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Friday, August 31, 2018

The Courtesy Call

The Japanese have often been called the Asian version of Canadians when it comes to politeness and courtesy—okay, I just made that up—but the Japanese certainly are known for being a polite folk.

Of course a lot of that is taught to them in the form of various kata (a formalized way in which the way things are done by the Japanese), but however it’s done, it is done.

January 4 is generally considered the very first day of work after the New Year holiday, and for the business company, that day, and a few workdays after it, are generally spent outside of the office performing aisatsu mawari… the courtesy call.

At this time, an employee will make an aisatsu mawari/courtesy call upon any business connection who has been helpful to the company over the past year. No business is conducted during these visits… it’s just a polite way of saying “thanks, we appreciate you”.

I believe it is common to bring some sort of present at this time… but rather than an envelope full of payola, it might be a tin of quality green tea powder, or senbei rice crackers. It’s a nice practice, to be honest.

Back before I fell into the magazine writing business, I used to be given hockey tickets by a trucking company who organized vehicles in and out of our facility… and I like to believe it wasn’t payola, because I was going to use their organizing services regardless.

Of course, businesses aren’t the only ones who perform the aisatsu mawari thing… nope… you know all of those New Year’s cards you received? Well, Japanese custom dictates that you make a personal visit to everyone who sent you a card. Now I know that’s hardly something the average person can perform.

Heck, every year I would get well over 100 cards! How the heck am I suppose to go and personally visit 100 people. By the way… I should have sent out cards to those 100 people… but I didn’t. Do yourself a favour...

If you live in Japan, send out these cards to everyone you work with. Ask for their address months in advance (and make sure it’s in kanji, so the post office handlers don;t have a heart attack trying to read English). Save up enough money to purchase enough pre-stamped New Years cards, and for Buddha’s sake, create a personal message of some sort.

The Japanese do NOT expect the gaijin (foreigner) to possess the Japanese courtesy of creating and mailing such cards (I didn’t, and thus did not disappoint), but doing so will make you a superstar.

It’s why I’m posting this blog now, rather than on January 3 like I was originally going to do. Yes… sometimes I write articles well in advance. I'm prepping you well in advance to get those addresses. The special New Year's cards aren't available yet.

Aisatsu mawari courtesy calls are also made when people are married, and the twosome spend time paying calls on relatives, work superiors who have shown favor, and present them with some sort of souvenir from their honeymoon.

Aisatsu mawari is all a part of being in Japanese society.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rakugo - The Art Of Comedic Storytelling

I’m a funny guy, or so I’ve been told. Not funny-strange, but rather funny-ha-ha.

All forms of comedy are funny to me, but I do hold some types in higher regard than others.

As such, I appreciate a good joke, riddle, play-on-words, but especially something where a person takes the time to craft a back story before getting to the funny bit(s).

It’s the build-up… that’s what makes the listener squirm as they try to figure out the punchline before it’s said, but the real pay-off is when the punchline still comes out of left field as something the listener     never thought about.

In “drama”, it’s why I loved the Twilight Zone television episodes - “Betcha never saw that coming, didja?”

On the flipside, as a kid, I used to read The Hardy Boys detective mysteries… trying to solve the who in the whodunnit… eventually after 35+ mysteries that they always seemed to introduce the villain for the first time in Chapter 18 or 19 out of the books’ 20 chapters. I realize now, that I loved the chase of brothers Frank and Joe Hardy and their buddy Chet Morton, as they busted through clue after useless clue.

Ah yes… the story was the thing. But you still want a happy ending, so to speak.

It’s kind of why I make you readers suffer through the seemingly endless words I throw down on the screen. I could simply tell you about rakugo, the Japanese art of comedic storytelling, but I’d rather provide some personal context.

So yeah… rakugo… comedic story telling is a one-person show, and involves a person standing (or sitting) on a stage, dressed up in some period garb telling stories to the rapt attuned audience.

I used to watch the Dave Allen At Large television show back in the 1970s. He was an Irish comedian who would sit in a chair on stage drinking his Irish whiskey (actually a ginger ale and ice), and having a cigarette, occasionally whisking away an ash from his pants suit, where I would notice he was missing the tip of a finger.

Dave was a dry humor man… well-dressed, calm, a bit of elegance about him… and boy could he wend a tale, using words in a way I had not thought possible as a mere eight-year-old. Look… the fact that I can still recall all of that, and realize I haven’t seen or thought of him in over 40 years is a testament to his comic stylings to make such an impression on me, or that I have one hell of an amazing memory for minutia. Probably a wee bit of both.

Dave was the Irish version of Japanese rakugoka (the person) performing rakugo (落語, literally "fallen words)

The rakugo shows are done all in Japanese, but if you were to attend, there is a chance you may be handed a pamphlet detailing the show’s premise in English, just as you might if you visited an Italian opera.

But, unfortunately, the rakugoka does his word-play storytelling in Japanese.

The rakugoka will speak fairly quickly and even utilize old-time Japanese words and phrases, but the comedic rakugo performance will be peppered with puns and play-on-words, and to accentuate the story will also add in facial expressions and gestures.

For props—sorry Carrot Top—a rakugoka will only utilize a hand fan, and perhaps a towel.

Originally, the rakugoka was only a street performer in the early part of the Edo-era (early 1600s) in the Osaka/Kyoto area.

It was the common man going out and doing his comedic story stand-up.

But then it became kata-ized. Kata in Japan is essentially the formalization of rules and ways that things must be done or followed by a Japanese person. As such, there are ways to bow… plural… with different bowing techniques utilized for different situations and for differing levels of social status. Social rules that are set in stone, but aren’t legally-binding enough to be considered laws. You break a law, you go to jail or get fined and ostracized in Japan. You commit a kata faux pas in Japan, and you just get ostracized. Being ostracized in Japan is akin to being cut off from the hive mind… you are no longer part of a community.

Anyhow… the rakugo comedic story teller was not immune from the rules of Japanese custom.

Originally a street performers, as mentioned, after it became a stage show, and thus “legitimate theater”, a performer had to learn the ropes from a Master rakugoka… and would often inherit the master’s name as part of the passing grade.

The art of rakugo still continues to this day, though I fear it is a dying art, what with instant gratification found by the younger generation via YouTube videos that show a gamer playing a video game.

I was an original gamer… and let me tell you, there was nothing more boring than watching someone else play a video game while I waited my turn.

But… to the younger generation’s credit… with so many gamers making videos to watch, at least viewers pick one’s that seem to have a personality that make them laugh and entertain them while they get clues on how to play a game… though to me, the fun has always been trying to discover that clue myself. Damn chapter 19.

Dave Allen was born David Tynan O'Mahony on July 6, 1936 and died March 10, 2005.

Here's a clip of one of Dave Allen's shows, so you can get a feel of what a Japanese rakugoka and rakugo show is like:

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Juku and Yobikō - Japanese Cram Schools

Known as “cram schools” Juku and Yobikō are extra-curricular schools for students held in the evening AFTER their own long day at junior of high school, and are two ways that students are forced to prepare themselves for entrance examinations by their parents.

C’mon… you know it’s the parents who are making the kids do this.Then again… this IS Japan, and sometimes students ask to go to cram school because their friends are going, and no Japanese kid wants to left on the outside of any activity that might be considered communal.

In Japanese society, failure to do well in entrance exams affectively alters the future career path of an individual… and it occurs first at round the age of 13-14 and again at the age 16-17…

Failure… or at least the inability to achieve a high enough mark changes the types of schools the students can further apply to.

There are higher-level academic high schools, where entrance into continues the path for students wanting to get into the better universities.

There are lower and mid-ranged ones, where even if a student excels in high school, it becomes more difficult to get into a higher level university… as such, a career as a doctor or engineer may no longer be possible.

Failure to do well in the high school entrance exams could also force a student to attend a “trade” type of high school… such as hairstyling, food preparation, auto mechanics… and when I write this stuff down, I realize that I hold all of these types of profession in a high degree… but yeah, they lack that “wow” factor of biomechanical scientist…

So… it is incumbent on junior high school students looking for a high-level and high-paying job in Japan to ensure that they first get into a high-level high school, and then get into a high-level university.

The pressure placed on Japanese kids in grade 8 (aged 13 or 14) is immense.

There was no way I was mature enough to think about my future beyond what was on television that evening.

Japan’s education system really is completely unlike say here in Canada, where a guy like me can float through grade school with wet grades (c-level. get it?), flunk out in multiple courses through high school but somehow get into university because enrolment was nation-wide down that year, squeak out a degree in a useless subject (political science), and then as an adult student go back to college and excel in journalism… the latter was only begun at the age of 23.

Following all that, at the age of nearly 26, I traveled to Japan for three years, returning almost at the age of 30 to finally begin working within my chosen field of journalism…

Except the economy was in the ditch, so I did other non-journalism jobs for about 10 years until I finally stuck with magazine writing, which is where I am now.

Seriously… I didn’t get to start my chosen profession until I was 40.

If I was Japanese, my indifference to school, and thus to getting into the best high school, and best university would have had me sweeping up discarded hair at a barber shop. Not even getting the opportunity to man the scissors.

If I was Japanese, I would not be doing what I am doing now because the system would prevent me from being able to do it - all because I was immature as a youth. I’m immature as an adult, but usually just in this blog. ;)  

So… to ensure that students do well at their high school and university entrance exams, Japanese parents put their kids into cram schools, where English, math, science, history and geography (the latter two are considered social studies) are all covered to best prepare them for the upcoming entrance test.

The gakushū juku (学習塾; aka cram school) are private, fee-paying schools that offer supplementary classes often in preparation for key school and university entrance exams. Gakushū means school, so let’s just use the term “juku”.

Juku are NOT just to prepare a student for an upcoming high school entrance exam—that’s the main feature, though—but it allows students to catch up on studies, and provides additional educational help to better prepare the student to not only do well back at junior or high school.

Usually a juku will know in advance the educational path of the local schools of the students they are teaching, and as such can provide excellent learning opportunities.

Of course, some juku offer alternative lines of education that don’t follow the standard teaching path, and may offer such things—for the elementary student, such as music lessons, art or some sort of sporting activity.

Now… a yobikō (予備校)are privately-run schools marketed to students who are taking examinations held each year in Japan from January to March to determine college admissions. In other words, it is specific to high school students.

Back when I was an assistant English teacher (AET) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme visiting junior high schools on a weekly basis, I rarely was afforded an opportunity to work with the Level III/3 (Grade 8) students from January through the end of the school year in March.

The students were grumpy and tired (I was told by teachers) from all of the studying and preparation they were putting in for the high school entrance exams.

It was though with the turning of the Julian calendar into January, that those Level III (Grade 8) students lost all of their childhood innocence… forced to grow up and begin thinking of their future.

I’m not saying the Japanese are wrong… in Jewish tradition with bar and baht mitzvah’s, children at the age of 13 were considered welcomed into adulthood.

I’m just saying that the average western kid would not be ready for such heady transformations.

Hell… my son is heading into Grade 8 (Japan’s Level 3) in a few more days… and considering how much of a kid he still is—and I’m glad of that—I can’t help but have a bit of pity for Japanese kids.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Oh Baby - A Pair of Infant Ceremonies

While it’s true that the emergence of a baby in any Japanese family in these days of negative population growth is a celebration in on itself, Japan does have a few ceremonies specially designed to welcome the infant to the community.

The first is the miyamairi, the first time a baby is taken to a shrine to worship—though I’m unsure just how much worshipping the babe actually performs.

Symbolic in action, therefore, the infant is taken to the local shrine at either the 20-, 30-, 50- or 100-day mark after birth—the dates vary in accordance to an areas specific shrine belief system and or rules.

As part of the ceremony, the baby is made to cry out loud—a shouting out to the gods, if you will to scream out for the gods’ attention. I suppose it’s always a good thing when a god (or gods) takes notice of you (smiting, not considered).

Now, not everyone partakes of the miyamairi ceremony, but most Japanese infants do, as it is considered the first step in integrating the kid into the cultural ceremony that is “being Japanese.”

A second ceremony that takes place at the 100, 110— or 120-day mark after birth is the o-kuizome.

This one is held at the family home, and celebrates the infant’s first solid food.

During this ceremony, the child does NOT actually have to be fed the solid food—the parent merely uses utensils (typically chopsticks) to mimic the act of feeding the child solid food, bringing it up to the child’s mouth, but not necessarily making them eat it.

The o-kuizome ceremony has been in effect since the Heian-jidai (Heian era of 794 AD - 1185AD), and is meant to imply that the child will never go without food during its life.

A noble thought, if not one that was probably full of crap for the farmer/peasant class through the Edo-jidai (Edo-era, ending in 1867) and all of those folk who made due during and after WWII.

But again, a noble thought.

Foods prepared for the o-kuizome ceremony are:
  • Sekihan (rice) - steamed Japanese rice with delicious adzuki beans;
  • Sea bream fish - whole;
  • Soup - any kind;
  • Simmered dish - any kind;
  • Pickled dish - any vegetable;
  • Hagatame-ishi - a stone picked up from a grounds of a shrine that is large enough that a child won’t swallow it, or small enough to not crush it, is given to the infant to teethe upon as a way to ensure good strong teeth. I would imagine the stone is merely brushed across the mouth area, though perhaps it is actually rubbed around the toothless gums;
  • Umeboshi - that dried sour Japanese plum. It’s wrinkled, and the symbolism here is to ensure the child grows old and wrinkled like the plum;
  • Rice cakes - both red and white versions.  
And because this is Japan, there is a specific way in which the home ceremony is run.

The food is placed on Japanese lacquer ware—I love this stuff—with a red set used for girls, and a black set for boys (see image above for the o-kuizome ceremonial dishware).

The “feeding” of the food to the infant during the ceremony is done thrice (three times), but with variances in foods.
  1. Rice - Soup - Rice - Fish - Rice - Soup;
  2. Rice - Simmered dish - Rice - Soup - Rice - Pickled dish;
  3. Rice - Soup - Rice - Hagatame-ishi - Rice - Soup.
As you can see, there’s a lot of rice involved in the ceremony. I would remiss if I did not state that the Japanese think they eat rice in the same way we Westerners eat bread. But that’s incorrect.

The Japanese will eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner—three times a day, as evidenced by each passing of the o-kuizome ceremony ensuring the baby is fed rice three times before the next tier of the ceremony can begin.

But really, the Japanese will, when they eat a meal, almost always ensure that rice is a meal component.

And, while not a ceremony celebrated by infants, Japan has the shichi-go-san (literally seven-five-three) ceremony for children achieving those ages… strangely, I don't think I have written about this.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, August 27, 2018

Chōnan - The Eldest Son

As the oldest son in my immediate family, and as a Canadian, there’s isn’t a whole lot expected of me except to be happy and have a good life.

But in Japan, it’s a whole different ball game, with women not wanting to marry the chōnan (eldest son) because of the extra burden it brings in later years.

