風になりたい! Kaze ni naritai! 

A look at life in Japan through big, round, gaijin eyes. Relfections on life in Japan, America, from the faceless streets of Tokyo. Let's blogging!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Surprise! Merry Christmas!

Juri and I made the trip home to the States to surprise mom and dad for the holidays. Good work Susie on keeping the cat in the bag.

A week in New York and Connecticut has been hardly enough time, and somehow it is already over. I can barely fit into the pants I wore on the plane ride over. Good times.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Clash of the Titans

Unless the commissioner of our league does something stupid, 2nd seeded, but top-ranked Stoles and their coach Paul N. (pictured) will clash against my surging Fujiyama Fighting Swallows this week in the semi-finals of the Pine Cheese Fantasy Football League Playoffs.
The Swallows, whose explosive offense was second in points scored in the 12 team league to the Stoles, spit on Berg's Boobs 146-76 in a landslide victory in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Stoles needed a heroic performance from Todd Heap against Paul's favorite real-life team, the Packers, to sneak by the Mish Mashers 114-109.
Division rivals, the Swallows beat the Stoles twice en-route to a 5-1 division record that propelled them into the playoffs as the 6 seed that no one wanted to play. Especially during the second half of the season, they have been the most dangerous team, leading or finishing second in points scored over the last 6 weeks. The Stoles meanwhile, face the prospect of playing without their star runningback, Shawn Alexander, while the Swallows will come out in full force.

One thing is for sure, it's hard to beat a team 3 times in the same season. But I've got money (with Paul) on my boys sticking it to 'em again.

God, this was the stupidest post ever. GO SWALLOWS!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Gyuudon Never Left~!

Start lining up at your local Yoshinoya now. According to the official website, the famous Yoshinoya 牛丼 (beef bowl) is coming back now that the ban American beef imports has been lifted. Unlike other popular gyuudon chain restaurants, when the Japanese government banned US beef in December 2003, Yoshinoya declared it would not substitute what it felt was inferior tasting Australian or domestic beef in its beef bowls. To get a sense of what this would mean for the company, you'd have to imagine McDonalds pulling it's fries. On February 11th, 2004, Yoshinoya's stock of US beef ran out, and gyuudon lovers lined up for hours to get one last bowl before it was pulled off the menu.

Last year, on the one year anniversary of the last Yoshinoya gyuudon, the chain offered a special 1-day only revival that packed stores yet again. Now, despite the fact that 75% of the easily-brainwashed Japanese public (there have been many more cases of mad-cow disease, the reason for the ban, in Japan [21] than the 2 reported in the US) says it is worried about the saftey of US beef, the chain announced on Decemeber 14th that it would gyuudon up on the menu again, perhaps only in limited quantities at first, in about 2 months. Can there be any doubt that the 2-year anniversary is pegged as the date for Yoshinoya gyuudon to make it back into stores, and straight into my belly?

Mmmm... greasy, stringy beef and rice...gyuuuuuuuudon.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Driver's Ed

The Tokyo Motor show is the diametrical opposite of the Tokyo Department of Motor Vehicles

Today I had to renew my Japanese driver's license. I had tried to do it two weeks ago by going to the Driving License Center in Kanda and filling out the proper paperwork, but then I was told that since it was my first renewal, I had to go to a completely different place (a test center) and renew my license in a completely different way (by taking a two hour driver's ed refresher). Oh.

Getting a Japanese license in the first place was quite possibly the most difficult thing I've ever done. In Japan, you are only allowed to use an international driving permit for 1 year after you come into the country. Apparently Yamanashi, where I used to live, is one of the most backwards places when it comes to things like driving tests etc. The first thing I had to do was schedule an interview to talk about my driving history. Unfortunately, I renewed my license right before I came to Japan--which meant I couldn't pass the interview until the State of Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles supplied documents that proved that I had been driving for 6 years. That only took about 2 months. Of course, driving for 6 years wasn't good enough-- I had to take a road test. The test was on a closed course, and right before you start you are given a map with one of three routes that you have to memorize. What's more important is memorizing the exact places you are supposed to look at your mirrors (you have to move your whole head), the exact timing of when you should start your blinkers, and the exact speeds you are supposed to be going all around the course (never more than 20 mph). That is what the driver's ed course was for--teaching you what to look at on each route to make it look like you were looking at your mirrors at the right time etc. Of course, I didn't need that crap, I thought, so I just took the test straight away. Zipped right through. Then the test guy was like, "Bonitsky, nice job. You're a great driver," as he stamped the big FAIL stamp on my test.

In Yamanashi, there were 2 guys I mostly dealt with at the driving center. Once was this weird nerd guy with stringy, oily long hair and crooked glasses, and the other was a crew-cut, nail-spitting, nationalistic, son-of-a-bitch oji-san. He was the guy who failed me. Of course, I expected to fail. Everyone fails the first time. But considering he had called me a great driver, I was pretty pissed. So I asked him why I failed if I'm so good. Big mistake. Imazu (the guy) proceded to scream at me for 20 minutes about how Americans are crap drivers and how I was just a crap American and if I was gonna drive like one of them then I would never pass the test. Especially since he was the guy who decided whether I passed or failed.

So not that I stopped driving, but to make a long story short, I failed 9 times. Each time I had to take the test I had to drive (yeah, ridiculous) 2 hours to the test center on the other side of Yamanashi with no license just to fail. It cost $30 plus gas, which meant I would probably have done just as well if I had taken the class and then passed on try #2.

RIGHT, so driver's ed. Since the Japanese driving test has so little to do with actual driving, by the time all the "paper drivers" in Japan (people who have licenses but never drive) get to their first renewal, it's pretty obvious that they have no right whatsoever to be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. So they have to go through a 2 hour class to renew their liceses. Nowadays, I live in Tokyo, so it was a lot easier just to take the train to the closest test center in Samezu. And I will say that the number of people that it processed in the 2 and a half hours I was there was more than the DMV back home could handle in a month, so that was impressive. But it was just such a joke that I am now afraid to drive over here anymore.

After some paperwork, a BS eye test, some paperwork, getting my photo taken, and some more paperwork, I got to my assigned classroom. The class is of course taught by a crew-cut, nail-biting, nationalistic, son-of-a-bitch oji-san. Mirror image of Imazu, except maybe this guy smiles less, and has a thicker oji-san accent to his Japanese (oji-san's are old men--and somewhere between the age of 45 and 55, Japanese men decide that they are now allowed to be completely incomprehensible when they speak). Anyway, this guy starts off right away by talking about how Japanese drivers are getting worse and worse, though they still aren't as bad as the awful Americans. The people around me knod in unison in response to his diatribes, and I am just trying not to say anything that's gonna get me kicked out. Eventually, he gets on to something that he wants to talk about even more than how many deadly accidents there are in America--all the different ways to die on the roads in the Tokyo area.

However, the highlight of the two hour course has to be the anti-drunk driving video. I saw a lot of these when I was 15 and in driver's ed back home, but this was the most tragic ever. Let's rundown what happens to the drunk driver guy:
  • he wins a big contract at work for a tire selling company and goes out for a drink to celebrate

  • everyone tells him to take a taxi; his daughter says that he's a drunk

  • no taxis come to his station

  • he gets behind the wheel and drives home

  • he runs over a guy on a bike

  • he goes to jail

  • the victim dies, he gets thrown in the slammer

  • his insurance doesn't cover what happened he owes big money

  • the incident goes in the paper; the tire company sees the story and pulls out of the deal

  • he gets fired; the company refuses to give him severance pay

  • his daughter gets bullied at school because her father is a vehicular manslaughterer

  • his wife sells the house for money and moves into a ghetto shoebox apartment; she gets rejected by her father for money

  • the neighbors gossip about him and his wife overhears

  • she tries to throw herself in front of a train but is saved at the last minute by her daughter who says she is an idiot and that she is selfish

  • he gets out of jail and works in construction; his family hates him; the victim's family hates him; his wife gets a job cleaning toilets

  • his son runs away from home

  • a sad song plays in the background, and the lyrics repeat everything I just typed above

Finally, the last part before we got our licenses was a self-diagnostic test, where we filled out questions like, "are you always pissed off while driving?" "do you have trouble merging" and "do you want your son to run away so that you'll be left with your ugly wife and bitchy daughter? don't drink and drive!" Anyway, I answered all the questions honestly, and since I feel I'm a half decent driver, I didn't ever say that I had big problems doing anything. Which is apparently the wrong answer. If you don't say you are bad at at least 3 things like backing up, making decisions, and not panicking when someone lets you go first, you are apparently a cocky, overconfident, American-style driver, and probably going to die.

And if you made it down this far through all of that--YAY TOKYO AUTO SHOW!

Maybe tomorrow, I think...

Is what Juri says every time I ask her, "So when are you going back to Hokkaido?"

Not that I'm complaining, but she's been saying that every day for the last month--and I'm beginning to think she's not being completely honest with me. That and the fact that more and more of her stuff keeps arriving by post...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Mysteries of Sushi Unveiled!

Carefully study this video and all your questions about Japanese ettiquite will be made clear. Watch this and you can amaze your friends with your knowhow back home, or order like a pro in the back alleys of Tokyo. Don't ever say I don't actually post anything worthwhile about Japan!


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Studio Ghibli Does Earthsea

Today it was announced that Hayao Miyazaki's oldest son, Goro Miyazaki, would be directing his first anime for Studio Ghibli (story). The story that he will bringing to life is based on Ursula K. Le Guin's classic Tales of Earthsea novels, and is tentatively called 「ゲド戦記」, or "The War Chronicles of Ged". The plot involves the travels of the Archmage Ged to find out who has disrupted the balance of the world of Earthsea. The story will involve the meeting between Ged and the young Prince Arren, who has renounced his claim to his homeland. This points to the events roughly matching the timeline of The Farthest Shore, the Volume Three of the Earthsea books.

The film will be the first effort at directing from the younger Miyazaki, and and he is well-aware that he will be compared to his famous father. He was born in Tokyo in 1967, and he went into consulting after graduating from college. "My father was against me becoming a director," he admitted. However since 2001, Miyazaki has been more closly involved with his father's world, serving as the director of the Studio Ghibli Museum, "Mitaka no Mori," in suburban Tokyo. "I really felt the beauty in [the Tales of Earthsea], and even though up until now I have avoided stepping into my father's arena, I love animation and I realized that the desire to try my hand at directing is something that's inside of me."

Thematically, the Earthsea novels are a good fit for a Ghibli film. The elder Miyazaki's award winning films, such as Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away, are reknowned for examining the complex balance between man and the natural world. Le Guin's tales take a similar look at the consequences of wielding unnatural power, as well as looking at the interactions and relationships between opposites such as life and death, male and female, and freedom and possessiveness. I am excited to see if the younger Miyazaki can succeed in his first film, and interested to know how Le Guin will react (she justifiably ripped an Earthsea mini-series produced by the SF Network that had little in common with her works other than the name).

「ゲド戦記」is expected to open in theatres in July, 2006.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Let's Just Pretend November Didn't Happen

Life in Tokyo: guaranteed to be unbelievable at least once a day.

Today I was at Meguro Station with Juri and my boy Koki on the way home from Ultimate. We had just grabbed a quick bite at KFC, about to go our separate ways in front one of the exits to the subway. Koki is saying how it was nice to meet Juri at last, and that whenever she moves to Tokyo for good, she and I should come join him and his friends for some all-night karaoke when I see a flash of something in the crowd crossing the street toward us that catches my eye and I interrupt him.

"Wait. Do you see that...? Hold on a second, maybe..." Now I can see her face. Maybe mid-twenties, wearing a roundish purple hat with a curled up rim, a black jacket with a fur collar, and a gray and white miniskirt with a few large letters printed across the front. I think of how cold Ju is, all bundled up, with her gloved hand holding onto mine, stuffed into my coat pocket for warmth. It's a chilly day.
My view is partially obscured as people swirl between us up the sidewalk and into the crosswalk. She's also got white-leather high-heeled boots on that come up to the knee. No gloves. A $700 Louis Vuitton bag is slung off one shoulder. Typical Tokyo. "That girl's skirt... does it say...?"
"Walking at... 4 o'clock and coming this way. Stupid purple hat. I can only see three of the letters but... right behind you now."
Koki busts out laughing. -"'PIMP'!... " he exclaims as he passes us-- before he doubles over even harder upon seeing the back.

Meanwhile, Juri is incredulous. "What the hell? Why 'PIMP KILLER'? Unbelievable! These stupid Tokyo girls!"
When I can breathe again, I pronounce, "I love this country."