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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Art’s Tasty Shoes

Would you pay ¥27,000 for a pair of shoes? That’s US$240.

It’s not all that much for a really nice pair of men’s shoes… I mean, I wouldn’t do it, but then again, I’m not in the position to need a pair of shoes that expensive.

But… what if you couldn’t wear these shoes? What if they only came in size 26cm (10.2 inches)? That’s too small for my feet! My feet are a foot long (12 inches/30 cm).

What is they only made nine pairs? Would you still want them?

What if they aren’t really shoes after all… and were actually art shoes made out of chocolate? Would you want it then?

I’m pretty sure a few people might indulge in a bit of foot fetish for a chance to lick these shoes… but really… it’s art with a sole.

Manufactured at the Chocolat Boutique Lecra chocolate-specialty shop within the Rihga Royal Hotel in Osaka-shi (Osaka City), these shoes actually have subtle chocolate color differences, and really mimic well the appearance of high-grade leather.

The artist master chocolatier Okai Motohiro (surname first) has created three colors of chocolate shoes: light brown, dark brown, and red-brown—with a total of nine pairs of shoes… so I assume three pairs of each color.

Master chocolatier Okai Motohiro
 Okai not only makes the shoes from chocolate, but also the insoles and the laces.

Lucky owners of these shoes will not only get the shoes, but will also get some shoe accessories, such as a chocolate shoehorn made by Okai, as well as a jar of shoe cream/polish that holds disks of light tempered chocolate.

Now… this not for fashion, rather just for art, because I don’t know if you’ve ever got chocolate on your clothes, but it looks a damn right mess. You certainly don’t want to accidentally sit on your shoes. Yes, you could always eat it, but the stain…

Let’s say I was rich, and I bought a pair of chocolate shoes… the red-brown ones… how do I store it? Does it need to be kept in a chilly room?

This is a great question… how do I stop my art from melting?

News sources say that orders for these shoes - part of the Gentleman’s Radiance line, are being accepted from January 20-February 7, 2017… with deliveries in time for Valentine’s Day.

Apparently that means that women need to buy these chocolate shoes for their man…

As you all hopefully recall because you have read every single blog I have ever written, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is the day (February 14) when men sit back and receive gifts of love and adoration from women.

Only after the men get to see who really likes them do they purchase a reciprocal gift for the woman/women - on March 14, a day Japan calls “White Day”.
It sure won't taste like shoe leather! In the back, you can see the shoe polish and shoehorn also made of chocolate.
Considering that women in Japan don’t usually come close to making the same pay as their male counterparts for the same job… and that women in Japan rarely seem to have positions of high power and financial remuneration, let’s just say that any woman who buys these chocolate shoe art pieces for a prospective mate must really, really, really like the guy.

As such… even if you know that she spent ¥27,000 or rather ¥29,160 (US 259) - which is the price including consumption tax… though why one would have to pay consumption tax on something you aren’t going to consume is beyond me…

It is my belief that is she spent that much on you… and you’ve had a month to mull things over after Valentine’s Day… you better get off your butt and buy her something a whole lot more expensive and shiny that what she spent on you.

Somewhere with big feet and big dreams,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Space World Skating On Thin Ice - And Dead Fish

Wait… that’s no manta, that’s a skate.

Would you want to skate on a frozen pond filled with dead fish?

Even as a Canadian who loves his hockey (and got a chance for the first time to coach his own son as goaltender in a game this past weekend  - he stole the show in a 4-1 victory), I wouldn’t feel comfortable skating atop a bunch of dead fish - no matter how life-like it seemed.

Space World in Kitakyushi-shi (Kitakyushu City) in Fukuoka-ken (Fukuoka prefecture), recently decided it would be a good idea to create an ice skating rink for people to use… and purchased already dead fish some 5,000 mackerel, sprats and others) and and frozen them under the surface of the rink, so it would look like skaters were gliding atop the ocean.

There was initially some concern that the aquarium had killed all of these fish as they froze the arena—especially when they spied manta rays and whale sharks beneath the ice—but those ones turned out to be enlarged photos placed within the ice.

But the fish… oh, my Buddha… the fish…

People skating at Space World did not seem to have much of an issue skating atop the arena of death… either not caring or assuming it was all fake… but after a local Japanese television news report showed the scene, outrage followed.
Life's a beach and then you dive.
People called it cruel, immoral and just plain weird… but let’s look at it from the Space World point of view.

All of the fish are dead. They are embedded below the ice, so no one will come in contact with the fish… and, I repeat, the fish were already dead.

What’s the difference between buying a dead fish and eating it? Is that cruel? Is that immoral? Vegetarians might think so.

It was used to create art… because ultimately, that’s what the dead fish became… art. Is that weird or immoral or cruel? 

Some Japanese guy once cut off his own wiener and had it cooked up and charged people to eat it. Performance art to the max. Is this worse or not as bad as using dead fish as part of a frozen exhibit/skating rink.

I know… I know… I thought like everyone else initially - like WTF Japan? But is it really gross or immoral?

It is true that Space World could have created the entire exhibit using the same photographs of the rays and whale sharks under the frozen water to give skaters the illusion they are gliding atop the ocean…

Or, they could have used fake fish in place of dead fish and placed them under the ice…



I think the most disturbing thing about the whole ice rink, was that Space World had to use English… to use dead fish to spell out in English, the word “HELLO”, supposedly to direct skaters in the proper direction to skate.

I’m thinking an arrow painted at a couple of spots along the rink’s boards could have done the same thing.

Why English? Was that just a nod at us puck-swatting, maple syrup sucking Canucklehead Canadians who like to skate?

"HELLO, we are a grouper of dead fish… who want to say hello… every time you skate over us…. and we want to eat your brains, just like we did to the people who organized the skating rink at Space World."

Skate or die…. it’s too bad that saying was for skateboarding… maybe initially from an old video  game I recall some 30 years ago…

Space World quickly bowed deeply to the outrage brought against it via the media, and closed the facility. It had been scheduled to stay open until the Spring of 2017.

The owners of the facility say they are considering holding a memorial for the dead fish at some point next year…

Now that’s guilt.

“We come here today, to offer our deepest prayers for the soles of these fish. Despite them being dead when we bought them at the fish market, we accept blame for skating atop the skates, for flexing our mussels, for not seeing that the whole set-up was a double-edged swordfish.

We feel like hammerheads, and continue to show our remorse by being koi about our guilt.

Oh, and we hope that the spirits of these dead fish don't come and haunt Space World. We didn't kill you... the fishermen did. Go haunt them.

Okay… that’s all we have to say - Fin.”

Space World didn’t kill the fish. They were already dead and were more than likely scheduled to become someone’s meal and ultimately someone’s poop.

Space World was just going to take these dead creatures and turn them into art.

Of course… the whole thing could be seen as a waste of food.

I could go either way in this one.

I wouldn’t have used real fish to begin with because I can see that there might be some sort of public uproar… but now that it’s done, Space World didn’t really do anything evil to the fish… though that’s just my opinion.

I still think there was a better way to create the ocean ice rink, and would have done my best to convince Space World to do anything but use real fish…

No… I don’t think it was wrong, but I could see how others would. And that’s what matters. I would not have created a public display that could cause such outcry.

Have your say…

Oh... and here's the link to Space World - HERE.

Thanks, Julien!

Late breaking revelation! Apparently the frozen fish aren't necessarily UNDER the ice... they are sort of breaking the surface - in many places... why would you need to do that?

Couldn't the bumps trip up the skaters? Couldn't the skates rip up the frozen fish causing unnecessary carnage?

Aren't there going to be unruly teenagers and kids and adults who might actually kick at the kish visible above the ice? I might. Just to see if I can do it?   

Okay... a so-so idea gone bad.

Itadakimasu,
Andrew Joseph
PS: A joke:
Q: How many existentialists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: The fish.   

Monday, November 28, 2016

Off Your Rocker - Bad English Translation

While it might appear as though the world loves to pick on Japan and its use of poor English translations, it's just not the case.

I think much of the world holds a special fascination for Japan and its seemingly bizarre aka different culture... such as why the heck do they use so much English in their day-to-day living.

I mean... Japan got the crap bombed out of it with atomic weaponry back in WWII...

Then again, that same country helped rebuild it and make it an Asian version of itself...

Then again... Japan is so intent on maintaining its own distinct culture that it makes it difficult for people to become Japanese citizens...

And with the lack of immigration opportunities, Japan itself has become a stagnant nation, with a negative birthrate meaning Japan and the Japanese could become extinct one day... except it won't happen.

So, how to explain Japan's use of English in its music... video games... advertising... even if it isn't always used correctly, like in the sales sign HERE?

Does Japan have a love affair with all-things English-sounding? Maybe... but why?

I have no real idea.

One of those things that always confused me, were the Japanese music songs sung by Japanese that were 99% Japanese-language content... but for some reason would have a couple of English words thrown in for no reason... I think there was an old Japanese punkish band called Buck-Tick, who had a Japanese-sung song that suddenly used  a couple of English words: "only the lonely."

It's one example, but most Japanese pop and rock songs follow the same path... but why. 

Okay... the phrase sounds cool, but would the average Japanese person understand it? And what the heck... two of the words use the letter "L" - a letter the Japanese do not have in their alphabets, and lack an ability to pronounce it properly, often switching it out with the letter "R"... like I have done with the naming of this blog.

Which brings us to the photo of the signage above dutifully translated into English by the fitness salon Laforet... which sounds French, but is in fact a Japanese company, with multiple locations across the country... so why have a Japanese business name that starts with the letter "L"...

What's particularly sad, is the fact that Laforet tried to provide an English translation of their gym rules, and ultimately failed.

All they had to do was have a Japanese person translate it into English, and then have an English-speaking person spend 30 seconds to look at it to determine if the English translation was a good English translation... because whatever process they are using, it's not working.

Laforet is hardly the only company guilty of it. I see it quite often on websites for Japanese and Chinese companies attempting to create a positive customer experience for their English-speaking web viewers... it's nice... but as soon as I see a mistake in the English writing, I think that company just doesn't give a darn, and I lose respect if not interest for that company.

Yeah... I've seen it on American, British, Canadian, French and German websites, too. Holy smokes... I sometimes get press releases sent from highly reputable German companies or ad agencies... and I spend hours re-writing them for work because the translation is simply not up to snuff.

I'll do it for you... for money, of course, but I'll do it and do it quickly... and for a fair rate of monetary exchange... hey... at least you'll know that no one around the world is going to laugh at a poor English translation.

Send me your English translations, and I'll make sure your company does not become an international laughing stock. 

Just look at that photo at the top... two spelling mistakes and a big grammatical one in three sentences... That's not very good when you are trying to convey a high-end customer experience.

What's worse, is that the word "locker" is spelled correctly in sentence #3, but NOT in sentence #2. That's just carelessness, and unworthy of Laforet. 

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks Matthew for the heads-up!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fu*kin' Sale In Japan


Okay... above is a sign that first made an appearance in Japan back in 2012.

But what the heck... I saw it back then and decided I couldn't publish... but now... on a Saturday evening when I'm struggling for a topic after a busy day of birthday shopping for the boy... I'm tired.

My problem with birthday shopping for my son, is that I wanted to get him a new baseball bat... but it's like buying a bra... you have to try'em on to ensure you are getting the right fit.

As such, I needed to take the boy with me to ensure that we got the right bat.

Bats are measured for kids by length determined by kid height. Weight... it's determined by how well one can do a full on swing, but stop it at a predetermined half-swing point (over the home plate).

As such... I need him with me as I shop for him. Ergo, and I use that word incorrectly, he now has a baseball bat some three weeks before his birthday... which means I will now have to go and get him another birthday present so he can be 'surprised'... and actually get a birthday present.

Trust me... as XX-something-year-old man-boy, if I didn't get a present on my birthday - even if I had received one days earlier, I might wonder why my life sucks.

Anyhow... it also means that I have to get him a Christmas/X-Mas present, too... as his birthday is two-weeks before Christmas.

Now... that photo above at a Japanese department store seems like it has that whole marketing thing down pat... attract your Japanese customers by offering a 20% sale on every fuckin' thing in the store.

Now, you might think that in Japan, this is simply a gross misuse of an English swear word... you know... they just don't know what it means... but I can tell you that 25 years ago when I was in Japan... my junior high school students sure knew how to use the word "Fug You", or at least the more grotesque version of it.

Oh wait... maybe the Japanese were not aware that fuckin' and "fug you" are based upon the same root swear word.

That's the only explanation that I can come up with.

Some keen Japanese marketer did a stay in some English-speaking country during Christmas time and heard his billets talking about some fuckin' sale they wanted to check out at the mall...

And maybe they were told that the word fuckin' was a slang way to emphasize its importance.

I mean... just because one lives in an English-speaking country and is billeting a Japanese national for a month does not mean they automatically qualify for ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher of the year.

Let's chalk this up to poor internationalization on the part of the English-speaking country where the home-stay occurred AND on the Japanese marketing executive who didn't bother to do their homework.

The store in Osaka was Gallerie, who only learned of the global snafu (Situation Normal All-Fugged Up) (that's an acronym) with a couple of days left in their month-long sale.

And... despite all of my conjecture... there is a logical explanation for the department store's gaffe.

Fuckin' was a Japanese play on words created by Gallerie, for the Japanese word "fukubukuro"... a term that means "lucky bags".

The implication now, is that there are "two" letters missing from the AFTER ad, and minus the apostrophe, there's no chance that it's missing a "G".
In Japan, some stores participate in a New Year's tradition where they place all overstock items from the previous year into a bag, and sell them as a mystery bag to customers at a discount.

You fuckin' never know what you are going to get inside...

In this case, Gallerie sells clothing... so a lucky grab bag of clothing.

Hey... at least it was an honest mistake, and nothing as crass as what I was suggesting.

It's kind of like collecting sports cards... you buy a pack and hope it's something cool... except that there's obviously no discount. I also once purchased a bunch of black plastic enclosed Hot Wheels cars for myself, er my son when he was two-years-old... it was like a Forest Gump line: Ya never know what's inside. I bought three Hot Wheel packs - they were all the same. Fuckin'.

I then bought the full 12-car line-up (or whatever number of cars it was) from some guy on E-Bay who could tell what cars were inside by the code of letters and numbers printed in teeny-tiny printing on the base of the black plastic covering the vehicle.
 By the way... how is fuckin' a play on words for fukubukuro?

And why does the lower image indicate that it's "Up to 50% off" but the first sign says 20% off?

I think I am using the word "fuckin'" correctly...

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: More importantly, this took 25 minutes to research and write. Thanks Vinnie for  regurgitating this old photo for me!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Little Help From My Friends

It's been a busy week at work... having to complete four feature articles of 2200+ words apiece for our December issue... working my butt off creating some Pioneer of Aviation blogs (I'm doing one per week now) that take me to the middle of January.

Speaking of the latter blog... I was looking for information on a 1910 helicopter inventor, who used a tandem bicycle powered by pedals and human riders to turn an umbrella looking propeller... it didn't work - no kidding.

I knew the inventor's last name... and that's it. Japan--It's A Wonderful Rife reader Vinnie suggested the AHS, a Facebook organization that specializes in helicopter history as a resource... so I contacted them.

They didn't know much about Rickman, but contacted the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. They searched their archives and records and found, two weeks later, a single newspaper clipping that was about two inches deep.

It was from 1930, and talked about Rickman's next great helicopter attempt some 22 years after his last. It gave his work address, home address and full name.

Giddy with glee, I told Vinnie... who then did some digging himself... and found out when he was born, who he was married too and when.

I continued to dig and found out that he had about 30 patents. I then contacted his old place of business... the City of New York to see if they could find out anything for me on when his pension stopped owing to a death notification.

To be honest, I don't expect help from there, but the City of New York did respond saying my request has been forwarded to the right department, and that they would get back to me. I have a reference number for my request at the very least.

Vinnie then found a newspaper database I could access for the years 1797-1922... I looked up that helicopter inventor... and found one more piece of newspaper evidence... giddy with glee (again), I read about XXXX Rickman's helicopter... and then noticed it had a different first name from the one the Smithsonian had given me.

I figure the newspaper clipping I found simply had a clerical error... as there wasn't much of a mention of the inventor in that article, with me figuring that it was simply a newspaper writer asking someone who else was there at a 1909 aviation event to fill out his article. 

I'll be publishing my aviation findings in full in less than 20 days time.

My point... I just wanted to say thanks to Vinnie... a loyal reader of Japan-It's A Wonderful Rife, and a very, very good friend.

Also... this evening... two letter's of comment by my friend FFF - always a pleasure.

And Pat G yesterday! You guys... it's always a thrill to hear from you!

And... best of all... a phone call from Matthew on Friday evening to chat... and to tell me he;s going to Japan for another visit this upcoming week, with yet another stop back in our hometown of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

He even remembered my wife's b-day... something I recall as of his call, that I probably forgot his wife's birthday.... so... Happy birthday, Takako!

Vinnie, FFF, Pat and Matthew, AHS and The Smithsonian - all Americans... and all taking time from their Thanksgiving holidays to share a moment with me.

It means a lot.

Oh yeah... a Smithsonian director wrote to me later and said he was impressed by the historical delving I have done on Pioneers of Aviation... it's a glimpse into aviation history written for people who like the real facts, and written for people who don't like dry historical tomes.

 https://av8rblog.wordpress.com/

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph



Friday, November 25, 2016

Axis To Allies or Access To Allies

One hundred and seventy-fifty years ago—give or take, Japan was a sleepy little Podunk of a nation that had closed its borders to the rest of the world in order for its military to retain absolute control absolutely.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… there was some very minor trade done with a couple of outside countries, but that was so Japan could get a hold of some very useful guns.

If you were an average Japanese person, odds are you had never seen a gaijin… an outsider… until the middle of the 19th century.

Heck… I know that most places not named Tokyo or Osaka - especially those small towns and villages far inland… the populace there may never have seen a gaijin well into the 20th century…. a true statement that sometimes older and younger Japanese would stop and stare at a foreigner and utter the wretched phrase: “Hora! Gaijin-da!” - Look a foreigner/outsider.

And then The United States came a calling in the 1850s… looking to force Japan into opening up its borders to trade. The U.S. came with guns a-blazing… well… large and shiny, showing off all the latest toys like railroads that could transport people or goods around the country… and yeah… canons on a ship or three that quietly insisted that Japan stop its self-imposed exile and work with the Americans.

A few short years later, an entire political system of military rule was over thrown, and a monarchy re-imposed as being equal to God and Heaven.

Japan was on the “allied” side during WWI; then on the “Axis” side during WWII; had two of its cities nearly bombed into oblivion; had its Constitution rewritten by the nation that blew up those two cities; resurrected it’s economy by selling electronics and automobiles to that country of Yankee Doodle Dandies.

Japan grew strong and powerful… but only economically, and needed the help of its former two-time conqueror to help protect its waters and lands from new would be conquerors, like Russia and China, no-longer allies themselves, but each a formidable foe when it comes to quibbling over a bunch of rocks in the ocean.

And now… now we have trouble in a rocky paradise.

Forget about U.S. president-elect Donald Trump saying his first order of business is to remove the United States of Hillary’s popular vote OUT of the TPP.

The TPP—aka the Trans-Pacific Partnership—is a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.

Forget about that for a second.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (surname first) has put in place his plan to strike down the Japan Constitution that was essentially written by Allied leader, United States of America back in 1945.

It’s plan was to make the female gender a little bit more equal, while bringing the country up to a level similar in scope and stature to the U.S., while still being allowed to maintain its individuality.

“You’re all individuals!” hails the prophet.
“We’re all individuals!” thunders the crowd.
“I’m not,” squeaks the one honest, but confused person.
There are many reasons why Honest Abe (pronounced “Ah-bay”) wants to scrap the Constitution, and it mostly revolves around keeping women down, minorities controlled, and a right to create its own Army, Navy and Air Force in an effort to protect and attack its enemies.

While it really would like the United States to controls its military better when it comes to partying too hard in various Japanese towns and cities, it would still appreciate it if the U.S. would help protect Japan… you know… sort of stick around, but in the background… so that bullies know enough not to attack Japan…

Okay, now back to the TPP. Don Trump (no, not part of any Italian mob)(I don’t think) doesn’t want the U.S. in it at all.

He is aware that like the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), while everyone wins and loses, the optics always make it seem as though the U.S. is losing.

So yeah - screw the TPP.

Trump has already trumpeted the need for countries that want U.S. protection to start paying for it.

“Hey, so like, let’s suppose somebody comes and tries to take your cannoli, what are you going to do about it?”
“What’s a cannoli, Don Trump? Besides, weren’t you going to protect us, because you know… we’re like friends.”
Yes… like friends. But I’m thinking youse gotta start paying more for our protection, you know, because if you don’t something, and I’m not saying who, could come and Putin Japan in its place. You know what I mean?”

The moral of this immoral story is: You can get what you want, and still not be happy.

Hora, gaijin-da!
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Kubo and The Two Strings: Movie Review

I finally watched Kubo And The Two Strings, and American animated flick that tackles the world of Japanese folk story.

I have, in the past, typed out and presented damn near every Japanese folk story I have ever seen or heard about… and most of them are pretty darn good.

Although Kubo And The Two Strings is not a “real” Japanese folk story/fairy tale, it is a fairy tale about Japan.

Visually stunning, Kubo And The Two Strings is entertaining… scary… funny… thoughtful… and it even made me tear up at the end, though that may have something to do with the lunar cycle… okay… it kindda got me.

The story revolves around Kubo… a young boy who has had one eye taken from him by his evil grandfather.

Kubo seems to have some sort of magical powers… the ability to create and manipulate (give life to) origami (art of folded paper), that he initially uses to make a few pennies (yen) performing stories he has learned from his mother out at the local village. The ability seems to be triggered whenever he plays his three-stringed shamisen… a type of guitar instrument whose strings are plucked with a plectrum (bachi, in Japanese).

Obviously, with his ability to make origami move, his stories are the height of entertainment at the village—and no one there seems frightened or put out that he has such an ability.

His mother and he live far from the village upon a small mountain in a cave. Mom seems to have some sort of brain injury, but shares his origami/shamisen powers.

She fades in and out of the real world because of her injury… shown in the movie… and ”hearing” it
made me sick.

Watching some with her memory damage et al… well… it’s not funny nor is it fun.

She has only one rule for Kubo… to always be back at their cave before sunset. We don’t know why.

No…  this isn’t a movie for young kids.

Obviously, one day Kubo fails to make it home in time… and that’s where all hell breaks loose.

The story involves a quest for Kubo… to find the samurai katana the Sword Unbreakable; his father’s armor The Armor Impenetrable, and The Helmet Invulnerable.

Not a simple quest, Kubo is hunted by his twin aunts… film critic oger Ebert describes them as such: “Imagine the twins from “The Shining,” floating above the ground in black hats and capes and Japanese Noh masks.” Ebert is a genius. 

The aunts are scary… especially that initial; time you see them, because until then, after the opening, the movie kind of lulls you into a sense of security.


Helping him out are two protectors, Monkey and Beetle, voiced by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, respectively. Oh… and I didn’t even mention Kubo’s grandfather. And I won’t again.

The movie came out earlier this year… and while I wanted to see it, I couldn’t find anyone else whom I thought would want to go. Not even my son… and I sat through the Angry Birds movie for him.
One very funny scene, and the trailers spoiled it.

I won’t spoil Kubo And The Two Strings for you.

Okay... here's something cool... The Kubo family crest is a Beetle... and the music at the movie's closing is written by The Beatles.


I recommend this movie 100% for those of you who like Japan… who enjoy being entertained and scared who like laughing and yes, crying.  There’s nothing wrong with a good cry to moisten one’s eyes.

The whole movie—and I think this is what got to me—is about what purpose we have in life. I like to believe that regardless of how smart we are or aren't, or famous we are or aren't, that we all have a purpose in life... even if that purpose isn't evident to that person. It's to affect others around them.

Haven't you ever met someone, made an impact, and then once the impact has been fulfilled moved on? Isn't that why friends come and go in our life? Why some remain? Because the cross-purpose hasn't been fulfilled.

I had thought decades ago as a child... what happens when I die? Sure my kids would remember me... grand kids, too perhaps, though their view would be skewed by age difference. But what about great grand kids... who might never have met me... would they care? Why should they? Why would anyone remember me? If no one remembered me, did my life truly matter?

Grown up a bit, I realize that we matter in ever moment that we interact with anyone or anything. It just sounds zen.

We interact on others... they interact on others... and on others... and dammit we better make it a positive interaction... so you hope the kids learn from you and so on.

But what if you don't have any kids? At the time I wanted to be a writer, I was a near-26-year-old virgin about to embark on a trip to Japan.

Writing some 50+ letters back and forth to my mentor Doug McIntosh (a cab driver in Toronto - Dear Cabbie) now passed... we discussed how immortality could be achieved though art: painters, musicians, and even writers.

Shakespeare lives on centuries later, so too does Edvard Munch and George Harrison... I wanted to live forever... except I'm one good EMP (electromagnetic pulse) away from oblivion.

Believe it or not... all of these feelings stung me again while watching Kubo And The Two Strings. That's what it meant to me. Maybe it will mean something different to you.

Maybe after watching the movie you will see why I felt what I felt all over again. Maybe you won't. Maybe I'm too introspective.

The movie made US$69 million and cost $60 million… so it made $9 million… still considered to be a box office flop…I wish I had a flop.

To me I think it’s one of those movies that isn’t aimed for the right audience. Adults typically don’t want to watch an animated flick unless it has a Miyazaki Hayao (surname first) name attached to it… and I never saw a commercial for it that would have appealed to a kid.

Just as well… I don’t think it’s the type of movie that would appeal to a kid. But it does appeal to the kid in the adult.

Watch it. I am sure you will enjoy it.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Photobombing 1990-style

Above is me (the idiot on the right) photobombing someone’s photograph back in 1990.

The action took place at an AET (assistant English teacher) get-together of those of us on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. I have no idea where bombing of photos took place, but since I see Muneo, my hairdresser directly at the top (right) of Ashley’s head, I can pretty much surmise that this is an Ohtawara International Friendship Association get-together.

The fact that Ashley is smiling at my actions can only mean that we are still a couple. Plus her haircut… it must be around early December… I’m wearing a sweater (and tie)… and I both Ash and I are sporting new haircuts.

I’m not sure what was going on with the Superman… er, Clark Kent forehead curl… it must have plopped out during my perfectly timed lunge into the picture frame.

Always the funny guy… I wasted the photographers film… this was when we used film…

Needless to say, I didn’t make it into any other photos from this event.

Oh well…         

As for photo bombing itself… the concept may not be a new thing - obviously I did this back in 1990… but the term is.

Back in 2014, “Photobomb” was named word of the year by Collins English Dictionary, even though the global conspiracy of photobombing had taken the world by storm about one year earlier.   

Back when I did, it wasn’t called photo bombing… it was called screwing up someone’s photograph.

Photo by Suzuki-san the farmer, of friend Naoko… I can call her a friend because I know her first name! Same with Muneo. 

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pee Signage In Thailand And Japan

Here's an interesting photo I took in Thailand, while taking a week's break from teaching English in Japan back in 1992.

I traveled to Thailand to meet my mother who had flown from Toronto, see the sights and then for both of us to fly in to Japan where she would spend a couple of weeks visiting with me, but ultimately going off to see Japan mostly by herself. Brave.

Anyhow, while I have always loved taking photos of religious shrines, temples, mosques, churches et al because of the fantastic amount of effort placed upon the architecture--and Thailand was no exception--while I was there, Thailand was undergoing a bit of an insurrection, with armed forces everywhere - imposing forces with machine guns and stuff to make sure the rabble didn't gt any ideas about anything negative to those in charge.

While that did NOT put a damper on the visit, the above photo kind of did.

Look... I understand that everybody poops and pees, but to essentially desecrate a religious building by placing washroom signage on the steps seemed just completely ludicrous to me.

What's worse, is that the signage appears to sponsored by the Thai aspect of Pepsi-Cola... or, if not... let me see if I understand this signage:


If I drink Pepsi, and I need to use the washroom, then I can just pee over here to the left...

It's like me: coming up to a "Wet Floor" sign... so I did.

I have come across an equally ludicrous sign in Japan:


It's one saving grace was that it was placed in an alleyway I walked into... no I was not going in to pee... I just spotted the signage and thought it would make an interesting photo topic 25 years later.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, November 21, 2016

George Takei Donates 70 Years Of Personal History To Museum

Going boldly where he has not gone before, Star Trek alum George Takei (Mr. Hikaru Sulu) has donated 70 years’ worth of his collections to the Japanese American National Museum in an effort to show how America’s political and cultural views and landscapes have changed over his lifetime.

The collection of 300 linear feet of banker’s boxes of material includes family photos, television scripts, costumes from his TV and movie roles, family heirlooms, letters… his life.

Now 70-years-old, Takei’s donation will be part of an exhibition that shows the stereotypes of Asians and Asian American’s in the media.

It showcases memories of his internment in a camp as an American during World War II, his interest and attempt to run for a position in the Los Angeles City Council, to his coming out of the proverbial closet as a homosexual… things that show what America was like over the past seven decades, to where it is now.

What I think he’s showing is that yes, despite the ugly beginnings, anyone can grow up to be who they want to be in the United States.

Takei says that even with all of the other memorabilia in the collection, it is his desire to show the Japanese internment camp things as something that the American people need to be reminded off.

The timing is perfect… as he has taken it to show how the leaning up president-elect Donald Trump can be a dangerous tipping point in U.S. leanings, with regards to the threats people are feeling towards the Muslim population in the country and around the world.

“To characterize a whole faith group as one kind is what happened to us during the Second World War. It’s dangerous and un-American,” George Takei said recently in a Los Angeles Times interview.

To which I can only offer a Takei “Oh myyyy!” and a bravo.

Link to the Japanese American National Museum can be found HERE.
100 N Central Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90012
phone: 213.625.0414
toll-free: 800.461.5266
fax: 213.625.1770

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
Image above is from a Star Trek episode... I can recall seeing the glistening Mr. Sulu and thinking - holy crap, this guy is really ripped!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Day In The Life Of A Happy AET

Vinnie sent me a link to this video, asking if my life in Japan was like this, 26 years ago:


Watch it… it’s a wee bit long at 18 minutes, but a lot happens in a day.

So… similarities? Differences?

I’m pretty sure I would never, ever start my day to Hall & Oates or have time to make any breakfast that would involve me standing over a stove flipping whatever the heck junior high school assistant English teacher Reyn Halford is flipping. Cool name.

Cereal and milk… though I did once accidentally pour cold brown tea on my cereal because the container it came it looked like a chocolate milk container. Gah! I only did that one.

I was, and am a night owl, and will try and sneak in as much sleep as possible in the morning. I’m not the grumpy sort, so rather than be nasty, I’m just a wee bit tired… but get up to speed very quickly.

My apartment building had something like 40 bicycles under the covered bike racks… I didn’t live near a train station or train tracks… I was in the middle of a 50,000 person city in the tallest building (at that time), on a wing… I had lots of privacy and maybe saw a neighbor maybe five times in three years. Maybe not even that many times.

Bicycles are the main use of transport for us AETs. I was early in the JET Program (1990-1993), and my predecessor, Cheryl Menzes, who was the first JET in the city, was a small in stature person… so me using her tiny red bicycle was a non-starter.

They built me a bicycle from parts and I had a solid 18-speed bicycle - navy blue - with a bell and a basket, and a light for night riding.

While the average he-man would snicker at the bell and basket, trust me… the basket is a welcome addition, and the bell will save your life.

Interesting that Reyn’s school entrance involved going up stairs… all my school entrances were on the ground floor.

I used the school plastic slippers wherever I went for indoor stuff… making whatever suit and tie (I always wore a tie, even with a sweater) outfit look slightly less dignified.Although... in retrospect, the shoes I am wearing in the top photo are hideous. A pity you can't see my pony tail in the photo. The hair band matched my shirt. Always did.

Reyn’s school had a cabinet for shoes… my schools all had shoe racks or cubbyholes. minor differences.

You’ll notice Reyn just squeezed in to school mere seconds before the bells went… that’s a western thing, to be sure… you just sit there while everyone talks in Japanese and you try and look like you care.

Meeting with the co-teacher… sure… many of the Japanese teachers of English were very enthused to have the AET come in to work alongside… especially when the AET has a great personality like Reyn.

Is it just me, but does it appear as though he isn’t that tall - or are the Japanese getting taller.

Student AET relations - yeah… it was like that… but I also think it had something to do with the fact that the Japanese become complete effing lunatics whenever a camera or, in Reyn’s case, a video camera are placed anywhere in their general vicinity…. and I’m not just talking about the students… adults too… though more often than not, some shy female (kid or adult), will wave their hand in front of their face as though someone farted, and turn away from the camera (which is their right, of course).

Lunch… well… it appears as though Reyn was served his lunch outside his classroom and had to carry the tray of loaded dished and bowls into whichever homeroom was lucky enough to share space with him.

It is considered an honor for the students to have a guest eat with them… or so they are told, so it must be true.
No everyone understands the concepts of Star Trek. Man... those kids messed up my hair. This was probably my first school lunch in Japan... and I was still a newbie with chopsticks... but that is still no excuse for my I am holding them in that manner. probably a month later I would win a speed-eating contest with chopsticks, beating out the reigning Ohtawara City champ... a gym teacher from Wakakusa Junior High School. 
I was luckier than Reyn. Assigned “lunch” students would race down to the kitchen as the last morning class ended, pick up the designated stainless steel covered canisters and trays of various delicious dishes and cart them to the home room… Buddha help you if it was on the third floor, because that meant the four or five students would have to figure out how to haul up the food (and cutlery and empty plates and dishes) up the stairs… some schools might have an elevator… but truthfully, if any of my seven junior high schools did, I never spotted them.

Junior high school consists of grades 7-9 (ages 12-15), and regardless of size, each student will have to participate in the lunchtime chores.

While these kids get the food, the remaining students are in their homeroom moving their desks into a circle… setting up a place for their homeroom teacher, and me so we could face each other, chat, and eat.

Every student had to eat everything on their plate… no wasting of food. Everyone received the same amount of food. The girls would often have a difficult time finishing their food, and so en route to placing their plates back on the cart, would shovel remaining foods onto the plates of grateful boys and AETs.

As an aside, the lunch ladies in the kitchen would often set aside food for me to take home with me, with the knowledge that I had to bring all bowls back (clean) the next day. I never forgot, and they always obliged.

Unfortunately for us video viewers, we see Reyn having lunch where chopsticks are not being used. We had large plastic chopsticks for every meal… soup, too… you pick up the bowl and mix the soups as you push whatever is in it towards your mouth as you slurp up the liquid. When in Rome, eh.

Every day after lunch it’s clean-up time… adults do NOT help out… even if you want to. It’s mean to teach the students responsibility and respect for their own surroundings.

Reyn’s English lessons seem like fun. Mine were pretty much always: “Repeat after An-do-ryu-sensei.” It’s cool… I didn’t mind being a human tape-recorder.

Yup… apologizing for leaving before the last person is standard in Japan… apologizing for your “laziness”… but no one ever expects the foreign AET to hang around and pretend to do notes and reports or marking like the Japanese teachers do.

WTF class is Reyn doing? Dancing? Japanese folk dancing? I'm pretty sure it wasn't any old-school Japanese folk dance.

I did kyudo - archery, and taught night school English with the Ohtawara International Friendship Association, and later on when I was either more comfortable or greedier, I taught small groups privately in conversational English… you can make a lot of money doing that. I took in about $10,000 in three months. Of course… you aren’t supposed to teach outside of your JET job.

My Ohtawara Board of Education was cool… they never said boo to anything I did or wanted to do, with the one exception being my wanting to ride the motorcycle I had already bought. They saved my life, I’m sure. I didn’t and don’t know how to ride a motorcycle.

My apartment done in LEGO. I'm in the writing desk in the top left room. Not sure which woman that is with the ice cream.


I was probably a bit luckier than Reyn in a few regards… larger apartment and thus more space… but WTF… he had the temperature in his place up to 40C. That means central heating! Reyn had central heating!

I didn’t get that until about six months in after I nearly killed myself with a kerosene heater and thinking I didn’t need to have a window open. Not wanting to lose the city’s favorite gaijin… no, not Matthew… why does everyone keep saying that… me… they bought me a special heater/air-conditioner that could heat the whole three-bedroom apartment while not killing me softly as I slept.

I also had a Queen-sized bed… and while I have no idea if Reyn has a significant other, i rarely slept alone on the weekends. Ha.

Anyhow, thanks again to Vinnie for sending me this video, and to Reyn for creating it! Good job, buddy!

So… Vinnie… was my life a lot like that 26 years ago?

Yes.

I had a smile on my face like Reyn. I liked the people I was with, and I’m pretty sure they liked me.

Yes… the more things change in Japan, it’s nice that Reyn has proven (at least for himself and I), that the song remains the same.

Nope… no Hall & Oates… not even “The Song Remains The Same” from Yes. I was more of a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana kindda guy.

Here we are now, entertain us.

I think it worked out that way for both the Japanese and myself.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hayao Miyazaki To Return From Retirement

About effing time.

Miyazaki Hayao, the legendary animator and anime director has obviously become bored sitting at home having nothing in common with all the old guys he knew back in primary school.

Plus… being married for 51 years… and his wife not used to having him around the house because of his intense work schedule… well… I wonder just whose idea it was to consider coming out of retirement?

He is reportedly willing to come out of his three-year “retirement”—he’s been working on a computer animated cartoon called Boro the Caterpillar in that time—and now he wants to turn the thing into a full-length animated film.

Although Miyazaki has not received an official green light to produce the animated movie, he has (over the past three years) done a bit of animation for it.

Plans are for the anime to be finished in 2017, and for it to only be shown at the Ghibli Museum in Japan.

If that’s true, that’s just cruel for the rest of the world, like my gal-pal Caroline who loves his animated flicks.

I find them a bit too sappy, but they are always beautifully rendered, and millions upon millions of people do love his work.

His animated film Spirited Away won Best Animated Film at the 2003 Academy Awards.

For my money, My Neighbor Totoro from 1988 is his best work. Catbus.

But fret not Ghibli Studio fans of Miyazaki… you know that a dubbed or sub-titled version of Boro the Caterpillar will eventually make its way to whatever country you reside in.

Oh… and did you know (probably), that the 2006 Studio Ghibli cartoon Monmon the Water Spider,  which can currently be seen at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, is based upon Miyazaki’s original story idea for Boro, the Caterpillar?

Yup… he just worked on Monmon the Water Spider first for reasons known only to him.

Here... watch Monmon the Water Spider while you can - it's a handheld camera view:



Catbus!
Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at very top found HERE.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Glimpse At Japanese Dads & Myself

Write what you know, they always say... or b.s.'em. This is the former.

In my three years in Japan, I can honestly say I saw maybe three instances of Japanese dad's taking a keen interest in the kids.

Once I saw the mom and dad helping their son learn how to ride a bicycle. Beautiful.

I saw a dad late after school  - 9PM - at the school track teaching his son how to be a better runner. I was out there every night jogging... starting at 1600 meters (4 laps) and then adding one lap every single stinking night after that until I got to 10 kilometers. That kid and his dad were there every night, too. Beautiful.

One of my bosses at the Ohtawara Board of Education - Kanemaru-san, would take both myself and my girlfriend Ashley out with him, his wife and eight-year-old son on near-weekly excursions around Tochigi-ken.

Granted that was usually a Sunday because he worked six days a week, but the fact remains he did it. I love him for including me with his family time. Beautiful.

Obviously not all Japanese dad's are absentee dads... many, I am sure take a keen interest in their kids.

I didn't mean to imply they didn't when I wrote yesterday's blog about Japanese dads not taking advantage of the 52 weeks of paternal leave offered them when a newborn arrives.

I do stand by my statement that men - and Japanese men - are pretty useless when it comes to needing to be around during those initial weeks of a newborn's life.

I can recall how when I arrived in Japan as a 25-year-old who had never lived on his own before.

New country, new language, new social customs.... combine that with not knowing how to cook, shop, do laundry and pretty much damn near everything else... well... I was a mess waiting to become a bigger mess.

Upon arrival at my fantastically large 3-bedroom apartment with two balconies et al... the men of my office gave me the tour of my home for the next , as it turned out, three years.

They showed me all of the cooking implements... and then as we all looked at everything quizzically, they promised to bring over some of the women from the Board of Education office to teach me how to use them.

They came over the next day... and told me how to use such things as the washing machine... the stove, the rice cooker and much much more.

Unfortunately, not one of the women spoke English, and the men were lounging around in my living room not caring to learn what the women were doing, so I had no one to translate what they were saying into English.

I bought a lot of prepared meals in Japan, as well as fast-food. It's why I took up jogging 10 kilometers a night to get the newfound fat off.

Through osmosis, I suppose, I did have an inkling about how to make chili con carne... something my mother would make for us once every couple of months back in Toronto. Somehow, my brain seemed to have been able to take in how she made it in the kitchen, despite me sitting at the dining table pretending to do homework.

I never wanted to learn how to do anything when I was younger. Lazy bugger. Ignorant, even. I kick myself now at all of the lost opportunities.

My dad... my dad was one of those early computer gurus in the late 1960s/70s... and as such, he was very much in demand... and worked a lot of late nights...

But, to say he wasn't around would be misleading. He refereed a lot of soccer games... usually not my own, to avoid favoritism. He told me that when I was eight-years-old, and I accepted it as the truth. Being a ref is tough enough without having to make calls on your own borderline-dirty kid.

But... my dad was closer to being a Japanese dad... working hard and late... and as such, I never wanted for anything.

Good right? No. I think I would have rather have had my dad around.

It's why I am around for my son. Coaching soccer, baseball and hockey... I don't go out with friends... I'm around, because to me... it seems like the right thing to do. And being an older dad... who knows how long he'll have me around, right?

Still... for most Japanese dads, taking part in the family and in the life of their kids is often relegated to a single day a week. It's why I hope they don't regret it... or cause their kids to regret it.

They probably won't, though... because almost every family in Japan is like that.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Ugh... two hours to drive home last night. The wife's car broke down on the highway, so four hours for her. Then we had a parent-teacher school meeting... where they were running late... but had a good time there for 20 minutes longer than scheduled. I was supposed to have set the time on this blog for midnight... but... forgot... Sorry. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

In Defense Of New Japanese Dads


I recently read an article about “Why Japanese Dads Just Won’t Leave Work” in reference to their baby-momma just giving birth. See www.oxy.com article HERE.

Unlike the Unites States of America and Papua New Guinea, Japan DOES provide parental leave for dads to stand around while the wife takes care of the newborn.

As a father myself, I can honestly say that I was as useful as a third-nipple on a man. My wife did yeoman’s (yeowoman’s?) work in handling our newborn son, as I continued to go to work and bring home the bacon—something that newborns don’t seem to want to eat.

For the Japanese man, work will provide up to 60 percent of the income while they are able to be a pain in their wife’s butt for up to 52 weeks… one of the best policies in the world.

The United States and Papaua New Guinea have zero.

To be honest, I didn’t even know we had such a thing in Canada.

So… the Ozy article notes that in 2015, only two percent of all eligible new Japanese fathers took any paternity leave. The average rate of paid maternity leave for the dads was 30.4 weeks.

Slackers.

Kidding.

In South Korea where they offer 52.5 weeks for dads, they took an average of 16 weeks off.

Portugal offered 21.3 weeks, taking off 11.5 weeks for dads.

Sweden offering 10 weeks, with the dad’s taking an average of 8.7 weeks… and the good old U.S. of A and Papua New Guinea offering ZERO, taking ZERO.

The only reason I can see why those two percent took the dad leave is that they are either loving and caring men who are better than me, or that both he and his wife no longer have their own parents alive or healthy to help look after the newborn.

Japan still takes the whole “family” thing pretty seriously… the father goes out and works to provide for the family. The wife takes the money earned and looks after the family.

The oldest son now adult dad looks after his parental units… sometimes even her parents if there is no other option.

If my mom was alive, she would have been over every day or stayed for however long we needed her, to help my wife look after her grandson. My dad… not an offer.

My wife’s mom… she stayed with us for about a month after the birth to help out. Her dad… well, he wasn’t well and died a month after the birth of our son, but he was never going to be a help to anyone. Please… one family, plus the mistress he had for 30 years, and before the current family, two secret families with kids. We only know of one other family in The Netherlands, and only a brief mention there was another in the UK.

No… just like in Japan, and a multitude of countries around the world, one of the mom’s would come and stay and help out the new mother…. just to look after the baby while the new mom got a few hours of sleep.

Perhaps the Swedes are better dads. Perhaps there shouldn’t be such a high rate of suicide there also.

But Japan… there’s no reason for the Ozy article to attempt to shame the Japanese man for not taking time off. Or only 2 percent of them taking time off.

If you want to slam the Japanese dad, maybe do so over the fact that they spend so much time at work that they do NOT spend as much time with their offspring as say the US dad’s do.

Holy crap… for 2017, I’m coaching my son’s baseball team and taking coaching clinics to ensure I do a good job; plus I’m assistant coaching his hockey team. I’ve previous coached his soccer team, play video games and tossed the baseball around and taken shots on him in hockey. We built LEGO together, though that’s not longer his thing… but we did and do plenty of stuff together nearly every single day.

Japanese dad’s often come home late at night after a stupidly long dad of “working” without overtime pay, and pretty much miss their kids growing up.  

So… even though the Japanese mom doesn’t require the help of the Japanese dad because he’s as useless as a Canadian writer dad or an American or a Papua New Guinea dad… at least she has help (more than likely).

Look... I did come home as quickly as possible after work and would lend what help I could... laundry and other home work... but I sure as heck wasn't breast feeding. I was close to useless. Most men on this planet are... er, when it comes to helping out with a newborn. All we can do is provide a bit of relief... do all the chores around the house, and keep out of the wife's way.

Is that sexist? Yes, it is.

I can swaddle... burp... heat up a formula... do laundry, dishes, and even cook—but nothing that humans would want to eat. I can also sit and watch while the baby sleeps to allow the mom to get some sleep. It's not even half of being a parent, but it was also the safest path for all involved. In my case.  

Why would a Japanese dad who’s going to spend so much time at work over the next 30 years need to spend 52 weeks at home trying to help look after a newborn?

MOST (not all) Japanese men have no concept of how to cook a meal for the family (I know they can cook at a restaurant)… of how to change a diaper, prepare a formula. Swaddle a baby. Burp it. Anything… so just what the heck is he supposed to do besides be an additional burden to the newborn’s mom?

Parents and in-laws are the new Japanese mom’s best hope.

Besides… if I was a Japanese man and took 52 weeks off to support my wife and try to bond with my son… earning 60 percent of my income would negatively impact the financial well-being of my family.

I couldn’t do that! There’s an extra mouth to feed that doesn’t like bacon. Yet.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Men Vs Women - Rules of Engagement In Japan

What’s the difference between the male AET (assistant English teacher) and the female AET on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme?

(Let's get this out of the way... above is a photo of myself and AET friend Melissa... a friend, sure, but not a woman I came even remotely close to dating.) 

To be honest, we could extend it quite easily to any woman or man teaching English as a second language in Japan.

First off, this is just my opinion, built upon observation of my own experiences (yes, some 23-26 years in the past), plus reading the experiences of various past and current AETs via their blogs.

So, what ever I happen to write after this is neither right nor wrong - merely an observation. Others may have differing views, and I respect that.

Japan is a male-dominated society.

So, too are most global societies, despite claims that insist men and women are equal in status.

To think that, is us dipping our heads in the sand like a frightened ostrich.

Anyone who has read of my exploits in Japan knows that I was a guy who slept around a helluva lot.

Aside from one woman… one solitary woman… I never asked any woman out or to sleep with me.

That one woman was Noboko, whom I fell in love with a first sight - yes, I believe it happens all the time, to quote The Beatles.

In most instances, women would intrude on my solitary drinking at my local bar, and chat me up. I was indeed a willing participant, and the fact that more often than not they would end up back at my apartment had little to do with anything I said, and perhaps more to do with Japanese curiosity.

The fact that I also slept with my more-than fair share of female AETs is because in the early days of my three-year stay in Japan, I didn’t know enough Japanese or broken Japlish to engage or even to want to engage in a conversation with a Japanese single. I was shy about my lack of conversation ability, and the only time it was overcome was when they spoke enough English to engage me.

The female AETs, well… when I arrived in Japan in late July of 1990, without fail every single guy on the program was eyeing the female Japanese populace - and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The female AETs… they, quite often were stuck… not wanting to date a Japanese guy for perhaps the very same reason I mentioned about myself and Japanese women. Shyness… Impropriety, and even the stereotype that Japanese men were sexist pigs.

Now I know from conversations with many of you readers, that not every single Japanese man is a sexist pig… but dammit, a lot of them were. They exuded a sense of male superiority when it came to women.

For the AET women, there was a lot on the line.

In Japan, while there are a plethora of love hotels for men and women to engage in sexual activity for the night or for a short stay ranging between one to four hours (paying accordingly), openly stating one’s pre-marital sexual activity was a no-no… especially for a Japanese woman.

Unfortunately, the same standard was held up for the foreign woman in Japan. If you sleep around in pre-marital congress, you are acting like a slut.

How draconian. How un-American, un-Canadian… how… Japanese.

Hey… Japan’s rules, eh… but just like in the 1950s out west, when a woman sleeps around, they are a slut, and when a guy sleeps around they are congratulated for their sexual proclivity.

It’s why my first girlfriend upon arriving in Japan, female AET Ash, did not want anyone to know that she and I were dating, let along engaging in any monkey business.

The problem was… everyone knew… but no one cared, because we weren’t being outward about things. There was never any outward displays of affection like hand-holding or kissing… we did our best to make it look like we were just friends… however… we did spend a lot of time together and were seen traveling around our small city often… which is no big deal, right?

Except to Japanese eyes, it meant that we must be a couple. They were right, of course, but the implication is that men can not be friends with women unless sex is involved.

It’s like something right out of When Harry Met Sally.

I’m pretty sure I have always wanted to sleep with every female I have been friends with. It may even have been why I wanted to be friends in the first place. I make no apologies for it, but aside from Noboko, I never acted upon things first. Too much of a chicken. Rooster. Whatever. I dislike rejection.

So… Ash… if everyone knew that she was my girlfriend simply because we were always together, we therefore must be sleeping together.

Perhaps it’s because we were both foreigners, that nobody really cared… because I’m sure the Japanese figured that’s the way the gaijin (foreigners) are.

Or… maybe no one cared, because we weren’t so open about it.

Now… I admit that I wasn’t aware of Ash’s intent to keep things a secret in Japan… at least not initially.

As you can tell from this blog, I am pretty open, and as a writer I certainly don’t believe in the concept of TMI (Too Much Information)… though I obviously don’t tell you everything all the time. 

Ash was the first woman I had ever slept with. I had only ever had one long-term summer romance girlfriend previously, so to say I knew the rules of the game would be stretching it.

She wanted to keep things a secret… but she failed to tell that to me…. probably not believing I was a virgin (she didn’t believe me because), or maybe she thought that somethings need not be said.

Well… I was of the opinion in Japan that if someone (Japanese person) was good enough to ask me a question in English, i would give them an honest answer.

That’s what I was in Japan for, right? To foster English communication amongst the Japanese… to grow internationalization.

So, when I was asked that first day at school by a brave female student if I had a girlfriend, I answered yes.

Then they asked if Ash was my girlfriend, as they had seen her (the new Boy’s High School AET) with me on a few occasions in Ohtawara, eating Mosburger meals together or examining shops together.

They and the rest of Japan could assume that if a man was with a woman shopping, they must be together.

They were right, of course.

I do know that at other points in my stay when I was in the company of other female AETs, the next time they were able to, students would ask if she was my new girlfriend. And yes, I did want to sleep with them, even though in most cases we were just hanging out as friends).

No one ever judged me… but, conversely…

When I visited the town of a female AET, she would later be peppered if I was a new boyfriend.

To be honest… I don’t believe that the same rules for Japanese women applied to the foreign woman.

I think the Japanese were curious and simply wanted everyone to be happy.

But… when it came to me dating a Japanese woman… holy crap… it was like every single meeting was an episode of Mission Impossible… sneaking around… waiting for the coast to be clear… or when leaving my home to peek through the peephole to make sure no one saw her leaving my apartment…

There was a definite feeling that to be caught by other Japanese, talk would spread.

And it did.

I have no idea what it’s like for Japanese people to secretly date each other, but with Junko and initially with Noboko, every rendezvous was a secret rendezvous.

No one could know she was there… with the only clue being my ruffled hair and an empty orange juice container.

The room would smell of sex, too. Holy crap… I can recall Ash, no longer my girlfriend, commenting on the smell of sex enveloping the entire apartment after me being with someone the night before.

The point is, Japanese women were treated differently because there was an expected norm for Japanese women to adhere to.

You are not supposed to engage in premarital sex, but if you do, don’t get caught.

Noboko and I were caught when we went to a movie one Saturday afternoon - spotted some 40 minutes south of our town by students from the school where she taught English… as they had skipped school.

We tried blackmail… don’t tell about us, and we won’t tell about you skipping school.

That lasted until they got back up to their/our town and they told everyone.

To me, it was a relief… to Noboko… well… she never talked about it… but soon everyone knew she and I were dating…. and if a Japanese woman was dating a foreign guy, then they must be sleeping together.

Caught.

It doesn’t matter that we could simply have been friends… there, it's sexual impropriety guilt by association.

Basically… the advice here is… date, sleep around, keep things out of the public eye. Keep things a  secret. I would say keep things a secret if you are a guy regardless if you are dating a foreigner or Japanese—tell your friends if you will, but keep it out of the Japanese grapevine.

I don’t know how the Japanese grapevine works.

For example… I was asked if I liked Japanese girls, or if I thought Japanese girls were pretty.

I usually answered that yes, I thought Japanese girls are pretty, but I don’t care where they are from… pretty is pretty regardless of color or nationality. That was me being honest, and me giving that internationalization lesson upon my moral soapbox I keep in my ivory tower.

So… now everyone knows I like Japanese girls.

They also knew I was dating Ash.

And yet, anytime Ash broke up with me, there would be a line-up of Japanese women trying to date me.

Somehow, the Japanese grapevine would explode into action, and everyone knew when I was a single guy who liked Japanese women.

I could be sitting there at a bar table for two all by my lonesome sucking on a bourbon and soda, and, like I had counter in front of me yelling “now serving #47” some pretty young woman would sidle over to chat me up.

First come, first served, there’d be someone new woman approach me the next time I was at the bar by myself.

They stayed the heck away when I was drinking with other AETs or other women.

But… regardless of their age of majority, as soon as it approached midnight, all the single women would skedaddle back home to make sure they made their father-stated curfew… a male instituted curfew.

Japanese guys didn’t have a curfew. At least none I ever met.

Basically, men had different rules with few expectations.

Japanese women… rules and expectations. 

Foreign women… self-created rules and expectations.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Morimoto Soba Ale

Morimoto Soba Ale... yeah, I'm repeating the headline...

Obviously this 22- ounce beer from Rogue Brewery is meant as an homage to soba or to Japanese chef Morimoto.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the beer tastes like soba or like Morimoto.

I mean… I’m a freak, but I don’t know.


Yes, you have taste if you like Chef Morimoto, but do you want to taste Chef Morimoto? He is armed.

Let’s check the nine ingredients in this 4.5% ale: Roasted Soba, 2-Row, C15 & Rogue Farms Dare, Risk and Munich Malts; Rogue Farms Rebel Hops; Pacman Yeast, and Free Range Coastal Water.

Yes, always good to have free range coastal water. It makes the water taste a little gamier.

Anyhow, despite the joshing around, Rogue’s Morimoto Soba Ale does contain roasted soba. So maybe it’s possible that the soba was based on a Morimoto recipe.

The roasted soba’s delicate flavor brings a nutty flavor (obviously) to this light and refreshing ale, and is supposed to be a perfect accompaniment to a lighter cuisine meal… whatever the hell that means. 

Confused and still intrigued to know what Chef Morimoto might taste like, check out Rogue Brewery at www.rogue.com.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Womansword - What Japanese Words Say About Women - A Book Review

They should probably send Donald Trump, sorry… United States of America President Donald Trump a copy of this book to help provide a smoother path on his epic four-year journey beginning in 2017.

Womansword is a 30-year-old book re-released as a 30th Anniversary Edition by Stone Bridge Press.

Written by Kittredge Cherry, Womansword describes itself on the book’s cover as: “What Japanese words say about women.”

It certainly does. The book is informative, deep, and even a bit troubling… as I… who often sit here upon my ivory soapbox trump-eting the rights of Japanese women and women in general as something that needs to be respected…

… yet the book maybe me realize I am still a big ape beating his chest in grandeur.

Let’s look at the book’s title - Womansword.

It’s not woman’s word… it’s woman sword… but written like one would write longsword. Womansword. It cuts both ways.

You can poke with it, or you can slice with it. The ancient Greeks liked to slice, the ancient Roman’s preferred to use the sword to poke.

Kittredge does both, reflecting on how Japanese society’s use of words… the word’s themselves… have pigeon-holed women and their place and role in Japanese society.

What’s poignant about the Womansword 30th Anniversary Edition, however, isn’t to detail how much things have changed in 30 years—and yes, there has been some progress—but rather just how much farther Japanese society needs to grow for women to be truly accepted on an equal level in the now-dominated Japanese male society.

Look… I live in Canada now… and while the women’s movement of bra burning turned heads (unshackling themselves) in the 1960s, and legislation coming in in the 1970s about equal pay for equal work, I would have to be completely ignorant to assume that it exists universally across this country.

Even still, 2016 Canada is far better than 1916 Canada, let alone 1976 Canada when it comes to women’s rights in Canada.

But Japan… holy crap…

I was in Japan between 1990-1993… and yes, it’s 26 years ago, but how I saw women being treated back then still largely exists in 2016.

The most annoying thing for me was the subservience of women by men… the expectation that the women would go and get some piping hot o-cha (green tea) when ever a man entered a room.

I worked as an assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. And, as much as the foreigner was NOT consider to be equal in societal measures as a Japanese person (discuss amongst yourselves, but it’s probably true in every country in the world, with personal exceptions overruling… religious figure, sports figure, politician, entertainment personality…), I was treated better than the Japanese women.

I was an assistant teacher. As soon as I, or any male teacher would walk into a school’s teacher’s office, a group of female teachers would get up and prepare a hot cup of o-cha for us. Or as many as was required throughout the course of the day.

Okay… I’m a guest… but aren’t we all equal? Don’t the female teachers get the same pay as their male counterparts? Surely a female physical education teacher makes the same as a male physical education teacher in Japan?

No. I do know that I made a heck of a lot more money than a male Japanese teacher of English who had been working as such for 20+ years. Disgraceful. I don’t even want to know what the female teacher’s make. Besides tea, of course.

Seriously... I can recall walking in once... all the men were chatting about the previous evening sumo tournament, the women were all head down doing teacher's duties - marking of tests, writing out reports, planning out lessons... and as soon as I walked in with another male teacher, the women dropped everything and raced to make us tea.

the sports-chatting men didn't budge... it's not their job.

It's embarrassing.

So... I got up and went to the women making the tea and asked if I could help... the look of horror on their face was telling.

Not only was I - the guest - intruding on their female domain, but I was a man - double whammy.

Luckily my co-worker and Japanese teacher of English was there, and she and I chatted.

I explained how in Canada (for example), there's nothing wrong with a man offering to help do anything. It's a sign of respect. We don't even look at it as Man or Woman job... it's just one person being friendly to another.

The sucking of air through the teeth was enough to almost pull me off my feet, as it was like the first time they had actually heard of this utopia called Canada, where a woman could be treated with the same respect as a man.

They had heard about it, but I was actually their first physical example of it happening in real life.

And that’s just a single example.

Womansword cuts far, far deeper than that.

The book provides short and interesting glimpses into Japanese society with linguistic, sociological and historical insight into damn near every aspect of Japanese society…

Womansword slashes through the male-imposed rigorous Japanese laws and rules that women have to follow involving things such as: identity, girlhood, marriage, motherhood, work, sexuality and aging.

Oh, don’t even get me started on how single Japanese women living at home are expected to obey the 10PM or 11PM curfew imposed on them by their protective fathers.

Don’t make me foam on and on about how women still aren’t allowed to choose who they date or marry, and failure to follow the male-protocol can led to family shame.

Old maid at 25-years-of-age? WTF is that!?

Sorry… ghosts of the past with me. My emotional brain still screams its anger at Japanese society for screwing me over.

Time heals all wounds? Don’t you believe it.

Unfortunately, 30 years on via Womansword, Japanese women are still struggling to be heard.

Despite the very modern thinking by such countries such as Canada and the United States, for example, women did not get to vote in Canada until 1920. Blacks had been allowed to vote 50 years earlier... in fact, Canada had an alderman back in the 1890s-1900s, elected by the Toronto populace.

In the U.S., women could vote in 1920, as well... Blacks, I believe, could vote as long as they were landowners... so they had the legal right before women, too.

In Japan, women were trying to earn the right to vote in the 1930s, but after Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, civil rights went out the window. Upon Japan's defeat, and with the new Japan Constitution created by the allied nations who defeated Japan - specifically drafted by the United States, on December 17, 1945, Japanese women were given the right to vote. So... Japan should have been a mere 25 years behind North America... maybe they are... but Womansword makes it seem like they are still so much farther behind than that.

Of course, current Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) does want to tweak his country's Constitution to give it more military power... but others are also wary that he might try to restrict women's rights... seeing as how it was all something the United States forced upon Japan at the war's conclusion. But that is not a foregone conclusion. It's merely a possibility. The women of Japan need to be aware of the politics of their own country. 

You need to read this book. You need to read Womansword.

If you are a foreigner living in Japan or are planning on going to Japan, read this book. 

It doesn’t offer any suggestion on how Japan can break out of this non-feminist funk, because ultimately that is the domain of the Japanese women to do.

They need to stand up, and they need to affect change… but at least by reading this book, you’ll get a much better understanding of just how far Japanese society as a whole needs to go.

Wowmansword is a powerful, powerful book.

It’s a paltry US$19.95/CDN$25.99, and is 176 pages.

Purchase your copy in fine bookshops everywhere, or you can visit www.stonebridge.com.
 
Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph