I got an absolute flood of e-mails, comments and instant messages with people giving their sympathy and advice about what to do in regard to the old bastard and his cake. Responses ranged from the defiant (“Fuck him and his cake”), the eloquent (“Breathe deep – tomorrow is a brighter day”), the (apparently) supportive (“if you give him anything but a punch in the neck I’ll lose all respect for you”), the borderline illegal (“put laxative in his cake!”) al the way to the outright illegal (“put arsenic in his cake”). But it was a comment from CoolandaHalf that struck me the most.
“Dude, that’s it. I’m coming up there, we’re buying ninja outfits and feeding him to the wild tanukis!”
Cool’s words unexpectedly reminded me of how complicated and angsty my life had become in recent years. I mean, when I was a child, things were so simple – why was that I wonder? The answer I suppose is fairly obvious – things were so easy because my life was governed by only a few simple rules. And for any given situation, the correct answer could always be easily uncovered by asking yourself one simple question:
“What would a ninja do?”
And wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I remembered this one simple tidbit from my childhood, everything suddenly fell into place. I had the answer.
What would a ninja do indeed?
He would get revenge.
LIKE A SNAIL, I’VE GOT TO FORMULATE A PLOT
When plotting my revenge, one thing became clear at the outset – I couldn’t give the old man a cake. Not only could I never live with myself if I gave him exactly what he demanded, but also the creamy frosting of a cake would show evidence of the evil tampering I had in mind. But if not a cake, then what?
“Mochi” – Japanese rice dumplings – were a good alternative – commonly given for almost any occasion, they are also suitable as an “apology” gift. But a quick glance at the local Japanese sweets counter revealed only the kind with a dusted coating on top which would betray my intended actions. Time was running out and I didn’t have the leeway to run to a bunch of different stores to find what I needed. Just as I was about to despair that revenge was to be plucked from my oh-so-richly-deserving clutches, my eyes alighted upon a small decoratively wrapped box in the lower right hand corner of the glass shelf.
“Say, what are those?” I inquired to the helpful sales lady.
“Those are RAKUGEN. They are a snack made of dried and blown sugar between two Japanese style wafers.”
“Are they popular amongst elderly people? I would like to give one as a gift.” I inquire as innocently as possible.
“Oh aren’t you darling?!” she exclaims. “Yes, they are one of our best sellers for gift giving. All elderly Japanese people love them! They are very traditional.”
“Just one more question, if I may. Do they have any sort of powdered coating atop the wafers?”
“No, just the wafer. The wafer itself is hard and smooth, with no coating.”
I struggle to contain the deep bursts of maniacal laughter bursting forth inside my chest.
“Perfect. I’ll take one box please.”
IT HAS BEGUN
I roll back to my crib and set the box down on the
operating table desk. And now if you will bear with me, I would like to take this opportunity to educate you about the anatomy of japonicas sweetus – your common box of Japanese sweets.
Most sweets – including the kind you get as omiyage (souvenirs) come swaddled in multiple layers of wrapping. The outermost layer is generally a generic paper wrapping with a sticker on either end – one identifying the shop name and the other indicating the contents of the box and providing nutritional information. The paper is sealed tightly with glue along the long “seam” which stretches from one end of the box to the other, which makes it impossible to cut the paper open lengthwise without ripping it.
Fortunately the ends are another story. Folded to exacting standards, they are held shut by only a single dot of glue on each side, and the sticker in the middle. In yet another manifestation of Japanese attention to detail, the adhesive on the sticker is easily removable and re-sealable (like the “peel on/peel off” multi stick tape you can buy) for easy opening by the recipient.
The glue dots are similarly loose and we find that simply by inserting an exacto knife blade between the folds and twisting, the entire assembly opens and we can extract the contents without incident.
The next layer is the box. Unlike American candy boxes, the box is never sealed and opening it involves nothing more than lifting the cover. Awesome.
Lifting the cover reveals the final – and most challenging – layer. The individual wrapping pouches. Japanese goods never come in bulk – everything is always individually sealed, even if it’s inside of multiple other wrappings. (over/excess packaging is a common environmental criticism of Japan.) If we are to complete our revenge, we are going to need to find some way to open the individual vinyl pouches to access the contents and then somehow reseal them.
ENTER THE THERMAL SEALER
People usually say that it’s good to “have friends in high places”. Now certainly this is true, but during my time in Japan I have found that more often than not, it also pays to “have friends in the right places”.
In this case, the “right place” would involve a person who happens to have access to a commercial food service-grade thermal sealer. And who would have such a specialized piece of equipment? A company president? Nay. A traditional mochi maker? Definitely.
Am I friends with any mochi makers?
Yes. Oh yes.
“Hello?” My friend sound sleepy.
“Hey, how’s it going? I was wondering if I could ask you a huge favor.”
“Sure… what’s up?”
“Umm, can I borrow your family’s thermal impulse sealer?”
