Finally, an update!

•November 16, 2009 • 1 Comment

What a summer!  I climbed Mt. Fuji, visited the Lost in Translation bar, watched a Japanese baseball game, lost my passport, played endless amount of Nintendo DS, and learned hundreds of new kanji.  Whew, I can’t believe it over!

Not to mention labor day, September, October, Halloween, and half of November.  Whoops… guess I got a little too carried away with video games and sushi.

nano_09_red_participant_120x240.pngAnyway, lately I’ve been engulfed in the writing firestorm that is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.  If you’ve never heard of it, you should definitely check out the website.  It’s an event where participants race to write 50,000 words in thirty days and try to complete one of their life’s goals: to write a novel.  So far, I’m up to about 27,000 words, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many fellow writers in Japan, but the list seems to be growing every year.  I met a few of them in Osaka a couple weeks ago and we had a nice time at a cake shop in Umeda, but the forums for Japan are basically as quiet as a graveyard.  Guess I’ll be going it alone again, just like during the UMBC days.  Wish me luck!

On the move

•September 2, 2009 • 2 Comments

After the minor disaster formerly known as ‘my plan to come home this summer’ imploded on itself, I had alot of free time on my hands: three weeks on unpaid leave, to be precise.  It would have been easy to go back to work and ask for a few extra teaching days to help keep my budget going, but brilliantly I opted to stay in my apartment and play video games instead.  Predictably, this got old after about a week and ow – at last – I’m prepared for Summer Travel Plans 2.0.

The crux of the plan is a convenient thing (plot device?) called the seishun-ju-hachi-kippu, or seishunjuhachikippu for short.  :P   In English, it’s known as the Young Weekender’s Ticket.  For the low, low price of $125, this magical piece of paper lets you travel anywhere in Japan, provided you do it by local train.  It can be used five times, with each use lasting a single day, so as long as your trip can be acomplished in under 18 hours and would normally cost over $25, or about 2000 yen, you’re getting your moneys worth. 

SquareEnixStoreMy plan is to go to Tokyo (actually, I’m already there) and visit some atractions I missed on my previous visits.  These include the Square Enix “Character Goods Shop Show Case”, some scenes from the filming of ”Lost In Translation,” and what is hopefully a delicious sushi restaurant in the Yodobashi Akiba building.  Mmmm.  Should be good times!

My second stop should be Sendai, a city known or its pleasant climate and Green atmosphere located in the Northern Japanese region of Tohoku.  I’ve always wanted to go to Tohoku and never had the time, so now’s my chance!  There’s no reasonable explanation for why I want to go there, but my personal theory is that its because the Northeastern parts of Japan were traditionally where the monsters lived.  It was also where the quasi-caucasion Japanese natives lived before being conquered, ages ago.  If my time working at eikaiwa has taught me anything, this is no coicidence. 

Anyway, here I am, sitting at an internet cafe feeling drowsy becuase of the horrid sleeper-train I rode last night and wasting my time.  I should be roaming the streets of Akihabara and exploring seedy electronics deelers with large-eyed maid girls pinned to the windows!  Then again, an internet cafe feels oddly in harmony with the surrounding neighborhoods.  If only they had those virtual headsets from Neuromancer and Snowcrash so that I could explore the neighborhood without leaving the comfort of my temporary abode.  Maybe someday, but for now, I’d better get off my butt.

More Deliciousness

•August 10, 2009 • 4 Comments

Mmm, I love this stuff!

GreenPepsi

Shiso Pepsi is amazingly delicious.  It has a sort of spicy kick to it, like Dr. Pepper, but with the herby taste of the shiso leaf.  In case you don’t know what shiso is, it’s a type of plant used in Japanese cooking, including some sushi recipes. Anybody want some?

It’s definitely much better than some of the other unique-to-Japan Pepsi products.  Yogurt Pepsi and Green Tea Pepsi never had the same appeal.

