Ramen for a carnivore

August 13, 2010 - Leave a Response

On my way home from Tokyo, I spent a night in the Susukino district of Sapporo. After leaving Hokkaido for a month, I was yearning for some good miso ramen.

I headed for the Ramen Yokocho, a famous alleyway that houses a plethora of tiny shops. I took a nap after my flight and wasn’t able to stumble in until around 2 am, so only three or four shops were open.

Halfway through the alley, I caught a glimpse of an advertisement for one of them. Meat was literally overflowing from the bowl. It’s name was Double Chashu, but compared to the meat content of other ramen, it could have just as easily been called Quadruple Chashu… (Chashu is the thinly-sliced pork loin that is usually floating on top of the ramen noodles).

Behold its glory:

This could have been Bob’s fate…

August 13, 2010 - Leave a Response

While exploring various neighborhoods around Tokyo following my month of mayhem in the USA, I stumbled into an arcade to take advantage of the air conditioning. The arcade, located a stone’s throw from the famed “Senso-ji” temple, had a UFO catcher that may well outdo the “schoolgirl panties” urban legend: Live upalupas.

For a mere 100 yen a try, you too could learn of the wonders of upalupa ownership (if you’re lucky).

Naivete vs. stupidity: An Inakadelphia rant

June 10, 2010 - Leave a Response

I’ll start this by admiting that I was already having a bad day before I sat down to write this. I ordered a new bicycle online, and the shop failed to inform me that it was out of stock, and that the shop was on holiday all week, even further delaying shipment. Eight days later, and I haven’t received a single email or phone call. And I won’t even get into the fascist “no cancellation” policy.

Naivete is defined as a lack of sophistication or worldliness. The sohpistication part has nothing to do with the naivete I’ve experienced on a daily basis in my Japanese juinor high school classrooms. The complete and utter lack of worldliness has everything to do with it.

I’m beating a dead horse with the whole marijuana symbol, but I just noticed today that the new class banner for one of my 2nd grade (8th grade in the U.S.) classes is a giant pot leaf with “Enjoy & Happy” written underneath. And, of course, it has the classic red-yellow-green “Rasta” background. Again, when I made a comment about it being the symbol of an illegal drug that is rather frowned upon in Japan, the teacher told me she had no idea what it was. Just read my previous post if you want to know how I feel about this whole situation.

In several schools, I’ve used a “guessing game” worksheet as part of my self introduction. Instead of boring them with a long speech, I allow them to take guesses about general questions; i.e. what is my favorite food or how many brothers and sisters do I have. One question was “Where am I from?” The most common response? “France.” When I explain that French is the language of France, and people in my job must be from ENGLISH-speaking countries, I get the typical “EEEEeeeeehhhh!?” shouts of disbelief from my students. I also got India, Finland, Germany, and Italy (and again blew their minds when I said that English is not their native language).

Granted that white people often look older to Asian people, I was rattled when a student gave a honest guess at my age and came up with 48 (his father is only 42). I’m 24… And I’m gonna be looking for him on the dodgeball court.

It is finally summer here in Hokkaido, and today is a scorcher. I expected the interior of my school to be a bit cooler than the outisde. Unfortunately, when I opened the sliding doors into the staff room, I was blasted with heat as if opening the oven after preheating to 400 degrees. All 24 windows were closed and locked. Half of the inhabitants were visibly sweating, fanning their faces with notebooks or folders. “Hot, isn’t it” replied one of the new guys that sits behind me.

Surely you guessed that this is the stupidity part of my rant. If you are uncomfortably hot… maybe you should open the windows. But, no. I interrogated my English teacher as to why the windows aren’t opened, even cracked, and she replied that “I wish we could, but the men don’t like to have them open. I don’t know why. Even on the hottest days of summer, they usually keep them shut.”


Furthermore, students wear track suits as their school uniform here in Kitami. Long pants, long sleeves, with full-zip “turtleneck” style tops. After gym class, my students were panting and sweating all over their desks. But more than 3/4 of them had their jackets zipped to the top of the neck. I suggested that they take off their jackets. They said no. I suggested that they unzip it a little bit. Nope.

Stupidity is being uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable. I don’t care what country you are in. There is no rule against taking the jacket off or unzipping it. They are all wearing baggy t-shirts underneath, so I won’t accept “being uncomfortable about their bodies” as an excuse.

I don’t call something stupid because it is different from my own ideals or my own culture. I call something stupid when it defies logic, reason, and the basic notion of common sense.

I could live in Japan for 1000 years and still never even begin to understand the bizarre, backwards, and utterly insane ways of thinking that I’ve encountered. All I know is this: thank GOD for the exceptions to the rule. You keep me from getting completely jaded by weirdness.

That’s more like it

June 7, 2010 - Leave a Response

The only downside to perfect weather is spending the whole day in a window-less office.

Smelly fish Friday

May 21, 2010 - Leave a Response

I don’t mind processed tuna, but any kind of fish with the scales left on it makes my stomach turn. I’ve just never acquired a taste for fish… I don’t mind crustaceans and cephalopods, but fish is revolting.

Well… In Japan, the giant island, fish is obviously a staple of the Japanese diet. And, thus, fish is served often in school lunch.

Today was one of those days, and I knew it the moment I stepped into the teacher’s room. The stench almost knocked me out.

To make matters worse, it was served alongside some heinous mix of Chinese spinach and other assorted strange veggies. I love spinach, but not this awful Chinese-Japanese bastardization. Popeye would cry if he saw this.

Another soup-and-plain-white-rice-only day here in Kitami City…

Butt out of my desk

May 21, 2010 - Leave a Response

This morning, I discovered that my desk was being used to store not lesson plans or writing utensils, but Ziploc-bagged cigarette butts found being smoked my students.

Some bags even contain gum or mints that students were trying to use to cover their tracks.

Each bag is logged with the perpetrator’s class number, because punishment is rarely placed on the individual. In Japan, the entire peer group gets reprimanded.

I’m not at all surprised. My students are between 13 and 15 years old, which seems about right for experimenting with bad habits. Surely, the bulk of their fathers are smokers. Cigs are still only 3 bucks a pack here, and smoking is still allowed in bars, restaurants, and even on trains.

But, come on, guys. You already use the top of my desk as storage space for all of your junk… Can you at least relinquish its interior?

Love Hotels: A 5-step guide

March 8, 2010 - Leave a Response

In Japan, most young couples still live with their parents. So where are they supposed to have sex? In the local Love Hotel, of course. Here is a 5-step guide to your first Love Hotel experience.

1. Choose a Love Hotel.

Generally, the name, location, and presentation make it easy to differentiate a LH from a regular H. Hotel Angel, with multi-colored flood lights, tacky cupid statues, and NO WINDOWS should strike the clueless gaijin as a bit different from Comfort Inn.

Hint: Walk inside. If there is no staff present and/or a LED-lit waterfall flowing through the tiny lobby, you’re probably in a Love Hotel.

2. Pick a room and a timeframe.

Most love hotels use a touch-screen system for reserving a room, eliminating the embarrassment of bumping into hotel staff with that questionable drunk hookup you met at the techno club. Rooms vary greatly in size and features. You can choose to stay for a “rest” (about 3 hours) or overnight.

A small room should be about 3000 yen for a “rest” and 6000 yen for an all night session. The deluxe rooms, more than big enough for a threesome (or all out epic porno orgy), often come equipped with massive plasma TVs, an equally massive jacuzzi, a sauna, massage chairs — even a miniature swimming pool. Well worth the extra money.

3. Pay up

Once you reserve a room with the touch screen, proceed to the elevator. Generally, reserving the room temporarily unlocks the door to the room you chose. Track it down and enter. There will be a payment machine built into the wall of the genkan (entry way, similar to a mudroom in the U.S., this is where you remove your shoes). Slide in your cash or swipe your credit card, and the room will unlock.

IMPORTANT: Love Hotels are meant for sex. This is not a hotel where you can drop off your bags and head to the bar. Once you are in, you are IN. Once you leave, the door will lock. But don’t worry, everything you could possibly need can be brought to you (see next step).

4. Room service!

Unlike most mainstream hotels, Love Hotels offer dirt cheap room service. A bowl of ramen or a basket of chicken will cost about the same as it would in a standard Japanese restaurant. The refrigerator will probably be stocked with beer and shochu for just a tad more than it would be at conbini.

If you splurged on a deluxe room, this is where the fun really begins. Deluxe rooms generally offer free goodies. Board games, a humidifier, expensive shampoo, massage oil… there should be a folder full of complimentary items available for you in the same spot that you found the room service menu.

And of course… the costume selection. Most Love Hotels offer a free costume for female guests. Have a school girl fetish (so that’s why you became an ALT…)? There are about a dozen school girl uniforms to choose from. Nurses your thing? Office lady? Superhero? Done, done, and done.

Note: Condoms are always provided free of charge in Love Hotels. However, they are not always the highest quality (or proper size), so bringing your own is a good idea.

5. Get down to biznass.

You got your Scrabble, your bottle of cheap champagne, and a Sailor Moon outfit. Now’s your time to shine. Be as loud as you want, as messy as you want, and use the ceiling-mounted mirrors to your advantage. Ganbatte!

Love Hotel video from Babelgum that I couldnt embed or get to work with Vodpod. NUDITY, BE WARNED!

Convenience store booze bazaar

March 6, 2010 - Leave a Response

Back in the States, the availability of alcohol varies greatly. New Jersey has liquor stores, Pennsylvania has beer distributors, and New York has cases of beer at the convenience store.

However, in the land of beer vending machines, alcohol is easier to come by than anywhere I have previously experienced.

There are 3 major convenience stores operating on literally just about every street corner in Japan: Seicomart, Lawson, and 711. In Japan, convenience stores are called コンビ二, or “conbini,” the shortened and katakana-ized form of convenience.

My favorite is Seicomart for the low prices (although 711 admittedly has better food). All of them, however, have a vast selection of alcoholic beverages.

This Seicomart, in Bihoro, had a wine and whiskey selection to rival many liquor stores back home, alongside 2+ gallon jugs of sake. The staples, such as Smirnoff, Beefeater, and Bailey’s were also in attendance.

Next to innocent bottles of Coke and green tea lies the beer/wine cooler section. While I (sadly) haven’t seen 40s in the conbini, there is a plethora of Japanese beer, shochu, and Smirnoff Ice-esque drinks. Sadly, for the cost of 4 beers here, you could enjoy a 2 hour nomihoudai at a local bar. Who sets the insane price of beer over here?!

Eye mod purikura

February 15, 2010 - Leave a Response

Headed to Sega for some Initial D 5th Stage and, of course, Valentines Day purikura.

Purikura is the katakana-ized form of “picture club,” and involves taking photos in a large booth, followed by using electronic styluses to draw on and edit them. Purikura booths come in many varieties and can be found in just about every arcade and shopping mall in Japan.

This particular purikura had several strange options, including air-brushed-looking skin and a ridiculous eye-exaggerating mod. It looks great for Japanese, but a big-eyed foreigner comes out looking like an alien.

My first zine piece: Musings on pot leaf pen cases

February 2, 2010 - 6 Responses

After being in Japan for six months, I finally buckled down and wrote something (other than a lesson plan or blog entry).

HAJET (Hokkaido’s branch of JET) has a great e-zine, titled the Polestar, and the editor contacted me about contributing in light of my background as a writer. It was easy to zone in on a topic: marijuana-themed merchandise’s pop culture presence (especially among young students, i.e., my students) and the contradiction it creates in light of the stifling Japanese anti-drug laws.

I’ll post the link here for the February 2010 Polestar, as well as paste the article’s contents below. I am also thrilled to say that this month’s cover photo is mine. Unfortunately, the editor flipped the mag’s layout to landscape, so my shot was cropped.

I would also like to add something that didn’t appear in print. While researching for this piece, I came across a lot of gossip involving my fine town. Kitami was once famous for being the biggest mint producer in the world. Now, it’s the biggest onion producer in Japan — and allegedly, the biggest pot distributor. Several reliable sources claimed that there is a massive underground gang presence in this town of roughly 120,000. I was even told that a large number of downtown bars are used as money laundering fronts for the drug trade.

I can’t confirm any of this, and for my own safety, I don’t care to dig any deeper (I just finished reading Tokyo Vice, and the last thing I wanna do is get tangled up with the yakuza). But I will say that, on more than a couple of occasions, I have walked into a bar or nightclub bathroom with an open window and the lingering smell of marijuana. Its existence in Kitami is undeniable.


By: J.T. Quigley

Any foreigner living and working in Japan has
been made aware of the hefty penalties for
being caught with marijuana and other illegal
drugs. For those of us on JET, pre-departure,
Tokyo, and regional orientations undoubtedly
warned of the severity of drug violations.
Even the U.S. Department of State cautions,
“Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking
in illegal drugs, including marijuana, in Japan
are severe, and convicted offenders can
expect long jail sentences and fines.” However,
there appears to be a profound contradiction
when it comes to marijuana’s stringent
illegality versus its rampant pop culture
presence in Japan.

Between 2008 and 2009, the Japanese
media converged on a flood of reefer-specific
allegations against national
celebrities, including four sumo
wrestlers, a national-team rugby player,
an actress, and a rock musician. While
college students using marijuana is
nothing newsworthy in the West, Japan
was shocked when students from
prestigious Waseda University were
busted with plastic bags full of pot.
According to GlobalPost, Waseda
administrators made scathing
statements after the fallout, including
the following: “Students foolish enough
to try marijuana all too often end up
physically and mentally ruined, perhaps
leading lives of crime.”

Although there may have been a major
crackdown on marijuana usage here,
most Japanese appear ignorant to the
fact that children are wearing pot leaf
t-shirts to school and using pen cases
with “CANNABIS” printed across the top.
“There is a distinct cognitive
disconnection between the cultural
taboo of recreational drug use and the
prevalence of its iconography,” said
Simon Daly, a first-year ALT in Engaru.

A trip to the local shopping mall yields
numerous options for marijuana-themed
goods. In Kitami, the local
Village Vanguard chain has an entire
section devoted to pot, including shirts,
posters, curtains, and pen cases covered
by images of the illegal green plant. “I
hate to see children wearing those kind
of clothes, using those kind of school
supplies,” said Takuya Sato, a third grade
teacher at North Kitami Junior
High School. “I hate more to see parents
letting them wear and use them. I hate
ignorance. There are no regulations for
these drug-themed items.”

Do most Japanese draw a connection
between marijuana, the illegal drug,
and the symbol of a green leaf with
seven points? “I don’t think many
Japanese know what marijuana looks
like,” said Sato, “They don’t even know
that the colors [often] behind the leaf of
marijuana [merchandise] come from
Rastafari” (Adding insult to injury, one
pen case even had “Rasta Drug Rush”
printed on it). Perhaps many Japanese
simply make a connection between the
symbol of marijuana and reggae music,
which seems to be especially popular in
Hokkaido. But with all the media
attention, nothing is stopping young
people from finding out the true

In the past decade, Japan has seen a
rise in ganja-related arrests, especially
when it involves cultivation. According
to GlobalPost, the number of “green
thumbs” arrested for growing pot has
doubled in recent years. The celebrity
convictions of the last two years are
proof that marijuana isn’t only
increasingly popular as a fashion
symbol, but as an actual controlled
substance. Could there be a correlation
between the acceptance of marijuana’s
iconography and this staggering
increase? “Yes, it could be possible,”
says Sato. “Some students know what
the [marijuana symbols] are and what
they mean. The younger generations
are not ignorant like their parents.”

In the “inaka” surrounding Kitami,
marijuana grows wild. “It’s common
local knowledge that the Japanese
military introduced marijuana to
Hokkaido during WWII to use as rope,”
said a local Kitami region resident who
requested anonymity. “Depending on
what circles you belong to, it’s definitely
available.” A drive around the outskirts
of Kitami in the summer time can prove
the wild pot’s prevalence. Signs are
posted on the side of some roads where it
grows, requesting that upstanding citizens
call the police if they see any stopped cars
or pedestrians picking buds. There is
obviously a source for anyone bold enough
to break the law.

Something caught my eye recently that
embodied the Japanese marijuana
contradiction. After emerging from the
teacher’s room at one of my junior high
schools, I came across a group of my 3rd
grade students. They had their hair slicked
up in “pureboi” fashion, bright-colored
Nike high-tops, and holes in their tracksuits.
The “cool” kids. One had his back against
the wall with his track jacket unzipped. His
black t-shirt had a giant, cartoonish, pot
leaf with arms and legs. One hand was
flashing a peace sign, while the other
gripped a smoldering joint. It wasn’t the
shirt alone that caught my attention (although
the cartoonish weed plant brought back
memories of the outlawing of Joe Camel
ads back in the United States, because it
was deemed that a cartoon targets children).
What bothered me was that the student
was leaning against a Japanese public service
announcement, part of a series in the national
“NO! DRUG” campaign. The campaign logo
that the letters “NO! DRUG” are superimposed
over? A green, seven-pointed leaf of the devil’s

In a country that blindly wears shirts with
botched English and names a bar a “Rounge,”
someone should step up to stop the naivete.
Parents should stop and think about the
meaning behind a symbol before ignorantly
purchasing it for their child. Age limits
should be enforced, as they are in
many Western nations, for purchasing
drug-themed merchandise. Who is stopping
Nazi Swastikas from becoming the next
uneducated symbol craze? Thankfully,
there are people like Sato-sensei who are
pushing back against the ignorance. Being
able to read and understand English seems
like a good start in ending the reefer

“I always ask the student the same
question if they wear marijuana t-shirts,
rock t-shirts, any English-printed t-shirts as
well,” said Sato. “The question is, ‘Do you
know what your t-shirt stands for?’ If they
don’t know, I teach them what, then I say
to them, ‘Your t-shirt is very cool, but if
you wear it without understanding what it
says, that is uncool. So study English!’”