Daniel in Japaniel

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The Cutest Friendships

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Getting sick away from home is a difficult thing. Really it has been over a week now of this simple cold. It has worn off on me though. Though, I still wake up around noon to two in the afternoon to begin my now regular day. So today, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month I wake up at 12:12 (it was 12:32 actually) to continue my blogging journey.

First let’s talk about where I live. I am in a surprisingly quite neighborhood only twenty minutes from Shibuya (one of the most busiest pop-markets there are). Here in Soshigaya-ookura, students come in to the next door university (Nihon University) trading places with the commuting population boarding the trains in bound to the Yamanote-pack. Around 6 PM they change places once again. Students now head out for the standing bars, the furugi (used clothes) stores, or maybe the nearest Starbucks to grind away at homework.

Soshigaya-ookura is really known for one thing: Ultraman. Perhaps we iconically know Japan by Godzilla (close second would be Pokemon). However, Ultraman vastly outclasses Godzilla in the salaryman conversation circle. It is well known that in a battle to the death, Ultraman would reign supreme. No problem.

To this end, Ultraman can be seen soaring around Soshigaya. I have found five statues of him so far, and continue to find new ones each day. The latest discovery would be Ultraman-Cafe, which plays Ultraman-movie as long as they are open on their 60 inch plasma-flat-screen-what-not-what-not.

Little tid-bit for you, Ultraman’s creator said inspiration came from staring at Miroku-bosatsu, otherwise known as Maitreya, or the future Buddha foretold to save this world. Since hearing this, I make sure to clap my hands twice and bow whenever passing under the Ultraman-tori’s of Soshigaya.

It’s also been suggested that, on a cold day, one can find Ultraman sweeping up the yellow leaves and loose trash gathered around the Soshigaya-Ookura station. True story.

As for my homestay family, I couldn’t have lucked out any more. They are fantastic. Noe is hard at work on her first gallery opening. After returning from teaching classes and managing the studio space at her work, she comes back and tirelessly scans proof after proof onto her computer. She has not yet begun the arduous process of picking her favorite shot of each of the 200 babies. She has thousands of photos to go through yet. This doesn’t stop her goofing off with me while I cook, or come out with Yuki and I to visit the locals.

Yuki, her husband, is by all accounts brilliant. One of those guys who can talk endlessly about any topic if you pressed him, but humbly adds to conversation rather than dominating it. He met Noe at the same photography school (Noe was a teacher’s aid at the time), and after graduating, chose to continue work for the Tokyo fire department, rather than climb the salaryman ladder. Because of this he works every other day, and when he works he takes on a 30 hour shift. His return home is that like a soldier’s. Hugs fly around, lots of love.

Probably what I appreciate most about this homestay, is the love. Noe and Yuki are still a reasonably young couple. They chase each other down the hallway occassionally. They share smoke breaks. They cook for each other, Yuki typically making dinner, Noe usually making sweet little rice cakes for lunch.

This is the kind of place I have been living in, and it is fantastic.

Generally I have been catching up on other writing projects: one, a series of shorts on imaginations on Japanese life from the perspective of a homeless NOVA-er (an ex-english teaching company that attracted and then stranded many ex-pats here); two, an essay on Ramen culture here, heavy on the field research. I have also been plowing through my Japanese textbook in order to catch-up with my classmates state-side (this is actually harder than it sounds… forcing yourself to memorize kanji especially is difficult when your cellphone will intelligently predict the sentence you want to write). I have also found companionship in “Moby Dick”. There is no better novel to read cruising along the endless subway lines of Tokyo, than this Melville tome.

