Friday, May 31, 2013

Hideki Matsui to retire a Yankee

I like ol' Hideki Matsui.  He just seems like a nice guy and he put together a decent career in the US.  Not a record-breaker like his countryman Ichiro Suzuki, of course, but a hard-working slugger with an understanding of the team concept.  A big man, too.  Our Wednesday English club has been using a short biography of Matsui for language practice and from that I've learned this guy was close to 200 pounds when he was in junior high.  I didn't reach that weight until I was in my 30s and I looked like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.

If I'm reading the stats correctly, Matsui finished second in the rookie of the year voting in 2003, made a couple of All Star teams, garnered a few votes here and there for MVP.  His best year was 2005 when he hit .305, blasted 23 home runs and drove in 116 RBIs.  He was durable his first three seasons, playing in all 162 games and he twice had more than 600 at-bats in a season-- with 704 plate appearances in 2005.  Plus, he was the 2009 World Series MVP.

Hmm.  He actually played in one hundred sixty-THREE games in 2003.

Well, Matsui will sign a one-day minor league contract and retire a Yankee, which is fitting. Whatever else you can say about the Yankees, they do tend to respect their past.  A guy who leads you to a world championship definitely deserves some end-of-career honors.

So to you, Hideki Matsui, from this Atlanta Braves fan-- well done!  Thanks for making American baseball that much better while you were here and all the best in whatever you choose to do from here on out!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Super global English schools | Opinion | The Japan Times

Super global English schools | Opinion | The Japan Times

This is fantastic, provided schools recruit qualified math and science teachers to conduct these courses rather than relying on their ALTs.  I can't imagine someone lacking sufficient training and background in these disciplines producing lessons that are anything other than gibberish.  It's not enough simply to use English; the English must be linked to the teaching of correct concepts by someone who understands them.  Obviously, native English proficiency doesn't equal proficiency in math or science... in English.

I hope in the discussion of this program and all the blue-sky optimism about it someone is making that point and being listened to.  After all, a trained chef might spend weekends dabbling in auto repair at home, but we'd never consider driving our cars to his or her restaurant and trying to order a tune-up off the menu.  In the same way someone hired to teach language and with a background in English education really should not be expected to generate math and science curriculum.

And if school systems try to cram this into the typical test preparation-oriented learning system without providing the courses any real purpose or context, it will be much worse than just not trying anything at all.  Courses unlinked from any concrete goals do not motivate students and if students aren't motivated, they're not going to learn.  Then you get a lot of kids sleeping through class or chatting away in Japanese in the back of the room.

That's what I'm afraid this program will be in practice, which will lead not to the intended results but instead to a huge headache for everyone involved.  Disappointed school staff, frustrated ALTs and-- worst of all-- confused students.  At this point, it's easy enough to avoid this kind of mess and make this the success this editorial wants it to be.  And that's by hiring real math and science teachers and putting them to work.

Does John Kricfalusi know about this?

Mudskipper numbers jump eightfold | News | The Japan Times

Looks like Muddy's family is making a big comeback here in Japan.  The lousy bums.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Court backs convention of picking one surname | The Japan Times

Court backs convention of picking one surname | The Japan Times

Marriage changes a lot of things.  Not everything.  We were living in sin before we made it official, so the change in our legal status barely registered.  Our togetherness didn't become more acute.  We both work long, long hours and don't get to see each other nearly enough.  We're not even wearing matching rings.  I did, however, experience a recurring warm, complete feeling.  I could kindle it by saying, "We're married."

What hasn't changed yet is my wife's surname.  Yet.  She wants to change her name, I'm happy and comfortable with that decision; apparently, the courts here practically demand it.  We're waiting until after we get back from our wedding trip to meet my family.  When we tried to buy airline tickets, we ran afoul of the ESTA program and her soon-to-expire passport.  It just seemed easier at the time to expedite things by applying for her passport under her original name.  There's no big hurry.  She says she has 6 months to change her name at the ward office before it becomes a matter of a court hassle to have it done.

I had no idea the name laws were so strict here in Japan, though.  And 96% of couples adopt a single surname.  That also came as a surprise.  I don't know the total in the US.  Probably pretty high, but not that high.  And I suppose some husbands take their wives' surnames, too.

Names, names, names.  For me it's enough my wife thought so highly of me to entwine us with a web of legalese.  But changing her name, too?  The name-changing thing is just one of those old fashioned conventions I rarely gave any thought to beyond a simple understanding that some people just don't want to do it.  I don't even need to know their motivation, be it personal, professional or political.  Change it or don't change it, whatever makes you happy.  You don't owe me anything, least of all an explanation.  I am behind your decision completely because it is your decision.

My wife has a perfectly serviceable surname and my in-laws have been nothing but nice to me.  So I'm flattered and touched beyond measure my wife wants to change her name to mine.  I did give a little thought to changing my middle name just like John Ono Lennon did, but then I thought about the person I'm named after and how much he meant to my mom.  And I happen to like my own name.  At least my surname.  My given name I could take or leave.  That ended that idea.

I really thought, however, it was our choice.  Now I see it's the choice of neither of us.  Rather, it's something imposed by Article 750 of the Civil Code whether we want it or not.  There's not even a Constitutional protection against it based on individual rights.  So it's lucky she wants it.  But for all of you who want to retain your own identities, please believe me when I say I'm on your side without reservations!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on a mission to spread Japan's kawaii culture - The Japan Times

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on a mission to spread Japan's kawaii culture - The Japan Times

I've said it before and I'm going to say it again-- I think she's a genius.

There's an element of self-awareness about the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu phenomenon that appeals to me more than some of the other more overtly manipulated J-pop acts.  I see nothing wrong with embracing kawaii, but then, I don't live in a dichotomous, either-or world where being one thing automatically precludes being another.  One can be adorable and frivolous at times and still have substance and agency at others.  It's possible to do both at once.  I've always been a fan of Dadaist expression, and I find a lot of that in Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's methods as well.  That it has a beat and you can dance to it only adds to the appeal.

Obviously, some of the people discussing this story underneath disagree with me and their points of view, while thoughtful, seem overly rigid and unfair.  Joyless, as well.  Her nonsense words offend their sensibilities, whereas I enjoy nonsense-- and art-- for its own sake.   I'm sure R. Mutt's urinal offended people who wanted their art to conform to a certain level of seriousness or meaning back in 1913, too.  What it means is beyond their comprehension, yet there's even the chance it actually means nothing at all, another challenge to whatever current aesthetic system we hold as the standard.  Whatever success KPP has may lie in our ability as observers to ascribe our own meaning to kawaii, either negative or positive.

In short, you gaze at KPP and find yourself reflected back.  That is the triumph of art.  It teaches us about ourselves just by existing.  KPP is Art.

Getting married in Japan...

Let me tell you a little about getting married in Japan, which is an experience I had recently.  It started about a year ago with the engagement.  My then-fiancee is a Japanese national, but while we'd known each other for about eight years, our relationship didn't really take hold until we were able to talk on Skype on a regular basis.  She'd been living in Canada while she studied early childhood education, and I'd been bouncing back and forth between Japan and the United States.

Once I got myself back in Japan things took a turn for the romantic between us, so we decided to get married.  She finished her degree, came back to Japan and started looking for a place where we both could live.  With our co-habitation settled, we got down the business of setting a date and doing the paperwork.

The paperwork is the most complex aspect of the marriage contract, at least in bureaucratic terms.  As the foreigner in the arrangement, you need an official birth certificate and an affidavit of competency to marriage. The affidavit must be notarized by your embassy.  For Americans, the place to go is the Tokyo branch, and for this you must make an appointment in advance.  Plus it costs 5000 yen.  Or 4900 for me, for some reason.  My mom took care of the birth certificate (a document aged to flimsiness over the course of my crazy little life and mailed protected in tissue against disintegration from rough handling across the Pacific) and I took a day off work and went to Tokyo for the notary stuff.

Lucky for me this was a three-day weekend and I was able to get two nights in Tokyo to play around, sightsee and shop.  It was strange doing that solo.  I'd been used to going it alone, but these days I'm half of one complete person so I felt distinctly bisected.  The embassy took care of me-- my appointment was at 11:30am, I showed up at 11:00 and I was on my way by 11:26 (I checked as soon as the security guards gave me back my cellphone).

At this point, let me say the woman who handled the actual notarization was a joy to deal with.  Friendly, upbeat, chatty.  If you have to have your government represented on a personal level in a foreign land, you could do a lot worse, believe me.  This is the second time I've had business with her and both times I've come away feeling glad to be an American.  If you have to do this, I hope it's on a day she's working so you can feel it, too.

Please fill out the form very carefully.  I screwed mine up but we were able to get away with it.  You have to write your mother's maiden name, and I stupidly wrote her married name.  And this was after botching two other versions of the same form.  If you should happen to do this and come away with your document notarized, inform your local ward office before you turn it in.  They told my fiancee to write a Japanese explanation of the mistake and all would be well.  And it was.  Bring your passport to the embassy.  No food or drink.  Do not forget your payment, which is accepted in yen.

The next part heavily involved my fiancee.  This was the laborious translation into Japanese of both my birth certificate and my competency form.  She also had to complete the actual marriage document or form or request.  Whatever it is.  This is where we discovered my little goof, which led to a day of worry that I'd have to spend yet another paid holiday and go to Tokyo to do the whole thing over again.  Fortunately not.  This poor woman worked her ass off to get everything right.

We asked two friends to be our witnesses and on the day of the wedding itself we met them at their house and had them fill out their part and sign it or stamp it with their inkan.

The ceremony itself?  Well, in our case it meant simply going to the ward office on a Sunday and handing in the documents to the middle-aged security guard with two large warts on his upper lip.  Oh yeah, and quickly adding more Japanese translations because we overlooked the back of my birth certificate where there was another stamp and signature.  We took a quick photograph of ourselves coming out of the office in imitation of our witness friends who had done the same thing.  Did I forget to tell you they're also a married couple?

Okay, so that's it.  I hope this is helpful, but please understand I'm leaving out a few things because I'm an idiot.  Get your paperwork in order, plan ahead and you'll have the same experience we had-- waiting for a Monday morning phone call telling you your documents are wrong.  In our case, it was a minor detail they could correct over the phone.  Once done, they told my wife, "Omedetou gozaimasu!" and we were married.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Melt-Banana at Heavy Sick, April 29, 2012!

I can't believe it's been a year since this show.  It took place at Heavy Sick in Hatagaya, which was incredibly convenient for me because I could stay at Sakura Hotel with about a 5-minute foot commute to and from the venue.

Let's time travel and see what happened...

Of course it sold out.  Here's a sweet story.  A couple came up while I was waiting to get in and they were disappointed not to be able to buy tickets.  I can't remember how it happened, but they ended up telling the door guy their dilemma and he mistakenly came to believe they were friends with Melt-Banana.  Language barrier.  He popped into the club and a few minutes later came out with Yasuko.  She looked a little confused and the couple were embarrassed and apologetic for the whole mix-up.  While they'd both been perfectly willing to give up and go elsewhere for fun, Yasuko quickly added them to the attendee list.  They paid the ticket price and in they went.  A very cool moment all around.  It made me very happy.

There's no requirement for musicians you like to be nice, but it's always extra sweet if they are.

Yeah, I had a ticket.  I bought mine the night before because I was pretty sure the show was going to sell out.  Awesome bands, small venue, Tokyo.  This usually equals sell out show.  Actually, every Melt-Banana show I've been to has been a sell out.

This might have been their last time with Rika on bass.  Definitely ONE of the last times.  I'm going to miss having her over there on the left pumping out bass and doing that little bouncing move.

Anyway, here are some really lousy photos I took with my iPhone!  Some of them might be duplicates, too!

The next time I saw them was the night of Christmas Day the same year.  That show was in Shibuya where they opened for Guitar Wolf.  While the Heavy Sick show was pretty good, they had more energy in the Shibuya venue even if they were reduced to a duo.  However many people they have in their band, I highly recommend you attend at least one Melt-Banana show if you're here in Japan or if they tour through your country.