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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pac-Man Pioneer Now A Ghost

Nakamura Masaya (surname first)… the gentleman whose company created Pac-Man, has died at the age of 91 on January 22, 2017, but only announced on January 30.

He founded video game legend Namco.

I’ll refrain the obvious jokes about running out of lives - except for the headline.

First released in 1980, in the video game Pac-Man (パックマン, Pakkuman), you try to gobble up the dots spread across the maze while avoiding for creatures that look like tribbles from Star Trek (Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde… a name grouping that is the reverse of the Beatles names of John, Paul, George and Ringo, or the Gilligan’s Island parody of the Mosquitoes: Bingo, Bango, Bongo and Irving… IE, silly name, silly name, silly name, real name).

After eating a power pellet, the four creatures would become blue - IE vulnerable - and Pac-Man could turn the tables and eat them and turn them into a ghost, sending them back to the central home to reform and come after him again.

Yes… I actually bought and still own the music record (pre-MP, pre-DVD, pre-CD) Pac-Man Fever.

Look at that: The Pac-Man Fever song is ahead of the Police, Journey, and Queen...
In my defense, the main reason I bought it because the liner notes consisted of patterns to BEAT various levels of the game.

Being completely honest, I never memorized them enough to actually use them.

I was one of those guys who would fish credits in arcade video game machines… using a string taped to a quarter to fish up and down in the slot to gain 99 credits (the maximum). I never played any game that much, and would give them to other kids after I was done.

I’m not alone in having done that, so it is safe to say that if every player had paid to play, it would have generated more than US$2.5 billion in quarters. I don’t even want to think about how many quarters I gave before becoming a juvenile delinquent.

Back to Nakamura… after graduating from a technical university in Yokohama, he founded Namco in 1955 as a company, with its first job providing an operating set of mechanical horses on the roof of a department store.

After Namco was merged with another Japanese games firm, Bandai, to form Namco-Bandai (later Bandai Namco) in 2005, Nakamura retained an honorary position.

He was also awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government for his services to industry.

Pac-Man, was actually created by Iwatani Toru… first as an arcade stand-up, table-top, home console, animated television series, theme parks and a film… and if memory serves me correctly (and it does), I believe Pac-Man was voted Time magazine’s “Man-Of-The Year”… mostly because I still have that issue somewhere in the basement.
Cover from Mad magazine #233, September 1983... that's WHY I still have it.
Okay... it was a Mad magazine parody, but it wasn't far off the truth.

Believe it or not, I’m not a hoarder… not a messy one, at any rate. You ever see an (Steven Spielberg) Amazing Stories episode entitled "Come Gather Ye Acorns"? All about a guy who seemed to be a messy bugger with loads of junk, but instead it was all treasure... unfortunately, I'm not in that category, but sorta...

Back in 1993, Namco bought Nikkatsu, which is Japan’s oldest film studio, which was famous for its pink-eiga (pink movies). Pink-eiga are soft-porn flicks.

Anyhow… Nakamura is gone, but not forgotten. Give him a one-handed clap… you know, because you have your hand on your joystick.

Banzai,
Andrew "I've got a pocket full of quarters and I'm heading to the arcade..." Joseph (For the past 35 years... it's been in my brain).
PS: Opening lines of Pac-Man Fever:
I got a pocket full of quarters, and I'm headed to the arcade.
I don't have a lot of money, but I'm bringing everything I made.
I've got a callus on my finger, and my shoulder's hurting too.
I'm gonna eat them all up, just as soon as they turn blue. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Matthew Hall's Look At Japan - A Newspaper Article From 1992

Ya think you know someone.

My buddy Matthew Hall - a guy I met on the Jet (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme has been holding out on me.

I have been hassling this guy over the past seven years to contribute something to this blog.

He lived in Ohtawara-shi, Toichigi-ken, a few blocks from my house. He taught at the junior high school just outside of the city while I taught at the junior high schools IN it.

Unlike me, Matthew wanted to go to Japan. Like me, he had a great experience there meeting good people who were entirely focused on us, while allowing us the individual freedom to grow as human beings.

We were lucky and as a result had an extremely positive three years (then the maximum) on the Programme.

Except Matthew stayed for a couple more years... mostly because he got married to a local woman and had his first of two kids there.

Matthew has always been (since I met him - I can't speak for before) a thoughtful, intelligent, funny and caring person, and is someone I have been proud to call my friend.

His wife Takako, too. She and I always had a fun relationship - she was so sarcastic that I could never be sure if she like me or not, but I know she did, because she was also thoughtful, kind and helpful to me.

Anyhow... Matthew... the guy was always there for me every time I was heartbroken over some woman (apparently, after re-reading my diary presented here in this blog, I was heartbroken a lot)... but Japan... Japan was always good to me.

Still... it turns out that Matthew, whenever I pestered him about writing something about Japan... not his experiences, per se, but about a subject matter he would like to broach... he would claim he didn't recall stuff... because well, it was nearly 27 years ago when when we first arrived in Japan.

I can relate... I re-read my diary and go... "I did that?" or "When the hell did that happen?" Or, worse yet "Who the heck is that person?"

Still... Matthew... he suddenly remembered he was part of a newspaper article back in New York...

I don't know how you forget something like that, but let's just chalk it up to old age. ;)-

From the Press & Sun-Bulletin, a part of the USA Today Network, comes this re-printed newspaper article written by recently passed columnist David Rossie.

Published in the February 10, 1992 edition of the newspaper, Mr. Rossie uses the help of Matthew to delve a little deeper into Japanese psyche re:... well... take a look yourself HERE.

Matthew, old chum... the offer still stands for you to write about something on Japan... like what a Japanese wedding ceremony is like... I never got to find that out - and you know how much that irks me.... no... not about you and yours, but on how things screwed up for me.

Or... what it was like for you after I left... and you not being on the JET Programme, but working nonetheless and driving that car... or what things were like for Takako and you and Michelle when you decided to leave Japan and head back to the U.S.

Stuff I can only guess at but will never have an inside knowledge at.

If you want, I'll send you some questions...

Regardless... for the rest of you readers... have a read at Matthew's press efforts above...

I'm still a bit miffed that he didn't tell me about this before  - it's GREAT!!!! - but just miffed. I'm already over it. LOL!

Matthew... thanks.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I'm C-3PO - Fly Me


When I heard back in 2015 that ANA (All Nippon Airways) Co. was going have three of its aircraft done up in skins for some Star Wars tie-in, I was all "hoo-hum".

Why would people want to fly in it? You can't see it from the inside...

To me, it's like people who spend thousands or even hundreds of dollars to make their front yard look beautiful where it is the envy of the neighborhood. You are either in the house, away from the house doing stuff, or in the backyard doing stuff.

Who spends time in the front yard? So why do people spend time making it sooooo beautiful?

In my mind, it's to make everyone think you are great.

I've seen guys blow a fortune to buy a Porsche, but live in a crappy one-bedroom apartment in a bad neighborhood with no inside decorations... because they want the world to see them as successful.

So... why fly in an airplane done up in graphics of Star Wars characters... a good movie that first came to light 40 years ago?

It's Star Wars... you know... a story that is essentially (originally) about Knights in space.

The poor farmer kid destined to spend his life on a farm (Luke), goes off to rescue the princess (Leia) from the evil Duke (Darth Vader), while having to defeat the fire-breathing dragon (Death Star).

Classic story-telling. There are only seven original stories, and every writer since then has stolen or copied the idea.

It's okay... I appreciate the Star Wars story... while hardly original in concept, it's original in the way it was presented... though I suppose there was Buck Rogers before it.

Heck... even in the original Adventures of Indiana Smith story outline by George Lucas (in 1973) who also wrote Star Wars), he borrowed heavily from the classic 1930s movie serials that made kids go back to the theater every week to see the next episode... cliffhangers... it's where the term came from, I think.

Yes, Indy Jones was once Indiana Smith... Lucas, was also an Uncle Scrooge McDuck comic book fan... and that whole scene at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark... with the giant stone ball rolling down at Dr. Jones... that was taken from an Uncle Scrooge comic... something he talks about in the introduction of a hardcover repackaging of all the Duck comics by Carl Barks - see www.fantagraphics.com... It was in Uncle Scrooge #7, "The Seven Cities of Cibola"... and yes, that movie scene in Raiders was an homage to my favorite writer-artist Carl Barks.

Those Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic book stories are what instilled a love of adventure for me BEFORE Star Wars and before Indian Jones.

Anyhow... why would anyone in Japan want to fly in one of these Star Wars-themed aircraft?

I don't know... just to say you did, I suppose.

I never saw the original movie until one year after it came out... but I had read 14 issues of the Marvel comic by then and because the first six issues were about the movie, I already knew how it ended.

Did you know that the first issue of Star Wars came out BEFORE the movie?

Did you know the book Star Wars (written by George Lucas) came out before the movie?

I have a copy of that book... not the real first edition, but a scholastic version... but it had photos of the movie being made... so I read it months before the movie came out.

As such... I suppose I would be one of those  people who would at the very least like to see the ANA aircraft and their Star Wars skins...

The three aircraft graphics depict: C-3PO, R2-D2, and recent Star Wars franchise cutie BB-8... all three are robots from the esteemed franchise. There's also a fourth aircraft with a general Star Wars design.

C-3PO will be taking to the air for the first time in March 21, 2017, flying domestic ANA routes between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and cities such as Kagoshima, Itami (Osaka) and Hiroshima.

The skinned airplanes are Boeing 777-200.

So... you could just go to the airport and watch for these airplanes, or you could pay to play...

The take-away from it isn't huge.

While the stewards/stewardess' will be wearing Star Wars C-3PO themed aprons, you the paying customer will get to have your drinks served to you in specially-designed paper cups (which you could keep), and headrest covers (which I am pretty sure you don't get to keep).

So... paper cups? Is that it?

Well, you do get a special boarding certificate for those jet-setters who are amongst the flyers taking the Star Wars jet within the first few days....

Yes... first few days... after that... paper cups, baby.

Now... this isn't the type of thing that caters to the customer... no, rather this is simply marketing by the George Lucas folk in charge of the Star Wars franchise.

It helps to continue to keep a 40-year-old movie franchise in the spotlight as it continues with its sub-movies and last two planned movies.

I had heard back in 1978 that George Lucas had originally planned for Star Wars to be three trilogies for a total of nine movies. And dammit, since the movie was released in 1977, he's been good to his word.

Just think... when Star Wars came out, man had first landed on the Moon a mere eight years earlier. And, 40 years before that, few people have ever flown in a passenger plane or plane of any kind... it was still a huge deal until the late 1960s.

Here... check out some luck Japanese Star Wars fans flying in the ANA R2-D2 passenger jet back in 2015...

Did you watch it? That would never fly in the U.S.... masks covering faces on a plane... where's the security? Some of those costumes have sharp metal parts! Passengers on regular jets get plastic forks and knives and spoons in case they try and kill someone on board nowadays...

Back in the 1960s, can you imagine, as a kid, getting to go up to the cockpit to meet the pilot, co-pilot and navigator... to see the sky from there... to receive toy airplanes as gifts from them as a thank-you for visiting?

It was a different time.

I can't imagine getting a paper cup as a souvenir...

However, I am a collector... so I can understand why that Star Wars paper cup would seem cool.

The graphics on the airplanes look fantastic, though there is very little of C-3PO other than his chest plate and some wires that identify him as being the annoying droid. And yet... too bad you can't see the graphics from inside the plane.

Banzai,

Andrew Joseph


PS... if you are wondering about the headline, well... back in 1971, America's National Airlines had an ad campaign that said:

and
and
and
National Airlines would also paint the names of some of the sexier (as advertised) stewardess on the airplane's nose, and have stewardesses (women) wear the suggestive "Fly Me" tag line.
Sure... if I was Oedipus Rex.
Sexist, yes... but all it did was advertise what airlines everywhere were doing anyways... sexy female stewardesses... it's cliche because it was true once. Now, regardless of sexiness, we have competent men and women providing customer service on the planes... but again... even as late as 1971, flying was still relatively a new and big deal for people.
PPS: Is it weird how I use this blog to talk about un-Japanese things like Star Wars, Indian Jones, Uncle Scrooge comic books, and sexy stewardesses and advertising campaigns?
PPPS: Okay, here's a photo of some of Japan Airlines stewardesses - a very modern photo. Japan has always been about 40 years behind in some things:
and one from Japan's Skymark Airline:




Saturday, January 28, 2017

Japanese Pearls

I have given more than a few pearl necklaces to women whose company I’ve enjoyed, but never thought I would enjoy wearing on myself.

Okay - all you pervs out there hopefully had a good laugh…

Let’s talk about Japanese pearls, starting with the basics.

It is estimated that people - both men and women  - have been wearing pearls since 520BC.

It was a fashion trend that exhibited either sex’s power and wealth.

Nowadays, men don’t wear pearls… except they do… it’s a recent fashion trend that has men enjoying a pearl necklace (snicker) such as Steven Tyler, Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pharrell Williams (pictured above).

Hmmm… while I’m not a Pharrell fan (I don’t dislike him, I just have never listened to his music), the rest of the guys on this list are pretty cool.

Pharrell looks like royalty here, but is that a tiara on his head? Wayta go overboard, dude.

Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie pirate role only seemed effeminate, and Areosmith's Stephen Tyler did scream out something about a “Dude Looks Like  A Lady”… but I’ve been a Pierce Brosnan fan from before his turn as James Bond, back before when he was Remington Steel (no one wears a leather dress jacket like that and makes it look elegant!)… and the fabulous fresh prince Will Smith (TV, movies, music star) and damn… that soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo dude who just might be the most handsome man on the planet…

Hey… I’m confident in my own heterosexuality to not have a problem complimenting another man’s appearance - everyone should be able to do that. Women do that all the time, and they aren’t all gay or bisexual… even if you want them to be.

Anyhow, to make a pearl necklace, there’s a lot of prying open of oysters (stop making me laugh)… and to create a 47-pearl 16-inch necklace, sorters have to fine pearls that match each other… meaning it could take searching through 10,000 pearls to find 47 identical ones.

For those of you marveling at the No. 47 - my semi-private joke about how often this number appears - the pearl fact is correct.

Pearls are not just found in oysters... rather you can find them in clams, mussels, and other bi-valve shelled mollusks - such as conch, quahog . I did not know that.

For those of you who wonder how pearls are formed, be prepared to be surprised.

From www.pearls.com, I found this:

Natural pearls form when an irritant - usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand - works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called 'nacre', is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.

I knew it was an irritant, but usually a parasite? Hunh.

Pearl Shapes:

Depending on whom you ask, the pearl is supposed to have "significance".

For example, pearls symbolize innocence, love, perfection and purity.

Gold and black (Tahitian) pearls are symbolic of wealth and prosperity, while freshwater pearls are said to help open the heart to receiving love and to encourage self-love.

I'm pretty sure I don't need pearls to dig self-love. Oh... it doesn't mean what I was thinking...

Japan's pearl industry is reported to be more than US$5-billion a year.

Mikimoto Kokichi (御木本 幸吉 - surname first - March 10, 1858 – September 21, 1954) of Toba-shi (鳥羽市, Toba City) in Mie-ken (Mie Prefecture), Japan, successfully created the world's first cultured pearls.

Mikimoto Kokichi (standing) watching a worker prepare an Akoya oyster for future growth of a pearl.
Mikimoto-san was concerned about the pearl industry in Japan depleting the Akoya oysters from over harvesting by greedy pearl hunters, and decided he would try and grow cultured pearls in 1888. On July 11, 1893, he had his first success after numerous set-backs, including red algae blooms destroying his "farm".

The site of his success is on the island of Ojima near Toba, now known as Mikimoto Pearl Island.

So... what is known as Mikimoto Pearls, are essentially Akoya pearls - only grown or 'cultured' on a oyster pearl farm. It's why they don't get a listing here. But, check'em out at www.mikimoto.com.

Therefore, a cultured pearl is a pearl created by an oyster farmer under controlled conditions, and can be done with either freshwater or saltwater mollusk... namely freshwater river mussels, or saltwater clams... but... as mentioned above, any bivalve critter can make a pearl.

Anyhow… there are five varieties of Japanese pearl:
  • Abalone pearls;
  • Akoya pearls;
  • Biwa pearls;
  • Kasumi pearls
  • Kasumiga pearls;
  • Keshi pearls.
Abalone Pearls
Abalone pearls are found naturally in Japan, U.S.A. (California, Oregon, Alaska), Mexico, Korea(s), South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The key word in the above sentence is "naturally". The oyster that produces these pearls is a hemophiliac, meaning that when it is cut, the blood will not clot meaning it can bleed to death.
This means it can not be 'farmed', thus its pearls are found naturally.
But, there is a technique where human intervention will create a "farmed" abalone pearl, that supposedly will not cause it to bleed to death: attach a nucleus (no surgery required) to the inside of the shell... and because a half-spherical plastic bead is used, these resulting pearls normally turn out to be Mabe or blister pearls, which are hollowed out, filled in and backed with a hard back before mounting. But it's not as cool as the real, natural abalone pearl.
As you can see from the image, these pearls are gorgeous! They are the most colorful of all the pearls, and are found in rocky, coastal waters around the world.
These abalone are plentiful... however, they do not tend to get irritated a lot, and thus rarely produce pearls.
It is estimated that one would need to harvest 100,000 abalone to find one pearl that fits the ideal abalone pearl look. That "look" is gauged by its vibrant colors, should have a mirror-like metallic shine, have a symmetrical shape, not be hollow, and measure over 15mm in diameter.
The other issue is that the abalone pearls can grow into different shapes—ergo, no standard shape can be discovered.... it can look like a shark tooth, round, or baroque (see chart above for pearl shapes). Baroque-shaped abalone pearls, however, are the more common form - such as it is.
Colors are iridescent, and contain differing amounts of green, blue, pink, purple, silver, and sometimes creamy white, with the blue and pink hues being the most-prized.

Akoya Pearls
When those in the know think about Japanese pearls, the Akoya pearl is what they mean.
A saltwater cultured pearl from the Akoya oyster (Pinctada fucata martensii), it is the most abundant saltwater pearl, with the longest history.
They are the classic pearl, with perfect round shapes and bright mirror-like luster and neutral colors such as light pink, white, and yellow-ish. Sometimes, these pearls appear in baroque shape, but are not the ideal shape.
Japan is the biggest producer of Akoya pearls over 7mm in size, though they are also found in the Koreas, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, though for pearls under 7mm, China is the biggest supplier. Sizes of 10 to 11mm are rare.
As you would expect, one finds only one pearl in an oyster... except in this oyster's case, you might find two.
One pearl is a standard Akoya pearl, but the other is considered to be a keshi (ケシ - means "poppy"), a small non-nucleated pearl formed by left-over gunk when the real pearl is grown... and is a term for any pearl grown without a nucleus.
Did you know that freshwater oysters/clams can produce multiple pearls at the same time (not that uncommon), thanks to "farming", which is why saltwater pearls are more expensive.
Just because it sounds cool—freshwater—doesn't mean you are getting high quality.
Colors are usually white to grey featuring pink, green or silver overtones.
Rare is the blue Akoya pearl with silver and pink overtones.
Here's the thing... the pearls should look neutral in color... anything else and it means it has been color treated. I know... who knows what the heck you are buying! If you see a black Akoya pearl, for example, you know it was colored, wither with an organic dye or it was blasted with Cobalt-60 radiation. When your significant other says the pearls make you glow, now you know why.
These pearls are sometimes called Mikimoto pearls... but that's a brand name.

Biwa Pearls
Japan's largest lake is Lake Biwa, a freshwater lake in Shiga-ken (Shiga Prefecture)... and I only know that because of the major crush I had (?) on Kristine South who lived in that area some 500 kilometers west of me. The lake was so named because it supposedly was in the shape of the Japanese musical instrument, the biwa.
The lake was once a large producer of Biwi freshwater pearls... amongst the earliest of places where pearls where first cultured... only nowadays, man-made  pollution has made the abundance of these pearls fairly uncommon.
Still, we are talking about a freshwater pearl, right... so sometimes more than one pearl can be found in a mussel.
Lake Biwa's pearl industry began in 1914, and the term 'biwa pearl" was initially used to describe was any freshwater pearl.
Biwa Pearl farmers cut the shroud of a living mussel instead of introducing an external body into the mussel, causing it to produce nacre, which eventually leads to the formation of a pearl.
Production reached about 600 tons of Biwa pearls in 1971 but, as mentioned, thanks to pollution, Biwa Pearl production has virtually ceased.
But it's not just pollution, it was over-harvesting that has led to this Biwa mussel becoming almost extinct.
Fear not... though not the same, in other Japanese lakes, pearl farmers are breeding the Biwa mussel with a similar species from China.
Biwa pearls are often called "stick" pearls because of their shape, and are often flat and narrow.
They come in various colors, notably white, pink, silver-grey and cream. Because these pearls are un-nucleated, they seem to have a higher lustre and sheen.


Kasumi Pearls
Kasumi pearls are considered to be large, rare pearl produced in Japan's freshwater Lake Kasumi-ga-Ura.
This lake area used to be a big place for freshwater pearl production from the 1860s on--second to Lake Biwa (see Biwa Pearls above) in number of cultivators and production. But, pollution hit this lake, too during the 1980s... and for about 10 years, no pearl harvesting occurred, only returning in the early 1990s.
Where once there were hundreds of pearl "operators", there now only three.
Lake Kasumi is located north of Tokyo and the Kasumi pearl is cultivated via a hybrid mussel mixing Hyriopsis schlegelii and Hyriopsis cumingii. These pearls are a large baroque style of 9-13mm. If you look at the photo above, you can see why it is referred to as an 'oil slick' pearl color... but you can see more of one color than an other hence, colors variations of purple, pink, white and gold.
As you can see, owning a set of these pearls isn't about owning a strand of identical beads - no... this is about dazzling individuality. I, personally, have a thing for this type of look - like with the Abalone pearls.
With just three people making up the Kasumi pearl industry, you can bet your sweet bippy, that these pearls are considered rare.

Kasumiga Pearls
Kasumiga pearls are considered to be a rare pearl variant... because one guy (Sali Harue - surname first) works with them, and deals specifically with one dealer the BELPEARL Company), and thus we have the rarity.
Lake Kasumi (also known as Lake Kasumiga) is where these pearls are from.
From what I understand, Ayoka pearls are being used as the nucleus of the Kasimuga pearls. By nucleating pearls, the pearls end up rounder.
They are cultivated from the same mussel as the Kasumi pearl mussel... a hybrid mussel mixing Hyriopsis schlegelii and Hyriopsis cumingii.
The unique mussel that produces these naturally pink pearls, can produce pearls that range from approximately 9mm to 16+ mm in size.
In the world of western pearls, customers seem to think that rounder is better.
As you can see from the www.belpearl.com website, the pears are rounder than the Kasumi pearl counterpart, and lack that oil-spill look - usually. Colors appear to be silver, purple-grey, yellow-gold and pink, along with 'oil-slick' for lack of knowledge on my part.

Keshi Pearls
I talked about these types of pearls earlier... but a keshi (ケシ - means "poppy"), a small non-nucleated pearl formed by left-over gunk when the real pearl is grown... and is a term for any pearl grown without a nucleus.
Originally, the term "keshi pearls" referred to any pearl formed when a bead nucleus was rejected.
Because they have no nucleus, keshi pearls are composed entirely of nacre. And, because you read this far, nacre is what is known as 'mother-of-pearl'. I love that iridescent look.
As you can see from the image above, they come in various sizes, shapes and colors because they can occur in any type of mollusk.
They became popular after traders from India saw these keshi Akoya pearls and even though they were considered to be garbage/waste pearls, the traders though they could sell them to customers in India and to visiting Middle East traders. One man's trash is another man's treasure.


I don't see what the big deal is re: men wearing pearls. I might not want a necklace of the oyster puke, because I no longer wear necklaces... but as a jewelry ornament, why not.

Men wear earring now and they aren't even pirates, so what's the big deal.

I have a black star sapphire ring with five diamonds in a tasteful men's 18K gold ring. I own unset jewels such as topaz, and a star ruby... and if I was still wearing jewelry other than a watch, I think that as long as it looks chunky IE more masculine, then sure... no problems...

Since some women like to call men pigs, but for men and pearls, this is truly a case of pearls before swine.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, January 27, 2017

Overworked Woman Commits Suicide


I sat on this story for nearly a month after Matthew sent it to me…

Yet another Japanese junior salary man killing himself from overwork?

Then I realized it was by suicide… and not the more traditional way I had seen in the past involving the worker simply dropping dead from overwork.

Suicide…

Japan has long had a culture whereby everyone (Japanese) in a company is expected to put in hours and hours of unpaid overtime every day as means of showing the bosses that the company comes before everything else in this world.

I always left my school or board of education at the regular non-overtime period when I was a junior high school assistant English teacher because… WTF… I wasn’t Japanese, I don’t believe that work trumps all. Sorry for using that word.

I missed out on a few things, of course… as the company that works together, in long  unpaid overtime, would go out with each other to a local bar and get absolutely piss-faced drunk.

It didn’t matter if you were single, married, male or female… if you were part of the lowly salaryman/office worker at a Japanese company, that was your expected lot until such time that you graduated to middle or upper management… at which point you could still work the extra long unpaid hours every night, but at least you had an office with a door so you could shut it and get a few hours of sleep while those under you pretended to work extra hard.

Crap… I saw guys fall asleep during the day and make up time during the evening, so in my mind it all evened out… but really… just what sort of job demands one work all those extra hours simply because they have to?

Shouldn’t the work simply be done sooner?

What do they do when there’s nothing to do?

Do you carry stuff in your hand, walk around with a scowl on your face and answer people who ask how you are with a simple angry shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders?

On December 25, 2015, the very pretty Takahashi Matsuri (surname first)—that’s her in the framed photo at the top of this blog, with her parents—committed suicide after she had apparently racked up over 150 hours of unpaid overtime in the single month leading up to her death.

So… 150 hours divided by24 days (not including the day she killed herself), implying an average of 6.25 hours of unpaid overtime every single day for 24 days.

That does NOT include any time off for weekends… we’re talking 8 hour work day PLUS 6.25 hours OT  = 14.25 hours a day… for 24 days straight…

Keep in mind the average human being needs anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night… that leaves her with 2 to 4 hours a day to have dinner, relax… oh wait… those hours also include travel to and from work… and holy crap… what about that effing team bonding thing…

Look at that poor woman… she would have had to fend of drunk men and women continually.

There was no time to unwind… no time to decompress… it was work, work, work all the time.

Takahasi worked for Japanese advertising company Dentsu

The advertising field is already a crazy field, where the hours are long… and overtime is the norm… and I can only imagine how much more of that it would be in Japan.

For Takahashi… it wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing… it was a punishing and grueling workload… and rather than just quit the job, she chose to quit her life.

We can all say that was stupid… but, if one tries to play devil’s advocate… failing at one’s job in Japan can be a devastating experience.

What is this was the one job she had always wanted… and to quit… it could affect one’s psyche.

My former backyard neighbour… his kid was trying to get in to Dentist’s school, failed to… and he snapped. I was eight when that happened… and all i saw after that was a grinning, drooling poor dumb man who snapped. He never worked… ever… staying with his elderly parents until they died about 40 years later… and… no idea what happened to him.  

He couldn’t speak, except in nodding howls… and I know he could… he was very nice and stable…

As for Takahashi… death by overwork is known as karoshi…. and while her suicide was because of overwork, it’s not the same thing… seppuku… that’s the Japanese word for killing one’s self…  

We do not know the chemical-balanced state of Ms. Takahashi… was there a mental health issue?

Did her suicide really come about because of the anxiety from being overworked? It might not be a chemical imbalance, but it is a mental health issue brought on by her work environment… and that at least is something Japan can fix easier than a chemical imbalance.

I know many people who suffer from some sort of mental health issue, and no, I’m not one of them.

Dentsu president and chief executive officer Ishii Tadashi (surname first) agreed to resign in the wake of Takahashi’s suicide—but this was only after Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare declared that her suicide was caused by overwork.

In my opinion…  the fact that Japan has a federal ministry that covers “Health, Labour and Welfare”… well… that’s a problem right there.

Why should one government agency watch over labour (work) AND health?

Work and welfare… sure… but health?

Not when Japanese culture encourages unpaid overtime… and failure to perform as signs of weakness… of not caring about the work family… the most important family…

I know that Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo has tried to make such unpaid overtime practices illegal… but its still a work in progress… with labor reforms not yet finalized.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Coke Flavors In Japan - Not So Weird

Japan is known by pundits as the place where one can take something simple and make it a monster.

A plethora of flavors for Kit Kat chocolate bars, Fanta and Pepsi soft drinks are known to dazzle and confound those of us who wonder just how the heck "anyone would want to have that flavor?"

I have, in the past compiled complete lists for every single Kit Kat bar and Fanta drink found in Japan (to the best of my knowledge)... and so far, no one has called me on any omissions...

While I know that Pepsi has been active in creating some interesting taste combinations for the people of Japan, I hadn't even looked at what Coca-Cola might have done.

Whatever they had concocted, I bet it was crazy - because for some reason people think that green tea mixed with anything is tasty. But what do I know?

It turns out that Coca-Cola (Japan) Company, Limited hasn't fallen prey to the mass marketing of "limited edition" crazy flavors to build hysteria in the gotta catch'em all world of Japan.

First... some background.  

Japan is considered to be Coca-Cola's second-biggest market after the U.S.,with over ¥‎1-trillion (US$10 billion) in annual sales.

Yes, Japan still loves the Coke brand, but despite the 70+ versions of Fanta, the Japanese prefer the multi-facted Georgia canned coffee... which is actually quite good hot or cold (they have vending machines that provide those options).

But that's not it... they love their green tea (o-cha)... and drinks with garlic flavor and stuff you would think no one in their right mind would ever want as a nice refreshing beverage - but that's why we aren't working over in Japan in the beverage or snack food industry. 

Really... do any of you know what a durian fruit smells like? Would you want to drink kimchee? I'm sure it's tasty as a food, but to drink?  Just go eat some kimchee! No one craves kimchee that much that they need a liquid fix until they can hit a Korean restaurant! No one!

And didn't the Japanese hate everything Korean? I'm guessing not!

As the No. 1 softdrink manufacturer in Japan, Coca-Cola has some 850 different drinks - and that's NOT including discontinued brands. And, many of these 850 different drinks can only be found within the nearly one-million vending machines scattered across the country.

Coca-Cola (globally) has four brands that bring in over $1-billion a year in sales. Four of those brands come from Japan.

No... it's not Coke... or Coke Zero... rather it's:
  • Georgia Coffee (all versions);
  • Aquarius (similar to Gatorade - does any non-athlete need that much salt?);
  • I Lohas - another Japanese brand featuring the letter "L" that few Japanese can pronounce properly... still, FYI, Lohas means: Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. I still don't see any grammatical significance of I Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability... but it does make me want to read an Anne Rice novel; 
  • Ayataka, a green tea beverage. I acknowledge that green tea is probably good for you... but it's Japan, man... if you aren't served at least seven cups of o-cha a day (at least!!!) you are probably unemployed. I think they get at least eight cups in a Japanese prison.... a number based on pure imagination. Actually, this brand is produced by Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten, a traditional Japanese o-cha manufacturer who were bought/partnered by Coca-Cola. Aya means "to incorporate tea leaf quality". Taka is symbolic of noble presence and precious tea. So... a very cool name.
I really don't understand the Japanese... when they aren't having cup after cup of o-cha at work or at home, they are now also having bottled green tea when they aren't sipping piping hot cups of the stuff. Really? Really.

Green tea beverages in Japan constitute a ¥777-billion (US$7.5-billion) packaged beverage market in Japan... and now many Japanese people prefer to get their green tea fix in a package they can take on the go - hence Coca-Cola's huge share of the market.

For a mere ¥140 (US$1.30) for a 500mL (one pint) bottle, Ayataka is a big deal.

Did you know that Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten is a 1,600-year-old Kyoto-based company? Yup... the grow tea... and create high-quality o-cha powder for tea pots... and now for on-the-go Japanese, Singaporians, Hong Kong Phooeys and the Taiwanese. I don't know what to call the people of Hong Kong. Sorry.

Tea products and the Georgia Coffee products... it's about 40 percent of Coca-Cola (Japan) Company, Limited's sales. Coke and Fanta they have a total of 20 percent, leaving the rest (40%) of its sales to come from other drinks.

Unlike Pepsi--and nothing against Pepsi, Coca-Cola does not put out weird/interesting flavor variations of Coke.

Not including Zero, Life, Diet, Caffiene-Free or the classic regular Coca-Cola, my perusal of the Internet came up with some very basic flavors:


Coca-Cola Green Tea

You know that old saying about how you can't get enough of a good thing? In my opinion, this flavor disproves that adage. I believe it debuted on June 8, 2009. According to the company, it contains tea antioxidants called catechins, leaves a slight green tea aftertaste and is mainly targeted at health-conscious women in their 20s and 30s. That explains why I never had one.


Coca-Cola Lemon
Coke and lemon... mmmm... now where's the dark rum?! It last appeared in Japan for a limited run in July of 2014.

Coca-Cola Vanilla

I don't think this one lasted long in Japan... but I've had it quite a few times in Toronto (a couple of months ago, in fact. It's delicious, but in my opinion, it's not something you would want time and time again. I can not find an exact launch date in Japan, but 2007 is my best guess. I am unsure if it is still available in Japan.


Coca-Cola Citra
Launched on May 29, 2006, it features(ed?) a lemon and lime mix. There was also a Coca-Cola Light Citra version in Japan, too.


Coca-Cola plus Vitamin C

Apparently, this Coke will give you 81 percent of your daily requirement of Vitamin C. And without any calories. Introduced in 2008, it was known in European markets as: Diet Coke Plus or Coca Cola Light Plus.

Coca-Cola Orange

This went on sale in Japan in November 2014. Unlike other European version that contained orange fruit from concentrate (1%), the Japanese version did not contain any actual fruit juice. Depending on its sugar content, I would buy this... at least one to try... but not if it was too heavy in sugars.

My love of Coke turned me diabetic - Type II... well actually, cookies, ice cream and chocolate bars, too. Sweet tooth... I thought I was invincible... no one is. Except Superman. And even he's allergic to kryptonite and magic. Me? I'm Batman.

On the Japan Coca-Cola website, however, I did find:

Coca-Cola Plus Ginger Extract Flavor
This was available as of January 23, 2017.Obviously Coca-Cola with a strong hint of ginger creating a "warm spiciness" according to Japan Today news media. Don't blame this on Japan, though. Australia saw it first in November of 2016.

Are there more? I'm betting yes... anyone out there have any Coke flavors they've seen  over the years?

Just eight Coke flavors in Japan? Seven shown above and the regular Coke?

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Winds Blew Radioactive Materials From Fukushima To Tokyo

I get press releases from the University of Tokyo - in case any of you wonder why I have been presenting more than their fair share of news. Other universities or scientific research communities in Japan are welcome to do the same as long as the press release is in English or bilingual. E-mail me with your coordinates.

If you glanced at the headline, and know all about the March 11, 2011 9.0 Magnitude earthquake that spawned a monster tsunami that helped disrupt the power and thus safety features of a nuclear power generating facility in Fukushima causing multiple releases of radioactive materials into the ground, air and water, then that headline should elicit a complacent “D’uh.”

Still… it’s good to have proof, and the University of Tokyo has it.

University of Tokyo researchers have revealed through observational data analysis and computer simulation that what are known as nocturnal local winds played a key role in carrying radioactive material released into the air by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, from Fukushima to the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Radioactive material was frequently detected in Japan’s capital region following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 200 kilometers away. However, the mechanism by which the air mass including radioactive materials (radioactive plumes) got transported to the country’s largest metropolitan area from Fukushima Prefecture to its northeast was not fully understood.

A research group led by project researcher Yoshikane Takao (surname first) and associate professor Yoshimura Kei (surname first) at the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science analyzed observational data and ran computer simulations (using the semi-Lagrangian transport model) to determine whether the radioactive plumes were carried by chance haphazard activity in the air or by a regular mechanism in the atmosphere.

The scientists found that the radioactive plume moves along two local wind systems that appear during the night on calm days when the impact of northwesterly seasonal winds and low-pressure systems are low, namely local wind systems comprising a northerly sea wind blowing off the Fukushima coast toward the eastern Kanto region, including Tokyo, and a northeasterly local wind associated with a meso-scale—few-hundred-kilometer—low-pressure system (meso-low), which develops around the Kanto region in the nighttime.

They also discovered that the gravity current (consisting of a lighter upper layer of warm air and heavier lower layer of cold air), which appears due to difference in north-south temperatures, is primarily responsible for the formation of the nighttime local winds.

These findings indicate that should radioactive material be released over a long period of time, radioactive plumes could be frequently carried even to faraway places by nocturnal local systems, and cause serious contamination in those areas.

On the other hand, it is possible to make a rough prediction, by knowing the cycle of the winds, of when, where, and how the radioactive plumes will travel. The current results could prove useful in determining when to seek shelter to avoid exposure to radiation.

“Stronger risk management strategies that allow for quick and cool-headed response to unforeseen situations are being sought,” says Yoshikane. “It is necessary to take into account local factors specific to each area, such as geographical features and traffic conditions. We hope that by expanding our study we can contribute to the development of risk management strategies through exchanges with people in other fields, government agencies, and local governments.”

This study was supported by the Strategic Basic Research Programs (CREST) of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) as a project covering “A tracer simulator of fallout radionuclides for safe and sustainable water use” in the research area “Innovative technology and system for sustainable water use.”

-30-

And there you have it all spelled out by scientific research.

Wind blows stuff around.

Betcha needed to have scientists prove that little nugget, right? Riiiight.

I think there was probably already such data and research done after similar nuclear power generating facilities at Three-Mile Island in the U.S. and Chernobyl in the then-USSR (now part of the Ukraine)… but at least with this current evidence, it can better help Japan understand when safety protocols should be enacted when radioactive materials are ejected into the air…
… because you never know.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Bar Sherlock - Tokyo Bar For Sherlock Holmes Fans

Last month, my buddy Matthew went back to Japan for work and to visit his in-laws.

Matthew, like myself, is a former JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme assistant English teacher - both of us working at junior high schools in Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), but living nearby to each other in the small, rural Ohtawara-shi (city of Ohtawara).

Matthew got married in Japan to the lovely Takako, and had has two kids... one a full-blown adult... the other a young teenager... time flies.

Matthew was the one who got me into the Sherlock Holmes detective books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - for which he has my gratitude.

During his recent visit back to Japan, he stopped in Tokyo and visited Bar Sherlock - a Sherlock Holmes inspired bar.

I don't know why a bar in honor of Sherlock Holmes exists in Tokyo, and I don't care - the fact is, it's cool.

The door to the place is classic - a 221B notation - even though it's NOT the Bar Sherlock address:


Bar Sherlock is located:
Ginza 6-9-13 Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
1st Paul Star Building 5F

Opening hours Monday - Friday 4PM - 1AM
Sat 4PM - 11PM - Closed Sunday and other holidays

TEL: 03-6280-6283
E-MAIL: info.barsherlock@gmail.com

It's a small bar - comfy... cozy... and while it does attempt to create a Holmesian retreat, it's still a 21st century Tokyo attempt - meaning don't expect much more than the bar staff to be in costume, and maybe have a bit of architecture.

The alcohol and/or food is key, and I would say that is where it lets one down by serving drinks atypical of Victorian England... which is also a curious decision, because how many 21st Century Japanese want to have 19th century drinks? Can the owner make enough money that way? Probably not.

It's not the type of place where you should go in and get loud and wasted... and while they serve food, it's pretty much standard fare - no pizza or steak or burgers.

I went to their website and translated everything... they have cocktails, alcoholic standard fare and a minor selection of food - but the point is... you just go in and soak up a bit of the reflective ambience.

THE MENU

Cocktails
Standard Cocktail: ¥1500
  • Passion Fruit;
  • Salty Dog - I know what this drink is... but don't know WHY a Passion Fruit cocktail is offered.
Original Cocktail: ¥1600
  • Sherlock (I wish they would say what was in it? Absinthe? Opium?;
  • Bonita (Say what? Where's the Dr. Watson On The Beach? The Killer Moriarty?)
Drinks
  • Whiskey: ¥1300;
  • Brandy: ¥1500;
  • Glass of Wine: ¥1500;
  • Champagne: ¥1800;
  • Beer: ¥1000
Food
  • Nuts (this should always be free in a bar): ¥800;
  • Chocolate: ¥1000;
  • Beef Jerky (WTF??!! Who goes to a classy-looking bar and has beef jerky? I love it, but come onnnnn!): ¥1000;
  • Dried Fruit: ¥1000;
  • Cheese Platter: ¥1300;
  • Raisin Butter (I assume it's buttered raisin bread - but it's Japan, so you never know: ¥1000;
  • Pickles (dill? takuan?): ¥1000;
  • Oil Sardine (that's the direct translation, but I assume it's sardines in oil... hopefully a plural for sardines): ¥1200;
  • Hot Sandwich: ¥1300
Lastly, I should point out that Sherlock Holmes (the character) did like to drink good alcohol, but never enough to dull his senses.

He was a connoisseur of French wines, was fond of good alcohol.

His favorites were: burgundies, especially Montrachet and Meursault.

In story "The Sign of Four", he drinks red burgundy for lunch. In “The Gloria Scott” he drinks port after dinner. In “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” Holmes has a glass of claret (a red Bordeaux wine). In "His Last Bow", he tries a bottle of Hungarian wine: Imperial Tokay.

Holmes, who was also fond of whisky and soda, had a gasogene in his sitting room for making soda water.

He drank brandy for medicinal purposes and occasionally had a glass of beer.

As an expert on wines, spirits, and beer, Holmes used his knowledge of the habits of imbibers to solve some of his most difficult cases. Or so his author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mitsubishi MRJ Passenger Jet Delayed Again

I’ve heard of delays to promised manufacturing builds before… but seven years late?

That is what delays to Japan first ever commercial jetliner from Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation means to customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) - a fifth delay and push-back of a delivery date of the twin-engine Mitsubishi Regional Jet - the MRJ (三菱リージョナルジェット).

I guess it’s not like the old days when Japanese aircraft manufacturers were churning out aircraft during WWII—this time, there are more regulations that have to be observed.

The old WWII Mitsubishi Zero plane, for example was a lightweight and very fast aircraft that buzzed Allied competition for awhile - the only problem being that in order to achieve the light weight and incredible speed, there was less armor on the plane - meaning it was easy to destroy if hit.

That’s not the issue with the MRJ, though. This time Mitsubishi says it’s “due to revisions of certain systems and electrical configurations on the aircraft” it needs to meet proper certification requirements for regulatory approvals.

See? Told ya… I hadn’t even read that far ahead before I wrote that bit about regulations (it spoils the rawness of how I choose to write this blog).

Welcome Japan to the fantastic world of building your own aircraft!

Japan hasn’t tried to build it’s own airplane since 1965 - the NAMC YS-11 built by the Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation. It lost money.

So… does it count as a Japanese-built airplane if the 92-passenger jet has engines made by the American company Pratt & Whitney?

I don’t think so…

These engines (and Japanese-aircraft design) help deliver a 20 per cent fuel savings over other similar type aircraft - which is great!

But… with 230 orders for the MRJ, can it afford yet another delay to production - especially when it’s trying to compete against Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer companies - both of whom are in the business of being leaders in the construction of passenger jet aircraft with 100 seats or fewer?

It’s not just Japanese airlines (ANA) that have orders in for delivery of the MRJ - no… Sky West Airlines, Trans States Holdings and Eastern Air Lines all U.S. regional airlines want their airplanes and want them now.

But… let’s not step on Mitsubishi too much… in this day and age, every single aircraft builder has experienced the embarrassment of delays… and to tell the truth, I know I’d rather fly in an airplane that was built right the first time it had real paying passengers in it.

There are currently four test MRJ aircraft flying around - it made its first flight back on November 11, 2015.

I first wrote about the jet back in April of 2013 HERE, where you can click and see schematics of the airplane, or HERE where in October of 2014 I offered up specifications of the 78-seat and 92-seat versions.

So, okay Mitsubishi - get it right. Just try and avoid any further delays. Heck, NASA almost made it to the moon in less time... or did they?  Let's find out.

I believe it was on May 25, 1961that JFK (U.S. President John F. Kennedy) promised the U.S. Congress that America would safely land astronauts on the Moon before the end of the decade. (Actually, he implied a safe trip.) Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

So… how long has the Mitsubishi MRJ been in the works exactly?

Well… in 2003, Japan’s federal government initiated a plan to have a Japan-built regional jet constructed, with Mitsubishi in the lead… something that would hold between 30-50 passengers… but in 2005 it opted to a design that could seat 70-90 passengers…

At the 47th Paris Air Show in June of 2007, Mitsubishi showed off a full-scale mock-up of the cabin… targeting certification by 2012…

Mitsubishi formerly began to offer the MRJ for sale to airlines in October of 2007.

So… if we look at the actual “For Sale” date of October 2007… we are at nine years and about three months.

For comparison… when JFK made his proud boast, it took NASA eight years and two months.

Ergo, it took NASA less time to get two men on the moon (three to it) than for Mitsubishi to get the first MRJ passenger jet to a customer.

… just sayin’…

Tora, Tora, Tora, 
Andrew Joseph

Monday, January 23, 2017

New Coca-Cola Flavor In Japan: Coca-Cola Plus Ginger

While doing research on Coca-Cola flavors in Japan, I came across this little nugget.

Starting January 23, 2017, Coca Cola (Japan) Company, Limited is offering - for a limited time only - a new flavor: Coca-Cola Plus Ginger Extract Flavor.

If anyone tries it - let me know what you think!

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, January 22, 2017

バットマン - Batman Comics In Japan

I am a comic book fan.

I own over 35,000 comic books -and bought them not because I wanted to make a buck, but rather to entertain. That's why I am a fan.

I believe the very first comic book I bought was Amazing Spider-man #89, where (spoiler alert) Doctor Octopus unmasks Peter Parker and tosses him off a roof at the end of the book.

I never did see get my hands on issue #90 to see if he survived. (spoiler alert - he does). I saw it recently, but decided to purchase Spider-man #76 instead... a better deal was proffered by the shopkeeper.

I ended up, over the years owning Amazing Spider-man #1, Fantastic Four #2, The Avengers #1, X-men #2... and all the key issues, excluding Incredible Hulk #181 (1st appearance of Wolverine), despite owning most of the issues before and after it. That was just bad luck on my part

At this point in my life I wanted to own every issue I didn't have... but whether that's greed, a need to fulfill some emotional pit in my soul or simply because I wanted to read them, I couldn't tell you. Probably all of the above. I purchased the collections of at least six friends.

And lest you think I was just a complete nerd - I wasn't completely - despite living in my parent's basement, playing Dungeons and Dragons and enjoying Star Trek.

No... I also played the accordion and later the piano, as well as the clarinet, sax, trumpet and basically all woodwinds, brass and keyboard instruments. I also did judo and was very good at soccer. My favorite sports top watch were boxing, hockey and baseball in that order.

I was also a fan of hard rock and roll... and still own a decent collection of original records of the common and uncommon variety. That along with collection sports cards... 

I remembered stats from sports... and from comic books... but struggled mightily in school. I can only assume my brain was full of non-school related stuff. 

As for those cool key Marvel comics (recall that I bought collections from friends) And that's just Marvel. I always considered myself both a Disney Duck guy and a DC comics collector - preferring not to have so much angst in my life that Marvel Comics provided.

Hey! I even have over 900 Richie Rich comics and the same for Archie et al. Later during the 1980s, if it was a comic book, chances are I bought it.

I wonder now, just where the hell I had the money to buy all these things... and can only assume it was because I had a summer job every year from the age of 14 up... as well as generous parents and other adult family members. 

Spoiled? Yeah. I can't disagree.

I purchased comic books (and sports cards) until July of 1990 when I went to Japan to teach English on the JET Programme - a one year deal that ended up being the then-maximum three years... with me coming back home to Toronto and buying up the three years worth of books I missed while I was away.

I continued to purchase comics regularly until about 2011 when the cost of raising a kid came home to eventually bite me on the butt.

I still like to think that when it comes to comic books, I know more about my hobby's history than most people involved in it - mostly because I studied it, purchasing books and magazines on the subjects... and... not only did I purchase reprint comics from the 1960s and 1970s, I bought the collected works issued in the decades after...

I had purchased my first comic book price guide in 1978... and made the incorrect decision when armed with $100 and a half-price sale at the Silver Snail comic shop in Toronto to purchase Uncle Scrooge #1 rather than Human Torch #3. Both were in VG condition.

That's how much I loved my Disney ducks. I still have the book, while I have, over the years sold all those key Marvel issues mentioned above... which also kills me now when I see how they are valued as of 2017.

Nowadays I get my fix on the various comic book -related television shows and movies... occasionally buying collected softcovers of stuff just to keep my brain involved.

This past Saturday, while looking for a topic du jour to write about, I was checking out the Uncle Scrooge comic books my brother had given me that were originally published in Denmark.

A friend in Sweden had purchased and sent a Donald Duck comic to me back in the 1990s, but I knew that in Denmark (and all of Scandinavia), they love Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics to the point where they purchase those books far more often than they did here in North America.

These comics were created new and just for the Scandinavian market, the same art and stories but translated into Dutch, Swedish and other languages. 

It go me wondering if there were any such Disney books in Japan - and yes, I'll get to that in a later blog... but I did see a Japanese version of Batman... created by the Japanese for the Japanese market.

And it was published 50-51 years ago - 1966-67 in Japan and never repackaged and republished. Holy timewarp!

I had seen a softcover collection of it in the local bookstores over the past few months - hoping someone would get it for me for birthday or Christmas... but instead, I went out and bought it myself just yesterday.

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga - Volume 1 (of three, I believe) - translated to English... but maintaining the Japanese SFX (sound effects) in the art, with translations below each panel.... and, here's the kicker... presented in a Japanese book format, meaning you read it from right to left... and the same for the panels in each story!

There's no mistaking the fact that this is still Batman in a Japanese art style, but it's not your typical manga either!
Everything is right to left... and to make sure you aren't confused, this DC comic compilation has tiny numbers in each panel so you know where to go to next.

I wasn't sure what to expect - hokey 1960s Batman stories a la the funny and charming 1960s American Batman television show that was very similar in scope to what the comics were like at the time...

Or would it be Batman and friends with those typical Japanese manga (comic book) huge eyes - an art style I hate.

But no... while there was a bit of a simplistic look to the characters akin to the early 1960s DC comic books, the stories themselves were similar in tone to the late 1960s-early 1970s Batman that was redesigned by DC's New Look program, that made Batman et al appear grittier... harking back to WHY Batman was originally popular... back to when he was the Dark Knight detective.

I was pleasantly surprised!

バットマン aka Baatoman or Batman is a very good read to these experienced comic book fan eyes.

Heck... maybe it's just the thrill of reading a 50-year-old series of one of my favorite comic book characters for the very first time.. but no... the stories are quaint and enjoyable.

Yes... the first story involves the hokiness of a villain who can slow his heart and breathing down to deathlike appearances - what that old nugget?! - but the action!

People are getting shot and killed!

I might hate that typical Japanese manga art style with the big eyes - which this lacks (thank goodness) - but the Japanese know how how to convey a fight scene!

It's not muted in speed lines or color like we get in today's books - heck... if anyone saw the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie, the speed and extreme close-ups in the fight scenes meant the audience couldn't really see it properly.

But here in this so-called Batmanga... no, let's just call it a Japanese publication of Batman... you can see Batman fighting henchmen without the SPLAT! POW! and SMACK!

In this two-page spread, Robin drives the classic 1960s TV show Batmobile around the cemetery quickly so Batman - hanging by a rope - can kick and take out the henchmen of Lord Death Man - admittedly a crappy name... Lord Death would have sufficed.
Hey, I have nothing against the 1966-68 Batman television show... I developed a keen fondness for the female form after watching various actresses parade around in leather cat suits... but it's interesting to note that the Japanese version of Batman did not fall into that trap.

Heck... there aren't even any female villains in this series.

Consider, if you will, that the Batman television show starring the best Batman actor ever, Adam West, was phenomenally popular in Japan in the late 1960s.

As such, shōnen magazine Shōnen King and its publisher Shōnen Gahōsha licensed the rights to make their own Batman stories, with the full consent of the original Batman publisher, DC Comics.

It was written and mainly illustrated by Kuwata Jiro (桑田二郎 - surname first) who was born in Suita-shi (Suita City) Osaka-ken (Osaka prefecture) on April 17, 1935.

He was assisted in the art department by Okazaki Toshio and Minaomaru Takashi (surnames first).

I couldn't find out a heck of a lot about Kuwata, except for what I have stolen here from Wikipedia:

A gifted artist, Kuwata started out as a manga artist at the young age of 13, when he created The Strange Star Cluster (怪奇星団?) in 1948. His turning point came in 1957, when he created Maboroshi Tantei (まぼろし探偵?, Phantom Detective) (which was adapted into a tokusatsu TV series in 1959). Since then, Kuwata devoted himself to creating science fiction/superhero adventures. His most famous was 8 Man, which he co-created with writer Kazumasa Hirai.

Unfortunately, in 1965, when he was to finish the final issue of 8 Man, he was arrested for possessing a handgun (he had contemplated suicide). With Kuwata in jail, co-creator Hirai got other manga artists to finish the final issue, but wasn't satisfied with it. It was published in a manga magazine, but has never before been reprinted.

Nevertheless, Kuwata, released from prison shortly thereafter, continued his manga work well into the 1970s, but also ran into depression and alcoholism. In 1977, he had an epiphany and converted to Buddhism. He has since done beautiful art books about the life of Buddha. He also occasionally got back into manga work, and in 1992, he agreed to do his own version of the final issue of 8 Man, upon being asked by co-creator/friend Kazumasa Hirai.

See? Nothing on Batman.

In fact, DC comic book writer legend Paul Levitz (he wrote the Legion of Super-Heroes - one of my all-time favorite groups and book that I have every issue of from the 1970s on up) - this guy knows everything about DC Comics, and up until recently, he had never heard about Japan creating its own adventures of the Caped Crusader and Robin the Boy Wonder!

But he's the one who green-lit the republication of Kuwata's work for us English speakers to enjoy.

In fact... Batman Inc. (2010-1013) written by the fantastic writer Grant Morrison (if you see his name on a comic book as a writer - buy it - oldies like Animal Man and Doom Patrol - wooo, mind-blowing stuff - especially the Doom Patrol!) added in the first issue (Volume 1) many references to the Batman manga... including Lord Death Man.

A character in that book is named Jiro Osamu... which appears to be an homage to Kawata Jiro and Tezuka Osamu (surname first), the latter is the man who created Astro Boy.

I should point out that Lord Death Man appeared in the May 1966 issue of Batman #181 (American comic) but only as Lord Death - so despite the slight variation in the name, it is not an original creation by the Japanese artist.
Despite the popularity of the television show, Batman had already (1966) stopped being hokey and had become grittier, as we can see Robin falling into an open grave as Batman battles the gun-toting Death Man in Batman #181.
Anyhow... at US$14.99 and over 350 pages in length, it's a cost-effective way to spend an afternoon.

Banzai!
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Three-Million Blog Hits

Thank-you - all you regular readers, drop-ins mistakenly hoping for porn, and bots from China and Russia! You have all helped make Japan—It’s a Wonderful Rife reasonably popular!

Three million (3,000,000) hits - achieved at around 10AM EST on January 18, 2017.

Not bad, considering most people start a blog and then realize they either don’t have the time to populate it regularly with content, or they simply don’t have anything to say, or… failing to realize that just because you have a blog and don’t have 10,000 hits a day or thousands of followers or that you can’t figure out how to make money from your blog - it doesn’t mean it’s not successful.

That’s why most people quit - that and they may not have any real interest in writing.

Most people I know have something interesting to say, but lack the means/skills to make it sound as interesting as they hoped. That’s what writers/actors/artists - whatever are for.

That’s cool.

There are many other blogs that cater to the Japan audience that have 10 or more articles published a day - with writers and more contributing their talents - and you know what… many of those are decent, decent sites for information on Japan.

The problem with writing about Japan, however, is that it’s like the 1870s all over again.

You recall the 19th century, right?

That was when everybody wanted to tell everybody about Japan and how cool it was. It was like you couldn’t swing a cat in village with a newspaper without someone trying to tell you about Japan… letters sent to and from sailors… artwork being shipped from Japan… artists being influenced by Japan… it was Japan - Japan - Japan…

I went to Japan in 1990 - and believe it or not, others had been there before me and had written about the place too… actually lived and stayed there… learned the language and everything….

I can’t compete with that.

When writing about something, you have to come up with some way to make your blog stand out - even a bit.

Whether it’s a fancy blog title: Maia Does Japan was intriguing to me… O don’t think she realized it was a play on words for an old, but very good AV/porno movie series: Debbie Does Dallas. If she did know that, then Maia is even more intriguing.

Look at this blog: Originally entitled “It’s A Wonderful Rife”, I added the “Japan—“ bit about one year in… to make sure Google knew I was writing a blog about Japan and not just being incompetent with my spelling of a Jimmy Stewart movie.

Thing is… some people have pointed out to me that my use of the word “rife” could be construed as being racist in its tone… picking on the Japanese inability to say the letter “L” for the most part.

There’s no “L” in any of the three Japanese alphabets… so they substitute “L’s” for “R’s”. Add in the fact that It’s A Wonderful Life was one of my favorite movies - presto!

Now hold on! I also can do a mean J-J-J-Jimmy Stewart, you see.

Even in my head that sounded brilliant.

But… using the term “Rife” is not racist. If anything I’m being insensitive… but not racist. But if anyone feels that it is racist, that is your right and I’m sorry.

As many of you know, I wrote down my daily thoughts and actions in the form of a diary while I was in Japan for those three years… and rewrote them to be more coherent and put it out in my daily blogs…

Everything in them was honest, and real… and made many a person look stupid - including myself.

There’s raw emotion, featuring sex… agony… confusion… success… anger… more sex… more confusion… not as much success… and I think there might be a few more types of emotion tossed in as well… but I’m not sure because I’m not that smart.

I have always peppered this blog with information… not the typical - oh there’s anew Kit-Kat flavor - and wow, Japan sure does have a lot of Kit-Kat flavors… and then list 10 of them…

No… I’m the dumb schmuck who will actually spend 20 hours trying to find out just how many different varieties of Kit-Kat there were produced (NOT released) in Japan…

I did the same for Fanta drinks… I spent hours upon hours researching Japan’s auto industry… and OMG you don’t want to know how long I spent creating related blogs on Japan’s current robotics industry and how it was all related to the way it kept time via the Lunisolar Calendar.

That’s right… from calendars to robots that dare enter a radioactive nuclear reactor… and how it’s all related.

I like to say that I am compiling my own Encylopedia Japonica… but written in a manner that is easy to understand (I read complex science journals and then spend hours trying to dumb it down so that I not only understand it, but so anyone can understand it and explain it themselves!)…

You know that saying: “Too much information”?

Fug that! I hate that adage!

I know to what it relates, but honestly, that just tells me people are too uptight about a lot of things.

Anyhow… I don’t believe in TOO much information.

I believe in giving people ALL the information I can find to get a complete picture of any given subject.

And not just ALL - but ALL the information I can CONFIRM is CORRECT!

The internet is full of crap. You did know that. Not everything on the Internet is real or true. Sometimes well-meaning people pass along incorrect information. Sh!t happens…

But I spend far too many hours trying to find a reliable source or multiple evidences (that don’t say the exact same thing) to prove one simple thing.

I guess that’s my OCD… to seek the truth.

I suppose that’s why my 92 followers have clicked through a cumulative 3,000,000 times… LOL!

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph