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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Proposed Yakuza Theme Song

I received this story back on April 1, 2014, but wasn't sure what to do with it. So... it took me a month mostly because it got buried in my e-mail.

It was written by By Jake Adelstein and Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky. Now… I am not familiar with Nathalie-Kyoko, but at least from reading his book, I am familiar with Jake.

Jake is perhaps the top crime journalists in Japan. The fact that he's a gaijin doing a job for a Japanese language newspaper (Yomiuri Shimbun) is impressive, because he not only has to be fully versed in the language, but the language of journalists, the language of the police and even the language of the criminal element.

So… when Jake writes something I tend to pay attention - especially after reading his spectacular Tokyo Vice non-fictional take on a Yakuza story that nearly ended his life numerous times.

So… when I saw the news article: "Japan's Biggest Organized Crime Syndicate Now Has Its Own Web Site and Theme Song", I was intrigued.

I mean… the Yakuza, a Japanese business men's club that some say not only has ties to organized crime, but is organized crime in Japan. And… apparently the Yakuza has been trying to color itself as more of a community organization and less of a drug, gambling, prostitution or anything illegal type of groups, doing charity work such as immediately going in and giving food and blankets and other much needed supplies to those affected by the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake disasters… I'm sure they didn't just fall off a truck. I mean, I have no proof of anything like that. Still, I like that they did it.

So… when Jake (and Nathalie-Kyoko) say that there's a website for the Yakuza and there's a theme song, it sounds pretty feasible.

You can read the story here and apparently see the video and accompanying Yakuza theme song HERE.

And then I remembered that April 1 is also April Fool's Day. I may not know jack, but I'm pretty sure that thanks to the e-mails he and I have shared, that I do know Jake a bit better than I know the Yakuza… even though I have had drinks with a Yakuza city boss and have not had any with Jake… maybe when I go back to Japan soon for a visit.

Jake… how many people do you think you fooled with the story? I'm sure you fooled a lot. I'm just curious.

As an aside, not on April Fool's Day, but back when I was a summer intern with the Toronto Star newspaper, other reporters told me that since I was a rookie, I needed to try and get a fake story into the newspaper… not really, the idea was to fool the city desk editor.

So… since I was a pretty good writer and would never, as a young journalist, try to fool a guy who could fire me for misspelling a word… I concocted a story about a killer goat going on a rampage in a town far west of Toronto.

I wrote up the eight-inch copy and sent it in.

Hours later, while I was sitting at my desk, one of the other reporters comes running up to me to say that they are running my story - on the front page no less - and I had to go over to the city desk editor and tell him it was all made up.

So I did… and oh… the look he gave me… because… I think I had really fooled him… I mean he and no one else ever came over to say "Ha! Got you on the double fake out! Everyone knew it was fake!"… then again… why wool the City Editor not fact check a story or try and get photos of this killer goat? All you have to do is call the police in the area to check the veracity. Had I fooled him that badly?

Perhaps. I spent the next week working the midnight to 8AM shift sitting on the scanner room listening to police and fire calls. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep… so nothing important happened that week. At least not worth writing about.

Oh.. in case you have not been living in a barn for the past few years, check out this cool game: Goat Simulator. It looks killer!

Anyhow.. funny stuff Jake and Nathalie-Kyoko! It was a joke, right? Right. Just double checking.

The Yakuza might indeed have a theme song, but they certainly wouldn't have a web page. Or maybe they would have a web page, but wouldn't have a theme song. But if they did have a theme song, I  imagine it would sound like this, the Ultraseven theme song: The Song of Ultraseven:

So… I'm going to present the English translation of the opening song of the classic Japanese  kid's television show Ultraman Seven, and under each line (in BRACKETS) I will present my proposed lyrics for a Yakuza theme song. Please keep in mind I am not a professional musician.

Actually… I did get paid to play a few times, plus I was a professional music teacher… dammit. Okay… I'm not a professional writer… except I am… so I should be able to be a professional music writer guy thingy, right?  

Yakuza Theme Song (Proposed)
Seven, Seven, Seven, Seven.
(Yakuza, Yakuza, Yakuza, Yakuza)
Seven, Seven, Seven!
(Yakuza, Yakuza, Yakuza!)
Seven, Seven, Seven!
(Yakuza, Yakuza, Shut the hell up! We're a secret organization!)

A Distant star was once his home
(We know exactly where you live...)
Ultra Seven, Fighter Seven.
(Pay your debt! Don't Delay!)
Ultra Seven, Seven, Seven.
(The interest triples every day!)

Onwards to the edge of the galaxy
(March to the end of that big alley way.)
With the Ultra Eye, spark!
(Someone will meet you there to break your legs, snap!)
Seven, Seven, Seven!
(In seven, seven places!)
Seven, Seven, Seven!
(In seven, seven places!)

Dan Moroboshi is his other name
(Do not call us Yakuza you worthless worm! We are just legitimate business men!)
Ultra Seven, Hero Seven.
(Pay your debt! Don't Delay!)
Ultra Seven, Seven, Seven.
(The interest quadruples every day! You heard correctly.)

Defeat the great fire-breathing monster.
(We can save you from your business debt that we probably caused but you can't prove)
Use your Ultra Beam and… strike!
(We'll get you women, sex!)
(brief musical interlude)
Seven, Seven, Seven!
(Who'll serve you booze without a dress!)
Seven, Seven, Seven!
(And you can pay us back real soon. Now. Kooooonoyarohhhh!)

Seven is the number of the miracle man.
(We are happy, friendly potatoes tarnation champion 1957-1943) (????!!!)
Ultra Seven, Hero Seven.
(Hero of the people as you can see)
Ultra Seven, Seven, Seven.
(We'll help you up when you are down, fug with us we'll put you down.)

Go strike, defend our lives and happiness
(Call the police, kiss your wife sayonara)
With the Ultra Hawk, attack!
(Your daughter is pretty. What grade is she in? Yakuza! We were never here.)

I assume that in this song, the Yakuza would be breaking your leg in a total of 28 places, not just seven… I guess I might just find out which is more correct. Crap.

Andrew Joseph

Japanese WWII Aircraft Carrier BBQ

Fresh from speed racer fingers of my friend Emily, comes the lead for the ultimate Japanese Men's BBQ (barbeque) available for purchase.

From the nation that brought us all the hibachi comes the aircraft carrier BBQ! And it's not just ANY aircraft carrier, it's a Japanese World War II aircraft carrier called the WY-B120. Maybe.

Pissed off that your BBQ isn't long enough to cook that eel you caught with having to fold it up? (I hate folded up eel!) Be pissed off no longer.

The aircraft carrier grill is long enough to cook an eel, jumbo hog dogs, the long type of spaghetti and probably ribs, steaks and chops. Oh… and vegetables, though I don't see why anyone would want to BBQ those foul things.

I can't read Japanese, so I have no idea who makes this thing. Didn't Mistubishi Heavy Industries help manufacture the Japanese warships?

I can only hope the Japanese aircraft carrier BBQ actually comes with the five Mistubishi Zero fighter craft shown on its deck and the awesome waving Rising Sun flag that Japan used for the navy before and during WWII is there too. I believe the Japan Self-Defense Forces still use this killer flag. Uh, killer in the nice war way.

Is this for reals, dude? No idea! Who cares! It probably is a real product and if it isn't, someone is reading this and making one as you continue to read… you really are a slow reader!

Japan isn't exactly known for its sensitivities regarding WWII (see Unit 731 and the comfort women thing), so using a Japanese aircraft carrier as a BBQ?

Japan used to launch some of its kamikaze missions from an aircraft carrier. The only worse I could thing of might be the German's selling Easy Bake Ovens in Auschwitz. What? Too soon? Does anyone know if they do actually sell this Kenner (and now Hasbro) toy oven in Germany? Probably not, because I know the Germans are quite sensitive to their war-time past.

Perhaps the former Allies should be glad that this Japanese BBQ did not feature a British or American aircraft carrier that could only be started by dropping a Japanese Zero aircraft onto the deck of the ship. Still too soon? It's been a whole paragraph!

Anyhow… if you are thinking of purchasing one of these Japanese aircraft carrier BBQ's, might I suggest buying three or four? They tend to explode quite easily. Yes, I did go there.

Of course... is we take a close look at the advertisement (up above), there are a couple of manga (comic book) or anime (animated cartoon) characters there... perhaps this is something from that, and not a real WWII aircraft carrier that happens to look like an aircraft carrier.

Real or not? Yes, it is.

You know those animated figures make it real.

Somewhere waiting for my verdammt folded eel to cook.
Andrew Joseph
PS: a little research shows that the WY-B120 grill is a real product... but it's just a grill not shaped like an aircraft carrier. I can hear you all say 'awwwww'... but because it's a so-called Japanese ad, you just never were sure if it was real or not.
The real WT-B120 grill can be seen here at Amazon Japan.

Cool Japanese Photo #5 - Why I Love Japan

Aside from the people, this photograph that I took in September of 1990 hopefully will offer you all an explanation of why I love Japan and why I loved my tiny city in the middle of nowhere .

I lived in a small city known as Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken. Ohtawara's name directly translates to 'Big-Rice Field-Field'... which will tell you something about a place that has the term 'field' in it twice. It's a farming city with a population of about 50,000 people.

That's pretty small considering that Toronto, where I am from, has some 3-million people... I frequently have a 45 minute to 1-1/2 hour commute into work and again out from work to my home in the west end of the city. Toronto has an average commute longer than Los Angeles. It's true... and yet, LA is considered the poster child for all that is wrong with highway travel. It's not. Toronto is.

So... when you realize that the photo above is what I see when I look out my window in Ohtawara, you'll realize why I felt like the luckiest man on Earth.

Do-inaka... the sticks... the rural of ruralness with nothing around it... this is what people say when they realize where I lived... and yet, for three years I was proud to call it my home... a home I really wouldn't have traded with anyone else in Japan.

Now... this particular photograph was taken by me from the roof of my seven-story apartment building, the tallest structure in Ohtawara. I had to pull myself up onto the roof by first standing on the railing and hauling myself and my bulky Minolta 35mm camera with the 50mm lens and the 128mm zoom lens in my pocket of my pants... and not fall down 7+ stories to my death.

This photo was taken hours after a typhoon had blown past the prefecture... nothing of any note was damaged... the power never flickered once... but man was the sky lit up like the 1st of July (that's Canada Day!), with lightning strikes and thunderous clouds drag racing each other across the sky.

This was the storm's aftermath... and you can see the large Nasu mountain range in the far background, and the hills in the middle front foreground where the storm's dying winds blow over them.

The light from the dawn now one hour past struggles to break through the greeny sky... and the city has not yet woken up, because it's around 5AM.

Can you imagine what the people on the 7th floor must have been thinking... there they are on the top-most floor of the apartment building, and they can hear my footprints tromping over their head... as they wondered just what sort of monster was there at that late (or early) hour.

According to some, Tochigi-ken was supposed to be famous for its winds... but I never saw that.

I just saw what I saw in this photograph... a calm, violent solitude within a city full of people who knew I was around, but didn't know what I was doing.

Doesn't that sound just like home?

As an aside, because I should have ended it one paragraph earlier... aren't the different shades of grey in the photo absolutely magnificent? They are, if I don't say so myself.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Company Revamp Shows Profit For Panasonic

Japan's Panasonic Corp. says it will have a third-straight year of operating profit growth thanks to its restructuring plan that caused it to move away from the tricky consumer markets to what it perceives as the safer industrial product—specifically those in the auto industry, such as automobile batteries.

Panasonic booked operating profit of ¥305.1-billion (~US/Cdn$2.978-billion) for the year ended on March 31, 2014, its best result in three years.

In February, Panasonic rival Sony Corporation slashed its profit forecasts, proving itself correct as its TV unit division spent its 10th year in the red (losing money).

But, thanks to getting rid of several of its money-losing businesses, Panasonic avoided that embarrassing problem.

"We have made a big shift away from focusing on the top line," said Panasonic chief executive officer Tsuga Kazuhiro (surname first).

In 2013, Panasonic closed down a plasma television factory and sold off several Japan-located  chip plants.

For this upcoming fiscal year, Panasonic says it is going to spend ¥90 billion (US/Cdn $882-million) to get rid of businesses still losing money… which means a revamp, more than likely.

The biggest money-loser for Panasonic is its division that manufactures LCD panels for its televisions, losing ¥45.6-billion (~US/Cdn $445.2 million) in 2013/14. 

It was during this past year that Panasonic spent some ¥207.4-billion (~US/Cdn $2.02 billion) just to restructure itself. Yikes.

Apparently one has to spend money to drop out of such businesses as smartphones.

The money from last year and this upcoming year will be spent on figuring out how to double its sales to the automobile industry, increasing by 50 per cent its market in the housing sector, and how to gain a one-third increase in its business-to-business arm that includes aviation, energy and logistics.

Hmm… it seems as though Panasonic is looking to focus less on the consumer retail market and more about the commercial and industrial market.

It's probably true that there are too many companies competing for the same low-priced retail products, so why not go more high-end?

For example:
  • Panasonic is the only battery supplier for Tesla Motors (electric automobile);
  • Panasonic owns 2% of Tesla, which it bought for $30-million;
  • Toyota (automobile) owns $50-million in Tesla;
  • Tesla and Toyota are partners in the RAV4 EV (electric cross-over SUV vehicle);
  • Panasonic is THE supplier of batteries for Toyota's hybrids;
  • Panasonic supplies batteries for the RAV4 EV.
Basically, for a cool $30-million investment in Tesla, Panasonic got its foot in the door to door work with Toyota, starting with one vehicle, and hopefully, if they have their way, with more as Toyota and Panasonic are involved in a joint battery-development partnership.  

According to Warwick Business School associate professor of strategic management Dr. Sotirios Paroutis: "Panasonic has been implementing its turnaround strategy at an impressive pace, but this is not an easy ride.

"Pulling out of non-profitable consumer electronics businesses—some of them synonymous with the Panasonic brand name like the plasma display panels—has helped the firm readjust its portfolio towards automotive and housing products with stronger demand.

"Also it has been launching a series of new cameras and camcorders that have proven popular with consumers.

“A weak yen and an increased domestic demand for housing products has boosted revenues and helped the firm achieve a 16 per cent net profit rise. Both effects from the exchange rate and domestic demand are likely to ease in the next few months, so the question is whether Panasonic has done enough to keep performing well.

“Keeping up with the pace of innovation investments plus acquisitions and partnerships in the automotive and housing areas is the next challenge for Panasonic.

“The early signs are positive, as the company has extended its contract for supply of lithium-ion batteries to Tesla and there are discussions for a major factory jointly with Tesla."

Well, it appears as though no less than the Warrick Business School's associate professor agrees with my take on things. It's probably the first time I have ever said anything a professor would deem correct, judging by my old university marks. Usually, universities don't like it when you have an opinion that differs from their own.

At least this time, they are agreeing with me. LOL.

Anyhow, I should point out that despite Panasonic showing profit over the last three quarters, it has and still is investing huge amounts of money into its infrastructure to change its business. It's putting billions of dollars into this investment, which Panasonic realizes is not short-term solution, but rather is part of the long-tern, on-going answer that will set Panasonic in good stead moving forward over the next 20 years.

It might actually begin to show a real profit sooner—after all of its costs are calculated within these numbers—but it's not something that is a 2014 scenario, despite me and Panasonic claiming they are showing a profit. They aren't really... but by taking the chance now, they have set themselves up to succeed in the near future.

Andrew Joseph

Chinese Documents Prove Japan Had Comfort Women

Because I can't write it any better, below is a link to a The Guardian web article from April 28, 2014 written by in Tokyo and in Beijing. 

It details reports of China's discovery of proof that Japan used Comfort Women during WWII and earlier.

Comfort Women were/are the civilian women taken forcibly by Japanese soldiers and used NOT as prostitutes, which might imply they received financial remuneration, but rather were forced sex slaves for the higher-ranking Japanese officers...   

I know it was war and the Japanese at that time had a superiority complex, but... damn it...

Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany (I call each that to differentiate each from the countries they are today in 2014) were rife with war-time atrocities.

For Japan to assume that China is picking on them is unfair. Japan DID pick on the Chinese and Koreans and damn near every single Asian country before and during WWII. Granted the timing of the documents smells a bit fishy considering the posturing of Japan and China over a group of islands each says is theirs, as the documents were first analyzed since 1982.

China claiming there aren't enough Japanese speakers to translate these documents is interesting, because even I am sure that after 32 years even I might have learned enough of the language. Maybe. But I'm not as driven as the Chinese government appears to be.

I urge you to read The Guardian article HERE.

I also urge you not to develop a new hate-on for one country or another after reading this (the Japanese). It was a long-time ago. People need to try and enjoy life the best they can.

But, having said that—sins of the father, and all—I do think Japan really does need to man-up and say the truth. The truth shall set you free! It worked for Germany.

Anyhow... any war with China now is an exercise in stupidity. Do the right thing, Mookie.

Andrew Joseph

First Day At A Japanese School - Opening Impressions

Apparently... when I lived in Japan from August of 1990 through August of 1993, I was a teacher... yet this blog doesn't really reflect that.

I was on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme back then, not yet 26-years-old, from Toronto, Canada. I had graduated from university two years previous with a degree in political science and not knowing if that qualified me to be employable I promptly went to college and did a two-year journalism program, leaving early (but still graduating) because I was lucky enough to get into the Toronto Star newspaper Summer Internship Program... considered the height of such programs for journalism students... which was why my school figured it was okay for me to cut out two months early, because the goal was to teach one to be a good journalist... and I was, as the Toronto Star offered proof by accepting me.

I left the program a month early to go to Japan as an assistant English teacher on JET... something I really didn't want to do because... I was entering my chosen profession at the top of the field with The Star.. and I really didn't want to go to Japan.

My dad convinced me otherwise, saying the opportunity might never present itself again. So far... he's right.

So... there I was in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken... basically a 50,000 person city that was a glorified farming community. From my apartment, I could throw a rock in any direction and hit a rice field or a 7-11. It's only a slight exaggeration.

To call myself a teacher would also be an exaggeration, even though the Japanese always called me An-do-ryu-sensei (Andrew teacher).

Sure, I had taught piano and clarinet and coached soccer for right years including the women's team at college, but teacher... that's a stretch and I knew it.

I was just there in Japan to team-teach with great expectations to act as a human tape recorder. I have excellent communication skills with a rumbling voice that could make your balls vibrate (if you have'em, of course) wondering if there is thunder outside.

So... teaching?

Up above (photo) ... that is my very first class schedule... at Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School). As you can see from the schedule, there are four Japanese teachers of English - their photos are below.

Ohtawara Chu Gakko was by far the largest of the city's seven (as of 1993) junior high schools, and I would visit this school far more often, as it would essentially take two busy weeks for me to see every class. 

My first visit to any of my schools was going to be pure self-introduction... who I am and why I'm interesting enough for you (the student) to want to listen or talk to me, and it began with me in front of the entire school - and then some.

The handsome Shibata-sensei of Ohtawara Chu Gakko. I had no idea at the time, but his dad was the Principal of the school... and it was thought that this young man would one day take the same position.

Shibata-sensei had come to see me at the Ohtawara Board of Education office the week previous to give me this schedule... noting that classes started every day at 8:35AM; Lunch was between 12:35-1PM; Cleaning time was from 1:35-1:50PM; and that afternoon classes began at 1:55PM.

There were also teacher's meetings from 8-8:15AM every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I was expected to be present, though not necessarily required to participate.

I never knew what went on in these meetings, despite sterling attendance, because it was rightly done entirely in Japanese. I always had a o-cha (green tea) served to me by one of the female staff as soon as I arrived (I was never late in three years - NEVER), and that caffeine got me through those meetings, though chances are good I had my head down just like every other teacher while someone droned on... maybe I was doing a crossword or studying Japanese.

More than likely, however... that first time in each school, I was smartly paying attention to the speaker, with my head held high, making eye contact, because that's the western way, and dammit, I was supposed to show how I did things in my country.     

As you can hopefully see, there was an 8AM welcome ceremony for me in the gym on September 3...  and was told to be at school at 7:50AM.
The gym is to the left, the main school in the center and I believe a judo building to the far right.

I can't recall how I got to school that day... more than likely I did ride my bike there, because it's only two kilometers from my apartment... I wore a crisp white shirt and tie - short sleeve, of course, because it was still around 30C... and I was probably all sweaty from the bike ride and the humidity when I arrived at school.

As soon as I arrived, the teachers (Inoue-sensei, I believe) ushered me to the gymnasium - a separate building that meant I had to put on my outdoor shoes to get to.

And as soon as I got into the gym, I had to remove those shoes and put on my indoor shoes (which I neglected to bring with me and were still back in the main school building... so teachers began searching the pile of slippers there to find the largest green plastic floppy slippers they had... which might have been a size 7... I was a 10-1/2 back then (11 now), so a large portion of the back of my foot hung out.

To combat the problem of me throwing a shoe like a spirited young colt, I scrunched up my toes and got another inch of my foot into these slippers - all of which, no matter where you go in Japan, all have the back half of the footwear completely open. By scrunching up my toes, the plastic folded nicely around the top of my foot ensuring I wasn't goining to accidentally kick my slippers into the kocho-sensei (principal's) groin.

It would be funny as all hell, but not the sort of entrance you want to make on your first day of school.

Apparently, I was supposed to write a two-minute English speech and bring a copy of it with me on the Monday (yesterday) back at the OBOE... and I did... so Shibata-sensei, the school's youthful head English teacher could translate it overnight so he could repeat it to the thronging masses in Japanese.

All well and good... but I had left my copy of the damn English speech back.

So I winged it.

And so did Shibata-sensei... whom I had met earlier and gone drinking with at a city matsuri (festival)... so I knew he was a damn fine English speaker and would  have no problem with my new speech.

After a decently long introduction by the Principal, he turned to me to get up off the plastic chair I was sitting on at the (audience's) far right of the gym's stage, where all the other teachers were sitting who did not have a home room class of their own. The principal moved far off to the left side of the stage where Shibata-sensei stood with a microphone.

Basically, I was left up on a stage all by my loneseome...

Yup, that really is me during the September 4, 1990 welcome speech at Ohtawara Junior High School. I always wore a tie.
I should mention that there were 20 classes of Japanese junior high students (aged 12-15) representing grades 7-9. Each class had between 34-45 students apiece... so there were over 900 students... plus 20 more teachers out in the audience, plus 20 more on stage, plus the board of education had come out to see the spectacle - so another 50 people... and... I was told later, many parents were curious to get a glimpse of me, so there were another 200 or so people there.

Two years earlier, this shy boy would have died. But journalism taught me to conquer my fears to go and talk to anyone and everyone to get the story.

And so... in Japan... I gave them my story.
Along with teaching calligraphy, Kunita-sensei was the boys baseball team coach and a hell of a good English teacher. I have a story with him in two days time.I tried to sneak photos of everyone to get a more natural look... I suppose the blurry image shows I failed miserably. I believe a battery was dying in my camera making the shutter speed slooooow.

As I stood up, I scrunched my toes in those slippers and walked - not shuffled - towards the podium. Behind the podium against the stage's back wall, three flags were there... Canada's and the city of Ohtawara's flanked Japan's in the middle.

I'm still not sure if this is a faux pas or not, but I turned my back to the audience and bowed long and deep to the Japanese flag, before turning again toward the principal to my right and bowed to him with deep honor and respect.

I then turned to the whole audience and bowed to them all. Long and deep. Everybody likes it long and deep. The bowing, I mean.

Should I have turned my back on the audience? That could be an error, but I think I more than made up for it by showing my respect to the Japanese flag. I never knew about that whole turning one's back thing.

I still hadn't cracked a smile yet. I was as solemn and nervous as you could get. But, after bowing to my audience, I smiled...  and if you knew me (some of you do), that smile is pretty comfortable. I don't have to fake it - it's just there and I can light up a room.

That smile... It not only made me relax (it'[s not a toothy smile - more of a happy-go-lucky grin), but I hoped it made my audience relax.

But... they are Japanese, so who could tell. There was no show of emotion.
The lovable Banai-sensei. If she wasn't married I would have hit on her. She had such a wonderful sense of humor that every English class was fun for her students... I know because I sat in on a few of her classes when I wasn't team-teaching with anyone... just to see what a Japanese class was like when I wasn't around.

I did the standard Japanese intro of myself.

"Watashi-no namae-wa Josefu Andoryu desu. (My name is Andrew Joseph)."

"Dozo yorishiku onagaishimasu" (which I think I got right, meaning, please take care of me). Whatever... it's been a while, but that is what you are supposed to say when you first join a company or meeting group...

I bowed again to my audience.

Then it was all English. I told them all that I was very excited to be here in Japan and that I looked forward to working with the English teachers here at Ohtawara Junior High School to help teach the students English.

I didn't say 'better' English or anything like that. That would imply there was a problem - and even if there was, this was not the time to remind anyone of that. Diplomacy 101. That Political Science degree might have come in handy there, but really, it's common sense.

Whatever Shibata-sensei translated was longer than what I said, and without any hesitation - I told you he was good!, but I only assume he directly translated me.

I also said I was looking forward to getting to know the teachers and students and about the Japanese-wa... Japanese culture or harmony, but I said it in English, because I really didn't know much more Japanese language than that.

I said "thank you, and let's get to work and have fun."

It was translated, and there was a brief murmur in the crowd... and then I bowed to my audience, bowed to the Principal.

The Principal must have given a look to the audience, because the homeroom teachers yelled something, and everyone stood up and bowed to me and remained standing.
Along with teaching history, Inoue-sensei was the most experienced of the English teachers at Ohtawara Junior High School and even though his English may not have been on par with Shibata-sensei's, it was pretty damn good. He had the heart of the Japanese but had quite the international mind, and he and I were always found huddled together sharing secrets about each other's country. He's one of the few Japanese teachers I ever went out drinking with privately that I was not trying to sleep with. He taught me so much about Japan. He was also the school's disciplinarian. More later.

A young Japanese girl came up carrying flowers and gave a short English speech.

"Dear Mister An-do-ryu sensei. Thank you for coming to Japan. We look forward to learning about you and your country. Please teach us well."

She bowed and gave me the flowers.

I bowed back to her. Looking at her, I smiled the biggest smile I have ever given, because dammit... right then and there, that's when I realized I was going to be all right in Japan... that the kids could speak English so well...

(I was wrong about at least one thing in that last paragraph.)

I turned and bowed to the Principal again and the Japanese flag and walked back to my seat.  Before sitting, I bowed to my fellow teachers, who were my fellow employees... I told you I wasn't a teacher... at least not in the classic Japanese sense...

Everyone was standing... the Principal gave another brief speech, everyone bowed to him and to the teachers on stage or to the flag - no idea... my brain was going a thousand miles an hour at this time...

I hadn't screwed up, and I hadn't dropped a slipper into the Principal's gonads.

It was my first exposure to Ohtawara Chu Gakko... and I figured I had the world as my oyster... it certainly felt that way.

We'll stop here for now, and continue later with what those first classes were like - less about me, and perhaps more about the kid's themselves... and after that, maybe even a sneak peak at what the Japanese lesson plans might entail.

Somewhere bowing in your general direction,
Andrew Joseph
PS: within the schedule above... I have written about the ancient form of Japanese money there - the Ryu... mostly because it was part of Shibata-sensei's GIVEN name (not his family name) of Ryuichi and I wanted to know what it meant. He had to think about that, but said Ryuichi meant 'gold coin - number one'... which meant he was the first born male child... a treasure. I'm sure now as then, that the Japanese do put some thought into their kid's names... most culture's do, I suppose... but to have a name where everyone knows the meaning? That's cool. Mine isn't so obvious now, but I was named Andrew because Prince Andrew in England had been born earlier, and it was a way to become more a part of British society where I was born. I named my son, Hudson, after the Canadian explorer Henry Hudson who helped found the Hudson Bay Company, which, thanks to its ability to show a profit in the hunting and fur trading industry, helped make British North America a viable outpost, eventually leading to the formation of Upper and Lower Canada and Canada itself after Confederation in 1867... right about the same time that Japan began to open up its door's officially to foreigner trade when it ousted the shogun and brought back the Emperor.
By the way, depending on the Kanji, the Chinese alphabet used by the Japanese, 'ryu' could also mean 'dragon'... which was how I utilized it when I 'japan-ized' my name. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Japan and US reach Trans-Pacific Partnership - but where's the beef?

Japan and the U.S. have reached a basic agreement on April 25, 2014 in their Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations that could provide progress in red meat trade—but so far, any way you slice it, no official declaration has been made.

It's only important because beef and pork were among key five categories of agricultural products involved in the talks.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper says that sources state the two sides have agreed to substantially reduced tariffs on U.S. beef exports to Japan by “nine percent or more” from the existing 38.5 percent, over the course of 20 years.

In the meantime, Japan will continue with its gate-price system to protect domestic farmers.

This gate-price system levels tariffs based on price differences between standard Japanese pork and imported pork.

The Yomiuri, however, says that Tokyo will slash its standard domestic price at Washington’s request.
U.S. President Obama's officials did not provide details, but did imply that there was some progress on beef and pork trade:

“The overall outcome was in a number of the products we were able to identify what the path is going to be towards the ultimate resolution,” the official says. “When I say that it means there are various factors that go into market access agreement—the length of time over which a market access barrier might be reduced, which barriers are eliminated and which barriers are reduced and what the relationship is between them, how the market access is structured.  And we went through each one of these products and oftentimes line by line of the tariffs to determine what was the most robust outcome in terms of opening markets for U.S. exports, and to do so in a way where we could secure Japan’s agreement.”

Andrew Joseph

The Japanese Hare

The Japanese hare (Lepus brachyurus) is found across almost all of Japan: Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu—all the main islands, except Hokkaido.

There are four subspecies of this hare:
  • Lepus brachyurus brachyurus; 
  • Lepus brachyurus angustidens;
  • Lepus brachyurus lyoni; 
  • Lepus brachyurus okiensis.
One of these we looked at briefly in a Japanese Fairy Tale presented HERE, a few days ago… which is what got me wondering about rabbits/hares in Japan in the first place.

I've written about extinct or threatened animals in Japan in the past, but the Japanese hare - there's no problem.

Even though the hare is found in the mountains or hilly areas around Japan, hey also can handle forest or brush areas… and despite us human beings moving everywhere, the Japanese hare is also living in urban environments, even becoming a nuisance there.

The Japanese Hare, like all rabbits and hares, is nocturnal, preferring to eat in the late evening and early morning - probably because that's when fewer predators are about.

Despite their proclivity to breed like, well, rabbits, these are solitary creatures, and only get the male and female sexes together during mating season.

The Japanese hare has a litter of one to six, but will often have more than one litter every year, once the female reaches maturity at around one year of age…. which of course is confusing… didn't I say they only got together to do the wild thing during mating season?

If so, how do they have multiple litters? Is there more than one mating season a year for Japanese hares? I would have to assume so, or note that there is no actual mating season, and that's why these hares enjoy doing the bunny hop.

Just like with humans, the Japanese hare will chase the females around, and will, if necessary, box rival males to keep them away and to allow some bom-chikka-wah-wah. If you know what I mean, and the fact that some of you are sounding out that weird phrase and smiling, shows you watch or at least know about the music of porn.

Here are some specs for the Japanese Hare:
  • Color: Reddish-brown fur; but the Sado Island variant, and other places where there is heavy snowfall, the Japanese hare will lose its color, turning white in the autumn until spring when it regains the reddish-brown hue;
  • Body Length: 45-54 cm (18-21 inches);
  • Weight: 1.3-2.5kg (2.9-5.5lbs);
  • Tail Length: 2-5cm (0.79-1.97in.);
  • Ear Length: 6-8cm (2.4-3.1in.);
  • Front Leg Length: 10-15cm (3.9-5.9cm);
  • Back Leg Length: 12-15cm (4.7-5.9cm).
Japanese Hare wearing his/her winter coat.

Like every other type of rabbit and hare, the Japanese hare eats grasses, shrubs and bushes… but, this one will also eat tree bark, which will cause big damage to trees and forests as a whole. Those wascawy wabbits.

Just like everywhere else in the world, some people eat rabbit, and the Japanese hare is no exception, so people will cull the population and eat the meat and use the pelts. I have a winter hat in the classic Russian style made of rabbit.

And, before you get all crazy on me, I have also owned a rabbit… for a year or so before I though he, Happy, a common black rabbit from the Toronto area, would probably be happier hopping about with other rabbits on a provincial rabbit farm.

When we took him to the farm and placed him down on the scrub, he was immediately hopped upon by another rabbit intent on having sex. And that's when I realized Happy the rabbit was a she.

I think.

I suppose rabbit or hare homosexuality exists.. I have seen Bugs Bunny in some interesting cross-dressing, bestiality cartoons where he kisses a lot of male critters (Elmer Fudd and the Tasmanian Devil come immediately to mind)… and married Elmer in the Marriage of Figaro cartoon.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Japanese Fairy Tales: The White Hare And The Crocodiles

In this Japanese folk or fairy tale published here from its original 1908 form, I simply love the opening line: "Long, long ago, when all the animals could talk…"

When the animals could talk… how brilliant.

Do we blame that damn cat for taking their tongue? Cat got your tongue? Feline nervous about public speaking?

When animals could talk... so... have animals created their own language so as to better protect themselves from us gossipy humans?

Did animals also get screwed around in that whole Tower of Babel fiasco (see Wikipedia page  HERE)

Or is it perhaps more likely that animals still talk and its only the people that no longer understand them?

Anyhow, that is all just crazy talk.

In the story I am about to present to you today, the tale opens up in a Japanese prefecture called Inaba, which is now the eastern part of Tottori-ken… nearish to Osaka out in the west.

The story is (in some books) called The White Hare of Inaba, and the Crocodiles (大国主命と因幡の白兎と鰐). The ukiyo-e wood block print is by famed Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika.

This story also inspired me to do a bit of research and you can see the fruits of my labor in tomorrow's blog.

Without much further ado, let's take in the wonderful Japanese tale:

The White Hare And The Crocodiles

Long, long ago, when all the animals could talk, there lived in the province of Inaba in Japan, a little white hare. His home was on the island of Oki, and just across the sea was the mainland of Inaba.
Now the hare wanted very much to cross over to Inaba. Day after day he would go out and sit on the shore and look longingly over the water in the direction of Inaba, and day after day he hoped to find some way of getting across.
One day as usual, the hare was standing on the beach, looking towards the mainland across the water, when he saw a great crocodile swimming near the island.
"This is very lucky!" thought the hare. "Now I shall be able to get my wish. I will ask the crocodile to carry me across the sea!"
But he was doubtful whether the crocodile would consent to do what wanted. So he thought instead of asking a favor he would try to get what he wanted by a trick.
So with a loud voice he called to the crocodile, and said:
"Oh, Mr. Crocodile, isn't it a lovely day?"
The crocodile, who had come out all by itself that day to enjoy the bright sunshine, was just beginning to feel a bit lonely when the hare's cheerful greeting broke the silence. The crocodile swam nearer the shore, very pleased to hear some one speak.
"I wonder who it was that spoke to me just now! Was it you, Mr. Hare? You must be very lonely all by yourself!"
"Oh, no, I am not at all lonely," said the hare, "but as it was such a fine day I came out here to enjoy myself. Won't you stop and play with me a little while?"
The crocodile came out of the sea and sat on the shore, and the two played together for some time. Then the hare said:
"Mr. Crocodile, you live in the sea and I live on this island, and we do not often meet, so I know very little about you. Tell me, do you think the number of your company is greater than mine?"
"Of course, there are more crocodiles than hares," answered the crocodile. "Can you not see that for yourself? You live on this small island, while I live in the sea, which spreads through all parts of the world, so if I call together all the crocodiles who dwell in the sea you hares will be as nothing compared to us!" The crocodile was very conceited.
The hare, who meant to play a trick on the crocodile, said:
"Do you think it possible for you to call up enough crocodiles to form a line from this island across the sea to Inaba?"
The crocodile thought for a moment and then answered:
"Of course, it is possible."
"Then do try," said the artful hare, "and I will count the number from here!"
The crocodile, who was very simple-minded, and who hadn't the least idea that the hare intended to play a trick on him, agreed to do what the hare asked, and said:
"Wait a little while I go back into the sea and call my company together!"
The crocodile plunged into the sea and was gone for some time. The hare, meanwhile, waited patiently on the shore. At last the crocodile appeared, bringing with him a large number of other crocodiles.
"Look, Mr. Hare!" said the crocodile, "it is nothing for my friends to form a line between here and Inaba. There are enough crocodiles to stretch from here even as far as China or India. Did you ever see so many crocodiles?"
Then the whole company of crocodiles arranged themselves in the water so as to form a bridge between the Island of Oki and the mainland of Inaba. When the hare saw the bridge of crocodiles, he said:
"How splendid! I did not believe this was possible. Now let me count you all! To do this, however, with your permission, I must walk over on your backs to the other side, so please be so good as not to move, or else I shall fall into the sea and be drowned!"
So the hare hopped off the island on to the strange bridge of crocodiles, counting as he jumped from one crocodile's back to the other:
"Please keep quite still, or I shall not be able to count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine—"
Thus the cunning hare walked right across to the mainland of Inaba. Not content with getting his wish, he began to jeer at the crocodiles instead of thanking them, and said, as he leapt off the last one's back:
"Oh! you stupid crocodiles, now I have done with you!"
And he was just about to run away as fast as he could. But he did not escape so easily, for so soon as the crocodiles understood that this was a trick played upon them by the hare so as to enable him to cross the sea, and that the hare was now laughing at them for their stupidity, they became furiously angry and made up their minds to take revenge. So some of them ran after the hare and caught him. Then they all surrounded the poop little animal and pulled out all his fur. He cried out loudly and entreated them to spare him, but with each tuft of fur they pulled out they said:
"Serve you right!"
When the crocodiles had pulled out the last bit of fur, they threw the poor hare on the beach, and all swam away laughing at what they had done.
The hare was now in a pitiful plight, all his beautiful white fur had been pulled out, and his bare little body was quivering with pain and bleeding all over. He could hardly move, and all he could do was to lie on the beach quite helpless and weep over the misfortune that had befallen him. Notwithstanding that it was his own fault that had brought all this misery and suffering upon the white hare of Inaba, any one seeing the poor little creature could not help feeling sorry for him in his sad condition, for the crocodiles had been very cruel in their revenge.
Just at this time a number of men, who looked like King's sons, happened to pass by, and seeing the hare lying on the beach crying, stopped and asked what was the matter.
The hare lifted up his head from between his paws, and answered them, saying:
"I had a fight with some crocodiles, but I was beaten, and they pulled out all my fur and left me to suffer here—that is why I am crying."
Now one of these young men had a bad and spiteful disposition. But he feigned kindness, and said to the hare:
"I feel very sorry for you. If you will only try it, I know of a remedy which will cure your sore body. Go and bathe yourself in the sea, and then come and sit in the wind. This will make your fur grow again, and you will be just as you were before."
Then all the young men passed on. The hare was very pleased, thinking that he had found a cure. He went and bathed in the sea and then came out and sat where the wind could blow upon him.
But as the wind blew and dried him, his skin became drawn and hardened, and the salt increased the pain so much that he rolled on the sand in his agony and cried aloud.
Just then another King's son passed by, carrying a great bag on his back. He saw the hare, and stopped and asked why he was crying so loudly.
But the poor hare, remembering that he had been deceived by one very like the man who now spoke to him, did not answer, but continued to cry.
But this man had a kind heart, and looked at the hare very pityingly, and said:
"You poor thing! I see that your fur is all pulled out and that your skin is quite bare. Who can have treated you so cruelly?"
When the hare heard these kind words he felt very grateful to the man, and encouraged by his gentle manner the hare told him all that had befallen him. The little animal hid nothing from his friend, but told him frankly how he had played a trick on the crocodiles and how he had come across the bridge they had made, thinking that he wished to count their number: how he had jeered at them for their stupidity, and then how the crocodiles had revenged themselves on him. Then he went on to say how he had been deceived by a party of men who looked very like his kind friend: and the hare ended his long tale of woe by begging the man to give him some medicine that would cure him and make his fur grow again.
When the hare had finished his story, the man was full of pity towards him, and said:
"I am very sorry for all you have suffered, but remember, it was only the consequence of the deceit you practiced on the crocodiles."
"I know," answered the sorrowful hare, "but I have repented and made up my mind never to use deceit again, so I beg you to show me how I may cure my sore body and make the fur grow again."
"Then I will tell you of a good remedy," said the man. "First go and bathe well in that pond over there and try to wash all the salt from your body. Then pick some of those kaba flowers that are growing near the edge of the water, spread them on the ground and roll yourself on them. If you do this the pollen will cause your fur to grow again, and you will be quite well in a little while."
The hare was very glad to be told what to do, so kindly. He crawled to the pond pointed out to him, bathed well in it, and then picked the kaba flowers growing near the water, and rolled himself on them.
To his amazement, even while he was doing this, he saw his nice white fur growing again, the pain ceased, and he felt just as he had done before all his misfortunes.
The hare was overjoyed at his quick recovery, and went hopping joyfully towards the young man who had so helped him, and kneeling down at his feet, said:
"I cannot express my thanks for all you have done for me! It is my earnest wish to do something for you in return. Please tell me who you are?"
"I am no King's son as you think me. I am a fairy, and my name is Okuni-nushi-no-Mikoto," answered the man, "and those beings who passed here before me are my brothers. They have heard of a beautiful Princess called Yakami who lives in this province of Inaba, and they are on their way to find her and to ask her to marry one of them. But on this expedition I am only an attendant, so I am walking behind them with this great big bag on my back."
The hare humbled himself before this great fairy Okuni-nushi-no-Mikoto, whom many in that part of the land worshiped as a god.
"Oh, I did not know that you were Okuni-nushi-no-Mikoto. How kind you have been to me! It is impossible to believe that that unkind fellow who sent me to bathe in the sea is one of your brothers. I am quite sure that the Princess, whom your brothers have gone to seek, will refuse to be the bride of any of them, and will prefer you for your goodness of heart. I am quite sure that you will win her heart without intending to do so, and she will ask to be your bride."
Okuni-nushi-no-Mikoto took no notice of what the hare said, but bidding the little animal goodby, went on his way quickly and soon overtook his brothers. He found them just entering the Princess's gate.
Just as the hare had said, the Princess could not be persuaded to become the bride of any of the brothers, but when she looked at the kind brother's face she went straight up to him and said:
"To you I give myself," and so they were married.
This is the end of the story. Okuni-nushi-no-Mikoto is worshiped by the people in some parts of Japan, as a god, and the hare has become famous as "The White Hare of Inaba." But what became of the crocodiles nobody knows.


And... what did become of the crocodiles? Does Japan have crocodiles?

You might be surprised to find out that the answer is a resounding YES.

Known as the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), or saltie, estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile, it is the largest of all living reptiles in the world, with extreme examples of males reaching 6.7m (22feet) in length, and weighing up to 2,000kg (4,400lb).

I'll do some more research into this beaut in a few days, but just note that the saltwater crocodile can be found in Japan at... no... you can wait a few days, right?

In the meantime, if you get killed by one, please feel to drop me an angry e-mail or message. You can reach me at (remember to fill in contact info HERE).

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, April 26, 2014

World War 2 American Cartoons Versus Japan - I

Although not a comic book this time, I thought I would show you a little seen Donald Duck cartoon from 1944 entitled Commando Duck, in which the little white duck takes on the Japanese army when ordered to go on a one-duck mission to wipe out a Japanese airfield on a remote Pacific Island.

Produced by Walt Disney who also put out the more famous Donald Duck cartoon Der Fuerher's Face, in this cartoon we rarely see the Japanese enemy in this cartoon... but when we do, he's the typical moon-face Japanese soldier with the black grasses, I mean glasses with that horrible Japanese accent when he speaks Engrish for the benefit of the Yankee Doodle audience in the movie theater.

There's a few good laughs of American propaganda, what with two Japanese soldiers going to ridiculous lengths in bowing to one another in apology--or is it ridiculous? It seems to me that the Disney animators pegged this stereotype perfectly even by 2014 standards.

There is one nasty joke where the Japanese soldiers are looking to shoot Donald Duck, but are instead ordered to follow the Japanese custom on only shooting an enemy soldier in the back.

And yet... it's a decent enough cartoon, with no one using any racial slang such as "Nips". But... I bet someone will consider it offensive nowadays rather than just accept it as a message from the past about how media was used as propaganda during WWII.

Presented for your (dis)approval is the cartoon: Commando Duck

Personally, I didn't find anything so terrible about the film other than the fact that Donald Duck cartoons aren't even as close to being as funny as Daffy Duck cartoons. Conversely, Daffy Duck comic books shouldn't even occupy the same shelf space as a Donald Duck comic book written and drawn by Carl Barks or Jack Hannah or William Van Horn or Don Rosa... to name just a few great Donald Duck comic book creators.

I suppose I should examine my comic book archives to see if there's anything propaganda-ish towards the Japanese via Donald Duck comic books. I doubt there is... but maybe I have something that comes close... At least one and maybe two stories... Next week... so now I have to go through 35,000 comics looking for two stories I have pictured in my mind.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Eternal Zero

I'm pretty sure that even those who enjoy protecting their country or the world in various forms of the Armed Services would probably agree that war is a bitch.

For many Americans, Vietnam was god-awful with tunnel rats coming out to snipe you, or the adventures of WWII beginning for them with the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian naval base of Pearl Harbor in 1941 that finally dragged them into a war almost all of the world had been involved in a whole two years previous or more.

War... good gawd, ya'll... what is it good for - absolutely nothing... Edwin Starr's immortal War song will you again and again that war is nothing but a heartbreaker.

During WWII, both sides of the conflict took heavy loses... and perhaps because our western sensibilities are offended more by having been the one's attacked, we seem to poo-poo the fact that the Axis took it up the proverbial poop-shoot, too... Boo-hoo, right? Don't want none, don't start none.

I can't argue with that. But, it seems as though everyone lost someone during the war, or knew someone who did.

Japan sure as hell did... what with some 160,000 dying in the two atomic bomb blasts that leveled Hiroshima and decimated Nagasaki. Lost in the many conflicts, was also the fact that Tokyo, over a two-day firebombing period in March of 1945 also lost around 100,000 people... most of whom in these three instances were simply non-military citizens of Japan.

Hey... people die in wars... so careful about poking the great Giant Panda Bear that is China, Japan. Poka-poka-poka. You Simpson's fans will know what I'm talking about.

Anyhow... since the conclusion of WWII, Japan has done a plethora of anti-atomic/nuclear movies (like Godzilla - really), but has probably shied away from glorifying its bad mammajamma actions of WWII and earlier against Asia...

Heck... it still refuses to accept true culpability for its deviant actions during the war. Yes... it has regrettably said sorry regarding comfort women, and mistreatment of POWs (Prisoners of war), but it doesn't mention such things as its hideous experiments on people like through Unit 731 (read my article HERE).

Japan doesn't even like to teach its youth about Japan's warring past... well, actually it does, but it tends not to ever discuss WWII or the decade or so before that when it was very nasty to China... who seem to have the memory of an ancient dragon king.

So perhaps it is refreshing that Japan has created a big movie about WWII... not anything epic... but rather a movie that focuses on one Japanese family and the pain it feels over their relative who goes missing during a Japanese air battle.

It's funny to read the comments of people on the actual YouTube site... as it's obvious people just hate the Japanese simply because they are Japanese... and comment as such... but really, this movie tries to make itself about the pain people feel when they lose a loved one in a war - regardless of who started it and who ended it.

People die and people live in a war.

This movie... The Eternal Zero... is one such story.

You can see the Japanese trailer for it below:

The Eternal Zero (永遠の0 Eien no Zero) is a 2013 Japanese war drama film directed by Yamazaki Takashi (surname first) and is based upon the novel by Hyakuta Naoki (surname first).

As the title suggests, it's the story about a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter pilot... many in fact... the Zero in the title could be applied to the plane, the feeling of nothingness or maybe even symbolic of the red sun in Japan's flag. Take from it what you will...

After being released in late 2013, after a mere seven weeks through into 2014, the movie had grossed ¥6.98 billion in movie theaters, which basically made it one of Japan's highest grossing live action movies since, well... ever.You'll notice I had to say-live action movie... because some of the Japanese anime (animated) movies do even better.

Here's the plot of The Eternal Zero in greater detail that I stole from Wikipedia, but note that I have reversed all names to reflect surname first. As well, I had to do a rewrite it because the English grammar wasn't swell enough for y'all:

Towards the end of the Pacific War, a Zero fighter plane threatens the United States Pacific Fleet by cutting through its volley of fire. Miyabe Kyuzo, the pilot of the plane is highly skilled but regarded by his comrades as a coward for consistently returning alive from missions.
It is a kamikaze outfit, after all.
 Miyabe leaves battles when they become chaotic because of a promise he made to his wife Matsuno and daughter Kiyoko to return from the war alive.
In 2004, 26-year-old Oishi Kentaro has repeatedly failed the National Bar Examination and is uncertain about his future.
After the funeral of his grandmother, Kentaro learns there is no blood tie between his maternal grandfather Kenichiro and himself and sister Keiko.
Keiko and Kentaro start hearing about their real grandfather, Miyabe Kyuzo, and after visiting many of his former war comrades, they learn that they considered him to be a coward.
Kentaro finally learns the reason why Miyabe became a Kamikaze pilot when he talks to a veternan named Izaki, who is in a hospital suffering from terminal lung cancer.
Izaki tells them that after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy attempts to advance towards the Southern part of the Pacific Ocean but is defeated in the Battle of Midway and Bombing on Rabaul (a Japanese base on Papau New Guinea) by the United States Navy.
During these battles, some of Miyabe's men said they want to die gloriously in battle but Miyabe convinces them to survive as he does.
This of course puts Miyabe in conflict with senior Japanese officers who believe that he should die in battle...
It's all confusing for both Keiko and Kentaro, who wonder why their real grandfather volunteered for Japan's Kamikaze squadrons.
 More and more stories follow, but at last they learn that Miyabe (real grandfather) made a pact with Kenichiro (the grandfather they knew about who wasn't a blood relative)../i>
The story concludes when during one summer morning in 1945 Miyabe boards a Zero fighter aircraft... who curiously decides to exchange it for another one... he flies it high and targets an Essex-class aircraft carrier and begins to power dive into in a classic kamikaze fashion... with Allied shells from the ship whizzing all around it, but not apparently hitting Miyabe or his Zero.

Wow... I had to do a major re-write, actually... It's like it was written in Japanese and then someone tried their best to translate it to English... but only did a passable job... still, it was better than anything I could have done. 

I have no idea why the exchanging of Zero fighter planes is something that matters... perhaps the first one had a photo in it of his wife, and he couldn't bear to break his promise to her... and so changed airplanes... you know, so she can't stare at him as he goes down in flames towards death, and lying to his wife... dishonor to his family for the lie... or should he have stayed alive and brought dishonor to himself and his squadron by not following the ideals of the kamikaze?

Really... that was the eternal zero... endless failure no matter what Miyabe did. (That's my guess, of course.)

What's interesting to note, however, is that he ultimately chose country over family.

And that, my friends, sums up perfectly why the U.S. was afraid of a ground war with Japan and opted to take the easy way out (for the U.S.) and drop a couple of atomic weapons on a pair of cities, killing common citizens and soldier... because love of country meant being willing to sacrifice oneself even at the cost of family. There was no way the U.S. was going to win that war without the Japanese exterminating themselves as a race.

It's also why the U.S. downgraded the Vietnam War to a mere Vietnam Conflict so that it could state that it hasn't lost a war yet. Because I wasn't there and don't have all the facts, I don't know if the U.S. lost the Vietnam War/Conflict... but it sure as hell didn't win it. There's that same mentality to do whatever it takes to kill the enemy... even if you have to die yourself.

It's so... Japanese.

Also from the Wikipedia entry, is this cast of characters in the movie which are now placed by me surname first), which will mean nothing to you unless you are a major fan of Japanese cinema:

  • Okada Junichi as Miyabe Kyuzo;
  • Miura Harum as Saeki Kentaro;
  • Inoue Mao as Miyabe Matsuno, later Oishi Matsuno;
  • Natsuyagi Isao as Oishi Kenichiro;
  • Fubuki Jun as Saeki Kiyoko;
  • Fukiishi Kazue as Saeki Keiko;
  • Tanaka Min as Kageura;
  • Yamamoto Gaku as Takeda;
  • Hira Mikijiro as Hasegawa;
  • Hashzume Isao as Izaki;
  • Arai Hirofumi as young Kageura;
  • Miura Takahiro as young Takeda;
  • Hamada Gaku as young Izaki;
  • Sometani Shota as young Oishi Kenichiro;
  • Ueda Tatsuya as Koyama.

Is it a good movie? Well... the Japanese think so... Should you see it? Only if you can understand Japanese... Will it eventually be available in English subtitles? Tough to say, but if it's a good movie, yes.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Effing Writers

I've been reading a few books on Japan lately... and a more than  few blogs... let's blame my friend Vince for that.

I usually detest reading anyone else's writing on a subject I am writing about for fear of it clouding my own opinions or style of writing.

And yet... it has been helpful.

Vince sent me some 25 books last month... and I'm slowly wending my way through them. I've got basketball playoffs and baseball to watch... I love hockey, but with my team out, it hurts to watch. And there's a host of TV shows I enjoy watching, as well. Plus, the boy wants to play a lot of catch with me, so I bit the bullet and bought both of us far too expensive baseball gloves.

My old glove came apart at the seams after 30 years of use... and my son... well... if he's playing in a league this year, I'll be damned if he uses a plastic glove.

I digress.

I read My Mother Is A Tractor by Nicholas Klar who was a JET around 2005, I think... he was never overly clear on that point in my mind... perhaps to make the book more sellable over a longer period of time... It was an enjoyable read even though he seems to have spent most of his two years drunk and rarely talks about teaching Japanese kids... and I am in the process of reading Learning To Bow: Inside The Heart Of Japan by Bruce Feiler.

Two things. Nicholas has a sense of humor quite similar to my own.... and while I admit to being drunk quite often in Japan I don't discuss it as often as Nicholas does... as I tend to focus more on getting laid... or as I used to feel... trying to be happy. I guess we all have ways of trying to achieve that. Read Nicholas' book and I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it... though you might hope he would explain a few things in greater detail. 

Bruce... he lived in my prefecture - Tochigi-ken.... and was part of the first wave of JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme participants from 1987-1990, while I was part of the second wave from 1990-1993.

Bruce is a wonderful writer. He's too effing good. I hate his guts. :)

As well... he appears to have lived in a city called Sano-shi, and was the predecessor of my very good friend at the time, one Jeff Seaman, who taught at the same junior high school as as Bruce from 1990 on.

Now... because I love a good coincidence... before I started Bruce's book... a book in which he starts the reader off with such an amazing introduction to the Japanese people that in my head I was calling it bull-crap, because there's no way that could happen... it sure didn't happen to me.... but... the coincidence was that just two days before I started this book given to me by Vince, I was having fun writing a chain of e-mails between us.

Vince is a very funny dude, and he made some crack about something, which led me to tell him a story about my friend Jeff Seaman... someone who I haven't thought about in a while.

Then... I read Bruce's book and I'm thinking about Jeff Seaman again. 

And then Vince sends me a link to the Amazon website... and dammit all, but its to a book written by Jeff Seaman entitled Japanese Nightmares (The Ronin Memoirs)...

WTF?! What's up with Sano-shi that there are two gaijin writers?! And my buddy Jeff an author? I hate his guts! :)

Now when I say I hate Jeff and Bruce... and Nicholas... it's just because I'm jealous... or envious... which one doesn't make me look too much like a complete dick?...

Anyhow.... I'm just unsure if the Jeff Seaman I knew is the same as this author Jeff Seaman.

My Jeff... for about a year or so back in 1992, we embarked on a literary experiment in Japan. He wrote a page of a story... something serious... and then I was to add the next page of plot... usually something lighter because I always thought I wrote comedy better (truthfully... I enjoy writing comedy more, but I've been told I am a far better serious writer... not that we'll ever know here - but I do create a minimum of three articles a month for the industrial magazine I write for during the day)... and how, Jeff and I would continue to MAIL (not e-mail) pages of story back and forth to each other.

So... I know he can write. He also used to write comedy pieces for me for the Tatami Times newsletter I was editor of for about seven months before I got pissed off with AJET propaganda... and I knew he loved to read comic books... brother's-in-arms, so to speak.

Anyhow... this is just me getting my thoughts out there. The Jeff  I knew married a Japanese woman and stayed in Japan for years and years... and I lost contact with him... so... if anyone knows the author Jeff Seaman and can tell me if he is the same Sano-shi AET, I would appreciate it. And maybe get him to contact me and send me a free copy of his book(s)  - autographed of course...

I would love to write my own book, too. But I keep giving it all away for free here in this damn blog. You cheap buggers!

On the plus side... and here's where I think I'm doing okay... this blog has over 1.3 million hits... even assuming people accidentally found it and discovered it wasn't for them, I probably have a million reads. I don't wish to presume that Bruce, Nick and Jeff can't match that... but... ahh, who am I kidding... in my mind, nothing beats the tactile feel of a paper book over a computer screen. I need to write a book... I have about 90 short stories and two novellas... but nothing long enough for a book. 

I must have ADHD or something... it might be why I get bored and only write short stories... 

Hey... Allison W... professionally-speaking... we should do that book we once talked about. Don't make me have to do it myself. I do enough of that already.

Anyhow... thanks for reading this blog even though I know most of the hits seem to be for porn-related material. Sex sells, I suppose. Hmmmm. 

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Oh Crap! A True Story Of Poor Japanese Potty Behavior

I read this story in RocketNews24, a wonderful e-news site often filled with wonderfully weird articles you likely won't find anywhere else except here in my blog.

I found, thanks to Twitter, this story that involved a Japanese patron waiting to use a public bathroom only to find all three toilet stalls 'occupado'.

After a 30 minute wait of bowel-cramping pain he... well... you should read the article HERE.

It's not what you think... I know... because I thought about that, too. And that. And that...

Andrew Joseph

Cool Japanese Photo #4 - 1945 Nagasaki

I would assume that nowadays, weaponry that contains fissionable material is safe to move around, as the shell is probably lead-lined and will stop radioactivity from coming out to harm people within its environment.

And… while I know this is 1945, and the dawn of the atomic age is about to unloaded in all its gory upon first Hiroshima and then Japan, it still blows my mind that the two US military personnel involved in the transportation of the Fat Man bomb bound for Nagasaki are not better protected… like maybe wearing an Army regulation shirt…

I mean, you almost expect the guy staring at the camera man to have a cigarette dangling from his lips.

This is another one of those photographs that is supposedly never seen, or more likely, rarely seen by the public. I have no idea who owns it, who took the image and why it was being distributed around the Internet to fall into my hands. 

The photo shows the Fat Man atomic bomb being transported towards the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, nicknamed Bockscar that will, in a few days, drop its payload upon an unsuspecting city of Nagasaki, killing between 45,000-75,000 people in the initial blast… and an estimated 80,000 deaths over all in the next few days…

This Nagasaki bomb, pictured above was more powerful than the one used on Hiroshima, but because of the location of its detonation confined by hillsides to the narrow Urakami Valley, it did not kill as many as in Hiroshima days earlier where an immediate 70,000–80,000 people were killed with an additional 70,000 injured.
Here's the Fat Man exploding over Nagasaki... photo courtesy of the US National Archives.
The nickname Fat Man refers generically to the early design of the bomb, which was also known as the Mark III. Fat Man was an implosion-type nuclear weapon with a plutonium core.

The Fat Man had a fission of one kilogram (2.2 lb) of the 6.19 kilograms (13.6 lb) of plutonium contained, which was expected—( in the pit, i.e. of about 17% of the fissile material present. 1 gram (0.035 oz) of matter in the bomb is converted into the active energy of heat and radiation, releasing the energy equivalent to the detonation of 21 kilotons of TNT or 88 terajoules. The explosion is said to have generated heat estimated at 3,900°C (7,050°F) and winds that were estimated at 1,005km/h (624mph).

A ground view photo of the atomic bomb exploding over Nagasaki. Photo courtesy of Corbis.
The Little Boy atomic bomb that exploded Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 was a uranium-based weapon (uranium-235) that exploded with an energy of 16 kilotons of TNT (67 terajoules).

Say what you will about why the U.S. should not have used such a terrible weapon (twice), but it officially believes that with the U.S. and her allies winning the Pacific Theater battles, an eventual invasion of Japan would need to take place… one in which the Allies were afraid would involve a never-say-surrender attitude from the notoriously stubborn Japanese who would, it was felt, begin utilizing its common citizenry to sneak attack Allied troops.

Therefore… to avoid large allied losses and losses to Japan's non-military personnel via a ground-based attack, the U.S reasoned that an atomic bomb or two would bring Japan's leaders to its collective senses and end the war.

It did.

A Japanese survivor of the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki. I know... holy fug... photo courtesy of Corbis/
And, even though the two atomic bombs killed some 160,000 Japanese people—including women and children and the elderly, the actions are justified by the Allies as that an invasion force on land would have killed the same number of Japanese and a large number of American and allied soldiers—not to mention the cost of running a war.

Plus they had already built the bomb, so why not use it rather than let it go to waste.? I'm being sarcastic.

This elementary school in Nagasaki took a beating, but it's one of the few buildings still standing... though it is highly doubtful anyone inside survived the heat and radiation. Photo courtesy of Corbis. 
Two more Fat Man bombs were detonated during the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Some 120 Fat Man units were produced between 1947 and 1949, when it was superseded by the Mark IV nuclear bomb. The Fat Man was retired in 1950.

Cool photos - well, they are regardless of the topic, as they are an excellent reminder of just how insane war is. As an aside, I do wonder what the incidence of cancer was amongst the U.S. military personnel who worked with the bombs, not knowing the 'fallout' from being around it?

Have you ever wondered how someone decommisions an atomic or nuclear weapon? 

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Another Error Mars Japanese Baseball

Mizuno—a very good sports equipment manufacturer in my opinion, in that they usually create excellent products—is owning up to a problem with the baseballs it manufactures on behalf of Japan's professional baseball league.

In this case, the balls have been made in such a way that there is more 'bounce' to them making it easier for the balls to leave the stadium as home runs.

Proof of that is supported by the fact that as of April 18, 2014 there were 131 home runs this year compared to 113 in 2013.

And last year… well…. Mizuno was part of a baseball scandal then - also involving its balls leaving the yard at an abnormal rate.


Yes… in 2013 (I wrote about this story HERE), the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) commissioner Kato Ryozo (surname first) was made to quit after it was discovered that the League and Mizuno were working together to make the balls livelier… to make the game mow exciting for the fans with more home runs

NPB, at that time, admitted it made Mizuno keep quiet about the changes to the ball…
The major problem with that was that the player's union was supposed to have been notified of any changes, which it was not.

This time, however, Mizuno says there is no conspiracy, merely an error on their part and that the problem of liver balls was thought to be a culprit after an abnormal number of home runs occurred during the first week of play this season.

Mizuno, by the way, opted to come forward with its mistake, without any prompting. NPB does not appear to have known about Mizuno's accident until they revealed it to them recently.

Mizuno says that the wool yarn wrapped around the balls’ inner core was too dry, which meant it was flatter… which means that more wool was required to wrap around the ball to fill the space… more wool, regardless of its thinness, appears to have given the balls more bounce off the bat.

More than what NPB baseball regulations allowed. In this case, Mizuno says it's mistake was believing that the wool's thinness would effectively counterbalance the amount of wool required and would thus create an acceptable ball…

An honest mistake, perhaps… but yes, Mizuno obviously did not test the balls well enough, nor did it tell the NPB about the changes it made to the ball.

That's two strikes in 2014, plus the cover-up - or at least agreeing to the cover-up in 2013 is three strikes… and we all know that 1-2-3 strikes you're out of the old ball game.

So… despite my like of Mizuno products… perhaps the NPB needs to find an alternative supplier by penalizing Mizuno for a couple of years.

Since when did Japan become so forgiving of mistakes? Do I smell kick-backs? I'm just asking. I don't really smell anything so prosaic out of my nose.

Andrew Joseph
Image above is a Mizuno baseball from 2013. Originally posted to Flickr as "モーガンの打ったファウルボールげっとしたwwwwww #加藤良三" Cropped by UCinternational