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Friday, December 31, 2010

Let's Live For Today

With a new year coming up, it time to say farewell to the old and hello to the new. Without going into too many details, 2010 was the worst I've ever gone through personally. No one died, or anything like that, but it's just been one sucky year.
The only thing that made it all right in my mind was the fact that someone - anyone - reads these blogs. To that one person in South Korea - whomever you are - you are the first person on to read the blog...  and the people in Denmark... you have been a major reason why I've been putting out a story everyday since mid-September.
I don't want to let anyone down - and I certainly don't want to lose loyal readers.
Really. From the bottom of my heart - thank-you.
To all of the readers from around the world who tune in and read on a regular basis - I wish I could tell you how much it means to me.
Writer's - of which I claim to be one - have rather fragile egos. We are always looking for people to tell us we're doing alright. Even those closest to me - they don't read my stuff. It hurts. But knowing that besides a few friends and a plethora of complete strangers do read it, it makes it all worthwhile.
Which brings me to Japan. When I previously described my first New Year's eve in Japan, I told you that I had a stupidly large crowd of people at a temple recognize me (I'm the brown gaijin (foreigner) from Canada), and they began chanting my name in a sports fan sort of way. It made me realize just how much people cared about me and just how much Japan mean to me.
Living in Ohtawara-shi (city of Ohtawara), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), Japan was easy to do. Sure one gets homesick and has girl problems et al, but it's all a part of growing up. Japan made me do that. In fact, constant growth is something we should all strive for.
Now in 2010, people don't understand WHY it is I write about past events. They think that it was the happiest time in my life. It was the happiest time of my life - in 1990-1993. But the thing to always remember, folks, is that the happiest time in your life is the time you are having at the moment. Not just here on my blog, but the present time of every time.
Here's something I learned about eight months into my stay in Japan. It helped me survive... not only Japan, but pretty much every day.
Zen Buddhism basically tells one: When you try to remember the past, it's never the same as when you experienced it. Your memory is faded, you can't touch it, see it, smell it, taste it or hear it. It's the past.
And the future? It's completely unwritten. It doesn't exist. in fact, the future never exists, except as a concept.
But the present? That's all we really have - so waste it not.
I'm not a Buddhist, but I can dig that philosophy. All we really have is the present. It sounds weird then that all of my writing in here has been done previously, or is based on experiences from the past. But, I've found that we can all learn from the past and have some fun, too - here in the present.
Enjoy the new year everyday. Personally, 2010 can kiss my ass. Cheers to 2011.

Somewhere enjoying the present,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog - which gets back to the basics, is by the Grass Roots: PRESENT
PS: I tell people that maybe one day I'll put all of these stories together into a book and make a million dollars and get my own record deal and television show and grow so jaded that I'll forget about them. Naw... the part about a book would be nice, though.
PPS: Not worrying about the past or the future, that's tough to do in the present. I sure as heck haven't been able to do it - which is why I say 2010 sucked, and that I hope 2011 is better. But you have to keep trying.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Want to know one of my weirdest moments in Japan? The one that first kind of nailed home the whole culture shock thing?
It was 1991 and I was 26-years-old. I had been living quite comfortably in Japan for maybe nine months or more, and was feeling quite acclimatized. I was learning the language and generally feeling quite good with the whole living from out of my parent's shadow.
And then, my younger brother Ben - who was 18 at the time - sent me some taped music of some groups I'd never heard of before... Nirvana and Soundgarden.
The sound was totally awesome. It was power rock and roll of the likes I hadn't heard since the 1960s died... I mean Led Zeppelin is great - but it wasn't garage power rock.
I listened the tapes over and over again - thrashing my hair and banging my head.
And then it hit me.
I'm doing the headbanger's ball thing thrashing my head forwards and back while jumping up and down on my bed... and my bed had no bounce. I was jumping up and down on a futon.
A futon.
I definitely wasn't in Canada. I was in Japan.
It didn't feel like nirvana.

Somewhere my neck hurts from all the thrashing of my neck around,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is mumbled to us by Nirvana: NEVERMIND
PS: There were more than a few instances where I suddenly realized I wasn't in Canada. The weird stuff that happened and I've so-far recorded for you in these blogs, is just everyday cultural differences. More to come eventually.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jesus Christ Pose

