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Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Interview With Dr. Kaku Michio - Futurist

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

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

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

Born January 24, 1974 in San Jose, California, he has a PhD from the University of California, Berkley, and is renowned for his work on string theory—you Big Bang Theory people might recognize that as Sheldon’s field of choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Damn, It's Hot And Cold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm told I was lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Japan Wants To Start Whaling Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And neither should Japan.

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

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

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, September 15, 2018

My Neighbor Totoro Back In US Theaters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Stuff On My Mind

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

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

All you can do is so all you can do.

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

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

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

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

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

Pondering one's own mortality.

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

Andrew Joseph


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Alone Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nice photo, though.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Happy birthday, Alice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How I Combat Boredom - Don't Become Bored

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

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

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

I had times like this in Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Sad Saga Of Osaka Naomi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She's 1.8 meters tall and weights 69 kilograms.

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

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

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

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

Osaka even identifies herself as Black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Joseph

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sake Barrels And Shinto Shrines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why sake in a shrine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kanpai (cheers),
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, September 9, 2018

First Radiation Death From Fukushima Accident

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

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

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

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

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

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

195 millisieverts is a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something doesn't quite add up.

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

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

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

He must have received a higher radiation dose.

So why not just say so?

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The “Why-Am-I-In-Japan?” Blues

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

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


The article made me both sad and angry.

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

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

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

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

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

How much effing honest can a body be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is frickin’ it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn't hide.

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

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

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

Those people gained a measure of respect for him.

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

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

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

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


Why am I in Japan?

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Butsudan - The Buddhist Home Altar

Every Japanese home (where a Buddhist lives) has one. The butsudan (boo-tsu-dahn, 仏壇) is a Buddhist home altar.

A butsudan is a specific platform—a shrine for images of Buddha in a temple, but also a shrine found in everyday usage as a Buddhist home altar.

Essentially, a butsudan is a standalone cabinet—sometimes with doors, and sometimes without. Sometimes its ornate, other times is just a wooden cabinet. Who cares? It’s what’s inside that counts.

Within the center of the butsudan, a statue or picture of a honzon (religious icon), showing either a Buddha, Bodhisattva or a calligraphy-drawn mandala scroll. A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism representing the universe.

If there are no doors to protect the religious icon, a beaded brocade or white cloth might be used to cover the butsudan when it is not in use. The curtains are raised or the doors are open when in use for prayer.

Along with the religious icon, beside it will be the family’s ancestral tablets aside it. It also contain butsugu (ancillary religious items): candlesticks, hanging lights, incense burners and/or a small handbell, as well as small platforms to place offerings of fruit, rice or tea.

Inside the butsudan, the interior space is formerly known as the butsuma. For the individual home, this is where their own Buddha, Bodhisattva or ancestral family spirit resides… it is a holy place.

Every morning and evening, prayers are performed in front of the butsudan.

You’ll notice I said that beside the buddha imagery, ancestral tablets are there—ancestor worship is strong within Japanese Buddhism. As such, the butsudan is a revered place to perform memorial services for one’s own ancestors.

For the truly devout Japanese Buddhist, a Buddhist priest is invited to the home during Obon (during August, the spirit of the dead return from Hell to their ancestral homes) and the Equinox to read sutras in front of the butsudan to keep the gateway to Buddha pure. Plus it puts a bit of coin in the priest’s purse.

Vernal (Spring) Equinox Day (春分の日, Shunbun no Hi) is a public holiday in Japan that occurs on the date of the Northward equinox in Japan Standard Time, usually March 20 or 21. It is celebrated to mark the end of winter and the arrival of spring.

Autumnal Equinox (秋分の日, Shūbun no Hi) can occur on September 22, 23 or 24, and is a public holiday. The Japanese use Autumnal Equinox Day to pay respects to deceased family members, visit family graves and hold family reunions in honour of those who have passed.
Before 1948 (and the current form), the equinox dates were both meant as a time to venerate one’s ancestors, and the later the Imperial Family.

Oh… if you look at the “western” spelling of the two names of the equinoxes: Shunbun and Shūbun… there is a difference.  

I am NOT 100 percent positive, but I believe the Buddhist priest is invited over for the Autumnal Equinox that celebrates the ancestor... though that seems to leave a large gap between priestly visits next August.  


The butsudan is the center of spiritual faith within the family home, and is seen as a traditional part of the Japanese family.

However, having said that… the ways of the past are being weakened in the 21st century, especially within the big cities of Osaka and Tokyo.

Part of that is that living space is extremely limited within the high-rent/small space living quarters in those cities, implying that there’s simply no room for a butsudan.

That might be true, but I don’t buy it. These butsudon come in all sizes if realtor space was merely the issue.

No… if one truly believed in this Buddhist spiritual tradition, space limitations be damned, it would still be followed no matter what.

I think people use space limitations as an excuse to no longer follow.

To me, it’s both good and bad. Bad that a Japanese tradition has been weakened or disregarded by many…. Good in that some Japanese no longer feel honor-bound to blindly follow the kata… the rules of Japan simply because every other Japanese person is doing it.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image found online HERE

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

1646 Map Of Japan

Above, we have a map of Japan based upon the Jesuit maps of Inacio Moreira and Christopher Blancus, created by Robert Dudley and published in 1646.

This is one of the two maps of Japan created by Dudley for his "Dell'Arcano del Mare (Mystery of the Sea), a maritime encyclopedia comprising six books within two volumes. The sixth part contained a maritime atlas of the entire world—the first-ever in print.

Within the map, the East Sea between Korea and Japan is called the "Mare di Corai" (Sea of Korea).

The sea north of Japan he names the "Oceano Boriale del Gappone" (North Sea of Japan) - but we call it just the Sea of Japan, and that includes the "Sea of Korea" in Dudley's map.

Of course nowadays, there are issues re the naming of these waters. In 1992, North Korea and South Korea were unified at the Sixth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, objecting to the Japanese name of the Sea of Japan, though each had their own name in mind.
  • Japan = Sea of Japan (日本海);
  • South Korea = East Sea (東海);
  • North Korea = Korean East Sea (朝鮮東海).
To be fair, I would use South Korea's name, as it is a compromise between North Korea and Japan. Why have conflict over such a meaningless (ultimately) thing?

Below Japan, Dudley calls the South China Sea "Oceano Cinese" (China Ocean). This area is now just called The Pacific Ocean.

The information contained in the map is from the Jesuits, and notes 66 daimyo domains.

This encyclopedia, Dell'Arcano del Mare, is considered to be one of the rarest and most highly sought-after sea atlases of the 17th Century. It included winds and currents—another first. It was completed in manuscript form in 1636.

Dudley, it is thought, may have received some of his information directly from England's Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish—with whom he was friends with.

Robert Dudley (1574 - 1649) was the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. In 1594, Dudley led an expedition to the West Indies, of which he wrote an account. In 1605, he tried unsuccessfully to establish his legitimacy in court. After that he left England and converted to Catholicism, taking up residence in Florence, where he served the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, in their efforts to rid the Mediterranean of piracy.

There he worked as a noted shipbuilder and designed and published Dell'Arcano del Mare.

He was also a skilled navigator, mathematician and engineer.

How valuable is this map? A current rare manuscript seller has it for sale for US$9,600.

I found a New York seller offering Books 1-4 of the Dell'Arcano del Mare for US$75,000 (It's missing the maps in book 6, and book 5).

Sotheby's lists all six (in two volumes) being sold for GBP228,000 (US$293,171). Awesome.

Man... if I was rich—IE won the lottery, I would be buying up items like this.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Chibi Maruko-chan Creator Dies

Well... this sucks.

One of my favorite anime while I was in Japan, was Chibi-Maruko-chan (Little Maruko), which ran for 142 episodes on TV from 1990 to 1992.

She was created by manga write/artist Sakura Momoko (surname first), who passed away last month on August 15, 2018 at the age of 53 after a battle with breast cancer. That news was only released on August 27, 2018 by her office.

After making her debut in manga (comic books) while still in college in 1984, Chibi Maruko-chan debuted in Ribbon magazine in 1986, and was based on her own experiences (sortta), following the life and adventures of Maruko-chan as a third-grade student.

After the initial anime (animated) series, Chibi Maruko-chan was back on TV in 1995, and still goes on today.

How popular is it? It's the #2-rated anime in Japan (after Sazae-san), and had over 1,000 episodes as of 2012. There was even a live-action show made in 2007.

For Chibi Maruko-chan, Sakura was awarded the Kodansha Manga Award for shojo manga in 1989.

She also created the fantasy manga series in 1994-1997, called Coji-Coji, it also turned into a popular anime series - and even a video game for the now defunct Sega Dreamcast system.

Sakura continued to draw a four-panel newspaper strip on Chibi-Maruko-chan, running in plenty of Japanese newspapers.

While Chibi Maruko-chan was a kiddie cartoon, I used it to have a few laughs when I could figure out what was going on. It did help me a bit in learning Japanese, though I never advanced to the grade three-level of the heroine, being rather stupid and only managing enough Japanese language skills to be considered a slow kindergartner.

To Sakura-san... I say thank you for bringing Chibi Maruko-chan to life and for entertaining me while I lived in Japan.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, September 3, 2018

Rick & Morty In Japanese

I have only recently been introduced to the American cartoon Rick & Morty, and thanks to Canadian cable showing five episodes every Friday night, I have seen most, if not all of the episodes.

Damn funny stuff.

It's not for little kids, and I even question myself in letting my 12-year-old son watch it, but what the heck. Most of the real bad words are bleeped out, and the others - we'll... it's not like he hasn't heard them on the school ground - I sure as fug did when I was his age. And I grew up in a pretty middle-class neighborhood. It still is, which is where we are eve now.

The adventures of Rick and Morty revolve around grandpa Rick - the smartest person on the planet, but with an alcohol dependency, and grandson Morty, a slightly below-average intelligent early teenager, but a heck of a nice guy.

They travel through space, time and various inter-dimensions looking for adventure, ingredients and equipment for Rick's experiments and inventions, oh... and having to save the universe... Morty is the conscience of the series, allow Rick to grow... okay... maybe not grow, except drunk, but helps keep Rick from damning the universe to satiate his own ego.

It's a funny show. I can't explain it. Maybe you have to watch it and not expect it to be Bugs versus Daffy.

Anyhow... the Japanese have picked up on Rick and Morty, and have created overdub-adub-dub-dub's of the shows.

Have a look-see:

Here's the opening scene of the first episode:

And here's the Rick Dance:

Andrew Joseph 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ichihime Nitaro - A Girl Before Boy

Okay… so we’ve learned about the issues of being a first born son in Japan—see HERE—but is there any sort of issue in having a daughter as the first-born, and then a son?

No. In fact, it’s considered a good thing in Japanese society. Ideal, even.

Ichihime nitaro (一姫二太郎) literally translates “first a princess and then a boy named Taro”, implying first a daughter and then a son.

The phrase breaks down as: "ichi" (一, first), "hime" (姫, daughter), "ni" (二, second), and "taro" (太郎, son).

Back in feudal times when having the men around to work the farm, it would be important to have as many sons as possible—and it was.

However, for the sake of household harmony, it was considered better to have a daughter first, as girls were supposedly easier to take care of.

As well, having a daughter meant the wife would have someone to help her look after the house and provide future childcare.  

The implication here, is that with an easier-to-take-care of child, the mother is then better equipped to handle a boy. I’m assuming that by “better equipped”, it is meant that along with the daughter’s household help, there is also an emotional benefit knowing that since it was so easy to raise one child, the second (etc.) will be no trouble.

Obviously, when it comes to child care—and this isn’t merely the domain of the Japanese—females are thought to be better equipped for child rearing. It’s bullsh!t, of course. Anyone can learn to raise a child and learn to do it well.

Now… I said that it was better for the Japanese mother to have the girl first because she could help out the mother with household duties and even to help raise her younger brother… but there’s also an underlying reason or two.

Should the mother/wife screw things up with the first born daughter, it’s better to have screwed up with her than with a first born son. Uh-huh. That's what was thought.

If there’s a first born daughter, for the young dad/husband, it saves on inter-generational jealousy.

Yeah… if there’s a first-born son, the father might feel challenged. This is just stupid, of course. I’m a father of a first-born son. I am also a first-born son. I do not feeling challenged, nor did my father feel that way. I asked.

I’m sure that even in Japan… unless we are talking about some rich and powerful clan back in the feudal era, fathers never really felt challenged by their son.

Yeah… in a rich and powerful family, it is possible that the son might want to hold sway over the family business sooner than the father is ready to relinquish… but this would be so far down the line (in time), that having a son first, or a daughter first wouldn’t have made any difference.

The first son would still be the heir and family leader after the father’s passing, regardless if there is an older sister in the picture.

I digress.

Ichihime nitaro is a cute Japanese saying that has little meaning to a modern Japan. Sure… maybe daughters as a first born are easier to raise for a new mother.

That’s no longer the point.

Japanese society is in the midst of a negative population growth, implying that fewer children are being born to take the place of those dying.

Ichihime nitaro isn’t even a concern. Japan doesn’t care if there’s a daughter first and then a son, or a son first and then a daughter. Japan is tending to only have one-child families.

They could only dream of Ichihime nitaro… first a daughter and then a son, to at least maintain the population.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by Riki Ramdani on Unsplash

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Courtesy Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rakugo - The Art Of Comedic Storytelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Juku and Yobikō - Japanese Cram Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Joseph

Monday, August 27, 2018

Chōnan - The Eldest Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, I’m not bitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Joseph