FOR SCIENCE! part I

Welcome to a (presumably) reoccurring* post, where I try new things.

*Presumably reoccuring because eating will be a necessity while I live here, and because I have the curiosity of a cat with no sense of self-preservation.

This weeks theme is WHY DOES THIS TASTE LIKE THAT? Junk food with odd or unnecessary themes!

For Science! Sakura Flavored Pepsi/mountain dew

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Looks like: violently, florescently pink- so bright I thought it would glow when I turned the lights out. Font is surprisingly violent-looking for the petal covered black label

Smells like: adolescent floral perfume, the kind that comes in a gift set from an older family member who doesn’t know you well but you’re “growing into such a young lady”

tastes like: someone carbonated sugar water in the same room as potpourri

target market: hummingbirds who like fragging n00bz

FOR SCIENCE! Sake Flavored KitKat Bars

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looks like: A valentine’s day special: innocuous white chocolate with floral packaging.

smells like: your clothes the morning after a college bender- slight tang of alcohol, sickly sweet.

tastes like: your clothes the morning after a college bender, but crunchy

target market: secret work alcoholics

FOR SCIENCE! Sakura flavored Macarons

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looks like: too cute to eat (thanks to my friend Goth Annie Hall for modeling)

smells like: almond essence, vanilla, rose, hint of tart jam, your best memory of childhood but this time with puppies

tastes like: melting effervescent classiness

target market: anyone who appreciates traditional French desserts combined with Japanese appreciation of cuteness (note: this Venn diagram is  circle)

BONUS: typical school lunch.IMG_20160419_123226

looks like: nothing like that weird brick pizza with melted plasticy cheese (no bitterness here)

smells like: a well-balanced, nutritious meal

tastes like: deliciousness

target market: something that you might feed children, the future of your country

I eat lunch with the students every day. It allows them to practice English in a lower stress environment than the classroom, and gives me the opportunity to finally experience being popular in 6th grade. The food is always something I look forward to- everyone gets the same meal, served in classrooms, and the general rule is that you finish what you are given. I haven’t met a lot of picky eaters in these classes yet.

Join us for later episodes of FOR SCIENCE! where we eat natto, ramune flavored alcohol (yes, really) and basically everything edible and not stapled down!

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Sidenote

A friend more educated than I in these matters informed me that Japan is not a magical place without bike theft, as I originally imagined. Rather, all bikes are registered like cars, and the police are more diligent in checking up on it, through random stops in traffic. This was a good reminder for me: the theme of this blog is definitely more about what I don’t know, not what I know.

I write this as a correction, and also a question for myself, about the nature of this blog. There is only so much you can write about what you don’t know, and the internet is already full of Gaijin blogs detailing every single thing that is not yet known about a host country. The Gaijin genre (or more generally, the dumb foreigner genre) is old and historied, starting with some of the Greek historians and continuing on through Marco Polo’s memoirs. Consider this blog in the same vein as reading Herodotus, or possibly a show on the History channel: with an asterisk at the end of every post.

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Part of the reason I love the act of travel is that it is making the choice to be surprised. Sometimes, it feels like I have made the deliberate choice to be ignorant, like when I am hungry in the grocery store and can’t for the life of me figure out what any of the sauce bottles in front of me contain. Sometimes it feels like I chose to go to the place on earth where I can be the biggest pain in the ass possible- an illiterate, wide-eyed adult, needing help for the most basic of tasks (I still haven’t taken my recycling out after 3 weeks) and getting in the way, surviving off the mouthful of Japanese that I can remember under duress.

If this sounds negative, it is in no way meant to be. It is humbling and gratifying, and I haven’t even been here a full month yet. I have much more respect for immigrants in the US, not that I didn’t before: trying to figure out if the loudspeaker on the truck driving around my neighborhood was announcing a little league soccer game or an approaching tsunami, for example, or explaining to the mail carrier that the previous tenant moved through broken Japanese and interpretive dance- lack of language has made some very simple tasks frightening, stressful, or confusing. I am excited by small victories, like short conversations with store clerks, and finding my way home from memory. I am delighted by ridiculous things, like discovering that McDonald’s delivers.

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Come on America, we can do better

Later that week, I was introduced to my schools in Tokyo.It was an intense and interesting experience, being introduced to the Elementary schools that I will be teaching at for the next year. The company representative walked me around while I smiled and worried whether I was bowing too much or not enough (I asked later, too much is always better than not enough) and learning random things from the company representative who was translating for me.

For example, what we would call a brick phone in the US (something clunky and useless, outdated) is called a Galapagos phone, or gara-kei, so called because it “evolved” outside of the influence of international technology, and also because it is something of a dinosaur. It was in Sumida that I learned about music playing gasoline trucks- the truck drives through your neighborhood playing music, and instead of children running after it, adults looking to fill their propane tank flag it down. there is another one for bread, and another one for tofu. I walked to Asakusa afterwards and got my first glimpse of Hanami.

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I knew what hanami was in theory before, but not that it was so popular or ubiquitous. Lines of blankets under cherry trees, families picnicking and drinking. Lots of people in traditional dress- there were stands with kimonos for hire, and rickshaws strolling around the river. I had always pictured it as a very formal, solemn event, but the atmosphere was very festive, and there definitely a few people just getting riproaringly drunk off chu hai under the trees.

 

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My favorite photo I have taken in Japan so far

 

I met up with a friend and walked around the shrine in Asakusa, enjoying the markets and crowds.

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Kanamari Matsuri

First, Kanamara Matsuri.

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The line to enter Kanayama Shrine stretched around the block twice but moved surprisingly quickly. Once I was in sight of the shrine, I could hear karaoke shrines of “Africa” by Toto, and see a row of dick-themed food carts. A large assortment of dicks, big and small, decorated every square inch of the small shrine: in hair clips, t-shirts, and lollipops.

Kanamara Matsuri, or the Festival of the Steel Phallus, is a local tradition in the Kanayama Shrine. A long long time ago, a woman was haunted by a demon that would not allow her to marry. Any time she tried, the demon would attack her husband by waiting in her vagina and biting him when he tried to consumate the marriage. In desperation, she turned to a blacksmith (who ya gonna call??) who built her a steel phallus in order to break the demons teeth. She was able to marry, and the iron dildo that came to her rescule was venerated and enshrined.

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Sure hope it wasn’t this one! note-not my photo

The kanayama Shrine hosts the festival every year. Sex workers pray at the shrine for protection against STI’s, and young families pray for fertility. Much of the money now raised goes to HIV research.
Unfortunately by the time I got there, they had run out of dick pops, but my friend very kindly gave me one of her vagina pops.

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If you looked at this pop and noticed there was no clitoris, +10 points to Gryffindor!

Ultimately we left pretty early- the lines were long, and after a while strangers in a crowd accidentally hitting you with their giant balloon animal boners gets tiring and makes your pants staticky (there was a guy making balloon animals from long and skinny balloons, minus the ‘making them into animals’ part) But I got to eat a vagina pop in a shrine while listening to a cover of “It’s Raining Men” sung by a Japanese rock band, so I am much less disappointed on missing Seattle Pride this year.

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Making new friends the only way this author knows how- with line photo editing! (what did you think I was going to say)

 

 

Cute little neighborhood

I moved in about ten days ago. It’s a rural little area just a stone’s throw away from Tokyo, in a region famous for peanuts.

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My neighborhood is quiet at night but wakes up early in the morning with commuters. Not all residents commute to Tokyo, though. There seem to be an unusual number of graveyards here.

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I’m close to a huge recycle store with a daiso on top, so I’m less than a km away from anything a gaijin could want or need.

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I’ve always considered myself a city person, I crave nightlife, lights and movement. A change of pace will be good for me, though. It amazes me that I can live less than an hour from the harried, bustling center of Shinjuku, and return to the peace and quiet here.

My education in Tokyo nightlife

Last Friday night was a crash course in Tokyo nightlife and transportation.

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but no turtle shells or banana peels in this course

First, dinner. Dear friend and senpai brought us all out for deep-fried everything and beer, as well as a plate of Russian Roulette- one of the very innocent looking pieces of sushi is hiding a wasabi bomb inside. Fortunately I wasn’t the lucky recipient… this time.

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After dinner and Asahi, we made our way to a karaoke bar. A private room on a high floor overlooking the lights of Shibuya. We sang some Japanese and English pop songs (I will be forever grateful to my colleagues for tolerating my alcohol soaked rendition of Adele) and then hit a club on the ground floor.

At some point, I got seperated from the group, grabbed my things, and headed back to the train station early, looking forward to falling asleep in my own bed. Stepping over vomit onto a nearly empty train car I grabbed a seat and leaned back against the window. The train stopped gathering speed and coasted into the next station, doors opening while the car came to a halt. I sat patiently, using my tried and true method of problem-solving: denial that anything is wrong and the fervant wish that ignoring the unwanted issue will make it go away. A security guard stepped onto the train, informing me and the nearly prone man across the car that train service had stopped for the night, in the middle of the line.

Well, shit.

I stumbled out of the train car, more tired and irritated than tipsy. In corners of the train station, there were people huddled over, waiting out the night. For a city with such a booming nightlife, some aspects of Tokyo shut down quite early. While reliable and fairly inexpensive, Tokyo’s trains turn into pumpkins after midnight. I checked the price of an Uber, which came to well over 10,000 yen. Google maps informed me that the first trains started running again at 4:30. I decided to join the crowd of people waiting out the night.

Which is how I ended up at 7-11 in the middle of the night drinking wine with two strangers.

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I stopped in a 7-11, Someone was already sleeping in the corner, so it seemed like a good location to sit down and charge my phone. I made a few friends there, two very friendly pilots with a private airline out exploring the nightlife, and we stood and chatted about Donald Trump and American politics for a few hours, until the trains started running again. At some point the sleeping man stood up, looked around as if in surprise, and left.In a bizarre mix of American retail apathy and Japanese hospitality, the 7-11 workers never once acknowledged that we were standing around in their shop, allowing us to sit out the night and discuss world events. 7-11, with their international ATM’s, delicious and quick food, and better nighttime service than I’ve gotten in some hotels, will always hold a place in my heart.

I got on the earliest train possible, made my connection, and promptly fell asleep on the train in the wrong direction. I returned home about 7 hours later than intended no worse for wear, and, following Murphy’s Law, ran into more of my neighbors then I had previously ever met.

What started as a quick drink with coworkers turned into a whirlwind reason that I love travel: unideal situations- delayed flights, stopped trains- are often the best way to meet people and have discussions you never would have normally.

So I discovered Line today…

And with that discovery came the Line camera edit function, which allows you to take adorable selfies and edit them with anime eyes and heart stickers (and apparently volumized breasts, but I haven’t gotten that far yet)

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So now my new hobby is taking context quotes from Slavoj Zizek and transposing them over the pastel hearts and stars. It’s like Nihilisa Frank, but without that depressing optimism of the 90’s!

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In other news, I haven’t left my apartment today. These two events may or may or not be related.