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Saturday, November 30, 2013

That Long Distance Feeling

I'm not sure why, but animals and kids have always kind of gravitated towards me… like they just know I'm either fun or harmless or perhaps both.

I like to think I am.

It's why I think I did OK (okay) as a soccer coach or music teacher before trying my hand as an assistant English teacher (AET) on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme working with a JTE (Japanese teacher of English). In fact, along with running out of initials to write, I know I was more than good at being a friendly face, with some knowledge to impart to the youth.

When, in 1990, I arrived at my new home in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan, after a brief tour of my three-bedroom apartment by my bosses from the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education), they left me alone to unpack, sleep or go out and explore this brave, new world of Japan. Being a coward, everything scared the crap out of me. So I stood there in the middle of my clean and fully-furnished home and dreamed of doing all of it and more.

But… before a minute had passed within my idealistic reverie, the telephone rang.

Who the hell could be calling me? Matthew? Ashley? Kristine? Some other JET I had met during my three-day orientation in Tokyo?

Oh god… what if it's someone who doesn't speak English… like a Japanese person?!

Why would a Japanese person want to call me? I don't speak Japanese!

Actually I did. I knew the simple greetings of 'konichiwa (hello)', 'sayonara (good-bye)', 'watashi-no namae-wa Andrew-desu (my name is Andrew)', and before the bosses left my huge apartment, they had taught me how to answer a phone… and then laughed at the absurdity of that teaching, because what would I do after that?

"Moshi-moshi (a greeting used ONLY on the phone)," I said anxiously to the telephone… repeating myself two or three more times before I actually picked up the still-ringing contraption.

"Hello?" I said in English. Fugged that one up, didn't I?

"Ha-ro…" said the voice slowly on the other end.

"Konichi-wa," I answered again.

And now… because I have confirmed that I am indeed fluent in Japanese, the person on the other end began a long speech, that ended in the word 'ka', which because it was done in a raised intonation, I assumed I was asked a question.

Apologizing to the Japanese caller, I stated: "I don't speak Japanese."

I must have said the right thing, because there was an audible sigh on the other end…

… and then another long speech was made for my benefit - again ending in 'ka'.

Ka? Ka? Was I besieged by crows making a phone caw?

And… was I talking to a Japanese woman? An old Japanese woman? Was she single?

This was just my fourth day in Japan, and being so freaking unfamiliar with the Japanese and the Japanese language, I was not able to discern just what type of a speaker I was being bombarded by.

The voice wasn't deep, so… female… definitely female… if I heard English, I would have been flirting with them already… but no… perhaps this was some old Japanese woman who:

1) hated foreigners because her husband had been killed by one in the war;
2) was confused and thought she was calling her idiot son-in-law, who was so stupid, it would not surprise her to learn he couldn't understand Japanese;
3) was dialing a wrong number;
4) was dialing the correct number and wanted to talk to the previous occupant of my apartment and phone number;
5) was actually wanting to talk with me.

Being in a strange land, and not knowing the rules of etiquette of the country except for the global rules of what I was brought up with back in Canada by my parents, I continued to hold onto the telephone and anxiously reply that I was sorry, but I did not understand Japanese and can't speak Japanese.

We Canadians are apparently noted for our politeness. I can't see it, but I always try to prove the stereotype correct.

"Watashi-no namae-wa Andrew-desu," I said after the fourth outburst from my persistent old woman caller. I did it just in case they didn't know that I was the world-famous foreigner who had just arrived in Japan to teach the world how to speak English.

By the way... I'm not sure why, but I had already picked up a Japanese accent, and was able to hide my neutral Canadian twang, even though I only knew less than 30 Japanese words. Hitting the accent - that's a talent, and not me mocking anyone.

Anyhow... after stating my name over the phone... that elicited a long pause, and then a simple "goo-bye", before she hung up.

Now… if that was to be my welcome to Ohtawara-shi, it was certainly strange… but definitely not threatening.

Strange I can handle.

I was polite, they were polite… and together we just had a five minute-long telephone call where I am sure neither of us understood the other.

I was determined that would never happen again!

A few weeks later, after I was sure that being misunderstood and not understanding would continue for my entire stay in Japan, I remarked to a JTE that every night I get a strange phone call from an old woman who speaks Japanese to me, but bookends it with 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' in English.

"It's getting annoying," I remarked.

It was… phone calls were very important to the foreigner living in Japan back in 1990… because this was pre-Internet and definitely pre-everybody-has-a-cellphone-and-a-computer… and if it wasn't for chance meetings, snail mail and the telephone, a foreigner might die of excessive masturbation. Not me though…

As such… even if Ashley and I might be "in flagrant delicto", we would stop so I could answer the phone. Once it was her brother calling her... at my house on my phone... but you see... phone calls were so important that she told her brother to call her at my place... and I wasn't even aware that anyone knew she and I were dating.

(Apparently, no one did - from Ashley - as apparently she told everyone we were just friends. You just had to look at me... the way I would hungrily eye a woman holding a cheeseburger... to know that it was going to be extremely rare for me to JUST have a female friend I wasn't screwing.)

But... stopping in the act... realizing the phone call THIS time was the old woman and then being forced to be bored silly for five minutes while I went "Uh-huh" or "Hai (yes)" without listening to a word that was said, just like every other time it happened, it often took me out of the mood for a few seconds after my caller would end the call.

So… I told the OBOE bosses… but what the hell could anyone do, they asked? Trace the phone number, I suggested, because I had watched a lot of police television dramas… they smiled as they sucked air through their collective teeth and said "tabun", which translates into 'maybe'.

Hey… at least they didn't say 'no', right?

They did say no. If a Japanese person says 'maybe' to you while sucking air through their teeth, they are politely saying they don't want to say 'no', but 'no' is the answer.

I didn't learn that one for maybe two years.

Meanwhile… I continued to get those harassing phone calls…

About one year later, I arrived back at my favorite school, Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School), where the staff and kids went out of their way to make me feel not only welcome, but special.

The head English teacher came up to me in the teacher's room and handed me a nice cup of hot o-cha (green tea) greeted me warmly in English - and I reciprocated in Japanese, standing to smile and bow deeply as I did so. I could see a lumpy shadow hiding behind her.

"An-do-ryu-sensei," she began in a heavy Japanese accent, "this is Kazuo. He is level 2 student (Grade 8 - 13 years-old)."

"Yes, I know Kazuo quite well," I smiled and bowed towards the boy peeking out nervously from behind his teacher. That was true, by the way… I did know of Kazuo. I knew he enjoyed peeking at me and smiling every chance he got. But he never said too much. Just 'konichi-wa'.

"He has told me that he is the person who has been calling you every night."

You could have knocked me over with a can of hot coin-machine coffee. Apparently he had been bragging to other boys that he and I were best buddies. How? Phone calls. Word then got around.

But… a boy? That's who was calling me? I thought it was an old woman?!!?

Well… I suppose it makes sense.

Kazuo was a special student. A special needs, mentally-challenged boy who was in a regular school because his parents did not want or could not accept the stigma of having a child in a proper special needs school or class like they have at the 10-kilometer away Wakakusa Chu Gakko (Wakakusa Junior High School) .

To go to Wakakusa... well, it would have been too far away for him to travel every day, but surely one could assume they would have a school bus for the special needs students. Tabun. But, all of that is moot.

Behind those mischievous, sparkling eyes and broad smile, he had a slight speech impediment that made him sound like he had a mouthful of mashed potatoes that made even his Japanese-language a little tough to understand unless you made an effort.

But those eyes… I always saw them light up as his faced formed a genuine smile whenever he saw me… and it being infectious, and it being me, I would always grin back. But, when he wasn't looking at me and staring at a text book, he appeared emotionless and dull.


"Uh, he doesn't call every night," I lied.

"It's okay..." I continued.

Thankfully this JTE was one of the most gentle souls on the planet. She was smiling and caring and had her hand gently on Kazuo's shoulders now, as she explained that he has promised to not call me ever again.


"No, no, no," I said. "It's okay… I didn't know it was my friend Kazuo on the phone… it's okay if we talk… maybe not every night… but it's okay."

After agreeing that he could call me once a month (I begged for more for his sake), Kazuo scampered back to his class while the JTE and I chatted some more…

"He really likes you," she told me.

"He got your phone number from the previous AET, and at first he said he was confused when you, a man, spoke on the phone and not his female AET teacher and friend."

Says me: "I'm sure she would have said good-bye to him."

"She did… she did… but I don't think he realized that good-bye meant good-bye forever."

I wasn't going to let her see me cry. But I didn't even realize my face was wet and spilling tears until one hit my hand.

If you are a big, burly foreign man in Japan, or just me, and a Japanese woman sees you tear up because you are feeling emotional about the plight of a student… well, let's just say I may have slightly altered her perception of men (maybe just foreign men) a bit more to the positive side.

As for Kazuo… I later sought him out and told him - in Japanese, thanks to another JTE - (Yukiko from THIS article) that he could call me up every Sunday night at 8PM… making his face light up again as he smiled and bowed and smiled some more…calling me tomodachi (friend) as he bounded away.

But… after calling me that next Sunday night, he didn't call the next week or the one after that… he kept to his one-a-month schedule imposed on him by his English teacher.

So… fearing my crappy Japanese didn't get across, I asked Yukiko to translate for me when next I saw him.

He said he understood me that first time I had told him, BUT… and then he leaned in and whispered in Yukiko's right ear.

He bowed and ran off, smiling.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"Oh… you don't want to know," she grinned knowing it would make me want to know even more.

"Yes, I do. What did he say?"

"He says that he doesn't want to talk to you so much because he doesn't think you are smart enough to understand Japanese."

Well… the bastard had me there. And... Yukiko was loving the veiled insult.

"He says you need to study your Japanese, and he will study his English more."

So I did. And so did he.

Now… I wish I could tell you that Kazuo went on to become a great speaker of English, but he didn't. He had improved a lot by the time he had graduated Nozaki junior high school… but not to the point where he was legitimately going to pass English. But at least he had tried.

Instead of going on to one of the various educational levels of high school available in Japan, Kazuo went to work at his parent's restaurant located nearby to the school in the west end of Ohtawara—where I was told the meals were always free for me.

I rarely went there (that would be taking advantage of honest folk) (that and the fact it was 10 kilometers away)… but I still did, discretely leaving behind money when I finished. Kazuo was there, where he washed dishes and occasionally delivered food to the tables…

But, when he saw me, he would smile, bow and add another smile atop the first one, and we would speak to each other and understand each other… he in English and me in Japanese.

His mother would come out to yell at him, but seeing me, she would stifle herself and say "Daijobu (it's okay)", and turn back into the kitchen.

He wrote to me a few times after I went back to Toronto - attaching photographs of Japanese wrestlers (think WWE-style wrestling! - that photo at the very top is one Kazuo sent me. It's Tarzan Goto in about 1994 at a famous and local Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) barbed-wire match) that he himself had taken. I would write back - at first… but after my mother died, and other girlfriend relationships died, I fell out of love with Japan for a while… and because the hurt was too great, I callously forgot about Kazuo.

Here's the back of the photograph where Kazuo has written a brief description  - most of it in English - hoping I would know what it was all about. I didn't back in 1994, because his letters were all in Japanese. But now... thanks to the Internet, I was able to decode the particulars a couple of hours before posting this.

Ever since I started up this blog four years ago, I often wonder what the now 35- or 36-year-old Kazuo is doing. Are his parents still alive and running the restaurant? What if they are dead? They seemed old back then... certainly looking older than I am now in 2013. Is he able to look after himself?

If Japan could often be difficult for a foreigner, it could also be very difficult for a person with special needs.

I wonder… and realize now that I miss listening to him speak to me on the telephone.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Inwardly, I'll celebrate Kazuo today as I do an early celebration of my son's 8th birthday at a Toronto Marlies hockey game. I'm even taking my son.

Friday, November 29, 2013

How Green Was My Cabbage

I saw this interesting photo on Twitter a couple of days ago, posted originally (I believe) by @Kir_Lu_V (どらべガス )

Now, if I can get a handle on the situation, it appears that within the photo, someone was attempting to cut a cabbage with a knife, and the cabbage won.

The original tweet was in Japanese:
ほこ×たて! 100円キャベツ(茨城県産)VS 100円包丁(中国産)

The caption essentially reads:

"Fresh cabbage from Ibaraki-ken - ¥100 versus the ¥100 kitchen knife from China."

Obviously… a poke at Chinese product quality. ¥100 is about US/Canadian $1.

But, what I find more interesting than the hard head of the Ibaraki-ken cabbage, is the fact that someone in Japan has Chinese-made products.

With all the brou-ha-ha surrounding China's incursions into Japan's territory over a bunch of southern islands few people have ever set foot on, but because of it's proximity to China and Japan proper, each is now laying claim to as a means to not only extend their territorial boundaries, but to provide either an extended protective shell or extended place from with to keep closer tabs on the other.

I'm not here to judge.  I understand. But… going to war in the 21st century? That's barbaric. Let land ownership be what land ownership is… why continue to kill for it?

We're not savages in a war with sticks or stones or knives… or if we are, then Japan has a pretty good shot against China and their knives…

It's also good to know that while Japanese cabbages will no longer suffer defeat at the hands of the communist Chinese... but sadly the Japanese all will die of starvation as they will find that chopsticks are a lousy way to cut raw foods like cabbage.

A ¥100 knife? Forget about where it was made! You get what you pay for.

By that same token, at a no-name dollar store, my wife recently purchased a toiletries kit… it came with tweezers, a nail file or two and small set of scissors… something I was really looking forward to utilizing as I wanted to ensure my eyebrows (plural) maintained their sexy shape and length…. but, after shelling out the dollar coin, which is the equivalent of ¥100, we found that the tweezers don't tweeze, the nail files tend to deliver 'metal' nail file shavings onto our fingers, and the scissors… the scissors don't open.

Who the fug makes scissors that don't scissor? Where the hell is QA (quality assurance) in China? Yes, China manufactured these decorative toiletry items that are, indeed, fit for the toilet.

Yes… you get what you pay for… but did you know that a so-called 'legitimate' set of small scissors (one) for personal care can be purchased for a mere $24 here in Canada? Of course… there is no way in hell that these Chinese-made scissors can be worth 24x the one's I got at the dollar store?! I mean, sure… these one's work… dammit… so I guess they are infinitely better than the one's we bought with my hard-earned cash.

And Japan... a mere ¥100 ($1) a cabbage head? It's not one of those radioactive cabbage heads with the extra set of arms, is it? (What? This blog IS a comedy blog today.) In the north of Canada, Arctic Bay, that cabbage will cost $28.54, though here in Toronto you can get it for about $1.99… still twice the price in Japan…

So… here in Toronto, I could use my $24 scissors or shell out $40 for a decent knife to cut my $2 cabbage and assume that it will do so safely, quickly and easily.

Japan… relax… for all of the cost savings you gain from buying cabbage, you should be able to purchase a better knife. I think that's how economics works. Or is that how you return an overdue library book? Whatever.

And... for the record... you will notice that the actual knife blade in the photo above is rusted... so... we can assume that the cook doesn't care about rust in his or her food, and that they have not taken proper care of their cooking utensils.

Perhaps the broken handle is due to improper handling over time by the cook? I hesitate to use the word 'cook', because no cook worth his or her salt would be caught dead using a ¥100 knife. 

I love the photo, though.

But here's some friendly cooking advice from myself - who was once a professional cook in Japan (Once) (Really): next time you are preparing a head of cabbage, make sure you remove the skull before cutting into it. 
Andrew Joseph
PS: In case you were wondering, I adapted this blog's title from the 1941 flick "How Green Was My Valley",  directed by John Ford, which was of course based on the 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn.
PPS:, I, of course, first saw the title from a 1964 Uncle Scrooge comic book entitled "How Green Was My Lettuce." 
PPPS: I'll be back tomorrow with "Andrew Saves the World" or whatever we want to call how I inspired people without me realizing at the time that I was doing so.
PPPPS: I ate Chinese food while writing this. No knives were hurt during the making of this blog. Except the one in the photo. So I guess a knife was hurt during the making of the blog. I also split a pair of wooden chopsticks while I ate my meal. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jogging My Memory For Inspiration

When I first arrived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan in very late July of 1990, I was 175 lbs piled on top of my 5'-11" frame.A good enough height-to-weight proportion... but I certainly lacked the muscle bulk (and fat) I have now.

And… thanks to a plethora of dalliances with the fairer sex, I was pretty much able to keep myself hovering around that weight.

And then… during the summer holidays of 1992, I went back to Toronto for a 2-week vacation - my first trip home in two years, and thanks to either my mother's cooking or the joys of Canadian beer and booze, I packed on 11 lbs in 14 days, arriving back in Ohtawara-shi looking bloated enough to actually have people comment.

I do believe I was so hammered one night in Toronto that I actually whipped out something and waved it as Miss Nude Universe who smiled, grabbed it and told me to put that away befoe I got beat up by the bouncers.

Sage or stage advice... 

Regarding the bulky comments I got back in Ohtawara, I have no idea why people of every culture feels they can come up to me and say whatever insulting thing is on their mind - but they do.

"Geez, Andrew - you got fat!"

(In my head I'm thinking - "And you're ugly! But at least I can lose weight!")

It's probably because I am always so open about discussing anything with people, that they feel comfortable enough to be insulting to me… though… I have never… on purpose… ever casually been insulting to anyone…. if it's an argument, if I can't win without making personal comments, then I have already lost the argument. 

By the way… I want you all to know that today - in 2013 - as I write and complain about being 11 pounds overweight at the immense level of 186 lbs in 1992… I am currently 225 lbs. I blame Major League Baseball and steroids. And porchetta. And I eat when I'm stressed.

In my defense, after coming back to Toronto for good, I spent five solid years in the gym and added 12-inches (30 centimeters) to my chest. My slightly arthritic knee (which occasionally hurts), has Tae Kwon Do and my weight-training regime to blame, whereby I would push over 750 lbs on a vertical.

I had always joked that it wasn't my leg muscles that would give out, but my ligaments in my knees. A pity I was never as prophetic with the lottery or women.

I actually maintained a 185 lb weight with a lot of good solid muscle under the skin.. and looked like I was strong enough to bench-press a moose. We have a lot of those walking around here in Canada. (Not!) 

Anyhow… back to my beef with Japan… and my 11 lbs overweight self.

As I have written before, I decided to diet and exercise as a means to get back into prime whoring shape.

I ate a pack of natto (fermented (rotting) soy beans) and rice every night for dinner, and rain or shine, I would cycle out to the Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School) and avail myself of their track.

The plan was to run a couple of miles (3,200 meters) or eight laps that first night and repeat until I thought myself sexy enough to deserve being laid again.

Well… that first night… I barely did four laps (one mile or 1,600 meters)… having to walk the last lap… with one arm akimbo on my right side holding in the pain... and completing the whole thing in about 35 minutes. I was sore, out of breath and completely at a loss to know just what the hell had just happened.

I used to be an athlete... I played soccer and baseball... and did some judo... and used to ride my bike everywhere until I got a car a few years earlier back in Toronto...

I did hope that the young student who was running around the track doing sprints and long walks didn't blab to his friend at how badly out of shape I was. That kid was there with his dad… and to their credit, aside from a single bow from the boy as he ran past me one time, there was no other acknowledgement that I existed in his world.

The most amazing thing about that first night of jogging (I went at 9PM assuming the place wouldn't be filled with students), was that I actually went back the next night to do it again.

Not quite content to just do four laps, by hook or by crook, I was going to do five laps (2,000 meters) - because I must have just been feeling sick last night  - there's no way I could be that out of shape, right?

That second night was perhaps the worst night of my jogging life. While I refused to walk at all, my bowels had come loose after the first six steps around the running track and I spent the entire five laps convincing myself to not poop my pants… or to even fart, because if given an opening, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to close the door.

Each step was a gut-clenching, sphincter-tightening mess inside my brain… as I knew that if I quit now to go back home and take a crap, I would not come back the next day. I would never do it again.

Mind over fecal matter…

Never mind the jokes… I'm no quitter. Not anymore.

I kept up the slow and steady pace, because if I stretched my legs too far apart - mistakes would happen.

So… I slowly ran around the track with my ass cheeks clenched… and with the feeling of hopelessness growing with every aching step.

But I made it… and while the feeling inside only slightly dissipated, the five kilometer bicycle ride home was nearly successful… as I had to stop in a rice field - wade in a bit to the waters… and poop…. and poop…. and poop… and poop some more. And when I though it was over and wiped up with an underwear that would find its way into a public garbage bin… I had to poop again... and then some more…and oh god, more.

I rode home without my ass touching the bike seat... on very tired legs trying to hold my hurting ass cheeks tightly together to avoid leakage.

If you are still reading, you will be happy to know that I went out jogging again the next night… and the next night… I kept on adding 400 meters (one lap) every single night until I reached 10 kilometers.

A feat I did in about 57 minutes… and I did not crap myself on the five kilometer ride back home.

By this time, I had probably lost all the weight I wanted to lose, but I never checked… and instead, I decided to keep on running.

The very next night - I ran the 10 kilometers in just over 37 minutes.

Top of the world, ma!

By that time, along with the junior high school boy and his dad training at the track, I also had a small group of other students watching me - maybe five or six… and actually cheering me as I crossed my imaginary finish line in a time that would have won many a global mini-marathon. This was after three weeks of training.

But… this was the last time I went jogging… as I developed shin splints from crappy shoes…

What I didn't know, however, was that the next time I visited Ohtawara Chu Gakko as an assistant English teacher (AET) - two weeks later - that I would besieged by dozens of boys and girls who wanted to know why I had stopped running.

With the help of a Japanese teacher of English (JTE), I told them of my injury… which led to rounds of the Japanese version of 'alas', as apparently they wanted to run with me.

I looked over at my JTE for clarification, and Mr. Shibata-sensei explained that after the second night (it took one night for the boy to tell everyone what I was doing), that I was being secretly watched by a fairly large cadre of students, who were intrigued by my efforts.

Funny… I never saw anyone else but that one boy and his dad…. and the five or six on that last night... but I was being watched every night?

Yup… and apparently emulated.

Apparently there was a swing in school club activity, as kids were now suddenly interested in long-distance running - attempting to switch club allegiances from kendo or judo to running.

I asked why.

Shibata-sensei says they admired the fact that even though I had struggled mightily the first few times I tried running, that I kept coming back to do it again.

And… after they saw me blaze a 37-minute 10 kilometer run (apparently it wasn't just me timing me), they realized that I wasn't just making up crap about my athletic prowess during all of those never-ending self-introduction classes. That if it was possible that I could run like that, then it was possible for me to have been an okay baseball and soccer player.

Prior to the jogging, I used to go and watch the kids during their club activities… but after that, I was actually asked to participate in them as an equal… (equal to a 14-year-old boy)… which was fine by me…

Even with the shin splints, I spent the next four evenings playing soccer and baseball - wincing within with every step, but enjoy the fug out of my time with them.

And… because there's no such thing as having and keeping anything a secret in Japan... I had secretly made my students believe that not all gaijin (foreigners) live a make-belief life... and that if I, an over-weight, fat bastard could run world-class 10 kilometer times, then they could, too.     

Good thing I never told them about that underwear. That would not have been very inspiring.   

Andrew Joseph
PS: The image at the top - that's my marker for the 1st Ohtawara 10km Marathon... that I did not participate in due to shin splints.  
PPS: If you add the first to numbers on that marker, you get 7... and add the last two numbers, that's 4... the reverse of my lucky number 47. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How I Helped One Woman Understand Women's Rights

Yesterday I went out on a tremendous limb - something we have all learned is extremely dangerous and deadly the very first time someone crooned Rock-a-bye-Baby to us…

I bared a bit more of my soul yesterday… something I hate doing, but if I can use it to educate, then what the fug, eh?

I also heard the tree branch crack a little as I boldly stated that I would use the next few blogs to relate ways that I might have made a difference in Japan.


... now today… I have to prove I haven't bitten off more than I can chew.

I lived in Japan between July of 1990 and October of 1993. While many things in Japan have changed in the past 20 years, most social aspects of the country have not. They are bending… ever bending… but traditions both good and bad (depending on one's point of view) continue.

I may not have agreed with the way Japan was organized… but it was NEVER my place to tell them that they were wrong and we (foreigners) are right. Because… who the hell am I to say what's right and what's wrong?

All I can do is tell them how things are in MY country (Canada) when asked about it… and let them (the Japanese) form their own opinion.

Let me be clear: I never once forced up my opinion on anyone. Not even if it would have got me laid. 

Allow me to introduce Yukiko. It's not her real name. But… even though I never slept with her - and truthfully never really thought about it - Yukiko was a female Japanese friend and co-worker.

Yes... there were plenty of women in Japan that did not want to sleep with me or even I with them.

Yukiko worked at one of the junior high schools I taught at, as a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE)  - actually… she moved from one school to another… and that one school she moved from allowed my soon-to-be girlfriend Noboko to work in my city and to meet me.

So I guess I owe Yukiko…

Yukiko was tall and attractive, charming and witty, but right from the get-go she had a sarcastic sense of humor and took great joy in putting me down.

For some reason, people see me and believe they can take the mickey out of me. That I can take their sarcastic humor. I'm not sure why that is... and honestly, those people usually piss me off.  

But... because I was a stranger in a stranger land, I didn't want to piss of anyone... so I never showed the hurt… and eventually I gave back as good as I got… but I never ever used my sense of humor as a weapon… I've always said (for decades now), that me for anyone to engage in a battle of wits, t'would be like they were unarmed. In other words - I would slaughter them.

Possessing long, black, straight hair to her shoulder blades, I never detected any sort of shampoo scent on her... Yukiko had a somewhat flat face, and eyes that looked like a bad stereotype, in a constant position of being closed… though I bet they never actually were.

Although soft-spoken, her English language skills were impeccable… and, if she wasn't a woman, she and Noboko could have had a lingerie fight to see who possessed the greater skills to act as my translator at various official Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken functions back in 1990-1993… though my money is on Noboko, because we slept together without sleeping.

Yukiko was a hell of a good English teacher. The students seemed to respect her, and because - sarcasm aside - I showed respect to her… on more than one occasion saying that I thought she was correct over something I said earlier.

A man admitting he was wrong? To a woman? It happens all the time in western society. In fact… I don't know a married man who has ever been right. Divorced men - sure.

And yes... the way a foreigner acts or reacts to a teacher of English DOES make a difference to the students. Believe it.

Anyhow… Yukiko and I eventually became friends. She knew who I was dating - because she asked.

I always - ALWAYS - had a rule in Japan… if a Japanese person ever asked me a question in English, I would - no matter what - answer it. It had to revolve around me, of course…and I didn't care if it was personal, embarrassing or dirty.

So… yes… Yukiko knew I was dating Ashley, had broken up with Ashley, was still broken up with Ashley but still screwing Ashley, had started sleeping with a lot of other women (she knew even though I never told her - she never asked!), and was currently dating Noboko who was now working at Yukiko's former school.

I was always concerned that maybe the ascorbic Yukiko had a crush on me and was ready to pounce the moment I announced I was sex-free (never really was - and that's not the sort of announcement ANYONE makes to anyone), but I needed not have concerned myself… Yukiko HAD a boyfriend.

It's funny how that never came up in our conversations before… I had asked, and Yukiko had lied to me saying she was single.

How strange, I thought. Every person I met in Japan was so honest… or perhaps they were all lying and I was the only honest person in Japan.

Anyhow… Yukiko wanted to know what relationships were like outside of Japan between men and women.

Her questions ranged from what was dating like, to what dating relationships were like, to what marriage was like and even divorce.

This might sound like something I would have almost zero comprehension of… I had only really just started to have a relationship with a woman, and really, I had only dated maybe six women before arriving in Japan. I only knew about marriage from my parents, and next to nothing about divorce.

But… I'm not a stupid guy. I paid attention to the friends whose parents were divorced, or to those who were dating or in a serious relationship - and I observed married couples all the time… not for any reason that I can think of - just that I was and am a curious sort.

My father has always been the type of guy that people call when they need help… whether its been financial, emotional or physical (help me move or paint a wall)… my father, despite appearances, has always been a giving person. I've seen it and I've seen people take advantage of that. But he never complained. Ever.

He was always willing to stick his neck out there to help anyone who requested it - and that's something I have done as well.

There are a few people out there who have borrowed money from me - and truthfully… even though I could use it back right now, I don't expect it back. It was given because they needed it more than I, and I consider it water under the bridge that can be paid if and when people can or remember to do so.

But… Yukiko… what she was really asking about was what the role of a woman was like…

Again… I'm just a guy with little physical experience with women… but… I'm a smart guy with little physical experience with women who, before he arrived in Japan and became a male slut, was always THAT male friend women had that they never slept with BUT told them everything about their relationships with their men.

I have no idea when I became that gay male friend, but that's how I felt.

I used to read the letters to Penthouse magazine (an adult male magazine with sexy, naked photos), and devoured the letters and stories to Xavier Hollander in her Call Me Madam column in that magazine. Hell… I read everything I could in a porno magazine. Yes... I was the punchline in a joke because I actually read the articles.

Here's the thing… I knew it wasn't real life… and that it always seemed to be about the man getting off and the woman being the sperm bank… but I knew that in real life (thanks to being a male phag hag) that women wanted more.

I knew that while every single woman wanted to be treated as an equal socially (equal pay for equal work) they still enjoyed someone holding a door open for them or walking on the outside of the sidewalk with them (that's a holdover from the horse and carriage days when a carriage could splash mud up onto a person… with the woman being farther from the road, and the man closer to the road - the woman was better protected from the dangers of dirty horses).

And I was good with all that.

And I told her that while we in Canada (and subsequently the US)... that while we want to treat women with supreme respect, we don't always do that… but we do do it a damn side better than what the average Joe Suzuki does in Japan.

You'll notice I said the gaijin weren't perfect.

So… I gave Yukiko what sage advice that I could… and this already tough broad of a Japanese woman realized that being a woman in Japan could mean eternal subservience to men… and she did not like it.

Now… I wasn't trying to stir up a sexual or cultural revolution, but I didn't mind pointing out some of the benefits some countries have over others when it comes to sexual equality.

And that's what I did.

I proved my point when at a school... I would frequently help the female teachers prepare the o-cha (green tea) for the men… which confused the HELL out of the male teachers… because I was destroying their way of life… and, you should have seen the tittering from the women when I told them to sit down and served them.

I served them BEFORE the men… and used simple enough English to explain things to everyone: Ladies first.

Holy crap… you'd have thought it was the end of the world! The women ALL understood what I said, and the men - you could hear the word "Nani?" (what?) echoing through their brain as they realized that a stupid gaijin was ruining Japanese society.

Not true...

I wasn't ruining Japanese society or changing. It was an exchange of knowledge. That's all...showing them Canadian manners.

Despite what the JET (the Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme would have you believe - it's NOT really about teaching English to elementary, junior high or senior high kids.

What's the exchange part? What is Japan getting out of us being in Japan? Do they get to send people to our country to learn Japanese? No.

It's a cultural exchange program - where we teach each other things about our different cultures.

Hell's bells! I learned a lot of about the cultures of other people living in Japan who weren't Japanese! About different religions… social and income brackets… I could go on.

So… while Yukiko listened to how the role of the woman was in Canada (and by some association, the US of A), I learned what the role of the woman was in Japan…
I also learned from the female JETs what the expected role of a foreign woman was in Japan… and what their roles were back in their countries…

Yukiko liked what she heard about being a woman outside of Japan… she already had a pretty good idea after having spent a year living in Australia… but she had it confirmed and extended.

Nowadays in 2013 Japan… women are still subservient to men. They still make less than their male counterpart for performing the same duties (and more!)… but nowadays Japanese women seem to have a better understanding of things and are executing shifts in the culture…

I'm not sure if there's going to be a Japanese Gloria Steinem and a couple of years of bra burning in Japan… because there are still far too many women who are embracing being cute rather than brilliant, but there will be a cultural revolution one day… of course… before that happens in Japan, it should probably fully happen in Canada and the U.S.

Anyhow… I didn't mean for this to come across as Andrew Joseph saves women everywhere… because I sure as hell didn't. But I know Yukiko appreciated our talks.

Andrew Joseph
PS: If you are disappointed because I didn't discuss specifics about Japanese women's rights or what exactly I told Yukiko - don't be. That's not the point. The point is about how the foreigner in Japan can effect change without being a complete dick about it. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Makes A Person An Ideal JET?

I was going to entitle this How Green Was My Valley and then see what I would write.. instead, after writing it all I went with the above title.

I have no idea, as I start this particular blog, just what it is I want to say or even where I am going with it. Scary and exciting... it's a metaphor for my life, I suppose.

I'll start with the comment from my buddy Vince who notes that right about now... there are a score of people applying to the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme trying to get in... mostly people who have been over-achievers throughout their brief life - and more power to you, if that's you. People who have always wanted to go to Japan... to see the world... who have been studying the Japanese language and culture... who want to meet new people and fug exotic people.

But that was never me.

I had never wanted to do anything more in my life than to just survive another day without either wanting to kill myself or kill everyone else.

Okay... that was probably just teen angst talking, but I certainly did feel a lot of anger raging inside myself... anger at everyone... anger at myself. 

But then I grew up. It's funny how when you think everything sucks, you discover that whatever doesn't kill you makes me stronger.

I'm pretty damn strong now... 

But before?

It's possible I was strong before... but even now... I have a tough time believing it

It sounds quite strange for me to even admit to such nonsense about death and destruction regarding my little world at this point in time in my life - now 20 years removed from living and teaching in Japan... especially when I'm still writing about it after over four years of blogging and one-million readers later... but there's always some sort of divine plan that seems to exist, even if one isn't aware of it.

I'm not even religious anymore... if I ever was. 

When I was back there in seminary school... just kidding. When I was younger, so much younger than today, I didn't always uses lines from rock songs to make my point... though I sure as hell believed that there was indeed a rock song that could describe every single mood a person was in.

It was why I used to create a diary entry on this blog with a rock song title - and may, come the new year, begin doing it again... or maybe something different.

But... back to business... when I somehow got into university, no one was more surprised than myself.

I had spent my entire six-year high school life being told I was either a failure or I was going to fail - and that was by my so-called peers, teachers and guidance counselors. I think my parents even began to have their doubts that I was ever going to amount to anything at all...

Six years of high school? Yup. In Ontario, here in Canada, we did five years of high school... grades 9-13, with that 13th year essentially being akin to a year of university (don't you believe it!).

I was young when I began Grade 9... heck... I was four-years-old when I began Grade 1...    

Being 12-years-old when I began Grade 9 - not even in puberty yet, still just under 5'-0" tall and maybe 100 lbs if I had eaten something and not taken a crap, I was ripe for being picking on - and that's not even taking into account that I wore glasses, my mother dressed me funny, I had a brown complexion (parents from India) in a very white community and, in order to forgo having to take French, I deigned NOT to attend the local Catholic high school where all my friends were, and instead opted for the local public high school where I knew virtually no one going in.

In hind sight, it might have been worth failing French for five years to have had friends I already knew that first year.

But I didn't... instead... I had the worst year (s) and class schedule imaginable... out of nine periods and eight classes a day, with lunch being offered in periods four, five and six, I had lunch in period 6 -where NONE of the people I had met in my classes had lunch. ZERO. I ate lunch by myself every day in Grade 9. A tuna sandwich and a Coke. Breakfast was a glass of Nestle's chocolate milk powder in milk that I would pretend was Carnation Instant Breakfast.

We weren't poor, BUT my parents did leave for work before me - so I got my own breakfast and my grandfather would make one up for my seven-year junior brother... who as a five-year-old, would walk to school by himself... try doing that now, eh?

Anyhow... my life at school was one of torment, as I was quickly given a nasty nickname by an equally geeky, but two-year-older kid in gym class... and the name stuck.

The only thing that saved me from total ignominy was the fact that I was actually good at sports (and gym) and music... which didn't win me any friends with the jocks, but at least I had some sort of kindred spirit availed to me.

The worst thing that happened to me in Grade 9 was when my parents had to go out for the evening, and were reluctant to leave me in charge of my sick little brother... so they (heavens!) called a baby sitter.

A nice enough young lady... but imagine my surprise the next day in school when I sat at a table at lunch and noticed my baby-sitter (from Grade 13) eating lunch with her friends.

Cat out of the freaking bag, I never went back to eat in the lunch room - finding little nooks and crannies within the school's building to eat by myself - even more alone as I shunned anyone before they could shun me.

Call me weird... but even NOW at work - despite being the social butterfly whom everybody knows and loves - I still prefer eating lunch by myself... though I know I don't really want to. Old habits, I suppose.

That baby-sitting thing was in October of Grade 9 - and I only had five years less a month more of school.

Now, wait... I did say I did six years of high school right? Well... when everyone seemed to be conspiring against me, I collapsed and gave up... beginning in Grade 9, I never studied once or cracked a book and hated every single minute of school.

Girls? Hell... I could have run naked and on fire through the school and no one would have noticed. With few exceptions, no one from high school would know me now... and that's fine by me.

The final straw was when I skipped a week of school while in Grade 12 and was finally caught on my 16th birthday, and was given the pleasant surprise of one week's suspension and the caveat that I would have to write all the final exams... no big deal... I would have had to do that any way.

Grade 12 finished, and I had failed three classes - English, Chemistry and Math... and was told I could take a summer school class to bring up the grade of one of those classes, or repeat the entire 12th grade.

What the hell... if I repeated, I would finally be in a class of my legitimate peers. People my own age. So... with lots of urging from my parents and many tears from a beaten down self, I agreed.

In Grade 12 - Volume 2, I had my best year in school since Grade 4... Passing with flying colors... even English.... and that's even with me taking Grade 13 classes of music and physical education (Hey, Rob!), where Rob and I taught phys ed to a class of elementary school kids as part of the grade... I did better than Rob only because the teacher liked me and seemed to have it in for him and his mom... but truthfully, Rob was the one with the better teaching plan.

Failing English... how strange that the inability to quote Shakespeare would be my undoing... when even now 30 years or so later I can quote lines with ease. I suppose I have a retroactive memory. I'm certainly better at long-term memories than short-term. I could probably pass Chemistry now without studying... it's all coming back to me!  

Anyhow... Grade 13 came, and because of my past history, I was encouraged by a guidance counselor to not even bother applying to university, but to instead apply for the community colleges - considered a step down from university.

But screw him... it cost $50 per university application - up to a total of three - so I applied and was accepted into all three universities, choosing the one that was closest to home to save money (and to not have to leave the comforts of home).

While in university, I took night school classes at a nearby community college for marketing and advertising, because I wanted more than anything to write TV commercials. Or be an archeologist... 

I wasted five years in university, as I discovered the joys of drinking and trying but not dating women... but I ended up with a a piece of paper... a university degree that sits framed in a pile not three feet from where I write this... and then I applied to community college (to be in the same school as a girl I liked)...

I was actually one credit shy of graduating from the community college night school program when I began the day school college program in journalism. I had no time for night school as I was co-coaching a woman's soccer team with Rob, and teaching piano to eight students (one adult), and excelling in journalism school... (I failed English?! in high school ?!) where the Dean knew who I was, and it wasn't because I was a loser... it was because he actually seemed to respect what I was doing even though I busted open a story about asbestos in the school's insulation (It is what it is, he told me)... he was also impressed that I coached the college's woman's soccer team... 

Excelling? Yes... writing and journalism seemed to touch my soul. I should mention that everyone in the journalism program (and at least one person a month even now - yesterday, included) has suggested that I have a voice built for radio. But radio didn't pay as much as newspaper and TV, and I'm not pretty enough for TV.

I always have looked back at my university time as a wasted opportunity, but it is what it is. I got the degree and it helped mature me slightly enough to do well in journalism school... and I needed both to get into the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme... something I only applied to because, like college, I was following a girl trying to get laid.

But I got into the JET Programme - the girl didn't. And I didn't get laid until days after I arrived in Japan at that time.

My journalism school experience of running the school newspaper and even putting one out while the school was on strike, served me well. That university degree was an ugly necessity, too. So too was all that teaching experience: teaching piano (and clarinet) and coaching youth soccer... and even that one year of teaching phys ed to elementary school kids. Oh yeah... the college Dean also wrote one hell of a nice letter on my behalf that I presented as part of my JET application. Thanks Squee. And the "late" Doris, too.

Being a youthful journalist and coach and teacher also taught me much needed communication skills that helped me convince the JET Programme that I might be someone unique in their fold.

What also helped was that although I had almost given up on myself in high school like the guidance counselor, 'almost' wasn't the same as giving up 'completely'. Because I didn't.

And neither should you. If you are considering applying to the JET Programme - go for it. Don't get in once - try again. Or... try other avenues to get across the pond.

You don't need to be the brainy type who excelled in school at every turn. It helps, I'm sure, but really, in my case, it ... it hinders. Yes, I have brains... but despite being a couple of points shy of actually being a genius on the IQ scale, I never really fully used it. Or at least not academically.

I found that once I was in Japan, being normal and part of the teaching team counted for more. I didn't need to show that I was smarter than the smarties or tougher than the toughies... I needed to show that even though I was a gaijin ( a foreigner) I was just like the regular Japanese folk around me. There was nothing more important to me than being a regular person to the Japanese.

It didn't mean I had to be a sexist, lecherous male - though I'm sure I was from time to time as I screwed my way through half the female adult population in the Japanese city I lived... but I did need to be the type of person who could describe an ideal way of life outside of Japan... whereby women are treated more as equals (they aren't treated as equals in Canada or the US, no matter what the laws say), where kids can still have fun and be serious at the same time... where life can be interrupted by living.... 

For me... Japan was easy... I could relate to damn near anyone... mostly because I had been everyone.

I found that since I had struggled, fallen and picked myself up without losing sight of who I really was, I also had a far better understanding of what it was like to be a student in Japan. I could empathize not just with the kids would did well in school and English classes, but with those lovable 'losers' who were just as I was 10 years previous to me arriving in Japan... in fact... I was that lovable 'loser' ... one of them... until I arrived in Japan.

And... I was determined to make a difference.

Over the next few blogs, I'm going to detail some interactions between myself and some of the students and teachers and people of Japan... and how I hopefully either gave them hope, or straightened them up to live a wonderful rife.

I'll never know, of course, if I succeeded... but, in my heart, I know I made a difference.

Nowadays, I'm neither rich nor poor... probably closer to being poor than rich... closer to dying than being born... unhealthier rather than healthy... and yet happier more than unhappy... but it doesn't matter.

It's getting up every morning and doing your best.

So... coming up next... an example of me doing that.

As for the headline... what makes an ideal JET? I guess that's up to the people you help(ed).

Andrew Joseph

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wild And Wonderful Japanese TV Commercials

With today being one of those days I recall talking to someone special for the very first time - and immediately achieving a spark thanks to an Alice In Wonderland quote or two each of us made, let's celebrate the the time Andrew felt like a television star with some amazing commercials from the land of the rising sun.

... courtesy of YouTube and Japanese advertising.

The boobs alone on the freeze frame above are an appropriate enough topic on their own... but it's highlighting a video game called TalesWeaver. I'm not sure what the blonde with the boobs has to do with it, but I know I want it. Not the game, silly-billy.

Check out the Kabuki-style bug killer... or, for those of you who might think that the name of my blog is a racists pile of pap, just see how the Japanese sell the Jelly Bean phones.

Something more serious this way comes in the next blog, he says ominously, as I look a little deeper into my own self and try to figure out just why or how I might have made a difference to a few people in Japan. Yes... more blog diary stories... but with a twist.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Enter Virtual Reality With Oculus Rift

So… less than a week ago I wrote a blog about Japan's use of virtual reality equipment (HERE)—the Oculus Rift manufactured by US company Oculus VR, Inc.—and with VR Japan adding a twist to it by creating a software program and robotic arm device that will enable the user to feel as thigh they are being masturbated by a female (or male) anime character.

Hey… whatever yanks your crank, right?

Well… as luck would have it, a mere two days later I got to see and TRY the Oculus Rift myself at a packaging trade show in Toronto.

Brought by mechanical designer Brad Zalischuk (that's him to the right in the top photo) of ProVantage Automation of Ancaster, Ont. - this was effing amazing.

All I had on was:
  • the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset;
  • the Razer Hydra Left motion control strapped over my shoulder;
  • the motion controller (made by Razer Hydra - although they have stopped manufacturing these, Oculus VR has plans to release controller devices of their own - but nothing out yet!~) in my right hand.
First off… there was no masturbation involved…

This was, pure and simple, a chance for me to enter a virtual reality world - in this case, a production facility that housed both a forklift and a carton erector machine with conveyance system.

Yes… I used the word 'erector'. Stop tittering.

Strapped in - standing - I was instructed to stay in place, but I could move my virtual reality view both backwards and forwards and side to side by use of a control wand. Thanks to the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, I could look up and down and side to side.

I could move within the virtual reality warehouse, which was in color, but still presenting an animated appearance… but… when I moved via the wand and then came to a stop, my entire body rocked back and forth - swaying at both the waist and knees, as though I actually had my movement cut short.

Looking up, I could see some of the intricacies of the carton erector… or the control panel on the forklift… looking down, I could examine how the conveyor belt was joined together to offer a smooth movement.

Brad says that this virtual reality method could be used as a safe an inexpensive way to train operators how to use machinery - it's true... you don't want some dumb rookie like me trying to run a tens of thousand dollar machine and then lose an arm in the process...

If you are wondering how expensive this technology is - let me just say that with a cost of only $350 for the Oculus Rift headset and $1000 for the Razer Hydra motion controller (now being sold at $150-$200 on various on-line sources)… this is cheaper than my first VCR back in 1978, which cost $527.

Of course… you still need a computer to run all of this… and Brad says that while his computer (not a laptop) cost $1,500, one could probably build a PC for between $700-$800… or use a gaming laptop computer for $1,400 - $2,000.

Oh yes… and the software… the software comes with a free three-month Pro Trial of Unity3D - and after that, it's a $1,500 one-time fee.

So… it's affordable. I would assume the Japanese hand-job robotic equipment and software will be more… but you get the gist…

I was lost in this virtual reality world for about five minutes… and it was fantastic.

And so… caught with my pants down… I stand erect as a penguin… and admit that while I might have made a bit of fun at the Japanese for creating a computer program and robotic sex arm device for a robotic hand-job…

… but having been immersed in virtual reality for a mere five minutes - and in a warehouse setting - I can see why people might enjoy spending time with some virtual babe (or guy).

So… Japan… I'm sorry. Shake hands? Er… on second thought… let's just bow.

But... having said that, I'll leave the last word to ProVantage Automation's Brad Zalischuk who wisely says: "There is a bright future for VR in the (packaging) industry, but the path has yet to be paved."

How very zen.

Andrew Joseph
PS: All photography was taken by Cole Garside, a very good friend and excellent professional photographer. He can photograph anything. Look him up and book him. If he's good enough for myself and Macleans magazine....

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Japan Gains A New Island

How strange… in an era when both China and Russia are squabbling with Japan (that's not the strange part - they have been doing that for a long time) about a few islands that no one seems to care about but everybody in a military uniform seems to want… that Japan should actually gain a new island without having to invade or politically nag anyone to death.

A volcanic eruption way down south of Tokyo - probably in a part of the Japanese territory that fewer than 100 people have ever physically seen - a volcano has thrown up enough matter to form an island… a small one… but… an important one, nonetheless, as it's going to be used to tick off China.

How can a volcanic eruption some 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo be used politically to stick to make an ash out of China?

How? The damn island is only 200 meters in diameter?

And why do myself and a few loyal readers know about this part of Japan?

Situated just off the coast of Nishinoshima, a small, uninhabited island in the Ogasawara chain, which is also known as the Bonin Islands.

Back on September 4, 2013, I wrote about the Bonin Grossbeak, a bird. You can read about that extinct bird HERE.

The Bonin Islands consist of about 30 islands, and are indeed 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo in that seismic hot spot known as the 'Ring of Fire.'

The area is ensconced in thick black smoke, but reports show ash and rock exploding from the volcano's crater, with hot steam shooting up into the sky.  

While there is s still a chance that the new island might not have the proper density and could erode away back into the ocean, it could also become a permanent island.

Which is music to Japan's ears.

“This has happened before and in some cases the islands disappeared,” Yoshihide Suga said when asked if the government was planning on naming the new island.

“If it becomes a full-fledged island, we would be happy to have more territory.”

The Japanese archipelago has thousands of islands. In some cases, they help anchor claims to wide expanses of ocean overlying potentially lucrative energy and mineral resources.

For example... Japan has plans to build port facilities and transplant fast-growing coral fragments onto Okinotorishima, two rocky outcroppings even further south of Tokyo, to boost its claim in a territorial dispute with China.

Okay... so while this NEW isle won't extend Japan's territorial claims... others farther away will...  

How does that work? Well… if you own land with an ocean-front view… you get to claim a fair bit of water in front of that land as yours… meaning you've just extended the area of you country… meaning you get to keep your enemies a little bit further away from your international borders.

According to at the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (actually, it's good reading… it's certainly not dry!) (I wrote an essay on it back in university, but only got a C.), the territorial waters is a belt of coastal waters that extends (at the most) 22.2 kilometers (13.8 miles) from the baseline (in this case defined as the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state….

But… here's the thing… and it's why Chinese and Russian jets often flaunt Japan's airspace with impunity… this territorial sea area is part of the sovereign state - in this case, Japan… BUT foreign ships - military or civilian - are allowed innocent passage through it, and above it via aircraft and below it via swimming or accidental submarine-ing.

It's because of this 'innocent passage' law of the sea that Japan is keen to set up port facilities… to make it easier to "discourage" any "accidental' incursions into its sovereign space… China… we're looking at yo-oooou.

For the record, innocent passage is defined as such: Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

Anyhow… despite being within the ring of fire, no volcano in this are has erupted since the mid-1970s… and even then… most of the volcanic activity occurs under the sea, which extends thousands of meters deep along the Izu-Ogasawara-Marianas Trench.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I never wrote an essay on the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea... and if I had I would have at least got a C+... something above cee level.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The JFK Assassination And Japan Links

Even though I was not yet born when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the event was one of those things that fascinated me as a teenager and through to my current age. It was a conspiracy theorist's dream... and I read many article and book on the JFK family and the events around it... and yet, I knew next to nothing about his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald.

So... a few weeks ago when I decided to see if there were any connections between JFK and Japan for perhaps something interesting for this blog... I was pleasantly surprised.

Don't worry… despite the headline, it's nothing so Earth-shattering or even something we need to form a conspiracy theory about (maybe), but with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the beloved US president John F. Kennedy (and Dallas police office J.D. Tippit - read THIS... the letters J.D. did NOT stand for any name in particular!) on November 22, 1963, there are a few interesting links to Japan.

First off, when one gets assassinated, it's obvious JFK wasn't universally loved - in fact, a few crackpots in Dallas, Texas, where the motorcade assassination took place, had talked about doing harm to the president.

But... Dallas IS a fine city. Hate their football team - love their cheerleaders.

Anyhow… in Japan on November 22, 1963, it was supposed to be a special day for the country as a whole, as it was going to be the first time it would welcome in satellite television broadcasts, featuring live broadcasts from North America via the Telstar 2 communications satellite (launched on May 7, 1963).
Telestar 2

In fact, that very first broadcast was to have included a recorded message from JFK… instead, rather than celebrating, viewers tuning in saw news reports of his assassination.

As another sidebar, the very first broadcast on Telstar 1, launched in 1962 was to have been a speech by JFK... but since he wasn't ready and there was a short window for the satellite to broadcast, it instead showed a bit of a live televised baseball game on July 23, 1962 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs at Chicago's beautiful Wrigley Field.

Although both Telstar 1 and Telstar 2 are no longer working, both are still in orbit around Earth.  

A current link between Japan and the JFK ongoing saga - and make no doubt about it, it is an on-going saga—the new US Ambassador to Japan is his daughter, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy (born on November 27, 1957, and the only living child of JFK and mom Jackie), who actually ends up taking on the position a mere seven days before the 50th anniversary of her father's death.

Note that her dad, JFK, died five days before her seventh birthday.

Then… there's also the link between Japan and JFK's assassin... one Lee Harvey Oswald, 24, who was a former U.S. Marine and self-proclaimed Marxist who was captured and arrested 80 minutes after the shooting, but still had enough time to put four bullets into Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit.
Ruby shoots Oswald.
Oswald after being captured, was shot and killed in a police station a couple of days later on November 24, 1963 by Jack Ruby on live television. Ruby was a nightclub owner who supposedly had ties to organized crime aka the Mafia (the Cosa Nostra... which translates to 'this thing of ours') - though nothing has ever been proven regarding his true role in the killing of Oswald... BUT... evidence exists to suggest that this Oswald killing was a spur of the moment decision for Ruby...  he had left his favorite dog behind in a car outside the police station... why do that? Then again... why not? He might have wanted his dog near him...  

The feeling exists that with the death of Oswald, the true people behind the JFK assassination would never be released. Who the hell was JFK to Jack Ruby? The president - yes… but why kill his already captured assassin? Were there mafia ties to the assassination? CIA? FBI? Castro? USSR?

But… the Japan connection is that Oswald… who, beginning in 1957, worked as a US marine radar operator at the Naval Air Facility Atsugi located in the cities of Yamato-shi and Ayase-shi in Kanagawa-ken, Japan.

Who is Lee Harvey Oswald?

Born on October 1, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana, he died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas on November 23, 1963. That hospital is also where JFK was pronounced dead. Jack Ruby, too.

That's the basics… there are enough good and controversial books on Oswald and Ruby and JFK out there to kick-start anyone's conspiracy theory.

As such… let's look a few facts as they relate to Lee Harvey Oswald and Japan.

Oswald had enlisted in the United States Marine Corp (USMC) on October 24, 1956 - just after his 17th birthday.
Photo of  Oswald holding a rifle in the backyard at 214 Neeley Street in Dallas, was apart of the evidence police gathered after the JFK shooting (Dallas Police Department).

In December of 1956 he gained a score of 212 in shooting to earn the designation of "sharpshooter"… but in May of 1959 he scored a 191, which reduced his ranking to "marksman". This is important when you consider the skill the assassin required to hit a moving target in a car with a kill shot shot - firing three times with a 6.5 mm Carcano carbine rifle from a distance of 265 feet.

The first shot that went through his neck, but did not kill the President was from 190 feet away. Keep in mind that the car was moving at about 11 miles per hour... You have to be an effing excellent shot... and while Oswald's skills did drop after six months, he still had four-and-a-half years to practice shooting.

Also... there are reports that three shots were fired... and three spent bullet casings were found at the scene - the infamous sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. That implies the first shot... missed... after all... why shoot a third shot if you have already got the killing head shot?

But... that also implies that Oswald missed his intended target with his first shot from a closer distance.

Recent scientific data, by the way, shows that Oswald could indeed have acted alone, and that the head of JFK snapping back as though shot from the front is actually a nerve reaction after being shot in the head from behind. At least that's what I saw on a television program a few days ago... conspire if you wish.

Because his main training was to be involved in radar operation, Oswald was required to have a security clearance, which was granted to him in May 1957... noting he was: "granted final clearance to handle classified matter up to and including CONFIDENTIAL (blacked out) after careful check of local records had disclosed no derogatory data."

After finishing seventh in a class of 30, he was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine, California (since decommissioned in 1999) in July of 1957 and two months later in September of 1957 was made a part of Marine Air Control Squadron 1 at the Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan.

While in Japan, Oswald's behavior became erratic… perhaps because he was 17 going on 18 and on his own for the first time, after coming from an overbearing mother… but then… that's not really a valid excuse. However, back in grade school, a psychiatrist did describe Oswald having a "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies".

Oswald was court-martialed after he accidentally shot himself in the elbow… with an unauthorized .22 caliber handgun.
A second court-martial occurred after got into a fight with a sergeant, with Oswald believing the sergeant was responsible for his punishment in the first court-martial. Take a look at the photo of Oswald as a marine in 1957… he has that "What, me worry?" grin on him that made Alfred E. Neuman famous in Mad Magazine in 1956.
Alfred E. Neuman
Anyhow… for this second incident, he was demoted from private first-class to private and placed in the brig for a short time.

A third incident occurred in the Philippines after he fired a shot into the jungle for no apparent reason. This occurred when he was on night-time sentry duty… you'll notice they didn't have him performing any radar duties that require clearance.

Oswald stayed with the US's Japanese Naval Air Facility Atsugi until November of 1958 when he was transferred back to El Toro.

Now… perhaps due to continued disillusionment with the US thanks to his experiences in the USMC, Oswald began learning the Russian language.

While that could be seen as commendable since the US could always use American folk who spoke the language for spying, for Oswald, it was self-serving.

Oswald, while in Japan, was nicknamed Ozzie, after the Disney character Oswald the Rabbit, but was also called Oswaldskovich because he often talked about his pro-Soviet beliefs… which, while it is his right to do so, was not something the USMC was looking for in its recruits to combat the Soviets during the Cold-War era of the 1950s and 1960s.

Nyet-nyet, Soviet.

Anyhow… he sucked at Russian - bojemoi (oh my god!) - which was proven by the poor results Oswald achieved in a February 1959 proficiency exam in written and oral Russian.

I've had good Russian oral taught me by a hot-to-trotsky Russian girlfriend who looked like Claudia Schiffer. I learned about 20 conversational lines in about three hours that first night - most of which are unprintable here. Oh… those Russians.

Anyhow… in September of 1959, Oswald ended up with a hardship discharge from the USMC because he said his mother was sick and - so he claimed - he needed to look after. One month later - screw the mother - Oswald, just before his 20th birthday, traveled to the Soviet Union… a trip he had planned for long before.

Anyhow… there's a cool story about Oswald fooling everyone to get to the USSR… but suffice to say that everyone believed that Oswald assassinated JFK because he was pro-Soviet…and the USSR and the US were mortal enemies... and what better way to score a moral victory than to take out the King of Camelot, JFK.

So… that's the JFK - Japan experience. It's not conspiracy-forming, but it does help fill in a few blanks.

Andrew Joseph
PS: By the way... I really struggled with what type of an image to place at the top of this blog... but... being an ex-newspaper guy, a newspaper seemed fitting and the least shocking.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Robot Cheats To Win

Everybody cheats in one form or the other.

Whether it's on your spouse or significant other, your taxes, the board game Monopoly (hand in the bank), or just moving before the traffic light turns green, people like or need to cheat. It's human nature and I'm not here to judge, because I'm guilty as well. Though I do not feel guilt.

And neither do robots. Robots do not feel guilt because they are not programmed to have feelings.

Robots were built to be more efficient at doing human chores - like calculating numbers or building automobiles or going into radioactive contaminated buildings...

So... why does a robot need to cheat to beat a human at its own game?

Researchers at Tokyo University’s Ishikawa Oku Laboratory have developed a second robotic system - this time one that can’t lose a round of Rock-Paper-Scissors (known as janken in Japan) when pitted against a living, breathing human being.

A second version? Yes... I knew I had seen this before a couple of years ago! Well, this version... it NEVER Loses.

Because it cheats and is fast enough to get away with it.

Yes... the robot cheats, but it's so quick, you can not see it cheating you even though it is doing so right in front of your eyes.

Blame that on the inadequate way a human is built.

We have slow reactions and visual perception speed relative to the inorganic robot shaped like a human hand.

In order for a carbon unit human to create either the scissor, rock or paper gesture, it takes, on average 60 milliseconds, which is also about as fast as the human eye can perceive motion.

And while the robot doesn't know any of that (I hope), it takes advantage of that fact.

The robot’s three-fingered hand is connected to a high-speed camera that watches it's human opponent's hand, determining the specific hand position in just one millisecond.

It then takes another 20 milliseconds for the robot hand to form a hand sign to beat the human—at a speed fast enough to ensure it completes its gesture at the same time as, or even a moment ahead of, the human player.

So... why do we need a cheating robot? Do we need to be watching robots hit on our spouses like on the new television show Almost Human (Effing excellent!)?

No, say the robot researchers... the plan is to ensure that if humans and machines will be working together on say, a manufacturing production line, a robot will be able to visually see what you are doing before you know you are doing it (like tripping), and react accordingly to perhaps move out of your way, or maybe even to catch you before you fall.

Obviously, the plan will be to utilize this cheating technology into robotics capable of performing functions more than just pissing off its human hosts at a game.

But, speaking as a guy... I wonder if they could utilize this technology this technology with the Ocular Rift virtual reality sex program - see HERE. Coated with a synthetic skin, it would definitely feel like your left hand (if you are right-handed) - IE - like someone else.

Here's the robot in action:

Andrew Joseph

Google Celebrates Children's Day - But Not In Japan

I don't know how many of you noticed, but Google put out a new doodle for November 20, 2013 - what you see above, celebrating Children's Day.

I recall as a child asking my parents why there's a Mother's Day and a Father's Day but there's no 'kid's day', to which my very intelligent father replied: "Every day is kid's day."

He became more intelligent after I became a father... and I understood.

Since I was never deprived the necessities of life, had my own dogs, a cat, aquariums, comic books, toys, sports opportunities, musical education, bikes, clothing, and food damn near on demand, who the hell was I to counter. I sure as hell didn't have to work for any of those things - they were given freely (freely is not a word my parent's would have used - knowing how much money they spent spoiling me). Hell... I didn't even have to do particularly well at school - I do believe I failed Grade 12 English, and here I am a writer and editor in my day job! Suck on that guidance counselors!

Anyhow... my parents were correct... in a true and good society, there is no need to specifically honor kids with a special day, because ever day should be special.

Now... don't give me that bull crap about not all kid's being treated as well as I was... I know that... but how is having day - a specific day that no one has heard of except via Google Doodle - going to change or elevate children? It won't. Maybe it's a start, but it's official been Children's Day here in Canada since 1993 - and I hadn't heard of it until today.

Anyhow... just so we are all on the same page here (this one)... Japan does indeed celebrate Children's Day... just not on November 20.

Known as Kodomo no hi (子供の日), Children's Day is celebrated on May 5 as a National Holiday. It's something that has been celebrated in Japan since 1948... probably as one of those feel good things Japan's government tried to do after World War II: "It is regrettable that we made your dad become a suicide kamikaze pilot - Happy Children's Day!"

Of course... Japan was being ruled by the Allied forces - specifically the US of A at that time: "We're kind of sorry we nuked two of your cities back into the Stone Age - Happy Children's Day!"

Anyhow... sarcasm aside... Children's Day was actually celebrated twice prior to 1948... on May 5 for the boys, and on March 5 for the girls.

The March 3rd date was known as the Doll Festival day, when Japanese folk would take the time to decorate their homes with plum blossoms, and Heian-jidai wooden dolls, and spend the day drinking Amazake, a sweet low-alcohol or zero-alcohol type of fermented rice drink...

I would assume that the decorating of one's Japanese abode with plum blossoms was probably easier to do in the more southern climes of Japan, what with it being effing cold everywhere else.

The Japanese Doll Festival Day is known as Hina-matsuri, and is celebrated by the household setting up a multi-level platform covered with a red carpet - upon which is placed ornamental dolls known as hina-ningyo that depict the Emperor, Empress, court attendants and musicians dressed in traditional costumes of the Heian-jidai (Heian era) of 794 AD to 1185 AD... this was an era that was noticed for its art, poetry and literature... high points... though even I assume that Japan has shown some progress there in the past 1200 years...

Prior to 1948, the May 5th date was tango-no-sekku - boy's day. Boys would get to fly carp streamers, display manly samurai dolls (action figures!) and eat chimaki, a traditional sticky rice treat wrapped in a leaf but filled with something delicious... it was like a dumpling.

Carp streamers - what's up with the carp? Well... from the story I was told, the carp, when it grows up, becomes a mighty dragon... as such... the Japanese youth are still carp...  

Anyhow... back in 1948 when Japan's Children's Day was formalized for May 5 and only May 5, feminists and traditionalists had no problem with the May 5 date, but also wanted the March 5 date to be a national holiday.

"Two national holidays? For kid's? But we need to rebuild our economy?!"

So... they eliminated March 3 as a holiday...

... not really...

Japan is a country built on tradition. It embraces change with the speed of a rampaging glacier...

Sure, May 5 is a national Children's Day holiday... but even though no longer afforded the same respect with a day off, March 5 is still Doll Festival Day... and is celebrated by young Japanese girls... who also celebrate May 5 as Children's Day.

So... even though the girl's got shafted in not having their sexist day being a national holiday... they still get to celebrate their own girl's day... a day that is probably not universally celebrated by the Japanese boys.

Japanese girls... you lost and you won.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Osaka Castle Cut Down To Size - Photograph

Being a tad busy today, I have little to write, but instead have a photo to share. This photo shows the base of the Osaka Castle (Osaka-jo) in Osaka, Japan.

It shows a corner of the castle... particularly the stones and how they were placed to form the foundation of the castle. Yes... Osaka-jo was destroyed many centuries ago, and what we see here is a modern rebuild of it... but actually, what was destroyed was the wooden structure we would recognize as the actual Japanese castle.

What survived was the stone base... a small section of which you see in the photo above.

Now... to get a better idea of just how large some of these stones are that were used to build the base of Osaka-jo, take a look to the very right of the photo... right at the edge... and you can see a Japanese person taking a photograph.

Yes... that main corner stone is as large as a Japanese man.

It reminded me of the pyramids in Egypt, to be sure (bucket list), but along with the size and weight of the stone, I am impressed by the overall smoothness of the pieces...

And yet... when you come up to it... which I did... I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if I was able to chip away one of those corner stones... would the whole damn castle crumble to the ground (killing myself and hundreds of others in the process), or would the castle merely tilt... or more than likely, would nothing happen because unlike the game of Jenga, this tower was built to withstand powerful enemy attacks by foreign clans...

This is one of my favorite photos...It was one that almost never happened, as I was intent on getting a shot of this corner aspect, and was willing to wait until everyone was out of my camera range... until I realized I needed someone in it to show scale... to give more power to the photograph.

If I was a better photographer, I would have got the entire body of the person to provide a better reference to scale, right?

Ah... but I did... in the original photograph... which I can no longer find... I captured the person completely... but... what you see here is my scan of an enlargement I had done while I lived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken... whereby the folks making my photo enlargement - who did so by using a film negative - did not position it correctly, and nearly cut out my Japanese scale of reference.


So... in this one case, at least, I am a better photographer than the photograph makes me appear.

For further reference... here's one of my other favorite shots of Japan... Osaka-jo in full bloom, with modern day Osaka in the background. 

Modern Japan intrudes on the medieval world of Osaka Castle.
Pundits will hopefully notice the wonderful dark rain clouds that followed me everywhere when I traveled around Japan for three years..

Oh... and if you click on the photo and look closely... you can see right in the middle of the photo... right atop the moat walls, a person dressed in a red rain coat... so you can just how huge the stones are in that very high moat.

Lastly... for Matthew's sake - he chastised me once about four years ago to get a damn photoshop-type program to make my photo's lighter - I made this photo lighter for my Internet audience. It actually looks fine when I hold the photo in my hand, but darkens on the screen... as such... I have a bright, light grey cloud annoying the fug out of me at the top of this adjusted photo.

Matthew was right, of course... but I always like the way photos used to look when you took them... back before you could change them to the way you want them to look.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Imagine how long the blog would be if I actually had something to write about. ;)