Samba like you mean it, please don’t make me shock you

If you had to name cultural influences on Japan, where would you begin?  China – of course.  Korea – you’ll find Korean restaurants everywhere.  Brazil – ?  Yes, Brazil.

Early in the 1900’s, a large contingent of Japanese people known as nikkei (lit. “descendants of the sun”) made the long trek to Brazil in the hopes of finding great wealth.  This didn’t really pan out, but the Japanese community remained there and formed a new cultural off-shoot.  Decades later, as Japan became an economic powerhouse, a lot of the descendants of the original nikkei living overseas came back to Japan in the hopes of finding great wealth.  This didn’t really pan out either, with the Japanese economy tanking from the nineties through to today.  Although the nikkei were granted special immigration rights, being of Japanese descent, their non-native-level Japanese skills meant they were largely only qualified for low-paying manual labour.  With the number of jobless rising in the recent tough economic times, the government is now literally paying Nikkei Brazilians between $3k – $4k AUD to leave and never come back, neatly exporting some of their unemployment problems.

Anyway enough of that kind of geo-cultural talk, it’s samba time!  A big contingent of Japanese-Brazilians in Japan means that every year in Asakusa there’s a massive summer parade with all things Brazilian: bright colours, feathers, music and plenty of bare flesh.  Get there early though – arriving one hour late like the author will only guarantee you a spot behind a six-deep crowd, wondering why it is no-one has yet invented telescoping cyborg arms for taking photographs above people’s heads.

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Samba Carnival Tokyo 2009

Against expectations, this guy is making those sequins and feathers work for him.

Samba Carnival Tokyo 2009

Samba Carnival Tokyo 2009

These guys were capoeira-ing their way all the way down the parade route in 30+ degree heat.  It looked exhausting.

Samba Carnival Tokyo 2009

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It’s okay to geek out now and then

For the fans of Japanese animation out there, you might like these coin lockers advertising the Neon Genesis Evangelion movie that came earlier this year.  You can (or at least, could) find this in Akihabara, technology paradise, where coin lockers are in plentiful supply for all those giant robot figurines you’ve been “investing” in.

I’ve also just realised that besides now, the sum total of my manga and anime-related postings is only one other time!   You’d almost wonder which country I was actually in.

Dare you enter the dungeons of Kenkou Shindan?

GM: Okay, let’s start this week’s game.  We get to start a new adventure!  So, it’s time for your annual medical checkup as the employee of a Japanese company.
You: I don’t want a checkup! What kind of a game module is this, anyhow? That doesn’t sound like fun!
GM: The fun bit is that it’s all in Japanese! Plus, you have to. It’s Japanese law that companies need to provide full annual medical checkups for their employees.
You: Okay then…
GM: Oh, and what’s your Japanese skill level again?
You: Ah… three.
GM: Hmm, okay. You’re going to need to make constant saving throws against total incomprehension, as well as another against being too embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves.
You: I knew I should have put some points into linguistics rather than maxing out my Mario Kart skills when I was making my character. Incidentally, will I ever get a chance to use my Mario Kart skills in one of these adventures one day?
GM: Haha!  No, of course not. So anyway, you’re at the checkup place. What do you do?
You: Um, what can I see?
GM: You’re in a room. It’s a pretty standard room. It feels standard, and a bit medical-ly.
You: Well, is there anyone here?
GM: There’s a nurse. She wants to run a battery of tests on you.
You: A battery…?
GM: Right. But first, she wants you to wait in the waiting room with a bunch of other people once you’ve changed into this:

You: Man you’re a bad photographer.  Do my pants have pockets?
GM: No.
You: Stripped of any identifying documents in a foreign country, I meekly submit.
GM: Good! Okay, there’s a blood sample, a urine sample, a height check, weight check, blood pressure check, ultrasound…
You: Ultrasound! I’m a dude!
GM: …ultrasound, eye check, glaucoma test, hearing check, GP consultation, X-ray…
You: At the same time?
GM: No, you’re being shuffled around from sterile, lifeless room to sterile lifeless room, much like livestock being prodded and poked to make sure it’s top quality.  It takes around two hours.
You: Er… am I going to be… spayed?
GM: Don’t spoil the story now. So hey, I skipped all the boring stuff, but we should play through this bit though! Barium meal!
You: What’s barium meal?
GM: It’s like an x-ray check but… you’ll see! You remember that everyone at work warned you about this one.
You: Hooray.

GM: Okay, you walk into the examination room. Everything is white. The floor is white. The walls are while. It’s full of white medical equipment. There’s a nurse here wearing a white uniform and white tennis shoes. What did you say your Japanese level was again?
You: Uh, three.
GM: Okay. She says “Hello garble garble today barium garble garble.”
You: I nod and smile.
GM: She motions for you to get up on a somewhat sinister-looking rack-like device. It kind of looks like a futuristic version of something the Spanish Inquisition might have used. There is a massive gun-shaped device pointing at it.
You: I tentatively get on the rack-like device.
GM: The nurse says “Excuse me garble slippers!”. OK, roll to save from embarrassment… okay, you’re embarrassed. Write that you’re in the “embarrassed” state on your character sheet. Actually, you can probably just go ahead and write that in pen.
You: I take off my slippers and get back on the machine. Embarrassedly.
GM: The nurse puts three cups in your hands. What race are you?
You: Human…?
GM: Okay, you manage anyway, even with only two hands. She tells you not to drink from any of the cups yet. Then she goes into the next room.
You: I stand awkwardly on the rack-like device.
GM: Okay, let me roll to see if you’re successful… yes, you hit maximum awkwardness. The nurse speaks to you from the next room via a microphone. She says to take the first cup, which looks like it’s full of sherbet, followed by the second, which looks like it’s full of tea.  The third contains a thick, white, pasty looking substance.
You: Okay, I’ll try the sherbet first.
GM: Surprise! It’s not sherbet. It’s actually some horrible medicine used to induce a gassy bloated feeling in the stomach. It tastes like rejection. Your stomach feels like it is being prepped for a hot-air ballooning adventure trip.
You: I quickly drink the tea.
GM: It tastes like tea. You can still taste the rejection, though. The nurse appears to have turned on the machine. It emits a slightly hostile humming sound.
You: I act… warily?
GM: The nurse asks you if you know what “gappu” means.
You: … and do I?
GM: Yeah. It means burp in Japanese. She says that if you burp, even once, we have to do the whole test again.  And you have to drink everything in all three cups again until you get it right.
You: I really want to burp now.
GM: She says you should “Drink two garble barium”.
You: But I only have one cup of barium? Oh, maybe two sips? I hold up two fingers to the nurse and mime drinking.
GM: She smiles. You suspect she is smiling resignedly.
You: Okay, I take two sips of the barium meal. Hey, what is barium, anyway?
GM: It’s a heavy metal. X-rays can’t penetrate it, so they use it to line the inside of your stomach so they can examine it. It tastes like sawdust, delicately bathed in a PVC glue jus.
You: Is it awful?
GM: It’s awful. The nurse checks something on her monitor and tells you to chug the rest.
You: Do I have to?
GM: You’re wearing pajamas. Your negotiating position is fairly weak.
You: I chug the rest.
GM: You feel awful. Awful-er.

GM: Now, the nurse is telling you to “lie something something”.
You: Aren’t I already lying something something? I try to lie something something else.
GM: You keep squirming until the nurse on the other side of the glass looks satisfied. Now, the menacing hum emanating from the machine grows louder, and emanates slightly more menacingly. The nurse tells you to roll over.
You: Roll over? I wave my finger in a circle, signaling if she wants me roll over like a puppy at a training school.
GM: She nods with a fixed smile.  You suspect she wouldn’t like you even if you actually knew what you were doing.
You: I roll over.
GM: As you begin to roll, the rack begins to tilt backwards. First to 70 degrees, then 60, then 50…
You: This seems like fun!
GM: It is! And then it’s isn’t. You get to be horizontally flat, and the nurse keeps going until your head is tilted down at 15 degrees. You start sliding.
You: I hang on to something…
GM: Luckily, there is something to hang on to. You enjoy lying there, feet elevated, stomach coated with heavy metal and being gently irradiated.  You’ve never felt so dignified.
You: I attempt to enjoy the uniqueness of the situation.
GM: The rack-like examination table slowly swings back into vertical position. The nurse asks you to face left, and then the machine hums a bit. Then she asks you to turn right – too much! – a little more to the left! – no, LEFT… LEFT! – followed by more humming. It feels somewhat like they’re taking a mugshot of your gastrointestinal tract.
You: Can I go now?
GM: Almost. The procedure over after ten minutes of rotating, elevating and misunderstanding, the nurse is explaining what the effects of the barium meal will be. Something like “It will be difficult, but garble garble heavy garble hard garble toilet garble.” She gives you some pills. You don’t know what they do, but not wanting to be embarrassed by your incomprehension, you’ll pretty much ingest anything someone wearing a white uniform gives to you.
You: Uh… I don’t want to play any more.
GM: Are you sure? I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s explosive!
You: I have to go home now.

Cut it from right to left, thanks

Seen on the Tokyo subway:

If you speak a language which is written from left to right, you might be forgiven for thinking this clinic is actually selling a treatment for hair loss.  Every “before and after” shot I’ve ever seen goes from left to right.  Is this just a quirky ad, or maybe there’s something else at play here?

Just on this topic: after two years in Japan, I finally got my first haircut on Japanese soil!  I’m perversely proud of how long I held out after my horror at seeing the unintended result of an ex-pat friend’s trip to the barber: a completely defoliated scalp.  It ended up being pretty straightforward, and in a area where a haircut seems to cost an exorbitant amount, it was a bargain at $10.