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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Flying To Japan

After my third one-year contract with the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme expired, and I was forced to head back to Toronto, Canada, I almost immediately made plans to head back to Japan.

That was for Noboko.

I left Toronto for Japan almost one month after having left Japan the first time in 1993.

Even though I had gone back to Canada with about $10,000 in cash on me, thanks to doing some extra teaching of English on the side, I was determined to try and go the cheap route for my two-way ticket back to Canada.

After all, I figured, I would need to have money left over for Noboko's ticket, should I be able to convince her to come for a visit, and then spending money as I aimed to sweep her off her pretty little feet.

As such... when I booked my ticket, in order to save three hundred dollars, I flew from Toronto to Detroit Michigan (US) to Dallas Texas (US) to Nome Alaska (US) to Seoul (South Korea) to Chiba (which is where the Tokyo airport is)... and from there I would need to take a train to the actual city of Tokyo, and then take a shinkansen bullet train north to Nasushiobara and then take a local train up one stop to Kuroiso-shi... and finally a short taxi ride to my friend and fellow AET (assistant English teacher) and Canadian, Colin.

I was going to stay at his place for a month as I wooed Noboko.

Because I snore like a jet plane with asthma, my plan was to be considerate of all my fellow travelers and not fall asleep as I undertook the 36 hour journey.

And I didn't fall asleep. You're welcome.

Anyhow... 36 hours later, and $1400 for the ticket, I arrived in Kuroiso, had a great time with Colin, and a sex-filled time with Noboko, but ultimately failed to convince her that I was a better option than obeying her father.

Whatever. I get it now.

Yesterday, my friend Rob sent me an advertisement for an Air Canada promotion for flights to Japan.

The cost for a trip to Japan in 2018 is... $1400... one way.

And people wonder why I don't fly anywhere anymore.

Well... that and my penchant for watching the aviation disaster television show Mayday.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How To Fug Up A Japanese Person

I don’t know how weird this is, but 25 years after I left Japan, and 24 years after I was in contact with the Japanese woman I wanted to marry, but was ultimately rebuffed in favor of her relationship with her father - I think, I have come to a whole new understanding of the situation.

Thanks to my recent reading of the book, Japan: A Guide to Traditional Customs and Etiquette by Boye Lafayette De Mente (revised by Geoff Botting) and published by Tuttle Publishing, I have come to realize that Noboko’s inability to choose me over a relationship with her father was not a weakness on her part, but rather simply her being Japanese, which for any Japanese would have to be considered a strength.

I have only recently come to learn that when the Japanese are being Japanese, it’s not a knock against the world—at least it’s not meant to be—rather it’s merely the Japanese being true to themselves.

Noboko, an awesome-looking babe of a woman regardless of her cultural birth, was essentially caught between a rock and hard place in her relationship with me.

Yes… I have no doubt whatsoever that she loved me as much as I loved her.

Not only was I quite willing to make her my wife, but if she had only agreed to come with me to Toronto for even the tiniest of vacations, I would have stayed in Japan for the rest of our life together.

That’s pretty damn honest, and even with 25 years’ hindsight, it remains a fact of life for me.

But what stopped us?

The Japanese, from as soon as they are able to learn, utilize various kata to create their Japanese identity.

The kata are everyday formalized rules for how a good Japanese should do everything… from greeting people of various class, what form of language to use; to how to use chopsticks; to the order in which food is eaten; to the types of foods that are eaten; to how one thinks about certain things—the reality; and how one speaks of certain things—the Japanese way.

It’s the private versus the public.

Now… I see it. In private, Noboko could speak her mind to me about what we shared… but in public, I was just the foreign friend… definitely not the lover or soul stealer.

It’s something foreigners learn too late.

For Noboko, there was also the need to please her parents… there’s a kata for that… and damn it all, she had already disappointed her parents previously by refusing an engagement to a Japanese guy her parents had approved off… something that happened before I appeared on the scene.

So yes… there was a streak of the rebel in her… something non-Japanese.

The nail that stands up gets hammered down.

It’s true that I discussed my love for Noboko with my coworkers at the Ohtawara Board of Education… because that’s the sort of thing a non-Japanese would do.

I broke every known way of dealing with my work colleagues that the Japanese know… and it was okay because I was just a dumb gaijin (outsider) who didn’t know the rules and etiquette for how to properly deal with my co-workers. I didn’t know that Japanese kata.

The few I told encouraged me - or at least exclaimed that she was very beautiful. I told them I wanted to marry her and stay in Japan.

