Sunday, September 28, 2014

Somewhat surprising, but very nice, present

A long long time ago, a girl from Canada stayed three months in Sapporo. She stayed in the house of one of my friends. She wanted to go to LaLa Too, a famous transvestite show and dance club here in Sapporo. The staff come to your table and sit and drink with you, and they do huge dance shows at fixed times during the evening. They are very funny, but generally only speak Japanese. Since the Canadian girl did not speak Japanese, I was called in to tag along and translate. We ended up going there twice.

This girl was apparently back in Sapporo recently, and she still remembers me since those six years or so ago. She had even brought a gift for me, so the friend who she stayed with came to my magic bar with another of our friends last week and told me this story and gave me the gift. Since it was wrapped, they did not know what it was either, and they asked me to open it immediately to show them what I got.

I received some creamy perfume from L'Occitane de Provence, a brand of makeup and similar products that is very popular in Japan. This thing even had a content list in Japanese on the back. Everyone was surprised by this being the gift, since they had imagined something more Canadian, like a bottle of maple syrup. And something more manly, they said, haha. I am quite happy with the present, though they are right in that it is not that hard to buy the same product here in Japan.

Swedish food

I made some Swedish food recently. In Swedish it is called "fish soup", and it has several types of fish, many vegetables, and some mushrooms that my parents sent me from Sweden. In Japan, soups are very thin, so the Japanese word for soup does not fit this type of food. Here, it would be described as "nabe", dishes made in pots.

Double Rainbow

There was a very nice double rainbow over Sapporo last week. When I finally decided that I should take a photo, half of it was gone, though.

Long awaited presents

One of my magician friends has a habit of always telling me "I am going on a trip, so I will bring back omiyage [souvenirs] for you". And then he never brings souvenirs. Sometimes he forgets, but usually he buys souvenirs and ends up giving them to someone else before he meets me.

Since I gave him a special gift at his wedding, he was also obliged (by Japanese customs) to give me a gift back. He had this gift in his home for two months before he finally managed to remember to bring it to work, where he gave it to me. And we meet 5 times per week, every week, and live 2 minutes by walking from each other! This delivery taking that much time was in some sense quite impressive!

The day I got the gift related to his wedding, I did also get some omiyage from his Disney Land trip. The cookies he and his wife gave me were great, and the Disney Land tea was also very nice. All is well that ends well.

Matcha and tofu tiramisu

This was called "Matcha and tofu tiramisu" on the menu. If you replace the coffee of tiramisu with green tea, and then replace the rest of the tiramisu with tofu, is it really necessary to call it tiramisu anymore? There is nothing of the original tiramisu left!

Another friend's wedding

My friends keep getting married. I was invited to a wedding as a normal guest (not as a performer, though I did end up performing too) and had a good time. My friend who also does magic as a hobby had a very nice wedding, wearing a suit I helped pick out (why on earth anyone would ask me for fashion advice remains a mystery, but it turned out fine).

The ceremony in the wedding chapel was nice. Once thing that was really cool was that suddenly the big doors were opened, the bright light from outside poured in, and then a white owl came swooping into the chapel. It sped down the aisle and landed next to the bride and groom. This owl came bearing the rings for them to exchange. This was the first time I saw an owl bring the rings.

Since I know the groom since many years back, and the bride since over a year too, there were some people at this wedding that I knew. Most weddings I have been to, there have been at most one person outside the bride and groom that I knew, but here I had four people at my table that I had met before. Two of them I had even seen several times.

I managed to get a photo of the bouquet being tossed into the air. The girl who caught the flowers sat across from me at the wedding party later. She had also asked me for some help before the wedding, but we never had time to meet (people who work in Japan do not have much spare time), so that ended up being done over the Internet.

The paper art was hand cut by the bride and groom themselves, which must have been a lot of work (there were about 100 guests attending).
The groom is holding a (fake) dove that he sometimes uses in magic, but since he is wearing white, no one notices this unless told.

Japanese weddings usually start with a ceremony in a Christian looking wedding chapel (some of which are probably actually Christian chapels, but since almost no one, less than one percent of the population, is Christian here, mostly these are only used for weddings and have no Christian ties except the design choices). Then there is a reception in a restaurant, that usually includes many dishes of western food. There is also a wedding cake, and the couple cutting the cake together is one of the big events. Usually the groom gives the bride the first bite of the cake with a small spoon, and then the bride gives the groom the second bite with a huge spoon.

There is also a lot of photo taking, some speeches, and the bride and groom and/or their parents walk around to all the tables thanking people for showing up by pouring them drinks. It is also common that close friends that have special talents do performances (playing the violin etc.). Then, there is a "second party", which mainly includes the friends of the bride and groom. For the earlier parts, family and relatives are always invited, as are people you work with (especially your boss, who for some reason has to be invited even if you do not like or know your colleagues very well). The closest people then go on for a third, fourth, etc. party too.

This time, the groom had asked me to do magic at the reception. He wanted us to do some magic together. It is not that common that the bride or groom do performances, but since the bride was going to be playing saxophone at the reception, he also wanted to do something. We built and practiced a stage illusion that we might be able to pull off in a room where we were completely surrounded and where the audience was about 1 meter from us...

In the end, the magic went OK, but not at all according to plan. We had been to the restaurant several times to rehearse, and one of the girls working there had practiced with us and was in charge of changing the music at the right times. Our illusion had three main parts: the groom showing that nothing suspicious was going on, the groom changing a handkerchief into a wand, and me appearing by magic. This was cut down to the groom doing the first half of showing that nothing suspicious was going on and then me suddenly appearing, since the girl switched to sound to the final drum roll at the wrong time, haha.

The illusion part turned out OK, and it was probably funnier this way since I came out completely unprepared and thus had a funny face. Next, I was supposed to produce some fake money with the bride and groom on the bills, but since I was not prepared for that yet, that did not go well.

Then the bride picked some cards from a deck of cards with the names of everyone that had come and a short message from them to the bride and groom. The people she drew then received presents, and the last person received a special magic trick as her present. The groom took her card with her name, and in the end this card ended up inside an unopened PET-bottle. This part of the magic went very well, so the start and the finish were fine, and that is always good. The middle was not great, but it is probably more memorable when things go wrong but end up OK than if everything goes according to plan, so it was not a bad thing.

The girls who was supposed to bring the handkerchief that the groom was supposed to turn into a wand came up to us when we were removing our stuff from the performance space and said: "The timing of the sounds was completely wrong, right?", since she never got her cue to bring her things. We confirmed that, and she said she was very sorry that they had screwed up our performance. I said that such things happen and it was no big deal since everything turned out fine.

When I came out of the dressing room after putting our secret stuff away, she again came up to me and apologized profusely for their mistakes. After the reception was over and we were getting into a bus to go to the second party, she apologized to me again. Another, even higher ranking, woman also came up to me when we were in the wedding chapel (which we passed on the way to the second party, so people could pick up their bags and other things they may have left there) and apologized to me again.

After our magic, the bride and one of her brass band friends played some music. They were very good, of course, and it was also impressive that she could play a brass instrument while wearing the very tight corset of her dress.

During the dessert break, the groom asked me to do some table magic for his nieces. I did a very short trick that they liked, but then we ran out of time. Japanese weddings, like Japanese vacation trips, are scheduled very tightly, and there is almost no time for unscheduled activities. I dropped one of my magic rabbits at their table (I think), which someone found and gave back to me when I was leaving the restaurant.

Before leaving for the second party, there was a candle relay, were everyone lit candles in a relay. These candles were hand made by the bride and groom, which seemed like a lot of work. There were also speeches, from relatives of the groom, from his father, from the bride, and from the groom. Japanese weddings usually have the bride reading a letter out loud to her parents, thanking them for taking care of her up til now etc. These are usually made so that everyone starts crying, and this time lots of people cried. The bride is usually crying heavily too, and this time was no exception.

When the groom later held a speech where he thanked everyone for coming, he also got very teary eyed and had problems getting the words out. He went to a comedy school when he was younger, so the speech was actually full of funny things ("I never thought I would make friends with a weird Swedish guy" for one thing), but since he was pretty much crying, the only people laughing were my table, haha.

Champagne tower
More cake at the second party
At the second party, he started crying again during his speech there. This time he was emotional because he was introducing his best friend who was going to propose to his girlfriend then and there (and she accepted).

Bread baked to look like caricatures of the bride and groom!
Then there was a third party, where the groom cried again. Very emotional day for him, I guess.

Rain, lightning, landslides, floods, evacuation, and no sleep

A few seconds without lightning.

In the middle of the night a few weeks back, there was a great thunder storm passing through Sapporo. The lightning was impressive, very loud and very bright. The rain was also very heavy. For the first time since I came to Japan, there were emergency broadcasts on the cell phone net because of rain.

I have experienced emergency broadcasts that warn of earthquakes a few times. When a big earthquake is registered there is an automatic system that broadcasts to people in areas not reached by the quake yet that they should prepare themselves for an earthquake. This usually means jumping into the bathroom, I am told. If you have more time, you should also make sure there is an escape open for you even if the walls and door frames get bent out of shape by the quake.

This time, there were first warnings that people in the parts of city on the mountain sides or near the mountains should evacuate because there might be landslides. In fact, one man was killed in a landslide caused by the rains later.

There were many emergency broadcasts, though. The first one came in at around 3 in the morning on the night between Wednesday and Thursday. These warnings make your phone shout very loudly, so most people were woken in the middle of the night. Then there was a total of 15 emergency broadcasts coming at about ten minute intervals, until slightly after 6 in the morning. So I was a bit tired at work the next day...

The broadcasts kept expanding the areas where evacuation was recommended. There were also broadcasts about rivers overflowing, and anyone living near the rivers (which towards the end covered very large parts of the city, with about 600,000 people living in the affected areas) should evacuate to the second floor or higher in the buildings.

Lots of lightning kept the sky brightly lit most of the night.

I live on the 9th floor, and far from the mountains, so I was already as evacuated as necessary. One friend on Facebook was woken up and noticed that she was right on the border of the "evacuate because of landslides" area, on the "safe" side. But since the areas kept growing, she was wondering if she should evacuate too. She said something like "and I am not even wearing underwear", and many of her friends commented that she should probably at least put on underwear in preparation for evacuation.

Another of our friends commented that she should put on underwear and evacuate to this friend's house, since it was out of the risk zones. This friend lives across the street from me, so I added that she could also evacuate to my place, which has the benefit of being on the 9th floor and thus pretty flooding resistant. Also, there is no requirement that you wear underwear here, I added. They thought this was funny, and commented along the lines of "So Jonas does not wear underwear at home". I added that I was in fact wearing funny underwear (Superman underwear), but that it was not a requirement. They thought it was funny and said that the next time we meet I will have to show them my underwear... I have not run into them since then, but now I have to wear funny underwear every day, since I run into these people by chance quite a lot...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Izakaya with colleagues and way too much food

Deep fried cheese, very healthy

I used to go out to dinner with two of my colleagues every week, but bicycle accidents and trips to Greece has led to serious disturbances in this tradition. Last week we did manage to go out and ended up ordering way too much food, since most of the menu items had that "Ah, we have not had this in a long time"-feeling to them...

Swedish stuff on sale

I was looking around in a book store (!) for small toys to buy and possibly use in magic tricks. The bookstore sold lots of Swedish products, for example these textiles.

Kani-bonara, Japanese pasta pun

One of my friends was getting married and wanted to do big illusions together with me at his own wedding. After we had been at the place that the wedding party will be held at and done some rehearsals, camera angle checking, etc., we also had dinner.

In Japan, pasta carbonara is famous. We had pasta, but this was pasta "kani-bonara". Kani is the Japanese word for crab, so this was a pun on carbonara indicating that the pasta came with crab meat. It was very good.

Chameleon glasses, see behind you

One of my friends owns a pair of chameleon glasses. When you wear them, you look vaguely like a chameleon, and you can also see both in front of you and behind you (mirrors).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sapporo reunion of Versailles friends

Me, people I met in Versailles, and some other people who happened to be in the magic bar.

Two months ago I met two girls in Versailles (France) that were there on vacation (I was there on a business trip). They turned out to be from Sapporo, and in fact to work at the university hospital of the university I work at!

In Versailles

Since they are nurses and nurses in Japan work a lot, the first time that they both had time off after returning from France was Sunday I week ago. We had dinner together and they wanted to see magic in the magic bar where I work. I do not normally work there on Sundays, but I figured that it would be many months before there would be a day where they both do not work and that I do work in our magic bar, so I just volunteered to work this Sunday too in our magic bar.

When we entered the bar, it was quite busy. Also, one of the girls said: "Ah, I have been here before!"... Though she had not been in our bar when I was working.

I had a great time. The food was good, and they told me funny stories from their Paris vacation. The conversation was funny and interesting on other topics too, for instance when we talked about their image of what happens during army training (Sweden used to have compulsory army training for men)...

They were impressed that I was waiting outside the restaurant 5 minutes before the agreed upon time, even though I am a foreigner. They said it was very Japanese. Most people I know in Sweden are very punctual, and I tend to show up 10 to 15 minutes before the appointed time (my mother shows up 30 minutes early, but my brother often shows up slightly late (though perhaps only when meeting me)). My Japanese friends are generally not punctual. I have one friend who is almost always on time, but pretty much all my other friends are more often late than they are on time. I have been told this is very uncommon in Japan, but since I have hundreds of acquaintances that are both Japanese and that are generally not punctual, I must have incredibly bad luck in meeting people or it is not really that rare. Other Japanese friends tell me that it is "because you seem like a person that would not get angry if I was late", so they show up late only when meeting me... which to me sounds like an even worse personality trait than being late in general...

It was also funny that one of the nurses asked me if I know 胡麻豆腐 ("goma tofu") when we talked about Japanese food. I know it, because it is quite common in Japan, but the other nurse said: "What is that?" Which both me and the first nurse thought was strange, since presumably she is Japanese and has lived at least 25 years in Japan, and since even I have ran into goma tofu several times during my much shorter time in Japan.

The nurses seemed to enjoy the magic that I did, and they also saw one of the other magicians doing more magic while I was busy with other groups of customers (the bar was pretty full the whole evening). When leaving they said: "Kato-san also seemed like a very nice person". So I told him that later, and said that they seemed to be easily fooled. He said that that was a rude thing to say to him, but I claimed that I only meant that they enjoyed the magic. He did not believe me and said that he is most likely the nicest person of all people working for our magic bars. I said that that is most likely true, but that it does not say very much to be the nicest in this group. Which he agreed was true. So there are at least some people here in Japan that get some types of irony.