Voyeuristic narcissism? Probably. But until this writers block goes away, I’ve got nothing better to offer, so I’ll try and make it as interesting as possible. The little green-bracketed bits tell what music was playing at the time (generally on the iPod (read: MONKAH POD!), though on the computer at home since I’m not so sad a geek I walk around with my iPod on around the house. That’s just sickening.)
So without further ado, let’s get to it.
The Coral – Dreaming of You
Waking up. I bought this double futon from a friend who went back home last year. It was kind of expensive, but truly worth it in the end – a single futon is hardly big enough for one person, let alone two, and pushing two singles together is just asking for a killer backache the next day for the poor soul unfortunate enough to have to sleep in the crack as the futons come apart during the night (usually me). When Tennis isn’t sleeping over, I have some stuffed animals to keep me company – a large and a small seal panda (a seal wearing a panda outfit, which Tennis always insists on removing and wearing on her head, professing that “the seal must learn to love itself for who it is”) and a large and small Onsen-kumachan.
I love Onsen-kumacha (literally “the hotsprings bear”) even though ironically enough I don’t like onsens (natural hot spring baths that Japanese people go crazy over) – I realize he’s not a panda, but still, he’s so cute and frazzled looking (like he just finished soaking in a super hot outdoor mineral path for 5 hours) I can’t help but want to buy all sorts of goods with his likeness plastered on them. Ironically enough, people in my little backwater neck of the woods have never heard of him – I tell my students about him in class in an effort to make model sentences they can relate to at least on some tiny level, but they always shoot me these blank stares like “what the fuck is an onsen kumachan?” *sigh* I find it depressing that I actually have to travel to the big city to lay hands on Onsen-kumachan paraphenalia – it’s like I look at my “to-do” list everytime I visit Tokyo or Osaka and right up at the top (right behind #1 – “go out drinking late at night secure in the knowledge that here in the big city, public transportation won’t shut down at 8:30pm”) is “go buy some Onsen-kumachan stuff”.
I realize I have a lot of stuffed animals for a 25 year old straight man, so I decided to limit my pictures to the four on my bed (note my super awesome Onsen-kumachan hat on the pillow) and avoid the other 15 or so on my shelves…
My two hamsters, not named as of yet. Tennis bought them for me the other day in exchange for my being manly and promising to wash her car and then take it to the mechanics to get the air conditioning looked at. (it’s currently deciding to blow only hot air which reminds me of this old Dodge Daytona I inherited from my brother (who despite being 5 years younger than me has actually owns more cars at this very second (3, if you count the dismantled heap in the backyard rusting away under a tarp for want of a new head gasket or something) than I have ever owned in my life.) which, in addition to randomly dying and refusing to start again if you left it idling too long (meaning that in traffic I’d have to stop like 8 car lengths behind the car in front of me, and then slowly creeeeeep up up up and hope the light changed before I reached the front, lest my car idle and then die. ahhh, fun times) insisted on blowing hot hot air (my theory is that it actually warmed it by passing it over the engine before shooting it in my face) at all times, which made summer driving really fun.)
Anyway, in exchange for doing these manly tasks, Tennis bought me the two hamsters and related hamster-accessories: cage, food, wood chips, etc. though thankfully not (and I swear I’m not making this up) the hamster LEASH they had for sale for a very reasonable 480 yen at the pet store. Who the hell walks a hamster!? I dunno, but then again – and again, I swear I’m not making this up – I saw a man walking a CAT by Tennis’s apartment the other day – full leash and harness get up, cat desperately trying to catch our eye with a gaze that said “run me over and put me out of my misery, for the love of god”. So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that there’s people around here that like to walk their hamsters. *sigh* Anyway, this is the smaller – and much squeakier – of the two, who kept me up all night with his incessant chee-cheeep squeaking. Sure, he looks all innocent now, but don’t be fooled. It’s always the tiny ones you gotta watch out for…
Stumbling into my teeny tiny washcloset of a bathroom to brush my teeth. I used to be one of these people who absolutely HAD to brush my teeth first thing out of bed – before opening the curtains, before eating breakfast – definitely before kissing my significant other. These days I’m sort of slipping in that, sneaking in a tight lipped kissed (you know, so you don’t get any of that chewy “morning breath” gunk in each others mouth), sometimes a drink of water, lounging about a bit, on occasion, even eating breakfast first so I don’t have to brush twice (once before, once afterwards). I hate it though – it feels so gross even as I fight a losing battle against my laziness (the bathroom’s just so far…), but I’ve decided to try harder. It’s not good feeling this much inner conflict in the mornings.
My bathroom used to be complete shite – little nasty yellow bulb burning in the corner, drab, ugly “hoseable” walls and same generic plasticky surfaces (with no usable shelves etc.) covering everything from the walls to the tub. After a little sprucing up it’s better – a shelf for some towels and assorted sundries (I hated having to try and balance soap, shaving cream, a razor, tooth brush and tooth paste all on the lip of my bathtub (from which it would inevitably fall), some blue wall decor, a shower curtain – things are looking nicer, if a bit effeminate. At least now I don’t hate every second I spend in my bathroom. Along with inner conflict, hatred and loathing are not nice ways to start your day! As I finish brushing my teeth, I make note of the angry gurgle emenating from the dark depths of my sink and tub plumbing – I suspect I’ll have to try and sort out the Japanese equivelant of Drano at some point in the near future.
The mark of a true geek – checking my e-mail while eating breakfast. Sadly, only three people have e-mailed me this morning, and two of them have to do with work, which is rather disappointing since it’s nice not to have to worry about that on the weekend. C, however, finally delivers her long-promised stalker story, which reads as more amusing than frightening. Who starts stalking someone because they like their eyedrops!? I guess the IRS takes all types…
The breakfast of Champions. Yogurt with Grapenuts (the world’s greatest cereal. I don’t have respect for any cereal that doesn’t make you work to eat it) on top. Mmmm, yummah. I try and keep things from being too healthy by adding a slight swirl of maple syrup – being a cheap bastard, I bought a bulk pack of yogurt, which was cheap, but unfortunately also very disgusting and sour (i.e. no fruit, no sugar added grrr…), thus neccessitating the addition of something sweet to make it palatable.
Deciding what to wear from my very tiny closet. One learns to appreciate space in this country and while I am by no means a clothes horse, I often find myself having to rotate what’s hanging up at any given time since I can only fit so many shirts/pants on the pole at a time! Many Japanese closets – mine included – are built with futon storage in mind, and for this reason, they often feature one or two single broad shelves suitable for storing bulky folded bedding, but pretty much useless for actual clothes storage – the teeny tiny hanging pole to the right seemingly more a token afterthought than intended for practical usage. Fortunately, in a quintessential Japanese twist, you can then buy separate shelves (which you can see my pants stacked on to the left) to put in your closet to make it, erm… more useful. I must admit that I never really considered the “usability” factor of a closet before I came to Japan, but I suppose that’s all part of that “internationalisation” people talk about when visiting foreign countries. See things in a new light, right?
Staring at my closet, I have to admit it’s pretty “metrosexual” (for lack of a better word?) at the moment. I wish I had taken picture of my wardrobes in the past so I could see how my fasion tastes have changed over time. Ah, hindsight is always 20/20…
My loyal panda peddler, looking only slightly worse for the wear, countless wipe outs, tumbles and accidents later, not to mention having survived a harsh winter and the arduous daily trek made all the more difficult by the torrential downpourings of the rainy season (which we are currently in the midst of). It’s always easy to pick out the foreigners bikes in Japan, since everyone else, regardless of age, gender or position, rides the same, generic crappy old “granny bikes” (“mamacharis”) you see in the background. Foreigners are virtually the only people who ride mountain bikes (or bikes with gears for that matter) which makes it fairly easy to pick out your bike from the thousands jammed around the stations or shopping centers. I say “virtually only” because on occasion Japanese people will ride mountain/road bikes too – only when they do, they’re tricked out with several thousand dollars of “bike bling” and look like they could take Lance Armstrong to his 7th Tour de France win. So you won’t be mistaking them for your humble method of transit, me thinks. I take a moment to oil the chain before taking off for the day, since it was running a bit rough on Saturday. As a note to all you cycle commuters out there – pannier bags (the blue “saddle bags” at the back) are a godsend – buy them, use them, love them!
Basement Jaxx – Good Luck
Sunscreem vs. Push – Please save me (Vocal Mix)
I’ve talked about Japanese banks before, and it’s no secret that I find them alternately amusing and frustrating (generally depending on whether I’m in a hurry or not). Since I was planning on doing some shopping today, I decided to stop by the ATM by my house to get some cash – as I opened the door, this is the sight that greeted me. This sight, and a staccato series of loud (and I mean loud!) snores.
The doors to the bank are fully automated and by no means quiet – like many Japanese buildings, they have this little electronic “BIIINGGGG BOOOOHHHH” sound that goes off (I was told once it’s so blind people can find the entrance, but actually, it doesn’t go off until you’ve already opened the door so I think someone might have failed to have thought that idea through all the way) – but despite that, the guard didn’t stir. At first I had to laugh, and then crept up closer to take a picture. With a flash. Still nothing.
At this point, I actually started to get concerned (it was a hot day and the guy was kind of old, so then I started to worry that he might have passed out or died from heat stroke), so I walked up by the desk but he was clearly breathing. At that point it struck me that he was snoring loudly anyway, so he obviously wasn’t dead. *shrugs shoulders* Let it not be said that I’m not exactly the brightest panda around. Anyway, I sort of leave him there in his sleep and grab some cash out of the ATM.
Japanese ATMs actually talk to you in a rather loud voice when you use them, but despite the steady string of synthesized pleasantries emenating out of the machine not 3 feet from him, the guard didn’t stir once. I could sympathize with him – who wants to be stuck in a non-airconditioned ATM cash corner bright and early on a Sunday morning with, as you can see, little more than a table and a book to keep one amused? On the other hand, you can’t help but shake your head sadly when the pointlessness of some of these jobs are so clearly illustrated – it’s hard to partake in the fiction that the elderly man in front of me is going to guard the ATMs against brazen theives when he’s napping, head thrown back and snoring as if it was the middle of the night.
After the bank, I headed over to the local fish market. The fish market is actually quite nice – if you go at the right time, you can find some fantastic fresh food (sometimes a little too fresh for this panda – I prefer my lunch dead upon purchase, thank you very much) and sometimes some great vegetables you’d never see in the store otherwise. While it doesn’t compare to Tsukji Fish Market in Tokyo, it’s popular draw with the local tourists and houses some eclectic shops where you can get a hold of certain foods from back home.
Today I’m not actually after fish or vegetables, but rather ingredients to make tacos, as I’ve been having a craving lately. Unfortunately, I forgot it was Sunday, so the market’s closed – since I was there, I decided to wander through the smelly, fish labryinth to see if by any chance the western foods supply store was open, but alas, I was out of luck.
On the way out, I passed by this unattended (and unlocked!) cooler of b33ahr sitting outside a closed yattai (food stall) and thought briefly about nicking one. But being a good panda, I contented myself with snapping a furtive picture and then heading along my merry way.
Andain – Summer Calling (Airwave Club Mix)
Gigi D’Agostino – L’Amour Toujours (remix)
Darude – Sandstorm (Breakbeat remix)
Since the fish market was closed, there was only one other place I could go to get Tacos, so I headed over to the (just opened last year) Sony Plaza downtown. Back when I lived in Tokyo, not long after I came to Japan, I remember M came over to my apartment one day after school and informed me that she “really wanted to go to Sony Plaza since there was some things she wanted to buy there, and would I mind coming along?”
