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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Looking For Love

Myth-demeanour or truth?

According to the person who told me this way back in my second year of teaching English in Japan's lush Ohtawara (the name translates into Big-Rice Field-Field), the following short story actually happened. The person who told me wasn't a tall-tale teller like some people, so I'm treating it as the truth... unless someone can show me that it's a rural legend. There's nothing urbane about this blog.

At a unnamed junior high school in an unnamed prefecture (province), an AET (assistant English teacher... IE, a gaijin/foreigner) was asked to patrol the school grounds to make sure the students are kept in line.

He (not a non-descriptive gender) apparently caught a young teen-aged boy and girl in THE act. If you know what I mean. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

When he told them to stop, the boy pointed to his crotch and said: "It sa okay... pro-tect-shun."

Needless to say, the AET walked away and the two amorous teenagers continued to dilly-dally.

After all, the boy said it in English.

Somewhere wondering why I never had to patrol the grounds,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is crooned by Johnny Lee. It's not rock and or roll, but is either country or western. You choose; Y'ALL

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What'd I Say?

The following is an example of a Japanese argument, involving more than two people, that I have translated into English for your reading convenience.

"No, you're right."
"I'm wrong."
"You're correct."
"Nope, you are."
"I'm totally wrong."
"I'm sorry, but I'm wrong."

"We're all wrong."
"Is anybody right?"
"You're right."
"I guess I'm wrong then."
"No, you're wrong - you're right."

Somewhere where I never lose an argument,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Ray Charles. I just like the song, ALRIGHT.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Joker

My students at the seven junior high schools I teach at in Ohtawara city in Japan often asked me if I could speak any other languages, besides English and the smattering of incomprehensible Japanese I know.

Egomaniac that I am, I lied and said I sure could speak a few more languages. I thrilled them with the 12 words I learned in six total years of French classes. The four Spanish words (from Speedy Gonzalez cartoons). German (Sgt. Rock comic books & Hogan's Heroes). Swedish (from the movie Splash!)

I then took it up a notch. I told them I could speak Latin. I don't, but when has not knowing something stopped me?

It went something like this: "Tyrannosaurus Rex etcetera etcetera vice versa vini vidi vici caveat emptor corpus delecti." I told them it meant: "Beware of conquering the dead king". Since their English comprehension is 'iffy', they oohed and ahhed at my explanation. I probably used up all my karma with that one.

Somewhere teaching them Canadian,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is courtesy of Steve Miller. It was chosen for the phrase "pompatus of love"  - which does actually mean something, but few know what it means - much like my use of Latin. According to the Oxford dictionary, pompatus means: to act with pomp and splendour.
Have a listen to the song. It's a lousy video version, but the only one I was able to find:  COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One More Rainy Day

Hi... I've just come back from six days in wonderful Illinois visiting with my friend Bongo and sitting at a table taking photos of people in American Kabuki costumes (it's what I call mass media costumes - superhero, video game, television, movies). We also sold our second issue of Evil Scientist Quarterly (#1 still available). So, if anyone wants a copy - they are $3 apiece (forget about postage) - they are a parody of GQ except it's written by myself with Steve doing the art and pretending he's Terry Gilliam doing the Monty Python cut-out animation. It's very funny. E-mail me!

Since I'm not up to speed yet... the next few days will see some short observations about Japan.

Ever since I first hit by a car while riding my bicycle in a typhoon (I know, two silly things in that one phrase), I have been having just the worst luck with the weather. 

It rains every time I travel anywhere in this country: Tokyo; Osaka; Nikko; Kyoto; Beppu; Miyazaki; Kagoshima; Fukashima; Saitama; Gunma (it snowed); Kobe; Tokyo Disneyland (it's actually not in Tokyo, but rather it's in Chiba); and even Thailand (you'll have to wait a bit longer for this adventure).

It's very frustrating. All of my photographs around this wonderful country have rain clouds in them. In fact, it's a sense of great pride and surprise when I actually see a photograph that shows a bit of blue sky in it. 

My students know all about my luck with the wet weather because, well, they asked, and I showed them photographs. They gave me an awesome, if rather obvious, nickname: "Ame Otoko" which means "Rain Man". 

At first I thought they were calling me "Candy Man". You see the word 'Ame' is spelled and sounds like the Japanese words for 'rain' and 'candy'. It's pronounced 'ah-may'. However, when it is written out in Kanji (the Chinese style lettering/letter), it has two different looks. Of course, 'ame' when written in Kanji also means sky and heavens  - but I didn't know that until five minutes ago.

Here are those symbols: 




                                                                                       Rain - actually looks like rain, too!

I did say short observations, didn't I?

Okay... so my students call me Rain Man. My office, the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) picked up on that (there's a gaijin grapevine where everybody knows everything about the local foreigner), and also began referring to my wet making ability. (I know what I wrote and I'm not making a joke about it).

My students politely suggested that I travel to Okinawa to combat the drought going on there, but the OBOE said I wasn't allowed to have two jobs.

They want me to give up my job as an AET (Assistant English Teacher).

Are they kidding me? Why would I give up being an AET? Ugh. I might have to do real work.

Somewhere with a towel,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Deep Purple: WATER 
Whoops... wrong video. However, it's a better song than the DP one.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Tears Of A Clown

It Only Hurts When I Laugh - was the original title of this here blog entry - but that isn't the name of a rock and roll song - or at least not a very good one.

When I first arrived in Japan, it was with the one opinion that the Japanese were a stiff, robot-like people with no sense of humour.

After only a few months of living in Ohtawara, let me tell you that I was completely wrong.

It seems that everyone I come into contact with will tell me a funny joke or story or enjoys a laugh with me--sometimes at my expense, but who cares, as long as it's funny.

One of the more interesting jokes played on me was when one of my supervisors, the English-challenged Kanemaru-san came over to my Zuiko Heights apartment to show me how to work my kerosene heater. Apparently it gets cold in Japan. How come no one told me? Okay, the fact that it hosted the Winter Olympics 20 years before my arrival should have clued me in - but dammit, Vancouver just recently hosted the Winter Olympics... and if you saw any of the outside on the television, you may have noticed that all of the trees were in bloom thanks to the incredibly warm weather - Yeah, let's hold the Winter Olympics in Canada's warmest city. Brilliant.

Anyhow, enough of that side rant, did you know that 99 per cent of all Japanese homes lack central heating or even fiberglass insulation?

Kanemaru-san carefully set up and programed my kerosene heater--though after a homestay at his place, it was apparent that no one there knew how to set the VCR timer--I did it for them and received quite the hearty thanks. He then explained to me in both broken English and broken Japanese (so that I could be confused in two languages) how the heater worked. The funny guy that he is, he 'forgot' to tell me about opening a window in my apartment when I use it so that the fumes don't kill me.   

Luckily my girlfriend Ashley told me about the window thing. When I confronted Kanemaru-san about it the next day, he merely shrugged his shoulders and said "Whoops. Jodan (joke)!" and then laughed the scariest laugh I've ever heard since I told my garbage man a joke. Brrrr.

By the way - how stupid is it that in order to properly use a kerosene heater to get warm you need to open up a window to vent the fumes - but the open window only lets in more cold!

Another funny moment occurred after I was first hit by a white car whilst riding my bicycle, in the midst of a hurricane. The driver slowly got out of his car after fumbling for 30 seconds searching for an umbrella so he wouldn't get hurt. He looks down at me and says, "Daijobu?" What the hell did he say. I have no clue. He asks again, "Daijobu?" Oh, I get it... he wants to know if I'm okay! I say, "Iie (no)". He laughs and thumps me on the back. Funny guy. I'm in shock and in too much pain to kill him. "I'll  kill ya later," I mutter, but he doesn't understand me.

The next day at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office, the Superintendent comes up and asks me, "Daijobu?" When I say, "Iie" again, he too laughs and thumps me on the back - dislodging a rib. It's true you know... the Japanese can't take the word "no".

Then there was my trip to Osaka in October.... after becoming lost on a few other excursions in and around the Ohtawara area, I had developed a 'reputation'. The OBOE was taking no chances, and this time began posting odds and taking bets on where I would end up, this time. It was even money on me accidentally ending up 100s of kilometres to the north in Hokkaido, rather than the several hundred out west to Osaka. One joker even put down  ¥;5,000 on me landing in Korea. He quickly got 3:1 odds. Thank-you Hanazaki-san.

When I arrived back from Osaka land of the Yakuza, I was quickly besieged from Kanemaru-san and Hanazaki-san wanting to know the gory details. When I told them I didn't get lost at all (well, hardly), they began to sulk saying I had spoiled they fun.

Hey, I don't know why they're so upset. I lost  ¥10,000 because I thought I'd end up in the hospital.

Anyhow, it's a good thing my OBOE office like me. They're talking about buying me a car. Are Pinto's any good?

Somewhere feeling just swell,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles - CRY

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Environmental sustainability has come a long way.

Back in 1986 - on the anniversary of his 60th jubilee, the former Emperor of Japan wanted to show the world that his country was concerned about the environment - so it was determined that he would head to the northern part of the main island and plant a lot of trees. I believe it was in Sendai.

Unfortunately, this area was in a far-off, out of the way part of the country with little road access, so in order for the Emperor's cavalcade to get to the site where the trees were to be planted, his staff had a roadway built from the main road built cutting down a slew of trees - and then they paved it.

Then when it was determined that they would need seating for the people who wanted to view the Emperor's tree planting, more surrounding trees were cut down and wooden tiered seating was erected.

Because it was now turning into such a big event, the media definitely wanted in, so more trees were cut down surrounding the site to accommodate the expected media crush.

And that's how several hundred trees were sacrificed so the Emperor could plant his five saplings.

Somewhere listening to the Lorax,
Andrew Joseph
Today’s title is by U2. It’s a song about senseless killing, but Sunday, Bloody Sunday, is a play on words (to me) for Sendai, Bloody Sendai and the killing of the trees. I know... My mind works in mysterious ways. LISTEN
PS – I am unsure if this tale is true. I was told it many a time while in Japan, but it may have just been an urban legend. But, it is likely that the Emperor’s entourage, in an effort to placate the Emperor and the media, may have crapped all over the environment – stepping in ni-ban (number 2), while looking out for ichi-ban (number one).
PPS – The Lorax – that’s a Dr. Seus book... And if you’ve never read it, you should. Despite the nonsensical words, the message remains true enough.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Parallel Lines (& Other Non Sequitors)

Anyone who lives in any one place for awhile tends to start over-looking many of the things which would have previously shocked them. Fortunately for me, after a year-plus in Ohtawara (just the other side of Erehwon), that hasn't happened to me yet--or maybe it has and I just haven't noticed it. Oh well, no use in crying over o-cha (green tea) that may or may not already have been spilled.

Some of the things which continue to baffle the heck out of me are the parallel lines   that dissect every main thoroughfare of every city in Japan. I am, of course, talking (writing!) (whatever!) about the crosswalks.

According to Japanese traffic laws, a car must come to a complete stop to allow any person who is standing at a crosswalk, to cross. In my 13 months here, I've not once seen a car stop to allow anyone standing patiently at a crosswalk to cross. In fact, I've actually observed cars I've been in speed-up when they approach these designated crossing areas so they can pretend there wasn't enough time to stop.

Another observation: at a flashing yellow and red light, I've seen the cars that are supposed to stop, continue making the ones that don't have to stop, stop. I've actually tried to explain things to my driving companions, but I usually only get a "Honto?" (really?) or a smile that says, "Y'know, I really didn't know that one, and I'm forgetting you mentioned it now."

How about the dog owner? He like animals - just not in his house. After all, we can't have the little bugger messing up the grass tatami mats that make up our floor. And besides, since Japanese houses are often considered too small for people, where are you going to put the dog? The answer is, usually, outside. Yup. What lucky pup wouldn't pull at his choke chain to be afforded the luxury of his very own patch of stone and dirt with a total absence of that annoying soft and cool grass to lie upon? Ah, what's a dog to do? Well, according to the three (three??!!) miniature  collies that now surround my apartment complex, there is always the barking option. Woof. Talk about Three Dog Night.

Another confusing aspect of Japan is why the most preferred colour for an automobile is white. I asked around a bit and got numerous explanations. "White cars are easier to see in the night." was a popular answer. Sure, but if you have your headlights on, it shouldn't mater what colour the car is as you'll still be able to see it. Another explanation has it that for some reason "Ten years ago, white cars gave us a higher re-sale value." Okay, but why and what about nowadays? A final explanation on why white cars are so popular is: "White is pure, and we all want to be pure." Uh, yeah.

I would suppose even the most casual observer of life in Japan would have noticed the absence of common critters like squirrels. Although it could be argued that there aren't enough trees to support their habitat, there certainly are enough nuts.

Hey... you don't suppose all of the squirrels were killed trying to cross the road?

Somewhere waiting at a crosswalk,
Andrew Joseph
PS - Today's title is not by Three Dog Night, but rather by Blondie. In the liner notes for Blondie's Parallel Lines vinyl album (which, along with Pink Floyd's The Wall, it's the first album I ever bought with my own money) there are lyrics listed for a Parallel Lines song, though no such song exists on the album. The lyrics, written by Debbie Harry, are:

The lines I have written that you read between
The lines on the pages
The lines on the screen
Of lines spoken - I say what I mean.
It's parallel lines that will never meet

Ship in the desert

Ships in the night
Ships that pass in the night

Evangeline stream - Evangeline's dream,

It's parallel lines that will never meet.
But just in case you need a song to listen to, here's one of the first ever rap songs - called Rapture.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

These Eyes

This one is sub-titled: Interview With A Japanese Housewife

This was more like a conversation than an interview, but I'm told that most of my conversations have the appearance of an interview because of my bluntness.

Yumiko was my friend. I met her through an Ohtawara city English class I donate my services to for ¥10,000 ($100) for a three-hour class. She has since moved away from Ohtawara, but she and I did get together for a friendly meeting or two.

She's 26-years old, about 5'-3", with jet black hair that hangs in shiny curtains past her shoulder blades and  possesses alabaster skin that would make all of the doll makers cry in shame. She's pretty, though perhaps not the head-turning type. What catches your attention are the eyes that sparkle with glee. Her lips tell a different story, though.

Yumiko has ben married for two years, and is pregnant. She lives in a company housing project apartment and tends the daily running of the household. I rode my bicycle out 30 minutes to visit her.

"I've been out to my old hometown of Kawaguchi to buy some clothes for my baby. They are very small. Almost all of them are white or yellow," she says in perfect, but hesitant English. When I asked why she only purchased items in those two colours, she smiled at me as though I was her baby and patiently explained: "I don't want to know that our baby is a boy or girl. But my doctor knows. I want the surprise."

When she and her husband went to visit her family, she said grimly that "We have grown about two kilograms." She then puffed out her cheeks and made a tiny piggie sound. She then asked me if I liked sumo. When I answered in the positive, she said, "Good. because I am now big enough to join. Please cheer for me."  How could I not?

Then it happened. I spoiled the moment by asking what she does during the day. She let out a big breath of air and shrunk a little. The smile slowly became invisible. "I don't like to wake up early in the morning in winter. But I wake up at 6:40AM (except on Saturday and Sunday). I prepare a sandwich for my husband that he eats. Then we have a sandwich, a cup of milk and fruit every morning."

"You and your husband?" I asked confused.

"No. He quickly eats his sandwich and leaves home at 7:10AM," she continued after pouring me a cup of o-cha (green tea). "It takes him three minutes to walk to his company. Then I sleep again. I'm a bad wife!! I wake up again at 10AM and wash and clean our rooms..."

"A bad wife? A bad wife?!" I shiver incredulously. "You do all of the housework, make him his breakfast AND you're seven months pregnant!"

She seems shocked by my 'western' ravings - and well she should be - this is the way it has always been in Japan. She agrees that it is not a fair world for the women of Japan, but she is confused that I would agree with her, what with being a man and all.

"I usually have lunch alone," she continued. "But sometimes with my friend." I notice the emphasis on the singular. "Do you have a school lunch, An-do-ryu? When I was in elementary school and junior high school, I always was looking forward to my school lunch.

"My friend is a Christian and an English teacher. She teaches me about the Bible once a week. I go to the public hall to study English twice a month and to learn patchwork once a month. I'm stitching a bag of patchwork - it's my hobby besides looking after my husband."

Did I detect some bitterness? Hmmm.

"I listen to classical and jazz music, read books and watch TV in my free time. My husband used to come home at 10PM all of last year - he works hard, but his pay is very low. He would have a bath and dinner and go to sleep almost immediately. I suppose he was very tired, so we didn't have enough time to talk with each other. I often felt sad and felt like I was a housemaid."

I want to say something, but don't for fear of depressing her even more. Perhaps sensing my discomfort, she added: "It's a wonder I am now pregnant."

Ah the twinkle is back! ... fading?... "But he comes home at 8:30PM this year because his boss has changed. So we have time to talk with each other."

She's smiling again, but I can still see the sadness lingering. There didn't seem to be much use in me prying into her life further, after all I have a pretty good understanding of where she is at right now. She's merely a lonely, pregnant housewife who would like to spend more time with someone - anyone, even a gaijin (foreigner) - but mostly her husband.

Damn this country.  It's not her husband's fault, it's just the way things are in Japan.

Somewhere I have to make time to talk with my wife more,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Today's title is by The Guess Who. You can listen to it here: 20/20

Photo above is from a New Year's Eve card Yumiko gave me.
Second photo shows off the reverse of that card - you'll notice that there are some numbers along the bottom - it's for a New Year's Day lottery. Since I never saw the results, I'm unsure if I ever won - or what you did win if your numbers came up. Matthew?
PPS - Photo below - That's Yumiko's baby 17+years ago.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Give Me Some Money

Guess what I've seen on television here in Japan? American icons in Japanese commercials that may never see the light of day outside of this country.

I saw Michael Jackson hawking a new Sega video game - Michael Jackson's Moonwalker. Yes, that's what I said, too. I asked my students about it - and while the one or two who knew what I was talking about and like the Thriller album, no tone said they wanted to buy or play that particular video game. Strangely enough, they were representative of the rest of the world. See the commercial here: CROTCHGRAB

The commercials over here are bizarre - picture if you will a beautiful  Japanese woman looking intently at a cup of noodles. She picks up her chopsticks with great aplomb and digs in with exuberance. She slurps them up really loudly. Disgustingly so. It kind of takes the sexiness of her right out of the equation. Apparently slurping up noodles loudly is a sign of... something. I have no idea. It's just something that is done by everyone here. Anyhow, I couldn't find that commercial, but here's a BETTER ONE .

I tried to fit in by slurping a bowl of noodles, but all I did was splatter liquid all over my shirts. Maybe I'll learn to slowly slurp and chew my noddles while making a slurping sound - to pretend I'm fitting in?

Or maybe I could just start drinking energy drinks to really be the life of the party. There's a commercial of Arnold Schwarzenegger hawking an energy drink called Alinamin V. He looks like a square at first (AET), is invited to drink, so he has the vitamin drink and turns into a superior drinker called the Terminator. Okay, not really, but check out the hair. It's like Coke in a bottle - cocaine, that is. Check it out: GOVERNOR

And then there's a commercial with Sylvester Stallone! Let me tell ya, no one over here will ever know he can't speak English. Yo! I don't even know what that ham is selling. ADRIAN!

Pierce Brosnan doing a Japanese cigarette commercial, I can understand - he's James friggin' Bond, and Bond at least smokes. SHAKEN

But check out these ads by David Lynch for Georgia Coffee - HERE. Georgia Coffee is owned by the Coca-Cola Company, and Georgia Coffee is a cold coffee with sugar and "cream/milk" in a thin can. I don't drink coffee circa 1990, but it is a fine cuppa joe. David Lynch created Twin Peaks - a very bizarre television show which had some air play in Japan for a few months in 1990.

Not much else to say at this time - just that even though I had previously thought Japan's television shows were warped, but so are its commercials - especially when American actors come over and hawk a product they've never heard of. It's pure Americana. It's also pure Japanese. I love it.

Take a look at this wonderful site for American-Japanese commercials: Blech.
Google for American actors Japanese commercials and see what you come up with.

Somewhere having an Alinamin V,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Spinal Tap - It Goes To 11

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Alabama Song

The beers began their adding up
And I began to have enough.
Perhaps a leak was all I needed
To make or break, my kidneys pleaded. 

Grasping non-existent walls did I
Squinting down and up did sigh
I began to navigate
The piles of pillows and clams on plates

I staggered near, I staggered far
And staggered there - look, the bar!
I ordered another beer - mistake.
Drank it as hit the personal earthquake.

Screaming their protesting ache
My kidneys pray to me for goodness sake.
But because the pain is non-abating
I follow the pictures of a man urinating.

I step through the beaded partition
And find myself inside the kitchen.
The cooks scream at me in some unknown vox
And push me towards a karaoke box.

A button is pushed, the lights blink on
Yesterday plays as a nude-girl song.
Uninterested I stare, a belch hits the air
The crowd applauds my savoir-faire.

Bowing to their screams of praise, 
My kidneys and now bowels enrage.
I stagger and slip upon the microphone
And find myself sitting prone.

I'm unsure how I found the Japanese toilet.
In my state I'm unsure how to use it. 
Sitting upon the smelly floor
I know I don't wanna drink no more. 

How did I get back to my apartment?
Who paid the bill? I need a breath mint.
Is someone helping me to my bed?
Please dear god, just kill me dead.

I hold on for dear life, 
As the spins take hold and make me not rhyme.
Stop the world, I want to get snoring
Oh crap, it's Thursday I have work in the morning. 

Somewhere realizing that drunk people shouldn't try to write poetry, 
Andrew Joseph

Today's title is by The Doors - Drink It Up 
PS - Yes, I wrote this after an office enkai (party) when I tried to find a washroom and somehow ended up back at my place. All of us at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) were blotto at this shindig. It's a continuous rite of passage to get drunk with your co-workers. You know what's really sad... I don't think I was ever allowed to pay for a drink when I was with a Japanese person in three whole years.
PPS - The karaoke machine did offer The Beatles Yesterday, but the video, as described, had a nude woman flouncing through a meadow. 
PPPS - No animals were hurt in the making of this blog, and no names were changed to protect the innocent as no one was innocent.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Dock Of The Bay

So there I am... It's a Saturday afternoon, and I'm sitting on my west balcony ledge on the third floor of my apartment building soaking up a few rays listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers while reading the Case Book of Sherlock Holmes

As is my norm, I often pull my nose out of the book to look around and see if anyone has noticed me. Ego, I suppose.

I see a pair of first -year students from Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School) riding their bicycles towards me on the main street. However, my view of them becomes obstructed by a particularly ugly building and cherryless cherry tree. My sight line clears as they approach an intersection.

I want to see if they see and wave to me, so I can wave back, but unfortunately they don't look up. One of the boys rides straight along the main street while his friend turns left onto a smaller but equally pitted road.

I found it strange to notice that the Japanese students don't do any elaborate c-ya's like we do back in Canada.

I watched as the kid who had turned left pedaled away from my apartment (so he did see me!) by putting his head down and riding as fast as he could. He was really motoring. I recall thinking to myself that he's really riding close to the side of the road. 

I wondered how he had the guts to do that, I mean Japanese cars like to pull out of driveways quite by surprise - I should know, I've swerved out of their way many a time. Hoping he wouldn't get hit, I still had this feeling deep in my stomach that told me something was going on - perhaps brought on by that batch of buttered octopus cookies I ate for lunch, but I wasn't sure.

Watching as my student headed straight for the back of a parked, white van, I figured that he'd be like me, and swerve out of the way at the very last second, in an insane game of one-on-none chicken - but, nope! Smash!

He plowed right into the back  of it!  I didn't laugh because the little guy could have broken his neck, arm or some other important part of his body like his pencil case.

He was lying on the street crying in pain or shock or for effect, I don't know. I was too far away to actually hear his whimpering, and while I saw him rolling on the ground, I was getting up to go and see if I could help him.

Then I saw it - a group of neighbours who had heard the crash were playing Rock-Scissors-Paper (jan-ken-po) to determine who would go and see if the boy was all right. The loser, an old man with a bad limp and a beer in his hand, went over to survey the situation.

He was loud. He barked at the kid to get up and see the owner of the van about apologizing for the damage and then made him run and get his mother. The kid seemed to be okay.

While he went into his house (next door), all of the other neighbours came outside to peer at the student-sized dent in the rear hatch of the van. Out of nowhere, hordes of white cars showed up and slowed down to see why everyone else was rubber-necking.

The kid and his mother came running out and began bowing at the owner of the van, then his wife, grandmother and dog.

The hordes of rubber-neckers left after it became apparent that nobody had died or was horribly maimed, racing off to the photo shops to develop their box camera pictures of the large dent. At least that's what I assumed they did. They really were taking pictures.

That's not news, but it is another day in Ohtawara. 

Somewhere avoiding white vans,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Otis Redding and was released posthumously in 1968. Otis also wrote the Aretha Franklin hit, Respect. Listen here to The Dock Of The Bay .
PS - Photo above is me perched on my dock where I spend evenings and weekends watching the world go by... either Matthew or Ashley snapped the photo for me by looking out to the left from my bedroom window. The street pictured is south of where the accident occurred. I'm reading some schlock by Stephen King.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Teach Your Children

Oh Japan - what the heck is going on? In 2010, it has recently come to light that one of the country's oldest residents - a 113-year-old woman, is missing - no one knows where she is, if she's alive or dead. This shocking bit of information comes days after officials found Tokyo's oldest man - who was supposed to be 111 years of age - dead and mummified. In fact, he had been dead and mummified some 32 years ago. That's pretty creepy.

The family of that poor man is being investigated for pretending the old man was alive to collect pension cheques.

Read about both of those stories HERE.

This isn't a knock against government officials, rather it's a knock against the families of these people. Get a rife, people.

Japan has one of the largest - if not largest - population of centenarians (people 100 years of age and older) in the world, with a list of some 40,399 people. (I'm not doing any more research than is absolutely necessary here).

One of the most enduring aspects of Japan and its way of life is that the population looks after its elderly, not by placing them in a Home as we do everywhere else, but rather taking them into their own home.

In Japanese society, the oldest son is supposed to look after his parents when they get old, having them move into his place. If no son is present, the man the daughter marries will take on the in-laws.

While I can see it being a burden - what with more and more people hitting such great ages - it is still a time worn tradition.

For crying out loud - my job as an AET was not so much as to teach my students how to speak English, but rather to internationalize them - teach them that there are other ways of doing things rather than the staid old Japanese way. But did you all have to pick up all of our bad habits?!

Obviously it's not everyone in Japan doing this - all of the folks I knew and know in Ohtawara treated the elderly with respect and love.

Somewhere missing my grandfather - my last remaining grandparent - who died while I was in Japan in 1992.
Andrew Joseph

Today's title is by: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
You can listen to it HERE sans Neil Young.

PS: Photo above is of a 250-year-old netsuke--an ivory carving--of a koma-inu (a Korean lion dog) that are symbolic guardians and protectors of Japanese temples and shrines.
PPS: Photo below is my grandfather, Thomas D'Souza. I had sent him that Netsuke lion dog to protect him until I got back from Japan - telling him to keep it by his bedroom door. I know there's no correlation, but he didn't do that and gave it to my mom to place in a curio cabinet. He was gone before I made it home. But at least he died in at our house, his home.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Eye Of The Tiger

The tale you are about to read is true, though some scenes have been changed to make it more interesting.

This... is the City. The City of Ohtawara. Me? My name is Joe Seph. I'm a gaijin.

Our tale - which is supposed to sound like the introduction to the radio/tv show Dragnet - begins on a warm sunny day, wholly unlike the day this tale was originally written, as it's August and very, very humid and cloudy.

While it is true that I only recently wrote about sumo wrestling, the following tale did take place that same day - what? You didn't think sumo wrestlers would come to my home town and I wouldn't have an adventure, did you? Truth be told, when I wanted to write about sumo, I had forgotten I had written this story. Probably too giddy from planning my new blog: You Know What I Hate? which was, of course a spur of the moment thing.

Unabashed self-promoting plug over, let me tell you about the day when Ohtawara got heavy. A day when my favourite sumo wrestler o-sumo-san Sekiwake (Sumo's third-highest rank) Musashimaru came to town with his heya (stable) to perform a sumo demonstration.

Arriving at 11AM, he was a sight to behold, standing1.92 meters (6'-3.5") tall and 235 kilograms (520 lbs). In typical Musashimaru fashion, he scowled and bit his bottom lip for the phalanx of photographers. He had his long black hair up in a chonmage (top knot), and was wearing a yukata (Spring robe) over his sumo gear.

After his low-level stable mates made lunch (chanko - a stew that all sumo-saurs eat every day to help keep their girlish figure ('Girlish', as I'm sure you all know, is Slovakian for 'bigger than a breadbox but smaller than a zoo'), Musashimaru put on a sumo demonstration by tossing around sumo-in-training sho-gakusai (primary school kids) on to their heads.

After 10 or 15 seconds of this, the sweaty, breath-sucking Sekiwake (at that time), decided that instead of throwing the kids around, he would traumatize them for life by unfastening their sumo diapers for all the world (IE Ohtawara and this blog) to see. Ugh. Can you imagine if he did this to another professional sumo wrestler? I may never watch the sport again. Or have eyes that work, as I'd probably be forced to stab my own orbs out.

After the demonstration on how to de-pants your opponent for fun and cash, Mushashimaru disappeared into the local hotel - there's only one in Ohtawara as of 1990. I followed a few minutes later - not because I was a sumo fanboy, but rather because all of the free beer and food that all foreigners are privy to when you live in a rural area had reached my kidneys.

I really had to go. Really, really, really. I figured a hotel would be a great place to find a restroom, and did the pee-pee dance over.

Because I'm an idiot and no amount of time spent in Japan would have allowed me to speak the language like a native, I gesticulated and danced in front of the clerk at the front desk. I was pointed to a large vending machine that sold disposable cameras. I did promise myself that if I made it to the restroom in time I would begin studying the language.

Not wanting to confuse anyone else with my stupid game of charades, I set off in a limp (I really, really, really, really had to go!) and finally found a washroom 15 minutes later when I broke into a hotel suite. They really should get stronger locks. Did you know that in this hotel's Royal Deluxe rooms one still has to sleep on a futon?).

I was quickly thrown out of the room by the cleaning staff who were working inside - landing on my muscular butt right in front of a men's room.

Seizing the opportunity, I ran and tried to push the door open, but it was obvious to me that it was being held closed from within. I don't know what came over me, but with a girlish push I forced my way in.

I then saw why I had had difficulty entering - one of Musashimaru's sumo handlers was blocking the door while three others were helping him remove his sumo gear so he could go to the washroom!

There was my hero - butt naked in front of me. My therapist says I'll be find after a few more visits.

Anyhow, Musahshimaru and I chatted with each other separated by the wall of a stall - chatted about women, beer, sumo and women again (he thought Ashley and I should break up), and when I finished that pee (and other), we said Aloha to each other because I thought he was Hawaiian, not realizing he's Samoan.
So... you think that one brush with greatness would have been it for me, right? Well, one week later, Japan's royal Prince and his bride (see HERE) came up to a nearby town. Although I didn't get to see either of them naked, it is a decent enough segue into the next story - I sat on Japan Emperor Hirohito's throne!

This is not a misprint. This is not a dream, a hoax or an imaginary story. About some years and nine months prior to whenever you are reading this, I went fishing with my friend Michael Hutchison at Nikko's Chuzenji-ko (that's a lake). After getting many bites from mosquitoes, Michael offered to show me where he works - a fish farm where they are doing research on salmon and trout.

While there, I had to go to the bathroom, so he showed me to a little wooden outhouse - apparently when the Emperor used to go fishing in the area, this is where he would visit when he had to use the toilet. I sat down on his throne, read the royal graffiti--everything said 'Hirohito wuz here', and realized that no matter how successful I might become in life, I was always going to be number two to an Emperor.

Somewhere wondering what the Emperor did about splinters in his tushie,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is a rocky little number by Survivor - BODY BLOW though I prefer this outtake by Jensen Ackles from one of my favourite tv shows SUPERNATURAL.
PS - I had at least 10 more toilet jokes I wanted to use, but I decided not to use them. I just wanted you to know how lucky you are.
PPS - in the photo at the top, a lower level sumo wrestler helps re-tie Mushashimaru's (right) sumo gear aka mawashi at the Ohtawara sumo event.