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Monday, March 27, 2017

Shokkiri - Sumo Comedy

Matthew sent me a video link the other day, depicting what I thought were two sumo wrestlers suddenly deciding to act all goofy during a regular sumo tournament.

Turns out, it’s actually a planned break during the sporting event by a sumo comedy troupe.

It’s a legitimate showing of sumo skills, but actually more like what a wrestler isn’t supposed to do during a match.

It reminds me of this scene from the famous Paul Newman hockey movie called Slapshot:



Uh... if you think you can watch this with your kids, or if you are under the age of 16 (let's say), don't. Lots of language... I had to fast forward over a couple of the more racy spots last week when I was watching it with my son.   

 The shokkiri comedy sumo match is not a new phenomenon… I doubt that other than finally allowing gaijin (foreigners) to become o-zumo-san/rikishi (sumo wrestlers), nothing has changed in the sport since it began.

Well, maybe having a serious attempt at ridding the sport of organized gambling is new.

Anyhow, shokkiri has been a part of the exhibition or touring sumo tournaments for over a century.

Matthew and I saw one in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken back in 1993 - but not to the extent of the video we have for you below.

No… it showed a giant of a sumo taking on a whole bunch of little kid sumo wrestlers… funny - but no where near as funny as the shokkiri play.

Trust me… you can watch the video without understanding a lick of Japanese and know exactly what is going on and exactly why it is funny.

Initially, it was like the Slapshot routine… a way to show how to play the sumo game, by demonstrating good techniques as well as bad via comedy.

However,  the modern version is all about showing the bad.

Here’s the bad about being involved in a shokkiri comedy play as a wrestler:
  1. These are real sumo wrestlers, albeit low-level wrestlers;
  2. By not taking the sport seriously, they are ostracized, and are rarely ever promoted up into the higher ranks of the sumo heirarchy after participating in a shokkiri;
  3. It’s not impossible—a long time ago some sumo champs have been shokkiri sumo wrestlers, but nowadays, it’s all about paying respect to the past;
  4. Like organized gambling and fixing of the matches, or the fact that in the old days you could still do shokkiri and one day work hard enough to become a sumo champion… okay, I’m just ranting here.
Look, I don’t know what a shokkiri sumo wrestler can earn doing this, but it is interesting to note the physical exertion they put themselves through in this long comedy routine.

Enjoy:



The video above is from the 37th convention of the Japanese Grand Sumo Tournament held on February 10, 2013.

The shokkiri features twin brothers (surname first) Masanobu Kotobu (aka East) and Masanobu Kotoho (aka West). They put on a decent show!

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Anywhere The Radioactive Wind Blows - Godzilla

If you’ve got the money and the panache—I have one of those things, unfortunately not the first one—you might consider having your very own Godzilla weathervane.

Designed and manufactured by West Coast Weather Vanes of Santa Cruz, California, U.S. in 2013 for a customer, the Godzilla weathervane is, first and foremost, a work of art.

It is a one-off design weathervane, but I’m thinking that the company would create more customized versions if you asked nicely.

According to the company website, the Godzilla weathervane was originally designed by modifying the head and lower body of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

It makes me wonder if they already had a T-Rex model to work with… which, if so, is pretty cool, too!

Anyhow, they obviously then added the dorsal plates to the T-Rex’s back - non-radioactive plates, I should note. They actually described these plats as being akin to a Stegosaurus.

Who the heck are these people at West Coast Weather Vanes, and why do they know so much about dinosaurs! LOL!

They then said that the created the Godzilla look by adding in Iguanodon forearms and neck - again with the dinos!

Then used a crocodile to inspire the tail and skin on the Godzilla weathervane.

It seems like a lot of trouble… could they not have simply asked the customer WHICH Godzilla version he liked, and used the creature from that particular movie as the weathervane model? You don’t have to pull out the dinosaur encyclopedia to do this. (I have a couple of those.)

I’m just trying to be helpful.

For coloration purposes, you can see that the Godzilla is a copper color… which is just wrong, right? Godzilla is green… or black, if you’ve only seen the Black and White Godzilla movie from 1954 or are colorblind.

Yeah, well, West Coast Weather Vanes ain’t a bunch of dummies.

Copper turns green from oxidation… so they figured it would be a much cooler thing if the Godzilla came by its green patina naturally.

The customer wanted gold leaf on: the radioactive fire being spewed from its mouth; Godzilla’s teeth, chest, parts of the dorsal plates, claws and toes. I’m pretty sure that won’t oxidize, but it will look spectacular once the copper turns green over the years.

Man, how long does that take?

Oooooh… 15 to 20 years… I just looked that up… I hope the weathervane owner is a young man.

I’m being sexist, but I just don’t see a woman saying: “Hey, honey! I’ve got a great idea of what we can do today! Let’s get a new weathervane - even though we don’t have a barn… and let's go away from the traditional weathervane designs of a rooster, eagle or witch on a broom and get one of Godzilla!"

I mean, yeah… I wish…. but not too likely.

By the way… check out the image below… see how Godzilla is knocking down the human-sized telephone lines? That’s brilliant! What a nice touch!


You can tell that the folks at West Coast Weather Vanes really know their stuff!

Pricing starts (that’s the important word “starts”) at US$2,495 for a small weathervane; $5095 for a medium; and $6,595 for a large, but of course pricing depends on design modifications and options selected… but what the heck… if you have the money for a small, you can find the money for a large… and who the heck wouldn’t want a LARGE Godzilla weathervane? Probably some Gamara-lovin’ punk.

I like Gamara, too… just not as much as Gojira/Godzilla - the King of the Monsters.

Anyhow… a Godzilla weathervane… how cool is that?

Visit www.westcoastweathervanes.com and see about getting your lizard.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Headline is a paraphrasing of a line from the classic Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody “Any way the wind blows”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Let’s Get Small

On Friday evening, I took possession of my new car, a 2016 Nissan Micra SV. A Japanese car.That's not my car above, but it is what I bought.

You know how they always say that men need to have large, powerful cars to make up for what’s not between their legs?

I have a Micra. I’m just saying.

Okay, that’s all crap, and is all just fun and games.

I decided I needed a new car because I was constantly stressing myself out glancing at the control panels on my 1999 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Special Edition wondering if the engine light or worse was going to come on. Yes... the car is from the last century, and not the good one. 

I’d glance at the engine temperature gauge go up to some ridiculous level before the engine fan would come on and cool it down for a few minutes, shut off, and then watch as the temperature would rise again… and… as I write this, it’s -6C (21.2F)… so what’s it gonna do when it gets stupid hot this summer?

Riiiiight.

So… as long as I no longer buy a lunch or, well… anything over the next seven years… and nothing goes wrong with the house that needs and emergency repair, I should be able to afford the tiny payments.

Riiiiight.

The Nissan Micra is a small car… a very small car… but it’s drawing power is the fact that it is the only car under CDN$10,000…  so really… my car payments… no outside lunches… I should actually be able to pay for the car and save money.

I’ll probably also save on gas… and on car fix-ups, as I inherited a service plan that I don’t have to pay any extra for over the next three years.

Yes, my new Micra is small, but it actually has a lot of leg and headroom… and is even a legitimate four-door with hatchback…. and by that, I mean you CAN sit in the back seat comfortably. Maybe not for a cross country ride if you are an adult (and Canada is pretty wide cross-country)… but what the heck.

It also has the exact same engine as the next up-size compact car - the Nissan Versa… so… I have a smaller car with a decent engine… so it should even be faster than the Versa based on the power to weight ratio.

The drawback? The name, I suppose, but maybe the small cargo space in the back - and that’s only a drag because this year I’m a head baseball coach for a Little League Select team and there’s a lot of equipment. But what the heck… it can handle the buckets of balls and other stuff.

So really, there’s only a micra problem.

The Nissan Micra isn’t my first kick at owning a Japanese car. I’ve owned a Mazda 323, Mazda Tribute, Mazda Camry Wagon x 2, and a Mazda 6 wagon… I like wagons, which no one seems to make anymore. I’ve also owned a Hyundai Tiburon, Ford Escort, a Saturn something or another (wagon), a SAAB something or another…

And, aside from the Mazda 323, which my dad bought me, and the Hyundai Tiburon which I leased, the Nissan Micra is the first new car I bought myself.,  

But is it really new? It was a 2016 demo model… so yeah. I guess it is.

Now that I fixed my leaky roof, I feel comfortable in saying: Nissan Micra SV - long may it reign.

If you would like to read about a pretty comprehensive history of Japan’s automobile industry - it’s beginnings - I wrote one. You can check that out HERE.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Today’s headline is borrowed from the 1977 Grammy award-winning comedy album from the great Steve Martin, Let’s Get Small.
Audio clip below:

        

Friday, March 24, 2017

Snapshot From 1951 Tokyo


Those who know me will understand why the above photograph caught my eye.

Yes, I love black and white photography.

Would you believe I love old photos that show people writing?

Okay… whatever.

I have dated more than my fair share of women involved in the art of strip tease, and have heard many a story of why they are where they are... 

From Magnum Photos, we have a 1951 photo of a woman in a striptease club in Tokyo  - perhaps writing a letter to her far away home, telling her parents and younger siblings about how well things are going for her as a clerk in a Tokyo shop.
Otōsan and Okaasan,

I miss you and the family very much.

Please provide my blessings to Obaasan. Tell her I pray for all of you every day.

I am enclosing a few yen to help. Please spend it on a treat for yourselves - perhaps everyone can go to the movie theater or go see a new bunraku puppet show. Don’t tell anyone it’s from me.

I know you wish to come and see me here in Tokyo, but Tanaka-san’s fruit shoppe keeps me very busy. I am working the evening shift, and sometimes the day shift to make extra money. As such, I would not be able to spend as much time with you, so save the money for yourselves.

Work is good. People need to eat, so the fruit shoppe is always busy.

When I am not selling the fruits, I help unload it and stack it - it is good honest work, so you should not be concerned for me. 

Tokyo is wonderful. Although I have not had much opportunity to look around, I do try and change my route back to my apartment every evening so I can see how beautiful it looks, though I am sure it is not as beautiful as it was when you were children.

No. I do not have a boyfriend or any man in my life now.

I would like to, of course, but my work will simply not allow that to occur. 

Of course, I do wish I was home right now. I do miss everyone. But since the war ended poorly for our great nation, I know that money is scarce for everyone in our farming community, and jobs for people like me, even rarer.

My break time is almost over, so I shall end with a deep bow of respect.

Your daughter Sumiko.


…or… maybe she’s tallying up her costs for working at the Tokyo striptease club: money earned from the American GIs, less rental costs for dresses and shoes used, for the apartment she shares with the other seven women, less bedding and furniture rentals, less transportation to and from the apartment to work, grocery bills, payment for o-cha and snacks we purchase to serve customers, tips to bartender, music maker, coatcheck girl, and, of course to the manager…  

Some things never change… except that she obviously is writing a letter.

Maybe it’s a resignation letter. Doubt it.

I found this photo HERE, where you can see a lot of cool old photos of post WWII Japan. Check’em out!

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Adventures In Tokyo With Godzilla And Ultraman

As a kid - sometime when I was in Grade 4 (but was only about seven-years-old), my friend Umberto and I would wrestle around re-enacting the fight scenes from the re-run episode of the Japanese television show Ultraman that we had just watched over at his house.

I had no idea, at the time, that Ultraman was a Japanese superhero, though I’m pretty sure I was aware that there were a lot of Japanese in it - I just assumed it was a sci-fi show, and didn’t give a crap about its origins.

All I know is that I found the show entertaining.

As a kid, I had been watching Godzilla movies since I was in Grade 1 (around when I was four, going on five-years-old), at the behest of now unknown friend, who had seen a movie one Sunday afternoon and was sure another such film would air the next weekend.

It did. I thought that Godzilla was the cat’s meow… sure you could tell that there was a guy in the suit, but the destruction! Oh… the destruction… it was epic. Japanese, sure… they mentioned Tokyo, Japan often enough, and I had heard about World war II thanks to a kid’s book I had on the subject… but Godzilla was the most exciting thing I had ever seen up until my-then boring life.

It was stunning.

Flash forward to my adulthood, and to the years when I started this blog and had run out of pre-written and pre-published blogs about Japan (around 76, I think), I needed subject matter… so what better than to examine newsfeeds and to plumb the depths of my own childlike memories? There are probably better things, which was why I began to add color to my initial diary entries by recalling the true weirdness while I could still recall it.

Before doing that, however, I began watching and re-watching some old Godzilla movies.

Aside from the actual first Japanese version which I only saw a few years ago… the rest of them are all actually pretty crap. Like really crap. Like one should never revisit their childhood ever again crap.

It made me not want to watch any old Ultraman television shows - just in case it disappointed me, too.

Now… I still haven’t seen any of the Japanese-made Godzilla movies in the 1990s and 2000s, which have never been officially distributed in North America (or anywhere else, I would imagine)… but many of these movies are purported to be quite good.

Purported like the old Godzilla movies.

I put the original Gamara (flying turtle) kaiju (big monster) movie on for my son a few years back - he seemed to like that very much… but the sappiness of it all made me throw-up in mouth… just a little mind you.

We went and saw the last U.S. Godzilla movie - and even as a nine-year-old, he complained that we didn’t even get to see Godzilla until half-past the movie.

Really… even a nine-year-old knew that was dumb.

I admit, also, that while kids today lack proper interpersonal skills (for the most part) due to too much digital media time, they also have learned that they like to be entertained… and entertained quickly. And often.

You know that old saying: “What have you done for me lately”?

Anyhow… I just needed an excuse to show off the image of Godzilla (left) and Ultraman posing for a photo opp in front of Mount Fuji.

I have no idea when it was taken or originally by whom or even why.

All I know is that I found it amusing.

I might actually try and watch an episode of Ultraman… no… I won’t do that. Maybe a Japanese Godzilla movie… maybe. How bad could it be? Sadly, I already know.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Caveat Emptor

To be sure, the photo above is quite a few years old, but I thought it would be appropriate anyway, because I hadn’t seen it before today, and for other reasons, which I’ll discuss in a couple of days.

It is true, in the meantime, that I did indeed own a vending machine that I was allowed to install at work - keep filled and pocket an additional $80 or so a month selling chocolates and bags of chips.

What we have here is a vending machine in Japan that sells cars.

But not really.

It’s an eye-catching 3D advertisement that plays on the Japanese cultural phenomenon of vending machines located on every available street corner.

But can you imagine if this was something for real?

There you are stuffing ¥5 yen coins into the pay slot, finally getting in about 220,000 of the damned coins… you press the button to make your selection (there’s no selection - what you see is what you get)… and it jams… re-sets and there’s no proof you ever stuck in around $11,000 in ¥5 coins… except when someone comes by and discovers 220,000 ¥5 coins in the payment box.

Hey… you’d get your car, but now you have to wait until the vending machine technician comes out.

And that’s bot happening until tomorrow… and you have to stick around, because the technician said they would be there between 8AM and 5PM… and now it’s raining… and you tried to take cover under the vending machine and now your head is stuck… and now some bratty Grade 1 primary school students in their yellow rain slickers and yellow rubber rain boots are throwing rocks at you while screaming “gaijin-gaijin” taunts, but they are only six-years-old and and can’t throw very well, and one of them breaks the glass on he vending machine, and now your Smart Car is scratched and dented, and now you don’t want it anymore, but you are screwed because there’s no deposit, no return on the car purchased from a vending machine.

It could happen.

Great marketing, however.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Caveat Emptor, is Latin, ese (Latin, not Latino) (oops) for: Let the buyer beware.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Springtime for Japan (and Hanami)

When it comes to hanami - it blows.

March 21, is the first day of Spring in Japan and other northern hemisphere countries … a time when a young man’s fancy turns to love… but truly it beats me what the hell he is doing the rest of the time.

