Thursday, August 21, 2014

Let's discuss Japanese pizza again...

We ordered pizza last night.  Well, we ordered pizza for me.  My wife ate udon.  She's on an udon kick lately because she's been having some stomach problems and udon makes her feel better.  The less written about this the better.  I, on the other hand, went for my traditional comfort food.  Our delivery service of choice is Aoki's Pizza because we like their pies.

These pizzas aren't really anything special.  There are better pizzas available even here in Japan.  There's a place called Pizza Garlic, which I think is still open.  They have delicious pies.  Marisa is another pizza restaurant with stone oven pies.  They have excellent pizza there.  Kind of "craft pizza," definitely not New York or Chicago style, but amazingly tasty.  I even like Happy Valley's pizza.  The crust is a bit on the thin side even for a soft, bready type crust, but you can get a simple pepperoni pizza there.  The trouble is, all these options require hopping a bus or driving a car.  Aoki's brings a reasonably edible delivery-style pizza with thick, bready crust right to your house or apartment.  So while it's not as memorable as any of those other restaurants, or even compared to American delivery pizza, it's within the standards I grew up with.

Which true pizza connoisseurs would probably find laughable, but I'm a philistine due to geography.  The first pizza I ever tasted was probably Gargano's, which was a local tradition... in Albany, Georgia.  That's pretty far from the places where people debate pizza.  Then we got Domino's and life was never the same.  There are some serious pizza snobs out there and I salute their dedication to pizza perfection, but I am not among them.  I go for familiarity.  Aoki's Pizza gives me this even while adding all those exotic Japanese pizza toppings.  You know, like seaweed, corn, squid or octopus and even mayonnaise.

We've tried Pizza Time and Pizza-La.  Pizza Time, while delicious, proved to be a bit greasy.  You know, that orange pizza grease.  I don't really like having to blot my cheese before eating a slice.  We're willing to try Pizza Time again, but for now we're Aoki's customers.  Pizza-La was the first pizza I ate here in Japan, back when a friend and I came for a two-week visit.  Our hosts ordered pizza one night.  I seem to remember we tried to order one matching American tastes, but it probably had corn on it.  Have I eaten a Pizza-La pizza since then?  It's likely, but I can't remember.  If I have, it must not have actively offended me or else I'm sure I would remember.  That's not a glowing recommendation, but you can order Pizza-La in English from their online site.  This means there's another Pizza-La pie in my future.

When I lived in a small, rural community in Chiba prefecture, the local delivery pizza place was met with derision by its target demographic, school kids.  The all said they loved pizza, but openly mocked this company in class when we discussed food.  I can't remember the chain's name and I never tried one of their pies.  Maybe that's just as well.

Here's a quick tip for English conversation instructors-- ordering a pizza makes for an easy lesson in making simple requests.  Give your students a few topping and drink choices, throw in a salad and drill them on how to ask for things, make one the restaurant employee and one the customer and your students practically teach themselves.

Thus concludes today's pizza topic.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

111-year-old Japanese man becomes world's oldest

111-year-old Japanese man becomes world's oldest

Centenarians are cool.  If you manage to hit triple digits, you've accomplished something rare and wonderful.  I'm not generally one of those "the world is a horrible place" people, but let's be realistic.  It is a dangerous place.  As they say, most accidents happen in the home.  And your bathroom is the most dangerous room there.  So stay out of the bathroom and pee and poop in your living room and allow the family dog to lick your body clean every morning so you can avoid setting foot in the kitchen as well.  Then you stand a pretty decent chance of beating Sakari Momoi's total.  Or Misao Okawa's.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

AKB48 recruiting part-timers for Y1,000 per hour

AKB48 recruiting part-timers for Y1,000 per hour

Is AKB48 still popular here?  It seems they've been around forever now.  As recently as last year they were all over our TV in recognizable form, but either I've lost the ability to discern the group's members or they aren't as ubiquitous.  It's probably the latter.

While AKB's charms are lost on me, I get why they're appealing to a broad swath of people here in Japan.  When I first heard about them during their initial splash, I thought, "Well, yeah, they're masturbation fantasy fodder for pervy middle-aged train gropers."  They are that.  But to my surprise, I quickly learned AKB had a number of followers among my younger English conversation students.  They looked up to the girls in AKB and imitated their dance routines during class breaks.

It's like watching a high school class go through the motions over and over.  They even "graduate," but there are always newer, younger, cuter AKB members waiting for a chance to take over so that every role is filled.  You can project whatever image you like onto whatever one it is the company slots each girl into.  This one is the class leader, this one is the sporty girl, this one is shy, this one is smart, this one doesn't work hard enough so let's all hate her.  They're big sister, little sister, best friend, girl friend, one-handed lover, both sexy and chaste, all thing to all people.

However, what is most important is they work, work, work nonstop in a big, harmonious, cooperative group to perform and cheer on the all-so-important jiji and salarymen who run this country.  They inspire the next generation of homemakers and office ladies to do the same.  And they get little in return for their sweat and hardship yet never complain.  Self-sacrifice and the grind of endless labor to little personal return.  Your satisfaction comes from building up the whole rather than the part.  And if you don't feel any personal satisfaction, then that's okay, too.  You are not important at all.  In general, people dig that here, and it helps to have AKB serenading you while you endure it.

Now here's this part-timer scheme, which actually seems like a good idea for girls who want to be in AKB.  While the group apparently has several thousand members at any given time, meaning their national coverage continues unabated through all hours of the day and night, there aren't enough slots for aspirants.  While most high schools I know of forbid part-time jobs for students (these kids barely have enough time to breathe much less earn spending money, plus there will be time enough for work post-university and pre-marriage), who could refuse a starry-eyed youngster her chance to associate with her idols and get a little taste of the glamorous life of a celebrity who earns millions for someone other than herself?  You don't earn much as a contracted talent here, but baby, you are adored.

As a part-time AKB member, taking part in commercials and public handshake events, the pay is 1000 yen an hour, which beats minimum wage in the US, and most part-time jobs here in Japan as well.  That's better than some of the hourly rates I've seen advertised for part-time English conversation teachers.  And even though it's probably exhausting, you get to wear cute clothes and travel all over Japan.  All that has to be better than frying hamburgers or washing dishes.   If I were pretty enough and young enough, I'd be tempted to give it a shot myself.  Damn skippy.

But mostly, I think this is just a clever ploy to publicize a website where people can search for part-time jobs.

Islamic State claims responsibility for detaining Japanese man

Islamic State claims responsibility for detaining Japanese man

This is a tragedy in the making.  It's already bad enough.  When I first heard about this, my impression was this man really was a doctor or a journalist.  One reason I had for thinking that was a truncated subject line in an email I received from the Japan Times.  It ended with the word "embedded," which I associate with journalists covering the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Evan Wright comes to mind, especially since I just finished watching Generation Kill, the TV miniseries based on his book by the same title.  Which I then read, followed soon after by Nathaniel Fick's One Bullet Away, an account of the same events from the perspective of the USMC platoon leader who appears in both.

Now it turns out this man embedded himself for reasons that seem a bit flaky to me.  Posting videos of himself online, running around with rebel troops in Syria.  Pretending to be something he isn't.  According to a news story my wife and I watched last night, which included a number of quotes from someone likely to be the man's father, his intent was to start some kind of private mercenary security firm.  Like Blackwater or one of those other now-infamous names.  So he wanted to see some of the world's trouble spots to get a closer perspective of his chosen field. 

This kind of stuff seems really fun and cool when you do it in a first-person shooter game, or you watch Arnold and Sly pretending to do it just outside some tropical resort in Hawaii or Costa Rica or a desert a couple of miles away from Los Angeles, but I'm not exactly sure how one goes about starting up a mercenary firm in the actual places where the fighting happens.  I doubt you do it this way, though.  My uneducated guess would be it's much more practical first to join a nation's military and learn and put into practice soldier skills in a real-world setting.  If you survive, then just maybe you have what it takes to create and run this kind of company.  I still wouldn't suggest it as a small business start-up when your CV suggests you're better off running a lemonade stand.  A mom and pop security firm, minus the mom?

Others may feel the best way to learn is to do.  Maybe they're right.  My sum total of first hand military experience consists of a month or so of close-order drill with the elite warriors of the local Civil Air Patrol when I was in junior high.  Nice bunch of guys.  I learned to read a map and I got to fly in a single-engine airplane, from which I saw my house.  But what do I know?  I've only fought wars on my sofa or in my computer chair at home.  So maybe you should just show up at a war and do your best until you can upgrade your status from amateur to pro.  Both certainly die alike.

I only hope our guy here returns safely to Japan with enough experience to live his dream.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Father of TV 'talent' Rola released due to insufficient evidence

Father of TV 'talent' Rola released due to insufficient evidence

I have to admit I haven't the foggiest notion of how the Japanese justice system works.  I just hope never to fall afoul of it.  We haven't seen Rola on TV much since the police arrested her father, but we did see him the other day on the news.  He grinned and waved and shouted a message to his daughter much to the delight of news photographers and videographers standing across the street from the jailhouse where he'd been for three weeks.  Then he got into a taxi.

His daughter favors him.  They have similar noses and mouths and nearly identical smiles.  He's not a bad looking fellow, but on Rola these features are much prettier.  The whole thing reminded me of American celebrities with troubled parents.  I'm not going to name them, but you can guess the ones I mean quite easily.

Anyway, three weeks, then released on insufficient evidence.  Seems like a long time to me, but, as I've said, I don't know the law here.  While I plan never to involve myself in anything with even a whiff of illegality about it, there's always the chance for getting into some serious trouble due to miscommunication and from not knowing my legal rights here.  When traveling or living abroad, do not assume that country has the same protections in place for people accused of crimes-- innocent until proven guilty, for example-- as in your home country.  So I need to study my rights here.  You should, too, if you plan to move to or even visit Japan.

Well, for visiting perhaps this isn't a high priority.  No sense in being alarmist.  I just hope we don't end up on the wrong side of the chief of police's desk, a la The Big Lebowski.  A coffee cup to the head would probably be getting off lightly.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Priceless comment at the end of this story: No. of reported stalking, domestic abuse cases in first half of year highest ever

No. of reported stalking, domestic abuse cases in first half of year highest ever

I think this is because women are reporting these more and I think they number of cases is actually much higher.  So what we're seeing isn't an increase in the amount of abuse that goes on-- any of that is too much-- but rather simply a sign that fewer Japanese women are willing to put up with this shit anymore.  I'd love to see a 1-to-1 ratio of cases to cases reported.  People will lose their minds when they see how widespread this is, and then we'll see society change for the better.

In my ideal world.  Where the police here actually get off their asses and do something when women report abuse and stalkers.  You know, other than call the person on his cellphone and ask him to come to the koban to talk about it, which gives him ample warning that he needs to go stab his object of desire or ownership to death.

My favorite part of this story is the comment at the bottom where someone insults all Japanese men by calling their social skills "abysmal," then opines the real problem is Japanese women are becoming less friendly and colder.  "Reporting stalking is good," he tells us.  "However, being stuck up and/or frigid is not."  Then he goes on to further explain we really need to be looking at women withholding sex if we want to understand this problem fully.  But despite telling us we should stop neglecting the role played by "female culpability" in stalking, he's not victim blaming.  No, because he tells us he's not.  But you're a male-hater if you think so, and that's why we have stalking, apparently.

I think we've found a new best friend for Richard Dawkins.

Japan's smoking rate drops to record low

Japan's smoking rate drops to record low

If true, this is good news.  From my anecdotal observations, there may be some truth to it.  I don't think I'm being exposed to secondhand smoke quite as much as when I first moved to Japan.  The amount of smoking in public that goes on here shocked me.  And I grew up in a smoking household, plus I spent a number of years pretty much living in bars.  I didn't think smoking could get to me.  But it did.

In some places you'll see little glass booths now for smokers.  If you want to discourage public smoking, I suppose turning the smokers into something like an aquarium display is a good start.  But there are still smoking sections in restaurants called "family restaurants" here, including one we regularly go to because it's cheap and near our place.  And you know, if one person in a room is smoking, then everyone in the room is.  My wife and I think smoking sections are ridiculous.  Just ban restaurant smoking outright.

My worst smoking experience here was in the Freshness Burger at Act City.  I used to like to go there on weekend afternoons for lunch, have a burger and some delicious fries, then read a book for a little bit while I digested.  You could smoke anywhere in Freshness Burger, and one time I went in and a group of business people were sitting at the table right in front of the cash registers, pretty much the central most location in the entire restaurant.  And all six of them were smoking away, just filling the Freshness Burger with the foulest burning tobacco stench I'd ever experienced, including all those years in bars.  It singed my nostrils and stung my eyes.

Another more recent smoking moment was not quite so bad, but still disgusting.  A few weeks ago, my wife and went to Denny's for lunch and they told us there weren't any non-smoking tables available and asked would we mind sitting in the smoking half of the restaurant.  We agreed, but we didn't last long.  Within moments, my nostrils began twitching and I could taste burned ashes on my lips.  My mouth dried up the way it used to around a lot of smokers and I told my wife we were going to have to move.  She told a server, and we were lucky enough they had a table for us.

Riding in a smoking car on the shinkansen can be unpleasant if you're not a smoker, too.  So for me, seeing smokers behind glass here and signs telling people it's rude to blow smoke in other pedestrians' faces while they walk along the sidewalk are a welcome sight.  As opposed to some dude blazing away in his suit and tie and not giving a rat's ass about the kids playing at the table immediately next to him in the "non-smoking" section.

Anyway, go Japan!