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Tuesday, 30th May

Still working on the McDonald`s thing. In the meantime, check out the updates to the outdoor photographs page and the sakura pics.

Makudonarudo Hanbaagaa
Tuesday, 23rd May

Japan was first introduced to McDonald`s way back in 1971, with the opening of its first franchise in the Mitsukoshi Department store in Tokyo. The now-dead but then-President of McDonald's Japan, Den Fujita famously decreed: "The reason Japanese people are so short and have yellow skins is because they have eaten nothing but fish and rice for two thousand years. If we eat McDonald's hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years we will become taller, our skin become white, and our hair blonde."
The man was obviously a genius.

This is the McDonald`s located at Fukushima Station`s East exit. It`s familiar yellow and red flurescence beckons hungry diners from six AM till midnight, seven days a week.

This photo was taken at eight PM on a Saturday night - too late for the dinner crowd, and too early for the post-drinking snackers. The perfect time for a detailed review of the Japanese McDonalds experience.

Essentially the same as Australia, though with some interesting additions and subtractions.
Those wishing to re-enact the `Quarter Pounder in France` bit from Pulp Fiction with Japanese: tough shit. There is no Quarter Pounder in Japan - though there is the Double Cheeseburger (which is, according to South-east Queensland`s foremost expert on McDonalds, Ross Plater, basically a Quarter Pounder though with a smaller, sesame seed-less bun and one more meat patty). The Cheeseburger, the kid`s Happy Meal (Happy Setto), the good ol` Big Mac and the dreaded Fillet-o-fish are all present and accounted for, as is the McChicken. Interesting additions are the Bacon and Lettuce burger, the Prawn Fillet-o, and the Teriyaki burger (meat unspecified). Tomato is available on some burgers for an additional 30yen - AU$0.35.

Above is the drinks menu, offering a somewhat more diverse range than their Australian counterparts. They do have shakes, though for some reason the `corn potage soup` gets its own glamour photo on the drinks page while the shakes have to make do with a thumbnail in the `leftover shit` section, just above the 0 yen smiles.

Much like their Western counterparts, McDonald`s Japan have recently introduced `fresher` options to their menu - perhaps dashing Den Fujita`s vision of a potato-munching Aryan Japan to the ground. Options include a grilled chicken burger and two different types of chicken salad (grilled or fried) that come with three choices of sauce: lemon and herb, cheese, or a mystery brown fluid they call `goma`.
Hardly a big range on offer, but if you think of the different combinations you can make with the salad and dressing, that`s over five different meals!

I waited patiently behind the small family in front of me. The mother, after securing her bounty, walked off with her young, fat children. Finally, after perusing the menu and evaluating my surroundings, the time had come to order.
`Irashaimase!` the young woman behind the counter said, smiling and enthusiastic.

 "Only grape."

`One Bacon and lettuce burger set, please,` I said.
She asked me what kind of drink I would like.
`Do you have any other Fanta besides grape?`
She frowned and gave me and empathetic apology. Only grape.
`Coke then. Oh, and can I have that stuff over there?` I said, pointing at an additional promotional display. Along with the salads, McDonalds is running is a shakie fry promotion thing. The deal is, you get a sachet of powder with your fries, and a bag in which to mix the two. For the additional price of absolutely nothing, I couldn`t resist.
A transaction took place, and I was soon the proud purchaser of a tasty, marginally-nutritious meal.

Part II (Bottom of page. With large pictures of burgers, can`t miss it)

Friday, 19th May

As you may recall, I`ve mentioned that I inherited a bike on my arrival to Fukushima. It`s a trusty bike, able to handle the sharpest of bends and cheekiest of skids. What I haven`t shared is that it`s defective - the bell, and the front light, are both broken. I`d always assumed the bell and light were like a helmet - optional extras for those concerned with their personal safety. Obviously, as a mildly retarded 21 year-old, I`d neglected to get these fixed.
As I was cycling home from an engagement the other night, I had this in mind when I saw a police car pull up beside me, lights flashing. Three policepersons got out - A stocky, 20-something woman with teenaged features, a middle aged man with bad teeth, and a stern looking man just a few years shy of 35.
`Sumimasen,` the woman said, stopping me mid-peddle. `Can you speak Japanese? Are you able to speak Japanese?` she asked, (in Japanese).
`Um... a little`, I replied, with a hint of trepidation.
Eariler that evening, my friend had told me how a foreigner in Japan once got out of a ticket for some infringement - when asked by the policeman if he could speak Japanese, the man replied, `nihongo-o tabemasen` - literally, it means `I don`t eat (the) Japanese (language)`. The officer was laughing so hard that he let the man off with nothing but a smile.
I`d considered pulling this trick, but I didn`t think it very fair, and it could lead to further trouble. I`ll save that one for when I get caught trying to sneak into the women`s toilet. Anyways, speaking with non-English speakers is a good way to practice Japanese. And just in case I wasn`t sure of their English ability, the woman even said, `Eye-EE.... speaku no Engrish...`. Understood.
After 30 seconds of telling me what was wrong with my bike, I came to the conclusion that Japanese police are probably the nicest in the world. I`d heard that Japanese police are really friendly, and they certainly are. What should normally have been a sort of tense situation - being pulled over by the cops - was less tense than a trip to McDonalds (they speak way too quick there).
The older guy, who was getting to be more and more like a kindly neighbour, asked if I had my passport with me. I handed over my Alien Registration Card. My name is written in English on it, so they asked me what my Japanese friends call me. I go by either Matto or Mashyuu, though both are a little unfortunate; Matto sounds stupid to Japanese speakers (for some reason I`m not entirely sure of), and Mashyuu is the stage name of a popular Japanese comedian whose act is that of a boyish homosexual (known to Western audiences for his role in Lost In Translation as `whacky TV show host`).

Bicycle usage is so high in Japan (compared to Australia) that all bikes are registered after purchase. They asked if I was the owner of the bike. Sort of a tricky question, really.
`Well, I`m an exchange student. Last year`s exchange student bought this bike then left it here. So I didn`t actually buy the bike, but it is mine. Understand?`
`Oh really? That`s handy. What is the previous owner`s name?`
The previous owner, though as dinky-di Aussie as they come, is of Chinese ancestry, and has a Cantonese name. I explained this to the confused officers.
`Eh? A Chinese person? But they`re Australian?`
`Yes, well, Australia has various country`s people`s you know`
The 30ish man smiled, checked his book, then went into the car to do something. The two other officers, the gent and the chubby young girl, asked what I was doing at such an hour (11pm or so).
`Returning home. From my friend`s house. They live nearby,` I said.
The older gent nudged me with his elbow, `You`re girlfriend`s house, hey?` he said with a grin.
`No no no, just a friend,` I chuckled back.
`Are they Japanese?`
Again, another tricky question.
`Well, she was born in Brazil, so she`s Brazilian, but both her parents are Japanese, so she`s sorta Japanese... but then she`s really Brazilian. She can`t speak Japanese - well I mean, she`s learning Japanese, but she speaks Portugese` - this last word, in Japanese, is really hard. When converting foreign words into Japanese, L`s and R`s are changed into RU`s - so after adding the suffix meaning `language of the aforementioned country` (go), Portugese becomes Porutagurugo. I had trouble with this, which I like to think the officers found endearing.

The older man, after trying to correct my pronunciation (to no avail), got back to the important questions: do I have a Japanese girlfriend.
I thought for a second, then replied coyishly, `Not yet`.
He had a good laugh, then pointed to his junior officer. `What about her? She`s single, and really nice. She`s free tomorrow, you should go on a date. She can teach you Japanese, hahaha`

The 3rd officer came back, and asked us to wait for a bit.

The girl, who was still blushing, asked me who were the most well-known Japanese people in Australia. I thought for a moment. There`s Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, and George Takai from Star Trek... but do they really count as home-grown Japanese? I thought of the only other two people from Japan who Australians might be familiar with: Hirohito (Emperor of Japan during World War II), and Shoko Asahara (the long-haired, obese cult-leader who orchestrated the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in a Tokyo subway that left 12 dead and hundreds injured).
Upon hearing this, the police officers laughed uproariously. I wanted to ask if they knew of any Australian nutbags, but I wasn`t quite sure how to phrase it.

I was feeling so comfortable around my new friends, that I initiated the next topic of conversation.
`Do Japanese police carry, um... pow, pow!` I asked, making the shape of of a gun with my hand.
`Yep, we have them,` said the elderly gent, patting his holstered weapon.
`Do you have...` I asked, putting my wrists together in a handcuffed fashion.
`Yep, we have them too`
`What about... capsicum water,` I asked, again with the aid of a pissweak pantomine.
`Oh wow, no, we don`t have that,` they said.
`Really? I think Australian police really love that stuff. They use it all the time. They say, `Are you a criminal?` and then they pssssh` again, with the pantomime.
`Hahaha, how do you know that? Are you a criminal?` laughed the gentleman, tapping the mobile phone I had in my pocket.
`No, no, that`s mine! I`m not a criminal!` I pleaded mockingly.

Apparently we had finished waiting - I`m not sure entirely what for, but I was free to go. The bubbly girl sounded like so many of my friends at uni - `Look after yourself Matthew, ok? Good luck!` she said as they entered the car.
`Good luck with the Japanese ladies,` said Uncle Policeman.

With my entirely pleasant experience with the police over, I pondered on crime in Japan. Though it`s steadily increasing, the crime rates in Japan are still laughably low - and with such friendly police officers, is it any wonder? Who could bare offending such nice guys. The first thing I did after my encounter was buy a new light and bell - not because there is the threat of a fine if I`m caught without them again, but because I don`t want to hurt the feelings of Uncle Policeman and his deputies.

I would be really interested to know how many repeat offenders there are in Japan.

Whale of a Tale
Wednesday, 10th May

I ate whale the other night.

Sorry hippies, but it was bloody tasty.
And... bloody. It was raw meat, so the blood had soaked through the white rice, making it sort of resemble a soiled sanitay napkin - not that I`m too familiar with what they look like.
I suppose I feel sorry for the whale, but then I`d have to feel sorry for all the pigs and cows I`ve implicitly murdered over the past few years. The Japanese people I was with were surprised that eating whale meat is taboo in Australia.
Actually the father of my friend, who shouted us dinner that night, was sorta rude (except for the shouting us dinner part). This was good though, because if everyone`s too polite it leads to wasted food: whenever there is one piece of a certain item of food left, it is customary to ask the other members of your party whether they would like to eat it. Of course, everyone knows that `Did you want that last piece of sausage` really means `I want to eat this last bit of sausage`. No one wants to be so rude as to subtly say they want the last bit of sausage, so it goes unsaid, and the food goes uneaten.
Anyway my friend`s dad held no such reservations about useless etiquite and ate everything willy nilly, as he is want to do.
Then afterwards he showed us some lude pictures on his mobile phone.

BONUS: Just in case the talk of eating whale earlier has made you upset, please enjoy this picture of a cute Japanese child:



Images (most of them anyway) and words Matthew Strain 2006.
Additional translation by Shitagi Dorobo