They seemed happy on the outside, but then there’s that whole way of thinking on the inside that I could never learn. Hells, no one in Japan could actually learn what another Japanese person is really thinking.

Even for foreigners, I am an oddity.

How many other people will tell you exactly what’s in their head or heart? Close friends? Family?

A blogger?

In Japan, I had no problem telling anyone who asked, exactly what I thought… which in the Japanese way of thinking isn’t as appreciated as you might expect.

It makes me dangerous. I don’t follow the kata. I don’t act like a Japanese. Ergo they don’t know how I am going to act.

Crazy, but true. It’s not crazy, though. It’s just the Japanese being Japanese, and every one else merely being non-Japanese.

So… when Noboko eventually came to her Japanese senses, and was able to rebuff my advances... despite everything her heart and soul may have wanted, she gave up what she wanted for the community of the Japanese collective.

I get it now.

I also understand how any Japanese person who is willing to sacrifice their Japaneseness to be with a non-Japanese, is truly an extraordinary person.

By doing so, they give up their Japaneseness.

And, even though they themselves may feel as though their Japaneseness is intact, the rest of Japan tends to feel otherwise.

I have NO idea what my relationship with Noboko actually cost Noboko in the long run.

Did I completely screw up her life - no, not because she loves me, but rather because she may have given up her Japanese identity to date me… and me blabbing about it might have cost her her cultural identity.

Fug. I hope not.

I really didn’t understand just WHAT I was asking her to give up to even date me.

Trust me… there is a huge element of bravery involved in any Japanese person dating a non-Japanese. There’s a huge level of disobedience, involved.

It’s not prejudice or racism… it’s a shunning of the Japanese way that all Japanese are taught.

Now… don’t worry. For those of you who are considering a trip to Japan, or are considering working in Japan… don’t try and become Japanese… and certainly don’t fret over your inability to become Japanese.

Even for the Koreans or Chinese who are six generations living in Japan, who know all of the kata - the ways of Japan, who speak the language and eat the food, and dress the dress… even they are not considered by the Japanese to be Japanese.

Heck, even those Japanese who go away to live in a foreign country for a while, and then come back… they are often ostracized by the Japanese collective as no longer being Japanese-enough.

It’s a cultural superiority complex that the Japanese ingrain upon themselves.

It’s not a criticism. It’s Japan being Japanese.

If you would like to gain a better insight into what Japan is really all about… a book not about the Top 10 best places to visit; nor about the weirdest Japanese foods; or strangest restaurants…. I suggest you all pick up Japan: A Guide to Traditional Customs and Etiquette by Tuttle Publishing.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again. If I knew then, what I knew now…

Aw heck… a guy’s gotta try, right?

Not so strangely, writing this blog has depressed the crap out of me.

Andrew Joseph

Wedding day photo of a Japanese woman by Riccardo Trimeloni on Unsplash

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Ōsumi satellite

I'm currently reading a book on the Saturn V rocket used to propel man onto Luna, our moon, for a book review on my other blog, Pioneers of Aviation.

Looking for a subject for today, I wondered just what the first Japanese satellite was to be successfully launched into space, or Earth orbit, if you will.

That turns out to be that little jewel in the photo above, the Ōsumi aka Ohsumi.

It was named after the old Ōsumi-ken (Ōsumi prefecture), a former province of Japan in the area that is now part of Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Ōsumi satellite was launched on February 11, 1970 via a Lambda 4S-5 rocket from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima by the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, University of Tokyo, which is now part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

By successfully entering Earth's orbit, Japan became the fourth nation after the USSR, United States and France to release an artificial satellite into orbit.

The 24 kilograms (52.9 pound) Ōsumi satellite remained in orbit until August 2, 2003 before its orbit decayed and it burned up as it fell back down to Earth (around the border between Libya and Egypt.

The satellite consisted of a small observatory, which carried five experiments designed to make ionospheric observations of temperature and density, measurements of solar emission, and measurements of energetic particles.

The satellite was a regular 26-sided polygonal prism with a circumscribed radius of 75 cm. The batteries were powered by 5184 solar cells mounted on the satellite body. Average power consumption was 10.3 W.
Image via
Despite it being in space that long... over 33 years, the satellite wasn't as successful as you might think.

Upon launch, the Ōsumi satellite was supposed to have achieved a 500-kilometer circular orbit, but instead, and elliptical orbit was what occurred.

From 15:56:10 to 16:06:54, about two and a half hours after the launch, a radio signal from Ōsumi was received at Uchinoura confirming its first orbit around Earth.

The radio signal level gradually fell and the next day, February 12, during its sixth revolution (orbit), faint.

By the seventh orbit, the signal was lost, meaning it was only working for one day... less than, actually.

It is believed that the signal was lost between 14 and 15 hours after launch. It is hypothesized that the failure of the satellite was due to rapid reduction of power capacity because of higher than expected temperatures. IE... that darn elliptical orbit.

Since then, Japanese space missions have been much more successful.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at the top via Wikipedia, per Rlandmann - Own work

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mug Of Beer

First off, let me apologize for the briefness of this blog. For the first time since I was in diapers, I took a nap in the afternoon on Sunday.

I don't know why... perhaps I was tired from coaching baseball in the hot sun, tired of watching my kid play Fortnite (a pox on the house of that video game creator), or perhaps it was the heavy lunch... or cripes, maybe I'm getting older and heading for that time when I need to wear diapers again as an old man.

I'm not there yet... but damn... a nap.

Above, what we have here is a matchbox label from Japan advertising a local beer establishment in Tokyo (I assume).

What little I could read of the Japanese language has evaporated with being nearly 25 years removed from the country I write about here.

I don't even drink beer anymore.

Don't get me wrong, I could if I wanted to, I just don't have the want.

Besides, being cash poor doesn't leave me with the options of getting drunk as a skunk like I used to while I was in Japan.

Back then, I only really drank in social situations that demanded I get as pissed as the Japanese I was with. It was a social thing... for us all to let down our hair and get to know each other away from the formal setting of the work environment.

It was and is a very important part of the Japanese social structure.

I suppose offices outside of Japan do the same thing, but at least here in Toronto where we live far away from the office, and far away from our co-workers, and like to drive to work, more often than not... getting hammered at an office party and then having to leave the car at work and take some alternative way home is something many people dislike... and so, we often refrain from getting hammered.

There's also the fact that unlike Japan where everyone gets stinking drunk at an office enkai (party), where things are said, and if embarrassing are never discussed again... outside of Japan that sort of behavior will get you fired.

I have been a pretty sociable guy. At work I will talk to anyone about anything they like... I listen, keep secrets, and provide thoughts or advice where I think it might be appreciated.

But at work socials... not so much.

I actually work best in social gatherings up to maybe five people at most... anymore, I shut down and just listen... and usually become bored and quietly leave after what is the shortest possible time to still be considered socially polite. Or I don't go at all.

Even I think my actions are weird.

I actually have very few friends... but that's okay. If I call you my friend, I mean it. But work... work friends have always been particularly difficult for me.

I'm a writer. That means I spend most of my time locked in my own mind trying to make sense of the thoughts I have heard and written down.

Its seems in complete contrast to the outward persona I show... that super-friendly, funny guy... or the baseball, hockey, soccer coach, or the piano, clarinet teacher, or the guy teaching English to junior high school teachers in Japan, or even the writer who doesn't mind spilling the beans on his most private thoughts while he was in Japan, or private thoughts about things he learns about Japan now.

I call it being on, when I'm around people. But lest a machine burn out, it needs to switch off every once in a while.

In Japan I would drink to excess to show that anything the Japanese could do, I could do several beers better.

In my mind, it was not only a means of showing the Japanese that they did not have a lock on being superior (this feeling IS actually a part of the Japanese identity that exists even  today - and I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing)... but it was also a means for me to cope being in Japan.

When us gaijin (foreigners/outsiders) go to Japan to work and live, we leave being the creature comforts of whatever country we are from... the most important being family, friends, and yes, language.

I had never been away from home until I went to Japan. I had done five years of university and two years of college, and managed to do so while living in my parent's basement, allowing me to continue playing D&D, watch Star Trek reruns - and to basically have never kissed a girl. Click HERE to see what I mean.

Drinking Japanese-style helped. But I was smart enough (in my opinion only) to only have drunk and been drunk when in social situations... IE, never alone.

I have long felt that alcohol, while tasty when in social situations, never tasted very good when alone.

Unfortunately... or fortunately... when it came to imbibing alcohol, I never met the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme participant who could out-drink me. Okay.. maybe there were two guys... one for sure... but we never competed... we just drank when with each other.

Anyhow... despite all those great stories I have told about the drinking exploits of myself in Japan... while I enjoyed them at the time, it was never who I was... just who I needed to be at that time.

Apparently, my opening statement was written before I finished writing this blog. I never know what the hell I am going to write before I do.

Hopefully, something more interesting tomorrow.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge

I'm the type of guy who likes to drive a car.

I'm not good as a passenger, as my brain races along deciding what the driver has done wrong, should have done or should do. I don't vocalize it, which is why I am still allowed to be a passenger.

But as a driver... there's just something about being able to get behind the wheel and drive.

It's a real effing pity I live in Toronto, which has grid lock worse than what is made fun of in movies about Los Angeles.

Actually, that's just incorrect.

Drivers in Los Angeles spent an average of 104 hours each driving in congestion during peak travel periods in 2016, beating Moscow at 91 hours, and New York City at 89 hours, according to a traffic scorecard compiled by Inrix, a transportation analytics firm.

Globally, Canada's worst places to drive were Montreal in 23rd place with 52 hours, 38th-ranked Toronto at 45 hours, and Vancouver at 30 hours.

I wish I knew what it really meant. I have to drive 33 kilometers to work, for a 66 kilometer round trip. I spend 2 hours a day. That's 10 hours a week. So... somewhere between 450 and 500 hours a year. Just for work.

Now, I drive on highways, where the limit is apparently 100 kph. Ergo, I should be able to get to and from work in about 30 minutes each... and yet I do double that. So... I'm at around 225 to 250 hours spent in traffic.

Oh... and that's on the good days... bad days... I've spent two hours just one way.

All of which means that time is only relative to the observer. Someone write that down... I have a feeling it's going to be relatively important one day.

Someone remind me why I like driving a car...

In Japan, there's a bit of driving awesomeness once you get out of the city gridlock and off the small-town streets doubling as goat paths that meander through the rice paddies.

In the photo above, you can see the Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge.

Although the speed limit is only 30 kilometers an hour, the 1.1 kilometer spiral bridge offers spectacular views.... I'm unsure what the driver can see other than the road in front of him/her, but looking at the photo it sure seems spectacular.

The Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge is a double spiral loop that takes cars up and down 45 meters (148 feet), as it bridges the different elevations of two mountains.

Finished in 1982, this is one of the most awesome bridges I have ever seen. It's on Route 414 south of Tokyo as one drives towards Izu peninsula.

The bridge is 80 meters wide, and only offers single-lane driving each way. Luckily it's not situated in a windy area.

I'm unsure if this bridge is something I could drive.

On two high altitude drives, one driving down from the Canadian Rockies into British Columbia, and the other driving down from Hoover Dam in Nevada, the sheer driving drop made me dizzy, and in both cases I had to relinquish the wheel, as I became ill. Probably an inner ear thing.

I have had my nose straightened and my deviated septum aligned, so my sinuses aren't affected... but since then I have become susceptible to headaches when thunderstorms come in... IE, a change in air pressure.

Strange but true.

But... I think I would like to take a run at the Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge. Can you imagine doing the Tokyo Drift around that sucker?

By the way, I recall an episode of Myth Busters that proved that drifting was NOT any faster than standard braking and speeding up around a corner... but a Tokyo Drift sure looks cooler.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, May 19, 2018

98% Of Japanese Graduates Get Jobs

I was one of those guys who, after graduating college, was able to secure employment—not just one job, but rather two.

Heck, I didn’t even need to graduate college to get one of those jobs.

Although I did waste five years of my time prior to that getting a university degree in political science. Bor-rinnnnnng.

So, I suppose, since I went directly from university to journalism in college (do not pass go, do not collect $200), I wasn’t one of those school grads who went directly into the workforce in Canada.

I did leave journalism school at Humber College (in Toronto) two months early because I was the first community college journalism student to get into The Toronto Star Summer Internship Program—I guess the school figured if I could get into Canada's top newspaper internship, and proudly waving the flag for all of Canada’s college programs, then the least they could do was allow me to pass while skipping all that school. I did graduate, but I wasn't required to take the last two month's of courses or exams.

And then, because I also was accepted into the JET (Japan Exchange Teaching) Programme the day after accepting the Toronto Star internship, I was probably the first ever intern in the newspaper program to quit a month early.

I quit because I had to fly to Japan… but at least I ended up with three front-page top stories, as well as one for the Sports section, one in Entertainment, and one in the Food/Cooking section. The rest were all News pieces, but dammit, I am proud to have written about the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles meeting Homer the then-Sky Dome mascot (the facility is now called The Rogers Centre), and a semi-local chili cook-off, that I covered via the telephone - mmm, that sounds like good chili.

Of course, I realize that me having one, let alone two jobs to enter immediately after finishing school was an incredible lucky thing.

In Japan, it’s pretty much expected... uh, graduating into a job, that is.

For the graduating classes of Japan’s high school and universities, some 98 percent managed to garner gainful employment.

That’s pretty impressive.

How many of those university grads studied political science? I bet they were the two percent who didn’t get a job.

The 98 percent employment rate for Japanese graduates is the highest rate since 1997, which was up by 0.4 percent in 2017.

“Companies have become increasingly eager to hire new graduates thanks to an economic recovery,” according to a Japan Education Ministry official.

Among the university graduates, the employment rate was up 0.6 point at 97.5 percent for men and up 0.2 point at 98.6 percent for women, both record highs.

The survey also showed 98.2 percent of university graduates who majored in humanities secured jobs, up 0.9 point.

By prefecture, the employment rate was the highest in Toyama-ken at 99.9 percent, followed by Fukui-ken at 99.8 percent, and Ishikawa-ken, at 99.7 percent.

Holy crap... those are awesome numbers...

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash

Friday, May 18, 2018

North Korea Newspaper Calls Japan Desperate

There are two ways to look at that headline: True or who the fug cares.

The Rodong Sinmun, a North Korean ruling party newspaper has called Japan out for being "desperate" as it also urges an end to its "hostile policy".

True, as in Japan is desperate to end hostilities with a country it doesn't trust.

Who gives a fug, because, well... whatever, man. Sticks and stones and all that.

While newspapers in Japan have that whole freedom of speech down pat, as in there's all the speech we are allowed to give that has been approved by powers higher than us... one has to realize that this is just politics.

What's interesting, is how everyone else will view the Rodong Sinmun's diatribe.

The Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary on May 16, 2018 that Japan’s “desperate efforts to escape from its situation (were) getting deplorable day by day.”

It added: “There is a way for it to evade the fate of being left out alone in the region ... It is to give up its hostile policy towards the DPRK.”

It's all based upon Japan's attempts to get the U.S. to talk about North Korea's nuclear and missile programs at the supposedly upcoming US-North Korea chats.

Of course Japan wants the US to ask North Korea bout its plans regarding nuclear weaponry. North Korea has repeatedly tested allegedly armed missiles over the Japanese islands.


It's actually quite silly for Japan to have vocalized its concerns, as the U.S. isn't stoopid, despite considerable attempts to prove otherwise.

There will be no peace in the Asia theater unless some accord can be struck where North Korea isn't waving its nuclear stick at everyone in the area. Again, d'uh.

Japan prime minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) has been trying to get U.S. president Donald Trump to promise that he will push to get North Korea to give up its long-range ballistic missiles, along with its shirt-range and medium-ranged such missiles that still have the travel capacity to strike Japan.

Perhaps that's why the North Korean newspaper is upset... perhaps North Korea would have given up its long-range missile program as a conciliatory gesture to the U.S., hoping it would forget about the medium- and short-range weaponry.

The newspaper (and thus North Korea) is ticked off that Japan reminded big brother U.S.

Then there's also the fact tha Abe asked Trump to query about the Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean spies in the 1970s and 1980s.

While North Korea has admitted it had, in the past, done such dire deeds, they claim that all of the people who were abducted (and not yet returned), are dead.

You can read about the abducted Japanese citizenry HERE.

Yup... Japan has been trying to get president Trump to promise it would ask about these things.

Unfortunately, even if Trump promises, there is no guarantee that he will.

For one, the topic may never get a chance to be brought up because other more important things could arise, such as the availability of golden shower-performing hot North Korean women.

Of course, I'm kidding. It would have to be a Stormy day in Hell for such inappropriate things to occur under the president's watch.

Japan truly fears that the U.S. might simply get a deal done with North Korea that only benefits the U.S., and not Japan.

Well, d'uh.

I'm sure the U.S. and North Korea could be in complete agreement when they think that if Japan wants something done, then maybe they should talk to North Korea themselves.

In the meantime, unless North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong-un actually calls Japan out himself, Japan should not read deeply into any criticism lobbed its way from a newspaper.

I'm not saying that newspapers are full of fake news... most aren't... but all newspapers these days (all media, actually), do provide a political leaning of their own.

Pick your battles accordingly.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Dan 7Kidz on Unsplash