Let me introduce you to Jizō - the Buddhist guardian of children. That's him in the photo to the left.
According to Buddhist teachings, in the 5,670,000,000,000 (that's 5.67 billion) years between the death of Gautama Buddha and the coming of the second Buddha, Maitreya, there's going to be a lot of suffering on this world. Ya can't argue with that. If my calculations are correct, we're right smack dab in the middle of it, and unless Doctor Who can come and save us in his Tardis (his space/time machine that looks like an old-time UK police box/phone booth) or the second coming of Jesus Christ in 2011, we're in for another year of dismal downers. Hmmm... that JC video seems incorrect.
Anyhow, should the populace require some help and guidance while waiting for the next Buddha (I can hardly wait!), we can seek it from Bodhisattva Jizō.
Not sure why it's blurry - but here's a bunch of Jizō in Nikko.
Y'see, Jizō protects people who fear Hell (the Buddhist Hell). And, he really looks after the kids - saving them from the demons of Hell, and that's why he is the guardian deity of children.
Check out the photo - he looks like a man - like a monk, and can always be found with a red bib - courtesy of the local populace who dress up the Jizō statues - the idea is that since he protects little kids, he should look like a little kid. I wonder if the style of kid-dress has changed over the past 1000 years it has been done. For the sake of Japan's fashion industry, I hope so.
Still, judging from the number of Jizō statues I saw in my travels throughout Japan, I'm guessing that he is a very much cared for deity.    
Do I believe in him? I'm not Buddhist, but why not?- we all can use a little help!

Somewhere looking for a religion where it is all peaches and cream here on Earth,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is by Soundgarden - a power grunge group from the early 1990s (and I'll tell you a funny story about THAT tomorrow). I chose the title because Jizō and Jesus sound similar in my mind. Of course, I've had a few rum and Cokes, so who knows if I'll feel the same way about it tomorrow. Hmm... best keep drinking. MTV.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Friggin' In The Riggin'

Continuing the epic exploits of other AETs (Assistant English Teachers) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme living in Tochigi-ken, Japan, ladies and gentlemen, someone (probably) introduces the introduction of one Jeff Seaman and his literary contributions to the Tatami Times, a monthly newsletter for Tochigi JET-paying members.
Jeff is originally from Yuba City, California - married a local Japanese girl and then stayed in Japan. He is still there, I believe.
Here we go, in Jeff's own words:

Seaman's Shorts
(I thought of a lot worse, so be thankful.)
  • I don't like Japanese food, so when I visited Sendai and Ichinoseki, I ran into a bit of a problem. Solution? For three days and two nights I ate at Mr. Donut. Konisiki eat - and he does - your heart out.
  • My favourite question from my sho-gakko (Primary school) visits: "Why do you speak English?"
  • I get a peculiarly perverted pleasure from riding the streets of Sano-shi (City of Sano) and hearing children cry out: "Seaman! Seaman!" (Actually, it's more like 'Shi-man! Shiman!', but it's the thought that counts.)
  • I was hit by a car! I was hit by a car! I can join The Club!
  • A Fun English Class: A couple of nights a week, I play basketball with local guys here in Sano. As one might expect from 'jocks', they like to practice American slang. Last week after playing, a young guy came up to me and said: "You pen-is."
    • "No, no. Pea-nis. Pea-nis."
    • Pea-nis."
    • "Ah, good. Okay, now one more time, please repeat after me - pea-nis."
    • "Pea-nis."
He was a quick learner.
  • Ya think the reason they all drive so bad over here is that they're exacting revenge on their driving schools? (Hey, if I had to pay that much, I'd be looking for revenge, too.)
  • A parking ticket in Japan costs ¥15,000 ($150.00 US or Canadian).
Somewhere somehow glad the parking ticket my wife thinks she has hidden from me only cost $40 (¥4,000).
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is courtesy of: The Sex Pistols. I chose it because there are Seaman singing about their voyage. FRIGGIN'  Language warning, though.
PS: I was blown away that Jeff did not like Japanese food. I mean, what the fa - ? Every school lunch I get five days a week is Japanese food. My dinner's? Maybe three or four times a week. How can one man eat that many doughnuts or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and still survive. And Jeff, as mentioned, survived three years on  JET in Sano and then married a Japanese woman - what the hell is he eating?
PPS: Konishiki is a Hawaiian sumo wrestler who weighed in as the heaviest ever wrestler.
PPPS: The club Jeff is talking about includes myself, Catherine (Gasoline) and quite a few more AETs who were hit by car, but probably don't recall it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?

It's the day after Boxing Day - and I'm tired. I'm also more broke thn a kid's toy two hours after Christmas.
So what should we talk about? How about what happened in Thailand when my girlfriend Ashley was on vacation without me. Sounds ominous. It's not.
If you will recall... I had given her my lucky Donald Duck watch  - more of a show of good faith that I wasn't angry with her ( I was) over going to Thailand with fellow female AETs (Assistant English Teachers) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme after breaking up with me thereby screwing up OUR vacation plans. We got back together again a week later.
I'll tell you the gosh honest truth... she always started our arguments. She was afraid of commitment. Of course she was only 22 to my 25... but still... it pissed me off.
The first time she broke up with me in October - actually the one that led to me missing out on a trip to Thailand - it was because she went to a Japanese fortune teller with her boss. The 'sage' told her, and I quote, "Do not be afraid to tell him you don't love him."
So she did.
And boy was I pissed off. She had to have a complete stranger tell her she didn't love me. Did she? I suppose she didn't love me, because she carried through on the oracle's words. Regardless, a week later after I slept with two other women bringing my total score of women I had slept with EVER (up to that time, of course) up to three, she wanted to get back with me. This was after she burned all of the photos of me trying to get me out of her mine. Really. I'm kind of like that bad infection - and the doctor give you enough medicine for 7 days, and you think you are better on Day 8 - but really, you aren't and you get sick again... worse than before - that's me.
Hence the watch.
Via Donald, I was watching over her. A part of me was going to Thailand.
That was my thought process... and now in 2010, it seems pretty juvenile. But back in 1990 it made a lot of sense to me. I've become older and wiser. Definitely older.
Anyhow... when Ashley finally came back from Thailand, she popped by with a present for me. That's the photo above. It's a white elephant. A puppet. Say what you will about symbolism, but there was plenty of it.
She then slowly told me about her trip.
Personally, I hate it when people go about circuitous routes to tell a story that could be told in 10 seconds (I know, I see  the irony, considering I could have just cut to the chase and told you the end of the story - but this is a a story - and not a description about someone's vacation to Thailand).
Anyhow... she was on an elephant ride - a real friggn' elephant! I would have killed to be on one of those large smelly beasts!
Somehow after the elephant waded through a river with her atop, my watch got lost. It's at the bottoms of some nameless river in Thailand.
Great. Not only do I get to hear about my on-again/off-again girlfriend's trip to a country I wanted to go to, but she loses my damn lucky watch.
Now I only have one watch to wear.
Actually, I did bring six other watches (one for every day of the week)... but this was Donald friggin' Duck! I have over 300 Donald Duck comic books! And that's just his own title!
Needless to say, I was not amused. But because I hadn't had sex in nearly two weeks, I was okay with it.
I got my sex alright, but secretly, I hated myself for enjoying myself knowing that Donald had drowned in a Thailand River.

Somewhere never having got over losing that damn watch,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Culture Club featuring Boy George. It's not even close to Rock and Roll, but the title is apt. Sorry. It's a good song though: CROSSTOBEAR

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Now Get Busy

This is a Suzuki - just not one mentioned below.
Welcome back! I hope everyone had a happy Christmas (if you celebrate it), and a great Saturday if you don't.

For your edification, here now is a story written by one Matthew Hall, a fellow AET (Assistant English Teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme originally from the State of New York, U.S.A. and now living in the great State of Vermont. Matthew continues to be one of my best friends. He was a lifesaver for me in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan where we both lived. I taught at the seven junior high school (chu gakko) in the city, and Matthew taught at a bunch of chu gakko in the smaller villages and hamlets surrounding Ohtawara. Perhaps Matthew--a regular reader of this blog--would consent to tell us what schools he taught at and maybe even offer up a guest column about HIS teaching experiences (or his wedding ceremony).

In the meantime, let's check out the story he submitted to ye editor of the Tatami Times AET newsletter for Tochigi-ken back in April of 1991. It was my first issue as editor of the thing... which means I was responsible for photocopying it and mailing it out to all dues-paying JET members in our Prefecture (State/Province) of Tochigi. (Bracketed material is ME being helpful to you loyal readers.)

Not A Care In The World
by Matthew J. Hall


One winter day, the Suzuki's woke up all genki (feeling fine) for the vacation that was going to start. Not a care in the world.
Mama-Suzuki was up first and threw open the blinds.
"Bikurishita (Wow - as in a surprise)!" she screamed. All the kids scrambled around her to see what was the matter.
"Hora! (Look!) Look at all the snow! A mother-of-a-storm has hit!"
Their eyes, wide open, absorbed the horrendous weather.
Baby-Suzuki asked, "Doshiokana? (Now what do we do?) Our tiny car will never get through the roads now! We were depending on clear roads!"
"Hmmm...," the mother thought.
Papa-Suzuki said, "We should do something."
"Hai (Yes), we should," retorted Sister-Suzuki.
"So desu ne (I agree)," agreed Brother-Suzuki.
".............. We should do something," Papa-Suzuki said.
"Hai, so desu ne (Yes, I agree)," Mama-Suzuki muttered.
".............. Hora! Gaijin-duh (Look! A foreigner/outsider!... though the correct spelling is 'da'... Matthew chose the 'duh' version implying stupidity)!" screamed Baby-Suzuki, pointing his finger madly at a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner shoveling his way down the street.
"Maybe if we pay him, he can shovel the road clear so we can get to the airport and enjoy our vacation," said Papa-Suzuki.
"Yeah, let's ask him. I'm bored from sitting at home playing Famicom (Nintendo's videogame system circa 1985)," whined Brother-Suzuki.
"What do you think?" asked mama-Suzuki. "Do you think $4 will make him happy?"
­
"No. Better make it $9," yawned Papa-Suzuki, rubbing the sleep away from his eyes.
Needless to say, Mr. Gaijin agreed - after a little haggling - to do the job. Mr. 'G' was making good distance when suddenly everything cleared up. The sun came out, the snow melted away. The Suzuki's jumped for joy! All their problems went away!
Papa-Suzuki belted out, "Let's get to Narita (Airport). Don't want to miss our flight."
And the Suzuki's went to Narita, with all the other Suzuki's. Off to enjoy their vacations without a care in the world.

Somewhere at home on vacation,
Andrew Joseph & wherever the heck Matthew is - probably doing something fun!
Today's blog title is performed by The Beastie Boys: AMERICANIDLE 
Photo of Matthew taken at his apartment. It's not small, Matthew is just tall.
PS: Suzuki is a surname in Japan that is as common as Smith and/or Jones in western society. Suzuki actually translates into 'bell-tree = suzu-ki'. Suzuki-san in the photo above was the extremely funny and charming boss of Matthew. He was/is so friggin' great! In the photo to the right, it's Matthew panting on the telephone to one of his Japanese women, asking "Wass 'sup????!!!" like in the beer commercials. 
PPS: I'm guessing Matthew's story relates to the average Japanese person's ability to be indecisive when things need to be done. And remember... this was written after we had only been in Japan for about six months. Of course... if the story means something else, I'm sure Matthew will tell us!
PPPS: In the topmost photo,  Suzuki-san is actually trying to figure out the Ninetendo Gameboy Matthew bought me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

It's was around this time in 1990 when I felt pretty darn low.

This was my first Christmas away from my Canadian family and friends, as I was now living in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan

Because of major blow-ups with Ashley (my on-again, off-again girlfriend for the first two years of Japan rife), whatever plans we had made to go traveling together to Thailand were in pieces.

To further complicate matters, after she broke... I mean, after I broke up with her, she made arrangements to go to Thailand with three other female AETs. I had tried to do the same, but those girls didn't want me around. Just kidding. Hmmm... probably not kidding. 

Instead of Thailand, I tried to make arrangements to fly out of Japan with Tim Mould - a late arrival in Japan and thus also late in planning a vacation - I wanted to go anywhere. I was desperate. Anywhere but here!

I tried and I tried to get a flight out but they wouldn't let me change my travel locale of Thailand... to be honest, the last thing I wanted to do was to be in Thailand the same time as Ashley - even if we were back together this week. uhhh... hang on... nope... we just broke up again.

Just before Ashley was to leave, we got back together again. Feeling stupid with a lack of blood flow to my brain, I gave her my Donald Duck watch to wear. It was a treasured keepsake that I had bought several months previous in Canada - and is treasured because I love Donald Duck - did you know he doesn't wear any pants? Also... he can't fly... but Daffy Duck can. Just like in real life - white ducks can't fly... eerie, huh?

I used to wear two watches at a time - one on the left arm (the watch I still have on in 2010), and one on the right (Donald). It was a style of fashion in those days - at least it was one I was trying to start. For the records, I also used to roll up one leg of a pair of shorts and keep the other one long. Sadly, the rest of the world wasn't interested in following my lead, but it did make me stand out.

"Hey! There's that idiot Andrew wearing the lopsided shorts and two watches!"
"Yes, but at least he has the legs to pull it off!"

It's true. I still have the legs to pull off wearing two watches.

Anyhow... back to the story. I was sad. Sad for myself that Ashley was going away without me and I wasn't going to get laid for awhile. Sad because I wasn't going away on vacation. Sad because I was away from my Canadian contingent. And sad because I had to stay in boring old Japan.

It's sounds stupid, but that was what I was thinking. I'm thousands of kilometres from Toronto and living in Japan (It's actually 8500 kilometres and about 6500 miles). I'm a stranger in a strange land having the time of my life. I even got laid by three different women in the five months I've been here... those are pretty damn fine numbers considering the previous 25 years had nada!

Realizing how lucky I was, I got off my ass and marched outside and walked the 100 meters or so into the downtown core of Ohtawara-shi. It was starting to snow. And though it was cool, it wasn't Arctic cold. I was home and I might as well act like it. I caught snowflakes on my tongue and got rosy red cheeks. It's Christmas time and home is where the heart is.

I went out and bought a small live coniferous tree from the local Iseya department/grocery store. I brought it back home and decorated it with all sorts of knick-knacks that I had already picked up. That's what the photo is of up above! And by gum, I had a great Christmas. 

Of course the alcohol helped a bit too. Kalula and Rum & Coke and egg nog with... to be honest I ran out of booze when it was egg nog time, but it was still pretty tasty even though it upset the heck outta my weak stomach. I think it's the nut meg. Ugh.

And Matthew. That bugger didn't go anywhere, either. In fact - despite him being my best friend in Japan, he and I never really traveled together outside the city. At least not very far. I think he was busy trying to pick up women. Since he eventually married local babe Takako, it seems like he stuck to his plan until she stopped trying to run away and gave in to his charm.

I spent Christmas in Japan - and after talking to a lot of the other AETs in other towns, it seems like most of them had traveled outside the country and only returned after the new year. Matthew and I - we were in Japan, and we got the whole Japanese experience over most other gaijin who wanted to see other countries. We had a damn fine time on our own and together.

There's nothing wrong with traveling, but when in Japan, you should at least take part in the social customs and holidays. Thanks to a shockingly bad break-up with Ashley for a couple of weeks, I was able to do just that.

Somewhere enjoying Christmas in Japan,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is performed by Bruce Springsteen: CLARENCE
Thanks Matthew! And Merry Christmas to all! Happy Hannukah! Have a Kwazy Kwanza! And... if I've left anyone out - have a Happy Holiday season!
PS: I'll be back tomorrow!
PPS: And why did he mention that stupid watch?
PPPS: And why does he keep mixing up its grammar?
PPPPS: And where did Matthew and Andrew hang out when they weren't drinking and trying to pick up women?
PPPPPS: I've dug up some whimsical writing of Matthew's that I am going to reprint tomorrow - it's witty and funny and emphasizes the Japanese view on Christmas. I know! I can't wait.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict


Here in 2010, I rediscovered my old Tatami Times issues that I put together featuring a lot of writing by myself and other AETs (Assistant English Teachers) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. The newsletter was a prefectural/provincial monthly magazine for everyone who was a dues-paying member of JET.

I took over the business of running the Tatami Times from the gorgeous blonde Catherine Komlodi back in April of 1991 - at least that was when I published (IE photocopied and mailed out) the book. To thank Catherine - whose name was near-impossible for the Japanese to say clearly... they called her Ga-so-rin (Gasoline) - I wrote a too-long biography on her. I really did have a huge crush on her - but except for 20 years later, I've not mentioned it. I know Catherine was originally from Calgary in Canada, but now in 2010, wherever she is, I'm sure she is excelling at it.

Here we go - Andrew's writing from 20 years ago!:

Umma Gumma you know
Oh, waydago Catherine! Now you've gone and done it. You're walking away from the editorship of the Tatami Times - and for what? Fun and travel? Geez.
The worst part is I am now the editor (henceforth to be known as the Supreme Commander Of Our Lives - SCOOL).
I felt that my first job as the editor should be an introspective retrospective look into the life of Catherine (Cathy, cat, Miss. Kitty) Komlodi. This is a nice way for me to get back at her say thank-you for all her help.
Catherine was born at an early age. So early that she doesn't remember more than a handful of images. When asked what the highlight of her career as a baby was, she replied: "A-goo-goo-goo, A-ga-ga-ga that's all I want to say to you." Ahhh. Stimulating.
Apparently there was a mix-up at the hospital, with the stork supposed to be bringing a feline to the Komlodi family, not a female. Deciding to make the best of a trying situation, her parents chose an appropriate name: Cat-herine.
Her parents were extremely proud of their brown-haired beauty. They were ecstatic when she scratched her first couch and when she could use the 'box' by herself.
Catherine was clearly a gifted child. Deciding at an early age to become an astronomer, she marched through highschool and university with honours.
However, she soon have up her life's ambition when she discovered she would have to work nights.
She then applied to the JET Programme.
"I always liked flying," she remarked during her interview.
Undaunted, they hired her anyway.
Her first year as the Kanuma Chu Gakko (Kanuma Junior High School) AET was memorable. She caught her lovely flowing white dress in the spokes of her bicycle causing a heinous accident. (SCOOL note: bicycle accidents are apparently a must for all Canadians applying for the job as Tatami Times editor.)
"Also, that was the year my water pipes froze and burst," lamented Cat.
But it was all sugar and spice from then as she quickly rose through the Tochigi-ken AET ranks to become not only the Central Representative, but the Northern one, too.
Then, after Stefanie Housman was incarcerated for ink inhalation, Catherine was volunteered for the job as Tatami Times editor.
She accepted saying, "You don't have to work nights, do you?"
Taking an immense pride in her new-found responsibilities, she begged encouraged her fellow AETs and CIRs (Coordinator for International Relations) on JET to submit to her (my... how... dominating).
Realizing there were a few egos she could manipulate, the Tatami Times became a cherished item in our mailbox.
"Hey, I had fun," recalled Catherine. "Do you realize the power I felt knowing I could tell you puny gnats anything and you would believe it?" (SCOOL note: Hmm, it sounds like someone has been reading too many comic books).
She said she would miss being editor.
"I will miss being editor," explained Catherine in further detail.
When asked to expound, she realized she and the interviewer didn't know the meaning of the word.
"My one complaint, though is that they don't give you any money to do this job," wailed Catherine. (SCOOL note: Huh? No money?!!)
Well Catherine, I'm sure we'd all like to thank-you for your time and effort on our behalf. Good luck.

Somewhere thinking I should have made a play,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is by Pink Floyd. I chose this long titled "song" because it's the wackiest piece on the Ummagumma album... which is what I originally used as the title for Catherine's fake bio. PICT and Catherine was wacky - and hot.
PS: In the photo above, submitted by Marina Izatt (AET) with Catherine (on the right) and Marina's son Douglas Izatt on the left. It was originally entitled by me: Gorilla My Dreams for obvious reasons. The photo was long since returned to Marina - unfortunately, black and white is all you get.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm Your Captain

In April of 1991, I took over as the Editor-in-Chief (don't call me chief!) of the Tatami Times, the monthly newsletter for AETs (Assistant English Teachers) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme in Tochigi-ken (Province/Prefecture of Tochigi). Mary Mueller was the Prefectural Representative for us, and Catherine Komlodi (Gasoline) was the editor. They were leaving after this summer, and I was re-upping for a second year.

Blond and beautiful, I had huge crushes on both. I may have had huge crushes on all of the women I ever saw, but that is open to discussion. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Although I haven't mentioned Mary very much, she was a strong, smart and gorgeous broad. In my first ever issue, ye old blogger did an interview for her in my sub-section Tatemai Times.

Here, for your edification is that interview:

Mary Mueller Mulls Macaroni
Recently, ye editor caught up with former Tochigi-ken PR, Mary Mueller. We (The Tatemai Times) wanted to ask her to describer her time in office.

TT: Hi Mary. How are you enjoying life at PR?
MM: Oh, it's just great!!! I now get to relax and sleep a lot more at school!!!
TT: Are you suffering any withdrawal symptoms from losing all of that power?
MM: Well, my office knows I'm not in charge now!!! So I can't spend all of my time on the phone!!! Darn it!!!! No longer can I call up people long-distance and tell my office it's PR business!!! Now I have to use my own phone!!! Do you have any idea how expensive my phone bill will be?!!!
TT: Uh, yeah... so can you tell us an interesting story about your time as exalted leader?
MM: Of course!!! I like talking about myself almost as much as that An-do-ryu guy!!!
TT: Only louder.
MM: What??!! I can't hear you!!!
TT: Nothing. You were going to tell us a story?
MM: Huh?!!! Oh yeah!!! (squeal!!!)

*Interlude* The next six hours are a blur as ye editor slipped in and out of consciousness...

MM: ... and then he fell to his death!!! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!!! And then there was the time...

*Interlude* Two hours later...

MM: Now this is my favourite part!!! Oh come on you guys... wake up!!! I can't believe this!!! Now shut up and listen!!! I'm going to tell the readers all about your snoring on the Nasu hiking trip!!!
TT: Thank-you very much Mary for your time...
MM: Quit talking while I'm interrupting!!!
TT: I hope the rest of your life is as adventurous.
MM: You haven't even let me speak!!! How can this interview be over?!!! Huh?!!! Answer me that Mister Smartypants!!!
TT: Sorry. It just is.
MM: (Expletives deleted!!!)
TT: Th-th-th-that's all folks.

Somewhere there was something about Mary,
Andrew Joseph

Today's blog title is brought to you by ye Grand Funk Railroad: POWERTRIO
PS: Mary was always giving me the gears - but she was so cool to always call me at just the right moment with a birthday wish or a call to check in me or just to get the latest gossip while secretly ensuring I wasn't becoming suicidal.
PPS: Tomorrow's entry is a biography on one Catherine Komlodi - the former Tatami Times editor, but secretly my dream girl.
PPPS: Tatemai means 'white lies'. The photo above is the cover to that first issue of the Tatami Times. Tatami means grass floor mats. I didn't come up with the magazine name, but it's cool. I altered the artwork - one of the brilliant Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji by famed ukiyo-e artist Hokusai Katsushika (surname first). If you don't get my joke, it's a running Bugs Bunny cartoon gag. ALBUQUERQUE

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Build Me Up Buttercup

Despite the stereotypical view of the Japanese being short – they are actually the same average height as the French (wee-wee, monsieur)—Japan is home to a flower with the world’s longest genome.

I know – it sounds impressive. I thought it was something dirty, too. But then I realized I had no idea what the heck it meant. So I looked it up. Just for us. Now we can all seem a little bit smarter than the rest of the non-Wonderful Rife readers. They’re all idiots.

The Japanese flower – the Paris Japonica is the beautiful flower up here on the left. In an article released in September or October of 2010, the canopy flower, also known as the Kinugasaso, is a species of the genus Paris in the family Melanthiaceae – and has a genome with about 150 billion base pairs – that’s about 50 times larger than humans and gaijin (foreigners in Japan).

Because all organisms have cells – we share a common denominator with plants. Each cell has a nucleus, and each nucleus contains DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)Humans are supposed to have 46 chromosomes in our cells... the DNA in our cells would stretch out to 2 metres.

But the Paris Japoinica has 150 billion base pairs of DNA per cell, and is the largest genome of any plant... and if you were to stretch the DNA from a single cell, it would be over 100 meters long – which would be taller than Big Ben, the famed British tower in London, England.

This doesn’t mean that the flower is more complex than us... well, it does, but in a somewhat dangerous way that I’ll save for a few paragraphs.

The genomes contained within the plant – well, most of the DNA is actually called non-coding DNA. It means that the DNA in the plant is not used to create skin, hair, eyes or brain or even leaves and flowers. It’s multiples of repeated DNA sequences.

It’s not more intelligent or more complex than a human being. It just has extra DNA that isn’t really related to the overall structure of the plant. So what does the extra long genome mean?

Here’s the kicker: When it comes to cell division, because of the amount of DNA that needs to be copied, it takes a heck of a lot of time relative to a human being or other organisms on this plant. This plant is not an annual. It is unable to grow its cells fast enough to produce a plant, a flower and a seed in one year, and for that reason, it is known as a perennial.

What it does mean is that it takes a lot longer to replicate. It’s a scientific fact that organisms with long genomes like the Paris Japonica, well, they are predisposed to have a greater risk of extinction.

It also means that people are going to need to look after these plants to ensure they have enough time to replicate, because they are not a quick-to-adapt species.

Here’s some info about the plant. It will flower in July – sometimes every year. The white flower (see photo) sits above a base of eight leaves and thrives best in a cool, humid or shady place. Hmmm... stupid science... cool or humid? Which one? I guess the sub-alpine area of Japan is best for it.

And because I feel the need to blind you all with science, when the Paris Japonica flower became the genome leader, it did so by besting the marbled lungfish, which only had 130 billion base pairs.

As mentioned, the Paris Japonica is the plant with the largest genome size... but since it’s crowning achievement as having the largest genome, a few other organisms have been found to have larger ones – like the current record holder, Polychaos dubium, a freshwater ambeoid (real close to an amoeba) which has 670 billion base pairs of DNA.

Somewhere glad I can achieve orgasm faster than these organisms can replicate,
Andrew Joseph
Today’s title is by The Foundations: It’s a cute song, and I’m sure you all know it: GENOME.
PS: Why this title and not the Thomas Dolby song: She Blinded Me With Science - well... Build Me Up Buttercup and Foundation all mean (in my mind) building blocks of life - DNA. I'm saving Thomas Dolby for later.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Waterfall

Threesomes. Every guy wants to have one, but should it happen, I'm sure most people don't quite know what to do. This blog is not about any sort of menage a trois, but is instead about Japan's three most beautiful waterfalls.

Nachi Falls situated in southern Wakayama-ken (Province of Wakayama) is stunning. It has the Hiryu shrine situated at the foot of the waterfall. It's one of my favourite photos...



Kegon Falls, located in Tochigi-ken (Province of Tochigi) on the Daiyagawa River that flows from Lake Chuzenji-ko.

While I do have a brilliant colour photo of Kegon Falls in 1991, it's locked up in a very nice frame. This photo shows the Falls prior to an earthquake in the 1940s that changed the way it looks today. In the late 1990s, another earthquake shrunk it to its current size of 97 meters. Click HERE for more info on the waterfall.


Fukuroda Falls, off the Takigawa River in northeastern Ibaraki-ken (Province of Ibaraki).

Its width is 73 meters, and is a cascading type of waterfalls with a total height of 120 meters. It was a real bugger to photograph for me, as I could only get a few of the steps in the frame. Since I know when I'm licked, click  HERE for a nice site with a couple of excellent photos. 


Somewhere wet and wild,
Andrew Joseph
Today's appropriately named title is by ELO - the Electric Light Orchestra

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cover Of The Rolling Stone

This story is nothing to sneeze at.

In March of 1991, I had to spend the first four days of my week teaching at Wakakusa Chu Gakko (Wakausa Junior High School) in the small city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken in Japan.

I was feeling fine. The weather was warn and sunny. Wakakusa is a very nice school with friendly smart students and equally cool teachers. Tomura-sensei (Mr. Tomura, teacher) was the head English teacher (eigo-no sensei) there, and always came to my apartment at Zuiko Haitsu to pick me up and drive me to school.

Arriving at the school, I went in to the teacher's lounge on the second floor of this modern, and clean institution and made my greetings to the principal and vice-principal, and all of the other teachers there. Almost before I could sit down at my desk, one of the female teachers would always have a piping hot cup of o-cha (green tea) to hand to me, while bowing graciously.

It's always a great time. The weather outside is so nice that all of the windows on the far side of the lounge are wide open letting in the fresh air. It's a nice change of pace considering how cold it had been just a few weeks previous.

Sitting at my desk and examining my teaching schedule, my nose began to get runny. Then my body began to get achy. I felt tired. I had chills. I had a fever.

I was sick, but had never been hit so hard or so hard in my life.

Tomura-sensei was alarmed and quickly drove me back home. I had only been in school for five minutes.

I got into my apartment  - with help from Tomura-sensei - said good-bye and that I'm sure I would be fine tomorrow... and here's the funny thing... within minutes after he left, I was fine.

World's greatest actor? Perhaps. But I wasn't acting. I was genuinely feeling ill. And now I was genuinely feeling better.

Not wanting to be fooled, I took some ibuprofen (Aspirin), drank a bottle of orange juice and went to sleep for a few hours.

I awoke having to pee, but otherwise still feeling great. No runny nose or body ache - nothing. I watched some television, did some laundry and vacuumed the apartment.

The next morning, I'm still feeling fine - but again upon arriving at the teacher's lounge - 2nd floor - at Wakakusa, I began to feel ill again.

Someone - and I'm unsure who - thought it might be an allergy. They asked me if I had any allergies. I told them I had none that I knew off - but that was in Canada. Through frantic translations with Tomura-sensei, it was indeed determined that I was allergic to something at Wakakusa.

That's when it was pointed out that the Japanese Black Spruce tree was in full bloom at this very moment - and with the windows wide open on the second floor, and the trees being at that height and taller - I was getting a real good dose of pollen. Apparently I wasn't the only one suffering, but I was suffering the best, or worst, depending on your own view of these things.

While Monday was indeed the heaviest day of pollen at Wakakusa, it was still heavy enough for me to go home again on Tuesday. As a precaution, Wakakusa had a gaijin-free week until the tree stopped dropping pollen. In fact, the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) over the next three years refused to allow me to teach at Wakakusa during heavy pollen times. Other schools were fine, because none of the others had Japanese Black Spruce all over the yard.

Somewhere my nose is running and my feet smell,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog was written and performed by: Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show - TAKEALLKINDOFPILLS


PS: Back in Canada, I later found out I was allergic to cats, goldenrod, and molds. I wasn't tested for Japanese Black Spruce, but it's safe to say I can add that to the list.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Japan's Three Most Beautiful Views

Japan likes to do many things in threes. 

Well... not really, but it does have several lists denoting its top three of blah-blah-blah.

Since it's important to the Japanese, it's important to me.

Today, for your edification are Japan's three most beautiful views (日本三景 Nihon Sankei - which means Japan's three views) as first listed by Hayashi Razan, a scholar, back in 1643. Personally, I just think its cool that they know who first thought up this list. 

While this is Japan's official list, I've got photos of places that seem as impressive. Of course, that's just my opinion. A gaijin's opinion at that. Here's the list:  

  • Ama no Hashidate (天橋立). Located in northern Kyoto-ken (Province of Kyoto), this view denotes a sandbar that juts out into Miyazu Bay - facing the Sea of Japan - that connects the two opposing sides of Miyazu Bay. The sandbar is 3.3 kilometres long and is covered in pine trees. Stunning. 

The ukiyo-e image is by famed artist Ando Hiroshige and was done in 1840.



  • Itsukushima (厳島) also known as Miyajima (宮島). This is my favourite view of Japan - showing an island rising from Hiroshima Bay in southwestern Hiroshima-ken (Province of Hiroshima).
I've used an image showing the Itsukushima shinto shrine that is as beautiful as it is famous. This image was taken back in the 1930s, and is part of a photo album I purchased in Utsunomiya-shi (City of Utsonomiya). 

  • Matsushima (松島). This is a grouping of small islands in Matsushima Bay in central Miyagi-ken (Province of Miyagi). There are 260 tiny islands covered in pine trees. Matsushima translates into shima/jima = islands and matsu = pine trees.  

The photo here - this is the view that everyone tries to capture... this one is a sunrise. It's so gorgeous, that noted Haiku poet Matsuo Basho was rendered so awestruck, that he couldn't find the words to adequately describe it - so he didn't.


Somewhere being scenic but not heard,
Andrew Joseph