Since as long as the Japanese have memory of times past, the chōnan was the child in the family who was destined to inherit his parents’ assets, and to succeed as head of the family—an important role as it meant making the ultimate decisions that would affect it.

It’s not that different from other cultures, such as the United Kingdom, where the eldest prince would inherit the throne, for example, or in North America where they would be the sole person to inherit the land, house and other assets once the parents had moved on.

But, like in Japan, if the head of the household—IE the father passed on, the eldest son was expected to look after the mother. In fact, just like Japan, the chōnan was expected to look after both parents should they be unable to continue looking after themselves.

If families had more than an eldest son, such as a daughter, it was expected she would marry into another family, as arranged by the head of her household and the husband’s household.

A younger brother was pretty much SOL (poop out of luck), and even if they established a new branch of family, they were still considered lower in rank than his older brother, the chosen one, the chōnan.

However, Japan did change things up after WWII, with new civil rights drawn up in its new and current Constitution, whereby all children, regardless of order of appearance or sex, should have equal claim to inheritance rights—though it wasn’t so stringently applied if any of the kids acted in an improper manner to deserve less than an equal share.

But laws be damned, even though an equal inheritance was still the new norm, the chōnan was still expected to look after his parents when they no longer could, and was still considered the de facto leader of the family line upon passing of the father, regardless of the fact that his father was the eldest son or one after that.

There are exceptions nowadays. The best example I can think of is Noboko, a Japanese woman I was ready to marry, but who decided to abide by her father’s (chōnan) decision to rebuff me because he perceived that any future would me would not be good for him, and his family.

No, I’m not bitter.

Anyhow, Noboko was the second child in her family, with a brother in line to become the next family leader—except her father didn’t want that.

I can’t recall if he was older than Noboko or younger, but it doesn’t matter… he was the eldest son… the chōnan, and thus he was destined to look after the parents when they got too old.

But dad didn’t want that for him. As Noboko explained to me once, he was not someone anyone would want looking after them. He wasn’t mean, just apparently, incredibly immature.

While people change, for Noboko’s brother the die had been set, and then changed whereby she was now destined to look after her parents.

I suppose in retrospect, I dodged a bullet. I have no problem in opening up my household to look after either my parents or my wife’s—it’s what you do when you are part of a caring society.

But to have a person in my house who doesn’t like me because I am not good enough for his little girl merely because I am not Japanese… well… add your choice of expletive here on my behalf. I’m sure any you choose will be apt.

While Noboko’s situation was hardly unique, for the most part being a chōnan causes both financial, physical and emotional issues for the chōnan’s wife.

Do they really want to marry an eldest son knowing that one day they will have to look after his parents? It’s not like it’s just going to be for a short time either, as Japan has the second-highest life expectancy on the planet.

That’s right, your middle-age and much of your senior-age will be spent looking after parents. And, despite one’s social and moral views on the subject, it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do.

As such, mothers who have a daughter or two will often recommend they not marry a chōnan.

However, with Japan’s birthrate currently in negative growth for the past few years, with no evidence it will alter its downward path in the near future, it’s not like marrying-aged women can be so picky about wedding a chōnan.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Manekineko - The Beckoning Cat

If you’ve ever walked into a Japanese (or Chinese) restaurant or shop, odds are you have seen a statue of a spotted white cat sitting on its back legs, with its left paw extended held up near its face.

Called a manekineko (or maneiki nekoneko means “cat”), the upraised paw is meant to indicated “come here”, as a way of enticing visitors into the place… and thus as a means of increasing business fortune.

The Japanese as a people, when they are indicating a person to come towards them, the hand is raised upright, and the fingers are then curled repeatedly towards the palm.

The non-Japanese (and I assume, Chinese) perform the action in the opposite way, with the hand held lower relative to the body, and it being palm up with fingers pointing out to another person… we then manipulate the fingers towards the open palm, back and forth… then again, I’m sure you know how to do that, but what a bloody exercise to have to try and write it out!

Weird? To me it’s the same as the Brits using two fingers (middle and index) extended upwards with the back of the fingers showing to mean the same as the American-ized extension of the middle finger. Us Canadians hold up our little finger - Metric, don’t you know.


Actually, the manekineko with its left paw raised IS DIFFERENT from one with its right paw raised.

Left paw up attracts customers; Right paw up invites good fortune and money.

I know which I would prefer, as having customers doesn’t mean you’ll get rich, as your costs could preclude that.

There’s also a manekineko with both paws up, apparently—I’ve never seen one—that provides protection… perhaps in time of a robbery. Hands up, give over the money, and no one gets hurt. I’m just messing around.
Anyhow… so how did the manekineko come about as a lucky business talisman? I have no idea, suffice to say that the guy who created it at some point in the the 350-year Edo period wasn’t lucky enough to have copyright laws behind him as I’m sure the concept was quickly stolen and mass produced by others.
You can't beat this sort of fortune grabbing in Tokoname, Japan.
There are, however, two stories that may or may not be true regarding its origin.

1) A rich man takes shelter under a tree near a temple during a rain storm. From there, he sees what looks like a cat beckoning him away from the tree and into the temple. (The cat was probably just washing his face with a paw, and the man needed glasses.) Inside the temple, lightning struck the tree where the man had been standing. Thanks to the temple cat that saved his life, the man became a benefactor of the temple, which became quite prosperous thanks to the man’s generosity. The man later created a statue of the cat when it passed.

2) One day, a prostitute (or geisha, according to other versions) was standing outside when a cat began to paw and tug at her kimono. The brothel’s owner (or a customer of the geisha) must really have hated cats, because he thought the cat was possessed and sliced off its head. Sent flying, the cat’s head landed atop a snake that was about to sink its fangs into the kimono-clad woman. The cat, one way or another, had saved the woman’s life. Saddened by the rashness of the man, the woman had one of her customers make a statue of the cat with its paw raised, as a means to honor it for saving her life.

Now… I’m sure many of your are saying… white cat with spots? I’ve seen a gold one. Surely its color means something other than gaudy taste.

Hmmm… I’m not sure about gaudy. but there a few color differences with implied special meanings—probably the invention of that company that stole the non-copyrighted manekineko concept from the originator.
  • Calico (white plus orange and black spots) = luckiest;
  • White, solid = happiness, purity and that positive things will happen in the future;
  • Gold = wealth and prosperity;
  • Black: evil spirit ward  - you could just get the place “demonized” by a temple priest… because if any of us now enters a hop where this thing sits, wouldn’t you want to go somewhere else? I mean why would you want a beckoning black cat statue? Is it calling in demons or warding them away? With the paw up, it’s calling them. Perhaps the black version only comes with both paws raised… but again, if there is any reason to suspect demon trouble, I’d call a priest. Or maybe a ghostbuster;
  • Green = Good health;
  • Red = Success in love and relationships.

Okay so now you know everything there is to know about the manekineko… except there’s more.

Of course.

Orange? Blue? Now you're just making stuff up.
The manufacturers of manekineko are aware that the whole business could simply be a one-trick pony, and so diversified, creating different good luck charms for different people.

First off, you’ll notice that the manekineko has on a bib, collar and bell… a typical Edo-era style of dressing the cat, which probably made sneaking up on unsuspecting birds or mice an impossible task.

Now… in the paw that is NOT raised, the manekineko will be found holding different objects.