With Spring, of course, comes warmer weather, which I suppose leads to a peeling off of layers of cold-weather clothing… exposing sun-deprived skin to the dark clouds blowing chilly winds.

In short, it’s still cool outside.

But, depending on where you are in Japan, it’s the beginning of Cherry Blossom viewing season… hanami (花見).

Hanami means, quite literally, flower-eye… but in Japan, it is a reference to cherry blossoms, and to a lesser extent, plum blossoms - the viewing of cherry blossoms.

Plum (ume) blossoms (reed, pink or white flowers), however, begin to bloom at the end of February... 

Even in the 21st century, the NEED to see blossoming cherry flowers consumes Japanese people - so much so that there is a competitive streak akin to cheering for soccer, sumo and baseball for the flower seekers, who send out employees to camp out and hold for their respective company what is considered to be the ideal hanami viewing area… 

Office parties ensue under a particular cherry tree, with plenty of food and booze for an evening’s revelries, all the while the wild and woolly wind blows the just-blossomed cherry (sakura) flowers all over the damn place.

Because I’m not Japanese, I found the whole experience irksome, as a stiff breeze would attempt to deposit an entire tree’s worth of cherry blossoms into my open container of beer or onto my plate of whatever the hell that is I’m eating.

Conceptually, the aspect of hanami is to enjoy the gentle wafting down of cheery blossoms as a slight zephyr blows around one… watching the white and pink petals weave around the air before landing gently upon the grass… calmness… beauty in death personified…

The blooming of the sakura/cherry trees in Japan is supposed to be a symbol of one’s human existence… and the beer and sushi helps. Especially the beer.

I observed a lot of drunken revelry… amongst everyone from 20-something up to 70-whatever… there might have been older and younger - and certainly there is when it’s a family hanami celebration, but I only know what I partook of.

To be fair, the Japanese tend to work many long hours at their jobs, so when it’s quittin’ time, or there’s a festival to partake in, they tend to let their hair down and have a great time.

It’s a wonderful experience to see the dichotomy of Japanese life - cherry blossoms be damned.

At a standard hanami, along with the food and drink and speeches by the bosses for a job well-done and the hopes to have a better upcoming year, there’s also poetry composed and read about ye old sakura, and songs… and jokes and all-around friendliness…

i can honestly say that there is not quite a love such as that found between one drunk for another.

If you are in Japan, or are visiting over the immediate future, you might want to head out to a park and observe the fun, or make sure you are included in your company’s hanami.

If you would like some advice about where to go, and when to expect hanami to become a thing, check out the following website for advice, based on data compiled over the past few years: https://www.jnto.org.au/spring/

Yeah, I know it’s an Australian site, but in my opinion, no one does a party better than the Aussies. Maybe the New Zealanders are a close 1B.

Or... check out the site map here with dates around Japan showing the expected blossoming(s)... the earliest is supposed to be March 22 in the Fukuoka area. Click HERE.  

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Sorry, but as I wrote the headline, all I could think about was the great song from The Producers: Springtime for Hitler (and Germany)

 

PPS: After watching the video, I feel like a stein of beer. Or two.
PPPS: The image at the top shows the blossoming cherry trees around Chidorigafuchi moat at Tokyo Imperial Palace, and was plucked from the public domain from a site on Cherry Blossoms.
PPPPS: I have reversed the order on the headline to make it sound more like the "song"in the rhyme scheme.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ghost Bank - Or How I Created An Invisible Headline

My buddy Matthew informed me about a strange little piggy bank created on behalf of Studio Ghibli.

Borrowing the Kaonashi (aka No face or Faceless) character from the 2001 animated flick Spirited Away, we have a new mechanical bank that shows the lonely ghost helping you save money... er, after you spend money to buy the bank, of course.

On sale for a mere US $66, you can have ol Faceless hide your money for you. It measures 80mm x 210mm x 160mm (3" x 8" x 6"), runs on two AA batteries (not included), and can store up to 20 500-yen coins (those coins are akin to a silver dollar or, in Canada a Loonie/Twoonie), or 400 100-yen coins (about the size of a quarter).

Not in stock until May 19, 2017, you place coins on the red plate.bowl... the Kaonashi feels the weight, utters a comment than moves the plate to its mouth to swallow the coins.


Available at the Japan Trend Shop - click HERE.

I don't get it either... Kaonashi obviously has a face...

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I create an invisible headline initially when I forgot to create a headline. D'oh.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bi-Racial In Japan

The term "hafu" is used to describe people in Japan who are of mixed heritage - specifically one parent is/was Japanese, and the other parent from anywhere other than Japan.

Hafu is the katakana word for "half".

Japan has it in its head - and has for centuries to make sure everyone knows just what is Japanese and what isn't.

When I lived in Japan for a few years between 1990-1993, Japanese folks took the time to ensure I knew I was eating Japanese rice, using Japanese chopsticks or that such-and-such was a Japanese kimono.

To be fair, there are such things as Indian and American rice, Chinese chopsticks and Korean kimonos, to name a few examples of reality, but whatever.

But people?

For a country that likes to think of itself as advanced... as a global leader, Japan sure is stuck in the Dark Ages.

I'm a brown guy married to a white woman, and we have a light brown kid.

At no time have I ever observed anyone ever giving him the stink eye or had anyone come up and ask him about his nationality... if he is Canadian or something else...

And do you know why? Because at least in the part of Canada I live in, no one gives a crap.

Back in the 1960s-80s, things were a little different here in Canada, but still light years ahead of where Japan is today.

My mother's skin complexion was lighter than olive... her Portuguese background evident, but still lighter than most people from there... and she was born in India to two brown Indian parents... just with a mother whose family background went back a few generations to a person actually from Portugal.

My father was a darker brown person than I am today... I'm lighter than him... and as such, when I would go and see my mother at work, invariably someone would ask who I was, and my mother would introduce me as her son, and there would be stunned looks, as though they had no idea this white lady had married someone other than a white person.

Don't get me wrong... mixed marriages had been happening in Canada for a long time... but even shades of brown were enough to throw people... so I get it.

For a while, most of the married people I knew were of mixed races... weird, yeah - but not uncomfortable weird. At least not for me.

At no time, when growing up, did anyone in Canada ever look at me and call me a hafu equivalent... no... there were the standard racial slurs thrown my way just because I was brown.

I still get that in this blog... every now and then some dumb ass wants to write in and proclaim my inferiority by stating that brown guy can't be a real Canadian because Canada is white only.

Of course, I just collect their IP address and do a quick search to figure out where they are and who they are and stockpile it (and their comments) in case I feel like publishing their racist comments and names all over the Internet.

I've been on-line in the Internet's various forms since the early 1980s and know how to forensically find things out.

Anyhow... Japan... grow the fug up.

Why do you (and not everyone there, just most) have the need to categorize people?

If a kid has biracial parents but was born in Japan, why do you need to categorize him or her as a hafu?

You don't.

They are Japanese.

Japan's reluctance to get over this whole genetically pure bullcrap reminds me of Nazi Germany... with Hitler wanting to create his own Master Race of blonde, blue-eyed Arayans.

Do you know what an arayan is? Here's what Wikipedia states:

The Aryan race was a racial grouping term used in the period of the late 19th century to the mid-20th century to describe multiple peoples. It has been variously used to describe all Indo-Europeans in general (spanning from India to Europe), the original Aryan people specifically in Persia, and most controversially through Nazi misinterpretation, the Nordic or Germanic peoples. The term derives from the Aryan people, from Persia, who spoke a language similar to those that have been found in Europe.

Hunh... look at that Hitler... I'm an Arayan.

You guys know where Hitler took the swastika from, right? Here's what Wikipedia says:

The Swastika (also known outside the Indian subcontinent as the Hakenkreuz, gammadion cross, cross cramponnée, croix gammée, fylfot, or tetraskelion) (as a character 卐 or 卍) is an ancient religious symbol originating from the Indian subcontinent, that generally takes the form of an equilateral cross with four legs each bent at 90 degrees. It is considered to be a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism and dates back at least 11,000 years.

Hunh... India again... and also Buddhism... which the Japanese I'm sure all know originated in India.

I'd be lying if I said that racism does not exist in India... holy crap, it does.

And, I'd be lying if I said I identified myself as being Indian. I don't. I don't identify myself as anything other than as "Andrew" and as a "Writer".

One of my favorite stories about myself occurred about a year after I left Japan and was back in Canada, crossing the border into the U.S. to watch a hockey game between my Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo, New York.

As usual, me... the brown guy wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater and holding onto my hockey ticket was pulled aside by the U.S. border people as my three white friends (similarly dressed) waited for the usual interrogation.

I can understand why they pulled me out - I would too. My Canadian passport shows that I was born in England, and was issued in Tokyo, Japan.

If that wasn't weird enough, Me... the brown guy... is somehow named Andrew Joseph...

I know... it sounds like someone really wasn't trying when they gave me a false passport, but no... the passport was real, and I really did have all that confusing stuff to contend with.

Like I said, I'd check out all that conflicting data, too. 

Back to Japan's issues:

The hafu Japanese kids I know identify themselves as Michelle and Alex... Michelle (aka Miki) was born in Japan, but now resides in the U.S.... and in the U.S., no one looks at them and wonders what their racial background is. At least not to the point where someone has to designate their Americanism as something as demeaning as needing to be called hafu. I hope that never changes.

But Japan... Japan needs to change. It needs to change faster than it has been changing over the past 150+ years... it needs to get over itself...

Yeah, it's a great country, has nice people, great food, wonderful customs... but I am sure there are many people born in Japan, but aren't full-blown Japanese by blood, consider themselves to be Japanese.

Shouldn't that be enough?

Hafu?

More like hafu empty.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks to my friend Vinnie for the heads-up, who is a friend, not a hafu friend.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

That's An L Of A Brand

I don’t know about you readers, but I have often been confused about Japan’s use of English words in branding…

Actually… I understand that using an English word can make your product sound cool… what I actually am confused about, specifically, are companies that utilize the English letter “L” in their product names, when there is NO Letter “L” or sound in the three Japanese alphabets of kanji, hiragana or katakana.

Why would you create a product with a name that can’t be correctly pronounced by the vast majority of your purchasing public? 

Let’s look at one of the largest and most successful automobile manufacturers in the world: Toyota.

Toyoda is a family name (and was altered slightly to become Toyota), just like Honda and Matsuda (creating the bastardized Mazda). Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Olds (Oldsmobile), Ford, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz… also utilize family names, so no biggie.

Jeep, by the way, is a U.S. Army way of pronouncing the G.P vehicle (G.P. = General Purpose).  

But what about Toyota’s long-running brand, the Toyota Corolla.

The Toyota Corolla, which is easy enough to pronounce for an English-first speaker becomes the garbled Toyota Ko-row-rah.

If you heard someone talking about a Korowrah, would you know it to be about their fantastic little car? No.

The Corolla name is actually part of Toyota’s naming tradition of using names derived from its Toyota Crown series of vehicles (a line of mid-sized luxury cars first introduced in 1955 and aimed primarily at the Japanese market).

The Toyota Corolla name, for example, is derived from the Latin “corolla”, which means “small crown.”

I get it. The Toyota Crown name used the phonetic katakana alphabet to simulate an English-sounding name because, despite the U.S. having a major hand in kicking Japan’s butt at the end of WWII, the Japanese secretly respected Americans and the English language they spoke, because… well… they were somehow stronger than the Japanese…

The Toyota Crown in Japanese was トヨタクラウン (Toyota Kuraun), or as it is pronounced Toyota Coo-Ra-ow-nn. It’s a fine name.

So is Small Crown… but Korowrah?

Screw tradition.

Wouldn’t it be more prudent to have a name that is actually pronounced properly by your own purchasing public in Japan?

Why would a company like Toyota give the proverbial finger to its customer base?

The Corolla first made its appearance in 1968… and while it is possible it was built to hit the international market as well as domestic—it became the best-selling car in the world in 1974—it still doesn’t excuse it for creating a brand name the majority of its own citizenry can’t pronounce. 

Coming out around the same time was the Nissan Sunny, it’s chief competition starting in 1966… and yes, while it could easily be produced in Japan and abroad, it’s a pretty damn weak name for international branding.

I mean come on… we’re talking about competition from American cars with rugged names such as: Mustang, GTO, Thunderbird, Falcon, Grand Prix, Tempest… look at that last one… Tempest… that’s a violent windstorm… now that’s a car name!

Sunny… yeesh.

You may know of the current car called the Madza 3, formerly the Mazda 323, formerly the Mazda GLC… in Japan it was called the Familia.

Aside from the fact that I think Familia might be Italian for family—is anyone else familiar with La Familia… the Cosa Nostra? The Mafia? It has an “L” in its name.

Fa-Mi-Ri-Ah. That’s how you pronounce it in Japanese.

Hells… the Japanese don’t even pronounce “R’s” in the same way native English speakers do… sort of combing the R with a D sound…

Dragon, in Japanese is ryu… it is not pronounced Rye-ew, but fug… I think it’s like due… but again… you have combine the d with an r…

Anyhow… again… I have no issue with any brand owner utilizing a word from another country as part of its moniker.

What I do take umbrage with is the fact that it should be one your own country’s populace can pronounce properly.

Case in point, my favorite Japanese fastfood chain Mos Burger. It should be pretty easy to say, right? Moss-brr-grr.

In Japan, it is Mo-su bah-gah.

It’s not even English anymore. Damn fine food, though.

Yes, I am aware that my examples were all old… but it’s hardly gone away. It still happens with new Japan-specific products… and I wish it would stop.

At some point in time, if Japan wants to cater to the rest of the world with its products, perhaps it should try to come up with easy-to-pronounce Japanese brand names in Japanese.

Heck - you saw my post on Necomimi yesterday? HERE. That's an easy name to pronounce! 

Why assume we can’t pronounce Japanese words—okay, ryu is pretty difficult for most non-Japanese speakers—but if you give the public some credit and have an effective marketing campaign, you’ll not only create a global audience, but a national audience that can take pride in your products real Japaneseness.

Oh... and for kicks... how about the "western" brand Nutella... are you pronouncing it as new-tell-ah? You should be. It's not Nuh-tell-ah.

What about Porsche? It's not Porsh. It's certainly not Por-shay. It's Por-sha.

Here in Toronto, we have a street and train station called Spadina... everyone and his sister pronounces it as "spa-dine-ah", but it should be pronounced after the man it was named after: "Spa-deen-ah".

Still... enough with the L-usage in Japanese brand names. It doesn't make you sound as cool as you think. 

Kanpai (kahn-pie)
A-n-doh-ri-yu Jyo-se-fu
That’s not my name! It’s Andrew Joseph
PS: Admittedly, having your name pronounced in that katakana fashion by some breathy female voice like my Noboko, is/was very exciting.
PPS: The image at the top? I just thought it was funny.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Necomimi


I want one. Yes… the woman and the cat ears.

Called Necomimi (pronounced the same, Nekko is Japanese for cat), these stylish cat ears is a communication device that augments human bodies and abilities.

What?

Yup… the Necomimi contains sensors that analyze the wearer’s brainwaves to express their emotional state.

When you concentrate on something, the ears rise.

When you are in a more relaxed state, the ears lie down.

I know… what could you possibly use this for? Nothing practical.

But if, for example, I spotted this Japanese model and her gorgeous pair of

... er, cat ears, and I noticed her looking at me and I spy her ears moving upwards, I might think that:

a) I have caught her attention and she is interested in me;
2) I have frightened the catnip outta her and she’s about to run away;
C) She’s noticed something of mine that has moved up - which is interesting because I do not have a Necomimi;
∆) She’s actually glancing at the guy behind me;
V) More interestingly, she’s looking at that woman behind me;
2x4-2) She has spotted that stray cat to her left moving towards her with something in mind other than being her purr pal.

There are plenty of options, none of which  are the point.

It’s a talking point. That’s the point.

If I saw this woman wiggling her cat ears, I might go and strike up a conversation because I’m old enough not to give a crap about the optics, and I am curious like a cat about her moving ears.




Produced by NeuroSky Inc., the Necomimi is a project designed by neurowear, a team in Tokyo that is apparently “focused on creating communication for the near future”, designing prototypes of new products and services based on biological signals like brainwaves, heartbeat, and more.

And if you haven’t seen the Necomimi yet - why not? It was created back around 2010.

Check out their Japanese/English website HERE

Yes... it's St. Patrick's Day... even in Japan... where I'm sure some foreigners looking for an excuse, will don the green and celebrate it with a few Japanese friends. Enjoy.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Japan And Overtime

Let's take a look at workers and overtime in Japan.

A recent study found that workers at 12 percent of companies work more than 100 hours of overtime monthly and 23 percent of companies have workers putting in more than 80 hours of overtime monthly.

But they aren't supposed to.

Karoshi - death by overwork, has long been one of those things that occurs more often than it should in Japanese society.

There is an expectancy for employees to shut their damn mouth and to work...

Working In A Coal Mine
There are already laws in place restricting the number of hours an employee can work in Japan... it's just that few companies or employees seem to follow them. 

In Japan... did you know that if an employee works over 40 hours a week, a company is expected to pay overtime to the employee…. unless you happen to be in a Management position.
For companies that will use overtime regularly, they have to create a written agreement between employee(s) and management - something known as “Article 36”, and submit it to the Labor Standards Inspection Office.

Here's how overtime is supposed to be limited in Japan:

Workers can only work a maximum of five hours per day.

Or… 45 hours per month.

Or 360 hours per year.

What does Overtime Pay pay?
Japan’s new Labor Law says that when employees work overtime or work on holidays, an additional payment to the hourly base salary applies:
  • Overtime (anything over the standard 8-hour work day) = Additional 25%
  • Night-time work (10PM-5AM) = Additional 25%
  • Weekends and Holidays = Additional 35%
  • Night-time (continuing from overtime)* see below = Additional 50%
  • Holiday (continuing from night-time)** see below = Additional 60%
* Example: The employee’s normal working hours are from 9AM to 6PM.
The employee worked from 9AM to 11PM, and therefore worked overtime from 6PM -11PM.
The employee’s additional overtime payment will be base salary x 1.25 x 4 hours (6PM-10PM) plus base salary x 1.5 x 1 hour (10PM – 11PM).

** Example: The employee’s normal working hours are from 9AM - 6PM.
The employee worked overtime from Friday 9AM to Saturday 5AM.
The employee’s additional overtime payment will be base salary x 1.25 x 4 hours (6PM – 10PM) plus base salary x 1.5 x 2 hours (10PM – 12AM) plus base salary x 1.6 x 5 hours (12AM – 5AM).

The idea is based on some dumb bastich working for 20 hours straight. So, yeah… you get paid, but you can still die from exhaustion.

It’s all very interesting right? At least Japanese workers are getting paid for their work.

However, it’s all kindda crap.

While the system in place might be great for a factory worker, it doesn’t work for the office worker.

The office worker is always some dumb idiot, like myself, who does not have an hourly wage, but has a fixed income salary. 

While this can be a good thing, it can also be a bad thing.

For example, I spent five hours last Sunday essentially working for free, because as a salary worker, I don’t get compensated for any additional work hours I put in. I get paid to do the job.

This is the problem with Japan and its salary workers…. and please note this includes the guy from the lowest level to the guys in the highest of management.

Now… I did my work voluntarily. I do this every once in a while to catch up or to get ahead. Kind of what I do when I'm blogging.

Over the winter vacation (Christmas) I wrote something like eight blogs for my Pioneers of Aviation blog... posting one every week... until this past Tuesday when I simply ran out of energy, as each of those postings takes up to 10 hours to complete... a fair amount when I also post a Rife blog every day... sometimes twice a day. Or... when I'm so tired accidentally post one at 12 Noon rather than 12 midnight like I did earlier this week. D'oh!

At no time was there any expectation for me to have done this extra work outside my usual work day schedule. I was just trying to get ahead of the game…. not play catch-up… though I’m sure many of you have done that as well.

For the Japanese office worker… there is no such thing as overtime, because for all of these salaried workers, this is unpaid overtime… hours of time that employees “volunteer” to perform.

Of course, those so-called extra hours do NOT consider hours an employee could have spent during the work day fast asleep.

Yes, it is not frowned upon to be seen taking a nap at hour desk for an hour or two… so “working“ an hour or two past the normal quittin’ time is just the usual making up of hours.

Now… some people actually do real work when they do this un-paid overtime.

Basically, employees sit and work at their office desk because their bosses sit and work at their office desk, and their bosses sit and work at their office desk, and so on and so on.

The low rank or no title staff (hira shain) will wait for his senior (senpai or shunin) to leave first, and this "senpai" wait for the kacho (head of the section), the "kacho" wait for the bucho (the manager or general manager), and so on.

The main “problem” with this… and this is something I have personally observed, the Japanese big boss who owns the company or his the head of a school board, rather than doing any work himself (you delegate!) he has either fallen asleep at his desk, or has snuck out the backdoor to some club to meet up with his mistress.

In Japan, it’s bad form to leave a place of business before the boss… so much so that even dumb gaijin like myself utter the standard formal good night greeting: “Otsukare sama deshita (お疲れ様でした)”, which means, quite literally that “I have exhausted myself.”

Now… let;’s suppose the big boss has left, and his immediate subordinate has left and his subordinates, and then your manager… there’s still the problem of your co-workers…  no one really wants to be seen as weak, so they sit at their office desk and either do real work or pretend they are working until finally some weakling destroys team karma by packing up and uttering: “Osakini sitsurei shimasu (お先に失礼します)” which translates into “forgive my poor manners for leaving before you.”

This ain’t no simple act of companies abusing its staff… no… this is a cultural marker that has existed long enough to become an integral aspect of Japanese culture.

Everyone in Japan knows how to say those phrases… Every night I left work in Japan—I’m a gaijin (foreigner) so I didn’t care to work unpaid overtime), I would say “Osakini sitsurei shimasu.

And because I was a gaijin, they would forgive me and say simply “Oyasumi nasai” which means “good night.”

But the rest of my poor Japanese compatriot salary people... they stayed at work... and stayed and stayed until the big boss left, followed by all the other bosses under him... which is why the un-paid overtime hours for the salary man add up.

As such… my point in all of this is that you can effin’ legislate all you want—and yeah, some people are smart enough and comfortable enough, to say quitting time is quitting time… but the vast majority of Japan’s working force will NOT participate… simply because there is the beat-in aspect of not wanting to look weak in front of the co-workers… the co-worker whom you are supposed to work alongside… whose respect and admiration you hope he shares the same way he shares it towards you.

Still... if you are a factory worker making an hourly wage - you might not mind this overtime change.

For the salary man, over time, nothing will have changed.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Konichiwa Bitches

I decided to look up the word konichiwa on the Internet - mostly because I wanted to ensure it was indeed spelled as a single world.

So… check out Konichiwa Bitches by Robyn… a funny little video that shows the singer doesn’t take herself too seriously even though she’s actually pretty damn good.

One left, one right - that’s how I organize ‘em.

Look for that line… I busted a gut.  


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3Co9GxHJg0



Either Robyn has no concept of what constitutes what in various Asian countries or she’s a genius and has created a video that made me loudly guffaw more than once… like that ending!

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! It’s muffled!

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Unlimited Sushi And The Gaijin Ball Player

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how a retired Major League Baseball player by the name of Manny Ramirez had been signed to play in one of those independent Japanese baseball leagues - not even the top-level stuff.

See HERE for the original story.

 In his MLB career, Ramirez had a .312 batting average; 555 home runs (15th most all-time); and 1,831 RBI (18th most all-time). His suspension for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) has possibly tarnished his inclusion in Baseball’s hallowed Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY... maybe.

Despite the PED stuff, he was a heckuva ball player… so adding him to your Japanese baseball team seems like a no-brainer.  

The only real knock, is that Manny Ramirez will turn 45-years-old on May 30 of 2017.

To show you just how much they valued his diminished skill-set, in order to sign him—apparently a steady baseball salary and the creature comforts of Japan weren’t enough, the Kochi Fighting Dogs of Japan’s independent Shikoku Island League Plus sweetened the deal.

I can’t speak of all of the side-deals, because I don’t know them, but what we do know is that Ramirez gets:
  • a Mercedes-Benz car and a driver. Let's hope it's the nice kind of Benz;
  • attendance is optional for practices. Practice? We talkin' 'bout practice, to paraphrase Allan Iverson;
  • his own hotel suite during road trips. Seriously... every ball player on his team should be thankful they don't have to share a room with him. He snores. Actually, no idea if he does, but I bet he will smell of sushi.;
  • unlimited sushi all season long. I can't find fault for asking for this.

What stands out the most? Well, besides practice—they guy was a MLB star who has forgotten more about baseball than any of his teammates are ever likely to learn—I like that he has unlimited sushi all season long.

I’m going to assume that doesn’t mean free sushi for breakfast, lunch and dinner, rather that it implies there will always be a large plate of sushi options for him whenever he is in the team clubhouse.

I don’t know if Ramirez will share, but it could be the best way for him to ingratiate himself with his Japanese teammates.

I doubt that other foreign players going to play on the highest level of Japanese professional baseball teams would ever receive such a treat, because you can't treat anyone better than the rest of the team. 

But we are talking about a low-level team for Manny.

Unlimited sushi?

That’s just Manny being Manny.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph



This Little Piggy Went Wee-Wee-Wee All The Way To Your Home

Six years after the March 11, 2011 9.0 Magnitude earthquake that spawned a massive tsunami and subsequent near triple meltdown of the local nuclear plant, Fukushima residents of four towns are finally being allowed to return to the area.

Residents were told to leave a 20 kilometer swath around the nuclear facility after radioactive gases seeped into the atmosphere, along with radioactive water seeping into the ground and the water.

While these four towns were given the green light for re-habitation, residents are coming home to discover that freeloading wild boars have taken over the once populated areas.

While everyone’s initial thought might be - “Holy crap, fire up the BBQ!” the wild boars are, as you might expect, contaminated by radioactivity, so eating them is out of the question.

So… with local residents now being overrun by wild, radioactive boars… what the heck do you do now?

Call Elmer Fudd… or better yet a Japanese hunter or 14 to capture the bio-hazard.

Radioactive boars? It really is a bio-hazard.

How did they get radioactive?

Well, like most wild animals, they forage. These boars—100s of them—ate plants and berries that were contaminated by the radioactive fallout six years ago. While the boars seem okay, they will more than likely have a shorter than usual lifespan.

The boars had previously existed up in the mountainous areas of Fukushima, but once they sensed a lack of people down below, they had no problem in making themselves right at home.

Having laid down roots and had the run of the place for these past years, the boars do not want to go back up to their previous home…

Can you blame them? Free at last, free at last, free at last. No one to hassle them for six years… can set up a home wherever they want… have piglets… Babe, I think we’re finally home. 

The boars pose the usual wild animal threat to humans. They can attack, or they can get in the way - such as moose or deer when they cause a car accident.

But don’t worry - the boars are not being killed… no wait… they are.

The team of 14 hunters uses rice flour in a cage to trap the boars, and then use an air rifle to kill them, having so far taken out some 300 of the creatures.

Shooting them while they are in a cage? That hardly seems fair...

Couldn't they try and re-locate them back up into the mountains and see how that goes?

I guess not... in case local hunters shoot them and consume the radioactive meat... no, I guess culling them is the way to go.

Sorry... I tried to come up with an alternative.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Above is a Reuters image taken from the Independent (online) of a wild boar walking around an area near the Dai-ichi nuclear power generating plant in Fukushima-ken.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Short Look At Fukushima’s Nuclear Power Clean-up

When a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake struck the northeast area of Japan on March 11, 2011, it sent a massive tsunami (what people incorrectly called a tidal wave in the near-past) that was so huge guesstimates pegged it to have reached a height of 100-feet.

When it crashed along the coastline of north eastern Honshu - Japan’s main island – it swamped many a coastal town, village and city causing death, destruction, damage and emotional raping of the survivors, who not only lost loved ones, homes, jobs, but also a sense of dignity… and even a sense of purpose.

The tsunami killed 19,000 people.

Some 160,000 people were forced to leave their homes. And it wasn’t because of the tsunami.

The tsunami, when it hit land also managed to crash over the retaining walls of the Dai-ichi electrical power nuclear generating plant in Fukushima-ken (province of Fukushima, aka Fukushima Prefecture).

While it didn’t destroy the plant, the tsunami managed to knock out the power grid—ironically the electrical power plant couldn’t generate electricity—and even the backup generators causing the nuclear power plant to no longer have the proper cooling system working causing the nuclear power plant to get hot… real hot… to the point that over the next several months before the situation could be fully shut down, Dai-ichi nearly went critical three times.

Still considered the worst nuclear power accident since Chernobyl, other say it is just as bad, if not worse.

Along with the discharge of radioactive elements into the air, thanks to leaks within the nuclear reactors, radioactive waters and chemicals leeched down into the ground and spread out and into the waters to the east of the reactor station.

Poisoned air, poisoned land, poisoned water. The unholy trinity of nuclear mismanagement.

The Dai-ichi facility is owned by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power COmpany)… and since the disaster, it was discovered that it had failed in the upkeep of the facilities safety operations… which led to an overall Japan-wide check of all other nuclear power generating facilities, which then led to the shutdown of all 50+ nuclear reactor stations owing to gross mismanagement of the safety protocols.

Anyhow… while very few brave souls have dared to venture back to the Fukushima area near the Dai-ichi facility, soulless robots continue to give their “life” in an effort to simply GET information from within the radioactive hot reactors to determine how to best remove nuclear debris…

Yes… they are still trying to figure out how they are going to try and clean-up the facility, even while Japan’s Ministry of Economic Trade and Industry ministry keeps revealing updates on just how much this will all cost.

Current estimates peg the clean-up to take between 30 to 40 years – which is a hell of a range, and cost an estimated 21.5 trillion yen (US $189 billion).

You know that is based on the low-end estimate of 30 years, right? And if you want a more accurate estimate, assume that that dollar amount is merely 75% (IE 30 out of 40 years) worth of the full cost.

But is it?

Consider, if you will, the 2014 estimate that pegged clean-up at around half the current cost. Half.

So what will the estimate be in 2020? $290 billion?

In a world where everyone wants answers and solutions now, to be fair to TEPCO, providing any such figures merely continues the pattern of it dooming itself.

The fact that current robot technology can not stand the radioactive burn inside the reactors to gather the data it needs to figure out what it’s next step is troubling.

The Scorpio robot from last month was supposed to be able to stand the heat for a 10-hour number crunching job, but only managed to stay active for two hours before the radiation scrambled its circuits.

If you can’t even get the basic information you need – and estimates for clean-up depend on that – how can one have a truly accurate estimation?

Also… have you ever heard of any project taking over 10 years that was actually on budget?

I’m sure it happens… but we’re talking about a TEPCO-led project… I wouldn’t take that bet even if I knew I’d be alive in 40 years.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Learning To Eat In Japan

I was the type of guy who had only ever eaten Japanese food once - the day before I left Toronto to teach English in Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

I had heard all those rumors about raw fish... for the record, that's sashimi... NOT sushi.

I arrived in Japan, and after a couple of days in Tokyo for orientation, I was taken to my new home - a small, rural city called Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, about 100 kilometers or so north of Tokyo.

I couldn't find it on a map of Japan before leaving - this was pre-Internet days, by the way in 1990.

I had no idea what to expect, had no experience in cooking my own food, had zero experience in shopping for food or anything other than comic books...

I was a McDonalds kind of guy, who had previously relied on my mom or dad to cook my food or to buy it from the grocery stores.

