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  • published the article ZendiCarnival
    So, ever since I heard about the "priceless treasures" promotion, whereby players have the chance to open repackaged old cards in Zendikar, I promised myself I was going to get a box.

    Today, I went to the seventh floor of the GAMERS in Akihabara and bought one. Sadly, there were no "treasures". Here's what I walked away with:

    Out of all that, I am very happy with the 5 mythics, especially Lotus Cobra, and with the amazing amount of quality dual land in the set. Four different rare fetchlands and two each of the uncommon "gain a life, EBT" dual lands make me a very happy camper. I find myself liking a lot of the white and red cards in this set a lot, too. The black, with vampires, doesn't excite me so much, although the two uncommon Gatekeeper of Malakir I got are nice.
    Posted in: ZendiCarnival
  • published the article Dr. Seuss meets Ray Comfort
    Note: This is not mine. I just thought it was, well, very nifty. It comes from a blog, which you can find here.

    Horton Hears an Evangelical

    In a place known as Whoville the folks got distraught
    When Horton the elephant said what he thought.
    “The oddest of oddities isn’t as odd
    As people believing that there is a god.”

    The Who Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists
    The Who Vegetarians, Wiccans, and Nudists,
    The Who Presbyterians, Baptists, New Agers:
    All spread the sad news on their cell phones and pagers.

    A Who Evangelical fell to his knees
    And he said, “Oh no, Horton! I beg of you, please!
    We always have liked you. We all think you’re swell,
    And we can’t stand the thought that you’re headed to hell!”

    But Horton just laughed and he wiggled his trunk.
    The bible to him was a big bunch of bunk.
    He meant what he said and he said what he meant,
    “Religion is silly a hundred percent.”

    The Who Evangelical let out a snort in
    A very snide way most insulting to Horton.
    “You say you’re an atheist? Here’s what we’ll do —
    We all know that atheists are anti-Who —

    We’ll drive you from Whoville; we’ll send you away.
    Or else we will force you to worship and pray.
    A person’s a person, no matter how small
    But an atheist isn’t a person at all!”

    But Horton just laughed once again even louder
    And told all the Whos he would not take a powder,
    Nor worship some stupid nonsensical being
    That no one was hearing and no one was seeing.

    “I will not be threatened,” he said. “It’s not funny.
    I won't trust your god with my flag or my money!
    I will not allow him to influence science.
    An elephant thrives on his own self-reliance!”

    The Who Evangelical said, “My dear chap, sure
    You think you’re so smart, but just wait till the rapture.”
    The anti-Christ’s coming and then you will find,
    That your friends are in heaven but you’re left behind.

    “We cannot allow that to happen to you,
    Because, after all, Jesus loves ev’ry Who.
    You must accept God for the good of us all.
    A person’s a person no matter how small.

    “And though you’re no Who (you are just a big elephant),
    God loves you, too. What you are is irrelevant.
    He can destroy us if someone’s defiant.
    A sinner’s a sinner no matter how giant!”

    The Whos approached Horton, began to surround him.
    If some of the Whos had their way, they’d have drowned him.
    Some others thought maybe they might build a fire.
    And stoning was mentioned among the Who choir.

    But Horton was huge and avoided the crunch of them,
    Picked up his foot, and he stepped on a bunch of them,
    Hoped the survivors would give up their mission,
    So here’s what he told them about superstition:

    “The oddest of oddities isn’t as odd
    As people believing that there is a god.
    There isn’t a heaven, or hell you should dread.
    A person’s a person — unless he is dead.”
    Posted in: Dr. Seuss meets Ray Comfort
  • published the article A Lot of Lanterns
    This Sunday, I visited Horikawa-no-ike pond, here in Kyoto (where I currently call home). Sunday marked the culmination of the O-bon festival, and Japanese families sent off the spirits of their ancestors with lanterns set afloat on the water. For ~$10, you could paddle around in a rowboat.

    Posted in: A Lot of Lanterns
  • published the article Night Star Pringles
    Appropriate for a time when we're about to be getting a meteor shower, no? They taste like you would expect cheese pringles (think dusted with parmesan, or whatever it is they dust cheese-flavored popcorn with) to taste. What cheese has to do with "night star" is anyone's guess. Perhaps something related to the moon being made out of cheese?

    MMMMmmmmm... moon pringles.

    Posted in: Night Star Pringles
  • published the article Crying over unspilt milk
    Yesterday at 7:00am, I got out of my bed, walked downstairs, grabbed a towel out of the closet at the end of the hall, and tossed it on the bathroom counter. I took a shower with the same body wash I've always used, then shaved in front of the sink, head tilted to one side to see the edge of the mirror that doesn't fog, and put the bathmat up to dry. I put on the old clothes that I had brought downstairs with me, all clean, just like the day I left them. I went to the kitchen, petted the dog, got a bowl out of the cabinet, and poured myself some Cocoa Puffs cereal and ate it. I got myself a glass of orange juice and went upstairs, noticing then that the upstairs trashcan needed a new bag - whoever took the trash out last forgot to put a new one in. I went back downstairs and got one. After putting the new bag in, I lay down on the upstairs loveseat, which made that same old squeaky noise when it rocked back and forth.

