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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My Nissan Micra - That's Cold

For the record, I like my little Micra SV auto. It is indeed a car from Japanese automobile manufacturer Nissan.

It's cheap, good on gas, and I haven't had any problem in getting from point A to point B.

My problem, one that occurred earlier yesterday evening, happened when I heard a bit of whistling from my window.

As an inexpensive car, I assumed it was a crappy rubber seal around the driver side window... except I was feeling a bit of a draft in my ear.

I should add that it was around -10C, which is 14F... so brisk if you are from such wintery climes as most of Canada, Wisconsin, Minnesota et al. It was actually a bit colder with the wind blowing... but whatever.

The remedy is hair and fat and a good winter coat.

Despite being warm in my car thanks to hair, fat, a good winter coat and a fast-acting Micra heating system, that draft in my ear was annoying...

So I lowered the window 2.5cm (1-inch) and then attempted to raise it again... except the window didn't want to move.

So I lowered it again and tried to move it up. Nada.

So I lowered it yet again... and yes, it stayed where I had lowered it to.

Now... today, Wednesday, is supposed to be the coldest day of the year so far here in Toronto... going down to -13C (8.6F), with a wind chill that is supposed to make it feel like -17C (1.4F)... and I have my window down in my car.

I duct taped some garbage bags to the inside for the night - hoping no marauding polar bears try to break in looking for fish... I don't have fish in my car, but you never know with polar bears.

For those of you who thought I was serious, I am. You can't trust a polar bear, but I was only joking that we have those in Toronto. Just at the zoo.

So... I get to take the day off, go to Nissan and try and get them to fix my car asap, or else I'll start writing bad things about the car company every day until I get bored... and considering I've been writing a blog about Japan, a country I visited last in 1993, I may not get bored any time soon.

Of course, I will still write about other things... so twice-a-day blogs could be in the mix. Why? I don't know, but 3.3 million hits is like being on a best-seller list. Angry? No... I'm just rambling.

I do fully expect that my car will be fixed... I just hope it's something that doesn't cost me any money.

I'm not looking forward to removing the garbage bags and driving to the dealership so early in the morning when it will be at its coldest... and when that same ear of mine is even more annoyed by the large draft coming in at it.

Minus frickin' 17.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I'll add a photo or two later in the day.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Earthquake-proof Bookshelf

What we have here, is an earthquake-proof bookshelf... a slanting bookshelf that should keep the books in place unless the wall itself collapses, or the earthquake is so violent that it shakes things up and down and side to side.

Uncle Scrooge fans might understand, if they have read the classic Land Beneath The Ground, pardner.

The house is named "House in Shinyoshida" and was designed by Japanese architect Fujii Shinsuke (surname first).

At first glance from the outside, the house does not appear to be anything special - yeah it has a slanting wall... why would it have a slanting wall?

Situated in Yokohama, the house is in a hillside part of the city, with its western-facing wall placed at an angle...

From the inside, you can see why (see images all over here), depicting a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf... that purports to be earthquake-proof.

Forget that... it is also fun to climb to reach books from those hard-to-reach places.

While it's true, I have always wanted to be rich enough to have my own library, replete with moving ladders, but now... even if I lack the money and lack a slanting wall, I could still build a slanting bookshelf in the interior... yeah, I'd lose valuable inside space, but I wouldn't need to invent time travel and go back to Victorian times, freeing me to have more time to climb and read.

In the case of House in Shinyoshida, it appears as though the concept of a slanting bookcase was the reason for building the house's exterior the way it is.

The house, in other words, was built around the family's desire for a cool-looking library... an interesting fact made all the more interesting in this digital age, when people seem to enjoy reading a book on a tablet or some other reading device.

Not to bite the hand that feeds me (I'm starving, by the way), but I am a fan of paper... that tactile feel... even the moldy smell of paper... or whatever it is that makes old paper smell the way it does (Vince?)

I'm not talking about paper that has become so acidic that it becomes brown and brittle, or stinks like last week's garbage (this week's isn't so bad)... certainly modern books are made from a higher quality paper stock - unlike the old days when it could have been low-level newspaper substrate... which browns and becomes weak easily enough. It makes me wonder just how newspapers survive any length of time.

I wouldn't mind having this slanting bookshelf/book case in my house - I do lack the room height, however.

But... I would need more shelf space for my books. I have a lot of books - not even including the 35,000 comic books I have... or the binders full of sports and non-sports trading cards.

It's a lot of paper ensconced in plastic.

I have books in every room of the house... I know... I checked... hundreds and hundreds of the things.

I am a newspaper collection away from being a hoarder.

It's glorious!

I feel like Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone episode before his glasses broke.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, December 11, 2017

BBC Interview With Hiroshima Survivor

A Japanese woman now living in Canada—Setsuko Thurlow—was 13-years-old in August of 1945 when the first atomic bomb exploded above the skies of Hiroshima—and she survived.

She is seen in the link below speaking to Hardtalk's Stephen Sackur together with Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won this year's Noble Peace Prize.

Click on the live link to watch the BBC video: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-42312150/hiroshima-survivor-s-nuclear-warning

It’s interesting!

