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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Advice For Surviving Japan's Humidity And Cold

There's an interesting article in Japan Today written by an ALT living in Japan, discussing the pros and cons... actually all cons of having to teach class in the summertime... her sweaty experience can be read HERE.

Never let it be said that I am never influenced by article someone else has read (thanks Vinnie!), and so allow me to present my take on Japan's sweat shops, aka teaching in the summer in a country that doesn't believe in A/C.

Sadly, I am one of those people who sweats when it gets warm outside. Forget about hot... I'm talking about warm.

Fortunately, even if I happened to forget to wear deodorant (it happened twice in mega decades), I do NOT smell. Promise.

I just perspire.

Japan in the summer time is a land of mushi atsui. The first phrase I ever heard that wasn't about greeting someone or saying thank-you.

It means humid and hot.

I can't speak about Hokkaido - the big island to the north of mainland Japan, but I assume it gets humid there, too, but Japan after its cold winter and short spring, has a hot summer accompanied by humidity that last essentially from May through September.

Being a fashionable young man once when I lived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, a rural farming city with the nicest people in the country, I used to wear colorful silk shirts when I was an assistant English teacher at the then-seven junior high schools there. I think there are 10 now after an amalgamation of another village or two since I left in 1993.

I learned very early that being fashionable - I was a metrosexual before the term became outdated - was not required in Japan.

I used to wear a suit and tie to my classes... and sure I looked better than all of the Japanese teachers in their track suits or casual attire, and even better than the vice-principal and principal in their ratty suits. But at what cost?!

While I almost always received a ride to the schools I would teach at four days a week (Friday was a Board of Education day), on those rare occasions where I would have to ride my 18-speed bike to school, I quickly learned that wearing a suit and riding to school on a hot and humid day was pure stupidity on my part.

Like I said... silk shirts... a suit... with a backpack on my back... after the 10 kilometer ride to Nozaki Junior High School or the two-kilometer ride to Ohtawara Junior High School, the back of my shirt wouldn't just be blue-purple or green, it would be dark blue-purple or dark green, bordering on black as the humidity would cause me to perspire and color the back of my shirt.

I quickly learned - after about one week - that I might want to carry my suit and silk shirts and tie in a plastic bag in my backpack, and dress in stead in the dress pants and a tee-shirt, changing clothes immediately upon arrival.

That's just some advice for anyone heading to Japan shortly.

Now... here's the thing. In Japan, schools do not have air-conditioning. In fact, for whatever reason, they often have all of the windows in the classroom closed so as to not invite the humidity inside. At least I think that's why. I just realized that 25 years later. Hunh.

In the winter time, while they will bring out a stove to warm the class room at some point in January and February, you will freeze your butt off before that.

It gets cool in October, and downright nippy in November, and bone-rattling cold in December (provided you aren't in Okinawa or Kyushu). At this time, you will find that the schools will all have their windows open - to allow in the brisk refreshing air.

I have no idea why. Perhaps they are old-fashioned in thinking that it's good for the body. I don't know.

While you, the ALT/AET will be able to savor the warmth of the stove at the front of the class in January and February, you will need to wear a sweater for the months immediately preceding it.

And, while you are warm in front of the stove alongside your JTE (Japanese teacher of English), spare a moment to pity the poor students at the back of the class - actually anyone not directly in front of the stove... say everyone other than three out of the 30 students - who are freezing their yaya's off.

Seriously. It may be hard to explain your teaching plan over the chattering and clattering of teeth, and the sounds of frozen hands trying to slap the blood in their arms to start moving again.

I'm only slightly exaggerating. Again... sweaters in the fall and winter. A change of clothes for your journey to school in the summer (and spring if it gets too warm).

In fact, I think the weather is really only comfortable in Japan for about a one-week period, and that is usually around Golden Week (late April to early May) when there isn't any class being taught.

So... if you are still at home and haven't left for Japan, pay the extra $$$ for an extra piece of luggage and ensure you have MORE than enough clothing.

While things have changed a wee bit in Japan over the past 25 years, I am sure, finding foreigner sized clothing can be a bit challenging. Pack accordingly, and pack plenty.

I had five sweaters that I could rotate in and out, as I only saw one school for a week (four days) before I switched to a different school the next week.

And for the mushi atsui days of Japan... and you may only start in September at school as your Board of Education office allows you time to acclimatize yourself to Japan and as they hopefully spend some tie and effort to show you around your town or city, as my Board did for me... you (both men and women) can purchase undershirts at a sporting goods shop.

I have a couple of Under Armor shirts that essentially stop the sweat from bleeding through to my outer shirt. I bought it for coaching baseball and for the polyester uniform I have to wear... and it works.

If I am sweating, I don't feel it on my back. In fact, it helps keep me cool.

However... make sure you get a clerk to help you. In the northern climes, for example, you can get Under Armor shirts for summer and for winter gear. The winter one will keep you warm and dry (for hockey), while the summer one will help you you cool and dry (for baseball).

You don't want the wrong type.

Yeah... there's a limited number of colors, and for you women, it may hamper the type of clothing you want to wear... but in the case of Japan, and with apologies to Fernando Lamas, it is NOT better to look good than to feel good.

You don't want to look like a slob, but as a gaijin (foreigner) your foibles will be excused and overlooked much more readily than if you did something goofy back in your home country.

Andrew Joseph   
PS: Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

American Lamb Back In Japan

After a 15 year absence, Japan has opened up its borders to receiving American sheep and goat exports.

U.S. exports of the products were banned by Japan in 2003 after BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) was found in some herds in America.

Australia and New Zealand are the two top exporters of lamb into Japan, as the country had a record high US$168 million in imports in 2017, an increase of 26 percent over 2016.

Baa, not bah for American sheep and goat farms to be sure.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Problem With Japanese Youth Baseball

I've talked in the past about Japanese baseball - but mostly just about its professional ranks.

This past weekend, my son's Peewee Select baseball team (just one level above standard house league), was in a tournament in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, about 90 minutes drive (traffic) north of our home and home baseball association, Bloordale Baseball (a claim to fame was that we were the home of Joey Votto, professional MLB ball player with the Cincinnati Reds).

By the way... in the photo above that's me and my son in 2017 after yet another loss, as our Select team that year was focused on developing the player's skillset and NOT about the wins. This year's advanced team, has quite a few of my players from last year's team on it... so despite the huge number of losses, we must have learned something.

I have shaved off that greying van dyke - probably right after my brother took that photo of us. He just came out to that away game to say hi.

We had a bad tournament outcome this past weekend, but the kids (11 boys and one girl) played well, with unfortunate miscues being our undoing. We can teach the kids all the baseball skills in the world, but focus remains one thing we are unable to do, or at least do properly... certainly not something we are doing for our level of player.
Our team is good - could be better - but we look after our players, making sure they are emotionally with it, as well as physically. Sometimes you can see right away whether they are going to be lights out awesome or struggling in a game... and as much to protect the team, and give them the best chance to win, my job is also to protect the player to ensure they aren't going to have their confidence destroyed.

Baseball is a game, and it's supposed to be fun - and if you aren't having fun, do something else.

My kids aren't going on to a MLB career, and I see no reason to treat them in any manner other than the fact that we are out to win some games, learn, improve as much as we can, and above all take away a positive experience from the team and the year. Above all, I want them to love the sport enough that one day they will do what I (and all the other volunteers in every baseball association) am doing, and that's be a volunteer when they are older.

I never played organized baseball when I was a kid. I didn't even know the Bloordale Baseball league existed... because if I had, I would have quit soccer - a sport I was pretty damn good at - and played baseball. I liked it that much as a kid, watching it live and on TV, and even hacking around with friends, that I would toss a ball around day after day against the backside of my house or the front stoop.

A neighbor - long since passed, Mrs. O'Hare - gave me a rusty old pitchback... a rubber covered top, that I could angle so that my pitches could either bounce back to me or go up in the sky for a pop-fly catch. My reflexes certainly became quite good.   

But again... even though I didn't play organized baseball, playing with my classmates at Our Lady of Peace grade school or buddies Rob, William, Alfred and BenJohn at Wedgewood, or pals Pat T. and John K at Saint Elizabeth's, taping up a strike zone on a wall to play wallball, or with other friends from Burnhamthorpe Collegiate simply playing 500-up... baseball was fun.

Hell... I wasn't even very good. I couldn't hit, might have been able to catch, but couldn't pitch, as no one taught me how to throw a ball properly until about four years ago - thanks Rob L!

Baseball is supposed to be about having fun. 

I don't believe such thoughts exist in Japan, and its appetite for winning in high school (and junior high school) baseball tournaments, is a disgrace.

There is such a thing called Koshien... a National High School Baseball Championship.

They have a Spring Koshien, and a Summer Koshien, the latter held in August - but both played at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

The Spring tournament is an invitational one... the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament.

These events, are brutal for the players - especially the pitchers... as the teams want to ride their top pitcher as often as possible, pitching in as many games as possible - and all done without any set rules for player safety.

Now I know we are talking about 17-year-old high school players versus 13-year-olds on my team, but in our tournaments, we have pitch counts, implying that if a pitcher pitches over 55 balls in one game, he must have at least two NIGHTS rest before he or she may pitch again. If they pitch (in our division) 80 pitches, they must have three NIGHTS rest before pitching again.

It's done to ensure we, as coaches do not abuse a child for the glory of the team and our own ego.

The last thing we want is to have a kid blow out an arm (which could, conceivably) still happen on Pitch # 1 of a game, by putting too much stress on a young elbow or shoulder.

But during these Japanese Koshien tournaments, there are no rules regarding how often a young Japanese pitcher can throw a ball, or how many pitches they can make in a game.

It is why, some of these Japanese ball teams - again... high school baseball teams... will trot their star pitcher out game after game after game in order to garner some sort of baseball glory that may turn into glory for the school, prefecture, and yes, the team, but also for the ball player themselves.

It's an interesting examination of Japanese culture.

In the business world, a team works together to execute a project, but in baseball culture in Japan, a superstar ball player is expected to carry the burden... and to hell with pain or fatigue... nothing matters more than winning.

For a two-week period in August, Japan's professional ball club the Hanshin Tigers vacates its home field to play on the road, while scores of Japanese high school teams compete in the Summer Kaishen tournament.

Some 40,000 fans will pack the Koshien Stadium for each game, as will scouts for the Japanese and American professional baseball teams, looking to see just what sort of talent is available.

While it is rare for North American scouts to be interested in any ball player that is NOT a pitcher, sometimes a physical specimen such as Hideki Matsui will come around... a ball player that might look Japanese, but has a monster physique that transcends borders. There was a reason he was called Godzilla... a big, strong kid.

During an appearance with his team at a Summer Koshien, Matsui infamously had five at bats, but was intentionally walked by the opposition each time. Officially, that's zero at bats, but a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage.

It shows the respect the other high school manager had for Matsui-san, afraid to let him beat their team, but also a complete lack of respect for his own pitcher, assuming he would never be able to get him out.

Baseball is funny that way. Japanese baseball and its code of respect is even funnier. Japanese culture and social norms are thrown out the window when sports, particularly baseball is in play.

Then again... it's a Japanese bushido (way of the samurai) kind of thing. Sort of. It's a win at all costs - never give up philosophy, but where is the respect for your own samurai (pitcher)?

The Bushido aspect also involves sacrificing yourself beyond whatever human limits you think you have for yourself for the betterment of your own daimyo (clan leader), or in this case, baseball team.

Think about this... back in 1998... in a quarterfinal baseball game, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched 17-innings in one game, throwing 250 pitches... nearly two complete games in one-go... he won...

By the way... in order to keep his arm ready between innings when his team was batting, Matsuzaka, rather than wrapping his arm in a towel to maintain the warmth, he was out doing long toss - throwing the ball 100+ feet back and forth with another player...

Combine those uncounted pitches along with the warm-up pitches pitchers are allowed before the start of each inning (eight per inning), and his pitch count is through the roof.

And I'm not even counting his warm-up pitches in his team's practice area BEFORE the game... where we could add another 20+ tosses.

Prior to that 250-pitch marathon, Matsuzaka had pitched the day before in a game, throwing 148 pitches in a complete game shut out.

That's 398 pitches in two days.

Now... as if to prove that his manager wasn't a complete Hitler, in the semi-final game the very next day after the 250-pitch game, Matsuzaka was playing Left Field in the outfield.

With his team trailing 6-0 at the top of the 8th inning, the team came back with four runs in the 8th inning and three in the 9th inning... meaning they needed their ace pitcher to hold their 7-6 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.

So... in trots Matsuzaka as the relief pitcher... throws an additional 15 pitches, and gets his Yokohama High School team into the finals.

So... the very next day, after a three day total of pitches amounting to 313 pitches, Matsuzaka - the team's ace pitcher, trots out to the mound, and throws a complete game, no-hitter. That means not a single batter from the other team managed to get on base via a bat hitting a ball. Though they may have reached base on a walk or by being hit by a pitch.

He threw 240 pitches in his no-hitter game.

All told, over a four day and four-game period, Matsuzaka tossed 553 pitches.

But again... those are just the official pitch totals over those four games. 

In the 17-inning game, with eight warm-up pitches on the mound, that equates to an additional 136 pitches. This does not include the pre-game warm-up or his long-toss exercises between innings.

Also, there's his game before the quarterfinals - nine innings... that's 72 warm-up pitches (again not including the pre-game warm-up or his long-toss exercises between innings).

The semi-final game also adds eight (8) warm-up pitches for his ninth-inning.

And the Finals... adds another 72 warm-up pitches (again not including the pre-game warm-up or his long-toss exercises between innings).

Let's see: that's 553 + 72 + 136 + 72 + 8 = 841.

That's 841 hard throws by Matsuzaka in those final four games of the tournament... done in four consecutive days.

I'm not even calculating what he possibly threw in the games before that... after all, it IS a two-week tournament.

And... as bad as that was/is, consider that in the 2006 Koshien tournament, Yuki Saito of Waseda Jitsugyo High School pitched 948 official balls over 68 innings in the two-week tournament, and Tomohiro Anraku of Saibi High School threw 772 official pitches in the 2013 Spring Invitational.

Again... this does not include warm-up throwing in the bullpen BEFORE the game, or the eight warm-up tosses before each inning... so Saito-san easily topped over 1,000 pitches.

For baseball people in North America, this borders on child abuse.

But, Andrew... did Matsuzaka get hurt?

No... not at this time...

But baseball is a funny game... just because nothing broke at that time, it doesn't mean damage wasn't being done.

Let's look at it from a non-baseball angle.

You have a car... you drive the car... you drive it a lot... long distances, short distances, fast stops, regular braking, accelerating normally, or quickly. Sure you've put in the gasoline, topped up the oil, and even added some windshield wiper fluid... the car looks good, and even seems to be running as well as it was when your first bought it.

But that engine has been taxed. Sometimes it's not the distance traveled, but how hard those kilometers/miles were to get there.

If I drove a Cadillac across a bumpy road, or my Mazda 3 onto an F1 track and tried to drive as fast as I can... parts are going to show ample wear and tear to my mechanic.. but not to me, because I don't or can't look under the hood.

It's the same with an elbow or shoulder. What sort of fraying to Matsuzaka's elbow occurred or was exacerbated by his no-doubt awesome pitching performance?

It's not damage that's going to affect him now... because it didn't... but how about when he's older.

So... what happened to Matsuzaka?

Well, beginning in 1999 - his rookie year in Japanese professional baseball, Matsuzaka was rookie of the year.

He was selected for the Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006. And then, he wanted to try his hand in North America's MLB.

Basically, he signed a six-year, US$52 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, which could have been worth as much as $60 million if he fulfilled incentives. The details of the contract included a $2 million signing bonus with a $6 million salary in 2007, $8 million in each of the following three seasons (2008–2010), and $10 million in each of the final two years (2011–2012). He also had a no-trade clause, specially constructed by the Red Sox to fit Matsuzaka's contract.

After his third start in MLB, defeating my Toronto Blue Jays, he said through his translator that gripping the North American baseball—which is slightly larger than the Japanese pro ball, with higher seams—had presented some challenges, but that he had begun making adjustments and felt they were successful.

In Game 7 of the American League championship series, he became the first Japanese pitcher to win an MLB playoff game, and the fifth rookie to start a Game 7 in the playoffs - ever. He pitched five innings, gave up two runs, and the Boston Red Sox won to meet the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series.

He started Game 3 of the World Series on October 27, 2007, and led the Red Sox to a 10–5 win  against the Rockies, his first World Series appearance, giving up two runs on three hits and three walks, with five strikeouts. In the game, he also recorded his first major league hit: a two-out two-run single off Josh Fogg, making Matsuzaka the third pitcher in Red Sox history to record two RBIs in a World Series game; the others were Babe Ruth (in Game 4 of the 1918 World Series) and Cy Young. Matsuzaka is also the first Japanese pitcher in World Series history to start and win a game.

Yeah... Babe Ruth was one of the best pitchers of his generation before becoming the best power hitter of his or perhaps any generation. And Cy Young... that guy has the career record for most wins, and is the guy they named the MLB best pitcher award after. So... heady company.

The Red Sox won the World Series the next day, by the way, with Matsuzaka ending up with the Red Sox rookie record for strikeouts in a season.

So... no apparent harm to the arm yet.

In 2008, after seven starts, he left the game with what was diagnosed as a tired shoulder, but it was really a mild rotator cuff strain in the shoulder.

In 2009, Matsuzaka decided he wanted to pitch for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, and while the Red Sox were concerned he might be abused, they relented.

When the regular season started, Matsuzaka was twice placed on the Disabled List (DL) with a bum shoulder... with the Red Sox suspecting it was because of the excessive pitching he did in the World Baseball Classic.

Baseball pundits wondered if the high number of innings pitched early in his career combined with a vigorous personal training regimen was a possible cause of Matsuzaka's sustained injury problems in 2009, but Matsuzaka himself has stated publicly that he feels he cannot maintain arm strength without extensive training.

But, during an interview with Japanese magazine, Friday, early in 2010, he revealed that he had hurt his right hip while training for the World Baseball Classic.

Fun fact, when you hurt one part of your body, you try and avoid the pain by now changing your delivery.

He did NOT tell the Japanese team coaches or trainers about his training injury. He says: "I didn't want to be the center of concern for people", and also added, "[The Classic] was hard. I relied on my wits and my shoulder strength. I had to be creative. I varied the paces between the pitches; I used the different kind of slider that I usually don't throw."

However, in 2010, Matsuzaka had a very sub-par performance after missing the first month of the season with a neck strain.

On May 5, 2011, Matsuzaka made his first relief appearance of his MLB career picking up the loss in one inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after a two-1/2-hour rain delay. On May 17, 2011, Matsuzaka was placed on the 15 Day disabled list. On June 2, it was reported that he would be out for the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery that would occur on June 10.

Tommy John Surgery. I'm reading a book RIGHT now called The Arm, by Jeff Passan... which is all about this surgery... it's about the UCL... the ulnar collateral ligament is a thick triangular band at the medial aspect of the elbow uniting the distal aspect of the humerus to the proximal aspect of the ulna.

When that sucker tears, until ball player Tommy John first underwent this surgery created by U.S. orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974, it meant your career was over... because your arm hurt  - a lot, and when you did throw, you had zero zip on the ball.

No one knows what causes the UCL to snap, except that the human arm is NOT mean to throw a baseball or chuck a spear... it's an unnatural movement that puts a lot of stress on the elbow... specifically on the UCL.

While some ball players can come back from this injury... nay, from this surgery (baseball fans should read The Arm, for a very detailed and understandable explanation of the surgery), not every one can.

Sometimes even when they do, that UCL will snap again... and in some instances, a second operation is possible... and it might even allow for a comeback... there are no guarantees.

So, on April 23, 2012, Matsuzaka made his first rehab start for the Single-A minor league Salem Red Sox. He was back, but he wasn't good. Still, he managed to make get back to the MLB Boston Red Sox on June 9, 2012, finishing the year 1W-7L with an earned run average of 8.28 in 11 starts.

His contract with the Red Sox was up at the end of this season, and he signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians in February of 2013. He did not make the Indians' Opening Day roster, and was released from the contract, but signed another minor league deal in March, but was released from the Indians' organization per his request on August 20, 2013.

Two days later, Matsuzaka signed a major league deal with the New York Mets, and joined their starting rotation, finishing the year 3W-3L, with an ERA of 4.42

After starting 2017 in the minor leagues, he was brought up by the NY Mets on April 16, 2014, and got his first MLB save on April 24, and then on became a starter again... but gone was the dominating Matsuzaka arm that was able to throw 553 official pitches four days in a row back in high school.

With his MLB contract up again, he went back to Japan where he had been a star pitcher and attempted to resurrect his career.

Signing with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, he only pitched in one game for their farm team in 2015 because of a variety of injuries.

In 2016, he appeared in his first NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) game in 10 years, tossing one inning for the Hawks and allowed two earned runs.

In 2017, it was back to the minor leagues... and he was released by the team on November 5, 2017, pitching a total of one inning in three years for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Not yet ready to hang up his cleats, Matsuzaka signed with the Chunichi Dragons, and started his first game in Japan in 12 years, pitching five innings, allowing three runs in a 3-2 loss against the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.

But don't feel too badly for our Matsuzaka, as he was named to the 2018 NPB All-Star Game this year. He is 3W-3L with just 37-1/3 innings under his belt this season.

Obviously, Matsuzaka was voted in by the fans based on nostalgia.

My point in all of this? While Matsuzaka did indeed go on to get rich and famous playing baseball after his incredible showing at the Summer Koshien back in 1998, he may indeed have done his arm no good with his over-use.

And, for every Matsuzaka who did go on to a professional career after the arm abuse, hundreds more failed to do even that.

In Japan, there has been a culture to never complain about injuries or fatigue... that damn bushido code of the warriors that the countries professional athletes take to heart, but that was war... and this is just a game.

Or at least it's supposed to be.

From THIS newspaper article, : One of the main problems with youth baseball in Japan is the lack of coaching education or set rules designed to foster athletes’ all-round development. Neither the education ministry nor the Japan High School Baseball Federation require baseball coaches to actually study coaching itself.

Bizarre, ain't it? Here in Canada, I had to take a plethora of courses via the National Coaching Certificate Program (NCCP) just to be able to co-coach my kid's Select team. It's time out of my non-paid weekend schedule, but who cares... people like me do it for the kids, to ensure we know what we are doing, and to ensure they learn and have playing a bloody game.

The league, in my case Bloordale Baseball, gladly pays for the coaches education process, keen to ensure kids involved in its baseball association are looked after.

But here's what is really bad about Japanese youth baseball...

The Japan Sports Association offers training to coaches in 50 different sports, including a high-performance certification program in 29 of them, but baseball is NOT one of those sports.

Japan needs to create some formal national legislation to protect these kids not only from themselves, but from greedy adults trying to capitalize on their youthful abilities.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Neon Nights

I am away at an overnight baseball tournament this weekend, and while I'm sure I could use my phone to post a fresh blog, I am instead creating this one a few days in advance.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to be a bit tired on Saturday evening, after spending all day outside coaching hopefully three, two-hour games while wearing these wonderful polyester team uniforms.

As such, what you see above is the neon lights of a big Japanese city. (Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash.)

 I'm unsure of just where in Japan it is, but I'll take a stab at it and offer up: Tokyo.

It doesn't matter... what I wanted to highlight was that this view was somewhat similar to my first insight into Japan when I first arrived at the end of July 1990.

There was frickin' neon lighting everywhere.

The trick, or so I was told a few weeks later, is that if you don't see neon lights when you are in Tokyo, you are no longer in Tokyo.

Of course, on my first excursion around Tokyo with gal pal Kristine and her new AET comrades (don't ask me why Kristine asked me to join her... I was part of the new JET participants in a prefecture that would be stationed some 500 kilometers away from her)... we walked and walked and walked... and lo-and-behold... we ran out of neon.

Officially lost, we asked a Japanese salaryman (businessman), who despite not speaking any English, examined the book of matches I had brought with me from our hotel (I didn't smoke, and brought the matches for just such an event... I was sure as hell no Boy Scout, but I like their "always be prepared" philosophy).

I hope everyone else enjoys their weekend and avoids having to wear too much polyester.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Unsplash, where I found the photo, is a website that offers up free photos. Crediting the photographer isn't required, but come one, eh...

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Japanese Send Origami After Disasters - Survivors Want Food

It's an old Japanese tradition—A Thousand Origami Cranes (千羽鶴, Senbazuru) folded paper cranes (折鶴, orizuru) held together by string…(Photo above by Fabian Mardi on Unsplash.)

Apparently the belief was that if you folded 1,000 paper cranes, your wish would come true.

It has ALSO come to symbolize hope and caring during a difficult time.

And so… what happens over time a big disaster hits Japan? Thousands upon thousand of Japanese people get it into their head to make 1,000 origami cranes and send them to the place where displaced citizens are.

Let's suppose that the senbazuru maker makes a wish for the health and well-being of the survivors of a disaster, rather than wishing for a pot of gold for themselves… and they send the senbazuru to the afflicted to let them know that the people of Japan are thinking about them… do the afflicted really care?

This is the question that Japanese society is now facing.

Who gives a fug about your well wishes… send food and water and blankets!

That's the vocalized feeling issued by some Japanese folk in southwestern Japan who last week saw a record rainfall caused rivers to overflow, and landslides and mudslides to wipe out homes, kill over 100 people with many more hurt and more still unaccounted for.

While the rains have stopped, millions of people over an extended area were forced to leave their home, and have been living in shelters. There's not enough bedding, not enough food and water, and Buddha-dammit, people aren't happy, as they are worried about their losses and how they rate going to survive not only over the next few years, but the next few days.

Here's what one Japanese person had to say— @NORIhannya:
"To those who are not experiencing the natural disaster due to heavy rainfall: Please stop sending origami cranes. They take up space and are heavy, and they’re hard to throw away because of what they are. They’re not food and they can’t be sold to make money. They’re just there for the maker’s self-satisfaction. Please just donate whatever it costs to make origami cranes. Please. From someone who experienced the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.”

Wow… is this just a stark reality of modern-day Japan?

How the heck does @NORIhannya know that the people who sent the cranes didn't also contribute money or supplies to the cause?

While it is true that the origami cranes are nothing more than a symbolic gesture and take up valuable time and space, how about just appreciate the fact that Japan cares, and has sent you warm wishes of hope and care during this difficult time.
Screen capture of @NORIhannya's message, with photo showing bags of collected origami paper cranes sent as part of the recent disaster relief efforts following the loss of 100 lives due to landslides and mudslides et al.
I mean yeah, @NORIhannya is correct. Send help, not wishes… and also is correct that the people who send such symbolic gifts may indeed being buying themselves a stairway to heaven…

Or is @NORIhannya merely a cranky scrooge… or someone genuinely stressed out by the situation? Does it matter?

Is @NORIhannya just a lone gunman, or do more than a few people feel the same way. Does everyone think the paper crane thing is stupid. You can't eat it… at least send some wasabi to make it palatable.

Here's one thing to consider… people who appear to be cranky in such situations make be the squeaky hinge that gets the oil, or conversely they could piss off a lot of people who might not want to donate if their gifts aren't going to be appreciated.

And I mean ALL of the gifts. Like I said before… maybe everyone who sent a string of senbazuru also sent along a blanket or a case of bottled water…. if you don't want one of my donations, maybe you don't get any of my donations.

Yes, people do help other people. Sorta. Not everyone is altruistic, doing things for other because it's the right thing to do.

Some do things in the hope it will help themselves later on.

Oh… that Andrew is a good guy. He always helps me carry my groceries home. Maybe I'll make him a cake.

And really… maybe I was always hoping I would get a cake… or maybe I really am a nice guy and helped carry groceries because I wanted to be a nice guy… or maybe I was trying to get laid or I was scoping out her house so I could determine where the valuables are…

One things I've never got (understood), are those folk who go out and buy a bouquet of flowers and place them at a makeshift memorial where some horrible disaster has occurred.

I understand if its a friend, family or at least someone you know… but when it's for a complete stranger…

Are these people that much nicer than me? Am I a prick for thinking I am intruding while others seek comfort in the arms of strangers?

Do victim families really need you flowers or candlelight vigils? Would they prefer to be left alone or is a community disaster a community event for mourning?

I don't know.

Again… I understand informal get-togethers in small villages or towns as a means of shooing community support… but does the same still hold true in larger cities… does disaster bring us all closer together?

Does a survivor really care about the hopes and wishes of a complete stranger? Some might. Some just want to know that people care.

Just because 100 people in a neighboring town were swept away in a flood, and I only send blankets to the survivors, or donate some money… does it look like I don't care because I didn't sign a giant card or didn't attend a midnight vigil or send 1,000 folded origami paper cranes.

Even if I sent nothing, does it imply that I don't care?

Does your opinion change if I admit that while not short of voice, I am short of money?

As far as the cranky/realist @NORIhannya is concerned… maybe make sure you aren't slamming the people who sent donations AND cranes… and maybe for those of you who want to show your support… how about making the cranes, and then taking them to a local temple and saying a prayer.

Obviously the survivors of the disaster would much prefer charitable donations that could be used for food or shelter rather than symbolism… but lets just suppose you don't have a lot of money, but you did have the origami paper lying around.

For the schools that maybe did the origami cranes as an art project… yes… do NOT send it to the survivors. Instead maybe organize a charitable drive for goods to be sent over… and pay for transportation yourselves…

Okay... @NORIhannya may have something there… for those that ONLY sent over the symbolic crane hope and well wishes… how much did it cost to ship it over? You say you don't have any money to spare… but maybe the shipping costs could have been saved and instead wired to a bank account set up to help the survivors…

Andrew Joseph

Friday, July 13, 2018

Japan's Population Growth Continues Downward Spiral

How can you laugh, when you know I'm down?

That line from The Beatles song "I'm Down" is something Japan could ask of the world, as it was revealed recently that its rate of population decline is speeding up (or it it speeding down? - No… speeding up!).

Since the survey began in 1968, Japan's International Affairs and Communications Ministry has revealed that the country's population once again failed to crack the one million birth mark for the second year in a row (based on data accumulated from one year prior to January 1, 2018.

Total population is now at 125,209,603 and does not include any resident foreigners working as bartenders, hostesses, illegal construction labor, or foreign language teachers (which are the only jobs I can think of for gaijin).

The population declined by a total of 374,055 people (deaths outnumbered births + immigration - which is pretty much zero) in just one year, and is the ninths consecutive year of negative growth.

While Japan's population continues it's impressive ability to churn out people who are living an incredibly long life, the country is facing a crisis as its child-rearing aged population simply isn't getting it on often enough.

The government has realized for quite a few years now that its negative population growth is a serious problem that will effect its economy in future years, and please and incentives have been made to Japanese couples to have have more sex or to have more than two children in an effort to stop the decline.

Deaths have been outnumbering births in Japan for 11 straight years, with 1,340,774 deaths in 2017 versus 948,396 births.

It is pretty much a nationwide phenomenon, with 41 of its 47 prefectures showing a population decline. It doesn't look like a huge number, but Hokkaido's population dropped the most - 34,805, while Akita had the largest rate of decline at 1.39%.

Okinawa was the only prefecture where births were higher than deaths.

Aichi, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Tokyo were the only places where more people moved in than moved out (so excluding deaths and births). The implication here, is that these places seem to have been offering greater opportunities for employment than other locales.

As for the gain (foreigners), residency increased by 174,228, up to a total of 2,497,656 people.

As I mentioned above, Japan will soon reach a breaking point where it is unable to fully staff its businesses, and will have to allow more foreign workers into the country.

I'm not talking about more English teachers, rather I'm talking about scientists and researchers… as Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) recently approved a policy that would allow more foreign workers to help with current labor shortages.

So forget about later, Abe is trying to help alleviate the worker situation now.

Personally, I wonder how these foreign workers are going to be expected to work within the Japanese system.

I'm not talking about the crushing work hours, rather I am talking about the language issue.

I understand that they want more academics in the workforce… but how will communication ensue? Everyone can't have their own bilingual assistant to help complete the projects!

And if the call is outré for more foreign labor to do more mundane work such as working in a retail environment… how do you pay them enough money to ensure they can afford housing, food and other amenities?

You can ask how they could afford to pay all of us participants on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme… well, monies for our salaries, subsidized rents, and a hidden pool of money for emergencies… that all came out of a budget created on behalf of the local board of education office.

But what if you need people to work at a grocery store or a clothing store? Are you paying someone the same wages you currently pay a JET participant? Is that financially viable for the business entity?

No… I know that inexpensive labor from such countries as the Philippines is rife for the picking for Japanese businesses looking to augment their labor pool… but can these gaijin laborers earn enough money to make it worth their while?

Will there be worker abuses where they are forced to work double shifts seven days a week? Oh yeah. It's happening all ready in Japan.

While I have harped upon the country many a time to reduce the restrictions stopping more foreigners from achieving Japanese citizenship, it doesn't appear as though anyone in the Japanese government is listening.

While Japan can provide incentive after incentive for married Japanese couple to have more babies, the government needs to examine the real reason why families aren't dropping kids.

Is it women not simply wanting to be breeders?
Is it the fear that men work all the time leaving little time to be with the family? It's physical and emotional support that is required - not just financial?
Is it women wanting to stay in the workforce?
Is it that both or one of the couple feels sex is either boring or dirty?
Is it immaturity on one or both spouses?
Too much time on social media or playing video games?
Low sperm count?
Men's underwear is too tight?

The why, in the first place, people aren't having more children needs to be examined. Are they having sex? Why not? What's changed? Something changed.

Back in 1990-1993, I certainly didn't have any difficulty in finding willing sexual partners in the single Japanese female population.

Are people having sex, but simply taking precautions to not have kids?

I have no answers, except to state that a full in-depth study needs to be done to find out the root cause of why birth rates are down.

Do the Japanese men want sex but the women don't?
Do the women want sex but the men don't?
Have more people suddenly come out of the proverbial closet?&
Or are they still hiding their true sexuality by avoiding having heterosexual sex?

It sounds funny, but it's not. These are legitimate questions.

Of course, one can create such a study, but will anyone be truthful in their answer?

Is it a declining lack of patriotism? Hmmm… I like this one. This Japanese birth decline/negative population problem has been going on for years… and even with the Japanese government officially creating incentives, why haven't more Japanese jumped at the opportunity to help out its country?

Eighty years ago if the Emperor of Japan had stated that he wanted the country's married couples to have more children, you can bet your sweet bippy that everyone would have stripped down and screwed their brains out in order to do whatever he asked.

I'm not saying the Emperor should ask - especially since he gave up his godhood as a post WWII condition of surrender - but should it be asked?

Look… I could still be hired out for stud, but even then, does a half-Japanese kid still count?

The fact that he or she is still called a "hafu" implying "half" shows that Japan still doesn't want the bloodlines mongrelized.

Coming soon—a mandatory questionnaire wanting to know: Why aren't you making babies?

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Philippe Verheyden on Unsplash

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Japanese Riddle

I have a whole bunch of jokes created at the Japanese people's expense... and while I think they are funny - because every joke usually picks on someone or something people care about - I have decided to shelve them.

But what I do have, is an English written version of a Japanese riddle. It's non-offensive, though I suppose someone might find something offensive about it.

Here we go:

A Japanese ship sinks in the waters off Tokyo Bay. There is only one lifeboat. How many people are saved?

Nine people.

The explanation: In the Japanese language, the word for lifeboat is "kyuu-mei".
It is also Japanese for "nine people". 

See... fun. Unless you know someone in that ship that sank... or hate lifeboats.

Andrew Joseph