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Monday, April 27, 2015

American Comic Book Propaganda Versus Japan - 16

While sitting on the john, I was going through my comic book price guide earlier this afternoon when I came across this nugget.

Meet Don Winslow of the Navy... probably a book most of us have never got our hands on before, but one that was popular enough in the 1930s to have its own radio show, and even a movie serial made of it in 1942 - Don Winslow of the Navy, and 1943's Don Winslow of the Coast Guard. Anyone have a link to these?

Don Winslow of the Navy was initially a comic strip - that means it appeared in newspapers, starting in 1934, running until 1955.

Created by U.S. Lieutenant Commander Frank V. Martinek, a gentleman who had actually worked for U.S. naval intelligence during WWI. Write what you know, eh?

Although the character had already been used by Martinek as a character in a few novels he had written, his newspaper comic strip distributed by Bell Syndicate was very popular.

Conceptually, Martinet wanted to use the Don Winslow character as a way to help recruitment in to the Navy in the midwest of the U.S.

Martinek had heard Admiral Wat T. Cluverius complain about the difficulties of recruiting in the Midwest.

I can see why... stuck in the middle of the U.S.... no one would ever think about the Navy and water...
He said, "Since 'Don Winslow of the Navy' is approved by the Navy Department, I cannot allow him to do anything that is contrary to the ideals, traditions or motives of the Navy."

He sought authenticity, and brought in Naval Lieutenant Leon Beroth as art director and Carl Hammond to handle layouts and research.

In comic book form, reprints by Merwil occurred in 1937, with Dell taking over in 1938 - reprints from the newspaper strip.

Prior to the U.S. involvement in WWII - beginning in December of 1941 - Don Winslow was a spy chaser.

But, it was that day that will live in infamy (Pearl Harbor), that really rocketed the popularity of the Don Winslow character and comics!

The creators had Don Winslow heed the call to patriotic arms actually leaving his fiance in December of 1941 to go and fight the evil Japanese.

Popular beyond belief, in February of 1943 (dated on the issue - so it might actually have been December of 1942 when released to newstands, Fawcett Publications (they guys who published the world's mightiest mortal, Captain Marvel - you know - SHAZAM!) decided to publish new adventures of Don Winslow of the Navy - with Martinek's permission, of course, but still following the tradition of authenticity he laid out.

 As you can see from the cover above - Fawcett's Don Winslow of the Navy #15 published on May 1, 1944, this guy is a one-man Japanese killing machine, with some 24 kills applied to the right side of his plane - the Japanese rising sun flags... but who knows how many he has actually killed! We can only partially see the plane!

Authenticity or not, I do question Don Winslow hanging out the side of the cockpit to fire a machine gun at the Japanese Zero's flying by.

If Winslow is the pilot, wouldn't he be better served using the plane's built in machine guns?

And, if it happened to be that those machine guns had jammed or were out of ammunition... where the hell did he get the machine gun from?

No pilot is carrying a machine gun with them in a plane that needs to be as light weight as possible to try and take out the much lighter and faster (and less armored) Zero's!

And don't tell me he took the machine gun from the plane itself. Those guns would be built into the wings...

Okay... it's a comic book... it's fantasy.

It just doesn't seem 'realistic' to me... for a character that screamed authenticity by its creator.

Maybe the plane is a two-seater? In which case, Winslow as passenger isn't the Jap-killer he's made out to be. 

Don Winslow of the Navy was published by Fawcett from 1943 to 1948... revived in 1951 lasting until issue #69. Keep in mind that even Captain America was first cancelled in 1949... when the youth of the world figured they didn't need superheroes - I mean... after WWII, who the heck were these costumes supposed to fight?

In 1955, Charlton Comics published reprints of the Fawcett stories... but that was it for the character...

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Letter From Noboko

Let's step back a week or two... in 1993... back to a letter written by my girlfriend Noboko to myself on August 28th and received by me in Toronto sometime after I arrived back from Japan three weeks later...

Well, yeah... I had to come back to Toronto after... it was only a three-week vacation after all... further plans regarding our relationship would be made depending on the success of that mission.

I love her, and she me. Her mother and father want her to get married, sure, but her mother wants her to be happy as well. Her father is not keen on her being involved with a foreigner, as that 'stink' could wipe out his plans for world-domination and future job promotion within the Japanese education fraternity. Noboko is unsure if she should marry me and hurt her father, or hurt myself and herself and agree to the maniacal  whims of Japanese society. After three years in Japan, my contract with the JET Programme was up... I had to leave my home in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken and return to Toronto, Canada. Before I received this letter, I was already winging my way back to Noboko in Japan.

