Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's Crab Season!

The Japanese love their food shows. Celebrities interview other celebrities over coffee and cake. Comedians interview pop stars over full course meals while trying to guess which course is the food they hate the most. SMAP, arguably Japan's most famous pop group, has a show where they make gourmet meals, with their famous guests being interviewed while the band is cooking (gotta be fair here - the food is really high-brow, and the cookbooks sell like crazy).

Now, I have to admit to a guilty little secret: I liked "Iron Chefs". It was a TV show where 1 of 3 famous chefs and their crew would be pitted against a challenger crew each week to make a complete meal, including dessert, using that day's surprise ingredient (Iron Chefs America is on the Food Network). I always got a kick out of trying to figure out just what kind of dessert they could make when that day's ingredient was something like oysters or abalone - "Oh, look, he just made gelato using oyster juice!" Eewww! I just knew that there was no way I'd try it.

Well, crab season is here, and it's all over the television, with a twist. Reporters and 'talents' (TV personalities, who often lack any significant talent whatsoever) head out to the hot spots on the Japan Sea coast to sample the fresh catch, and the audience, along with a panel of other TV personalities, oohs and aahs.

Look, here are the new crabs: "Waaoooh!"
Look, this one is cooked: "Waaaoooooohhhh!"
Look, the TV guy is eating it: "Waaaaaaoooooooohhhhhh!"
And look, here are the brains: "WAAOOOOHHHH!"

I could understand it, if the people in the studio were actually looking forward to eating the crabs, like in "Iron Chefs" (see, tied it together after all!). But they're watching a video of someone else eating it - who usually shovels in a huge mouthful of boiling hot food, then immediately tries to talk around it to tell you just how delicious that piping hot mouthful that he/she hasn't even tasted yet is, which sucking in air like an Electrolux in a futile attempt to cool their tongues. "Gobble-hoover-yum-smack-my!"

Sometimes they're lucky not to spray food all over the camera, which has come in for a closeup of their face contorted in fake rapture and pain. "Waoohh"? Maybe. More like 'see food' than 'sea food'. But shouting and getting all excited and studio panel members smiling and standing up and gesturing wildly?

Stranger in a Strange Land, indeed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Politickin' and Elec-shuns

Well, now that the US mid-term elections are over, I imagine the Americans out there are breathing a sigh of relief. No more mud-slinging, no more advertising paid for by XYZ Action Committee, CNN even carries the occasional actual news story.

Gotta admit, living here I don't miss the commercials. "Mr. Jones didn't vote for Y", "Ms. Smith is a commie", "Johnnie Reb wears skirts", "Jane, you ignorant slut!"

(On a sidenote, I think the Tea Party debacle was hilarious. Whatever your political affiliation, you just gotta love when the most conservative group says they're "tea-bagging", blissfully unaware of the meaning of that particular phrase... I just about blew Coke... a-cola... all over my computer monitor first time I saw that)

Here, however, elections have their own twist. Until last year, there were no political commercials of any kind on television. None. De nada. Zilch. Even now, they are just general platitudes, campaign slogans. It's bad form to attack your opponent directly.

What they do have are loud-speaker trucks. Usually little mini minivans, not the monsters on American roads, but about the size of a Volkswagen bus, with half a dozen folks wearing white gloves waving out the windows and loudspeakers on top blasting out the candidate's name and saying "Please vote for me!" That's it. No reasons why you should vote for them, just their names. From 8am to 8pm. Many times, the candidate isn't even riding in that truck, just some of their supporters with a looped tape. Very polite, though, they turn off the loudspeakers when stopped at a red light, and often smile and say a special hello (without asking for a vote) whenever they pass this blond-haired (what's left of it, at least) furriner.

But at least the campaign trail here doesn't start 18 months before the election. Every election, whether local or national, has a 3-week limit on campaigning. 22 days before the election, still blessedly silent. Monday morning at 8am, BWWAAAAAHHHH! The trucks begin.

On a personal note, I'm really glad the mid-term elections are over, because if I hear one more tea-bagger say they're gonna "Take America back", I'm 'a gonna scream. Take it back from whom, moron? Americans?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween in Japan, 2

Oh, frabjous day, the Halloween party is past! Now, don't get me wrong; it's a lot of fun. Kids are kids, candy is candy, and Japanese dentists are discovering the joys of this particular American holiday. But the preparation is tough, with so little available at the corner store; I have to make the majority of my decorations (although little banners and window stickers are getting much easier to find).

But I got slapped hard by the cultural expectations bat at the party. You know, when something is so basic, so obvious, that you'd never think to explain it. It's like breathing in air, holding your breath underwater, peeing into the toilet (Aah, the Nobel Prize for literature awaits my prose...). Something happens, and you realize that no matter how much you may think you know your adopted culture, no matter how much you think they understand about you, some underlying assumptions make an ass out of you and me (well, of course, I'm not talking about you personally! The idiot next to you, yeah, that jackass is the one I mean!).

One of the activities was Jack O'Lantern drawing. I set out 50 pages of colored paper with pumpkins copied on them, all ready for junior Dalis and Picassos to show me their avant garde talents. Well, near the end of their free play period, when the quieter bunch had been working at the picture table rather than drilling bean bags at their favorite monsters

or trying to make point shots in the monster cutouts, I went to check on their progress.

And found 21 perfect pictures of pumpkins, lovingly colored in various shades of orange, with vibrant green vines and stalks. And not one face... Not one crooked, gap-toothed smile... No eyes blazing with happiness, nor malicious joy...

Oh, and my record remains perfect... I scared another little girl to the point of tears...

then I put on my mask (rimshot!).

This mask did it