Saturday, September 30, 2006

Welcome to the World of Gray



"Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Eleanor Roosevelt


Let me give this another shot. The Japanese world - intimidating to your average foreigner. Most of us come over here with little-to-no idea of what is in store. All we have is a company name, a city, a contact. And just like with any new experience, be it a new boyfriend/girlfriend, a new car, or something as complex as working in a foreign country, there is a "honeymoon period" - a time when you can only see the positives to living in Japan, ignoring any small problems in the face of a great experience.

There's nothing wrong with this; in fact, it's unavoidable. But once you do "come down" and start to be objective about your work environment, you might notice some remarkable differences. Some cultural, some personal. After talking to several eikaiwa teachers, I have come to a few conclusions regarding expected behavior in the Japanese workplace - now, whether this is true from the highest corporate ladder in Tokyo to the smallest bank in Matsuyama, I'm not sure. All I do is report my observations and hope that others will benefit and learn from the example.

I believe genkiness in the workplace is two-faced coin. As my fellow foreigners are no doubt aware, the business environment is Japan is remarkably different from anywhere else in the world; co-workers, managers, and janitors alike are expected to behave according to a certain code. In Japanese terms, they are expected to be genki while in the workplace.

What is genki? Genki is the term in Japan associated with energy, being upbeat, even downright happy to the point of psychotic. If you wake up late, don't get the chance to exercise, skip breakfast, get caught in the rain, and lose your wallet on the way to work, you think you can let it show through? Guess what, you can't. You have to be genki to be considered a model worker.

For the most part, I can understand this phenomenon in Japan. It's not by nature good or bad for workers, just a different code of standards on behavior. However, I believe that under some circumstances, especially with Japanese higher-ups dealing with foreign workers, genkiness is not only rude, but downright condescending. For example - consider the banks in Japan. Unlike in America, where you might expect a bank teller to have a low-energy persona while on the job and save their strength for their off-hours, Japan doesn't operate that way. To customers, you have to give off an extremely high level of energy and enthusiasm, regardless of how dismal your job or the task at hand might be.

Now, I can understand this, and even recognize the importance of it in the workplace - as far as customers are concerned; you should "advertise" that you enjoy their business, and appreciate the money they bring in. But what about interactions among fellow employees, or the employee-manager relationship? Surely genkiness isn't expected, since after hours or behind the scenes, no customers are in sight?

Yet this is precisely what happens. Managers relay some trivial information to employees (e.g. "We had two new accounts today! We raised ¥403!"), and they are expected to react with cheering, clapping, smiling over results they really had no or little influence over. Are employees supposed to be excited at all hours during the workday? What do they care if the business raises this much money, or this little money? How does it affect them? It won't affect salaries, it won't affect hours... The only thing extra work does is put more money into the corporation. I don't see how anyone could exactly get a thrill from that. But that's genkiness for you - the other employees may not care either, but they are expected to react with energy and enthusiasm over insignificant figures.

This is even more pronouced when you introduce a foreign worker into the mix - American, Canadian, Korean, or whatnot - and try to enforce the same code of behavior on him. We foreigners aren't prepared for that; we don't understand it, and we may never understand it. But what really strikes me like a slap in the face, and makes me realize I'm never going to entirely fit in, even in something as familiar as the eikaiwa environment, is someone exhibiting the façade of genkiness instead of their true personality.

Case in point - you decide to take a day off during a busy time of the year for your business, something you are entirely within your right to do. And although your manager might grant this request, you sense that he is holding some resentment back, keeping his honne to himself rather that just explaining that he doesn't appreciate your request at this time. But this doesn't happen in the workplace - managers maintain the façade and act completely upbeat, completely genki, even though they are a little resentful.

I know this may be standard behavior in the Japanese workplace, but for me, showing genkiness rather than a genuine reaction is no better than shouting a lie right into my face - it's insulting, and above all, it's condescending; it says to me, "you don't have the intelligence to understand the true reason behind my feelings, so here, enjoy this genki persona. Leave the serious emotions and work to us Japanese, ok, little gaijin boy?"

If you have anger, show it! Let it out of your heart! I get a feeling that working in Japan is like being around a girlfriend after you do something stupid: she may say "everything's ok," (and act genki, of course) but we both know that she's hiding her true feelings. Such is the case here. I would give anything just to get an honest reaction from some people, instead of this veiled, confusing, misinterpreting genkiness.


Proof - Genkiness Required for Jobs:

Gaijinpot Job #1
Gaijinpot Job #2



There's so much carnage in the world right now I'm not going to even broach it... then again, does it ever really let up? I will say this regarding everything that's going on in schools lately (well, the past ten years). I'm not in high school, nor have I been for six years (wow, that sounded weird to say). I believed back then that school was more stressful than work because there is no barrier between your school life and your home life - homework always beats you into submission. That opinion at the time came from a place of ignorance, as I wasn't in the working world. Well, now I am, and I still believe this to be true. Stress in schools just builds higher and higher, and that's to say nothing of the social pressure, which is probably the worst you will ever encounter in your life. People underestimate just how thin the line is between despair, loneliness, anger, and lashing out. Try to understand. I know where these feelings come from - I can't condone their actions, but I think I understand that kind of desperation.

CNN


Completely unrelated: I'll be doing an excursion into Diamond City just east of Hiroshima on Monday to explore the shopping district. Should be a fun afternoon. If you're heading out to the Sake Matsuri, Deo Deo in Hiroshima sells cheaper ¥1000 tickets, rather than the ¥1500 you have to pay at the gate.

Tired of buying phone cards? Check this site out for international calling.

If you feel like some mindless promotion of my website, check this out.

Scarlett Johansson - I liked you before Esquire, and my friend should have given you my number at that club in Chicago. Meet me in Tokyo, foreigner-to-foreigner. Your beauty is eclipsed only by your intelligence.

I'll make it there someday...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Friends, Romans, Foreigners, Lend me your Ears...

Name that Japanese-related Quote

"Sweep the leg."


After I graduated from college, I spent a year in Austin working on my own terms. I held more contract, temporary, and part-time jobs than most people do in their lifetime, and I did it all to maintain my own schedule and keep control of my own destiny. Not a bad idea if you can pull it off. There were some rocky times, I can tell you. Although I went to a private high school, I was far from what you'd call an "advantaged" child - my parents worked themselves to death so that my brother and I could at least enjoy an advantaged education, if not an advantaged lifestyle. Where we were middle-middle class, most of my friends were upper-middle to upper class.

So I had certain expectations from my life that I needed to compensate for; I wasn't going to be another civil servant working the 9-5 for minimum wage, eating fast food, and struggling to make rent. I just refused to let it happen, regardless of how much time I needed to spend working. Now, I don't want to come off as egocentric this early and have you click out to the next "foreigner in Japan" webpage - on the contrary, I don't believe anyone is "too good" for any kind of work (maybe with a few exceptions). You've got to try it at least once just to know what you're dealing with.



Case in point - craigslist. Craigslist was invented in 1995 by a simple man named Craig for use in the San Francisco area. What is it? Online classifieds, but unlike those you see in online newspapers or other websites, craigslist reduces everything to the essentials. No advertising. No extraneous information. And this is what makes craigslist so unique, why it is so popular and so widely-used, and why I have tremendous respect for the creators.

Craigslist really took off in the past few years, expanding all over the world. That kind of expansion gets the attention of advertising companies, who offered Craig and co. $10 million for the website. They turned it down, knowing that the site was popular because of its lack of sponsorship. Selling it to a capitalist machine (yeah, I think Craig is a communist) would do nothing but reduce the usefulness.

So why am I bringing this up? Craigslist was in Austin. Well, craigslist was in every major city, but it really took off in Austin with online job annoucements, gig information, buying & selling, personals, apartment locating, and trades.

See what I mean...

I must have worked more jobs than I ever thought possible. And I really wasn't working long hours or very hard. I made my own schedule, cancelled when I needed to, relaxed when I wanted to, and had all the time for running in the world. I wasn't rich by any means, but I could indulge when I needed to. The only complaint I really had about this lifestyle was the lack of transition between on and off hours - there wasn't one. I worked until midnight some nights (starting at 8 or 9 or something), and other days I wrapped up at 2:00 PM or didn't do anything at all.


Jobs I found on craigslist

1. Moving jobs - I couldn't do more than a few a week as my arms got pretty sore (even for someone in shape, it's tough work). When the university students were moving in there were ads everywhere requesting emergency help for the day-of. I didn't have a truck or another person to help - I advertised myself, and it worked out fine. I got paid as low as $15/hr and as high as $30/hr.

2. Manual labor jobs - digging holes outside, clearing brush, yardwork, lifting heavy things, helping people pack, etc. About the same pay as moving jobs, but sometimes I'd get a bartering deal and the lady I was helping would exchange 2-3 massages (legit, they were therapists) for a few hours work - that's a pretty good value.

3. Donating blood plasma. Avoid it if you can, but you can get paid as high as $60/week for two donations. It can be rather painful.

4. Tutoring - my primary source of income. I never worked for less than $20/hr, and I got paid as high as $45/hr (could have gotten more). You'd be surprised how many students, high school and college, are looking for last-minute help with a report, an exam, homework... Also, never underestimate just how many parents want their children to excel in a certain subject. The SATs are an exceptionally profitable exam. I even started teaching ESL with some Koreans who posted, just looking for a conversation partner. If you went to college, you're perfectly qualified to tutor a high-schooler.

5. Modeling jobs - no experience necessary if they do a call over craigslist. This will rarely happen (unless you're willing to compromise yourself and do porn or something similar), as most photographers deal with agencies to avoid searching themselves. Hey, craigslist is quite an effective agency. You don't have to be a pretty boy or a hot girl, it just depends what they're looking for. I arrived at 9 AM wearing a white shirt and pants, got paid $200 for one hour's work of posing with a food dish, and got to eat the food afterwards. Out by 11 AM.

6. Stock video - basically, if you look human and can walk, people will pay you to be in a natural setting for a video shoot which they hope to sell to producers or television stations as stock footage. I was paid to skate in an ice-rink for two hours, pretending I was this cute girl's boyfriend... so brutal. $40/hr here.

7. Acting jobs - voice work, being an extra in movies, and paying actor roles for major motion pictures. Being an extra pays next to nothing (minimum wage), but if you get voice work or talent work, it's always profitable.

8. Poker dealer - I taught myself how to deal Texas Hold 'Em, and there were a ton of people requesting a professional dealer for private parties. Good tips, nice food, good connections. $10-$20/hr + tips. Also works if you know blackjack.

9. Travel advisor - obviously this doesn't work for everyone, but one family hired me to talk to their children to get them excited about going to Rome and Egypt. I kid you not. $50/hr.

10. Promotional work - there's actually a huge call for this with marketing companies, even in small cities. And it has its perks. I've been a mascot for an environmental organization, a GEICO spokesman, a Men's Fitness counselor, and a consultant for a corporate team-building exercise. Always some free merchandise involved, and sometimes you can expect a tip.

11. Online expert - an online internet company interviewed me as a marathon expert (having run my first one in 3:00:57, qualifying for Boston, and running Boston in 3:04:46). $150 for one hour's work. Simple outdoor interview. This can work with any subject, just be "excellent at something". (Tao of Steve)


I'm sure I'm forgetting a few but you can see the variety that craigslist has to offer.

"I am a true laborer: I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm."


I had enough money and time to...

1. Eat the Subway value meal every day for one year

2. Go to a Lake Charles casino twice (of course, this was a stupid move)

3. Travel home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

4. See my friends whenever I wanted

5. See all the latest movies

6. Eat out almost every night

7. Shop at Whole Foods regularly

8. Sign up for Gold's Gym, and work out regularly

9. Run the Boston Marathon


Ok, so you're thinking "yeah, you've done a lot (or you make me sick), but what does this have to do with Japan - your country NOW?" Got me there. Craigslist is here, and I want people to start using it more. Foreigners, Japanese people, people abroad coming here, START POSTING. Prove to me we can use craigslist as an effective tool like I did. The Osaka craigslist is a joke right now - only one posting maybe every two days. And we can petition for one in Hiroshima if we can prove that Osaka and Tokyo will work:

Craigslist Tokyo
Craigslist Osaka

I tell you where this would be the most useful - more than part-time jobs or even connecting with fellow foreigners, apartments for people coming to Japan would be incredibly helpful, especially if you don't know the Nihongo to rent. Tell your Japanese friends, have them tell their landlord friends, they'll tell their business friends... Eventually all jobs, apartments, personals, and items for sale will mysteriously appear online, as if out of thin air. Try it, for me... please?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

From Imabari (今治市) to Matsuyama (松山市)



Japanese Castles that haven't been "Gaijin-smashed" (reconstructed)

There are only twelve original castles left in Japan. They are Himeji Castle, Matsumoto Castle, Matsue Castle, Hikone Castle, Kochi Castle, Inuyama Castle, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Marugame Castle, Maruoka Castle, Uwajima Castle, Iyo Matsuyama Castle, and Hirosaki Castle.


My non-religious pilgrimage into Shikoku (四国) continues. As I mentioned while discussing the Shimanami Kaido, ferries run to Imabari from Onomichi, Kure, Hiroshima, Mihara, and even Kobe. And Imabari (今治市) is, without a doubt, a small town. If you're traveling from the Shimanami Kaido, the bus or JR line will drop you off at JR Imabari Station, which is essentially the town center, both in geography and in terms of life. Walk east. You will run into the shopping district of Imabari - a quaint series of small shops in a half-covered skyway area. Similar to Hondori in Hiroshima.

Keep walking east and you will reach Imabari Port. All ferries leave from here, and it's usually a good idea to leave by ferry rather than by bus, especially if you have a bike that you don't want to disassemble for transport. Confused about the departure times? No problem - there's an information line in the ticket office, and the woman on the other end speaks decent English.



One highlight to Imabari is its castle - although it's not an original, it is still surrounded by a moat fed not by rain, but by the ocean tide. I don't believe any other castle or temple in Japan boasts this. Although the exterior looks very traditional, the surroundings are another story - there seem to be living quarters on the island right next to the castle. When I was there, it was filled with cars, and major construction was going on. Still, the sight of the castle itself at sunset was worthwhile. Probably not a good idea to pay the admission fee just to see the modern museum interior.



Although Imabari may not be the best place to visit, it's probably a very decent place to live - access to some of the best running and biking trails in the country, traditional surroundings, ferries to most major cities, and beaches within your grasp. Imabari was definitely designed with runners in mind - you can go anywhere in this town for a good running trail; take the biking path back to the Shimanami bridges for a nice 10k loop. In addition, it's only a 35-40 minute train ride from Matsuyama.

Matsuyama (松山市) may be the largest city in Shikoku, but it projects an image of a mountain town. Which it is, but I was expecting to see more of an urban setting like Osaka. Before you even notice this about the city, however, you have to get there. There are two trains running to Matsuyama from Imabari - a limited express with reserved (¥1960) and non-reserved (¥1430) seating, which will get you there in about 35 minutes. Be advised they will check your tickets on board the train and make you pay for the seat right there.

The other standard train on the JR Yosan Line just isn't worth the trouble; it only takes about 30 minutes more than the express, but the train stops for 3-4 minutes at every station. It's really frustrating. Once you do reach Matsuyama, you may find that foreigners are somewhat of a novelty - I spent two days there, and only saw one foreigner; keep in mind I was in the major areas like Okaido and the nightlife district. Still, nothing. I'd love to know the foreigner population. Maybe this is why Matsuyama is the first station I've seen that doesn't use Romanji on the train timetables; it's not a problem if you've written down the Kanji city names, but I was a little surprised to see that in a big city.

First stop for anyone after a long, hard day - the Dogo Onsen (道後温泉). The oldest and most touristy hot springs in all of Japan. If you're traveling from the JR station, take the #5 tram across the street and ride it all the way to the end. You can't miss the Dogo area - you emerge in what looks like a smaller version of a 19th century train station, complete with steam locomotive. They actually run this locomotive on certain days, so be sure to check ahead if you feel like an old-fashioned ride.

The Dogo Onsen area is actually a full shopping district. This was the most traditional clothing I had ever seen in one place. People strolling around in yukata (bath robe) and geta (wooden clogs), having finished their bath and soak. They sell these in all of the Dogo-area stores along with orange products (still in Shikoku) and other souvenirs. And on Sunday mornings merchants line out their foodwares on the adjacent street.

Even before you come upon the Onsen, you will see the foot onsen and the Botchan Karakuri Clock.



As for the Onsen itself - yes, it's a Japanese onsen, which is definitely something you should experience at least once. On the other hand, this particular onsen is always crowded because it's a tourist destination. Unless you arrive during non-peak hours (during dinner, maybe), you should expect many people to indulge in a soak. See the link below for prices.

Wikitravel - Dogo Onsen

If you're searching for someplace cheap to stay for the night, the Matsuyama Youth Hostel is right next to the Dogo Onsen. Seven minutes and you're there. Be advised - there are no English signs leading to the hostel, and it's down a somewhat hidden road.

Japanese for "youth hostel": ユースホステル
Map of Hostel

It's far better than any ryokan you could get for the same price - ¥3360 for a private room, about ¥2100 for a dormitory. In addition, you get free internet access, green tea, two massage chairs, free tourist pamphlets and materials, and access to washers and dryers. Not a bad deal at all. The owner speaks English, and his wife is eager for you to practice your Japanese with her. They serve western and Japanese-style breakfasts.

Matsuyama Youth Hostel

The nightlife district in Matsuyama is nothing to boast about. As I mentioned, there doesn't seem to be a strong foreign presence in this city. Still, if you want to explore the scandalous areas, they are just east of the shopping area in Okaido.

Matsuyama Nightlife Area




Matsuyama Castle is definitely worth seeing. In fact, it's impossible not to see, being set out on a mountain in the middle of the city. It's one of the original twelve castles in Japan. And yet, when I was here, it was undergoing major reconstruction on its exterior. As a result, no good pictures. Be careful, because I don't know how long they'll be doing this.

Technically you can climb up to the castle from either the west (less traffic) or the east (touristy) sides to avoid paying any tram fees. Yet, this is quite a climb, as the mountain is massive. Go to the east entrance from the Okaido tram stop, pay ¥480 for a round-trip ropeway (chair lift) ticket, and enjoy the ride. While the castle was under construction, the grounds featured shops, places to eat, and plenty of places to just relax and talk. It really had more of the atmosphere of a city park.

For my fellow runners: go around the castle. Nice area, little traffic, good scenery.




More pictures of Imabari, Matsuyama



News this week... my boy Koizumi is going away. I'm sorry Koi. I did my best to promote your anti-evil lifestyle to the Japanese people, but I have a sinking suspicion I should have said more in Japanese. You're my boy, Koi! Koizumi will be replaced by the "young" dashing Shinzo Abe. As he's a relative newbie in the world of politics, I'll be holding off judgement. Still, I can say with absolute certainty, he doesn't look like Elvis. Abe is believed to be a figure who can help amend damaged relations between Japan and China.

The weather is perfect this time of year - warm, but not hot during the daytime, and some nice cool air once the sun goes down. The air is drier and cleaner. If there were ever a time to visit Japan, it would be late September to early October.

I am in search of foreigner magazines to submit travel pieces and my perspective on Japanese culture. The Foreigner seems popular, but Seek Japan was kind enough to add my blog to their list.


Your daily dose of truthiness

"America, help control the pet population. Teach your dogs abstinence."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道)



"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."

Helen Keller


I have been to the edge and back. I have journeyed into tomorrow, fought the fiercest warriors, loved the maidens fair... this sentence didn't end up where it started. You might just say I did a little biking. This past weekend I undertook one of Japan's big touristy adventures: biking the Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道), a series of bridges connecting Japan's main island, Honshu (本州), with a smaller southern island Shikoku (四国).

As long as you have a little energy, anyone can pull this off. It took me about eight hours biking time with multiple stops, and I was taking it very easy to enjoy the sights and smells.


Useful Japanese
Kino wa Shimanami Kaido ni hashitteimashta - "I rode on the Shimanami Bridges yesterday."
Jitensha - "bike"
Jitenshaya - "bike store"
Jitenshaya wa doko des ka? - "where is the bike store?"
Herumetto - "helmet"
Dochirano mitiga keshiki womnirunoni iideska? - "which way is better for scenery?"
Hukuro - "bike bag"


Onomichi (尾道市)

Technically you can catch a ferry from Honshu to Shikoku and start biking from Imabari (今治市), but I think that the course from Imabari to Onomichi is slightly more uphill overall. You can rent a bicycle from either end, however, so whether you want to rent from Onomichi, ride to Imabari and catch a ferry back, or vice versa, both are feasible. Be advised, however - renting a bike costs ¥500/day + ¥1000 deposit, which is refunded to you only if you return the bike to the store you rented it from. Since most people do the course as a one-way trip, this seldom happens (150+ km in one or two days? Possible, but not completely relaxing).

Onomichi is a small tropical town most known for it's Senko-ji Temple overlooking the inland sea. In addition to being an excellent starting point for those biking the Shimanami Kaido, the city boasts some excellent ramen shops featuring Onomichi's unique udon (Japanese noodles). Be sure to visit Shukaen - south of the ropeway station along the large street heading to the inlet.



The bike rental shop is right next to Onomichi Station as you get off the JR (TEL 0848-20-1360). However, I've read many people's testimonials of this bike route that suggest you should not cross the first bridge (Shin-Onomichi Bridge) from Onomichi to Mukaijima by bike, rather you should use one of the five ferries. Just walk along the shore and chances are you'll see one within a hundred feet. Your choice whether you want to rent a bike in the Onomichi center or wait until you arrive in Mukaijima.


Mukaijima Island (向島)

So many websites have already told you step-by-step instructions as to how to get to the next bridge, next bridge, next bridge... I'll just go over some of my observations on each of these islands, and you can interpret the map for yourself.

Other than some beautiful urban and island scenery, there really isn't that much to see as you're crossing Mukaijima (although the weather was absolutely perfect this weekend - not a cloud in the sky). The course is slightly uphill, but it's really not noticeable. What you should be careful about is reserving enough energy to climb the hills at all the major bridges - the one on Mukaijima isn't as bad as the others.

Innoshima Bridge closes the gap between Mukaijima and Ikuchijima Islands. The path for bicycles is under the bridge, and has room for pedestrians, motorcycles, and bikes. Toll: ¥50, based on the honor system (no camera at this bridge).




Innoshima Island (因島)

Innoshima was probably the most rural of all the islands, passing mostly through farmland for chickens and crops. There's just one minor hill before the uphill to the bridge, nothing to worry about. The bike path isn't separate from the country road most of the time, but there's hardly any traffic. There's a rest stop about halfway between the two bridges - when I was there a woman was selling fresh fruits and juices. Not in the least surprised to see a foreigner - the biking path must be pretty popular.

The Ikuchi Bridge lets you leave Innoshima behind and enter Ikuchijima. A bit more treacherous of an uphill than you saw on the previous bridge, so be sure to save your strength. Toll: ¥50, but I believe this stop has a camera.




Ikuchijima Island (生口島)

This is the major island in terms of attractions, food, and a nice riding path along the beach. After crossing the Ikuchi Bridge head towards the northern shore and enter the town of Setoda (瀬戸田). Four things:

1. Lunch, as this is a good staging point if you left Onomichi around 8-9 AM. Be sure to try some of the fresh Japanese oranges, which are practically indistinguishable from limes.



2. Kosanji Temple. It costs ¥1200 to get in and is pretty run down. Still, it's not exactly something you see everyday. The temple is still in use and features some of the brightest colors I've seen on a Japanese temple.



People were laughing at me the entire time I was in front of the temple... two possibilities - one, I'm just a goofy-looking foreigner. Two, blue bicycle shorts just look ridiculous on me.

3. Ikuo Hirayama Museum of Art - decide for yourself

4. Ferry back to Onomichi if you're tired, or stay in the local youth hostel (0845-27-3137)

Ride past the town, past Sunset Beach, and enjoy the breezy, long, flat, straight biking path. No rush, no worries. Those will come when you reach the hill up to Takara Bridge - it's an ugly path. Be ready. Toll: ¥100.




Ohmishima Island (大三島)

Just as you get off the bridge you should notice two things: a self-defense force helicopter on display, and an excellent rest stop. Also not a bad place if you'd like a late lunch - they have a full store, restaurant, vending machines, ice cream stand, and photo opportunities. Be sure to look in the tanks of bottom-dwelling rock fish.



It's a long, uneventful path to the next bridge, with the exception of the gradual uphill you have to endure instead of finishing in one painful kilometer. Riding through more forests than open plains. Ohmishima Bridge - toll ¥50.




Hakatajima Island (伯方島)

Not much to see here unless you want to ride off the chosen path and travel to the south side of the island. Otherwise, you'll be onto the Hakata-Ohshima Bridge before you know it. ¥50 toll. I should also point out that all of these bridges have commemorative stamps with paper at the end of every tollbox. Not a bad souvenir. Stamps are very popular in Japan as a cheap touristy thing to bring home with you, proof that you have indeed seen USJ or Imabari... it's kind of practical, if you think about it.


Ohshima Island (大島)

The final island. You are almost finished. Now is the perfect time to stop your bike in front of helpless Japanese passersby and exclaim, "I am gaikokujin, hear me roar!" This island starts out with a very steep uphill and lets you enjoy a nice downhill slope until you approach the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge. No urban areas, just a nice country path. Be sure to stop at the final rest stop just south of the bridge to look at the freshly caught octopus and enjoy a snack. The Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge itself - the longest suspension in the world, and quite so. It spans six kilometers and has excellent side lanes for bicycles and people. Great picture opportunities of the other islands and nearby Imabari. Take your time to enjoy this trail before paying the ¥200 toll at the end. Remember - the sun on your back, the wind in your hair...



Once you have reached the end of the bridge, take some time to relax - you can go to the nearby Sunrise Itoyama (signs will direct you there, but it's at the end of the biking path) to return your bike, take a hot shower, and get some food. They have an English speaker on staff if you run into any trouble - ask him about Florida. Before you return your bike, however, you might want to go to one of two nearby observation points for the bridges - they're both uphill, so it may not be worth it, but less than one kilometer away from the Sunrise. Get some pictures overlooking the bridges and chat with fellow finishers.

Finished? Take a bus down to Imabari for five kilometers if you want to catch the 12:50, 15:00, or 17:30 ferries heading to Hiroshima Port. You cannot take a ferry from Imabari to Onomichi; it's one-way only. Or you can walk about two kilometers to the nearest JR Station and catch a train to Matsuyama or Imabari. I personally chose to rent a bike for two days to explore the nearby area and have access to some good transportation.

Starving? There's a decent restaurant about two kilometers outside of Imabari along the biking path called the Tomato & Onion - they have Aussie beef, which is delicious after dealing with lean Japanese-style beef for a few months.

I'll have more detailed information about Imabari and Matsuyama in my next entry.


Mamikata

Mamikata is about a 40-45 minute walk from the Sunrise Itoyama. As far as I know, no buses run there. A ferry will take you to Takehara (竹原, along the JR Kure Line) for ¥1100. Ferries run every hour on the half-hour until 9:30 PM. Not a bad option if you're headed somewhere along the Kure line or missed the last ferry in Imabari (5:30 PM).

Map to Mamikata Port


Useful Shimanami Kaido Information

KANcycling
Testimonial with maps
SHIMAP, Japanese site
Rental Information (Japanese)
Sunrise Itoyama (last stop)
Matsuyama Youth Hostel
Ferry Information for Imabari and Matsuyama
Language for Cyclists
Japan Cycling

Pictures of the entire journey


Other interesting encounters - met a woman on the JR Sanyo line who was married to a Romanian; not exactly unheard of, but she didn't speak Romanian, and he didn't speak Japanese. They both communicated with each other in English. That was really funny to me, but I guess it works. Also, after having suffered through an interesting foreigner "interrogation" with a man in front of a store in Imabari, I've noticed there is always a certain order to questions a Japanese person asks a foreigner:

1. Where are you from?
2. Do you like Japan/What do you like in Japan?
3. What do you do? (if they can tell you're not a tourist)

At first, this guy thought I was French and started a small conversation in Francais. I should have gone along with it to dissipate the English-only stereotype, but I was really thirsty and he was offering me a free drink. Maybe next time I'll try speaking fluent Latin...

I am still in search of an alternative to Smoothie King so I can once again regain my mass and conquer the world. Don't forget - the Sake Matsuri is in two weeks. If you're in the area that weekend, come and hang out with me. Always up for meeting friendly people to discuss world affairs. My revelation to you this week - life doesn't feel quite as real when you're single; whether you're a man or a woman, you need someone to help bring that equal mix of balance and uncertainty. Think about it... I fell in to a burning ring of fire... I went down, down down... and the flames went higher...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Running and Burning



Appreciate a Good Burn

"I know you have redeeming qualities. For example, when you're on television you let others shine, while you, generously, absorb all light and oxygen. When you leave an area it stops raining. And I know in the past I referred to you as a 'douche bag'... I only said those things because I honestly think you're a horrible person!"
- Jon Stewart


That was a good burn. And speaking of burn, I saw the most curious event on GetHiroshima - an organized gathering to walk across hot coals in front of Daishoin Temple on Miyajima Island. Now, I know some people call long distance runners masochists... and yeah, we really are to an extent. I mean, who in their right mind runs 42.195 kilometers? That's just insane. But I don't think myself or my kind have quite reached the stage of strolling across a field of burning cinders to "pray for protection from illness and disaster" - seems like the best way to avoid illness and disaster would be to not walk on hot coals. But GetHiroshima did site one of my favorite tenuous quotes: "If your heart is pure..." Anyway, I digress.

One story - making my header graphic a reality, that is running across Miyajima island with the sun on your face and the wind in your hair, flaunting your skills for the world to see. The Hiroshima Seniors Running Club has planned a 10 km cross country race on this famous island scheduled for November 26th (a Sunday). This is the time best known for cool weather, the leaves in their full autumn colors.



Race website
Details from GetHiroshima
Runnet


Random factoids for today

If you're looking for other outdoor activities, I've noticed many Japanese people using jet skis in the inlets surrounding Peace Park - I still have yet to find where they rent them, but using a jet ski in Hiroshima bay or anywhere along the coast would be excellent.

Note to Hiroshima-based foreigners: the best English store in the city is on the 10th floor of Fukuya shopping mall, the one right next to Hiroshima Station. But it is more expensive that Sogo.

"Seriously, how often do you look at a man's shoes?" I'm finding a difficult enough time to find anything over a size ten, even in Hiroshima. Curse my big feet. Also should be noted the practicality of shoes - I see many Japanese businessmen in full suits wearing loose, dirty, tennis shoes, because chances are they'll need to slip them off when entering a professional environment and don slippers. Don't be concerned with fashion, just find something you can slip on/off easily.

Onigiri (rice balls) come stuffed with salmon, seaweed, fruit, and Japanese plums - the Japanese actually dye their plums with a ton of red food coloring. If you've ever had an onigiri that looked like it was bleeding, now you know why.


Coming soon - Japanese business practices: why some people couldn't stop being condescending to foreigners if they tried. Unless I oversleep or eat some bad spinach, I'll being taking the JR to Onomichi, biking to Imabari, and catching the express to Matsuyama... ahhh... the Dogo Onsen awaits...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Searching my Soul



This is more of a personal entry rather than an informative story about the land of the rising sun. Nevertheless, if you're at a crossroads in life, I'm sure you'll understand my thinking.

Is this the way the world works? All my life I, and so many others, are told the same thing - "get good grades, go to school, go to college, get a job, meet a girl, get married..." I'm enjoying my time in Japan, but bottom-line, I know it's not my final resting place, and that's scary enough in itself. All my life has been a transition phase from one short goal to the next: when I was in high school, I was preparing for college, when I was in college, I was getting ready for a job... From one random summer job, to the next, to waiting in Austin a year after graduation, I find myself here, another transition.

We never look at the time spent outside of this path, the time we're supposed to use to develop ourselves. Even right now, I'm looking at jobs for when my time in Japan comes to an end, if my time here comes to an end. Is that it? One continuous flow from one uncertainity to the next? Where is the happiness, really? I know work isn't supposed to be fun 100% of time, but I expect it to be satisfying. Lately, I've been wondering if I can ever find a job like that, a life like that.


"I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, men. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."
Fight Club


All my work history? It hasn't been preparing me for anything. Retail, teaching, Alaska, business owner, even my diploma means nothing without the will to use it. The world is anyone's for the taking, if only we would all accept that fact. I just haven't quite gotten there yet.

I'm in Japan because I chose to be. I'm in Japan because my life has been a string of irregular and unusual jobs, and this is the latest link in the chain. I'm searching for my place in the world among all these jobs, experiences, people, and still have yet to find it. I crave adventure. I yearn for feeling, loving, living, desiring. I can't stand being suppressed, condescended, or pounded into submission. You won't see me working as a telecommunications operator. I won't be behind the counter at the DMV. I believe in things like courtesy, chivalry, honor, virtue, and courage. I would die for a stranger, and live to help another. Money, work history, and job experience be damned, I just want to know what the future holds, where I'm meant to be.

I am the twenty four year old boy. Trying to sail away from the safe harbor, and getting stopped by my own anchor. Doesn't mean I won't keep pulling, keep trying to set out into the unknown... good night.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Keigo isn't Dead, it Just isn't Receiving CPR



Your Word of the Day - Strategory


All of the Japanese I'm currently studying is the polite form of verbs. Your standard Japanese dialect has two forms - standard and polite. The polite form is considered more appropriate in public forums, the standard form among friends and family. Therefore anyone in Japan can get along reasonably well knowing only one of the two - same meaning, different presentation.

In addition to the declining use of Kanji, especially among the younger generation in Japan, Japan is starting to see one of its most honorific languages wither away - Keigo. Keigo (敬語) is used especially to signify differences in social classes. This can be a little confusing so let me give you an example.


Standard suru
Polite shimas
Sonkeigo nasaimasu (exaulted, referring to someone else)
Kenjōgo shiteorimasu (humble, referring to yourself or your equals)


As you can see just by the different conjugations of the one verb, Keigo is like another language in itself. Fifty years ago, it's use was common and accepted among Japanese citizens. Today, however, the younger crowd just isn't seeing the point. Although Japan is still one of the most polite languages on the planet, it is slowly being broken down to a single form. Young people in Japan just don't place as much emphasis on honorific speech as their parents and grandparents did. It won't be long at this rate...

More information on Keigo


Although Keigo may not be long-lived, the Japanese language continues to flourish and divide, divide, divide. Case in point - the different dialects of Japan. Each major region has their own Japanese dialect, just as you'd expect from any language over a large enough landmass - probably even more pronouced in Japan due to the natural topography travelers had to overcome to visit cities; as a result, the original language developed independently in different cities and new dialects sprang into existence.

The most difficult of these to understand, even for other Japanese people, is Osaka-Ben or Kansai-ben: the dialect spoken in the Kansai area. Think of it as like really developed slang - the standard Japanese dialect can still be understood and used, but it's more common to speak with the regional dialect.

Strange words using Osaka-ben

This doesn't really affect your ability to communicate in any case, but if you're moving to the Kansai area, you should definitely be prepared. Even Hiroshima has their own twang.


Still searching for my place in this world of ours, exploring new frontiers, teaching English, and slowly evolving into pure energy, I bid you good day.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Running from Hiroshima to Texas... it's Possible



If Prefontaine had been Japanese, he still would have said...

"I don't just go out there and run. I like to give people watching something exciting."


Steve Prefontaine lives in Japan. After my little exercise and adventure on Monday, I was walking down Hiroshima's main shopping area, Hondori, and came upon a Nike store. Just a little curious, I ventured inside and to my amazement found an entire section of apparel dedicated to Pre - the Oregon waffle shoe, the University of Oregon sweatshirt, even some free Pre postcards which I'll have to send to my old coaches.

Don't know who Prefontaine is? You should be ashamed of yourself if you're a runner. Arguably one of the greatest distance runners of all time, Pre still holds almost every record at the high school level, and would have made a similar comeback in the olympics if not for his untimely death at 24. Why Nike? His coach at Oregon was one of the original founders of Nike. Imagine having a coach at your disposal that can make almost any running shoe you want... I'm having a hard enough time finding anything over a size ten in Japan.

But if you are a runner in Hiroshima, there is still hope. I'm referring of course to an excellent running store right next to Hondori called Yanbo. Yanbo has a large selection of running and fitness apparel including lots of Powerbar Gel packs, something I doubt you'd find anywhere else. Just like any running store, they have entry forms and posters of all the upcoming races.



Sasaki-san, the manager, is a runner himself and loves to talk shop. As I figured out, he has friends in Texas and knows all the major marathons there (White Rock, Freescale, Houston). He knows a few English words, but it would be better if you were familiar with the key Japanese words:

Hashirimashta
I ran

Hashiritai des
I want to run

He's always up for talking about your best races, and knows the best places to go in the Hiroshima area. Be sure to ask him about his PR (personal record) of 3:18:00 several years ago or his last marathon in 2002. If you can't manage the Kanji or instructions with certain race entry forms, Yanbo is the place to go for help.

Yanbo in Hiroshima


Speaking of upcoming races, the deadline for the Peace Marathon is September 30th. The entry form can be a little complicated if you don't read Kanji. Email me if you're having any troubles and I'll guide you through it. Bottom line, you need your katakana name, Romanji name, your signature or name stamp, gender, birthdate, nationality, address in Kanji, and contact number. In addition, all entry forms must be sent in by mail and with a payment receipt from Hiroshima Bank - time to practice that particular conversation myself.



Peace Marathon Office - you can find extra entry forms, posters, and future race entries, but I don't believe they accept walk-in registration.


Going back to my title today, I wasn't referring to some "metaphorical" journey in which my Texas brain is slowly transitioning to the Japanese mindset... well, it may do that, but not just yet. No, "Texas" is a real place in Hiroshima, or Hakushima: Pachinko Slot Texas.

First, let me guide you along the running trail north of Peace Park - it's actually quite nice, away from the roads, along the river, relatively little foot traffic. I was used to running along Town Lake and I felt completely at home. The trail isn't too ideal for long distances, but it's very relaxing and has a more rural than urban feel, despite the fact you're still in the middle of the city.

Hiroshima Running Trail

This trail ends close to where there is actually a Pachinko parlor called Pachinko Slot Texas. I just had to check it out, as Texas shushin des (I'm from Texas). I was half-expecting there to be pachinko girls dressed in skanky cowgirl garb telling all the players "yee-haa!" However, I've noticed that despite the names, and apparent "themes" to these parlors, everything on the inside is basically the same. It's not like in Vegas where you have a completely different atmosphere in The Mirage vs. New York, New York. No, they keep the parlors consistent. However, Hiroshima probably isn't a good gage for Tokyo. Somewhere in this country, there are pachinko cowgirls... come to me, girls...



Studying Kanji, finding English sections in bookstores, renting jet skis, and still planning to eat ramen and bicycle the Shimanami bridges... this is ターナー, signing off...

Typhoons are not Funny





Despite this obstacle, I was still able to enjoy a leisurely eight mile run... join me, challenge the weather gods.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Seishun Juhachi Kippu (青春18きっぷ)



Debunking Stereotypes

99% of all Japanese people believe that if you are a foreigner in Japan, you must speak English as a native. Therefore, the next time one of the "free English lesson" Japanese people approaches you, speak in gibberish before explaining in Japanese that you are the first citizen of your native country to visit Japan, and hearing English spoken causes you uncontrollable anger. This will debunk the notion that all foreigners speak English, and reinforce the superstition that a foreigner may try to eat your children if given the chance.


As any tourist who has ever visited Japan is aware, the JR train system offer various rail passes that allow unlimited travel on all JR Shinkansen, local trains, ferry boats, and some subways. Obtaining such a pass allows the tourist to do more traveling inside Japan that someone with a working visa might ever experience - you have to be visiting Japan with a tourist visa, and the pass must be purchased abroad.



However, there is something of an equivalent pass for those already living in Japan and wishing to travel during the peak holiday times. The answer? Seishun Juhachi Kippu, a ticket that allows unlimited travel along all JR local and rapid trains during the three major holiday periods. Although this does not include the shinkansen, it is still quite a perk.

How does this work? Essentially, just walk up to any major JR ticket office. The SJK (Seishun Juhachi Kippu) is in fact five tickets for five days of unlimited travel, either consecutive or within a certain interval. The catch is five days must be purchased, so even if you're only planning for one long weekend, you won't have the chance to use a few of the day passes. But if you're doing extensive travel and not concerned with time, you still get your money's worth. Anywhere in Japan for ¥2,300/day? Pretty good deal. And you do the math: five days = ¥11,500. In addition, if you're not planning to use the extra days, you can have other people use the passes the same day as you and travel together.

Winter 2006
Purchase Period: Dec 1st --> Jan 10th
Valid During: Dec 10th --> Jan 20th

Spring 2007
Purchase Period: Feb 20th --> Mar 31st
Valid During: Mar 1st --> Apr 10th

Summer 2007
Purchase Period: Jul 1st --> Aug 31st
Valid During: Jul 20th --> Sep 10th

Detailed Information on using Seishun Juhachi Kippu
JR East Information on Seishun Juhachi Kippu
JR East English Information: 03-3423-0111


Holidays this week
Respect for the Aged Day - Monday, September 18th 敬老の日
Autumnal Equinox - Saturday, September 23rd 秋分の日

Brush up on your astronomy - Equinox

Friday, September 15, 2006

Arachnid Presence



One of the things you may or may not have heard about Japan is the booming population of spiders. A coworker of mine who was quite arachnophobic had a very difficult time adjusting to the country. I have no idea if this is a big problem in cities like Tokyo or Osaka, but in Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and everywhere in between, I can vouch for the presence of thousands of spiders, scattered all across the inner-workings of every town. Street lights, door handles, low hanging trees, telephone poles, vending machines, even along the rails near sidewalks and highways...

Another piece of the ancient puzzle comes together. I was always curious about the presence of giant spiders in the Legend of Zelda games from Japan: thinking they were a nice work of fiction, creating a believable, interesting monster for our hero to destroy. Yet these tektites, as they were called, actually exist in Japan. I don't mean there are dog-sized spiders roaming the countryside, bouncing around and biting people, but you'd be amazed at the size of these things. They could easily match wits with a Tarantula. Long story short - watch your head if you're tall, and be careful where you let your hands rest.



I have no idea which ones are dangerous, but webs are everywhere, and these creatures are massive by American standards. Be careful. Speaking of unusual critters, Japan is also the home for some quite unique beetles. In my small town environment, you can often hear them chirping loudly in the twilight hours. In fact, some of my students take the time on weekend mornings to catch beetles with their children in the park. Just like catching butterflies used to be popular in America, the Japanese nuclear family still comes together to enjoy snagging the occasional beetle. They really haven't been a problem for me while walking or running, but they can fly.



Well, so much for my politically vibrant, energizing blog. Tonight I bring you... the news about bugs. Heh. Well, on a more serious note, if you are planning to travel to Japan, be mindful of the peak travel times. I'm planning a ticket back to the US for Christmas and I'm already encountering trouble from high prices, even by holiday standards. Japan has three major nationals holidays.

Obon is the time of year when families gather together and return to their hometowns for prayer and honoring the departed spirits of their ancestors. Held from August 13th-15th every year.

Golden Week is a less formal holiday, requiring no traditions as far as I know, just a week of national holidays. It runs from late April to early May.

Shogatsu (正月) is the Japanese new year. Most of Japan is Buddhist (85%), so naturally they do not celebrate Christmas, but I would say as a country the commercialism of Christmas is observed the same way as it is in other locations. Another way to boost the economy - buy presents, make kids happy for a day. Many Japanese families "observe" the gift-giving aspect of Christmas, even though the religious significance means nothing to them. Having your cake and eating it too, I'd say... cake would be good right about now.

To summarize, Japan has big spiders, travel plans are in the works, and I learned you can get cheaper Shinkansen fares if you purchase tickets from a private office in the middle of Hiroshima city - may be true of other cities as well. Expanding my network and writing for foreigner magazines, this is me, signing off. Don't ever pity me... I could hold my own against Ken Jennings... ok, not really. Sayonara.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nihonjinron (日本人論)

A most curious thing happened to me as I was walking home from work the other night. I was ambling along, past the local Jolly Pasta, and walked by a middle-aged Japanese man. Rather than just ignore me or stare for a few minutes, he jumped right into action, running to catch up with me. I know enough Japanese to be understood and have a basic conversation, so I asked him what he wanted. He refused to speak Japanese, preferring to stick with plain old English, and asked me in broken sentences how long I was staying in Japan.

I told him in Japanese another six months or so, and he looked delighted. "I am a carpet person," he said with zeal. "Do you drink? Do you drink? Please, come!" After refusing as politely as I could, telling him I had just finished work and was hungry, I eventually got him to part ways from me and I headed home. He never spoke a word of Japanese the entire time.

So what just happened here? I was had, yet another victim of the "free English lesson" Japanese crowd. 90% of the time in Japan, you can do well enough minding your own business, even as a foreigner. But the other 10% of the time, you have people walking up to you, refusing to believe that you can speak Japanese so that they can practice their English with a real, live, foreigner! This is more entertaining than insulting, as most of us can communicate in Japanese with such simpletons. I can only imagine what it's like for those who don't speak English - any testimonials?

Perhaps he was slightly drunk from before, but this man's behavior is contrary to the Japanese society. I know, I know, there is not "one rule" to define the behavior of an entire country, but in general, certain standards are recognized and followed. In public, you are expected to conform, not stand out as an individual. This is known as tatemae (建前). Therefore, shouting across a sidewalk and running to talk in fractured English to one foreigner would not be typical outward social behavior.

The antithesis of this phenomenon is referred to as honne (本音), the true feelings and inward desires of all people, but not the face you are expected to show in a public environment, whether you like it or not. In the business world, I have noticed and genkiness and tatamae go hand-in-hand. Although no one is "expected" to be pleasant in a street environment (in fact, you can be quite mellow and coarse if you like), in the workplace, it's very important to let your tatamae shine through in the form of genkiness - an excited, enthusiastic, yet at its core, false appearance.

Although one could argue that these traits are givens in any culture, I would venture to say they are more pronounced in Japan than the rest of the world, especially among business professionals and senior citizens (the conservative of the conservative in Japan). However, there are always exceptions, and every society has certain double standards.

This is a huge part of learning exactly what it is to be a "gaikokujin" in Japan; more than just exploring the language and sightseeing spots, there is the inward journey of discovering your true self, and how this behavior affects you. Honne and tatamae are just two small pieces of the Japanese puzzle, ones which I have broached before. Onomichi and the Shimanami Bridges are still looking good for the next holiday weekend. Stephen Colbert's word of the day: ephemeral. Soak up the sweaty knowledge the I secrete for you... I could have picked a worse metaphor.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lance Armstrong Would be Proud


kancycling.com

Japan wakes me up in the morning. Tatamae gets me on the road every day. Natto has taught me the true meaning of sacrifice. Karaoke makes me suffer. Turner is the reason I'm here.

Loosely interpretted from Lance Armstrong's words...


I'm afraid my trip to Mt. Fuji will have to be postponed until the next climbing season. Although I have no problem in particular with the weather, there are a few issues:

1. The bus schedule to and from Fuji during the off-season is sporadic at best. You cannot hope to get off the first bus, climb the mountain, and return in time to catch the last bus. No matter how good a climber you might be, it's just impossible. With the temperature falling and having no desire to haul camping gear up the mountain, I will have to pass. It's a shame, because I'm sure the trails will be uncrowded and the temperature ideal (for me, at least). However, if you have a car, I'd say go for it. In fact, if you're willing to take me next weekend, I'll cover gas.

2. I'm still consolidating debt from back home, and it's not a good idea to dry out my American sources of money, with the exchange rate being as bad as it could be from Yen to dollars. ¥32,000 on the Shinkansen is somewhat pricely for one weekend of travel. If only I could get a rail pass...

Regardless, there are new adventure plans in the works: the Shimanami Bridges. These bridges connect two of Japan's major islands, Honshu and Shikoku. In short, this is a 77 km (47.75 mile) cycling path ideal with great views, small Japanese towns with character, and a chance to travel across the largest suspension bridge in the world.

KanCycling
Shimanami Sea Road Cycling Guide
Bike Rental and Lodging Information
Japanese Site

Obviously I'll be posting more information after the feat, but here are some useful tips I've researched beforehand:

- If you're traveling from Onomichi to Imabari, take the ferry across the first bridge; there is only a very narrow cycling path.
- Bikes should be reserved one week beforehand, especially if you want a decent mountain bike. I've included a link to a popular rental shop.
- Tolls must be paid on every bridge, even though this is enforced by the honor system.

Sometimes, things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most — that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything...

- If you want to travel all the way from Imabari to Matsuyama, it is another 40 km and along the highway as opposed to the bicycles-only path you've been following for almost fifty miles. Be wary.
- If you're staying in Onomichi be sure to see Senko-ji Park (千光寺公園) and temple, situated on a fairly steep mountain. Onomichi is home to many popular udon and ramen shops. I've heard Shukaen (朱華園) is quite good.


More details on the bridges to be posted after the trip. The weather has turned for the best, and spirits are high. If you heroes keep reading, I will be eternally grateful, and may even slip you a little omiyage. Peace.

Where Were You...?



You know the end of the question. I know I'm just another American voicing my perspective among a sea of others, feeling as if my story is paramount, when in fact it's nothing compared to the people who were actually there. Nevertheless we all experienced that day in a different manner, and each account is worth exploring.

It was a Tuesday. I was in college, sleeping blissfully away as I do every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Knowing my first class didn't start until 12:30, I was content to let my consciousness slip in and out while enjoying the softness of my dormroom bed. I can't even remember what I was studying the night before, but I do recall something odd that happened early in the morning. My roommate came back into the room with his girlfriend, something he really wasn't apt to do, as I know he had class until the late afternoon.

However, this was hardly a noteworthy event, and I continued to slip away into dreamland as they, realizing I was asleep, let me be and left the room. This was a typical college day for me - wake up late, chow down on a breakfast of milk and fruit, and scramble to class five minutes late. Nothing was amiss, nothing out of place. I didn't check the internet that morning, nor did I turn on the TV.

In fact, I didn't even notice anything wrong when I left my dormroom. Making my way across the residence hall, I passed by a large auditorium, typically used for movie-screenings, dorm activities, but never for classes. Yet in the middle of the day, the projector was in use, the television alive and flickering. Odd... I was thinking, but not exactly monumental. I didn't even pay attention to what was being played. Nor did I really give any consideration to the two televisions pumping live news coverage from the swinging exit doors. Ignorance is bliss at times, and in this case, the longer I didn't know, in retrospect, the better off I was.

Strolling along the path that connected my building with the main cafeteria, I was still painfully unaware of anything, and so I was to remain until I met with my fellows in the Jester food court. A person told me the news, confirmed the odd television coverage. One man reported to me the news the world over had seen hours ago, had had time to process and let sink it. And here I was.

Panic. Panic set in fast. Who? Who did I know? Who could be in those buildings? Friends, family? A million possibilities ran through my head. I had friends in New York. I knew people at Columbia. My cousin worked at the Department of Justice... was there a chance she could be at the Pentagon? I can honestly say the reason, the intent, the full-scale implications of the day's events really didn't enter my head. All I could think about was checking in with everyone.

I inhaled what little food remained on my plate, ran to my class to tell my TA that I just had to be sure, and bolted back to my room, containing my links to the outside world: the internet and my cellphone. So many calls, so many instant messages. Gradually the possibilities were reduced, the threats in my mind subsiding. But I still didn't know what to think, how one event could possibly evoke such raw instinct, such vivid feelings inside of me.

I never saw Pearl Harbor. I wasn't there during D-day. I don't know what Vietnam was like. Anyone can say what they like about the implications of that day, but all I can remember are my reactions. And to me, it was no different that an opening salvo, something I had never witnessed firsthand before, nor may I ever again. Five years have passed, but we all count that day among others in our lives as days to live in infamy. Do what you like based on your own experiences - change, advance, withdraw, learn, pity... just never forget.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Plethora of Japanese Food



Your Original Quote

When a Japanese person trips, it means he had an accident; when a foreigner trips, it means he doesn't know how to walk.


Again, my apologies for my lack of entries to date; with family visiting, I haven't had as much time to write. And it's also given me some time to think - I will still be posting my experiences in Japan regularly, but I wouldn't expect them every day necessarily. Could happen, but more often than not I'll be needing time to sort out my thoughts.

Whose cuisine will reign supreme?

Today was filled with a large variety in Japanese food that I've enjoyed immensely. Let us begin with a popular sushi bar called Creative Sushi Nobu. In addition to being highly recommended by my brother, who is quite the connoisseur of Asian cuisine, Nobu offers Japanese sushi California-style: with avocadoes.


Next up: Okonomimura (お好み村). Okonomimura is a small district in the shopping area of Hiroshima that contains nothing but Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) restaurants. Although Okonomiyaki is found all over Japan, the Hiroshima-style is well-known and quite delicious. The difference? Noodles, the sauce, and very special seasoning. Although some would argue they just know good food in Hiroshima.

What is Okonomiyaki? Some would call it the Japanese pizza; I prefer to think of it as the Japanese flapjack. Essentially you have a think layer of pancake batter on the bottom, followed by fried cabbage, onions, pork (and with any vegetables or ingredients you might want). Top this off with a layer of noodles (the Hiroshima-style), either thin or thick Udon, and finished up with a fried egg, special Okonomiyaki sauce, and some light seasoning. Definitely the specialty of the area, and worth trying. A little heavier than most Japanese foods.



And what better way to finish off the day with some yakiniku (焼肉) for dinner. Yakiniku in Japan involves cooking your own raw meat over a small personal grill. Also called Japanese BBQ. There are only two restaurants I know of in the area that serve yakiniku: Shichirin Tango and Gyukaku. Gyukaku (牛角) became so popular in Japan that it spawned a franchise in America.

I recently had the chance to try one of these restaurants in the Hiroshima area and was very impressed. It's probably the simplest and tastiest food I've had the pleasure of enjoying since I arrived. Go in, take your seat, and decide on what meat you want. Choose several varieties if you're unsure (probably a good idea anyway). Gyukaku offers many different types of chicken, beef, vegetables, with different spices and seasonings. Once you've decided, they will bring you an iron-hot grill with the raw meat on a platter, ready to be cooked by you. The meat is so thin it cooks in no time at all, with the flavor cooked right in, never escaping. Absolutely delicious. If any one of my readers want to try it out, it's my treat. I've got a craving right now.



Coming up: I do an intensive study on honne and tatamae. My quest to find Junior Mints continues. And, to answer the age-old question, what do you get for the man who has everything? Japanese food, followed by a lobotomy, so he can enjoy it again for the first time. The adventure continues...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Fleeting Strength of the Cheetah



Agreeing with Nick Taylor

"That's the beauty of argument. When you argue correctly, you're never wrong."


The Japanese diet. Rice and fish, to be frank. Not many westerners know that Japan only recently adopted the idea of eating meat on a regular basis. And by recent I mean within the last 100-150 years, around the same time as the westernization of Japan began: when Commodore Matthew Perry forced the Japanese to open their borders for foreign commerce in 1854. This essentially began the eventual "wedging" of American and western culture into the Japanese world. Obviously the diet was just one small consequence.

But how healthy is it in Japan? Honestly, it depends on you. The Japanese cuisine is better for your system most of the time, but every style of food has its temptations, and Japanese is no different. Cakes, chocolates, pies, cookies... It's just a matter of self control. Definitely one of the most unique foods I've encountered in Japan is their version of fruit. Japan imports regular fruit to be distributed in supermarkets just as they would be in the western world, but they also refine and concentrate different fruits, to be sold at a much higher price. Think of it as super-fruit. Watermelon is probably the most expensive example of this - maybe ¥30,000 to buy a large square watermelon.

If you want to spend all your time devouring Oreos and McDonald's that is your decision. But, you should be a little concerned about your fat intake in Japan - not because you gain weight, but rather because you lose it. I don't see too much concentrated protein or fat in the Japanese diet, and as a result, I've lost more weight than I care to lose. Not because I was fat before, but because I haven't built up enough muscle to compensate for the lost fat.



If you maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle in Japan - running, biking, walking, martial arts - you can probably expect the same to happen to you. It's extremely difficult to build up muscle mass when there is no protein to build upon. I'm 6'0" and I only weight 76 kg. Believe me, that's too light. My arms have lost their fat reserves and my legs look a bit smaller as well. On the other hand if you enjoy being thin, lean, and a little lanky, Japan just might be the country for you. Bring some steak with you just in case; I've also heard there's an Outback Steakhouse in Osaka.

So what does this mean for you? Just be careful. If you eat nothing but rice, fish, and soup the whole time you're in Japan, you will look very Japanese-ish. Think of your strength as like the endurance of a cheetah - you might be the fastest animal on the planet, but you can't keep it up too long.

I won't say Japan has gone too westernized in terms of its food - many people, especially in Tokyo, dine on fast food just because they are the ones who need to eat on the run. But usually you can expect the native food to take precedent for lunch and dinner - a bento for lunch, and a homemade or izakaya dinner. Breakfast is another story - the Japanese breakfast includes rice, fish, and miso. In terms of Japanese food, this offers the least variety I've ever seen. They don't even offer light western alternatives. The cereal in Japan is quite simply Frosted Flakes, Coco Krispies, Corn Flakes... and these seem to be catered to children, unlike in the US, which offers them to all ages. Don't expect too many varieties of cereal or cold breakfast foods. Many, many Japanese people are seeing the advantages in bacon and eggs, toast, pancakes, etc. Unhealthy? Yes. Filling? Definitely.

Learn about what foods will be necessary to maintain a similar diet before you arrive in our borders. Trust me, it's difficult if you're reinventing your food routine, and it's one less thing to worry about once you get here. What should you expect? Pasta, rice, fish, meat (but light), and no turkey. I have a feeling once I go back and inhale Austin's Mexican food, I will throw up from happiness... yeah, and the food being way too heavy.


News as of late - the author of SurvivedSars is in Japan, making use of his Chinese skills to read Kanji. Traveling to Onomichi on Monday to see the Senko Temple. The Shinkansen is insanely fast, even after knowing how fast it is. Good yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) - Gyukaku restaurant. I'm also attempting to travel home for Xmas, so will need to contact the proper authorities in Japan. Keeping up with running, blogging, studying Japanese, and encouraging the discussion of funny cultural differences... I live to tell another day.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Your Path in Life



Teaching You

The last digit of pi is 5, if you're a math atheist.


I apologize for not writing sooner but I have been preparing for my brother's arrival. How many times have you heard your parents say: "Do your homework, go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, make money..."? Well, that's excellent advice... if you were born more than forty years ago.

Look at the world we live in today - people becoming millionaires overnight due to internet businesses or truly novel ideas, actors getting paid tens of millions of dollars to perform in terrible movies... ask yourself, when has hard work ever amounted to anything in the modern age? Now, I will admit, there are some truly hardworking people, ingenious people, who started with nothing and worked their way up from the bottom. And I have respect for that, but does everyone? If you essentially have the choice to go the standard route - school, college, work - knowing you will end up in a decent but unextraordinary job, or finding your own path in life, one which leads you to prosperity albeit by different ways, which would you choose?

Maybe coming Japan was just a way of putting off "real life"... maybe it was. But many people's destinies lie in foreign countries; their paths lead them here. You can't exactly leave college, start working the 9 to 5, and expect to be happy 100% of the time. It just doesn't work. Are you "successful"? Maybe. Are you financial stable? Yes. Are you complete? I sure hope not.

Sometimes I feel like I don't have a stable job awaiting me in my future. My life has essentially been nothing but temporary positions, between school and now after college. Has it been this way for everyone? Are some people just fated to work nothing but contract positions until they retire? Do you admire those hardworking people who are the quintessential "rags to riches" stories, or do you feel they are foolish by choosing the road more traveled?

Why come to this country? Because you can. Because you are someone in a unique position, who has the choice to travel, explore, discover the world. I don't want to leave that position, and that's why although I may be financially secure, I may be well-traveled, I may even be cultured, but I'll never be in a stable job. Bouncing from place to place without ties, friends scattered across the world, family awaiting my return... this is what I signed up for.

I'm not aware if I've posted this yet, but I have a degree in aerospace engineering, yet I am in Japan right now, teaching English, exploring life. And what does teaching English have to do with engineering? Not a thing. Nor is it my chosen career path. With my goals in mind I may never be satisified until I've climbed the tallest mountain, appreciated the truest beauty, fought the strongest of the strong, and learned from the wisest of them all. Somewhere, along this journey, I hope I find my place...

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."


Recent news - Japan's Princess Kiko has had a baby boy, ending the controversy over whether a female heir could ever succeed to the throne. I would talk in depth about the Japanese monarchy but I really don't care; not because it's Japan, just because monarchies across the world hold nothing but diplomatic power. I should be going to Onomichi and returning to Sanzoku for another exceptional meal this weekend. I feel like I've become a magnet for Texas weather in Japan: experiencing all four seasons inside of a week. In this case, spring, summer, and fall. No winter as of yet. It must be me; the rainy season is officially over, and yet we still see cloudy and typhoonish days like today. Regardless, that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red. Gambatte.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Peace Marathon 2006



Altering History
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free... unfortunately I'm several thousand miles away from Ellis Island, so those people will have to breathe another time and start running today.


Hiroshima will be holding its annual Peace Marathon on November 3th, 2006. This is a Friday, and also a Japanese national holiday. Runners, support Hiroshima and join your friendly neighborhood foreigner (yes, I will be there) as we start the race from the Diamond Hotel and end at Hiroshima Stadium. In fact, this is not a marathon-distance race (42.195 km), but rather two races of 10 km and 5 km.





Entry Fees

5 km - ¥2300
10 km - ¥3000

Start Times

5 km - 12:00 PM
10 km - 12:20 PM

Registration opened on September 1st and will end September 30th. I don't believe race-day registration is allowed. Entry forms can be found on this website, Hiroshima Bank, Momiji Bank, or at most major athletic stores. Mail them to:


730-0854
広島市中区土橋町7-1
中国新聞ビル1階
第26回ひろしま国際平和マラソン事務局


Get Hiroshima Article
Race Website

Breaking News for My Australian Readers

Steve Irwin has passed. I'm sorry to see him go... crikey.

CNN Story

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blogging in the Working World



The Foreigner Knows

Prohibition in the United States was repealed on December 5th, 1933, following the ratification of the 21st amendment by the state of Utah. Nevertheless, you should stay sober while reading this blog.


Imagine if you will - an average American Joe worker going about his daily life in the corporate world. Joe wakes up at 6:00 AM, grabs his $8 decaf non-fat latte from Starbucks, and drives towards the cubicle that is both his source of financial security and his reason for seeing a psychologist for the past five years. He does his job well, despite the fact he may have reservations and insecurities at times. He enjoys the company of his co-workers, although he has certain misgivings about them as well. Joe shows respect for his manager, even though at the core, he's the source of all his pain. On this particular morning, after arriving early to enjoy his caffeinated beverage and check his email, Joe's manager calls him into his office, looking rather serious. Reluctantly, he complies.


"Joe, I'm afraid we have to let you go."


Joe is at a loss. He's never been late, never done his job with anything but absolute precision, and has always behaved in an appropriate manner while in the workplace. What could he have done to be fired so unexpectedly?


"It's about your blog..."


Ah, yes, Joe's blog. Although Joe has always acted appropriately and professional while in the work place, in cyberspace, another story is unfolding. What is a blog? According to Dictionary.com, a blog is "an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page." Joe's blog definitely meets the definition - on occasion, he gets frustrated at his manager. Rather than express those troubles to the manager directly, he chooses to use a different outlet to vent those feelings: his blog. Why not? After all, a blog is by definition a diary, a collection of opinions, nothing more. Joe feels no sense of shame or betrayal in writing his opinions in his own personal journal. His manager, however, disagrees:


"You mention the company in several of your entries. This will not stand."

"But I don't mention any specific names or classified information about the company. And even if I did, it's freedom of speech, isn't it?"

"No, I'm afraid it isn't, Joe."


15-love to the manager. True, most Americans hold the first amendment as paramount in expressing their beliefs. In public forums, this is accepted whether the message is widely approved of or not. For example, the US is fairly split right now on the Iraq war. Neither side may like what the other says, but we have to respect their right to speak thus. However, as far as the private industry is concerned, the Constitution may as well not apply - they have their own rules, "laws" if you will, concerning public statements. It's really as simple a policy as the one you see in convenience stores - "we have the right to refuse service to anyone." Companies don't have to charge employees with slander, libel, or even prove defamation of the corporate name. If someone thinks you have go, you go. This is a point of contention still under review, as blogs are relatively new.

But does this apply to blogs? Although Joe is in America, his blog isn't anywhere - it's in cyberspace, hosted from one server to the next across three continents. Could one argue since his message isn't being "broadcast" in America, that he's free to say whatever he likes? What right does the company have to censor him? In some cases there are actually clauses you sign in your employment contract to not cause damage to the reputation of the company. Regardless of where the information is coming from, the source is still 100% Joe. Be careful to read the fine print.

So what exactly caused this dismissal? Publishing information that would be crucial to stockbrokers? New management, or a corporate merger? No... interoffice politics. Breakdowns in communication between Joe and his manager and co-workers, ones that he feels angry enough to warrant a few blog write-ups. Does this affect his behavior or performance in the workplace? No... and yet it's enough cause for him to be fired.

Although this is still a grey area in corporate policy, what executives need to understand is that there is no difference between blogging and writing in a journal at home. Now, I know some people disagree with that statement, but there really isn't. Bloggers aren't accredited or acknowledged authorities (well, most of them, anyway) on anything - they are simply people with opinions. You don't have to read them, you don't have to look at them. If you are a higher-up, and know an employee with a blog talking about you specifically, ignore it. The worst thing you can possibly do is bring it up in the workplace, because you make it a work-related issue, not the blogger. You bring it into the light, not the blogger. If you don't want to make the blog an issue, leave it be. It's just yet another opinion about your company on the internet, among thousands of others. All the blogger wants to do is write his opinions in peace. The blogger is perfectly content to continue venting his frustrations, rather than having them affect his performance in the workplace.

What's the best thing to do after you've been fired due to blogging? Keep blogging. In all likelihood the termination will spread like wildfire among your co-workers, contacts, and news organizations alike. There have been cases where decent bloggers have been offered book deals to discuss their experiences with blogging in the workplace.

If this isn't for you, and you don't feel like making a stand, there is no shame. You need to support yourself with a steady job, and a blog just isn't worth the risk. There isn't a firm across-the-board policy on bloggers as of yet, and until there is, we may expect to see many more terminations and lawsuits. If you want to express your opinions but are worried about retaliation, here are some tips (although employers find ways around these too):

1. Remove all references of the company's name and purpose

2. Lie or be ambiguous about your location

3. Don't use your real name, and especially don't use your last name

4. Don't mention any contact with co-workers or managers


For more information, see the following:

Blogger's Rights
Legal Guide for Bloggers
Dooced


Japan has its advantages. Learn about them from me. Mata ne.