Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ummmm ... I lied.

Sorry people (using plural is pretty hopeful)... I still intend to kick-start the Spamurai...

... coming soon to a screen near you.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Yes, it breathes! It lives! "It" being either the creature typing these words known as Ian or the blog known as Last Spamurai... take your pick. Ian is alive and well in the balmy Great Southern Land. Today it reached into the high 20s which was nice (depsite the dire warnings of global warming), considering I'm looking down the barrel of yet another winter (albeit a milder one than my last 2 in Japan!). This will be my 4th winter in 2 years.

But really, did you really come here to read about the weather!? We all know what the Spamurai is about. It's all (Yes, I have become that self-obsessed). Well... actually, this blog was always about me in Japan... and now I'm... well... not in Japan. So that leaves me with the question of what to do with the Spamurai. Is it time to shelve the lunch meat for good? Is it time to change to a diet of fresh, healthy alternatives to Spam? My conclusion for now is... (because I know you've all been losing sleep and holding your breath on this one)... I will at least finish posting about the main things I did in Japan and I might even trawl through my holidays in Japan of 2003 and 2004. Beyond that I'm not really sure my life is that interesting in and of itself! I'm not really one for daily listing the number of Weet Bix I ate, the quality of my bowel movements or my thought of the day (often the last 2 are the very same thing). But yeah, I'll let y'all know what will become of the Spamurai.

So for now... a rare interview with a close friend of the Spamurai... that would again be... me.

LS: Tell us, what are you doing now and how does it feel to be back?

IY: Well, it's been weird. I am working back at the place I was at before, doing the things that I was doing before! Storyboarding for an animated TV series. Weird in that Sydney life feels surprisingly normal in a lot of ways but I feel that I'm a bit different now.

LS: Do you mean in a worldly-wise "I've been everywhere man" way, or something else? Prease exprain.

IY: No, I don't fancy myself as now being particularly knowing in any greater sense (despite trying to grow a seasoned-traveller beard... result was more like pathetic angry velcro), but I feel like I was a different person in Japan, leading a different life and now I'm back in the old camouflage of pre-Japan life, and yet Ian Young's stripes feel a bit out of kilter with the walls and carpets of suburbia-to-urbia-and-back-again-to-suburbia daily humdrum.

LS: So home seems horribly borish now? Your family and friends are uncool compared to your hip Japanese pardners?

IY: Not at all. Life in Japan was often also a humdrum thing, albeit a different brand. No, I am loving seeing those dearest to me again (...and yet realising how dear the friends I've left behind are to me). I'm also liking my surrounds of where I grew up. It's been developed but the geography's still the same. It's nice being with Mum and Dad, too. I haven't lived with them for almost 6 years I guess. I'm enjoying the freedom of Aussie culture - there's that great egalitarianism and friendliness that you can still find. But Sydney culture seems odder than ever before. The look-at-me-ness. The aggressive eyeballing of each other and driving like it's DeathRace 2000. The apathy and comfort and the aspiring to have even more. I guess those things are in Japan too, but it's not as much of a competition there, at least as far as I experienced it. Sydney's beaut, but yeah... there seems to be a whole lotta haughtiness around which I find UGLY.

So, I love being back despite seeing some things in a poorer light, but I also miss every one of my friends in Japan terribly. I'll visit as soon as time and money permit.

LS: Ohhhkay. Nice soapboxing! What have been some adjustments? Let's end on a lighter note!

IY: When commuting I still expect anyone I glance at in a suit to be Japanese. I still get surprised at seeing newspapers in English on the train. I still prick up my ears when I hear the word "Australia". I'm still eating hamburgers like I've been in Asia for a long time where the closest thing available is a plasticised McBiscuit. I still think of anyone non-Japanese as a foreigner and think things like "aren't their noses big and their bums are so..."

LS: OK! Our time's up. Catch you next time. We apologise for the delay in transmission. Our technical team has been trying to source a good provider for fast connection to the Spamurai Nerve Centre - where all our visual material is kept. Ian Young kept rambling but we decided to terminate this interview in the interests of your health and his safety. May you be in good measures of both. His last words were: Sayonara sucker.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This is the last Spamurai post from what's been my home-away-from-home in Japan. Yes, I'm moving out tomorrow morning. I've been too busy to know how to feel, but I'm sure that will follow. Today, amid all the hectic goings-on of preparing to leave, I played golf! Kazuya-san from next door and his elderly friend Habuchi-san made excellent company. We drove for about an hour to get there - a beautiful, straight-forward course in the mountains of Sasayama. I had a great time, although my playing was atrocious. Habuchi-san took honours. He has one of the toughest looking faces I've ever seen -cheekbones that you could carve something with, but by the back nine we were making silly gestures and noises to each other! I was relieved we were able to act like kids - I turned up in very casual attire as per laid-back Aussie golfing (but I did have a collar), whereas the other two were wearing trousers and sportscoats and had a change of clothes to play in! Freak. But it was fine. We virtually had the course to ourselves - staff outnumbering patrons by about 3:1! The service and facilities were incredible. Automatic golf cars that drive themselves, conveyor belts to take you up to the clubhouse, a huge locker room to change in and an adjoining o furo, or Japanese bath, to soak in when you're done cursing a small white piece of plastic all around a fancy park for half a day. It was great - the bath was the best I've ever had.j.. And it was an exceedingly generous gift - the other two shouted me despite my best efforts to decline.
Anyway, gotta stop yabbering - I'm going to be up all night cleaning as it is. My trip to Kyushu is happening pretty much as advertised a couple of posts ago - minus the limestone caves of Yamaguchi. So, catch you next time in/from Australia most likely!
ja ne

