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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

All Blacks Save Japan



What we have here is a fantastic television commercial from insurance company AIG Japan, featuring New Zealand's famous national rugby team known globally as The All Blacks (in reference to their kit, of course).

AIG is a global sponsor of The All Blacks. 

Sometimes stupid, sometimes brilliant, Japanese commercials are always fascinating. This commercial isn't stupid, by the way.

Thanks, Vincent!
Andrew Joseph

Monday, June 26, 2017

Japanese Schools Killing Interest In Learning English

According to a national survey conducted by Benesse Holdings Inc., an education services provider, almost half the junior high school students surveyed felt that the English language skills they are taught at school are "useless."

D'uh... I could have told them that without the need for a costly survey.

In fact, almost all the language skills you learn in school are useless, with the best way to learn any language, in my opinion, is to learn it conversationally.

That doesn't mean, however that the "school learnin' ain't" valuable, it just isn't something that you can use in day-to-day living.

Math is like that too. After learning to do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division the AVERAGE person does not require further math skills.

I said AVERAGE... which is what most people on this planet are.

When it comes to learning a foreign language like English - all the rules and regulations you need to know to be considered Japanese capable, are ridiculous.

I know that the junior high school Japanese kids actually know English grammar far better than I do.

Let me clarify that. I know how to write and speak English properly - better than 90% of the population by non-professional estimation - but if you asked me about grammar beyond verbs and nouns, I would be at a loss to point out what's what.

I am sure there are some very smart people out there know what a dangling participle is and why it's important. I just know what sounds right and use it appropriately. But as for as those who know what it is, so what?

How does that work for you in your daily life? Perhaps Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would have cared, but his improper use of a dangling participle worked out well for him: "To boldly go where no man has gone before"... SHOULD HAVE BEEN: "To go boldy where no man has gone before."

Yeah... I see the grammar and yes, Roddenberry was incorrect... but so frickin' what?

Oh Gene Roddenberry, how bad was your grammar? Let me count the dollar signs. Ka-ching!

In Japan, students feel that what they are learning in school is useless.

They are actually taught a ton of grammar - which I can tell you sucks the life out of anyone interested in learning a new language.

It's why the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme was initially created... to help Japanese students hear what real English sounds like. That and internationalization...

While almost every Japanese teacher of English (JTE) has done some studying abroad, there is little opportunity to use their English-speaking skills in Japan... thus it deteriorates... which is why we have Japlish.

You can't teach kids how to speak a language if no one can speak it properly... which was why they were so grammar-heavy, and which was JET participants came in to help kids to speak a less Japlish form of English. I said LESS. I expect a Japanese accent.

JET also realized the its participants from native English-speaking countries would also be placed in a position where they could carry on English conversations with young Japanese students. At least that was a hope.

Speaking a foreign language is always more difficult than understanding it when heard. You can pick up a word here or there and get the gist of something.

Reading and understanding is also difficult, because it's a different alphabet, and there's grammar issues - but the gist cab be understood.

Writing and understanding - holy crap that's difficult. Now this is where grammar really comes into play.You either know it or you don't.

Like I said, when it comes to English, I get it, even if I don;t know why I get it. I'm special. Or lucky.

Perhaps it's because I read a lot that I am more cognizant of English grammar, but again... I don't know what a gerund is. Knowing what it is does not add anything to my enjoyment of writing... I think.

Japanese students want more conversational English because they know that it will benefit them more should they ever travel abroad or want to converse with an English-speaking foreigner.

I had some JTEs teaching English who couldn't speak the language in a manner that made it easy for ME to understand. And that's too bad.

Researchers with Benesse's think tank agree that the grammar-heavy curriculum discourage students from learning English, and have called for reforms to keep students motivated once they reach higher levels of English-learning.

To read an article on the Benesse survey, click HERE to read a Japan Times news article.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Nothing But Fuming

I'm still fuming hours later after my team lost two games at a tournament. The first we had no business losing - two guys thrown out at the plate by an overzealous coach... who did it again in the second game.

And... a botched triple play opportunity.

Runners on first and second, no one out. Batter hits the ball to the 2Bman... the runner on second doesn't move for some reason. All my 2B has to do is tag the runner, step on second base and throw to 1B for a triple play and help the pitcher out of a jam. The score was 4-4 at that time.

But no... despite screaming loud enough for the fans at the other nearby diamond to know what I wanted him to do (tag the guy on second base), he throws to 1B to get one out... runners advance to second and third... and went down hill after that.

I expected to lose this game, but we were playing so well until that point and had a real chance to pull an upset.

It's hard to believe that after five years or more of playing kids don't know what to do. I swear, if I get to pick my own team next year...

Well... what's this got to do with Japan?

Teaching at seven junior high schools in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City) in Tochigi-ken (Prefecture of Tochigi), I had many opportunities to see junior high school teams practice baseball.

I have only ever played baseball two years as an adult... but always hacked around with friends and played everyday in school at recess, lunch and before school... in other words, I had far more baseball experience than MY team does thanks to an inability to do anything outside of organized sports than play video games.

I have no idea what things are like nowadays in Japan re: junior high school baseball... but back then they played ball for about three hours a day six days a week... .which is a lot, but not as much as some Japanese Little League Teams who do that, play have a 10-hour practice on Sunday.

I do recall being invited to play on the Board of Education baseball team against some other local team... my contact lenses were screwing me around... astigmatism in full bloom... and I couldn't hit a damn thing... a completely embarrassing situation for me that day, and probably for my office.

But, even though I sucked as a batter, I played stellar defense... I caught everything hit my way... and this is me without any formal baseball team training... just hacking around.

Nowadays, since my son (a decent player) is involved, I have learned to be a much better hitter... I go out with my son, spend money at the batting cage and hitting clinics, and listen in as he is taught... and now I can hit anything 70mph or slower.

I know I can hit an 80 or 90 mph fastball... I would need maybe 30 pitches to be able to time it, but I know I could hit it... and then my muscle memory would be set from then on...

I know I wouldn't embarrass my BOE office nowadays, even though I'm no longer in shape, have a torn (never healing) meniscus in my knee... but I can play... I just can't.

I just hope that these kids on my team eventually understand that in order to get better at something, you have to practice and practice often. Eventually... they'll regret not being able to play.

It sucks being a coach... but it sucks when you see kids giving an effort, and you realize it could be a greater effort if they actually worked at their craft.

I'm about 15,000 hours in nowadays in writing... well over 3,200 blogs, 100 in the newspaper, 400 magazine articles, and 25 published comic book stories... and I'm still learning... but that's because I practice everyday.

If you have kids... don't have them play organized sports so much, rather take away their tablets, video games and cell phones and tell them to go out and have some fun.

Blah-blah-blah... we'll try again with a better blog about Japan tomorrow after we play another early morning baseball game at the tournament.

Andrew - still fuming and frustrated - Joseph

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Godzilla By Dark Horse Comics

There have been a few American comic book incarnations of Godzilla in the past 35 years, beginning with the entertaining, but ultimately weak Marvel Comics series in 1977-79.

As of 2010, IDW Comics has put out numerous mini-series of Godzilla... but while pretty to look at, I find them confusing to follow, and thus not worth my time.

But sandwiched between them was a series published in the mid-1990s from a comic book company called Dark Horse Comics, who made their initial living by doing comic book adaptions of movie characters, such as Star Wars, Predator and Alien, and even creating the plausible Alien vs Predator series that led to an exciting movie version.

(Ed Note: Predators seed planets with Alien eggs... they hatch... Predators go out and hunt the Aliens. Brilliant.)

Godzilla actually started being published by Dark Horse via one-shots in 1987... and held the rights for 12 years until 1999.

But Dark Horse Comics' Godzilla... was one of the best... with a true movie feel to each issue.

You can actually find reasonably price trade paperback collections of the series at various on-lone stores, or the actual single-issues... beautifully drawn, good dialogue and plots that mimic the feel of a movie... and covers that make you want to crack open the book and read it.

The cover of Issue #4 above is by Arthur Adams, at the time (1995) one of the best artists over the past decade.

Anyhow... I've got a baseball tournament this weekend (Friday's game was rained out), and I've just spent two hours creating line-ups for the team's two games on Saturday... am I wrong to not play a player who doesn't show up for practices and missed our last game without explanation (a game that was our first win out of seven games this year)? I'm playing him... just not as much as the others who have come out and shown improvement.

Anyhow... we'll see what tomorrow's blog will bring...

How can you go wrong with a comic book featuring Godzilla that actually uses the Japanese script for his real name of Gojira? That's in the top left below the company logo.

That's how serious the the series was in capturing the look and feel of the Godzilla movies.

Look for it if you have a few bucks lying around.

As for the baseball stuff... I'm only nervous about getting to the field on time. It gets me every game. But once I'm there... I'm calm. As a player of soccer as a kid, I was nervous right up until the time I had my first touch, and then... focus.

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

SSKREEEEOONGKK!!!
Andrew Joseph
PS: This particular issue was recently purchased for me by my friend Rob, who has obviously forgotten that I bought the stuff originally when it came out. Still... it sure beats having to look through 35,000 comic books to find my copy. Thanks, Rob.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Chiba Lotte Marines Terrible Mascot Idea


I’ve long called the whole human-sized mascot thing American kabuki - I know I didn’t come up with the term, but did see it in an American parody magazine around 25 years ago when I was in Japan.

Mascots… I have no real idea what their purpose is… to entertain, I suppose… but if that’s the case, few actually succeed.

The original San Diego Chicken, the Phoenix Gorilla, the Toronto Raptors Dino and the Philly Phanatic are a few that have excelled at the art of being entertaining.

Japan… in an effort to try and make as many people outside of its country vomit with an over abundance of cuteness, has taken to using mascots like a cat to a sandbox… yeah, think about that the next time you let your kid play in the local park litterbox.

Anyhow… what we have here, is the mascot(s) for Japanese baseball team the Chiba Lotte Marines.

I have nothing against the team… I’ve bought their Chiba Lotte chewing gum while I was in Japan - it was not an unenjoyable experience… it was gum, you know.

But for some reason… and this is from a YouTube post on June 13, 2017, the team decided to introduce a new mascot.

I think.

Taking its cue from Pokemon, when low-level pocket monsters can evolve into stronger versions of their bloodline, at least twice, the Chiba Lotte Marines decided to show its baseball fanbase the origins of the mascot.

Beginning with a colorful angler fish that featured a cursive capital M on its bulbish esca or illicium (the so-called lure atop its head)… we see the fish take an elevator to appear on the home baseball field as a cross between the same angler fish and a human… with arms and legs…

Okay… while the legs are human-like…. the arms are actually still fins… so scratch that whole arm thing… until later. 

So… while the Chiba Lotte Marines mascot is running around the field, it suddenly stops and barfs up its third form… what looks like the skeleton of a fish, if a fish had arms and legs.

After a little while, the skeleton goes back into the fish’s body by crawling back in through the mouth… runs around some more as the second form of the fish… and barfs up the skeleton again… and repeat, before finally realizing it has scarred enough small children to last well… let’s just say I am never ordering a Filet-O-Fish ever again.

While I won’t apologize for the music which is written in the scale of Sea (that’s two jokes in three words), you can turn down the volume because it is truly unnecessary.

Watch the video and join me and wonder aloud just how anyone thought this was a good marketing ploy for anything.

Man… it just makes the team look so… bush league.



Man... at least add a question mark...


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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

WWII Japanese Insult

Because my baseball team won its first game of the season, here's a little something my buddy Vinnie sent me...

It's a baseball card of Babe Ruth that I had never seen before. It's an early one, depicting him as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox... back before one of the greatest home run swatters was still only one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game.

Rather than me blather on too much about it, if you have US$60,000, this rare card - perhaps only 10 known to exist, can be yours.

Did you know that during WWII, the Japanese in an effort to demoralize Americans would shout out the taunt: "To hell with Babe Ruth!"... considered by them to be the greatest insult possible to the American soldiers...

... perhaps another reason why Japan lost WWII.

Should you wish to purchase this card, click HERE to visit the auction site. 

And... just because... below is a photo of myself and my son Hudson taken a couple of weeks ago by my younger brother Ben.
Yes... they make middle-age men dress up in the same uniforms as the 11-13-year-old players. I am, in this photo, wearing uniform No. 47.... a jersey I have since relinquished after signing up a kid who is actually taller and as wide as me.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Take The Last Train From Kyu-Shirataki

When it comes Japan’s rail system, there are many a thing which makes the non-Japanese marvel, usually in awe.

There’s the wonderful shinkansen bullet trains and other now beautiful high-speed trains.

There’s the white-gloved  line operators who help cram passengers into rush hour subway cars - and no one complains.

There’s the fact that Japan’s rail service is run on time with few delays.

There’s the fact that when a suicide does the act in front of a train, relatives of the deceased must pay the cost for the ‘clean-up’ and delay.

And then there’s the fact that one train line operator decided to keep a train station open just because one single person required the use of it for their daily trek to and from school.

I have always said that I would continue to write this blog as long as there was a single person who wanted to read it (I know I have that)… but it’s not like it costs me money… just an hour or two every day to write. And it’s my pleasure.

But… in the case of Japan Rail - (actually the Hokkaido Railway Company known as JR Hokkaido) to those who live in Japan, it had actually kept a train station open on the Sekihoku Main Line in Engaru, Hokkaido, and made its twice-a-day stop at the station just to cater to a single passenger.

It didn't do it because of nepotism or payment of a blood debt, but rather because JR Hokkaido felt that it was the right thing to do.

The station was opened on February 11, 1947 under the Hokkaido Railway Company, but after the privatization of Japanese National Railways (JNR) on April 1, 1987, the station came under the control of JR Hokkaido.

At Kyu-Shirataki eki (Kyu-Shirataki train station, 旧白滝駅) (see image above taken in 2009 - from Wikipedia) in Japan’s big northern island of Hokkaido, the train actually stops a few times a day: once to pick up a female high school student to take her to school, once to drop off the girl at the end of the school day, and a few other times after that.

Wait... what's with the few other times it stopped... could it be there were actually other riders? Yup... a total of 10, it seems.

Dammit, why did I go and look that up? I destroyed the romantic notion of the story.

Oh well... let's pretend it's just the lone female student.

The station's name translates to Old Shirataki... it was an unmanned station, but had a closed room building to wait in...   

A small, rural part of Hokkaido, a few years ago JR Hokkaido thought about closing the station because there simply wasn’t any ridership except for a few students who needed it to get to and fro school.... but each year more and more students graduated high school and no new younger students arose to take their place.

At the beginning of the school year in April of 2015, there was only the single rider… closing in March 2017 when the student graduated... and no new student riders arose to take her place.

While it is true that there were more than the lone female student who used the train, she was the only student.

So, when she graduated, JR Hokkaido closed the station because well... despite the needs of the other nine people, it did value the education opportunity of the lone student at a higher premium.  That's what's cool.

While I am unsure if any can blame the lack of young students requiring a train on the fact that Japan’s birth rate is dropping to negative numbers—you can’t… rural areas in damn near every country are suffering as more and more young people who grow up in rural areas, leave and head for the local city.

The people who remain grow old, and towns and villages and hamlets grow smaller… and smaller… and smaller.

Anyhow, what we are left with after JR Hokkaido finally closes service to the Kyu-Shirataki eki, is a wonderful taste in our mouth… how JR said screw the almighty yen, and let’s just do what is right for people in this area, and especially for the last female student to use it to get an education.

Man… I sure hope that student is off to university and does something special.

Eww… I hope she can afford to go, if she’s coming from a shrinking rural hometown.

As for those other people who used the train station... let's hope they found their way.

Kyu-Shirataki eki closed following the last day of services on March 25, 2016, and was demolished in October of the same year.

By the way, along with that station, JR Hokkaido also closed Shimo-Shirataki Station, Kami-Shirataki Station, and Kanehana Station due to low ridership.   

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks, Matthew!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Aladdin Makes Me Sad

This past weekend, the 1992 animated Disney flick Aladdin was on television.

I recall it was pretty funny, what with Robin Williams as the frenetic genie, and Gilbert Gottfried as Iago the parrot… but I couldn’t recall a whole lot else about it.

I had always thought that Aladdin was too similar to sound like el a-din… which sounds more Arabic.

The original folk story of Aladdin was part of the classic The Book of One Thousand and One Nights which you know better as The Arabian Nights.

Although not part of the original English-language edition from 1706, the story of Aladdin was added to this  collected works at some point before 1788 (the story was performed as a play in 1788 in England)…. so it would have had to have been added earlier.

The Arabian Nights collection includes such wonderful tales as: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor… but guess, what… these are ALSO later additions to the collected works.

Anyhow… Aladdin the 1992 animated flick.

How could I have forgotten. It was the very first movie Noboko and I went to see it in the theaters of Utsunomiya (capital city of Tochigi-ken) in 1993… it takes almost a year for western movies to appear in Japan owing to the translation of subtitles that need to be done, or conversely, the voice translations that need to be redone into Japanese, and the addition of English subtitles.

In this case, the Aladdin Noboko and I saw was one with Japanese subtitles.

We enjoyed the movie immensely… Noboko fancied herself the beautiful princess, and me the roguish diamond in the rough Aladdin.

She actually called me a diamond in the rough in this example.

Does that mean she though I was somewhat rough around the edges, but had enough fine qualities to be a diamond. 

Rough around the edges?  Me?

Was that an insult or a compliment?

Was it a mistranslated thought from within her pretty little Japanese head into ugly harsh English?

I’m a diamond in the rough.

That means someone who is full of potential but has a coarse exterior.

What the fug does that mean?

Was she calling me unpolished?

I think she was?

Did she want someone who was more polished… less rough… I thought she liked it rough. Sometimes.

Or, did she merely mean that amongst all of the roughness in this harsh world, I am a diamond?

Cold, emotionless…

Or smooth and full of facets?

Hmmm… as I write all of this… it just hit me… I did ask Noboko what the heck she meant…

She really did say I was a bit rough around the edges…

I thought about it for a minute and stopped choking her… she was correct.

But was that because she was comparing me to other men, or to Japanese men?

It wasn’t because of my style of dress… I dressed like a successful Colombian drug lord… diamond earring, long hair, deadly wicked beard… a knowledge of many things in the bedroom that she never had complaints about.

I showered often, cooked her food, took her out, paid her way, treated her like a princess, probably jumped her a little too much as I really enjoyed having sex with her… maybe that’s what she meant… but I never hear any complaints…

The Aladdin movie brings back conflicting emotions for me.

Diamond in the rough being one… but just knowing I was holding her hand or stroking her leg or smelling the apple blossom scent in her hair… we now stand for our national anthem…

And it also reminds me about everything wrong with Japan… and everything wrong with me… and everything wrong with me and Japan.

And I know I don’t want to watch this movie ever again.

You can see what I mean about things below:



Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Death In The Family And A Look At Cyborgs

Okay... nothing major to be written by myself today.

My mother-in-law passed away on Saturday night of cancer after a fairly short battle, at the age of 88.

She was a dear woman who accepted me as part of the family immediately.

She will be missed.

For your entertainment, I'm directing you to an article I found on www.nippon.com that takes a look at the classic manga, anime and live-action movie: The Ghost In The Shell, that explains things in such a way that I know I can't.

If you are a fan of the cyborg concept I urge you to have a look-see: 

http://www.nippon.com/en/views/b06805/ 

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: That's was the home stuff I was talking about two blogs ago. Baseball is still ticking me off... but strangely, it's NOT the kids. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Tough Week For US Navy In Japan

The U.S. Navy is having a tough week over in the Sea of Japan.

On June 8, 2017, a crew member of the USS Shiloh went missing and was presumed overboard, with searchers from both the U.S. Navy and the Japan Coast Guard spending countless hours searching the waters.

The search for him was actually called off on June 11, but the crew of the USS Shiloh continued with their search onboard the vessel.

Turns out that gas turbine systems Technician (Mechanical) 3rd Class Peter Mims (see photo above) was actually hiding in one of the engine rooms of his ship, the USS Shiloh the whole time. I can only assume there was some mental health issue at stake here, and after a medical, Mims will undergo a psychological exam.

The Japanese Coast Guard estimates it searched over 5,500 square miles of water for Mims.

Mims joined the Navy in February of 2014, serving aboard the USS Shiloh since August of that year. He has been decorated with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

Ugh... I imagine the Navy had contacted his family about Mims being missing and presumed dead. That sucks... still, here's hoping Mims gets the help he needs. 

Then on June 17, at 2:30AM Saturday, the USS Fitzgerald, a 154-metre (505ft) guided missile destroyer ship collided with a merchant ship some 104 kilometers (64.6 miles) off the south-west coast of Yokosuka, Japan.

Seven U.S. Navy crew members are missing after the ACX Crystal, a 223-metre (733 feet) Filipino-flagged container ship.

Intake of water aboard the USS Fitzgerald has been halted - so no danger of it sinking.
After leaving port in Nagoya, apparently the ACX Crystal made a u-turn about 25 minutes before it collided with the USS Fitzgerald, traveling at a rate of 14.6 knots (27 kilometers per hours, 16.8 miles per hour).

Why it made the course change is not know, but 25 minutes… that’s a lot of time to get out of the way, isn’t it? It’s not… these are really big ships… but still…

Japan’s coastguard is again coordinating a search with the U.S. Navy for the missing seven Navy crewmen.

Along with the missing crew, three Navy crew were flown by helicopter to US Naval Hospital Yokosuka, including the USS Fitzgerald’s commander Bryce Benson. Benson is in stable condition, while the other two are suffering from “lacerations and bruises”, according to a Twitter tweet from the U.S. 7th Fleet.

There were no injuries to any of the 20 crew members aboard the ACX Crystal, which only suffered light damage to the left side of its bow, and is now docked in Tokyo.
ACX Crystal only suffered minor damage to its bow.
No need to point fingers now, but the night sky was clear, and the USS Fitzgerald is one of the world’s most sophisticated warships. An investigation will undoubtedly take place.

The Japanese port city of Yokosuka is home to the U.S. 7th Fleet and is the home port for 80 ships and submarines, including the USS Fitzgerald.

It is considered a very busy port area, with Japan having in the past called for specific east and west lanes for watercraft.

Meanwhile, the search for the missing crew continues.

Amended: As of Midnight on June 18, the bodies of the missing eight sailors were found in flooded compartments aboard the USS Fitzgerald.

That sucks.

Andrew Joseph
Photos courtesy of the US Navy.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Musing About Musings - or - Much Ado About Nothing II

I took Friday off from work for what I like to call a mental health day. I don't have any mental health issues that I or anyone else seems to be aware off, but dammit I was feeling a tad burned out.

Work. Home. Baseball.

Looking for a blog to write about - something that won't tax my brain too much - I thought about just what was it I did in Japan when I had a day off.

Firstly... I do have have several topics to write about thanks to Matthew and Vincent always providing me with topics... but I fear their topics would tax my fragile eggshell mind.

Today I did three loads of laundry, two loads of dishes, and vacuumed the house.

In Japan, I would do that stuff every other day.

Of course the three bedroom apartment in Japan was smaller, and the dishes and laundry never got a chance to pile up, but yeah... I did it.

The thing that is different in 2017 in Toronto from 1990-1993 in Ohtawara-shi, Japan however are great.

There was no internet at that time in Japan... therefore I didn't spend an hour writing to various people about how difficult it has been to coach baseball this year.

I'm just a dad. I never played except a couple of years immediate before going to Japan, and wallball or 500-up or just tossing a tennis ball against a ball or porch stoop every other day for 30 minutes.

Thanks to the internet (and tablets and home video games), kids these days have never played a game of pick-up baseball or wallball or even know what the hell 500-up is. I know this because I had to teach my team what 500-up is during a practice.

Kids today only seem to play organized sports - well, for the most part. I still see kids shoot a basketball at someone's driveway hoop. But dammit, there's no one at the park playing a game of football or baseball and sure as hell there's no one playing road hockey on some side street.

Kids do ride the bicycle around a bit... and then they get tired and come home and play video games... usually one person on a tablet and the other on the PS4... playing together but not playing together.

Being a loner - and I am - I get off on doing things by myself, but I am just as happy to have someone to share my time with. I can do both equally well, but truthfully I also enjoy being by myself.

In Japan after doing my chores, I would read a book, watch some inane Japanese television but not understand what the heck was going on, cook dinner (I did that for the first time today in years), and yes, play video games... I had a Nintendo Super Famicon, which we in the West know better as a Nintendo SNES.

I still have that SNES system that I bought in Japan... then again, I still have every system I ever bought going back to the mid-1970s.

I'm not quite a hoarder, because everything is placed neatly away, but then again...

If I had a day off in Japan, it was usually spent riding my bicycle around town trying not to get lost (a game I played and always lost).

I wish I could say I tried a lot of new restaurants, but dammit, I was too afraid to do so by myself.

Thank god for Matthew and his fearless persona dragging my sorry butt out to try new things.

For me, even after three years in Japan it was always the language barrier.

Imagine being illiterate... it was like that. People talking to me, but me not knowing how to respond, and hoping they didn't think I was being rude and only stupid.

Japan is a humbling. Especially when you don't work at correcting your inability to communicate. I surrounded myself with people who could communicate (in Japanese).

Pretty bizarre, I think, for a guy who made his living and makes his living with his ability to communicate.

If you met me in real life, we'd have no problem in finding something to talk about, as I am always interested in everything.

Even in Canada, I would say that my hobby is hobbies...

In Japan, on a day off, I might go and buy a 5,000 piece puzzle, and build it in a frame I would purchase at the same time and spend 30 minutes a night constructing it...

Then again, because I am an introvert pretending to be an extrovert I would go out to the local bar - sometimes with friends like Matthew or sometimes girlfriend Ashley, but more often I would go by myself.

The longest I ever went without female company in Japan was two weeks.

I bet that is something that you can't do in Japan in 2017. Go to a bar and get picked up by a different woman every time. Sad that stuff like that doesn't happen in Japan much anymore.

Then again... with my inability to communicate with words, physicality worked wonders. That and I probably looked exotic.

Someone at work said I was the whitest brown guy ever. Ha. I get it. I'm not very ethnic. Blame Canada. Or blame my parents. Or blame me. I only ever wanted to fit in.

I never could fit in in Japan... at least not the way I wanted to.

Communication is how we might do that in almost everyplace not in Asia.

Japan, however, is different.

Friendships are made and kept from school days, and grown in circles via work for the Japanese.

In my opinion, as a foreigner - even one who is fluent in Japanese - it can still be difficult to have real Japanese friendships - mostly because we lack that commonality of having been born Japanese.

Now that doesn't mean you can't have Japanese friends.

You can, of course... but it appears that there is still a divide.

But maybe I'm just full of it.

We Westerners think that the Japanese are closed off and insular... that they will never tell you what they are really thinking.

I know that's bullcrap. I could get them to tell me damn near anything.

But it was me who was closed off and insular... It took 20 years after leaving Japan for me to open up about myself and my time in that country.

No one knew how angry I was or how insecure I was because I wouldn't let my true feelings be know.

I'm glad this blog allows me a chance to right that wrong even if it's 20+ years after the fact.

Obviously I still don't reveal how I'm really doing at this very moment.

Although, for a couple of years, I did do that in another blog I wrote - even if I did use another name and persona.

John Lennon knew it: Everybody's got something to hide, except for me and my monkey.

Okay... back to a real blog tomorrow. Thanks for allowing me to muse without having to be amusing.

That was always difficult, by the way... always having a smile on your face... always having to be "on".

I told someone about that once... she asked me why I had to be on all the time... I didn't have a good enough answer for her then.

I think it was something along the lines of: you wouldn't like me when I'm angry, ala David Banner (the name used on the television show for Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk).

But really, now that I'm forced to think about it, I believe "pretending" to be happy all the time stopped me from sinking into a deep funk of non-clinical depression.

However, knowing that that's what I was doing also was kind of depressing.

It was a double-edged sword...

I think what keeps me sane and what kept me reasonably sane in Japan was the fact that I constantly psycho analyzed myself. I don't know if sane people do that, but it sort of has always kept me in tune with myself and the world around me.

Somewhere exhaling,
Andrew Joseph
PS: My baseball team isn't very good and I blame myself, because the captain always goes down with his ship. My mother-in-law has cancer and has, I suspect, days left. Along with the financial help she has provided (and now what do we do?), there's that whole mortality thing. Am I really surprised when I actually wake-up each morning and have to go to work? Why am I surprised?
It's raining now... and my knees hurt... it sucks getting old, but as my mother-in-law is showing me, there is a worse alternative.
Okay... I feel better. Thanks, people. I needed to decompress.
Believe it or not, writing about personal stuff like this is far easier than writing other types of blogs. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Meet Japan's Imperial Royal Family - 2017

Like most things Japan, when you try to take more than a surface look at things, you find out that it is far more complicated than you originally thought.

Now add in myth, godhood, sexism, World War II, samurai and shogun warlords, not to mention gaijin (foreigner/outsider) interference, and me looking at Japanese royalty is one effing difficult topic… one that I am sure has spawned more than its fair share of textbooks on the subject.

But what the heck… let’s try and cram it all together to learn a bit about Japanese royalty and why it’s a dying breed—no pun intended.

What is a royal family?

Japan’s royal family has three names… the Imperial Family, the Imperial House, and the Yamato dynasty.

In Japan, only men may become the leading ruler of Japan— the Emperor of Japan.

It’s not uncommon… United Kingdom, for example, is the the same. It took a weird bunch of circumstances for monarchs such as Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I and II to take possession of the throne.

In Japan, there have been six different female rulers (Empress), two of whom reigned twice, meaning at eight different points in Japan’s history, a woman has ruled the country as its Empress.

But it’s not as progressive as you might hope… These Empresses ruled during Japan’s early years between 593-770AD.

At least the Japanese monarchy data is considered to be “more real than myth” since just before the 593AD date…

So… it’s mostly been a sausage party when it comes to coronations.

皇室, or  kōshitsu, is the phrase used when denoting the Imperial House of Japan.

With the Emperor as the symbol of the State and the unity of he people, other extended members of the royal family only perform ceremonial and social duties and have zero role in government affairs.

So… who are these extended members outside of the Emperor?

Well, according to Wikipedia and Article 5 of the Imperial Household Law known as the Kōshitsu Tenpan (皇室典範), the Imperial family includes the:
  • Empress (kōgō, 皇后);
  • Grand Empress Dowager (tai-kōtaigō, 太皇太后);
  • Emperor’s legitimate sons and grandsons in the legitimate male-line (shinnō, 親王);
  • Consorts (wives) of those sons and grandsons (shinnōhi, 親王妃);
  • Emperor’s unmarried legitimate daughters and granddaughters in the legitimate male-line (naishinnō, 内親王);
  • Emperor’s other legitimate male descendants in the third and later generations of the legitimate male-line (ō, 王);
  • Consorts (wives) of those other legitimate male descendants in the third and later generations of the legitimate male-line (ōhi, 王妃), and;
  • Emperor’s other unmarried legitimate female descendants in the third and later generations in the legitimate male-line (joō, 女王).
So, if you are a royal woman who isn’t the Empress or Grand Empress dowager, as soon as you get married, you lose your right to be considered part of the Japanese Imperial family.

This holds true if you, a single female royal marry a Japanese plumber or if you marry a British royal (for example)… you are no longer a part of the Japanese Imperial family… but obviously you are, in this example now a British Royal and part of that family (but not if you marry a plumber of any sort - no offense).

The diminishing male line within Japan’s Imperial Family has led to concern that it may actually die out one decade soon.

The Japanese male line of descendants in the Imperial family was greatly reduced as a “punishment” to Japan by Allied forces following Japan’s defeat in WWII.

Led by American “peacekeepers” who re-wrote Japan’s current Constitution, the Emperor not only was forced to renounce his divine claim on Godhood making him a mere mortal to the Japanese and the rest of the world, but they also had Japan remove 11 so-called collateral branches of family from the Imperial House back in October of 1947.

After that point, only the immediate family of Emperor Hirohito and those of his three brothers retained membership in the Imperial Family.

Basically, what this means is that the Royal Family is now only allowed to consist of descendants from Japanese Emperor Taisho, who was the emperor and father of Emperor Hirohito… who ruled during WWII, and thus in the eyes of WWII winner’s was as much to blame for the war as anyone else in Japan.

Taisho ruled Japan from July 301, 1912 until his death on December 25, 1926. He was the 123rd Emperor of Japan.

The now extinct 11 Collateral Branches of the Imperial Family
Okay, that sub-head sounds harsh… it’s not like people from within those branches are no longer living, rather it is more accurate to state that that the 11 branches are no longer considered to be part of the Japanese Imperial Family lineage.

These now extinct branches of the Japanese Royal Family are called the Ōke (which literally translates into the Princely Houses, 王家) or the Old Imperial Family (旧皇族).

These family branches were created from the Fushimi-no-miya House.

WTF is the Fushimi-no-miya House?

The Fushimi-no-miya House (伏見宮) is the oldest of the four shinnōke (heads of each branch were essentially given the title of Prince), branches of the Imperial Family of Japan which were eligible to succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne in the event that the main line should die out. IE, no male heir.

The Fushimi-no-miya was founded by Prince Yoshihito (Fushimi-no-miya Yoshihito shinnō, 伏見宮 栄仁親王), the son of the Northern Court Emperor Sukō. As the house was founded by a Northern Pretender, the first three princes are sometimes not recognized as legitimate Fushimi-no-miya Princes. Still, Yoshito succeed in 1409 as Emperor.

So basically, the princes of the Ōke were on stand-by to rule Japan should it be found that no male heir existed from within the loins of the sitting Emperor.

Basically “thanks for coming”. You know what I mean.

Right now, there are a total of 19 people within Japan’s Imperial Family.

Five of them are male, meaning 14 are women:
  1. Emperor Akihito (明仁), born on December 23, 1933, becoming emperor on January 7, 1989;
  2. Empress Michiko born 正田美智子 Shōda Michiko (surname first) on October 20, 1934, becoming empress on January 7, 1989;
  3. Crown Prince Naruhito, the eldest son of the current Emperor, 皇太子徳仁親王? Kōtaishi Naruhito Shinnō, was born February 23, 1960. He is the heir apparent to the Japanese Chrysanthemum Throne;
  4. Crown Princess Masako was born Masako Owada (surname first, 小和田雅子) on December 9, 1963. She is the wife of Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan;
  5. Princess Toshi, born December 1, 2001, the only child of the Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako of Japan. She is the grand-daughter of the current emperor of Japan;
  6. Prince Akishino Fumihito (秋篠宮文仁親王, Akishino-no-miya Fumihito Shinnō) was born on November 30, 1965. He is the younger son of Emperor Akihito (and Empress Michiko), and is second-in-line to the throne. He heads his own branch of the Imperial Family;
  7. Princess Akishino Kiko (文仁親王妃紀子? Fumihito Shinnōhi Kiko), born on September 11, 1966 as Kawashima Kiko (surname first, 川嶋紀子). She is the wife of Prince Akishino (No. 6 on this list). She is known as Princess Kiko;
  8. Princess Akishino Mako (眞子内親王, Mako Naishinnō - surname first) was born on October 23, 1991, and is the first child and oldest daughter of , Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko and is the oldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito;
  9. Princess Akishino Kako (佳子内親王, Kako Naishinnō - surname first), was born December 29, 1994, and is the second daughter of Prince Akishino and Princess Akishino, and is the second-eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito;
  10. Prince Akihshini Hisahito (悠仁親王, Hisahito Shinnō - surname first), he was born September 6, 2006, and is the youngest child and only son of  Prince Akishino, and the youngest grandchild of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. He is third-in-line to become Emperor of Japan, after his uncle, Naruhito and his father, Fumihito;
  11. Prince Hitachi Masahito is the younger brother of current Emperor Akihito. He is the second son and sixth-born child of Emperor Shōwa and Empress Kōjun and is fourth-in-line to the Chrysanthemum Throne. 常陸宮正仁親王,  Hitachi-no-miya Masahito Shinnō, was born on November 28, 1935. He does not have any children;
  12. Princess Hitachi Hanako was born July 19, 12940 as 津軽華子, Tsugaru Hanako, she is the wife of Prince Hitachi (No. 11). She does not have any children;
  13. Princess Mikasa Yuriko was born as 高木百合子, Takagi Yuriko (surname first) on June 4,  1923. She is the widow of Prince Mikasa Takahito who was the fourth son of Emperor Taishō. She is the oldest member of Japan’s Imperial family;
  14. Princess Mikasa Tomohito was born as 麻生信子, Asō Nobuko (surname first) on April 9, 1955. She is the widow of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa (who was at one time sixth-in-line to the throne, and a first cousin of Emperor Akihito). She has two daughters;
  15. Princess Mikasa Akiko, surname first as 彬子女王, Akiko Joō was born on December 20, 1981, and is the oldest daughter of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa and Princess Tomohito of Mikasa (Nobuko);
  16. Princess Mikasa Yōko was born 瑶子女王, Yōko Joō on October 25, 1983. She is the second daughter of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa and Princess Tomohito of Mikasa (Nobuko);
  17. Princess Takamado Hisako (surname first) as 鳥取久子, Tottori Hisako on July 10, 1953. She is the widow of Prince Takamado Norihito (Norihito Shinnō, December 19, 1954 – November 21, 2002). He was the first cousin of Emperor Akihito and was the seventh-in-line to the throne. He died of heart failure after collapsing whilst playing squash with Canadian ambassador George G. Wright at the Canadian Embassy. The Princess has three daughters, with one of them marrying some commoner - so out of the Imperial Family she goes;
  18. Princess Takamado Tsuguku (surname first) as 承子女王, Tsuguko Joō. She was born March 8, 1986, and is the oldest daughter of Prince Takamado and Princess Takamado;
  19. Princess Takamado Ayako (surname first) as 絢子女王, Ayako Joō. She was born on September 15, 1990, and is the youngest daughter/child of Prince Takamado and Princess Takamado.
To conclude, No. 5 on the above list is where problems exist for Japan’s Imperial family.
Princess Toshi—being female—can not inherit the mantle of Emperor. She could become Empress, but only if no possible options exist for an emperor from within the family to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

If the current Crown Prince and Princess do not have a male heir, then the line of succession falls to the Current Emperor Akihito’s second eldest son Prince Akishino (no. 6 on this list), and if he passes before ascending the throne, then to his oldest son Prince Hisahito (No. 10 on this list).

If, buddha forbid, Prince Akishino and his son Prince Hisahito die, right now there are no more male heirs to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

It’s why Japan is seriously considering allowing married female royals to retain their royal standing as part of the Imperial Family… and therefore allowing for the possibility of an Empress to once again rule Japan with an iron fist. :)

Hmmm… I had a princess Nobuko…

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Stairway To Heaven - Japanese Style

I don't know what I was expecting, but damn this is one fine cover by Nijugen-Koto, who cover the rock and or roll classic song Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. And I love me some Zep! Strangely, this isn't one of my favorites, but the part where it kicks in and gets faster and more frenetic... well... that's kick-a$$...

... and Nijugen-Koto do a good job of presenting their version of it.

The group consists two koto players: Hisamoto Keiko (nijugen-koto) and Watanabe Masako (jushichigen-koto); and two shakuhachi players: Motonaga Hiromu and Kawamura Kizan - all surname first

The koto is the harp-sounding string instrument, while the shakuhachi is a wood flute played like a clarinet or recorder, as opposed to the standard flute manner.

I had the chance to play the shakuhachi while I was in Japan... surprisingly easy to play, surprisingly difficult to play well.

I'm one of those weird people who can pick up most instruments and play them almost from the get-go.

I did teach clarinet and piano before going to Japan and can play all brass, woodwind and keyboards instruments... but percussion and strings... nada. I might have got the talent gene, but not the passion gene from my uncle Harold Joseph who was the conductor of India's Army and conductor of the New Delhi Symphony Orchestra back in the 1970s and 1980s.

I never worked at music... as I said, I never felt it... but I get my arts out in other ways, I guess.

As for what this particular blog is all about... haunting... have a listen to Nijugen-Koto playing a cover of the Led Zeppelin classic Stairway to Heaven:
Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Shiseido launches skincare line for Millennials

Here’s a press release I found from Shisedo. I have zero affiliation with the company and am not compensated in any way shape or form, and present it here because it seemed interesting.


Tokyo, Japan (June, 2017) - Shiseido Company, Limited; Shiseido introduces a new and completely distinctive product range to market, WASO from Brand Shiseido. Designed for Millennials, the range has been crafted with authenticity at its core. Through WASO, Shiseido is redefining beauty – empowering Millennials to feel beautiful in their own skin whatever their gender, nationality, age or status.
WASO leverages the long standing expertise and innovation that Shiseido is known for through its exclusive formulas. 

The time has come to challenge the status quo and change the conversation about beauty. 

We believe that true beauty defies stereotypes and we believe in the power of the individual and the power of nature. We believe that all things beautiful come from nature.

 Introducing WASO, a new product range from skincare experts Brand Shiseido.

 What does WASO mean? The name WASO is drenched in authentic, Japanese heritage. It originates from a combination of two words, “WA” meaning a Japanese sense of peaceful, harmony, and “SO” meaning inspiration, idea and thought. What is WASO? It is skincare inspired by Japanese aesthetics. 

WASO is more than just a skincare line for Millennials. The new product line, and the campaign, champions beauty-from-the-inside-out.

To celebrate the new approach to beauty, WASO features five unique faces who are the brand’s ambassadors; their unique personalities and positions bring WASO’s counter-culture to life and change the perception of what’s pretty. 

Shot by Viviane Sassen, the WASO campaign places the new faces in the Japanese wilderness, creating strong images that represent the beautiful force and power of a generation. The contrast of dramatic backdrops with the group of diverse, confident and youthful faces creates a striking and simple portrait that is uniquely WASO. 
Further propelling WASO’s vision is Julian Klincewicz, creator of the campaign’s video content “on the Road Routine”, whose art consistency challenges creative boundaries. Selected not only because he is a master of many talents - videographer, art designer, fashion designer and creative collaborator – but also because of Shiseido’s dedication to creating an authentic voice for a new generation. At 21 years of age, Julian represents Millennials, the driving force and lifeblood of all that WASO embodies. 

Dvein, a collaborative collective that pushes the limits of live action and CGI storytelling, helmed by creative directors Teo Guillem and Carlos Pardo are the masterminds behind WASO’s Global Launch film. The film is a celebration of the key ingredients in each of the WASO products. Dvein have created a mesmerizing launch film that puts the ingredients at its heart and showcases them in their natural elements alongside the wonders of technology.

About the Range
Every component of the product’s formula utilizes safe ingredients based on Shiseido’s own unique standards. Patch tests under the supervision of dermatologists have been conducted. Skincare is food for the skin, and we never compromise on its quality.

 Shiseido has designed a unique method for formulating whole botanical cells into the WASO range, to deliver a total skincare solution, called Whole Cell Release System W. (for moisturizers). Designed to treat the needs of Millennial skin, the product range resolves skincare concerns like dryness, oiliness and visible pores. 

With Japanese ingredients as key ingredients across the range, WASO products contain: 

  • Ninjin (carrot) - the moisturizers infused with the power of carrots nourishes skin, and keeps it feeling soft and plump.
  • Biwa no ha (loquat leaf) - the moisturizers infused with the power of loquat leaves, hydrate and mattify skin so it has less visible pores and suppresses shine.
  • Tofu - the skin smoother infused with the power of soy lecithin, refreshes skin so you can feel its smoothness immediately. 

  • Shiro-Kikurage (white jelly mushroom) - the lotion infused with the power of white jelly mushroom delivers hydration to plump skin from within the epidermis.

  • Hachimitsu (honey) - the cleanser infused with the power of honey removes impurities and refreshes skin, without stripping away essential moisture.


The Millennial attitude toward life – and skincare – is already disrupting the beauty world. WASO’s ultimate ambition is to change the way beauty is seen and made, encouraging people to fearlessly embrace who they are… naturally. Millennials today are young-makers, doers and thinkers and they deserve skincare that is anything but traditional.


The Line-Up
  1. Clear Mega-hydrating Cream, a specially-formulated, intensely hydrating clear cream with whole carrot cells. 
Immediately plumps, softens and nourishes your skin throughout the entire day. For use under or over makeup.

  2. Quick Matte Moisturizer Oil-free, an instantly mattifying, oil-balancing, clear gel emulsion with whole loquat leaf cells. Leaves your skin feeling smooth, hydrated and less shiny.

  3. Color-smart Day Moisturizer, a skin-brightening day moisturizer with whole carrot cells. Adeptly changes color to enhance your skin tone, for long lasting hydration and healthy-looking glow. 
  4. SPF30.
Color-smart Day Moisturizer oil-free, a skin-brightening, day moisturizer with whole loquat leaf cells. Adeptly changes color to enhance your skin tone, for a matte, healthy-looking glow. 
  5. SPF30.
Soft + Cushy Polisher, a skin-refining exfoliating polish. The tofu-like gentle texture clears complexion and leaves your skin silky and smooth.

  6. Quick Gentle Cleanser, A heavenly refreshing cleanser with honey and royal jelly from bees.
The honey-like gel foams without water to remove makeup and impurities, without stripping essential moisture.

  7. Fresh Jelly Lotion, an epic hydrating lotion with ingredient derived from white jelly mushrooms. The jelly-like texture transforms into lotion on your skin, plumping (the epidermis) from within.
Availability
Available in some Asian countries and online in the U.S. from July, with further regions to follow across 2017 and 2018


WASO Instagram Account:
 https://www.instagram.com/waso_official/

About SHISEIDO:
Shiseido was founded in 1872 as the first Western-style pharmacy in Japan. The business gradually evolved into a cosmetic company, offering people the most advanced technology and finest aesthetics available in the East or the West. Shiseido is the premier cosmetics company with roots in Japan, the name of Shiseido has come to represent the world’s highest standards of quality. 
Shiseido’s global selection of skincare, makeup and fragrance includes a high-performance category for special skin care, and a brightening line. Shiseido also offers body care, suncare and a skincare line for men. Fiercely contemporary and innovative after 145 years in business, Shiseido is now sold in 88 countries and regions. Product information available at www.shiseido.com.

-30-

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In The Woods Of Memory - A Book Review


War is Hell

Attributed to William Techumseh Sherman, a U.S. army general during that country’s Civil War (1861-1865), the oft-uttered phrase has come to express the opinion of nearly everyone involved within an armed conflict…

But it has also come to epitomize the anguish of everyone on the periphery of war… and how it effects far more than the men and women dodging a hail of bullets or having choking waves of mustard gas thrown at them or atomic weaponry exploding them into oblivion.

It affects civilians.

Hellish nightmares don’t merely infect the mind during a conflict, it stays with people, across the decades… across generations even.

Sherman (and his famous War is Hell phrase) is actually better known for his concept of Total War… a military scheme that not only attacks the enemy’s military, but also any civilian-associated resources and structure.

In other words, there is no safety for anyone when war is declared.

A few months back, I received an advance review copy of In The Woods Of Memory, written by Japanese author Medoruma Shun (surname first), and published by Stone Bridge Press (www.stonebridge.com).

Okay: Holy fug it’s a very good book.

Having to stop for dinner, it was otherwise read in one sitting, as I simply could not put the book down. I couldn’t… it sucked me in… and held me… daring me to look away… but I couldn’t…

The book takes place in 1945 and 2005—the later the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa.

Each chapter of the 209-page fiction (but really, non-fiction) book uses a different person’s voice—while tripping back and forth through eras—to provide us with a glimpse of how war was hell for the people of Okinawa in 1945, and how it remains a hell in 2005.

In The Woods Of Memory begins with the rape of a 15-year-old Japanese girl by four U.S. soldiers, during the Battle of Okinawa.

Having recently watched a cooking show on Okinawa, I was struck by two things:
  1. The Okinawans physically look different from the Japanese.
  2. Okinawans refer to themselves as Okinawan first, and not necessarily as Japanese second.
In The Woods Of Memory continues with a revenge factor from a young Japanese boy.

The story looks at multiple views of the story—from different angles… different sexes… different mind-sets… different levels of sanity.

In The Woods Of Memory… I don’t want to give the story away any more than I have… but dammit… it’s a very well-written and translated book.

From one writer to another… I really loved how author Medoruma wrote these chapters… from the jumbling of thoughts of 1945 Seiji character, to the 2005 Kayo character with aspects written in the confounding 2nd person narrative.

Maybe I love HOW the book was written because I once used different styles to affect different voices in a story: First-person (I), second-person (You), third-person (The)… and something I called 4th person because I have no idea if there’s a term for it, that involves two people talking about the main character who doesn’t have a voice of his own. I used this technique 25+ years ago…

The main character doesn’t really have a voice to explain what they went through and are going through? Yeah... I used that technique...

That actually happens in the book In The Woods Of Memory… the rape victim doesn’t directly speak, but does actually speak via the words and actions of others who are telling their own story.

Within In The Woods Of Memory, blame can easily be placed upon the bad Americans… and even the good… and it is… but it’s also placed upon the bad Japanese… the bad neighbors… bad family… bad parents… classmates… … and just because you do nothing, isn’t that even worse… and how the only person with any guts is… well…

You really need to buy a copy of In The Woods Of Memory by author Medoruma Shun, published by Stone Bridge Press (www.stonebridge.com).

Really, really, really.

It’s not just a book about different cultures, rather it’s a look inside the human psyche… and how war, is merely a part of the backdrop… yeah, war is hell, General Sherman… but really, it’s the people who make it so.

In The Woods Of Memory… a double entendre title if there ever was one.

The story is the first novel translated into English by Akutagawa Prize winner and Okinawan author Medoruma.

In The Woods Of Memory is on sale as of June 13, 2017. Buy yourself a copy and buy one for someone else.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, June 12, 2017

Waiter, There's A Man In My Soup


My buddy and reader Vincent sent me a link to the Gift Shop of The British Museum and what Japanese-inspired items they have to bilk, sell to the visitor now desperate to own something made in China, Japan. 

This is one of my favorite items available at gift shop of The British Museum: 

The Hokusai Manga Bowl set.
  1. Hokusai, the famous Japanese ukiyo-e artist;
  2. Manga - Japanese comic books;
  3. bowl set for food placement - I love food. I know not all of you love food. (Sarcasm, of course.)
One of my least favorite things to hear is: “In my country we have a real love of food.” 

WTF… go back to your country, then if it’s so great.

People in countries all over the bloody world love their food, and even appreciate it.

I know some countries have a lot of people starving, but I’m pretty sure that if they had food, they would love it.

I love food.. maybe I should go to your country… I’ve never been there, but I feel I must if I can be taken seriously for my love of food.

Okay… enough of that… check out the artwork chosen for this bowl set:


There’s a fat guy studying some scroll. Nice… an academic.
Two fat guys washing their kimono (not a yukata (male summer kimono) ... see below for why), with one of them showing off his gluteus maximus and whatever a male camel-toe is.   


Fat guy washing himself in a tub. Dead sexy. I hope he was using bubblebath... 




This bowl shows three hefty women… are are they the fat guys in drag? I don’t have anything against that lifestyle… I just want to know just what I am putting my food on… I'm saying guys in drag because they are walking like they don't know how to walk in the clothing.


Here we have the classic Hokusai depiction of a fat man smoking a pipe and scratching his large a$$ (I'm pretty sure no one has ever uttered that sentence before in the history of the world) … or he is trying to find a fold in the skin to insert that rectal thermometer he is holding in his mouth, or that thermometer in his mouth was originally somewhere rectal… what the heck actually happened while he was dressed up as a woman?!


Oh man… do I really want to place my diced daikon radish upon the bowl showing (at worst) a topless man scratching his butt? Doesn’t that kill the ambiance? My daikon tastes funny.

Wait… £45.00 for the five-bowl set?! That’s US $58.27!?!? 

It features a guy scratching his a$$! I don’t care if it’s a Hokusai or a Rembrandt! It’s a guy scratching his a$$!!! 

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, June 11, 2017

World's Tallest Hybrid Timber Tower Designed By Japanese Architect

On a website dedicated to the forthcoming building known as Terrace House, its Japanese architect Ban Shigeru (surname first) states his credo: “What determines the permanence of a building is not the wealth of the developer or the materials that are used, but the simple question of whether or not the resulting structure is supported or loved by the people.”

Hunh… that’s simple, and it says it.

I don’t know what building isn’t supported by people—but obviously at some point in time, a building is torn down because of a lack of support…

I assume Ban wants his buildings to have some sort of permanence.

Terrace House is designed by Ban, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect, and is set to become the world’s tallest hybrid timber structure in the Coal Harbour section of Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), Canada (not Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia). The Pritzker Prize is consider to be one of the top awards an architect can be recognized for.

Being from Toronto, the so-called center of the hockey universe, I can honestly say that I like the city of Vancouver’s design over Toronto’s mishmash of buildings that obscures the enjoyment of its lakefront. And don’t even get me started on the lack of execution in providing (in advance) adequate transportation relief from congestion that is gripping Toronto now and will for the foreseeable future.

As for Ban’s Terrace House hybrid structure… what does that mean?

While Ban has previously used mixes of wood and corrugated (aka cardboard - not paperboard) to design and construct low-cost materials to build emergency housing, Terrace House is meant to be a hybridization of wood, glass and concrete…

Uh… if you add brick, I’m pretty sure most houses are built with those items… what’s so special about Terrace House.

I looked it up, because hybrid architecture is a term often used in various media without providing proper context.

The fact that Terrace House uses wood, glass and concrete isn’t the big deal, as I’m sure that other media people would recognize that those materials are used in most architectural builds.

Hybrid architecture is actually the mixing and blending of landscape, object and infrastructure-related features—a triple mix of these concepts.

In this case, from what I can figure, we have retail space on the ground floor, three-levels of underground parking, and 20 unique homes. There are green terraces, too.


The sailboat design of Terrace House features triangular shapes and greenery, with Ban noting that all timber used will be sourced locally from within BC.

The first 12 stories will be constructed with traditional concrete and steel, while the remaining seven will feature exterior and floor plates cut from timber, with a concrete and steel core in order to meet seismic building codes, because the province is prone to earthquake activity from time-to-time.

Ban’s Terrace House-design is his first in Canada, and will be led by BC developer PortLiving, which has a project team that includes Cornelia Oberlander, the landscape designer who worked on the Evergreen Building beside the site.

Like any good architect, Ban looked at the proposed site and its surrounding areas, and designed Terrace House with terraces that align almost seamlessly at each level with the Evergreen Building.

By the way, for those of you wondering about the permanence of using wood… keep in mind that many of Japan’s temples and shrines are several hundreds of years old… one of those things I like about Japan’s architecture is that it can be fairly common to see a building that predates every structure in Canada (but one).

If you don’t know what I mean, look up L'Anse aux Meadows… a Viking settlement located in Newfoundland that is 1,000 years old… which predates Columbus almost discovering America by some 500 years. Did Columbus actually set-foot on the main continent? Ever? No… no he didn’t…

Why does the US celebrate Columbus Day? Chris thought he had found a new route to the Indies— which is what China, Japan and India were called, hence Indians—and the landing in the Americas (Bahamas et al) led to the destruction of many indigenous peoples and cultures.

Look at that... I wasn't looking for it, but found a Japan reference to Columbus and the Vikings...

The Vikings kept their earlier discovery of North America quiet. Apparently you can trust a Swede, Norwegian or Dane to keep a secret.

There’s no date set for when shovel/spade hits the ground to launch the construction, but it is forthcoming.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Japan To Allow Emperor To Abdicate

In a one-time only deal, Japan’s top government agency—The Diet—will allow current Japan emperor Akihito, 83, to abdicate the throne.

Current Imperial law says that no sitting emperor may ever resign from their position, but because Emperor Akihito believes his health—which will only get worse—will prevent him from being able to fully fulfill his royal duties.

It’s not just his advanced age, it is believed that he is suffering from diminished mental capacity.

By passing this bill into law, it will allow Akihito to become the first emperor to resign his post since Emperor Kōkaku did so in 1817. Emperor Kōkaku (光格天皇, Kōkaku-tennō, born September 23, 1771 – died December 11, 1840) was the 119th emperor of Japan,

Kōkaku was called a Jōkō (上皇)—an emperor who abdicated in favor of a successor.

In an time when emperors rarely remained on the throne past the age of 40—they either died early or were forced to abdicate—Kōkaku abdicated in favor of his son’s ascension, the emperor Ninkō. In fact, Kōkaku was the first emperor to reign past his 40th birthday since Emperor Ōgimachi in 1586.

Upon Akihito’s decision to resign his position as emperor, the Chrysanthemum Throne will pass to his eldest (of three children) son Naruhito.

There was also chatter in the circles of Japan who care about women an the Japanese monarchy… but I’ll leave that until tomorrow.

Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!
Andrew Joseph

Friday, June 9, 2017

Can’t Get The Stink Out

With a nod towards rock group Radiohead from their song “Just”, Tokyo is trying to figure out how to get the stink out from their city.

The problem are odors emitted from the drainage pits installed under building that seem to be releasing stinky hydrogen sulphide- a gas that smell just like rotten eggs.

It’s like barf me out, gag me with a spoon!

Okay, that’s from Valley Girl as performed by Frank Zappa (and his daughter Moon).

Anyhow, local business in some area have formed patrols to sniff out where various stinks are coming from.

It’s not to placate local residents—no, who cares about that?

Rather it’s an effort to not look bad in front of the gaijin (outsider/foreigner) contingent that will descend upon Tokyo for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games.

I can understand that… no one wants to be accused of smelling bad. 

I will say one thing—the Japanese should be pretty damn good at sniffing out the bad odors. Having watched far too many Japanese cooking shows in my three years in the country, one such example comes to mind:

It was a food challenge between taxi drivers... yes… taxi drivers. Blindfolded, they had to smell a cooked fish and determine its species… and damned if the two (or three) contestants didn’t do it perfectly.

Ya gotta love Japanese television where it seems like some 75% of all shows are related to cooking.   

So, in Kichijoji (a part of Musashino in Tokyo), some 30 shop owners from the area , along with city government workers, went off in six teams to patrol the downtown area, sniffing smells.

Finding a stink, they marked the stench’s area down on a map with future plans afoot to have building owners take care of the problem.

Apparently these smells having been popping up since 2000 within this mod and chic part of Tokyo, so you can all understand why Japan is quickly jumping on the issue now… after 16 years of complaints as noted by the Kichijoji Kasseika Kyogikai, an association of local shopkeepers.

Oooh that smell! Can’t you smell that smell?  (quotes Andrew from the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “That Smell”)… yes… locks of music in Andrew’ s step tonight… no… no reason.

The smell seems to be caused by the hydrogen sulphide gas that is created when “material” in wastewater that is collected in drainage tanks begins to decompose.

Beethoven is seen erasing his music in his crypt: “Quiet! Can’t you see I’m decomposing!?!”

(Okay, Beethoven was that generation’s rock star.) (That was part of a joke I heard some 40 years ago... and yet, I can't recall what I had for dinner yesterday.)

The problem in this area is that the sewage pipes aren’t that deep.

For example, restaurants and toilets that are located underground are actually lower than the sewage pipes which means that the wastewater is unable to flow away naturally, which means it gets collected in what are called sump pits (aka drainage pits) instead.

These pits are supposed to be regularly pumped out into the sewage system.

The problem with the smells occur when the wastewater is left for too long in the sump pump and begins to decompose meaning hydrogen sulphide is produced… the gas needs someplace to go and escapes up into the “wonderful smoggy air” of Tokyo via manhole covers…  hence that smell.

A way to resolve the problem is to 
  1. have sump pump material pick-ups scheduled more often, or;
  2. add better air-circulation systems in and around the sump pumps to inhibit the decomposition  (and thus forming of the hydrogen sulphide gas) of the wastewater and materials.
Since 2009, government officials began subsidizing construction work for item #2 above, with some 15 locations at 11 buildings being looked at as of April 2016.

The other solution, of course, and a cheaper one, is to not allow any tourists to visit the Kichijoji part of Tokyo.

All you need is a white-gloved policeman and a small two-foot high barricade and people will move like sheep to other more pleasant smelling parts of Tokyo.

Kanpai,
Andrew "does it to himself" Joseph
PS: Blurry image above is taken from the Radiohead video “Just” and shows a bunch of gaijin dead on the street. See:

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Imperial Regalia of Japan

Rarely seen, the Imperial Regalia of Japan (三種の神器, Sanshu no Jingi/Mikusa no Kandakara), are called the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, and are presented to the emperor at the time of their enthronement.

The three treasures:
  1. the sword Kusanagi (草薙劍Kusanagi no Tsurugi)
  2. the mirror Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡);
  3. and the jeweled necklace Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉)
 Each of these items is meant to represent the primary virtues of Japan and its emperor.

The sword represents valor, the mirror represents wisdom, and the jewelry represents benevolence.

A legendary sword? Cool.

Originally called Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi (天叢雲剣, Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven), its name was later changed to Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (the Grass-Cutting Sword).

I'm pretty sure I prefer the Gathering Clouds of Heaven name over something that's akin to a scythe.

Here's a history of the sword per Wikipedia.

According to Kojiki (collection of Japanese history, but ultimately myth), the god Susanoo encountered a grieving family of kunitsukami (gods of the land) headed by Ashinazuchi (足名椎) in Izumo Province. When Susanoo inquired of Ashinazuchi, he told him that his family was being ravaged by the fearsome Yamata-no-Orochi, an eight-headed serpent of Koshi, who had consumed seven of the family's eight daughters and that the creature was coming for his final daughter, Kushinada-hime (奇稲田姫). Susanoo investigated the creature, and after an abortive encounter he returned with a plan to defeat it. In return, he asked for Kushinada-hime's hand in marriage, which was agreed. Transforming her temporarily into a comb (one interpreter reads this section as "using a comb he turns into [masquerades as] Kushinada-hime") to have her company during battle, he detailed his plan into steps.
He instructed the preparation of eight vats of sake (specifically rice wine) to be put on individual platforms positioned behind a fence with eight gates. The monster took the bait and put one of its heads through each gate. With this distraction, Susanoo attacked and slew the beast (with his sword Worochi no Ara-masa). He chopped off each head and then proceeded to the tails. In the fourth tail, he discovered a great sword inside the body of the serpent which he called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, which he presented to the goddess Amaterasu to settle an old grievance.
The Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya is purported to house the Kusanagi sword. It was built art around 100CE.
Generations later, in the reign of the twelfth Emperor, Keikō (around the 12th century), the sword Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi was given to the great warrior, Yamato Takeru as part of a pair of gifts given by his aunt, Yamatohime-no-mikoto the Shrine Maiden of Ise Shrine, to protect her nephew in times of peril.  These gifts came in handy when Yamato Takeru was lured onto an open grassland during a hunting expedition by a treacherous warlord. The lord had fiery arrows loosed to ignite the grass and trap Yamato Takeru in the field so that he would burn to death. He also killed the warrior's horse to prevent his escape. Desperately, Yamato Takeru used the Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi to cut back the grass and remove fuel from the fire, but in doing so, he discovered that the sword enabled him to control the wind and cause it to move in the direction of his swing. Taking advantage of this magic, Yamato Takeru used his other gift, fire strikers, to enlarge the fire in the direction of the lord and his men, and he used the winds controlled by the sword to sweep the blaze toward them. In triumph, Yamato Takeru renamed the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Grasscutter Sword) to commemorate his narrow escape and victory. Eventually, Yamato Takeru married and later fell in battle with a monster, after ignoring his wife's advice to take the sword with him.

Thank-you Wikipedia.

Nag, nag, nag... it doesn't even matter if she was right. LOL!

If you notice that in the cutline in the photo immediately above, I stated that the sword is purported to be there.

Because the sword, mirror and jewelry are such important cultural treasures belong to the godhood (now former godhood) of the emperor, the exact location of the three sacred items is kept secret and are never placed in for public viewing.

The image at the very top is an artist's rendition of what the items look like.

Still, it believed that the sword resides in Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the mirror at Ise Grand Shrine in Mie-ken, and the jewel at the Three Palace Sanctuaries in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Since 690AD, these three items are presented to the ascending emperor by priests of the enthronement ceremony.

This ceremony is not public, and these items are by tradition seen only by the Emperor and certain priests. It's why we don't have photographs of them.

Here's the thing... only two of the three items are actually given to the emperor at that time.

He receives two boxes, each containing either a replica of the Grasscutter Sword and the Yasakani no magatama jeweled necklace.

I always wondered what the Japanese crown looked like, but guess what—there is no crown.

The three objects are (according to legend and myth) given by the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-ōmikami, to her grandson when he first descended to earth and became the founder of the imperial dynasty.

What of the mirror, Yata no Kagami?

Considered the most important of the three scared items, it is meant to be the embodiment of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami, herself.

Well, you certainly don't want to moving the goddess around every 40 years... she'd get cranky.

Instead of presenting the mirror to the emperor (though I don't know why a replica isn't made like they have done with the Sword), Imperial messengers and priests are sent to the housing shrine of the mirror, as well as to the tomb-shrines of the four Emperors whose reigns immediately preceded his, to inform them of the new Emperor's accession.

In other words, after four coronation ceremonies, the dead emperor finally get to rest in peace... Let's see... should the current emperor pass away, and the ceremony to raise Naruhito to be emperor... the priests and imperial messengers will go to the tomb shrines of: the recently passed Akihito who will take on the name Emperor Heisei, his father Emperor Showa (the former Hirohito of WWII fame), his father Emperor Taishō, and his father before him Emperor Meji.

As you'll note, all bar the name of the Japanese era in which each emperored... er, presided?

Oh yeah, ruled.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph