Posted tagged ‘Japan’

Don Flamenco

March 23, 2008

One of the few Nintendo games I ever beat, back in the day, was Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. It’s still on my list of favorite games and I would probably play the hell out of it now, if I could get my hands on it. In the game, there are many colorful characters, but one stands out above the rest. His name is Don Flamenco. Don wore a wispy scarf and tiptoed around the ring with a rose in his mouth. Was this a gay Nintendo character? I have no idea, and as a kid, I never even noticed. Don was just another crazy character in a lineup of crazy characters. Ah, to be young and naive again. Could Nintendo get away with having such a strong homosexual stereotype portrayed now? Probably not. But I do know, or at least I believe, that it wasn’t a frivolous or baseless stereotype. Because, you see, I met the real Don Flamenco, in a seedy little bar in the middle of Japan.

Before I get to it, I would like to preface this story with a little background. If you had read “The Easiest Money”, you might just know a little about the bar I used to frequent quite often. For the first six months of my first year here in Japan, I never went out except to go to work. I would just go home to my cockroach-infested apartment and read. Sometimes I would try to watch some Japanese baseball on the telly, but there’s only so much bunting to advance the runner a guy can take. One day, my friend Paul called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to the bar.

How did you make friends if you never went out?, you might ask. I have no obligation to answer your petty questions, but I will anyway. It was Paul’s job I took when I came over from America. Not only was his contract not renewed, but Paul was also forced by the company to show me the ropes. He could have been swearing at me the whole time, but luckily Paul was from Manchester, England, so I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I think he liked me though, so he called me.

We went to a foreigner’s bar called “Hunter”, and had a blast. After that first night, a breaking of the seal, if you will, took place. I went to the bar almost every night for the next year. Within two months of my introduction to Hunter Bar, I was playing guitar every Thursday night, making some good coin, and meeting some good friends. And that leads me into the story.

Hunter bar was like any other dive in any other city. Islands of yellow light shines on the green felt of the two lop-sided pool tables, surrounded by dark booths and cast-iron benches. And in the far corner, next to the karaoke machine, was a little alcove where I sat and played my heart out. Usually my friends would come out and give a listen, although, because the were from various countries like New Zealand and Australia, they would inevitably call out Crowded House or Midnight Oil for me to play.

So, on this particular evening, I could tell when I first entered the building that it would be a slow kind of night, the kind where I could play just about anything and get piffling applause at best. It didn’t matter to me though. I had already downed my four shots of tequila. (After four shots, I sing like a god, after five, they need a forklift to get me off of the floor.) And I was getting paid, if they paid attention or not. I played my first set, mixing in some Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Bob Marley. Every once in awhile, someone one would sing out with me, but overall it was turning out to be a nice and quiet gig. How deceived I was.

My second set started up with some old-school Creedance. Up tempo, with a beat you could really bug out to. And that’s when Don stepped in front of me. There was no rose in his mouth, but everything else was the same. The scarf, the tiptoes. But the most amazing thing was he was actually dancing the Flamenco to CCR. It would have been laughable if he wasn’t so damn good. Twirls and hand claps, stomping off beat. It really was an amazing thing to watch, and the whole bar, which had filled up since my first set finished, turned to watch this man dance in front of me. He was alone. No one else dared join him and look like a fool.

I looked around at all of the faces in the bar. Mostly drunk and happy souls. Alright, I thought, this is a bit weird, but people seem to be enjoying it. That’s when I felt a little tug at my ankle. I didn’t want to, but I looked down, and there was Don Flamenco looking back up at me with “come hither” eyes as he placed three, thousand-yen bills into my left sock. He stood up and walked towards the bar, turning around once to give me a wink. And that was the last time I saw Don Flamenco alive.

But the story doesn’t end there, as much as many of you would like it to. It was such a surreal scene that I felt I needed another shot of tequila.

But Schmeichel, you may ask, wouldn’t that push you over your limit? Yes, yes it would, and it did.

How were you able to finish your set? Stupid pride. You see, after I set my guitar down, I walked over to Jason and one of my other friends, Darren. Darren was on the floor, under the bench, laughing so hard tears were rolling down his cheeks. Jason just held his face in his hands, eyes wide and unblinking through his fingers.

“Not a fucking word,” I said, pointing at both of them. This seemed to be the proverbial pin in the balloon, as Jason burst out laughing, spit flying through his fingers, some of it hitting Darren on the cheek. I had to get back on stage and finish it, just to shut those two up.

I don’t remember much after that, but I do recall my two friends, Jason and Darren, periodically dropping ten yen coins into my socks.


The next day I was all too lucky to wake up with a clear head, and only an 62% memory recovery of the night before. As I rode my bicycle into town, I saw my private dancer, Don Flamenco’s face plastered across telephone polls and community bulletin boards across the city. I smiled then, and thought about the evening before. So what’s the moral of the story?

I don’t really know. But I guess it would be something like this: Although it was awkward at the time, how many of us can say we had the chance to play for a professional flamenco dancer? At least it wasn’t Mike Tyson.


Hello Kitty! Can Kiss My… Pt.3

March 1, 2008

I had the distinct pleasure of walking through Marunaka, a popular supermarket in my neck of the woods, with my daughters the other day. We were there buying the usual suspects: milk, diet coke, bread with nasty bean paste in it etc. you know, all the things a hybrid Japanese-American family needs. I wasn’t on the look-out for anything weird or out of the ordinary. The supermarkets rarely have the wonders the convenience stores offer. But these things seem to search me out. I was walking through the snack aisle, trying not to look at the tempting bags of potato chips, when a box on the shelf caught my eye. I had picked it up and put it into my basket without truly understanding what it was. I just knew that I had to get this product to you, my faithful readers, as soon as possible.



Ebi is Japanese for “shrimp”and the “cho” is a good example of how the Japanese love to abbreviate words into cute alternatives. The “cho” is short for chocolate. That’s right. Chocolate covered, shrimp flavored rice puffs. It’s not the idea of two distinct flavors combining to form one super taste. I enjoy chocolate-covered pretzels and celery with peanut butter. As a matter of fact, the same company that makes Ebittcho also makes Potatottcho, chocolate-covered potato chips. Those are even slightly appealing. Seafood and chocolate though, makes me queasy. Naturally I had to try a few in the interest of curiosity, and to inform my readers, so that they don’t have to experience this “delicacy” first-hand.

I put the first Ebittcho in my mouth and got the chocolaty taste first. Good, cheap chocolate. But what soon followed is hard to describe. It was as if the shrimp taste was a waft of flavor, not quite a bouquet, but definitely a presence. It didn’t center on my taste buds, but slowly made the rounds through my tonsils, up my nose, into the part of the brain that instantly recognizes when someone farts nearby, or when someone hasn’t showered. The chocolate was still there, hanging out, probably having a good time. But then some homeless guy sat down next to him and he realized there was nowhere to hide. I tried a few, because sometimes these sort of things need a little getting used to, but the third and the fourth went down just as yellow and sick as the first.

Ebittcho is a good example of the sort of product you might find on the shelves of a store at any given time, but soon disappear from existence, or so I thought. When I asked some of my Japanese friends if they had heard about Ebittcho, not only had they not heard of it, but they couldn’t believe that there was even a product out there like that in Japan. So I got to taste something Japanese-made that even the Japanese themselves wouldn’t touch. I feel very privileged in that fantastic sort of way where I pretend I am the President of the Universe and everyone is hanging off my every word. But this time, when the men from the funny farm come to take me away, I will have photographic evidence to prove I didn’t make Ebittcho up. Unfortunately, they might just put me away for trying this shit in the first place. Until the day I decide to write again…


The Easiest Money

October 23, 2007

It all started in a seedy foreigner bar in a small city in Japan. I had been drinking shots of Cuervo with my friends, enjoying the Karaoke sty-lings of Billy Joel, when a group of young Japanese ruffians entered the establishment. They hardly afforded a second glance, and when it was overheard that they had all ordered frilly pink drinks with umbrellas, no more thought was put into the matter. As my friends and I contemplated the yen to dollar ratio and the the resulting squeeze we found ourselves in after the economic bubble had burst, I realized that I would have to break the seal and go to the loo.

I had noticed the group of Japanese had taken a seat near the bathroom, and they were eyeing me with interest as I walked past them. After I finished my business and was washing up, one of their group came into the bathroom and prepositioned me. Before you start thinking all T.V. drama on me, let me finish. The man, probably in college or at least college age, looked very nervous as he asked me in Japanese if I spoke Japanese. I had learned the Japanese virtue of modesty soon after arriving in Japan, so I said, “A little.” Then, in perfect English, he asked, ” Would you like to have an arm-wrestling tournament with me and my friends?” This was a proposition I could handle. I said yes and we walked back to their table.

There were five of them, and only one looked anywhere near strong enough to beat me. They bought all of my drinks from then on in, a kindness I took advantage of with great zeal. The first three opponents were down within seconds, and after twenty minutes or so, I had already finagled three shots of tequila and a pint of Asahi Super Dry. I had also drank so much that even the fourth rendition of “Just the Way You Are” sounded like sweet aural candy. The group was fun, and they all had questions about life in America. Everyone tried out their English, but only that first guy had any real chops. I told him as much in front of his friends and he was positively beaming.

The fourth to step up to the plate was the skinniest and assholeiest. (It’s a word) He hadn’t spoken to me all night and seemed to only want to sip his pink frilliness with a scowl. I guess I had gotten a little too cocky, or the adverse affect of alcohol on reaction time and strength was kicking in. But from the first, I knew I was in for a struggle. We went back and forth, once he almost had me pinned. But I conjured up the image of Sylvester Stallone in “Over The Top”. I remembered that sweet move where he slides his wrist around the opponent’s, giving him the upper hand. I also remembered what a pansy his son was in that movie, which didn’t help my concentration. Finally, after a hard, grueling two minutes or so, I triumphed. Frilly-pants, (that was his new nickname) turned out to be a good guy and shook my hand. We had a good laugh when I tried unsuccessfully to translate “Frilly-pants” into Japanese. But then, from behind us, hid away in the dark corner of a booth, a loud grunt ripped through the bar. The CD on the karaoke machine skipped, and my friend Jason peed a little in his banana hammocks. (His underwear is another story for another time) Arising from the abyss of the booth was the largest non-sumo Japanese man I had ever seen. His arms were Mammoth rock piles, his gut Buddha-esque. He didn’t say a word as he sat down opposite me. Frilly-Pants grinned like some sort of cat that has the ability to disappear.

I wanted to call him “Kinniku Man”, which means muscle man, but what I actually said was, “Ninniku Man”, which translates as Garlic Man. This got everyone laughing, but it was like the laugh of the dead. I knew something was up.

The English speaking guy asked me if I would like to wager. Now I understood. They were sharking me. How could I have been so stupid. “5000 yen”, he said. This was all too much. They were going to beat me up right there in the bar if they didn’t get all the money they spent on me back. I also was entirely unconfident that my friends would have my back. It was time to get the hell out of there. But somewhere between the message from my brain to the muscles in my legs, my mouth intercepted the signal.


What?!!! What the Hell did you just do? You could have ran! You could have thrown their pink, frilly drinks into their faces. It looked like anti-freeze, maybe there was some kind of corrosive material inside. Maybe I should point out at this time that I only had about 2000 yen in my pocket. And my stupid mouth says, “OK.”

It was too late now. I was in it and thick. We locked hands. We locked eyes. “Just the Way You Are” sounded louder and more out of tune than any time before. It could have been because my friend, Kyle, was singing, and he never could get the whoas down. Maybe if he just found another song to sing he would be… No. What the hell are you thinking? Concentrate dammit! The count was on: Three, Two, One… And then it was over. Ninniku Man folded like a paper shit house. The whole group surrounding me were smiling. English Boy handed me a crisp 5000 yen bill and thanked me for speaking English with them. Everyone shook my hand, and looked at me quizzically because I couldn’t seem to be able to close my mouth. Overall, they probably spent 3000 yen on booze plus the 5000 they gave me after, for a glorified English lesson and, admittedly, good company. I came out about 8000 yen to the good.

As I waved my last goodbyes to Ninniku Man, Frilly-Pants, and the others, I realized that goodness and kindness can attack you from all angles, that tequila is liquid evil, and that “Just the Way You Are” is one of the best Goddamn songs ever created.

until we meet again…

Hello Kitty! Can Kiss My…

October 11, 2007

In an effort to broaden the minds of my many listeners, I have decided to start a semi-regular post on the beautiful and wonderous world of Japanese merchandise. I will only be posting items that I have personally bought and tried. The low quality of the pictures I will take full responsibility for. But the sheer genius of the products… well that’s all Japan, baby.

Today, I thought I would post one of my very favorite finds, something that made me laugh out loud and get furious stares from the 7-11 workers:


Yes indeed. It is the fabulous Pepsi Ice Cucumber. Now I’m not sure if it is Pepsi Ice: Cucumber or Pepsi: Ice Cucumber. I’ve never seen or tasted an ice cucumber before so I’m going with the former. I know you are all saying to yourself, “Goddamn that is one refreshing looking beverage.” You would think there is no possible way you could go wrong. You got Pepsi. You got Cucumber. And I guess you got some Ice in there. Surprisingly, this was not very refreshing, nor did it taste anything like cucumber. It was more a mix of cinnamon and melon flavors. Not revolting, but I understand why I could only find it on shelves for about a week.

I would love to hear about any sweet Japanese stash, (stash, I said, stash) my fellow readers have found. Also, I’ve been living on Planet Nippon for awhile now, so I don’t really know if any of these products have seen the light of an American day. Give me a heads up if you’ve got some information. Until next time…