Sunday, May 27, 2007

Nihon News You Probably... Can't Use!

Friday, I signed a new, not-quite-one-year contract with my school. Despite recurring physical ailments, I'm still enjoying my time in Japan. So much so that whenever I think that it might be ending in approximately 10 months, I get nostalgic and heartbroken over stuff I can just turn my head and see practically any time of the day.

What I saw today outside of Zaza City was a 3-piece rock/pop band performing in the small amphitheater between the buildings. What made them unusual was their mode of dress- they were all in samurai-style kimono. The lead singer had two swords tucked into his sash, and they looked real. Real enough. You can buy metal bladed sets all over the place. They look real but are probably only useful for buttering your toast... and not even that efficacious at that because obviously even the shorter of the two swords is much too long to maneuver against the bread gracefully.

Even the girl handing out the fliers was in a kimono.

The drummer was outstanding. A muscular dude with long, flowing hair like something out of an animated movie, his kimono sleeveless to show off his bulging arms, his playing heavy on the toms in a sort of big band swing rhythm. The guitarist was playing a black acoustic with a single pickup, smiling happily, his face upturned to the sun, strumming away. And the lead singer had a strong voice.

And those swords to add authority.

There are a surprising number of small combos like this with playing skills comparable with any of the best Athens bands, even if they tend towards the bubblegum. Even some of the high school brass bands I've seen have been superb. And Force Studios upstairs at Quest Music on Yuraku-gai has better sound quality in a smaller space than even the fabled 40 Watt; really, there's hardly a comparison. I thought the 40 Watt sound techs were supposedly so competent but they need to fly over and take lessons from the crew at Force Studios.

Vending machines. As you may or may not know, vending machines are commonplace here. And no, you cannot currently buy the used panties of school girls in vending machines in Tokyo. That may have been true at one time, but like the famous "loose socks" the selfsame school girls sport in Western imaginations, those particular machines are a thing of the past.

There is a fresh egg vending machine across the street from my apartment, in front of a liquor store (of all places). And if you go to certain restaurants, you'll actually order your meal by buying tickets from vending machines.

That's right. I ate lunch today at Pepper Lunch downtown. On the right, just inside the front door, is a vending machine roughly the size of an American cigarette vendor, with color photos above the large, plastic buttons. Choose your meal, press the button. Press it again if you want a drink (150 yen, please).

You get two tickets, which you hand to the person working the counter. The counter forms a large island in the restaurant center around which are stools with customers hunched over sizzling hot plates of beef and vegetables.

I think the idea at Pepper Lunch (depending on what you order), is to mix the veggies and rice in with the sliced beef, then swirl it around with your hashi (that's chopsticks to you and me, Russ!) until it finishes cooking, while you hold you paper placemat in front to catch the blisteringly hot grease spatters.

I do most of that, but instead of mixing my green beans, corn, carrot slices, garlic slivers and essu-saizu gohan (small size boiled or steamed sticky rice), I flip my beef slices then eat it all separately. It's a cheap alternative to paying 25 bucks for a small steak and a shriveled, puny little apology of a baked potato at Bronco Billy's.

Should any of my hardcore meat-eating family members or friends come to visit, we'll go there for dinner or lunch one day. It's delicious. We can also go to Sawayaka for a hamburg steak (it's like a really delicious steakhouse hamburger minus the bun)... if we can get a chauffeur.

Every ramen shop I've been to also employs the vending machine ticket system, but these places generally require caution. Unlike Pepper Lunch, many of them don't post little photos above the buttons on their ticket machines. I usually try to compare kanji or katakana but I frequently make mistakes.

Like the not once but twice I ordered ramen loaded with chili powder. The first half of the bowl? Delicious. The second half?

Like inhaling lava directly from a volcano.

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