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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Nagasaki House And A Mudslide

Here's what happened on June 30, 2016... I think... after a mudslide in Nagasaki weakened a hillside:

Three houses... or is it four? Obviously the homes were evacuated long before.

Yes... Nagasaki is a hilly city. Been there, and had leg cramps walking around it. Not. Have you seen the muscles on my legs?

Andrew Joseph

Concept Vehicles From Yamaha

According to Wikipedia, the Yamaha Motor Company Limited is a Japanese manufacturer of motorcycles, marine products such as boats and outboard motors, and other motorized products.

The concept vehicles seen above seem to fall into that "other motorized products" column.  

One is an electric-assisted bicycle... the other a mobile patio set.

So... let's take a look at two of these weird concept cars - because that's all they are at this moment... concepts.

The vehicles are the dream of Japanese architect architect Ito Toyo (surname first). More on him below. 
First, watch the Yamaha video showing off the concept vehicles the 05Gen and the 06Gen. I would imagine that should concept become reality, Yamaha would come up with a much catchier brand name for each:

The 05Gen is a three-wheeled doo-hickey that Yamaha calls a completely new type of electrically power-assisted mobility vehicle.

It looks small enough that one could ride it in a mall, though I wouldn't recommend using it up or down an escalator or large enough to probably get clipped by a bus driving far too close for the 05Gen operator's liking.

As you hopefully saw in the video, the concept vehicles involve a dream-like existence where other cars aren't on the warpath trying to swerve around you. Or maybe that's just my North American scarred manned of thinking.

Having been hit twice (within a seven-day period) by cars while riding my bicycle... and I want you to know that I was not hotdogging, had the right of way, blah-blah-blah... so I came to the conclusion quite easily that the Japanese for the most part aren't the best drivers. I have other examples... but really, how does one quantify that? The son of friend's of mine was hit by a car this past Friday. At a crosswalk. The button was pushed and the lights were flashing. I have no idea if he waited until the nearest car had stopped, or if he had simply pushed the button and walked into the road hoping the car would stop... he was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital, and after having some pins put into his left ankle and shoulder his summer is screwed. 

Me... I wasn't hurt much either time. It was maybe two or three months into my stay in Japan and my bosses were freaked out.

Anyhow... 05Gen... I admire the concept from Yamaha, but I question whether mankind has evolved enough for an 05Gen operator to do so safely along the narrow pathways that the Japanese mistakenly call roads.

The 05Gen is not a long-distance vehicle. It is for short jaunts to the shop.

The vehicle was designed by Ito to be as comfortable as clothing - to form around the driver snugly.

  • a leaning technology that allows it to make tight turns easily;
  • electric power-assist for easier pedaling like an E-bike;
  • a curving windscreen that comes up over the operator's head - protecting from light rain and sun - this is the clothes-concept;
  • storage compartment - but it's on the small side.
If it is raining out, the windshield covering will bring out the feeling of walking under an umbrella (but probably not as fast as walking under an umbrella! Ha! I kill me!) with the side and rear openings...

If it was listed anywhere on the Yamaha website, I didn't notice, but I would assume that if the company thinks you can use it INSIDE a mall, then it's not going to utilize a powerful electrical motor... but I don't know how big the battery is regardless.  

Where's the frickin' door?

This four-wheeled contraption somehow looks more comfortable than my own couch.

If you look at the photo, one can be forgiven if you can't tell which is the front and which is its rear.

Also a short-range vehicle—it really does look some some rich dude's golf cart... as it looks like it could easily seat four or five Japanese people or two, possible three slender North Americans.

Not meant by Yamaha to invoke memories of toppling over drunk upon a golf cart you stole and drove to the local 7-11, the 06Gen is meant to evoke memories all Japanese people wish they had of engawa - a veranda - that creates a space that is neither indoors or outdoors. In other words, a relaxing experience.

Using materials that have a look and feel reminiscent of a living room for the sofa-like seats and the floor, and employing a seat layout only possible with a low-speed vehicle like this, the 06Gen brings added enrichment to time spent on the move and naturally encourages people to connect.

I suppose. I might wonder if this vehicle was a Japanese chick magnet or repellent. Again... I would imagine the 06Gen is a conceptual car for a better future where bloggers aren't so snippy and self-obsessed.

People connections? Sure... look at the seating arrangements... aside from the driver who is hopefully facing front and watching who is laughing at him, the others are facing inwards towards each other. You could talk... or, if you are like today's generation, you could talk to each other via text while sitting 30 cm away from one another.

Now... look again at the picture... see the driver's seat in the back half of the 06Gen. The driver's backside is going to be right up against the  person directly behind them... in fact, the driver is going to be in the way of the conversationalists.

Also... won't there be at least one person to the right of the steering wheel that will in effect be blocking the driver's view of the path they are on? You can't see right! That's like a triple entendre in my head.

Conceptually to look upon, the 06Gen looks like a fun ride at Tokyo Disneyland - I'm thinking the Haunted Mansion ride.

No idea how it operates, but I'm pretty sure it's pedal and electric e-bike stuff.

By the way... there's no port door on the 06Gen.

The father of the 06Gen - a golf cart. It's mother was a roller skate. A slow roller skate. No... not even a roller blade.
You’ll notice at the end of the video in the concept drawings, it shows two 05Gen vehicles, one 06Gen vehicle, a grey-haired woman with an umbrella standing and a grey-haired man in a wheel-chair.

It would be my guess that they are plotting a race to see who is the slowest or perhaps fastest.

Kidding… if you look at it closely, the image actually depicts the woman and man as being occupants of the 06Gen who obviously drove out to the lovely countryside of Japan to talk with the two relatives or friends on the 05Gen.   

I've taken the following from the Yamaha website...

Concepts for these Yamaha vehicles were based upon the following:
The “Shimanami Kaido” connects Onomichi City on Japan’s main island with Imabari City on the island of Shikoku via bridges running across numerous islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Around the halfway point on the route lies Omishima Island, where architect Ito Toyo (surname first) opened the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, Imabari in 2011. With this event and Ito’s lead, island residents and young architects came together to begin transforming the appeal of the island’s natural beauty, culture and community. Yamaha Motor contributed to the project by proposing new ways to get around the island with the 05GEN and 06GEN concept models. The 05GEN will be on display at the Steel Hut section of the museum from July 4, 2016 - June 17, 2017. 

Designer Ito Toyo
As for the designer himself, Ito looks pretty damn young for a man who was born in 1941. Seriously - this guy is 75 years old? I thought he was 25 years younger! At least!

Ito graduated from the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo, with some of his celebrated works including the Sendai Mediatheque and “Minna no Mori” Gifu Media Cosmos libraries.

Ito has been awarded The Grand Prize of AIJ from the Architectural Institute of Japan, the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Ito also opened the Ito Juku studio in 2011 as a place to study and contemplate the future of architecture and urban planning, and the studio is involved in a number of initiatives to that effect.

Here’s a link to the Imabari Museum:

Sendai Mediatheque

Minna no Mori Gifu Media Cosmos.

Yes, I have taken the mickey out of these two concept cars, but not as much as I thought I was going to.

While they are interesting concepts, a part of me is sad that that aren't that practical in today's world.

I would be very happy to be wrong and see these vehicles in full production in a couple of years... or to look as hip as Ito does in that photo.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hello Work

Hello Work - two words I have probably never uttered. 

Hello Work is Japan’s federal Employment Service Center.

That’s it’s name… Hello Work…

How typically Japanese to toss in a word with two “L’s” in it… a letter that does not exist in any of the three Japanese alphabets and is also very difficult (but not impossible) for most Japanese to say clearly.

Great… unemployed and you can’t even say the name of the place that will help you get unemployment insurance or help pone find a new job.

As such, the Hello Work name is written out as ハローワーク in the Katakana alphabet - used mostly for foreign words, and is pronounced “harōwāku”.

Not JUST for the Japanese, Hello Work can also be used by foreigners seeking employment… but you better have some jozu Japanese-language skills.

If you don’t know what jozu means, you have some brushing up to do.   

The agency examines ones work skills and tries and find a good match for you.

Contrary to popular belief, Japan no longer can guarantee any of its Japanese employees a lifetime position… it happens… but so too do layoffs.

There is no charge to those who visit Hello Work looking for a job.  Services include: 
  1. Information service of job types / Employment consultation;
  2. Face-to-face information service of employment opportunities;
  3. Unemployment benefit application (must have a fixed address, by the way);
  4. Job training information.
There are multiple locations spread across Japan, with larger cities offering Hello Work branch offices.

I had never heard of this Japanese government agency until I read the book True Crime Japan by Paul Murphy and published by Tuttle Publishing. You can read my review HERE.

I’m unsure if I gave it enough credit - but it’s a fantastic book… Murphy provides lots of side details into the life and hidden life of modern day Japan, not commenting on right or wrong - just presenting facts like a good journalist should, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions.

If you spot a copy of True Crime Japan at your local bookshop or feel like going online to, let me highly recommend that book to you.

Not only did I learn about Japan’s unemployment segment, but I also learned a heck of a lot about its judicial system and its prisons, its laws and its people. True Crime Japan is a fantastic book.

By the way... my son just graduated from his school (it goes up to Grade 5), and he was awarded with the Most Improved Student award. Whew! Maybe he won't have be a poorly-paid writer like       

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above shows: Hello Work facility in Gamagori-shi, Aichi-ken, Japan - from

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Wreck A Satellite And Take A Pay Cut For A Few Months

Okay… so I spotted this press release about two weeks earlier:

Due to the anomaly experienced with X-Ray Astronomy Satellite ASTRO-H (Hitomi), three of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s executive employees have decided to take a 10% pay cut to their monthly salary for four months, to be effective July 2016.

So… I had no idea what this was all about, and see why three executives at JAXA needed to take a pay cut.

Hmm.. turns out a very expensive black hole-spotting X-Ray astronomy satellite that was launched in February of 2016 and began observations in March - stopped working after just a few days.

Hitomi was built with help from NASA and other space agencies as a space observatory, and carried four X-Ray telescopes and two gamma-ray detectors that was supposed to help mankind learn more about Black Holes and, ultimately, the Origin of the Universe.

Sure. That would have been nice, but aside from the Black Hole data it might have culled, I doubt we would have learned anything definitive about the Origins of the Universe… I mean… they keep telling us that the age of the Universe is different from what they had thought… they don’t know why the universe isn’t as heavy as they suspect it should be (sucked into a Black Hole - and not ejected via a theorized but unproven White Hole?)… heck… they weren’t even sure about Pluto being a planet or planetoid until just recently.

It is possible that even with all the data that they found in those three days that Hitomi was working, it might be a century or more until we have the wherewithall to adequately interpret those results.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, however.

As for Hitomi: apparently, there was a report from the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center, which tracks man-made objects in orbit, noting that five pieces of debris had apparently separated from the spacecraft.

That’s not good, right?

"The pieces could be blown off insulation from an over-pressure event in one of the instruments," Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who works on other X-Ray satellites including Chandra, said on Twitter. "'Debris' doesn't mean Hitomi's in little pieces. It means little pieces have come off it. Satellite might be basically intact, we don't know."

That was back in late March. But now we do know.

At the initial signs of distress, Hitomi had begun to spin out of control - then the pieces were seen to have come apart from it - and then JAXA lost contact with it.

Below is a video shot by an amateur astronomer and posted to a National Geographic website on March 28, 2016 where via the change of shadow and light, you can see that something is spinning out of control - HERE

JAXA pretty much spent all of April trying to reestablish contact with Hitomi, but eventually announced that “it is highly likely that both solar array paddles had broken off at their bases where they are vulnerable to rotation.”

Those paddles are the ‘wing’s that essentially capture solar energy and turn it into electricity to power the whole she-bang.

Over that month, JAXA thought on three separate occasions that it had received a signal from Hitomi, but follow-ups show that she never actually called, coming from another source with a different frequency.

With the solar panels having broken off, and no electricity to power it, Hitomi is dead in space.

So… did JAXA make these three space executives fall on their sword to apologize for the mission’s failure?

Or was there more?

Quiet reports say that (shh), the Hitomi may have broken up after a poor command from mission control caused an engineering error.

What? Like accidentally bringing the wings into the satellite without closing/folding them first? That would be my outlandish guess.

Anyhow… no real biggie.

As of July 1, through October 31 - four months… three unnamed space executives at JAXA are deciding to take a 10% pay cut.


Only 10%?

What, so, based on an equivalent of a US $100,000 yearly salary, instead of earning the equivalent US $8,333.33 a month… they will for four months make the equivalent of US $7,500 a month.

They would make only US $96,666.64 this year… meaning they lost the equivalent of US $3,333.36.

How much to that satellite cost?

Hitomi cost ¥31 billion (US $273 million), which includes the cost of launching it.

Oh wait! That US $3,333.36 x three space executives = US $10,000.08. Let’s round that down to $10,000.

Of course, this presupposes that these three JAXA representatives all make an equivalent of $100,000 apiece annually.

You know… if someone did give a bad command in error, IE accidentally, I would bet that these three representatives forced (volunteering) to take a four-month pay cut are actually doing so because an underling screwed up - not because of anything they themselves did.

That seems like a Japanese thing to do.

Now... what happened to the person who really screwed up? I guess we'll find out if the next mission will be manned.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Most Dangerous Food In Japan

Mochi… a sticky, soft and sweet rice treat that is not only one of the most dangerous Japanese foods to eat, it is also one of the most dangerous Japanese foods to prepare.

I have done both… eaten and prepared… and both nearly killed me.

Mochi (餅, もち) is a Japanese rice cake made from a hammering/pounding a short-grained Japanese glutinous rice known as mochigome.

The rice is soaked over night and steamed… and then it is pounded and pounded and pounded by a kine (wooden mallet) in a mortar (large wooden bowl called a usu), until it becomes soft and stretchy like Silly Putty… or even like taffy.

While one can eat mochi at any point in the year, I have pretty much only had it around New Year’s Day… and went to my boss’, Kanemaru-san, home in Kurobane to spend the day.

The mochi-making actually took place in a neighbor’s backyard in this rustic, rural town near Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken… and after watching a husband and wife team make it—he hammered at  the mass with a very large wooden mallet, while his wife timed her insertion of hands (and head) into the bowl to twist and turn the mass to allow continued and even beating of the rice mass into a proper soft consistency.

Because it is hard work to heft that hammer, men from around the farm/village each took turns pounding the rice, while their wife took turns mixing the rice mass.

When it was my time, we could find no wife willing to risk her life with the untrained, but powerful-looking gaijin (foreigner), so I got one of the brave men who had had pulled the short straw.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t that bad. 

As I hefted and brought down and up the 10 kilogram (25lb) wooden mallet, my partner would occasionally dip his hands in water and thrust the digits into the rice mass twisting it and turning it.

(Actually, I no longer have any concept at how heavy that mallet was... so let's make it 20kg in an effort to make me seem as strong as possible.) 

After about one minute of driving work - I began to sweat in the 0C (30F) January 1 weather - I was relieved… but only for another minute… at which time I was asked if I wanted to use my quick hands to mix the rice.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

So… what the heck, right? I went to Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme to help teach people English, but it was (being part of the second-wave of JETs to Japan) more about internationalizing the Japanese… showing them the foreigners weren’t sooooo different from them.

I did everything that was asked of me: from newspaper and radio interviews, eating lunch with the mayor, visiting primary schools, to home stays (also known as spending the night at a Japanese person’s home - so I can get a handle on what Japanese home life is like… it’s pretty much like western life… kids do homework, wife cooks a meal, family eats, talks, and then sleep time - yes, I know that sounds sexist, but most western homes have the wife/woman preparing meals. Mine does… but in my defense, I do the laundry, dishes, gardening).

Anyhow… slowly my hammer buddy began… and he was smart enough to not come down with the mallet until he knew I was clear… but after about 20 pounds, my speed was getting pretty good (not up to par with my Japanese female counterparts, however - but getting up there)… so I was moving my hands in and out - almost daring the mallet man to smash my fingers… and then it happened.

A small child standing near me dropped a bracelet into the bowl. I instinctively leaned in to get it… but my MC Hammer didn’t know I had broken rhythm and continued to bring that mallet down towards my head.

Kanemaru-san… I don’t know how he did it… because it was already 10AM, and we all (the guys) had already had multiple shots of sake (rice wine) and a beer to help combat the cold (which in reality probably makes one just not feel the cold, even though it’s cold effects still affect you - you just don’t know it… how did I get frostbite??!!)… anyhow… in a move that belied his soberness… he yanked me back by grabbing my shoulders so only my hands were in the way of the hammer…

And… the hammerhead… he had slowed down enough so that I only got a light rap on the back of my left hand.

Surprised that no one was dead, that little girl grabbed her bracelet from my right hand and gave me a hug and then got dragged away by a screaming mother (I assume it was hers) to be yelled at some more. I never saw her again.


So… having nearly had my head smashed in by a wooden mallet to save a child’s ¥100 ($1) plastic bracelet…. I was replaced by someone more competent… and the mochi making went on without much of a hitch… though the men continued to drink alcohol more heavily and I could hear more feminine screams of pain followed by male chortling.

I think my near-braining had scared Kanemaru-san near to death.

Can you imagine the next day at the Ohtawara Board of Education?

“So… Kanemaru-san… Andoryu-no-sensei… kzzzzzzt.
“Hai. So desu.”
“You know this will affect one of your two yearly bonuses, neh?”

Careful, Granny! That was the same mochi the gaijin-san was choking on!
Let’s just say that it would have been bad for him if something had happened to me. The bosses (Kanemaru-san and Hanazaki-san) were charged with keeping me safe, and looked after during my stay in Ohtawara-shi…. and they, even if I had been hurt while traveling outside their domain, would have felt a level of responsibility for it. I always told them where I was going, if I left the town… out of courtesy. They wouldn’t stop me… but did want to ensure that I was with someone who spoke English, as I had a habit of getting horribly lost whenever I traveled. It also rained every time I traveled. You can ask Matthew… he’s the one, I think, who dubbed me Ame Otoko (Rain Man). He made sure never to travel in the same area of Japan as I did.

Anyhow… after rice was pounded, it can be eaten right away… and everyone DID got a small sample… but in this case it was then taken to the kitchen to be shaped into a sphere… and then handed out to everyone to eat.

My first mistake was taking a huge bite out of my rice ball…

It was chewy… and chewy… and chewy… and holy crap… it doesn’t appear to be dissolving at all in my mouth… so I managed to break away what I thought was a small piece within my mouth and tried to swallow that.

That was mistake number two. Three, if you count almost being brained by a wooden mallet. Four, if think it’s me being so gung-ho in joining their mochi-making.

It almost immediately got stuck in my windpipe…. it didn’t want to go down because it was so effing stick it coated my throat… and stretched and would not break as I tried and tried to swallow it.

That’s when the little girl whose bracelet I had earlier saved saw me struggling and told her mother, who shouted to her husband outside who shouted for Kanemaru-san to come and help his gaijin no sensei because he was probably going to die.

I was turning a shade of red I had no name for… and as Kanemaru-san began thumping me on the back to try and dislodge the mochi, I stuck my own hand in my mouth and pulled out the still large main part of my mochi ball.

I then coughed out the smaller mochi killing mass from throat… held it up… looked at it… and then took a small bite… and swallowed it.

“Oishii! (Delicious!)” I yelled and there was much grunting and smiling from the crowd of men and women, respectively.

Kanemaru-san came over a minute later to ask if I was okay… I smiled and kept eating my mochi.

I wasn’t going to let them see me suffer… and I didn’t want to make Kanemaru-san feel bad.

Next year… and the year after… I didn’t get invited back to Kanemaru-san’s house for any mochi-making… but I think that was just for my own safety. He did invite me out to his place many a time… and once… once I actually cooked my famous chilli con carne for him and Hanazaki-san.

Now… I make a really good chilli… but the Japanese are so adept at lying in a nice way that I have no idea if they really did like it.

Matthew and I… we were once paid to demonstrate our cooking skills—He an Ice Cream Cake, Me, my chili con carne—making us if not professional chefs, then at least semi-professional chefs.

Anyhow… Julien sent me this video below, that shows how one superstar mochi maker uses an incredible amount of speed and skill and luck to produce the killer Japanese snack.

By the way… every year in Japan, 10s of not 100s of very old and very young Japanese die from having mochi stuck in their throat. So it's not just stupid foreigners.

Saved by my age. Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Go On - Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart

I’ve had my heart broken four times in my life.

Yup… drawn and quartered… leaving me with naught but my head and part of my brain.

Two of those heart breaks occurred in Japan: with Ashley the first woman to allow me to sleep with her, and Noboko whom I wanted to marry, but her dad got in the way of that.

In between, I had a very interesting relationship with Junko… who I assume had mental health issues.

Why else would she drop out of university to be with me?

Why else would she begin to stalk me day and night… well… during the day. She would come over to my apartment each night after she was sure the last visitor had left and would then engage me in some raucous sexcapades.

At first, that was pretty damn awesome… as we performed for each other all night long… and I mean… all night… so much so that after the first couple of work days without sleep I didn’t mind as much… until I did.

The only thing that didn’t suffer from my physical exhaustion from no sleep was the sex… as we continued to push each other to new and exciting highs… until I just couldn’t do it anymore. Actually… I could do it… I just no longer wanted to.

I was hallucinating at the school’s where I taught… and was there, but I wasn’t there… and that’s not fair to anyone… teachers, students, my board of education…

Anyhow… I eventually had to get my Board of Education guys to help drag Junko away from me and get her the mental health help she required.

I didn’t want her to waste her time hanging out watching me. I wanted her to finish her university schooling.

Look… I wouldn’t have minded if Junko wasn’t sneaking around. She refused to go out with me to dinner or work… we never even ate at my place… maybe just ice cream or Coca-Cola or juice after some marathon bout of stickiness…

But even with Ashley previous … and certainly with Noboko afterwards, the sex was great, but I wanted more.

I have no idea why Ashley and I really broke up—we weren’t good for each other… but I don’t know WHY that happened… you know how they say you never forget your first? She was mine… and rightly or wrongly… losing her destroyed a piece of my heart. I don’t miss her, but I did, at one time, love her.

Noboko… despite her loving me… her father essentially got in the way… she refused to disobey him to be with me… and I lost a large piece of my heart… as she obviously did not love me as much as I loved her… or she would have stopped being Japanese long enough to just be a woman… I have no idea if things would have worked out long term… but I’ll never know if they could have.

Those were my three years in Japan: Ashley, Junko and Noboko. Each different… each helped define me… each helped shape me… two helped break me.

I have no idea why I decided to write this crap out, suffice to say that I heard a similar line on a television program recently… and like I am wont to do, sought introspection.

Somewhere beyond the sea,
Andrew Joseph
The solution? No expectations. You can only be pleasantly surprised or realize it's par for the course. No bogeys.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Japanese Scientist Creates Hologram You Can Touch

Despite us all knowing about the holograms in Star Wars (Help me Obi-wan Kenobi, you're my only hope) or the Star Trek holograms of The Doctor from Voyager or the holodeck creations like Professor Moriarty from The Next Generation et al, there's no such thing as a hologram that can speak, let alone a hologram you can touch… until now.

A team of Japanese scientists say they have created a three-dimensional hologram that is safe to touch...

Doctor Ochiai Yoichi (surname first) of the Tsukuba University works within the digital medium... a guy who once was the frontman of a one-man band that featured himself, an electric guitar and a computer.

Ochiai and his team (Kumagai Kota, Hasegawa Satoshi and Hayasaki Yoshio from Utsunomiya University; Hoshi Takayuki from the Nagoya Institute of Technology, and; Rekimoto Jun from The University of Tokyo) use femosecond laser technology that uses laser speeds that whiz by at one millionth of one billionth of a second.

The technology is called "Fairy  Lights" and was created at Tochigi-ken's Utsumoniya University Center for Optical Research and Education.

Check out the hologram below:

In his research paper called “Fairy Lights in Femtoseconds: Aerial and Volumetric Graphics Rendered by Focused Femtosecond Laser Combined with Computational Holographic Fields”, Ochiai says they used high-speed, high-intensity lasers, cameras and mirrors to direct tiny points of light called voxels to create images with resolutions of up to 200,000 dots per second.

But don't lasers burn? Every James Bond movie and Hank Scorpio television show I ever saw says that a laser burns hot!

Actually... a slower laser can burn skin... but these hyper fast bursts of laser light generated by the team didn't burn the leather used in their experiments.

So... what does the laser hologram feel like?

Sandpaper... Hunh... no fooling.

“It is possible to make anything float, as long as the object is no more than eight millimeters wide,” Ochiai says, noting that it can be controlled from about one meter away.

Cool... now all we have to do is find a legitimate use for it...

By the way... if you were to create a tractor beam (I just watched Independence Day for the 8th time), what do you suppose the beam would be made of to be able to attract metal? Magnets?  I guess once they solve that question, we'll have tractor beams to go along with our touchable 3D laser holograms.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I'm out at a baseball tournament for a couple of days...

Friday, June 24, 2016

NHL Team Drafted Japanese Hockey Player In 1974 - Sorta

In honor of my Toronto Maple Leafs selecting first in the 2016 NHL Amateur Hockey Draft later this evening of June 24, 2016… an honor bestowed upon it by not only being the worst team of 30 this past hockey season, but then also having to win a lottery to get said pick… let me tell you about the time the Buffalo Sabres drafted a Japanese hockey player back in 1974.

Or did they?

George “Punch” Imlach was known as a lot of things by players who played for him back in the 1960s through 1970s - most of them not very flattering… but the man knew how to win.... a sense of humor... not so much.

As the General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres National Hockey League ice hockey team in 1974, Imlach decided to have some fun with the media… and actually declared that the Buffalo Sabres were drafting in the 11th round of the 1974 Amateur Draft with the 183rd pick: star centerman Taro Tsujimoto of the Japanese Hockey League’s Tokyo Katanas.

This was the real-deal draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres.

Media in Buffalo and everywhere else that cared (probably just Toronto and Montreal) went scrambling to make phone calls to see if they could find out just who the heck this Tsujimoto kid was and if he was going to be the next Gilbert Perreault (Forward), Bobby Orr (Defenseman) or the reincarnation of Terry Sawchuk (Goaltender).

Anyhow… Punch had his fun.

There was no Taro Tsujimoto on the Tokyo Katanas because there was no Tokyo Katanas hockey team. Neither was there a real Taro Tsujimoto... at least not in this context.

Imlach was fed up with this year’s slow selection process done via telephone… as a way to keep picks secret from the rival WHA (World Hockey association), so they couldn't try and steal their players for their league. As well, NHL president Clarence Campbell phoned each team, then read and spelled out the names of the round's previous picks. Ugh.

Imlach came up with the plan, and had Sabres PR Director Paul Wieland create the fictional player.

To make it astounding, Wieland wanted to create a player of Asian background - and knew pretty quickly what he wanted the name to be.

Apparently, when Wieland was a college student driving down Route 16 from Buffalo to St. Bonaventure, he would pass the Tsujimoto Oriental Arts and Gifts in Elmira, New York.

Imlach actually contacted Joshua Tsujimoto who owned the store and asked him if he could use his family’s name… needless to say, Imlach did not say why.

Because even I don’t know what the answer would be, Imlach asked Joshua what might be some popular first names for boys. Taro ended up being the Sabres' choice, of course.

To me… the best part of the joke was Imlach NOT letting anyone in on the joke until just before the start of the Buffalo Sabres training camp in September of that year - some two months later.

Tsujimoto even made it into the Buffalo Sabres 1974-75 Media Guide:

Name: Taro Tsujimoto
Born: November 18, 1954, Osaka, Japan
Height: 5’-9” (1.75 meters)
Weight: 165 lbs (75 kilograms)
Position: Center
Shoots: Left
NHL Team (P): Buffalo Sabres
Cur. team: Tokyo Katanas (JIHL)
National Team: Japan
NHL Draft: 183rd overall, 1974 Buffalo Sabres
Playing career: 1974 - present

Official Sabres 1974-75 roster - look at the Forwards, listing. (Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame)
Brilliant! I love that they included statistics from his imaginary 1973-74 hockey season, where he compiled 15 goals, 10 assists for 25 total points. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Why did this work?

At this time, very few hockey players were from outside of North America, but things were beginning to open up with Swedes… so why not someplace as far out as Japan?

Also… with no Internet or home computers, any interested media would actually have to contact Japan to get more information on Tsujimoto… and if any did try, they would have had either language barriers or the fact that Japanese professional hockey isn’t really that popular and it would have been highly likely that no one knew who he was anyway.

As for the Tokyo Katanas hockey team in the JIHL. The JIHL existed, but not so the Tokyo Katanas. Think about it… KatanasSabres… a pointy joke!

Fun fact: The Kokudo Keikaku Ice Hockey Club in Karuizawa, Nagano (formed in 1972) relocated to Tokyo in 1984… eventually producing Japanese hockey talent Yutaka Fukufuji (surname’s last all through article) who would be drafted 238th overall in the 2004 NHL Amateur Draft by the Los Angeles Kings… playing nine years professionally mostly in the minor leagues as a goaltender…

He did play a total of 96 minutes over four NHL games letting in seven goals for a 4.37 Goals Against Average. He had 36 saves over those games but ended up with a horrible 0.837 Save Percentage and a 0-3-0 (won-lost-tie) NHL record…

But he was the first Japanese player… real one, anyway.

As for Tsujimoto? He still shows up from time to time!

Along with the Buffalo Sabres 1974-75 Media Guide, he also appeared in several publications, such as The Hockey News (a publication I subscribe to - a magazine now, it was a newspaper then).

For kicks, the Buffalo Sabres still list Taro Tsujimoto in their annual media guide.

Not-So-Fun fact: NHL President Clarence Campbell wasn’t very happy with Punch Imlach and the Buffalo Sabres.

The pick was eventually stricken from the NHL’s record books.

When Sabres fans found out about the trick, they began to chant “We want Taro” at games. Or banners would be hung by knowledgeable fans saying: “Taro says:…" with a disparaging remark against an opponent.

Lastly… Panini America via the Score brand issued an official unofficial professional hockey card for Taro Tsujimoto as part of its 2010-11 Score Rookie & Traded box set.

That’s it at the very top and just above.

Needless to say, the card depicts an unidentified Asian man wearing hockey colors similar to the Buffalo Sabres blue and gold uniform.

The description on the reverse of the card is even more fantastic, as nowhere does it let on that the player is fictitious. It reads (in case you can see it properly):

In Buffalo, it's not Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?, it's Where Have You Been, Taro Tsujimoto? The first Japanese player ever selected in the NHL draft, the Sabres tabbed the mysterious prospect in the 11th round back in 1974. The Canadiens (Montreal), who had hoped to steal him later in the draft, were rumored to have worked out a deal for the diminutive center that would have sent Jacques Lemaire to Buffalo. Instead, the Sabres held on to his rights and continue to anticipate his arrival. To this day, whispers of his exploits with the Tokyo Katanas stir up the fans at the HSBC Arena, where the faithful often are heard to chant "We Want Taro!"

I love it... the Sabres "continue to anticipate his arrival." This was a 2010-11 card... 35 years after he was drafted.

By the way... this card was a tough one to find in the 99-card set... as it was a special 100th Mystery Card that was kept hidden until the time of the set's release, and was available as a 1:20 ratio of all the cards.

Taro Tsujimoto... if you are still out there, a lonely city turns its eyes to you. He will be 63 years old later this year.

As for Montreal Canadiens player Jacques Lemaire... perhaps he was spurred on by the trade rumors surrounding him for the mysterious Japanese player.

In 1974-75, Lemaire had a fantastic season: playing in all 80 games, scoring 36 times, assisting on 56 others for 92 points. Lemaire ended up winning eight Stanley Cups as a player and as a coach. He currently works as a Special Assignments Coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Let’s go Taro!
Andrew Joseph
I love how it all bookends nicely back to the Toronto Maple Leafs... not only did I not know about the Taro for Lemaire stuff, but I was unaware (or forgot) that Lemaire was working for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Apparently I couldn't have planned the article better myself.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Supercomputers: China No. 1 & 2 - Japan No. 5

China’s Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer has just been crowned the fastest supercomputer in the world, nearly tripling its nearest competitor, another Chinese machine, and beating the fifth-place Japanese supercomputer with speeds over nine times faster.

The Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer (see image above) has 10,649,600 computing cores and has a top computing speed of just over 93 quadrillion calculations per second.

Along with its speed, the Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer is also hailed as being three times more efficient than No. 2.

Designed and created by the Chinese National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology, the supercomputer was brought on line at the National Supercomputing Center, Wuxi, in east China's Jiangsu province.

Using a Chinese-developed computer core chip just 25 square centimeters (3.8 square inches) in size, the new computer achieved a Rmax rating on the LPACK (Linear PACKage of algebra routines – the benchmark against which supercomputers are measured) of 93,014,594 megaflops per second.

I’m no computer genius, but I have been called a rocket scientist, but 93 petaflops is equal to 93 quadrillion flops per second - which is how many calculations it can make in a second. One second. 

As for Japan… I’m pretty sure there’s no shame in having the fifth fastest supercomputer, but what do I know… I was first on the pre-Internet back in the late 1970s with my dial-in computer modem, message boarding with profs and university students in the U.S. and Europe.

Japan’s Top Supercomputer
K computer, SPARC64 VIIIfx 2.0GHz, Tofu interconnect
Site: RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS)
Manufacturer: Fujitsu
Cores: 705,024
Linpack Performance (Rmax): 10,510 TFlop/s
Theoretical Peak (Rpeak): 11,280.4 TFlop/s
Nmax: 11,870,208
Power: 12,659.89 kW
Memory: 1,410,048 GB
Processor: SPARC64 VIIIfx 8C 2GHz
Interconnect: Custom Interconnect
Operating System: Linux

For your viewing pleasure, here are the positions of Japan’s super computers within the Top 100 around the world.




For a list of the Top 500 global supercomputers, click HERE.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Construction By Robots On Mars

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is looking to take automated construction technologies aka robotics into space to build on the surfaces of our moon (our moon is named Luna) and Mars.

Why robotics? Well… it’s the next step in evolution for Japan, as its population continues to grow older implying that its workforce will continue to shrink as physically quickly as its aging population (people shrink as they get older)…

Also…  it’s not like we’ve even come close to putting a human being on Mars (Matt Damon excluded  - The Martian is a great movie)… and we haven’t even set foot on Earth’s moon since Apollo 17 in December 14, 1972. That’s 44 years ago… and I’m sure a few of you readers weren’t even born then!

Yes… Vietnam costs, SkyLab as the next best thing, followed by recessions, the Space Shuttle Program, terrorism battles and wars to fight which also took time, effort and money away from space exploration…

While SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corporation and even NASA’s 2014 launch of an Orion spacecraft atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket might seem like we are taking a giant leap forward… if we have learned anything from watching movies about space travel, is that FUBARs and SNAFUs (you can look those terms up yourself) can happen… you can also point to the two Space Shuttle disasters, if you are looking for real-life crap. 

With a once-again fledgling space concept hopefully in the fold, the last thing one needs is a failure.

Or… maybe JAXA just thinks it would be cool to see what its high-tech robotics package could do in anticipation of human arrival on Luna or Mars.

The concept of constructing semi-permanent or permanent human colonies on another planet has been fuel for thought for sci-fi writers since the early 1950s… and perhaps even earlier.

In 1959, NASA - 10 years before it even landed Apollo 11 on the moon’s surface - had created studies to discuss the likelihood of erecting a military moon base. The USSR also thought that would be a good idea.

With the Cold War over and a new one chilling between the same and different combatants, NASA (US), the Russian Space Agency, European Space Agency and even some forward-thinking private architects have created plans for space bases.

In 2015, NASA even had a 3D Printed Habitat Challenge focused on creating a base on Mars, offered US$2.25 million to push along the 3D printing technology… saying: "needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond."

The Ice House.
The winner, Ice House, sought to use Mars' predicted abundance (PREDICTED!!) of sub-surface water ice to form a translucent and radiation-protective skin inside an inflatable membrane.

If JAXA has plans for what it could construct on Luna or Mars, it ain’t saying, but the space agency has contracted with Kajima Corporation (鹿島建設株式会社, Kajima Kensetsu Kabushiki-gaisha), a Japanese construction company to help plan the possible future extra-terrestrial construction. See HERE for company information.

I don’t know where Nikkei Asian Review got it’s estimate, but they seem to think that if things go as planned, JAXA could construct living quarters for four to six people on the Moon by 2030 and on Mars by 2040.
Kajima's A4CSEL automated system. Image from Kajima.
JAXA likes Kajima’s dam constructing equipment, the A4CSEL automated system (Automated Autonomous Advanced Accelerated Construction System for Safety, Efficiency, and Liability), and thinks it could be adapted to use off-planet.

Wait… Automated Autonomous Advanced Accelerated Construction System for Safety, Efficiency, and Liability… couldn’t they leave off the safety, efficiency and liability part and then just shorten the name to the more marketable A4CS… or get rid of the S and make it sound like A-Force.

Now… while one could remote-control the machine via slow radio waves… or… they could send a computerized pre-programmed machine (with the option to use radio-control, I hope… in case things go sideways).

To prove it is possible, Kajima already has pre-programmed bulldozers doing various laborious tasks.. but again… this is on Earth… what about on Luna or Mars… where red sand could flow between the electronic brain… or heck… a breakdown occurs because there’s a Murphy on Luna?  

But that’s the challenge moving forward, isn’t it?

The space machines will need to be more than a machine that blindly follows orders, it will need to have its own vision system and have it’s own AI (artificial intelligence) allowing it to alter its current path to avoid hitting something, or to use a different tool should a large boulder be found in its construction zone.

Kajima says it will use the A4CSEL to move dirt and level ground first… and then to continue its leap into forward-moving technology to have the A4CSEL attempt to build complex structures… I would assume like trying to ensure a pre-fab house can be erected.

So… the A4CSEL, as it stands right now, is a radio-controlled machine… that Kajima and JAXA feel can be updated to become a pre-programmed robotic machine… and eventually complex enough that it can perform conflict resolution and actual construction.

JAXA will begin indoor experiments to further these technologies sometime after April 2017.

I hope it works. I thought we were all supposed to have jetpacks by the beginning of the 21st century… but, I guess we are still too damn busy trying to bash each other’s brains in with a stick.

Hoping this space odyssey works,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at very top: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Toyota Dies With 3 Minutes Left In Le Mans Handing Victory To Porsche

The Le Mans automobile race is the opposite of a sumo match.

Whereas two sumo wrestlers combat each other in an explosive barrage usually lasting no more than eight seconds, the 24 Hours Le Mans is the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, where, racers drive for 24 hours straight in an explosive barrage.

But… when Toyota’s TS050 Hybrid (Car #5) was all set to take the checkered flag with just over three minutes remaining in the endurance race… disaster struck… as it suffered a power failure.

The race began on Saturday, June 18, 2016 at the Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans, France with a deluge of rain… with the first 50 minutes of the race conducted under a safety car… which means no one was racing around the track at the usual break neck speeds.

Once the track had dried, Audi’s Car #7 in a R18 rook the lead… but after a couple of hours had to pit to have a new turbocharger installed.

A second Audi R18 sputtered out early, leaving the battle for supremacy to be fought between Toyota and Porsche.

Porsche’s Car #1 919 Hybrid also went out early, leaving Porsche Car #1 919 Hybrid, and Cars #5 & #6 for Toyota’s TS050 racers.

Both Toyota’s ran for 14 laps between fuel stops - one more than Audi and Porsche… which enabled the faster Toyota Car #5 (team: Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, and Kazuki Nakajima) to pull ahead of the Car #2 Porsche (team: Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb) and Toyota Car #6 (team: Mike Conway, Stéphane Sarrazin, and Kamui Kobayashi).

It was with two laps to go (supposed) in the 24-hour race, that Toyota Car #5 - leading by over 50-seconds - suddenly lost power with Najajima-san at the wheel as it was about one-third of the way down the Mulsanne Straight… coming to a dead stop just past the course’s Finish Line with three minutes still left on the clock.

So…  Porsche #2 won the 2016 Le Mans, completing 384 laps in 24 hours.

Toyota’s other car… Toyota #6 came in second three laps behind.

Audi #8 finished third 12 laps behind. Audi #78 finished fourth 17 laps behind.

Now surely not everyone passed poor Toyota Car #5 to finish ahead?

Well… there’s a rule in Le Mans that essentially turns cars in DNF (Did Not Finish) if they are unable to complete a lap within six minutes. Apparently time keeps on ticking even after the 24 hour clock is up…  when one is on the last lap.

The win gives Porsche its 18th Le Mans win.

This is the second time in three years (2014), that Toyota has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as it led for more than half the race before the car died.

In the 2016 version, Nissan performed well… but Car #36, #26, #37, #42, #33, #41, #27, and #23 finished in places five through 12.  

Full race results HERE.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, June 20, 2016

True Crime Japan - A Book Review

Last week, Tuttle Publishing contacted me and asked which books I would like to have and prepare a review on. I chose a few, noting what I liked subject matter-wise.

A few days ago, I received a package of four great books... two of which I read fairly quickly (you'll see why soon enough), and began the third: True Crime Japan written by Paul Murphy a journalist who has a Japanese family and who spent 12 months sitting in on the trials of 119 cases at the Matsumoto-shi courts in Nagano-ken.

While it is quite possible one could have simply found the most gory and violent cases and written up those to titillate the reader, Murphy has instead chosen a cross-section of cases involving real Japanese people to kind of explore how the Japanese mind co-exists with Japanese society...

Murphy begins (you have to read the Introduction of Prologue of any book!) by stating that pretty much everyone who goes before a judge admits to their guilt immediately... citing two cases where that did not occur... and then revealing that the two cases involved gaijin/foreigners who would say anything to avoid a prison term, including lying.

But not the Japanese.

According to True Crime Japan--a book that famed Japanese crime reporter and novelist (Tokyo Vice is a fantastic book!) Jake Adelstein says he wishes he had written it--there is a predictability to Japanese criminal court cases.
  1. The defendant pleads guilty;
  2. The defendant is found guilty.
True Crime Japan is about what happens between those inevitable facts.

Without going into particulars of any of the cases in the book, Murphy reveals that the lawyers and judges all pretty much have a go at the defendants... asking questions to reveal not only why they committed the crime, but what was it in their background that would allow them to think that doing something criminal was the right thing to do.

It's based on that old Japanese nugget:
出る釘は打たれる (deru kugi wa utareru) - "A nail that sticks out will be hammered"

While Murphy does not state this fact (at least not yet - I'm still reading it), it is at the crux of Japanese society.

Actually, that adage isn't the original form of it. This is:

出る杭は打たれる (deru kui wa utareru) - "A stake that sticks out will be hammered"

A slightly different version of the adage does allow for people to stand up in the crowd (say an athlete or actor)...

True Crime Japan's writing at first glance appears to be a bit dry... and it is... but that is because Murphy is accurately depicting how defendants at a criminal proceeding alter their manner of speech to become even more deferential, if that is at all possible, to the judicial officials.

>While the cover proudly states on the cover that cases contained within True Crime Japan will involve thieves, rascals, killers and dope heads, we are also treated to the yakuza, as well as family members trying to kill family members who make a case that the murder was for the good of the family.

>True Crime Japan by Paul Murphy is available from Tuttle Publishing for US$16.95 (paperback), and can be found at and at better book stores.

It's a fascinating book because it allows us to read about real Japanese crime and what really happens in court, because as Murphy states within, Japanese media rarely, if ever, provides the full details of a case.

This book does.

It is a rare look at Japan's shame-based culture.

>Yes... shame-based... look, I said that pretty much everyone provides a guilty verdict to start... and is almost universally always found guilty.

The trials are, essentially, a way for Japanese society to hammer at those nails for their inability to sit properly withing the wood.

A fascinating look inside Japanese criminal justice system and society as a whole.

Thanks Tuttle Publishing!
Andrew Joseph
PS: On the inside back cover of the book, are nine images depicting other great Tuttle books... and I am proud to say that I have previously provided book reviews on five of them.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

JR East Redesigning Harajuku Train Station In Time For Olympics

While I am a big fan of nostalgia and maintaining architecture that kicks butt, I am glad to see that JR East will be redesigning both the interior and exterior of the well-trod upon Harajuku train station in Tokyo.

Yeah, it was built in 1924… yeah, it’s old… yeah, it's been great to travel through… but dammit, even when I last did so 20+ years ago, it was cramped and appeared difficult to navigate.

Now… being a gaijin (foreigner), I’ve never had much difficulty in navigating any of Japan’s busiest trains stations as people tended to move out of my way. I’m guessing it was because - in case they bumped into me, would I freak out like some stereotypical guy that they have seen in the movies…

Actually… I would probably apologize to them if they bumped into me, because I am Canadian.

Plans for Harajuku-eki (Harajuku Station) are still kind of up in the air, suffice to say that the newer version will be larger, entail changes to the concourse and platforms.

If you look at the concept drawings provided by JR East, it looks like a standard Euro train station: open concept with lots of glass…. and I’m okay with that. Much better than the dismal dark buildings that pepper the U.S. and Canada. 

The current train station is the oldest such structure in Tokyo constructed of wood. I’m pretty sure out in the boonies, there are some pretty damn side older train stations made of wood.

The new station will be changed into a two-level structure featuring a greatly expanded concourse, ticket gates and toilet facilities. The plans will also increase the number of elevators and add a new exit for Meiji Jingu.

What isn’t know, however, is if parts of the old station will remain or will become integrated within the new structure. In my opinion… that’s not necessary.

There are plenty of buildings in Japan that are hundreds of years old and have a far more interesting aesthetic design to them than Harajuku station.

If one wants to be a prick about such things, it seems pretty damn obvious that JR East has a lot of money hanging around.

Not only is it redesigning Harajuku station, but it is also doing the same to Shinanomachi-eki and Sendagaya-eki.

Also, it is working on Shibuya and Shinjuku stations, and improving facilities to Yurakucho, Shimbashi, Hamamatsucho, Nippori, Oimachi and Shinkiba stations.

Very good, right? So… how can it afford to do so? Hey… commuters… think your daily train ride is fairly priced?

Anyhow, construction  - regardless of when it begins - is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo... perhaps to impress foreigners as much as to make it easier for them to get along... oh, and the Japanese, too.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Trailer

Nintendo is releasing a new Legend of Zelda game for the Wii and NX systems in 2017, entitled The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

A trailer depicting scenes from the video game was released by the company at the E3 trade show... depicting first examples of the huge open world gamers can visit, and then  some of the movies and abilities for main character Link, and then some of the creatures he can battle on his epic journey.

First created in 1987 (The Legend of Zelda, d'uh), I was late to the game, first playing the 1998 release The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was magical. It was also the first 3D game of the series.

It is currently the highest rated video game of all time and has sold over seven million copies on the Nintendo 64 game system alone. Is it wrong for me to still own that game system? Honestly... I do thrown things out or trade them in...

It was one of my favorite games of all time (The Ultima games - Lord British rules!— and Final Fantasy games, are ahead of it in my book)... but after seeing the trailer... this game might be moving up to the top of the list. 

Nintendo says that world gamers can explore on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is 12x larger that the world from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, a Zelda game that was released back in 2006.

 The official description reads: “Step into a world of discovery, exploration and adventure in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a boundary-breaking new game in the acclaimed series. Travel across fields, through forests and to mountain peaks as you discover what has become of the ruined kingdom of Hyrule in this stunning open-air adventure.”

So... if I am finally late posting a blog sometime in 2017, you'll know why... of course that means I'll have to get a Nintendo game system of some sort. Damn.

Anyhow... should you really be a fan... check out the video below featuring 56 minutes of game play from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind:

Andrew Joseph

Friday, June 17, 2016

Don’t Celebrate Ichiro’s Hit Parade - Yet

Japan-born baseball player Suzuki Ichiro (surname first) has just surpassed a milestone with his combined 4,257th hit while playing for the Miami Marlins against the San Diego Padres on June 15, 2016.

Some would say that he is now the all-time hits leader in professional baseball… surpassing the fiery Pete Rose who played his entire career in North America’s MLB (Major League Baseball).

Ichiro… the only person I know of in the MLB to have his first name on the back of his baseball jersey   played in the Japan Professional League between 1992 and 2000… which means I most assuredly saw him play in his rookie season.

I most assuredly have his Japanese rookie and second-year baseball card from when he played for the Orix Blue wave.

A quick glance at his baseball statistic for those first two years (1992 and 1993), will show he only played 40 and 43 games respectively, compiling a meek 24 and 12 hits for a .253 BA and a lousy .188 BA.

If you saw that, like I did… you would never, ever think that this guy could become one of the greatest hitters in all of baseball.

First… despite surpassing Pete Rose’s career hit total of 4,256 hits over 24 season, I simply can not give Ichiro props for being the new global hit leader.

Like it or not… the Japanese baseball league is inferior in quality to the MLB. The competition there would be like maybe AAAA… somewhere between the highest minor league North American teams, but still below the MLB teams.

So… the competition that Ichiro faced while compiling his 1,278 hits for Orix in Japan, is dubious, at best.

The Japanese once took great pride in stating that Oh Sadaharu was the greatest home run hitter ever because he popped 868 home runs over his 22 year career. He did… except the dimensions of the standard Japanese baseball stadium are smaller, and thus it is actually easier to hit a home run in Japan than it is in the MLB… and then there’s the ability of the pitchers he faced… which I have no doubt are better than myself times five… but are not as good as the majority of the MLB pitchers of the day or even now.

Look… there are never-was North American baseball players who have gone to play in Japan, and have dominated the home run circuit. Few could ever duplicate that back in North America.

I would say that Cecil Fielder - father of Detroit Tigers’ star Prince Fielder - created a decent career after playing in MLB, going to Japan for a few years and proving himself, before coming back to the MLB as a power hitter.

Hell, even Tom Sellick improved his game while in Japan.

Here's a couple of lines from the Toronto Star:
"back in 2000, Suzuki’s final of nine seasons in Japan, he led the league with a .387 average. Second, at .332, was journeyman major-leaguer Sherman Obando, a .239 hitter in 177 games with the O’s and the Expos. Fifth was Tony Fernandez, winding down his pro career for a nice payday. Fernandez, then 38, hit .327 with a 905 OPS. Japan in 2000 was not the majors. "

Now… despite me having slagged Japanese baseball’s skill level relative to the MLB… I should note that Ichiro currently has 2,979 hits… just 21 shy of 3,000… which if he wasn’t already a sure-fire baseball hall of famer, the magical 3,000 hits number would make him a shoo-in.

So… despite Ichiro playing against better baseball competition in North America’s MLB, he has still managed to hit, hit well, and hit often. It means he’s a damn fine hitter. And a defender, too.

Look… very few Japanese baseball players have ever come to the MLB and become a superstar at their position.

The pitcher.. the Tornado, Nomo Hideo… he could have been a superstar… but he was one damn fine player… my favorite player in Japan, actually. I saw his first game on TV (while in Japan) and I thought… damn… this guy could pitch in the MLB… and he, basically became the guy that opened the door for other Japanese players to find financial and playing success.

Who else… Yu Darvish and Tanaka Masahiro? Maybe the man they call Godzilla… Tanaka Masahiro? He was a very good player… but he did not sustain his excellence for very long in North America.

But that’s why Ichiro is a stud. Nine years in Japan and 16 in the MLB.

I don’t think Japan should be celebrating Ichiro for his 4,257th hit. That’s a BS number created to wag the dog.

We can celebrate Ichiro when he snags his 3,000th MLB hit… and whenever he finally choose to retire, we can celebrate the baseball player who once got 262 hits in his fourth  MLB season in 2004 to set the all-time single season record… or for garnering 10 200+ hit seasons in a row to start his MLB career between 2000 through 2010.

Sorry Japan… Ichiro is a great player - one of the best ever to play the game of baseball… but he’s no Pete Rose.

For the benefit of all those who see the irony in that statement, let me just state that I mean Pete Rose the player… and only the player… not the guy who was a playah, gamblah or li-ah.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Last night my 10-year-old son got his third hit of the season... his third triple... now if he can just do it more often!
PPS: Image at top of Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins hitting his 4,257th professional hit against the San Diego Padres on June 15, 2016.  (Jake Roth / USA Today Sports).  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mental Health Issue And The JET Programme

On one of the discussion boards that JETs (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme wanne-be's, about-to-be's, still-am's, and has-been's such as myself (though you’ll never catch me on a discussion board of any kind), there was a chat about a young woman who was just accepted into the the programme to go to Japan… but she needed to take along her therapy pet.

First… some background.

From what I can discern, the woman applied to and was accepted into the JET Programme and would move to Japan to live and work there this summer of 2016.

However… from the time she applied and the time she was accepted and sent in her reply form, it appears as though she had a mental health issue and acquired a therapy animal in the form of a cat to help her cope.

The therapy cat was prescribed by a licensed (I assume) medical professional.

She wants (no, has) to bring her therapy cat with her to Japan.

To me, this would be like a visually-challenged individual needed a guide dog or less likely but still apt, a person needing medication to help them battle diabetes.

She had apparently posted on the discussion board that she was going to bring her therapy cat - and numerous JET participants responded that her Board of Education (her actual employer) could refuse to accept her, as the programme does not allow one to bring pets.

The woman, however says her cat is not a pet, but a therapy animal required for her mental health condition - I assume it provides soothing to help calm down anxiety.

At no point, I believe, is the participant’s mental health issue detailed - but I would assume (and this is MY opinion), that a pet such as a dog or cat can help remove anxiety and soothe depression… but I doubt would be useful to anyone UP in the bipolar cycle. As for schizophrenia or other issues - I have no idea.

Regardless of other JETs issuing her fair warning, the woman says that she had done her research and should the Board of Education refuse to allow her to bring her therapy cat, she would find her own place.

That’s a nice thought, but unless you speak Japanese and can come up with what six months worth of ‘key money” (aka reikin, (礼金, which means "gratitude money") to gift to the landlord which is equal to (let’s say) six month’s rent - which is NOT refunded upon completion of the contract… so let’s say she needs US$6,000 for key money… she still has to find a place near her employment, one that her BOE would consider appropriate and safe (they are still responsible for the AET not dying!), and one that allows pets.

IF, she was to find her own place, the Board of Education is not under any obligation to pay the key money, or to supplement the monthly rental costs.

For example… I lived in a three bedroom apartment unit with a couple of balconies, western toilet and shower and a washer/dryer… fully furnished… and paid about US$327 a month. In Toronto, I would have paid over $1,000… and nowadays, around $1,500 to $2,000 a month. Multiply three months of key money to be US$4,500… and then perhaps additional costs to furnish… and she’s going to be in some deep kitty litter.

Now… here’s the thing… if that Board of Education office has had previous AETs (assistant English teachers) or even if this woman is their first ever… they have already paid for (including key money) an apartment for her to use. They did this months ago if she’s the first, and years ago if she is the next in a long line of AETs.

The Board of Education is NOT going to be let out of that lease. And yes… they were already paying a fair amount of the actual monthly rent so as to not ‘break’ the AET.  You don’t think the rental fee for my apartment was really only $327 do you? It was over $1,000… and I lived in a very rural city. The Board of Education paid a large subsidized portion of my monthly rent over my three year stay.

Also… and this is a big one… at NO time does it appear as though the Board of Education office ever refused to allow her to bring her therapy cat.

The woman later went on to the discussion board and ranted:

This has probably already been said, but I wanted to lay this out on the table. When I first joined this group there were a lot of incoming JETs who wanted to bring their pets. I'm telling you guys now, my pet isn't even a pet. He's a THERAPY ANIMAL. A mental need and Japan turned the other cheek. I can't tell you how little support I got from not only my BOE, but my consulate as well. My situation is a bit different, but pets are just not a thing in Japan. My BOE won't even allow me to find other housing. So if you absolutely can't live without your beloved pets, do not participate in this program. Japan is pretty unrelenting and unsympathetic, and I have gone through hell in the last month trying everything I can do to make my situation work for me, and it just isn't. So I'm hoping to save other people who were determined to bring their pets with them a lot of heartache. Most of you have people who are willing and able to look after your pets in the states. I do not have that option. He either comes with me to Japan to be looked after by someone for a year, in which I either quit JET and go home (which would render bringing him there pointless) or find something else not JET related. Taking a huge gamble. So please future JETs and current JETs please please share this. DO NOT TRY TO BRING YOUR PETS. The statement in the JET FAQ is there for a reason. Thank you for letting me share my experience.

Let me provide commentary on some of things I found disconcerting within her statement.  

1) She makes reference to warning people who are contemplating bringing their pets to Japan on the JET Programme. Who the fug are you people trying to bring your pets to Japan? I had three rottweilers, a killer cat and some fish in Toronto. At no point in time was I ever contemplating bringing over anything other than three boxes of condoms (I could have more sent over), my clarinet (I used to play with the windows open - but I was good, so I don't think I was annoying the neighbors), my keyboards (I bought another keyboard for some reason... what the hell was I thinking), extra contact lenses (could have more sent over) and some summer and winter clothes (Japan didn't have clothes in my size). You find alternative living arrangements for the animals. Parents, friends, whatever… or you don’t go. This ain't your freedom-loving U.S. (I bit my lip a little as I wrote that. Have fun with Trump... or welcome to Canada.) 

2) Pets just aren’t a thing in Japan? Really? It is so a thing in Japan! Families have dogs, cats, fish, birds, insects (like rhino beetles)… but each has or doesn’t have a pet relative to their work or living arrangements. If you work 18 hours a day, you might not get a dog. Also, your apartment might not allow pets that walk or slither, but might allow fish. Might. My apartment allowed pets. I was ready to adopt a cat I found (she stayed a night and then ambled off never to return), and had lots of goldfish.

3) Her BOE (Board of Education) won’t even allow her to find alternative housing. It’s not to be a prick, but rather because they have already made a large financial investment into the place they have for her. Obviously, she didn’t know she was going to have a mental health issue and would require a therapy pet… but maybe she needs to cut the JET Programme et al some slack.

4) There are plenty of people on the JET Programme with mental health issues. I’m sure I slept with quite a few of those who had issues, too. Did the JET Programme know these people had mental health issues? Probably not. Why would anyone mention it?  

How to put this mildly? Since she just had a mental health issue (and rather than medication or learning to compartmentalize, she got a therapy cat)… would being thrust into all things unfamiliar via Japan be the best thing for her to put herself through? Also… the stress of trying to make her BOE, Consulate, JET Programme see things her way - and then getting shot down… could this not also put a lot of strain on someone who needs a therapy cat in the first place?

I don’t mean to be an a$$. I know plenty of people out there with mental health concerns… and even with meds, it’s not always easy coping with the day-to-day machinations of a society they are familiar with. Now toss in being in Japan… no friends. Language barrier. New job. Hells, even if she had her therapy cat with her it’s going to be problematic. Everyone is going to feel some level of stress and anxiety upon arriving in Japan. Everyone handles the stress differently. Some snap. Some barely blink. I coped by screwing every female I could. I did feel pretty good - so I must have coped fairly well. But I also am sure I over-compensated. Actually, while I did have my bouts of homesickness, most of my problems revolved around women.

5) If you can’t live without your beloved pet, don’t join this programme. Yes… that is a fair statement. I thought hers wasn’t a pet and was a therapy cat? The question should be asked if the JET Programme would accommodate a person with special needs - such as a wheelchair (good luck finding places with wheelchair accessibility in Japan). My friend Mike Rogers (Marketing Japan) has a kid in a wheelchair… it’s a bitch for the kid to get around, but it is manageable. Mostly. What if you were blind… would the JET Programme take a visually-challenged person, or would that person be eliminated from the selection process immediately?  It doesn’t make it right, but it is their option. This isn’t Canada and affirmative action with hiring practices that are designed to better accommodate people of different ethnic backgrounds or skin color or ‘disability’. 

6) Yes… the woman’s options are pretty simple… take the therapy cat and try and find accommodation on her own or don’t go to Japan. It really boils down to just how much she really wants to go to Japan versus how much she values her own mental health. Hells… maybe going to Japan is her lifelong ambition. Maybe she can go and find a place… maybe get some help from a current JET or CIR in her home town to find an appropriate place for her and her therapy cat? I hope so.

7) Find something not JET-related… sure… there are plenty of private schools in Japan… but again… I am unsure how many would help you find a place for yourself and your therapy cat. Work hours are brutal. But… again… because she even suggested this option… it sure sounds like she really wants to go to Japan. I admire her tenacity.  I hope she finds a way to go. 

This doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with her therapy cat… but depending on where she is being posted, there are more than a few cat cafes around Japan… where one can go in and cuddle a cat. The problem is she would be at the beck and call of when the cafes are open - and that might not mesh with when she requires therapy via the cat.

Not mentioned in the discussion is how much the therapy cat is needed by the would-be JET participant. Does she only require the cat at home to help her decompress after a stressful day? Does she require the therapy cat to be with her at all times to provide her with a level of comfort? I’m being serious here. Can you imagine if she required the cat to be with her full time at a school? She’d be popular with many, but hated amongst those with allergies. How disruptive would it be to the students looking about to see what the therapy cat is doing next?

What if she had to have it only in the teacher’s lounge in case things got too stressful? I think the teacher’s wouldn’t mind too much (unless there are allergies)… but would she have to leave a class to go and get therapy from the cat if things got too ‘stressful’?

There are many times when the AETs are required to travel to other towns, cities or prefectures for JET events. Would the would-be JET take her therapy cat with her? Who’s to say that the hotel prepared in advance would allow a cat. She would need special treatment - and that’s okay, by the way… but could she leave the cat at her place for a day or two?

What about vacations? Does therapy cat go with her or stay behind? I’m assuming she wouldn’t be allowed to bring it on vacation to “such-and-such” with the critter (pet or not) having to go into quarantine, by which time it cleared, the vacation would be over and done with.

So… for just this one would-be JET… I feel for ya. But… since this whole issue with needing a therapy cat seems pretty recent… why not ease up on the gas pedal a bit and look after yourself. Perhaps with less stress in your life the role of a therapy cat would not be required and you could just have a pet cat.

But dammit… the JET Programme isn’t the time or place to bring a pet cat. A therapy cat - sure… I wouldn’t deny you your mental health requirement… but this is Japan.

Japan isn’t really known for being hep with things.

Twenty-five years ago on a visit to my local hospital, the doctors are smoking in the place. Nurses, too.

At that same time, AIDS was not something Japan thought it had to worry about because that was something only affecting us dumb gaijin (foreigners).

Hell… even in the U.S., there are plenty of people with mental health issues who are simply tossed in jail rather than into a mental health facility. Many States don’t give a crap. I think Washington is one of them.

Canada… right here at my workplace, I know of 15 people who suffer from depression or some other mental health issue. I’m not even talking about family or girlfriends or friends. I do not have any such concerns, but being surrounded by it these past 15 years has opened up my eyes… and even then, sometimes it pisses me off because of how the behavior of others has impacted upon myself.

Yeah… it ain’t easy having mental health issues - but it ain’t no bowl of cherries dealing with people who do. Every single day.  

And I am probably one of the more enlightened ones.

So… why would Japan be ahead of the game when it comes to being aware of mental health? They aren’t. They are way behind.

The real question to be asked: Is this would-be JET being punished because she:

1) has mental health issues?
2) has a therapy cat and no one knows how to deal with it because it has never come up?

or is this all because of the money already being spent by the Board o Education?

You can bet that things are lost in the translation when her concerns were brought to the attention of the Board of Education and even the Consulate.

Hey… at least they said “No” to the therapy cat… but was it because it was a pet cat or because it’s a therapy cat? If it’s only because of the money, apartment rental, and her need to have the cat around a lot… then I could see her Board of Education not being helpful.

If it’s because they view the cat as a pet - then the right information wasn’t correctly explained.

If it’s because it’s a therapy cat… then there’s an issue. For me, this is the same as a seeing-eye dog or a wheelchair requirement. Can the JET Programme and Board of Education office discriminate based on physical or mental health concerns?


Should they discriminate? No, of course not.

The problem for this young woman, is that she may never get a proper answer as to why her Board of Education and Consulate are being obstinate. Then again… regardless of her intentions, maybe she did not explain herself properly.

What would you do if you were her and why?

I would hope someone would convince me to stay home and look after myself first and foremost. Then again… as regular readers know, I never wanted to go to Japan in the first place. I have no idea how badly this woman wants to go.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Thank-you, Vincent for the lead.