Search This Blog & Get A Rife

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 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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Job Offer: English Teacher In Japan

Wanna work in Japan but are too lazy to check out want ads? Let me help! Here's one I had sent to me. Yes, I see the irony.

English Teachers Wanted (Spring 2019 Start, Overseas Applicants Welcome)
Company: Borderlink (株式会社ボーダーリンク)
Job ID: 129215
Location: Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Tokyo
Post date: Sep 18, 2018
Industry: Education / Teaching
Function: Teacher, Instructor (ELT, Conversational English)
Work Type: Full Time / Entry Level
Salary: ¥215,000 ~ ¥250,000 / Month


  • English: Native level; 
  • 12 years of education in where English was the medium of instruction; 
  • University graduate with bachelor’s degree or higher (any field); 
  • Visa sponsorship available

Borderlink, Inc. is looking for flexible and adventurous individuals to join us next spring as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) across eastern Japan.

Since 2000, Borderlink, Inc. has been one of the leading recruiters of highly-skilled, dedicated English teachers at elementary and junior high school levels. Our ALTs work in public schools during regular school hours, sharing their knowledge and insight with students and fellow Japanese teachers.

ALTs generally teach between 3 to 5 classes a day, depending on the school schedule and frequency of the ALT's visit. Working alongside a Japanese teacher, ALTs follow a practice known as "Team Teaching" where responsibilities are shared. ALTs also eat lunch with their students, play with them at recess and help out during school cleaning time. This makes the ALT's role in the school, one that is not only enriching for the students and staff, but beneficial to you as well. You'll learn as much about yourself as a person as what you pass on to your students as a teacher.

With the increased focus the Japanese education system has placed on English during the run-up to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the need for high-quality ALTs has risen. Although prior teaching experience and Japanese ability are not required, they are greatly sought after. Cities want the best. Here at Borderlink, we'll work to help you be the best. Our extensive support system includes:

-Training: We provide an orientation & training session for new employees to get them acclimated to Japan and the Borderlink teaching system. This training continues with seasonal sessions hosted by our team of veteran trainers and even specialized 1-on-1 training when required.

-24/7 Help & Support Line: We're here to assist you- however we can, whenever we can. We also provide help with Japanese translation on request.

-Immigration & Visa Support: We will help facilitate your entry to Japan and support your ability to work with us here.

-Banking & Accommodations: Moving from overseas is a big commitment. If you need help finding an apartment, we can connect you with the help you need. We will also help you open a Japanese Bank account and give you guidance in handling other essentials.

Lastly, we want all applicants to know that at Borderlink, we work to constantly improve ourselves and how we handle relations with our ALTs, the schools, and cities. We value our teachers' input and opinions, and do our best to recognize creativity and talent wherever we can. Just was we strive to better ourselves and how we conduct business, we hope that you are ready to do the same. Above all else, teaching needs an open mind and an open heart, as it's more than just a job- it's a life experience that will stay with you forever.

So are you ready to start the road towards that experience and come to Japan? We're waiting to hear from you! Please apply today, and thank you!

*Already in Japan? You're welcome to apply! Part-time positions are also available for domestic candidates; please see the application form on our website.

*Only those who pass the initial screening will be contacted for an interview.

See the ad HERE at GaijinPotJobs.

Thanks to my friend Vinnie who keeps sending me such things suggesting I get a real job.

Oh... and for reference, back in 1990 - 28 years ago - when I joined the JET Programme, my monthly salary was ¥300,000.

Keep in mind I didn't have key money to pay (up to 5 months of rent) paid up front, had my Board of Education office pay MOST of my rent,  had a three-bedroom place with two balconies, all the appliances, Heating and A/C... well, I lived like a king and always had plenty of money left over to blow on such things as condoms that were too small, vacations to other countries, REAL jewelry for women, oh, and plenty of booze to kill off any infection that thought it could survive in my body.

I'm just saying that the salary offered is okay... but the cost of living has increased in the course of 28 years, and there are other things to consider, such as key money, stupidly high Tokyo rents for teeny-tiny apartments that you will have to share, possible evening curfews (if you work for a company that  has helped find you living quarters), and much more.

If you take this job, do not do it for the money. You do it because you want the experience of a) living  and experiencing Japan; 2) you think you might like to be paid to speak English; 3) you are looking for a way to lay low until the heat fades.

Re: 3) I had to get fingerprinted to gain access to the country... fingerprints which went to Interpol. So, the heat, in this case, may not fade.      

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Going To The Maul

Not just limited to Siegfried and Roy, a Japanese zookeeper has been mauled to death at the Hirakawa Zoo in Kagoshima this past Monday.

I know I shouldn’t make light of stuff like this, but we are talking about a wild animal that shouldn’t be kept in a zoo.

Yes… I’ve been to zoos, and enjoyed having tea opportunity to see such creatures, but I honestly believe that we shouldn’t cage such creatures. Keep’em in a wildlife preserve, sure, or in the wild where we know they aren’t liable to kill people or us liable to eliminate their domain.

Riu the white tiger—a natural genetic mutation of the more common orange and black version Bengal tiger—mauled Furusho Akira, 40, in its enclosure.

The male five-year-old Riku was born at the zoo, weighs 374 pounds and stands 1.8 meters in length.

Usually, when a death like this happens at a zoo, the animal is euthanized, but Furusho’s family asked they spare the animal, knowing how much the deceased loved the creature.

Awww. Now I feel like a jerk for making those jokes at the top of the article.

It is suspected that Furusho may have been trying to move the tiger between two cages when the attack occurred. Rules say no one is supposed to enter an enclosure until an animal has been moved.

Furusho’s neck was badly mauled, and was still alive when found, but died soon after arriving in the hospital.  

"When we found him, he was lying in the tiger's bedroom. There was blood on the ground," said Hirakawa zoo officialYamamoto Toshiaki  (surname first), according to Reuters. "It seems like he was bitten, then dragged around the room."

It is estimated that there are now several hundred of the white tigers in captivity—all born in captivity, in fact—with zero such animals in the wild. No white tigers have been seen in the wild since one was shot in 1958.

The Hirakawa zoo is home to four white tigers.

Andrew Joseph  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

To Be Or Not To Be A Gaijin - That Is The Question

Every once in a while I come across a news topic where I am unsure about where I stand.

Usually things are pretty back or white, but in this case I thing there are shades of grey mixed in.

Published October 7, 2018 in The Japan Times Community section, Farrah Hasnain wrote about a so-called “The Gaijin Day” held in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka-ken in Japan.

Of note, is that Hasnain is an American of Pakistani descent… IE, she notes it because she feels this enables her to know what it already feels like to be an outsider. I’m not saying she’s wrong, by the way.

Even back home in the U.S., despite how Americanized she might be, others see her as something other than American first. It's probably a color thing.

However, I don’t think she helps that view, as she calls herself “a first-generation Pakistani-American”. But I do understand her point.

I was born in England, to parents born in India, and we moved to Canada when I was three-years old. I identify myself ONLY as Canadian. Or maybe as a writer. Or Andrew. I do NOT identify myself as a hyphen-Canadian.

My opinion is: pick one.

Others, of course will disagree, usually with racist or prejudicial comments. They tend to hide behind some anonymous name. Why? If they are so correct in their righteousness, why hide? Because even they know that North American society (for example) finds such thoughts abhorrent.

Which takes me to Hasnain’s op-id piece in The Japan Times.

You should READ it first, and then come back here.

Of course, the article uses many Japanese terms without providing an explanation, but I’m sure you get the gist. If not, here it is:

No matter how many generations you may have in living here (Japan)… regardless if your great-great-great grandparents came here 150 years ago, you, despite being born in Japan, are not really Japanese.

You are not a pure-blood Japanese. You have gaijin blood, therefore you can never - EVER be Japanese.

This is the exact same argument held by yahoos in North America (for example).

Despite the Euro-centric belief system some (a few, really) North Americans maintain about their rights in the new world of North America, even they aren’t the pure-blood Americans. Those would be the true aboriginal peoples of North America.

Anyhow… I digress.

Let’s look at the Japanese word “gaijin”.

Some people call this an ugly word, others don’t. And it’s not simply a matter of non-Japanese versus Japanese.

Gaijin translates (old school) to “outsider”, and refers to a “foreigner”.

But what is a foreigner to the Japanese?

Sure it could be a Dutch person, or a Portuguese person, or anyone from another country.

But in reality… the term gaijin has been in existence for centuries and centuries.

It actually refers to any person from another town.

Back in the of days of feudal and pre-feudal Japan, towns and villages were very close-knit… and travel between towns and villages was something not done very often.

When it was, that person was a “gaijin”. Yes… Japanese called each other gaijin. They literally were an “outsider” to a town or village or community.

Obviously, such commentary about strangers traveling from one town to another is no longer cause for one set of Japanese to call another Japanese person an “outsider”. Right?

Well… op-ed writer Hasnain said that The Gaijin Day festival was not about having foreign artists come in to take part, but rather it mostly involved “sansei” and “yonsei" - third and fourth-generation Japanese.

Hasnain correctly took offense at the fact that the show’s organizers called third- and fourth-generation Japanese folk “gaijin” or foreigners/outsiders.

However… WHY did these sansei and yonsei decide to take part in The Gaijin Day festival?

If it was sooooooo offensive, why would they have participated? Was it just another paycheck, and the realization that no matter what they do or how long they have been in Japan, they will never be anything other than a sansei or yonsei or gaijin… and never accepted as being Japanese.

Have they become resigned to their “fate”?

These people were born in Japan, and thus should be considered Japanese citizens, or at the very least “Japanese” regardless of their ancestry.

By that same token, any person whose family came over from England to North America four generations-plus ago could NOT be considered to be American or Canadian.

So why is Japan allowed to get away with such blatant “racism”?

Japan actually seems to care what a person’s bloodline is. If there is any hint of gaijin ancestry, that person - and its heirs - are considered to be non-pure blood.

For those of you who enjoyed the Harry Potter books and movies, that is akin to calling someone a half-blood, or a muggle.

Let’s use the term “muggle” hereafter when referring to the non-pureblood Japanese.

Japan—again, I know this isn’t the viewpoint of EVERY single Japanese person—does like to consider itself pure Japanese, ergo any dilution of genetic material via cross-breeding that results in a muggle, is simply not Japanese.

Anyone with a semblance of knowledge of WWII might also recognize the same thoughts from Nazi Germany. The Aryan master race race... blonde, blue-eyed, Teutonic. But, on the negative side, God help you if you had even a tinge of Jewish blood in you.

Jewish blood. Isn't being Jewish a religion? Perhaps I should have said "Hebrew" blood. Then again, Nazi Germany had a hate on for jews (Juden), and used that term rather than Hebrew.  

In Japan, and that whole muggle-thing.... it takes its pureblood/muggleblood thing quite seriously.

The country has a reasonably large Korean-descent base of population… with people having come over generations ago from the mainland... and regardless of the fact that those people have been in Japan for centuries, Japan still prefers to refer to them as “Korean” rather than Japanese.

At what point in time does an immigrant or a muggle actually become Japanese?

Sure their passport may indicate they are Japanese, but society does not recognize them as such, despite the official status.

It’s as though the entire Japanese society has got behind and accepts that unless one is a pure-blood Japanese person, everything else is simply not “real Japanese”.

If I married Noboko, and we had a child born in Japan, would he/she be considered Japanese? Yes. Officially. But unofficially, the Japanese would point at the heritage consumed by the father (me), and label the child as a hafu (half).

The implication is there. My child is a half-breed.

The point isn’t whether or not that is “technically” correct, the point is that such terms are politically incorrect. Or at least they are in places not called Japan.

Not everyone thinks this way in Japan, as I have pointed out - and the best example I can give is one related to myself.

It’s 1990, and I’m part of the second year of JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme participants.

Even though it’s the second year, 1990 Japan is hardly new to the concept of people from outside of Japan visiting or living in its country. It’s something that has been going on for at least 150 years and more.

However, I understand that outside of the main cities and towns around major ports, the inland cities, towns and villages may have little experience with contact between themselves and the “outside” world.

Look… even in parts of Northern Canada, I’m sure there are enclaves where they have never met an Asian person before. I can’t guarantee that, but it is possible even in 2018.

Anyhow… I had just arrived in Japan, in my home rural city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken… it was early August 1990 and during the o-bon matsuri (Celebration of the Dead festival, essentially).

A city local was talking to my OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) boss Hanazaki-san (Mr. Hanazaki), and he in passing referred to me as the “gaijin-no sensei”… the foreigner/outsider teacher.

That's Mr. Hanazki and myself in the photo at the top. I have better photos, but for some reason, I like this one the best.

Hanzaki-san stopped him in mid-speech and corrected him, say that I was NOT a “gaijin-no sensei”, but was simply “Andrew-sensei”.

If THAT doesn't scream respect, I have no idea what does. Hanzaki-san went out of his way - and this is 1990 - to refer to me as a teacher named Andrew, and not as some foreigner teacher.

That person who uttered the slight, bowed and apologized to Hanazaki-san and then to me - even though I wasn’t really involved in the conversation… I just happened to be nearby.

I don’t think that man meant to be insulting. I don’t believe he meant “gaijin” as an insult. He was just using the common vernacular for someone who wasn’t Japanese.

But… does that excuse his ignorance in the matter? For Hanazaki-san, it did not.

Why refer to someone as being a foreigner or outsider? That was his point!

Just refer to them by name and title - as one would any Japanese teacher.

I will refrain from stating that in Japan a teacher would still be referred to by their SURNAME and the job title, but the Japanese realize we foreigners (and we are foreigners, though you don’t get to call us as such) prefer to be called by our FIRST name rather than the Japanese standard of SURNAME.

Now… while many a non-Japanese person has taken great delight in calling another foreign person “gaijin”… it is done much the same way that the gay community has captured the word “fag”, or how some segments of the American Black community uses the word “nigger”…. it’s a case of where the community might use such terms themselves, but Buddha help anyone outside the community using it.

Although I should state that the term “gaijin” does NOT carry anywhere near the same weight as those other terms.

But that’s just the person visiting there.

What about the long-term foreigner making Japan a home? What about the person with one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent? What about those non-Japanese who have become Japanese citizens (like ex-sumo star Konishiki)? What about those second-, third-, fourth-, etc-generation Japanese who are Japanese but for the fact that their ancestral birthplace isn’t Japan?

It’s completely effing ridiculous.

The Japanese, when it suits them, have this belief of divine origin.

They came from somewhere, to the islands of Japan.

The Japanese religion of Buddhism… comes from China and Korea, and before that India. It’s alphabet and social customs were derived from China (and bits of Korea). It’s current Constitution was created by the U.S. (after WWII - though this IS something Japan wants to alter).

But none of that matters, as the pure-blood Japanese have figured out a way to show where they are all derived from.

Those that aren’t, are muggles.

And yet… there were such forward-think people such as my boss Mr. Hanazaki (gods, I’m probably the same age now as he was then)… who was quite willing to buck Japanese tradition to be more… worldly.

Perhaps one day, Japan and its populace will simply do away with the term "gaijin". Why loop anyone whom they consider non-Japanese under the term gaijin? Why not refer to him/her as that"Canadian" or Australian, etc.

Look... we all do it... using physical descriptors when talking about people.

Where's Suzie? Oh, she's there beside that fat Black girl. Why use the descriptor of Black or fat? We could simply say she's the one wearing a green tee shirt and jeans. Why use a physical descriptor?

Gaijin. I didn't mind being called a gaijin when I was living in Ohtawara-shi back in 1990-1993. I figured that eventually the term would fall out of favor in Japan. I didn't need to be angry or upset with the term.

Noboko, Takako, Kurita-san, Hanazaki-san, Kanemaru-san, Suzuki-san... and so many others... they never referred to us JET participants as "gaijin".

We were Jefu-kun, Mashu-kun, Andoryu-kun... terms of endearment by our girlfriends/wife, or just Jeff, Matthew and Andrew to the friends, or Jeff-sensei, Matthew-sensei or Andrew-sensei to the locals we encountered. 

I still did get upset, however, as I realized the most of the Japanese people I knew, although they had no problem with our "foreigness", did have an issue with people of Korean descent.

It's funny. I would think that the Japanese people who have Korean ancestry would be the ones who would be most upset.

Somewhere I am still sometimes a gaijin,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan

Oh my goodness, how could I be so impolite?

The folks over at Stone Bridge Press had sent me a book to review—Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan—and I completely forgot to do a write-up.

I didn’t expect to be enthralled by the book, nor learn anything from it, based on the book’s cutesy cover featuring anthropomorphic cats—but dammit, I did enjoy it.

The softcover book has 140 pages, and cost US $12.95 and features nine chapters of easy-to-read and easy-to-understand sections that will help you navigate your way through Japanese customs and cultural differences to avoid looking like a complete idiot.

Firstly, however, as a foreigner and thus guest in Japan, 99.9% of the time you will be treated as such by the Japanese populace. Culturally, Japan is a very polite society.

Now, since no one in Japan is really going to get angry with you for any faux pas or cultural transgressions you may make, why, you may wonder would I need to read: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan ?

Simple. Who the heck wants to stomp around a country with complete disregard for its peoples or customs?

Barbarian hordes stampeding the women and raping the cows, that’s who. That’s not us, of course.

No… we want to do our best to fit in, with a “when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do” philosophy.

Rather than Rome (in the case of the adage, we are talking about Rome the country), we’re talking about Japan…

Trust me, you don’t want to commit half the mistakes I did. The Japanese are quite forgiving because they know we don’t know any better - but Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is here to educate you better.

Even though it is only confined to two pages, the book provides two 10-pieces of advice: Things you should never do in Japan; and things you should always do in Japan.

Excellent advice... and that alone would make the book worth its weight in cold chocolate coins.

Still, the book offers pointers on (based on the chapter headings): going out (to the mall) or on a date); standard etiquette; etiquette for traveling whether in daily life or on va-cay; hotel do's and don'ts; toilet and bath etiquette, which is actually quite important, as people are less forgiving at a hot spring facility; eating foods and drinks; homestays/visits; general language conversation (see below for my story on my mistake (?); and business etiquette.

My favorite language mistake? I was at an office enkai (party) and was asked how we Canadians say kanpai (cheers) when doing a drinking toast. I told them that Canada “cheers” is very common, but we do also possess a bit f an international flair and also use such cheers as "prost!" (German), Nazdrovia (Russian, Czech, etc), "yamas" (Greek), and good old "Cin Cin" (Italian).

Cin cin in English is pronounced as "chin-chin".

All cool, right?

Except in Japanese, "chin-chin" translates to a slang of "penis".

So when I told the Japanese we said "chin chin", all of the women cheered, while the men en masse grabbed their head (forehead, actually), and gave it a slight sideways shake in disgust.

The women were soon drinking heavily and toasted good fortune with bellows of chin chin, grinning as the cheers of "penis" abounded within the restaurant.

When someone from the restaurant came in to see what the hubbub was about, the women giggled and told them. Pretty soon the main part of the restaurant up front was laughing and drinking away to toasts of "penis" (or rather the Italian version), and I realized that internationalization in Japan could be a lot of fun if one wanted to stir up mischief.

Amy's Guide To Best Behavior in Japan may not cover all of the faux pas that a foreigner could get up to in Japan, but it can help you avoid many an embarrassing situation.

Is it worth picking up? Yes.

While it may not have avoided the infamous "penis" incident of 1990, it will help you fit in better in your new country.

Now, I'm still of the opinion that life is worth screwing up a bit in order to create better stories...

Can you imagine just how bland my life and this blog would have been if I didn't constantly screw up while in Japan? Boooorrrrring.

However, I had/have the capacity to deal with such fallout. Many of you would not.

Few men and women, for example, cared to let their true selves out in Japan... whether they are foreigners of Japanese. That old adage in Japan about the nail that stands up gets hammered down, isn't just an adage - it's a way of life.

Personally, I don't mind standing out.

But I do respect that fact that if possible, most people would prefer that their actions did not cause WWIII.

I can't guarantee that Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan still won't cause WWIII, but I can guarantee you that you will have fewer embarrassing interactions while in Japan. 

Don't get me wrong. I seemed to thrive in embarrassing situations... and those faux pas I made in Japan sure seem stupidly funny now... but I can guarantee you I was embarrassed by them at the time. Why do you think it took me so long to bring this stuff up?

Pick up a copy of Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan. Author Amy Chavez did a fine job of explaining how to "do it right, and be polite". Chavez has been a columnist for the Japan Times for 20+ years, writing about cultural differences between Japan and the West - kindda what I do mostly.

Currently she owns the Moooo! Bar & Calfe on the beach of Shiraishi Island. See HERE and HERE for info on her blog and bar! She's been writing since February of 20019 - a few months longer than I have (though I will lay claim to having a few more blog entries than Ms. Chavez - but quality over quantity?)

Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is a quick read, though NOT skimpy on words. Has lots of fun drawings by Hazuki Jun (surname first) involving cats. Why not cows? I guess Chavez didn't wish to hawk her bar/calfe.

Contact Stone Bridge Press at and order a book and make cowgirl Chavez smile. You'll learn something from Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan, and maybe even get a chuckle or two from it as well. 

Chin chin,
Andrew Joseph
PS: For Michael at StoneBridge Press - sorry for not posting this earlier. I actually did read it days after receiving it... and I did write most of this then... but for whatever reason, I stopped at the point of the penis cheer, and forgot to complete it. D'oh.  

Monday, October 8, 2018

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Finally. I've been writing about this off and on for years, but at last the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo has breathed its last and closed up shop.

Closing on October 6, 2018 - and a huge part of Tokyo since the 1935 when it opened, the world's largest fish and seafood market has moved from its well-traveled Tokyo area to a new area - also in Tokyo.

I know... a fish market is moving from one part of Tokyo to another. Big whoop. Still people are sentimental about such things, and I get sentimentality. But this is just a building.

Beginning October 16, 208, the Toyosu Fish Market in eastern Tokyo will for all intents and porpoises be one of the largest buildings to open in Tokyo this year.

I doubt a heck of a lot will change for merchants moving from Tsukiji to Toyosu, Tsukuji vendors sold about 5-million pounds (2,267,972 kilograms) worth approximately US$28-million  - annually.

Toyosu hopes to retain the tourist-attraction flavor held by mighty Tsukiji - seriously, for anyone wanting to see the world's largest fish market in action, it just means a different route to travel. Ergo, if you want to see it, you will.

Like the old facility, there are restaurants/dining options, with pretty much all 40 of the stalls at Tsukiji now moving over to Toyosu. But... really, what you want to see are the tuna auctions where huge prices are paid for huge fish.

Tsukiji did require you to purchase a ticket in advance, but at Toyosu, you show up, you get to pick your own vantage point to see all  of the tuna auction action.

Honestly... for sight-seeing tourists, this move ain't no big deal. Still... think about the fact that you are going to a place where they want to keep the fish and seafood fresh. It's going to be cool, so dress appropriately.

Toyosu also has plans afoot to construct a hotel and hot springs for tourists. Next thing you know they'll build an oceanic disneyland-like place complete with rides and robot versions of Mizuchu (Japanese dragon and sea god) and Aquaman.

Meanwhile, back at Tsukiji, although the fish and seafood vendors have all left, there are still stalls and restaurants there at the so-called outer market.

Without the allure of Tsukiji, I would think that the outer market is going to lose a large amount of its customer base, but I would think that if the restaurants there are of a good enough quality, it would maintain its customer base.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash
PPS: Today's headline is taken from the stellar Douglas Adams book, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish. It's the fourth book in the HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy trilogy. The video above is from the 2005 movie. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Learn about Japan's Hayabusa 2 Asteroid Chaser

Wanna see something cool? How about a look at the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Hayabusa 2 asteroid chaser  - its story, as told by a guy with an English accent? Classy.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Japanese Pink Floyd Album sells for nearly US$14,000

I do like my Floyd. My record collection contains original copies of all the U.S and U.K. releases.

My Beatles collection is a bit better, with some rare releases like the 1970 Christmas Album, releases 11  months after the break-up.

Pink Floyd… I have just always liked the mellow sound… but perhaps also like their foray into electronica, such as in the Meddle album specifically in the song One Of These Days (I will cut you into little pieces)… on the single, the flip side had the song Careful With That Axe, Eugene.

According to Discogs, a site where you can purchase rare and limited edition real wax records, a double-LP Pink Floyd album - Ummagumma - was its highest seller (money-wise) for the month of August 2018.

This particular record, is the Red Color variant, Japanese promotional copy (given to radio stations) of Ummagumma.

A bit of background. Even outside of Japan, there are two versions of the Ummagumma album (I have always loved the experimental song, Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict).

Released in the UK on November 7, 1969, there are two cover variants: you can look at the top, you can see a poster for the movie/theater production Gigi on the floor. That’s the rare one, because apparently one should have got permission to use its likeness.

The revised Ummagumma version is below:

To avoid even more problems, the record was re-released with the poster completely blanked out, as a white space.

The Gigi version is more rare and thus more pricey, but honestly, it’s not stupidly rare.

This Japanese promo copy of Ummagumma is. Not only does it have the Gigi poster, but along with being a pristine promo copy specific to the Japanese radio market (and how many of those were there in 1970 when the record came out?), but to differentiate it from the public release market, the promo was printed on red wax/vinyl, rather than the usual black most people are familiar with.

Along with the red vinyl, it also features a white label on the record, rather than public release yellow (Harvest) label.

At that time, most promo records for anyone were still done on black vinyl.

Also, given that this is Pink Floyd we are talking about (why did they never do a pink vinyl release??!!), the need to promote any of their albums was a non-necessity… even in 1970.

(I have a Yes promo album with various versions of the lead single, another group that might not have needed press, but it was several years after their last hit, so I can understand why a promo was done.)

But… despite Japan already familiar with Pink Floyd in 1970, was it really a big deal in Japan? Perhaps that’s why a promo was created for the radio stations… and personalizing it with Japanese… that’s even better.

What is interesting, however, is that since this IS Pink Floyd… a known commodity within the music industry, even in 1970 Japan, this US$13,953 copy of Ummagumma was rarely played.

I would guess it was given to an executive at a station, who took it home, listened to it once and wondered audibly just what the fug type of drug Pink Floyd was on when they created the song Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict.

I like it. Have a listen right to the end:

View Discogs The Entire Most Expensive List for August 2018, click HERE

There are actually a couple of other Japanese record connections on this list…

Andrew “Andrew is Scottish (pict) for "manly/masculine" Joseph

Friday, October 5, 2018

Japanese Architect Designs Taiwan Starbucks

Although this is in Taiwan, Japanese architect Kuma Kengo (隈 研吾, surname first) has built a new Starbucks utilizing shipping containers. Or maybe it was designed by his Kengo Kuma and Associates architectural firm…

Located at the Hualien Bay Mall, the new Starbucks store is built using 29 shipping containers providing a total floorspace of 230 square meters (3,444 square feet) over two floors.

If you are looking at the photo above, you can see that there are four levels, but only the lower two are functional, with the upper two merely architectural design features.

Each of the shipping containers has been reinforced, according to Starbucks, which I find interesting.

These are shipping containers. Aren’t these things built to hold immense amounts of weight for transport? Aren’t these thinks stackable (with full capacity weight) in a shipping yard? Why did they need to reinforce them for a Starbucks shop?

I suppose better safe than sorry. I won’t quibble here other than that.

The outside of the white-painted containers are further modified for glazing.

Kuma only designed the exterior of the facility.

While this is the first time that Kuma has used shipping containers as part of his architectural design, Starbucks now has 45 such coffee shops globally.

The architectural design “was inspired by the foliage of coffee trees combined with the traditional Chinese bucket arch," states a Starbucks press release. "The stacking of the shipping containers created a much taller space and provides natural sunlight through the various skylights found throughout the structure."

Born on August 8, 1954 in Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken, Kuma is a Japanese architect with his Kengo Kuma and Associates business he started in 1990 in Tokyo, with a branch in Paris.

He also teaches on the side in the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo.

While I don’t quite see it with this design, Kuma has stated a goal of recovering traditional Japanese-style architecture via a reinterpretation for the 21st century.

In 1997, he won the Architectural Institute of Japan Award and in 2009 was made an Officier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.

Via his 2008 writings in Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture, he says that architecture should work within its surroundings rather than dominate them—something I agree with 100 per cent.

“You could say that my aim is ‘to recover the place’. The place is a result of nature and time; this is the most important aspect. I think my architecture is some kind of frame of nature. With it, we can experience nature more deeply and more intimately. Transparency is a characteristic of Japanese architecture; I try to use light and natural materials to get a new kind of transparency.” –Kengo Kuma via Bognar, B. (2009). Material Immaterial: The New Work of Kengo Kuma. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Some of the designs Kuma has built, include: 

  • M2 building (1989–1991);
  • Kiro-San observatory (1994);
  • Kitakami Canal Museum (1994);
  • Water/Glass, Atami (1995);
  • Bato Hiroshige Museum (2000) (Bato is a hamlet, essentially, near my hometown of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken. This design looks like an old temple, but is a museum dedicated to the work of one of my favorite ukiyo-e artists, Hiroshige (Ando). The design represents an attempt to materialize in architecture the unique spatial structure that Hiroshige created in his woodblock prints. If this had been there when I lived in the area, I would have been there at least once a month  - see image below:

Bato Hiroshige Museum
Other designs:  

  • Stone Museum (2000);
  • Great (Bamboo) Wall House, Beijing (2002);
  • Plastic House (2002);
  • LVMH Group Japan headquarters, Osaka (2003);
  • Lotus House (2003);
  • Suntory's Tokyo office building;
  • Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum (2005);
  • Kodan apartments (2005);
  • Water Block House (2007);
  • The Opposite House, Beijing (2008);
  • Nezu Museum, Minato, Tokyo (2009);
  • V&A Dundee, Scotland (2010–2018);
  • Stone Roof (2010);
  • Taikoo Li Sanlitun, Beijing (2010);
  • Akagi Jinja and Park Court Kagurazaka (2010);
  • Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum (2011);
  • Meme Meadows Experimental House, Hokkaido. Japan (2012);
  • Wisdom Tea House (2012);
  • Seibu 4000 series Fifty-two Seats of Happiness tourist train refurbishment (2016);
  • Japanese Garden Cultural Village, Portland, Oregon, USA (2017);
  • Eskisehir Modern Art Center (2018);
  • New National Stadium (Tokyo) (to be completed in 2019);
  • 1550 Alberni, apartment building in Vancouver, Canada (to be completed in 2020).

Below is a concept image of the 1550 Alberni architecture, and I only include it because it’s a soon-to-be Canadian apartment building.

1550 Aberni apartment in Vancouver, BC, Canada, designed by Kuma, to be completed in 2020.
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Capital Gains: The Moving Japanese Capital

As I’m sure most of you know, or should know, Japan’s capital is Tokyo.

But it’s a relatively new capital.

Forget about the fact that Tokyo only became Tokyo in and around 1868. Before that the city was known as Edo (pronounced Eh-dough).

Tokyo, by the way, is pronounced with two syllables as Toe-quoh, and not as Toe-key-oh.

No… before 1869, the capital of Japan was Kyoto, thought it had a different name at one point in time, too.

There have actually been too many capital moves for me to list here, suffice to say that excluding the “mythical” emperors that Japan includes (the first Emperor Jimmu, for example, is either mythical, or is real but with a completely different and non-deity based origin).

Let’s just say that until the 40th Emperor of Japan, Temmu, who reigned from 673AD - 686AD, the location of the capital city changed every time a new emperor ascended the throne.

After Temmu, the capital of Japan did move with every new emperor’s accession, but at least now it only moved within the Kinki district.

So… for what possible reason did the country continually move its place of power?

It was for empirical safety… moving removed the government from any sphere of influence the previous government may have held. It allowed the new government to work with a clean slate.

Kindda cool, actually.

So… from 686AD until 794AD, the Japanese capital continued to move within the Kinki area.

But after that, it remained at Heiankyo, the city that was eventually renamed Kyoto.

Kyoto is, like Tokyo, pronounced as a two-syllable word, not three. So it is Quoh-toe, not Key-yo-toe.

I can’t find evidence for this, but I recall being told when I was in Japan that Kyoto meant Western gate, and Tokyo meant gate to the west.

Of course, with Tokyo the new power in 1868, maybe Tokyo was the Eastern Gate, and Kyoto was the gate to the east.&

You’ll note that To-Kyo is the opposite position of Kyo-To.

Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn’t. Anyhow...

Here’s a list of the Capital moves, per Wikipedia.

For the sake of continuity, the listing includes the mythical/legendary Emperors and their capitals:

Legendary period
  1. Kashihara, Yamato at the foot of Mt. Unebi during the reign of Emperor Jimmu;
  2. Kazuraki, Yamato during the reign of Emperor Suizei;
  3. Katashiha, Kawachi during the reign of Emperor Annei;
  4. Karu, Yamato during the reign of Emperor Itoku;
  5. Waki-no-kami, Yamato during the reign of Emperor Kōshō;
  6. Muro, Yamato during the reign of Emperor Kōan;
  7. Kuruda, Yamato during the reign of Emperor Kōrei;
  8. Karu, Yamato during the reign of Emperor Kōgen;
  9. Izakaha, Yamato during the reign of Emperor Kaika;
  10. Shika, Yamato (Palace of Mizugaki) during the reign of Emperor Sujin;
  11. Shika, Yamato (Palace of Tamagaki) during the reign of Emperor Suinin;
  12. Makimuko, Yamato (Palace of Hishiro) during the reign of Emperor Keikō;
  13. Shiga, Ōmi (Palace of Takaanaho) during the reign of Emperor Seimu;
  14. Ando, Nara (Palace of Toyoura) and Kashiki on the island of Kyushu during the reign of Emperor Chūai.
Of note, Wikipedia says the above list is "incomplete". IE, there were more emperors and moves not listed, because they are unsure just where the capital was located.

Kofun period
  • Karushima, Yamato (Palace of Akira), during the reign of Emperor Ōjin;
  • Naniwa, Settsu (Palace of Takatsu), during the reign of Emperor Nintoku;
  • Iware, Yamato (Palace of Wakasakura), during the reign of Emperor Richū;
  • Tajihi, Kawachi (Palace of Shibakaki), during the reign of Emperor Hanzei;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Palace of Tohotsu), during the reign of Emperor Ingyō;
  • Isonokami, Yamato (Palace of Anaho),during the reign of Emperor Ankō;
  • Sakurai, Nara (Hatsuse no Asakura Palace), 457–479 during the reign of Emperor Yūryyku;
  • Sakurai, Nara (Iware no Mikakuri Palace), 480–484 during the reign of Emperor Seinei;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Chikatsu-Asuka-Yatsuri Palace), 485–487 during the reign of Emperor Kenzō;
  • Tenri, Nara (Isonokami Hirotaka Palace), 488–498 during the reign of Emperor Ninken;
  • Sakurai, Nara (Nimiki Palace), 499–506 during the reign of Emperor Buretsu;
  • Hirakata, Osaka (Kusuba Palace), 507–511;
  • Kyōtanabe, Kyoto (Tsutsuki Palace), 511–518 during the reign of Emperor Keitai;
  • Nagaoka-kyō (Otokuni Palace), 518–526 during the reign of Keitai;
  • Sakurai, Nara (Iware no Tamaho Palace), 526–532 during the reign of Keitai;
  • Kashihara, Nara (Magari no Kanahashi Palace), 532–535 during the reign of Emperor Ankan;
  • Sakurai, Nara (Hinokuma no Iorino Palace), 535–539 during the reign of Emperor Senka.
Asuka period
  • Asuka, Yamato (Shikishima no Kanasashi Palace), 540–571 during the reign of Emperor Kinmei;
  • Kōryō, Nara (Kudara no Ohi Palace), 572–575;
  • Sakurai, Nara (Osata no Sakitama Palace or Osada no Miya), 572–585 during the reign of Emperor Bidatsu;
  • Shiki District, Nara (Iwareikebe no Namitsuki Palace), 585–587 during the reign of Emperor Yōmei;
  • Shiki District, Nara (Kurahashi no Shibagaki Palace), 587–592 during the reign of Emperor Sushun;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Toyura Palace or Toyura-no-miya), 593–603 during the reign of Empress Suiko;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Oharida Palace or Oharida-no-miya), 603–629 during the reign of Suiko;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Okamoto Palace or Oakmoto-no-miya), 630–636 during the reign of Emperor Jomei;
  • Kashihara, Nara (Tanaka Palace or Tanaka-no-miya), 636–639;
  • Kōryō, Nara (Umayasaka Palace or Umayasaka-no-miya, 640;
  • Kōryō, Nara (Kudara Palace or Kudara-no-miya), 640–642;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Oharida Palace), 642–643;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Itabuki Palace or Itabuki no miya), 643–645 during the reign of Empress Kōgyoku;
  • Osaka (Naniwa-Nagara no Toyosaki Palace), 645–654 during the reign of Emperor Kōtoku;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Itabuki Palace), 655–655 during the reign of Kōtoku;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Kawahara Palace or Kawahara-no-miya), 655–655;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Okamoto Palace or Nochi no Asuka-Okamoto-no-miya), 656–660 during the reign of Emperor Saimei;
  • Asakura, Fukuoka (Asakura no Tachibana no Hironiwa Palace or Asakure no Tachibana no Hironiwa-no-miya), 660–661;
  • Osaka, (Naniwa-Nagara no Toyosaki'' Palace (ja)), 661–667;
  • Ōtsu, Shiga (Ōmi Ōtsu Palace or Ōmi Ōtsu-no-miya), 667–672 during the reign of Emperor Tenji and the reign of Emperor Kōbun;
  • Asuka, Yamato (Kiyomihara Palace or Kiomihara-no-miya), 672–694 during the reign of Emperor Tenmu and in the reign of Empress Jitō;
  • Fujiwara-kyō (Fujiwara Palace), 694–710 during the reign of Emperor Monmu.
Nara period
  • Heijō-kyō (Heijō Palace), 710–740 during the reigns of Empress Genmei Empress Genshō, and Emperor Shōmu;
  • Kuni-kyō (Kuni Palace), 740–744 during the reign of Shomu;
  • Naniwa-kyō (Naniwa Palace (ja)), 744;
  • Naniwa-kyō, Shigaraki Palace, 744–745;
  • Heijō-kyō (Heijō Palace), 745–784;
  • Nagaoka-kyō (Nagaoka Palace), 784–794 during the reign of Emperor Kanmu.
You will notice, that the Japan of old seemed to have been far more enlightened than the Japan of now.

As late as 740AD, it had an Empress on the throne as its leader... a woman... not a man.
Heian period
  • Heian-kyō (Heian Palace), 794–1180 during the reign of Kammu and others;
  • Fukuhara Palace, 1180 during the reign of Emperor Antoku.
Medieval Japan and Early Modern period
  • Heian-kyō/now Kyōto (Heian Palace), 1180–1868.
In between the Heian period, along with the Emperor, there was the warlord Shogun ruler.

The Shogun was the actual de facto leader of the country, with the Emperor only provided with puppet-like control.

The Shogun and Emperor did not live in the same area.

Shogun Residence
  • Kamakura (1192-1333);
  • Kyoto (Muromachi district, 1336-1573);
  • Edo (1603-1868).
Modern Japan
  • Tōkyō (Kōkyo), 1868–present.
Okay... that's far too much information. Just remember... Tokyo is pronounced via two syllables.

Andrew Joseph
PS:Photo by Yu Kato on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Move Over, Mario

Has Japan got its groove back?

For a while it seems as though Japan—famous since the 1960s for its work in developing robotics for a plethora of global industries—had lost its competitive edge over the past decade or so, with other countries reaching and then surpassing Japanese daring-do in the field of robots and robotics.

But… never did Japan stop trying.
The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (of Japan), aka the AIST, has developed a prototype robot (it has a humanoid shape, so it’s a robot, as opposed to robotics) that has been designed to work on construction sites

Check out the video below:


Dubbed the HRP-5P (産総研公式), the humanoid robot, it is seen in the video performing some pretty standard drywall construction. And doing it it slower than a human, but it is a step forward in human-robotic relations.

According to the AIST, the robot is not meant to replace human labor, rather it was designed to be used when human labor is unavailable or sparse. For example, perhaps some humanity work is being required in some disaster-stricken country, and rather than NOT construct new homes because there’s no labor, a crew of humanoid robots could be sent and utilized.

Although, let’s not be blind to the tech… this is one of those technologies that could eventually have humanity turn into giant floating brains, as the need for a human body is displaced in a dystopian future because robots have become our slave workers.

Did you watch the video? Check out how, when the humanoid robot has bent down to apply the floor-level screw to the plaster board, that it grasps the wall structure crossbeam with its left for better balance.

Smart and sexy. Okay, maybe not. But definitely functional.

Now the AIST just needs to increase the humanoid robot’s speed. Unless it’s unionized… in which case its speed is just fine. I wouldn't want to tick off any union.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Enkai - Japanese Banquet

Since 2006, when I first began this blog, I have often and casually mentioned the Japanese term “enkai” referring to it as a “party”. 

It certainly is, but unlike the standard work party the rest of the world is familiar with, the Japanese enkai has, as you might suspect, has its own unique flavor. 

The enkai is indeed an office party, and can involve the entire company, or perhaps just a department, but here’s the most important part… it’s not held on the company premises. 

Yup… an office enkai is held in a private room or a part of a restaurant and tavern, and features a legitimate banquet dinner feast. 

There are many types of enkai. For example, when I arrived in Japan on the JET Programme, my Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE) held a welcome enkai for myself. And when I left, there was a good bye feast… perhaps with more joy shown there. (That's me at my good-bye enkai in the photo at the very top.) 
Kidding. I left on very good terms… in fact… I didn’t want to go… and while the OBOE wanted to keep me on, the City wanted to replace me with a representative from their new sister city of St. Andrew’s, Scotland.  

It wasn’t anything personal, either, it was just good politics. I respect that, despite my disappointment.

Other forms of enkai are the bonenkai (year-end party) and the shinnenkai (New year party). 

Okay… but other than booking space a t a restaurant, and mandatory attendance (It’s not really mandatory, but when it comes to an office enkai, planned so far in advance… other than a death in the family, there’s no getting out of it. 

There is one person, called the kanji, who is responsible for the arranging of the enkai, including room/restaurant reservations, setting the attendance list, settling the bill, and depending on the person, being the MOC (master of ceremonies). 

The enkai begins with an official welcome and greeting from the kanji, immediately followed by a beer toast (kanpai!). 

Large bottles of beer have already been placed on each table, and everyone pours a small amount of beer into someone else’s glass - you never pour your own beer in Japan, enkai or otherwise. 
That's my secret fiance Noboko pouring me a beer at my good-bye enkai. Beats me why I am so happy... probably because I know that I'll see her again in a few hours time...
After the toast, it’s onto more talking and eating. Oh… and drinking. 

A Japanese enkai is a real booze fest. 

I’ve been asked this before:  what if I don’t drink alcohol (because of religious, health reasons, or maybe you just don’t care for drinking and it’s raucous aftereffects)? 

If it’s not an affront to your well being, I’d suggest informing the kanji ahead of time, but still having a sip anyway when presented. Or, after the first sip, request orange juice, or some other beverage. This should be mentioned to the kanji ahead of time… because you don’t want to look rude, especially when the choice to drink is your own.

So… after the toast, some drinking and eating, some enkai will have a talent show. Buddha help me, but in my case every time I attended, there was a karaoke machine. I don’t read Japanese, so I was relegated to only the songs available that had English subtitles. 

Those songs are invariably: My Way (Frank Sinatra); Country Roads; and Love Me Tender. I ain’t joking when I tell you that my karaoke machine mixed up the L with an R on Love, making it “Rove Me Tender”… which sounds a whole lot like “Rub me Tender” when sung by a drunk Japanese office worker. 

I opted for My Way, the first year… but rather than do the Sinatra version, I did the Johnny Rotten version. This was one of Johnny’s solo pieces after breaking away from the punk rock group, The Sex Pistols. 

Johnny had a warble in his voice, and because of my ability to mimic things, I was able to do a passable copy of Johnny Rotten doing My Way. The problem was, is that no one at the OBOE had ever heard the Johnny Rotten version… as such, despite my angry warble being spot on (I even changed my voice to sound like his), I’m afraid that I merely came across as sounding like someone who can not sing. 

Which I suppose is true. 

I don’t think the OBOE ever invited me to sing again at one of their enkai… though I did do Country Roads with my fellow AETs (assistant English teachers) at a Tochigi-ken JET weekend. I probably should have done Johnny Rotten version for the JETs, and stuck with taking it home via the Country Roads for the OBOE. Oh well. Live and learn. Next life. 
Kevin Blacburn, myself, Jeff Seaman, Matthew Hall, and Tim Mould doing karaoke at a Tochigi-ken JET Programme function. Go ahead and click on the photo and see what song we're singing. I dare ya. At least I was wearing underwear.
Anyhow… while everyone at the enkai is in rapt engagement listening to a co-worker croon some Japanese enka (folk song)… once that is done, it’s time for the free-for-all, which really means it’s time to move around and talk with others.       

This, my friends, is where everyone goes around to their boss et al, and pours a small amount of beer into their glass. 

Some people are so pissed drunk by this time, however, that they open their mouth and spew angry diatribes at their superiors. Good news, however, is that a Japanese enkai is like Las Vegas. Whatever happens at Las enkai, stays at Las enkai. 

It really is no big deal. The hierarchy of boss and peon is now reduced to drinking person and drinking person with a less expensive suit. 

Usually, these enkai will last either two or three hours… and dammit all, it ends right on the prescribed dot. 

But, as is usually the case, when one enkai ends, a group of committed party-goers will head of to a noodle shop or another bar, and continue the fun times, with a second, or Buddha help you, a third enkai. 

Been there, done that. 

I’ve been called a  "hebi-durinkah”, which is Japlish for “heavy drinker”. Yeah, I could drink more than most people… or at worst, would drink as much as the worst drinker (best drinker) at an enkai, and not look the worse for wear… IE, I don’t appear to be pissed three sheets to the wind. 
Myself and a local Ohtawara-shi sake maker. He offered me my very first glass of sake to welcome me to Ohtawara at the o-bon festival in August of 1990. It's here that I earned my pseudonym of "hebi-durinkah", after nearly emptying his cache of rice wine meant to be sold to the rest of the city during this festival. That is a Donald Duck mask I have on my head, as well as a festival jacket given to me by one of the festival workers. Donald Duck is my favorite comic book character (no, not Batman). To paraphrase: "I'm Donald Duck." Someone will get that joke. And yes... this was my second glass of sake. It was 37C at 10PM, and I was thirsty. It went down like water.
It was at a JET enkai, that I engaged in the infamous sake drinking contest with myself, a fellow AET, and a Japanese educational head. 

My fellow AET literally passed out after his 10th shot of sake - to be fair he had been drink aforehand, because this was at the end of the enkai evening. 

Myself and the Japanese head, we literally went head-to-head - each of us swallowing 47 shots of sake… and we both realized that no one was going to win, and he had a meeting to attend  - so we called it a draw. 
Mr. Arakawa and myself one evening after our infamous drinking battle, toasting each other with a very small shot of sake.
Who has a meeting after an enkai? No one… He probably wanted to go and be sick, the poor retching soul. Me? I went dancing. Got kicked out of the club. Went and passed out in a forest diorama under a deer. Apparently I had to break into the diorama in order to pass out, but I did so without damaging anything. I awoke after a few hours, and went to my room. I think I made out with a female AET from my prefecture. Canadian redhead. yeah. I did. Woke up in my own room, refreshed and happy - but with a dry mouth.       

I was not susceptible to hangovers. Never had one. Not in my DNA. 

Personally, the enkai is a fun time for bonding, and this is where you discover just who the hell can really speak English, and you get to wonder why they are so afraid to speak it with you when they aren’t drunk. 
Yes, enkai are a lot of fun... or so I've been told. My memory is a little fuzzy.
Andrew Joseph