Sunday, December 12, 2010

The comedy of a Sunday afternoon walk

All photos taken on a walk around the neighborhood



We have two options here:
1) This is Coffee House Brain, which is a horrible name and does nothing to suggest relaxing times sipping coffee, but rather brings to mind large gray slimy organs of cognitive import.

2) The random capitalization is not random and this is in face Coffee House Bra In. Which I guess is only slightly better in that it brings to mind breasts, but still not the relaxing coffee-sipping scene that we are hoping for.

The Japanese sign takes the guessing out of the equation and informs us it is choice one. Which makes us only wonder why the hell it was written out BRAin.

And wonder is all we can do as we move on to sample two:



This is why the placement of punctuation. matters



This sign means reads: Osama no Kakurega which means "Where Osama hides".

But before the CIA leaps into action it should be noted that Osama means king in Japanese (and technically it is a drawn out O sound like you are saying it twice as long).

It would still be amusing to see a swat team act on this bit of intelligence.

Luminarie

Pictures from the Luminarie festival in Kobe:

This is a festival of lights that takes place every year around Christmas (not to be confused with Hanukkah - the other festival of lights that takes place every year around Christmas).

Where as one celebrates the retaking of the temple in Jerusalem and some really long-burning oil, this was started after the Hanshin Earthquake as a way to perk up the city after the tragedy. Because nothing makes you forget about your lack of housing and water like some Italian made bulb-festooned woodworking.

However, that isn't to say that the whole thing isn't insanely beautiful - like something from a picture book.

For about 10 days, the lights are put up in an area around City Hall. The two main parts are the 'tunnel' which leads to the main venue, and the 'carousel' which sits in the center of the park by the city hall (I have no idea what these two parts are actually called).

This is the tunnel:



as you can see it is a series of gates placed over a street and stationed about 20 - 30 feet apart.



And this is what awaits at the end of the tunnel. I would say it was the light at the end of the tunnel but that would just be lazy writing. So I will allude to it instead as I just did.

moving on

There are two ways to get there:

1) The proper way - As this is all just placed in the middle of downtown there is a giant hour-and-a-half queue starting at the train station, zig-zagging around a number of blocks and leading through the tunnel of lights to the circle of lights.

This is all well and good except that a) The whole line up has the charm of a forced death march with constant whistle blowing and police on bullhorns shouting (politely) about moving forward and waiting at lights and not jumping the line. They even form a blinky-baton human wall that stretches across the street at intersections. and b) it is winter at night and very cold.

All this is to control the throngs:

video

And if all that doesn't sound like fun you can always get off one station earlier, walk underground for 10 minutes and pop up right in the middle of the event.

But either was is fine.

As this is a festival, there are lots of 夜店 (Yomise pron: Yo-me-say) which are food stalls selling a variety of portable dishes like Yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick), Kara-age (deep-fried chicken chunks) Kobe steak on a stick, fish-shaped cakes called Kasutera, hotdogs on sticks, Takoyaki (chunks of octopus in small balls of dough topped with mayonaise, sweet sauce, and dried bonito flakes - way better than it sounds). These little stalls wind all over the park around the lighting display giving the whole affair a very "welcome to Asia" feeling.



Kobe Steak!



Yakitori!



Humiliation!

Here are some more shots of the whole event:


In the center of the "carousel"


video

Panorama of the interior







Furu Pote: How do we not have these in America - It is French fries in a paper bag. You pour a powdered flavor on top and shake the bag to mix the flavor in. Here are the flavors presented at this stand (from left to right)
Barbecue
Soy Sauce and Mayonaise
Nori and salt
Aforementioned Takoyaki
Curry
Salt (ok - I think this one doesn't count)
Kimchi

Other flavors I have seen around Japan are: Mustard/Mayo, Black Pepper, Spicy Chili, Patte.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hanabi!

Hanbi (花火) is Japanese for fireworks. Literally it is flower-fire. Nice!

Summer is the season for fireworks displays in Japan and each city of reasonable size puts on a display. In the months leading up to these events, you can pick up newspapers dedicated to the upcoming pyro-gasm which provide locations, dates, number of rockets to be launched, and recommendations for dining (It's like the fantasy football guide to explosions).

The biggest around here is actually run by a quasi-religious group which launches about 100,000 shots meaning they start the show at 10AM before anything can be seen, but certainly heard (I guess God knows it's happening?) To me this is like getting all the fat from a hamburger without any of that annoying flavor or enjoyment.

The biggest non-deity related display is in Osaka and is called the Yodogawa Daikai.

I have the good fortune of knowing a couple who lives on the 10th floor of a building situated right in front of the spot on the Yodo river from which the shots are fired.

My completely inadequate linguistic skills would do a massive disservice to the glory of the event so in lieu I have uploaded a movie from the event.

Enjoy


video

This was from the middle - the whole event lasted about an hour.

Here is what I call 'suckers' streaming from the event like ants from a garden-hose induced tsunami (I am so sorry to the ants of my youth).

Who wants free alcohol with no id check?

How to get the ever-loving crap sued out of you in the states:

serve free alcohol to a group of passersby with no license or id check like this smiling temptress of the liquid mind-hammer.



By the way - civilization did not come to a horrific and immediate end following this encounter. But the afternoon was more enjoyable!

Fun with the language

The word for cavity in Japanese is "mushiba" 虫歯

the characters translate to "bug teeth"

much more frightening than a fancy-pants word for 'hole'.

How Japan works: part 1 - Healthcare

As most of my readers are US-based and are about to have their health care reform repealed faster than two-day old curry following a tequila shot contest, I thought I would explain how health care works in the People's Republic of Japan.

Each month the modest sum of about 3% of my paycheck is withdrawn for my national health insurance. This rate is adjusted to income levels so if you regularly bathe in a golden tub, you are probably paying more. As a lowly English teacher, it works out to about $100 a month (although given that the dollar is as strong as my average poker hand, it's more like $130).

In exchange for this contribution, the government picks up 70% of the medical bills I rack up. This includes dental. Some of the bills I have faced include:

molar filling: $14
benign tumor removal from leg: $150
two wisdom teeth removed plus medicine: $58
doctor consultation: $4
regular teeth cleaning: $11

These prices all strike me as profoundly reasonable.

And for those of you now thinking 'Yes, but didn't you face Soviet-breadline-style waits in dark and dank bunkers of depressive socialism?' I would point to the fact that the last hospital I visited had automated check-in and a player piano plucking out Elton John tunes in the lobby and my average dental appointment wait time has been negative 5 minutes. (that is, if I am early, they are ready to point blue lasers at my cavities and fill them with space-age polymers).

And while my initial consultation involved a rather lengthy wait, when was the last time your scheduled doctors appointment occurred withing an hour of you walking through the door?

That's right! despite what Glen Beck's weepy chalkboard-directed diatribes may indicate, a national health care system does not necessarily require you to address your physician as 'comrade' and submit to dentistry-by-hammer (or hammer and sickle).

Not that all is perfect here of course. One friend had knee surgery and was told to endure without sufficient pain killers. And another doctor who looked like he had enjoyed his (and my) share of bourbon over the astronomical number of years he had been stuffing his maw with rice balls, insisted on jabbing a needle into a lump he was positive was filled with liquid (it was not) despite my assurances that it was in fact solid (it was).

However, I have the choice (yes, that's right, I can choose where to get my medical treatment since hospitals and clinics are largely private - they are simply reimbursed by the government) to avoid certain facilities and spend my yen at the hospital with the robot-piano and HAL-tastic check in procedures.

The key to happy treatment seems to be youth.

The older doctors have a bedside manner that would make Hannibal Lecter blush and the unwavering insistence in their convictions reminiscent of a typical American Idol audition contestant. However, the younger doctors are much better and willing to talk to you, listen to your input, and explain the procedure (as well as use as much anesthetic as you need).

Getting better every year!

Too Long

I could explain how I have been busier than a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest, but that wouldn't excuse my extreme delinquency in updating the blog. And I could further promise future diligence in updating but hollow promises are about as attractive as sun-baked kimchi-stuffed rats.

So let's just get back to business and dispense with the bullshit

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Photos from a not-so-recent trip!



The Jolly Green Giant's juicing half-brother and a nautically themed dildo welcome you to this ferry running between one tiny boring island and another!

Everything must have eyes!



This omelet-rice was completely lacking in any human-like facial features. So I used ketchup to attempt to help this omelet-rice express its thoughts about being my dinner. Apparently it wasn't happy about the idea. Fortunately it didn't have any tomato-based appendages or vocal cords, so this wasn't much of an obstacle to overcome.

Yay Japanese Marketing Pt. IV



Of course retard as a verb means to slow down, and power means...well, power, so in essence, this is a very appropriate name in terms of conveying this breaking systems effectiveness, but perhaps the fact that this name is so hilarious to native speakers that they lean out of car windows on the highway and risk cracking a $400 camera in order to get a shot of it for a blog that is read by approximately no one, is a sign that you need to change your name.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Duh!





In the harbor of the town I visited in Hiroshima about 100 years ago, there were these completely safe-looking docks. Clearly discarded Styrofoam and bits of unused wood tied together with rope of questionable strength and composition are a top-notch system for dock construction, but JUST to be super safe, they decided to post a small sign that said "危険" (kiken) or "dangerous". Not that such a over-protective bit of visual warning is really necessary for such a clearly sturdy piece of nautical boat-boarding equipment.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Most Japanese Thing I Have Ever Done, Pt. 3 - Super Delayed Edition

I previously began writing about a trip with my coworkers and boss to a resort in Hiroshima under the theme of the most Japanese thing I every did. Which in fact it is. Now one month delayed, I think it is best to just hit the highlights.

Starting with dinner (this was only an overnight trip)

This area was known for one thing - Red Snapper and Homeishu (保命酒) - lit. life perserving liquor

Two things - this area was known for two things - Red Snapper and Homeishu (保命酒) - lit. life perserving liquor, and Sakamoto Ryoma, a famous guy who did something important I can't remember but you can read about here

Three thing - this area was known for three thing - Red Snapper and Homeishu (保命酒) - lit. life perserving liquor, and Sakamoto Ryoma, a famous guy who did something important I can't remember but you can read about here, and being the setting for the Miyazaki film Ponyo

Four things! But back to red snapper - dinner was definitely not for people who dislike fish:







Aside from the usual assortment of cooked and raw seafood, there was another aspect to the meal which was a first to me: eating a living shrimp. Pull the head off, and down the hatch - surprisingly delicious.

All this was followed by a lion dance!


video

To be continued...

How to skew your average life span upward and make bank!

Japan is semi-legendary for the long-livedness of its inhabitants. While people stateside are dropping dead(1) of coronaries at 32 after essentially main-lining saturated fats and nacho cheese at a Herculean rate, the Japanese regularly live to 284 on a diet of fish, rice, seaweed and cigarettes.

BUT perhaps a look behind the curtain will reveal that the number of centurions living on this fair isle are not as high as once supposed.

The latest scandal to rock the very foundations of Japanese society is the discovery that hundreds of families have simply buried grandma and promptly failed to inform the government allowing them to continue to collect on her pension. Now every town and city is hustling to verify that the woman born back during the Tokugawa shogunate is in fact living at the address where the government checks are being sent each month. Apparently in one actual case, there was a resident who was supposedly 150 on the books, but no one thought to check this out, or call the Guinness Book for that matter. Not surprisingly, no one was able to locate this Oriental Methuselah.

Nevertheless, they are still outliving us western-types so perhaps it is time to unplug the pork rind IV.

(1) I suppose at 342 pounds you are more "tipping over" dead than dropping.

It's Back On!

One of the beautiful parts of an English teaching job in Japan - if you are lucky - is some serious vacation time at full pay. I distinctly remember swearing up and down that the month of August would not be spent in idle pursuits but rather would be focused and dedicated to a long laundry list of activities and endeavors all aimed at improving myself as a human being. But then I got a good book.

And another.

And rediscovered Mystery Science Theater 3000.

And then realized that my complete lack of productivity was in no way interfering with the impending bank transfer that is my monthly salary.

So I did nada aside from finally taking care of some medical and dental business (yay health insurance) and finally getting my Japanese drivers license (as of today).

But now reality and work have returned and my screwing around genes have started to go regressive so back to letting the world know about Japan one questionable factoid at at time!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Most Japanese Thing I Have Ever Done, Pt. 2



Since I work at a public school and promotions/placements are decided by the BOE (1), there is little point to sucking up and participating in the office trip, thus we were a mere nine souls rolling down the highway for Hiroshima (2) on that crotch-meltingly hot summer's day. But thankfully at least three of those folks had bladders the size of a grape so we were able to stop at absolutely every single rest area between northern Osaka and Hiroshima (3) which should be a four hour drive but why not make it six!

The rest stops however are a delight.



For starters there is the food - nary a McDonald's or Roy Rogers in sight! Instead we actually had lunch at a restaurant.


(4)

Also - clean bathrooms, and coffee vending machines where you can control the amount of sugar and milk, as well as convenience stores, soft-serve ice cream, and local souvenirs (called omiyage) so you can have an answer to the kids' question "what did you get me!?"

Tomorrow, we may actually get to the part where we are in Hiroshima...

(1) Board of Education - not every one has a joke, sorry
(2) Hiroshima means "wide island", and for the record Tokyo (東京) means "east capital", Kyoto (京都) means "capital city", and Nagasaki (長崎) "long cape" - the geographical kind, not the clothing. But along with the literal names come some interesting ones like Tottori (鳥取) which means "bird take", Iwate (岩手) which means "rock hand" and Chiba (千葉) which means "1,000 leaves" - although to think that Japanese people take these more fanciful name literally would be a mistake.
(3) The highway system in Japan is all toll roads so the rest areas are all built on the highway - no pulling off and hunting for something.
(4) Bonus! The Japanese are strangely known for mopping the floors with us when it comes to eating contests - TV is lousy with teeny tiny people eating comical amounts of food - apparently this restaurant played host to such an event:



She ate two of these - can't wait to bring her home to mom!

The Most Japanese Thing I Have Ever Done, Pt. 1

This mark --> (1) will be for footnotes. I think my wild tangents have been making the reading as smooth as a bike ride on train tracks, so look for the numbers in parentheses and check at the bottom for more boring and flawed insights!

Last week I did something more Japanese than anything I have ever done before. But of course I can't just tell you what that is without a profoundly long-winded and round-about back story. So grab some popcorn, crack a beer (or soda) and possibly skip ahead to where the pretty photos are to save yourself three minutes you are never getting back (I try and stay true to the subtitle of this blog).

In Japanese the word for society is shakai (社会) and the word for company is kaisha (会社) which are the same two characters in reverse. Much has been made (2) of this in the sense that the company is in fact your entire life. Of course we have all heard of lifetime employment, although even Japan has been trimming back on that in recent years. In some cases the company even provides your wife (3). Your are there from dawn til dusk most days, and when the boss finally knocks off at around 8:00, you all go drinking together until you stumble home around 12:00 only to rise at 6:00 the next morning to live the dream all over again. Your whole life - social, romantic, economic - was centered around the company, so it should come as no surprise that Office vacations are a common practice. Why plan your own trip to somewhere you want to go when you can let the collective hivemind decide for you! Hate skiing? Tough shit slope-a-phobe! You better buck up and participate if you want to show the boss you have the right spirit! Hot springs not your bag? Better grin and prepare to see all your same-gender coworkers in the buff or you can count on low-level middle management for the rest of your life!

So if you haven't guessed, I participated in this years Office trip, not because I am in line for a promotion (4), but because I had read about them and thought it would be a good experience (5).

And so two Saturdays ago, I found myself in a car bound for coastal Hiroshima prefecture, for two days, one night, and a figurative mountain of Red Snapper.

More in the next post!

(1) See! First one!
(2) I read this once in a book somewhere, so "much" may be overstating it. But inaccuracy is the hallmark of this blog.
(3) Not really in the contract negotiations, but in the sense that your future cohabitant may well be one of the lovely OL (office ladies) puttering around and serving tea and hot photocopies.
(4) We Assistant Language Teachers serve at the pleasure of the Board of Education, just like the federal attorneys, but with less Alberto Gonzales - so really a step up!
(5) The $250 price tag for one night was NOT mentioned at the time of registration

Monday, July 19, 2010

The world's most delicious commercial.

This past weekend, I made a visit to the Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda, where I take the train everyday. I had seen this place on TV, and it was often listed as a top destination for foreign visitors so I figured it was worth a visit.

Now, before you think this is a museum about all instant ramen as this sign might lead you to believe:



It is in fact an entire museum dedicated to and built by the company Nissin (日清) and their founder Ando Momofuku, making it one massive (and delicious) commercial for the company. Admittedly, these guys pretty much have cornered the market on instant ramen so the name is not a complete lie.

Here is a statue of Mr Ando holding a package of his original invention, "Chikin Ramen" (in case you though poor spelling of English was something new over here)



The museum is free and most of the displays are just terminals where you can watch old commercials, or look at massive models of Cup Noodle or noodle cutting machines or learn how the noodles are put into a cup (cup on the noodles, not noodles into the cup - and I'll understand if you need to sit down and have a break after hearing that).

There is also the "Instant Ramen Theater" featuring God-knows-what as I didn't really have any desire at all to see dancing cups of mono-sodium-glutamate, but next to it was the entralling "Instant Ramen Tunnel" showing all the products produced by Nissin since 1958:

video

There are also displays of overseas products such as this unfortunate entry from Brazil:



And of course for there is the savior of all college students:



However, the reason for any trip to the Instant Ramen Museum is to visit one of the "kitchens"

There are two kitchens - one where you can make your own pack of chicken - excuse me, 'chikin' ramen (however, this is booked up for the next 3 months), and another where you can make a custom Cup Noodle. (called Cup Noodles in the US since Japanese doesn't have plurals for nouns).

The wait for this was around 100 minutes but at 300 yen (around $3) per custom cup it was quite a deal.

First you buy your cup(s) and then go to a table where you can (to quote the literature "design your cup") which is really a long table with some markers where you can color them.



Here are the results of our decorating:



After decorating you get to wait in line and contemplate what flavor soup you want, and what ingredients you want to add (choose four).



The choices for soup are:
Original, Seafood, Curry, and Salt

The choices for ingredients are:

shrimp, pork, egg, scallion, fish-sausage slice, potato
asparagus, cheddar cheese, imitation crab, kimchi, (today's special - bacon)

First you add the noodles by turning a cranks that rotates a drum and pushes the noodles into the cup:

video

Then you choose your ingredients:



The cup then gets sealed:


video

And then shrink-wrapped



Then you put the cup into a plastic bag which you inflate with a hand pump



Tada! - your own custom Cup Noodle!

Worth all 100 minutes of waiting - although the proof of the noodle is in the tasting.

Yay Japanese Marketing Pt. III

As gambling is illegal in Japan (not including national lotteries, scratch tickets, and horse racing) there is, for those with the urge to flush huge sums down a toilet without the damage to plumbing systems, pachinko, which provides endless hours of entertainment to those with the mental acuity of fruit (no offense meant to fruit). Pachinko is a game where a machine sucks up 10,000 yen notes like a vacuum on a late-night infomercial, and in return, it provides a small amount of ball bearings. These are fed into a large hole and are then shot out the top of what is always described as a pinball machine turned vertical. They then tumble down through a series of pegs, bouncing this way and that, until they eventually land in one of several holes. The player has some small amount of control over the speed at which the balls are shot out by means of a small doorknob-like device, but your choice of speed ranges from high speed to ever-so-slightly less than high speed (no doubt the quicker to separate you from your balls - make your own joke here). If you do manage (and by you I mean complex Newtonian physics beyond your calculation) manage to get a ball into certain holes, you are rewarded with even more silver balls.

Modern machines are similar to Vegas slot machines with the player having control over holding certain conditions etc., and these machines are called pachisuro, a portmanteau of pachinko and slot (pronounced, suroto). Pachinko parlors are usually deafeningly loud, smokey, and lit to induce seizures with blaring techno, pulsing lights, and seven lit cigarettes for each player. The balls can not be exchanged for money since gambling is illegal (aside from horse racing, the national lotto, scratch tickets, and boat racing which I previously forgot to mention). The balls can be traded for prizes and there are small storefronts, often little more than a literal hole-in-the-wall, that are desperate for such prizes and will pay money for them. These operations are located separate from, but conveniently next to, the parlor. So everything is clearly above the board.

Now where does the header of this post come into play?


Well, there are many parlors which call themselves pachisuro or sometimes Pachinko and Slot (because they have traditional slot machines that work on the same balls-prizes-cash triangular trade). One I pass everyday bears this awesome name:



Thank you for staying with me all the way for that punchline - hope it was worth it

Thursday, July 15, 2010

URLs and Japanese writing - Like Ike and Tina Turner: an untennable combination

ワワワ。東京三菱銀行。コム

This is what the internet must look like to those who are not born and raised on the Roman alphabet (which judging from my analytics report is a small percentage of readers.) Those of us tutored in the ways of the ABCs are fortunate for two reasons: first is that our compact 26 letter Roman alphabet is so compatible with the binary-centric world of computers. And second, that the Internet was developed by ABCers.

For example, my name "Dan" in ASCII text converted to binary is

"0100010001100001011011100000110100001010"

But when converted to a katakana reading as ダン (Katakana by the way is the Japanese writing system now primarily used for writing foreign words like my name) the binary representation is

”0010011000100011001100010011001000110100
00111000001100000011101100100110001000110
01100010011001000110101001100110011000100
111011”

which is just over 3x the number of ones and zeros despite being only two characters.

(Serious diversion alert: This is probably an extremely boring, mildly technical and profoundly wrong explanation of what the previous means - if you are following feel free to skip ahead to the ASCII smiley face)

ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) is the name of the numerical code used by computers to understand numbers, letters and punctuation marks. Since "A" doesn't mean crap to a computer, it is converted to a code of zeros and ones. With a set of 52 letters (caps and lowercase), 10 digits, and a handful of punctuation marks the binary code for each can be much shorter since the grand total comes in at 95 printable characters. (yes, since 2007 the internet uses UTF-8, but from the seven seconds I spent reading about it on wikipedia, they seem to be fairly similar, one is 7-bit, the other is 8-bit; go shout it from a mountain).
Since ASCII doesn't have Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, the Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, Thai, or Korean alphabets (etc. ad nauseam). It converts them into a five digit numerical code which then is converted into binary. The crux of it all is that they use up loads more memory since there are over 2,000 standard characters in Japanese, and over 10,000 in Chinese.

: )

welcome back. All this goes to say that URLs are not necessarily the easiest things for non-ABC users to commit to memory. While we in the ABC world can see www.Honda.com, or (in the case of the opening salvo) www.Tokyo-MitsubishiBank.com and remember it as a word, for others it is a matter of memorizing a string of, at worst, meaningless, and at best, begging to be misspelled, characters. And we all know what Firefox, Chrome, and IE think about misspellings: Tethered Swimming (Simpsons fans you're welcome)

So what does this mean for Japanese marketers eager to get customers to a website? it means "検索" or, kensaku, which is Japanese for "search" (in terms of google or yahoo that is)

Most TV or billboard ads don't give a URL, rather they give an image of a term entered into a search box with a kensaku button next to it telling the viewer to go the the search engine of their liking and enter that term (you can of course search in any language you like) to find the webpage you are looking for.

Here's the kicker - this means your company must be on top of SEO (Search Engine Optimization*) like a casino on a card counter. You must know the Google search algorithm like a 12-year-old at a madras knows the Koran. Except it isn't published and it changes all the time (the algorithm that is, not the Koran). Imagine you make a billboard telling potential customers to search for Nakamura Construction, but then all of a sudden some ass-hat with the last name Nakamura murders the head of another famous construction company - very likely stories related to Nakamura and his 9-iron-to-the-head antics will quickly surpass your website sending your potential customers straight to the website of some paparazzi orgy of innuendo, gory details, and questionable police photographs.

And you just paid for all that.

Next time you curse phonics, just think of that, and what your life would be like entering urls like the one at the top.

*Enough with the intrusive asides - SEO is the manipulation and modification of a webpage to ensure it is the first result returned by a search engine. It is generally influenced by textual content, page title, visitor traffic, external links, frequency of update, and other factors.

Monday, July 5, 2010

This is Why We Can't Have Anything Nice!

So perhaps my last few posts have been less than praise-full of Japan. One might say they have bordered on the somewhat critical. Perhaps you ask, "why would he willingly subject himself to living in such an insane place?"

to which I respond:

A) Is the place you live so inanity-free? Things I can now go through my day without hearing include (but are not limited to) discussions about how socialist the concept of public healthcare is; extremely loud cellphone conversations held on the bus; anything to do with the last season of "Lost"; any mention of the Tea Party movement at all; a complete absence of Glen Beck in all forms.

B) The insanity, be it as it may, is generally more on the side of amusing, and less on the side of spirit crushing.

C) The food is really really tasty without the risk of your heart tweeting about an 'epic fail'.

In addition to the complete lack of overt banality, comes a society filled with features that only make life as an ordinary citizen a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Exhibit A) Public restrooms that are clean, and available for use without purchase of anything, or prostrate begging for a key attached to the hub cab of a 1970s boat-car. Guess what the streets don't smell like (hint: rhymes with and is spelled the same as "piss")

Exhibit B) Store clerks who will never regard your patronage as some unconscionable intrusion on their mobile-device-facebook-update personal time, conveniently being taken at the precise moment you so rudely wanted a coffee.

Exhibit C) Public transit that puts a public library to shame in terms of cleanliness, comfort, and quietness.

And for more on C, see below...



This is an interior shot of the bus I take everyday from the train station to school - the seats are, as they appear to be, plush and soft and have never been within a mile of a injection-molded plastic machine. Now, we too could have such soft and supple posterior support if we could just resist the need to carve our names into every surface that ever presented itself to our stars-and-stripes loving asses. The bus has many other features that make MUNI (SF pub. bus) look like a rickshaw service crossed with a pyramid scheme and a severe understanding of entropy.

One would be punctuality. Despite winding mountain roads and unpredictable gravel trucks, my bus manages to arrive at the 30 minute-hence bus stop within a two minute window every day and never leaves late.

Second would be adequate air conditioning - much appreciated in the flop-sweat inducing summers of Japan

Third would be change-making technology that most public US buses resist like the USSR resisted the White Album (it's good, it won't destroy you, and everyone wants it)
You can throw in 1,000 yen and get not only change, but a mixture of coins that will allow you to pay any fare exactly (fares are based on distance traveled, which you show by presenting a ticket you grab when boarding - the ticket is printed with a different number at each stop to keep you honest), you can also break a 500 yen coin in a similar fashion - and this wonder-machine is planted at the front of every bus ready to make your day that much easier - never a need to beg some half-witted shop-keep to make change while they smugly explain to you that they are not a bank, just in case you though the Sunrise Deli was a major financial institution.

Ahhh...good to be back....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

James Bond is a Moron

James Bond once commented on the perfect temperature for sake (by the way - it's pronounced Sa-kay, not "Sa-kee" which means "earlier" or "before") - After some inane banter about how women come second if at all, he mentions the ideal temperature sake.

Well that is a load of unchi - There are apparently a number of temperatures at which sake can be served. First there is reishu (冷酒), which is chilled sake - ideally served at around 10 degrees centigrade (use the converter at the bottom for Fahrenheit)

Next is straight from the bottle or hiya (ひや)

From there to James Bond's malarkey are a number of levels with a variety of names. The next one I could find was called hito no hada (人の肌) meaning a person's skin - roughly 30 degrees or so.

Then comes nurukan (ぬる燗) which is luke warm - around 40 - 50 degrees

Finally is atsukan (熱燗 ) which is the real hot stuff around 70

There are a variety of levels in between to suit people's tastes. Apparently one trick to getting more bang for your yen is to order one temperature and whinge about it being too hot or cold and getting them to top it off with a bit more of a lower/higher temperature.

The great thing about atsukan is that even the grungiest gutter sake is palatable at these high temperatures.

For the lower temperatures, especially hiya and reishu, you need to have the good stuff or else the bite is a bit much.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Forgivness Please

With end of term tests approaching I have been buried at work so the posts have been postponed but I will be back in action shortly - many things to talk about so please check back throughout this week. Hoping to avoid Karoshi (working to death) in the mean time!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When Textbooks go horribly wrong

From the depths of Mombukagakusho (文部科学省) – the Ministry of Science, Culture, and Education, we now join a meeting already in progress, where the brightest minds of pedagogical science are currently approving the always grammatically questionable pages of the latest middle school English text book:

English Textbook Approval Board Sub-Section Chief Nakamura speaks:

Gentlemen, that concludes our twenty-six page coverage of the grammatical structure of kantanbun or exclamatory sentences, a structure so frequently used in English conversation (at least according to last year’s textbooks) and so fiendishly difficult in its construction that it requires at least four weeks of intensive study. Or as the text would say – “What a useful grammar point!”…yes, yes, calm down, I know it was a terribly clever joke, but back to business and let us continue with the next section where we will impart the critically important meireibun or imperative sentence structure, a structure no decent future captain of industry can go without. So Mr. Takahara, why don’t you start off with the example sentences you have prepared.

Deputy English Approval Board Divisional Vice-Chairman for Questionable Examples Takahara:

Ah, yes most honorable sub-section chief Nakamura. Well, I have constructed four good examples of imperative sentences that I humbly offer for your consideration, along with illustrations to help reinforce the meanings.

First we have “Don’t touch.”


Nakamura: I hear that all the time from the schoolgirls on the subway!

Takahara: We all do sir. Now, for this sentence we have an image of a man warning a child not to touch the wet paint on a fence. For no particular reason we have included an additional picture of a boy with incredibly long arms doing the dance from the Thriller video.


Nakamura: Very good, moving on.

Takahara: Indeed. Next we have the sentence “Walk.”

For this we have an image of a woman dragging a child across the street. We don’t know why the child is sitting in the road impersonating a kettle, so to help clarify we have another image of a boy doing the Robot from Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto, so that is two obscure 80’s references in one section.

Nakamura: Excellent, these obscure references will really drive the point home I’m sure.

Takahara: You are too kind sir. Now for number three, we have “Write your name.”

For this illustration we have a child whose head has gone completely backwards on their shoulders as if…

Nakamura: Ah! The Exorcist – it’s like The Exorcist!

Takahara: Your astute observations are indeed the reason you have risen to such a high position. That and your superior age. And as you can see we now have three examples that somehow reference the music and film of the 80’s.

Nakamura: Wasn’t The Exorcist from 1973?

Takahara: Ah, yes, well Exorcist III was from 1990, which is technically the last year of the 80’s according to extremely persnickety people like me who celebrated the new millennium in 2001 alone in a basement shunned by normal people.

Nakamura: My heart swells with pride – you have truly outdone yourselves.

Takahara: I grudgingly accept your effusive kindness though I am in no way worthy of such words from you sir. Now, for the last example, we have the sentence “Read this book.” For this illustration we have chosen a picture of a man menacingly pointing to a copy of his book “My Life” with a dark shadow across his face…and a tiny moustache.

Nakamura: Hmmm…he looks familiar…was he in an 80’s movie too?

Takahara: No, no, this was just a completely random image our boys in the graphics department cooked up…no references to anything here.

Nakamura: But…there is something familiar about him nonetheless, like he is the kind of person who could really give an order.

Takahara: Yes, well, the boys upstairs are very good. But again, completely fictional and not based in any way whatsoever on a real person.

Nakamura: That moustache…that book title…My Life…My Struggle…Mein Kampf – Good God Takahara! That’s Hitler!

Takahara: I don’t know this Mr. Hitler of whom you speak.

Nakamura: You are proposing that we put Hitler in our textbooks as an example of imperative sentences?!

Takahara: Again, no idea what you are talking about…sir.

Nakamura: Surely you jest! The most infamous mass murderer of the 20th century? The instigator of the Second World War (which is not to be confused with the War of the Pacific where we honorably defended our homeland by conquering half of Asia) will be in our textbooks threatening our children to read his racist diatribe as a grammar point?! Are you mad!?

Takahara: Is there a problem with this sir?

Nakamura: Of course there is a problem!! He has absolutely nothing to do with the 80’s! You know the criterion for use in our textbooks – it must make references to outdated popular culture, and for this book we are going all 80’s – why else would all our photos of foreigners feature people with feathered hair and tight jeans sitting in a kitchen with earth tones, and those Scandinavian ski sweaters ?


Takahara: Well, he made a cameo in Last Crusade in 1989…remember – he signs Indiana Jones’ father’s diary at the book burning?

Nakamura: Oh does he? Well, in that case – as long as he meets the criterion, I can see no possible problem with using Hitler in our textbooks. I mean, he did give a lot of orders and this is the chapter on imperative sentences - Hitler approved!


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Toweriffic!

Nobody likes a good tower like my lovely compatriots here in the land of the rising sun. Every town worth its rice harvest has thrown up some stately phallus to show the rest of Japan just how in league with the steel and concrete industry they are. The most famous is of course the Tokyo Tower, which is also the Jeopardy “answer” to the “question”.

The Eiffel Tower is most commonly mistaken for this by Japanese people under the age of twenty, despite one being a classic bronze color, and the other being painted like a road flare.


Clearly not the Eiffel Tower


It stands a majestic 333 meters (165 pints) and was built in 1958 (assuming anything on Wikipedia is true - but if you think I am doing any more diligent research then you clearly have no idea what this blog is about: glaring inaccuracy and poor punctuation).


However, as mentioned, most municipalities with running water and a population topping six have some form of tower.


There is the Osaka Tower - The result of a space shuttle gantry mating with a complete lack of imagination - a paltry 102 meters (75 degrees F) - hardly befitting of Japan's second largest city, and a structure so unimposing that despite living seven years in the Osaka area I didn't know it existed until tonight:


Not featured on any postcards ever


Then there is the Yokohama Tower at 106 meters (478 troy ounces) - which just looks like it was never quite completed.


One pointy bit away from proper tower-dom


The Sapporo Tower at 147 meters (5 fortnights) - because whatever Tokyo can do, Sapporo can do smaller and somehow uglier. I imagine the construction went as such:

Aoki: Hello Mr. Hashimoto!

Hashimoto: Good Day Mr. Aoki, what are you working on there?

A: Why these are the plans to the new Sapporo Tower, the pride of Hokkaido!

H: What a smashing pile of steel and such!

A: And what are you working on these days?

H: Why these are the plans for a container ship we are constructing to help send our superior electronic goods to all corners of the globe!

A: Brilliant - well, I won't keep you

{Heads bump in a poorly executed bow - briefcase contents spill across the floor}

H: My word! How horribly clumsy of me

A: Never! It was completely my fault

H: I think I have all my pages for the container ship.

A: And I believe I have all my tower documents - good day!


(1 year later)


A: Sweet merciful crap! We seem to have built a ship's bridge into the middle of our tower! Well, let's call it an observation deck and be done with it!

Aoki's subordinate: Sir, it's only seventeen meters off the ground, the lower level's view is threatened by a not-particularly tall pine tree...and it's green.

A: Well, be that as it may, I am observing your insubordinate ass making his way to the unemployment line tomorrow morning.

The digital clock adds what we call "class"


Moving on we have the Kyoto Tower at 131 meters (67 fathoms) - which I think is kind of cool in a "World of Tomorrow" way except that:

a) You can't stick your tower on top of a 9 story building and then claim to be 131 meters tall just like you can't get your height measured at the doctor's while on stilts.

b) This is the first thing you see when you exit Kyoto station. Kyoto prides itself on being the traditional city with small winding streets and a still somewhat active geisha district. The city is lousy with temples, shrines, and history. It is the former capital (although a quick peek through Japanese history will show that just about every town was at one point the capital) - yet your first view of this bastion of antiquity is a "131" meter concrete rod with an orange doughnut crammed on top.


No city escaped the sixties really - it's like a giant birthday candle on your tragedieth birthday cake


Hey! It's the Chiba port tower! It took me longer to type that sentence than it did to design this piece of crap!


Proposed Motto: "Showing what you can do with a straightedge, a pencil, and 34 seconds"


Living in Kobe, I may be biased, but in my profoundly subjective opinion, the only tower worthy of a refrain from mockery is the Kobe Port Tower.


But be that as it may, I still have to admit that it looks a lot like a massive 108 meter (75 furlongs) Chinese finger trap.


At least it isn't shaped like the Eiffel Tower


There are countless others (Nagoya, Hakata, Beppu) but most are increasingly miniature versions of the Eiffel Tower.


which brings us to our point (hell yeah there's a point) - Most of there are Transmitting towers for TV and radio stations, meaning that as ugly as a lot of them are, they are ostensibly serving some function (function before form?) And since we all know that terrestrial TV and radio are the wave of the future, it makes absolute perfect sense that the government is sinking roughly elebenty squajillion yen into the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree, which will top out at nearly 700 meters - almost 2100 feet (twice the height of the current Tokyo Tower) - Scheduled for completion in 2012 it is currently at about 370 meters. It will serve the fifty-six remaining people in Tokyo who don't have cable or satellite TV.


Now competing for the number one ranking in "places you better pray to the deity of your choice that you are not near when Tokyo finally gets that massively overdue earthquake."