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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Noboko & Andrew: Head Games

Noboko was suffering from 'that time of the month' aka menstrual cramps, and had cryptically suggested the night before that despite her discomfort that maybe we could still have some adult fun when she came over the next night...

I had asked her via a phone call: "Do you want to rent a movie or something?"

"Or something. Good night. I love you," she responded.

Apparently we still have a language barrier, or things said while doubling over from her vicious cramps can not be held over one's head.

She did come over to my apartment, brought fresh vegetables and meats, and cleaned, chopped and fried it all up quicker than it took me to write about it, and we enjoyed a wonderful stir-fry dinner.

She was fairly quiet all evening, despite us both on the couch, her snuggling up tight into the crevices of my body as we watched the television that was off.

Really. My television was off. That television is always on it seems.

But, we just sat their curled up into a Canpon (Canada-Nippon) bundle, and held on to each other.

I didn't have much more time left on my third and final one-year contract as an assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. That was all we could do—a maximum of three years and sayonara (bye), but despite never having ever wanted to go to Japan, I had enjoyed my time here, and was madly in love with Noboko who was afraid to tell anyone of our love (especially her over-protective Father—though her Mom had figured it out).

I've been with one other woman who could simply say everything by saying nothing, and while I find lulls in conversation to imply that I am failing miserably in a relationship, I let my actions speak louder than words and simply sighed out loud as I gently rested my chin on Noboko's ever-blooming apple-blossom scented head.

She didn't even ask why I was sighing. I could hear her sigh inside her head as well.

Time was running out.

I was invited to go to her parent's house for dinner tomorrow, but I didn't know how that was going to end up.

I'm a planner. Schemer, even. Not in the evil sense, but rather I like to run through a plethora of possible conversational snippets in my head prior to important events, and prepare a possible response or solution.

I don't know why I bother... while the Japanese are just like every other nation on the planet, their unpredictability comes from their culture and societal rules, of which I am attempting to fathom, but in reality, I am drowning.

Add in the individual nature of a person's employment, social standing and role in the family, and I had NO clue how any conversation with Noboko's dad was going to go.

Add in the whole Japanese-language thing, and me being an idiot in the language skills department nearly three years in, well... I'm screwed.

On the plus side, I could mention to him how my two good buds who arrived in Japan with me at the same time—Jeff and Matt—had recently married or were about to marry a Japanese woman. Not the same woman, but rather one each. Two beautiful and intelligent and strong women that made me worry for my two friends just a bit, because they were obviously no match for them.

It had bothered me—just a bit—that both Matt and Jeff were getting hitched to Japanese women before me.

Yeah, I just played the race card.

Of course I was happy for them... but at least I was on the right track with Noboko. Yes... I would have to work Matt and Jeff into a conversation with Noboko's dad tomorrow evening.


Andrew Joseph

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cuteness And A Cute Pokemon Video

I'm not a huge fan of the Japanese 'cute' phenomenon that the country has been actively participating in for the past four decades.

I joke about liking Hello Kitty, but in truth, if it wasn't for Japan's fascination with it, I wouldn't give it more than a glance, lumping it as some stupid mascot for children that I, as an adult, don't find all that interesting.

I grew up watching Godzilla and Gamera monster movies that were on American television stations on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Sometimes they were on, other times it was some chop-socky martial arts movie of unknown country of origin. They were exciting. They were entertaining.

Now… maybe it's because I'm a boy in a man's body, but while I appreciate cuteness in people, I am less impressed by cuteness via fashion. Sure if you are eight-years-old, be cute. That woman over there - she's cute.

But dressing up in clothing and make-up to look younger and thus 'cuter' than you are? Not my cup of o-cha (green tea). I don't hate you if you do. Good for you if that's your thing. I just don't find it appealing on a personal level.

Japan… it likes its cute. Likes it too bloody much in my opinion. But that's just my opinion, and even though my opinion is correct, I may not be.

I like Pokemon. I don't get the whole card game thing, but many of you did or still do. I'm sure many of you don't understand why I collected hockey, baseball, wrestling, basketball, football, Planet of the Apes, Mork & Mindy, Star Wars trading cards, or why I now collect certain WWI and earlier tobacco card with an aviation theme. I don't care for heights and I don't fly a plane, and have maybe been in the air 20 times at the most? Different strokes, et al.

Is Pokemon, Japan's Pocket Monsters (Poke-Mon is a hybrid of the two words) cute? I suppose the monsters are… certainly the so-called good guys are.

I liked watching the animated program because the lead character Ash and his pokemon Pikachu didn't always win the battles or tournaments they entered (which surprised me), but were always good sports about it. I also was curious about what new creature or adventure they would next encounter. Why not? The creators gave the characters a pleasing personality.

Anyhow, here's a cute video of Pikachu (Ash's electric mouse pokemon that doesn't want to grow up or evolve) as an electronic piggy bank.

Despite the description on the video mentions 'tipping', just recall that tipping is NOT allowed, or rather is frowned upon in Japan.

I know… I get it… I do my job, and no one gives me extra money. But, since I know people who receive tips don't usually make a lot of salaried money, I have no issue with it. In Japan, companies perhaps pay a better salary to their employees.

Then again, I know they don't. I am very confused. How is it that despite Japan's interest in westernizing itself by cherry-picking aspects from different cultures, it chose not to utilize tipping?

Whatever. It was a cute video, but not so cute that it will cause you to spit up and get that bitter lemon taste in the back of your throat.

Andrew Joseph

Japan - What's In A Name?

It's 1941, and the two kimono-clad women in this funny, but anti-British photo are having a laugh at the expense of British prime minister Winston Churchill, having this gag photo taken supposedly at a party in Tokyo.

Winston's initials are W.C., which throughout Europe and Asia (including Japan) means "Water Closet" - the toilet room - imply that Winston Churchill stinks like a used toilet.

Though the photo is from 1941, it is unclear as to whether or not it was taken after of before its official declaration of war on December 7, 1941.

All the websites I have seen with this photo always claim that these women are geisha. That shows a decided amount of ignorance.

Just because a Japanese woman is wearing a kimono does not qualify them to be referred to as geisha. Want to know what geisha are? Read THIS.

Kimono are just like sari's in India. It's the national costume, if you will.

The two women in the photo hardly look the part of a high-society honest to gosh geisha. Where is the white face make-up? The specialized lipstick? I could go on.

Back in the early days of my time in Japan, the Japanese students did have some fun with me when I mentioned a couple of names, such as my brother Ben (which means excrement in Japanese), and friend Connie (which sounds like kani, which is the Japanese word for crab).

I had a couple of classes in stitches when I mentioned those names. I still laugh thinking about the kids making pincers with their hands and snapping them at me.

W.C. is funny, too.

Being from Canada, I wasn't 100% sure what exactly a water closet was, but on many a day, I just had to find out.

If I could have held my nose and used it, I would have. It wasn't my finest hour.

Below, via YouTube, is my all-time favorite television commercial from 1974. I used to do all the voices, what's it look like?

The British Bulldog with the Churchill voice is magnificent.

For the record, I can still do the voices, and STILL have it memorized.

I guess advertising works. Oh... and it did taste better than the old version.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Memoirs of a Gaijin: Emails from Japan - Book Review

I am in the process of reading yet another book on someone who went to Japan, taught English and had a good time.

I said "in the process". So why am I writing a review now?

It's because I am half-way through it, and I am waiting for something interesting to happen, and I don't think it ever will.

I've been a newspaper reporter in the past, and know that for the story - excluding thee headline - the firrst paragraph needs to bee something of a zinger to capture your attention. The second paragraph backs up the zinger and the third paragraph should be a quote to again back up the focal point of the story. Everything else after that is filler to give the reader a better view of the topic.

Granted I am reading a book and not a newspaper article, but I'm assuming that by the half-way mark, my attention should not only be smacked in the face, but I should be on the hook to want to continue reading the article/book.

That, sadly, is not the case when it comes to Memoirs of a Gaijin: Emails from Japan by author Benjamin Hesse.

It's not that Hesse is a bad writer - he's not. It's just that not a lot happens over the so-far 179 pages out of 265.

His hook, for me, was the fact that the majority of his description of life in Japan as a gaijin (foreigner/outsider) was done in the form of e-mails (I add a hyphen, but I am unsure if there is a more accepted way of writing the short-form word 'electronic mail').

I thought the concept to be inventive, so I was hooked enough to see how that would play out.

But... aside from multiple interesting tidbits of what his life was like as a teacher in a private English school for kids from age three on up to adults of whatever age, not much seems to be happening, except that people come, people leave, he has bad roommates, good roommates, makes friends, has friendships on hiatus as they leave... and all are with other foreigners. Borinnnnnnng.

Also boring are the included e-mail responses from his large cadre of family and friends who describe life back home in the U.S... boring news about the pro baseball and football teams, and god help us all, his alma mater small town university football team. Somebody just use my head as a football and kick the extra point!

There are some good tales about the wacky students he encounters at the school... but because the tales are encapsulated in an e-mail or six, they aren't fleshed out enough. It was a teaser, but after any prolonged bout of teasing, people begin to get fed up.

There was quite a good segment on his seeing a kabuki theater show - and full props on that for not understanding everything but describing it very well, nonetheless, but anyone can go to someplace and not understand things. Don't we read about Japan to learn something new or interesting about the place?

He also visits a kite museum, but doesn't explain - maybe because he never learned - why kites are a part of Japanese culture. Good grief! Even I know, and wrote about it in a blog here. 

Aside from the odd visit to Tokyo, and first-hand travel descriptions of his hometowns of Tsukuba and Tsuchiura, he doesn't appear to have done much while in Japan. Okay, he climbed Mt. Fuji, too, and while his description was decent, there wasn't constant enough diverse content on Japanese things for me, the reader.

I guess having an English degree from St. John's University in Minnesota is not a guarantee that one can have an interesting time in Japan or be able to adequately convey that with words.

Also annoying to me is that while Hesse seems pretty adventurous at traveling around his hometown by himself discovering new things, he wasn't adventurous enough to study and learn two of Japan's alphabets (hiragana and katakana) until well into his sixth month there. Plus, while I understand this, he also said he had no interest in learning the Chinese alphabet of kanji.

How can you go and live in Japan and not have any rudimentary language skills after six months? How do you even teach anyone in a classroom when you are by yourself? No wonder the kids are hitting each other - they are bored from not understanding what is going on.

And mind you, these comments come from a guy useless in Japanese language skills, but at the time I still knew hiragana and katakana - and could read parts of most sentences even if I didn't always know what it meant. As well, I did at one time memorize and learn how to correctly write over 500 kanji. Consider that to pass Japanese classes, a high school student must know the specific set of 1,942 of them - and I'm an idiot when it comes to foreign languages compared to most foreigners living and working in Japan.

In my defense, I did use those rudimentary language skills to my advantage to query Japanese people about their culture, society, history, and, who's kidding whom, to get laid.

Hesse also disappointed me by appearing to rarely be adventurous enough to sample Japan's ample cuisine... sure he ate the odd squid or octopus dish, but nothing else is mentioned... you know, like excessive amounts of corn on dumped on to pizza...

I was really hoping he would have some more exciting adventures than the thrill of finding a lost winter glove. Really. That was one of the highlights he excitedly wrote home about. It was just a lot of nothing about something uninteresting.

I'll finish the book, because that is what I do... I finish everything I begin. It's something I have been doing since I was 24. To Hesse's credit however, is that at least he wrote a book. I tip my hat to him for doing that. Starting earlier this month, I began doing that in earnest myself. I'm pretty sure I can fill a book with interesting stuff that will make a reader want to turn the page.

I can only hope that in the few remaining pages of the book, that Hesse and his story will begin to interest me as a reader. But, just like a newspaper article, if you don't grab the reader quickly, you risk the chance they won't read it.

Published by iUniverse, Inc., Memoirs of a Gaijin: Emails from Japan bears the rather hefty price tag of US$20.95.

My thanks, again, to my buddy Vince for the loan of his book.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Comic Book Propaganda Versus Japan - 13

Let's look at comic books as a whole, and by that, I mean the American comic book, because, let's face it, it WAS the main publishing domain of comic books during the 1940s thanks to Superman, Batman and Captain America... not to mention Donald Duck and Captain Marvel (Shazam) and others.

It was during the time the U.S. was dragged kicking and screaming into WWII on December 7, 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, however, when the production and reading of comic books reached its peak... one that has never been matched in the succeeding 70 years, unfortunately.

It was between 1941 and 1944 that comic book sales went from 10-million to 20-million sold per MONTH. Nowadays, a very popular book might do 100,000 copies.

It was a time when Walt Disney's Comics & Stories and Captain Marvel each hit the 1-million sales per month mark.

Did you know that between 1940-1945, at the military post exchanges, comic books outsold Life and Reader's Digest magazines by a 10 to one ratio.Give the people what they want!

As such, the U.S. government was watching, and realized this industry was not only a good way to maybe make a dime, but also was a genuine way to get its own view across about what it was doing in WWII.

Call it what you will, it was still propaganda.

Let's take a look at United States Marines #3: A Leatherneck Flamethrower, published by Government Enterprises, of which next to nothing is known. Sorry. Perhaps it really was a faction of the U.S. government making these comic books for public consumption.

This book and all issues in the run of 11 comics spread out even past the end of WWII, describe U.S. Marine Corp. action against the Japanese.

The cover of #3 is a beaut! We have, in my mind, the most fearsome handheld weapon ever devised by mankind (an oxymoron, if I ever heard one). Here we have a U.S. Marine with a flamethrower!

Yes, I know it was initially meant to eliminate plant life to reveal or remove possible enemy hidey-holes, but we all know that it was used to toast human beings.

The cover shows a smugly smiling soldier toasting the hideous octopus form of General Tojo Hideki (surname first), the essential leader of Japan's war machine. Wow. Great cover. Horrible, 70 years removed, but if I was a kid and saw that cover, I would buy the book.

Strange then how a mere 10 years later in the 1950s, various government commissions abounded to eradicate excessive violence in comic books, because it was poisoning the minds of young children.

I have presented below a mostly text story from United States Marines #3: A Leatherneck Flamethrower, with some choice descriptive language in the panel on the bottom right. Just click on the image to increase its size to something more readable. It's only one page from the story, but it is Page 8 from the comic book, not including covers.

This is why I call this comic book--despite real and honest (I guess) depictions of the war in other stories a propaganda initiative for the U.S. Government.

"Simian face"????

While thee term simian does indeed include the higher primates such as monkey as and apes, and even us humans, clearly the comic book was meant to imply the Japanese were ape-like.

For fun, here is the next page of the story, which tells how Japan bullied Korea in the 1890s into being friends with it, or being destroyed by it.
Why did I want to show this page? Well... there's some hypocrisy at work here. It seems as though the United States Government has completely forgotten how it once sailed into Japan's ports with these black ships and bullied Japan into opening up its borders for trade, or to be destroyed by its naval firepower.

Propaganda is about what you say as much as it is about what you don't say.

And yes... I actually own a copy of this issue. It was part of some comics I picked up at a garage sale 35 years ago for about $3. This one comic is now valued at around $250, in its current meh condition.

Scans were actually taken from the VERY cool website Check'em out and read - for free - hundreds of the old comic books they have there!

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Secret Asian Man

There's a classic rock and roll song from 1966 called "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers.... a nice song, but many a person has listened to the songs without knowing the title, wondering if Rivers is really singing the words 'secret Asian man'.

You can click on YouTube HERE and listen for yourself.

Well, in that light, meet Richard Sorge, a German journalist who was a long-time spy for Russia while working in Japan during WWII—a real secret Asian agent, man. That's him in the image above.

A German going against two "friendly" Axis countries (Germany & Japan) for Russian with whom he had no affiliation?

I found out about Sorge while perusing my son's book on World War II, and noticed a U.S.S. R. (what everyone incorrectly calls Russia—including myself in the paragraphs above—but is really the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a bastion of Communism for nearly a century until very recently) stamp (I collected stamps) featuring him.

Let's find about a bit more about him.

Sorge was born in Baku, Russia, on October 4, 1895, he was the youngest of nine children and the son of a German mining engineer. In 1898 the Sorge family moved back to Germany.

When World War I started (the war to end all wars it was naively called), Sorge joined the German Army and won the Iron Cross medal for his gallantry in action.

In 1916 Sorge had both legs broken by shrapnel, and while convalescing in the hospital, he started up a relationship with a nurse - yet it was her Marxist father who influenced him more.

Unable to continue in the war, he studied at Berlin University, but was more interested in learning more about the "organized revolutionary movement."

When the war ended in 1919, Sorge did some more studying at the University of Kiel in Germany and joined the newly formed German Communist Party (KPD), eventually getting work as a journalist, moving to the USSR in April of 1925 to work for the Comintern Intelligence Division.

This Comintern Intelligence believed one must fight "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State."

Organized by leading members of the Soviet Union's leading communists, he must have been trusted, and was used by the Soviets to travels as a journalist to multiple European countries to assess the possibility of communist uprisings taking place - even visiting England in 1929. Communism, while often currently a dirty word nowadays, was considered by many countries as something worthwhile.

Pure communism, as an ideal - but never fulfilled in practice - is intriguing, what with everyone supposedly equal... but that is something never achievable by today's humankind. Some are always more equal than others.

A Soviet stamp honoring Richard Sorge. It was part of the 'antifascist' collection: "Heroes of the Soviet Union". One could have purchased it in 1965 for 4 kopecks - which was around US $0.01. On a positive note, it meant that it was widely available for any good comrade to purchase and use.
By November 1929, Sorge was back in Germany and told he had to join the Nazi Party, which was anything but a party, and told NOT to associate with left-wing activists... such as his communist buddies.

Well, Nazi Party member or not, Sorge was still a German spying on behalf of Mother Russia, and began to work for the newspaper, Getreide Zeitung, eventually moving to China where he met Max Klausen, another spy.

Max Klausen (or John Candy - joking)
Obviously the China of 1929 was nothing like the China of today - as it had only only just gone over to Communism in 1921 - and seeing non-Chinese there didn't have the alarm bells it would have had in later years. Besides... these guys wanted to be there as comrades in arms.

Sorge became an expert in Chinese agriculture (I assume that means rice) (and other stuff) and this afforded him to be able to do lots of traveling around China, with no questions asked, and could then also chat with the Chinese Communist Party members.
Agnes Smedley
Sorge also met another journalist there - Agnes Smedley - of the Frankfurter Zeitang - who introduced him to Ozaki Hotsumi (surname first) who worked for Japan's Asahi Shimbun (Asahi newspaper).

Ozaki Hotsumi
See - there is a Japanese link!

Ozaki agreed to join Sorge's spy network.

While in China, he married Yekaterina Maximova (Katya). In January 1932, Sorge reported on fighting between Chinese and Japanese troops in the streets of Shanghai. In December he was recalled to Moscow with his bride, where he wrote a book about Chinese agriculture

By May of 1933, the USSR wanted Sorge to create a spy network in Japan. To do this, he needed to be sent to Japan by German newspapers, and was able to get a few jobs that way, including the Nazi journal Geopolitik, but was mainly with the agricultural newspaper Deutsche Getreide-Zeitung

I love it. He's being paid by the Nazi's to spy for another country who are paying him.

It was at this time, that the USSR military intelligence gave him the code name Ramsay.

Arriving in Japan in September 1933, just as he had in England, he was told by his spymaster bosses to not talk to the Underground Japanese Communist Party or to contact the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo - he is supposed to be a German journalist, after all.

The Sorge spynetwork included:
  • Max Klausen;
  • Ozaki Hotsumi (I'll look at him in a later blog);
  • Branko Vukelic, journalist for Vu, a French magazine;
  • Miyagi Yotoku (surname first), journalist for the Japan Advertiser, an English-language newspaper;
Branko Vukelic
Vukelic and Miyagi were already Comintern members.

Miyagi, born in Okinawa in 1903, lived in California since 1919, married a Japanese girl in 1927 and lived in Los Angeles until 1932. In 1931, he joined the CPUSA (American Communist Party), and in 1932 he was recruited by Comintern to go to Japan for them on a mission - fully expecting to return home to the U.S. and his wife soon.

As German citizen living in Japan, Sorge could spend time at the German Embassy in Tokyo, and befriended some knowledgeable people, including included Eugen Ott and the German Ambassador Herbert von Dirksen, which allowed him to learn about Germany's plans against mother Russia.

Others in Sorge's network befriended politicians such as Japan prime minister Konoye Fumimaro (surname first), which gave them lots of juicy data on Japan's foreign policy.

What did Sorge's spies do?

They provided information to Josef Stalin, premier of the Soviet state on:
  • advance warning about the Anti-Comintern Pact (1936);
  • the German-Japanese Pact (1940);
  • Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor (1941);
  • strategies for Japan for the Battle of Leningrad
And then there was Operation Barbarossa.

Operation Barbarossa was the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. Sorge's spy ring learned that Germany would attack Russia. The Battle of Leningrad was part of Operation Barbarossa.

But, even though Stalin didn't think any of that likely, the intelligence community of the USSR did, but was also worried about what Japan might do.

Sorge and the spies informed the Soviet Union, that Japan would not attack them until:
  1. Moscow was captured;
  2. The Kwantung Army (part of Japan's Army) was three times the size of Soviet Far Eastern forces;
  3. A civil war had started in Siberia.
By August of 1941, Sorge told Stalin and the boys that Japan wasn't going to attack the USSR and instead only had eyes for Asia, which enabled the Soviets to not have to split up its forces during the Battle of Moscow - and Germany suffered its first tactical loss of the war.

It is considered the turning point of World War II.

But, like all good things, they must end. Japanese intelligence soon began to think there was a spy network in their midst.

In September of 1941, the Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu (Japanese Special Higher Police) arrested one of Miyagi’s associates, who gave up Miyagi as his spy boss.

Miyagi Yotoku
This lead to Sorge and Ozaki being followed, with Ozaki arrested on October 14, 1941, and Sorge and Clausen on October 19.

After three years in prison, Japan offered Sorge to the USSR for some Japanese prisoners - but they refused, and he was hung on November 7, 1944.

As well, conspirator Ozaki Hotsumi was also hanged on November 7, 1944. He was the only Japanese person to be hanged for treason via the Peace Preservation Law by the Imperial Japanese government during World War II.

By the way... if you think being a spy is not without stress, consider that Sorge died at the age of 49 - younger than me... he looks like hell in his pictures, and I'm pretty sure that while no longer pretty, I don't look like an old spy. 

And now you and I know more about the world than we did five minutes ago. Though admittedly it did take me a couple of hours to research and write this.

Andrew Joseph 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Uniqlo Opens Two Shops In Toronto

Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing retailer, is opening two stores in Toronto—in 2016, at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre and the Toronto Eaton Centre.

I can now purchase cool Japanese clothing with stupid Japlish statements and ridiculously cute Hello Kitty motifs. At least that's my hope.

For most people on the planet, having a Uniqlo store in your country is no big deal, but this is Canada, the country with such an inferiority complex that we apologize for our apologies.

Uniqlo already has around 1,500 stores in Japan, Australia, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.K. and the U.S.

Apparently, Uniqlo sells comfortable, affordable and stylish casual apparel, free of logos (Awwww - no Hello Kitty!), for men, women and children, in natural and synthetic fabrics engineered to perform well in different climates and weather conditions.

Uniqlo sells everything from socks to sweat pants to extra-fine merino wool and cashmere sweaters to trousers for the office and slim, ultralight, weather-repellent down jackets and coats.

It seems to have an affordable price range, so even people like me might be able to afford their product, with clothes priced between $6 - $130.

Uniqlo is a brand of Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., a global Japanese retail holding company that designs, manufactures and sells clothing under seven main brands.

And, lest one think this is a small-time outfit, global sales for Fast Retailing for fiscal 2014 were US $13.3 billion ... or ¥1,575,335,479,010.42. That's nearly ¥1.6-trillion. That's a lotta yen!

Andrew Joseph

Writer's Write - R.I.P. - An Expose

I just read an article penned by Cynthia McCabe for The Washington Post, published on Sunday, January 25, 2015 describing the tragic life and death of an American man in Japan. He was a self-described writer.

It brought a tear or two to my eye.

I'm not going to publish the whole story, you can read it HERE via the Toronto Star newspaper, but I will discuss it, because the events surrounding his death sound a lot like what every writer might actually face--what if I write something and nobody cares to read it?

Basically... on December 10, 2013, an American ex-pat in Japan e-mailed a suicide note to a handful of writers (mainly reporters) under the subject line “Saving a Legacy”.

This was to be the epitaph of Dennis Williams, a 66-year-old English teacher, but perhaps more importantly in his mind, a writer that no one read and thus no one cared about.

Writers (I consider myself one) are a strange sort. We are often loners either pretending to be in touch with the public and society but are often just the type who sit quietly on the sidelines viewing life and then taking the time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to describe it for others.

From the article on Williams: 

Williams spent years writing the books, while also maintaining a blog and a Facebook page. Lengthy pieces about the human heart, literature, American culture juxtaposed with Japanese culture, technology’s role in modern lives — all went uncommented on.

When he reposted these pieces on Facebook, a handful of likes occasionally followed. He was Willy Loman with Wi-Fi, demanding that attention must be paid. Nobody really did.

Williams concluded his email with this line: “I’m not asking anything of you, but just hoping that by reaching out like this, the ideas will somehow survive. I believe in ideas, and that they really can change human destiny.”

Why do writer's write?

It's to be read.

Why do we need to be read?

It's to feel as though what we are doing might actually make a difference in this life and maybe for other people. It is to be how we endure long after we are dust in the wind, dead. It's how we live forever.


At least that's the hope. The plan, even.

People want their life to have meaning.  Who am I? Why am I here on this planet with this life? At least those who spend the time contemplating such things. But even when not contemplated, it is subconsciously. 

Yeah, the other option of eternal life is via procreation - that I will live on eternally through the bloodline I have helped forge... my son and his kids and so on... I live eternally.

But that's not enough for some people.

They want to be remembered.

I think I am in that latter category, as was Williams - he unfortunately because of the manner he chose to inform people that he was going to kill himself.

He wrote to people and told them (my words): "Here is my life. No one cared. I'm going to end it. My life should not be forgotten."

Every person who has ever written a suicide note has stated exactly just that - perhaps not as long winded as a writer might, but the emotion is there, nonetheless. Why else write a note? Who are you leaving it for? People who care about you? There's the irony. 

I am not a fancier of suicide as an option to life.

While I am aware that human beings seem to possess either a "fight of flight" mindset when it comes to dealing with problems in life, I certainly am one of those who chooses to fight.

It's why I shed a few tears for Williams.

Not because he killed himself, but rather because he lacked that inside power to not kill himself.

Why do people kill themselves? I understand being terminally sick and bankrupting the family through medical care or putting them through emotional pain... and I also see the truly sick not wanting to be in physical (and thus emotional) pain any longer. I understand that. Life is tough.

But, I also understand that death affects the living more than the dead who no longer have to care.

Just one more day, many of the living would ask for when it comes to those who are sick or dying... maybe there's a cure... maybe you just get to say something to them that makes you (the still living) feel better about life.

Maybe it's so that the last words to a loved one aren't angry ones as they race out the door and are killed by a bus.

I get it. I was lucky I didn't have those issues when my mother died suddenly 20+ years ago. No regrets, except I wish she was alive to see her grandson and he to know her. And for me, maybe to get some free babysitting and someone to talk to when life gets tough.

I don't have her around - so I talk through my words here in this blog. It's cathartic.

I am a writer. I write for a monthly trade magazine. It's what gives me money.

I am a writer. I write this blog on a daily basis. I do this for a living... to live.

I do not write for money. Money does not make one alive.

I write to live and I live to write.

I know there are many blogs out there that get far greater numbers when it comes to reading. I think the vast majority off my daily hits are from people searching out topics involving sex and porn. Thank-you, and you are welcome. I wrote it for you.

Do I wish it was for people wanting to read about MY take on a temple or on a historical document I may have decided to become better informed about? Sure. But a few people read this stuff, and that makes me happy.

Yeah... I'm not stupid or so completely idealistic as to not want to have more money than I have now, but I'll do it the honest way, being true to myself and to others.  

I know that people on-line are supposed to have shorter attention spans than what people had 200 years ago. I want my information and I want it now. 140 characters at a time 'now', if possible. 

But... I like to provide MORE information than most, simply because I want the whole story. Why should I have to flit between several other documents on different websites to get a complete picture on a topic? I don't want to, and neither should you.

How many times have you read an article in a newspaper (on-line or otherwise), and you walk away wondering about so many other questions that were not answered? I have. It's why I write a lot, providing information many see as superfluous, but maybe for one person reading it, it is not.      

So... I write first, and foremost, for myself - because in my own obsessive compulsive way (the only way I appear to be OCD), I must.

But I write because - what initially was just a blog filled with 90 adventures of my time in Japan - this blog has now evolved a bit like what Williams himself wanted... a way for people to read his words.

I can dig it.

I have always said (in my head) from the very beginning, that as long as there is at least one person out there who reads this blog and my words, then I will keep writing.

I'm a writer, and writer's write. As such, writers have egos, and need to be read.

We write because we must, but it's better when we are read.

Being read... emotionally it helps keep us alive.

It's a shame Williams felt that was no longer the case.

Maybe he reached that point where NO ONE read what he was writing.

To which, I say... change what you are writing. Fight or flight. Write or right.

To Dennis Williams, late of this planet Earth: I wish you had fought. Or fought harder, or fought better.

I have often wondered... when one is ready to commit suicide, might there not be something wrong inside the brain... a chemical imbalance of some sort... that maybe when adjusted could allow for a fight?

I'm not saying everyone who has suicidal thoughts is chemically imbalanced - well, maybe I am suggesting it.

I know someone who tried to kill herself twice - failed  - and the chemicals inside were waaaaaay of. I'm not talking about someone on death's door with cancer, stuck with tubes and painkillers and an inability to do more than just puke or blink. I'm talking about those otherwise physically healthy people who seem to think that death is easier than life.

Uh... it is. Death is easier than life. Killing oneself (while living), is difficult, I would imagine. No idea. The survivors often seem sheepish to talk about such things.

But it's to those like Williams who just give up - was there something chemically imbalanced inside the brain?

Did he really try and get people to read his stuff? Did he do all that ANYONE could, or just what he thought he could? Did he change his writing style or his topics?

Did he come to the conclusion that maybe he wasn't a writer? No... he wrote. Writer's write.

But he said he had nothing left to say. That's bulls!t. Writer's always have more to say.

He just said it in an epitaph e-mail and then killed himself.

Now I'm getting angry. He just gave up.  And took his own life. That's selfish.

For anyone who has ever lost someone suddenly through violence or accident... wouldn't you hate anyone who could so callously throw away life... physical breathing life that you know your lost one would not have wasted?

Life is valuable. Don't throw it away. If you are having thoughts about killing yourself, talk to someone and tell them. There are many helplines out there - people who can provide the right help.

I'm not one of them, but I will help if I can.

I was 40 years old when I started writing for money and 44 when I got a clue that I liked writing for nothing other than a single reader.There is no set timetable for anything in life. I have 7 followers on this blog's Facebook page, one of whom is dead.

I have over 1,000 followers on Twitter, but only a few I know from repeated conversations... and even then, I don't know them. But that's okay. Twitter and Facebook et al were devised as a way to socially pass information along. It does that. Whether anyone uses it, of course, is out of my hands. It doesn't matter. While I do like to be read, I also do like to write. It helps me learn. Hunh. Maybe I just like to learn more than anything else?

See? I just learned something.  

I'll have more to say on other things tomorrow. Maybe Noboko, even.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Miss Universe Japan 2014 National Costume

Here is Miss Japan, Tsuji Keiko (surname first) in her national costume for the Miss Universe 2014 event that will be held on January 25, 2015 (Miss Universe 2014 in 2015??!!) in Miami, Florida, USA.

Not bad... it harkens back to a previous contest when Miss Japan won with a stunning samurai look that looked tough, but sexy... maybe the kind of costume one would expect your S&M woman to beat you senseless in, while stepping roughly on your testicles. See HERE for proof of Miss Universe Japan 2006.

Now... the 2014 version doesn't quite do that, but it still looks powerful and does indeed capture Japan's feudal spirit of a bygone era... much better than those years when they force the poor woman to dress up like she was a geisha. (Crap... I had to buy a new computer keyboard and the buttons are just slightly off from where I've placed my fingers on the previous board. I hate this new keyboard! It's taking me twice as long to re-type my mistakes.)

Anyhow, here's a nice photo of Keiko-chan. You can see now just how much that National costume hides this woman's sexy charms.. which is why I don't think it's such a great National Costume!

Here's the skinny on the slender Keiki:

Born in Okinawa, the 5'-6", 21-year-old Tsuji Keiko now calls Nagasaki her home.

Though every bit the lady representing first Nagasaki and Japan in the beauty pageant, she has also represented Okinawa in national karate competitions.

Attending Nagasaki International University, she is majoring in nutritional science, hoping to learn about the importance of the body and dietary health as well as the wonders of Japanese food.

Psst... I think she must be a very sexy, I mean excellent student.

In her first year of college, she ranked first in the Kyushu karate competition and was the third-best in the national competition.

Keiko apparently has a husky voice, once knocked out an opponents front teeth in a karate bout, and as a youngster had short hair and was a tomboy... and was once mistaken for a boy in the girl's bathroom.  

She sure doesn't look like a boy! Miss Universe Japan 2014 in some nice swim wear that shows off her nice body... but by international standards, she could use a bit of sun... not that I'm complaining or have the guts to tell that to her face. Karate and all that...
For contrast, below is Miss Canada, Chanel Beckenlehner, dressed up as... well it was supposed to be a hockey player, but obviously the whole thing was created by a fashion designer who had never seen a bloody hockey game.

Oh! Canada!  What the fug is up with the whole Marie Antoinette look? The hair, the gown? She's a beautiful woman - but come on!

The short plaid lumberjack-style skirt is nice... the hockey sticks out the back are interesting, but the miniature Stanley Cup in the hair is crazy considering a Canadian team hasn't won the much coveted National Hockey League trophy since 1993 - nearly 22 whole years ago! That's just wrong! Canada doesn't OWN the Stanley Cup! It's owned by the National Hockey League that has 30 teams - seven of whom play in Canada.

She's still sexy, but she looks like a ballpoint flamingo, the national bird of France. Vive la France!

The bizarre skirt attachment was also a bit of a mystery to me... and then I finally got it... it's to look like a hockey net.Those red pipings on the side are the goal posts.Is there a cross bar? It bears a closer look in my opinion.

But... worst of all is the scoreboard (with clock) attached to the costume.

The Home and Guest 20-14... is that the shots on goal or the score? Now... 20-14 for shots is a very boring game considering the scoreboard also says we're in the 3rd period. The 20-14 for goals is not any hockey game I have ever seen involving Canada - even the Toronto Maple Leafs who suck since I last wrote about them three weeks ago- and I've watched a lot of hockey in my years trying to grow up.

Oh gods... don't tell me it is meant to represent the year - 20-14 = 2014??? That's okay, I suppose, but completely unnecessary.We know what year it is... it's 2015... oh... wait... thi is Miss Universe 2014... now I'm just confused!

At least they didn't give Miss Canada a missing tooth orr (Bobby) make her wear a goalie mask new or old school.
Former Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers (1967-1982), who added the stitches to his mask every time he was hit there to show where he would have needed stitches to his face had he not been wearing one. Though Canadian, this Hockey Hall of Famer won two cups with the American team.
This must be the only time where Japan beats Canada in hockey.

Somewhere taking my hockey net and going home,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Teaching In Japan - To Boldly Go

Despite my claims to have been a junior high school AET (assistant English teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, my writing in these blogs doesn't really back it up.

But it's true.

Working with and for the Ohtawara-shi Board of Education office (OBOE), I spent four days a week (Monday through Thursday) at one of the seven middle schools in the city (I think there are more schools as the city has expanded since I left).

I would spend Friday at the OBOE catching up on paperwork (20 minutes of report writing on my past work week) and then writing letters to home on my computer (this WAS all before e-mail and the Internet as we know it) and composing either comedic or dramatic short stories or It's A Wonderful Rife (as it was originally called - even for the first couple of years in this blog) true stories for various JET publications in different prefectures or for an English-language weekly newspaper or two (getting a few yen on the side for each of those - so even 22 years ago, I was a professional writer for my Rife tales).

But teaching… ah, teaching… I did do that sometimes.

The majority of the people who were on the JET Programme took their AET duties very seriously.

They wanted nothing more to have everyone in their classes (in those days there were NO elementary school or university AETs) to be able to spew out English as the native speaker team-teaching them.

But not me.

There's great expectations and then there's a dickens of reality. Believe it or not, I am a realist. A dreamer, yes, but still a realist. It makes for many a moral dilemma internally.

When I was hired to go teach in Japan, everyone involved knew I was not a teacher - at least not of English. I was a newspaper reporter with the then-top newspaper in Canada. I was a piano and clarinet teacher making a few bucks on the side. And in my free-time, I coached women's soccer at various levels. I was reasonably smart, funny, easy to talk to and damn, could I communicate.

Actually, there should have been a question mark there. Could I communicate with the Japanese?

Hell yeah. That photo at the top is me with a class of students at Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School) in Tochigi-ken. I'm the tall guy in the ever out-of-date sweater and tie. Check it out. The students are paying attention and appear to be having a good time. How the hell is that possible? How did they even understand me if I couldn't speak their language? 

Pantomime was one way. A few choppy words in Japanese and in English - everyone understood me as long as a long conversation was not required. Then again, there was always someone there who could speak English better than the others, or a friendly neighborhood gaijin (foreigner) who could wakata (savvy) the Japanese lingo better than anyone else had a right to savvy.

Those latter people were always my friends and always close at hand.

While Japanese schools do five full days of learning' plus a short day until around Noon on Saturday, I did four days… and they sure weren't full.

Now… I am talking about those days - a long time ago - back in 1990-1993. Holy schmengies, grandpa! Yeah, yeah. Bite me. Age brings wisdom. Plus senility. But I wouldn't know about that. I hope. Maybe I've forgotten.

JET, back in those days - well, I was part of the second wave of international gaijin in Japan on the still new JET… back when JET was so new they were still trying to quantify if having gaijin come over to teach English to Japanese kids was valuable... unlike nowadays when they are trying to quantify if having gaijin come over to teach English to Japanese kids was STILL valuable.

We must have proved it was, but I'm betting it was because of a different reason than what exists now.

You'll see… because my role as an AET may seem quite lame and ineffectual… except that maybe it wasn't.

I was a human tape-recorder set to "repeat after me".

My pronunciation was and is pretty damn good. I can enunciate to ensure people can hear all of the letters to pronounce a word the correct way.Plus I have a deep voice and when necessary a very loud one - and I'm not afraid to show it off in a loud arena or stadium.

Ashley (my ex-girlfriend), though she was from Georgia and did say "y'all" a lot after a few beers, could and did say "you all" where applicable to the Japanese. Her pronunciation was pretty damn good, as well.

What is interesting to note, is that Ashley was teaching at the Ohtawara Boys High School, and as such, the older students were ONLY five years younger than she was when she first arrived.

Me? I taught grades 7-9 - so 12-15 year-olds… so despite a 10 to 13 year disparity in physical age, there was none in mental age.

We could have fun.

Over those four days when I had to go to a school, out of the five periods of classes in a typical day, being busy meant I would have to go to three of them.

Most of the time I would do either two or three classes a day… sometimes one.

I believe I did four once. I was not happy, as it cut into my free time to do the Daily Yomiuri newspaper crossword puzzle, or to write letters home or to write a story or even do a bit of studying of Japanese… something I did fairly often for at least the first 18 months of my stay in Japan.

So… I worked maybe three hours a day.

Yeah, I stood around a lot, but I was used only when reading was involved - NOT when the JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) were teaching grammar - which they did in classes I was not asked to visit.

Thank god. I may know how to read, write and speak English at a higher level than most people on the planet, but I sure as hell don't know the complexities of grammar rules. I just automatically know what words work well together and in what order. Don't ask me to find the gerund or anything related to split infinitives. Sure I know the famous Star Trek one (the blog title, baby… I know it should be "to go boldly"), but I don't know why.

It's my lack of English grammar skills which precludes me from learning a foreign language… you kindda have to know the rules of your native tongue first. Swell. LOL.

Swollen tongue aside, a typical class revolves around me reading a story or a passage from an English book. Slowly and clearly.

The students will follow in their books, but can hear MY pronunciation of English words and can, hopefully, vocalize it when it comes time for them to read for themselves in front of the class.

Now… despite the high level of English language skills and rules mastered by the JTEs, what is lacking is their pronunciation of many English words… even of certain alphabet letters.

You learn pronunciation from hearing… and if no one can pronounce things as they should, the errors, if you will, will continue.

That's where JET and the AET come in. We are there to teach pronunciation... at least that's how I was utilized. It certainly was necessary, in my opinion.

So… I have no problem in being a human tape recorder. I never had any grand allusions or delusions about being an English teacher. I never was back in Toronto.

I once had an intimate conversation with Mister Inoue... the head of English at the Ohtawara Junior High School. He had been a teacher for 20 years at that time, was involved in student discipline, was well-liked and well-respected by the student and teachers alike.

We discussed salaries - something that JET warned us gaijin to never do. So I did it. My rule is that if any Japanese person dares to ask me a question in English, I dare to give them an honest answer. That's part of 'internationalization', and something I felt better qualified to achieve on behalf of the JET Programme than merely teaching English to Japanese kids who probably knew more about English grammar than I did.

Anyhow... Inoue-sensei asked, and I told him I made 3.6-million yen (US $36,000 in 1990) a year... he told me he made $24,000.

For 20 years of teaching? I immediately felt ashamed, but he noticed my discomfort and said I deserved it because I am leaving the comforts of my home to come to a foreign place - I deserve to be paid 'hazard' pay.

Maybe... but I hardly did anything compared to his responsibilities and work load. And 20 bloody years??!!

No... Japanese teachers used to earn respect more than money - and that meant something... but even by 1990 that respect aspect was eroding.

I was making $36,000 (prorated over a year) as a summer intern at the Toronto Star newspaper... my first 'full-time' job after graduating school... and that was pretty good. It was certainly better than the $17,000 others in my graduating class were making at the small town newspapers.

I'm pretty sure that teachers in Canada - even starting - make more than $24,000.

I love it, though... this man learns that some punk gaijin 'teacher' who isn't a teacher makes 50 per cent more than him... and he's trying to make feel feel good. Inoue-sensei was one of the very best people I met in Japan, as he always went out of hiss way to look after me. He was younger then than I am now.

School teaching skills aside, I did have other teaching skills (music and sports) and could communicate.

It took a couple of months, but I quickly realized that Japanese kids are pretty much just like the kids in Canada. I have no idea what they are like relative to any other country as I only have Canada as a reference, but I assume it is fairly similar.

Kids is kids.

There are the ones that love to learn. The ones who are bored. Sleepy. ADHD. Counting the minutes to lunch. Trying to hide a boner. Wishing they were in ANY other class other than the one teaching a foreign language.

Yeah… that's right. Learning a foreign language is tough and it can be boring. I hated being in French class back in Toronto.

How do you get people to like or want to study English?

By making the classes more fun? Well… sure… the JTEs and I would play hang-man or would play act with the students the stories - first with the book and then without, using props.

It was fun - and I think they looked forward to seeing me in class because they also knew it meant NO grammar. Yes, grammar is necessary (I s'pose), but I'm unsure if anyone has come up with a fun way to teach it. If so, teach me. Really. I'll tell you if it's fun or not.

But… was that all enough to get people to like English a little more? I mean, yes, students became more adept at pronouncing English words - words that their teachers might often have difficulty with—and to their credit would show their weakness and allow me to help them get better… that's the real accomplishment…

But… the only way I could get the students to want to learn more English was to have them want to talk to me outside of class, which would make them want to learn more IN class.

I was - relative to a Japanese teacher of any subject - an ass clown. I probably might be considered that here in Canada, but maybe that's because I like a nice ass and crack people up with a witty bon mot. Look - I can speak the French just swell.

I was smiling all day long in school - heck in Japan. First because I can't believe they pay me to do this, but also because I can't believe I'm in Japan and they are paying me to do this, but also because I'm a friendly guy.Smiling instantly can put a person at ease. Smiling and staring does not. Staring is anything longer than a glace lasting more than three seconds. Maybe even less.

Even though I hated school as a student and forgot to prove as much when I did 14 years of school (Ontario used to have grade 13, and I did grade 12 twice after flunking out and needing to be with kids my own age) plus five years of university (political science) and another two years of community college (journalism) - damn, boyeee - that's 21 years in school. Not including kindergarten mostly because I never went. I was two years ahead in school until that infamous repeating of the 12th grade.

Did I say I hated school? And now I'm in Japan for an additional three years of school? It's why I don't write about it as much. And maybe because it's not as interesting as me talking to the people.

I was and am, a nerd. But not a complete nerd. I can relate to the Japanese jocks because I played and coached sports. I can relate to the artsy types because I played and taught music. I like cartoons. I love comic books.

Respect was earned when I went to every single school club and participated in judo, kendo and baseball for the boys, but also played softball and tennis with the girls, and played clarinet in the music club and even watched and helped the English club.

Friendships were forged - during a lunch break - when I was walking around the school looking like I owned the place and was accosted by a group of six kids - all maybe 14 years of age.

They did the usual game of penis… pointing to each other's penis and saying 'small-small', and then pointing at me. I'm not stupid, but it's all relative, and I was sure I was bigger than the average Japanese, so I said (in Japanese) oki-sai (large size) - howls of laughter from all.If I could answer in Japanese, I would - hell, I was there on an EXCHANGE.

And then one kid points to another kid and says to me in pretty damn clear English: "Mistah Asai hab a berry big penis."

Now... being the adult, I should have put a stop to all this, but dammit, that was pretty damn fine English! So I laughed. And so did all the other kids - except Asai.

Asai - he sheepishly grinned and shrugged his shoulders like he was embarrassed by the attention.

So I changed the topic and asked it they wanted to learn some English.

I taught them every naughty English word you know and a few you don't. They taught me the Japanese equivalent. And… best of all, it was all slang. And no one abused the information to the best of my knowledge. I did tell them not use it in school and to never say these things around the girls.

They told their friends that An-do-ryu-sensei was cool.

All you need is one cool kid to think you are cool and the rest fall in like sheeple.

If that wasn't enough, I was set for life, let me tell you, when it was revealed that one of my favorite kiddie programs growing up in England was The Thunderbirds, which was just then on Japanese television - some 20+ years later after I first saw it. I had named my dog Tin-Tin after the girlfriend of one of the main characters.

We had a common bond, as every type of kid in Japan watched this show done with marionettes. I was in, baby.

Of course, the Japanese Thunderbirds version did NOT call the female character Tin-Tin. It seems that the 'Ti' sound is replaced with a 'chi' sound in the Japanese alphabet. So the name would have been pronounced 'Chin-Chin'.

After an unfortunate toast made by myself at an OBOE office enkai (party) when asked what ways one could say kanpai (cheers), I blurted out several, including the Italian 'chin-chin'.

'Chin-chin' is a Japanese slang phrase for 'penis'.

Needless to say, while all the men at the enkai were holding their heads in their hand and shaking it in shame, the women were all jumping up and hooting and hollering yelling "Chin-Chin!"

I had taught the women a naughty cheer when drinking, and they were proud to use it. I was in, baby.

Because I could out drink a fish, it was easy enough to out drink the Japanese men, as long as we stuck to the basics of beer and or sake rice wine. Because I was a heby durinkah (heavy drinker) and never had a hangover (never have - really), I earned their respect a morning later. Plus I had confided in them that Ashley was indeed my garufriendo (girlfriend) and asked them to honor that secret… a fact that Ashley never heard, so I assume that excluding her, everyone in my city knew she and I were boinking.

As well… because I can out drink a sailor or a Catholic nun, I followed the family of OBOE to the second party and to the third party locations… and I ate every single bit of Japanese food placed in front of me and enjoyed it.

You want to impress the Japanese? Llike their stuff. The Japanese are proud of being Japanese as much as you are proud to be Canadian, American, French, Swedish or whatever. They might be a little more proud than they should, but it really helps them relax when they know that you like Japan and all she has to offer.

They don't have to worry as much about you because as long as you are in Japan - and you have proved you like Japan, they will look after you.

There are so many of you people who go to Japan and refuse to try new things or foods. While I respect your right to do so, I wonder why the hell you wanted to go to Japan.

You don't just absorb the culture by working and visiting a few temples. You became a part of it by being a part of it. You'll never be Japanese - but as long as you make the effort you will be considered 'just like the Japanese'… and trust me… when the Japanese say that, they are paying you a bloody compliment.

One of my better foreigner friends in Japan would NOT eat Japanese food. Not even sushi. He brought his own sandwiches to school everyday and would eat at Dunkin Donut - in my town there was no Dunkin Donut nor did I ever see any place selling luncheon meats, and I sure as hell wasn't eating tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.I ate the school lunches everyday and bought prepared Japanese meals at the local grocery store every day I wasn't making my famous chili or lasagne for my foreigner buds. So I ate Japanese food maybe 4 or 5 times a week for dinner and at least 5 times a week for lunch. I never ate breakfast unless I had female company spend the night, which in hind sight was actually fairly often - especially on weekends.

That gaijin friend, by the way, married a Japanese woman and is still there 25 years after he first arrived. I can only hope for his wife's sake that by now he will eat Japanese.

Me? I wanted to eat whatever the Japanese ate. I ate every single school lunch with the students. I learned to use chopsticks as well or better than themselves, even if my grip was slightly… gaijin. Kids expecting to see me drop food on myself were disappointed after one month into my stay. I was taught by the Japanese, and I learned.

And this is all from a guy who had never researched Japan prior to arriving; had only ever lived at home; had no clue how to do anything for himself and, of course; was a virgin. Two months in, I was just 'like' the Japanese. In a good way.

Teaching in Japan - on JET or privately - its different, but it's exactly the same.

No matter how you slice the sashimi (that's simply slices of raw fish or meat), it still boils down to relationships and how you can make your time in Japan fun for everyone you meet.

Lastly... though an unofficial designation, the Tochigi-ken prefectural board of education seemed to know all about me and how popular I was with the students, calling me 'their best teacher'. Heady praise indeed, I must admit, and one I am quite proud off.

It's also why I know Noboko's father knew all about long before I ever went to his house as a dinner guest two-plus years later. He was the so-called boss of all the Japanese junior high school teachers in the northern part of Tochigi-ken where his darling daughter lived and taught and where I also happened to lived and teach.

Given my reputation with the students, and more than likely with all the amoral scuttlebutt floating around with my dalliances with the adult female population of Ohtawara-shi that most of the city either admired, was shocked by or wanted a piece of, he must have known that if I was 'friends' with his beautiful daughter, my friendly intentions must have been more than what was seen on the surface.

We'll see about that later.  

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Noboko & Andrew: A Game Of You

You really could have knocked me down with a feather.

Noboko just dropped the bombshell that her mom knows all about us - which was something I was trying to get her to do for ages now. But her father still doesn't know.

Or he does and is playing ignorant, not wanting his darling little baby to be screwing with the gaijin (foreigner).

From a Japanese public relations stance, it's not good. I have added a baseball analogy, in case you are wondering what is going on.

Single daughter of an 'impotent' (sorry - damn Auto Correct) 'important' member of Japan's teaching establishment doing the wild thing with the foreigner who teaches at her junior high school. Strike one.

He's not even American. He's Canadian. Strike two.

Either he's not even White - or he has a pony-tail like some stupid Japanese ass clown (Shimura Ken - the funniest guy on television back in the 1990s). But he is a nice guy - he brought her father a bottle of expensive whiskey. Foul tip! Still no balls and two strikes.

Oh yeah - he's leaving Japan in a few months time. Would darling daughter care to leave Japan for (ugh) the snow climes of Canada where they might not even have indoor plumbing (Uh, hello, we've had indoor plumbing for at least four years now - and loving it). A swing and a miss! Strike three!

From a Canadian public relations stance, it's all good. A foreigner is chasing after a pretty Japanese woman. This is news? Whatever. Ball one.

A good looking woman like that will make him look like he is very rich or well-hung. Ball two.

She can speak English AND Japanese - well, maybe she can get a job. Ball three.

She's not from the Philippines, so she can't be a nanny. Strike one. (Maybe this is just a Toronto thing. And it has been a thing for decades now.) Strike one.

Why IS she with him? Is she a little "slow"? Will that cost the Canadian Government funds for social services. Strike two.

She's very pretty. She will make the overall prettiness of Canada go up - more so if she likes hockey. No, she doesn't? She's still pretty, though - just no longer as pretty as hoped. Foul ball. Still three balls and two strikes.

She loves him but is afraid of upsetting her father? What is this Shakespeare? Another foul ball. Still a full count at three balls and two strikes.

He loves her and is willing to do whatever it takes - maybe even stay in Japan for the rest of his life? Whoa! He didn't even try and duck away! Hit batsman! Batter take your base when you wake up from the obvious concussion.

Now woozy and apparently on first base, would I really spend the rest of my lif in Japan if that was the only way I could get Noboko?



Oh crap! There is no 'but! Leave it alone.

But, I want her to be able to tell her father she loves me and then come on a vacation with me to Toronto. It's not to stay forever - though that would be nice. Rather it's just to get her away from Japan... to prove that she can do this for me.

To show me that she isn't ashamed of me or that there is no shame in being seen in public together. At least I don't think Canada cares. I think I might impress a few people, too.

I want her to prove that she is willing to fight for me. That I am the best man in her life. That it isn't her father.

I have no idea when I became a woman. All in touch with my emotions. Men don't do that, do they?

Yeah... all this is going through my head at about 1,000 miles and hour... faster than the speed of sound, which is why I have a headache. Damn sonic booms.

So... I sit and wait by my telephone, knowing that 30 minutes later, she will call.

Twenty-nine... thirty!


"Moshi-moshi, baby," I purr into the phone.


Oh crap! It's not Noboko. It's Kristine just calling to check in on me. She's the woman I should have dated, slept with and married and died with. But no... I screwed it up by not having any of those baseballs. Plus she was 500 kilometers away. It wasn't convenient enough for me, and for the past two years in Japan I memorized all the Dead Kennedys songs from their album: Give me Convenience Or Give Me Death.

Now... I'm not saying that Kristine was better for me than Noboko. She wasn't. Or maybe she was. Or even if she wanted to ever have me as a boyfriend. It's just that I didn't think I was good enough for Kristine, who already knew what she wanted to do when she left Japan.

It's not her, it was me. How paraphrased cliche.

She never mentioned me or any guy or relationships (though she did scream out after I hugged her at a teacher's conference that that was the first male contact she had had in six months - we had only been in Japan for three months, so I guess she forgot about that other hug we had shared that second night in Japan - she just talked about more school. Who the hell am I to interfere in someone's grand plans for life?

Now... I just had to figure out a way to trick Noboko into telling her father we are a couple.

The irony, at that time, escaped me.

Anyhow, I briefly chatted with Kristine, but begged off the phone with the old 'my stomach is twitching' excuse - something Kristine saw first hand that ONE TIME she came 500 kilometers east to stay at my apartment. I was sick with some damn stomach bug! She was nice enough to get me some medicine, though.

That was the only time we payed doctor, as her kindness helped nurse me back to health. I finally felt better, but unfortunately, Kristine had left for the west one day earlier.

I think all I ever got from Kristine was a hug... though I may have kissed her on the forehead once, the cheek another time... and never worked up the nerve to kiss her on the lips.

I was pretty gross when Kristine came to visit. Washroom non-stop. Wayta make a good impression, eh?

I guess fate had other plans for me as my dogma was run over by karma, but then Noboko popped into my life.


"Moshi-Moshi, baby?" I purred in a question.

She laughed and then swore or chided me in very quick, but soft Japanese.

At least I was right this time and 'baby-ed' the right woman.

"So... your mom knows all about us? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" I ask.

"She likes you."

Whoa... I think I just got the sign to steal second base.

"Has she told your dad?" I ask checking the signs from the dugout.

More muttering in Japanese. I really should try and learn this language in the next few weeks I have left in Japan. After all, I do have the rest of my life to use it.

I think I heard her mutter the word "bakayaro (stupid idiot)", so I'm guessing her answer was "no".

"Can you get your mom to tell him for you? Surely you being happy is what matters most to your father?"

As soon as I said that, I realized I was soooo bloody naive about Japan and its social customs and culture.

Her father might not think there's anything wrong with his daughter dating or marrying a gaijin... but others might, and that would affect him in his work position, which for a man in Japan apparently means a lot.

In Japan, you have a family at home, plus you have a family at work. Work pays better. Plus you spend more time with your work family. You do have a work wife, don't you? (I think I'm the work wife in my day job, however.)

There was more muttering and something about something else followed by muttering that sounded a lot like the something else that was said just before the last bit of muttering. Or it was something else.

Really... tomorrow... I start studying the Japanese language. Swear to Buddha.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," I mutter, even though I don't know exactly what I am apologizing for, just that it is required. When women mutter, there`s something wrong. All men know or should know that.

"Apology accepted," she quickly says, adding, "My mother said I should invite you for dinner. She must really like you."

"No... I think she just really loves you."

More muttering. What is with all the Japanese tonight? She must be nervous.

"When?" I ask.

"Two days from now - Saturday."

"Are you coming over after work tomorrow."

"Of course. But we can't do anything," she hints.

"Why not?" I mutter, hoping my inability to do simple math is correct. I may be the only person of Indian extraction to be incapable of doing math, driving a taxi or working at a convenience store. I told you I do not fit any preconceived stereotype. Except maybe that of a foreigner panting over a Japanese woman.

"Cramps," she finally says, waiting for me to finish that inner dialogue.

Oh crap.... when Noboko gets her menstrual cycle, she is in real pain. It doubles her up causing her to grab her self - which looks funny, but she looks like someone just got kicked in the gut. She's not a bear about it, it just beats her up.

I know she's not a wimp about that. She's only a wimp when it comes to dealing her father.

"No problem," I spit out trying to change the subject. "Do you want to rent a movie or something?"

"Or something. Good night. I love you."

"I love you, too, Noboko."

Hmm... or something. That was cryptic. But we all know there are still many ways to do something even though there's that whole bleeding thing. But it depends on how bad the cramps are, obviously.

So... tonight's at bat... It wasn't a home run, but at least it was a sacrifice fly that advanced the runner to second base. I didn't need to steal. Sometimes the runner gets a little help from the batter.

We'll just have to see if there's going to be a sacrifice bunt by the end of Saturday night.

Somewhere shaking the dirt from under my pants (Ya still gotta slide on a close play!),
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writer's Write

I don't even know what to write about right now. It's 7PM... and I've got nothing.

Okay... I just came back from checking my e-mail, and I received a nice notification from Sam Baldwin - he's the author of the wonderful Japan experience book, For Fukui's Sake.

I must admit that when I read the book I was soooo jealous of his back to nature experiences that were uniquely his and uniquely Japan's.

So... when I wrote my review of his book (unsolicited, by the way) - if that's what one calls it - I compared my experiences to his and then said I think I would have liked Sam, but we probably wouldn't have hung out to much because I'm probably more like the Japanese that even they care to admit.

Okay, I didn't say that, but I meant to say that.

How am I more Japanese than even the Japanese care to admit?

Well, we both seem to care about the environment and want things to look nice and try not to do too much harm to the Earth... but we both seem to want to pave over nature.

I hate camping. I hate insects, spiders, sleeping on a rock and shivering under a blanket under a mosquito-proof tent that isn't mosquito-proof or even dew-proof.

I dislike drowning worms to catch fish - preferring mine already caught and cooked.

I'd rather prune a bonsai tree that I have bent to a more pleasing shape via copper wires than cut my lawn (though I do do that). The photo up above... that's a real bonsai tree, bent via tree bondage. I had a hand in that. Don't worry, you do it too when you cut the lawn, weed the garden and milk a cow.

I dislike sweating in the humid sun.

I dislike being outside unless there is a reason - like playing sports, which is the ONLY time I think one needs to run and to run hard like there is no tomorrow.

I see no reason to discount generations of human evolution that wants to dismiss everything the cavemen ever wanted - a nice warm house that protected it from the elements and the sabretooth tigers and roving bands of Cro-Magnons or whatever it is they are called today - 'Anatomically Modern Human' (AMH) or 'Early Modern Human' (EMH).

I might be a Renaissance Man because I can discuss Plato and fart jokes in the same sentence, and can play sports, play music (play classical and listen to hard rock) and appreciate all forms of culture and religion and study history of every type, but I don't want to experience history.

I love modern convenience.


I don't dislike anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. My dad seems to like all that stuff. I'm probably envious of you. Probably, but I won't admit it unless I think you are hot.

But I will admit that I enjoyed For Fukui's Sake by Sam Baldwin. While his experiences in Japan were so much different from my own, I realized that was the point of my book review.

To show and to teach that in Japan, everyone's experience not only should be different, but it IS different.

And then it hit me after reading Sam's book.

I want to write a book too.

I suppose I've been building up to it for some time now... that this blog is merely my way of beta-testing it and to discover what it is I should really write about.

Today at lunch, rather than write my blog, I began writing my book, utilizing elements from this blog and help from my friends who helped me have a Wonderful Rife blog that has now lasted longer than my actual time spent in Japan.

It's like MASH, the fabulous television show from 1972-83 about a mobile army surgical hospital in Korea. The show lasted nearly four times as long as the actual Korean War proving that good television is more popular than actually killing one another over some stupid patch of land and political ideologies.

So... at lunch I am writing my book... my way of relaxing as I spend the rest of the day writing for work.

I'll try and get back to normal tomorrow... perhaps another chapter of my time with Noboko who, when last we read, just told me her mom is well aware that Noboko and I are not only friends, but are sleeping together.

Will I be able to play that to my advantage to get her to tell her father? We'll see.

Meanwhile, here's what Sam so kindly wrote to tell me:

Thanks for your review Andrew. I LOLed repeatedly reading it. Sounds like we had very different experiences in Japan but I am jealous of several of yours. Keep on blogging in the free world - Sam Baldwin

I have no idea what the book's title should be. Can I use Andrew's Adventures In Wonderland? Naw, Wonderland appears to be closed for renovation.

I'm going to go watch the movie Unbroken now. By myself.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Alien Registration Card

This is a Japanese Alien Registration Card. Until very recently, it was something every person who was going to stay in Japan longer than 90 (excluding foreign military) needed to have.

They needed to get this card within 90 days of landing, and needed to keep it on their person at all times - I kept mine in my wallet.

No... that's not MY card - I had to surrender mine when I left Japan. This one belongs to my good friend Michael, who kindly consented to let me borrow his card that he was allowed to keep. I guess there was no consistency regarding that.

Anyhow... to receive an Alien Registration Card, one had to provide an application form, passport and two photo identifications.

You needed one of these if you wanted to get a bank account (yes), get a driver's license (I had an International license I got in Canada) or a cell phone (still don't have one of those)... so it can be an important document to have in Japan.     

Date contained on the Alien Registration card: 
  • Date of registration
  • Name (including any legal alias)
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Nationality and place of residence in home country
  • Place of birth
  • Employer/school, work/school address and occupation (if any)
  • Passport number and date of issuance
  • Date of landing in Japan
  • Status of residence and duration of stay
  • Residential address
  • Information regarding household members (including name, date of birth, nationality and relationship)
  • Information regarding parent(s) and/or spouse residing in Japan
This information was recorded in a physical document called a tōroku genpyō (登録原票), kept by the municipality in which the subject lived (in my case at Ohtawara-shi).

Any changes in registered information had to be reported to the municipal office - for example, if I got married... or the fact that I was initially only staying in Japan for one year, but renewed twice more for a total of three years - the tōroku genpyō needed that information.

If you want to leave Japan (say, a vacation), you will need a Re-entry form filled out - failure to do so will man you have left Japan for good, and you will require a new tōroku genpyō and Alien Registration Card if you are going to stay longer than 90 days again.

You will notice, that there is a finger print image on the front right corner of the ARC... that's Michael's and I believe it is registered with Interpol (my ARC actually issued some seven years before Michael had more information on it). 

FYI, the Alien Registration system was done away with on July 9, 2012 and replaced with a Foreign Residents' Registration system, new system that was passed from the local municipal level to the national level - perhaps to better control possible undesirables entering the country.I would have got in anyways.

This is the reverse of the card, issued by the Japanese Ministry of Justice. Mine was pink. But this one, issue to my friend Michael - it's blue (obviously).

I had to surrender mine before I left to the Ohtawara City Hall - and I'm unsure how the heck Michael; managed to keep his, but I thank him just the same for letting me borrow it for this blog.

Anyhow... this is a gaitōshō (外登証) the alien registration card and is issued at the municipal level.

More on the new system shortly.

I have leaking water heater that took out two boxes of comic books - but fortunately not the comic books which are always ensconced in plastic. Love life.

Andrew Joseph