“I just need it for a couple of hours. I promise I won’t break it.”
“…umm, okay I guess. What are you going to do with it?”
“Trust me, it’s better if you don’t know.”
“Does this involve the old man?”
I inadvertently let out an evil laugh.
“Oh my god you’re right, I don’t want to know. I’ll bring it over in a few.”
True to her word, my doorbell rings about 30 minutes later as my friend arrives bearing gifts of thermal sealers.
“My god panda, you stink”.
“Thanks. I haven’t showered in a week.”
“What? That’s disgusting! Why not?!”
“I’m building up.”
“…building up?” she stumbles over the unfamiliar words.
“Yes. Now you might wanna leave. Things are gonna get nasty here in a minute.”
RETURNING TO THE ANATOMY LESSON:
Here we can see a single individually wrapped RAKUGAN.
The first thing we need to do is take the box cutter and make a single sharp excision to open up the package. We can discard the end bit as we won’t need it any more.
Now we have ourselves a single, naked, and exposed Japanese delicacy soon to make its way down an old bastardly man’s gullet. Examining the surface we note that it’s smooth, hard and slightly porous, exactly as described. Perfect.
Hmm. But it looks a little plain, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it look like it could use a little additional flavor? Oh yes. A little special flavor.
LET THE MAYHEM BEGIN
You’ve waited long enough for this part ladies and gentlemen, so let’s get to it:
We’ll start off with the armpits. The valiant efforts of my American-strength Speedstick deodorant can do little to mask the disgusting non-showered mustiness of a week’s worth of armpit buildup. I have to be careful not to swab too hard, lest the dried sugar in the middle absorb any gunk and turn a telltale color. Just the wafer ends.
Dab. Dab. Just a little dab ‘ll do ‘ya.
I do half the box in the armpits, 2 cookies per pit. It’s absolutely disgusting – at one point I have to pick off a single armpit hair that got snagged on a wafer end. I almost barf imagining someone putting this in their mouth. For a moment my conscience starts to tug at me. Then I remember everything the old bastard has put me through and think of his brand new shiny $1200 bumper gleaming at me from across the parking lot.
What Would a Ninja Do?
Not give up halfway, that’s for sure.
So now we’ve done the armpits. What’s next? There’s only one other logical place to go from armpit…
NOTE: Originally there was more to this post, but in the interest of human decency I’ve decided to censor it. I’ll let your imagination take over and fill in what used to be here.
CENSORED FOR DECENCY’S SAKE
So now we have 8 RAKUGAN drenched in the most foul and disgusting skin secretions the human body is capable of producing. I examine them closely and note to my pleasure that there is no superficial evidence of my tampering – no discoloration and only the faintest whiff of an odor (unless you get really really close). But I know where they’ve been.
And that’s all the revenge I need.
The last step is to reseal the RAKUGAN in their individual plastic pouches. I carefully slide them back into the bags and with a quick press of the thermal machine, we get an industrial strength seal.
A few of the edges are jagged, but a ruler and confident hand with the exacto knife quickly rectifies this situation.
And what do you know? The results are indistinguishable from the real thing. Is that a beautiful seal or what?
Sources say yes.
A side by side comparison of the original thing with the “special flavor” edition. The first is noticeably shorter, but after identically processing all the packages in the box, no one will be any the wiser.
A shot of the handiwork next to the tools of the trade.
What Would a Ninja Do?! Strike down upon his foes with great vengeance and furious anger, that’s what!
THE OLD MAN GETS HIS KARMIC KICK IN THE ASS
Later on in the day, my insurance man DG shows up to drive me to the old man’s house to apologize. Along the way, my conscience starts to act up again. I mean, maybe I acted too harshly? Shouldn’t it be upon me, as a young man trying to see the world, to be more understanding of old people’s idiosyncrasies and conservative ways of thought? Isn’t that what cross-cultural exchange is about? Isn’t this a horrible horrible thing to do to another human being? Am I really so juvenile?
As we roll up to the house, I’m teetering on the edge. I am furious at the old bastard, at how he cheated me out of $1200 USD and how rude he was to me. On the other hand, I am desperately trying to be a better person, trying to rock the Gandhi “Turn the other cheek” tip. I actually have another box of (untampered) treats in my bag – originally intended as a surprise gift for DG. I could just give the normal one to the old bastard and buy another one for DG later…
DG rings the doorbell. The wife answers and DG introduces himself. She runs around the corner to get her husband.
“It’s the insurance man” I hear her muffled whisper through the paper walls.
“What? I’m eating dinner. Did he bring that damn gaijin (foreigner) with him?” The old man makes no pretense of lowering his voice.
The old man shuffles around the corner wearing some very retarded bugs bunny slippers.
DG and I bow and DG starts to apologize deeply. The old man cuts him off mid-sentence by literally waving his hand in front of his face.
“This has nothing to do with the insurance. Get out of my house.” he spits at DG.
DG shoots me a look as he shuffles backwards. It says “I tried. Good luck dude.”
I take a deep breath and swallow all my pride and anger. I bust out my apologies in the deepest, more polite honorific Japanese I can muster.
“Mr. [Old Bastard] I am so very very sorry that I damaged your bumper and caused you any inconvenience at all. Words cannot express how much sorrow I have in my heart for any trouble which I may have caused you.”
I leave out the part about him being an asshole. I hold my bow at the lowest position and raise my eyes expectantly. Will he finally relent? Will he apologize too? Will he at least graciously accept my (absolutely unnecessary) olive branch?
A few seconds tick by. tick tick tick.
He opens his mouth.
and then the yelling begins.
“You stupid foreigner! You are so rude! I cannot believe how rude you foreigners are! You’re sorry!? You caused me so much problems! You ruined my bumper! The new bumper, it is no good! It looks like shit! It is the wrong color! If you look at it you can clearly tell it is the wrong color! It is horrible! This is unsatisfactory! How dare you cause me all this trouble! You foreigner!”
I actually vomit a little bit in the back of my throat as all my rage comes rushing to the surface. I snap up from my bow and glance back at DG. We’re both thinking the exact same thing – the old bastard demanded a completely unnecessary $1200USD bumper, received it and now has the fucking gall to complain IT’S THE WRONG FUCKING COLOR!!?!!?? (it was a stock bumper straight from the dealership btw. it goes without saying that the color is correct) I swallow the vomit (it’s gross) and clench my fists so hard my nails start to cut into my palms.
The man keeps yelling.
“You are so rude. I cannot stand you – I mean, you are a public official but you don’t know anything about Japan! You are a waste of our money! You should study more about Japan! You cannot understand our Japanese ways! They are too complicated for you! How rude! You are so rude!”
As the man yells, he begins to froth at the mouth in that way that old men do sometimes. Food flies from his mouth and I watch in horror as this one disgusting bit stuck between his teeth clings on for breath after breath before finally flying loose and whipping straight through the air between us and landing in a big globule of spittle and half-chewed tofu on my shirt sleeve. The old man swats the half chewed food from my arm and continues ranting and raving.
After about three minutes, he finally winds down. I open my mouth, uncertain of what is going to come out next. All my senses concentrate as my mouth, acting as a rogue agent, starts to eject syllables out my already-moving lips. For a second I honestly fear that I am going to pummel this shitty old bastard to death on his own front stoop in from of his wife and my insurance agent.
The gap into silence.
And before I know it, the world is moving again and I find that I’m talking.
“Mr.[Old Bastard] I am so very, very sorry for all the trouble and damage I have caused to you. Furthermore, I apologize for being an uneducated foreigner and a waste of your tax money. Please know that I will study as hard as I can from this day on so I can learn the sophisticated and complicated ways of the Japanese culture so that someday I might be as sensitive and caring as you. Please allow me to give you a small token to show you how very sorry I am for my rudeness and trespass.”
My hands have already reached into the bag and closed around a box. As I withdraw the thin narrow rectangle, my eyes alight upon the familiar blue wrapping paper and slightly askew end stickers. I hand the man the RAKUGAN with a deep, deliberate bow.
“I searched long and hard to find these RAKUGAN for you. They are well praised throughout the region for their delicate and -” I struggle to contain my evil smile – “unique flavor. I am certain that you will find them to be delicious and most traditional.”
The old man snatches the box from my hands without a word and dismisses me with a wave of his hand and a snotty “get out”.
As I climb back into DGs car and settle back for the ride home, I close my eyes and imagine the old man eagerly ripping open the package and slowly lifting one of the sweat soaked cookies to his wrinkled, withered old man lips. Perhaps he’ll even eat them for dessert.
A broad smile breaks out across my face, and for the first time in two months, I feel the dark and heavy shadow of the old man lift from my soul.
How about that? Tomorrow really is a brighter day.
POST SCRIPT: To those of you who may have thought I acted too harshly, I ask you not to judge me. I gave this old man every opportunity to redeem himself. I swallowed my pride and (extremely justified) indignation at every step of the way – gave him a $1200 bumper, watched him rip me off, stood there while he insulted me and acted the racist fool, even brought him his fucking cake and let him spit all over me. I turned the proverbial other cheek so many times I started to develop a neck cramp. All I was looking for was for him to show a single shred of human decency. I was ready to pull out all the way to the very end – fuck, he didn’t even have to apologize (though by all means he should have) – all he had to do was graciously accept
my apology! But he had to act the bitch to the very end and keep screaming bullshit at me.
Motherfucker got everything he deserved. We can only bend so far in the pursuit of “cross cultural understanding” before we have to take a stand. Otherwise people will take advantage and drain you for all they can.
Now listening to: “BT feat. Tori Amos – Blue Skies (Delphinium Days Remix)”