Since at that time it was near my birthday and I was still a Japan n00b, I got all excited, thinking “Omigod she’s gonna buy me some cool sony gadget for my birthday and she wants me to come pick it out! Is she the bestest girlfriend in the world or what!?”. You can imagine my suprise when we walked into and she headed straight for the cosmetics/beauty supply section, leaving me wandering around in a sea of what looked suspiciously like a load of western crap one might buy at Wal-Mart, only marked up 400-500%. It what might be a disturbing indicator of just how stupid I was (am?), I am ashamed to admit that I remember walking around for like 5 or 6 minutes going “huh? Where’s all the gadgets?!”
Sony Plaza, despite the name, does not in fact have gadgets. Rather, it’s something of a cross between a convenience store, a drugstore and a dollar store (only without the dollar prices), with the gimmick being that they mainly sell imported western goods, like American makeup, german potato chips, all sorts of candies you might remember back when you were a kid (lemon heads, megasour warheads, jawbreakers, etc.). Don’t think it to be too high class though – it’s not like you’ll go here for your Estee Lauder hotness – this is strictly, as previously mentioned, a Wal-Mart level affair, only with Japanese prices.
I don’t usually go to Sony Plaza, since one of the reasons I came to Japan is because the quality of 95% of the stuff they make here is leaps and bounds better than its Western counterpart and besides most of the time if I wanted something, I’d have someone buy it back home at Wal-Mart (which at this point is selling things so damn cheap, I can’t wrap my head about how they make a profit. True, most Wal-mart stuff is crap, but for commodity items, you can’t beat a 10 gallon Jug-O’-Pickles for $1.99 (special everyday low prices!) At that price, I’d buy it regardless of whether I even ate pickles – just to have it, you know? Cuz someday you might want a pickle, and then you’d be kicking yourself like “damn, I should have bought that 10 gallon Jug-O’-Pickles back when I had the chance. Now look it! Pickless and frustrated! All for want of $ 1.99 US!!! *cue pained wailing and gnashing of teeth*) and send it over, because even including the international post charges, it’d still be cheaper…
But Sony Plaza does have its merits and in this case, it comes through in the pinch, delivering my long sought after gustatory grail, an Old El Paso Taco Kit, just like back home. YES! SUCCESS! SWEET SUCCESS! And it’s *cough* only 925 yen (around $9.00 US) – though a quick glance at the label reveals that I “need only add minced beef and/or chicken, 1/2 a head of lettuce, 2 tomatoes and cheese” which really makes me question what all is contained in this kit, because in my world, anything that says “kit” should only really require me to either push “start” on the microwave or at the very most, just add water. Otherwise, it’s not much of a kit, now is it? Anyway, I cough up the dough and vow to vanquish my taco cravings once and for all.
Since I need to get the rest of the ingredients for my tacos, I head over to the food floor of a nearby department store to do some quick shopping. In Japan, most department stores have a massive food floor in their basement, and (usually) a rather large selection of restaurants on their top floors. I like that – mass consumption and wanton capitalism sandwiched between two floors of delicious mouthwatering food. Anyway, you can find all sorts of things in the food floors, from little boutique pastry makers to butchers to yakitori vendors. In this case, however, I was foiled as I couldn’t find any tomatoes or cheddar cheese, so I decided to just hang on to my taco shells and got to a regular supermarket later on in the week.
