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Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Godzilla Green Thumb

What we have here is a photo of a small gift given to me by my friend Rob, who is forever doing such ice things for me, such as also getting me some old comic books on the cheap. Thanks, buddy.

The gift mentioned above, however, is a little Godzilla toy, where if you press the upper back scales of Godzilla, he emits a recorded roar and a "radioactive" blue beam appears in his mouth.

It also came with a small booklet of fun colored line-drawn Godzilla stickers.

I know, I know... kid's stuff... but I'm an old kid.

Maybe too old. When I put my thumb to those scales to try and press down to make Godzilla roar, it actually hurts my thumb.

If it's not radioactivity, it's the pointy scales.

Still... a cool present which will find its way onto my desk at work. It will help personalize the place along with my organized chaos of papers and USB sticks.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Japanese Language Can Be Horse-Deer

My friend Mike Rogers, an ex-pat American living in Japan for the past 30+ years recently wrote an article on his blog, Marketing in Japan, in which he complained that he seemed invisible to the Japanese when he spoke Japanese.

You should read it HERE.

The same sort of thing used to happen to me all the time when I was in Japan in the early 1990s.

I certainly wasn't known for my stellar Japanese language abilities. I would say that at my peak, I had the ability of a Japanese Grade 1 student, but without the ability to read simple sentences such as "See Suzuki-san run."

The inability to be understood, even when I knew I was speaking Japanese well enough to be understood frustrated me beyond belief, and in retrospect may have convinced me that I would never be able to learn the language.

I was well on my way. By about the four-month mark of my stay in Japan, I had already learned how to read and write all 72 letters of both the katakana and hiragana alphabets, and had learned 500 kanji - the Chinese-looking alphabet. Again, both how to read it and how to write it, and even know what it meant. I couldn't figure out how the combination of two those kanji could form completely different words.

My favorite example of that is (and I'll do that without using kanji), was the Japanese words ba = horse; and ka = deer. When the Japanese combine the kanji for those two animals into "baka", they miraculously turn it into the word meaning "stupid".

And while that was stupid to me, it also implied that the Japanese written language would never make sense to me. 

I simply couldn't accept that there wasn't rhyme or reason that combined kanji didn't expand on those original kanji to create a word whose origin made sense. Pictographs. Ugh.

By the way, to pass Grade 12, Japanese students were required to learn 1,945 kanji... but note that there are well over 2,000 kanji used in Japan. 

Anyhow... here's a story about being a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan trying to speak the language doesn't always gain you brownie points.

Once a week - Wednesday - after Ashley and I would conclude kyudo (Japanese archery) class, we would ride over to the local Mosburger fast food shop in downtown Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

I love Mosburger's menu, but I didn't like how I felt ordering.

New to the country, I wanted to order my food in Japanese, and in the early days of my stay, actually tried.

I would give my order in Japanese. But the sales clerks could never understand me. They would say "Eh?!" and "Nani?" Which essentially means "WTF".

I think they were expecting me to speak English and were all tensed up ready to hear it, and as such never actually heard the words - the Japanese words - coming out of my mouth.

For example, when ordering a "Large Cola", I would ask for an "oki-saizu ko-ra" Oki means Large, Saizu is katakana Japanese for "size" and ko-ra is how you say cola a la katakana Japanese.

Unfortunately, despite being correct in my Japanese in asking for a large cola, no one in Japan orders a cola that way.

They ask for an "Eru-saizu ko-ra".

That translates to "L-size cola".

Why the hell would the Japanese use the term "eru/L" to imply "Large"? They have the perfectly good word "oki" to imply "large" or "big".

Why use the English "L"?

There is no "L" in the Japanese alphabets. So why "L"? Why butcher it to make it sound like "eru"?

Why not say oki - a real Japanese word?

Sure... they say "L" because they want to think that English is "cool". But in this case, it's really horse-deer.  

By the way, ba + ka (horse + deer) = baka/stupid... but if you switch it around: ka + ba (deer + horse), it = kaba... which translates to hippopotamus.

I stopped learning Japanese after that fourth month. I was just too hippopotamus.

Andrew Joseph
PS: The image above showcases a line from the movie Rush Hour.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Portrait of Émile Zola by Édouard Manet

The painting above, is known as the Portrait of Émile Zola, created by Édouard Manet.

Nice, right? So why include this painting here?

Well, at the top is a Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock print - a famous drawing by Utagawa Kuniaki II of a robed sumo wrestler.

I did not know that until just know… I just assumed it was a painting of a husky man.

First, a brief bio on the painter Édouard Manet, born January 23, 1832, died April 30, 1883. Born in Paris, France, he is considered to be one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life, and a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism.

If you are like me and wonder just what it is with all of these artistic geniuses dying so young - he was only 51, you’ll be please to know that just before he died, he had his left foot amputated because of gangrene, due to complications from syphilis and rheumatism.

Syphilis? You don’t get that by being a wallflower.

So… who is Émile Zola? Born April 2, 1840, dying September 29, 1902 (aged 62), Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola was a French novelist, playwright, journalist, the best-known practitioner of the literary school of naturalism, and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism. He was a major figure in the political liberalization of France and in the exoneration of the falsely accused and convicted army officer Alfred Dreyfus, which is encapsulated in the renowned newspaper headline J'Accuse…! Zola was nominated for the first and second Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901 and 1902.

You will be pleased to know that his death was hardly sexually-caused but was instead simply carbon monoxide poisoning caused by an improperly ventilated chimney. Smoking.

So who is he to Manet? 

Wikipedia knows:

The painting was done around 1867-68. Zola was an art critic and writer of the novel Thérèse Raquin.

The book tells of an adulterous affair between Thérèse—the wife of a clerk in a railway company—and a would-be painter named Laurent, whose work, rather like that of Zola's friend Paul Cézanne, is denigrated by the critics.

In the eleventh chapter the milieu of Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe is evoked, in the murder scene, where Camille, the husband, goes out for the day with his wife and her lover to Saint-Ouen.

Within the painting... on the wall is a reproduction of Manet's Olympia, a controversial painting at the 1865 Salon but which Zola considered Manet's best work. Behind it is an engraving from Velazquez's Bacchus indicating the taste for Spanish art shared by the painter and the writer. A Japanese print of a wrestler by Utagawa Kuniaki II completes the décor. A Japanese screen on the left of the picture recalls the role that the Far East played in revolutionizing ideas on perspective and color in European painting.

As such… it’s Manet painting a fan of his work.

Interesting how the European painting actually incorporates two elements of Japanese art… and this is from 1868…

You should re-visit the article I wrote on Alfred Stevens, and his work in utilizing Japonism in European art in the 1870s… something that Manet was doing earlier. Click HERE.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sweet Surrender - American Propaganda

So... after a brief visit inside my mind yesterday, here's the bit of history that caused me to trip the light fantastic and describe my wayward past.

What we have here, is WWII propaganda.

For sale at Rulon-Miller Books (click HERE), the sheet is a brilliant bit of mind-screw that the Allies used against the Japanese.

The book seller writes:
Propaganda leaflet dropped on Myitkyina, Burma. [Probably printed on Saipan: dropped and/or distributed in Burma, 1944]. $650 Bifolium leaflet, 5” x 6.75”; printed in red and black in Japanese, with instructions in English and Chinese on the last page stating that the bearer of the leaflet should be treated courteously and conducted to Allied headquarters. One prior fold, small chip to one corner, postage stamps overlapping Chinese text, a rare Burmese survival in very good condition. Such “I surrender” leaflets were dropped throughout the Pacific theater, with text insisting on the futility of continuing to fight, assuring soldiers that to surrender would be honorable and the correct decision to make, and promising safety and respect from the Allies. The text inside this leaflet appears to follow that trend, noting the high casualties, and asking, “For what are you giving your life?” It also lists four important things of which to take heed; the third point is highlighted and says that they should absolutely not be holding any firearms when approaching Allied troops. This particular leaflet refers to the “Soldiers of Myitkyina” and was likely dropped around the Siege of Myitkyna in 1944.

Such tactics were not rare. It was a legitimate offer, but it was a way to show one's power in a way to demoralize the other.

A second offering by Rulon-Miller Books, is a lot with four different propaganda leaflets. 

I might have spent a bit of time to ensure everything was written in Japanese, you know, so that the Japanese could read it... though most appear to have been meant for the Filipino folk on the islands overwhelmed by the Japanese invaders.

Here's how the seller describes it:
Four small illustrated broadsheets, as below. [Probably printed on Saipan: dropped and/or distributed at Leyte Bay, Philippines, 1944.] $450 On October 20, 1944 the U.S. Sixth Army invaded Leyte and on October 23-26 the famous Battle of Leyte Gulf resulted in a decisive U. S. Navy victory. These leaflets were likely airdropped and/or distributed to the resident Filipinos by the American forces. 1) Don’t block the roads! If you must leave your towns go across country or over trails. Verso: Clear the way for fighting men. Approx. 6½” x 5”. Printed in brown. 2) Filipino patriots. American troops have landed in your area. They come to liberate you from the Japanese... Verso: The warriors of freedom have landed on your island. Approx. 7” x 5”. Printed in blue. 3) [Text in Japanese] = Time is running out. With an image of a clock-face with 10 islands that have fallen to the American forces (Saipan, New Guinea, Guam, Tarawa, the Marshalls, etc.) and Japan itself at 12:00 o’clock. Verso: [Text in Japanese] = Why die now in the last few minutes of the war... This broadsheet obviously meant for the Japanese forces in the Philippines. 50,000 of these were dropped November 21, 1944. 4) [American flag.] Verso: [Philippine flag.] Approx. 5¼” x 8”. Printed in red, white, blue, and yellow.

I don't any WWII propaganda pieces, except for some Philippines money printed by Japan. If that doesn't tell you that you are under the Japanese thumb, nothing will.

Andrew Joseph  


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Flight Path: Memory Lane

Being a curious sort, I’ve long held a fascination over World War II. When I was a kid, the Vietnam war was going on, and I can recall being horrified that my family wanted to travel to the United States for a few days, when I was pretty damn sure they were at war with Vietnam. 
Hey, I was young. 

It was the North Vietnamese, and the war was over in the Far East. 

M.A.S.H. the TV show wasn’t on yet, so I had zero knowledge of the Korean War. 

Besides… all the popular war books about in the early 1970s involved WWII… and there was Hogan’s Heroes, and I was reading Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury comic books.  

My parents even had a small pocket book on Nazi Germany complete with grotesque black and white photos showing emaciated Jews in a concentrated camp, or pix of the burnt bodies, and close-ups of the ovens. 

When you are seven years old, and you see photos like that, you know all those John Wayne WWII movies were just bullshirt. American Hollywood had always tried to romanticize war up until Apocalypse Now… which I didn’t see until I was around 20. That was the first time I ever saw the good guys not win. 

They didn’t lose, but they didn’t win.   

My favorite book at the time I found that Nazi book as a seven-year-old, was a WWII book - How and Why series on World War II, which was where I first learned of the atomic bomb. The Japanese were the enemy? 

I didn’t know. But now I knew. But I also realized that even with Germany, former enemies can become good friends.  

All in all, you can see why my choice of model kit building involved constructing WWII aircraft kits. 

I eventually grew out of that and into space craft and model cars, and then the complexities of sailing craft - I loved doing the tiny knots for the rigging - frustrating though it was. 

So… yeah. Despite my interest in the subject, I’m not even close to calling myself UP on WWII history. 

When I applied to the JET Programme back in Winter of 1989-90, I was asked what I would like to do in Japan. 

I have no idea why I didn’t expect a question like that going in, but I gave an honest answer, saying I wanted to hopefully talk to some of the older people in Japan and ask them about their experiences in WWII. 

Naive, I’m sure, and the questioner said that I might have a difficult time getting people to talk about such a subject.

But I replied that I wasn’t concerned… people seem to like telling me things. 

They took me anyway. 

But, to my credit, I did get two very cool stories from people about WWII, while I was there. So, nyaaah. 

You can read about the brave priest and Nagasaki HERE. I tried to find a link about the other (about a Japanese soldier happy to surrender to Allied Forces because they were out of ammo, food, clothing, everything), but for the life of me I couldn't find it. It's the problem with having written 4,209 blogs, with this one.

While the latter has elements of comedy contained within it, it also has lots of elements of alcohol - which is why funny stuff happened… but when he began talking about the war (because I asked)… well… an interesting tale told by a regular guy on the losing side. You don’t see those types of tales told very often, as it was a practically sacrilegious event when it  originally took place. 

Tomorrow… the reason for this trip down memory lane. 

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Today I Am A Mensch

Today is my son’s birthday. If he was Jewish, he’d be having his Bar Mitzvah, and his great-grandmother would be dancing away to Hava Nagila while I played it on my accordion. 

Yeah, my grandmother’s Jewish and I play the accordion. That song, along with Flight of the Bumblebee were two songs I just loved playing again and again.

Thirteen effing years. Whew. Where does the time go?

This weekend I noticed he has a mustache. It wasn’t there on Friday, but it’s there on Monday. 

I can recall being 12 when my down haired beard and mustache came in. My dad only had an electric shaver and didn't think it would work on me, so he got out the electric dog grooming clippers and shaved me. My cocker spaniel, Tin-Tin, never looked at me quite the same way again. 

Tin-Tin was named after the marionette from the 1960s TV show, The Thunderbirds. The name is the Malaysian word for "sweet", and apparently (so my mom said), that marionette was my first crush.

When I was in Japan, I was, admittedly, looking for someone I could call my wife. 

That was 25-28 years ago (1990-1993), and I wanted more than just meaningless, meaningful sex, I wanted a woman who loved me and who wanted to settle down and start a family. It certainly wasn't WHY I wanted to go to Japan, if I even did. But once there, I knew all I wanted was sex... until I had it, and then.. I wanted more... as in more fulfilling stuff... as in being a real grown-up.

And yet… after I got back home in late 1993, and my mom dying in 1994 and Noboko and I just being unable to make it work… I said it screw it for a rainy day and went wilder than anything you've heard about in one of those Girl's Gone Wild videos.

That ain't wild. That was a Tuesday afternoon for me. I got bigger from weights et al at the gym... even helped myself to steroids for a short while... I knew it could be dangerous, but we're here for a good time, not a long time, right? 

If you think any of the adventures I wrote about in this blog were wild … well, let’s just say the next five years were so wild, that’s still embarrassing… suffice to say that I had a lot of fun. 

And then I settled down, got married and had my son. In for the long haul. I never went excess with alcohol ever since my first date with her. 

Party Andrew went away. Grown-up Andrew emerged, as here for a long time, took precedence.

If I was the type to worry about my son getting into all those same sorts of trouble I did… well, dammit, I am that type! I know how stupid I was, and how lucky it was that I not only survived, but survived well enough to have thrived without any police arrests or communicable diseases, hospital visits or dying from excessive speeding, or falling off any buildings... 

It's my son... I'm supposed to teach... to do as I say, not as I do... right?

I can’t just let him go off and let him make his own mistakes the way I did. 

I was lucky. What if he isn’t? 

So… no I have new worries and concerns, and I’m sure that balding spot at the back of my head is going to get larger with the years to come. 

Happy birthday, Kid.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
PPS: I just realized that the message in the photo could be misconstrued as something sexual... obviously not my intention. 

PPPS: I'm sure he'll never read this... but at least I tried. 
PPPPS: I've come to realize that after you have a kid or kids, your own birthdays don't necessarily mark the passage of time... it's theirs.  

Monday, December 10, 2018

Japanese Hoop Dreams

Here's the long and short of it. I was sent an article, and I think you should read it.

It's about a young so-called hafu (half-Japanese) man who left Japan to pursue his dreams of making it to the NBA (National Basketball Association) in North America.

It's a great story. HERE.

Andrew Joseph