Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tokyo food and the eating thereof

As I sat at home in New York chomping on my New Year's foie gras, I never thought I'd be making a post like this so soon.

Basic Food & Drink Tips in Tokyo.

Don't eat convenience store food or KFC, McD's, MosBurger etc, more than once. It's crap. No matter where in the world you go, a plastic wrapped sandwiched with the crust cup off and pre-packaged microwaved burrito/hot dog/gyudon is not what you want to be eating. Would you do that at home? Then don't do it here. There's a universe of great cooking in Japan no matter whare you are.

Stay out of chain resturants, whether they be Japanese or international chains. They suck in your country and they suck here. You didnt come to Japan to have dinner at Outback for fucks sake. Don't worry about the menu or anything, resturants are businesses and they want customers because they enjoy ...what's that thing that businesses do.... oh yeah making money. Most places won't care if you come in and are clumsy with the menu (as long as they're not being slammed with a huge crowd at the time). Learning Kana, Katakana, (and the numbers 1-10 in kanji helps though. If you're not retarded, it should take you a week of 1-2 hours of study per day to nail it down to almost second nature). There is one exception: in Shinjuku, there is a Krispy Kream. It is awesome.

Many but not all resturants close in the middle of the day between lunch and dinner. This is less true in tourist heavy areas, but then again tourist heavy areas tend to have crappy tourist traps that overcharge you for a plate of sushi or bowl of udon with lemongrass in it. Plan for this, it's worth the wait.

Look for uniforms. No, not on the staff, on the customers. Real food is only eaten by real people, and nothing says real people in Japan more than a uniform. Postal, Utility co, Construction, it doesn't matter. If there are uniforms at the tables, the food is gonna be good.

Izakaya. Americans; ever go to a run of the mill diner and know what you want to order before you even see a menu? That's because most diners serve faire so similar, that it's almost a universally known menu to most people who know them. In Japan, this is the Izakaya. With a few reional specialties, most of these places have the same type of menu. You can be confident that even if you can't read a word of the offerings, that if you know the basics and know what you want, they'll bring it to you. If you live in/near New York City, there are a few Izakaya type places that you can practice this with (one of the more popular being called "Kenka" on St. Mark's place). Keep in mind that much like with diners and lunch counters, people don't go to these dives for the "ambeeaance."

Vocabulary. Learn these words: Muryou; Free. Tabe Hou-dai; all you can eat. Nomi Hou-dai; all you can drink (yes they mean booze, though you usually need a group of 4-5 or more), Margarita: ok, don't go into a place looking for a Margarita, because they'll probably end up bringing you a Margarita, so if you want a Margarita and not a Margarita, make sure you specify that you want a Margarita and not a Margarita.

Beer; Although beer out of a vending machine is a wacky novelty to just about everyone else in the world, only to this once if you have to just for the sake of doing it. Vending machine beer is going to taste exactly how you think it is going to (that's Stella-skunky by the way). And the machines are almost gone now too, the only ones that exist are now in private buildings which have limitations on who can enter. Also Japanese beer only recently figured out that there are actualy types of beer out there other than pilsner/light lager (aka McBeer). There are actually some interesting dark porters coming out of Yebisu right now, and most resturants have embraced the American Black&Tan which is a layered pint of half Stout and half Light Lager (or Pale Ale), which in Japan is called a "Half & Half." (FYI don't ever order this drink in Ireland or you're likely to get punched in the face, since Black & Tan means something totaly different there). So for beer in Japan, expect the German style to proliferate, and only drink where they have "nama" which means draught. Also, don't think you can guage Japanese beer from outside Japan, since it is brewed locally wherever you are (for example, in the USA Kirin is made in California and upstate New York, Sapporo is made in Ontario Canada, and Asahi is also made domestically except for those half liter cans). Finally, in Tokyo the concept of a "pint" is nonexistand, but in Osaka it's standard (I told you Osaka was better). If I lost you at "pilsner" then you're not a beer drinker anyway.

Wine; With apoliogies to the French and Itaians, this is very much a luxury item. Many establishments which offer wine (there are a lot in Tokyo) much like the USA offer it by the glass, for what seems like a very good price. However that's actually bullshit. When I ordered a glass of Dolcetto D'Alba for what I thought was a good price of 600 yen, I was more than a bit dissapointed when I was brought a massive Bordeaux glass with about 2.5 ounces of wine in it (that's just a tiny bit more than amount you'd pour for a simple free tasting). This concept was hammered in whin I went to the basement of the local department store where they sell the sake, and saw a bottle of Sutter Home cabernet from 2005 selling for 35,000 yen (that's over $35). Even the Australian lables aren't as cheap here as they are in the U.S., and don't even ask how much the Chateu Nuf de Pap was selling for. If I lost you at Dolcetto D'Alba, then you're not a wine drinker ainyway.

Sake; Called Nihon-shuu, it has unfortunately fell a bit out of favor with it's own domestic market. This is the best bang for the buck in these parts. Unlike the paint stripper known as Sho-chu, Japanese sake is very mellow and has as much of a spectrum as Europien stye beer or wine. There are full bodied dry ones that could almost be described as tannic (Dai Ginjou), there are fragrent fruity ones which go well with almost anything from sushi to icecream. There are dessert sakes, bitter sakes, and seasonal sakes. There are even aged sakes (which may not really be a great idea, but hey... whatever). Things like terroir and climate play a heavy role in the final product. Add to that the fact that about half a gallon costs about US $20, and it's mana from heaven. If I lost you at Dai Ginjou, then get out there and learn you some about this art form. A good and reasonable priced U.S. Domestic brand is called Momokawa (Peach River) from Oregon. For imports, look to Tenzan, Akita Homare, and NamaHage (mention Shirayuki, Gekkeikan, or Kurosawa, in my presence and I will punch you in the face).

Then there's this place...


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Guess Where I Am Right Now

Now that I am here apartment hunting in Tokyo, I am not keeping totally up to date with anime business news, so please enjoy this filler arc filled with cultural observations and such.

Incorrect assumptions about Japan and Tokyo that media around the world have made, and their debunking:

1) Internet access is so fast and proliferated here! (Washington Post). I read this somewhere on a list of countries with internet access and all that. It’s also more expensive and not as "proliferated" as you'd think. Actually, it's total bullcrap and most of Tokyo internet access is still via mobile phone or crappy DSL or even dialup. And I was hoping for that gig per second hookup that apparently only happens in university labs (the article didn’t mention that).Don’t believe me? Come here and do what I’m doing.

2) Tokyo is restaurant capital of the world (Some French Idiots). No. No it is not. I am from the real restaurant capital of the world and the Michelin franc-tards that came up with this crap are about as connected to reality as North Korean schoolchildren. Remember, these are classist wine snobs who never ever pay for a single meal they eat and consume fewer calories per day than a neurotic Parisian runway-model walking monument to eating disorders. Their findings don’t apply to the “little people” who actually have to think about how much a dinner out might cost and feed a family or even just a girlfriend. Actual international cuisine in Tokyo is either prohibitively expensive, or some Japanese interpretation of a culinary tradition they really know nothing about because they don’t actually have the ethnic diversity to proliferate a real international food culture.

3) Tokyo is full of weirdoes and you’re a foreigner and you’ll never have a nice time unless you hang out with other gaijin foriegners (Lost in Translation). Where do I start? This is a terrible movie made by terrible film makers and is nothing but some sort of personal ego stroking from some crappy personal experience. The only way you’re going to have a miserable time is if you’re miserable already, and that means you’re in for a miserable time no matter where you go. Right Sophia?

4) You can just show up and get a job and apartment someplace just like you could in some minor town in the USA. (As portrayed in Mega Tokyo). The thing I can’t stand about Mega Tokyo is the absolute lack of any kind of real knowledge about Japan that that idiot Gallagher has. The amount of paperwork, permits, and all kinds of other stuff you need to get one of the few types of visas that legally let you work any kind of job and get an apartment is both annoying, and surprisingly involving. Also, this is TOKYO, not some podunk town you're used to, it's the most expensive city in the world to live in and it would be like you and your 19 year old ass showing up in London or New York and landing an awesome job and apartment in the city just like that poof. And guess what, discrimination is TOTALLY LEGAL, so businesses and landlords can flat out refuse to deal with you simply because you are not Japanese and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't just show up and expect things to work out., There is plenty of information out there already about this so that’s that.

5) Tokyo is the place to be and it’s so cool and all that (Tokyo Metropolitan Government). Maybe I am biased, but the truth is, Osaka’s better. That’s just the way it is.

6) Beer in Vending Machines (you heard that from me in an earlier post). This used to be very true, but since I got here I haven’t seen one friggin beer machine. Apparently I am not going crazy though, and there’s actually a reason I can’t find any (they got banned). But, with all the 24hr convenience stores around, it’s not like beer is going to be hard to find.

7) This is heaven for all otaku and coming here will fulfill all your dreams and such (Weeaboos). Believe it or not, there are more pro golf shops here than places to get anime or manga. Tokyo, along with the rest of Japan, is no place for your self-diagnosed Asperser "cant behave properly in public" bullshit loud talking, disheveled dressing, free-hug self expression, of your individual individuality. The shit you see characters do in anime do that kind of thing specifically because it’s a work of FICTION. In the real world, that kind of behavior is not what you do, especially here in Japan. Do it in public here, and some public safety officer will actually come up and tell you to knock it the hell off.

8)You thought this list was actually going to have 10 items. I never said this was a top ten list.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Life in the Bubble: Axis of Ignorance

No time slot. Not yours.

While by no means the first manga creation to anthropomorphize political states as cute characters that do cute things, Axis Powers: Hetalia (the graphic says "powers" but some people are calling "powered"?) was popular enough to get someone to pay for an animated series. It should come as no surprise that this is not going to get aired on TV. When Japan’s neighbors throw a (deservedly justifiable) fit over a state visit to the Yasakuni Shrine, I doubt a cartoon series that makes the Rape of Nanking and Kamikaze attacks look like schoolyard shenanigans is going to go over well in the international community. Therein lies the focal point of this conundrum. In the great collective memory of Japanese history, these things didn’t happen. Studying there I found the academic history to be so whitewashed that even among college students, “Kamikaze” only congers up images of an invading Mongol army being swept out to sea off of Kyushu in the thirteenth century.

This unintentional ignorance of historical matters goes a long way to explain why a writer of a modern manga might be oblivious to certain international sensitivities when it comes to portraying 20th century events. It is not for this reason that the show shouldn’t be made, but only that we shouldn’t be surprised if places like Korea and China (where most anime is actually made) have negative reactions to an anime which, by no stretch at all, serves to reinforce an “accidental revisionism.”

This Japanese “culture bubble” is why Japanese pizzerias think canned corn is a widely used pizza topping in the U.S., why whale-burgers are still on the lunch menu, and why no one thought a TV show called Axis Poweres would create any kind of backlash (or maybe they did since the time slot was going to be late night). This not a program created by some right-wing group with some sort of revisionist agenda out to glorify one state or another. If anything, one could argue that the personification of Japan as the quiet weird one who probably tortures animals at home and one day will shoot up the school if Russia doesn’t give Saklin back, is at the deep end of offensive. But that self deprecation is not enough to get a pass in the commercial arena, and I don’t think it should be. Now, I want to see this show, and I would not want it canceled or production halted, but this is one of those occasions where the “culture bubble” has affected the end product to a point where it might be incompatible with an international notion of an acceptable way to treat 20th century history. Also, why does Lichtenstein have a character… seriously?

Japan’s exports are historically good at avoiding the taint that the culture bubble can give things (all exports have to otherwise no one is going to buy enough of them). Cars, electronics, earth-moving equipment, kitchen knives, have all been made in such a way so that their universality overshadows the unique aspects of their origins. This is also true for most internationally successful anime and manga. They have a universal quality to them which exists in things like character design, story type, and unspoken communication of emotion. Character designs are often made, or at least perceived, in such a way as to deemphasize depictions of ethnicity so that the relation to the characters by the audience is almost immediate (ie they don’t have to look a certain way to make the story believable).

It would seem that Hetalia: Axis Poweres has tipped ever so slightly over the side of that line so as to lessen the universal quality by being perceived a bit too sympathetic to the one true Axis of Evil if ever there was one. Case in point, people in the U.S. would expect France to be the one with all the white surrender flags and not necessarily Italy, but from the perspective of the Axis powers, it would make perfect sense thanks to wacky Victor Emmanuel III (look it up if you don’t know, I’m not history channel). If the intentions behind this series were strongly and intentionally political, then it might almost be easier to accept the series as just some product of right wing thinking and therefore marginalized.

Is this an instance of oversensitivity of fragile sensibilities stifling a truly creative work on the grounds of PC-ness and an example of collective bullying against free expression? Probably, but free expression with this material rarely translates to good business and as mini-mouse once said, “animation’s expensive.”

Props to Erin of the Ninja Consultants for the idea that Israel and Palestine should be conjoined twins forced to share the same desk.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Everyone is talking about BubbleGum Crisiseseses

BubbleGum Crisis Trifecta Now Complete,
- or -
Why BGC 2040 should only be watched in an academic setting with the sound off.

It's the future... but there's still no cure for Priss's mechanophilia.

Remember when I mentioned trends in Japanese Sociology and three possibilities that may be what the country chooses to rely on as a whole? Remember those three and how two of them seemed reasonable and the other one seemed like one that was really out there? Yeah, well they’re going with the robots anyway. This raised a point which has a sort of universal relevance throughout almost all segments of humanity not just Japan or Asia. What I speak of is the ability of the individual/collective mind to de-sensitize itself to the common sense notions of the ridicularity of an impractical concept or thing, if that said concept or thing is one that helps to maintain a social or ideological status quo. …did you get that? (I know ridicularity is not a word).

Nowhere is this more observable than in religious circles, where creationists come up with the most astonishing ideas about dinosaur bones and 2million year old light from Andromeda in order to maintain their pre-existing belief that your eternal soul needs saving by a ancient zombie jew if you eat his flesh and drink his blood because 6,000 years ago when the world popped out of nothing, a rib-woman was tricked into eating a magical fruit by a talking snake… with legs. Now that’s an extreme example but well exemplifies why there is so much of this kind of thinking going on. Over in Japan this news story is an example of life imitating art, a view of a life where Boomers and Cyborgs are a legitimate and feasible strategy for society to go on (anything to keep the Gaijin out) and the elevator girls still bowing to you while you go up to the top floor of Seibu looking for socks or whatever... but they’ll be robots now. Popular culture as reflected in manga and anime is very much steeped in the acceptance of borderline sci-fi absurdities in forwarding idea of preserving Japanese societal norms in an unchanging manner. In anime, the notions of a future where mechanical people Japanese people walking around doing all kinds of stuff is painted as a totally inevitability, but a Gaijin walking down the street in 2040 will still be weird. Now, it doesn’t take someone with a PhD in social sciences to realize that the actual future will probably end up being the opposite of that. But that’s not gonna stop this from getting pushed to the limit. This notion, that in the future Japan will stay as culturally and ethnically isolated as it is, and simply turn into Japan + Robots is so imbedded in cultural sensibilities that any anime or manga that is set in the future which does not include some manifestation of this, is thought of as an anomaly. It is such a hallmark of Otaku culture, that non-Japanese manga inspired works (web-comic Mega Tokyo is an example) include such manifestations as obligatory.

Now from the perspective of a country like the United States, this seems illogical and a long-shot wasteful use of resources at best. The USA comes from a very different perspective, one where a large scale immigration lead to developmental success and anti-immigration notions are usually the losers in the gladiatorial arena of popular politics. So it’s easy for someone from such a perspective to stand behind this Japanese path and mumble “it’s not gonna wooooork” as time goes on and things get outta hand. Of course that sentiment is scoffed at, not based on the merits or chance of success, but rather an almost religious notion that the alternatives are simply not acceptable because they violate many basic sensibilities of the status quo.

This exists in an even more proto-form in the world of fandom, where all kinds of notions and wishful things are superimposed on to commercial art and writings all over the place.
I once went on a 21 minute trolling crusade on youtube, commenting on every AMV I could find which used a song wrongly attributed to Weird Al Yankovic. Not only was I amazed on how many I could find (What if God Smoked Cannabis, Fart Will Go On, Toast, Ugly Girl, …all kinds of crap), but I was then further amazed at some of the responses that sought to rebuke the reality and assert that they were Weird Al songs. Things like “Oh he didn’t sing it but he wrote it” or “Someone else originally did it but this is Weird Al’s version” and the best “well Limewire labeled it as Weird Al so there.” Now these people want to be right so much, that they are blind to how ridiculous those claims are when you think about them. Now I could go on and on about the origins of this phenomenon (it has to do with how Napster worked) but this isn’t the “Angry weird Al fan blog.”

So everyone is talking about BGC from the “it’s not gonna wooooork” vantage point, and we can laugh at a Japan of 2040 where a mecha-maid serving you coffee with visible cleavage for you to ogle without negative repercussion is common every day scenery, but a gaijin walking into MosBurger is still worthy of stopping in your tracks and gawking. Yes this is going to be a reality. So is Bubble Gum Crisis and its atrocious re-incarnation BGC 2040 and anything else with crazy Japanese robots some sort of propaganda for the new world order of automation and negative population? No, that would be stupid, and the amount of old people wasn’t made apparent. This is an example of how cultural sensibilities are adapting to indigenous and external environmental factors in a changing world. Sensational news stories aside, the path of least resistance to this problem is so only to an outside observer, and the most desirable from the Japanese perspective will continue move forward with great entertainment for the rest of the world to see nothing else.

To address the flaws in the argument that annoying otaku are gonna bring up (this will only address issues from the original BGC and not BGC2040 because I just can’t watch all of that):

- Oh but the AD Police Chief is like such a Gaijin and he’s the Captain so he rose so high and so there must be plenty more out there in the future society.
No. BGC is just as much a product of Blade Runner and other American movies as Gunsmith Cats is related to Blues Brothers and The Fugitive. He’s thrown in there for effect.
- But Nene’s name is Romanova, and the original BGC is Full of Gaijin like it's nothing.
Are you kidding? Look at Nene. LOOK at NENE, she’s the embodiment of the Japanese O.L. and if you think the audience is seeing anything other than that when they rate her the #2 top female AIC character of all time, then you need to read more (or you’re in middle school). This also applies to every other non-traditional Japanese name in this thing, Priss, Lina, Samuel MacCoy, Brian J Mason, Silvy, you want me to keep going? With that logic EVERYONE in Mega Tokyo is an import. I’m pretty sure that even IF that was the writers intention, it’s been lost on the audience.
- But in BGC 2040 blah blah blah...
How can you ask a question about an anime that doesn’t exist?

Japanese Robot Secretary.
She doesn't rike you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In the Criminal Justice System... The Case of Christopher Handley

Wake me up when we get to part seven: The case of Christopher Handley.

Having the last name of “Handley” is now the least of this guys worries. Most people out there who would read this are probably aware of the news story developing around this guy. In a shaven nut shell this guy is on the hook for some serious felony charges which stem from obscenity laws which live in a constitutional grey area you could hide a GITMO/Abu Ghraib phone tapping kegger in.

Section 504 of the PROTECT Act, which is where the original charges come from, criminalizes the possession and distribution of "a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting," that —


Is obscene


depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; …

lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Now there is a pile of precedence in terms of getting things like this tossed going back to Larry Flint, but all those were a 1 part equation, where as this case is a 2 parter. Now for the even more concerning part of this, is that the legal precedence on the other side of this one, is very much against our Mr. Handley here. That other side, is of course the “depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct” wording in this law. Dwight Whorley (man these guys have the worst last names for this kind of thing) is doing hard time right now because he was in possession of drawn images which a federal appeals court decided were illegal. This court upheld his conviction, against the defense that no images found in his possession and part of the case were of actual people -minor or otherwise, and therefore protected speech no different from a written novel which would describe the same imagery. It didn’t work and he lost.

I would like to see this case will take a fast track to the Supreme Court on the back of the CBLDF and throw the constitutional protection of images, the production of which involves no actual people (as opposed to photography). Under the Protect Act, this could be interpreted as being obscene (over the years I am sure someone’s fapped to that), and the only line between whether you do or don’t get prosecuted for having it is who happens to be doing the prosecuting. Herein are the constitutional issues of what is “obscene” and can an artistic representation of something legally considered obscene also therefore be legally obscene due to the subject matter.

This is one of those rare times when the cold sobering hands real life smack fandom issues down to the level we see when held against the perspective of larger issues. It shows how ridiculous the little net dramah fits that happen on some fanfic website or live journal when someone does something or whatever. This obscenity back and forth is nothing new, and its just making the rounds to manga at this point. What’s new to the mix is that this is coming from a source outside the U.S. both in a literal and cultural sense, whereas most of these past instances are domestically produced pieces that are made by the artist with the express purpose of pushing the current boundaries of what is considered “profane” at the time. I think that fact will unfortunately weaken this case.

Now obviously if the search ended up turning up anything bulletproof and uber cut and dry when it comes to obscenity statute violating images, this guy would be either taking a plea right now or at least not having the CBLDF jumping into this one (that might even be out of ACLU territory). But it didn’t turn up, and now a prosecuting attorney has to convince a panel of judges that an artistic rendering of something is as bad as that thing itself… as if a drawing of a kitten in a blender is exactly the same as committing the act itself (actually possessing a video of that actual event in and of itself, with no other connection to that event, would be criminal if an obstruction charge could be made to stick because you "didn't turn it in"). Now these are some disturbing images, and court documents describe some of them as:

depicted graphic bestiality, including sexual intercourse, between human beings and animals such as pigs, monkeys, and others.

I hate "skunk fuckers," but this guy was having this crap delivered to his private home and wasn’t running around a furry convention shoving it in people’s faces. I think the fact that this guy is now feeling more buyer’s remorse than every Zune owner on earth times a million is honestly punishment enough.

Legally, this case might have a few points where a defense could get this guy off the hook without having to set constitutional precedence. There could be 4th amendment issues regarding the warrant being issues based on something not done 100% by the book by a postal inspector (I watch too much Law & Order). That won’t work but I am sure they’ve gone through the motions… literally.

Startlingly, there are people in the medical profession who would recommend allowing this guy access to these fictitious depictions of what most of us find abhorrent. The fact that this person went very much out of their way to track down a source for this material and then pay to have it shipped half way around the world, simply takes the argument that being exposed to this material causes abhorrent behavior and blows it out of the water. It’s not like he was a normal guy walking down the street and this shit just landed on his head, he went out of his way to look for precisely this. The recommendations of some medical professionals stem from the fact that if a person like this doesn’t get their fix in that harmless manner, they will seek it out in another form… maybe down at your kid’s schoolyard. Think about that. In May of 2005 this concept was thrown into the spotlight when the Attorney General of New York (the hooker-banging Eliot Spitzer of all people) campaigned for the end of Medicaid funding for Viagra prescriptions for sex offenders. There were a number of dissenting opinions.

That dissent was an uphill struggle to say the least, and I must say that what your Mr. Handley’s is facing a similarly uphill struggle (not the least of which is finding someone who would want to be in the same room with a guy who pops a boner to this kind of thing). This case is simply not one where an obscenity law can be challenged because of the vague wording behind it, as that’s already been tossed and now we're dealing with the strictly worded part. This is a case in which a that very unambiguously worded part of a law, namely the one that mentions specific depictions of specific criteria, must be challenged by the defense on the basis of constitutional protection under the 1st amendment of art or artificially created non-photographic images. The defense is going to have to argue that simply possessing (not producing, that's not what he's on trial for) an artistic representation of something that is illegal, does not that image illegal make, even though this law unequivocally says so. Not too easy to do when those images are things that, should they have been real, would be criminal to produce distribute and possess. The visible domino effect that this can have from the criminalizing of graphic artificial depictions moving to not so graphic or even implied depictions, to the written word, should be enough to convince a count to keep the government in the real world and out of imagination-land.

Welcome to the slippery slope, it’s always been here, you’re just new.