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Showing posts with label Stone Bridge Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stone Bridge Press. Show all posts

Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review - The Buddhist Swastika And Hitler's Cross


Have you ever picked up a book and expected great things from it and been sorely disappointed?

The Buddhist Swastika And Hitler's Cross is NOT one of those books!

Published by Stone Bridge Press and written by the Reverend Dr. T.K (Kenjitsu) Nakagaki (中垣 顕實), a Buddhist priest, the book explains in exquisite detail what the differences are between Nazi Germany's symbol of hate and racism - the hakenkreuz - and the eastern symbol - the swastika - and how Hitler used it to destroy this Buddhist symbol of "all virtues".

Of course it's not just a symbol of Nazi Germany or of Buddhism.

Take a look at the cover image above.

Hitler's hakenkreuz is always right-facing, placed at an angle, and is encompased in inner white and outter red. At least that's the way Hitler used it.

The Buddhist symbol, is usually found with it being left facing. It is called the gyaku manji (逆卍, lit. "reverse manji")

Oh yeah.

As a "reverse manji" it implies there is a "forward manji". Sometimes it is right facing, as seen in the photo I took below at a shrine around Mt. Nasu in Tochigi-ken, Japan:


The swastika symbol above is on the face of a large taiko drum. I suppose we can just call this a manji symbol.

But, thanks to this book - The Buddhist Swastika And Hitler's Cross - I have learned that the swastika... the eastern symbol was never called a swastika by Hitler. It was just a hakenkreuz. A hooked cross.

Other cultures also use the swastika in their religions. The Jains and Hindus for example. But there were other usages as well.

Along with an obvious swastika symbol applied to it, there was a certain Boy Scout merit badge. It used the right-facing symbol.

So to did an American Coca-Cola badge.

The swastika was considered a "good luck" symbol.

Yes, the symbol is being used by various Hate Groups around the world - white supremacists and anti-Semetics - but are they using it correctly.

Unless the symbol is placed at an angle to mimic Hitler's Nazi symbol, it's not a hakenkreuz. It's just an eastern symbol of "good luck" and "virtue".

Ah... but I don't do the book justice with such a flippant remark.

The book does tend to beat to death the differences between the Buddhist symbol and Hitler's - but that's okay. It needs a beating. Buddhist philosophy aside, of course.  

Nakagaki wants the world to stop fearing the Buddhist swastika - it's the hakenkreuz that deserves the negative attention.

Nakagaki also delves in to Hitler's origin story. Not merely content with writing about the hakenkreuz, the author delves into what the political climate was like in the years before Hitler's rise to power, discussing the anti-semitic writings of composer Richard Wagner and protestant reformation founder Martin Luther - stuff that blew me away.

Wagner was my favourite composer... but after reading this book... now he's not... though I do like the pomposity of his music.  

On a lark, on Wednesday evening I decided to write to author Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki. I asked a few questions, praised his book and thanked him for teaching me a few things.

He wrote back!

Here’s what he had to say:

“For me, the book is the first step to start more dialogue, awareness and education. I had an interfaith dialogue on the swastika symbol at the Parliament of the Word’s Religions Conference in Toronto the other day. Though we had only 45 minutes, the panel presentation was great.”


Wait… the guy was JUST in Toronto where I now live - and I missed this? Nertz.

I asked about why Hitler decided to tilt the hakenkreuz, but he was unable to find an explanation.

I asked if the term svastika or swastika was a constant in other languages - you know, a borrowed word.

Nakagaki said: “As for what name people name the symbol, each culture and language use it differently. Svastika in India is definitely very ancient as the symbol of the sun. Other cultures may use it differently such as four rivers.”

Available at Stone Bridge Press (www.stonebridge.com), the paperback book is a mere US$18.95 and chock-full of great historical information and photography covering 169 pages of text, but 200 pages of book (there's a lot of bibliography, end notes and credits to go around).

Along with being a quick read, it's a fascinating read. You will learn something - guaranteed.

If you are going to arm yourself with anything, arm yourself with good knowledge.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

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

Oh my goodness, how could I be so impolite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

All cool, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Is it worth picking up? Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

Personally, I don't mind standing out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In The Woods Of Memory - A Book Review


War is Hell

Attributed to William Techumseh Sherman, a U.S. army general during that country’s Civil War (1861-1865), the oft-uttered phrase has come to express the opinion of nearly everyone involved within an armed conflict…

But it has also come to epitomize the anguish of everyone on the periphery of war… and how it effects far more than the men and women dodging a hail of bullets or having choking waves of mustard gas thrown at them or atomic weaponry exploding them into oblivion.

It affects civilians.

Hellish nightmares don’t merely infect the mind during a conflict, it stays with people, across the decades… across generations even.

Sherman (and his famous War is Hell phrase) is actually better known for his concept of Total War… a military scheme that not only attacks the enemy’s military, but also any civilian-associated resources and structure.

In other words, there is no safety for anyone when war is declared.

A few months back, I received an advance review copy of In The Woods Of Memory, written by Japanese author Medoruma Shun (surname first), and published by Stone Bridge Press (www.stonebridge.com).

Okay: Holy fug it’s a very good book.

Having to stop for dinner, it was otherwise read in one sitting, as I simply could not put the book down. I couldn’t… it sucked me in… and held me… daring me to look away… but I couldn’t…

The book takes place in 1945 and 2005—the later the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa.

Each chapter of the 209-page fiction (but really, non-fiction) book uses a different person’s voice—while tripping back and forth through eras—to provide us with a glimpse of how war was hell for the people of Okinawa in 1945, and how it remains a hell in 2005.

In The Woods Of Memory begins with the rape of a 15-year-old Japanese girl by four U.S. soldiers, during the Battle of Okinawa.

Having recently watched a cooking show on Okinawa, I was struck by two things:
  1. The Okinawans physically look different from the Japanese.
  2. Okinawans refer to themselves as Okinawan first, and not necessarily as Japanese second.
In The Woods Of Memory continues with a revenge factor from a young Japanese boy.

The story looks at multiple views of the story—from different angles… different sexes… different mind-sets… different levels of sanity.

In The Woods Of Memory… I don’t want to give the story away any more than I have… but dammit… it’s a very well-written and translated book.

From one writer to another… I really loved how author Medoruma wrote these chapters… from the jumbling of thoughts of 1945 Seiji character, to the 2005 Kayo character with aspects written in the confounding 2nd person narrative.

Maybe I love HOW the book was written because I once used different styles to affect different voices in a story: First-person (I), second-person (You), third-person (The)… and something I called 4th person because I have no idea if there’s a term for it, that involves two people talking about the main character who doesn’t have a voice of his own. I used this technique 25+ years ago…

The main character doesn’t really have a voice to explain what they went through and are going through? Yeah... I used that technique...

That actually happens in the book In The Woods Of Memory… the rape victim doesn’t directly speak, but does actually speak via the words and actions of others who are telling their own story.

Within In The Woods Of Memory, blame can easily be placed upon the bad Americans… and even the good… and it is… but it’s also placed upon the bad Japanese… the bad neighbors… bad family… bad parents… classmates… … and just because you do nothing, isn’t that even worse… and how the only person with any guts is… well…

You really need to buy a copy of In The Woods Of Memory by author Medoruma Shun, published by Stone Bridge Press (www.stonebridge.com).

Really, really, really.

It’s not just a book about different cultures, rather it’s a look inside the human psyche… and how war, is merely a part of the backdrop… yeah, war is hell, General Sherman… but really, it’s the people who make it so.

In The Woods Of Memory… a double entendre title if there ever was one.

The story is the first novel translated into English by Akutagawa Prize winner and Okinawan author Medoruma.

In The Woods Of Memory is on sale as of June 13, 2017. Buy yourself a copy and buy one for someone else.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Writing About Writers

Y'know... it's always a thrill for me when the people or institutions I write about somehow discover I have written about them and return the favor with a letter of comment.

This time, it's Kittredge Cherry, author of Womansword, and the recently released 30th Anniversary Edition of the book by Stone Bridge Press.

Quite simply, her book is about “What Japanese words say about women.”

Her feedback to myself is just a couple of sentences, but it means the world to me. You can see what she wrote at the bottom of that particular blog (link below).

To learn more about the important work Kittredge Cherry has done, click on my book review of Womansword HERE.

I said it before and I'll say it again... if you are going to go to Japan, are already in Japan or even have been in Japan, you should read Womansword from Stone Bridge Press.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, November 14, 2016

Womansword - What Japanese Words Say About Women - A Book Review

They should probably send Donald Trump, sorry… United States of America President Donald Trump a copy of this book to help provide a smoother path on his epic four-year journey beginning in 2017.

Womansword is a 30-year-old book re-released as a 30th Anniversary Edition by Stone Bridge Press.

Written by Kittredge Cherry, Womansword describes itself on the book’s cover as: “What Japanese words say about women.”

It certainly does. The book is informative, deep, and even a bit troubling… as I… who often sit here upon my ivory soapbox trump-eting the rights of Japanese women and women in general as something that needs to be respected…

… yet the book maybe me realize I am still a big ape beating his chest in grandeur.

Let’s look at the book’s title - Womansword.

It’s not woman’s word… it’s woman sword… but written like one would write longsword. Womansword. It cuts both ways.

You can poke with it, or you can slice with it. The ancient Greeks liked to slice, the ancient Roman’s preferred to use the sword to poke.

Kittredge does both, reflecting on how Japanese society’s use of words… the word’s themselves… have pigeon-holed women and their place and role in Japanese society.

What’s poignant about the Womansword 30th Anniversary Edition, however, isn’t to detail how much things have changed in 30 years—and yes, there has been some progress—but rather just how much farther Japanese society needs to grow for women to be truly accepted on an equal level in the now-dominated Japanese male society.

Look… I live in Canada now… and while the women’s movement of bra burning turned heads (unshackling themselves) in the 1960s, and legislation coming in in the 1970s about equal pay for equal work, I would have to be completely ignorant to assume that it exists universally across this country.

Even still, 2016 Canada is far better than 1916 Canada, let alone 1976 Canada when it comes to women’s rights in Canada.

But Japan… holy crap…

I was in Japan between 1990-1993… and yes, it’s 26 years ago, but how I saw women being treated back then still largely exists in 2016.

The most annoying thing for me was the subservience of women by men… the expectation that the women would go and get some piping hot o-cha (green tea) when ever a man entered a room.

I worked as an assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. And, as much as the foreigner was NOT consider to be equal in societal measures as a Japanese person (discuss amongst yourselves, but it’s probably true in every country in the world, with personal exceptions overruling… religious figure, sports figure, politician, entertainment personality…), I was treated better than the Japanese women.

I was an assistant teacher. As soon as I, or any male teacher would walk into a school’s teacher’s office, a group of female teachers would get up and prepare a hot cup of o-cha for us. Or as many as was required throughout the course of the day.

Okay… I’m a guest… but aren’t we all equal? Don’t the female teachers get the same pay as their male counterparts? Surely a female physical education teacher makes the same as a male physical education teacher in Japan?

No. I do know that I made a heck of a lot more money than a male Japanese teacher of English who had been working as such for 20+ years. Disgraceful. I don’t even want to know what the female teacher’s make. Besides tea, of course.

Seriously... I can recall walking in once... all the men were chatting about the previous evening sumo tournament, the women were all head down doing teacher's duties - marking of tests, writing out reports, planning out lessons... and as soon as I walked in with another male teacher, the women dropped everything and raced to make us tea.

the sports-chatting men didn't budge... it's not their job.

It's embarrassing.

So... I got up and went to the women making the tea and asked if I could help... the look of horror on their face was telling.

Not only was I - the guest - intruding on their female domain, but I was a man - double whammy.

Luckily my co-worker and Japanese teacher of English was there, and she and I chatted.

I explained how in Canada (for example), there's nothing wrong with a man offering to help do anything. It's a sign of respect. We don't even look at it as Man or Woman job... it's just one person being friendly to another.

The sucking of air through the teeth was enough to almost pull me off my feet, as it was like the first time they had actually heard of this utopia called Canada, where a woman could be treated with the same respect as a man.

They had heard about it, but I was actually their first physical example of it happening in real life.

And that’s just a single example.

Womansword cuts far, far deeper than that.

The book provides short and interesting glimpses into Japanese society with linguistic, sociological and historical insight into damn near every aspect of Japanese society…

Womansword slashes through the male-imposed rigorous Japanese laws and rules that women have to follow involving things such as: identity, girlhood, marriage, motherhood, work, sexuality and aging.

Oh, don’t even get me started on how single Japanese women living at home are expected to obey the 10PM or 11PM curfew imposed on them by their protective fathers.

Don’t make me foam on and on about how women still aren’t allowed to choose who they date or marry, and failure to follow the male-protocol can led to family shame.

Old maid at 25-years-of-age? WTF is that!?

Sorry… ghosts of the past with me. My emotional brain still screams its anger at Japanese society for screwing me over.

Time heals all wounds? Don’t you believe it.

Unfortunately, 30 years on via Womansword, Japanese women are still struggling to be heard.

Despite the very modern thinking by such countries such as Canada and the United States, for example, women did not get to vote in Canada until 1920. Blacks had been allowed to vote 50 years earlier... in fact, Canada had an alderman back in the 1890s-1900s, elected by the Toronto populace.

In the U.S., women could vote in 1920, as well... Blacks, I believe, could vote as long as they were landowners... so they had the legal right before women, too.

In Japan, women were trying to earn the right to vote in the 1930s, but after Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, civil rights went out the window. Upon Japan's defeat, and with the new Japan Constitution created by the allied nations who defeated Japan - specifically drafted by the United States, on December 17, 1945, Japanese women were given the right to vote. So... Japan should have been a mere 25 years behind North America... maybe they are... but Womansword makes it seem like they are still so much farther behind than that.

Of course, current Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) does want to tweak his country's Constitution to give it more military power... but others are also wary that he might try to restrict women's rights... seeing as how it was all something the United States forced upon Japan at the war's conclusion. But that is not a foregone conclusion. It's merely a possibility. The women of Japan need to be aware of the politics of their own country. 

You need to read this book. You need to read Womansword.

If you are a foreigner living in Japan or are planning on going to Japan, read this book. 

It doesn’t offer any suggestion on how Japan can break out of this non-feminist funk, because ultimately that is the domain of the Japanese women to do.

They need to stand up, and they need to affect change… but at least by reading this book, you’ll get a much better understanding of just how far Japanese society as a whole needs to go.

Wowmansword is a powerful, powerful book.

It’s a paltry US$19.95/CDN$25.99, and is 176 pages.

Purchase your copy in fine bookshops everywhere, or you can visit www.stonebridge.com.
 
Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tokio Whip: A Book Review - Blech

You may have noticed that whenever I do a book review, I am usually pretty generous with my praise and always recommend the book to you.

It's because I have a hard time—as a writer and a wannabe book writer—criticizing the efforts of someone who has got off their ass to actually write said book.

Which brings me to Tokio Whip by Arturo Silva from Stone Bridge Press.

I did not like the book.

Why? Because it made me feel stupid.

Tokio Whip is a fictional novel about a group of friends, foreigners living and working in Japan, and their Japanese friends. It takes place in 1980s Japan, with the chapters set up in locales along a Tokyo subway line. That part is all brilliant.

It's like the ukiyo-e prints of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido by Hiroshige Ando (surname first).

The book has a collective Breakfast at Tiffany's vibe... lots of conversation with lots of angst. Truthfully, it's 2016 and despite me enjoying the past, if I want to read something that seems to have a 50s vibe set in the 1980s, well... I can harken back to the first time I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Don't get me wrong. The author, Arturo Silva is a very good writer... much better than myself, and I think he knows it—and there's the rub.

There was one section encompassing three pages of the book where the author's pretentiousness completely lost me as a reader.

How weird were those pages?

Well... at first I thought it was a printing error by the fine folks at Stone Bridge Press.

It was pages 53 to 55. Take a look:




(I've left a bit of the proper writing style on the third page - so you can see that it is well written - even if the author doesn't believe in using "quotation marks" to denote people talking - but that's okay, because it's all conversational. My issue is that it's boring conversational.)

Look at the pages scanned above... notice how sometimes the lines run off the page (second page), with the next line making no sense whatsoever (pick a page). That's a printing error right? Nope. This is experimental writing and one I bet gave headaches to the editors and printers.

The thing is... I didn't know this was an experimental writing book—it is—or that this section was going to be completely unlike anything else in the book—it was. You the reader won't know it's an experimental writing style novel either. The publishers simply call it "stylistic." Stylistic can be pretty broad - a catchall for when one doesn't know what to call something. At least that's what I think.

There was no set-up for these pages. No explanation for these pages, and thus utter confusion for me, the reader.

And then I figured it out after reading it through a few times...

Every few lines, the subject matter continues.
  • Line one continues to line four.
  • Line two continues to line five.
  • Line three continues to line six.
  • Line four continues to line seven.
  • Line five continues to line eight.
  • Line six continues to line nine.
  • Line seven continues to line 10... and so on.
Yes... the very smart author tried to confuse the dumb reader with his brilliance—foiled only because I was stubborn enough (as a book reviewer) to try and figure out just what the fug he was trying to accomplish.

A jumble of thoughts? A conflagration of conversational fragments? Printing error?

The stylistic musings were of interest to the plot, but it was presented in such a way that I felt so effing stupid for not figuring it out sooner than I actually did.

I didn't even understand the sub-head leading into that dogs-breakfast of writing. ABC-squared?... Aw, geez... are you kidding me? Now I effing get it... ABC and then ABC... Silva is telling us how the lines should be read.

Fug!

I just figured that out! See? Me am stupid. What me worry? Aooograpsst.

Sorry, I just just involuntarily drooled on my keyboard. It's just hanging there from my lower lip down onto the letter D... which is where the next line should be read.

You can call me a lot of names and they don't bother me. Calling me stupid, and we have a problem. Making me feel stupid... well... that's worse.

ABC-squared is not a literary device. It's a pain in the butt to read.

Wait... is that even squared? No! That's what the way you write things for chemical formulae... so... ABC, lower case 2? Does that lowercase 2 affect only the letter C (the third line)? See?! Nothing really makes sense even when you think it should! Is it a coefficient?! What do you call the number when it sits like that? I know it's not a plot device! I'm shouting. I'm sorry. See? I feel stupid.

It wasn't something as clever as Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson writing the Mouse's tale from Alice in Wonderland in the shape of a mouse's tail—no, that was cute, brilliant and fun to read.
Alice In Wonderland - Chapter 3.
Neither was it someone artsy writing a story in a circle going inwards, ending right in the middle - no... that's challenging to read, fun to twist the book around to get it all.
Circle of Life - Buddha.... apparently THE Buddha...
And it wasn't one of those adventure books where you get to choose the action of the hero: If you want Charlie to attack the monster go to page 12. If you want Charlie to try and talk to the monster go to page 47. If you want Charlie to run away go to page 36. Those are the choose-your-own adventure books.

Bantam Books had a large selection of the choose-your-adventure books that I may have read in my youth, borrowing them from my much younger brother.
Confusing the reader... not cool.

I actually read a few more chapters (to page 78 of 369, actually) before my anger made me stop reading. I've never NOT finished reading a book before... in fact, everything I've ever started, I've finished over the past 30 years. Everything.

Until now. I just don't want to finish Tokio Whip. You pushed the wrong buttons with me.

And, if we are delving further into specifics, from the few chapters I read—I hated the arrogance of all of the characters.

All the foreigners spoke perfect Japanese, shopped at trendy Tokyo shops and bakeries. Effing yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) or Dinks (Double Income No Kids) who have nothing in common with me, and are in fact the type of people who piss me off with their pretentious airs.

Obviously not all Yuppies or Dinks are like that (most are)—but the ones in Tokio Whip are.

I will credit author Arturo Silva for his ability to write female conversations well... the fact that I hated the characters (the men, too), implies he was able to get under my skin by having them sound like people who would tick me off.

Another thing that I found interesting, but might bother the fan of Japan who lacks a lot of knowledge of the Japanese language (like me), is that I thought there should have been footnotes indicating explanations of what certain Japanese words or phrases were. What the hell is shumai? I had no idea they were pork dumplings. Should I have to go to the internet and search Japanese definitions? No. I'm reading a paper edition for a reason.

As well... the story is set in 1980s Tokyo. To fully "get" the book, you had to have been in Japan in the 1980s or 1990s... no, actually, you had to live in Tokyo at that time. That's an extremely narrow focus.

Look at the book's cover at the top... a hazy black and white image... it's like it's supposed to be a story set in the 1950s when Tokyo was still in black and white—just as we have learned that Kansas is from The Wizard of Oz. Okay, I'm kidding, but the sprawling image of a smoky Tokyo is there smacking you in the face letting you know that it's going to be the type of book your girlfriend is going to like, that you aren't, but your wife will hate because she hates your love affair with Japan.

I lived in Japan in 1990 through 1993, but lived in a small city 100 kilometers to the north of the capital. I visited Tokyo maybe 15 times... and because I only know of Ueno, Akihabara and Roppongi, I don't know where any of the places are in Tokio Whip. A subway map near the frontspiece needs to head up every chapter with a large circle around the particular station the author wants us to visit next. That's a knock against the book design.

I know it's different in a book, but with THIS blog, I provide translations for Japanese words, even noting the order of Japanese names—because sometimes I can't even tell which is the surname. I assume that for every article I write, that someone, for the very first time, is reading about Japan.

Uh... so in this case, the writer is assuming the reader has more Japan experience, and isn't treating them like idiots—but again, it's also not in the best interests of the reader.

Lastly... what the fug is up with the archaic spelling of Tokyo? It's two effing syllables. It was the American's inability to pronounce Tokyo as two syllables that turned it into the three syllable Tokio... something that was repeatedly spelled incorrectly during WWII. You know, because they were the Nips... those cowardly bastards who attacked 'merca.

See... sounds wrong, doesn't it? It's because it is wrong. It's To-kyo. Two syllables.

Hey... Tokio Whip wasn't my cup of tea. I haven't drunk tea since I left Japan—green or black.

Because Johnny Depp can look manly as a gay pirate, only he can rock a hat like this and not look like a hipster doofus.
I hated Tokio Whip. It'll probably win some sort of famous book prize and they'll make an indie black-and-white movie... sorry, film of it. And guys wearing those stupid hats will go see it while raving about the angst and the director's effective use of grey to convey the irony of the angst that no one else who doesn't drive a Prius or a Tesla will ever understand.

What the hell do I know? Then again, I already saw Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I love Audrey Hepburn, but I hated that movie, too. Spoiled, idle rich. Hot, in an I-know-you're-dead-now kindda way. I'm sure people enjoyed the fantasy of it all, but I hated the whole woe-is-me attitude (sorry Truman Capote)... and that's all over Tokio Whip's characters... or at least that's what they all seemed like for as far as I could dare read.

Sorry Stone Bridge Press. I love you guys, but Tokio Whip doesn't get to share my love.

I'll also add that because you added the word 'whip' into the title, I was expecting something more adult... in the fun way. Not the boring, conversational adult manner. Like this book.

I have done many other reviews of excellent, well-written and entertaining books published by Stone Bridge Press—so visit their website and see what else they have to offer: http://www.stonebridge.com/

Kanpai,
Andrew "refuses to Golightly" Joseph

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Japaneseness - A Book Review

Japaneseness is a book a wish I had available to me before I went to Japan.

It is a book that anyone who is going to go to Japan or even is in Japan right now, should read.

Japaneseness is, quite simply, a book that will enable the reader to get a better understanding of the Japanese people themselves, and thus, a better understanding of the culture and society of Japan.

For example: In Japan, I used to wonder aloud in my head, just WHY the Japanese did certain things.

I would, on occasion ask my bosses at the Ohtawara Board of Education, or my Japanese English Teachers, or friends at the Ohtawara International Society, or my Japanese girlfriends, or my Japanese fiance just "WHY" the hell the Japanese did such-and-such, when to my brain there was a different and simpler way of doing things.

After much sucking of air through the teeth, and cocking of head to the side like a cute widdle puppy dog, I would invariably get a slow response that involved the phrase: "I don't really know why."

They might even acknowledge that my alternative suggestion was a better idea and wonder aloud why no one ever thought about it before...

... and I did, too. I mean... I'm no genius - close, but no, I'm not... but I'm sure smarter people than myself have come up with the same thoughts... so, WHY, Japan, don't you do things other than the way you do things?

Here's the most important thing I learned from Japaneseness: The Japanese do not ask why. There is learning the way to do things, and the why is answered in the learning.

Right there, in a frickin' nutshell, is the answer.

For three years of me racking my brain while in Japan, to the subsequent seven years I have been writing this blog... there's my freaking answer.

It's not "why ask why"... it's just do as we all do, and essentially there's no reason to ask why.

That's why foreigners have an incredibly difficult time in truly assimilating into Japanese society.

We can learn the language. We can learn how to bow. We can stomach all the food and drinks thrown our way. We can go see all the sights. We can learn all their sports. We can even dress ourselves up to look just like them...

... but unless one is raised in the society and culture of Japan, one can never truly be Japanese.

Japaneseness is a book written by Yamakuse Yoji (surname first), and is published by Stone Bridge Press.

There are no photographs or comic images in this book, because none are necessary.

Japaneseness is a guide through the 76 core life concepts that make the Japanese Japanese.

If you are a student of anything Japanese - whether you are someone who wants to do business with the Japanese, live amongst them or live with them... you need to read Japaneseness.

You need to have an open mind, yes, but it truly gives you a peek at the fundamental differences between the Japanese culture and everyone else.

Of course, if you are really smart, you will hopefully also see many similarities. But in these similarities, while you and I learned these rules of life, we wondered why we needed to learn them, while the Japanese just learned them.

For the Japanese, this is 'kata'... the form.

Now... having said all of that wonderful stuff about the book, after reading it and being fascinated by it, I did find some of the things the author Yamakuse described as being a Japaneseness to be... well...

... I had to say BS. Now, I realize this is just me the gaijin simply not getting what it means to be Japanese... but it's not... it's me questioning an aspect of the logic used to try and prove a point.

For example... on Pages 19 & 20 of the book's total 139-page count, I took umbrage at a Japaneseness called "kikubari"... which is, if I may borrow from the book 'thoughtfulness', where "Hospitality and thoughtfulness are one and the same. By anticipating someone else's needs before your own and making them your priority, you create a bond of warmth and respect."

I wonder if I picked on this subconsciously... as my fiance's father put HIS needs before the needs/desires/love of his daughter (and myself). Because of his will, we could not be together.

Anyways... he obviously didn't think this particular kata (form) was as important when a gaijin like me was involved.

But that's not my criticism of Yamasuke's description (which is presented in greater detail in the book) of kikubari/thoughtfulness.

Yamasuke asserts that because Japan has lived in relative isolation for so long, that they have developed an innate thoughtfulness for one another.

To me, that is an opinion that simplifies Japanese society and fails to take into account that until the 1860s, Japan was rigidly separated by class: farmer/peasant; merchant, samurai warriors; and the aristocracy.

The Japanese of pre-1860s Japan did not have a true understanding of one another, except perhaps for those within their own class.

I would bet the same exists nowadays, as try as one would like, there are still different classes, and each has its own unique needs.

The book correctly states that in the 1980s (and 1990s, in my opinion), that Japan was less modest, as its economy has a global juggernaut, noting that it liked to 'brag' a bit about how great its country was.

It was subtle, but it was , to even the dumbest gaijin like me, rather overt.
  • "Japanese rice is delicious";
  • "These are Japanese chopsticks";
  • "This is a Japanese kimono".
The Japaneseness of things was a given and pretty unnecessary to point out.

But anyhow... my point is that Japanese classes only ever understand the class they are a part of. It's been that way in every single country for as long as there has been differing classes... and don't you believe for an instant that all comrade communists were ever equal. Some were/are more equal than others.

The point is, kikubari... thoughtfulness... whether it is shown 100 percent of the time or not, IS one of those kata that the Japanese are taught.

For most of us who are not Japanese, we learn the concept of thoughtfulness/kikubari, too.

We might also utilize most of the kata found in the Japaneseness book, too. But I bet we never sit down and think about it.

In the Japaneseness book, you get an easy to understand book that I believe will give the reader a better understanding of the Japanese... and once acknowledged by yourself, it might actually make your stay in Japan a whole lot easier.

Japaneseness by Yamakuse Yoji, published by Stone Bridge Press, and available for US$12.95 at www.stonebridge.com.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Silver Spoon - A Book Review

Stone Bridge Press recently sent me a copy of The Silver Spoon (Gin no saji) book written by renowned Japanese author Naka Kansuke (surname first) (1885-1965)... it's a non-fiction book childhood memoir that was originally serialized in a Japanese daily newspaper back in 1913.

Called a 'children's story for adults', I was sure I would hate it, as I just don't like reading autobiographical stories... which if you know me seems pretty damn stupid considering that's what the original intent of Japan-It's A Wonderful Rife was all about.

In my case, however, I tend to prefer to read historical books, as well as fantasy or detective stories with either a science-fiction bend to them or preferably if they are set in some time in the past before the advent of jet planes and DNA analysis... it means I like it when science doesn't make things so difficult for the criminal... and when detectives relied more on deduction than a crime lab to do their dirty work.

How, I thought, could I possibly be interested in the childhood tales of a Japanese writer I've never heard anything about?

Boy, was I wrong. The Silver Spoon is a fascinating look at the personal lives of the average Japanese person in those heady early years after samurai had their power taken away, and when Japan was just beginning to open itself up to the West and Western societal idealogies.

It was a time when Japan was confused between new and traditional... with traditional taking a backseat to things the rest of the world had to offer.

But that's not what the stories are about.

Naka is a master weaver of words... drawing the reader into an era none of us have experienced for ourselves.

Naka Kansuke's story is hardly sentimental.... and that's what makes it good. There's nothing wrong with sentimentality if things are interesting, but heck, if it's not it becomes schlock.

I wonder now, however, if the authors story is perhaps MORE relevant as a poignant look back at life in Japan 125 years ago... than it was when it was first published in 1913, when it could only have been a sentimental look back as his youth.

One of my favorite stories/chapters in the whole book is Chapter 3, regarding his old Aunt who comes to live with him, the sickly child.

His aunt had previously had white mice all over their house--a critter considered to be a good luck charm by the Japanese. Me... I would figure one such mouse to be lucky, and any more a veritable infestation... and I think the author with his adult sensibility relays that to the reader from his perch in 1913.

Besides coming to look after the young Naka Kansuke, the Aunt requires a change of pace after her husband has died from cholera back at her good luck charm house.

While the more astute among us might postulate that perhaps the cholera and the plethora of mice might indeed be connected, we instead learn that the Aunt instead believes her husband's death to be caused by a pox delivered by Christians coming from their far-off lands to try and kill the Japanese.

Not only does it speak of 1880s Japan's superstitious nature and disregard for science--perhaps that aspect of medical science had not yet been talked about in Japan--but it also discusses Japan's belief that maybe the gaijin (foreigners) aren't nice...

Could the gaijin threat to Japan and her traditional ways be a deadly threat? Is this not a warning for Japan to shun the ways of the west lest Japan's traditional ways die?

Not all stories are as excellent as that, but they are darn near close.

I really thought I would hate the book. I've read a few Japanese writers in the past, and despite everyone raving about them, all I ever took out of them was Japan's self-loathing... and to be honest, I'm surrounded by people who self-loathe or have mental illness and dammit, as long as that's the case, I'd rather read something that's going to entertain me...

The Silver Spoon (Gin no saji) did just that. I wish I had a paper book version rather than the electronic one I received (I don't have any form of device other than a table top computer), so reading it involves me having to part my butt down on a hard chair and scrolling.

Granted many of you folks enjoy that... but I'm a traditionalist who likes to read about people's traditions.

The novel has been expertly translated by Sato Hiroaki (surname first) has won the P.E.N. American Center Translation Prize and the Japan-United States Friendship Commission Japanese Literary Translation Prize. Considered one of the foremost translators of Japanese literature and poetry, he has over 40 works of classical and modern Japanese poetry, prose, and fiction published in English.

It is a work of art and an excellent translation of a wonderful set of stories.

Perhaps we - you and I - should order our own copy directly from: Stone Bridge Press over at www.stonebridge.com.

The 208-page book can be purchased for US$19.95 or CDN$24.99.

At Stone Bridge Press - thank you Michael for sending me this book.... it is brilliant and a wonderful look at what Japan was like for the average person 125 years ago.

I do love me some history.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, January 5, 2015

How To Be A Pro Girlfriend

My friend Michael over at Stone Bridge Press - the publishers who have a keen focus on book related to Japan and Asia (Check'em out HERE) - recently sent me a challenge... to provide my take on a phenomenon that is supposedly spreading across Japan.

I'll leave you to decide just what is being spread, but the topic focuses on Japanese women known as the 'pro girlfriend'.

While I did have one of those back in Toronto - a woman who was a professional high-class escort -a German woman who liked to call me her little Shotzi (sp?), which means 'pet', I was indeed a kept man - which isn't all that bad considering she liked to spend money on me.

Since I assume she wasn't keeping me around for any huge reason, I believe it was because I was a normal guy who could make her laugh. I looked okay, too, as I had also begun to work out while back in Toronto and added about 30 centimeters (12 inches) to my chest while reducing my waist to effectively give myself a nice triangle upper body. Oh! And the hair! Half-way down my back falling from straight, to waves to ringlets at the base. Man, I miss that.

Anyhow, in the case of the Japanese pro girlfriend or puro garufriendo, these chickies are NOT hookers, escorts or ladies of the evening. No.. they are instead women who date or marry men who are professional entertainers or professional athletes... the key being that the women aren't involved in either.

At first glance, having been one of them myself, I say 'big whoop'. What's the problem, or what's the big fricking deal?

Okay, while I was picked up at a bar by my Teutonic babe who could turn every guy's eye at any event we went to, the Japanese pro girlfriends tend to actually stalk these guys in an effort to land one.

Again... what's the big deal?

The Beatles used to have women chase them all the time... I think they called them Apple Tarts (Apple Studios)... and may even have written the song Savory Truffle about them - but I could be wrong.

Hockey players call them "Puck Bunnies" in polite terms, but I'm sure you can come up with something else that rhymes with 'puck'.

Football has 'cleat chasers'. Baseball has 'diamond doll groupie', but other terms include 'slump buster', 'road beef', 'jersey chaser',  '5 Star Chicks' and of course 'cleat diggers'. 

I've never used one of those terms before, and aside from the Beatles and the hockey terms, I had to look the others up. And that's just sports. There are always folks who chase after musicians in a band, or actors as well.    

In Japan - apparently the media is ONLY just starting to catch on... I mean... this is 2015... surely people have heard of Wilt 'The Stilt' Chamberlain who claimed to have slept with over 10,000 women because... well... I'm sure he was the big man on and off the basketball court.

So whither Japan and the 'pro girlfriend'? Who cares...

Still... Japan Today and original source Japan's Excite News decided to offer up advice on how Japanese women seeking to embark upon a life of whoring themselves out (as a guy, I can honestly say it was fun to be a whore) to Japanese actors and athletes and musicians.

I will say that the advice offered up is pretty vague:  

1. Bump into them where they eat, drink and play
Find a place where famous people like to go for drinks, and become friends with the manager or bartender. That way, when you stop by to see your pals, there’s also the possibility of a chance encounter with a single actor or pop star.
Of course, famous people tend to have expensive tastes, and you might not have the funds to bankroll becoming a regular at a watering hole frequented by A-listers. Not a problem, says romance-themed Internet portal Hitomebore, since you can instead just get a job working in a bar or restaurant with a star-studded clientele. A-ha!

Are you effing kidding me? D'uh. Find out where your prey hangs out and then trap him. Wow. I never would have thought of that.   

2. Meet them through your work connections
While being a waitress is undeniably tough work, it’s at least a profession with a comparatively low barrier to entry. That’s something you can’t say about the jobs Tokyo Dokujo Style mentions in its advice.
If you’re a reporter or newscaster, the single women’s lifestyle site says, or employed by a professional sports team or athletic equipment maker, you’ll have chances for face-to-face meetings with pro athletes. Once you’ve met, your relationship can develop in a similar manner to the thousands of people who find their spouses through their work.
There’s a bit of a catch here, though. Becoming a newscaster is no mean feat. The imbalance between the many people who’d like the job versus the few positions actually available is comparable to the level of competition to become a professional actor or athlete. Landing a job with a sports team or athletic equipment company is a less daunting task, but we’re guessing you have to rise pretty high up the corporate ladder before they’re sending you out to talk with the on-field talent.
And should you manage to reach to a position where you’re regularly rubbing muscular shoulders with athletes (or well-moisturized elbows with actors and vocalists), odds are you got there by being intelligent, dedicated, and good with people, all of which mean you’ve probably developed a wide network of acquaintances and potential mates, with the large chance that one of them, while not famous, is a better match for you.

Okay... so now you have to be a reasonably successful person yourself in order to meet them at or via your work. So far this is sounding a lot like regular dating or stalking. The advice is sound, but it's so obvious that if you have to learn how to do this HERE, you aren't smart enough to have such a job.  

3. Start on the ground floor, and work your way up
Finally, we come to the tactic laid out by women’s Internet portal Venus Tap, which is to start off as a fan, and get your crush to notice you through your admiration of how he plies his craft. Just sending fan letters isn’t enough, since popular entertainers and athletes get so many yours are likely to be buried under a pile of ones from other admirers and may not even open them themselves. It’s important to send your correspondence express, as not only will it arrive before those of your rivals, having “express mail” stamped across the envelope is sure to tell the object of your affection that you care more about him than those other girls who can’t be bothered to splurge on the postage surcharge.
Venus Tap also offers pointers for when you’re waiting for an actor to leave the venue where he’s just performed. Instead of just screaming, “Oh my God! It’s really him,” try to engage him in a conversation, taking extra care to choose words that will leave a lasting impression. Afterwards, make sure to dash off another fan letter mentioning your chat, and send it ASAP (and express, remember).

The key point of fan is the work 'fanatic'... which is what this point suggests. I'm just completely agog at the whole meaninglessness of this 'helpful' article.

The article goes on to suggest that for most people the 'fan' method is probably the best, but doesn't mention that's because it thinks people who make this their goal are pretty much losers.

Obviously I have no problems with a regular person dating a 'famous' or 'superstar' one. I was picked up in a bar by an excessive beauty. I did frequent strip clubs and did ask out a number of exotic dancers (they true key is to always look at their eyes... they notice this and it confuses them... it's a compliment, really... and it always separates you from the other ogling, drooling guy). I used to give them by business card and suggest  - no pressure - that should they ever want to go out, give me a call. Most will simply take your business card and never look at it again - even when they know you are a writer - but one out of 10... stuff happens, and you get a phone call for a date.

I would suggest that for women stalking the man of their dreams, it can be a bit easier than for a man stalking a woman... men are dogs, and if they can get a piece on the side, they will. Making the man believe you are worth dating again and again... that can be trickier. Women with male 'stalkers'... women are smarter than men and more than likely have their guard up.

There is also the issue for both sexes that the object of their affection has a posse... or body guards, as is more and more common - to protect the individual from unwanted attention.

I would suggest for the Japanese woman who wants to be a pro girlfriend that dress for suck-cess is also important. I told you... guys are dogs. Looking gorgeous is one thing. Looking gorgeous in an outfit that is revealing is at least a better chance at being noticed.

Being intelligent might also help... but I wonder. Obviously not all sports, movie or musicians are super geniuses - but they can be. Most, probably aren't. I said most. I know you can't stereotype people and professions. But, for many in those three visible professions, the art has been their focus long before they graduated from school... with school not necessarily being something they concentrated on as much as say... baseball.

Proof? Have you ever listened to pro athletes speak? Most (again, I said most) can not speak the language properly. Over at the Wayne Gretzky restaurant in Toronto, I walked in a few days after the place opened 20 years ago. A nice place. There were many sports-related paraphernalia there, including a signed set of Michael Jordon Nike basketball shoes.

While I no longer recall the EXACT quote, I was 'impressed' (sarcasm) with Michael Jordon's grammatical error on his note and signature to Wayne, offering up a congratulations "on you're" new restaurant. On "You Are" restaurant? How about "Your"? Michael, like 95% of all professional basketball players in the US went to university, so he should have some semblance of English grammar.

And, should you believe that to be a common mistake, I will say that it is... but that doesn't mean it is an acceptable mistake.

So... perhaps the Japanese pro girlfriend needs to know her target. Smart, but not too smart.

Me? I only ever dated women who were as smart or smarter than I. Naive is fine, stupid is not.

Right there I question the whole 'smartness' of any pro girlfriend who targets a person based solely on their financial means ($$$ or ¥¥¥)... and this is coming from me... but it sounds kind of 'sleazy'.

I am sure many a woman has met a pro athlete, musician and entertainer without having to whore themselves or stalk them as the advice contained here seems to suggest... 

Japanese pro girlfriend... why bother? Do you need the money and fame that badly? And surely the object of you affection knows that and will create a per-nuptual agreement to ensure it doesn't remain that way should the relationship fail.

I'm just sad that the media has had to create a term (pro girlfriend) at all.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Social Media - WTF

Proof positive that social media is a fickle whore can be found in a tale of two blogs.

My blog: Japan—It's A Wonderful Rife and one article in particular on the blog called Maia Does Japan.

I am NOT slagging Maia and her blog. I actually enjoy it.

I am not even questioning her postings. It's her blog - do as you will…

I am, however, questioning the collective intelligence of people who frequent the Internet - no… not you, dear reader. I love you. It's those other so-called people.

On November 16, 2014, Mai posted an animated gif file showing a steaming bowl of… nabe stew?

That same day I posted a story about the Japanese baseball All-Stars no-hitting the MLB counterparts.

My article had 109 total hits.

Mai's animated GIF has 104 LIKES - from people liking the damn animated gif… that just shows steam coming up off the bowl…

http://maiadoesjapan.com/post/102834544542#notes

People were commenting on it and reflaging it… like seriously - WTF???!!!!

If you have a blog about food - sure… I can see why you MIGHT feel the need to reblog an animated gif of a steaming bowl of Japanese stew… whatever yanks your crank… Nowhere, by the way does Maia actually state what the food is supposed to be, whether she is eating something like this herself, or… hell… she wrote nothing… just posted a teaming pile of stew…

Now… if you are into anime… which is animation… I could see why you might express some interest in a steaming bowl of Japanese stew that is in 1-second animated gif file… no wait… no I can't.

The art is wonderful, but it's hardly earth-effing chattering. WTF people???!!!

What is wrong with the world when an innocuous posting of a bowl of effing Japanese stew gets 104 LIKES (and counting)… and say one I wrote a few days ago on the dangers of kerosene heaters has 35 hits… one listed as "interesting Japanese photo" has over 459 hits - posted five days ago.

Seriously… WTF??!!!

Perhaps I have a smarter reader who enjoys getting the full story on any given topic I write about.

Perhaps I also have a lot of people clicking on my my blog because they are looking for photos of Japanese Schoolgirl Prostitutes (HERE), with some 11,500+ hits and counting.

Or maybe it's guys looking for advice on How to Date Japanese Women (101,000+ hits and counting)… so at least here it's advice people must be looking for.

Maybe my advice sucked… but no one has said so… I do have 80 comments on that one - many, of course are my responses back to the commenters…

Hey - at least with some of my blogs, people are looking for porn or something substantial - advice or information o r even to be entertained…

Again… I'm not knocking Maia - though I wonder if posting a dumb one-second video file was her smart way of getting traffic, just as I smartly created headlines that horny internet surfers would find intriguing.

Mea culpa. But what about Maia culpa? It's okay, she doesn't need to respond - it wasn't asked with any malice or need to know…

As I said.. I'm just amazed at the traffic garnered for a stupid video flash file no longer than one-second… how can anyone look at that and think - oh yeah… that's awesome… I have to show it to more people.

How can anyone who looks at her post think this is worth sharing?

WTF is wrong with people?

It's a wonderful file to see… but I'm pretty sure I don't know anyone who wants or needs to have me forward it to them.

I don't care if only four people read a blog I wrote (okay, I do, actually) - and I'm not jealous of any success achieved by any other blog writer for any great or innocuous blog they might create - more power to you. I am envious, but not jealous.

But… it's when I see proof of the… what… stupidity?… immaturity, maybe, of the Internet audience… well… I truly fear for the continued forward momentum of the human race.

It was a one-second file showing an animated bowl of steaming Japanese stew.

How is THAT important?

Okay… it need not be important… but… how is that even remotely offing interesting to anyone with even an ounce of grey matter.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh.

That is an a-ha moment as opposed to me moaning….. Aside from that a-ha moment, the rest of this article is how I moan in a blog.

Kanpai - go read this review on the book Sake Confidential (from Stone Bridge Press) and have a drink on me,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sake Confidential - A Book Review

This is actually a book review for a book I enjoyed very much.

I'm the type of guy/gaijin/foreigner (regardless of country) who likes to immerse himself in information.

I have done and continue to do the same with regards to Japan, somehow without learning much of its language I have managed to pick up quite a bit of its history, social customs and well… lots of other stuff.

I have managed to sip at the table of learning, drowning whatever real or imagined sorrows I had at my local bar in Japan, often toasting with Japanese locals… pretty much just enjoying life.

(Sorry Vince)

One of the easiest ways to enjoy one's self in Japan - and by that I mean immersing oneself in Japanese culture - is to share a beverage with a like-minded Nihonjin, regards of their adult age or sex. 

I'm not talking about o-cha (green tea), though that is a huge part of Japanese culture, but rather I am talking about alcohol.

While the Japanese like to think of themselves as being internationally cultured when they have some fine whiskey straight up, or perhaps consider themselves fun-loving when they imbibe huge quantities of beer, when they truly want to show off or impress, especially to an honored guest - let's say you and I - that is when they break out the sake - fermented rice wine, if I may be so common.

Prior to leaving Toronto for one (soon to be three years) in Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, my father warned me about the power of sake (pronounced 'sah-kay'), noting that it went down like water but had the kick of a tsunami.

I first met sake at my first coming-out party in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken - the place I called home - during a festival in early August… when it was hot and very humid - still in the mid 30C-range by 10PM.

A shunga "pornographic" ukiyo-e sake set of mine.

I was parched. When a local sake salesman saw we walking by towed by my Board of Education bosses, he proudly offered up his wares to the city's new assistant English teacher.

I sipped the glass of sake at first. Mmmmm. Warm, flavorful, fruity-even, and very aromatic - alcohol was what I smelled… but I couldn't determine anything more than that.

It tasted like nothing I had ever tasted before…

Sake… this isn't booze… to me sake was my first real exposure to Japanese culture.

Encouraged by all the Japanese men around me watching me pussyfoot around this miniature Japanese atomic bomb - they began chanting "Iki! Iki!" while miming the chug-chug hand gesture - so I downed it in one gulp. Yeah… I can open up the throat… a skill on a heterosexual man that only lends itself to drinking.

The Japanese men were impressed, as I tapped the upturned glass a few times to ensure I had every single drop of the clear liquid ambrosia.

Junmai Ginjo - some of the good stuff I enjoy drinking!

Cheers - and Kanpai abounded! As did another 15 glasses. My dad was wrong. It was sweet and did not pack the kick of a mule. Or maybe I had truly inherited my alcoholic uncle's genes and could out drink a sailor. Or maybe - just maybe - it was hot, and I was thirsty. Whatever. I only got a small buzz… my comrades who had initially joined me were staggering around drunk off their gourd.

Japanese culture. Nothing brings people together better than drinking (unless you are drinking while watching sports with rival fans).

That was my first experience with sake.

I suppose it could be used for sauces, but this is a lacquered sake sipping set of cups. Mine.

Another memorable time was when I won a sake drinking contest (tied really), where the Japanese JET leader and I powered down 47 glasses of sake apiece - two others passed out some 30+ glasses earlier.

Since then, I have actually been able to taste sake - much like that first sip I had on my lips… you never forget your first taste on your lips…

I could now sense the thickness or thinness… different smells, colors and even tastes in my sake… but I'm not so cultured that I could actually tell you what all those flavors or smells were.

In fact… all I knew about sake was that it was fermented rice… and I didn't even know what that meant.

My Mashiko pottery sake set. The  cups have never been used - because I tend to drink more than what each cup holds.
 I assumed it had standard Japanese fermented rice flavor. Rice tastes like rice… what's the big deal.

And then I read the most eye-opening book on Japanese culture (IE alcohol) that I have ever read: Sake Confidential, a "beyond the basics guide to Understanding, Tasting, Selection & Enjoyment' of sake.

Written by John Gauntner, and published by the fine folks over at Stone Bridge Press (who sent me a copy to review), I learned more about my favorite alcohol-based drink in three hours than in the previous 25 years of imbibing.

Sake Confidential - where have you been half my life?

Gauntner writes in a simple manner - as though he is talking just to you… I try to do the same.

I used to live two floors up from a sake shop, and when I stopped in to say hello every day, I would always marvel at the fantastic selection of sake bottles perched above and behind the shopkeeper.

I probably could have learned a lot from him about sake, but he spoke NO English, and I spoke next to NO Japanese. We always tried to communicate with each other (the fault is mine… I'm in Japan, and he was a WWII Japanese war vet)… but what always brought us closer was when he would close down the shop for the evening and drink with me.

He bade his wife to bring out Japanese nibble food, while he cracked open a bottle of three of the good sake… and for him, it wasn't the clear stuff… it was cloudy, and I didn't even know if it was expensive or not, but it tasted great!

Junmai sake - another pottery set of mine.

But now thanks to Sake Confidential, I have learned more about Japanese culture than I even knew existed.

Actually.. I knew it existed… I just thought it was information that wouldn't be privy to a non-Japanese!

What I found surprising, is that the whole industry of sake brewing doesn't appear to be very profitable! Breweries that make money have other businesses that do make money…

I also learned that there are very important distinctions between sake - two main ones, but it still allows for a thousand or more different flavors of sake. Who knew?

I also learned about how various ingredients and processes affect a sake's flavor, aroma and quality.

Rice. I really didn't know anything about rice - and now I do and want to learn more. I just thought that there was Japanese rice and that was it. Ignorant ol' me.

How the rice is milled, the yeast types, how the yeast is manipulated… temperature, storage… I didn't know sake could go bad in my cabinet! Apparently it does! I guess I should get rid of that bottle that's been open for six months or more… I just thought that alcohol would kill anything… Who knew?

Grades of sake?! Who knew?

What I did (past tense) know about sake could fit into a thimble. But no longer! Thanks to Sake Confidential - I know.

For anyone who is interested in learning all of sake's secrets; how the industry really works, as well as some history, well… let me just heartily recommend Sake Confidential (from Stone Bridge Press).

Now… Sake Confidential does use Japanese words, but author and sake connoisseur Gauntner does provide initial great explanations for each word.

There's even a glossary.

But that's where my complaint comes in - the glossary is at the back of the book, tucked between the last chapter and the Index. I never saw it until I finished the book!

I know sommmmme Japanese, but not a lot. I just wish I had found the glossary earlier.

Stone Bridge Press - I know the glossary is first listed in the Table of Contents page, but I didn't look at it. I'm unsure how many people do. Many, I suppose, so take my complaint with a grain of rice.

Me - why do I need the table of contents - I'm reading the book in order regardless of what you or the author has planned for me.

Still… for every Japanese-related book, I would humbly suggest a Glossary placed before Chapter 1. People will find it and use it. It's like the old Perry Mason books I used to read from Triangle (from the 30s and 40s)… a list of players in advance of the story. One knew it was there and could easily refer to it when confused about who which character was.

Issue Number 2 - and not a major one, I think. The author has included some sake labels within the chapters, and provides descriptions of what each of those sake's taste like.

Great, I suppose, because the Japanese brand name is given in English… but what I would have liked was perhaps arrows or something with English descriptions of what exactly the KANJI was on the label - to better help know just what we are looking for on the shelf.

It's a minor complaint(s), but hopefully my suggestions of correction are at least valid for the next printing.

Yet another sake cup I own. Geez,  do you think I like sake?
 To Michael of Stone Bridge Press - I understand why you believed this to be a great book.

Perhaps you do understand that I am the type of person who likes to know everything about a topic.

In my opinion, blogs, articles and news stories that only present part of the story are a waste of everyone's time. Give me as much information as possible. It's why you will rarely every get a short article from me.

I spend hours and hours researching an article that maybe only 100 people will read because I don't have the phrase "big boobs" in it - but whatever… I'd rather have someone - even one person read my blog for a full story - knowing I did it right.

I certainly hope many more of you loyal readers will consider purchasing the book - visit Stone Bridge Press for ordering of this and other great books on Japan: www.stonebridge.com.

Thanks to John Gauntner and his wonderful Sake Confidential book, I now know everything one gaijin could possibly know about the world of sake - at least on paper.

Now all I have to do is go and sample some quality sake. Thanks to Sake Confidential, I'm pretty sure I at least know what to look for.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Snapshot Of Kindness

Every once in a while besides the nice chats I have with you readers in the comments section, I get a nice surprise.

You know... those times when I'm not being called a racist or being bombarded by SPAM... 

Granted I am surprised anybody reads anything I write - but still, the nice surprise involves receiving something in the mail.

My friends at Stone Bridge Press have sent me a few books - though nothing recently, ahem - for review, which I do with relish.

(What's funny, is that after I wrote this blog back on Thursday last, Stone Bridge Press asked if I wanted another book to review - psychic!!!)

Others send me a book to review with the hopes that I can help them get either get more books sold for them - I'll try - or help them get in touch with a real publisher... such was the case for one writer and the folks at Stone Press... but more on that in a later blog.

And others... others just make my day, week, month, whatever.

Case in point Vinnie... whom I have know for about two years now... maybe just under that.

While I have mentioned him in the past for his daring do's of good deeds, sending books to the tsunami-ravished areas of Japan so the kids can learn English (and get the heck out of there - kidding)...and I have also mentioned that he sent me 20 books - still reading them - on Japan for me to read, some to keep, some to return when we meet or when I can dig up the return postage.

And then there are the times when he just flat out surprises me.

A couple of weeks ago, Vinnie sent out a book to me... no fan fare, no anything... just a here you go, Andrew... and the book, while a complete revelation - which has given me plenty of subjects to write about (later), also contained a second surprise...

Remember that Great Japanese Aviation Postcard Mystery he challenged me to solve? No - WTF?! Read that HERE - a crowning and crowing triumph for myself, in my own opinion. Anyhow, that mystery involved him sending me to scans - front and back - of a cool Japanese postcard.

He sent me the postcard.

I had no idea that he had even bought it, but he did, and sent it my way.

So... thank-you Vinnie, Vince, Vincent and Vinny. It was truly a golden moment for myself when I first laid eyes on it.

I truly treasure it.

He Vinnie... did you know that two of stamps on it were worth $4,000? Each.

Cheers,
Andrew "Just Kidding" Joseph 
PS - that image above is a selfie - how effing hard is it to get a photo where I don't look fat or have a fake smile?!!? One out of two, anyhow...
It's also 11PM... and that shave is well on the way to be required... please don't tell me I need two a days!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

1900s Japanese Postcard

Yesterday's blog actually took me longer to write, than it did to solve the mystery. Read about that awesome journey HERE

I'm probably too proud of that accomplishment, but I had a good day on Tuesday and only swore four times at work and only almost-died once driving to and from work on the highway. So win-win.

Monday was also a day I was in contact with to authors - Mary Adams Urashima whom I mentioned in the aviation postcard mystery and who thanked me for the mention of her book Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach. They other is the author of a book I am reading - self-published... and I am trying to hook him up with some publisher friends of mine at Stone Bridge Press. So... I'm happy, but tired. I'll provide a book review in a couple of days of the self-published book. Hush-hush for now.

One day, someone is going to ask to publish a book of mine or will ask if they can work with me to create a movie on my life in Japan. I wish - LOL!

Anyhow... I was working on something based on yet another e-mail from Vince, but I am feeling a bit tired and don't think I can do it justice at this time.

Instead, allow me to offer up a cool 1900s postcard featuring some Japanese women in kimono - hand-tinted.

Are these women geisha? I don't think so. I think they are just in standard old-fashioned white-face make-up - but man! those are beautiful kimono!

If you feel this is a bit of a let-down after yesterday's blog, trust me... I agree.

Still, let me recharge my batteries, and we'll be off on something fun and interesting tomorrow after I come back from a work road trip early in the morn.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph