Stephen Starts a Diary: May 7th

5/7 Monday

Walking home in the rain is probably never a good idea.  And yet, there I was, struggling against the wind and rain as I tried to hammer out the hour-long walk to my apartment in Shinagawa from the wakate young comedian theater in Shibuya, trying desperately to not lose another umbrella to the wind whipping sheets of rain into my eyes. Continue reading

Stephen Starts a Diary: 5/6

5/6 Sunday

Today was the last day of Golden Week, the hellish week where every single Japanese person gets a week off of work.  Normally owarai comedians, being based in an industry predicated on the leisure dollars of the employed masses, are incredibly busy on vacation weeks like this one but I, after a string of gig cancellations and whatnot, was not.

Unfortunately, I also happened to catch a cold this week so I spent most of today layign around my small Japanese apartment feeling very sorry for myself.  I did get out for a walk (mainly just so my Apple Watch would stop yelling at me to exercise) but with it being the last day of Golden Week, my usual park of choice was supercrowded with families of people who either didn’t get out on their week of vacation or people who came back from their vacation a bit early.  It was not, unfortunately, all that relaxing.

Also, a kid ran over my foot with a tricycle.

Tomorrow brings the return of the working week and I have an English lesson first thing in the morning to get things started off right.  It’s my first lesson with a relatively higher up guy within the Yoshimoto corporate structure so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Five Things You Should Know Before You Come to Japan

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Stereotypical Tokyo Tower picture.

I know, I know.  This is a horse that’s been particularly beaten to death over the years and there are like five-thousand other articles out there on the internet with the exact same title, most of them probably better than this one.

But, ever since What’s Manzai?!!! went live on Netflix, I’ve started to receive a steady stream of the typical “Hey, I want to come to Japan but totally don’t know where to start so I just randomly decided to contact a dude that I saw in a random TV show on the internet” message (most of these for some reason landing in my personal email account, Facebook Messenger, and, in one case, through text message on my phone).  Rather than answering each query one by one (while I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time out of your life to contact me, I don’t have the time or resources to come up with a satisfactory response that doesn’t make me seem like the total asshole that I probably am), I thought I’d kill thirty birds with one stone, something that should totally be an Olympic sport by the way, and start answering some of these questions somewhere everyone could see them.

Which brings us to our main course for today:

Five Things You Should Know Before Coming to Japan

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“Let’s Have Sex Under That Crying Statue!”- What I Learned From the Onsen Ordeal

So I’ve made it back from Hakone alive and in one piece (relatively speaking).  This time around, our shift corresponded with perhaps the busiest travel season of the Japanese work year.  What did that mean for the relatively underplanned and ill-prepared Mecha-Ike Onsen?  Lots and lots of guests.  Way more than we probably knew what to do with.

The first time around, back in July, daily guest numbers ranged around 1000 with the weekend occasionally bumping things up to 2500 people or so.  In August, visitor numbers jumped to somewhere around 4000 people a day, many of whom all decided to visit the newly opened Mecha-Ike Onsen right around one o’clock, meaning two or so hours of hell a day for the staff, along with another ten or so hours of “Well, now what?” Continue reading

An Update (August 2016 Edition) or Hot Spring Hell

Sorry for the relative dead air over the past month.  After the surprising amount of free time that came after the release of WHAT’S MANZAI?!!!, my schedule suddenly went back to being meanderingly busy.

As it turns out, summers are a relatively busy time in the Japanese entertainment world, what with summer events, festivals, the usual live schedule, and several projects that I’m not at liberty to reveal yet.

So what have I been up to (that I can tell you)?

Well, over the last half of July, I’ve been up in the mountains in the popular resort town of Hakone, living in staff lodgings and working 13 hour days running a hot spring attraction for a popular television show.  Well, not just me, of course, as my comedic partner has actually been bearing the brunt of the workload (yay, language barrier!).

It’s long, unforgiving work and honestly probably pays horribly (we don’t know how much money we’ll get until it’s actually in our bank accounts) but, when you’re a first year dude, any work offer is a good offer, which means you accept these stints no matter how much you may hate them.

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And believe me, this work does suck.  You wake up early, work until nine, work seven days a week, and stand in ankle deep people broth all day, resulting in the soles of your feet resembling stale bread crust, making your workday a living hell.  Even though it’s been a week since I’ve returned from Hakone, I still find myself waking up in the dead of night with foot pain.  I know, I know.  It comes with the territory.

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There’s supposedly a valley behind those clouds.

And since this is workaholic Japan, I’m going back for another shift in two weeks.

 

But hey, at least the view isn’t horrible.

Stephen Eats Japan: Rokurinsha, Tokyo, Japan (六厘舎)

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As seen in multiple posts before (like here), I take particular delight in eating tsukemen, ramen’s less well-known (at least in the states) brother.  As seemingly hundreds of thousands of international television programs and publications and snobby know-it-alls on the internet would like to tell you, the be-all, end-all must-try tsukemen is that of Rokurinsha, preferably that of the crowded Tokyo Station basement location because everyone knows food is only good if you’ve waited an inordinate amount of time to eat it.

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Sakura Season

It's spring.  That means it's flower time.  Everyone party!

It’s spring. That means it’s flower time. Everyone party!

It’s April 2014, the weather is finally starting to take a turn for the better, spring break has come and gone for those people fortunate enough to get one at all.  April means spring.  And here in Japan, spring means sakura.

For those not in the know or those who are otherwise uninitiated in the art of contemplating the falling cherry blossoms with a great degree of self-importance and pretension, sakura is the Japanese term for “cherry blossoms”, a type of plant/tree/thing that is apparently different from plain old cherries in that sakura trees don’t actually bear any fruit (Thanks Obama), are probably a bitch to clean up what with their falling petals and all, and look dead for most of the year save a one week (or sometimes less than that) period in which their flowers blossom and millions of Japanese people flock to parks and groves in droves, eager to ring in the tidings of warm weather with copious amounts of booze, food, and shenanigans.  It’s like college, only with old, beaten-down businessmen and cold, neglected housewives instead of frat bros and skanks in tubetops and heels.

I would would be lying if I said that I didn’t appreciate the cherry blossoms or the warmer weather but I would also be lying if I said I appreciated it as much as I appreciate the internet or a shirt that isn’t either too big or too small.

The thing about sakura season in Japan is that it pretty much is three months of build up, followed by three days of peak blossom season, followed by weeks of fallen blossom petals blowing everywhere and generally causing a big mess and allergies for a lot of Japan’s more nebbish, hypochondriac population (“My nose is runny, I have hay fever!”).

Over the years, sakura and hanami have come to be associated with the passage of time, more specifically, graduation, which, unlike America, usually happens right around March and April.  As a result, most of the nation’s pop culture pretty much stops what it’s doing and shifts course into full blown sakura-mania, complete with daily sakura forecasts, sakura-themed TV specials, and more sakura songs than you ever thought could be possible.  It’s like Christmas is in America, except in this case you don’t get any presents and there are (more) drunk people in the train station (than usual) singing old folk tunes to themselves.

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So sure, the sakura blossoms maybe pretty to look at but overall they may be a bit of a pain in the ass.  Plus, once you get over the fact that you no longer need to wear arctic expedition gear to work everyday, everything else is just peachy (or maybe in this case cherry-y?).

Or maybe I’m just a cynical, hardened bastard…  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

 

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Before the oncoming Japanese snow storm. (Kairakuen)

There’s supposed to be the biggest snowstorm in at least ten years heading into the region tomorrow. (Or maybe I misheard that… I probably did). Anyways, I decided to enjoy the last day of no snow for a couple of days (and the last day of my weekend) and took the forty-something minute trek out to Kairakuen in Ibaraki Prefecture.

One of the three “Great Gardens” of Japan (the others being Kenrokuen in Kanazawa Prefecture and Korakuen in Okayama Prefecture), Kairakuen(偕楽園) was established in 1841 by a member of the extended Tokugawa Shogunate family, who, in a completely unprecedented move, actually opened his park to the public, thus helping to establish the concept of public parks in Japan. Though it was dead when I visited it today in the dead of winter, the garden is renowned for the beauty of its plum blossoms in the spring and a temporary train station is actually opened nearby to accommodate the onslaught of people making the two hour trek from Tokyo to frolic amongst the flower petals and drunk people (drinking and enjoying the beauty of nature go together here).

In other words, I’ll have to make a repeat visit in a month or two when the trees and grass aren’t a frozen mess. Until then, there’s a bunch of dead grass and leafless trees.