As sometimes happens on friday evenings, I'm in an almost euphorically good mood. I suppose it's been quite a good week. On monday my JLPT results arrived; at 72% it was amongst the worst exam performances of my life, but that's a pass so I can now officially 'understand basic Japanese'. My four kindergarten visits went well; by the final one this morning by eye was completely in and it went like a dream. And I just got a belated Valentine's Day cake from Marie.
To celebrate all this, I just took my first trip to Nanyo's most up-market conveyor belt sushi joint. It's actually really close to my house, so it's almost embarrassing that I hadn't been there until now. It was a classy place, with no inauthentic nonsense like hamburger sushi on the menu. So concerned were they with authenticity that they didn't call salmon saamon like everyone else does, but rather shake, because that's the proper Japanese word for it. Plates ranged from 100 to 500 yen, but I was able to have a decent meal without breaking the 200 yen barrier. And the prawn soup was free.
Alright, let me talk you through my activities of last weekend. It was a three-day weekend, as friday was 'National Foundation Day', whatever that means. This meant that thursday was yakiniku night with my friends in Yonezawa. Yakiniku is a vaguely Korean-inspired form of dining, whereby one cooks one's food (typically meat with a few token vegetables, and for some reason, an ornately prepared solitary shiitake mushroom) in a bucket-shaped grill in the middle of one's table. Due to an unlikely series of coincidences, this was in fact my third yakiniku in the space of seven days. Actually, the night had been falsely advertised to me as a sukiyaki night. Just about every cooked Japanese food has yaki (meaning 'cook') in its name, so it's easy to get confused: yakiniku, sukiyaki, yakitori, teriyaki, takoyaki, okonomiyaki...
This particular restaurant specialised in horumon, which clearly comes from the English word 'hormone', but somehow means offal. Thus, we were served up a couple of platters of raw avian and mammalian innards, most of which we couldn't easily identify, and decided on balance that it was best to keep it that way. A lot of it was unpleasantly fatty and/or tough; the cow tongue was the pick of the bunch, which is never a good sign.
Thankfully, the meal came with 90 minutes of unlimited drinking. I've noticed that natives and gaijin approach nomihodai a little differently. The Japanese don't hold back on ordering drinks, but when the time is up they will politely call it a day, sometimes even leaving their glass half-full. This level of restraint seems to be beyond us dyed-in-the-wool capitalists from the West, who cannot resist the urge to stockpile as last orders draws closer. Thus, we were still drinking about an hour after our time had elapsed, which I feel has to be a little cheeky.
After that it was karaoke, and another couple of hours of boundless boozing. The song selection system had the irritating bug/feature that although there were plenty of English songs in the catalogue, one couldn't search for them using the alphabet which you are currently reading. Thus we had to puzzle out how our chosen artists or titles would be rendered in katakana. The hit of the night was Reedii Gaga's Baddo Roomansu (requested by someone other than me, believe it or not), though Kesha's (that one's a no-brainer in Japanese) Tikku Tokku was also more fun than one would imagine.
The next morning - or more accurately, early afternoon - we all met up again for the classic hangover food of ramen, then went off to carve a lantern. As you might have seen from my flickr feed, it was the Yonezawa Snow Lantern Festival once again, and the Yonezawa International Relations Association was to have its own lantern. This meant that an assortment of gaijin and gaijin sympathisers were given a roughly 1x1x2m obelisk of compacted snow, a stencil, and a selection of saws, spades and bricklayer's trowels and told to do their worst. I think it turned out quite nicely. There was a really pleasant atmosphere of teamwork and anticipation; in many ways I enjoyed making the lantern more than the actual festival the following evening. My friends and I also went freelance and made a snowman, but I noticed that this had been obliterated by the time of the festival. It was of the American three-ball format as opposed to the Japanese (or, of course, British) two-ball, so I'm concerned that it may have been the victim of a racially-motivated attack.
After the festival the next day, a bunch of us headed to a Western-style bar, by which I mean they had an actual bar at which drinks had to be ordered and actual chairs on which to sit. They also had an albino snake which customers could hold. It's actually the second bar-snake I've encountered in Yamagata prefecture, which seems very improbable. Anyway, after thursday night's antics I decided it would be best to drive and not drink. All I can say is, I don't know how teetotalers and pregnant women do it - I really struggle to have fun being the only sober one in a crowd of drinkers.
Now, let's jump forward to tuesday, when a reporter came to interview me for the Yamagata Shinbun (newspaper). In Yamagata, I guess every day is a slow news day. An English teacher was assigned to act as interpreter, but he wasn't really a whole lot of help. Perhaps he felt, quite justifiably, that there were better uses for his time than facilitating the stroking of my ego. Consequently I ended up speaking quite a lot of terrible Japanese, so I'm a little concerned about what mutated version of what I was trying to say will actually end up in the story. The whole thing felt quite farcical, and it reached a kind of ridiculousness nadir when she asked me how I coped with the Yamagata summer and I said "Aircon, ice tea, and not wearing many clothes", which she dutifully scribbled down in her notebook.
But the lunacy wasn't over. She said she would come back tomorrow to take my photo, and as I had mentioned my love of snowboarding, she wanted a snowboard-themed photo-shoot. The weather was beautiful on wednesday afternoon, but there was no question of going to any actual slope. So after getting a few shots of me wearing my boarding gear and holding my board, I had to resort to busting out some flatland moves. We ended up getting a shot of me pulling a big stationary tail-press in the little park in front of City Hall, which is actually a pretty tough thing to do on my stiff, freeride-oriented Nitro Suprateam. Sadly, this is probably the closest I'll ever come to being a pro snowboarder.
Apparently it should be hitting the newsstands on tuesday; I can hardly wait.