Cross Words

In this morning’s puzzle was the clue “Fried vegetable dish”. I thought, crossly, “How am I supposed to know what’s trendy in food these days?” The answer worked out to be tempura. Oh…well…I know what that is. Another clue was “Thin mattresses”, answer “futons”. And another was “Green soybeans”, answer “edamame”. So there you have it. Is today some sort of Japanese holiday nobody told me about?

It’s hard not to be cross these days. Summer has reared its ugly head and it’s painfully hot. I call this Yes-I-Love-You-Too-Don’t-Touch-Me weather. We’re still not supposed to use our air conditioners if we can help it, so I’m damp and sticky and, yes, cross. I think I’ll go eat some tofu and mutter obscenities.

A Question of Power

I heard that the northeast States are sweltering these days, which is ironic, and I’m a big fan of irony. We were all worried that Tepco wouldn’t be able to provide the electricity we’d need to turn on our air conditioners this summer. There were dire warnings of possible wide scale outages, but so far at least, this is the mildest summer I can remember. Typhoons keep pulling cool air down from China, so we’ve only used the airco a couple of times. There was one summer about 20 years ago when rainy season kicked in around mid June, as usual, but continued until the end of September. Lettuce cost 1000yen, when you could find it at all, and we mostly subsisted on imported cabbage and broccoli, not my favorite veggies.

More irony. It’s almost a year since we moved. I’ll never forget the date: August 17, the hottest day, in the middle of the hottest week, in the middle of the hottest summer on record since 1936. It wasn’t that the temperature was all that high, it just got hot and stayed that way for a really, really long time. I think there must be some sort of power balance in the works that I don’t understand, but I’m grateful for it.

Mighty Mouse

Good punching class today.  There were only four of us: two newbies, one a young, tall guy, the other an old lady, and another woman I don’t like. (She’s kind of a bully. She does an overhand thing with her straight punches where it feels like she’s trying to knock my arm out of the shoulder socket. And she gets this look on her face sometimes. I can just see her on the playground with a smaller kid in a headlock, pounding on the poor kid’s face. Sensei used to partner me with her all the time until I discussed this with him. I figured he’d understand since he got started in karate because he was being bullied at school.)

So I ended up partnered with the guy, which was fine by me, but as many of them do, he got a quizzical expression on his face as if to say, “What the heck am I supposed to do with this itty bitty foreign woman?” After a couple of minutes of punching, the expression changed to, “Gee. This itty bitty foreign woman could probably beat the crap out of me if she wanted to.” It was fun.

Good Samaritan, Mad Hatter

As I was getting on the train yesterday, a group of tired-looking women and a whole bunch of  kids were getting off. I noticed a little pink backpack on the shelf above the seats and there weren’t any other kids around, so I grabbed said backpack and handed it to one of the women. If that doesn’t earn me a few dozen brownie points, I don’t know what will.

Weird week so far, one of the ones where I’m working for a bunch of different clients doing a bunch of different things and having to reprogram the brain for each one. It’s hard enough remembering which hat to put on in the morning without having to change hats several times during the day, and I don’t even like hats.

Yawn

Yesterday I had to go to an editorial meeting at a big company that I won’t name. Let’s just say they make soy sauce. We finished my part of the meeting, which has to do with editing the current issue of their corporate masturba…I mean…”quarterly intercultural forum for the exchange of ideas on food.” The second half of the meeting is planning the next issue, which has nothing to do with me and mostly entails a couple of gasbag foodies flapping their jaws about meaningless details nobody cares about but politely pretends to…I mean…experienced food professionals graciously sharing their wisdom with us for which we are deeply grateful. I was busy writing this and not paying attention when suddenly the woman next to me asked how I feel about oden. I couldn’t help making an icky face. I like kamaboko, which is rubbery steamed fish cakes, but for oden, they boil it in dashi until it’s the consistency of watery marshmallow. There are also big hunks of smelly, squishy daikon which has been robbed of all of its crisp appeal; various shapes, sizes and colors of konnyaku, which is basically stiff, flavorless jello; and hard boiled eggs, the only part of the whole production that I can enjoy. All convenience stores sell oden, which means I have to avoid 7-11 in the cold months because the smell of theirs is particularly repulsive.

Being the only foreigner at the meeting, everyone was interested in my opinion. Fortunately, the icky face made everyone laugh.

Tweet

I was searching for the neighborhood festival that was supposed to be happening today and instead discovered that sparrows take dirt baths. They dig little holes and toss the dirt around with apparent glee. Closer examination produced six little birdie baths scattered around under the bushes in the park. Who knew? I call that place Lazy Pigeon Park, the only one where I’ve seen pigeons sitting on the ground napping. I guess they’re pretty relaxed. It seems like nobody but me ever goes there.

Taiko!

Sometime last week, there was an ad with the newspaper offering free tickets for a taiko drumming group called TAO, and we both love taiko, so we applied and got them. We weren’t expecting much. Free stuff tends to be full of schmaltz, and you get what you pay for, right? It turned out to be an astonishing performance. Taiko is always powerful, but the level of professionalism, energy, creativity and sheer physical strength of these people was awesome. They used only traditional instruments, but whereas traditional flute and shamisen playing tends to be atonal and reminds me of the sound Plato makes when I step on his tail, the flutes played lilting, mournful tunes with complex harmonies, and the shamisen guy just rocked. They did a variety of different songs, complete with dancing, and not just traditional hand waving and foot stomping, but leaping and turning and tossing the drums in the air. (I know how heavy those drums are; we had a few lessons once upon a time but gave it up because we didn’t like the sensei.) There were elements of modern music but always within a framework of tradition, and nuances of Buddhism and mysticism and just a touch of Samurai machismo, but only for humor. That was part of the charm of the show. Despite obviously spending thousands of hours in rehearsal and being extremely talented, they never took themselves too seriously. They did play and sing Kimigayo toward the end, which borders on schmaltz, but it’s a short song and I got the feeling it was sort of an apology for having so much fun at a time when Japan is such a mess.

We were terribly disappointed with Rent because they had the volume of the music turned up so loud that we couldn’t hear the lyrics. It’s a Broadway play, not a heavy metal concert, for pete’s sake. And the Jackson Browne/Cheryl Crowe concert, which we paid a fortune for, was the same way. There were spotlights aimed directly at our faces and they gradually turned the volume up louder and louder until it was nothing but painful noise, my ears fell off, and my eyes imploded.

I still don’t exactly understand why the TAO performance was free. It seemed to be some sort of promotion by TBS and the Yomiuri Shimbun, who forgot to deliver our newspapers the other day, but I have now forgiven them. TAO has some excerpts on YouTube if you’re curious.

Location: LA

The shoot was fairly unremarkable, which is a good thing. Parts of it were cool. I finally saw the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame, plus we shot inside the Discovery Science Center, some very high tech classrooms at the University of California, and spent the last day, my birthday, filming at an amateur missile testing range in the middle of the Mojave desert. It was hot. I mean HOT, like sucking on a blow dryer hot, step out of the shade and gag hot. By the end of the day we were exhausted and had salt stains on our t-shirts. During the long van ride back to the hotel, Nelson and I played Monopoly on his iPad while using heavy Russian accents. We both laughed until we cried. Sometimes that’s the only way to cope.

It is always interesting for me to be doing my job in English speaking countries. The little boy in the video was very good and he would have been very enjoyable except for his babysitter. California law requires a social worker type person to accompany minors when they work and the woman they sent was easily one of the most annoying people I’ve ever met. (Famous people go to this restaurant. I go to this restaurant. Ergo, I am famous. You know the type.) Every time she sat by me, I jumped up saying I’d better go see what’s what. I also got to coach a rocket scientist on how to overact, which took some time but eventually he got into it. At one point, he asked me how he got chosen for the part. Having no idea, I said, “They wanted someone who would look very stiff and uncomfortable.” Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor.

As I was leaving the hotel one early morning, I passed a very leggy woman in the hallway. She gave me an odd look then looked away. When I got back that night, she was being escorted out of the hotel by a large man and I noticed she had her arms behind her in a rather awkward position. After they passed me, I glanced back and saw the handcuffs. We were filming a kid video. Honest. Not CSI.

Overall, it was a good trip, but it’s nice to be home. Things are weird here, too, but at least they’re familiar.

Attitude

When I got dressed this morning, I put on a pair of green flannel boxer shorts and my black LEAVE ME ALONE t-shirt. I don’t normally dress like that–most of my “shorts” go down to my knees. The shirt doesn’t matter so much. English on t-shirts is trendy but meaning mostly gets ignored. I wonder, though. If I wore that outfit in the States, would people think I’m gay?

I got a lot of leg ogling, which I actually enjoyed. A while ago, we were doing wide hook punches at the dojo and I complained that it wasn’t fair that my partner had particularly long arms. She said, “Yeah, well, you have long legs, so it’s the same thing.” I get comments like that all the time and really get a kick out of them. Long legs? ME??? I’m only five feet tall. I don’t have long anything! Even here, pants tend to be too long on me, except the ones made for old ladies,which tend to be too short, too tight in the butt and too big in the belly, so they look like diapers.

So clothed in my attitude outfit, I was sitting on a bench near the station and a man walked by carrying a shopping bag that said, “For your JUST” and that got me thinking about the strange relationship Japan has with English. Other slogans: Inspire the Next, Shift the Future. Some product names: Creep (coffee creamer, “Hey, creep, don’t touch my coffee!”), Calpis (sweetened milk beverage, let’s hope it’s milk), Collon (tubular cookies filled with chocolate, use your imagination). I guess it’s the same as the shirt, that the meaning doesn’t matter, but it makes me wonder. If you’re not looking for meaning, does that mean there isn’t any?

 

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