Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My Corner of the World This Week

North Korea has agreed to six-party talks regarding its recent inclusion into the nuclear club. In this blogger's opinion, China had a great deal of influence on the DPRK. North Korea may not have yielded to their political pressure in response to the first test; the temptation to possess such weapons was clearly too great for anyone to dictate terms to Pyongyang. But now, facing addtional economic and China-backed UN sanctions, we are beginning to see some signs of waning.


Apparently all names of the entrants to the Hiroshima Peace Marathon were published in the newspaper. I may be wrong, but I think I'm the only foreigner running this year (or at least one of the few).


The deadline for the Miyajima Cross Country race is Monday, November 6th. You can register online or through the mail. As of yet I haven't found the proper mailing address. This 10K should prove to be a beautiful autumn run.

GetHiroshima Details


The Hiroshima International Peace Summit 2006 is now underway in our fair city of peace. Such a gathering has even brought the Dalai Lama into Japan to speak.


I have finally discovered the name of the law that is effectively shutting down the nightlife in Hiroshima: the Public Morals Law. This law requires that all clubs do not allow concurrent drinking and dancing between 1:00 and 5:00 AM.

Nightlife in Tokyo
GetHiroshima Information
Japan Times Article


Me? Trying to memorize the lyrics to "Music of the Night" for a girl, keeping up my Japanese studies, and searching for pictures from the weekend Halloween bash. A friendly acquaintance of mine is leaving Hiroshima this week to return to the old country. I need to get out more. Later.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reminded of Younger Days



Let the memories turn to fire in your minds and burn there for all eternity. I remember the days. I remember being as I was, a young boy, knowing nothing of the affairs of the world, laying there peaceful and content in my sheets, basked in my parents' love and the security of my home. Rested, content, feeling only the softness of the mattress, the warmth of the blanket, and the certainty that all the material possessions you hold dear are within grasping distance. It's a superficial existence to be a child, but it's reality.

And I remember it like I remember all things. Time doesn't separate these memories in my mind. I could just as easy wake up tomorrow morning on my Japanese futon and believe for a split second that I'm 8, 10, 15 years old again. Anyone can remember certain events, certain experiences they went through oh so long ago, but do you recall the feelings? Can you let your consciousness return to the mindset and perception that you used to have? Can you think simply, ignore the future, and forget all that has happened to make you the person you are today? I can. It's neither a blessing nor a curse. In fact, I find it rather useful. Probably the reason why I admire and respect kids so much. As adults in the public world, we might see their behavior as cute or annoying, but I understand. I understand what drives a child to ask "why?", do to the things he does for the reasons he believes are true.

And in my childhood, Japan was just as present in my thoughts as it is today. It's a different world, of course, but the idea is the same. A fantasy world. A place that is deemed to be unreachable by my small human self, just because it's so fantastic, it's impossible to comprehend. That's what I grew up with. Stories. The Legend of Zelda. A warrior in a neverending struggle against evil, brought right back to the beginning with just the push of a button. Living and loving, fighting and dying, at the hilt of a sword and the beauty of magical power. The one you respect beyond reason, the one you want to be. I believed that land existed. Hyrule. As Japan.

Of course, beyond these extreme feelings and instinctual feelings, there were other benefits. Friends. Playing together. Competition. Who can save the Princess from Bowser the fastest. Who can stop Dr. Wily. Who can find the entrance to the secret passage in the first castle to get the magic whistle. That's how many of us met our childhood friends. Playing together late in the afternoon after school to remove all traces of math from our minds and just enjoy the moment. Talking about the previous gameplay in school the next day. Planning on another one on the weekend. Discussing strategies. Spurning those who didn't understand. Complaining of Nintendoitis.

This is how our generation grew up. The first to enjoy the routine of playing with video game consoles. Of having enough entertainment every single day. I am clearly an extreme example of this, having invested more money and time than most, but this is how I got my first impressions of Japan. A country that can produce such marvels is, well... unthinkable.

All this stemmed from being reminded of younger days, as I am every day. I see it all the time. A giant cut-out of the title screen from the original Super Mario Bros, plastered over the wall at my local Sega World arcade parlor. Sitting on the bench opposite that display, I do feel peaceful, content... for a time.

But this is my life now. The real Japan. A fantasy, true, but I've lived here long enough to distort my childhood perceptions; not in a bad way, mind you, it's just part of growing up. I am still a child at heart. I shouldn't have let such a precious part of that heart be exposed to reality. Dreams are by nature intangible, insubstantial. Leave them be.

Let these spark something
The Wizard
Captain N
"Excussseee me, princess"
Do the Mario



Consider that the mental rambling of one in deep thought this evening. Still, it's nice to remember those old thoughts I had of Japan when I was younger. The halloween party at Chinatown was excellent - highly recommended. Speaking of memories, I'll leave you with a useful Japanese quote from a book I should probably read again:

"The Japanese have a saying: fix the problem, not the blame. In American organizations it's all about who fucked up. Whose head will roll. In Japanese organizations it's about what's fucked up and how to fix it. Nobody gets blamed. Their way is better."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Office Space Mentality


"Ummm.... yeahhhh..."

I have finally come up with a trivial, simple solution to letting the everyman understand this country of ours. The perfect analogy to working in the Japanese world, whether it be an eikaiwa (英会話) or a Tokyo newspaper. True, this may not be the clearest picture, but I still think it's pretty funny. Read, relax, and enjoy.

THE PEOPLE

Peter Gibbons
The stereotypical foreigner come to Japan. Just looking for his place in this world of ours. He picks up girls using very simple English, and enjoys the entertainment surrounding Asian culture (Kung Fu). Not primarily concerned about working for a company in Japan when there are places to go and times to sleep.

Lawrence
The epitome of every single foreign friend you have. Just when you are starting to get Japanized and comfortable in your new home, your neighbor comes knocking to remind you of what you're leaving behind. Also someone who makes it very difficult for you to concentrate on learning Japanese. Seems to be surrounded by Japanese women.

Joanna
Your stereotypical Japanese girl. Has been around the block. Attracted to the gaikokujin for reasons unknown. One exception - Japanese girls love pieces of flair.

Bill Lumbergh
Every single manager, Japanese or otherwise, on the face of the Earth. Gives orders without purpose or intent. Domineering. Controlling. Has the ability to make you feel bad for doing the smallest thing wrong. Hassles you at all hours. No method to the madness. And, to top it off, makes more money than you.

Milton Waddams
The foreigner-in-denial type. Refuses to deal with his present environment and is reminded of previous days back at home. Won't conform to Japanese work conditions, and is social with no one. Doesn't study Japanese. Doesn't eat Japanese food. Let's the anger from cultural differences build up and up.


THE IDEAS

Initech
Most Japanese companies. Working in a cubicle or small desk. Surrouded by management and business papers. You're in a world of gray. No green grass, no blue sky, no yellow sun in this office. One noticeable difference - the fax and copy machines usually work.

"Is It Good for the Company?"
出る釘は打たれる。 The nonconformist will be pounded down. You can't go against the grain on this one. Every Japanese manager you will ever encounter is concerned with only one thing - the well-being of the company. Your life outside of work? Not important if it interferes. "Why are you outside enjoying the beautiful weather when you could be filing TPS reports?"

"It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime; so where's the motivation?"
It's called zangyou (残業): literally "after time". Overtime. The time that technically is not part of your workday according to any other contract in the world, but by Japanese standards, you have to stay late, work during breaks, arrive extra early... it's just common practice. No extra money, no extra praise. Working overtime in Japan is like working your standard 9-5 hours anywhere else. The money goes into the company, not back to you. If there are companies in Japan that work on commission, I'd love to know if they hire foreigners.

TPS Reports
The business side of the eikaiwa. It's not all classes and teaching. It's paperwork. TPS reports are the archetype of every single stupid, inefficient, bureaucratic thing you might be asked to do in the office. Doesn't matter if it makes sense or not. Do it, or at least find an effective way to lie about it.

The Swingline Stapler
Sweet escape. Everything that makes Japan good and pure. The food. The people. The enjoyable parts of working, teaching. Travelling. The Shinkansen. Skiing. Climbing Fuji. Language. Okinawa. Tokyo. The experience alone. Hang on to it; don't let your manager tear it away from you.


Saturday 28th, 2006. Halloween party. Chinatown, in Hiroshima. Come one, come all. Look for me wearing a red cape with a special symbol on the back. Kombanwa.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Language Plateau


Marudo Plateau, Japan
Courtesy of Snow Japan

Useful Cultural Expression

NEET - "Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training".
Commonly used in Japan


Stop me if this sounds like you. You've been in Japan for a few months, most likely brought here by the falsely intoxicating lure of the eikaiwa. You have a cell phone, a bank account, internet in your small apartment (assuming you went into debt to buy a computer like me). Your "honeymoon period" in Japan is over. You are comfortable. You go out with your friends, you're confident ordering food at a restaurant, and you have no trouble navigating the intricacies of the JR system. What's missing?

Remember when you first arrived, just how eager you were to learn the language? How you talked to people during your eikaiwa training, saying "yeah, I've heard from a lot of people that have stopped studying Japanese, but I really want a strong grasp of the language. I don't think I'll stop."

Well, guess what? Most of us stopped - my praise for you who didn't - and I think I understand why. Naturally, if you came into the country with 0% Japanese, every little word you learn feels like a huge accomplishment. And it is, as it slowly fills your brain with Nihongo. But as your mind is slowly filled to the brim, you begin to lose a certain motivation. Why? Your essentials are met. You have internet. Your gaijin card is registered. Your bills are automatically withdrawn from your bank account which was set up by your company. And working in an eikaiwa environment, you don't practice Japanese most of the day. You go out with foreign friends, and the little necessary language you need to survive, you already have.

Once you hit this language plateau, it's really hard to continue going uphill. The motivation is less, as you aren't starving or struggling to live in this world. Now, this is a harsh generalization - many foreigners know Japanese beforehand, or have had the dedication to keep studying 24/7. I know that. But I would say for many newcomers, this phenonomenon would be and is rather common.

Well, there's no better advice than gambatte. Keep your chin up. Practice writing Katakana and Hiragana at night. Look over Kanji symbols during lunch, just so the shapes are familar to your eyes. Practice your speaking and listening at international center classes. Get right back into it, and realize that although you may be able to "survive", survival is insufficient. You can't have a meaningful conversation. You couldn't deal with the bureaucracy - banks, government, etc - if your life depended on it. You can't pick up girls who don't speak English (unless of course they're into that). Try again.


Free English Lessons - International Centers

The international centers I'm kind of split about. They usually have two types of classes - beginner, to review vocabulary, simple grammar skills, and improve writing. Advanced - for those who can read and write in Hiragana and Katakana (though probably not any Kanji), and those classes involve more complex sentences. I'm right down the middle. Many of us are. So go to the beginner class, reinforce what you know, study on your own, and work your way to the expert level.


Working on getting a wire transfer between my Japanese and American bank accounts - will post more on that. Tokyo is definitely in the works for December, followed by Kyoto. I have no money, but it's still worth it. My articles on cultural differences and practices will spread across the land of the rising sun like wildfire. Grasp them, sense them, embrace them. Goodbye, and we shall meet again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Evasive Entertainment



"YouTube deletes 29,549 videos at request of Japanese broadcasters, copyright groups"

A total of 29,549 videos were deleted from video streaming site YouTube following a request from copyright-related rights organizations, NHK and other broadcasters, the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) said...

Read full story


And this isn't just limited to Japanese broadcasts. Already I've noticed my favorite episodes of The Colbert Report and The Daily Show being stripped out of existence by the YouTubians. Why is this illegal, you ask? We've all seen the FBI caption that displays before any movie: "under penalty of law, this video cannot be reproduced for commerical intent... etc, etc." Naturally the laws have evolved to include internet phenomena, but how?

Is this "commercial intent" to YouTube users? Certainly there is to the company itself. Copyrighted material is seen for free, boosting the hit count, which is the basis for all of the online video sharing site's profit: advertising. But what about for the users? Are we benefiting from financially from this material? Other than not having to buy or rent the DVD, I would say not...

YouTube has complied with requests to remove material in the past, under US law, but this is the first "en masse" deletion of so many videos - the end of YouTube? Will people continue to spent hours uploading videos only to have them deleted by a properly motivated screener in a matter of minutes? Time will tell.

I just loved this "Politics and YouTube" story on CNN. I'd be surprised if YouTube hasn't played a large role amongst candidates before. We've got individuals sharing their opinions on weblogs, rogue cameramen broadcasting amateur video on YouTube... I thought the world couldn't possibly get more interconnected, but then we forget about giving the everyman unlimited control and access. It was only a matter of time.




Speaking of YouTube, I happened to download Steven Colbert's October 17th interview with Richard Dawkins. The most curious reference from my favorite writer of truthiness...

(Discussion about intelligent design)
"I know a pachinko machine isn't an accident either. There's a reason why it bounces from nail to nail, but it looks random to me right?"
"Nothing in nature looks random."
"I want you to address my pachinko analogy."
"I've never even heard of it. What is that?"
"Never heard of pachinko?"
"No."
"Oh, it's like Japanese pinball."
"OK."
"It's great, they make pornographic versions of it over there."

Finally, someone who understands. If only we could distribute pachinko to the rest of the world, so we could enlighten everyone on the hidden dangers and have them banish the cruel machines from every last desolate place on Earth. See the full interview.


Raise your glasses to Robert Cheruiyot, my favorite Kenyan runner who won the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, despite hitting his head at the finish line. This guy has competed in almost every major marathon across the world. He was the winner when I ran Boston, finishing in two hours, seven minutes, and fourteen seconds.

Full story


Why go to Texas? Ice cream. Blue Bell ice cream. Fresh from the vats in Brenham.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eye of the Tiger

Original Creed

私は外国人のように話せます、
しかしケニア人のように走ります。
Watashi wa gaikokujinnoyouni hanasemas,
shikashi Kenyajinnoyouni hashirimas
I speak like a foreigner, but I run like a Kenyan




What should I find waiting in my mailbox today? Nothing other than the Hiroshima Peace Marathon confirmation forms. I did it. I have successfully gone through the Japanese bureaucratic process to sign up for a race. Look for me out there. I will always offer you "gambatte". Maybe not if you're wearing a costume, though... Let's face it, I'm scary enough as a foreigner. If they celebrated Halloween in Japan all the candy would be ours.

Peace Marathon Contact Information

Chugoku Shimbum, 7-1 Dobashi-cho
Naka-ku, Hiroshima, 730-0854
TEL: 082-234-4679 (English)


- Remember: 12:00 start time for the 5k, 12:20 for the 10k on November 3rd, a national holiday.
- It is too late to register. Race day registration is not allowed. Run it bandit if you want.
- For spectators: hold up a sign saying "Chuck Norris wouldn't stop" during the final leg. It worked wonders for me in the Boston Marathon.

My Expert Village Marathon Training videos are now online. I know, I make some really obvious comments and some bad generalizations, but I do know what I'm talking about. God I sound like I'm at one of those post-game football interviews: "gotta give 110%, I want to thank God, it was hard out there, but hard is good..." Heh.




My solution to the muscle mass problem. Naturally, I was looking for a replacement to Smoothie King or some store that could offer cheap, healthy, protein and vitamin-packed drinks. As such, no store like that exists. But there are some products from Weider that offer the same type of supplements - protein, multivitamins, etc. Cheap, and available from almost all stores.


The weather is cool, sunny, and breezy. The humidity is dead. The spiders are still very much alive. Help me help you, but only as far as reading an online blog goes... ima hashirite!

Friday, October 20, 2006

In Vino Veritas


Image courtesy of uk-wine.com


Finally, my first drunken businessman story, the perfect interruption to a hate-filled evening. Ahhh... the beauty of this great country of ours. I'm walking into my apartment building, tired, with a cola and bento in one hand. Who should be standing on the other side of the security door but your typical Japanese businessman returning from a late night of working... or so I thought.

"Dozo," I said, offering the elevator to him first. But he just bowed... no, he never stopped bowing, his torso was inclined all the time, and proceeded to let me go first. All right, I'm thinking, I can deal with the super-friendly type tonight, no problem. "Nan kai?" I asked him politely. But he just kept bowing, kept his eyes to the floor.

"Arigatou gouzaimas" he said sutteringly. Uh... ok... that's not an answer, and I know I spoke correctly. He pushed his floor number by himself.

Trying to be a little more friendly I tried "tsukareta, ne?"

"Arigatou gouzaimas, daijobu des." Again, really not an appropriate answer. What is going on? I got my answer when we reached his floor. After a few more "arigatou gouzaimas"'s coming out of his mouth, he proceeded to ram the entire left side of his body into the elevator frame, then nearly tripped over his own foot trying to get out.

Ahhh... what a country where a certain Japanese person speaks simply, drinks heavily, and behaves politely while inebriated. I swear I've never had as many bows directed at me as I did tonight.


A good social experiment
Get yourself some good-looking meishi (business cards) and proceed to introduce yourself to every professionally-dressed Japanese person coming out of your local train station. The average businessman bows 200-300 times every day. Make at least one of those times to you.

"By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe."
Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I Am The Night



In many ways the eikaiwa teachers in Japan are very similar to vampires: we go out mostly at night, we are feared by young children, and I don't believe the creatures like squid ink on their pasta either.

I have to admit when I first started researching life in Japan I was entirely convinced most eikaiwa teachers subscribed to the "work hard, play hard" attitude: sleep till noon, work for a few hours, eat, and spend the entire night clubbing and drinking until you eventually pass out. It just seemed like the only viable option for socializing given our schedules. With the exception of JET, other employees of the major English-teaching companies have an irregular part-time work schedule. Start around 12-1 PM, end at 9-10 PM (with on/off hours between classes). It doesn't exact give oneself prime opportunities for activities in the daytime like enjoying a leisurely lunch, or meeting friends for dinner and a movie.

In actuality, it's very expensive to go out every night for karaoke or drinking, and most eikaiwa employees save their money for weekends when there are no time-constraints. Still, we are creatures of the night, and we behave as such. We should all be careful not to turn into the Phantom.



Courtesy Skydive San Marcos


I know it's expensive, but given my failure to reach Mt. Fuji this year (and maybe forever if I leave next year), I'm searching for the best place to skydive in Japan. Some of the jump zones near Tokyo actually release you from a helicopter - excellent. Gluttony and a lust for life are my sins. Just call me Porthos, but I hope I have the sensibility of Aramis.

Tokyo Skydiving Club
Skydive Kanazawa
Skydive Fujioka
Parachute Village
CSC Skydiving Club
Kansai Skydiving Club

Fire on Your Tongue

Learn to haiku (俳句) style burns

My heart aches with pain.
When I see you, I vomit.
Die away from me.

That 70's Show


As a matter of fact, my entire blog, title, pictures, and all, are incredibly insulting to foreigners, at least from a Japanese perspective. The word "gaijin" was created as a derogatory term for all non-Japanese people. But unlike other words of prejudice, "gaijin" has pretty straightforward origins.

外国人, Gaikokujin, foreigner, "outside country person"
外人, Gaijin, "outside person"

Just like other races, we have taken something inherently offensive and made it our own, from Gaijin Smash, to Gaijin in Japan, to yours truly, the fastest among all foreigners. Although many Japanese people may throw out a "gaijin" remark with malicious intent, most foreigners harbor no feelings whatsoever about the word. How can we hate a word that means nothing to us? Still, there are those that take the opinions of the Japanese racial slurs seriously, and completely avoid the word.

Japan really is one of the safest countries on this Earth. Murder happens, but it is so unexpected (well, more so than other countries), it usually makes national news. Assault is less likely. Rape... it does happen. And if you're an attractive foreign woman, be on your guard. Especially around the club scene. You're just as likely to encounter a chikan on a crowded train. Chikans are those pathetic Japanese men who take advantage of the close quarters in a jam-packed train to molest women. Again, be on your guard. You're walking with a bullseye on your body if you're a foreigner.

If you do encounter some jerk or someone you'd prefer would leave you alone, "no" is a universal word, and screams and shouting are widely understood. But if you'd really like to brush someone off, there are some common Japanese phrases:

"Go away!"
atchi e ike or hanarero

"Stop!"
tomare

"Help!"
taskete

"No way!"
やだ, yada

"You're a pain"
うざい, uzai

I'd like to come up with something more insulting, but I believe there is a nationwide conspiracy to stop foreigners from learning the all-powerful Japanese insults. After all, how can one of the most polite languages on the earth claim to have every swear word in the book? Yet... they exist. Give me time. I'll crack one of them, or maybe a Japanese girlfriend can show me the way.



North Korea is not planning another nuclear test. That would be a great message to the rest of the world: "Watch us, all-powerful North Koreans, as we deplete our existing supply of plutonium in an impressive and completely useless display!" Give me a break. In case you haven't noticed, I'm a fan of channeling other people's dialogue, even though I end up being off my miles. Still, there are so few facts in the news it's ridiculous. Everything I've read this week has been mere speculation.

Noteworthy

My entry regarding workplace behavior in Japan is now published in The Foreigner; check it out.

When I'm thinking of home, this always helps. Heh, the Mexican food really does suck everywhere else. Anyone know a half-decent place in Japan?

Monday, October 16, 2006

タイトルはないです



Where's this from, television fans?

"I could be home right now, drinking sake and watching Jeopardy!"


But that's not where I want to be. I realize now that I may have given off a few misconceptions about myself. I will admit I am more alone in this country than I'd like, but I'm still happy. Moreover, I'm getting to be more and more comfortable about living here - catching the train to Tenjingawa to see a movie, walking to Gyukaku for some quality yakiniku, enjoying the nightlife in Hiroshima (well, until recent events), making my own schedule for excursions on the weekends. It's all good.

In addition, I've come to realize that I'm living a cheaper lifestyle here than I did back in America. I can't vouch for Tokyo, but Japan is cheap enough if you want it too be. ¥100 stores, trains that will take you across the country for a few thousand Yen, foods discounted during the late hours... it's not as expensive as people think. Of course there are exceptions to every rule - movies are pricey, bills do add up, and any kind of expense associated with leisure or vacation can be quite costly.

The weather is finally getting cold. A chance to wear my leather jacket at last. A trip to Shimonoseki is in the works to finally try the coveted Japanese blowfish, fugu. In fact, it's rather bland, but you're supposed to eat it for the thrill, the risk of being poisoned. Oh well. When in Honshu.



The United States has topped the 300 million mark. Wow. I know a steady population growth is good for industry, but isn't a small population the antidote to most problems? Fewer people, more resources, less stress...

Listen to more of my splendiferous escapades tomorrow. Good night.

The 10th Level of Hell is Reserved for Pachinko



Yet another reason to go to Okinawa...

"Funny, you like samurai swords... I like baseball."


Judas, Brutus, and Cassius would repent over and over again to avoid sinking down to the next level of Dante's Inferno... the pachinko parlor. Pachinko is the Japanese gambling game. Think of one of these parlors as a regular casino, without the fun. Even that's giving it too much credit.

First step - find your parlor. No problem there if you live in Japan. Chances are even the smallest town will have at least one parlor within walking distance. It's that big of an infestation here. I even discovered a Pachinko Slot Texas in Hiroshima.

Second step - go inside. Perhaps there will be a few scantily dressed pachinko girls to greet you or usher you in... anything is possible. I've seen these women as maids, slutty cowgirls, bikini babes, etc. Japan isn't nearly as uptight as they claim to be in flauting sex appeal. Japanese women in the real world wear full sweaters, long gloves, hats, and umbrellas during the summer to protect their skin from UV radiation, while in the Manga and pachinko worlds they're practically naked. Interesting.

Be careful of the noise. Unlike in American casinos, which are relatively loud, pachinko parlors have music playing at around one decibel below the threshold for pain. All parlors are like that, and you can't even tell from the outside - those are some quality soundproof glass doors.

Third - get your money. You don't have to go to a ball changer depending on the parlor (some machines will do it for you), but I believe you can only use ¥1000 notes in the machine. Some places might have a charge card system set up, I just haven't seen it yet. Incidentally, ¥1000 doesn't give you that much playing time.

So what to do? Stick in the money, and receive your pachinko balls. Small silver ball bearings, which are probably engraved with the parlor's design. ¥1000 will only get you about 50 balls or so.

Pachinko is not only pinball, but also a slot game - your machine should have a display screen in the middle which lets you choose which "style" of slots you'd like to play. At this point the balls should be piled up in a small compartment in front of you - leave them there. You only hit a certain button if you want to "cash" out (i.e. make the balls fall into your ball tray).

Here's where I just don't see the entertainment aspect. You choose a game, and you turn a knob to let the balls go into the machine and fall down (like an upright pinball game). That's all. No control, no cards, no fun. If the balls fall into the right slots of their own accord you have a chance to spin the slot wheel. Or if enough of them fall in the same slot I think you get some money. It was pretty confusing, but it still didn't have much appeal. Play until you're out of balls or keep winning.

Some people use this to subsidize their income. Just like Vegas, you can come in with ¥1000 and walk away with ¥40,000. But I really can't give it my recommendation. I'll stick with blackjack if I go home - there's a game with probability. What does surprise me, besides pachinko, is just how many grown men I see in ordinary Sega arcades in the middle of the day, playing games that won't pay out. I know we're in the country that practically invented the video game, but it's kind of sad to see so many slot jockeys.




My Japanese movie experience was surprisingly better. I took the opportunity to see Thank You for Smoking at Diamond City outside of Hiroshima. Nice theater. As one might expect, there really isn't that much of a difference... with the exception of assigned seating in movies, and a point card system. Typical of Japan.

Just like with most Japanese venues, the price of movies goes down after certain hours, and there are specials on certain days. It varies from theater to theater, but if you're seeing a show after 9 PM, I believe the cost is much less. Usually you can count on movies running from ¥1000-¥2000.



I'm looking into taking a sleeper car to Tokyo for the holidays, catching one of two nonstop flights to Dallas, and returning in time for Shogatsu. Using the Seishun Juhachi Kippu to travel back to Hiroshima will be scenic, cheap, and relaxing. Travel With has a website as well. Wakatta?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sake, Superstitions, and the State



I can be clever too

"I like my sake (酒) how I like my women - hot and sweet"


I have an opinion, nothing more

Being ignorant about the state of the world isn't exclusively American. Nor is really a western idea. I know there are people out there who can never get enough to eat, never see the inside of a school, have known nothing but pain and violence their whole lives... In the "civilized" world, we have our color TV, our internet, our air conditioning, our nice leather couches set by the fireplace. If we travel, if we get bored, we can go back to that life; we can return to the world we left behind. Some people can't, and that keeps us from understanding the world we live in.

I don't understand this, because I am ignorant. I don't want to be, but other than abandoning everything I've ever known and choosing to live a life all those in it may be trying to escape, there is no option.

We shouldn't pity them any more than we pity those in cultures different than our own. Nor should we try to "save" them, believing our way of life is best and exerting our authority and values upon people who aren't ready. This is the world. People die every day. Women are raped. Children starve. Atrocities that we believe can't happen, do happen. And as much as you'd like to believe that the western world or excusively, America, is a shining beacon for others to follow, think again.

This is a double-edged sword; lack of civilization as we know it doesn't necessarily mean violence or chaos, it's just a different culture. Again, I'm leaving you wanting in terms of useful information. But this is an opinion, nothing more.

Not the best sound bite, but a good one...

So if you’ve seen nothing... if this remains unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the fifteenth of October to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me...
Paraphrased, V for Vendetta



Back to my simpleton entries written in my air conditioned apartment in one of the most urbanized countries in the world...

In honor of this weekend's Friday the 13th and the upcoming Halloween season, I'm happy to bring you information on the "shock and awe" scale. And by "shock and awe", I mean "look at for a few minutes, then click out." Hey, it's still interesting.

The biggest cultural difference in Japan as far as superstitions are concerned would be surrounding blood types. Although I had touched upon this before, it's something that I believe is uniquely Japan. Japanese people look at the Zodiac too, but it's more common to believe a person is Superman with type A or a Will Farrell knock-off with type O. Just as commonplace as horoscopes or palm reading.

Just as the number 13 is typically avoided in the western world (if you've been to a few hotels that don't have the 13th floor), so is the number four in Japan. I'm not entirely sure what our reason is behind this fear, but the Japanese think a little more practically. In their language, the number four is pronounced shi, the same as death. The number nine (kyu or ku) rhymes with a different Japanese word meaning pain or suffering.

Other Japanese superstitions I have heard firsthand

If a funeral car passes you should hide your thumb

If you cut your nails at night, your parents will die young

If you lose a tooth from your upper jaw, throw it under the house
If you lose a tooth from your lower jaw, throw it over the fence

If your fingernails grow long enough, clip them and make a wish (only for girls)


Skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, and riding on a bull named Fumanchu, signing off...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Closer to Home



Sam Beckett taught us so much

"...I've found that there are some things in life that I can't change, and there are some things that I can. To save a life, to change a heart, to make the right choice. I guess that's what life's about."


Apparently the nightlife scene in Hiroshima is much worse than I had originally suspected. I just received word from a very reliable street snitch that the raids are continuing in an attempt to flush the foreign presence from Nagarekawa (or at least funnel money into Yakuza-controlled bars). Those clubs that haven't been forcibly shut down are doing so of their own volition. Enter this area with caution, or the Hiroshima police, their strings most likely pulled by the Yakuza, will demand you produce your gaijin card, and may even detain you.

This is hardly the first time I have felt the Yakuza (やくざ) presence in Japan. The Japanese mofia's presence is wide-reaching, but to be honest I saw more of them in Okayama than I did in Hiroshima. They enjoy coasting down a crowded street in a bus, with loudspeakers blaring, spreading their glorious message. Also, if you're a recent migrant, you might want to be careful about having any tattoos - these are directly associated with the Yakuza, and may prevent you from joining a gym, entering a capsule hotel, or enjoying an onsen. Of course the Japanese realize you're a foreigner but it's a one-dimensional mindset. Tattoo=Yakuza. They may not necessarily believe you're a member, but like it or not, your appearance is a mental association people just don't want to see...



"We won't attack North Korea"

President Bush's declaration to the world. Very straightforward, isn't it? I know I'm not the first to mention it, but I still think this comes off as a very inconsistent, if not hypocritical, message we're spreading around the globe. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the Iraq war, all sides admit we took action based on very little substantiated information. We attacked, invaded, based on a possible threat, a potential threat, to the stability of the world: Iraq or Saddam having a nuclear capability (except for those blood-for-oil theorists, whom I'm not going to rule out).

So - dangerous nation in the middle east. Solution? Attack, disarm. Dangerous nation in Asia. Solution? Sanctions, and political condemnation. And the US attacked in Iraq solely on the possibility of nuclear weapons. South Korea has proven they have a program in place, yet the world's reaction is somewhat lacking. Granted, you don't want to exactly declare open war with a nation that now possesses such weapons.

What is the difference between Iraq and the DPRK? Plenty. For one thing, I don't think we had to worry about serious retaliation from any neighboring or Iraq-friendly nation coming to their aid. Whereas China has strong economic ties to North Korea in addition to being in the nuclear club. The enemy of my enemy is my friend; or, in this case, the friend of my friend is not someone to attack with aerial strikes. I know I'm only skimming the surface here, so take this with a grain of salt.

Still, I believe The Daily Show summarized this disparity in foreign policy best:

"...compared to this time with Korea when there's no talk of military action and the threat seems much stronger."
"To the contrary, Jon - the threat that North Korea will make a bomb is gone. They have made the bomb. The threat has become reality. And, as you know, reality is the realm of foreign policy we're least successful at."
The Daily Show: October 9th, 2006



Unrelated, unless you believe everyone is concerned with North Korean food

As far as the Japanese diet is concerned, I'm learning more and more each day. As I mentioned, someone new to Japan who is trying to build or maintain muscle might have a difficult time finding a solid source of protein; the Japanese eat extremely well, but for the most part they have very slimming foods: rice, fish, chicken, lean beef. However, even more so than the quality of food are the portions of food, which I believe is the key to not being fat.

Americans are fat. Yes, they are. American kids are fatter. And why? Well, many reasons - technology that induces laziness, fewer social standards, and I believe, large portions of food everywhere. Restaurants serve up huge steaming plates that we would never completely devour if they weren't right in front of us. It's too tempting, and it would make us feel bad by not taking advantage of the money we paid for food.

I think Japan has caught on to this concept, and adjusted it's portions according: small serve ice cream, a few pieces of chicken on a stick, hamburgers about half the western size, and overall, the Japanese dining experience has you order dish-by-dish, so no food is left over. You can still get fat (I'm amazed when I see a corpulent Japanese woman, though) and you can still build muscle, but it requires a little bit of effort on your part.

Homework for tomorrow - imagine having a conversation with yourself at age 8. What would you have changed? Think. Explore. Dream. Discover. Good night.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Japanese Reaction



Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them...


Possible cannon to the north of them, volleying and thundering. Speculation and fear are more prevalent in the news than facts at this point. I don't want to be one of the ones that report two minutes of news and leave you with ten hours of guesswork. The facts are:

1. North Korea confirmed that a nuclear explosion occurred northeast of their capital, Pyongyang, in a controlled underground facility

2. The explosion registered as significantly less magnitude than expected

3. That is all

Everything else is mere speculation at this point: some justified, some time-killers. Ignore all that - what went wrong, why might they have faked it, are they faking it, will they launch... these are questions that have no answers and only serve to heighten suspicion and fear.

As far as the everyday Japanese citizen is concerned, there have been a wide range of reactions. The general consensus seems to be that Jim Kong Il is nothing more than a tyrannical lunatic whose intentions are impossible to gage. Still others believe this is an elaborate international stunt to solidify his position in the world and maintain power.

So are we dealing with a genuine military strategy, or a sly (albeit dangerous) political manuever? Neither would surprise me at this point. If the DPRK is hoping for a nuclear playing card to bring them to the table, however, they might be fresh out of luck. Already Japan is considering economic sanctions for its northerly neighbor, and probably isn't too far away from outward military action.

China, which has defended North Korean actions on many occasions, isn't backing them this time. The nuclear test, and ignoring the Chinese warnings not to proceed, were the final straws. Not only are Chinese officials condemning the North Koreans, but they are discussing how best to enforce a punishment - cutting off much needed oil, perhaps?


"The era of Chinese and North Korea's relationship of `comrades and brothers' is over..."

"Some Japanese commentators speculate that the North Korean move could spur Japan to cross its own ideological taboo against developing nuclear weapons of its own. But on Tuesday, Abe underscored that 'there will be no change in our non-nuclear arms principles.'"


Chinese reaction
The Daily NK


Other business this week - Google may be buying YouTube for an estimated $1.6 billion. Comparing with the market, analyzing recent activity, and considering other fake factors, I would estimate the value of this webpage at a mere $642 million. I've got to get back on the ball. Read on; spread the word, heroes.

CNN Story

South Park continues to amaze me. Just like Supersize Me, this episode will definitely encourage me to spend less time on my computer. Oh, I'm writing this entry with a pen and paper first... yeah, right.

New South Park Episode

Monday, October 09, 2006

Failure?

Was the test a failure? Did North Korea use conventional weapons to create the illusion of a successful nuclear test?

Full story here

Juggernaut to the North



In case you haven't been following...

October 3rd
North Korea makes a statement to the world that it will commence a nuclear test. When? No one knows. Where? We can only imagine. Why... "to settle hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and to remove the very source of all nuclear threats from the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity," namely the United States.

Full story


October 4th
The United Nations (UN) is divided on the best response to the North Korean threat. Meanwhile, the United States takes a firm stance, so says Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill in a US ultimatum: "(North Korea) can have a future, or it can have these weapons. It cannot have both."


October 5th
The UN makes an official statement coming out against the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) nuclear test. There is growing concern about Japanese and South Korean nuclear programs in response to Kim Jong Il's decision. Six-party talks between the United States, North Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea are planned. In addition, the DPRK requests bilateral discussion between the US and itself. Kim Jong Il holds an unprecedented military rally for the KPA (Korean People's Army).

Full story


October 6th
The DPRK nuclear test is believed to be planned for this weekend, October 7th-8th. Further pressure from the UN for North Korea to cancel this "unlawful" test, stating that such a test "would not help anybody including North Korea" and would most likely destabilize the region, if not the world. Japan is at the forefront of this debate, and steps up their monitoring of the northern neighbor.

Full Story


October 7th
Further speculation regarding the time and place of the nuclear test. A reliable Chinese source provided information that the test would be conducted inside an abandoned mine shaft on the northern DPRK border. Tensions rise in the DMZ as shots are fired and soldiers are redeployed.

Full story


October 8th
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Chinese President Hu Jintao (a visit planned before word of the nuclear test had reached the media) and together called upon an unconditional cancellation of the North Korean nuclear test. Unfortunately...


October 9th
At 1:36 AM (GMT) the Democratic People's Republic of Korea announced a successful nuclear test in the city of Hwaderi. Both US and Japanese seismologists have unconfirmed reports of a tremor consistent with a detonated nuclear weapon - an earthquake of 4.3 magnitude on the Richter Scale in the general vicinity of North Korea.

Evidence
CNN Story


North Korean missile on display. Source: CNN.com



There has always been speculation regarding the Japanese pacifist constitution - now this country needs to ask itself... instead of merely creating a convenient loophole in the system to deploy troops to Iraq, as Prime Minister Koizumi successfully accomplished before, will PM Shinzo Abe have to flex his authority so soon, by creating a serious political debate about a Japanese nuclear program? Will the constitution be revised, rewritten, in the face of a very real, very imposing threat to the future of Japan?

Although many have argued that creating such a program would create a schism, not a bridge, with neighboring countries, one just can't help but hope for the best. Even in the face of an impending North Korean test, Abe continued talks with China and South Korea. This may have been nothing more than a necessary diplomatic gesture, one which may fall flat if Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea are called upon to develop their own programs.

Survived SARS perspective
Listing of all nuclear tests
North Korean armaments

For now, you be the judge. I'll doing nothing this week but talking about this recent test and what it means for the future of Japan and the entire region. Maybe this is cynical since I read most of the reports following the test, but I never saw this issue being resolved with diplomatic measures. I don't believe we should've invaded, either. No, there was just no way out. No simple solution.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

In this Pursuit

In this pursuit of a thing I call a life in Japan, I've overlooked a few things. Existing isn't enough. Living day-by-day isn't enough. Maybe it was the recent abundance of so many foreigners in my neck of the woods, but I've come to realize I'm more alone in this country than I care to admit. I go out, I have fun, I talk to people, but I don't really have anyone, friend or otherwise, who's reliable. I don't really see anyone here I can trust, can call at the spur of the moment, and enjoy being with. And I've realized one reason why this may be is rather disturbing.

Am I the anomaly in this world? Someone who chooses not to take advantage of someone when she's drunk, who doesn't want to drink himself into a stupor? Someone who would rather do something more meaningful than search for pot or get trashed at nightclubs every day? I don't want to be socially awkward, but I feel nothing when I'm out on the town in Hiroshima. I have no joy in filling myself with sake. I don't get drunk, and I don't do drugs. But am I the only one? Am I the outcast, the anomaly in this world, the one who chooses not to conform?

That's what it's all come down to as of late. I feel like this is what people do with their lives, and I'm the one not blending. May be true, may not be true, but that's just how I've seen it. I was totally alone in Alaska because I didn't associate myself with those kinds of people, and, subconsciously or not, I find the same thing is happening in the land of the rising sun.

I know it sounds cliché, but this all comes down to a girl. Well, a lack of a girl. Not even really a girl, just someone who would care. Who'd be willing to care about me as much as I could care about her. I've had that, I've lost that, and I've moved on... to the same situation all over again.

It's not enough that you speak English. It's not enough that we live in the same area. You don't have my interests at heart, and we aren't compatible. Language isn't enough - I know it encourages you to make friends outside your usual social barriers, but it just isn't working for me. I haven't found a matching soul or someone with the same outlook as me since I arrived. With the exception of my brother visiting, I haven't had anything other than superficial dialogue in four months.

Toss all my gaijin social preceptions out the window - English isn't enough.
Meaningless sex is by definition - meaningless. Worse than meaningless.
It's less important to have many friends and more important to have real ones.
Your social standards are muscles - use them or lose them forever.
These things are true to me, but lately, I feel they mean nothing to anyone else.

You're nobody 'til somebody loves you
You're nobody 'til somebody cares.
You may be king, you may possess the world and it's gold,
But gold won't bring you happiness when you're growing old.
The world still is the same, you never change it,
As sure as the stars shine above;
You're nobody 'til somebody loves you,
So find yourself somebody to love.



Think about it.

Sake Festival 2006 (酒まつり)



A great series that shouldn't have ended...

"I want you to look me in the eye and promise you won't get behind the wheel without some kind of alcoholic beverage in your hand."

"I promise nothing!"



And speaking of... the 2006 Sake Matsuri kicked off this weekend in the small community of Saijo, home of the University of Hiroshima and... well, nothing else. This suburban setting, while usually vacant, found itself flooded with 100,000+ foreigners and Japanese alike. A mere five minute walk from Saijo Station, pedestrians could enjoy the crowded streets, filled with promiscuous Japanese girls and assorted salted meats on a stick.



Although most foreigners who make the trip to Higashi-Hiroshima for this event spend the entirety of their day in the sake park, people tend to forget that this is no different from any other Japanese festival - children are common, food is everywhere, live music, good conversation, and big crowds.










Although there is plenty of PG-rated entertainment, the real action occurs in the sake park, a breeding ground for shots, drunken behavior, and accidental collisions. If you've never been to the sake festival, here's how it works:

1. Buy a ticket either ahead of time from a department store for ¥1000, or pay ¥1500 at the gate.

2. Enter the gate. You are given a guide with every single type of sake offered in the park - there are hundreds to choose from - and a single, small sake cup. This cup is your lifeline. You cannot drink without it, and it can't be replaced without another ticket.

3. There is food and drink inside the sake grounds, but the booths don't accept cash. Now, you have amusement park rules - you have to buy vouchers for anything that's not sake in ¥100 increments.

4. There are booths scattered around the park, each with about 8-10 lines of people clammering to taste the different varieties of sake. You can have as many refills as you want, but they will only fill your small sake matsuri cup.

5. Enjoy the random conversations as you both catch up with your old friends and feel the unity between foreigners you don't know and yourself. Some Japanese people will take you by the arm and offer to get your sake cup filled. Others will look at you shamefully. Others are too friendly, walking right up to you and slapping you on the shoulder. Maybe they'll be saying "drink with me!"

6. Once you leave you cannot re-enter. I don't think this has ever been a problem, as I didn't see anyone leave until they were kicked out.



Since I've never been to Tokyo (incidentially, some guys did come in from Tokyo just for this), this was the largest gathering of foreigners I've seen since I arrived. I forgot what it was like to not have to worry about finding someone who speaks English.


You May Say I'm a Dreamer

I know I've mentioned before that I understood the role of alcohol in Japanese society - it's more sociably acceptable; in fact, it implies a great deal of information about your social status. But... sometimes I really just feel pity for those people who drink themselves to a drunken stupor. Maybe it's just because I'm in Japan, and I don't really want the stereotype of the drunk, loud, obnoxious America to proliferate.

I've got nothing against having a few drinks, enjoying time with your fellow man, and feeling your ambitions lower themselves with the effects of alcohol. I freely admit I did not understand this in high school, but I'm starting to take a more liberal stance. Even considering that, I don't see the point of some people drinking themselves to the point where they can't walk upright, start yelling for no reason, throw up, and have to be dragged home by the collar.

Call me whatever you like - loser, downer, whatever - but that's really how I feel. I still go out with friends and have fun because that's a social thing to do. But imbibing so much that you can't even stand up straight... well, maybe if it were because a girl wanted you to... we're all slaves to passion. Still, I can't ignore some of the drunken activities from both Japanese and foreigner alike this weekend - one trashed the checkout line at Fuji Grand, another hit a sweet girl square in the nose with a football (she later rebounded and had a swordfight with a kid - see below), while others just grabbed trees and bushes in an effort not to fall down.



Sake Festival website

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Far from Skid Row


Image courtesy of Douglas Adams

Translates

馬鹿は死ななきゃ直らない。(Baka wa shinanakya naoranai)
Literal English - Unless an idiot dies, he won't be cured.
True Texan - You can't fix stupid.
Courtesy of Ron White


Coming to you live a mere six hundred fifty kilometers from one of the most international cities in the world, Tokyo... Welcome. I knew you'd be back. And I know we both missed each other, but we've got to put aside our personal feelings and focus... on Japan. Tonight - the Japanese bureaucracy. Legendary in this modern age, even deserving of a fairy tale if it wouldn't be so boring (and of course it would - but hey, puts the kids to sleep).

Employing over a million people across the country, the bureaucracy or even the bureaucratic mindset is something you're going to have to come across eventually if you come to Japan. What's even worse, if you happen to know a little Kanji and are slightly fluent in the language, you might find this knowledge useless when dealing with the government. Hey, we've all been there - after all, did you really understand every word on every piece of paperwork you've ever signed? And are you completely familiar with all the procedures you need to go through to get a driver's license, pay bills in a new place, register your car, etc? No one could be completely confident.

So, in that respect, Japan is roughly the same. You would still need to become familiar with these procedures, they just happen to be in a foreign country. I'll break down some of the major obstacles with some rude generalizations... hey, they still inform.


The Japanese DMV

Some eikaiwa actually restrict you from owning a car in Japan due to insurance liability (side note - you're allowed to rent for a vacation). Even if your company doesn't outright forbid this, it's unlikely you'd be able to afford a car, let alone the insurance. But how can you drive as a foreigner? The International Driver's License, which you can apply for from your native country's government, or the Japanese Driver's License, which requires more paperwork that one should ever have to experience in a lifetime, and I believe a training course. For either of these cases, though, it's usually just not worth it. This is why Buddha invented the Shinkansen and all the local trains with Vishnu, the leading engineer at the time. I never was much good at history.


The Medical Front

I'm proud to say I have never had to deal with this as of yet. Not to mention the corporate backlash I might have to endure if I call in sick. Long story short - Japanese doctors are incredibly specialized. A foot doctor, but not an ankle doctor, for example. Although there are general practitioners, it's more common to make an appointment with one of these specialists. When you do try to make an appointment, you might find they're only open two days a week, and are booked for the next month. And the medicine of choice, regardless of the affliction? Suppositories. Take this with a grain of salt. Still, my best advice for you: don't get sick, and if you do get sick, avoid death.


The Various Vindictive Visas

Obviously there's more information here than I can place in just one blog entry. I'll narrow it down. To work for a year or more in Japan, you have to have a visa sponsor, which requires a financial burden on their part. As an eikaiwa employee, I really don't know how difficult is it to find a sponsor if you're interested in employment outside of the "big four" - GEOS, AEON, NOVA, JET. If you look on Gaijinpot, you'll see that most employers, including gaishikei (foreign-owned businesses in Japan), require you to have a working visa already.

Most eikaiwas have you finish all the required paperwork in your native country and send you the visa by registered mail. But sometimes if you're needed to work immediately, you can come into the country with a Working Holiday Visa (WHV - only for certain countries, varies) and wait for your company-sponsored working visa to be approved in Japan.

Complex words just won't do it - I'll have to resort to fragments and caveman English. Me find job. Me get certificate of eligibility (COE) three month before job. COE gets work visa. Ohhh, what visa me get? Big list. Bubba like Julie.

The visas are highly specialized given your employer's requirements. I've always found these categories to be a bit curious, as I hold a "Specialist in Humanities/International Services" visa (typically given to translators and other non-classroom English teachers). I think the "Entertainer" visa even specifies if you're going to be a hostess girl or not - I don't know where they get their sponsors... not sure I want to know.

Bottom line - if you don't have a job when you first arrive, get a WHV. If you have a visa sponsor, there are two options: one, they give you a one year visa, which is specifically tied to the company. Meaning, if you are fired or choose to resign, the visa gets revoked. Two, they give you a three year working visa which cannot be revoked - this is the reason most eikaiwa now only offer a one year visa to teachers. They realized foreigners were using them to get into the country with a valid visa, and then quit... not a bad idea, when you think about the hassle of getting another visa.

Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Visa Information


Civil Services - Water, Internet, Gas, Power

Besides getting these services installed, the billing process in Japan is incredibly simple. You receive bills by mail, and can pay them (without any reading or writing involved) at any store: 7-11, Lawson, the post office, etc. However, some cities require you to fill in your information for power bills, and I feel it is my duty to acquaint you with the Kanji to maintain your lifestyle - after all, how can you run a marathon if you're too busy with paperwork?

General Instructions

フリガナ
"Furigana", also known as hiragana. You usually see these characters just before you should write your name in katakana, not kanji or romanji.

漢字, かんじ Kanji
平仮名, ひらがな Hiragana
片仮名, かたかな Katakana
ローマ字, ろーまじ Romaji


Name 姓名
Native Language 自国語
Nationality 国籍
Date of Birth 生年月日
Year
Month
Day  
Age 年齢

When you're listing your age in any official document, you'll be asked for both your current age and your birthdate in the Japanese calendar. Unlike the western calendar, which is based entirely on the rise of a religious figure, the Japanese version is determined by the rise of a new emperor. Therefore, the "year" changes quite often. Right now we are in the 18th year of the rule of Heisei, so the date would be 18-10-05. Before that, Showa controlled the monarchy for over sixty years. Familiarize yourself with the emperors, as most bureaucratic paperwork requires your to mark your birthday in terms of Showa (or Taisho if you're older).

Meiji 明治
Taisho 大正
Showa 昭和
Heisei 平成

So for example: 昭和62年10月10日 = October 10th, 1987 (the 62nd year of Showa)

More Information


Present Address 現住所
Address 住所
Street, suburb 番地
Prefecture

Single 未婚
Married 既婚
Applicant's name 申請者氏名
Applicant's signature 申請者署名
Telephone number 電話番号

Sex 性別
, Otoko, male
, Onna, female

Point Card (common enough application) ポイント カード
I know there's other necessary Kanji for bank account transfers and post office forms - will get back to you on those.


Lately I've been thinking. What's the occasion, you ask? Well, not serious thinking. Besides knowing the language, there are a few things about communicating with a Japanese person you could never learn out of a textbook. One thing I've noted is the different guttural sounds. I hadn't really thought about this when I came to the country, I just assumed "owww!", "oh", or "hmmm" were kind of universal noises one makes. But they are unique to English.

Japanese Guttural Sounds

"eeeeee" - Sounds like a long, drawn-out "a". Low pitch, usually low volume. This is commonly used to express surprise, like "wow!" or "really????"

"etoo" - Hard "o" sound at the end. The Japanese equivalent of "hmmmm". A thinking, stuttering word.

"itai" - Actually means "painful", or "sore". Cried out like "ow!"


We're this much closer to "The Fly"

The Sake Matsuri is in two days - come out, and be merry. My travel plans this month include heading east and stopping at every station between Hiroshima and Okayama - Fukuyama, Onomichi, and Kurashiki. Maybe have a Texas Hold 'Em game in Okayama before I stop by one of their few foreigner clubs: Red Moon. In the meantime, don't let Mephistopheles steal your golden fiddle... after all, you're the best that's ever been. Sleep well, heroes.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Breaches are Sealing, Ties Being Severed...



Book of Little Known Facts

There are 192 countries in the world, but very few people realize there are two countries that speak Japanese natively: Japan... and Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo is so different from the rest of Japan I would actually petition them to sever that "city" from the coast and form a sovereign nation. Then Tokyo could be the "Texas" of Japan. What's the Japanese for "hook 'em horns?"


The music of the night is the gift I give to you... and yet, I bet no one bothered to tell this to the dark lords controlling the future of Hiroshima. If you're planning a trip to this city to enjoy the nightlife - don't bother. The club scene in Nagarekawa and the outlining districts are effectively shut down, especially if you're looking for friendly places. All the work Hiroshima club owners have done to bring foreigners and fun young Japanese people into the area is coming crashing down in one fail swoop.

How did this happen? Well, the beginning...

You're sitting in a club not far from the main shopping district of Hiroshima. The night is still young, and many people are abound, socializing, dancing, singing, drinking... Suddenly dozens of police officers enter the club and start segregrating everyone: Japanese people, military personnel, and other gaijin (seems like appropriate language for this description). Japanese citizens are free to go without so much as a word, but foreigners are detained, questioned, their IDs' checked.

Videos of raid

That was four months ago - May 14th, 2006. The owner of said club, El Barco, was held for a number of days before finally being released. And WHY??? Because apparently the club did not have a permit for dancing. Now, if this were a mere legal technicality, one which the Hiroshima PD felt they had to address immediately before the system became too lax, I could begin to understand it.

And yet this is not what happened - one bar in the Hiroshima area has all the required permits to operate a drinking establishment and allow dancing. One. None of the others, including El Barco, are able to get this permit due to bureaucratic difficulties. Since their openings, all clubs have been operating without this permit, on the understanding that they bring business to the city, life to the area, and comfort to the people. Let's face it, there is no city in Japan without a nightlife district. Just look - they're there somewhere.

Now I know it is breaking the law (an unenforced law, mind you, but still) but this policy on cracking down on thriving businesses seems to be well... stupid. You might as well force all military and civilian police to shut down all the pachinko parlors in the country, on the grounds that they are gambling establishment (which they are, loophole or not). There is no difference between that and these clubs - both are businesses, "dirty" but necessary, which operate slightly outside the law, but bring business and unity.

Even if you don't accept this explanation, there's still something very suspicious about segregating the crowd at the club - what difference does it make who is at the club if it's being shut down? Why isolate the foreigners? Or the military men, exclusively? Oh, wait, do you identify the foreigner as the source of all things evil in Japan? Hmmm... must be, otherwise, that would just be plain racist. Operating under the guise of "looking for illegal aliens" is rather shallow.

Since May, it's been a series of sporadic closings in the nightlife area. One club raided, another shut down, others closing to avoid trouble... just last weekend I heard that Chinatown, one of the largest DJ clubs in the area, was given the same treatment. It's all coming to an end - not as many people are coming out, not as many clubs are opening, and soon there won't be anything left. Congratulations, Hiroshima government. You have successfully driven away the foreign menace from your shores. You can rest easy knowing that your own people are also less likely to partake in your fine drinking establishments. To quote, "mission accomplished."

GetHiroshima story
Interview with El Barco owner
Dirty club raided
Cover raided

I don't know what to tell you - if you go downtown, you'll be supporting those owners in their time of need, but on the other hand, you might have to go through the raid experience if the police decide to stop by again. Either way, it's not exactly the fun evening downtown it used to be.



Some fellow blogger did point out something to me about my entries - they rarely include other people. I hadn't really noticed that until he mentioned it. Well... I suppose that's true. I could tell you I'm still new to Japan, and haven't met too many people, Japanese or otherwise. I could say that. Or I suppose the language barrier might be a good excuse. The truth is I'm just lazy about meeting friends - I don't go looking for them. If I meet someone, I meet someone. If not, that's fine too, just takes time. That's usually my policy with girls too. As such, don't know too many people in this country of ours.

I tend to move at my own pace - in more ways than one. I know about local running groups. As much as I'd love to run with them, I know I'm faster, and that I'd be uncomfortable going so slow. Same with my lifestyle. I go at the pace I want. I'm doing adventure trips to Onomichi, Fuji, Tokyo - will anyone come? If someone can keep up, fine. I'll even slow down for the right people, but usually, you gotta run with me. Hey, good analogy given my blog title. Well, it's not exactly the most social way to live, but it's all I know. It's how I fell in love, it's how I met my best friends back home. Tempus fugit.

But hey, I've got nothing against correspondence - be happy to answer anyone's questions about Japan, will accept invitations for an adventure trip, and would enjoy the occasional running partner. Even if you're a random guy in Canada or South Africa, no problem. And if there's a wonderful girl out there... well, so much the better for both of us. Heh.

I will get you heroes those useful Kanji for Japanese paperwork soon. Your homework for tonight - renounce homework, renounce exams, and stay away from boring early-morning classes. But if you're in the mood, read The Giver again... it's a good thinking book. Useful Japanese for today:

Nani? What?
Itsu? When?
Naze? Why?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Podcasts and Protein



Enjoying South Park as much as the Next Guy

"True disiprin... come from within"


You know you love me... even though I don't really have a thought-provoking entry for today... give me time. Welcome back, heroes. Today was my first experience being treated like a foreigner within public transportation. I've heard from other bloggers that we foreigners exude a certain "sphere of influence" when sitting down on a train, city bus, shinkansen, etc, that prevents Japanese people from sitting next to us. In actuality, Japanese people don't want to sit next to you to avoid being the center of attention, i.e. the one Japanese person sitting next to the foreigner.

I've been here four months and traveled to three major cities... still hadn't had this happen until today, on the Hiroshima city bus. The bus was completely jammed pack with people standing and sitting, yet the seat next to me remained unoccupied. It was kind of funny. Regardless, it's hardly insulting after living in Japan for so long. But if you're new to Japan, you often find your yourself being an embarrassment to all foreigners... "I don't understand... I can't read Kanji... I speak a little... help, please." It's always a submission on your part.

When you do manage to accomplish the simplest task in Japan, there are some Japanese people who find this absolutely amazing, just mystified that you are capable of living your life without them. I know we foreigners have to put in more effort, but I just can't stand to be around these "stupefied" Japanese types for too long. I order at a Japanese restaurant... they say "eeeeee!" and clap. I tell them I've been traveling, they do the same (not because of where I went, just that I was capable of moving my body inside of Japan without their help). Again, it's not intentional, but it's not behavior I want to be around if I have the choice. Eventually they might calm down.


In other news, Diamond City in Hiroshima is an excellent shopping area - take the Tenjingawa stop on the Sanyo Line. Unlike Canal City in Fukuoka, or other shopping areas in Hiroshima, this one really had the feel of home: open spaces, no concern about having stores crammed together, variety of foods, all English name stores, including their version of Spencer's Gifts. If I were to randomly wake up after being relocated somewhere on Earth, I would swear this mall would be in America.

Huge theatre too - Thank You For Smoking will premiere in Hiroshima on October 14th; truthiness at its finest. Colbert would be proud. Go see this movie if you haven't already.

Map of Diamond City Soleil

If you are buying Sake Matsuri tickets, they sell them at the Deo Deo in Hiroshima for ¥1000. Go to the ticket office on B1.

The best travel agency for foreigners west of Osaka is Travel With in Hiroshima, next to Parco. Talk to Tanaka-san.


For the runners - even though I missed the registration deadline, I'm going to try to get out to Tokyo the weekend of February 18th to show my support for the marathon, and see the city of course. If any one of my readers is signed up for this race, please let me know - I'd love to have a firsthand perspective, and I don't want to run this race bandit.

For those exercise-minded people, I am still having trouble finding a good source of protein here in Japan. Right now, the only option I can see is buying supplements at stores like Sports Authority, something that I'd really prefer not to do.

I now have three online mapping tools for runners:

Gmap Pedometer
Map My Run - Includes Hiroshima Routes
Walk Jog Run


This place can make you a custom hanko (name stamp). If you're in Hiroshima, they have a store right next to the Shinkansen underground tunnel in the station.

Remember...

Hanko wa tsukutte hoshii no des ga. Dekimas ka?
"I want to have a hanko made. Can you do it?"


Next time I'll be introducing you to the appropriate Kanji used during most Japanese paperwork (I'm serious about this one - could really help some people out with point card applications, race entries, money order slips, etc), telling you my opinion on human interest stories (their goal is to slowly destroy the world's intelligence), telling you my experience with Pachinko, and reviewing some skiing areas in Hiroshima. I'm looking into catching a ferry, not an airplane, to Okinawa for Golden Week. Fret not - cultural observations and criticisms are always in the works, and we will continue exploring social behavior. Did anyone want me to make a podcast?

Ja mata ne.