Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Category
Having lived in Japan for nigh on 5 years, I have attended what can only be described as a plethora of festivals. The Japanese appear to have a festival to celebrate everything. There are festivals to celebrate successful harvests, turning three years old, the winning of a battle or successfully brushing your teeth without cutting your gums.
However, as colourful and as dynamic as many of these festivals were, I could not help the nagging feeling that they could be made inordinately better by the inclusion of a giant cock being carried by 4 drag queens through a crowded street. Thank god then for the Kanamara festival!
Literally translating as “Festival of the steel phallus”, the Kanamara festival has an interesting history; at least according to Wikipedia. Apparently there was a sharp toothed demon hidden within a Vagina who castrated two men on their wedding night. The owner of said vagina then asked a blacksmith to make an iron penis for her to use to “break the demon’s teeth”.
As stories go, it’s certainly one of the more imaginative ways to explain the existence of a dildo under your bed to your parents.
The festival itself celebrates fertility, but is mainly a chance for the normally socially reserved Japanese to indulge in some good old fashioned phallical frollicking.
And seeing as this a festival easier seen than described, I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking. They’re funnier than I could ever be.
Having just returned to Japan, I found myself in the position of having a rather sparsely furnished apartment. When the Japanese rent you an apartment, you get exactly what it says on the label; an apartment, and that’s all.
Not only is furniture an optional extra, but so are all the other fixtures, like light fittings, towel rails, curtains, doors, windows, gravity etc. Essentially, my first week was spent in a rather grim apartment that had two tatami mat rooms, a sink (with no hot water tap), a stove, a shower (which had a hand held shower head with no means of affixing it to a wall), my suitcase and a whole lotta nothing else. As I lay on my futon watching the tublweeds drift past, I realised it was time to go shopping.
Now, in this situation, the uninitiated rentee would immediately make for the nearest home store to overload on expensive household items. I, however, am made of sterner (and stingier) stuff and was prepared to risk a trip into Don Quixote.
Don Quixote is a group of chain stores in Japan. Like an aging porn star, they are famous for being cheap, slightly shabby and full of improbable things.
The stores have pretty much everything you could ever need. However, they are laid out in a completely random way, to encourage people to look through the whole store rather than just go straight to the section they need.
I am at a loss to understand why you would anyway, when there is so much to see in the shop. It is one of the only shops in the world where you will see crotchless panties rub shoulders (metaphorically speaking) with children’s videos.
Don Quixote’s mascot is a ubiquitous blue penguin who appears scattered on various promotions throughout the store. His general demeanor seems to change a lot between the different products he is being forced to display.
Examples include… this (justifiably) terrified looking chap in Osaka…
this cute little love heart seducer…
this angry looking stuffed toy…
and this Picasso alien portrait.
Of course, here’s no point in having the best furnished apartment in the world if there is no one to share it with. This is where some inflatable companionship comes in handy.
The main problem with the store is that it’s so easy to get distracted. I mean, this is a store that offers a huge variety in even mudane things like tissues.
The choices ranged from some yuletide paper for poolside capers…
and 48 patterns of handerchief love!
Eventually the distractions gor the better of me and I returned home far from empty handed, but no better off in the furnishing stakes. Not only that, but now my Air idol keeps complaining about my lack of ammenities.
Oh, and a quick update on last week’s story. I have just been informed that I need to go back to the immigration centre to pick up my new visa… on December 25th. Man, will I be decking the halls!
Two years ago, I wrote a story called “the Cynical Traveller goes to… the Dentist”. Rather naively, I thought this would be my most painful experience in Japan. Well, leave it to the immigration service to prove me wrong.
Now, ordinarily the stories I write are anywhere from a few weeks old, up to a year in some cases. However, this happened to me yesterday and I want to write the story while the ignominy is still fresh in my mind. Apologies if it comes across as a rant, but the odd rant can be cathartic.
Japan is a country not overly famous for opening its doors and rolling out the red carpet to immigrants. Indeed, foreign residents are about as welcome as bubonic plague victim at a naked pool party. There deep spring of mistrust for foreigners is personified in the often vitriolic rants of Tokyo Mayor, Shintaro Ishihara.
Therefore, immigration, an unpleasant place at the best of times, just seems that bit more dour and soulless.
Returning to Japan, I had entered on a tourist Visa and now had to arrange a work visa. This meant having to first negotiate the labyrinthine halls of the Immigration departments website to find the right application form.
This is a link to the immigration department’s website, obviously designed by the same kind of people who make the instructions for flat pack furniture. I challenge any of my readers to try and work out which form I need. The forms themselves are full of instructions like, “If the teacher is in the part of A, insert scrotchet figgle and go to question 21, except in the case of humanity buggle, whereupon fill out question h(i)32(mpv).”
Ok, so that’s not a real line, but this is:
“Place have been dispatched (in case the answer to question 20-(2) is dispatch of personnel)”
Or perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. I mean this pamphlet from the ministry seems fairly strightforward…
Anyway, three weeks ago I filled these forms out and took them and all my documentation into the immigration department. Unfortunately, seeing as I was going to be an English teacher, I had foolishly filled in the form titled “teachers”, rather than the more obvious “researcher / engineer / specialist in humanities” form. This meant that I had to return to the centre with two different pages to complete my application.
Luckily, there is an immigration bureau in the next town from me, a mere 15 minutes by train. Unfortunately it’s for a completely different prefecture, meaning that I have to go to the one in Tachikawa, about 1 ½ hours away.
In a rather ominous start to the day, I took the one train a day designated limited express, which completely bypassed the station I needed to go to and didn’t stop until it was nearly in central Tokyo.
However, I eventually arrived and sat down to wait, watching a video explaining Japan’s new draconian entry procedures.
My number was 68 and I was very keen to be attended before 12 o’clock, when the counters would close for lunch. At 11.45 my number finally came up, just in time for three people numbered 66 to come rushing back in, after smoking cigarettes outside.
In a triumph of segregation the people on the counter summon the applicants by country and then name. For example, they will say Chogokku Lee San (Chinese Mr Lee).
I was supposed to meet Ms Watanabe, who we had spoken to on the phone and just hand her the two different pieces of paper. However, after a 45 minute wait, I made it to the counter and was informed that Ms Watanabe wasn’t working there today. Further questioning discovered that Ms Watanabe had never in fact worked there. Further questioning discovered that Ms Watanabe had never existed and that all knowledge of her activities would be denied.
I asked the man if I could give him the papers. He replied that I couldn’t unless I had my passport, which I hadn’t brought. I told him I didn’t bring it because I had already brought it, along with all my other documents, three weeks ago. He said he couldn’t take the paper unless I had my passport. I asked him if I could show my driver’s license. . He said he couldn’t take the paper unless I had my passport. I asked him if I could tell him my passport number which I have memorized. . He said he couldn’t take the paper unless I had my passport. I called my boss to speak to him in more fluent Japanese. He said he couldn’t take the paper unless I had my passport. I cracked the shits and went home.
And the great thing is, I’ve got to do it all again tomorrow! Ah, the joys of living overseas!
My regular readers will, of course, realize that I have strong opinions on the objectification of women. However, I’m always open to new experiences, no matter how painful.
My previous school, Iruma Koyo High School, had one of the best cheerleading teams in Japan and were going to the national competition in Tokyo. In the interest of school spirit, and only school spirit, I agreed to tag along.
However, I am once again hesitant to include photographs of my students, so the visible pictures included are of the professional teams who performed a demonstration at the end.
Now cheerleading isn’t a big thing in Australia. To be perfectly honest (and this is probably going to get me in a bit of hot water here) I’ve always considered cheerleading to be the last refuge of a dull sport. It’s the only way they can mildly entertain the crowd.
However, that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate cheerleading’s more salient points.
While the benefits of being able to wrap your own legs behind your head may not be immediately apparent, a little careful thought can bring up several situations where it might come in handy. Such as scratching an unwanted itch, or escaping from the deathtrap of a supervillian.
The competition was held in a large stadium in Tokyo. My cheerleading club teacher furnished me with a pass and I arrived fresh off the train in Tokyo, ready for some
hot sexy action strong school spirit.
Strangely enough, I was stopped at the door by two security guards who wanted to know which school I was affiliated with. Who did they think I was? Some sort of ordinary pervert?
After assuring the guards that I was in fact, a very specific type of pervert, I was allowed entry and attempted to find my students.
My girls were all decked out in their costumes when I arrived. Basically, it looked like they had gone 10 rounds with a bedazzler and lost… badly.
The makeup had been liberally applied, in some case with a trowel, and they looked excited, energetic and, dare I say it, perky.
My girls were on third, so we sat down to watch the other competitors. Basically, it involved bouncing around the stage to techno music and grinning like a skull after a botox injection.
I’m not a huge fan of techno music, but if it has to be endured, I can heartily recommend it be accompanied by thousands of young women in short skirts. It somehow makes the experience more tolerable.
My team went out, pom poms flashing, and performed admirably as far as I could tell. To be perfectly honest, all the performances looked very similar and I have no idea what criteria they were being judged on.
Then, I was subjected to the worst occurrence of the day. One of the schools came out to Tony Basil’s “Mickey”. Now in my book, that should be grounds enough for immediate disqualification, but they actually got applause when they finished!
Anyway, my students came second on the day and there were numerous faces streaked with tear stained makeup. Luckily, there were plenty of people there to “cheer” them up.
The Cynical Traveller
Firstly, I have a confession to make. I’m not really into cars. In fact, I wouldn’t know a carburetor from a cam shaft, or an alternator from an altimeter (do cars have those?).
I’m mystified when people who know about cars say things like, “There’s your problem mate! You’ve got a faltermeyer in your axel foley”
So, bearing that in mind, it may seem rather strange that I should choose to go to a motor show. However, I have a very good reason: My friend assured me that there would be loads of scantily clad women there.
Naturally, I saw this as an opportunity to confront the misogyny of contemporary Japanese society and study the Freudian implications of vehicle addiction in the male psyche. If I had to look at a bunch of hot women in the process, it was a price I was prepared to pay.
Well, let me tell you, despite my most altruistic of motives, I was seriously disappointed by both the number of ladies and cars on display.
My friend had tried to go to the show last year, not realizing it is only held on alternate years in Tokyo. What he actually ended up attending, was the industrial vehicles show. So, he spent the day looking at light utility vehicles, tractors, industrial tyres and van for the disabled.
Despite this, he said that each display was still surrounded by scantily clad girls; particularly the tyres. “Well”, we thought. “If they have girls draping themselves over a set of Bridgestone radials, imagine what they’ll be doing to a Ferrari!”
The answer is apparently: “avoiding it”.
The show filled four auditoriums with cars and motorbikes. In between were the occasional hands on displays and driving simulators.
Taking up such a huge amount of space, you’d think they could spare one small room for vouyerism, but apparently not.
And while I may not be an expert in cars, even I was aware that there was a difference between cruising around the high street in this…
Still, despite the absence of the girls, there were enough cars to keep a motor aficionado happy for countless hours.
We left after 37 minutes.
Kabuki is one of those quintessential Japanese arts. It is an artform steeped in tradition and it has a long and glorious history. Which is rather a shame really, as it is so boring.
For those of you unfamiliar with kabuki, it is basically a traditional Japanese play. All the parts are played by men and the actors wear white makeup. Just why they wear white makeup is something of a mystery. There are several theories, but the main one is that it’s so the crowd can’t recognise them afterwards and beat the hell out of them.
Indeed, during the performance, it is accepted for the crowd to shout out to the performers. Fortunately, they are somewhat more civilised than in Australia, and thus there are no cries of “Saito’s a wanker” for the actors to deal with.
In order to heighten the sense of culture you’ll receive from reading about Kabuki, I have decided to write this week’s entry entirely in Haiku.
My trip to Kabuki
I wake up very early
Today is the kabuki
I don’t want to go
Today the play is
Something about samurai
But then, aren’t they all?
At the theatre I
Have to buy an English tape
Five hundred yen gone
The lights are dimming
Our seats are in the middle
The curtain raises
Men with white faces
Screeching in high pitched voices
Just shut the hell up
What the hell is going on?
This tape is useless
“Blah blah samurai”
“Blah blah restore my honour”
“Blah blah secret plan”
Walking through the wood
He meets an old man sitting
Tape says, “he’s a lord”
They just keep talking
Isn’t he a samurai?
Don’t they ever fight?
A brief break from the boredom
All escapes are blocked
Back in the theatre
We’re told there was a battle
It was in the break!
I can’t believe it
The one cool thing to happen
We don’t get to see
Some guy keeps shouting
Encouraging the actors
I’d rather throw fruit
I’m falling asleep
Will this thing ever finish?
Can I go home now?
Ninety minutes in
It’s like a form of torture
My brain has shut down
Finally it’s over
“And what was it like?” you ask
It was utterly…
Damn, I’ve run out of syllables.
In keeping with tradition however, I’d like to invite you all to only comment in haiku.
The cynical traveller
(Oh, and there will be a Peru update appearing on my main site sometime in the next couple of weeks.)
Of all the things I thought I’d never go to in Japan, a J-pop concert would have been quite high on the list. In fact, I have a list of things I’d rather do with my time, but unfortunately my web provider only has 2 gig of storage space. Suffice to say that “attending a J-pop concert” falls somewhere between “running naked through an abattoir” and “watching an ‘I love Lucy’ marathon”.
However, I received a desperate request from one of my friends. He was being dragged to a J-pop concert by his girlfriend and needed someone to pick on it with.
Obviously, when he was trying to think of someone cynical, my name sprang to mind.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to take my camera, so all today’s pictures are examples of J-pop covers. For example:
The concert was in an outside ampitheatre in Ueno Park. Now, normally Ueno park is a favourite hangout for homeless people in Tokyo, yet on this day it was eerily empty. It kind of reminded me of those disaster movies, where the animals can sense the oncoming horror, and desert the area.
The “band” we watched were called Clannbonn, or Kuranbon, or possible Crampon. Strangely enough I don’t have one of their CDs to reference, nor do I have any intention of buying one.
The “Clan”, as their deranged fans probably call them, consisted of a female singer/keyboardist, a bassist and a drummer. The “concert” consisted of squeaky vocals at high decibels.
There was one saving grace however. As we entered the arena, we were each given a fun sized party bag. For the next two and a half hours, this bag was the only thing that saved my sanity.
Each bag contained:
• Promotional flyers for the band’s album (i.e. a warning on what to avoid)
• A pack of tissues (for stuffing in your ears)
• A small tub of detergent (for rubbing in your eyes as penitence for attending)
• A bubble blower (just so the band isn’t the only thing that blows)
• A plastic clapper (presumably for people going to a decent event afterwards)
It really is amazing how interesting a humdrum activity like blowing bubbles can become when faced with the alternative of actually listening. For the next 2 hours, my friend and I continually produced massive bubbles, with the aim of landing them in the sound equipment and hopefully shorting it out.
Of course, you’re not a real band in Japan unless one of your songs has appeared in a commercial. The biggest bands get to advertise cars and electronic equipment. I’m not sure what Clannbonn’s song advertised, but judging from the standard of the music on offer, it was probably hemorrhoid cream or something.
Thinking things couldn’t get much worse, I was once again proved wrong.
I want you to think of the most annoying tunes you possibly can. Now think of those same tunes being played through a mobile phone speaker. It suddenly got a lot worse, didn’t it?
Well, in a truly Japanese moment, Clannbonn invited the crowd to call a number and their mobile phones played along with the music.
This proved too much for me, and I was forced to produce my i-pod in an attempt to placate my ears. Let me tell you, I did not sleep well that night.
As always, stay cynical.
The Cynical Traveller
We’ve all done it. We’ve been sitting there watching the news and there’s been some story on a fashion designer’s latest show. 60 heroin addicts who look like they’ve escaped from Auschwitz appear, sporting fashions that even Barbie dolls have come alive to escape from.
And you sit there wondering, “Who the hell would wear any of this stuff?” Well, wonder no more. All this fashion ends up on the girls in Harajuku.
Yes, Harajuku is the famed fashion capital of Tokyo. This is an honour somewhat akin to the prestige of being named, say “Hillbilly capital of the Southern USA”.
Harajuku is the kind of place that should cause fashion designers to drop Tokyo from their New York, Paris, London, Tokyo collections.
As a picture tells a thousand words, let me now display the horror that is Harajuku. I apologise if the images make your page load slowly, but you should probably consider it a blessing.
I present: Harajuku to Shibuya – An Odyssey in pictures
Our odyssey began at Harajuku station, where we immediately went into freak alert 5. Harajuku is so famous now, that it feels like there are more foreigners with cameras (myself included) than Japanese people. But while many people now consider it a bit passé to make fun of Harajuku fashions, what these people are forgetting is that it’s also incredibly fun.
After 20 mintes or so of shutterbugging around the station, we entered nearby Meiji Park. Meiji Park is an oasis of beautiful trees, stately shrines and majestic temples; and as such, will not be mentioned again in this article.
Anyway, after leaving the park, we skirted its outsides and were lucky enough to run into a troop of Elvis impersonators. These quiffed up fanboys had a stereo booming out Presley hits, while they shuffled on the sidewalk.
Truly awe insipring!
Elvises Elivs’s Elvii behind, we headed towards Shibuya, thinking to escape from the madness. No such luck!
The very first road we walked down had some sort of agricultural fair going on. And so, we were greeted by the wonderful sight of a man in a soy bean costume posing for pictures with the locals.
And things got weirder when he was joined by his wife, some kind of wind up, generic, yellow blob.
Finally, they were both joined by the Nutty Professor and the girl pictured three shots below, just in time for all four to perform an incredibly strange dance.
I swear to god, at this stage I wouldn’t have been surprised if George Bush rappelled down from a helicopter, wearing nothing but a leotard and singing “Happiness is a warm gun”!
Further on, we witnessed this mother and her obviously terrified child posing with these scary characters.
And then there was the ANA booth, sponsored by Pikachu.
We’re expecting smooth flying this morning, with a chance of some turbulence and card carrying dragons later this afternoon.
I’d like to now direct your attention to our stewardess, who will demonstrate some basic exercises you can perform to make your flight more comfortable”
Leaving Harajuku, we entered Shibuya passing some interesting shops on the way.
And finally it was into Shibuya station.
However, just to complete my day, I saw a prime example of the subtlety and juxtoposition that make Japanese advertisers the masters of their craft.
Until next time.
The Cynical Traveller
NEXT WEEK – The Cynical Traveller goes to… Tokyo Disneyland
(This story contains a lot of pictures – Apologies in advance to any dial up users, but really you should get out of the dark ages!)
Nowadays Japanese arcades are more than sugar high teenagers, epilectically dancing on DDR machines. While the shooting and driving games of home still appear, I have decided to highlight some of the more original machines.
The most popular games on display are the ubiquitous “skill testers”, or as they are know in Japan, “UFO catcher”. Just why they are called this is anyone’s guess as the prizes are very rarely UFOs, and indeed, very rarely caught.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of these machines, they are full of prizes that are generally worth less than it costs to play the game. The operator moves a claw around with a joystick and then presses a button. The claw descends and tries to grasp a prize.
Of course, the claws in these machines have about the same grasping strength as Kermit the Frog.
Now at home, the prizes are usually a fluffy toy, and indeed these do appear in Japan, albeit in a slightly scarier fashion.
But those clever Japanese don’t just stop at toys. Oh, no. How about trying to win a girlie DVD?
Or for those of you into animation, you can win a “Neon Genesis” character. But not just some boring battle armour figurine.
They are available in:
Peadophile’s wet dream
And knocked up housefrau
The concept of this machine is simple. Insert a token and if you’re lucky it pushes a load of other tokens out. However, as simple as the concept is, the design is something else!
I swear to god, this thing looks like it’s escaped from a Stephen King Novel. I believe it was designed to discourage young children from gambling. Most of the children were far too scared to go near the thing, and some burst into tears when looking at it.
The machine periodically blurted something out in distorted Japanese. Although my Japanese is pretty bad, I’m sure it translated into something like, “I’m coming for your soul”.
For the more cereberal of you, why not try the imaginatively titled “Quiz Magic Academy II”? Yes, this machine asks you a series of questions and lets you pick from multiple choice answers or true (O) false (X). It’s just like “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, but without all that pesky “winning money” stuff to distract you.
True or False?
This is the new fad in Japanese gaming centres. The player buys some cards from a shop. Each card has different abilities. They then place the cards on the machine, which reads them and they can use them to play the game.
The wonderful thing about this idea is that the company that makes the game gets your money twice.
In this first example, the cards make up units of an army. You can move them around the table to fight a strategic battle.
Or, how about a game of soccer, where the cards represent the different players on your team?
However, as this site is called “The Cynical Traveller”, you certainly won’t find me admitting that I actually thought this was a pretty cool idea.
There is also a huge market for old style games in Japan. You’ll see many machines that haven’t been manufactured since the late 1980s being played by guys who haven’t had a date since the late 1980s.
I mean come on, my Commodore 64 had better graphics than this.
And finally, for my readers over 40 who may be intimidated by all this, here’s a picture of “Pong”.
The Cynical Traveller
NEXT WEEK: The Cynical Traveller goes to… Harajuku
There’s something indescribably erotic about two 400kg men mashing into each other. Maybe it’s the breasts or perhaps the thongs, but there must be some reason why Sumo wrestlers get all the good women in Japan.
Having the extraordinary good luck to steal someone’s front row seats, we were close at hand to witness the physical perfection that is Sumo.
Of course, the great thing about watching sumo is that it is not only a “sport”, but an enormous boost to the self esteem as well.
To the untrained eye, it may look like two McDonalds addicts slapping each other in a fight over the last French fry, but Sumo is so much more tactical than that.
There appear to be three main styles of fighting:
The slap – A fantastic opportunity to see huge waves of rippling flesh.
The sidestep – What do you do when 400kg of man is heading your way? Get the hell out of the way (This is heavily frowned upon by traditionalists and suicidal maniacs alike) .
The wedgie – You pick up a 400kg man by the underpants and carry him out of the ring. He spends the next week pulling said pants out of his, not inconsiderable, bottom.
But the fighting is only a small part of the event. Sumo is in many ways, all about ritual. The referee will hold his fan while the two fighters purify themselves and the ring. Then they’ll crouch down ready to fight and… they’ll get up again and do the same thing. They seemingly do this around 540 times before they actually deem each other worthy to wrestle with.
Of course, the slow pace of sumo, 15 minutes of waiting for 10 seconds of action, can often cause the fans of faster sports to lose interest. Fans of American football and baseball should feel right at home however.
On the day we went, Mongolian Yokozuna Asashoryu won his twelfth straight fight to take an unassailable lead in the tournament. Despite being one of the greatest sumo of the age, he is not popular in Japan due to a clinical condition he suffers from, called foreignness.
However, we whooped and cheered when he won. We gaijin have to stick together.
The Cynical Traveller
NEXT WEEK – The Cynical Traveller goes to… Fuji (and climbs it)
Computer games shows are the geek equivalent of gay pride parades. For one day of the year, the Star Trek fan can leave his mother’s house, pull on his spandex uniform and be someone.
I’ll confess. I’m something of a nerd. I’m not a trekkie but I am into computers and computer games. Of course, in today’s computer dominated society, being a nerd provides a much higher status than it previously afforded, and it is no longer a sufficient cause for an atomic wedgie.
A regular wedgie will do fine.
However there’s nerds and then there’s NERDS. And then, in Japan, there’s ÜBERNERDS!
Honestly, in a country where the majority of young adults still live with their parents, you really need to do something special to separate yourself for true geekdome.
We’re going past the Star Trek fan who speaks Klingon here. We’ve even progressed beyond the makers of Star Wars fan films. These people make Bill Gates look like the Fonz.
The wonderful thing about the gameshow, is that the manufacturers know their target audience are 45 year old virgins and market their games accordingly. Skimpily dressed young ladies abound within the confines of a neon warehouse. They are the subjects of countless photographs, to be taken, filed and masturbated over at a later date.
Then there’s the cosplayers (costume play). There seems to be a prevailing fascination in Japan with looking like something you’re not. Literally hundreds of people had come as their favourite game and animation characters.
My favourite sight of the whole show came in the cosplay area. A young lady had foregone the difficulty of dressing up as an exact replica of a character and had simply turned up as the generic “girl in an orange bikini”. Needless to say, she was one of the most photographed people on display.
However, I had to laugh when a particularly nerdy looking chap asked her to bend over, lean against the window and spread her legs while he took photos of her arse. Astoundingly she did it! I really wanted to take a picture of him taking a picture of her, but I was scared somebody would take a picture of me and I would run out of syntax.
Of course, somewhere in all this there were a few games on display as well, but I was having far too much fun people watching. Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.
The Cynical Traveller
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