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Browsing Posts published in February, 2007

Cut, man

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I finally got a haircut on Sunday. I hadn’t gotten a haircut since I was in the US back in September, so it was long overdue; quite possibly the longest my hair has ever been. It was past the back collar of my shirt, which was getting too hippie-ish for my tastes. A few nights before, I had the stupid idea to try and cut my hair to a better length myself, but I quickly realized that it was futile and made the smart choice to stop and leave it to someone more professional. Also, I don’t know how you’re supposed to cut the back of your own head. My attempted maneuver with a standing mirror and the bathroom mirror didn’t really work as well as I would have thought. Also note the only tools I had available were a small pair of desk scissors and a beard trimmer.

After wasting 5 hours of my life for the sake of a “Sunday Open” at work, it was haircut time. For some reason, almost anywhere in Japan, even Goi, there is an amazing number of hair salons and barbershops. I’m not quite sure how this is related to the abundance of chicken-heads in this country, but I’m sure there’s a connection. A lot of places will charge as much as 4000 or 5000 yen for a normal haircut, and will have varying price levels for the amount of extras you want. Common extras in Japanese haircut places are shampoo, massage, perms, and tonsillectomy. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of super cheap haircut places in Japan, usually with some kind of gimmick. For instance, there are a lot of “QB House” chain stores that will give you 10 minutes of haircut service for 1000 yen. I’m not quite sure I would trust a 10 minute haircut and/or a rush job, so I decided against one of these places.

Two of the four Goi haircut places, all within a 1 block radius, seemed to be really cheap, but also more factory-like, and were still super busy at 5PM to boot. I didn’t feel like waiting, so I decided to go to the Takazawa Salon or something, which advertised a 1600 yen haircut. Not exactly the $7.500-with-a-coupon haircut at Super Cuts by a big fat redneck lady, but seemed cheap enough. This was the middle ground, higher than the super cheap places but not as expensive/fancy as the place right next to Matsuya. Most barbershops in Japan are closed on Mondays, which is bad for my day off schedule. I decided that it was either a Sunday or never. Unfortunately, the barbershop I went to didn’t offer the basic “Cut Course” on weekends, meaning that I had to spend 2600 yen total for the “Cut and Shampoo Course,” something I didn’t really want or need. Overall, though, it was an interesting experience and not all that bad.

First, the old lady asks me what I wanted done, and I explained in garbled Japanese. I suppose she understood, and off we go. She washed my hair once, dried me off, and started cutting away. At first I was getting nervous at how much seemed to be coming off of my head, but I think it was just because I had a ton of hair. She finally finished and there was enough hair on the floor to make a baby black panther. The length and everything looked spot on, however, so I was happy enough. Note that during this entire process there was no conversation or small talk at all. I don’t think this was because I’m foreign (which she probably didn’t even realize), as the guy next to me wasn’t talking either. Overall I prefer this to trying to make small talk with Fat Lady at Super Cuts, which I really never liked. I remember one time back in Bloomington when one of them was asking me about myself the entire time, so I lied just to entertain myself.

Zoot Suit RiotBack to the story at hand. Next she trimmed and cleaned up my neckline and sideburns with a straight razor, something I’d never had done. It didn’t feel sharp, but I guess if it did I would have been bleeding a lot. After that it was time for the shampoo, which she did with me still sitting upright. She then put me back in the sink for a rinse, and put some more stuff in my hair. Instead of shampoo, I think this stuff must have been rubbing alcohol or gasoline, because my scalp felt ON FIRE. I expected to look up in the mirror and see Ghost Rider. Luckily that wasn’t the case, and I was back up in the chair, my head feeling tingly like it had been drowned in Listerine. Next was something unexpected; a back massage. It was pretty short, but at one point I’m pretty sure she was just punching me in the shoulders rather than actually doing any kind of massage. After that she dried my hair with a blow drier and asked if I wanted any product in my hair. I said gel, just because that’s what I usually use at home. She started using the blow drier, a brush, and a lot of gel to shape what I thought looked like a fairly normal haircut into something from the days of zoot suits and the Fonz. Please see the picture on the right for a bit of clarification.

I guess it was because I had never tried anything like that myself, but I was personally amazed at what was created out of my hair with just a blow drier and some gel. My hair felt rock solid and had some kind of curl to it. I almost thought about leaving it like that for the night, but since I was going into public I decided against it. I did take a ton of pictures just because I will probably not get a chance to rock a mini-pompadour like that for a while. Check out that curl!

Hella cheesy

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In one of the Chiba arcades I frequent, they recently added a big package of Cheetos as one of the prizes you can win in the UFO Catcher crane games. Crane games here are a lot different than in the US, mainly because the prizes you win are of some relative quality, rather than the knock-off-brand stuffed animals and sticky rubber hands you might get at the Big Lots “skill claw” machine. The ones here have stuff you actually want. Stuff you really want sometimes, which is bad because they also cost at least 100 yen a pop, meaning trying to win that stuffed animal of a bear with bloody claws could cost you 2000 yen if you’re not careful (ahem, Brian). This doesn’t mean that the stuff is actually useful, just tempting. I haven’t kept track of how much money I have spent on UFO catchers this year, but it would be embarrassing and depressing. However, to show for it, I have stuff taking up space in my apartment like a big plastic Haro bank, a stuffed animal of the Owl coffee shop guy from Animal Crossing, a penguin coffee mug, and a few Lincoln action figures.

Anyways.

Cheetos crappy EnglishI wanted to share with you quickly the package of Japanese Cheetos you can win here. Please read the English coming out of our friend Chester Cheetah’s mouth. (click the picture to see larger version). While not exactly Engrish, this is still pretty funny to see. I wonder who translated/wrote it for them. It is as follows:

Hey. I’m Chester Cheetah.
I Love Cheetos Cheese hell a lot!
Why not try Cheetos Cheese!!

Too bad Japanese Cheetos are gross and not the same as the US ones. Trust me, I’ve tried them and was horribly disappointed.

Working hard? Hardly working?

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Wednesdays are one of my easiest days at work; very few classes, and the first one doesn’t even start until 5PM. This week was especially lucky since I ended up only teaching two classes all day; one a kids class and the other a low-level adult class that had speeches today, meaning that I could sit back and listen to people talk about their most embarrassing moment. And just for reference, I taught my students “crotch area” today and wrote it on the board for them. They eagerly scribbled it down in their books for future use. One of the guys needed it for his speech, so I had to tell them. I decided that would be a good phrase as opposed to “around the junk” or “down in my special place.”

During the 1-5PM spread that I had, there really wasn’t anything for me to do. Sure, I suppose I could have done stuff like plan the week’s lessons, help my school, clean stuff, or fill out counseling forms, but let’s be serious. Basically I spent a good 4 hours either talking to Matt about video games, walking around in circles, or using my cell phone to play on Gmail, Facebook, and Mixi. Those three are of course the top bookmarks on my phone’s browser. To be honest, I wasn’t completely useless during the first half of work; I managed to write some stuff down and also planned that kids class. Please note that by “planned that kids class,” I mean “printed out a lesson plan from the computer, and laminated a calendar.” It was a good morning overall, and a good change from Saturdays or Tuesdays, my two busiest days where I teach somewhere between 5 and 7 classes throughout the day and have very little time to check Facebook mobile to see who from high school got married, or to poke people back in never-ending poke wars.

At one point during the morning, I opened my top right desk drawer. I don’t remember what I was rummaging for. It might have been the calendar to see when my next vacation was (note: forever away), or it could have been a post-it note to doodle on. For some reason or another, I opened the drawer all the way and spotted at the back of it a familiar looking document; a post-card sized thing with Japanese written all over it as well as my name. Crap. It was my water bill. The one that was sent to me in January. I examined it, and also opened up the two other bills that were sitting at the front of the desk drawer, which I had received last week. The two new ones were water and sewage. The water bill was actually the second notice, with the first notice/regular bill being the one that was jammed in the back of the drawer. I panicked for a second, thinking I had forgotten this important document and I could either be stuck with a huge fine or would wake up the next morning and find out my apartment was as water-less as the Sahara.

I stroll into the staff room, where everyone was just hanging out because there were almost no classes in the early afternoon today. I ask one of my co-workers to double check the bills, confirming that I indeed had an unpaid bill and a second warning notice about said unpaid bill. To my surprise, he also informed me that in Japan, they won’t charge you any fines or anything for paying your bills late. As long as it’s not like a year or so late, you won’t get any fines for being a lazy jerk about paying your dues. I can’t imagine this ever happening in America, since every utility company would be out of business. Although Japan doesn’t charge any fines, I’m willing to bet that almost 90% of people pay their bills on time. Japanese people are just that good.

Well, most of them are. As my co-worker was telling me about the lack of fines, we strolled into his office/classroom and he pulls out of his briefcase a handful of bills. He started reading off the due dates, with most of them being earlier in the month. Oops! We later walked to 7-11 to get some lunch, each of us with a handful of bills to pay before we got our food. Remember? In Japan you can pay your bills with cash at the convenience store. I paid my water and sewage bills like a good citizen, and he only paid about half of them, because he didn’t have enough money. Anyways, for all you people living in Japan, it looks like you don’t have to worry about paying your bills on time. I haven’t 100% confirmed this, but a Japanese person’s word is good enough for me. Also note that I paid some bills late a few months ago, and never saw anything about fines or charges on my later bills. I think it must be true!

New Years Feasts

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Happy New Year to anyone who is Chinese, or I guess also to any non-Chinese who for some reason celebrates it.

You know those infomercials where they talk about starving children in Africa? I think over the course of the day, I ate enough to feed an entire village of starving children for a week, or at least a few days. The day started with some nice yakiniku (Korean BBQ) lunch with Yori, Matt, and Brian. This is the kind of awesome restaurant where you cook the meat on the table yourself. We went to the Chiba-Chuo branch of a chain called Anrakutei (安楽亭), which is apparently cheaper than Gyukaku but really good. They have cheap lunch sets until 5, so we each ate 2 sets. That’s right; 2 entire meals of yakiniku goodness. Each set came with rice, soup, kimchee, tofu, and of course a pretty big plate of raw meat. Absolutely amazing. It was relatively cheap, and we were all completely stuffed by the end of it. Also the restaurant’s sound system played exclusively American 50’s or 60’s songs, so we got to listen to stuff like Let’s Go to the Hop as we ate.

After playing some Resistance on PS3 for the afternoon, I headed into Tokyo to get some Chinese food for a new year celebration of sorts. Also because I love Chinese food. Now, to be quite honest, I was still absolutely stuffed from lunch, and wasn’t sure that I was even going to be able to eat dinner. However, after the hour-long train ride from Chiba to Yotsuya, where I was meeting Sunny for dinner, I was almost in some form of eating condition We went to this one place first, which apparently specialized in Shanghai crab dishes. While it looked good, I can’t really be spending 5000 yen on a single meal, so we decided to pass and went a few blocks down the road to a more local/less fancy Cantonese restaurant. This ended up being a good choice, because the food was really good. I’m pretty sure the place was run and staffed by real Chinese people; at the very least they weren’t Japanese. Their J-go wasn’t exactly perfect, and they were less polite with customers and stuff than Japanese people tend to be, at least in service situations. For example, when we showed up, the only table open in the place was in the corner blocked by two other tables. The lady went nuts, asking people to move and even really abruptly asking (more like ordering) one guy to move to the other side of his table. It was pretty funny, and made me feel like I was a VIP or something getting the waitress to rearrange the dining room so I could sit down.

Not only was the food cheap, but it was way good. We had like 4 dishes; a beef and vegetable, chili shrimp, chicken, and another vegetable dish that we didn’t really order but the pushy waitress I think assumed we wanted it after she kept recommending it. Either that or she just ordered it for us. Ah well; it was cheap and was good anyway. I don’t think I’ve actually had “proper” Chinese food for a long time, probably in St. Louis last summer. The most Chinese food I eat in Japan is ramen or fried rice, but it’s always more Japanese style so it’s not the same thing. I think I’m going to try and make a conscious effort to find some decent/more authentic Chinese restaurants or greasy spoon places here in Chiba. There’s apparently a dim-sum place here in Goi too, that I should try and find.

Anyway, I ate way too much today and spent a good chunk of yen. It was worth it though.

Sweet and Spicy

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2SPICYI was in Tokyo this past weekend for the first time in a long while. In Shinjuku’s Sega arcade, they had a location test (sort of like a beta test) for a new arcade shooting game called “2 Spicy.” Despite the somewhat tooly sounding name, this game was really awesome. It was a bit like Time Crisis, with an improved gun controller and foot pedals. You choose your character out of about 7 or 8, each with different attributes for attack, defense, speed, and zoom (for shooting). The characters all looked pretty cool, but seemed somewhat unoriginal. From what I can remember, there was a fat guy, a crazy Chinese girl, a skinny psycho guy who looked like Marylin Manson, average white guy with a super hairdo, and the guy that I played as, Alexander, a Russian guy with scars. And of course he was wearing a wife beater and cargo pants. I don’t even need to tell you their different attributes and I’ll bet you can guess them from the character descriptions.

Anyway, there is story mode and versus mode. VS mode was only 100 yen as opposed to the 200 yen for story mode, so I played VS. There were 2 machines set up together, and you can battle the other player. The setup seems smaller than you would expect, but each player has a sweet HD monitor that’s really close to your face. With the really colorful art style and the awesome next-gen graphics, playing this game was fun to just look at. Luckily though, the visuals weren’t all that this game had going for it. The play was actually pretty fun in VS mode; you are ducking behind some kind of obstacle like a car or a box or a neon light. You hold the gun up to the screen to stand up and you can then shoot. You use the left and right pedals to move, and when you point the gun away from the screen you duck back down again and also reload. The game was really fast paced and fun. You can either shoot the opponent directly, or aim for the stuff around them. When, for example, the car that your opponent is hiding behind takes enough damage, it blows up and does major “crush damage” to them. Since everyone has robot eyes or scopes on their guns, if you hold the gun in place for long enough, you zoom in and are able to shoot more accurately. You have to be careful though because when you’re waiting to zoom or are trying to aim for their head, they might hit you instead.

Apparently the story is set in the year 20XX, as all sweet futuristic things are. There is some kind of war going on with androids or cyborgs or something. Either way, you have a bunch of bad dudes shooting each other, blowing each other up, and jumping around all over the place. It was a fun game and I hope this game makes it to more arcades soon. It will give me even more reason to waste money at arcades in Goi and in Chiba. I ended up spending maybe 500 yen on the game in Shinjuku, playing through VS mode myself, killing some random Japanese guy who challenged me at the other machine, then again when he came back with a vengeance and neither I nor Blanchard could beat him when he used the fat guy with the shotgun. I will be back, guy with trenchcoat..

Official Sega 2 Spicy website

Futon Potato

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Japanese TV for the most part is pretty bad. Right now the only shows that I am watching with at least some regularity are: Tadano Hitoshi on Friday nights, Kamen Rider Den-O usually downloaded, and Lincoln on Tuesday nights. They are, respectively, a drama about a badass corporate special agent, a kids superhero show, and a variety show with a bunch of famous comedians. The majority of the rest of Japanese TV is either news, bad dramas, or celebrities eating food and/or watching videos (often of other people eating food). This all means that when you need some audio visual entertainment at home, DVDs and the internet are invaluable. I brought over quite a few DVDs, including all of Arrested Development and 4 seasons of News Radio. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve watched those over and over. Anyways, I still watch quite a lot of TV, and also play a somewhat decent amount of video games in my free time. Today I figure I will share with you details on TV Links and Discas, two of the main ways I entertain myself with arguably meaningless visual entertainment.

First up is a recent goldmine of a site introduced to me by Mr. Nicholas Roberts. It is called, simply, TV Links (link). While it is very easy to explain what the site does, it is hard to express how amazingly useful and fun it is as a resource to watch a bunch of TV shows online. This is cool in itself, but when you are an American TV addict living in a country whose broadcast content contains mostly people eating and saying how good it is, cool becomes absolutely pants-wetting wonderful. While the videos are pretty much all hosted on sites like YouTube and DailyMotion, meaning the quality isn’t so great, the selection of shows and episodes makes up for it. TV Links does an excellent job of rounding up entire seasons and series into one handy place. You could watch a bunch of TV shows all the way through with this site. I’ve already watched a lot of Robot Chicken on there, as well as a ton of Seinfeld episodes. It’s a great site to waste a lot of time on. In addition to a great number of TV dramas, sitcoms, and reality shows, they also have a ton of cartoons and even Japanese anime shows. They even have Captain N!

Discas screenshotI also started using the Tsutaya Discas service this year (link). It’s an online-to-postal DVD rental service, similar to Netflix in the states. While I’ve been able to get a lot of DVDs for uh…backup purposes, and it’s still a really good service, there are a few things that keep Discas from being as amazingly awesome at Netflix was when I was using it last year. With Netflix, for about 20 bucks a month I was able to get 3 DVDs at a time, automatically sent to me as I returned them. Netflix had a good queue system that automatically sent movies to me as soon as others were returned. Discas works a bit differently. There are two main plans you can choose from, with many other variations of these two. The one I’m on, called the M plan, gives you unlimited movies, 2 at a time, for 2079 yen a month. That’s about the same price as my old Netflix plan, although you get only 2 discs at a time. However, the main complaint I have with this plan is that while you can have a list of DVDs to rent, they don’t automatically send anything. You have to manually select which movies are sent to you via the website every time. Also the other pain is that you don’t have priority over other users to get movies. If a movie is very popular and checked out a lot, for example, then you can’t check it out. You can wait until maybe one comes back and have it sent to you, I suppose, but usually I try to get movies sent as soon as they receive my last ones, meaning I never wait for a certain movie to get in stock. Still though, I have been able to get a lot of movies and am filling up my 100 yen shop plastic storage boxes like never before. The price really isn’t bad either, considering the cost of DVDs in Japan (most movies cost at least 3000 or 4000 yen new), and the slightly expensive cost to rent movies at a regular brick-and-mortar. I wasn’t inclined to buy DVDs in the states, so you can’t expect me to do it in Japan.

M plan flow chart!?The other plan that Discas offers, which is labeled as their most popular, is called the A plan. This one lets you queue movies, gives you priority, and even sends movies to you automatically. All this for 1974 yen; a lot different than the M plan I’m using, right? True, but the catch is that you don’t get unlimited rentals. There is a monthly limit of 8 discs. While this would be good for people who are renting just to watch movies every weekend, or casual renters who would usually stop by the video shop on the way home from work, this doesn’t really cut it for someone who will rent and backup movies with no intention of watching them for months. Oops. Overall, Discas is a good service and I’m definitely getting a lot of movies cheaper and more conveniently than if I would go to the actual video store. Just like Netflix, they send you movies in an envelope that converts into the postage-paid return envelope, thus you pay no shipping. A bit different is that they send you two at a time. Total time for shipping is about a day or two max either way, so I’m usually able to get around 2 or 3 shipments a week. Also, it’s interesting to note that while you send your movies back to Discas via the national postal service, they are actually sent to you by a courier (Sagawa Express, to be exact). I read a while back that it is actually cheaper in Japan now to send letters by one of the many private courier companies rather than by the post office. Interesting indeed.

Discas, being run by Tsutaya, the Japanese equivalent of Blockbuster, has a really good stock of movies, including American/other foreign ones, and their system works pretty well. I don’t like how every day their website seems to be under maintenance for an hour or two around 10AM, since this is the time I am waking up and getting ready to go to work, and is also when I would usually confirm some new movies to be sent to me. They also offer “Spot Rentals,” meaning you can override your monthly plan and limits, priorities, etc to rent a movie on the spot. You have to pay about an extra 500 yen, but it gets sent right to you, and is very comparable to going to a store and renting, especially considering you an get new releases.

If you’re living in Japan and want to give Discas a shot, they offer a free trial. I think you can try the M plan for two weeks, or you can try the A plan for a month.

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