So that forms the basic skeleton of my day. I usually hop coffee shop to coffee shop lugging these essentials around with me. Now don’t for a second imagine some tasteful, coffee cove in some back alley. Usually, I find the most obnoxiously chain of chained spots- right by the train station, and watch commuters swipe their Suica rail cards while I dare foreigners to look me in the eye. (Side note: not sure if this sort of tourism-culture exists in other countries, but rarely can I talk to foreigners here on account that they like to suspend themselves in the “Lost in Translation” dream world- that they are alone among a viciously homogenous population. Not the case really, each subway car, I guarentee you has their fair share of Murrays and Johanssons. Actually, I picked up a “10 Ten Places in Tokyo” book the other day, and it has a special section on how one can retrace their fictional steps. True story.)

As for the special occasions that have popped and propped up in my life lately, let’s start with last Sunday.

The afternoon was spent with Marie and Yuki at the “Visions of America” photography exhibit at the Yebisu Garden Place. A mix of famous American and Japanese photographers alike, the gallery was a meditation on American culture, the road, the protests and the wars.

Afterwards we took the subway the local girl’s college to see my friend Takahiro Momoeda’s male choir “The Wagner Society” sing Classical, in Japanese and Latin, then finish up with tribute to Porgy and Bess. Unfortunately I only could stay for the Japanese portion, though I was hoping to catch a little of “Bess you is my woman”.

I had to leave early because my roommate from this summer’s Keio CCC program, Ryo Kakinuma, got some of the student’s together for a “Welcoming Party” on my behalf. We met up in Shibuya, yelled our “久しぶり”s, and made our way over to “Doma Doma” a famous Izakaya chain. Izakayas, if we remember, sport a beautiful array of typical Japanese-style tapas, and, most importantly, cheap drinks.

Picture montage time:

Maybe an hour into our festivities, myself, well versed in how insufficient I am in Japanese, a certain on going internal monologue at this point of “wow, their speaking Japanese”, Toshi sensei, Ph.D. in American Literature, rolls in sporting his beauty and equal brilliance. We spend a good portion of the dinner chatting about the whale (what he wrote his Thesis on, actually) while he’d return back to the students making them laugh with his, I can only imagine, fantastic Japanese witticisms.

In his spare time from teaching nine classes, he enjoys writing for a popular music magazine here in Japan. Soon he’ll be spending his sabatical in the states, teaching.

After the meal was finished, Toshi dropped two mon-en (220 bucks) like nothing, and declined to join the second party of Karaoke.

Karaoke, a treat, as always, astonished me once again. My past experiences with the craft has only been with businessmen, typically more than twice my age. Their voices cracking as they croon away at Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones hits of their youth.

Now I was surrounded by pros. A generation that’s grown up never knowing a time without the inebriated past-time. Really born and raised to cover songs. And, damn, when Daisuke and the bunch started J-Rapping, I was really too embarassed to try my hands at Paul Simon covers. Though I did, sick voice and all.

The couple hours of singing cost fifteen bucks around, and we all said our “お疲れ様”s this time at Shibuya station, while everyone checked last train times with their Yahoo equipped cellular devices.

This night out was enjoyed after a rough three or four days in bed (futon) coughing and sneezing. It was the shining light that life in all it’s rhythms was picking up again. A reminder that time is too short to wonder what to do.

So the next day, I sat in the skyline cafe, Muriwui, sipping on ginger tea, eating fried potatoes, occasionally talking to the burger chef owner- who had lived 30 years in San Francisco. When I got up to pay the bill, I noticed the two girls who had been taking an English lesson in the corner of the room got up too. Wrapping up my red plaid scarf, walking down the stairs, I decided to pick up a few veggies for dinner. I turned around to grab some garlic, when I noticed the girls had followed me into the grocery store. I tried my tired joke “久しぶり” (long time no see), and we chatted while we picked up food. Little did I know at the time, that we were really shopping for the next nights dinner.

Rie, a local musician with her husband Daisuke, invited me over for dinner. The 25 and 24 year old couple (respectively) have a ballad duet with Hawaiiain influences called かのんぷ (Kanonpu). Daisuke sports a classical guitar or ukelele, while Rie is the lead singer and plays piano.

Here they are on a morning t.v. show actually.

