blogging about tv.

14 04 2008

In case you ever wondered what watching Japanese TV was like, let me take you through the last bit of channel surfing I just did.

I started watching something innocuous—a game show where they have a giant screen in front of the contestants projecting their “opponents:” a giant shackled wooly mammoth, a panda armed with nunchucks, and a T-Rex that shoots sword-wielding fireballs.  And the questions?  Well, things like, reading really difficult kanji and translating REALLY easy English words.  I think ALTs all over the country let out collective sighs when the conestant couldn’t translate the word 銀行 (ginkou, “bank”), but instead just said “I think so too” over and over.  At least I won’t feel so bad about not making English professors out of these kids.

Then I caught a few minutes of a show where famous male actors went on dates with unknowing regulars and acted like total assholes until the women broke up with them in a fantastic shower of spilled drinks, thrown purses and slaps.

Next there was a show where women stopped other random women on the street and told them what was wrong with their outfits.  No makeovers, no free shopping sprees—just what was wrong.

Then there was this other game show where the contestants were on a treadmill, and every question another contestant answered, the non-answerers’ treadmills’ speed would increase.  Well, until they couldn’t take it and fell on their face.

Now the members of SMAP (J-Pop phenom) have cooked for young ice skating superstar Mao Asada, and in return have been put on a machine that spins at the same speed she spins during her triples.  There’s a lot of screaming, but no vomit yet.  I’m watching and waiting.  Oh wait.  Now they’re hiding in fear trying to play against Japan’s Olympic table tennis superstar, Ai Fukuhara.  They’ve also managed to offend her coach by nicknaming him nikuman (“meat dumpling”).

But the winner for the night?  An hour-long program (well, I couldn’t honestly watch for more than a few seconds between other channels) about EAR CLEANING.  Proper tools.  Proper technique.  Frequency.  Depth.  Unassisted or assisted by your wife.  For an hour.  WTF?

I usually live these days not thinking about where I am, but night like this remind me that I am totally in Japan.  Totally.


the birds

5 04 2008

I was waiting for a friend outside Sapporo Station, just people (and bird) watching. This large (really large by Japanese standards) man comes and sits a few benches away from me and begins feeding the pigeons. Not a big deal. I’ve seen this before.

Some junior high girls come too and whip out a bag of bread from their backpack and begin feeding the pigeons too. I guess I had stumbled into a pigeon feeding convention or something. I guess, though, that there’s a lack of stigma with pigeons here that there is in cities in the States. This man was totally content, not only with feeding the birds, but with having them climb all over him to get at the bread waiting in his hands. The girls were the same way.

And I guess I was too. One of the girls suddenly comes up to me and puts a piece of bread in my hand, which was immediately followed by five or six pigeons. I could have been grossed out by it, but I was really just enjoying the weather and noticing how interaction with animals has such an effect on me (and other people too, it seems).

If they had crapped on me this’d be a different story.

fat man and the birds

taken on my phone–pardon the lowish quality

the last night

7 01 2008

Just as an FYI, I didn’t have much to say about Osaka. It seemed a little different than the other Japanese cities I’ve visited—it’s dirtier, and the people are a little more in your face, but still nice, I guess. I don’t think Zach and I were there long enough to get a good feel for it. The pictures say enough-ish.

There are also a couple of pictures of Himeji Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage site (three in two days!) near Osaka. It’s big and castle-y. And a couple from the Ghibli museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. Ghibli produced Hayao Miyazaki masterpieces such as Princess Mononoke, Sprited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Moving on. If you want to talk about fitting endings to our excursions around Japan, I don’t think there could be one better than tonight. After another day of shinkansen-ing around the Kanto and Kansai regions, we ended in Tokyo eating bad ramen and doing last minute capsule-hotel reservations. We saw a kabuki performance, had another dinner (remember that post I made about eating all the time?) and drank at the most surreal bar I’ve ever visited (Mysterious Bar in Shinjiku). Girls in weird, neon, futuristic lingerie in a black-lit room serve multi-straw drinks with flashing ice cubes where each straw produces a different color liquid.

Now, I’m laying in my capsule that is about one foot too short for my lanky ass, going to bed at the end of a long, long journey through the country. My feet might literally kick someone walking by my pod.
Read on there are pictures!

the real phoenix

5 01 2008

Even after reading up on Hiroshima, I still expected it to be a shadow of a city. And the prevalence of JET stories of terrifying interviews with questions like, “What would you do if a student blamed you, as an American, for the atomic bombing in Hiroshima?” had also made me worry that the citizens are still angry and hostile towards Americans. It’s not like that at all. The city thrives, and while there probably are some survivors, or relatives thereof, who are still angry, in general the city chooses to present itself to the world as a symbol for peace and regrowth.
Read on, there are pictures too!

i am not japanese

3 01 2008

I’m writing this just after Zach and I have visited practically every major shrine in Kyoto and major neighborhood in Tokyo.

I had thought the cultural explosion of Kyoto would be the thing that would most affect me—probably from Lost in Translation, yet again. I almost regret watching the movie so recently before traveling; it’s done horrors for my usual policy of not having expectations. Anyway, the most poignant thing about Kyoto wasn’t the culture of this cultural hub of Japan (I forget more English every day), but the tourist-y-ness. It bothered me that the strongest emotion produced by going to all of these shrines and parks was irritation that there were four visitors for every resident (an actual statistic). Then again, when I lived in Philly how often did I see the Liberty Bell or Constitution Center?
Read on, there are pictures too!

something about kyoto and tokyo

31 12 2007

You can read to no end about all the places I visited during winter vacation. Go on google or wikitravel or just about any other website and you’re bound to stumble upon account after account of what each temple, shrine and festival is like. If you’re looking for that information, not to be rude, go somewhere else.

I started to write about all these places, and even about my impressions of them, but it was really boring, to be honest. Boring to write, boring to read, boring to think about. I’m not a talented enough writer to truly capture even the most fascinating places Zach and I visited. My pictures can only go so far. So. If you really want to know details about a place, your best bet is to read other people’s works, or even better, visit them yourself. If you want to know about the thoughts they inspired in me, this is your cup of tea. Or maybe a pot of tea. I’m wordy.
Read on, there are pictures too!

a visitor

26 12 2007

There’s something about riding on a train that reminds me of a zoo. You only get these quick little glimpses of life between the backs of buildings. Kids playing soccer in a park; people walking their dogs; shop owners peddling their wares. And in the train are a bunch of people who are entirely unaware of the world outside themselves. Virtually everyone is talking, or writing, or playing on their cell phone. I read an article about the internet/connectivity obsession of the youth in Japan (and honestly, America too) and how the more engaged people are with their connected life, the more isolated they are from the world. Even now, I’m sitting on a train writing, but I’m essentially connected—I’m sharing my thoughts with you, aren’t I? I don’t feel particularly isolated, but since all this writing is so introspective, I suppose, de facto, I am.

I forgot about how different life is in a city compared to the inaka. I had the same sudden realization (and subsequently forgot it) when I arrived in Tokyo to head home for my sister’s wedding. All of a sudden instead of 6,000 people in my entire town, there are that many people in one city block. The weirdest thing about it though is that the people here are just as lonely as those of us that are hours from a large city. How does that make sense? Why can people feel alone when they’re in a crowded room? (I admittedly stole that from someone’s away message, which means it’s probably from a song.)

My thoughts immediately jump to Lost in Translation again: the idea that people are generally unable to convey all their feelings and thoughts. How do you translate yourself in a way that other people understand? How can other people translate themselves so that you understand?

I think that’s enough introspection for now. My head hurts.

Find out what else hurts…AND pictures!