On Cord Cutting

It’s been a little while since I wrote one of these, mostly because I’ve been lazy.  I probably could have written something short, but I hate the idea of writing just because one can.  Also I did have work and personal things to do, so my time hasn’t exactly been my own recently. But something has been on my mind, and the path is a little meandering, so bear with me.

I never really got into Youtube in the same way most of my social circles and family have.  I’m a huge fan of it as a medium and how it enables people to talk about whatever they damn well please (within reasonable constraints) and grow a base of fans, viewers, haters and trolls.  But despite that, I’ve never been an avid viewer and I’ve never really understood the appeal.  This has been changing recently because of two Youtube channels: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and The Nerd Writer.

I can’t watch the former on regular TV because premium American channels aren’t available in Japan (not that I would pay for it in Canada either; my frugality is beside the point), but with the Daily Show having been handed over to a new generation of comedians, John Oliver is my preferred personality to watch from that previous generation.  Also, he was amazing to watch on Community, so he basically gets me as a viewer for life.

The latter is a recent discovery which I stumbled on while looking into the art and style of cyberpunk.  The Nerd Writer is done by Evan Puschak, a geek like myself and so many others of our generation who does a masterful job of breaking down topics in art, science, film and pop culture into interesting discussions.  His voice is very good for the tone and mood of his videos, the subject matter and writing are great for people like myself that appreciate and prefer the use of a higher level of vocabulary, structure and discussion of interesting ideas.

This comes up largely because my students constantly ask me about what I watch on TV, to which I have to constantly answer “I don’t watch TV”.  This is a bit mind blowing for them as Japan hasn’t reached that point yet where viewer numbers and dipping as the younger generation cuts the cord.

Part of this is because so many people rent prefab and furnished apartments out here that come with free cable (much to the chagrin of cable companies here who want us to pay and frequently harass us at our doors and outside our buildings), and it’s also in part that anyone who isn’t renting an apartment for work probably has a family and a house which needs cable.  Everyone has a TV and watches TV shows, and my counter culture is exacerbated by the fact that I also don’t have a phone number and I’m a foreigner.  It’s as if I’m intentionally pressing all kinds of buttons to seem more like an outsider.

Which, let’s be honest, isn’t difficult for me.  At a little over six feet, about around 95 kilos, curly brown hair and a beard, I’m a bit like the moon walking bear awareness test.  Japanese culture, and so much of Asian culture, doesn’t encourage standing out unless you’re doing it for a very particular purpose(cosplay, maid cafes, festivals, etc).  And me trying harder to stand out goes so against the flow that it’s no wonder so many are a little flabbergasted.

Wait, where was I going with this?

Right, lost my train of thought there.  Ah well, at least this talk about Japan was something different.

-GJ

Concerning Trains

(In the voice of Brit that resembles a parrot)

Trains.  That thing in Japan other people use to fall asleep on total strangers.

Trains. The vehicle, not the band because that’s a whole other bag of crazy.

Trains.  Those things that you think of whenever you hear Kenny Roger’s sing The Gambler.

Trains.  The thing that every Harry Potter fan wants to ride so much that they will run headfirst into a brick wall in London.

 

My new apartment is in Nagoya, which puts me a 40 minute train ride from work.  That’s not at all bad since my apartment is a 10 minute walk from the main station and my company pays for my train passes.  It’s pretty damn convenient, and whenever I’m going to be riding it for work it’ll be on the quiet direction: morning is busy into Nagoya, evening is busy out of Nagoya.  And the train system itself is really well timed.  You can count on the trains running on the posted schedule 99% of the time and they make announcements at the stations when there’s a problem rather than Twitter or their website.

But these magical metal conveyance machines aren’t something we use a whole lot in Canada.  Before I finished university, I think I used the subway/skytrain system in Vancouver only a handful of times.  I spent a lot more time in cars, buses, and even ferries.  After uni the Canada Line was put in and my bus route discontinued, so I ended up riding that line damn near every day.  And this was under protest.  My old express buses actually took less time than the new system.

But out here, I need to use them for going everywhere.  Next town over? Train.  Major cities? Train.  Water park and shopping centre? Train.  Mountain resort with Bond villain and sexy female sidekick named Clarissa Whetmore? I wish, but I also wouldn’t be surprised.

