Sunday, July 13, 2014

Well, we like her at our house: Rola changing DNA of Japanese pop culture

Rola changing DNA of Japanese pop culture

Having married a Japanese woman, I get a big dose of Japanese TV almost daily.  Japanese TV is largely crap.  The culture snob in all of us might sniff, "Well, so is all of TV, no matter the country of origin.  All mass culture is crap."  But Japanese TV is REALLY crap, by just about any standard.  Even my wife thinks so, although she enjoys the game shows where celebrities try to figure out the correct kanji before a giant computer graphic ape out of a video game throws bees at them or whatever the hell is happening. 

We also both get a big charge out of Itte Q and another show staring Seiji, a big, affable galoot of a guy in loud clothes who drags his roller suitcase all over Africa looking for lone Japanese living in small towns and villages there.  I have no quarrel with J-Dramas, either.  Or anime.  Or the show with the old guy in overalls walking his cute dog around town meeting ordinary people.

What I can't bear, however, are the endless shows about people going to restaurants, or the endless shows where people sit around on a brightly decorated stage and sample ordinary Japanese dishes.  Or the shows where celebrities watch videos of other celebrities going to restaurants.  Or the shows that just seem to be a group of celebrities shouting at each other while watching videos of other celebrities going to restaurants.  Or shows about restaurants.

Many of these shows feature Rola.  Rola has a nasal voice that sounds as if she could shatter glass, but just as that article I lined to points out, she has a "carefree" charm.  We know to always bet against her in any guessing game, but there's just something appealing about her lack of pretentiousness.  Which is the opposite of me, a creature composed largely of pretentions and mistaken assumptions.  Granted, I know nothing of the real Rola, but if she has a talent beyond being approachably pretty, it's projecting an honest, open demeanor.  Certainly, there's a cloying quality about her, too, but it's largely overshadowed by that apparent honesty.  You feel with Rola you're getting a genuine person, beyond the trademark poses and pouts.

Which is to say, if you must air a show where celebrities watch video of other celebrities going to restaurants or talking about food (and if you're a Japanese broadcaster, you absolutely must or suffer the consequences), you could do a lot worse than to add Rola to your cast.  And yes, she's pretty much everywhere these days, so you just have to get used to her and not worry so much about all-Rola, all the time.  I'm pretty sure she's not losing any sleep over it, except for when she's working, which must be all the time.  You know what I mean, though, right?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

But open for business here: Typhoon makes landfall on Kyushu; 3 dead so far

Typhoon makes landfall on Kyushu; 3 dead so far

The typhoon has been the major news story since yesterday.  Here, probably 12 or so hours ahead of the arrival of a weakened form of this storm, we're open for business.  The staff are making plans for sending the kids home early if it comes to that, but we probably won't see any bad weather until late tonight.  But this is what I'm gathering with my smattering of office Japanese.

Typhoon days here are like snow days back home.  For the kids, they can be a joy.  For adults, a misery.  Many offices and businesses will remain open, meaning extra-long and extra-difficult commutes in the morning and evening.  Tomorrow will find broken convenience store umbrellas, the clear plastic cheapies, lying on the sidewalks like dead fish on the beach after a storm at sea.  I'm pretty lucky in that even if the weather hits earlier than I expect, I only have a 5 minute walk back to our apartment. 

Even with high winds whipping my umbrella back and forth and leaving my biceps sore from the fight-- I beat nature with a TKO fifty-one seconds into the third round-- at least I don't have to drive or take a bus or train.  Bus and train service may be delayed or even cancelled outright and even if they're not, everyone will be packed in with the extra bulk of raincoats and umbrellas.  It will be extra oppressively hot and humid and your wet clothes will cling to your clammy body like a monstrous leech out of a sci-fi-horror flick.  I've actually commuted to work on a bicycle in typhoons, way back before the city passed a "no umbrellas while riding bikes" law, complete with hefty fine.

Not that an umbrella does much good in a gale, when the wind blows the rain horizontally or even upwards into your face at times.  Muscling a bike against the wind with an umbrella acting like a sail or a wing threatening to take you airborne is yet another great cardiovascular workout that also shapes and tones your muscles.  You end up wet not only from the rain but also from slimy sweat for a regular "oil and water" coating guaranteed to leave you feeling slimy and in need of a shower or a long soak in a cold pool somewhere far from the city.

My poor wife may have to drive in it!  I'm going to be constantly checking the front door until she gets home.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The newest, most annoying excuse for doing stupid, asinine things: Man arrested for pouring ink, ketchup into mailboxes

Man arrested for pouring ink, ketchup into mailboxes

And what did this arch-fiend, this master criminal, this rogue genius, tell the high-tech, multi-national taskforce that finally brought him to justice after a worldwide hunt?

"[He] told [the Science Patrol, Sherlock Holmes, Batman and Charlie's Angels] he poured the liquids into at least 13 mailboxes because it helped him forget his stress at work." 

This is the second crime this week where the suspect has confessed all and used the same excuse.  The first guy admitted to slashing seat covers on a local train line.  Stress relief, he said.  At least the jackass who uploaded a video of himself drowning a cat had a specific anti-feline agenda he was trying to promote.  These two boobs need to be locked in a cell together so they discuss ways of coping with work stress.

I have a lot of stress at my job, too, but I handle it the American way.  I suck it up and complain at home.  I read a book.  I write a short story.  I make a drawing.  I go hit some baseballs at the batting center.  I search the job ads.  I read stupid news and write smart ass blog entries about it.  Whatever happened to the grand old Japanese tradition of getting blotto, tying your tie around your forehead, and screaming out Blue Hearts at the karaoke box?  Joining the local festival and spending three days half-naked and drunk out of your mind?  Building intricately detailed Gundam models accurate down to the atomic level?  I guess that's not good enough for some people.  On the other hand, this country really could use the de-stigmatization of seeking professional help for mental problems.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rumors swirl after case of mass bullshit at Fukuoka school

Rumors swirl after girls mysteriously collapse at Fukuoka school

The first thing I thought of was good ol' Arthur Miller and his play The Crucible.  This is an interesting way to get a couple of days off around test time, nothing more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Way to date yourself, pal!

American man arrested over theft of car with children in back seat

So police arrested this guy because he allegedly stole a car with two children in the back.  Since he has no job, no fixed address and no identification, he told the cops his name was Rad Dude Thompson.  Japan Today plays it safe by referring to him as "D. Thompson," but Asahi has no qualms and goes the full dude-ular way.

It's kind of weird when you think about a guy just three years younger than I am being here in Japan with no (visible) means of support.  Look for the phrase, "unemployed and of no fixed address."  You will find it almost exclusively in articles about arrests.  I've had productive friends kicked out when their visas expired even after they went through the whole process of renewal.  Some people have no regard for bureaucracy, it seems.  Also, if you happen to find yourself arrested, please give a fake name that's more up to date slang.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Farewell, Tony Gwynn!

I wasn't even a San Diego Padres fan, but I loved Tony Gwynn.  The characteristic Gwynn hit was a textbook-perfect laser beam line drive in the gap, to right or left.  Many times for a double.  He was a line drive machine, and not only could he do it on the field, but he could explain the mechanics of it in such a clear, easy-to-follow way even a dope like I could understand.  Analyzing videos of his swing.  Thinking and theorizing, planning, always working to get better.  Tony Gwynn was a true genius of baseball, up there with Ted Williams in terms of the scientific understanding of hitting.  When those two guys would show up on TV and get to chattering away about it, well... I found that fascinating stuff.

There are few things I enjoy more than watching people who are skilled at their craft or art doing it and doing it well.  I enjoy those same people talking about that craft almost as much.  Williams could bark out a few truisms about hitting boldly, but I never got the feeling he cared if you understood or not.  He'd rather spend his time talking with Gwynn, who could grasp what it was all about and keep up with him, the somewhat impatient Splendid Splinter.  Gwynn would respond in a gentler, calmer way that complemented Williams' larger-than-life persona.  To listen to Gwynn was to hear a man expressing an enthusiasm or love for hitting, for baseball, for the game and sport in such a way it rubbed off on the listener.  It would make me excited about the possibilities of perfection.  The guy made me happy to be a baseball fan.  He loved to talk it up.  I'm reading a column while writing this where the reporter says he often walked away from Gwynn with more material than he needed.

An accessible, down-to-earth genius.  A fun guy to watch play, a fun guy to listen to.  One of the truly nice guys in baseball.  I wanted him to hit .400.  Every year he came close, it drove me crazy with anticipation.  He wasn't even on my favorite team, but I rooted for him.  So much so, when I first had disposable income, I went out and bought his rookie card inside one of those hard plastic or Lucite or whatever holders, the kind that screws together.

For some reason, I wasn't even aware he'd been having health troubles.  Guess he dropped off my radar after I moved to Japan.  I regret that.  His passing was a complete surprise, a punch right in the heart at breakfast this morning.  I suppose I just expected to hear from Gwynn for years to come, whenever someone excelled at baseball and drove people to make comparisons.  He'd break it down for us.  We'd come away a bit more knowledgeable about the game.  The science of it.  The art of it.

Going to miss you, Mr. Gwynn.

3 arrested for tweaking Denny’s logo for sexual service company

3 arrested for tweaking Denny’s logo for sexual service company

Well, that's a shame.  It's a shame that these guys, who are so much more enterprising than that Akiba-kei-for-hire NEET fella, ended up in so much trouble.  But trademark infringement is serious business.  Even if you're handy at this kind of job, these kinds of rear entries into the market, no matter how stimulating, rarely result in happy endings.  Whatever position you take on sexual services, surely you can see companies like Denny's resorting to the use of some kind of protection, because if they open themselves wide for this kind of violation they can expect quite a pounding.  On the other hand, before things climaxed this way, perhaps the parties involved could have engaged in a rousing intercourse and consented to some kind of oral agreement of mutual benefit.  I can only hope now the alleged criminals will reach their release at the same time and have some time to reflect on what they have done.

Strangely enough, the wife and I ate at Denny's just this past weekend after having been regulars at Gusto and Joyfull restaurants.  They first sat us in the smoking section, after reassuring us at 11:30am the entire restaurant would be non-smoking.  We lasted just long enough to open the menus.  My nostrils filled with the sharp stink of burning tobacco and I swear I could even taste it on my lips.  She didn't feel much better and asked me if we should simply leave.  I told her that sounded good to me, but when we told the server, she found us a non-smoking table between a mother-daughter pair and a group of older women who decided to stare at me the entire time.  Well, I am quite striking.

Denny's has a lot of pancake desserts on their menu right now.  Pancakes in Japan aren't necessarily breakfast food, the way they are in the US.  They're more like desserts, or sweet snacks.  They did look tasty.  Seeing so many pancakes made my wife long for IHOP, one of her favorite places to eat when she lived abroad.  The rest of the menu, while very attractive, didn't feature much variety.  Lots of hamburger steaks and beef dishes, when I wanted chicken.  They didn't have the green noodles my wife loves, either.  One the other hand, what we ordered tasted very delicious and filled us up.  Right now it seems Joyfull is making an effort to expand their menu-- which is budget-priced compared to Denny's-- and they offer a drink bar.  Gusto does, too.  It will probably be a long time before we choose Denny's again.