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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Advice For Surviving Japan's Humidity And Cold

There's an interesting article in Japan Today written by an ALT living in Japan, discussing the pros and cons... actually all cons of having to teach class in the summertime... her sweaty experience can be read HERE.

Never let it be said that I am never influenced by article someone else has read (thanks Vinnie!), and so allow me to present my take on Japan's sweat shops, aka teaching in the summer in a country that doesn't believe in A/C.

Sadly, I am one of those people who sweats when it gets warm outside. Forget about hot... I'm talking about warm.

Fortunately, even if I happened to forget to wear deodorant (it happened twice in mega decades), I do NOT smell. Promise.

I just perspire.

Japan in the summer time is a land of mushi atsui. The first phrase I ever heard that wasn't about greeting someone or saying thank-you.

It means humid and hot.

I can't speak about Hokkaido - the big island to the north of mainland Japan, but I assume it gets humid there, too, but Japan after its cold winter and short spring, has a hot summer accompanied by humidity that last essentially from May through September.

Being a fashionable young man once when I lived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, a rural farming city with the nicest people in the country, I used to wear colorful silk shirts when I was an assistant English teacher at the then-seven junior high schools there. I think there are 10 now after an amalgamation of another village or two since I left in 1993.

I learned very early that being fashionable - I was a metrosexual before the term became outdated - was not required in Japan.

I used to wear a suit and tie to my classes... and sure I looked better than all of the Japanese teachers in their track suits or casual attire, and even better than the vice-principal and principal in their ratty suits. But at what cost?!

While I almost always received a ride to the schools I would teach at four days a week (Friday was a Board of Education day), on those rare occasions where I would have to ride my 18-speed bike to school, I quickly learned that wearing a suit and riding to school on a hot and humid day was pure stupidity on my part.

Like I said... silk shirts... a suit... with a backpack on my back... after the 10 kilometer ride to Nozaki Junior High School or the two-kilometer ride to Ohtawara Junior High School, the back of my shirt wouldn't just be blue-purple or green, it would be dark blue-purple or dark green, bordering on black as the humidity would cause me to perspire and color the back of my shirt.

I quickly learned - after about one week - that I might want to carry my suit and silk shirts and tie in a plastic bag in my backpack, and dress in stead in the dress pants and a tee-shirt, changing clothes immediately upon arrival.

That's just some advice for anyone heading to Japan shortly.

Now... here's the thing. In Japan, schools do not have air-conditioning. In fact, for whatever reason, they often have all of the windows in the classroom closed so as to not invite the humidity inside. At least I think that's why. I just realized that 25 years later. Hunh.

In the winter time, while they will bring out a stove to warm the class room at some point in January and February, you will freeze your butt off before that.

It gets cool in October, and downright nippy in November, and bone-rattling cold in December (provided you aren't in Okinawa or Kyushu). At this time, you will find that the schools will all have their windows open - to allow in the brisk refreshing air.

I have no idea why. Perhaps they are old-fashioned in thinking that it's good for the body. I don't know.

While you, the ALT/AET will be able to savor the warmth of the stove at the front of the class in January and February, you will need to wear a sweater for the months immediately preceding it.

And, while you are warm in front of the stove alongside your JTE (Japanese teacher of English), spare a moment to pity the poor students at the back of the class - actually anyone not directly in front of the stove... say everyone other than three out of the 30 students - who are freezing their yaya's off.

Seriously. It may be hard to explain your teaching plan over the chattering and clattering of teeth, and the sounds of frozen hands trying to slap the blood in their arms to start moving again.

I'm only slightly exaggerating. Again... sweaters in the fall and winter. A change of clothes for your journey to school in the summer (and spring if it gets too warm).

In fact, I think the weather is really only comfortable in Japan for about a one-week period, and that is usually around Golden Week (late April to early May) when there isn't any class being taught.

So... if you are still at home and haven't left for Japan, pay the extra $$$ for an extra piece of luggage and ensure you have MORE than enough clothing.

While things have changed a wee bit in Japan over the past 25 years, I am sure, finding foreigner sized clothing can be a bit challenging. Pack accordingly, and pack plenty.

I had five sweaters that I could rotate in and out, as I only saw one school for a week (four days) before I switched to a different school the next week.

And for the mushi atsui days of Japan... and you may only start in September at school as your Board of Education office allows you time to acclimatize yourself to Japan and as they hopefully spend some tie and effort to show you around your town or city, as my Board did for me... you (both men and women) can purchase undershirts at a sporting goods shop.

I have a couple of Under Armor shirts that essentially stop the sweat from bleeding through to my outer shirt. I bought it for coaching baseball and for the polyester uniform I have to wear... and it works.

If I am sweating, I don't feel it on my back. In fact, it helps keep me cool.

However... make sure you get a clerk to help you. In the northern climes, for example, you can get Under Armor shirts for summer and for winter gear. The winter one will keep you warm and dry (for hockey), while the summer one will help you you cool and dry (for baseball).

You don't want the wrong type.

Yeah... there's a limited number of colors, and for you women, it may hamper the type of clothing you want to wear... but in the case of Japan, and with apologies to Fernando Lamas, it is NOT better to look good than to feel good.

You don't want to look like a slob, but as a gaijin (foreigner) your foibles will be excused and overlooked much more readily than if you did something goofy back in your home country.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph   
PS: Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

     


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

American Lamb Back In Japan

After a 15 year absence, Japan has opened up its borders to receiving American sheep and goat exports.

U.S. exports of the products were banned by Japan in 2003 after BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) was found in some herds in America.

Australia and New Zealand are the two top exporters of lamb into Japan, as the country had a record high US$168 million in imports in 2017, an increase of 26 percent over 2016.

Baa, not bah for American sheep and goat farms to be sure.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Problem With Japanese Youth Baseball

I've talked in the past about Japanese baseball - but mostly just about its professional ranks.

This past weekend, my son's Peewee Select baseball team (just one level above standard house league), was in a tournament in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, about 90 minutes drive (traffic) north of our home and home baseball association, Bloordale Baseball (a claim to fame was that we were the home of Joey Votto, professional MLB ball player with the Cincinnati Reds).

By the way... in the photo above that's me and my son in 2017 after yet another loss, as our Select team that year was focused on developing the player's skillset and NOT about the wins. This year's advanced team, has quite a few of my players from last year's team on it... so despite the huge number of losses, we must have learned something.

I have shaved off that greying van dyke - probably right after my brother took that photo of us. He just came out to that away game to say hi.

We had a bad tournament outcome this past weekend, but the kids (11 boys and one girl) played well, with unfortunate miscues being our undoing. We can teach the kids all the baseball skills in the world, but focus remains one thing we are unable to do, or at least do properly... certainly not something we are doing for our level of player.
 
Our team is good - could be better - but we look after our players, making sure they are emotionally with it, as well as physically. Sometimes you can see right away whether they are going to be lights out awesome or struggling in a game... and as much to protect the team, and give them the best chance to win, my job is also to protect the player to ensure they aren't going to have their confidence destroyed.

Baseball is a game, and it's supposed to be fun - and if you aren't having fun, do something else.


My kids aren't going on to a MLB career, and I see no reason to treat them in any manner other than the fact that we are out to win some games, learn, improve as much as we can, and above all take away a positive experience from the team and the year. Above all, I want them to love the sport enough that one day they will do what I (and all the other volunteers in every baseball association) am doing, and that's be a volunteer when they are older.

I never played organized baseball when I was a kid. I didn't even know the Bloordale Baseball league existed... because if I had, I would have quit soccer - a sport I was pretty damn good at - and played baseball. I liked it that much as a kid, watching it live and on TV, and even hacking around with friends, that I would toss a ball around day after day against the backside of my house or the front stoop.

A neighbor - long since passed, Mrs. O'Hare - gave me a rusty old pitchback... a rubber covered top, that I could angle so that my pitches could either bounce back to me or go up in the sky for a pop-fly catch. My reflexes certainly became quite good.   

But again... even though I didn't play organized baseball, playing with my classmates at Our Lady of Peace grade school or buddies Rob, William, Alfred and BenJohn at Wedgewood, or pals Pat T. and John K at Saint Elizabeth's, taping up a strike zone on a wall to play wallball, or with other friends from Burnhamthorpe Collegiate simply playing 500-up... baseball was fun.

Hell... I wasn't even very good. I couldn't hit, might have been able to catch, but couldn't pitch, as no one taught me how to throw a ball properly until about four years ago - thanks Rob L!

Baseball is supposed to be about having fun. 

I don't believe such thoughts exist in Japan, and its appetite for winning in high school (and junior high school) baseball tournaments, is a disgrace.

There is such a thing called Koshien... a National High School Baseball Championship.

They have a Spring Koshien, and a Summer Koshien, the latter held in August - but both played at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

The Spring tournament is an invitational one... the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament.

These events, are brutal for the players - especially the pitchers... as the teams want to ride their top pitcher as often as possible, pitching in as many games as possible - and all done without any set rules for player safety.

Now I know we are talking about 17-year-old high school players versus 13-year-olds on my team, but in our tournaments, we have pitch counts, implying that if a pitcher pitches over 55 balls in one game, he must have at least two NIGHTS rest before he or she may pitch again. If they pitch (in our division) 80 pitches, they must have three NIGHTS rest before pitching again.

It's done to ensure we, as coaches do not abuse a child for the glory of the team and our own ego.

The last thing we want is to have a kid blow out an arm (which could, conceivably) still happen on Pitch # 1 of a game, by putting too much stress on a young elbow or shoulder.

But during these Japanese Koshien tournaments, there are no rules regarding how often a young Japanese pitcher can throw a ball, or how many pitches they can make in a game.

It is why, some of these Japanese ball teams - again... high school baseball teams... will trot their star pitcher out game after game after game in order to garner some sort of baseball glory that may turn into glory for the school, prefecture, and yes, the team, but also for the ball player themselves.

It's an interesting examination of Japanese culture.

In the business world, a team works together to execute a project, but in baseball culture in Japan, a superstar ball player is expected to carry the burden... and to hell with pain or fatigue... nothing matters more than winning.

For a two-week period in August, Japan's professional ball club the Hanshin Tigers vacates its home field to play on the road, while scores of Japanese high school teams compete in the Summer Kaishen tournament.

Some 40,000 fans will pack the Koshien Stadium for each game, as will scouts for the Japanese and American professional baseball teams, looking to see just what sort of talent is available.

While it is rare for North American scouts to be interested in any ball player that is NOT a pitcher, sometimes a physical specimen such as Hideki Matsui will come around... a ball player that might look Japanese, but has a monster physique that transcends borders. There was a reason he was called Godzilla... a big, strong kid.

During an appearance with his team at a Summer Koshien, Matsui infamously had five at bats, but was intentionally walked by the opposition each time. Officially, that's zero at bats, but a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage.

It shows the respect the other high school manager had for Matsui-san, afraid to let him beat their team, but also a complete lack of respect for his own pitcher, assuming he would never be able to get him out.

Baseball is funny that way. Japanese baseball and its code of respect is even funnier. Japanese culture and social norms are thrown out the window when sports, particularly baseball is in play.

Then again... it's a Japanese bushido (way of the samurai) kind of thing. Sort of. It's a win at all costs - never give up philosophy, but where is the respect for your own samurai (pitcher)?

The Bushido aspect also involves sacrificing yourself beyond whatever human limits you think you have for yourself for the betterment of your own daimyo (clan leader), or in this case, baseball team.

Think about this... back in 1998... in a quarterfinal baseball game, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched 17-innings in one game, throwing 250 pitches... nearly two complete games in one-go... he won...

By the way... in order to keep his arm ready between innings when his team was batting, Matsuzaka, rather than wrapping his arm in a towel to maintain the warmth, he was out doing long toss - throwing the ball 100+ feet back and forth with another player...

Combine those uncounted pitches along with the warm-up pitches pitchers are allowed before the start of each inning (eight per inning), and his pitch count is through the roof.

And I'm not even counting his warm-up pitches in his team's practice area BEFORE the game... where we could add another 20+ tosses.

Prior to that 250-pitch marathon, Matsuzaka had pitched the day before in a game, throwing 148 pitches in a complete game shut out.

That's 398 pitches in two days.

Now... as if to prove that his manager wasn't a complete Hitler, in the semi-final game the very next day after the 250-pitch game, Matsuzaka was playing Left Field in the outfield.

With his team trailing 6-0 at the top of the 8th inning, the team came back with four runs in the 8th inning and three in the 9th inning... meaning they needed their ace pitcher to hold their 7-6 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.

So... in trots Matsuzaka as the relief pitcher... throws an additional 15 pitches, and gets his Yokohama High School team into the finals.

So... the very next day, after a three day total of pitches amounting to 313 pitches, Matsuzaka - the team's ace pitcher, trots out to the mound, and throws a complete game, no-hitter. That means not a single batter from the other team managed to get on base via a bat hitting a ball. Though they may have reached base on a walk or by being hit by a pitch.

He threw 240 pitches in his no-hitter game.

All told, over a four day and four-game period, Matsuzaka tossed 553 pitches.

But again... those are just the official pitch totals over those four games. 

In the 17-inning game, with eight warm-up pitches on the mound, that equates to an additional 136 pitches. This does not include the pre-game warm-up or his long-toss exercises between innings.

Also, there's his game before the quarterfinals - nine innings... that's 72 warm-up pitches (again not including the pre-game warm-up or his long-toss exercises between innings).

The semi-final game also adds eight (8) warm-up pitches for his ninth-inning.

And the Finals... adds another 72 warm-up pitches (again not including the pre-game warm-up or his long-toss exercises between innings).

Let's see: that's 553 + 72 + 136 + 72 + 8 = 841.

That's 841 hard throws by Matsuzaka in those final four games of the tournament... done in four consecutive days.

I'm not even calculating what he possibly threw in the games before that... after all, it IS a two-week tournament.

And... as bad as that was/is, consider that in the 2006 Koshien tournament, Yuki Saito of Waseda Jitsugyo High School pitched 948 official balls over 68 innings in the two-week tournament, and Tomohiro Anraku of Saibi High School threw 772 official pitches in the 2013 Spring Invitational.

Again... this does not include warm-up throwing in the bullpen BEFORE the game, or the eight warm-up tosses before each inning... so Saito-san easily topped over 1,000 pitches.

For baseball people in North America, this borders on child abuse.

But, Andrew... did Matsuzaka get hurt?

No... not at this time...

But baseball is a funny game... just because nothing broke at that time, it doesn't mean damage wasn't being done.

Let's look at it from a non-baseball angle.

You have a car... you drive the car... you drive it a lot... long distances, short distances, fast stops, regular braking, accelerating normally, or quickly. Sure you've put in the gasoline, topped up the oil, and even added some windshield wiper fluid... the car looks good, and even seems to be running as well as it was when your first bought it.

But that engine has been taxed. Sometimes it's not the distance traveled, but how hard those kilometers/miles were to get there.

If I drove a Cadillac across a bumpy road, or my Mazda 3 onto an F1 track and tried to drive as fast as I can... parts are going to show ample wear and tear to my mechanic.. but not to me, because I don't or can't look under the hood.

It's the same with an elbow or shoulder. What sort of fraying to Matsuzaka's elbow occurred or was exacerbated by his no-doubt awesome pitching performance?

It's not damage that's going to affect him now... because it didn't... but how about when he's older.

So... what happened to Matsuzaka?

Well, beginning in 1999 - his rookie year in Japanese professional baseball, Matsuzaka was rookie of the year.

He was selected for the Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006. And then, he wanted to try his hand in North America's MLB.

Basically, he signed a six-year, US$52 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, which could have been worth as much as $60 million if he fulfilled incentives. The details of the contract included a $2 million signing bonus with a $6 million salary in 2007, $8 million in each of the following three seasons (2008–2010), and $10 million in each of the final two years (2011–2012). He also had a no-trade clause, specially constructed by the Red Sox to fit Matsuzaka's contract.

After his third start in MLB, defeating my Toronto Blue Jays, he said through his translator that gripping the North American baseball—which is slightly larger than the Japanese pro ball, with higher seams—had presented some challenges, but that he had begun making adjustments and felt they were successful.

In Game 7 of the American League championship series, he became the first Japanese pitcher to win an MLB playoff game, and the fifth rookie to start a Game 7 in the playoffs - ever. He pitched five innings, gave up two runs, and the Boston Red Sox won to meet the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series.

He started Game 3 of the World Series on October 27, 2007, and led the Red Sox to a 10–5 win  against the Rockies, his first World Series appearance, giving up two runs on three hits and three walks, with five strikeouts. In the game, he also recorded his first major league hit: a two-out two-run single off Josh Fogg, making Matsuzaka the third pitcher in Red Sox history to record two RBIs in a World Series game; the others were Babe Ruth (in Game 4 of the 1918 World Series) and Cy Young. Matsuzaka is also the first Japanese pitcher in World Series history to start and win a game.

Yeah... Babe Ruth was one of the best pitchers of his generation before becoming the best power hitter of his or perhaps any generation. And Cy Young... that guy has the career record for most wins, and is the guy they named the MLB best pitcher award after. So... heady company.

The Red Sox won the World Series the next day, by the way, with Matsuzaka ending up with the Red Sox rookie record for strikeouts in a season.

So... no apparent harm to the arm yet.

In 2008, after seven starts, he left the game with what was diagnosed as a tired shoulder, but it was really a mild rotator cuff strain in the shoulder.

In 2009, Matsuzaka decided he wanted to pitch for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, and while the Red Sox were concerned he might be abused, they relented.

When the regular season started, Matsuzaka was twice placed on the Disabled List (DL) with a bum shoulder... with the Red Sox suspecting it was because of the excessive pitching he did in the World Baseball Classic.

Baseball pundits wondered if the high number of innings pitched early in his career combined with a vigorous personal training regimen was a possible cause of Matsuzaka's sustained injury problems in 2009, but Matsuzaka himself has stated publicly that he feels he cannot maintain arm strength without extensive training.

But, during an interview with Japanese magazine, Friday, early in 2010, he revealed that he had hurt his right hip while training for the World Baseball Classic.

Fun fact, when you hurt one part of your body, you try and avoid the pain by now changing your delivery.

He did NOT tell the Japanese team coaches or trainers about his training injury. He says: "I didn't want to be the center of concern for people", and also added, "[The Classic] was hard. I relied on my wits and my shoulder strength. I had to be creative. I varied the paces between the pitches; I used the different kind of slider that I usually don't throw."

However, in 2010, Matsuzaka had a very sub-par performance after missing the first month of the season with a neck strain.

On May 5, 2011, Matsuzaka made his first relief appearance of his MLB career picking up the loss in one inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after a two-1/2-hour rain delay. On May 17, 2011, Matsuzaka was placed on the 15 Day disabled list. On June 2, it was reported that he would be out for the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery that would occur on June 10.

Tommy John Surgery. I'm reading a book RIGHT now called The Arm, by Jeff Passan... which is all about this surgery... it's about the UCL... the ulnar collateral ligament is a thick triangular band at the medial aspect of the elbow uniting the distal aspect of the humerus to the proximal aspect of the ulna.

When that sucker tears, until ball player Tommy John first underwent this surgery created by U.S. orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974, it meant your career was over... because your arm hurt  - a lot, and when you did throw, you had zero zip on the ball.

No one knows what causes the UCL to snap, except that the human arm is NOT mean to throw a baseball or chuck a spear... it's an unnatural movement that puts a lot of stress on the elbow... specifically on the UCL.

While some ball players can come back from this injury... nay, from this surgery (baseball fans should read The Arm, for a very detailed and understandable explanation of the surgery), not every one can.

Sometimes even when they do, that UCL will snap again... and in some instances, a second operation is possible... and it might even allow for a comeback... there are no guarantees.

So, on April 23, 2012, Matsuzaka made his first rehab start for the Single-A minor league Salem Red Sox. He was back, but he wasn't good. Still, he managed to make get back to the MLB Boston Red Sox on June 9, 2012, finishing the year 1W-7L with an earned run average of 8.28 in 11 starts.

His contract with the Red Sox was up at the end of this season, and he signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians in February of 2013. He did not make the Indians' Opening Day roster, and was released from the contract, but signed another minor league deal in March, but was released from the Indians' organization per his request on August 20, 2013.

Two days later, Matsuzaka signed a major league deal with the New York Mets, and joined their starting rotation, finishing the year 3W-3L, with an ERA of 4.42

After starting 2017 in the minor leagues, he was brought up by the NY Mets on April 16, 2014, and got his first MLB save on April 24, and then on became a starter again... but gone was the dominating Matsuzaka arm that was able to throw 553 official pitches four days in a row back in high school.

With his MLB contract up again, he went back to Japan where he had been a star pitcher and attempted to resurrect his career.

Signing with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, he only pitched in one game for their farm team in 2015 because of a variety of injuries.

In 2016, he appeared in his first NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) game in 10 years, tossing one inning for the Hawks and allowed two earned runs.

In 2017, it was back to the minor leagues... and he was released by the team on November 5, 2017, pitching a total of one inning in three years for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Not yet ready to hang up his cleats, Matsuzaka signed with the Chunichi Dragons, and started his first game in Japan in 12 years, pitching five innings, allowing three runs in a 3-2 loss against the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.

But don't feel too badly for our Matsuzaka, as he was named to the 2018 NPB All-Star Game this year. He is 3W-3L with just 37-1/3 innings under his belt this season.

Obviously, Matsuzaka was voted in by the fans based on nostalgia.

My point in all of this? While Matsuzaka did indeed go on to get rich and famous playing baseball after his incredible showing at the Summer Koshien back in 1998, he may indeed have done his arm no good with his over-use.

And, for every Matsuzaka who did go on to a professional career after the arm abuse, hundreds more failed to do even that.

In Japan, there has been a culture to never complain about injuries or fatigue... that damn bushido code of the warriors that the countries professional athletes take to heart, but that was war... and this is just a game.

Or at least it's supposed to be.

From THIS newspaper article, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/08/04/voices/dark-side-koshien-dream/#.W0uDj7hryUk : One of the main problems with youth baseball in Japan is the lack of coaching education or set rules designed to foster athletes’ all-round development. Neither the education ministry nor the Japan High School Baseball Federation require baseball coaches to actually study coaching itself.

Bizarre, ain't it? Here in Canada, I had to take a plethora of courses via the National Coaching Certificate Program (NCCP) just to be able to co-coach my kid's Select team. It's time out of my non-paid weekend schedule, but who cares... people like me do it for the kids, to ensure we know what we are doing, and to ensure they learn and have playing a bloody game.

The league, in my case Bloordale Baseball, gladly pays for the coaches education process, keen to ensure kids involved in its baseball association are looked after.

But here's what is really bad about Japanese youth baseball...

The Japan Sports Association offers training to coaches in 50 different sports, including a high-performance certification program in 29 of them, but baseball is NOT one of those sports.

Japan needs to create some formal national legislation to protect these kids not only from themselves, but from greedy adults trying to capitalize on their youthful abilities.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Neon Nights

I am away at an overnight baseball tournament this weekend, and while I'm sure I could use my phone to post a fresh blog, I am instead creating this one a few days in advance.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to be a bit tired on Saturday evening, after spending all day outside coaching hopefully three, two-hour games while wearing these wonderful polyester team uniforms.

As such, what you see above is the neon lights of a big Japanese city. (Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash.)

 I'm unsure of just where in Japan it is, but I'll take a stab at it and offer up: Tokyo.

It doesn't matter... what I wanted to highlight was that this view was somewhat similar to my first insight into Japan when I first arrived at the end of July 1990.

There was frickin' neon lighting everywhere.

The trick, or so I was told a few weeks later, is that if you don't see neon lights when you are in Tokyo, you are no longer in Tokyo.

Of course, on my first excursion around Tokyo with gal pal Kristine and her new AET comrades (don't ask me why Kristine asked me to join her... I was part of the new JET participants in a prefecture that would be stationed some 500 kilometers away from her)... we walked and walked and walked... and lo-and-behold... we ran out of neon.

Officially lost, we asked a Japanese salaryman (businessman), who despite not speaking any English, examined the book of matches I had brought with me from our hotel (I didn't smoke, and brought the matches for just such an event... I was sure as hell no Boy Scout, but I like their "always be prepared" philosophy).

I hope everyone else enjoys their weekend and avoids having to wear too much polyester.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Unsplash, where I found the photo, is a website that offers up free photos. Crediting the photographer isn't required, but come one, eh...

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Japanese Send Origami After Disasters - Survivors Want Food

It's an old Japanese tradition—A Thousand Origami Cranes (千羽鶴, Senbazuru) folded paper cranes (折鶴, orizuru) held together by string…(Photo above by Fabian Mardi on Unsplash.)

Apparently the belief was that if you folded 1,000 paper cranes, your wish would come true.

It has ALSO come to symbolize hope and caring during a difficult time.

And so… what happens over time a big disaster hits Japan? Thousands upon thousand of Japanese people get it into their head to make 1,000 origami cranes and send them to the place where displaced citizens are.

Let's suppose that the senbazuru maker makes a wish for the health and well-being of the survivors of a disaster, rather than wishing for a pot of gold for themselves… and they send the senbazuru to the afflicted to let them know that the people of Japan are thinking about them… do the afflicted really care?

This is the question that Japanese society is now facing.

Who gives a fug about your well wishes… send food and water and blankets!

That's the vocalized feeling issued by some Japanese folk in southwestern Japan who last week saw a record rainfall caused rivers to overflow, and landslides and mudslides to wipe out homes, kill over 100 people with many more hurt and more still unaccounted for.

While the rains have stopped, millions of people over an extended area were forced to leave their home, and have been living in shelters. There's not enough bedding, not enough food and water, and Buddha-dammit, people aren't happy, as they are worried about their losses and how they rate going to survive not only over the next few years, but the next few days.

Here's what one Japanese person had to say— @NORIhannya:
"To those who are not experiencing the natural disaster due to heavy rainfall: Please stop sending origami cranes. They take up space and are heavy, and they’re hard to throw away because of what they are. They’re not food and they can’t be sold to make money. They’re just there for the maker’s self-satisfaction. Please just donate whatever it costs to make origami cranes. Please. From someone who experienced the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.”

Wow… is this just a stark reality of modern-day Japan?

How the heck does @NORIhannya know that the people who sent the cranes didn't also contribute money or supplies to the cause?

While it is true that the origami cranes are nothing more than a symbolic gesture and take up valuable time and space, how about just appreciate the fact that Japan cares, and has sent you warm wishes of hope and care during this difficult time.
Screen capture of @NORIhannya's message, with photo showing bags of collected origami paper cranes sent as part of the recent disaster relief efforts following the loss of 100 lives due to landslides and mudslides et al.
I mean yeah, @NORIhannya is correct. Send help, not wishes… and also is correct that the people who send such symbolic gifts may indeed being buying themselves a stairway to heaven…

Or is @NORIhannya merely a cranky scrooge… or someone genuinely stressed out by the situation? Does it matter?

Is @NORIhannya just a lone gunman, or do more than a few people feel the same way. Does everyone think the paper crane thing is stupid. You can't eat it… at least send some wasabi to make it palatable.

Here's one thing to consider… people who appear to be cranky in such situations make be the squeaky hinge that gets the oil, or conversely they could piss off a lot of people who might not want to donate if their gifts aren't going to be appreciated.

And I mean ALL of the gifts. Like I said before… maybe everyone who sent a string of senbazuru also sent along a blanket or a case of bottled water…. if you don't want one of my donations, maybe you don't get any of my donations.

Yes, people do help other people. Sorta. Not everyone is altruistic, doing things for other because it's the right thing to do.

Some do things in the hope it will help themselves later on.

Oh… that Andrew is a good guy. He always helps me carry my groceries home. Maybe I'll make him a cake.

And really… maybe I was always hoping I would get a cake… or maybe I really am a nice guy and helped carry groceries because I wanted to be a nice guy… or maybe I was trying to get laid or I was scoping out her house so I could determine where the valuables are…

One things I've never got (understood), are those folk who go out and buy a bouquet of flowers and place them at a makeshift memorial where some horrible disaster has occurred.

I understand if its a friend, family or at least someone you know… but when it's for a complete stranger…

Are these people that much nicer than me? Am I a prick for thinking I am intruding while others seek comfort in the arms of strangers?

Do victim families really need you flowers or candlelight vigils? Would they prefer to be left alone or is a community disaster a community event for mourning?

I don't know.

Again… I understand informal get-togethers in small villages or towns as a means of shooing community support… but does the same still hold true in larger cities… does disaster bring us all closer together?

Does a survivor really care about the hopes and wishes of a complete stranger? Some might. Some just want to know that people care.

Just because 100 people in a neighboring town were swept away in a flood, and I only send blankets to the survivors, or donate some money… does it look like I don't care because I didn't sign a giant card or didn't attend a midnight vigil or send 1,000 folded origami paper cranes.

Even if I sent nothing, does it imply that I don't care?

Does your opinion change if I admit that while not short of voice, I am short of money?

As far as the cranky/realist @NORIhannya is concerned… maybe make sure you aren't slamming the people who sent donations AND cranes… and maybe for those of you who want to show your support… how about making the cranes, and then taking them to a local temple and saying a prayer.

Obviously the survivors of the disaster would much prefer charitable donations that could be used for food or shelter rather than symbolism… but lets just suppose you don't have a lot of money, but you did have the origami paper lying around.

For the schools that maybe did the origami cranes as an art project… yes… do NOT send it to the survivors. Instead maybe organize a charitable drive for goods to be sent over… and pay for transportation yourselves…

Okay... @NORIhannya may have something there… for those that ONLY sent over the symbolic crane hope and well wishes… how much did it cost to ship it over? You say you don't have any money to spare… but maybe the shipping costs could have been saved and instead wired to a bank account set up to help the survivors…

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, July 13, 2018

Japan's Population Growth Continues Downward Spiral

How can you laugh, when you know I'm down?

That line from The Beatles song "I'm Down" is something Japan could ask of the world, as it was revealed recently that its rate of population decline is speeding up (or it it speeding down? - No… speeding up!).

Since the survey began in 1968, Japan's International Affairs and Communications Ministry has revealed that the country's population once again failed to crack the one million birth mark for the second year in a row (based on data accumulated from one year prior to January 1, 2018.

Total population is now at 125,209,603 and does not include any resident foreigners working as bartenders, hostesses, illegal construction labor, or foreign language teachers (which are the only jobs I can think of for gaijin).

The population declined by a total of 374,055 people (deaths outnumbered births + immigration - which is pretty much zero) in just one year, and is the ninths consecutive year of negative growth.

While Japan's population continues it's impressive ability to churn out people who are living an incredibly long life, the country is facing a crisis as its child-rearing aged population simply isn't getting it on often enough.

The government has realized for quite a few years now that its negative population growth is a serious problem that will effect its economy in future years, and please and incentives have been made to Japanese couples to have have more sex or to have more than two children in an effort to stop the decline.

Deaths have been outnumbering births in Japan for 11 straight years, with 1,340,774 deaths in 2017 versus 948,396 births.

It is pretty much a nationwide phenomenon, with 41 of its 47 prefectures showing a population decline. It doesn't look like a huge number, but Hokkaido's population dropped the most - 34,805, while Akita had the largest rate of decline at 1.39%.

Okinawa was the only prefecture where births were higher than deaths.

Aichi, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Tokyo were the only places where more people moved in than moved out (so excluding deaths and births). The implication here, is that these places seem to have been offering greater opportunities for employment than other locales.

As for the gain (foreigners), residency increased by 174,228, up to a total of 2,497,656 people.

As I mentioned above, Japan will soon reach a breaking point where it is unable to fully staff its businesses, and will have to allow more foreign workers into the country.

I'm not talking about more English teachers, rather I'm talking about scientists and researchers… as Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) recently approved a policy that would allow more foreign workers to help with current labor shortages.

So forget about later, Abe is trying to help alleviate the worker situation now.

Personally, I wonder how these foreign workers are going to be expected to work within the Japanese system.

I'm not talking about the crushing work hours, rather I am talking about the language issue.

I understand that they want more academics in the workforce… but how will communication ensue? Everyone can't have their own bilingual assistant to help complete the projects!

And if the call is outré for more foreign labor to do more mundane work such as working in a retail environment… how do you pay them enough money to ensure they can afford housing, food and other amenities?

You can ask how they could afford to pay all of us participants on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme… well, monies for our salaries, subsidized rents, and a hidden pool of money for emergencies… that all came out of a budget created on behalf of the local board of education office.

But what if you need people to work at a grocery store or a clothing store? Are you paying someone the same wages you currently pay a JET participant? Is that financially viable for the business entity?

No… I know that inexpensive labor from such countries as the Philippines is rife for the picking for Japanese businesses looking to augment their labor pool… but can these gaijin laborers earn enough money to make it worth their while?

Will there be worker abuses where they are forced to work double shifts seven days a week? Oh yeah. It's happening all ready in Japan.

While I have harped upon the country many a time to reduce the restrictions stopping more foreigners from achieving Japanese citizenship, it doesn't appear as though anyone in the Japanese government is listening.

While Japan can provide incentive after incentive for married Japanese couple to have more babies, the government needs to examine the real reason why families aren't dropping kids.

Is it women not simply wanting to be breeders?
Is it the fear that men work all the time leaving little time to be with the family? It's physical and emotional support that is required - not just financial?
Is it women wanting to stay in the workforce?
Is it that both or one of the couple feels sex is either boring or dirty?
Is it immaturity on one or both spouses?
Too much time on social media or playing video games?
Low sperm count?
Men's underwear is too tight?

The why, in the first place, people aren't having more children needs to be examined. Are they having sex? Why not? What's changed? Something changed.

Back in 1990-1993, I certainly didn't have any difficulty in finding willing sexual partners in the single Japanese female population.

Are people having sex, but simply taking precautions to not have kids?

I have no answers, except to state that a full in-depth study needs to be done to find out the root cause of why birth rates are down.

Do the Japanese men want sex but the women don't?
Do the women want sex but the men don't?
Have more people suddenly come out of the proverbial closet?&
Or are they still hiding their true sexuality by avoiding having heterosexual sex?

It sounds funny, but it's not. These are legitimate questions.

Of course, one can create such a study, but will anyone be truthful in their answer?

Is it a declining lack of patriotism? Hmmm… I like this one. This Japanese birth decline/negative population problem has been going on for years… and even with the Japanese government officially creating incentives, why haven't more Japanese jumped at the opportunity to help out its country?

Eighty years ago if the Emperor of Japan had stated that he wanted the country's married couples to have more children, you can bet your sweet bippy that everyone would have stripped down and screwed their brains out in order to do whatever he asked.

I'm not saying the Emperor should ask - especially since he gave up his godhood as a post WWII condition of surrender - but should it be asked?

Look… I could still be hired out for stud, but even then, does a half-Japanese kid still count?

The fact that he or she is still called a "hafu" implying "half" shows that Japan still doesn't want the bloodlines mongrelized.

Coming soon—a mandatory questionnaire wanting to know: Why aren't you making babies?

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Philippe Verheyden on Unsplash
 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Japanese Riddle

I have a whole bunch of jokes created at the Japanese people's expense... and while I think they are funny - because every joke usually picks on someone or something people care about - I have decided to shelve them.

But what I do have, is an English written version of a Japanese riddle. It's non-offensive, though I suppose someone might find something offensive about it.

Here we go:

A Japanese ship sinks in the waters off Tokyo Bay. There is only one lifeboat. How many people are saved?

Nine people.

The explanation: In the Japanese language, the word for lifeboat is "kyuu-mei".
It is also Japanese for "nine people". 

See... fun. Unless you know someone in that ship that sank... or hate lifeboats.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Past And Future Of Japanese Automobiles

Okay... even I admit this is filler, because I'm short on time to write something better, but what a photo montage!

What we have here are booth babes at an automobile show showing the latest in Japanese architecture.

The Nissan pictured on the left looks like a 1960s car, while I can only assume the car on the right depicts a concept car built by a Japanese auto manufacturer showing their vision of what the car of the future might look like.

Is it me, or are the wheels on the future car looking more like a Stark prototype hover car, or are the rounded wheels merely hidden by the full skirting that the booth babe has obviously failed to mimic. Not that I'm complaining.

Back in the 1950s when Japan's automobile industry was struggling to right itself after the horrors of WWII, the average Japanese family could not afford a family car. And why would you need one, when the country was already establishing its terrific train network for commutes between cities, had excellent buses and taxis, and bicycles were readily available.

Back then, it was still possible to live and commute without having to live outside the city where one called home.

As such, the Japanese automobile industry catered its business to markets outside of Japan, such as to North America and Europe.

However, even then nothing could compete against the might of the American auto industry, with its heavy steel and chrome machines that made the Japanese economical vehicle look like cheap toys.

It was a reputation that persisted through the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. In Canada, however, it was more than willing to accept Japanese cars as not only driveable, but as luxurious and fun.

My father had a 1981 Nissan Stanza, a 1984 Toyota Camry station wagon, and a 199s Toyota Camry station wagon... the later two I inherited and drove into the ground well into the year 2000. In between, I had a 1986 Mazda 323... a car the Japanese knew as the Familia.

In North America, it was originally called a GLC, then 323, then simply the Mazda 3. Personally, I miss the Camry wagons... they were full loaded with all the bells and whistles, and could really move quickly down the still uncrowded Toronto highways.

I did purchase a 2001 Hyundai Tiburon (it's Korean, but bear with me)... and when I drove it down to Chicago, I had people come up to me and ask me just what the heck I was driving because they had never seen anything like it. My point, is that even then, foreign cars... and I mean Japanese cars, were still a bit of a rarity in the U.S.

Sure there were Audi's and BMW's and Mercedes in the U.S., all considered luxury or sporty cars, but back at the turn of the 21st century, Americans still preferred to buy American.... regardless if the Japanese cars were being built in American factories (or Canadian ones).

Obviously what really drew my attention in the above photo were the booth babes.. the Japanese models whose job it was was to pose in front of the cars, and when the male customer asked the same old joke question, "Do you come with the car?" they would cover their mouth and snicker, "Oh, you..."

I must admit that prior to my three year jaunt in Japan, I really loved the look of the classical Japanese kimono, as nothing said Japan more than that!

Since then, the sexy, short skirted Japanese model has come to be more of an eye catcher for this old bugger, who freely admits he likes the thigh high boots...  but really hates the tiny futuristic car designs.

By the way... did you notice that the future car doesn't seem to have any doors? Me either. Still, I would assume that would imply it's not a very fast car, and is loaded with a whole bunch of safety features, and may even be driverless...

Personally, the whole concept of driverless cars is a complete waste of money. Or am I the only person who still likes to drive his own car?

I don't even care if I have to sit in traffic for hours... I still enjoy being in control of a car. 

Someone bring back tail fins! And maybe a bubble top!

Look at this American concept car from the 1950s. Are you telling me you wouldn't want to drive this car that highly resembles the torpedo bras of the era? I mean it has a hood scoop and everything! Okay... I can see how parking might be a bugger, but you have to admit this car is a head turner



Banzai,
Andrew "I'm currently driving a Nissan Micra SV" Joseph

 

Late

Yes... I am late... and will have something up between midnight my time and noon on Wednesday.
Sorry.
AJ

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

First Day On The Job

This past Monday, I started work at a new job, as the so-called Editor-in-Chief at a national magazine celebrating its 80th anniversary with the very next issue going out in one week's time.

What, me worry?

Actually... no.

Before any new or somewhat traumatic event, the evening before is such a stressful time that I break out in acne, have a twitchy stomach or fail to go to sleep.

But last night... much like the night before I had my first team-teaching event on the JET Programme in Japan at Ohtawara Junior High School in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken back in September of 1990... I was actually kindda calm.

Back then, I had just reinvented myself a couple of years previous upon entering the journalism program at Humber College in Toronto... becoming more outgoing... less shy, and infinitely more talkative.

I know, I know... you can't believe I was shy or not talkative, but I was. Painfully so. I was still afraid to talk to women, but I did - and even had a few dates... and by the second year, I was dating three women at once. A blond, a brunette and a redhead. Really.

I wasn't sleeping with them, and if you asked any of them they would have said we had gone out on dates (plural), but we weren't dating. Pa-tay-toe, poh-tah-toe. What's important is how I interpreted it in my head... part of the reinvention process.

I learned I really could control how I felt. If I felt like it.

As such... the night before my first class, I wasn't nervous at all.

What's the worse that could happen? I had finally unleashed the gift of gab I had always possessed amongst my small cadre of nerdy friends (I'm a nerd), so having stage fright talking wasn't going to happen.

And besides... my first class... and all of the first time appearances in front of other classes... and at six other junior high schools... that was to be my self-introduction.

That's where I talk about me to others. Tell them about myself... who I am... who and what I have done in the past... tell them about others in my life...

It was the forerunner to my blog. In an oral tradition rather than written down.

And... while all I did was talk in English while the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) translated my ramblings into Japanese, I realized for perhaps the first time, that MY story wasn't as dull as I thought it was when I was living it.

They really loved that Neapolitan ice cream joke regarding those three different hair colored women.

And here's why... the young guys in the class all thought I was a pervert for dating these women at once - which was both an insult and a compliment by them, I soon realized... as after class they gathered around to ask me more questions in English (!!!)... and the young dudettes... they were trying to figure out just why this nerd was able to get three women to go out with him...

News of that triple-dating scenario actually made the rounds outside of the school, as older brothers and sisters were told... and later when I finally broke up with Ashley (or she with me, depending on how revisionist we want to be today), I suddenly had all of these single, young Japanese women - the older sisters of my students, it would appear - wanting to date me.

I've already written about that in other blogs...

The point? Confidence begets more confidence. Or something like that. Hmmm... I thought I had a better point to make. Oh well.

As for my first day at my new job yesterday? Well... I managed to spill hot coffee down the front of my shirt. Comedy gold.

Still... it didn't bother me, or I didn't let it bother me, and had a really fun time.

Somewhere with a drinking problem,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Green Slime

When I find something interesting on the station, I certainly do enjoy watching TCM - Turner Classic Movies on television.

It's why I watched Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven, an American version of Kurosawa Akira's (surname first) Seven Samurai classic... which itself was inspired by American westerns.

Preceding it that night was The Blob, an American monster movie classic that I had never seen on TV before. It also starred Steve McQueen. It was actually quite a good flick! Perhaps realizing that showing too much of the monster, owning to the cost of special effects in the 1950s, or the lack of sophistication in such effects, The Blob didn't show the creature very much.

If only such restraint had been shown in the movies following the Steve McQueen bundle on TCM, specifically The Green Slime, a 1968 monster movie.

Since I had not even heard of this movie until I saw it listed, speaks volumes... but what the heck... in for a penny, in for a pound.

The Green Slime started off quite well... decent enough science... and a plot that was eventually stolen by the sci-fi disaster flick Armageddon. In Armageddon, a group of deep-core drillers is sent to space by NASA to load explosives deep into an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

In The Green Slime, some space jockeys ride a rocket out from a space station set that looked like it was borrowed from the British marionette TV show The Thunderbirds a few years previous, to an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. They job is to plant some explosives by digging into its surface in the hope that it blows up before striking Earth.

The plot for The Green Slime differs when the astronauts encounter a green slime that gets all over their equipment, and they inadvertently carry it back with them to the return rocket and thus to the space station. To the movie's credit, the astronauts all underwent a decontamination procedure, but said procedure did not kill the alien slime.

The slime grew, and then morphed into a really crappy-looking alien... which is when the movie falls flat on its face.

If they had only worked with a green slime monster rather than an alien that grows from the slime, it would have been a better movie... though even then I'm unsure.

So what has this to do with Japan? I've mention Steve McQueen, The Magnificent Seven and the Seven Samurai and Kurosawa... but none are directly related to The Green Slime.

The Green Slime (ガンマー第3号 宇宙大作戦, Ganmā Daisan Gō: Uchū Daisakusen was directed by Fukasaku Kinji (surname first), and produced by Walter Manley and Ivan Reiner. It was written by William Finger, Tom Rowe and Charles Sinclair based on a story by Reiner.

Wait a minute... William Finger... Bill Finger... the guy who co-created Batman??!!?? with artist Bob Kane. Yes... the very same. Sigh.

The Green Slime was filmed in Japan using the Japanese director Fukasaku, along with a Japanese film crew, but with a non-Japanese cast.

It starred Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel (the training sarge from The Dirty Dozen), Italian actress and former Bond Girl Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball), who despite her beautiful red hair and curvaceous fleshy parts, was quite wooden in The Green Slime.

American Robert Dunham was also in The Green Slime playing Captain Martin... he lived in Japan during the 1960s, and in the 1964 flick Dogora, he played Mark Jackson. He also played Antonio, Emperor of Seatopia in 1973's Godzilla vs. Megalon. He sometimes was billed as Dan Yuma or Danny Yuma.

The rest of the cast were mostly semi-professional or amateur actors - meaning, if you were a White dude living in Japan in the 1960s, you could have been part of this... mess.

Here... I'm taking this from Wikipedia:

The Green Slime was a co-production between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Toei Film Company. MGM provided the funding and script while Toei provided the film crew and location to shoot the film.
The original storyline for The Green Slime originated in Italy, where MGM also had dealings. Years before The Green Slime went into production, MGM had contracted Italian filmmaker Antonio Margheriti to direct what was originally intended to be a series of four television movies about the adventures of a space station called Gamma One. Margheriti's films in the series consisted of Wild, Wild Planet, War of the Planets, War Between the Planets and Snow Devils, all created over a period of three months and released in 1965. MGM was impressed with Margheriti's films and released the four films theatrically. Gamma One producers Manley and Reiner were eager to take advantage of these films and made The Green Slime as an unofficial fifth entry in the film series. The only connection the film had to Margheriti's films is the space station, retitled Gamma Three, which had a similar design as the one in Margheriti's films.

-30-

Wow... four movies made in three months...

Anyhow... a truly horrible movie was The Green Slime.

Of true historic note however, is that The Green Slime was the very first movie speared in the pilot episode of the film-mocking television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1988.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Uncle Scrooge Turning Japanese

For me, being a strange lad, there's nothing quite as cool as seeing my favorite comic book characters brought to life in a medium outside the norm.

It's why I like watching the new animated DuckTales on TV, starring Uncle Scrooge McDuck, nephew Donald Duck (on occasion) and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie Duck... along with out-of-the-pantheon characters Webby (voiced by Raj's social anxiety girlfriend from TV's The Big Bang Theory, and Velma from some of the newer Scooby Doo cartoons) and Launchpad (voiced by Terence McGovern - who when he was doing voice-over work on THX 1138 (1971) for George Lucas, he made a blunder and exclaimed, "I think I ran over a wookiee back there." Lucas, confused, asked what he meant by the term. McGovern admitted that he didn't know and added that he simply made it up. Lucas later immortalized the word years later in his book Star Wars and the movie Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope  - 1977).

See.... you never know what you are going to learn here. 

I never watched the original series in the 1980s... I must have thought I was too grown up, or more than likely felt that if they couldn't be bothered to have Donald Duck in it, I wasn't interested.

At least the 2017-present version has Donald.

Anyhow... I have been known to enjoy playing video games. I was around for the birth of the industry, and along with always being able to find a quarter in my pocket, I had the home versions as well, from Pong, to Magnavox, Sega versions, Nintendo stuff, and now Sony stuff - as well as the earlier handheld games from Sega, Nintendo and the earlier football and baseball games. If it beeped, I had it.

Being a Disney Duck fan, as well as a teenager and then adult meant never really having a video game one could play where it wasn't just for kids. It sucked.

And then along came Kingdom Hearts... where Mickey Mouse had more of a role, while Donald was shunted off to the sides.

I've never understood this. While Mickey Mouse may indeed have launched the Walt Disney empire back in the late 1920s, it was Donald Duck that was/is remains a global force.

Everyone still thinks Mickey is the best, but really, it's the manic antics of Donald and his nephews that entertained the masses via comic books from the 1940s onward... more comic books, better stories... and the best artist/writer... in fact Carl Barks is perhaps one of the top three artists in the world of comicbookdom, and is the inspiration to me for me and my curious, adventurous mind.

Even nowadays, Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge (the latter an invention of Carl Barks in the comic books) remain top duck in the magical world of Disney in both comic books and television programming.

Mickey Mouse was always the Fred McMurray type (the dad from the My Three Sons TV show of the 1960s - calm and cool), while Donald was the real every man... a guy who tried his best, got angry, still loved his boys (nephews... he has permanent possession of them, it seems considering something dire must have happened to their mother, his sister, Ella - originally Dumbella in the signed note in the nephews first appearance in a cartoon)... Donald Duck is the average guy. The guy at the bottom of the totem pole... the guy who gets all the wet in the trickledown theory.

So... when a video game finally came out for a more mature gamer - Kingdom Hearts - I gobbled it up. It was still a Mickey dominated game, but I treasured every moment Donald was in it.

What we have here, is a bit of the action from the Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep video game released in 2010 for the PS3 and PSP.

Strangely enough, I've never played this game in the Kingdom Hearts series... so I'll find it and play it. Yeah... I'm still playing the PS3, while my son plays the PS4. I prefer the 3.

It shows lead character Sora and Scrooge McDuck interacting... and here's the cool part... while the first half is in English, at the 1:44 second mark, it's in Japanese. In subtitles and vocalized Japanese.



You still don't to play as a Duck, but again... a treasured moment with Scrooge McDuck. Sigh... I want my Donald, too.

By the way... I haven't confirmed this with my brother, but I'm pretty sure he wrote an episode of the new DuckTales show. I hate him. :)

He was probably too scared to tell me, because he knew this was a dream for me. It's okay... I'm living vicariously.

By the way... he's been dating an Ashley for about seven years now.

Monkey see...

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Miki Sudo: Competitive Eater

I'm taking a bit of a leap here, but the 2018 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Championship was won by Miki Sudo who ate 37 hot dogs (buns and wiener) in 10 minutes.

It was her 5th win at the event in a row.

Sudo's father is Japanese, and her mother Euro-American. She was born in 1985 in New York City, but moved with her family to Japan when she was five years-old, living in Japan for seven years before the entire family returned to the U.S.

Her total of 37 hot dogs wolfed down isn't her best total, and is her lowest total since she gobbled down 34 in 2014.

In 2015 she consumed 38 hot dogs; in 2016 it was 38.5; and in 2017 she managed to get 41 hot dogs down her gullet.

The above photo is from this year's event, and yeah... it's hardly flattering... then again, no speed eating competition really is.

As such, here's an image of Miki Sudo from a few years ago:

As of this article's publication, I am now the editor of a major Canadian food magazine in my day job. I love food, know a thing or two about it, can't cook, but sure as heck know how to eat it.

I've been to slaughter houses and seen animals killed and made into various meat products that I gladly ate. I love sausages, and I sure as heck love hot dogs. I've eaten a few of each this past week.

But 37 hot dogs consumed in 10 minutes... man... I think stuff like that and the men's winner Joey Chestnut and his 74 hot dogs devoured are intriguing, but I actually like to taste my food.

You know... enjoy it.

Anyhow... because I know you want to see it, here's a clip of the 2018 women's event:



Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: On an unrelated story, Steve Dikto, the co-creator of Spider-man, and one of the best comic book artists ever, was found dead on June 29, 2018 at the age of 90. RIP, Steve.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Mind Your Pees And Cues

Y'know... every time I see an image on digital media that purports to be a real photo showing a Japanese translation into English gone awry, I question it.

Messing with a photo is child's play nowadays.

That's my cue to present you with this query... do you think the above photo is untouched or touched?

Personally, I would like to believe that the English translation is just wildly incorrect. I like a chuckle as much as the next chuckling bastard.

However... the majority of the writing here is in katakana, rather than kanji.

If the sign is in place to warn both Japanese men and foreign men to please try and pee into the toilet and to try and NOT pee on the floor... surely there are a lot of kanji that could have been used to say "please", "urinate", "precision", and "elegance". I'm sure kanji exists for these words. I'm sure they are no alien to the Japanese language. Why use katakana?

There are a total of two kanji symbols in the entire sentence.

Generally speaking, the katakana alphabet is use to write foreign words when there are no similar Japanese words.

And that's why I think it's a fake.

Sigh.

It would have been mildly amusing if it was real... but now it's just sad.

Who wastes their time trying to make one culture look ignorant?

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Japan Cleans Up At World Cup 2018

There have been many instances of Japanese politeness globally, but Japan's National soccer team took things to yet another level.

Earlier this week after losing a heartbreaking game to Belgium 3-2 to bow OUT of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Japanese national soccer team, aka the Blue Samurai cleaned up their dressing room, leaving it spotless and writing a note in Russian simply saying "thanks".

An all class move.

Banzai, Blue Samurai, banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fourth Of July In Japan

Happy Fourth of July to all the Americans. It's the 242nd anniversary of the commemoration of the declaration of independence from Great Britain.

Of course, the actual Declaration of Independence was voted on and agreed to on July 2, 1776... so I guess I should have said something two days ago.

Most of my friends are American. Most of the people I met outside of the Japanese in Japan were also American. My best friend in Japan was American. The first woman I ever slept with was American... and yes, that was in Japan. Heck, the guy I talk to most these days is also an American.

Personally, I think they are all closet-Canadians, so I'll just leave the door open a crack in case they ever want to leave the closet.

As such, I have a lot to be thankful for... thanks, America.

I'm pretty emotionally burned out these days. These past weeks... work and stuff... my muscles ache in my shoulders, my body and brain are tired from being unable to sleep...

I'm just anxious, I suppose.

I was like this when I realized back in July of 1990 that I was going to Japan as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme... and I suppose many of you may feel the same way as you embark upon the same journey I did 28 years ago this month. Don't worry... Japan will be a fun learning experience for you as long as you go in with an open mind about everything.

You can NOT go with the idea that whatever you see the Japanese do is dumb relative to however your country does something. It's a different way of doing things, and they do them that way because they have determined that that is the best way of doing it.

No matter how hard you try and convince them (Japanese) otherwise, they have their reasons. You learn that little lesson and keep it tucked away in your brain and you'll have a less stressful time and will be able to fill your soul with awe and wonderment.

"You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel,
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around."

One month from now, this blog - Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife will be celebrating it's 10th anniversary... which is pretty cool.

Much like my trek to Japan, I figured I was one and done in a year. I certainly did not expect I would be writing about Japan 28 years later, nor doing so for 10 years let alone writing every single damn day since February of 2011.

It's been a cathartic thing for me... it helps me clear my brain, while 99 percent of the time allowing me to learn something new about the country or something new about myself.

To quote The Grateful Dead, "lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip its been."



Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: At the very top we have an ukiyo-e entitled Ikenohata Hanabi (Fireworks at Ikenohata Pond), by artist Kobayashi Kiyochika (1870-1917).
PPS: Video above my signature is Truckin' by The Grateful Dead in 1972. And that bit that's all in italics up above... it's also from this song.
PPPS: What's interesting is that I was only going to use that long, strange trip line... but when I examined the lyrics to the song in greater detail, that italicized paragraph said what I wanted to say. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Japan Out Of 2018 World Cup Of Soccer

I was watching Japan play Belgium on Monday afternoon (it was a holiday in Canada). Japan lost 3-2.

Through the first half of the game, it was like watching young boys try to keep up against fit men... with Japan being the boys.

Belgium simply dominated them... and was impressed enough by the Japanese defense as much as I was disappointed in Belgium's lack of finish in scoring. Still... it was 0-0 at half-time.

And then something weird happened... Japan on a counter-attack (that's where you have been defending your ow goal and get to bring the ball out of your end quickly)... a beautiful play and presto, Japan was up 1-0.

I was still stunned when minutes later Japan did it again, scoring from just outside the box  - a distance most players won't shoot from... though I have no idea why... because when I played, it was a viable opportunity... and obviously Japan thought the same in this instance. Anyhow... 2-0 Japan after about 50 minutes...

And then I switched channels because I was trying to see the score of a baseball game... and when I came back a minute later it was 2-1. I went away again a few minutes after that to check on the baseball score... and when I came back it was 2-2.

It wasn't unexpected, as Belgium had clearly been the dominant team, aside from a few excellent runs by Japan that netted them the two goals.

With the score tied 2-2, and the 90 minutes having expired, the game goes into what is know as "injury time"... where the referee can decide just how many minutes should be added on because someone was lying and rolling on the ground from some phantom menace... or perhaps there was a minute-long celebration after a goal... and in this game there were four goals... and four minutes of injury time added on.

With 2-1/2 minutes gone in injury time, Japan had a corner kick... and wasted 320 seconds setting it up... and to better its odds, sent most of its half-backs forward to try and help the forwards score.

But that's when we all got to see that as good as Japan's counter-attack was, Belgium had one, too.

Breaking down with an odd man advantage, Belgium scored with about 30 seconds left in injury time, absolutely crushing the soul of every Japanese soccer fan.

It was a very nice goal, and to be honest... Belgium was full marks for the victory... indeed, the better team won.

Even if the score had remained tied, the teams would have to play an additional 30 minutes of soccer... and I would have been okay with that, because that second half was some of the best soccer I've seen this tournament... and it was clean... nothing dirty... nothing fake. Just good soccer.

During this extra time, regardless if someone scores... it is played out to its entirety... in other words, no sudden death overtime. 

Had the score remained tied after the extra time, it would have gone to penalty kicks. While I understand the necessity of having a winner, and realize the players are already dead tired after 120+ minutes... I still hate penalty kicks being used to decide a winner.

It's like in NHL regular season hockey... you play a complete team game for whatever length of time, and then the game is decided on individual skill. I DO find it exciting, but having gone through this in soccer, I hated it when we won by penalty kicks (I scored on my one and only attempt)... and I'm sure I would have hated it even more had I lost that way.

Oh well... Japan lost a fantastic soccer game against Belgium who were/are the better team. No shame in that.

While I gave Japan's team the cold shoulder for its honor-lacking display in a 1-0 loss against Belgium that made them play safe, penalty-free boring soccer in that loss to advance to this game of Final 16... the Belgium match was great.

No shame in this loss, lads. Your honor has been restored.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, July 2, 2018

Felice Beato - Photographer of Edo-era Japan

So… I was looking through my e-mail when Pinterest said – here’s some pins you might like, and up pooped a hand-colored image of a Japanese guy hefting a large bundle of stuff in a photograph taken in the 1860s by Italian-British photographer Felice Beato.

Beato was born in Venice, then part of what was known as the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in 1832. He died in Florence on January 29, 1909 in what was know was known as the Kingdom of Italy.

Beato moved to Yokohama Japan in 1863 - a time when travel to and from Japan was still restricted, but did so anyway, joining English cartoonist and artist Charles Wirgman there, a gentleman with whom he had previously traveled with from India to Hong Kong.

There in Yokohama, they formed the business known as Beato & Wirgman, Artists and Photographers, working there between 1864-1867.

The partnership created one of Japan's earliest commercial photographic studios, with Beato creating portraits, landscapes as well as a series of photographs that documented the scenery and sites along the Tokaido Road - something that both renowned Japanese artists Hiroshige and Hokusai did in ukiyo-e form.

Wirgman would produce drawings based on Beato's photographs, and Beato would photograph some of Wirgman's original art. As well, some of Beato's photos were used to create engravings for Aimé Humbert's Le Japon illustré and other works.

Because Beato would accompany foreign delegations in their tours of Japan, Beato was allowed access to parts of Japan commonly off-limits to the usual traveler, even photographing decapitated heads of those who had displeased the shogun or daimyo in some fashion.

Besides the high quality of his work, Beato's photography is highly prized for its peak at the Edo-era ruled by the shogun.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Once There Was A Way...

So… last week, I gave my two week’s notice at the magazine where I have worked for the past 13+ years.

I am going to go to another magazine, where I will be the lead editor on it. I’m not going to say what or where until the day I start, but suffice to say that leaving my old job for this was difficult.

When I left Toronto in July of 1990, boarding a plane to travel to Japan to teach English on a one-year contract in a small rural city known as Ohtawara-shi (Big-Rice Field-Field City) in Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), I was leaving behind the only home I had ostensibly know. I was born in London, England, but left when I was three.

No… my current job move isn’t like that, however. I always knew I could go back to Toronto at the end of my one-year contract on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

Mid-way through my first year in Ohtawara, my Board of Education boss, Hanazaki-san (Mr., Hanazaki) asked me if I had given any thought to staying or going back home when my contract was up.

Considering that I didn’t really want to go to Japan in the first place, I surprised myself by smiling and telling him how much I loved Japan and how I would love to stay another year.

It was all true. I had a girlfriend (an American) I was sleeping with whenever we weren’t arguing and being broken up… so every other week… I had made new friends, such as Matthew, Kristine and Jeff, and countless others on the JET program, and the scores of Japanese people I had met in Ohtawara… oh… and the kids… wow… what a fun place Japan was. Heck… I even had the nicest apartment (three-bedroom LDK with two balconies, and a western washroom area, A/C and heating, and a queen-sized bed…

Besides… there was nothing for me back in Toronto except friends and family. The journalism industry had taken it up the poop chute when the North American economy faltered weeks after I left Toronto.

So I stayed.

Mid-way through my second year, Hanzaki-san asked me again if I wanted to stay. He wasn’t so sure if I would, considering I was officially broken up with my American girlfriend, though we remained friends with benefits. At that time, he had no idea I was dating a Japanese university student who was interested in having as much sex with me as possible.

The fact that she also looked like an AV (adult video) superstar only added to constant bloodloss to my brain. The only hitch was that she didn’t want anyone to know about us…

Anyhow, I immediately said “Yes” to Hanazaki-san, telling him again just how much I loved Japan, and how I would love to stay forever if I could. See… bloodloss to the brain…

What I didn’t know, was that my Japanese girlfriend was a stalker. She was following me everywhere… she stopped going to school… would be outside my schools watching for a glimpse of me… and here’s the best part… I mean the worst part… along with teaching me how to tie her up and screw her brains out, she wanted us to have sex from the moment we were together until the moment I had to leave to go to work at one of the schools I taught at.

After constant abuse, one’s penis because painful to the touch… and trust me… there was constant abuse of my penis… but dammit… it was sex… raunchy, wet, holy crap I can’t believe I’ve been going for 12 hours straight sex. I learned how to achieve orgasm without ejaculation… so I could go forever, as long as I had a lot of orange juice and ice cream as fuel.

Anyhow… after days, and then a week or more of actually NOT getting any sleep thanks to the constant demands for sex… I had to ask for help… because I was feeling quite bad about her quitting school and about how I was now feeling dangerously ill from sleep deprivation… actually… a teacher noticed I was in some difficulty… and when I told him, he told my board of education… and then they proceeded to wait for her to talk, and try and get her to leave me alone, taking her to her parents place… and then—they assured me—making sure she got some help for what was obviously some sort of mental health issue.

Yes… I actually had too much sex. No one ever has too much sex. But I did. 

Still, the fates were kind to me, as my third year was spent teaching the kids, working teaching adults in night for extra coin, and in complete debauchery the rest of the time.

And then I met Noboko. A teacher of English at one of my schools... and it was the best six months of my life at that time.

I wasn't asked again by Hanazaki-san if I wanted to stay a fourth year, because at that time, the JET Programme only allowed a maximum of three years... I had to go home.

I had to leave the only home I had for the past three years... the woman I loved and who loved me... my friend Matthew who was getting married... and a pretty damn easy and cool job in a pretty damn cool pace in Japan... to go back to Toronto, Canada to see my friends and family again... my sick mother... but really to a future of complete uncertainty.

No job. No idea what I wanted to do. Journalism? Heck... the industry was still feeling the after affects of the economy... no... I would have to look elsewhere.

I would be losing my independence... my own home where I was the shogun of the castle... to go and live back in my parent's house...

I didn't realize it either, but my three-years in Japan had completely changed me... would my friends still accept me... and would I accept my friends?

Fortunately, I still maintained some things, like my love of comic books, so at least I had one friend I could see weekly to visit the comic store... but the rest... it was difficult.

No one wanted to hear the endless (not quite) tales and adventures I partook in in Japan... not really. How could anyone relate if they had no interest in Japan's oddities and sameness that I found quirky and interesting? 

No... it's ultimately why I had to create this blog. In 2009. Sixteen years after I left.

So... leaving my magazine after 13 years... difficult, sure... but at least while there are a few unknowns, at least it wasn't as stressful as the exit I had to do from Japan.

For all of the JETs who are leaving Japan later this month... I feel for ya... but know that at least the future is wide open to you.

Don't fug it up.

Banzai and Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Happy birthday Canada!
PPS: Photo at top - yup... that's me... sitting ON my west balcony where I used to sit dangerously on the ledge of my third floor apartment catching the sun while reading a book. I did that every weekend through the summer in Ohtawara. Man... that was some great hair. I miss it all... hair included. Photo by Matthew leaning out from my north balcony. On the plus side, since this photo, 27 years ago, my legs have become far more muscular. The rest of me, too - bigger and wider in the right spots... though aside from the legs, I also got heavier and wider in all the wrong spots as I got older. Sigh.
PPPS: Title for this blog taken from The Beatles song, Golden Slumbers - a medley from the Abbey Road album that goes into the song Carry That Weight, concluding with The End: