Toyota Prius

After lengthy observation, I have come to a conclusion: In Japan, the Toyota Prius is a car marketed for a single demographic, namely, painfully slow drivers. I have never seen such a bunch of I-can’t-drive-55 brake tapping, hesitating, yellow light anticipating, slow-ass idiots. If this is the price us normal folk must pay to “save the environment,” I say we start a “Spit at the Prius” campaign in retribution.
Seriously, the way these people drive really makes me wonder if there actually is a gasoline engine in there among the fields of capacitors and NiMH batteries. A Prius owner I recently spoke with affirmed his penchant for driving at Nader-like levels and explained that the more he idles and breaks, the more the batteries are recharged. Now this is a level of idiocy I hadn’t previously regarded as being possible, but there it is. This guy had been blindfolded and brainwashed by the “eco-driving” crowd and somehow thinks he is doing the world a big fucking favor by stepping on the brakes and imitating an electric wheelchair.
Let me tell you pal, I’d be a lot happier if you rode a goddamn mamachari (granny bicycle) and got the hell off the road. You might not be saving mother earth, but you might not get a tree planted in your ass, either.

Finding the One True Way

A recent post about pachinko over at the USS Clueless rubbed me the wrong way. The line that bothered me was:

There’s no skill involved and no real way for the player to increase their chance of winning.

This is just false and I was disappointed to see this on Steven Den Beste’s blog, as he is one of my favorite daily reads. He usually researches his subjects well and writes about them in great detail. Regarding this one specific point, however, he is wrong. There is skill involved and there are ways to increase the odds at winning at pachinko, and good pachinko players use them all. I will not cover cheating or illegal methods in detail here, but rest assured they do exist and people get caught all the time. Actually I know quite a few stories regarding the dark side of pachinko and may cover them in a future post.
My credentials regarding this subject:
I used to play a lot. I have always been lucky at pachinko, which is of course a big reason why I like it. How lucky? Back when I was in university, I could make money off it fairly regularly and probably came out slightly ahead overall (although not enough to forego working part-time). My biggest take for one day was 149,000 yen, over a thousand dollars at the time (winnings aren’t recorded or taxed). My luckiest feat was the time when I walked into a pachinko parlor and picked up two balls that had spilled onto the floor, put them in the machine, sunk the second ball in the center hole, and won 6,000 yen when the machine hit. I fondly remember walking out without gambling any of that money and instead buying dinner for my girlfriend, so you can see that pachinko shares common ground with all other forms of gambling: Knowing when to walk away is key.
Choosing when to play is a major factor for winning at pachinko. It is generally thought that weekends are the worst time to play because the popular parlors are guaranteed high turnout by people who play for fun. The ideal time to go to pachinko is the first few days after the opening of a new parlor. People will wait outside for hours (opening time is almost always 10AM and closing time varies but is usually 11PM) on opening day because the parlor will often set the machines to easier settings to attract a crowd and make a favorable impression with their prospective (return) customers. The second best time to go is when a parlor replaces their old machines with newer types, which usually happens every few months and the frequency of which is a good indicator of how much money the store brings in. At these times as well, the machines are often changed to easier settings for a few days.
The machine has both electronic and mechanical systems that are used to change the payout profile and the chances of winning. The electronics control the “heart” of the game that pays a set jackpot (approximately 4500 – 6000 yen) if matching numbers/characters/symbols line up on the center display, much like a Las Vegas slot machine. The electronics can be set to raise or lower the odds of winning, and there are usually presets numbered 1 to 10, with 1 representing the highest odds of winning. I know this because I have taken several apart for fun (used machines can be bought legally and I’ve found several in the trash).
Unlike a slot machine, the start of the game is not controlled directly by just inserting money and pulling down the arm. You buy the pachinko balls at a set rate (different between regions; Osaka and most of western Japan is set at 4 yen per ball) and use the knob on the lower right side of the machine to control the stream of balls into the area of play. For the vast majority of machines, the object is to get balls to fall into a hole under the center display to trigger the start of the game (this is where action starts on the display). Therefore, the more balls you can get to fall into the “trigger” hole, the better chance you have at winning, and that, in a nutshell, is the primary goal of pachinko – finding the One True Way to the center and into the hole.
This is where the mechanical side of the equation comes in. Between the top of the play area (from which the balls fall down) and the trigger hole there are rows of bronze pins arranged in patterns that determine the flow of the balls when they drop down. The positioning and shape of pins is extremely important to the parlor. They bend them to precisely control how easy it is to get the pachinko balls into the trigger hole. It is a fine art, and more secure than the electronic settings, which can be tampered with by concealed radio transmitters, swapped control chips, or even modified cellphones. There are of course mechanical hacks as well, but they are more visible and almost all parlors have security cameras to catch the low-tech crooks.
As a player, one of the most dramatic ways of increasing your odds is by being able to “read the pins” (Japanese: kugi wo yomu), and choose machines that can be triggered with a minimum expenditure of balls. I often hear tips regarding this subject passed back and forth between pachipro, professionals who are good enough at pachinko to make a living off it. (An example of a typical tip is about looking at the shape of a specific pin on a specific type of machine.) But reading the pins can be done by any level of player who wants to win and is willing to learn through a bit of trial and error (this is also a hook for a future post). By reading the pins, you can also quickly figure out where to aim the flow of balls on the particular machine you have chosen. The faster you can find the One True Way, the more efficiently you can use your supply of balls to trigger the start of the game, and the greater chances you have of winning.

Bargaining Is a Lost Art

As I have explained in the past, I am a terrible gadget junkie. But I’m frugal, in some ways. The main reason I can hardly ever bear to pay top dollar for my toys is that I feel it wasteful since any money I save can be invested… In other toys, of course. I am very proud of being able to find the BEST deals for my expensive buys, be it online or in the bargain carts of back streets in Nipponbashi. I am a merciless bargainer and can invariably get a discount even at stores that “do not practice” bargaining… There are 2 keys here.
The first is specific to Kansai, the western region of Japan where Cosmic Buddha was born. Cosmic Buddha as in my website/band/social circle, not me. And when I say Kansai, I mean Osaka. Osaka merchants are known for being good at business. Meaning, they will greet you with a friendly smile and then stab you in the back… Nah, just kidding – kind of. Osaka merchants are nice and friendly most of the time, but in this giant fucking depression we are muddling through, you best believe they will take every dollar they can get.
You know that practice you’ve read about a thousand times in articles about small shops in Japan, about how they will often give the first customer of the day discounts for good luck? From my observations, that shit doesn’t happen in Osaka very often, and if it does, it’s because someone is getting suckered. Come on noobs, small shops are small for a reason… Do you really think they can afford to take a loss on a big sale as an appeasement to the god of small merchants (Answer: No, and the main appeasements to gods of business are made at Ebisu Jinja at the new year). I talked to one fool who was going to line up for the new DocoMo phones earlier this year and he actually told me that he would be the first in line in order to get a big discount… His brilliant idea was to buy 10 phones at this supposed discount and resell them for a profit. Needless to say, he lined up at 4 in the morning for naught… As if the stores would discount phones they could sell at double profit for the first month (when they had any stock at all)!
But I digress. The first tip for bargaining in Kansai (er…Osaka) is: Incite the Osakan business pride! When they refuse to give you a discount the first time, say “are you from Tokyo or something?”, or “you speak like a fucking news anchor!” in the most gutteral Kansai dialect you can muster (BTW, if you learned Japanese in a classroom, this tip does not apply to you). Then follow up with indignance and further insult, if necessary, as you get ready to leave the store. Something along the lines of “well fuck if you’re gonna ask this much for it, I might as well buy it at a big chain store that won’t go out of business“, or my favorite, “at least I won’t have to make that trip to Tower to get a whiff of Tokyo Ghetto Pussy. ” More often than not, this will result in:
A. A heavy discount for the item in question
– or –
B. One of those hooked poles they use to lower the steel shutters over the shop at closing time, planted firmly in your ass
My second tip is for use anywhere, but you must be shameless and in a true bargaining mood to pull it off. Amateurs need not apply, but this tip works 80% of the time in my experience. I only play this card when I really want something and I feel the shop will accept the offer. Now with all these obvious disclaimers out of the way, let me unveil the second tip for bargaining in Osaka: Show the money.
The best example of this tactic in use I can give is when I bought my Fujitsu laptop three years ago (in Nipponbashi of course). This was the cleanest bargaining I have ever pulled, and one of the best deals I ever made. The shop in question was Naniwa Denki, which has a reputation for having good deals as a result of broad connections (when a computer retailer goes out of business they are often the first in line to buy the merch). This laptop retailed for 255,000 yen. It was new, but the outer box had a crease in it (packaging makes the sales in Japan). They were offering it for 195,000, cash-only w/shop warranty for one year. At the time, this in itself was the best deal I could find in the WHOLE WORLD for a laptop of this caliber (LOL it’s my slowest machine, by far, now). I called my friend Tatsuya at IO Data (peripherals company) and got the 411 about the item (solid) and the shop (again, solid, he told me about their buying practices – which I agree with). I talked the guy at the counter down to 165,000 but felt there was still wiggle room. I took a break and got 160,000 out of the bank. BAM! I slapped 16 bills on the counter – no subtlety today, sir – and did a take it or leave it. The manager smiled and took the money. I walked out with a laptop that was worth more than I paid for it even a year later (although I should state that I got a makers warranty instead of the shop warranty – no biggie).
Showing the money – actually putting down or flashing the cash – has occasionally failed me. When it did, it was embarassing as hell when I was with other people or there was a crowd around, because that’s another factor, the audience. In some situations, the shop will not deal with you in front of other people, sometimes because they have a “no-bargaining” policy (when it’s time to use the “this is Osaka, what do you mean, ‘no bargaining,’ you Kanto wussy?” tactic), sometimes the guy you’re talking to isn’t earning commission and could give a fuck about making the sale (actually if you’re in a chain store, they almost definitely are NOT earning commission – but they do have to worry about sales quotas), and sometimes making a low-profit sale in front of a crowd just isn’t in the store’s best interest. It is not possible to know the reason for deal breakers all of the time, but it’s good to relect upon in the interest of sharpening your bargaining skills.
I love bargaining in foreign countries as well, in countries where it’s practiced, at least. You can tell if a store is good or not by their willingness or unwillingness to bargain with you. You see, some areas have been completely ruined by affluent tourists. If a street vendor greets you in Japanese, that’s usually a bad sign. If sales tag are written in more than one Germanic language, escape!
Cosmic Buddha’s next bargaining practice session is scheduled for January 7th-9th, 2004, in Seoul. Bring on the Prada wallets, I need one to match the “genuine” Speedmaster I bought in Phuket!

Blogging on Break

I drove to a Lawson’s (convenience store) today to buy bottled water on my lunch break. It seems I am doing this with increased frequency lately. There is something inherently unappetizing about eating in the company cafeteria… Maybe I just don’t enjoy being in the company of a thousand other people during my meals. Reminds me of elementary school, big time.
For starters, men and women sit separately. I shit you not. The split is about 70% males to 30% females and you can draw the line from where the unofficial but quite visible “men’s area” starts. This was the most surprising sight my first day here, three years ago or so. I even asked my manager about it. HE said it’s because “this factory is out in the country.” Yeah, that’s probably it. That’s also why among 3,000 or so employees there are no women in management positions here – ZERO! Now that’s hardcore boy’s club mentality if I’ve ever seen it. And I am now the only foreigner here. Good thing I blend in.
Well, I was originally going to post this on my moblog, but it suits here better. This whole post reminds me how I’ve left my salaryman series just hanging for like two years. I had to stop writing it because it was no longer funny to me, it just got sad. But as evidenced by my recent spurts of writing – I’m making a comeback.
Now hurry up and finalize Typepad so I can can Blogger forever!

Ain’t no future in yo frontin’

Strolling around the “America Mura” area of downtown Osaka, I realized how hard it is to find worthy photo subjects when everything around you is screaming for attention in some way. This particular day I was in a funk of sorts and was really dreading the black guys draped with rap-vid stylings who step up with a practiced “Yoyoyo, checkit oooooout!” and persistently try to pull you into the hip-hop boutiques that hire them expressly for this purpose.
Objectively it doesn’t seem like they would have a very high rate of success with such crude tactics (reminiscent of the black-suited “greeters” who pester passers-by into girly lounges and “health” parlors). Then again, Japanese are the mark of choice worldwide due to their perceived naivety and the lengths they will go to avoid making a scene or being shamed as much as they are for the presumed portafortunes. For all I know, the boutiques could be doing really well, what with MTV Japan and every radio station in the land inundating the airwaves with really, really, really HORRIBLE JapRap, as well as the constant media spin of black idols like Tiger Woods, Bob Sapp, and any number of chubby gaijin sluggers playing baseball here. I haven’t heard so many semi-veiled references to the size of black male anatomy since junior high. Is this a model example of success or failure of the government’s “internationalization” efforts? In my opinion, Perry may have sailed in a bit too late: These sales tactics arguably exploit their client’s inbred shame as well as their employees’ skin color… But you can explore those avenues later, I’ll just point in the general direction.
When this “stone cold playa” sales tactic first appeared in Amemura some years ago, I would talk to these guys out of curiosity. They would usually consent to small talk after I made it clear I wasn’t interested in the merch. Of course, the talented ones would talk only after I agreed to check out the store. I checked out many of the early stores – nothing special, really, just racks of very expensive baggy clothes, some featuring embroidered signatures of celebrity rappers. I liked these boutiques as they played music I sometimes liked as opposed to many other stores of the period which constantly blared J-Pop Top 10 Countdown from tinny boombox speakers or had succumbed to the “Macarena Fever.” Memories of that just sent shivers down my spine – Hey, just for that, fuck internationalization. Japanese music peaked with big ass drums and stringed instruments adopted from China.
Having just implied I would avoid the morality issue two paragraphs ago, I punish you for making assumptions: It is somehow disturbing to see these guys be used just to sell killa-gangsta dreck in this particular way. On the other hand, a job is a job and working for anybody is assenting to being used in some form. Just because it disturbs me does not mean it is wrong; my automatic reactions to various “race-related” issues are as ingrained as yours so I do not claim that my view is right or universal. But it is my view, and I enjoy exercising the right to express it freely, although I hope nobody gets too worked up about it. This might help: Imagine a peaceful hippie’s serene and strictly vegetarian expression while he sums up his wise views: “There is no right or wrong, it just IS, dude. Peace.” More on this later. (And yes, I know vegetarians are just born that way and it’s not their fault.)
Compared with the present, there were relatively few guys working for the pioneering shops bac in the day, and I eventually got to remember most of their faces and styles. This is an example of my mind’s unchecked background workings: At some point I unconsciously assigned nicknames to these guys according to closest corresponding real-world rapper, but I have never told anybody about this; it was just jarred loose from the memory banks (Reminder to self: Need DDR Upgrade. Wait for MRAM?). Anyhow, the guy who always reeked of Drakkar was dubbed DJ Quik. The guy with a Kangol was an easy LL. Two guys with fake gold chains and letter-shaped rings were EPMD (I don’t remember what the letters on the ring spelled. Damn.). One time there was a guy who looked EXACTLY like Snoop, in fact, it might have been tha shizzolator hisself as I only saw him once – he wasn’t working, just talking with guys who didn’t merit rapper nicknames. Yeah, I might once have been in the presence of the Doggfather… Except for an itty-bitty detail having to do with the way he talked… You see, it wasn’t quite the quaint LBC pronunciation we have all come to know and love.The most damning evidence was the total lack of the words “bitch” and “ho” in his discussion of… Cricket. Cricket as in, “the sport probably not gaining instant recognition in the streets of Los Angeles and surrounding counties.”
You have been patiently gnawing until now and here’s your marrowish treat: When asked, almost all of these guys initially claimed they were American, or regarding specific locale, they were quite often “from LA”. This was highly entertaining to hear. Even though there are all kinds of people in Los Angeles, I would not have bet on any one of them ever having set foot on the continent of North America, much less LA. Their stacatto “Yo-yo-yo wassap G”sales pitch was not really reflective of their true English speaking abilities. After all, they are there to pitch to mainly Japanese prospects. Proficiency in Japanese was required, English usually was not. But you can bet that the Art of Yo was covered thoroughly in early stages of training. This is scary. I have a picture in my mind of one of these guys making enough money to actually take a trip to the states: Departure from KIX. Arrival at LAX. Hotel Check in. Find way to the beach. Watch girls play volleyball… Ah, Cali at last… Watch guys playin hoops. One guy has really nice tattoo. His eyes meet yours. He’s walking over. Maybe you can be homies. Excited! Better make best impression. Ha, easy! Just remember Rule #1 from Osaka branch training: When in doubt, gesture madly with arms. Chest out! Enunciate! Here we go with traditional street/pimp/playa greeting:

Jayzus, my comp just scared the hell out of me…

I’m blogging from a slightly worn but surprisingly comfortable lounge chair I happened upon in the foyer of a wedding hall, located in a once-was-ritzyish hotel in Ibaraki, a lackluster suburb steadily infesting the area between Osaka and Kyoto. I staked my claim on this cluster of chairs and their centerpiece hardwood coffee table about half an hour ago…
As I type, people are staring at me and my baby U3 as they walk by; I can discern the suspicious technophobe-types from those who are just curious by their furtive glances and hurried gait. In all fairness, the ‘phobes are relatively open-minded toward tech, compared to just five or ten years ago. I suspect my open flaunting of it just disturbs them on some primal level; it touches raw nerves to see that the machines are steadily taking over the world.
I believe that the Japanese telecom industry’s advertising efforts to push broadband on the masses – a great percentage of whom are probably not even sure where to affix virtual postage stamps on e-mail – have a marked effect. Like I said, these ‘phobes are relatively in the know. Whereas 10 years ago my comp might conceivably have been derided as a tool of [entity of choice] without even the possibility of identifying it’s particular function, I imagine the unspoken sentiment of the modern day ‘phobes as: Why would you use a computer in public, when the whole purpose of going outside is to interact with real, live, emoting people?
To which I reply:
I gave up on people like you a long time ago.
Now shut up.
I am tweaking my blog again.
In Haiku form:
Waste no time on you,
Dumb ox, shut your gaping maw.
Typeface: Sans-serif.

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.

Ketchup vs. BBQ Sauce

First on my hit list: Ketchup vs. BBQ Sauce (I’ve always thought that “catsup” sounds like what a starving family in Pyongyang does to celebrate Our Great Leader Day.
Official notice to all employees of McDonalds (Would you like that Oppression Value Set Super-Sized?) located in Japan: KETCHUP IS NOT THE SAME AS MCNUGGET BBQ SAUCE, NOR CAN YOU CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE. EVER. PERIOD.
In retrospect, I wish I had written this rant years ago, because although I have educated hundreds of drive-through females (I say this, interestingly enough, because none have been males.) verbally or with “this stuff’s made in NYC!” type gesticulations, I have never been formally recognized as the man who brought Heinz Awareness to tha Land o’ RizinSunz (not Tatooine). Let me tell you, I NEED THE RECOGNITION. When ah pimp-strolls my fly ass into Da Place Ta Be I wants All Eyes On Me sos I can gets tha Repsect (t’all ya unedjucated beeg: tha’s short for “representacional sectapularae”) I Gots Comin for bein the Ketchupundit. [Note: I will never let you think I am crazier than I think I am]]< --//redundant bracket added for effect.//<--double slashes r tha shiznit, too// //// //////<--not hubris, just boredom. //ENUF! Back to ketchup: Up until a few years ago it was a 50/50 proposition of being able to get ketchup for your fries at a Mickey D's in Japan, or at any fast food joint, for that matter (exceptions: The sole Carl's Jr. (not JR) in Osaka that eventually went bust, the Wendy's chain, and possibly RaRiRuReRo Burger in Saga Prefecture, although this last one was not confirmed because the staff was too busy talking to their stylistic-hickster friends visiting the shop, so we walked out before ordering.). The prepackaged individual serving ketchup packets, later to be replaced by plastic minicups, were not widely available at MC Donarudo's (yo why you frontin', GriMase?) until Y2K, if memory serves me correctly (and hasn't been corrupted by the millennium bug). However, packets of BBQ sauce have been distributed freely since the advent of McNuggets (I will not stoop down to McNugget joke levels.), and when ketchup was asked for, the BBQ sauce packets would often appear instead. The first time this happened to me I was sure it was because the girl (obviously not Employee of the Month material) didn't read the writing on the packet (which is an alternative lyric for junkies/haxxors singing that Simon & Funkgargle tune) and slipped me the Bullzeye 'stead a the Hinez. It took a few repetitions of this type of "mistake" to figure out that: A. McDonalds had no packs of ketchup B. When I asked for ketchup the staff couldn't figure out why I wanted it C. When I explained it was for the fries (incidentally called "fried potato" in Japan, always singular even in reference to multiple fries), I was educating AMERICAN BURGER CHAIN EMPLOYEES about American (and thus, proper) fast food condiments. Wow, isn't that cool? Did you have any idea that JAPANESE WERE IGNORANT ABOUT THE FACT THAT FRENCH AKA "FREE-DUMB" FRIES ARE EATEN WITH KETCHUP IN EVERYWHERE EXCEPT THE PLACES STATED BY JOHN TRAVOLTA IN THE MOVIE PULP FICTION UNTIL I SPREAD THE WORD (and saved them from becoming EUroweenies)? OK, so maybe it was not just me. But I hope to KKKapitalize on the documentation of this as much as I have capitalized above. with my deepest apologies, there will be no more big letters today, sir. some assorted facts related to this ketchup rant: - i was also solely responsible for the size of the ketchup minicups doubling after mcd's initially replaced the packets with these peelable foil-topped minicups that were too shallow to dip into and in fact forced americans all over japan to roll fries individually in the cup, and contained only enough ketchup for exactly 8.72 normal-length fries. i complained really loudly about the miniscule size of the minicups to my sister when she visited from the states a couple of years ago, to which she replied "it's good to see you are concerned about important issues". ouch, wench. that smote. well the joke is on you, because obviously #somebody# heard me bitching, cause the new improved double size version of ketchup packaging came out a few months later. you see, it pays to be vigilant and outspoken (although people often want to knock your teeth out). - there are still mcdonalds branches in japan that do not stock individually packaged ketchup. i don't mean they are out of stock, wither, i mean it is a standard practice not to stock ketchup for fries (are the savings passed on to us?). - some branches that do not stock individually packaged ketchup will instead fill a plastic dipping cup used for in-store mcnugget dipping (or sometimes even a paper cup!) with ketchup and cover it with saran wrap (if it's a take home order). can you spell "wetawded"? this being japan, they will of course place the contingency conveyance contraption (tm) in a separate bag and fold the bag neatly with an upwards pleat on one corner, taking up another precious ten seconds as sweat drips down your face and the nonexistence of your car's ac has you in the mood to throttle the pimply headphone-donner (even if only to stop her unbefuckinglievably high-pitched squeal-like-a-pig voice). - nugget bbq sauce tastes like ass. (mustard is the only other sauce available as a standard in japan, though they originally had sweet 'n sour as well and occasionally come out with new flavors during limited times.) - for some reason i went through a tabasco and mayonnaise craze and would carry these two condiments on me on fast food foraging forays during college - kimchee and mayonnaise liberally applied between the patties and top bun of a double cheesburger are the signs of a true connoisseur. this particular combination could vanquish any iron chef (ground beef theme) contender, sakamoto included. - i have honestly felt the need to write this rant for the past 7-8 years. obviously,7-8 years ago its entirety could have been summed up with "japanese do not use ketchup on fries", but damn am i glad i got this enormous burden off my chest. as an end note, i would like to state my intention to reinstate capitalization with my next post i would also like to give props to the man, james lileks, who has prevented me from turning out any substantial work whatsoever for the past several months as i caught up with several years of his web journal ( he inspired me to write this ketchup rant mainly by being so prolific, but also by being logically opinionated in ways i can agree with (or at least understand) most of the time. i just felt that he never gave japan’s ketchup problem the attention it deserves so i stepped up to fill his clogs.
he is also the main reason i must reinstate capitalization (bifocals for beeg’s sake!).

Tatoo Blues

I want to relay a story about a bad day I had two Saturdays ago. Actually, I’ll skip over the really bad parts and jump right into the fray (and that’s a good definition of my life in general). I ended up that day with a friend who was going to get a tattoo. We went to the tattoo dude’s apartment in separate cars (completely unnecessary detail), and to make a really long story short, I ended up waiting for 3 hours in the living room with 3 guys, friends of the tattoo dude, who were hard at work. Their profession of choice was of the “Receptionist/Driver for Escort Service” category. All I can say is, I am damn proud of my gutter Japanese skills.
These guys knew I was a foreigner and were consciously/unconsciously shrouding the content of their conversations concerning shady/sleazy deeds by using the absolutely most Kansai-inflected dialect and verbiage… And I understood every word of it. I’m a big fan of yakuza flicks and have always loved studying the Kansai dialect, and probably know more underground/sleazeball slang than any Japanese not sniffing thinner or missing fingers. These guys were talking about the craziest shit right in front of me.
Some gems:
– I heard them consulting each other if they had girls in the stable that were anorexic, for some client with a thin-fetish they were had on hold
– One more than one occasion, I saw the old customer service trick where they say “please hold”, cover the mouthpiece and wait 30 seconds, then smugly tell the caller that whatever they wanted wasn’t possible (ad-libbing the reasons for why, as well)
– They referred to one of the girls as “the one who likes coke bottles”
– There was also apparently another girl who looks like a young Seiko Matsuda, with a third nipple
– In an academic bout between calls, I heard the most (sorry about this, Corky) retarded summation of the war in Iraq to date. I am an avid peacenik bloghunter, so this means a lot. Pre-war economic sanctions were described as “the UN not buying oil from Baghdad because Bush’s father said it was of poorer quality than Saudi Arabia’s oil”. (Actually, I kind of like that explanation)
– One of them shared a business revelation: If you drove around in a van and stole all the satellite antennaes attached to people’s balconies in Nara, you could ship them AND the van to Baghdad and make a fortune selling them on the street. I almost encouraged him to do it, because all I could imagine was the Iraqi headline in six months, “Jap’s Imported Loot Ganked by Local Entrepeneurs”.
Well, I think Net Nanny will officially bust a nut with this post.