Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Just a picture of me

Jonas Sjöbergh
Jonas Sjöbergh

I found this picture of me in my inbox, and since it is a rare picture of me not looking that weird (no zombie make-up, no Japanese clothing; though the t-shirt text is weird) I figured it might be a good balance to all the strange photos of me.

Otaru festival

Rice on a stick, wrapped in meat and covered in sauce.
On Sunday I went to our neighboring city of Otaru with one of my magic bar colleagues. There was the Ushio Matsuri ("Tide festival") with lots of festival food and some fireworks.

My friend does not have a yukata, despite being Japanese, so he borrowed one of mine. I also wore a yuakata, of course (another Japanese friend tells me that "you have to wear a yukata when you go to festivals"), and my friend's girlfriend also came along, wearing one of her yukatas.

A block of frozen fruits and ice, being sliced.
Sliced ice and fruits, a very nice dessert.

At the festival, I passed a foreigner and it sounded like he spoke Swedish to the Japanese woman he was there with. I asked him in Swedish why he was in Japan, and it turned out he has a Japanese girlfriend and they were in Japan to visit her family. She also spoke Swedish to me, and her Swedish was very good. Meeting Swedish people in Hokkaido is not very common.

A Swede!
It turned out to be raining on and off, which was a bid sad. There was a big fireworks event at the end of the festival, but 5 minutes before it started the rain picked up and we became completely drenched. I had brought my new umbrella but it was too small for all three of us to fit. We left in a hurry after only ten minutes of fireworks. By the time the fireworks were finishing, the rain stopped. By then we were already at the train station, though.

People waiting for the fireworks to start
Watching fireworks while hiding under an umbrella

We had a quick stop at Don Quixote (a chain of stores all over Japan that are open very late and sell weird things cheaply) and bought some clothes for my friend's girlfriend. She changed into the dry clothes in the store while the rest of us rode the train back to Sapporo still completely drenched.

The festival area at night
Waiting around in Don Quixote
Back in Sapporo, we had a late meal at Bikkuri Donkey ("The surprised donkey"), a chain of restaurants serving Japanese hamburger patties cheaply.

Surprised donkey food

Tanuki festival and a new umbrella

A giant tanuki

During the weekend, there was apparently a Tanuki festival in our Tanuki street (a shopping street for tourists). I passed by by chance and noticed that a kimono shop where I once bought an obi (belt) was selling things very very cheaply. I thought I should by something, but it turned out that they were not really selling anything I wanted. Recently it has been raining a lot, though, so I bought an umbrella.

My new umbrella

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Getting one tiny sock

If you buy some "Ooi Ochya" tea in the convenience store now, you get a small present with your PET-bottle. You get something that looks like a tiny sock. At first I thought it was a sock, but you get only one. If you buy another bottle you get one more, but then you might get one that looks completely different (I bought three bottles and got three different socks). It was explained to me that these are socks that you can put on your PET-bottles or on your iPhone etc. It seems to be a "PET-bottle cover", not a sock. Very useful, I am sure.

Who walks around with a lemon?

Yesterday I was given a lemon because I am such a funny person. Or at least have a funny name.

Fireworks at the Toyohira river

On Friday I managed to leave work only half an hour after my contracted hours (I usually stay much later) and hurried home. I changed into my latest yukata, folded up my recently purchased tiny "blue sheet" and walked over to the Toyohira river. It usually takes about 10 minutes to walk there, but yesterday it took closer to 20 minutes. The reason was of course the Toyohira fireworks festival.

A sunflower
Bizarre amounts of people gather to watch the very nice fireworks. I reached the riverside at around 18:30 and the fireworks start 19:45. When I got there, it was already very very crowded. When the fireworks start, you are sitting in a sea of people. After the fireworks are over, getting home takes forever since there are too many people walking around blocking all the streets (even though they do close off all the nearby roads from cars). Trying to get on the subway is impossible (though I of course live walking distance away from the place, so my closest station would be the same station you got on the train at, making it not only impossible but also pointless).

My best photo of a pig shaped firework, but still blurry.
The fireworks were quite nice. I especially like the ones that explode into interesting shapes, like a pineapple, Hello Kitty, or a heart. Previous years they had lot of these, but this year it was almost only a pig shaped firework in this category.

My one person sized blue sheet worked very well, and was sadly large enough for all the people I sat with to fit on it... It folds down to a size small enough to put in your yukata sleeve (yukatas do not have pockets so you shove things into the sleeves instead) and light enough not to unbalance how the yukata hangs on you.

The person standing in the middle is a boy dressed in a dress, waiting for the fireworks to start.

Blue Sheet

The last Friday of July we have a big fireworks festival here in Sapporo. When Japanese people watch fireworks, they dress in yukata and sit on "blue sheet"s. I have lots of yukatas, but went out shopping for a "blue sheet". This is the Japanese word for a tarp, even if they are not blue. Most are blue here in Japan, though.

I bought one that said it was "small and conveniently folds down to a size easy to carry". It only seats one person, but since I do not really have any friends that want to hang out with me, that is usually big enough, haha. I bought one that was mainly blue, just to be true to the name.

Jalapeno hamburger

On Thursday I finally got around to going back to a hamburger place that my Greek friend told me about. We went there three times together while he was still in Sapporo and they have very nice hamburgers so I thought I should go there alone too. I never got around to it though, even though it is only about a ten minutes walk from my home.

This time I ordered a "The Mexican Burger", which comes with Jalapenos, egg, avocado, and tomato. It was good.

The place is called "H's Cafe", which is a somewhat strange name in several ways. It is not a cafe, and they do not have coffee, so the "cafe" part is a bit weird. When talking to someone who knows someone who works at H's cafe, there was a discussion on how you would read the "H's" part. A lone "h" in Japan is often read "ecchi" (a Japanese version of the English pronunciation of "h") and then often means obscene, pornographic, sexy, or things along those lines. Since H's Cafe is an "American bar", it might make sense to read it in English, something like "eich's bar", I though.

It turns out that according to people that work in H's Cafe, the proper way to read it is like you would read "his cafe" in English. Probably because the owner is named something that starts with "H", probably "Hi"-something. Perhaps "Hiroshi" or some other common Japanese name. So it is a shortened form of "Hiroshi's Cafe" (or whatever the name may be).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pizza and barbecue in the countryside

When the weather is nice, Futomi and Sweden Hills are very nice and calming environments.

From time to time I get invited by my friends in Sweden Hills to come out for some barbecue or other activity. Since it is a bit outside Sapporo, I often do not have time (I work too much), but two days ago I had the chance to visit for some barbecue and pizza baking fun.

There were still some strawberries in the garden.

I arrived at around 12:30 or so, and they started a fire to put some lunch on the grill. We had different types of meat, sausages, pickles, barbecued tofu, and barbecued konnyaku to name a few things. My friends grow lots of stuff in their garden, and there were still some strawberries available. In the fall, there are many types of vegetables to have too.

In Japan, people barbecue all kinds of strange things. These are tofu (left) and konnyaku (right). 

A Polish friend and former colleague also showed up with his son. When they showed up, we all had some more food. After an hour or so of rest, we also started making pizzas. My Polish friend was there to make the perfect pizzas in the pizza oven our Japanese friends have built themselves. The oven is very nice, and we did manage to make some very nice pizzas.

You also barbecue onigiri (rice).

There were some cultural misunderstandings along the way too, though. For example along the lines of:
"Where is the basil and were is the oregano?"
"When I said 'bring anything you need for pizzas', that is the type of thing I meant."
"It never occurred to me that there could be a household with no oregano in the house."
But everything turned out well in the end, haha.

A fish sausage.

We made many pizzas, each made a slightly different way since experiment #1 had too much ash on the pizza after being in the oven, and #2 had stuck too the aluminium foil too much, and #3 was a bit too moist from too many fresh vegetables on it, etc. etc.

After the pizza experiments were over there was another hour or so of resting. Then it was time for dinner... We had another round of barbecue, with more meat, more sausages, and more of everything. So, not a great day for my diet, but a great day with lots of good food.

The first pizza, pre-oven
The first pizza, in oven
The first pizza, post-oven

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

People showing their breasts in the streets

There are many Japanese festivals, and we have many festivals just here in Sapporo. Some themes are common, like stalls selling skewers with grilled chicken and people wearing yukatas. Some festivals have very special themes, and some do not.

After undressing quite a lot

Last week we had a small festival in our entertainment district (there are several bigger ones in the same district at other times of the year too). There was a small stage were people played jazz music, had a 17 man brass band playing "Latino style music", and much more.

A very skilled performance using feathers

There was also a performance called something like "burlesque sexy dance". First one woman came on stage and danced around a bit while undressing, and finally danced with two enormous feather fans and not much else. You could give her tips by either putting it in her panties or putting it in your own mouth and then she would take it from their with her mouth. She is a burlesque dancer that perform all over the world, it was said. Her stage name is Miwa Rock, and she has a blog.

Right before undressing

After her, a group of girls and one man did a similar dance and undress show, with a similar tipping system. They were also quite funny, and after having undressed to just panties and tassels taped to their breasts, they jumped around making the tassels spin like propellers. After that, it turned out that their panties could separate into one part tube top and one part panties, so they could easily re-dress again, which was very clever. The group is called Murasaki ("purple" in Japanese) Baby Doll, and there is a Murasaki Baby Doll Web page.

Undressing to panties and tassels

After using a clever contraption making panties into panties and a top!
It was somewhat surprising to see this type of show in the middle of a busy street (in front of 7-Eleven) at a fairly early hour, but everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Am I super hot, or am I like a dog in a Batman costume?

During the weekend there was a small festival in our entertainment district. There were some stalls in the streets (that were closed off from traffic during the evenings) and a stage with various performances. I, and many others, went there in a yukata (Japanese summer kimono, something you usually wear to festivals).

I ran into a girl I know who was working in one of the food stalls, so I bought some food there. I also noticed that lots of people were taking photos of me when they thought I was not looking. A woman who seemed to be a tourist came up to me and asked if she could take a photo of me and her son together. Another woman came up and asked if her husband could take a photo of her and me together...

My first theory was that people finally must have realized how cool I am. My Japanese friends upon hearing this theory told me in no uncertain terms that they believed that to be wrong... I then thought that maybe people mistook me for a celebrity, but I do not look like anyone famous that I know of.

My current theory is that it is similar to seeing a dog wearing a Batman costume. Even if the dog does not look cute or cool in the Batman costume, seeing a dog dressed like Batman is just weird or rare enough that you would take a picture anyway. Same thing with a westerner in a yukata, probably.

One of my Swedish friends upon reading about my first ("I must be super cool") theory said that it would help if there was a photo of me so they could check my theory for me. I had to disappoint her, though, since I did not take any photos of myself. An image search on Google also did not bring up any of the many photos taken of me during the night.

When someone else does not eat your food

After my magic show on Friday night, I dropped by our magic bar to see how they were doing. One of our magic bars is relocating, so only one is open now. That means that there are magicians enough to cover two magic bars all working in only one place. Though it also means that all the customers going to any of the two bars end up in the same one, there were more than enough people to handle things without me.

I went to another place in the same building to have some very late (2 am) dinner. There were three other people sitting at the counter, a youngish girl (I cannot tell how old people are in Japan...) and two serious looking men (office suits) about the same age as me. There was also the owner of the place standing at the counter. I ordered their "smoky curry", Japanese curry with smoked bacon in it, which is very nice.

Apparently, the guy sitting next to me had also ordered the same just before I entered, and the girl at the end of the counter had ordered it too, and finished most of her food before I arrived. After I got my curry, she left the counter and sat at a table for awhile, checking her e-mails or something with her phone.

When she got back to her seat at the counter, she looked at her mostly empty plate for awhile, and then she said: "Who ate my curry? There is no food left here, so someone must have eaten my curry without me noticing while I was checking my e-mail!"

For the next hour and more, she kept accusing people of eating her food; "It was you, right?" or "The guy that just left, he was the one who ate my food, right?" She was quite funny to the rest of us, though she seemed to be genuinely convinced that she had not eaten the food herself. One of the other customers bought her a new plate of curry, since the food is very cheap and he makes lots of money. She ate that, and towards the end she said she had some problems eating all of the fairly small serving. We pointed out that this might indicate that indeed she had eaten quite a lot of food before starting on this plate, but she was not convinced.

Arguments like "why would anyone who has a serious job [like everyone at the counter] and earns quite a lot of money eat your food for free even given the opportunity?" did not bite. In the end she seemed convinced that it was the owner who had snuck out from behind the counter and eaten her food without her noticing it (despite her sitting about 2 meters away from the counter, facing it). The fact that he can eat all the curry he wants for free when there are no customers in the bar did not convince her.

She asked me: "You know who ate my curry, right?" To which I responded that indeed I did know. Probably everyone at the counter knows, I told her. Indeed, everyone agreed that it was she herself who ate it. It was a very interesting happening. Drunk people can be fun sometimes.

It makes you wonder what kind of people she normally hangs out with, if someone eating your 500 yen curry when you look away is a serious concern.

Ridiculously big changing room

On my other blog I wrote up a short story of my latest magic show at a hotel, where I got a seriously big changing room.

Bicycle accident

On my way to work I noticed that one of the biggest and most heavily trafficked roads in Sapporo was blocked and there were lots of police swarming around. Looking closer, there was a fairly mangled bicycle on the road, and people were checking the underside of a car. So presumably a car had hit a bicycle.

I go to work by bicycle on most days, but I have never had an accident. One of my colleagues has had 4 accidents resulting in broken bones during the 7 years he has lived here... He broke his jaw, his collar bone, his leg, and possibly his arm. Nowadays he does not ride a bicycle any more, and says he never will again. Then again, he said so after the previous accidents too, so sometimes we worry that he will start biking again, haha.

When I got to work, I looked for my colleague but even though he lately almost always arrives before me, he was not to be found at his desk... This was a somewhat worrying sign, but later it turned out that he had just gone to the toilet at the time I arrived.

The convenient number of sausages/buns

In Sweden, if you buy hot dogs and bread for hot dogs they come in packs of 10 or 30 hot dogs and packs of 12 buns. Since the numbers do not match, you have to eat 60 hot dogs before the number of buns and hot dogs are even.

In Japan, at least in the store I go to, there are 6 buns in a pack and 6 sausages in a pack. Very convenient. Then again, buying one 6-pack of buns and one 6-pack of sausages costs about the same as buying 60 sausages and 60 buns in Sweden...

Tokyo, the otaku (nerd) heaven

If you want a school uniform with a very very short skirt, they were on sale.
When I booked my tickets for the Tokyo meeting trip I still did not know when the meeting would end, so I booked a return flight fairly late so I would be sure not to miss it. As it turned out, the meeting ended earlier than I had expected, and I had a few hours in Tokyo.

Tourists in Harajuku
One of the slightly strange fashion trends from Harajuku is these kind of doll dresses. Though I saw only a few people wearing them (excepting staff in shops selling such clothes). They mostly show up on weekends.

I went to Harajuku and Akihabara. These two districts are both Meccas of nerds, though nowadays there are more tourists going to check out the nerd culture than there are nerds. In Harajuku you have the "dress like a doll"-fashion girly nerds. This is also were I buy my weird t-shirts.

Tourists in Akihabara
Anime t-shirt, colored hair, nerd souvenirs in bag; a typical group of westerner anime nerds.
In Akihabara you used to have the electronics nerds (and there is still some of that left) but now it is mostly anime/manga nerd stuff there. And "maid cafes", which is closely related to anime nerd culture. Cafes or bars (or brothel type places) where girls work wearing the Japanese interpretation of a French Maid costume, speak with very high pitched voices, and act very subservient.

I saw lots of tourists, and some nerds.

Electronics sold by the kilo etc.
Girls trying to get customers to different Maid Cafes.
Akihabara is also home to AKB48, a music/dance group of young girls (like 16 to 24 years old?) singing and dancing in very short skirts and showing their panties. Very popular and selling massive amounts of CDs. They have a cafe and a shop in Akihabara, and there were lots of people waiting outside.
There was also a Gundam cafe, next to the AKB48 cafe. Gundam is an old and very famous manga and anime series (though I have not seen it myself). There was at least a small line waiting outside this place too.