in a way more pleasant place, even if that’s made me a little more shallow.

Though I like to think I’m not that vapid…it’s ludicrous of me to whine about such trivial bullshit in the midst of an economic depression wreaking real havoc on thousands upon thousands of people, feel free to mail me a letter bomb…I do spend way too much time dwelling on these issues. Part of it stems from the fear that this is a last hurrah of sorts. I think it’s dumb to say I’m dodging “real life” by coming to Japan…contrary to popular belief I do spend the majority of my time at work, even if sometimes all work entails is making a bingo sheet…but I am divorcing myself from the inevitable. A year from now, I’ll need to actually start building a career. Life now isn’t a vacation but it is more relaxed than what will come next. I don’t want to squander what’s left and end up spending even more time dwelling on the “what could have beens.”

I honestly don’t know what I’m accomplishing writing this all down. The only reason any of this is coming out is because it’s 11:47 at night on a Sunday night, and the sleeping pills I took an hour ago haven’t hit yet. I’m trying to be more open about how I feel because I still bottle everything up and that’s just the worst thing. And, after a period of being hyper-sensitive about what I write about, I’ve reached the point where I just don’t care anymore what people think (this is a blog after all). So…this is basically my “one year later…a look back” post. Despite any doubts bleeding through in the above, I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else in the world right now and really am enjoying life at the moment. I just fear I won’t make the most (what does that even mean?) of the time left and when I’m ripped away from here I’m going to treat it how I sometimes treat college at my more maudlin moments…a time where all sorts of great memories were forged but I only look back on the bad/missed ones. I’d like to really learn from my mistakes for once.

Also…I will visit Station Master Cat this year. Preferably this summer.

(Japanese Fun Fact #72: Japanese students find the word “banana” absolutely hilarious. Mention that word once, they bust up like a Tracy Morgan audience. Though it’s completely possible they laugh at the obvious reason bananas are funny, I tend to think they just really get a kick out of the word itself. I guess it’s a funny word…

I’m probably underestimating 12-year-old kids love of dick jokes.)

So, let’s recap what’s happened to the team I’ve been rooting for this World Cup. Greece fluttered in and out of tournament without leaving much of an indent. France imploded so majestically it almost seems like a victory, if they awarded wins to who could fall apart the most amazingly. The United States fared best, but still got caught off guard by Ghana. With all my heritage-related squads exiting out of South Africa, I found myself turning to the old “I live in this country, better root for them” option of Japan. Wanting to at least experience one more game of the World Cup cheering for someone before things fell apart and ended up rooting for “good games,” I risked sleep deprivation to see the Japanese side play Paraguay Tuesday night.

The awesomely named Samurai Blue have had one of the more triumphant runs in this year’s cup…recall the Japanese national media’s doom-and-gloom predictions for the team, so prevalent even a pinhead like me picked up on them. Then they beat Cameroon, and everyone got ecstatic. Then they lost to the Netherlands, and everyone got realistic. Then they mudstomped Denmark, and the country went crazy.

In some ways, Japan’s reaction to their soccer team mirrors the U.S. response. Though lacking a signature moment ala the last-minute goal against Algeria (Japan’s got some nice free kick goals though!) to put on loop, both countries went into South Africa with pretty unenthused fanbases, but a taste of winning has transformed everyone into a fan. The media shows jersey-clad fans drunkenly reveling in the streets of Shibuya, every news show talks about the team’s preparations, a famous statue of a guy running in Osaka now wears Japan swag.

This giddy mood carried over to the crucial game against Paraguay, the winning team advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ever. The bar I went to packed up right before the start, a fair amount of people, some wearing jerseys (one dude sported an Argentina jersey OK) coming out at 11 at night to root for their national team. It was easily the most exciting crowd I’ve been around so far this World Cup, though that’s not a particularly strong bragging point as I often watch the games alone in my apartment. They gasped when Paraguay appeared primed to score and cheered when Japan somehow avoided catastrophe. Reverse for when Samurai Blue had a chance at the goal.

The game remained 0-0 for all 90 minutes plus 30 minutes of extra time. Most of the Twitter-verse (ugggh) commented on how the game was kinda boring…and, just look at that score, it kind of was. Yet watching the match surrounded by Japanese supporters, while also cheering for Japan, it was easy to be caught up in everything and be glued to every poor pass. It was the best 0-0 game I’ve ever seen.

Thus the game went to the most aggravatingly appropriate decider in sports, penalty kicks. They suck because they completely discard what makes a soccer match a soccer match in favor of something akin to a carnival game…but it’s also the only real way to end these sorts of contests without them dragging on forever. Which Paraguay-Japan very well could have. PKs are also terribly tense and everyone in the bar seemed more on edge during them. Total agony.

Long story short, Japan put one PK a little too high and missed. Paraguay didn’t, and won the match 5-3 on penalties. Silence followed by pained acceptance became the default atmosphere in the bar, before folk began applauding the team’s run. A great go that easily could have lasted one more round (before Spain shredded it apart). Go good games!!!

(Japanese Fun Fact #71 – The Japanese love filming cats and putting them online…no revelation there. Here’s the latest cat sensation and one appropriate for the above mess of words…Kitty World Cup!)