    And then, a curious thing happened. I cried. I cried hard. I cried for a long time.

    Home. One word, and yet it means so much more than I could ever say.

    I cried because I hadn't done any of those things in one and a half years. I cried because I found myself rediscovering things I wasn't even aware that I had missed.

    I am home.

    Ninja-before-posting-edit: I wrote this yesterday, and didn't have a chance to post it. Hence I changed the beginning from "Today" to "Yesterday". I'll write a bit about today (my birthday) in a few.
    Posted in: Crying over unspilt milk
  • published the article A Single Picture
    It is said that a single picture can be worth more than a thousand words.

    This one, well, it's worth $200 in train fairs, getting up at 6:00am and getting home at midnight, spending eight of those hours traveling... and a thousand words.

    Let's just make it a million words instead, why not?

    (For those not on facebook): Tell me where in the world I am, and you might win a fabulous prize! (Hey, my respect is a fabulous prize...)
    Posted in: A Single Picture
  • published the article Testing, Testing... Anybody Home?
    A test of the new link between my MTGSalvation RSS Feed and Facebook. If it works correctly, this just may inspire me to post to my blog more than every, oh, say, two months or so. Cheers!

    03-31-2009, 01:29 AM

    As for me - I hit up ComiSite in Matsue and scored some sweet loot today.

    I spent way too much money (about $65 dollars, and it's just a small, out-of-the-way store), but I had a fantastic day. Kekeke

    The ice cream I had today was pear flavored*. Our prefecture is famous for its pears. The mascot for our prefecture is a pear/bird in a sailor outfit, actually (don't ask). His name is Tori-pi (pron. Toh-Ree-Pee). Tori means "bird", and our prefecture's name is "Tottori". The one I had was a half/half cone - the other half being vanilla from Daisen Farms, located on the local landmark Mt. Daisen.

    *side note*: I have had a Green Tea McFlurry before, and it was delicious. Mmmm.

    And as for the cards, I only got a couple of boosters today, but all I had a picture of was the box. The cards are in Japanese, of course.

    04-28-2009, 12:18 AM

    I'm looking forward to Golden Week, the big holiday here in Japan. I've got one teaching day tomorrow, and then nothing until Thursday of the week after. WOOO! My partner in crime Jeremy has already left on vacation, so I'm covering his classes tomorrow while he's in London visiting the folks.

    I'm excited about the break, but for different reasons than you might think. I've only got four teaching weeks left in this job!! Four weeks... it hardly seems real. One of those weeks is only three days long, too, and another will consist of the new teacher shadowing me the whole week. I'm leaving the school, saying goodbye to all my students (which I'm sure will be rough on me) after the first week of June, and my goodbye party is going to be May 31st. I'm still in the midst of planning it, but invitations have already been sent out. I'm going to be using the time off this week and next to look for a job! Hopefully, I'll be able to find something relatively easily, and figure out just exactly where in Japan I'm moving to after the first week of June.

    Wow... so many memories I've made here. It hardly seems like it's been a few months, let alone a year and a half. I am super pumped about traveling in June and then going home (HOME!!!!) around the beginning of July, though. It's gonna be a helluva birthday party on July 2nd (my 25th), and again on July 10th (my mother's 50th). My brother's birthday is on the 14th, and my cousin's wedding is the 11th, so I've got more than a few reasons to be home then. I'll be staying for around three weeks, I figure, before going back and enjoying a nice month or two of vacation in Japan and then starting my new job.

    04-29-2009, 09:55 PM

    Well, anyway, I made it out to Hobby Japan in Matsue this afternoon. ComiSite didn't have any ARB, but Hobby Japan did! I bought 8 boosters. I was hoping to get a Maelstrom Pulse, but that didn't happen, sadly. Here's what I did get:

    The worst part? Out of those... NO - zip, zilch, nada - Qasali Pridemage. That makes me a sad panda. Frown

    I'm surprising myself by remembering the new cards, though. I can remember what 90% of the cards I'm looking at do, even though I can't read them. And I did get 2 x Intimidation Bolt, which is awesome.

    The card I love most out of what I got? Sigil Captain. I can't believe that guy is an uncommon! Can you say casual G/W mana ramp/ Storm Herd deck with Supply and Sakura-Tribe Elder? I know I can.
    Posted in: Testing, Testing... Anybody Home?
  • published the article A Totally Awesome Day
    Hey everybody. I don't feel much like blogging tonight, but I will anyhow. I just have felt out of touch with the online community here lately. I don't know, maybe I'll get back into it. Anyway... I digress.

    Today was an awesome day. Three weeks ago, another teacher named Nancy invited me out to a party she was having with her husband. It was his birthday, and a karaoke place called Shidax that's around here serves free cake on birthdays, so that's where we went. Today was the day of the party. Instead of typing a lot, since I don't feel so inclined this evening, I'll just share some pictures, and a few comments.

