Monday, August 27, 2007

Holy Billy Joba - it's the new Japanese diet wave!

So if you're looking at this picture and wondering why I'm posting sex toys on my blog, you're wrong! This, my friends, is the newest "diet" fad in Japan - the Joba. It's not my fault she's having way too much fun riding the thing, but then maybe that's all part of the marketing scheme. By the by, Joba is Japanese for "ride that thang like you're in a Japanese marriage and want to lose some weight while releasing some sexual frustration in the comfort of your own living room for the low, low price of 39,995¥, or just 10 easy payments of 4,995¥!!!" Oh, I mean horseback riding. But wait - there's more! Here's another blast from the past that just recently graced the shores of Japan: TaeBo!!

That's right, none other than Mr. Billy Blanks has been plastered all over TV promoting Billy's Boot Camp. I think he was on enough that some people were confusing him for tarento or something as you'd see people imitating him on tv and even on the streets. The big talk around work was who was going to try it since they were always going on about how they were all fat.

The lengths that stick-like skinny people will go to maintain their lack of figure seemingly has no bounds... or maybe it just appears that way to an apparently overweight American. It's so true too - I've blimped out coming out here! I mean, I've gained a whole what, like 3-5kg since I got here to Japan? Oh, so fat. Out of shape? Yeah, sure I'll agree. Overweight? Well, maybe according to a stick. Or maybe it's that in going from the 2nd fattest country in the world (thanks Australia) to... well ok, anywhere but the US (or apparently Australia or the UK) that I look fat to the natives. I did however just look it up, and according to the international definition of overweight I'm still safe (barely)!! In your face, Japan!

Now while I do appreciate the fact that these ridiculously high standards for body fat index produce overwhelmingly less lard-ass women than I encountered at home and thus more eye candy, it has to be rough on the other side of the fence. As far back as the early years of my Japanese studies some 8 or so years ago, I still remember my old teacher who I'll call Shinobi-sensei always complaining that she was fat, and was constantly dieting. This one time we caught her taking these pills, and when asked she told us they were these pills with shell fragments and seaweed and stuff, which according to the latest tv show she saw was the latest and greatest way to lose weight. I also recall a certain program last year that started quite a frenzy over a natto diet - as everyone and their mom ran to the store to stock up with a year's supply of their very own fermented soy beans to be consumed with every meal, the program then revealed a week later that they made the whole thing up. This whole country has anorexia, I swear. Except for this guy... and this girl... (I'll save them for another post) oh, and don't forget these guys... and a whole bunch of the people I met in Miyagi... ok, so maybe just all the skinny girls are anorexic and trained to hate themselves if they develop enough body fat to resemble a woman.

The peculiar thing to me about this new wave is that it involves exercising, and yet they still call it a diet. This is of course not to make light of the fact that it involves exercise in the first place, which I thought Japanese girls were averse to given their lack of muscle tone... or maybe they just don't like sweat, which it takes some of to get muscle tone. But then that wouldn't explain why they still wear at least 4 layers of clothing, sometimes including a sweater, a skirt AND pants during the summer in the name of fashion... and once again women have boggled my mind! So long story short (too late?), I've met some girls here into sports/activities, but the vast majority have the muscle tone of a garden slug and see absolutely nothing wrong with it.

So yeah, the diet craze in Japan is amazing... and for me, entertaining. It must suck to be a girl here though.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Internationalization through.... furniture

My apartment smells of SOLSTA.

So yesterday I went to pick up a couch at the mother of all furniture stores, Ikea. This store is absolute genius, and there's no way you can just call it a furniture store - it's so much more than that! I feel old saying this place is cool, but whatever. I'm a simple guy that's easily amused, so this should come as no surprise to those of you that know me.

Now I don't know if American Ikea is exactly like Japanese Ikea, but this place had the standard furniture/home supplies store, a Swedish restaurant, a cafe, a daycare center, and play areas for kids strewn randomly about the store. It was like this guy, in his all-encompassing infinite wisdom thought it'd be a great idea to introduce the world to Swedish culture by way of furniture. Of course they have goofy-ass names for everything, but the restaurant is nothing but Swedish food (not just meatballs!!), and at least at the Japanese one I went to there were loooots of Swedes working there too! I was amazed to see all these Scandinavian tall blondes putzing around the store answering questions to the standard plebian populace. I didn't even know there were that many Swedes in all of Japan! It was really pretty much required that you be either Swedish or female to work there from the looks of things... I saw like maybe one or two Japanese guys, but maybe they were just gay or something. Oh wait, but then there was this one black guy working at the restaurant (definitely not female, and I don't think he was Swedish) who was simply overflowing with emphatic exuberance over his position as... the guy that picks up your tray? Anyway, he seemed really happy to be there and came over to let us know that in a somehow pleasantly freakish way. Maybe Ikea's a great place to work, or maybe he's just in the country on a spousal visa and his wife is extremely hot.

So yeah, intro to Sweden 101 and internationalization, in furniture form. Oh, and of course they had signs out front and stuff with Swedish sayings and phonetic guides and stuff to go along with their utterly bizarre product nomenclature. Like SOLSTA. We seriously spent a good 2 hours or so in this place when all was said and done I think. The kicker for me though was actually when I got home and opened my new purchase. What language do you think they wrote the instructions in? English and Japanese, maybe Swedish? Chinese in there too? No!!! There was not one single, solitary word on the whole damn thing, just a bunch of pictures and goofy naked cartoons (don't worry, not anatomically correct) acting out both assembly and use of the couch.

Wow, who would've thought that buying a couch could take all night. Bravo Ikea guy, whoever you are. Bravo, SOLSTA.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's my birthday?

Ok, so yes this might be a tad on the late side, but I just had my birthday party this past weekend. There is a good reason for that though... you see, I was buried under a stack of paperwork and 20 people visiting from Shichigahama's sister city, Plymouth, Mass.

So how was the party? Well, if you've been to any of my birthday parties over the past 5 years then you have a good idea - lots of jungle juice, people, and good times. Here's Mike's take on the whole deal, along with some pictures:

Tokyo beach bash 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New pictures!!

Hi all,

There's been plenty of material going on lately for me to share with you all, but until I get around to that there are some new pictures up on the flickr account, so have fun with that for now!

Edit: and here's some videos too!

The soon to be infamous monkey video:

Kegon Falls - one of the 3 largest in Japan:

Irohazaka - the most insanely fun road I have ever been on in my life! I only wish I thought to take a video higher up as this is the tail end of it, and that I had driven the WRX there:

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Shibuya/Corey Hart connection

Shibuya - the district of Tokyo that never sleeps with its bars, clubs, and ko-gals mixed in with the other 2.4 million people that grace the gates of Shibuya station every day (that only makes it the 3rd busiest in Tokyo, btw).

Corey Hart - a one-hit wonder from the 80's who looks sorta like a certain Tom Cruise that left a legacy that has far surpassed his name, which has deservedly faded into antiquity alongside such novelties as the pet rock and those stupid spring shoes that that kid was wearing in the 50's portion of Back to the Future... yeah, you know what I'm talking about. What's the connection you ask?

So walking around downtown Tokyo today, I had a realization about 2 things. The first is the aforementioned connection, which is that way too many people in Tokyo (especially Shibuya) walk around wearing their sunglasses at night, which apparently makes them cool. Woo. Then again, I at one point reveled in the fact that I had glasses light enough for me to dub them the party glasses and wear around at night, that is until that riot patrol cop broke them after a UMD basketball game. Boo cops!!!

The second realization was something someone mentioned to me the other day and just sunk in - there are a lot of foreign workers in the service industry in Tokyo! Every place you go you'll see a "now hiring" sign in the window, and since apparently there just aren't enough Japanese people that are interested in filling said positions Chinese especially are starting to snatch these jobs up. At a few restaurants and even the hotel I stayed at last week, there were either Chinese or Korean staff. One place seemed to be entirely run by Chinese, even through management. Of course Chinese people have been running Japanese restaurants in the States for years, but a Chinese-run izakaya here in Japan? I also ran into people of all different races and creeds working Akihabara today on my mission to get a new ipod (which is sweet btw). Maybe they could work on getting a Thai massage maid cafe going or something... I'm sure that'd be a hit.

So yeah, there's supposed to be a shortage of well-paying good jobs in Japan here I think, and I know there are less people taking jobs due to the declining population thing, but I guess there are still jobs out there and people are taking them... just not the people I, or probably you would expect. It makes sense that there'd be a bunch of Chinese/Koreans in there first though as I think it'd be easier for Japanese to accept them due to having a similarly Asian face to stare back at them. And that's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

My birthday, interviews, and crowded trains

Ok, so it's no longer my birthday... or birth month since I usually take at least a month or so to celebrate it properly. Although I am currently busier than the Pope on Christmas, I did somehow manage to still keep my non-working on my birthday streak alive and spend some time down in Tokyo before the fiasco that has been the last couple days. Yes that's right - I have never worked, nor gone to school on my birthday. Ever.

So my thought of yesterday that I never got around to posting: riding a crowded train can be cool sometimes. You see, on my birthday I wound up somewhere way the hell out in the middle of nowhere in Chiba to go have all the yakiniku I could eat. Between 6 people we wound up eating 12 pizza-sized dishes of meat, after which I felt like swearing off meat (for at least a week) and knew that no one would want to be anywhere near my smelly poop the next day. Anyway... since I was staying in Yokohama and dinner ended around 9, I knew that this meant I'd be cutting it close getting back, and I was right. I somehow magically caught one of the last express trains going out of Shibuya in my direction, which means one thing and one thing only: crowded trains.

I could definitely see how doing so on a daily basis would become tiresome after a very short period of time, but once in a while catching one of those last trains with your right arm forcibly pressed firmly against your chest and seeing people standing on the other side of the doors waiting for the next train since they know they won't fit is somehow exhilarating. Sure you have no space to yourself, but looking around you can almost feel a certain sense of camaraderie peering into the eyes of your fellow midnight train warriors. On this particular sojourn, there was a couple next to me lovingly sharing a moment in each others' arms as another group of youngsters were grinning ear to ear reliving the night's escapades in nearby Shibuya. Their faces gleamed with a certain sense of satisfaction, which I'd like to think I was quietly sharing in myself.

Besides it being my birthday, I had also just gotten back from a most bizarre interview. I didn't apply for the job - the guy emailed me, and asked me in to talk about things, to which I obliged. I was already in town since I had work-related business in the area the next day anyway, so I figured what the hey. The whole thing sort of felt in parts like the onus was upon his shoulders to impress upon me a sense of urgency to take the position, instead of me showing him that indeed I was the man for the job as is normally the case. I don't plan on taking the job either way, but it made for an interesting afternoon.

So that was pretty much my birthday this year in a nutshell: interview, yakiniku, trains.