Archive for March, 2003

Spring Break ’03 Part 5 — Tokyo

It’s been a busy couple of days here in Tokyo. On TV right now an announcer is trolling the streets of Shibuya asking overly tanned teen aged girls about current events. One woman thought that America was at war with Hawaii. Another thought that Iraq was the entirety of Africa while America was located in three lonely islands north of Siberia.

Yesterday, I saw Kurosawa Kiyoshi‘s last film Akarui Mirai (Bright Future). For anyone who has seen his other works like Charisma, Pulse, or Cure, you expect a certain amount of oddness and genre-bending, but this film was probably the weirdest and perhaps his most subtle in his canon. It was half a horror film — a bit like Pulse — half a family drama like License to Live and then some other stuff like a mass of day-glo jellyfish and a band of teenage thugs sporting Che Guevera T-shirts, which didn’t really fit in either category. When the lights went up and the audience filed out of the shoebox sized theater, there was dead silence. Finally someone in the elevator in a black turtleneck and pink hair turned to her friend and said, “What the hell was that?”

Yesterday, I also went to my favorite CD store in Japan, Los Apson, located on the sixth floor of a normal looking office building. The place, which not only sold albums that are found no where else but also Mexican wrestling memorabilia and porno posters from the 1970s, was having an Anti-War sale. I took advantage of the 10 percent off for peace discount and bought a couple odd ambient discs (5 Sleepers and Ochi Brothers) while R picked up a few noise albums by Merzbow.

Working backwards, the day before yesterday I saw Marcus, my friend from my University of Michigan days. He’s living in Tokyo and somehow managed to snag a huge (and I mean huge) house in north Tokyo about 15 minutes from Ikebukuro. It has a large front yard, which is about as rare as having a swimming pool in Manhattan. He was evasive on the exact nature of the purchase, but I suspect it was some bankruptcy auction thing. Anyway, he had a few words of advice about living in Tokyo, which if Chimpie McCokespoon continues his march towards an American police state (e.g. if rumored Patriot II becomes a reality) be might be an option I seriously consider.

Three days ago, I met with my friend Tomoe who is 8 1/2 months pregnant with her second child. I met her ten years ago in Boston and she was my first Japanese conversation partner. Since then, I stayed with her family in Mitaka (on the west side of Tokyo) numerous times, and then I caught up with her again in Prague where her husband worked for Toyota and my dad was teaching for a semester at Charles University. She was really happy for me, and gave me a really nice, if heavy, crystal tray she picked up in Prague. Her son, who is three years old, has memorized every train station in Tokyo and told us how to get from Mitaka to Senju. It was impressive for a number of reasons, but most of all, I realized to my great dismay that this toddler could read kanji better than I could.

That night, Yo-chan took us and his girlfriend Mikio to a Kyoto restaurant. He wanted to celebrate our engagement and Mikio’s passing of the nurses exam by treating us to an 11-course meal. Kyoto cuisine consists of tofu, bamboo shoots and very little soy sauce. All of it was terrific. Yo-chan and I ordered shochu (rice liquor, a strong version of sake basically) that came in a flask made of bamboo.

Anyway, tomorrow I return to America, the war, my thesis, and my futile attempts at looking for a job. R is going to be in Tokyo for another two months…

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Spring Break ’03 Part 4 – Last Day in Kumamoto

Hello all. We made it to Tokyo and I’m now sitting in R’s brother’s humble pad located in Kita-senju, which is the northeast corner of this sprawling city. In spite of the crowds, the cramped living conditions, and the cost, I really like Tokyo.

The day before yesterday, R and I meandered around the shopping district of Kumamoto. Compared to Tokyo, Kumamoto has a relaxed — R would say lackadaisical — pace and an artsy-craftsy sort of favor. Or at least that was the case in the shopping district, which featured boutique after boutique featuring Indian wrap-around skirts, hemp bracelets, and a variety of hipster updates of traditional Japanese crafts. Kumamoto also boasts a thick accent roughly equivalent to a Scottish burr, which R and Yo-chan (R’s brother delight in teaching me).

For lunch, R’s mom took us to a really good soba restaurant (soba being a specialty there) set in a beautiful old house complete with a courtyard garden. There’s probably not a single nail in this building, R’s mom commented. Then she took us to a nearby antique shop/coffee shop/ two-hundred plus year old tavern located right on one of the canals that rib the city. The antique collection was impressive — featuring a lot of European stained glass for some reason — but the building was out of this world. In the old days, customers arrived to the place by the canal. The dock and boarding room were still beautifully in tact. Why aren’t more old buildings preserved like this in Japan?

Later, after eating at an Indian themed coffee shop, which seemed to be a center for the local Kumamoto peace movement, we went back to the hotel where I was treated to a reality TV show where a team of young (18-20 yr old) hostesses talked shit about a team of older (28-30) hostesses. A cat-fight ensued in a wrestling ring and the loser of the match suffered the indignity of getting pied. It’s only a matter of time before FOX starts airing its own version.

Spring Break ’03 Part 3: Massage Chairs

I actually thought about vegging out here with the massage chairs (as alluded to in my previous entry), but something about the private massage chair stalls and the rack of pornographic comic books gave me the creeps. Instead, R and I went to the local electronics store and vegged out there. Unfortunately, amid the mechanical kneading and prodding, we did something to our backs. Both of us woke up stiff and in pain. Fortunately, R’s mother — whose something of a health fiend — had already scheduled appointments at her favorite shiatsu masseuse. He told me I have a slight twist in my lower spine and that’s the cause of my frequent lumbar consternation. I can’t say I’m 100 percent but after being pushed and bended for a half-hour while listening to “Groove Is In The Heart” at least I can get up from a chair without grimacing.

R and I spent most of yesterday and today with her mom. Last night, she took us out to what I guess could be described as a Country Buffet for the Macrobiotic set, featuring all you can eat brown rice, pickled daikon, and udon noodles. I must say that I’m getting along famously with R’s family, which is a refreshing change from the past. Previous encounters with the parents of previous girlfriends gave me the distinct impression that they viewed me about as favorably as, say, soiled diapers.

Yesterday, R bought me a pair of Levis with look quite fetching on me. Clearly this style is only sold in Japan because the largest waist size for this make is a 33. After years of being banished to the young mens section for having a waist size smaller than a 38, it’s nice to be on the larger end of the girth spectrum. I also bought a hair gel called “Nudy” which promised that “I will never want to buy another product again.” I purchased it thinking that if it lived up to its promise, it might rid me forever of my compulsive consumerism and save me thousands of dollars a year. I’m hopeful.

In other news, Michael Moore’s Oscar award rant is big news here. His gleefully hectoring “Shame on you, Mr. Bush,” looped ad nauseum.

Well, tomorrow R and I are off to Tokyo. More news later…

Spring Break Part ’03 Part 2: Chimpy

Hello all. I’m back in my computer geek mini-resort of a cyber-bar. I just realized that this place features free lattes, free razors in the bathroom and for an additional fee massage chairs. I’m half expecting to find a sauna and a hot tub combo somewhere around here.

First a few observations…

1) The Japanese really hate our beloved president, Chimpy McCokespoon. This is subtlely evident in the pictures the media selects to represent him. One pic, which served as a backdrop for a round table of talking heads, featured Bush with his mouth wide open, his beady eyes pushed together under a furroughed brow and his ape-like finger waggling at the camera, making him look both dim and bullying. Another pic for a similar talk show, featured a picture of Bush looking like a colicky baby just after a bowel movement.

2) Daihatsu has released a box shaped car inexplicably named “Naked.”

And now for the travel log…

The day for yesterday, R’s dad took me and R to his favorite sushi joint and proceeded to fill me with more raw fish than Shamu consumes in a week. We seemed to hit it off. He embarrassed R to no end by peppering his conversation with English like “I’m sorry,” “This is sushi” and the like. Yesterday, we went to Mount Aso which is not only the highest peak in Kyushu but also the largest volcanic crater in the world (or so I’m told). It belched up green fumes of sulphur which I heard usually smells much worse than it did. Then we went to Kumamoto’s castle, which was featured in Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. The outside was quite impressive though the inside was remodeled to look something like a Stalinist era library. Later that night, we were met by R’s mom — who was suffering from an ugly cold — and we went to the famed Iron Chief loser’s restaurant located in the basement of the Kumamoto Castle Hotel. The dinner was a bit uneven I did have some of the best squid I ever had there. Light, fluffy and not in the slightest chewy.

Anyway for the rest of today, I’m going to forget about the Oscars and the War and maybe veggie out in front of the computer while being kneaded by a massage chair…

Spring Break ’03 Part 1: Kumamoto

Hello all. I’m fighting a wave of jet-lag related stupor in an Internet cafe in Kumamoto, which sports not only wall-to-wall computers and free green tea, but also racks of comic books, DVDs and a CDs to rent and burn. It’s sort of a home away from home for the computer geek on the go…

Anyway, in spite of the Bush’s evil little war, I managed to get here in one piece. I flew out on Varig — Brazil’s national airline. The company seems to operate on a distinctly latin sense of time because the plane arrived two hours late into Narita and no one seemed particularly bothered or concerned by this. I had to catch a flight from Haneda — Tokyo’s domestic airport — located a good 60 km away. After racing through customs, I was about to board my shuttle when Morimoto from the Iron Chef strode by– sporting a baseball cap and a sumo wrestler’s swagger. I arrived with less than a hour to spare at Haneda, which little did I know, suffered from a massive computer crash that morning. The place reminded me of a train station in India — total chaos. Somehow, I managed get on my flight near a toddler who spent the entire two hour flight screaming and puking.

When I met at the airport by R and her father, I was told that on Sunday we all would go out to a restaurant whose owner famously lost on the Iron Chef. Already this trip is baring the twin themes of panic and the Iron Chef. Stay tuned to see how this plays out…

Bush’s stupid war and my trip

Herr Bush has launched an illegal, immoral war…the blood of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis is on your hands. As I read scrawled on a bathroom wall, we are going to pay for ‘$100 Billion worth of corpses,’ while Bush and his cronies will make a killing on oil and reconstruction.

Meanwhile, I’m psyching myself out to go to Japan in 12 hours. This is extreme air travel, I suppose. Hopefully, I’ll only have to put up with a cavity search at the airport and a Pauly Shore flick on the plane. Line up the Bloody Marys….


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