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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Young People in Onagawa Look to Rebuild Town Devastated By Tsunami

Here's a story from The Australian newspaper, that I saw online from June 30, 2012.

It talks about how the younger generation has taken up arms against a sea of trouble and thus by opposing has sought to end them. Shakespeare in Japan.

It's about the town of Onagawa, a town in Miyagi-ken where about one in 10 people died when the tsunami engulfed it back on March 11, 2011. Consider, if you will that there were only about 10,000 people living there at the time of the disaster, with about 70 per cent of the buildings destroyed by the rogue wave(s). 

Despite a tragedy that even the Bard couldn't conceive of, the indomitable spirit of the townspeople shines through in its efforts to pull itself back up to a semblance of normality. It's a great story! Really! Have a read HERE!

As well... here's a short video of the rebuild.The mayor, mentioned in the article is NOT in this. Kind of funny that the article talks about young people, but only shows older people in the video... 

It doesn't look so bad - especially when you compare it to the photo at the very top, taken a few days after the tsunami leveled the town.

Andrew Joseph 

12: Simon's Solo Story: Which Witch Is Which

Not much to say about this one, except that it involves caricatures of Lucy and Ethel from one of the best-ever television shows I Love Lucy. I have watched every episode and it is probably the only television show in which I actually learned who the writers were some 10 years before I even thought I could write. I also used Adam Ant in the story... or rather a version of the group Adam and the Ants. I needed the 'S' in Ants, as well as the "A" in Adam. Gods, I hope you have figured out what that spells when you mix up the letters.
Oh, and for a woman named Isobel Gowdie that Lucille had not yet met in 1647, you can see who the heck she is HERE.
Why the hell I knew about her in the days before the Internet or while living in Japan and without the benefit of an English Encyclopedia, I have no idea, but I somehow pulled that one out of my you-know-what.
He's a witch! Burn him! 
On with the story.

Chapter 1             Chapter 6              Chapter 11
Chapter 2             Chapter 7
Chapter 3             Chapter 8
Chapter 4             Chapter 9
Chapter 5             Chapter 10

Simon's Solo Story: Which Witch Is Which
chapter xii

Hi, it's me, the Writer, again. Since I figure that turnabout is fair play, I've decided to include one of Simon's solo tales.

As you are aware, these stories are but a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to detailing the complete lives and times of Simon and Billy.

This particular adventure also ties up a loose end that I noticed after re-reading some of the other stories. Sometimes I forget things... after all, I am only human. At least as far as I'm currently willing to admit.
A thick and heavy white mist rolled across the Scottish mountainside. Although covered with heather and clover, they are extremely immaterial to this story.

Lucille McClair was a blushing bride of six months. Her husband, typically named Angus, was always mucking about in the bogs, digging burnable peat for the warming of the house, but to Lucille, it was just him mucking about and coming home smelling like a bog.

Despite Angus' best intentions, if he had asked the house, it probably would have stated that it didn't really care for the warmth, that it preferred the cool, damp weather even though it was bad for its wood. Although, since no one ever talked to the house, except for a crazy old woman named Electra McShave, this is all pure conjecture.

Electra, in case you were wondering, talked to the house because she believed it to be the spirit of a man who would not be born for another 300 years. This man would die painfully after accidentally electrocuting himself with a straight razor. By a bizarre twist of fate, the leather strap on that straight razor came from a deer that would be killed by a car driven by a tanner, That tanner's mother's sister's son-in-law would one day rent a room to a man who had once been a Scottish home. Some other Scottish home - not the one that's in our story. That, is why Electra was crazy. There was no spirit in Lucille and Angus' house.

This all has nothing to do with the story, but it is interesting to note the way it adds to the confusing nature of the Writer's attempted style of story-telling.

 Life for Lucille was very blasé. Even though it is a 'French' word (sounds like 'blah-zay') and Lucille had never seen France, she knew that was how she constantly felt.

Angus, besides digging peat, also like to brew whiskey that made him function at half-speed every night. This left Lucille very angry and sexually unsatisfied.

She decided to have her cake and eait too by plotting her revenge on her callous(ed) husband.
By a strange coincidence  - or not, if you've been following the story - Lucille McClair's best friend Ethel McSpam lived next door. Now 'next door' is a bit of a misnomer, as the farms in Scotland were a 20-minute walk apart. Still, it was as next door as it was going to get in 1647.

Ethel, too, was an unsatisfied housewife, who would one day owe a favor that would one day be collected by a young would-be rock and roller in the now-Mexican territory of California who possessed a variation of the name her current husband now had.

Unbeknownst to her, her sexually unsatisfying husband William was a restless spirit who followed a Hinduistic approach to the Christian view of reincarnation courtesy of a seemingly spiteful and toothy god. Of course, William didn't know this either.

Knownst to Ethel, was that William was a lazy blacksmith who believed in sex for procreational purposes only. They did not have any children.

This left Ethel lonely and incredibly horny.

A plot was quickly plotted by her wacky redheaded neighbor.
Lucille's idea revolved around a woman she had not yet heard of named Isobel Gowdie, who lived in nearby Auldearne. She was a witch who consorted with demons and the devil to satisfy her sexual starvation.

While this was shocking to the somewhat prudish Ethel, she went along with Lucille's similar plan because, procreation be damned, she would like children.

Besides... Lucille had a way of convincing her that even the most ludicrous plots were feasible.
Now (or then, if you prefer), it just so happened that while the two were sitting under a pinkish white blossoming tree, a young man atop a steel grey charger rode toward them. He bade them a good afternoon, and fell of his horse with an undexterous florish.

He told then his name was Adam Ants, which they would have found quite silly if they had only known about the state of British music in the 1980s.

Mr. Ants told them he was a high priest of a local witches coven called Humber for reasons known only to the Writer.

Lucille was entranced by this fast-talking stranger, and soon she and Ethel found themselves willing witches engaged in all manner of sexual perversion for the enlightenment of the almighty libido.

Those acts continued unabated for years every afternoon between 1PM and 4PM at Mr. A. Ants small chalet next door to the local church. Since it was next door, it probably explains why it was considered local.
Then, without warning, after two years of sexual bliss, Lucille suddenly felt a twinge of guilt at cheating on her husband, and began to cry.

Ethel, hearing her neighbor cry incredibly loudly, rushed over to see what the matter was. twenty minutes later, she too, began crying when she saw Lucille cry. She had no idea why she was crying, but Ethel was a firm believer that misery loves company.

After a few minutes of blubbering, the now/then red and puffy-eyed Lucille said she felt guilty at cheating on Angus, and that she wanted to go to the local church, next door to Adam Ants' love shack, and confess her sins to good Father Filch. Actually, she said that she felt guilty because all of the sex with Mr. Ants was doing nothing to help them gain revenge on their husbands. However, on the plus-side, it did get rid of that nagging itch each possessed. On the downside, another type of itch had begun to fester deep within their souls.
Father Simon Filch was a good man thought Lucille, hence Lucille's previously mentioned moniker of him. He listened to the woman's fanciful tales of sexual degradation over and over again until he had made sure he could fully visualize it in his head. He told them that it was good that they had come to see him to seek absolution.

However, he also told them that they were a tad too late. He explained that all of the local people excluding, by a stroke of luck, their husbands, had already heard of their consorting with the devil. They were up in arms about it and had demanded that they be burned at the stake as evil witches of the most foul order. 

Lucille and Ethel were stunned. They had told no one about their sexcapades, except for maybe Rose, and Viv, and Ann, and, oh yes, Mona. Surely they would never tell anyone. After all, they were sworn to secrecy.

Father Filch said, "Afraid you're wrong", and stood aside revealing the entire town which had been hiding single-file behind his back. The villagers screamed for their deaths. What could good Father Filch do? He had to acquiesce.

Father Filch told the rabble that he would do what needed to be done, and shooed the rabble away, who went back to the peat bogs to rabble amongst themselves.

Father Filch had a fondness for redheads, and offered Lucille a chance to escape. Eventually this offer was extended too Ethel, too, despite possessing blonde or grey or silver hair - it was always difficult t o tell with Ethel.

In the fine manner of what a few Sicilians would adopt into their family ritual, he made them promise that should he need them - whenever he needed them - they must help him with no questions asked.  Each promised eagerly.

Later after disguising the ladies and sending them on their way to a new life in a new village aboard a small horse cart, he kicked himself for not exacting sexual favors like they were used to giving.
Somewhen in a place not surrounded by a white mist, the grinning 2-Footer let loose a deep guttural snarl from behind his gleaming teeth.
Good Father Simon smiled to himself as he went into his confessional to pray to God to forgive his weak human emotions.
The grinning 2-Footer chortled with glee at the delicious irony of it all.
Six hours later, he went to the back of his church and slaughtered a pair of pigs he was breeding for the Scarborough Fair that would be held two centuries later. He then burned the pigs in a fiery pyre. Still later when the local rabble came back to rabble with each other and to see if he had done the job, he showed them the pig skeletons. They quite naturally believed that the skeletal remains were that of Lucille and Ethel because they had always suspected that witches weren't human.
Several years later, good Father Simon Filch and William McSpam were killed in a violent explosion along with Angus McClair when they were sampling the merchandise from the latter's (and the late) whiskey still.
As for Lucille and Ethel, they moved to Aberdeen were they fell into disrepute with Seventh Day Adventists and died broke at the then old age of 47. Each had one son, both named Damien, after the Writer's favorite pet rottweiler.
Life's funny that way.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Too Afraid For Suicide, Man Kills Others Hoping For Death Penalty

That headline kind of sums up the whole story, doesn't it?

Isohi Kyozo (surname first), a 36-year-old man killed to complete strangers on June 10, 2012, stabbing them to death on a busy street in Osaka.

His reason? He was was too afraid to kill himself and knew that Japan's penal system could invoke the death penalty (hanging) if he committed murder.

To say that there are mental issues at play here undermines the whole mental issue process.

Let's go into the head of Isohi-san.

About one month earlier, Isohi (that's him in the photo above as he sits in a police car after being arrested) was granted freedom after doing time on a drug conviction. He had no idea how to reintegrate himself back into Japanese society.

Isohi told police: "I was at a loss over how to make a living, so I decided to kill myself.

"I just couldn't go through with it, though, so I thought that if I killed some people, I would be sentenced to death."

Always good to have a plan, I suppose. But here's a person too confused and too afraid to actually commit suicide — which means he actually still cares about himself — not giving a crap about other people... treating them solely as a means to his end. No fair, is it... but either this Isohi is a complete IQ idiot, or he's mentally ill.

The focus of the story that I first saw in The Japan Times is that the murders are all the fault of prison authorities. I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it's not.

Isohi when released from prison, was granted his unconditional release. He was not released on parole. There's a difference.

Unlike parole, in Japan at least, the unconditionally released ex-con is not helped by the social services system or prison system... it's a concern that recidivism will occur.   

Right now, after you serve your full prison term, you no longer require any  follow-up upon release. You are free. Isohi was free. He did not have to check in with a parole officer.

And yet... he did.

After leaving Niigata Prison on May 24, 2012. Isohi visited a probation office in Utsunomiya-shi, Tochigi-ken, the same day. That's a distance of ~170 kilometers (~105 miles). Hopefully this map works: HERE.

The news stories I read do not state where he received the money to make such a trip (from relatives, the prison, etc.), but travel he did. 

At the probation office in Utsunomiya, he apparently explained to a social service worker that he had no home to go to. That person directed Isohi to a private facility, a drug rehab clinic, for housing.

Again, the story does not state how he managed to pay for his stay at the private clinic, or even where that clinic is, or what that clinic was called.

To me, these are interesting parts of the story that show the epic fail of the system that is being blamed for Isohi thinking the only way he could get help is if he murdered others.

On June 8, Isohi left the private drug rehab clinic and went to visit a female relative in Nasushiobara in Niigata-ken.

Now... I was pretty sure that Nasushiobara is actually a city in Tochigi-ken. I looked at maps to see if there was another Nasushiobara that might actually be in Niigata-ken, but I could not find it. My Japanese reading skills of Kanji leave much to be desired... still, I'm pretty sure The Japan Times articles erred. I could be wrong, though. But this is how bad information is quickly passed through the Internet and other social media. Fact checking! I'm at least adding a disclaimer! 

Instead, let's say that Isohi went to visit a female relative in Nasushiobara in Tochigi-ken on June 8, 2012.   

Isohi says that he had to leave the clinic because its living quarters were too similar to the prison he was just freed from. That's understandable.

He also asked her if she knew of any job openings. So far... it sure sounds like he is trying to reintegrate back into Japanese society.

On June 9, however, after learning from a friend who had called him on June 8 - I can only assume that Isohi had called him first, otherwise how would he know where to find him? - Isohi was told that there was a job opportunity in Osaka... so he left right away... I will assume since the Shinkansen bullet train stops in Nasushiobara (I've taken it many times myself from the stop) and goes south to Tokyo before transferring bullet trains and heading west to Osaka.

Is anyone questioning where this guy keeps getting all of this money? Just for the reference of the nosy reader?   

Arriving in Osaka on June 9, it was the very next day - June 10, 2012 - when Isohi stabbed a man and a woman in downtown Osaka City.

In The Japan Times article, Isohi's story ends here. There is no mention if  he actually had that job offer rescinded, or he did lousy at the job interview, or if he even went to a job interview... was he already feeling mentally unwell before the job interview - did the interviewer not hire him for a particular reason. Or... did Isohi get the job? Was it still up in the air (undecided)?

Whatever the reason, Isohi felt despondent. And wanted to die.

What is interesting to me, is that  - let's say he did not get the job - after becoming despondent, he thought he should kill himself.

Now... I'm going to say that it probably isn't all that unusual for people to 'think' about suicide. But when you start formulating plans about how you would do it - that's taking it up a notch or three.

For Isohi, realizing, after a few hours, that he couldn't kill himself - but still wanting to die, he would get help.

With police forces carrying guns, the term 'death-by-cop' has crept into mainstream vocabulary. Do something illegal and when confronted, point your weapon at the police - they will then, more than likely, shoot at you.

It's one of the reasons that police forces are looking to arm officers with (hopefully) less lethal weapons such as tasers (which have been known to kill its target rather than incapacitate).

In Japan - police officers do carry guns - this option was available to Isohi.

His choice is still baffling. Okay... have the government execute you for murder... sounds like a plan... but how long will that take? Weeks after a trial? Months? Years?

Isohi was in such a rush to get his death sentence... was in such a rush to avoid staying at a clinic that reminded him of prison, that one month later, he is irrational, back in prison and has a long wait before an execution date is even offered.

Does that sound rational?

It's not.

The point is well met that people receiving an unconditional release from prison do not get any help in finding a home or job or integration back into society. All true, I suppose. Perhaps services should be offered WHILE the person is in prison - perhaps a two week course with some leads about where one could stay - a half-way house, if necessary; or businesses that actually offer work to ex-cons. Or perhaps proper drug re-hab while in prison. Something.

In fact... it is possible that these services exist, but The Japan Times article did not confirm or deny the existence of such a thing. It was inferred, however, that these services do not exist.

The article goes on to mention how Tateyama Tasumi (surname first), 51, who raped and murdered a female university student in Matsudo, Chiba-ken back in October of 209, is sitting on Death Row.

Like the Isohi case, Tateyama committed his crimes one month after being unconditionally released from prison. However... Tatyama does not want to die, and is appealing his conviction.

Tateyama lacked a home and a job at the time of his crimes - so people are saying the crimes are the fault of the prison system that left them in this situation.

According to Japan's Justice Minister Taki Makoto (surname first), "The (current) system doesn't readily allow for follow-ups on convicts who are released (unconditionally) after serving time."

Japan, pretty much like all over the world, notes that after prison, it is difficult to find a job.

According to the Justice Ministry, more than 70 per cent of recidivist felons (prison returnees) are unemployed.

It makes sense... no work... no money... but back in prison one gets a roof over their head, three square meals a day, a gym membership and all the anal sex one can give (and get).

I find the following numbers a bit surprising, but according to 2011 data, while it is easier for a parolee to find work in Japan than for someone who serves the full sentence and gets an unconditional release, still... some 30 per cent of parolees are back in prison after five years (on the plus side - 70 per cent are NOT back in prison!).

In that same time span (five years), 53.4 percent of those released unconditionally are back behind bars.

As for employment for an ex-con, some 10,000 businesses in Japan are actually registered with probation offices nationwide as 'associate employers' who would hire an ex-con, if a position was available, according to the Justice Ministry.

While the list of businesses offering to hire ex-cons continues to grow (wow!), actual job offers are low thanks to the terrible Japanese economy (ow!).

As part of a solution, the Justice Ministry (I keep thinking Superman and Aquaman are part of this) says it will begin a new system that does NOT imprison 1st-time offenders or those convicted of drug offenses.

These individuals, would be placed on probation and monitored for part of their sentences.

It's a start. I think that in the case of Isohi, it really didn't matter if he had a job or a home... his mental health issues would have caused a problem eventually.

What's missing is proper diagnosis of mental health concerns in Japanese individuals. I know it's there, but there is such a social stigma involved in it all.

It's the same all around the world, so I don't want to point the finger solely at Japan.

While I do not suffer from any sort of chemical imbalance or mental health issues, I've certainly seen it all around me with friends, co-workers and family suffering from its effects.

Hmm... if everyone around you is 'crazy', what does that make you?

I know of people who are afraid to say they have a mental health issue - preferring to go it alone, without support or understanding. It's like being gay or lesbian... 30 years ago, no one understood.... there's still issues in 2012, but it took the courage of many people to come out let the world know. Personally, I don't really care about your sexual orientation. Whatever makes you happy, makes you happy.

But mental health issues... it's still a dark and quiet place that most sufferers do not reveal. However... there is hope. Here in Canada, there are government initiatives to bring it to the public's eye as something not to be ashamed of.

Since 2010, Canadian Olympic hero (she was initially one of mine for her two sport championship form!) Clara Hughes (right) has been a part of a Canadian initiative to teach people that mental illness is not something one needs to suffer alone.

Clara, by the way, won a total of six Olympic medals in the Summer AND Winter Olympics (cycling and speed skating... speed skating is actually  - over hockey - my favorite sport to watch in the Olympics).

While all of this does not excuse the fact that two innocent people lost their lives to the whims of Isohi.

Whether it's the fault of the social services system in Japan for not helping an ex-con situate himself better, or whether its the fact that Isohi was never diagnosed with mental health issues, the fact remains that two people are dead, and another is ruins.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph 

11: Billie The Girl And Simon The Boy Go To L.A. To Become Famous

Welcome to chapter 11 of Life's Funny That Way, a novella I wrote 21 years ago when I was a junior high school teacher in Japan.
A couple of points... I reference the Mohawk and the Mohican. Even then I knew that there were no Mohicans, and that the real band is known as the Mohawk. Creative license was used to tell a joke, and one of the few times (I think) where I knowingly screwed with real facts. Sorry Mohawk nation.
I did once go fishing with the Mohawk chief about 19 years ago. 
Allan Burns, did create My Mother The Car, but despite that, he went on to create timeless classics like The Mary Tyler Moore show, Rhoda, and Lou Grant.
Oh... and Robert Mitchum was indeed once arrested at a reefer club back in 1948, so he did like 'the herb'. 

Chapter 1             Chapter 6
Chapter 2             Chapter 7
Chapter 3             Chapter 8
Chapter 4             Chapter 9
Chapter 5             Chapter 10

Billie The Girl And Simon The Boy Go To L.A. To Become Famous
chapter xi
Billie and Simon emerged into the dull light at the exact same moment on December 21, 1941. It was an unprecedented event in Rideout Memorial Hospital history. Such as it was. Never before had two mothers (best friends at that) given birth at the exact same moment at this hospital before. You take your glory where you can find it, and Rideout Memorial certainly did.
Simon and Billie were best friends, but neither remembered a bit of the future lives they had shared separately but always infinitely entwined previously.
Simon worked after school, in the only shoe store in Yuba, California. He hated it with a passion, but it was the only life he knew at this moment. He now constantly dreamed of making it big as a rock 'n roll star since it became the music last year.
Billie, the other half of Rideout Memorial's claim to fame, walked quickly into the show store.

"Hi Simon! I need some new running shoes - see?" smiled Billie to her best friend.

Simon glanced down past her white knee-length dress and drank in her tanned legs with teenaged adulation. Her pink toenails poked through her canvas tops.

"Well, we got these new shoes in from some company called Reebok," he said holding a pair of white tennis shoes with multi-hued flaps and panels stuck to it. "They say it let's you be you."
Hi, it's me the Writer again. I just wanted to tell you that years later when Reebok became famous the world over, they dug this timeless slogan out from the mothballs and enshrined it in he hallowed halls of advertising for all to wonder at in amazement. There. That should get me a free pair of shoes! And, if it doesn't - likely - that's okay, because I just made that story up.
"Hah! More like it lets you look like a flake! They're goofy!"

"Yeah," mused Simon, "they are kindda futuristic - hey! I heard you sing at the school concert last night! You could be a professional!"

"Thanks," blushed Billie as she sat down in the store's lone chair.

Simon kneeled down and pulled her shows off her sockless feet. He chanced a glance up her skirt to her white cotton panties "Now that was heaven!" he smirked to himself.

"Uh, Billie... y'know I've written some songs, and, uh, I was wondering if you would like to see'em or what?"

"Of course, Simon! When?"

"How about now?" he squealed as pulled out a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and handed it to her. He sat down on the right arm of the chair and tried to peer down the top of her dress, but was actually distracted by the smell of her apple blossom hair.

"I just wrote it today," he said. "It came to me in a dream last night! What d'ya think?"

"Did you write this about Jenny Wonderbrau?" teased Billie.

"No!! I wrote it for.. er, I just it it is all," stuttered Simon.
Jenny Wonderbrau was previously her own unmet grandmother, a woman who is unrecognized as being the inspiration for a certain type of brassiere that would later titilate many a young boy leafing through his mother's spring catalogs.
He continued: "I know the lyrics are overly simple, but the lover in everyone should be able to feel the deeper meaning of within."

"I like it Simon. It's good. Real good. Do you have more songs?" asked Billie, deeply moved by Simon's previously unknown romantic side.

"Yeah, loads!. They aren't all love ballads like this - most are like those new songs people call Rock and Roll! Y'know, you could sing them! I want you to sing them! You could be famous like Eddie Cochrane (who in a later life became the first person to ever die after inserting his fingers into a home computer disc drive and his tongue into a working toaster. In still a later life, death occurred when the placement of numerous cans of Dole synthetic pineapple were placed in a microwave which was then turned on)," blathered Simon. "We have to go to L.A.!"

"L.A? Yeah, right! Me, a rock and roll star? Quit being so goofy Simon."

"But you like the words! You're a good singer! Even though I can't play any instruments, I can hum the music in my head real good, and real musicians can play it! It'll work! Heck - I'll even be your manager!"

No one is sure why Billie just didn't tell Simon to "take a chill-pill, daddy-o", but she instead said: "Even if I say yes, our folks'll have a bird! Besides - what about school? We still have four more weeks left before we graduate. If you graduate, that is," nagged Billie.

"I can wait, if you can," he answered. "And you just leave the folks to me," smiled Simon confidently.
And so it came to pass. Simon, too. He, like a person who once refereed a bareknuckle championship boxing match, barely got his math credit, causing many in the Yuba City Board of Education office to wonder if Mr. Shipley (Simon's math teacher and, in a prior life, a father who would allow his shiftless son to travel to Japan to become a fisherman - part of a story that will be told later) was accepting financial remuneration from an undisclosed source (IE, a bribe).

He was.

Anyhow, they got their diplomas and their parental permission,too.

Billie couldn't understand why it was so easy, but let's just say that at some point in the past, the people who would one day be Claudia van Berke and Imogene van Horne owed the person who would later be Simon a very big favor.

That story will be told later. Probably in the next chapter. But for now, let's just say that even though people have no knowledge of past lives or relationships, they seem to possess a sense of morality that won't let them completely forget past debts.     
Simon had been good to his word, as always. He had many worthy songs, plus a hitherto latent ability as a manager.

After just one day in the city of Los Angeles, Simon had lined up a tryout for Billie and her new group, The Clouds.
Three weeks earlier in Simon's basement in Yuba, three young musicians were trying to follow the tone-deaf hummings of their new manager.

"Uh, I think that's in the key of 'G', guys," offered drummer Biff Handy, who once threatened to beat up Simon in the 3rd grade because Billie liked him better. He was, in his only previous incarnation, a paramecium in a pumpkinhead sunfish caught by a Mohawk Indian who would later die from some unknown stomach ailment. Unlike the other book and crappy movie, this was the real fate of the last of the Mohicans.

"No, no. I'm pretty sure it's 'E-flat'," guessed guitarist Alan Burns (previously a triceratops that would eventually make its way into the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. He was also a Greek sheepherder addicted to couscous and Aristotle. Not the writings, but the man. He also made the closest guess.

"What's a 'key'?," asked Ray Douglas, the bassist. Ray would die horribly two years later when his homemade kiln exploded while firing up some ashtrays. Remember kids: Don't smoke! It's bad for your health! Ray would later inhabit the body of a University of Toronto literature student who will discover that she is allergic to the printed word.     

Just as Simon was about to whack Ray on the head to stop the Writer from getting out of hand, Billie burst in!

"Guys, guys! I've just come up with a name for our group! The Clouds! Well, what d'ya think?! Good, huh? I knew you would like it! It came to me in a dream last night! Well, gotta go! See ya later, alligator!"

She was gone before the band (and Ray) knew what hit them.
Later in Los Angeles, The Clouds wowed the club owner with numerous stormy new rock and roll songs. But, as Mr. Friendly said, Billie's crooning of the love songs brought new meaning to the word 'memory'.

"It's weird," said Mr. Friendly, "but that song makes me want to hum. Okay - you guys got the job! But only for a week. We'll renegotiate then, okay?"

"Yeah, man, sure," mumbled the band in unison.

"When do we start?" asked a very proud Simon.

"How about tonight?"
Mr. Friendly (he offered no first name) was the sole proprietor of Dante's Club Inferno, just off the Sunset Strip. The club was in the basement of the Paradise Found Club for boorish, snooty men who would meet every evening for three hours beginning at 6PM, to try and figure out just what the heck Milton was actually writing about. They never seemed to run out of conversation.

Dante's, was decorated with garish relics of someone's nightmares. Various photographs of people eating some type of pie was present the most often. There was also a candy cane wallpaper covered with a thin layer of soot on the walls. Unbeknownst to all but Mr. Friendly, was that if you were to lick the wallpaper, you would taste peppermint. Of course, you would probably also get ill, because besides being dirty, Mr. Friendly liked to lick the walls after closing time.

The club, seeing as how it was dark and moody, was very popular with the reefer crowd.
With their stomachs in tight knots, The Clouds waited behind a tasteful red velvet curtain for Simon to introduce them to the audience.

Simon, not very adept at this sort of thing, stepped up to the microphone, swept his arms back and simply said: "The Clouds."

The ruby red curtain lifted.

 Billie slowly walked toward the microphone as a soft blue spotlight draped over her silky body. She coughed quickly, as the acrid stench of Tijuana Gold scratched the back of her throat.

Regaining her composure, she gestured for the band to play and opened her mouth to sing.

And sing she did. She sang so beautifully, that if there were angels listening (a distinct possibility), they would have been jealous (also a distinct possibility).

She sang, and the music carried  up on high...
"Remember the time. Remember the kiss. Remember the stars.  Remember us...
Remember the sky. Remember me. Remember the clouds. Remember us...
Remember sun. Remember see. remember moon. Remember tree.
Remember past. Remember then. Remember last. Remember please...
Remember now. Remember first. Remember future. Remember when."
The spotlight faded to black as Billie backed away from the microphone. The lights jumped back on as The Clouds erupted into a two-minute driving frenzy of cacophony.

When the music abruptly ended and the lights flicked off, the crowd exploded in appreciative applause, led by a guy who looked a lot like Robert Mitchum.
Later (that is - not before, though it could be), after the band had finished for the night, Simon was sitting around the bar watching Mr. Friendly gingerly touch the wallpaper. He turned around quickly, as he heard a heavy wheezing sound coming from a darkened corner of the club.

Simon saw a large heavyset man with no eyebrows sweating profusely from where his hair should be. He slowly approached.

"Good evening, my young friend. Yes, a splendid evening, indeed. Yes, it most certainly is. I am Gaufres Ritz," he said extending a sweaty hand that was eagerly clasped by a now-internally grossed out Simon, "and I want to record your little friends, for my label, yes, indeed, little friends for my label, 'Now and Zen'. Emmmm-hmm."

Gaufres Ritz, in all of his previous 63 incarnations, had been various forms of reptile. At least that had never changed. No, hadn't changed a bit.

'Now and Zen', though not a new company, was taking its first step into the record industry - people were not sure if the company could survive, saying it lacked legs.

Some of the previous clients of 'Now and Zen', included: Napoleon Bonaparte, Jimmy Stewart and Ramses II. Its motto is: "Over 1-billion served". The motto did not say if it had over 1-billion satisfied customers, however.
Loading the instruments into the back of their 1934 Ford Woody that had once been somebody's mother-in-law. This fact was eventually discovered by Allan Burns, who would eventually go onto a successful career writing shows for television, including one about a car, that is perhaps the worst ever TV show.

As was expected, everyone in the group was ecstatic - especially Simon, who noticed Billie's nipples were erect in the chill night air. Billie oblivious to the ogling threw her arms around Simon and gave him a peck on the lips. Simon felt their love  grow... well, something grew... whatever.

He slowly backed away, and bellowed to the band, "Why dontcha take a picture? It lasts longer!"

The band smugly finished putting away the instruments and chuckled about their impending future as rock and roll stars.
As Simon drove the band back to the Motel California, the grey sky began to rumble. In the distance, flashes of light lit the sky. Raindrops began to fall.

For a few minutes, you could actually count them as they hit the roof of the car.

"Twik......... Twik........ Twik... Twik...Twik...Twik."

Suddenly a crash erupted within the car causing everybody to jump.

"Ha-ha!" laughed Biff. "That was just my high-top cymbal tipping over."

The rest of the group smiled weakly, saying nothing.

Then it erupted. The sky opened up and poured forth a river.
Somewhere hiding in a white mist that was now quite possibly there, a laugh began to reverberate throughout the known universe. The laughter grew and grew, until the smell of ozone erupted from within.
Arriving at the motel, the band made a mad dash for the rooms. Billie waited quietly inside the car while Simon readied his umbrella.

Simon could feel her warm eyes watching him intently.

They stepped out together into the storm. Simon put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. They kissed. The kiss of a thousand lifetimes.

Electricity filled the air. It felt as though they had been struck by lightning.

They were.

Life's funny that way.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ramen Wars In Toronto

Here's a good article from The Toronto Star, my old alma mater, about how Toronto is heating up with a turf war for ramen. It appears in the June 28th, 2012 issue.

I'll let The Star take over from HERE.

I'm hungry already!

Andrew Joseph

The Japanese Swastika

I took the photo above in 1993 on a road trip with my fiancé Noboko (Oops! Spoiler!).

I was a junior high school assistant English teacher living and working in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan. I was 28-years-old.

Kikuchi Noboko (surname first) was a junior high school teacher at Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) in Ohtawara-shi. She was 27-years-old and lived with her parents in Kuroiso to the north at the foot of the Nasu Mountains. She hated me when we first met, thinking I was some slick hustler because I dressing in silk shirts, raw silk pants and a silk jacket and tie to go along with my chiseled beard and pony-tail wrapped with a hairband that always matched my shirt color.

Hell, I even wrote the most awesome love haiku for her  - but she just thought it was nice and handed it back to me - and grudgingly accepted it after I said, "No... it's for you." You can read about that HERE.

If it wasn't for the students talking about how nice a guy I was, she would never have gone out with me.
We'd been going out for about a month now.

She and I drove in her tiny little car up to the nearby mountains - the Nasu Mountains - about 10 kilometers away.

On this trip where we climbed a mountain and got lost and nearly died when we found ourselves without a trail, with vents of volcanic steam blowing at us, when a thick fog rolled in, we stopped hours earlier about one-tenth of the way up the mountain to pray at a temple.

Want to know what happened to us on that mountain after that? Keep reading this blog... I'll eventually get to it!
Noboko praying I won't jump her. Her prayers weren't answered, but mine were.

Anyhow... inside this dark temple, just like in all of the dark temples I saw in Japan where Noboko and I made a prayer to the Buddha (I'm not sure what she prayed for, but I know what I was praying for - twice!), I spied the swastika on a taiko drum! That symbol of Nazi Germany! The hakenkreuz! The broken cross! The... hey... waitaminute... the swastika in these temples is backwards...   but not this one. This one is a full-blown swastika that looked like it was plucked from WWII.

Hmmm... the Japanese were allies with the Germans then... part of the Axis (of Evil). The Italians were part of that - but kept changing to the winning side every few months.

The word 'swastika' comes from the Sanskrit svastika - 'su = 'good'; 'asti' = 'to be'; 'ka' as a suffix. It means 'to be good'. The Nazis really perverted that meaning.

Anyhow... here's what I found out about the Chinese and Japanese swastika.

The swastika is a representation of the number 10,000 - an important number in both cultures, as it means "the whole of creation" or "Eternity". It was also used in a phrase to to Emperors - may you live 10,000 years, meaning may you live for eternity. Cool.

Known as a manji in Japanese, the swastika is an ancient symbol corrupted by the Nazis for its own Aryan use. The earliest example of one was seen in a 10,000 BC carving of a late paleolithic figurine of mammoth ivory. Geez... it's like I am writing about my novella HERE (presented daily one chapter at a time).

Apparently in Japan, a couple of families, notably the Tsugaru and Hachisuka clans plus about 60 more under the Tokugawa clan have been using the swaskita as their coat-of-arms since the 1600s. 

Anyhow... the swastika in the photo above, is a 'right-facing' swastika known as a gyaku manji (逆卍, lit. "reverse manji")... while on every single map I have ever seen of Japan, a 'left-facing' swastika is used to represent where a Buddhist temple is located.

Way before Buddhism made its way to Japan from China and before that from India, when the Gautama Buddha died, his monks stamped a 'right-faced' swastika onto his chest. This was known as the Heart's Seal. The Gautama Buddha was the man upon whom his teachings founded Buddhism.

Wow... I was just looking for a short filler piece. I really must learn to stop writing so much... but dammit! There's so much to learn! And to stop learning is to die. At least that's how I feel.

Andrew Joseph

10: Billy The Dog And Simone The Cat Are Dead Again

We're half way home! This is chapter 10 of the comedic (?) novella I wrote in Japan about reincarnation after seeing a dead mouse and frog beside my bicycle in the parking area outside my building in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan back in 1991. It took me less time to create this story than the amount of time it is taking me to re-type it today. I probably should have edited better back then - but, there was no Internet, no home computer (sort of), I had no reference material (can't read Japanese) except for whatever the hell was in my head.
Back then, I only knew how to create a quick hit-and-run comedy piece that was often shorter than the introductions I have been adding to each chapter of this story. When the hell did I become enamored with the sound of a keyboard clacking away?
I must have been an ego maniac in every one of my past lives. On with the story: 

Chapter 1             Chapter 6
Chapter 2             Chapter 7
Chapter 3             Chapter 8
Chapter 4             Chapter 9
Chapter 5

Billy The Dog And Simone The Cat Are Dead Again
chapter x

The Writer is quite sure it is rare for two main characters in a story to be dead before the adventure begins. Moreso, if it happens again and again, as it has happened in the future and past many a time before. At least that's the way things are for Billy and Simone.
Billy the Dog and Simone the Cat are dead. Though they will have died many times, this was their first as domesticated pets.

They were killed by what their future incarnations once called a Burrah-Beep, driven by Mr. Nasta, the Mambo King of Yorkshire. While that may not seem overly important to you, it was important to Mr. Nasta.
Simone walked slowly toward the Oxford brown light. She wasn't sure, but it looked like that awful Woof-Woof was in front of her.

"Good." She thought. "I'll let him go first, and if he gets in trouble, I can avoid it."

She continued to skirt along the middle of the light's edge.
Billy-boy ran like there was no tomorrow, which in fact, there wasn't. Simone the Cat was walking ever so slowly in front of him, but no matter how fast he ran, he still couldn't catch up to her.

He didn't want to bark at her because that would frighten her like it did... before? "When was that?" he whined.

He also noticed that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn't getting any closer.
Simone heard a whine behind her and looked back.
For some reason, Billy-boy had an urge to look back. He did.
Both Simone and Billy-boy stopped in their tracks and were quickly enveloped by the whiteness of black. They stepped through to the other side. Fast.
Once in through the out door, they knew everything about the other and therefore, about themselves.

With but the speed of thought (around 700 miles an hour), they began to follow each other separately through a white mist that quite sudden;y wasn't there at this moment, but was later than before.

Billy padded noiselessly on the warm floor. Simone whiffled alongside.

The Floor, if it could have a thought (which it often did), believed it was running a fever, but that was quite impossible because it wasn't alive and didn't believe it was possible for a mere floor to have a fever. Despite this conjecture, the floor did indeed have a fever.
 No river sudden;y appeared causing Billy and Simone to dig over it to pass. The Floor which thought of complaining to someone, suddenly forgot to remember it was not a living creature and faded slowly under the white mist that was particularly thick where it wasn't.

A grinning 2-Footer stood in front of Simone and Billy, as they landed with a gentle THUD!!! from their long flight.

It really didn't look like any 2-Footer they had seen this time before. It had two large unshod feet (if wither had been a shoe salesman they would have known it to be a size 10-1/2 US or 30-centimeters... which is exactly one foot). There were also legs and a pair of armless wings/claws/hands/flippers/paws/tentacles, and a shiny smile. Long white feathery wings stretched from behind it, too.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in. Opps! No offense," grinned the 2-Footer as it gave its best impression of Rod Serling. It's teeth never parted when it spoke!

"Do you want to fetch the stick? C'mon, let's go!" laughed the grinning 2-Footer.
Billy who was now in control of his faculties wanted to lunge at the 2-Footer's neck, but determined there was none.

"Uh-uh-uhhhh! No evil thoughts like that, please. We were only joking, we am be, right?" giggled the grinning 2-Footer. "I'm going to send you back, because that's what she wants we to do. I'm sorry... you have no one to blame but yourselves."

"Who makes the rules?" mewled Simone.

The grinning 2-Footer appeared to stare through Simone and Billy, which was quite a feat considering there were no eyes visible.

"I will!" boomed the grinning 2-Footer. "I have! And I am again!"

The white mist made its mysterious appearance again and absorbed the smile with its mistiness. Echoing for an instant in the white light, a thought pierced the veil that 'sounded like the grinning 2-Footer: "He'll see you later before you see we now."

Confusing. It was always confusing when they met the grinning 2-Footer.

Faster than a thought and more powerful than a mist, Simone and Billy had been pushed pack out into the long, dark tunnel. This time, unlike before, it came rushing towards them as it always has and pulled them in.
Lost in the spiraling darkness, Billy kicked his paws out to slow his descent from the tunnel.
Simone tried to scratch the sides of the quickly shrinking walls with her claws, but found she had none.    
Claudia van Berke (a former court jester to Henry VIII, who was beheaded after telling an ill-timed joke about his Majesty's marital problems while he was entertaining a young Ann Boleyn who would one day be the mother of Elizabeth I) and Imogene van Horne (previously a sow stolen from a rhyming nitwit who later immortalized her in a nursery rhyme) were best friends. They each felt their babies kick at exactly the same time.

Labor was immanent and imminent, though neither knew why.

Life's funny that way. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Robo Ji Made Me Laugh

Mike Rogers of Marketing Japan fame has put out a blog containing a trailer for a hilarious independent Japanese film called Robo Ji (as Mike calls it because that's what the katakana in the poster actually spells) or is it called Robo G (like it is written in English in the poster above)? Friggin' Japanese katakana alphabet! Friggin' English!

Oh... I get it... it's really a play on words... Robo is katakana for robo (roboto) and G sounds like Ji - which is 'grandfather' - which you will understand when you watch the trailer.

I won't say more, but urge you to click on the link below to visit Mike's blog and watch the damn thing - It's a minute plus trailer, and while it is indeed in Japanese, it's comedy... it transcends language! I laughed out loud a few times, and anyone who knows me, knows that while I will laugh at jokes, I rarely laugh out loud from watching television, video or film.

Check out ROBO JI.

Fans of The Simpsons will notice a similarity between the flick and an episode - but what the hell! Sir Terry Pratchett (Discworld) and Douglas Addams (Hitchhiker's Guide and Dirk Gently)- also born in England like myself - write in a style just like mine, and you don't hear me whining about copying my style to greater fame and fortune.

Why doesn't anyone hear me whine? What's wrong with me? Oh well, at least I still have my health hair.     

By the way... Mike Rogers is a salary man, a radio DJ, husband, ex-husband, father, former drug addict, former (?) punk rocker and, if it makes any difference, a reformed American living in Japan. He's also a hell of a writer (when does he find the time?! asks the writer who gets four hours of sleep a night), and despite having never bowed to him, shaken his hand, or had a drink with him, he is my friend. Read his blog.  

Oh yeah... Mike? Domo arigato Mister Rogers.

Andrew Joseph 

9: Simon's Solo Story: Caves Of Stone

Back when I first wrote this story in 1991, it was thought that the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal were in direct competition with each other. Now in 2012, because we know so much about everything and nothing, it has been decreed that those two species were not in competition with each other... which is strange since I've been around for a long while and ought to have known better.
While they may have co-existed, it was the environment which did in the poor Neanderthal - not the Cro-Magnon. Brother did not kill brother. There was no Cain and Abel - at least not in this story.
This chapter was a long one, and as such, I broke it into two parts, with the first part appearing yesterday as chapter viii.
This chapter, as mentioned in chapter viii, takes place at the very end of the the Upper (late) Pleistocene Era - and takes place approximately 30,012 years ago.
Anyhow... by splitting the one chapter into two chapters, it will, barring further division of previously written chapters, bring the conclusion of the novella to a 20th chapter. Everyone likes round numbers, right? Except for the Holy Trinity: The father (grinning 2-Footer) the son (pick a prophet), the Holy Spirit (the ??? - you want me to spoil all the surprises?). No wait... they purposely added A Man or amen to make it a round number. Four! Which is unlucky to most Asian cultures. I can see how a man (amen) would be unlucky...
As for my science... let me direct you to a decent site I found about Cro-Magnon man: HERE. It's nice when science and my fictional writing meet up (even 21 years later), and I know that my science was good back then. I wonder what else I am right about? Not much, I suppose... I'm married.

Chapter 1             Chapter 6
Chapter 2             Chapter 7
Chapter 3             Chapter 8
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

Simon's Solo Story: Caves Of Stone

chapter ix

This is the Editor. I noticed that in the last chapter, you referred to yourself as the Writer, rather than the Author. Any reason why?
That was a typo. Shouldn't you have caught that and changed it before publication? 

Just kidding! Perhaps I felt the name 'the Author' was a tad pretentious. I'm... 'the Writer' from now on. Now, on with the story....
On the high plains of what people will one day call France, a short stocky man with a high sloping forehead walked silently through the deep, scratchy grass.

Clad in thick wooly, wolf skin boots, a bearskin tunic and a tabby cat loincloth (who would one day work for Dogpile as a disenchanted employee), Bil grasped his flint-headed spear in his small but meaty hands, and listened for dinner as he stepped.

He  walked quietly for hours, spotting the spoor but only hearing the sound of a gentle breeze as it blew along the top of the razor grass.

It was a nice day... strange... because for much of Bil's long life - some 18 years - it had been filled with ice and cold winds... but now it seemed like the world was warming up. 

Deciding that his growling stomach was probably scaring away the animals, he stopped to eat a mid-day repast.

His woman companion had given him a piece of the tall ones to eat. She told him to burn it with a little fire before eating... so Bil sat down on the dry, grassy ground and attempted to build a fire.

He knew it was hopeless, as he always had difficulty in constructing a flame. If it would only rain, he thought, then the gods could favor him with a gift of fire.
Far, far away in another reality, the grinning 2-Footer chortled with glee. "Gods?! Hmmm, I suppose we be. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"
Actually, it was a good thing that Bil was useless in starting fires, and that the god(s) don't like to actively meddle in the affairs on Earth any more than they already do, because if he had made that flame to cook the Cro-Magnon meat, he would have set fire to the entire plain of super-dry and flammable grass he was currently surrounded by.

Bil mumbled as he ate his cold Cro-Magnon lunch. At least it was favorite part - the brain. He would now gain his enemy's strength and intelligence. If Bil was a little smarter, he might have wondered why he would want the strength and intelligence of someone who was killed by his woman-creature... but he wasn't, so he didn't.

Now on a full stomach, Bil felt he would be better able to sneak up on an animal. He neglected to recall that he had neither seen or heard any animals that morning... but he couldn't remember  why. Bil possessed a poor memory.

Despite the apparent inference, fish is a much better brain food than brain - although brain does lack those annoying bones.


When a low growl split the air around him, as quick as the gods gave fire in a rainstorm, Bil had thrown down his Cro-Magnon brain lunch and grasped his spear!


It sounded like a big-tooth cat. Those fearsome creatures always reminded him of something, but he could
not remember.

Thrusting his spear in front of him, Bil waded into a taller area of grass.


In a thrashed clearing... a black and white big-tooth cat lay on the ground pawing at a freshly killed walking bird (Brandon). Sadly, no one has yet discovered an example of this species of flightless bird that resembled a moa.
Uh, this is the Writer. I wanted to clear up a little point Bil just brought up. He noticed that the saber-tooth Smilodon was black and white in color. Actually, the cat is a nice tan color. However, Bil and all of the other early denizens on Earth can only see in two colors: black and white. The full spectrum that most of us can see in will evolve quite rapidly later on. It might even go beyond the current scope experienced by people in 2012. At least, that is what I heard. In fact, I even heard that colorblind people - could spot camouflage colors that actually fooled those with so-called normal vision. Seeing in black and white might actually be an advantage for a hunter.

By the way... have any of you ever noticed how much sharper a black and white photograph is over a color one? 
In an area still not covered by a haze that will be a mist, the grinning 2-Footer laughed knowingly.
Looking at the delicious bird, the big cat licked his lips and cut his tongue slightly on his long, razor sharp teeth. The smell of his own blood made him even more excited! He lunged at the bird and began tearing away its flesh with relish.

With a sudden swiftness, the wind changed its direction - its cat nose twitched in surprise! Its eyes flashed in anger! Its limbs coiled in preparedness of a forward explosion!

A loud human, female-like scream left its frothing maw as it leaped towards a startled Bil.
Bil, startled (see?) by the swiftness of the big-tooth cat, froze in place. Luckily the cat's leap was not as good as it had hoped, as it landed flush atop Bil's outstretched, point spear. Mewling quizzically, it died gurgling on its own blood.

Nonplussed, Bil set to work removing the animal's pelt so that it could be made into a better loin cloth by his wife. He quietly thanked the gods for his good fortune.
The grinning 2-Footer somehow grinned wider in thanks to his thoughtfulness.
Bil then began the arduous process of cutting up the cat into smaller pieces for easier transport back to his communal cave.

It would all be for naught, though.

Within a few days, a roving band of Cro-Magnons would stumble upon his cave killing all of his tribe, including his woman Sim.

The Cro-Magnons were on their way to becoming the new kids on the stone, and would help pave the way for the future of the Homo sapiens sapiens sub-species. That's people like you and me. But probably not like the Editor.

Life's funny that way.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Tofu Is Made

A couple of days ago, I was lucky enough to visit Sol Cuisine, a tofu manufacturer here in Toronto... or to be even more correct, located just on the outskirts of Toronto, in the city of Mississauga - a mere eight minutes from my house.

I was there for work, and will indeed have to put together a stunning feature length magazine article on the company. This blog is just something I wanted to share with my loyal readers. 

At Sol Cuisine, my host was the affable Jess Abramson, the vice-president of sales and marketing. She was nothing less than charming and extremely knowledgeable about the company and the products they manufacture - both things that make my job as a magazine writer and blogger, a whole lot easier.

First and foremost - I had a great time there! Everyone I chatted with was well-spoken and polite, right from the floor workers and all the way up - as each individual took the time to explain the inner workings of the business. 

As most people are aware, tofu is a big part of Asian cuisine that has become a staple of the vegan diet here in the West. High in protein, tofu has always possessed a texture I have enjoyed - despite being an omnivore.

I really do like tofu. I ate a lot in Japan (having never eaten before that) and have eaten a lot raw tofu since leaving the country back in 1993... stabbing it with a fork or chopsticks and pouring soy sauce into it to add flavor.

You'll notice I said I added flavor. In my opinion, tofu had always been about substance... about how it was good for you, and not about flavor.

I was wrong.

In the years since leaving Japan, my own taste-buds have matured, even if I have not. Nowadays, I eat tofu raw or cooked within a stir-fry and even baked. I certainly don't require soy sauce to make it flavorful.

Now... the tofu from Sol Cuisine... this stuff was the best I had ever eaten. While I knew that tofu possessed a texture, I was unaware that it could also present a flavor! In fact... not only was there flavor - there was a lot of flavor to go along with the texture and smell.

How do I know? Well, Sol Cuisine, after the tour and answering my prying questions, invited me to participate in a taste test between their product and tofu manufactured by three other companies in Canada and the US. All sampled tofu was completely different, and all had something different, that I suppose, depending on your taste-buds, you might prefer one over the other. That's me being fair. I still thought Sol Cusine's tofu was the best.

Jess and the folks at Sol Cuisine were kind enough to teach me how tofu is made, and even allowed me to take some photos independent of the magazine article I will write soon enough.

Using my photos and firm guidance from Sol Cuisine, allow me to explain how tofu is made.
Tofu beans arrive dry at Sol Cuisine and are soaked overnight in water. 
At Sol Cuisine, the main ingredient of their tofu is organic, Non-GMO (non-genetically modified organisms) soy beans grown locally. Jess says that Sol Cuisine has partnered directly with a farmer to produce the beans and is thus able to guarantee it is exactly what they say it is.

After arriving dry at the Sol Cuisine warehouse, the beans are inspected and then stored at room temperature. When they are ready to be used, the beans are soaked in water overnight (see photo above) to soften the beans.
While I did not take a photo of the few next steps, the beans are removed from the water. After sitting out of the water, a weighed amount of beans are then ground with hot water for two to three minutes.

After grinding, the mixture is then placed into a pressure cooker until the beans themselves reach a temperature between 100-120C.

The slurry is then compressed by a Roller Extractor. The beans are processed into soy milk and a smooth soy fiber puree known as okara (Japanese for soy pulp) which is preserved for use in other Sol Cuisine products (they also create some awesome varieties of burgers and ribs - though I must say I was not as enthralled by the ribs, Sol Cuisine almost converted me away from eating meat burgers forever - they were that tasty!)

A master tofu maker stirs the pot to separate the curds from the whey...
The curding process is next! After adding Magnesium Chloride and Calcium Sulphate to the mix to coagulate the hot soy milk, it stands undisturbed for a few minutes... this is when the milk separates into delicate white curds and the pale yellow whey. By the way, the amount of calcium and magnesium added will directly affect the taste of the tofu, not to mention the formation of the curds. If the structure of the curds is affected, the texture and the cohesion of the tofu will be impacted.

In the photo above, a tofu master stirs the steaming pot to separate the curds from the whey.

However, when making tofu, and one is stirring to separate the curds from the whey, there is a right way and a wrong way to stir. If you stir too fast or too slow, the curds could break up and simply not allow the tofu to form with the proper texture.

In order to get a consistent texture, and to maintain its firmness, the stirring is a very important and delicate part of the whole process. Failure to stir properly can create a tofu that does not possess the texture Sol Cuisine has become famous for.

And yet... despite the fact that so many things can go wrong - Sol Cuisine prefers to ensure things go right by employing a couple of tofu masters to create a stir.  
If you take a look at the short video I shot (below) you can see how a tofu master stirs. From what I could tell, it was similar to the way you paddle a canoe. Yes... I know how to paddle a canoe.

The photo below shows the curds within a tofu pressing form that is being pressed to drain away any remaining whey.

Pressing the curds gives each piece of tofu its brick-like form and structure. At Sol Cuisine, the pressing takes anywhere between 5-10 minutes, and once done, it is now essentially tofu!

The tofu is cut into either square or rectangular blocks. The blocks are then placed into a cool water bath to prep it for packaging.

Under a cheese cloth, the curds are placed into a form and is pressed to remove excess whey. 

Plastic film to cover the top of a plastic tray of tofu. 
Sealed packs of tofu go through a pasteurization process before being sent out to shelves across North America.
Now... if you look at the last two photos above... the tofu blocks are cooled in the water to prep it for packing via a vacuum thermoforming machine that does three trays at a time - first removing air from the pack before sealing in all of the tasty goodness.  

After checking the integrity of each pack, the sealed tofu is then run through a pasteurization process until each pack of tofu has an internal temperature of 75-80C - a process that takes about 1-1/2 hours, which is all the time it takes to kill dangerous pathogens and to increase the shelf-life of the packaged tofu. I believe the shelf-life is one month.

After pasteurization, the tofu is once again cooled over a 1-1/2 hour period , as the temperature comes down to 4C.

Lastly, the tofu packs are stored overnight in a cooler before being packed into cartons for distribution to retail or food service entities across Canada and/or the U.S.

Oh yeah... and I did see this in action at the pasteurization station... but a quality control team monitors each step hourly to ensure product integrity is maintained.     

And there you have it... how tofu is manufactured. Hopefully you learned something, because I sure did!

Thanks to Sol Cuisine for allowing me in! And should you see their fine products in your local grocery store, give'em a try. They make a very tasty, creamy and slightly sweet tofu! Yum!

Visit their website at

Andrew Joseph

8: The Writer Explains How It All Began - Sort Of

When I wrote this story 21 years ago sitting in various teacher's lounges at various junior high schools in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan, I wanted to create a story that combined science with religion. While not an overly religious fellow, I was brought up a Roman Catholic. Having said that, Catholics are not supposed to believe in reincarnation. But I believe it could happen - unless science can prove otherwise, of course. In Japan, via Buddhism, reincarnation is a tenet, as life and death are cyclical.
Aha! So there is a reason for this story appearing in this blog about Japan!
I recall once when I asked my boss at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) for some spider spray to kill all of the buggers invading my balcony.
Hanazaki-san looked at me carefully and sternly told me that the Japanese believe that one day the Buddha will come back to Earth in the form of a spider.
I thought about it for less than a second before I carefully answered him, that there is no way the Buddha would come back to the balcony of a non-believer like myself. He would come back to someone very spiritual.
Hanazaki-san nodded in acceptance.
I then added that in the meantime, I should like to get rid of all of the false Buddhas for the people of Japan (and the world).
He drove me to the store and bought me a spray can of spider death.
I got to play god with the Buddha.  
Gods, I miss Hanazaki-san.

Chapter 1             Chapter 6
Chapter 2             Chapter 7
Chapter 3
Chapter 4 
Chapter 5

The Writer Explains How It All Began - Sort Of
chapter viii

Hi. This is the Editor, once again. I'm terribly sorry to be interrupting again, but there are certain points I want to clarify with this hack who calls himself a writer. Okay. I though this was supposed to be "Billy's Solo Story" - what's going one?You change your mind again?

Well folks, it's good to realize that the Editor of a book knows how to read. Didn't you read the preamble? I decided to make this novella an even 20 chapters! Anything else you wan to know?
Is this supposed to be the big plot breakthrough that you mentioned in chapter7?

You mean chapter vii? Uh, no. Not really. That'll come later. However, this story will help us set-up the stage for a previous or later story that I haven't yet decided upon. I hope.

Both Billy and Simon and or Simone and Billie have had, will have and are having at the very moment a life that involves the other, no matter how remote the relationship. However, not every singe instant of their being is spent around the other. Occasionally, the higher powers - like me, the Writer - allow them to spend some time to be by themselves. This, sort of, is one of those times. Or maybe it was. Or it might be in the future if not now while you are reading this. Whatever. This 'time' stuff is confusing the heck out of me, not to mention the Editor (which we won't).
Between the time when your garden variety Eden was allowed to germinate to the time when the pest control was called, a grinning 2-Footer experiment gone awry was in full blossom upon Earth.

Dinosaurs. Million's of 'em. All over the place. The grinning 2-Footer liked them a lot, as he was awaiting the day when they would help bring forth a truly golden era in the annals of godhood.

However, his pet creations were not the cat's meow (an expression that has been around for just about forever) among some of his earlier tries - the Winged ones.  

The Winged ones were always falling prey to a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex or a sub-sonic aerial acrobat like a Pterodactyl. At least they were lucky. Whenever they lost a life, they simply went back into the pool. Unlike the poor Un-humans.   

The Un-humans were the immediate forerunners to the current genetic human breeding programme. When they lost a life, that was it. It was because they had no souls to begin with. These misshapen creatures lived deep within the bowels of the Earth. Occasionally, some came to love closer to the humans, but never with them. 

Unfortunately, this is not their story. 
The Glorious fly-boys took their displeasure over the dinosaurs eating them to the grinning 2-Footer. They begged to have the horrid things gone, before they and their wondrous wings all vanished in a haze. (The white mist that wasn't always there was quite young then, and not quite a mist yet).

The grinning 2-Footer solemnly agreed to end the reign of the thunder lizards with a large meteor that would vaporize upon contact with the Earth.

The Winged ones were ecstatic and swooped down over the clouds to get close to the actrion and watch all of the fun. 

Down came the meteor!


As promised, it vanished upon contact - but left behind a large cloud of dust and ash which covered the planet and the atmosphere like a blanket. of dust and ash. That really is the best description.

Blocking the sun's rays, the cloud caused the overall temperature of the planet's exterior to lower, killing all of the dinosaurs who were unable to adapt fast enough. To be fair, the grinning 2-Footer did provide all with the ability to adapt, if they were wise enough to have done so. 

Unseen by anyone, save perhaps the grinning 2-Footer, the explosion from the meteor impacting upon the planet also annihilated all of the Winged ones, as they were far too close to the epic-center to avoid their own demise.

From the carnage, several species of reptiles (like a future-day record producer), amphibians (like frogs), mammals (like rats) and fish (like the ones Brandon had to eat as an Emperor penguin back in chapter iv) survived. Most types of insect and plant life also survived, but they were forced to adapt quickly in the ever-changing environment now thrust upon them.

As mentioned, all of the Winged ones died during the mass extinction, but seeing as how the grinning 2-Footer always had a soft spot for them, he re-created them all into birds.

It was around this time, that things got kind of antsy in the garden. Mankind was expelled, and life began anew on Earth.

This eventually brings us (all of us) to the Upper Pleistocene Era  - which if you know anything about the history of this planet, was a proverbial drop in the bucket, but a long time ago, nonetheless for us. 

We are about to witness the arrival of the Cro-Magnon Man in the Neanderthal Man's lifestyle, and things will never be the same again. Except when they are.

Life's funny that way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

New Developments In Japanese Masturbation Products

I can't believe I wrote that headline. New developments in Japanese masturbation products.

Let's get this straight. This product is for men. But... I am still not sure why.

In the old days, all a guy needed was an ability to fantasize and a rag to clean-up. Then came tissue and the Africa issues in National Geographic.
Then came the Sears catalogue - bras and panties for sale.
Playboy. Penthouse. Hustler. Chic. Oui. High Society et al.
The video tapes of porn.
DVDs of porn.
Now the Internet offers all you need for free. No perversion or kink to weird for the 'Net!
I left out strip clubs, massage parlors, soaplands, Turkish baths, bachelor parties et al... but you get the idea.

Of course... when women have not been available, men have been sticking their penis into anything with a hole. Camels (according to an old joke), knotholes in trees (according to an old joke), the so-called battery-operated pocked pussy (I'm not making this up - it's been around for decades!) - whatever.

When it comes to getting off, men have always found a way.

Along with a company called Tenga, Galaku is the latest Japanese company to erect a business in the masturbation market.

Galaku is putting out a product it calls Groomin - that's it in the photo above. It poked its head out in February of this year.

Here's what a PR rep for Galuka had to say: “Groomin products aim to make men’s masturbation a regular exercise. The products are designed to prolong men’s performance long into the future.”

Just so you know... the rep who said that, was a woman.

Now... unless you've been living under a rock since you turned 12, guys masturbate. A lot. Everyday to be sure, and twice on Sundays (according to an old joke). I am unsure how Groomin plans to take a regular-occurring daily event and turn it into a regular exercise (many men refuse to exercise, by the way, but will masturbate while watching someone exercise).

I do like the suggestion that Groomin is designed to prolong male performance long into future.

Did you notice that she used the word "long" twice in her statement. That's to confuse you.

As any guy worth his salt will tell you, after completion of a mastabutory session... if you were to have sex with another person say 30 minutes or an hour later, the chances are very good (unless you are 12), that you will actually take a longer time      to finish the deed, as it were. Fatigue sets in, along with tired nerve-endings, making the second coming of where you see god a prolonged proposition.

Groomin.... look at that photo... you are probably wondering: Just how large is that thing if you expect me to place my wiener into it to help it get me off... relax... I'll explain.

For you single men out there, the container looks like a woman's hair wax container. Inside this Groomin container, however, is a syrupy lotion and a gummy white sphere.

Yes.... that gummy white sphere contains a hole, and is about the size of a golfball. I will refrain from the standard hole-in-one joke at this time.

Anyhow... let's suppose you have one. You apply the liquid along the inner walls of the gummy white sphere. You then insert your already erect penis head into the hole and then unfurl it.

The sphere unfurls into a dimpled sheet that is repeatedly rolled over the shaft presenting that gripping feeling that makes it feel like your left hand, or the very least, like someone else.

Says the Galuku PR rep: “We have invented high polymer compound with a high elasticity called Ecolast. It is harmless to the human body. We also utilize a lotion that is easy to wash and does not become sticky, so as to reduce the risk of peeling skin.”

Should you find yourself alone in Japan and have a spare ¥580 (US/Cdn $7.50), why don't you try
one - or two... they come in two polymer textures: Mild Touch (photo above) and Wild Touch.

What I can't come to grips with, however, is whether or not this product is reusable... though common sense dictates that it is not.

Anyhow... Groomin is similar to the Tenga Egg series of masturbation aids that came on the scene back in 2008. And why not? Annual sales in the adult toy market (including women's) is estimated to be between ¥200-300-billion ($2.6-$3.9 billion)!!! I guess sex sells. 

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph