Dokodemo Door!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

NOW they tell me...

...after one of them nearly mauled me to death a few weeks back.

Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a bit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Coolest telly-o-phone machine EVAH!

For the last three weeks, I have been enjoying the coolest telly-o-phone machine in the whole, wide world.

Well, okay. Maybe if you have an iPhone, you have something cooler.

But if you do, you'll have to use Softbank. The smallest of the mobile service providers.

But not me. Nuh-uh. I use DoCoMo.

Okay, so, there it is down yonder. On the surface it looks like an ordinary telly-o-phone machine, yes? With text messaging, mobile internet, a camera, a friendly little white cartoon whale swimming around the screen to offer pithy pleasantries in the morning.

Perfectly normal in every way, right?

Aha. Well that's where you're wrong.

Just twist it, fold it, touch the screen, extend the antenna and, voilĂ !

You get NHK, plus two other channels!

Now I can watch TV anywhere!

Anywhere, I say!

In a taxi. On the toilet. Even in the TV room!

Yeah, eat your heart out.

So how much did this marvel cost me?

An arm and a leg?

Nay. It was free, bitches!

Yes, free! Free! Free because it was six months old. And no one wants a six-month old model.

'Cept for me, of course.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A special bento of my very own

If you're interested in what kind of a lunch a university gives to its professors after an award ceremony for its graduating class, here it is...

You're not seeing things. That rubbery tentacled thingie in the lower-right corner of the center box is indeed a baby octopus.

I'm still trying to figure-out what was written in that kamaboko.

Monday, March 23, 2009

HAIL JEEBUS! I have a new drivers' licence!

Am I ever glad that today is OVER.

Ahh, the Japanese DMV. Where sinecured bureaucrats enjoy astonishing levels of petty and unchecked power. For life.

Today was the day to get my licence renewed. This would be no small feat, considering that it expired back in 2006 and I needed to show-up within one month of my return if I was going to qualify for the "out of the country" excuse for failing to renew it on time.

Maybe some of you have heard my stories about how I got a 100% on my 5th road test and was still flunked for some reason that I cannot comprehend. In all honesty, I would rather run through hell in a magnesium G-string than go through all that folderol again.

And if you poke around the online expat forums, there are plenty of horror stories out there...

The reason I failed the first time? The guy says I didn't take my foot completely off the clutch. That Is How I Failed My Driving Test.

The many and varied reasons I failed --
1) My left leg (mind you, the one hopefully NOT used in driving) was bent.
2) My arms were bent...but not enough?!? I don't recall. I stopped listening after #1.
3) When I was checking for traffic, I turned my shoulders. This is a no-no. You are supposed to turn your neck...but not your shoulders. So much for getting a really good look.
These were the BIG infractions.

Yea, the big joke in this country vis-a-vis the driving test, is that the testing system is not transparent. They tell you you failed, but where's the FECKING math? In the States, if you fail, they show you exactly what criteria you failed and how many points deducted for each--total it up to get a score. Here, it's your arms were too bent; you fail. Wait, huh? How many points was that? We can't tell you.
All in all, at roughly $80+ per road test, it's not a pleasant (or cheap) experience. It's either a Kafkaesque nightmare or a hilarious example of wacky performance art-- some kind of Dadaist prank-- in which only one or two people manage to get the joke.

So here's what happened to me today...

Preparing for the Japanese DMV requires you think ahead. You need to bring every kind of ID they could conceivably ask for, photographs, your hanko and photocopies of pretty much everything. After a 40 minute train ride (in which I happened to pass under the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge) and a 15 minute bus-ride, I arrived at the testing center at 830 AM.

The building was, surprisingly, new and clean and pleasant, despite its drab grey exterior. It was quite unlike the mildew-infested, charmless, two-tone institutional-colored tissue-boxes I'd seen in Aichi prefecture and heard about elsewhere.

The building was packed full of noisy high school juniors. I got at the end of a laughably long line, whipped-out my iPod Touch, and listened to music as we moved forward at a seemingly glacial pace. I got to the information desk at about 9 and presented my pre-memorized speech (thanks Mari!) about what I was out to do. I was unceremoniously handed four forms and was instructed to fill 'em out in the corner. Thank God I brought my own pen because they're not willing to give you one.

Figuratively, every 'i' needs to be dotted and every 't' needs to be crossed on these forms. If you mess-up one teeny item, they might very well rip-up the paper and give you a new one to fill-out from scratch.

As you can imagine, no English versions of the forms are available. It took me about 25 minutes to slog through them. Just to be jerks, the forms used 2 different dating systems in which I had to express my birthday. (I was either born in 1975 or in Showa 50. The forms were not helpful in specifying which systems to use; you simply had to figure it out.)

I was given a tiny slip of paper which detailed which windows I needed to go to. I had to go to windows 2, then 3, then 4, then 1, then 5 (section C), then 6, then back to 1, then back to 5 (section A). The numbers had no relation to where the windows were located. 1 and 5 were across from each other and 3 was around the corner. 2 was upstairs. 6 was in a building 30 meters down the street, for God's sake. Best of all, Window 3 was nominally open from 11 to 1130; it opened five minutes late and the four people in front of me took more than 15 minutes to get processed.

Before the eye test, about 20 of us were trotted into a hall. We were told to put our hands in front of us and squeeze our fists. Then, we had to bring our fists into our chests a few times. Then, we had to hop up and down on one foot, then hop up and down on the other. I AM TOTALLY NOT MAKING THIS UP!

After the eye test, we had 90 minutes for lunch. All the windows snapped shut like clockwork. At 130, we had to attend a 2 hour lecture about safe driving.

The lecture was in Room 6 in that other building down the street. The building looked a lot like... well... one of those mildew-infested, charmless, two-tone institutional-colored tissue-boxes.

As for the lecture, do you remember the guy in the Micro-Machine commercials back in the late '80s?

Imagine him speaking in Japanese.

That's what the lecture was like. It could've been in Kurdish, for all I know.

Plus, there were a few pie charts which I couldn't read. He would occasionally gesticulate at them energetically with his index finger.

And about 40 minutes into the lecture... whoa man... one of the young women in the room fell asleep. I mean REALLY asleep. Like, lying face-down and snoring and everything.

That's when Micro-Machine Man interrupted his speech, walked down the aisle, and politely prodded her to wake-up.

Maybe it's a good thing I could barely understand him?

The ordeal was over by 430. And behold, the anticlimactic fruit of my labor...

Friday, March 20, 2009

The view from in here

Finally, I've got some pictures which illustrate how it looks from where I'm sitting.

When you venture-out onto the balcony, one looks due south through all those wires. Those orange-and-white towers in the distance are cargo cranes down in the port facilities on Rokko island.

When one walks-out the front door, you can look north towards the hills which are only a few blocks away.

The entire city of Kobe is pinned between a mountain ridge and the sea. It soon becomes apparent that the only ways to expand are to create artificial landmasses like Rokko island or carving ledges up the sides of the hills for new construction, as you can see in the upper-left portion of the photo. (One can also stack highways on top of each other and install underground shopping centers, but that's a given.)

Since all east-west traffic is funnelled through the built-up areas of the city, the shinkansen (the bullet-train) needs to bypass the urban area with a tunnel under the far side of the mountain ridge in the second photo. Shin-Kobe, the station where it stops, is located some kilometers off in the hills to the northwest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let's English! #2

I wasn't too eager to sample this confection...

But, as you can imagine, it was done in the shape of a very cute cow face.

Don't inquire as to what it's ingredients were. You're just asking for trouble.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Let's English!

No I don't think I'll be purchasing any of this filthy bread, my friends.

(Yeah, I know, it's supposed to be French. But the gag made you laugh. Admit it!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Colonel Sanders rises from the deep...

Three nights ago, the local news here in the Kansai region covered a peculiar story about a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders which was recently found by divers at the bottom of a river in Osaka after spending about 24 years down there, having been ripped-out of a KFC storefront and dumped off a bridge by jubilant Hanshin Tigers fans back in 1985.

Something like half an hour was devoted to the story, complete with interviews with witnesses to the original incident, passers-by looking at the statue, officials who came to have their photos taken next to it, and so on and so forth.

The next night, a rehash of the same story was on the news again.

(By the way, why is embedding youtube vids such a pain in the ass now?)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saw my first inoshishi

I was walking back to my apartment tonight. I found a Korean bar not too far from where I live, and I'm always keen on practicing my (very poor) Korean.

It was there that I loaded myself with beer and soju while getting to know the owner. He closed early, around 1030, and I headed-out home into the chilly night.

The city I'm in, Kobe, is densely crammed in between the mountains and the sea. If you look to the north, you see low mountains which are literally four blocks away. If you look to the south, and you see the tops of cranes in the harbor. The whole city is laterally hemmed-in like that. (I'll be posting pictures at some point, I promise.)

In this area, there are multiple streams heading from north to south draining into the sea. And the one thing you need to know about the landscape here in Japan: every stream is paved. (I'm being literal. Even in very rural prefectures like Nagano, Gifu and Shiga, every rivulet of naturally-occuring moisture has got some kind of cement around it.) This stream was no different. It was a concrete channel, maybe 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep with fences along each side, and a slow trickle of water flowing-down.

So I'm walking home and periodically glancing-down at the light glinting-off the water in the stream. But the light isn't glinting properly, as if something is casting a shadow upon it. I stopped, narrowed my eyes and took a closer look... To my surprise, poking-around at the bottom of the concrete channel, was an inoshishi.

It was a brown, hairy woodland boar. Maybe about 200 pounds' worth of grilled pork. It must've come-down from the hills.

I stopped and gawked, instantly whipped-out my cell-phone camera, but the light wasn't enough for a picture.

A passer-by, about college-age, happened by.

I blurted: "Wa! Inoshishi da!" (Wa! It's a wild boar!)

He peered down and replied in accented English. "Eh, it's normal."

"Normal for you." I replied tersely.

Anyway, it was an unexpected spectacle. I hear they can be dangerous when cornered.