Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

This could have been Bob’s fate…
August 13, 2010

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).

Advertisements

That’s more like it
June 7, 2010

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

Butt out of my desk
May 21, 2010

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

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!


My first zine piece: Musings on pot leaf pen cases
February 2, 2010

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.

THE JAPANESE MARIJUANA
CONTRADICTION

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
meaning.

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
lettuce.

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
contradiction.

“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!’”

Axolotl, aka ウーパールーパー, aka my new pet
January 19, 2010

So, folks, it happened. I had my mid-first-year-on-JET crisis. But I didn’t run out to buy a red convertible sports car… Nope. My impulse buy was only 8000 yen and it involves a living creature. A very, very weird living creature.

It’s winter. Hokkaido is cold and lonely, and I needed some companionship. My friend Greg returned from his vacation to Korea and asked if I wanted to join him for some shopping and dinner. He needed a new snow shovel, so we headed for Homac, the Japanese equivalent of Walmart.

I contemplated getting one of those badass beetles from the “Japanese Bug Fights” videos on YouTube. I was shocked to find out that they cost over $80 a piece. And worried about what I would do if it escaped…

My first job ever was at an aquarium store. When I was in junior high school, I kept about 4 different aquariums with all different kinds of exotic fish inside. So, I headed for the extensive Homac aquarium section. And that’s where I found him.

I didn’t end up with a fish, although my new pet does live underwater (he’s an aquatic amphibian). His cage was emblazoned with Japanese that translated as “The darling of our store.” How could I resist?

ウーパールーパー became famous in Japan after a series of UFO brand cup ramen television commercials showcased them. All I can say about the commercials is, “Only in Japan…”

He’s currently residing in a 5 gallon mini aquarium until he gets bigger. He is really low maintenance, eating frozen bloodworms (the red stuff in the photo below) that only cost ¥300 (about $3) for a month’s supply.

Coming from the guy who has , at one time or another, had geckos, a hedgehog, pacman frogs, a chinchilla, and a mice-eating killer fish… I figured going different was the only way to go….

To live and die in Kitami: The end of my favorite restaurant
January 14, 2010

This week has been difficult in multiple ways. First of all, my office sent me to volunteer at the local daycare center. I absolutely adore children, but I was thrown into the job without any knowledge of what it entailed… The boss literally dropped me off on the doorstep and said, “Ganbatte!” Couple that with a staff that speaks zero English (and a volunteer with basic-at-best Japanese), and you have a recipe for dire frustration.

Secondly, there has been an insane amount of snowfall this week. For snowboarding, it would be perfect… However, I walk to work everyday. In Japan, you are pretty much screwed for footwear if you are over a size 10.5 US. I’m a size 12, which translates as a 30 in JP size. I haven’t seen bigger than 28.5 (except for sneakers, which were a 29 and had to be ordered from another city in a size 30) since I got here. What I’m getting at is this: I only have assorted sneakers, boat shoes, and a pair of Nike SB high tops. I didn’t pack winter boots because I moved here in 90-degree August. I have wet feet every single day. This is all specific to my unhappiness this week because my loving mother sent me a pair of Dr. Martens high top boots that were supposed to arrive yesterday… Thanks for the continued wet feet, Japanese Post Office.

There are the “little things” as well. I allegedly hurt my eyes in Niseko when I did a few runs sans goggles (they fogged up). I’ve been on eye drops all week and can’t wear my contacts. I love my huge Wayfarer glasses, but I definitely prefer the contacts. I also left my snowboard in a friend’s car, so I was unable to hit the slopes on Monday…

Anyway, finally, on to the bane of my week…

My favorite restaurant has gone out of business (insert sad face here).

B&T Curry Cafe, the most incredible Indian/Nepalese curry that I have ever encountered, permanently shut its doors on January 9th after only 3 months of business.

I have only lived in Kitami for about half of a year now, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand what did them in. B&T has 2 other operations, one in Sapporo and one in Kushiro. The Kitami branch was the 3rd B&T in Hokkaido. They set up shop in a very nice location, one block off of Ginza Dori, the main drag downtown. Ginza Dori is nothing but various restaurants/izakayas, karaoke, bars/nightclubs, and snack/hostess establishments (there will be another post explaining these, but essentially, bars with pretty waitress dressed in skimpy dresses where you pay to be flirted with). At night time, regardless of day or weather, Ginza Dori always attracts clientele.

However, Ginza Dori takes a long time to come alive. The streets are generally bare until post 10 or 11pm. B&T shut its doors for the night at 7pm, 7 days a week.

Additionally, Ginza Dori is a place where people go to consume vast quantities of alcohol… food is just a bonus for most patrons. B&T didn’t offer alcoholic drinks until about a month ago, and there were only 4 or 5 selections to choose from.

On my first visit to B&T, my friends and I were served by a handsome Nepalese man who spoke fluent English and Japanese. I believe he said that he spoke 5 or 6 languages. We never saw him again. In the next weeks, young Japanese girls took over as servers. The client base is probably 99% Japanese, so this was a perfectly acceptable change. Unfortunately, in the last month, all of the Japanese workers disappeared.

The entire staff (except for back-of-the-house) was replaced by one, very odd, middle-aged Nepalese man. His English was better than his Japanese, which was still nearly impossible to decipher. On several occasions, he very creepily attempted to ask me to help him find a second job. I explained that there was nothing I could do, especially since I’m also a foreigner, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I made the mistake of sharing my cell phone number with him (he had promised a discount if I helped him with his English), but he only used it to continually inquire about job prospects…

Last week, I enjoyed my final bowl of B&T Tikka Masala with naan. I went for #9 on the spice scale (out of 11). The creeper was the only person working, doing all of the cooking and serving. I tried to convince myself that this fantastic little restaurant could make it, but what I should have been doing was eating slowly and savoring every bite, knowing it would most likely be the last.

I walked from the day care center to B&T on Tuesday and Wednesday, but was greeted only by closed blinds and a locked door. Hesitantly, I dialed up the weirdo to confirm that this was, in fact, the end… then immediately erased his contact information from my cell.

I think you were the final nail in the coffin, asshole

I’ve got Seoul but I’m not a soldier
January 14, 2010

The best thing about being a teacher, aside from the fact that we enlighten young minds, is the myriad vacation time… I had no idea how many national holidays Japan has!

I spent late November roughing it in South Korea, thanks to a generous friend from La Salle and some amazing couchsurfers.

The food was cheap and delicious (but they really overdo the kimchee), and the sights were quite Blade Runner-esque. I even had the pleasure of joining one of my couchsurfing hostesses, Jung, for an international Thanksgiving dinner (with all the trimmings… and then some).

I thoroughly enjoyed myself (especially on “Club Day”), but was happy to return to my “home” in Hokkaido (and nurse my liver back to health).

PICS COMING AS SOON AS THEY ARE SORTED!

(P.S. – Sorry for not posting in such a long time, to those of you who keep up with this blog. The work really caught up, and I did a bit of traveling, but I promise to stop slacking now that the holidays are over!)

School lunch that I actually enjoy: Installment #2
December 16, 2009

Meatball curry and naan. So far, the best school lunch this year. Oishii!

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]