Candy Continued

•July 27, 2009 • 2 Comments

After writing the post about Japanese candy, I felt a little guilty.   Searching the multitude of 7-11’s, Lawson’s, Family Marts, and Circle Ks around my apartment, I had hardly found more than a handful of examples of Kit Kat and Crunky bars to take photos of.   I had, it seemed, slightly exaggerated the dominance of the aforementioned brands.

Candy ShelvesThe shelves inside the convenience store were adorned with flavors of Meiji chocolate,  Pocky, Pretz, and something called ‘Look.’  Humbled, I snapped a photo of the colorful display:

Later that week, however, I wandered into a Maruzen supermarket close to one of my schools and found the situation quite different.  Kit Kat was all over the place.  Vindicated, I documented the craziness and threw in some photos of new Crunky varieties as well.  ^_^

I ended up having the Sports Drink Kit Kat, which tasted like white chocolate with a twist.  Otherwise, I haven’t tried the other flavors;  it doesn’t help that they come in big bags, either.  I’m not trying to put on any extra weight before coming home.

Another New Prime Minister?

•July 13, 2009 • 2 Comments

Did you hear the news?  Japan’s embattled Prime Minister is calling for elections this August after horrible failure in the local Tokyo elections.  It’s epic!  Incredible!  Earth shattering!  The ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) has been in power since the end of World War II and now it looks like the opposition DPJ party might take control.

Ok, maybe you didn’t hear about it, but I think it’s pretty amusing.  There have been three different prime ministers since I moved to this country, which seems a little odd because I’ve lived here for less than two years and there hasn’t been a major election yet.  The first was Shinzo Abe, whose name I memorized in case my JET program interviewer asked me about it.  He is remembered for being the youngest man ever to hold the office of Prime Minister and for always looking slightly to the left in photos.

After Abe quit for no discernible reason, he was replaced by Yasuo Fukuda who is famous for his epic gaffe during an interview about a college rape: “there are women who look like they are saying ‘Do it to me’. Those who have that kind of appearance are at fault, because men are black panthers.”  He also has a slightly evil looking smile, like a mad scientist who knows everyone is about to be eaten by mutant termites.  After slightly less than a year in office, he resigned in order to further the “democratic process” or something like that, and was replaced by Taro Aso, who looks like a yakuza bad-ass.  According to Wikipedia (thank you, demigods of information), his family made POWs work in their coal mines during the war and he is known for making mistakes while reading kanji words from teleprompters.  Personally, I think kanji are damn difficult so I don’t blame him, but some people are describing him as the George Bush of Japan.  That’s a pretty heavy title to live up to.

If the election doesn’t go well, and it doesn’t look like it will, he could soon be swept out of office as well.  Too bad Japanese elections aren’t as exciting as American ones.  Obama and Bush have come up in conversation with Japanese people more than any of these guys, but maybe that’s just because we make such a big show of things over there.  Here, politicians seems to just quietly fade away.

Japanese Candy

•July 11, 2009 • 2 Comments

In Japan, the English word candy doesn’t conjure the same image it does in America.  For some reason, they only associate it with the stuff we call hard candy.  No, I’m not talking about drugs.  I’m talking about the stuff that old ladies give out in handfuls on Halloween (unless your neighborhood granny is a drug dealer), the kind of crystalline sugar rocks that chip your teeth but stick to them too.  That being said, there seems to be a dearth of American candy bar brands over here.  They have Snickers and Hershey Bars, sometimes, but pretty much none of the other stuff.

Nonetheless, their convenience store candy shelves are just as brimming as ours, not with Milky Ways, Twix Bars, and Caramellos, but with Kat Kat’s and Crunky.  Somehow, the candy industry over here is undergoing some sort of revolution similar to what happened to the restaurant industry from “Demolition Man.”  In case you’ve never seen the movie (shocking!), I’ll spoil it for you: in the future all restaurants have become Taco Bell.  Fortunately for the world, Taco Bell doesn’t exist in Japan, but in the meantime Kit Kat and Crunky are monopolizing their own corner of the market.  I don’t have any photos of strange Kits Kats at the moment (I’ll get some, I promise), but I have captured one of Crunky.

Crunky!

What is Crunky, you ask?  According to the box, “Crunch Chocolate: A fine combination of crunchy malt-puffs and chocolate.”  This one happens to be flavored “Soft Cream Koubou,” which is spelled with the same kanji as construction worker.  I can only assume this means men have to die for the production of each candy bar.  More photos to follow later this week.  ^_^

Stuff (not) to bring to Japan

•June 20, 2009 • 3 Comments

Before I left for Japan, I was bombarded with information on what I’d need when I got there.  The flood of e-mails, letters, message boards, websites, and phone calls was all rather overwhelming.  Topics ranged from the benign – what omiyage (souvenirs) to bring for coworkers – to the worrisome – tales of people missing their flights because of overpacked bags.  Everyone seemed to have advice, but it was impossible to follow all of it.  If I packed all of the Japanese textbooks, cheese, toothpaste, and shoes that everyone had recommended, I definitely would have ended up  one of those forlorn JETs standing lost by the airline checkin counter.

Japan is Calling.  It's collect.Nonetheless, the deluge got me thinking about the importance of planning ahead.  There was a good deal of stuff I might need when I arrived in Japan that I would never be able to find, but it was hard to sort out just what would come in handy.  Below is a list of stuff I eventually settled on.

  1. Toothpaste.  Supposedly the water here doesn’t have flouride and the toothpaste is spotty.  Not sure if thats true.
  2. Deodorant.  Lots of it (I was moving to the jungle, basically).
  3. Salt Water Taffy as omiyage, for the staff at my schools.  Also, keychains, tshirts, notepads, for special people.
  4. Omiyage for the mayor and board of education.
  5. Tie-dyed t-shirts, handmade before leaving
  6. Two suits
  7. Two poetry books and the collected works of both Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe (I like to read).
  8. Stickers (for the kids).
  9. Postage stamps (to act like stickers, for the kids)
  10. Leather flipflops, from Wallmart, plastic sandals, dress shoes, and sneakers.
  11. Some big ABC coloring pages.
  12. Some postcards from Baltimore.
  13. Lots of photos of friends, family, and stuff around town

I could certainly go on, but what the hell.  The point I’m about to brilliantly segue into is that I didn’t need half of that stuff to begin with and my luggage space would have been better spent on hot sauce, Reece’s cups, and Nyquil.  Here’s the list of stuff I shouldn’t have brought:

  1. Toothpaste and deoderant.  Japanese pharmacies sell Aquafresh I still have six extra units of Old Spice under my sink.
  2. Half the omiyage I brought.   Postcards and keychains, that’s all you need.  Besides, the mayor doesn’t really want a giant cardboard cutout of Cal Ripkin.
  3. Random English teaching props.  Seasonal decorations and random magazines are probably more useful, but they can always be mailed by friends later.
  4. Postage stamps.  Why did I listen to that recommendation?
  5. Edgar Allen Poe.  Sorry dude.
  6. One of the suits.  Also, half of the dress clothes I brought.
  7. Excess photos.  Ones of friends and family are essential, but digitalize (is that a word?) the rest.

Another halflife 2 reference?The best thing I brought were the tie-dyed shirts, which were actually mailed by a friend later.  The second best was omiyage but I never gave it away:  a small stuffed crab from Baltimore.  Perfect for games and subverting Japanese culture (which is your de facto  job description if you’re signed up for JET).  Runner up goes to my Baltimore Orioles cap.  They’re not popular at home, but they don’t exist over here, so wearing it gives me extra street cred.

Now, if I had replaced the omiyage, dress shirts, and Edgar Allen Poe with pharmecuticals, gummy bears, and science fiction, I probably would have had an easier time of things when I first arrive.   The tricky thing with planning for this sort of trip is that the Boyscout Motto (BE PREPARED!) only works if you know what you’re up against.  I unfortunately had no idea that I would be moving into the rural Japanese version of Ravenholm from halflife two, so I planned poorly.  Anyway, to finish this off, here’s a photo of my old sandals, still sometimes put to use in times of dire need:

sandals

I think I got my $10 worth out of them.

Coming up next in my series of “I’m actually writing again” blog posts, things I desperately need donated to me in America this summer.