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Doping Panda

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 10/11/2007)

Straying from the beaten path means the difference between smelling exhaust fumes and smelling honeysuckle blossoms.  I learned the word for exhaust fumes the other day: haiki gasu.  I don’t know the word for honeysuckle.
More...Saturday I went to my first real concert in Japan.  After heading the wrong way a couple of stops on the Osaka Loop Line I finally made it to Universal Studios Japan (USJ).  Universal City is a really interesting part of Osaka built on reclaimed land in Osaka Bay.  I’ve never been to any theme parks other than Legoland California but I imagine they all share the same “other-worldly” feel, belonging to no particular country yet surely hardly what we’d call “international.”  Halloween’s over now so it’s time to start celebrating Christmas.  I met my friends at Starbucks and enjoyed a Chocolate Mint Mocha (it took me FOUR tries to spell chocolate and I’m still not sure I’m right!  That’s because I’ve been spelling it in katakana for the past few months and to do that you change the sound and add a syllable – cho-ko-re-tto).  Anyway, I left my dorm at 9:00 and the gates didn’t even open until 12:00 so we had over an hour and a half to stand in line.  Despite this, we were still more than halfway down a really long line of excited looking Japanese people.  I was the only gaijin in the entire line.  It’s easy for me to tell because I stand two heads taller than everyone else.  With this abundance of time, we had a great opportunity to have great talks about all sorts of cool things – completely in Japanese!  I was so happy that I was able to keep up with conversations and even provide interesting anecdotes and tell jokes.  We talked about the origin of Halloween (Ryousuke taught me some things I didn’t know) and then I told them the story of the origin of Jack-o-Lanterns.  We also talked about homosexuals and gay rights in Japan and how Japan is still behind the US in acceptance of differences.  They were able to convince me that the comedians who make jokes out of being gay are actually being progressive for Japan and helping normal people to talk about it freely in daily life, something that was unheard of a few years ago.  Yet still, gay people in Japan are afraid to come out of the closet because Japanese society hasn’t quite gotten there yet.  They taught me some important words from various Japanese dialects and I even made some jokes with some of the people around us (who were VERY interested in what we were talking about because most of them hadn’t heard a foreigner talking in Japanese).  For the first time I felt like an important cultural ambassador because I actually had something to say and was able to say it and say it well.

About 12:15, the gates opened up and we all began snaking our way into the auditorium – and out the other side.  We walked through a lovely air-conditioned auditorium with comfy plush seats and came out into a road that had been blocked off from the rest of USJ for those who had paid extra to come to the concert.  We were packed in really, really close and I had people touching me on all sides.  I was the lucky one however because of my height.  I could easily see the stage but many people around me could just see all the heads in front (since we were all standing on a flat road and the stage wasn’t very high).  For the longest time while we were filling up the audience area nobody stood directly behind me.  There were about seven rows of empty slots behind me but finally people gave in when they realized that there wasn’t enough room to leave that big a gap open so reluctantly some people filled in the spots behind me.  I felt so bad because I was so much taller than everyone and I’m sure the people behind me couldn’t see anything.  Also, they filmed this concert to include on BoA’s Christmas DVD so undoubtedly it will not be too hard to pick me out in the audience since I was the tallest person in USJ that day.  It was extremely bright and we had to stare into the sun to see the stage.  People were sweating profusely and this was the least pleasant part of the day.  The concert was supposed to start about 1:00 but they got going a bit late.  They started off with a comedy duo that really weren’t very funny.  One was dressed as a dog (with a dog nose and ears but with normal people clothes) and had a funny accent (perhaps dog-dialect? inu-ben).  They talked for awhile about how we should buy popcorn and then the Asahi Super Dry chorus girls came out dressed in their naughty Mrs. Santa outfits and danced around singing about beer.  Nobody cared at all and there was hardly any polite applause.  After that, the first music group came out: SOFFet.  SOFFet is a rap group that consists of a couple of guys singing and one guy playing DJ by scratching records behind them.  They sang rap ballads and it was just a constant barrage of mixed Japanese and English phrases.  The best part was when they hip-hop danced with the characters from Sesame Street.  Bert and Ernie really knew how to get down and Cookie Monster was jiggling all over the place.

After SOFFet was Takasugi Satomi, a girl who has a nice voice but seemed uncomfortable on stage.  She really didn’t know how to grab the audience and the applause always fell flat almost immediately after her songs.  I’ve heard one of her songs a lot on the radio recently and that might indeed be one reason why it was boring to hear it live – they play it too much.  Also, she seemed to forget the words to one of her songs about halfway through and spent the rest of the time struggling along looking down at the (assumed) teleprompter in front of her.  She wore a black dress that looked like a leaf and lawn litter bag with a rip across the top and her backup musicians were casually dressed and just as uncomfortable looking.  I repeat – she’s not a bad singer, nor a bad-looking girl, she was just really boring.  Even having Shrek and Fiona come out and dance during her last song couldn’t restore the audience’s interest.

Finally, it was time for the premium act – BoA.  BoA blows my mind – she’s younger than I am yet she can speak Korean, Japanese, and English fluently, she sings beautifully with a full, powerful voice and she’s a great dancer with a fantastic stage presence.  I think she only sang four songs (maybe it was five) but it was really great to watch her perform.  I understood almost nothing of what she was saying (I’d been standing for over three hours and my mind just wasn’t able to concentrate enough to translate) but it was blissful ignorance to just watch her dance and take in the feeling of her music.

Every gift shop in Universal Ciy has Elmo.  Elmo does all sorts of things that I really don’t think Elmo was ever intended to do.  One place I found Elmo dressed up as either Big Bird or as Oscar the Grouch.  Snoopy and the gang were everywhere too and it’s really weird to see Elmo and Snoopy running around together.  Betty Boop was posing with all sorts of happy Japanese tourists in front of the Universal globe.  There’s also a takoyaki museum there which I may need to check out someday.

I walked along the river Friday night with my friend Kaitlyn and we found a turtle.  I got semi-lost tonight as I entered the final part of Hirakata that I had not yet explored – the area around Hirakata Park (the amusement park).  I wound up on top of a hill and had a great view of the river and the city of Takatsuki on the other side.  Takatsuki sits at the base of a mountain called Mt. Pon-Pon and this is a mountain I really need to explore soon.  I have good reason to believe it is a mountain full of tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs).  Mythologically speaking, pon-pon is the sound the tanuki makes as he walks along beating his scrotum like bongo drums.  I think that is probably one of the coolest myths ever.  There were also good views of the shinkansen racing along the other side of the river.  Anyway, I was on top of the hill in a little park and walked by a crazy man who was busy talking to a sign.  A moment after I passed him, I realized that he had changed his tone of voice and was no longer addressing the sign but was instead imploring me.  I looked at him and he kept making strange noises and looking rather angry but I really have no idea what he was saying so I just bowed, smiled sheepishly, and continued on.  I got kind of turned around and almost walked along the road to Oji.  That would have been a long walk but no doubt interesting.  Another day, perhaps.  I walked up another hill next to the big pink love hotel and found my way back to familiar territory.

Tonight I watched most of a movie with my friend Nikki called Boku wa Imouto ni Koi wo Suru (translated in the English released version as “My Sister, My Love” although I would translate it as “I’m in love with my little sister”).  There are lots of movies about incest in Japan, usually about older brothers with younger sisters.  This movie was special not only for it’s content (two fraternal twins who fall in love with each other) but for the excellent way it was directed.  It was really well done and passionately acted.  They didn’t cut the punches, they didn’t make it easy to resolve the problems these two children are facing, and they left the ending open for interpretation.  That’s one of the great things about Japanese movies – they don’t end.  In normal movies there is some sort of conclusion and you’re able to move on from the story.  Life is not that simple.  I love love stories but they’re not realistic.  Love stories are true in so many ways – people do really stupid things because they’re feeling incredibly intense emotions for each other so everything seems to important and dramatic – and it is.  However, real love stories are not like that.  Sometimes you can have a fantastic love, but it fades away excruciatingly slowly after the cinematic love story ends.  There was no promise in this movie that things will improve.  I believe this movie is available with English subtitles somewhere (although we watched it in Japanese and there weren’t any extra options on the Japanese DVD) and I highly recommend checking this out.

I have dreams for tomorrow but I’ll probably end up just going to Umeda and trying to get my camera fixed at Yodobashi Camera and then coming home and doing lots of studying and homework.

Today’s song for the travelling romantic – Long, Long Way to Go by Def Leppard.

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