Monday, April 14, 2014

Bob Costas, Ted Williams and John Wayne...

Okay, this has nothing to do with Japan.  And I'm not particularly fond of Bob Costas.  I am, however, a big Ted Williams fan, and this Costas quote about him has always warmed my heart. 

Here goes:

"Well, I interviewed Ted Williams, who some people think is the greatest hitter of all time, in 1988, at a time when he had not done an interview-- radio or television, at all-- in 15, 16 years. And he was amazingly forthcoming. And he's a compelling figure. And at one point I said to him, 'You know, you're the guy who John Wayne played in all those movies. You're actually the guy.'

And he hitched for a moment, a moment of modesty, but then honesty overtook him and he said, 'Yeah, I know it.'"

Hollywood stars doing commercials in Japan: Richard Gere appears as Tora-san again in Orangina ads

Richard Gere appears as Tora-san again in Orangina ads

I like Richard Gere.  My wife likes Richard Gere.  We both enjoyed his movie Hachi: A Dog's Tale, the Americanization of the Hachiko story, but we also found it kind of weird there even had to be an Americanization of the Hachiko story.  My wife couldn't get past the inclusion of an Akita.  She felt they should have changed the breed to a more familiarly American one.  But it's a story of a dog's unconditional love for a human and neither of us can resist such emotional power.  It's not the first time Gere has appeared in a film drawing on Japanese inspiration.  There's also 2004's Shall We Dance, a remake of a 1996 Japanese film.

Anyway, the reason we're talking about Richard Gere is he keeps popping up on our TV in commercials for Orangina, and here comes another one.  I'm never sure what's happening in them.  It seems to me Gere, looking dapper and vaguely European (I associate the jacket over the shoulders look with middle-aged European men, the result of a lifetime of having been exposed to American stereotypes of different cultures), flirts unsuccessfully with some woman or other, then a kid laughs in his face and they drink Orangina together.  I'm too embarrassed to ask my wife to translate and reveal my ignorance.  They're cute commercials, though.

You know all about our big Hollywood stars coming to Japan and picking up a nice payday for shilling.  That's a subplot in Lost in Translation, after all.  Every hipster has seen that.  Japan draws actors who would never do such a thing back in the US.  So you get people like Tommy Lee Jones using his amazing stone face to sell Boss coffee.  When I first saw him in the Boss ads, I assumed the company picked him to represent your typical hard-ass boss type, which Jones could do even while napping.  Apparently, from what I've gathered since then, he's actually playing an alien who visits earth to observe us and learn about our mores while drinking coffee.  This leads him to a fateful encounter with the singing-acting-cooking band SMAP, a delightful study in contrasts.

Leonardo Dicaprio made a Jim Beam commercial, and I've put away a lot of Beam in my time.  But not because of Leo.  Brad Pitt made a commercial for a cellphone company that accomplished something truly rare.  It made me laugh.  I'm a commercial skeptic, you see, and I watch the Super Bowl strictly for the football.  Budweiser commercials with American soldiers do not inspire me to patriotism or thirst for the "King of Beers," but rather a kind of weary head-shaking at the brewer's cynical ploy.  The Darth Vader kid made me want to vomit for both its forced cutesiness and its beyond tired Star Wars bandwagoning.  But for some reason watching Brad Pitt spoof himself and end up walking through a water fountain while talking on a cell phone and ogling a pretty woman cracks me up.

Recently, Elijah Wood has shown up in advertisements for a hybrid car, the Toyota Noah.  The family hybrid.  This one is notable because my brain kept short-circuiting and coming up with Tobey Maguire as I tried to remember Wood's name.  One of my most annoying tendencies besides rolling my eyes at Budweiser commercials (trust me-- I've kept my objection to them to myself in the face of repeated Facebook exposure to video links with messages like, "Doesn't this bring a tear to your eyes?  God bless our troops!") is being able to name every actor who appeared in every movie ever made, plus their co-stars, the directors and a few of the craft service people.  After watching a guy in I Am Sam do the same thing, I've learned to bite my tongue in the interest of celebrating a few wedding anniversaries with my wife rather than mourning a single one alone.  Even so, not being able to think of Elijah Wood's name just about ruined my day.

I've seen those hobbit movies a million times, I tell you!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Animal Koban?

Saitama policeman arrested for damaging trunk of taxi while intoxicated

Of course I'm talking about the Saitama police, you twerp!  This year is going to be different.  This year, we're going to grab the tanuki by the balls and kick those punks off whatever it is they're on.  It's time for someone to set their foot down.  And that foot is me.

Shoot, who am I to judge?  I've never worked while drunk, and I've certainly never been responsible for public safety whether intoxicated or otherwise.  But at the same time, I've done some pretty lousy things while sloshed on alcohol.  Actually, the story doesn't reveal if the police officer in question was on duty or off.  Reading between the lines, I'm going to assume he was on duty.  If so, I hope there's some sort of internal affairs punishment involved.  If not, let it go.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It's probably better to watch where you're going...

Here's a fun article on RocketNews24 about the groundbreaking work NTT DoCoMo is doing in laboratory simulations of the potential for disaster at the Shibuya scramble caused by NTT DoCoMo's products.  Or those of any smartphone provider, to be fair.  Mathematical chaos.  These kinds of things really tickle me.  It must have been pretty fun for the DoCoMo researchers, too.

We do spend a lot of time eyeballing our phones here.  Not just Japanese people, but ex-pats like me as well.  I don't do this while walking, though.  If I'm using maps on my iPhone for navigation, I find an out-of-the-way place along the sidewalk to stop and orient myself.  If I receive a message, I usually wait until I'm sitting down somewhere to check it.  But I have, on rare occasions, walked and phone-gaped, too.  I'm not proud of it.

Never at the Shibuya scramble, though.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

We all love paying taxes, right?

Millions go on shopping spree ahead of sales tax hike

There are few things in life people enjoy more than paying a higher sales tax when they buy things.  Time spent with family, photos of cute small animals, paying a high sales tax.  These are the three things that make life worth living.

I haven't seen evidence of these "millions [on a] shopping spree," but we didn't venture out yesterday because of the weather.  Saturday, however, seemed like business as usual here.  But I have witnessed a flurry of news stories on TV covering the subject of the consumption tax increase.  The Japanese public, if they've been paying attention, will certainly be well-informed on this topic and its potential effects.  That's assuming the news reports have provided good information.  And I don't see the why or wherefore of assuming otherwise.  It's pretty straightforward stuff, news stories to the effect of, "Instead of paying an extra 5%, you're now going to pay an extra 8%.  Here are some examples of price changes you'll see as a result."

From my experience, and I'm talking as a person who has only a slightly-more-than basic level of Japanese language ability, news programs here in Japan tend to be demonstrative.  Like the one we watched with the segment on the icebound ship back in December.  The presenter used a scale model to show how it happened.  Another on a sign that fell even resorted to computer animation.  Stories on the tax increase have used actual products and graphics of sales receipts.  Things like that.

Anyway, the sales tax hike.  A three percent increase doesn't seem like much, but we'll be subjected to analysis of the results for years to come.  And, obviously, we'll get to experience it firsthand starting this week.

I can't wait!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Y750,000 left in 29 mailboxes at Nara condo

Y750,000 left in 29 mailboxes at Nara condo

It's cool most people reported their little windfalls to the police.  Honesty.  I like it.  The amount of money is more than likely variable because there may have been a few people who didn't tell the police.  Or perhaps the 750,000 yen amount is right on because others didn't receive any money.  The report doesn't specify.  The comments from readers are worth checking out, too.  The one about wanting people to leave money in his or her bike basket rather than empty cans and trash reminds me...

Many years ago, when I was a drinker, I went with some friends to a bar.  I met them when I was on my bike on my way back to my shared apartment, and I had a 500ml Coke and a water in my basket.  I chained the bike, left the convenience store bag with the drinks in the basket.  After the binging, I felt too drunk to ride my bike safely, so I walked home.  I'd forgotten about the drinks left in the basket.  The next morning when I retrieved my bike, I found the Coke gone.  Only the water remained.  I hope whoever took the Coke enjoyed it, but really, the water would have been the healthier choice.

Very true: Hay fever: nothing to sneeze at | The Japan Times

Hay fever: nothing to sneeze at | The Japan Times

You know about kafunshou season by now.  Hay fever.  It starts in February and lasts through March, maybe into April.  I suppose it depends on where you live.  I never had much trouble with it when I lived downtown, but now that I'm on the north side of the city, way out near the mountains, I have some major sinus problems when the pollen wafts from the cedar trees.

Last year was my first experience with severe kafunshou.  And let me tell you-- it wrecked my life for days on end.  There are certainly worse chronic illnesses to have.  Kafunshou won't kill you unless you have a sneezing fit while driving and run off the road headfirst into a tree, or cross the center line into oncoming traffic.  But imagine having every symptom expect fever of a severe cold for more than a month.  Going without sleep.  Going without breath.

Last year, it felt as if someone had plugged my nostrils with chalk dust.  Probably from breathing in actual chalk dust in the classroom.  From inside my nose came a fine, powdery irritation.  A constant itching that sometimes intensified to burning.  At times I'd sneeze eight, nine, ten blasts in a row and give up counting as it continued, seemingly with no end.  There would also be hours spent with the feeling I had a tennis ball surgically inserted just inside my skull, pressing constantly on my sinuses.  A round pressure from within.  Antihistamines and decongestants at night allowed me to sleep for two or three fitful hours, only to wake up, sneeze once, and fall back asleep.  Sometimes I'd go through the next day with an over-the-counter medication hangover.

Eventually, I received a prescription for some anti-allergy pills and I slowly regained control over my nose.  As spring passed into summer, I began breathing normally.  Never was I so glad for the onset of rainy season.

This year, we saw a commercial for some kind of capsule that promises twelve hours of relief.  I don't know its name.  It comes in a red and white box.  It has made a huge difference.  I still have a bit of a runny nose, especially when eating hot food, and the occasional sneeze.  The medication makes me feel just a bit muzzy.  But at least I'm breathing.  That more than makes up for any side effects.  Passing through kafunshou season without having to resort to a mask.

Imagine that!