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Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Watermelon Busts

Sorry guys, this isn’t about large breasted Japanese women, rather it is about an old curious game played by the Japanese (they can be large breasted Japanese women, if you want to imagine that).

Called suikawari (スイカ割り), the game is akin to whacking a piñata.

In the suikawari game, a watermelon is placed down onto the ground—sandy ground works best—while one person is blindfolded.

The rest of the people spin around the blindfolded person and much hilarity ensues as the blindfolded person attempts to whack the watermelon with a wooden stick.

If successful, everyone scrambles around for a tasty treat, otherwise everyone laughs at the person swinging and missing, and it’s the next person’s try to win.

Oh yeah, to prevent sandy and dirt from getting onto the watermelon, the fruit/vegetable is placed atop a blanket that sits over the sand. Sand is preferred to better prevent the watermelon from rolling when it is struck. In the event pictured above, they have used a flattened cardboard (corrugated) box.

Nowadays, at least in North America, some people are placing rubber bands tightly around watermelons until the explode under the pressure, with hilarity for all.

Hmm… I wonder when rubber bands were first used in Japan?

Anyhow, back in 1991, the Japan Agricultural Cooperative created a set of rules for the game—the Japan Suika-Wari Association Rules.

Rules… sigh.

No doubt about it, aside from the rules turning spontaneous fun into classic Japanese kata (structure of how things must be done), the purpose of the rules creation was to increase the consumption of watermelon.

Here are the official rules - feel free to ignore:

  • Distance between player and watermelon: over 5m, and within 7m;
  • Stick: Circumference of 5cm; length equal to or less than 1m, 20cm;
  • Material to use for blindfold: JSWA-recognized blindfolds. To verify that the player was truly blinded, observers were encouraged to drop a 10,000-yen note in front of him/her;
  • Watermelon: a well-ripened domestic melon;
  • Time limit: 3 minutes;
  • Judging: Judges should rate the player on how pretty a break between halves she managed to make. Players who cleaved the watermelon in equal halves could come close to a perfect score, while players who broke them into unequal parts would receive lower marks;
  • Other details: Judges should have eaten at least 10 watermelons in the current year.

I love the rule stating that one can only be a judge if they have eaten 10+ watermelons in the calendar year. Yeah… never say die, eat more fruit/vegetables!

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo taken from Wikipedia via Flicker: konitomo1027 - スイカ ヒットの瞬間

Friday, August 17, 2018

Being Physically-Challenged In Japan

Below is a portion of an article from the University of Tokyo website, discussing the options available in the workforce for Japanese people with physical challenges.

Despite all the talk of inclusion and diversity as core social values, many people with disabilities in Japan find their options dwindle fast as they get closer to completing their studies and start looking for jobs.

In a society where many companies recruit people fresh out of college and employees tend to stay with the same employer for years, if not for life, people with disabilities who are unable to fit into cookie-cutter, 40-hour-a-week work styles often find themselves shut out entirely from the job market.

Takeo Kondo, associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST), is trying to change that by advocating an alternative: “super-short employment,” where wages can be paid for working as little as 15 minutes a day.

“Employment should have nothing to do with time spent on the job,” Kondo said in a recent interview at RCAST on the university’s Komaba Campus in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward. “But Japan’s career model has centered on one where a person works 40 hours a week throughout the year—a model that is implicitly geared toward male adults without disabilities that often excludes others.”

The 42-year-old psychologist, who joined the RCAST faculty in 2005, has for years run DO-IT Japan, a program that helps elementary to graduate school students with disabilities who possess leadership potential to utilize computer technologies and acquire self-advocacy skills so they can gain access to secondary and higher education and enter the job market.

DO-IT, which stands for Diversity, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology and originally started in the U.S., was launched in Japan in 2007 by Kenryu Nakamura, a professor at RCAST. It has helped students regardless of their condition, ranging from attention hyperactivity deficit disorder, learning disabilities (LD) and autism, to those tackling hearing, visual and physical challenges.

Kondo said he was happy to see DO-IT participants succeed academically but found that students faced a bigger hurdle once they started looking for employment.

“One of our students who had difficulty writing due to developmental disorders was probably the first person in Japan with that condition to take the college entrance exam using a word processor (instead of handwriting answers),” Kondo said. “We also had the nation’s first student with LD (dyslexia) taking the standardized college entrance exam by audio (having the questions read to him). But all our students encountered huge hurdles—of a different kind—when they got to the job-hunting stage.”

Japan’s employment model doesn’t accommodate talented employees who, for example, have difficulty with mobility and need help with eating or using the toilet, or who are super-high achievers but can only work up to 10 hours a week, he said.

To continue reading the article, click HERE.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

What About Matsuo?

I have long held the belief that when it comes to social services in Japan, it is lacking behind the rest of the so-called first-world nations.

While I’m sure things have progressed a fair bit since I was in Japan 25 years ago—the stigma surrounding mentally-challenged people was deplorable—I can state that those with physical challenges have got a better environment.

I’ll present an article on those with physical challenges in Japan tomorrow.

Back in the 1990s, for example, kids with mental challenges were not automatically placed in a classroom environment specially-designed for their needs.

It was left up to the family to decide if their son or daughter was to be placed in a special education classroom.

In Tochigi-ken’s city of Ohtawara where I assisted taught English at its then-seven junior high schools, the school known as Wakakusa Chu Gakko had a wonderful special education program.

But, some 10 kilometers to the west at Nozaki Chu Gakko, for example, they did not. And they had one boy Matsuo who was most definitely in need of special education.

And while it would be easy for me to suggest there should have been a way for him to attend the Wakakusa class—he could have.

His parents, who ran a small local area restaurant, did not want the social stigma of having a child to be recognized as being “special”, and so this kid attended and floated through three years of junior high school.

Matsuo somehow got my phone number, and from the first week he began calling me once a week onwards to chat.

I didn’t know Japanese when I arrive, and it hardly improved to more than a kindergarten level when I left three years on… but still he would call me… say Hello, and then chat away in Japanese to me.

I didn’t mind, but after my second year (he was in the last year of junior high—because everybody in Japan passes and proceeds to the next grade no matter how poorly they do—I mentioned the situation to the head English teacher Mrs. Nagashima (Nagashima-sensei), who after a brief investigation discovered that my mystery caller was her student Matsuo.

I had thought it was some old, confused woman calling me.

She told him to stop—which I felt really bad about… because I didn’t want to come off as appearing insensitive. He did chat away for 45 minutes at a time, however.

To compensate however, Matsuo did begin to send me letters and photos he took at various local wrestling events, which was cool because I did (still kindda do) enjoy professional wrestling entertainment.

It’s now 25 years since I left Japan, and wonder how the now 38-year-old Matsuo is.

I know he would have had a job at his family’s restaurant—Nagashima-sensei told me about that, after I confesses my concerns for his future. She was also the one who had told me about Matsuo’s parents wanting him to go to Nozaki rather than the special education class at Wakakusa.

By the way… for those of you who believe the Japanese are reticent to tell a gaijin intimate details—bullcrap. You need to develop trust, and you need to show concern about them or others. You may not fit in with the “work” environment, but you may fit in with the “friend” environment.

As for Matsuo, back in class I observed the other students treating him poorly—picking on him because he was the nail that stood up, and needed hammering down, thanks to his inability to fit in with the so-called normal smarts of Japanese society.

I intervened when I saw it happen, having my concerns spelled out by Japanese speakers—but not in Matsuo’s presence.

My farewell speeches for each class and school encouraged the students to treat everyone as equals… as friends… as they had done for me.

It should have been easy for the Nozaki students when it came to Matsuo. They were by far the most polite kids I had ever come across.

Heck, they had even figured out I had a crush on Noboko who taught there, and when I was off visiting other school, they hammered at her that I was a nice guy, and how much they liked me, which caused her to alter her opinion about me which created a wonderful ending of my time in Japan, despite the eventual outcome. No-No-Noboko.

Matsuo had graduated by that year, did not go to high school—I don’t recall actually—but I can state that he seemed happy whenever he saw me, and hung around me—perhaps as another outsider of Japanese society—hopefully more for friendship than for safety.

Okay… those Nozaki kids were only sometimes mean to him—exasperated perhaps by his constant childish behavior—and the teasing was quite minor… IE, I only saw it the one time and commented about it immediately… so maybe things weren’t so bad for Matsuo.

At his parent’s restaurant he was going to be the busboy, busing tables and doing the dishes and sweeping up. A fine job for anyone.

Who’s to say that anything he learned at a special education class would have changed his lot in life working at his parent’s restaurant?

It would have at the very least allowed him the opportunity to be around kids in a similar situation to his own… and maybe he might have felt better about himself—of course, I don’t know if that was ever a concern for him.

I imagine it was, but what the fug do I know?

If anyone has some realtime information on the situation of Japanese students with special education needs, I would love to hear from you.

Right now, I assume Matsuo’s parents are in their 60s and if not soon to retire, are also approaching an age where they will no longer be able to provide for Matsuo.

And THAT’s what I am concerned about.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hot-lantis And Future Fashion

In anticipation of the world’s cities turning into multiple versions of Neo-Atlantis, a Japanese man has created AMPHIBIO, a 3D printed amphibious outfit that acts as a breathing apparatus…

Maybe it’s not such a far-fetched idea.

The Earth does seem to be getting warmer, meaning the polar icecaps are melting raising the overall level of the global seas and oceans.

In fact, it is predicted that by the year 2100, the world’s temperature will increase by 3.2C which is an increase of about 5.7F. That’’s just the average.

Those 36C summer days are going to be 41.7C… NOT including the HUMIDITY. You Americans should know that’s 107.1F (not including humidity).

That’s frickin’ hot.

Perhaps by the year 2100 we will no longer have to travel to work, being able to work from home in a clerkless shopping environment as everything is e-commerce with electric drone/robot delivery.

It will still play havoc with energy demands, but perhaps we will have become smart enough to utilize solar, wind and geothermal where those options are truly available.

Created by biomimicry designer and material scientist Kamei Jun (surname first), the AMPHIBIO is made from a porous hydrophobic material that supports underwater breathing by replenishing oxygen from the surrounding water and dissipating carbon dioxide which accumulate in the system, inspired from the gill of water diving insects.

It’s actually quite the interesting product, which I hope my descendants never have to use, but just in case we haven’t already developed our own set of gils, the AMPHIBIO could suffice.

Obviously the world will not be underwater by 2100, but parts of the planet will be.

The AMPHIBIO doesn’t resolve the problem of global warming, but designer Kamei’s project does help in 2018 point out the necessity to begin doing something about the issue.

POTUS (president of the United States) aside, global warming is a real thing.

The wild weather we’ve been having this year is merely a meek harbinger of things to come.

Ed. Note: After writing this, later this past Monday I found the following story about Jakarta, Indonesia sinking: HERE. So... maybe Kamei knows something...

Maybe we will need to have communities closer to the water’s edge, or maybe as Kamei seems to be shockingly pointing out, if nothing is done to halt global warming soon, we’ll need our own set of gills.

Kamei’s website can be found at, and it’s in English.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sakurajima Daikon Good For The Heart

As evidenced by the photo above—part of a 1930s-era collection I purchased when I was in Japan—the Sakurajima daikon radish is one big veggie.

And, provided you can lift it without it killing you, Japanese scientists have discovered that it has positive effects in battling cardiovascular disease.

A recently published article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that compounds in the Sakurajima Daikon radish could help protect coronary blood vessels and potentially prevent heart disease and stroke.

The Sakurajima daikon radish is grown on Sakurajima (桜島, Cherry Blossom Island), which is part of Kagoshima-ken (Kagoshima Prefecture) in the western part of Japan.

The Sakurajima volcano is Japan’s most active volcano, in a near-constant state of eruption expelling volcanic ash all over the island.

Sakurajima is a stratovolcano, with three peaks: Kita-dake (North peak), Naka-dake (Middle peak) and Minami-dake (South peak), the latter of which is active now.

The volcanic ash deposited around Sakurajima, along with the dry density and PH levels of the soils has helped increase the size of vegetation in the area, including the Sakurajima daikon radish.

Radishes in general posses an excellent source for human antioxidant consumption, and according to global scientists, can have a positive affect in battling cardiovascular disease by reducing high blood pressure and clots.

The recent study led by Japanese researchers was the first attempt to see if the super-large daikon radish possessed more cardio benefits than other standard radishes with higher nitric oxide production—a key regulator of coronary blood vessel function.

And, lo and behold—otherwise why am I writing about this, it was realized that the Sakurajima daikon radish did indeed offer more nitric oxide production in vascular cells than other smaller Japanese radishes.

So… while the results are merely the results, with nothing officially set in stone, if you are looking to improve your own cardiovascular health, you may want to include the Sakurajima daikon radish into your diet.

Just don’t get a hernia while trying to heft it onto the cutting board.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, August 13, 2018

Just Because

This past weekend, I have been coaching my son's Peewee Select baseball team in the Toronto City championships.

We managed to get through to the semi-finals before bowing out to the eventual winning team, losing by one run.

That winning team was a strange opponent for us. We beat then twice over the first part of the year by over 10 runs in each game, lost a close one by one run in mid-summer, again on Sunday morning by a run.

We were down by about six runs as we began the top of the sixth inning (I think), and finally got our bats to wake up, tying the game. But the bottom of the inning led off with a hit batsman, and then it was typical Little League ball with stolen bases and then a deep fly ball to bring home the winning run against us.

Bloordale Baseball congratulates Annette Baseball and wishes them the best of luck in the Provincial championships.

As for myself... I now have a void for a couple of weeks until house league starts up again, with indoor hockey starting up in about six weeks. I don't coach hockey at Westmall, but will be taking the reins on an OPHL (Oakridge Park Hockey League) team - The Marauders.

The OPHL is celebrating its 50th anniversary this winter. It's an outdoor league and is for kids aged 6-12 who all play on the same team, but are divided onto lines dependent on their skill.

It's an affordable hockey league - free!!! For boys and girls.
  • We provide a uniform (but it must be returned after the season concludes.
  • Goalie equipment is provided, including stick, but all else is up to the family (skates, sticks, equipment, jock, helmet).
  • Parents will be asked to help out during their kid's games: selling coffee/hot chocolate, and baked goods; be asked to maintain the scoring; or lend a voice to announce goals and assists and perform time-keeping.
  • Each line of similarly skilled players plays against each other for three minute shifts. Goalies play the entire game. Each line will play six minutes per each of the three periods.
Oh... and kids must sell $60 worth of raffle tickets towards the end of season event - lots of cool prizes for pro sports tickets, TVs, boxes of Freezies (we won that two years ago), presentation of trophies and much more. Pizza and drinks are free at the party, while the parents/guardians may purchase their own food tickets.

And yeah, we know... selling raffle tickets... the parents fork out the $60 (Canadian)... but maybe some do sell to their grandparents.

The OPHL is a low-skill league, but a fun one that is not only affordable, but is played outdoors!!! Like old-time hockey! Eddie Shore!

My son is too old to play in the league, but I respect the community morals of this league so much that I volunteered to be an assistant coach for this upcoming year... but when the head coach (Bobby) was selected to be the OPHL president, I found myself with a job offer as head coach.

It's mostly just creating the line-up and opening the door so the kids can get on and off the ice, and making sure the youngest aren't freaked out, but it's also a chance to instill social guidelines that will hopefully ensure the kids take with them to adulthood... you know, fair play and all that neat stuff.

When I was a kid, I played soccer. I never really realized the time and effort everyone involved in community sports put forth... organization, permits, time commitments... even when I was coaching soccer as an 18-25 year-old with my buddy Rob who was the head coach at Etobicoke Youth Soccer.

I learned a bit more from grade school buddy Antoine who organizes all of Westmall Hockey, and even more from Patrick and Wendy who have done a great job at Bloordale Baseball for years.

Rob coached his sisters because they needed a coach. Patrick and Wendy had kids go through Bloordale, but have long since grown past the playing age (though they do ump!), and Antoine at Westmall who has no kids of his own, but loves his community and hockey.

When I played soccer, the coaches would often drive me to and from games. I was good, sure, but they still did it because it was the nice thing to do. They even bought oranges and sliced them up to ensure us players didn't die or dehydration... this was years before parents felt they should help out. Volunteers who paid for oranges out of their own pocket to feed other people's kids while teaching them about sports?! What a racket!

I've driven baseball players to and from games (pay it forward, right?). And I coach because I hope it inspires the kids I've coached to do something within their community.

One of the girl's I had coached in soccer before going to Japan... she coached against me last year in baseball!!!!

My point of all of this? None really.

Except that when you are in Japan, don't be afraid to be part of the community. Don't just go and hide in your apartment. I'm not saying go out and teach English for free... but you could volunteer to read a book at a local library, for example. Heck, my buddy Vinnie - he donates hundreds of US dollars worth of new books (not even including the shipping costs he pays) to libraries and schools! No one asks him to do this. He's not a rich person. He does it... just because.

Anyhow... I know this wasn't a blog about Japan, and was really about donating time to a community... and I'm too burned out to write about Japan.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Digital Collection Of Buddhist Scriptures On Line

Now... after 14 years of work, the University of Tokyo - led by humanities professor Masahiro Shimoda has released a collection on-line of Buddhist scriptures that people around the world can check out.

The digital project archived the Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo, containing scriptures and their interpretations from India, China and Japan. The 100-volume collection, based on Buddhist texts whose origin dates back 2,500 years and comprising more than 100 million Chinese characters, was originally published by researchers including Junjiro Takakusu, a Buddhism scholar at Tokyo Imperial University (the predecessor of UTokyo), over a 10-year span beginning in 1924.

What was missing from the first digital-text version, though, was more than 6,000 kanji (Chinese alphabet used in Japan) contained in the printed version; the characters could not be displayed digitally, as they had not been encoded for computers.

Last year, nearly a decade after that first digital release, the group managed to get 2,800 of these uncoded characters registered on Unicode, the encoding standard for handling text on computers. It means that these characters can at last be displayed on computers, thus being spared digital oblivion.

"Government bodies had not been particularly concerned about the possibility that certain kanji could go extinct, that they would not exist on computers," says Shimoda, a professor of Indian philosophy at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology. "A number of private-sector projects were set up over the past 20 years to create a new system for displaying unregistered kanji, but they proved unsustainable when their funding ran out."

To learn more, visit The University of Tokyo website (in English) HERE.

Andrew Joseph