Japalentine’s Day

Japalentine’s Day
Semi-based on a true story

“I got you chocolate.”

“Why?  It’s Valentine’s Day.”

“Uhh, because it’s Valentine’s day.”

The girl frowned, brow curling with the starting pangs of sudden confusion. He felt his own “Look at me being all grown up and buying chocolate for people on Valentine’s Day” grin beginning to subside.

“It is Valentine’s Day, right?”

He reached into the breast pocket of his suit to retrieve his cellphone. He liked to keep his phone there, he was an adult now, after all.

The Bossman cleared his throat and nodded towards an empty classroom. Without a word, he let the chocolate sit.

“First year in Japan, right?” the Bossman asked, shutting the door as he followed his bemused subordinate in.

“Yeah.”

“So you don’t know then.”

The Bossman took a swig of coffee from a paper cup. When he pulled it away his mustache was dripping.

“Know what?”

The bossman paused, looked him over through thin barely there glasses.

“Better if you find out for yourself. I’m sure the staff’ll let you know what you need to know. Hell, they’ll enjoy it.”

Of course, explaining Japan’s various customs, rituals, and odd practices started by well-planned retail campaigning to the resident dumb gaijin seemed to be everyone’s favorite pastime here.

“Uh huh.” He always hated being explained to and hated the Bossman more for setting him up for it every time.

“Anyways, I was actually checking your file just the other day and it said you used to play football.”

“A little, I guess.” Small talk. He hated small talk. It was already what he did for a living. Make small talk in English. Make sure there were no horrible errors being made. Give the customer a nice list of new words to be digested, just to make sure they felt they were getting their money’s worth.

“What position?” The Bossman always kept his questions short and concise. Like he was teaching a class and the teachers under his supervision were his students.

“Linebacker.”

“Oh. Linebacker. Right right.” The Bossman nodded in full acknowledgment even though He knew that the Kiwi probably hadn’t the faintest idea of what that position entailed. “Anyways, your next class assessment will probably be next month.”

“Right. Awesome. Is that all?” He got up, ready to show himself the door.

“Yeah. Let’s get a drink next time I come to town.” He had said the same thing the last five times he had made the rounds to this branch school and every time there had been no drinks.

“Can’t wait.” He let the door slam shut behind him.

The receptionist had been eagerly awaiting his return, no doubt anticipating the chance to tell the dumb foreign person more about how Japan worked. His chocolate gift sat unaccepted atop cheap plastic countertop.

He gave a resigned sigh and let her take command.

“Mister Stephen, boys don’t give chocolate until White Day.”

“White Day?”

“Yes. Next month. Today is girls only.” The receptionist handed the unopened box of department store chocolate back to the dejected teacher.

“Oh right. Cool.” It wasn’t.

He ate the chocolate alone in his classroom before going home that night.

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Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Chocolate Instant Yakisoba

In case you’ve somehow forgotten, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day which means it’s once again time for Japanese food companies to make their best (or, in some cases, their worst) effort to capitalize on the season.  Case in point:  This limited edition chocolate-flavored instant yakisoba.

Now, I’m told that this particular strange food concoction was also in circulation last year but I evidently didn’t notice or at the very least didn’t care so it’s all new to me. Continue reading

Looking Towards a New Year

So with the first month of 2017 almost over, I thought it’d be prudent to finally talk about what I hope to get done this year (not that any of you probably care anyways).

As I “covered” earlier, 2016 was a year full of change and random things and getting fired from your job waiting tables because you had to leave town a couple of woks for a job out in the boonies.  The first month of 2017 has continued this trend.  Not the getting fired part, mind you.  You need to have a job first before you can get fired.  Thus far, the new year has brought me a half dozen stage appearances, a couple of token television appearances, and a steady
succession of bad colds and flu-like symptoms.img_7995

Which brings me to my resolutions and goals for the new year.  Everyone has them.  Almost everyone makes theirs public.  I’m just doing mine a whole month later than everyone else. Continue reading

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Clam Chowder Cup Ramen

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these but while I’ve neglected the whole try-weird-Japanese-food-product-and-talk-about-how-zany-it-is thing, it hasn’t been for a lack of Japanese food companies throwing odd things at the wall to see what sticks (or, probably more accurately, get free publicity from people going “isn’t this weird?” online).

But then, a few weeks back, I started hearing about 7-11’s newest special “LIMITED TIME ONLY” cup noodle creation, a “clam chowder” ramen developed in collaboration with every aging American urban hipster’s favorite chain ramen restaurant, Ippudo.  The clam chowder, they claimed, was a speciality brought over from the New York outpost.

Being a guy desperately trying to find things to write about that won’t bring me the wrath of my corporate overlords, I decided to give it a try.img_8008

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Winter in Japan, Alternatively Titled “You’re Going to Catch a Cold No Matter What”

As the hordes of old people in their puffy Michelin Man jackets would tell you, the dead of winter has come to central Japan.  Surgical masks are flying off the shelf like magic.  The ubiquitous vending machines all seem to have at least one row devoted to “hot”, well, more like lukewarm, beverages.  There are more sniffles on the train than a whole movie theater of middle school girls watching The Notebook for the first time.  Yes, it’s that time of year.  Cold weather has arrived and with it cold season.

While there are definite benefits to living in the biggest city in the world, nothing can make you rue the day you moved to Tokyo more than the day some old drunk dude coughs right into your mouth on the train home.  I’m sure you’ve heard about how crowded Japanese cities can be and no where is this more obvious than the country’s highly regarded public transit system, clean, on time (when there hasn’t been a suicide by train), and chockfull of sick people just waiting to get you sick.

Make no mistake, Japan might be sanitary on a surface level but it has a dark, dirty, stanky underbelly that’ll drag you down and knock you out with nary a second to spare.  I was naive, too, when I first moved here but three bouts of the flu in two years and countless head colds later I am now a hardened veteran of the Japanese winter.

So Stephen, you ask, how does one avoid getting knocked down for the count by a winter cold in Japan? Continue reading

You’re a (Very) Minor Japanese Television “Celebrity”, So Now What?

So we’ve beaten the whole Netflix horse for a while now and talked about introducing a manzai to the world (at least that was the idea) but what about my terrestrial career (i.e. the non-English language media)?

The Japanese new years holiday is one of shuttered shops and clogged transportation networks (interestingly enough, everyone is so busy getting out of Tokyo that the capital becomes an absolute breeze to get around for the week).  It is also, most helpfully for me, a time for people to gather around and watch a shitton of TV.  Almost every single popular program on television will put together a several hour long special show to be shown in the week around New Year’s Day as the Japanese public apparently still hasn’t figured out (a) how to use a DVR, (b) that you can watch almost anything you want on a streaming service, (c) the more time spent watching your favorite personality ham it up on screen means less spending quality time with your loved ones.

Yes, in Japan, on New Year’s, television is still king.  And thanks to the national network’s ravenous need to fill airtime with original “special” programming, this means young struggling comedians such as myself find themselves with increased opportunity to see some airtime. Continue reading

You’re a Minor Netflix Celebrity, So Now What? Part II – “Aren’t you that guy from that thing?”

In case you haven’t been keeping track (you haven’t), What’s Manzai?!!! has been out on Netflix for over a half year now and, much to my welcome surprise, people are still stopping me on the street to talk about it.

So, yes, I am that dude from that one thing you might have watched on Netflix and, yes, I am an actual struggling comedian with actual struggling comedian problems, problems that a Netflix film debut and the subsequent slight surge of recognition that came with it did nothing to really alleviate.

I’m writing this blog post in a Starbucks bathroom.  Why?  Because I’m an internet freeloader but also don’t want to pay three hundred yen for coffee.  Also, I’m broke, which I’m pretty sure is simply a rite of passage for anyone going down the career path that I am.  Also, Japanese toilet seats are super comfy so I could literally spend hours here without feeling too much rectal distress.

Continue reading