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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

As you know, I am a LEGO fan... which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover (via the Internet) a cheese tart shop in Kyoto-shi (Kyoto City), Japan use LEGO.

It's a shop called Bake... and was designed by Seki Yuseke (surname first).

No... it's no built out of LEGO, but the display counter is! Maybe of black and white and two types of grey bricks, I would imagine it's a bugger to clean - what with little bits of cheesy pastry flakes getting stuck in the the pegs... but what do I know.

For the full story, check out the architectural write up on it HERE, from De Zeen.

If I wasn't a writer, one of my two dream jobs is to be a cheesemaker. No... really. But only cow milk cheeses. I'm not a huge fan of goat milk.

That other dream job is to do voice-over work in animation. At least at one time I had over 100 different voices I could do... I haven't counted in a while.

But cheese... LEGO... and Japan... this was a good day... I only wish I was in Kyoto to try some of the wares.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch

I am one of those old guys who likes video games.

I was there at the beginning of arcade video games, and I was there at home for the home video game experience.

Being a nerd… but not a geek… wait… which one has lots of money? I’m the opposite of that one.

I love my comic books, cartoons, Star Trek and Star Wars, and played Dungeons Dragons into my 30s… but, Buddha help me, I am not the type of person who needs to collect all of the flora and fauna and flotsam and jetson’s (love that show)… and by that I mean, I don’t need to have little figurines or posters or keychains or any of that superfluous crap.

Comic books… and maybe a t-shirt or 12 to declare my affinity for comic books.

Anyhow, video games. I used to go to convenience stores where they had arcade video game machines and attach a string to a quarter with tape and fish the coin up and down in the slot to give myself 99 credits.

I can recall my buddy Rob and I doing that at one place where they had a Donkey King Jr. machine… and this one poor little kid would hang around us and wait until we had to go and we’d give him the remaining credits for free.

That kid who used to hang around Rob and I… his kid is one grade below mine now at the same school. He remembered me when we came across each other a couple of years ago.

In Japan, I purchased a Nintendo Super Famicon (In North America it was called the SNES - Super Nintendo Entertainment System) system… The Super Famicon (Super Family Computer - the Japanese enjoy combining words when they create a new katakana word for their language) system came with cartridges that were square edges, while the western SNES version used cartridges that were rounded, meaning you couldn’t swap games… unless you cracked open the plastic cartridge and placed the electronic board directly in the cartridge slot – which I did so I could play western games on my Japanese video game system.

I was a loyal Nintendo man for plenty of years after that, but eventually, I switched to the Sony PlayStation 2 system… and then the PS3 and then the PS4.

I bought the PS3 for myself years ago, and the PS4 for my son last Christmas.

Despite the PS4 being this “new” system that, I hate it.

I firmly believe the 6-year-old Sony PS3 system to be far superior.

For many of the PS4 games, you purchase the game, pay to purchase a Sony Network pass, and then… you can wait up to 20 hours!!! for the game to upload… and then as you play on-line, you “pay” for your Internet usage. Sucks. Sucks donkey kongs.

For the PS3, you just buy the game (now much discounted in price because of the new PS4 system)… and even cheaper if you buy used… pop it in… wait a minute or two… and the begin playing… that’s it. Graphically, if there’s a difference, it’s minimal.

Anyhow… I’m now playing a PS3 game called Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch… a RPG (role-playing game) that is basically a Japanese video game with Japanese anime (animation) art throughout it.

Developed by Level-5 and released in Japan in November of 2011, the western version (with English subtitles and overdubs) came out in January 2013 via Namco Bandai Games.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I cracked it open almost a month after I bought it… because if I knew it was this good and this addictive, I would have played it as soon as I bought it (used).

I bought it because the name of the game was Japanese… and didn’t look like that typical big-boobed female art that the Japanese seem to like (and everyone else… strangely, not me, though – more of a butt guy).

Anyhow… it’s similar in scope to Pokemon… where you play a kid named Oliver who gains “familiars” – animal monsters and uses them to battle other animal/monsters as you go about a quest first from the human world, to this strange magical world… looking to defeat a great big evil and hopefully bring your dead mother back to life…

To advance in the game, Oliver (you) and your aide, Mr. Drippy (a fairy/toy doll from your human world) perform quests… exploring towns, villages, dungeons… and the huge world country side.

The game looks and feels like a very good Japanese animated movie.

In fact, Studio Ghibli produced the game’s animated sequences. Studio Ghibli created such animated fare as My Friend Totoro and other Japanese animated classics.

Studio Ghibli storyboard on the left - video game animation artwork of  Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on the right.
Anyhow… I’m only about 1/5 of the way through it… maybe even less than that… and it is fun and witty.

The monsters one fights have funny names like Badanas (bad bananas) – a large bunch of unripe bananas… Purrloin = cat thieves… great word play like talking to King Tom (a cat) who lives in Ding Dong Dell – whom every calls his Meowjesty. Or a cow queen in the desert called the Cowlipha… whom everyone calls her Moojesty.

Stupid, sure… but actually it’s all quite witty… which means they actually got the English translations down purrfectly. A rarity in English video game translations.

Anyhow… I would recommend you buy Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch video game and play it for the amusement it provides – plenty… and sell that crappy PS4 and buy a refurbished PS3.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Japanese World War II Surrender

I'm still on vacation mode until about the middle of January... so what we have here is General Douglas MacArthur putting his signature to the Empire of Japan's surrender on September 2, 1945.

Signed aboard the United States battleship the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was the written formal agreement prepared by the U.S War Department and approved by then U.S. president Harry S. Truman.

The document had eight short paragraphs contained within it, with the opening paragraph stating:
"We, acting by command of and in behalf of the Emperor of Japan..."

The second paragraph states:
"We hereby proclaim the unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters and of all Japanese armed forces and all armed forces under Japanese control wherever situated."

You can read the full document below:.

Japan envoys Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru (surname first) and General Umezu Yoshijiro (surname first) signed the document at 9:04AM.

Next, Commander in the Southwest Pacific and Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers U.S. General Douglas MacArthur signed the document. (See image above).

On October 1, 1945, these documents were formally received by the U.S. National Archives.

You can see where General MacArthur signed on the middle of the second page.

As for the Japanese copy... well, that had to be signed as well... and everyone did that at the same time they were signing the English copy.

Of course, Canada managed to screw up the Japanese-language version of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender.

Canada's Colonel Cosgrove wrote his name not on the line above “The Dominion of Canada,” as was intended, but on the line below.

Everyone else who followed then had to add their name in the wrong spot, crossing out the country information and handwriting in the correct data... leaving no where for the New Zealand representative to sign.

The New Zealand representative signed his name below everyone else.

When it was over, the Japanese came to take their copy of the document - saw the mishmash of crossed out information and began to question the legality of it all.

Way to continue WWII, Canada!

To quickly resolve the issue, General Walther Sutherland - the chief of staff to MacArthur - took a pen out and drew a line under the New Zealand representative signature and said "Now that's fine. Now it's all fixed."

The Japanese representative took the document, folded it up, and walked down the gangway of the USS Missouri.

The Japanese copy of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender is in the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

D'oh Canada. 

Yes, I have written about this before... but not like this.

Let's see if I can come up with something different for tomorrow... I've been playing a video game all day long... hey... that's it.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Japan's Shadow Play Of War

War affects everyone differently. For those who are brave, there are those who are frightened. For those who survive, there are those who are killed.

It was said at the the time, that by the end of WWII, everyone knew someone who was affected by death in the war.

I don't know about that, but the point is that it was certainly far-reaching. I had a great uncle who fought against the Germans in North Africa... and I'm sure most of you have a relative somewhere and somewhen who was in the war. One of my high school buddies - his dad was part of the Hitler Youth... saying that if he didn't join it would have been trouble for him and his parents, such was the bullying aspect, to put it politely.

The images above show two examples of the shadow remains of Japanese civilians - bodies vaporized after one of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

You can see on the left the seared in imprint of a man and a ladder vaporized by the heat of the blast against a wall... and on the right the carbon remains blasted into the cement of an old man (my guess) who was sitting on the steps enjoying the day.

Yeah, yeah, yeah... Japan was no rose blossom during WWII... but these (probably) aren't soldiers. However, I also understand the Allied response for the need to use these bombs... there was no way in hell Japan was ever going to surrender, and there was going to have to be an Allied land invasion of Japan... and that would mean many more dead on both sides that what was "accomplished" by the nuclear bombs.

Japan pretty much invented the slogan "death before dishonor", and there was nothing more dishonorable to the Japanese from 1945 and earlier than being captured or defeated by the enemy. Any enemy... whether it was "allied" of an enemy "samurai clan" from pre-1867.

Above we see the frightening visages of who far man"kind" has come from bashing each other's brains in with stones.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Fighting Filipinos

While I bet a small population of the United States knows about this, I would imagine a larger number of its current citizens and its global community of friends do not.

Back in 1934, the Tydings–McDuffie Act - officially known as the Philippine Independence Act was enacted on March 24, 1934. 

It was a federal law that most U.S. citizens hardly blinked an eye at, but it helped establish how the then American-colony--the Philippines--would, after a 10-year period, become its own independent country.

While the country's 1935 Constitution was created under the act in 1935, as was its first elected president, what it also did was establish Filipinos living in the United States to now be considered as aliens.

While the new Philippine Commonwealth Constitution still allowed the United States to draft Filipinos living in the Philippines to protect American interests on the Pacific island, conversely, Filipinos living in the United States were exempt from military service.

It was something that remained in effect until about one month after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

On January 3, 1942, U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a law that revised the Selective Services Act, thereby allowing Filipinos in the U.S. to join the U.S. Armed Forces.

In fact, these men and women were encouraged to volunteer. The U.S. War Department acknowledged that since there was already some 70-100,000 Filipino volunteers ready to help the U.S. take on Japan (and Germany), that it would establish at least one full Filipino fighting force.

On March 4, 1942, the 1st Filipino Battalion was organized, and activated on April 1, 1942 at Camp Luis Obispo, California.

So, why is this such a big deal?

Well, about 10 hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan also began its invasion of the Philippines, on December 8, 1941 (Philippines date & time, relative to Hawaii).

Just like at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese air attack took out the American air force in the Philippines.

After the initial air attack, Japanese ground troops landed north and south of the Philippines capital of Manila. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the Asia Pacific region at that time.

With the naval forces already under steam to Hawaii, and the air force decimated, getting new troops into the Philippines was nigh on impossible.

Under siege, the defensive forces withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula and to the nearby island of Corregidor at the opening of Manila Bay. On January 2, 1942, Manila declared itself an open city to avoid its own destruction, and was then occupied by Japanese troops.

The defense of the Philippines continued until April of 1942 when the Bataan Peninsula was taken, and Corregidor was over run in May. Some 80,000 prisoners of war were taken by the Japanese and forced to walk to a prison camp 105 kilometers to the north. The camp claimed thousands of POWs at the camp, as the Japanese began their notorious mistreatment of prisoners.

I'll Be Back
Then Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon and vice-president Sergio Osmeña Sr. had been with the forced evacuation to Corregidor, but somehow, both escaped the country and ended up in the U.S. setting up a government in exile.

As for U.S. general Douglas MacArthur... I first heard the following line on a Warner Brothers cartoon.

After MacArthur climbed aboard a ship in the Philippines, dodging a Japanese blockade through the dark, he landed in Australia and spoke to the press gathered there in Adelaide. "I came through and I shall return."

He immediately began thinking of ways to liberate the Philippines.

Back in the United States, an inspirational war poster was created - which is what you see at the very top of this blog.

Free of American involvement, the Japanese forces organized a new government in the Philippines. The Japanese had promised the Philippines independence after its occupation, but they decided to maintain control until October of 1943, at which time it was declared an independent republic (of Japan).

A puppet government was set up and was headed by president José P. Laurel. The Japanese also set up and allowed only one political party, the KALIBAPI (Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas) aka the Association for Service to the New Philippines.

Via the puppet government ruled by Japan, the Philippines was officially declared as the Second Philippine Republic on October 14, 1943 under president Laurel and his KALIBAPI government.

The KALIBAPI - was nationalistic in nature, promoting the Tagalog language as the one common language of the Philippines, creating a 1,000-word language to teach to those who did not already know it. (Nowadays, along with English, it is the official language of the Philippines.)

And yet... many Filipino women were forced to act as comfort women to Japanese soldiers.

Confiscated by the Japanese military in 1942, Bahay na Pula, aka the Red House in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, Philippines was a military barracks where the women were forced to engage in sexual acts against their will to please and "comfort" the Japanese invaders.

As a Philippine puppet government under Japan's control, president Laurel still excised some control and refused to give in completely to Japanese control, refusing to declare war against Great Britain or the United States.

To counter this disloyalty, Japan created Makapili in November of 1944 to organize a Philippine-led group that would provide the Philippines with more Japanese military support.

To say that the Filipinos simply rolled over and let the Japanese do whatever they wanted is wrong. Just as in France when the Germans took it over, an underground was set up to disrupt Japanese occupation as much as possible.

By the end of the war, 277 separate guerrilla units made up of some 260,715 individuals, fought in the resistance movement of Japanese occupation in the Philippines.

I've Come Again
True to his word, MacArthur came back with the U.S. army in late in1944... armed with the best weapon of all - information.

Thanks to the underground in the Philippines, the Filipinos helped themselves by delivering key data to the Americans.

MacArthur was only slightly exaggerating when he said he knew what every Japanese lieutenant ate for breakfast and where he had his hair cut.

But no one expected the Japanese to roll over easily.

Japan, by late 1944 already knew that it was feeling the pinch and decided to try and make the Philippines the place where it would hold back the Allied forces on their own advance to Japan.

Japan sent what forces they had left - airplanes, ships, tanks, soldiers to the Philippines... and even created the suicide squadron known as the Kamikaze just for defense of the Philippines.

This was the infamous Battle of Leyte Gulf. Here's a comic book version of it in three parts: #1 and #2 and #3.

The battle was the biggest naval battle of WWII, and was the biggest disaster for the Japanese. The whole battle to re-take the Philippines was the bloodiest of the Pacific.

Thanks to the guerrillas fighting in the Philippines, the Allied attack had learned of Japanese general Yamashita Tomoyuki's (surname first) plan to trap MacArthur and his forces.

Yamashita, who thanks to his invasion and takeover of both Malaya and Singapore in 70 days led to British prime minister Winston Churchill calling it the "worst disaster" and "worst capitulation" in British military history. It led to Yamashita earning the nickname as the "tiger of Malaya". (Hope it doesn't spoil the story, but when the war ended, Yamashita was hung on February 23, 1946 for his leadership of his troops and their misconduct during the invasion and occupation of the Philippines.)

MacArthur's Allied forces successfully landed on the island of Leyte on October 20, 1944... along with the former real vice-president of the Philippines - Sergio Osmeña Sr - who was now president after the death of Quezon earlier on August 1 of 1944.

After more landings on the island of Mindoro and Lingayen Gulf, Allied forces began their push towards Manila.

The Japanese troops were eventually pushed out of Manila to the mountain of Luzon, and where they went balls to the walls in a last-ditch effort to survive the Allied attacks.

The former Philippine Commonwealth troops marched together with guerilla fighters and the Allied forces against the Japanese forces.

Not really all that into the Japanese occupation of its country, loyal Filipino civilians helped in the recapture of the country as the forces moved through the towns and villages.

The battle for the Philippines continued until September 2, 1945... still killing each other even though the second atomic bomb - the Nagasaki bomb supposedly had the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945.

Still... the battles raged here until September 2, 1945 when the surrender was made official.

During WWII, it is guessed that one-million Filipinos died during the conflict. 131,028 of those were killed directly because of 72 specific Japanese war crimes.

The U.S. saw 10,380 dead. Japan had 255,795 dead.

I did not write this blog to help people dredge up the past or to relive it... I did so "lest we forget".

Well... I also did as an homage to my childhood buddies Alfred and BenJohn Galvez, and to my adult buddy FFF and with respect for her father.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I just wanted to do a blog today that showed off that cool Fighting Filipino WWII poster from the U.S. Then I realized there was no context... and the next thing I know I'm writing a chapter on WWII. I just can't help myself. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

We All Live In A Yellow Submarine

So... Christmas is over... everyone survive?

I spent the afternoon at the wife's mother's place eating my first turkey dinner in maybe five years. Nice!

Earlier on December 25, we did the typical gift exchange.

I did NOT get anything Japan-related nor anything Aviation-related, which is fine... I did get lots of crappy joke-related stuff an underwear, which is always appreciated... I have never bought my own underwear. After my mom, Noboko nested and bought me underwear, and now my wife, Colette, does.

I needed dress socks, but what the heck, eh. She did buy me a very expensive watch... something she bought two days before I fixed my old Seiko watch that I took along with me to Japan.... ahhh conundrum... I guess I can switch from day to day?

I still recall that before Ashley left to go on her Thailand vacation without me back in 1990, I gave her my Donald Duck wristwatch to borrow so that it would be like I was with her.

To my chagrin, she apparently lost it in a river in Thailand while riding on an elephant.

Uh-huh. I loved that Donald Duck wristwatch. In Japan, I used to wear two watches... keeping one on Toronto time (DD), and my Seiko on Japan time. One watch per wrist, of course. I was a hipster doofus before it became a thing. I even had a fedora. Though I never actually wore it in Japan.

I did also get a LEGO building toy - the Beatles Yellow Submarine. While it's not Japanese, it does have a Japanese connection.

Japanese LEGO fans began petitioning LEGO to create various models for them about five or six years ago... and LEGO said if you can get 10,000 likes on a particular model, we will consider building it.

One of those was a Hayabusa - Japan's satellite asteroid mission - that was one their now-defunct LEGO CUUSO website back in 2012. I have that one.The first, the Shinkai 6500 submersible, went on sale in Japan in February 2011.

Fans used to create stuff with their own LEGO and try and entice LEGO to build it as a mainstream  - but still limited-edition - set.

That's why you see Minecraft sets, a Back to the Future DeLorean DMC-12 car set (got it), and a Ghostbusters original ECTO-1 ambulance/car set (got it). I think a Big Bang Theory set was also part of the deal.

And now... a Yellow Submarine set from LEGO... which, I can only conclude was because of that original Japanese fan website from five years ago.

Back in London, England when I was two or three years-old, my parents had decided to take me to church... this was in the 1960s... anyhow, the Beatles' Yellow Submarine song had been released and I seemed to have taken a shine to it.

In church I began to belt out the tune: "We all live in a yellow submarine!" at the top of my kiddie lungs causing my embarrassed father to pick me up and carry me out of the church as I continued to repeat that one line over and over again.

Even after the church doors slammed shut behind my dad and I, my mother who remained says she could still hear me crooning.

Yes... my first name is John... like the Beatles... while the name I go by - Andrew - my second name - was after Prince Andrew, who had been born some years earlier.

Ah me... and so, the true meaning of Christmas is not having any idea what one is going to write for a blog, except to explain how his day went, and then to somehow make it relate to Japan.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Today is my parent's wedding anniversary. Does it still count if one is dead?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas!

I'm not sure what I should write about re: Japan and this blog. I've written about Japan and Christmas in the past... I've written about how I celebrated Christmas in Japan... I've written about how it was sometimes lonely because your family and friends are back in whatever country you are from... and I've written about how the people in Japan - foreigner friends and Japanese friends - can make you feel like a million billion yen because they care enough about you to make sure you aren't feeling lonely.

Right now, I feel like I am so far away from all the people I once knew in Japan... and then I hear that they still remember me - 23 years later, and I feel close again.

My buddy Matthew - who lived in the same city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, as I did during my stay in Japan - has been a frequent visitor back to Japan over the past 20 years... and for once in my life, I am neither jealous or envious... just grateful.

Matthew was one of those people - especially that first year I spent in Japan back in 1990 - who made sure I didn't go dark and hide inside a part of my brain that made me ugly on the inside.

My parents were in Toronto, my friends, too... my girlfriend had gone to Thailand without me - getting a ticket for herself after we broke up... and even after we got back together again, it was too late for me to go to Thailand.... and I was feeling lonely... and then Matthew came a knocking on my apartment door with his board of education boss Mr. Suzuki, and they dragged me out.... well, actually... I think they did.

I do know they dragged me out for New Year's Eve... but whatever... the point is, I'm not going back to look up what I wrote in this blog years ago... and instead I am going to concentrate on the stuff I do know.

The photo above was my Christmas decorations back in 1990 in Ohtawara-shi. There was a small shop in the city that sold decorations, which I hung all over a poor pine tree I bought at the local grocery store, Iseya. The rest of the decorations on the table were Christmas cards from well-wishers back home and from my friends in Japan.

Sometimes... you just have to stop and take a moment or two and think about things. Lonely... naw... people cared enough to send wishes to me, and I to them.

In hind sight... and that was mere moments after I decorated the tree... I realized I was lucky to be spending my Christmas in Japan when most all other assistant English teachers and foreigners working in Japan were doing their damndest to get out of the country.

Matthew and I were among the many and the few who spent Christmas in Japan, because that was really the place we had wanted to be.

Even me... the dumbass who didn't want to go to Japan in the first place.

And here I am 26+ years later, writing about Japan. It's funny how things work out even when you don't think they will.

I do know that I have enjoyed the past year with you loyal readers - excluding Matthew, I don't believe I have ever physically met you. And yet... when you find a moment, many of you drop me a note... and I just wanted to say I appreciate it.

Anyhow... I have no idea how many of you celebrate Christmas, but for those that do, my greeting at the top of this blog will hopefully suffice. For the rest of you - Happy holidays, season's greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus for the rest of us... what ever and however you celebrate - have a good one.

By the way... I am still up for writing this blog every day... and since finding topics to write about or to put my own unique spin on is difficult, feel free to drop me a line with a topic you might want me to investigate.

Also... I write a historical fact-finding tour de force blog called Pioneers of Aviation about the state of aviation history from 1919 and earlier... where I try and find the correct answers that conflict one another to provide a complete, or as complete a spot of information I can find on various plane designers, pilots and aircraft of the early age.

Basically, I try and fix the information to ensure that history is correct, and that the men and women who played an important role in helping travelers get from point A to point B, are remembered and are given their due. Everybody wants to be remembered, right?

 I base my choices on sets of tobacco cards that were issued in 1910 and 1911, which I know sounds dumb, but ya gotta start somewhere. Click HERE.

It's a good blog. You should read it. And maybe I'll start another blog in 2017.

My friends... thank you for being there for me... thank you for reading this blog.

I have always said, that as long as at least one person takes the time to read what ever I am blathering on about, then I will continue to write. So it's your fault.

It'll be close, but this month of December looks to be one of the strongest for readers of the blog yet. 

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Truth About Mike Rogers

Looking for some good cheer this holiday season? Please check out my friend Mike Roger's website Marketing Japan... and his latest blog where he discusses the Truth About Santa.

Click HERE.

I know that Mike believes in Santa Claus, and that's good enough for me. I like Santa's glasses.

For those of you who don't know why I like Mike, I should mention that he came across my blog once upon a time, and then I checked out his blog... and then, without him knowing it, I made a commitment to not only write everyday, which I have done since February of 2011, but I also wanted to write more than him... and by that I mean churning out more blogs in a one-year period... which I did in 2012, when I put out 731 articles. That's just over 2 articles per day. An insane amount of copy.

Yeah, I know some people churn out 50 or 60 tweets a day... but you'll excuse me if I feel that my articles had more substance than 140 characters (including spaces).

By the way... I am sure that if Mike had known he was in a writing competition back in 2012, he would have kicked my butt with copy.

Since then, Mike and I have remained friends... chatting via e-mail when we can... Mike is incredibly busy with his family, work in the visual arts (videos and movies), as well as putting on concerts, doing a weekly radio program, and... well... helping Santa, it seems. I have no idea how he finds the time, but I am pretty sure there are many people out there who appreciate his effort.

Mike is one of those honest people that I seem blessed to come across more often than not.

And the worst part, is that I've never physically met him. But... I want to believe he exists.

Merry Christmas, Mike!

Andrew Joseph

Friday, December 23, 2016

American Comic Book Predicted Pear Harbor Attack One Month Earlier

In one of those weird and awful coincidences, back in November of 1941, a comic book hit the news stands... National Comics #18 published by Quality Comics and starring Uncle Sam and partner Buddy Smith...

Uncle Sam is supposed to be the living in carnation of the spirit of America. The character was created by Will Eisner, who more famously created The Spirit.

It's a comic book that was written and drawn at least two months earlier that shows the attacking of Pearl Harbor... in the story titled: The Bombing Of Pearl Harbor.

Now... not only does this comic book story foretell the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it correctly depicts Germany's "asian" ally as the force that does so.

Here's the story synopsis:

It's late in 1941... morning... Guam is attacked by "oriental" dive bombers. (no they don't say Japan... but China and Korea are not at that level of strength yet). As well, Pearl Harbor is attacked by "enemy" warship cannon fire, while another "hostile" fleet of ships steams toward North Africa from a Mediterranean port.

But why?

The U.S. decides to send its entire Atlantic Fleet to combat the enemy in the Pacific, which isn't the smart thing to do... as Uncle Sam lambastes Congress over that decision.

As Uncle Sam and Buddy Smith travel by sea from Washington, DC to Portland, Maine, they find things quiet... until they are themselves attacked by a mob on the wharf... after a brief fight, they are captured and placed in the hold of a large steel-hulled trawler.

They manage to escape... because why wouldn't you leave a popular superhero and his sidekick unguarded?

Uncle Sam hears a message sent from the trawler, and confirms his suspicions that these guys are spies and not common crooks.

Punching a hole in the trawler, they make their escape... a torpedo is launched at them from the trawler... Uncle Sam catches it and flips it back at the trawler - Kabloowie!

As our two heroes go to find a payphone, the scene shifts to the enemy fleet. With enemy fighter planes above, the German-looking officers joke about how smart the plan was for their allies to create a disturbance in the Pacific to draw America's attention away from its own shores.

At a US "sound-detector" station (something similar to early radar), Uncle Sam is around when it hears of a "alien" attackers... so Uncle Sam calls the Secretary of War who says it has less than 12 bombers available. He gets some cargo planes and mine layers and destroyers and goes out to meet the enemy.

As a large convoy of bombers attack Maine, Buddy contacts a private flying club and the president of a piano company about a plan he has concocted.

Using piano wire cables and other cables are attached to the US bombers belly to try and tangle up the propellers of the enemy planes... and five planes are destroyed in this manner.

Enemy battleships begin shelling Portland. Out in Portland Bay, Uncle Sam encounters the forty-foot-tall ghost of John Paul Jones. He was the United States' first well-known naval commander in the American Revolutionary War... not the bass player for Led Zeppelin.

I don't even know why I know who both John Paul Jones' are. 

So... at Portland Bay, Jones tells Uncle Sam of a plan and disappears... because he's a ghost. Anyhow, using the townsfolk's help, they and Uncle Sam load the two ships with oil drums and sail around the rear of the enemy fleet leaving a leaking trail of oil around the enemy... and then they ignite it.

Troop carrying planes then drop parachutists down into Boston, but Buddy and his dangling rope planes manage to destroy the enemy planes...

As Buddy and the other plane fly back to Portland, Maine, they see nine large "enemy" warships caught within the ring of burning oily water... when one catches fire, it's ammunition cache explodes... it sinks.

The American bombers come back and bomb the enemy warships... who sail into Portland harbor and surrender...

Everyone cheers for Uncle Sam... Uncle Sam turns and cheers the ghostly apparition of John Paul Jones. The end.

You'll notice that the story does NOT say Japan, Italy or Germany... but hints at it. It's because the United States was not involved in WWII until after the attack on Pearl Harbor... which in reality did not take place until one month AFTER this comic book hit the newsstands.

Nowadays, the Uncle Sam comic book character is owned by DC Comics... and exists (existed) on an Earth X where the Nazi's won WWII. Please... you don't think real books or television came up with that concept first, do you? Nowadays, thanks to DC continuing to rewrite their own history, Uncle Sam and his Freedom Fighters are now just heroes who fought during WWII and continue to fight evil wherever it reigns in 2016 and so on.

As for this old edition of National Comics #18... it is yet another clear case of life imitating art.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Become A Giant Schoolgirl And Smash Tokyo

Have you ever wanted to be like Godzilla and stomp all over buildings and destroy helicopters and airplanes?

Sure... I suppose.

Have you ever wanted to smash Tokyo as a giant schoolgirl?

Not really, though I did dress up as one for Halloween a couple of times, once in Toronto where I scared the crap out of a male co-worker who thought I was a hooker grabbing him, and once in Japan for a party.

Fortunately, I have the legs to pull it off. Much better than what is offered in the screen capture above.

Anyhow, Japanese video game developer Cave has released a trailer for its upcoming VR (virtual reality) game called A.I am Monster where you, the giant robotic schoolgirl get to rampage through Tokyo destroying as much of the city as you can to rack up the points while blocking rocker launching missiles from helicopters.

It looks like fun. You have VR gear on your head and on your arms as you swat at buildings and copters... you can even grab a helicopter and throw it at tanks trying to blow you up from under your school girl skirt.

And it all happens while Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries blares at you. The music has long been my favorite classical piece.

It's a funny trailer - especially when you see the guy in the bottom right corner dress up as a Japanese high school girl and then put on the VR gear.

Cave has not said which game system will be required for its A.I am Monster game, but the trailer shows the HTC Vive, meaning it has motion control support... so maybe Oculus Touch and or Sony PlayStation Move for PlayStation VR.

Cave says the game will be available to Japanese audiences sometime in 2017... but not information is available to know if they are making a version for western audiences.

I tweeted to them that if they do create a similar version for western audiences that they create a four-year-old boy in a department store.

I'm sure any parent of a four-year-old can agree that major carnage can occur in that situation.

A.I am Monster... destroying Tokyo is such a Japanese thing... perhaps inspired by WWII and the Americans. 

Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks Matthew for the heads-up!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Kanji Of The Year 2016 And Buzzword Of The Year

Every year, the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation (財団法人日本漢字能力検定協会 Zaidan hōjin Nihon Kanji Nōryoku kentei kyōkai) - a kanji promotion group -  gets together and reveals at Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally "Pure Water Temple") in Kyoto, Japan what voters have felt deserves to be the kotoshi no kanji (今年の漢字), literally 'kanji of the year'.

In Kyoto, as seen in the photograph above, the chief Buddhist priest Mori Seihan (surname first) of Kiyomizudera (Kiyomizu Temple) painted the kanji character with a giant calligraphy brush on a giant piece of paper at the famous temple where this year’s kanji was announced.

To me, this is an opportunity for Japan to take an inward look at itself and come up with a defining word or feeling... which I admit is difficult.

I just keep hoping that one day they will stop taking the easy way out... 

For 2016, the kanji that was deemed to best represent the world of Japan this past year, is:  - kin, which means gold, in this case...

Fug... really? Gold?

Why? The reason most cited by voters was the high number of gold medals won at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the shift to a negative interest rate (“interest rate” is “kinri” in Japanese), Donald Trump's U.S. presidential election victory (“blonde hair” is “kinpatsu”), and Piko Taro, singer of ‘PPAP’, who’s known for wearing a gold-colored animal print outfit.

Olympic medals? Japan won 12 Gold medals at the 2016 Olympics... a fine amount, sure, but that was good enough for sixth place. Well behind USA's 46, Great Britain's 27, China's 26, Russia's 19 (that will probably shrink), and Germany's 17.
One of 12.
Other reason's for choosing Kin was Japan's minus interest rate? Boring, but intriguing. Negative interest rates mean depositors pay money to save their money, a reversal of the normal rules of economics. It is seen as a way for Japan to kickstart its economy. By the way, 負の金利 (Fu no kinri) is Japanese for negative interest rate. Just sayin'.

One of four.
I could see Kinri/Interest rate being the kanji: 金利 - why not that?  It's not two kanji... it's a combined pair to make one kanji? Isn't it? Still... it's not about the interest rate so much as it is about a negative interest rate.

Trump's blonde hair? Really? The president elect's hair color is what drove Japan in 2016? Hell no... it might be what drives Japan crazy in 2017-2020... but not 2016. He hasn't done anything yet, because although he has been formerly elected president by the United States Electoral College - the only thing that actually matters when electing an American president (look it up), he is still only the president-elect until he is sworn in during his inauguration in January of 2017.

By the way, in the history of the U.S., only nine voters within the Electoral College have ever voted against the State's choice for president... none of which ever swayed a presidential outcome. The votes were counted as cast by US Congress... the group that has the job of counting the actual electoral votes. And now you know. 

Believe it or not, that's his real hair color. I don't see how it's gold, but sure... kinpatsu. Anyhow, one of thousands.
What else... a popular singer who wears gold-colored animal print clothing.
Piko Taro. One of one.
 Oh, that the race of man could sink so low.

This is the third time in the past 17 years that Kin has been chosen as the kanji of the year, including 2000 and 2012.

The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation received a total of 153,562 entries for its kanji of the year, with Kin receiving a top 6,655 votes.

What other selections could have been No. 1?

Sen, meaning selection, following the U.S. presidential election and Britain’s decision in a referendum to leave the European Union. Again, interesting choices - but how does it affect Japan?

Hen, meaning change, came third. It was opined to reflect changes in: the global situation, and;  a series of natural disasters such as earthquakes in Kumamoto and Tottori prefectures.

Excellent! This one makes sense!

 A full list of the kanji chosen since 1995 can be found HERE.

To me, the selection of Kin, yet again shows a decided lack of imagination amongst the Japanese. Maybe the Japanese word for "boring" should have been the kanji of the year. 

Additionally, there is also a 'word' of the year, derived by Japanese publisher Jiyu Kokumin Sha, who offer a prize for the buzzword or phrase that captures Japan.

The shortlist of 30 nominees was announced last month and now we have the 10 finalists, including the winner.

Kamitteru is a slang phrase popular with kids that became more generally popular after the manager of baseball team Hiroshima Toyo Carp used it to describe the performance of one of his players in June of 2016.

The man, the myth, the utter of Kamitteru.
It means “godlike”, taking the Japanese word for god (kami) and adding a suffix to turn it into a verb in the present progressive tense. In English, one equivalent proposed is “godding”.

Hiroshima Carp manager Ogata Koichi (surname first) used the term (already coined and used years ago by Japan's youth), when in June of 2016 he used kamitteru to describe Suzuki Seiya's performance after the Carp outfielder hit sayonara home runs (walk-off game-winning home run by the Home team) in two consecutive games against the Orix Buffaloes.

It's impressive, to be sure... and the myth continued on when the Carp went on to win the championship later that year.

Other finalists for the word of the year included PPAP (the acronym for Piko Taro’s viral hit Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen) and Pokémon Go - Nintendo's video game that everyone played for about a month after it debuted.Do you know anyone who is still playing it?

Interesting how PPAP is mentioned in both 'word' contests.

The winning word or phrase for the 'word of the year' was chosen by a selection jury from a shortlist drawn up by the panel and publisher... a publisher best known for an annual book of modern terminology and slang.

Godlike... Kamitteru... that's the best you got? Because a baseball manager called a player that? That has to be the biggest exaggeration ever!

You get what I wrote, right? Still... if everyone starts using it, then it is indeed a buzzword worthy of the adulation.

Holy crap. Japan chooses a word because it won a lot of gold medals? That's what you think defines 2016 in Japan?

Or a word that was uttered by an over-caffeinated baseball coach? What if that coach's team didn't win the Pennant? They did - the Hiroshima Carp... but that's it? Still... I do think the kamitteru word is pretty decent.

Still... general sports and baseball? That's what defined Japan in 2016?

How about emotionally unstable? Sexless? Border dispute? China? Economy? Falling population? Zero population? Constitution? Military growth?

Sometimes all I can do is shake my head and be disappointed.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

New Measurement Of DNA Modification Helped Initialize Cell Functions

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a new analytical method that uses the rare metal tungsten to measure 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), a marker for gene expression, one nucleotide at a time.

This method holds promise of contributing to advances in epigenetics and regenerative medicine research by simplifying 5hmC detection in the genome, and accelerating the pace in which knowledge on the initialization of cell functions is accumulated.

Many multicellular organisms carry out a chain of reactions that allows their genes to turn on and off by converting cytosine, a nucleotide found in DNA, into 5hmC. The substance, involved in regulating gene expression, has been found in human and mouse embryonic stem cells—cells capable of differentiating into different types of cells—and brain tissues. Several methods have so far been used to analyze 5hmC on a nucleotide scale, but each requires multiple steps to achieve the desired reaction, or involves damaging the DNA.

The research group led by Professor Okamoto Akimitsu (surname first) at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, and Assistant Professor Hayashi Gosuke (surname first) and graduate student Koyama Kenta (surname first) at the Graduate School of Engineering, at the University of Tokyo, first revealed that the tungsten-containing acid peroxotungstate reacts just with 5hmC, the only substance carrying allyl alcohol in DNA. This oxidation has the feature of converting 5hmC into the thymine derivative, which makes it easy to detect the location of 5hmC in the DNA. The scientists applied this reaction to one-step 5hmC single-nucleotide analysis, and detected new 5hmC signals from the DNA collected from the human brain.

5hmC plays important roles not only in essential biological processes such as initializing the condition of cells, but also in diseases such as cancer.

“We expect this study will help answer fundamental questions in life sciences research of not only why and when cell functions are initialized and differentiated in iPS and embryonic stem cells, but also which gene is required in abnormal cells,” says Okamoto.

He continues, “We want to use this 5hmC-analyzing technology to map the entire genome of patients for the epigenetically important DNA modification in their cells.”

Gosuke Hayashi, Kenta Koyama, Hidefumi Shiota, Asuka Kamio, Takayoshi Umeda, Genta Nagae, Hiroyuki Aburatani, and Akimitsu Okamoto, "Base-Resolution Analysis of 5-Hydroxymethylcytosine by One-Pot Bisulfite-Free Chemical Conversion with Peroxotungstate", Journal of the American Chemical Society Online Edition: 2016/10/22 (Japan time), doi: 10.1021/jacs.6b06428. Article link (Publication)

Andrew Joseph

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ferrari celebrates 50 years in Japan with Limited Edition J50

I’ve never really been a true fan of the exotic supercar—mostly because I knew I would never, ever own one… so why waste my time mooning over it?

I do moon over automobiles that I have a shot (a very slim shot, mind you) of one day purchasing for myself, like a 1961 Ford Thunderbird Convertible (in Candy Apple Red), or a 1956 Chevrolet Nomad station wagon (in Inca Silver) or a 1970 Mercury Cougar (in deep purple). I have always loved me some cougar.

I’m the kindda guy who when he was a kid, would watch NASCAR, Indy 500, the NHRA dragster and funny car races on television every single chance he got. I even bought some NHRA trading cards.

I also used to buy Matchbox cars—when they actually came in a small matchstick-like box, Lesney’s and Corgi’s too. But what really set my heart a-pumping was the introduction of Hot Wheels… racing cars, hot rods and exotics in the most amazing colors one could imagine… and cars with that very cool thing red stripe along the sidewall of the tires. I still have all my old play cars. Very much played with.

I loved sports cars - rumor has it that I was conceived in the back seat of a Fiat while my parents were honeymooning in Italy. It must be why I love Chef Boyardee

My dad had a ’67 Ford Mustang, metallic navy blue, for our first automobile in Canada. It was awesome. That thing got hit seven times in seven separate accidents—none of them my dad’s fault (apparently). I can recall having just turned seven and in the back seat of the Mustang, stopped at a gas station taking on fuel. My mom and then one-month-old brother were in the back as well, as my dad was outside pumping the gas… when he suddenly screamed “Look out!” as a car that had been parked about 30 feet away came screaming at us in reverse and plowed into the back of our car - shaking everyone up, but otherwise being the final nail in the coffin (accident #7)… my dad believing (with ample dents and damages) to prove the damned thing was cursed.

Anyhow… seeing as how I was likely conceived in Italy, and literally became a man in Japan, it seems appropriate enough that I write about Ferrari celebrating its 50th year in Japan with the very limited edition J50, that unfortunately you are going to have to be a very, very rich  person to own one.  

Based on the 488 GTB Spider, the J50 was recently launched in Tokyo… and is a targa-topped throwback to legendary Ferrari's from the 1970s and 80s. It was designed in Maranello, Italy and built by Ferrari Special Projects – the team responsible for Eric Clapton's SP12 EC (He designed his own effing Ferrari.

Only 10 J50 Ferrari will be built… to celebrate 50 years? Shouldn’t they have built 50?
NO! Of course not… that’s why Ferrari is Ferrari, and I was conceived in the backseat of a FIAT.

For the J50, Ferrari assures me that no two of the 10 cars will be the same because the owners - yes, they are already gobbled up - will work directly with Ferrari to get the little things they want put in the car.

It's not as special as you might think... have you ever bought a car? Did you get to choose what materials are used on the car's interior? Leather, cloth, wood-grain? On the Ferrari, it'll just be some very expensive material. Same with color... you get to choose your color.

This is only impressive if the owner wants to have one in fuchsia, aubergine or chartreuse. Don't judge me because I'm a straight man who knows his colors.

My son, who is now 11, gushed when I showed him photos of the J50, and told me that it looked a lot like the Ferrari 488 GTB Spider.

I laughed at how he knew that. Blows my mind. Kid can't recall what he did in school that day, but knows that this 10 car limited edition J50 looks a lot like a 488 GTB Spider.

The car does look like a Ferrari, so I'm told. I was always a fan of the 308 and 318 - the Magnum PI Ferrari's. There's a black line running around the nose and up to the base of the windows, which Hudson says looks like an F40.

Sure, I said... so I looked it up, and damned if he wasn't correct.

He did not know, however, that the wraparound front window and windows were designed to look like aero windows that were on the 1950s Ferrari racing cars. So I guess I can stop being scared that he's moving to Italy next week to work for the car company. I don't know what aero windows are.

Anyhow, look at the back of the Ferrari... see how you can see the engine? Cool... it has a clear engine cover.

There's also the cool rear spoiler, and diffuser that looks like a jet airplane's afterburners...
This is the F430... but I'm using it to show off the diffuser located directly under the license plate... kindda looks like home plate in baseball... 
Tail lights... similar in style to a Ferrari GTCF Lusso (it looks like an old Mazda RX7), moving away from the 488 GTB's brilliant twin taillight.

The J50 is powered by a specific 690 cv version of the 3.9-litre V8 that won the overall International Engine of the Year Award this year.

 The new Ferrari also boats a new set of unique forges alloy wheels.

The interior is pretty new looking, but it's not as over the top as one might expect. It comes with unique sports seats and a three-tone trim.

All driving controls remain on the steering wheel.

The J50 was introduced and launched in Tokyo on December 13, 2016, and is finished in a special shade of three-layer red with a red-over-black interior trimmed in fine leather and Alcantara.

So... how much does the new Ferrari limited edition J50 cost?

Ferrari hasn't released that information, but never has it been more true that "if you have to ask how much..."

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, December 18, 2016

BUGBUG - Utensils For Eating Insects

Yesterday, you hopefully read about how insects are being hyped by the United Nations as the next culinary protein dish to hit the global dining table. I also wrote about my own exploits in eating delicious bee larvae and grasshopper in Japan over 20 years ago.

I’ve also eaten scorpion encased in a lollipop, had chocolate covered ants, and crickets in a lollipop… which makes me wonder who the real sucker is. In all instances, I couldn’t taste the the insect or what I figured it should taste like… or if I did, it didn’t taste like anything special.

So… when I said I ate bee larvae and grasshopper and called it delicious, it was because whatever the heck it was cooked in/with—that was what was delicious.

Anyhow… Kobayashi Wataru (surname first) has created BUGBUG… a set of cutlery designed specifically top help one eat insects.

Yes, I suppose you could just pick up a stewed grasshopper and toss it whole into your mouth—that’s what I did… eating them like potato chips—but maybe you are the type of person that doesn’t want to believe that they are eating a whole bug, and would prefer there was some way of making it look or feel more palatable.

I get it. I used to be like you once.

I used to be one of those people that believed that frog’s legs or alligator tasted “just like chicken”… but I am while enough to know that chicken tastes just like chicken, while frog’s legs tastes just like frog’s legs and alligator tastes just like alligator.

Anyhow, the BUGBUG starter set comes with five specific utensils to help you get a grip on just what you are eating. There’s:
  • one long-pair of pointy-ended chopsticks;
  • one short-pair of pointy-ended chopsticks;
  • a fork with tiny tines;
  • a spoon-like paddle;
  • pincers that fit over one’s thumb and middle finger (see image at the very top).
The real problem is afterwards when you have cockroach breath. You can't kill that bad breath. You think it's gone away, and then it comes back... and back... just kidding... I'm pretty sure there's no bad breath involved in eating cooked insects, except from whatever it is you are cooking the insects with.

While those pincers won’t quite provide a fix for anyone wishing they were Edward Scissorhands, they will allow the consumer to be able to pick up slippery bugs with an exact range of motion that will enable one to get their hands clear of any insect-cide. By that I mean killing of insects. Well… hopefully it’s already dead… so picking up cooked and prepared insects.  

Consumers can use the spoon to crush crunchy bugs into smaller bits, while the tiny tine fork could scoop up the smushed up meal(worm) and make sure any bits like a spindly bug leg easily make the journey into your maw.

The chopsticks… well… they have points on the end… so even if you don’t know how to use chopsticks, with your last breath, you can stab at them and then pop it into your cakehole, swallow and take the next breath.

You know that every breath you take is your last breath. Hopefully you have more.
Smushi mushi...
Each of the BUGBUG utensils is made of “sustainable” materials like brass and cherrywood… brass is made new from copper and zinc, but must be made from recycled brass in order to be considered sustainable. Cherrywood must come from cherry trees grown in a sustainably managed forest.

The BUGBUG utensils are housed within what Kobayashi calls “vegan leather”. I had to look that one up, too… but apparently vegan leather can be cork- or kelp-based… or can be made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane and textile-polymer composite microfibers. Let’s assume it from a non-plastic base.

Apparently the BUGBUG isn’t available just yet… I have no idea if Kobayashi is in the process of marketing it, or if he's looking for financial backers...

By the way, BUGBUG is not in anyway related to Bugbug, a part of Bali, Indonesia.

Kobayashi is a Japanese designer who loves incorporating fun into his concepts. BUGBUG was his graduate work, and it was recently awarded first prize in a design cutlery competition by The Worshipful Company of Cutlers.

He now resides in the UK.

You can check out his website at The website is in English, and yes, it could use my help in making the English read better. Ya hear me Kobayashi-san? I'll help you out for free.  

Andrew Joseph
Thanks Julien for bugging me. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Silence - Official Movie Trailer

Matthew recently sent me the first official trailer for the movie Silence.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Silence stars Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson in the 1600s as two Jesuit priest in Japan who are trying to find their lost mentor and to further Christianity in a country very much rooted in the philosophy of Buddhism, and religions of Shintoism and Taoism.

Needless to say, their God and their religion, while welcomed by many intrigued Japanese peasants, is NOT welcomed by the Japanese ruling class.... with lots of violence and murder. 

It looks... intriguing. 

You can read about what I had to say on the subject matter HERE and HERE. Probably a few other blogs, too. I guess I like to pontificate.

I have never been the type of Roman Catholic who saw fit to impose my religious views on anyone, and as such, I have never felt much of anything for those who did. It always seemed like a way for colonialism to take root in countries that just wanted to do things the way that worked best for them.

How egotistical is it of me to say that my god is better than your god? Especially when it's all a matter of faith.

I'm not even much of a Catholic nowadays, as I like concept of Christianity, but not the official way religion imposes its will. I feel the same way about other religions that push that their way is the best or the only way.

Still... I'm of the opinion that if it makes you happy to be happy, then be happy. Or... love, and do as you will.

I'll watch Silence when it comes out... and hope it's not JUST about religion, and hope it is also about a warlord trying to maintain discipline over the vassals, and that the little guy somehow gets to rescue a princess in a galaxy far, far away... you know what I mean. 

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo is mine

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Future Of Global Cuisine - Updated

With apologies to Barnes & Barnes and their 1980 song Fish Heads, when it comes to eating insects, the United Nations predicts that by 2050 insects will be a major part of our culinary diet - eat them up, yum!

Apparently some chefs are coming up with all these new recipes that depict a grasshopper curry, buffalo worm nuggets and chocolate mealworm spread.

I think the point of each, is that the consumer won’t really be able to taste the protein that insects provide when covered in chocolate or curry or covered in a breaded panko flakes. Seriously… some people have a curry so spicy hot that I doubt they know what meat they are actually eating as they spray their inflamed tongue with the handy water hose they keep beside them at the dinner table. My folks were like that… I never saw the point of eating something you couldn’t taste.

It’s why I enjoy Japanese food. Even with sauces, most Japanese cuisine allows you to actually taste the main ingredient.

Even though I am 23+ years removed from my life IN Japan, I still manage to eat the food at least once a month—WTF is it so expensive here in Canada?!

While in Japan, during my second year there, I was able to taste and enjoy to superb Japanese dishes: Hachi-no-ko and Inago.

Okay… I don’t know what the dishes were called, but they did use those two main ingredients: baby bees (aka bee larvae) and grasshopper, respectively.

Look, 23 years ago, bees disappearing from the planet did not seem like an issue.
See what the buzz is all about: Hachi-no-ko
Anyhow… both hachi-no-ko and inago were delicious. Extremely delicious.

To me it’s just a simple matter of realizing that it is food.
People have been eating insects to survive for a long time. Page scanned from a 1971 Gold Key comic book I bought a couple of months ago, but just read today: Korak, Son of Tarzan.
If you were in a survivable plane crash or your car broke down while out in the extreme boonies, you would eat whatever you could find—even the fish meal from that airplane food cart that miraculously survived.
Inago-no-tsukudani - delish! See those delicious drumsticks? Lip-smacking!
Seriously… would you starve because you found the concept of eating insects repugnant? It’s all in your head, and once you get over that, it’s all in your stomach… except for maybe that one grasshopper leg that gets stuck hanging over our lower lip.

It always happens.

I was at an Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City) matsuri (festival) in Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture) when one of the women in my beginner’s English class I taught on the side of my regular JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme day job… and motioned for me to come over with quiet shouts of “An-do-ryu sensei!”

Obviously I wasn’t a very good English teacher to these adults. 

She showed me what she was selling in a pot on a burner at the kiosk… I looked at it, and she made this hopping motion with her fingers.

I looked again. It wasn’t kangaroo, and it wasn’t rabbit… it was what looked like grasshoppers in a stick, brown melange…

She scooped up a few into a small bowl and offered it t o me with a pair of wooden chopsticks.
Before I left for Japan, I was the kind of guy who hated to try different things. I had to be forced to play a musical instrument (okay, it was the accordion, so I had a good reason), and to do judo and soccer… and all were things that I excelled in (I did switch from accordion to piano - but when I was 16).

I was a standard meat and potatoes guy. The only ethnic food ate was Chinese and Chef Boyaredee (and defrostable mini pizzas)… heck,  I never even ate Japanese food until the night before I left for Japan back in 1990.

But… after begging my dad to let me stay home and not going to Japan the late night before I left (nerves, and a complete desire to not go to Japan), are promising my dad that I would go for the year, try and do everything and then decide if I liked the country… well…

I really did promise myself that I would. If you can’t believe in yourself, why should anyone believe in you?
Despite what people think, the image above of the man having "shot" a three-foot (one meter) long grasshopper in 1937, is a fake. No, really. I looked it up. Too bad, because that grasshopper looks like it could feed a family of five for a week.
After leaning how to use chopsticks a couple of weeks into my stay in Ohtawara, and learning that I really, really, really, really, really liked the taste of sake (Japanese rice wine), and that food tastes really good when you don’t know what you are eating, so why should you change your mind when you do learn what it really was… well… I ate everything that was put in front of me in Japan.

I’m not so rah-rah-raw on Japan that I will tell you that raw sliced cow-liver (gyu riba) or horse meat (basashi) was delicious… or squid guts (shimotsu kari, I think), but I did eat whale (it’s okay, but why?), snake, bear, fugu (poison blowfish), and the smelliest, foul-tasting thing that foreigners think is the devils stool… natto (fermented soy beans)… and I hated it at first, but tried it again, and hated it again, and tried it again and again until I realized it wasn’t that bad.

Then I started eating it and enjoying it, because the alternative was to not have lunch at school and to go hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.

The point is… you have to put away your preconceived notions of what ever it is you have about everything—including insects as food.

You’ll recall that the necessities of life are: food, shelter and clothing. Food is always #1.

Get ready for the future. Tomorrow… the cool way to eat your bugs…

Until then, here’s a brief snippet from one of my all-time favorite movies, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World:

Moshi-moshi mushi (telephone greeting “hello" insects),
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Japan Opening Casinos To Boost Economy

Casinos in Japan? That seems like a pretty good gamble by Japan’s government.

On Wednesday, December 14, 2016, Japan passed a new law allowing casinos in the country, expecting it to become  US$30-billion/year industry.

Yes, that’s right… until this time, casinos were illegal in Japan. They really thought that gambling was bad in Japan… despite the billions of dollars spent on the pachinko gaming industry in Japan…

Of course, there are the same concerns in Japan as brought up by every country where the casino industry has been talked about: societal ones, such as gambling addiction. There’s also the possibility of vice and crime, but those seem to be the area the Japanese yakuza would be concerned with… and by that I mean they would try and snare a piece of the pie for themselves. Everybody loves pie.

Then again, despite society frowning down on the yakuza, they are still allowed to operate and operate openly in Japan. Of course, this is because they try to keep illegalities out of the public’s eye, and there is the possibility of police corruption or simply the threat of violence to keep the police off their back. 

Here in Canada, some 20 years ago, we legalized casinos in Ontario. And while I thought I might go more often than I have, I have only been twice. I have gone to race tracks that offer slot machines and played the 25-cent slots… maybe I’ve lost a couple of thousand dollars back when I could afford to do so… but surprisingly, it did not become an addiction for myself.

I do know of a couple of people who tend to gamble far too much for their personal well-being… and it has hurt them… so Japan’s concerns have merit, I believe.

NHK, a Japanese television station, did an informal polling of Japanese people:

  • 44% of those surveyed said they opposed the casino bill;
  • 12% supported the casino bill;
  • 44% were undecided.
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) and his government say that casinos will help increase tourism, which will help boost the economy...

The plan is to marry casinos with hotels, add in some shopping venues and entertainment venues... and holy crap - money in the bank.

I am unsure just why Japan thinks people will travel all the way out to its shores just to gamble. There are closer venues for Chinese tourists, for example.

Next up, more legislation will be required to determine things like tax rates, the licensing process and entrance fees.

Casinos will not likely be open for business until 2023 at the latest.

I have publicly proposed the use of casinos to eliminate island ownership disputes between China, Russia and Japan… especially for the southern islands and their issues with China.

Take a far way disputed western island, and with China, Japan could build and run federally-sponsored casinos… a profit-sharing venture that could make both parties happy…. what with all the money they could save by not having to threaten each other.

Come on… daddy needs an eight,
Andrew “Snake-eyes” Joseph

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Japan National Parks: Akan National Park

Hokkaido... a place I never visited, much to my chagrin. Wish I had.

I did eat bear meat from Hokkaido after a Japanese friend went hunting there and either killed a bear or bought the meat at a grocery store... who really knows.

There are six national parks on the island of Hokkaido - the big island north of the main island of Japan.

The six parks are:
  • Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park;
  • Shiretoko National Park;
  • Daisetsuzan National Park;
  • Akan National Park;
  • Kushiro Shitsugen National Park, and;
  • Shikotsu-Tōya National Park.
Let's take a look at Akan National Park first - which you knew, because of this post's headline. I suppose I am going alphabetically. Or maybe because it has something related to my good buddy Matthew, who was in Japan living in my hometown of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, as we both taught English on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

Akan National Park (阿寒国立公園 Akan Kokuritsu Kōen was established on December 4, 1934, and is, along with Daisetsuzan National Park, the oldest national parks in Hokkaidō.

Covering 904.81 square kilometers in eastern Hokkaido, Akan is a large park consisting of a lot of volcanic features and forests and clear lakes and hot springs and something called a marimo, which is a large balled seaweed.

In Canada, I used to use small marimo in my aquariums to breed the non-community tiger barb tropical fish. It worked. I had little tiny baby fish swimming around... and then a house fire, which we won't discuss here.

Akan National Park is one park, but can be considered to have two areas: Kawayu and Akan—both of which are peppered, as mentioned, with volcanic remnants.

Kawayu—if you look at the map immediately above, is the eastern side of the park (in green). It consists of Mount Iozan, which has lots of hot springs and fumaroles (vents were volcanic smoke is emitted into the air). Lake Kussaro is a caldera lake (that the crater left from an explosive volcanic eruption that fills up with water), with Bihoro Pass, Mount Mokoto and Mount Nishibetsu surrounding it.

Mount Iozan ie Sulfur Mountain has lots of fumaroles emitting volcanic steam.
The area also holds Lake Mashu (Mashu-ko)—another caldera lake—which is supposed to be one of the clearest lakes in the world—if you stuck your head in water and opened your eyes, you could easily see for a distance of 40 meters (131.23 feet). The lake is deep - 212 meters (695.5 feet), and does not have any rivers running in or out of it. 

My friend Matthew in Japan, was known as Mashu because of the katakana manner the Japanese would say his name. I'm, Andoryu. Catherine was Gasoline...

Anyhow... the image at the very top of this blog is Lake Mashu in Akan National Park.

The Akan area holds the Akan Caldera that is 20 kilometers wide... so think about how heavy that volcanic explosion was to cause that. Within the caldera is Mount Meakan, the highest mountain in the Akan National Park.

Mount Meakan is on one side of Lake Akan, and is the female counterpart to Mount Oakan on the other side of the lake. Lake Akan has, in some places, bokke (boiling mud).

On one of the four islands within Lake Akan, is Churui, which is home to the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center, which is interesting... but if you are traveling all the way to this place, why spend it indoors looking at science, when you could be outdoors looking at nature.

What's kindda neat, is Onneto Yu-no-taki - a hot water waterfall.

Onneto Yu-no-taki - it ain't all that spectacular... but it is pretty hot.
You walk about 1.6 kilometers through a forest to reach the falls. At the waterfalls' base is a small human-constructed bath, that you have to climb up some 20 meters to reach. At the top of the waterfall is a small pond, but it's for viewing only.

You can see the bathing pool from the top view of waterfall.
Also in the Akan part of the park, are Lake Penketo and Lake Panketo, Lake Jiro and Lake Taro, Mount Kikin, Tsumi Pass, as well as the Mount Hakuto Observatory and the Akan Lakeside Observatory.

What's a forest with flora and fauna?

There are brown bears, black woodpeckers, chipmunks, and a type of land-locked salmon called kokanees, the latter in Lake Akan. At Lake Kussharoko, because the hot springs do not allow the freezing of the water, Whooper swans (apparently a real bird) spend the winter.

During the 1930s, a volcanic eruption within the lake nearly killed all the fish in Lake Kussharoko, but nowadays, there is a bit of a comeback. 

Marimo algae balls growing in Lake Akan.
Marimo (毬藻, Cladophora aegagropila) is a ball of algae. I have, as mentioned, kept it in my aquarium to help spawn by tiger barb fish. It doesn't do anything except perhaps make the fish feel more comfortable...

The marimo are between 3-10 centimeters wide... and unlike other algae, this stuff does NOT muck up one's water in an aquarium. It does not grow all over the glass sides, either. The marimo is protected in parts of Japan. It gets its round shape by the movement of waves in shallow lakes.

Andrew Joseph