By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
October 27, 2003 How long does a bicycle have to sit in the river before it's considered public property? I am one of the few in this land without a bicycle to call his own. (I had a borrowed one before, but one of my housemates loaned it out to a shady character who returned it all fucked up, which is another reason to pass legislation against shady characters.) There are so many bikes here that they're nearly disposable, and people keep telling me just to take one that looks abandoned, but I've seen The Bicycle Thief, and I can't take that risk. However, since Wednesday morning, a nice-looking silver bike has been lying on its side in the Takase-gawa, a river / canal / lengthy puddle near my house, and no one has touched it. The Takase, rarely more than an inch deep, is about eight feet below street level, so the bike clearly wasn't parked there deliberately. Hopefully, there are some Italian neo-realist film experts reading this web-page who can help me determine at what point it becomes unreasonable to speculate that a poor, honest worker may have pawned the family linen for the bike and left it in the river while he hangs some movie posters nearby. I mean, it's been at least five days.
Tonight is Game 7 of the Nippon Series. The Hanshin Tigers, hapless perennial losers, are trying to cap their dream year with a championship. They lost the first two games, won the next three, and lost last night. No matter what happens tonight, Osaka is going to explode. (Some of my students, upper-middle class types, named the Tigers' home stadium the most dangerous place in Japan, simply because of the lunatic fans.) I have noticed that they win when I wear my Tigers t-shirt, so I am going to do my part by wearing it today, even though it really ought to be washed. Japanese baseball fervor can match any city in America. A number of serious financial publications have credited the Tigers' success with the recent signs of recovery for the Japanese economy (since the last time the Tigers were any good was 1985, in the midst of the "Bubble Era" in Japan). The Tigers even have a curse of their own that's every bit as good as (if not better than) the stupid goat in Chicago or the Bambino in Boston.
Several people are walking around the neighborhood right now, chanting in long, deep tones. It is 8:50am.
NEWLY CROWNED MY FAVORITE ENGLISH MISTAKE OF ALL TIME, ALTHOUGH PERHAPS YOU HAD TO BE THERE TO REALLY APPRECIATE IT
I gave him a level-up recommendation because of that. As a teacher, I tend to reward brilliant mistakes more often than mediocre successes. I asked Yoshiaki, the gravel-voiced, hard-living tennis coach, about his recent vacation trip to Okinawa. His eyes lit up. "I met the manta," he said. He'd gone scuba-diving, apparently, and seen a manta ray. I cheered and gave him a level-up recommendation. However, I merely winced when Masako, the elderly housewife, delcared that, after a stressful week, "I relieved myself this weekend".
I've been meaning to photograph this for quite some time. This is a popular pizza chain in the Kyoto area. I haven't tried their pizza, so I don't know if they're any good. But I do know one thing. Chicago, this is you:
Come on, Chicago. Don't deny it. That is you. (Especially you, Gianni Cutri.) Japanese pizza delivery places deserve credit for their cool delivery scooter-bikes. The pizzas go in the hatch in the back (visible on the right bike), and there's a roof for some reason, but it's on two wheels, so they can park on the sidewalk if they like. I haven't had any pizza here, as it's rather expensive and bound to be a disappointment. I miss it quite a lot, though. I haven't decided whether my first meal upon return to the U.S.A. will be a fucking gooey deep dish pizza or a mad blowout at a Mexican restaurant. All I know for sure is that you people in Chicago are in the mob and you wear striped suits with hats so quit pretending you don't.
Here is a threat:
They're serious. They will sticky about their favorite things. God help me, I've seen them do it.
THE 99 YEN SHOP: FIVE OBSERVATIONS
Let me give fair warning that the next entry will be the most powerful in the history of this web-page.
October 15, 2003 It's election time here in Japan. Forward-thinking innovators that they are, the Japanese have solved the problem of campaign finance reform by making assholes with megaphones the primary venue of political discourse. The better-funded organizations record women with infantile voices reading their slogans and hire dirty old men to drive around residential neighborhoods in trucks with loud-speakers. The lesser-funded organizations have to rely on less mobile, slightly less dirty old men outside of train stations to get their message across. It's all the more irritating because the message never even amounts to much; nearly every other word, from radicals and establishment candidates alike, is "thank-you-(polite-acquaintance)". I resent the implication that I've done them some kindness. The idiot who sets up outside of my school in the evening spends half of his time listing other train lines where he likes to jabber. (And then he thanks the train lines, as if they can hear him. I want to learn Japanese if only to tell him what a fucking idiot he is.) There is a passage in Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons: The Dark Side of Modern Japan about a Japanese neighborhood that demanded several trees be cut down because they might attract "noisy birds", but never thought to register a complaint about the roving politicians or the squawking traffic signals. (Traffic signals squawk here.) As is to be expected, then, our students just passively accept the idiots-with-megaphones, never taking notice or registering annoyance with them. Some teachers, myself included, use the idiots-with-megaphones as objects for "culture lessons" about how anybody doing that in a Western country would get the crap beaten out of them. (Students are considered to have failed if they don't head downstairs after the lesson and tell the idiot with the megaphone to shut up.) I have found that teaching is all about making your fury educational as best you can.
I have been trying to keep up with politics in the United States, but I am inevitably disconnected from events, and must rely on internet articles to give me a sense of what is happening. Checking up on the Democratic primaries, I found these poll results:
I can see that Gen. Wesley Clark is in the lead with Gov. Howard Dean running second, but what surprises me is that someone called Monkey Brain appears to have 3% of the vote. Is a monkey brain running for president under the Democratic banner? If so, let me issue a strong caution about voting for monkey brains that do not reside within monkey bodies. It's true of all species: removed from their bodies, brains in jars become violent, hateful and deranged; in the case of monkeys, their natural whimsy turns into sinister, calculating evil. Hence, I cannot endorse the monkey brain's candidacy. It would be interesting to see a demographic breakdown of its supporters. I suspect that it has cornered the pure evil vote, who historically have supported vengeful abominations of science, and that evidently gives him higher numbers than poor Dennis Kucinich. (Come on, Kooch.) My best guess is that the monkey brain may be some kind of Green Party affiliate, and its support will level off in a few weeks when Ralph Nader returns from vacation and insists that Monkey Brain be returned to Monkey Body. (But where will the monkey brain swing votes go?)
Much like their American counterparts, the Democratic Party of Japan firmly believes in putting out its fist and sort of hoping that evil walks into it at a speed that will bring about an impact that will cause evil to re-think its actions but not hurt the Democratic Party of Japan's knuckles too badly.
This poster is yet more evidence that people have become all too quick to point the blame at spectral black apparitions for social problems. They are truly the scapegoat of the modern age; and when you consider the recent statistics showing that the ratio of spectral-black-apparition-on-random-old-guy-and-school-girl violence is actually significantly lower than the numbers on random-old-guy-and-school-girl-on-spectral-black-apparition violence, it becomes all the more egregious.
Also, let me make one more thing perfectly clear:
These croissants can brag about their eating ability all they like, but when breakfast was over, one of us was eaten, and it wasn't me.
Yeah, it's that easy.
October 1, 2003 Here is the data from my latest research. As a warm-up exercise for the lesson that's intended to teach the phrase "each other", I have the students decide on a random hero and a random villain, and then they must tell the story of what happens when the hero and villain meet (each other). Ideally, they stumble across the language construct without realizing it, and then I can teach them using their own text. Pretty clever, no? I cap the stories at five lines, because some students would go on forever if allowed, and some struggle past two. I don't get to run this exercise as often as I'd like, because the one of the other teachers does the "each other" lesson with most of the students before I get the chance. (And sucks at it, too.)
Every time I begin to lose my patience with Japan's shenanigans, it goes and says something sweet like that. How can I say no? Of course I am also comin'.
Earth-J is well-renowned for its strange use of English, but they rarely get credit for their bizarre combination stores. Here is one, from the restaurant district:
If you look closely, the sign reads: "Coffee and Spaghetti". That's the concept of the cafe: coffee and spaghetti. Re-united and it feels so...gross. The chef came out and shook his fist at me after I took the photograph.
The next entry is a shop off to the side of an up-hill road leading to Kiyomizu-dera, a temple in the mountains:
On the left: designer handbags. On the right: gravestones. Together, in one store. Who said you can't take it with you? Kaufman and Hart, consider your theories punked by Earth-J.
The champion of the combo-store scene is actually quite sweet: it's an art gallery and milk store. They have a teddy bear wearing denim overalls that sits out front, sometimes holding a milk bottle and sucking his thumb, other times just sitting at a table as if waiting for dinner. They sell high-quality dairy products and framed prints. Sadly, there is never, ever anyone in there. I plan to shop there some time. I really do. I haven't taken a picture of the place, because I don't want to make them self-conscious.
Some places are not so welcoming of foreigners:
The one on the left says "keep out", obviously. I'm guessing that the one on the right says something to the effect of "The foreigner isn't keeping out, is he? He's wandering past like he doesn't even see the sign. Goddam it. Look, as a fellow non-foreigner, could you please do me the favor of kicking him?"
Other places tell you not to enter, but are conflicted in their message:
So do you go with the signs and the roadblocks that are telling you to stay out, or the statues of the happy man and the giant rabbit that are telling you to come in? Jesus. Where was this shit in my high school ethics class?
I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.
Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.
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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.