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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween - Hell-o Kitty Style

Happy Halloween!

Andrew "I'm In Your Head" Joseph
PS: Image from:

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Just in case anyone is actually wondering, yes, that is me... the last known photograph taken of myself, by myself, a month or three ago.

No, my eyes don't have a square ring in them - that's just the lighting from a bathroom mirror. I saw it, thought the effect was cool and took the photo. Despite the appearance, my eyes are dark brown when visible without sunglasses drowning the effect.

I sure as hell don't think I look anything like the young pup in all those other photos... which may be why I colored my hair darker in the interim. I miss my thick, naturally black hair.

I'm vain about a lot of things, but my hair is the one I admit to.

And yes, my phone cover looks like a Japanese woodblock - of a dragon, and my shirt is actually a Japanese version of the Jurassic Park logo. To be honest, the shirt part wasn't planned in the snapping of this photo.

Notice the side of my head where I have tan lines from my Ray-Ban sunglasses. I wear those suckers so much that the tan lines no longer have time to fade in the Winter.

Anyhow... this is the mask I usually walk around in. Tomorrow... Halloween.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, October 29, 2018

Japanese Bats Recycled As Chopsticks A Big Hit

The barrel of one bat can yield five or six pairs of chopsticks, which are adorned with team logos. 

Japan loves it baseball as much Americans love their baseball. It's not the national sport - that remains sumo, despite all of its scandals and match fixing allegations.

But baseball - imported to Japan back in the late 1800s - has become ingrained in the Japanese psyche to this day.

Have you ever wondered what happens to all of the baseball bats that are cracked or broken in a ball game? In the US and Canada, charities get them or are sold by the team to collectors.

In Japan, the baseball bats are turned into chopsticks. Figures, huh?

Now... how many chopsticks do you figure you could get out of one baseball bat?

Try five or maybe six pairs. That's it.

The rest is thrown away. So it's not as though this is repurposing for a greener community at work.

Rather it is repurposing and reprocessed for reusuable kattobashi, a made up Japanese word that combines the words for chopsticks and a baseball chant sung by Japanese fans "get a big hit".

If you look at the photo at the top, these aren't your typical chopsticks. They are chopsticks for the baseball fan complete with team logo on the eating utensils.

It's kindda cool, actually. I've used a lighter adorned with my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs hockey logo, and I'm sure other fans have some other similar team adornment on something also utterly wacky - even Christmas tree decorations. Fan = Fanatic. I get it.

Now, while North American baseball bats have been made using Ash, Maple, Birch, Bamboo and composites, the Japanese use a specific type of Ash tree called the Aodamo, which is found only in Japan and parts of eastern Russia.... well, mostly. Hokkaido was considered THE spot in Japan.

Anyhow... thanks to its strength, flexibility and resistance to splintering, it was the tree supplying the wood for Japanese baseball bats for decades - heck, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui (surnames last) used the Aodamo wood for their bats.

But, when environmentalists pointed out that wood consumption was outstripping tree conservation, the baseball companies and sporting companies realized that it was no longer economically feasible for them to get their aodama wood for baseball bat manufacture.

Really... the problem was that despite cutting down the trees and turning them into baseball bats, no one was actually replanting sapling aodama trees.

Has no one in Japan ever read the Romax... er, I mean the Lomax by Dr. Seuss?

The way things stand now, is that the aodoma forests in Hokkaido may be back to "normal" in about 50 more years... which is why Japanese baseball bats are now made from imported maple or white ash.

Actually, an aodoma tree takes between 50 to 70 years for it to reach the right age where it can be harvested to manufacture baseball bats again... maybe by that time, ball players will have forgotten about the aodoma wood.

Known as Fraxinus lanuginosa (株立), the aodama tree grows to a height of 10-15 meters (32.8 - 49.2 feet), with only a diameter of 60 centimeters (23.6 inches).

Aha! A thin tree.

Deciduous, it sheds its leaves, and is found on Hokkaido, southern Kuril, and in a few places on Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and others - but mostly in Hokkaido.

The wood is a light yellowish white, though the heartwood (deep middle) is slightly darker.

The tree's wood is bendable, which is also why the tree is used in the construction of tennis and badminton rackets and skis... but its thin diameter means few other uses.
Image from, it shows a 2meter tall tree for sale.
Chopsticks... right... right.

After reading a The Nikkei financial newspaper article in 2000 about the decreased availability in aodama (IE, if this is your investment, get out), the Hyozaemon chopsticks company read it and felt that it should start utilizing recycled materials.

Company chief executive office Uratani Hyogoo, 73,  called up friend Minatoya Takeo, 81, who had been involved in professional Japanese baseball as a pitcher for the Taiyo Whales of Japan’s Central League and, later, a general manager and consultant for the team, now called the Yokohama BayStars.

Minatoya knew that the broken ball bats were either given away to fans or were burned as fuel in barrels to keep players warm during spring training.

Uratani thought Minatoya could help convince Japan's baseball teams to turn their broken bats into chopsticks.

I suppose that means colder ball players. 

The Hyozaemon team pays a licensing fee but can now apply a team logo to the 12 teams it has convinced to get in on this chopstick scheme.

As part of the licensing fee deal, the Nippon Professional Baseball annually contributes ¥3.5 million (US $31,000) to the not-for-profit Aodamo Preservation Society, which uses the money to plant aodama seedlings in Hokkaido.

Hyozaemon gets about 10,000 broken bats each season from the professional ranks, as well as college and industrial leagues.

It prefers to use the barrel of the bat (the part that is farthest from the hands, used to hit the ball) where it is thickest when it comes for chopstick repurposing.

Don't worry, it's not like those old cartoons where they use a sawmill to whittle a tree down to a single toothpick.

But... keep that image in mind: each aodama tree cut down, only yielded between 4-6 baseball bats. 

Other parts of the broken bats are used to make shoehorns (I have no idea if this is a bustling Japanese business or not... they take their shoes on and off a lot more than "western" society), and handles for western cutlery. Even the cap of the bat can be made into a drinking cup.

In other words, Hyozaemon tries to re-use as much of the broken bat that it can. Unlike the companies making the baseball bats all those years ago. Four to six bats out of a tree?

That's sickening when you think about it.

Now... when I left Japan, I was given a gift of chopsticks manufactured by a Japanese Living Treasure who creates chopsticks for the Japanese Imperial Family... so apparently when it comes to chopstick manufacture - at least real chopstick manufacture, there is an artisan skill to it.

After the barrel is cut away from the rest of the baseball bat, it is sliced lengthwise into think blocks.

From each block, a mighty chopstick is evoked, thanks to artisan sanding. After applying a decal of a team logo, the chopsticks are lacquered with several layers, dried and sent off for sale.

And now you know...

Andrew "Lorax" Joseph

Sunday, October 28, 2018

My Big-Busted Friend

Because apparently no one in this family throws sentimental things out, I bring you a letter I sent my parents dated June 14, 1991 from my new home in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

I was about 10-1/2 months into my first one-year contract, and had already signed on for a second at this time.

I'm not always sure (27 years later) just what I was writing about, but it all seemed so much more important then. All I do know, is that my mother was planning on visiting me in Japan in August of 1991. She passed away in 1994, so the trip was even more than special for myself.

Here we go on another time trip back... back to 1991!

Dear Mom and Dad,

It certainly was great to talk to you last week. I really do love and miss you very much.
I'm feeling much better now as my ego seems to have recovered from its recent deflation. It was a total shock that left me, well, shocked.
I'm doing more and more activities with the natives here. I seem to be flooded with invites. The month of June is a total write-off when it comes to free time.
My friend Matthew (Albany, NY) and I will be going to the Tochigi capital this weekend to see some recent movies. I don't mean current because the movies now here were in the West over six months ago. The Christmas movie Home Alone opens up today. I am getting tired of renting movies. Since late-late December, I have rented 81 movies. Aaaghhhh! Get a life. 70% of these were watched with Ashley. There just wasn't enough to do here. Talk, eat, shop and mess around.
I hope you can handle Japan, mom. My city is really a large village - a small-scale Brantford. Anyhow, I figure that when you come, you have to see: Kyoto, Nikko and Tokyo and Mt. Fuji. Kyoto will take you several days to see and is about 6 hours away by Shinkansen (It travels at 200KM/Hr). You can see Nikko in a day or two and it's about 1 and a half hours away by regular train.
Tokyo is mostly a shopping city a la Toronto (only more expensive). Aside from Tokyo, Nagasaki and  few other cities, the place is full of old-world charm. Shrines, temples, pagodas, tea ceremonies, a plethora of kimonos, farms, rice paddies, spiders (which are a respected a great deal - but not by me) and truly friendly people. You'll like it if you don't go broke from over-shopping. It's really easy to lose track of your expenses: There are three paper bills: a ¥1000, ¥5000, and a ¥10000. They are worth $8, $40, $80 Cdn respectively. The bank machines only give you 1's and 10's. Where does all the money go? I just bought some Ray-Ban sunglasses here for ¥15000. There is no way I would have paid $120 for them in Toronto. But I did here. 
Right now it's the rainy season (till the middle of July). However, until yesterday it was sunny. At a bout noon, it was 32C. Since my work schedule does not usually allow me much contact with the sun, I decided to take advantage in the lull. At 1:30, I went out in my shorts and jogged a mile and threw a baseball against a wall. I went in an hour later. By that time, it had become gray and overcast. It cleared up at 3:30 when I went out to play baseball with the students and to teach and be taught some naught words. At 4 when I was totally exhausted and went back into the school, a siren suddenly wailed.  It was a warning for all golfers at a nearby club that an electrical storm was approaching. Two minutes later, the sky turned black and started spewing hurricane-like winds and rain. There was thunder and lightning like I would have only suspected as a harbinger of the apocalypse. Trees were uprooted. A half hour later the sky was blue again. Then it began again at 5:30PM and continued till 8. Bizarre. At least in Toronto you know you are going to get a mild thunderstorm virtually every summer nite. I'm told these summer storms occur with alarming frequency during the next month. Great.
Luckily, you'll only have the sun/son to contend with here.
I'm finally learning grammar. I'm learning the most complex grammar in the world and I don't even know English grammar!
Oh, bring a handkerchief. In the majority of the restrooms, there are no paper towels. Sometimes there's no toilet paper (use kleenex). The hanky will also come in handy when you perspire in the dry heat. Not me though. I've got an air-conditioner! Sweating goldfish as an excuse! They bought that old scam!
Uh, Mom, you say you are just taking a few things with you except for stuff for me... but what about the 3 countries you'll be in before you come here? Will you have enough room? If so, I'd appreciate a couple of (this is important) NINTENDO GAME BOY video games. I can only get Japanese language versions and can't get games designed for the Western market, I'd like: DUCK TALES; and GARGOYLE QUEST. I also have a SEGA GAME GEAR, (I have: Dragon Crystal, Wonderboy, and Mickey Mouse. Alnything else would be appreciated.)
I'd also appreciate a Toronto T-shirt for my short but big-busted friend Kristine. 
Other than that, I'll see you soon Mom, and talk to you sooner Dad.
Love as always,
PS: I ate this at an Indian restaurant in Kobe
vegetable pakora; barbecue mutton, chicken and fish; pork curry; vegetable biryani; and a beer. 
It stayed in me for three hours. I'm getting better.


And there we have another look at life in Japan for Andrew. That line about the shirt still makes me laugh! What the fug was I thinking? I have no idea now if I ever got the shirt. Probably did. I probably even mailed it off to my good friend Kristine, as she was a bout 500 km away. 

We really should have hooked up. It would have been fun, and I know she told me a few years ago it was part of the plan when she stayed at my place for a few days while she traveled the east part of Japan. I, of course, was sick. Timing is everything. 

I'm also pretty sure I didn't get the video games... though I do have some sort of memory of playing Duck Tales. So maybe? I still have my Game Boy!

My mother was visiting me in Japan, and I flew out to Thailand to meet her for a week. Before that, she was in Hong Kong. And... I have no idea where else. Though I could go and do a search of her photo albums. 

The weather was all new for me, more or less. In 1990 of August it was all just weather. I didn't know that late August and September was the hurricane season #2, with the first hurricane season hitting in April, which was when I learned more about season 2.

At this point in Year 1 when I wrote this letter, I must have been on the outs with my girlfriend Ashley, which is why I didn't ask her to bring anything for her. Then again, I didn't ask her to bring anything for my friend Matthew. Just Kristine. Hmm. I guess I know now what I was thinking. 

By the time my mom arrived in Japan, I had Ashley back (as a friend with benefits) and had Karen as a girlfriend, though I'm afraid that when she started bonding with my mom, that was it for me. Too close, too soon. Though she was a big-breasted redhead. And I don't even care about boobs. 

The weather was like I described, though Toronto was the propensity for a thunderstorm every summer night (though not recently) thanks to the humidity. 

My mom did not visit Nagasaki, as I suggested, and instead visited Hiroshima... which I never did. She did see Nikko with Karen, however. Me? I was working, so more often than not, my brave mother traveled Japan by herself. 

Okay... that's all for today.

Andrew Joseph 
PS: As you can, relative to yesterday's letter to my friend Rob, I change the way I write depending on the audience. Though I still can't believe I said that about Kristine... but the point was I wanted to make sure my mom bought her a big enough shirt that might fit and NOT be uncomfortable for her boobs. See? I cared about Kristine and her boobs.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Eggs Before Chicken

You guys don't know how lucky you have it. Back in 1990-1993 while I was in Japan, I had come to the conclusion that I liked writing and that I was good at it.

As such, whenever I would write to people - especially my friend Rob - I would experiment with stream of consciousness writing.

I kind of do it now, in that when I sit down in front of the computer screen I usually have zero idea of what I am going to "say" or how I'm going to express it.

Nowadays, I have a much more focused brain, and my stream of consciousness writing usually gets to the point sooner rather than later.

But back in say... 1992, I lacked that focus... but holy crap does it appear as though my brain was all over the effing place. I pity my poor friends who had to try and decipher just what the fug I was talking about in my artistic phase of writing. IE... a new writer who fancies himself pretty damn good.

Even though he wasn't.

Allow me to re-type for you, a mailed letter I sent to my friend Rob dated April 1, 1992, the day after his birthday. I have edited to downgrade the swearing only... but present this just so you can see what goes through my mind when I'm trying to be funny. Warts and all.

By the way... it is 1992... and about a year before the Internet looked like the Internet of today, and still before e-mail. There was an Internet from the late 1960s on, but it was basically message boards.

It was also before CDs and DVDs and 999 television stations, and if you missed a TV show, and didn't record it on your VCR, you missed it. 

As such... if I wanted to know some trivial bit of information, I had to look it up in an encyclopedia. Since I left my set of encyclopedia from the 1930s (I swear that's what I had/have) back in Toronto, I would have to find things out from reading newspapers, talking to people or having some wicked recall memory.

Dear Rob,
I call you "dear" but I don't mean it any sort of "funny-limped-wrist-hello-sailor-new-in-town" type way.
It was great to talk to you two hours ago, although I suspect it will be closer to eight days and two hours ago by the time you read this. Unless of course you decide not to open it, in which case I probably don't have to write as much.

But, just in case you are reading this right away, I guess I should keep writing (or is that typing - actually I know I am typing, but is it still called writing? Is what still called writing? Exactly my point. Typing comes from using a typewriter. Since I am using a computer, am I computing? GIGO. Do you remember Computer Studies? I got a 41. And my dad's the big computer genius. Anyhow, I remember that GIGO stands for: Garbage In - Garbage Out. With that in mind, it's time now (or it was eight days ago your time) for some more random thoughts - brought to you by a case of over-active boredom at the office.

  • My supervisor is gone. He's been traded to some other Board of Education in another city. Now nobody can speak fugging English in my office! Aaaarrgggghh!!
  • Why are Popeye's forearms bigger than his biceps? Is this some sort of side-effect from eating too much spinach?
  • Women. You can't live with'em and you can't shoot'em. Actually you can. It's just not that easy to get away with. Ha. I can see all of the guys at your work place sort of going, "Hmmmmmm."  and scratching their head(s). It could be jock itch. 
  • Love. Exciting and new. Come aboard. We're expecting you. The Love Boat. Soon we'll be making the final run. The Love Boat - promises something for everyone. I can't believe I actually watched that show in the 1970s and 80s. No... I'm pretty sure I stopped watching it by the time the 1980s rolled around. 
  • Wasn't Doc that nazi, KAOS-guy from Get Smart? Man. Now that's acting.
  • I was doing a 1.5 litre bottle of coke a night. Worried it might be affecting me, I gave it up. Now I can't sleep and my hands shake. Oh my god! I've got a monkey on my back! I'm a coke addict!
  • Hey! The new boss of the office speaks English very fugging well!!! I still don't know who MY boss is, though. 
  • A Stitch In Time? I thought so. Somebody has ripped the fabric of time and space and they've tried to fix it so no one would notice. I bet it was a chick - because they're the only ones in Japan who know how to sew. 
  • I just got some tax forms. I calculated my yearly income. I make $27,0000! I don't have to pay any taxes because of teh agreemement between Japan and Canada. Of course, I had a girlfriend most of the past year. No wonder I only have $200 in my bank account. I'm not bitter, though. Bitch.
  • How could she do this to me? Did she think forever meant three months?!
  • (Editor Note: I think this begins a new day. I was the end of page one)
  • Hm, my thoughts seem less chaotic and jumbled today. It must be the lack of coke fugging me up.
  • Ha! Okay, you aren't going to believe this one! Since today is the day people are changing jobs, there is a lot of bowing here in my office. Some poor shmo just clonked heads with my section head (no pun intended). They hit so hard, they each dropped their glasses.
  • Raindrops keep falling on my head. I wish they'd fix that bloody roof!
  • I was watching a quiz show on TV. Well, you know how smart those Japanese are? Everybody won. No one got a wrong answer.
  • People keep coming up to me and speaking Japanese. What teh fug are they aying? Gooneegoogoo?
  • Fugu. A fish for those that like to live life on the edge. This is a blowfish that contaons toxins that can kill you. It's supposed to be delicious. It is. I ate some one week ago. I read in a paper today, that three guys had their faces paralyzed, and one guy died from eating it... at teh same shop I went to.
  • Do's and Don'ts in Japan: You can: pick any orifice in public, but you can't blow your nose in public. You can take a leak generally anywhere, but you can't hold hands. Who'd want to now?
  • Uh-oh. I'm all alone in the office. I think we're alone now. Home Alone. Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word - 'cause what can an antelope say? Say what? James Watt. The Who. Beach Boys. Sandbox. Cats. Midnight. The Witching Hour. Ashley on her broom. I think I'm alone, still. Which brings me back to Do. Pillsbury. Yeast in fection. Eggs Benedict. Paul Revere. Rock and Roll. Beethoven. Dead German Guys. Yes, I'm a 75-year-old German, but I was never a nazi. Klaus Barbie. Toss another shrimp on the barbie. Ken dolls. Not anatomically correct. But then, who is? Every single guys swears he has a penis as big as John Holmes. He died of AIDS. Does anyone know who he got it? Got to get you into my life. Beatles. Scarabs. Pyramid Power. Red Kelly. Go Leafs Go. Go go Gadget. Scooby Doo where are you? V, W, X, Y, Z. Rush. Exit Stage Left. Snaglepuss. Hanna Barbera. Wilma. Alice. Lucy. Red heads. The wet head is dead. She sells sea shells by the sea shore. Dinah Shore. Dinah won't you blow my horn. Great horny toads. I can't get no satisfaction. Devolution. Institution. 999 Queen St. Can you give me sanctuary? The Cult. Blue Oyster bar. Police Academy. A doo-doo-do-a-doo-doo-da that's all I want to say to you, and if you act now we'll send you other great pick-up lines. But wait, there'S more. Breakfast cereal. Killers. Whales. Star Trek. Sequels. Again? Play it again, Sam. Green Eggs and Ham. Nuclear Zucchini's taste better with Heinz. Anticipation. Constipation. Pepto Bismol. The End. Big Ass. Ashley. Really, I'm not bitter.   
  • So can you follow my train of thoughts this time? I think I've got you in a few places. Yes, I know the Doors sang that little bit about "Sanctuary", but the Cult also had a song by that name. 
  • Whoa! How did that brief respite of normality get in here? Must be the coke! 
  • I eat my peas with honey. I've done so all my life. It makes my peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife. 
  • Born Free. As free as the wind blows.
  • Did anyone else besides me like Petticoat Junction? It used to be on right after Green Acres in the late 1960s. Do I watch too much TV?
  • How come Dick Van Dyke never did much work after the 1960s ended? This guy was a fantastic comic on his own show, and he was great in Mary Poppins - acting, singing, dancing! Yet, Mary Tyler Moore had her own sitcom (she also had the legs in the show The Millionaire - she was the secretary of this guy who would give away a million dollars one an episode. We never saw her face.) and now she has her own TV production company. MTM. Hell, even Jerry, Dick's brother is working on TV. Coach, I think. So I like TV. It's My Plastic Fantastic Lover. That's a Jefferson Airplane song. Before being called the Jefferson Starship and then Starship, they were called The Great Society. I just love bits of useless trivia, don't you? Well tough! I got more.
  • How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Well, scientists in Japan have determined that if you take an American Woodchuck, it will only chuck about 40 pieces of wood an hour for about eight hours a day (including lunch and two breaks), and you can't make it work over-time unless its Union says it's okay. However, if you take a Japanese Woodchuck, which is much more active than its lazy American compatriot, you'll generally find that it chucks 60 pieces of wood per hour and is not afraid to work over-time and weekends. Scientists have also found that the Japanese Woodchuck has a poorer standard of living, and is likely to die from over-work. The American Woodchuck, while having a higher standard of living, is more likely to die from over-indulgence of pork rinds.  
  • This chicken decides it's high time she had a night on the town. So she preens her feathers and heads out and picks up a handsome young egg. They have a few drinks and then go back to her coop from sone good old barnyard sex. Later, they're lying around in the nest. The chicken turns to the egg and says, "So, who came first?"
Sh!t. I gotta go. Now the office is going to move desks. I'm not happy about this. Oh yeah. I've gotta bad back. That sounds good. But how do I make them understand? Speak English or die!

Rock and Roll ain't noise pollution,
Keep'em coming Moses... "though shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife." Damn. Now what do I do? Oh well, there's always taking the Lord God's name in vain. What did he say? Oh great! Next thing you'll know he'll say no stealing! He dis? When? Number 4? God dammit all!

X (signed)
Prince Charles, heir to the throne. Let's throw Mama from the throne.

- 30-

Awww... now I feel sorry for you. Here's the thing... I understand what I wrote. It was nothing... just a panicked Andrew on the day he found out he was getting a new supervisor... and that all of the people he had known at the Ohtawara Board of Education office were being replaced by strangers. Except for Kanemaru-san, but he was no longer a co-supervisor, and had other duties... and I still have one and a half years to go in Japan!

Worse yet, I never did learn the name of my new supervisor. I got a business card from him, but it was all in Japanese!!! Don't they know I'm special. I cross back and forth between genius and insane. I need people who can understand me.

Hell... I didn't and don't even understand myself. 

Oh well... did you like that woodchuck joke? I can't recall if I read that somewhere or wrote it myself. No clue. Same with the chicken/egg joke.

By the way... everyone knows that the chicken came after the egg. There were dinosaurs laying eggs way before there were chickens. Next stoopid question!

Oh... here's the Love Boat theme... I didn't quite get the words:

Anyhow... welcome to the inside of my head circa 1992. Ignore the echo.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Japanese Joke - A Big Fan

When I was about 10 years old, my parents bought me a book called 10,000 Jokes, Toasts And Stories... an encyclopedia of humor.

Not including the index, the hardcover book from Doubleday & Company, Inc. comes in at 1,007 pages, and actually features 10,065 bon mots... jokes, witty stories, and a whole lotta clunkers that went over my head as a 10-year-old, and owing the date of origin on the jokes, goes over my head a fair bit today.

Still... there are some good jokes/scenarios that could be used by playwright to pad a scene or two. 

The book was compiled and published in 1939 and then 1940 by Lewis & Faye Copeland... and then published again in 1965 by Doubleday. If it was re-released again, there's no other date on it.

For those of you who know me, there's no way I was 10 in 1965, so I can only assume this encyclopedia of jokes et al sat on a bookstore's shelf for quite a few more years after it was re-published.

Anyhow... needing a topic for today, and feeling lazy as I do every once in a while, I thought I would look up Japan/Japanese in the index to see if I could find a joke for you.

But the index showed nothing for Japan/Japanese. 

On a whim, I flipped through the book until I found the "Races and Nations" chapter, and then flipped through to the "Other Nations" sub-section.

And there... there were two jokes.

The longer one was just so racist and stupid that I can't believe anyone thought it was good enough for a joke book - all it was, was "an essay by a Japanese schoolboy", and merely printed out bad spelling and writing of a Japanese person trying to write in English. No one talks or writes like that.... so I'll not bother you with it.

Instead, allow me to present the other joke... which isn't racist and I suppose holds up quite well for a 79-year-old + joke. I added the bracketed word. 

The joke in case you happen to have a copy of the book, is joke #7,289.

One Japanese bragged to another that he made a (folding) fan last twenty years by opening only a fourth section, and using this for five years, then the next section, and so on. 

The other Japanese registered scorn.

"Wasteful! he ejaculated. "I was better taught. I make a fan last a lifetime. I open it wide, and hold it under my nose quite motionless. Then I wave my head."


The joke could have substituted Spanish women for Japanese men, I suppose, but aside from the clipped language used in the joke to make it sound "foreign", the idea is that either someone thinks the Japanese are frugal/cheap or that 50% of them are stupid.

It was 1939. 

But it's a joke. It's still kindda funny.

Andrew "The Ambulance Stopped With A Jerk And I Got Out" Joseph
PS: That's NOT my book in the photo at the top, but one I spotted for sale on Amazon.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

In Memorial Kurita Yukitomo - My Friend

Everybody dies.

I present this for Takako and Kaoru who lost a dad, Matthew a second-father, Alex and Michelle who lost a grandfather, and warm and wonderful Kiyoko who lost a husband - I am sorry for your loss.

I also grieve, as I also have lost a most excellent friend to myself while I called Japan home.

Kurita Yukitomo… Kurita-san was how I knew him died on October 25, 2018 of complications from liver cancer.

In the photo above in happier times circa 1991 or 19922, we have: (L-R) Mr. Kurita, Mr. Maniwa the pharmacist, Mathew, Takako, Me, Mrs. Hiroko Kurita. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kurita (first wife and mom of Takako, Hiroko) and Mr. Maniwa have passed.

And while I could write here and pretend that I have known him since 1990, it was really only for a three-year period. Kurita-san was warm, funny, intelligent, handsome and welcoming.

From what I can tell, he had a good life. And that thought makes me happy.

I may come of sounding like an arrogant prat, but I'm going to make the rest of this article about me.

While I mourn Kurita-san's passing, remember that grieving is for the living.

Back in late July of 1990 when I first arrived in Japan, there was this big, handsome man with the smiling face, sparkling eyes, and warms hands pumping mine with a handshake as he welcomed me to Japan. That was Kurita-san.

No… he wasn’t the first person I met in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken… but he was one of the first whose name I bothered to remember.

He was one of those gentlemen whom you never forgot… and trust me… time has dulled the memory of a lot of those whom I once knew and called friend… but Kurita-san… I don’t think I would have forgot him, even if my buddy Matthew hadn’t married his beautiful eldest daughter Takako.

Kurita-san was a local politician, and by all accounts a successful and honest one.

He was also the golden standard of what a Japanese father should be to his daughter - specifically Takako.

Every effing time I think about how Noboko would refuse to marry me for fear of upsetting her father (and that was the ONLY reason), I would look over at Kurita-san and know that not all men were created equal. Gold standard, see?

He had no issue with his Japanese daughter marrying Matthew the American. To Kurita-san, Matthew wasn't a gaijin (foreigner/outsider)… Kurita-san recognized Matthew as the man his daughter wanted to marry. A man his daughter loved and loves... and nothing else mattered.

Was he concerned that the citizens of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken might turn on him and not elect him back into office because his daughter had married a ‘gaijin’?


Kurita-san didn’t care.

If he did care about his career in that way, he didn’t show it, as he only wanted what was best for both Takako and Matthew.

And that is why I HATE Noboko’s father… for not being a real man like Kurita-san.

Kurita-san… I bow deeply to you. You are missed, and have been missed by me for many, many years every time I think about Matthew and Takako and their two kids, and every time I think about Noboko when I write about her in this damn blog.

I don't know the proper way to sign off a blog when one is paying their respects to someone like Kurita-san. I hope this doesn't sound stupid...

Banzai, Kurita-san. Banzai,

Andrew Joseph
PS: I’m writing this in August of 2016 after I first heard about Kurita-san's illness, knowing I couldn’t write about his passing when it actually happens. Seriously, I’m tearing up now, and as of this writing, he’s still very much alive.
PPS: I try not to think about such things now, but I am aware at how radically different my life would have been (in concept only, not specifics), if Noboko had a father as cool as Takako's.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I Want Tuna, I Want Liver, I Want Chicken, Please Deliver

Yesterday, I discussed shiokara—seafood/fish guts salted and aged, and then apparently turned into something modern Japanese people will eat because they mistakenly believe it is part of their cultural heritage.

When I say seafood guts, the liver (et al) of the squid is the most common form of shiokara.

It was what poor people ate in the old days so they wouldn’t die… taking the garbage parts and trying to make it edible. I get that. To me, it’s almost akin to some of those alcoholics trying to create a numbing agent out of Aqua Velva aftershave. You do what you gotta do.

But for the people nowadays in Japan… there is no reason for a salary man to have to go to a restaurant and pay to eat shiokara. There are plenty of foods that are healthy AND tasty one can purchase and eat.

Now, I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I had another story to tell about the so-called’ Garbage” part of foods.

Tuna. Or rather white tuna meat.

The Japanese have long held the belief that the red tuna meat is a very tasty part of the fish - and by jove, I think they’ve got it right. It is tasty.

You can slice that fresh red tuna meat up and eat it raw as one of the many varieties of sashimi or place it atop some hand-moluded rice as sushi. Eat them up yum!

But, for whatever reason, the Japanese did NOT eat the white meat of the tuna. They actually called it  the garbage part of the fish and never ate it.

Now… for the non-Japanese out there, the white meat of the tuna is that delicious stuff we get out of the cans, mix with mayonnaise and green relish and then spread over our bread for that yummy lunch time sandwich.

Back in 1990 when I first arrived in Japan, the Grade 7 (Level 1) students at DaiChu (Ohtawara Junior High School) asked me in early September of 1990, if I liked to eat tuna.

I like tuna. I could eat that stuff every day. Then again, I also love to eat Chef Boyardii Cheese Mini Bites and Hereford canned corned beef. I could eat any of those three things every day, day after day. Yum.

I thought the students meant the canned tuna… but apparently they meant the super good red meat of the tuna… and when I said I could eat it every day and did back in Toronto, they all seemed surprised, wondering just how rich I was.

That’s when I learned that red meat of the tuna is NOT any thing I had ever eaten before, and that what I eat is a relatively new food-type in Japan.

They asked me, after the red tuna meat question whether or not I like Sea Chicken. They actually pronounced it in katakana English as Shi (She) Chicken… and being new to the language I had no frickin’ clue what they were saying.

Let’s skip my confusing regarding the pronunciation, and look at Sea Chicken.

The teacher, Mr. Shibata explained to me that Sea Chicken was the canned white meat of the tuna that the Japanese had only recently begun to eat.

Sure… Sea Chicken. It’s tuna. Why call it Sea Chicken?

And then it hit me.

Everybody… what’s the best tuna? Chicken of the Sea.

Okay… that was the advertising slogan for a BRAND of canned tuna (with the mermaid on it)… and I guess it was the first or the best-known canned white meat tuna in Japan… hence: Sea Chicken.

It was one of those wonderful moments that made me realize how interesting Japan was going to be for me.

I still eat my white tuna… wary, however that the Japanese once considered this the garbage part of the fish.

It still tastes pretty damn good, though.

Andrew “Flipper” Joseph
PS: Today’s blog headline is part of the Purina Meow Mix TV commercial. Who says advertising doesn’t work? Or maybe I just watch too much television. No I don’t. More boob tube, please.
Anyhow… the version I know best (per headline)… well… I couldn’t find the commercial. As such, for fun, when you are done here do a search on line for Meow Mix and enjoy your own jingle that will stick in your head all day long.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Shiokara - The Worst Japanese Food I Ever Ate

Salted fish guts. That’s what shiokara (塩辛) is… and it was the worst Japanese dish I ever ate… on multiple times.

I was too polite to decline it.

Don’t let me completely color you on this, however... if you are offered shiokara, try it. Maybe it was just me who hated it. And Matthew. Ashley. And every other gaijin (foreigner) I’ve ever met.

And this is me talking… and I love eating natto (rotting, fermented soybeans), that half of Japan hates because it’s smelly and sticky. But it is high in protein and thus good for you.

Shiokara… I can see how once upon a time no one would waste any part of the food, as food - especially meat and seafood was not readily available owing to most people being part of the poor peasant class.

Now I called this stuff salted fish guts, but it’s more than just that.

Like natto, the nemesis of most foreign diners (again, not me), shiokara is smelly and sticky.

It’s usually served on warm rice (in a bowl), or served sans rice in a bowl. To help with the taste, Japanese rice wine (aka sake) is served.

When you have have strong alcohol to swallow your food, that ain’t food you need to eat.

Here's the Wikipedia description: small pieces of meat in a brown viscous paste of the animal's heavily salted, fermented viscera. The raw viscera are mixed with about 10% salt, 30% malted rice, packed in a closed container, and fermented for up to a month. Shiokara is sold in glass or plastic containers.

The closed container is used to ensure the smell doesn't accidentally escape and poison the landscape with its concentrated evil.

The most common form of shiokara is made of squid guts.

I’ve eaten the rotting soy beans. I’ve eaten bee larvae and grasshopper. I’ve eaten raw horse and raw cow liver. Hell, I even had (in Japan) sea turtle phlegm atop a chilled tomato consume at a French restaurant.

Outside of Japan, I’ve also eaten chocolate covered ants and a lollipop containing a de-venomed scorpion. I’ve even had cricket powder.

But shiokara is the one Japanese food I will go out of my way to never eat again.

Here’s the thing… some foods look disgusting… such as sea urchin cracked open… or an oyster cracked open… but both taste delicious.

Shiokara… that ain’t one of them. It tastes even more disgusting than it looks. And I love squid.

But squid guts? Why, Japan, why?  

I understand… once upon a time you couldn’t afford to waste food… so people got creative and tried to make the remnants palatable.

We use fish bones as stock… we eat the fish eyes… but the guts… just how effing hungry were these people? And why are they keeping such a horrible tradition alive?

Along with squid guts - the most common version of shiokara - you can also find it made out of sea urchin roe or from the guts of the bonito fish.

Taking the part of the fish or seafood one doesn’t usually consume because it’s the stuff we throw away (though I have a story about that, too - tomorrow), the stuff is salted and aged.

Yeah… age that crap. There’s probably people out there who can tell you the vintage just by the smell. Ugh.

Now the Japanese peasant class didn’t know this several hundred years ago, but the seafood guts have a strong enzyme or two within them that helps break down the protein, fat and carbohydrates to give the shiokara a special smell and flavor.

You’ll notice I never said a “good” smell or “tasty” flavor.

Anyhow, I leave this up to you.

When I arrived in Japan, I knew nothing about about anything. It was pre-internet, and I hadn’t learned anything about Japan because I was… well, lazy back then.

Still, I decided that if the Japanese could do something, then I sure as heck could as well.

You should go to Japan with a similar attitude. Obviously if you are a vegan or non-alcohol consumer you don’t need to follow the consumption and imbibing as such, but the rest of you… try it.

You might like it, you might hate it. But you will at the very least have a story to tell.

Andrew “Gutless” Joseph

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Japanese Cushion Or I Can’t Feel My Butt

I know I’m late posting this. I’m just suffering from terminal burnout, or perhaps just general laziness. Today, let’s take a brief look at the zabuton (座布団), aka the Japanese cushion or pillow.

In the typical Japanese home and Japanese-style restaurants where you take off your shoes, you will find the zabuton.

The zabuton are square seat cushions found in tatami (grass mat rooms). To provide comfort, these zabuton are stuffed with cotton - which tries to make your foreign butt comfortable.

While it does indeed create a happy butt—look at that, you cracked a smile—after a few hours of sitting on them, you’ll soon come to realize that your butt wants several of these zabuton to perch upon.

Part of that problem is that the zabuton you are sitting on has been flattened by thousands of other butts before you.

Trying to sit on a flat zabuton is akin to sitting on the hard grass tatatmi mats… your legs will soon go to sleep.    

What you really want, however, is a zaisu, a folding chair - minus the legs - that you can slip a zabuton on the base to provide you with back support - then you can lean back. But not every place has one.

The thing is… what to do with your legs then? You can lean back and stretch them out, or you can sit cross-legged… it’s still an awkward thing for us non-Japanese.

Now… let’s suppose it’s August… ahhh, hot and humid (mushi atsui) August… do you really want a fabric covered pillow under your butt? Here we are talking about zabuton in someone’s home rather than a possibly air-conditioned restaurant.

Instead of a fabric covered zabuton, the Japanese have zabuton made of woven rush. It’s cooler - but not in that high school way, but rather in an atmospheric way.

Butt (sp), let’s face it, fabric-covered zabuton or not, it’s still not the most comfortable to deport one’s gaijin (foreign) self.

It’s why people drink.

I can recall going out to an old-school Japanese restaurant for an office party, shoes off, table barely above the tatami mat, and folks tossing zabuton to one another - one apiece.

I had just landed in Japan a few days earlier… and my butt had not yet become acclimatized to Japanese traditions (it—my butt—did eventually).

After about 20 minutes of sitting around while the official toasts and all went on, my butt went numb.
I couldn’t feel my legs as I sat cross-legged with an arm helping prop myself up. Then the other arm. And back to the first arm.

Thank Buddha it all ended just another 15 minutes later and then everyone grabbed MORE zabuton and began tossing them to others.

I wasn’t the only one suffering from a numb bum!

My boss Hanazaki-san said it’s a common occurrence, as he sat on two zabuton pillows, and helped get four or five more for me to sit upon as though I was some rajah from days of olde.

Once the feeling came back into my butt, I was able to feel that pea. Or is it pee… enabling me to stalk off and find the bathroom after rolling off my mountain of a zabuton mole hill.

Anyhow… Japanese pillows - zabuton… be prepared. Your butt is going to hurt.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Not Quite Another Friday Night

Yesterday evening, just before 11PM, I received a phone call from my friend Matthew.

He and I were the best of friends in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan back when we both did the then-maximum three years one could do on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

That guy kept me out of more trouble than I can legitimately remember, suffice that he did. Most of that trouble was within my own mind, mind you, as I had a habit then of wandering off into a dark corner of my mind every time I got homesick for Canada or had woman troubles.

Strangely enough, I wasn't homesick as often as you might think, but the other thing... yeesh.

And so... it was refreshing to talk with Matthew this week... not to relive past glories, but rather to discuss a bit about mortality.

Our parents are getting up there in age, and dammit all to hell, so are we.

I agree with him that he and I need to make a journey back to Japan relatively soon... while we still can... and while we can enjoy ourselves.

Crap... when I first met his parents, they were as old then as we are now.

It's not scary, but it is illuminating. I really am NOT getting any younger.

And so... within the next couple of years... I would really like to join Matthew on a return trip to Japan.

Yup... one of these days, soon enough... I am going to go back to Japan. For a visit.

Not to re-encounter past glories, but maybe to see if any of the old gang still remembers me.

I look forward to the journey with both giddiness and fear and apprehension.

But at least having someone like Matthew with me will remove all the fear and apprehension when we set foot, once again, on Japanese soil. At least he's been back numerous times.

Me? I just visit every day via this blog.

Andrew Joseph 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A First

This past week, I was in Chicago for work visiting the PACK EXPO International trade show held at the McCormick Place.

I love Chicago. I love the architecture. I love the food. I love how clean it is and how polite the people are.

People say my hometown of Toronto is all that, but it pales in comparison to Chicago.

Oh... and a big shout out to the folks at the Hotel Julian - a new hotel that has only been open for two+ weeks! Great staff!!!! Great rooms!!! Right on North Michigan Ave!!!

Anyhow, at the trade show, I stopped by the Tsubaki booth (a Japanese business) with my boss Jim. While he chatted up one engineer, I talked to the quiet man standing at the back of the booth.

Quickly learning he was Japanese, my brain raced back in time to 1990-1993 and I began speaking Japanese with him.

I haven't spoken Japanese in 25 years.

But all of the rudimentary stuff I learned was enough for us to converse in his native Japanese. Poor guy had only come over from Fukuoka six months ago, and was staying in the US for the long haul.

It was a rush for me.

I thought I had only learned enough Japanese to ask a woman out or to get my face slapped, but there I was for 10 minutes chatting in Japanese with this engineer who didn't speak much English.

I think we were supposed to go on a date this weekend.


Anyhow, it was nice to know that I can still pull it off.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, October 19, 2018

1940 Tokyo Olympics - Forfeit

Japan sure is an eager sponsor of the Olympic games

As you should already be aware, Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games.

It has also held the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, and the 1998 Winter games in Nagano.

But there was also another time it was due to hold the Olympics, but because of “regrettable” circumstances, it didn’t.

Japan… IE Tokyo, was scheduled to hold the 1940 summer Olympic Games - the 12th edition of the modern Olympics, but thanks to the rush of hostile activities across Europe, Africa and Asia, the Olympics were cancelled in 1940 and again in 1944 which was to be held in London, England, United Kingdom, but it was busy defending itself from the Nazi Germany onslaught before taking it to Germany themselves.

Above, and scattered throughout, are posters advertising the 1940 Tokyo Olympics.

Sapporo was also supposed to host the 1940 Winter Olympics (February 3-12, 1940).

"Come join us in Sapporo for the most fun time ever. We welcome you, gaijin. We love gaijin. They made us say this." Don't the faces look excited?   
For kicks, London hosted the Olympics in 1948—quite the accomplishment considering the bombardment the city and its people experienced during the war.

Japan itself wasn’t involved in WWII (which officially started in September of 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland)… not a part of the Germany-Italy-Japan axis of evil until Japan bombed the US naval base of Pearl Harbor located on the Kingdom of Hawaii in December of 1941 to then draw the United States into the war to make it more of a real world war.

Man… countries sure were stupid back then.

Now.. Japan isn’t off the hook… and the cancellation of the 1940 Olympic Games WAS due to the European war which was then too busy sending young men and women to die rather than to battle in friendly, competitive sporting action.

No… back in 9131, Japan had actually invaded China back in 1931 attacking Manchuria.

The Olympic committee responsible for choosing host nations were ever so bright in their choices.

You know that Germany had the Olympics in 1936… and it was full blown into National Socialism (Nazism) at that time.

No… Japan in 1932 applied to host the Olympics as a means to soften global attitudes to its aggressive nature.

Because of Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria and the infamous Mukden Incident where it created the puppet state of Manchuko, it had been alienated by the League of Nations - the precursor to the United Nations.

Yes… Japan invaded a country, set up a puppet state, got kicked out of the League of Nations, figured it would apply for the world Olympics to diffuse diplomatic tensions - and holy fug, they got it!  

A 1940 Tokyo Olympic flag that was on display at the 1936 Berlin Games in Nazi Germany. 
They were up against Barcelona (Spain), Rome (Italy), and Helsinki (Finland). Let’s see: Fascist general and dictator Francisco Franco of Spain whose run of terror included the overthrow of the previous government, attacking political opponents, repressing culture and language of the Basque and Catalan areas, censuring the media (sound familiar?); National Fascist leader and dictator Benito Mussolini of Italy who used his secret police to get rid of political opposition and labor strikes, created laws for a one-party dictatorship, and attacked Ethiopia in 1935-36; and Helsinki - which had just finished a long civil war, and had upstart communist USSR to contend with.

Japan in that era had just fought on the side of the good guys in WWI, and then went all Imperialistic warhawk in the 1920s-1930s, with designs on taking over all of Asia (including India) as part of its desire to be the true power in the region.

So… really… Helsinki was the best choice.

But for whatever reason (cough-bribes-cough-cough), the Olympic selection committee chose Tokyo to host the 1940 Olympics.

Now… while Japan was busy in its war with China - officially joining the battle on July 7, 1937 with the Second Sino (China)-Japanese War, some people actually called for Japan to forfeit its hosting of the 1940 Olympics… but Tokyo which was running the war machine figured that Japan would win the war over China quickly and easily so there was no need to forfeit the Olympic Games that celebrate: friendship, respect and excellence.

Other countries, however, weren’t as swayed by Japan’s mannerism, and began to question whether the Olympics should be held in Tokyo in 1940.

Japan (in 1938), assure the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Tokyo was still okay to run the Olympics—even while the Tokyo backed military was insisting the Olympic venues ben manufactured with wood, because it needed meals for its continuing war efforts against China.

Even still, with Japan still confident that it could wrap up its war against China quickly, on July 16, 1938 Tokyo forfeited the 1940 Olympic Games.

Picking up the slack, Helsinki was then awarded the games by the IOC, scheduled to be held July 20-August 4, 1940… but then the games were cancel again due to the outbreak of war.

Ah, history. Wonderful, scary stuff. See below for more:

Hideko Maehata on the Podium with Martha Genenger
Here's a scene from the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany: Germans doing the Nazi salute at the awarding of medals for 200m breaststroke ( women's swimming); Maehata Hedeko (center) of Japan taking Gold; frightened-looking Inge Sørensen of Denmark took Bronze - she's only 12-years-old here! (left); and Martha Genenger of Germany (right) took home the Silver. 

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Japanese Teacher Complaints About Foreign Assistant Teachers

There was a decent enough article at published on October 9, 2018 that discussed Japanese English teacher (JTE) complaints about the ALT (assistant Language teacher).

There are five complaints, and to be fair most of these have NOTHING to do with the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme, and more to do with school boards hiring ALTs from other programs or processes.

You can read the gaijinpot article HERE, but I will sum up and comment on each.

First off, the article states that the following are the most common complaints among JTEs about ALTs. Really? The most common? How many teachers did they ask?

It just says that the writer asked a number of Japanese teachers of English (JTE), some of them friends and some of them current and former colleagues, what have been the biggest issues they have had to deal with regarding their assistant language teachers (ALT) down the years.

A “number of”. Pretty damn vague. Junior high school? High School? Primary School? Private adult conversation classes?

Who knows. We know that there is a Board of Education involved, however, so perhaps the “adult” classes can be discounted.    

Knowing the percentage of complaints goes a looooong way to validating the legitimacy of these complaints. But I suppose that’s the point when presenting an article meant to draw attention, rather than properly inform.

1) The ALTS are changed too often - the article says that the ALTS are changed every three months or so, and that’s hardly enough time to build a proper rapport. That’s true. Three months is too short to get to know anyone and build up trust. BUT REALLY? How many schools or teachers does this really affect. For the schools using the JET Programme, AETs (assistant English teachers) aka ALTs have a one-year commitment, and with few exceptions, those contracts are upheld. In fact, more than those exceptions, more AETs remain for a second and third year.

For those complaints - and really, it was listed #1??!! - there’s not much you can do if the school or Board of Education does not guarantee a job for longer than three months. Japanese teachers can complain all they want (and they won’t), but it will have little to no affect.

The advice given—and here this is most likely according to the Japanese teacher of English, is for the ALT to be more proactive in acclimatizing to the new situation. To be happy where you are makes the JTEs job easier to work with you.

Sure. I can get down with that. That goes with anything in life, however.

But… we are talking about an ALT who has just arrived in a strange country and probably can’t speak the language and doesn’t know the social customs… the ALT is the one who is frazzled. I would say that any JTE who is going to work with an ALT, needs to go out of their way to help the ALT acclimatize!

Quid pro quo (Do me a favor and I’ll do you a favor).

2) My ALT Speaks Too Fast An Uses Slang - eah - a legitimate complaint. The article mentions an ALT with a southern US drawl. I love the drawl, ya’ll. But when people are doing the hiring, shouldn’t the ability of the ALT’s speaking style be taken into account?
Nothing wrong with a drawl or a twang or whatever, but dammit, the ability to speak slowly and to annunciate MUST take precedence.
Whose fault is it that the right people aren’t being hired as ALT?

But yeah… for all ALTs, speak slowly and clearly - English is a second language for the Japanese. If you were in Russia, and you are trying to speak with someone, would you not appreciate someone speaking to you slowly? Speak unto others as you would have them speak unto you.

The article states what I said above. I just wonder who the hell is doing the hiring for all of these JTEs? Is this really a common problem?

My ex-girlfriend Ashley was from Georgia, US… and she maintained a more neutral accent at work, but would slip back into a drawl when plied with Southern Comfort.

3) My ALT doesn’t make time for meetings and always goes home early - Interesting. This is a cultural thing.

Unless otherwise stated in the ALT’s contract, they work a certain number of hours and go home.
In Japan, workers have no problem in putting in unpaid hours. Everyone else admires Japan’s work ethic, but thinks that they are not being smart. The belief is one should be properly compensated for work ethic. If overtime is required, then overtime should be paid. It’s a simple matter of the workplace respecting the employ, rather than expecting “free work”.

Why can’t these JTE-ALT meetings be scheduled during the work day?

If school os over by 3PM, the ALT isn’t scheduled to leave until 4PM. Have the meeting then.

However, if the JTE has club activities, then that’s not the ALTs concern. That’s the JTE’s problem.

How about the 20 minutes or so after lunch and the next class - when students    are cleaning the school?

Perhaps another teacher could be asked to help out of the JTE’s responsibility as a home room teacher and as a JTE who needs to lesson plan conflict.
Unless the school is compensating the ALT to work later or more than the prescribed hours as delineated in the contract, all lessons plans and meetings should be scheduled within normal work hours.

Conversely… this is Japan, and we are supposed to adhere to Japan’s rules. Sure… so know your contract before you sign. Follow the contract properly - regardless if you “got screwed” or not, and work late if you have to.

4) My ALT is always making jokes and doesn’t take the lesson seriously - the writer acknowledges that humor is subjective… but obviously too much can be too distracting. Obviously, this “common” problem is subjective.

Before cracking jokes, the ALT had better determine whetehr or not the JTE has a sense of humor. Even then… it can’t be a constant barrage of slapstick, jokes and riddle-me-this-Batman.

I’m a pretty funny guy. I can crack up a class room of Japanese students and         JTE without even speaking the language properly. But that’s me. Even then, I didn’t make a habit of it.

If you want to be a comedian, go be a comedian. ALTs are hired to teach a second language… nothing wrong with comedy and a sense of humor, but dammit it… everything in its place, and in the right dosage.

The advice in the article was highly amusing: If nobody else is laughing — least of all your JTE — perhaps it’s time to dial back on the comedy. There’s also the danger of the students laughing at you, rather than with you, which is never good for classroom morale or your leadership role.

Laughing at me, not with me? Are you kidding?

Look… you aren’t doing fart jokes are you? No… when you start your job, you first off dress the part. I dressed in a suit and tie, later dropping the jacket, but maintaining the tie. If you look “the part” you gain some respect.

Obviously I like to laugh… nothing wrong with laughing, but you have to pick the proper time for that. You don’t disrupt the class. Teachers only have a certain amount of time to teach their plan. Don’t screw it up for them.

If you need to, have a laugh with the students between classes or before and after classes.

The writer notes that “skits” are a great way to have fun and to lighten the mood. Yeah. Of course. But this is where the students should be allowed to be funny. It’s NOT the ALT show.

5) MY ALT complains too much - Really? Stop that. Do your job, have fun, and don’t effing whine. Welcome to the real world, baby. This goes for Japan and everywhere else on the planet. Your complaining will be heard (eventually) by every one. You’ll gain the bad reputation.

I’m sure this is a valid complaint by the JTE, by the way. In fact, I bet it’s the #1 or #2 complaint (after work hours).

It’s a job. Treat it as such. Have fun.

Smile. I did/do it all the time. It made/makes me approachable. If you need to complain, go complain to other foreign people who understand your complaints and can offer solutions such as “do this”, “don’t do that” or “shut your mouth” or even, provide an example of how you can discuss the complaint with the JTE.  But really, unless the problem is about the JTE or about how a class is taught (and you’d better have a solution in mind), be quiet. They don’t need to know your personal problems.

Okay… that’s it for now.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks Vinnie for the heads up. As an aside, I’m out of town for a few days, and am writing some of these article in advance.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wham-bam-Cram’em, Man!

One of things that people who have never been to Japan envision is that its subway trains are so crowded that there are people on the platform whose job it is to push people into the train.

Yes. This does exist.

However, I can honestly state that I have never seen it in action.

Part of that is an innate ability to not be on the subway train lines at rush hour in Tokyo… or Osaka.

Now… even though these oshiya (passenger pushers) do exist, and do try to cram people into the subway cars, I just wanted to show by my own experience that it is NOT an occurrence a visitor to the country will experience.

It’s not as set-in-stone occurrence as Mt. Fuji dominating the skyline according to some people (I never saw it in three years in Japan owing to mist, fog, rain and otherwise just plain pissy weather whenever I was in the area)… makes some wonder if I actually saw ANYTHING during my stay in Japan, eh?

Even though Japan’s subway system is efficient, with subway trains arriving one after another during peak Rush Hour service, because Japan’s capital city of Tokyo, for example, is home to some 11 million people, its multi line subway system is often filled to bursting with eager commuters trying to get to work on time.

Even though multiple oshiya per platform (and per direction) can be found wearing clean white gloves and a railway uniform pushing and cramming people into cans that way no sardine ever had to experience, as soon as they are able to squeeze all train car doors shut, it’s off, and another train comes in. And even though that previous train may have emptied the platform of waiting passengers, busy stations during peak rush hour quickly fill up again to give the oshiya yet another work out.

If you are a pervert, and enjoy squeezing people’s body parts, the job of oshiya is THE job for you.

Here’s the thing… Japanese train schedules are still accurately maintained to the second in Japan, regardless of rush hour or a multitude of body parts unable to squeeze into a subway car.

The oshiya’s job is to get’em in, and get’em quickly so that the train schedule is maintained.

It’s phenomenal when you think about it.

Each train car is filled to two or 1.5x its capacity.

In Japan, just like in other countries, there is such a term as “commuter hell”, except they call it tsukin jigoku.

Now… should you wish to experience the painful bliss of being squished together with a bunch of Japanese commuters, you sadistic motherXXXXXX, there are a few things to consider.

As a foreign male, you may be afforded a wider berth than most on a train… IE, the locals may not want to be squeezed into a subway car where there is a chance they may have to touch you.

As a foreign woman, you may have the opposite problem, where a bunch of Japanese males (more than likely) are going to fight for the right to slide up beside you for a groin-rubbing ride to the next station.  

Obviously, not every car ride is going to be that way, but there is at the very least a 50 per cent chance of it happening or not happening.

Heck, just look at the video below... look at the guy in the white coat up against the poor woman in front of him. Yeah... the daily grind.

Banzai in olive oil,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Today’s headline is a rip of the old David Bowie song, Suffragette City… ahhhhhhh, wham-bam, thank-you, ma’am!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Differences Between Temples And Shrines

For those new to Japan, there are essentially two major types of “religious” structure: a shrine (jinja, 神社) and a temple (tera, 寺).

The shrine is related to the religion of Shintoism, while the temple is related to the philosophy of Buddhism. The Buddhist philosophy is why I placed the word “religious” in the opening sentence in quotes.

People call Buddhism a religion, and does possess religious aspects, but … take a look at this Huffington Post article HERE  and decide for yourselves. Nothing I say is the be-all and end-all—you all get a call in determining things.

Perhaps a better way of looking at things, is that for the common folk entering a shrine, it is utilized more for the current life—weddings, prayers for health and or success, while temples are used for concerns about one’s afterlife—funerals, and ancestor worship.

But even that is an over-simplification of things. Keep in mind, however, that this article here is not a complete write up on Buddhism nor is it a complete write up on Shintoism… but rather is more about how a visitor can better identify the differences between the two structures, and HOW you pray.

Having dated a Tori, I am perhaps partial to the Shinto torii (two “i”’s). Actually, I loved the torii structure long before I knew a Tori.

Torii are located at a Shinto shrine’s entrance. It’s an open vermilion-painted gate that the practitioners walk through. If there is a set number of torii along the Shinto shrine’s entrance way, I haven’t figured it out yet. Sometimes there’s just the one, other times there’s dozens. They all have the same basic color and shape, but vary in height and width—some being wide enough for two average-sized people to walk alongside one another, others, you could drive two buses through at the same time.

A Buddhist temple will also have gates, but these are like the typical wooden gates that open and close and are immense in height. I’m unsure if the weight and size of the door has been altered over the centuries, but I suspect that part of it was done to repel invaders, or simply to provide a level of comfort and safety for the Buddhist monks living within.

The temple site will contain many buildings, including sleeping quarters for the monks, a worship area, and even a cemetery.

A Shinto shrine does not. It’s a rather simple site where one walks through the torii and then has a statue or icon to a particular nature deity… like a forest, stone or water god that people can pray to.

While Shintoism is more animalistic/nature, Buddhism is more about personal inner harmony. Any of you real Buddhists and Shintoists feel free to write to me and correct me… or, note that you are welcome to write a guest column to better describe your spiritual concept.

For myself, I’m none, but all. I pretty much follow the words of St. Augustine who stated simply: “Love and do as you will.” Not very religious, but a pretty darn good way to live one’s life.

When practitioners attend a Buddhist temple for worship, or walk through the torii to pray at a Shinto shrine, but experiences—which are practiced by all common Japanese.. you don’t have to chose one over the other… you choose whatever is applicable at the moment—ojigi is the key.

Ojigi is Japanese for “bow down” and its implication is obvious… reverence.

Buddhist temples: when approaching a temple gate, you bow your head before you enter the facility. You aren’t supposed to walk down the middle of the pathway - even though your sight-seeing goal is directly in front of you, let’s say. No… you walk along a side path towards an area where a fountain sits. Using a ladle, you rinse your mouth and wash your hands. Call it what you will, but it’s a purification thing.

Continuing with the purification, you’ll see a large incense burner with large sticks of burning incense. Without touching the incense stick, you cup your hand while bowing or being bent over, and waft the incense smoke over you.

Depending on the place where the Buddhist icon is located, there may be a bell to be rung or perhaps not. In my experience, it is usually outside.

One at a time - wait your turn - you face the Buddhist icon and bow. You then toss in a monetary offering. Five yen is good, more if your really want to capture spiritual attention (and she’s buying a stairway to… ).

I’d recommend not tossing in those useless one yen coins, even if you toss in 20 of’em.

After the monetary offering, you can pull on a rope to ring the temple bell to “wake-up” the spirit and then pray, or just pray. You pray with your hands clasped together (not palms together like in the Christian religion). Once done, you may leave or look around. Make sure that you take your shoes off if you are entering any of the wooden structures.

For those of you who want to do the Shinto thing (I recommend you experience any and all religions, however), as you approach the Shinto iconography, you bow and make a monetary offering.

But here’s the difference in how you pray at a Shinto shrine.

Bow twice - not the nod, a good waist bending bow. Twice.

Next you clap your hands. This is also meant to attract the attention of the Shinto spirit. And then you bow again.

I would imagine that unless you can pray in Japanese, any Japanese pantheon of gods or spirits may not understand your prayers or thoughts… so don’t take offense if your five-yen payment for success in dating isn’t at the top of the deity to-do list.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, October 15, 2018


I love anko.

Anko or an, is a sweat bean paste, and is found inside rice cakes

Although it has a similar consistency to mashed potatoes, it sure tastes different.

Anko, while sometimes created using a sweet potato, is more commonly processed using red azuki (aka adzuki) beans.

I can't say I prefer one over the other considering I have not tried the sweet potato version, but man-o-man, I sure do love the red azuki bean version.

To create the anko sweet bean paste, the red azuki bans are boiled, strained to remove the skin, and then sweetened with sugar before stirred into a paste to create what essentially looks like bean jam.

Per yesterday’s blog on amaguri (roasted chestnuts), anko can also be manufactured using it as the main ingredient.

Okay… enough of that… some people may find anko sweet bean paste a tad too sweet, but aside from the type II diabetes I now have, I think it’s just the right amount of sweetness.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Amauri And Other Chestnuts

When I traveled to Japan for the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme back in 1990, bits of homesickness would sometimes creep into the dark recesses of my brain.

While I certainly had numerous friends alongside me to help take the sting away of being away from home for the first time ever, there was another cure - sometimes found within my hometown of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

That, would be the old man and his mobile roasted chestnut cart. A rarity back home in Toronto, but certainly it was the smell of familiarity.

I know it sounds ridiculous… it wasn’t as though I was eating chestnuts all the time back in Canada… and yet, when I smelled the roasting chestnuts from a kilometer away in Ohtawara… well, it transported me across the oceans and through time.

Amaguri is the Japanese term for sweet chestnuts - though it can also be called yakiguri (roasted chestnuts) … and while I can’t say I paid attention to how they were roasted in Toronto, in Ohtawara, the vendor roasted the chestnuts in a pan held over heated pebbles within the cart.

The vendor added a syrup atop the amaguri in the pan to add a glaze, as well as create a sweeter taste and wafting fragrance.

Looking for a slice of home? Go find a Japanese roasted chestnut vendor. 

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Superstition - The Good, The Bad, And The Engi

I don’t really wish to make any wide-sweeping statements about the Japanese, but let’s just say that generally-speaking, the population of Japan is highly superstitious.

In this case, I mean the Japanese, through their belief in Buddhism, that “all things come into being through the interaction of causes and conditions”.

In Japanese, this belief is called engi.

For the average Japanese, engi refers to anything that leads to good or bad events, so a good omen is a good engi, and a bad omen is a bad engi.

But when it comes to engi… where the fug do you start?

Look… we, in Western society, all know that the number 13 is bad luck. It’s why we giggle nervously about Friday the 13th, or note how many buildings do not have a 13th floor, skipping it to go from 12 directly to the number 14. Of course you realize that the 14th floor is really the unlucky 13th floor, no matter what you call it. You can’t fool bad luck with mere chicanery.

By the way… do you know the origin of the bad luck associated with Friday the 13th? Sure… it was a good movie, but it’s origins lie back in the 1300s and the Knights Templar.

After Christians captured Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099AD, Christian pilgrims wanted to travel to the Holy Lands… but to do so, they had to cross Muslim-controlled territories. To aid the pilgrims, Hugues de Payens, a French knight created an order of knights to protect their passage through. This group was called Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ, then the Temple of Solomon, and then later the Knights Templar.

However, by 1303AD, the Knights Templar lost control of their hold on the Holy Lands, and set up its base of operations in Paris, France.

The Knights Templar had, over the centuries become adept at amassing wealth and power… something that worried Pope Clement V, and angered King Phulip IV of France—it is believed the Templars may not have wanted to provide additional loans, when France already owed them so much.

So… on Friday, October 13, 1307, the French military launched a surprise attack on all known Templar knights, arresting nearly the entire order, including Grand Master (leader) Jaques de Molay.

Over the ensuing years, the captured Templars would be jailed and tortured and executed, and of course stripped of wealth and lands. The Templars were forced to confess to crimes they had not comitted, including heresy and devil worship (which was how King Philip IV could spin his attack on the holy order with The Pope). It was worse than the Salem Witch Trials.

And that’s why Friday the 13th, and the number 13 is considered an unlucky number in western society.

In Japan… a bad engi could be: cutting your toenails at night.

Or using the Japanese words for “separation”, “cut” or “part” in a wedding speech are considered bad engi.

Numerically, because perhaps because the Japanese never dealt with the Knights Templar, the numbers 4 and 9 are considered bad engi.

Four in Japanese, is pronounced as “shi”. While it uses a different kanji (Chinese symbol) when written out, it is pronounced exactly the same as one would for the word “death” - shi.

4 = shi (四)
death = shi (死)
4 = shi = yon

Yes… “yon” is the word used instead of shi, when counting the number four.

As such, most Japanese when counting, for example, will say “ichi-ni-san-yon-go” for 1-2-3-4-5, rather than the unlucky way of ichi-ni-san-shi-go.

Living in Toronto, when I was doing judo as a kid, we used the word “shi” for four, because we didn’t known any better.

The Chinese and Japanese also dislike living in a home with the number 4 in its address, or having a telephone number with it… you just don’t want to have people muttering “death” around you.

As for the number nine… in Japanese, the word used is ku (pronounced as “Coo”)… but because the word ku sounds like the Japanese word for “suffering”, it, too, has an alternative word.. or rather words (plural): kokonotsu, and the pronunciation as kyū (pronounced “q”).

9 = ku
suffering = ku (苦)
9 = ku = kyū and/or kokonotsu

Yes… hospitals never have a bed with the number four or nine, and hotels (many, not all), refuse to offer a room with the number 4 as its number.

And THAT, my friends, should be reason enough to prove that Japanese society is a superstitious lot.

Good omens? Well, if a Japanese person is having a cup of o-cha (green tea), and they see a stem floating upright in the liquid, that’s a good engi.

I don’t know what it’s a good omen off, but I assume it’s a kin to the American adage: Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck”.

Worth much more than a penny. Penny, aka actress Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory.

We no longer have pennies in Canada, so I guess we’re outta luck.

My mother used to say that the number eight was always good luck. In Arabic numbers (which is what we use in western society), if you flip the number eight sideways, you get the infinity symbol. My mom liked that.

That and the fact I was born on the 8th… every house we ever lived in in Canada had to either add up to eight, or have the number eight in it. Really.

It’s a shame I only learned that 15 years after she died. Though by some coincidence, every home I've lived in since becoming an adult - with the exception of Japan, has included a sum total of eight, or has had the number eight in it. Yes, it would have been waaaaay cooler (and coincidental) if my Japanese address would also have an eight.

In Japanese, the kanji for eight - hachi (八) is the same as in China… but if you look at it, the way it is drawn makes the symbol resemble a fan opening up… an an unfolding fan is supposed to be a goo engi.

I swear I’m not making any of this up.

Other Japanese symbols of luck:
  • the beckoning cat (maneki-neko) placed in restaurants and shops to attract customers or fortune (see HERE for a more indepth look); 
  • the decorated bamboo rake (kumade) which is meant to help “rake in good luck”; 
  • Otafuku, the goddess of mirth, whose smiling white aristocratic face brings good fortune (the whiter the face, the less time you spend outdoors, ergo you ain’t no peasant); 
  • Symbols of a crane and a turtle, represent longevity of 1,000 and 10,000 years respectively; 
  • Red Snapper fish is good luck because the Ebisu god is always shown holding a red snapper under an arm; 
  • the owl… sure its a symbol of wisdom, but in Japan the word for owl is fukurou, which includes the word “fuku” (happiness) plus it can be separated to “fu” (no) kurou (suffering), ie no suffering.
I’m sure there’s more, but a black cat just walked in front of me and I dislocated my jaw screaming in fear and now I have to go to the doctor.

Luckily, I’m in Canada.

Andrew Joseph