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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Inspiration has not hit and frankly I don’t feel like posting much today so here are some photos snapped at my local combini Sunkus (bit like a corner shop).

FRENCH TEA! FRENCH TEA! Oh Japan, how you get it all so wrong.

I was really excited to see a McVities product. You don’t see many british brands out here. You do see a lot of green tea flavoured things though.

My, those look like appetising crisps don’t they.

Shockingly blurry photo of an odd Kit-Kat product.

POCKY! Everybody loves Pocky. I particularly like the Men’s pocky. Not for you girls go away!

Sorry this post was rubbish guys I will make it up to you.

A very pleasant sign seen in Okayama.

Just a quickie this week as generally nothing particularly interesting has gone so permit me if I may to talk about Den Den town.

Den Den town is an area in Osaka famed for its video games, electronics, manga cafes and generally it’s geek stuff. It is wall to wall robots, games, anime and manga and is generally what I thought all of Japan would be like.

This Saturday myself and Ryan hit up Den Den town and along with all of usual stops hit a few new sites.

The only site I have any photos of though is this amazing retro gaming store that we found. Purely by chance we wandered in and I entered into a kind of nerd nirvana. It was full to the brim with computer games and consoles, quite a few of them older than I am.

The floors of this place were papered with screen shots from old 8 and 32-bit game title screens. In the above pic I recognise Streets of Rage, Sailor Moon, Indiana Jones, R-Type, Lemmings, Mickey and Donald in Dreamland, Gundam, Ultraman, Rampage, Dragonlance, Tetris and Castlevania.

One of the more impressive things in here was a working original Nintendo Famicom. This was only ever released in Japan but was re-tooled to become the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Europe and the States. The NES was the first console I ever owned (and it’s still good fun) and here was its big brother for a piddling £20.00!

Pictured here is another Japanese only console, the colossal failure that was the Virtual Boy. Launched in the early 90’s in the height of the VR fad it bombed hard and is the only console Nintendo ever launched that did so in Japan. Part of the problem is that the whole gear you see before you was meant to be worn on the head. And my word is it heavy. A game boy is meant to be portable and lightweight, this needed a specialised stand to be used. The other big problem was that the system reportedly gave people huge and frequent migraines, not a big selling point. Finally the red lines it used to simulate VR were apparently quite hard to see so some of the games were simply unplayable because you spent all your time struggling to see what was happening. Nintendo themselves only ever released one game for the console and then quietly ignored it.

Still, if I wanted one here it was.

2 of the older consoles on offer. No idea about the “snoopy” but the minestorm is actually asteroids (if anyone remembers that game) that could be played at home! Imagine a world where you don’t need to go to an arcade to play videogames!

These appear to be pictures of Mario drawn in a realistic style. No idea whatsoever what is going on or what the context is but I think the spaghetti eating turtle is totemo kawaii! (very cute)

I have no idea what this is either. I just know that he’s been haunting my nightmares ever since.

However, easily the most impressive thing in the entire shop was this little guy. It’s ROB or the Robot Operating Buddy.

ROB is almost single-handedly responsible for computer games still being alive today. In 1983 there was a massive market crash in the states amongst computer games stockists due to Atari’s poor business practises. Stores in the states were not prepared to stock any new computer game consoles as they couldn’t shift the ones they had. In comes Nintendo with a product this is not a computer game, but in fact a newfangled robot toy, with an attached console that was just necessary to make the robot work. The gamble worked and shops in the states were prepared to stock ROB and the attached Nintendo Entertainment System. 2 games later (gyromite and stack ‘em) all support for ROB vanished and Nintendo started doing their real business. Getting families and shops that didn’t know they’d bought one to start buying games for computer consoles.

Poor ROB isn’t remembered much these days but he is a true hero of gaming history.

Other than the gaming store our big visit was to the Gundam shop. This was two floors containing nothing but Gundam related merchandise. Gundam shirts, toys, models, DVD’s, CD’s, games, FOOD! and most notably a giant Gundam hand thrusting through one wall.

Ryan, who approaches a religious fervour in the presence of Gundam, was happy, to say the least. I was searching for a Tequila Gundam but alas none of the ridiculous Gundam from G Gundam were in stock so I left empty handed.

Having sufficiently geeked out we headed to possibly the nerdiest place to eat on the planet. A maid café.

Japan has a big service culture and a service industry that stops at open prostitution but certainly sidles up to it. There are a lot of very, very stressed people in this country and there exist a huge variety of businesses prepared to “relieve” that stress. These range from massage parlours and spas at one end to the hostess bars at the other. Hostess bars are basically places where men come to pay to flirt with women. They go to see their favourite girl, buy her drinks, laugh with her, flirt, sing karaoke, have some dinner and a few drinks and do everything short of actual touching. I guess the closest western equivalent is an escort service except some of these guys form relationships with the hostesses that are closer than with their own wives.

Maid cafes sit comfortably in the middle of this spectrum. They are cafes catering to a very specific fetish, guys who want to see girls dressed as anime-style maids. Honestly the outfits these girls wear are outrageous. Perfectly modest from a sexual standpoint but incredibly cartoony and unreal.

Den Den town is full of Maid Cafes, most of which offer an , ahem, “refresh service” which is wonderfully vague in the details but appears to be along the lines of foot and back massages by girls dressed as cartoon characters. To each his own I guess.

Myself and Ryan were not seeking a “refresh service” (I am more than happily attached) but I didn’t want to come to Japan and pass up on seeing something so patently bizarre and with my girlfriend’s arrival due imminently I thought this might be my last chance. So we searched and searched and eventually found a place just selling food.

It was hilarious! The girls flirt with you outrageously, they called myself and Ryan “master” dropped to floor level to pour drinks and generally rushed round like we were the most important people in the world ever. I think they gave up on us a bit when they twigged that our Japanese isn’t good but they were continuously flirting with the table next to us.

And the food, well the food was pretty good actually. We both ordered a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) plate which was huge. The table next to us ordered the “happy time surprise” which turned out to be an omelette and rice (don’t ask) on which the maids drew a little smiley face in ketchup.

I do not think there is another country on earth where grown men pay to have a woman draw a smiley face in ketchup on their food.

No pictures alas, they ban cameras and if you want a picture you have to pay to have one taken with the girls so here are some poached off the internet to give you an idea of what maid cafes are like.

I doubt I’ll be returning but I am glad I went.

Oh and one last thing. Pictured is one of the fabled beer vending machines. However more unusually the bottom row is cans of ramen! Beer and noodles in one machine, what more can a man ask for.

So apparently Tuesday was the busiest day this site has ever had with more new visitors than ever before. I credit this to the frequent mentions of naked men and so I shall be sticking the phrase “naked men” in as many posts as I can get away with. Now I just need to sign up to google ads and I can get some cash from all these poor deluded porn seekers.

In actual news, erm, not much. Work has been quiet but consistent and so bar nudist adventures in Okayama I haven’t really been able to go out and find new material for blogging. So I’m resorting to two old standbys, posting lots of videos and talking about my kids.

My Kids are Adorable.

Recently the big project with my Ichinensei has been to do a short speech about a famous person. They get to pick the person. Most of the choices are athletes or Japanese celebrities but every so often my kids surprise me. One kid desperately wanted to do Elton John (his group overruled him), one group is doing Marie Curie, another the Wright Brothers and one group of complete dossers opted to do “Son Goku” i.e. the hero of Dragonball Z.

I think they did this to impress me as they know that I like Dragonball. Plus it means that I can translate all the names for them (any time one of the groups doing a Japanese celebrity has a problem I just shrug and go get the JTE).

BTW for those not in the know here is Son Goku.

My favourite groups are those doing Japanese historical figures because I get to learn something too. However my kids have only just started learning the past tense so they’re really struggling to turn all the statements into past tense statements. My favourite example is the question they all have to answer “where does/did they live?” Pretty much all of the students opted to try and skip answering the did part of that statement (even though they theoretically know it) which posed a bit of a problem for the kids doing dead people. However ingeniously they all came up with the answer “he lives in Heaven.”

All together now, awwwwwwwwwwww.

My Kids are Significantly Less Adorable. In Fact they’re Little Shits.

So one day one of my kids asks me “do you like pornography?”

Now of course I burst out laughing prompting all the assembled boys to ask what is so funny. So of course I tell them what it means in Japanese (for all those curious it’s either Ecchi or Hentai) and they laugh even harder.

This was a mistake, now EVERY DAY I get asked if I like pornography. EVERY! DAY! My kids can’t do a joke just once, or in private, oh no. If something is funny once it’s funny a bazillion times. I’m keeping in good humour at the moment but eventually I will snap and put a child through a door. That is not an actual threat by the way, my kids are obviously adorable cherubs.

(just covering the bases there)

Worse, I now know that the kid didn’t say “do you like pornography?” but “do you like porno-grafitti?” who is a Japanese singer.

Yes it seems the new game is “see if we can get Adam to say a rude word.” Now I am perfectly happy to play along with this to some extent but not when other teachers are around. Also kids, don’t insult my intelligence. My Japanese is awful but even I’m not going to fall for “her name is Baka.”

Speaking of my kids being annoying this project has done something incredibly beneficial. It has allowed me to put a name to the Sonna no kankei nee guy. Kojima Yoshio I now know who you are and my vengeance will be swift and terrible.

Need some context? Okay. Kojima Yoshio is a Japanese “comedian” (and I use the term comedian very, very loosely) whom is my mortal nemesis. He does a routine called Sonna no kankei nee or “but that doesn’t matter.” My kids are OBSESSED with this idiot and quote him constantly, ask me if I like him, do his routines, try and get me to do his routines and generally driving me up the wall with constant references to this unfunny nuisance.

Here is an example of his routine. The bit where he looks like he is playing a guitar or hitting the floor is the Sonna no kankei nee part.

And no that isn’t me laughing.

Finally recently one of my students has been introducing me to some actually good J-Pop! I think it might help that I can’t understand the lyrics but I really, really like some of the artists she’s been introducing me to recently. They may be pop but they’ve got some awesome guitars, really distinctive vocals and a nice driving tempo. Fine art it ain’t but fun music, definitely.

In paticularly Tommy Heavenly (slash tommy february slash brilliant green, she’s a bit like David Bowie) and a lady known only as YUKI. Both are a bit like Avril Lavigne (with the benefit that I can’t understand them) with the difference that they’re both unconsciouss post-modern geniuses in the way that only japanese people can be.

This is Tommy Heavenly with the fantastically Japanese title “Lollipop Candy Bad Girl”. This may be one of the most hysterically bad videos I have ever seen. The opening part of the song is just for the video (and this is the short version) and the real song kicks in when the weird evil santa-gomes appear. The girl in glasses that shows up halfway through is Tommy February. Tommy Heavenly is a dream that Tommy February had of the perfect pop star. Again a bit like David bowie and Ziggy Stardust.

And here is YUKI with a MUCH better video for “The End of Shite.” That’s pronounced shee-tay but it’s okay to giggle. I did.

Japan doesn’t have the same nudity taboos that we do in the west. Partly because the population density is so much higher here and historically has always been so. There’s precious little space to live in Japan so issues like nudity and personal space aren’t really as important.

The other reason is that in Shinto-ism nudity is considered to be purifying and so there are many “naked” festivals in Japan known as Hadaka Matsuri where hundreds of men at a time all go and do something religious, whilst naked.

Alright, not totally naked but wearing a fundoshi and some tabi and nothing else nature didn’t provide. Tabi are socks with a split in the toes to separate your big toe from the rest so you can grip sandals. They also have a pad in the bottom like a light sole. Ninja wear these. A fundoshi is a loincloth, the same kind of nappy thing that a sumo wrestler wears. Although according to wikipedia fundoshi is just traditional Japanese male underwear and was pretty much the standard until after World War 2.

For whatever reason (temporary madness, a desire to do shit that I won’t get away with when my girlfriend arrives, drunkenness???) I decided that I wanted to go and join in the nearly nude fun in the middle of February (when it is cold) for Okayama’s Hadaka Matsuri, one of the biggest in Japan.

This is my adventure.

So firstly I’ll set the general tone of the evening as it was explained to me. There are some men, they are naked, there are some priests, they will throw some “lucky” sticks into a crowd of the aforesaid naked men. The aforesaid naked men will fight each other for sticks. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Initially two more complete idiots were meant to join me in making a spectacle of myself, Gavin Coutts and Randy Rymer. However, Randy wasn’t allowed to attend as a runner because he had tattoos. Tattoos in Japan are a sign of the yakuza and pretty much every place with public nudity frowns on or excludes tattoos. This matsuri has a particular problem with tattoos because the lucky sticks are highly sought after. Some Japanese companies will pay up to £5,000 for a stick. The yakuza have apparently being waiting by the gate you have to pass through if you win, dragging off the winners, beating them up, stealing the stick and giving it to one of their mates. Previously people with tattoos have been allowed to cover themselves with make-up but this year there was a total ban. So Randy was out.

That just left two idiots, myself and Gavin.

Oh and a small crew of pervy ladies who wanted to stare at men’s naked bottoms. Nicky, Kate, Becky and Gina. Perverts, all of them.

We met up, travelled a very far distance on the train and consumed copious amounts of booze on said journey.

Yup, on the train. In Japan it is perfectly okay to drink on the street or public transport hence the beer vending machines. Train beers, as they are known to we gaijin, are an essential part of any night out in Osaka or beyond.

Arriving in Okayama myself and Gavin had 30 minutes to get more beer and fuel our bellies (we opted, naturally, for ramen) before boarding a bus full of extraordinarily drunken men from all four corners of the Earth.

But mostly from Australia, which speaks volumes doesn’t it.

It was at this point that the “safety” instructions were given to us. These ranged from the sensible (tape your hands up so people can recognise you and tape your socks on so you don’t lose them) to the worrying (please complete this sheet with your blood type, if you don’t know your blood type but O-) to the downright ludicrous (do not participate under the influence of liquor, oh how we laughed).

More drinking ensued.

We arrived at the shrine and walked through a pretty standard festival set-up before being ushered into a special tent for the competitors.

In here was FREE BOOZE. Well free sweet sake, which isn’t exactly my preferred tipple, but it certainly did a fine job of warming me up.

After some procrastination Gavin and I finally had to bow to the inevitable, doff our vestements and submit to have a grinning Japanese man put on our fundoshi for us.

Incidentally I kept my fundoshi afterwards. It’s difficult to photograph but basically imagine a strip of white cloth about 13ft long and 1ft wide.

Right, now imagine that 1ft width being gathered up and thrust violently up your arse.

No woman is ever allowed to complain to me about thongs ever again. Thongs are floss thin and sneak up there over the course of a day. They are not furiously thrust up your fundament by some cackling Japanese goblin.

Needless to say I’ve had better moments.

Well now properly, um, attired I had little to do but stay in the tent drinking more and keeping warm by the heaters inside. AT one point I got chatting to an incredibly old man. His skin was like wood. He was so wrinkled and dry that he looked like a normal man had been dried like some jerky. He was lovely though and full of fun. Apparently some old guys participate every year. Last year somebody had a heart attack and died so I hope lovely old jerky man was alright.

My heated revelry was interrupted by a command from a veteran of this festival.

I had to go run through a pond.

Yes, water, in the cold, at night, in the nuddy.
Apparently it’s purifying.

Fortunately I was very, very drunk at the time. So I did.

It wasn’t that cold actually. If you stayed in enough of a crowd to have your arm round someone’s shoulders (did I mention I was drunk?) and kept running you didn’t really feel the cold. And the wet didn’t bother me much either.

On the way back from the pond we met up with the ladies again who fed us and took photos. I am in possession of a fine photo of my chapped, freezing and wet arse but I have been forbidden by my missus from putting it on this site. However if you’re one of my facebook friends then it is easily found.

I didn’t manage to take any photos myself, after all where would I keep my camera? So all the photos in this post are courtesy of the lovely Kate, pictured above.

Getting back to the tent I now had more of a wait before the big event started with nothing to do but jump and down to stop shivering and drink more sake.

Now I want to ask you a question. What will happen if you get a huge bunch of gaijin in a tent with nothing to do but drink? Men who have nothing in common except a shared language and desire to run around nearly naked in February.

What will these men do to entertain themselves?

You may not know the answer but if you are a man when I tell you the answer it will feel right and true and just. This was the proper course of action.

We started singing Queen songs; complete with improvised harmonies. And we did the whole of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Bliss!

Finally the main event was due to begin. We were chased out of our tent and made to run around the town in a huge crowd. All holding shoulders and screaming “Washoi!”

And no, I have no idea what it means.

It was fantastic good fun. Pure, unbridled and primal. We were men, running screaming and naked and it felt awesome. Due to all the bodies it was pretty warm and not in the slightest bit cold. Even after they made me run through the pond AGAIN!

The crowd were loving it too, particularly the ladies and they were very pleased to see so many gaijin men. I kept going back to high-five people and shake hands. All the while screaming “washoi” of course.

Finally we got to the main alter of the shrine, basically a big platform with some steps leading up to it. On this platform and on the ground below were 4,000 nearly naked men in total. All competing for a grand total of 7 sticks.
The priests threw more purifying water on us and everyone jostled to get a good position. The closest situation I can compare it to is a big music gig. It’s the same inability to move, the same trouble breathing and the same mad desire to get to the front.

However, in gigs I try and maintain a bit of civility. This was not a time for civility, this was a time to be an animal. And so elbows out I used my massive gaijin strength to ensure that I was solidly on the platform. I have never felt stronger or manlier in my life. I wanted a damn stick.

After much sweaty and vaguely homo-erotic shoving and pushing the priests dropped the lights and cast out the sticks. Cue an immediate surge of people forward and to the sides and I got swept backwards somehow. I pushed my way back in and managed to gain some distance when the second stick was cast out. However somewhere around the third of fourth stick a random surge tripped me up and I fell down the stairs, giving myself a nasty scratch down my right side. I was up in a flash though and back in the game.

Much shoving later I was sadly bereft of any sticks but did feel fantastic. I was purged, freed of all my build up caveman instincts and riding on a massive adrenaline rush.

One of the winners.

We got back to the tent somehow and I was immediately deflated to find out that I had lost my underpants. All my clothes were in a bag, except my pants. Now I am in no way accusing somebody of stealing my underpants but it was a mystery that I still can’t really get my head around.

Besides, how many times can you claim that a night was so chaotic that you lost your underpants?

More festival food (ramen AND takoyaki, this was a good night for me) and we hooked back up with the girls and headed back to Okayama.

Of course we had missed the last train home so we had to stick around in Okayama until 6am to get the next one. First stop on our all-nighter was an American theme bar playing some kind of Japanese Ninja-themed porn. A bar I promptly fell asleep in.

Having been woken up we set off in search of a club called “Friends.”

1 hour later we found it.

1 hour of wandering up and down the same 4 sets of streets, screaming into phones, meeting people, losing people and drinking from vending machines.

I wasn’t complaining though, all the cold air had woken me up.

When we eventually found “Friends” it was a great place. The barman was massively incompetent and had a nomehodai (all you can drink offer) that he had no idea how to enforce. This basically meant we were drinking for free. I usually hate Japanese clubs (well the music in them) so I was really pleased to hear some 90’s classics being boomed out and got to dance the night away for the first time in ages.
And it had a shuffleboard. How random is that? We ended up staying the whole night.

All that was left was a sleep train ride home (we lost Gavin because he nipped off the train to pee. He’s fine now though) and then to stumble into the comfortable embrace of bed.

Quite frankly a fantastic night.

First of all in the course of planning a lesson today I came across this photo.

GO BABY SUMO FIGHT!

Secondly today I saw something that you would only see in the East. A monk in bright orange robes (with a black robe over the top) waiting for the bus. There is no better way to start the day. Alas, no pictures.

Thirdly today was Valentine’s Day in the land of rising suns and madness. In Japan Valentine’s day as we understand it is actually split into two festivals. On Valentine’s day women give presents, typically chocolate and usually something they made themselves, to men. On White Day, in March, men return the favour by giving women something white, usually marshmallows or white chocolate but if it’s an actual couple then lingerie is quite a popular gift.

Obviously being thousands of miles away from my sweetheart makes Valentine’s day a wee bit sucky. However to compensate for this I was given some chocolates today by Misa, one of my JTE’s. No, she isn’t trying to hit on me, rather some women in japan feel obliged to give presents on Valentine’s day to all their male co-workers even if they’re married. Now since buying chocolates for all the guys in the school would get expensive really quickly Misa opted to just give me some to be friendly. I didn’t even get a chance to thank her properly as she shushed me to keep it a secret. I’ll just have to re-pay her on White day.

They were really, really nice chocolates by the way. I only got four but oh my were they delicious.

Right then, things are slow and no adventures are forthcoming so here are

5 Awesome things about Japan. Number 2 in a series.

1. Kotatsus

Kotatsus are basically a table with a detachable top. When you remove the top a frame is left to which a heater is attached pointing down. You place a blanket over the heater and put the top back on so that the blanket is now between the heater and the top of the table. Then you sit underneath the table and relax. It’s like a snugly little heat cocoon. Although winter is technically over it’s actually colder at night now than it was for most of December so I have been retiring to the safety of my bedroom and my kotatsu every night recently. It’s really cosy and warm and (dare I say it) snugly and I sit in warmth and happy bliss watching telly on my laptop for about an hour before I go to bed. In general central heating is more convenient and more effective but it isn’t as cool (using the informal meaning of course)as a kotatsu nor does central heating make you fell like you’re retreating into a tiny and very, very warm world of your own.

2. Food in shop windows.

I can’t believe it took me this long to mention it but one of the truly defining things about Japan is its displays of food outside every shop window. Fake food I mean, made from plastic. Often these looks incredibly real. In fact the food in the window and the food served to you are usually indistinguishable other than a glossy sheen. It’s a damn site more trustworthy than the photographs you get in fast food places in the U.K.; where a kebab photo looks like some kind of gourmet cuisine prepared by grecian gods and appears in your hand looking like a limp dog turd. You always know exactly what you’ll be getting before you order it in Japan. Sure that removes a little bit of the surprise in life but its more honest. Any street in Japan is a riot of shrieking colours and adverts all baying for attention and the plastic food is one of the cooler and more interesting examples of the japanese business tendency to go “look at us, LOOK AT US!”.

It might be that the Japanese as a people are so scared of ever drawing attention to the themselves that makes the businesses overcompensate but regardless of the reason it is the insane advertising that is one of my favourite things about japan.

3. Engrish.

Engrish is the use of ungrammatical or nonsensical English, usually in advertising but sometimes in clothing and packaging. Much like we think Kanji looks cool and slap it on products and shirts without knowing what it means the Japanese think roman letters look cool and use it everywhere. However what it says is not always what they think it says.

This website is in part dedicated to Engrish as Mummyboon is the most
Engrish t-shirt I have ever seen. I seek out engrish in clothes shops all the time and Mummyboon was the first and thus far the best example I have personally owned.

however, it isn’t my favourite Engrish shirt. That would be this one, found on the website http://www.engrish.com

“dog look at airplane”

it tells it like it is.

Other examples of engrish include……..

And of course my last post was full of Engrish.

4. Robots.

Okay, most of the “Japan is a technological wonderland stuff” is sadly a load of bollocks. This is a constant source of dissappointment to me but i deal with it. However, they really do have a lot of robots here. Mostly the robots are just toys but one robot in particular has a a major role in my day to day life and an even greater one in my friend Jools’s. You see, my friend jools lives on Port Island. this is a man made island in the ahrbour of kobe and is accessible only by monorail. The monorail is a robot. I don’t mean it occasionally transforms from a mono-rail into a humanoid machine and fights Godzilla (although frankly I would not be surprised) but rather that it has no driver, either on the train or back in the station. It has a man monitoring it for safety but the train drives itself.
To go to work everyday jools has to get into a robot.
How cool is that!

5. Festivals and Holidays.

Do you know how many bank holidays there are in Japan per year? 16. In England we get 9 (factoring in Christmas and Boxing Day). Now admittedly were I a Japanese person I would work insanely long hours during the rest of the year nd this would be the compensation for it. But I’m not Japanese, I’m a lowly gaijin. This means I work standard gaijin hours as we would expect in the west and get lots of holidays!

Discounting the benefits of a day off Japanese festivals are still brilliant although they are basically the same thing each time and roughly equivalent to a village fete. There’s a stage or some form of visual entertainment (i.e. looking at pretty lights, or people dancing, or people riding horses, or matsuri floats) and an unbelievable amount of stalls selling food. Quite varied food too. No stall really sells more than one kind of thing so there are individual stalls for okonomiyaki, takoyaki, grilled corn, burgers on sticks, fried chicken, noodles, etc, etc. The protocol is go get food, position self to see visual entertainment, eat food. If it’s a religious festival go do whatever odd “lucky” thing is associated with the festival (religion in Japan is big on the celebrations and pretty low key on the rules and services business) and possibly buy a fortune.

They may all be samey but they’re fun!

And really the only difference between them and the village gala is a) the lamentable lack of a play your cards right stall and b) the displays are usually much, much more interesting than majorettes or some bloke with a falcon. And I like falcons so that’s saying something.

Next week you can look forward to a re-cap of my plans on Saturday to run around a mountain in the snow in a loincloth fighting other men for lucky sticks.

And every part of that sentence was true.

So, Thursday then.

Sorry for skipping a post guys but on Thursday I was called and expressly offered the chance to go and eat Ramen.

I cannot refuse Ramen. It is physically impossible for me to do so. In any situation, even if I have just eaten if somebody were to offer me Ramen I would not be able to say no. It’s not even that Ramen is so fantastically nice that I must eat it at every chance. No, there is no explanation for it but I am slightly addicted to Ramen.

God bless you soupy noodles.

But enough of Ramen, let us speak of Don Quixote.

Don Quixote was a Spanish knight and the subject of what may be the first ever “novel”. He was certainly the subject of the first ever metafiction (unless you count Chaucer which I don’t). He was the intended subject of a Terry Gilliam film that had to be abandoned due to bad luck of an almost biblical nature (more can be found in the excellent and award winning documentary lost in la mancha). He had a sidekick and a horse and fought windmills he believed to be giants, hence the phrase “tilting at windmills”.

However more pertinent to this post Don Quixote is a shop in Japan advertised by a penguin.

Japanese department stores are wonderful places. The old school multi-storey department stores of Harrods or Macy’s fame never died out in Japan like they did in the West. Venturing into Tokyu Hands or Loft is like venturing into an Aladdin’s cave of wonder, cute things and, curiously, lots of stickers. Everything under the sun is found within these shops and wandering through them is like dancing through some magic shopping kingdom.

Don Quixote is a Japanese department store. However walking through it is more akin to daytripping through the flashback memory of an acid fiend OD-ing on gods own imagination gland, with mushrooms.

This place is, to quote my many American friends, “messed up.”

I will do my best but Don Quixote can never really be described. Like the Matrix no one can tell you what Don Quixote is, one must experience it.

Basically it is a haphazard accumulation of anything tasteless, rubbish, stupendously useless but cool, stupendously useless but rendered cooler by some needless addition. It is a mad fever dream of colours, shapes and sounds that only some mad genius would ever combine together. And I mean this with the utmost affection and respect but it would be my Uncle Lee’s favourite place on the planet.

But much more simply Don Quixote is a department store full of very odd things and arranged in a really haphazard manner. There is almost no floor space because of the sheer weight of stuff that is there. Everywhere you look there is yet more stuff. It is an assault on the senses to match an Iron Maiden gig. It is great.

I had forgotten how great it was until I had to go there to buy a mask for air-soft. On the recommendation of my friend Brindley I wandered around the third floor, past bike helmets, furniture, tools, toys, costumes, computer consoles and games, phones watches, sunglasses, headphones, electronic items ranging from entertainment systems to kitchen systems AND a toilet. Just as I had given up hope I finally located the tiny tucked away replica gun section and next to it safety masks for airsoft. I turned around when I heard two teenagers giggling and discovered that behind me was an “adult” section full of the most hilarious sex toys. I will spare you the gory details on this family blog but next time you get me in private boy do I have some stories.

My personal favourite example of the haphazard organisation was on the 4th floor. I was looking at CD’s (with a surprisingly good English selection) and suddenly I was in porn. Not a little porn section or even a discrete one but a full blown in your face porn shop. Next to the CD’s. Right next to the CD’s. And on the other side of it….DISNEY TOYS!

Japan really, really worries me sometimes.

Anyway, I have done my best to explain Don Quixote but I feel the best I can do is to give you a brief snippet of some of the brilliant things that dwell within.

I know sniffing solvents can do bad things to you but I didn’t realise that was a selling point.

The picture didn’t come out so well but this is a portable breathalyser. You can take it to a bar and use it on yourself to see if you’re fit to drive. Or if you’re me buy it for shits and giggles and plan to take it to a party to create a whole new kind of drinking game. “Hey guys, who is officially the most plastered here!”

This is indeed a fruity lunch box.

I’m as clueless as you are.

This is from a fairly popular new-ish anime which seems to be mostly about the villains. What I love about this costume though is the difference between the skinny leggy blonde on the image and the dumpy model wearing the costume. Let’s just say they know their target audience.

Ladies and Gentlemen, fashion wigs.
I am sooooooooooo tempted to buy one and go to some party with girl’s hair.
Fran would freak.

Of all the scary replica gun names, the desert eagle, the colt, the falcon or even the non-specific ones like MP5 they had to go for Centimeter? Ooh be careful of my centimetre, fear my mighty metric system!

Nightmare fuel.

These would be the “hug hug animals”. Uh huh, that looks to be a wee bit closer than hugging to me.

Hard Gay costume.

Now YOU can recreate that one scene from Borat.

“Karaoke-on-a-rope: sing in the shower” soap shaped like a microphone. Odd but nothing compared to the next one.

“Hope-on-a-rope: Wash away your sins”. What more can I add to that, really.

Aaaagh, aaaagh, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!!!!!

Man I could go for some hot sand right about now. That would really hit the spot.

Classy!

Ooh, even classier; fake tigers to decorate your swinging bachelor pad. You could get a whole big cat set.

Nobody I have shown this to has any idea whatsoever what this is meant to do.

This is more awesome than funny. These are basically giant boots filled with charcoal and some chemical. You shake them and this starts a chemical reaction that sets the boots to heat up. Then you put them on your feet and soon your feet are toasty and warm. I have a less goofy hand warming version. And arse warming if you’re like me and forget you put it in your back pocket until hours later your arse is unexpectedly burning hot.

I know Spam keeps for about 60 years but I still think having a huge display of 2 year old spam (the anniversary was in 2006) is not the best way to shift it.

Japanese people LOVE spam by the way. Even more so than Hawaiians.

AT LAST; a cure for the common hoody.

Less successful than last years babe magnet.

A really annoying tactic in Tekken.

Yeah, sod condoms! I’m keeping it super real man.

These are, honestly, cookies that promise to increase your breast size. Whilst Japanese girls are gorgeous they are typically somewhat lacking in the bosom department (not an issue for my missus) so I understand the appeal but c’mon. Who is really that naïve?

My friend Jay was given a box of these as a joke. He is scared to eat them.

Yummy dried squid carcasses! With tiny pots of mayonnaise (un-refrigerated) inside.

FINALLY! Someone has got around to fusing the two greatest drinks in life.
They also had Newcastle Brown Ale (does happy dance) and something called Nude Beer that had a naked lady on the front. I didn’t take a photo of it though because some girl was staring at me.

Rufus Griffin in “Black! To the future.” I know this was already a Family Guy joke but to see it made into an actual drink is too, too funny.

“Crispy shrimp snack coated with mild chocolate!! Enjoy the perfect match of shrimp and chocolate”
In what circle of hell is that a perfect match.

A pretty popular snack food in Japan actually. And the states too apparently.

She deserves it.

That there is some classy boxers.

The final thing that must be said about Don Quixote is that it has the most annoying shopping music I have ever experienced.

A shrill pop muppet sings over and over again a short verse in English then Japanese and then a chorus guaranteed to burn into your brain and actually tarnish better songs you have already heard.

It goes

Don, don, don, do-onkey, donkey ho-oh-tay

FOREVER!

Hello people I bring greetings from spring.

Not that it actually is spring here. It bloody snowed on Saturday night and it’s still incredibly cold but Sunday was the 3rd of February and that means and it was Setsubun and thus it is now spring.

Setsubun means the coming of the new season and happens at the start of each new season in Japan. Technically the one in February is called Risshun but nobody calls it that so neither am I.

Setsubun is one of the bigger Japanese festivals and there are a number of traditions that should be observed. The big Kansai thing is to eat maki-zushi (sushi made from Maki) whilst facing the compass direction for the year. This is something to do with the kanji for maki being the same as lucky direction but that’s all lost on me because I can only read about 4 kanji and 2 of those are just the kanji for Japan. Japanese culture is absolutely chock full of kanji puns by the way. They love puns here, not necessarily because they’re funny, they just really, really like puns. However, despite knowing in advance that Kansai people did this I completely forgot to do it and actually had a Chinese on Setsubun. Whoops.

The other big tradition is to eat roasted soy beans. 1 for each year of your life and 1 more for good luck. I did do this but eating 22 soybeans is bloody hard work. Roasted soy beans aren’t bad though. Kind of like peanuts but much more bitter. They go really well with beer.

The final big tradition is to do Mamemaki (bean throwing). People throw beans out of the door of their home or at somebody wearing an oni mask. I have absolutely no idea what the legend behind this is and neither do any of the Japanese people I asked. Wikipedia only says “In the Heian era, a famous Buddhist monk was said to have driven away oni by throwing beans.” So that’s helpful. Anyway the jist of it is that there is some half-legend about two onis that bring plagues and bad fortune attacking a shrine. A monk inside chased them away by throwing beans at them and thus saved his land from plague and misfortune. Now Japanese people throw beans to have good luck in the new spring.

Oni is typically just translated as “demon” and there are a host of magical creatures called “oni” in Japanese mythology but there is also a specific creature known as an oni. Oni’s are giant ogre-like creatures. Roughly humanoid in appearance with curly black hair, two horns, ferocious grins, tiger skin loincloths and big clubs. They’re usually either blue or red.

Here are some oni.


Well rather than doing mamemaki at home I opted to head out to Yasaka-jinjya again to see a mamemaki apparently featuring geisha. Patrick in tow we set out on the loooong journey from Sannomiya to Gion.

When we got there the celebrations had already started and this is what we got to see.

Dragon Dance

First up was a traditional dragon dance. The dragons split off and dance and then come together to fight. This was pretty cool. The flute was really atmospheric and the actual dancing, while not really exciting, was still cool purely because it was something I’ve never seen before.

I have a video of the entire dance but Youtube has been a git again and hasn’t let me upload it. I’ll try and get it up tomorrow.


Taiko Drumming

Much, much more fun. Sorry no video but the sound on my camera is so naff it wouldn’t do it justice. Taiko is Japanese traditional drumming in groups and it’s fantastic. It is impossible to listen to this beat and not want, in some small corner of your brain, to mount a horse and ride to war. It’s furious, driven and mesmerising.




Later on the Taiko drummers started wearing oni masks and did a version of oni attacking the shrine. Some drummers in oni masks started hitting drums (still in rhythm) dancing about the stage and acting like monsters. Not as cool as the pure drumming but again it was nice to get to see something I’ve never seen before.

Geisha

Ah, here’s what I came for. Yes ladies and gentlemen I have now seen a real life, honest to god, geisha. Three of them! And they are gorgeous. Actually gorgeous probably isn’t the right word. They’re not conventionally attractive, nothing is sexy about them rather they’re beautiful, like a piece of art is beautiful. The actual human being kind of disappears behind the make-up jewellery and clothes but what’s left is beautiful. It was really, really exciting to see them, like something from a lost age living and breathing and dancing in front of me. I feel privileged to have seen them.

So did the Japanese crowd too it seems. They went mad for the geisha and tried to mob the afterwards as they left the stage. I guess even if you live in Kansai your opportunities to see geisha are still fairly slim. And they are truly magical to share a presence with.

However with all due respect, their dance was a bit naff.

Following the geisha dancing the geisha and priests (complete with silly hats) started chucking beans at us all and there was a mad scramble to catch them. Despite being tall Gaijin Patrick and I lucked out, so we had to go buy our beans.

But wait, the beans come with some kind of tombola ticket do they. Oooh things are lucking up.

And they were, the prizes included a bike, DVD players, ornate Japanese crafts, food, sake and sweeties amongst other things.

I however won a bottle of cold tea and some freezer bags.

WHAT KIND OF A PRIZE IS FREEZER BAGS!

Patrick at least got some slippers.

And then bar a wander and some food we went home.

Misc.

One thing I have to mention before I forget it is a conversation I had with a student today.

The 3rd Grade (san-nensei) are preparing for their high school exams soon and I’ve been helping the students that will be studying English next year. They have to do an interview in English as part of their exams and they have a list of questions the examiner is likely to ask. I’ve been helping them prepare stock answers and practise speaking in an interview situation.

Today I helped one of my students with her application to keimei high school which is, of all things, a Christian High School (there are almost no Christians in Japan so it seems so out of place here). One of her questions is what does she want to study at keimei and she had written “I want to study christianity habit”. Now leaving aside the issue that the grammar really should be “I want to study Christian habits” I had to explain that habits wasn’t really the best choice of words to go with Christian as it implies that she wants to study nun’s clothes. Cue on of the most awkward and downright strange conversations I have ever had in my life. Have you ever tried to explain what nuns are to someone who doesn’t really know about Christianity and doesn’t really speak English? Saying they were married to god just caused even more unnecessary confusion.

In the end I told her I’d explain nuns with the aid of pictures in her notebook next week. She left still confused but apparently satisfied and we changed the sentence to “I want to study Christian beliefs.”

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