Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I'm sick of this shit: Visually impaired school girl kicked from behind in Saitama

Visually impaired school girl kicked from behind in Saitama

I'm furious about this, but I'm not going to claim abuse against the visually impaired is some kind of trend here or that it's widespread.  However, this is the second such incident I've read about in the past few weeks so it's on my mind.  August ended with the story of some completely worthless asshole stabbing a guide dog.  And my thinking is this:  even one assault would be too many and now we've had two.  The news article I'm linking to here mentions a few other things that happen to the visually impaired.  Bicycles left on the yellow Braille paths.  Bumping into people.  Hitting them with shopping bags.

People who do these things sicken me.  I hesitate even to call them people, but if we're honest about it, all the bad crap that happens on this planet happens because of human beings.  Volcanoes are blameless, as are mountain lions and grizzly bears.  What they do is beyond notions of right and wrong.  Humans, however, make such distinctions in our behaviors.  We are supposed to have consciences.

And I can't help but notice the two most egregious assaults both occurred in Saitama.  I ask the people of Saitama, "What the hell?  Do you like this kind of stuff?  Is this the way the people of Saitama treat their fellow Japanese?"

I'd like to believe you don't.  I'd love to see all the decent people of Saitama getting on the ball and making it known this is not acceptable behavior there or anywhere.  Be like the guy who offered a 1 million yen reward in the guide dog case, who is a living monument to the best in human behavior and a hero to me at the moment.  Start a citizen's movement.  Saitama Supports Civility for All.  Except for the people who attack the visually impaired or their guide dogs.  Whatever happens to those people is too good for them.

Or if not, then to hell with you, Saitama.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I'm for it: Halloween season kicks off at theme parks, stores

Halloween season kicks off at theme parks, stores

I noticed down in the comments attached to this story a few people have a problem with starting Halloween before October.  They echo the constant complaint in the US of Christmas seemingly coming earlier and earlier each year.  I remember one Halloween evening when I was on my way to a party and didn't have a costume.  I stopped at Target to check what they had left, hoping for a simple skeleton mask or something at a hefty discount and all they had were ballerina tutus and a new Christmas display.  I agree Christmas season needs to be confined to the post-Thanksgiving weeks, but I understand the 4Q reasoning retailers and their brand suppliers use to justify lengthening the holiday spending period.

On the other hand, give me more Halloween.  While Christmas has its religious and spiritual meaning and over-commercialization corrupts that, our modern Halloween is pure fun.  Yes, I know it once had religious significance as well.  For me, Halloween is a Ray Bradburyian dance in the cemetery.  We all know we're going to die, at least those of us not surnamed Kardashian do.  Mortal thoughts can terrify.  Halloween with its tombs, mummies, vampires, ghosts, its yowling black cats and dead leaves, its dry fields and dryer bones stalking the night, takes this finality and celebrates it.  It's a graveyard fling with our harvest plenty as the world dies around us.

This past weekend I bought our first holiday-packaged goodies-- which I meant to photograph and show you, but someone couldn't keep her hands off and shredded the bag-- and we saw stores decorated with paper pumpkins and the like.  Baskin-Robbins didn't have its new Halloween flavors yet (although the line length made me assume so before I checked the menu board), but the article promises some good ones this year.  A mixed apple and grape sherbet?  Yes, please, regular double in a cup.  I might be convinced to challenge the triple.  Freshness Burger will probably dress up for Halloween, too, with creepy cobwebs and lurid wall-hangers, cartoon cats and witches. Krispy Kreme has some seasonal goodies I can't wait to try.  Conversation schools will have Halloween parties and force their foreign teachers to dress up.  I will watch Halloween and read horror novels and short story collections starting...

Well, now.

I'm all for it.  I can't get enough Halloween.  I'm no cynic.

Friday, September 5, 2014

'Legroom war' rages as planes grow more cramped

'Legroom war' rages as planes grow more cramped

Most of this is ridiculous.  The problem isn't recliners or non-recliners.  The problem is the airlines themselves.  They provide the bare minimum of comfort in order to maximize profits without actually harming the customers.  Or at least keep harm to customers a collateral effect that's within acceptable operating parameters rather than a goal unto itself.  The seats themselves are designed with comfort and ergonomics as considerations equal or even secondary to the contradictory notion of cramming in as many people as possible within a limited space to make as much money on each flight as they can.  And we've finally reached the point where it's physically torturous to fly economy class.

So now we're pitted against each other in a Darwinian struggle.  Your options are to resort to guerilla tactics in the rows to defend your right to recline versus  your right to have your kneecaps unbruised and to not go crosseyed trying to watch a movie or play computer Solitaire.  Or you can pay more and fly business class.  And we know that's not always possible.

But rather give into air rage and cause problems for other passengers, we need to establish a level of flying etiquette that takes each side's needs into account.  Recliners should recline a little less and maybe buy some kind of head rest-- aren't there some available?-- and non-recliners need to ease up on the Leg Defenders and this idea everyone has to bend to their need to fart around with laptops rather than use the airline-provided entertainment system.  I don't really see the need to use a laptop on a plane when you can read a book or play a handheld game system or something that's less space-involved, but we have these things now and people are wed to them more than they are to other human beings so that's just part of our flying experience nowadays.

More importantly, though, we need to band together as consumers and demand the airlines provide more services and space for their ever-increasing airfares and service charges.  This situation continues because this idea the need of a company to make a profit is an absolute right greater than the need of human beings to be treated with dignity.  And that is just not working.  I can agree to a certain loss of comfort, but if I'm paying a huge dollar amount for a service, I expect that service not to injure me or put me in bodily danger from the other customers.  We shouldn't be locked into a metal tube and poked and prodded by everyone around us-- and then toss alcohol into that volatile mix-- within a space that's barely less cramped than a Mercury space capsule (and their seats were custom molded to their bodies) for hours at a time.  It's inhumane.  And we're paying to be treated inhumanely.

And no, flying is not a right.  I understand that.  But it also used to be a luxurious experience and it used to be customer-oriented rather than treating them as cargo to which a certain amount of damage is to be expected.  The democratization of air travel has been a boon, but it's also increasingly become a disaster, even on short haul flights.  So clearly something has to give.  And as long as we're willing to pay more for less, it's going to be a privilege way pay for in order to spindled, folded and mutilated... and then pitted against each other in gladiatorial combat, apparently.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gory Japanese war film shocks, thrills Venice film festival

Gory Japanese war film shocks, thrills Venice film festival

This will be the second film adaptation of Shohei Ooka's novel Fires on the Plain.  The first came out in 1959.  I read the novel a few years ago.  It straddled a period when I moved from Japan back to the US, so I read it both here and there.  WWII remains a popular film subject here.  I've avoided all of these movies because, frankly, while I've read extensively about the fighting in Europe, I'm just not that interested in the Pacific theater unless it involves the air combat and aircraft carriers.

Also, it's something of a prickly subject.  Like Ooka, my grandfather-in-law fought in the Philippines.  He's way up in his 90s now and I've met him a couple of times.  I have a feeling there are unresolved issues hanging over our heads.  That may just be me.  If his experiences were anything like Ooka's then he must have some complicated emotions about my being in his family.  Or maybe he's over it as much as anyone could be and hardly gives me a thought.  Actually, I'm pretty sure he rarely thinks about me.  He's got his own world and interests.

Still, you can't avoid entirely that period in the 20th century.  One of the first trips I took inside Japan was to Hiroshima where I saw the chains of origami cranes and took photos of the A-Bomb dome.  The city I live in now was back then-- as it is now-- an industrial center.  So it was a target.  Bombed flat from the air, shelled from the sea.  An older student I had at my first job showed me scars on his forearm he said came from burns suffered as a toddler during an air-raid.  Another student cheerfully told me of being given candy by American soldiers in the war's immediate aftermath and how her mother told her not to eat it.  She hid it in her dresser drawer and simply looked at it from time to time.  One more, one of the most brilliant minds I've ever encountered, asked me what "Hubba hubba" means, as it had puzzled him since he heard our GIs saying it when he was a child.  His older brother was a fighter pilot trainer during the war, but we never discussed whether or not he survived.  One of my junior high-aged students once listed for me his favorite WWII fighter planes, as he was something of a vintage aviation buff.

"I like the Zero and the P-51 Mustang," he said.  I think he added a couple of others, because I remember being very impressed at his ability to remember all the designations and names.  After that he said, "But I do not like the B-29."

"I think I can guess why," I replied.  "And I understand completely."

My mom remembers blackout curtains and watching Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral train pass through her hometown on its way from Georgia back to Washington, D.C.  She also remembers anti-Japanese propaganda.  And I grew up watching WWII-era Bugs Bunny cartoons with their casual racism and that one episode of Gilligan's Island with the goggle-glasses wearing Imperial Japanese holdout menacing the castaways in comedic fashion, the depiction of which I cringe at whenever I think about it.

You know, like now.

Not a one of my male relatives of the correct generation fought in the Pacific.  My father's oldest brother serviced B-17s in the UK during the last months of the war, but spent most of his stint in the military during the post-war era.  He wasn't a backwards-looking guy by nature, so we only talked about it one time because I asked.  My mom's uncle ripped across Europe under Patton, but he only mentioned it once.  My mom's stepfather, a man she still worships to this day, father to her half-brothers, went over the Channel in a glider on D-Day as an army doctor with the 82nd Airborne.  My dad didn't go into the armed forces until the Korean War, which he spent in the USAF largely in the UK but also, strangely enough, back in Georgia, not far from his hometown.  There's still a huge air base there.  He was in a motor transport squadron so he drove trucks and taught driving.

All Europe guys.

I've never been to war.  Never been in the military.  I only read about it in books and watch it in movies.  But I suppose I think about it way too often.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It's not just Hello Kitty: Japan's character craze

It's not just Hello Kitty: Japan's character craze

Well, I like 'em.  People tend to love their cute characters here and there are some artists who really know how to bring it.  The cute, that is. 

Hello Kitty, or Kitty White if you prefer, is the undisputed Empress of Kawaii.  I never imagined when a Sanrio shop opened in the mall in my hometown I'd ever learn to love Kitty.  Eventually, I had to surrender to her charms.  I blame a close friend who spent the happiest portion of her professional art life working for the company and handling their North American website.  If you sent a Hello Kitty themed e-card during the 2000s, chances are she created it.  She even did some of their product design.  She has internalized kawaii and I've picked up an appreciation of it from her, I suppose.  Also some stationery.

Our local cute character is a version of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a person I think is a bizarre choice for kawaii-ification, but the kids are really into his round head.  We call him Ieyasu-kun.  Kumamon is a particular favorite of mine.  I find the simple design very appealing.  Funashi is freaky fun.  There are even Funashi impersonators on TV from time to time.  That's impact.

More fuel for my love for these cute characters comes from having designed hundreds or even thousands of characters in my life, and not having a single one of them gain any sort of popularity.  Not even within my circle of friends.  To do something that gains broad popularity takes talent and skill that has eluded me.  But I recognize it in others and bow to their winning ways!

Monday, September 1, 2014

What habits have you picked up from living in Japan that you sometimes have to try and stop yourself doing when you go overseas because you don't think it will look right?

What habits have you picked up from living in Japan that you sometimes have to try and stop yourself doing when you go overseas because you don't think it will look right?

The comments are worth reading.  There are different gestures used here, body language and different things to lubricate social interaction that go beyond simple vocabulary.  If you live here for any length of time and have cultural sensitivity and a desire to adapt, you learn to do many of these.  Bowing, handling someone's business card the correct way, the hand chop meaning "I need to pass through here/in front of you," the giving of obligatory souvenir snacks to coworkers after taking a trip. Three little examples of behaviors I've adopted to get along. 

Some other adaptations we make seem counter-productive or flat out dumb to me, such as using Japanese nouns when speaking English to other ex-pats.  Why say keitai when you mean cellphone when you're talking to another American?  Others are as necessary because you're in someone else's country and you need to learn their ways.  I think this is one of your important tasks when living abroad.

I'm very independent, and even in my home country I often felt like an alien observer.  I had learn the niceties the hard way, with many difficulties and with much practice.  Those little things, such as saying "Good morning" fifty times in five minutes because you pass fifty different people in the hallway when arriving at work.  Making small talk or engaging in conversations that don't interest you in the least because you want the other person to feel validated.  Using certain utensils in a certain order while dining.  Drinking a single glass of wine and maintaining proper decorum at a dinner party rather than giving into social anxiety and chugging a 12-pack of beer in as little time as possible, then peeing in the bathtub because the toilet is too small a target and keeps leaping about.

Now that I live in Japan and I am a perpetual outsider, I make an effort to walk the line between my homegrown American ways and personal identity and the one I'm expected to adopt here to get along, make friends and be a productive member of Japanese society.  When I go back to the US, though, I quickly revert to my original state.  Maybe I don't internalize place as much as others do, or maybe there's something severely wrong with me.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Here's a guy who knows how to have fun: Chiba Batman

Chiba Batman

We saw him on TV the other day, but I thought he was a comedian or tarento.  I didn't realize he was just some dude who enjoys dressing up like Batman to drive around on his funky four-wheeler.  We see a lot of bikers out here where we live, far from the city center.  To me, this Chibatman fella is hardly any different from these bikers, who love hitting the road every chance they get, to blow off steam and enjoy themselves.  He just dresses a bit more flamboyantly.