Their apartment is unassailably cute, decorations reminiscent of their honeymoon abroad in Hawaii together.

We stuffed ourselves, bowl and bowl, trading back and forth between Japanese and English- correcting each other as we went along. There is no doubt, that I am slightly “cooler” simply on the merit of being a native English speaker. But that simply comes with the territory of being in Japan. After throwing sweet mochi cakes, green tea cookies, every which kind of shochu and nihonshu (sake), and a sample cd my way, we promised on another dinner date; the next time I would cook.

A 15 minute walk later back to my homestay, I realized I had neighborhood friends again. Since their income is solely off the dozens of concerts they have a year, we’re sole mates in our excessively freetime. Here’s their website if you wanna check them out, http://kanonpu.eek.jp/index.html

The next day, I visited Marie at her part-time job at the daycare, where I’ve essentially taken up a volunteer position. There I sold candy, watched the drama that is elementary school romance, played with a dog, and heard my first imitation of my American-accent-Japanese, by a lovely little boy.

Photos:

Around 6, we all parted ways and Marie pointed me in the direction of a standing-space-only Ramen shop, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I then took a train out to Yokohama where Rie and Daisuke were waiting with a free ticket to see Hawaiiain pop at this American bar called “Thumbs Up”. Because of their sweet connections, I met two former Yokozunas (god-like Sumo wrestlers), and listened to set after set of much needed soulfull music.

Photos:

Like giddy children we texted each other throughout the next day and decided to have a Salmon-Burger night. This time I invited my homestay parents over. The Salmon-Burgers would be my treat this time, the delicious Nabe- theirs.

Yuki and I made the feast together, which would be: 12 Salmon Burgers with cilantro on wheat bread, Mashed caramalized acorn squash and grilled asparagus.

All of us garlic lovers, we pretty much made garlic burgers with Salmon for flavor. About 10 salmon cuts, one garlic, a few pieces of white bread, fried mushrooms, half an onion, black pepper, 3 eggs later, Yuki, Noe and I went over to Rie and Daisuke’s place (of course picking up refreshments along the way).

Needless to say I was as giggly as a cub scout on his first marshmellow bonfire. I could think of nothing cuter than a union of my host family and Kanonpu.

Yuki, Noe, working couple they are, had to unfortunately leave early. After they parted- Daisuke and Rie stopped everything. Daisuke looking at me seriously said, “Daniel, now is the time for a private concert. A concert only for you, and your memories”. They played me a new song, and one of my favorites “守りたい物” (Things I wanna protect).

We have the cutest friendship ever. No offense meant. We’re meeting up tomorrow night for an okonomiyaki party, Japanese style deliciousness.

That almost brings up to date. But actually, I met up with Sae Goizumi, my homestay-sister I hosted way back, 5 years ago.

We met up at Shinagawa station the next day, and it was just like old times- except our respective language skills grew, as well as our height. We rode to Yokohama, and spent a little less than three hours Karaok-ing together. “You can Karaoke at 3 in the afternoon?”, “You can Karoake whenever” she responded.

I’ll try and dig up a flashback photo, but really- Sae (for those who have ever met her) looks completely different, but she still has her goofy sense of humor.

We then met up with her friend, also an alumni of the Catonsville-homestay program (esteemed as that is), Saki. We ate dinner at T.G.I Fridays. Which is, exactly what you imagine it to be, except there is a dangerous amount of drunk touring Americans, or sweet-hearts reunited in the island’s navy port.

I grabbed the largest burger I could, while Saki and Sae got some shrimp and pasta dishes. With bottomless sodas and greasey plates, it was another giddy childhood moment. I could stop smiling. And then- they surprised me with an ice cream sundae.

Like I started, getting sick away from home, is a difficult thing. I am incredibly forturnate for the friends I sometimes feel I don’t deserve. As I come into my own here, it only reminds me of the times I am missing at home. This morning began calling up Olivia out of homesickness. What lasted to a forty-five minute call, ended with me reminded of all the open arms readily available, the easily found love of life. This may be Japan, but experience is inextricable from life. Hospitality is eternal.

