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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Non Sequitur

Above is a cartoon that captures the flavor of the two blogs I write the most for: Pioneers of Aviation and this one, Japan--It's a Wonderful Rife.

It's a Non Sequitur toon written and drawn by Wiley Miller, appearing in newspapers on September 13, 2018 - coincidentally, gal-pal Alice's birthday, and offered up to me by my good friend Vinnie.

Today is September 30... and man I'm glad this effing month is over with. Not only chock full of baseball and hockey, and work, work, work, it was full of memorable birthdays and death days, and sooooo many added expenses for new hockey goalie equipment, broken car and furnace, to a science project, work travel... that I may all ready have reached a breaking point and simply not noticed it happened.

Until I do, I soldier on, looking for my own jailbreak.

I love Non Sequitur. Hope you enjoyed the trip.

You can find more HERE.

Andrew Joseph
PS: A non sequitur is a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Something Good For PlayStation Fans

If you are one of those gamers who enjoys… let’s say, Fortnite… and you play it on the Sony PS4 (PlayStation 4), like my son does, he gets to play alongside several of his buddies.

But not all of his buddies.

While the game is available across other formats such as Microsoft Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch, if other friends were on those consoles, it meant my son and his PS4 game could not play against or with each other.

Until now.

Sony has announced that it will now allow cross-format multiplayer gaming on PlayStation 4, meaning Sony customers (subscribers) can now play online multiplayer with friends on other formats such as the Nintendo or Microsoft gaming systems.

Yay, he says sarcastically. Now my son can waste more time sitting on his a$$ playing with lots of friends rather than actually getting up and out of the house to play or ride a bike.

I blame Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft for its part in creating kids who can act on social media and other systems without actually being sociable.

Yes, I realize the ultimately it is up to the parent to control their kid’s playtime… but even if I shut my kid off 100 per cent from playing a game (it’s close to 100 per cent anyways), NONE of his bloody friends want to go out and play.

I already coach his hockey and baseball teams... should I hang out and play with him because all of his friends are inside playing video games?

I have nothing against video games.  I played them myself... spent a lot of time at the arcade stuffing quarters on a string into the games like Scramble, Gorf, 1942, Centipede, Galaxian, Donkey Kong (and Donkey Kong Jr.), etc. I had a home arcade system before most kids that doubled as a home computer. I have Sega systems, Nintendo systems, and now Sony systems out the ying-yang. I play video games when I have free moment (none the past few months), but I was enjoying Assassin's Creed Black Flag... I get the allure of video games...

But at least I went outside and played with my friends. That simple thing... playing in-person with friends is important. It helps develop social relationships. Holy crap... maybe everyone will text or IM someone for a data... but what will they do ON the date? No one will know how to talk to each other.

Okay... I digress. I am only here today to inform you that Sony is now allowing cross-console on-line gaming.


Andrew Joseph
The above line on the image is from the 1970s cult comedy movie Animal House.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Super Typhoon Trami From Space

I don’t know about you, but until I went to live and work in Japan in 1990, I had never been exposed to the might and fury of a typhoon.

For those of you NOT in Asia, a typhoon is a hurricane. In Japanese, the word is spelled as 台風 (たいふう) and is pronounced as taifuu.

That first month in Japan - August - was spent sweating like a pig from the humidity… and then came a massive storm… though my OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City) in Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture) told me it was a typhoon… the first of many, as late August/early September marks the beginning of typhoon season.

Wait? There’s so many typhoons that there’s actually a frickin’ season? Yes.

Two actually, with the other hitting in the Spring.

Generally-speaking, each season can expect to include about five typhoons, with other rain storms  consisting of tropical storms or tropical depressions.
Anyhow… I just wanted to show you these really cool photographs taken by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst react-text: 25 (Credit for all photos: ESA/NASA-A.Gerst/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Gerst, of Germany, is the commander of Expedition 57 aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

These photos (at the top, and below) show Super Typhoon Trami, as it heads towards Japan.

It has since been downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, with winds at 96-112 knots/178-208 km/h.

As you may have noticed, Western and Asian definitions and measurement differ.

A close-up look at the actual eye of the Super Typhoon Trami storm.
ESA astronaut (and photographer) Alexander Gerst in the ISS.

Andrew Joseph  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Prime Minster Ally Blows Homophobic Rhetoric

Some people are just full of hate.

Back in July of 2018, the 51-year-old Sugita Mio  (surname first, 杉田 水脈), a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, and a member of the House of Representatives (representing the Proportional Chugoku Bloc - don’t ask… I don’t know what the hell that means), wrote an article for The Shincho 45 magazine, wherein she described LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people as “unproductive”, and then also questioned the use of federal tax money to support them.

By unproductive, Sugita meant ‘non-child-rearing’. Implying that if one doesn’t raise a child, they are not worth a taxpayer investment.

I have a kid. Do you know what I call people who don’t have kids? Rich. Or at least having more money than me.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s main man is Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Is it only me, but does it seem as though Japan just doesn’t understand the meaning of the terms “liberal” and “democratic”?

Obviously, Sugita (that’s her in the photo above, with I think something stuck between her teeth - and no, it’s not a bridle… although… ) has stirred up a hornet’s nest of criticism.

Since the article’s publication, many Japanese politicians have denounced her comments, including former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio (surname first). Since July 27, 2018, there have been thousands of protesters outside the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters demanding her resignation.

I admire those protesters, but doesn’t anybody work?

It’s not Sugita’s first kick at the nest. Back in 2015 she appeared on the TV show Japanese Culture Channel Sakura (日本文化チャンネル桜, Nihon Bunka Channeru Sakura), aka Channel Sakura.

Not a mainstream channel (I hope), according to Wikipedia the channel broadcasts Japanese history, culture, politics, economics, etc. from a right-wing point of view and has hosted Shinzō Abe, the PM of Japan and President of Liberal Democratic Party, many ministers, members of the Liberal Democratic Party as well as the Democratic Party of Japan, local government delegates, well-known intellectuals and people in various fields. Discussion topics often include positive portrayal of Japanese imperialism, war crime denial, anti-Korean and anti-Chinese sentiments as well as attempting to present a "pure" Japanese cultural image. In addition, the channel is associated with nationalist and right-wing Japanese political groups, such as the Japan Conference, Ganbare Nippon and the Sunrise Party of Japan ("Tachiagare Nippon").

Anyhow, on that broadcast in 2015, she claimed that there was no need for LGBT education in schools, dismissing concerns about high suicide rates among the community.

Why they asked Sugita to appear in a 2018 BBC documentary “Japan’s Secret Shame”, I have no idea, but in it she commented on the the alleged rape of Ito Shiori (surname first), saying: "With this case, there were clear errors on her part as a woman; drinking that much in front of a man and losing her memory." And there’s more: "With things like this I think men are the ones who suffer significant damage.

What a silly bunt. Monty Python fans will know what I mean.

As for the magazine Shincho 45, after publishing Sugito’s article, they continued amidst the criticism to wonder “Is Sugita’s article that outrageous?

That outrageous? No. Just outrageous.

As of September 26, 2018, the magazine has decided to close up its shop - with the magazine president Sato Takanobu (surname first) saying Sugita’s article was “full of prejudice and lacked understanding”.

The magazine’s publishing company Shinchosha apologized: “We can’t deny that we failed to scrutinize the feature package and check the articles fully because we are under-resourced for the editing process due to decreased magazine sales. We are so sorry for allowing this to happen.”

You know… that’s just bull-shirt! It takes one person to write the article and one person to edit it, two if you have time. The Shincho 45 magazine could have checked the article, and either it chose not to, or chose not to edit it.

It instead offered a wimpy excuse alongside the nine-word apology.

As for prime minster Abe getting involved in the controversial comments from one of his party, Abe said last week only that she had not asked for her resignation nor pressured her as such, noting that “she is still young.”

She’s 51.

By this time, you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks. She is who she is.

Whatever. This uncaring attitude amongst ruling politicians has become a trend. I suppose we need another global war to explode before everyone remembers that actually caring about other human beings trumps all, and is what makes us human.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Japan’s Space Elevator

On September 22, 2018, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched a rocket that is carrying two small satellites to the International Space Station (ISS) that will be used to test some new technology for a space elevator.

Space elevator? WTF is that?

Well, one day in the future, astronauts may be able to use a “space elevator” to travel from Earth up into orbit to a connecting space flight. Of course, a freight elevator would also be in use.

The space elevator concept isn’t new, as dreamers have pondered its creation since the 1880s via science fiction.

By using a space elevator, there would be an inexpensive way (less rockets and fuel) to get astronauts and cargo into space (to a station), where they could then connect and fly away easier without the cloying effects of gravity causing space ships to need higher levels of rocket power.

This Japanese space flight is carrying the STARS-Me (Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite – Mini elevator), built by engineers at Shizuoka University in Japan.

The STARS-Me is two 10-centimeter cubic satellites connected by a 10-meter-long tether.

Deployed in space, the experiment will have a small three centimeters wide x six centimeters high robot—here representing a future space elevator—travel up and down the cable using a motor.

That photo at the top - that's what the experiment will look like.

JAXA has flown other STARS-Me proto-experiments up into space for deployment, such as the dual satellites and cable, but that one did not actually have the robot attempt to move between the satellites.

I like science fiction - especially the real old stuff, like Jules Verne… and this space elevator sounds like something taken right out of his discarded notes for a novel.

But, science fiction or not, the Obayashi Corporation of Japan thinks it can turn fantasy into reality, and do it by 2050AD. In fact, Obayashi Corporation actually announced its intention to build a space elevator all the way back in 2012, and is using the engineers at Shizuoka University to help them achieve their goal.

Who the heck is the Obayashi Corporation?

Headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, the Obayashi Corporation (株式会社大林組, Kabushiki-gaisha Ōbayashi Gumi) is one of five major Japanese construction companies.

Established in 1892 in Osaka, Obayashi operates in Japan, southeast Asia, Australia, Europe and the U.S., and has constructed the Kyoto Station Building and Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) Center in Tokyo, and, the Tokyo Skytree.

The space elevator, as currently envisioned, will utilize a 96,000-kilometer-long, carbon-nanotube cable attached to a floating “Earth Port” in the ocean on one end and a space station on the other.

In my head, I see airplanes flying into the elevator. Typhoons hitting the floating Earth Port. And holy crap… have you ever been stuck in an elevator?

Can you imagine what the wait time would be to have an elevator repair man come out?

Oh my Lord Otis!

Look… I appreciate that Obayashi Corporation is aware that current technology isn’t quite there yet to make this space elevator a reality. But that’s why they are trying to create the technology. Someone has to, right?

Are we going to use transporters? No! I’m with Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy… I don’t want my atoms scattered all over space. Besides, with a transporter, it has to disassemble your atoms at one point, and reassemble them at another. Do you cease to exit when your atoms are disassembled? Are you now a copy when you are reassembled? This isn’t me wondering, this is a real scientific question for theorists.

Pundits might suggest that we begin developing flying cars… shuttles… but seriously… how many times have you seen a car on the side of the road with engine trouble or out of gas… what if that happens when you are flying?

And the accidents… will drivers stay in “air” lanes?

My way around that is to have all flying car information uploaded to the IoT/Cloud, where an “airway” cloud computer monitors all vehicles upon its “roadway”, and can essentially drive the vehicles to ensure safe travel distance between cars, and entrance and exit from the roadway…

But, in my opinion, we are even farther away in technology for the flying car than we are for a space elevator.

Maybe a space elevator is the best idea.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Japanese Fortune-telling

I have never been to a fortune teller, but my dad has… though in that case it was more of a past-life thing… and she somehow managed to describe a person that was a lot like me who was also involved in my dad’s past as a slave in Costa Rica. I listened to the audio recording of it… and truthfully, I got shivers up my spine.

I don’t necessarily believe in the practise, but I leave enough there to cover my butt in case it turns out that it’s real.

My first exposure happened when a Toronto girlfriend had her aunt do a tarot card reading for me… essentially "Money follows me around." She did not state that it ever caught up to me however, so there’s a truth in that. That was when I was 22.

In my 30s, by the way, I co-created a comic book with my friend Steve Guzelis and late buddy Tom Wachowski: Legends of Tarot… where we would examine a tarot card and create a story based on the meaning assigned to it. For example… the 10 of swords was used by myself to explain a story of love, and betrayal of country wrapped around the first and only time the Great Wall(s) of China was ever breached. It was actually a pretty damn good story. It has nothing to do with Japan, but maybe one day I’ll show it off here.

When I was nearly 26 and in Japan, American girlfriend Ashley was out with her boss/handler in Nishinasuno-machi (Nishinasuno Town) just west of my city of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture).

Ashley and I had been boyfriend-girlfriend since day 3 of my arrival in Japan, and to be honest, by October I had no idea that there was anything amiss in our relationship.

Ashley stopped a street vendor… someone performing uranai - fortune telling, and there she had her fortune told. I believe in Ashley’s case, she had her palm read.

When it was over, apparently so were we.

The fortune-teller volunteered this tidbit of advice to Ashley, which was translated by her boss: “Don’t be afraid to tell him you don’t love him.”

Nice. It certainly changed the scope of our relationship over the next two years while Ashley was in Japan (she did two years on the JET Programme, and I did three).

“Don’t be afraid to tell him you don’t love him.”

Hnnh. I can’t believe how bitter that still makes me feel.

It may have been correct advice, but it doesn’t mean it should have been offered. You can come up with such thoughts yourself… but a complete stranger making a life decision for you? That’s where I draw the line with things.

Anyhow… let’s take a look at Japanese fortune-telling - uranai.

There are, as with other European forms of fortune telling, various Japanese fortune-tellers ply their trade.

1) The palm reader. By looking at a person’s palm, aspects of the future are revealed OR, they will answer questions about any personal problem you may have. Hmmm… which implies that Ashley brought up the personal problem, and the fortune-teller merely provided an answer.

2) The physiognomist. This person looks at your facial features to predict your fate. Yeah, yeah, we’re all going to die. If looks could kill.

3) Astrology. I knew a woman who did a full write up on me based on the time and date of my birth and location. It was much more detailed than a simple examination of oh… you are a Scorpio and thus have the same “fortune” as 1 out of every 12 people on Earth. Japan does combine the year (I’m a wood dragon - every 13 years, the dragon shows up in the Chinese/Japanese zodiac, but they also use five elements (earth, metal, water, wood, fire), meaning your zodiac only appears once every 60 years.

4) Name counting. Since Japanese (and Chinese) names are usually name up of kanji (the Chinese-based alphabet), each symbol is created using a set number of “pen” strokes in a particular order. The fortune tellers will count the number of strokes required to make up your name.

5) Blood type. This one is wacky… but apparently the Japanese put some stock in just what blood type you are, as each type implies different characteristics. It analyzes you personality type… and thus tells you what type of person would make the best soul mate.

6) Ekikyo. This is considered to be the oldest type of fortune telling in East Asia at around 2,000 years of age, and owes its origins via China, and is perhaps better known as the I-Ching. It is thought to have moved into China at around 8th century.  It is the study of the law of changes, according to the website Experience Authentic Japan ( Revolving around the 64 patterns of change (and 64 kanji symbols), each of the 64 is further sub-divided into six patterns to come up with a total of 385 different changes. After sitting with the “readee”, the fortune teller randomly takes 102 of the thin bamboo sticks, and then randomly divides them into two hands, with one hand representing heaven, and the other earth. After counting the number of bamboo sticks left in each hand, the fortune teller can “divine:” a fortune for the present and for the future. At least that’s what I think happens. The English description from that website wasn’t the clearest, if you know what I mean.

All I know about fortune telling, personally, is that it's not an exact science. Well, that and that it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all.
Everyone likes Mickey Mouse. But for me, that guy can fall into a pile of poop and come out smelling like a rose. That's not my reality. It's why I like Donald Duck (in the comic books) a lot. He's the real every-man... he works hard, looks after his nephews after his sister seems to have either died or abandoned them, is always broke, or seemingly the butt of everyone else's good fortune. I get it. Also, he doesn't wear pants. My hero. 
Personally, when exposed to a “western” astrology chart in a newspaper, I will glance at my fortune for the day or for the year. To me, it implies that every 12th person will have the same “fortune” as myself for that day, or every 365th person on the planet will have the same life fortune as myself.

That seems silly. I suppose that the same holds true for Blood Type fortune telling. How many types of blood are there? The basics are A, B, O, and AB. Then there are the positive and negative aspects for each… so eight types. Then there’s the rare stuff, like Rh-null. So far only 43 people have ever been identified with this blood type… which means that if anyone of those people needed blood, they would be in real trouble, but anyone else on the planet could receive this blood… especially those other rare blood types. It’s called the “Golden Blood”. Regardless… let’s just say there are eight main types of blood out there… so does that imply that there are only eight types of personality? Apparently yes, if you believe this form of fortune telling.
Name counting is interesting. It is more of an individual thing, though I imagine all of those “Joe Suzuki” people out there don’t have the exact same “fortune”.

Perhaps, for those who care to have their future divined, that utilizing a combination of all of these factors would be for the best.

I know some non-Japanese fortune tellers utilize complex computer programs to provide data. They require not only the date of birth, but also time of birth, and location (city/country), as a means of determining via start charts one’s “real” fortune… or at least one that is more personalized. After all… how many people were born in your city at the exact same date and time? For example, in a large city like Tokyo with 11,000,000 people or so… maybe three people could be born on the exact same moment as you? Break it down further to what hospital (providing a clearer longitude/latitude or whatever, and you get a more individual, personal divinity reading.

I say I don’t hold much stock in fortune telling as a means of divining my present or future, but that’s because the way most are set up, implies that you should have the exact same fortune as a host of others… and that just seems unlikely.

Sure… I know I was born a wood dragon, and that I’m a scorpio, and that I have such-and-such blood, but how many diviners take all of those things into consideration?

What about where I was born? When I was born? The Earth in relation to the cosmos? Earth is part of the ever-moving Milky way galaxy, implying that the constellations (of the European zodiac) are moving. The Chinese/Japanese one doesn’t even take that into consideration, implying that every person born on a certain day in a certain year, should have the exact same fortune.

Hey… at least European zodiacs seem to provide differing “fortunes” for same day birthdates depending on sex.  

Still… I wouldn’t feel special after knowing that. I’m sorry if I have spoiled things by pointing that out.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at top shows Gladstone Gander, the luckiest duck in the world and cousin to Donald Duck. Gladstone is a pain the butt to my buddy Donald, and is a constant foil vs Donald, and is always trying to swoop in and steal his fickle girlfriend Daisy Duck. In all instances, the ducks above were drawn by Carl Barks... the guy who helped create a sense of adventure in myself, and become a writer.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Takeshi's Castle

When I first arrived in Japan in late July of 1990, I was able to watch a few episodes of a  Japanese television show starring Beat Takeshi called Takeshi's Castle...

It was on TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System), and was on from May 2, 1986 until October 19, 1990.

It was pretty weird, and I didn't understand most of what was going on... but dammit... it was Japan and Japanese and I was curious.

I didn't understand what was going on, but I did know it was kindda dumb... and yet it allowed me to see the serious Japanese people in a whole new light.

They were just as stupid as everyone else on this planet!

My buddy Vinnie sent me a link on YouTube for the show... this one with subtitles... a luxury I was not afforded back in 1990.

Takeshi's Castle (風雲!たけし城 Fūun! Takeshi-jō, literally Showdown! Takeshi Castle) is a Japanese game where Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi) is a Count who owns a castle... and involves players (aka an army) trying to get past the challenges set up to get to the Count.

One of my favorite scenes shows the "army" trying to scale a wall... an I just wonder why they didn't simply walk around it... Oh well... it's a wacky Japanese game show. 


Andrew Joseph

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Joe Carter And Mitch Williams - The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

After my son's hockey house league team was crushed this morning (8-0)  - guess who's the coach? - I went out to a sports card memorabilia trade show where I met my brother.

He's a collector of many a weird thing, which I totally respect. But one of his things is to get autographs and photos of himself with a sports figure, movie star, television star, wrestling entertainment icon, and comic book creator. In the photos, he's always wearing a red Christmas hat... and thus comes up with some witty phrase and makes it all in to the most awesome Christmas cards.

Today, he saw baseball players Mitch Williams and Joe Carter (Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays players, respectively); the Hanson Brothers, the wickedly funny goons from the iconic hockey movie starring Paul Newman called Slapshot; and George Chuvalo, the former Canadian Heavyweight boxing champion who also went toe-to-toe with Muhammad Ali back in the 1960s and not only survived, but in his loss earned Ali's respect and fear of a rematch.

Today's blog revolves around Mitch and Joe.

It was October 23, 1993... Game 6 of MLB (Major League Baseball)'s World Series between the National League's Philadelphia Phillies, and the American League's Toronto Blue Jays.

After five games, Toronto was leading the best of seven series 3-2, with Game 6 played in Toronto.

I had been a Blue Jay's fan since Day 1... and I'm not going to tell you I was at that snowy Opening Day on April 7, 1977, because I wasn't. I was at school... the same school my son now goes to, in fact. Same grade even.

Before that, I was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, and still am... though Toronto is (since 1977) now #1.

Anyhow... 1993... I was plopped down in front of the television set, my mind a million miles away, with a Blue Jays game on.

Oh... the Blue Jays just hit a home run, I registered.

Oh, we just won the game, I realized thanks to the fan reaction on TV.

Oh... we just won the World Series! Hunuh! Cool.

I saw one pitch, and only one pitch.

It was the pitch that Phillies reliever Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams threw to Jays Joe Carter, that he crushed for a three-run home run in the bottom of the 9th inning for a come from behind 8-6 win.

A moment that made Joe Carter a hero for every Canadian sports fan for life... and one that, for a while, caused Williams to receive death threats from Phillies fans for the next year or so.

On October 23, 1993... I had just returned home to Toronto after leaving Japan for what has up until now, still been the last time I was there.

I had finished with three years on the JET Programme in July of 1993, flew back to Toronto, and by mid-September had flown back home to Japan... to try and convince the woman I loved to just love ME and to live happily ever after.

After a happy month with Noboko, I flew back to Toronto convinced I would never see her again, let alone make her my wife, and would probably never be happy again.

When I saw Mitch Williams and Joe Carter together after all those years, signing autographs and posing with my brother for a 2018 Christmas card photo... all I could think about was Noboko, and about Japan.

I missed the Toronto Blue Jays first World Series win in 1992, and merely saw the final pitch of the 1993 World Series win... all because I was in Japan for one, and in another world for the other.

So far, the weekend has been, to say the least, interesting.

Oh... and because my brother is the generous sort - always, for some reason - he gave me the new autograph from Joe Carter that he had signed on an Opening Day Blue Jays ticket. Carter wasn't on the Blue Jays then... he may have still been a high schooler.

The souvenir isn't worth anything (the ticket is a copy), except for it being another reminder of my greatest failure in Japan. Wayda touch'em all Joe.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, September 22, 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.

Andrew Joseph      

Friday, September 21, 2018

Thar Be Dragons

Hi all... I've been bogged down with life, and so my Rife must suffer.

Please amuse yourselves with this cool photo I took of a "water fountain" at Higashi Hongangi Buddhist Temple in Kyoto back in 1991 during a trip there with Ashley. Yes, you may have seen me post it previously... but this time I comment differently.

That woman was sexy and smart and a real pain in the butt sometimes, but she certainly knew how to plan a trip. I was as useless as nipples on a man.

If it wasn't for her, I would have someone managed to get lost in North Korea.

Despite it having been a rainy day when we visited that temple, it was still hot and humid. As such, I had no problem sucking back a ladle full of cool dragon spit from the fountain.

I love dragons... in fact my name in Japanese translates into Peaceful-Leader-Dragon (An-doh-ryu) based on a complex series of kanji that I chose to represent my name. Read the Dragonriders of Pern books by Anne McCaffery.

As well, I was born in the year of the dragon. And who doesn't love that Bruce Lee movie?

But most of all, I really like art... and I marveled at the skill it took to create this bronze (I assume it's bronze) casting. And look at that green patina. And, despite the fierceness of the dragon's expression, the best part, in my opinion is the right taloned foot planting itself up onto the water basin.

Okay... the teeth, beard and mustache are cool too, but so too is the detail to create the individual scales.

Just stunning...

Andrew Joseph
PS: The blog's title is in homage to my friend Vinnie and our shared love of maps. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Boredom? What Boredom?

Holy crap - it's time to write another blog again! Where does the day go?

Rare was the time in Japan where I had to ask myself that!

As an AET (assistant English teacher) on the JET Programme, the four days a week I had to be at a school (Friday was an office day at the Ohtawara Board of Education), I only had to work a maximum of three classes a day... sometimes only two... sometimes only one class. Never zero.

I always had class.

The trick to surviving Japan as an AET is to not allow oneself to become bored.

When not team-teaching in a classroom, I would spend most of my day in the teacher's office.

Initially, I had my English-language newspaper with me - though I suppose nowadays you can just read your local paper online.

I did the crossword puzzle everyday, because even now I do that just before I go to bed, plus about 10 sudoku puzzles.

Then I would crack open the Japanese language books I had, and teach myself how to write and read Japanese kanji (the alphabet that looks like Chinese) - and had after September of my first month teaching, memorized the first 500 kanji. There are, I believe 1,942 kanji a high school student must know to be considered fluent. I was slightly more than 25% per cent of the way there.

Then there were the letters. I was a prodigious letter writer... but that gets boring. Don't you get bored writing e-mails?

I had to mail the letters... traveling from the school down to the end of the driveway to where a post office was located - at least at the big school I taught at - Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School). Nowadays you just hit SEND. Where's the fun in that?

I had to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by standing in line at the post office looking at the wanted posters of criminals as I waited to be served. Those wanted posters all looked similar. Japanese mail... brown eyes... black Moe haircut...

All around me, shorter Japanese women glanced at me as I stood... women, after getting pregnant stay home to raise a family and never go back to work, instead continue the heavy job of looking after the household and correspondence. Now I suppose they just click SEND.

I then had to purchase stamps... and because I'm a curious monkey, I would buy my stamps for the letters, and then look at the stamps I could purchase for my collection that I had just started.

After a month or so in to my stay in Japan, I got bored with learning Japanese. I hated/hate studying. It made me sleepy... or maybe the constant partying did, or just having a girlfriend tuckered me out.

So I began writing short stories. Japan must have something in the air, but I could write a short story just by sitting down with a pen and paper and just start writing... I once came up with five possible stories... wrote about one to seven paragraphs each before I wrote a conclusion, and then ended up with a real idea. It took about 20 minutes to get there... and then another hour to write.

I never had (nor do I now) any idea of what I was going to write. I just wrote. Something in my brain always made it work out...

I hate plotting stuff... it takes away spontaneity... and dammit, I like to see what the conclusion is just as much as any of the readers I imagined I would one day have.

Boredom? What boredom?

I always managed to go for a walk at school... look at things I had never seen before... or talk to a teacher who would struggle in broken English to tell me a story. They were impressive people to even try.

Of course I would also talk to the English teachers... but I know everyone is busy, so I tried not to monopolize any one person's time all the time.

It's how I knew the Science teacher liked rock and roll... and when I brought him a CD of Canadian rock icons Rush to take home... he told me the next day that the music was the best he had ever heard, but he didn't like the lead singer. It's an acquired taste, but I like Geddy Lee. Still... I got to share music with a science teacher because he and I tried to communicate with each other. His English sucked, but it was better than my Japanese! And we still communicated!

Boredom? What boredom?

Hanging with students after eating lunch with a class... visiting different Clubs after school - music, English or sports - what fun. I guess it's lucky I was good at all three of those subjects.

I still left school when it was time for me to go, because I'm not married to work. I wanted to see my girlfriend, or watch TV; or go shopping or maybe I was stupid hungry... or maybe I had kyudo (Japanese archery) lessons.

Or maybe I had phone calls to other AETs to make. Local in my prefecture, or to others 500 kilometers away! Maybe Matthew came over with a beer or two to share! Maybe I had laundry to do. I sure liked doing laundry for some reason. Hell... I even like vacuuming. I did both at least three times a week.

Or maybe I had to go teach an English class to the International association... I don't think anyone learned a damn thing from me... but I learned a lot from them. Mostly that I wasn't a good teacher.

These classes were just me in a class with a bunch of adults... most of whom were real beginners. How do you communicate with anyone who doesn't understand you? With great difficulty.

Matthew taught the more advanced... they could speak and understand a fair bit of English, and that bugger after one month already knew more Japanese than I did after three years.

Boredom? What Boredom?

And yet... time seemed to go by at a normal rate for me in Japan. I was never stressed for time...

The only time that wasn't true, was when it was getting close for me to return home after my three one year contracts... and I didn't want to go because I wanted to stay with Noboko for the rest of my life... but no, time went by so fast it seems like we were hardly together at all. It felt like that then, anyways.

Time doesn't exist. It's a man made creation, right? Even then, every individuals concept of time differs. Time is only relevant to the observer.

For me... three years went by in a snap of the fingers.

My advice... stay busy... have fun by keeping a positive attitude... and write everything down. Oh... and take pictures of EVERYTHING... just make sure you note what each photo represents.

My advice is to also NOT be shy. Ask people everything about everything!

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Japanese Billionaire First Private Astronaut For SpaceX

There's an old saying that "'If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain."

Such is the case for Japanese (three) billionaire Maezawa Yusaku (surname first), a 42-year-old art collector and entrepreneur, and now, soon-to-be man moon traveler.

Despite man first setting foot on Luna (Earth's moon) back in 1969, only 12 people have actually set foot on the pale orb - though 24 have flown to orbit the moon - thanks Vinnie for catching my original error. 

But on September 18, 2018, Elon Musk  - the founder, chief executive officer, and lead designer at Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced that  Maezawa (see photo at the top at the "launching" of his astronaut career) has signed on to be SpaceX's first private passenger and the first private astronaut to travel to the moon.

The project is called "Dear Moon", and is to be the first trip of what is being called the space tourism era, where sex to eight artists will travel with Maezawa for a trip to the moon and around it in SpaceX's BFR (Big Falcon Rocket).

It's like that Jules Verne book(s)  From The Earth To The Moon, and Around The Moon (it's often repackaged as "From The Earth To The Moon And A Trip Around It.")
Proposed flight plan of the BFR to the moon.
Maezawa  - thanks to a hefty donation - has booked the initial flight for himself and the fellow artists he hopes to invite (and accept). Must and Maezawa hope that the traveling artists will create art upon their return based on their experience or inspiration from within the journey.   

The artists Maezawa says he wants to have onboard could be painters, photographers, musicians, film directors, fashion designers and architects.

"It is dangerous, to be clear, this is no walk in the park," he said at the recent SpaceX event. "This will require a lot of training, when you are pushing the frontier it is not a sure thing. It is not just taking a flight somewhere. There is a chance that something could go wrong. We will do everything we can to minimize that, but whenever it is the first flight of a new technology and we're talking about deep space, you have to be a very brave person."

Details on a possible launch date, as well as the cost Maezawa had to pay, were not revealed.

Growing up and watching man first land on the moon, I have always wanted to have a chance to do what I hope Maezawa will do.

As a kid, I watched all the space flights I could, watched Thunderbirds and Star Trek on TV, colored my Major Matt Mason on the Moon book, read Jules Verne, Stephen Hawking, and so many science fiction books from Asimov to Bradbury to Bester, Star Log magazine, Star Wars by George Lucas (read the book!). I cried when the Challenger exploded as I watched it live that day in university, and the same for Columbia when she burned up in reentry.

I can promise you that after the first disaster (Challenger), I turned to my friend Patrick T. and said I would still go up tomorrow is NASA asked me. 

Space - I love it. I do't know if I could handle it, but I like to think that I could. To even have such an opportunity... now that's living the high life.

Here's hoping Maezawa finds he and the rest of his crew have the right stuff!

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Interview With Dr. Kaku Michio - Futurist

Here’s an interesting story from New Atlas, an online tech magazine I enjoy reading daily.

It’s an interview with Dr. Kaku Michio (surname first), described as a futurist. In his interview with article writer Loz Blain, Dr. Kaku discusses the future of the human race, among other topics.

Dr. Kaku, 71, is an American - born and raised - his parents, too - and I only include his interview here because of his Japanese ancestry.

Born January 24, 1947 in San Jose, California, he has a PhD from the University of California, Berkley, and is renowned for his work on string theory—you Big Bang Theory people might recognize that as Sheldon’s field of choice.

Dr. Kaku’s parents, both born in California, were interned at Tule Lake War Relocation Center during WWII - simply because they looked like the enemy (Japanese), despite being American-born, and American citizens.

His parents actually met in the camp, and his older brother was born there.

Dr. Kaku is brilliant. It was while in high school, that he built a particle accelerator in his parent’s garage for a science fair project, with the goal of creating a gamma ray beam strong enough to create antimatter. No sh!t.

Naturally, he went on to the National Science Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico and met Edward Teller, the so-called father of the hydrogen bomb. Teller took Kaku as a protégé, awarding him the Hertz Engineering Scholarship

Enough of that… you can read the New Atlas interview HERE.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at top shows Dr. Kaku speaking at the Campus Party Brasil on February 11, 2012. (Credit: Cristiano Sant´Anna/ for Campus Party Brasil.)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Damn, It's Hot And Cold

It's 11:50PM, September 16, 2018 as I write this, and damn it's hot.

It's 83F (28.3C) in my house here in Toronto - and hotter upstairs where the bedrooms are.

The fan broke on my furnace - the thing that helps distribute the air-conditioning cool air through the house - so I'm pooched for a while until I can get the furnace fan fixed. I got a guy, though.

One of those things that I hated about Japan - living in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, about 100 kilometers north of Tokyo, was the weather.

It was either hot and humid, hot and rainy, perfect and rainy, cold and rainy, or just cold. Rare was the time when I wasn't sweating - I know, thanks for sharing.

There were two hurricane seasons (Spring and September), each with an average of five typhoons that could hit Japan.

My apartment was equipped with a kerosene heater and/or an electric kotatsu (a table-heater with a quilt that you could sit under to keep warm)... but there was nothing to help me keep cool, except my clothes and awesome haircut.

It was in October when I first began to use the kerosene heater.

It uses kerosene gas, and when it's on, the kerosene fumes can kill you unless you leave a window open to thin it out.

It seems counter-productive to me. Let in the cold to make a heater keep you warm and not kill you. Riiiight.

In my living room - in front of the TV where I normally spent my evenings, I did NOT have a window... I had a large glass sliding door, that went from floor to ceiling.

The door faced north, which was where the icy winds would come from the mountains to better freeze me. The door, by the way, was perfectly situated so that no matter where I sat in my living room, the cold wind would hit me.

So I said screw it, and kept the door closed, and the kerosene heater on.

Frustrated because the kerosene heater still wasn't keeping me warm, and the kotatsu only got my feet hot, I went to bed early...

I had already convinced my OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office to get me a bed instead of a futon, after I left the futon on the tatami (grass mats) flooring for a couple of weeks without airing it out. It caused a black mold to grow under the futon, rendering the futon garbage, as well as the tatami mats.

The OBOE paid to have the rotten tatami mats replaced in the entire bedroom (the only room with tatami mats); and to ensure it never happened again, bought me a Queen-sized bed.

It was to this that I went that cold October night - early to bed so as to get warm under the sheets. I closed my sliding bedroom doors, and went to sleep.

Apparently I could have died from the kerosene fumes, but I guess the sliding doors and my penchant for sleeping under the covers when it's cold kept me alive through the next morning.

I told my office how cold it was the night before, and mentioned the whole kerosene heater thing with the cold air blowing down from the mountains - they were aghast. Their stupid gaijin AET (assistant English teacher) could have died on their watch.

I'm told I was lucky.

To avoid losing face, and to keep their lovable foreign teacher alive to at least survive his one year contract, the same evening they (OBOE) hired someone to come to my apartment and install a wall-mounted heater/air-conditioning unit that could easily handle the entire three-bedroom place. They even had to smash a hole in the wall to the outside for a pipe, and had to get special permission from the apartment building superintendent and owners.

I was in heaven - or at least I wasn't going to go there yet.

The same day it was installed, it was bloody hot outside, so I used the AC.

The next night it was freezing, so I used the heater.

Honestly, I was comfortable in my own apartment for the first-time ever. And, it only took me three months to destroy my bedroom flooring and futon and to nearly die from kerosene gas fumes to get there.

But now... I had a Queen-sized bed and a heater/AC unit. I was already living in the lap of luxury, what with the size of my apartment and furnishings... but now I was living in the lap of luxury commiserate with what I had back in Toronto. Creature comfort.

Not only was the back pain from lying on a futon on the floor a thing of the past, so too were the tatami mat burns I acquired on my legs trying to have sex with Ash. And Ash, and all the other partners I would have over the next three years were unwittingly grateful that they did not have me dripping sweat down upon them. Only Ash knew what that was like. Poor girl.

A real bed - and a big one - plus heating and AC... I tell ya, it's the little things that can turn an adventure in Japan to a comfortable, wonderful rife in Japan.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Japan Wants To Start Whaling Again

I like Japan. I had a very good time when I visited and worked there for three years. I had an excellent relationship with its people. I like the culture, even when I found it difficult to understand just what makes them do what they do.

But the one thing I never liked (and there are others), was its whaling.

I'm no big humanitarian, save the whales kind of guy. However, I am not one to sit on my hands while yet another species of animal goes extinct upon our Earth.

Just recently, a proposal put forth by Japan, called for the removal of a ban on global commercial whaling - and it was defeated by a plethora of anti-whaling nations.

The no-whaling ban has been in effect for decades - since 1984, and was put in place to essentially stop the over-fishing of whales ( I know a whale is a mammal and not a fish) to prevent possible extinction issues.

While some societies within nations have been allowed to continue whaling during this global ban, it was done so because it is part of their heritage and more importantly, is actually part of their diet to survive.

Japan has also claimed that whaling is part of its heritage - sure, once, a long time ago. It has also stated that whale meat is an integral part of its diet.

It's not, of course, but all of a sudden (I recall back around 1993), every Joe Suzuki and his sister was suddenly ordering whale at restaurants, like this was a a common occurrence.

It's like Japan suddenly remembered that whale is part of its diet.

It was actually a Japanese media report that reignited the need for whale in Japan in 1993 when Japan was reminded that it was nearly 20 years ago that whale hunting was taken away from Japan by the IWC... and that whaling was part of Japan's culture.

If you mention anything about something taking away a bit of Japanese culture - no matter how large or small - the Japanese will all of a sudden become very concerned.

Usually, an "us (Japan) against the world philosophy will be ignited. 

I had whale at a restaurant in Japan, and I can honestly state that if I didn't have to eat whale, I wouldn't.

I do understand that for many other cultures where no other protein source is available to feed them through a winter or a summer, a large whale will indeed feed a village.

The Japanese in 1993 or in 2018 can go to a grocery store and get pretty much any type of animal protein they require to survive.

Sure it's part of their culture. Canada used to club seals to death - but that doesn't means all Canadians need to fight for their right for seal death as part of our culture.

And neither should Japan.

The real reason Japan wants to usher back in a global whale hunting allowance, is that it wants to reintroduce commercial whaling for profit.

The whaling vote was conducted at a recent an International Whaling Commission (IWC) meet in Brazil.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, September 15, 2018

My Neighbor Totoro Back In US Theaters

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the classic anime movie My Neighbor Totoro will be back in U.S. theaters with special screenings on September 30, October 1 and October 3, 2018.

Created by famed director Miyazaki Hayao (surname first), the screening is part of Studio Ghiblifest according to GKIDS and Fathom Events, who are bringing this and other Japanese anime to U.S. theaters.

The story of My Neighbor Totoro (and why am I explaining this? Surely you already know all about the story? It’s not just for kids!) follows sister Satsuki and Mei moving to the countryside with their father.

The kids discover that their new home and nearby woods are filled with strange creatures, including Totoro, a forest spirit only seen by children.

Totoro then shows the girls its friends, and they all have a bunch of beautifully rendered adventures that will tickle your child-like imagination.

Did I mention the awesome Cat Bus?That's the big critter in the photo.

To see if the movie will be in a city near you, and to purchase tickets, click HERE.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Today is Noboko's birthday. Happy birthday!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Stuff On My Mind

It's Friday, just past midnight. I've been busy. Friday promises more of the same, as does the weekend. Stop the world, I want to get off.

I have often felt like that when I was in Japan - pulled in so many directions at once.

All you can do is so all you can do.

It's what I did in Japan... and it's what I am doing now.

On this date back in 1994, one year after I left Japan, my mother died of a heart attack brought about by complications from a rare illness that was always mentioned on the TV show House: sarcoidosis.

It was a running joke on House (along with lupus).

My current goal is to live longer than my mother - so I have two years to go before that happens.

I don't have anything wrong with me per se, so there's no diagnosis that has me overly worried about life and death, but I would be lying if I said such things didn't enter my min every once in a while.

Pondering one's own mortality.

How long ago my life in Japan seems now  - especially when I write about snippets from my life there. That made me smile.

Andrew Joseph


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Alone Together

The above photo is by Liam Burnett-Blue on Unsplash.

I am using it not to point any fingers at Japan, but rather to show its similarity to most cities on Earth.

It is, of course, a photo of a bunch of people rising in a Japanese subway car.

It shows damn near everyone looking at some sort of electronic reading device, whetehr it's a tablet a phone or a laptop.

I rode Toronto's subway on Tuesday morning, during rush hour as I had a dentist appointment downtown, and didn't feel like driving in from the suburbs in traffic and then having to pay some stupid amount of parking fee.

I stood at the back of one of the cars, and before the train car filled up with its usual overcrowded mass of humanity, I had a look at the people sitting down in the seats. Only one woman actually had a book in her hands to read.

Even after the train filled up, she was still the only other passenger to be seen reading a real paper book. I was the other, of course.

Yeah, I have a cell phone... two actually, as I have to carry one for work... which to me is just stupid. I'm at work or I'm not at work. If I'm not at work, whatever IS work can wait until I am at work.

Oh well, at least they will pay for my work-related phone usage. 

Still, I appreciate the gesture... even if my now double-strained shirt pockets no longer care for the added weight. I wonder if work will pay for my damaged shirts? 

Of course not. No one ever thinks about real life when work and electronics are concerned.

A nice photo, though.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Happy birthday, Alice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How I Combat Boredom - Don't Become Bored

It's 11PM. I don't have a topic to write about. A couple of hours ago I finished helping run a baseball tryout. I have a stye in my eye. I have to go and get photography done for some official paperwork. I'm coaching two hockey teams this year. I have a new job. And I feel like I'm being pulled in many directions at once.

It beats me why I keep saying yes to everybody. Why doesn't anyone ask me if I want more money? Wait... that was how I got my new job. It's why I have to get the official paperwork done, too.

The sports? People keep asking me to coach. Honestly, I wanted to not coach in 2019, and just go and watch my kid play sports. But if asked, I can not and will not refuse. Not for kids.

I had times like this in Japan.

Everyone wanting a piece of young Andrew. Regular teaching of junior high school kids. Evening conversational English classes. A girlfriend. Schools wanting me to come out to their sport club practices and activities. Being asked to join a kyudo (Japanese archery) club. Speak at our JET AET event. Come join our International Association. Of course, I said.

Holy crap. And that was just in September of 1990 - within the first two months after arriving in Ohtawara-shi.

Is there any wonder why I didn't have much time to be homesick? It's true.

On top of all that, I began submitting my first ever column about life in Japan, to the provincial AET newsletter. Learning a new language - both written and conversational. I had learned over 500 kanji by the end of September.

Oh... and all of the letters back home. I had to cheat and create a form letter to send to my fringe contacts. All this was before e-mail, so I had to type everything, and then mail it. I don't even know how to type. I still only use three fingers on my right hand and my index finger on my left. Four fingers to type at around 65 mistakes a minute. Yes, I'm that quick and that bad.

And the places I went.... everyone wanted to take me somewhere to show me the sights, the sounds, and the smells of Ohtawara. Yes, I'll attend o-bon. Oh... and a city festival? Sure. Have another drink, Andrew? D'uh.

Andrew, do you want to go down to Tokyo? Sure... can I bring my girlfriend who doesn't want anyone to know she's my girlfriend? No pressure there! Hey, we're going to climb Mt. Nasu and hit an onsen and spend the night? Sure...

It was in April of 1991 when I had my first bout of homesickness.... the weekend before the school year started.

My brother had sent me a CD of Nirvana's first album... I was listening to it, and bouncing up and down on my futon... and I realized just then and there - holy fug... I'm in Japan.

Seriously... that's when it hit me... that I was living in a foreign country. Living the good life.

I'm not sure what I am living now, 28 years later, but old Andrew suddenly realizes that he is part of his local community.... just like I was in Japan.

People know me here, just as they did in Ohtawara.

I don't know what's up with this fricking stye, though. I had to remove a contact lends, so I can only see half the keyboard. Fortunately, it's the left side that is blurry, and that only means one finger is blindly stabbing at the keyboard.

For all you newbies in Japan... do as much of everything as you can, until you reach a point where you can't. I'll let you know when that happens for me.

Just enjoy it while you can. Because one day, you won't be able to do the things you want to do.

I'm rambling, perhaps, but at least this blog is done.

Andrew (11:29PM) Joseph
PS: I'm going to watch some TV  - I'm watching Better Call Saul and Enterprise reruns right now. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Sad Saga Of Osaka Naomi

Lost amid the furor of American tennis player’s Serena Williams being jobbed by umpire Carlos Ramos and her reaction to his decision to cost her a point, and then a game, is the fact that Japanese phenom Osaka Naomi (surname first) is the first Japanese person to win a Grand Slam singles tournament, defeating Serena Williams in the final of the 2018 US Open.

Above is the racist cartoon drawn by Mark Knight and published in Australia's Herald Sun newspaper - it depicts Serena Williams drawn as a 1930s-style big-lipped ape-like creature throwing a temper tantrum, while in the background the demur (and BLONDE?!) Osaka is seen talking to the tennis referee. 

Serena getting screwed or not, she was going to lose the match to Osaka.

Whether you agree with Serena or not is not even the point (at least not here and now)… it’s how Osaka was robbed of her moment… by events out of her own control.

And then there’s the fact that Osaka is a hafu… the Japanese katakana-way of saying “half”, implying she (in this case) is only half Japanese.

No one in North American is talking about that hafu crapu, because hafu the people are having hafu kids nowadays. I’m hafu exaggerating, but you know what I mean.

Osaka was born on October 16, 1997 (so she's 20) in Osaka-shi (Osaka City), in Osaka-ken (Osaka Prefecture)... that's a lotta Osaka.

She's 1.8 meters tall and weights 69 kilograms.

大坂 なおみ (Osaka Naomi) is the #7 world-ranked woman's tennis player... and she is, as I have indicated, a hafu.

Her mom, Osaka Tamaki (surname first) is Japanese, while her father Leonard François is of Haitian descent. Rather than use their father's surname of François, Naomi and her sister Mari use their mother's family name.

Born in Japan, it was far more practical to have the Japanese surname while living there.

This isn't a slur against the Japanese as a whole - sometimes it is also familial. Osaka's mom Tamaki got the full brunt of racist behavior from her own father after discovering she was romantically involved with not only a gaijin (outsider/foreigner), but a Black man.

Osaka even identifies herself as Black.

Osaka Naomi: Image by si.robi - Osaka WMQ15 (6)
In a 2016 interview (also documented in Firstpost, September 7, 2018 - HERE), she said: "When I go to Japan, people are confused. From my name, they don't expect to see a black girl."

Being hafu wasn't even the crux of the story.

After their match, Serena Williams apologized to Osaka for being a distraction and taking away the shine from her historic tennis victory.

A nice gesture, but Williams shouldn't have railed against a referee who is known for being a ball-buster in the past... to men and women.

Just like in all team sports and in judicial court, you know who the referee, umpire, judge is... and act accordingly.

While Osaka will still always remember her first... sadly she becomes a mere footnote at this 2018 US Open.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sake Barrels And Shinto Shrines

What we have in the photo above, are Japanese sake (rice wine) barrels.

The photo is by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash. Check out Unsplash for free photos. You don't have to even credit the photographer, but I like to.

Sake, is of course, the traditional Japanese rice alcohol drink, made from fermented milled rice, fungus and yeast.  It is, of course delicious, and has a way of sneakily pouncing upon your brain after several drinks that don't feel like much when you are imbibing... but then... wham-o!

Thanks to genetics (my uncle), and having built up an ability to consume large amounts of alcohol, I could drink a fair bit of sake.

Yeah, yeah... I could be right royally hammered, but luckily enough I don't turn into a boor or an obnoxious loudmouth, I just become louder and funnier.

There is a weird correlation, I believe, between the amount of alcohol consumed and one's hearing becoming weaker... which is why people tend to get louder the more they drink.

Anyhow, in Japan these sake barrels are actually decorative pieces, as the actual consumer can purchase his or her sake in bottle form.

These decorative sake bottles are called kazaridaru, and are used as decorative pieces within Shinto shrines across Japan.

The ones on display in these shrines are empty, and are actually purchased or donated empty from various sake manufacturers.

So why sake in a shrine?

Well, an old way to denote sake was to call it miki (mi and ki), which when written in kanji separately means god and wine. Festivals at shinto shrines would include the priests giving attendees a shot of sake and rice to eat as a way to feel closer to the gods.

Catholics who receive the Holy Communion wafer and have a sip of blood, er, wine - all meant for the person to play the part of an attendee at The Last Supper - should understand. 

Even now, o-miki (honorable god-wine) is used in Shinto rites and festivals.

As part of the symbiotic nature of shintoism, the shinto priests ask the gods to look upon the sake brewers with good favor and prosperity, and the brewers in return donate full barrels of sake to the shrine for their festivals. Heck, they even donate empty barrels, which are kept on display at the shrine... as a means for visitors to see which brewer has been kind to the shrine.

While small shrines might get o-miki from local area sake brewers, two shrines: Meiji Jingu in Tokyo and Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture, receive sake barrel donations from the 1,800+ sake brewers across Japan.

Each shrine has a shuzokeishinkai (brewer reverence committee) that figures out what they need for their festivals and ceremonies.

A brewer usually only sends one bottle or one barrel to the shrine for display--as the gesture (kimochi) is important for receiving the prosperity prayer. Sending more than that, however, is considered wasteful.

I get it. It's like buying one lottery ticket, rather than one thousand. You only need one ticket to win... everything else is wasteful.

Just like some European Christian monks who brew their own beer (Belgian beer is awesome!), some Japanese shinto shrines (four, actually) brew their own sake - and thus do not require filled o-miki donation barrels... but will accept empty ones to perform prayers. Of course, any shrine making its own sake needs to have a special government license.

Sake brewing has been tightly regulated since the 8th century. It's true... there's no such thing as a Japanese home brewer of sake

Nowadays, sake is not usually delivered to retail shops in a wooden barrel, as the sake can pick up too much of the taste and smell... so usually before any such shinto festival, a brewer will pump sake from a stainless steel tank into these decorative barrels and send it to the shrine. They will use it quickly.

Lastly, Japan still makes use of these special barrels of sake at special occasions: weddings, consecrating new buildings, and at New Year parties.

These ceremonies are known as kagamibiraki. After the main speaker wishes for health, or prosperity, the speaker smashes the barrel top with a hammer, and distribution of the sake goes to all the assembled guests after which a toast is made: 

Kanpai (cheers),
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, September 9, 2018

First Radiation Death From Fukushima Accident

Japan has admitted that one man had died after exposure to radiation at the Daiichi nuclear power facility in Fukushima following the events of the March 11, 2011 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

After the tsunami hit the nuclear power plant knocking out safeguards put in place to ensure cooling measures around the nuclear cores, one TEPCo (Tokyo Electric Power Company) worker in his 50s who's job it was to monitor radiation levels at the facility after the event until 2015.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016, and has since died.

Four others have received some sort of financial compensation, but this is the very first confirmed death of a worker at Fukushima - at least the first that has been acknowledged.

The Japanese government has said that three other Fukushima workers developed leukemia and thyroid cancer after working on the plant cleanup, noting that there were on average about 5,000 workers at the site daily.

The deceased had been wearing a protective jumpsuit and a full face mask while working at Daiichi, saying he had a lifetime exposure of 195 millisieverts of radiation - but added that he had also worked at other nuclear plants.

195 millisieverts is a lot.

In Japan, any person can be safely exposed to up to 50 millisieverts a year.

However, if a worker with an accumulated 100 millisieverts develops an illness after five years of exposure, that can be ruled an occupational injury.

It seems as though the deceased had been exposed to 74 millisieverts at the Fukushima plant.

So... how did he have a lifetime exposure of 195 millisieverts?

Isn't anyone counting the exposure? Whose fault is that, that the man was allowed to be exposed to such a high amount of radiation?

Well... the limit is 50 millisieverts per year - safely. This man had worked at Fukushima from 2011 to 2015. He was actually within safe limits, if the 74 millisieverts exposure had been spread out over the five years...

But what if he actually was exposed to most of it in a single year?

It doesn't matter... his 195 millisieverts over a LIFETIME exposure, included the 74 millisieverts of exposure in five years... so did he actually have too much exposure within five years of exposure... I'd say not.

But why is the Japanese government saying his family is eligible for compensation?

Something doesn't quite add up.

My guess is that the estimate of 74 millisieverts of radiation exposure is a low-ball number, to not freak out the media... and that since the family is being compensated, he MUST have gained over 100
 millisieverts in his five years at the Fukushima plant...

... and they are just trying to minimize the bad media damage...

But the time and radiation exposure numbers just don't add up...

He must have received a higher radiation dose.

So why not just say so?

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The “Why-Am-I-In-Japan?” Blues

My friend Vinnie pointed me toward a good-looking blog called “Japanese Rule of 7”, and to a well-thought out guest blog written by a newbie on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme assistant English teacher known as Akita Ben.

Within it, Akita Ben bemoans the loneliness of living in Japan having just survived his first month in the rural landscape that is Akita-ken, Japan.


The article made me both sad and angry.

Sad because Akita Ben felt lonely, but angry because if left contained, it could destroy his entire experience in Japan.It's only been one month in Japan.

You can read (and should read) about his inner (now outer) thoughts HERE.

What is missing, are details about WHY Akita Ben wanted to go and live and work in Japan in the first place. I don’t think he’s being honest when even he isn’t sure why he left the U.S. for Japan.
Everybody has a reason. Every. Body.

Whether it was the altruistic venture of wanting to teach English, or to visit a country one has always yearned to see (for whatever reason), want to learn about (add topic here), just not having anything better to do back in the home country, or simply wanting to experience a new culture or adventure before you get too consumed with “real life” and can’t… it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason.
For regular readers of this blog, you already have my back story. For those that don’t… the only reason I wanted to go to Japan - and I didn't - was that I just wanted to get laid.

Click HERE to read the opening line of this blog back in 2009.

How much effing honest can a body be?

I didn’t even want to get laid by some easy-Japanese woman… no… I wanted to impress a woman here in Toronto and apply to the same JET Programme she said she was applying to, because wouldn’t it be grand if we were both in Japan together. How could she not want to screw my brains out?

Naivety aside on my knowledge of the JET Programme before I was accepted, it still eventually boiled down to the fact that I got in, and she didn’t… and that may have been because she didn’t apply.

I had zero interest in Japan. All I knew about Japan was that it had the crap bombed out of it in WWII, Godzilla and Gamera came from there, every guy had a Moe haircut, glasses, a business suit and an unsmiling visage, and there were a lot of geisha about, though probably not ninja, and definitely not any samurai. Probably.

I knew nothing about the language or history or culture, and didn’t bother to learn a damn thing about it before I left. Hell, I never even ate Japanese food in any way, shape or form until the night before I left Toronto and my parents took myself and my poor younger brother to a Japanese restaurant.

It was there that my dad warned me about sake (rice wine), and how it looks like water, goes down like water, but kicks like a mule with devastating effect.

I had a bit of Japanese experience because I knew a bit about WWII history, had seen an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati where some Japanese tourists visited the radio station, watched an episode or two of some old Hashimoto-san cartoons. Charlie Chan was Japanese, wasn’t he?

That is frickin’ it

Those that know anything about Japan, will realize that back in early 1990, yours truly was pretty naive.

But at least I went in with a pretty clean slate, and with a pretty open mind.

I'm the kindda guy who doesn't give a crap about OTHER peoples reviews or opinions about subjective matters. This movie sucks because blah-blah-blah. I'm open minded, so I'll go see the movie and make up my own damn mind.

Japan? I had no idea what Japan was like before I arrived in late July of 1990.

Until the moment I landed in my own huge fully-furnished three-bedroom LDK (living room-dining room-kitchen) with two balconies, I had NEVER lived on my own. I had never cooked or done laundry. Never shopped for food. Never been responsible for anything. I had never had a girlfriend but once. Never slept with a woman.

I had been one shy mutha until just two years earlier, and while I had mostly got over it, I was still extremely shy around women.

Never-never-never. Japan was my own private Never-never Land, but this Peter Pan had to grow up pretty damn quickly.

maybe it was because the whole thing was so frickin’ new, that I never experienced that same “What am I doing here?” feeling that Akita Ben did… though I am sure my excuse for going to Japan was/is quite possibly the worst excuse of anyone ever applying to the JET Programme.

It’s probably also the most human and honest excuse, but “probably” means “probably”.

After one full 24-hour period in Japan, I had seemingly got over my shyness towards women, as the lovely and sexy Kristine South talked to me for some reason, becoming someone I could talk to about anything over the three one-year contracts I eventually signed on for on JET.

After 48 hours, I had a new best friend in Matthew H., a great writing buddy in Jeff S., and holy crap, a girlfriend in Ashley B.

I still didn’t know what the fug was going on around me., but that was Tokyo.

After arriving in my new hometown of Ohtawara, a rural city who’s name translates to “big-rice field-field”, where I could, if I was a professional baseball player who could throw twice the distance, actually be able to throw a rock and hit a rice field or a 7-11. That's rural. It's not that rural, like in Deliverance (RIP Burt Reynolds), but it's rural enough. Do-inaka.

I was excited about living on my own... had a nice place with a nice view. Couldn't speak a lick of Japanese...

But maybe I was better suited for survival in Japan than many others because I was a loner. I like people just fine when I'm around them, but I don't crave people. I suppose I'm comfortable enough by myself.

And when I wasn't, I found people to be around, or talk to. Yeah, Matthew and Ashley. Kristine on the phone. My new Japanese bosses. People in the city.

After two weeks, I was taken out to the local o-bon matsuri (festival of the dead) ... the whole town got to see me... and see me hammered drunk on sake. My dad was correct. I drank that stuff like water... and gained the reputation of being a heavy drinker. If only my dad had known I had been honing that skill for years with my buddies in Toronto.

Like Akita Ben, I had August off from teaching, but I was asked to go into work at the OBOE (Ohatawara Board of Education)... where they would take me out in a van and show me the sights... and teach me about their city and culture. Hell... my boss Hanazaki-san even taught me how to use chopsticks by training me with pens and pencils.

After work, if I didn't see Ashley, I rode my bicycle around town. I got out.

I didn't hide.

Japan (and Ohtawara) was a thrill a minute for me. Everything was new. Everything was an adventure. And to think... I never even wanted to go to Japan.

I feel bad for Akita Ben. Being lonely sucks... bu he need not be lonely. Maybe his placement town is small... but who the fug cares. In the adventure he wrote about - he had a great adventure!!! Doesn't he realize that?

By screwing with the gaijin, and not acting like a wimp, he just proved he was willing to try and fit in.

Those people gained a measure of respect for him.

I'm sure they would have loved to have talked with him, but maybe they lacked the language skills.

I want him to go back to that bar/restaurant - when he has some cash - and smile and laugh, and put up with their practical jokes, and laugh internally about being the local gaijin.

It's Japan... you may never, ever get another chance to see this part of the world... so why waste it?

Akita Ben may not realize it, but he's a pretty good writer. He should write his own blog. Even if it keeps him locked in his own apartment, he'll soon realize that even the mundane isn't so mundane to others who would kill to have the chance at the same adventure he is on now.


Why am I in Japan?

Who cares? You are in Japan. Figure out how to not make the next year a complete waste of time.

People seem to forget that simply by being in another country like Japan, that they are still part of the select few gaijin who have ever walked upon this Earth to have visited Japan.

Let me leave here with a bit of Zen Buddhism philosophy:

The past is gone. You might think you remember it, but it's never the same as when it happened.
The future is unwritten, and can't be grasped.
All you really have is the present. Waste it not.

Akita Ben... have fun in Japan. And do more writing. I enjoyed reading your story.

Andrew Joseph