Alright kids, this is the last of the travel series. Sorry it has taken so long to finish, but that’s what happens when you have to travel to new places while writing about traveling to earlier places along the way. Anyway, here’s a recap of the previous chapters in this journey:
Ask The Editor, 11/22/2004 – The Flight From Hell
Ask The Editor, 11/23/2004 – Stuck In A Hotel Room With Two Channels
Ask The Editor, 11/25/2004 – More Observations From the Land of Oz
Ask The Editor, 11/26/2004 – Wrapping Up Australia
Ask The Editor, 12/01/2004 – Welcome to Japan
Ask The Editor, 12/02/2004 – Tooling Around Tokyo
Before we get started with out final chapter, I would just like to note that Aaron Forsythe responded to an e-mail with an e-mail explaining why he dislikes responding to e-mail, so thanks to him for that. He also called me a whiny little bitch, which is more than fair. Brutal, but fair. So from here on out, no more whinging about the lack of comments in the forums for this series. I’ll take my daily Yawgatog beat and smile all the way to the bank.
GP: Yokohama started Friday night… in the U.S. On Friday night in Japan, 923 players or so had preregistered for the event, but only 707 actually showed up. Confusing? It was to me too, actually. Apparently the folks that run Grand Prix in Japan make all the players who think they might attend the GP pre-reg, or else they can’t play. Then if they don’t have the money or something comes up, they simply don’t show. This rule is waived for ignorant foreigners like Eli Kaplan who might just be traveling to the event or are simply unfamiliar with custom.
Also on Friday night, I learned that funky grey tofu is bound to taste awful, but really dry sake is bound to taste fantastic. Oh, and miso is fermented soy beans and is used for more than just soup stock. And most Japanese can be shocked by the fact that a gaijin speaks fluent Japanese. That last one wasn’t me though… I just sat there stump-like and observed the goings on.
Saturday dawned beautiful and sunny, and it was then that I learned that sake has no perceptible hangover. Picture time!
The Landmark Tower framed by the archway from our hotel.
The big freaking ferris wheel at the Yokohama amusement park. In the background is the Landmark again and Queen’s Plaza.
This is me goofing around, trying to be artsy by noting the way the buildings stair-step levels. It didn’t work quite as well as I was hoping.
All of those were taken on the way from our hotel to the venue – a pleasant half-mile hike or so. If Tokyo is completely overwhelming and intimidating, Yokohama is actually pretty normal. It’s a decent-sized city with some hustle and bustle, but you don’t feel like you will get mown down by a flood of Japanese at every train stop or that you will go catatonic at any point because your brain goes dead from stimuli overload. You know it’s not too bumpkin though because the Landmark is 72-stories tall and there were still places to go drinking at 3am on Sunday night. We could definitely use some of those in the U.S.
I won’t bother to recount the event itself – if you are interested, coverage is available in the Sideboard archives. I would like to note that coverage of this event was extremely difficult due to the language gap. I had some clue that it might be that way going in, but I figured having a translator would offset a lot of those difficulties. I was hopelessly wrong.
At an event in the U.S. (or even many that take place in Europe), I know a lot of the pro and semi-pro players and talk to them all day long, gathering information about cool plays, how the event is going, storylines, sad tales and the like. Unfortunately when the only information stream you have is via your translator and you can only go and seek people out (meaning players don’t come to you to chat because they don’t know you or don’t speak your language), it completely changes the flavor of an event. I was basically in the dark for Yoko, grasping at straws for any cool idea I could get from Ron, Keita (the coverage lead for the Japanese sideboard), and sundry other English speakers in the area. To make things slightly worse for me, Eli Kaplan (who’s not really an ignorant foreigner like I noted above – sometimes I just like giving beats) qualified for Day 2, erasing my sole possible avenue for help at the event.
My solution: Learn Japanese.
If you have any advice about the most expedient way to do this (and please be specific with recommendations that do not include “take college courses” since those college courses would constantly be pre-empted by traveling), then please let me know in the forums.
So uh, yeah… covering a Japanese Grand Prix is much harder than covering one in the U.S. or even in Europe.
The Japanese Mike Flores – Maki
This is the Japanese, more stylish Mike Flores. He’s been around forever, hasn’t had a ton of recent success at the game, and is apparently one of Japan’s best writers known for both his humor and his strategy. One thing that absolutely killed me about being in Japan was that I was suddenly discovering all of these “new” writers (new to me, obviously) but can’t read any of their work because I don’t know the language. Even if I weren’t the editor of a website that would drive me nuts, but since I am… imagine if you could get consistent explanations about all the crazy tech in the Japanese decks or if you found another country of English-speakers whose Magic community is just as developed as our own, where alternate versions of Mike Flores, Tim Aten, and Zvi Mowshowitz exist. How awesome would it be to potentially double your stable of fantastic writers in one fell swoop?
Then remember that you don’t know Japanese. Dammit!
The ferris wheel at night. All of the spokes light up one at a time to count the seconds and every fifteen minutes you get a mini-light show. It seems trivial, but the wheel is so big that it’s rather impressive in real life.
Eventually all good things must come to an end, and after a positively grueling Rochester Day 2, the event finally wrapped up. If you haven’t read the coverage at all, take a peek at “Around the World in 40 Kanoots” which is probably one of the better blog pieces I’ve written recently. It describes why I love traveling to Magic events in nutshell form and explains why I just don’t get people who stay in their hotel rooms on trips abroad. It’s not like they have any TV to watch. After the event wrapped, we went to the judge dinner with this motley crew of guys plus Ron, and artists Ittoku and Nottsuo (who are not only talented but are great guys).
From a social stand point, this was one of the best dinners I’ve ever attended. As they loosened up, they spoke more English to me, and Ron, Shindo, and Yu Kanazawa all translated for me at various points, making for some lively discussion about topics ranging from favorite Magic players and American women, to Japanese writers and the finer points of sake. Ittoku and I chatted about martial arts and art in general and Fujiita, a burly bear of writer for Japanese Sideboard, held court on various topics, explaining his viewpoint through vivid animations that needed little translating in order to be understood.
Once we closed down that restaurant (no Eli, they did not have a grill on the table – the horse meat was entirely raw), we “climbed the ladder,” which is how the Japanese refer to drunken bar hopping. The Australians have a similar phrase in “stumbling distance”, which is used to describe how far away from where you are staying you can drink without having to call a cab. Often climbing the ladder ends with a trip to a karaoke bar, but sadly this time it did not. I’m making that a priority during either my trip to Grand Prix: Osaka or Pro Tour: Nagoya, since it not only seems like ridiculous fun but it’s also a good chance to see people make buffoons of themselves while being too drunk to care.
At our second stop on the ladder, I whipped out my Type 4 deck and taught the Japanese the basic elements of the most fun casual format around. We didn’t have time to rochester my deck, so I just shuffled into random piles and made the players take stacks without looking at the cards, resulting in some fabulous faces as players drew fresh, overpowered cards off the heezy every turn. Good times, good times. I eventually hit the sack at 6am that morning (leaving AIM messages to friends stateside explaining how drunku I was…), but not before purchasing some vending machine beer for my buddy Lug as a Christmas gift. The hotel kindly called me at 10:30 in the morning to notify checkout was at 10 (I was double-plus unpleased), and after a business meeting Ron and I headed back to Tokyo. That night the lovely Reiko made us a traditional Japanese meal, and the next morning I headed to Narita again to catch a flight home. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but my heart leapt a bit when all the flight attendants spoke English to me.
I made it through customs and the completely psychotic Dallas-Fort Worth TSA area without getting strip searched and cavity checked, but then got stuck in Dulles for an extra five hours waiting for a new plane… for an 18-minute flight. Nooot kidding. I finally got home at 11 that night after something like 28 hours of flying.
I’ll wrap up this journal by tossing the whole thing in the crapper. I hope you have enjoyed my sojourns abroad and maybe learned a thing or two about Oz and Japan in the meantime. If you haven’t, well I can only hope the following photos make up for your pain and suffering.
Australian Toilet – Half Flush and Whole. Sadly I did not get a picture of their trough urinals, but you should ask John Carter about them if you get a chance.
Imagine walking into a stall to drop a deuce and this is all you see. I _still_ don’t know what the hell to do with one of these things.
And now for the Flushinator 2000, the ultimate in throne room technology! Check out the options on that bad boy…
Teddy Card Game
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