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An Artist’s Notebook of Sorts

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Weak VII


12 February 2011

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No. 8,810 (cartoon)

I can’t bear the pain.

We’re off to a good start.

13 February 2011

The Price of Cheap Sushi

Many of my friends cautioned me that I’d find Japan a very expensive place to visit. I ignored their warnings since I live in San Francisco, which is also very expensive. I always manage to find inexpensive options in overpriced locales, and Kii-Katsuura is no exception.

Kiki reserved a clean, quiet, inexpensive hotel for me; I never would have discovered it with out her. After a reasonable amount of perambulation, I found a great place for food, a little store that sells packaged sushi and sashimi meals for about the cost of a burrito.

I discovered that Japanese sushi is different than the fare in San Francisco; the rice is caked into a hard shell. And the fish doesn’t have a uniform texture; it’s firm in some places and mushy bordering on slimy in others. I actually prefer the more expensive San Francisco version, but, since I’m in Japan, I’m trying to appreciate the Japanese original.

I invited Ayako to join me for dinner at my hotel. And, well, it didn’t go so well.

“I can’t believe you’re eating that slop!” she said when I brought a bag of sushi out of the refrigerator.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “I haven’t even opened it.”

“When the bag says Week-Old Sushi,” Ayako replied, “that’s all you need to know.”

Week-old sushi. Sashimi that’s seven days old. That explains a lot, especially the gooey bits.

14 February 2011

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The Swastikas on the Hills

There are gigantic swastikas here and there on the hills surrounding Kii-Katsuura and Taiji. I knew they had nothing to do with Nazis, but I had no idea what they signified. I spent days wondering about their meaning before finally asking the Internet what they represented.

It took me seventy-one seconds to learn that left-facing swastikas indicate the location of a temple. In other words, they’re just huge Buddhist billboards.

I can’t believe what a boring explanation that is. I should have savored my ignorance.

15 February 2011

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Fresh! Dericious!

I shouldn’t mention this, but I am. But first, the setup.

I can count all of the words in my Japanese vocabulary on my fingertips, all nine of them. When it comes to the Japanese language, I’m dumber than freeze-dried seaweed. Nevertheless, I’m going to cite a familiar cliché about Japanese English. (Because I’m a stupid gaijin; that’s why, and thanks for asking.)

It all has to do with the inscrutable Japanese pronunciation of the letters “l” and “r.” Here’s how Walter—a friend who taught English to students in Nagasaki—described the phenomenon. When he asked his students what he was drinking out of, they responded, “a grass!” And what’s the green stuff growing outside? “Glass!”

I had lunch today in a Japanese restaurant that promoted its fare as, “Fresh! Dericious!”

It certainly was.

16 February 2011

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Kitty-Cat City

I’ve been here in Kii-Katsuura, just north of Taiji, for a week, and that’s how long it took me to learn what the name of the town means in English: Kitty-Cat City! The pusses here are inscrutable, but that doesn’t mean much in that every cat in the universe is inscrutable; that’s their raison d’être.

I made a photograph of two cats guarding a local house. They appeared to be vicious, so I used a long telephoto lens. Upon closer examination of the image, I noticed that the cats appear to have Japanese eyes.

“Appears to have” wasn’t good enough for my scientific rigor, so I asked my friend Colleen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for help. Colleen’s working on a program that searches the Internet for visual matches, so she plugged my photos of the kitties into the experimental search software.

“In lay terms,” she reported, “what you got there is definitely your harbor bomber strain of feline.”

I scanned the list of matching results, and immediately recognized number fifty-three: Eight Japanese Views, Thrice Removed.

Tora Tora Tora!

17 February 2011

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Cedric and the Fairlady

Multinational corporations call the exact same product different things in different countries. I’m not sure why they do this; it’s probably related to marketing or trademarks or some other uninteresting business concerns.

For example, the Datsun Motor Company sells a mas macho sports car in the United States, the 350 Z. They sell the same car here in Japan, but they call it the Fairlady Z.

The Fairlady?!

I’m can imagine a washed-up salaryman with a meaningless existence deciding to turn his life around by buying an overpowered car he’ll never drive faster than the speed limit. I can imagine him—and it always is a him—arriving at a sales meeting with his new Chinese leather jacket and cheap sunglasses announcing, “I’m really happy with my new 350 Z.”

Conversely, I can’t imagine him trying to impress a woman in a bar by mentioning that he drives a Fairlady.

And why some Japanese car company sells a vehicle called the Cedric, well, the mind boggles. At least mine does.

18 February 2011

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Saving Whales at the Whale Museum

Save the whales!

If I hear someone say that one more time, I swear I’m going to vomit up a kilogram of ambergris. I swear I will.

Lots of people talk about saving the whales, but the people who run the Whale Museum here in Taiji, Japan, are actually doing something about it. The institution has a large budget for formaldehyde, and has perhaps the fourth largest collection of preserved marine mammal fetuses and brains that I’ve ever seen.


And as if that wasn’t enough, the museum managers also empower individuals to do the same. For only a handful of yen, gift shop visitors may buy a small can of whale meat, thus doing their part to save the whales.

Save the whales, one fetus and one can at a time!

19 February 2011

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On Finding a Great Tempura Restaurant

I found a great tempura restaurant in Kii-Katsuura. Since I can’t read the Japanese language, I can’t provide the name of the establishment or even its address. But that doesn’t matter, since anyone can find the place the same way I did.

Kii-Katsuura is a tiny town, so just walk around for a few minutes until you come across a grease-covered wall. The exterior ventilator duct from the noodle shop’s deep fat fryer is dripping with opaque stalactites of rancid fat. The wall of the business is covered in a thick patina of cooking oil. The owners put sheets of cardboard on the sidewalk to soak of the waste, but they’re completely saturated and dripping.

Once you’ve found that unforgettable spectacle, walk around the corner and into the restaurant. Order a couple of cold beers with your tempura, then savor a very rich meal you’ll never forget.


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©2011 David Glenn Rinehart