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Showing posts with label Gaijin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gaijin. Show all posts

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jogging My Memory For Inspiration

When I first arrived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan in very late July of 1990, I was 175 lbs piled on top of my 5'-11" frame.A good enough height-to-weight proportion... but I certainly lacked the muscle bulk (and fat) I have now.

And… thanks to a plethora of dalliances with the fairer sex, I was pretty much able to keep myself hovering around that weight.

And then… during the summer holidays of 1992, I went back to Toronto for a 2-week vacation - my first trip home in two years, and thanks to either my mother's cooking or the joys of Canadian beer and booze, I packed on 11 lbs in 14 days, arriving back in Ohtawara-shi looking bloated enough to actually have people comment.

I do believe I was so hammered one night in Toronto that I actually whipped out something and waved it as Miss Nude Universe who smiled, grabbed it and told me to put that away befoe I got beat up by the bouncers.

Sage or stage advice... 

Regarding the bulky comments I got back in Ohtawara, I have no idea why people of every culture feels they can come up to me and say whatever insulting thing is on their mind - but they do.

"Geez, Andrew - you got fat!"

(In my head I'm thinking - "And you're ugly! But at least I can lose weight!")

It's probably because I am always so open about discussing anything with people, that they feel comfortable enough to be insulting to me… though… I have never… on purpose… ever casually been insulting to anyone…. if it's an argument, if I can't win without making personal comments, then I have already lost the argument. 

By the way… I want you all to know that today - in 2013 - as I write and complain about being 11 pounds overweight at the immense level of 186 lbs in 1992… I am currently 225 lbs. I blame Major League Baseball and steroids. And porchetta. And I eat when I'm stressed.

In my defense, after coming back to Toronto for good, I spent five solid years in the gym and added 12-inches (30 centimeters) to my chest. My slightly arthritic knee (which occasionally hurts), has Tae Kwon Do and my weight-training regime to blame, whereby I would push over 750 lbs on a vertical.

I had always joked that it wasn't my leg muscles that would give out, but my ligaments in my knees. A pity I was never as prophetic with the lottery or women.

I actually maintained a 185 lb weight with a lot of good solid muscle under the skin.. and looked like I was strong enough to bench-press a moose. We have a lot of those walking around here in Canada. (Not!) 

Anyhow… back to my beef with Japan… and my 11 lbs overweight self.

As I have written before, I decided to diet and exercise as a means to get back into prime whoring shape.

I ate a pack of natto (fermented (rotting) soy beans) and rice every night for dinner, and rain or shine, I would cycle out to the Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School) and avail myself of their track.

The plan was to run a couple of miles (3,200 meters) or eight laps that first night and repeat until I thought myself sexy enough to deserve being laid again.

Well… that first night… I barely did four laps (one mile or 1,600 meters)… having to walk the last lap… with one arm akimbo on my right side holding in the pain... and completing the whole thing in about 35 minutes. I was sore, out of breath and completely at a loss to know just what the hell had just happened.

I used to be an athlete... I played soccer and baseball... and did some judo... and used to ride my bike everywhere until I got a car a few years earlier back in Toronto...

I did hope that the young student who was running around the track doing sprints and long walks didn't blab to his friend at how badly out of shape I was. That kid was there with his dad… and to their credit, aside from a single bow from the boy as he ran past me one time, there was no other acknowledgement that I existed in his world.

The most amazing thing about that first night of jogging (I went at 9PM assuming the place wouldn't be filled with students), was that I actually went back the next night to do it again.

Not quite content to just do four laps, by hook or by crook, I was going to do five laps (2,000 meters) - because I must have just been feeling sick last night  - there's no way I could be that out of shape, right?

That second night was perhaps the worst night of my jogging life. While I refused to walk at all, my bowels had come loose after the first six steps around the running track and I spent the entire five laps convincing myself to not poop my pants… or to even fart, because if given an opening, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to close the door.

Each step was a gut-clenching, sphincter-tightening mess inside my brain… as I knew that if I quit now to go back home and take a crap, I would not come back the next day. I would never do it again.

Mind over fecal matter…

Never mind the jokes… I'm no quitter. Not anymore.

I kept up the slow and steady pace, because if I stretched my legs too far apart - mistakes would happen.

So… I slowly ran around the track with my ass cheeks clenched… and with the feeling of hopelessness growing with every aching step.

But I made it… and while the feeling inside only slightly dissipated, the five kilometer bicycle ride home was nearly successful… as I had to stop in a rice field - wade in a bit to the waters… and poop…. and poop…. and poop… and poop some more. And when I though it was over and wiped up with an underwear that would find its way into a public garbage bin… I had to poop again... and then some more…and oh god, more.

I rode home without my ass touching the bike seat... on very tired legs trying to hold my hurting ass cheeks tightly together to avoid leakage.

If you are still reading, you will be happy to know that I went out jogging again the next night… and the next night… I kept on adding 400 meters (one lap) every single night until I reached 10 kilometers.

A feat I did in about 57 minutes… and I did not crap myself on the five kilometer ride back home.

By this time, I had probably lost all the weight I wanted to lose, but I never checked… and instead, I decided to keep on running.

The very next night - I ran the 10 kilometers in just over 37 minutes.

Top of the world, ma!

By that time, along with the junior high school boy and his dad training at the track, I also had a small group of other students watching me - maybe five or six… and actually cheering me as I crossed my imaginary finish line in a time that would have won many a global mini-marathon. This was after three weeks of training.

But… this was the last time I went jogging… as I developed shin splints from crappy shoes…

What I didn't know, however, was that the next time I visited Ohtawara Chu Gakko as an assistant English teacher (AET) - two weeks later - that I would besieged by dozens of boys and girls who wanted to know why I had stopped running.

With the help of a Japanese teacher of English (JTE), I told them of my injury… which led to rounds of the Japanese version of 'alas', as apparently they wanted to run with me.

I looked over at my JTE for clarification, and Mr. Shibata-sensei explained that after the second night (it took one night for the boy to tell everyone what I was doing), that I was being secretly watched by a fairly large cadre of students, who were intrigued by my efforts.

Funny… I never saw anyone else but that one boy and his dad…. and the five or six on that last night... but I was being watched every night?

Yup… and apparently emulated.

Apparently there was a swing in school club activity, as kids were now suddenly interested in long-distance running - attempting to switch club allegiances from kendo or judo to running.

I asked why.

Shibata-sensei says they admired the fact that even though I had struggled mightily the first few times I tried running, that I kept coming back to do it again.

And… after they saw me blaze a 37-minute 10 kilometer run (apparently it wasn't just me timing me), they realized that I wasn't just making up crap about my athletic prowess during all of those never-ending self-introduction classes. That if it was possible that I could run like that, then it was possible for me to have been an okay baseball and soccer player.

Prior to the jogging, I used to go and watch the kids during their club activities… but after that, I was actually asked to participate in them as an equal… (equal to a 14-year-old boy)… which was fine by me…

Even with the shin splints, I spent the next four evenings playing soccer and baseball - wincing within with every step, but enjoy the fug out of my time with them.

And… because there's no such thing as having and keeping anything a secret in Japan... I had secretly made my students believe that not all gaijin (foreigners) live a make-belief life... and that if I, an over-weight, fat bastard could run world-class 10 kilometer times, then they could, too.     

Good thing I never told them about that underwear. That would not have been very inspiring.   

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: The image at the top - that's my marker for the 1st Ohtawara 10km Marathon... that I did not participate in due to shin splints.  
PPS: If you add the first to numbers on that marker, you get 7... and add the last two numbers, that's 4... the reverse of my lucky number 47. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Gaijin Wolverine? WTF?


For all you Wolverine fans out there, check out this 2004 San Diego Comic Con and Chicago Wizard World exclusive toy.

This is the Mariko/Gaijin Wolverine Marvel Minimates 'action figure(s).

Mariko was Wolverine's boring Japanese girlfriend. Of course, she's the daughter of a Japanese crime lord, proving that Wolverine (aka Logan) is not the only Canadian gaijin who sure can pick'em!

Now… I was there in Chicago in 2004, but by the time I got over to the appropriate booth - it was gone. I'm kidding. Even being in my 30s then I was far too old for this... I only collected comic books.

But… check out the Wolverine…  there have been other Wolverine characters (six in total) made by Marvel Minimates as of this creation in 2004 (and no I don't care how many have been made as of 2013)… but why is THIS one called the 'Gaijin' Wolverine?

Gaijin Wolverine. Audible sigh.

Wolverine is a Canadian, who was born with the mutant ability to slowly age (he's around 150 years old), has bone claws that can be extended and retracted from each hand, has a keen sense of smell, and a superb healing ability. Later his entire skeleton was injected and is now covered with Adamantium, a made-up indestructible metal alloy in the Marvel Comics universe.

Wolvie is perhaps the most popular Marvel Comics character out there. He's Marvel's answer to the dark, moody and vicious Batman.

Anyhow… Marvel Minimates are manufactured by Diamond Selects… and excluding a Wolverine character nicknamed Patch (from his time in southeast Asia from the on-going Wolverine comic book series), Wolverine pretty much just has a different costume on and has his claws jutting out. Snikt!

So what's with the effing 'Gaijin' moniker for this set?

Is it because he's got a Japanese girlfriend? Ha-ha… okay, I get it. Very funny Diamond Selects.

But then again… WTF?

See that other Marvel Minimates two-pack above? It's the Battle-Scarred Thing (of the Fantastic Four) either battling or teaming up with Gaijin Wolverine II (he has a mask on now).

Again with the gaijin crack.

How is this Wolverine a gaijin?

He's not hanging out with his Japanese girlfriend! And… I bet she NEVER called him a gaijin! Certainly not to his face... after all, like all gaijin, he's a homicidal maniac. Now... her crime lord father might call Logan a gaijin… but not Mariko!

So… why is Wolverine being called a gaijin in his box alongside The 'battle-scarred' Thing?

Is it because he's Canadian?

Do American's have something against us Canadian snowbacks? Did my former American friend Tom actually call me a snowback once?

Just so you know… Tom is dead now.

I didn't kill him, but that doesn't change that fact.

Snowback and now gaijin?! Blame Canada?

That's enough of that. I'm taking my hockey net and going home.

Kiss my ass Marvel Universe. I always did prefer DC best. How can you make a movie starring one of the most beautiful women on the planet (Jessica Alba) and have her star as The Invisible Girl!!!!??? from the Fantastic Four?

Gaijin Wolverine? Oh that the race of men could sink so low…

I love Japanese women… but in the comics, Mariko was boring… why make an 'un-action' figure of her?

Oh… and Jessica?… Call me, babe. We'll get some maple-glazed donuts.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

Friday, June 28, 2013

Great Expectations - A Few Notes On Japan

My family's name is Joseph, and my given name is Andrew, and while I had no problem in knowing that my name should be read as Andrew Joseph, it was obvious going to be a state of confusion for everyone else.

Even in Canada, where I am from, people continued to call me Joseph Andrew, perhaps because everyone is so very familiar with the first novel by Henry Fielding: Joseph Andrew, or the History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams.

Ahh… you gotta love long book title names of yore, unlike now when it a single word would do: Coma, Jaws, It, Shogun and Trainspotting just to name a few of the more recent vintages that were also made into a movie/TV film.

Anyhow… like the title of this particular blog - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - the whole diary aspect of my life in Japan is about a young man's attempt to establish an identity and place in the world.

Now, to ensure that any claims of plagiarism are nipped in the bud, let's talk about what some of the great expectations people often have when they arrive in Japan. Won't that be novel?

  • Japan is always warm: It really does depend on where you live in Japan. There are parts where it is hot and humid all year long. There are parts where you get as much snow as parts of the US and Canada. It's a big freaking country, and there is a different bit of weather all over the place. Typhoon over to the west… sunny to the northeast… Godzilla attack in Tokyo, with a slight chance of Mothra.
  • You will be called by your first name in Japan, while they call everyone else by their surname. I was An-do-ryu-sensei... Andrew teacher. People called me Mister An-do-ryu. My buddy Matthew was Mashu-sensei, Ashley was Ashuree-sensei. You will not be Joseph-san... Mister Joseph. For me and my years of being called last name first, it wasn't a big deal to me in Japan. Kind of endearing, actually. My Japanese girlfriends called my An-do-ryu or An-do-ryu-kun (the kun, pronounced 'coon' is a term of endearment but usually means 'boy'... and when a women calls you that, it's downright sexy, in my opinion. You guys can call a woman XXX-chan, with the chan implying the same - young woman or girl).
  • You may not actually see a real geisha walking around town, unless you live in Tokyo or the other big cities...They exist, of course, but are simply not as wide-spread as the movies et al would have you believe.
  • Ninja do exist. But you may never meet a real one. It's just the way it is.
  • There are maybe five different faces - facial-types in Japan. At least amongst the kids: round faced an-pan man; monkey-faced cute ones,... but you know what... despite what I just said, they don't really look alike.
  • Getting international foods will be difficult, but not completely impossible. While I can walk 20 minutes from my house in Toronto and get Korean cuisine, Chinese food, fish and chips and Japanese food, you will find - aside from fast food places, 99% of the restaurants are those that sell Japanese food. When in Rome and all that... try them all! Do not eat all your meals at McDonald's, KFC, Burger King or various pizza shops. There's nothing wrong with them when you want a bit of 'home cooking', but you didn't travel all this way to do that. Hell - go to fast food shop Mosburger and have a Mosburger. Matthew and I (and I'm pretty sure even now, Ashley) think it's delish!
  • Try natto. It's fermented soy beans - it smells bad, and supposedly tastes bad... but if you live in Tokyo and North, Japanese people will automatically believe that you, the gaijin (foreigner) will not be able to eat it. Prove them wrong. Natto in the western parts of Japan is not really a popular dish, but if you get the chance - do it. Please. Your job, while still being a teacher of English, is still to help break people's stereotypes. Do not pull a Jeff Seaman (our good buddy) and refuse to eat Japanese food - he would make sandwiches and eat at Dunkin Donuts. Still, that good American man married a Japanese woman - gorgeous! - so I assume he's eating Japanese now. Wink-wink.
  • To continue the thought from the point above, many Japanese do like to 'brag' about the Japanese way of things - particularly items. I must admit that I believe it is simply a translation thing, but then again, it might not be. I have heard all about: Japanese chopsticks; Japanese rice; Japanese tea; Japanese kimono and Japanese sumo. To be honest, Japanese chopsticks are different from Chinese ones. Japanese rice is certainly different from say Indian rice; Japanese tea is green and is different from English tea; the Koreans have kimono; and sumo is sumo, so that one is strange. But they do like to talk about how only Japanese people will do something, when that's not necessarily true... it's an assumption. They do fully expect foreigners to not want to do half the stuff they do, and I admit, I liked to disappoint them by doing it - and, to quote Agent 86, loving it.;
  • Japanese women are not diminutive little slaves. They are people. Treat them with respect. Yes, they might like you, but for god's sake, teach them about equality. I was doing it 20 years ago, at great sacrifice to my conquest total, but dammit, sometimes they need to know they matter in a male-dominated society... that the rest of the world treats women better than they get treated in Japan.
Anyhow, those are just a few of the great expectations people have of Japan, and of some of the great expectations the Japanese have of foreigners.

To have a truly enjoyable time in Japan, the best advice I can give anyone is not have any any great expectations, except to promise yourself to be open and understanding. Japan is a different culture, but the important thing to note is that the Japanese are fellow human beings with the same basic frailties as you and I. Keep an open mind. Don't sweat the small things. Educate and share.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LEGO: Gaijin Take Over The Japanese Dance Club

I guess I create LEGO dioramas when I'm stressed - which I appear to be lately. I show no other outward signs - except being snappish at home.

I have no idea why I create what I create... sometimes the medium presents the answers... On Saturday last, I picked up a bunch of transparent blue round bits of LEGO - for no other reason than transparent pieces are a tough one to find... and electric blue like the ones I bought.... well, I had never seen that color before. I also bought a bunch of bubblegum pink bricks, but haven't done anything with them yet. Along with that, I bought some transparent purple cones. Just because I had never seen those colors before. 

When I was a kid, it was yellow, red, blue, black and white. And, I never played with LEGO. My escape then was sports (playing), music (playing brass woodwinds and keyboards), television, comic books and when it became available, video games.  

Now it's sports (watching), television, music (listening) and LEGO. Oh yeah, and writing. Women, too, I suppose.

Anyhow... I just started putting together the pieces without any plan... and then decided to build a transparent wall. Then I decided to either make a church or a bar. Then I thought about making the floor transparent... because I thought making stained glass patterns of the Stations of the Cross to be insane... and then I remembered I had a singer and guitarist minifig.

Then it was a bar.

That's what the photos are. But how to make it so I can show it off in this blog? It should have something Japanese about it. And then I remembered that no matter what Japan is... there are a butt-load of foreigners there. Gaijin.

It seems that whenever a bunch of gaigin (foreigners) gather anywhere in Japan... they take it over. It's not that the foreigners go to Japan to hang-out with other foreigners. We don't. Ask Noboko or Junko. Ask Matthew who married Takako. We don't just go there for the sex (though that was pretty good). We go there/Japan to better ourselves. The successful ones do better themselves.

Whether it's guys like Peter Able who questions himself about why he's not a good enough teacher - the point is, he questions himself and tries to get better. By questioning, he betters himself.

I always had a lot of questions about Japan, and as such, I bettered myself. Japan helped me grow up. You might question that considering I love watching cartoons, reading comic books and building LEGO... but it all help me be more creative... because I watch, extrapolate and apply.

I've had about 25 comic book stories published, and written nearly 1,400 blogs about Japan, and another 100+ from the other two blogs I write less frequently, plus the 200 or so magazine articles I have written, 1,000 pieces I have posted on the web for work, 200 odd stories for my brief jaunt as a newspaper reporter, and the 200+ short stories I have written.

I like to create. I need to create. Even when stressed, I realize that my best outlet is to create. I write all day. I write these blogs... so sometimes I need another outlet. That's where LEGO comes in, because you can only masturbate so many times.

Which brings me to this current LEGO creation. Sometimes in Japan... when you are a gaijin, you just need to hang out with a bunch of other gaijin and let loose.

This diorama is a small example of what happens when gaijin get together in downtown Tokyo or Osaka or Utsunomiya or wherever. They take over the place.

If Pink Floyd would forgive me, I would call this diorama: Several Species Of Small Furry Gaijin Gathered Together In A Bar And Grooving With A Brick. But they wouldn't.

If you know Pink Floyd, you would know that song from the Ummagumma album - it has always been one of my favorite ways to listen and relieve stress. If you collect records, you want the version with the GIGI poster leaning against the wall above the band's name.     

Anyhow... here's a list of some of the other LEGO dioramas I have built...
LEGO DIORAMA 1
LEGO DIORAMA 2
LEGO DIORAMA 3
LEGO DIORAMA 4
LEGO DIORAMA 5
LEGO DIORAMA 6
LEGO DIORAMA 7
LEGO DIORAMA 8
LEGO DIORAMA 9
LEGO DIORAMA 10

And here's a look at what happens when gaijin take over a Japanese dance club... a whole lotta ummagumma:
I have no idea why the waiter is in a gorilla suit delivering a pie...
There's always a drunk sailor trying to get a lei...
Cool Japanese bar staff; women dancing with their skirts coming down - paaaarrrrrtttyyy!
I always enjoyed a Kamikaze! It went down quickly. Plus an ostrich leg for a snack.
Mike Rogers of The Rotters is singing... and everybody dances because they don't understand he hates them. Kidding.
Some idiot always tries to pay the bar tab with American money.
Hope you all enjoyed the show. Visit Marketing Japan for a look at what Mike Rogers is up to lately. And come back here again to see what other stuff I can come up with to entertain us all.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph
PS: Of course, as Mike reminded me months ago... it's my damn blog and I can post whatever I want to post. Thanks, buddy!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Little Brother Is Watching You

Matthew recently sent me a link to this great story from the Japan-Talk website discussing how the close-knot communities in Japan can work for you and against you... and by 'you',  I'm not just talking about gaijin (foreigners), but rather locals.

You can read that article HERE.

It was an article that Matthew was indeed correct about me associating with it. In fact... that was reason why I suddenly - out of the blue - wrote about me getting lost in the rice field's of Japan in my last blog entry: LOST. It's also the first adventure of mine NOT to have a rock and roll title. Look for more of that.

That was the last time I was anonymous in Japan. After that, everyone knew all about me and my penchant for getting lost. It also seems that after that, whenever I traveled about in that country, it would rain, earning me the nickname Ame Otoko (Rain man). People dressed according to my travel plans. I believe that to be a joke, but I'm not sure. 

If I rode my bike around town with a small rip in it, people noticed, and the next day I would often find a couple of new shirts in my mailbox. It beats me where they found my size (I was 12 inches smaller in the chest back then) - or even knew my size, but they always seemed to fit. I'll be honest... I never even thought about the size-thing until just now.      

When people discovered I liked a certain food, people would drop by with freshly made dishes for me.

When people discovered I loved baseball, they come up and discuss last night's action with me hoping I saw the game.

When people knew I had been dumped by broken up with Ashley, I'd have women coming out of the woodwork to hit on me, or guys proffering up an eager co-worker for me to 'date'. Honestly, I was alone for maybe four weeks in three years. All in a row, mind you, which sucked.

All good, right?

But then... think about  it this way... people were talking about me. And where there's the good, there's always the bad.

My ex-girlfriend Noboko... one of the reasons WHY she did not want to start dating me was that she had heard I was sleeping my with a few women at the same time.  That I was actually dating them and having them buy me stuff while I borrowed money from them.

Not true. I have slept with more than my fair share of beautiful women. Many of whom I did not date. But the things Noboku described were so beyond who I was that it could not have been further from the truth. Another teacher on the JET Programme in a city far, far away had actually done the money thing. He sold all of his furniture in his apartment and then took off for home or parts unknown. True story... but it wasn't me. I have too much respect for people.  

So... being known as a male slut... is that good or bad? In Japan, for men, this isn't as bad as you might think. But, for a foreigner intent on making a good impression - this was horrifying.

Then there  were rumors that I frequented the London Club, a 'dirty' club that was about a five minute drunken stagger from my apartment in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

While I was always curious about what went on in there - and no one would really tell me because that would mean they had actually been in there - I had never set foot in there, or even looked at it when passing it by on my way elsewhere. Still, others thought I was a real sukebe (pervert) for a while.

I was... just not in that way.

Thanks again, Matthew!
Cheers
Andrew Joseph

Monday, July 9, 2012

Glitch Halts Distribution Of New Resident's Card


Japan's new Resident's Card - the replacement to the Alien Registration card - officially hit the country and all was working well from 8:30 in the morning when the Tokyo Regional Immigration branches opened on July 9, 2012.

And then... the computer systems developed a technical glitch, prompting the government to halt distribution of the cards to newly arriving foreigners.

Perhaps it's because the country has reached it's limits of foreign incursion?

So... from 8:30AM this morning, the Narita International Airport branch had already served 14 gaijin with the new cards when tragedy struck - not sure how long after.

Okay, maybe not a tragedy, but still, sh!t happened. Apparently the computer systems at Narita were suddenly unable to exchange data with the main server.

Perhaps it was a problem with computer language. Language has always been a stumbling point between japan and foreigners.

News broadcaster NHK said at around 3:30PM that all 14 of the immigration facilities in the Kanto - Kōshin'etsu region had problems. When the system worked at all, it took nearly two hours to process each person.

It almost seems like it would be easier to process each person by hand and then (if necessary, add it to the computer data base when up and running) and then mail/courier the Resident's Card to the individual rather than frustrate everyone involved.

That's just a thought...

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph
By the way, Kōshin'etsu includes Yamanashi-ken, Nagano-ken and Niigata-ken.
Kanto includes Gunma-ken, Ibaraki-ken, Saitama-ken, Tokyo-ken, Chiba-ken, Kanagawa-ken and my old province of Tochigi-ken.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Japan And The Gaijin - Part 1

I was recently asked by a young woman about what the culture is like; whether it is welcoming of foreigners, and 'does it see all white people as American (are they cool with us Canucks)?'

She also asked about dress code for would-be teachers, and whether or not they were cool with piercings and hair color.

She also asked a bunch of other questions - and I will get to those in another blog, if you don't mind.

Let me start with the second set of questions. Japan is still pretty much wary of such things as piercings and hair color when it comes to its teachers. I saw a photo of the young woman in question - a beautiful woman who has pink hair. As much as I might think she looks beautiful and would be proud to walk down the street with her, just like here in Canada, people will stare as though you are a freak. And in Japan, it is worse.

First off, depending on where you go in the country, people in some areas will stare at you more than others. In teh big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, walking down the street with your natural hair color will not get you stared at. The big cities are used to us gaijin (foreigners). But, out in the do inaka (the boondocks) where your city, town or village may have a small gaijin population, you will get stared at.

When I ws in Ohtawara-shi (City of Ohtawara) in Tochigi-0ken (Tochigi Prefecture) 20 years ago... Out of a population of 50,000 we had about 35 foreigners living and working in the city, including bartenders, foreigner exchange workers on a year or two exchange, the Asian Rural Institute that taught farming techniques to the so-called other Asian and Indian cultures, and a few assistant English teachers (AETs) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

It sounds like a lot, eh? While we were all quite friendly with each other, we didn't all hang-out. Matthew Hall was probably the first to hang out more with the Japanese amongst us AETs, while the foreign Exchange workers lived in dorms with their fellow employees, and so probably went out drinking a fair bit more with them.

Oh yeah... our small city had an International Friendship association whereby they would have a party and invite a few foreigners out and they would all meet and chat with us. It was always fun and allowed people like myself to experience more of the Japanese than i would otherwise have been able.

Anyhow... despite Matthew, myself, Ashley and Jeanne (the AETs) being semi-famous and well known in the city, we would still get stared at by people as we would ride a bike alone (or with others). At that time, in my small city... foreigners simply weren't that common.

Visiting elementary schools, I would be beset with small fry begging for an autograph because I was the first foreigner that had ever seen and touched in person. It's an awesome experience.

The term gaijin, by the way, means outsider... gaikokjin is a polite way of saying foreign person.

My bosses at the Board of Education would correct people who would refer to me as gaijin... but truthfully, I know that no offense was meant. But I love that my bosses would correct others. Not everyone did that.

You asked about hair color and piercings... let me tell you about my friend Jim from Australia, whom I recently got back in contact with. Jim was one of the most fun-loving guys out there in the world, and he and I shared a few adventures that I only partially remember thanks to some intense drinking. But... there was a time when his office came up to him and suggested that it was time for him to get a haircut. It was shoulder length.

Meanwhile, My hair was pretty darn long... about half-way past the top of my shoulder blades, I wore an earring every now and then (left ear because I was 'cool'. Yeah, right), and I wore some colorful, but 1992-stylish clothes. Or maybe I was ahead of the curve because I was wearing a teal dress jacket, or a red silk jacket, stretchy hair bands to match my shirts... and would grow a beard or not as I felt like it. My bosses also came up to me one day to discuss my appearance. They said I looked 'cool'. None of that get a haircut stuff for An-do-ryu sensei! I was Ferris Bueller and I could do no wrong! True. My office, and my city, was pretty damn liberal.

Japanese folk were forever trying to get me to go out with a pretty Japanese girl every time it became known that Ashley and I had broken up... and pretty soon, I listened to them. Matthew... once again ahead of the curve.

I was not the first brown guy in my city... as mentioned there were plenty of them at the Asian Rural Institute... but my predecessor Cheryl Menezes from the U.K. was also of Indian decent. Did they pick me because I was brown and that was what they were used to? No idea. it doesn't matter.

What matters is that they were looking for someone who was a university graduate, a great communicator, great neutral English accent, played sports, taught piano and clarinet, loved to laugh and make others laugh. I knew nothing about teaching English. I know zero Japanese words when I arrived. I had only eaten Japanese food once ( a day or two before leaving), had never drunk sake (rice wine), and knew pretty much nothing about Japan except from watching Hashimoto-san cartoons and Godzilla flicks.

Seriously. I had pretty much no preconceived notion about Japan. Zero. I went in with an open mind and came out with it still open.

Japan will spit you up if you try and make it fit to your notioins about the way a first-world country should act.

Japan and the Japanese are super polite and will give you the shirt off  their back to help you out. Read about my first day in Japan: HERE. But, god help you if you are a woman. Even though everyone knew Ashley was with me, it didn't stop a drunken hand from reaching out to pinch her butt or try and squeeze her boobs, or for students to ask her what her three sizes are.

With pink hair and piercings you mat get stared at anyways - you do get stared at here in Canada, but we're too polite to continue staring after we get caught. The Japanese will continue to stare. It's not rudeness, but rather curiosity. Can the pirercings and hair color prevent you from being hired. I can't answer that. I don't know. My guess is yes. But, my guess tempers that answer by stating that it all depends on where you are applying (what part of the country), and who is doing the hiring.

Japan doesn't like too much of a freak show despite my opinion that it is itself a freak show.

Now... what about Canucks (Canadians)? They might think you are an American, but it is good to correct them friendly-like and gently. I did all the time. No one minds, because they are now even more curious... They knew about Anne of Green Gables (The girls did), salmon, skiing, and that's pretty much it. But that was cool, because I got to teach them not really about Canada, but rather how Japanese I could act... it was done on purpose because Japan is a tad xenophobic... and had (maybe had) a superiority complex about itself. I did my best to break down the stereotypes to show them that Canadians, Americans, Europeans, South Americans, Indians... hell, people... we're the same under the skin despite a few cultural differences.

Yeah... there are a lot of cultural differences, but let me tell you... Japanese people work because they have too. They love, get married, have kids, have affairs, have friends... they live. They don't get paid a lot.... hell, I made more money a year than a 20-year experienced teacher!, but that's life.

Look... I don't want to discourage you about going to Japan... but I would try to fit in. If that means getting the air back to a more (and I hesitate to use this term) 'normal' color - do it. Give yourself the best chance to succeed. If you wan to cahneg your hair color when you are there - go for it.

Piercings... nose, eyebrow? You may get questions. You may get the odd stare... will it prevent you from getting a job? Maybe. It might prevent you from getting a job here in Canada. Take'em out... get the job... ask your boss about piercings and hair color and adjust accordingly.

Unless your hair color and piercings define who you are, you will have to conform a bit in Japan. Don't be so stubborn as to let things like that stop you from experiencing the world. And... like I said... once there... let them experience YOU.

Somewhere wishing it was 1990,
Andrew Joseph    
     
  
    

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yokozuna Musashimaru And Me

When I lived in Japan in 1990 - 1993, there was a sudden rise of the gaijin (foreigner) in the sumo wrestling ranks.

Sumo, despite its recent failings of gambling in the sport, continues to be Japan's national sport.

With what looks like to the casual observer as a whole lot of time wasting before an explosive five-second fight, to myself and the millions of sumo fans, it is poetry in motion. About a 1/4 ton of petry, but poetry nonetheless.

At the time, two Hawaiian-born wrestlers - Akebono and Konishiki - the tallest and the heaviest wrestlers on record, were the dominant foreign-born sumo. Both were popular but despised because, quite frankly they were the chief obstacles to two young, handsome and popular Japanese sumo named Wakanohana and Takanohana - brothers. Both were highly skilled master's of the judo-style, and played havoc with the height of Akebono and the clumsy bulk of Konishiki.

But then along came Musashimaru Koyo - but better known simply as Musahimaru.

The first time I saw this man wrestle - the very first time - I thought to myself and then told every single person out there who would listen, that this guy would one day be a Yokozuna - the highest rank of sumo that one earns and then must still be elected to.

Why? Because we looked like he was square... as wide as he was tall, but not too much of either, but more than the average Japanese sumo. He looked impossible to throw off balance.

He is 6'-3-1/2" (1.92 meters) tall and a tank-like 520 pounds (235 kilograms). Consider if you will that the minimum weight to be a sumo is 75 kilograms and 170 cm... which meant I more than qualified height-wise and was just on or slightly over in weight (at that time).
While 'chanko' is the official stew/food of a sumo - sometimes they can eat a cow.

I called him a tank, and I marveled at his athleticism and quickness for a big man, loved his slapping strength and noted that his judo-like throwing skills were pretty good, but could maybe still improve.

I knew he would make me proud, and I always cheered for him as my favorite.

And - for the record... Mushashimaru was born on May 2, 1971 as Fiamalu Penitani (that's his real name!) in American Samoa. 


And you know what? The Japanese liked him too. Like myself (I hope), he always had a nice smile on his face when not battling or training (though I did neither of those things) and seemed to have a warm personality that the Japanese folks ate up. He was not arrogant, seemed well-spoken and carried himself well as a sumo. These are all important things to the Japanese - especially if you, as a foreigner, want to play in their national sport. Death before dishonor is not just a U.S. Marine's motto.

Still a sekiwake (Sumo's third-highest ranking) in June of 1993, I happened to wander around my home away from home for three years, Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

Antonio Inoki in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan in 1993.


What the hell was going on? Hey! Isn't that Antonio Inoki, the famous pro wrestler turned politician? Oh yeah! And... that can't be... it is... Mushashimaru! Holy crap!

I waited a few minutes while the Japanese locals went up to him and chatted with him in Japanese - and he did likewise... and then it was my turn.

"Hey, brother... how are you?"

He did a double-take, cocked his head slightly smiled and stuck out a hand that engulfed me in solid meatiness!

He said: "English! Thank goodness! I haven't spoken it in so long, I thought I would forget how to!" And then he laughed - still holding my hand in a handshake.

He asked me to sit down beside him at the table where people were still coming up to talk and get a picture with him - I wonder how many shots people have of themselves, Mushashimaru and the local gaijin (me)? To be fair, I always tilted back and away for them when they had their photo taken.

I told him how he was my favorite wrestler - and why, and even expressed my concern about needing to be better with the throws, and rather than slap me into unconsciousness, he nodded and said: "I appreciate the love, brah."

It was exciting. We spent 15 minutes together talking about what it's like to be a foreigner in Japan and what it's like to be a sumo, what he eats, what he enjoys doing - he loves the pretty Japanese women!

And then he had to get ready for a sumo demonstration.

A herd (?) of sumo. Musashimaru is next to the guy in the suit.

Adults laugh hideously as a hairy sumo destroys tiny children in diapers.

 He shook my hand and pulled me in for a hug and then as he pulled back, I'll never forget what he did next.

He slapped me on the back of my shoulder with his powerful hand as a sign of respect and smiled at me, bowed deeply and rumbled off like a herd of rhinoceri.

I think I still have an indentation of his hand on my trapezious muscle.

And, in case you were unaware, sumo autographs involve a handprint. I know my buddy Matthew has a few!

I still can't believe I never actually got his real autograph or a photograph of us together - though someone did take a picture of us with his arm around me. I couldn't get my arm around his shoulder! And, no one ever gave me a copy. Zounds!

Oh well.

Should you wish to learn more about Musashimaru, click HERE. His record in sumo is at the bottom of the page. 

Muuuuuu-sashimaru!!! Muuuuuu-sashimaru desu!!!

Cheers
Andrew Joseph  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Gaijin

What is a gaijin?

According to the dictionary, this Japanese word translates to "outsider", "alien" or "non-Japanese".

I am all three. I am a gaijin.

And yet, to the visitor to Japan, the term gaijin has come to mean something disrespectful... a hurtful term that smacks of racism. 

Have you ever looked at yourself in a mirror? I mean really looked at yourself - hard - and contemplated all your strong points, all your flaws?

That's what being in Japan did for me.

Via my very own looking glass, I peered at myself and the world of Japan as though I had entered some sort of Wonderland. While wholly similar to the land I called home - Toronto, Canada - Ohtawara-shi, Japan in Tochigi-ken was a mixed up world filled with awe, excitement, confusion and adventure.

I was born in London, England. My parents are from India. I spent my first three years of existence in England, before we moved to Toronto... where I lived in peace, harmony and veiled and sometimes not-so veiled bigotry for 22 years more.

Sure... lots of people have immigrated from one country to another - maybe even you - but with an ancestry some would consider a third-world nation in India, to a first-world country in Canada, I was an immigrant. An outsider. A brown-faced boy who only wanted to be a boy.

Wishing upon a star did not help.

To fit in, I tried to learn as much about my country as possible - and by my country, I mean Canada. I am not a hyphen Canadian. I just wanted to fit in. But being brown-skinned meant also being thick-skinned, as people older than me always saw fault with the way I looked. Different.

I didn't speak with an accent (I lost my Cockney Brit accent weeks after landing in Toronto), I only spoke English, I didn't eat anything foreign - too damn hot!, and knew nothing of my culture. Yeah... thank you for allowing me to fit in. And yet... I never did.

I learned more about hockey (ice hockey) than any of my contemporaries, but never learned how to skate owing to either a fear of failure or a lack of proper direction - my parents couldn't teach me. I learned the rules, the stats, the history - and even now I will go head-to-head against anyone on sheer knowledge of hockey history.

And still... I could be looked upon and seen as different. Too dark. Too foreign.

I was a gaijin in my own country.

When I applied to the JET Programme to teach English in Japan, I was told that the Japanese could sometimes be a tad racist towards foreign people. How would I handle that?

I smiled and said, the same way I handle it here in Canada. Turn the other cheek. Understanding. Education.

As stupid as it sounds, but even 20 years ago many people in Toronto had never had anything but a friend of the same color. As such, naivety of cultures existed. The fact that my culture was the same as their white Canadian culture was a source of much confusion.

He looks darker, but man - he acts and talks and eats and plays just like us. He even knows more about hockey (and baseball) than us.

Arriving in Japan, I had lived at home for all 25 years of my life... spoiled by parents who did everything for me. While I did pay for my own education, they did present me endless opportunities to excel - or perhaps just to find myself. Accordion and piano lessons, soccer, judo... I did them. But, if you think about it... those four things still makes one an outsider in Canada. The piano less so, though. Everything else - that was so foreign.

In Japan, after a period of acclimatization, I would on occasion venture forth from my hobbit burrow and look around town. Ohtawara was a town of about 50,000 people... and no matter where I went, people would stop, stare, point and occasional utter a profane profanity: Gaijin!

I was being called a foreigner... even an outsider, by the Japanese.

I was home.

I never considered being called a gaijin a bad thing - at least not in Japan. I was an outsider. While it is true I did want to try and blend in, I knew, much like in Toronto that I never could completely. Such is life.

Hell... even if I went back to mother India where I have never been and except for being of Indian heritage I really know nothing of the place, I would also be a foreigner. They would spot me a mile a way and know I wasn't from around there.

It doesn't bother me at all. It even makes me feel kind of special. Exotic, even. Japan, India, England, Canada. A man of the world.

I hope I don't sound down or disappointed. I'm not. While I can never truly blend in, I can fit in. And there, I think, I have.

Just like in Canada, the people of Japan have accepted me for who I am. A gaijin, sure... but more importantly to those who know me, I am Andrew.

And, more importantly, I know who I am.

I am Andrew Joseph. 

I've stepped on through a looking glass and am living in Wonderland. At least in my version of it, there is no Jabberwocky.

Gaijin? Sure I am.

And, should you be called a gaijin and discover it bothers you, let me offer a little advice. Words have power when you give it power. Or... sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bread And Butter

No surprise, but I don't have a very restful night's sleep, and am exhausted when I get up.

It's Tuesday, December 3, 1991. I'm a junior high school assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

While it doesn't seems as though I do much of anything here in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan except for a whine about how much sex I am getting or not getting and how I wish I could find true love until marriage comes along - I do do other things here. Today's adventure might show some of that. Thanks goodness. That lovecraft stuff is a horror story.

Just as I finish getting dressed, my mom and dad call at 7:30AM. They have a question.

My dad asks me if I have a child...

If I was drinking something I would have done a spit take!


It seems as though they have received a package from me in the mail... but it's the wrong package.

On Friday last, I filled out some shipping forms at one of the nearby post offices. It seems as though they placed those forms onto a package that was supposed to be going to Brazil, by mistake. You know... it was written in an alphabet just like English... everyone knows I'm from Canada, so an easy mistake to make.

It was filled with clothes for a five-year-old, and a love letter of how much she missed the child. Probably a relative or friend of someone who has moved from Japan, or at least came to visit here... someone named Lemmon Yamada.

Suddenly I wonder just what the heck happened to my actual package?! I had a 150-year-old picture scroll in there! Aargggh! I've been shipping the antiquities out of Japan for months now, and no one has guessed! The jig could be up! My life as an international art smuggler could be over!

If only my life was that simple.

I get a ride to Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) today with Mr. Oyamada.I tell him that as of today, I am on a diet. Really, I say, as he raises an eyebrow quizzically.

Okay, okay. I'm already tired of my diet. Ashita (tomorrow), I joke to him.... but really... I am fat. I think my weight goes up when I'm depressed. Not clinically, of course. I'll leave that to others. I've just been sad lately. I think I need a cheer up day.

At school, I explain to English teacher Hiyama-sensei all about my mail foibles, who then brings in fellow English teacher  Mrs. Nagashima to discuss. They call the post office and quickly find out that my real package will get to the proper destination within a few days. My parents have already said they would ensure the box they received would make its way down to Brazil.

During my breaks, I finish reading my Douglas Adams Book - Last Chance To See, and then study a few Kanji letters.

My classes all went well. In each class I offer up 10 minutes of me teaching them more natural English, rather than the stiff and inflexible stuff in the textbook.

Where the hell is my wallet?

Lunch was a lot of fun.

I'm sitting with the 2-1 (class 1 of grade 8) class eating lunch with them, when I see a kid stuffing his face with food until his cheeks are puffed out like a chipmunk.

Because darn near everyone is interested in seeing how the gaijin (foreigner) is at using chopsticks (better than you - I won a contest here once: SEE), students see me suddenly stop eating and follow my gaze to venture just what or whom has captured my fancy.

Seeing me stare at their fellow student, many of them shout out that Andrew-sensei is staring at him (not WHY I am staring at him). The sudden shock causes the poor hungry lad to choke, and sweat, and laugh with the food still in his mouth!

Somehow, he manages to get it all down. I ask him "Daijobu (Okay?)". 

He nods once quickly and then immediately begins stuffing more food into his mouth even more quickly, as if to make up for lost time. When his cheeks are full and he can barely chew, I point it out to the class again.

I'm surprised he could hear us say anything as I'm sure there was food coming out of his ears - but he began to laugh. And laugh hard.

He laughed so hard that he began to spew chunks of rice and vegetables everywhere!

Quail's Eggs
That was apparently funny enough for one other student (a boy of course) to snort milk out of his nose!

That was gross, but highly fascinating as I had never seen that before!

The snorted milk caused a girl in a laughing fit to spit out a quail's egg, which narrowly missed my bowl of food, but did bounce off my sweater!

Suddenly there was deafening silence!

Every student and teacher sucked in all of the air in the room, bit their collective lower lip and stared at me in dreaded anticipation.

WWGD?

What would gaijin do?

Hey! This is me! I roared in laughter! I slapped the left shoulder of the poor boy beside me and caused him to spit out his milk! And we were off again!

Milk, vegetables, rice, quails eggs a-flying!

At some point we went from spontaneity to sheer fun and we had a food fight. Nothing nasty. No dumping or pouring of stuff. Just tossing of food at each other.


Food was flying! People were backed up against the walls! And, I want you to know that despite having been the cause of all of this, I did not throw any food! I am an adult, after all. Okay... maybe just one quail egg at the homeroom teacher.

I'm howling in laughter in the midst of all of this lunacy. It's the best damn day I've had in Japan! Lunch with the 2-1 class! I wonder if the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office will let me stay another year now?

I try to stick around after lunch to help the students clean up, but the homeroom teacher was having none of it! It's the student's job to clean up after themselves, regardless of who causes the mess. It hardly seems fair to me, and back at the teacher's office I beg Nagashima-sensei to let me help 2-1 clean up. She smiles and say that is very nice of me: "The students know you want to help them, which is why they all really like you so much." (She really does speak in stiff, sweet English)

Really?

"Yes... the whole school thinks that."

I told you I LOVE this school!

After my second and last class of the day (5th and last period), I get a phone call in the teacher's office.

How the hell do people do that? How do they know enough Japanese to even get my work phone number and then get the school number to call me? Who needs to talk to me that badly?

It's Nicholas Strachan! I love this rogue! He actually lived about 3 kilometers north of me in Etobicoke, Toronto, though we had never met before - because it's a friggin' huge city!

He's back in Japan for a visit, and wants to hang out. He suggests tonight... but because I am guessing Ashley will come over, I suggest tomorrow night, and tell him I will leave my apartment unlocked in case he wants to crash during the day.

Nicholas and his discussions always energize me. He's the first person to offer a critique of my writing while offering ways to get better.

At home by 4PM, Ashley doesn't visit.

There is a package from home, however - so this is turning into a great day! There's a video tape full of television shows, microwavable popcorn, my Hitchhiker 's Guide To The Galaxy books (by Douglas Adams), a new pair of shoes and some letters from family and friends.

I sit and watch the video tape until 6:30PM and then call Ashley. She has a sty. I assume it's not from her pig-pen of an apartment that she just mucked out. She doesn't feel like company (me going over), which is fine. I just want to get laid, and I don't want to boink anyone with a wonky eye.

I drink a few beers, suck down a couple of sake glasses and head out into the freezing cold wind of Ohtawara to do some grocery shopping at Mimosuya.

My fridge is maybe 2-feet tall... and therefore I should only buy what I need.

But, while I love the people, I hate to go shopping.

It's why I purchase enough food for the upcoming month - if I am lucky.

I watch the videotape until 1AM, taking some time out in-between to decode an audio tape from Rika Funami, the music teacher at Nozaki. It's from a male friend in Albany, the capital of New York State. This guy is a complete effin' hick!

I mean, I'm mixed up, but I try not to show that outwardly.... but this guy... whooo... I hope Rika doesn't think all foreigners are this mixed up.

I call my dad at home and tell him about the package situation and thank my mom for sending the new package - and the much needed shoes!

When I had called Matthew earlier today, he had sounded really tired. Ashley, too. Even Nick did - but then he has a certain British coolness about him (like myself, he was born in England - though he was certainly there long enough to keep a bit of the accent. A posh one, at that).

Still... despite not being able to sleep... I don't feel tired right now. I just don't want the day to be over.

Somewhere finding a piece of rice in my hair at 1AM,
Andrew Joseph
The image at the very top is from Alice in Wonderland's Through The Looking Glass - it's a Bread & Butter Fly. 
Today's blog title is by The Newbeats. Cool. I had always though the lead singer was Black... and judging by the reaction of the women in the audience, so did they. Great song!:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Shout At The Devil

Just a quick shout out to all my American friends - Happy Independence Day!

Let's read about another party day in Japan:  

So... It's Sunday, August 25, 1991. My mom has returned to my apartment in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan after spending the past week traveling around the country by herself. That in itself is pretty amazing, as I usually get lost crossing the street. In any country.

I have zero sense of direction.

I'm in my 13th month here, flying over from Toronto as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme) to teach as an assistant English Teacher to seven junior high schools in the city. That's how many there are, and that's how many I teach at - one per week for four days. It's an easy job, and despite some internal belly-aching about things, I really do love my job and love the people and the culture.

Today, I get a peak at some of the people and culture.

My mom and I are up early. Suzuki Tokunori (surname first!) comes by to pick us up at 9:30AM. He's a farmer of everything from vegetables to flowers. He's a fine English speaker, tall, strong, intelligent and good-looking with a wicked sense of humor. He's also the leader (at least I think he is) of the Ohtawara International Friendship Association, a group that likes to get together with gaijin (outsiders/foreigners) and make them feel welcome so that each can learn about different cultures.

I may not have fully appreciated it at that time, but I did enough to know that I liked the people in this club.

Suzuki-san takes us over to his farm and house first, where he dresses me up in the appropriate matsuri (festival) garb.

Today is the Sakuyama Obon Matsuri ... it's a Sakuyama district festival of the dead where according to Buddhist traditions, the spirits of those passed are allowed to leave Hell where they reside to come up and hang-out with family for three days. It sounds totally wild - and I wonder how many people really believe that... but then again, this is part of Japanese culture so who the hell am I to even question what they believe - and besides... it's not like it's offensive or someone gets hurt... they have other festivals that do that! More on those later!

I'm wearing a blue hoppi coat with a yellow ribbon and shorts that, for lack of a better term, look like diapers.

God, but it's hot outside - 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit). Hotter than hell, I'd wager.

We walk over to a shrine near Suzuki-san's home. People are praying while a ton of kids are running around screaming at the top of their little lungs. The kids are totally oblivious to the solemnity of the ceremony, though none of the adults seem to care.

There are no teenagers around and thus, no one knows who the heck I am. Not really, anyway.

My mom, Lynda, talks with Suzuki-san as he takes pictures around the shrine. His kids are hanging around me like flies for some reason... but I'm cool with that, because they are nice kids.

We then walk over to the district chief's home (he's one of eleven). Four men carry around a large portable shrine to his house. Two men dressed as dragons run through the house to chase away the evil spirits. I think that's in case some of the evil dead leave Hell and try to bother the nice spirits and the living.

The chief gives everyone (me, included) a lot of food and beer. It's only 10:30AM.

Thirty minutes later, we're off to the next house. It's more of the same - but it is very cool. I am always taken aback (not surprised though) by the generosity of these people welcoming a pair of strangers like my mom and myself into their home and then plying us with food and booze. I know I'm drunk by 11:15AM. Oh god... only nine more chief houses to go... or are we just hitting everyone's house in the neighborhood? Why does my liver hurt?

The folks let me carry around a huge banner between a few of the houses. Honor yes - heavy - holy smokes it's heavy. I think we the guys wearing the hoppi coats take turns doing stuff for the matsuri!

Round about the fifth or sixth home, Suzuki-san go and I visit the home of a local ham-radio operator. We contact a guy from Moscow - wow - it's just three days after the failed coup attempt! He tells us that things are crazy over there right now with people wondering if there is going to be a civil war.

We head back over to the festivities (after the ham operator gave us more food and booze). The booze, I should mention could be anything from sake (rice wine), beer, or whiskey. I never eat breakfast... but I think I wish I had today.

It's a good thing the dysentery I picked up on vacation a week or two ago seems to not be bothering me at the moment.

By the way... it was only Suzuki-san and myself who visited the ham-radio operator. I have no idea where my mom is, and presume her to be hopelessly lost here in the Sakuyama district (a major farming section of the city) of Ohtawara. Except for Suzuki-san, it doesn't appear as though anyone here speaks any English.... at all.

I'm not knocking the intelligence of farmers - Suzuki-san is proof that they are smart - but it is often true that many Japanese farmers are not exactly highly educated. But even if no one speaks any English, they are smart enough to see a guy large enough to be a small sumo wrestler (a normal-sized gaijin) as a means to help carry around a heavy shrine.

And so I do. But... I do present a bit of a problem for my new friends. I'm about four inches or more taller than everyone else. At least my shoulders are a lot higher... which means that while I can easily carry my load of the shrine, my height will tip it down onto the smaller people. You can see that in the photo above... one of Suzuki'san's young boys (in the glasses) is near me.

I learn how to crouch while carrying a heavy load... I am sure my chiropractor is going to get a visit this week.

We head down with the shrine atop my broad shoulders to another district chief's place. With the shrine, we turn a few circles, sing a song (I don't - I'd love to, but I certainly don't know the words!) and then place the shrine down in his home.

Then it's food and beer time (again!). It hasn't stopped - and I'm so hammered that I'm pretty sure I could lift the shrine up all by myself. Bets are taken and I get to work. Let me tell ya... just because you are drunk, it doesn't mean you are any stronger than usual. I definitely have to see my chiropractor!

Next, I get to play the part of a dragon. Actually, I get to play the rear of the dragon. Figures. To me, this is still the ultimate cool thing, regardless of whether or not I'm a dragon's ass or not. My name Andrew is translated phonetically into the katakana alphabet of An-Doh-Ryu. For my hanko (signature stamp) and meishi (business cards), I use kanji (a Japanese alphabet based on the Chinese pictographs) to make my name mean something in Japanese: An-Doh-Ryu is translated into "Peaceful-Leader-Dragon". Joseph - or in katakana/kanji is Jyo-se-fu means "Help-World-Walk".

I was also born in 1964 - the Year of the Dragon... so if I was to ever get a tattoo, it would be of a Japanese dragon (ryu)... but everyone does that for some reason... even if they don't have as many reasons as myself.  Buggers. It's why I am still tattoo-free.

So... dressed as the rear of the dragon (not the year of the dragon), I run into every single house in the district and shout "Ongiri!" At least that's what they told me to say. I assume it means demons out... but while writing this up 20 years later, my dictionary says the proper way to say 'demons out' is to say: "Oni wa soto". Perhaps these guys were just having fun with me and I was actually shouting for some rice balls (onigiri)!

As I am running through the house yelling for the demons to leave the house, I am expected to toss off my sandals while I continue running around. Fine by me - I have a wicked blister on the top of each foot from the sandal's strap!

Oh - there's my mom. She's wandered into the house I am currently in. The men (like men everywhere) are pigs, and are ogling my mom saying she has nice tits (that I did understand in Japanese - having used the term myself on quite a few young ladies here these past 13 months). Everyone is drunk, so whatever.

After the 11th party of food and booze, my mom, Suzuki-san and I slip away to Suzuki-san's home to relax. We get plied with even more food - but this stuff is substantial - onigiri,unagi-no-kabayaki (grilled freshwater eel) on rice and yakitori (grilled chicken chunks on a skewer) ... ahhhh, it helps take some of my buzz off. Not all, mind you, as it was one heck of a noisy day. I love it!

At 8:30PM, we head out to see some of the bon odori (obon dancing). Despite being in Ohtawara, I am told the Sakuyama district does not do the Ohtawara bon odori, but rather chooses to do the more famous Nikko bon odori, complaining that the Ohtawara version is too new at a couple of hundred years versus the 500+ year-old Nikko one. Nikko is a very old city about 45 minutes west of Ohtawara, and is famous for being the birth place of the three wise monkeys (Hear No Evil/See No Evil/Speak No Evil). It sounds funny to me.

As I sit and watch the dancing, little kids find me and begin crawling all over me, grabbing my hands and playing with my long pony-tailed hair. A few little girls grab my hand to make me walk around with them - so I do. Some of the kids started giving me presents and then gave some to my mom, too, once they found out who she was.

Whomever said that the Japanese are afraid of or don't like foreigners is an idiot. And not the type I am.

We go home at 11PM with a ride from Suzkui-san's wife, as it appears as though every single man in Sakuyama is smashed drunk! Man, I love this place.

Somewhere hell is blistering hot,
Today's blog title is by Mötley Crüe: SHOUT
PS: In the photo above... I'm the tall brown non-Japanese fellow. See HERE for more photos!
PPS: Oh... and read my other blog! I just added a new entry a day or two ago: FEELTHEHEAT