As long as I was in the department store, I decided I should go looking for a new tie. It’s a little known fact (and really, when I say “fact” you should read that as “this is strictly just my opinion”), but Japanese men’s fashion – men’s business fashion, that is – absolutely blows. While women in Japan are free to pick from a staggering spectrum of colors, shapes, patterns and styles, woe be the poor, beleaugered, underpaid, overworked, used, abused and unappreciated lowly salariman, who must content himself with a societal straightjacket consisting of:
- A black suit
- A generic white dress shirt (long sleeved in the winter, short sleeved in the summer)
- some sort of nondescript black attache case
- The world’s ugliest tie
I feel for my brothers, I really do. Salarimen are not permitted any real variation in their clothing – you don’t even see suits in any colors besides black or navy (occasionally gray, but rarely). Khakis? Forget about it! If you’re a man and you wear long sleeves in July or short sleeves in November, people flip out and wonder what’s wrong with you – literally. Since men are allowed so little leeway in what they are societally permitted to wear, you have to distinguish yourself form the pack in whatever way you know how – for me, besides steadfastly refusing to ever buy a white dress shirt (as you can see from the shot of my closet above), that usually means having a nice tie. Ties, if fine men’s clothiers are to be believed, are “the way through which a man can truely express himself” (I swear a person once told me this at a suit store). Now while this is pretty much the load of crap it sounds like, it should still be noted that the proper tie can really make an outfit, and for that reason, I’m trying to expand my collection.
Recently men’s business fashion has moved back towards a more traditional, structured look (away from the “casual friday” look of the late 90′s), while re-interpreting these designs to incorporate more patterns and colors – you can see this in the large number of striped or multi-tonal dress shirts filling department store shelves and the rather rapid acceptance of pink as a valid color for straight men to wear. (interestingly enough, pink has found its way – like polo shirts and khakis – into the more urban set, with noted rappers like Camron and Kanye West (the latter in particular one dapper motherfucker. ‘Pac never dressed like that.) helping to make pink as ubiquitous in (the more affluent sections of) the hood as oversized basketball jerseys and a velour hookups were back in the day).
I heartily approve of this shift towards news colors and patterns, and in particular I like to use striped shirts (or as I say when Tennis is around “STRIPAH STRIPE!!!”) to add interest to an otherwise boring business outfit (read: I like to piss of my japanese bosses by sticking out like a sore thumb in the sea of white shirts and black suits). Unfortunately, when wearing a striped shirt, you pretty much need a plain tie – it’s critical to avoid a heavily patterned tie, because otherwise it will clash horribly (the worst, of course, being a tie with stripes, which 75% of the ties out there have). Plain doesn’t have to mean boring though – you can add interest by looking for a tie with a distinct texture or unusual weave, etc. Back home, this wouldn’t be a problem since even department stores in Wisconsin stock an amazing array of ties, but here in Japan, land of the-world’s-ugliest-ties… well…
In the end, while I was looking for something like the tie in the first picture, my selection was pretty much limited to the above. The one on the left and the one on the right both caught my eye (though again, I must stress they were just “the least of all possible evils” and the saleslady shot me an evil eye when I request a plain tie (“muji”), since while the rest of the world moves on, here in Japan, men, as mentioned, are still confined to white shirts, which really don’t match so well with plain ties.). Unfortunately, both were a rather exorbirant 15000 yen, which I suppose is cheap for Burberry, but too expensive for this poor panda. And thus, snapping this photo under the guise of “wanting to take it home to compare them with my shirt”, I slunk out of the department store, nerves frazzled from the incessant noise (japanese department stores are so filled with noise pollution as to be neigh-unbelievable), hot, stressed out (from tie shopping, how sad!) and feeling very, very poor.
Chicane – Saltwater (The Thrillseekers Remix)/(Tomski vs Disco Citizens remix)
Since I was thirsty, I stopped by a convenience store to grab a drink. There’s a staggering assortment of drinks for sale in any given convenience store here, and sometimes I’ll just grab something at random off the shelves just to try something new. Sometimes you’ll end up with something disgusting (my latest misadventure was a “black ginger lemonade cola” which was as absolutely revolting as it sounds – it’s hard because the way this works is I decide that the first thing I lay my eyes on when I round the corner to the drink cooler is what I’ll buy – but then you have to force yourself to buy that, all the while thinking “dear god, why didn’t I just look two shelves higher!?”) but sometimes you’ll discover something truly delicious (like “Gogo no kocha – straito” (“Afternoon Tea, straight”). Which is, incidentally what I bought to drink today.
After spending too much time in the department store, I desperately need some respite not only from the noise, but from the sweltering heat, steadily climbing into the mid 30s. Fortunately, there’s a decent sized shrine not too far away so I headed there. Even though it’s set back from the street a ways, it still has to contend with a large volume of traffic filtering off from the downtown areas, so things are pretty congested until you get up into the shrine grounds themselves. I had to wait about 10 minutes for all the delivery trucks, thronging group tours (only one because it’s Sunday, but still, the megaphone has a tendency to pierce the air) and bicyclists to clear out for a couple seconds before I could snap this deceptively serene looking picture.
I think a lot of people who come to Japan are a bit shocked to find that the temples are hardly the bastions of zen like quiet and tranquility the movies (and tourist brouchures) make them out to be. Here in the little backwater hood I call home it’s not so bad – even the world famous garden in the center of town tends to die down a bit on Sundays, but in places like Kyoto, Tokyo or Nara, it’s a non-stop madhouse of people, noise and capitalism that makes most shrine or temple-going excursions less a deep and moving cultural experience and more a mind numbing series of shuffling, queuing (for food, commemerative snapshots or omikuji/omamori (fortunes/good luck charms)) and rote photography from pre-designated “photo spots”. Not to mention jostling the slow moving crowd to try and get a glimpse of whatever it is you came to see in the first place. It’s one of the things that makes me saddest about Japan – I guess I always wanted the temples to be a little bit more like the image in my head and a little less… well… noisy..!
That having been said, it all depends on where you go. In the smaller shrines somewhat off the beaten path, it’s entirely possible (though not entirely likely) to go in the middle of a Saturday and find that you have the entire place to yourself. I remember even when I lived back in Tokyo, there was this tiny (but still pretty and secluded) temple up some stone stairs not too far from my apartment which was almost always deserted (and by deserted I mean “usually even the caretaker wasn’t there”). I used to stop by on my way home from the station (provided I could work up the energy to haul my panda bum up the never ending flight of stairs – why are all temples in Japan atop steep staircases!?) and just sit for a few minutes and unwind. It was odd – even though you could hear the cars and traffic whizzing by (well, crawling by painfully. this was Tokyo after all) below, just on the other side of the tree line, it seemed a lot less… annoying and more soothing while I was sitting there on that bench, chilling out aimlessly.
I’m sure so much of this has to do with your state of mind/perception/etc. Maybe even expecting the temples to “be zen-like” – even if that’s just a teeny tiny private thought you keep way back in the back of your mind and never say out loud – is perhaps a bit of orientalism in action. Then again, that’s exactly how Japan tries to sell itself, so can we be faulted for accepting and expecting the mutual fiction to deliver in the end? But it is a state of mind, I guess. For example, in the picture above you can choose to either see the beautiful garden, glassy smooth lake interrupted only by slow ripples from the water fountain and occasional perfectly placed spot of algae, the tremendously huge koi (goldfish) swimming lazily just below the surface, the stone bridge, etc. and find it to be a peaceful, cool and tranquil place from which to unwind from the stresses of the maddening crowds down below.
Alternatively, you can choose to focus on the fact that it’s hot and oppressively humid, that there’s huge mosquitoes everywhere, that the “stone bridge” is actually comprised primarily of cast concrete cleverly designed to look old, that the “fountain” is actually little more than a rubber hose stuck into a jerry-rigged metal bracket at a 90 degree angle, and that there was some couple a few meters behind me getting their baby’s picture professionally taken at the shrine, with all that entails: screaming children, noisy relatives, assorted beepings, boopings and flashing from the equipment, etc.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART II…