Stream of Consciousness on My Trip to Japan


A two and a half week absence from my blog has left me with mixed feelings: the gratification in knowing  people follow my blog but resignation in knowing they’re only interested in my politics. For those who kindly encouraged me to break my silence as Ted Kennedy died and Japan went through an Obama-esque “change,” I thank you.   Your interest touches me, even if I am again forced to emphasize that this blog strives to be non-political and I have little valuable contribution to make on the topic of Japanese elections as evidenced by my thesis.

In the past two weeks, I lived out of a bag.   This isn’t some creative metaphor; it’s literally true.   On my third day in Tokyo, I went to Ginza to have the zipper of my wallet fixed, which I was told would take over a month.   They gave me three Ziploc bags to shove the contents of my wallet, which I didn’t bother replacing for the remaining two weeks.   I found an odd satisfaction in being a New York professional living like a Gypsy.

What I didn’t (and don’t) find amusing is Louis Vitton stores in America refusing to fix their own products.   The most insulting experience I ever had at a retail store was when I went in to repair my key chain which wouldn’t release the keys and the store manager told me to go home and wash it with soap because dirt had tightened the lock.   It turns out the problem wasn’t dirt but incompetence.  A month later, I went to Ginza’s retail store, which took the key chain and  fixed it within two days.

Japanese do food as well as repairs, but I speak of quality of food, not volume.  Some people find the small portions in Japan to be classy, but I just find it to be stingy.  Of course, the small portions have no impact on how much I eat.  People have always commented on my thin appearance, but it isn’t (and wasn’t) from any lack of appetite.

In the past two months, my colleagues suggested I’ve lost weight, which was a bit disconcerting because my weight loss was apparently daily observable.   Needless to say, family members who hadn’t seen me in over six months echoed the sentiment, which compelled me to confirm my weight prior to my first meal in Japan.   I came in at 61.9 kilograms, which, according to Google, is 136.5 pounds.   That placed me well below the 139.5 pounds “danger level” that I weighed when I ate nothing as I scrambled to finish my senior year thesis in March of 2004.

Two weeks later, the day I returned to the U.S., I weighed 70 kilograms or 154.3 pounds.  The unhealthy increase of 15 pounds came from devouring three meals (and even two dinners) a day, sharing mid-day snacks and knowing I can order as much food as I wanted because I didn’t have to pay for them, compliments of my family.  And all this in a city with more Michelin starred restaurants than Paris.   I’d like to convert the new 15 pounds into healthy muscles but that ain’t gonna happen.   Since the remaining options are either getting healthier by losing some weight or remaining unhealthy by keeping it, I think I’ll go with the former.

Something that won’t help my health is the fact that I bought a Nintendo DS, which makes me well on my way to juvenile delinquency.   The compulsive purchase was spurred mostly by my desire to play one game, DragonQuest IX, which was released only a few months ago.   I thought it economic folly to shell out two hundred bucks to play a game that costs $40, but I did feel some guilt in “borrowing” my sister’s DS for an unspecified period as I worked though the “adventure that never ends” (the marketing tagline of the game).

I inevitably took a peak (all right, more like a stare) at other games available and I ended up buying a game roughly translated “Let’s Go with A Train.”  The translation is deceptive; the game has nothing to do with some awful non-country music.   It’s essentially Sim City on Wall Street steroids: you run a railroad company with a goal of expanding the company and a city, with eventually taking the company’s stock public.   Can you imagine a game more suitable to my interests?

Speaking of video games, the genres I like are quite varied.   While I have no interest in the popular “fighting” games like Mortal Combat, I’m no saint for my favorite game on PS2 was “Grand Theft Auto.”   Truth be told, the only part of the game I enjoyed was where I got to drive a tank and run over police cars–which is to say I enjoyed the most violent part.

Since I like violence, it’s no surprise I like war, which is why I like the Civilization series.   There too I have no interest in minute details, like “culture” or, for that matter, “civilization.”  My nation-building is focused entirely on weapons and defense technology in preparation for foreign invasions. That’s why I loved those downloadable “World War II Scenarios” because I could just skip the boring parts and go directly to war.

Lest you think you need to take my handgun away from me, my most favorite genre is not-so-violent Role Playing Games, or RPGs, like DragonQuest.  I’ve played I, which I abandoned without completing because I got so bored, II, III, V and VI in the series.  I started playing VIII in English, titled Dragon Warrior VII, but the game felt so awkward in a foreign language.  My love of RPGs makes me distinctly Japanese.

I’m debating whether I should also go all out Japanese in my use of DS by playing it on the subway on my way to work.   It’ll certainly distinguish me from all the other New York professionals, although I’m not entirely sure I’ll be distinguishing myself in a way that I’d want to be.

I may be an uncultured savage, but I’m not an illiterate one, and I’m quite pleased to report that I have upgraded my reading level from mangas and John Grisham to fiction and non-fiction written by respected authors. In the past two months, I have read the insightful “Moneyball” and the intriguing “Final Cut : Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists” in English, while reading three novels in Japanese. I’ve become, if I may say so myself, a prolific reader, something no one mistook me for in college. I used to enjoy reading in my early adolescence–that’s when I read classics like Les Miserable–but that interest quickly waned with exposures to crap like “Grapes of Wrath” in high school and evil phrases like “Required Reading” in college which, incidentally, I treated no differently from “Recommended Reading,” which is to say that I gave my best efforts to avoid reading them.

Speaking of childhood, while in Tokyo, I visited the grammar school I attended for the first time since I moved to the U.S. a month into third grade.  There is very little left of Meguro Seibi Gakuen Elementary School that I remember since they rebuilt the entire building about ten years ago.  But there was a lot of nostalgia in riding  the same bus that I used to take every day to go to school.  My first grade teacher, who only remembered me vaguely, is now the vice-principal of the school.  He was jubilant that a former student from so long ago would visit, then proceeded to note that I don’t look Japanese.

I may not look Japanese, which is actually consistent with my inability to properly use the language.  The immigration form I was required to fill out upon entering Japan had a field for a profession.  I thought I’d show off my linguistic ability by taking the Japanese version of the form and filling it out in Japanese, only to realize that I didn’t know the middle character for “lawyer,” 護.  I sought help in several newspapers in vain, ran across the word “debate” in the politics section, 議論,  decided the first character looked sufficiently similar and proceeded to use it knowing it wasn’t correct.

Incidentally, I pondered asking the flight attendant about the correct character, but thought better of it.  It’s better to embarrass myself from pretending to know the language than asking how to use it correctly.  This experience only proves that the maxim, “Ask questions to avoid embarrassment” is simply false.

Besides, I embarrass myself aplenty through other behaviors on the plane.  I made the most out of my expensive upgradeable-to-business class economy ticket by flying business on my way out to Japan and satisfying my appetite.  Knowing that the business class’ initial meal doesn’t contain noodles but economy class’ did, I asked the flight attendant to bring up noodles from the class below.  Then I noticed that the revised anytime-during-flight menu added a noddle dish and proceeded to ordered that right after my initial meal–and again an hour before landing.  In-between, I covered most of the other items on the menu.

I also made plans on what dishes I was going to order on my flight back without realizing a fatal flaw in my scheme: I hadn’t been upgraded to business class yet.  After arriving at the airport, I harassed the airline people relentlessly for an upgrade, but apparently, airlines don’t reward annoying people with upgrades.  I got shoved in the second row from the back of the aircraft, giving new meaning to the word “claustrophobic.”

In my unyielding pursuit of trying to get the most out of my money–and because continuous, deep sleep was impossible–I watched five films on the twelve-hour flight:  the innocent “Big” and the better-than-expected “Angels and Demons” for the first time, the excellent “Taken” for the third time, and Bond flicks “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Tomorrow Never Dies” for more times than I care to admit–or count.  I thought about getting sleep instead of watching Bond movies to which I can recite the lines, but realized I needed to get my priorities straight.

What this recap of my trip to Japan shows is that I was completely, recklessly, mindlessly carefree with little thought to consequences or responsibility during my two and a half week stay.  Returning to reality was unpleasant.  Due to the staggering amount of money I spent in the last month, I am announcing a ruthless campaign to fight expenditures.   There shall no longer be extravagant meals, unnecessary clothes or impromptu trips to the casino… unless I feel like it.

I had a great time meeting friends and family.

The only difficult part?

Knowing I may have said my last good-bye to my grandparents who, while healthy, are also not young.

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12 Responses to “Stream of Consciousness on My Trip to Japan”


  1. 1 jon September 9, 2009 at 11:37 am

    well that was quite the undirected ramble, was it not? i for one will mention that I have no interest in your politics whatsoever. So I quite prefer your other ideas and mental meandering.

    Maybe your blog readers should suggest topics to talk about. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing you discuss the likelihood of life and intelligent civilizations in the cosmos, the probability of our contact with them, and a discussion on the time scale limitations as such. But, I wont hold my breath. But I think it would be interesting.

    Carry on. Good work.

    • 2 joesas September 9, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      Jon,

      Yes, I figured you cared little for my politics. You would be the distinct minority. I appreciate that.

      You beat me to the punch. A new feature on my blog is, “You suggest a topic, I write about it.” I have an inaugural piece in draft form. I think I’ll dedicate the second piece to some of the nonsense you suggested.

      LOL.

      Thanks for the compliments. Or was that sarcasm?

      And yes, the undirected ramble was intentional. How’d you like it?

      And what in the world does “meandering” mean? Stop using big words an ESL person won’t understand.

      • 3 jon September 9, 2009 at 5:13 pm

        meander: to wander aimlessly; ramble

        I had to use it to get the desired alliteration

        I’ll look forward to your discussion of the topic. As you can see, its not so simple as what people suggest on the topic. Anyway, if you’re interested in stretching your imagination a bit, here’s some fun thoughts on the topic by S. Hawking: http://hawking.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65

        Anyway, in the spirit of the famous Led Zeppelin song, “Ramble On…”

        • 4 joesas September 9, 2009 at 11:24 pm

          Jon,

          By all means, please show off your big vocab, like with the use of the word “alliteration.” That’s four syllables. Please keep it under three or less.

          I can write much about anything. You’ll see. If you give me a topic, “Picasso,” I’ll write about how he’s crap and go into details of why for hundreds of words.

          Incidentally, “Ramble On…” is also the name of a blog of my high school classmate, whose link appears on the front page of this blog but apparently, he’s not as committed to updating it as I am…

  2. 5 rattoch September 9, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I have learned that arguing with friends about politics is pointless, it is not as though we can do much about it, anyway.
    I would think if there were other intelligent life out there it would be too far away for us to even contact them. So, why worry about it?

    • 6 joesas September 9, 2009 at 1:10 pm

      Chris,

      Again the with politics! No, no, no! To that I shall not comment.

      On ET, presumably you are referring to Jon’s comments above. You know, I just may talk about it since it doesn’t relate to politics and you think we shouldn’t worry about it.

      LOL.

  3. 7 Chris Schroeck September 9, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Well, I just didn’t know much about Japanese politics, so I thought maybe you could enlighten us, given your excellent work on the subject in college. But I understand the desire to keep the blog nonpolitical.

    I remember you playing GTA3 in college and taking a bit too much joy in running over police cars in a tank. If I remember correctly, sometimes I would even play the game to the point where you could get a tank and then hand the controller off to you.

    I keep meaning to see that movie about Heaven’s Gate…I have heard such good things about it.

    • 8 joesas September 9, 2009 at 2:37 pm

      Chris,

      All kidding aside, I may dedicate a post on Japanese elections, but I’m not sure anyone besides you would be interested. If I find an intriguing way of presenting it, I may write on it.

      You do remember correctly about GTA3. I loved that tank. Thanks for getting me there. LOL.

      The book on Heaven’s Gate was a good read (not as good as Moneyball, but intriguing nonetheless). Michael Camino’s career was destroyed because of the movie and the ego that’s evident from the book is just shocking. Did you know that he filmed on location 2 hours one way from where they were staying in the middle of Montana? What a waste. You should read Vincent Canby’s and Robert Ebert’s scathing reviews of the film. They’re fun reads.

      Until you mentioned it, I didn’t even know they made a documentary on the Heaven’s Gate fiasco. I have to catch it. What I have seen are bits and pieces of Heaven’s Gate itself on cable occasionally. The film looks beautiful, but when you’re in the middle of nowhere of middle on Montana, it better be beautiful. And the movie apparently has no other redeeming qualities.

  4. 9 Tristan September 9, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    College was great, wasn’t it? Come up to Boston sometime; there’s a helicopter with an autocannon attached in GTA4.

    I know what you mean about seeing your grandparents for the last time, though. Best not to dwell too much on it–the chances are good they’ll still be quite healthy when you see them again, and anyway life is so unpredictable one can’t worry much about what will happen next.

    • 10 joesas September 9, 2009 at 6:38 pm

      Oh Tristan, college was a ball. Not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. That helicopter and a BC football game just may be enough to get me to take a trip back.

      I try not to think about bad things anymore. It’s too depressing…

  5. 11 Joseph Lee September 12, 2009 at 1:40 am

    Joe, this was both profound and moving. Thank you for your update. Also, if you come back to BC, make sure to stop by and say hi.

    • 12 joesas September 12, 2009 at 12:26 pm

      Joseph,

      When you use the words “profound” and “moving” to describe a blog that says so much to so few despite having so little to say, you sound so sarcastic, which is most appropriate for comments left on this blog, actually.

      I will let you know if I’m up in Boston. I hope to soon.


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