Or, "Hey little sister, shotgun, shotgun" (obscure video game reference)
I'm on holiday! And as is often the case when I've just been to Kappa Sushi, I'm in high spirits. Actually, I'm glad I went today, as they have some one-week only New Year specials. The highlight of these was a single nigiri (you know you're getting something a bit special when 100yen only buys one instead of the usual twin set) with pretty much the entire leg of what must have been quite a large crab balanced precariously on top of it. As I drove home, I managed to find a radio station playing Western pop music, which is a rare enough occurrence that you feel like high-fiving someone whenever it happens. The DJ had a curious habit switching into English for whole sentences at a time, making me momentarily think I'd mastered Japanese. The song that was playing when I tuned in was Bob Sinclar's Love Generation, which will always make me think of Joy. How's it going anyway, Ms Hadden?
So, I've hung up my Santa hat, and my official duties are over for the decade. Christmas Day was a little depressing, because I had to go to work as usual. I didn't even get to go home early, drink mulled wine in the office, or anything. The only concession made to the occasion was that a few of us went out for lunch, to a soba restaurant (soba is one of the two main styles of Japanese noodle, the other being - superior in my opinion - udon). Thus, my Christmas Dinner consisted of noodles, rice and tofu.
As I ate my supermarket bento box for dinner that evening, washing it down with some imported Bowmore I treated myself to, I felt a little glum thinking about all the excitement of Christmas morning that was unfolding in my homeland. This was my first Christmas not spent in the bosom of my family. I spoke to them on Skype, and even took a virtual seat at the dinner table later in the evening. It was really nice to talk to them, but I felt quite rueful that they were clearly having more fun than me.
Thankfully, I got to have something approaching a traditional Christmas on Boxing Day. An ALT in Yonezawa, who is evidently quite handy in the kitchen, invited me and a bunch of other foreigners round for a turkey dinner. We had a gloriously lazy afternoon variously drinking, watching festive movies (I somehow managed to get The Sound of Music played all the way to the intermission), playing Wii and doing a Disney jigsaw puzzle that I had won in a raffle at yet another Christmas party. I'd forgotten the simple pleasure of a good jigsaw. When the food was finally ready (Japanese ovens are underpowered little electric affairs), it was delicious. Because our hostess was Italian-American, meatballs were a welcome addition to the more traditional festive fair.
I had to spend yesterday (monday) at City Hall, which particularly irked me because it had been marked on my schedule as a holiday. In Japan, it is customary to do lots of cleaning at this time of year, so that one starts the New Year with a tidy house. Evidently, this custom extends to the workplace on the last workday of the year, so I spent the afternoon doing things like sorting out all the paper for recycling. To be honest, it beat doing nothing. I was also given the job of putting up the 2010 year planners, because I'm the tallest person in the office.
Many of my fellow gaijin have gone home for Christmas. However, those who haven't seem determined to make the most of their brief festive break, so I don't think there's too much danger of me getting bored or lonely. I'm going drinking in the bright lights of Yamagata City tonight, and tomorrow I'm planning to go boarding at Zao again - there might even be some sunshine this time.
Also, my import copy of Bioshock finally arrived, so I'm having to fight the temptation just to spend all day curled up on the sofa (in a hat, jumper and blanket) with the PS3. First impressions of the game: I'm very impressed with how free-form the combat is, there really are many many ways to skin a cat in Bioshock. And while I remain deeply skeptical about storytelling in games (people hold up Half Life 2 as a shining example, and while I love the gameplay, the plot is about as deep as a poor-to-middling Arnie movie), Bioshock's creators seem to recognise the inherent limitations of the medium and go more for an interesting premise than a plot-driven narrative. I am however a little bit troubled by the way that the enemies keep their damage when you respawn, meaning that you can just grind your way through using persistence rather than skill.
Oops, I seem to have gone off on a tangent that will interest at most about two people who read this. Sorry!