At any rate, I just have a stuffy nose now. With my Uncle’s arrival this Friday, time in Japan is slipping away. But it couldn’t be any more polite in saying good-bye.

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Written by Daniel

December 13, 2008 at 8:08 am

Posted in event, food, shopping, wandering

Thanksgiving in Tokyo (part 1)

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Japan, rising sun and all, would of course make me a day ahead (in case you haven’t caught on yet). With that it’s the proud holiday of turkey giving already.

I’m writing from Wired 360, an internet cafe sitting on the top floor of the Au Design building. This sort of semi-spherical glass covered structure is at the intersection of “Harajuku St.” capital of high school girls, frost highlighted business men and the tired “bohemian” types looking to meet up with their friends at Starbucks.

From the 360 view you can see the cue for the new H&M of Harajuku. This is where I would make a facetious comment about H&M in the fashion trend-spot Japan, but I really can’t. I went in and bought a green sweater. It was eighteen bucks, and I am happy.

And on this Thanksgiving day, although I found some dozen turkey serving, American catering establishments, I am somehow in Harajuku, 15 stops from the hostel, getting text messages about working when I return to Kyoto and calls apologizing for not coming out tonight.

All is well, of course, Julian is still in the vicinity, and I am sure we’ll end up eating. It looks though to be a rather quiet night.

Last night was spent in the “Red Light” district of Shinjuku, which was relatively tame really. It was Wednesday after all. There were several chances meetings that perked up the night (Julian has been down that he missed out on the take over of Thailand’s airport… which happened 2 hours after he departed for Japan). 1, ran into a couple sales people for an Italian watch or eyeglass whatever whatever and enjoyed some Sho-Chu and Cow tongue and heart at a standing bar (a perfect marriage, remarked one of the guys). 2, looking for a club or bar or something that wasn’t dead, we got picked up by Sayo and her friend Harumi, she invited us to join them for drinks at a VIP bar, which was really this charming fourth floor suite with a professional-hipster clientele.

We all ended up hanging out, bar to bar until the morning trains started up. Julian and I got back to New Koyo at 6 or so in the morning.

As for Thanksgiving, it would be fantastic to be home, with family or with any one friend from home, really. Holiday seasons have that tendency to make you want to love something. It’s hard to really get into the mindset of November and turkey however, while “Thank God it’s Christmas” blares out of technicolored aluminum trees.

To quote a good friend though, “hunger is the best chef”, and if anything, being away from everything creates an even greater sense of graciousness.

To everyone reading this, Happy Thanksgiving! Give someone a hug, eat some Tofurkey, drink some SoyNog, and pass out with family.

Written by Daniel

November 27, 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in food, shopping, wandering

Just Melt

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It’s hard not to brag when it comes to Tokyo, the “wet dream of Americans”, as “What White People Like” describe it as.

Suffice it to say, I am relieved to relax in the hands of my friends and get paraded around the sites as a visitor, not obscurely guessing at what may be fun.

Truly I have gotten the royal treatment in this taste of Tokyo. A friend of mine, Momo-chan, that I met over the W&M CCC program this past summer, has been kind enough to host me at his house. Sitting on the roof top terrace of a 28 story building, this family has a terrific view of Tokyo University and the surrounding city skyline. His father, a Japanese George Clooney in terms of looks, runs every day (training for a marathon) in the odd hours not lecturing at Todai or practicing at the Maternity Ward of the same hospital; while his mother, an anesthesiologist, works on her upcoming Herbology book and practices plastic surgery in her family business clinic.

I was just treated to a dinner of Shabu Shabu (the sound effect of stirring). Shabu Shabu is a crock-pot family meal invented during the Meiji Period, as Japanese chefs reconciled the influx of livestock into their cooking. Pretty much, plate after plate of rare pork and beef are brought to the table as they are flash boiled in salt or soy-milk broth and dipped in a daikon radish or ground goma (sesame) base and enjoyed over rice, as you enjoy glass after glass of Asahi beer or Whiskey-sours.

Before that though, my friends Yuki and Marie (below), have been linked in arms with me as they’ve taken me through Ginza (Tokyo’s 5th avenue), Shibuya (the grundgy Tokyo, described as Bucha-Bucha the sound of chaos in Japanese), Shinjuku (Central Park feel), Harajuku (T’s Soho), Reppongi (T’s Greenich Village) and Asakusa (T’s Kyoto) in all less than two days.

Truly time is hyper-realized in Tokyo. Compared to the 5 AM- 12 AM days of Kyoto, Tokyo seems like 1 minute a day, yet somehow my waist size doubles with each second.

Meanwhile, this “taste” has only excited me for the more time to come in this city as December falls upon Japan, and the year of the OX materializes.

There is of course plenty more to be done. So far, as I said, I have been pointed in the right direction. Starting tomorrow however, with the return of Julian from Thailand, we shall really see if I have the feet to manage.

So far I have been averaging 8 hours of walking in Tokyo, but as Thanksgiving in Tokyo, a day of day care, and some modern art museum hopping approach, I think time on my feet will outlast any sleep I ever hope to have.

Tokyo will exhaust me for the rest of my life.

Written by Daniel

November 24, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Posted in shopping, wandering

VISA in Osaka

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It’s the end (or the beginning) of the typhoon season here in the Kansai region. I’m tucked away, luckily, in the immaculate computer lab of Ryukoku University’s Omiya campus. Other ABS students are around me. We are all plug in to our respective rainy weather music (personal choice of Jukebox the Ghost)

Although I claimed victory over the travel arrangements that be, announcing to the world that, yes, I will be going to Vietnam. The journey to make my words true has been exhausting. Luckily with the help of a much more gifted Japanese speaker I was able to receive a voucher for the trip; however, because I lack a VISA to Vietnam, I had to take care of that before purchasing the ticket itself.

No problem, a trip to Osaka became necessary (my unfortunate life). Julian and I picked up a round trip rapid pass to the city. It’s actually south of us and, unlike Kyoto, is not boxed in by mountains. So, while urban development makes these cities kiss (common, imagine the Twin cities, reaching mountain to every mountain of this island nation), Osaka continues to spread as far south as Japan’s second largest population finds necessary.

An exhausted state tucked Julian and I in for the thirty minute trip. The unfortunate side of this trip was our time crunch. The Vietnam Embassy, consulate of the general socialist republic blah blah blah, opens for two hours 10-12, closes and then opens from 2 to 4. No problem, we got there at 10:30 and proceeded to push maps and names into the helpful JR staff, getting colors, lines, numbers and hands thrown at us every way. Eventually we master the beautifully simplistic subway system, and get to the Hommachi district around 11.

And now, at no fault of ours whatsoever, we went north from the station (not south). Japan makes everything so simple, that you forget maps are usually oriented on the perspective of the person. In this case, the map was pointing South as North, and so we found ourselves uptown walking back to Osaka-eki.

Eventually we realize this, only after asking every other passerby “Be-to-na-mu?” pointing at our map. Now six blocks north of where we wanted to be, and with ten minutes left to closing time we booked it to the Embassy. Got there right at noon. However, like my mother, the Vietnamese Embassy finds it necessary to set their clocks five minutes ahead. Consistent rehearsal of this system has made them completely unaware that they’re always early. So, they closed the doors on us, handing us forms.

Luckily, they would open in a few minutes. Julian and I composed ourselves, drank Pacari Sweat while we went through brochures of Eco-tourism of Vietnam (circa publication date mid-80s).

We decided to go to our next plan, visit “American Village” or “Amemura”.

Now at this point, of course, we had already created our grossly overgeneralized opinion of Japan’s cities through “is” and “like”. Lemme show you, Kyoto is like Boston: old, humid, quaint, historical hot spot, a surprise it was never firebombed (too soon?); while Osaka is like Philly: industrial, grungy, local population fueling a culture scene. I guess we could go on and think Tokyo is like New York, except clean and houses roughly 120,000 war ready robot/cyborg/machines etc.

So we made our way southwest, ogling the outdoor/indoor market that like a hollowed aorta funnels Japanese through the bright shops, First Markets, Subways (selling foot longs at 8 inches), and 390¥ Thank You Mart!s.

Amemura (American Village) draws a much younger crowd, interested in buying vintage American tees at thirty dollar+ prices. Kanye West blares around corners and the employees chant “Irashaa” “maaseeeeei” like mooing cows, their syllables murmur and carry to the next Reggae themed store.

In a Germany based clothing store, InDesign?, we chatted it up with the employees, asking them, where do you usually go? One was a little ways more south, the other (Junk Cafe) was simply around the corner.

Located on the 9th floor of M building, the front door says “7 DAYS OPEN! cafe all time O.K !!”. Engrish at this point in the trip has faded from it’s original gaudiness. At time, we were unphased, I probably read it and thought sincerely, “this will be great!”.

Of course it was. Lately, I have been hitting the jackpot on tasteful cafe’s. Back home, I was getting to the point where I’d take out every employee of the next techni-colored chalk, beatle cover playing, roasteria (weapon of choice, probably a french press). Now I don’t think there exists a bizzaro-japan version of me who craves exposed brick and vintage 50s steel signs, but I am not him.

There are two sections, a window seat bar area where Pinocchio is playing on a flat screen, Chinese and Japanese subtitles underneath, and then, straight ahead, are red linen covered Norwegian otherwise inspired foam forming furniture. A cute japanese duo are texting, knees together, chatting about something, about sisters.

At the bar Julian orders a “Master Burger” and I, a “Taco-Curry”, both set meals with iced coffee. A Tom Jones J-Remix plays while Julian takes sepia photos of the cafe. Bullion broth in tea cups are brought and for a moment we wonder if those are tea leaves at the bottom or dehydrated scallions. We left a little for the meal (always identify the palette cleanser in these situations).

The about six dollar meals, each, were gigantic. The Master Burger is a teriyaki marinated burger (sans bun) with a soft-boiled egg for a hat and spam and rice as company. The Taco-Curry on the other hand is a crispy cold pile of lettuce, pico de gallo salsa, with Nekojita hot curry and some chili-fried beef sprinkled on top. With the soup-tea, and our iced coffees (that look like fountain soda Coke with it’s tall glass and iconic red straw), it was hard not to gush with each bite. In between bites, the happiness of our meal made us laugh about anything. The view outside, for instance, had in the reflection of a glass covered business tower a scale model of the Statue of Liberty, bought with High-heel and bronzer profits.

In planning for our excursion in Osaka this weekend, it was hard not to want to go back to Junk Cafe but we had to let go, and trust that the clubs will be equally fulfilling.

We went in and out of the surrounding shops looking for the cheap cheap clothes, but after little success we made our way back (with more success) to the Vietnamese Embassy.

The man there hustled me out of twenty extra bucks on top of the fifty dollar fee for processing. Two conflicting sides tell me, one, he was either doing this because I wanted it same day, or two, when I told him my Mom came from the South he up’d the price. Hard to say, but I do know the American before me picked up his for 50$ same day.

The Vietnam ticket woes, sadly don’t end there. Some complications with Wachovia have made money transaction a little difficult (my ticket can only be bought in yen). Actually after lunch at the student Co-op, I plan on visiting the ATM and picking up my tickets.

Tonight, if the weather clears up, the ABS folk are going to have a few games of BPIP (Beer Pong in the Park) followed by the Drag Ball (“Diamonds are Forever”) at Club Metro downtown.

Tomorrow, Julian and I, and maybe a couple others (Charlie and Paul) will meet up with their Antioch friends to enjoy the night life.

Written by Daniel

September 26, 2008 at 8:39 am

Posted in shopping, wandering

Cafe Kosci

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Now for a new cafe. After grabbing some Indian food with friends, broke off to look for a store by my work. It is a stationary store that has been in Kyoto since 1663. On top of finishing my book on the Translator, I started writing about a man obsessed with his handwriting, who deals with his past passively by projecting so much meaning upon his script as it developed. He is an employee of Nova (an English teaching program in Japan) and follows him as the company goes bankrupt. In Music Man-esque style he teaches his students (mostly elderly and middle aged couples) that as long as they perfect writing the alphabet they will master English. Unlike Prof. Hill, he believes in his method competely. Every evening he analyzes their handwriting, and reads into their strokes as looking glasses into theirs, imagining mostly the absurd.

Anyway, that is the story so far. I picked up a notebook for this project, as I only want to handwrite it. The notebook is actually a blank sutra book. Japanese folder style. I assume the calligraphy / stationary shop I bought it from has in mind sutra-copiers in mind when they sell these books, but I plan to use it to make one continuous line of text.

At the shop I ran into a lovely Turkish woman who is in town for her Marble Art exhibit. Unfortunately it just ended, and her next gallery in Japan will be the new year’s June. A few of her pieces were marble with Turkish calligraphy, which carries a sort of religious connotation. She was stocking up for her next pieces. I met her because she was bargaining with the clerk, she asked me to translate for her. Luckily the clerk spoke about as much English as I could Japanese, so we found some ink blocks that suited Nilufer Tutuncu.

Afterwards I walked up the side street my work is on, and past by a little antique store. Unlike the stores I’ve been wandering through lately, all of the pieces were aesthetically placed apart from each other. Every tiny animal statuette or tin match cases I picked up the worker would tell me exactly how much the item was, making the number in the hundreds (of yen) hand against hand. Seven was two against five for a wood block print.

I talked to her for a little bit to find out that it was actually her part time job, that she actually is a recycling artist. Luckily, hers opens at the beginning of next week. She gave me card (website keyaki-3r.com) and said  she’d see me in a few days.

I left without buying anything, and then stepped into Long Island Cafe (Roungu-Iraando Cafuee) to find my boss in seza organizing bills with her husband (nicknamed “Master”). We talked about this past week, while we figured out my work schedule for the rest of this month. Although I have to get my Vietnam VISA tomorrow in Osaka, I am hustling back to work at 6:30 for a shift. Should be something to write about.

Now I am my new favorite spot. It is a cafe in the next building over from my work. Cafe Kocsi is on the second floor, plays Thelonius Monk, colors its cement walls in 80s seagreen while the rafters are exposed. A line of used books outline the entire coffee shop. Double dating philosphizing Kyoto University students smoke charcoal filtered cigarettes while the occasional barista practices their English with me. I am on the north facing side, on a low little bar right by the window.

When I sat down I read the title of the book spine in front of me “1973年のピンボール” (Pinball 1973), Murakami.

I ordered a Banana au lait and a croissant, chatted it up with my bar stool company. One of them gave the other a stone tortoise from the Darwin Museum gift shop in Osaka. They both are dressed in that Bohemian Japanese style.

Aside from business in Osaka tomorrow, Julian and I are planning a weekend with his friends in Osaka.

More to come.

Check out my Hokyoji album, they are pictures the monks took during the program. Also, please forgive me for posting so much lately, mind I was cut off from it for too long. Much love everyone, miss you all.

Written by Daniel

September 23, 2008 at 11:09 am

Posted in shopping

Packing

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It’s all done. I’m ready for the flight. I have the perfect bag. When I look at it I sigh. I have no idea if it will hold me through Japan, but I’m packed.

