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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Japanese Rice And The Health Conundrum

The Japanese people sure do eat a lot of rice, adding it to their breakfast, lunch and dinner meals.

I asked some Japanese folk back in the early 1990s, if they ever got bored of eating rice two or three times a day, everyday. I asked individuals to avoid getting a group mentality answer.

Everyone answered that "no" they don't get bored.

Why? I naively asked.

“Because I am Japanese.”

It makes sense if you are Japanese.

They said it was the same way we “North Americans” eat bread. When I replied that it’s not common for us to include bread with every meal, every day, it was like I had destroyed some part of their mind-set… that things they were told about us gaijin were not… actually true?

LOL!

But here’s another question… why is it that the peoples of Japan and China, two nations known for their daily consumption of rice. We’re talking carbs, baby. How come they aren’t all fat?

Japanese folk, for example, have the second highest life-expectancy at 85.30 years (per information from 2017 - at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html - after Monaco which is at 89.40 years.) Yes... it's the CIA website. Canada is at 21 (81.9), the U.S. is at 43 (80.0).

And, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Japan has obesity rate of only 3.5b percent. For reference, the U.S. is at 35 percent, implying that 35 out of 100 people in the U.S are considered to be obese.

So… why… if eating carbs the way the Japanese do, aren’t the Japanese more obese as a population?

Well, if one were to follow Japan’s recommended daily dietary guide, they should eat plenty of grains (rice), fish and soybean-related products. All are low in fat.

Aside from possible eating fish and chips or fish tacos, how much fish does the average North American eat? I’m having pan-seared fresh salmon tonight - something I am eating once a week (a fairly recent accomplishment), but holy smokes, the Japanese eat fish a lot more often than that.

Still, the mitigating factor would be Japan’s ability to not eat as much processed foods as us North Americans, with far less fried foods, and far fewer snacks consumed on a daily basis. How much sugar do we consume?

But don’t carbs turn into sugars in our body?

Yes… but there are three types of carbs (aka carbohydrates): sugar, starch and fiber.

During the digestive process of say, rice, both sugars and starches are turned into the sugars that the body uses for energy, but because we do not have the enzyme required to properly digest fiber, it goes through us without being converted into sugar.

White rice, has very little sugar… though the exact amounts depend on the variety of rice you are consuming. It will still cause a spike in your glucose levels… meaning people like me who are a Type II Diabetic still have to be aware that too much rice can be a bummer.

Eating fiber helps to minimize spikes in blood sugar and it is recommended that people with diabetes eat between 20-35 grams of fiber per day. The The American Diabetes Association suggest a target of about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal for those wishing to stem the onset of diabetes.

So… are the Japanese turning themselves into Type II Diabetics?

I’m sure some are, but it’s not an epidemic as it is in North America. I drank a ton of pop, ate plenty of cookies, ice cream and chocolate bars… so while I thought I was young and invincible, it turns out I wasn’t either.

The Japanese have other factors that help them stay healthier. One is their consumption of good foods such as soy, the other fish.

So what’s up with Japan? It really does come down to the quality of the food they eat, the smaller amounts of fat they ingest, and their activity levels.

If you eat a lot of carbs and fats, you have the tendency to become obese.

But, the Japanese eat high carb foods (rice and vegetables), but have that low intake of fat.

Seafood intake by the Japanese contains high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids (there is a current debate about its health benefits), and they avoid heavily processed foods.

But what about exercise?

Don’t the Japanese tend to have these ridiculous work days? Uh, yeah… what’s up with that?

Well, the Japanese walk some 7,000 steps a day, while the Americans walk 5,000.

It may be why the Japanese are able to eat and have their body’s handle the higher intake of grains.

Right now, if we North Americans simply added more rice to our diet, our bodies would rebel.

We would have to add more fish, and drop our intake of sugars… and then we could add the rice and its carbs, which our body’s could THEN better handle…

Still.. I can recall an old Berkeley Breathed comic strip - Bloom County, where one of the characters was talking about all of the crazy diet fads going on, while another characters kept insisting that the best diet was to “eat less and exercise”.
My memory is still good enough to recall this gem from 30+ years ago. Probably because it's true. 

The Japanese seem to… and in fact are eating better and exercising.

Still… in Japan, its Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recently updated its food and dietary guidelines, because white rice could be a contributing factor to health problems.

It said in 2010, that a typical diet for the Japanese should contain 50-65% carbs, but should also consider eating healthier grains such as brown rice.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Vitchakorn Koonyosying on Unsplash


Monday, July 30, 2018

One Day At The Local Train Station

Here's a little something from my journal of writing from May 8, 1992.

It's an observation. It's also about how interesting stuff happens when you least expect it - especially when you are a foreigner living in Japan.

I was at the Nishinasuno-eki (Nishinasuno station) awaiting in line behind a Japanese person I did not know.

He turns to look at me, smiles, turns forward to the Japanese JR (Japan Rail) man at the ticket counter and begins speaking to him in English.

Why? I assume it was for my benefit. 

To be fair, from what I heard, that passenger's English was pretty good, without too much of a heavy accent.

The Japanese ticket purchaser says in English: "One ticket to Tokyo."

The JR man gives him two tickets.

I assumed initially it was because he saw me standing there with him. But I learned that wasn't the case with the next line from the Japanese ticket purchaser.

He says: "No, no... one ticket for Tokyo."

The JR man gives him two more tickets for a total of four.

This confuses the Japanese customer in front of me, who now reverts back to Japanese, as he scratches his head trying to figure out what to do next, as he mutters "Eh-toe" (I've phoneticized it), which in English means "Well..."

The JR man gives him four more tickets for a grand total of eight tickets in the guy's hands.

The Japanese customer stops hemming and hawing and horsing around, and after a quick explanation in Japanese, he gets it all sorted out.

He ended up purchasing my ticket, too, giving back six others to the JR ticket man.

I wasn't going to Tokyo, but what the heck... my travel distance was less, so it still worked out for me.

I can't be sure, but I'm betting that Japanese dude will never show off his English language skills again trying to impress a gaijin/foreigner.

To be honest, I'm unsure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 7

Today, July 29, is the 28th anniversary of me setting foot in Japan as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

Young then, I write this now feeling old, as more time has passed for since I arrived than before I arrived. IE, I was younger than 28-years-old.

For an honest review of what that first day was like, please read my old article YYZ, HERE.

For now… let me impart some last advice for you newbies on the JET Programme that could save your life or prevent major embarrassment.

Drinking in Japan. Everyone does it. Sort of.

Hey… not everyone drinks alcohol, and if you are one of those people like my buddy Vinnie, not to worry.

Yes, Japan is fueled by alcohol when its society is done with its oppressive work hours and the group is expected to drink together… but it is okay if you refrain.

For the foreigner/gaijin who is going to Japan for the first time, you will want to make a good impression with your Japanese cohorts.

There will be a welcome party for you, the board of education and all of the Japanese teachers of English you will work with.

Before that, there will perhaps be your boss taking you out to a nearby restaurant after you arrive at your hometown for the first time.

Heck, even your fellow prefectural AETs (assistant English teachers) might want to get together for a snort.

Whatever the case, you have three options.

1) Drink like the fish that you are.

2) Refrain from drinking period.

3) Have a sip for the toast that opens the party and switch to juice or water or cola or whatever.

I was a partaker of point #1. I could drink, and I could out-drink most people. I never had a hangover. I might get the spins, puke (six times, ever), but I’ll never really pay for it with a banging headache. Just the morning dry-mouth. I am the exception, and not the rule.

For the record... I don't drink much of anything anymore except Coke Zero Sugar. By choice, I might add.

In Japan... well... after downing several glasses of sake (Japanese rice wine)—it looks like water and tastes like water in the hot July/August humidity, but it has a habit of sneaking up on you 20 minutes later—I gained the nickname of “he-bi du-ri-n-ka” which translates exactly as what was said phonetically: "heavy drinker”.

It doesn’t man you are an alcoholic, rather that you can put it away.

For those who are in the Category #2...For dietary, religious, health or that's-who-I-am reasons, you may not want to drink. So don’t. Ask for a non-alcoholic drink. The idea behind these parties and get-togethers is to bond. You don’t really need alcohol to bond. It helps, but it’s not necessary. Be warned however… as the only sober person in the group, you will see a lot of loutish behavior from the men.

If you are a woman, someone will invariably make a comment about your boobs or Buddha help you, try and pinch your ass. Japanese work parties are like Las Vegas, however. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And in the Japanese party case, it is often best to forgive and forget… but recall enough to avoid being near that perpetrator at a drunken enkai/party ever again. I hope it’s not your boss.

My girlfriend and fellow JET, had her boobs lunged for and her ass grabbed by an old Japanese man at an international party. She told me about the incident and hung around me the rest of the night. My options were to ignore it or smash his face in. In this case, Japan… it’s best to play by the customs of the country.

Hmmm: And how figuring ridiculous is this whole thing now, when I write it all out!!!??!! Someone gets sexually assaulted and we’re all supposed to effing look away??!! Fug!

Look… I would get advice about such matters from your prefectural leader ASAP. I don’t have any advice other than that.

As for those who fall in under point #3... If drinking alcohol is NOT your thing and there is no reason for that decision other than the fact that you don’t want to be put in any sort of situation where you are not 100 percent in control, you could have a small mouthful of beer JUST for the opening kanpai/cheers, and then switch to no-alcohol drinks. It just shows you are trying to be part of the group, but still dislike alcohol to not make it a part of your Japanese diet.

Okay… are we done with drinking? Here’s the next piece of advice, and it deals with drinking.

Whether it’s alcohol or non-alcohol beverages, you are going to have to pee… and maybe even poop.

While the old-school Japanese toilets--the squat toilet--are more or less out of vogue and have been replaced, I can not guarantee that about any of the smaller towns or villages you may eventually visit.

I recent read a book that described the whole scene, but I found it to be in error.

In Japan, you may still find the squat toilet… a rectangular porcelain bowl that is sunken into the floor.

It is IN the floor.

An example of a Japanese squat toilet.
I remind you of this twice because on our very first night out in Japan (Evening number three for me... evening one was spent watching CNN and sleeping; two was with American cool and sexy chick Kristine and her Saga-ken AETs... I arrived in Japan earlier than many other AETs from around the world), Ashley, Matthew, Jeff and I were powering down some beers with the rest of our fellow AETs at a restaurant in Tokyo.

Jeff was the first to break and went looking for the washroom, stumbling through the restaurant kitchen, before being pointed in the correct direction by the cooks. He told us this later.

He stepped through the doorway to the men’s room, entered the toilet area and stepped in the rectangular porcelain bowl and then yelled in shock as his shoeless sock was now soaking wet. We all heard him scream and some of the others who hadn't had as much to drink actually got up to investigate.

Yes... Jeff had stepped into a Japanese toilet.

Here is something everyone who comes into contact with a Japanese squat toilet should consider:  you guys in particular... and women... I have no idea what the fug you should do, but if you are similarly dressed to men and wearing slacks, pants or jeans… then this advice is for you.

The squatter is in an enclosed room. Lock the door. Look at the door. There’s a clothes hook or two. Take off your pants and hang them up on the hook. You can do the same with your underwear. Who cares? This is your locked room.

The idea here is to avoid possible splash-back or poor aim causing problems for you down the road.

When squatting, face the area where the pipes are… You can either hold on as you squat, or use those thigh, calf and foot muscles to find the perfect squatting position (hands-free) to poop.

You are thinking… what? Hold onto the pipes where thousands of others have held? Ick!

What the fug do you care? You are going to wash your hands when you are done, right? With soap?

When you can, find a 7-11, and get a small, pocket-size bottle of liquid hand-sanitizer. As well, get a packet or three of small, personal tissues.

Public washrooms in Japan lack toilet paper and even paper towels to dry your hands. Better restaurants will have it, but public washrooms like at the train or subway station will not. Not usually.

Product brand representatives are always giving away small packs of tissue for use as toilet paper or snot rags. You might even be handed a small dish towel. Keep one of those handy in a backpack or handbag/purse to dry your hands. Wash it from time to time.

By the way... Japanese restaurants may require you to remove your shoes at the eating table (such as Jeff, Matthew, Ashley and I found that evening), and provide you with slippers for movement around the place… with plastic toilet slippers placed just within the doorway to the actual toilet.

When you use any such slippers, it is always a great idea to PRE-TURN then in the opposite direct from whence you came, making them easier to slip on and off… also the next person after you can easily access the toilet slippers… it’s a courtesy for others, and something that will make your own life a lot easier.

Let's change the subject.

You may notice that in the top image, I had scrawled in ¥3,600,000... that was what they paid us per year back in 1990. AFTER tax. I'm sure the figures I am presenting below are also after tax.

Back then it was abut US$36,000 or CDN$42,000 - a pretty hefty sum for someone coming out of school, looking for their first job and gaining a bit of adventure.

How have things changed? Well, here's what participants on the JET Programme earn now in 2018:
  • First Year: ¥3,360,000
  • Second Year: ¥3,600,000
  • Third Year: ¥3,900,000
  • Fourth and Fifth Year: ¥3,960,000
Work Hours per Week: 35 hours (maximum)35 hours (maximum)
Holidays and Paid Leave: All Japanese National Holidays PLUS 10 additional discretionary paid days off. You can take more time off, but it is unpaid.

As you can see, in 2018, JET participants actually make less in their first year than I did back in 1990. It's US$30,250 or CDN $39,500.

The second year salary is the same in Japanese Yen, but now equates to CDN$42,339 or US$32,420.

Which if you are taking into account cost of living increases et al, it sucks, considering everything is more expensive 28 years later. Sorry.

Third-year, it still comes in at US$35,000 or CDN$45,900 - which is better for Canadians than it is for Americans.

Fourth and Fifth year is CDN$46,5000 or US$35,600.

Any way you slice it, the rate of exchange works out a bit better for Canadians, but sucks big-time for my American cousins.

Lest you complain too much, however, let me tell you about a Japanese English teacher friend of mine, Inoue-sensei, who had 20 years of teaching experience. He made less than I did. He wasn't being punished, as he was up for a vice-principal position.

Japanese teachers work far more hours than us JETs, a solid 5-1/2 days a week that is far greater than a basic 9-5 scenario thanks to after-school club activities. They also have class Saturday mornings until 1PM, and are on-call 24/7 should a student get into any outside trouble such as... shoplifting... people call the school to get hold of the kid's homeroom teacher. Only after the situation is resolved, are the parents notified.

It's why teachers still hold a position of respect within Japan. Even you, as an assistant English teacher, are thus held in higher regard than the average working person in Japan... because you are a teacher.

So don't fug it up.

And never tell your Japanese cohorts your salary. I did, but I vowed to always answer any question in English asked of my by a Japanese person. They won't hold it against you for making what you earn, but it may make them feel bad about their own situation.

Inoue-sensei rationalized it well-enough by saying of course I should be paid more... to leave my home to come and work in a foreign land...

True... but that should only count against a teacher who has been on the job for a few years... not for a 20-year lifer!

Let me give you another bit of helpful advice. Once you land in Japan... stop converting the Japanese Yen into your Home currency. Just don't do it.

If you see something you want, buy it if you can afford it. If you can't afford it at such-and-such time, buy it when you can. If it is gone when you come back, then it wasn't meant to be. No regrets.

Okay... that’s all for now... if there are any of you newbies out there who have a question about anything, feel free to contact me. I will provide you with an honest answer or solution.

Okay... one more bit of sage advice...

Lastly... take it from me... a guy who who was there from 1990-1993... the time in Japan goes by quickly.

Enjoy yourself. Find ways to ensure you enjoy yourself. It doesn't have to include drunken forays or screwing yourself blind. It could be a bike ride to a nearby temple or a trip to a mountain or volcano, or a walk through a rice paddy or 20, or getting yourself an aquarium, or discovering a restaurant or, a novel idea, making new friends.

Go out... let yourself be seen. Take in everything. Make notes... because, as even the conversation I had last night with my friend and former JET Matthew will attest... memory fades.

I made notes on everything while I was in Japan... Matthew questioned me last night if I had made up things or if it was true. It's true. Sh!t happened.

I wrote down even my most innocuous and poisonous thoughts. Daily. Without fail. Ya never know what may one day prove to be of interest to someone else. I didn't write stuff down in 1990 because I was going to be a blogger. The Internet as it is now did not exist then. I wasn't even going to be an author. I just wrote stuff down so I could remember later to tell the kids or grandkids.

Everyday in Japan, a lot will happen if you let it.

And, as I found, after creating this blog since July of 2009, and taking to writing everyday as of February of 2011... after reading my notes, I had no idea I had done some of things I had done. Some were cool, some were stupid, some were kind, some were vicious. All were interesting.

But it was all my experience in Japan.

Now go make your own.

Kanpai/cheers,
Andrew Joseph
AET on the JET Programme 1990-1993

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Woman Who Proved American Racism The Reason For WWII Internment Camps

While the lead of this story might be for most the fact that a wonderful political activist American citizen died earlier this month, instead it’s the document she found and helped make public that is the crux of my dumbfoundment. That could be a real word.

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga died at the age of 93 on July 18, 2018 at her home in Torrance, California. Sad, but a nice age to be sure.

She was one of the many American citizens of Japanese decent who was interned by her own U.S. government during WWII.

I had always thought it was because the Americans feared the Japanese were 5th columnists - people who secretly support and help the enemy… in this case the Japanese.

I had always wondered - even as a pre-teen - just why the Americans of Italian and German decent weren’t afforded the same “courtesy”.

Canada—those polite people north of the main U.S. border—was equally as guilty as the U.S. in their treatment of native Canadian citizens of Japanese decent, also stripping them of citizen rights and property and locking them up in prison camps they call internment camps.

Herzig-Yoshinaga was born on August 5, 1924 in Sacramento, California to Japanese immigrant parents.

As a 17-year-old senior at Los Angeles High School, she learned that she and others of Japanese decent would not be granted their high school diploma.

The reason… a few months earlier, Japan had attacked the American naval base on the U.S. protectorate of Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

According to Herzig-Yoshinaga, her principal said: “You don’t deserve to get your high school diplomas because your people bombed Pearl Harbor.”

What? The United States of America bombed the Territory of Hawaii?

No… of course it was Japan… but since Herzig-Yoshinaga was born in California and was thus an American citizen, how could “your people” have bombed Pearl Harbor?

That’s where racism comes into the history of both Canada and the United States of America.

In the 1960s, with the war 20 years in the rearview mirror, Herzig-Yoshinaga was still obviously troubled by her country’s actions against her and other citizens of the fine nation squashed by Canada’s heinie.

Why was she denied the opportunity to graduate from high school? Why was she placed into the guarded Manzanar internment camp, with barbed wire and fencing in California’s desert designed to keep her hidden away from the rest of America?

Herzig-Yoshinaga looked for answers for years and years and years.

In 1982, she found the answer.

Buried in the Unites States of America National Archives, in a document written by Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, the official reason for the internment of the Japanese and Americans of Japanese decent during WWII was… racism.

Well… that answers my decades old query as to why Americans of Italian and German decent weren’t stuck in internment camps.

The document, notes that it would be better to intern the Japanese because it was “impossible to separate the sheep from the goats” when looking for spies among Japanese-Americans because of the cultural similarities of all.  

The official document called the Japanese and possible 5th columnists of Japanese background “sheep” and/or “goats”.

To which I say “Bah!”

Perhaps even shortly after the document was enacted on by the government against those of Japanese background, or perhaps it was years later when saner heads realized that if such a document ever came to light the whole country would be labeled as racist (I know, I know... Blacks, the indigenous populations, etc.), all of the copies were ordered destroyed.

Whether you believe if some Samaritan purposely left one copy hidden away for someone to find decades later, or if the United States government simply believed all copies were destroyed… the fact remains that one copy still exists, and was within the National Archives.

After the document came to light, it not only revealed American motives as being racially charged rather than of national security interests (It could have done the work to determine who was a 5th columnist and who was a simple high school senior, but those just to take the easy route and denounce those who fit the racial stereotype.

For those people who back in 1942 had refused to report to the internment camps and were instead charged with wartime convictions, were able to have their records vacated… granted some 40+ years later.

Perhaps more despicable that the United States’ actions in this shameful treatment of its own citizens, is Canada’s.

It just shamefully followed the United States lead. Canada had already been involved in WWII for over two years before the U.S. had stepped in, fighting against the Germans and Italians in the European and African theatre, respectively.

Japan attacking Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with Canada… our problem was were just good neighbors. Stupid, but good.

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga died at the age of 93 on July 18, 2018, and that should have been the story.

Instead, we get leadership fuelled by racism and laziness.

Let’s hope such a thing doesn’t happen again.

Oh… waitaminute…

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, July 27, 2018

Japan Executes Last Six Members Of Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult

The wait is finally over.

Japan has executed the six remaining members of Aum Shinrikyo, a cult that perpetrated a series of crimes against the people of Japan, culminating in a lethal Sarin gas attack on various Tokyo subway lines back on March 20, 1995.

The Aum Shinrikyo (the Supreme Truth, オウム真理教 Ōmu Shinrikyō) self-proclaimed to have over 9,000 members in Japan in 1995, with as many as 40,000 globally.

in case you have NO idea what I am talking bout regarding the Aum Shinrikyo, I invite you to take a look HERE for the first of four articles I wrote on the cult.

It’s about as in-depth as it gets without being preachy, and is written in a very easy to understand style.

Executions in Japan are done under a veil of secrecy, with not even the victim (?) having much notification before being secret away to the killing floor for hanging.

As such, the remaining six figures from within the cult awaiting their final justice kind of just snuck up on people, with Justice Minister Kamikaze Yoko (surname first) releasing the news at a press conference on July 26, 2018.

In fact, cult leader Matsumoto Chizuo (aka Sahara Shoko) - surname first - and the other five, were all executed by hanging back on July 6, 2018.

"It was (an) unprecedented level of extreme and serious crimes which must not happen again and terrified not only people in Japan but also foreign countries and shook the society," says Kamikawa.

That Sarin gas attack killed 13 people and assailed 6,000 others. And along with that terrorist attack, the executed cult members were also responsible for a host of other crimes.

Again, I urger you to read or re-read my four part series. Part one can be found in the link noted above, with the remaining three articles clearly featured with the other stories I had prepared that month.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 6


I would expect that you new JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme newbies are anxiously awaiting your flight to Japan, or already at a Tokyo hotel for orientation.

As such, allow me to present one final bit of advice.

You are going to find Japan one mother-fugging piece of culture shock.

You really are.

While your first few days will help you acclimatize you to the fact that Japan is filled will foreigners... the Japanese, you will upon arrival in your new town or city discover soon enough that you are the foreigner.

It will hit everyone, will culture shock.

For those of you who are already a person of color from an otherwise so-called white society, you will have a bit of an advantage.

You will already have experienced racism, more than likely, and as such, having the Japanese point and yell out "Gaijin" at you is less likely to affect your psyche, as opposed to some one who may not have experienced racism on a more or less daily basis.

Of course there are other forms of prejudice, and many of you will have experienced that (homosexual, nerd, ginger, for example)

Gaijin is the Japanese term used to denote an outsider or foreigner.

Regardless of who you are, for 99.9 percent of the Japanese people who use it, it is not meant to describe you in a negative fashion. Sort of. Actually, who knows how such people are thinking.

As such, try to let it bother you. You are an outsider... a foreigner... and for the next 12 months or five years, you will still be treated by the Japanese as a guest in their community.

They will marvel at how well you speak Japanese even if all you can say is "konichi-wa" (Hello), or how well you use chopsticks.

Don't think them ignorant blokes, rather this is simply a way for them to initiate a conversation. Go along with it and shoot your own comeback.

For the chopstick remark I would always respond with a "You, too." And then laugh. And then they would laugh. And then... well... I became that person who always seemed like he was happy.

Even if I wasn't. Because culture shock will get you.

Holy crap... there were times when I was glad that I was getting the mail for another English-speaker because the mailman was confused... at least I got to look at an envelope with real English in it. You know the Japanese speak Japanese right?

It wears on you after a while. Always having to duck your head when you enter a door. Having to wear indoor slippers or toilet slippers. Having to ride a bicycle to work when you know you have a car back home.

Not being able to find a comic book shop. Why is it so effing humid? Why are futons not as comfortable as my old bed? Where do I get my hair cut? (Hint: Bring a photo or magazine with you to show the barber/hairdresser exactly what you want!!!)

Can I even leave the house/apartment considering I don't know where I am or where anything is and even then, will anyone understand me?

If you live in a rural part of Japan... IE anyplace NOT Tokyo or Osaka... did you know that after 9PM the city rolls up the sidewalks? It's quiet... but dammit don't you want to go out to a club or a bar? Can I? What if I get drunk? Why do people want to use me for free English lessons? Can't they just leave me alone?

Japan will get to you. It will. So accept that it will, and move on.

Enjoy your new home... because home is what it should be.

Kanpai (Cheers)
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 5

Laundry can be a real dirty word.

When I arrived in Japan in 1990 as part of the JET Programme, I had not had the pleasure of ever having done my own laundry.

Fortunately, I had a basic understanding of what occurs. You toss in the dirty laundry taking care to separate the the colored clothes from the whites (two loads). You add in some laundry detergent - not too much - and fiddle with the knobs until you turn it on.... wait about 40 minutes and its done.

I was lucky enough to have my own washing machine in my new apartment in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

Unfortunately, the dials on it were all in Japanese, but at least my boss took the time to bring over one of the Ohtawara Board of Education women to show him how to use it, and he dutifully translated to teach me. Ya can't beat teamwork.

But pay attention to the directions!

Things may be slowly changing in Japan, but the designation of household duties such as laundry, cooking, cleaning and sewing are still, for most, a woman's domain. I'm not being sexist here. I'm just telling you how it is in Japan.

My washing machine was both a washer and a dryer, meaning that once it had been washed, rinsed and spun to a semi-dryness.

Maybe it would have done perfect dryness... I don't know... sometimes instructions get lost in translation.
My washing machine... and the gas heater that I would turn on to get warm water for the washer, the kitchen or bathroom sink or for the shower.
I would then take the semi-dry clothes and hang them on the dual laundry line on my North balcony.

Here's a bit of advice: When the sun goes down, the spiders come out.

I'm not talking about the little dime-bodied ones you have back in New York or wherever, I'm talking about ones with a body about two-inches wide and just as long and thick. That's just the body... and doesn't include the hairy legs, of which there are eight.

I don't like spiders (or snakes), and so... if I happened to leave my laundry out in the morning, and forgot to bring it in when the sun went down, I would leave it hanging overnight, because I wasn't going anywhere out there where the damn spiders were.

And, lest you think about killing them, please recall that the Buddha, when reincarnated, is suppose to come back in the form of a spider, which is why the Japanese do not kill spiders.

My advice is to simply go out and buy some spider death spray and kill them without telling your Board of Education office.

I told mine. My boss, Hanazaki-san, told me about the whole Buddha thing. Uh-oh, I thought, he's not going to let me kill the buggers.

I tried a final gambit. I explained that there was no way the Buddha in his reincarnated form would ever come back into the home of a non-believer.

He thought about it for a few seconds and smiled and said, let's go get you some spider spray.

My scenario may not work for you, but it might.

By the way... I bought the spider spray and sprayed the ever-loving crap out of them one day. Apparently they are quite safe and secure inside their say-time spider nest, so I got another bottle a couple of days later and waited until evening outside on my laundry-less balcony... waiting... waiting for the sun to go down... waiting until they emerged from their silken coven on my balcony's roof.

And then I sprayed and screamed like a scared little boy as they continued to drop down their silken threads towards my head... the spray seemingly to only cause them to have a slight cough.

I learned to live with them after that. Luckily I had a second balcony  - to the West - that I could use to look out and get some air.

Regarding laundry, I read in a book that one is NOT supposed to hang one's undergarments, bra, panties, tidy-whities, boxer-briefs, etc. on the same line you might hang your shirts, blouses, pants, socks.

Apparently it is a social faux pas to do so, as it is considered rude for your neighbors to have to spy such things.

Trust me... as a foreigner, or god help me, as a woman, people want to see what type of underwear you have. Curious and or perverse. Your choice.

So what do you do?

Walking around in semi-moist underwear sounds appealing to some, but it is recommended that you purchase an indoor "octopus" - a tripod laundry device for indoor use.

I had one, but I didn't know about the whole don't show your underwear outside thing. I did. Maybe it helped me get more women, or maybe all it did was upset lots of people, or maybe because I was on the third floor no one saw what I was showing.

I used my indoor laundry device as a way to better dry my clothes in the winter or during the rainy season.

For whatever reason, it was not always sunny in Ohtawara. It rained a lot... probably why it was such a hub of agricultural farming - apples, pears, rice.

I didn't want my semi-dry clothes getting mostly wet whenever there was a thunder and lightning storm... or during the typhoon season... of which there are two: Spring and late-Summer, so I used the indoor drying mechanism as my main clothes line.

That'll show those damn spiders, and won't show those nosy neighbors.

Kanpai (Cheers),
Andrew Joseph
PS: I highly recommend you iron your dry clothes so as to not look like a slob. If I can figure out how this stuff works, anyone can.
PPS: Photo by Caspar Rubin on Unsplash

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 4

I was recently reading a book on etiquette in Japan, and there was a short paragraph on how the Japanese would prefer it if everybody just sort of kept to themselves and avoided eye contact with people they don't know.

Apparently eye contact can be intrusive.

To that I say, fug that.

You aren't in Japan to be Japanese. You are there to be a representative... an ambassador of your country.

To that means fly straight and narrow, and don't get up into stupid stuff, like anything illegal that could not only get you arrested or in trouble but could also be an embarrassment to the JET Programme or your country.

Everything else should just be you being you, but with a dose of respect for the environment you are in.

By all means avoid making a loud jackass of yourself, but what the heck is wrong with having a looky-look?

Aren't you curious about the world around you?

Wait... let me ask that question of you when you don't have your head stuck down in your phone checking meaningless messages or tweets or playing stupid phone video games or talking inanely to someone on the phone.

Put the damn phone away and have a look around.

Look at the people. Look at how they are dressed and what they are doing and what the world looks like around you.

This trip to Japan to teach English is a godsend, my friend.

This is your chance to learn about a culture that is quite different from anything you have ever been involved with before.

Sure... avoid staring at people's eyes and making them uncomfortable with your stare or ogle.

But no... hold your head up and have a look around.

If it helps, wear sunglasses. Not the cheap ones you can buy at the corner store, but rather something that costs a couple of hundred dollars that actually shields your eyes from hurtful UV rays while allowing you to look at the world around you in relative anonymity.

I'm the type of guy who would even wear his sunglasses at night. Mostly because I was trying to look cool even though I knew I wasn't. But no one else need know that... except now, because well, who the fug cares?

I kept my eyes, ears and nose open in Japan as I took in the sights, the sounds, the smells.

When I hopped off the plane in Japan when I first arrived, I could smell jet fuel in the air, hanging there in the 37C humidity at around 9PM.

When I arrived at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo later and went for a walk, I did so with my eyes wide open and practically dared anyone to look at me.

I'm sure they did, because I was looking everywhere.

People are curious. I was. You should be too.

I hope you haven't being reading all those blogs that tell you the Best Place to Eat blah-blah-blah, or the Top place to find a Temple for the best photo opps.

Just go... fug all the advice... just go and enjoy yourself and discover Japan on your own terms with your eyes wide-open and your brain non-predisposed.

The best advice I can give any newcomer to Japan is to leave all of your petty foreign attitudes behind, and to accept Japan for whatever it is you discover it to be.

At least it will be on your terms.

Enjoy your time in Japan.

I didn't even want to go to Japan and tried to back out at the last minute until my father convinced me otherwise.

And I ended up staying for three short years. And I'd give anything to be able to do it all over again. Of course, I'd also have to be 25-years-old... but that wasn't so bad.

Kanpai (cheers)!
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Manuel Meurisse on Unsplash

Monday, July 23, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 3

Before you head to Japan for an extended stay on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, beginning within the next week or so, let me give you some advice about what you need to bring with you to make things a bit easier for yourself.

In this, part 3, you should bring presents.

First and foremost, you need to bring a couple of bottles of booze with you - whiskey... and none of that "America" stuff... I'm talking Scotch. Look... I like Kentucky bourbon, and the Japanese do too, but they love their Scotch.

It's a refined drink, and is what the elders love to drink in an effort to appear sophisticated. I don't even know the meaning of that word, but take my word on the Scotch.

Why? Well.. while you are on the JET Programme, someone ... some Japanese person is going to be designated as being responsible for your well-being. If you get hurt or sick, they will help get you the aid you require. You are their responsibility... and should word get out that they have done you wrong, they are up the you-know-what creek without a paddle.

You want to get on their good side. Hence, the bottle of good Scotch. Now... some of you may have a female boss responsible for you. Japan is hardly progressive in its sexual revolution (still an on-going kickstarter), but some Board of Education offices are progressive.

I would still get them a nice bottle of Scotch. Perfume? Really... you know how they smell? No. You could get them some lovely silk scarves, but I would still consider the Scotch, because we don't want to appear sexist.

The second bottle of Scotch is for the board of education Superintendent. Your boss' boss. You do this to acknowledge that he is ultimately the reason you have been allowed to become a worker in his board of education office.

For your new home, whether it ever be so humble, or a mac daddy place like I had (it was a condo built for a multi-child family), you could after a day or so after settling in, go out to a shop and purchase a box of senbei. These are rice crackers/cookies... and are given as a thank-you to them for allowing your board of education to put you up in this place for the next year.

I didn't do this. I probably should have.

The superintendent of the building went out of his way to accommodate my office in helping me reconfigure my apartment to make me more comfortable over my eventual three-year stay.

That includes allowing them to use the elevator to get a new queen-sized bed in for me after I complained about my back while trying to get used to a futon. I hate futons. I loved my bed. So did my guests.

They went out of their way to allow workers to drill a hole in my outside wall to allow access into my apartment for hosing re: a central heating/AC unit that kept me cool in the humidity of summer and warm and alive during the winter, as I nearly killed myself by my improper usage of a kerosene heater.

Those are just two examples, and I am still embarrassed 25 years after I left that I never thought to thank them for their efforts. I just didn't know to do such a thing. It seems obvious now, but it just never entered my mind at the time, as I didn't realize that it was more than just my board of education people doing these things for me.

When you arrive in Japan, there may be a week or so before you are asked to go in and spend time with the Board of Education office. You should bring along some senbei for them, or o-cha... which is green tea. Do both. Don't get the ultra fancy stuff that is used in tea ceremonies, rather just some stuff that is used for every day drinking.

Everywhere I went in Japan, somebody offered me piping hot green tea. I was up to about seven cups a day while at an given Japanese junior high school that I visited weekly.

I had also found out how many people were in my board office, and brought silk scarves for the women, and souvenirs from Canada for the rest... including small wood sculptures, and stuff like that.

I know, I know... holy crap this is costing a lot of money. But it helps create a wonderful first impression... that you, a gaijin/outsider/foreigner have cared enough about every one to be thoughtful in your arrival and ultimately disruption of their daily work life.

For the guys, I brought tie pins or lapel pins featuring the Canadian flag.

You don't have to go crazy in bringing stuff for all the people at the schools you are visiting.

However... for the classes you will be teaching... you could bring along a low-denomination coin to give out either as rewards for all who ask you a question in English that first day, or to give to everyone in the class, because what the heck, why punish someone for being shy or not knowing enough English at that time.

You can generate interest amongst your students by being a nice person... and a present... even something as "cheap" as a penny will do wonders for student interest.

Obviously we Canadians are screwed, because we no longer have a penny in circulation... but a nickel then. Just think though... a maximum of 35 kids per class, possible seven classes per grade (Junior high is grades 7, 8, and 9; and Senior high is grades 10, 11 and 12)... so plan accordingly.

It's a cheap and meaningless gesture on your part, but for these kids who don't know if they should like you, it is a way to break the ice.

If you fell like it - and after you get paid, you might consider bringing in that box of senbei crackers for the teacher's room. You could also just bring one to the principal, and let him do with it what he may.... but I do recommend you going out of your way to be generous.

I did not. I just didn't realize the protocol. There were no helpful hints in books or the Internet (what was that in 1990... I was on it for 10 years before that, but it was essentially just message boards).

Get those two initial bottles of Scotch at the duty-free shop at the airport when you are departing.

All together, with the booze, scarves and pennies or nickels or whatever your currency is, you may have expenses around $350-400.

It's a lot of money for an outlay, but trust me, it will help you have a wonderful rife/life in Japan.

I got away with not doing some of these things back in 1990-1993 because it wasn't expected of us dumb foreigners to do such things.

It still isn't expected of us/you, but it is the BEST way to ensure things go your way. Those bottles of Scotch for the bosses... I can not reiterate just how important that is.

It was mentioned to me back in a pre-orientation at a JET meeting, but that was in Toronto, and can not vouch for the information being passes along anywhere else.

Scotch x 2... and not the mickey shot bottles or the stupidly over-sized bottles. A big bottle if you can afford it, the medium sized one if that's more your budget.

Avoid rye and bourbon or vodka, gin and rum. Same for wine. Scotch. Bring the Scotch.

Kanpai/cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Piotr Miazga on Unsplash

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Canada's High Commissioner To Jamaica Says She Owes Her Success To JET Programme

The following are the opening lyrics to the Jet Song from the awesome musical West Side Story - a scary tale about rival gangs in New York City. Nothing more scary than gangs trying to kill each other with song and dance, baby!

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.

When you're a Jet,
If the spit hits the fan,
You got brothers around,
You're a family man.

You're never alone,
You're never disconnected.
You're home with your own—
When company's expected,
You're well protected!

Then you are set
With a capital J,
Which you'll never forget
Till they cart you away.
When you're a Jet,
You stay
A Jet!


So yeah... I'm a JET. I was in the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme from 1990-1993. Three years living in Japan. I didn't even ever want to go to Japan, and I only went because I thought it would impress a woman I liked in journalism school who was also applying.

Here's a clue for anyone who may have thought that was cute or yeah, a really good way to bond: Nothing kills a chance for romance when YOU get in, and SHE doesn't.

While I know of many people on JET who utilized the adventure to further their marital status and or career goals, I used mine, ultimately it seems, to finally get laid, and realizing that women DID like me.

While not necessarily great for financial gain, being a JET helped me emotionally and spiritually.

Which brings me to Laurie Peters... sorry, Her Excellency Laurie Peters, currently Canada's High Commissioner to Jamaica.

During a recent event in Jamaica, she stated that her success as a diplomat had been due to her experiences on the JET Program.

Last week at the event that would act as a send-off reception for Jamaica's representatives embarking on their first exposure within the JET Programme, Peters said: “I would not be standing here today as Canada's High Commissioner of Jamaica if it were not for the life-changing experience of the Japan Exchange Teaching Programme."

Wow... pretty awesome high praise, indeed.

Peters was in the JET Programme's very first wave of participants, when she was posted as an AET (assistant English teacher) in Senadi-ken (Sendai Prefecture) beginning in 1988, staying for two years before leaving in 1990 - essentially just as I was arriving to be an AET in Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture).

Peters speech continued: “It was the international experience; it was becoming a global citizen; it was being open to opportunities that allowed me to come back with this... global, international thinking spirit that allowed me access other opportunities coming back.”

After her JET experience, Peters worked in various government jobs, including Head of public affairs, Canada Pavilion, Department of Canadian Heritage in 2005; and as Councillor and head of public affairs at the Embassy of Canada to Japan, from 2011-2015.

While I was writing for an industrial trade magazine and failing to break through into the comic book field as a writer, she would serve as a senior trade commissioner overseeing the international education and culture industry portfolios.

Man, I guess I'm not nearly as smart as I thought I was. But then again, I knew that. I was hoping it would be so obvious as to smack me in the face. Laurie Peters has my complete and utter respect.

It's not what you have, it's what you do with it.

On the plus side, at least we both have something in common. We're JETs.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Risque Japanese Matchbox Labels 1

For some reason I forgot to post the blog I had planned for today - I left it behind on another computer. Oh well.

Instead, here are a few risque Japanese matchbox labels I found.








Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, July 20, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 2

I’m the kind guy who went to Japan, not because he wants to, but because he was accepted into the JET Programme, and was honor bound to try something completely off the wall for him.

Unlike most participants on JET, they and perhaps you have dreamed about going to Japan… whether it was because you have some sort of Asian woman or man thing, or because you want to teach the world to speak better English, or maybe you just wanted to experience a culture that seemed from the outside so much more alien and fascinating than your own.

It’s okay… the reason are unimportant. What’s important is that you are going and you should arm yourself with some information on what you might need to bring with you.

Sure Japan is a first-world nation, but you won’t necessarily find everything you physically need or want there.

Let’s talk toiletries.

Yes, you can find toothbrushes and toothpaste… though you may not find toothpaste with the amount of fluoride in it that you and your teeth are used to.

Speaking as someone from Toronto, the top water comes fully-loaded with an assortment of chemicals to ensure clean, drinkable water, plus some additional ones which help promote better dental health.

I’m not sure if it was me not brushing properly, the lack of fluorine et al in the Japanese water supply or the toothpaste, but my gums began to recede.

I looked at my mouth one morning  - about two years in to my three year stay - and thought my teeth resembled that of a skull. Why the hell was that much tooth showing?

The point is, however, that things may indeed have change since I was there, but you would be wise to bring along a tube of your favorite toothpaste, and request a family member send along more as you need it.

Actually… I’m not even sure if you can bring toothpaste on an airplane anymore. Maybe you could pre-send a care package to your new Japanese address containing tooth paste.

I am sure you will be able to find contact lens solutions… in the cities, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on you finding specifics in a more rural area.

I lived in a city, but it was a rural city… and while I am only slightly exaggerating, I could throw a rock in any direction and have it land in either a rice paddy or a 7-11.

There was a small pharmacy in my town, where I could buy medicines with Japanese labeling - I have no idea what anything is… and dental stuff… but contact lens solution? I don’t think so.

Condoms… sure… the pharmacy had condoms… the pharmacist even pointed them out to me and asked me if I was going to use them later that night on my girlfriend Ashley.

The answer was yes, but still… privacy is NOT something you should expect - mostly because you are a gaijin (guy-gin)… a foreigner… and even if your city, town or village has had numerous such gaijin around them previously, you are still someone they are curious about.

By the way… Japanese condoms are smaller than the standard North American condoms. Proof of that is in the photo above. I blew up a couple of condoms - one "American" and one "Japanese". I don't know how some people do it. Ugh. Rubber. Anyhow... the proof, as they say, who ever "they" are, is in the pudding. I was pudding it in the one on the left. Yes, a terrible joke... one that can leave a horrible taste in one's mouth. Rubber. Blech.

I had a Japanese condom snap off and hit my girlfriend in the face. Whatever blood flow I had down there was cut off by the rightness of the Japanese condom. Even if it hadn’t snapped off, I think I would have lost all interest in having sex.

And... lest you think I made that story up... I did not. It is 100% true in every detail. Unfortunately.

Ashley, fortunately, had a good sense of humor and laughed her head off a few seconds after it hit her in the face below her left eye.

Fortunately, she was laughing with me instead of at me. Big difference. 

So... what did we learn? That's right... bring your own condoms.

I was a virgin when I arrived in Japan… a few months shy of 26 years old… and I decided I would bring along with me three boxes of condoms.

I spent those three boxes of 12 rather quickly, and had to have my mother go out to the local Toronto pharmacy and buy me many boxes more and then mail them to me, lest she be a grandmother. Considering I am older now than she was then, I understand the part about not wanting to be a grandparent.

Yes... I brought three boxes of condoms, as I was obviously optimistic about my chances of having sex in Japan with a real live woman.

By the way, from various conversations with gaijin still living in Japan, my exploits of 25+ years ago sound fantastic, as in "no way, Joseph!" Nowadays, it seems as though the sexually freedom of Japan has disappeared, petering out, if you will, after I left the country.

I'm not saying I wrecked things for everyone else, but you can if you want to. I don't mind. I'll accept the blame. So... bottom line... maybe you may only need three boxes of condoms for your stay... maybe you won't need any. Then again... I'm a glass half-full kindda guy, so hopefully everybody helps keep Trojan in business. 

Now... if it sounds like I am saying that Japan doesn’t have things… well I am.

They have their own version of things. And if you are comfortable enough to not have brand loyalty, then go right ahead and turn Japanese.

Most of you newbies to Japan will try and turn into Japanese folk asap.

You’ll be jabbering away to other gaijin using your newly learned Japanese, you’ll try and dress in whatever you think passes for Japanese fashion. You’ll use chopsticks to eat a slice of pizza (the Japanese don’t do that). You’ll bow to everyone - even when you are on the phone.

That last one is a given. I started doing it subconsciously and kept it up for a few months after returning to Canada.

So… bring as man of your creature comfort toiletries as you can. Not toilet paper or sundry items like that. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss and picks. You can buy mouthwash in Japan. But some places may not have much of a section re: contact lens equipment.

That’s all for now. More tomorrow.

Kanpai (cheers),
Andrew Joseph
PS: The photo above... the condom balloons are perched atop my lovely green suede fall/winter jacket, atop one of the chairs of my two-seat dining table set. By the way... a suede fall/winter coat? Suede gets ruined when it gets wet. I went leather after the first time the suede got wet.  
PPS: Two weeks after Ashley took that condom shot to the face, and my mom had sent us more North American condoms, I blew up the condoms in three breaths apiece (I think - regardless, it was equal), handed them to Ashley one at a time to tie up. I still can not tie up a balloon.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 1

I’m one of the first group of assistant English teachers (AETs) to participate on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, coming in on the early wave in 1990, originally set to do one year, but ending up staying for three.

Did I enjoy myself? Sure… why do you think I’m writing about it 25 years after I left? Write what you know, and BS about the rest. This is what I know...

I’m going to present some sage advice over the next couple of weeks here that I hope you newbies will find useful. Stuff that will help you better prepare for your trip and stay in your new home over the next year, or however long you decide to stay.

Five years is the maximum you can stay as part of the JET Programme, though there’s nothing stopping you from staying longer should you decide it’s THE place for you.

I only stayed three years, because at that time, it was the maximum amount allowed on the Programme. Might I have stayed longer? Yes. Trying to convince the Japanese woman I loved to leave her country wouldn’t have come up - at least for a couple of more years, and who knows, maybe by that time I would have married her.

So… helpful hint #1 (2018-style).

Money. You should go to your local bank and ask for about ¥60,000. Even though I am Canadian and live in Canada, I am going to provide an American conversion rate, because that's where most of my readership is, and that’s where most of the JET's hail from.

So… US$532. You might even consider converting about US$710 into ¥80,000 (yen).

Why, you may ask do I need to take so much money with me? Aren’t they paying me? Isn’t my rental accommodation taken care of?

Yes… your rental monies are all taken care of. Your board of education office will have paid any key money (up to six months of rent in advance), and will partially pay for most of your rent.

For example, my monthly rent was about US$330… but the actual rent was around US$1,500. My place was huge, with a three-bedroom, LDK (living room-dining room-kitchen), two balconies and a western-style bathroom. I had carpeting in all rooms (except my bedroom and washroom/laundry area), and my place was fully furnished.

While I was initially issued a futon—effing things… hate’em (it’s like sleeping on the floor, only not as comfortable - plus I got knee burns when I was with a girlfriend)—but was quickly purchased a queen-sized bed.

Yeah... my board of education office loved me. Don’t expect YOUR place to be as large, or as well-furnished, or them bending over backwards to buy you a new bed, or having someone put in a new central heating/AC unit for you. I told you they loved me.

Sometimes I wonder if I was able to get some many girlfriends because it was me, or my comfortable apartment. No I don’t wonder.

Anyhow… why so much money? You need it to survive for about one month before your pay kicks in. They aren’t giving you money for doing nothing… which is essentially what you may end up doing for a couple of weeks, followed by boring time in the Board offices. Maybe they’ll take you around by car and show you your new hometown. Mine did. Not everyone’s will.

Well… your place may not have a bilingual TV. No biggie… you want Internet service so you can stream stuff… well… you’ll need to pay for that.

Then there’s food. They may have stocked your mini fridge for you (It’s rare to get a full sized fridge like we have in North America, rather than have those mini fridges like you might have had back in university), but it’s not going to last very long.

The mini fridge is a way to ensure people shop more often… to purchase fish fruits and veggies and meats and seafood… and to ensure you only purchase what you need to cover you for a couple of days at a time - so you don’t have a lot of food spoilage.

So you’ll need money to purchase those creature comfort foods that remind you of back home. I bought Frosted Flakes cereal and milk, eggs and bacon and a can of beans - figuring that since I can’t cook I can at least make breakfast for dinner. Oh… and Coca-Cola. Two-Litre bottles. My lifesblood.

The BOE will help you get a bank account and an ATM card. Credit cards are your business, and rat assured that Visa, American Express and MasterCard are accepted (usually), while other less famous ones may not be.

Don’t bother with Traveller’s Cheques… bring cash. It will remove all the confusion for the people in your town. No one is going to steal your money (probably). But don’t flaunt it, either.

Clothing? Naw… you won’t need money for that immediately. But maybe you’ll need some sort of toiletries… or even toilet paper.

Your place, especially if it’s been used for AETs in the past, will be fully stocked with cooking wares, flatware, and plates, dishes, bowls, cups, saucers, and glasses (glass and plastic).

You will almost immediately find yourself wanting to purchase so many things that you think you’ll want as a souvenir or for others back home. WAIT. You can get this stuff later.. months later after you figure out what your monthly budget might actually be.

I bought a stereo system and bunch of CDs (that’s what we had back then)… and I should have just waited. I bought a bilingual TV because we didn’t have Internet options back in 1990.

I also bought an aquarium and some fish, because I didn’t want to be alone.

You may also be asked out to various welcome parties - you probably won’t have to pay for those, but you will have to pay your own way if you go to after parties.

Oh… even when you FIRST arrive in Japan and are still in Tokyo for orientation (there’s a pun in there somewhere), you will have a night out with the AETs from your prefecture (province). There the restaurant food and drink costs, and then if you go to a dance club (which I did), there’s an entrance fee for the guys, there’s drink costs… and if you are like me, a taxi charge to get back to your hotel.

I had hooked up with an AET who was going to be in the town next door to me (a 30 minute bicycle ride away), and we were so hammered that neither of us recalled where our hotel was. Luckily my habit had been to take a book of matches from every place I visited, so I was able to show it to the taxi driver - and we arrived back at something like 4AM.

I believe he hotel shut its doors at some time before that, so I had to stay down in the lobby for a couple of hours. I believe my female counterpart had managed to sneak in a few minutes before I did, as we (she) decided that it would be best if we went in separately so no one looked “cheap”. I understood and respected that… but it still cost me a few hours down in the lobby waiting until they would allow me (and a few others) entrance to our rooms.

So you can see how the costs add up. Being the gentleman that I was, I also paid for her drinks at the club and our taxi ride to the hotel.

And then there’s going to be that poor unfortunate bugger (not you, someone else) who has run out of money a week or so before the first pay day at the end of August… and needs to borrow money so they can, well, survive.

Take as much money (in Japanese cash) with you as you can afford, and look after yourself, and that unfortunate person who ran out. He or she (he, in my case) will end up still being one of your best friends some 28 years later.

The other option, of course, is that you bring along a tiny bit of extra cash with you, and refrain from having fun.

I’m going to advise against you doing this.

That initial AET gathering in Tokyo is where your first impression will be made. Being the outgoing party person will at least put you on people’s radar… you’ll quickly learn who you can call when you are lonely (and you will be homesick if not that first week, than by the first month)… and that is worth all the money in the world.

Some of you will be posted in a place where there are very few foreigners (if any), with other AETs posted far enough away that a train ride is required. Talking to people - someone whom you just met and may be feeling the same emotions as you - well… it’s always good to have a shoulder you can lean on.

Of course DO NOT go crazy spending your money willy-nilly. You don’t need a stern system. Your phone will do.

You don’t need to purchase half-a-dozen apples or pears. Those suckers are HUGE, and will easily last you one per day… heck it could even be an entire meal with enough left over for the next day. They are that big, and that filling. As such, with six purchased, numbers four through six will spoil before you can eat them.

Look… have fun, spend some money on personal entertainment… but purchasing souvenirs or spending it on sightseeing in Tokyo that first week is just wasteful. You can always take a weekend to do that.

Be frugal with your grocery purchases. I encourage you to go out every couple of days to buy groceries. The shops will see you and get used to you quickly, and not only will you have a chore to do to occupy you, you won’t waste money on food that has spoiled.

Clothes? Buy those back home before you leave. Shoes, too. Toiletries too. Japanese toothpaste isn’t the same as your hometown stuff.

Okay… more helpful hints tomorrow.

Kanpai (Cheers)
Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Alain Pham on Unsplash
It depicts a maneki-neko white cat figuring with its paw up in the air beckoning people to enter a shop or restaurant. It is meant to be a charm to ensure good business fortune by customers.

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