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

December 1-10 Video Re-Cap

Okay... I tried to shoot a single video of Japan--It's A Wonderful Rife, but for some reason my phone saved them as six small videos... and to be frank, I lack the knowledge or skill to make it into one big video.

I have an Apple iPhone 5s, if that matters.

The following was shot by my 11-year-old son (turns 12 by the time this is published). It's his first attempt as cameraman, my first attempt as spokesperson, the room was dark--which is probably good so you don't see me too well... and despite me insisting that the picture should just be a chest high shot and tight, what we see is a wide view - complete with Freddy the Cat licking himself.

I should have taught my son how to shoot... and I will, as soon as I figure it out.

Here's the six short clips. Seven were filmed in total, with the first one being a wash as my cameraman began laughing at me for no apparent reason, making me waste film... or digital film or whatever the hell is in my phone.



I think next time, I'll film somewhere brighter... like outside or in the bathroom.

As WC Fields probably said, never work with animals or children.

And yeah, that was me chugging a glass of quality sake bought for me by my bud, Rob. That stuff's like water... and unfortunately, I did it in one take.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Happy 12th birthday, Hudson!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Art Of Being Quirky And Winning Friends And Influencing Young Students

On the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme website, someone posted a “pro-tip” about how small quirks can go a long way.

A long way to what, wasn’t specified in the headline, but I’ll cut the writer some slack because… because.

The writer offered five examples of how he (it’s written like it’s a guy) did some funny ha-ha stuff to create an atmosphere where his students and teachers accepted him more.

I’ll show his stuff, and then provide my commentary later. 

TLDR; Just because you don't speak Japanese doesn't mean you can't gain the acceptance of your students and co-workers through various quirks and pranks. Don't assume that your lack of Japanese means you can never have talking points with those around you.
I'm a first year JET and have noticed several people discussing the struggles of assimilating into their work and classroom environments. Yes the language barrier is tough for most of us, but I've found that small quirks can really help open communication and interaction between yourself and your students/co-workers. Being a former math teacher, I believe in learning through examples sooooo....
Exhibit A: The Yakisoba Pan
Literally the dumbest quirk I possess, but also the one that gets kids the most excited. For those who aren't aware, you can purchase yakisoba pan in conbinis. It is essentially a hot dog with yakisoba noodles instead of a processed meat stick. I enjoy this. So much so that I bought a pen case that looks like it at Don Quixote. Students lose their minds over this. I have kids screaming "YAKKIISOOBBAA PAAANNN OOIISHHIII SOOOOOO!!!" down the hallways. Literally one of the strangest things I've bought, but it has now become part of my identity and immediately gets students excited for some bizarre reason. Also my co-workers seem to enjoy this as well. Seriously, carry a weird object around with you and it can start more conversations than you would believe.
Exhibit B: Aloha
I'm from Hawaii. Tourist traps in Hawaii usually start with some man yelling "ALLLOOOOOHHHHHAAAAAAA!!!" For kicks and giggles, I decided to do this to start my intro lesson. I've now dug myself into a hole that I can't escape. The students and teachers will forever greet me this way. I even had a random ojiisan I never met say it to me at the store. Find a quirky word or phrase from your home country/city (preferably a greeting) and say it with a "big voice". Get's em' every time. It also acts as a great segway (Ed. Note: I think he means "segue") to get people talking to you if you aren't the best conversation starter.
Exhibit C: The Cucaracha
I like to mess with people. It's just what I do. I bought a fake cockroach at the 100 yen store and put it in my JTE's phone case (note I strategically chose the JTE I thought would find it the most playful). However, I did not anticipate her opening her phone case in the middle of the morning meeting and screaming like a banshee... What I thought was a moment of my immediate termination has now turned into a school that terrorizes each other by the placement of toy bugs all over. Seriously I now have other teachers trying to scare me by putting fake ants on my desk. Your call on this one. Shall you risk your employment for the immediate acceptance of 80% of your co-workers?
Exhibit D: The Donald
Its no secret that Japanese students and teachers like to joke about Donald Trump and his frequent Twitter escapades. For this reason, I started printed small pictures of his face and leaving them in my JETs' desks and under students' books when they aren't looking. Stupid? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. Find out what your kids are talking about and harass them with it!
Exhibit E: Vincent Van No
I draw like a child. No, strike that. I draw like a monkey. I was never blessed with the hands of an artist and therefore everything I draw looks like utter doo-doo. Oddly enough, kids love this. My JTEs often ask me to talk about my weekend for 1 or 2 minutes at the start of class. I throw in a poorly constructed drawing of a squid and fisherman and it immediately gets the students talking and engaged. It often is also a great way to introduce new vocab. I'm not saying you have to suck at art like me, but doing so has caused students to draw me some of the most horrendous looking things I've ever seen as gifts.
Conclusion
At the end of the day, you don't need to speak fluent Japanese or be the world's most outgoing person to assimilate with your schools. By having a range of quirks at your disposal, you can immediately connect with students and teachers and form relationships early on. It will also help make your time on JET more enjoyable, especially for those of you who are doomed (or blessed) to be an everlasting tape recorder. If you have a quirk that has worked well for you, please feel free to share! I hope this helps someone out there who is desk warming like myself!
-30-

My initial reaction (and all subsequent reactions are) is that the advice is solid, if not unspectacular.

Vincent Van No, was actually quite good.

The writer is correct stating that showing off your quirks MIGHT make you seem like an approachable person by JTEs( Japanese teachers of English) and the students… however, one must be careful.

The person who wrote the above advice is from Akita-ken… and like myself and my Ohtawara-shi Board of Education Office, and the then seven junior high schools in the city… we could get away with being “goofy” or quirky.

But not every board of education office or school feels the same way.

For example:

In my second year on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, I decided to grow my hair… real long… ponytail.
Hair, beard and drinking...  three of my favorite things in Japan, not including women, of course.
While my office thought it was cool, one of my buddies was told by his office that his hair (merely touching his shoulders): “Jimu-san, maybe it is time for a haircut.”

Holy crap. Poor fun-loving Jim.

While I don’t recommend acting like a complete quirky goof around the adults, I do recommend you letting your hair down, so to speak, around the kids.

To them, you are already a strange phenomenon… and doing something they like can go a long way to them being interested in what you have to say… IE, listening to you in a classroom.

The writer above offered some pretty juvenile practical jokes. I got the joke, but nothing there made me crack a smile. Maybe I’m getting old.

While I was on JET, I was known for my sense of humor. I was also known for being a “sportsuman” because I could play every North American sport (you know, like we all can), plus I held the respected position of newspaper reporter… which to them implied I mush have some serious communication and writing skills - which I think I do.
Me showing I liked baseball to a bunch of awestruck students.
I also dressed better than the Japanese - always wearing a dress shirt and tie and dress pants - which at least showed them I could be an adult.

I was also friendly, very curious and respectful, and generally easy to approach. Keep a smile on your face. Always.

Of course, I was also probably one of the most childish people on JET that year.

To get the kids interested in me, I think then, as even now when I coach baseball and hockey, that one must relate to the kids in their own language.

I have previously related how once, a group of students stopped me in the hall, and asked me to teach them bad words in English… I said okay (because they asked the question in English!!!), but said they had to teach me the Japanese words. We had a great time that day. They never told anyone who taught them. I think. Who knows. It doesn’t matter.

That first year, a group of students again cornered me in the halls, and asked in English if I knew about the Sandobirdo… which is katakana English for the Thunderbirds, a 1960s British television show that was being shown on television in Japan in 1990. To answer yes, that I knew the Sandobirdo, I began walking around like a marionette (as the characters were on the show), and opening and closing my mouth in a marionette-like manner.
My Thunderbirds-2 model kit bought and built and painted in Japan.
Every kid was on the ground howling in laughter, which instantly gained me “street cred” with those kids, at least.

Later, a group of kids came into a toy/game shop I was already in, and were surprised when I admitted that the Super Famicon (Nintendo SNES) video game system was indeed all for me. What?

An adult who liked video games? Every adult they knew told them video games were childish, and not for kids. Me? I was playing video games at the arcade when they came out, and had the earliest home video game systems… still do (the old and the new). I was in like Flint.

In Japan… when you do something—anything—it gets repeated down the Japanese grapevine. Soon, everyone knows.

Later, I began jogging around a school track late at night… one student was there with his dad doing sprint training. Me… I was trying to get to 10km a night (which I did). That one kid made mention of it to others, and soon there were some of my students out to watch the gaijin-no sensei run laps. In with the jocks…

Others saw me with my American girlfriend and city boy’s high school AET (assistant English teacher), Ashley… always near me… and while she didn’t broadcast it, when they correctly assumed she was my girlfriend and asked me if that was true, I answered truthfully.

They asked if liked Japanese girls and were shocked when I said no. I like women - telling them I don’t care where they are from, as long as they are smart and kind.

They asked me “what about beautiful… must she also be beautiful?”

A loaded question, because not every person is beautiful… and what one thinks is, another may not… it’s all subjective. I answered in that way, too. Why exclude anyone? I didn’t. That’s equally as important as getting some people on your side.
Okay, okay... this is my interpretation of beautiful. Noboko, on the left, only realized I was something special after her students spoke to her on my behalf. I want to make it clear that I did not ask them to do anything of the sort. That was their idea... and one that made me very happy and very sad.
Quirky? I suppose… you know why? Because I was honest. I didn’t care.. nothing I was saying was embarrassing to me and my western ideologies.

In Japan, the people are taught to maintain private dignity… and so everyone lives in their own private Idaho, while outwardly living in the one-true Japanese society.

I knew I could never fit in to Japanese society. I could try, but I had no allusions to my place in Japan. That allowed me to be myself. That and a very cool board of education and very cool school administration.

For me, being allowed to be myself or to be more Japanese, was never an issue in Ohtawara-shi. For my buddy Matthew, too… and it was also available for Ashley… but being a woman, and being the youngest, perhaps she wanted to carry a larger measure of decorum. But she was with me… and unless she wore a big clown wig and nose and floppy shoes, she was never going to be in trouble of being looked upon as anyone but someone with An-do-ryu-sensei.

It’s the truth… people like Matthew and I stand out in a crowd for our personalities and looks (he’s tall with strawberry blonde hair, and me dark-skinned and long-haired)… me (sorry, bud) more so. Ash, bless her, was a shy, quiet person was famous for being a good teacher (amongst her peers), but more infamous by her association with me.

So… being quirky can also be me with a genuine smile on my face all the time… me being a real scaredycat of the giant beetles kids brought in to school one day… me doing all the club activities at school—sports and arts—and even participating in the ones just for the girls. Sports are sports… I’ll play if they’ll have me. That’s quirky to the Japanese… a guy who doesn’t mind playing field hockey? Largely considered a female only sport in high school, it’s also a male sport… as evidenced by the Olympics, and the fact my dad used to play in a league here in Toronto.

Quirky? I won a speed eating contest - eating natto - with chopsticks. I have a non-Japanese style of holding my chopsticks, but it works for me. Also… natto… rotting, fermented soy beans that are sticky, smelly and supposedly horrible-tasting. You slather it on white sticky rice, add soy, some spicy mustard… and while I prefer to add a raw egg before mixing it all up into a even stringier, frothy goo… I like the stuff, while most gaijin find it revolting… as do most western Japanese folk.
Natto. When I feel like it, I'll order it at Japanese restaurants in Canada, where they tell me I won't like it. I tell them I like natto... they stare at me like I'm crazy and then bring me some to see if I actually will eat it. I always do. They walk away shaking their heads i amazement and confusion.
Sometimes you have to out-Japanese the Japanese. It’s why I always had to out-drink them, too.

There’s quirky and there’s quirky.

Maybe practical jokes were what worked for that Akita-ken AET.

I could have done those jokes, too… but those aren’t my style.

Do quirky behavior that matches your style. If you can.

By the way… there’s being quirky and there’s being quirky. Despite my adolescent behavior with my students, almost all like me, and paid rapt attention to anything I said or did in class. I watched them, as they watched me.

But, how does this behavior translate to those you of the opposite sex you might be interested in getting to know better?

Different strokes for different folks… some women might like the funny gaijin. Some might think he’s not husband material… or even boyfriend material… or even one-night stand material. Others might think you are all that and a bag of chips. Tough to say.

I can tell you (again) that having those students on MY side paid dividends when I fell head-over-heels in love with Noboko, a JTE at one of my junior high schools, who arrived in my third year.

She thought I was a complete scuzzball. I was wearing silk clothes, was rocking a ponytail, had a sculpted French-cut beard… and looked quite sharp for 1993.

But those kids saw immediately that I was smitten with that kitten and they took it upon themselves to pump up my character to her… even in weeks where I wasn’t at their school.

Every male teacher and all pubescent boys and probably a few girls were hot for teacher, just as I was.

When I finally got her, and she got me, she described me as being a diamond in the rough. Which means that despite liking my quirks, and being diamond-ish, I was still more coal when compared to the husband material that a standard Japanese male could have been.

Maybe that’s what she meant. It upset me, to be truthful… but I don’t think she meant it to be. She was likening myself to the lead in the Disney cartoon Aladdin, and herself to Princess Jasmine. I couldn’t argue there. I can be a bit rough under the collar. But some women like it rough. See what I mean? I’m joking, but I’m not. Quirky. Diamond in the rough… or maybe I was that one diamond amongst all the rough. Fug… I’m not sure. If she meant the latter, it depresses me even more.

I don’t still hold a torch for Noboko, but I do wonder what things would have been like if she had agreed to marry me. I have to wonder, what with being a curious child.

That’s my real quirk.

Bonsai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Yes… I said bonsai… mini tree bondage… just being quirky.
PPS: Up next… menko… no… this one is meant to be spelled that way.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Japan Testing Robo-Taxi In 2018

The Nissan Motor Company Ltd., a Japanese multinational automobile manufacturer headquartered in Nishi-ku, Yokohama-shi (Yokohama City), says it plans to test a robo-taxi on the streets of the Minatomirai district of Yokohama, Kanagawa-ken (Kanegawa Prefecture), between March 5-8, in 2018 with the promise to bring the self-driving taxi as a regular part of Japan’s identity by the year 2020.

That that is the year of the Tokyo Olympics can hardly be a coincidence. Come visit here World, and be amazed.

Nissan is seeking human crash test dummies human passengers until January 15, 2018.

While the automobile manufacturer has previous tested the robot taxi service as a prototype on the Tokyo streets, for 2018 it will offer full public tests… meaning you could, if you are lucky enough, be picked up by a driverless vehicle, directed by your smartphone.

Developed by Nissan and DeNA—a Japanese company that builds mobile and e-commerce websites—the Easy Ride mobility service mixes Nissan’s self-driving expertise with DeNA's AI (artificial intelligence) and Internet experience.

Personally… I don't want an autonomous-driving vehicles.

I DO believe that these vehicles will be very much safer on the road than those with most human drivers…

But I am one of those people who actually likes to drive. Sch-wing. Really... always have.

In my opinion, if you are a nervous driver, don’t drive. Having a self-driving vehicle is perfect for you. if you can't afford such a vehicle, then the Nissan robo-taxi could be a alternative... or perhaps a robotic train system (I think Singapore has one of those) or robot buses or maybe this:

 
One day, we’ll all have self-driving vehicles that have the option of being human-drivable, but will have safety checks in place to ensure the human driver is not impaired in any way… perhaps through the vehicle constantly performing a diagnostic on the human.

After all… what is to prevent a human driver from entering a vehicle that is self-driving, having a few alcoholic drinks or taking a drug that impairs one’s motor skills, and then wishing to take over the human driving mode? No… human beings are not trustworthy.

Plus… in case of a medical emergency, or tiredness, or even just plain stupidity, the vehicle’s human-diagnostic system can also force an automatic transference away from the human to robotic. At least that’s where I see the full future of self-driving technology.

As for the robo-taxi service, anyone wanting to use it can contact the taxi via their own smart phone app.

With the Easy Ride app, you call for the taxi; enter your destination(s), and pay for the taxi ride.

With the Easy Ride app, passengers can review recommended destinations and even sightseeing possibilities and, more importantly, they can choose any of the app’s features from any of many language choices available.

Check out the actual robo-taxi in action in the YouTube video:



Of course, people worry that a robotic could go crazy—after all, we've all watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (read the book, too!) or have stared in shock and awe as your computer screen suddenly decides that the QWERTY keyboard should now be in Cyrillic, or it's now showing the grey screen of death?

It's true... electronics are only as good as the human hands making them.. then again... we can make electronic components via robotics... if you think about it, it's like the robots are making their own children.

Yes, robotic electronics can fail. A human driven vehicle can fail, too. But if one failed robotic car is suddenly veering out of control, a vehicle that is about to hit could "see" the danger and act to better-protect its own passenger. I don't know how it could protect a human (pets, too) walking on the sidewalk... unless, the robotic vehicles are pre-programmed with Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, in which the underlying concept is that a robot may not allow a human to come to harm, and thus the robotic vehicles in the area, would thrown themselves in the way of the runaway robotic vehicle to prevent a human death or major trauma.

I suppose with a robotic driverless system, there are more electronics that could fail than if there was a human driver involved. Then again... it takes away the always wacky human element of chance... and possible vehicle failure.

The biggest issue I can foresee, however is this:

Robot Taxi Vehicle: “So… whatcha do for a living?”
Human Passenger: “I’m a doctor.”
Robot Taxi Vehicle:: “Exterminate! Exterminate!! Exterminate!!!”

Somewhere driving my own Nissan Tardis, aka Micra SV,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, December 8, 2017

To Be Or Not To Be More Social?

Yesterday, I attended a work-related seminar encouraging editors to use more videos in an effort to be more digitally-friendly.

While this Japan-blog--a blog that is not work-related in the least--is a digital platform, I have resisted the urge to create my own videos.

My reasons for not doing so previously, are numerous:
  1. This blog has always opted to contain greenfield content - IE, content that is relevant for a longer period of time, as opposed to current social media events.
  2. This blog has become an Encyclopedia Japonica - a gathering of data on specific Japanese topics... although I do offer current event news, I always do so with my own opinionated take on things.
  3. Video seems, to me, that when on social media, it's a now thing.
  4. While I have found video "lists" to be somewhat interesting, I have always found them to merely be based on someone's opinion.
  5. I have an opinion... I have one on everything I talk about, but when I offer an opinion here (in print), I always try to present both sides of an argument.
  6. I prefer to present the facts and let YOU make up your own opinion.
  7. Video lists do not cater to that type of thinking.
  8. I have a face for radio. I have a radio-voice, but I don;t believe I have the pretty-boy looks (any more) for television, or in this case, video.
Having said all that, I am going to give it a try.

I am going to create a short weekly video that will provide a re-cap of my past blogs, highlighting why you should go back and read the article(s).

We'll see how things go with that before i create a video showcasing a new Rife article.

I always have plenty to say, but the biggest problem I have is where to film.

My house is filled with clutter - which is comfortable for me, but doesn't provide me with an area to film in.

Also, my house had a leaky roof a couple of years ago, and some paint loss did occur in a few rooms. So... embarrassment.

I'm also a naturally shy person merely pretending to be outgoing... but what the heck... I suppose it's good to get out of my self-imposed comfort zone - my rut.

I'm going to use my son as the cameraman - he'll be 12 on Monday - so who knows if it will be problematic or fantastic. Okay, he's not the real concern.

It's me.

It all seems like a scary proposition.

So... you've all been warned.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Japanese Beers

Everybody loves lists, right? You know who hates lists? The person compiling them.

Presented for your edification, is a list of beers made available year-round (IE, no seasonal or limited run brews) by the major Japanese breweries.

I have decided not to even try and list any Japanese craft brewers—there's over 200 in Japan—for fear of 1) alienating anyone, and 2) going nuts from the attempt.

Per capita, the Japanese are, as of 2016, the No. 55 country as far as beer consumption goes... shockingly a drop from No. 38, in 2010.

For those keeping score, the Americans are 20th, while the people from the Czech Republic are, indeed, No. 1. The only Czech I knew was a woman named Julia or, as she was known on the stage, Ariana Falco. She liked beer, and as far as I could tell, the beer calories went straight to her luxurious blonde head of hair, and nowhere else. Believe me, I Czeched.

Along with standard beers, there are two other categories of Japanese beer: the New Genre; and the Happoshu.

New Genre
In Japan's Alcohol Tax Law, when discussing "Other Sparkling Alcoholic Beverages," the following alcoholic beverages that have been produced with hops or bitter ingredients are the object of a special tax rate:
  • Beverages that have been fermented using sugar, hops, water or soya (2 degrees extract or more);
  • Sparkling alcoholic beverages that contain barley spirits or wheat spirits (2 degrees extract or more).

What is Happoshu?
According to Japan's Alcohol Tax Law, happoshu are sparkling alcoholic beverages that are partly produced with malt. The percentage of malt that must be used in its production is strictly regulated.  

Happoshu must have less that 67% malt content in relation to other raw materials, excluding water. Alcohol tax varies according to the malt percentage that has been used for its production.

I'd be lying if I said I understood any of what I just wrote/copied... but I'd also be lying if I said I actually read what I wrote.

Beer Barrel Polka
Before traveling to Japan, as a then-25-year-old, I had only recently begun to expand my palate away from the commonalities of the major breweries in Canada.

I had gone from Molson Canadian, to Molson Dry, to Red Dog, and had the misfortune of drinking a case of Labatt IPA (India Pale Ale), but liked the more common Labbat Blue. I didn't mind the Carling-O'keefe Black Label, but that may only have been because the punk rockers drank it - and I may have wanted to seem cool.

My friends and I would travel to downtown Toronto on a Friday or Saturday night to Rotterdam's... or was it Amsterdam's (?)... and order—on apiece, a different bottle of beer from around the world. We'd each have a small sample of each - if we wished... and then we'd order a different beer each for the next round, and the next round, and the next round. There were probably a few more rounds after that.

My friend Rob was ordering a lot of high-alcohol beers in stupidly large bottles (I believe that the higher the alcohol content in beer, the more sugars there are in it... still too much, and it tastes like crap).

Whenever I ordered a beer there, I ALWAYS ordered a beer with a religious theme: Pope's 1880; The Bishop's Tipple; El Diablo, Saint Pauli Girl, even... I think I had a Santa Claus beer, too... but that might have been Rob.... but regardless... beer's like that.

El Diablo... a 4% Mexican beer was actually my favorite, though the Belgian (I think) Bishop's Tipple was right up there.

Everything was wheat, wheat, wheat-based.

Going to Japan, the beer's were rice-based... or so I was told. It certainly tasted unlike any other beer I had ever had.

My favorite Japanese beer was my first Japanese beer: Kirin Lager... the equivalent is probably the common Coors Light or Molson Canadian... good beers, of course, but hardly cutting edge.

I was in Japan, and the beer was tasty. It was cutting edge to me.

I had and enjoyed the Asahi Super Dry, but that was pretty much it for Asahi. While I might appreciate the malts of an Yebisu or Suntory now (Suntory was only as whiskey back then... and Orion wasn't around either)...

I always felt like I was being served second-rate product when an enkai (party) only had Sapporo beer available. Of course... that was only because it was the smallest of the big-3 brewers... and I preferred the Kirin Lager which at least tasted similar to a Canadian beer...

As for the heading of this section: Beer Barrel Polka... I used to play the accordion... polkas are a common thread amongst accordionists... 'nuff said.

Size Matters
Usually, in Canada, beer is available in four sizes:

  • draught/draft poured into whatever glass the place feels like (a tray of "beer" at the Paddock - 14 glasses, used to cost $17 - Canadian.);
  • can - can sizes can vary from the usual 341 or 355 mL to a 473 mL tall boy size...;
  • bottle - standardized at 341 mL;
  • keg - usually only found at drunken university parties and under the counter at a bar, where it is tapped and funneled in as a major beer brand because it's cheaper than purchasing 2-4 packs of beer.

In Japan:
For example, Asahi cans are available in:
  • 125 mL (4.2 oz / half a cup); 
  • 250 mL (1 cup); 
  • 300 mL (10 oz/soda can); 
  • 500 mL (1 pint); 
  • 1 L; 
  • 2 L;
  • 3 L;
Bottles: a typical size is 500 mL - which is pretty darn big... considering 341mL is what we have in Canada.


Let's get on with the list. Surprisingly,there are fewer beers available from the Big Brewers of Japan, than there are flavors of Kit-Kat... and even fewer than there are flavors of the carbonated drink, Fanta.

Asahi Breweries Ltd.


Asahi Dry Zero (Non-Alcoholic)



Asahi Off (New Genre)


    Asahi Premium Beer Jukusen



Asahi Style Free (happoshu)


 Asahi Super Dry



Clear Asahi

Kirin Brewery Company, Limited.


Grand Kirin: JPL; White, and; IPA
Grand Kirin Japan Pale Lager (JPL) a India Style Lager
Grand Kirin White, is a wheat beer
Grand Kirin IPA, is an American-style India Pale Ale - I hate IPAs.  




Kirin Heartland Beer


Kirin Ichiban Shibori



Kirin Lager Beer


Kirin Tanrei (happoshu)


Kirin Tanrei Gokujo Nama (happoshu)


Kirin Tanrei Green Label (happoshu)


Kirin Tanrei (happoshu)



Kirin Tanrei Platinum Double (happoshu)



Kirin Tanrei W Double (happoshu)

Orion (Distributed by Asahi Breweries since 2002)

Orion Cider


Orion Draft
 
Orion Premium Draft


Orion Special X


Orion Southern Star



Orion Splash Beat



Sapporo Breweries Limited

Sapporo Black 



Sapporo Classic


Sapporo Lager


Sapporo Premium

A premium pale lager.


Yebisu
A tasty malt beer.


Yebisu Premium Black



Yebisu - The Hop



Hokkaido Nama-shibori (happoshu)


Suntory

Super Magnum Dry (happoshu)


Suntory Malts


Suntory - Premium Malts



This is what I have found... and I think it is current as of December of 2017.

The beers listed are, again, the ones that are available year-round. They are not seasonal beers. They are not limited edition beers. They are not beers brewed by Japan's burgeoning craft beer makers.

These are the mainstream beers available from the major brewers in Japan.

IF I have missed a beer, or have provided an out-of-date label, or if a beer mentioned here is no longer being brewed, please let me know, and provide an image location if you can.

If you know of, or have a blog or website that provides English-language information on these Japanese brews, please let me know.  

 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dustbunnies Of The Mind

I admit to being in a bad mood as I write this. My stupid cat, Fred, clawed at me, scratching and bleeding one of the four digits on my hands I use to type... ergo, and I use that word incorrectly, every fourth letter hurts like a bugger.

There was certainly something to my going to Japan in 1990... living on my own for the first time... owing allegiance to my own common sense, which if you've read of my three-year exploits, you'll recall I lacked it.

Still... no pets, no family, no friends... well... I gained friends quickly, but it was Japan... and I preferred being by myself...

Y'see... this is how I feel now... and it was how I felt then about Japan.

I had a girlfriend from my third day on in Japan, and was rarely without female company over the three years I was there. I'm not bragging. I'm merely stating a fact for use later.

I had a few friends of the gaijin variety, like Matthew...

But what was neat to me then, was that when one wanted to be alone, it was very easy to be alone.

I often unplugged my phone, turned off the lights in my three-bedroom apartment, and enjoyed the silence.

That was the beauty of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken... a small city of 50,000 people in 1990... the sidewalks would roll up at around 9PM, and the only people out were those looking to have some fun at a bar or restaurant.

While I envied them at first, I became them after a few months in Japan.

And while I was always the smiling guy with a joke to break the tension, or there to amuse a class of kids ad teachers... when I went home, if there wasn't some woman I was dating or me, interested in meeting at a bar, I could just sit at home - and home it was - and relax.

I used to wonder a lot - there in the dark - just what I was going to do with myself... no... not when I went back home, or in 10 years time... not even what I was going to do tomorrow... no... I pondered what I was going to do now.

Invariably, I would pick up a pen and paper and dash off some fictional tale that had nothing to do about Japan... about some topic... and it would amaze me as to where in my brain it came from. Then, like now, I never knew what I was going to write... and so when the words came pouring out, it always amazed me to read what I was writing as I was writing it.

Not that it was spectacular or earth-shattering... no... I just always wondered where these stories... these thoughts... these feelings of everything and nothing came from.

I might flip on the television, but in my head I was writing stories... stories I never wrote down... conversations between characters... oh, how I love to write conversations between characters... I get to become them... I get to ask and answer my own thoughts. Dark or light. Right or wrong. Male or female... that was a challenge... I often wondered if men and women thought differently.

I don't believe so nowadays... I believe everyone thinks like themselves, regardless of sex.

While that doesn't drive me as much, sex that is, I had arrived in Japan a virgin, and spent most of my public life thinking about sex. Female? I wanted to screw her. Men can't be friends with a woman without sex creeping in to things. Or maybe that's just myself and Harry. I never saw When Harry Met Sally.

Waking in Japan... my day was all about surviving the classes... because very quickly they became routine. The evenings were all about me, however... whether it was trying to catch the eye of some random woman in a bar, trying to determine when I should make a move on whatever girlfriend I had, or unplugging the phone and being a moody introspective writer... the evenings were always about me.

It seems sad to think I was self-centered like that. But I think I was.

What shall I eat? When will I get home? What movie should I rent? What should I do if someone calls me? Do I want to talk to anyone? I made up my mind about talking to or not talking to people sometime in the morning, and thus had a quiet night in.

There are many reasons for being like that.

I am an introvert pretending to be an extrovert.

I'm shy. Or I'm self-centered. I'm always on... but sometimes I need to stop being so nice, and since I can't yell at people, I simply hide.

The undercover blues.

Heck... it's not like I could simply go for a walk in Japan without someone recognizing me. Wanting to say hello.... I don't think I minded that... in fact, my ego appreciated that...

It's safe to say that Japan was a many-layered onion... lots of layers... I think I enjoyed myself 99% of the time. I may have got homesick a few times, but that's why I would go out to meet women.

Hmm... that was a lot of women... and a few girlfriends, too... I guess I was homesick a lot.

But you know the best part of Japan? I didn't have a cat.

My frickin' finger is throbbing.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I was working on an article or three... and because I accidentally allowed my computer to do an update that took six hours, I only had 30 minutes to complete any of those blogs, or to try stream of consciousness writing.
Unfortunately, nothing spectacular came out. Maybe just some honesty... and heck, honesty is boring. Tomorrow... maybe something on beer, or a Count, or a kid's plaything... I don't know. I can tell you that it won't be about a cat.
PPS: Dustbunnies of the Mind was a collection of short stories I wrote. 20 years ago, someone collected them and printed out a few copies... They were good stories, but that was before I discovered SpellChek. Dustbunnies was all comedy. Another collection was all drama. Ahh... good times. No cat.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Mysterious Dogū Figurines

At some point in time, about 3,000 years ago, someone on Japan made a bunch of clay figurines called dogū (土偶), which translates into "clay figurines".

They all seem to have large faces, small arms and hands and compact bodies.

While that might seem unspectacular, the dogū images are spectacular, consisting of what to the naked eye appear to be out-of-this-world figures - both humanoid and animaloid. Is animaloid a word?

There are apparently four main type of dogū figurines:
  • The Goggle-Eye
Regardless of the goggle eyes, the figurine still maintains exaggerated elements of a female body.
  • Pregnant Woman
Though completely primitive-looking, check out how the pregnant figure has her hand on her belly in that protective way mom's apparently have always done. Now that's time-traveling!
  • Horned Owl 
You can see why this is known as an owl-like figurine... with the barn owl type head and face. It still looks feminine to me... perhaps because of the feathered elements of a dress over the shoulders through the center of the torso and out to the legs.
  • Heart-shaped (or crescent-shaped eyebrow) 
The face has a heart shape to it. In other examples, the upper part of the heart is less clear leaving crescent-shaped eyebrows. Less feminine in structure than other dogū, this figurine's headdress provides it with a more female look.
According to the National Museum of Japanese History (国立歴史民俗博物館, Kokuritsu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan) in Sakura-shi, in northern Chiba-ken, there are some 15,000 dogū figurines so far discovered in the country...

While they have been found everywhere in Japan except Okinawa, they have been found most often in the eastern part of the country, and rarely found in the west. To me, that could mean that they were transported there by travelers or given as gifts to the western communities, or simply that they did not catch on in the west as they did in the east.

No one knows just what the dogū were created for.

Some think that the dogū figurines were meant to be a figure as part of something called sympathetic magic, whereby a real person's illness are transferred to the dogū.

When the dogū is then purposely destroyed, so too is the illness.

The dogū are rarely ever found intact, and are missing (from the archaeological area) limbs and other body parts, which tends to lend credence to the ancient people's belief in the medicinal magic of the figurines.

It's a kind of reverse voodoo doll technique that is found in many ancient cultures... though I suppose hanging a horseshoe over a doorway, pointy-part up, is also meant to convey good luck to the owner. If the horseshoe is hung upside down, apparently the luck is supposed to run down and out of the symbol.

Other Japanese researchers think the dogū may have been involved in ancient Japanese fertility rites.... perhaps the fact that some of the figurines have bulging stomachs, and thus might transfer the pregnancy aspect to a live human might be in play here.

In the exaggerated female figurines, the stomach is scratched with symbolic patterns, and many are painted with vermilion, a red pigment originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar.

Also of interest, is the fact that most of the dogū figurines found seem to be "female", with small waists, wide hips... and big eyes... I'm not sure how the big eyes thing implies the figurine is female-like, but I'll leave that to those with more science in ancient mythology and symbolism.

It's because of the obvious female qualities of these figurines, that the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, U.S. believes that the dogū are associated with fertility and shamanistic rites.

It is also worth noting, that the societies of Ancient Japan were more female-oriented, worshiping the Sun and Moon as female entities...

The dogū are made of clay, and are small figurines, standing between 10centimeters (3.94 inches) to 30 centimeters (11.81 inches) in height - usually.

Most of the 15,000 found dogū were designed with marks on their face, chest and shoulders, implying that before they were fired, they were marked with symbolic tattoos... perhaps representative of whatever ritual it was meant to be a part of.

On the female figurines, there is an exaggeration in size of the butt, chest and thighs... which may simply just be the art style of the day... like Ruben-esque women in the "modern" art world (or, the norm in 2017) or straight hair parted in the middle of the 1970s (or in 2016, when it became "in" again).

The larger figurines are hollow... perhaps to avoid cracking during firing, while the smaller ones are solid clay... it may simply be a factor related to the skill level of the dogū sculpture and potter.

I personally love the look of these dogū figurines! Perhaps it's their other-worldly artistic resemblance... or maybe because it's something I knew nothing about before writing about it here.

I wish I was in Japan right now, digging up an archaeological site and coming across one of the dogū. While I had once longed to be an astronaut, my real passion was dinosaur archaeology... but as I've grown older, I have gained much appreciation for the study of mankind... wondering just what drove him/her in their daily life.

I suppose that's no different than me wondering what I'm going to write about next in this blog. Sorta.

I have always been fascinated by what goes on in people's mind... from the casual, to the psychotic, to the insane, to the medically inhibited... always wondering if there's more to life than what we think there is.

Was there simply a lack of empirical evidence of it working? Was there a more political reason? Did a new type of religion come into focus?

It annoys me that we'll never know until time travel is a real thing. It would be interesting to time-travel, would it not?

Where would you want to go?

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph