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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Relationships In Japan - Friends With Benefits

When I lived in Japan, I used to joke to my friend Doug in Toronto, that my girlfriend and I had a personality problem.

I had one, and she didn't.

Add rim shot here.

I know, that's terrible.  I suppose my constant yammering didn't allow her much opportunity to speak - except when she was yelling at me that we were breaking up over some mostly imagined transgression that I had done, or that a fortune teller advised her to do.

Yes, the latter did actually happen. A Japanese fortune teller did indeed advise her with the statement: "Don't be afraid to tell him you don't love him."

Hell, that was good enough for me, too, after Ashley informed me we were done after three mostly wet months of bliss.

It did convince me to start sowing my wild oats, and after three years, I certainly did harvest a bumper crop. 

I lived in Japan between 1990-1993 - yeah, tell us another story grandpa…

I was part of the second wave of JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme suckers, I mean internationalites (it could be a word) who jetted over to Japan (weak pun intended) to teach the ignorant masses English.

Actually, I was hired on a one-year contract - extended twice - to teach junior high school English to the then seven junior high schools as an assistant English teacher in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken… which was about 100 kilometers north of Tokyo located in a vast tract land of rice paddies.

Ohtawara actually translates from the Japanese into English as: Big - Rice Field - Field. I could literally throw a rock in any direction and hit a rice field or a 7-11, provided I could throw 1,000 feet/meters - which I can't… so the point is moot except that there were a lot of both in that city of 50,000 people.

Despite the relative quaintness of this village on steroids that called itself a city, there was quite an ability to speak English amongst the locales. At least there was a well-attended International Friendship Association that was actually in place long before friendly gaijin such as myself, Matthew or Ashley appeared on the scene.

You may have seen gold statues of us placed at various entrances into the city.

Ashley was my girlfriend from perhaps the moment we arrived in Japan, and we liked each other immensely despite the cultural differences - I am a Canadian, and she an American.

Chief differences between the two nations:

Canadian: "Get off the car, eh?"
American: "Eh! Get off the fuXXing car!"

Ash was sweet and polite and that confused the hell out of me - given that descriptor of the two nationalities I just presented… although from Georgia, she did not have much of a southern drawl… except when she had a few too many wobbly pops, if you know what I mean… then it was 'y'all' this and 'y'all' that.

I never understood that whole 'y'all' thing when you're just talking to one person. Y'all is 'you all', right?

By the way… Canadians do say 'eh' - just not all the time… maybe it's most apparent when we hosers are sucking back maple syrup and smacking pucks around through the snow on a cool August afternoon when our sled team is resting outside our igloo that now has both indoor plumbing and electricity… which admittedly is a pot to pee in, which can make the electrical all jumpy and arch-y and painful when using the washroom facilities.

Ahhh… stereotypes. Gotta love'em.

I'm not sure how much of a stereotype I am. I'm of Indian stock (dot, not the feather), am tall, wide in the shoulders, have muscles covered in hair and fat, dress well, don't smell of curry or wear a turban. I am also not a doctor, don't drive cab - but wouldn't say no to that profession except that I have no sense of direction, and do not work at the Quickie-Mart.

I also have few skills in computers, and heaven's to Betsy, I am useless at math. In fact, despite the grammatical errors rife with this blog, I am actually speak English just swell. Ha.

I don't even have an accent, eh. Sorry… my Canadian snuck out. Take-off!

Seriously… that stuff was so 1980s… and maybe… just maybe… you might hear a few Canuckleheads speak like a stereotype if you go to the northern climes or maybe out to the far east of the Maritimes… then again… it really does have something to do with one's cultural upbringing and possibly their education.

Possibly. I know of many individuals in so-called no-brain jobs who are smarter than me and speak as well as I do, but just prefer the life they have over the joyful one I have sitting in front of a computer screen surrounded by 300 other people screaming at the top of their lungs and banging their desk while cursing loudly in an "alas, woe is me' manner while they try to get their work done.


In Japan, Ashley and I were together as boyfriend-girlfriend for the first year of our time in Japan… off and on.

She and I broke up and got back together more times than I currently wish to recall.

She was the first woman I had ever slept with - a fact she refused to believe (thank-you!) - and I was nearly 26 at the time… and about three years older than her.

She would break up with me, and then a few days later she would reconcile whatever demons she had (me, apparently) and we'd get back together.

I'm sure people couldn't figure out why the hell we would keep getting back together… heck… I could never quite figure out why we were always breaking up!

Me… Ash was my first… and I was afraid that should we part, she might be my last since I was a sucker with no self-esteem (thank-you, Offspring).

As for Ash… no idea why she kept wanting us together?

I suspect it was a combination of awesome sexual powers in the sack and the fact that we were both comfortable with each other and trusted each other… at least in the boudoir.

She probably realized early on that our personality and cultural differences would forever keep us apart as a couple, but for a few hours a night once or twice a week, we could provide each other with a warm embrace and wet tongue that let each other know that big, bad Japan was survivable.

Ashley was able to pick up the Japanese far quicker than myself, though I did have a more successful time picking up Japanese in my second year… women, that is.

I guess what I'm saying is… relationships are important in Japan… yeah…

Friendships are a necessary evil to survive the perceived evils of whatever situation you are in… friends who will listen to you rant about your boss, work day or living situation…

It's a bonus, however, if you can also find a friend with benefits.

I got lucky in that regard…. even after Ashley and I finally call it quits for good at the end of our first year… we would, on regular occasion, hook up.

By that time I had already taken to sleeping with half the women in my city at or or above the age of sexual consent (okay, 20-somethings) who would pick me up as I flirted with them at my local bar the 4C, a rather high-class affair or at the Iseya supermarket where they would literally just come running over when they saw me enter the building, and start practicing English on me.

I loved it. The attention. The flirting. The sex. It was no-strings attached. Two people (mostly) wanting to spend time with each other. There was no talk about being afraid to tell me they didn't love me. There was no time - just a few hours a night.

Anyhow… I was getting internationalized by local Japanese women, and a few female JET teachers (I called it Jating)… so it's not like I needed to sleep with Ashley… but you never forget your first.

I'm know I wasn't her first, so I'm sure she's forgotten about me - and that's cool… I hope she's well… but really, even after we broke up, all I needed to do was get a hold of some Southern Comfort and all would be well for us emotionally and physically.

Sometimes you just want to be wanted… in Japan… as a stranger in a strange land… one often doesn't know if one is wanted (in that way) or not.

Hopefully, Ashley knew that even then - broken arrow and all, that I still loved her.

See? It's that Offspring song again!!!

I'm not telling you all to go and hook up with a guy or a gal because that will make you feel good… but why not?Why not make the best of a poor situation.

Ashely and I actually had a real adult conversation where we talked about our non-relationship, and that should just be about sex. She actually said "I trust you" to me or to a bottle of Southern Comfort she was holding. Blood was rushing from my brain, so it's tough to recall exactly.


Go… have your life in Japan… but don't forget that even though there are relationships to be forged, sometimes we still need a little helping hand to 'get you through the night.'

Oh no Yoko
Andrew Joseph

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fukushima Plant Operators - The Silent Killers

Enough with the secrecy!

TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power COmpany), the owners of the Fukushima-ken Dai-ichi nuclear reactor facility that nearly went ka-blooie in 2011, has JUST admitted that highly toxic water has once again leaked into the ocean.

Wonderful, except that it knew the possibility of it happening was revealed to it back in May 2014 - nine months ago - but failed to do anything to take measures to rectify it.

Perhaps they wanted to wait that length of time to see if anything cool could be birthed from the mishap - like a for real Godzilla or less exciting, a real-life Gamara.

Here's what happened:

Rainwater accumulated on the rooftop of the Dai-ichi No. 2 reactor and became contaminated with such horrible elements as radioactive cesium and beta-ray emitting strontium.

This now contaminated rainwater would then do what water usually does on a roof (in my place it would leak inside), and flowed through a gutter system and exited out into the nearby ocean.

"I'm appalled that breaches in safety protocol continue to happen at this TEPCO-operated facility," exclaims Ishikawa Steve, a very talkative three-eyed fish with breathing problems.

Gasp! A Three-eyed Wolf Fish - this one speaks Spanish and was found in Argentina in a reservoir near a nuclear facility. Apparently. Now they can really look up your skirt. 
According to TEPCO, who has been monitoring the situation rather than doing anything about it, there were no changes observed (so far) in the ocean waters opposite the nuclear facility.

I'm sure we have no reason to disbelieve that.

Can anyone tell me why someone hasn't just stepped in and taken the whole effing business away from them? It's obvious that TEPCO has no real interest or knowledge in operating a nuclear power plant.

Anyhow, to solve the problem of rainwater becoming radioactive and then falling 'harmlessly' down the roof drainage system into the waters or ground near the nuclear facility, TEPCO says it will, amongst other measures, place sandbags containing materials that can absorb cesium… somewhere… to prevent further contamination.

Wow… TEPCO is talking about sandbagging?! Really? How ironic.

In another related, but completely separate incident, TEPCO acknowledged that some highly contaminated water did recently run through another drainage system (different from the roof one listed above), but says it only leaked into a nearby bay.

Now, TEPCO says that there's nothing to worry about—good news Steve!—none of this water that leaked into the bay actually made it out to the ocean.

Despite knowing of this, TEPCO say it does not know where the water leakage originated from nor how much contaminated water there was. It makes me wonder just how long it was leaking?

TEPCO… geezus…
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, February 26, 2015

China Wants Japan To Be Scared

China wants to make Japan tremble.

It wants to frighten Japan the way Japan frightened China 70+ years ago. Call it shock and awe. Call it bullying. Call it one thermonuclear country posing with an itchy trigger finger on the big red button.

It's the new Big Red Machine sending selfies of itself to a country that has twice felt the heat from a nuclear bomb - the only country ever to submit to that distinction.

It's simple intimidation, because China simply doesn't like Japan.

Truth be told, who could blame them?

Japan owes much of its culture to China, first borrowing from it, and then altering it subtly to make it their own, but no matter what, Japan owes China.

(While Japan did confiscate Buddhism from China who later rejected it, China actually got it first from India, who also mostly rejected it later.)

What Japan actually owes them is a massive apology. Its past treatment of China has played great dividends in the current Communistic direction of the world's largest country by population.

Chinese stamps with a Japanese overprint during Japan's occupation from 1942.
 China, by flexing its muscles in the general direction of Japan, shows its own people how strong they themselves are, earning a lifting of Chinese nationalistic pride.

China also sees itself as one of the protectors of the postwar (WW2) global order (western nations are saying "WTF??!!), with China liking to point out Japan's attempts to change their American-made Constitution, to create its own air-force and armed forces for more than mere self-defence, such as to attack. China likes to promote that fact: "it happened before, it could happen again. Japan wants to become more aggressive and take over Asia again."

That's pretty much what China's The People's Daily newspaper would have everyone believe. Why not, that newspaper is the Chinese Communist Party's official propaganda distributor. That's not a criticism, by the way - merely an acknowledgement of fact.

The year 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the ending of one of the deadliest wars ever, with Imperial Japan dominating and subjugating the peoples of most Asian countries, Nazi Germany doing the same in Europe, and whatever the hell Fascist Italy was going to do in Africa.

To mark the anniversary, China wants to celebrate.

China is planning a military parade in Beijing... a Victory Over Japan Day... and since it's China... you know they don't do anything for public consumption unless it is done with all the pomp and glory they can muster.

Man... you'd think that China would have gotten over that whole 'Japan-took-over-China' thing by now, eh?

No official date has been set, but it is expected to be around September 3, 2015.

Now... here's the thing... that is just what propaganda machine The People's Daily is saying - how much truth can we take from that if they are the official mouth of Chinese communism? Plenty or nothing. Propaganda is designed to appear that way.

In the past, China has celebrated the founding of its communist roots on October 1, 1949... first celebrating with a break from the cultural revolution in 1984 with a 35th anniversary communist parrrrr-tayyyyyyy.

China celebrated with a big founder's day parade again in 1999 (the 50th anniversary), in 2009 (the 60th anniversary)... and now in 2015, the 66th anniversary?

Nope... That's not a particularly poignant date. 2019, perhaps... the 70th... or maybe wait until 2024 for the 75th anniversary...

But China is setting up a big celebratory day in 2015. China says that is just plans to celebrate it's founding date, but no one is really buying that.

The year 2015... 75 years after Japan was forced to surrender to end World War 2? Yes... I can see China wanting to celebrate that. And, for the first time ever, China wants to invite foreign leaders... a tricky situation for any western country wanting to curry favor from Japan and its allies, or to maintain inexpensive manufacturing rights in China...

This is where China and Japan can see who their real friends are.

I mean a celebration to honor 75 years of Japan's greatest failure? Whew. Japan probably won't spend much time on this particular achievement.

Circa 1937 Punch-Magazine, the image can be reversed in 2015. Image from
Make Japan tremble.

It sure sounds threatening, but even if that's what China wants to do, there are no public discussions of how it really plans to make Japan tremble. "We're having a communist party and you aren't invited."

Maybe China should invite Japan to the event just to have them look bad having to not RSVP in time.
I loooooooove a parade!

And so do all the leaders of countries that use them to show off their military might to its own population and to its enemies.

That's why the timing of this 2015 parade in China bears closer scrutiny. China's leaders want to show off their own leadership powers, and are using Japan as a means to its end.

Of course, it's not just Japan that has a bit of concern, as its dispute with China also stems from control over some rocky island outcrop that Japan owns, but China says belongs to it.

China, of course wants the island top revert to its ownership because it would then move China's borders closer to Japan and thus closer to American bases IN Japan.

Other countries that also have South Sea island disputes with China include Vietnam, The Philippines, while Taiwan needs to be wary of China's sabre rattling as it has elections coming up in 2016.

Anyhow, if China is going to have a parade, just make sure you put the horses and the elephants at the end, or if you are Japan, maybe you should put the critters in to lead the parade.

Somewhere fighting for my write (sic) to party,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Robotic Bicycle Parking Garage

Japan's population is squeezed into a few large cities, such as Osaka and Tokyo. It's not a new phenomenon - most countries are built that way.

But, with some many people, getting around the city effectively is extremely important - something cities like Toronto have failed to grasp since sometime in the 1980s.

Japan has numerous subway lines - private and otherwise that meander damn near everyone around Tokyo, for example.

But despite the subway trains, some people like to ride their bicycles to work - and bravo for them.

I live over 30 kilometers from work, and there's no safe way for me to travel to and fro, but the worst thing for me would be that I would need a couple of showers a day, and a lung transplant.

But, if closer… I would consider it.

In Japan, many people do. I used to ride my bicycle everywhere in Japan. Matthew did, too until he became aware of the environmental damage he was doing from sweating and was forced to allow someone to give him a car - doctor's orders, in fact.

But in Tokyo, where space is at a premium… well… special underground parking seems like a plan.

I've walked the streets of Tokyo looking to become un-lost (I got lost in every single place I went to in Japan), and often noticed bicycles piled onto of each other next to street lamps.

I initially thought it was just the police piling up misplaced bicycles for a later pick-up, but when I attempted to walk around Tokyo with a Japanese friend (we still got lost), she explained that it was just a standard bicycle parking job.

So… a company called Giken Seisakusho Co. Ltd., created a robotic system for the underground parking of bicycles, a fantastic invention that stores the transport out of sight and out of mind in essentially a rounded dug out metal encased well-space 38 feet deep.

Known as the ECO Cycle, it is an anti-seismic mechanical underground parking lot with robotics, that it says it developed with the design concept of: “Culture Aboveground, Function Underground”.

I don't know what that means, but then again, I'm not smart enough to create robotics - just enough to write about them every once in a while. I wouldn't have thought 'aboveground' was one word, but again, what do I know?

I do like that it purports to be anti-seismic. I have to admit that when I first read that, I thought it said 'anti-Semitic', which would be quite awful, but anti-seismic? That should be great.

Immediately after that next big earthquake splits Tokyo open like a ripe watermelon, you can be happy to know that your bicycle is safe underground waiting for archaeologists to did it up and wonder just when cavemen discovered robotics.

Each ECO Cycle can hold up to 200 bicycles, though I also saw somewhere that it can hold 204. Actually, it was on the same site, proving the Internet is full of great and useful information. I don't know which number is correct, but at least you know now that it's one or the other, and you should not merely split the difference.
So… how does the ECO Cycle work?

You need an IC chip - that, as you move towards the ECO Cycle doorway, it recognizes that you already have an account with them. The chip is attached to the bike, by the way.

It only works if you have a pre-purchased chip and chip card, which I can only assume you can purchase from the ECO Cycle unit there, rather than having to go through any sort of Japanese municipal bureaucracy.

You roll the front of the bicycle towards the door, the door actually opens up an inch or two and then grips the front of the wheel and lifts it up a few millimeters.

You are then instructed by the polite female pre-recorded voice to please stand behind the yellow lines while the robotic system gets to work.

When you are satisfied that you have everything you need from the bicycle, you press a green start button, the doors open and it pulls in the bicycle, closing the doors after it is all the way in. I would imagine that a vision system of some kind monitors the length of the bicycle.

The bicycle is then taken down under the streets of Tokyo, and maneuvered around and then parked into an open space for you. Apparently, it takes less than 15 seconds to park the bicycle.There is no receipt that you need in order to get your bicycle back, though you do need a special pre-purchased card.

Aside from creating a safer walking environment for strollers on the sidewalks, you don't have to worry about anyone stealing your bike, or the rain pissing precipitation down upon it soaking your bicycle seat because you forgot to have that tiny crack in the seat fixed.

I did that once. Never again. I got that bicycle seat replaced the very next day and enjoyed a dry bum everyday after that. Sort of. You know what I mean.

As well as pedestrian safety, Giken says it allows firefighters to have better access to buildings and whatnot in case of an emergency.

When you want your bicycle back, you utilize a special card with a chip on it. Placing it over a scanner located just below the Start button, the card is read, analyzes your account, and pulls your bicycle up the same way it went down, arriving back at street level facing the parking lot doorway.

By the way, the polite Japanese voice will apologize as it yells at you should you step in the path of the bicycle as it is coming up, telling you to "please stay behind the yellow lines for your safety."

I'm unsure if it will halt the retrieval proves if you ignore its warning, but I imagine Giken would have built in that safety feature.

Once the bicycle is up, the robotic grip still holds onto the front tire of your bicycle. Vision sensors see you pull to back it up, release the tire, retrieve the robotic arm to within the system and the doors close as the female recoding apologizes as it thanks you for allowing it to park your bicycle for you for a sum of money.

I am unsure how many of these robotic solutions have been placed in busy urban centers around Japan (I would assume only Tokyo and Osaka, right now), but I do know that the first one ECO Cycle bicycle garage was placed within the grounds of Tokyo's Shinagawa-eki (Shinagawa Train Station).

Here's a video from Danny Choo's Culture Japan video series. Nicely done Mr. Choo!

How much does it cost? No idea. Does it charge by the month, by the day, by each use, or by the amount of time the bicycle is stored underground? No idea. Mr. Choo left that out.

He also didn't offer up where you get the scanner chip and card, but again, I would assume it is right there at the aboveground area of the robotic parking garage. Hmm.. I've never written the word 'aboveground' before... it does flow nicely from my fingers as a single word! Waytago Giken!

You can read more about Giken at its website: For more on Culture Japan, visit

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Japanese Average Japan Again

"Since most (non-Japanese) lead commonplace lives, it is a foregone conclusion that we will be disappointed. But in Japan, people are conditioned to be satisfied with the average, so they can't fail to be happy with their lots."
 - Alex Kerr, Lost Japan.

I read that and went "Kapowie! You just blew my frisking mind."

On the surface, I feel like my own Canadian life is a mess, with a series of missteps, blown opportunities and comedic pratfalls. That's how I feel.

But in reality, although bullied and picked on as a youth, I rose above that and gave as good or better than I got.

Although told to repeat Grade 12 after failing English, math, chemistry and probably something else - accounting? - I did repeat it and then got into university despite being told by school guidance counselors not to waste my time applying.

Despite not getting into university business school (so I could write commercials and advertising), I muddled it out for five years, graduated with some thing or another in Political Science and then went to college for journalism.

From there, I got into the Toronto Star Summer Internship Program and then the JET Programme to teach English in Japan—the same subject I had failed six years later. I mean eight. Stoopid math.
But it was okay, I was a year ahead until Grade 12, anyway.

Although not dating until I was 22 and not sleeping with a woman until I was nearly 26, I did end up with numbers closer to triple digits than my current age. That math I can do.

Despite having been a small kid, I grew nearly 30cm (12-inches) that second year of grade 12 and got contact lenses for my eyes instead of finger-thick glasses.

I began to learn how to teach music (in grade 12x2) - piano, rather than just playing it. Teaching music got me through the days in college where I learned journalism - all those things that made seem acceptable to JET and the Star, though they didn't know I had to fail before I learned how to succeed.

In Japan, my City seemed impressed that I would quit my job as a newspaper reporter to come and teach English to their kids. I seemed special to them - extraordinary, in fact. They told me this. But even I felt that, like them, that I was anything but ordinary.

Not only did I enjoy and play music (all brass, woodwinds and keyboards), I could teach it.

As well… not only did I play soccer and baseball (and coached soccer), I also enjoyed all sports. In Japan, music and sports are chosen by a child as the one thing (one club activity) that they should concentrate on.

I went to Japan already weakly forearmed with knowledge of judo, but along with that club, I also joined school clubs to learn kendo (Japanese sword fencing), and joined a city community club to learn kyudo (Japanese archery).

They loved calling me An-do-ryu-sensi - sportsuman! 

Being multi-talented made me special in the eyes of Japanese - not so average.

And they are right.

I'm not average as far as the Japanese or the gaijin are concerned.

Despite the positives, however, I am still consumed by wanting more. I'd be a lousy communist.

In my current situation, I want more knowledge. More sex. More stuff.  I'm never going to be satisfied. I always want more. 

So… even if I'm not your average foreigner - define average, anyway - just imagine people like me or you placed into the JET Programme in Japan.

Imagine the Japanese - so used to being told not to be an individual, but to be part of the group… to be like everyone else… to be average… even if it is a higher average than most western cultures…. but imagine your school uniform caught on this gaijin nail that not only stands up in their bored Japanese society, but proudly stands up and says: "Repeat after me!"

It's no wonder the past 30, 50 or 70 years (since WWII) or 150 years since the foreign world was thrust upon it, that Japan appears confused.

Perhaps Japan has adapted to the new world a few times over the past 150 years… but it has not done as well over the past 30 years. It's been rough.

That 30 year time-frame… that would literally be when the world became available at their fingertips. Japan liked what the world had to show it digitally in the social media world.

It wants to play…

But… Japan has all of these inflexible rules and regulations that the Japanese must follow to be part of Japanese society.

In my mind, that's why people like Japan Prime Minister Abe want to create or recreate a new persona for the Japanese via the an older persona - the Samurai.

Abe and others want to create their own constitution, have their own Armed Forces. They want their old rules back to protect them from the influx of gaijin ideals.

Down with gaijin. Up with Nihonjin.

Abe doesn't state that, but certainly he feels that recreating Japanese pride again to a downtrodden nation is the key to the revitalization of Nihon.

He wants a Japanese average Japan again. JAJA.

Accidentally, in the rush of the gaijin to help bring Japan into the 21st century, we have helped shove Japan into the opposite direction. We helped create the samurai generation by shoving it into their face about just how boring their average had become.

What would you rather be: the average Japanese who was happy with his lot in life; or the average Japanese no longer happy with being average after meeting all the exciting foreigners and foreign things?

Foreigners would go to Japan and think that the happy Japanese were boring.

It's all about perspective.

Boring? For us. But not for them.

But now that excitement of life via the gaijin has been revealed... people want more than just being average Japanese. 

For myself: maybe because I'm restless and never satisfied, but I after learning about new opportunities, I'd do what I could to get them for myself.

But what if your society didn't allow you to do that? And all those exciting things are visible to you, but out of your reach…

That is Japan.

Yeah, yeah… I know there have always been those that stand up in defiance of Japan's rigid norms…. but for those of us who have been to Japan, you see them and think - 'weird', even if you admire them.     

Pandora's Box is open.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 23, 2015

Map of Tochigi-ken 1870

Okay... here's something cool. It's a map of present-day Tochigi-ken - except that it's a map of it back in 1840 when it was known as Shimotsuke-ken. It actually lists the capital of the province as Tochigi-shi (Ccity of Tochigi), which it was until 1873 when power was transferred to Utsunomiya-shi (City of Utsunomiya).

It's more of interest to me, I suppose, because that's where I lived in Japan - Tochigi-ken. But, it's also because it's a pretty old map of Japan from a time when there really weren't good maps of Japan.

I'll be honest... I can't tell just what is being show on the map. Is it the cities and then all the little hamlets within the surrounding areas, or does it show thee more prominent family names?

The map is for sale on E-Bay, at the price of $675.

It is a a woodblock, hand-colored map by Akiyama Einen (surname first).

The E-Bay seller actually provides a fair bit of background history on maps, Tochigi-ken - sorry, Shimotsuke-ken.

The map is 21 x 14.5 inches (535mm x 370mm) in size - so it's a nice size.

The map is being offered for sale by a seller with over 5,000 sales and 100% positive feedback, and claims to only sell genuine articles, not reproductions. 5,000 is a lot of good sales.

Should you be interested in bidding on this item and sending it to me as a present, or if you are the type who want to have it all to themselves like a bag of popcorn when watching a movie, click HERE.

Personally, I'm not a collector of maps, but I do like artsy woodblocks (ukiyo-e) depicting women in kimono - alone or in a scene, but this map is pretty damn interesting.

Just today when I went to the mall to get some plastic sleeves for my baseball, hockey, football and basketball cards, I was pleased to see that they had an antique sidewalk sale, and I spent an hour or so chatting with dealers on everything from masks to ephemera (paper).

Not surprisingly, in a world dominated by computers, paper-related products were fairly scarce at this event. 

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Accidental Office Lady - Book Review

I recently finished reading a book by Laura Kriska called The Accidental Office Lady.

Published by the good folks at Tuttle Publishing, it details the Japan experience of a young redheaded American woman who was born in Japan, grew up in the U.S., but goes back to Japan to work for the Honda automobile manufacturer.

The book starts off with a rather condescending note from the author about Americans and the way they treat Japan. I know plenty of Americans, who treated Japan just fine.

It put me on edge and made the first 10 pages of the book difficult to consume, but it got better and better and better.

The book grew as Laura herself grew while in Japan.

At the beginning, Laura seems to question everything about the way Japan is run--and I don't have a problem with questioning things.

The problem I had was how she reacted to Japan reacting to her initial questioning of things and why they would rebuff her for daring to question the way Japan runs. She cried.

Crying? Really? Way to set back equality amongst the sexes.

Harsh I know, but I really hated her reaction to Japan not immediately bowing to her every demand for change.

Throughout the book, she continued to challenge Japanese authority--then I applauded her because rather than merely challenging for the sake of challenging for her OWN situation, she began to challenge Japan for the sake of others. The main case was for women's rights of equality of dress at Honda.


I began cheering for Laura with every challenge she then undertook, culminating with... wel... you read it and find out for yourself.

Laura Kriska's The Accidental Office Lady is an exciting tale of personal growth--learning which battles to take on to win and which to pass on as unwinnable.--as well as growth withing an international company, which could (one day, perhaps) inspire the rest of Japan.

The Accidental Office Lady, published by Tuttle Publishing is a quiet read, but a damn amazing story.

Hunh... look at that... I did a real book review without resorting to tricks. While shorter in length, I didn't have as much fun writing it. Hmm... what to do next time?

Anyhow... thanks for the loan of the book, Vince!

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Losing Japanese Culture

I made many observances on Japan when I lived there between 1990-1993, many of which have already been presented here in this blog.

Some are poignant, others ignorant, still some are amusing, and others just sad (both blue and lame).

Some cover more than one of the above descriptors, an easy result considering my descriptors are vague in their generality.

I'm currently in the process of reading a book (real paper!) called Lost Japan—a slow-moving, but highly thoughtful book by a writer and bon vivant far more intelligent than I—Alex Kerr.

The book is a collection of essays he wrote originally in Japanese for publication in a magazine, and when it was finally translated into English, it won the 1994 Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize, becoming the first book written by a gaijin (foreigner) to win such a prestigious prize.

In the very first essay/chapter, Kerr looks at the lost place known as Iya, lamenting how a whole village—after centuries in existence—was essentially abandoned as its population sought a better way of life in the big city of Osaka, for example.

As mentioned, the story was written for a Japanese audience originally, so the fact that a gaijin is pointing out a negative issue is something the Japanese would at least listen to - especially since there's no English involved!

For myself, I feel that Kerr's finger-pointing about the destruction of Japan is merely a description of what is going on in every single small town, village or hamlet in damn near every country in the world.

But… there was one thing about Japan that bothered me terribly: Japan trying to be less Japanese and more "American".

Now… there is nothing inherently wrong with America, nor wanting to be more like it. Canada is pretty much America Jr., but with better healthcare and less of a proliferation of automatic weapons or Zaxby's. (I see the TV ads!)

America has its pluses as well as its minuses, but all told it has more pluses - so I'm not bashing the U.S. of Eh. (Sorry, that's Canada, I meant the U.S. of A).

I'm actually bashing Japan and its desire to sacrifice aspects of its own culture as it incorporates bits of Americana into itself.

One of the things I like about Japan, is its distinctive architecture (at least it appears pretty damn distinct to me). For me, I like roofs… which is ironic considering I have a leaky one in Toronto…. but you can't have everything, least of all money to fix a leaky roof. Thank goodness it was -40C/F this morning, so there's no chance of leakage.

Anyhow… Who's the greatest baseball player ever? Roof! says the dog.
"What?" he continues, "I should have said DiMaggio?!"

I enjoyed traveling around Japan (it always rained when I traveled around in Japan, earning me the nickname Ame Otoko - Rain Man), so seeing effective roofing was always a plus.

I would look at a typical Japanese-style house and see the semi-circular pipe shaped terra cotta (in this clay)-like roofing tiles, and just know that I am in Asian country.

But… I noticed in my hometown of Ohtawara (It's always sunny in Ohtawara, when it isn't cloudy or rainy, which was actually pretty damn often - damn Ame Otoko), that when they constructed new, single or double-level houses, all the roofs had the neo-classic soft, flat glued on tiles that are rampant throughout Canada and the U.S.


Why make houses look so… so… un-Japanese?

It's a little thing, but it bothered me immensely then, and it bothers me immensely now.

It was like Japan was in a hurry to divest itself of a part of its cultural identity.

OMG - I think I understand (partly) what Japan Prime Minister Abe wants for Japan… more Japan-ism!

Can you imagine going to Japan for the very first time from your westernized country And discovering that Japan looks just like your home?

I won't call your country boring, but seeing Japanese houses with boring western roofing robs each visitor a bit of that mystery… a bit of the magic that Japan offers everyone who sets foot on its hot and sticky tarmac.

I know that Japan is still Japan, but with every new building looking less Japanese, I think the country loses a little bit more of its cultural identity.

And then I read more of Alex Kerr's Lost Japan. Turns out that Japanese half-pipe tiling isn't really Japanese… that a more Japanese roofing system involves something called kaya (which happens to be my sister-in-law's name)… a type of grass that is placed on a building like thatching.

It's a lost art… and even though there is still plenty of thatch being grown, very few people remain who know how to weave the stuff into a roof, making replacing the roofing of cultural heritage housing a very expensive proposition.

Japanese thatch roof. Image borrowed from
Of course, while the tiles in the west might need replacing after 10 years, the Japanese half-pipe tiles every 20, the thatch roofs only need replacing every 70 or 80 years.

Anyhow… the point is, I am lamenting the loss of Japanese culture, bemoaning the loss of the half-pipe roof tile, when the grass roofing is probably mow Japanese than any other style of roofing…

It's on temples, shrines, palaces, castles… fancy barns… hell… my Ohtawara Board of Education Office superintendent - his family's centuries (plural) farm house had the stuff on its roof, and I didn't realize that until just now with an acid flashback minus the acid.

Oooh… don't take the brown anti-acid. Classic.

Oh well… maybe I'll try and find a better argument for Japan losing its culture in another blog.

It does pretty much concrete up every damn space of green it can find, though. River banks, backyards… forests…

Andrew Joseph

Friday, February 20, 2015

American Comic Book Propaganda Versus Japan - 15

Talk about a comic book in need of some information - there's just not that much around!

Published in 1942 by Street and Smith Publications, Devil Dogs Comics #1 features an action-packed cover showing US Marines battling the Japanese.

Japan, of course, was Public enemy No.1 with a bullet after its so-called sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 9, 1941 that dragged the U.S. into the throes of WW2.

So to capitalize on the fascination with all things anti-Japanese, American publishers (including comic books) and movie-makers made a host of pro-U.S. material to inundate the population with.

Just like today, where we see these news broadcasts of some people burning an American flag and shouting down the Satantic overture of all things non-Muslim... where I bet the majority of the population doesn't feel that way and all we ever see are the 100 or so absolute fanatics desperate for media attention and get it.

Sometimes I wonder if we look at news broadcasts today... the whole wag the dog thing... would we actually notice if the same fanatics keep appearing in different locations protesting different things. Hell... there are professional "Canadian" protestors here in Canada - why not elsewhere?

Back to our comic book...

Look at that cover! Check out the U.S. Ranger on the top left! He's got a rifle pressed up against a Japanese soldier.

He's already shot the Japanese soldier! Yes! Check out the right hand of the Japanese soldier - it's letting go of a machete because he's probably just been shot in the neck or head.

How about the dead or wounded Japanese soldier in the bottom left corner, with blood streaming down his face from a forehead wound or two—there are two bullet holes in the helmet after all.

How about the single arm draped around a rock just above the flag?

How about that limp erectile-dysfunctional Japanese flag? Spent.

It's action galore with action and gore. Ahh, it's a good day to be an American!

I know it sounds like I am sarcastically ripping the Americans for the rah-rahness of the war against Japan, but that's what propaganda is supposed to do.

It's like the movie Rambo... how the hell does ONE guy do that much damage? If he could do that in a couple of days, how much damage did he do in Vietnam? The U.S. should have won the Vietnam War... sorry, Vietnam Conflict. That's right... the U.S. has never lost a war. Though I'd say it did during it's Civil War, the War of 1812 when it tried to attack British interests in what would later be known as Canada, and of course, we won't mention the war against illiteracy, drugs or poverty. Okay, I'm ripping them here.

Propaganda... if every battle was a simple as the comic books made them out to be, then there was no reason for that war to have continued past 1942 into 1943, 1944 and 1945. Sorry Bing, I don't think you'll be home for Christmas.

But that's what propaganda is supposed to do. It's supposed to rally the people back home and the troops overseas, to, if not plant false hope, then to inspire real hope.

I will give props to the creators of this comic book, however.

Although Devil Dogs #1 did describe the splashy adventures of the US against the Japanese, and does indeed show Japanese getting their ass handed to them by the Americans, and while the propaganda describes the U.S. as being an unstoppable machine destined to defeat the Japanese, at least they did not physically describe the Japanese as being sub-human, as so many of the cartoons and comic books of the day did.

There's no thick-glasses, or buck teeth on the Japanese soldiers being killed on the cover of Devil Dogs Comics #1. There's no Japanese stereotype being evoked. There's just the simple propaganda of the 'good guys' taking it to the 'bad guys'.

Comic Book data:

Cover by Jack Binder - guessed at, but likely considering he did the interior art.

Featuring eight stories for a dime:
Cover Story: Specialists In Quick Death, a story of the United States Marines, a 19-page tale written by Walter Gibson, with pencil and inks by Jack Binder.

One page musical score of The Marines Hymn;

Five page typeset text article (with a few drawings to accompany it): What It Means To Be A U.S. Marine. Jack Binder proves the art.

Invasion Of The Belgian Coast - 24 pages, Writer: Walter Gibson; art by Jack Binder. It stars Red Rogers of the Rangers.

The Coming Of The Boy Rangers - eight pages, featuring the introduction of the Boy Rangers: Randolph Cartwright Swift Jr - Speed; Rocky; Stumpy; and Chris who doesn't have a cool nickname.
Writer: Gibson, Art Binder.

Roger's Rangers - 7 pages

How We Got Alaska - 1 page strip with art by Jack Binder;

The Daring U.S. Sub - 1 page strip with art by Jack Binder.

Now… while the name Jack Binder is probably familiar to comic book history buffs, how many of you recognize the name Walter Gibson?

You should. He created one of the most iconic characters of the 20th century - The Shadow.

You know: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

Or: "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit."


It is assumed that Gibson wrote all the comic book stories for this issue, originally suggesting the title of the book as Rangers.

He wanted a comic featuring stories of the Rangers through all of the wars they had participated in. Devil Dogs incorporates U.S. Army Rangers as well as the U.S. Marine Corps.

Whatever... Devil Dog Comics #1 meant bad news for the Japanese... as well as the publishers, as there never was a Devil Dogs Comics #2.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Japanese Photos Of Radiation Exposure

Here's an uncredited photo that was sent to me by my friend Michael, who says it from a LIFE magazine showing a Japanese boy with some radiation burns following one of the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima during WWII.

I'm unsure if this little boy is one of the lucky ones are not.

While is injuries are not as bad as other survivors, part of the problem is that radiation effects could hit him later in life or even be passed on genetically to his kids who could end up malformed.

Injuries include those caused by the exploding bombs' heat and fire, actual blast injuries, and of course external and internal damages from radiation.

Radiation would also slow down the actual healing process of other sustained injuries, but once the radiation sickness was eliminated, healing did go back to normal.

However, as mentioned, other illnesses did come about - believed to be caused by the exposure to radiation,

Case in point regarding the severity of injuries, is a photo I found over at

Let's hope he or she died soon after, because that looks like many lifetime of pain in this photo.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Japanese Purple Cipher Machine

How the U.S. Cracked Japan's 'Purple Encryption Machine' at the Dawn of World War II
I'm sure many of you have heard of Nazi Germany's Enigma Machine, a code making piece of equipment that nearly stymied the Allies, but had cracked by the folks at Britain's Bletchly Circle. There's a movie called The Imitation Game out right now that deals with this very problem (as well as passing references in the Brit TV show The Bletchly Circle - very good show, by the way).

So... the Germans had a code machine... what about the Japanese?

The Japanese had the enigmatic Purple Machine.

Given the Japanese inability to say the letter "L", and a penchant for changing English words into the katakana alphabet, the word purple would be a bitch to say: "pa-pa-ru". Ugh. As such, I can only assume they had a different name for their code machine.

Just prior to WWII, the Japanese took the concept of the German Enigma Machine and improved its encryption devices to transmit their most top-level military secrets.

But here's the thing... the Japanese were unaware that even before the war on the U.S.--the attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii--that the Americans had cracked it.

Oshima Hiroshi (surname first), a Japanese diplomat, purchased an Enigma Machine from Germany in 1930, which they (Japan) then used to create their own encryption machine that was code-named "Red" by the Americans.

Japan's Navy intelligence used Red between 1931-36, when the U.S. Signal Intelligence Service (SIS) broke it.

But... apparently the SIS did not have the word "secret" in it, and word leaked back to Japan and created another encryption machine in 1937, the "97-shiki O-bun In-ji-ki" aka the "97 Alphabetical Typewriter."

Despite thee fact that there are three Japanese alphabets, the number 97 doesn't factor into that. Instead, the '97' is in reference to the Japanese year of 2597 - the number of years Japan reckons it has been a nation.

The Americans... they simply called this machine "Purple".

From what I understand, the Purple Machine consisted of: two typewriters and an electrical rotor system with a 25 character alphabetic switchboard.

With two typewriters, the Purple Machine was considered more complex than the Enigma.

While both the Enigma and Purple Machine utilized a single typewriter to manually input data (the message) in an non-encrypted format (also known as plaintext).

The Enigma Machine would then represent the message in form of blinking lights; but the Purple Machine used the second typewriter to type out the now-encrypted message onto some ancient artifact know as paper.

The cool thing about the Purple Machine was that you only needed one person to work it, while you needed two for the Enigma (one to type and one to write down the blinking lights message).

The drawback, however, was that since there were two typewriters, the Purple Machine was a bulky bastard and was not only difficult to move around, it was not used in combat zones.

How does it really work?
  1. The Purple Machine is able to encrypt all inputted messages with its four rotors and switchboard.
  2. There was a secret message key (A = "R" or 17 = "B") that was changed daily (like Enigma), which means that unless you had the key, you couldn't use it to decode secret messages.
  3. Thanks to a changing key, codebreakers had a bugger of a time finding patterns.
  4. The key is inputted into the Purple Machine via arrangement of the switchboard and rotors.
  5. The switchboard had 25 connections (25-character keyboard), which the operator could arrange into 6 pairs of connections, which would give them 70-trillion (70,000,000,000,000) possible arrangements to encrypt the message.
  6. On top of that, one could arrange the rotors in different starting positions to also vary the encryption.
  7. The rotors (aka stepping switches) would rearrange themselves as the first letter was inputted into it via the first keyboard, and then rearranged again for the next netter and again for the third letter and so on.
  8. Basically, the Purple Machine could run through 100's of thousands of encryptions before it ever repeated the same format. This meant that since messages weren't that long, there was no chance of a pattern being spotted by a codebreaker.
How the U.S. Cracked Japan's 'Purple Encryption Machine' at the Dawn of World War II
Okay... so now you have an encrypted message - how does anyone read the damn thing?

Well... the reader would need a Purple Machine of their own, and would need a REVERSE key to decrypt the message.

They would then type in the encrypted message via their first typewriter, and the Purple Machine would replace it with a decrypted message - the plaintext, that you and I could read.

Who used the Purple Machine?
Spies, you would think, but rather than think James Bond-san, Japanese diplomats and high ranking military dudes in enemy countries were the ones - Washington, London and even Berlin.

How the fug did anyone break the Purple Machine code?
Stupid carelessness.

As with any encrypted message, the more information you have, the better. Usually.

But... the Purple Machine was new in these pre-WWII days... so new that not everyone who received the message knew how to work the machine properly... so the Japanese ALSO sent the secret message by Red... the same encryption machine that was broken by the U.S. Signal Intelligence Service in 1936.

Why the hell you would send the same message twice - via the Red and the Purple - is beyond my limited intelligence, but one can assume that my intelligence is far superior to the average Japanese intelligence office of 1937.

Look... the reason Japan created the Purple Machine in 1937 was because they found out the US has broken Red! So why use it ever again? Why use it to duplicate messages of your new Purple Machine? That's just beyond idiotic!

So... armed with the still secret encrypted messages sent via the Purple Machine (what the hell is this??!!) and the revealed encrypted messages sent via Red, the U.S. was eventually able to break the damn Purple Machine code.

It wasn't easy, of course, but the Japanese had presented the U.S. with far too much information... and even when the Japanese receivers no longer used Red, still the more cyphers sent via the Purple Machine meant more data for the U.S. to try and use to break the code(s).

It was in 1939 that the U.S. Army hired the cryptography expert William Friedman.

William Friedman
Ach... poor Bill.

Born in 1891 and originally named Wolf, his Jewish family left Russia in 1892 and ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Americanizing his name to William in 1895.

Make no mistake about it, to be asked to lead the group to break the Purple Machine must have meant that Friedman was brilliant - and he was... still, the machine broke him 18 months after taking the job, having a mental breakdown and then being institutionalized in 1941 - but was pretty much back to feeling in the pink by 1943, when he went to England to work with Bletchly Circle.

But... Friedman and his team did manage to break the code first... doing so in 1940.

Friedman and his team realized (in their head) that unlike the Enigma which used rotors, the Purple Machine used stepper switches similar to what was being used in telephone exchanges of the day.

So... team member Leo Rosen of the SIS built an encryption machine of his own in late 1940, using the stepper switches... only later discovering that the stepper switches he had chosen were exactly the same stepper switches the Japanese designer of the Purple Machine had used... the exact same stepper switches. Now that's code-breaking!

The U.S.SIS had built a Purple Machine of their own without ever having seen a Japanese Purple Machine.

With data from the other messages they had intercepted, they could now decrypt any message with their own Purple Machine... and the Japanese had no clue their machine code was broken.

But... having a machine of their own didn't mean they could understand the Japanese coded messages. Remember? Japan changed the key every day.

It was in 1940 that codebreaker Lt. Francis A. Raven noticed that the Japanese did follow a pattern in the changing of the daily keys.

Raven spotted that each month was broken into three 10-day segments... there was the pattern. I don't get it, but the important thing is that Raven did.

What type of messages did the U.S. break?
Well... there was this important message that they intercepted that was going to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC... that ordered an end to any negotiations with the U.S.

This was on December 7, 1941... the same day that Japan attacked the U.S. naval base of Pearl Harbor, on the U.S. Protectorate of Hawaii... which makes it part of the U.S., of course. Hawaii didn't actually become a State until August 21, 1959.

For conspiracy theorists, there is a question regarding just WHEN the Purple message was decrypted and presented from U.S. SIS to the U.S. State Department.

The message is quite clear that by ordering a halt to Japan negotiations with the U.S., that something was up - like war... so... did they suspect that Japan was going to go to war with the U.S.?

Honestly - yes, the U.S. knew that war with Japan was imminent. Negotiations cut off? Yeah, that's bad. It means war... and it means war soon.

The problem is - and no conspiracy here - is that no one realized just how well-prepared the Japanese were for their coordinated decimation of Pearl Harbor.

The thing is... for days previous, Hawaii had expected Japan to attack, and front page headlines in the newspaper on the island said as much (see HERE)... it's just that no one knew exactly when or exactly where.

The when (pretty damn soon) could be guessed from the decoded message sent to Japanese politicians in Washington from Japan's head government.

The where? How the hell no one spotted such a large fleet or aircraft carriers... well... okay, it's a big ocean... but why didn't the Purple Machine or anyone else know that Japan was amassing a large plan of attack... why did no one know that the fleet was in the area? That's the real mystery. There is no conspiracy... just people either not knowing or or knowing not fast enough.

The conspiracy theorists say that the U.S. wanted to go to war against Japan to protect interests with China... and while Congress was basically neutral, by ignoring the decoded message,  Japan could attack Pearl Harbor and the U.S. could get its wish for war.

I don't know U.S. President FDR, but come on... that's just stupid. But... I suppose anything is possible. 

Remember... Japan still had no clue that the U.S. had broken its Purple Machine codes... and so it continued to use it for a few more years... with decrypted codes helping the U.S. to victories at Guadalcanal and Midway.

By the way, Friedman died on November 12, 1969. Enshrined in the U.S. Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, he was also awarded the Medal for Merit by U.S. President Harry Truman, and the National Security Medal by U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Star Wars: That's Cold, Darth

Okay... I admit to either being lazy or being busy or being both.

Submitted for your viewing pleasure are a pair of snow sculpture photos that Julien sent me a few days ago.

He's a nerd like me.

Or is it a geek?

Which one has more money? The opposite of that... that's what we are.

Up in Sapporo, Japan, this past week, a bunch of snow sculptors constructed this massive mountain of Sith evil.

It's bloody amazing.

And no... that is not Yoda in there... it's Darth Vader's personal TIE (Twin Ion Engine) fighter known as the TIE Advanced x1. There... proved my point.

I am unsure what Japan's fascination is with Star Wars... I mean, I like it, but you don't see me doing the whole fan thing. I mean, sure... I have the first four series of Star Wars Collectors cards from the 1970s and 1980s. Yeah, I have unopened boxes of Star Wars action figures and vehicles and sets. yes, I have sent away for special edition figures such as a ghost Obi Wan Kenobi, a Han in Storm Trooper suit (the helmet comes off, so that's how you can tell it's him) and multiple band members from the cantina that I picked while a member of the Star Wars fan magazine... and sure I have a special edition Luke Skywalker in his dark robes that was ONLY given out during the opening night at the movie theater of the re-release of the 'adjusted' movies. I might even have a special baseball with some Star Wars imagery on it... but I'm not a fanatic.

It's true that I also have comic books, a first edition hardcover of Star Wars released long before the movie, have thee soundtrack to the movie, and maybe even stuck the included poster up on my wall... BUT...

I actually waited one whole year after it was first released before seeing it, getting thee gist of it from the six-issues of the comic book. As well, while my son does have a few Star Wars LEGO sets, I never purchased one for myself. I have also never worn a Star Wars-related T-shirt, but I admit to taking a hankering for Cinnamon rolls after seeing Princess Leia.

But, the biggest reason I know I am not a fanatic regarding Star Wars, is that I have never built a Star Wars snow sculpture nor have I gone out to see one.

Yup... the sculptors are artists, and perhaps fans... the people who see it - fanatics.

Whatever. It's pretty cool stuff. Way to go, Sapporo.

Somewhere wondering why I never got a Star Wars-related XL T-shirt,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 16, 2015

Home Depot and Rona: Tales of Japan

Okay, I'll come clean right at the beginning. This story is NOT about big box hardware stores Home Depot or Rona, but despite that, the headline is appropriate. 

Let's pretend it's 1993 again.

For the nearly three years now, I've been living and growing up to teenagerhood as a now 28-year-old in the rural city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

That is to say I'm an assistant English teacher (AET) on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme and I'm preparing to go back to Canada after being anything from mature to intellectually simplistic during my stay - specifically where women are concerned.

Anyhow, while I am in the process of having to leave my own Tokyo Disneyland with no job prospects back in Toronto, no place of my own to live (I have my parent's), and no Noboko.

Noboko is my Japanese girlfriend and the love of my brief life and while I would give all those great expectations of Toronto up for the chance to live my life with her in Japan, her unhappy father (unhappy with her dating a foreigner or dating me) has caused me to not know exactly what Noboko's plans for the future are... which, of course, means I have no idea what my plans for the future are.

Sounds like a plan. I just don't want that to be something that hangs like a dark non-silver-lined-cloud over me the rest of my life.

So... in the meantime I am making plans as though I am indeed exiting Japan per the terms of my third one year contract on JET.

At work - any of the seven junior high schools I taught at in Ohtawara-shi - there was resolution, as I said good bye to students, many of whom I had seen grow up these past three years, to be fine youngsters, all of whom by 2015 probably have kids of their own who are the same age as their parents were in 1993.

By April of 1993, I was already aware that despite the glowing performance of myself as a JET participant these past three years, OBOE was not continuing its affiliation with the Programme.

Rather than pointing fingers, it was pointed out to me that the OBOE's decision was a political one.

Ohtawara's esteemed mayor Sembo (who was there in 1990 and is still there in 2015), had decided Ohtawara should utilize its sister-city status with St. Andrews, Scotland and hire an assistant English teacher from there.

So, they opted out of JET and hired a Scotch lass named Rona MacKenzie.

I laughed when I found out, as I pictured my students learning to roll their "R's" like a Scotsman.

I had already communicated a few letters to her, regarding the ins and outs and what to bring to Japan and to the OBOE people, but other than that, I was purposely vague - not wanting to build up or spoil any of the surprise 

I'm was sure she'd have a good time in Ohtawara and Japan.

Years later - I have no idea if she did.

Regardless... I broke JET in Ohtawara-shi.

Andrew Joseph 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Post War Japan Photograph - Asakusa

I have no idea where my friend Michael got this photo from, so I'm pleading the 5th, which since I'm Canadian probably means some sort of booze rather than any constitutional amendment Americans claim.

The photo is purported to be from post-war Japan, 1946, Asakusa district in Tokyo, to be exact. It shows an ex-Japanese soldier with prosthetic legs playing the guitar on a street corner for what I would assume would be change, but who the hell knows. 

The photograph is remarkable on sooooooo many levels.

Interesting Fact #1 First, Tokyo (including Asakusa) was in March of 1945 fire-bombed and fire-bombed and fire-bombed by allied air attacks, whereby 

On March 9-10 via Allied attack plan ""Operation Meetinghouse", a total of 334 B-29 bombers took flight to attack Tokyo.

Although "only" 279 dropped bombs, it was a total weight of 1,665 tons (1510.5 metric tonnes) of bombs.

Most of the bombs were of the 500 lb (230 kg) E-46 cluster bomb variety... each one releasing a cluster fcuk of 38 napalm M-69 incendiary mini bombs known as bomblets.

Dropped from an altitude of 2,000–2,500 feet (610–760 meters), these M-69s had enough weight and momentum to smash right through Japan's thin building roofs and after impact explode three to five seconds later releasing a hot flame of napalm.

This bomb would and could do a lot of civilian damage given that it didn't explode for a few seconds after impact, and thus could hit the ground or floor of a building to provide maximum damage.

Another devious weapon in this weekend (Friday/Saturday) event was the inclusion of M-47 100-lb (45 kg) jelled gas and white phosphorous bombs (an incendiary), that exploded upon impact. While a nasty bit of business, these bombs would not puncture buildings before exploding - they exploded upon contact with buildings (or anything unsheltered).

Of course... shelter or not, the concussive force along with the flames was going to do a lot of damage.

How many people died? There has never been an accurate count. The lowest number offered was from the US Strategic Bombing Survey: 88,000 people died in this one raid, 41,000 were injured, and over a million residents lost their homes. The highest number comes from the The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, believing there were 124,711 casualties includes dead and wounded) 286,358 buildings and homes destroyed (which is different from the number above listing number of homeless).

Whatever the number, this bombing raid of Tokyo was pretty damn high.
Tokyo firebombing: 88,000 dead;
Hiroshima: by end of 1945, injury and radiation brought the total number of deaths to 90,000–166,000.
Nagasaki: roughly 39,000–80,000 people were killed - though it doesn't take into accounts of later deaths from radiation poisoning.

And I didn't even mention Toyama - a later blog, perhaps with a more detailed look at Tokyo during the war.

So... holy crap... Tokyo took it up the wazoo a lot harder than Nagasaki did, as far as loss of life is concerned.

Asakusa district Before WW2
Asakusa district after March 9-19 firebombing of Tokyo.
Interesting Fact #2 Although anywhere from nine months to 19 months later, this topmost photo is from 1946. Check out the shop behind the guitar player - it's a shop selling dresses or other clothing - well-stocked, clean - who has money to buy?

Interesting Fact #3 The guitar player has very interesting above-knee prosthetics. While I doubt they are comfortable and lack knees to bend, I would imagine the gentleman would have to wobble at the hips from side to side and then gain forward momentum to gain a few centimeters of of a stride at a time. Slow, but workable.

Were there no wheelchairs available at this point in time, or did he shun them to give the appearance of having legs and being able to see the world from his accustomed height?

What do you think? Is it possible the actual construction was homemade? 

Interesting Fact #4 Where the fug did he get such a nice-looking guitar? Seriously. It's 1946, and the war is over, and I would assume luxuries might include having enough toilet paper or meat for a meal. So... having a guitar? It must have been a gift from someone.

In my mind, while he is recuperating in the hospital waiting to have his above-knee amputation or is recovering from it, someone visiting him - and army buddy - or even a complete stranger coming in to cheer up the sick and wounded - plays on that guitar.

When our photographic icon hears it, perhaps he asks if he could strum a few chords, and instead wows the audience - including the owner of the guitar.

Did he play jazz? The Blues? Classical, Japanese ballads, American contemporary? Does it matter, except that it was a beautiful noise unburdened by the whistling of a bomb cutting through the air?

Perhaps now armed with a musical colleague and friend, the person who brought in the guitar earlier comes back on the day of discharge and presents THIS guitar to him.

Who knows... perhaps prior to being forced to enter the armed forces of Japan (either conscription or sense of duty and sense of honor), the guitar player in the photograph was a professional musician or a teacher of music.

I haven't touched a musical instrument since 1993, but besides being able to play all woodwinds, brass and keyboards, I taught piano and clarinet while in journalism school. I also coached women's soccer with my friend Rob while I was in journalism school.

Some books you just can't judge by their cover (I think you can judge a few books by their cover), and this guitar playing ex-soldier in a recently firebombed area of Tokyo.. this photograph speaks volumes.

Thank-you Michael, for sending me this photo. It certainly offers layers and a story to be told.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How The Grinch Stole Valentine's Day

Because so many of you have been clamoring for more information on just why I'm the grinch of Valentine's Day, allow me to offer a brief, by my standards, explanation.

Not related, but still confusing - my blood sugars are high - high enough to go on a pill... so if I'm so full of sugar, why aren't I sweeter in disposition.

I am... when allowed to be.

First off, I'm not going to bother to use color of skin as a reason. That's a cop-out, and even I don't buy it.

But… I did grow up very shy. Regardless of often being the only brown guy in the neighborhood (I wasn't), I was nearly two years younger than everyone else in whatever school grade you want to use.

I was 4-years-old when Grade 1 began.
I was 12-years-old when I entered Grade 8.

It was that later age where things got silly. I was just hitting puberty, but everyone else had a big head start on me. Being younger and suddenly tossed into a new school (a high school), with new bullies to circumnavigate, different types of classes (chemistry?!), and different expectations from everyone, instead of coming out of my shell, I retreated farther back into it.

As such, I remained shy. Whether it was my imagination or not, there was only one girl who ever talked to me in high school. Liz... why? She was my clarinet partner in Music class. She was also a year older than everyone else, so she didn't fit in with them, but at least we had the clarinet in common. So there was a beautiful, big-boobed 15-year-old talking with a 12-year-old with a perpetual hard-on. It must have been thrilling for her.

Now… despite the epic shyness, I did like women. I had my hands on my father's Playboys for years prior to high school (it's why I always have loved Eastern European women - thanks to a spread entitled the Girls of Munich - 40+years later, I can still recall the title). I eventually acquired my own collection of adult magazines and after much one-handed reading, I actually read all the articles - and learned about sex and other myriad things, from so-called experts.

But… still… no dates.

That lasted through university, where I was befriended by a Swedish goddess named Ingrid (who was from my high school) and the Vietnamese-background Sunshine Girl Wendy Lum… and while the subject of dating never came up, I did learn how to flirt from both of them. I would never have embarrassed either ruining a friendship to be rebuffed.

After five years of university studying political science, I went to a community college and studied journalism. The only reason I went to college was because of a girl, and the only reason I applied to the JET Programme to teach in Japan was because of another girl. I was good enough to be their friend, but not good enough to be their boyfriend. I still had not had a girlfriend... except...

Somewhere in there… at the age of 22, I had my first date and my first girlfriend, Bryndis… Icelandic for child of war, or so she said. But that was a summer romance.

And still… I was purer than the undriven snow. My right forearm became extremely muscular (it still is) and it wasn't because I played the accordion, though I dis play the accordion for nearly 10 years.

Then Japan at the near age of 26. Although Kristine helped give me courage on my first day in Japan simply by saying hello, it was Ashley who made me realize that I wasn't kryptonite to women.

And here's the thing… when you have a girlfriend (or a wife), suddenly other women want to know just what it is about you that is 'date-able'. In other words - you can't find a new job unless you have proven you can hold a job.

With my virginal issues settled multiple times, I spent February 14, 1991 in Japan… Ashley was my girlfriend. But for whatever reason she had, when that day came, she wasn't my girlfriend. Trust me, there was no way in hell I would have ended a relationship.

It's was too bad... I had gone all out and cooked dinner, bought her flowers and presents and some special booze I knew she liked… and was going to make it an ultra romantic night.

My valentine.

The next year (1992) Ashley and I weren't a couple, but we were sleeping with each other. We did spend Valentine's together - but just for sex… it was sex without meaning… and to be perfectly frank, I had had enough of that in Japan (that second year I not only came into myself, I came into a lot of women)… I wanted sex with meaning… to find my lover.

I wanted a valentine.

The next year - year three - 1993… I had not yet met Noboko, and basically, I ended up spending the day alone.

At that time I was sleeping with half the young adult female population in my city, and I did not want to date anyone on Valentine's Day or White Day for fear of it giving anyone the wrong impression. We were just using each other for sex - and that was fine.

But I wanted a valentine.

After that… I was back in Toronto… and while it sounds stupid… I was dating strippers and massage girls - nice women, and certainly not what people expect (I try not to judge). I went to dinner with some, took another to a hockey game where she said she would remove her top if the home side scored five goals (we got to four… but no biggie, I had already seen them).

But while the sex and eye candy was pleasant... no real valentine.

In the ensuing years, I've been married, but owing to circumstances beyond my control, the date has been forever marred for me.

I've tried to forget. I've tried to be distracted. But nothing seems to work. And now, older than I look, and still young at heart, I tell myself that I would like the date to have meaning... but history tells me otherwise.

What's more galling, is that there have been a few women out there for whom I would have gladly killed a yak for their supper - now that's a valentine-worthy love - but my timing always seems to suck. Too bad. Yak is actually quite tasty.
And, for the record, no one actually clamored for this story.

Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, February 13, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Stop The Maidness

This isn't a true continuation of the story of my life in Japan, but it is a small attempt by myself to explain the psyche of Japan, the Japanese people, Japanese women and the Japanese family, as related to current events as depicted in the blog.

I had always thought that Noboko, the love of my life, was a strong person… and she would have to be, to look as hot as she looks and to survive the repeated advances from every man within noseshot (that hair of hers always smelled great!), including myself.

Prior to us knowing each other, she had moved out of her parent's home and those parental unit rules to to and live in Kobe for a few years.

At some point in time, she rebuffed an engagement to a Japanese man, gone back to live in her parent's home when she took over a maternity leave teaching position at a school in my city.

At the westernized young age of 27, which is the old maid age of two years beyond acceptable marrying age for a Japanese woman... well… despite all of that being atypical of a Japanese woman, she still maintained enough of her Japanese-ness to never be confused as anything but as Japanese.

Here's the thing… the Japanese-ness trumps the female-ness every single time in Japan.

It's like the people of Japan are Japanese first, and everything else afterwards.

For the Japanese:
'I am Japanese. I am a man. I am Suzuki-san. I am a teacher.'

The 'I am a man part', that would be obvious, but that shows an accepted order of respect amongst the sexes. Men in Japan are treated with a higher level of respect than Japanese women. Even myself - a gaijin (foreigner) man was treated with more respect than what a Japanese woman would earn (though admittedly there are exceptions to that - just not as many as one would think).

In my own opinion, for the average westerner, a person's foreignness does not affect the level of respect garnered.

For me:
'I'm Andrew. I'm a writer. I'm a man. I'm Canadian.'

While I have a distinct pride in being Canadian, and it is indeed a defining part of who I see myself as being, it's not THE defining element.

It's my name and what I do that truly define me. Family status would also there (as part of the job - 'I'm a Mother', for example, as I know a proud momma or two who would beat me senseless if I didn't at least mention that).

For the Japanese, it's all ass-backwards relative to myself, and what I assume for most westerners.
  • Being male in Japanese society, they gain special privileges in society over women.
  • The name thing… it's NOT the personal FIRST name - it's the stoic FAMILY name… the job, while extremely important to the Japanese, doesn't define the personality.
  • The job is considered something that all good little Japanese sheeple must perform well and at long hours, at the expense of little things like personal life or family.
For us westerners that don't own their own business, while we may hold certain loyalties to our work, we all know that while important, it's not the be-all and end-all in our life.

Being Japanese. Being a good worker. Being a good family member that always honors and respects the wishes of the father.

There is no being personally happy. That is expected to be achieved by following the above three rules of Japandom.

There is no individuality. You can try, but as ever, in Japan: The nail that stands up, get's hammered down.

There is really only what is good for the unit, not the individual.

Aside from finding a husband themselves, what can old maid Japanese women do to halt the decline into old maid-ness?

There are arranged marriages. There are arranged dates. There is death before dishonor. There is honoring thy mother and thy father. Eww... Christians might recognize that line... I do, but there are limits to that ideology in my mind.

Does that limit exist in Japan?

Noboko's mother had been fighting for her daughter against her own husband.
  • Was it being done because she wanted her daughter to be happy?
  • Was it being done just to get her married - what with her being an old maid at the age of 27?
  • Was it being done just to get her married (regardless of her age)?
  • Was it being done because Japanese women should be as empowered as their western counterparts?
  • Was it being done because she liked me? No... I think she like me, but that's got very little to do with it.
I have no fricking clue. Even if I asked Noboko's mom, I am unsure I would ever get the real answer.

What was Noboko's father fighting for?

There are a few things - many of which contradict each other.
  • Personal honor - to be the man and head of the household, and for his demands to be respected regardless of the content.
  • He is correct about his job - that his daughter marrying a foreigner would indeed impact on his job and future job status. He's a proud man, as any man would be… who would want to be shamed at work?
  • He really is a racist and doesn't want to have his bloodline sullied by gaijin blood and brood.
  • He doesn't want to lose his daughter to a foreigner that will take her away from him to a foreign country.
  • He doesn't want ME to be part of the family, because I may not be as perfect as his opinion of other foreigners might be.
  • He is still pissed off at his daughter for not getting married previously, and is tired of her having her way, when it should only be what is good for the family rather than the individual.
  • He hates being known for having a daughter past the standard Japanese marrying age (that was 25, and she's now 27), but he hates the fact that she would resolve it with a gaijin. Do you get her married, or do you gain a gaijin? Which is more important?
I'm sure there are many other reasons out there as to why he is against Noboko and myself…

But, I am sure there is ONLY one reason why Noboko and I should not only be dating, but should be married.

Andrew's Reason #1
I love Noboko. Noboko loves me.

But that's just my naive western ideology… but, it doesn't count for sh!t in Japan most of the time.

So why create this particular blog? Just to give you all a better an idea of what some people are like, and what it was that I was up against, what Noboko was up against, what Noboko's mom was up against, and what Noboko's father was up against.

Andrew Joseph