Kushiyaki in Shinsekai

Shinsekai means “new world”, and I can only imagine how striking this area must have been when it was new, a long, long time ago. Giant puffer fish(not called fugu in this area) lounge around a dense arrangement of lights, some street looking Japanese people hanging around, dark alleys cutting between the subdivisions on the block, and attractions reminiscent of carnivals in their heyday. Glare and inky darkness create a dystopic atmosphere in Shinsekai, bringing back snippets of Chinatown, Blade Runner, The Replacement Killers, Idoru (William Gibson), and other Noir works. I wonder how the food was in those world’s back alleys- Either Gibson or Stephenson wrote that most of the food available in his Shinsekai-like neighborhood was made of processed krill…
There must be about 10 different joints where they serve kushiyaki (skewered-fried food in the same family as shishkabobs and corndogs, but of different parentage) under the gaze of Tsutenkaku Tower, but the best looking one was the one where all of the locals were waiting to get in, right down this street. A huge counter surrounds the kitchen that runs down the middle of the length of the izakaya. The kushiyaki runs from 80 yen (regular fried pork cutlet and beef tendon- this item isn’t kushiyaki- stewed in a miso stew) to just over 200 yen per skewer (for more expensive stuff). You can sample so much for quite a reasonable price. The majority of the kushiyaki are prepared by frying them in panco, the bread crumbs that are used to coat tonkatsu.
It is unusual in Japan to have one of those food experiences where you wonder “Is it safe and sanitary to eat this?” (unlike the typical uninitiated gaijin question “Isn’t it supposed to be cooked/ not rotting/ dead when they serve it?”). Japan is typically the land where they will thourally package everything at least four different ways and use disposable wetnaps for every meal. Here, in the kushiyaki joints, the dipping sauce is shared in communal troughs with strangers and friends alike. Pools of swirling oil shimmer on top, and other random detritus can be seen floating, suspended in the collodial middle of the sauces thermoclamatic strata, or felt on the bottom by probing the benthosphere.
Like all wonderful late night culinary adventures, this place is best enjoyed over several mugs of beer. Beer tastes better with kushiyaki, and vice versa. And if you have any urge to satisfy your curiosity regarding something you would usually never eat, the beer will help you to go for it, and also serves as something to wash a bad experience past your mouth and into your gut. Using this very method, I was able to overcome killing, cleaning, and eating a live shrimp that quivered as it was digested inside my stomach, eat pig’s feet (the best thing I ate in Okinawa BTW) and other parts of the hog in their recognizable states that are usually reserved for the production of sausage, develop an appreciation for hormone (intestines) and every other type of innard prepared the proper way (I will never like cooked liver or kidneys, ever), and started to crave basashi (horse sashimi), grilled horse meat, and basashi liver. If you are content with eating exclusively out of McDonalds and convenience store food and have a need to use wetnaps before and after every meal, you will probably never understand what I’m talking about.
Oh, and just in case:
*Basashi should be enjoyed by wrapping it in a shiso leaf with paper-thin slices of tamanegi (onion) and dippped into shoyu with shoga (ginger) mixed into it. Wasabi is optional.
*Basashi liver is best enjoyed with paper-thin tamanegi slices dipped into shoyu with a few drops of goma-abura (sesame oil, the reguar stuff), and wasabi is optional.
*Like any other type of food, there is high-quality hormone and low-quality. If you eat bad hormone you will definetely know it, and the same is true of the good stuff because it will taste pretty good.
*Thanks to J for pointing out the mistakes in this entry.

Roadkill in Japan

Have you ever thought that your presence in this world wouldn’t be missed much if you suddenly died? You may be right. Whoever ran over the black cat and just left it there in the middle of my parking lot so all cars coming in or going out would run over it again and again, fuck you.
I wrapped it in my carwash towel and placed it in a nearby caged dumpster; luckily today was trash day.
This roadkill thing really gets to me, though. Roadkill is never cleaned up in Japan. When my pal Gatson’s dad came to visit, he observed this is because “it’s no one’s job to clean up roadkill in Japan, so it just stays there.” Pretty smart guy.
I remember a dachshund that got run over at the exit ramp of a highway in Osaka. The ramp had a traffic light that you almost always needed to stop at, so over the period of six months or so, I got to see this dog corpse in varying stages of decomposition. The most revolting stage was the maggot infestation, which happened fairly early on. Toward the end, it looked like a mummy with two big gaping eyeholes in the dessicated skin still stretched over its skull. The funny thing was that I never caught a whiff of it, even when it must have smelled really ripe, cause that’s just how fucking rank certain parts of Osaka get all year round.

Goblin Nation

Yesterday reaffirmed my contempt for the Japanese police.
My little sister, who lives in Sakai (Osaka), got home from teaching her morning classes at noon. There was a strange guy lurking around the stairs of her apartment building who set alarm bells ringing off in her head, so she hurriedly rode the elevator up to the 7th floor. She looked down the staircase once to see if he had followed her that way, but there was no sign of him. Just before she got to her door, she turned around to find the guy standing right behind her! Startled, she took a swing at him and started yelling at the top of her lungs, very likely saving herself from harm. The perp was frightened off.
How easy it is to relate this all now. When she called me right after it happened, everything was a blur. She had just locked herself in her apartment, so I told her to call the cops immediately (110 is the Japanese equivalent of 911). I gave my manager a heads-up and took the day off, ran to my car, picked up my girlfriend at the house, and headed for Osaka. It took a couple hours to get to her place. The cops were already gone when we got there, having concluded their “investigation” and telling my sister to call them if she “ever sees the guy again.” Need I point out what a fucking joke this is.
It’s ironic that a week after I write a post about gun control, I find myself wishing I could give her a piece to pack around the last week she will be in that apartment. I guess an ASP baton will have to do. My sister came back with us last night and will be here over the weekend.
Anyway, posting here may be light for a while because I’m playing mental D&D. Killing goblins and all that.

Gun Control in Japan

There is a very interesting article regarding gun control in Japan up at GunCite. It’s a fascinating outline including the history of guns in Japan (did you know at one time Japan had more firearms than any other country on earth?), and I recommend you read the whole thing for historical value, if nothing else.
I have actually met Americans who, after hearing that I work in Japan, make remarks about how “nice it must be to live in a gun-free country”. I usually don’t answer back to stuff like that. It’s really tiring and rarely ever beneficial to either party to start a debate over. In class at Tenri University I once heard a lecture about how violence in America would simply “disappear” if Japan’s gun control laws were adopted. I bit my tongue that time, as well. The bottom line, I believe, is covered by the article very well. Japan’s gun laws (with regard to numbers of shooting incidents) work for Japan. If you want an example of a country where similar ones do not work, look at South Africa. (Ironically, the SA government’s solution to the problems caused by preventing lawful ownership of guns is more gun control legislation.
One insignificant but irritating beef:

No-one shall possess a fire-arm or fire-arms or a sword or swords

This is a ridiculously poor translation. I suspect it may have been done a long time ago by someone currently working in the field of Nigerian mail scamming.

The Black Bus

You know those yakuza flicks where they roll out the ultra right-wing buses to intimidate politicians, extort businesses, and generally act like assholes by holding up traffic, blaring their horrible anthems and ranting over stadium PA systems? This is a real life example of a Black Bus. I could theoretically get in a lot of trouble for posting this photo (which is at least one reason why I’m posting it; there are plently of people who talk about this kind of shit but the lack the guts to call attention to it). I think everyone should know specific examples of criminal and inherently evil elements of Japanese society that are consistently ignored by the media and law enforcement – which perpetuates the very existence of said elements, of course.
This photo was taken in front of Nara JR station where this bus and two others like it came close to causing accidents several times over the course of an entire afternoon. The cops sitting in the police box in front of the station wouldn’t even get out on the street to direct the traffic overflow. They sure looked nice and cool in their air-conditioned little box, though. What a fucking joke. Almost as funny as the propaganda spewing from the loudspeakers mounted on buses like this. Yeah, take back all the disputed islands from the Koreans and the Russians! Restore the Emperor to power! Return the proud warriors of the Rising Sun to their rightful place in the high court of the Golden Chrysanthemum… Or some such bullshit… Nobody understands or really gives a rat’s ass what their message is anyway. The message is not the point.
The purpose of their noisy crybabying is to draw attention, through being a major pain in the ass to their immediately targeted area, as well as society in general. It’s absolutely amazing to me that these fuckers aren’t even stopped or cautioned by the cops when pedestrians are jumping out of the way and scurrying just to get across the street for fear of being run over.
The saddest thing is that the Black Bus tactic must work, because they seem to be increasing in number every year. We even have one on my island (actually not so surprising since Awajishima is like a yakuza retirement community).

Driving Impaired

I’ve got just enough time for a quick rant in between meetings today so – 3… 2… 1… Today’s rant is aimed at stupid drivers who won’t admit they lack multitasking capability: If you don’t have the mental capability to yap on the phone and drive at the same time, STOP DOING IT – YOU ARE A FUCKING MENACE. Coming to work this morning, this fucking guy in a black Mark II (Toyota, what else?) is trying to reach somebody on his cell and I can tell he has a major problem using both sides of his brain at once because every time he raises the phone to his ear, the car drifts to the left… Waaaay left. At first he is conscious of the danger he is posing to pedestrians and bicyclists so he stops fucking with the phone till he gets to the light. Then as he’s dialing or whatever the light turns green but he doesn’t notice. So I sound off with my horn, just a short “wake the fuck up, moron!” beep and not a full “GETTHEFUCKOUTTATHAWAY!” blast, and homeboy panics while shifting because, of course, as a full-fledged Toyota owner he has put the fucking gear in Park. So I start to sweat as his reverse lights come on and he steps on the gas, lurching toward my front bumper, then stopping just as suddenly about 0.117 inches from it. Then – I love this part – he gives me a dirty stare in the rearview as if the whole thing is my fault. He takes off, I follow. And thirty seconds after narrowly avoiding an accident, the guy is fucking with his phone and drifting left again…
My single greatest achievement in the area of anger management/road rage is my conscious prevention of escalation. I credit myself with great foresight because it’s been nearly two years since I stopped carrying a wicked-looking handmade scythe from Kyushu, a brushed metal pull saw, a hockey stick wrapped with black duct tape (nickname: “The Castrator 2000”), and a long-handled sledge in the trunk of my car. It’s not as if I ever really needed that stuff where it really made a difference… And it was much too fun having it in the car. I mean, what the fuck would YOU do if someone came after you with a scythe?
And you guys back in the states have to take this all in context – this is Japan. Ain’t nobody gonna pop a cap in your ass and make witty “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight” remarks. Plus, real katanas are too expensive to keep in the car (fake ones lose against the scythe – I have yet to give it a nickname but it stands in my house’s entryway to ward off the NHK toll collector once every year).

Sarin Memories

Nighty night, scumbag. Hope you leave this world fully comprehending your failures. The society you tried to destroy is still running strong – it will in fact be destroying you – and I hope that leaves an ironic bitterness in your throat. Right before the noose is pulled tight, that is. Is it wrong to laugh at a condemned man? Ha-ha, motherfucker. Because when I think of how bad it could have been, I feel relieved that you were so inept in some areas. The fact that you failed so miserably overall AND will be sentenced to death anyway is somehow very satisfying. Mostly, I hope your death can be healing for those who survived or were left behind. Closure, you know.
I remember the terrified faces on TV, picture bobbing as the cameraman scrambled for better shots of despair.
Summary of main incident: Years of planning and well-funded operations enable deployment of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway but only produces the kill count of, say, a lone gunman. Pretty fucking pathetic for what has become commonly known as a Weapon of Mass Destruction (the original definition only included nukes). Yes, there were thousands hospitalized and I know that weapons of terror do not have to be lethal so long as people fear them, but gimme a break – my country is currently at war partly over the threat this stuff presents. On a scale of what could have happened, we were lucky that Aum made some key fuckups.
This was not their only attempt with WMDs. Far from it. (Link is a .ppt file). Did you know that Aum released anthrax over Tokyo, multiple times? These sick fucks were lucky enough to live and operate in a country as exploitable as Japan was at the time. They manufactured or procured the kinds of chem/bio agents that even state-sponsored terrorists have difficulty getting – sarin, VX, anthrax. Luckily, the effectiveness of these were compromised because their delivery systems and storage conditions were inadequate. They went to all the trouble of acquiring their arsenal but never learned to use them correctly. Lucky for us! Lucky for Tokyo!
In my mind, the Supreme Truth is that anyone who thinks that poking holes in a bag of nerve gas with the tip of an umbrella is a feasible delivery system has watched too many B-movies, didn’t read the instruction manual (maybe it was in Cyrillic), or is a COMPLETE FUCKING IDIOT. (The fastest way to deliver to a Japanese crowd is to infect a bunch of pocket tissue packs and pass them out at rush hour. Duh.)
It would be a small comfort if at least all the senior members of Aum die as a result of their own egomania. They believed killing a bunch of innocent men, women, and children could trigger a change toward a better society (for them, at least). I shudder to think what they envision as an ideal society. The world will be better off without them, and by “without,” I mean dead and suffering in a coward’s hell.
I mean, come on, in the end all these fucking hypocrites ran away from the cops, hiding in the folds of the very society they were bent on destroying (and leaving their blind and bat-shit crazy guru alone in a hidey hole at the cult compound). A real death cult would have at least had a last stand or something. A group tribute to Yukio Mishima with kitchen knives would have been a lot less wussy and saved us from waiting for the courts to decide their fate for so many years. As decisions go, I’m happy the judge turned over the original ruling. I wonder what the chances for an appeal are – judging by the headline of the article I linked to at the top, Aum cultist to hang for role in sarin gas attack, I didn’t think there would be one.
This quote from the defense is amusing:
“It is regrettable that the judge only considered objective facts and not his individual circumstances.”
Heh. Please don’t punish my client; he’s basically a nice guy, who, under pressure from his peers and the eeevil mind control of his blind prophet mentor, was coerced into something he might not have done if society wasn’t so cruel and his parents had loved him when he was little. And now he has changed! These days, he is fond of kittens, loves Jesus, and is a completely different man from the one who coordinated a sarin gas attack on a subway system filled with innocent people.
I think the Japanese government should specially institute the gas chamber as an alternative to hanging in this case. The instant release of a proper hanging is too humane for these fuckers. They should be gassed with the court evidence, spending the last lingering seconds of consciousness in a paralytic haze as the darkness spreads and eventually swallows them whole.

Meat Conspiracy

Do you realize how hard it is to keep up with a no-carb diet right now in Japan? There are problems with all four of my food groups!
Beef: Australian is the only beef available in quantity but the grade of meat they are importing has the texture of reconstituted beef jerky.
Pork: Pork has always suffered a stigma here, and it sounds like they are going to stop the import of American pork due to the mad cow scare. (I was going to write a joke about increased imports of Canadian pork here but I got engrossed in this page instead. Too bad.)
Chicken: Goddamn avian flu coupled with in-country corruption (they just busted a local hatchery for selling laying hens to butcher shops!) means that eggs and rows upon rows of possibly tainted fowl were the only goddamn meat product available at the store today. And the egg section was plastered with recall notices for lead-tainted eggs they sold last week!
Fish: Smaller, more expensive, increasingly frozen, and more likely to be farmed than caught lately.
Maybe the trees really are screaming.
I ate the last of the lamb chops I squirreled away last week for dinner. Oh, tofu also. Shit, I even ate a pack of natto, so I guess I’ll see what that does to my ketotes tomorrow when I do a test strip.
Lord Atkins in heaven, the natives of this savage land have forsaken me! Send me some lobster and steak dinners, stat!

Hanshin Tigers Tidbit

One of the more interesting stories concerning the Hanshin Tigers victory this year (so far they have won the Central League chamionships and will play for the Japan Series title later this month) is one I overheard at work. Apparently, this story was seen on TV, reported by TV star Sonomama Higashi, and regards the victory jumps into the Dotombori river by rabid Hanshin fans in Osaka when they won the Central League title.
As you may already know, there was one fatality among the jumpers, a guy who was pushed into the river and died of shock/drowning. There were several injuries as well, not the least common of which can be attributed to the fact that the Dotombori River is notoriously polluted and the water is very probably harmful if swallowed. The river has been polluted by upstream manufacturing for centuries, and is a sluggish, murky cesspool even during the brightest hours of the day.
For some reason, it has always attracted idiots who jump into it to celebrate something, or more commonly, to reaffirm manhood. In a very typical digression I must mention here that I had a classmate at university named Asada (as in Carne) whose hobby it was to strip down butt-nekkid, wrestle with bystanders and the police who oversee the bridge in question (Ebisu-bashi AKA Nampa-bashi due to the pick-up artists who hang out there), then jump into the river to “escape”. He was arrested multiple times for this stunt, and had friends videotape these escapades. I remember seeing one of these tapes; maybe Dave still has a copy…
Unless you read Japanese, you may not be aware that there was plan launched by the fan of a rival team to harm Hanshin fans, in anticipation of the Hanshin win and the celebratory river-jumping. Apparently, he released some piranhas and a small alligator into the the river, near the bridge the night before. The punchline is that the piranhas quickly perished and floated up to the surface, and the alligator immediately swam to the other bank and escaped. And the next day, hundreds of Hanshin fans willingly dunked themselves in the same water.
When people say Hanshin fans are crazy, this may be the kind of thing they are talking about.
P.S. My first year in Japan I also wanted to jump into the river because I never saw anybody doing it and it was a hot summer day. My friend said if I touched that water, he wouldn’t let me ride in the car, so I refrained. Heh.

Headlight & Horn Etiquette

I must limit the scope of this rant because the full breadth of the topic would require too much thinking.
In Japan, drivers use their horns and headlights in ways that [A] baffle visiting Americans and [B] are extremely dangerous. The retardedest element of this usage is its foundation in etiquette. The Japanese use car horns and headlights to be courteous.
In Japan, drivers that stop at a red light will often dim their headlights so as not to shine at oncoming traffic at the other side of the intersection (or at the car stopped directly in front of them). This is the single most dangerous practice covered here, and can be observed at night anywhere in Japan. As stated above, this is considered a common courtesy by what I would judge to be around half of all Japanese drivers. In fact, this practice is so widespread that a lot of people think it’s required by law, and a lot of drivers fail to think that dimming headlights at night is a dangerous practice at all (BTW, if you can’t tell by now, I fucking disagree).
Last year an oncoming Celsior-weenie flashed me from the other side of the intersection with high beams a few times after I refused to dim my headlights (he signaled desire for me to do so by flipping low beams on and off a few times). In fact, after the signal turned, he chased me down the street, continuously flipping high beams, until I pulled the parking brake and spun hard right to block the whole street at 90 degrees, hopped out, and offered to show him why I prefer a field hockey stick to a baseball bat in the trunk (lighter, faster, longer, weighted at front, sharper edge, curved end for hooking moves, hardwood only where it counts – on the tip). But you digress.
Ironically, one of the new driving safety campaigns launched this year pushes to have headlights on at all times of the day for better visibility. I think you can see the punch line coming: Even the domo-arigato robot mindslaves who now drive with their headlights on all day TURN OFF THEIR HEADLIGHTS WHEN WAITING FOR A SIGNAL. I see them doing this during the day, and can only assume they do it at night as well. During the day I don’t see any functional purpose to this at all, it’s kind of like watching a salaryman bow during a phone conversation with a customer. Man, I should film a documentary on this. I’d call it “Road Etiquette in Motion: Blood on the Asphault Part II”.
I?m finishing this post today (Monday); I started writing it last week but stopped because thinking of all the assholes on the road made me grimace at my desk and my co-workers probably thought I was about to go postal. I think they must have told my manager, who asked me if I was OK at the end of the week. Grrrrrrr. (People always ask about the things I miss most about home: Cocktail lunches and bargain bins of birdshot at Ammo Barn.)
Anyway, a few points about common horn usage in Japan:
– Courtesy soundings of the horn are short, long soundings bear the universal meanings of, in order of importance, ?oh shit, I?m gonna crush you but perhaps this beep will soften the impact somewhat!,? ?move your arse, pops!,? ?if I didn?t know any better, I?d think red-green color blindness had jumped the gender gap, bitch, thanks for running the signal so carelessly!,? and ?fuck you, asshole!?
(Digressively Amusing: The middle finger is understood somewhat by Japanese somewhat because of exposure through western movies although the meaning of ?Fuck You? is never properly translated [Note to subtitlists: ?Zama miro!,? ?chikusho!, and ?kutabare!,? are not good translations. ?Kuso!? is ?shit!? which is sometimes interchangeable depending on situation but sometimes bears another meaning entirely. If you want to hear a proper translation, try cutting me off sometime, but beware that I gave away my hockey stick as my handmade scythe from Kumamoto {In Swahili, this Japanese city name means ?burning vuhjaina? – no lie} fends off evil spirits much quicker]. Most of the times you flip people off, they bow in apology, although once the Jeep I was borrowing came under Yak Attack and the aviator-sunglassed 893 [Ya-ku-za, get it?] basically broke his Gucci-soled foot kicking my solid steel bumper, but that?s another story and my digression is now longer than the original point.)
– In standard Hornspeak, one short sounding means ?Thank you!,? or ?Be aware that I am here!?. Two short soundings in reply is ?You?re welcome!,? or ?OK, I see you!?
– ?Thank you!? is sounded in any variety of situations where Japanese feel the need to be polite (in other words, everywhere, all the time). Some of the more common usages include: When you let somebody into your lane on the highway or pull in front of you from somewhere. When you stop at the mouth of a narrow street or chokepoint to let incoming cars pass through first (this may be the most common usage because of the sheer number of narrow roads in Japan). When you want to freak people out by saying ?Thank you!? in random and completely inappropriate situations (that?s my primary usage, anyway).
A Typical Example of COMBINED Horn & Headlight Usage I Saw This Very Day:
Black Civic (Note: As is the case in southern California, drivers of this car in Japan are also usually Asian, although not so many of them are named Phuong or Vinh) in front of me slows down and >>flips headlight on and off twice< < to signal an oncoming bimbobox (yes, I am Hiroprotagonist) it is OK to cross our lane and enter a book store?s parking lot. Bimbobox performs said maneuver and in mid-arc >>double-taps horn< < to say ?Thank you!?. Black Civic answers with obligatory >>single honk< < as the oncoming car completes the turn, ?You?re welcome!?. Black Civic resumes forward motion, but stops at the intersection 20 meters ahead because the light has turned red during this elaborate show of courtesy. I >>lean on horn< <, roll down the window, and >>shower great sentiments<< of hate, despise, and homicidal wonderfulness at the idiot for making me even later to work. Of course, the moral of this story is, I ended up following the Black Civic into the parking lot at work and received an angry stare from the driver, a.k.a. personnel section manager who works down the hall from me. Moral Summary: Mondays Bite Ass.