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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Too

I'm sad when I wake up, mostly because despite the hiking up and down a mountain yesterday, and the late evening hanky-panky, I wasn't up for sleeping - nerves I guess.

This is Tuesday, July 20, 1993 and I have two days left in Japan. One and a bit really. Just today and a small bit of tomorrow in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken actually.

My flight is at 6PM tomorrow - back to Toronto, so we can leave Ohtawara-shi in the morning, travel by train to Narita Airport and then...

So... what to do today... in my last day in my home here?

I can hear Noboko shuffling around cooking something in our kitchen.

I walk out naked and wrap my arms around her small frame and tell her we should just spend the day unclothed here in the apartment.

She pushes me away lightly and tells me to get dressed. It's that time of the month.

What again? She just had that weeks ago?!

Figures. Everything's conspiring against me, it seems.

I know I'm coming back here in a month or so to provide that final push with her to convince her we should get married... if that works, then I have to figure out if we both stay in Japan, or both go back to Toronto.

It doesn't matter to me.

I just want us to be together... something her father is against, as her marrying a gaijin (dumbass foreigner) would stymie his work career, which I have come to know, appreciate and detest, is something the people of Japan respect more than their own family, it seems.

And yet, here I am... trying to start my own family in Japan without knowing what my work career would be. I am, indeed, the very image of the anti-Japanese concept.

Noboko wants to marry me - of that I am certain... but there's this whole familial bullcrap of 'not disappointing the family'.

It's confusing to me.

On one hand I understand that whole 'family is important' crap. I'm going to Toronto to see what's wrong with my mother who has been in the hospital for a month with something so serious that no one will actually discuss it with me... to protect me from some dark truth. So I understand 'family'.

But Noboko is willing to forgo her chance for happiness with me as a family, in order to maintain harmony with her father, whose chief family is his 'work family'. Going against Noboko is the fact that she is 27 going on 28 and is considered to be an old-maid in merry old Japan. Plus... she previously reneged on a marriage proposal from some other Japanese dude, embarrassing him, her father and her boyfriend's family - not necessarily in that order.

When Noboko has her period, it hits her like a mule-kick to the gut. The pains double her over, and it pains ME to see her suffer so.

I know she is suffering from this whole Noboko and Andrew mess... not wanting it to be over, but glad it will pass when I leave... which of course will then bring up a different conundrum for her martial future. 

We stay inside, clothed, all day... chatting about nothing important (us), and about all of the adventures I have had here in Japan...
  • Ashley and Matthew... I think she hates Ashley for the way I was treated, even though they never met. She calmly notes my mentioning (again) that Matthew is marrying Takako a week or so after I leave Japan - sorry buddy... I wish it wasn't that way - I mean, I wish I was going to be there; 
  • Breaking into a museum (with Ashley and a Japanese couple... the place we were going to visit, a pottery museum, was closing in an hour and didn't want anymore visitors - so I went around the back and snuck in and got the others in, too... walking out past the surprised ticket taker at the end of the real closing time;
  • Getting hammered at an AET (assistant English teacher) conference in Kobe and winning a sake drinking contest downing some 47 (yes, for real - that number) glasses of the clear liquid and then going out dancing and getting kicked out for being annoying (Moi?) before breaking into a room-sized glass exhibit at the conference hotel, and falling asleep under a taxidermied deer. I have no knowledge of being kicked out of the dance club or of breaking in to the exhibit, suffice to say I awoke with a stuffed deer peering over my prostrate form in the fake forest—the only time my memory failed me owing to drink;
  • Never seeing Mt. Fuji and relating how I don't think it exists - otherwise I would have been able to see it when the Shinkansen train I traveled on many a time passed by it, or the times I visited Tokyo, or the few times I climbed Mt. Nasu and looked through the telescopes... weather? Right. Sure. Imaginary;
  • Being hit by a car twice in one week in Ohtawara, owing to poor Japanese driving skills or knowledge of the concept 'right-of-way';
  • Visits to Japan (and me) by John K., Juanita B., John (from the Toronto Star) and my mother;
  • The giant spiders on my balcony and how none could ever be the reincarnated form of the Buddha (Why would the Buddha reappear on the balcony of a non-believer);
  • My story of how I almost died during an earthquake while I was on the toilet (okay, not even close to dying, but it was my first ever rumbler and I thought I was going to go in the most undignified way possible - made Noboko laugh; 
  • Getting lost whenever I traveled by myself in Japan; 
  • Being the Ame-otoko, the Rain Man (It rained whenever I traveled in Japan, with or without company. People would plan their trips around me being known to stay in Ohtawara). Noboko was well aware of this reputation of mine, but she was like my guardian angel and the weather was never as bad as it was when she was with me on our travels. It still rained, however... 
It goes on and on... and that's why this is my 2,687th blog posting. Plenty of stuff happened every day in Japan. Not all of it was brilliant... sometimes like yesterday, it's just about a day out with my girl - as she took the week off from work (she was a JTE (Japanese teacher of English) at one of my now former schools, to be with me... the day before as well - Sunday - as she made it public knowledge that she was my woman and I, her man, showing us off to the folks of Ohtawara.

It doesn't sound like such a big thing, but for the Japanese - and especially for Noboko - the events in the last paragraph were big things.. big deals...

It's a big deal for me - not only because it shows that she's more western (sometimes) than Japanese, but because of who I am.

For the few of you who have read damn near everything I have ever written about my personal journey here in Japan and even before I arrived in Japan, you know that I was shy... I didn't date much... I was a virgin at the age of 25+ when I landed in Japan... hell... I didn't even want to go to Japan... I was soooo afraid to leave home for the first time - especially not knowing how to do anything remotely domestic to feed myself.

Right there... to where I am now... looking to get married... and not just to the first woman who smiled at me (Noboko sure as hell wasn't smiling when we first met)... where I have survived and thrived these past three years in Japan... learning how to shop, cook, do laundry, iron, sew... even communicate on some guttural level...

Japan helped me grow up.

I tell Noboko that... and she sighs and smiles... knowing full well that I am well ahead of the real man curve here in Japan, as few Japanese men have ever mastered half of what I have done since arriving in Ohtawara...

For lunch, she orders us a pizza from some place - the first time I have ever had pizza delivered in Japan... and again, despite it not being part of the ingredient list, there's corn niblets dumped in the middle of the pizza.

I doubt things are like that in 2015, but in 1993 this was something that happened every time, regardless of what type of pizza I ordered in shop.
  • Pepperoni and cheese (and corn);
  • Hawaiian (and corn);
  • Seafood medley including squid, octopus, tuna and scallops (and corn). 
Weird, and yet... it's something I think about whenever I have a pizza nowadays.

More talking, a short trip downstairs to pick up that last two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola - a chance to say good bye to the shop-owner, his wife and his 30+ year-old son (who also live in the apartment directly below me on the second floor)... a knock on the door at 4PM...

I do have a doorbell, but whatever.

It's Noboko's mom... replete with groceries for our supper.

I invite her in, but she says she should go (probably has to feed her husband)... but before she does, I surprise her by grabbing her with a big hug and say thank-you very much in Japanese, before pushing myself away and proffering her with the more appropriate Japanese bow.

She says something in Japanese to me - we both turn to Noboko when she's done:

"She says you are very nice man and are good for me (I assume her daughter), and hopes your mother is healthy."

More Japanese from mom.

"She says she is fighting for you."

Good-byes again, and without missing a beat Noboko begins to pull the food from the bags and wash the veggies.

I do the untypical Japanese man thing and say - "Let me cut that up" and we cook our last meal together as one.

Maybe it's because I helped, or maybe because she's getting better, but her meal was delicious, and I tell her so, not because I have to, but because I want to since it was true.

She smiles before she is mule-kicked in the gut again... and we settle in to watch some Japanese movie on a VCR tape with English translations she brought with her.

At 11PM, the dishes are washed and put away, and we retire to our bedroom for the night.

Noboko's light breath tells me she's done for the night. 

I don't sleep.

Andrew Joseph

Happy Birthday, Rob

Rob Jones - Happy birthday!

I've known him in Toronto since we were 14 years old... a calm, decent guy who would give you the shirt off his back regardless of the expense to himself.

During March of 1991, when I was in Japan for that first year of three, I decided I would write a letter to him every business day until his birthday.

But after one day of 'hi-how-are-you-I'm-fine' pap, I write a short story.

Although I was previously a recent journalism grad who quit the Toronto Star to go to Japan on the JET Programme, aside from maybe seven or eight "It's A Wonderful Rife" article I had written for the local AJET newsletter, I had not written any short story since I was 16... and it was pretty crappy back then.

So.... I created a short story. The next day I did another short story... then another... then two in a day... then two more... then three a day... I have no idea what the hell was going on in my noggin, but I sat down at a computer with a blank slate of ideas, and later I'd have two or three completed short stories. Some comedic, some dramatic, the inkling chapters of what I would later turn into a novella or two...

Writing became easy.

Because of that, I am sure, it's why I do what I am doing now. I write in my day-job for money and write this daily blog for a living.

I don't think I owe him, or anything like that, but I am highly respectful of where I am today, doing what I enjoy doing.

Buddha... imagine if I had e-mail back then - if it had existed in 1991... I might not have conceived of the idea or need to write a letter every day... I'd not be a writer now...

Regardless - Happy birthday, Rob!

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, March 30, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Three Times a Lady

Since Noboko has been staying over at why is now our apartment this past week, I set the alarm  a half-hour early to ensure she can get up and get to work without anyone in my building spying her leaving my, I mean our pad.

But the alarm doesn't wake me up - rather the small of bacon does. I look around, Noboko is up and the alarm says 9AM.

WTF?!

She's late for work!

"Noboko! You're late for work!"

"Noooooo," she yells back as the bacon sizzles.

I slide open our bedroom door, and she there, dressed in a shirt and jeans, barefoot, cooking up a big pile of my bacon, scrambled eggs lightly bubbling in a second pan.

Where the hell am I?

Oh yeah… Japan… three more days left in my stay here. It's Monday, July 19, 1993. The three years here were fast sometimes, deathly slow other times.

Since I want to stay, and time is relative to the observer, it has been extremely quick.

Noboko is not coming with me to Toronto when my contract is up. I'm going back to check on the health of my mother, and when satisfied, I'm hopping on a plane and coming back to Noboko to probe my love for her - to convince her we should get married.

If you could see her all domestic like she is now, you would think we were already married.

I'm sure she wants to marry me, and dammit, I have asked, but I get that noncommittal 'we'll see', which means, in the Japanese vernacular 'ain't nothing happening, dude.'

The problem is her father… who wants her to get married and off the old-maid bandwagon at nearly 28-years of age, but just not to a gaijin who will bring down his own stock and his career as a politico within the education system of Tochigi-ken.

The problem is made worse by the fact that she was previously engaged to an acceptable Japanese man when she was still a maiden (ha), and she broke it off, earning her father's ire.

She's doing it again by living here at my place this past week… physically living in my apartment, acting like a real western couple - hand-holding, kissing, allowing me to buy her undergarments and dinner…

… all things that are kept on the down-low in unmarried Japanese relationships. Maybe even in married Japanese relationships.

And here she is cooking us breakfast when she should have been at work over an hour ago.

"Uh… work?" I suggest again.

"Not going… I took the week off," she says plating our breakfast. "Now sit down and eat before it gets cold."

Between bites of her scrambled eggs—almost no shells in mine—"Day off?"

"Days," she corrects me, as she slurps an entire bacon slice into her pretty little mouth.

"You're leaving, and I want to spend every minute of every day with you," she continues.

"Plus, after you leave, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be very sad, and I don't want to need to be at work when I'm sad."

"I'm sorry," I mumble, wondering how the eggs don't really taste like any scrambled eggs I have ever made for myself these past three years. What is that taste? Don't ask. You'll spoil the mood. Even though it seems like it's kind of a downer right now.

"So… what do you want to do today? Shall we get naked and continue from where we left off last night?"

That was me, by the way. If we're parting ways until I come back, I want to ensure she's as sexed up as she can be so she'll really miss me when I'm gone.

There's method to my horniness. Rhythm, even. Hmmm… I should do a count again, later…

"Do you want to climb Mt. Nasu?" she asks.

"Again? Sure… why not? Are you tired of showing me off here in Ohtawara?"

"Yes," she answers… I'm never sure if she means that or if the tense confuses her. Her English is damn near perfect, but anyone can make a mistake.

"Should we pack some food, or buy some food at 7-11?" I ask.

"It's already packed, in your bag, sitting in my car. Go to the bathroom, get dressed and I'll put away the dishes," she wifes.

I'm not sure if 'wifes' is the correct word, but her implication is quite clear. It's a family trip on our day off, and she's in charge. Just as the wife always is in Japan.

It's a little off-putting, to be honest.

I love Noboko. I love her independent spirit and everything about her. What I don't like is her cooking, but shut the hell up, eh, and the fact that she's acting like my slave.

There's a time and place for a little master-slave relationship, to be sure, but she could have told me earlier she was taking the week off (we might not have stopped at 1AM), or she could have asked me what we should do tomorrow (today) as though my opinion really mattered… but that's just the Canadian in me.

I'd like Noboko to have a little Canadian in her. Ha. I see what I just wrote.

The previous time she and I had climbed Mt. Nasu, an active group of complex volcanoes essentially in my backyard maybe 10 kilometers north of our apartment, we somehow stumbled off the trail and ended up clinging to the side of the steaming rocky face of  the mountain I was then calling Mount Terror.

Then the fog came rolling in, and I was beginning to think she and I were going to die after losing our footing. Okay… I thought I was going to die… she was as sure-footed as a mountain goat. You can read about that adventure HERE.

So… WTF, who doesn't love the whole "I nearly died in Japan" experience every few months? All though I can think of many more exciting ways to die—such as while having sex, providing me with the opportunity to come and go at the same time—I'm not that enamored with death, or heights.

Planes don't bother me in the slightest, but buildings with glass windows,  and mountains where there is no side beside me… unh-uh.

Anyhow, Mount Nasu (那須岳 Nasu-dake), is we are to listen to good ol' Wikipedia, is one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains, which all that really tells me is that Japan has too many fugging lists of purported important things.

Technically, Mount Nasu and its five major peaks (including its tallest peak of Sanbonyari Peak at a height of 1,916.9 meters (6,289 feet)) is actually in the northeast park of Nikko National Park

Now… as mentioned previously, Noboko drives one of those Suzuki micro cars that has an engine barely stronger than a lawnmower, so we'll not be driving UP the mountain.

Even still, our trip to the base of the hill does involve some uphill driving, and subconsciously I lift my butt of the seat and lean forward to urge the little beast upwards. It doesn't work, science be damned. Okay, the science isn't damned, but damn it.

We eventually get to Mt. Nasu, park in the wide-open outdoor parking lot. There's no one at the mountain today, no surprise considering it's a work day. I guess that means no one will find the bodies for a few more days.

Surprisingly - to me - Noboko has a better plan on how to get up the mountain, and pulls out a map that shows exactly where we are - in fact the car park where we parked the car has a big blue X on it. The blue ink continues along some pathway and without any trouble, it shows the zig-zag path to some spot (I think I'm going to need a zig-zag), where it abruptly seems to go straight up the damn mountain.

It's 10:30AM, and the trek begins… but with the map, which also denotes how far we are to travel, and Noboko have some sort of personal distance calculator strapped her her svelte waist, we know exactly where we are.

We are here. Always.

The path meanders upwards for a bit, and since I'm holding onto Noboko's hand most of the way, I don't even notice anything else around me… I'm just holding on to the moist warmth of her hand in my hand… I can still feel it…

After a little while, we come to a touristy area, and go up the Nasu Ropeway with goes up-up-and-away taking us 800 meters up the mountain to within a mere 35 minute walk to the summit of the Mt. Nasudake peak.

As mentioned, I don't mind being in an airplane - even the small two-seaters - but the Ropeway is hardly an airplane.

It's a window surrounded death box hanging by a wire… moving side to side with every gusty burst of wind.

I only have three days left to impress Noboko, so you can better your bottom yen I'm doing my best not to appear scared, so I flash her the old Joseph smirk and ask her if she's all right.

"Actually," she begins, "the winds are kind of making me nervous."

"Come here," I suggest.

I'm sitting in the middle of the otherwise empty Rope car and I feel that having her sitting right beside me will create a far better balance.

I squelch over an inch or two to maintain that perfect harmony of weight distribution, pulling her in close, her compact body folded into the left side of mine… my chin resting on her apple-blossom-scented hair.

I close my eyes and inhale.

And to swallow the fear, I concentrate on her…. which you would think would sooth my soul, but no… I'm always thinking… and all it does is bring up the anxiety that I'm leaving Japan and she and I aren't going to be able to make this work.

I sigh audibly.

Because I have photographic proof, we must have arrived at the top, looked around, eaten our packed lunch, and then somehow traveled back down, hiked some more, squeezed into her car and driven back to our place. 

It was all such a blur… or least it appears to be a blur to me now as I write this. I can't find a single memory beyond the troublesome Rope car ride up the mountain.

I assume we survived, and this isn't some stupid lost episode of Lost or something that Pamela Ewing was dreaming of (for you older readers - out of our Principal memories).

I assume we had dinner - perhaps something Noboko cooked, perhaps something from the fastfood chain  Mosburger. Why isn't that girl fat? Oh yeah… all that calorie-burning we do every night.

I'm lost in a romance, wilderness of pain. And the only thing that snaps me out of my reverie is the sex.

But it's not sex, you know. It's called making love. I love that we can do that.

Some where X marks the spot.
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Three German Shepherds In A British Pub Taking 'Orders' In Japanese

Okay…

I'll admit it's a bit dodgy, but these German Shepherds aren't your dyed-in-the-wool racists. In fact, they aren't sheepherders, but are, instead merely doggies.

Here's a video showing German Shepherds in a British bar taking orders in Japanese.

Confused?

No… the dogs aren't bartenders, nor even waiters, but these three clowns sure are thirsty.

Let's watch a British television program with German subtitles, as we listen to a man in a Somerset, UK pub speak to three German shepherd in a fake Japanese language.  

I don't know what's more ridiculous… the doggies, the idjit spending all that money on seltzer, the tv commentators for devoting so much time on it, the Germans for taking over the broadcast (or at least wanting to describe the action to ze Fazaland viewers), or the fact that the barman needs to put on the fake Japanese.

I mean come on! GER-MAN Shepherds! Schweinhund.

The video is old, but what the heck... every old joke is new to someone.

I found it amusing, perhaps you will too...


Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
The best German Shepherd joke remains:
"Mein dog has no nose!"
"How does he smell?"
"Awful."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Geek In Japan - Book Review

I was recently asked to review the book A Geek In Japan written by Hector Garcia and published by Tuttle Publishing.

This book is my new bible regarding things Japan. Yes, it's that good.

I, who lived in Japan for three-plus years, have been writing about for six years, and reading a plethora of books, magazines, on-line articles, watching anime and videos (sometimes naughty), and reading manga—I… I actually learned quite a bit from reading A Geek In Japan.

You should purchase a copy and use it for your own reference. To be honest, I've already begun using stuff I learned from the book in my own articles here.

Now… I will state upfront that when author Hector Garcia starts offering his opinion on aspects of Japanese society—I don't always agree with him.

A few times I found the view he proposed to be a tad narrow-focused, but that's okay. He was offering an opinion, and one's opinion is always correct, even if one isn't. I could be wrong about that, though.

But, when Garcia sticks to the facts, I simply shook my head in disbelief, wondering why I didn't know about such and such, or what the heck was I thinking?

There are times when Garcia becomes a little too familiar with his topic, assuming the reader is too—nihonshu, for example… repeat the definition when possible, because there is a foreign word overload for the newbie interested in Japan. I know what it is, and even if there are words I don't know, I know how to find the definition.

Another negative - for me - was the title. It's a little misleading—A Geek In Japan

While I am aware that the dek says "Discovering The Land Of Manga, Anime, Zen, And The Tea Ceremony", because the word "Geek" is used, it makes one think that it's all about the nerdy (geeky) side of Japan… such as manga, anime, J-pop, Godzilla and the Lolita-pervy stuff .

Nothing wrong with those things, of course, except for J-pop (WTF is that crap?) but that's the impression that was left on me when I read the title.

Of course… the first thing out of Garcia's mouth on Page 5 is his expanded definition of the word "Geek", as part of the photo cutline showing himself. It's not as visible as it should be, but it is there.

In that cutline, Garcia describes 'A geek in Japan' as someone 'who is fascinated by Japan'.

It's not just about the fanboy stuff. It's a book for people interested in learning more about Japan. Someone like you or me, for example.

And while I know it seems like I am picking on the negative aspects of the book—and I am—it really is a spectacular book chock full of fantastic facts and information—enough to compel the newbie to want to visit Japan, and the old-hand to want to go out and experience more of it.

Again.. the book is fascinating, full of useful information, easy-to-read and digest, contains crisp and clear photographs that actually match the subject he is describing to us—it's why I would not want to try and write a book about Japan.

Actually… I am, but not an encyclopedic book as A Geek In Japan.

Why screw with perfection.

It's 160 pages, not including covers, with each topic rarely going over a page in length, and when it does, it's sub-divided into further genres. Like I said… easy and fun to read.

To purchase a copy, contact Tuttle Publishing at www.tuttlepublishing.com.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, March 27, 2015

Turkey's Biggest Packaging Biz Joins Forces With Japan's Mitsui

Turkish firm Sarten Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş. has signed an agreement to join forces with Japan's Mitsui & Co., LTD.

"We aim to become the number one packaging company in our region. After the transfer of 15 percent shares of our company, which was previously owned 100 percent by our family, to Mitsui, we believe that we would obtain a competitive advantage in a wider region. In a world gradually developing and globalizing, we, as Sarten, are making this partnership in order to provide more quality, fast and affordable products. Mitsui will support Sarten’s swift growth with its Japanese vision,” explains Sarten chief executive officer Zeki Sarıbekir.

Sarten, third in European steel can production in Europe, has 13 plants in Turkey, one in Russia and one in Bulgaria.

Sarten management structure remains unchanged after the agreement. Founded 43 years ago by Yusuf Sarıbekir and his family, Sarten assumes the management of the company and will continue with the packaging production and sales operations as before.

According to the announcement made by Mitsui hea office, Mitsui has identified Turkey as a priority country in its new Medium Term Management Plan.

It also states in the announcement that “Equity participation in Sarten will enhance Mitsui’s efforts to benefit from the economic growth of Turkey.

"An upward trend in demand in packaging industry is expected in view of factors including population growth, lifestyle changes and the growing presence of women in the workforce. For these reasons, Sarten can be expected to achieve further growth and development in Turkey and surrounding countries" read the Mitsui announcement.

Following this equity investment in Sarten, Mitsui will create new business opportunities by helping Sarten to diversify its product range to meet the needs of customers in a wide range of industries and also introduce cutting-edge packaging technologies.

About Sarten
Established in 1972, Sarten is Turkey’s biggest integrated packaging manufacturer. It currently manufactures steel cans and plastic containers for foodstuffs and household goods, as well as a variety of uses, such as motor oil and chemical products. It supplies products to around 1,500 companies in Turkey and neighboring countries, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa and Russia. Company information cane be found at www.sarten.com.tr.

About Mitsui & Co.
Mitsui & Co., Ltd. is one of the world's most diversified comprehensive trading, investment, and service companies. Headquartered in Tokyo, Mitsui maintains a global network of 142 offices in 66 countries, as well as about 420 subsidiaries and associated companies world wide. Company information is available at www.mitsui.com.

Noboko And Andrew: Four Play

Noboko has been living with me in my apartment for the past week. A guy could get used to that.

The problem is—I can't. I'm leaving Japan in four more days because my third, one-year contract on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme is up, and I have to go home.

It's 1993 and I've been calling Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken my home since July of 1990. It's a small city of 50,000 people spread out over a vast expanse of rice fields (and 7-11's - it's an old joke of mine, but it isn't inaccurate).

I'm 28 going on 29 this year, and Noboko, my lovely girlfriend, is 27 going on 28… which is apparently old-maid territory for Japanese women. I know… I don't get it either, but that's Japan. I mean, I don't think she's hit her prime.

She's hardly old, nor a maid… though come to think of it, I wonder what she'd look like if she wore one of those classic French Maid outfits, complete with the black fishnet stockings and the feather-duster.

Oh man… why do I do that to myself?

There are very few women who can make me get all flustered from a mere thought, and Noboko is one of them. It depends on who else might be reading this, but it's you.

So where was I? Oh yeah… fishnets…  dammit! I'm going to go have a cold shower - which is going to be weird, because I'm writing this at work during my lunch.

So... Sunday… July 18, 1993.

She and I are basically living together - but only for the past week, which in hindsight, is a lot too little - too late.

Her father is a major obstacle in her and I getting married. He wants his old maid of a daughter to get married, but doesn't want her to marry me—a foreigner.

It might be because I'm an ass-clown, or maybe it's because I'm just a foreigner. I don't know… if he has told Noboko, she hasn't relayed the 'why' to me… and to be honest, the Andrew of 1993 doesn't want to know.

Ignorance may not be bliss, but it doesn't hurt as much.

Noboko - she's listening to him… I think….

I want to marry her. At this stage in my life, that seems like a very good thing to want.

She knows I want to marry her and wants to marry me. So… that's good, right?

But… she has this damned Japanese loyalty bullshirt that she feels she must maintain towards her father. Her mother - she wants Noboko to be happy, and she seems to approve of me as a prospective husband and son-in-law, having known about our goings-on for weeks and even months prior to her husband, Noboko's dad.

Noboko's father… his primary concern seems to be that he wants a successful career for himself.

In Japan… a man is judged first and foremost by his career… and much less importantly, by his family.

But… Buddha help any one in the family who could screw up the career! That's where Noboko and I come in.

So what is she doing sleeping over at my apartment every night? This is in complete disregard to what her father wants, right? I've got the girl, right?

Sure.

But why are we not discussing wedding plans? Why aren't we discussing her visiting Toronto? Why aren't we discussing what we are going to do when I come back to Japan in a couple of months? I am coming back in a couple of months, you know.

Ever since I turned 24-years-old… if I say I am going to do something, you can bet your butt I'm going to do it, even at my own expense. I'm pretty reliable that way, which usually makes me someone people like and trust. I say 'usually' because who the fug knows how some people think and act.

I have no idea what is going on in Noboko's grey matter.

I'm an ex-journalist, who worked for Canada's top newspaper, and you don't get the story if you are afraid to ask the question -  so I do. What you can't control, are the answers… or worse yet, the non-verbal answers. Women, Buddha luv ya.

It's like she hears my question, avoids my eyes, and gives you that fugging typical Japanese reaction of "we'll see."

I've been here long enough to know that means "no" in all its various forms.

But, I'm not giving up on her… and I think the ferociousness of that devotion to her should be able to weaken her resolve.

She has already previously disappointed her father while looking out for herself.

She had, a couple of years ago, broken up with an extremely handsome Japanese fellow (I've never heard his name, nor seen a photograph of him, but I assume that if he was engaged to marry Noboko, that he must have been extremely handsome. LOL.)

So… she didn't love him, and refused to marry him… which only upset her parents because she would eventually hit old maid territory past the age of 25… and that makes dad look bad in front of his colleagues at work - especially the upper muckymucks.

How the hell do they know what is going on with the families of their subordinates, when they don't even know what's going with their own? 

So… could she do it again? Make him look bad?

She's certainly doing that to him now, by openly flaunting her sleeping and preferred sexual relationship with me.

But is it all just a house of cards? Is she doing this just to piss daddy off until I leave, fully expecting to never see me again?

Do you know what she said to me this morning?

She called me a lump of coal… saying I have all this potential to become a sparkling diamond.

What the fug does that mean?

Was that an insult? Was that a mistranslation from Japanese to English? Does it sound far nicer in Japanese than in English?

She's talking about my potential… cool…

But it also implies that I'm at the lowest level of my development.

What would you say?

Would you question her meaning?

It could start an argument - and maybe she wants one, I don't know… to make breaking up with me easier.

I don't know. I don't want to break up with her today. I want to marry her and get her all pregnant in a few years time after we mess each other up sexually. Get all that stuff out of our system.

The 2015 me can't believe the 1993 me actually thought like that…she probably incorrectly translated the old 'diamond-in-the-rough' phrase. I think being called that could still be construed as insulting, however.

Why would I want to start an argument?

Look at her face… she's smiling… there's no hint of malice.

But who the fug knows? There's what she says, and then there's what she feels… that whole Honne and Tatemae bull crap the Japanese think and spout (honne = honest personal feelings and behavior, and tatemae = what they actually do and tell everyone in public).

Plus she's a woman.

Yeah, yeah, get upset, but everyone knows men and women think differently about many different things… that whole Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus crap. I read it last year (1992). It's written by John Gray, so a different shade of grey. If I was rich…

The day is young, and so are we. I'd much rather have a happy ending, wouldn't you?

"Thanks," I reply.

Apparently that was the correct answer. In 1993, I certainly had a lot of potential, and aside from having a lot of fun in Japan, I don't think I really accomplished anything. Yet.

"Let's go shopping for clothes," suggest Noboko, telling me what we are going to do, which is too bad, because the suggestions I had in mind were clothing optional.

What the heck are we going to shop for? Clothing? Not for me… good luck finding clothing in my size. I'm not gargantuan, but I am slightly larger than the average gaijin in the height and weight department, and as such, my clothing and footwear sizes are not typically part of the standard lore in Japan. I'm mythical.

I should note, however, that nowadays, should you have feet larger than 30 cm (a US size 10-1/2), there are many places in Japan to purchase shoes.

I would still recommend checking out areas frequented by US military personnel, should you wish to get your hands on moor 'western' food items and clothing.

But, it's still an expensive place to shop.

I used to have shoes shipped over by my mom, as well as boxes of pasta that I could use to make lasagna. Even still… my purchase and liberal amounts of three different cheeses and minced beef would still ensure that my lasagna would cost over $50 to make. To Matthew's credit - whenever we shared, he brought beer, and Ash and I would do other things to settle the bill of fare.

With Noboko… I haven't had to cook for the past three months. She's killing independent Andrew, as she has become my defacto wife, and me her defacto Japanese husband… which means that I don't cook, she makes our supper, and I bring home the proverbial bacon. Mmmmm, bacon.

Only thing is, we both work. So that's hardly fair.

Up until yesterday, I was unable to take her out to dinner and pay for our meal… though we had gone to other cities, where my celebrity was still unknown, so I could and did purchase our meals and movie tickets. At least I felt like a real (grunt-grunt) man. 

After work, Noboko would come directly from her school to my apartment and magically have a whole bunch of veggies, rice and noodles and meats, and would brew up some wonderful-looking meal that never tasted as good as she looked.

I always offered to pay for the ingredients she obviously purchased, but when I queried her on it one day, she said her mom was the one purchasing the foods for us, and meeting Noboko in Ohtawara for an exchange of food for hugs, or whatever.

Nice.

Noboko's mom really was pulling for us… or for Noboko… whatever.

So - shopping. We walked hand in hand out the door and down the elevator and out to her car.

It's a Suzuki toy car - specifically built for the smaller stature Japanese woman, which means it's tiny.

To get in, I open the left door of the two-door, lie on the ground and then roll in.

She drives us to Iseya… this is the largest and busiest of the superstores in Ohtawara.

There always seems like a flurry of activity when I walk in, like they are getting ready to serve me, but aside from my camera girls, that's not the case.

They are there, by the way, and give a courteous bow in my general direction, as well as a hand-covered smile when I bow back. I slept with them both many times (HERE), but only stopped when either they got boyfriends, or I got a girlfriend. It was never awkward afterwards, for which they have my honest gratitude.

Do you know what the whole hand-covered smile is?

Over 1,000 years ago, it became fashionable for Japanese women to color their teeth black. It was brought over from China, whom Japan hero-worshipped back then.

During the Edo-jidai of the 16oos to 1868, the whole black-teeth thing was reserved solely for married women. It was the way a man could tell what woman he could screw or not screw, if it made a difference.

Women, not caring for the fashion at this time, began to cover their mouth with their hand when they smiled or laughed.

Even though the black teeth coloring was done away with when Japan opened up its borders to the world, the habit of covering one's mouth amongst the women continues to this day, though I doubt many women know why they are doing it, suffice to say that Japanese women have always been doing it, and to not do it would be a non-Japanese thing... and who wants that?   

Noboko said we were shopping for clothing, and so she drags me to the women's clothing section and makes me stand there and hold the nylons she selects. Not fishnets, dammit. I'd say the girl needs to loosen up fashion-wise, but I only hope we have an opportunity for that to occur. Still... she is a junior high school teacher, so it's not like she can dress up like a tart. I enjoy tarts, but then again, despite the calm and gentle demeanor she puts forth for the world, she's pretty fierce when we're alone.

I like that dichotomy of her Japanese honne and tatemae.  I suppose I have that as well... always appearing a happy and smiling person, even when I'm not. The only difference between myself and 99.9% of the Japanese population, however, is that if you ask me - I mean seriously ask me how I am - if I trust you, I'll tell you.

Silky nylons in hand, we head for the cash registers, the yen amount pops up and I notice that Noboko's not going for her purse. Oh-ho! So, we're showing off the relatiopnship dynamic here, too? I pull out the paper and we have new nylons.

"Don't you need some new panties?" I ask. "The one's you're wearing are ripped."

"They aren't ripped," she scowls.

"They will be."

She's known me long enough to know I'm either joking or it's a pleasurable threat. Either way, she smiles broadly, exposing her beautiful white teeth in that non-Japanese manner. Have I recently told you that I love her?

We get in the car, drive 30 seconds and park and then go for an early supper at a small restaurant, in which she helps me select a meal capable of satisfying a man, allowing me the honor of paying for our meal.

Trust me... I'm the type of guy who craves this. Even in 2015. I guess I'm old-fashioned, too.

We eat, finish and walk around town - it's still around 6PM and the sky is bright and warm, yet she gathers herself about my body and hugs me as we amble slowly.

You should have seen the shocked faces on the students who passed us. They knew me, but didn't know Noboko, probably because she worked 10-kilometers away.

My students are used to seeing me... but aside from Ashley and a few other gaijin women, seeing me in public with a Japanese woman was definitely something worth twittering about.

Noboko was attempting to cause a scene... to be open about our relationship... to shame her father. I think.

We walk to the park where the Ohtawara-jo (Ohatawara castle) used to sit, and plop ourselves down on a rock beside the tree.  I have my arms around her, as she sits cross-legged between my legs.

The place was packed with Japanese families enjoying the evening, some occasionally glancing at us, an occasional bow or konichiwa (hi!), things that seem all quite normal to me. 

I bury my face in her hair, kissing her scalp.

We two are alone.

I don't know when - but the stars are out - we go back to our apartment.

Tomorrow is Monday, and I have three more days left of this. For now.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Andrew For Sale


Today's headline is my take on The Beatles album "Beatles For Sale", which shows on the record cover the lads looking quite worn out, unsmiling, with a blurred autumn scene in the background. The world, and all the success they have achieved has worn them down a fair bit.

My first name IS John, and I was born in England about a month before this album debuted. It doesn't mean anything, so no need to read into those unrelated facts.

So… I was going to tell you a tale about my 'masked depression', which we discussed yesterday (HERE) … a non-clinical sadness that I tried to lift by first drinking (that never works - see small sampling behind the chain in the photo above) and then with mostly meaningless sexual romps (way more fun).

But it does speak volumes about the group of individuals, however.

This story takes place in Year 1 of my stay in Japan (1990-91), and could probably be called The Iseya Girls, or The Interchangeable Iseya Girls, but I have The Beatles on my mind today. 

I suppose I could go and look in my diary to find an exact date, but does it really matter? Probably Spring of 1991, and Ashley has, once again, broken up with me. Whatever.

I'm down. But I'm not out. I've been going to the local bar with nightly regularity, and have been meeting people… sometimes my gaijin (foreigner) friends, other times Japanese strangers in a bar.

I'll remind everyone that I don't speak Japanese. A month into 1991 my grandfather died, my cat died, and a friend died - all back in Toronto. Again, these aren't meant to be anything more than just facts to set the mood. I'm not myself.

I don't even know who I am.

At the bar, the men are always friendly and courteous and simply want to find out more about me—as I want to find out about them… as well, they also want to try out their English language skills. I learned about so many professions and real Japanese thoughts and feelings during these chats, that it was eye-opening.

As for toe-curling… well, that's where the Japanese women came in.

Now… since I am usually alone in a bar, one could rightly assume that I am bereft of a significant other… and in my case, they would be correct.

Everyone knew that I was boyfriend/girlfriend with Ashley, even if Ashley liked to believe it was a secret. It was a secret… a secret as safe as me looking good in shorts! (I do).

So basically, everyone also seemed to know whenever she and I had broken up, and thus when it was safe to approach the generally very approachable me. 

As for the Iseya Girls… sorry… Iseya Women…

Iseya… is the largest and busiest of the superstores in my hometown of Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture) Japan…

It's a grocery story—and a large one at that—and then outside its food and beverage confines, it has large volumes of clothing, adventure gear, toys, flower shops, dry cleaning, camera and film services and much more.

This story is about the women who worked the counter at the camera shop.

A few months after arriving in Japan, I had gone through the three boxes of condoms I had brought with me, and tried to use a Japanese condom.

Without being too specific, I had one on, and it snapped off and hit a surprised Ashley in the face. There is a marked difference between the average size of a Japanese condom and a North American one.

To illustrate that, I blew up a couple of the respective condoms (spermicide is not something I enjoyed having on my lips!), and snapped a couple of photographs with my old trusty Minolta and the added 50mm lens.

Back in those days, cameras used film... and in order to get something called a photograph (that's the photographic image actually printed onto photographic paper, as opposed to just being an image on a screen), I had to take the roll of film in to a shop to have it developed.

At one time (journalism school), I knew how to develop my own film, but not here in Japan. 

Anyhow... a week after dropping off some film at Iseya, two giggling female Japanese counter clerks came running over—practically fighting each other to find my envelope of film. Seriously... they were slapping at each other.

I've seen Japanese people avoid having to serve me, the foreigner, for fear of exposing their non-English skills, but I've not had two very sexy, cute and slender Japanese women fight over me.

Reserved Japanese, my butt!

One of the things the clerks do before handing over the photographs—in Japan—is that they open it up, and pull out a photograph so that you can identify the images as belonging to you.

Giggling like girls, these women opened up the envelope and deftly pulled up the photographs of the condom balloons.

Hey... at least they knew what they were! 

"One of them pointing to the larger North American condom and smoothly asked: "Yours?"


That was the first time in seven months I had ever heard them speak English to me. Previously, they were always those reserved Japanese clerks, repeating their rote Japanese greetings that meant less and less to me the more I heard everyone say it. Where was the spontaneity?

Here it was.

I was embarrassed, and physically slapped my forehead, as I muttered "Hai (yes)."

"Sugai" they both muttered in that Ohtawara-dialect. It's a slangy way of saying "neat, wonderful."

"Garufrendo arimasu ka?"

Do you have a girlfriend?

I smirked and shook my head 'no'.

"Goo-doh" I'd swear they said in unison.

They started talking Japanese amongst themselves, did some rock-scissors paper, one of them groaned, and the other bounced high in the air as she placed the envelope of photographs into a bag and handed it to me with a demurred bow.

I bowed as I reached for the package, and turned to walk away.

"Bye-byeeeee" they both squealed, as I turned around to smile, seeing each wave furiously.

I did the rest of my shopping, and left Iseya and rode home.

I thought briefly about the two strange Iseya girls... their nice very light brown skin -  and I wondered if I should ask one of them out - but how do I do that?

I can't speak much Japanese... I've pretty much shot the bolt here in this blog.

Regular readers will know that over the course of my entire three year stay in Japan, I have only ever asked out one woman while in Japan—Noboko. Most of the other 29+ I dated (29 slept with), I met at the 4C bar.

There... it was like someone must have had one of those ticket machines:

"Now serving number 47."
"That's me!"

And someone new would come to jump into my bed.

But these Iseya girls... they were different.

They knocked on my door. Rang the doorbell actually, but the knock on my door line sounds more impressive.

Each time they showed up, and it wasn't a weekly thing, it was just one of them... I don't how they determined who would show up—perhaps more rock-scissors-paper—but it was always right after a work shift for them.

They never showed up when anyone else was at my place - like they knew my schedule - and I couldn't figure their schedule either... was it cutie #1's turn, or cutie #2's turn? Sometimes #2 would come two times in a row (always good)...

Each of the girls was like a carbon copy of the other, but they didn't look like the typical Japanese woman. Their one major discerning feature was their hair.

They were the typical naughty Japanese girls with red hair - okay, it was kind of orangey, but it was short, like it was homemade chopped, with a touch of blue and pink in a spot or two. 

Each was 5'-5", slender, with small boobs, a nice enough rump, and looooooong legs.  

Each had a 'coolness'-factor about them... I think it was the hair... they weren't divas, and were simply nice girls who wanted to appear different from the rest of the Japanese sheeple.

I always had a great time with them, but I was stymied by the fact neither spoke a lick of English - which was weird… I mean… these girls were 20 and 21-years-old… they had only just finished high school four years ago at the most. It's like they had spoken every English word earlier at the store.

That first time (and every time after that), the doorbell would ring.

Surprised the first (and second time), I opened the door to see her.

Without waiting for an invitation, she would enter my apartment, wait until the door closed and then would lunge at me and try to suck my tongue out of my head… which, while I'm sure that sounds hot to some, I hate that.

Swirl the tongue - lightly, with passion - don't inhale it. Don't try and jam it down my throat either. Too many people think it's about force and control - well it is… just not the way you think it is.

Bad French kissing aside, there would be a break for air, a stripping of her clothes, which I started doing too, but she pushed me away, continued taking off her clothes and stepped into my shower - very visible from the interior entrance of my front door. 

A few minutes later, wrapped in a towel I handed to her, she quickly dried off and then headed off, twisting herself around me, as I swirled around the place to push her onto my Queen-sized bed.

As mentioned, I slept with each separately, despite a lot of my non-Japanese language skills to convince them otherwise.

It was just sex. No expectations of commitment. 

It was fun, and, really, I think they each just wanted to sleep with a foreigner just to say they had slept with a foreigner.

Afterwards, despite a few lascivious looks, and continued battles of rock-scissors-paper, I wasn't treated any differently, never got any free prints developed—mostly because they were clerks, not shop owners—and would, as the mood struck them continue to come over to my apartment until they didn't. I assume they got boyfriends, or they knew I was seeing someone else.

Like I said... no jealousy... just fun.

The romps weren't anything spectacular, but they were, and each was enthusiastic and willing to take direction, so what more could I ask? Maybe better kissing, but whatever.

Each of us served their purpose. Everyone walked away satisfied…sometimes with a funny walk.

What's the problem?

Yesterday I alluded to me suffering from "masked depression". But was it really? Couldn't I have just wanted to get laid without there being any sort of deep-rooted psycho-babble at the heart of darkness about it all?

Can't a cigar just be a cigar?

Can't  a shovel simply be a shovel? Or can it also be a fugging spade?

Well… it can be. It can be both.

Despite being young and mostly immature, I knew what I wanted and what I really desired.

I wanted sex - sure. But I desired someone with whom I could share myself with on a deeper level.

So yeah… I suppose this sexcapade - lacking in physical description - was just that.

You'll note that there are no names for the Iseya women. In fact… aside from the women whom I felt worthy of achieving a deeper level with, none of the women ever have names.

It's okay… 1/4 century later, while I can at least remember them, I'm sure I've not been thought about by them in years.

I have to think like that every once in a while… keeps the ego in check.

Somewhere just looking for a distraction,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Judo Takes On The UFC and MMA

Judo - (柔道, meaning the "gentle way") is a modern martial art, combat and Olympic sport created in Japan in 1882 by Kano Jigoro (嘉納治五郎), surname first.

(Fantastic image above shows France judoka Loïc Piétri - taken from HERE.)

I did judo for a number of years as a kid, and was taught that judo was essentially a defensive sport… a way to protect oneself… and if you happen to take out your attacker in the process, so be it.

It was a great sport, and one I enjoyed immensely, but with duties to accordion/piano lessons as well as soccer (games and practices), there was little room left in my school week to pursue scholarly activities… so I didn't… and that's why I'm a writer.

That's my excuse, and I'm sticking with it.

Anyhow, something had to give, and that was judo. Unfortunately, I didn't utilize the free time for school work. Not that I wasn't smart, rather I was lazy. Which is weird considering I was doing judo, soccer and music (I'm your Renaissance man. Animals and kids also like me).

I still hold a fondness for judo… having last participated in the sport when I was in Japan, when I took a 15-year-old blackbelt out with an explosive stomach throw, taking his lackadaisical approach with the gaijin and using him as a projectile weapon that I could flip with my strong legs across the dojo and into a wall.

I spent the rest of the Club activity being tossed repeatedly by the judo sensei - let the punishment fit the crime, I suppose, but it was the judoka's (judo fighter) fault for not respecting his opponent, me, a mid-level fighter.

Speaking of fights, there is a continuous one in Europe, as martial arts there battle to keep the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) out.

While MMA's ventures such as the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) have seen much success in North America, it's not finding the way as easy-going in Europe.

Part of that success had been because the UFC was making friends within local judo communities… and as a judoka gains stature in a club, the UFC gains stature, too… with judoka fighters proving the legitimization of the MMA sport.

The MMA organizations have been trying to do this to grab a hold in Europe. Only it's not working very well for the MMA community.

Although the UFC ran major events in Manchester, England (UFC 70), Belfast, Northern Ireland (UFC 72), and London (UFC 75), the crowds were enthusiastic, but it wasn't enough to warrant further ventures across the pond.

Toss in the fact that MMA is illegal in countries like France and Norway, plus isn't officially sanctioned in other countries, you can see it has issues as a fringe product.

Personally, I used to enjoy watching MMA back when it first came on the scene, watching all the pay-per-views from 1-10, watching talented fighters like Tank or Horst Gracie… but then… perhaps because of the 'reality programming', it became akin to the WWE wrestling. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the vicious scripted ballet that is the WWE (though I no longer am a regular viewer), but if I want to watch over-the-top personalities, I'll watch the WWE over the UFC's MMA.

I did watch the recent women's MMA championship bout a month ago - over in, what, 10 seconds? At least I can be better entertained watching sumo, WWE and boxing if I want my dose of violence.

On the plus side, Ronda Jean Rousey, whom I saw win that 'fight' is a absolutely gorgeous.  I know that has nothing to do with the sport, but, to be honest, there's a reason why a casual male sports fan will tune in to women's tennis.


Rousey, of course, isn't just a pretty face, she's the first and current UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion. She's also a judoka.

Look… I used to love heavyweight and middleweight boxing… guys with personality like Ali, Leonard, Jones Jr., even Tyson.. but now… there isn't anyone I can really get behind. Boxing is, like it or not, make or break depending on its heavyweight division.

So… judo… it's popular in Asia and Europe, especially in France and other eastern European countries.

While Rousey is a very decent judoka regardless of sex, she's still not the big draw, being a woman.

Spectators love to see big male fighters beat the living tar out of each other way more than winning by submission.

The MMA has had many judoka competitors, but again, the European and North American appeal was diminished because they are Japanese. Like it or not, people tend to back a competitor or team if it's 'local'. You Japanese know what I mean. I never saw anyone cheer for former sumo Yokozuna Akebono over a Japanese competitor simply because he wasn't Japanese.

In fact, the MMA competitors did not have the Japanese fighters fight much in Europe simply because it wouldn't help grow the European market…. which was why they were trying to influence European judo communities in the first place.

But… the purists in the judo community are fighting back against MMA promotions.

For example, earlier in 2015, the UFC was about to sign on to sponsor the European Judo Championships by trying to broker a deal with the British Judo Association.

Immediately, there was an uproar. While there was pressure to not allow the British Judo Association to make the deal, the UFC saw the negative feedback, and pulled out… only the European Judo Union—they are in charge of the European Judo Championships—said screw it all, and removed the series—unanimously—from its intended site in Glasgow, Scotland.

European Judo Union president Sergei Soloveychick says: "Sport should have some human values and sports should help society develop human values. With MMA, it is not so.

"It’s not good if your opponent is on his stomach and you sit on him and beat his head. It’s not good for the education of the young generation, so we don’t like to promote this kind of organization during our competition. The spirit is to destroy your opponents by different ways and this is not good."

Think about the children! Ha! That's how much judo purists hate the MMA.

Okay, I can see the point… judo is a sport learned through hours and hours of repetition. I would assume the same could be said about MMA fighters. I don't know… I've not participated, but since it's based on a martial arts discipline or two per fighter, I would assume they would know all about the Japanese art of repetition.

Still… for now… if the UFC and its MMA partners are looking for a fight, they have one with the European judo associations that are keen on defending the so-called purity of their sport.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Who Was That Masked Man?

There's a term I read recently—masked depression—that seems to aptly describe what I was going through in Japan at various times.

Head shrinks would say that guys will party heavily to hide the 'sadness' they feel.

Masked depression is not clinical depression (IE chemical imbalance), it's just a malaise… a sadness… a downer... and since men aren't allowed to cry (suck it up, Buttercup!), it is exposed in other ways.

Such as in song, thrown all over this here blog. Of course, regular readers will know that while in Japan my behavior did change...

My first year in Japan, since I was an adult now, was spent in the pursuit of happiness—chasing Ashley's bottom.

When that all fell apart late in my first year, I began to find solace in the bottom of a glass—vodka-based drinks at first, then bourbon, and then rum, sake and beer. The problem became self-evident when I realized I was having all of those at a single sitting.

I picked myself up (literally and physically)—it was easy, mostly, because I wasn't that far into utilizing alcohol as a crutch—and instead turned to the companionship of strangers, rather than the familiar Jack Daniels or his partner Jimmy Beam.

Companionship has many forms.

For myself, it meant going to the local bar and having a drink or two just to be seen… to be a visible part of the community.

It allowed myself to being approached by the Japanese guys who just wanted to chat and try out their English-language skills for free, or by the Japanese women who just wanted to chat and try out my gaijin sex skills for free.

I preferred the latter, being a horn dog, but I did learn a lot about the Japanese people from those free English lessons, many of which I have written previously here.

From the women… I just wanted sex… and since they just wanted sex, too, it was a win-win scenario.

Each of us used the other for a mutual beneficial relationship. Me, for fake-female companionship; they to satisfy their internationalization curiosity with the nice foreigner who had a large bed and air-conditioning—though, I am sure neither of those things played a role in the roll.

I suppose it is possible that all of those women who wanted to mess around were also looking to feel good about themselves… that someone found them attractive… I don't know… I wasn't stupid enough to ask "Why" we were having sex.

Don't YOU want somebody to love? Don't you need somebody to love? Wouldn't you love somebody to love? You better find somebody to love.

I wanted to be wanted… to be loved… to feel like I made a difference… I want sex and candy, but... it was just me initially masking my depression from losing Ashley.

I'm sure it's why I slipped easily into a relationship with Junko, who had far too many issues of her own. Seriously, that whole 50 shades of grey crap? Been there, done that. Many people have. It's not like it's a new thing.

Before and after Junko, there were a lot of women… both Japanese and foreign AETs (assistant English teachers). I didn't discriminate, though in hindsight, I probably should have been more discriminating.

But I wanted more… a real relationship with a real woman… I needed a Noboko. I just didn't have her yet.

And in the meantime… I was filling the void with bouts of meaningless sex.

I'd rather have sex with meaning…

I know, I know… many of you are looking at me sideways… to just shut the eff up and stop whining about having sex. I'm not whining.

I make no apologies for it. I'm just providing what I believe is a reasonable explanation for my behavior.

I'd like you to know, however, that after each one-night or two-night stand, I would be happy… but my mood would flip dark when I realized it wasn't really what I wanted after all.

So… does that explain all the plethora of sexcapades in these blogs?

With Ashley… with Junko… the anonymous others… even with Noboko?

I'm not going to psychoanalyze myself any further than I have.

But… to quote the Eurythmics from their 1983 song "Sweet Dreams":

Sweet dreams are made of these
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused


Or, if you prefer, Radiohead's song "Just":

You do it to yourself, you do
And that's what really hurts
Is that you do it to yourself
Just you and no one else
You do it to yourself
You do it to yourself


If there is one lesson we can take from all of this, it's to stop listening to music.

Holy crap. If I listened to Beck's "Loser" or the Offspring's "Self-Esteem" or Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" I'd probably need to find someone to screw my brains out to escape the malaise.

When I first started writing fiction back in Japan circa 1990, I loved to write wacky comedic short stories (Rob has read all of those, and is perhaps the only one) - and they just poured from wherever it came from in my brain... it was easy - several 1500-word stories a day. All was good.

But when my mood changed after all the women troubles, my writing became darker. No comedy... just 'drama', for lack of a better word. But it certainly was darker...

While I loved the comedy stuff, it was obvious that the better-written materials were not of the comedic variety. Which made me angry, sad, not happy. And it got better and better.

Here's the thing... I'd rather not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and would actively change my mood to affect how I wrote. But, my writing didn't suffer as my mood grew light, rather I saw the light. No, not religion, but rather all it took was more writing - practice. I've got over 15,000 hours of practice in writing in just the past 10 years.

But what I write about is still determined by mood. Writing about myself and the end of my days in Japan is difficult for me. The memories are good... they come flooding back, and I can see, hear, smell, taste... even feel everything again on my skin... but the introspective ability gained by looking back makes me want to travel back in time like The Flash, to the early 1990s and just slap myself. That's why it's tough... and that's why I'm taking so long in finishing my tale... if it even finishes. I just don't want to come to the end of it all. I suppose that's why I created this blog back in 2009. Writers gotta write, right?

Tomorrow, we're going to flashback two years prior to Noboko… relax… it's just for another day… it's a side trip, and it's cheaper than psychoanalysis.

build me up Buttercup,
Andrew Joseph
Worst mix tape ever.
Image at the top is of the standard theater masks depicting comedy and tragedy. Comedy is on the right.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Area 5.1 Sake To Me

In our last blog, I ranted on a bit about crap mostly because not much happened.

I had my official board of education good-bye party the night before, and earlier this morning (Saturday) July 17, 1993, I waited until my girlfriend Noboko left for work before I got out of bed, and went out and about on my bike.

I cycled around Ohtawara looking at all the temples and shrines I could find in four hours… which, surprisingly was plenty. Japan has plenty of places to pray, should the desire or need hit you.

I got back yesterday at 1PM, had a shower and waited for Noboko to arrive after her teaching expectations on Saturday morning.

She showed up at around 2PM… and despite what you are thinking, and I was hoping, we didn't just screw our brains out until it was time for bed. Now... we only spent four hours doing that.


Nope... at 7PM, we did the unthinkable. Not for me because if there's a possibility of something being thought, I've thought about it.

Anyhow… she and I stepped out together into the real world…

Without bothering to peer through the peephole to see if anyone was there, she boldly threw open the door—pulled open, actually—and stepped outside… not caring if anyone saw the pretty teacher stepping out from the ever-smiling gaijin's apartment building.

No one saw us. And believe me, I was looking. For her sake.

She held my hand, practically dragging along the outside apartment complex hallway to the elevator, where we waited calmly until the car arrived and rode down from the third floor to the ground.

The doors opened… and there was a family staring at us.

Noboko, still holding my hand, says good-evening to all and pulls me out of the car as I stammer a hello and a short bow to them.

I turn to them and smile, they give a smile and a wave back. Noboko is still pulling me along like the stubborn dog that I am.

We aren't heading for her car, as I assumed, but instead, we are walking in the humid evening towards the restaurant and bar district located a convenient five minute drunken stagger from my apartment.

It's funny… I'm used to being stared at in Japan, simply for being me and for being a gaijin (foreigner).

Noboko, she's used to being stared at because she's pretty.

But now… she's not just holding my hand, she's got her left arm looped through my right and is practically hugging herself up against me as we slowly walk to a restaurant.

She - who had for months - actively avoided anyone seeing us as a couple, now didn't give a crap. It's like aliens had landed and the world was going to end, so who cares.

Oranges poronges - who cares?  (Kudos to you if you think you know where that line is from.)

As we walked, single men, single women, couples, and groups of not-yet-drunk Japanese would bow, say 'konichiwa (hello)' and allow us to pass unfettered - though a casual glance at a store window reflection would invariably show them turning to look back at this handsome couple.

Despite me sleeping with around 30 different women over the past three years, this is the very first time where I was allowed to be someone's boyfriend out in public.

Yeah, Ash and I 'did it' on the front lawn of the Ohtawara banquet hall at around 2AM once, but no one was around—Ohtawara, outside of the restaurant/bar area pretty much rolls up its sidewalks at 9AM.

So… although initially confused by Noboko's bold statement, I was now reveling in this newfound celebrity I just now had thrust upon me… with the conclusion of this evening leaving me with four more days in Japan.

I'll be honest, though… back then… in 1993.. I wasn't philosophizing the whys or the what-fors regarding what was going on… I was just enjoying the warmth of her body as I had my arm snaked around her waist, occasionally snapping lightly at the elastic band on her panties.

Why do women all of a sudden hate the word 'panties'… or have you always hated it? I mean… I've seen various form of women's underwear and undergarments… from g-strings, thongs et al… but this was 1993, and these were panties… no more, no less.

I could describe them for you in greater detail for you guys or interested … but I didn't get to the nitty-gritty until later, suffice to say they were a dark emerald green, with a floral lace pattern stretched across. I have no idea what they were made of… I could assume, but why bother… let it be whatever you want.

Noboko was NOT the type to wear black or red, at least I never saw her in anything like that ever before… but this evening she wore black… a black dress… no spaghetti straps or anything sexy slutty that way (I said sexy slutty… I did not say that was bad)… Noboko was still dressed to the nines (or tens), wearing dangling gold earrings that weren't so dangly… a matching gold necklace, and my sapphire ring on her wedding finger, which in Japan is on the right hand.

The way she was gripping on to me, that ring was front and visible to everyone who passed us by.
I'm not saying it was a stupid large stone, or anything like that—it wasn't, but like I said, I'm pretty sure every woman who passed us and gave us the eye saw it. I doubt the Japanese guys did… probably staring at me and hating me for holding onto Noboko…  maybe not hate… but certainly jealous envy.

As we got to the entranceway of the restaurant below the 4C (owned and operated by the same gentleman - and Matthew would know the name of the place - I've forgotten)… Noboko does to me what only one other woman has ever done to me before…. she stops me, hops up on her toes and plants a kiss on me.

Now… I'm a bit of a perv, in case you didn't know, so I'm up and ready to drag her into some side alley and lift, slide aside and go for… but no… Noboko is in charge tonight and says: "I'm sorry I was not a very good girlfriend to you all these months."

I was shocked.

I understand her social position. Her inability to 'show' me off… I put up with it with Junko, and I sure as hell put up with it with Ashley.

I know it's not them being ashamed of me, or of having a gaijin boyfriend… rather, it's to protect themselves from the prying eyes and chatter of other Japanese.

Despite Japan being this quiet, reserved society, they sure like to effing blab about stuff that doesn't concern them. It's even jucier if they suspect sex is involved.

And, let's be adults here, if you are dating someone in Japan, the odds are extremely high that sex is involved.

It's not talked about—certainly not when two or more Japanese are invalid, but when a foreigner is—there are no rules.

One of the first question anyone will ask a 'landed' foreigner after: name and  country of origin,   is their marital status.

Why? They may not want to sleep with you (probably), but knowing the marital status is very valuable gossip.

Now… this is 1993… and there is no Facebook or Twitter even on the event horizon of this black hole of information data gathering. So… when people find out stuff, they have to physical tell other people.

In Ohtawara, the grapevine is quick and dirty. It is not always purple-monkey-underpants- accurate.
Noboko had heard I had got some Japanese woman pregnant and that I didn't care.

That's totally not true. Not only would I have cared, but I did not get anyone—Japanese or otherwise—pregnant. I have joked about it here in this blog, wondering if such and such Japanese beauty queen might actually be mine, but I know who I slept with, an I know that protection was always involved, unless it was with one of the three mainstays - and not all that often. Back then, I probably didn't have the control I have earned nowadays.

Whatever… everyone is staring at us, and neither of us apparently cares.

I tell her she has nothing to apologize for and slide open the restaurant doors, walk through and allow her to shut them.

We find seats, easily enough at the counter and order up some steamed freshwater crayfish, some beer and sake, of which I mostly eat.

The owner ambles over from within the rectangular cooking area that the counter surrounds and casually asks me (in English) if this (Noboko) is my girlfriend.

You might wonder just why a Japanese man, with not a heck of a lot of English skills, would bother to ask me a question in English, when it would be far easier to do so in Japanese.

The obvious answer (to me), is that that us dumb gaijin have no problem in expressing the truth, while the Japanese might hem and haw.

I've never mentioned these two Japanese words before… and in fact, I didn't KNOW about these Japanese words until about one month ago:
  • Honne (本音);
  • Tatemae (建前).
I knew that these concepts existed in Japan… and have alluded as much in damn near every blog article I have written here since 2009.

Honne, briefly, is a Japanese person's true feelings and desires.

Tatemae, is the behavior and opinion one displays in public.

Some people have written books on the subject of Japanese personality, having you believe that this is something unique to the Japanese.

It's not.

I think all of us have hone and tatemae tendencies, regardless of what bloody country we live in.

I think the difference is, is that Japanese society tends to try and ensure that hone and tatemae are two distinct concepts, and by doing so, homogeneity can be better achieved.

It's true… there is a oneness about the way Japanese society tries to portray itself… the thing is, that honne—which was only ever released through social gatherings in Japan where drinking was involved, has now crept out more into the open (as of 2015).

Thanks to social media outlets like YouTube, Twitter and even Facebook, the Japanese are being exposed or are exposing themselves and all their individual foibles not just for Japanese society to see, but for the global community.

What is the real Japan? The stiff, unsmiling Japanese business man, or the falling-down drunk Japanese businessman waving at you saying "Harro gaijin-san!" ??

What about all those rockabilly dudes in the parsec, juking and jiving? This looks like a full time deal, and doesn't appear to be fueled by booze or drugs. The same for the kawai look on the women!
Japanese individuality of the group is being replaced by the individuality of the one.

Sorry Mr. Spock, but the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, and the cracks are appearing all over the porcelain that is Japanese society.

Noboko - here in 1993 - she is acting as though she doesn't care about Japanese society.
As such, she answers the restauranteur for me—in the best language ever—by pulling me towards her face and kissing me.

I'm pretty sure I heard an 'eeeeeeh' escape from some immature Japanese woman, but other than that, I heard quite a few vocal 'suuuugay' utterances (a slangy way of saying 'wonderful', which is normally, 'sugoi' (sue-goy).

"I love you," says Noboko to myself and the whole restaurant.
"I love you, too," I say and kiss her again before turning and smiling to my curious friend. "Wakata?"
"Wakata."

Basically - "Get it? Got it." It's slang.
We enjoy our dinner… the restauranteur asks Noboko and myself if will be going upstairs to the 4C bar afterwards.

A very happy Noboko nods yes, and covers her mouth in that very Japanese way as she laughs - she's even giggling and lowering her eyes.

"You are so Japanese," I tell her mimicking her fingers covering her mouth.

She swears at me in Japanese, with that lovable muttering she does, but answers in Japanese: "Nihonjin, ne…" (I'm Japanese, right?)

I smile.

"Do you love me because I am Japanese?" she asks in English.
"What?!" I heard her, but what?!

She repeats it in Japanese, and this time the whole place is listening.

"Iiiiiiii-ya (No)", I practically yell at her. "I don't love you because you are Japanese.

The whole offing place went silent.

Seriously. Like for three or fours seconds. It was like everyone was listening and everyone immediately sucked all the air in the place into their lungs.

Noboko was smiling, however, so I knew she knew.

"I love you because you are Noboko."

Someone must have translated it to Japanese, because everyone suddenly exhaled. It was so comical, that the doors would have blown open if they weren't sliding doors.

"Yes… I am Noboko…. and you",  she continued, pointing at me, "are chotto baka."

Everyone laughed. Even me, because it's funny.

I told you she was fun.

"I must be. Look who my girlfriend is."

This time there weren't any eeeeeehs - just laughter.

In my head, I am thinking "see..  see how easy it is for us to exist in Japan."

But I know it's different… associating with the local gaijin could mess up her work, and not that I care, her dad's work. There's that whole loss of respect.

No wonder Japan's birthrate is running backwards

We pay up, go outside, open the glass door and walk up the steep stairs to the 4C.

Because I am a known entity, there is no pay as you go… and have a tab set up… but honestly, Noboko and I aren't interesting in getting drunk tonight.

We're interested in showing off.

We have a rum and coke apiece, and we're kissing in public.

As it's delivered, we're told it's on the house - only my second ever free drink in the place… the last time was when the local yakuza boss bough me a drink to size me up (I taught his son at Ohtawara Chu Gakko).

At the end of the night, I go over to the bar (the restauranteur is up there, along with Mark, the New Zealand bartender)… I shake their hand and tell them I am leaving Japan in a few days time.

Mark, my friend and ever the opportunist, asks me "What about her?"

"We'll see," I say… I want to marry her, but we're trying to figure out if that's going to happen. Right now… it appears as though we are enjoying ourselves until I come back in a few months time."

Bows and handshakes, and I feel sad, Noboko drags me by the hand, opens the door, walks down with me, opens the door and out we go into the still humid night of Ohtawara.

At least I have air-conditioning in my apartment… and I left it running.

It's just after midnight…  and although it's still hovering around 30C, we are comforted that any future sweating will be of our own doing.

We walk slowly back to my apartment, my hand slides down to her ass, and rather than push it away, she takes my forthrightness as though it's perfectly acceptable.

How could I leave this behind?
Andrew Joseph
Yeah, I know what I wrote.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Stop Messing With My Caroline!

This one went out before I could do anything with it - suffice to say it is a NY Post article from about one week ago. 

Authorities probe threats against Caroline Kennedy in Japan


American and Japanese authorities are working to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel in Japan after media reports of death threats against U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and another American diplomat, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo received the threats by telephone last month, with several phone calls made by an English-speaking man, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported, citing a Tokyo police official.
The threats also targeted the U.S. consul general in Okinawa, Alfred Magleby, according to Yomiuri and other Japanese and U.S. media reports. Okinawa island is known in Japan as host to the bulk of U.S. service personnel stationed in the country.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not confirm any specific threats to Kennedy and Magleby, but she said in a statement, "We take any threats to U.S. diplomats seriously."
"We are working with the Japanese government to ensure the necessary measures are in place," she said.
The U.S. Embassy and Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment.
Reports of the threats emerged as first lady Michelle Obama arrived in Japan on Wednesday for a three-day visit, including a meeting with diplomatic staff from Tokyo and Osaka.
The reports came two weeks after the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was attacked and injured by a man with a knife during an event in Seoul.

Noboko And Andrew: Five The Hard Way

I have five days left in Japan, and this is my final Saturday in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

Despite the beer I imbibed last night at my good-bye party, once Noboko left to teach class for the morning, I dragged my tired ass out if bed and counted my lucky stars.

I showered, dressed, grabbed some cereal, loaded a roll of film (and two more for the road) and hopped on my bicycle for a final look around the city.

It's funny how often you let the simple things go by...

Since this was just a road trip, with only one thing happening, let me fill in the time with some random thoughts that may or may not have been going through my mind at that time. It's usually pretty busy in there, and it has been 22 years, so perhaps I can be forgiven.   

How is it that I have seen more of Saipan, Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore than I have of my own hometown of Ohtawara-shi? It's just not right, but I could say the same thing about Toronto, having spent 44 years in that city and have never seen the Scarborough Bluffs or even Casa Loma!

On the plus side, I have driven as far east as New Brunswick (still need to make Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) and have gone all the way to the Pacific Ocean in BC. I do need a side trip to the three great northern Territories, though.

But Ohtawara... it's smallish... why has it not been better explored by myself. Probably because I made it my home.

Still, I bet I am one of the few people in Ohtawara under the age of 30 to have walked the abandoned train line, or even know that it is something more than a bicycle path...

There's not much I can tell you, except that I hit every shinto shrine and Buddhist temple I could find, said hello to everyone along the way as they starred at me...

Even after three years here, some of the older folks while peer up from their perpetual back breaking stare at the ground (probably from working decades in a ricefield) to stare at me as I ride by, brakes squealing noisily as I slow down to shout out an "ohio gozaimasu (good morning" and proffer a bow, which always evokes a shocked bow in return.

They still seem to think it amazing that a gaijin (foreigner) would have the manners to do something like that, but it's all good... I live in do-inakka, the boonies of Japan... sure it's a city, but it's name literally translates to Big Ricefield Field City, the city so inakka, that they use the word 'field' twice just in case you missed out the first time.

But the folks here are decent, honest and even simple people who have taken, for the most part, a keen interest in myself and the other foreigners who have called Ohtawara home lately.

Some like Matthew and myself are quite visible to the community, taking part in every single matsuri and parade that Japan can throw at us. Matthew and I are both the type of people who relish the opportunity to be part of the community, who don't hide in our home when asked to participate.

Yes, we value our privacy, and can be taken aback by some of the inane questions put to us - the classic "Can you use chopsticks?" question got very old two months into our stay, with Matthew being quick witted enough and proficient enough in Japanese to ask them if they know how to use a fork, and when they shockingly answer in the positive, he adds a 'sugoi' (wonderful), hoping they will understand the sarcasm, and to note that the Japanese, while a unique culture are not the only ones who can use chopsticks, or eat rice or like sushi.

At first I thought inane questions like that were meant to assure the Japanese that they were different from us, but I know that Matthew and I did our best these past three years to ensure that we were similar enough to the Japanese, that if it weren't for the color of our skin or the shape of our eyes (or in Matthew's case, excessive height), that actually act just as Japanese as they do--less the dumb questions about foreign affairs.

True, in my three years here, I would often ask "WHY?" to the Japanese - on any topic, and would get that damn sucking of air through the teeth response... but in this case, it was an honest inward reflection that meant they knew the answer but were afraid to tell us lest they look silly.

One of my JTE (Japanese teacher of English) when presented one of those 'why'
 questions from me, sucked a lot of air, bowed his head in frustration and silently wondered how I had discovered one of those Japanese secrets... "It's difficult to explain, except that it's always been that way, so that's why we do it—even though, as you point out, that there are quite a few different, if not better ways, to do things... "

Japan will change, he noted, just that it takes longer than non-Japanese people would expect.

It's funny... the Japanese would often feel pride, but much shame at the society's inability to affect positive change, but that's mostly because the Japanese know very little about anything non-Japanese.

In Canada, up until the 1980s, even, shops were not allowed to open on Sunday - the Lord's day, for fear of upsetting the good Christian values or something like that. Sports were never scheduled on that day, with baseball and hockey finally breaking those barriers down in the 1970s.

Hell, in Canada, the right to vote for women wasn't granted until... well... Manitoba gave women the provincial vote in 1914, but Federal Canada legally allow it until 1916. The province of Quebec didn't allow women the right to vote provincially until 1940, as both legislators and the Catholic Church were adamant in keeping women down. In Quebec, a woman could vote federally, but not provincially. How screwed up is that?

If I was asked why by the Japanese, I would have to suck a lot of air between my teeth also.

I'm not even going to back up my point with an American example, suffice to say the word 'segregation,' as one air-sucking moment.

By the way... everyone who knows baseball, knows that Jackie Robinson was the first Black to play in the Major Leagues back in 1947. Before that, the only way a Black Man could play baseball was to be in the Negro Leagues. But... back in the 1880s and earlier, many a professional baseball team was mixed with Whites and Blacks, and while I might know why segregation occurred amongst the professional baseball ranks, how much air would you have to suck to explain it.

My point being that, that Japan is every much as fugged up as the place you are in right now. Plenty. But each place still has its good, if not wonderful points, so judge not, lest ye be judged.

That was kind of the whole thing I learned about Japan - very early in fact...

This whole "It's A Wonderful Rife" blog, that was originally a monthly column begun nearly 25 years ago... it was and remains a way to look at the Japanese and the Japanese way of life and to laugh... but also to point out the foibles of my/yours/our own western way of thinking.

I'm the kind of guy who likes to have a lot of fun... have some laughs... and if I can get laid, too, even better... so being told I need to leave Japan because the jig/gig/job is up, well... it makes me introspective... hence my visits to all the shinto shrines and Buddhist temples I spy...

I don't believe in any one god (air sucking through the teeth), and definitely not any one religion, because who the hell am I to possess such an ego to assume one is better than the other, or even that one exists, and the rest of the world is a bunch of blaspheming idiots? 

Japan didn't teach me that. I was fully cognizant of the shortcomings of most of mankind - arrogance. I possess my own, to be sure, but I'm not going to tell anyone my way is better than your way. At least not directly.

I can't tell you exactly what I was thinking as I visited the religious grounds in Japan, but I sure wasn't praying for any deity to come to my aid. Billions of people pray every day, billions of prayers go unanswered.

Aaaaaaa, crap... Noboko...  maybe just a little prayer to whichever Buddha is listening and any of you other gods and deities out there: "Give a guy a break."

Somewhere the gods are playing craps going for five the hard way,
Andrew Joseph