Haiku for Japanese Existence #10 – #16

Doing reading from Cross-Cultural Filmmaking over a bowl of kakiage udon in the 食堂 (‘shokudou’) – cafeteria – this afternoon, film theory in the guise of practical advice is inspiration.  As is the boy sitting opposite me 3 tables away.

Capture it on film
for life expectancy of

will make or break the best of
bad reputations.

Just because I take your
picture doesn’t mean I’m not

Haiku can’t calm me
if the final syllable
shatters my pencil.

Cute boy, take two: why,
suddenly, do you now wear
this newspaper hat?

Love poems, or at least
ones about brand new crushes
always take longest.

What is whole from one
perspective, pulling focus,
becomes a fragment.

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Haiku for Japanese Existence #3 – #9

Poems born of public transportation, to and from Universal Studios Japan, scribbled in a tiny orange metal flip-notebook with a vaguely Asian dragon on the cover.  Poems bearing varying degrees of ambiguity and cleverness…

Awake and sober,
USJ-bound, means vomit-
free Spiderman ride.


If that last haiku
confused or bored you, I’m sorry.
Station names are long.


Poetry on trains
in Japan tends to draw stares.
Then again, I’m white.


Today my empty
pockets mean a full stomach –
even fuller heart.


The phrase of the hour
is “zannen no koto ni”…
irony, of course.


Self-indulgence* is
LCD Soundsystem through
Spiderman headphones.

*also read: “being a class-A hipster on a late-night local train”
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Haiku for Japanese Existence #2

Manga kissaten
Side-by-side facebook chatting
takes social skills, right?

(Written IN the Manga Kissaten in Shinsaibashi…)
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Halloween Resolution // Haiku for Japanese Existence

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I should blog more often, even if they are not as in-depth or lengthy as my first few posts.  It’s been 3 weeks since I blogged…that’s bordering on unforgivable.  A professional blogger whose work I thoroughly admire, Anna Pulley, has recently been producing a series of ‘haiku’s for adulthood‘ – based on our shared first name and love of haiku (the birth place of which happens to be Japan…), I have decided to commence a similar series of haiku.  And post more often.  Promise promise.

In Japan, Jews are
few and far between.  Thank God
for KRLX.  😀

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For those of you who don’t read Japanese, the title says ‘osaka ga suita naa’, translating as “Osaka has really become empty!”  This is also, at the risk of taking all of the fun out it through explanation, some clever wordplay (if I do say so myself, which I do): one syllable change, and you get お腹が空いたなあ (‘onaka ga suita naa’), which translates to the very common, very useful phrase for “I’M HUNGRY!”

Both phrases apply rather aptly (although at different points in time and in varying degrees) to yesterday’s adventures in the consumer-crazy, culinary, and cultural hub of Osaka.

Professor Scott discusses with us the fact that Peace Osaka is currently featuring an exhibit on Afghanistan - why, he asks, does America lack this sort of consciousness?

I decided to tag along with my friend Jo (who, incidently, is also keeping a Japan blog) on her class’ field trip to Peace Osaka, a museum that foregrounds the atrocities of war, both those perpetrated and experienced by the Japanese during the 15 Years’ War.  With Professor Scott, we attended a screening of a short animated film about the bombings of Osaka – it was surprisingly graphic for a piece aimed at educating elementary-age students, yet at the same time failed to create a visible ‘enemy’ other than war itself.  The degree to which post-war victim consciousness affects the curation of Peace Osaka is something I’m still ruminating on – although, ultimately, war IS the enemy.

Both Jo and I left the exhibition feeling rather depressed and fairly hungry, but Osakajokoen (the giant park surrounding the famous Osaka Castle) proved an antidote to both feelings – fresh air, fountains, and food (kitsune udon, my favorite!) do wonders.

We could hear music from the Osaka Lovers concert from where we sat enjoying the view and lunch.

After lunch, we intended to head downtown to Shinsaibashi, where the giant flagship UNIQLO store had just opened on Friday, promising sales and plenty of people watching.  Instead of taking the train, we decided to walk all the way there, which proved to be both exhausting and interesting, as we somehow ended up even further north of Osakajokoen before getting pointed in the right direction by some locals – asking for directions in Japanese is rapidly becoming a sort of ritual with me.  UNIQLO was simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming, and neither of us ended up buying anything – the real fun of Shinsaibashi, I think, is simply fighting your way through the streams of humanity, trying on extra-hipstery fashion in the shops, staring at everything in the Hello Kitty Palace for way too long, finding killer deals at Mode-Off, the first second-hand shop that I have encountered in Japan so far.

Japanese parfaits are serious business.

All of that traipsing about Osaka can make a girl hungry, so we were easily persuaded by the delicious plastic parfait displays outside of Fujiya to ascend and partake: Jo had a soft cream creation, and I indulged in one topped with many REAL strawberries – rarities in Japan this time of year (or any, for that matter).

Hipster Kitty, kickin' it Shinsaibashi-side. We bonded over the fact that I have his bandana in the next size up, but he insisted on looking aloof when I took his portrait.

In general, Shinsaibashi overwhelms the senses – a taste of cold parfait, the scent of udon and soba shops, the constant low roar of the thousands of shoppers packed into this artificially-lighted landscape.  It is filled with innumerable interest sights – which, to my great regret, I was unable to capture fully with my Nikon due to my own lack of foresight in forgetting to recharge the battery.  *Facepalm.*

Outside one of the many restaurants lining Shinsaibashi, Spiderman invites diners to join him in some delicious crab. Bring your own bib?

But by 21:00, stores began to close; people dispersed to their various host clubs, homes, hostels; Mister Donuts put out its タイムサービス (“time service”) sign – all donuts ¥100!  The suffocating Shinsaibashi of several hours earlier subsided – 大阪が空いたなあ.  Osaka had emptied – at least one small section.  As to know a person, one should see them in all seasons, to know a city is to see it in all hours; now, after 12 hours and countless kilometers, Osaka and I have begun to become acquainted.

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A Real American Folk Song

Dear readers: first of all, I owe you all – if, by chance, there are multiple of you – I am currently unaware of the volume of my readership, so I could be speaking purely to my parents – anyway, I owe an you all an apology for falling so atrociously behind in my updating here.  ごめんなさい! Let my excuse be that I’ve been having so many awesome experiences that I haven’t had time to write them down, yet.

Okay, now that’s out of the way,  to the purpose!  Last night, I saw something that I never in my wildest imaginings even conceived of, but something truly wonderful: クレイジ フォア ユー.  This is katakana for “Crazy for You” – which, yes, I saw, last night, live, at the Shiki Theatre in Kyoto, in…Japanese???  My mind was blown.

The bright lights of Broadway, written in katakana.

Having been so lucky as to shoulder the role of Patricia Fodor in this divine epic of a tap show, back at the age of 12 or so, I must say that this is one of my absolute favorite musicals of all time.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, whether I would be able to understand it enough to appreciate it, whether the Japanese-ness and Americana would mix more or less like water and oil.  But the electric thrill of the overture is something that doesn’t require a Japanese-to-English dictionary.  Song and dance (and good physical comedy!) seem capable of translating when language may not, and I felt as if I were at any high-production-value, bursting-with-energy Broadway spectacular.  It felt very much like home.

Except, of course, for the Japanese – the language, yes, but more so the people sitting around me, the only 外人 (foreigner) in a sea of native theatre-goers.  I don’t know if what I experienced was typical, but the way that the Japanese respond seems notable in its difference from what you get on Broadway or at a community theatre like Capital Playhouse.  For one thing, they don’t laugh at many things that I would, in the American version, expect to elicit gales of laugter.  While this may be the translation (a fact which my merely intermediate grasp of the language limits my full comprehension of), I suspect it lies more in some fundamental differences in the way that we and the Japanese use our respective languages to create humor, and in how we appreciate and interpret that humor.  On the subject of curtain calls, there is a curious collusion between the audience and the performers – applause began normally, although politely, limited to clapping, no wolf-whistles or shouts of appreciation that would cause any one audience member to stand out.  Almost immediately, though, it fell in time with the music, and continued so until practically the bitter end – I felt oddly compelled to stay in time, unable to express my particular appreciation for any one performer.  When the curtain fell for the first time, it rose again almost immediately, despite a lack of any extended cheering or other solicitation for another bow by the audience – in fact, this happened three or four times, at least, all the while with the audience’s clapping steadily maintaining the beat.  In America, encore curtain calls are usually called for, but this was strangely ritualized, as if there were an established understanding between all parties present (except me, of course) that this is how a theatrical curtain call is meant to proceed.  Group dynamics at their finest?

At one point, there was one rather boisterous man (perhaps he pre-gamed?) making shouts of 「もう一回!」(‘one more time’) and other laudatory phrases in Japanese, but over the uniform beat of our collective applause, his voice stood out like a nail waiting to pounded down – sorry to use a rather tired cliche about the Japanese.  But at his shouts, everyone else around me turned and looked in his general direction with varying degrees of disdain and embarrassment, silent admonitions for his failure to maintain the carefully structured collusion between the theatre and its attendees.

So, even if opening the 2nd act with a “Real American Folk Song” in the original lyrics preserves the intricacy of the English wordplay and rhyme schemes, thrusting me momentarily back into a homey, American dream state, it is impossible to forget that I am in Japan.  Every day that I spend here, West and East continue to collide in strange and fascinating ways – the uniquely Japanese elevation of the group over the individual meets thee uniquely American tradition of Broadway-born musical theatre, and I am situated somewhere in between.

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Waribiki for the win!

When I’m stateside, one of my favorite, albeit mildly idiosyncratic, pastimes is grocery shopping – in particular, pouring over grocery ads, hounding out good deals, and finding ways to be as thrifty as possible.  I guess I love thrift in general, but grocery thrift really gets me going.

Japan has a notoriously high cost of living (according to the 2010 Mercer Report, Tokyo ranked 2nd and Osaka ranked 6th among most expensive cities in the world!), and I was well aware, especially given the vastly increased strength of the yen over the dollar compared to my first trip here 5 years ago, that things were not going to be cheap.  However, while I was visiting Seminar House 1 the other night (just before my Makino adventure, in fact), I noticed that on the list of local スーパー, or supermarkets, that the RAs has posted, there was one called ‘コノミヤ’, Konomiya.  It apparently would give an all overall 10% discount at the checkout for all shopping done on Mondays!

As yesterday was Monday, and I had yet to invest in a several-kilo rice bag like the rest of fellows at Seminar House, I decided to head out in search of Konomiya, with the intention of doing my shopping for the week.  たまたま、by chance, I ran into some friends in Makino, and almost ended up having dinner at a local French-Japanese fusion restaurant with them, but happened to spot the bright neon sign of my goal only about a block away as we discussed our restaurant selection.

Striking out on my own, I was not disappointed – (relative) grocery thrift in Japan is possible!  It took some time – shopping in a crowded, kanji-and-katakana-filled supermarket where you have to spend 10 minute figuring out which 醤油, soy sauce, is which, or discussing salt content in Japanese with the incredibly-accommodating, apron-clad employees, is not a quick process.  After about an hour, I was making my (slightly ungainly) way home, my bicycle laden with 5 kilos of rice, 3 carrots, 4 mini-green peppers, 3 bags of bean sprouts, a head of brocolli, a liter of soy sauce, nori, cereal, and ice coffee, all for the price of ¥2389.  And given the price of rice in Japan (as opposed to that of China, a fascinating topic of discussion!), this is a steal.

My very first self-cooked meal in Japan! おいしいそう、ね。

Satisfied, starving, and sweating per usual, I arrived home at Seminar House 4 and proceeded to cook my first meal in Japan – a fairly simple dish of rice and stir-fried vegetables, supplemented with delicious sheets of Korean nori.  My cooking drew the compliments of my roommate and her friends, which is mildly surprising given that I don’t really know how to cook.  But it was おいしい (‘oishii’), Japanese for delicious, and made even more so by the fact that it was relatively cheap to create!  I of course felt compelled to whip out my Nikon and frame up a few shots of my beautiful culinary creation…

It’s heartening to know that, even in a foreign country and culture, I can still fall back on the same simple pleasures that populate my daily life back home – good deals, good meals, and good ol’ session of food photography.

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