Archive for November, 2009

The Colonel conquers Christmas
November 17, 2009

I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and I’m writing about Christmas. Well, too bad. Even in Japan, the songs are playing and the lights are being hung. But, there is a major discrepancy…

When I think of Christmas dinner in America, I think of a big ass turkey and/or ham with all the trimmings, lots of alochol, and lots of crazy family members gossiping around a candlelit dinner table…

In Japan, however, Christmas is associated with fried chicken. Kentucy Fried Chicken.

Although it exists, turkey isn’t common in Japan, and it certainly isn’t associated with Christmas. Colonel Saunders and his massive advertising campaigns have embedded “KFC = Christmas” into the minds of most naive Japanese. I say ‘naive’ because Christmas in Japan is purely commerical with no religious strings attached. Therefore everything the Japanese understand about Christmas has been fed to them through TV, radio and magazines, including commercials for chicken.

I wonder how much money KFC rakes in over the holiday season in Japan?

KFC is so prevalent in Japan that many Japanese unknowingly consider it to be a Japanese Company. On Christmas day many families (who have made reservations weeks in advance), have their traditional Christmas dinner at KFC. Colonel Sanders has become somewhat of a cult figure in Japan. Not only is there a life-sized statue of the Colonel in front of every KFC, but his memorabilia like wind-up toys and figurines can be found at many toy stores throughout Japan.

Allegedly,  a very prominent Japanese baseball club is said to be cursed by the Colonel, himself.

Anyone from Philadelphia can tell you about the William Penn curse that was righted by placing a small statue of Penn on top of the Comcast Center, thus leading to a 2008 World Series Victory. Well, the residents of Osaka are still looking for pieces of their statue…

In 1985, much to Japanese people’s surprise,[3] the Hanshin Tigers faced the Seibu Lions and took their first and only victory in the Japan Series, largely due to star slugger Randy Bass,[4][7] a gaijin (foreigner) player for the team.

The rabid fan base went wild, and a riotous celebration gathered at Ebisubashi Bridge in Dōtonbori, Osaka. There, an assemblage of supporters yelled the players names, and with every name a fan resembling a member of the victorious team leapt from the bridge into the waiting canal. However, lacking someone to imitate MVP Randy Bass, the rabid crowd seized a Colonel Sanders (like Bass, the Colonel had a beard and was not Japanese) plastic statue from a nearby KFC and tossed it off the bridge as an effigy.[4]

This impulsive maneuver was to cost the team greatly, beginning the Curse of the Colonel.[1] Urban legend has it that the Tigers will not win the championship again until the statue is recovered.[5] Subsequently, numerous attempts has been made to recover the statue, often as a part of variety TV show. Most of the statue was recovered in March, 2009.[8]

Parallel universes
November 13, 2009

Even in my small Japanese town, random places and objects remind me of Philadelphia. Here are some things I spotted in Kitami that make it feel a bit more like home…

Across the train tracks from my apartment lies the 北見しんきん (Bank of Kitami).

It is the only modern architecture to be found among the drab and decaying buildings that make up my city. My office, called the Parabo building, might actually be the biggest eyesore in town.

Kitami Shinkin is covered in color-changing LEDs, and reminds me of a miniature version of the Amtrak building, which often lights up with Philadelphia team colors and logos. I can see it glowing in the distance on the bus coming home from Sapporo, much like I used to see the faraway sparkle of the Amtrak building while driving south on 95.

While riding my bike home from Koizumi Junior High last week, I spotted another familiar Philly landmark, albeit a bit bastardized in usage. The Love Park symbol is being used for some kind of Pachinko (Japanese gambling parlors) campaign called “Love Juggler and Love Sea Story.” Interesting…

I’ve also seen the LOVE Park symbol on student’s pen cases and notebooks.

Even at work, I bump into things that take me back to Philly, like…

A poster for La Salle High School in Hakodate. I did a double-take when I spotted this at one of my junior high schools.

School lunch that I actually enjoy: Installment #1
November 12, 2009

I don’t eat fish. I don’t eat sashimi. I don’t eat sushi. There, I said it. I live in Japan and sushi makes me vomit. Get over it, people.

This will begin a weekly (hopefully multi-weekly) installment of Japanese public school lunches that I not only tolerate, but actually really enjoy.

Today’s fine piece of mass-culinary magic (Japanese school lunches are made in school lunch factories and delivered by tractor trailer every morning — I am dead serious) is udon and shrimp shumai, with a side of cheese balls wrapped like candy. This is one of my favorites, and usually comes around once or twice a month.

(Sorry for the vertical photo, my iPhone equilibrium isn’t so great).

ジャンボチキンカツ
November 11, 2009

300 Yen Izakaya’s famous dish… “Jumbo Chicken Katsu.” Enough to feed a whole family (or two Japanese families) for only ¥300. Sadly… we couldn’t even finish it… And Japan isn’t too keen on carry-out.

The photo does absolutely no justice, and I apologize for not leaving something in the shot as a point of reference (I’ll return someday with my Nikon). So, the cabbage at the top left corner is about the size of half a head of iceberg lettuce (sorry people, I’m a lettuce man, I have no idea what a head of cabbage looks like). The plate it was served on the biggest plate I have seen thus far in Japan, and rivals even the biggest of Cheesecake Factory plates back home.

Tonight in Kitami
November 11, 2009

The snow has subsided, but it remains a chilly -.03 degrees. I hope the snow remains through Saturday for some Kurodake snowboarding…

Welcome to Inakadelphia.
November 11, 2009

When I applied for the JET Program as a senior at La Salle University in Philadelphia, I clearly indicated my desire to be placed in an urban area. I specifically requested the Kansai region, which includes Japan’s second largest city, Osaka, the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto, and my personal favorite city (and Philly’s sister city), Kobe. Hell, I even went as far as requesting a specific school, having been to Kobe on a travel-study in 2006.

After endless application forms and a very scary FBI criminal background check, my results came, nearly a year after beginning the initial application. Before my official placement paperwork arrived, I received and e-mail from my predecessor, also from Philadelphia (South Philly).

“Hokkaido.” My heart sank. Especially when I realized that my city wasn’t Sapporo, the only city I imagined could even come close to filling my desire to remain an urbanite. I was destined for the inaka.

inaka (田舎, inaka?) is a Japanese term meaning a rural area or the countryside. When said by people on the JET Programme, it is often used as a pejorative about places outside the major metropolitan areas, highlighting the lack desirable urban features – bars, shops, general entertainment, young people etc.

So, here I am, 3 months in. I haven’t been here long enough to love or hate it, so stay tuned for a verdict.