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Update: I am currently 2 days into my last week of work. To me that means each day is a series of painful goodbyes to some of the best little creatures in God's good world. Yesterday I said goodbye to Taisei, Haruka, Tomohiro, Kazutaka, Asuka, Risa (at which point I lost it and embarrassed myself by crying in front of 4 very surprised looking kids and 2 of their mothers), Hideki, Satoshi and Kimika. Today I said goodbye to Eitaro, Takara, Honoka, Ami and Maki. This time I sprung a leak saying goodbye to Honoka, my hyper-active little nut of a kid who this year has been wearing a cap and jacket that makes her look like a trucker. She likes to substitute obake (ghost) for anything I ask her to repeat and at times hisses at me like a friendly rabid goose. In other words, often a nightmare to teach. But I love her to bits - this time her mum saw me weeping and asked me if I was OK! Gosh, I knew this week would suck.
After work Kazuya (my friend from the sushi-ya next door) took me to a golf range in order to prepare for our big game next Monday. Yes! I'm going to play golf in Japan! The result of our practice? I am scared witless. Kazuya is good. He drives the ball further than I can see and in a pretty good line. I was woeful. I haven't lost my trademark slice (that's when the ball curves out from you - in my case, to the right) and tendency to sometimes hit the top of the ball and just bounce it along the ground. Thankfully his daughters Sayaka and Asuka came along and tried for the first time for some comic relief. Otherwise I would have been the only comedy there. The range was pretty schmick. The payment system involving a charge card was impressively complicated and the automatically ball-loaded tee that pops up from the ground was very cool. Everyone around us seemed to be really good at golf and slightly peeved at our tomfoolery.
Then we went back for some dinner. They spoiled me rotten with nabe (soup hotpot), some fried dumpling ball things, karaage (fried chicken), fried beef and onion and 2 dishes from their friends' restaurant next door - tompeiyaki (omelet wrapped around pork and sprouts in a barbecue sauce) and fried beef bowel. That last bit sounds gross, but it's delicious. It's presented like squid - curly white pieces with a criss-cross pattern cut into it. It's also similar in its chewiness. I'm not sure how to describe the taste. It's belly good!
As we talked about times we've spent hanging out I asked after Kazuya's various friends that I've met. He rang one guy, Konishi-san, even though it was quite late and I thought that was the end of it. Then about 10 minutes later Konishi-san pops in and joins us! They then basically tell me that we're going to their favourite karaoke bar, Puchi - which is a very loose translation of Petit ...but just for a short time.
Rather than being called a karaoke bar, it's actually a snack bar. For those who know the euphemism, don't recoil in shock just yet. For those who don't, snack bars are sometimes places where young girls offer other services as well. But in the country, the term can also be used for a bar where older women serve patrons and just provide banter. They are very good at conversation and karaoke, pouring drinks, lighting cigarettes and handing you a steamed towel (every time you return from the loo!). At this place there's Mama-san and Yukari-san. Mama-san is about 50 and you can tell she's been working behind a bar for a long time. Her voice and laugh is one achieved through alcohol and cigarettes. She would have been quite a looker in her youth. Yukari is still a looker at age 30. Needless to say, most of the patrons are lonely men, but this place is so innocent that I've seen an older couple and their teenage daughter there. It's a weird type of establishment that just doesn't exist in Australia.
I was coaxed into singing a few songs even though I really didn't feel like it. I murdered Rock With You, did a mediocre Sweet Caroline and then an OK Patience, ala Guns'n'Roses. Kazuya and I finished with a duet of Careless Whisper! He's not only good at golf, but karaoke too. It was nice to just hang out and then say some not-so heart-rending sayonaras to Mama-san and Yukari-san. Yukari said to please comeback on my honeymoon! haha
Well I just deleted the word "Quick" from the start of this post. The quick update has become another bloated early-morning production. I guess with all my weird emotional churnings I needed to vent. Thanks for reading...
Time to pack tissues for tomorrow's proceedings. Night.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I went to Abe-san's house yesterday (Abe-san is the man I talk about in the post below). His wife was also really nice - no surprises there! She doesn't speak a word of English, but I was pleased to realise I could understand a fair bit of what she said. Her husband filled in the rest. They had me sit in their special living room - walls adorned with fascinating things from his travelling career. He even had the wheel from the ship that he served on. Thankfully I saw a few more hats (with matching miniature uniforms made by Mrs Abe!), but I still feel that I have taken someone's Olympic medal home as a decoration. It was a really special time - they treated me as an honoured guest - I'm not sure I've sipped tea from such a nice set before! When I said it was a beautiful cup they were like "Oh. Really?".
In contrast, they then drove me to a really earthy joint (that word fits perfectly) for some good honest chuuka, or Chinese food. The other clientelle made it seem more like a truck-stop (actually the place next door was hilariously titled BIG MOUTH American Restaurant), but I was in very elegant company with the Abe's. We had some delicious ramen and gyoza, or noodles and fried dumplings. Everything was loaded with garlic - some fairly raw. The gyoza were in large supply and Mrs Abe kept plying me with them with you're young, you can eat them. Please eat them. Eat them all! Please eat them. Like a loving broken record.
Mr Abe made a joke about how I have to go and teach English after this and how my students will suffer the effects of our lunch. The joke was prophetic. By 6pm my breath could slay a behemoth from 100 metres. My lone student walked in to the room adjoining mine and instantly gave me this funky look and slapped her hand over her mouth. When I finally coaxed her into our classroom, I offered to move my desk further from hers. After opening the window to the very cold evening air she then moved her desk until she was backed up against the wall!
haha... a closing poem:
Beware the gyoza, should you want friends. If not... dig in! They're tasty.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What would you say if a man handed you 30 years of his life in a box?
Would you know what to say? I didn't. I was speechless. This happened to me today. During my Japanese class, one of the teachers, a wonderful old guy called Abe Jiro pulled me aside and produced a paper bag. Inside was a cardboard box. Inside the box was a miniature officer's hat. Abe-san was an International Communications Officer aboard a merchant ship. He travelled the high seas for many years, visiting countless nations (well, actually I think he said 80ish), whilst keeping a wife and children back in Japan. I was intrigued by the beautiful little hat.
I was flabbergasted when he said he'd brought it to give to me as a present. I learned during a farewell lunch for some of us that it was his retirement gift after 30 years of service. Wha? I was dumbfounded. Why did he give it to me? Why me? Someone he hardly knows. A schmuck. A manchild who collects toys and pays taxes late if at all, who can barely get out of bed some days! As a Christian I've heard many stories of grace before - told to illustrate the death of Christ... what God did in giving the life of a blameless man to benefit guilty people. I'm sure it wasn't his intention, but this little hat has made me feel a little more of what that means. I feel so undeserving. And so grateful.

Here we are. My teacher thinks Abe-san gave it to me because he didn't manage to have me over at his house, so he wanted me to have something to remember him by. Far out. He had invited me and I hadn't had the courtesy to make a time to see him! Well, I'm seeing him this Thursday and it's horrible that it's taken all this for me to accept an offer to be his guest.

Another box of grace. This one has been folded together by my first teacher, Mukojima-sensei... yes, she made it out of origami paper! I also recieved this today. I love it.

Inside were some black and white sesame biscuits she baked for me. She is a young, busy woman, so it's not like she was bored! These people are definitely not helping me leave this place. It's overwhelming.

My heart is in 2 countries.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I concede defeat. I have been trying to keep the Spamurai up to date, but photographically speaking I am still stuck in the world of 2006. I'm up to about December 30th but alas it's already March 2007! Can you believe it? Since I set a definite date to return home time has rocketed into the future. So... I have decided to wave the white flag to time and am resolved to the fact that I will be putting most of the pics-to-come on this blog from my parental home of Epping, New South Wales, Australia... once I get there in a month's time.

So what's with the map? Well, that red line is the trip I'm planning to take as my last assault on Japan - the island of Kyushu. It's not set in stone, but I thought I'd share with you my excitement. Haha... set in stone. I only have one city's accommodation booked - a big achievement if I may say so myself - the website was entirely in Japanese and I had to stick each field of the secure reservation page into a translation website line by line! Took a couple of goes, but I got a confirmation email! Success! That city is Kumamoto - right in the middle of the trip, so up until yesterday I hadn't settled on the direction I'd do this tour in.

Well zooming in, I've decided to tackle things in an anti-clockwise direction (still fighting time I guess). I'll train it to Fukuoka (hopefully after seeing some massive limestone caves in Yamaguchi en route) and then go on to Nagasaki, Shimabara peninsula, catch a ferry and train to Kumamoto (castle town) then on to Aso-zan (the world's largest volcanic caldera) and onto the bath towns of Oita and Beppu. From there I hope to catch an overnight ferry back to Osaka.
All up it'll be about 8 days.

With all I have to do in packing up my apartment, tying up everything at work, saying goodbye to friends from various sources and making sure I have everything covered legally and logistically for nicking off back to Australia, I'm looking forward to this trip with a mixture of relief and high-stress if that makes any sense at all.

Well, winter is officially over, I believe. The plum trees are blooming early and my nose is already onto the fact that spring has sprung. March 1st - bang, I see my first blossoms and snart sneezing. Oh well. I still love spring. And with this weather I'm probably going to see Kyushu in full sakura-mode. Cherry blossoms!

So, with all this going on, the Spamurai may well be more of a ninja int he coming days and weeks. I'll try to update, but as I said - most will be coming from once I'm back on home soil. Not quite as romantic, but whatever!

See you soon...