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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wagakki Band Coming To The U.S.

I have never heard of the Wagakki Band (和楽器バンド) before I received a press release about an upcoming appearance or two across the pond here in North America.

After a listen to a video, I came away impressed by the Tokyo band and their musical stylings… which can only be described as old school (real, old school traditional Japanese instruments) and mix it with a bit of modern music.

It's acoustic, powerful, and what the heck, makes traditional Japanese music relevant to these ears more accustomed to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and even Marillion.

Now… Wagakki Band is more than a mix, it is a plethora of musical stylings… it's tough to pigeonhole them. Hell... when that dude starts playing the flute they sound like Jethro Tull!

They do Noh performance—which, while I am sure can be entertaining, makes me cringe… perhaps if I knew what was going on? They also do vocaloid. real rock, pop, and new age… and they do it well, sometimes wearing traditional Japanese clothing or sometimes looking like they are a bare-chested member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (I'm unsure if they, like Iggy Pop nee Stooge have ever worn a shirt on stage).

Now… just because I don't know anything about Wagakki Band, doesn't mean the rest of the world doesn't. After releasing their Tengaku (天樂) music video, they had 200,000+ views in a four day period. For their Senbonzakura (千本桜, 1,000 Cherry Trees), it's had over 30-million views on YouTube.

Wagakki Band's performers are young (20s, I assume) and good-looking, are good musicians, and have an 'original' niche that seems to have captured the imagination of a global market, that has some 60-million plus YouTube video views for the eight-piece band's music and their spreading of Japanese culture.

Yes… there's more culture here than in my tiny cup of yogurt. Wagakki Band IS cool Japan.

See below to hear and be impressed (I mean it) YouTube video Senbonzakura

Just in case it disappears:

The band members are:
  1. Kurona (黒流) plays the Wadaiko (huge taiko drum);
  2. Drums - we have the hot and spicy Wasabi (山葵), who has, for you women who care about such things, killer effing abs. He also has a different message in kanji written on his bare back for every performance.;
  3. on Tsugaru Shamanisan (three stringed plucked guitar-like instrument), there's Ninagawa Beni (蜷川べに) who makes me wish I was 25 years younger and still living in Japan;
  4. Asa (亜沙) plays bass… and I admit I am unsure if Asa is male or female;
  5. Kaminaga Daisuke (神永大輔) plays the Shakuhachi (wood straight flute) and plays it very well!;
  6. Ibukuro Kiyoshi (male) (いぶくろ聖志) plays the Koto harp;
  7. Machiya (dude) (町屋) is on guitar and back-up vocals, and makes the big decision on the music;
  8. Suzuhana Yuko (鈴華ゆう子) is the hot (I just burned myself) lead singer. When I scream, I can sound exactly like a real good rock and roll singer.
Left to Right: Ibukuro, Wasabi, Machiya, Kaminaga, Suzuhana, Asa, Ninagawa, and Kurona.

The band has played in France, Taipei, and on July 4, 2015 , headlined a sold-out concert at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, U.S.—on American Independence day, no less.  

Wagakki Band will be playing (again) at some point at the SXWX (South by Southwest) festival in Austin, Texas held March 11-20, 2016 (think AFTER March 14), and with a definite date across the country in New York City to play March 14, 2016 at Irving Plaza, tickets are available at Ticketmaster starting January 29, 2016. 

What else is there?

Okay, lead singer Suzuhana won a nationwide shigin (詩吟) contest.

Shigan is a performance of reciting a Japanese poem or a Chinese poem read in Japanese. Each poem (詩, shi) is usually chanted (吟, gin) by an individual or in a group.

Wagakki Bando has released two albums:

  1. Vocalo Zanmai (ボカロ三昧) (2014); 
  2. Yasou Emaki (八奏絵巻) (2015),

and two singles: Hanabi (華火) in 2014, and 戦-ikusa-/なでしこ桜 in 2015.

Ticket prices for Irving Plaza will range from $35 (advance)/$40 (door) to $75 (VIP) via Ticketmaster. Doors opens at 7pm and Show starts at 8pm.

If you can attend, let me know how the show was!

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Japan's Only Song To Reach Billboard's No. 1

Despite having achieved a certain vintage, I still maintain a youthful exterior (the interior is getting old and wrinkly), and can perhaps be forgiven for not knowing a lot about a Japanese singer who's Japanese-language song hit No. 1 in the United States Billboard Hot 100 in June of 1963… because I wasn't born yet.

Let's meet Sakamoto Kyu (坂本 九)… no… waitaminute… that was his stage name… meet Oshima Hisashi (大島 九), who was born in Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa-ken on December 10, 1941. That's him on the record cover above.

He sang the song 'Ue o Muite Arukō'… sold over 13-million copies… and with his Billboard top ranking, he became the first Asian recording artist to be top of the charts.

13-million? That makes it one of the top-selling songs ever. It's still the only Japanese-sung song to be No. 1 on the chart, though others have boarded.

For whatever reason, in western markets, the song Ue o Muite Arukō was renamed as Sukiyaki.

Sukiyaki (鋤焼, or すき焼き) is a traditional Japanese meal consisting of sliced meat, veggies and a soy sauce, sugar and mirin mix - all placed into and cooked slowly at the dinner table in a hot pot known as nabemono.

I've had it a few times… and while it is torture for hungry people to have to sit at a table and smell the food slowly simmering beside you while your stomach's growling makes conversation both difficult and uneasy, sukiyaki is a wonderful cold-weather dish that satisfies the tastebuds.

Despite me crowing about the taste delights of sukiyaki, at no time whatsoever does the word or implication of a nabemono meal occur in Sakamoto-san's song with the bastardized western title.

The song is not about sukiyaki at all.

So… what's with the name? Near as I can determine, the word was chosen because it would be a hell of a lot easier for western Radio DJs (disc jockeys) to say than "Ue o Muite Arukō".

The song, when translated to English has three interpretations as to its deep meaning:

  1. the mindset of a man facing execution;
  2. someone trying to be optimistic despite life's trials;
  3. the story of an ended love affair.
The 45RPM single. He sure looks happier than the lyrics he is singing.
So… lyrically, Sukiyaki is about a man who looks up and whistles while he walks so that his tears will not fall.

Been there…. but I can't whistle when I cry.

Okay… while Sakamoto could have been singing about stepping in dog poop while thinking about molesting his blow-up doll—because, outside of Japan, few people on the planet had any inkling as to what he was actually singing about… just that they liked the music and the way it was sung.

Original Japanese lyrics were penned by Ei Rokusuke, who had attended a protest against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan (日本国とアメリカ合衆国との間の相互協力及び安全保障条約 Nippon-koku to Amerika-gasshūkoku to no Aida no Sōgo Kyōryoku oyobi Anzen Hoshō Jōyaku)… or better known in Japan as Anpo jōyaku (安保条約).

The treaty would allow the U.S. to exert its right over Japan on domestic issues, and so much more. What it was meant to do, however was tell other countries, that if you attack Japan, you also attack the U.S… but you can see how it also allowed the U.S. to maintain military bases in Japan.

Effective as of May 19, 1960, it is still in effect today, but can be voided should one of the two parties provide the other with one year's notice.

What the fug? I just wanted to write a Japanese song with a stupid nonsensical title.

Anyhow, so while the non-specific song lyrics could have three meanings, there's the fourth, describing Japan's loss of identity in the face of the U.S.

How sublime that the song became No. 1 in the U.S.

If you have ever heard a version of the song by A Taste Of Honey with English words - be aware that these lyrics are not translated from the original Japanese ones, and are entirely new, accompanying the same musical melody.

If we were to translate the original Japanese lyrics as penned by Ei and sung by Sakamoto and found on Wikipedia, we would have:

"I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, so my tear drops never fall. Remember the spring day, alone at night.
I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, I can't count the stars through the tears. Remember the summer day, alone at night.
Happiness lies above the clouds, Happiness lies above the sky.
I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, so my tear drops never fall. Crying while I walk, alone at night.
Remember the autumn day, alone at night.
Sorrow lies in the shadow of the stars, sorrow lies in the shadow of the moon.
I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, so my tear drops never fall. Crying while I walk, alone at night."

Yeah… if this is about the U.S presence in Japan, Ei's lyrics are definitely not biting.

Here's the song with English lyrics:

Holy crap!!!!

After listening to it just now, I recall that this song was always sung around me by my friend boss Hanazaki-san of the Ohtawara Board of Education!!!!

He had always told me it was a famous Japanese song, but until just now I never put ni + ni together (2+2). That makes me smile... I miss that guy, and wonder if he is well. Hey Matthew! Please ask Pops for me, if Hanazaki-san of the OBOE is hale and healthy!

I'm not going to babble on about Sakamoto's teenaged years et al, suffice to say that after being in various bands with lousy names, he went it alone. The song "Ue o Muite Arukō" was played on the Japanese NHK radio program Yume de Aimashou on August 16, 1961 (I only mention the program name for Mike Rogers who might have some interest in knowing stuff like this).

Released on red vinyl (a red record), for three months the song remained Japan's highest-selling record.

But the big break came about in 1963 when a Great Britain's Pye Records owner Louis Benjamin was visiting Japan and heard "Ue o Muite Arukō" and decided to bring it back and play it for the U.K.

Benjamin was the one who renamed it Sukiyaki, and even I who can sound out Japanese words well enough find the phrase to be slightly cumbersome.

The song was released in the U.K. as an instrumental by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, which makes sense… who the hell wants to hear Japanese… it could give some people awful WWII flashbacks.

It became a hit. So HMV (His Master's Voice - that's the dog listening to his master voice in the Victrola horn - Nipper… was that his name?) released the original Japanese version… and sold well, reaching sixth for most sold records. In the U.S., via Capitol Records it sold one-million copies, and did its time at the top of the charts.

He did live guest spots on television shows in the U.S., Germany and Sweden to name a few, appearing on The Steve Allen Show on August 13, 1963.

Sakamoto had a second song—Shina no Yoru (China Nights)—reach the Billboard Hot 100, getting no higher than No. 58.

His only American album reached No. 14 on the Billboard Pop Album chart (now the Billboard Top 200), remaining on the chart for 17 weeks.

He received a gold record for Sukiyaki/"Ue o Muite Arukō" - for foreign record sales in 1964, and appeared live at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics via satellite, as he was actually in Sweden at the time on a TV show there.

He was married in 1971 to Japanese actress Kashiwagi Yukiko (surname first—she's was pretty hot), and they had two kids.

While Wikipedia says that Sakamoto passed away on August 12, 1985 at the young age (relative to myself) of 43, I say he died violently as he was one of the passengers of Japan Airlines Flight 123… the deadliest single-aircraft disaster in aviation history.

This was a flight from Tokyo to Osaka… with the Boeing 747SR aircraft suffering explosive decompression 12 minutes into the flight, and then crashing into Mount Takamagahara in Gunma-ken some 32 minutes later.

Fifteen crew and 505 of the 509 passengers died… many simply because it was a tough place for rescuers to reach.

What caused the crash? It was determined (eventually) that faulty repairs to a tailstrike (when the tail of the plane hits the ground when the plane's nose is lifted too quickly)… an accident and repair that happened seven years earlier.
Japan Airlines Flight 123 seen here missing its tail after the explosion took out the tail and hydraulic controls.

The leaky repair job caused the explosive decompression in the rear of the plane - exploding it like a bomb… causing most of the tail to rip away.. causing a loss of hydraulics… meaning the plane was nearly impossible to fly.

Holy crap… we've been all over the place with this blog. Music, food, U.S. power in Japan, and Aviation.

Yeah… for Sakamoto and the rest of those poor people on that plane, happiness lies above the clouds…

If you are so-minded, you can pay your respects to Sakamoto at the Chōkoku-ji (Chōkoku Temple) in Minato, Tokyo.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, January 29, 2016

Japan Unveils First Fighter Jet - The X-2 Stealth

On Thursday, January 28, 2016, Japan unveiled its first-ever stealth fighter jet, the X-2 at the airport in Komaki-shi, Aichi-ken, Japan.

As a stealth fighter, the X-2 helps the plane avoid being detected by radar.

Developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.—the same folks who brought terror to the skies with its Zero back in WWII—the X-2 is 14.2 meters (47 feet, of course) long and 9.1 meters (29.86 feet) wide and was built as a successor to the F-2 fighter jets Mitsubishi developed jointly with the United States.
Toy soldiers not included...
The first official flight of the X-2 will occur sometime in mid-February.

As of now, the only other nations to have been recognized as having developed and flown a manned stealth jet are: U.S., Russia and China.

After spending some ¥39.4-billion (US $332-million) to develop the fighter plane—which seems cheap to me—the first delivery of an X-2 to Japan's Defence Ministry is scheduled for March of 2017 (next year). 

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries also designed and built Japan's first domestically-produced passenger jet, first flying back in November of 2015.

These two planes from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are noteworthy because Japan was forcibly barred from building its own aircraft after WWII.

Personally, I have no problem in Japan designing and building aircraft for its own use—whether commercial or military.

It's been 70 years for cripes sake. The Japan of 2016 isn't at all like the Japan of the 1930s-1945.

If the plane is a success, perhaps Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will be able to parlay the X-2 into international sales to like-minded friendly nations. 

Images by AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Electric Fork Changes Tongue's Tastes

With apologies to Stan Lee & Spider-Man, with great power comes great-tasting food—but have you ever tasted electricity?

I'm not talking about you poor buggers who have been struck by lightning and no longer have any sense of smell, or you weirdos who like to stick the end of a 9-volt battery on their tongue (guilty… every time I see one of the damn things… mmmmm, coppery)… no… I'm talking about electricity run into your mouth to affect the way you taste.

Nakamura Hiromi, a post doc research fellow at the University of Tokyo has invented a fork that produces low charges of electricity that when it, or the food on the fork touches it, it changes the way food taste.
Nakamura Hiromi

It can't make that hamburger taste like filet mignon, but it could make your fried chicken taste as though it was effervescent fried chicken.

This sounds like weird Dr. Frankenstein science, and it is, but the thought the scientists had initially, was to perhaps help alter the consumption of salt in the Japanese diet (not Diet. That's political suicide).

Nakamura calls the process "virtual taste"… food hacking that can augment or diminish aspects of the food being eaten.

Virtual taste? Oh man… I call dibs on using it while eyeballing porn with one's Oculus Rift 3-D augmentation sex video games. Yeah… you can feel where I'm heading with that.

Goggles on. Electric fork in the mouth.

No wonder no real person will ever look at you.

Anyhow… the electric fork doesn't fry your brain, but rather changes the way your tastebuds work…

In the video below, we see the well-spoken gaijin chatting with Nakamura while eating some food.

As he holds the food to the tip of his tongue, Nakamura encourages him to more the electric current slider up… with the electrical charge altering the way he perceives the food's taste…. with different levels of electricity comes different tastes.

The video has the same food tasting salty…

But she admits her concept isn't new, and in fact has been around for 250 years after Switzerland's Johann Sulzer (October 16, 1720 - February 27, 1779) put his tongue on two metals, lead (Pb) and silver (Ag)  and described "a pungent sensation, reminds me of the taste of green vitriol when I placed my tongue between these two metals."

You can taste the vitriol.
Green vitriol is iron sulphate (FeSO4)… a salt with industrial and medicinal applications.

Sulzer's experiment was the basis for Alessandro Volta inventing the battery. 

See… all us 9-volt battery suckers are merely performing scientific research.

Think about my tongue on a battery, overtime you turn on your smartphone, or drive your car or hook up someone's genitals for a torture session. Yeah. I'm not weird. I'm a scientist. 

Nakamura says she came about the electric fork while doing research to see if man could control computers with their tongue.

Let's just look at that statement for a moment.

She wanted to see if was possible to work a computer with her tongue.

I would have loved to see those experiments as she attempts to use the scroller on her mouse, and then flicking her tongue along the keyboard to send out photos of what she is eating that day via Twitter.

Okay, that wasn't what she did, but still… WTF? There is no reason I can come up with why anyone would ned to control a computer with their tongue. I can barely do so with my hands and eyes.

She wanted to see if it was possible for a computer to send feedback that the user could feel with their tongue… so she began experimenting with electricity.

Then… because like anyone who transferred from the Fine Arts programs to Science, Nakamura started adding electricity to her food. She's freaky. But then again… no weirder than an old man in a wig flitting a kite in an electrical storm…

That first time she added electricity to her food, the food taste changed.

As you all hopefully know, our tongue's tastebuds are receptors that allow us to taste sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

These the areas of the tongue where our tastebuds pick up the varies tastes.
Nakamura says that electricity affects the tastebuds, but no one is exactly sure how.

Is her electric fork dangerous? No… she's been using it for the past four years without her DNA changing her into an eel.

So… aside from weirding out your friends, what practical uses can Nakamura foresee with her electric fork? Well, if you have applied too much salt to your food, with a zap of the electric fork, you won't taste the salt.

Of course, that still means you are ingesting all of that nasty salt.

She suggests that for food that lacks salt, or for those who apply too much salt to their food anyway… a tongue zapping will trick the tongue into believing there IS enough salt in the food.

In Japan, apparently the high consumption of salt in the diet leading towards high blood-pressure is a big problem. It is a problem everywhere, actually.

In Japan… that soyu sauce is pretty damn salty… same with that miso soup. Oh… and those pickles… I love pickled daikon radish!

Let's not forget stuff like THIS:

You can cut out salt from your diet, but still maintain an electrically-induced salty diet.

Nakamura is also working on a way to add some electricity to your drinks. Waitaminute! Electricity and liquids?

The idea is to make thinks more effervescent turning plain healthy orange juice into plain healthy orange juice that tastes like orange soda.

And wait… we have to drink it naked to get an even better effect!

And she has even crazier and thus better ideas! Music we gear through headphones is electricity changed into sound vibrations… what if we could send that same musical electricity into that fork?

That's right… we could taste the music!     

The reason I am describing her video, is because it's 15-minutes long, and I know you social media junkies lack patience—except for those of you still reading, of course.

Here's the video:

So... what have we learned today?

I learned that Japanese people don't know how to use a fork properly - see the top-most image for proof. Laugh at me for my lousy chopstick skills?  

Somewhere I had too much to dream last night tasting the Electric Prunes,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks Julien, for the lead.
PSS: Also: I was just joking about the improper fork thing and the Japanese. I can also use chopsticks better than most Grade 1 Japanese students. Probably.
PSSS: I guess Spider-man has tasted electricity (or at least his own fillings) every time he battles Electro. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Japan's Disposal Workers Net Cafe Refugees

Despite the poorly constructed English title of this particular blog that seems to make sense, but upon closer examination doesn't make any sense at all, it is a fascinating topic.

As near as I can figure it, the blog (and the film that inspired it), should be entitled: "Temporary Workers Are Refugees Living In An Internet Cafe", but what the hell do I know?

Down below is a short film by a Japanese film maker, that purports to be about poor people living in such cafes... but no... after watching it, it is more than that... it is about how two individual people choose to survive in Japan.

This video shows two (of the many) people who lack enough income to afford decent housing--whether it's an apartment or a house--who opt to live in an inexpensive Internet cafe.

But why do they live in such a cramped facility?

The movie starts off with one young Japanese man discussing that his temporary job as a security guard does not provide him with enough money to get his own place.

I can see that.

But this is not a new phenomenon. People all over the world have temporary jobs or even full-time jobs that pay little and provide zero health benefits.

What do they do?

In many instances, to avoid living on the street, they band together and share a tiny room with their combined income. Roommates.

This young man can't or chooses not to do that. Why? We don't know.

However, he does talk about what life is like for a person in Japan who has a temp job and shows his resourcefulness at how he survives.

Is it ideal? No. But he has shelter, heat, a computer to watch, and some money for food, a place to use the toilet... no shower, though. No health benefits. No companionship... but that's not the fault of being poor.

The second vignette shows an older Japanese man, who after 20 years working in IT on computers, quits his job. He was recently diagnosed before that with depression... but Japan still believes such things are a sign of weakness and a lack of company dedication... and so he was shunned.

Rather than put up with the hostile work environment, he quit his job. Bravo... but what about money?

While it wasn't mentioned how he gets his money now... or even if he is taking any anti-depression medication, he too lives in a tiny room at an Internet cafe... the same one, I believe, as the young temp security guard.

Is it ideal? No. At least he doesn't have to deal with the hostile work environment. Trust me, I know what that can be like.

Japan likes to believe that in the workforce, one can bend, but not break. It's like that every where else in the world, if you think about it.

In Japan... by bending, you are bowing... but you still shouldn't get angry enough to quit your job.

That man did not quit because of anger... he quit because remaining at that job would have crushed what remaining mental health he still had. I respect that.

But... to live alone in a cramped Internet cafe room? He's surviving... but what does that do to one's mental health?

Yes... the video shows two people living in single rooms at an Internet cafe... but it's not about being poor... but it is... I look at it as an alternate view of how people smartly survive (glass half full), but also as a look into Japan's abusive work society.

Unpaid overtime, afraid to take vacation... mindless labor with all the stress... no time to relax, spend time with the family... live life.

So... watch the video below... and see which view of Japan's world is the best?

All? One of those? None of those?

I don't feel sorry for these two guys. One did it his way and made a decision he thought was best for himself. That's to be applauded. Was it the best decision? Maybe not. He could have found something (job) else first then quit... or maybe saved up some money before quitting... you'll notice that the salary man made no mention of a family. Could he not have moved to a small town and found work? What does he do now?

As for the young temporary worker... without knowing anything about his mental health, working one's ass off in school could have netted him a better job. Does that mean he should have to live in an Internet cafe? No. Parents? Family? Friends? Could any of them helped him with money or a place to stay? The impression is that they are in a big city... if he's not from a big city, then he could go back home. I do feel bad for him..  but at least he's not starving, begging... has shelter, food, drink, warmth, a job and home entertainment. He's better off than most people in this world. Heck... he wants to get more education to better himself.

The living arrangements at the Internet cafe shown in the video would suck for me. Apparently they only have Pepsi-based drinks... but I suppose I could drag my butt outside to a Coca-Cola machine.I would also need an outlet for my C-Pap machine... but I'm betting a room with a computer in it also has electrical power. I am unsure what these guys are sleeping on, but a sleeping bag or bed roll isn't that expensive... stop smoking for five days, and presto!... now you can afford one.

These guys are the walking poor. There's more of them in every city or town than each of us would care to admit. Hells... my roof leaks. Theirs doesn't. (It's Saturday as I write this) I am off to buy a new computer today, as mine doesn't work very well. On the plus side, I have a television with 999 channels.. only there's nothing on right now. My printer/scanner died. Both by cars died over Christmas - one permanently. Everyone has problems. Mine aren't huge compared to others... but they are annoying because when I was in Japan I was the luckiest bastard on the planet.

Luck, however, is fickle. Like Japan's work environment for the vast majority.

I thank Julien for sending this video my way. I look at it as a failure of Japan's work society that doesn't allow people with mental health issues to thrive the way the rest of the country does.

Julien loses his job at my workplace at the end of this week, and will be unemployed with a wife and kid to look after. He can live at my house before they ever have to live in an Internet cafe, however. If he didn't know that before, he does now.

Most countries think they are enlightened... but when it comes to mental health, we're in the Stone Age as a planet.

Twenty years ago, I didn't know squat about mental health. I knew I had a schizophrenic uncle who though the television was sending messages to him whenever colors were mentioned (turn off the TV), and possibly a grandmother with undiagnosed mental health issues.

Now pretty much everyone I know around me at work and elsewhere has something. Bi-polar, social anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, minor Tourette's... take your pick. It's a cornucopia of pharmaceutica.

I could call myself normal, but what the hell is normal anymore? I think I'm in the minority with my mental health.

Mental health issues could be the new normal.

Somewhere not normal,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Japanese Zero Fighter Flies Again - Probably

Considering Japan built about 11,000 Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes for WWII, you might think there would still be a few hanging around in museums and private collections.

However, considering that the Allied forces shot down a hell of a lot of the aircraft—it was a very fast plane, but in order to lightweight it, Mitsubishi didn't give it thick armor—I was still surprised to learn that there are only about 10 Zero aircraft still capable of flight.

We are talking about 70-year-old planes used in combat, after all… and infamously, was the preferred plane for pilots involved in kamikaze (divine wind) suicide missions where, after dropping a bomb, shooting all its ammo, the pilot would attempt to dive the plane into Allied ships.

I wasn't there, but I am sure it was just horrible for the people on the ships. 

It was just this sort of Japanese fanaticism that convinced the Allies (led by the Americans) that any sort of land invasion of Japan to end the war was going to be their own version of a suicide mission. It's why it was a no-brainer to drop two atomic bombs, with a third planned and more on the verge of being prepared. Finally… Japan surrendered.

It wasn't just an arbitrary decision to wipe out people with a radioactive heat bomb. But the Japanese, according to the Allies, weren't fighting the war with proper respect, which also made the bombings an easier decision to make. Pearl Harbor and the kamikaze missions alone showed Japanese resolve.

Ah, don't get me started on WWII. I'm just a dumb guy who reads, but never fought in a war.

Let's talk about the Mitsubishi Zero - one in particular.

Owned by Ishizuka Masahide (surname first), 54, a Japanese national living in Rabaul, New Guinea, he is returning a Mitsubishi Type-22 Zero to the skies over Japan.

It's a convoluted story, but not all that long, though I'm sure I can find a way.

The plane was owned by an American, who was selling the plane to a Hokkaido, Japan museum in 2007. The American had owned it since 1970 and spent considerable time and money restoring it to operational condition—it could fly.

Both parties used Ishizuka to broker the deal. He manufactures and sell flight jackets.

In 2008, with the global economy tanking—Japan's too—the museum tried to get out of the deal.

But, contract stipulations meant the museum would be forced to pay huge penalties that it could not afford…. so Isizuka rode up on his white palomino horse and rescued the museum.

Selling off his assets, he paid for the Type 22-Zero and became it's new owner.

How much did he pay? ¥350,000,000… which is only US $3-million. I don't know why I said "only"… probably thinking about what I would do if I won a lottery.

Still… that's a lot of money, and while I am unsure why he did it, the point is for a guy that makes and sells flight jackets, he was still able to raise ¥350,000,000.

Isizuka is now the only Japanese owner of a Mitsubishi Zero WWII fighter plane that flies.

From New Guinea, he launched the Zero Homecoming Project (I believe the English on the website says: "The Zero fighter go back to Japan by the wing." - you can see it stamped on the photo at the very top) … planning to transport the plane back to Japan and once there, flight it over the country.

I don't know about some of you—but I am aware that wartime Japan played a huge negative role for many families… still—but as an aviation enthusiast, WWII amateur historian, and Japan blogger, I think see the Zero fly over Japan would be cool.

I only hope it doesn't stir up any radicals calling for Japan to rise up and reclaim Asia as its own pet (again), or for foreigners to get out of the country, or for the Emperor to regain his godhood. I know that 99.9999 percent of the country wouldn't think that way, but we all know how the media loves to take those 100 malcontents and blow something up into an international incident.

Then, when that happens, where people start putting Japan down, the rest of Japan gets involved, feeling they are being slighted as a whole… and the next thing you know, fecal matter hits the silk fan.

Okay… I'm reasonably sure that won't happen… but it has happened in the past. One of my favorite examples is regarding Japan's insistence that it be allowed to hunt whales as some sort of homage to its past.

Yeah, there was a time when some Japanese people were only able to get protein from whale meat, and did what they had to do, but that was hundreds of years ago. After the world pooh-poohed Japan's recent claim on a heritage right that nobody outside of 100 people cared about, suddenly Japanese people everywhere began to clamor for whale meat that they had never previously eaten, all done to show that it was historically and thus culturally a part of Japan. And that it was tasty, too. It's not. Been there, eaten that. I accidentally purchased a can of it once. I had to blow a ton of dust off the can at the supermarket, implying it wasn't a huge seller back in 1992. But, give the Japanese a cultural cause to rally behind...

Back to the flight of the Zero.

Ishizuka got the plane back to Japan in September of 2014—thanks to ¥23.4-million (US $200,00) donated through the project's website.

After arrival, it was then sent to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya Naval Airbase, in Kagoshima-ken for research purposes.

All's going to plan, right?

Nope. Ishizuka then met Private SNAFU (situation normal all fugged up).

He needed a flight permit.

Ishizuka figured he only had to show documents about the plane's restoration, have it inspected and off it would go into the wild, grey yonder (it was always grey in the three years I lived in Japan).

But… believe it or not… since Japan prime minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) and his government had decided they might like to create a new Japanese Constitution to replace the one the U.S. imposed on it following its defeat in WWII (it was a very good constitution, by the way, providing rights for women, for example)… and maybe Japan could also rid itself of the Allied Forces-imposed declaration that Japan would no longer be allowed to have its own military Army, Air Force or Navy… only allowing it a Self-Defense Force…. since then… the government figured it would be sending a mixed message if it suddenly had a WWII Zero flying over its skies.

I can see their concerns… Japan wants to go back to its gory glory days when the rest of Asia was its comfort woman, not that that actually occurred. Riiiiiight.

That was 2014.

Since then… there hasn't been a huge brouhaha over Japan's right to maintain its own military… in fact, by playing it cool, and still being buddy-buddy to the U.S. who maintain bases on Japanese land—to protect Japan, since it's own Self-Defense unit is lacking in fear-generating power… Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism agreed on December 18, 2015 to allow the Zero to fly again.

It just had to do so within the next month, according to the agreement.

That means that on Wednesday, January 27, 2016… the only Japanese-owned, flyable Mitsubishi Zero WWII fighter will take to the skies… uh… with an American pilot in the cockpit.

That's an interesting concession. Hopefully, the plane isn't loaded with bombs or ammo. Kidding.

The plane will fly above the Kanoya Naval Airbase (鹿屋飛行場, Kanoya Hikōjō) in Kagoshima-ken.

Naturally, access is restricted, but fret not… if you are in the area, the plane will still be visible to those on the ground in the surrounding area.

Plus… I'm sure you'll be able to hear the plane's engine rumble through the sky... this time without generating fear.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, January 25, 2016

Japan #14 In Global Innovation Impact

Here's a press release I received.

WASHINGTON—Japan ranks 14th in how its domestic policies support worldwide innovation, according to an analysis released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a global technology policy think tank. The findings come in a new report assessing 56 countries—which together comprise close to 90 percent of the world’s economy—on the extent to which, on a per-capita basis, their economic and trade policies contribute to and detract from innovation globally.

"Robust innovation is essential for economic growth and progress," says ITIF vice-president for global innovation and report co-author Stephen Ezell. "As countries increasingly vie for leadership in the innovation economy, they can implement policies that try to benefit only themselves but harm the production of innovation in the rest of the world. Or they can implement ‘win-win’ policies that bolster their own innovation capacity while also generating positive spillovers for the entire global economy. For innovation to flourish around the world, we need a system that is doing much more of the latter."

While previous research has ranked countries based on innovation capabilities or outcomes, this report is the first to assess the impact of countries’ policies on the broader innovation system.

The authors examined 14 factors that not only support innovation domestically but have positive spillover effects globally, such as supportive tax systems and investment in R&D and human capital, and another 13 factors that have negative spillover effects, such as forced localization and weak intellectual property protection.

Japan’s 14th-place overall ranking reflected a combination of policies that the report found to be 8th best in their positive contribution to the global innovation ecosystem and also the 27th least damaging.

The report also found a strong correlation between countries’ contributions to global innovation and their levels of domestic innovation success, meaning that doing well domestically on innovation policy can also mean doing well for the world.

"While policymakers are primarily focused on the interests of their own citizens, they usually overlook the fact that adopting policies that also happen to be good for the global innovation ecosystem will compound the benefits for their citizens," says ITIF president and report co-author Robert D. Atkinson. "Innovation altruism really does pay."

The report argues nations should undertake a series of policies to improve their impacts on worldwide innovation:
  1. ITIF urges policymakers, economists, and pundits to treat innovation as important as trade for optimizing global growth;
  2. The report calls on the global development and trade community to establish a framework that better distinguishes between policies that are beneficial for the world’s innovation ecosystem and those that are detrimental. Moreover, policymakers need to push back more strongly against the misguided, but popular, perspective that developed nation innovation comes at the expense of developing nation economies and that because of that, the world needs a strategy for redistributing innovation, rather than growing it;
  3. ITIF argues leading nations should establish a Global Science and Innovation Foundation to fund scientific and engineering research on key global challenges, particularly through collaborative international research.
“The world is significantly under-producing innovation that is needed to tackle global challenges, including boosting productivity, improving health, and protecting the environment,” Atkinson said. “Policymakers need to better understand and more aggressively push back when countries try to advance their own interests at the expense of global innovation. The world’s leaders need to articulate a more robust vision of commonly shared prosperity based on substantial increases in worldwide productivity and more innovative products and services.”

Click HERE to read the executive summary.

To read the report, click HERE.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized as one of the world’s leading science and technology think tanks, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress. Learn more at

Andrew Joseph

Origins Of Methamphetamine And Crystal Meth

I've never taken meth or crystal meth or methamphetamine nor whatever you want to call that psycho-stimulant recreational drug.

I have found that my reality is waaaaay more messed up than other people's drug-addled fantasy. But… to each their own. I'm preachy but not judgey.

Having never taken methamphetamine (also known as 'speed', I can only go by what I read as to what the experience is like.

As a recreational drug, it is known to lift one's mood and increase one's sexual desire—pretty sure I don't need any chemical help with that desire… still, it in creases the sexual desire to the point where users are able to engage in sexual activity continuously for several days.

Again… I've done that… at least for the evening and night, but then had to go to work before coming home to start anew… and even with the respite (no sleep), it was tough on the body.

Even just pounding away for hours, let alone 47 minutes can be a sours of discomfort for the women.

Have you—the man—ever received the tap on the shoulder telling you they've orgasmed and orgasmed heavily and have had enough? Sucks… but it's happened… the tap is to let you know that you—the man—can finish "any time now". End quote.

Apparently methamphetamine tends to inhibit ejaculation. Greeeeat.

I was the type of guy who, when he wore a condom, had little sensitivity… y'know… down there… so I could go for hours without ejaculation. Add in the fact that I could orgasm without ejaculating (male multiple orgasm - it's real… simply squeeze the pubococcygeus muscle), so me ever using meth would be a complete waste of money.

Anyhow… in order to have sex continually for several days (why?), repeated doses of meth would need to be consumed. The downside, beside being rubbed raw, is the crash… major sleep, bro.

What other neat things can meth do for you?

Well, it suppresses the appetite. What? Don't eat, lose weight from all that sweaty sex? Sounds like win-win. 

What else? Dilated pupils (no biggie); flushed skin (it would have been anyways from all the sex you imagine you are going to get from taking it); lots and lots of sweating (no big deal for anyone except the person under you in your sex romp - should you actually be having sex); dry mouth (uh… have your partners spit in your mouth); teeth grinding (helps the economy as you now get the dental industry involved), meth mouth (crappy teeth - more economy); headaches (that's what aspirin and cocaine is for); irregular heartbeat (it's not the excessive sex?), rapid breathing (ibid), high-blood pressure (that sucks); low-blood pressure (well, which is it?… wait it varies?); high body temperature (hence the sweats or flushed skin?); diarrhea (these are all things that happened from prolonged use, and not WHILE you are high on it, right? - because who wants to have sex for days if you have the squirts?), constipation (which is it - poops, no poops!?); twitching (ooh, seen that!); numbness (I got nothing); tremors (if this was happening while you were in day five of your orgy, would you notice?); dry skin (that's because you've been bouncing for days!… of course your naughty parts are going to be dry… waitaminute… I though there was sweaty sweat?), acne (zits… sigh, who wants those again?); and paleness (I just don't see it on me, but perhaps I would look ashen).

So… it sounds like a whole lotta contraindicative side effects just to have constant sex for a week.

So… why am I writing about this?

Well… Japanese chemist Nagayoshi Nagai (長井 長義, surname first) was the first person to synthesize methamphetamine from ephedrine back in 1893…
Dr. Nagayoshi Nagai in 1917.

Nagai (August 8, 1844 - February 10, 1929) was born in the Myodo District of Awa-ken in what is now Tokushima-ken.

He was the son of a doctor and started studying rangaku, which is the Dutch or western-style of medicine at the Dutch Medical School of Nagasaki (Igaku-Denshusho) in 1864.

He continued to study, because some people like being professional students to try and pick-up all of the college girls… oh! and the keggers!

He also studied at the University of Berlin in 1871; was the only civilian in a group of military students sent to study in Great Britain and France, traveling there via the United States - and all to learn more about the latest in medical knowledge from other countries; took up organic chemistry in 1873; married German chick Theresa Schumacher, and they had a son, Alexander, who worked as a diplomat at the Japan Embassy in Berlin, Germany until 1945.

Dr. Nagai returned to Japan in 1883 at the request of Japan's government, working at the Tokyo Imperial University as a professor of pharmacology (he was Japan's first ever Doctor of Pharmacy, by the way) and, concurrently, as a director of the Tokyo Hygienic Laboratory of the Health and Medical Bureau of the Interior Ministry.

In 1885, Nagai was serving as chief engineer at a laboratory of Dainippon Pharmaceutical Company (nowadays, it is Sumitomo Daibippon Pharma Co., Ltd.), which was then a sort of governmental organization…

His researched revolved around the traditional Japanese and Chinese herbal remedies by doing chemical analysis on them.

Don't pooh-pooh the old ways, Grasshopper. Aspirin = willow bark; anti-malaria drugs = sweet wormwood; mood stabilizer = St. John's wort … heck about 1/4 of all modern medicines are derived from natural products, many of which were first used in traditional remedies.

While examining an essence extracted from wild ma hung (a medicinal plant whose name translates to 'hemp yellowed', but is known by its scientific name of Ephedra sinica - this plant, by the way, does NOT grow wild in Japan), he found a crystalline substance visible to the naked eye.

Looking at its chemical structure, Nagai isolated the alkaloid ephedrine hydrochloride, and then with his team figured out its chemical structure.

This was ephedrine… a mild stimulant you might have seen in the standard weight-loss pills. For some reason, it was also one of those few drugs people of the Mormon faith could use.

By 1893, they were able to create methamphetamine from it.

The Japanese were back at it again, when in 1919, when Nagai protege Ogata Akira (surname first) was able to synthesize a crystallized methamphetamine which was purer and thus stronger.

This was, and is, Crystal meth…

But that wasn't why amphetamine's were being looked it. It was originally intended to provide relief for those suffering from asthma and as a sinus decongestant, and by the 1930s, it was used as such... except...  

... if you wanted to get stoned, a person could remove their inhaler amphetamine strips… soak it in coffee… drink the coffee… and, like… wow… go-go-Go-GO!!!

Okay… that's it for the Japanese connection.

But, it is interesting to note that Nazi Germany (in WWII) gave out methamphetamine in tablet form via the brand name Pervitin… and was apparently used by all branches of the German armed forces.

Hitler was taking injections from his physician Theodor Morell by 1942… but by then the guy who ruined a perfectly good mustache style (think Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Wendell Hardy) was a raging bag of STD (sexually-transmitted diseases).

While the Pervitin (Perv-it-in. Heh.) did not entice the Nazi's to orgy out with Allies, it did help keep the soldiers awake.

The soldiers nicknamed the methamphetamine: Stuka-Tablets (Stuka-Tabletten) and Hermann-Göring-Pills (Hermann-Göring-Pillen).

I can't confirm this, but apparently kamikaze pilots were given methamphetamine tablets, too. There was supposed to be such a large volume of pills left over, that it was dispensed to the local Japanese population.

Similar in chemical structure, American soldiers took Benzedrine during WWII… but who the fug knows if any of that stuff is true.

I would need to see hard evidence of those WWII and post WWII claims… so for now… let's call those all unsubstantiated rumors.

So… what's the moral of the story?

Just say no to drugs, kiddies, stay in school, and go into pharmaceutical chemistry. Not political science or journalism like some blog writers.

Somewhere doing the speed limit,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Climate Change In Japan - A Brief Look

I have basked in the warm December temperatures from my abode in Toronto, followed by some cold winds, and a minor snowfall of about 10 centimeters (four inches)... and today (I'm writing this on the 15th of January, 2016) when it's supposed to get as warm as 4C (39.2F) and then drop two days later to a high of -6C (21.2F) of -11C (12.2F) on the 19th... with not all that much snow on the ground… I wondered about climate change and specifically because this is a blog about Japan, about climate change in the Land of the Rising Sun.

First off… let's take a look at a speech given by Japan Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) back on December 13, 2015. I believe in Toronto (on the 14th), it was a high of 13C (55.4F). For those of you who assume that all of Canada is a freezing hellhole, just note that it isn't. At least not all the time.

The statement was made by Abe on the agreement reached at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"I highly value the adoption at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) of the “Paris Agreement,” which is a new international framework in place of the Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other climate actions. I express my profound gratitude to the French COP Presidency for the effort and dedication with which it convened COP21 without submitting to terrorism and led it to success.

"Japan has consistently advocated that we must safely hand our sole planet down to the generations of our children and grandchildren and that every country must participate in the new framework to this end. Now we have reached a fair agreement applicable to all Parties, consisting of more than 190 countries, for the first time in history.

"The world will make a new start to tackle the challenging problem of global warming. Japan must take steps to achieve the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in a planned manner, aiming at the goal of a 26 per cent reduction. We will achieve the goal without sacrificing economic growth. Japan will promote the key to this theme, namely, the development of innovative technologies in the fields of the environment and energy. It will implement climate change-related assistance in developing countries as well by making use of its technology and experience. Negative impacts of climate change are also becoming visible within our boundaries. To prepare ourselves for future risks, the Government will take measures to minimize such climate effects. My Cabinet will take these actions as a task of its highest priority.

"Climate change is an issue to be addressed over the long term. Japan holds the tradition of living in harmony with nature and is equipped with world-class technology with which it overcame the previous oil crises. I would like to refine these strengths of our nation by maintaining the originality and inventive work promoted by both the public and private sectors so that Japan can continue to play a leading role in the international community in addressing climate change."


First… what is Greenhouse gas? It's a gas in our atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. Greenhouse Gases in our atmosphere are: H20 (in the form of water vapor), CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), NO2 (nitrous oxide), O3 (ozone), and CFCs (chloroflurocarbons).

Combine Greenhouse Gases with non-greenhouse gases with direct radiative effect, and the strength of each gas is multiplied greatly.

The less scientific explanation is that greenhouse gases create a thicker protective layer around the planet (than what we require), preventing heat from escaping… basically cooking us Jiffy-pop popcorn.

As for Abe's speech…

A 26 percent reduction is a decent start. For all you negative people out there, it is unrealistic to expect 100 percent acquiesce at the outset of anything. This is a give-and-take solution, and hopefully planet-saving active goals will continue.

But what does climate change mean to Japan?

It is more than alcohol polluted cherry blossom viewing (hanami) in the Spring, driving in your greenhouse gas-emitting polluting car to go and see the leaves turn color (kayo) in the Autumn, or even the fact that one can kill some plant or animal at a certain time of the year in order to gorge oneself.

We're all guilty of such pleasures… with people's lives constantly linked with the weather.

Hot enough for you?

My son plays in an outdoor ice hockey league, and we've had three of the six games cancelled because it's been too damn warm to play. 

What happens, with evolution (or if you don't believe in evolution—with God's will), things happen, and one either adapts or one perishes.

In Japan, the way climate change is going on, cherry blossoms might start blooming earlier in the year; different species of fish will be consumed as migration patterns change due to water temperature or over-fishing occurs, crazy ass typhoons could hit mow often or with more ferocity, crops could fail, cost to feed farm critters could rise, food prices soar and we, the people, have less money available and will need to make even greater choices regarding how we live our collective daily lives.

Is it all mankind's fault? No… some of it is the planet itself… it has ebbs and flows, too, but certainly man, and its propensity for the emission of greenhouse gases is leading the way for its own unfunny pratfall.

Sea levels are rising, as is the global air and ocean temperatures. Considering that most of the planet is covered in water… we have a problem brewing.

Some predictions say that eventually the waters around Japan could rise by 40 centimeters (15.75-inches)… it's not a lot, laugh the people of Venice, Italy, but it's a lot. Even in Venice, if the water's were to rise by that much, travelling gondolas and other watercraft probably will not be able to navigate under the numerous pedestrian bridges around the city.


What else could Japan expect?

Heat waves, mow rain, stronger typhoons - all of which could effect Japan's chief staple crop - rice… causing a decrease up to 40 percent in central and southern Japan.

Hokkaido - Japan's great white north - it'll have less snowy weather in a manner to what we have here in Toronto.

If greenhouse gases continue to increase, we, or rather our mutant ancestors, can except the global temperature to increase by a minimum of 1C, but maybe even a high of 4.6C or more.

Excluding all you readers below the equator reading this in January of 2016, us northers might think that it being a twitch warmer wouldn't be a bad thing.

Okay… sure. Now think about what those extra degrees will feel like in the summertime. While it is livable or even comfortable for you buggers with air-conditioned homes (I don't practice what I preach… I don't have a home or car air-conditioner that works… but I admit I have certainly enjoyed the use of one when they did work)… it's the rest of the natural environment that gets screwed up.

Too hot… the crops wither and die. Not enough snow because it's too hot… the ground doesn't get replenished… crops wither and die.

Not enough green nature… animals, birds… die.

Waters too warm… algae blooms grow… covering more of the water's surface… meaning creatures below the rely on the sun and other foods not related to algae suffer… species shrink… die off… aliens come and transport the dolphins off the planet.

It's the butterfly effect and chaos theory.

I loves me some chaos theory.

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is "the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state."

We need, as current member in good standing of Club Earth, to begin making small, but positive changes.

I am not going to preach at you that one thing is a better way than another… that's your decision.

But don't just get one opinion. Look around. Read up. Attend. Speak, if you can and must.

Be the Lorax.

By the way, on January 17, 2016, the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, launched atop one of its Falcon 9 rockets a weather satellite - the Jason-3 - a mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and European weather satellite agency Eumetsat.

The plan is to bounce radar signals off the Earth's water below to accurately measure the sea surface height within a couple of inches.

The information gathered should help scientists track the rising sea levels as global temperatures continue to increase, as well as to track ocean current direction and speed as an aid to better forecast typhoons (hurricanes).

That Falcon 9 rocket, by the way, attempted to land back on Earth atop a platform, but as it touched down, a leg strut buckled causing the rocket to topple over and explode.

On January 19, 2016, the World Economic Forum says it expects to see more plastic (pound-for-pound) floating in the ocean than there are fish by the middle of the century.

According to the report, worldwide use of plastic has increased 20-fold in the past 50 years, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. By 2050, we’ll be making more than three times as much plastic stuff as we did in 2014.

To this, I'm going to pump the brakes on the semi before it plummets off a cliff.

Does the World Economic Forum really believe this to be so? I'm not going to slam the plastics industry, but I do believe that with the rising costs of oil—where plastics are derived—will make plastics production expensive enough that only the more costly items will be made with it—the smaller, less expensive items, ergo, will not be produced in such high volumes where waste in the oceans or elsewhere would be at such fear-mongering proportions.

Also... where is all this plastic waste in the waters coming from? Right now, about 1/3 of all plastics produced escapes our collection systems, and apparently winds up in the water—Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia said (in the Washington Post in February 2015): “Five bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”

Really? Is it really that bad? Are they still talking about all the materials swept out to sea following the March 11, 2011 tsunami (caused by a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake that devastated the northeast part of Japan's main island)?

I have a hard time believing that  there is that much plastic blowing around and landing in the water. Stop telling me. Show me. Show us. Show us where we think it originates, and take steps to remove the culprit cause.

Is it just poor dumb third-world country natives careless tossing their plastic film potato chip bags after they've consumed the contents? I don't see that. What about them chucking out all those empty water bottles or Coke Zero bottles after burping out the alphabet? No... don't they re-use them for water collection? 

Look... I'm all for putting a tight lid on the human race's polluting and destructive ways regarding our planet.

But considering we humans have been bombarded with fear mongering for so many decades that we've gone blind to the constant chattering, new marketing techniques need to be unearthed to get REAL messages across.

Sabre rattling and fear mongering have run their course. Forget about how the planets going to die choking with a plastic ring around its neck.

Tell us what is going on now, tell us what we can do now. Initiate it (which I think we are doing). Effect real change at the urban level. Most of us in the big cities in Canada and the U.S. (not sure about elsewhere), have very good recycling programs—though I am sure we lag behind what Europe is doing.

Global warming does appear to be happening. Can it be corrected, or is it a planetary natural phenomenon?  

Oh well... for you people in Florida, over the next few decades or so, you might want to move or grow gills, as it will become over run by salty water. 

It's not easy being green,

Andrew 'Kermit' Joseph
PS: When I was a little pecker back in the late 1960s, before 'sustainability' became the key term, we used the word 'ecology', man, and it was, like, cool, man.
Ecology even had its own flag, man. And like even I was into doing stuff to say Mother Earth, man.
Every year I would do a science fair project that would show the effects of pollution on our Great Blue Marble of a planet. I was a lousy student from Grade 7 on, but I always managed to spend a few hours to create an ecology demonstration depicting how oil and water don't mix, or how Styrofoam containers like the ones my McDonald's Big Mac used to come in would not decompose for 500 years or more.. like maybe even never.
I never did anything Earth-shattering, so my science fair projects never won anything except assurance that I wouldn't have to go on to any future events to prove my theories that had long ago been proved by real scientists and ecologists.

By the way, did you know it might take 1-million years for a glass bottle to biodegrade? Sure… but that's why they can be recycled or reused - so make sure you put'em in the proper recycling place.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Japanese Cat Breed: Kurilian Bobtail

Just like the islands where it was found, both Japan and Russia lay claim to the Kurilian Bobtail, which sounds like something right out of Star Trek or Star Wars.

The Kuril Islands runs from the northernmost tip of Hokkaido to the easternmost point of Russia, and has been a bone of contention between the two nations for a very long time.

So… the Russians know the cat as the Curilsk Bobtail, and the Japanese as the Kurilian Bobtail.

(Note: The Russians are promoting this cat as a Russian aboriginal breed and as something completely different from the Japanese Bobtail.)

If you glance back up at the photo above, the cat looks similar to a fluffy lynx, but still... with a couple of these cats sitting on your feet, you can stay warm all winter!

A nice-looking short-hair Kurilian Bobtail.

There are two versions of the cat, a short-hair and a long-hair, but both have a kinked, short tail known as a 'pom-pom' that, regardless of the variety, the tail is fluffy containing two to 12 vertebrae.

The tails are not chopped by human intervention… these cats are born like this… a mutation that sticks around thanks to a lack of genetic diversity.

The short-hair version is considered to be a natural breed (and I bet this is what Russia is claiming as its breed), and is known to have been on the island for over 200 years and apparently used to run in packs.

Please note that there is also a different cat breed known as the Japanese Bobtail, which Pat G. will be pleased to know I will write about shortly.

The Kurilian Bobtail… has, longer rear legs than the front, and a slightly hunched back.

Male: 11 to 15 lb
Female: 8 to 11 lb

Coat: double layered
Coat Color: red to grey
Eye Color: yellow, green or yellowy-green
Litter size: 2 to 3
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Fur type: short to semi-longhair
Bobtail: 2 to 5 inches

The Kurilian Bobtail might be related to the other main Japanese breed, the Japanese Bobtail, but it is actually closely related to the Karelian Bobtail of western Russia and Finland.

I know, I know… the fact that the cats are so similar, and that the Japanese Kurilian owes its origin to a Russian Karelian, Japan might as well cede the Kuril Islands back to Russia and apologize for the mistake.

Kidding aside, the Kurilian Bobtail is a pet cat breed, but it still exists on the Kuril Islands as a wild cat… and is considered to be an excellent hunter and fishing cat that loves to play in the water and can catch fish as large as 5-kg (11-lb). Really.
I don't know if this is a staged shot, or a real wild, long-hair Kurilian Bobtail, but the cat looks majestic perched on the boulder as though it were peering about for a moose to stalk and kill for lunch.
Now, despite some of the breed being wild, even those wild cats are known to be gentle.

All versions of the Kurilian Bobtail are rare. Why? Litter size - just two and maybe three per per birth period.

For those of you who like doggies, the Kurilian Bobtail is dog-like. It is considered to be: adaptable, gregarious, trainable and easygoing.

These cats tolerate change better than most, and adapt well (usually) to kids, dogs and even other cats - but it is not a lap cap, instead liking its independence, with trust, and so will often be nearby at its Master's feet. Awww. Trip.

Okay... you know how some cats are yowlers, or have an annoying loud meow? Well, while not overly talkative, the Kurilian Bobtail can make a musical trilling sound that sounds like a bird call.

The late Daffy, and current Freddy (both regular tabbies) both make a sound that sounds like they are calling birds... a chattering... Daffy was an outdoor cat, and did kill one, while Freddy... he does his calling from inside the house perched on the windowsill in the room where I do my writing. It's not an annoying sound, but I do find it intriguing trying to determine what he thinks that sound will do.

Somewhere with cat scratch fever… no wait… that is something completely different…

Andrew Joseph

Friday, January 22, 2016

Japanese Dog: The Shiba Inu

Let's take a look at the Japanese breed the Shiba Inu (柴犬, aka Shiba Dog), which is known as the smallest of the six original and distinct spitz breeds of dog in the country.

The six spitz breeds are: the Akita Inu, Hokkaido Inu, Shikoku, Kai Ken, Kishu Ken, and the Shiba Inu.

There is also a Japanese Spitz bred, but this breed has nothing to do with the Shiba Inu, but it is a mix of the varies spitz and other dogs.

The Shiba Inu, a reddish-hued dog, was originally bred to hunt and flush small game, such as birds and rabbits - so it was a game dog.

Yeah, 'inu' means dog, but it is guesswork as to where 'shiba' comes from.

'Shiba' = brushwood, a Japanese tree or shrub that has its leaves turn red in Autumn. So… since the dog's coat is similar in hue, that makes sense.

But, in an old Nagano-ken dialect, 'shiba' means 'small' (like the more common Japanese tern 'chibi'. It's close, which is why it's a dialect.

So… small dog… small definition.

It's also why the dog is sometimes references as "Little Brushwood Dog". Whatever. It's a Shiba. You don't even need to say Shiba Inu. We know it's a dog.

Want to hear an interesting story? You'll love this one…

The breed was nearly snuffed out during WWII, thanks to it being nearly eaten into extinction… plus there was a post-war distemper epidemic.

During the war, people were starving. See HERE for a story about how a Japanese bird DID go extinct.

Anyhow… at the end of it all, there were just three existent Shiba Inu blood lines left: the Shinshu Shiba from Nagano-ken; the Mino Shiba from Gifu-ken; and the San'in Shiba from Tottori-ken and Shimane-ken.

All three of these bloodlines carry distinct looks to them, but if you are looking for information on breeding, why the hell are you getting your information here?

Black and Tan Shiba Inu with urajiro (see below).

The Shiba Inu is a small, quick dog that looks like an Akita or a Hokkaido dog, but it is different.

The Shiba is smaller, has a better temperament, and is one of the few ancient breed of dog still in existence.

Male: 10-kg (22-lb)
Female: 8-kg (18-lb)

Male: 35 to 43-cm (14 to 17-in)
Female: 33 to 41-cm (13 to 16-in)


Red, sesame, black and tan, or white

Litter size
3 puppies on average

Life span
12–15 years

There are two coats of hair on the Shiba: the outer is stiff and straight; the undercoat soft and thick.

Fur is short and even on the fox-like face, ears, and legs. Guard hairs stand off the body are about 4 to 5-cm (1-1/2 to 2-in) long at the withers. Tail hair is slightly longer and stands open in a brush.

White Shiba Inu... doesn't look like a bad color to me, at all.
Coloring… well, as you saw above, it can be red (see topmost photo), black and tan, or sesame (red with black-tipped hairs), with a cream, buff, or a grey undercoat. They may also be white (cream), though this color is considered a "major fault" by the American Kennel Club and should never be intentionally bred in a show dog, as the required markings known as "urajiro" (裏白?) are not visible; "Urajiro" literally translates to "underside white".

Sesame Shiba Inu
But… if you are showing your Shiba Inu as part of the British Kennel Club, having a dog with urajiro is perfectly acceptable.

According to the BKC, the urajiro is required in the following areas on all coat colors: on the sides of the muzzle, on the cheeks, inside the ears, on the underjaw and upper throat inside of legs, on the abdomen, around the vent and the ventral side of the tail. On reds: commonly on the throat, forechest, and chest. On blacks and sesames: commonly as a triangular mark on both sides of the forechest.

Whatever… the real point is that this dog, with its vast array of colors just short of a 12-pack of Crayola wax crayons, doesn't always resemble a red shiba brushwood plant… so maybe it is simply named after its small stature.

The important stuff… is it a good dog?

I think any dog temperament is greatly influenced by its owner. Certainly some dogs are a$$holes, even within their own breed. Blame in-breeding or doggie chemical imbalances…

In the case of the Shiba Inu, it's said that the dog is independent in nature… which doesn't mean he'll pick up his own poop and carry it in a baggy in his mouth for you, but rather that he doesn't need to hang around with you all the time.

It is not the best dog (I don't believe any of these spitz type dogs are) when small children or other small dogs are about.

But, like any critter, early socialization and training can make things easier when kids and other small dogs are about. It doesn't mind cats, either.

This dog is a licker… no not of you, but of itself. It likes to be clean. Since it doesn't want to be caught in its own pee-pee, the breed is easy to house-break… but then you'll have to hear its incessant slurping at all hours of the day.

There is something called a 'shiba scream'.

Yup… when you tick it off, or provoke it.. the dog lets go a shiba scream.

No biggie, you promise to always treat it well, but sometimes, even during periods of great joy, out comes the Shiba scream.

Holy crap! That was the real reason the breed nearly went extinct! Oh well, at least his Master is well trained.

The oldest known Shiba Inu was a dog named Pusuke, who died at the age of 26 in December 2011, and was, until then, the oldest dog in the world.

And... now you know about the Shiba Inu dog.

Andrew Joseph
Tomorrow... something for Pat G.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Living With Dogs

This blog is for Alice, who likes her dogs.

I've had dogs in my life since I was two-years-old, and excluding the past two years and my three years in Japan, I've had a dog around me every single day.

Dogs, like children, gravitate towards me, which I think speaks well for my general likeability.

I have had cats these past two years, and while I certainly enjoy the fact that the late Daphne and current Freddy were/are extremely friendly, I do miss having a dog around, but I do like watching Scooby-Doo. (Daphne & Freddy are two characters from that long-time mostly animated gem about a talking dog and his mystery-solving human gang.)

I've had three Cocker Spaniels (one English blue roan, and two American); four Rottweilers (three owned at the same time - the house was never safer); and one Chocolate Labrador. Two of my Rottweilers lived to be 17+ years old.

All the dogs I've had can best be described as sucks. Friendly, as long as I was near by. Tough, when no family member was close. Seriously... with the three Rottweilers... while there was a brief moment in time when almost all the houses in the area where being hit by thieves, ours was rightly left alone.

Every once in a while when I would do some lawn work, I would stake them out on the front year on a leash so everyone could see that they should give the place a wide berth. Pity the protection didn't extend to my neighbors.

When I called all my dogs 'sucks', I meant that at no time were they kept to be guard dogs. They were sucky, licky doggies... who would go through a wall to protect you. Maybe not the Cocker Spaniels... but they would go through a wall just to eat out of an exposed garbage can or to roll in something disgusting. Only the Chocolate Labrador was dumb enough to try and make friends with a skunk. I smelled for days afterwards, as I had to get close and personal to get that tomato juice deep into his double layer of hair... and I swear the stench attached itself to my nose hairs for weeks after.

In Japan, I never had a dog, and would never have got one unless I knew I would be spending the rest of my life there.

But many of the families in houses surrounding my apartment building had dogs.

One thing I never understood while in Japan, was the need for Japanese families in my suburbanite hamlet in Japan, to have a dog, own no grass in the yard, keep the dog outside all the time, allow it to bark constantly, only letting it in at night, but out again early in they morning.

I'm not the world's greatest dog-owner (or anything, for that matter), but that doesn't sound like a great life for the dog.

Long time ago, I wrote a blog… written from the dog's perspective - HERE. Go ahead, click it... it's from one of my earliest ever blogs. My 24th, I believe. I've written over 3,000 blogs here... 3,010, as of today (two others were written by a guest blogger).

Tomorrow, let's take a look at one of those cool Japanese breed of dogs most people have never heard of.

Andrew Joseph
PS: No… I'm not getting lazy… I'm actually a week ahead in the blog-writing department as I write this… and some of these babies take a lot of research and time to compose. Okay, not that long to compose because I write straight from wherever my thoughts come from (brainzzzz!)… but the research… that can take minutes to go through. Actually, it took longer to find the old dog blog than it took to write this blog. Research.