August 29, 2014


After completing this month’s inventory, the USS Mustin supply department restocked the Gatorade machine with a mysterious liquid called “Sqwincher.” Sqwincher claims to be a “Great-Tasting Electrolyte Drink,” coinciding (and compounding the lie) with its subtitle as “The Activity Drink.” Mental alarms began ringing when I saw its assurance to consumers that it is indeed a drink twice within two inches of its label space, and the color didn’t help much.

Without garnishing too much, Sqwincher looks like dish soap. It comes in two flavors: “Off Road Orange” and “Lay It on the Line Lemon-Lime.” (They could have gone with “Lay It on the Lime”) For brevity’s sake, I will refer to these as Yellow and Orange. Yellow, like I said before, looks like dish soap you watered down to make sure you completely empty the bottle before making the trip to the store for a new one. Orange doesn’t look like liquid. The vending machine, as far as I can tell, has only given people orange Gatorade in lieu of Sqwincher. Someone in Supply must have felt merciful, because the testimonies I’ve heard about Yellow have ranged from “watered-down Gatorade” to “pickle juice.”

Before even getting past the ham-fisted flavor names, the empty promises that this is actually a beverage intended for human beings, confirmation that no, it isn’t a beverage meant for human consumption, and even the name that sounds like a particularly uncomfortable bowel movement, I was struck with the realization that Sqwincher is possibly the most 90s-era beverage still in existence. “Sqwincher” is a word you get when you say “thirst quencher” really fast, and where normally rad marketers would throw in an X, Sqwincher’s ad men opted instead for replacing the U with a W. That’s twice the “yoo,” brah! The flavor art shows a sprinter on Yellow and a motocross guy on Orange.

For those of you too young to remember the 90s (i.e. those of you born in the 90s (i.e. heathens)), that was the most bodacious decade in history. Life tended to err on the tubular side, with mondo colors, radical fashion, Bill Clinton and Full House. Marketing, always keeping its grubby finger on the pulse of the world’s youth, had to keep up with this extreme new era by making all their products look exactly that: eXtreme. Xtreme. X. If you can shove an X in a word, juxt dxo itx®. The nineties gave birth to the X-Games, killed Mr. Pibb and gave us Pibb Xtra, and Vin Diesel jumped on board a little late with his hit, sorry-kids-it-really-isn’t-porno film, xXx.

In a sense, Sqwincher is a time capsule from this bygone* era. Sure, if someone told me they just had a Sqwincher I’d offer Pepto Bismol, and it tastes about as good as the floor cleaner it looks like, but dammit, we have it and if we have to have it we have to own it.

So grab a Sqwincher, dude! It advertises itself as the beverage backyard athletes drink (since pouring a cooler of Sqwincher on a professional football or basketball coach would send them to Poison Control) so you know it has to be in a bottle!


*bygone unless you’re a hipster or spend all your time on BuzzFeed


Japan has some weird stuff

August 10, 2014

This is obviously my favorite topic regarding Japan: there’s some weird stuff here. You’ve seen a lot of the pictures already, you’ve heard the anecdotes from everybody and their grandmother, but have you … I don’t know, heard it from me? Besides the times I already mentioned? Whatever. Here’s some of the bizarre stuff I’ve seen.

The best part of waking up is spite.

The best part of waking up is spite.

I try to not harp too much on Engrish, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought that your breakfast pastries really don’t appreciate you eating them.

Gotta wash down that scorn somehow.

Gotta wash down that scorn somehow.

What’s your favorite part of drinking tea? The flavor? The light caffeine rush? Feeling fancy when you stick out your pinkie? If you answered any of these, you’re wrong. The obvious answer was “I love tea for the pungency.” That’s normally an adjective reserved for cheese and unwashed feet.

So it's green water?

So it’s green water?

Don’t worry, if you don’t like the pungency of milk tea, you can always count on green tea’s complete absence of flavor. (Note: This actually means there are no added sweeteners, so all you get is pure green tea.)

No TV and no beer makes Homer ...something something.

No TV and no beer makes Homer …something something.

One thing about Japanese culture that doesn’t garner much discussion is how much the Japanese drink. A typical work day goes something like this: Go to work, get off work, go to the bar with your coworkers, get hammered, stumble home, repeat.

Mother of God

Mother of God

Japan seriously wants to win food. They want to crank up everything the world has invented to eleven, drink some protein, and do it even harder. The scary part about this burger (from Blacows in Shibuya) is this wasn’t even the biggest one they had. This is half of their biggest burger.


Honestly, I have nothing to add. This kid has some serious swagger.

You people wouldn't believe the things I've seen with plastic eyes

You people wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen with plastic eyes

What did they do to you, Elmo??

Was it Nazis? Elmo, did you see the Nazis??

Was it Samurai Nazis? Elmo, did you see the Nazis??

To be fair, the swastika wasn’t always a symbol for evil. Back in the day the bent cross was an ancient symbol representing good fortune or good luck. It was everywhere, like Kilroy but without an comically large schnozz.

Kleenex's biggest investor.

Kleenex’s biggest stockholder.

Still, walking into a (rebuilt) feudal Japanese castle and spying an errant swastika can catch the wary wanderer off guard.

What about the King of New York? He's the A #1.

What about the King of New York? He’s the A #1.

While exploring Shibuya I found an American toy store. Almost everything in there came from the states and marked up to heights that would make Scrooge McDuck blush. (Ha ha, that’s impossible: he’d still say the prices were still too low.) Of all the franchises represented (Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Robocop, Alien, Predator, Terminator, DC, Marvel, My Little Pony: Friendship is God Why Are You Watching This You’re a Grown Man), Escape From New York was probably one I expected to see the least. this is unarguably a cult movie, and cult movies rarely have enough fans to justify a crappy toy line.

There are always exceptions

There are always exceptions

I have to warn you, dear reader (deer reader? I don’t know who my audience is), the next and final picture I have to share is… odd. Before posting it (and this is assuming you didn’t just scroll through the pictures without reading the text, but who does that, am I right?), I would like to say that Japan is a country with a rich history, a variety of stories and fairy tales, plenty of folklore, and a plethora of rich traditions. Culture can vary on the individual level, and who are you to judge what is or isn’t normal?

Still. I saw this in Hiroshima and… well, I needed a few minutes. Before that day I never truly understood how characters in Lovecraftian horror could feel madness overtaking them, how sanity could be a tangible sand slipping through the cracks in their minds. I warn you, reader, to brace yourself for an example of culture going awry.

…That is, if WordPress will let me upload the image. My connection is fine, but I received errors a few ti

What hath Izanami wrought?

What hath Izanami wrought?

Look at it. Look at it. Gaze into the eyes. Soak in the entirety of this imagine. Let this image be forever burned into your shattered shell of a mind. When it haunts your dreams, embrace it, for without acceptance there is only madness.


We have to start somewhere. That, ladies and gentlemen (and deer), is a tanuki. It is a mammal in Japan that is sort of a cross between a raccoon and a dog. They are represented in Shinto folklore as supernatural creatures who shapeshift to fool humans to make them seem stupid.

This is a tanuki urinating into a large planter. He has a hat tied to his neck, his eyes are glowing, his nipples are very pronounced, he has an unnatural grin and oh god why are his eyes glowing

Super Mario Bros. 3 (also known as the best Mario game to not feature saddled dinosaurs or space flight) introduced the Tanooki suit, which allowed Mario or Luigi to transform into a statue to avoid enemies. I used to wonder why enemies would walk past a statue that, until a few seconds ago, was a portly plumber. Now I know.


The screams will never stop

The screams will never stop

The Many Different Things to See in Japan

August 5, 2014

Japan has buttloads of stuff to see. Did you know that? Oh. Of course you did. But did you know they have plenty of touristy things to — what do you mean, “no shit?” Fine. You sit quietly.

For the three of you who didn’t know, Japan has lots of sights to see! Sure, to someone who’s never left the Western world before even the complicated trash cans are amusing (“What’s a pet bottle? A bottle of pet waste?”), but if you tilt your head slightly upwards you’ll find yourself staring at all sorts of cool sights. Here are a few of the sights I’ve seen in my three months and two days (at the time of writing) in Japan.

Odaiba is a district in Tokyo that is popular for one thing and one thing only:



That is a 1/1 scale, life-size, fully operational RX-78-2, also known as the Mobile Suit Gundam. Well, it may not be fully operational but it’s still a scale replica. Unfortunately tourists aren’t allowed to go inside the cockpit (probably to hide the working controls. I’m on to you, Namco Bandai!), but pretty soon fans will be able to walk between the Gundam’s legs. To look up its butt? Honestly I don’t think robo-crack is the biggest draw to the genre, but whatever.

It's only a model

It’s only a model

This isn’t a repeat of the same statue, it’s actually a smaller scale model. Most mech models stand about a foot tall, and this guy stands around six feet. If the Earth Federation Special Forces ever needs volunteers for power armor, sign me up.





I know they’re part of the classic series, and it wasn’t until later years that the Gundam series realized that everybody can get a cool robot, but the Guncannon and Guntank always looked lame to me. At least the pilots were likable…

Those last three pictures are from the Gundam Museum inside that mall. There were all sorts of Gundam sights to see, but I sometimes get over-excited and forget to take pictures. All I’ve got is me poorly doing the Top Gun pose.

We don't all look like Tom Cruise, all right!?

We don’t all look like Tom Cruise, all right!?

Observant readers may have seen the Gundam Cafe in the background of the original image. Well, I didn’t go that day. But I did later! To a different one! In Akihabara!

Aww, he has a tomato eye.

Aww, he has a tomato eye.

The food sucked. It was Chef Boyardee quality, but honestly, who would go to a themed restaurant expecting the food to be good? You go for the atmosphere, the merchandise, the alcoholic drinks named after your favorite characters (though they didn’t have a Duo Maxwell drink, which, since he’s an American, would probably be a black, greasy lump of fast food and cheap beer), and the opportunity to listen to the intro and outro sequences of every series on loop. Honestly, I was a little disappointed, but I may have expected too much.

“But Ben!” you must be thinking, “Surely you can’t spend all your free time seeing sights.” You’re right! So where do I go when I’m not riding the intimidating train system? The arcade!

Almost worth the outrageous price of admission

Almost worth the outrageous price of admission

I spend my time inside the Gundam pods, naturally! They’re little rooms with a projector, two joysticks, and a chair. It’s essentially a four-on-four or five-on-five deathmatch where you try to do more monetary damage to your opponents than they do to you. Honestly, besides Counter-Strike, I haven’t seen many games that take an economic approach to multiplayer running and gunning. Oddly absent from the economics is the cost of human life, but that might be a little to philosophical for a game about robots bonking each other with pink laser swords. 8/10.

There’s plenty more to see in Japan, and I’ve only scratched the surface. There are countless hobby shops dedicated to Gundam models, a Gundam themed hotel room (it’s $400 a night, so that’ll have to wait until Uncle Sam pays me a little bit better), all sorts of console and portable video games released only in Japan (I already own Shin Musou Gundam and Gundam Breaker, obviously), and who knows what else? You’ll know as soon as I do.

Eating in Japan isn’t Very Hard as an Anti-Pescetarian

August 3, 2014

I don’t eat seafood. Japan’s dietary cornerstone is seafood. You might think this makes things hard. You would be mistaken.

This has been a personal quirk of mine for as long as I can remember, and for most of my life it hasn’t given me any issues. But for most of my life I’ve lived in the American south, where everything is barbecue this and smoked that.


These aren’t always mutually exclusive.

Here, there’s octopus balls, sushi, grilled eel, squids on sticks, and just as many ways to cook fish as there were extras in Finding Nemo. So obviously I’d have to change my diet, right?


For one thing, anything you can eat in America, you can probably find here in Japan.

Like hot dogs.

Like hot dogs.

Mexican, Italian, French, pizza, burgers, hell, even English food is available if you know where to look. Some most of it will be slightly different. Italian restaurants offer Japanese style dishes or have combinations you’ve probably never seen. Japanese pizza is notoriously weird (mayonnaise, roe, corn (don’t forget about our yellow friend), etc. are available), but there are plenty of more “traditional” options available. (Remember kiddies: Italian-Americans in New York City invented pizza, and it has slowly been more and more bastardized from its Mediterranean roots.) I haven’t tried all of these, but what I have tried has been pretty damn good. My dad says that when traveling, Italian food is always Italian food, and that holds true here…. except the Italian food I’ve had has almost been better than in the states.

Western food items in Japan often are better than their western countries of origin. Japanese Dr. Pepper, for instance, is phenomenal. It blows American Dr. Pepper out of the water, and even holds a candle to the now-impossible-to-find Dublin Dr. Pepper.

The truth hurts.

The truth hurts.

Pizza has been pretty good, no matter where you order it, even if the restauranteurs here seem more restrained in their topping options. I haven’t had a Japanese burger yet, though there are plenty of bars near where I live that offer the Original Navy Burger. (Reports often claim none of them are very good, let alone the true “original.”) Lots of menu items are in French, too, including pizza. Mille feuille, for example, is pizza offered by Dominos that has a thin layer of cheese between the crusts. French is fancy, and pizza could use an extra dash of classiness.

Of course Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indian food is everywhere too, as is Japanese food. Food items are often sold individually, so you have to order fried rice as an additional side dish. That caught me off guard when I had curry: I ordered my chicken tikka masala and my naan, expecting rice, and sat around for a few minutes as my dumb American brain pieced together the waiter’s inactivity with the knowledge that rice was indeed on the menu as a side dish.

As for Japanese food, there are all sorts of food options available, including dishes the average American probably has never heard of. Sure, there’s sushi, but there’s also all sorts of tonkatsu dishes, yakitori, yakiniku, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, okonomiyaki, and piles and piles of ramen. Just so damn much ramen. If you see a restaurant and can’t figure out what they serve based on the sign, assume it’s ramen. Most of these dishes have seafood-free varieties, and there are plenty of options that don’t even pretend to be based on seafood. The cook-it-yourself style foods are usually beef or pork, for example. Fried chicken is pretty common too, and that’s even disregarding the cult-like popularity of KFC here.

Okonomiyaki, aka eggy pancakes with noodles and stuff in the middle. It actually had a barbecue taste to it.

Okonomiyaki, aka eggy pancakes with noodles and stuff in the middle. It actually had a barbecue taste to it.

There are some weird food options available, too. Remember our good buddy, Colonel Kernel? He pops up all over, usually in places you wouldn’t expect. Like coffee.

The best part of waking up is Monsanto in your cup.

The best part of waking up is Monsanto in your cup.

If you want your candy bars to turn up, you have options.

Unwrap for what

Unwrap for what

Snack foods run the gamut. I don’t even know what some of this stuff is, but I do eat all sorts of green tea candies. If you have ever had a snack, there’s probably a green tea equivalent here, too. But why stop with green tea? If you want to have something unique to Japan, walk into the snack aisle and look for something like Sad Piglet Yum Yums:

The salt comes from piglet tears

The salt comes from piglet tears

Speaking of pork, let’s talk about gyoza.



Gyoza is an appetizer found just about anywhere. No matter the country of origin, you can probably find gyoza there. There’s a reason for this: gyoza is awesome. This little dumpling is like heroin wrapped in flour. It’s like a rainbow arcing directly into a unicorn as it’s being fried and dipped in soy sauce. For such a simple group of ingredients, gyoza is far better than it should be. Nobody knows what kind of pork is inside, and that’s okay. You could tell me the best gyoza is made with pig rectum and I’d still scarf it down.


First Impressions of Japan (three months late)

August 2, 2014

Hello and welcome to the rechristening of my blog! I’ve been in Japan a day shy of three months now, although about half that time was spent in the ocean. I apologize for the delay, but the Navy life is not one filled with plenty of leisure time. That said, I did manage to crank out one short little entry. This is something I wrote while underway a few weeks upon arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s a bit old, it’s a bit raw, and it’s a bit bitter. Edits have been made to make it less… coarse.

A month in Japan has taught me that the country is not as bizarre as many sources would lead you to believe. Sure, their culture is far different from America’s (you don’t tip waiters, for example), and there are scores of oddities you can buy off the street, and copyright laws seem nonexistent (the first building I saw was the Narnia Antique Shop), and there is, of course, anime all over, and there are a TON of drink machines, like, everywhere, but things are mostly the same. If you take a broad view.

Up close is a different story.

Japan is weird. It’s a good weird, but everything I’ve heard about this country could not prepare me for coming here.

Contradictory? Yes. Let me explain.

Everywhere I have gone, either to visit or to live, has been an English speaking area, or at least an area based on a Latinate language (four years of Spanish got me through Madrid and, thanks to a probably offensive pizzeria accent, Italy). Coming to Japan might as well be going to another world. The language, to the unprepared, is indecipherable. Yes, there are only so many characters in the three alphabets used on a daily basis (one of them has over 2000, I hear, but it’s okay because you only need to know about 1800), but to me this is like being a toddler trying to read Shakespeare, except I’m old enough to feel bad about my ignorance.

Japanese people don’t speak English. That’s not to say they are incapable or have never learned, but a lot of people seem to pretend they have no idea how. Apparently it’s taught in early school years, but oftentimes the former students don’t feel their English is up to snuff and would rather tell you they can’t speak English than risk butchering it. Conversely, attempting to speak Japanese can earn you brownie points (unless you speak it so badly they have to think about what you just said to understand you butchering their language, even though you’re trying your best, damn it). Learning a few key phrases can take you a long way, and you can usually point to menu items if there are pictures (pizza is pizza is pizza is pizza). The hard part is going somewhere without too many tourists. At that point you might as well hunch over, scratch your sides, and don your finest smilodon tunic.

People often say the country is crowded, but it’s hard to really understand why or how unless you’ve been in the thick of a shopping spree on a weekend in Akihabara. I’m not claustrophobic, but being surrounded by that many people who are doing their best to ignore/not impede you in a crowded store where the shelves are so close together you can’t turn around while wearing a backpack without knocking something down and all you want to do is leave… well, traveling can feel like a challenge. (Of course, riding the Tube during rush hour beats anywhere else in terms of personal space violations, and at least Japanese culture heavily emphasizes bathing.) I’ve also heard about gloved train employees whose sole job is shoving you and everyone else who has to go right now into the train car, personal space be damned. The thought that, even with the already brisk pace at the train stations, cars can get that crowded is almost petrifying.

Despite the Bill Murray-esque abjection, I really do like it here. There’s always something cool to see and do, and even the things people take for granted are fascinating. Like the plastic umbrella covers: those things are everywhere!

(There you have it. For the record, the next few posts will have pictures I’ve taken, as well as discussions about food and the sights I have seen.)