There... we're all up to date with the recap, so... 

Here's what Noboko wrote:

Dear Andrew

O.K. Let me try to explain the poem I told you on the phone. It's written on the postcard with a sketch of weeds (Andrew here: I have no idea what that means, but there was no postcard in this letter).

I = Weeds

"Because I'm small (little?), I'm trod.
Because I'm frail, I can't be broken in two.
Even if someone treads upon me, then if I have time I can rise slowly looking up at the sky."

I don't know if you understand it all and I don't know if I understand all of it myself. I guess this poem is quite Japanese.

As my way of thinking - I think - it says that ... when times get rough, don't complain to anyone else. Don't be disappointed in yourself. Take time and raise yourself slowly...

I think it's a good idea to be aggressive for taking a chance. And, it's also important to have patience.

I know many friends who are aggressive, but few friends who have real patience.

For myself, I'm easy to grumble.

That's why I love this poem.

What do you think of it?

My mother and I, by chance, talked about senility.

She said, "I want your father to live long."

To be honest, I didn't believe in love of husband and wife... especially the love between my parents, because I know of their life. (I'll tell you about it later - maybe).

Do you know? In Japanese, we have two words that express love. These are Koi and Ai - look up these words in your dictionary.

Maybe they have the same meaning in English.

I've been thinking about the difference between them... wow... it's really difficult.

My brain seems to be 'natto'. This expression is used in confusing situations.

Good expression, eh?

I should turn in now.

Oh! Do you miss natto? You can eat as much as you want soon.

I miss, Andrew!

Love Noboko.

I love finding things like this letter... hidden away for decades... and poof... just when I need it... proof positive that someone loved me like this.

It's nice to know... to be reminded of.

Patience versus aggression? 

I have patience... but how much patience must one have before aggressively going after what they want? I'm not Japanese, but Noboko is... so for her... I am patient.

Me heading right back to Japan one month later after three years there? That's not very patient... but it's me showing her that I'm not going to let our love fade away - at least not without a fight. 

Considering English isn't her first language, and aside from myself and the students she taught... how would she develop such a fine sense of humor in another language?


She knows I used to eat natto - just to prove that a gaijin (outsider/foreigner) could eat a food that even most Japanese find repulsive, owing to its consistency, smell and looks. Natto, if you will recall, is rotting/fermented soy beans.

So... her joke... it has multiple meanings... a warning to me not to eat natto... or simply that she misses Andrew, and not the confusion I bring to her.

Just a brilliant turn of phrase that I only fully 'get' now in 2015.

I only wish I had received this letter BEFORE I went back to Japan in early September!

Now (2015) as then (1993), (I assume), I pulled out my Japanese to English dictionary to check the definitions of Koi (恋) & Ai ((愛).

It's the same wonderful book! However, both definitions merely state the translation to be 'love'.

I can't recall if I went a little further to see if there's a subtle difference, but 2015 me did.

The word 'ai' is used to refer to love of friends or family.

The word 'koi' is used for your true love.

The 2015 me NOW and only NOW understands that Noboko was trying to determine which love was more important to her.

Ai or Koi.
Ai-yi-yi! Don't be coy, love... which love do you mean for me? Ha! It's koi, of course.

But which way will it turn out for her?

Stay tuned.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Tie Game - Nobody Wins

What's a guy to do?

The woman I am in love with has just challenged me to a game of badminton.

She loves me too, just so everyone is aware, and so the initial thought would be, with all things equal in love, go ahead and beat the heck out of her.

There are multiple birds in the bush here, however.
  1. This is 1993 Japan, and my Japanese girlfriend is 27 years old and since she is unmarried, has brought shame to her parents who cling to such old-fashioned traditions just as most Japanese seem to do - that is, when it is convenient. Not married by 25? you're an old maid. Family earns scorn for your thoughtlessness.
  2. Noboko (the girlfriend) was once engaged to a guy—a Japanese guy—and broke it off… she never talks about it, so I have no idea just how close to the actual wedding date it was. By ending a marriage proposal—and here I am also unsure if it was arranged by the parents or real love—Noboko brought shame to her parents and blah-blah-blah.
  3. I will marry Noboko right now. I love her. This is not a problem for me.
  4. Noboko marrying me, however, despite her love for me, would bring shame to her father, as even the fact she is dating me has done.
  5. When a Japanese woman dates a gaijin (foreigner or really… an 'outsider'), public Japanese perception is that they are having sex. Well, yeah… probably. We were. We just did before she sprung the whole badminton idea on me at 10AM.  But the problem is that Japanese society dictates that premarital sex is a no-no. For the man - not really - but definitely for that slut-of-a-woman (which, of course, brings loads of shame onto the whole family).
  6. To protect gaijin/nihonjin (foreigner/Japanese) internationalization, and even Japanese-on-Japanese full-on contact, the past 30 years has seen the love hotel industry spring up, where consenting couples can rent a hotel room for the night or for a couple of hours, depending on how much eel you eat (later). Enterprising love hotels offer theme rooms such as the Hello Kitty chalet, Star Wars boudoir replete with slavegirl Leia bikini outfit for her to put on... or you, god help you; or basically a themed room containing whatever one's pervy-little heart or other organ desires. I wanted something special, but a decided lack of availability one evening scuttled me, matey. Ashley and I had to settle for a regular round bed that I fell off of three times through the night.
  7. Oh yeah… in my case, my girlfriend's father was a high-level mucky-muck in the province's educational system. Noboko was a new English teacher, and I was a third-year pro (and now recently retired from the JET Programme) assistant English teacher. That's a lot of education… and my relationship… or rather Noboko's involvement with me put her father in a bad light with his co-workers… especially were possible job promotions might be concerned.
  8. Everyone does a good job at their work in Japan, so any blot caused by family members can be taken into account in who gets promoted or more poignantly, who doesn't get promoted. Or so I'm told. In this case… it's probably true.
  9. I was the typical guy growing up in Canada who played whatever sport we felt like playing with my friends. Football, basketball, road hockey, tree climbing - sure! It doesn't mean I was any good - I wasn't at basketball or football… and yet, because when I was asked in Japan what sports I liked, I pretty much ran the gamut of every sport out there not involving water (can't ski or swim - I can cross-country… ski, that is). I've played league soccer and baseball, intramural school basketball, football, ping-pong and even volleyball (though I was also in the chess club back in grade 9). I learned in school how to play lacrosse, already knew how and sorta enjoyed tennis and squash (this one I played very well)… and so… having said stuff like that, the Japanese immediately branded me a 'sportsman'. The Japanese tend to pick one sport and focus on playing it. Play multiple sports - unheard of in Japan. Truth is, I'm not going to embarrass myself doing a sport. Heck, I even did kyudo (Japanese archery), judo (knew it from back in Canada) and kendo (hit me with your rhythm stick), so sportsman I was aptly described as.
  10. I guess I misunderstood… I could have just said soccer… or even baseball.
  11. I've never played badminton before.
  12. I don't want Noboko to be angry if I beat her (I am a sportsman, after all). I'm trying to convince her to screw her father's wishes and to marry me so we can live happily ever after in Toronto (preferred) or here in Japan (still preferred, just not as much - such is my love for the woman!).
  13. I don't want her to laugh at me in case she is waaaay better than me at badminton - proving I'm not man enough to be her husband.
So… what the hell do I do?

To be honest, I'm going to see how good I am and how good she is, and we'll go from there.

If it's obvious that I suck, I'll blame it on the tatami mat burns I have on my knees and elbows from our most recent snog-a-thon. I really do have burns on my legs where the hair has gone 'poof!' in a blaze of flame.

So... to paraphrase the classic Clash song Rock The Casbah: Should I play or should I blow? Or will natural talent win out over ego?

We drive about 20 minutes farther up a mountain, where there is a plateau and grass and a badminton net all set up. It's a public park. These places really do exist in Japan!

We're up pretty high on the mountain, so fresh air might be plenty... plenty thin... I wonder if this is part of her plan? Ace.

She has all the badminton equipment in the back of her car, two rackets and three her asking me if I wanted to play badminton was part of her plan all along. Ace.

Plus she's all dressed in white. Ace.

I'm wearing some horrible shorts that might have been in style once in Toronto, but sure look out of place with this beautiful women in her battle gear. Unforced error by me.

So we play... no one has the sun in their face - except me, of course, but I have been wearing sunglasses since I first got contact lenses almost 11 years earlier when I was 17... and had photo-grey lenses that changed with the light before that - so I like the shades... still do in 2015.

We play... and I'm good at badminton... which I think surprises Noboko a bit, because she remarked as much.

"Hmph... you surprise me - you're pretty good. Did you play before?"

"Yes... a little," I lie.

We're pretty even. She moves around the grassy court like a gazelle, and I use quick wrists and a long reach to confound my laziness at having to move my legs.

Unsurprisingly, although I am sweating under the morning sun, she is soon gasping for breath and needs a break. Just like earlier this morning.

She waters up - I have a Coke... and we begin again. Also just like... never mind, I'm sure you get it. She got it.

I can see she is struggling with my lack of athleticism in badminton and continued to confound her with me pretty much standing ion place - only having to take a step here or there.

I let her take the first game.

I whoop her in the second. Man, I'm good.

The third... she's sweating and cursing up a storm in muttered Japanese... so although I keep it close, to go to a tie-breaker, I figure it's time to stop screwing around and to take her down. Just like...

Only I can't. I start moving around, and I start screwing up... and she takes the game... and promptly decides we have had enough and should go and get some lunch at a restaurant a 10-minute drive away. 

I guess I may have been all knackered out from the mornings extra-curricular activities. Definitely no sex before sports! Or maybe have the sex, and forget about the sports! 

I pay because I lost and because I'm the man - and despite me acknowledging the whole equality thing and respecting it, I'm a bit old-fashioned and enjoy paying our way.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do... sure, but I'm not in Rome. I don't know what Japanese guys do, but I'm not Japanese. I just do as Andrew does... what I was raised to do.

Besides... Noboko isn't working and while I'm not either, it is a way to show her that I will look after her.

I have no idea if such subtleties are taken in by her, but she's often not as Japanese as she might think...

At the restaurant, it is obvious I am over-dressed... for something... definitely not dressed well enough to be seen in public... okay, that's my 2015 opinion. 

We have an enjoyable lunch - I love that unagi-don (barbecued eel on rice), to which she makes the typical Japanese comment about how it's supposed to be good for male 'strength' while making the bent elbow flex with fist implying power in virility… you know… a hard-on.

"I've heard that," I retort.

"I don't think you need it," she notes.

"It can't hurt."

"Not you, anyways."

Laugh-laugh... people around us glance at us in wonderment. Women and men alike are trying to figure out why this beautiful woman is with a hairy gaijin like me. Because the stereotypes are sometimes true? Yes, but it's because I know how to treat her... you'll see.

I just love the sexual banter we can toss at each other in a busy restaurant knowing that no one knows enough English to understand we're talking about sex.

She knows it, too, and doesn't even bother to blush as she speaks. Or maybe she's just comfortable around me and that topic.

So… I guess I have to do it…

"Noboko… you do understand why I came back to Japan, right?"

She goes quiet and looks down at her food. "I know."

"You understand that there are many options in my head… including I stay here in Japan and marry you or we get married and one day move to Toronto or wherever…" I begin.

"The key thing for you to understand is, that I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you."

I deftly tear a strip of eel with my chopsticks and pop it into my mouth while looking at the top of Noboko's head, still bent in examination of whatever it is she's not really looking at.

Up comes the head - and she's smiling - and crying!

"I know you love me as much as I love you," tears plop down upon her pork kontatsu cutlet… crap I hate it when women cry, whether it's happiness or sadness.   

"I want to spend my life with you, too," she sighs.

"So… what's the real problem?" I ask, not expecting an answer.

"You're not Japanese… you wouldn't understand," she snaps.

Oh, that old frickin' chestnut?

The old, 'you wouldn't understand' bullcrap line. Regardless of the language, language barrier or whatever, people trot that line out as a way to avoid answering questions.

It pisses me off, to be honest. I have an IQ larger than some small countries. I also do my best to play Devil's advocate, and see both sides of a situation.

I know what the problem is… I just want to know if the woman who loves me and the woman I love is capable of breaking away from centuries of ingrown Japanese self-sacrificing idiocy to make us both happy.

I want Noboko to be with me.

Noboko wants to be with me.

Her mother wants Noboko to be with me.

There's just her father… the be-all and end-all of the typical Japanese family, whose only real function is to procreate where necessary, deliver a sizable paycheck on-time and untouched, and scare the crap out anyone who doesn't think he's the man.

If there's one thing that anyone should know about Japan, is that it's completely fugged up with archaic rules and nonsense.A system of heirachy... a system where age commands respect regardless of whether it is earned or not.

I'll tell an old person to f-off if they're being an ass, the same way I will follow someone younger than me who has a better concept of how do so something in particular.  

It's these same Japanese rules and lack of progress into the present that have effectively stymied it as a country on the rise.

Hell, even the Japanese don't want to procreate because - well, what's the point, really?  

Look… I understand… Japan's rules means Japan's rules… but my friend Matthew could marry his true-love. Jeff could as well!

Why can't I?

Why… why… why?!?!?!

Sometimes I wonder if I love Japan… or if I just love Noboko!

No… it's not just Noboko… I loved Japan first… it's why I stuck around long enough to meet Noboko…

"I wouldn't understand?" I sigh. "Really? I wouldn't understand?

"Then make me understand," I say with my voice rising louder and dropping deeper.

"Make me understand," I growl. "And then make yourself understand that by doing what some old man wants—an old man who doesn't understand YOU—you give up everything for yourself.

"You lose. I lose. We lose. Everybody loses," I say with lots of sitting-down gesticulating.

I'm not angry… I'm upset… frustrated… a little ticked off… but I'm not angry. I don't want to storm off and leave her… I don't want her to do the same.

We're in love… that's not at issue.

It's just: what the hell do we do about it?

How can love be so screwed up? Two people are in love… everyone wants them to be in love… except one person… and that is driving a wedge between us. It's not a rival boyfriend. It's her father who's my rival for daddy's little girl.

"I know, I know, I know!" she yells and storms off…

This is Japan… I bow and apologize to the people around me… and then try and figure out which way she went. There was something confused in my facial appearance that had one woman point in the direction of the back of the restaurant… okay… the washroom… good… besides not knowing where I am, I'm pretty sure I'm a long way from home…

This is Japan… so… do I get up and go after her… or do I sit here and eat my eel. I get the feeling I'm not going to need any of its effects later this afternoon.

I'm not Japanese, so I get up and walk towards where that woman had pointed… but am stopped as Noboko comes marching out.

"I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at me. Let's talk about this some more… just not here," she says, and reaches up to kiss me on the lips. She's short, so I bend my head forward to help us out.

She is Japanese. Just not now.

Kissing in public? With a gaijin?

So… which Noboko is this? The one I'm going to marry? Or, the daughter of a man I'm going to murder?

Oh yeah… I thought about hiring someone to do it… not really, though… just idle fantasy… but man… obstacle removed.

I can finally move forward again.

Somewhere eating my unagi... it can't hurt... me, anyways,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, April 24, 2015

Douglas James McIntosh Is Dead

I am deeply saddened.

My friend ... one Douglas James McIntosh has died.

I found out today at around 8:30PM... that he had actually passed away some two weeks earlier... and that no one knew until earlier this week.

We have had these past 25 years a mentor-protege relationship, though admittedly he seemed to think the roles had been reversed these past few years as I encouraged him to look after his health more than needing to work himself, to well, death.

His letters for the past year talked of his struggles with diabetes... but I wanted him to stop driving cab, look after himself so that I could come and visit... but he loved to drive more than anything.

I first met Doug pretty much 25 years ago today, while I was with the Toronto Star as an intern reporter on their Summer Internship Programme.

I was to make pick-ups that day... that is I was to pick-up photos of people who had just passed, to accompany either obituaries or news stories.

His cab was stopped in front of the newspaper that day, and rather than get in the back like most rides, I got in and sat in the passenger side front.

I don't know why I did it, but I did.

Doug drove me around that day for about six hours or more... we stopped at a Harveys and I bought him lunch and charged it all to the newspaper, because he deserved to be fed and looked after. Basic human kindness and all... but apparently no one had ever done that for him.

While on one pick-up, I had actually beat the police to the victim's house and thus informed the parents of their daughter's passing... it sickened me to have been the one to do that... but they understood, and even though they were in shock, they treated me as well as can be expected. Still, the experience soured me forever on being a newspaper reporter.

Doug saw my face... and when I explained what happened, my new friend put me at ease and did his best to help me recover my sunny disposition.

At the end of our journey hours later back at the Star, Doug, knowing I was soon to go to Japan on the Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme, begged me to write to him from there.

So I did.

I wrote a form letter and sent it out to about 20 people (family and friends got a real letter)... but Doug was the first person to write me back in Japan. His was the first letter I received.. or maybe it was actually a tie from my friend Rob.

What the hell... I wrote back to Doug... and after three years and 67 letters from him (tied with the amazing Rob), I had survived Japan.

Doug and I initially hit it off because I knew a fair bit about Jim Morrison and The Doors, his favorite band.

I told him that I had once been an extra in a movie, a Bette Middler/John Goodman flick called Stella... and that I was actually wearing a Jim Morrison blue tee-shirt in the couple of scenes I am in... somewhere around the 40-minute mark dancing and later drinking in a bar (The Silver Dollar here in Toronto).

Doug and I are friends... he taught me many a valuable lesson... about how to be a good writer... he was much better than I was or am now... but he just wouldn't take the time to write that damn book about driving can in Toronto... it would have been beautiful... though I'm afraid all the juicy stuff I know about various people and their activities would have caused us both trouble should it ever have leaked out.

Ah me...

Let me leave you with the very last line I read in the letter I opened from him today...

"no eternal reward will forgive us, now, for wasting the dawn"


It has a photograph printed on it by his printer showing Mt, Fuji I think...

But he ended this conversation with me just as he began it 25 years ago, with a quote from The Doors.

And... in atypical fashion... he decided NOT to sign off at the end.

Kanpai Doug... and thank you for letting me be your friend.

Yer droog,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The True Meaning Of Sushi

I guess we could file this under 'believe it or not', because that's where I found this information - at Ripley's.

Do you know the true English translation for the Japanese word 'sushi'?

It's funny. I never wondered if there was one. Sushi is sushi. To me, it's like asking 'what does chicken mean?'...

Except, like the many styles and ingredients utilized in the creation of sushi, things are more than what we assume.

First off, sushi as a food does not imply raw fish. Forget that schoolyard crap.

Slices of raw fish are called sashimi, and are delicious. However, sushi can (and does) utilize raw thinly sliced raw fish as an ingredient.

Sushi (すし, 寿司, 鮨) is a Japanese food consisting of cooked vinegared rice (鮨飯 sushi-meshi) combined with other ingredients (ネタ neta), such as seafood, egg, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits. I assume this is the avocado in a non-traditional California sushi roll.

While the ingredients and form of sushi vary greatly, the common denominator is sticky rice (color isn't set in stone either, but white is more usual).

But what does 'sushi' mean?

Sushi, according to Ripley's, translates to "sour-tasting".

I guess it's from the vinegar rice (pickled rice)!

Perhaps in the old days of Japan, it was truly sour tasting, or maybe it still is and I'm just used to it… 

Sour-tasting? Who knew?

Ripley's did, believe it or not.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above is an ukiyo-e showing a plate of sushi (actually known as "Bowl Of Sushi" print), drawn early in his career by master artist Hiroshige (1797-1858) in the 1800s... yes, I'm too lazy to look up the date. Okay - screw that... I just spent an hour searching on-line, and found a book describing a scene that sounds like this ukiyo-e... it gives the creation date as 1843.
That book says: "containing both nigirizushi (gizzard shad, kohada, on the left, shrimp, ebi, on the top) and makizushi (rolls wrapped in tamago and nori)".
For your edification, tamago (Auto Correct keeps changing it to 'tamale') is egg (the yellow banding on the front open faced roll of sushi) and nori (dried, flattened sheet of seaweed) - this is on the open faced sushi roll in the far right… with the dark circles in it…  I missed it twice while staring at this drawing.
That date and description was taken from Google Books: Japan's Dietary Transition and Its Impacts, by Vaclav Smil, Kazuhiko Kobayashi.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Japan's Better Mousetrap

This is the Cat Mew Machine, built in 1963 in Japan, apparently.

Plug it in, and the 2-watt motor it will make it meow like a cat 10 times a minute, with the eyes on the plastic cat head lighting up with each meow.

The meowing is supposed to scare away rats and mice.

I'm pretty sure I would have to shoot this contraption after two minutes to make it shut-up.

But did it work?

I'm no expert on rodents, but those little buggers get by pretty well with their sense of smell... so unless this smells like a cat, aside from the initial surprise of hearing something dangerous (not just a meow, but a noise, for example), the mouse or rat is hardly going to be afraid.

You will find mouse poop in your butter dish.

I'm guessing it wasn't a big seller at the time... but might be valuable now as an odd curiosity piece.

Speaking of curiosity—which killed the cat—I wonder if the Cat Mew machine's meow sounded like a Japanese cat or a North American cat?

By that, I mean... if you were to ask a North American person (I don't wish to speak out of turn for others) to imitate a cat (and I can do a pretty good one, myself - though my big rottweiler dog bark is far superior), we utilize the whole "meow" sound, whereas the Japanese sound it out quite differently.

To start with, the Japanese word for cat is pronounced 'neko' (ねこ - in hiragana and 猫 as expressed in Japanese kanji - just in case it's different in Chinese lettering).

The whole concept of animal noises or sounds is called 'dōbutsu no koe'(どうぶつのこえ or 動物の声) and means 'animal voices'.

While North Americans might do a double sound for some animal calls, we do NOT do so for cats, opting for a singular 'meow'.

The Japanese—regardless of the critter—they double up on the word to echo the animal voice.

So, in Japanese, a person would imitate a cat by performing a "nyā nyā (ニャーニャー)" sound. (For a dog, it's "wan-wan", which sounds so ridiculous to MY ears... you should have seen the junior high school class when I did my dog bark!! LOL! And I am laughing out loud for real!)

I actually spent a whole class performing on key differences between Canadian culture and Japanese, including the mimicking of animal sounds and how we write and say them... it was actually the best class I ever taught, and the most fun. I guess I like to show off, and I had a captive audience that kept throwing out animals for me to mimic. Back in those days, I could mimic a few hundred voices. I'm out of practice these days—and there's no point doing Jimmy Durante if no one nose who that is anymore. 

Back to the "nyā nyā", which sounds a lot like Edward G. Robinson... see? That's why I don't do the voices anymore. See? Nyah. Maybe I should have learned to do some voices from the 21st century. 

Now, the first conclusion some people might have is that it's a Japanese cat, so why couldn't it sound different? Because it's a cat. Independent of its breed, cats sound similar regardless of country of origin.

Trust me, you don't have to speak German to control your German Shepard. And your Siamese cat is going to ignore you regardless of your ability to speak Thai.

Just as North Americans can have multiple ways to bark like a dog (woof, growf, ruff, roof, DiMaggio, etc.), and can mimic a cat with multiple types of sounds depending on what cat sound you want to perform (there's more than one!), the Japanese have multiple ways of mimicking a cat.

Along with "nyā", there is also "ニャン (nyan)", "ニャーン (nyān)", "ニャーオ (nyāo)". Except you have to say each word twice, of course.

If it's just me, the last one—"ニャーオ (nyāo)" sounds the most accurate, except one does not need to repeat the word to actually make it sound like a cat!

By the way... in English, the term 'onomatopoeia' describes words phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.

So... I ask again... just what the heck did this Japanese rodent frightener sound like? Or, did it really just softly mew as it's name purports? Mewing won't scare anything!

Somewhere in a maze, Andrew Joseph
Andrew Joseph
When I wrote this two days ago, I only had two lines describing the product -but getting curioser and curioser, I decided to turn it into a teaching environ.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fujizuka - The Fake Mt. Fuji(s)

Regular readers will be aware that I never saw Mt. Fuji—the tallest mountain/still-active volcano in Japan—during my three+ years living in Japan.

People say it was just a combination of bad luck and crappy weather.

I mean… just because the stupid mountain should be visible from about one kilometer away doesn't mean I should be able to see it. After all, it's only 3,776.24 meters (12,389.2-feet) high.That's sarcasm, by the way.

It's why I think the whole Mt. Fuji thing is one of those (CONSPIRACY THEORY ALERT!!!) fake things created by the Japan Tourist Association, creating a fake Mt. Fuji that tourists and would-be seekers of wisdom or stupidity (if you climb it more than once, apparently) could ascend.

My theory involves mass hallucination, the Japan Tourist Association, complete with VR (virtual reality) 3D imaging, drugs and a con job that makes the moon landings (all six of them) seem like a walk in the park. You can read that HERE.

I'm nuts, right? Well… did you know that IS such a thing as a FAKE Mt. Fuji?

In fact, there were around 300 fake Mt. Fuji's constructed around the Tokyo area.

I'm not sh!tting ya.

These fake piles of rock are called fujizuka (富士塚)… and were supposed to be miniature replicas of Mt. Fuji were tourists could climb easily enough (they were essentially plain old hills or hillocks), and could gaze in wide wonder at the real Mt. Fuji.

I'm thinking the real Mt. Fuji was destroyed by the Allies at some point during WWII, but perhaps that's a thorazine-induced story for another day.

(I don't require any such medication or narcotic drug. I know, I don't believe it either. Let's just say my reality is far more fantastic than most people's fantasy.)

These fujizuka were were constructed from rocks and plants taken from the mountain itself—even soil from the summit of the purported real Mt. Fuji was placed upon the top of the fujizuka.

Why create fake Mt. Fuji(s) for people to climb?

Well… regardless of the era, Mt. Fuji is supposed to be a difficult and daunting trek, what with buffeting winds, cold at the top, a lack of oxygen… so much so, that people dropped dead all the time trying to seek wisdom by climbing it.

There's your wisdom.

New Fuji at Meguro, Tokyo - by Hiroshige, April 1857.
As well, if you were a woman, you weren't allowed to climb the sacred Mt. Fuji… something about that whole bleeding thing they do every few weeks…

It's the same reason that women aren't supposed to be allowed to be sumo wrestlers. Yes, that's the reason… although I do know that girls can do sumo (nowadays), it's just that once puberty and menstruation set in—you are not allowed to ever continue. But I bet that will change.

Anyhow, until a gaijin woman climbed Mt. Fuji (see HERE), no woman had ever climbed it before. Nowadays… hey, menstruate all you like and enjoy the view.

How sacred is Mt. Fuji? Well, if you were going to climb it back in the old days - say before us dumb gaijin started to infest Japan - one had to wear white clothing, seeing as how the color white represents the sacred. How profane.

If you are doing any menstruating, however, reflect on the wisdom of wearing white clothing.

I'm kidding, of course.
In the early days of the Japanese empire, Mt. Fuji was revered as part of the Shinto belief system, and when Buddhism came, this Shinto mountain simply transformed itself into a Buddhist mountain.

Transformation within Japanese religion is easy.

The whole idea behind the sacredness of Mt. Fuji is the fact that it was once thought (and perhaps still is by some people) to be the incarnation of a spiritual god.

Anyhow… as you can see - lots of negatives to those people who wanted to climb Mt. Fuji in the old days.

It wasn't until the Edo jidai (Edo era) of 1603-1867, however, that the folks who lived in the Mt. Fuji area - the fujiko, or rather Mt. Fuji pilgrims and Mt. Fuji pilgrimage associations - thought to themselves - 'hey, how can we make the Fuji experience more enjoyable for all?'

So, if you build it, they will come.

The fujiko built the temples in and around Mt. Fuji and build the fujizukas well.

At its peak (no pun intended), there were over 200 fake Mt. Fuji hills.

Not a single Mt. Fuji has been built since 1930. Maybe.

Along with the never visible "real" (finger quotes) Mt. Fuji, 56 (I also read 58 in another source) fujizuka still exist as of 2015.

Open Garden at the Hachiman Shrine in Fukagawa, Tokyo. By Hiroshige, August 1857. Fake Fuji has the path going up it.
Some of the fake fuji can be found at:
  • Teppozu Inari Shrine in the Hatchobori district;
  • Hatomori Shrine in Sendagaya;
  • Shitaya-sakamoto Fuji within the grounds of the Onoterusaki shrine;
  • Nagasaki Fuji beside the main shrine building of the Fuji Sengen shrine;
  • Ekoda Fuji within the grounds of the Ekoda Sengen shrine;
  • and at Shinagawa Shrine near Shinbanba station in Tokyo.
Now… if you were to buzz around Tokyo, you might note that there are quite a few hilly areas with the term 'fujizuka' in it. That's cool, because fujizuka doesn't mean 'fake Fuji' or 'little Fuji', rather it means 'hill to see Mt. Fuji'.

Now, everyone knows of the famous Japanese artist Hokusai, who created his famous, but incredibly inaccurately named "Thirty-Six Views Of Mt. Fuji" set of ukiyo-e art. There's 46. With the 'real Fuji' as his focus, he created images that even the casual viewer of art would recognize. See HERE for all the images -there's a link there to my Picasso photo album where I have scanned in all the images.

But, it was his contemporary, ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige, that did a few drawings of the fujizuka… which I have presented within this blog. It's from his collection known as One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Edo is the old name for Tokyo.

The image in the middle is New Fuji at Meguro, Tokyo. It was built in 1829, and was one of the few Fuji replicas to actually be covered in grass and having a smooth look to it.

The usual representation of a fujizaka was to be made from those real blocks of lava from the real Fuji, piled up into a mass.

The image at the very top is known as Original Fuji in Meguro, Tokyo as it was constructed in 1812 - hence 'original' Fuji, despite it also being a copy of the real volcano.

The bottom image shows what looks like a fantastic scene of great beauty - but the entire thing is an image of a man-made garden - including the fujizuka in the back where you can see a dark green path. in fact, the land here is reclaimed from the waters.

All of these fake Fuji's - these fujizuka, there were constructed to be anywhere from one to 10 meters high. I would imagine the low-end fujizuka wouldn't tax the legs of too many people.

Kiyose Nakazato no Fujizuka. Image from Wikipedia. There are 10 steps or way stations, if you will just like there are on the real Mt. Fuji - if it exists.
So… the next time you feel the urge to climb Mt. Fuji to see the spectacular whatever it is you can see form the summit, perhaps a better view might be to climb one of the remaining fujizuka, and instead glimpse the majesty of the sacred deity that is Fuji.

I'd do it, but I probably wouldn't see anything.

Happy trails,
Andrew Joseph