The most common for the restaurant owner is the manekineko holding a large oval golden koban (Japanese coin) worth one ryo. See below:

From my collection:

Other times, the cat will be holding a money mallet, meant to represent wealth… and when shaken by the proprietor the belled mallet is supposed to attract wealth… and if that’s so, I’d be shaking that manekineko all he bloody time. I’m sure there’s some rule about not doing that. Kindda like how you can wish for more genie in a bottle wishes. My son told me yesterday that he would simply wish that rule did not exist. A great idea, but I’m sure there’s probably some sun-rule about not being able to make any wish relative to the generic status of the djinn/genie wish rules.
This lucky cat is holding a money mallet. With a fish on it. I have no idea what the fish means... wealth via fish? I suppose some of those awesome tuna go for a lot of money... or...
I have also seen a manekineko holding a carp (the fish... the carps is the fist form of what will evolve into a dragon, apparently), which is another symbol of abundance and food fortune…

I’ve not seen this, but a manekineko holding a marble or gem is supposed be either an attractor of good fortune. Those who believe the round thing to be a crystal ball (Japan has those??!!), believe it to be the key to wisdom. I don’t think so.

Further manufacturer diversification of the manekineko include the cat holding a daikon radish or a gourd—probably good luck talismans for farmers wanting good yields; prayer tablets—maybe because you really believe that the cat cleaning its face was really an incarnation of the Buddhist honzo (see HERE); or ingots, because simple Japanese coinage isn’t good enough, you greedy bastisch.

I’ve got a cat. He provides friendship and scratches to my leg when he jumps up or off me, and I am a thing that feeds and waters him, cleans his litter box and barf, and a provides a convenient place to lie upon while he cleans himself.

I feel very lucky.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I freely admit I took a lot of this information from, but did re-write it. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Nihongami—The Classic Japanese Hairstyle

Even now, as my hair thins, and the scalp begins to show at the back of my head, I am still very vain about my hair. I have been since just before embarking upon my trek to Japan... probably because I had been in lust with blonde, bubbly east coast Canada hairdresser.

In Japan, I suffered the growing pains of my hair looking messy as I grew it longer and longer over the months within my second-year… and truthfully, I don’t think the hairdressers there knew what to do with my hair… not because it was different in texture from the Japanese hair, but rather because I was a guy (and not a woman) trying to grow his hair long.

I had it down past my shoulders, and would ponytail it, using colorful hairbands that I made sure matched whatever shirt I was wearing that day. No, really.

Ahhh, back then my hair was so thick, that after a shower in the morning, and a comb through, I would ponytail it… and when I unleashed it some 18 hours later in the evening, my hair would still be wet where the band was wrapped.

When I saw Noboko for the very first time, the shape of her face framed perfectly by her wavy, black hair down slightly before her slight shoulders set my heart aflutter immediately. Her wavy hair was the anti-establishment style of Japanese women then, who tended to maintain their hair to military rigidity of straightness. I know she took a hair iron (is that the term) to it every day to add the wave.

Aside from bangs, no bangs, a centre-, left-, or right-part, and various levels of length, Japanese hair tended not to physically or emotionally define the person—which is why Noboko’s waves, providing a mature confidence, was so… “erotic”. I certainly wasn't the only one, as many a male teacher would unknowingly gush about her to me, unaware that a few looooong weeks after I met her I would be dating her.

I’m not including hair color, or societal nose-thumpers J-pop, punk, goth et al.

Japanese women tend not to do anything really “crazy” with their hair nowadays, because aside from time constraints, it's just not practical or looked upon the way it used to be looked upon.

Of course, some of that is because the workforce is still a male-dominated thing, and women within the workforce in Japan are still looked upon as second-class. My point being, if you try and show any flash or style, you will be hammered down for making waves.

Get it? Waves...  

Now, having said that Japanese women tend to have a lack of style, let me just tell you that straight hair, when done correctly, is spectacular!

But then there are also those times when the Japanese women step outside the conservative norm, and go old school. Yowza!

Perhaps just a few times a year, whenever a classic kimono outfit is required—such as New Years or for wedding or graduation celebrations—part of the aspect of wearing such clothing also involves nihongami… the Japanese coiffure.

And… get this… there are about 280 different traditional style of nihongami.

I don’t understand how having 280 of anything is still allowed to be considered traditional, but somehow it is.

For example, there is the marumage, a style worn by married women where the hair is dressed in an oval knot.

The momoware is created with a partially divided roll on the back of the head. It is usually worn by girls.

The nihongami coiffure are stylized by the use of combs or other decorative ornaments such as the kanzashi (decorative hairpin).

However, more isn’t necessarily correct, as only geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) wear lots of ornamentation.

If Japanese ukiyo-e artwork can be considered correct, in the artwork I own showing The Tale of Genji—a story written by female writer Shikibu Murasaki around 1020AD, social classes were often determined by the number of hairpins worn, with prostitutes and female servants wearing a single pin, while an empress looking like she was made-over on Pimp My Ride, looking resplendent in multiple examples of brightly colorful hair ornaments.

I put that disclaimer at the top of that previous paragraph, because how does anyone really know anything about what happened 800 years+ previous? It seems likely to be a correct summation, however, given Japan’s lack of altering the status quo, and the artist(s) would have had physical evidence from espying daimyo (lords or clan leader) wives, and then-modern 1850s prostitutes, et al.

Of course, after Japan had opened up its borders circa 1868, and had access to more western fashions, including hairstyles, things such as hairstyles and  fashion did for a while become more “European” with men wearing the latest Euro-styled suits, hats and even walking sticks, while Japanese women would wear dresses and heels.

But, into the 1920s, with Japan becoming more nationalistic, the change back to classic … well, everything was the new norm.

Up until WWII, Japanese women would, more often than not wear their hair up, at the very least as a way to emulate - or try to emulate the high fashion utilized by their social betters.

But after WWII, with greater things to concern themselves, such as not starving, and thanks to the influence of American culture and custom owing to its military monitoring of the country, the classical fashion and hairstyles once again fell into everyday disuse, only coming out, as mentioned, on special occasions.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at top listed as being from, though I could not find the original image location.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Buddha—The Main Man

I’m going to attempt to convey one of the complexities of the Buddhist philosophy (some call it a religion, but I’m pretty sure it is a philosophy) in just a few paragraphs. If I am in error at anything, please know it is not a “diss”, and is merely my ignorance—please teach me (us).  

For those of you visiting a Buddhist temple, there is always a main buddha set amongst all of the paintings and statutes of Buddha in the main hall.

This main buddha is called the honzon (本尊), which is essentially the principal image of Buddha, though a more direct translation is “fundamental honored”.

Oh, household butsudan (a small shrine found in many Japanese homes) will also contain a honzon.

Yes… a used the word “a” when describing the honzon, as there isn’t just ONE main buddha.

For those of you who have visited more than one Buddhist temples, you may have noticed that the main buddha looks different from place to place.

I’m not JUST talking about the stance of the buddha sitting cross-legged atop a lotus… the hands may be clasped, a hand may be raised, both hands may be posed, etc…. no… I’ve seen the reclining buddha… actually lying down but facing me. I’ve also seen standing buddha in various poses…  such as the reclining sideways buddha, or a sitting buddha with one leg bent as though he is about to stand (probably has a cramp from sitting cross-legged).
I saw the Wat Pho Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Terry Kelleher
No… I’m talking about physical appearance… it’s not just the same guy in different poses, no… it’s a different looking buddha.

I had originally thought that the differing images were simply different aspects of the “one Buddha”, much the same way that the Christian religion worships a holy trinity of “the father, the son, and the holy spirit”.

But I was wrong. The buddha look different from one another because they are representations of different people who have achieved the highest levels of spirituality.

The honzon is usually a statue, but some temples will utilize a scroll featuring an image of a buddha.

The statute version of a honzon is known as a butsuzō (仏像). These butsuzō are made of copper, or bronze or cypress wood.

The Butsuzōzui (仏像図彙, "Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images" - see image at the top) is a collection of Buddhist iconographic sketches. Originally published in 1690, it has over 800 drawings showing the Buddhist icons divided into five parts and further categorized. The book during the Edo-period was considered to be the source for information on Buddhist and Shinbutsu deities. You can see a copy of this book, and its drawings HERE.

From what I understand (generally - not from the Butsuzōzui book I can not read), the type of buddha comprising the honzon depends on the sect and temple.

Buddhas representing Dainichi Nyorai or Amida Buddha may be found as honzon at temples following the Esoteric Buddhist sects.

Shakyamuni as honzon might be found at a Zen temples.

For further diversity, honzon may also consist of statues of the bodhisattva (founders) of a sect. They may not be the main honzon buddha, but they are worshipped as honzon, nonetheless.

Usually hidden by clothing, regular folk can wear a mini statue of a buddha. Known as a mamori honzon, these tiny buddha act as a personal guardian of the wearer, though for it to work, however, the wearer must wear a mamori honzon specific to the year of their birth.

After creating a physical representation of a buddha, a consecration ceremony known as a kaigen is performed. During the kaigen, the eyes of the buddha are awakened by the “dotting” of the eyes via paint—which actually sounds pretty cool.

Coolness aside, the dotting of the eyes is supposed to turn the honzon into a “vessel” of the particular buddha, which then possesses spiritual power—which is why those who pray to a honzon buddha at a temple aren’t merely praying to a statute. The statue has been transformed into a physical representation of the buddha, replete with awesome powers.

Okay… anymore, and I’m going to have to start meditating, and while I’m sure being able to turn off my mind, relax and float downstream would be neat-o, it would make for a piss-poor blog.

Andrew Joseph
PS: The lines from the last paragraph are from the song Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles. It's the last song of the second side, and apparently John Lennon dropped acid (LSD) while reading The Tibetan Book Of The Dead and then wrote the song, words and music - backwards tracking and all. I tried doing the same thing decades ago, and stayed up for a weekend zombies out staring at a corner of my bedroom wall. Have a listen:

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Japan Pension Age Raised To 71

It beats me how I missed this story… I must be getting old.

Back in February of 2018, Japan prime minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) and his government managed to push through reforms detailing when its populace can draw a retirement pension.

Currently, Japan’s population may begin drawing their pension at any point between the age of 60 to 70. If you happen to be 65 or older when you begin to draw the pension, you will receive larger pension payments.

Provided the retirees are moving with their kids, the latter option is viable... otherwise it simply means five years or more of no income.

While many will have put aside a nest egg (not me, but then again I never expected to live this long), if the retirees are moving into a kid's home without bringing in a pension, it will place a financial burden on the family who now have added costs.

But now, scheduled to come into effect after April 2020, the new age of pension drawing will be 71 and older.

The reason for this pension reform is quite simple. Japan has an incredibly high life expectancy and an incredibly low birthrate.

It means that now, and into the future, Japan’s population will continue to have an older age average… which will put a tremendous burden on the country to provide pensions for the aging population.

With the new pension plan, it delays things by a maximum of 10 years, meaning the government will be able to save money… or at least spend the same amount of money for more people as the population continues to age.

It’s actually quite a good plan… and this is me saying so being a non-fan of Abe’s usual proposals and actions.

As the population greys and ages, and with its negative birthrate, there will be labor shortages, meaning fewer people putting taxes into the country’s cashbox.

Add in increasing costs of welfare, and the current pension situation would be doomed to fail.

At least with the new pension plan kicking-in in 2020, it buys Japan some time.

Either it can create the Carrousel (sic) like in the movie/book Logan’s Run where everyone who turns 30 is essentially executed to keep the population in check, or it can figure out a way to have its population have larger families or to even have families.

Or it could open up immigration and provide easier opportunities for landed immigrants to work and become Japanese citizens.

Unfortunately, that last one, by far the easiest to achieve—even with Japan’s language divide—is the least likely to occur, as the country continues to enjoy maintaining the purity of the Japanese bloodline when possible.

Along with the pension reform to 71+, Japan may still decide to alter its mandatory retirement age from 60, increasing it five years to 65.

Uh yeah…

In Canada it’s 65, and we don’t live anywhere near as long as the Japanese do.

Imagine being Japanese and being forced to retire at the age of 60… and then facing possibly decades more of just sitting around the house annoying your wife who enjoyed you previously working all those long work hours.

You worked and worked and worked… probably had little time to cultivate proper hobbies… working so hard that you missed all of the milestones your kids achieved… and now, you are 60 and you get to not do anything?

Wow. At least most non-Japanese countries, the people have a better quality of life where their work day allows them to have a decent family/home life. It allows them to perhaps better move into retirement.

The Japanese plan to increase the mandatory retirement age to the age of 65, however, is ONLY being considered for its civil servants… about 3.4 million as the number sits. If done, it will save the central government a chunk of change, as its workers slowly retire.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Balling Costs Japanese Athletes At Asia Games

I’m sure most of you fans of all things Japanese have already hard the news that four male “members” of the Japanese national basketball team have been sent home from the currently on-going Asian Games, for their romps with sex workers… IE prostitutes.

Nagayoshi Yuya, Hashimoto Takuya, Sato Takuma and Imamura Keita (all surname first), were easily spotted within the red light district (Roxanne, you don’t have to turn on the red light!) of Jakarta, Indonesia.

Yes… easily spotted, as all four of the dumb buggers were wearing their national team jerseys.

C’mon guys… you ain’t impressing anyone in Jakarta by wearing your Japanese national team shirts… maybe if you were part of an awesome Table Tennis team… but still… put on some jeans or khakis and a nice golf shirt… and put on some sunglasses.

Apparently the four ballers had finished dinner at the athlete’s village and decided to hit the town to see the sights, the sounds, the smell of Indonesia, and managed to do all three after being coaxed into the liaison by the professional streetwalkers.

Hey… I’m not here to judge their judgement in the matter.

I am only going to judge their choice of fashion, as it made them easy to spot. Kind of like in the photo above, where they are "hiding" their faces with masks, as they leave Jakarta.

Of course, all four had to face the music at a press conference in Tokyo where they all bowed and showed regret.  

Seriously... if they had dressed in the same manners as in the photo above, less the masks, when they went into the sex-area, they might have gotten away with it.

Actually... no, they wouldn't have.

This is 2018... and if you are an athlete or icon, there's a good chance someone is going to recognize you. Now it's possible that alcohol had screwed up their judgement, but how drunk do you have to be to not have that inkling that someone in the media might be watching you at these Asian Games?

It's their job.      

The Japanese Olympic officials who are involved with these games, said they only found out about the events after photographs of the four men were published in a newspaper showing them enjoying the night life of Jakarta.

Oh well… stupid.

I’m not saying I haven’t done anything stupid… my blog is filled with instances where my stupid antics could have caused me much trouble on the JET Programme.

But these guys went out of their way to show off their stature as members of the Japanese national basketball team.

All four were sent home in disgrace from the sporting event.    

More troubling, is that the national Japanese men’s basketball team must now compete in the tournament with only eight men.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Japanese Tea Pots

In Japan, tea is as important as rice to the daily rituals of the populace. And I don’t mean brown tea, I mean o-cha… honorable green tea.

Kyūsu (急須) are teapots… though it is, being Japan, there are actually four different styles of teapots.

1) Yokode no kyūsu (横手の急須) are the “side-hand tea pot” (see above) and were originally made solely for the right-handed pourer in mind. Recently, one can find left-handed teapots.

These yokode no kyūsu teapots have a cylindrical-shaped ceramic handle jutting out at 90-degrees from the actual spout.

2) The dobin is a larger kyūsu with a rounder look, similar to a standard kettle, BUT it has a handle usually made of wire or bamboo. The word dobin transforms to “do = earthen” and “bin = bottle”.

This teapot is used for houjicha and bancha teas. Hey.. I don’t make the rules.

3) Offshoots of the yokode no kyūsu are the Atode no kyusu (後手の急須, back hand tea pot), which has a rounded handle at the back of the teapot, opposite the spout.

This is what non-Japan might typically use, and as such, non-Japanese teas are poured with this type of teapot.

4) Houhin (宝瓶, treasure vessel), is another type of kyūsu, with the main difference being that it lacks a handle.

Used to steep the very high-quality sencha tea and gyokuro teas, rules dictate that one not use water hotter than 60F, so despite your fears, you won’t burn your fingerprints off.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, August 20, 2018

Kare Raisu - A Japanse Tradition

Is it sushi, or maybe tempura? Which is the most popular Japanese food?

It might be kare raisu (カレーライス) aka Curry Rice.

I know, I know… you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw the proliferation of all of the curry shops in Japan.

Curry has become so popular, that it effectively has three forms: curry rice, curry udon (curry over noodles), and curry bread (a curry-filled pastry).

Curry rice is by far the most popular, and is simply known as kare (curry).

But isn’t curry from the sub-continent? Yup.

And Andrew, isn’t your background from India, and don’t you love to eat curry? Yes, and no, sorta. I’ve never been to India, don't speak the language and until Japan never ate the food.

When I left Canada for Japan, I had never eaten curry before… well, maybe just once when my parents who enjoyed the spicy cuisine burnt off my taste buds with a spicy, homemade concoction… and I never went back… until I got married to someone who thought she was marrying a real Indian and thought we should eat Indian food often. Ahhh, the things one does for a wife.

And then there was Matthew.

A couple of weeks after we landed in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan back in August of 1990, fellow AET and current good buddy Matthew invited me to ride our bicycles out with him to a Kare Raisu shop… a two story black building with gold trim (if memory serves me correctly) for a plate of back home comfort food for someone who’s home was back in India. I think it was the CURRY HOUSE CoCo ICHIBANYA (カレーハウスCoCo壱番屋 大田原本町店).

Actually, I’m reasonably sure that Matthew did NOT invite me out merely because he assumed I was a real Indian, surmising that like most people in western civilization, I may actually have enjoyed eating curry previously, and that having something to eat that wasn’t Japanese might make a nice treat.

I hope that was the reason, Matthew.

We sat down at the table… probably surprising the waitress as two gaijin, but to her credit, she seemed unfazed.

It literally was just a couple of weeks after we arrived, but already Matthew had in that time learned more of the Japanese language than I would over three years. Sad but true. Sad for me, obviously. Then again, I already had a girlfriend. Then again, Matthew did marry local girl, Takako and have two beautiful children. I guess he wins… then again, this isn’t a competition.

The restaurant’s menu offered up a menu that delineated kare raisu at various heat levels.

Matthew ordered a six, I believe, and I had to do him a lot better. After all, I’m of Indian background, and how hot could bloody Japanese curry be? I was sure the Japanese wouldn’t stand for the excruciating heat that real Indians, the British and other food connoisseurs enjoyed.

Why I did it, I’ll never know. I ordered a 10… to which the waitress sucked in air through her teeth in surprise and explained in broken English that it was very hot.

I smiled, handed her the menu, ordered an Eagle beer (as did Matthew), and said it was okay.

When it came, and Matthew dove right in, I followed suit.

I had no idea hair could sweat because it didn’t have pores, but apparently in dire emergencies, pores actually appear ON hair.

My face turned red, and then purple as I lost all feeling except pain in my tongue and mouth. Holy crap, why do my teeth hurt?

My nose was running, and I’m pretty sure my stomach gave one of those lurches that said it was going to make me crap my pants before I died later that afternoon.

But here’s the stupid part… in physical and emotional pain… I kept eating.

I drank that beer quickly… then the free glass of water placed innocently near me when we arrived… Matthew sensing that although I had no boasted of being able to consume such spiciness, he knew someone was full of sh!t… or soon to be full of sh!t when he saw one.

He ordered me a lassi… a cold yogurt drink… which actually seemed to help cool the heat. I decided I would drink it all to coat my stomach lining and then finish the 10-level kare raisu… figuring it would give me enough time to go home and crap my brains out in private bliss and pain.

I really had no desire to visit the washroom of a Japanese curry shop… and even if what I imagined might await me were true, I had no desire to ruin things for the other diners at this place.

Also, I might want to bring Ashley here—she likes spicy food.

About an hour later, my stomach gurgling so loudly that I could barely hear Matthew say we should pay our bill and leave, I first learned about the no tipping rule from him.

Trust me… if I had used the washroom, I would have left a huge… tip for the guy who had to clean up after me... but there's no tipping in Japan... except maybe I should tell them to take the #10 off the menu.

But now… the worst was yet to come. I know I said that before... but this time I mean it.

We had to ride our bicycle home.

My intestinal track had been fine sitting down (despite the gurgling complaints), but when I stood up, everything moved down into the lower intestine… and then when I got on my bicycle, but butt hurt… so I stood up on the pedals to ride… deathly afraid that each rotation of my feet would cause me to open up.

Matthew left me as we arrived five minutes later at my apartment… I carefully locked up my bicycle in 0.47 seconds and then walked quickly but very carefully to the elevator.

I only live on the third floor, but I was afraid that any leg separation created from walking up the available staircases (plural) would be disastrous.

That elevator took its sweet time coming down… longer still to open and then close the door as I jabbed the 3rd then Close Door buttons repeatedly… and an eternity for it to begin moving upwards.

The laws of comedy would dictate that a family got on at the second floor, but in case instance I got lucky as the elevator lurched and bumped up and down to a stop at the third floor.

I learned I could clench my buttocks and walk very quickly all the way to end of the outside hall to my apartment, as I fumbled with my keys to open the heavy front door.

The excitement of being able to find sweet, sweet relief and release nearly got the best of me as I struggled with the door, but a quick clench got the situation under control.

Again, the laws of comedy would dictate that as I moved towards the toilet in my apartment that I crapped myself, but again, I never studied law.

All’s well that ends well.

Did you know that Japanese kare raisu is not considered to be as hot as Indian curry?

Maybe. Maybe not the #10 on that menu.

The Japanese curry has a few ingredients to make it more Japanese than Indian.

There’s fukujinzuke (福神漬)… a relish-like condiment consisting of pickled vegetables such as daikon radish, eggplant, lotus root and cucumber all finely chopped and flavored with soy sauce (shoyu) and sake.

As well, while Indian curry will frequently utilize mackerel, Japanese curry sticks with the basics of beef, chicken and pork meats.

Kare raisu was introduced by the British during the early Meiji era (1868 to 1912). India was ruled by Great Britain until independence was won in 1947.

Because the dish was introduced to Japan by the British, the Japanese mistakenly thought the dish was a western concoction… which may have contributed to its popularity, as western culture, owing to its newness, had become quite the fashion amongst the Japanese.

By the 1960s, Japanese kare raisu had become so popular, that it could be found at grocery stores.

Recently, the Imperial Japanese Navy adopted curry from the British Royal Navy to prevent beriberi (a thiamine deficiency)./ As such, every Friday, curry is on the menu for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

I’m assuming they aren’t ordering the #10 nuclear option like I did.

The next time I went to that restaurant—with Ashely—I had a five, while she had an eight. She nearly died, but this time mine was just merely hot enough for a light sweat to break out, with nary a blowing of the nose.

The next time with Matthew, I had a six. At the same time, I should note that I had begun to cook my own chilli con carne at my apartment… and after Ashley complained at the weakness of the spices I used, I slowly built up the heat levels every week… until after she missed a few weeks owing to us being broken up, I continued to increase the heat… as such when we got back together again, I recall internally laughing with glee as she lay on my couch complaining about the pain gathered from the heat.

I was fine.

I never did go back to a #10 at the restaurant again, maintaining a level of decorum at #7, with nothing to prove, as I had done quite the forgettable job of proving myself a #10 idiot.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Katakiuchi - Revenge By Death

During the Edo era (ended in 1867) and earlier, so-called feudal Japan had no problem with its social classes carrying out a vendetta, as the act was considered honorable.

Samurai, for example, utilized bushido, a strict set of warrior codes (the way of the warrior), had no problem in settling a death debt, such as the killing of their daimyo (lord) or caste leader - the actual revenge by murder is called katakiuchi.

The Japanese term kataki means “sworn enemy”… and even if one doesn’t kill the actual person who has wronged you or your clan, revenge is considered fulfilled if you kill someone close to that person.

It doesn’t mean you’l kill that samurai’s wife—there’s no honor in killing someone defenceless, rather it can be taken out their retired battle-weary uncle or their feudal lord.

The Japanese tale of the 47 Ronin, is one such example—the Kanadehon Chushingura—whereby the former samurai (now masterless and referred to as ronin) to rain a measure of revenge for their fallen master.

After Japan opened up its borders, officially with the Meiji-jidai (Meiji era) in 1868. the practice of katakiuchi was outlawed.

One would have to be naive to assume katakiuchi died out immediately, but by the beginning of the 20th century, with the former warrior class now old men, the vendetta culture disappeared.

The practice is more than likely still being upheld by the yakuza (the Japanese mob), who don’t take any guff from anyone, no matter how small the perceived slight.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Watermelon Busts

Sorry guys, this isn’t about large breasted Japanese women, rather it is about an old curious game played by the Japanese (they can be large breasted Japanese women, if you want to imagine that).

Called suikawari (スイカ割り), the game is akin to whacking a piñata.

In the suikawari game, a watermelon is placed down onto the ground—sandy ground works best—while one person is blindfolded.

The rest of the people spin around the blindfolded person and much hilarity ensues as the blindfolded person attempts to whack the watermelon with a wooden stick.

If successful, everyone scrambles around for a tasty treat, otherwise everyone laughs at the person swinging and missing, and it’s the next person’s try to win.

Oh yeah, to prevent sandy and dirt from getting onto the watermelon, the fruit/vegetable is placed atop a blanket that sits over the sand. Sand is preferred to better prevent the watermelon from rolling when it is struck. In the event pictured above, they have used a flattened cardboard (corrugated) box.

Nowadays, at least in North America, some people are placing rubber bands tightly around watermelons until the explode under the pressure, with hilarity for all.

Hmm… I wonder when rubber bands were first used in Japan?

Anyhow, back in 1991, the Japan Agricultural Cooperative created a set of rules for the game—the Japan Suika-Wari Association Rules.

Rules… sigh.

No doubt about it, aside from the rules turning spontaneous fun into classic Japanese kata (structure of how things must be done), the purpose of the rules creation was to increase the consumption of watermelon.

Here are the official rules - feel free to ignore:

  • Distance between player and watermelon: over 5m, and within 7m;
  • Stick: Circumference of 5cm; length equal to or less than 1m, 20cm;
  • Material to use for blindfold: JSWA-recognized blindfolds. To verify that the player was truly blinded, observers were encouraged to drop a 10,000-yen note in front of him/her;
  • Watermelon: a well-ripened domestic melon;
  • Time limit: 3 minutes;
  • Judging: Judges should rate the player on how pretty a break between halves she managed to make. Players who cleaved the watermelon in equal halves could come close to a perfect score, while players who broke them into unequal parts would receive lower marks;
  • Other details: Judges should have eaten at least 10 watermelons in the current year.

I love the rule stating that one can only be a judge if they have eaten 10+ watermelons in the calendar year. Yeah… never say die, eat more fruit/vegetables!

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo taken from Wikipedia via Flicker: konitomo1027 - スイカ ヒットの瞬間

Friday, August 17, 2018

Being Physically-Challenged In Japan

Below is a portion of an article from the University of Tokyo website, discussing the options available in the workforce for Japanese people with physical challenges.

Despite all the talk of inclusion and diversity as core social values, many people with disabilities in Japan find their options dwindle fast as they get closer to completing their studies and start looking for jobs.

In a society where many companies recruit people fresh out of college and employees tend to stay with the same employer for years, if not for life, people with disabilities who are unable to fit into cookie-cutter, 40-hour-a-week work styles often find themselves shut out entirely from the job market.

Takeo Kondo, associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST), is trying to change that by advocating an alternative: “super-short employment,” where wages can be paid for working as little as 15 minutes a day.

“Employment should have nothing to do with time spent on the job,” Kondo said in a recent interview at RCAST on the university’s Komaba Campus in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward. “But Japan’s career model has centered on one where a person works 40 hours a week throughout the year—a model that is implicitly geared toward male adults without disabilities that often excludes others.”

The 42-year-old psychologist, who joined the RCAST faculty in 2005, has for years run DO-IT Japan, a program that helps elementary to graduate school students with disabilities who possess leadership potential to utilize computer technologies and acquire self-advocacy skills so they can gain access to secondary and higher education and enter the job market.

DO-IT, which stands for Diversity, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology and originally started in the U.S., was launched in Japan in 2007 by Kenryu Nakamura, a professor at RCAST. It has helped students regardless of their condition, ranging from attention hyperactivity deficit disorder, learning disabilities (LD) and autism, to those tackling hearing, visual and physical challenges.

Kondo said he was happy to see DO-IT participants succeed academically but found that students faced a bigger hurdle once they started looking for employment.

“One of our students who had difficulty writing due to developmental disorders was probably the first person in Japan with that condition to take the college entrance exam using a word processor (instead of handwriting answers),” Kondo said. “We also had the nation’s first student with LD (dyslexia) taking the standardized college entrance exam by audio (having the questions read to him). But all our students encountered huge hurdles—of a different kind—when they got to the job-hunting stage.”

Japan’s employment model doesn’t accommodate talented employees who, for example, have difficulty with mobility and need help with eating or using the toilet, or who are super-high achievers but can only work up to 10 hours a week, he said.

To continue reading the article, click HERE.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

What About Matsuo?

I have long held the belief that when it comes to social services in Japan, it is lacking behind the rest of the so-called first-world nations.

While I’m sure things have progressed a fair bit since I was in Japan 25 years ago—the stigma surrounding mentally-challenged people was deplorable—I can state that those with physical challenges have got a better environment.

I’ll present an article on those with physical challenges in Japan tomorrow.

Back in the 1990s, for example, kids with mental challenges were not automatically placed in a classroom environment specially-designed for their needs.

It was left up to the family to decide if their son or daughter was to be placed in a special education classroom.

In Tochigi-ken’s city of Ohtawara where I assisted taught English at its then-seven junior high schools, the school known as Wakakusa Chu Gakko had a wonderful special education program.

But, some 10 kilometers to the west at Nozaki Chu Gakko, for example, they did not. And they had one boy Matsuo who was most definitely in need of special education.

And while it would be easy for me to suggest there should have been a way for him to attend the Wakakusa class—he could have.

His parents, who ran a small local area restaurant, did not want the social stigma of having a child to be recognized as being “special”, and so this kid attended and floated through three years of junior high school.

Matsuo somehow got my phone number, and from the first week he began calling me once a week onwards to chat.

I didn’t know Japanese when I arrive, and it hardly improved to more than a kindergarten level when I left three years on… but still he would call me… say Hello, and then chat away in Japanese to me.

I didn’t mind, but after my second year (he was in the last year of junior high—because everybody in Japan passes and proceeds to the next grade no matter how poorly they do—I mentioned the situation to the head English teacher Mrs. Nagashima (Nagashima-sensei), who after a brief investigation discovered that my mystery caller was her student Matsuo.

I had thought it was some old, confused woman calling me.

She told him to stop—which I felt really bad about… because I didn’t want to come off as appearing insensitive. He did chat away for 45 minutes at a time, however.

To compensate however, Matsuo did begin to send me letters and photos he took at various local wrestling events, which was cool because I did (still kindda do) enjoy professional wrestling entertainment.

It’s now 25 years since I left Japan, and wonder how the now 38-year-old Matsuo is.

I know he would have had a job at his family’s restaurant—Nagashima-sensei told me about that, after I confesses my concerns for his future. She was also the one who had told me about Matsuo’s parents wanting him to go to Nozaki rather than the special education class at Wakakusa.

By the way… for those of you who believe the Japanese are reticent to tell a gaijin intimate details—bullcrap. You need to develop trust, and you need to show concern about them or others. You may not fit in with the “work” environment, but you may fit in with the “friend” environment.

As for Matsuo, back in class I observed the other students treating him poorly—picking on him because he was the nail that stood up, and needed hammering down, thanks to his inability to fit in with the so-called normal smarts of Japanese society.

I intervened when I saw it happen, having my concerns spelled out by Japanese speakers—but not in Matsuo’s presence.

My farewell speeches for each class and school encouraged the students to treat everyone as equals… as friends… as they had done for me.

It should have been easy for the Nozaki students when it came to Matsuo. They were by far the most polite kids I had ever come across.

Heck, they had even figured out I had a crush on Noboko who taught there, and when I was off visiting other school, they hammered at her that I was a nice guy, and how much they liked me, which caused her to alter her opinion about me which created a wonderful ending of my time in Japan, despite the eventual outcome. No-No-Noboko.

Matsuo had graduated by that year, did not go to high school—I don’t recall actually—but I can state that he seemed happy whenever he saw me, and hung around me—perhaps as another outsider of Japanese society—hopefully more for friendship than for safety.

Okay… those Nozaki kids were only sometimes mean to him—exasperated perhaps by his constant childish behavior—and the teasing was quite minor… IE, I only saw it the one time and commented about it immediately… so maybe things weren’t so bad for Matsuo.

At his parent’s restaurant he was going to be the busboy, busing tables and doing the dishes and sweeping up. A fine job for anyone.

Who’s to say that anything he learned at a special education class would have changed his lot in life working at his parent’s restaurant?

It would have at the very least allowed him the opportunity to be around kids in a similar situation to his own… and maybe he might have felt better about himself—of course, I don’t know if that was ever a concern for him.

I imagine it was, but what the fug do I know?

If anyone has some realtime information on the situation of Japanese students with special education needs, I would love to hear from you.

Right now, I assume Matsuo’s parents are in their 60s and if not soon to retire, are also approaching an age where they will no longer be able to provide for Matsuo.

And THAT’s what I am concerned about.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hot-lantis And Future Fashion

In anticipation of the world’s cities turning into multiple versions of Neo-Atlantis, a Japanese man has created AMPHIBIO, a 3D printed amphibious outfit that acts as a breathing apparatus…

Maybe it’s not such a far-fetched idea.

The Earth does seem to be getting warmer, meaning the polar icecaps are melting raising the overall level of the global seas and oceans.

In fact, it is predicted that by the year 2100, the world’s temperature will increase by 3.2C which is an increase of about 5.7F. That’’s just the average.

Those 36C summer days are going to be 41.7C… NOT including the HUMIDITY. You Americans should know that’s 107.1F (not including humidity).

That’s frickin’ hot.

Perhaps by the year 2100 we will no longer have to travel to work, being able to work from home in a clerkless shopping environment as everything is e-commerce with electric drone/robot delivery.

It will still play havoc with energy demands, but perhaps we will have become smart enough to utilize solar, wind and geothermal where those options are truly available.

Created by biomimicry designer and material scientist Kamei Jun (surname first), the AMPHIBIO is made from a porous hydrophobic material that supports underwater breathing by replenishing oxygen from the surrounding water and dissipating carbon dioxide which accumulate in the system, inspired from the gill of water diving insects.

It’s actually quite the interesting product, which I hope my descendants never have to use, but just in case we haven’t already developed our own set of gils, the AMPHIBIO could suffice.

Obviously the world will not be underwater by 2100, but parts of the planet will be.

The AMPHIBIO doesn’t resolve the problem of global warming, but designer Kamei’s project does help in 2018 point out the necessity to begin doing something about the issue.

POTUS (president of the United States) aside, global warming is a real thing.

The wild weather we’ve been having this year is merely a meek harbinger of things to come.

Ed. Note: After writing this, later this past Monday I found the following story about Jakarta, Indonesia sinking: HERE. So... maybe Kamei knows something...

Maybe we will need to have communities closer to the water’s edge, or maybe as Kamei seems to be shockingly pointing out, if nothing is done to halt global warming soon, we’ll need our own set of gills.

Kamei’s website can be found at, and it’s in English.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sakurajima Daikon Good For The Heart

As evidenced by the photo above—part of a 1930s-era collection I purchased when I was in Japan—the Sakurajima daikon radish is one big veggie.

And, provided you can lift it without it killing you, Japanese scientists have discovered that it has positive effects in battling cardiovascular disease.

A recently published article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that compounds in the Sakurajima Daikon radish could help protect coronary blood vessels and potentially prevent heart disease and stroke.

The Sakurajima daikon radish is grown on Sakurajima (桜島, Cherry Blossom Island), which is part of Kagoshima-ken (Kagoshima Prefecture) in the western part of Japan.

The Sakurajima volcano is Japan’s most active volcano, in a near-constant state of eruption expelling volcanic ash all over the island.

Sakurajima is a stratovolcano, with three peaks: Kita-dake (North peak), Naka-dake (Middle peak) and Minami-dake (South peak), the latter of which is active now.

The volcanic ash deposited around Sakurajima, along with the dry density and PH levels of the soils has helped increase the size of vegetation in the area, including the Sakurajima daikon radish.

Radishes in general posses an excellent source for human antioxidant consumption, and according to global scientists, can have a positive affect in battling cardiovascular disease by reducing high blood pressure and clots.

The recent study led by Japanese researchers was the first attempt to see if the super-large daikon radish possessed more cardio benefits than other standard radishes with higher nitric oxide production—a key regulator of coronary blood vessel function.

And, lo and behold—otherwise why am I writing about this, it was realized that the Sakurajima daikon radish did indeed offer more nitric oxide production in vascular cells than other smaller Japanese radishes.

So… while the results are merely the results, with nothing officially set in stone, if you are looking to improve your own cardiovascular health, you may want to include the Sakurajima daikon radish into your diet.

Just don’t get a hernia while trying to heft it onto the cutting board.

Andrew Joseph