Saturday, December 31, 2011

This dish features some of the aforementioned items I was unable to identify.

There are obviously carrots and peas in a pod. The gray flower-shaped items were koyadoufu
(高野豆腐) which is a type of tofu I have never encountered. The green/white/orange pieces in the bottom right are all pieces of konnyaku (蒟蒻) which is inexplicably translated as "devil's tongue" making it sound profoundly evil. Although in fact it is merely a potato-based gelatin which is as far from Satan as I can conceive for a food product. The unknown object was the quarter circle items to the top left. Those are pieces of ebi-imo (海老芋) which means shrimp-potato. So-called because when unprepared, they have crescent-shaped black curves on their skin that resemble the shell of a shrimp.

Moving on...

This is a red sake made from red rice (赤飯).

I was told it tastes like wine in one of the more inaccurate statements I have ever been lucky enough to hear in my life. However, it was rather tasty so I shouldn't complain.

More to eat on New Year's Eve

When we get down in America, we get down. When there is a party or event to be had, we go balls-out when it comes to food. We wrap shit in bacon, we deep fry things that are technically speaking, a cookie, we invent new animals because apparently nature failed to supply something savory enough (see: Turducken - A turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken)

Turducken: Because God completely failed to predict the American palate - omniscient my ass

And even after creating that poultry-based version of the Human Centipede we somehow decide that that still isn't enough so we wrap a turducken in bacon to create a turbaducken:

When your holiday meal is one participant up on the monstrosity created in "Human Centipede (First Sequence)" you know you are on to something truly special

Now let us take a moment to consider the Japanese New Year's meal. We have already seen that it starts with a bit of soba (which is a buckwheat noodle for the record).

Next we move on to the main course:

We put a chicken in a duck in a turkey. Here it is tuna, squid, and small portions...with no bacon. We can now officially stop doing news broadcasts wondering why we are so fat and just look at this picture.

Here is the main dish we all get...

7 things not to bring to a tailgate outside San Francisco.

More more more...later later later...

Toshi Koshi Soba

年越しそば (Toshikoshi soba - lit. beyond the year soba) is a common dish to eat on New Year's eve. The reason for soba is that it is long and thin - which is how your life should be. Long and not too strenuous. The opposite would be a fat and thick life, for which we turn to James Dean as our model.

The noodles represent your ideal way of living

He represents the opposite of soba noodles.

New Year's Countdown

Well, it's that time of year again - 御正月 (Oshougatsu - New Year!) The time of year where we look back and reflect on all that has passes in the past year: The great earthquake in Hokuriku, the epic collapse of the Red Sox in September, and the passing of Kim Jong-Il (or as reported in the North Korean news "Dear Leader Heroically Slain Single-Handedly Defending Our Glorious Paradise Against a Horde of 50 Meter Ameri-Bots")

And New Year's means eating and drinking until both activities seem repulsive to you at which point you continue to do both.

It all started with a trip to the Nishiki (錦) Market in Kyoto. This market is open year-round, but becomes more clogged that Uncle Phil's arteries after 55 years of triple cheese burgers around New Year's.

This picture completely undercuts my above statement, but you can just make out where the crowd starts beyond the shoe store, and you can see that there this isn't exactly a wide open passage that allows for throngs to easily maneuver.

Now after 8 years in Japan, I thought I had a pretty good handle on most of the culinary offerings of Japan, but my "I know what that is" ratio dropped to about 1:2 at this market. There was 海鼠 (namako - sea cucumber, though the kanji literally read as "sea rat"). There were half-quails roasted, white miso, pickled EVERYTHING, fish heads, dried fish on sticks, cod roe, pollack roe, herring roe, duck, sweets, $800 pots and pans, every form of seaweed known to human kind, green tea of all kinds, black bean tea, and my favorite - Octopus lollipops (Where the head was made of a boiled quail egg and the legs were the legs of a miniature octopus.)

This is the treat that kids were clamoring for at the market, while in the US our kids beg for cotton candy and orange soda...and guess whose kids will get early-onset diabetes, and whose will live to 142...just guess.

More as the night goes on...

Pornography and Marijuana: All you need to know about dressing for school

Middle schools in Japan go all in for the uniform (as most pedophiles will attest to). The uniform isn't just a ordination of what you can where, it is also a list of prohibitions against what you can not wear. For example, despite the sub-zero temperatures we have recently experienced, the middle school students at one school I work at are forbidden from wearing hats. Mind you this is not just in class, but extends to the walk from home to school. Now, the idea that cold weather will make you sick has been thoroughly debunked. However it is a well stated scientific fact that cold weather is cold. So while perhaps it isn't causing any adverse effects health-wise, it does seem a pointless stipulation to prevent kids from being warm while walking to school.

All this goes to say, that kids have very little latitude for self-expression when it comes to being around their peers at school. One place that students do have free reign is in their pencil cases and their socks. And the children have chosen...let's say...poorly.

On the pencil case front, while there are plenty of sports-themed and cute-themed, and inexplicably-humanized-object-themed pencil cases to chose from.

This pencil case answers the long-asked question: Just how close can you get to copy-right infringement before Disney will send Mickey over to personally cram a cease-and-desist order up your ass? The answer is "A handful of letters, a definite article, and a red shirt."

However, one of the more popular symbols on the pencil cases of many students is a nice big marijuana leaf. Not that it comes on the pencil cases as-is, but is usually applied afterwords as a sticker. Now before you just assume that these kids are all getting higher than the Sky Tree after school, it should be pointed out that they more-likely-than-not have absolutely no idea what the sticker is. My guess is that they think it is a Japanese maple leaf:

guess which one gets you high: that's right, the maple leaf, because I get high on life man...

Let's move on to socks. Now this applies to the girls, where one of the most popular embroideries you will find on middle school girls' socks is the Playboy bunny. Again, I think they have no idea that their hard-earned sock-yen are going into the pockets of this man:

That's right Mariko, your socks paid for the pills I will take that will allow me to do unspeakable things to these three later. Thanks!

Friday, December 23, 2011

What happened?

So looking at the blog it was shocking to realize that over three months have passed since my last update. So what happened?! Well, a number of things have transpired since I last wrote about America's penchant for waste lines measures in the kind of numbers usually reserved for intergalactic measurements.

1) *** ***: This is secret at least for another month, but once the necessary people have been informed I can delve into this in more detail. Needless to say that the number of asterisks are an accurate representation of how many letters are involved.

2) Stand up comedy! I have been fulfilling a life-long dream of performing stand up comedy in a country that doesn't speak English.

3) Real Estate transactions! I bought a house! Ok, so it is an apartment, but it is still property ownership which necessarily comes with enough bureaucracy to choke a horse.

4) NFL! It is (American) football time back in the mother country and my team continues to fail to suck, which means I have to devote unconscionable amounts of time to watching them throw the balls to each other and then listen to other ex-players talk for hours about what that all means.

5) Adaptation! One of the problems with living in a strange and wholly foreign country like Japan is that the longer you spend here the less strange it seems. After a year and a half, even the most insane things become routine and slip past the "this should go on the blog" filter.

Anyhow - more about all these things coming soon since I am on break until 1/6/12 and have officially run out of excuses.

Friday, October 7, 2011

International House of Me

Let's start with a disclaimer: I have never been to a World's Fair in any other country. I was not alive for St. Louis, Chicago, Paris, London, New York, or any of the other events where nations from around the globe spent huge sums on temporary structures to show off some innovation of often dubious interest or value to all but the most dedicated fans of said nation (or drunk people, let's not forget those stalwarts of indiscriminate opinions). So let me say that the following commentary on the only such event I have ever been to is made in somewhat of a bubble.

The other day I was scanning back through old photos from a life back when I carried about 15 pounds less on my frame and considered my personal level of awesome to be a bit higher. I like to use nostalgia as a form of self-flagellation. One event I was scanning through was the Aichi Banpaku (Banpaku = exposition, Aichi = Nagoya = Japan's 3rd largest city that you have possibly never heard of, but is the source of the Canadian accents in the Japanese dub of South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut - use that fun fact at your next cocktail party to guarantee you will be found repulsive to the opposite sex - Japanalog: your personal digital contraceptive).

Where were we...oh, yes. So I was looking at pictures of the Aichi Expo from 2005.

Now in Japan, this expo was a pretty big event. There was a clock in Osaka near the main station counting down the days. There were daily news updates on the construction, and once open, on the attendance. There were features and every TV show worth its salt did some special episode from there. There were also two green balls of lint serving as mascots.

remember someone was paid a assload of money to create these two turds who resemble nothing more than a pair of moldy toilet scrubbers

They were green because they were ecological and friends of the Earth. The whole event was called Aichi-kyu - a clever portmanteau of Aichi (the prefecture) and Chikyu (Earth) where the "Ai" of Aichi means "love" so the name was "Love the Earth" - And nothing says that like creating 490 acres of temporary structures. While (in their defense) the structures were carefully constructed to be made of recycled and recyclable materials, the approximately 7 trillion pieces of merchandised Morizo and Kiccoro crap including (but not limited to) keychains, cellphone straps, plastic hand-fans, towels, plastic figurines, medallions, T-shirts, lanyards, ashtrays, hats, sweat bands, CDs, featuring the expo theme-song 'I'll be Your Love', enema kits, condoms, make-up cases, pencil cases, watches, eye masks, slippers, vibrators, cigarette cases, flasks, home poker kits, pens, pencils, laptop bags, stuffed dolls, pillows, throat lozenges, tampons, pneumatic drills, pruning shears, and asshole detectors (only half of that list was made up) are all most certainly sitting at the bottom of a landfill, or (given that this is Japan) currently floating around the atmosphere as particulate matter after being burned (most trash here is burned).

But I didn't start this post to rip on two fictitious blobs with lots of fur and little in the way of gender, I wrote it because of one particular photo I came across:

Where to begin...
At first count, your "world" restaurant has skipped four of the six inhabited continents, and four of the five restaurants are from the same part of one continent, while the fifth covers about 20 different types of countries and arguably an equal number of styles of cuisine. Furthermore, one of these, "Southeast Asian", covers an additional 15 or so.

The problem here is that while Japan is obsessed with the idea of "International" (the word is common enough that the English loan word (Intanshyanaru インタナショナル) is as understood as the native word "kokusai" 国際), they tend to do a much better job of slapping it on to any sign or business name they can find than of actually creating anything that begins to live up to the idea of internationalism.

No dusty hamlet of slack-jawed troglodytes is too small to be without some International Friendship Center or some such named heap of concrete and tax-payer funded waste. And any organization or group looking to add a little clout to their status can up the ante by slapping either word to their name.

A recent walk brought me to the Kobe International Friendship Whatever, which had a nice little cafe set up. This was a cafe serving "International Fare" which consisted of one set lunch from Honduras, three kinds of spaghetti (including one with a pollack roe sauce in the traditional not-Italian-at-all style), and a bunch of rice bowls and tonkatsu dishes. In other words, of 20 dishes on the menu, 15 were distinctly Japanese (or Japanese versions of western food that are served almost exclusively in Japan). And remember, this was at a cafe that specifically billed itself as 'international'.

There are International events where the Japanese/Non-Japanese ration is somewhere around 100:1, and in Kobe there is the International Center which has nothing more international than a Starbucks.

Now - definite "A" for effort on Japan's part. But in execution we are approaching a "D+" at best. Sure, you beat out North Korea for 'more non-native residents', but they regularly broadcast news reports that the other nations of Earth vanished in a cloud of jealousy once those countries realized how freaking awesome Kim Jong Ill was, all while only allowing most foreigners to visit under the strict guidance of two human smoke-stacks who bring you from one nationalist pile of concrete to the next in the deluded hope that you will spontaneously adopt the principle of Juche or self-relience (side note: Juche is the principal that basically allows the government to deny assistance from any outside source, the same way a drunkard who has passed out into a concrete sidewalk can spit out enough blood and tooth to declare "I'm good!" to concerned passers-bye).

When you are barely beating North Korea at anything, it is time for a good hard look in the mirror.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why we are all a bunch of fat-assed knuckle-dusters with heart disease

Just returned to the mothership after a month back in the land of the free and diabetic. Every time I log into CNN or Yahoo! there is inevitably some story about how the asses of your average American now are able to exert some detectable gravitational pull on surrounding objects, or the rising epidemic of zygote diabetes. There are also usually some articles titled "Health Watch: 5 Foods to Lower Your Risk of Being a Land-Whale" or "10 Simple Diet Changes to Help You Avoid Wearing Pants With Enough Fabric to Rig a 19th Century Clipper Ship".

Fun Fact: The Goodwill donations of only two adult U.S. males were recycled into the sails of this ship. Ironically the ship was used to transport an emergency supply of butter to Big Bertha's Butter Covered Lard Cube factory which supplies the nation's public school lunch program.

And upon returning home I was again (as I always am after spending extensive time where the average body-type is closely modeled on a pipe cleaner) at just how unfathomably huge so many of my fellow Americans are.

Now clearly there isn't a huge degree of mystery behind the source of this discrepancy in water-displacement capacity.

In the US we eat this:

and this:

and this:

This last one is a funnel cake. Which has as much resemblance to a cake as the US House of Representatives has to a functional organization (rim shot!). When we believe that chucking raw batter into a vat of oil and topping it with confectionery sugar constitutes food we are clearly on the wrong path.

Compare this to one of my first meals on returning to Japan:

Fun Fact: In Japan this is food for four people. In the US this is an appetizer for a toddler. (in amount only, no way in hell is a kid in the US eating nearly so much green stuff unless it comes from a tube with Dora the Explorer on it or had enough lime green food coloring pumped into it to make Chernobyl look like a good place to raise children)

The dishes include (moving roughly left to right) grilled lotus root, boiled spinach with sesame seeds, salad, konyaku (which is a potato starch based gelatin) seasoned with shiso (a leaf vegitable), tofu cooked in the hotpot, sashimi, beef and eggplant stir fry, and cucumbers with seaweed and vinegar.

Now - I will digress to tell a story from my college days (readers may be shocked to learn that this 'writer' actually matriculated at and graduated from an accredited college). My friend and I would drag ourselves to the dining hall every night and face the same choice over at the grill where the food was prepared in plain view (If I was an underpaid line cook preparing food every night for a group of self-righteous and over-entitled teenagers who repeatedly asked, in a tone of voice that was all but dripping with skepticism, whether or not the vegan-only pan had been used to make any grilled cheese, I would seriously consider using a good portion of the prepared dishes as a gluten-based Kleenex). One of the choices we faced was whether to have the deep-fried chicken patty or the grilled chicken breast. The chicken patty had 16g of fat, and the grilled chicken breast had 4g. While the chicken patty was clearly tastier than the breast, we decided that it was not 4 times as tasty - hence we tended to opt for the breast (which we did in areas other than chicken! rim shot again!). Thus with the taste vs. heart-attack equation we were able to run a semi-inebriated cost/benefit analysis and determine our diet over the period of four years.

All this goes to say that the Reuben is clearly a great way to induce a mouth-gasm. I would even say it was 3 times as tasty as the Japanese meal I ate. But it was about 804,834 times worse for you. And like the grilled chicken breast, the Japanese meal was in no way bad - it was quite good in fact. Very good indeed. Awesome even. And while it was no Reuben, the results of the cost/benefit analysis were pretty clear.

Which leads to a second point.

To say that the Japanese eat naught but fish and seaweed would be false. There are plenty of gastronomical choices that involve some combination of "fried", "deep", "meat", "sauce", and other such artery-clogging descriptors. But really it is a question of frequency, and even more importantly portions size. Several years ago I made another trip back to the US. Before leaving I decided I was looking forward to a proper US steak house. Upon arrival I ordered the biggest steak on the menu:

It was enormous, but had all the flavor and texture of a pair of leather shoes left out in a monsoon, and then stored in a sand pit for a month. It was cheap. It was huge. It was crap.

A great number of our chain restaurants are quick to advertise, with great fanfare , just how enormous a plate of food you can get and precisely how little it will cost you. We boast of exactly how many varieties of cheese we can fit into a single entrée. Your bacon-wrapped potato wedges only have 4 kinds of cheese? You are clearly a vegan Communist loser. And then we turn around and run away from carbohydrates like they were the equivalent of rectally ingested cancer-laden heroin. We try and stay healthy be eating fat-free cream cheese on a carb-free bagel, with a bag of 'no trans-fats' kettle-cooked bbq chips, all washed down with a nice bottle of Coke Zero. And then we never grow tired of patting ourselves on the back, if only the seven extra inches of girth on that stump that was once our arm didn't prevent such a range of motion. It is a very split-personality approach to nutrition. And it is clearly not working.

One concept big in nutrition in Japan is 'balance' (ironically there is no word for this other than the loan word 'balance' バランス read baransu - strange considering how central it is to the idea of diet and nutrition here) It doesn't mean that you should never eat anything fried or with fat as clearly stated before, only that you should refrain from portions that are usually reserved for large and impressive geological formations. If you are going to eat red meat, do it right and have a nice small piece Kobe beef. Have it with some vegetables, maybe steamed squash, sliced tomatoes, etc. In other words, show a little moderation.

Unfortunately for many in the US, 'moderation' is listed in the thesaurus as a synonym for 'loser socialist apologist'. The very word moderation makes Sarah Palin want to put a nice little piece of lead deep into the brain stem of some lower life form and use its jaw as a beer cozy on her Freedom Bus or whatever the fuck she toured the country in last summer.

Look, we are great in America at a lot of things - we have the greatest entrepreneurs, some of the top universities in the world, and we are pretty much unbeatable in the realm of pizza toppings. But let's not pretend we don't have a thing or two to learn from our more svelte neighbors regarding nutrition. If you really want that chilli-dunked double cheese burger with the disco fries and a cherry coke, then enjoy, but don't make it your new Saturday night thing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Era Bowl

This past weekend I went to the Osaka Dome (now called the Kyocera Dome) to watch the New Era Bowl - an American Football match that is in its 10th year. The game is between two teams (the Blue Stars and the White Starts) Each team is made up of players from a number of different schools, including a US university team. This year the Blue Stars featured the University of Hawai'i and the White Starts were assisted by UNLV. About 30 different Japanese Universities contribute a handful of players each. While the level of play was all well and good, the highlight of the event were the team names from the Japanese Universities.

I now present a list of best team names from the New Era Bowl divided by category

In the "That isn't actually a word" category we have

Kyoto Seika University Gawks:

Admittedly this is a word, but not many teams take the third person singular present form of a verb for a team name. And since it makes no sense without an object (gawks at what?) I am putting it in this category.

Kyoto Educational University Grampus:

Grandpa + Grumpy = Grampus. This team name makes me imagine the whole team shouting at other students to "Get off my field!!" I actually think this could become a word. Everyone please start calling your grandfathers grampus when he is being irritable and talking about how great everything was in the know...before Civil Rights? aww...he's just set in his ways.

Hyogo Medical University Siegfried:
Again I suppose technically its a word, but really it is a person's name. And a gay tiger trainer at that. Bonus: The sticker of the side of their helmets is a caduceus

The Osaka University Shrikes:

And in case you were confused, their actual official team slogan is (and I am quoting here)
"We are SHRIKES!"

so hopefully that has cleared things up. Moving On...

In the "Inappropriate use of plurals" category we have

Ryoukoku University Seahorse: (yes...singular)

Technically, this image is more fear-inspiring than the actual name because it has multiple seahorses in it.

I would wager a large sum that the idea of a single seahorse has never been associated with the phrase "struck terror into the hearts of the opponent."
The 'also rans' were:

Ryoukoku University Puffy White Cloud
Ryoukoku University Field of Grass
Ryoukoku University Area Rug
Ryoukoku University Notebooks

side note: The kanji for Ryoukoku is 龍谷 which is literally Dragon Valley...That is the coolest fucking name I have ever heard for a school!

Dude: Dude, where do you go to school.
Wimp: Oh, I go to the Nagasaki School of Art and Culture. How about you
Dude: Dude, I go to Dragon Valley University!
Wimp: Sweeet! That is so cool! Dragon Valley - so what is your team name? It must be awesome! Like the Dragon Valley Fireballs! or the Dragon Valley Bone-crushers!
Dude: We're the Dragon Valley Seahorse! Singular!
Wimp: Despite the 100 kg you have on my and your clearly superior muscle mass, I now feel I have the confidence to beat you up and steal your hot girlfriend.

Osaka University of Law and Economics Blue Thunders:

Just when the singular is appropriate...These guys should send that s over to Ryoukoku, and possibly a list of animals more frightening than a seahorse.

In the "Naming your team for a foreign military force" category we have

Kobe Academy University Navy Seals.

Personally it would feel strange to root for the University of Miami Royal Mounties, or the Boise State French Legion.

In the "A little strange, but in retrospect very cool" category we have

Momoyama Academy University Thundering Legion Lions

So while Ryoukoku makes due with a single seahorse, these guys get not only lions, but legions of them (a Roman legion was about 6,000 but since 1) lions are way tougher and cooler and 2) these legions are thundering, I will arbitrarily assume that there are about 10,000 lions in a thundering legion). I am no psychologist, but if you were about to play a competitive contact sport against a group of large and padded guys in their early twenties, wouldn't you rather ride to battle under the banner of a thundering legion lion than a seahorse?

When I was in high school, our mascot was a mermaid. We were so horrible at sports that ball room dancing was actually considered an acceptable sports option for the winter term. On the upside our mascot was a topless mermaid showing a nipple. To a high school boy this was a perfectly fine alternative to having a good basketball team.

Tenri University Crushing Orcs

This is the team that should be playing in Dragon Valley. The Dragon Valley Crushing Orcs. 3 out of 4 words in that sentence are awesome.

Again with schools failing to match the school name with the team mascot, Tenri (天理) has two characters one meaning 'heaven' and one meaning 'justice, logic or reason' - So it's like the Heaven's Reason Crushing Orcs. Never before has an idea made such a left turn half-way through

And finally - in the "made beer come out my nose while reading the program" we have my favorite - ladies and gentlemen, a warm japanalog cheer for

Wakayama University Blind Sharks:

This name just begs a million questions. What kind of blind - is it blind with rage? blind like blind drunk? blind like you can't see? I get the shark part, clearly - But what the blind is doing there is perplexing. Are we trying to say that these particular sharks are so unconscionably badass that they can murder and destroy with one whole sense out of commission? Or perhaps these sharks are so profoundly battle-tested and veteran that they have sustained extensive wounds that leave them without sight...and yet they fight on?

Then I actually looked up blind sharks - turns out they may be referring to epaulette sharks. Which are small 90cm bottom feeders which survive on crabs and worms. This is why we don't look things up.

Bonus video:

While Japan and Hawai'i are both technically pacific islands, this kick-off return by a UH student demonstrates that there may be a small physical size and strength difference.

Bonus Picture:

Kyocera is normally used for baseball, so the promenade level was lousy with Orix Buffalo shops,
which were apparently selling Orix Buffalo-themed Mexican wrestling masks.

Professional baseball and Mexican wrestling together at last. It's like chocolate and peanut-butter.

Super Extra Last Minute Bonus - the book on the right refers to these as "T-back masks".
Just let that one float around in your head for a while.

More fun with Kanji

Just to remind - Kanji (漢字) are the Chinese characters that are used in Japanese. There are about 10,000 Kanji in use in Japanese, but the total that are part of the official school curriculum is more like 2,000 - this is what you need to really be proficient in reading a newspaper or other printed material. These characters are often described as ideographs or logograms - meaning that each character represents an idea (as opposed to a sound that can be read phonetically, and which has no intrinsic meaning on its own).

When I first studied Japanese, our teacher, in an attempt to lure us into some false sense of confidence, asked us to think of the kanji as pictures of the idea they represented. One example I saw again and again was a picture of a sun morphing flip book-style into 日

It is probably a bad idea to wonder too much why a dot appears in the middle...sun spot I guess.

This is all well and good at first. It doesn't take a massive leap of the imagination to see 一、二、三 as 1, 2, and 3. But why 六 should clearly be six or 忘 is somehow an obvious symbol for 'forget' begins to make that whole 'just a picture' idea start to seem somewhat of a stretch.


It begins to make a little more sense when you think of a complicated character as actually being made up of a number of smaller pieces. For example, the aforementioned 忘 which means 'forget'. I honestly don't know how I would represent the idea of 'forget' in a simple logogram. This is why you don't want me on your Pictionary team. I suppose I would do something like

(don't ask why there is baseball on TV in February)

Clearly this is not a viable option and open to interpretation. What one might see as forget, could be 'nagging' or 'frustration' or even 'evidence in divorce proceedings'.

However, in the case of the kanji, it begins to make a little more sense when you learn that 忘 is made of two smaller parts (called radicals). 心 on the bottom and 亡 up top. The first means 'heart', and the second means 'die' so to forget is actually 'to die in the heart' (Ok, ok, so you clearly need to remember those two small pieces which still don't really seem to look like what they are, but again, the heart has four parts - like the four chambers of you actual heart, and as for die...just remember that.) Another basic radical is 女 which means woman. It kind of looks like a woman making a curtsy, so not too hard to remember (the trick is to remember these smaller radical parts, and when you see a large nasty kanji, just remember it is nothing but a collection of these smaller pieces) so if 女 is woman 姦 (3 women) clearly means 'wicked', 'noisy', or 'mischief' and if 子 means child put woman and child together and you get 好 which means 'like' or even 'love' and the lady shows up again in 怒 which (if you were paying attention) has 'heart' again. The other new part is 'furthermore' So, woman + heart + furthermore = angry. Naturally.

Clearly kanji were developed before women's rights was big. Other combinations include:

'death' + 'woman' = reckless
'stand' + 'woman' = concubine
'old' + 'woman' = mother in law
'man' + 'woman' = loud talking
'limited to' + 'woman' = marriage

Not every character has women. For example there is 凧 which means kite. It is 'wind' + 'cloth'
草 means grass and it is made up of 'plant' and 'quick' or 'early'
Some seem strange now, such as 美 which means beautiful and is made of 'sheep' + 'big'. But I guess when your livelihood depended on sheep, a big one was a beautiful thing.

Insert you New Zealand or Scotland joke here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

If an octopus and a highway planner had hot passionate sex...this would be the mistake

A photo of the GPS system in the car as we approached the Akashi-Kaikyo Ohashi (Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge) on our way to the staggeringly underpopulated island of Awaji several months ago. If you are wondering what possible wonders could await on Awaji that might necessitate a level of traffic control such as this seventy-five lane cluster-fuck of merging, you will be not in any possible way surprised to learn that it is onions. Yes, get ready for a concrete recreation of a drunken tapeworm so that you all can get your tasty onions post-haste.

And just in case you think our GPS has been huffing glue, Google will confirm the pave-bortion that is this interchange

Side note: Do you see any other roads coming in here? With 17 different lanes, you would expect a confluence of about 6 to 8 other major roads...I see 3 - One from the north and two from the south. I think some concrete magnate paid for some government official's hooker about 15 years ago.

For the love of all that is sweet and merciful run this shit by a native speaker

The idea of poor English making it onto T-shirts has been beaten into the ground like a tent-peg by someone on MDMA, but it should be pointed out that is not just uber-hipster ironic T-shirts that are in extreme need of proof-reading. It extends to all products and a shameful amount of signage. I present to you this product which I get to see every morning on my way out the door.

Most disappointing contents ever.

But on a more (or possibly equal or less) serious note. This product raises enough questions to fill an entire episode of Erotic Jeopardy (a show that is seriously needed in my opinion).

So lets do this erotic Jeopardy style:

Alex, I'll take Obvious Questions for 100.

"This is the first thing you do before releasing a product featuring a language on which you have a minimal grasp"

"What is have a native speaker ensure that the products name doesn't refer to some part of the sexual anatomy in another language?"

That is correct, and you have control of the board.

Alex, I'll take "Obvious Questions" for 200.

"This is what a gynecologist might ask upon learning that product called the "Clit Album" existed" (total side note - blogger's spell check recognizes irregardless but not clit...only one of those words is standard English...dirty, but standard. The other is something news casters on CNN say when they want my to punch my TV)

"What is 'Exactly how many medically relevant photographs are contained within the aforementioned Clit Album?'"

Correct again and the board remains in your control.

Thanks Alex, I am going to take 'Possible ways to employ native speakers in Japan' for 100

"This is one way to possibly employ native speakers in a country rife with products as poorly named as the Clit Album."

"What is a proof reader?"

Well done!

Thanks again Alex, I think I am going to move to "Questions with no satisfactory answer" for 400.

Ok, and the clue is "There is no good answer to this that comes to a sensible mind"

"What is the phrase they were trying to go for when they blundered onto 'Clit Album'?"


Ladies and Gentlemen...I give you the Clit Album.

Call me lazy

Or call me gainfully employed - your choice.

Regardless (or irregardless as morons like to say when they think adding syllables is equivalent to adding IQ points) It is time to get back into this thing and post all about the past few months which has seen its share of insanity.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Arima! The Hot Spring Resort that is in my back yard.

Kobe, from a physical layout standpoint, is in many ways similar to Chile - the developed and urban part of the city is a long and skinny belt squeezed between the mountains and the sea running (roughly) from east to west. And in this thin belt lies some majority of the population (I would guess 80 - 85%). However, unlike Chile, the physical boundaries of the city extend well beyond the mountains.

Basically everything shown here is part of Kobe, but clearly the majority of the development is by the sea.

This all goes to say that there are parts of Kobe which are rather rural (and partially towards explaining how a major metropolis of 1.5 million can be world famous for an agricultural product - Kobe beef). One such seemingly un-urban destination that lays (lies?) within the city boundaries would be 有馬 (Arima - lit: Existing Horses) the hot spring town. From the current world headquarters of Japanalog, this enclave of geothermic delight lies (lays?) a mere 15 minutes by car, thanks to years of public works money that have honeycombed the mountains with an endless web of slope-hugging highways, valley-spanning bridges and mountain-piercing tunnels, all of which seem to be strictly obeying the axiom that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, regardless of how many tons of earth must be rearranged in the process.

So here nestled among the mountains, yet profoundly accessible by car, bus, or (of course) rail, is the little valley of Arima:

Arima has a wide variety of body warming bodies of water in which to indulge. Everything from the free foot baths:

To the two main public baths:

This is the Gold Bath (not to be confused in anyway whatsoever with a golden shower) - it is so called because of the presence of minerals which give the water a rusty orange-ish tint. (although even those of without a PhD in marketing can recognize that "Gold Bath" sounds a quint-jillion times more appealing than "Rusty Bath")

The other main public bath is the Silver Bath:

This bath features more regularly colored waters, but again, "Silver Bath" beats out "Normally-Colored Water Bath" any day of the week.

The rest of the baths in town are some form of hot-spring resort, often attached to a hotel and featuring spas, massages, skin-peels, reflexology treatments, restaurants, scented candles, low lighting, waterfalls, cotton robes, and have the same general affect on your central nervous system as a Quaalude.

Oh - and since there is a high degree of not-wearing-clothes this is about as far into the land of resort spa as my camera was allowed.

So lets say you are an uptight westerner with an aversion to stripping bare in the presence of total strangers to share in a nice hot communal bath. What else is there for you to do and see in Arima? Honestly not a whole hell of a lot.

You could sample the famous soda rice-crackers that are sold every twenty-three centimeters on the street at souvenir shops

Don't get me wrong - they are rather tasty but there is only so they will go towards providing a meaningful diversion.

So why not try some of the other fare available around town:

Dango! Sweet mochi balls on a stick! (Mochi is essentially rice that has been pounded by a wooden hammer to the point that it has become a chewy, sticky, gelatinous paste.)

Or (much more in my vein) some sausages and pickles with a nice dark beer while puzzling out the latest level of my Japanese study game for the Nintendo DSi.

Once you have sated your physical needs for nourishment, why not try the Toy Museum?

Was it awesome? I don't know! Someone who shall remain nameless balked at the idea of paying $8 for a ticket - although this same individual thought nothing of dropping a much larger number of yen on a massage which could only be enjoyed by one person. So if you ever go to this museum please let me know how it was. I am totally not bitter about this part of the day.

I did get to see the gift shop however. It is nice to know that the Scandinavian countries have found a way to take a block of wood, some string, and a ball bearing, carve it into a toy that does one mildly amusing trick, give it a name with some crazy vowels (like Grønåbül) and then charge as much for it as you would reasonably expect to pay for the latest video game system. Apparently a diet of herring gives you enormous balls.

If you are in a more inquisitive mood, you can hike around town and find the 源泉 (Gensen, or origin of the spring)

Found it! Now what?

Below is another one that was under construction

And if none of this amuses you, just go hit up the alcohol vending machines:

Though these are by no means unique to Arima, that shouldn't stop you from partaking in their fine wares.

Other scenes of note:

This town is not fucking around when it comes to hot springs; even the water in the gutters is in on the act:

Here the central river has been made into a lovely Dr. Seuss-ian maze of bridges, collecting ponds, staircases and platforms.

But before you think this is all fun and games be sure to note:

I have never seen two children with more terrified expressions over rain - however they are not without reason for showing such pant-wetting panic in the face of weather.

This is showing a 10 minute difference. So run kiddies run.

And who is going to save the children in such an event?

Why these fine folks! This is a recruitment poster for the fire department, but could easily be a poster for a late-70's fire-brigade drama airing Tuesdays at 7 on CBS.