I was, to put it simply, screwed.

I was shell-shocked upon arriving in Japan. I was quite literally afraid to go out and look around for fear of getting lost, and lacking any sort of Japanese language skills to enable me to get help in finding my way back.

The first time I tried to follow directions, I rode out on my bicycle to try and find my new American girlfriend's apartment some 20 minutes away, and ended up on a three-hour tour of Ohtawara City's many rice fields.

The clue was in the name, as Ohtawara translates into Big-Rice field-Field, and outside of its main downtown core, the suburbs consisting of rice fields were a mere three minutes in any direction.

Roads were (in the suburbs), small one-and-a-half car widths wide, and for a bicycle rider - even with some experience - were a bit daunting, what with the water-filled rice paddies alongside the pitted roadways.

After arriving, my bosses took my to a grocery store... and thanks to system overload of everything being new, I had no idea where I was driven and how it related to my home-base.

Yes, I had a large wall map, with somethings marked out in English by my thoughtful predecessor, but one still had to know how to read it properly to get an inkling of where one was and where one wanted to go... besides... the map was on my wall... I couldn't take it with me.

As such, after that initial drive to the grocery store (Iseya), where I loaded up on some groceries like milk, a bottle of Coke, cereal, some stupidly large Japanese apples (larger than a softball) and pears (also larger than a softball and round like one) that could each feed a family of four... I lived off all that for a few days. 

But aside from discovering the sake shop below my apartment where they also sold milk, Coke and potato chips and candy bars, I didn't eat real food for nearly two weeks... except when there was a welcome party for myself, at which point I learned that in order not to starve, I should each eat every bit of Japanese food put down in front of me.

That was how I came to love eating Japanese food. It was tasty because, despite what I had assumed, man can not live on Coke and chocolate bars alone.

That two-week period saw me lose around 10-pounds... which at that point of time in my life I couldn't afford to lose (I can afford to lose it now, of course).

It was at that time, thanks to visits from Ashley and Matthew - two other local assistant English teachers (Matthew lived somewhere near me in the city)... that I was able to get over my shyness (believe it or not!!!) and my fear of the whole situation, and discover where the heck a few things were.

Having a girlfriend - Ashley - who was 3+ years younger than me at around 21 - who seemed far more adept at picking up the Japanese language, and who had previously lived on her own and wasn't as afraid as I was initially of trying new things... well... I made sure to pay attention as she rode with me from my spacious three-bedroom L-D-K apartment to the grocery store and to other shops around the town.

It really was a town, more than a city.

There were two grocery stores... Ai-Ai Town was small and had all things food, but also prepared foods - the only thing I believe I ever bought from there, and Iseya, which lacked the prepared food offerings, but had everything else and a wider selection of food options... as well as a drycleaner, and a large retail section where you could buy clothes (never in my size or style), photography stuff, toys... it's like what Walmart later began to offer in their super-stores... just 15 years earlier.

With Ashley (and Matthew) coming over frequently, I quickly got out of my frightened comfort zone and thought I would try and cook something besides eggs and bacon and a can of beans (with a slab of pork, of course).

I wanted to show off to the girl, that I was more than the guy who was a virgin when we met... though I think most people assumed I was more than that - as I covered up my shyness by being funny, loud, and brash... but mostly in an attempt to be the life of the party.

So... even though I had never cooked before, had never read a cook book... there was something inside a corner of my brain that made me think I could cook a bowl of chili... so I bought what I thought all of the ingredients should be at Iseya (ground beef was and continues to be expensive, though not as expensive as steak - which I never ate while there unless it was a staple at some enkai (party).

I cooked chopped up the fresh ingredients, braised the ground beef - covering it in cinnamon... my cupboards came stocked with every damn spice I had ever heard off. While not a cook, and I don't think I am, stupid, I did know how to use most of the spices and herbs intuitively, though aside from rice, I have no idea how to use saffron... which I also had a small amount of packed in a wrapper and stuffed in a bottle.

While that initial chili was a bit weak for Ashley, who called me a wimp because I thought it was too spicy, which every successive pot I made - once a week for three years - I made it hotter and hotter... to the point where I nearly killed Ash from the spiciness that I no longer found excessive.

A few months later after realizing I had a convective oven/microwave, my mother sent me microwavable lasagna shells (is that the word?), and I made three-cheese lasagna at least once a month for two years.

Cheese is another expensive item - especially when one is guessing as to what the hell goes into a lasagna.

Aside from the chili, which apparently became famous enough around Ohtawara - any Japanese female guest was fed some - I was asked to teach a class on how to make it . Matthew was also asked to teach how to make an ice cream cake... so you can say we are semi-professional chefs. Matthew's daughter (my god-daughter) is now a professional chef.

It makes me smile when I think about that last paragraph...

My advice to you, is to get out of your comfort zone as soon as you are able, explore, experiment... and nowadays, use the Internet to learn about things... like where the hell you are living.

Odds are pretty good someone has created a blog about living in either your town or city, or at least in an area similar to your own.

Cripes... if a shiftless man who didn't even know how to shop can get paid to teach how to cook... well... there's hope for everyone.

Except Jeff S. ... a buddy of myself and Matthew (and Ashley), who steadfastly refused to eat Japanese food, and would purchase sandwiches from a local Dunkin' Donuts (nothing like that in my neighborhood)... or would make and take his own peanut butter sandwiches with him to school.

Oh... the school lunches in Japan - fantastic!!!! Don't be like Jeff... get out of your comfort zone and experiment.

I eat Japanese food at least once every week.

Though... to Jeff's credit, he did marry a Japanese woman... so I can only hope he's eating Japanese food by now, some 23+ years later.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: No... I never took a photo of my food while in Japan. I wish I had  - but only to show you just how much effort I put into that weekly pot of chili. Since leaving Japan, I made chili once a month later for my parents and brother, and it was horrible... since then, I have not tried to make it... though apparently my wife has bought the ingredients and is hinting I should get out of my comfort zone once again.
PPS: That image at the top shows barbecue eel in a broth with noodles.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Calling All Goldfish Lovers!

This isn’t an invention, nor is it new, but it is a Japanese art project from about six years ago.

Back in 2012, the Kingyobu (gold fish club, pronounced “goldfish club… okay, in Japanese, it is pronounced as kin - geeyo - boo)began filling up their own aquariums designed to look like telephone booths (something that are rarely seen nowadays, as even I finally got a cellphone this year)… and then filling the art aquarium with hundreds upon hundreds of standard orange colored, non-fantail goldfish, as part of Osaka’s Canvas Project art festival…

However, a year earlier at the same festival, the same group brought out a single telephone aquarium as a test…

The Kingyobu are made up of students from the Kyoto University of Art and Design.

Conceptually beautiful, what I can tell from the photos is that there is some sort of aeration system pumping oxygen bubbles up from the bottom to oxygenate the aquariums so visitors wouldn’t see hundreds of fish gasping for air at the top all at once.

Got an aquarium? See your goldfish floating at the top sucking air? Clean your damn tank. It might look clean with the poop tucked down in t, but they pee in there, too.

While goldfish might not need an aerated aquarium if there are a limited number of fish, the smaller air surface as seen in the phone booth aquarium above was smartly recognized by the Kingyobu to need an aeration system.

Feeding them must be fun.
Same with fishing out the dead ones… as you know there’s going to be a few that simply couldn’t handle the stress of being shipped and moved into their new environment.

“Come on Shinobu, let’s go look at the art aquarium!”
“Aaaaiiieeeeeeee”

Yes… always make sure your art projects don’t involve too much death.

Cool idea.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photos from the Kingyobu Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kingyobu

Friday, March 10, 2017

No More Nips

As a fairly normal dude, in my youth I certainly enjoyed spotting the headlights—the erect female nipples poking through from behind the fabric of a shirt—specifically a t-shirt—et al.

The “headlights” are often caused by “excitement”, a bit of a chill, and I have no frickin’ idea what else. I never gave it much thought.

I’m older now, and while I certainly enjoy watching “Penny” from The Big Bang Theory shine on, in the real world the phenomenon doesn’t makes its appearance as much as my memory thinks it did....  much to my chagrin.

I blame it on a) global warming; 2) women having better brassieres or under garments; III) I just don’t excite women anymore.

It’s probably No. 2.

Regardless… one Japanese company has created a t-shirt that will hide those annoying pop-ups from the all-seeing eyes of every pervert in your vicinity.

I can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure that in all of the photos showing the shirt being deployed, a man is wearing the shirt.

Are male headlights an on-going concern in Japan? Are female perverts making all sorts of rude comments and gestures while ogling the useless male public parts?

Nope... no nip-ups on these guys...


The Seisho Shiro T-shirt is available from www.japantrends.com.

Shiro is the Japanese word for “white”… which is usually the culprit when annoying headlights pop up unexpectedly.

I assume Seisho is the company name, but apparently, seisho also means “Formal”… ergo, what we have here is the formal white t-shirt.

The shirt are made in Japan (so don’t worry Mr. Abe, and are made from a 100 per cent organic cotton mix) mixed with what?… if it’s 100%, then it’s all… unless they purposely meant to obfuscate by saying a 100% mix…).

The cotton is apparently sourced from fair and sustainable sources in Uganda, India and the U.S…. you can see how they are made:



The Seiso Shiro T-shirt factory is optimized using the Toyota Sewing System, which is part of the car company’s famously efficient manufacturing process - the implication being that since it follows Toyota’s sewing plan, nothing—neither material, time or effort—is wasted.

And, just because… each t-shirt is manually ironed before shipment to provide a better customer experience.

Don’t you feel better that the Seisho Shiro is ironed? Makes you wonder what’s going on with all the other t-shirts you previously purchased. You know… the ones that show off your pointy nipples.

The Seisho Shiro T-shirt is available in two styles: V-neck and crew-neck, but obviously only in white (hence the name).

Each shirt will set you back ¥9,720 (US $84.64 per today’s exchange rates via www.xe.com).  

Did you know that in Ontario, Canada, women are allowed to go topless - just as a man can  - in public.

That hard-earned right was given some 20 years ago, but sadly, after the initial furor, I’ve not seen a single woman take advantage of it. but, I get it. It’s nice to have the RIGHT to do so, thereby eliminating a previous bias wholly-dependent on gender.

So… being gender-neutral or whatever the term is… if you are embarrassed by having your nipples protrude through your shirt fabric thanks to: global warming not being a real thing; having a crappy bra or undergarment; or the fact that I do excite you, well… perhaps you should seek out the Seisho Shiro T-shirt.

Or if it was the third point, contact me.

Addendum: Days later - no one has contacted me. Dang. 

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Oh… I just got my headline. I didn’t mean it any other way than as an affectionate way to relate to the subject of this blog.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Robot Store Clerk In Japan

I actually used the far-cooler headline below for work:

I, Robot - 0, Store Clerk

In this case, I used possible confusion from the letter I and the Roman Numeral for One for a witty bon mot! It 'tis to laugh.

For those of you hoping your child might one day enter the exciting and challenging world of retail convenience, think again... automated robotic checkout clerks have recently completed the first round of tests at a Lawson convenience store in Moriguchi, Osaka.

Retail chain Lawson, Inc.  and Panasonic Corporation conducted the industry-first experimental demonstration of Regi-Robo, an entirely automated checkout system from December 12, 2016 to February 20, 2017.

And... it seems like it's a success.

Supported by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Lawson and Panasonic also conducted the experimental demonstration using RFIDs (Radio Frequency IDentification electronic tags) in February 2017 - to test speedier checkouts to enhance customer convenience.

With the Regi-Robo system, customers picked up items and scanned the item's barcode, and then put the items into the specially-designed basket: Smart Basket.
When customers then placed the Smart Basket into the dedicated checkout counter, the system automatically settled the transaction and placed the purchased items into a plastic bag. As store staff did not need to scan products for registration or packing, the new system contributed to labor-savings in store operations.

To further improve customers' convenience and the productivity of operations, Lawson and Panasonic attached RFIDs, electronic tags to products, instead of barcodes, which enabled the communication information and eliminated the need of product scanning.

Watch the YouTube video below to see Panasonic’s Robo-Regi and Smart Basket robotic retail clerk in action:




The only issue I can find with this is that it will ultimately cost jobs.

yes, it might mean an up-tick in job creation in the brainier aspects of the Japanese robotics industry, but it will mean a real down-tick in the clerking industry... which will affect job prospects for many more people in Japan—despite the global impression that all Japanese are super-geniuses.

They're not. As such, employment rates in Japan—already a hot-button topic—will suffer.

Smart robotics people will always find a job.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Ever-Smiling Napkin

If you look at the photos above, you will see a Japanese invention for a new type of napkin that helps the eater—Japanese female—look demure while they are eating, even when they aren't demure.

Yes… now Japanese women can eat in peace around all those disgusting men at a fast food restaurant without worrying about the optics of opening ones mouth to engorge a hot dog.

You know guys everywhere are watching you - chikan (aka pervert in Japanese) are watching... with the obvious implication that the foot-long hot hog you are gobbling is akin to a penis. They wish.

Obviously the advertisement photos above didn't want to gross anyone out with the whole hotdog routine I described above, and opted for what I assume is a hamburger... they can be messy too, what with that mayonnaise dripping down the side of our mouth.

Perverts everywhere. I know, I know... the bastards.   

I can actually see the Japanese getting into this napkin, though truthfully, wouldn’t a plain napkin do the trick anyhow?

Why does it have to have a fake mouth on it? Sure it looks like your mouth is closed… but so what? You still have to hold the smiling napkin in your hands in front of the food you are eating… so why not just have a plain one that doesn’t cost you anything?

Bling, I suppose.

It actually looks kind of neat… and may even make some eaters look better than they actually look.

I’m torn on whether I should diss this invention because ,even though I don’t feel there’s a true earth-shattering need for such a device, I can’t say that there’s anything truly wrong with it.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: For the record, I'm not interested in that sort of chikan-ery.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Andrew Joseph: Taxi Walker

Okay… since the book review I just wrote is now on hold until the actual publication date, I’m doing another one of these social commentaries on what are purported to be Japanese inventions.

The above photo is not new… though it was new to me when I saw it.

Essentially a pedometer, what we see above is a something called a TaxiWalker… a device that shows you just how much money save in taxi charges by all that walking you’ve been doing.

It’s actually quite a cool device.

Other than owning the latest cool device and spending lots of money for the privilege of owning one—see whatever phone you recently purchased—the next best thing is seeing how much money you have saved.

Okay, I don’t know if that’s true, but I was oddly intrigued by how much money I could save merely because I am so lousy at saving money.

I’m of the position that I spend whatever money I have just in case I don’t get a chance to do so later… a fact I saw first hand with my parents saving up for that rainy day only to have my mother die at the age of 55… a number I am approaching soon enough.

Obviously, I will save money if there’s something I want or need—like paying the bills (That’s apparently something I need to do - who knew?).

But the TaxiWalker… I like it.

I even like the logo! Although that thumb out thing is more of a hitchhiking thing, rather than a means to describe how to attract a cab!

Still, the TaxiWalker looks like a taxi’s fare meter… if you are familiar with a checkered cab… an actual car that was manufactured until 1982 - pretty much looking the same since it was first introduced in 1958… and an American taxi company called Checker Taxi.   

The money saved on the “fare” changes with every 50 steps you take.

But… for those of you living in Japan, the TaxiWalker uses real taxi rates in Japan, and can be adjusted for different regions across Japan… because Japan has different rates in different parts of the country.

Other fun walking aspects include being able to switch to “Highway Mode” or “Long-Haul Mode” …

Want to buy one? Holy crap! You can!

Visit Japan Trend Shop and pick one up for US $33…  though I am unsure if it works the same in the U.S… but if you are then going to Japan… hey… bonus! Click HERE.

It comes in white, yellow, orange and black.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph