Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of KPIJ

Some of what I consider the best entries in terms of writing and substance from this past year on Keeping Pace in Japan. Will report on Narita fingerprinting when I return on Thursday.

February
Talking with a Naked Yakuza - my experience in one of Beppu's finest onsen, and an exercise in humility.

March
Not entirely sure this is legal - the discovery of a racially discriminating sign at a club in Hiroshima.

April
Safety in Japan - pretty self-explanatory.

May
Ikkoku Mairi - hiking through the mountains of Shikoku following in the footsteps of Buddhist monks.

June
Quarter of a Century Gone by - short, but sweet; my birthday in Japan compared with that a year prior in the states.

July
The Truth About AEON - a seven-part series covering all aspects of this major eikaiwa.

August
Call to Arms - taking action against fingerprinting.

September
More than Sulfur, a Peaceful Getaway - my first excursion to one of the smaller islands south of Kyushu, Ioujima.

October
Nibble Nibble - a most unusual onsen featuring flesh-eating fish.

November
Nakanoshima: Listening to Moonlight - adventures on one of the smaller islands in the Tokara chain, featuring wild horses, an observatory, and great hot springs.
Running in Fear - news spoof article about gaijin card checks and the Tokyo Marathon.

December
Adoption in Japan - spending Christmas with some children at an orphanage.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wriststrong



I seem to be following in the footsteps of Stephen Colbert a little too closely these days...

I believe in truthiness. I'm not a fan of books - they're all fact, no heart. And despite Colbert's attempts to raise wrist awareness across the globe, I have fallen prey...

This will be my last entry for the next 2-3 weeks as I travel home and learn how to type with my left hand (details below), but I will have details on fingerprinting at Narita after that.


Tuesday, December 17th, 2007

9:20 AM
Picked up dry cleaning and am riding back to work on my bike. In front of a Sunkus, the front wheel jams, the bike flips, and my body is sent sailing over the handlebars. My right hand touches down first. Quickly.

9:22 AM
Eerie sensation. I find myself on the ground on my stomach. I don't try to get up right away, but I feel certain that I can. There is considerable pain, but it's like it exists somewhere else; the pain doesn't belong to me, as though it's just out of reach of my body. A passersby reminds me of the existence of the rest of the world: "daijobu desu ka?" (are you ok?).

I look around, and that's when I notice that this is not something I'll be walking away from anytime soon; my wrist is bent in the wrong direction, and there are two huge piles of flesh that I can see are the results of the bones pushing each other apart.

"Byoin!" (hospital!), I say with as much voice as I can muster through the increasing pain. Somehow I was still able to keep my mind in Japanese mode and not let out a string of English curses.

I soon drew a crowd, and people were quick to act - calling the hospital, getting my office information, setting aside my bags. Since this was my first broken bone, I really didn't have much experience in this area, but let me tell you something: breaking your wrist hurts like hell. Even without moving, I was getting the full spectrum of pain: dull, sharp, throbbing... Everyone around me was very nice; elevating my head, reassuring me, moving my bike.

9:35 AM
The ambulance arrives, and the three paramedics temporarily immobilize the wrist in an inflatable cast (which really, really hurt). I was able to understand them well enough to provide the pertinent information, but not explain exactly what happened. Later, I was informed that my coworkers thought that I had been hit by a car. Not this time (although I was run over by a car two years ago).

~10:00 AM
Arrive at Chuo Clinic (中央クリニック), the central hospital for Kagoshima. Each time the gurney hit a crack or a barrier I howled in pain, feeling every vibration at the deepest nerves in my arm.

X-ray and CT scans. The Chuo Clinic is divided between two buildings, meaning I had to be wheeled outside and back to complete the scans. One doctor spoke passable English and acted as an interpreter, informing me the wrist was shattered.

My boss arrives soon after and takes over the administrative details.

1:30-3:30 PM
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Lying and waiting in a treatment room with no pain meds, my wrist still very much exposed, for the time when the specialist will be ready at a different facility.

3:40 PM
Arrive at the ambulance loading zone for my specialist treatment. In the corner, I can see a clear plastic case labeled "SARS" - apparently, this hospital was prepared for anything. A good sign.

Instead of being taken straight to surgery, however, I am once again subjected to a variety of tests - blood sampling, blood pressure, EKG, breath sounds, lung capacity, more x-rays... In retrospect, I suppose everyone was just doing his and her jobs, but I was angry and in a lot of pain, yelling out "why am I waiting?" and "where is the doctor?" (in Japanese, of course).

During all this, my boss actually has to negotiate with the insurance representative before I could receive treatment... vultures. If I hadn't been covered, would they just have sent me out with a band-aid?

4:30 PM
Under the knife. My first time in surgery, with a broken bone, and under general aenesthetic. I vaguely remember them saying they were begining the administration, then waking up with my arm in a white cast, an hour of my life vanished.


All in all, I suppose I received good care from the medical staff. I know they needed to pinpoint exactly what had to be done in the OR, but that kind of logic doesn't hit you when your bone is jagged and rubbing against your nerve - the wait was excruciating. Post-op, while waiting to be discharged, the nurses laughed when I tried to speak to them. There's a time and a place for treating a foreigner like a tourist and poking fun at cultural differences - sitting in recovery with a complex fracture isn't one of them; it was a little insulting.

Nevertheless, the pain is gone, I am sitting at home, and if I can elicit enough sympathy from the staff at Narita to receive a business class or first class upgrade, it will have been worth it. When people see me, I can just tell them my arm slipped into a volcanic fissure, or I fell off an airplane while saving some orphans... might work. In any case, I will see about the Tokyo Marathon... I will probably be out of the cast by then, but not in a position to give 2:56... we shall see.

Merry Christmas and Happy Buddha to you all. Wriststrong. Live easy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Japan and the UN

Trans-Pacific Radio beat me to the punch here, by providing a very detailed rundown of the UN Charter, and how Japan has failed to meet key requirements of that charter, especially in regard to racial equality, gender equality (salary discrepanies in particular), and the criminal justice system. Read the full story here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Adoption in Japan


http://www.sino.net/


I've run kilometers on end. I work out regularly. I can hold my own in a fight. Adrenaline and I are close friends.

And yet, I recently found myself beyond my natural limits, all in response to the saddened look on a six-year-old girl's face. Pushed to the point of exhaustion and tired from lifting her up with enthusiasm, shouting like a crazy man, and making her "fly" around a gym for over forty laps.

"もう一回!" (one more time!) she exclaimed, her expression quickly transforming from delight to slight disappointment that I had set her down after another ten minutes of flight. "高い!" (up high!)

"もう一回?"

"もう一回!"

"オーケー," I said between dry heaves. I mean, how do you say no? Is it even possible to do so without feeling lousy?

The girl in the blue shirt and pink dress (both thankfully lacking an obscene English expression) is Haruka. Officially, Haruka is a "child who requires protection" according to Japanese law: an illegitimate child, an abandoned infant, a child whose parents have died or disappeared, a child whose parents are incapable of providing support, or an abused child (Source).

I don't know her story, where her parents are, or what her future holds. All I can see in the present is bringing a moment of happiness to her life.

A group of volunteers and I made our way to Aira in Kagoshima prefecture to visit this particular orphanage (though the term isn't exact) for the annual Christmas party: setting up an xmas tree, decorating the room with crafts, small English lessons, playing ball and running around the gymnasium until some of us (hint, hint) pass out from "fun".

I first saw her apart from the three or four boys screaming and trying to get a soccer ball into the basketball hoop, sitting alone, legs together, her head between her knees, arms crossed over her head. When she happened to look up to avoid an accidental collision, there was no joy written on her face. No love. No hope. I am by no means an expert, but she had every indication of someone being written off.

Sadly enough, that's usually the case in Japan (well, many countries) for the children in these centers. Although their quality of life is far from impoverished - school, meals, TV, warm futons, entertainment provided - the chances of their being "rescued" and returned to a caring family are slim to none. "An estimated 65,000 adoptions of unrelated children occur each year in the United States. The official number in Japan is about 600." (Source)

Extended family ties are strong in Japan, and relatives often care for each other's children when the need arises. But when that is not possible - for financial or other reasons - many relatives would rather see these children in state homes than adopted by strangers.

Many Japanese view their families as a privileged, almost sacred group. Western families, particularly American ones, are seen by Japanese as careless with that privilege. In their view, American families often start out of wedlock, end in divorce and often accept a stranger's child as their own through adoption. In Japan, millions of people see these actions as scandalous, or at the least, not to be discussed in public.

Kazuko Yokota, who runs Motherly Network, a private adoption agency, said she believed doctors quietly help broker the adoptions of ''hundreds of children'' each year. ''It's all done in secret,'' she said. ''Adoption is not the Japanese way.'' As a result, she said, some people go to great lengths - even moving to a place where they are not known, and feigning pregnancies with pillows - to conceal an adoption.


Source: http://www.fww.org/famnews/0629a.html


Part of the reason for this is the existence of the koseki (戸籍), or family registry. If you're a Japanese citizen, you have a koseki. It is the record of records. Family history. Mothers. Fathers. And, all births...

A law enacted in 1988 allowed young adopted children to have their birth family name erased from their koseki and replaced by their adoptive family's name. Before this, both names were listed, which essentially meant ''adopted'' was stamped in bold letters on this important record. The new law was meant to make it easier for families to adopt nonrelatives without fear of stigma.

Such was the case for single Japanese mothers who chose to give their children up for adoption - the names stood on the koseki, and that was seen as more of a stigma than anything else, visible to employers, potential husbands, even friends.

And what of the children of foreign mothers, or fathers? Institutions see no shortage of them; plenty of their parents come over here on short-term work visas and surrender their rights to any offspring when departing. "Halfs" - I don't particularly like that term, but it is common enough - as half Japanese/half non-Japanese, are even less likely to be adopted, as they couldn't possibly be passed off as the biological children of parents trying to feign pregnancies, thus avoiding the explanations and possible shunning of the child later on.

Slightly off topic, in cases of foreign fathers and Japanese mothers... in the event children are born outside of wedlock, custody is automatically awarded to the mother. If married and then divorced, custody can only lie with one parent - it is at the discretion of this one that the other is allowed visitation. (Source).

This is major factor behind these international kidnappings in Japan; although a father might be awarded joint custody in another country, Japanese law does not recognize it as such. Even if both live in Japan and have an unspoken agreement on custody, the mother can just as easily pack up and leave without bothering with a forwarding address. Although a court might recognize the rights of one parent to see his child, it is unable to remove that same child from the custody of the other to allow visitation (Source); this is the same mentality we see regarding the UN code against racial discrimination in Japan; Japan has confirmed that it is bound by such a code, yet unable to make such laws to enforce it...

I digress, but it all comes to parental rights: who can adopt, who can give children up for adoption, what children are out there waiting to be adopted...

And it helps to see them up close. Even Haruka, who might have been shifted from institution to institution since birth, is capable of joy when the moment strikes. I didn't see these children as any different as those walking down the street returning from a junior high school, on their way home to, hopefully, caring parents.

It's still difficult. To imagine what it's like without a real home. One of the volunteers is literally in tears as we pull away, bidding farewell to the staff and thanking them for the opportunity to visit. We can escape. We can return to our apartments, Skype our parents, and continue on with our lives. They will wake up, go to school, and return to a place not unlike school, where they will most likely live for the next few years, until reaching 18 or 20.

We saw one day. One atypical day. They live it for years. It's not horrible, it's not cruel, but it can't be what's best; even a mother shouting and screaming for ten minutes because you forgot to call home is a sign of love. Something that just can't just duplicated without a home, a family.


More Information

Adoption in Japan: Comparing Policies for Children in Need, by Peter Hayes and Toshie Habu
Baby Hatch in Kumamoto
Hiroshima Oyako (parenting blog in Hiroshima)
Types of Adoption in Japan
Children's Rights Council of Japan

Back to Fingerprinting

Bringing your attention back to Re-Entry Japan, a site devoted to receiving stories from people being fingerprinted upon returning to Nippon and all the associated legislation.

Accounts are being submitted every day. One contributor just posted his experience at Narita Terminal 2.

They and I are united in finding stories from mixed-race families who have gone through - any firsthand experiences, or secondhand knowledge?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thinking Out Loud



Yet again, I find myself being pulled in seven different directions, only to discover that I haven't moved at all. It's not the first time, nor will it be the last.

During my junior year of high school I had to decide which university I wanted to attend. From my 2nd year in college onward, I was job seeking. After a year working freelance in the city of Austin, I had a wide variety of countries in which to live abroad. Earlier this year, while still living in Hiroshima, I knew I wanted to stay in Japan for a time.

And so I find myself in the remote city of Kagoshima, (LAT 31.5840, LONG 130.540), right back where I started. Not that it hasn't been a worthwhile ride, mind you. No... I don't think I'd recognize the person I was in high school, and I don't regret any of my past decisions.

Right now, in Japan, I have an apartment. I have a bed. I have access to food. I'm involved with the foreign community. I go out. I travel. I take risks. But, I'm still too comfortable; I eat the same type of lunch every day; I have a routine of going to the gym and exercising; I know how to find American food and drink; work is necessary, but completely useless.

It's not a question of finance; I make enough money to survive and live, and that's all I need. The question is... where will I end up? What will I do? Who will I meet? Does love exist?

I've said it before, and I say it again, more to remind myself than anyone else, there is no point in working a joyless job to fill your life with stuff; the only thing that will accomplish is get you to comfortable and accustomed with your life that you believe there is no other way to live... far from the truth.

That's my concern now. I am living in Kagoshima. I have no permanent ties, little debt, and my heart still aches for more of everything. But a part of me sees the appeal of settling down, looking for a girlfriend, and building a world of my own.

I can't stay, and yet I kind of want to stay. But I won't. My Japanese skills advance every day. Conversations become easier. The city becomes more familiar. Another piece of the puzzle is brought to light.

Japan or not, community or no community, I have to remember that there is more out there. For better or worse, I have to see it, experience it, learn from it.


Staying in Japan

Tokyo

Although I think it would be interesting to live in Tokyo for a time, I know it'd be the wrong decision in the long run. With assess to so many English speakers and American food, I'd probably fall into the same routine I had in Austin. I do miss acting and more opportunities to socialize, but this just isn't the place.

Any thoughts from Tokyo residents?

Hokkaido

I love what Hokkaido has to offer, and I just might need to experience it before I leave for good. I've never experienced all four seasons as they are meant to be experienced - a warm summer, a snowy winter, a colorful autumn, and a bright spring. Skiing, adventure sports, sulfurous onsen, fresh milk, delicious chocolate... in a prefecture almost a country in itself.

I've been looking into summer positions as an adventure guide, as well as some of the ski resorts. Anyone reading from up north?


Southeast Asia

Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam

To explore. To see Angkor Wat. To rent a beach hut and spend days doing nothing in Thailand. To go over a darker page of history in Vietnam. I'm not planning on anything full time, but southeast Asia would be a good transition between Japan and...


New Zealand

Where I want to try living next full-time. Another island country, but filled with a great percentage of English speakers. I wouldn't be the minority. I could live with greater comfort, greater freedom. Full of mountain climbers, skydivers, surfers, and thrill seekers.


Antarctica Marathon

No question. I will do this once I raise the $300 deposit. March 2009. Running on solid ice at last.

Marathon Tours


Just as the title suggests. Any thoughts?

The Delights of Kagoshima



I've strayed from my calling. Although I enjoy bringing interesting news stories to light and offering my take, I realize there are blogs better suited to such material - Japan Probe, for one.

Truth be told, I've just become somewhat accustomed to life in Japan that I take so many "foreign" concepts for granted. Right now, I'd like to step back and see things as you, the travelers, would first glimpse them upon arriving in Japan.

These are the stories from the city of Kagoshima on the southern tip of Kyushu.

A tradition going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years in Japanese culture is the art of bathing. I say art because the Japanese truly went above and beyond all the pragmatism behind bathing - keeping clean, healing the skin, preventing disease - to a place where there is only the soul and the water. The Yin and the Yin's bath.

Well before the Romans were building marble bathhouses, the early inhabitants of Nippon were submerging themselves in waters fueled by the rage of nearby volanoes. At a time when Leonardo da Vinci was still able to invoke feelings from a variety of canvasses, neighborhood sento were up and running.

Sento, or Japanese bathhouses, are still rather commonplace in modern Japan, although they are starting to wane in response to the more popular themed bathhouses called "super sento" (how can a small neighborhood bath from the 60's compare to new waterpark featuring champagne soaks, chocolate dips, and fountains of tea?)

In Tokyo, the number of sento is holding (for the moment, anyway) at about one thousand. Kagoshima, however, hasn't quite seen quite such a dwindling effect on its bathing culture. I believe this is due to two reasons:

1. Kagoshima, as the biggest southernmost city of mainland Japan, is generally cut off from the steady flow of tourists who stick to Kyoto and Tokyo. Although the city is rich in culture and still draws in travelers, there hasn't exactly been a great deal of pressure to develop big waterpark attractions like super sento. The residents stick to what's comfortable, and the tourists enjoy the familiarity of the simple bath.

2. Although there are bathhouses around every corner of every street as one would expect in a typical Japanese city, the ones in Kagoshima are unique. Being in such close proximity to the volcano Sakurajima, it doesn't require much effort to remove the hot spring water from beneath the earth's surface. As a result, although they have the appearance of common sento, tbe bathing facilities are onsen. Natural hot spring water in a sento wrapping. Granted, there are still plenty of luxury onsen baths like those in nearby Beppu, but I have yet to see a city in Japan with such an abundance of bathhouses fueled by onsen water.


A Few Onsen in Kagoshima

Toso Onsen (とそ温泉)

¥360
099-255-4826
Open from 5 AM - 10 PM

Access
About a 25-minute walk west of Kagoshima University (鹿児島大学). If you're taking the tram headed south from Kagoshimachuo (鹿児島中央), exit Toso.

鹿児島市唐湊1丁目29-1

Features
This onsen, strangely enough, allows patrons to swim in the largest pool. Men's and women's baths do not switch.


Castle Park Hotel, Satsuma no Yu (さつま乃湯)



¥2400

Access
On top of Shiroyama (城山) in Kagoshima.
Website

鹿児島県鹿児島市新照院町41番1号

Features
At that price, you'd expect quality. You get it. This is one of the nicest onsen in the city, with a great view of Sakurajima. Like Tanayu Onsen in the Suginoi Palace Hotel in Beppu, this is a luxury onsen providing all the soaps, yukata, towels, and a relaxation area with massage chairs.


Yoshino Onsen (吉野温泉)



¥360
099-244-2610
Open until 10 PM everyday

Access
From Kagoshimachuo take the bus from platform 2 heading towards Kami Kedana (上化棚) or the Yoshida Interchange (吉田インター). Stop at Shuujikujoumae. Follow the signs west.

鹿児島市下田町691-8

Features
To escape from the smaller baths in the city be sure to travel to the Yoshino (吉野) and Yoshida (吉田) areas. Yoshino Onsen features a faux rotemburo (outdoor bath style, indoors), and a huge pool with water jets and massage-jet stone chairs. Men's and women's sides change daily. Closed the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays.


Nakahara Bessou (中原別荘)



Prices vary
099-225-2800
info@nakahara-bessou.co.jp

Access
Right across the street from Chuo Park (中央公園), just west of the Tenmonkan shopping area (天文館)
Website

鹿児島県鹿児島市照国町15-19

Features
An onsen ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) in the heart of Kagoshima city.


Ashiyu in Dolphin Port (足湯)



Free
Open 9 AM - 9 PM everyday

Access
Website

Features
A great foot onsen in the middle of Dolphin Port (ドルフィンポート), a collection of restaurants and shops near the ferry departure terminals.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Balneotherapy

bal·ne·o·ther·a·py
The treatment of diseases, injuries, and other physical ailments with baths and bathing, esp. in natural mineral waters.

Wikipedia info


Currently reading

Getting Wet: Adventures in the Japanese Bath

http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Wet-Adventures-Japanese-Bath/dp/4770030207

Who would have thought there was a science behind the absorption of minerals through the skin and the effects of hot waters? Well, you may not need to quantify everything behind a bath if you're just looking for an occasional soak, but this is an interesting read. Japanese onsen.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Numbers Racket



"Sheer chance is better than no chance" probably bounces around the mind of every last person playing the lottery in America. With the Powerball in the eastern states reaching totals over $300 million, one can't help but buy into the 1/600,000,000,000 probability.

Even among those select few who happen to win the entire jackpot, however, there are just, well... idiots. Jack Whittaker, who took home $113 million after buying the lucky numbers in 2002, proceeded to lose his family, store $500,000 in cash in his car (naturally, he was mugged and the money was stolen), and have problems with drugs.

Japan, as a cash-based society when not relying on electronic transfers, may not have too many Jack Watanabes doing something so foolish, but the superstitions and mentality surrounding the numbers racket are practically the same.



In Tanegashima, one of the larger islands in Kagoshima-ken, a two-headed snake was discovered, bringing hundreds of Japanese visitors revering the snake as a good luck charm for the upcoming jackpot.

If you're from a country that is intelligent enough to spare its citizens from this particular form of gambling, take heed:

Japanese Lottery (ロト)

http://sougaku.com/loto6/

1st prize - hundreds of millions of yen; all six numbers (本数字) match, plus the bonus ball (ボーナス)

2nd prize - around ¥10,000,000; five numbers match, plus the bonus ball

3rd prize - around ¥300,000-500,000; five numbers match

4th prize - around ¥5,000-10,000; four numbers match

5th prize - ¥1,000; three numbers match

Where to go

Most supermarkets have a lotto booth next door or attached to the building - look for the manekineko (招き猫, beckoning cat).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Call for Interviews



Updated December 7th

With the fingerprinting and photographing system in place at all ports of entry, I would like to hear from people over Skype or email about their experiences. Everyone is welcome to voice their opinions, but in particular, I'm looking for:

1. Permanent residents who were separated from their families

2. Anyone who registered for and used the automated gate system

3. People who were mistakenly directed into the "foreign guests" line by immigration officials, despite being exempt

4. Those who had trouble with the scanning equipment

5. Foreign visitors to Japan who have Japanese ancestry, or look "Japanese"

お願いします.

Pearl Harbor Day



December 7th, 1941

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Kind of Japanese Game Show



If only I had a way to get in touch with them... no treadmill can take me.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Test

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test wrapped up this Sunday, with universities around the country seeing a plethora of foreigners invading their halls.

It's an interesting experience; in fact, most of the students I saw there were Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.

All participants who took the test in Fukuoka had an excellent opportunity to see the frontrunners of the 61st Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship (results here) during their lunch break.

And so, I say goodbye to meaningless standardized tests for the time being. Sayonara, JLP; you shall join the ranks of the SAT, the ACT, and other examinations designed not to gauge skill, but to see how much money one will pour into the economy in attemtps to better the score.

Well, the SAT and ACT may be like that, but the JLP seemed pretty fair, though difficult. If you're looking for alternatives in obtaining certification for your Japanese skills, look at the following:

J.Test

Website
A more practical test with business and everyday conversations. Includes a writing segment. Two levels - easy and difficult; you are scored not as a simple pass/fail, but a number of points (the people at the highest level with the highest number of points are qualified as translators).


BJT - Business Japanese Proficiency Test

Website
Difficult, even for those at JLP Level 2; includes a business interview.