Monday, April 28, 2014

Cherry blossoms

The sakura, the cherry blossoms, have come to Sapporo early this year. Usually they bloom just as Golden Week ends here (about a week and a half from today), but some trees are already in full bloom.

New bicycle

My new bicycle
I break about 1.5 bicycles per year since coming to Sapporo, and last month I broke another one. Yesterday I finally had time to buy myself a new bicycle. Let's hope this one lasts longer than average.

Shiritori with drawings

In Japan, there is a game called shiritori (from "ass" and "take" in Japanese). You take turns and you name a word that has not been mentioned before and that starts with the Japanese letter that the previous word ended on (hence the name of the game).

Yesterday I was Shanghaied into playing this game, but with pictures instead of saying the words out loud. So you have to figure out what the guy before you drew, given that the word started with the last letter of the previous drawing. And then you have to draw something starting with the last letter of the latest drawing.

I like the "tanuki" "fox" ("kitsune") "rat" ("nezumi") section in the middle of the game above.

Pizza with chocolate, strawberries, and ice cream

Yesterday I finally had time to meet one of my friends (the last 4 weeks I have been working form 8:00 to 23:00 most days, including Saturdays and Sundays, so I have not had time to do much else). We ended up in a place that served pizza with ice cream. I felt I had to try this, so I got a pizza with custard cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries, and vanilla ice cream. Not bad, but I think you could have a better match for the sweets than pizza dough.

No! Smoking

The hospital has an interesting way of writing that no smoking was allowed

One of my colleagues is hospitalized because he had hip replacement surgery. We dropped by to visit him. When we were randomly walking around trying to find his room, we asked someone where room 13 was and he said: "Ah, Micke!". Apparently he is famous. Maybe because he is the only non-Japanese (and non-speaker of Japanese) there?

Sparkling tea

Our coop has started selling sparkling tea.

Me and Onigiri

I ran into a guy who was presented to me as "the comedian Onigiri". He was really nice and funny. He wanted to see me do some magic, so I did a short performance for the people in the bar we were in.

I have a deck of cards that are Japanese alphabet cards (called "hiragana cards" and sold at the Daiso dollar store). The card with "o" has an "onigiri" on it, and says "o is for onigiri". Everyone thought it was hysterical when I produced that card for him. They were pretty drunk.

Me on TV

NHK shooting something in our lab

A TV crew from NHK (the Japanese state run TV) came to our lab and recorded some of us doing some work. We also went to the mayor's office and did a presentation there, with a different crew from NHK recording us and the mayoral staffs' reactions.

NHK shooting our presentation at the mayor's office
These things were broadcast in some local news special on Friday, but I was working at the time so I did not see the program. I am told I was featured for almost 1 second, haha. One of my friends tried to record the show for me, but apparently failed.

The mayor has a great view, and it turns out you can see the local NHK broadcasting office from the room we were presenting in.

Red trousers

I bought a pair of red trousers. They are nice, but a bit tight.

"I love cock" coasters and KKK clothes

I went shopping for trousers and while I was waiting for them to adjust the length of the trousers (a service common here in Japan), I went to a shop selling variety goods. They sold coasters with the message: "I love cock". They also had coasters with: "You may not be as gay as this, but at least you're trying".

There was another shop nearby selling clothes with a KKK logo too. Who buys these things?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Curry chazuke

Yesterday I went to Bottom Cafe and tried the new "curry chazuke". Japanese curry is nice, and chazuke is food where you pour tea on rice. As always with the food at Bottom Cafe, it was very good.

After I finished, a girl I know a little also showed up, together with a guy she went to elementary school with. She asked me to show them some magic. They were very happy and laughed a lot. The girl said she laughed so much her face hurt. She even laughed at a trick I have which determines your "perfect match", where a photo of me keeps showing up.

A computer science seminar with... tentacle porn?

The Dream of the Gay Octopus, and two professors discussing things related to it

This week we have a distinguished mathematician/computer scientist visiting our lab. He gave a presentation on his recent activities yesterday in a seminar here at our lab. We are a computer science lab, so most presentations at our seminars concern things such as data mining algorithms or theoretical proofs that certain algorithms will terminate with the correct output etc.

This time, the seminar contained some surprising things. There were for instance several slides showing tentacle porn. Both old traditional Japanese tentacle porn such as "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" from 1814, and some new art inspired by this and made with the purpose of making the Vatican upset, for example "The Dream of the Gay Octopus".

The presenter was also funny in that he said that he thought the Vatican or some Christians complaining about an exhibition of old Japanese erotic art was hypocritical considering the Vatican is full of paintings of naked young boys.

Since people keep telling me that there is also a movie about one of the famous old tentacle porn prints (and it was mentioned during our seminar), I put up a link to that movie here: "Edo Porn" (also known as "Hokusai manga").

Swedish waffles and Swedish pancakes

On Sunday one of my friends stopped by and wanted to eat Swedish waffles. I also made some Swedish pancakes. My friend had also brought another young Japanese girl along.

I provided jam and whipped cream for a dessert style waffle or pancake, and I also provided cheese, ham, and Swedish mushrooms. Both options were popular. In return, they gave me some Fukagawa omiyage which consists of Japanese sweet stuff, like matcha (green tea) and anko (sweet beans).

Tomato sauce pasta-flavored ice cream

The convenience store in the house I live in now sells "gari gari rich, Napolitan aji". This means "crunchy, rich flavored Tomato sauce pasta-flavored ice cream". Pasta "Napolitan" means pasta with tomato sauce (or in most cases ketchup) and sausages. The "gari gari kun" ice cream series has now started selling a pasta Napolitan flavored ice cream bar...

This is the same series that brought us the horrible cream stew ice cream.


Description reads: "Minion Box" (in English with Japanese letters)
People keep sending minions to our lab, apparently.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Zombies in a small world

Today I ended up sitting next to a young Japanese guy who I had never met before. It turns out I am Facebook friends with his father, though. That was a somewhat surprising coincidence.

Next, someone swallowed a two meter long balloon (because that is just the kind of thing that people in Japan do). The explanation given was: "You just have to learn self-control while swallowing", and people started talking about just brute endurance stunts. It was mentioned that I sometimes hammer a nail into my nose. This guy sitting next to me then said that he had stumbled upon a YouTube clip of someone looking like a zombie doing just that. That is my YouTube clip showing me hammering a nail into my nose. Small world. He did not say how he happened to stumble upon my clip.

So naturally, I also showed a photo of my Halloween outfit this year. He was surprised again, and showed me a photo in his cell phone. The photo shows me and his girlfriend. Who I also do not know, but who apparently attended the same Halloween party that I went to, and was one of many people there taking a photo with me. Which she had sent to her boyfriend, who sent it to me tonight when we ended up sitting next to each other. Sapporo feels small, but actually has a higher population than the capital of Sweden... where things like this never happened to me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Google+ auto-awesome, Hoffsome

One of the photos I uploaded for a previous blog post today got the auto-awesome treatment by Google+. Lots of my photos of snow get animated snow added to them, and some photos with lights get some kind of blinking effect. This photo got #Hoffsome, though. Which is great! (haha).

For April Fools, Google+ adds a photo-bombing David Hasselhoff to photos. This is the most awesome feature yet.

Curry House Colombo

This week I have not been that busy (and possibly not even employed, since I still do not have a new contract, haha), so I had time to go home from work before 20:30. This is nice, because there is a restaurant called Curry House Colombo that closes at 20:30.

I managed to get there twice this week. The first time I ordered chicken curry with vegetables and egg. Normally you get boiled and sliced egg, but they asked me if I would like fried eggs instead, since they had lots of fried eggs for some reason. I got huge amounts of eggs, and extreme amounts of curry. And they knocked off quite a bit on the price too... The owner of Colombo is a regular visitor to our magic bar, so she gives all of us lots of special service. Which is nice, but since it is so cheap to start with and so good, you would like to pay more.

The second time I tried the "katsu kare", curry, rice, and deep fried pork. It was very good, though the "hanbaagu kare" the guy next to me had also looked very good. Again, they gave me a huge price cut. They also gave me a doughnut. They said that a new restaurant had just opened in the room next to Colombo. It is a soup curry and pancake place, so today they gave away doughnuts. Go figure.

On my way home, I ran into a friend of mine who had stood around at the subway station waiting for 41 minutes before I showed up. She was not waiting for me, but since I have stood there waiting all alone too (though my friend showed up after about 35 minutes), I stopped and talked to her for awhile. We stood around talking for 15 minutes or so. I had not seen her in many months, so we had plenty of funny photos etc. to discuss.

She was happy to have something to do while waiting, and I was happy to see that apparently I am not the only one who has Japanese friends who show up VERY late to meetings.

A very uninteresting TV show

I saw a guy recording a wall today. One more reason for me not to miss having a TV.

Last day at work

My contract here at the university expired on Monday, so I put a stamp in the last square in the book for stamping.

I am told my contract will be extended for this year too. From April 1, which was two days ago. I have not received a new contract yet, but every year they seem to be late, so I am not very worried. Yet.

There is a new page in the new stamping book, which has my name on it. So apparently at least someone in the office also thinks I still work at the university. That is probably a good sign.

Shopping for weird chopsticks, and chinpira-clothes

I had some time on Sunday to visit a store where I bought some really nice trousers during the summer. I wanted some similar ones now, so I stopped by and asked them to order some for me (my size was not in stock). I also ended up buying five new t-shirts there...

And when I walked past another store, a guy came out and said: "Ah, you! We have a pair of trousers I am sure you would like!" They did. The trousers did not fit, though. But I ended up buying a jacket there instead. Then, a guy from yet another store came out and said that he remembered me being a magician and suggested I should buy a new jacket in their store. Which I did.

I also took a look around in the bookstore Village Vanguard that has mostly non-books. They have lots of joke props that are often useful in magic. I ended up buying two sets of chopsticks, one with Luke Skywalker lightsabers (I also thought about buying Obiwan Kenobi lightsabers since I like Obiwan more than Luke as a character, but Luke has the nicer lightsaber design) and one shaped like the katana of some famous Japanese man (there were many, named after various famous samurais, presumably).

Oh, I also bought a banana shaped wine cork.

Really weird, but fitting, chairs. And matcha.

I spent Sunday sitting on a chair with very uneven legs. This was good, though, since the floor was also uneven. The floor was strongly bowed, and all chairs were cut to fit that. So you cannot move a chair to a different table.

I was there with a friend who was in Sapporo for the weekend. I suggested this cafe since I wanted to have matcha (bitter green tea) and this place serves almost only matcha. It turned out that my friend had brought omiyage (presents when travelling). Which were matcha cakes.

Strange things to drop in lobby

When I got home one night, someone had dropped some hair(extensions) outside our elevator. How tired or drunk do you have to be to drop parts of your hair and not notice or not care?

Ropossa: wedding stuff, girls falling for me, women touching me in strange places

Something cheese like made from the first squirt of milk from young cows after their first calvings.

Last week I dropped by the magic "snack bar" Ropossa, and it led to an interesting evening. I showed up wearing a pink t-shirt with a family of pigs eating deep fried pork, with very sad faces. A young woman there said: "Ah, I have the exact same t-shirt!". She had seen me wear another shirt in the same series (cows eating steak, hens eating fried eggs, a salmon eating salmon sushi, etc.) and had bought one with pigs for herself a while ago. She had never seen me wear the pig version she said.

Chinese deep fried dessert
I took this as a sign that even people with normal taste in clothes can wear these shirts, which I find to be very funny shirts. My friends keep telling me only weirdos would wear such shirts. I wrote about meeting this other person who also owns the same shirt on Facebook, and one more (Japanese) person chimed in that she also owns such a shirt. Both these two did however later specify that they would of course never wear these shirts where someone could actually see them wearing them, and they only use them as pajamas...

Someone had brought huge amounts of Chinese food to Ropossa, so I got a large serving of that. I also got something that was kind of like cheese and was apparently made using "the first squirt of milk from a young cow after her first calving", and thus quite rare. What is so special about this first squirt was unclear.

As often happens, I was asked to do some magic for other people. There was a young girl (12 years old, perhaps?) there with her mother. I showed her some magic tricks, and she reportedly became much more quiet and shy than normal when she was around me (I had never met her before, so I don't know how she normally behaves). But she seemed deeply impressed by me being blond etc.

The mama of Ropossa thought this was very funny, so she asked me to do the trick where the cards suddenly spell out "I love you" in Japanese to this girl. I did, and she became quite red in the face. Later she told her mother that it was the first time anyone said "I love you" to her, haha. Too bad it was some weirdo foreigner. She even asked for my physical address afterwards.

It turned out that the reason her mother was in Ropossa was that she had just had the girl who owns a pork eating pigs-shirt and the Ropossa mama witness and sign her marriage papers. She and her future husband were going to hand over these papers to the city office the next day to get married, and they were celebrating in Ropossa.

Later, a cake that said: "Happy Wedding!" showed up, and they were asked to cut the cake together (which is customary in Japan). The not so much like a cake-knife knife that they had to use did have a nice red ribbon. It turned out to be one of the magic handkerchiefs that they use for various magic tricks in Ropossa that had been re-purposed into a wedding accessory.

 I also ended up doing some magic tricks for the company boss of some company who was there with four of his staff. He was so impressed that he paid for everything for me at Ropossa. And for everything for the girl who claimed to own a pig shirt, despite her not being involved in any way and we having met by chance in Ropossa, haha. He also asked the only woman among his staff to come over to where we were sitting, and I did some magic tricks for her too. She was a perfect spectator, cute and amazed by everything and anything. I made a rubber band disappear and she started looking and feeling around for it with a confused face. Was it in my hands? No. In my sleeves? No. On the floor? No. The she started parting my legs, still searching. The girl with the pig shirt then stepped in and said: "This is not really that type of establishment!" and sadly stopped the other woman.

Late at night, a very funny man who also sometimes makes magic props showed up. Even later, a man I had performed for in Ropossa and then later came to see me in the magic bar also showed up. So I was asked to do some more magic. I did a new trick which involves giving away a present "randomly" determined by the spectator for one of them. The other one then asked if it would be a different present if I did it for him too, so I said "Of course, but I can only do the same trick once per day.", which is a well known "fact" about magic in Japan. He said: "Didn't you say you did this trick for the cute woman who left a while ago? And that she reacted in a funny way to it." As luck would have it, that happened at around 23:30, while these two showed up at 1:00, so I explained that since it was now passed midnight it was not the same day.

Before leaving, I also got some presents. I got a huge fake diamond, and an old American half dollar.

Free food, free drinks

On Wednesday I went out for the Sapporo specialty soup curry with one of my colleagues. We then continued on down to One Star Bar, where one of my friends works. I once asked him what kind of omiyage (souvenirs Japanese people give to everyone they know after they have traveled somewhere) he wants in general. Most Japanese omiyage are edible sweets, but my friend does not like sweets. He suggested cup noodles from all over the world. I have given him cup noodles from Sweden, Germany, and Poland.

Now, someone else had given him cup noodles from Hong Kong, and he asked if we wanted to try them with him. We did. They were not that different from cheap Japanese cup noodles.

He also asked me to do some magic for two girls and a man that he also knows. They were very happy with the magic, and they kept buying drinks for me. I could not really find a nice timing to leave, so I stayed three hours or so after my colleague had left with the last subway...

I also gave them a card from our magic bar, and two of them showed up in the magic bar on Friday night, together with another young and very cute girl. Very nice people.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Weird behavior in a bar

A while ago I had a day full of surprises. A magician colleague of mine called and said that a guy from Australia who does not know Japanese was coming to the magic bar, so if I had time he wanted me to show up so someone could speak English. I got there towards the end of the time for these guests and did some magic in English for them. The guy turned out to be Danish, but he now lives and works in Australia. Meeting people from Denmark is very rare in Sapporo.

Then a Japanese man in his late forties (probably, it is hard for me to tell with Japanese people) entered. He was alone, which for non-regulars usually means that it is someone who does magic. This man was no exception, though he was a beginner in magic.He turned out to speak excellent English (quite rare in Japan) and he talked to me about all kinds of things after I had shown him some magic. When I went up to him and said that I too would do some magic (after one of the other magicians had finished), he also said: "Ah! I saw you in the newspaper. That is why I came here!". Since I was in the magic bar where I usually do not perform (we have two bars), and it was a weeknight (when I don't generally perform), it was a lucky coincidence for him, I guess. Meeting a Japanese man who speaks fluent English is perhaps even more surprising than meeting a Danish guy from Australia.

Since I had gone straight from my university job to the magic bar, I was starting to feel hungry at around midnight, so I decided to go have some fried chicken in another place in the same building. There I ended up sitting between a guy from Osaka and a woman from Sapporo, who I have said hello to once or twice but not really talked to.

When I was talking to the guy from Osaka, suddenly the woman on my other side pulled at my arm and started pressing her fingers quite strongly into strange places on my arm and hand. I was a bit surprised, and looked at her for a while, trying to figure out what she was up to. She said she works as a masseuse. The points she were pressing did seem to be spots that when I was doing martial arts were recommended as: "if you press here, it really hurts"-points. She kept pressing at various points and looked at me with a slightly disappointed face. I think she may have been trying to get me to feel pain (which succeeded, haha) and was disappointed that I did not seem to be in pain (after all the martial arts training, I got used to people doing painful things to me, so as long as it seems to be only pain, no real damage, I do not care so much).

She said something along the lines that usually this thing hurts and did something more. I said that yes, especially here between the thumb and the index finger, it hurts a lot and showed her where it hurts on me. I said that it also hurts a lot if you press fingers in between the skull and the jaw where they connect beneath/behind the ear, but she said she did not think so. I said that indeed it does and she said she did not believe me. In the end she asked me to show her where, so I pressed gently behind her ears, which seemed to hurt. She said she was disappointed, because now she had "lost" to me. She tried pressing on some lymph nodes again, but then finally my chicken arrived, and I could get a reprieve from the pain, haha.

So I started eating my fried chicken with the provided chopsticks. While I was still eating, she pulled at my arm and bent it into a strange angle again. Not the arm I use chopsticks with, but still it made eating a bit difficult. I said that maybe she could wait until I had finished eating, and nodded towards the chicken I held with the chopsticks. She then proceeded to bite into my chicken that I held in the air with the chopsticks, and she eat about half of it. This surprised me quite a lot, haha. I asked if she was hungry, and perhaps wanted some more. This seemed to be the case, since she bit off the rest of the chicken I held with the chopsticks too...

I am not sure what she wanted to achieve, but perhaps she was worried about me getting fat and was trying to save me from unnecessary Calories late at night. Anyway, that was a very surprising finish to a somewhat surprising evening. When the masseuse was busy talking to her friends and I had finished my chicken, I took my leave and went home.