Wow, is it 2013 already? When did that happen? I’m still getting prepared for the world to end on New Year’s 2000 by backing up all my WordStar docs onto 5-1/4″ floppies and stockpiling canned yakitori. You know, I kind of have this thing about time in Japan, where it always seems to pass faster than in the real world. Like already it’s been a rough start to the new year, since I showed up at work thinking it was Tuesday, when actually it was Monday. It doesn’t help that Japanese days all have screwy names. Moon day, Fire day, Water day—jeez, how’s a brother supposed to keep all that straight? I blame Google Calendar.
Japanese New Year
So I went to Hokkaido for New Year’s again, and spent it with this friend of mine and her mom, real homey style, doing customary things like eating the giant box of osechi mystery foods and falling asleep on the floor. Actually, the falling asleep part is more my custom than a Japanese one, but after all that food and a couple big glasses of sake, hey, is it my fault I missed the countdown at midnight? Apparently, it is. Anyway, there are only two places in Japan that are warm in the winter—Okinawa and Hokkaido. Okinawa is like Hawaii, all blue seas and palm trees and stuff, while Hokkaido has mountains of snow higher than your head. Like it’s eerie walking the streets because sometimes you can’t see the cars from the sidewalk, the snowbanks are so high. Near the station they’ve got long red and white poles sticking way out of the ground, so you know where the sidewalk is supposed to be. Nobody wants you wandering off in a blizzard and getting eaten by a polar bear or something. Anyway, you’d think it’d be really cold. Ah, but you’d be wrong. See, where homes in Tokyo are constructed with doghouse-like sturdiness, Hokkaido has actually chosen to make buildings out of something other than single-pane windows and saltines. So as long as you’re inside, it’s warm, unlike my apartment, which was 9 degrees Celsius when I woke up this morning. I don’t know what that is in actual degrees, but it’s freaking damned cold, I can tell you that. You know how Japanese people go to hot springs all the time? That’s because the only way to keep warm is by staying underwater. Like maybe you could breathe through a bamboo reed or something. I spend a solid hour in the bathtub like that every night, then jump out and throw on a hoodie and socks and crawl into my futon, since unless I blast the heater constantly, the room reverts to the outside air temperature. Forget getting up to pee. There was ice on my door again this morning, on the inside. That’s crazy. It’s like living in a snow cave. I gotta say, don’t move to Japan if you don’t like winter, a lot.
The Zoo in Winter: This is a Good Idea?
So Hokkaido, anyway. We went to this world-famous zoo. If you want to see a bunch of seriously cold animals, this is the place for you. The highlight was the lesser panda, which looks a big panda, only much smaller. Actually, he looks like a little teddy bear. A really freaking cold little teddy bear freezing to death in the snow, but he’s still cute. Oh, and the penguin parade, which is when all these penguins get together and walk through the snow. I guess that’s kind of what it sounds like. Japanese people lose their minds for this sort of thing. Everyone was so busy snapping pictures with their smartphones, I’d be surprised if they saw penguin one. Probably the best part of the day for me was lunch, where we actually got to sit inside and eat hot food. I really like that. Hokkaido has excellent curry, extra spicy and a bit sweet. It came with these terrifying fried shrimp with big-ass eyes that stared at me while I ate them. Maybe that part wasn’t so great, but anyway the curry was delicious.
And later we went to the conveyor-belt sushi place and ate a pile of crab and scallops, which are really good because the ocean’s so cold, or so I choose to believe. And then we went to the top of this pretty tall building and looked at tiny Sapporo down below and drank Sapporo beer. Then we came home and drank Asahi beer, which tastes exactly like Sapporo beer, only in a different can. Japan is fascinating in its diversity.
Well, I’m at work today, which is almost bearably warm if I wear a scarf and type with fingerless gloves, but since the day’s almost done, I guess it’s back to the freezing space capsule once again. Hope you’re all having a great winter this new year, wherever you are. Hopefully somewhere warmer than Japan.