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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lexicon of Love

At this time I want to take a breather, and share with you four books which were invaluable to me while in Japan.

The first one is the Romanized English - Japanese Dictionary. This book allows you to look up English words and get the Japanese equivalent. As far as I know, it never got me into trouble. It allowed me to have three years worth of conversations with Kanemaru-san, one of my two bosses at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education). You can tell this book was very well used!

This next book is the reverse... a Romanized Japanese - English Dictionary for times when you hear a Japanese word and want to know what the heck it means. Kanemaru-san had a Japanese version of this allowing him to try and speak English words. It`s how he told me a joke in that first day I met him - one looked-up word after another. What a great guy!
By the way.... no dictionary is perfect... in looking up the Japanese term: mushi atsui - which is supposed to mean humid, the dictionary says it means sultry. Hot and wet, but not the type they mean.  

The third book is Teach Yourself Japanese - well, no one else is. Although I`m sure it`s a great book, I was not a great student of Japanese... I was more interested in learning about its culture - you lucky readers, you!

Kanji & Kana - it shows the proper way to write all 1,945 basic Japanese Kanji characters (the ones that physically look like Chinese letters). Apparently all Japanese students must learn these characters, how to write them, and the character`s definitions by the time they graduate Grade 12. I had over 700 memorized before I gave up after six months. Bad student, indeed.

And lastly, one of my favourite books: The Japanese-English Dictionary for Conversation about Japan... it`s not just a dry definition of things, it provides a conversational explanation of places, events, people, history, myths and actions. A truly wonderful book.     

Should you find yourself in Japan, I`d suggest picking up the books pictured, or at the very least similar styled books.

Somewhere it`s so sultry outside,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Today`s title is NOT a song... it is however, the name of the debut album of ABC. You can read more about them HERE.
PPS: Sorry... I`m out of time... I`m going to sleep early because I have to get up for a 4:15AM MRI on my knee. A nice blog on telephone cards tomorrow, followed by a real life story of me chasing a Japanese girl.
PPPS: So why rush out a blog? Well... I notice that there are a lot of people from around the world reading this starting almost as soon as I publish it every night at midnight... people from South Korea, Burundi, Philippines, China, New Zealand... how cool is that... I do this for them... just make sure you come back next day for a good one.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You Got The Silver

I don't know how many of you are aware that Japan has a very high rate of people hit their centenary years, that is, becoming 100 years-old or greater.
In fact, Japan's growing senior citizen population is becoming a major concern for the government. You can read an old BBC article about HERE.
But this blog has not come to bury the seniors, but rather to praise them.
Back in 1992, Japan was all abuzz about a set of twin sisters who were turning 100 years-old. While turning 100 was becoming a tad commonplace in Japan, this was the first known example of twins doing it.
Kin Narita (成田 きん) and Gin Kanie (蟹江 ぎん) were born on August 1, 1892 with the maiden name of Yano (矢野) in Narumi-machi (Narumi Village) in what is now the Midori ward in Nagoya, Aichi-ken (province of Aichi).  
Known collectively as "Kinsan Ginsan", they became national celebrities for their twin long lives and began appearing all over every type of media then known - heck, look at the telephone card above. Kin, whose name means Gold, is on the right. Her younger twin Gin, whose name means Silver, is on the left.
These two wonderful people were hale, healthy and with it, as I believe they even recorded a CD of their songs - sung during their 100th year.    
The girls were identical twins, though they did have differing blood types (The Japanese believe that blood types offer differing personality traits, much in the same way astrology does).
Kin, who had blood type O (agreeable, sociable, optimistic, and conversely, vain, rude, jealous and arrogant) died on January 23, 2000, at the age of 107. News reports noted that her favourite food was red-fleshed fish, and that her cause of death was heart failure.
Gin had blood type A (earnest, creative, sensible, reserved, patient and responsible, and conversely fastidious, over-earnest, stubborn, tense and conservative), and died on February 28, 2001 at the age of 108. She preferred fish with white meat. For some reason her cause of death was old age.
What I infer from their two deaths is that one is NOT considered old until you hit 108. Okay, I'm joking, but you can see how improper use of words and journalistic reporting can make something sound wrong.
What's not a joke, is that Japan pretty much went into national mourning when each of the ladies died.
Unfortunately, these two ladies did NOT smoke or drink heavily... so there's no hope for most of us!

Why do the Japanese live to such wonderfully long age? Some people say it's their diet - heavily based on seafood. I suppose theirs a lot of Omega 3 acids in seafood. Then again, the Japanese drink a lot of green tea (o-cha) - the Japanese who smoke, smoke a lot... and not once did I ever hear a Japanese person have even the slightest inkling of a smoker's cough. I have no proof of its powers... it's just an observation. 


Somewhere fishing for compliments,
Andrew Joseph
Today's song is by The Rolling Stones--sung by Keith Richards... who should have died many years ago, except for his deal with The Devil. Have a listen to the song HERE.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hungry Like The Wolf

The Japanese can be weird and interesting people. I've found them to be smart, intelligent people who work hard, have families, struggle to survive, own a great sense of humour--hey! They sound a lot like me! And like me, they also love comic books!

I knew I loved Japan.
Even before I ever had an inkling that I would ever end up in Japan, I had read a few Japanese comic books--and unlike Japanese animated cartoons (anime)--I loved them.
More on anime soon--I didn't hate all anime, just most of it...
Anyhow, starting in 1987, I read: Mai, the Psychic Girl; Area 88; The Legend of Kamui; and Lone Wolf and Cub. These were all Japanese comic books (called manga) that had been translated into English for the first time ever. While Lone Wolf & Cub were published in English by First Comics, the others were published first by Eclipse Comics and later Viz Comics.
For three years, I never missed an issue--until I, myself, left Canada to journey to Japan.
Almost immediately upon landing at Narita Airport in/or near Tokyo, I noticed a lot of Japanese men (and a couple of women) reading large telephone book-sized comic books (Check THIS site out for an example). Colour covers with black and white art.
Was Japan a haven for fellow nerds? Oh gawds, I hoped so. 
You know... one of my favourite lines I still quote--that no one knows where the heck I got it from, is from Area 88: "We have abandoned God and shaken hands with the devil." That's so deep... even though it means they are doing bad things...
Japanese comics, as mentioned, are black and white collections... they usually have maybe 4 or 5 different monthly comics contained within the weekly and/or monthly collection that are all being published for the first time.  
While I may applaud the Japanese for their love of comic books, sometimes one just has to shake their head at some of the crap produced. By that, I mean a character called Rapeman. Yup. It is what is - nothing is lost in translation... I believe the motto is: "Righting wrongs through penetration." Satire or not, you don't trivialize rape.
On the complete opposite spectrum... there's a great comic book called Lone Wolf and Cub (子連れ狼 Kozure Ōkami).
Created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, this manga was first published in 1970... it was such a hit, that it spawned six films, four plays and a popular television series. Basically, it's a samurai comic, or what I call a Japanese western... and man, do the Japanese love their samurai stories. 
This particular series is huge. How huge? Well, in 1990, I was asked if I knew anything about Japanese comic books, and I mentioned this--every one of the 30 kids in my class, and the Japanese teacher of English, all sucked air in through their teeth, smiled and nodded their head in collective appreciation.
The Lone Wolf and Cub manga is set in the Tokugawa era (which admittedly spans 250 years from 1603-1868) and revolves around Ogami Ittō, the Shogun's executioner. After becoming a masterless samurai after false accusations from another clan, he becomes a hired assassin. Along with his motherless three-year-old son, Daigorō, they seek revenge on the Yagyū clan and are known as the push-cart assassin.
The comic book is renowned for its fantastic writing and absolutely stunning artwork--and I completely  agree. 
People who say comic books are stupid and will rot your mind should try reading a comic book like this--or even one put out today--like Evil Scientist Quarterly, written by myself and put together by artist Steve Guzelis... copies are $3 apiece. Even for family. Published by Strange Fun Comics (see below).
So... what's the point of this blog? Good question.
Japan loves its manga. It's a part of its culture. The rest of the world could learn a thing or two from Japan--and should support its local comic book industry.

Somewhere reading a comic book,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Duran Duran... and while not strictly rock and or roll, it's a good song. You can see the video HERE.
PS: The photo above shows off 12 collected editions of Lone Wolf and Cub - non-translated, it's all Japanese! I purchased them all one day in Tokyo back in 1991, with each 284 page collection costing me 680 Yen ($6.80 US). At the time of purchase, only 12 editions had been released, though there are 28 editions for the entire series run . That's how popular the series was.
PPS: To order a copy of any of the comics published by Strange Fun Comics, visit the website: STRANGEFUNCOMICS and then go to the 'contact us' section and click on either my e-mail or Steve's. You'll be glad you did. Oh, and be sure to mention where you heard about it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mercedes Benz

Hello to all you people from around the world who are reading this - hello! Konichiwa!

A lot of you seem to read my first blog detailing what my apartment in Ohtawara looked like - HERE, and that's cool! The blog provides an accurate description of my apartment in Ohtawara, Japan.

However, I want you to know that should you ever come to live in Japan, you are NOT going to get a place like what I have described. The place provided to me, was the exception and definitely not the rule. I don't want to mislead you (at least not like this).

Your apartment in Japan is going to be small. It will be so small that the mice will all be hunchbacked (I believe all mice are, but that's beside the point).

Apartments in Japan - size and rental cost is first of all determined by location. Big cities like Tokyo... you could have a place that's a 3m x 3m tatami-matted room with a shared bathroom... and that's it. Kitchen? Bedroom? No. Just one small room. But what do you care? You'll be out working or seeing the sights anyway, right? Ri-iiiiight. So, what might a small place like this cost? Try US $2000 (200,000 Yen) a month? Outside of Tokyo, the prices begin to come down, of course...

What did my mansion cost? Well, I was maybe 200km north of Tokyo... the place was a 3-bedroom, living room-dining room-kitchen (ldk) with a large bathroom area complete with a separate shower stall and a separate water closet. There was also a gas heater for hot water... lots of amenities like washer/dryer, stove, microwave, etc... I paid 30,000 Yen (or $300 US) per month... The place was subsidized by the OBOE (my bosses).. in reality, the full rental costs would have been around $1200 (120,000 yen).

For example... my girlfriend Ashley's place was a hovel. I hated it.There were two tatami rooms (each about 3m x 3m (or less)... there was a long, narrow kitchen with tile. She did have a bathroom ... with a sink, Japanese toilet with a western toilet perched atop it that was difficult and dangerous to use... but the bathtub... oh, dear god... I watch Ashley use it once... pouring hot water from the sink into it... she sat down, scrunched up her knees and soaked. It's like what they used to use in the old west of the US. These tubs are called furo.. or if we look HERE - and see the first line, it is written in a more honourable way ofuro (see another blog for more honour and dishonour - ONANI). So... what did Ashley pay in rent? If memory serves me correctly, it was about 12,000 Yen ($120 US).      

So... she was able to save more money than me, but I'd rather pay more and live in comfort anyday...but, as my girlfriend, she spent most of her time living in luxury at my place (ate my food, too)... all of which meant that not only did I spend more on rent, I spent a lot more on groceries. On the plus side, I got sex. I traded food and shelter for sex. Dating or legalized prostitution? You decide. Of course, I was too blind to see any of that - probably too much onani.

Oh... I almost forgot... whenever you rent an apartment, it's not unusual for the owner to ask for something called reikin (key money).

Reikin is a mandatory payment made by the renter to the landlord. It is a gift, and is not a deposit that is returned when you leave. It's a scam, in my opinion, but it's a legal scam.

Sometimes you'll get lucky and the reiken is the same amount as the original deposit (shikikin) which is the equivalent of two or three months rent.  However, the reiken can be six months rent or more. Still want to go to Japan?

Here's a list of possible rental costs, with about five to seven month’s worth of rent being a standard cost:
  • Reservation fee (tetsukekin) of 1-month’s rent that is paid when the tenant applies for an apartment and before the contract is signed. After the contract is signed, the money is included as part of the deposit.
  • Security Deposit (shikikin) of 2- to 3-months’ rent that is used to cover any damages to the apartment or unpaid rents and fees. You may get a partial refund of this, but the odds are good you won't.
  • Key money (reikin) of maybe 1- to 2- months’ rent which is considered a 'gift' to the house owner when making a contract and is not refundable
  • Advance rent – 1 month’s rent which is paid before the month starts.
A guarantor is also required before a contract is signed. Usually, it is the tenant’s company or you can hire a Japanese guarantor. The guarantor takes the responsibility if the tenant is unable to pay the rent or room expenses.

In my case, the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) took care of everything. I had zero move-in costs. In fact, I don't believe any AET (Assistant English Teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme had to pay any key money... though I could be wrong... not every AET was/is as open (big-mouthed) as myself about thier situation. 

Now that I`ve scared you, know that there are some affordable rental apartments in Japan.Looking on-line, I found this SITE. I have no idea how good or bad the apartments are.

As well, look HERE for some nice-looking apartments that are quite expensive.

Just remember, people often get what they pay for. I got lucky. I could have had a small, cramped and cold apartment like Ashley for less money... but my apartment was my home for three years. Rent according to your budget and to your needs.


I hope you found some of this mildly interesting. It's factual.

Somewhere in my huge, inexpensive apartment - betcha can't find me!
Andrew Joseph

Today's title was sung by Janis Joplin... it's a song of monetary envy. And, should you just wander into Japan and try and rent a place, I won't envy you.
You can listen to this beautiful pearl of a woman sing; C'MON.
PS: The photo above - that's my rental apartment in Ohtawara-shi. I had more room than I needed, but I was always glad to have it. In one of the rooms, I kept my clothes; in the other, I hung my clothes to dry during the heavy humidity summer and whenever I felt like not spending the electricity to dry my clothes... yes, I could have hung the clothes out on a balcony... but if I waited too long, the spiders would come out to party on my underwear. You can read about that HERE.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bicycle Race

Shocked Sakuyama Jr. High students drive by a bike accident; see the prowling white car and speed limit. 















This was originally entitled: Bicycle Safety Tips, and rather adequately sums up what I am going to offer here. Of course, these are bicycle safety tips for surviving Japan. I can't speak for China, Vietnam or Canada, but the following knowledge can be applied here in Japan. Specifically in Ohtawara-shi.

Ever since I was shmucked by cars in a couple of bike accidents, I've tried to come up with ways the whole thing could have been avoided, as a fear of death and/or pain makes me a bit nervous. The one thing I did realize, however, is that everyone in Japan is a lousy car driver.

Everything seems like a contest. In Canada (and the US), there's that game we like to play when we drive (No, not that wimpy license plate game - ooh! I see Vermont!), where we designate points for people and objects we would pretend or want to hit? It's a stress reliever. Unfortunately, in Japan, drivers don't seem to understand the 'pretend' part.

In Japan, speed limits are painted onto the road's surface. However, I am no longer convinced that that is what it is. Y'see, as I was riding my bicycle ever-so carefully past the scene of one of my accidents, I saw them changing the 'speed' from 40- to 41 kph!  I think it was noting how many people had an accident!

