Monday, July 31, 2006

There she is, the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater in Ginza. A giant spire shooting skyward marks the front of this famous building, built exclusively for the performance of Takarazuka musicals.

Here's where I went to see my play. There are only two Takarazuka theaters in Japan; one is this building in the Ginza area of Tokyo, and the other is right next to the Takarazuka Music School in the town of Takarazuka about 45 minutes from Osaka.

The same sign in Japanese. It reads "Tokyo Takarazuka Gekijoh."

An interesting metal sculpture marking the front of the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater. I guess she's supposed to be a scantily clad Takarazuka dancer holding up her ponytail of hair - that makes sense!

The entrance to the theater complete with patrons exiting from the previous show. As you can clearly see, just about everyone is female.

A bust of Kobayashi Ichizo, the president of the Hankyu Railway Corporation and original founder of the Takarazuka Theater Troop.

The red carpet steps leading up to the main and balcony seating areas. The carpet was so impecably clean that I felt bad walking on it.

The pretty flower shaped chandelir in the theater lobby.

Here is a poster for the musical I saw, "Akatsuki no Roma" or "The Dawn of Rome." It was a rock opera version of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." The musical song and dance revue that followed was entitled "Les Bijoux Brillants" or "Poetry of Glittering Jewels."

The formal logo for the Takarazuka Revue in kanji characters as seen in the theater lobby.


This past Thursday afternoon, two coworkers and I were treated to an advanced screening of the new Power Rangers / Masked Rider movie that hits theaters August 5th. The screening was held at Toei Films’ headquarters in Ginza. Toei is one of the major movie studios in Japan, but they are best known in the west for their animation and superhero footage which brought Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Ultraman, and countless other cartoon anime to life abroad. Ban-Dai of America still uses Toei footage for all the modern Japan-made live-action superhero shows.

As opposed to the U.S., going to the movie theater in Japan costs a minimum of $18 no matter when you go. I was pretty upset that I wasted that money on the anime Brave Story. Likewise, I was happy that I wasn’t shelling out the Yen to see this new flick. We were all handed a glossy movie flyer that explained the history and back stories of these two series and were instructed to sit in a medium sized theater room. Power Rangers (known as the Go Go Super Sentai series in Japan - 轟轟スーパー戦隊) celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year, while the Masked Rider series (仮面ライダー) is 35 years old. Both series are still going strong in Japan. A worker from Toei briefly introduced the films and we were off and running.

The movie was actually divided up into a 30-minute Power Rangers episode and a separate one hour and ten minute Masked Rider movie. The Power Rangers short was exactly what I expected; mediocre acting and special effects equal to (but not exceeding) that of the television shows I watched as a kid. The blue ranger had an annoyingly eschew tooth that I couldn’t take my eye off of. The format of Power Rangers is always the same (whether in the U.S. or Japan). There is a bad guy, the rangers morph and fight the evil monster only to have him grow to gigantic proportions, requiring the rangers to use their giant transforming karate fighting, gun blazing mega-zord robot to lay the evil monster to rest and save the world.

While Power Rangers was a nostalgic piece of fluff, I was pleasantly surprised by the Masked Rider movie, entitled,“God Speed Love.” You could tell this movie was targeted at 20-something-year-olds; there was fake blood and a love interest and everything.

For those who don’t know, The Masked Rider is a human who uses advanced corporate technology from the Zynex Company to transform into a beetle-themed bug-powered super soldier. The character rides around on a super-powered motorbike which gives the series its name.

A little known fact is that any Japanese person can actually perform the Masked Rider transformation move on command if asked (they teach it in primary school). The move involves raising your right hand above your head with your index finger pointed to the heavens, and bringing it down in a swift chopping motion while yelling “Henshin!” When the chop reaches your abdomen, you throw the switch in the middle of the beetle icon on your phantom belt and transform into The Masked Rider!

Masked Rider had a short run on Fox TV opposite Power Rangers but was soon canceled due to low ratings. Other shows of the same genre that used footage directly from Toei Japan included “Big Bad Beetleborgs” and “VR-Troopers.”

The Masked Rider movie told the story of two Masked Riders who had to fight the forces of an evil terrorist organization in order to save the world and a special young woman, who just happened to be the sister of one MR and the fiancée of the other. The villain was a grandiose pimp-looking character who wore a long fuzzy white coat and threw deadly blue roses that exploded on impact. When he transformed into an evil gold Masked Rider, all hell broke lose when he unleashed his flaming hurricane kick!

In the end, the battle injured fiancée MR sacrifices himself so that the woman he loves can live on. He accomplishes this in a somewhat baffling sequence of events that involve him traveling back in time and bestowing his last ounce of Rider super-strength on his love, in order to prevent a piece of office building from falling and fatally injuring her. In any event, the movie was about as poignant as a Saturday morning kids show could get – I didn’t cry though.

After the movie was over we all filed out of the room and left - kind of anticlimactic. There is an Ultraman Movie coming out at the end of August that my friend from Ban-Dai is going to score me pre-screening tickets too. Ultraman was the original Japanese super-soldier and his now over 40 years old.


Here is the giant, weird Sci-Fi looking guy above the Freak Brothers clothing store on Roppongi Street near where I work.

A lady sleeping on the train bench in front of me. She started upright, but gradually sunk deeper and deeper as sleep took its toll.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Best Clip EVER!!!

While in Shinjuku waiting to see the crummy anime movie Brave Story, my friend Kevin and I were ambushed by the Shinjuku Internet TV station. A female worker named Yoshitomi-san asked us to step into a recording room right next to the theater (you'll see in the video that the room had a glass wall so onlookers from the street could examine the gaijin).

I was wary of the whole shady setup. Just one hit on the head with a blackjack and my organs would be going to the highest bidder on Ebay.

The guy working the camera instructed me to say some sort of message in English to people back home. Drumroll please...Here's the world premiere of Ben's Internet Greeting courtesy of Shinjuku Internet Television. Click the link below and hit the button that says “Movie Reproduction.”

You’ll quickly understand why I chose to write my entries for A White Boy in Japan instead of do video blog.



Fireworks! (花火)

This evening marked the nth annual Asakusa Summer Fireworks Show or "Hanabi Taikai" over the Sumida River (隅田川花火大会). This is the largest and greatest fireworks show in Japan, and while I cannot give you an accurate count as to how many people lined the streets of my neighborhood, I can safely report that it felt like no fewer than 10 billion people were in attendance.

I came back from my Takarazuka musical (wait till the next post) on the jam-packed train. Boys and girls in kimono and wooden clogs were packed in alongside me – we were all going to the same place. When I arrived in Asakusa, I was immediately engulfed in a mass of people. I started perspiring profusely and could not move much of anywhere (it didn’t help that it was over 90 degrees today in Tokyo with insane humidity).

I had a simple goal – get home. Easier said than done! When I usually get off the Asakusa Train Line, it takes me 10 minutes to walk home down the simple straight line route. The most immediate problem tonight however was that just about every road was closed and packed to full capacity with people of all shapes and sizes. They were sitting, eating, kissing, and being stepped on.

Thus, I couldn’t simply walk home in a straight line – police guards prevented this. I began my trek down the side streets labeled “fireworks route”, spying colorful blossoming blasts over the tops of the nearby office buildings. Whenever an especially big or impressive blast would go off, everyone would burst out clapping and cheering like we were fans at the World Cup. They would accompany the applause with screaming “Sugoiiiiii” or “Sugeeeeeeh” which roughly translates into “WOW!!!” “YEA!!!” or “F*CK YEAH!!!”

Walking down the side streets was not too bad. The worst part came when you reached an intersection that needed to be crossed and were once again swallowed up by the leviathan of people. There’s a fine line between being in a very crowded area and coming to a standstill (which I can begrudgingly handle), and being part of an actually dangerous mob environment. There’s a reason why one was able to hear ambulance sirens every 10 minutes or so – there is a real danger in traversing these crowded streets.

When Japanese people are packed into an immovable mass, they push. This must come from the crowded subway and train mentality where one must silently push in order to snag a space on the train car that will get them to work on time. They must push to survive! At my first intersection, I was immediately pushed against very hard by the blob in back of me. Consequently, the woman ahead of me started yelling at me in Japanese not to push or we would all fall over. I told her I wasn’t the one pushing, but she didn’t seem to be listening. I looked behind me to the man resting his hands on my back and pushing me forward. I told him to stop pushing because there was no where I could move. He didn’t respond - he just looked ahead, eyes glazed over, silently pushing with his arms outstretched, like a zombie from Dawn of the Dead. Slowly but surely, one step at a time, the mass crept forward to the next destination.

During this process, I managed not to step on any of the thousands of people sitting on blankets in the streets. I was very worried about stepping on a small child. Because of my un-Japanese regard for my neighbors, I was the one who fell. I was bracing myself against a wooden stake in the ground as the earthquake simulator of people lurched backwards and forwards at a second intersection, when the stake gave way and down I went.

Luckily, I was able to get up in time so as to not be trampled. Just in case, I had already mentally brainstormed how to curl myself up into a ball, in the event of being trampled. Next, when I rested for a moment near a convenience store and actually caught a glimpse of the fireworks through a crack in the buildings, a parked bicycle was thrown quite forcefully into my right leg by and oblivious woman who knocked it over on her way to buy beer. I was angry, sweaty, tired, and sore – I never thought I’d actually want to return to my one-room mansion.

When I finally got to my Umaya Bridge, I found that it was closed as well. The finish line was in sight, however, the second fireworks show had just started directly over the Umaya Bridge and police officers were denying people access to the bridge. I showed the police officer my room cardkey and told him that I was going back home, literally across the bridge. He was nice enough to open the checkpoint and let me walk in the special lane of the bridge they had reserved for wheelchair transport and other medical supplies. At that point I felt like I needed both.

Thus, I was finally rewarded! I got to leisurely hobble across my bridge right as they began launching fireworks over the top of it. For two minutes, I had the best seat in Asakusa! It was very beautiful indeed. I tried to snap pictures and take video, but whenever I paused for a moment; a police officer would nudge me and tell me to, “keep it moving. ” Once I arrived home, to my surprise, I found that the front steps of my housing complex provided a perfect view of the second fireworks show (my room window faced the opposite direction). So, I sat outside and watched the end of the show on the front steps.

And that was my first (and likely only) Hanabi Taikai. Messy, but done!


If you'd like to see a pretty blurry video of the Asakusa fireworks I took from the front steps of my housing complex, click away!

Sardines climbing the stairs to see the fireworks.

Here is a view of the Asakusa train station on street level. If you multiply this feeling by 13, you'll begin to get a sense of what it was like on the streets around my housing complex.

The only good still shot of the fireworks I was able to get. I captured this while walking across my bridge in the special emergency lane. Whenever I paused for a moment to snap a picture, a police officer would yell at me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Yokohama (横浜)

Below are pictures from my daytrip to Yokohama (about 45 minutes west of Tokyo proper, by the seaside). I had the day off today because I have to work a concert event this Sunday for a group called Psychic Lover. They perform the title song for the new Power Rangers movie that comes out next month. I will actually be going to an advance screening of the movie tomorrow night at Toei Films in Ginza, so I will let you all know how it was. It can't be any worse than Brave Story!

Yokohama is the second most populous city in Japan behind Tokyo, but it sure didn’t feel like it (this could have been because everybody was working). Unsurprisingly, Yokohama felt like a bigger and more vibrant version of another port city I have already visited; Kobe. Like Kobe, there is a maritime museum, various touristy boat rides, a large seafront tower for viewing the bay area, and a Chinatown.

As of right now, Yokohama is my new most desired future living destination in Japan. This is mainly because it was a gorgeous day today (very hot though) and the breeze coming off the sea was just great. The streets were also wide with hardly anybody walking on them, a welcome change from the crowded, narrow streets of Shibuya or Shinagawa.

I first walked around the harbor and port area, looking in shops, and walking through parks. Yokohama wants to be San Diego, CA. Clothing stores sell surfer gear, old glass bottle-style Coca-Cola machines are in abundance on street corners, and it was the first time I saw Mexican food establishments in Japan! There were many opportunities to be a tourist, but I did not partake. I would have been the only gaijin AND the only customer at said attractions and rides because most people were working.

I finished up my day with a trip to the famous Yokohama Chinatown, the largest Chinatown in Japan (Kobe had one of these too). Having actually shopped in the haggling, cut throat environment of Beijing, Chinatowns fail to wow me anymore. How come Chinatowns never sell all the pirated stuff that they actually have in China? I ate dinner at a buffet-style restaurant in Chinatown and it was surprisingly good and cheap (well, cheap by Japanese standards, not Chinese standards). As far as I could tell, the majority of the people who worked in Chinatown were actually Chinese immigrants. Though they could speak fluent Japanese, I often had a hard time understanding their heavily accented speech. I’m sure Japanese people have the same problem when I speak.

After dinner, I took my time walking back towards the train station through an upper-class shopping boardwalk - It was very nice and peaceful. The jam-packed train I rode back to Tokyo was not very nice or peaceful. On the train, the girl to my left read her book by smashing her face against the page, so that the paper actually rested against her left eyeball. She would then manipulate the book in a way that her eye would slide down the paper, reading the story one vertical line at a time. At first I thought she was blind, or had poor eyesight, but she seemed to be looking around at all the advertisements in the train car just fine, and when she got off, she walked away from the train just fine. Oh, and men in Japan carry man purses. The guy to my right’s Louis Vuitton bag, which was just about as big as his chest, smashed me into my seat. It didn’t matter, I was still dreaming of my new home…Yokohama!


Ascending the escalator from Minato-Mirai Station. *I first went to Yokohama Station and wandered around there for about 30 minutes, wondering where all the touristy stuff was, before realizing that I needed to take a different line about 10 minutes further to the port and harbor area itself.* Please note the giant Snoopy on the left hand side - they have Snoopy Stores in Japan - that's why he's there.

A nifty looking sculpture that reminded me of a rollercoaster track, right when you step off the escalator (assuming you look up that is).

An interesting, semi-patriotic statue right outside the Minato-Mirai (Yokohama Sea Front) train station. You can see the giant ferris wheel in the background. I think this statue must have something to do with U.S. - Japan relations, since Yokohama was the first port city that was opened at the end of Japan's isolationist period thanks to Commodore Perry's intimidating black ships.

Yokohama's famous giant ferris wheel, part of the Cosmo World theme park. This picture was taken at 1:12 PM. I didn't ride the wheel because I had already been on the world's tallest ferris wheel, which is actually located in the Odaiba area of Tokyo (just FYI).

Ships lined up at Yokohama Port.

Trees with the ocean in the background.

A view of Yokohama Port from the top of a park, whose uninspiring name when translated back from Japanese was literally, "The park where one can see the harbor."

Here's the well that the creepy girl from The Ring climbed out of. They've sealed off the top, so her reign of terror is over...OR IS IT?!

Here's the imported booze that gives "Corona's Bar" its name. After nearly four full months without anything that even remotely resembled Mexican food, I stared in awe at the mirage of TacoDerio like a tribe member who just won a reward challenge from Jeff Probst. Tears of joy dribbled down my cheeks as I savored the salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and homemade tortilla. It was the greatest lunch money could buy!

"Take a picture, it'll last longer!" Okay, I will. Behold, the singular taco of the Japanese island nation.

Here is the Nippon Maru, the most famous ship in Yokohama. This ship was built in 1930 for the purpose of training Japanese seamen and deckhands. Heavily restored after WWII, the ship is now sea worthy and has sailed to Hawaii. Nowadays, it sails out into Yokohama Harbor once a month for public demonstrations.

The English says Nippon Maru. The Japanese says the same thing if you read the characters right to left. This is interesting because nowadays, they would write the Japanese characters left to right just like the English. Most books, comics, and magazines in Japan are still read up - down, right to left, but there is also a large amount of stuff (advertisements and textbooks for instance) that is read left to right just like English.

The back of the ship. Sorry I'm not better with the nautical terms. Help me out...uh...hull?

A statue of a girl with open arms, expelling seagulls from her groin.

Here is a giant pneumatic thingy that was very important to ships and sailing and nautical stuff in many important ways. Such

Here is the entrance to Yokohama's famous Chinatown, the largest Chinatown in Japan. The gates were created to mimic the architecture found at the Emperor's Summer Palace, a building that I actually visited during my trip to Beijing. Most of the people working in Chinatown were actually Chinese immigrants. While fluent in Japanese, their speech was heavily accented and at times very difficult to understand.

Here is a giant gate with pagoda in the background, the main attraction of Yokohama's Chinatown. These Japanese copies were more impressive than the real thing I saw in Beijing.

Another Chinese inspired building in, you guessed it, Chinatown!

If you've been a reader of this blog since the beginning, then you are already familiar with Captain Santa. If not, you're in for a treat! Captain Santa is the tropical themed, yacht sailing, senior citizen Claus who serves as the mascot for a line of khaki shorts and California surfer-themed clothing wear marketed at older men in their 50's and 60's. Captain Santa has a group of supporting character known as "The Captain's Crew." One member is a dog who looks like Disney's Pluto and the other is a moose who bares more than a passing resemblance to the Mariner Moose.

Yay for globalization! See's is just starting in Japan and they only have a handful of stores throughout the country. When I asked for a free sample, the high school girls working behind the counter started laughing. I told them that in America See's Candies offers free samples. They said that they can't offer free samples in Japan because it costs so much to manufacture the chocolate. Judging from the price tags in the store, I'd say they weren't lying.

When was the last time YOU had a precious coffee moment? If you're my roommate Bryce, chances are you're having one right now.

A cute kimono girl. Bye bye!

Business Lingo

It occurred to me that I forgot to include the most important phrases in Japanese business in my last post about the proper way to meet celebrities. Because I’d like to think that this blog is educational as well as entertaining, here comes a foreign language lesson that some might find rather boring.

If you’ve studied any Japanese, you have likely learned that the phrase “ohayoh gozaimasu” means good morning. This is true. However, as Shimura Bucho explained to me, you also say ohayoh gozaimasu when you meet someone of outstandingly high status. This would be a person that you do not see on a regular basis and are not likely to see again in the near future. In situations like this, no matter what time of day it is, it is appropriate use the greeting ohayoh gozaimasu.

The opposite of ohayoh gozaimasu (when used to greet a superior) is the super casual term Ossu! Ossu is the equivalent of “Hey” or “Yo,” and is used when you meet up with the boys or team members from your company. Ossu was once only exclusively by males, but nowadays girls are starting to use it as well. It is perfectly appropriate to extend the “ssss” sound at the end of the phrase when greeting people, thus mimicking Gollum from Lord of The Rings.

The other required business phrase is “otsukaresama-desu” (present tense). This phrase can be translated into English to mean anything from, “thanks for your effort” to “let’s throw back beers like there’s no tomorrow!” The phrase is usually spoken at the end of the workday (or after one has just completed a project), and expresses thanks for a day’s hard work. Somewhat confusingly however, if you are in an office environment, people will often use the phrase as a substitute for konnichiwa. In situations like this, the phrase merely means hello.

After the NHK enka TV show filming I attended, all my co-workers and I had to stand upright in a line and bow to every single singer, dancer, producer, publicist, manager, and tech person as they left the filming area with bags in hand. Out of respect, we could not leave the studio until all of the abovementioned people associated with the filming had left before us. While lined up, at first I thought I might say “yoku dekimashita” or “you did great!” to the passing people, but I soon found that this was an inappropriate way of thanking people. The correct term to use was otsukaresama-deshita (past tense), and I said it around 10 thousand times.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Everybody's entitled to one fluff post about candy right? A while back, Mars Candy did a campaign on TV and the world chose pink as the new M&M's color. I don't know about you, but I never found a single pink m or m in any of my packs (and the peanut variety were a frequent purchase of mine at my dorm's vending machine). I am happy to report however, that Japanese packs of M&M's do in fact contain the rare and delicious pink candies. I hope this doesn't mean that the pack I ate sat on the shelf for two years.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Today I attended a live event at a movie theater / art gallery in Shibuya. The event showcased the work of a Thai manga artist who creates simplistic cartoon stories and sets them to his own piano music (there is no other sound in the animations). For the live event, he sat at a KORG digital piano and played music along with a DVD of his animation (just like the old-style silent movies of the 1920's). He spoke virtually no Japanese, so I was actually able to introduce myself in English. The above and below pictures are from the super creepy storeroom of the art gallery, which still had a few pieces from the last twisted exhibition hanging around.

Dear Wes Craven, if you are reading this blog and are looking for a new cinematographer, please give me a call. I think we can work something out!

Here is the building from the movie Lost In Translation - it is directly opposite Shibuya Station at the huge crossing. The place is called the Q-Front Building. The front of the building acts as a giant TV screen and often displays movie trailers and music videos. In Lost In Translation, it displayed a giant walking brontosauras.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Here is the Hyper Convenience U.S. Mart, part of Shinjuku's American Blvd. I passed this area while walking to a nearby movie theater to see the anime Brave Story (it turned out to be pretty crummy). A general rule is that anything which claims to be American in Japan will actually have no relation to the United States at all. This store didn't carry any American-made products and I am certain that the staff didn't speak a word of English.

Inside the place. There were more flags in this one store than on my block during the 4th of July.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Impressions From the Entertainment Ambassador

For the next two weeks I will be working in the anime and videogame music division of CME called Columbia House. Thus, my two weeks working in Columbia Records (the enka or country music division of CME) have come to an end and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad to go. My birthday was marked with a special sushi dinner with some of my co-workers, and the experience brought me even closer to them. As we drank and ate all the raw fish our bellies could handle, a friendly war of words broke out between Shimura Bucho to my left and co-worker Rurika (an interesting name even by Japanese standards) across the table.

Shimura-san kept explaining to me the subtleties in usage of the phrase “stupid idiot” as it referred not only to Rurika as a person, but her thoughts and behaviors as well. With his so-called “back alley Japanese,” he instructed me to call Rurika “wrong in the head,” sticking his tongue out as he twisted his index finder around and around by his ear. Rurika responded by telling me that Shimura-san never says any complements and instructed me to call him “a dirty old man.” While it may seem like this was a mean spirited fight, it was in fact friendly in nature, similar to a brother and sister.

This type of name-calling and play fighting is something that I’ve seen over and over again between work colleagues. I attended a BBQ last weekend with my enka section and as we drank more and more, the behavior got more in line with this observation. The section’s sub-leader began hitting everyone in the head with his folding fan. He walloped me on the head and told me to “pay attention” as he asked me in Japanese what I thought about Japanese girls’ lack of boobs and forests of pubic hair (I’m not kidding!). Indeed, I think my eyes traveled over to some of my same-aged female colleagues during our conversation, which is why he plunked his fan down on my noggin.

To some, these types of questions may seem alarming or inappropriate, but I was not caught off guard at all. As I wrote earlier, the concession in Japanese business is that your work and section colleagues are the people you trust, they are the people who know you, and they are the people you can truly be yourself around.

Returning to the point of play fighting, our BBQ concluded with a massive water fight. I’ll hazard a stereotype at this point and assert that Japanese people LOVE splashing each with water. The weapon of choice was the ice cold reservoirs of H20 that had collected in the drink coolers. Several co-workers were targeting another guy at one point and they used me as the bait. Once the mark and I struck up a conversation in Japanese, the guys ambushed him and drenched him in water. A bucket full of ice cold liquid came down over me as it did to just about everyone there. You work hard in the office so you can relax and play hard when it counts.

It is hard to believe that I have only been at work for two weeks – I have already seen and experienced so much! You can read about all the people I met below. One more celebrity should be added to the list, an older female enka singer named Kaneda Tatsue. I sat in on an interview being conducted at CME for a music magazine and got a chance to talk with her after the reporter finished.

The three people in the company who can speak English fluently (one of whom is the company president) were there with me in case I froze up during the after-hours Q&A, but we all spoke in Japanese so it worked out well. To my surprise, it was Kaneda-san’s agent who liked me the best. She said I could send her my demo tape and wants to have lunch with me because she thought my views on cultural exchange were very interesting. I guess this is because I went off on one of my favorite topics about how Japan is so important economically and culturally in the world, but yet most people see it as an impenetrable enigma. In my opinion, most people don’t know what to make of Japan. My blog probably doesn’t help this fact.

Meeting famous people is always weird, and it is made even weirder when you try to do it in a foreign language. I can say however that I am now as used to it as I am going to be and that I am rarely nervous anymore. Because Japan is a hierarchical society, the spoken language of Japanese differs when you talk to people of varying ages and social positions. The Japanese terms are sonkeigo (honorific language) and kenjyogo (humble language). Basically, it corresponds to, “anything you do is great” and “I am slime.” Thus, when I refer to “I am slime” Japanese, I speak of the way that one must humble themselves in front of superiors.

It is worth noting that these types of speech are very difficult to use effectively for both foreigners and native Japanese alike (they do not teach it in Japanese school). You in essence have to constantly adjust your speech on the fly to put down yourself and put up the other person. This is not only in meetings; it is true when one company calls another and whenever a salesperson addresses the all-valuable customer-sama.

And now, my guide on how to meet famous Japanese people:

Step 1 - Can I come in?) Unless you are a company president or have made a name for yourself in the entertainment industry, if you are meeting any sort of famous people, the chances are that you have a Japanese native insider as a guide. After your superior has knocked and the dressing room door has opened, he or she will begin with a short one or two sentence introduction about who you are and where you are from.

For instance, “This is Ben Wha…Whele…Whe…Whaaa…uh…(pause)…Ben-san. He is completing an internship program at Columbia Music Entertainment and is a student from Stanford University.” At this point, the famous person will glance in your direction and ask the Japanese superior a benign question about you without acknowledging your presence. An example question would be, “Is Stanford University located in Boston?

Step 2 - Entering) When it is your time to enter, the Japanese superior will flutter his upturned hand in your direction. As you enter the room you must first bow deeply and say a set phrase in Japanese which translates into, “I am very sorry for disturbing you and I apologize for the hindrance of my plump and unsightly American face.” When standing, it is important that you stand upright with your hands at your sides (if you are a boy), or your hands placed in front of your abdomen, one placed on top of the other, (if you are a girl). It is also very important that you stand as close to the door as possible. This is the most vulnerable position in a room in Japan and it signifies that you do not intend to stay long and are on your way out.

You are to stay standing upright and not sit unless instructed to do so by your host. If you are asked to sit, you must either completely rest both feet flat on the floor, or completely fold one leg over the other to create a stereotypically homosexual image, while squishing your private parts to the side of your opposing leg. An average guy’s most common way of sitting where one rests the foot of one leg on the opposing knee of the other, thus forming a triangle shape with their legs, is an automatic “batsu” (X). Feet are considered uncleanly in Japan, and in any sort of formal occasion, showing the soles of your feet to a guest is considered very impolite.

Step 3 – Introduction) You must now say a self introduction in Japanese using the appropriate “I am slime” form which explains your humble circumstances. You must not introduce yourself for too long; a length of two sentences is appropriate. When I met my first famous person, I introduced myself for way too long and saw the glaring eyes of my Japanese superior like the rising music at the Oscars as a sign that it was time to wrap up.

Step 4 – Q&A) If it is a short Q&A session you will only have the opportunity to explain that Stanford University is located in the state of California and give a brief overview of the geography of the United States. If it is a longer Q&A session, be prepared to explain your interest in Japan, what is hard / easy about studying Japanese as a foreign language, the fact that Americans do in fact eat white rice, and anything that you were particularly “surprised by” since coming to Japan. Differing from Westerners, Japanese people are much more interested in your opinions and experiences as an outsider in their society, rather than your life and family history. If you do get questions about your life, it will likely be superficial things such as, “What kind of place is city X” or “Do lots of people know about sushi where you live?”

Step 5 – Wrapping up) Depending on how engaged the famous person is, there may or may not be a section where you two stare at each other while reaching for something to say. In any event, this awkward silence will almost always be ended by your superior, who will signal that it is time to go. It is strange, but you can always feel when this time is coming so you don’t have to worry about overstaying your welcome.

Step 6 – Leaving) You are to leave as you came, by bowing deeply (this may be followed-up by several short bows in rapid succession), thanking the person for their time profusely, and saying a set phrase in Japanese which translates into, “I am leaving now. Your time has been a peach blossom scented blessing and I apologize for the lingering stench of my presence.”

There you have it - How to meet a famous person in a nutshell!

I’d like to close this post with a method to live by; “Put in Effort” or in Japanese, “Doryoku o Ireru.” If you are a foreigner living and working in a different country as I am, it is no surprise to any native that you do not fit in. In fact, no matter how well you may know the customs, speak the language, adopt the slang, or hold hands with a partner, you will always be an outsider simply because you don’t quite fit in. The sooner you come to grips with this reality, the sooner you can pat yourself on the back about how far you’ve come and the risks you take on a daily basis; living, communicating, and thriving in a society that is not your own.

What I have learned so far is that when you are placed in difficult foreign situations, you may be scared and you may feel awkward and you may want to quit. These feelings are only natural. What matters in situations like this is that you put in the effort to get the job done. This is especially true in Japan, where effort is rewarded with its weight in gold (or rather respect).

If you go through the motions and give it your all, regardless of whether you ultimately succeed, you will always be rewarded. You give off the sensation that you are type of person who is not afraid to put yourself out there in a frightening situation and take a risk. Because many similarly aged Japanese people are afraid to do precisely this, if you take the plunge, the people around you will be awed and you will feel great about yourself.

On that note, as hard as it was, I contacted my dream girl Mina (see Columbia Rose below). She’s in Osaka this weekend promoting her new single, but we made a date to go out and have a sushi dinner together when she gets back.

Next week it’s ANIME; I’m only getting started!


I went to the Sunshine City Mall in Ikebukuro today to look around. Sunshine City has four floors of shops, including a floor of nothing but restaurants. As is the case with most Japanese malls, the stores aren't all that interesting. You'll have much better luck finding neat, "Japanesey" stuff if you visit stores on any district's downtown streets, because Japanese malls are filled with the same GAP, HMV, and Eddie Bauer stores that we have in the west. In addition to the hords of clothing shops, there were also interactive events for small children in the mall (the main one was on the science behind typhoons). Here is a colorful deep-sea train that you could ride around the mall. The train played repetitive Disney-esque music as it crawled through the mall's crowded floors at a snail's pace. I enjoyed looking at the less-than-thrilled faces of the high school students whose part-time summer jobs required that they walk at five-paces per minute in front of and in back of the train to safeguard the human cargo, while being subjected to the same bubble-gum music over and over again.

Here is Restaurant Bambi in the Sunshine City Mall. I was hoping that it actually served deer meat, thus granting evil hilarity to the place's name, but it is in fact just regular Japanese food. Maybe you could ask the chef for some Bambi and Thumper though...if I were in France, you'd certainly be able to get it.

Here's a cute little Japanese girl posing with Rilakkuma the bear. This bear character is super popular in Japan, and is on all kinds of merchandise. In fact, Rilakkuma (be it male or female) just turned three years old!

They changed the display in the front window of Banpresto's headquarters near my house. Ban-Dai actually has many subsidiary companies (as one would imagine). They are all located within walking distance from my house, but unfortunately none have gift shops or are open to the public. Benpresto is the joint company between Ban-Dai and videogame developer NAMCO that does a lot of anime and game music projects with Columbia Music. The character you see in the picture is Gatchapin. He is a popular frog-like spaceship captain who has a slew of merchandise and TV spots in Japan.

As I was walking through the streets of Ikebukuro, I got a chance to meet the real-life Gatchapin - it was quite an honor!

Here is Gatchapin's friend Mac who serves as the brains of the operation. You can tell he's smart by his white lab coat.