This one dedicated to Jeff:

I was enjoying a peaceful late lunch and tea break at the small eatery next-door with E., somewhere between lovemaking session #5 and arguing session #253, when a noisy discussion, one table over, draw our attention:

Three obatarians were seated, twice as many teapots in front of them, loudly and excitingly commenting over what looked like exercise sheets scattered on the table. From the style of the exercises and the tone of their comments, it seemed like at least one of them was learning how to write kanjis: a peculiar explanation, seeing how they all sounded positively natives, with little chance of belonging to the 1% illiterate people in Japan.

But then, listening more carefully to their attempt at pronouncing strange guttural tchaw‘s and yow‘s and taking a closer look at their papers, we realized they weren’t working their Japanese kanjis: these little old women were indeed feverishly teaching each other Korean. At that point, I could clearly see the ghost of Bae Yong Joon hovering above the table and reflecting into their glistening pupils.

I suppose until that moment, I had woefully underestimated the spread of Yong-sama-mania among the greying Japanese masses, but E. confirmed that even her aging slightly xenophobic grandma had all but started to learn Korean, secondary to that mop-head single-handedly bringing Korea to the forefront of sappy insipid drama production for the Asian market.

And I naively thought that peace and understanding between countries would have to be slowly built over mutual respect and appreciation for millennia-old cultures.

You are stuck in Japan, it’s oppressively hot and you don’t have a yen to your name. You decide to do the obvious and rob a cab.

Sure why not: the rich bastards must be carrying like a million yen on them at all times. Sounds like an easy one, right? Right?

Well, no.

You see, the incidence rate of mad bank robbing ending in wild taxicab chase and hostage situations through the streets of Tokyo is so high (Bogota of the East, that we call it) that officials have had to come up with a solution. Unbeknownst to you, from the moment you hopped on the cab with your gun, the taxi driver has been pressing a secret button on his dashboard that turns on an emergency distress signal light on top of the car, thus warning any law enforcement agent in the vicinity that something fishy is afloat.

In your face, evil taxicab robbers!

Well, that is, unless you actually take the time to poke your head out the window, spot the blinking red light, shoot the driver and escape.

But taxis are not the only ones that have received special care regarding the endemic hijacking problem in Japan: all public buses are also equipped with such a special emergency light that can be turned on in case a crazy lunatic would suddenly decide to re-enact the best moments of Su-ppee-do, the movie. I feel so much safer already.

Why do I have the feeling some lawmakers in Japan watch too much TV?

As every bored gaijin knows, you’ll learn tons of interesting things with a quick read of the Men for Women ad section in Metropolis (yea, I know, I know… Look, we were stranded at First Kitchen after spending 20 minutes attempting to stop a cab at 3am in the Tokyo blizzard: you try and find better options for easy entertainment…). You might not actually “learn” anything even remotely useful, insofar as the collective IQ of all contributors probably doesn’t even reach the temperature of my armpit on a cold winter day. But at least you’ll laugh your ass off.

We advise our sensitive readers to skip the rest of this entry altogether, as it contains displays of blunt moronism and enough cliché molestation to make a live sport commentator blush like a little girl.

Few people know that the natural color of the Japanese tatami is, in fact, green.

It is only with wear and sunlight that it becomes its trademark straw-yellow color.

All right, everybody knows that. Especially around here, where Eriko gave me her usual demeaning laugh when, upon my discovery that every patch of tatami that had remained covered by furniture so far, was much greener than the rest, I suggested mould.

Crazy stuff, I know…

Oh, and the free-falling posting rate? What can I say, critical sense is a bitch.

Seriously: once you start actually wondering twice whether what you are about to type is worth the time, or if you shouldn’t instead run to the local combini to see if they got any new seasonal flavored beer… that’s the end of it all.

Yet another classic illustration of why even my mildest efforts to blend in, or at least not stick out like a sore thumb waiting to be hammered in (something’s not quite working with that metaphor, but I’m not sure what) are irremediably doomed.

So, I’m in the train with a friend discussing our common love for the music of Fela Kuti and other seminal Afro-beat acts of the 70’s.

At one point, the discussion is hovering over the respective merits of Fela and his son, Femi, who has quite successfully taken where his father left and does a great job nowadays of blending classic afro-jazz with newer house beats and modern electro experimentations.

And that’s when I suddenly become aware that our car has not only fallen dead silent (Japanese hardly ever talk on the train anyway) but also that more than a few people are eyeing us sideways with strange looks on their face. The disruption in the wa is so major that even a dirty gaijin like me can feel something is fucked up.

We have been talking in Japanese, probably loud enough to be heard around the car. And, judging by the look on certain faces, we might as well have been talking about raping baby seals with hello kitty vibrators…

  • Revenge of the obāchans

    It is pretty much Dawn of the Dead‘s aftermath out there (after the zombies have won). I guess only 70 year old grandmas and sleep-dephased gaijins go shop on a tuesday afternoon.

  • Sid, if you only knew what they did to you…

    There is no such thing as a music track unfit for supermarket PA in Japan. Of course, it needs undergoing a heavy process of musical mutilation first.
    I am puzzled at the mere thought of that guy out there with a cheap Casio synthesizer who spends his days re-recording any song he can put his hands on, ensuring it is first emptied of anything that could even remotely be called “musical essence”. Apparently that guy thinks that Mozart’s K. 219, Staying Alive and Anarchy in the UK all have the same potential for easy-listening adaptation.
    I might one day beg the supermarket manager to let me make a copy of their CD… unless there is some radio station that broadcast that. Need to find out.

  • Do We really need to have the fresh octopi tentacles on display, next to yoghurts and beer?

    Not that they don’t look appetizing or anything.

We all know about the contagious power of yawns…

One only needs to start yawning in the middle of a crowd to get everybody else yawning in return. This can actually be quite fun if you suddenly decide to fuck with people’s head and discreetly yawn at people during some large meeting (I know, it sounds really stupid – it is – but try it one day, you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll get the whole room yawning).

In Japan, though, there’s a much more interesting variation on that theme: Cell Phone fidgeting.

Anybody who’s lived in Tokyo will have no doubt told you about the principal characteristic of the average Japanese commuter: an uncanny ability to instantaneously fall asleep as soon as they hit a train seat, doubled with an instinctive knowledge of when to wake up, the very second their train hits their stop home.

Most of the time, though, they are not really sleeping: merely building that legendary Japanese force shield of indifference around them. Western people tend to do the same, but they need a book or a cd-player to help them fake complete absorption in their own world… Japanese do not… they just seat, half-close their eyes and doing so, ostensibly tell everyone they do not care what happens in the car until their destination. Guy next to them wanking on his tentacle porn manga, leecherous salaryman gawking at them from across the car, passenger falling asleep and drooling on their shoulder: nothing will wake up the Japanese commuter.

Except for one thing…