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Monday, January 31, 2011

Money (That's What I Want)

Before arriving in Japan in 1990, I had collected coins. Not merely because I was poor, but rather because it was a way of understanding history.
In Canada, we're a young country, and as such, as a youth it was easy enough for me to build up a collection of coins dated between 1922 and the present without literally having to break the bank. Of course, I'm talking about the standard 1-, 5-, 10-, and 25-cent coinage. For 50-cent and $1 coins, a certain amount of bank-breaking might have been required.
At least I could look at my coins, read them and easily figure out when and where they were minted. Our history wasn't long enough for guess work to be required to be an avid collector. And... to the same extent, the same holds true to my American collection. 
But here in Japan... maybe it's a cultural thing, but I rarely saw an old coin in circulation - and by that I mean something that might have been around for 30 years or more.
Heck... popping open my wallet today, I see a 1961 Canadian penny - 50 years old.
I said cultural, as in maybe the Japanese routinely pour through the coins and send it away for disposal by the bank or Mint so that only new, clean looking coins are in circulation.

I wanted to get my hands on some old Japanese coins... as kind of a greedy thing, yes, but also to give me something tangible to hold on to while I learned more about Japan's history.
One of the first things I bought was a triple boxed set of paperbacks on Japan's history - but sadly I sold it two years ago, not fully believing I would ever write these Wonderful Rife blogs. I read them all from cover to cover several times.
History, in fact... is why I wanted to come to Japan. Have I ever explained how I got here?
Back in February or so of 1990, I had an interview with the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme folks in downtown Toronto. During the interview I was asked why I wanted to go to Japan. Pretty standard stuff, eh? Well, I didn't really prepare for the interview - much like everything I do in rife. I said the first thing that came to mind - which rightly or wrongly, was how I felt.
I told them that I wanted to go to Japan to talk to people. I wanted to find out about who they really are. I wanted to ask an old-timer about the war (WWII) to get their side of things.
When I was told that was probably a very difficult thing to find out as the Japanese are kind of tight-lipped about their personal history, I said I don't mind. It's not something I'm just going to ask a stranger. I'll ask one of my friends.
They seemed to like the fact that I would respect the Japanese enough to want to become friends with them... that and the fact that I was/am a silver-tongued devil who can pretty much charm the pants off anyone (in a non-sexual way, of course). The sexual way would come later.
Anyhow... they obviously bought my sincerity, because that's what it was. It wasn't the cut and dried answer everybody gives about how they are looking forward to learning the language and culture et al. I wanted to talk to people.
And the JET Programme... they wanted people to talk to the Japanese. That's what the exchange was like - at least back in the early 1990s.
So... history intrigues me.
But... and I had no idea at the time, but Japanese coinage is a real bitch to figure out - especially the old stuff.
Here's what I've learned:
Back in the 1st Century AD, coins occasionally made their way into Japan from Korea and China. However, it wasn't until Japan and China established diplomatic relations that China exported it's T'ang coins to Japan back in 618 AD.
Japan only began minting its own coins in 708 AD. The coins minted are called the Wado Kaichin, as Wado means copper. The coins were only made after Japan discovered copper in Saitama-ken (Province of Saitama).
These first Japanese coins are similar to the Chinese ones, and were made in copper and later in silver. The first batch of coins minted was considered to be of poor quality so the Chinese were asked to come over and provide some advice.
Over 250 years from 708 A.D. to 958 A.D. the Japanese minted 12 different types of coins. In addition to copper coins, there was the Kaiki Shoho, which was gold, and the Taihei Genpo, which was silver.Apparently there is only one known Kaiki Shoho.
Still, despite the influx of coinage, it still wasn't a popular means of trade. Bartering was.
After 958 AD, no more coins were minted in Japan for about 600 years. As such, coins from China, Korea and Annam (Vietnam) were mixed in.
It was in the Tokugawa Period (1603 to 1868), that Japan began to mint coins a second time. With Japan united, and its borders ready to be closed to foreigners, a new cash system was required.
Small quantities were first minted in 1626 of Kan'ei Tsuuhou copper coins, followed by a larger mintage in 1636. The Tokugawa government ordered this mintage and then ordered it be distributed through private subcontractor coin manufacturers throughout the country - for proper distribution of the money. Apparently there were some 16 different mints manufacturing money for Japan.
So... how do you date a Japanese coin? You don't really. Coins manufactured between the 1600s up until Admiral Perry came in 1868 (when Japan opened its doors to foreigners) all look the same (excluding denominations, of course).
There are some variations... but to the casual observer, it all looks the same. Check out the 100 old Kan'ei Tsuuhou I own. Different colours, different widths, and on occasion, different markings. I'm not going to tell you how to tell your Japanese copper coins apart - that is better left to the experts - and even a quick perusal through the Internet, I am loathe to say who is an expert in the field. 
Anyhow... just know that in 1868, after the Shogun and his military style of rule was put aside and the Emperor regained his status, as the be-all and end-all... (though military action was part of Japan's style back then) Japan set up a mint in Osaka and essentially introduced modern coinage to Japan. The YEN was established as the standard currency unit by the New Coinage Currency Act of 1871.
And the rest, as they say is history. 

Somewhere the best things in life are free,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Today's title is sung by The Beatles, but was not written by them... it was first sung by Barrett Strong in 1959 and was written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. Gordy would of course form Motown Records. HEAR it! 
PS: The photo shows off some of my old Japanese coinage... the Kan'ei Tsuuhou coppers, an old silver and an old gold rectangle, and some other neat stuff. If anyone knows anything about them, I'd appreciate a heads up. Oh.. that dried straw... that was part of a rope belt that was strung through the centre of the copper coins - a money belt of sorts, and worn by someone from long ago. Unfortunately, it rotted and broke while in my possession.
PPS: The next blog will appear on February 2. Thank you for your patience while I settle back into the rhythm of things.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spinning Wheel

Welcome back to the continuing voyages of one idiotic man's stay in Japan many, many years ago. Although no longer living there, he has fond, alcohol-fueled 'memories' of people, places and things that have to do with something or another.

Most of the stories are true. All are based on fact. I sometimes discover old stories and facts that I think are interesting and I gladly share them with you.

Take for example the number-one selling battery in Japan, NoPoPo (Non-Pollution Power). Actually, in this case being number one and doing number one is the difference. You see, the NoPoPo aqua batteries available in AA and AAA sizes are powered by pee. Urine trouble if you don't believe I'm telling you the truth.

A few years ago, a scientist must have taken up a drunken bet after accidentally dropping his music player in a washroom urinal and having his colleague joke about how his iPad (now dubbed iPeeD) is now in piss-poor shape.

Of course, that last paragraph is pure conjecture on my part, but it doesn't seem all that far-fetched to me.

The original concept for the battery involved soaking a piece of paper (strangely enough, not toilet paper) in a warm solution of copper chloride (chemical formula = ClCu2), and placing it between thin strips of copper (Cu) and magnesium (Mg). After laminating this between (pissed) two sheets (to the wind) of clear plastic, it was found that when urine (Pp) was added to the paper through a narrow slash in the plastic that a chemical reaction was produced creating electricity. It's alive!

If you really want to wrap your head around the science, urine (Pp) contains electrically charged ions that make the chemical reaction work.

The batteries life (at least for the AA's) is up to 500 milliamps-hour of life. I have no friggin' idea what that means. I imagine it means you get power for an hour or so (please don't quote me on THAT!), but that it will retain its shelf life for 10 years (fantastic!), and it can be recharged a minimum of three times up to five times before the well runs dry. 

Apparently semen also works, but just between you and me and the tissue paper, I'd only be able to run the battery two or three times a day max. Don't get old boys and girls.

I wasn't kidding about the semen. Other fluids in the body that will get the motor running include blood and tears, but no mention of sweat.

Now before everyone goes streaming out to their local hardware store (or wherever you buy your urine (Pp), please note that the NoPoPo batteries are only available in Japan.

Now, I'm into a lot of weird stuff (I think blogging counts), but peeing on my batteries? Yeah, let me do that and then hand them back to my wife to put into one of her plethora of battery-operated toys. That'll go over well. Did I say wife? I meant son.

And how do you pee on it? Does the type of pee matter? Coke-fueled? Sake-fueled? Just over the top of the battery? - won't my fingers get wet? Or is there a hole at the end I have to try and hit with my stream? As a guy, we usually have no idea where the heck the urine (Pp) stream is going - except perhaps on the floor. Maybe I should just pee on the floor and roll the battery on it.

Seriously, these batteries could be a life saver. Stranded somewhere - knowing that your batteries have a 10-year shelf-life, and that you can re-charge them a few times could be key to one's survival.

While I don't see the need for it around the house, it would be fun to have a set of batteries and pee all over them (the batteries, not the house) just to see if it'll really work.

Somewhere batteries are not included,
Andrew Joseph

Today's title is brought to you by Blood, Sweat & Tears, who probably had more band members throughout the years than actual songs produced. Still, SPINNING WHEEL is a brilliant song. It's about not being preoccupied with your problems and know that they will always work out in the end. The merry-ground lyrics also suggest to let the ride go on as it will eventually stop. Then there's the moral ambiguity of the straight and narrow highway - and figuring out which way you are headed. Or, it was just one big freaking acid trip while visiting a local fair.
Pee S: the group name was the reason for choosing this blog title as it is part of what makes the battery go. As well, the song contains a nice life lesson should anyone out there feel they need one from a blog writer.
Pee-Pee S: Next blog to appear on January 31, and then with further increased frequency. I gotta go now.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The End

Hello all.
This will be the last message from me at Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife for the foreseeable future.
I'm having great marital difficulties, and I'm afraid that trumps all.

Thank you all very much for coming aboard and reading my stories.
It has been a tremendous pleasure knowing you are out there.
And... if you should feel like it, check in here in a month's time to see if I am feeling better and/or visit my other blog which details things I hate. It's not as funny, but perhaps you can relate to some of my angst.

Somewhere in a dark corner of hell,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by The Doors: MORRISONRULES

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Strawberry Fields

This blog is for my new friend Rhyming Gaijin.
While it sounds like I'm still in Japan, these adventures, comedic and traumatic, historical tidbits, and plain old information, are things I learned during my three years in the country. I know... a mere three years - but I learned a lot.
I firmly believe that one needs to learn something new every single day for it to be considered a full day. I learn something every time I write one of these blogs, so since September 21, I've felt reasonably good with myself knowing that I have not wasted the day. 
So... let me take you down to early August 1990.
One of the first things I bought after arriving in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan was a triple boxed set of paperback books on Japan's history (sadly I sold it in 2008, not fully believing I would ever write these Wonderful Rife blogs). To familiarize myself with my new home, I read these books from cover to cover several times.
History, in fact... is why I wanted to come to Japan. Have I ever explained how I got here?
Back in February or so of 1990, I had an interview with the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme folks in downtown Toronto. During the interview I was asked why I wanted to go to Japan. Pretty standard stuff, eh? Well, I didn't really prepare for the interview - much like everything I do in rife. I said the first thing that came to mind - which rightly or wrongly, was how I felt.
I told them that I wanted to go to Japan to talk to people. I wanted to find out about who they really are. I wanted to ask an old-timer about the war (WWII) - to get their side of things.
When I was told that was probably a very difficult thing to find out as the Japanese are kind of tight-lipped about their personal history, I said I don't mind. It's not something I'm just going to ask a stranger. I'll ask one of my friends.
They seemed to like the fact that I would respect the Japanese enough to want to become friends with them... that and the fact that I was/am a silver-tongued devil who can pretty much charm the pants off anyone (in a non-sexual way, of course). The sexual way would come later.
Anyhow... they obvious bought my sincerity, because that's what it was. It wasn't the cut and dried answer everybody prefers to give about how they are looking forward to learning the language and culture et al. I wanted to talk to people.
And the JET Programme... they wanted people to talk to the Japanese. That's what the exchange was like - at least back in the early 1990s.
So... history intrigues me.

Somewhere re-writing history,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is sung by The Beatles: LSD

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dream Police

Here's a link to blog I originally wrote about this Calvin & Hobbes cartoon that I turned in to a fumetti for my then-girlfriend, Ashley. OLDBLOG
A fumetti, as I understand it is photo book with dialogue balloons, which I am sure you could have figured out by looking at what I have wrought.
Despite the crudeness of my work in despoiling Bill Waterson's fine comic strip, I worked quite a while on the darn thing - going through photos for just the right look and size, and even facing the proper way. It wasn't easy finding shots of myself either. Okay, it was. The Japanese were always very kind to take photos of me and then present me with my own set of photos at a later date. Back in 1990, this was called file-sharing.
I'm not some old fuddie-duddie who doesn't know squat about technology - there are plenty of things I have no knowledge about.
Regardless... using cut and paste - with real scissors and glue!! - here is a black and white photocopy of the full-colour fumetti I gave to Ashley for her birthday present back in 1990.

Somewhere wishing I had colour scanner in 1990,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Cheap Trick: SMOKIN'DRUMMER
PS: Ashley loved to sleep. I did too, but when someone says they are going to do something - like say go on a sight-seeing trip - I hold them to their word, and I get upset when plans are canceled because someone wants to sleep the whole day through. As such, my expression in the final panel as Andrew Hobbes says it all.
PPS: It sounds like a terrible birthday present, right? Well, this was still early in our relationship (we'd only broken up six or seven times in these heady first five months of our relationship) and I could have forgiven anything.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Day In The Life

As editor of The Tatami Times - the Prefecture of Tochigi's most powerful English-language monthly newsletter for the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme for AETs (Assistant English Teachers), I had a lot of time on my hand. For the first issue I wrote darn near everything, with a few submissions from Ashley and Matthew to help me out.
And then it got weird. I started getting submissions from a lot of people. As a result, I didn't have to write as much. Which depending on one's view of things is a good thing or a bad thing.
In 1991 I was probably at my peak of being creative - writing three of four short stories a day. Now I just do a blog - oh yeah and write three to six articles a month for a Canadian industrial trade magazine. I'm also a pretty fine comic book writer (I do have over 30,000 comic books), but aside from having maybe 20 stories published by Strange Fun Comics, I'm not a professional - and should the stars ever align themselves, perhaps I will be in 2011.
Still... in 1991, as mentioned, people sent a lot of submissions to The Tatami Times newsletter. One regular contributor for the first several months of 1991 was one Marina Izatt, and Aussie who traveled to Japan with her husband Rob and five-year-old son Douglas.
Douglas was a fine young lad - and good grief, he's probably a university graduate by now! But back in 1990-91, he was a kindergarten student in Japan.
I can barely understand my own five-year-old explaining things to me, so I can only imagine the angst this kid must have felt trying to talk to other Japanese kids or to his teachers. Worst of all was the fact that he stood out even more than the rest of us gaijin (foreigner) - and more than us adult gaijin, Douglas was a curiosity to the Japanese.
Courtesy of Marina, here are some altered Calvin & Hobbes cartoons originally drawn and written by the fantastic Bill Waterson (here's a link to what seems to be a GREAT site on him!).

Somewhere glad I'm not five-years-old,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog is powered by The Beatles: PEPPER

PS: For your edification:
'chisai' = small size
'gaijin' = foreigner
'baka' = 'stupid'
'ichi' = one
'ni' = two
'san' = three
'kowai nai' = 'forget it' or perhaps more eloquently: 'screw this!'

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Haircut Song

I've previously presented a few blogs from my time as editor/ photocopier/ typist of the Tochigi-ken JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme AET (Assistant English Teacher) monthly newsletter, The Tatami Times. Each shows an alternative - yet equally wacked out view of the gaijin (foreigner) perspective of life in Japan.
So, without much further ado, allow me to present a piece by one Marina Izatt, a wonderful young lady who brought her husband Rob and (I'm guessing) five-year-old son Douglas with her from Australia for the year between August 1990 through July 1991.
When I/you think about how tough I make believe my time was in Japan, think about what life must have been like for a four going on five-year-old who only speaks English (granted it's Australian English) (Just kidding Aussies!) into a country where English speaking is still in its infancy? Tell ya what... tomorrow I'll present some comic strips altered by Marina and Rob about their son Douglas. Today we'll examine Marina's tale that first appeared in the classic May 1991 Tatami Times issue  - the cover of which is featured up here to the left. Consider if you will that The Simpson's had only been on TV for about a year and that Bart and company was not yet an institution, but was well on its way to becoming one. Hell, I used to watch The Tracey Ullman Show and first saw the yellow family appear then!
Okay Marina, make the Canadian stop blathering and take it away for today:

A Hair-Raiser Of A Day
Before coming to Japan, I made a pact with myself. Last Saturday, I went out knowing that I was about to break that pact.
My hesitance had always been the result of the underlying fear of an outcome that I would be unable to change. The language barrier was an ever present problem and although my logic told me that by simply using my dictionary I should overcome any great problem - but there still remained a hint of  'But what if...'
For example, what if my interpretation of a word differed , even if its translation was simple enough? One must always be aware of cultural differences.
As I brushed the hair out of my eyes and took a deep breath, I set off on my bike leaving Rob and Doug behind - knowing that things may look different on my return.
I tried to justify my actions, despite friends warning me against what I was about to do. Many had made the same decision as myself, and later regretted what they had done.
What could be the worst thing that could happen?!!
As I pedaled down the narrow street, I could see the building which was my destination. At 9:30 AM, the street was deadly silent. At first, there appeared to be no one around, however finding the door unlocked, I let myself in.
The discussion which followed seemed to be a 'to-ing and fro-ing' of words, as we exchanged meanings with the help of our dictionaries. Finally, we seemed to agree, and in the belief that we understood each other completely, I sat back in my chair. 
The next three hours now seem a blur. There were moments of uncertainty, however, we continued.
I recall looking across the room and catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I could see that I had passed the point of no return. But as I attempted to keep a positive view on the situation, Rob and Douglas entered the room. 
They'd followed me, unable to wait at the apartment.
The silence was broken first by Doug as called to his father: "Look at mummy's curly hair!!!!!!"
Yes, I did it - the one thing I vowed never to do. I got my hair permed in Japan.

Marina (Curly) Izatt
(Or, from the Izatt family: Larry, CURLY and Moe).

Somewhere needing a haircut,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is by Ray Stevens who also penned such classic novelty songs as: Ahab The Arab; Gitarzan; and The Steak, along with the Grammy award winning Gospel song: Everything Is Beautiful. Today's title is a novelty song - but the opening gambit perfectly sums up Marina's temporary permanent: HAIR.

PS: The perm in Japan is a tricky thing... y'see, female students are NOT allowed to have anything but straight hair - and kami (gods) help you, should you have curly or wavy hair, you need doctor's notes to prove it hasn't been permed. Also, in the 1990s at least, the only people who had permed hair back then were members of the Yakuza - not all, mind you, but those that had it were more than likely involved in some sort of gentleman's social club activity, if you know what I mean. I never did get to see Marina with her perm - and I only wish I knew what her student's (and teacher's) reaction was! I'm betting it was a big deal - but not that big a deal - as she's a gaijin and we have strange ways.
PPS: The image at the top shows off Bart's classic spiky hairdo, too. And what the hell are you looking at?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nowhere Man

Author's miniature Noh masks: (from left) Fushikizoh and Hannya.
There are three major forms of traditional Japanese theatre: Kabuki, Bunraku and Noh. Today's lets learn a bit about Noh, or . Both are pronounced the same - like in Ohtawara-shi where I lived, the "O" is slightly longer, which is why I add the "Oh". Got it? No? Perfect!
Noh is a musical dance drama with the actors wearing small masks that cover the face (not the head). They are what Noh is all about. I have two miniature Noh masks - see photo to the left.
As you can see from my two masks, traditionally, actors that wear a mask play the part of a female or of a non-human character - although there are now masks to represent an old man or a youngster. I suppose that's just Noh getting with the times.
Of course, many actors do not wear a mask, but like the Noh mask wearers, they do not change their level of expression, treating their face as though they are wearing a mask. 
Around the 14th century, Noh became the IT girl - becoming popular, that is. Wearing nohmen (masks... hey nohmen... 'no men', get it? No? Great!), the actors would dance to songs called yohkyoku.
Of course, as Noh progressed, the number of specialized Noh masks also increased, where there are some 220 different masks 'allowed' - click HERE for a wonderful site with photos of each.
Men - as with pretty much all early forms of Japanese theatre, play the roles of men, demon and female. Women - this wasn't their domain.
Now you might think that wearing a expressionless mask (or one with a single expression) for the entire play, might be a dry experience - but the actors learn with a tilt of the head how to convey different expressions. Try this yourself with a camera, and shoot three or more photos of a friend's face, with them having the same expression. Have them tilt the head down, and slowly move it up - see your results and note the different levels of expression.
Okay, it's subtle, but this is Japanese theatre... and certainly back in the 14th century, it must have been something to see - especially if you were in the good seats up close.
Traditionally, the Noh stage is bare with large paintings of a pine tree on the back wall and a bamboo tree on the right. There is always an open passage (hashigakari) that leads diagonally from the main stage to a curtained doorway on the left - which leads to the staging area (the green room) called the kagami no ma, where costuming is done - which in Noh means the application of a Noh mask.
Four Noh hayoshi-katai (musicians) sit at the rear wall of the stage - without mask or costume. In case you are wondering, these musicians play a large bass drum, a large and small hand drum and a flute.
On the right hand side of the stage, the eight person chorus singers (jiutai) sit.
See the drawing on the right? I did this for you. Nice, Noh
I don't know if any of you have ever seen an Iron Chef television show. But these Japanese Iron Chefs, well... in order to become a chef in Japan, you apprentice for maybe 20 years. That means something like 10 years of learning how to hold a knife before you are ever allowed to cut anything with it. The same holds true in Noh. There are schools for Noh, no kidding, where you can learn to either be a shite (leading role actor) or a waki (secondary role actor).
Actors from one school never switch roles. If you are trained as a secondary actor, you can never be a primary actor. It's just not done. I find that strictness of rule to be rather bizarre, but that's Japan. And that's Japan's Noh.
From what I've read, most Noh plays have a similar theme, in that Buddhism plays a major part. There are about 2000 Noh scripts handed down from the beginning of this form of theatre, with about 250 of them still being performed nowadays.
Noh plays were an all day event, traditionally offering five plays and some shorter comedic kyohgen skits tossed in between - perhaps to wake up the audience.
Nowadays, a typical Noh performance includes two Noh plays with a Kyohgen play in the middle. From what I've discerned, some people are trying to create new Noh plays - but if I know my Japanese folk - and I do - I'm betting they aren't as well received as the 250 or so classics.
What I think is interesting is that the Japanese have a well-documented respect for tradition - and more power to them! However, just because something is old and traditional doesn't necessarily mean its good (or good by today's standards). I can easily think of the US equivalent of the Little Black Sambo character that was quite popular in America well into the 1940s, or the Parker Brother's boardgame 10 Little Niggers... I've been looking for a copy of that one for years! I have a set of 1940s Little Black Sambo Viewmaster reels.
Anyhow... there's probably a reason why only 250 of 2000 Noh plays are being performed... the rest are more than likely inferior or do not translate well to today's audience. Despite that, the Japanese do tend to balk at the introduction of new things to tradition. To those who are trying to create new Noh plays: Ganbatte kudasai ('Please do your best' - or 'Good luck' or 'keep up the good work')!

Somewhere in a shite mask,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is by The Beatles: FAB - the song kicks in at the 2:00 mark.
PS: Info about my two masks:
The female mask in white make-up is named Fushikizoh and is used in the Noh plays: Matsukazo, Hajitomiu, Hanagatami, and Yoshinotennin.
The Ghost spirit (Onryo-kei) mask is named Hannya and of a female character whose jealousy and anger has turned her into a demon. It is used in the plays: Aoinoue, Dojyoji, and Kurozuka.
PPS: By the way, the Japanese word 'shite' for leading actor... it's pronounced 'she-tey'. If you are a Brit or Canadian like me who likes using British slang, you can pronounce it anyway you like.
PPPS: By the way... should you be so desired, I forgot to post a song for January 2, 2011's blog title. It's a great song! LISTEN.

Monday, January 3, 2011

American Woman

Here's a piece I wrote about my on-again boff-again girlfriend Ashley who was with me for my first two years in Japan in 1990-91 and 1991-92, when she left to go back home to the US. We had pretty much broken up after that first year, but decided that sleeping together was an option good enough for both of us, without the hang-up of having to be boyfriend-girlfriend.
Lucky me, huh? By the way... in that first line where it looks like I mis-spelled 'off'... it's supposed to say 'boff'... it's slang for 'have sex with'. I was still hung up on her though, which made it difficult for me to have any sort of long-lasting relationship during my second year.
The following is an attempt to exercise those American demons of mine - so I could concentrate on other beautiful women like Kristine who lived 500 kilometres away in Shiga-ken. I know, I know.

Love: Sure I feel qualified to write about this topic. I've been in love many times before. Well, once then, if you're going t be picky. Or perhaps it was a case of indigestion. It could have been her cooking.

She came into the night. Inexplicably. Inexorably. Inextricably. Her image flooded my senses.
I looked at my sweater the next day. On it was a strand of reddish-brown hair I knew only too well.
They say you never forget your first love. How can I? I find her scent upon everything I own.
Two years is a long time to be with someone, especially when you are only 28-years-old. But when we met, we were... oh, I don't know... something clicked. Our pheromones were a perfect match even if our personalities didn't. It was a rocky time, though our sex was pretty good.
Fire and Water. I am a Scorpio, she the water-bearer, Sagittarius.
Fire and Water - the eternal enemies. Hah! Nothing looks quite as exotic as when the two meet in unholy union and dance betwixt the carbonic shells which seek to harness them. You can't control the uncontrollable. We made love without the aid of stimulant. The tryst's the thing. True to my sign, I am a raging hormone bent on sex. Or so I like to think. I just loved her. I loved the way her hair glinted in the sunlight, the way it sheened in the rain. The way it felt in my hand, the way it felt on my face.
I loved the way she'd tilt her head and look at me with her squinty eyes. Even when she was angry at me and taking me down a notch or two, I'd still be captivated by that look.
Physically, she was no Playmate of the Month. She was a little chubby, with a big butt and hips built for child-rearing. But she was still incredibly cute.
She oozed of that je ne sais quoi. Sex appeal, I guess. Love pheromones. We should never have been together. We should never have been apart. One always sought to be the leader. Her ego sought to douse my unbridled enthusiasm, whilst I tried to boil away her stoicism.
Yet it always seemed so perfect when we were apart.

Somewhere apart,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by The Guess Who: CANADIANEH - it's the long version, and kicks in after 1:18.
PS: I'm reading this 18 years later and I'm unsure if when it was written I was over her or not. Hence my confusion and inability to proceed with my life more fully. Yeesh.
PPS: By the way, in case you weren't aware - and I'm unsure how many Americans really are - American Woman (aka The Statue of Liberty) is an anti-American song. It has always boggled my mind to see Amerks dancing and hooting to this song.
PPPS: Kristine is American, too, so maybe this wasn't such an appropriate song for this blog! Live and learn.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Shogi King and foot soldier - just for size reference - my foot is 30cm.
 I like games. While nowadays my pursuits extend as far as my hand-held controller on my videogame system, in my youth I owned a Pong system and played some of the earliest coin-op video games out there - heck, I even owned (still do) a record album called Pacman Fever.
But even before that, I played a lot of board games, with Monopoly being a personal favourite - having only lost a game when I entered sponsored competitions, or recently when I have to let my five-year-old win. I also usually get my butt trounced in Scrabble by my wife, a very frustrating event for someone who does daily crossword puzzles in ink and is a writer by trade (not even including my two blogs!).
Despite my supremacy in games like Monopoly, one board game I love is Chess. I'm good, but I'm not Bobby Fischer great. I'm not going to end a match in five moves. I play by gut, and I usually aquit myself well enough to not be embarrassed.
Japan also plays the same chess I do, but there is another similar but completely different version of chess that is Japanese. It's called Shogi. Translated Sho = General (military rank) and Gi = boardgame.
If you didn't know that Chess and Shogi were training grounds for Generals, you do now. It's all about strategy and planning your moves far ahead in the future and adjusting accordingly, all to make the opposition fall into your trap, while avoiding traps set up for you.
Check out the photo of the Shogi piece on the left. It's a King/ōshō piece. It's also a piece of art carved and painted by the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) Superintendent who presented the piece to me a present one day - it wasn't a birthday or anniversary or Christmas or anything. It was a Friday, I believe. And that's why it's cool.
Maybe it's because I'm a stranger in their employ or just one in the country, but I found the Japanese to be overly generous in their time and friendship.
Enough about peace and goodwill towards gaijin (foreigners), let's talk about war - as in Shogi. I'm not going to tell you how to play - for that there are many good sites that can do that, like THIS one. I'm just going to describe the basics. Personally, I don't know how to play - that's because I only have this one giant over-sized novelty piece of art - but what I do know about Shogi is that it is very, very similar to chess, in that the game pieces have similar moving abilities to chess.
First, let's look at the board - here's a link to a typical Shogi board. Forget about the face of the board, check out the way it sits. It's impressive.
Okay... now look at the board's face in the same photo. There are 81 squares. The goal is to capture your opponents King.
Now, according to what history I know, Shogi - or at least something resembling it, had its origins in India around the 6th century and was brought to Japan via China in the 8th century where the Japanese added their own rules to make the game their own.
All of the games pieces are five-sided oblongs like the one in my photos at the top, and have the name of the piece marked in black (like mine) or in red (unlike mine) denoting the two sides.
The games pieces are:
King/ōshō, which can  - like in chess - move in any direction, but only one square at a time. There is only one king per side.
Rook (or a Castle)/hisha - also one piece per side, it can move in a manner similar to a chess rook/castle:
Bishop/kakugyō - one piece per army, it moves diagonally like the bishop.
Gold General/kinshō - two per side, it moves diagonally in any direction except backwards, but only one square at a time. - Okay, now I'm getting confused!
Silver General/ginshō - two per side, it moves forward and diagonally one square at a time.
Knight/keima: two each, it moves diagonally forward two squares and can jump other pieces, so it is similar to the Chess knight... except of course, a knight can move backwards.
Lance/kyōsha - two each, it moves forward.
Pawn/fuhyō - nine per side, this piece moves one square forward - like a Chess pawn.

While it may be a difficult game for the casual observer to even begin wrapping one's head around, I can tell you that as an experienced Chess player, it is a game you will enjoy - it will make you think. And we can all do a lot more thinking.

Somewhere it's my turn,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Edwin Starr: GOODGODYALL
PS: I beat my wife at Scrabble in a near-three-hour epic battle of Scrabble! I'm sure we will play again  - unless I continue to win. 2011 is better already.
PPS: The piece of wood my Superintendent used to carve my Shogi tile for me - I just counted the tree rings visible to me (I can't count the outer rings, because they've been eliminated in the carving process). Let's just say the piece of wood he used was over 180-years-old. And that was 20 years ago. That means this wood/tree was around when the Shogun and samurai where still ruling the roost in Japan. Now that's a thoughtful present.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Day

Happy New Year from ????
 There's a custom in Japan that I enjoyed, but never actually participated in.

There's an old custom in Japan (and I'm sure elsewhere in the world) for people to go out on New Year's Day to visit friends, acquaintances, former teachers and relatives - to catch up on new times while re-hashing old times. It was to stay connected - to say thanks. It's a cool custom.
But, back in the 1899 or so, after Japan opened up its borders to foreigners and postcards and postage became the fashionable thing to do, that quaint custom of visitation slowly faded away.
Instead, old acquaintances were brought to mind via a New Year's greeting card called the nengajo.
The Japanese seem to take great pride in sending out these New Year's Day greetings. I have to say that 99.9 per cent of the ones I received (maybe about 150 per year) were written in Japanese with little to no English on them. As a result, I have a very difficult time in knowing just who the hell they are from.
I'm sorry.
I'm just not that smart or good at reading Japanese.
The cards come in various formats - but are always done in a postcard style - IE a front and backside.
Format-wise, the front will have a greeting written in Kanji or Hiragana - or if I'm lucky enough Katakana alphabet (see left photo at very top). Sometimes, it is all writing, others have a drawing ink-stamped onto it.
Still others, they have a photo placed onto. Some have them professionally done - and by that I mean they had a card maker actually print a photo as the front of the card. The non-professional card (and this is not a knock against anyone!), the photo is glued to the front.
Other times, the picture on the front matches the animal of the applicable Japanese/Chinese zodiac calendar.
For example... I was born in 1964. That's the year of the Dragon. Today in 2011, it is the year of the Rabbit.
Want to know what YOUR astrological sign is?: ANNUAL
1991 was the Year of The Sheep
As well, the cards have on the backside a set of lottery numbers (Otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki). Take a look at the photo on the right at the very top - I purposely did NOT choose a lottery number for you that had the number 47 in it, even though I have . On January 15, the wining numbers are picked, with the results delivered the next day on television. The prizes are not monetary, ranging nowadays from televisions to washing machines, to cameras to commemorative stamps.
In all honestly, I have no idea if I ever won anything, as I know that both Matthew and I never knew to check the results!
The cards would actually be delivered by the Post and Telecommunications Ministry (Yuuseishou) to arrive on January 1, as deliver or reception of such cards before that date is considered bad form... it's like visiting people (pre-1899) before this auspicious date.
When they say that it's the thought that counts - here in Japan it really does.
Sure they might send out 50 or 100 cards... but honestly, no one had to send the stupid gaijin (foreigner) a card. But they did.
And it means a lot to me that they spent the time and effort to write out my name and address (where the heck are people getting my address from?!!) . Some did write it out in English, too... which must have confused the heck out of the postal service.
Actually, I'm betting the post office folks weren't that confused. When it came to receiving mail with English writing on the card or envelope, it either went to me, or to Matthew. And, from what I was told by my bosses at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education), the post office actually had our two addresses on file in English and in Japanese so that they could easily deliver mail to us.
There was only one problem.
Nice family shot from the Yashiro family.
Ohtawara had more gaijin than just the two of us. And, there certainly were more Japanese receiving mail from people outside of Japan, too.
Other gaijin include the : foreign exchange company workers at some of the major electronics companies; the bartending staff at local watering holes; the Asian Farming Institute that taught Japanese farming techniques to people from a plethora of Asian countries; and of course, the Catholic Priest who lived in the church two doors away from me. I always got mail for him (stuff from the Vatican - new candles and chalices), and he always got stuff for me (my box of condoms, and subscription to Juggs).
I know I always send the stuff I received to him unused. I can only hope he did the same for me.
Anyhow... as mentioned at the very top... I never participated in this tradition - more the pity. I never had a card made and sent out and damn it I always felt bad about it whenever a card would arrive in the mail for me.
If you are in Japan during the Winter season, do yourself a favour and look into having a nengajo made up for yourself to send out. You'll be happy you did.
Oh... and happy new year!
Unless you follow the Chinese calendar - you'll have to wait six more weeks, but the feeling is still meant!

Somewhere wondering if I had won a washing machine,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by U2... and appropriately named band for this blog topic: HAPPYNEWYEAR
PS: Upon further review of the New Year's cards I received back in January of 1991, it appears that I DID send out greetings. I apparently wrote things out in Kanji (the Chinese-style Japanese alphabet) and mailed them out. I feel better now. So forget about my opening line to this blog. I'm not a complete loser.