Saturday, February 25, 2012

Recent magic things

Yesterday I met a magician friend for the first time in months. He has just come back from a two week vacation in Vietnam, and he brought me a souvenir. We also ended up chatting until 7 in the morning...

Recently I have been extremely busy at work and not had time to practice any new magic. Yesterday I started practicing hammering a nail into my nose, though. It is fun, but I am not sure where I can perform this. Not in front of children, at least... And most people will probably just be grossed out. But I like it!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Italian at Garbanzo again

Today I had a late (23:30) dinner at the Italian restaurant Garbanzo in Sapporo again. Today I had salad with cheese, and garlic toast. I then ended up doing magic for some customers (gold buddies of the owner) who were so impressed that I ended up drinking and eating with them for a bit too. There was some nice soup with spaghetti.

I also got to see the owner of Garbanzo do magic. Though we have known each other for something like 3 years, this was the first time I ever saw him do magic. He made a tissue turn into Chinese food, and made water disappear from two cups.

Strange pictures

There were two young students photographing nondescript parts of a wall, some doors, and stuff like that at the university today. I wonder what they want those photos for? I discussed it with a colleague, and we believe the most likely reason is they are planning a big heist. Maybe they need to get in and stamp their "hanko" (stamp used instead of signing your name) after 17:00 some day, or something else almost impossible to achieve like that...

Chocolate from a very cute girl!

Yesterday I stopped by our magic bar on my way home, and ended up playing the card game from a previous post again. I kept losing based on my name being tied to 47 and had so much tea (including the tea at Ropossa, something like 3 liters of tea starting at around midnight...) I could not fall asleep until after 6 in the morning... Which is not so great when you have to work during the days, like I do.

Anyway, for the first time in many months, I ran into a very cute regular customer of the magic bar (sadly, not in the magic bar I am, the other one in our chain; though we too have cute customers). She had Valentine's chocolate with her, that she gave to the regular staff, and she also had chocolate for me!

It came from a very cute girl, was wrapped in a cute package, and the contents were nice too. So despite being a week after Valentine's Day, it was this years best Valentine's gift I guess. Too bad she is about half my age...

Sapporo's magic "snack pub" Ropossa

Swallowing a balloon.

Yesterday I went to a magic "snack pub" (in Japan, "snack" means a bar were people, usually flirty waitresses, will talk to you while you drink at a usually fixed but high price) called Ropossa (Sapporo backwards, when written in Japanese).

Having swallowed most of a balloon.
The "mama" of this place does magic and she is very funny. She is for instance very good at swallowing 2 meters long balloons.

Kiritanpo (rice)

Dried fish

There is some light food included when you go to Ropossa, and yesterday it was "kiritanpo", a kind of rice based food. It was quite good. When I finished my (fairly small) serving, I was asked if  I was still hungry (which I was) and if I wanted some more. I said yes, but just a little. Mama came out with about twice as much as in my first serving... It was hard getting it all down.

Presents received yesterday.
Whenever I go to Ropossa, there are new interesting games (usually from a German company that specializes in educational games for kids). I also end up walking home with huge amounts of curious items that I receive as presents... Yesterday was no exception.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Even more chocolate

Yesterday, a male friend of mine got Valentine's chocolate, and it was chocolate filled with whiskey. He gave me a couple of the whiskey filled chocolates since he (like apparently every male in Japan except me) gets more chocolate than he can finish himself. It was pretty good.

New card game

My friends in the magic bar taught me a new card game yesterday. It seemed a bit complicated at first, but it is not that bad once you get used to it. As all games in our magic bar, it is a drinking game.

You have 2 cards in your hand. There is a pile of cards on the table. When you play a card, the value of that card is added to the accumulated value of the pile. The first person to add a card that makes it 50 or higher has to drink half his glass.

The game continues, and the first person to add a card that makes it 102 or more has to drink all of what is in his glass.

After you play a card from your hand, you take one more card from the stack of unused cards, so you always have two cards in your hand. If you forget to take a card and someone points it out, you have to drink half your glass.

If you do not want to play any of the cards you are holding, you can also chose to play from the stack. You then play the top card of the stack, whatever that may be, instead of one of your own cards.

There are lots of special rules:

Anyone playing a card that makes the pile 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, or 99, has to drink half his glass.

Anyone holding a joker when someone goes over 101 also has to drink the full contents of his glass (if you go over 101 and still have a joker in your hand, you thus have to drink two glasses).

An ace can count as 1 or as 11, your choice.

An 8 can count as 8 or as 0.

A 9 can count as 9, or count as 0. When playing a 9 as 0, the order between players is reversed (e.g. clockwise becomes anti-clockwise).

A 10 can count as either 10 or -10.

Jacks count as 10.
Queens count as 20.
Kings count as 30.
Jokers count as 50 (thus, if you get a joker the best you can hope for is to drink only half your glass, unless people play lots of -10s).

If you play a card with the value 0 (an 8 or 9) when the value on the pile is for instance 99, it counts as you also having played 99 (i.e. you have to drink half your glass if both digits are the same).

If the value of the stack goes down below 50 again (e.g. someone plays a 10 as -10 when the value is 55), the next person to drive it back up to 50 or higher has to drink half his glass, just as before.

If you play several rounds, the loser of the previous round gets three cards (and always has to have three cards in his hand), thus having a better chance of getting useful cards like 8s, 9s, or 10s (but also a higher chance of getting jokers).

A round starts with the top card of the stack of remaining cards being played, and it counts for its face value (i.e. an 8 counts as 8, not 0). The loser of the previous round goes first.

As an extra special rule, anytime a number that corresponds to your name is played, you have to drink half your glass (even if you did not play it yourself). One of my friends is called "Goro", and "go" is 5 in Japanese, and "ro" is 6. So anytime the stack becomes 56, he has to drink. I am "yo-nasu" in Japanese, which since "yo" is 4 and "na" is 7 means that I had to drink whenever the pile turned to 47. One round it became 47, and stayed 47 for 4 plays (no one wants to go over 50, so lots of 8s and 9s were played), which meant I had to drink 2.5 glasses right there.

Those are the rules. Drunk people tend to make more and more mistakes, getting even drunker. A quite fun game.

Fabruary 2012

The Susukino Tsuushin, a newsletter with coupons for lots of bars etc. in Sapporo, that has a huge number of copies circulated every month has evidently brought out a number for "Fabruary" of 2012.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Smoked cheese, smoked sausages, more Italian, this time in Gabrincho

On Saturday I got out of be fairly late (18:00) and did not have that much time before the magic bar opened. I decided to have dinner/breakfast at Gabrincho, which is an Italian restaurant located very close to our magic bar. The pizzas are very nice, and the master throws the dough in the air like a Frisbee. I had a pizza with smoked cheese and smoked sausages.

My coworkers

Sometimes my fellow magicians do strange things with no apparent purpose.

More chocolate

On Saturday I ran into a girl who did not give me any chocolate on Valentine's Day, but she did have some with her on Saturday.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Magic and sweet beans

Food boiled in Coca Cola
Today I had a very busy day. I had to work, of course, and I spent my lunch break at the local tax office. There I watched as several people tried to figure out how to fill out various forms for me after having earned some money in Sweden that should be taxed in Japan. They were very helpful, and seemed very happy when I told them that I had done something similar once before, so they could probably see in the system what had happened last time.

I worked some more, and then went off to teach Swedish to a very nice Japanese family in the evening. They lived a few years in Stockholm and speak Swedish quite well. Sometimes we meet so they can practice speaking and hopefully not forget all the Swedish they learned.

After that, I ran off to our magic bar for the monthly magic class. People who know little or no magic can come the third Thursday every month and learn interesting magic tricks. Today there were 6 new people there. After that, the bar got unexpectedly busy too, with groups of 4, 4, 5, and 4 guests showing up more or less at the same time. So I decided to help out and do some magic today too. There were some cute girls that were very impressed (one of them remembered my name from a previous visit) and even wanted to take pictures together with all the magicians, and lots of other nice customers.

At around 00:30, I left to go find something to eat. I had not time for lunch and no time for dinner until that time, which meant I was quite hungry.

Sweet bean paste, in packages with dragons (it is the year of the dragon now)

Some of the new guests of the magic class gave me two packs of sweet bean paste (for unclear reasons) before they left, though. So I ate one pack just to keep up the blood sugar enough to stay standing while doing magic for all the guests that showed up...

When I finally got dinner, a long boiling experiment that they had been doing in Bottom Cafe (where I ate) was just finished (at around 2:00), so I got a bowl of pork/egg/leek boiled in Coca Cola to try too. This was very nice. There were also some cute customers sitting at the counter, one of whom asked to see some magic tricks. She seemed impressed.

Italian food in Sapporo, Garbanzo again

I went to Garbanzo again yesterday. This little Italian restaurant has moved one block east recently, making it slightly longer for me to walk there, but the new location has an excellent view. The food is of course still very nice too. I had gnocchi and cheese baked chicken this time.

Apparently, I had dropped half a ball pen last time I was there, which I got back this time. They figured if there is half a pen on the floor, not so many customers could have dropped such a strange item...

The power of reverse chocolate?

On Valentine's Day I ran into the girlfriend of the owner of our magic bar. Since no one else was around to receive it, I had some reverse chocolate in my bag and I gave it to her. She seemed very happy. The next day I ran into the owner himself, and he gave me a box of chocolate that his girlfriend had told him to give to me.

As a side note, the list of ingredients on the package had my name written on it. I am not sure what to make of that.

Perhaps it is a joke relating to the fact that almost every time I meet her (which would be almost exclusively in our magic bar) I am wearing an ironic t-shirt with cannibalistic animals (cows eating steak, pigs eating fried pork, etc.)

Also, I am not sure on the Japanese rules for chocolate received like this. Am I still obliged to return chocolate on White Day if I receive Valentine's chocolate mainly because I handed out reverse chocolate? Cultural differences can be hard to figure out! haha

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A fairly chocolate-less Valentine (again)

Hot cocoa with apples, instead of soup.
Today was Valentine's Day, quite a big thing in Japan. Women are supposed to give chocolate to men they like, giri-chocolate (duty chocolate) to men they work with or who have helped them in some way (or they are just generally duty bound to give chocolate to), and there are some other rules too.

Everyone tells me every year that I will get huge amounts of chocolate because I am a man, and all men get lots of chocolate. A 7 year old kid told me he got chocolate from his mom, his sisters, quite a few class mates, etc., totaling around 10 people. A bartender I spoke to today mentioned getting chocolate from 60 or so women... People tell me I should expect more than Japanese men, because I am a foreigner and Japanese women love foreigners. And I have a job where we have quite a few women in our work place.

Still, since I got 0 pieces of chocolate every one of my 6 previous Valentine's Days in Japan, I was not expecting much. But this year our new secretary gave me three pieces of chocolate as thanks for helping her taking care of and explaining difficult secretary related things (in English) to lots of our foreign guests during the year.

Other than that, there was not much chocolate in sight. I got a cup of hot cocoa with apple slices in it in the restaurant where I had dinner (today's soup was hot cocoa). That was it.

My business card can be read in the middle, the chocolate labels can be read in the mirrors.

I also had a bunch of "gyaku-choco", "reverse chocolate" or chocolate that a man can give to a woman even though it is Valentine's Day, but no women showed up that were interested in getting chocolate from me. I gave one chocolate bar to our secretary, though. She seemed happy enough, though she did say "Ah, this brand is very cheap!"...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My first giri-choco

Today our secretary had placed a pack of chocolate filled with ume-shu (plum wine) on my keyboard. There was also a thank you note for helping her with explaining difficult things in English to our foreign guests at various times and other things like that.

Despite having been working in Japan seven Valentine's Days so far, this was the first time I received "giri-choco" (duty chocolate, chocolate that women have to give to everyone they work with or who has helped them out in some way, or they are just generally duty bound to give things too etc.). I was beginning to think that the whole concept of giri-choco was just an elaborate hoax (involving everyone I have ever met in Japan, all the convenience stores, all the department stores, etc.) that had been going on for seven years to make me feel sad that I never get any chocolate, haha.

I gave her a pack of reverse chocolate today since she has been very helpful with all the insane paper work people force me to do here.

Chance meetings and more Valentine's sadness

Yesterday was a busy day and I was stuck at work until late and got home around 22.00. I then went out looking for food, and ended up sitting next to a guy in a bar who was a huge fan of Swedish and Norwegian death metal and black metal. He also took over the bar's DJ system and started playing Swedish death metal while I waited for my food.

Then I went to see a friend who works in a different bar, who said some people from Mie-ken (further south in Japan) were here in Sapporo again. One of them, a cute girl with very low salary, gave me 22,000 yen as a tip for a magic trick last year (though both me and my friend agreed that this was way too much, so I gave most of it back the next day), so I remembered them quite clearly. It was fun meeting them again.

Then I went to discuss a few things with my colleagues in one of our magic bars. There I met one of the celebrities of Team NACS (the people starring in the TV show I appeared on last year). He was in the magic bar with some friends watching magic. He remembered me too. He is a very very nice person.

The girl who makes drinks one day per week in the magic bar I do magic in also showed up (she was partying in a place across the hall). Since it was after midnight, and thus February the 14th, she came to give out Valentine's Day chocolate. (In Japan, women give chocolate to men on Valentine's Day. To men they like, but there is also "giri-choco", "duty chocolate", which women have to give to everyone they work with and other people they are duty bound to.) She gave a very cute little bag of chocolate to our owner, and a very cute little bag of chocolate to the young magician there, and then she looked at me and said: "Oh, Jonas. Sorry..." The (sad) story of my life...

My magician friend told me that he "is too popular with the women" so he had already received so much chocolate that it would be impossible to finish it before the expiration dates (quite impressive at around 1 A.M. on Valentine's Day, or anytime during Valentine's Day actually, haha). So he gave me one of his pieces of chocolate.

The start of my 7th (I have been in Japan for a total of five and a half years, but this is my seventh winter (I always come here in the winter and have moved back to Sweden one summer) Valentine's Day in Japan is thus not very promising.

Indonesian omiyage

In Japan, you have to give a small present to everyone you know, including colleagues etc., every time you travel somewhere. These presents when you come home from a trip are called "omiyage", which thus roughly translates to souvenirs. For domestic trips, omiyage is usually something edible, but it can be actual things too.

Yesterday I got an omiyage from a friend who has just come back from Indonesia. It is an "o-mamori", a good luck charm or amulet. It is made out of silver and it is a small bell, so it makes a sound when moved.

I attached it to a dream catcher, which is an omiyage from another friend who went to Guam, that I have hanging in my room. It was ringing softly all night, so either this dream catcher is very busy catching bad dreams for me, or it could just be that it is hanging below the ventilation for the kitchen fan, I guess.

No more snow festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival ended on Sunday, and on Monday they were busy tearing all the sculptures down. Now there is nothing left to see (except large piles of snow).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's chocolate? Pity chocolate

In Japan, Valentine's Day is celebrated by women giving chocolate to men they are interested in. They also have to give chocolate to anyone they work with (giri-choco ("duty chocolate")).

Every year, any number of people tell me about this Japanese custom (that I already know of) and they tell me that as a foreigner I can expect to get huge amounts of chocolate since many Japanese women love foreigners.

Every year, I get more or less zero chocolate... I do not even get giri-choco. I get laughed at by 7 year old kids. I get pity from my professor at work who thinks I get sad amounts of chocolate. I almost get mentally scarred, haha. And it does not help that people come every year to tell me how much chocolate foreigners get and how popular foreigners (apparently, everyone except me) are with the women.

This year, I already got some chocolate though! A Japanese and female friend gave me fancy chocolate (or, actually dried fruits dipped in chocolate) today. Today is not Valentine's Day, but she said it was Valentine's chocolate so I guess it still counts. She also said, and I quote: "You being you will certainly get no real Valentine's chocolate, so I felt sorry for you and bought this for you." Which, coincidentally, is almost exactly what a Swedish female friend said when she gave me chocolate 4 years ago, haha.

But the chocolate was very good, so getting chocolate out of pity is still good! Not sure why the ribbon around the package has a skull, or if this is a warning/bad sign of some sort, though, haha.

She also gave me a pastry of some sort that she herself got at a wedding yesterday (in Japan, the bride and groom give gifts to all the guests at their wedding...).

Fashion sense

Today I saw a man who wore a pair of trousers of a design that I once thought of buying. I liked them, but they had only size M left, which is too skinny for me here in Japan (my calves are too big, which I assume means I am too heavily muscled :-)

My friends tell me that no one would ever wear trousers like that (I showed them pictures and explained that I wanted to buy those trousers if only they had my size), unless they were completely insane. So either they are wrong or this guy was insane. At least he shares my fashion sense, which I am told cannot be good for him...

Korean food

 Another Korean restaurant has opened at Sapporo Station since last time I passed by there. The food was cheap and quite good.

Clipping weird things to your ears

Today I met up with an old friend who lives in Hakodate. We went to see another friend, who gave birth to her second child not that long ago. My Hakodate friend is considered weird by most people I have met, but not in a bad way. Today, she found something on the kitchen table, assumed it was a toy, and tried to clip it to her ears. She then turned to our other friend and said: "How are you supposed to clip this to your ears? It hurts a lot the way I do it."

It was however not a toy. It is a neckband for making a normal handkerchief or small towel into a bib. You clip this thing to a piece of cloth and you can hang that around the neck of your child, adjust the length of the band, and feed your child messy food.

Everyone else around the table found it quite funny that someone would try to clip it to her ears, and the clips were indeed very powerful so that would hurt quite a lot... So in the year she has lived in Hakodate, she has not changed at all. Still weird.

There were also cookies, baked in Canada and sent here. A very nice afternoon.

Open the spring

Apparently, it is now time to open the spring. Whatever that means.

More reverse chocolate

I was looking for more cheap reverse chocolate (chocolate where the package has all the text mirrored, because it is chocolate a man can give to a woman on Valentine's Day, which would be the opposite of the normal Valentine thing here in Japan) for a magic trick. The shop I bought it in before no longer has it (sold out), but a friend found some in a different convenience store so I went there to have a look today. They had a sign indicating they sell the things I want on the shelf, but the shelf was empty...

I did find two other types of reverse chocolate though. I bought one to check if the contents were also reversed, but they were not.

Not so great for cars

In Sapporo we get a lot of snow. The bigger streets are cleaned quite efficiently, but many smaller streets just have the snow compressed by cars running over it over and over again. The cars lose traction and the wheels spin, making ridges and ice. Man holes are slightly warmer, and melt the ice on top creating deep holes, etc. This makes these roads bad for cars. You can hear the cars lose half the underside or so when scraping against ice ridges...

This hole is near my house, though there are ones that are much deeper than this one. This photo was taken after a few warm days when much of the ice melted, making the hole more shallow too.

Stick your head in the snow

At the snow festival, there was a lot of signs telling you not to throw garbage in the snow. No tobacco, no PET-bottles etc. There was also a sign telling you that the only things you should stick in the snow are your skis and your face... And the Japanese as well as the illustration also means that they actually do expect you to stick your face in the snow. I think I will pass, though.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I used to work in the building in the middle of this photo. Now I work in a building behind the trees on the right.
 Since I have a lot of work to do, I went to the university today (even though it was Saturday). Our campus is quite large.