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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Near Collapse of Japanese Way Of Life Noted In 1880

I am about to present to you a letter written by a natural scientist who traveled to Japan in 1879, and not only saw how changes in the socio-economic system of the country was affecting the way the people cared about its former glorious samurai past under the Shogun, but also provides some interesting insight on Japan's flora and fauna (plants and animals), though admittedly, the animal life is restricted pretty much to the water and the water's edge.

This look back is courtesy of a scientific expedition undertaken by the Swedish Arctic Exploration vessel, the SS Vega (see image above).

Known as the Vega Expedition (Vegaexpeditionen in Swedish) of 1878–1880, it was under the leadership of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, and was the first Arctic expedition to navigate through the Northeast Passage (the water route between Europe and Asia through the Arctic Ocean, and the first voyage to circumnavigate Eurasia.
The route of the Vega Expedition
Though it was initially a troubled enterprise, the successful expedition is considered to be among the highest achievements in the history of Swedish science.

At the conclusion of its Arctic exploration, the Vega decided to take a roundabout route home after exploring the Arctic waters, and decided to do some sightseeing and mild research of interesting locales, including Japan.

It is worth noting that although the year is 1879 (when the account was written, and 1880 when presented in the newspaper), Japan had first 'opened' its doors to foreigner missions about 20 years earlier…

He notes that within that 20 year time period, the world has actually become quite familiar with the Japanese, so common references to writing about climbing Mt. Fuji, or commenting about kimono or how they eat with chopsticks is pretty much old news for the visitors of 1879, as well, it is expected, for the newspaper reader of 1880 who has been bombarded with Japanisms in the media for the past 20 years, and have probably even seen a real Japanese person via a visiting circus (Read my history on that HERE).

Basically, the writer fears that average westerner has become a tad jaded regarding the mysterious Japanese who seem intent on becoming mow European, now that they have seen the error of their chonmage (pony-tail, top-knot hair style of the samurai class) years as a warrior nation.

So… having said that… why do I think this is one of the most interesting essays I have ever seen on Japan?

Well…

As detailed in the February 12, 1880 edition of the New York Herald via a letter from Professor A.E. Nordenskiöld to Dr. O. Dickson, at Gothenburg (the second-largest city in Sweden), we are given a nice account of the research ship Vega's stay in Japan in 1879.

A.E. Nordenskiöld (b. November 18, 1832 - d. August 12, 1901) was a Finnish baron, botanist, geologist, mineralogist and arctic explorer of Finland-Swedish origin. He was a member of the prominent Finland-Swedish Nordenskiöld family of scientists.
Professor A.E. Nordenskiöld

(And... thanks again to Vinny for suggesting I glimpse at the newspaper materials from the Early American Newspapers via www.readex.com. This is one heck of a fine resource!!!)

Not just a sailor's account of the people or the customs - here we get to see the foreigners view of Japan's flora and fauna - apparently something the international community had not properly documented.

This is NOT a dry letter. It's written in simple language despite the fact that the letter appears to be between two scientific colleagues.

A bit of insight:
Tokio = Tokyo
Kioto = Kyoto
Labuan = a territory off the coast of Borneo in East Malaysia.
Hinloopan Strait= is the strait between Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet in Svalbard, Norway.
Okuaki = a Japanese native's surname who probably never offered any given name to his western employer or friend, something that continues to be the de facto norm in 2014.
Literato = Italian tern meaning 'the literate'
Sinatism (under the book list) = I am assuming this is related to the Sinai, and thus to Judaism.
Mikado = Title given to the Emperor of Japan.

I'll not present the whole article, but will skip to the more poignant facts in the missive - and remind you that the ship has just come back from a very successful mission in the Arctic Ocean. And, while purposely limiting themselves at other ports with only enough time to gather samples without becoming in-depth (a fact the letter writer acknowledges was done on purpose), the Vega broke that rule when visiting Japan thanks to a what they termed to be a 'flattering reception'.

"It is, however, however, only due to mention that the government, learned societies, prominent natives and foreigners at Yokohama, Tokio, Kobe, Kioto and Nagasaki have rivaled each other in rendering the Vega's expedition a homage that seldom was extended to a kindred undertaking."

You get the point.

The longer stay in Japan was actually done because of the typhoons that hit the area when the Vega was in Japan around September… there's usually about five or so typhoons around that time.

Animal Life In The Sea Of Japan
"It has already been mentioned that the results of the dragging along the shores of Japan were very slight, owing to the poverty of animal life at the bottom of the sea, and the same may be said in regard to the draggings between Hong kong, Labuan and Singapore, and also in the Malacca Sound, notwithstanding the fact that the bottom consisted alternately of clay, sand, coral sand, stones and rocks, which ought to have been at least somewhere favorable to the development of rich animal life. While in the Arctic the trawl net nearly always brought to the surface many hundreds of animals, while in these southern waters we seldom picked up more than a couple every time; now and then not a single one. To our enormously great collections from the Arctic and from the sea between Behring's Sound and Behring's Island, therefore the dragging south of Yokohama have given us but very little. It may be proper here to mention that during this and the previous exploring expeditions which I have headed, the richest animal life was found in favorable places at the bottom of the Arctic Sea at the depth of between 20 and 100 feet in the very middle of Hinloopan Strait (… etc.). In these places, the annual average temperature of the sea is between +/-0 degrees and -2.7 degrees C. A temperature at or below the freezing point, therefore, seems to be more favorable to the development of a rich animal life at the bottom of the sea than a temperature of +15 degrees to +25 degrees; a highly remarkable fact, which has not yet, so far as I know, been duly set forth. It must, however, be observed that the invertebrates of the south are greater and more magnificent than those of the north, and the specific coast fauna which in the seas of the high north is entirely missing has here arrived at a high development. Our collections from the coast belt have not been so comprehensive as could have been desired. The Vega has mostly anchored near settled places and mouths of rivers, where no large number of sea animals could be expected to any greater depth, as the implements of the Vega were chiefly calculated for the comparatively shallow water of her course over the Siberian Sea, and not for the deep sea of Japan, where the necessary implements could not be obtained.

Vegetable Life In Japan
The Japanese food from the animal kingdom consists almost exclusively of fish, which abounds on the shores of Japan. Land and fresh water mussels, on the contrary, are so rare that even in the best situated places one may seek in vain for hours after a single shell. Even in the northern parts of Scandinavia one may gather more land mussels in a few hours than in as many days in Japan. Lieutenant Nordqvist, nevertheless, has by his diligence succeeded in forming a fine collection, which, no doubt, will prove a valuable contribution to the section of East Asiatic fauna.
The number of higher plant forms which are met with in the tropical and semi-tropical countries is so overwhelming that months must elapse before the naturalist can acquire a tolerably complete knowledge of the land plants even within a very limited district. Thus the time allotted to get our sojourn here was to scare to allow us to indulge in any prospects of enriching this science, especially as the plants of a higher order already have been carefully examined and investigated.
I think, however, that the view our botanists have taken of the glorious vegetation on Japan's plains and mountain slopes, on Labuan's meadows and marshes, in Hong Kong's and Singapore's luxurious gardens and nurseries, has enlarged their insight into the science to which they have devoted themselves more than any studies of books or collections of dried plants could ever have done. Although the plants of a higher order, which belong to this quarter of the world, may be very well known, there are still other plant groups of a lower order which furnish us with rich materials for further investigation. Among these are to be counted algae and lichens, of which very valuable collections will be brought home by Dr. Kjellman and Dr. Almqvist.

Relics And Literature
Never has a nation in a peaceful way so thoroughly changed as the Japanese during the last two decades.
That Japan which once was resembles very little that Japan which now is, and the peculiarities which are still left will, perhaps, in the next two decades have vanished.
The consequence is that masses of old weapons, bronzes, household furniture, &c (etc.), are at present sold in most of the cities at extremely low prices. As these relics of Japan's earlier history and culture are now scattered in every direction, they will soon become rare, and even in larger collections be considered veritable curiosities.
I have availed myself of this opportunity by buying ethnological articles, especially old bronzes and weapons. A still more valuable contribution to the knowledge of Japan's earlier history and culture is afforded by the very rich collection of Japanese books that I have succeeded in gathering dung my short stay in the country. In this I was assisted by a young, educated native, acquainted with the French language, whose name was Okuaki. He searched in my behalf the stores of innumerable booksellers in Yokohama and Tokio, and when no further additions could be made in those cities I sent him to Kioto, which for centuries had been the capital and the university city of Japan. In going to considerable expense for buying books I was guided by my desire to bring home from our visit to Japan something more valuable and lasting than collections of natural products gathered in a few weeks in a country already well known. Besides, it is just now the right time for making such a collection of books.
The old feudal estates have lately been confiscated, and the politically powerless court scattered since the Mikado has retaken the whole power and moved the seat of the government from Kioto to Yokohama.
The private collections of books as well as the old armories and weapons go now to the antiquity shops.
The natives who have betaken themselves to imitations of European literato despite the old books of their own country, I, therefore, feel assured that a collection like that I bring home with me in a very few years will become extremely rare and valuable.

A Rare Collection
The number of the works which constitute this collection is about one thousand, and the volumes amount to nearly six thousand, most of which are not larger than our books of 100 pages. As far as can be judged from the not very significant titles, they are divided into the following different branches:—

                                                  Number of Works
History                                                    176
Buddhism and Education                        161
Sinaitism                                                   38
Christianity (printed 1715)                         1
Manners and customs                               33
Plays                                                         13
Laws                                                           5
Political Science and kindred                   24
Poetry                                                     137
Archaeology, Heraldic, Ceremonies         27
Strategy                                                    41
Chess                                                          1
Numismatics                                               4
Dictionaries, Grammar                            18
Geography, Maps                                     70
Natural History                                         68
Medicine                                                    13
Arithmetic, Astronomy, Astrology             31
Agriculture                                                43
Art of designing                                         73
Horticulture                                               16
Bibliography                                                9
Miscellaneous                                            20
                                                                ------- 
Total                                                      1,030

Most of them are illustrated by innumerable wood cuts, always peculiar, often of masterly execution.
The seventy-three books on the art of designing may become of real value, not only to the history of the art, but also to art industry. The poetical works of fiction give us an insight into the interior life of a former feudal state in a certain degree very much developed, but in its development quite independent of European influence. This may also be said of the works on the theatre, which often seem to be quite remarkable.
When we arrived at Japan the health of those on board was as good as possible. We escaped the sever cholera epidemic then raging; but, having advanced farther to the south, several of the crew were seized by more or less grievous disasters, probably owing to the sudden changes of climate and diet. The engineers and firemen especially have been frequently unable to work, and it has ben necessary to employ Chinamen in their places, At present, however, the sate of the health of all is satisfactory.
                        A.E. Nordenskjold.
   

- 30 - The End

Now… wasn't that the most brilliant piece of writing on Japan - especially the concerns about Japan losing its identity in its rush to embrace all things western?

The writer had fears that by the dawn of the 20th century that Japan would essentially have traded its identity for that of the European.

Even in 2014, they haven't, though, of course, in many ways they have. Which is why I continue to write this blog and can have a valid view of things even 20 years removed.

The writer fears when he notes that Japanese are selling off all of their Japanese fashions and furnishings and shunning their long-standing way of life for a more dapper western one.

Of course, in my opinion, dapper is in the eye of the beholder.

I also love that the writer/scientist seems to have come to the correlation that the colder the waters, the more sea life one should be expected to find, and only laments the fact that they didn't have deep enough nets to get down into the deeper and colder aspects of the Sea of Japan to prove that point. 

Now… I'm no marine biologist, but since the waters had been roiled around a bit by various typhoons, it might be plausible that the waters had been more or less vacated by some of the marine life.

As well… perhaps in September or October the areas around the waters of Japan were no longer fertile, as many species of fish tend to migrate around the oceans…

Or perhaps in that time of the year it had already been fished out by the Japanese fishermen… or perhaps when they asked the Japanese fishermen where to go the Japanese fishermen could have sent them to 'dead zones' to protect their own happy fishing grounds. This is less likely, but I toss the idea out nonetheless.

As an aside, the New York Herald had sponsored the George W. Delong arctic expedition beginning in 1879, but by 1881, after this article was published, it became known that this expediton via the boat the USS Jeannette with a plan to find a quick way to the North Pole via the Bering Strait - was a failure, with the boat being crushed by ice and some 19 dead.

I will present a bit more about the whole adventure in Japan in an account shortly.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, May 30, 2014

They're At The Post... And the Racism Is On!

Sometimes a spade is not just a spade... it's a fugging shovel!

A lot of people like to express their views and offer opinions on subjects, which is why social media has made giants of such platforms as Twitter and Facebook.

But, despite allowing everybody to have their shorter than 15-minutes of fame, oft times social media can become a minefield.

It's that way for people who blog, of course. There's a certain responsibility each blogger should maintain, to express the truth or facts, as they see it.

It mean you can have an opinion.

I oft-times will, but when I do, I'm hardly stepping out into the war zone, as I safely tread the path of least resistance.

That doesn't mean I avoid controversy - or maybe it does - but rather it means I'm simply not interested in becoming a lightning rod for anything.

More often than not, my views seem middle-of-the-road, wishy-washy, perhaps because my views are of the general consensus. Perhaps.

Last week, I received an e-mail from some reader who had read one of my blogs on this site (I have several that I write under my own name, and sometimes under an alias - just because) and was not impressed.

He or she... and I'm assuming it's a 'she', took umbrage over my self-deprecating writing style - so much so that she completely missed the fact that I write in a self-deprecating style and felt the need to complain that I am a sex addict.

Sex addict? No. But, I do enjoy sex very much when the opportunity presents itself. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many of the women I have been with, the experiences have been on the plus side as far as being enjoyable and well worth repeating.

That commentator then decided that because she had met a few Indian people in her daily life, and had seen a few Bollywood movies, that the entire Indian population - some one-sixth of this planet's people - are all unfriendly and arrogant.

Yes... and if you are a Libra, then one-twelfth of the people on the planet are having a day just like you.

I always love it when people want to call you (me, in this case) a name - such as 'sex addict' and back-up the point with some racist comment.

It's when I receive sh!t like that, that it makes me realize just how much farther the human race needs (as a whole) to climb up and out of the primordial ooze. For those of you not interested in Darwinism, perhaps the following analogy will suit you better: "... that it makes me realize just how much farther along the Bible one needs to read to realize that 'he or she' who is without sin, should cast the first stone."

Anyhow, you should read how I took apart the commentator in a polite, but effective manner, in the blog I call You Know What I Hate? right HERE.

On a similar but unrelated note, I am reading a book given to me by my friend Vince (he actually mailed me over 20 books that I am slowly reading, owing to my inability to figure out how to survive without sleep).

The book is: Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist, a very well-written memoir of Baye McNeil, who is either Black or African-American. I'm pretty sure Black people don't have to be African-American... you know, like people from Africa.

Anyhow... I have just started the damn thing, and I have already found McNeil's opinions to be distasteful. I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm just saying what he is describing is distasteful.

He talks about racism in Japan.

I'm one of those people of whom he speaks of early on in the book, describing the foreigner who is so high on Japan, that they never saw racism anywhere.

But I did, of course.

I just haven't gotten around to writing very much about it because it wasn't a part of my daily life that affected me at all.

I've had a Japanese female student cringe as I talked to her, her shouting of 'kowai', which means 'ugly, scary or creepy'... but because it sounds so similar (to the untrained foreigner ear) to 'kawaii', which means 'cute', I was confused by her word and by her physical cringing. I just assumed she was being a giddy teenaged girl rather than a racist.

I've been part of a large gathering of gaijin teachers trying to get into a bar in Tokyo, only to be told that it's a private party—knowing that they actually meant private for Japanese people.

I've been called 'gaijin', which literally means 'outsider' and gawked at so often that it almost became amusing at how ignorant people were. But to me, that was ignorance not down and out racism.

I do know that racism exists in Japan and that for some people it was very difficult.

I do know that Black people in Japan had it far more difficult than anyone else of another hue. It was like the Japanese (not all, mind you) seemed have some built-in distrust of Black people and I never learned why.

But... I do know that one Black guy was a scumhole who took advantage of every person he met in Japan, borrowing money and furniture and them turning around and selling things and taking off for home.

Conversely, I do know of a Black woman who was the sweetest person I met on JET, who always had a smile on her face - a genuine one - and if there were any incidents of racism, either she was quick to brush it off, or simply never told me about it. Not everyone tells me everything. She had a nice stay in Japan and stayed at least a second year.

But for me... whatever minor plays of racism I had acted out at or near me, it was never enough to dampen my enthusiasm.

I walked into Japan knowing that there was some racism issues in the country and really, what I saw in my city was nothing. Even in hindsight, I would have no qualms about living the rest of my life in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken. The people were that nice to me.

As such, Japan never took my smile away from me. Few things ever have in my life.

I've mentioned this many times, but during my personal interview to get into the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, I was asked about racism.

Q: The Japanese have sometimes been accused of being racist. How would you handle a situation if racist comments were directed back towards you in Japan?"

Me: "The same way I do practically every day in Canada. With a smile on my face. If there is an opportunity to educate, then I will, with words that teach rather than provoke. But, if like in Canada there is no opportunity to educate, a simple policy of 'turning the other cheek' would have to suffice as there is no way anything I say or do is going to change the mindset of someone."

Trust me... that was a key reason I got in to JET to teach in Japan.

Like most people of color living in so-called 'western society' or so-called 'first-world' nations, we experience more racism against us than you might imagine.

Sorry... not every one is as nice as you.

Some of them aren't even as the commentator who believes me to be arrogant and unfriendly even for a sex addict. If I was a sex addict, and a functioning one, being arrogant and unfriendly would not let me get laid.

But whatever. In Canada racist behavior in the big cities still exists (d'uh), but it certainly is not as pronounced as it was back in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, etc.

Aside from the global community in the blogosphere, it's been a long time since I've had a racial slur slagged in my general direction (and known about it).

Regardless, I don't let bulls!t comments sour me on life. There are plenty of other reasons to be sour on life.

But I still walk around with a smile pasted on my face, regardless if anyone is looking at me or not.

McNeil says he had a harsh grounding of racism growing up in the United States. Who am I to disagree with his own assessment?

I've had my own fair share of racism tossed my way growing up in Canada - so much so that some days all I wanted to do was crawl up into a ball and die rather than suffer through yet another day of abuse.

I've read about people being pushed onto the subway rails onto oncoming trains in Toronto and worried for the safety of my mother, and perhaps because of it, I am extremely aware of my surrounding regardless of where I am or what I am doing.

I was asked to cover (as a newspaper reporter) a Black Community meeting because the newspaper I worked for didn't have anyone else close enough in color available - even though there were far more experienced and better reporters around than myself. That event was convened to discuss the alleged Toronto police habit of shooting Black people.

I've been pushed, beaten up, yelled at, spat at and had things thrown at me here in Canada before I went to Japan, and after I went to Japan. I've been called names that make me wonder where creativity has disappeared to, along with common human decency.

I've had women say that they could date me, but could never meet their family, as they would never approve. On the opposite side of that same scarred coin, I've had Brown women say they could date me, but never meet their family because we weren't the same religion.

But I don't whine about it.

That does not mean that I simply turn the other cheek and accept it.

I made myself bigger, and eventually extracted pay-back... by that I mean I'm not afraid to take two punches to get one in, because I know how to make that one punch count.

I have a hair-trigger temper, but seeing as I have a lot of hair, one has to find that correct trigger to set me off.

I will defend my family and friends, but if they've screwed up, I'll, in no uncertain terms, let them know.

If I have screwed up, I will let you know.

I have an incredible ego, but those who know me realize I lack an ego (not in the true psychological definition of the word, of course).

In Japan, I always walked around with a smile on my face, and offered an unsolicited polite and kind word or greeting for everyone I met.

I'm not stupid enough to assume I am everyone's cup of o-cha (green tea) in any place I find myself, but if someone is not going to like me, let it be because that's their problem, and not because of something I've personally done or because of some negative attitude I carry around with me.

I know that all I can do, is simply be the nice guy I pretend to be, and hopefully make anyone with a racist thought give pause as to why they think like that.

Hell... one of my best friends... after meeting his folks for the first time (I was in my mid-20s), they said that I wasn't like the other ragheads they had met - that I was different (in a good way).

I'm lucky as far as many minorities go. I'm an average looking guy with an above average sense of humor. I'm polite with manners. I don't put anyone other than myself down. I'm probably not as smart as I think I am, but I'm still smarter than most people but don't show off regarding my smarts. I'm good at most sports. I'm involved in my community. I have above average communication skills even amongst those who are communicators. I even speak with the local Toronto accent, supposedly a neutral accent. I have a big booming voice and a sometimes high laugh. I know more about hockey and baseball than most people do. The same for all the nerdy past times. And I like women. A lot.

I don't go back to whatever old country my ancestry is from. I don't have to eat the cuisine - in fact, I prefer Italian, Chinese and Japanese food over Indian by a large margin. I'm lousy at math. Don't have any religious tendencies that make some people nervous. I also like people. I'm not arrogant or unfriendly, which is why I have no problem volunteering my time to coach soccer and teach baseball. Plus, I still have to find time to yell at my family and make sure every one is well taken care of.

In short, I'm the non-threatening Brown guy who considers himself to be just an average Canadian dude. Nothing more... nothing less.

Makes you wonder a bit, but then again, maybe some people just haven't met the right people and always seem to walk away with a negative experience...

Then again... sometimes it takes two to tango... that if you aren't smiling and being a nice person, then neither will they - regardless of age, sex, race, color or creed.

I freely admit to not being a racist.

I don't give a crap about race. I don't cross the street because I see a gang of Black thugs hassling people who pass - BUT, I would cross the street just so I don't get involved with a bunch people acting stupid. To me, that's not racially-charged, because I would cross the street to avoid a noisy situation if it involved Black, White, Brown, Tan, Red, Yellow, Blue or whatever color of Crayola crayon you care to toss out.

My mom was so light in color that her Portuguese ancestry was dominant as an Indian. My father, who was darker than me, has vitiligo and has lost all skin color. The first woman I slept with in Japan was White (and a southern belle). I have slept with Black women, White women. Brown women and yes, Yellow women, if I must put a color on such things.

Do I have a preference? No. My wife is White. My son is beige. One uncle is Black, and so is my cousin, but never have I ever had to say what color anyone was to describe anyone.

Race? Racist? I don't hate any race more than another, nor do I love or like one race more than another.

Do stereotypes exist? Yes, because sometimes they are true. One of my most excellent friends, Tristan says that yes he likes fried chicken. He's Black. But so what?! I like fried chicken. So much so that my arteries are clogged with chicken fat. I'm not Black. I'm not White. I'm not Brown.

All I have ever wanted to be was just be Andrew, and that's how I strive to live my wonderful rife.

That doesn't mean that racism doesn't exist, of course.

One would have to be incredibly stupid or naive to assume something like that. Racism exists. It's everywhere, but I do not believe that everyone possesses a racist attitude (and is thus racist) about something. Some people are actually more human than that.

Recently, I wrote a blog where I mentioned the word 'gay', 'lesbian' or 'homosexual', and was immediately bombarded by spam e-mails telling me all about how homosexuality can be stopped if we boycott Visa (credit card) after an openly gay man was drafted into the NFL.

The thing is... I'm not against homosexuality. It's not for me, but that doesn't mean it's not for others. I recall quite strongly opining that as long as anything sexual is between two consenting adults and no one gets hurt (unless consensual), then who cares? I sure as hell don't need to waste my time worrying about anyone else's sexual practices, when it's quite obvious I am in need of some practice myself. Shut the eff up Alan Iverson.

Let's all go read a good book.

How about Goldilocks and the Three Bears?
Once upon a time there were three bears. They weren't Black bears, they weren't Brown bears... let's just call them third-world bears.

That was Robin Williams on his "Reality... What A Concept" album from 1979, that I haven't listened to in over 30 years but could quote whole skits at you without hesitation, and in his Orkness' voice.

So... I'll at least try to read Loco's book, but to what end, I am unsure. He would hate the pap I spew, but hopefully he would see that I take the mickey out of Japan as I take the mickey out of myself and western civilization when examining the exact same point.

Again... I'm not saying I don't want to read the book because he's Black, or because he's African-American, I'm saying I'm just not interested in reading anyone's negative thoughts. I often hear that sh!t all day long as I spend (like on Thursday) 90-minutes in highway traffic to have the privilege of going to work, and my only escape is talking to you.

Thank goodness a few of you respond back without talking back.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, May 29, 2014

AKB48 Members Attacked By Saw-Wielding Maniac

He came, he saw, he disrembered why he was there.

On Sunday May 25, 2014, two members of the all-hot girl group AKB48 were attacked by a man with a saw during a fan event in Takizawa, Iwate-ken.

The saw is a folding saw, which looks quite ominous, but luckily for the two women: Kawaei Rina, 19, and Iriyama Anna, 18, they only suffered cuts to their heads and fingers - which isn't to say they were minor injuries, only that it could have been much worse.

Still, the women underwent emergency surgery at the Iwate Medical University Hospital in Morioka, and (exhale) the surgery was successful, and are now in stable condition, possibly able to leave on Tuesday. 

The special meet-and-greet event allows fans to meet members of the group in person, allowing the fans to enter the tents individually to shake hands or possible pose for photos with the group members.

Iriyama Anna, AKB48
Interesting that the fans are allowed in individually. I've only ever seen mayhem at events like ComicCon, with fanboys and fangrrls stand in a long line-up with their target celebrity in sight, with only the need to line-up in a straight line and having $20 to $50 (or more) to pay for the honor being the chief form of security.  No… I've never paid for an autograph. I'm a fan, not a fanatic. 

The singers were standing at the entrance to a tent, and were immediately set upon by the 24-year-old attacker, Umeta Satoru (image at the top), who said later that he was not trying to specifically kill anyone in AKB48, but rather, just wanted to kill anyone.

Yeesh.

Sounds like someone has some major mental health issues going on, which doesn't excuse the crime, but does indicate that Umeta needs some help rather than just straightforward jail time.

What's interesting, is that even though Umeta says he just wanted to kill someone - only no one in particular, still the police want to know what his motive was.

His motive? He was not in his right mind. Mental health issues! There's no legitimate motive… just someone who's messed up and doesn't know he's messed up.

Umeta snuck his folding knife in a bag to avoid detection.

An example of a folding saw, open and closed - it can do some damage if used violently.

There were no bag checks at this event—fans say even then AKB48 events don't have much in the way of cursory checks anyway—which has many calling for tighter security.

Knee meet jerk. There's nothing wrong with having tighter security, but in this day and age, it should have been implemented long before anything like this had to happen.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… there are few guns in Japan and excluding turf wars between alleged gang members or other gangster-related activities, violent crimes are rare in Japan.

But here's the thing… for some reason - perhaps because of a larger range of media - there seems to be more violent crimes committed by people with mental health issues. I'm not just talking about Japan. No - pick a country - any country, and you'll see someone snap and behead someone on a bus.

You don't need a gun to be violent. Knives work well, as do swords. Where could someone get a sword in Japan? Any damn place you want. How about the sword shop down by the corner. It's not like the sword shop owners are checking to see if the purchaser is in his or her right mind…
Kawaei Rina, AKB48

Here's the thing… most people will never be able to tell if someone is suffering from some sort of mental/chemical imbalance.

They look and act perfectly sociable, but in their head, it's another matter as whatever it is that causes the thoughts is telling them to be socially 'bad'. They might even know that what they are doing is wrong, but the brain is convincing them that it needs to be done… and for whatever reason, they do it.

Afterwards, they might feel guilt over it, some might not. Some might feel the thrill of having done something bad, and will want to do it again. Some might not even recall doing what they did.

I've been told that they feel that it wasn't them doing these bad things, that it was someone else - which I understand as a concept, but don't buy as an excuse.

Umeta did do what he did, but because of a possible mental health reason, is he responsible for his actions?

It's a grey matter, if you'll pardon the pun.

While medication may not be the panacea for everyone's mental health problems - someone people are born with a defective brain - it might help.

I do think they are guilty, and may need to be segregated from society, but not in jail… perhaps in  healthcare facility where their mental issues can be closely examined and hopefully treated.

Anyhow, even though I'm not a fan of AKB48's music, I am a fan of hot Japanese women, and am glad their injuries were not severe.

Needless to say, after the incident, many of the AKB48 events have been canceled.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: No…  I do not suffer from any sort of chemical or mental imbalance. Yes, I do know quite a few people, including some in my family, who suffer from it… everything from depression, social anxiety disorder (afraid to drive on the highway or at night, or afraid to go into a store in case the clerks realize you don't know how to apply make-up), bi-polar (manic-depression), schizophrenia (as an example, hearing messages from the dog, or secret color coded messages from the television) - oh yes, I've come across those first hand.
… and though no one has physically hurt anyone (that I am aware of), the mental and emotional scars they leave behind on others are every bit as painful as what they (the ones with the chemical imbalance) suffer. Yes… it's a sore subject.
It makes me wonder. Growing up, I never saw anything like this. But, in my 20s… there it was. In my 30s, now I see more of it. In my 40s, it seems like more people than not have some sort of mental issue.
Is there an epidemic? Is it something social, societal, something with our diet? Or again, is it just a larger population means more issues, even though percentage-wise it's still the same as it was 100 years ago?  Or, are we just hearing more about it thanks to instant media? Or are people talking about it more because the social stigma isn't as damning as it was before? I said "as damning", implying that it still is damning…   
PPS: As for my sensational headline, it was meant to create a sensation. For legal reasons, let's say the attacker is an "alleged" maniac.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Corpse sent by mail marked 'doll'

Talk about your dead letter office.

I have to admit the first thing I thought when I saw the original headline "Japan woman's body sent by mail marked 'doll'" (in the May 26, 2014 edition of the New Straits Times) was that "Holy crap! Is some official agency sending a body across Japan by mail?!"

Thankfully no, but unfortunately, it means that we now have a sadistic murder on the loose in Japan, and a major failing of the Japan Post delivery service.

So… here's what happened, in brief… a woman was murdered, stuffed in a box and mailed across the country in an large, human-sized container, and then moved to a storage lock-up facility, where it was eventually discovered.

I know… it makes you want to read even more, doesn't it?

Okada Rika, a 29-year-old female nurse, was found in a storage locker in Tokyo… and the only reason I can come up with it being discovered is that it must have started to smell…

Upon examination of the locker, and corpse discovery, police note that it was in a mailing container, and that it had been labeled (and accepted by Japan Post) as a 'doll'.

So… Japan Post did not think it odd that a 'doll' should weigh 100-lbs… or did it not care, implying that there is some sort of malaise affecting the workers of the great postal service?

Someone should have been suspicious of a 100-lb doll, and could have had it opened up.

Let's come up with a plan, Japan Post… and time you see a package that is human-sized, put it aside for further scrutiny.

Police investigators have determined that the two-meter (6-foot, six-inch) box that the body of Okada was packed in (did they use those styrofoam peanuts or air packs or BubbleWrap, or cheap out and use newspaper, thereby providing a clue about the where the corpse is being shipped from?), was being transported FROM the southern part of Tokyo.

Okay… that was known not because someone was using packing materials made up of local newspapers (I hope), but rather because the Japanese postal service is pretty damn anal retentive, and who doesn't like that?

The delivery service that ferried the package — marked with the Japanese word for ’doll’ — 400 kilometers (230 miles) from Osaka to Tokyo was apparently paid for by someone signing Okada's name (hanko stamp!). As well, the rental of the lock-up in Tokyo was paid for by Okada's own credit card.

So… either Okada was considerate enough to know she was dying and took care of the funeral arrangements - poorly - or someone else killed her and provided the final indignity by adding to her credit card bill.

Okada was more than likely murdered, as she had been missing since late March, and after an examination by forensics, they found over a dozen stab wounds on her body—though none on her arms or hands, implying she did not have them up in a defensive posture.

Something SuspiciousThere are UNOFFICIAL reports that an unnamed woman—who had once been at the same elementary school as Okada—had flown from Tokyo earlier this month using Okada's passport.

Apparently she sent her luggage ahead, and flew with carrion. (Sorry, poor jokes).

Anyhow, this unnamed woman actually lived in Tokyo… just a few hundred yards from the lock-up where the package containing the corpse was placed.

That's suspicious…

Something FishyNow… I'm not sure why this was part of the news I saw, but apparently this unnamed former schoolmate of Okada lives with another woman - heavens! - who is Chinese - heavens, she must be guilty!

That was sarcasm.

Okay, I can see that the article is inferring that perhaps this unnamed woman who might be guilty of the murder is a lesbian.

As well, if we were to further our creative guessing, one might assume that the murder was some twisted lesbian love-thing that went horribly awry.

Even though the newspaper did NOT state anything about a sex-murder, simply by reporting that the 'alleged suspect' lives with a woman - and a Chinese woman, at that - that perhaps you might infer that some lesbian sex is involved.

Ooooh… we can sell more papers if there was a sex scandal involving three women, one of whom could be a Chinese spy - that is, if we had any evidence to back up that, or even if anyone actually bought newspapers anymore.

(As a former newspaper journalist with the Toronto Star, I lament the near-death experience of the printed newspaper as I celebrate reading stories on-line.)

ShanghaiedOur suspect and hopeful lesbian lover/roommate left Japan, flying from Tokyo's Haneda airport, flying to Shanghai, China on the same airplane.


Oh... so that's why it was important to note that unnamed female suspect was living with a Chinese woman.

Really… although no one is saying anything about a sex murder, they hope some smart ass (me) will point that out.

Faceeeeeeeeeboooooook
And, lastly, because Facebook is often the death of many people's plans to keep secrets while blabbing about everything to no one who gives a crap, apparently just before Okada went missing in late March, she wrote on her Facebook page that she was going to visit an old friend she had not seen in a decade.

The interesting thing about that, is that we can also surmise that Okada and the unnamed woman had previously met when they were around 19-years-old, which unless I am sorely mistaken is rather long in the tooth to still be in Japanese elementary school.

Strangely conspicuous by its absence, is the fact that the newspaper articles did NOT mention Okada's relationship status - like why is the 29-year-old Japanese woman not married?

Because she hasn't found the right guy… or… she prefers the company of women (who doesn't?)

Anyhow, this is a true story unfolding in Japan right now. It's a simple little murder case about a body stuffed in a locker after being mailed across the country. There are NO official allusions as to any sex crime, but when the facts do eventually come out, let's see if my reading between the newspaper lines is correct.

On second thought, there are no words written between the words.

Despite me seemingly making light of this horrific murder case, it's more of me taking a shot at how the media can tell you things without telling you anything…

Me? I ain't saying nothing.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I don't have anything against Facebook. I think if used correctly, it is a great way of staying in touch with Family & Friends. I don't not see the need to have hundreds and thousands of people you do not know as Facebook followers having the capacity to read your personal stuff. 'nuff said.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kinki University No More, I Kindai Miss It

Talk about not liking the name that was given to you.

Now… we're not talking about the name Seven for a boy or a girl a la George Costanza on the old classic Seinfeld television show… we're talking about a full-grown university in Japan that has been around since 1925.

I am talking about the Kinki University in Osaka, Japan that is named after the region it is located in: the Kinki Region (aka the Kansai region) that lies in the south central part of the main Japanese island Honshu.

According to the university, the name Kinki actually means: "the surrounding area of the capital city, Kyoto… which was the old capital city of Japan.

And yet… Kinki University, perhaps only just now - some 90 years after the fact - gets the fact that its name can be construed - in ENGLISH - to mean 'perverted'.

Having no knowledge of Japan before arriving there in 1990, I had no idea about that name, until the beautiful Kristine South - an American woman with a Japanese dad told me so. Kristine - probably the one woman I should have dated, but didn't prowled had me hold a Kinki t-shirt she had made while she snapped a picture o me holding it.

I have a wry grin on my face, perhaps due to dehydration after getting lost with her and her troop of fellow Kinki JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme newbie AETs (assistant English teachers) that first day we arrived in Nihon (Japan)… but I knew it was a funny, naughty connotation… and yet, trying to be mature, I never brought it up again… except when Kristine and I would grill each other with some adult long-distance phone talk.

Reach out, reach out and touch yourself… that's the long-distance feeling.

That's a pun which apparently tells you I'm old… Man I miss being younger.

Anyhow… Kinki University… in an effort to seem less perky and comical, has decided to change up its grand old tradition and bowing to gaijin snickering, has decided to change its name to Kindai University.

Kindai is a contraction of "Kin-ki" and "Dai-gaku", which means 'big school", a term used for any Japanese university.

Although perhaps a very kinky race, for the Japanese, the word 'kinki' just means what it means and no one there gives a crap about what the word could mean in English.


And yet… the university does.

According to Kinki (whoops, Kindai) dean Shiozaki Hitoshi (surname first), he felt that the old name caused some foreign would-be visitors to have doubts as to just what they were walking in to.

"The word kinky also means perverted," says Shiozaki to reporters during the announcement of the name change. "We have no other choice than to change the English name because we are serious about pursuing a more international school culture."

The university says it has long had issues with visiting foreign dignitaries and speakers having to muffle a snort with the old name, and hopes that now with a Kindai gentler name visitors and would-be international exchange students wouldn't be put off by the name…

Really? I would so go to a university named Kinki University because who wouldn't want to wear the school clothing around town to proudly declare one's intentions?

But fret not, fellow pervs and people with a deadly wicked sense of humor (I humbly submit that I quality both times with that description)… you can still get your sweaty hands all over some Kinki University swag for a while longer, as the university is not changing over to the new name until 2016.

So… Kinki University has changed its name because the dean and fellow board members are concerned about what the English-speaking foreigners think about it? Really?

That's pretty sad.

Geez… maybe we should change the name of Shitake mushrooms or Fukuoka.

Hell… it's university…

Cheers,
AndrewJoseph

Monday, May 26, 2014

Have A Drink With Hello Kitty

You know who Hello Kitty is, right?

But what is she?

Yes, yes, she's a mouthless, white pussycat with an adorable demeanor and a red bow.

But what IS Hello Kitty?

If we were to look inside Hello Kitty, we might find a lot of guts. Actually, you wouldn't, because… 

… she is a marketing phenomenon, that's what she is.

Created by Sanrio, a Japanese branding company that seems to specialize in all things kawaii (cute with a hint of barfing), Hello Kitty is perhaps their most famous creation.

They do own the rights to Peanuts (Good grief, you know… Snoopy & Charlie Brown) in Japan. They also own the rights to Mr. Men in Japan… and admittedly, I had to find out what that meant - and then it was (slap to the forehead) obvious. It's a UK series of books by Roger Hargreaves (and now his son Adam), that includes such cute characters as Mr. Tickle and Little Miss Chatterbox (see below).

Other characters that Sanrio has created include Badtz-Maru (a cute spikey-haired penguin),

Chococat (a cute black cat with no mouth)

and My Melody (a cute white bunny rabbit who has a mouth).
Anyhow, Hello Kitty equals 'hello money' to companies that license her to hawk their products.

Originally created to act as a shill to sell products to pre-adolescent females, Sanrio has since broadened her range, which has made Hello Kitty with some $5-billion a year.

Yes… a year.

So… who created Hello Kitty?

A Japanese woman names Shimizu Yuko (清水 侑子) did.  Born on November 1, 1946 in Chiba-ken (Chiba Prefecture), she went to Musashino Art University… and created Hello Kitty at Sanrio in 1974. Yes... that cat is 40 years old and looks marvelous.

She (Shimizu) retired in 1976, and while I am sure she saw how popular her character was when working, she probably kicks herself daily (if she doesn't still get a percentage point) from the $5-billion of yearly monies…

Who's kidding whom… when properties get valuable, companies get pissy. DC Comics and Marvel did that to their creators… and I'm sure Sanrio did that to Shimizu… being a woman probably didn't help, BUT, perhaps I am wrong and Sanrio continues to have an agreement with Japan's number one marketing tool creator.

Why call the cat Hello Kitty, or What's In A Name?

Whenever one walks into a Chinese or Japanese shop or restaurant or any sort of establishment, actually, you may have noticed a statuette of a cat (sometimes white, black or red) sitting, with one paw raised in the air.

This is the beckoning cat, and is used by shopkeepers to beckon customers into the shop…  Known as maneki-neko (招き猫, literally "beckoning cat), it is a Japanese good-luck charm that one hopes will bring good luck… or customers into the shop.

Maneki-neko wants your money.

The cats come in two varieties - left paw waving and right paw waving... and there's a lot of people making up crap saying which one is ideal.

For example, a common belief is that the left paw raised brings in customers, while a right paw brings good luck and wealth, although some believe the opposite, or that one paw is for luck and the other for wealth. Another interpretation says that a raised left paw attracts money, while a raised right paw protects it. Still others say that a left paw raised is best for drinking establishments, the right paw for other stores (those who hold their liquor well are called "left-handed" (hidari-kiki) in Japanese). Yet another interpretation is that right is for home and left for business.

It is commonly believed the higher the raised paw, the greater the luck. Consequently, over the years maneki-neko's paw has tended to appear ever higher. Another common belief is that the higher the paw, the greater the distance good fortune will come from.

Like I said... since it's made up, you can have it believe whatever you want it to be.

So... why does the cat wave anyhow? 

In Japan, the gesture Japanese people make to tell people to come here is this hand-raised fingers coming down towards the palm gesture...

Welcome to my shop... says the kitty cat waving hello... So... that explains the name... but not why it's in English, when it was created for a Japanese market... so all I can assume is that the Japanese - even back in the mid-1970s - though English was cool.

I'd like a bit of pram - or why Hello Kitty is white

It's certainly NOT a racist thing.

The white color of the maneki-neko is the classic color variation - in Japan, white means purity, and has long been one of those virtues the Japanese say they respect, for some reason, even if they don't always follow the path towards said virtue (we could have a discussion for days about that statement!).

Anyhow… Hello Kitty was created as a white cat… a kind of backwards marketing tool to be similar in design as the white beckoning cat but to also act as a way to bring good fortune to shopkeepers.

Pretty effing obvious when you see that connection, eh?

I must admit that it really is a bit of brilliant branding by Shimizu and Sanrio.

I do think it's interesting that they only focused initially on a young female audience, but what the heck, right. Little girls like cute.

The thing is… these little girls grew up, but they still liked cute, and each successive generation has continued that tradition.

And now, it's not just the Japanese who enjoy Hello Kitty… it's men and women, boys and girls in countries all over the world.

Some of the items that Hello Kitty has sold include: credit cards (Visa and Mastercard), bank books et al (Bank of America); jewelry (Simmons Jewelry Co.); candies, sweets, restaurants (some just for Sanrio's own Hello Kitty brand); video games (17 of them, I think) and animated television series (five and counting) and manga (comic books); music albums; a Hello Kitty Fender Stratocaster guitar (since 2006 and counting); and even some Hello Kiity jet planes (six, with demand asking for more).

I have a Hello Kitty ruler, some crappy kiddie fake cigarette candy sticks, and a LEGO-like building block set. The first was given to me in Japan by a female Japanese junior high school student I taught, an the rest is me swamped by the marketing might that is this beloved cat.

Which brings me to 2014. As mentioned, though initially marketed for pre-pubescent Japanese girls, Hello Kitty has crossed the age and gender gap to pubescence.

Despite lacking a mouth, Hello Kitty swears thish ish the best frickin' wine she's every effing tasted!
Hell… there's now Hello Kitty wine, and Hello Kitty alcoholic beverages that I assume is marketed towards women of legal drinking age.

I would assume in the case of the wine, that these women Hello Kitty wine imbibers are somewhat immature, regardless of their age.

Sommelier (wine steward): "Would madame care to see the wine list? We have a wonderful 1996 Shiraz from Australia that is a dense bouquet with layers of earth, chocolate, berry and oak where you can taste a sweet blackberry offset exquisitely by sweet chocolate, rounded off quite sublimely with sweet tannins and an obvious vanilla American oak component."

Japanese Woman: "Tee-Hee (covering mouth and nodding). Sumimasen, do you have Hello Kitty wine?"

Sommelier: "(Audible sigh) (French accent appears when depressed) Oui, madame. Would you care for za Hello Kitty Sweet Pink Sparkling Wine, za Hello Kitty Sparkling Rose Wine, za Hello Kitty Red Wine, or zee Hello Kitty Chardonnay Wine?"

Japanese Woman: "Which one goes with a Biggu Maco (Big Mac)?"

Sommelier: (Biting lower lip) All of zem, madame, but I might suggest zat zee Hello Kitty Red Wine is perhaps ze best choice."

Japanese woman: "Sugoi! (squealing) I'll take a bottle of it!"

Sommelier: "Oui madam. I shall be back wiz your order as well as a bib, in a moment."

Now obviously, it's not that bad, I hope.

These Hello Kitty wines are produced and distributed by the Italian Torti "Tenimenti Castelrotto" family, and retail anywhere between US $15-$29 a bottle depending on what color wine you want. I know… how gauche.

The most expensive wine I've ever had was maybe $10 and my palette couldn't tell why. Perhaps for the refined palette, the more expensive and therefore hopefully better quality wines are better appreciated… but come on… please tell me that people are only buying these wines for the cache appeal of being a Hello Kitty fan and not because they really dig the fermented grape juice.
Also new with the alcohol are the beers… which are hipper than the wines because they come in pop-top cans and not corked glass wine bottles from an Italian vineyard who are obviously whores to the almighty lira or whatever the fug they use for money these days.

Anyhow… I just wanted to show you these Hello Kitty alcohol fruit-flavored beer drinks…. that is being produced by the Long Chuan Beer Company, Taiwan's second-largest beer producer, for the Taiwan market only.

While some might question if it's a beer thanks to a mere 2.5% alcohol content, note that Shandy beers are often only 2.5% alcohol, and are also beer mixed with a fruity flavor.

Hey! This is a Hello Kitty Shandy beer!

Now.. I've had a few shandy beers back in the mid-1980s… very refreshing, but even after 12 of 'em there was no way I was going to get drunk enough to ask a girl to dance at a club… also perhaps because I was drinking a wimpy alcohol-content beer rather than a real drink.

Available in four refreshing pre-pubescent flavors: Passion Fruit, Lemon, Banana, and Peach.

Check out the drink cans. Okay… they got the colors correct for Banana and Lemon… No.. waitaminute!

Aren't Lemon's YELLOW? Why is the fruit's skin Green like a rime, I mean lime??!!

Sure you need to differentiate between the Lemon and Banana flavors considering both are usually yellow fruit…

So what about Passion Fruit and Peach?

Well… a peach is usually a pale orange color and if we were to look at a passion fruit, it seems like it's a red color, but the inside is actually a yellowy orange.

So… here, this company has used the correct pale orange color for its Passion Fruit, but then uses pink to describe its Peach drink.

I love it… it's so fugged up!

They correctly figured that everyone would screw up the whole lemon-lime color thing… and by the time they realized the mistake their giddy female customer base would be too drunk to care. 

Anyhow… with Japanese kids everywhere - hell kids everywhere loving Hello Kitty… isn't creating a drink - an adult alcoholic drink - with Hello Kitty featured on it, just sort of inviting disaster?

Drunk eight-year-olds falling into rice paddies on the way to wherever it is eight-year-old kids go to by themselves in Japan.

Though perhaps the weak alcohol content might not create enough buzz for an eight-year-old who is used to the sugary highs of sweets et al.

And why IS Hello Kitty sitting IN the Passion Fruit on the can's graphic image?

Is it just me, but does Hello Kitty actually look 'stunned' that she is being asked to sell alcoholic drinks with such confusing packaging?

Lastly… to further confuse the alcoholic, each of these four Hello Kitty beers are the same color… that classic weak piss yellow watery beer color that implies you really need to drink more water or your kidneys are going to shut down.
Wait - it gets even MORE interesting... that photo of the two Hello Kitty beverages at the very top of this blog? That's from Japan... I think... but those two show the alcohol content to be only 2.3%!!!

As well... along with different graphics, the former Lemon drink is now obviously showing it to have BOTH lemon and lime fruits in it... and it even translates into LEMON-LIME!!!

The other drink at the very top - the one on the right... that IS Passion Fruit flavor... and it shows a less stunned drunk Hello Kitty and a more 'having-fun-'cause-I'm-drunk' Hello Kitty.  

Man... I'm confused... it's like someone put something in my watery beer.

Ugh… it's all so much kitty porn.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Some photos borrowed from http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/09/18/she-doesnt-need-beer-goggles-to-look-cute-but-we-try-hello-kitty-beer-anyway/

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Japanese Fairy Tales - How An Old Man Lost His Wen

When I saw the title of this Japanese fairy tale, I wondered if this was a possible mistranslation... I had no idea what a 'wen' was.

Apparently, this is NOT a Japanese or Chinese word, but is indeed an English one that is something akin to a wart or a boil... or something like that.

Why the fug with the translator of this story use such an archaic word - perhaps because it was translated and published back in 1908 as Japanese Fairy Tales.

Enjoy the tale of:

How An Old Man Lost His Wen

Many, many years ago there lived a good old man who had a wen like a tennis-ball growing out of his right cheek. This lump was a great disfigurement to the old man, and so annoyed him that for many years he spent all his time and money in trying to get rid of it. He tried everything he could think of. He consulted many doctors far and near, and took all kinds of medicines both internally and externally. But it was all of no use. The lump only grew bigger and bigger till it was nearly as big as his face, and in despair he gave up all hopes of ever losing it, and resigned himself to the thought of having to carry the lump on his face all his life.

One day the firewood gave out in his kitchen, so, as his wife wanted some at once, the old man took his ax and set out for the woods up among the hills not very far from his home. It was a fine day in the early autumn, and the old man enjoyed the fresh air and was in no hurry to get home. So the whole afternoon passed quickly while he was chopping wood, and he had collected a goodly pile to take back to his wife. When the day began to draw to a close, he turned his face homewards.

The old man had not gone far on his way down the mountain pass when the sky clouded and rain began to fall heavily. He looked about for some shelter, but there was not even a charcoal-burner's hut near. At last he espied a large hole in the hollow trunk of a tree. The hole was near the ground, so he crept in easily, and sat down in hopes that he had only been overtaken by a mountain shower, and that the weather would soon clear.

But much to the old man's disappointment, instead of clearing the rain fell more and more heavily, and finally a heavy thunderstorm broke over the mountain. The thunder roared so terrifically, and the heavens seemed to be so ablaze with lightning, that the old man could hardly believe himself to be alive. He thought that he must die of fright. At last, however, the sky cleared, and the whole country was aglow in the rays of the setting sun. The old man's spirits revived when he looked out at the beautiful twilight, and he was about to step out from his strange hiding-place in the hollow tree when the sound of what seemed like the approaching steps of several people caught his ear. He at once thought that his friends had come to look for him, and he was delighted at the idea of having some jolly companions with whom to walk home. But on looking out from the tree, what was his amazement to see, not his friends, but hundreds of demons coming towards the spot. The more he looked, the greater was his astonishment. Some of these demons were as large as giants, others had great big eyes out of all proportion to the rest of their bodies, others again had absurdly long noses, and some had such big mouths that they seemed to open from ear to ear. All had horns growing on their foreheads. The old man was so surprised at what he saw that he lost his balance and fell out of the hollow tree. Fortunately for him the demons did not see him, as the tree was in the background. So he picked himself up and crept back into the tree.

While he was sitting there and wondering impatiently when he would be able to get home, he heard the sounds of gay music, and then some of the demons began to sing.

"What are these creatures doing?" said the old man to himself. "I will look out, it sounds very amusing."

On peeping out, the old man saw that the demon chief himself was actually sitting with his back against the tree in which he had taken refuge, and all the other demons were sitting round, some drinking and some dancing. Food and wine was spread before them on the ground, and the demons were evidently having a great entertainment and enjoying themselves immensely.

It made the old man laugh to see their strange antics.

"How amusing this is!" laughed the old man to himself "I am now quite old, but I have never seen anything so strange in all my life."

He was so interested and excited in watching all that the demons were doing, that he forgot himself and stepped out of the tree and stood looking on.

The demon chief was just taking a big cup of SAKE and watching one of the demons dancing. In a little while he said with a bored air:

"Your dance is rather monotonous. I am tired of watching it. Isn't there any one amongst you all who can dance better than this fellow?"

Now the old man had been fond of dancing all his life, and was quite an expert in the art, and he knew that he could do much better than the demon.

"Shall I go and dance before these demons and let them see what a human being can do? It may be dangerous, for if I don't please them they may kill me!" said the old fellow to himself.

His fears, however, were soon overcome by his love of dancing. In a few minutes he could restrain himself no longer, and came out before the whole party of demons and began to dance at once. The old man, realizing that his life probably depended on whether he pleased these strange creatures or not, exerted his skill and wit to the utmost.

The demons were at first very surprised to see a man so fearlessly taking part in their entertainment, and then their surprise soon gave place to admiration.

"How strange!" exclaimed the horned chief. "I never saw such a skillful dancer before! He dances admirably!"

When the old man had finished his dance, the big demon said:

"Thank you very much for your amusing dance. Now give us the pleasure of drinking a cup of wine with us," and with these words he handed him his largest wine-cup.

The old man thanked him very humbly:

"I did not expect such kindness from your lordship. I fear I have only disturbed your pleasant party by my unskillful dancing."

"No, no," answered the big demon. "You must come often and dance for us. Your skill has given us much pleasure."

The old man thanked him again and promised to do so.

"Then will you come again to-morrow, old man?" asked the demon.

"Certainly, I will," answered the old man.

"Then you must leave some pledge of your word with us," said the demon.

"Whatever you like," said the old man.

"Now what is the best thing he can leave with us as a pledge?" asked the demon, looking round.

Then said one of the demon's attendants kneeling behind the chief:

"The token he leaves with us must be the most important thing to him in his possession. I see the old man has a wen on his right cheek. Now mortal men consider such a wen very fortunate. Let my lord take the lump from the old man's right cheek, and he will surely come to-morrow, if only to get that back."

"You are very clever," said the demon chief, giving his horns an approving nod. Then he stretched out a hairy arm and claw-like hand, and took the great lump from the old man's right cheek. Strange to say, it came off as easily as a ripe plum from the tree at the demon's touch, and then the merry troop of demons suddenly vanished.

The old man was lost in bewilderment by all that had happened. He hardly knew for some time where he was. When he came to understand what had happened to him, he was delighted to find that the lump on his face, which had for so many years disfigured him, had really been taken away without any pain to himself. He put up his hand to feel if any scar remained, but found that his right cheek was as smooth as his left.

The sun had long set, and the young moon had risen like a silver crescent in the sky. The old man suddenly realized how late it was and began to hurry home. He patted his right cheek all the time, as if to make sure of his good fortune in having lost the wen. He was so happy that he found it impossible to walk quietly—he ran and danced the whole way home.

He found his wife very anxious, wondering what had happened to make him so late. He soon told her all that had passed since he left home that afternoon. She was quite as happy as her husband when he showed her that the ugly lump had disappeared from his face, for in her youth she had prided herself on his good looks, and it had been a daily grief to her to see the horrid growth.

Now next door to this good old couple there lived a wicked and disagreeable old man. He, too, had for many years been troubled with the growth of a wen on his left cheek, and he, too, had tried all manner of things to get rid of it, but in vain.

He heard at once, through the servant, of his neighbor's good luck in losing the lump on his face, so he called that very evening and asked his friend to tell him everything that concerned the loss of it. The good old man told his disagreeable neighbor all that had happened to him. He described the place where he would find the hollow tree in which to hide, and advised him to be on the spot in the late afternoon towards the time of sunset.

The old neighbor started out the very next afternoon, and after hunting about for some time, came to the hollow tree just as his friend had described. Here he hid himself and waited for the twilight.

Just as he had been told, the band of demons came at that hour and held a feast with dance and song. When this had gone on for some time the chief of the demons looked around and said:

"It is now time for the old man to come as he promised us. Why doesn't he come?"

When the second old man heard these words he ran out of his hiding-place in the tree and, kneeling down before the Oni, said:

"I have been waiting for a long time for you to speak!"

"Ah, you are the old man of yesterday," said the demon chief. "Thank you for coming, you must dance for us soon."

The old man now stood up and opened his fan and began to dance. But he had never learned to dance, and knew nothing about the necessary gestures and different positions. He thought that anything would please the demons, so he just hopped about, waving his arms and stamping his feet, imitating as well as he could any dancing he had ever seen.

The Oni were very dissatisfied at this exhibition, and said amongst themselves:

"How badly he dances to-day!"

Then to the old man the demon chief said:

"Your performance to-day is quite different from the dance of yesterday. We don't wish to see any more of such dancing. We will give you back the pledge you left with us. You must go away at once."

With these words he took out from a fold of his dress the lump which he had taken from the face of the old man who had danced so well the day before, and threw it at the right cheek of the old man who stood before him. The lump immediately attached itself to his cheek as firmly as if it had grown there always, and all attempts to pull it off were useless. The wicked old man, instead of losing the lump on his left cheek as he had hoped, found to his dismay that he had but added another to his right cheek in his attempt to get rid of the first.

He put up first one hand and then the other to each side of his face to make sure if he were not dreaming a horrible nightmare. No, sure enough there was now a great wen on the right side of his face as on the left. The demons had all disappeared, and there was nothing for him to do but to return home. He was a pitiful sight, for his face, with the two large lumps, one on each side, looked just like a Japanese gourd.

THE END

As you have hopefully noticed, this story was/is famous enough in Japan to have received a trio of postage stamps depicting aspects of the tale.  

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Star Wars: Samurai In Space

When I watched Star Wars - hell... I read the book before the movie came out in 1977 - I always assumed this was the classic Knights and princess story… you know… where a nothing, little farm boy dreams of going up against the evil Duke of Earl to rescue the Princess and become a Knight of the Round-ish table…

Which it is…

But according to the CineFix, I just got a fantastic lesson in how Star Wars was inspired by samurai films, as well as a decent history of movies and American influence in Japan, as well as how Japanese movie director legend Kurosawa Akira (surname first) and famed American director George Lucas (surname last) became influenced and why they created the movies they created.

The video is eight-minutes long and is well worth every single stinking second of it,

It's brilliant.



Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla, Eh! What A Beauty!

Perhaps just because it's Godzilla, it's easy to have fun with the lovable lizard, as he is quite well know for his heart guffaws at the merest bon mot - as well as for stepping on cities, as he is rather clumsy.

Anyhow, as with every Godzilla since who-knows-when, the look of Godzilla has been slightly modified with each successive film since 1954... uh, so I suppose I do know since when.

There is a standard of course… bipedal, big tech, tough skin, bony plates on the spine, radioactive breath - oh, and he should have some sort of look that says 'hey! I'm a freaking lizard that wrecks cities!' - so, in that sense, the look is kind of vague. I've had that look once or twice when I rampaged amok in Tokyo with some beauteous babe on my arm hitting the dance clubs of Shinjuku, Tokyo. Okay, maybe that look was when I was staring surreptitiously at my dance date.

With the recent release of Godzilla a week or so ago, even though Japan has not yet had the privilege of seeing the movie (it opens in Japan on JULY 25  - yes… July!) Japanese fans who have caught sight of the King Of The Monsters have taken to criticizing him/she/it.

While the chief Japanese fan complaint seems to be that this version of Godzilla looks fat, I think that this is just a case of sour grapes…. sour grapes at the fact that Japan has to wait two extra months to see the movie, or the fact that this is yet another "American" version of their beloved kaiju (monster).

The complaint that Godzilla looks fat is childish at best.

Even if we were to examine the creature as though it were real (Godzilla is a fictional character, yo), if you look at all the early Japanese versions, Godzilla looks like a kangaroo… you know… small head, wide Baby-Huey, pear-shaped body.
Kangaroos have a Godzilla-shaped body.


Baby Huey
Of course… not Japanese pear-shaped, as their pears are round like an apple… both of which are the size of a softball.

You can see Godzilla's comparative shape in the photo above…

But, perhaps most telling is that in the new version of Godzilla, the creature has a smoother complexion…. you know, more like a lizard… while original Godzilla… his skin actually looks like he's suffering from some sort of radiation poisoning, which is a possibility given his internal nuclear furnace that he can turn on to spew a fiery blast of radioactivity.
A nice Japanese pair.
Y'know… I looked at the photo above and wasn't sure that I understood the joke… but I guess the writer assumes that the new western Godzilla looks prettier than Japanese Godzilla.

No… but yes. I would hope so. Can you imagine how crap a new movie would look with a guy in a rubber monster suit? Just think Power Rangers.

Power Rangers monsters... and this is 2010... I'm sure the monster have become fatter since then.
Anyhow… a fat Godzilla? Sure… then again, you might be fat if you were asleep under the ocean for a million years. Actually, you might be very skinny because you hadn't eaten a city in so long that they didn't even have cities back then. You might even be in-continent. Probably not.

I still haven't seen the movie, and don't want to know anything about it.

More like phat!

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph