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Monday, July 31, 2017

Japanese Scrabble

Still with over 44 board games in my basement and a few more upstairs, I wondered if Japan actually had any board games that were actually like the western world's - a collapsible board, a pair of dice and the necessity of doing something to random to win the game.

All the board games I have ever seen in Japan are variations of chess - strategy.

Scrabble is my favorite board game.

Despite being a self-proclaimed wordsmith, aviationhistorysmith and a sexsmith, I was a late bloomer in all three categories.

I actually flunked Grade 12 English back in the days when the Province of Ontario, Canada (and the Province of Manitoba) both had a Grade 13.

Yes, it is true I am completely useless in describing grammatical parts of a sentence, but I did/do know how to read, write and speak English more effectively than the average North American. I blame it on non-school, edumacational books. The more you read, the more you git stuck upin yer noggin bits.

I can't recall why, but it may have been because I hated poetry and used to skip classes a lot... oh yeah... and never did my homework. I may also have been picked on back then. Okay... no "may also have" - I was bullied.

While I haven't played Scrabble in about two years, which isn't a sly way of saying anything non-sexual, I had only then learned to use one tile to create multiple words to join them up.

While the points aren't always a huge matter, it tends to block things up like cheese in my gut, making it more difficult for my opponent (wife) to make her play. Her big play is to use all seven tiles at the start of the match... while mine is to kill with smaller words with higher value tiles.

I used to play Scrabble against Ashley in Japan. I don't know if she let me win, but she usually won and won big. But I got smarter.

So.... is there a Japanese version of Scrabble?

Yes, and no.

Yes... there's the 1955 version of the Japanese manufactured (and sold in Japan) version pictured above... but the tiles all contain the alphabet.

No... there is no board game version of Scrabble in Japan using the hiragana or katakana alphabets (there are three alphabets--including kanji--that Japan uses, because just one would never do to make the language hard enough).

Despite the image below and at the very top, the hiragana Japanese Scrabble game does not exist... except in the imagination of someone trying so damn hard to be cool (an succeeding) in the nerdy way.

I wonder if a hiragana version might be popular enough to catch on in Japan?

At least this time, there are no allusions to me actually ever winning a game.

Andrew Joseph
PS: The image at the very top spells out Scrabble in Japanese - as does the image in the middle - in two Japanese alphabets.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Samurai Swords: A Collector's Guide - A Book Review

I was recently asked by Tuttle Publishing to provide a review on their book: Samurai Swords: A Collector's Guide, described on the cover as a comprehensive introduction to history, collecting and preservation - and written and compiled by Clive Sinclaire, a kendo instructor and collector of Japanese swords for over 40 years.

The one thing I will not do to you, dear reader, is try and snowball you.

I do not know anything about Japanese swords. I have the basics that pretty much the average Joe Blow possesses plus a wee bit more having written about the topic a tiny, tiny bit here in this blog.

When Sinclaire and publisher Tuttle call this a comprehensive introduction, they ain't kidding around.

This book is for collectors of Japanese swords. It is a serious book about the collecting of Japanese swords. It is a book over my head - ONLY because I am not a collector and have no desire to be a collector of Japanese swords.

But if YOU want to collect or do collect, you must have this book.

The following graphic, taken from Samurai Swords: A Collector's Guide will explain perfectly what I mean:

This, my friends, illustrates the finer points of a blade.

I don't even know if I am correct in calling this a blade. It's the proverbial tip of the iceberg... referencing the iconography (I don't even know if I am using that correctly here) of all the little things a Japanese sword MUST contain.

If you are like me, and only observed that a Japanese sword is simply deadly wicked, this book is not for you.

However... if you are like me and are a curious monkey... this book is well worth the time and effort to go over to learn about the intricacies of what a Japanese sword actually is and WHY it is a Japanese sword... because you don't HAVE to be Japanese or live in Japan to create one... though I suspect that helps.

I'm no dummy. I realize that the creation of a proper Japanese sword - a katana - is a work of art... one that takes the swordsmith decades to master.

It may explain why author Sinclaire after 40 years decided he could do this book... though to be fair, while this edition is published in 2017, it was first published n 2009...

A large, color, hardcover book of 192 pages replete with color diagrams and photos where available,  Samurai Swords: A Collector's Guide actually blew my mind wide open by pointing out all of the things that 1) make up a blade, 2) that there is so much more to a sword than just its blade 3) that every instance of the blade is carefully thought out.

The book will provide history lovers with a fine background on how the Japanese sword developed, just what made swords from the Hizen-to so great (the book explains what that is and does so in a well-researched and well-written manner that won't kill brain cells.).

Actually... the whole book is written so that the beginner referencing Japanese swords will understand while not dumbing things down to the more experienced sword collector. I think. I'm not an experienced sword collector, so I can't say for sure.

What helps what could be a dry topic to the average person, is the plethora of photos and images showing exactly what the guide is talking about. Several images per page, in fact.

I did have one complaint - a raw rookie's observation, if you will... MORE of the photos require more detailed information... you can show me a swathe of polearms, for example, but do not tell me WHEN they were made or WHERE they were made or even who made them. The When is certainly more important.

I want to know if I am looking at a classic weapon, something that was done in modern times... while I get that the purpose of a photo is often just to back up the words, I think it needs to grab the readers attention, and (since this is a book on swords) once grabbed, inform me.

Really... that's my complaint... better detailed information on the photos. There's certainly plenty of room to add cutline info.

It should back up the detailed pages that show, for example, the selection of the most common features that are encountered in Japanese blades (pages 162-163), which expands on that detailed image above...

Anyhow... I like this book... thoughtful, descriptive for the most part - and plenty of photos!!! - it's a book that would best be described as for a very specialist audience.

Look for Samurai Swords: A Collector's Guide and other great Tuttle Publishing books at better book stores everywhere or, make your purchase direct at

Andrew Joseph
PS: I apologize, but it appears as though my scanner simply isn't large enough to get the whole cover of the book - it cut out author Clive Sinclair's name at the top. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

One Japanese Practice Cuts Me Up

There are a lot of really stupid so-called enforceable ”laws” and “rules” in Japan. ‘’

This is one of my favorites.

Did you know that if you are involved in a duel, national insurance companies (health/life insurance, etc.) won’t pay out to your next of kin?

No sh!t, Sherlock.

The website I saw this on spelled “duel” as “dual” ensuring we could have twice as much fun.

Anyhow… what one needs to ask, is: just how much dueling is going on in Japan these days? 

I never saw any duels, but maybe that’s because they didn’t exist in the 1990s, or simply that I missed the daily notices in the Daily WhizBag shopping newsletter of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

The fact that said newsletter does not exist may also explain why I never saw notifications for duels in the parking lot in front of city hall.  

Duels? Really? It’s 2017?

Do real people still have enemies? Do sane people?


So how would it work? I believe in the west, one would slap someone across the face with a glove. Then after a date and place had been agreed upon, and armed with a “second” , the standard fare of starting back to back and taking 10 paces apiece (counted off by a judge), turning quickly and firing at the other, hoping to hit them.

You could win (one gets shot, the other does not, win (one gets shot an dies, the other gets shot but does not die) , lose (get shot but don’t die), lose (get shot and die), draw (both get shot and live)… and there’s probably other scenarios I’m too weirded out to determine.

In Japan… at least the one’s I saw in those great Kurasawa Akira samurai movies, there was not set distance apart between the combatants—just enough for bot to go flying through the air at each other, slash once with a single stroke, place katana back into the holder and land… waiting for one of the combatants to slide down into the red, wet grass cut in half.

Maybe it was the camerawork, but it always seemed as though neither combatant knew who one until they turned and saw the other sliced like a pepperoni. 

I would imagine that ever since the samurai class was banned, the standard practice of dueling went out the window.

Anyhow, for fun… here’s some dueling music… no… not the classic dueling banjos, but an audio of one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skit…. one I haven’t heard since I first saw it in 1976. Marlon Brando, of course, was one of those voices I could do perfectly from the time I was 12… but am now sadly out of practice.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Gay Old Time On Sailor Moon

Fact: I have never watched or read anything to do with Sailor Moon.
Fact: The closest I have ever come to Sailor Moon are the three years spent teaching junior high school English on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, where all of the female students wore uniforms of a similar fashion statement as those worn by the protagonists in the Sailor Moon anime and manga.
Fact: I once wore a Japanese school girl outfit—which is, of course, similar to a Catholic high school girl’s outfit and a Sailor Moon outfit—for Halloween parties, both in Japan and in Toronto. While I have the legs and butt to pull it off, I am not even remotely a handsome woman.
Fact: I know that there are many now-40-something men and women who enjoyed watching Sailor Moon all those years ago.
Fact: There are more 50 and 60-something men who really, really, really like Sailor Moon, and I think that’s because they really have a thing for young-looking girls in catholic school girl uniforms. Ick, doesn’t even begin to describe it.

So… while I can sometimes appear to know more about Japan than the average person, when it comes to Sailor Moon, I have pretty much no, and I mean zero, knowledge at all.

From what I once saw on TV… from their theme song, I learned all I needed to know about the Sailor Moon phenomenon and changed the channel:

"Fighting evil by moonlight
Winning love by daylight"

You think I’m kidding, but no… I heard that… those two OPENING lines of the Sailor Moon anime theme song... I said to myself "screw this crap." I didn’t want to watch it anyway, because who the hell needs to appear as though one is a child molester? 

It’s like the rock group Loverboy—great music, but damned if I was ever going to buy an album from a group with that name. No... it just sounded like a group made up to attack young girls.

Sailor Moon (美少女戦士セーラームーン Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn) - which all told translates to Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (and later as Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon), first appears as a shōjo  manga (comic book) series.

Shōjo manga implies that it’s a comic book written with the young female audience in mind.... which is yet another reason why I had/have not had any desire to participate in the ogling of the manga or anime (animated cartoon series). 

Seriously old over-weight guy in light grey sweat pants and Flash tee-shirt sweating at the comic book store.. why are you watching this show? Hey Aqualung... (a reference I fear only one Fan might get)

The manga was written and drawn by Takeuchi Naoko (surname first), published in serialized format between 1991-97 in the magazine Nakayoshi.

Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon follows the titular adventures of a young schoolgirl named Tsukino Usagi (surname first), as she transforms into Sailor Moon searching for the magical artifact called the "Legendary Silver Crystal" (「幻の銀水晶」 Maboroshi no Ginzuishō, lit. "Phantom Silver Crystal").

Wikipedia says that, during her journey, she leads a diverse group of comrades—the Sailor Soldiers (セーラー戦士 Sērā Senshi)—Sailor Guardians in later editions—as they battle against villains to prevent the theft of the Silver Crystal and the destruction of the Solar System.

The characters are:
Sailor Mercury; Sailor Venus Sailor Mars; Sailor Jupiter; Sailor Saturn Sailor Uranus; Sailor Neptune, Sailor Pluto, Sailor Chibi Moon, Sailor Moon, and token male Tuxedo Mask.

Okay… plot-wise it’s not that bad… not that good either... but whatever… maybe the actual episodes are more interesting... besides being the wrong sex and far, too old, I’m sure some women out there watched it when they were mere girls.

What should turn people off are are the ridiculous naming tactics. Tuxedo Mask? I can live with all the crap about the Sailor girl’s being named after the planets of our solar system…

But Sailor Moon? If she is Earth’s moon… shouldn’t she have the name Sailor Luna? Luna is the name Earth’s moon. Moon is merely a generic term. Mars has two moon’s. Do we call them Moon and Moon? No… Phobos and Deimos!!!

Sailor Chibi Moon? What the fug is that?

I won’t go on about Sailor Pluto because of Pluto being stripped of its planet status… but is there a Sailor Sol (as in Sailor Sun… Sol is the name of our star… our sun).

I think Tuxedo Mask irks me the most…  I get the stupid naming… male-oriented flicks in the James Bond genre have done it for decades, such as Plenty O’Toole and Dr. Holly Goodhead, or, god help me Pussy Galore -  a concept that is actually kind of frightening, when you are thinking of just one person.

A woman saying "I'm Plenty O'Toole" doesn't mean she can handle plenty of toole,  rather that she IS plenty of toole... which isn't the same thing. Yup... she can easily get Plenty O'Toole... but, a dirty name? Sure? But a fail at a dirty name.  Unless she was a nod of th e head towards the gay men who love Bond Girls, the name should be an answer to a ridiculous question, where the guy says: I love Goodhead, or I love my Pussy Galore... but if a straight guy implies he wants Plenty O'Toole...  the joke falls flat for the hetero male and his secret homoerotic love affair for Bond, James Bond... because then it's no longer a secret. 

Anyhow… up until around 2014, in the North American release of Sailor Moon anime, the characters Saior Uranus and Sailor Neptune were always described as being cousins—in order to explain the closeness.
In the Japanese version… the version that us the same visually as what we saw in North America (and by that I mean Europe, too)… Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune are indeed lesbians. With each other… so now you get why Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were often seen kissing in the anime episodes.

What do we get from this?

Apparently American censors thought it was better to show lesbian cousins making out rather than just lesbians… because being gay isn’t as sick as being incestuous and gay. Maybe they figured the incest caused their gayness…

I know, I know… the whole thing is just balls-to-the-walls stupid.

Apparently when that decision was made by censors or the American Sailor Moon producers to call the two merely cousins, they may not have seen the characters kissing. Kissing cousins is a thing, right? 

I’m not sure what kind of thing - but I have no information to back up anything about Sailor Moon.

Except for my point about the original versions of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune are lesbians. Or are they gay? How come they cane be both? I thought just the men were gay? Do they have an additional nomenclature? Fag, queer?

It doesn’t really matter one frickin bit, however. You know what you can call that gay guy George? George. His fricking sexual identity is none of your damn business.

Somewhere glad as hell I never dated a woman who wanted to dress up in my “Sailor Moon” costume,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Look… I enjoy watching women parade around in sexy clothing or lack there off. I make no bones about it.  But the characters within the Sailor Moon manga and anime are dressed pretty scantily.
So if this is for a young female audience, I have no idea what message the costuming says: Don’t be ashamed of your body and wear what you want because men have no right to judge you in THAT manner?
Maybe. At least the main characters are strong and brave and heroic. Does it matter how they are dressed? By that same token, doesn’t their style of dress (in 1990 to present) detract from their heroic capabilities? The guys that are watching this program aren’t generally watching it for the strong female lead, but rather for the fact that they are dressed in sexy (as in high sitting) skirts and boots reminiscent of high school, and worse junior high school girl’s uniforms. 
PPS: Sailor Uranus… it’s pronounced You-run-us, with “you” stressed heavier. Sailor Neptune, however, is actually slang reference to ”carpet munching.”
PPPS: Obviously I was kidding about Sailor Neptune. I was getting a dig in, because I know everyone else was having a laugh at poor Sailor Uranus (who cracks me up) … as she is always the butt of everyone’s jokes. The end.
PPPPS: What I find VERY interesting is that by making the gay coupl emerely friendly cousins, we can see that at least in THIS case, the Japanese wer far more progresive than theur North American counterparts. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Manko And The Art Of Communication

What we have here, is a failure to communicate. Except maybe not for people like me.

The Japanese word in the headline—manko—is indeed a very naughty word… a word used in a slang manner to describe a female body part that rhymes with mulva.

The p-word. The c-word. Manko.

Manko (まんこ) is pronounced mahn-ko.;

Is it a naughty word or a vulgar word? It depends on when it’s used and how it’s used and why it’s used.

It is obviously not used in polite company, or even in most impolite companies. I’ve known about it, and even during sexy romps with girlfriends have never had just cause to use the term.

i don’t have a problem with the word, I just never found a use for it.

It’s just a word. Word’s only have power (both positive and negative) because we (people) give it that power. Actually. The words have no power. It’s just that’s we perceive them to have power.

I first learned the word from a class of junior high school boys who were interested in learning naughty English words in exchange for them teaching me naught Japanese words.

This brings up a very interesting conundrum.

Should you, as the so-called responsible adult in the situation, refrain from teaching your youthful charges such language?

I did.

A part of me questioned my role in this 26 years ago, and again a few years ago when I wrote about it in this blog.

Here’s my reasoning as to WHY I did not hold back.

Before arriving in Japan, I made up my mind that if any Japanese person asked me a question in English—no matter how personally embarrassing—I would give them an honest answer.

My reasons for this were simple.

As the essentially second wave of JETs (Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme) applicants to go to Japan in 1990, one of our core missions was to promote internationalization and to help the Japanese youth speak better English and to encourage their learning of the language.

I had eight kids begging me—in English—to teach them naughty English words. That covers all three things, including “internationalization.”

Most people don’t know what internationalization is.

For most, it involves teaching the Japanese that they aren’t JUST Japanese, but are part of a larger international community—global, if you will.

The way I understood it, and went about promoting internationalization, was to show that despite skin color, language differences, the way or societies work, gender differences… that we were all the same underneath.

Just people.

We love, we hate, we laugh, we cry, we eat, sing, dance, play and work. We might do it differently, but we all do it. Hells, everybody poops. If you prick me, do I not leak? Just like good editing, that’s prickless. Thanks, Vinnie! You know why!

These teenagers came up to me and asked me in English - broken that it was - if I could teach them English words.

They wanted to learn English.

In much the same way that every teenager since 1972 who picks up a musical instrument first learns to play Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water opening baseline, so too do the majority of kids want to learn all the naughty words of whatever language they are forced to learn—every teenager around the world… or maybe just every teenage boy around the world is that way.

Hells… I wanted to learn all the naughty Japanese words in case I was out drinking with the local men (At that time in late 1990, likely) or having sex with the local women (at that time in late 1990, not all that likely).

With the guys—and this is an important way to melt away the international heaviness that exists when you first arrive in Japan—sharing or bonding over a drink while having a laugh and teaching everyone swear words—holy crap… you are in like Flint. In Like Flint is a 1967 sequel spy flick where our man Flint takes on a cabal of women plotting to rule the world.

The Urban Dictionary, however says I’m stoopid, because the original term is “In Like Flynn” and comes from sexy movie star Errol Flynn - a notorious ladies man.

However… since I know all about the movie, I ain’t that stoopid.

As far as those kids go, when they asked me if I liked “shakuhachi”, I assumed they meant the clarinet… or straight Japanese wooden flute. Sure, I said.

They all laughed and pounded each other on the back. Okay… so whatever I thought it meant, I was correct, but obviously there was an alternative, slang meaning.

Because of it’s shape, and because of how one blows on the top of it, one pantomimed description later I realized it was a term for fellatio… er, that’s the polite term, of course.

I realized I would have to give up playing the clarinet… the old black licorice stick.

I can honestly say that I had a great time talking with those students of the English language.

And I know they had a great time talking to me.

There were no internationalization fears. I was just one of the guys. We shared, we laughed, we even learned.

I helped promote internationalization, helped the Japanese youth speak better English, and even encouraged their learning of the language.

Maybe they couldn’t order food at McDonald’s in New York, but I made them enjoy English.

I’m not wunderkind when it comes to language. I barely know a noun from a verb, and I certainly do not posses any skills in picking up more than a few words in a dozen languages.

Is it any wonder that the words I do know relate to sex or me hitting on a woman?

Stick to your strengths, and learn what might help you. I did, and I did many times. Sometimes in the same evening. LOL!

Now… this will be extremely sexist of me, but thank Buddha I never had a female teenage student ask me anything like that.

They would ask me if I had a girlfriend—already knowing the answer because they would see Ashley with me all the time, and I mean all the time.  

While Ashley preferred to keep such things private, I had no such qualms. Ashley came off looking lady-like, me cool, because I had no problem in being open. At least that’s MY view of things. Ashley probably thought I was a complete a$$, though I never told her that’s what I was doing. I only learned of her viewpoint afterwards, when she complained about all of the personal question she got when she taught at the Ohtawara (city) Girl’s High School on occasion. Her usual gig was the Boy’s High School.

I always figured that kids talk - big brothers and sisters chat… or they can see how we interacted with each other… they knew we were a couple.

To me, being open—which is how I try to be here in this blog—is the crux of how we learn… as well as how we can learn from our mistakes.

Too much information? Maybe… I’ve never had an issue with that phrase… but I think that term depends on how the information is presented.

Andrew Joseph
PS: At the top is an album cover from the Ohio, U.S rock group Mom's Apple Pie (self-titled), featuring what has been described a s lurid album cover, rendered by artist Nick Caruso in a Norman Rockwell-like fashion.
The album artwork features exactly what you think it features.
Strangely, although having admired the album art many a time when shopping at the used records store The Vinyl Museum back in the late 1970s-1980s, I never bought a copy. Probably because it was expensive then, and I had never heard of the group. Unfortunately, up until yesterday (and YouTube), I had never listened to their music. It's kindda acid, rock jazz... not bad, actually... and the singer is most excellent.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Some Japanese Workers Work From Home On July 24


That has to be the most boring headline I've ever written. But still... WTF? 

Japanese companies wanted workers to stay home on Monday giving them a so-called long-weekend… and it was accepted by 100% of the people?

Okay… I know and you know that not since religion became formalized and farming became a thing and prostitution… well… you know… I suppose religious, what with the missionary position…  rare is the day when there’s a day when everybody can take a day off from work.

Transit operators, taxi drivers, convenience store workers, food providers, spiritual guidance folk (includes priests and prostitutes)… someone is always working when everyone else isn’t.

On Monday, June 24, 2017, the Japanese government “encouraged” companies to allow employees to work from home for the day.

I get why it’s not popular: Some jobs can’t be done from home… such as those who work in an automobile manufacturing facility; or as an elevator in a high-end department store, or as a prostitute that only does outcalls (to your house)…. heck, even I’m not allowed to work from home as a writer—possibly for fear that I would just sit on my butt and play Skyrim V or watch TV all day long.

That would never happen, of course, as I’m sure I would have to get up to make lunch or go to the

Japan’s plan was to prepare companies for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo by gently insisting companies provide its workers with the opportunity to work from home on July 24 of 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The idea behind this is to help avoid/reduce population congestion… in a bid to ensure the expected 920,000 visitors to the Tokyo area will be able to get to the assorted sports venues in a less-crowded manner… meaning they might actually be able to get to the event in time… provided they get some help from the new train station robot system currently being worked on by JR East (see HERE). 

Apparently 900+ companies participated in the event—which must have sucked for every other employee of a non-participating company… but apparently, while many employees did stay home, it was still a guesstimated less than 20% number.

Since it was just 900+ companies… and only in Tokyo… and not everyone was willing to work from home, needless to say the impact it had on those still commuting was… well… negligible.  

Hmm… the image above is from and its take on the story. What’s wrong with the photo? It implies to show that the Tokyo subways station is busy on July 24, 2017. BUT… It’s July… and everyone is wearing coats that are far too warm for July in Tokyo.

I’ll assume it’s a stock image.

Here’s one from Bloomberg correctly showing men in short sleeved dress shirts… you keep those rocking until Labor day… then you are supposed to switch to long-sleeved shirts.

I never did, because it’s not a rule… just an accepted practice. I dressed in a respectful manner (IE a dress shirt, pants and tie), but I saw no need to follow the sheeple re: sleeve length or shirt color.

I believe I re-introduced Japan to teal back in 1992 (same with Toronto… though Montreal was again ahead of the Canadian curve.) 

Anyhow… Bloomberg has a proper photo:

Passengers board a train at Tokyu Toyoko Line’s Shibuya Station. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs says it may take approximately one month before results can be fashioned from the collected data on how many people took part

According to Twitter chatter, some people say the trains were less crowded, others saying meh, couldn’t tell… which again is based on, I believe, just which 900+ businesses took part in the event, and how many people in total from each company stayed away… depending on where and when they boarded and exited a train, different train density results could be observed. 

According to a report from the Ministry of International Affairs and Communications (a second Ministry is involved? That’s a bureaucracy. I suppose this one is because the program was initially set up for the Olympics?)…  in 2015, about 16 per cent of Japanese companies allowed its employees to work from home at least some of the time (not just on July 24).

Apparently 4 percent of workers telecommuted once a week.

Not bad… but does it say how many of them worked MORE than five days a week? Right. I wish I had an answer. I wonder if the Ministry (take your pick) has an answer.

Japan prime minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) has gone on record as saying he would like to raise the number of workers in Japan who telecommute one day a week to 10% by 2020.

Hmmm… according to a recent Gallup poll, 43% of employed Americans said they already spend at least some time working remotely.

I’m calling bullshirt on using that data… it says they spend some time working remotely… it  does NOT say they work remotely RATHER than working at the office.

I’m saying of those 43% of employed Americans who said in the Gallup Poll that they spend at least some time working remotely… MOST are doing work they couldn’t finish at the office.

There’s NO WAY IN HELL 43% of American workers get to spend time working at home INSTEAD of working at the office. NO FRICKIN’ WAY!

Anyhow… I’m unsure how one day a year with a voluntary base of companies offering its employees to voluntarily work from home is preparing anyone for the expected crowds of the Tokyo Olympics… but if it affords workers to work from home every now and again, I applaud the initiative.

Andrew Joseph

Ohhhh, Rocky!

I saw a website the other day purporting that Japan is made up of 70% mountain.

Don’t you believe it.

It’s actually 73%.

While there is a mountain range running through each of the four main islands of Japan, the Japanese Alps (日本アルプス, Nihon Arupusu) consists of three major mountain ranges across the main island of Honshu: the Hida Mountains, Kiso Mountains and the Akaishi Mountains.

The Japanese term Nihon Arupusu… well, Nihon, Nippon and Japan are “basically” interchangeable ways of saying Japan.
  • Arupusu… that’s the Japanese katakana alphabet way of saying “alps”… arupusu: ah-ru-poo-su… say it quickly, and that’s who the Japanese will say “alps” in English.  That’s why the Japanese can be speaking English and you may still have a difficult time understand all of their English words. 
  • Hida Mountains - aka the Northern Alps stretches through the prefectures of Nagano, Toyama and Gifu-ken, with a wee bit going into Niigata-ken.
  • Nigano-ken is home to the Central Alps aka the Kiso Mountains, while the Southern Alps (Akaishi Mountains) run through Nagano, Yamanashi and Shizuoka-ken.
Anyhow… 73% mountainous… and I still never saw Mt. Fuji—the tallest mountain in Japan—even when I was standing right in front of it. Or was I behind it? It’s so hard to tell with mountains.

Andrew Joseph.
PS: Rather than surrender, Japanese soldiers on the island of Saipan did, during WWII, jumped off a local mountain side yelling banzai. Originally meant as a salute of “Long live the Emperor!” it is better known as an all-out attack cry… or in this case, death before dishonor.
PPS: The title is of course a line from the Rocky Horror Picture Show musical. While I look great in fishnets, I have never dressed up in drag to see the show live. I dressed up for Halloween, by the way and not for any lifestyle choice. To each his or her own, though.
PPPS: The above image was plucked from ... yes... a cycling website... a Japanese cycling website showing the Japanese Alps.
Now, I'm no expert when it comes to cycling, but wouldn't cycling the snow-covered alps, as depicted in this WINTER scene (according to the website) just be nuts? I'm just saying, is all...  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Miyagi Zao Fox Village

There are plenty of things that the Japanese like to pet… for example… cats… what will all the cat cafes out there… bunny rabbits… there’s a rabbit island out there where guests can go and have bunnies hop all over them… women dressed up in sexy French maid costumes… while I’m sure most are legitimate as just as sexy attraction, some other sexy attractions will let you pet the made for a fee.

Foxes… which might have you think I’m talking about sexy maids again, but really… you saw the photo above… you know I’m talking about crafty, bushy-tailed creatures… no… I said I wasn’t talking about Japanese women in French maid outfits… yes… yes, I find it a very alluring look… though for me, I think it’s the medium-sized hole fishnet stockings. For me, they have to be black… I think it may stem from my love affair with DC Comics heroes Black Canary and Zatana.

Judging by the amount of fan art out on the Internet, I'm not the only one with a Zatana (left) and Black Canary crush. Mine ended when I was 11 and discovered real girls, but the die was cast.

Anyhow… hey, foxes!

At the foot of Mount Zaō (蔵王山, Zaō-zan))—a complex of stratovolcanoes on the border between Yamagata-ken (Yamagata Prefecture) and Miyagi-ken (Miyagi Prefecture) in Japan—there sits the Miyagi Zao Fox Village (蔵王きつね村, aka Kitsune Mura).

In the photo above, in your opinion those are the cutest critters ever, or you figure they are calmly waiting for the dumb adult human to accidentally drop his kit/kid a might to low to provide them with a nice, light snack... there's a joke in there, if you know that commercial advertisement from the past.   

Access to the site is only available via car or taxi (a taxi could run you as much as ¥4000!))… a 20-minute drive from Shiroshi village’s train station… which houses local and skinkansen service. 

At the Fox Village are six different varieties of fox… and over 100 animals in total… all within a preserve where the animals move freely… and what’s weird to me, is that us humans are allowed to enter, see them and even pet them.

I know foxes look kindda cute… but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to go up to a wild frickin’ animal and pet it on the off-chance it decides to rip my face off and eat it or simply give me rabies or Lime’s Disease. I know you can get Lime’s Disease from ticks found on deer… but do the ticks know they have to stay on deer?

For the uninitiated, foxes have long played an important role in Japanese lore. I know… foxes have long played an important part in the lore of many other cultures, too, but this blog is about Japan.

Here;s the interesting part. When you pay your admission fee (¥1,00 adults and free for elementary aged kids and younger), you have the opportunity to purchase some fox food…  so you can feed the foxes…. uh-huh. I’ve been to animal petting zoos and have been swarmed by goats, pigs, chicken, deer, camels, llamas… crap, what haven’t I been swarmed with and seen others swarmed by?

Well, foxes, for one.

Dan Akryod and Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live, playing the Festrunk brothers - Yortuk and Georg - two wild and crazy guys who know everything there is to know about foxes.

The first part of the Fox Village is the petting zoo. Before you enter the feeding area, Japanese professionals which will not consist of sweaty high school kids doing a summer job (Ya gotta love Japan for that)… adults who will explain all the rules of Fox Village to you… in Japanese. Shazbot!
But fret not gaijin as ignorant of the Japanese language as I am (and really… why haven’t you found 1) Japanese friends 2) Japanese significant other - to be your guide and ride to places like this.

Rule #1 of traveling in Japan… since it is always imperative to know where you are going, always have a Japanese guide or a foreigner friend who has some knowledge of the Japanese language. I would say that a Guide Book is going to be of little help when you are looking up trying to decode the Chinese letters of Japanese kanji at a bus station.

I learned that travel lesson very early in my stay in Japan after getting lost far too many times whereby when I told my bosses I was going on vacation within Japan they set up odds as to how quickly I would get lost, and where I might actually end up. Not a joke (but a joke), one of my Ohtawara Board of Education co-workers bet I would end up in Korea knowing that I was just traveling by train to Osaka. He almost won, however.

While I did find Osaka, I was trying to meet some female penpal of a guy I sortta knew back in Toronto… she thought I was him… and while she did make-out with me in my hotel, she kept enough clothes on so as to not officially have cheated on her boyfriend with me. This was my third month in Japan and my first time alone with a Japanese woman.

We then went out and met her boyfriend and had a great time drinking. I really liked her boyfriend, which made me feel like crap... but it was just kissing, so I didn't feel as poorly as I could have.

She wasn't a great kisser... and I know that sounds  crazy coming from a guy who just two months earlier was still a virgin, but I stand by that accusation. 

That has nothing to do with the fact that even after we met her boyfriend, she still thought I was her penpal. I understand. As a writer, the “pen is” mightier than the sword. 

Now... where the fox was I? Oh yeah… Fox Village…

Just like an Ikea instruction manual, the village had graphic signs up with X’s abound to show the ins and outs of proper decorum at the village.

Along with the foxes that you can pet and take pictures with, you can also pet rabbits, miniature horses and goats.

This type of thing doesn’t screw up the animal does it?

After you’ve had your fill of heavy petting, it’s time to get down to business… and as someone who has been around foxes, that usually means buying them jewelry. But I’m actually talking about foxes who wear their fur living.

You pass through a door and enter the open area where the foxes et al wander freely… with real nature all around it laid out in such a way as though  it was totally natural.

Just like in real life, many foxes upon seeing you will lope away, while others will scamper up to you in curiosity.

It has always been in my head that if a wild animal scampers up to me in curiosity, I better get the fig out of there. Apparently if this happens in Fox Village, the fox IS really only curious, and probably won’t try and bite your face off.  Probably.

Hopefully you bought more food, because while there is truth in the old adage about letting sleeping dogs lie, I would assume it extended to foxes… but what do I know…

I would try not to toss food AT a sleeping or resting fox… you can shake your food bag and if they are interested they may lope over for a snack… at which time I suppose you could pet them.

Why am I wary?

Of the four Rottweiler dogs I have owned, I could feed each their own food in their own bowl and know they would never try and steal from each other. I could pet them as they ate… I could even remove their bowl WHILE they were eating - no biggie.

Now… the friendliest dog in the world - the Chocolate Labrador… if I tried to pet him when he ate, he might growl at me… he certainly would if I made an attempt to remove his dog bowl of food… growling in such a manner that you would never expect from a lab… but would expect from a Rottweiler.

The point is… you don’t know how any given fox is going to react when it comes to food. Act accordingly… which mans “warily.”
Okay… these wild foxes are used to humans… but that doesn’t mean crap. The key word in the sentence is “wild”.

Anyhow… even when the foxes come up to you, they are looking for food. I’m pretty sure that the foxes in the NON-petting area (this one) are NOT supposed to be pet.

If you want to pet a fox, go back to the petting area!

Keep in mind, that there’s very little supervision in this area. 

There are little fox dens made to look like miniature human houses, a shrine and even tori gates around… at the end of the visit, you can get something to eat at a food shop and purchase omiyage or other touristy things rom the gift shop.

I’ve seen foxes before… in my backyard, in fact. And maybe because I judge animals to be essentially wild, I have no desire to actually go and pet a fox.

Sure… if foxes were truly domesticated, I might think this is a “better” idea… but how often have we heard about a so-called domesticated dog losing it?

If you don't already have a dog… here’s a bit of advice… never ever bend down and look a dog directly in the eyes… it could take it as a “challenge”. Even bending down to stare at and then hug a dog - challenge. That's how kids get bit… nervous dogs…

It’s easier for us adults… as we can maintain a physical dominance by being higher than them. Of course YOU knowing your own dog and your dog, more importantly, knowing you is also key… 

Anyhow... while I'm not 100% completely sold being somewhat cowardly, here's a video of the the place. It looks pretty cool, actually:

A redhead and a red fox - which is which? Hopefully the rabies cure wasn't too painful.  
Andrew Joseph

Monday, July 24, 2017

Time Enough For A Tryst

Immortalized forever in a timeless embrace, we have an art scene created in 1680, but made at some later date into a woodblock ukiyo-e print.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Produced by famed Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hishikawa Moronobu (surname first), the untitled print has been given the name “Lovers in an Autumn Meadow.”

The title was given to the print by the United States Library of Congress staff, with the monochrome woodcut physically standing 28.8 x 41.5cm.

You can easily see the quality of the linework of Moronobu in this print…. simply exquisite.

Unlike later artists, Mornonobu gave his people an individual look… to me, if I didn’t know better, these characters could be taken out of a modern anime or manga.

While the secretive tryst takes place amongst some very beautifully-drawn flowers, I found it interesting to see the young warrior’s katana sword perched upright (and I’m pretty sure that even though it might be bad form to leave the sword splayed upon the ground, the sword being in an upright position was done for a reason).

While there may or may not be proper conduct regarding placing a sword upright or flat on the ground for a warrior, my point is the warrior has carelessly placed his katana far away from him… so even if he is lucky enough to notice someone approaching his amorous embrace and can break away in time… he still has to leap up and grab his sword perched all the way over against that gnarled tree.

The fact that the sword is still in its sheath could also imply that it hasn’t been used yet in a phallic way - if you know what I mean…

Because there are no fallen leaves surrounding the gnarled tree in the background, rather than suppose this is Autumn (per the Library staff), it could either be Summer or Spring.

Since rolling around with your favorite girl in the Summer can be hot work—would you like to imagine the warrior's hand reaching for a sweaty boob?—I prefer to to think the two young lovers are simply being randy in the Spring… 

To whit... though very few people know where the line below is from, many can quote it:

“In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
Locksley Hall, by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Of course, since that’s a line from a poem, and one near the poem's beginning, I would assume that “Spring” implies “youth” - hence our young lovers.

So… what do you think… is it possible that our artist Moronobu actually saw such a scene, and sat down to sketch the action while quietly hiding in the bush holding his pen? Voyeuristic? Opportunistic? Had a couple of models pose out in a meadow? Had a couple of models pose in his art studio and used his imagination for the rest? 

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Voyeurism Of Japanese Gods In Art

I really like this small mono-color woodblock print at the top.

The ukiyo-e image published between 1685 -1695, at the infancy of woodblock printing, is a 26.8 x 38.1 cm horizontal Oban Sumizuri-e (monochrome) woodblock print that is attributed to Japanese artist Sugimura Jihei (surname first).

The subject title is Kume no sennin… which means nothing to most people… until you realize it’s about the god, Kume, quietly spying on a Japanese beauty doing her laundry…at least he has both hands visible.

In fact, the United States Library of Congress files this print under the officious subject heading of “voyeurism”.

Kume no sennin (米の仙人) is a Taoist immortal (god) who has the ability to fly and/or float.

In all other depictions of him (that I could find) in ukiyo-e format, Kume no sennin can be seen spying on women doing their laundry… perhaps hoping for a peek between their legs as they spread their limbs to wash the clothes… also assuming that since they are doing laundry, there is a high probability that they may NOT be wearing underwear… 

Hi - sorry to disturb you, but I couldn't help but notice that you are washing your undergarments... before you do, could I purchase one or two items from you? 1856 ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Kunisada.

A diptych of ukiyo-e featuring Utagawa Kunisada's apparently favorite subject matter in 1856, Kumme no sennin swooping down upon an unsuspecting Japanese honey doing her laundry. You can tell it's a sexually-charged image because you can almost see the woman's knees. In this version, Kume no sennin looks more lecherous than in the art immediately above it.IN this image, the woman hardly looks surprised... her hair is NOT out of place, and the expression of moving water—while there—isn't as obvious as in the upper image. This image does have more background, but it's not necessarily "good" background. Which one was drawn by the Master and which was drawn (and signed as the Master) by the Student? Yeah. I hope it's as obvious as it seems.
To be honest, I don’t even know if wearing underwear was a thing in the 17th century Japan for women.

But, thanks to the artistic interpretations, we do know that Japan had a peeping Tom god it could worship if the need arose.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Quiet - I'm Eating (And The Snub To Trump)

In a recent NY Times interview, U.S. president Donald John Trump (aka Don John Trump) talked with journalists Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman about his time in office through July 20, 2017.

In it, the president talked about the many trials and tribulations of being King of ‘merica, and about all of the fun (garbled) and interesting people he has spent time with in an official capacity, including meeting with Japan prime minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) and his wife Akie.

The Abe’s have met with Trump and his wife Melania three times so far in the few months Trump has been in office:
  • at Andrew’s Air Force Base;
  • a weekend at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home where the two leader’s played a round of golf;
  • and last week’s G20 summit in Germany.
Here’s what Trump had to say in that NY Times interview about that G20 summit's dinner:

TRUMP: So, it was tremendous media. And we took a picture of everybody, the wives and the leaders, and then the leaders, and, you know, numerous pictures outside on the river. Then everybody walked in to see the opera. Then the opera ended. Then we walked into a big room where they had dinner for not only the leaders — Lagarde (Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund) was there, who I think is terrific, and various others. You had the E.U. people there, people other than just the leaders, but quite a few people. I would say you have 20 times two, so you had 40, and then you probably had another 10 or 15 people, you had Christine Lagarde, you had some others also.
So, I was seated next to the wife of Prime Minister Abe (Shinzo Abe of Japan), who I think is a terrific guy, and she’s a terrific woman, but doesn’t speak English.
HABERMAN: Like, nothing, right? Like zero? 
TRUMP: Like, not “hello.” 
HABERMAN: That must make for an awkward seating. 
TRUMP: Well, it’s hard, because you know, you’re sitting there for—— 
TRUMP: So the dinner was probably an hour and 45 minutes.

That would suck, wouldn’t? Being stuck beside someone who can’t speak your language…if only someone could translate for you...

TRUMP continues: OK, so we’re sitting at this massive table. And the wives are separated from their husbands, which sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But they did. It’s always easier when they don’t do it, because you always have somebody to talk to, right? And I was sitting next to the president of Argentina — his wife — (Mauricio) Macri — nice woman, who speaks English. And the prime minister of Japan’s wife, Prime Minister Abe. Great relationships. So I’m sitting there. There was one interpreter for Japanese, ’cause otherwise it would have been even tougher. But I enjoyed the evening with her, and she’s really a lovely woman, and I enjoyed — the whole thing was good.

Hey, at least Trump has admiration for Abe and his wife Akie.

But here’s the thing… Abe Akie, wife of Japan prime minister Abe Shinzo… she can speak English.

She once talked baseball in fluent English with former U.S. president George W. Bush and first lady Laura, back in 2007—albeit about a Japanese ball player in the North American MLB.

Along with speaking with the wife’s of Canadian prime ministers Stephen Harper and current PM Justin Trudeau in English, Akie attended an elementary school audience in Virginia alongside former U.S. president first lady Michell Obama.

I won’t even mention her speech in front of business leaders in New York City. Oops.

Look at the photo at the very top of this blog... Akie is having a great time speaking to the masses - apparently no translation is necessary.

The fact that she chose NOT to speak English during that G20 dinner party… or apparently at any other time when around U.S. president Donald Trump (or else he would know she could speak English), is… interesting, to say the least.

Was that because she didn’t want any of her comments to be taken out of context? Was it because she was too busy eating and would not talk with her mouth full? Did she simply not have anything to say? Or did she NOT want to say anything to Trump?

Could it have been that Trump is allegedly boorish in his treatment of women?

He did comment out loud on French president Emmanuel Macron’s wife Brigitte: “in such good shape — beautiful.” When president Emmanuel Macron was a lad of 15, by the way, Brigitte was his teacher… I’m just throwing that out there, in case you didn’t know or forgot.

As far as sitting beside Abe Akie at the G20 dinner, Trump did say he had a translator with him, but HE actually kept his mouth shut except to eat, preferring to not say anything to her.

Was that a snub?

Even if Trump didn't say anything to her, Akie could have initiated a conversation, but didn’t. Was that a snub?

Trump did actually leave his seat to go and talk to Russian president Vladimir Putin for about 15 minutes…

Maybe he was told by advisors, and finally listened, to not talk to the women there for fear of causing a ruckus within the fake news media… of which I suppose this blog is part of.

So… was this just old-time sexist behavior in action of a woman knowing her place?

Did Akie simply not have anything interesting to say?

Was the G20 dinner food so uninteresting that it couldn’t spark a comment like “Wow! This bisque is wonderful!” or “Ugh, my salad is raw”?

I’m sure we’ll never know the truth… as I’m sure Honest Abe Akie isn’t talking.

Andrew Joseph
PS: My computer is apparently on the fritz at home, so I’m writing the next few day’s blogs on Friday at lunch. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

You Must Remember This

I’m a Humphrey Bogart fan - but only since my early 20s, because that is when I was in university and trying to be more worldly by watching black and white movies and talking about bourgeois things, because that what supposed middle-class people do instead of being a drunken frat-boy.

Actually, I don't know if that’s true. I certainly could drink… but I was never a frat-boy, so I have no idea what they did or didn’t do. My only frame of reference is Animal House (movie) and its misshapen spawn Delta House (TV). The good thing about Delta House was that it was the first time I fell in love with Michelle Pfeiffer, as I had a thing for blondes back then.

Speaking of blondes, the Japanese movie poster for the Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca (above) also stars Ingrid Bergman.

While Bergman did not begin my love affair with Swedish women—that may have begun with porn star Seka… who may not have been Swedish, but at the very least did star in numerous Swedish Erotica films.

For the record, I no longer look at a woman based on ethnicity or color of hair, because…  well… despite my juvenile humor here, I’m a grown-up now.

Intelligence is the thing... not necessarily diploma-based, either... intelligence to keep me intrigued. Or sex... sex can also do that. (See? Juvenile.)

Released in 1942, Casablanca is a drama/romance flick set in Casablanca, Morocco… about Bogart’s character Rick Blaine—he owns a nightclub—and learns that an old flame, Ilsa (Bergman) is in Casablanca with her husband. The hubby has Nazi Germans after him. Ilsa, knowing that Bogart’s character is a bit of a slickster, comes to him to help her husband out of a jam.

Yup… that’s the plot. Obviously things start to heat up, proving it is impossible for men to be friends with a woman without him thinking about sex. 

I don't know if that was the typical way of thinking back in 1942, but in the 21st century, I can guarantee you that even if a guy was to help your husband out of a jam, that guy is not doing it because he's a nice guy... he's doing it because he wants you. And, if you are using him because you know he will do anything for you, what does that make you?

This is why I struggle with Bergman's Ilsa character. Is she really so naive to believe that her ex-boyfriend will help her out because:
  1. I really need help for my husband, and because Rick's a nice guy and it's the right thing to do, this should be a no-brainer, or;
  2. I need someone with questionable morals help my husband escape from the Nazis... and that's Rick... and I can play off his lust for me to help ME out, or; 
  3. I am just using this whole thing with my husband as a means to see Rick, because as much as I know he wants me, I want him twice as much. 
Speaking as man—albeit a man with a juvenile sense of humor—I can 100% guarantee you that every heterosexual man thinks that when a woman comes to him for help, Option 3 is the ONLY option—that that he thinks it is what the woman is thinking.

As evil as she wants to be, the Notorious Ingrid Bergman played a nun in 1945's The Bells of St. Mary, and a saint in 1948's Joan of Arc... and used her sexy wiles to get exactly what she wanted in 1942's Casablanca. 
My guess is that if this was a 2017 movie, Option 2 would be the correct answer... but again... I'm unsure exactly what moralistic drama the writer(s) were employing for this 1942 movie. Could Ilsa really believe in Option 1? Sure... but is that naive considering she knows that Rick is conniving? No... because she knows that Rick can help her husband, the implication is that Ilsa knows Option 2 is the ONLY option.
So... is this really a story about romance? Or is this about a woman using her feminine charms to manipulate a greedy man who just wants to lay pipe? And no... nothing is bothering me... I'm just looking at the movie from a different angle. Obtuse may eventually come to mind. That's funny and you know it.

Anyhow… the above poster of the Warner Brothers movie is from 1946 Japan… the movie did not make its debut in Japan for four years after its North American release... not until June 13, 1946—owing to the fact that Japan was partners with those self same Nazi’s who were after Ilsa’s husband (Victor Lazslo played by Paul Henreid) until September of 1945.

You know that for any guy lusting after another man's woman... even though he might actually do his best to help both parties out, he is secretly hoping the Nazi's will win out and kill the competition, knowing that within six months, yeah six months, after playing nursemaid to her grief, yeah, that's the ticket, I can make her mine. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Okay, while no sane guy is going to kill for you, we might, however, accidentally on-purpose choose to look the other way to help create the ultimate fail for him, and win for me. Oh, and that, of course, means a win for you, too, honey.

I didn't say guys were smart. But I am wondering/saying/asking that in this movie... one of the best movies of all-time... who's the real bad guy? Might not be a guy, afterall.        

The B3 poster (sized 15” x 20.5”) is an atypical size of movie poster… with this particular size ONLY appearing at the three theaters in Japan where the movie debuted on June 13, 1946: Musashimo Kan, Houraku Zza, and Denkikan… so three theaters… that’s it… you know this one is rare. Rare as an honest man in Bogart’s Casablanca.

If you are interested in this poster, Heritage Auctions is currently offering it for purchase HERE, with an estimated value of US$2,500-$5,000.

Regardless of what Casablanca’s main song “As Time Goes By” utters, a kiss is NOT just a kiss. If you’ve ever been with someone… and shared some weird connection from something as electric as a single kiss… you know that it can transcend time and space, making the angels weep with jealousy.

I got plenty of time,
Andrew “let me rethink that” Joseph     

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Big Brother Is Watching You In Space

There's probably a bit of a creep factor here, but odds are that if you are an astronaut/cosmonaut, you already know that every little thing you do up in space, is being recorded.

Meet the JEM Internal Ball Camera, aka Int-Ball, a camera placed aboard a spacecraft, that can move around thanks to the really remote control system down on Earth.

"Beep... moving Int-Ball to go and checkout Astronaut Carly..., er the sleeping arrangements of Astronaut Jenkins... Int-Ball indicates her blankie has slipped off."

What's the matter, Dave? ... Big Brother is watching You.

I'm not actually creepy, even though it appears as though I think that way. I just want you to know I think this way because we need to be aware that even the most innocent thing can be turned into something evil... just like how Einstein's E=mc2 helped usher in atomic weaponry.

You'll notice I didn't say he invented it.

Launched on June 4, 2017, the U.S. Dragon ship met and delivered the Int-Ball to Japan's experiment module "Kibo" aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Here's what the Int-Ball can do:
  • The camera can move autonomously in floating space and record still and moving images under remote control on Earth at the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center;
  • The recorded images and videos can be checked in real-time by flight controllers and researchers on Earth, and sent back (a real up-load) to the crew in space;
  • The camera adopts existing drone technology and its exterior and inner structures were all manufactured by 3D-printing;
  • The Int-Ball weighs 1kg (2.2lbs), has a diameter of 15cm, and has 12 propellers;
  • Looks a lot like BB8.
So... WTF good is the Int-Ball?

Excellent question - glad you asked.

JAXA says that since astronauts currently spend about 10% of their work day actually taking photos, Int-Ball will save the astronauts time allowing them either 10% more time to goof off or, more than likely, give them more time to do real science-y stuff that I suppose astronauts do. Why don't I know what they do? I know they do experiments, monitor the experiments, and stuff like that... I would guess they secretly deploy spyware satellites for such covert operations like MLB (Major League Baseball).

Fact checking... I swear this is on the JAXA website:
  • Enabling flight controllers and researchers on the ground to check the crew's work from the same viewpoint as the crew. The effective cooperative work between in space and on the ground will contribute to maximized results of "Kibo" utilization experiments.
The ground crew and their slide rulers will doublecheck the work of the astronauts. Imagine if that had happened on Apollo 13... oh wait, it did. Nevermind.

Wanna see the Int-Ball in action? C'mon... ya gotta... you've read this far...

By the way... when I first heard of Int-Ball, I thought about Happy Fun Ball... a "commercial" from a 1991 episode of SNL (Saturday Night Live)... of course I was in Japan at the time, but I did see it on a special edition of SNL and their "commercials".  You can see a "blurry" version of Happy Fun Ball HERE, as apparently this was in the days before HD... or even SD... or even D.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Beats me how I can remember "Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball" but can't recall what I had for dinner on Tuesday. Ugh... I hope it wasn't Happy Fun Ball.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Japanese Security Is A Dalek Away

Just as The Simpsons long ago lampooned the iconic Star Trek television series with the immortal line: “Again with the Klingons?”, so too might you utter something similar with news that Japan’s train stations may soon have a new robot system to help passengers.

 To be built by the East Japan Railways (JR East), the new JRE Robotics Station isn’t a train station run by robots who help you purchase a ticket.

No, rather JE East’s plan for its coming one year soon JRE Robotics Station is to have each large hub contain a team of robots with four different classifications.

1) Yes, there will be a robot squad that will help travelers find their way around a train station.  Okay… that could be helpful - but even myself, with no sense of direction of Japanese language ability, and in the days before APPS and the Internet… I somehow found my way from point A to Point G, Q, C, E1 and to my destination of Point B. Hmm, so maybe this might come in handy.
The good news is that the plan is for these robots to have multiple-language capabilities… so yeah, Japanese (because even they get confused in these subterranean labyrinths), English, and then your guess is as good as mine… probably not Mandarin, in case Chinese boats and aircraft keep stepping over the international borders and that leads to another Japan-Sino war… why give them help in getting to the Diet or to the Palace to assassinate royalty? Maybe just Cantonese then… kidding.
We already have such devices in our large shopping malls in North America… they are called maps… all visual like an Ikea instruction manual for a GRÖNKULLA (which translates from Danish to English as “Green Gables”, which is a nod to Canadian book Anne of Green Gables, but also Ikea’s version of a tabletop sink.

2) Red caps - self-piloting robots that will help carry a traveler's bags. In the bad old days, this was a job relegated to Black men wearing ‘red caps’ at the local train station. Now, anyone can be one. Even you, Robbie the Robot! And they don’t need a tip!
JR East says that while these types of robots CAN carry luggage, their primary function is to provide support to passengers with physical disabilities. Hey… that’s kindda cool.

3) Cleaning ‘bots… I’m guessing that some human beings are going to lose their jobs. For the most part, every train station in Japan that I’ve walked across seems clean. Yeah, things get messy after someone jumps in front of a train, or poops all over the platform, but crews are often there to clean-up and hand out a pack of tissues before the guy has even pulled up his pants.
But, I suppose having a team of robots in a constant state of movement cleaning up after passengers isn’t a bad thing.
I can just imagine a robot eyeing me as I stand at Harajuku station eating my octopus on a bamboo stick (takoyaki)… waiting to see if I’m going to accidentally drop a tentacle, carelessly discard the skewer on the platform, or need a wipe (aka a small pack of tissue).

4) Security ‘droid. Not quite up to par with a conical killer Dalek, the concept drawings for the security robots have them looking kind of pear-like… which, for a conceptual drawing is probably a good thing. See image at very top.
“Excuse me, Security ‘Bot 47, but a man touched me right here.”
“In your hard drive?”
As you can see from the drawing, the security bot has spotted someone acting suspiciously… perhaps it was the tight perm, 9-1/2 fingers and tattoos that ultimately tipped it off…

While I don’t think we could expect to see a reverse scene of Will Smith chasing down a would-be purse-snatching robot, JR East says these security robots would be able to detect shoplifters. If it’s anything like what exists in Canada and the U.S., the security robot will immediately detect any Latinos or Blacks as they enter a station-located ramen house and will casually follow them around as they make their food choice, eat their food, pay for their food and even go to the washroom until such time as they leave the restaurant and then it’s someone else’s problem. Man… I gotta stop watching W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America on CNN.

Okay, just having fun… it is supposed to detect shoplifters, but honestly, if shops have a security system whereby all products with QR codes or bar codes are NOT scanned before the exit of a shop, the theft alarm sounds off. I’m pretty sure that system would cost lest than a JR robot security guard.

But, if they are going to make one, do not let the security robot sit in a rocking chair. Seinfeld fans know what I mean.

Not just limited to train stations, JR East says these JR robots could work other JR things as well… like its hotels or shopping malls. So, yeah… kiss your jobs good bye if you are in the security industry. Time to start learning “robot care and repair.”

Bonsai (yeah… I meant the tiny tree),
Andrew Joseph
PS: Any bets on when the first robot gets “pushed” onto a train track by drunken Japanese business men in a work-related team-building exercise?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sexism And The Japanese Actress

The above image may be many things:

1) incredibly sexist;
2) taken out of context and done with everyone's permission;
3) why so many people wanted to be a movie director.

The drop-dead sexy woman in the above photo is Japanese actress Mizuni Kumi (surname first), one of the country’s earliest scream queens, appearing in a multitude of flicks for Toho in the 1960s-70s.

Born on January 1, 1937 as Igarasho Maya (surname first ) —and I’m betting she’s still hot—in Sanjo, Niigata-ken. she changed her name in 1958.

While the the director in the photo above obviously has no problem in directing young starlets, what is equally impressive is that Mizumi did not react to this overtly non-professional behavior, leading me to believe it was a comedic outtake.

But it’s Japan… so who the fug knows.

Me? I love her eyes. The eyes are the gateway to the soul… and as far as starlet eyes go… you could swim in hers to infinity and beyond.

I know you think I’m full of it, but, while I have no doubt I am full of it, not when it comes to the eyes.

Here’s Mizuni from the same movie… er… but in a color promotional shot… because everyone surrounding her knew she could sell a crappy movie.
Dig those shoes!

Of course, the point of the director squeezing Mizuni's boob is based on the fact that she is supposed to be a robot... devoid of emotion...and to prove the point, she did not react at all when the director squeezed her boob.

At least that's his excuse, and he is sticking with it.

I know... I know... not much info on Mizuni or even what movies she was in. I just liked the photo at the top and below. 

Andrew Joseph

Monday, July 17, 2017

Discworld Novels Translated To Japanese

I'm re-reading the Discworld series of books for perhaps the third or fourth time right now, beginning with the book pictured above.

Discworld is a series of Fantasy-Comedy books written by Terry Pratchett, an author who recently passed away in 2015, but one of the funniest writers I have ever come across - in the same vein as Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy fame.

There are 41 Discworld books... and sadly I have only read 33 of them (Going Postal was the last new book I read)...  but on the plus side, it gives me great joy to know I have more Pratchett to enjoy one day soon.

So... looking for a blog topic today (yesterday, actually), I wondered... hey, do the Japanese know about this fantastic comedic fantasy book series?


Above is a Japanese-language version of the first book of the Discworld series, entitled The Colour Of Magic.

If I saw this cover on a book, I might not purchase it. But in Japan... I suppose it could work.

Sadly, I was not impressed with the western version of the book cover either - so I suppose the Japanese version is a perfect representation.

This is an early version of the western version of The Colour Of Magic, and is what I'm reading now...
I took a look on the Japanese Amazon website (HERE), and found that there are quite a few Japanese translated Discworld books.

If you go there to purchase, let me point out that I believe there are two books there that are NOT part of the Discworld series... Johnny & The Dead, and one written by Pratchett and comic book writer and author Neil Gaiman called Good Omens (a very, funny book that actually got me interested in trying the Discworld novels).

So... for those so inclined to read a Discworld book in Japanese, now you know it can be done.

For the rest of us... well... like I said.... 41 books, plus a dozen more of so of other novels.

While I believe I actually write in a manner similar to Douglas Adams - as far as the wackiness goes... oh the non-Japanese stories I could amuse you with... if I was writing a fantasy series, it would be a lot like Terry Pratchett's stuff... but since he did it first, and did it best, I won't even try.

As far as Douglas Adams goes... I was writing like him before I read his stuff... so at least I don't feel like I'm ripping him off.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Birth Of A Nation - Okay, It's An Island

A few years ago, I wrote about a new island being formed in Japanese waters thanks to some heavy volcanic activity. Or... if I didn't... I probably meant too. Whatever.

Anyhow, there's a new island in Japan's waters...

About 620 miles (1000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, there WAS a tiny volcanic island called Nishinoshima (西之島, "western island) ... formed by underwater volcanic activity.

It had formed back in 1973.

It was essentially just the volcanic lava from the cone of a volcano that had its base way down in the Pacific Ocean... about 1.86 miles (three kilometers) in actual height with a circumference of 58.4 miles (94 kilometers) at its widest point (the base).

Nishinoshima, circa 1978. Image from Wikipedia and is Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Those numbers are all estimates, by the way. What they do offer, is a glimpse at just how huge volcanoes are. For the record, Mt. Everest is 8.848 kilometers tall.

Nishinoshima, however, is the newest name for the island... as it was originally known as Rosario Island by the Spanish sailors who discovered it back in 1702.

The Japanese re-named it Nishinoshima in 1904. 

And everything was stable until Rosario Island/Nishinoshima erupted again in 1973, covering all that was of the old island with new lava, creating a new shape over the old landscape, building a larger island.

It remained that way until 2013 when in November... incredibly close to the volcanic island of Nishinoshima - in fact still below the watery surface, MORE explosive volcanic activity was going on.

Spewing lava up and around it, this new island vomited up enough lava that it grew to some 82 feet (25 meters) above the sea level by the end of the month.

While no official name was given to this new volcano-formed isle beside Nishinoshima, the Japanse media dubbed it atarashii shima (新しい島), which translates to "new island"... which means that the Japanese media really lacks a decent imagination. 

One month later, with the volcanic activity still going on, this new island (atarashii shima) merged itself with Nishinoshima creating a larger conjoined Nishinoshima island.

Since the eruptions began in 2013, scientists claim that some 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools of lava are being ejected every single day.

While not safe for humans, obviously, as nature has found a way, the new larger Nishinoshima is becoming a fertile area, as birds in the area continue to poop on it, and, believe it or not, vomit on it...

If you know what's in bird poop and bird vomit you are a more knowledgeable person than my self, but I imaging it contains grass seed or seeds from berries... and while not every thing crapped up turns into a floral bouquet, it is enough to begin the greening of the new Nishinoshima isle.

That's how islands are formed, at any rate.

Take a look at the incredible video montage below... showing the explosive force of the new volcano... and how, at around the 50-second mark you can see just how close the volcano is to old Nishinoshima island... while there is a gap of footage between November 26-December 1 when it is obvious the two isles are now joined... it is an awesome diary.

By January 12, 2014, the newly formed part of Nishinoshima is actually larger than the older section.

While the accompanying music can be a bit grating after a minute--I turned the volume off, I can assure you there is no need for volume... just sit back and watch an island be born and reborn.

The eruptions are still going on as of this date, 2017.

Andrew Joseph
Photo at the very top is from July 2016, taken by a drone. Image is from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan website (