So, I'm jetlagged after all at 6 AM and checking out the iTunes store, which isn't as lame as I thought, especially the celebrity playlists. And I found out that Jack Black, the wacky actor/ musician, is married to a lady named Tanya Haden, who plays in the very indie bands Let's Go Sailing and Silverspun Pickups. In addition, her triplet sister Petra used to be in That Dog., a 90's power-pop band, and now she's a member of The Decemberists. Their father, Charlie Haden, a jazz legend double- bassist most known for his association with famous free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. How's that for marrying into a super-musical family?
It's my last week here in Japan ( I leave on Sunday) and things have been going especially great! It's like a punishment for not having fully enjoyed my time here while the end seemed so impossibly far away.
Chinese medicine is amazing. I put some Yu Nan Bai Yao powder on my toenail and today it felt attached, instead of like it was on a hinge yesterday. There are also two mysterious little red balls inside the container that you take only in dire circumstances, like if you're going to die or something. You think I'm joking?
This morning, we had lunch at our across-the-street neighbor's, Takami San, and then she took us to a nearby shrine for a tea ceremony. It was so lovely and peaceful sitting in the tatami room with the doors slid open, gazing at the neatly tended garden outside. At the Bagel K office, my aunt and I walked to Osaka Jo (Castle), which is hundreds of years old, surrounded by a moat and tranquil as well. People were bicycling and jogging around the castle, which was very cute and reminded me of Town Lake. Then I finally went and got a haircut at a nearby salon, which was very intimidating at first, because everyone who worked there was young and stylish and had really nice hair. And here was I, couldn't speak more than eight licks of Japanese, dressed extremely casually in a shirt and cords (it was nearly rude), and sporting a very overgrown, unkempt mop- I do that a lot to haircutters: terrify them by bringing them a big rescue project of cleaning up to do; they are probably tempted to start making before-and-after ads, it's nearly shameful. I just don't believe in $50 trims, ya know? Anyhow, I got to strike up a mostly successful conversation in English with the girl who washed my hair, despite that she was alarmingly pretty (Erin says that being intimidated by people who are a lot more beautiful than you are is rather normal). OK, let's get this straight: in general, Japanese girls are very pretty and fashionable (a.k.a. super vain and materialistic??), and contrary to "popular" belief, they don't look clownish one bit. After my quick cut, which looks pretty different, very thin (so this is what early cancer hair maybe feels like..), kind of glammy rocker, poofed- up hair atop my head, but for girls, but not altogether bad- looking, I started chatting with a few of the other girls there and by the time I reluctantly left, I was chummy with half the staff. I'm just regretful and I slap myself for not going there sooner, because it was so neat getting to know them, even if it was just for a few hours. And to think, the only good intentions I had going in there was informing them that the 'luxurly' in their company logo wasn't a real English word. ('Luxurious' would've run it terribly out of alignment though.)
After getting over the fact that I may never see them again, I realized that the main reason I wanted to get to know them was because they were simply attractive people, and they were just excited at the rare chance to talk to a foreigner, especially an American. Well, this isn't coming out exactly the way I imagined it, but the general point is, we were each attracted to the imagined idea of who the other person was based on one characteristic and not seeking reality. So, now would be a good time to inject a comment about how there are so many ugly white guys with pretty Japanese girlfriends here. (But to my surprise, that's not accurate at all.)
It makes me feel guilty, because I feel that I am cheating through much of life instead of earning it. Ex. Rightful B's at the end of the semester inexplicably turning into A's on the grade report, receiving high marks in fencing nationals twice due to underhanded placement by the coach (long story), getting treated with favor and special interest here because of my "exotic" American status, securing high- paying, low- effort summer jobs because of connections, tricking teachers into believing that I got writing skillz even though I never properly learned grammar rules in junior high and because of a big word vocabulary I amassed from reading other writers, and just being able to inspire awe. It's much too easy. And if that's how everyone else's experience is, that's dreadfully disappointing.
Sometimes, or rather, because of a recent viewing of Breakfast at Tiffany's, I like waltzing into expensive jewelry shops with a $50 budget (adjusted for inflation).. well that too, but mostly, I think about:
"She's a phony, but she's a real phony."
Oh well, I hear that you can't completely fake through getting a Ph.D., which is somewhat reassuring. It's probably all thanks to that killer thesis.
Today I made lunch for us all by myself. Potato salad (3 kinds of potato) with wasabi, and eggplant tomato garlic stirfry. Normally, my aunt slaves away while I'm off browsing webpages. Cooking is very enjoyable! We'll put it next to gardening on the healthful things to do list.
Thought I'd get a break from anything academic here, miles away from school, but it's been frustrating and a bit of a downer sitting through and dealing with rants from my highly opinionated uncle and provincial aunt about, say, Koreans as barbaric and belligerent, and Chinese people (literally from China) as uneducated, rude and uncouth. And this is all just within the Asian ethnicity! I'm more offended at their jabs against Koreans, since I have Korean American friends, and after being told that they are a discriminated group in Japan. 'Sure, we'll eat your oishi barbecue and kimchee, but don't show your face in my neighborhood or employment.'
On an entirely different note, Birkenstock makes really great- looking shoes here in Japan. The more you look outside, the more it seems that the US gets all the conservative goods in general. Notables:
Montana. (The current location of Rachel Self.)
Part clog, part moccasin, part elven. They be illin'. With the steady demise of the Clarks originals Wallabee boot, could this be the next expensive footwear picked up by Patagonia fleece- sportin', cheap beer- guzzlin', sockless, frat boys who have a taste for the taste of the outdoors? Well, maybe if they are ever made available in the US.
(OK, I apologize for that. Even members of fraternities have enough dignity to deserve some protection from being reduced to a stereotype. Which are never harmless.)
Tabora. I have an old pair of these, but the colorway is no way near as cool as this one. Tasteful art!
So, the news lately has been rather bleak. Or maybe it has always been- I've just recently started paying a bit more attention with all this free time and whatnot. We, as in me, my friends, peers and family, are living very comfortable lives, pretty much untouched by happenings elsewhere (unless you know someone in the war in Iraq).. and most of us don't care about the news, especially not international news. Not that this is a good thing at all, but at what point is it imperative to care? The rainy season has been atypically long this year in Japan, and while people are complaining about the wetness, countries in East Africa have been experiencing a crippling drought and are beginning to starve. This did not sit well with my grand breakfast of bakery items, fresh fruit from the garden, and cinnamon cafe latte. It seems like the gravity of current world events is dire enough, are we screwing ourselves over with voluntary ignorance? It's so easy getting lost in the heated arguments and passionate opinions of attention- paying citizens, but at least there's a dialogue going on. I guess the only person I can truly change is myself, so I will try to be more aware of what's going on in the world today, difficult as it is living in a bubble at school, bumping into other people's bubbles.
Went to this really neat 9-story store called LoFT. It's like a Bed, Bath and Beyond/ gift store, but 100 times cooler because its target range is people in the 20's and young couples. I wouldn't mind setting up a wedding registry here, if xxxxx. Plus a paper/pen/ stationery/ office supply section with only the good stuff. And the prices were relatively reasonable. Nothing overwhelmingly original, but pleasantly design- conscious and usable. Their products reminded me of IKEA, but less sterile and more vivid. Like Anthropologie/ Urban Outfitters housewares, but less Euro chic, less artsy fartsy, and more simple. Like Book People, but in Japanese. Like The Cadeau, but less vintage, less hoity- toity, and more playful. Literally, I had to tear my eyes away to make progress towards the door. They also had a wide range of Roototes, so I broke down and bought a few as gifts (omiyagi). And the Breath Palette toothpaste tubes too, I got Pumpkin Pudding (tried it tonight, it wasn't so tasty). I guess it sounds like I go shopping all the time because there is little else to do and I'm a very materialistic person. Well, all that is true. But don't worry, there is a way out. I care about people, not things! (Repeat: People, not things!) Anyway, all these gifts I've accumulated over the weeks are really burning a hole through my thoughts. Just take them already! I can't wait to go back and see people I miss. Goodnight and yay for church tomorrow!
Went to the Suntory Museum and Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium today. It took 1.5 hours by bus/train/train, but that's not so bad for public transport. The exhibition featured Snoopy artwork by Japanese artists. Or something like that. Found a Charlie Brown tee, but it was made by Tokyo- based Beams T, which merited its $48 price tag. Shopped around downstairs and found some interesting items, like a Baby Holga, Dick Bruna Paperback notebooks, and Marimekko bags. Ah, I do like museum shops.
And then, after getting picked up by SL500 Lucky #8, we headed off to Koreatown for some Korean BBQ. Mm again! Now I know why I don't really care for steak, only the best cuts are tasty! Also, been looking around online for decor to cover our naked walls. Saw this neat piece by Warhol,"Neuschwanstein Castle." I'd never seen it before, but it looks great. Have you?
Oh my goodness I am about to burst my gut, no kidding. Just came back from the most expensive dinner of my life, which also included the best steak of my life.. teppanyaki! I rarely eat steak (or meat really), but this was some good stuff. The cook prepared a multi course meal in front of us on a huge, thick iron griddle, which included a bit of shrimp, scallops, onions, sliced garlic, pumpkin, and then the main dish was different cuts ofKobe beef. After that is full portions of fried rice and cold soba noodles, top it off with tiramisu for dessert and you're set to go for the next few days. Of course, I sat silently while they did business with their guest, but the price was 0 Yen and an evening of patience from me. Not bad at all.
Went to Kobe today and walked around the small Chinatown and covered shopping walkways. It's strange seeing Chinese products priced so highly. (They're cheap.) Been buying too many earthenware/ porcelain bowls, mugs and such for souveneirs, my hand baggage will be quite a doozy. Trains are cheap to take, but they're kind of inconvenvient with all the fare- buying, waiting time, sometimes being smashed against strangers' bodies, sitting on chairs whose patterns resemble stretch marks, etc. But public transportation is so much better for the environment than cars, you gotta admit. Let's carpool more!
Watched most of The Notebook a few days ago. They've got a few American movie channels on their cable station, which I discovered rather late, but got caught up on some older, renowned flicks such as The Terminator and A Few Good Men. Anyhow back to The infamous Notebook, there were a few parts I didn't remember at all, and overall, it was more enjoyable than not. There are some very unromantic parts, like when Ally has to choose between Noah and the other guy, the turmoil plus her utter unfaithfulness to her vow makes it a little hard to believe. And, I understand that it is a love story and all, but the two main characters are so enraptured by each other it's like there's no world outside of theirs. That's romantic for sure, but it seems a bit selfish for them to bestow all their love on each other alone, without much thought on others. Perhaps that's what the mind becomes in old age. Oh man, if there's a stage in this life I recoil at entering, it's old age, for many a reason. But I am rather impressed at the success of this film, because it has a great deal of OLD people showing up near the last half. I know it's central to the story, but nonetheless, haven't we been trained to look towards the media with our eyes and not with our minds? The first time I saw The Notebook was during my camp counseloring at Mystic two summers ago, on my prized weekend break, and by then I had heard so much about it that I went in the theater with a frown and a rigid determination not to cry, feel sad, smile, soften up, feel anything, etc. Hype is a dangerous thing. As you can see for yourself on Facebook, this recent movie is a favorite of many college girls; gee, it must really be that good. No, maybe, maybe not. The point is, I wanted to stamp out their collective joy and excitement once it reached a certain level, and this could only be trumped by the movie being absolutely genius, which it is not. See what kind of person I am? But also, the more movies one watches, the more discerning one would be after a while, right? Do you know who writes all the scathing reviews of the latest record that you thought was pretty decent or even great? People who have listened to a whole lot of music. I thought the same would go for viewers of chick flicks, but apparently, that genre is an entirely different beast.
I managed to get out of working at Bagel K this whole week up til now. Not so sure about tomorrow, but thus far I have been leeching off the folks. This lack of labor is kind of unnerving and makes me uncomfortable, because I feel like I owe them something for allowing me to live so easily, like a lot of courtesies, submission, smiles or creative business ideas. That's the thing about not being on your own. For example, I enter a sour mood and get annoyed at my aunt's apologetic mannerisms. Moments later, it's noon and she gladly buys me lunch. "Gee, I am tired of being in Japan without people my own age," I silently whine. A floor up, and my aunt pays for my clothing purchase at X shop. Again, it's me being terrible. I'm surprised they can even stand my adolescent attitude, because I sure can't.
Went shopping today at Tennoji Station, since this whole week malls are having super sales all over town. Prices are sometimes decent, like $12 shirts, and sometimes not. Also, you can't swing a cat in these shops without hitting a stack of striped shirts or someone wearing one (over and under layers, of course). Anyway, I pawed through the junk and picked up these two gems: Beehouse round teapot - cute me out: it is coral, classic, made in Japan, and just small enough for 1 -2 persons
Rootote - I know totes are so three years ago and that Urban has carried these for a while, but their designs are pretty great and can you believe that it was only 1050 Yen (~$10 USD).
We went to Costco today to pick up some restaurant supplies and it was almost like being in America again. Bulk monsters in Japan!
Yay point, triumph of culture over experience: I offer up my ideas for the business every time they form and one stuck: Passionfruit Italian Soda. This soda drink is pretty common in American coffee shops, but they have nothing of the sort here in Japan, especially not the tropical flavor of passionfruit. It took a little thinking to get the proportions correct, but it was just a matter of taste and being economical. Bagel K will be selling it starting next week as a special new item. Hold your breath!
In the meantime, I got my hands on some train and subway maps in English, so we'll see if any moving around happens these next few weeks.