Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fear and Trembling

The Amelie Nothomb film adaptation of her book, Fear and Trembling, covering the life of a foreigner working in a large Tokyo corporation, is currently making its way across the United States.

Trailer, Fear and Trembling

An Interview with Arudou Debito

I found an old interview from March 2006 with Arudou Debito on YouTube, posted by a video blogger who has since repatriated himself:

Yamato Damacy (link is broken for now)


















Points of interest

His description of how he got started in activism was very enlightening; he sounded very humble, in that he was just trying to improve the way of life for people in his position: namely, foreign university professors who were working under 1-3 year contracts and not tenure.


There are five basic tastes the tongue can recognize: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami (旨味, "savory").


http://www.2ch.net/, a Japanese website accused of libel more than once


Cartels of the Mind, by Ivan Hall. A different take on foreigner exclusion in Japan.


A request from victims of discrimination in Japan. I don't know if this case is still active.


The Steve McGowan story


Kathy Morikawa was instrumental in the case ending the fingerprinting of foreigners entering Japan


Debito's answers to the chopsticks question:

- "It's an innate ability, not a skill"

- もちろん, mochiron, "of course"

- "Can you use a knife and fork?"


This was by far the funniest story involving Japan I have ever heard. Around August 2002 a seal washed ashore in Yokohama City. The seal, in a most peculiar place, was adopted by the city and dubbed Tama-chan. Soon after, it was given residency status in Japan.

Legally, foreigners could not obtain a permanent residency certificate. At the time Debito and other activists must have been very curious as to how a sea lion could obtain in a short while what a human living in Japan could never do, if he happened to be born in another country.

To raise awareness of this issue, a small group of foreigners (Debito included) gathered on the same shore that was known to be frequented by Tama-chan, donning black wetsuits, plastic flippers, and drawn-on whiskers, attempting to pass themselves off as seals and obtain residency status.

Full story


Be sure to read the transcript of Debito's recent lucheon at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ) on February 26th, 2007: link

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beppu (別府) in Black and White

Photos of Beppu are up, and I'll have a report on the onsens and area specialties soon...

Pictures from Beppu, Japan

Ondo Ohashi Yasumiyama Marathon

第18回呉音戸大橋休山マラソン

Here's one for the books. I haven't seen a course going straight up a mountain since the Mt. Marathon race in Seward, Alaska.

Mt. Yasumi in Kure city may not be the steepest on record, but you're still ascending 500 meters inside a 7 km course.

Date: May 6th, 2007

Distance 14.5 km
Price ¥2000
Start Time 10:00 AM
Deadline April 10th

Traveling by train from Hiroshima. Take the Kure Line from Hiroshima Station (広島駅) to Kure Station (呉駅). Take the #3 bus from Kure Station until you reach Ondo Lodgeshita. The starting line is a few minutes walk from there, in Sakura no Sato Park.

Registration includes admission to the Ondo Lodge Onsen, a rather popular bathhouse in the Kure area.

Map to Ondo Lodge Onsen
Onsen website

GetHiroshima race details
Runnet registration
Map of Yasumiyama

Monday, February 26, 2007

Talking with a Naked Yakuza

"...you look around and see you are not alone in the neighborhood: The prepubescent boy or girl scrubbing father's back. The saggy old men lolling about, forcing you to face the inexorable effects of gravity on male body parts. The yakuza with his vibrant and fascinating tattoos, brooking stares from no one. The screaming kids and chattering women audible from the female side of the bathhouse (in stark contrast to the male side, where stolid silence is generally the status quo). And the soaped up shaving salaryman with fogged-up eyeglasses who seems to enjoy few things in life - except a smoke, a good meal with friends and family, maybe the occasional tryst with a co-worker, a professional or a casual. And this bath."

Japanese Only, Arudou Debito


Never will I ceased to be amazed by the bathing culture in Japan. This weekend wrapped up my first trip to Beppu (別府) in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu. Beppu, a city sitting on quite a large volcanic vein, is well known for its unique and various onsens (温泉): ranging from full mud baths, warm sand, scented waters, multi-colored waters, and traditional outdoor pools (called rotenburo, 露天風呂).

Although onsens create the occasional stir (i.e. concern over contagious people in a public area, and the Otaru Onsen lawsuit by foreign residents of Japan in 2001), they are still widely celebrated as some of the best places to relax in Japan. Relaxing after a long work day by enjoying a dip in the local hot spring. Taking the weekend to stay in a luxurious onsen hotel and never leave the premises. If the Japanese are a hard-working people, then they know exactly where to go after such stressful conditions, and how best to relax.

When I first heard about the concept of onsen in Japan, I didn't think I would partake. Why? Because I was thinking like a stupid closed-minded foreigner. Sure, showering and cleaning yourself is a private activity, but who defines privacy? The Romans enjoyed public baths two thousand years ago, when they were considered the epitome of civilization. Japanese deserve the same consideration. Leave your modesty at the curtain.


How to behave in an onsen

The procedure varies slightly depending on where you go, but in most cases...

1. Entrance area. Pay a small fee (usually anywhere from 50-700 yen depending on how nice the onsen is) and remove your shoes. The onsen will have a coin or free key locker right next to the entrance, where you can exchange your shoes for onsen slippers or geta (wooden shoes). Head towards the main changing area, where you are divided up by gender unless it's a group onsen. Remember:

Men
Women


2. Once you are in the group area or locker room, remove all your clothes. Lockers will be provided or there may just be a small wicker basket in which to place your personal items.

3. Entering the bath. Grab a small hand towel for use in the onsen. I know we're more commonly taller and bigger as foreigners, but don't take the full-sized bath towel inside. You'll get to use it when you emerge. When you do enter the bath, you should see a showering area. Pull up a stool and clean yourself thoroughly with soap and shampoo. Rinse yourself off completely, and do not splash other people with water.

4. You are now ready to enter the first bath, the hottest bath. I doubt any of us need instructions at this point. All I can tell you is: don't swim, don't splash, and try not to get your hand towel in the water too often - set it on your head when you're not walking around.

5. The order of baths goes - hot, warm, cold. Skip the cold if you like, and repeat as needed to ensure maximum relaxation. Many bigger onsens have options like electric baths, steam rooms, baths with cypress tree oils, and other specialties.


So how do you feel? Like you've submerged yourself in pure, wet, tasty sunlight. As if your spirit could be lifted a few inches from your body and felt by every essence of your being.

I can sort of relate to Arudou Debito in his qualms over exclusion at the onsens in Otaru; although I believe he was more concerned with the racial discrimination issues, I'm in the habit of seeing only the onsen side of the equation: these are places without barriers. Young and old, rich and poor, short and tall, yakuza and businessman, foreigner and Japanese... we all come here seeking the same destination. There's no business, no stress, and no serious talk...

I'm enjoying the second round of soaking in the warm bath at Tanayu Onsen (棚湯) in the Suginoi Palace Hotel (スギノイパレス) when a most curious sight passes before me: a man with bright red tattoos covering his backside, showing no shame or embarrassment, entering the special steam room. Sidestepping a five-year-old girl (who might have been his daughter; I couldn't tell), I proceeded to follow him; if nothing else, just to engage him in simple, relaxed conversation.

He was sitting upright near one of the walls, and started on me first:

"Doko kara? America?" (casual, where are you from)

"America kara. Shikashi ima Hiroshima ni sumimas."

We continued on for a few minutes with my limited vocabulary and his patience. I should point out that this particular steam room in Tanayu was shaped like an igloo; great design for holding in the vapor, terrible for echos. I finally had to give up and mutter that I couldn't hear him too well with my listening skills combined with the bad acoustics. He nodded his head in understanding, and I left to submerge myself in the hot bath once again.

A yakuza (if he was one - I'm just basing that on tattoos). Many public baths and private clubs reject Japanese citizens if they have visible tattoos, commonly associated with the Japanese mofia, the yakuza. And yet no matter what his name or stance was in the outside world, he was no yakuza. I was no foreigner. We were two residents of Japan enjoying a soak. As it should be for all entering the world of the onsen.


Beppu, Japan
Tanayu Onsen (棚湯)
The Way of the Hot Springs - onsen in Beppu

Cherry Blossoms in Beppu (別府)



If you're looking for cherry blossoms (桜) in Japan, look no further than Beppu (別府) in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu. Apparently the rumors surrounding an early blooming season were found to be true. But February 25th? Three weeks early? It's a crazy world.

Be sure to look around Beppu Park (picture) and the Kannawa area. Not all are in full bloom, but it shouldn't be long.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Early Bloom

After considering just how the warm winter would affect the arrival of cherry blossoms in Japan, it's looking like an early season this year; about a week earlier than average.

Expected full bloom times

Nagasaki, March 18th
Tokyo, March 19th
Osaka, March 22nd


Source:

http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200702230206.html

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Governmental Issues

English word of the day

Rigamarole
An elaborate, complicated procedure


Currently working out the best method for obtaining a driver's license and paying US taxes.

If you are an American living in Japan, and you're one of the eikaiwa teachers, you should be aware of two things:

1. As long as you're making less than $70,000/year, you don't have to file taxes

2. Some English-teaching companies don't allow you to own a car

I'm serious. Due to insurance reasons and stipulations in your contract, you cannot concurrently own a car and work with certain eikaiwa. However, renting a car with your Japanese or international driver's license is still allowed.

If you're planning to stay in Japan for more than a year, you might as well go ahead and apply for a Japanese driver's license. The procedure is longer, requires school, additional fees, tests, etc... but it's the only license that will be legal after a year in Japan.

If you're taking the "one year in Japan" route and have a driver's license back home, you can apply for an International Driver's License relatively easily. Technically you can keep reapplying for this license, but if you are caught by police or government officials (they check the date of entry on your visa and compare it with your license), you could face heavy fines or jail. Nevertheless, the international license is preferable if you have minimal Japanese skills and don't plan to stay.

Japan Driver's License
Gaijinpot Discussion


As far as taxes are concerned, I'm still looking over the finer details for someone with "dual status" - living in America for six months in 2006 and Japan the rest of the year. The bottom line (I think) is... you've lived here for 330 days out of the year and earned less than 70,000, you either don't have to file or you can use the EZ forms. Japanese income taxes are all you're required to pay.

Tax Guide for US Citizens Abroad

1040EZ Form
2555EZ Form
Foreigner Earned Income Exclusion Rules

Gaijinpot Discussion

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Two Encounters on Two Islands

I had just emerged from the Tozai subway line into the area northwest of Sapporo. The change is immediately obvious: the streets are covered with even more snow (if that was even possible at this point), the buildings are smaller, and there is more open space on the horizon. I'm passing the time walking down the white sidewalks, grabbing icicles off street signs and using them for fake weapons, brushing my hand across the snow-covered electrical boxes, just to use the flakes to make snowballs. It's everything I could imagine living in a place where winter is a reality, not just a season.

Turning the corner towards the Shiroi Koibito Park, with a snowball in my hand, I am happened upon by two studies in contrast: a Japanese man, covered from head to tow in warm clothing, with only the essentials of his face sticking out, and a caucasian (I later found out, an American), with condensation dripping down everywhere on his pudgy face.

"Konnichiwa!" He shouted at me.

"Konnichiwa," I said, not the least bit wary. After all, I have plenty of time, and I'm in a great mood; I have nothing against making conversation with whom I assumed were tourists.

An even better sign - all three of us converse in Japanese, not English; he asks me where I'm from, what I'm doing here, and of course I do the same. It's all very casual, and I'm about to walk off when...

Something really should have ignited in my brain. A Japanese. An American. Both young, both traveling together, both willing to stop you in your tracks. Evangelicals. Christians. Of course...

I've had my share of experiences being told to seek salvation, from the Gideons at my university, to random encounters on the street. This is the latter. In Japan, a bilingual pair (though usually, they speak more than two languages) walk across the island in an attempt to save people from their horrible selves.

I knew it was coming before his mouth was open: "I'd like to talk to you about Jesus..."

Uhhh... what? Were we just having a semi-normal conversation, or were you just using that to promote your cause? This is even more ridiculous in a country like Japan. The native population is mostly Shinto or Buddhist, with a sparse number converting to the other worldly religions (about 2%); naturally, that still means hundreds of thousands of worshippers, and enough people to "necessitate" walking patrons. For your harassment.

Yes, harassment. If people want religion, they know where to find it. You don't have to be as resilient as shop managers outside their store and promote Evangelicalism person-to-person. It is hassling someone, whether you choose to think so or not. I didn't walk out the door of my hotel room that morning wanting to hear why my beliefs are wrong and how only you can save me; even if you don't explicitly say this, you imply it just by identifying yourself; after all, doesn't every religion in the world say it's the right one for you?

Why in Japan? Why can't I find peace on the streets of the land of the rising sun? Scientologists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Evangelical streetmongerers, stay home. Let us at least find some refuge in Japan without being hassled about religion. Leave your multilingual information pamphets securely in your pockets. Save your message of salvation from someone who approaches you, not the other way around.


"Ikana kereba naranai," I say quickly, and hurry off to an Ishiya chocolate feast.

Planning Hanami?

Hanami (花見), or flower viewing party, is the Japanese tradition of viewing the cherry blossoms, the unofficial national flower of Japan.


Jury out on when cherry blossoms will bloom

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Although it may be thought that the unusually warm winter could cause cherry blossoms to bloom earlier than usual, the flowers actually require the chill of winter if they are to bloom properly.

Although the Meteorological Agency will issue forecasts on March 7 for the flowering, experts have said cherry blossoms will appear later than usual in several regions.

After the flowers have fallen, new buds are formed by summer, but remain inactive.

During the cold winter months, the buds are exposed to low temperatures of about 5 C, which stirs them from their dormant state. This phenomenon is called dormancy breaking.

Once the temperature rises after February, the buds begin to grow and come into bloom.

The chill of winter followed by a rise in temperature in early spring are the ideal conditions for the flowers.

Last year's cold temperatures and snow were sufficient to rouse the buds from slumber. And, as the weather became warmer in early spring, the blooming process was accelerated.

Last spring, the flowering dates were March 21 in Tokyo, March 23 in Fukuoka, and March 28 in Osaka--all earlier than usual.

Average dates are March 26, 28 and 30, for Fukuoka, central Tokyo and Osaka, respectively.

Flowers appeared early in most cities in the Kanto region and to the west.

Meanwhile, temperatures around the country were high in December, a trend that has continued to date.

Snow has not been seen in central Tokyo, where the average January temperature was 7.6 C. The average January temperature in Osaka was 7.5 C. Some places recorded a 2 C increase above average.

Yasuyuki Aono, assistant professor of agricultural meteorology at Osaka Prefecture University, said: "Flowering could occur later than usual in the southern part of the country due to the unusually warm winter weather. In Kyushu, the cherry blossom front might come down from Fukuoka to Kagoshima, contrary to average years."

Meanwhile, the Japan Weather Association issued its forecasts for cherry blossom-flowering ahead of other companies and organizations on Jan. 29.

According to the forecasts, flowers will appear between March 22 to 25 in central Tokyo, between March 24 to 27 in Osaka, and between March 20 to 23 in Fukuoka. These predictions are earlier than average years, as the forecasts take into account the strong winter chills of late December.

The association predicted average dates for the Tohoku and southern Kyushu regions.

Weathernews Inc., a weather information company, has not made its forecasts yet.

"Opinions differ within the company-- some say the blooms will appear earlier than average, and others say they'll be delayed in certain parts. We haven't reached any conclusions on the effects of the warm winter," a company spokesman said.

The company will issue its forecasts within the week, taking last-minute weather changes into account.

The Meteorological Agency will calculate likely flowering dates after receiving temperature data by Tuesday and issue its first forecasts on March 7.

The agency said, "Flowering might be delayed in regions in which it hasn't been cold enough to stir the cherry buds."

In Ina, Nagano Prefecture--a popular cherry blossom-viewing spot, those involved in the tourist industry are worried about the forecasts. A spokesman at the city's Takatomachi tourist association, where an annual cherry blossom festival is held, said: "We still don't know what effect the warm winter will have on the cherry blossom. We might have to change the date of the festival."

(Feb. 20, 2007)

Source: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20070220TDY03005.htm

Monday, February 19, 2007

The True Japanese Kenyan

Daniel Njenga of Kenya won the Tokyo Marathon, coming in with a finish time of 2:09:45.

Approximately 30,000 runners were at the event; I am told this was the first time that Tokyo hosted an open marathon, open to recreational runners and joggers.

MSN News story
Japan Times story
Tokyo Marathon website

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Conversations in Sapporo

A cold Sapporo night. The snow is falling steadily, the smiling faces of Japanese emerging from izakayas, fresh from filling their bellies with Hokkaido crab. It is a special night for this city of two million people; the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) is in full bloom. Odori Park is lined with the huge snow sculptures. Standing against one of them will fill your entire field of vision.

I'm walking down another popular attraction in Sapporo at this time: the Susukino ice festival. As the entertainment district of Sapporo, Susukino is filled with drinking establishments, restaurants, stores, and, on this night, scores of ice sculptures. This city does give tribute to the meaning of "winter wonderland". And if the sight of a Chinese dragon or a unicorn with its wings spread isn't enough for you, there are the ice booths.

An ice bar offering warm Bailey's Irish Cream mixed with Sapporo milk. Another letting you test a karaoke machine. Each with walls at least ten inches thick, they offer refuge from the cold winds and snowy skies for a short while.

I'm walking past the first row of these ice booths, having just consumed a nice crab ramen (カニラ-メン) from the nearby famous ramen alley. My stomach full of warm noodles and crab meat, I'm rather enjoying an evening stroll in this white paradise.

"Hey!"

A voice a few meters behind me. That was awkward. I really hope it wasn't addressed to me. Though 99% of my encounters with Japanese people are quite favorable, there is always the occasional miscreant, who is usually drunk and suddenly gets the inclination to harass English-speaking foreigners. This time, judging from the urgency in the call, I'm assuming it's the latter.

"Hey!"

A little louder. Yeah, he's definitely talking to me. The question is, will he give up if I don't answer, or should I address him?

"HEY!"

And now a tap on the arm. There's no denying him now. I turn around. It turns out to be a quite sober man in his 50's and his teenage son. More to the point, with the exception of getting my attention, he starts to speak to me in Japanese. Definitely not a man seeking a free lesson. I'm in no rush, and would love the conversation, so I walk and talk.

"Doko kara kimashta ka?" (where are you from)

"America kara. Shikashi Hiroshima ni sunde imas." (from America, but now I live in Hiroshima)

Standard question for any tourist. We go through the usual paces of conversation (where I'm from, what am I doing here, did you like the snow festival, etc...); he even bought me one of the Bailey's drinks and told me about his son's education; he had just taken his university entrance exams and was waiting for the results. His son's English level wasn't so good, but he clearly knew a few words. Trying to indulge his father, I spoke to him in English and his father in Japanese.

Any other time an encounter like this happens I'm somewhat skeptical, mainly because it's just a random person emerging from a bar who feels like testing his high school English. That's not the case here; I was talking to two natives of Hokkaido (though originally from Shikoku, I later found out), who wanted nothing more than to learn about some of the culture that was entering their corner of the world this week - many foreigners come for the Yuki Matsuri.

Even more so, Taka-san, as he liked to be called, was very friendly and easygoing, willing to speak Japanese to me in simpler words so I could understand. His son was a little shy, or maybe he just felt nervous about speaking English, or being around a stranger for the evening.

Eventually we ended up having a drink at Rad Brothers, a gaijin bar that had been recommended to me earlier in the evening; whether Taka-san thought I'd be more comfortable there or was headed that way to begin with, I'll never know. However, I strongly suspect he walked in to put me at greater ease; maybe it was just the closest bar. But, in either case, it was a chance to relax. We talked some more, I had fun with his son reviewing the days of the week in English and Japanese, and I learned a new Japanese idea:

"You want to understand Japan? Majime. Remember, majime."

Of course I couldn't understand the Japanese, and he didn't have the right English words, but I later found out majime means sincerity, or seriousness. Respecting someone with a bow shows majime. An apology shows majime. The parts of Japanese culture I was describing to him about why I chose Japan (i.e. the kindess of the Japanese people) show majime. However, a drunk Japanese technician working on the missile defense program at the Air Force base in Aomori was not exactly majime; I couldn't even talk to him, because I had no clues what the Japanese words were that he used to describe his job (try explaining missile silo or aerial tracking with hand gestures).

Even Taka-san seemed somewhat embarassed by his behavior, which let me think more highly of him: a family man who clearly doesn't get drunk every night, and goes out with his son. However, what he said next threw me a bit:

"You stay at my house tonight."

It wasn't a question. It was a request, however, and I could tell it wasn't too arbitrary; he had clearly been observing what kind of person I was, and wanted to do something nice. I was still a little thrown; we had only been talking for an hour, and this man is inviting me into his home? With his family? I hadn't had the pleasure of being a guest in a Japanese house as of yet, but I knew I couldn't accept his offer: I didn't want to inconvenience him, and I knew I'd have to leave there pretty early in the morning anyway - I was flying out of Hokkaido the next day.

Luckily he didn't seem too offended, and understood that I already had a hotel room for the night. He gave me his meishi (business card - quite common to exchange when you meet someone) and took his son home in a taxi, encouraging me to contact him if I was ever in Sapporo. I was really stunned at his generosity; clearly there was a side of Japan I had failed to see before, and I wasn't going to let that happen again.

I met a man and his son on the streets of Sapporo, we talked for an hour, and he offered to invite me into his home, his life. That's not something easily forgotten. I will be keeping a more open mind about everything I see from now on.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Running on Solid Ice



Lessons learned in Sapporo...

真面目
Majime

Sincerity. Sincerity in expressing gratitude or conveying an apology. The essence of behavior in Japan.


The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (札幌雪祭) wrapped up this weekend after being on display in Odori Park for a week. Nearly two million tourists typically come from around the world to see this famous Japanese event. People from Australia, America, Russia, and Korea are particularly common.

This year, the snow sculptures did not quite get the attention they deserve. Last Tuesday Sapporo experienced a sudden rise in temperature, putting midday at just over the freezing point. Even those few degrees, combined with the natural sunlight, were enough to dull the features of the best sculptures. The main exhibits were touched up and reshaped, but many of the smaller pieces of art weren't spared for time. Even locals admitted the quality was somewhat lacking this year.

However, that's not to say it still wasn't a great event. Any Japanese matsuri is worth going to, especially on the unique island of Hokkaido. Snow sculptures lined Odori Park along with hot chocolate booths, Coca-Cola drink stations, crabs on a stick, and plenty of kids' ice slides. It has to be seen to be believed. Near the TV tower are the ice sculptures. Don't waste your time on these during the day; they're best seen at night when they're backlit. There are several snow sculptures each the size of a small building.







There is more to the festival than just Odori; if you take a bus from the #6 platform for ¥200, you can reach Satoland in about 40 minutes. Satoland is mainly for the kids, but still quite a sight. A snow maze, many ice slides, fresh ramen and chocolate covered bananas, and a performance stage.



If you walk past Odori towards the south, you'll reach the entertainment district, Susukino, in about ten minutes. Here is where we see the major ice artwork. Ice dragons. Ice karaoke booths. Ice shot bars offering Bailey's and milk. Ice benches to relax. Fish frozen into the ice. Spend about an hour discovering everything, then walk down to Rad Brothers (an easily sighted international bar) for some conversation.



As far as food is concerned, Hokkaido is well-known for its seafood; be sure to sample the crab while you're there. Or, you can enjoy the local varieties of ramen (also delicious, but I think I prefer Fukuoka-style) in a famous alley with a dozen ramen shops. It's difficult to find: Ramen Alley in Susukino.


The Ishiya chocolate factory, the birthplace of Shiroi Koibito (white lover's chocolate), was magnificent. I highly recommend visiting it if you're in Sapporo. Just a short subway ride away from Odori Koen on the Tozai Line.



Naturally, a giant sign boasting "chocolate factory" looked like nothing less than heaven as I walked through the snowy streets. The tour of the factory is pretty unremarkable with the exception of a free sample guaranteed to get you hooked; you also might enjoy the assembly line viewing. Cookie. Chocolate. Package. Only three steps.

The real treat is the store at the end of the tour - every kind of chocolate you can imagine. Custom shaped chocolate. They even have a workshop for kids to make their own cookies. My advice: pick up some of the milk chocolate Shiroi Koibito (brown wrappers) and the chocolate drink in a can - it's absolutely DELICIOUS.


If you're interested in visiting a nearby onsen, go to the #12 platform in the bus terminal near Sapporo Station. The ticket window there will provide a package deal: round trip bus tickets to nearby Jozankei (an area famous for hot springs), plus a ticket good for a soak at any area onsen. ¥1700 for the whole package.

It'll take you a little over an hour to reach Jozankei, but if you want a closer option, Koganeyu is also a good onsen spot known for sulfurous waters; I happened to stop here... very relaxing; a few places have outdoor baths right up to the snowy slopes. Spending an afternoon naked soaking in an authentic Japanese onsen while looking at a snowy mountain... priceless. Be sure to enjoy some Hokkaido milk once you finally get out.


Pictures

Construction

Currently reformatting the blog. Colors and graphics will be varied over the next few days. The entries will still be accessible.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Revelations

I've been a fool. An unjustified fool. I know experience and old age makes us wise, but certain revelations should have come to me sooner.

I didn't come into Japan with a clean slate; this whole time I'd been basing my observations from opinions I had read before I even arrived. I didn't allow myself to see Japan for what it was, and to start everything anew.

I encourage people to do research when they want to live abroad, especially in Japan. But... don't take anything you've read to heart. Not even me, I know that now. The blogs I had read back in the states poorly influenced my judgment, and lead me to believe things about myself and myself in this country that I knew were false.

Gaijin (外人) isn't necessarily an offensive word here; take it as you will, many foreigners use it to describe themselves. But, it's my argument it is an immature word; the word people use when they choose to stay in their own little foreign worlds while in Japan, ignoring everything the land of the rising sun has to offer.

外人 is for the outcast foreigner... the amateur... the one who doesn't understand. I don't want to be like that.

I will leave my previous entries regarding foreigner behavior in Japan, as well as what I believe some Japanese people think about the foreign presence in Japan. However, take them with a grain of salt. I still stand by some of what I said; you can look at the rest as a learning process. Let's just say being in Hokkaido taught me a few things.

I will change the format, style, and name of this blog in the coming days. Be on the lookout. I am still a runner in Japan. I am still a Japanese Kenyan. With great power comes great responsibility... but, I am Gaijin on the Run no more... no more.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Modern or Traditional Vacation?



I had originally planned to visit Tokyo during Golden Week and enjoy the benefits of the great city - Kabuki, Sumo, Roppongi, and trips to Kamakura.

However, it's come to my attention that I have enough time to walk the first twenty three temples in Tokushima Prefecture on the first leg of the 88 temple pilgrimage (八十八ヶ所巡り) in Shikoku.

Every year, usually in the months of April and October, travelers come to Japan's southern island in search of themselves. Although the trek itself follows the temples of Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師) and thus is intended for Buddhists, many foreigners and locals alike go for the experience, to become ohenro (お遍路) pilgrims and see a more traditional and favorable side of Japan. You might have seen pilgrims in larger cities like Matsuyama; they are usually dressed in white robes and carrying long wooden staffs.

This is also an excellent opportunity to see the more generous side of Japanese culture: during the journey, pilgrims are offered gifts (Osettai), ranging from a free bed for the night, to a few hundred yen, to a full Japanese dinner. You must always accept these gifts, as they bring good fortune to both the traveler and giver.

Although many people travel with tour companies, personal vehicles, and even bicycles, I believe the only way to do this trip, to be a true henro, as it were, is to go on foot. For the entire trek, that's almost 1,700 km. For the first twenty three temples... it can be done in a week if you keep a good pace.

Ryōzenji (霊山寺) to Yakuōji (薬王寺)... wish me luck.


Henro Tracks
Shikoku Henro Trail
Wikitravel

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Substitutions

You're walking down Hondori Street in Hiroshima in the twilight hours on Sunday. What a long, hard night out. Otsu kare sama des. The trains are departing, but so hungry, so hungry... if you're not interested in early morning ramen, there's an incredible restaurant offering international breakfast food on Hondori.

Anderson Hiroshima

Anderson is probably the closest equivalent of Whole Foods or any other gourmet food store I've found since I arrived in Japan. It's amazing - a variety of breakfast foods including French toast, and a store complete with:

1. A full bakery with western desserts, Japanese desserts, bread sliced to "normal" sizes

2. A winery

3. A fully stocked deli complete with international cheeses, fresh vegetables, an assortment of meat including German sausage, and homemade pasta, Italian style

4. Dinner foods already cooked and ready to go. Just like Whole Foods, you can order by the kilogram, and have a quality meal at home for less than ¥1000


Casino-quality Games

If you're looking for poker chips bigger than the one yen coins, be sure to stop at this small gaming shop next to Parco. It's the best source for table and casino games I've found in Japan - mini craps table, plastic poker cards, clay chips, etc. The owner speaks some English if you get stuck.

Map


If you're living in or traveling to the Kansai area this week, be sure to check out one of Arudou Debito's speeches. His schedule is online.

My Golden Week vacation will most likely be spent in Tokyo, enjoying the day trips and the familiarity of a big city once again. However, I'd love to head to Thailand and Cambodia for a week or two in the future. Angkor Wat must be seen by my eyes before I die; I love archeoastronomy.

I will be dressing as a Samurai purely for entertainment on the island of Miyajima on March 21st. Come to see the parade.

Apparently drinking water in Japan is filled with little to no flouride; although it is perfectly heathly and has a pleasant taste, it doesn't exactly benefit your teeth.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Is it any wonder...

...that some Japanese people fear the foreign presence in Japan? I've seen my share of hospitality, normality, stares of awe, and some of disregard, but never have I quite encountered those of hatred as I've seen online in recent days. Family Mart, a popular convenience store in Japan, has stocked a rather shocking book on its magazine rack. Let's look at the facts:

January 31st



Family Mart stocks "Gaijin Henzai Ura File", a book that essentially blames all crime and indecent behavior in Japan on foreigners. Not even exclusively Europeans, Americans, or caucasians - it includes Chinese, Africans, Indians... I don't even want one percent of what that book says posted on my site - it doesn't go one sentence without mentioning a racial slur.

Racial slurs in Gaijin Henzai Ura File - in Japanese and English

From accusing black people of raping Japanese girls, to providing bloated statistics of foreign crime in Tokyo, to playing games of hatred like "Catch the Iranian!!", to showing members of the American military robbing taxi drivers, this book is something you might expect to find in the back allies of Japanese culture or on some racially charged internet site. Instead, we see it being offered to the mainstream public in a widely used store.

Official Website by the publisher, Eichi


February 1st

The public responds. Arudou Debito, a foreign resident of Japan living in Hokkaido with comprehensive knowledge of Japanese law as it pertains to outsiders, posts his encounter with the magazine. Japan Probe follows suit.


February 3rd

Japan Probe calls for a worldwide boycott of Family Mart stores and their affiliates, seeking an official apology, removal of the racist book from their shelves, and assurances of no repeat offenses in the future.



Family Mart, in response to written complaints, relents and states it will remove the magazine "within 7 days."


February 4th

Debito posts a boycott letter in both Japanese and English to encourage resident gaikokujin to visit Family Mart stores individually and ask for removal of the magazine.


February 5th

Japan Probe reports that Family Mart has agreed to remove all copies of the magazine immediately.


I personally have not seen this magazine in Hiroshima or Fukuoka Family Mart stores, but will keep a copy of Debito's letter just in case. First of all I'd love to come across a Japanese person reading it casually in Family Mart or on a train and ask them exactly what they think about it.

This story comes on the heels of a recent revelation I had about racism in Japan; it's unique, to be sure. Of course, there are plenty of people with nothing but pure hatred in their hearts, but I would say a lot of racism in Japan is based on ignorance: people who know so little about another culture that they find you to be more of a joke rather than a menace; something to be pitied or laughed at. Unfortunately, this is still racism.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

NOVA Teachers Arrested

This bulletin was issued to employees and staff of the major eikaiwas:

NOVA teachers arrested for possessing cannabis, cocaine

Yesterday, the news media and newspapers have announced that seven Nova school teachers were arrested for possessing cannabis and cocaine.

Please remember in Japan, cannabis, cocaine, as well as other drugs are regarded as a symbol of corruption and crime. Those who possess or use such illegal drugs will be treated accordingly. Japan has extremely strict drug control policies and [our] policy manual conforms to these laws and policies.

Some of those NOVA teachers may not have initiated the act, but just happened to be associated with the actual people involved. In any event, they were all arrested. When something like this happens, not only does one damage his/her individual reputation and ruin their future, but it also damages their company and society as a whole.

Understand this is a serious matter. Never involve yourself in illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine and stay away from people that are known users. I truly hope that none of you will get involved in something like this.



Japan Probe story (with news video)