It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO JAPAN.
1. Jose knows what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Is Jose just going to bore us all by going county by country until no one cares? Well, yes, that was sort of Jose’s plan, but he’ll mix it up a little bit. Jose promises that he will try to write on a variety of subjects that he doesn’t have to think too hard about, rather than simply making his next 26 non-SoSH entries about strange and foreign lands. That said, onto Japan a strange and foreign land.
Japan!!! The Land of the Rising Sun!!! (Note: The song "House of the Rising Sun is NOT, and never will be about Japan no matter how much Jose wants it to be. Here’s your proof point Line 1, Verse 1 "There is a house in New Orleans, they call the rising sun." Jose is not great at geography, but he’s pretty sure Japan is not in New Orleans. As best he recalls, it’s much closer to Baton Rouge.)
Japan is one of those countries that people get nutty about. Jose has known many, many people who have at some point decided they would be interested in Japan and then immersed themselves completely in the country, its ancient culture and its animation with the big eyes. One would expect Jose to be one of these people. First of all, he is one-eighth Japanese and has a badass Japanese last name, so there is a natural affinity. Second, when Jose was a kid, there was a house one block over that would always be rented to a Japanese family where the father had a one-year fellowship at Harvard. Jose assumes the landlord was either Japanese or found the Japanese to be particularly good tenants. Each family would have a child who Jose would befriend. Then, at the end of the year, the family and Jose’s friend would be gone, never to be seen again. (Note: The exception to this was a Japanese family who lived in a different house on the same street. Jose is still in touch with them. Once you’ve played street hockey with a kid and pretended to be Terry O’Reilly and he pretended to be Rick Middleton, that’s a bond for life.) Jose had such a big problem with his friends moving to Japan, that even one of his white boy American friends ditched him to go to Japan. After that, Jose just assumed everyone would eventually abandon him for the lure of the East. Yes, Jose should have been one of those Japan obsessed people; yet he is not.
The Melendezette is, however, sort of. She lived and went to college in Japan for 18 months or so, and speaks the beautiful and difficult Japanese language. But she has had enough of Japan and the Japanese (Note: Pseudo Japanese-American white boys like Jose apparently excluded.) Perhaps she just got too close to the culture, too immersed in its peculiarities. Regardless, Jose suspects that if she was writing the KEYS TO JAPAN, they would read:
1. The Japanese are freaky.
2. No, really, they’re freaky.
3. Seriously, the Japanese are freaky.
But the Melendezette is not writing these KEYS, so there will be no mention of the Japanese reputation for freakiness, or the fact that they have vending machines that sell used underwear on the streets. As far as Jose is concerned, these are subtle quirks, not evidence of widespread cultural strangeness. Certainly it is not greater evidence of freakiness or cultural decay than America’s obsession with the worthless Paris Hilton or low carb diets.
Digressions aside, Jose has never been one of the hordes of young Americans who infest Japan like cicadas chirping their English lessons as loudly and as irritatingly as the cicadas chirp their mating songs. (Note: When Jose was in Japan, the cicadas, called "semi" in Japanese, were out in force. Jose suspects that the Japanese call them semi because they are about as loud as the horn of a Mack truck. It was almost impossible to sleep, they were so loud. Those of you who had to deal with them this summer in the mid-Atlantic have Jose’s greatest sympathies.)
2. Despite the fact that Jose is not a Japan nut, he has visited the country. He traveled there in August of 1990 to visit his friend form around the corner and travel with his family. It was Jose’s first time overseas and his first long plane trip alone. Jose prepared by taking a Berlitz Japanese class where he learned useful expressions like "Sumimassen" (Excuse me) and "Watashi wa wiski o nomemasu" (I drink whiskey) (Note: this expression also works with Beeru, Sake and Vodka.) Pretty much all Jose can do in Japanese today is proclaim his fondness for alcoholic beverages. He doesn’t even know how to order them, he can just say that he likes them. Still, it is a useful phrase.)
On the second leg of his flight from San Jose to Tokyo, Narita airport, Jose suffered what remains his greatest travel horror story of all time. (Note: And hopefully, it will remain his greatest travel horror story.) Jose had a five hour layover in San Jose and nothing, NOTHING to do, so being a good American, he decided to eat a great deal of McDonald’s food. One item Jose ordered was the new McLean Deluxe sandwich. (Note: Shouldn’t the world famous McLean psychiatric hospital, the model for the hospital in Girl, Interrupted sue them about this name? That has top be a trademark violation. Plus, this burger had no therapeutic or psychoactive properties as best Jose knows.) The McLean Deluxe was a low cal burger that mixed kelp with beef or some such nonsense. Jose got a small piece of burger stuck between two of his molars and that’s when he learned the horrifying truth – there is no place to buy dental floss in the San Jose airport. Jose flew 11 hours over the Pacific with that damn burger in his teeth, and then suffered through an additional two hours on the train from the airport to Tokyo. Eventually Jose got some dental floss, but it was too late, the damage was done.
What does this have to do with Japan? Ummm…Jose thinks that the first thing to learn in and Japanese class should be, "Pardon, me, do you have any floss, I have beef and kelp between my teeth."
As long as Jose is on the theme of food, he should say that the Japanese, despite having excellent food and a fine attention to freshness and flavor, make the worst pizza on Earth. His first day in Tokyo, Jose was sleeping off his jet lag and awoke in the evening to the comforting smell of pizza. Jose is not typically the sort of person who looks for American food in a foreign land, but he was only 13 then and needed a familiar comfort as he acclimated. When the box opened he was horrified to see that the pizza was slathered in turkey, onion and pineapple, a disgusting combination. (Note: If one judges Japanese cuisine form Iron Chef, one would expect the pizza to be covered in truffles, foie gras and caviar. Isn’t that the key to everything on Iron Chef? They take the ingredient, grouper, Kale, margarine, whatever and smother it in truffles, foie gras and caviar, the three most expensive ingredients on earth. Very creative.) What’s worse is that even without the vile mixture of toppings, it still would have been the worst pizza Jose had ever eaten. So when visiting Japan east sushi, eat sukiyaki, eat corn (Note: The Japanese love corn, Jose has no idea why, as he thinks of is as a very western crop), but for the love of God, or Buddha or whoever, stay away from the pizza.
3. Let’s see we’re now two KEYS deep on one of the great powers and Jose has talked about how they are or are not freaky and about having food stuck in his teeth. Yup, it sounds like Jose is right where he ought to be. Now Jose cold write about the rituals ad pageantry of Japanese baseball, or about how his friend’s grandfather remembered seeing Ruth and Gehrig when they toured Japan before the war. He could recall the subtle beauty of Kyoto’s Gold and Silver Pavilions or the excitement of Pachinko. He could recount his trip to Mt. Fuji or his chance encounter with Mr. Fuji. (Note: Okay, Jose didn’t really meet Mr. Fuji. And if he had you all would have heard about it long before now.) But instead Jose will either write about his first experience with karaoke (Note: Japanese for please insert ear plugs) or sumo wrestling. Let’s go with sumo.
Jose actually knows very little about sumo wrestling, and he didn’t see any in person during his Japanese tour, but he does have a theory he’d like to float. Jose thinks that sumo wrestlers, really good ones, would make the best football offensive linemen in the world. Think about it. O-lineman are basically incredibly strong, really quick, unbelievably fat guys. Sumo wrestlers are incredibly strong, really, really quick, even more unbelievably fat guys. Shouldn’t this be a natural fit? Moreover, sumo wrestling consists of pushing people around, which seems to be the essence of run blocking.
The Melendezette says that many Hawaiians and Samoans who try sumo but can’t cut it go into football, so this is probably not a revolutionary idea. Still, given the Patriots’ uncertain offensive line situation, shouldn’t they be trying out Akebono or something? (Note: Akebono, a native of Hawaii, was the first foreigner to receive the rank of Yokozuna or high champion. Interestingly former WWF champion, the late "Yokozuna" was certainly not a Yokozuna and probably was not a sumo wrestler. Akebono’s appearance as a judge on Iron Chef in the second battle between an iron chef an Bobby Flay was fantastic. His reaction to every dish was, "This is really good, I could eat 400 of these.")
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO JAPAN.