    First, a group photo - (Top): Me, Renee, Vivian, (Bottom) Nancy, Nancy's Husband, Nancy's Sister.

    Second, well, as you can see, we had a pretty awesome time. Kekeke

    Third... after karaoke, we went bowling at the YSP lanes, which is relatively close to the karaoke place. We met another friend of Nancy's there, Marshall, and he was an all-around cool guy. He bowls nearly every day. We played 4 games. Though I didn't beat Marshall, I did get my highest score ever - a 133.

    Here's a list of where everybody's from. We're all English teachers, believe it or not. Kekeke

    Name ... Origin
    Me ... America, Ohio
    Renee ... America, Florida
    Vivian ... Phillipines
    Nancy ... Australia
    Marshall ... Phillipines

    After bowling, Nancy took Renee home, and then we went out to the Big Boy restaurant to eat, and after that, chatted. We didn't get out of there until 9:30 at night, and we had started the karaoke party at 2:00! I decided to go up to DD House and play some DDR after that. I didn't get back home until around 11:00. Whew. What a day!
    Posted in: A Totally Awesome Day
  • published the article An Apology... and an Anniversary
    Welcome everyone. Today... I have been in Japan for one year. What a trip it has been.

    Right now, I guess, I'm feeling kind of melancholy... reflective might be a better word.

    I got into a bit of an argument with someone via e-mail today. I had mistaken what she meant in part of an earlier e-mail. She was commenting on something, I guess, rather than asking what it meant. When I suggested a translation, I got a reply along the lines of "I already know. Didn't you read my e-mail? I dislike noobs". Well, you can imagine that didn't go over well with me... and so a few e-mails were sent back and forth, ending in several apologies on both sides. I think we both understand each other a little bit better now, though.

    She is fiercely independent - as I am learning more and more - and in offering help, it must sometimes seem an unintended insult. I admire her for that independence. At the same time, I recognize a kind of stubbornness that I am guilty of myself... letting one's need to be independent alienate one from other people. I've had to fight that ever since I came to Japan. Being in a foreign country, I was forced into a situation in which I had to accept help - I literally couldn't do anything on my own. It's a humbling experience to suddenly not be able to read your own mail. I hope I can share a little bit of that acceptance of other people with her.

    She wrote about our "quarrel" today on her blog... goodness, but I wish I could read Japanese. I've been relying on Google and Babelfish for translation - and while they work in principle, machine translation is very poor, so I can never quite be sure of what is being said. I can get the general idea, but the details are often lost. I'm hoping that I've not done or said anything to offend her too much.

    She suggested going out sometime again - when, I have no idea. She mentioned (during our exchange of apologies) that she doesn't like owing people, in any shape or form - so perhaps it was my mistake that I offered to treat her to dinner today rather than simply inviting her. Well... let bygones be bygones, I suppose. Water under the bridge. I'll know better what to do next time. We're still friends, and that's what matters. I guess the fact that I'm willing to write this much about one person is indicative of just how in over my head I am, right? I tell myself that I shouldn't do this to myself, but... I can't help it. There's just something about her. Just seeing her smile makes me happy. A dozen different love songs come to mind... each appropriate in different ways.

    Reflections on my year in Japan are coming soon. First, I'm going out to DD House (to play DDR, of course) taking an inadvertent nap ^_^;, and then going to Frisch's Big Boy for dinner.
    Posted in: An Apology... and an Anniversary
  • published the article The Rest of the Story: Approaching One Year
    Gosh, how long has it been? Two months? I haven't posted to this thing in that long, wow. I guess I should explain a few things.

    When I last wrote, I had just met a girl named Yuko. Well... that lasted all of not even one meeting. She canceled the first venture I arranged, going hiking (said she was sick), and I've never heard from her since. I've already forgotten about her - it was a non-thing, so to speak. I couldn't care less.

    Strangely enough, I'm... happy. I've been extremely busy these last couple of months. After getting the green folder caught up, I had a bunch of other projects to do... often one after the other. We've had three parties since then - our adult Christmas party, our kids Christmas party, and a bowling party for highschool kids. Those were all on consecutive weekends, too. Phew. I've got pictures of all of those up on my photobucket account, for those of you that know where that is. There is even a video. Yeah, that's right: I'm Santa Clause. Kekeke

    During this time, I've also met... someone else. We have a lot in common, especially with regard to personality. We've been out shopping together twice, and a number of other things. Despite a series of trials and tribulations, including a sickness and the (non)release of a flash series on Newgrounds, I managed to successfully invite her over to my house for Christmas, and to give her a present - and get one in return. She got me a really awesome black hanten with a dragon design - it's fantastic! I really like this girl... she's beautiful, and smart... and I don't want to rush things, so... I'll just see where things take us. I've invited her out to celebrate my one year anniversary of arriving in Japan on the 31st, and I'm awaiting her reply.

    Speaking of which - the 31st marks the one year anniversary of my leaving the 'States and coming to Japan - one of the biggest, most memomorable, exciting, and life-changing things to ever happen to me. I won't spend time now reflecting on the past year - I'll save that for my blog on the 31st, and the Special Occasions thread I'll make - but suffice it to say, I have had an absolutely amazing time.

    I think that covers everything. Now, having made it through the school year, I am on vacation. The school doesn't open again until the 7th, so I've got quite a bit of free time - eight days after today, to be precise. What I'm going to do with those, I'm not quite sure yet. I know what my plans are for the 31st, but aside from that, I've got nothing. Maybe I'll finally get around to going to the Ghibli museum... who knows. Kekeke

    If you've got any questions about anything, particularly about how the year's gone, feel free to leave a comment. I'll be happy to answer anything you can come up with.
    Posted in: The Rest of the Story: Approaching One Year
  • published the article Out of a Blue Clear Sky
    "You swear you've had enough.
    You're ready to give up
    On that little lie they call love,
    Then out of the blue clear sky

    Fallin' right into your hands,
    Like rain on the desert sand.
    It's the last thing you had planned.
    Out of the blue clear sky.

    Here she comes, a walkin' talkin' true love.
    Sayin' "I've been lookin' for you, love".
    Surprise, your new love has arrived
    Out of the blue clear sky."
    -George Strait, "Blue Clear Sky"

    This weekend, unlike the last eight or nine weekends, has been pretty good. Good luck comes in waves, right?

    On Saturday, my last working day of the week, I finished the green folder. Yes, goddammit, the green folder of lesson records that's been plaguing me since... July? It's off my chest. Done. Completed. And holy cow, do I feel so much better. Also - my living room - cleaned. That was a couple of weekends ago. My kitchen? Cleaned. That was the weekend before my living room. Since my house only has two rooms... it's done? All that's left is the shower and the bathroom.

    That's right. I fought depression - and I won.

    This was the first weekend I've had in several months without a big, unfinished project looming over my head. My boss, on Saturday, had given me a ticket to a tea ceremony that was being held at a few local shrines around the area. I actually mustered up the gumption to go today - and so I went. Threw on the old ball cap, put on a nice sweater and pair of trousers, and went. And hey, I had a really nice time! I found the shrine, and fell in behind a group of other people. I was the only guy participating - which felt a little awkward, but nothing apart from being a foreigner anyway. Now, sitting on the cushion, on your legs, knees forward - that's a challenge. OUCH! I sat uncomfortably for what seemed like ages, although the tea ceremony was very short. My legs didn't want to let me stand up and go home at the end - they'd locked up and cramped from sitting like that for too long. I took lots of pictures, and you can have a look at them here. In fact, please do.

    After the tea ceremony, I decided to have lunch at the Frisch's Big Boy restaurant that was in that part of the city. I go there quite often, and it was nearby, so I figured "why not". I sat down, ordered, got myself a glass of Coke. I noticed two chatty young ladies over in the booth across the corner. Imagine my surprise when, after a while, one of them came over and asked what languages I spoke (in English). I was happy to reply "English, and a little Japanese", and we struck up a nice conversation. Her name was Yuko, and it seemed she'd thought I was from western Europe at first, so she'd wanted to make sure I spoke English and not Russian or something. I assured her I was quite American, and we talked for a while about things. She had her friend take a picture with me, and then she asked for my cell e-mail address. Slightly skeptical, and half dumbfounded at my good fortune, I got out my phone (I remembered to bring my phone today?! It's true!) and she typed in her mail, and had me send a message to her phone so we'd have each other's contact info.

    While we were talking, my food arrived, and a while after that Yuko went back and sat at her table while I ate. She and her friend left before I was finished, so I wished them well and told her to contact me if she wanted to hang out sometime. She made me promise to mail her at some later date, and I said I would.

    And that's the story of how I got a complete stranger's cell-phone e-mail today. As a bonus, she mailed me the picture she took with her cell phone.

    After I got home, I was in a good mood, so I decided to do some laundry. In the washer, after the first batch of laundry, I find the key to my house, which had been missing for three weeks.

    Like I said, luck comes in waves, right?

    Now, to finish this laundry, and type up some homework - with a smile, this time. Smile
    Posted in: Out of a Blue Clear Sky
  • published the article And thus he spake: "Ponyo". And it was good.
    Tonight marks a milestone of my stay in Japan. Tonight was the first time I've been to a movie theater here, for one. More importantly, it marks the fulfillment of a dream I've had ever since I fell in love with Ghibli movies: to be among the first to see one in a Japanese theater.

    I showed up at the theater at SATY at about 8:30 to catch the 8:55 showing of Gake no Ue no Ponyo. I'd been bugging Sakiko-san (our secretary) for two days to find out for me the showtime for the movie, and she finally did just about an hour before closing time today. There was a line, as I thought there might be, but not a whole lot of people came after the line dissolved, so the theater was not crowded at all. It was expensive as all hell, about $12 just to get in, but I didn't mind a bit. The theater was a bit smaller than I was used to, and it had these nifty drawstring curtains that covered the whole screen. The curtains rolled back when the film started, and rolled forward again when it was over. Nifty.

    So, I guess I should give some more background on the film. If you don't like any spoilers, well, I'll try to keep stuff in spoiler tags. There are some special points I want to discuss, but I'll try to keep them to a bare minimum.

    So, in general, the movie is about a goldfish princess named bukuriko or somesuch (the name was only mentioned once, so I didn't quite catch it). She is kept by a strange sorcerer-type dude with red hair under the sea, but one day she escapes. She ends up in trouble (entangled in some garbage) and is rescued by a five-year-old boy named Sosuke. He christens her "Ponyo", and she is so happy with it that she adopts the name for herself. She eventually is recaptured by the sorcerer, but decides she likes humans, and wants to be a human girl and return and play with Sosuke.

    So, with the help of her "Ponyo-lings", she escapes and returns to Sosuke, riding on the back of whatever strange magic was locked in that room in the sorcerer's underwater abode. WOW. That was an amazing sequence, Kosuke's mom speeding along in the car while Ponyo chases them on the backs of the fish/waves. It seems that Ponyo's magic will disappear if she becomes human, and this somehow has something to do with the strangely huge moon in the sky and the fate of the earth. Seems the moon would draw closer, causing larger tides, and the destruction of all the land, unless Ponyo gave up her magic? IDK, but when Sosuke spoke to Ponyo's mom at the end, they both agreed to those conditions (he'd protect Ponyo, Ponyo gives up magic), and the world was set right again.

    So, how was it? Well, let me put it this way: the opening sequence has the SINGLE most fluidly animated mass of characters that I have ever seen on the screen at one time. I mean, there are literally hundreds of octopi and squid and fish and crustaceans and waterbugs and god-knows-what all all over the screen and moving around at the same time in one giant, vibrant, oozing, wonderful pile of visual delight. I loved that bit. Absolutely. All through the movie, the fish and underwater scenes were breathtaking, reminiscent of the jungle scenes in Nausicaa. Another nod to the animation: I LOVED the car chase sequence with Ponyo running over the water, doing sommersaults and flips over and around the backs of the "fish/waves". That was some brilliant animation work. I would've loved to see the storyboarding that went into that. Fan-tastic. The car chase was one of the most exciting that I've seen in a movie, and it only involved one car.

    The story: I'd probably have understood it better with subtitles, but I'm pretty sure I got the gist of it. It's... meh. Ok. That's not really the point with this film, though. The point is just to drench everything under hundreds of feet of water and have giant coelacanths and giant fish-monsters and sharks and whales and colorful things swimming all over the place, looking gorgeous. Works for me.

    The characters: Precious. Ponyo was absolutely endearing, a precocious little fish girl that has absolutely no idea what this big human world is all about. Sosuke, her grounded yet still adventurous partner, acts as a perfect foil, knowing more than a five-year-old really should (they mention in the film that he's very smart for his age), but still possessed of all a five-year-old's adventurous spirit and curiosity. The adventure they have on the day they are left alone is truly breathtaking, and reminiscent of the flying-with-Totoro bits from Totoro. Simply fantastic.

    I have to mention here one bit that really endeared me to Ponyo, and one of the funniest moments from the film (skip ahead if you'd prefer to be surprised). I absolutely love the bit where Ponyo and Sosuke meet the couple with the baby on the boat. Ponyo tries to give the baby some of the soup that they've brought. The mother has to explain that the baby can't eat soup yet, for he's still too little. Sosuke chimes in that the kid still "eats from breasts", if my translation's not far off. Ponyo doesn't understand, and, frustrated with the now crying baby, she pulls out one of the big sandwiches that they've packed, and thrusts it toward the babe. "Oppai (Breasts!)!", she yells plaintively. "Oppai, Oppai!". Had I been watching this on DVD, I'd have taken a moment to pause here and spent about five minutes laughing. This was just too precious. Smile

    So, how's this rank with other Ghibli films? I liked it better than Howl's Moving Castle. I liked it better than Cagliostro, but then, I didn't thing Cagliostro was that great, whereas some people do. Totoro is better, but there are many moments in Ponyo that echo Totoro, and in some ways surpass it. It's got that same fantastic "You get to be a little kid again for 120 minutes" feeling to it. It's not really fair to compare it to more serious works like Nausicaa or Mononoke Hime, story-wise, because, well, it's a kids' movie. But hey, so was Totoro - and this is up there with Totoro. It borrows character designs from Howl's Moving Castle (check out the nursing home), and Ponyo is very much like Mai from Totoro, which I guess is part of why the film evokes such a similar feeling.

    If you get the chance, definitely check this one out. Even if just for a bit, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have worked their magic to make you feel like a kid again, and you'd be sorry to miss it.
    Posted in: And thus he spake: "Ponyo". And it was good.
  • published the article Dai-news? DAI NEWS!!! HOLY ****
    So... ahem. Today was a Saturday, which means the end of a long workweek and the one day out of the week that the job both starts and finishes early. My latest evening class recently got moved to Wednesday nights, so I had a nice hour after my last class ended today to finish things up and cool down. I had removed my formal dress shirt and tie for the day and had on a black T-shirt to match my black dress pants. A Japanese friend of Jeremy's came over just before we closed up, and invited Jeremy and Mariko out to go drinking with a female acquaintance of his who had just gotten back from staying in London. She was present as well - white top, beige shirt, jeans. Jeremy's friend casually invited me along as well. I figured, hell, why not. I don't drink, but it's better than just sitting around the apartment on a Saturday night.

    The five of us went out to a local bar, where we were admitted to the back room and one of the low tables with cushions for sitting that are everywhere in Japan. There were heaps and heaps of food, the main dish being a whole fish, well prepared. I'd never eaten a whole fish (roe sacs, bones, liver and all still there) before, so that was interesting. However, for the sake of making a long story short, I'll skip ahead a bit.

    The female acquaintance of Jeremy's friend had just gotten back from London, where she had stayed for three months. She showed us many, many pictures via Jeremy's laptop of London: the palace, the museums, the gardens, parks, and all about the city. She was flipping through pictures taken with her friends, and describing some of them. One of them, she mentioned, was an "animation director or something". She'd hung out with him a lot, and had several pictures with him. They were studying at the same school, and had become friends that way. "Oh?", I said. "He's into animation, huh? What's his name?" "Makoto Shinkai" came the reply. "WHAT? - the guy in the picture there with you - his name is Shinkai Makoto?" "Yeah... he's a fun guy".

    Jaw, meet floor. Floor, jaw. *floor and jaw shake hands*

    After an incredible rest of the night, with too many rounds of shouchu all around excepting myself, we ended the night outside the bar, exchanging contact details. I gave the girl my business card, with my e-mail address written on it. "If you'd like", she said, "I'll contact Makoto, and if he says it's OK, I'll send you his contact info so you guys can talk". "Yeah, great!" I gingerly take the card back from her, double and triple check my writing on the e-mail address, making sure everything is perfect. Then I hand it back. "Thanks for such a wonderful evening", I find myself saying. We part ways, and then at the next corner I part ways with Jeremy and Mariko, and head back to my own apartment.

    So, in case you don't know - Makoto Shinkai. Holy *expletive*. The guy that made Hoshi no Koe, aka Voices of a Distant Star, by himself on his home PC. The guy who most recently did 5 Centimeters per Second. That Makoto Shinkai.

    That is all. That is awesome. I don't know what else to say. I met Makoto's galpal from his current studies in London and she offered to hook me up with him. What more could an otaku ask for?
    Posted in: Dai-news? DAI NEWS!!! HOLY ****
  • published the article Charisma Man
    Hello again folks. I really should get used to doing this blog thing regularly. I know what I have must be somewhat disappointing so far. Five blogs in... seven weeks? Yeesh. I had best get on the proverbial ball.

    I was shown this comic last week by my colleague Jeremy, and I must admit that I laughed so hard that I nearly died. I felt that it was worth sharing, and so I have uploaded one of my favorite strips. Back home in Canada, he was just an ordinary, burger-flipping geek. However when he landed in the land of Japan, he acquired strange and mystical powers. Behold:

    Charisma Man!

    Posted in: Charisma Man
  • published the article The Real Blog Blues: Part One - Food
    Food. It has always been one of my weaknesses. I love it in most of its forms, from starches to meats to vegetables to dairy and everything in between. I’m not terribly overweight by a long shot, but I do have a sort of ring around the middle. I’ll try most things, especially things that sound like they’ll give you a heart attack by the time you’re forty. I’ve tried fried cheesecake, frozen cheesecake on a stick, fried Oreos, and so on. My two biggest weaknesses are a) hot dogs, especially chili-cheese dogs and b) seafood. Those who were around when I joined may remember that I got my MTGSCoffeehouse title by mentioning that in college I had spent $75 in Red Lobster gift certificates within one quarter of school. Salmon New-Orleans-style is probably my favorite dish of theirs. Whenever I walk through those lobster-claw-handled doors, I feel at home.

    Since arriving in Japan, most of my collection of knowledge about foods, the thousand-and-one little things that I knew I liked, didn’t like, or wanted to try, well, it just about went out the window. Have you ever tried bamboo root? Fish roe? Fermented soybeans? Soy soup? Regular black soybeans? Seaweed? Ginger strips? Fried octopus? How about soy sauce on all of those things? With all those, of course, are dozens more familiar foods cut or fried into forms that you find unrecognizable by sight. My first week in the country, due to both culture shock and stress, I had a hard time making myself eat a whole lot. What I did eat was limited to what precious few familiar things I could find in small doses. Over the next couple of weeks, slowly, slowly, I began coming out of my safety zone with regards to food, and getting my appetite back. It takes courage to try something that you have absolutely no idea of what it is comprised, and, to your sensibilities, might as well be something from an alien planet. Couple that with the fact that you don’t know the name of anything, and you can only order something by pointing to it and saying “I want THAT”, and well, you can see my dilemma.

    My first step out of the box was when my boss, Mr. Shiratsuchi, invited me over to his house for dinner, about a week after I’d been in Japan. It was towards the end of New Year’s week, and thus he and his wife had purchased a large variety platter of things, much like people do everywhere else. Unlike people everywhere else, their platter was filled entirely with Japanese food. Imagine seeing a large tray of food in which you can only recognize about thirty percent of the contents. The rest, I had to ask what they were. The dark brown items were pickled bamboo root, and the white pieces beside them were daicon, or radish. The wafers of yellow were fried (scrambled, like an omelet) egg slices. The white half-circle wafers with a pink edge were fish cakes. There were also round, translucent orange fish eggs, black soybeans, unshelled cooked prawns, and tempura, or fried shrimp and vegetables. Aside from the tray, each person was also given a bowl containing a broth of some sort and large strips of something that looked like tofu. We had tea to drink.

    I stayed to the familiar for the most part, going for the ebi (shrimp/prawns) and the tempura first. I happily tried the fishcakes and the tamagoyaki (yellow fried egg strips). I even surprised myself and tried the bamboo root. It has the color of a cooked apple, the crunchiness and texture of an uncooked apple, and the stringiness and difficulty in chewing of celery. Not all that bad, actually, although I limited myself to trying just one. The contents of the bowl I was presented with were a different matter. I was told that this (the big white rectangles in my bowl, somewhat resembling bread) was mochi. I mustered my poor chopstick skills and tried a piece - not only did it taste odd, it stuck to my mouth like glue. The color, absurd stickiness, and soft, stretchy texture give one the rather strong impression of eating a block of glue, actually. I could barely down part of one piece without gagging, and I got strange looks the whole time I was trying (and nearly failing) to do it.

    Both of my hosts seemed rather mortified that I was having trouble with the mochi. “But”, Mrs. Shiratsuchi tried to explain in halting and basic English, “Mochi is one of the most common and staple foods in Japan“. “Can you eat bread?” Yes, I offered, unsure of where this was going, I can eat bread. Five minutes later I was presented with a thick piece of Japanese style bread, which is what in America we’d call Texas-toast style, simply meaning it’s about an inch and a half thick. Wanting to be polite, I managed to put it away, even with my failing appetite.

    Since that first experience, I’ve been encountering new Japanese foods all over the place, sometimes trying several completely new foods in one outing or one weekend. Most of them, I’ve liked, surprisingly enough, although I’ve encountered a few that I’ve disagreed with.

    Luckily for me, the boss likes to take new teachers out occasionally to restaurants around town and show them the ropes. It wasn’t long after my first week that we went out to an udon restaurant called Sukiya. If you’re wondering what udon is, well, I was about to find out. The first thing about Sukiya that I really noticed was the hand-wash station in the entranceway, before you even enter the building. Seems they don’t want you going in with dirty hands. When asked, Sensei explained that some, though certainly not all, Japanese restaurants have this feature. The inside was roughly what you’d expect of a modern fast-food restaurant: clean, polished wood tables, the kitchen area, bench seats by the windows. Each table with customers had a pitcher of ice-tea, and sure enough, they brought us one after we sat down. That was your only option as far as what to drink - tea or water. There was no cola in sight. (Note: I used to call this “pop”. In the six weeks I’ve been here, I’ve found that the only word anyone recognizes is “cola”, and thusly started using it.). I was excited. This was my first real Japanese restaurant experience. The waiter took our orders - Sensei ordered udon for us both - and a few minutes later he returned with two large bowls. Udon turned out to be a very simple dish. It is comprised of strips of roast beef cooked with onions, and then dumped on top of a bowl of rice. You eat your niku (meat) off the top, and then eat the rice underneath. This one, I later found out, is a favorite of Sumo, or anyone who just likes a lot of meat. I ate what I could of mine, but given that this was still within my second week and I was having trouble finding my appetite, I left half of it. It was good though, there’s no doubting that. My chopstick skills, although still very clumsy at this time, were improving.

    Flash forward - I’ve been here for six weeks now. I’ve been around town, gone sightseeing, and most importantly, started to go and visit non-familiar restaurants on my own, with no guidance. I most definitely have my appetite back, and in spades. The third week was what really brought me back to myself in that regard. Rather than recount the full tale of each restaurant I visited, which would take many more words than I have time and patience for, I shall present a list of the rest of the foods I have tried up to this point, where I tried them, and what I thought of them. And so here we are:

    Onigiri - My first night in Yonago, when I was still fresh off the plane, Sensei brought me two onigiri and a bottle of tea when he met me. I drank the tea, but left the onigiri, mainly due to the rather strong fish smell (the filling was salmon, I believe). I’ve not tried them since then, but perhaps now that my stomach has settled they’d be more appealing. My only experience with these before had been to see them in anime. I remembered them especially from Pokemon, for some reason, perhaps because in that instance the translators chose to call them “donuts”. While definitely not donuts, these, in a way, may be a kind of Japanese equivalent, although the link is rather tenuous: a starch-based covering over some type of filling, small and eaten by hand. Onigiri are made of rice, and are the white triangles with a black line round the middle that you often see in anime or other Japanese programs. Usually you’ll see them being eaten in bentos (boxed lunches) or for breakfast. They can have any kind of filling, from fruit to meat, and the rice is a wrapped with a black square of seaweed halfway round the middle to aid in holding the thing.

    Ramen - True, this one has made its way to America, in the form of instant cup noodles. What I had sitting in front of me here, though, was a pair of chopsticks and a big, steaming ceramic bowl containing ramen in beef broth, half a hard-boiled egg, one small slice of roast pork, a handful of strips of bamboo root, and a liberal sprinkling of green onions. The first time (this was during my second week), I didn’t eat the bamboo root, although just recently I have gotten used to them and think of them like carrots. The rest, I found I really liked. And hey, who doesn’t like ramen? I still get this dish often while I’m out grocery shopping at SATY.

    Okonamiyaki - This was the second thing that the boss took me out to a restaurant to try. We went to a small restaurant not 2 minutes walking distance from my apartment. Okonamiyaki looks somewhat like pizza in shape; that is, it is round and roughly half an inch thick, of similar diameter to a personal pan pizza, and cut into triangular pieces. What it consists of is some type of filling, usually meat mixed with vegetables, and wrapped in vegetables such as cabbage. It is covered with several sauces and toppings, and is easily recognizable by the pieces of topping, whose name I forget, but which resembles bits of paper-thin onion skin, that literally dance in the steam created by a freshly-cooked okonamiyaki. It makes the top of the dish seem as though it is moving about or crawling, which gives one a first impression of combined fear and fascination. It turned out to be very good, although the vegetable taste was more than I was used to. I wouldn’t mind eating it again, although I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

    Curry - Called “curry rice” by the Japanese (simply “curry” doesn’t get you understood), this was a dish that I knew of by reputation, but had never eaten in the States. Sensei took me out to a curry restaurant in the middle of my fourth week here. He ordered a hamburger-steak (hamburgers here are just the meat, without bread or cheese - served like a steak, with veggies - and sometimes have pieces of onion inside), and I ordered curry. What you get is a big pile of rice on one side of a plate and the brown curry sauce, which is a liquid mixture of spices and usually very tiny pieces of meat and/or veggies, on the other. Take a scoop of rice, mix it around in the curry sauce, and eat. Alternatively, scoop your curry sauce onto your rice and just mix them around a bit. I’m not usually one for spicy things, but this stuff was good! Eat much of it, and your mouth and lips start to get a bit of the burn or ache from too much spice, but this is usually mild and fixed with a glass of water or so. I enjoyed the curry enough that later on, during my trip to Sakai-Minato (by myself), I ordered “katsu curry rice” at a small restaurant there. “Katsu” is fried pork, and so “katsu curry rice” is just a slice of breaded, fried pork laid atop a plate of regular curry rice. It was delicious, and I plan not only on eating it, but making it one of my first choices for restaurants in the future.

    Soba: This is the one I’ve tried most recently, and the fourth dish that Sensei has taken me out to try. Quite simply, soba (which is the Japanese word for “noodle”) is a pile of cold, brown noodles. Aside from perhaps a few pieces of seaweed for topping, that’s it. You’re supposed to dip them in a kind of vinegar/onion solution that makes them taste significantly better before eating, but if you’ve ever tried using chopsticks to dip noodles into anything, you realize that it can be quite some work. I think I had more noodles in the bowl of vinegar/onion solution than on my tray at one point. Without condiments, the taste is merely average, and the worse for being cold. The dip improves it, but it’s a hassle, and doesn’t improve it enough to be worth the trouble. Given the choice, I probably won’t eat soba very often in the future, if at all.

    Others - There are several other dishes that I’ve tried that just took some screwing down of nerves and rolling up of sleeves because they weren’t in their familiar forms. As I’ve already mentioned, hamburgers here are served minus anything but the meat and some form of sauce. At SATY (the huge department store around here, where I go for most everything), I had the chance to try hamburger pilaf at one of the restaurants. It was quite good: hamburger with some kind of dark sauce (not soy), topped with mushrooms and sitting atop a pile of fried rice mixed with vegetables. I’ve tried fish that I didn’t know was fish until I ate it, and accidentally ordered a beer to go with it (a shame, that, since it cost me two dollars and I don’t drink). I’ve lots of pictures on my photo bucket account that adequately explain some of what I can’t quite put into words, but some days nearly every meal has been an adventure here.

    Oh, and 50 bonus points if you know the inspiration for the title of this series of blogs about Japan that I've started (let me know in the comments!). The next one will be either about weather or teaching, not sure which. Probably weather.
    Posted in: The Real Blog Blues: Part One - Food