Friday, October 05, 2007

Letter From Tokyo

Yes, I know. It's been more than two weeks since I posted to Packmonkey. Where are you? What's up? I've heard the pleas for updates and apologize for the delay. Let's call it a vacation from blogging.

Since landing in Tokyo, I've been enjoying sleeping same bed every night, keeping a schedule, creating a routine and basically giving myself something of a normal existence. It's everything that my previous seven months on the road was not. Yet I'm still a stranger in a strange land.

To remedy that situation, I enrolled in a program of intensive Japanese language classes, 75 hours of instruction crammed into five weeks. On top of the classroom time I have homework (homework!) that keeps me busy in the mornings and on some evenings as well. I have been spending an average of six hours a day studying. From knowing practically nothing I now know next to nothing. It's an improvement, I guess. I've got a handle on the basics - who, what, where and how - but I'm still unable to carry on a simple conversation. With a few more weeks of practice, however, I'm sure I'll be able to flawlessly order lunch and pay the bill.

So, how do I spend the rest of my time? Like I said before, I've been enjoying settling in and hunkering down (are they the same thing?). I've got a stack of novels to read (currently, "Against the Day" and "White Noise" - how's that for a one-two punch?), tv shows to catch up on ("Heroes," thanks iTunes!), photographs to edit, new music to explore (why did it take me so long to discover Internet radio?) and a gigantic city explore. I had coffee the other day with a new friend, but otherwise most of the time I'm left to my own devices.

I haven't been much of a tourist lately, preferring the small details to the large attractions. There is something about Japanese society that revels in the absurd. Well, it's absurd to me, but probably nothing but the same old-same old to them. The most striking examples are to be found in food, signage and consumer products. There are too many to list here (volumes and volumes have been published cataloging Japanese signs, fashions and pop culture), but here are a few of my favorite discoveries.

Asahi Style Free Beer

Style Free Beer

Asahi brewery has come up with something called "Style Free Asahi." But under the Asahi logo there's a line that says "Refreshing New Style." I think I've found the world's first postmodern beer. It's so style free that it's a style all its own. That, I'm afraid, is the good news. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the new style is a beer thats low in sugar. It's also low in taste. Good taste, that is.

Have Gum, Will Travel

I was nine years old when Bubble Yum hit stores, revolutionizing the chewing gum industry and creating an intense stir in the schoolyard. For a few weeks, if you weren't chewing a piece of Yum you just weren't cool. Two years later, Bubblicious appeared, offering an alternative sugar fix. Both brands have survived to this day, offering an array of flavors both sweet and savory (at least according to Wikipedia, which lists a Bubblicious flavor called "Gnarly Nacho Cheese" - don't believe everything you read on the Internet). While shopping in a neighborhood convenience store I found a unique Bubblicious flavor - Amino Quench 2007.

Amino Quench 2007

Full disclosure here. I don't know what amine are, or what they do in (to?) my body. Which means I'm not the target demographic for this product. The gum itself tastes a little chalky at first, with a flavor unlike anything in the fruit family. Perhaps it's the taste of concentrated amine. Whatever it is, it's filled with nitrogen. It's nitro-licious!

Up and Down Gum

In our complex world, it's not enough to market to humans. Manufacturers now create specialized products for both men and women (yes, and for children, the elderly, vegans, goths, etc., bear with me). I couldn't resist a pack of Men's Style Gold Energy Gum. To balance the bursts of outrageous energy that the gum would send rocketing through my central nervous system, I also bought a pack of Relax Gum ("Relax Slowly"). Both are made by the South Korean-Japanese conglomerate Lotte, and both taste vile. Men's style Gold Energy Gum is distilled from a root of some kind that lends it a bitter flavor unredeemed by a bitter aftertaste. How can I describe it? Something like a caffeinated, ginseng-soaked cigarette butt. That comes close, but still doesn't do it justice.

I spit out my energy gum and immediately popped a piece of Relax gum into my mouth. Not as bad as Men's Style gum. It's got a minty taste, nothing offensive, close to a massmarket toothpaste brand. But it did nothing help me relax. Maybe I needed to give it time, to "relax slowly" as the wrapper says. No dice. I've learned that ten minutes of chewing does not relax me.

Anyone want some gum? I've got lots to spare.

Open Late

Looking for a place to spend the evening? Maybe your apartment is just too small for comfort? Maybe you hate your roommates? Or the dog ripped up the sofa? No worries, mate. I found a bar that stays open until 25 o'Clock.

To be fair to the Japanese, I've been told that this is common here, that the after midnight hours are counted as extra hours in a day. Sounds like a good plan actually. Isn't everyone always complaining about not having enough time in a day?

Open Late

There are more examples of the wacky and absurd on my Flickr page, including "Holy Bitch" bar, "Hendrix Curry House" (awesome name and delicious curry, BTW), "Disco Pants" and a French cafe that promises "sweet & bitter style." How great is that?

Until next time, I leave you with the Hamburdog. It's a hamburger! It's a hot dog! I don't know what it is. You tell me.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog is funny has hell!

3:19 AM  
Anonymous Tinkkah13 said...

This is hilarious!
I'm sad I came across it years later...

Keep posting!! I'd come back for more! :)

2:17 AM  
Blogger Đồng Hà Văn said...

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5:50 PM  

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