Behold, the distant present!

One of the cool things about living in Japan is how much earlier all the games come out here. Decades earlier. So get ready to suffer in your jocks: I’ve got Mario Kart!

What’s that? You already have Mario Kart? It’s out everywhere around the world already? Well… okay then, smart guy, is your “Mario Kaato” box in Japanese?

So, I believe that puts me 318 cachet points up for the all-important win. And just to pile on a few more points, rather than a steering wheel, the Mario Kart accessory is interestingly called a “doraibingu handoru” (driving handle) in Japanese.

At any rate, I’d been hanging out for this version of Mario Kart for ages, trying to recapture my misspent youth with the original Super Nintendo version. Unfortunately, my nostalgia gland omitted to remind me how freaking frustrating Mario Kart can be at times. Still, it’s great to justify playing games as Japanese study, even if the only words I really need to know are “last lap”, “you lost”, and a healthy sailor’s vocabulary.

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I am the eater of your childhood legends

Just outside of my train station, a doner kebab van sets up camp at sunset each night, luring me in with its delicious Turkish fast food crack cocaine.  Really, although doner kebabs are not so popular in Japan, these are as good as any I’ve tried anywhere.

The various guys running the stall (a small van, actually) always have interesting stories.  Always foreigners, so far I’ve counted an Iranian, two Russians and an Indian at various times.  I had a good chat last night to my Indian kebab-making friend about the IPL.  He won’t watch because he’s convinced that cricket is ruined forever by bookmakers and match-fixing.  Then we talked about how much we hated / envied world-famous sports stars for having oodles of cash while cashing their blank moral cheques.  Now, there’s something we can all agree on all around the world.

At any rate, my favourite kebab van recently got a great new advertising sign out the front:

The amusing bit is on the third line.  In Japan, bread is called pan (an imported word from Dutch or Portuguese trading days, as far as I’ve heard).  At this store, they serve the kebabs in a pita bread.  Put it together and you’ll find that you’re in fact eating…. pita pan.

I usually like to follow up with a healthy Lost Boys salad with low-fat dressing.  Delicious.

I got it over the counter, honest

I got a bit of a head cold recently, so I stumbled to the local pharmacy and asked for something to fix it. A pharmacy is quite a daunting place when your language skills are a bit poor – I mean really, it’s a perfect opportunity for them to mess with you. The pharmacy lady handed me this:

Maybe it was the head cold or that I was preoccupied trying to decipher the usage instructions, but for some reason, it didn’t strike me until I saw it lying on my desk like this later:

That might explain why I felt so good after taking them.

So good.

Ultra-fruit

It cost 150 yen where a bunch of 5 cost 250 yen, but I had to try it:

Judging by the presentation, there’s no way this could be an ordinary banana. Except that it was. Very ordinary.

I mainly bought this to record the phenomenon that is the Premium Banana, but I feel guilty whenever I buy one of the many products here with excessive packaging. The worst offenders are packs of biscuits where each of twenty small biscuits is individually wrapped in foil, sitting on a plastic tray, and once again wrapped in foil. Or for that matter, the chocolates you give on Valentine’s Day.

One day son, all this will be yours

In Odaiba, a very popular leisure spot in Tokyo, there’s the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.   There’s lots of great stuff there but the crown jewel is this:

A honkin’ big globe.  The really cool part is that this globe is animated, and can download feeds of real-time weather data to display clouds and the like.  Not only that, but it can cycle through different types of data, like thermal images, or night light maps, or data overlays.

Thoughtfully, there are some reclining chairs in the viewing gallery below so you can lie back and watch the world go by:

I really, really want one of these for my living room.  Slight problem though – I would have to rent the apartments of my both next door neighbours, as well as those above and below.  And then there are some pesky walls in the way.

But this is Japan, the land of miniaturisation!  I sit by my letterbox, eagerly awaiting the news that I can own the most educational disco ball ever created.

One year on (part 1)

Last Friday marked my one year anniversary in Japan. The time I arrived last year was the blooming of the cherry blossoms, which I wrote about a year ago today, in fact. It’s a big event in Japan, marking the end of cold weather and the beginning of Spring, and of course, it’s now a milestone for me, too.

To mark the occasion, I thought I’d do a sequence of posts eloquently titled: Some Of The Things I Have Noticed About Life In Japan After Living For One Year In Japan.

Part 1: Japanese

When I came to Japan, I essentially had zero Japanese. So, how far can you get in one year? Well, from being immersed in Japanese at work, reading email in Japanese, going to conversational night school two times a week, trying to read simple Japanese books, playing Japanese games and practicing Japanese with friends every weekend, the answer is…. “somewhere”. I got somewhere.

I don’t know how to compare something to “fluent”, but I feel as if I am in the Stone Age of my linguistic development. If I can metaphorically assault you for a moment, I worked out how to make fire, and I can stab things with a pointy rock. Armed with these primitive tools, I can survive in most situations – but not in a way you could ever describe as elegant. However, unlike wailing on a dinosaur armed only with a pointy rock, having basic language skills is considerably less awesome.

In real terms this means I can make myself understood in most situations, but in a very roundabout (and often painful) way. This is enough when I get to pick the words, but unfortunately everyone isn’t so thoughtful as to use only the exact words contained in my vocabulary at any point in time. Talking one to one might be okay, but company-wide meeting are a different story. At least now I can vaguely understand discrete words and decipher the general topic that everyone is on about. But as for the details…. no. I spend most of my time frantically scribbling away on my electronic dictionary, trying to pick out key words.

The best bit is when you hear “Something something something <your name> something something“. Then everyone turns to look at you expectantly. I have this well-practiced move down where I shift uncomfortably in my seat, eyes downcast, trying to muster a supreme apologetic aura to all around. I can now project remorse at Super Saiyan level 2 million.

But the good news is – thing are continually getting better. In small meetings I can explain things in my painful and roundabout way, and to my surprise, it sometimes appears that others actually understood what I was on about. Other times, to my greater surprise, I might actually understand the reply. This stage that I’m at feels a bit transitional, though. When other people talk in a basic conversation, even if I can understand every word separately, I can’t yet put them together quickly enough to get the overall emotion the speaker is trying to convey. Often it requires some intuition to put together the main words and predict what they’re talking about (which struck me as something we might do in our native language when we’re only half listening to someone).

So to sum up: in a year I’ve gone from “I will never learn this language ever” to “This language is still very difficult, but I can see how one might go about getting good at it”. Unfortunately, this realisation unavoidably includes a lot of work… which neatly fits in with my next topic.