And despite my glowing recommendation, the bloody thing was daunting at the start.  I had very little idea of how the system worked and I intentionally avoided using it until I got a grip on the layout and understanding it.  Unlike Canada, there are different trains that only go to particular stops along the same route even though they all cost the same price.

For example, the train from work to Nagoya has four different trains running that line.  The local train is the slowest and literally goes to every stop.  It takes over an hour to get there.  The semi-express hits up about half the stops and takes 50ish minutes.  The express only stops at the big places and gets things done in 35 minutes, and the limited express goes to all the same stops  as the express but has assigned seating and a spiffy fast train that arrives in Nagoya in 25 minutes.

A similar system applies for the bullet trains(shinkansen), which as I learned have three or four different speeds.  But the trains don’t actually go faster or slower, they just stop more frequently.  The system seems to work well enough, but it is so indicative of the Japanese way of thinking which is somewhere between incredibly practical and disturbingly inflexible to the point of fetishism.  The system makes a lot of sense, but it would also be more efficient with very easy changes.  But nobody will ever make those changes, this is how it’s always been done and changing it will “inconvenience” too many of this already rapidly aging population.  But I digress.

Canada is a special beast when it comes to transportation, and this is something I never really understood until I came here.  The bus, train, seabus, and subway system are all part of the same company, and I never appreciated that until now.  Because they are all the same company, tickets and passes and workers are all part of that company so it makes everything a thousand times easier to coordinate and use.

But out here, there are three to five different companies alone in Nagoya(more in the bigger cities) running train and subways systems in the city.  It’s insane!  Up until a few years ago you couldn’t even use the tickets or cards between and systems and had to buy different cards if you needed any kind of transfer.  Now there’s a card you top off to use in and out, but I can’t imagine how mind boggling stupid it must have been to have to buy new tickets all the time for each of these companies who also used different ticket machines for buying tickets.  There is the Kintetsu, the Meitetsu, the JR, the various subway lines, and buses.  The only thankful part I am for that is they don’t run on the same routes.  That would be a whole other bag of crazy.

Bottom line: Vancouver ‘s system might be kind of stupid, frequently ahead of or behind the schedule, crowded and expensive, but I guarantee you it’s cheaper and more intuitive than any city in Japan.  I never appreciated how nice it is to have one pass for everything until I got here.

 

-GJ

 

 

A Conversation in a Smokey Bar

It strikes me as interesting in Japan how no one speaks English to me first. The first assumption from all Japanese  I’ve spoken with is to speak Japanese first and then English after I’ve proven myself woefully incompetent in their language. I asked a couple friends what they thought of this. What follows is a rough breakdown of what they said. For the safety of the innocent and guilty and myself alike their names have been changed.

 

Guybrush Threepwood:  They do it because they want to show you how superior they are. If they downgrade their language they have the social advantage!

Anastasia Beaverhausen: That’s ridiculous. Japanese people are polite in the extreme. They are being polite and assume you are capable of speaking with them rather than not because that is the polite thing to do.

Guybrush Threepwood: I find that assumption to be shockingly naive. Japanese people are not being polite; it is a disguised cultural norm to avoid potentially embarrassing situations. By starting in Japanese, you look silly failing to speak Japanese and they save face if their English isn’t good enough.

Anastasia Beaverhausen: That is incredibly racist to suggest that they are being “sneaky Asians” by calling it “disguised”. Not everyone of Asian descent is trying to be underhanded and get the better of you.

Guybrush Threepwood: I’m not being racist! This is a social coping system that avoids anyone from being embarrassed.

Anastasia Beaverhausen: That’s just another racist concept: Japanese obsession with embarrassment. You’re probably about to say this is avoid ritual suicide aren’t you?

Guybrush Threepwood: Well…it would be silly of me to do that now wouldn’t it?

Anastasia Beaverhausen: I knew it! You racist pig! How could…

 

At this point the conversation had devolved rather appropriately assisted by alcohol and we were all  granted a spectacular view of the gutter. The point, however, was understood.

Potential racism aside, there is value to the suggestion that it’s some kind of social embarrassment avoidance strategy. This is after all at least part of the purpose of euphemisms: by changing the embarrassing part of the scenario we can avoid a lot of potential problems which in my mind speaks to a lot of Japanese culture.

Having worked here for over a year now I’ve gotten a lot of insight into Japanese culture. And in simple terms it’s an attitude of avoidance that permeates throughout all facets of life. I suppose that wasn’t very simple, let me try again:  Nobody likes being embarrassed and Japan has elevated it to a fact of their culture.  People at work will always ask first before assuming anything because if it goes wrong they get embarrassed. Why get embarrassed when they can avoid it in the first place and protect you from it as well? It’s enlightened really, a social contract that helps everyone.

Or at least it’s another possibility for explaining this crazy country where very little seems to make sense most of the time.

In a Smoky Bar at Midnight

So I started this post by writing this giant rant about the ridiculous complications involved in moving house in Japan. I wrote it, proofread it, and got ready to post it.

And then hated it.

I’ve been writing casually for years now, and I use the term casually very loosely. I like writing for a whole basket of reasons, a lot of which are shared with why I like reading. But it took a whole lot of writing and reading before I got half decent at evaluating myself. And even then I wasn’t particularly good. Being a teacher has shown me that everyone is their own worst editor: you need to be twice as critical of yourself than others.

So then I tried to write about music.

THAT got the axe right quick. I’m not really what people would call a sharer. In fact I’m more the opposite since I like to hide my insecurities with jokes, lies, funny faces, and non sequiturs about the weather, local sports teams, and fauna.  But here I am in a smoke filled izakaya writing on my phone off stolen WiFi with a pint in my hand getting steadily snarkier by the moment. One of my friends or family is probably gonna message me later about how I’m losing touch with reality in Japan and I can’t keep it real anymore.

Well goddamnit. Maybe I gave up on writing about music too soon.

Whoever is controlling the demented robot DJ behind the counter set it to  a terrifying mix of American rap and Taylor Swift.  If I find the stereo and beat it to death with a bottle of shochu, maybe they’ll change it to something less likely to make me go postal and swap my underpants with my ties at work.

Speaking of creative neck wear popular among the mad and functionally insane, the situation in Nagoya hasn’t improved even slightly. They get their new teacher next week and they show no signs of understanding that they will probably turn the poor sod into a slobbering mess with delusions of humanity and a queer preference for hats that clowns would recoil at the sight of. They have problems that are only going to continue compounding because no one has the stones to make tough decisions.

Then again I’m not averse to watching someone get turned upside out and inside down. I’m actually interested in observing how a person falls apart and I’m sure I know a few people would delight in watching the same happen to yours truly. It ties into my interest in statistics and weird correlations. I’ll probably warn him if he starts showing signs of declining sanity, but after that he’s on his own. I honestly have no horse in this race, so his fate is in his hands unless he comes looking for help.

My co-workers have figured out by now that I have a great empty field of shits to give. The few seeds that sprout are reserved for a very select listing of  people, a list which includes my family, my friends, and the use of the Oxford comma and double spaces after periods. It pisses off all the right people that I care about that sort of thing. It’s the little things that keep me moderately unhinged.

Fantastic. Just fanfrickingtastic. The robot has switched to unconvincing R&B sung by overpaid artists who use stage names they picked out of a hat and spelt blindfolded. Where’s that shochu bottle?


-GJ

The Chicken Is In Piccadilly Square

Lately* the Nagoya schools have been having trouble with their teachers. The problems are happening at both the top and the bottoms of the corporate pyramid, so no one person can be blamed for anything that’s been happening.  And failures can very rarely be attributed to a single cause, so thankfully I have a plethora of people to blame for the shit that’s been falling my way!  As everyone should know: shit doesn’t travel up, it only goes down.

 

Let’s start with how it’s been affecting yours truly: basically I’ve been turned into some kind of part time fireman as I haul my flat Asian ass into Nagoya two or three times a week to put out teaching related fires resulting from a lack of teachers. Individually it’s not a burden, but it gets to you when you’re being told to turn your fire hose on one small burning patch two or three times a week while the house is still on fire.

 

There’s a teacher problem because the schools can’t seem to keep them. In the last two years, give or take a couple months, the two schools in Nagoya have gone through about eight teachers. And that’s just foreign teachers. My school by comparison has gone through two teachers in two years: the one I replaced and one who left six months before I started.  Nagoya can’t seem to hang onto teachers.

 

Part of THAT problem is because the schools are really poorly placed. Both schools are in very expensive parts of town, with nice big offices in very central locations. And our services are really expensive. This means each school needs at least fifty regular students just to break even. Neither has reached ever reached this mark.  Another part is that both schools are open all weekend and closed on either Tuesday or Wednesday. So teachers in Nagoya have to work weekends. I at least always have Sunday off, working all my weekends would drive me to a very special kind of crazy(the kind of crazy where puppets sing songs on a galleon trying to find an island that resembles a skull).  The schools need loads of students to stay afloat so any teacher in Nagoya is going to be worked within an inch of their lives on their weekend.

 

To top this problem off our work schedules mean we don’t get off until 9 in the evening. So the majority of the time the foreigners in Nagoya not only have their weekends shot, they’ve also been trampled on with prejudice by French cavalry. It’s no wonder teachers don’t want to stick around.

 

This has been made worse by the fact that both schools have been repeatedly understaffed for foreign teachers and the schools can’t recruit locally. Recruitment and assignment only happens through HQ so when we lose a teacher we never know when the replacement is coming. My school didn’t know I was coming until a month before I arrived. The result of this is that the one foreign teacher Nagoya has between both schools has been working VERY full days and a teacher from Gifu and I have been picking up the slack between teaching our regular classes(As of writing this that teacher has moved to part time work, probably a precursor to resigning).

 

And of course HQ can’t see that there is a big problem out here, maybe no one is telling them how dire things are or because they don’t care. The former manager resigned a few months ago and her replacement was one of her counsellors who had started with the company a mere 6 months earlier. She did am admirable job(before taking training to be a teacher) but at the end of the day you can’t grow a steel scrotum overnight. The same goes for the other school.  When I first started covering classes the management job was being done by two different people who wouldn’t be be able to make a choice between Pepsi or Coke without a half hour closed door meeting and consulting a steering committee. Again, both really nice ladies who really just got thrown into a job that neither were ready for.

 

No one seems to understand you can’t pick up and toss just anyone at a problem and expect them to succeed. Especially someone who hasn’t ever been a leader before and hasn’t had the opportunity to grow and learn how to be one.

 

All of this coupled with branch managers who rarely get told anything by HQ and also seem like they don’t understand the fundamental problems they are faced with has me donning a yellow hat, fireproof jacket and boots that could curb stomp unobservant fowl. Hell, last year we got a memo from HQ telling us we could take our ties off starting May 1st. We got the memo halfway through June.  HQ manages information like this is a military operation and one of us might drop the ball and let zee Germans know Normandy is our target. Apparently teachers are mushrooms: keep them in the dark and feed them shit.

 

-GJ

*Lately seems to mean about 6-8 months these days.

On Being a Grown Up

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately that involve lamentations on my pretense of not being an adult, conversations that start with “having responsibilities” and usually ends with “sucks”.  I’ve also had grown up discussions about taxes and savings and <shudder> children….  These are things that I am not yet prepared to discuss with anyone.

The simple truth is that I have a genetic predisposition against growing up.  I’d blame my sister or mum, but that would be a clear lie to just about anyone who knows me or has met my older and less handsome twin who I sometimes refer to as “dad” or “father”  in order throw off potential assassins.  Like him, growing up feels like a word I’ve adopted in order to blend in and become part of the crowd, but which we have very little intention of accepting without a bitter prolonged battle in which elves and orcs will fall in droves.

Despite this, I can feel that dirty wench “Time” sidling up behind me.  Everyday I have moments where I mention to a student about something they don’t know about because I was part of the final generation who knows about cassette tapes, VCRs, rotary phones, and knows that the Fresh Prince of Bel Air isn’t a new type of Subway mascot.  It’s these moments that cause me to facepalm myself and sob for my increasingly disappearing childhood.  And each time I do this, I feel just a little more anger and hatred for the young and youthful.  

But Japan has interesting ideas about growing up, and I’m starting to see why a large group of foreigners stick around this country despite how messed up it seems.  The simple truth is that being a little childish or having childish interests is perfectly acceptable.  Grown men and women going to watch anime movies, hanging out and buying toys or collectibles from gaming stores, playing arcade games for hours, drinking and eating foods that seems childish are all things that foreigners see locals doing without anyone except us thinking it’s weird.

Japan doesn’t quite prescribe itself to the concept of putting away your toys  and leaving your childhood behind.  It seems to accept or at least tolerate older people taking part in childish things.  I think half of my students regularly go to Disneyland or Universal Studios, at least three have all-year-access passes.  And none of them are younger than 20.  My Magic: The Gathering game group is filled with grown adults(both men and women) ranging from late twenties to late forties.  A lot of them have families, all of us are working smucks, and we regularly invade and take over a gaming store in Nagoya every Tuesday.


And it isn’t weird, rather, it’s encouraged right alongside a plethora of internet cafes, arcades, video game and hobby stores, regular manga and anime events, and cosplay.  This is a country that matches with a certain type of foreigner, one of which I’m similar to but not one of.  It encourages this sort of behaviour, and I’m not sure if it’s (1) progressive or (2) yet another way Japanese silently judge people.  It could be either or even both, this is a weird country that I doubt I’ll ever understand.

But I hope that North America does accept this, because it would be amazing.

 

-GJ

This Is How My Brain Works

Today someone posted some hamster supplies on Mie Prefecture Garage, a Facebook group for stuff people want to sell or get rid of before them leave country.  People sell all kinds of things: classic novels, furniture, beds, cooking tools, clothes and slightly used and Sigried-and-Roy-approved animals. This young lady is selling a hamster wheel, ball, cage, pooper scooper, some food, a water bottle, and a few toys.  I had only one insensitive and dark question:

What happened to Pikachu?

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I went to dinner last night with a great friend.  We tried to get in for Japanese hot pot(Shabu Shabu), but the wait verged on the absurd.  The man apologetically told us the wait for three hours at least.  Instead, we went down the street and around the corner for all you can eat and drink sushi*.  It was amazing, but the hostess/waitress was a lady of the older persuasion who had a face, attitude and response to two uppity white folk which gave me a singular and somewhat intoxicated thought:

I bet her own children don’t talk to.

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A few mornings ago I woke up in the morning and took stock of my life.  I thought about where I am, where I’m going and what I’m doing with my life.  I thought about Facebook and how it’s an endless parade of other peoples successes, I considered the Whatsapp chat which one half of my social circle use to see if people have dinner plans, share pictures of tiny humans, talk about watches and money, and generally make me feel like my life is a worthless pile of nothing.  A lesser man might feel down and depressed because of this, but my only response was WWABD:

What Would Anthony Bourdain Do?

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Since coming to Japan I’ve lost at least 25 pounds.  That’s an eighth of my current body weight.  That number worries me, if I lost an eighth of something else of me I would be calling for an ambulance.  People ask how I did it, and it puzzles me.  Is this the normal question?  When someone loses weight are you supposed to ask how they did it?  Cuz I have no idea how I did it.  I don’t track my food intake, I don’t measure the ins and outs of my bodily fluids, I don’t really pay attention to what I eat and drink anymore than the birds that gather outside my window to harass me each morning.  So in my typically snarky attitude, I say:

Drugs.  All the drugs.  Especially cocaine.

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I wash my beard.  I assume that like the hair which covers the rest of me that if I don’t it feels like steel wool.  But then I think “Wait a sec! I don’t wash my hair everyday** and it comes out fine, my normal bodily oils take care of that problem, shouldn’t this work with my beard as well? This hair is on the same body part as the vast majority of the rest of my hair, proximity matters doesn’t it?”  Apparently not.  My friends, take note:

Unwashed beards and mustaches can be about as pleasant as straw underpants.

 

-GJ

 

*I didn’t drink the sushi.

**Anyone who has ever had dry curly hair understands why.

Japan, Year One

I woke up this morning and had a brief, but profound conversation with myself.  It went a little something like this:

“Great jumping Justin Trudeaux has it been a year already?”*

“Yes Graeme you intrepid fart, it has.”

“Well….shit.”

Seriously.  I’ve been in this insane country for almost a year.  Mentally I think my cynicism and sarcasm arrived well before me physically and set up shop preparing for my eventually arrival.  I adapted surprisingly well considering my cultural background is more tea-based than ninja star-based, and I think I had a very quick culture shock compared to two very poorly remembered weeks in China.  But after one year things have been both surprising and disturbing.

Overall, I’ve been pleased with my cultural progression and adaptation, but my Japanese is a sore spot.  I haven’t had any drive at all to improve it beyond the basic phrases and words that I need for my day to day existence.  In fact, I’ve developed a well maintained air of ineptitude as it really really really helps me get away with all kinds of crap.  I discovered fairly early that a foreigner who can do more than I or has been here longer has a lot of expectations of their capabilities.  But if I keep myself at a very specific level of useless than I can accomplish a lot more with a lot less effort.

I learned a lot about Japan that I would never have known by living in Canada.  It’s amazing how much a country changes when you experience it first hand.  I know this seems obvious, but I’m not referring to the kinky fun stuff that we all known about Japan.  Japan has a lot of surprises for visitors but even more surprises for someone who joins into the culture.  Experience has taught me to keep an open mind, but experience in Japan has taught me to adjust my thought process from why to why not.  So many of my personal assumptions have been completely changed and I’ve adopted an intentionally rational thought process to adjust.  I’ve also had to adjust my interpretation of rational as well, but that’s a whole other rant.

This is a country that really desperately needs to get a grip on the future and embrace the rest of the world, but this won’t happen.  Japan and the Japanese people recognize there are problems and I have a very strong impression that the right people in the right places of power understand where these problems stem from.  Yet despite this nothing will change here.  The zeitgeist of Japan doesn’t want to, at least not right now, and this is a sad conclusion for me to draw.  There is a lot this country has to offer and culturally there is a lot we all could learn from them.

Hopefully this changes before it’s too late.

 

*Actual words may have varied

Hitting the Sauce: Eating in Japan

Eating in Japan is a fascinating beast.  On one hand the Japanese clearly have an amazing food culture, from the amazingly good curry udon to the four course 70 dollar puffer fish dinner for ONE.  And then on your other hand grasping that rusty sawed off shotgun you’re hiding behind the counter are the cheap and dirty bento meals that have a bare sprinkling of vegetation and the exchange of all things chicken or fishy into karrage.  Sometimes you feel immersed in the rich and authentic food culture that you see on travel and cooking shows, but more often than not you can’t go to a supermarket or convenience store without seeing the true Japanese food of the masses and wonder how the hell these people stay so bloody thin.

Fortunately the following isn’t a rant about the dietary habits of Japan(or me for that matter).  Instead the following is a list things that may surprise you about getting grub in Japan.

 

The Rule of Starch and Meat

Japanese eat a lot of starch, be it rice, noodle or bread.  Your meals will come with a healthy dose of rice usually and the supermarket is practically overflowing with various wonder breads.  If you live a low carb lifestyle abandon all hope, it is not possible in Japan.  At the same time Japan eats a shocking amount of meat.  Really.  Having eaten sushi all my life, had Japanese relatives and friends and been part of a Judo club I felt extremely confident in my Japanese food expertise.  I wasn’t convinced I knew all aspects of Japanese food, but I was confident it was mainly going to be the weird and wild that surprised me.

I was wrong.

Japanese eat a lot of meat.  Festivals have fried chicken everywhere, its like the Japanese equivalent to a hot dog stand.  There are a dozen different BBQ joints in spitting distance of my work and at least half as many all you can eat BBQ places that are busy EVERY night.  There are far more bentos with meat than fish, and even then fish isn’t being eaten by the young whippersnappers.  The younger generation has a gotten a taste for red meat and they aren’t going back.

 

Curry

Ask yourself one question: have you ever been to a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver(or Seattle, LA, Toronto, etc) that serves curry?  I’m willing to bet a good bottle of scotch that the answer is no.  Back home I never saw Japanese curry.  Ever.  It wasn’t The Great White Whale of Japanese food, the philosophers stone or the Land That Time Forgot.  It wasn’t a thing in any joint I hit up.  Hell, Japanese supermarkets in Vancouver don’t have curry.  It is non-existent.

But hop on over across the Big P and what do I find? Curry! Everywhere!  Curry breakfast buns, curry udon, curry ramen, curry and rice, curry steamed buns, curry bento!  The Japanese are nuts for curry in ways I never expected in my entire life.  And in the typical Japanese fashion of overthinking and designing something, curry restaurants like CoCo Ichiban let you customize your curry in ways you never imagined. Choose your flavour of curry, colour of curry, consistency, spiciness, meat, vegetation, and extras.  This stuff can be ordered over the phone and delivered! Japan. Loves. Curry.

 

Kaiten Sushi

Back home All-You-Can-Eat sushi is the “fast food” sushi and for a lot of people its the standard way they eat sushi.  And sushi usually comes in roll or maki form.  But not out here.  Kaiten sushi is the “fast food” sushi of Japan, those restaurants where food comes around on a conveyor belt and you can order by tablet in Japanese or English.

These sushi joints mostly do nigiri sushi with an occasional smattering of roll or maki sushi.  Nigiri is the way the vast majority of sushi is done out here and they will put ANYTHING on that little lump of rice.  I do mean anything.  Fried talapia? Done. Roast beef? Check. Bacon? Check. BBQ salmon with a mint? You got it. Lamb with mango chutney? I haven’t seen it yet, but give me some time in Tokyo. If roll is your style of choice you better be ready to adapt and accept the odd and unusual.

 

Ramen

It’s everywhere.  Learn to love it because its basically THE fast food of Japan.  I can usual go in, sit down, order and eat all in 10 minutes.  It costs in the range of seven to 10 bucks(over 10 is considered expensive) and that’s with a set meal of rice and egg.  If you don’t like ramen, may I recommend you have yourself waterboarded until you do? I prefer pho to ramen, but thats not because ramen is bad.  It’s great and amazing out here and the ramen in Vancouver does not compare.

Oh, and don’t drink the soup.  Taste it, but don’t drink it.  It is shockingly unhealthy for you, salt and fat out the wazoo.

 

The Supermarket

If you want cheap food convenience stores are not the way to go.  Nor is McDonalds or ramen.  Supermarkets have by far and away the cheapest bentos you will find on a regular basis.  One place in town has a full sized bento(larger than the ones at the supermarket near my work) for 3 bucks.  Just let that sink in.  For 10 bucks a day you can eat a prepared meal for breakfast lunch and dinner.

And the supermarket sushi will not get you sick. This isn’t the 7-11 sushi you’ve heard about.  It’s properly done sushi that is honestly very solid.  I get it fairly regularly.  If you’re budgeting hard and cooking isn’t one of your fortes, supermarkets will do you right.  Combinis will have the same stuff for more and with less.  Don’t bother.

 

As a final note, you can’t take away any food you don’t finish in Japanese restaurants. They do not do it and will not do it for you.  Suck it up princess.  Japan is a very wasteful country, get used to it.

-GJ

Here there be Typhoons

Heatstroke season is just about over here in Japan and coming in along with the return of pants, proper shoes, and full battle armor(suit and tie) by the end of October are…

Typhoons.

If you’ve ever lived in a country that gets regular typhoons than you know my pain.  September has barely started the weather can now change on the slightest of whims.  We can be enjoying pleasant and fun beginning-of-autumn sunshine one minute, and then running for our lives from a torrential rainstorm the next.   Riding on a bicycle through a typhoon? I don’t recommend it.  Walking through a typhoon? I recommend even less.

Last week we had a typhoon on my day off and it wrecked all sorts of havoc in this prefecture and just yesterday my regular Tuesday trip into Nagoya was all sunshine and waffles.  Or, at least it seemed that way right up until the skies opened up and the great thunder god Thor decided it was high time for a little thunder, lightning and rain capable of backing up toilets.  It lasted for two hours and keep me indoors for the entire time.  When it finally ceased, the ground was dry in less than 20 minutes.  Crazy.

If I ever held the notion that it rained a lot in Vancouver, that illusion has been thoroughly dispelled.  It does rain frequently back home, but the rain is light to moderate, usually pleasant and rarely miserable.  Carrying an umbrella is a choice and a good rain jacket is enough most of the time.  But here neither is enough on their own.  One must prepare accordingly.

Rain isn’t light in Japan*.  In fact, a light rain here is enough for me to seriously consider having a good long stare down and see who blinks first.  A heavy rain, hopefully without wind, is enough to soak my jacket and any bag I might have in less than a minute.  If it has rain my feet are getting soggy as well.  And at the same time it’s also hot.  Not crazy hot, usually somewhere in the high twenties, but still hot all the same. So even though the rain didn’t soak my clothes, the sweat and humidity under the jacket did.

No matter what country I go to, I always miss the weather of the Pacific Northwest.  It was obnoxiously wet, and it got you cold on those wet but snowless winter days, and if you saw the sun between November and March you broke into tears and clawed upwards towards the sky until its benevolent light faded.

-GJ

*Citation needed

Some people live more in 20 years than others do in 80. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person.