Missing Japan, badly

Here’s a book I bought online on impulse last April, days after me and my family arrived home from our week-long romp in Japan, thinking it would somehow give me something to hang on to while I deal with the hangover. It arrived about two weeks later. In the interim, I picked up Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I picked it up for the same reason.

Two months later and the hangover is still there. In fact, it has transmogrified into something else, something more powerful — a heart-wrenching, almost debilitating longing that I can’t seem to shake off my system. It seems like every time I close my eyes these days I can see Japan. The mind’s eye travels back to the wonderful places we visited during our stay there, reliving the experience from the moment we arrived at Narita to the sad day of departure. It’s all there, in vivid colors, behind my eyelids.

Perhaps that’s the reason why it took me a while to write something here. The past few weeks had been full of stuff I could’ve written something about if only I had the mental energy for it — that masterpiece that was Avengers: Endgame, the wreck that was Game of Thrones’ final season, and that pathetic political circus called the midterm elections. But every time I’d try to put my thoughts on the screen, my mind would drift off and I’d lose interest, and I’d pick up the Murakami book instead, or watch the countless videos about Japan on YouTube, and feel that now all too familiar tug in the heartstrings.

My wife, who is experiencing the same thing, has taken to studying Nihonggo in Makati City on weekends. My daughter, meanwhile, finds solace in countless hours of Roblox. Me, I busy myself with work and toy photography and comics and TV series/movies. Still, at night, or in the wee hours while preparing for work, I couldn’t help but think of Japan. How’s it like to raise a family there, enjoy order and discipline and fine weather.

Sometimes it’s too much, and I’d get lonely.

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How Game of Thrones stole my humanity for a day

Last Monday was a typical Monday except that in the afternoon the earth shook. I was on a UV Express pulling out of the Megamall terminal when it happened. I was watching the latest Game of Thrones episode on my tablet, and wondering why the lady beside me was all bundled up, had an oversized bag, and reeking of efficascent oil. In short, I didn’t feel the tremor. I was a million miles away — in Westeros, in fact.

I only learned about the earthquake when I checked on my phone midway into Game of Thrones, and saw a message from my wife, terrified and worried in her Makati City office. I checked Facebook and there it was, the news spreading like wildfire. Earthquake! Magnitude 6.1! Emergency evacuation! I regard people on Facebook as a hopelessly hysterical bunch, so I dismissed their posts, put my phone on silent, and went back to Game of Thrones. It was a good episode. Twists, turns, and Podrick Payne’s eerie, haunting song that didn’t bode well. I couldn’t wait for the next episode!

At home, I flipped on the TV and was greeted with news of devastation. In Porac, Pampanga, a four-storey grocery store collapsed, burying dozens of people. In Manila, a college building tilted on its side. Elsewhere, damaged roads and bridges and condominiums. It was one nasty earthquake, it turned out. I felt guilty for dismissing it. I realized I didn’t even ask friends and family if they were OK after the quake. I felt rotten, guilty. Shame on me.

I blame Game of Thrones.

Nine days in Japan

From March 29 to April 7 I was in Japan with my family. We stayed in Osaka for several days, with a daylong sidetrip to Kyoto, and then in Tokyo. It was my first time visiting those places, although it was my second time in Japan, the first time being in November 2013 when I stayed in Sakai for a week.

At Narita airport

Needless to say, we enjoyed the trip, so much so that at Narita on our way home some of us were tearful. Our bodies may be tired, our finances stretched to the limit, but none of us were ready — nay wanted — to go home yet. We jokingly toyed with the idea of staying in Japan as undocumented immigrants. There was little mirth in that joke, however. Whether we like it or not it was time to go home and return to our obligations, responsibilities, routines…

This is the downside of having a vacation: it has to end. And coming down from such an emotional high is never easy.

Osaka Castle

For nine days, from arrival to departure, we had a full itinerary. We would usually emerge from our hotel rooms around noon and return — cold, tired but nevertheless happy — late at night. We went to as many destinations as our money and energy could take us — theme parks (Universal Studios Japan, the Tokyo DisneySea), nature parks (Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Osaka Castle Park), and religious places (Fushimi Inari Shrine, Asakusa Kannon Temple).

The Glico Running Man

We also went cruising — on the Dotonburi canal where the gaudy neon lights of the establishments (including the famed Glico Running Man) were such a calming sight to behold at night; and on Lake Ashinoko where we hoped, but failed, to see the majestic Mt. Fuji (too many clouds).

Other destinations: Akihabara, to check out anime toys and action figures; Tsutaya bookstore across the famous Shibuya intersection, because both the wifey and I love books; DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, to see the giant Gundam robot; Don Quijote stores in Osaka and Tokyo, for the mandatory pasalubong shopping; Shinsekai, to check out the Osaka nightlife; and the Little Prince Museum in Hakone, for some art appreciation and nostalgia.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine

It is said that while traveling, one should try new things. In Japan, we tried some: ride the bullet train, shop for souvenirs while dressed in rented kimonos, eat puffer fish dishes, and feast on Owakudani Black Eggs. At a bar in Shinsekai I drank Kirin beer, although a friend pointed out on Facebook that I should’ve tried another brand because Kirin is available in the Philippines. Oh, well…


An Owakudani Black Egg. Eating one
is said to add five years to the eater’s life. I ate two.

Everywhere we went in Japan, even in the crowded markets and train stations, we marveled at how exquisite and beautifully maintained the places were — a far cry from our country of origin. This spoke volumes about Japanese discipline, about which much has been said and written.

All this, and no wonder friends who’ve experienced Japan didn’t want to leave the place. Or would want to visit it again and again and again. I know we do. As a matter of fact, the wifey is already making plans for a return trip to Osaka, possibly by summer of next year. Fingers crossed…

Playing with toys in Japan

For our upcoming Japan trip I’ve decided that Gwendolyn Poole a.k.a. Gwenpool will be my “travel buddy.” Whether or not she’ll be with company is something I’ve yet to figure out.

They call it “travel toy photography.” It’s self-explanatory. Unlike other styles of toy photography, this one doesn’t require elaborate dioramas or fancy lightning or Photoshop know-how. One only needs a toy, a view, and an eye for the best angle. One can always choose to use professional cameras, but for me a simple phone cam will do.

I’m practically a noob in this whole toy photography thing, so I need all the practice I can get, and starting tomorrow I intend to get that in Japan, land of Cherry Blossoms, the Gundam robot, and bullet trains, where me and my family will be on a week-long romp. If all falls according to plan we’ll be visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and — fingers crossed — the foot of the famed Mt. Fuji. To say that I’m excited is a stark understatement…

The night Slayer got us all weepy

I find it weird that on this night of blistering live thrash metal music, my fondest memory is of the vocalist saying “I’ll miss you, guys” to the audience. Like it was some sweet-faced smiling John Mayer type who was bidding us adieu and not Slayer, the maniacs who proudly proclaimed in one of their albums that God hates us all.

Indeed, it was Tom Araya doing the most un-Tom Araya thing: going sentimental (or at least showing a semblance of it). In any other gig that would be downright ludicrous, if not blasphemy. Like aliens had kidnapped Slayer and replaced them with candy-ass clones. This, after all, is Slayer. Slayer and sentimentality don’t belong in the same sentence.

But this was no ordinary gig. It was actually the Manila stop of Slayer’s farewell tour — big emphasis on farewell — and if nobody laughed and smirked when Tom Araya uttered those words, and were instead touched and became dewy-eyed, well, only a poser would not get the significance.

So despite a fantastic night spent with dear people watching one of the most influential metal bands of all time, I still went home heavy-hearted. I knew it was Slayer’s farewell world tour, but it was when Araya said those words at the end of the show that the reality of it sank in. This is it, I thought. Goodbye Slayer. Thanks for three decades of kick-ass metal music, and for including Manila in your stops.

Sucks now that another part of my childhood is gone.

#NowReading

Started reading Greg Rucka’s Perfect Dark: Initial Vector on the train to work today. Got past the prologue and was three pages into Chapter 1 when the train reached my station and I — reluctantly — had to put the book down. Figured I’ll just continue during lunch break, which now couldn’t come any sooner. That’s how tight the book has got me by the balls.

Granted, I know zilch about the game Perfect Dark Zero, of which the book provides a background story. I’m not a gamer (only married to one). Too much color and motion hurt my eyes. Put me in an amusement arcade and watch me get dizzy in a flash. Also, I don’t have the patience to learn step by step the intricate tricks needed to finish a game. For that matter I rather finish a book.

But I’m a fan of Greg Rucka. I haven’t read many Wonder Woman books, but the one I like best so far is The Hiketeia, from 2002, which he penned. His Punisher and Gotham Central runs are likewise excellent comics. It was actually in Gotham Central that I got introduced to his work.

At the center of Perfect Dark: Initial Vector are the “hypercorporations” — business organizations so big and powerful they practically own countries. Of course there are those who seek to challenge them, and at Chapter 1 I was introduced to one of them — a mole inside dataDyne, the biggest hypercorporation of them all. And because game freaks have a hard-on for kickass heroines, a female ex-bounty hunter with an ax to grind against dataDyne will soon come into the picture, or so the blurb says.

Delicious sci-fi stuff, in short.

Really looking forward to more time with Perfect Dark: Initial Vector. Seems like it’ll be my companion during my solitary train rides and lunch breaks for the next week or so.

The N-word

I guess this is me fully embracing, or at least getting comfortable with, the “nerd” tag. How else can you describe someone who’s into superhero comics, films, books and whatnot, who then suddenly decides to come up with a blog and call it — corny as it sounds — “Parallel Realms”?

I’ve no problem with the word “nerd” (or “geek”). It’s just that at 40, when labels should no longer matter, I feel kinda icky describing myself as such — especially now that being one is already fashionable, thanks to Netflix and those MCU/DCEU films and the World Wide Web.

Though pundits may dismiss me as a bandwagoner, deep inside I know I’ve been a nerd for years. My high school and college life revolved around TV shows like The X-Files, Millennium, Seinfeld, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and That 70’s Show, among others. I collected toys and trading cards, and was an avid reader of horror books, X-Men comics and Jessica Zafra columns. It’s just that after college I became more preoccupied with real life. Career and family took over; all things nerdy fell by the wayside. There was even a turbulent period of alcohol dependence — the gonzo years, as it were. Not proud of it.

But about four years ago, as I settled in for midlife and yearned for quiet afternoons instead of all-night boozing, I rediscovered the simple joy of following a TV show or a comics series. Thanks in big part to the Internet, which made everything more accessible and hooking up with like-minded people much easier. The big Marvel and DC movies that came out in the past 10 years or so also helped reinvigorate my interest. Next thing I knew I was hooked, and comics and films and TV shows became my life again. It’s been a joyride ever since.

And now a blog.