beanzIf you ain’t down with the fibrous protein, best take it up with my boyz in blue, yo.

(Taken at a store in Ikebukuro, proving that I-Town is still keepin’ it real…)

Speed up your snail mail

sokutatsuEveryone knows the internets are the fastest way to get things done these days, but sometimes you still have to rely on the post office. Recently, I had to back-and-forth some important documentation with extreme haste, so I made use of the post office’s 速達 (sokutatsu) express delivery service, and it really came through for me. Sokutatsu is explained in English as express mail on the Japan Post’s official website, but for some reason the English description varies wildly from the Japanese version, hence this write-up.

Just take your letter, postcard or package to the post office (you won’t need any special envelopes or packaging) and say 速達でお願いします (sokutatsu de onegai shimasu), or, “I’d like to send this by express mail.” The person behind the counter will then stamp a red band on the item you wish to mail, indicating special priority.

Just how fast is sokutatsu? In my case, I sent a letter to an address far removed from Tokyo; it arrived the following day, and when sent back on the day it was received, it was back in my mailbox the day after that. That’s pretty darn fast. To speed things up, I’d included a self-addressed stamped envelope (切手を貼った返信用封筒, kitte o hatta henshinyo futo) that had also been affixed with the sokutatsu stamp.

Express delivery service begins from 270 yen for a letter (domestic), with prices increasing according to weight. Click here for a list of prices (Japanese only).

The 300-yen Man

A shit day at work. Political, Big Brother-type bullshit of the sort that reminds you how big companies have a way of turning adults into blighted, idiot children.

Ikebukuro Station. Chuhai in hand, my third I think. Hacking away at a sobriety that refuses to know when it’s not wanted. My other hand holds a printout of a work-related materials; I can’t believe I voluntarily read this shit off the clock.

bleakHeadbanging slightly as I blare Arch Enemy on my iPod. I turn a corner, head toward my second train.

There’s a tap on my shoulder. Not an “Excuse me” sort of tap, but a tap that says, “Hey there, I know you.” Which adds to the surprise of turning around and realizing I have no idea who the tapper is.

“Excuse me,” the man asks in English, “can I help you find your way?”


Do I look lost? I imagine I look a bit pissed off, but lost? I doubt it.

“I know exactly where I’m going, man,” I reply, gesturing toward the turnstile.


Short silence.

“I am poor,” the man suddenly says. “Can I have 300 yen?”

I look at him a while, take in his crazy haircut and cheap canvas belt. It’s hardly the first time I’ve been hit up for cash; back in the States, I’d been asked for amounts several times in excess of what this guy is after, been given excuses of abusive husbands and stretches of bad luck. Quite possibly utter bullshit, but while I’ve never had to ask complete strangers for money, I can only hope that if it came down to it, somebody out there would help me out. Which makes it hard for me to refuse when I’m the one being asked.

I don’t think I sighed as I put down my drink, fished out my wallet, but I may have. Crazy haircut man bows deeply. He lapses into Japanese and thanks me profusely as I give him three 100 yen coins.

“Where are you from?” he suddenly asks in English.

I tell him. And I tell him which state when he wants to know that as well.

“Oh, so hot!” he replies excitedly. “And your heart is hot, too!”

He’s translating directly from Japanese. I know what he means. I put my headphones back on and begin walking away.

I don’t know what The 300-yen Man needed money for. But at least for the moment, I have a job and I don’t have to hang out at the train station asking strangers for money.

I have my chuhai and my iPod.

A shit day, but it could be worse.

Patient Zero

It has not been a good week for me, dear Reader.

I have been, frankly, sick as hell — to the point I’ve lost about a pound of body weight a day for the past four days due to not being able to keep any food down. Today’s pukefest was the straw that broke the dromedary’s back, and I decided to take the day off to get some rest and go see a doctor.

I enter the neighborhood clinic. I explain my symptoms to the doctor, a man who acts as if he’s in a terrible hurry despite the fact that I am the sole patient in his clinic.

“I’ve been throwing up for days,” I explain. “I have occasional hot-chills, and my joints hurt. I think it’s a flu bug.”

The doctor examines me. He examines me to the point where I want to smack him for prodding my stomach and asking, “How is this?” when the previous several prods have almost made me throw up and I have through gritted teeth informed him of such.

Finally, Dr. Prodder determines that what I have isn’t a flu bug but a stomach virus. He begins writing out a prescription.

“Also,” I mention, “I had to take a day off work for this, so could you please write me a shindansho?” I ask, using the word for a doctor’s certificate. As in, the thing that can prove to my bosses I was actually being seen by a doctor and wasn’t out getting piss drunk or something.

only“What would you like it to say?” Dr. Prodder responds.

This takes me back a bit.

You’re the goddamn doctor, I think to myself. You’ve examined me, now just put something about this experience on a piece of paper.

I look at him. He looks at me, obviously expecting an answer.

“Uh … That I didn’t go to work because I felt like I had flu-like symptoms, and that you examined me for it?” I ask.

Dr. Prodder looks at me, tilts his head to one side as if not quite understanding where I’m going.

“As in, mention your condition and prescribed medication?”

As sick as I am, I want to put my foot through the back of this guy’s head.

“Yes. Please.”

He grunts, scribbles something into my file and mentions that a shindansho will take chotto (“just a little”) more money. I say that’s fine. And then I’m practically being shooed out the door.

I’m told my bill at the receptionist’s window: 4,200 yen, or roughly $42. In America I wouldn’t have blinked at a bill like that, but I’ve gotten used to doctor’s fees here regularly being in the $5-$10 range. Regardless, I fork over the cash.

Once outside, I give my shindansho a glance-over. Unlike the last one I received for that time when the people of Tokyo decided to screw up my back, this one is actually handwritten.

And the writing is so terrible that I can barely make out what it says.

“Virus … Work … Medicine something. What the fuck is this?!”

I get frustrated, move my attention from the shindansho to the printout of my bill.

Visitation fee: cheap. Medicinal fee: cheap.

Cost for written materials — i.e., my shitty illegible shindansho:

3,000 yen. Thirty goddamn U.S. dollars.


A typical day

9:30 a.m.

I walk into the neighborhood supermarket. The guy exiting gives me the evil eye for no reason.

Walking past the pharmacy section, I hear a cheap ’80s-era boombox blaring the jingle the supermarket always plays on the weekend.

“Today is double-point day! Double-point day! Oh, such are the chances for savings that can be had today — it’s double-point day!”


There are, however, some good specials. I pick up a couple spices, some chicken, and a yakipurin that reminds me of the flan I used to eat as a kid.

There’s another ’80s-style boombox set atop the table in front of me. It plays the same jingle: “Today is double-point day! Double-point day!” I wince, move down a couple aisles to get out of the range of that aural fuckery. Suddenly the supermarket intercom switches from light Muzak to the same jingle, and “Today is double-point day! Double-point day!” blares across the entire store.


towelI exit. A light rain has started to fall, and I don’t have an umbrella. It’s a little early, but I say screw it and pop open a chuhai and have some of the chicken, a charcoal-grilled yakitori skewer in special sauce, while waiting for the rain to die down. The yakitori isn’t so much cold as it is near-frozen. As I chew on it, it occurs to me that the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound it makes in my mouth is shari shari.

A man walks up, a fellow foreigner. He looks to be in his mid-forties, with a handlebar mustache and unkempt hair, walking a white Shiba dog. Back in the States, he probably rode a Harley to work and looked men in the eye like he was the shit. But here, today, we do the gaijin dance and pretend not to see each other, me looking off to one side while he suddenly feels the need to check his watch. His dog saves the moment by pulling him in another direction, and in seconds they’re gone.

I begin walking home. On the way, I turn down a side street to check out something that’s always intrigued me, a sign for a 手打ち (handmade) soba restaurant smack in the middle of a residential area. It turns out whoever runs the place is running it right out of his own house; the door next to the “restaurant” entrance is open, and through the sliding door I can see a TV, a living room scattered with magazines.

A lady exits. She wears jeans two sizes too small and works it like someone who knows exactly what she’s doing. She catches me peering under her umbrella to confirm what I’d already guessed, that she is in her late 30s/early 40s and strikingly attractive. I turn, pretending not to have been staring.

A portly elderly gentleman approaches. He does that really annoying thing that Tokyo people do, walking directly into your trajectory and pointedly ignoring the fact that you exist. At this rate we’re bound to collide. I consider ramming my shoulder right the hell into him to teach him a lesson. Instead, I move to one side and let him pass. Wouldn’t want to spill my chuhai.


Just a typical day.

Novel ways of fighting organized crime

I passed by this poster in the station for a week or so before taking a good look at what it had to say … and then I was pulling out my cell phone and snapping a photo.

crimeIt’s a poster released by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police concerning 暴力団 (boryokudan), or the organized crime syndicate. It specifically concerns how best to 追放 (tsuiho), or drive them out. Three helpful suggestions are offered there on the bottom right:

Do not fear them
Hell, yeah! Stand your ground!

Do not give them money
Show those bastards who’s boss!

Do not employ their services

Your police department at work, folks.
Feeling safer yet?

To surf, perchance to Google

I do a lot of bitching about life here, dear Reader. Frankly, it’s quite easy to rant about the zombie-like freakwads that seem to make up most of Tokyo’s populace.

But today, an uncharacteristic bit of praise.

hamMy internets have been giving me some trouble recently. Today, the connection was so slow that webpages simply refused to load. So I called my ISP’s tech support, with the following results. (Anyone who’s dealt with tech support in your home country, feel free to compare.)

-After selecting the appropriate category from the automated recording, my phone call was picked up by a live operator on the third ring
-The operator ran a few diagnostics and determined it would take a technician to repair the problem
-A technician was at my door in less than two hours
-Said technician was already aware of my problem, and telling me how he could fix it while still walking inside my house
-My connection was up and running in about 15 minutes
-Total cost to me: nothing whatsoever

People of Tokyo, you’re on your way to redeeming yourselves.

As a counterpoint to this anecdote, however, I had earlier run into a guy that, at 9:30 am, was so drunk as he stumbled out of a 24-hour karaoke bar that he was being literally propped up by one of the bar’s employees, lurching madly down the street and crying out “Do you know me?!” in English upon seeing me, and then suddenly rolling his r’s and threatening to kick the ass of some random passerby.

This place is weird.

Nice tech support, though.