So stay away from all roads with high numbers on them. The Tohoku Expressway that runs past Ohtawara and links Tokyo up through the northern provinces seems like an especially dangerous zone--its got 100 written all over it. KPH? Maybe it stands for Kills Per Hashi (it means 'bridge' - hashi is also how you say the word for chopsticks, as they were both made of wood back in the old days). Danger. Highways are bad.

Bicycle Paths: Some cities and towns have specially designated areas where riders may journey in safety. They consist of a level stretch of pavement away from the dangerous numbered roads. They even have lanes to separate walkers from cyclists. However, this is not the time to relax. Danger lurks everywhere. Although the casual stroller knows enough to keep to his/ehr side of the path, their pets can't read the signs. Or, if they can, choose to ignore them.

Oft times, the critters are on a leash--but that doesn't stop them from stretching the 'chain-o-death' across your bike route and its master. It is therefore a good plan to have your brakes checked regularly and to always carry arm and leg splints in your Hello Kitty backpack. As for the little kids who occasionally dart in your path? Well, they're worth 10 points apiece. Double if they're looking at you.  

The Right Of Way: The right of way at an intersection is a dicey affair. In Japan, it is determined by whomever has the largest vehicle. Bike riders take note: although your bicycle may be larger than most Japanese compact cars, the vehicles generally possess more working plastic parts and can therefore do more damage.

In cases where there is a tie, passage will be denied to the person who attempts to make eye contact with the other person. In Japan, eye contact implies: Dozo, which means 'please go ahead.'

Four-Way Stops At Night: Most night-time bike riders in Japan when approaching a four-way intersection merely check for headlights to avoid having to stop. This, I repeat, this is not a good idea! Even though this may seem like a fool-proof indicator of an approaching motor vehicle, the same does not hold true for other cyclists. Most older people (anyone over 31- this figure should be updated to 2010 numbers of 45) tend not to use their headlights - or simply aren't aware that their bikes possesses one. This can create large problems and and an extended hospital stay for you, the safe rider.

I did indeed watch two cyclists speed through a four-way stop from perpendicular directions, only to plow into each other. It was very funny, in a broken arm kind of way.

High Beams (on cars): There is perhaps nothing worse than having to ride your bike at night towards some moron in a white car who has the high beams on. I've got a friend who shall remain nameless (it's my frequent-but-not-all-the-time-girlfriend, Ashley) who tries to discourage would-be morons by riding up in the middle of the road (on her bike with the light on) at the offending vehicle. Although she hasn't been hit yet (knock wood - or something which looks vaguely like wood but has a plastic-like smell to it), it's simply not a very good idea. Avoid this plan like natto, and simply wait for the moron-wannabe to come within earshot and then shout every expletive in the book at them. While they won't understand a word you say, you'll feel better and you won't get killed.  

So... what have we learned?
  • Well, don't ride your bicycle in areas where the speed limit is too great;
  • Have your brakes checked regularly;
  • Crossing a street without a traffic light is extremely difficult;
  • Beware of stupid people who don't use their bike light;
  • Improve your vocabulary;
  • Get more health insurance.
Somewhere I can see the light,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is brought to us by Queen - As always, you can view a video of the title song here: INTERSECTION.
PS: While I may be exaggerating about the speed limit kill zone, being a bike rider in Japan is dangerous, as I firmly believe that the average Japanese driver would never pass a driver's test here in Canada.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wot

Jodan? O-nani? Probably tonight.
Depending on one's point of view, I'm either a very funny guy or a complete a$$hole.

I'm going to tell you of a little trick I pulled on a fellow AET (Assistant English Teacher) that has me as both - and contrary to most movies and books, I do not get my comeuppance and thus do not learn a valuable lesson.

It was August 1991. I had renewed to stick around a second year on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme to be a junior high school AET in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan. As well, I had been elected publisher of the Tochigi AET monthly newsletter. The fact that no one else wanted the job made me want it even more.

There in the Tatami Times, I first had my It's A Wonderful Rife articles published monthly. I was there 36 months, and I currently have about 170 blog entries. Obviously, most of what you are reading here has been created from notes and diaries, or gawd help us all, my memory.

This is from memory... but fret not... this one is indeed memorable and 100 per cent true.

As a renewer and publisher, and for some reason a well-liked person (who just wanted to be liked), I was part of the welcoming committee for the new JET people arriving in Japan to work in Tochigi-ken. Of the 20 or so new people coming in - I liked them all. Jimmy Jive was a favourite, but so too were new friends Letitia and Amanda - ooh, and Trish! Ashley and I had decided to stop being boyfriend/girlfriend, but since she did trust me, she felt it would be okay if she stopped by once a week for sex. Who was I to argue?  

Alan... Alan was from England. He was a pale fellow, short blond hair, slender, a couple of centimetres taller than myself - so a legitimate 183cm. He was intelligent. I know that because from the moment we met in Tokyo during orientation, I could tell he was hanging onto my every word, trying to soak up as much data as possible so that he could have a wonderful rife in Japan.

Oh, Alan. If you only knew then what you know now. Never start a land war in Asia. And that Andrew guy may be full of self-promoting confidence, but he don't know jack.

Pulling Alan aside one evening, I proceeded to explain to him that the Japanese people believe in honour quite strongly, and that extends into the way they speak. I said that the Japanese often add the word "O" (pronounced 'oh') in front of certain words to make it more honourable in sound and in meaning.

I told him about water or mizu... which when made more honourable, it became o-mizu. The same was true for things like hashi (chopsticks) and sumo (wrestling)... you can add the word "O" in front--o-hashi and o-zumo (it's actually written with a 'z' when you add the "o").

Alan nodded his head in amazement--amazement that he found someone so cool that could teach him such neat stuff.

I then explained that the word "what" or nani can also have an honourific added to it, because saying the word 'what' in Japanese can be considered quite harsh. (Alan is in RED, I'm in BLUE)

Me: So... what does nani become, Alan?

Alan: Onani.

Me: Absolutely correct, Alan. Say it again.

Alan: O-nani.

Me: Excellent. Once more with gusto!

Alan: Onani!!!!! he yelled in the hotel lobby. Japanese people stopped to stare for a moment, but quickly went about their own business.

Me: Great Alan! Now don't forget it!

Anyhow... after three days of fun in Tokyo - though I didn't meet a new sex partner like I had last year avec (with) Ashley - I went home to Ohtawara, and Alan went to his new place in some town that escapes me.

About a month later, Alan, myself and a few other AETs met up in the historic town of Nikko to go site-seeing. This time Alan gathered me aside to ask me a question. Supervisor is in Purple)

Me: Yeah, Alan... what can I do you for?

Alan: You know how you told me to add the word "o" before words to make them more honourific?

Me: Uh.... yeah? (Truthfully, I had forgotten about this).

Alan: Well... there seems to be something wrong.

Me: What do you mean?

Alan: Well, I've been adding the word 'O' to my words - you know so that I can show the Japanese that I respect them - by making words more honourable.

Me: Yeah, that's cool. So what's the problem?

Alan: It's with the word nani.

Me: What?

Alan: Yes. My supervisor would call to me: Alan-san. 

Alan: Onani? I'd answer.

Supervisor: No! NO! Alan-san!

Alan: Onani?

Supervisor: Dame dai-yo (No way, don't)!

Alan: Onani

Alan: There'd be more yelling, and I don't know what's going on.

I'll spare you how I let poor Alan in on my jodan (joke) on him. Okay, it was like this:
Me: Geezus, Alan. I was just pulling your leg! I never thought you or anyone else would actually listen to anything I said!

Alan: Was anything you said real?

Me: Actually, everything I told you was real.

Alan: Except....?

Me: Except the part about the word nani.

Alan: Oh, expletive.

Nani is the word for 'what', and "o" does indeed make words more honourific. However (I said this as I began backing slowly away from Alan), in this case, if you add the word "o" to "nani", you've created the Japanese word for masturbation - o-nani!

In English, Alan's conversation with his Supervisor would sound like this:

Supervisor: Alan-san.

Alan: Masturbation?

Supervisor: No! NO! Alan-san!

Alan: Mastur-bation?

Supervisor: Don't say that!

Alan: Masturbation?


Oh man... poor Alan... he'd been saying it for three weeks - at his schools, his office, and all around his nice new town.

Alan was a good sport, however, and as far as I know, he never even attempted to get me back, probably correctly reasoning that I'd probably do something incredibly stupid to myself if left alone long enough.

Somewhere, going blind - or is it deaf? Onani?
Andrew Joseph
Blog title is by Captain Sensible - You can hear about it, WHAT? I love this song - but this was the first time I'd ever seen the video.
PS: The gent in the photo above is Alan with some ghoul he dug up for a Halloween party over at James Jimmy Jive Dalton's place in 1991.
PPS: I read about the onani word in an American comic book. Who says they rot your brains?
PPPS: Wot is how the Brits say "what". Gawds I love it when a plan comes together without a plan.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eraser

Did you lose your eraser?
Neatness. Perfection. Intense concentration. A tiny bead of sweat (glow for the girls) breaks out on their forehead as they carefully colour all of the pictures in the English textbook with robot-like efficiency.

It's amazing really. I've been watching my students--and from school to school, it's always the same. They enjoy colouring - probably more than they do learning English. To be honest, so do I.

The colouring... they never seem to run any of the 300 coloured pens they have outside of the lines. Japanese-Bad-Girl-Hair-Dye, Ocha-Green-Tea, Sky Brown, Sea-If We-Had-Clean-Water-Blue, Car-White, Victorian-Sailor-Suit-Grey. It's a list of colours that would make Crayola (TM) cry. The flair these student exhibit for neatness looks to border on anal retentiveness. That's why I feel more than qualified to comment on this topic.

On a particularly cloudy day in Ohtawara, I thought I'd try something new and pay attention to what my students at Ohtawara Junior High School were doing in class. Well, those who were awake alternated between pointing to their nose when called upon, and looking for just the right shade of pen to underline a word they began writing 10 minutes ago and just finished now.

Part of my duties--besides harassing them--is to walk around the classroom and look like I own the place. I also check spelling. I dread that part of the job, especially when I see the look of humiliation on the faces as I point out that they forgot to 'dot the i'.    

Apparently, to simply add a dot would destroy the harmony of the word they have just created. That wouldn't be zen. Nope. Nothing short of the total elimination of the dotless abomination would do. Carefully, the pencil case is opened. Delicately, the eraser is steadied in the hand as it meticulously searches for the best and most logical place for the destruction to begin. 

As always, it is determined that the best course of action is not always the total erasure of the afflicted word, but rather the termination of the entire sentence. And before you can say, "Chotto matte, kudasai" (Just a second, please), they have erased the unclean words from the paper - twice. Twice because the pencil lines are still visible in a spectrum seen only by heavy drinkers and junior high school students.

Then, after carefully and correctly copying the word again (with uncountable repeats of the previously described procedure), the students begin to clean the eraser of all of the befouling black rubber gook that has now attached itself to a once-perfect instrument. Students frequently use a second eraser to remove the damning imperfections from the 'family' eraser that has been carefully maintained and handed-down through the generations. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit with the 'generations' quip.

Sometimes, to cause total and utter panic, I steal their eraser when they turn around to catch a glimpse at how their classmates are erasing. Other times, when I feel more mischievous, I put tiny little pencil marks all over their notebooks and then watch them scramble for their now-missing erasers. Hey, I'm a gaijin (foreigner).

Somewhere cleaning my dirty mind,
Andrew Joseph    

PS: Today's song is by Toronto, Canada's own Barenaked Ladies, EH
PPS: Though this episode may seem completely made up - it's not. This happened several times a week at each one of the seven schools I visited in Ohtawara. There's nothing wrong with it - i just thought you'd like to see how the kids can oft times be anal retentive.
PPPS: In the photo above, I had indeed stolen that boy's eraser and was having a bit of fun with him... but he quickly became agitated as he had been without his eraser for longer than a minute. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Changes

Here’s a little speech I gave back in April 1992 for the third-year graduation class of Ohtawara Junior High School (Dai Chu) who would be moving on to various high schools, trade schools, or perhaps the family business.

In the photo here, you can see me dressed to the nines in a fancy traditional Japanese male kimono. My friend, Inuoue-sensei – who was the head of the English department at Dai Chu – had arranged the garb for me. Apparently a few weeks earlier, someone from the costume shop was asked by him to come and measure me during a visit to the school.

While I had no idea what the heck was going on or what it was for, I want to you know that I didn’t create a fuss and question it. I just rolled with it, as I figured whatever it was for would eventually be presented to me.

That’s what living in Japan for almost two years had done to me. These people were my friends and were always looking out for my best interests. It was best to shut up and see where it would end up. It’s a journey… and sometimes it’s best not to have the end presented to you too soon.

I look good in that photo. But it saddens me that I have no idea if my pal Inuoe-sensei is still a part of this mortal coil. Briefly, he always reminded me of Dean Martin in his Brat Pack days. Not in the way he looked, or his smoking or drinking abilities—we bent a few elbows in our day—but rather it was the way he carried himself… there was a self-assured confidence… a swagger, that I didn’t see too often, as the Japanese way is to be a tad humble. He wasn’t an egomaniac – far from it – but he exuded something that told me he would have been cool no matter what country he was in. Look at him beside me in that photo... smoke in one hand, other hand in the pocket... he oozes style, man. What a great guy! I'd love to hear from him. 

He and I once did the taboo thing and talked of salaries. I told him I made the equivalent of US$36,000 a year… and he, after some calculation noted he made about US$27,000. The man had been teaching for nearly 20 years. There’s something wrong with the educational system… but this isn’t about the underpaid teachers, rather it’s about the stressed out students. Here's my speech:

Has another year passed already? Where does the time go?

When I first arrived here nearly two years ago, this year’s graduates still had that wide-eyed innocence of youth. They were always smiling and laughing and running around screaming at the top of their voices.

Then I noticed a change. As the year continued, the students became less silly and more serious. When they began their third year, they became what the teachers all over Japan call ‘death-like’. The students always seemed tired (probably from studying late into the night or going to Juku*). They no longer spoke very loud in class. To me, it was like someone had killed their youth.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s like this in every school. But, I fear that Japan’s current educational system often forces young people to grow too fast, with little time to enjoy themselves and their family.

Why do students all seem to go to Juku? So they can get into a good high school. If a student doesn’t get into a good high school, they may never get into a university and then will never get a job as a salary man for some company. It is true that if a student makes a mistake when they are in junior high school, it has affected the way their entire life will be. At the age of 15 – and to me, that’s not right.

It’s too bad that the best advice I can give you graduates is to: relax and have fun. I wish you could. But I know you have to study and I know you need to ensure you prepare yourself for the future. It’s the way things are here in Japan.

Did you know that in virtually all other First World countries, students get numerous chances to upgrade themselves, to change their goals. In Japan, if someone wants to change their career, they are scorned rather than admired. My father was 52-years-old when he quit his Y12,000,000 a year job to find another he would be happy in. He now makes less money, but he his happy.

I will be almost 29-years-old when I leave Japan next year, and that is when my career will begin. Not at the age of 15.

Graduates: I may not have been the best English teacher, but that’s only part of my job. Surprise! It’s to internationalize you. To teach you that there are different ways to do things—not just the Japanese way.

It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to have dreams. And it’s important that you try and fulfill them.

Good luck, my friends. May you have the courage to make your dreams come true.

Your friend An-do-ryu.


Graduating 3rd Years being applauded by classmates at Dai Chu - March 12, 1991.


Pretty harsh, huh? Maybe. But my goal was to plant a seed of doubt – to hope that maybe one or all of them would be an architect of change. Not just in the educational system –but… well, whatever they want to change. Japan has wonderful traditions – and I hope they remain. But when I once asked why the pens are always kept on a certain part of the desk, I was told, ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done.’ While that attitude is a Japanese attitude, it doesn’t mean I agree with it. Even the Japanese people I’ve talked to about this way of life suddenly realized that maybe not everything should be accepted – that maybe someone should start asking questions. Maybe after 20 years, someone has gained the courage to do something about those questions.

Somewhere changing,
Andrew Joseph.
Today’s title is by David Bowie – and can be heard HERE.

PS: *Juku is a night school cram class – private, I believe – that preps the students for either their high school or university entrance exams.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fashion

Special thanks to Special K. - Kristine South who sent me a document via e-mail about the latest fashion trend to hit Japan. Uh... that's the image to the left.

Now before everyone freaks out - it's a print applied to the fabric. People aren't really showing off their derriere.

Having been (past tense, in case my wife reads this), an aficionado of the female form in Japan, I've noticed more often than not that there is a decided lack of roundness to the female buttocks. I swear, I have no knowledge of the Japanese male rear - if I had noticed, it's not part of memory files. If I did still remember, I'd tell you.

Anyhow, if you glance again at the photo(s) scattered in this blog, the rumps on the dresses look pretty good. Too good. It's why I wasn't fooled for a moment. Obviously not every person lacks a well-rounded rump (and I'm not talking about bubble-butts)--and it certainly isn't a defect, I'm just passing along an observance. And, yes, I did date more than a handful of Japanese women. Like I said, this is not a criticism, it's actually more of a critique.

So... I can see the allure of wanting to give the appearance of having a well-rounded physique, but, and I'm no prude, this new fashion statement is rather bold.

Japan is well-known for it's kooky inventions for things you and I would never even think there would be a use for (I sense another blog topic) ... and this seems like another mis-step in Japan's thirst to become something it isn't.

Let me just come right out and say this: Japan's fashion sense--excluding the awesomeness of the kimono--is a few steps behind being chic.

I love Japan. I love the people. I love the food. I love the history. I love the culture. But darn it all, Japanese fashion leaves a little to be desired (at least by Western tastes).

One of my Japanese girlfriends (yes, plural) told me that Tokyo girls (circa 1990s) wore a lot of black coloured clothing (nothing wrong with that). Osaka girls - a few hundred kilometres to the west of Tokyo, well they wore more colourful garb. It's true - at least as far as my observances went.

She told me that while Japan's fashion industry was centered around Tokyo, Osaka took its cue from a more European influence.

Now, while the women are pretty, I can honestly state that I was rarely blown away by someone's garb--well, in Ohtawara (north of Tokyo), we had one woman--Narita-san--who dressed so against the grain that she stood out--and not in a negative way. She was loud, funny, slightly obnoxious - and was probably more western than most westerners. You can see a photo of this styling woman here to the right. Her... I miss.
Narita-san

Hey - I'm not saying us guys and gals on the JET Programme were stylin' either. Though, some of us did, like me (ego-maniac!).  And Japanese men - just like western men - we get a suit and a tie with colours ranging from blue, black, brown, silver and grey. It's rare to see a colour other than that, and even nowadays, if you see a man dressed in a suit not of those colours, you're going to do a double-take.

Back to the issue at hand. I've critiqued the standard Japanese fashions the average person wears. Don't believe me? School kids wear Victorian sailor uniforms and/or full track suits with a solid colour and white stripping or lettering.

They have ugly indoor slippers for the home, and uglier green slippers for the household water closet (W.C. or bathroom). Even my girlfriends - while always nicely dressed, there was never anything that made one go 'whoa'. Those kimono did, however - but they were only wheeled out for special occasions. Geisha? Rare. I'll fill you in on another blog.

Granted I lived in a farming city - but I did travel around the whole country (though I did not make it out to Hokkaido or Okinawa). And, while again I reiterate that there was little superb fashion to ogle, I can state that it is rare to find people there who are willing to buck the trend. Remember: Deru kugi wa utareru  (The nail that sticks up, gets hammered down). It's a Japanese way of life.

I'm sure the photo of the women (I'm assuming they are women) wearing these butt dresses are professional models - and that perhaps a few Japanese women will buy one - but sticking out like a sore bum, I mean thumb, is not something individual Japanese folk are known for.

Now I could be wrong about the Japanese not wanting to stick up - afterall, 20 years ago, the main purpose of the JET Programme was to internationalize (not to teach the kids English). That's my opinion. We wanted to show them that there was more to the world than just Japan.

Butt, hopefully we didn't go too far and make them think this is a good fashion statement. Still, the Japanese birthrate has been in freefall for a number of years as Japanese women are either delaying having a family or are forgoing it entirely... something that in the past would have been considered so un-Japanese. 

Somewhere, the butt of most jokes,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by David Bowie, who knows something about FASHION. I was going to use The Doors 'The End' as a title, but this episode is more about fashion as a whole. Man, there are so many jokes to make here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Talent Is An Asset

Geisha in Kyoto - on a Telephone Card
For those of you going to Japan and expecting the place to be crawling with white-faced women in kimono's - let me set the record straight. That's not Japan. At least not anymore.

What is a Geisha? Well, for one thing, they aren't prostitutes. Geisha translates into gei (art) and sha (performer). Art performers - specifically performing traditional Japanese arts.

In my three years in Japan, I only saw one woman in full geisha garb - and thus I assume she was a geisha. One person. Yes,  there are plenty of television shows and ads featuring geisha (or someone purporting to be a geisha), but they are not a common sight in Japan.

The white face make-up, the fantastic kimono and the impossibly elaborate hair are three visual definitions of a geisha... but they are so much more. And I wish I could tell you more from personal experience, but I'm going to have to do so from information gleaned from books I've read. Yes, I can read.

Women wishing to enter the profession start at the age of 15 in Kyoto or 18 in Tokyo. There's a full year's training to become a geisha. Historically, geisha began the earliest training at the ages of 3-5 - merely watching and learning.

Now women can apprentice first as a maiko (which translates to 'dance child') or can begin training directly as a geisha--though women who first apprentice as a maiko are said to enjoy more prestige later on.

Way back in the 16th century, Japan had legalized pleasure quarters built with yuujo ('play women') who were fully licensed and classified. The highest level was the Oiran, who performed erotic dances, skits and yes, would sleep with their customer. Now these Oiran weren't stupid. They were educated in many performing arts as well as sex.

In the early 1700's, the geisha arose - they were men! Men who would entertain other men who were waiting at the pleasure quarters to see an Oiran.

Dancing girls--odoriko--were literally teenaged girls who were trained in the art of dance and were paid entertainers in the homes of samurai (Japanese warriors). When they were no longer teenagers, they were unable to called themselves odoriko, so instead adopted the name geisha, after the male entertainers. 

Around the mid-1700s, these new geisha forgo the sex aspect, concentrating solely on the entertainment aspect like their male colleague geisha. By the 1800's, the geisha was considered a woman's occupation. By the 1830's the geisha began changing their style to look high class, to go with the high class entertainment skills they were offering. It became more formalized.


Geisha on a bridge circa 1934 - from author's private photo collection.
So, there is indeed a prostitute angle here with the origins of the geisha--but most people wouldn't know that. During WWII, women--including geisha--went to work in the factories to keep their war efforts going. As such, there weren't any geisha practicing their trade--and there certainly weren't a lot of young women entering the trade. To make matters worse, after the war (please don't make me have to say who won the war), when the U.S occupied Japan, prostitutes actually called themselves "geisha girls" to all the Joe's in the U.S. forces.

After the war, the geisha profession began to build itself back up. Nowadays, they still offer the high-class entertainment skills of music, dance and conversation, but they also hold a high social status. Geisha are single women who have achieved economic self-sufficiency and independence in a male dominated Japanese society. It's a way of life without having to become a wife--an expected norm here in Japan.

Nowaday's, geisha ply their trade within the traditional Japanese tea houses or in Geisha houses.

  • Skills: Well, musically, it could be the shamisen, shakuhachi, yokobue, drums, learning games, songs, calligraphy, traditional Japanese dances, tea ceremony rituals, literature and poetry.

  • Appearance: Geisha have been known to continue performing into their 90s. The white-faced make-up we associate with the geisha is actually usually only worn by the apprentice maiko. Geisha will wear the full make-up on occasion during special performances. The white make up is applied to the face, neck and chest.

  • Different hairpins and style of hair denote different stages or levels of geisha, as does the length of the eyebrow--the short eyebrows are for the younger geisha, longer for the older... though I'm unsure when that distinction is arrived at.

  • Dress: The kimono is always something highly colourful... but what is interesting is the obi (belt) that is always brighter than the kimono she is wearing. Okay, I find it interesting.
Somewhere, my girdle is killing me,
Andrew Joseph
This blog's tile is by Sparks, from their album Kimono My House. The song title matches even if the song itself doesn't. HITLERONKEYBOARDS

Friday, September 17, 2010

New World Man

After my second year in Japan, I decided to go back to Toronto for a short vacation of three weeks... you know, to recharge my batteries and to buy some clothes.

That's one of the problems with Japan - getting clothes that fit. Even back in 1992, though I had put on a few pounds, I wasn't enormous by any stretch of the imagination. Sure I may have arrived in Japan as a 172 lb (78 kg) guy and arrived back in Toronto at 187 lbs (84.8 kg), but I was still 5-10-1/2" (183 cm)... or whatever I had shrunk down to (LITTLE MEN).

Regardless of my weight gain, they don't make shirts in my size (36-inch (91.44 cm) chest--though after working out for a few years, I'm currently a 48-inch (121.92 cm)). Even t-shirts were a stretch, if you know what I mean.

I have size 10-1/2 feet (30 cm) - big but not huge - which in Japan means I would take a size 30. They only make size 27 and below. In Toronto, I cheaped out and bought an inexpensive pair of running shoes. 

Anyhow... back in Toronto, my friends and family both remarked at how much weight I had put on - that the Japanese way of life must be agreeing with me. I suppose it must have. I certainly couldn't disagree. I don't do anything I don't enjoy doing, and I was certainly going back for a third and final year as an Assistant English Teacher (AET)  on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme (I might even have stayed longer, but the Programme only allows for three years).

Upon arriving home in Ohtawara at the end of August (yes, I called it home), I decided to do something about my (to me) sudden weight gain. I guess I do love Japanese food!

I decided I would go jogging. On a Thursday night at 9PM, I rode my bicycle over to Ohtawara Junior High School (aka Dai Chu - which translates into Big Middle), as they had a track I could use. The school itself was maybe a two-kilometre ride, but it's a pleasant one through a few rice fields. Okay, Ohtawara is mostly rice fields (and 7-11's), but still, it's a nice ride past the frogs croaking melodiously as they do whatever it is frogs do in the wet, almost-ready-to-harvest  rice paddies.

That first night at the track, it was just me and a student from Dai Chu. That student was with his father, and he was sprinting, then jogging, walking and repeating. Training or just getting into even better shape.

Me? I decided I was going to do four laps around the track - 1600 metres. After the first 100 metres, it was obvious that I wasn't going to make it if I didn't slow down to a granny's pace (no offense to any grannies, of course, as I'm sure some of them could have easily beaten me around the track). It was a very painful journey  - at least it was for the first lap... and then it became tortuous. That second and third lap was a blur... all I can remember was that I kept screaming at myself to keep going... just another corner, now another half lap... now I'm only half-way done... lungs burning, feet hurting... don't black out. I may have, who knows when they do?

Somehow I completed my goal of four laps (1600 m)... bent over and gasped for breath. It took me 34 minutes. Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile it ain't.

I then had to ride home. I moaned and kvetched the entire time. 
   
Still... the next evening at 9PM... I went back out and did it again... except I added another lap (400 metres). And since I was without a girlfriend (Ashley had gone home forever), I continued to go running every night - each time added another lap... another 400 metres. My goal was to reach 10 kilometres (10,000 metres).

Believe it or not, I did it... I didn't miss a night, and the running, while still painful, was getting easier (except for that last lap I would add). That first time I ran 10 km, it took me 57 minutes.... I continued to run the 10km for a couple of weeks after that, and eventually got down to 37 minutes... which I only later learned was pretty good - the current world record is 26 minutes - so my time, by a non-Kenyan or non-Etiopian was pretty darn good. Canada's record is around 28 minutes. Japan's is about 30 seconds faster.

So... while not world-class, I was getting there.

It seems that my little running companion - whom I gasped a konichiwa (hello) to a few times, had told a few of his friends that the gaijin (foreigner) AET was jogging every night. While there was not a big crowd to see me, there were maybe 10 hardy individuals who would come out to watch - not cheer me on,  mind you - just watch, and leave quietly as I finished and continued to gasp for breath.

I think they may have just come to see if I would either puke or die... or perhaps die while puking. I did not die.

I'm guessing that these students must have told a teacher or two at Dai Chu, who in turn told people at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) who pay my salary. After a visit into work on a Friday, my boss, Kanemaru-san, was grinning at me more than usual. He said that he heard I was doing a lot of running every day and that I had, just last night, run 10 km in 37 minutes.

I'd ask how the heck he knew that, but as a popular fellow in Ohtawara, people like to keep tabs on me pretty well... and this is way before Twitter!

He told me that the OBOE had taken it upon themselves to enter me in the Ohtawara Marathon on November 23, 1992 - just after my 28th birthday. I blanched! I can't run a marathon - I've only just got up to 10 km!

He smiled that evil grin of his and explained that the Ohtawara Marathon was indeed a 10 km race. Zounds and gadzooks! He had me.

When you are popular, famous, unpopular or infamous, people want to see how you perform - either hoping for success or failure, and that scared the heck out of me. I needed to train more.

I went out again that night and ran - attempting to better my 37-minute record... but a funny thing happened... perhaps it was anxiety or paranoia, or just my cheap running shoes - but I developed shin splints. My shins hurt like heck after only running 5-km!I should have stopped then, but I needed to train, to not let them down.

I had to take a month-plus off to rest my legs... which of course led me right up until the day of the race.

Not wanting to let the OBOE or Kanemaru-san down, I rode my bicycle over to the race. Memory escapes me as to where the starting line was - but, all I had to do was sign-in. The day before, Kanemaru-san had presented me with my official Ohtawara Marathon number - 5231 - which also had my name written in the bottom right corner in Katakana: A-N-Do-Ri-Yu-- you can see that in the photo at the top, just in case you think I make everything up! The race was sponsored by Toshiba, whom I believe have a big factory in the city - in case you can't read Japanese. Sorry.

The gun went off, and myself and hundreds of fellow runners raced away. Immediately, I knew I was in trouble - no, not from the shin splints, which had healed completely, but rather from the race itself.

You see, in all of my nightly jogging, I ran around a nice spongy track, turning left (counter-clock-wise) repeatedly. This darn marathon was a road race, run on the roads of Ohtawara, up and down inclines.After several minutes of ego-maniacal running near the front, it was obvious to me that there was no way in Beppu, that I was ever going to be able to finish this race.

I lasted until the 4-km mark before lack of wind (I know, that seems impossible), and my legs (calves and thighs) were screaming at me to stop, for the love of kami (God), please stop. Rightly or wrongly, I listened to my body.

While the OBOE was very supportive of me and my effort, I can't help but feel I let them, and myself, down. After that day, no one ever brought up me running again... and I must admit, I stopped jogging.

But it doesn't really matter. After all, I did accomplish what I had set out to do. I lost weight and was again 172-lbs.

Somewhere with shinsplints,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Toronto's own, Rush. You can hear this great song at this link: REBELANDARUNNER
PS: The photo below is a page that you get when you complete the Ohtawara Marathon - crossing the finish line, someone takes your photo... which is what is supposed to be pasted on the right side. Mine is blank, obviously.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vacation


This was originally entitled: The Sights, The Sounds, The Smells

This story takes place during my third year in Japan. Ashley had already left Japan to go back to Georgia, and I'm afraid we didn't depart as friends, which sucks in an immature way. Sorry, kiddo.

Now is the winter of my discontent. I had just spent the past several months getting back into physical shape - I'll tell you how in the next blog! I was essentially girlfriend-less for the first time since arriving, though I was still able to sleep with anything that moved. At least that's what I'm telling you all right now.

While Matthew was still indeed in Japan, he was very much involved with Takako - the beautiful local Ohtawara girl who would become his wife in a year or so. Matthew is not in this adventure.

As a young, hip guy with hair longer than his memory, I planned a winter vacation to Singapore with two other AETs - Tim Mould, and James (Jimmy Jive) Dalton. While Tim was deviously quiet and funny, Jimmy Jive was outrageously funny. He's a fellow Canuck - from Stoney Creek, Ontario - and if anyone knows of his current whereabouts, please drop me a line.

We left Japan's Narita Airport in the early evening, and arrived at Changi Airport in Singapore at 1AM local time. Because we're stupid guys, we didn't plan ahead and book a hotel. We were going to run and gun it the entire time.

We found a flop house that cost us each Y700 ($7). We got what we paid for.

It was a single room with a large king-sized bed and a shared bathroom.

After the flight, none of us had time to go to the washroom, so our priorities really had to go. Opening the bathroom door, we saw a cockroach the size of a beagle sitting on the toilet reading a newspaper. It looked over at us, wiggled its antennae, and hissed something incomprehensible - either "Occupado" or "Hsssssssss". We slammed the door shut, bolted it and placed all the furniture against it. For good measure, we put a couple of towels and sheets by the door should it try to sneak under the door frame looking for toilet paper.

Along with Tim and Jim, we also picked up a fellow traveler named John. Yes, these are their real names. John was a nice guy. We met him on the plane, and when he mentioned that he and his friend Zeke (probably an alias) needed a place to stay the night, we invited them along.

The problem, however, was not with John... it was his shoes. They stunk. Blech!

Try to imagine a ton of rotting, fermented natto that has gone bad (I know, its an oxymoron). Now combine that with two litres of four-month-old milk. Huwwwaaaaggh!

We quickly pulled away the furniture and towels, unbolted the door, opened it, tossed the shoes into the bathroom, and then re-secured the area. The cries from within were truly horrific.

Oh, the guys in the other room who shared our washroom - they were from Pakistan, and both were coughing up a lung reminiscent of the plague. We never really got close enough to them to say hello.

We five then settled down for the night: James and I had a chair each, John slept on our knapsacks, Zeke may have been under the bed, and Tim, the bastard, slept on the bed after winning a round of jun-kin-po (rock-scissors-paper).  We were lulled to sleep by the rhythmic sounds of snoring resembling a jet plane with asthma - though I didn't hear it as I was fast asleep.

The next day was spent in head-turning, eye-popping appreciation of Singapore's natural beauty - it's women!
I wish I could show them to you - but someone had a stupid house fire and lost one or two photo albums.

Tim left us to catch a plane to Thailand, leaving just Jimmy Jive and myself - we left John and Zeke so they could find their own hotel rooms for themselves and John's shoes. Blech!  

We spent the day walking the entire length of the City/State of Singapore - it took us 35 minutes - and did some shopping. I went to a clothing shop to have some shirts, jacket and pants made for me - for about $100 - and had it delivered to my hotel the next morning. It was a pair of raw silk black pants, a blue with purple thread silk shirt, a green with red thread silk shirt and a red silk jacket that I only realized weeks later made me look like a parking valet. The best part, beside the price? I got to design all of the stuff myself.

Later that evening, we took a junk boat cruise where we ruined a date and stole a girl. Now that's internationalization! I'd tell you how that happened, but I think we were all pretty drunk. Probably.

We spent Christmas eve in a bar where we counted down the holy night a la Dick Clark's New Year's Rocking Eve. Party hats, noise makers, the whole magilla - and this was Christmas Eve - not New Year's Eve.

Upon entering the bar, Jim and I were immediately set upon by a pair of very forward and un-pretty 'women'. Shunning them, I was immediately surrounded by six very pretty 'women' with scarves around their throats, who wanted to dance with me. I lost sight of Jimmy Jive, but assumed he was having the same luck as me.

Anyhow, we quickly made our exit from this transvestite bar after 56 minutes of 'getting down'. Truthfully, they were all very nice and knew we had wandered in by mistake. They made us feel welcome - I swear that's all we felt! - though we all drew the line at them attempting to give us a make-over.

Malaysia was next. We traveled eight hours by local train to its capital, Kuala Lumpur. Almost immediately after leaving the ultra-modern, capitalist Singapore, the air outside the train became stagnant, old, fetid and decayed. There was a smell of incense that permeated everything. We passed by shanty towns that were sunk into fields of red mud, and saw chickens plod relentlessly through the garbage thrown from the moving trains by its conductors.

Third-world mentality was clearly evident when our train was delayed for 20 minutes by goats that refused to vacate the tracks. The conductor explained to me that they only had a cow-catcher on the train, and to use it on a goat could be punishable by five years in prison, sodomy, and then death by sodomy. I thought that the prison term was too severe.

We checked into the only Holiday Inn in the country and ate at McDonalds (where, incidentally, we ate all our meals - so much for an adventurous spirit, but who the heck needs dysentery?).

We spent the next day touring the city by a hair-raising motorcycle taxi ride carting a two-seat carriage. We visited beautiful mosques, played with some chickens, and listened to an old woman play La Bamba with an Arabic beat on a Casio keyboard. Breathtaking.

To relieve the excitement, we visited the local Hard Rock Cafe. People, the place must be experienced to be believed. The women - Wa-hoo! Photo evidence did exist at one time - I swear! Stupid fire!

The next day, we spent nine hours in a bus to go to Georgetown, Malaysia to see an old battle fort that was pretty cool. (The photos of the fort were actually quite boring, but there was a guy there who looked like Santa Claus on vacation; plus there was a shot of a woman being kicked by a wild donkey; plus there were some graphic cartoon images on a sign at a US navy base - warning that trespassers would be shot - the image showed a person in mid-fall with someone in army drag pointing an M-16 at the victim - ahhh memories - that's all I have).

Anyhow, the bus was delayed for about an hour after we were stopped for speeding. The driver was shot by the police to hasten the justice process.

By the time we got a replacement driver (we really did get a new driver, and while I never saw him get shot, we did hear a gunshot), and wheeled into a smokey bus terminal from Hell, we could only find a room in the sleaziest place in Southeast Asia. To avoid a lawsuit, I won't give its name. It's the Central Hotel. We walked in with our newest friend Glenn, whom we met on the bus (By the way, it's NOT cool to sit at the back of the bus where the washroom is), and screamed in three-part harmony.

Glenn, I should add, is not a weak girly AET-type like Jimmy Jive and myself. He was an alternate member of the New Zealand weightlifting team at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Anyhow, what made us all scream, was the moving carpet. Have you ever seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? You should... that scene in the movie was based on this room. So... let's just say there were thousands of insects crawling all over the place. Why they were there, I have no idea, but that scared me even more.

While we waited for our room to be fumigated, we went to the local karaoke bar in the hotel to get a few drinks to settle our collective nerves. Apparently all of the bugs left as soon as the fumigation began, as we saw them march out of the room and move to the bar where they changed in a reverse Frank Kafka-esque way to look somewhat human, becoming our waiter and barkeeper.

After having to pay extra for the fumigation (roaches are apparently very bad at math), we were followed by the barkeep and waiter to our room where they transformed back into the icky bugs and alighted to the safety of the walls, while the poison gas still sworled around the floor. There was no carpet in that room, by the way.

The three of us wrapped ourselves up in separate cocoons and staked out a portion of the bed - which we pulled into the centre of the room - and made muffled plans to get the Hell out of Malaysia as soon as possible.

The rest of our winter vacation was spent on an all-night train, another bus from Hell with mechanical difficulties, a stop at the Singapore Hard Rock Cafe where we spent New Year's Eve with four very sexy women - we have photographic proof! We had lost Glenn before that... perhaps he was taken by the roaches. We then had a 5AM ride to the airport with zero sleep because we didn't get a hotel room.

It was good that we left Singapore when we did. As of 12:01AM New Year's Day, Singapore enacted a law forbidding chewing gum. Those caught with it could be punished by caning. Yes, caning. Perhaps sodomy, too. I don't chew gum, so I'm unsure of the details.

At the Singapore airport, the X-ray machine accused me of concealing an uzi in my backpack. Yeah, I'm a stupid gun-toting smuggler who hides weapons in a backpack. Arrest me, beat me, hurt me, treat me like I'm you're boyfriend (Hmm, I still have issues, it seems).

Upon arrival at Japan's Narita Airport, I was accosted by Japanese immigration officials who wanted to know if I was from Iraq and whether I had any marijuana, as apparently they were all out. Yeah, I'm a stupid drug smuggler and I've got seven keys of Mary Jane hidden under the uzi in my backpack.

Still, it was good to be back home in Ohtawara,

Somewhere pining for the Hard Rock fjords of Singapore,
Andrew Joseph
PS: It did not rain at all during this trip. Drought-plagued countries are worried.
PPS: I took a couple hundred photos during this trip - all lost in the house fire a few years back. Sorry. But at least with the photo up above, you can see the lovely shirt and pants I had made there in Singapore.
PPPS: My pony-tail is just starting to come in - here, it's about 10 inches long.
PPPPS: Today's title is by the Go-Go's: It's not hard rock, but it's got girls. LISTEN

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Japan is so very similar to Western society

Here's the best example I can think of at this very moment... coming to me... right...  ... now!

Not being a very good cook--though I (and Matthew) once got paid to teach a cooking class--we're professional cooks!--I have spent a lot of my life nearly killing myself with my own cooking, or have let someone else do it for me in the form of fast-food cooking.

As a Coke addict--that's Coca-Cola, my friends--I always have one when at a fast food joint like Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's or the ever mysterious Mosburger (which was always delicious, and I miss - despite the following kvetch).

When I place my food order, I always ask for a large Coke--and I do it in Japanese: "Oki-sai Ko-ra, kudasai." (Large size Coke, please).

Why do the greasy clerks working there always (and I mean every, single time) ask me this: "L-sizu, desu ka?", which translates into: "L-size, is it?"

It seems that fast-food restaurants the world over have some level incompetence working for them.

What's even more bizarre is that there is NO letter "L" in the Japanese alphabets!

Somewhere having an L-sized Root Beer,
Andrew "I said I wanted a Coke" Joseph
Today's title version is by Devo - YELLOWJUMPSUIT
PS - Today is also the birthday of my Japanese girlfriend Noboko. We were engaged. Got your attention, eh?
PPS - I will introduce her very soon - perhaps this week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mother

You all know that this mother-of-all-blogs on the web is not meant to only poke fun at Japan or the Japanese - it's to poke fun at ourselves... or more specifically, myself.

I hope the reader understands that even though I tell you some true bizarre stories of myself in Japan, it's mostly my own stupidity or naiveity that has caused my adventures - and I'll tell you, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I entered Japan knowing pretty much ZERO about the country or the people. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? In my opinion it's a good thing. While I stood out like a sore thumb physically and sometimes socially, I learned. I had pretty much no preconceived notions, and so everything was an eye-opening journey - a birthing process, if you will.

The people of Ohtawara, the JET Programme, and Japan were all fantastic. Look at that first adventure of mine: HERE. I was lost in downtown Tokyo with the beautiful but hobbling Kristine and a score of others - so we stopped a Japanese gent to ask for directions back to our hotel. That beautiful person walked with us for 45 minutes - out of his way, I'm sure - to take us back to our hotel. That might occur every once in awhile in your country, but for strangers in a strange land and for me, this was my first real encounter with the Japanese people, and it set the tone.

Japan is cool.

There, I said it. If you ever get a chance to go there, I only hope you have as many wacky and fun adventures as I did.

Through my time there, I was often homesick, I was girlfriend-sick, missed hockey and the Blue Jays winning their first World Series baseball championship, I doubted my own sanity - but through it all, I had wonderful people around me who helped and looked out for me. They were my adoptive family. People don't understand why I write about events that happened 20 years ago, but I'll tell you a secret... not only is it a way to entertain you and me, it's to thank Japan for its hospitality.

While your mileage may vary in Japan, would-be visitors take note... my mother came for a visit during my first summer in Japan... and she traveled alone across the country... and everywhere she went, they treated her like gold. She had a fantastic time, tried everything new and exciting she could, met people, saw things and for me, it made me all very happy. Especially when she passed away three years after that.She was happy in Japan, and that makes me happy.

Today is the anniversary of her death back in 1994. And while I'm sad, I am proud of the way she experienced life and life in Japan.

As regular readers know, I was dubbed Ame Otoko by the Ohtawara locals... which translates into Rain Man... a name given to me not because I'm a savant, but rather because when I traveled anywhere, it rained. A lot.

When my mom, Lynda, traveled - guess what? It rained, too. I dub thee "Ame Okasan" - Rain Mother.

Somewhere it's raining,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by John Lennon - Listen to your Mother - HERE

PS: I finally looked at the stats that are provided to my blog regarding reader traffic. Along with my pals in Canada, US, UK and Australia, we have visitors from some very cool  countries. Let me say hello to: Russia (Zdravstvuj!), Japan (Konichiwa!), India (in Hindi - Namaste!), The Netherlands (Hallo!), South Korea (Ahnyong!), Ukraine (Dobri den!), Denmark (Goddag!), China (Cantonese - Nei Hao), Ireland (Gaelic - Dia dhuit!), Spain (Hola!), Germany (Guten tag!) and last, but certainly NOT least, Albania (Tungjatjeta!  - Here's what I first learned about Albania - CHEERS). Oh... and for my "You Know What I Hate Blog" HERE, we also have had a recent visitor from Israel (Shalom!).
AWESOME!
Thank you all for visiting - now get to Japan... except for you Japanese folks - come and visit Canada or any of these other wonderful countries mentioned here! I should, too - I've only visited The Netherlands - a beautiful country with beautiful people!