Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kon’nichiwa Asuka II Part Nine - Oh My God… It’s Still Moving

At the moment I am in my cabin, getting ready for the first of two Magical Dreams performances tonight. For this show I use my cabin as a dressing room, since all my entrances and exits take place stage right, and the men’s dressing room is off stage left. I wouldn’t have thought of this myself, but the guy before me did, and who am I to break tradition? Besides, in between entrances I get to watch game two of The 2010 World Series, rebroadcasted from last night, where it’s tied at zero at the top of the second. That’s about all I know, because the commentary is in Japanese.


So, with about half an hour before the show starts, I have some time to sit down and tell y’all about all of my comings and goings during the past few weeks… and  to be quite honest, it’s just one big piece of news surrounded by filler. But hey, gotta make you work for it, so let’s start with some filler.


First of all, we made it back to Sakaiminato… which we all know is best known for it’s awesome slide. Well, it turns out that the passengers like to visit the city for an entirely different reason.


This is Mizuki Shigeru Road, named after a famous Japanese cartoonist. Hard to tell from the picture, but lining the four or so blocks of this street are hundreds of bronze statues that represent his creations, including this:


I forget the name, but this is Mizuki’s Mickey Mouse. The eye he is holding, which is usually seen popping out of the kid’s head, is also his father. That’s about all I know, but the popularity of this character spans many generations, and is literally plastered on anything that can be purchased with yen. For example:


To my knowledge, I’ve never seen Mickey or Donald hawkin’ malt liquor, but this eye knows how to move sake.


With all the excitement of bronze statues and merchandising, it only took me an hour to get the whole experience, so I hopped back on the crew shuttle. Back at the ship, and with over four hours of port time remaining, I felt like I should do something productive to take advantage of this fine city and all it has to offer… so I went back to the slide.



If you think that’s sad, wait until you see part three… and four… don’t worry, I’ll pace myself.


In other ho hum news, I recently visited the port of Hamada for the first time. When I looked out my porthole to gauge my potential enjoyment, I realized I may need a new formula.


Okay, so since I’ve replaced stacks of wood with hundreds of earth moving machines, how does that affect my “amount of piles multiplied by size of parking lot on pier inversely equaling my enjoyment factor” equation? Well, let’s see… what did I do that day?


Went to a Japanese flea market… no joke. If you’ve been to one in America, or Russia like I have, you realize that any country’s junk is just that… junk. All the things you’d expect to find are here, like old family photographs, vintage postcards, ancient and outdated electronics, and my personal favorite: taxidermied animals.IMG_3303

I must have saw a dozen of these… still, I didn’t see any trophy deer or sets of longhorns. I guess a Japanese flea market does have its differences, but that doesn’t change the fact that large amounts of stuff on the pier generally make for an disappointing port experience. The equation stands.


Okay, okay… enough putting off… let’s get to the main event. Not to long ago we made it back to Hakodate. You’ll recall that it was here that I met a woman named Yoshie, and her daughter Miyuki, who each showed me around the city, and later the neighboring town of Onuma. With ports like Sakaiminato and Hamada fresh on my mind, Hakodate is a welcome change of pace, and once again I was shown around town by my expert tour guide Yoshie.


First stop was an observation tower, then a Western style fortress, lunch… but the big highlight of the day was finally getting acquainted with live squid. And by acquainted, I mean eating it. Or to put it another way… I ate live squid.

(This is the part of the blog that you came to see, by the way, so you can stop skimming here)


Tell you what, since words really don’t do the whole experience justice, let’s just take a look at the video.



So, is it really alive? Well, not really… but from the time I hooked the squid, maybe three minutes passed before it was hitting the bottom of my gullet. The reason for this is because the squid tastes better when it’s fresh. At least, that’s what the Japanese tell me… having had quite a bit of sushi style squid up to this point, I really don’t think it has much of a flavor anyway. Eating it live is certainly exotic, but I’d be lying if I said I could taste the difference.


Here’s a close-up of my plate of live squid. You can see the tentacles there at the bottom. Above them is the body (which I think is the part that is usually fried up for calamari). The yellow stuff is ginger, and the little chunks just above and to the left is the squid’s liver. Not shown is a pint of Sapporo, which greatly aids in the appreciation, and digestion, of live squid. The whole thing cost us 1200 yen (a little over fourteen bucks), and is enough for three or four (like minded) people to share.


And, as far as the movement is concerned… yeah, it was still moving. You could notice the tentacles slowly writhing on the plate, but once they were dipped into the soy sauce, look out. Those suckers, as you saw, were dancing. Fortunately, I did not feel them putting up a fight as my molars did their thing. However, I did not try to keep the thing in my mouth as if it were a lozenge, so perhaps my chewing stopped it from moving (as it should). And speaking of suckers…IMG_3421What you are seeing is the squid still clinging to its body. This picture was taken over ten minutes after this poor, ugly thing met its eventual demise… that’s it buddy, never give up the fight. 


The big question is, would I have it again? Well, first of all, I would eat live squid over a South Korean bug any day of the week; I prefer wiggling and mostly flavorless over not moving and tasting like ass. It certainly was an event, that’s for sure, but not one I would go out of my way to repeat. Still, Hakodate is well known for this, so the odds of me catching squid in my lifetime are pretty slim.


Okay, that was the big news… anything else to report?


Saw this at a Yako Yen shop (Japanese dollar store). Apparently, in the shrink wrap is some special panty hose, with holes for four heads. Perhaps after you and your three buddies get done eating some live squid, you can each pop this sucker on your head to see who picks up the tab. Let’s see what the rules are to this… game.


The rules on the back state:

  1. Put the panty hose on your head.
  2. Pull with four people at the same time!
  3. If you keep the panty hose on your head to the end, you win!

Wow… Below the rules of the game are the warnings. Make sure you:

  • Do not put the panty hose game in your mouth… bad enough you’re breathing it in.
  • Do not use this product improperly… which I find interesting given the whole nature of the product is improper.
  • Do not wind product around your neck (to be filed under improper usage).
  • see a doctor if “unusual symptoms” occur.

Also, you need to be aware that this product could discolor from use, which is another indicator that this shouldn’t be put in your mouth. But man, that’s an embarrassing amount of fun for 200 yen! Still, I would like to see four ingenious bank robbers pull a heist wearing one of these.


And finally, I think I’ll end with Hello Kitty. I’ve noticed Hello Kitty in a lot of places during my time in Japan. The thing is pretty popular, and I’ve seen the kitty on things from merchandise to advertising. However, the other day I found a very suspicious, and official, Sanrio Hello Kitty product.


You can say what you want, but Hello Kitty is definitely flipping you off.


Keep on Livin’ the Dream,


Michael Lamendola

(Hanging out on top of Mt. Hakodate)



I finish up the blog after my two previously mentioned performances of Magical Dreams. During my last entrance I miss the last two innings, and, hold on… when the hell did the Giants get seven runs? Better step it up, Rangers.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Kon'nichiwa Asuka II Part Eight - Watch Me Eat A Bug

At the moment I am sitting in cabin number 6278. Outside my water stained porthole a container ship slips slowly to our aft, heading in the same direction as the Asuka II, but at a slightly slower clip. We left Yokohama this morning, tying down just long enough to let go of roughly four hundred and fifty pax, and at a current speed of 21.9 knots (holy cow, we are hauling some serious ass!) we make our way to Kobe.

Speaking of Kobe, I finally made it back after my initial visit almost three months ago. This time I made sure to load pictures onto my computer as soon as my feet hit deck 6, and for good reason...

What you are seeing is Kobe beef being cooked at the center of my table (called “yakiniku” here in Japan). Let me take a moment and brag... I ate Kobe Beef in Kobe. This sort of accomplishment goes up there with drinking Bordeaux wine in Bordeaux, and eating French fries in France (yeah, yeah, I know... but they don't call them Belgium fries, now do they?). So, how's Kobe beef? Delicious. As a matter of fact, it's so good that you can even eat it like this...

What you're looking at is a plate of freshly ground Kobe beef with a raw egg on top. Although I never heard it trumpeted, I can assume it's a Kobe egg as well. For all you carnivores out there, let me be clear: even when it's raw, covered in slimy uncooked egg, and slowly dripping off your chopsticks, Kobe beef is still awesome. And speaking of egg, the Japanese think of eggs the way Americans think of cheese, that is to say eggs can enhance any meal. I've seen it as an option on everything from rice bowls to hamburgers, and from sushi to ice cream... okay, I made that last one up, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, only that I haven't seen it yet. I mean, come on, they do eat wasabi ice cream after all.

Anyway, all kinds of Kobe beef and seafood were consumed at this tucked away little mom and pop place that some passengers knew of, and in turn treated me to. My job was to sit and knock back Japanese draft beer and watch my hosts prepare the meat, which was brought raw, platter after platter, by an old Japanese woman whose other job was to yell at what I can only assume to be her family that helped her run the restaurant. The sunken, gas fired grill in the center of the table did quick work of the bite sized strips of beef, and mere minutes passed from platter to palette. Boy, lemme tell you, after four months of rice and fish, Japanese BBQ is a very welcome change of pace, and has since ruined me for the afore mentioned rice and fish... sigh.

But it hasn't all been Sake wishes and Kobe beef dreams around here... because soon after hitting Kobe the Asuka II made a detour to South Korea.

Here I am sitting in front of the Choenjiyeon Waterfall, the largest on the small island of Cheju (or Jeju, as I saw on many taxi cabs and signs in the area). So, we came to South Korea, and I saw a waterfall... big deal. what kind of blog would this be if I stopped there? Not a blog I would write, that's for sure.

This, friends, is a simmering pot full of bugs. What kind? Who cares! When you're offered a chance to eat a freshly cooked bug, you don't waste time asking what kind; you simply jump up and down in a panicked glee with your watering mouth agape. Seriously, this pot was not the only one, as almost every vendor close by had an identical vat full of the same looking bugs, fully cooked and ready to move.

Standing down wind of the hot bug stew, I can only describe the smell as “meaty, foul, and thick.” You could purchase a cup of bugs for a price, but for visitors such as myself, sampler toothpicks were handy to quickly convert the non-initiated into true believers. So, when the lady noticed I was standing with my head cocked, trying to make sense of the crock pot of insects, she grabbed a toothpick, stabbed a bug, and handed it to me, grinning. Immediately, my mind raced to the old joke “what's the difference between an oral thermometer and an anal one,” as I took hold of the sliver of wood that skewered the bug, cooked and dead, on top. And the taste?

Yeah, it tasted like a bug... and no, I am not interested in having another one. Back on board, I told my story to some Filipinos, who inquired as to the type of bug (still no idea, although they said crickets are the Kobe beef of the bug world), how it was prepared (simmered in water and the bug's own natural juices, I suppose, since I've never seen Kerr's brand bug bullion cubes), and was vinegar involved (no). “Well, you didn't have a good bug!” they say to me, smiling the same way the South Korean lady did when she handed me the toothpick. Then they told me I should try one prepared in the traditional Filipino way, to which I politely declined, reminding them that they make the same promises about balut (basically a rotten egg that contains a half formed chicken fetus).

But South Korea isn't all about bugs and waterfalls. The day before Cheju we hit Pusan.

This picture was taken on top of the Busan tower (another alternate spelling of a South Korean city), located in Yongdusan Park. The park, which had a couple other things like a statue of an important Korean figure and one of those large flower beds that doubled as a working clock, was hidden on top of a hill that overlooked Texas street, a busy, name brand shopping district. It was on my way back from the park that I discovered a South Korean (Hindu?) temple, also hidden, this time on a larger building's rooftop.

Yeah, there were hundreds of those little gold statues. Yeah, I took off my shoes before entering the temple. Yeah, I took that last picture without permission.

So, South Korea was exotic and delicious... which reminds me... remember our green friend from the last blog?

Well, with the help of my Japanese friends and Wikipedia, this is what I know: his name is Marimokkori, which from what I have learned is a combination of two words. The first word is “marimo,” which, as described by Wikipedia, is “a rare growth form of the species of filamentous green algae (Chlorophyta) that grow in some of Hokkaidō's lakes, where the algae grows into large green balls with a velvety appearance.” The second word is “mokkori,” which essentially is Japanese slang for a boner. So, with this in mind, Marimokkori literally means “green algae balls boner.” It's still anyone's guess why that would make him smile the way he does. His popularity is due to nothing more than merchandising, which from what I gather includes cartoon shows on television. And from the picture below, I also gather that there is a Marimokkori for every boy and girl in your family.

Fortunately, my visits to Japanese ports have been more culturally stimulating than a stimulated puppet.

As promised in my last blog, I forewent (forewent? Since when do I use that word? Is that even a word? I gotta stop eating bugs) the opportunity to sample Nagasaki spongecake (spongecake? What's spongecake?) and instead visited the Nagasaki Peace Park. Nagasaki, as I am sure we all know, is infamously known for being one of America's World War II atom bomb targets (although not first on the list, as Nagasaki was targeted last minute when the originally planned city, Kokura, was shrouded in thick clouds, making it impossible for the B-29 Bomber to target).

The peace park is a large sculpture garden, where many countries have contributed statues celebrating global peace. The above picture is Japan's own contribution. The statue's right hand points upward to symbolize the threat of an atomic bomb, the left reaching for world peace, while the eyes remain closed in prayer of the bomb's victims. That's all very nice and symbolic, but holy cow, does that statue have a nice head of hair...

I mean, it's perfect. He must use a leave in conditioner for all day moisture and shine. Oh, but he has a secret. He gets salon hair at home, without the salon price, and from a two in one! Don't tell his stylist...

Around the park are other monuments, including the bomb's hypo center (the bomb actually detonated 500 meters above the city), various statues and information, and an atomic bomb museum, which included startling artifacts that endured the blast.

This is... was a water tower. I forget exactly where it was in the blast's radius, but the metal was bent like a plastic straw. What's most interesting about all of this is that while taking it all in... the statues that lay on park ground that was once obliterated, the museum full of mangled relics, and everything else, I was at all times surrounded by Japanese school children, obviously brought there to learn about the very real casualties of war. Through it all, while I walked from place to place among these kids, it all felt very peaceful, almost surreal, to see them playing and laughing among these stoic reminders of some very bad decisions.

And hey, since we're talking about kids, if you can't find a Marimokkori doll at your local Walmart, then take the short bus ride to Nagasaki and pick them up one of these...

But parents, remember, this toy is for kids ages six years and older... at least, that's what the box says. Now, if the manufacturers of this toy really had a sense of humor, they would explain that the toy could also be a choking hazard... I mean, if you're gonna put an age requirement on a plastic boob, let's go all the way with it. Another acceptable quip would contain the words “complete set.”

So, after squeezing all the juice outta Nagasaki, we moved on to some other Japanese ports of varying interest. One worth mentioning is Maizuru, where after grabbing a map I ventured out and found me a whole mess of shrines and temples. Mostly located at the base of a mountain, some were big and impressive, while others lay somewhat forgotten. However, I can now say that shrines and temples are starting to feel the same way as cathedrals in Europe and Russian palaces... you've seen one, you've seen them all. Still, sometimes the path leading to the shrine is better than the shrine itself. Case in point is the following video. One of the shrines I visited during my day in Maizuru was not located at the mountain's base, but at the top...

On the subject of the bell, I really don't know whether ringing it is encouraged or not. On one hand, I've seen bells like this at many of the shrines I've visited, all with ropes hanging down from the banging stick that look so, so inviting. But since I was around a bunch of people, many times who are there meditating, or tending to the shrine, I left the rope alone. Here, on the other hand, I was up a mountain and all by myself, so what the hell. It was after my cloak and dagger exploits that a father and son ambled up the hill. Seeing the rope, the boy ran ahead of his dad and swung on that sucker as if the bell was some kind of candy dispensing Japanese pinata. Dad just looked on, I think halfway expecting the same thing. Of course, even if the bell was some convincing paper-maché facsimile, I know better than to think any Japanese candy would be worth eating... but that talk is best saved for the food blog.

Coming back from my hike, I took a stroll through town to get back to the ship, and that's where I found something unique.

That, friends, is a battery vending machine. At first it seems kind of strange, but then I think of some of the drug stores I've frequented, where they keep the damn things behind locked plexiglass. Now that I consider how long I waited for the graveyard shift reminder of why higher education is so important to come out of hiding with the ring of keys so I can purchase four AA batteries, I can't understand why these things aren't in America.

Speaking of vending machines, let me say that you can't walk a city block anywhere in Japan without seeing several of them. They contain everything from colas to water, and canned coffee that is both hot and cold. Pricing tends to float over a hundred yen, sometimes up to one-fifty depending on the location. Not forgetting that, at the moment, eighty-three yen equals a dollar, the Japanese vending machine people seem to have things figured out, since a 100 yen coin still feels small compared to the 500 yen coin, and even smaller when considered next to the 1,000 yen note (the smallest of their paper currency). Think about that next time you bitch about a seventy-five cent can of soda.

Still, with a country that has a limitless array of vending machines, I would be remiss if I didn't have a favorite... and I do.

Man, I love me some Suntory vending machines. I mean, they function just like all the other vending machines, but look at the side. “SUNTORY BOSS is the boss of them all since 1992.” I love that! Suntory Boss, in all caps, is the hot damn boss of them all! Above the slogan is the picture of Suntory himself, calmly smoking his pipe, but ready to kick some ass if shit goes down. Yeah, I said it... and I believe it. I truly hope that one day I see one these machines sprout beefy arms and legs and beat the syrupy carbonated hell out of some other mama's boy vending machine. Yeah, I might sound crazy, but wait a second, who is that on the front of the Suntory Boss (who is the undisputed, heavyweight champion of every last stinkin' one of them, since nineteen-freaking-ninety-two) vending machine?

Tommy Lee Jones doing his best Easter Island Statue impersonation! Oh, it's on now! IT'S ON!!! One of you wussy little battery hawkin' squirts even think about steppin' one foot into Suntory Boss's territory, and one of these big blue beautiful monsters is gonna sprout big ass arms and legs and run at you with rusty barbed wire wrapped around its hairy knuckles, and the last thing you'll see before that sweaty fist punches you straight into your C-cells is the fire and venom that will erupt from Tommy Lee's flared nostrils... and that is why SUNTORY BOSS is the boss of them all... since 1992... and don't you ever... EVER forget it.

Keep on Livin' the Dream,

Michael Lamendola

(Taking a quick kneel in the hidden temple in Pusan, South Korea)


Try finding a trash can to dispose of your soda bottle anywhere in Japan, and you'll be outta luck. Seriously, you compare New York City, with its dirty streets and overflowing trash cans, to the spic-and-span Japanese boulevards that are void of any refuse receptacles, and you'll be left scratching your head (while still holding onto your plastic bottle). But then you realize all those sissy little trash cans have run cryin' to their momma, because SUNTORY BOSS IS THE BOSS OF THEM ALL!!!! SINCE 1992!!!! HE AND TOMMY LEE JONES ARE GONNA WHUP SOME ASS, EAT PLASTIC BOTTLES, AND CRAP SHINY CHROME PLATED YEN!!!! AAARRRRGGHHH!!!!

...never eat South Korean bugs...