I’m not an avid smoker, or at least I’ve never been in the position where I’ve stood in line to buy a pack of cigarettes. However, whenever I’m in line at a store (WaWa or otherwise), I never miss an opportunity to watch the ritual of the purchase. I assume, as the cashier turns around to reach up for Marlboro Lights, I’m (he’s) thinking “I wonder how many I’ll get through until I buy more.” The question is both a challenge to myself and my health. The only thing I can equate it to would be buying condoms. You’re thinking as you look at the rows of fantastically decorated boxes, “Will I really have sex X amount of times before the expiration date”. Will this make me a worse person.

Among many of the neurotic things that pass through my head as I work the courage to buy condoms (I am that person), what seems to come up frequently is my mind’s vain attempt to ease my nervousness. What appears are exchanges with cashiers, they grab my box look back and me, then slowly smile. The smile registers as affirmation. They’re saying “what a good person, use contraception, reduce the risk of STDs”.

But in planning my trip, I’ve already cut out the cashier middle man. I picked Giant as my go to. It’s 24/7, so that means I can appear at 1 in the morning and maybe only run into restock staff. But, more importantly, Giant has self-checkout aisles. Normally this aisles flicker helplessly as cans of tomato soup roll back on conveyor belts, causing a scene, forcing cashiers to huff as they flash their magical uni-help bar code cards. However, these bilingual automatons are blessings to the late night contraception consumer. I don’t have to worry that as I scan: a tooth brush, sewing kit, poncho, old bay seasoning and a 12-pack of trojan reds, that the cashier will be busily dreaming up what I have in store for the night. Instead I can just happily scan away, thinking “man I could easily be a cashier!”

When I arrive in the pregnancy test and diaper aisle, however, my brand isn’t there. I still walk out triumphantly with my travel size tooth brush, but now I’m left searching my head for nearby 24/7 self-checkout stores. My closest option is Wal-mart.

Wal-mart, for whatever reason, missed out on the robot revolution. My only guesses are that they either a) enjoy the cattle call their 24 aisles produce, or, b) fear more lawsuits over mistreatment of workers through replacing them with these machines. They do, though, trust Coinstars (which our local Giant does not), allowing me to waltz in through the sliding doors with my empty pretzel jar full of a year’s past loose change. As I’m walking, I’m already accessing my mental Google map of the store to produce the most efficient path out of Wal-Mart. Because, unlike his jolly neighbor, Wal-Mart is always packed. They luckily they do have my brand, so I proceed to check out. Without a place to put my ten pound jar of coins, I’m forced to hand over the box with my left arm hugging the pretzel jar. The cashier makes a joke about tipping me, but instead of joining in her attempt at humor, I just give her my terrified animal look as I pull away my jar of (what she thinks is, apparently) my tip bucket.

I ask for no bag, and proceed to CoinStar. I let the box perch itself on the edge of the machine while I pour my change in and relive the unnecessary fretting of the midnight passed. I think about my upcoming trip to Japan, my ineptitude at all things consumer related, while vague images appear of me attempting this feat abroad.

“What’s your brand” a friend asked me (what started this idea for a first post). This summer has been a lot answering in sound-bites. I’m not sure what I’m ever saying in response. The question is “What are you doing in Japan?” and I usually respond with the typical meaningless itinerary breakdown. The same thing with packing. I can only make shrewd guesses at my needs. I won’t know if I will use all 12 of my compatriots before they expire until November 11, 2013 rolls by. The same as I don’t know if Japan will be the fulfilling experience it promises to be. I do know my neurotic guesses and assumptions lead me nowhere. But of course, that’s part of it. I’m only excited at finally casting away the branding of this trip. It will soon die as a concept, become an experience, then immortalize itself as a memory.

There should be no worry , then, in the naming of things. My answer is “Trojan Reds”

Written by Daniel

September 2, 2008 at 6:12 am

Posted in shopping