Friday, January 31, 2014

Everyone needs a hobby: Thief caught with 450 pairs of high heels

Thief caught with 450 pairs of high heels

This one is worth reading for the comments that accompany it.  Some solid comedy, including a couple of shoe-based puns.  There's also some thought-provoking consideration on one of the journalistic failings in the story itself-- namely, if the suspect has no fixed address and no job, what are the circumstances behind his room rental (including the logistics of transferring such a massive shoe collection into it without raising some kind of alarm from the owner) and seeming ability to gain access to a hostess club?  Those places aren't cheap, you know.  We also need to know how they nabbed him.  Did he make a clumsy spectacle of himself, or did someone just happen to barge in on him in the act?

Information, please.  That's a journalist's job and you've only done yours halfway.

And while I don't condone theft, I do think everyone needs an outlet for his or her interests.  This guy is apparently very into high heels, and that by itself is great.  But he should have sought gainful employment so he could afford to buy shoes rather than stealing them.  You can buy used shoes online and in vintage clothing stores, and there must be other legitimate resources for people who share this hobby considering how many Google searches for Malin Ackerman's feet I come across when checking my blog's readership.  If this is your thing, I urge you to join the vast online network of high heel lovers and foot fetishists out there and keep things above board and legal.

Unless the stealing of the shoes was his real kick, in which case I believe I have the answer for him and others of a similar nature.  Sometimes it's the illicit act itself in relation to the object rather than the object itself that draws the active hobbyist.  Perhaps there's a market for fake shoe and panty thievery.  Set up a club or a shop, stock it with whatever clothing items fetishists like to steal, let them pay a monthly fee and satisfy their urges with totally legal "theft."  You can allow the customers to go through whatever scenario turns them on (hostess bar changing room, high school lockers, laundry hanging on a line), curtail crime and make a few bucks in the process.

How about it, venture capitalists?

This is getting out of hand: Flu epidemic warning issued for Tokyo metropolitan area

Flu epidemic warning issued for Tokyo metropolitan area

But it's no surprise.  When people get sick, they go to work, school or even their English conversation classes anyway.  Just wear a mask, use the "Air Doctor" and some of the hand sanitizer at the store entrance and continue spreading the flu far and wide.  On the other hand, I don't know too many people who take the precaution of getting the flu vaccination at the start of influenza season.  The vaccine doesn't guarantee you'll breeze through the cold weather months flu-free, but it works a lot better than any of the other methods people tend to rely on.  Which includes, as I said and I cannot stress enough, going about their daily grind despite being sick.

My wife and I got shots back in November.  As you know, I work at a school and she works at a daycare.  So we're around all kinds of fun viruses and bacteria daily.  I like to think we do pretty well.  We wash our hands when we come home at night and don't even hug or kiss until we've changed clothes.  We're both pretty paranoid about germs.  Which is another reason why I rarely talk about illness.  And yet I've been blogging up a storm on the topic lately, haven't I?

I'm longing for spring and simple seasonal allergies.  Spring is my time to suffer.  This year, I'm going to do something similar to my flu preparations and get on some kind of prescription medicine before the cedar pollen starts wafting about and irritating my immune system into attacking me despite my relative health.

In the meantime, avoid all human contact if possible.  Seal yourself in, adopt quarantine protocols and live off your emergency supplies until the authorities issue an all-clear bulletin.  Which should come any... day... now...

Transmission complete.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I don't have many teeth...

Don't worry.  I haven't had a dental disaster.  Yesterday, I bought another digital volume of the Seven Seas Entertainment's translation of the manga series Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, which translates to "I don't have many friends."  It's also called Haganai, which led to my wife asking me what I meant by saying I don't have teeth.

"That's another name for that manga about the friendship club," I said.  "Remember that one?"

Of course, she did.  "But it means, 'I don't have teeth,'" she told me.

Thinking I mustbe mistaken about the name, I did a quick Google search.  Haganai.  "It's also called 'Haganai' for some reason," I said, showing her the results.


"I don't know.  Maybe it's teenaged slang."

Fortunately, someone does know.

Haganai, or Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, is the entertaing story of Kodaka, an average guy who can't make friends because everyone thinks his blond hair means he's a thug.  Kodaka meets Yozora, a forceful, somewhat mean girl (okay, she's an unrepentant bully) who is such a pariah she's been reduced to hanging out with an imaginary friend.  After an introductory conversation, Yozora gets the idea of forming a school club based on making friends, which she names the Neighbors' Club.  Yozora ropes Kodaka into joining, and despite Yozora's hideous attempt at making a poster (which she explains in the most brilliant display of anti-social logic ever captured in any media), the club soon attracts a small group of outcasts.  Most prominent among these is Sena, the most beautiful, perfect girl in school... who, like Yozora, has some severe personality problems.  Yozora and Sena instantly develop a hate-hate relationship that causes the club a lot of hardship, yet both are too strong-willed for their "friends" ever to intervene successfully or stick up for themselves.

The most effective moments of humor come when the story contrasts the genteel appearance of the club and its aims with the near-sociopathy of its two main members.  Yozora and Sena are so lacking in empathy and all the common feelings of group harmony, each attempt at bonding turns into a life-or-death struggle ending in disaster for all involved, even the ever-unwilling Kodaka. 

When they play an online role-playing game to practice cooperation (or something like that), Yozora and Sena both can't refrain from killing each other, which is funny enough, but the most hilarious moment comes when the two girls team up to play a dating simulation game.  Their battle of wills results in the poor game protagonist being stuck with an atrocious name, "Kashiwazaki Semoponume," which dismays Sena (it was supposed to be her name at first) and Yozora declares as distinctive and the work of god.  Within moments, they both turn against their own creation and mock his unwieldy moniker as both bully bait and the result of the character's parents having "despised" their son.  After that inauspicious beginning, the girls jointly lead poor Semoponume to the worst possible game ending, the life of a miserable recluse.  All because they can't fathom the simplest human interactions and tend to project the worst ulterior motives on even the most innocent of friendly overtures (this, ironically, reveals a lot more about their own personality flaws than they realize).  That they're so completely assured in their wrong-headedness makes it doubly amusing.

Kodaka's  not the most interesting of characters, but his occasional wry commentary prevents him from becoming too much of a zero, and the supporting cast consist mostly of one-joke types.  Both Yozora and Sena provide the fireworks here, hilarious in their lack of self-awareness and largely oblivious to the destruction they cause even as they share in its aftermath.  They have enough energy to carry the initial episodes, although there's also a tendency towards formulaic structure.  Pretty funny going for now, even if I'm not sure how long this can be drawn out.  At some point Yozora and Sena are going to have to start learning from their mistakes and when they do, they'll join the ranks of ordinary humanity and become a lot less interesting.  Until then, Haganai makes for fun, light reading for older teens and adults-- I do not recommend it for younger readers.  There's far too much cheesecake and even an episode involving a pornographic video game.

Which is also pretty funny!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Easy time getting my work visa extended...

I hate going to government offices, whether in Japan or back in the United States.  They tend to be dreary places with all the atmosphere of an elevator and none of the exotic and exciting allure of a doctor's office.  The immigration office here is no exception, and the staff there aren't particularly friendly.  Not that I expect them to chat me up, but a little smile every now and then would certainly make the experience more fun and fulfilling for all involved.

On the other hand, what our local immigration official lack in charm, they more than make up for where it counts:  efficiency.  This year would have been the easiest experience with Japanese immigration if not for the severe screw-up on our part.  We tried for the spouse visa, but failed for reasons I won't go into here, but are completely due to my lack of diligence.  The work visa proved a quick process, this time with a total turnaround time of less than 60 hours.  I went one day, turned in the paperwork, received my postcard the next day, had my new ID card and 3-year extension then next.

I'm curious if anyone has ever had problems extending their work visas despite having valid contracts with established companies.  I've known people who had to leave Japan when their cultural visas ran out and the Ministry of Justice refused to grant extensions, but I've yet to hear of anyone losing out on a work visa.  No doubt people make mistakes on their paperwork, or else the MoJ blows it somehow on their end.  While the whole thing is a bit inconvenient at best, I've never had a visa denied.  Am I lucky or just like everyone else?  Maybe I should find out.

Yeah.  I'll do that.  Someday.

Flu Watch '14!

This year's influenza outbreak just claimed a second class.  The first must stay home until Saturday, this one must wait it out until Monday.  Strangely, both cancelled classes are in the same grade. Or maybe not so strangely, since the kids tend to mingle and mix at times.  The other two grades are relatively healthy, one with only four flu victims, the other with just one.  What's kind of amusing is we've divided each class into groups working on speeches, but one of the groups only had two kids in school today and so they got a bit more coaching from me than their missing four teammates.

I guess if you happen to be one of the few healthy kids in either of these classes, you're sitting pretty right now.  Nothing to do but play Wii or Nintendo DS or whatever it is kids do these days.  It's got to be rough on their parents, though.  From my informal polling, our students prefer typhoon days to flu breaks.  Typhoon days tend to be more exciting, kind of like those rarer-than-rare snow days back home in south Georgia.  On a flu day, you're either one of the sick kids or you recently were one or you're getting ready to become one.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Influenza wiped out one of our classes...

It's influenza season, and there's one thing I've learned since I've been in Japan about illnesses:  people love to talk about them.  I hate to talk about illness, but whether it's norovirus or the bird flu or the New Flu, the news broadcasts cover the topic in-depth and so do people in casual conversations.  And because I work in a school, it's a topic that we have to have conversations about because influenza impacts everyone here, from the students to the hardworking cafeteria staff to the office people to the teachers.  Even one of our interview tests yesterday featured various forms of influenza as its topic.  There's no escaping.  Especially since one entire class here has been completely destroyed by the flu.  Cancelled for the rest of the week.

This doesn't affect my schedule, since I'm through teaching them until next week.  It's certainly strange going into a half-empty classroom, though.  The kids seem to be in a different headspace entirely.  They're not as attentive, they're more easily distracted.  There's almost a holiday mood among the survivors, or the feeling of a Saturday class even though it's Monday or Tuesday.  It throws me off the rhythmic method the JTE and I have developed.  I feel an impending sense of doom, of some apocalypse in our near future.

Then it's back to the teachers' room to listen to more phone conversations about influenza, and to receive handouts about it.  Masks on, hands washed, teachers joking about the situation in that way all people do when circumstances grow beyond their control and they become flotsam on the tide of an ever-flowing, ever-changing situation.  You have to wisecrack.  It's human nature.

This is the first time since I started working here we've lost an entire class.  Last year, we came close during the height of flu season.  On the whiteboard the school nurse toted up the names and numbers of our absentee kids, the ones with high fevers underlined in black, the confirmed flu cases in blue.  This year that single class hit their sickness limit, and like a weary platoon where casualties have destroyed its combat effectiveness in wartime, the rest were pulled off the front lines to recuperate and wait for replacements.  Maybe they'll be folded into the other classes.  Maybe they'll all be sent home until the crisis passes.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A follow-up: Factory worker arrested over tainted frozen food

Factory worker arrested over tainted frozen food

Well, that's one way to protest low wages.  I'd just suck it up at work and take it out on loved ones passive-aggressively in the classic American style.  Or, you know, find another job.  I'm posting this because it's something I posted about a few weeks ago and also because I really like the comment from someone named "Tessa" about the gyoza party.  I enjoy this company's microwaveable pizza-- and I've probably eaten some produced by the suspect in this story-- and my main takeaway here is a craving for it right now!

Which I won't satisfy for fear of being poisoned by pesticide.  I'll just have to wait for it to pass.  Can't make homemade microwaveable pizza.  If I could, we'd have a party.

At least it wasn't an old car with dead people inside...

I'm not too surprised authorities would find about 200 bikes in a small pond here.  After all I saw Spirited Away, when a stink spirit turns out to be the spirit of a polluted river, and a bike is one of the first big things Chihiro and friends pull out of it.  And there are worse things to find in a pond.  And more amusing things to find in rivers.

I suppose we use bodies of water-- rivers, lakes, oceans-- as our big trashcans.  Once underwater, society's detritus is out of sight, out of mind.  It's pretty stupid, but there you have it.  Things flow downhill and most water is found there, so it's natural for the unnatural to make its way into the water system.  Natural and unfortunate.

What's the most interesting thing I've ever found in water?  Well, a friend of mine once turned up a rusty .32 revolver, but years ago when my father and I helped some neighbors drain an irrigation pond on their farm, we found the biggest damned catfish I've ever seen in my life.  It was as big as a shark, a scarred, prehistoric-looking monster lying there in the mud.  It took two of us to lift it. 

It was even larger than the 16 pounder the guy next door once caught on a hook and line.  That one ended up nailed to a pine tree in his backyard, stripped of its skin with pliers, then cut into filets.  A memorable day, to be sure.  All the neighborhood kids showed up to gape.  I think the one from the drained pond became fertilizer, but I can't remember after all these years.  The moment of discovery is what's stayed with me.  Oh wait, I do remember we learned it was female and the only way I can think we would have found out is by cutting it open and spilling its row.  So maybe we ate some of it later.  Grilled or fried?

I still think of that catfish from time to time.  It stirs the dark waters of my memories, then disappears into the murk down below, where it waits, wide-mouthed and ancient, and doomed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I'm not too upset about the "racist" ANA ad...

I think as a white guy living in Japan, I'm supposed to be angry and offended right now.  But after watching the commercial-- in which two actors portraying ANA employees and speaking in English discuss changing Japan's image abroad, leading to one of them to suddenly sport a blond wig and a large false nose-- I found I couldn't summon too much outrageI have my reasons, and I feel some of the responses to the ad I've read are disingenuous at best.

After all, unlike Japan, we Americans have grown and changed in the US and don't stereotype people of color anymore, do we?  I mean, especially since we have a whole holiday devoted to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?  I'm going to have to go Louis CK on this one.

PS-- I'm aware that a number of the above links don't specifically relate to Japanese people.  I seriously doubt very many people engaging in some of the behaviors in those stories make that distinction, which is my final reason why I'm not particularly sweating ANA right now.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Animal Hunter Imoto meets Tarzan: my imperfect recollection of last night's show!

Last summer, I discovered Animal Hunter Imoto.  A little late, I know.  A person appearing to be a rather plain high school girl with thick eyebrows and bad teeth dared a cave full of bats and another packed with snakes (the latter none too well despite a hypno-therapy session to curb her fears), then dove into a river in South America to fish by hand.  She also had an artist working in the medium of chewing gum produce her portrait.  The best part was when she donned the garb of the Guardian Angels group and attempted to break up a fight outside a Los Angeles nightclub.  One punch in the face later and she declared it too dangerous to continue.  I found it hilarious even though I could only understand a fraction of what she was yelling.

Then I forgot about her for a while.

This past weekend, my wife and I had some rare time off and noticed a commercial for Sunday night's Animal Hunter Imoto segment.  Ayako Imoto in Africa.  Trying to ride a tiger.  This proved irresistible to us both, so we tuned in at 8pm and gave it a watch.  We were not disappointed.  Let me try to recap Imoto's antics through the filter of my faltering memory.

First, she dressed like a rocket ship and launched herself off a mountain.  She was attached by harness and pully to a rope which I believe they said was more than 2 kilometers long.  The speeds she attained seemed tremendous, with Imoto becoming nothing more than a black streak through the sky.  The announcer seemed concerned about a dangerous landing, but the show hilariously cheated with a jump cut to a perfectly safe, grounded Imoto cheerfully shouting something which I couldn't catch, much to the delight of the celebrities watching the segment in the TV studio.

After that, Imoto took a luxury train across the countryside.  She enjoyed a very hot bath with the train's rocking motion spilling quite a bit of water all over the bathroom and then took a nap on what looked like a very comfortable bed.  The people eating in the dining car gave her the stink eye as she entered and gave a running commentary all the way to her table.  Then disaster struck as she shattered her front teeth on what looked like a chicken wing on a stick.  Snaggletoothed, she complained for a bit, then the show cut to Imoto visiting a general store where she tried to buy glue to repair her teeth.

The store didn't have any, but by that time Imoto was entranced with trying to win a prize in one of those claw-arm games and had apparently forgotten all about her dental troubles.

Cut to a hilltop golf tee high above a beautiful valley containing a single green.  You pay 50,000 yen and take your whack in the hopes of a 100,000,000 yen payoff for a hole-in-one.  One of the golf pros demonstrated and put his ball in the rough just off the green, an easy chip shot to the hole.  Another said he once got within 2 meters of the pin, but his shot went out of bounds, and Imoto loudly registered her dismay.  They then told Imoto she had a 1-in-10,000 chance of making a hole in one on this hole and, after a few practice swings, she took a mighty stroke and sliced so badly they didn't even bother to show where her ball landed.

By now, Imoto's teeth were repaired and she was ready for a trip to a small jungle where she met a muscular young man who lives the Tarzan lifestyle.  Imoto sussed out he does this 5 days a week, with 2 reserved for working as a house painter with his father.  Even Tarzan has to make car payments, it seems.  Imoto found this hilarious.  Then she dressed like a female Tarzan and her new friend drove them both to a wild animal park where they talked her into trying to ride a full-grown tiger.  It didn't go well, and the tiger quickly became irritated with the whole set-up.  The keepers told Imoto usually the big cat was quite docile, but for some reason she really seemed to piss it off.  Cut to Tarzan driving them both back to the jungle.

There, on what Imoto revealed to be Christmas Day, Tarzan showed her how to dig for insects.  He caught a large black scorpion and chopped off its stinger, rendering it harmless enough to eat.  Tarzan and Imoto put it in a white plastic bag, the kind you get at convenience stores here in Japan.  She dug up a worm and declared it her "Christmas present."  Then Tarzan attempted to show Imoto how to fish with a spear, but her teeth broke again.  They spent the rest of the day on their knees with the film crew searching the pond-side for the missing teeth.  The show rolled some video outtakes of a broken-tooth Imoto trying to introduce a segment but finding it impossible to enunciate sa, si, su, se, so.  She cried.

Cut to a night scene with both Tarzan and Imoto by the fireside roasting their insects.  Imoto had difficulty eating her crisp scorpion using just her molars and she wished Tarzan a glum, "Merry Christmas."

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Food poisoning in Hamamatsu... and watching the news

We watch the news almost every night and Wednesday night as we watched, my wife said, "They found norovirus at those schools."

"Is that Hamamatsu?" I asked.

She said it was, and the news rolled on to the next story.  Which may have been a lengthy piece on the fishing boat and the naval ship that collided, killing two fishermen.  I was trying to read or eat dinner or some little everyday task as people often do in the early evening with the news on TV in the background. 

But I was impressed with how detailed the coverage was.  In the US, even the local news would probably spend less than a minute on the whole thing.  It would probably be little more than a basic blurb with some video taken at the scene and maybe an eye-witness quote and back to the station for a commercial or the next segment.  Did we need to know as much about the fishing boat accident as they told us?  Well, if you're interested in the story, absolutely.  If not, you can eat your meal or read your book until something you are interested in comes on.

Our local news in Albany, Georgia, is nothing more than a vehicle for ad space sales, and it shows with the way the stories are chopped up and doled out in tiny pieces wrapped with commercials or teased repeatedly, then placed strategically throughout a heavily-padded hour and a half broadcast in which you learn very little.  It's great if you're an ad rep trying to meet your monthly budget and avoid getting fired, and wonderful for the station's bottom-line, but it's an excruciatingly shallow news experience.  News for yahoos, very little real reporting of any kind.

A couple of weeks ago, on a morning news show, a reporter demonstrated how that Russian ship in Antarctica became ice-bound and trapped over Christmas.  She used a tilted board with a magnetized model boat and white blocks representing ice floes.  Sure, they could have broken out the computer graphics and modeled it that way, but I prefer practical effects wherever possible in both my movies and my newscasts.  So I really appreciated their low-tech, hands-on approach.  I respect their decision to devote a considerable chunk of time to this demonstration, too.

Think of how many south Georgia car dealers could have used that time to scream at you about LOW LOW LOW ZERO PERCENT FINANCIN'!

Well, people more fluent in Japanese may have their own complaints about news tendencies here, but I'm from a place that's almost completely illiterate and lacking in critical thought, so I'm enjoying looking at these long segments.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Over 350 sickened by tainted food in Japan

My wife and I saw this story on the news last week.  A food manufacturer had to recall their products because they accidentally contaminated lot of it with pesticide. The article I'm linking here ends with a mention of last month's nationwide "fake food scandal," in which department stores and hotels had to apologize because the authorities caught them substituting cheaper dishes for the more expensive "real thing."  Both of these hit close to home because I used to live on the microwaveable pizzas the first company produces, and one of the hotels in the second scandal is right here in town and happens to be where our school holds its annual first-of-the-school-year teachers' party.

I haven't eaten a pesticide pizza, but there's a good chance I've eaten fake food.  And people here take these things seriously.  Well, obviously you have to take poisonings seriously.  My point is, whenever you talk about this particular hotel from now until civilization falls and the sun devours the earth, your conversation will include a reference to their wrongdoing.  It's now part of their brand, whether they like it or not.  I imagine some of those frozen meals will disappear from supermarkets or undergone some significant packaging changes.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Let's hear it for Sazae-san! (In which I give my imprecise impressions of cartoons my wife and I watch)

Yeah, we watch Sazae-san pretty often.  I can't tell you exactly what time it airs, and certainly not the channel, but it's on almost every night at our place and the theme song is stuck in my head.  My impression of the show was that it was about a middle-aged woman.  My wife corrected me:  "No, she's 29, I think."  From my Wiki reading today, it seems Sazae-san is actually somewhere in her mid-twenties.  Sazae-san has a family, but I don't know their exact relationships to one another.  They all live in a house together.  Occasionally, I pick up on some matter of plot or story but I'm kind of like a dog or a cat trying to make sense of this strange moving lightshow the humans enjoy staring at instead of rubbing my belly or giving me food.

Another show we tend to enjoy is Chibi Maruko-chan.  This one is easier for me to figure out.  It's about a little girl who lives in 1970s Japan with her family.  She has a big sister and they argue a lot, but love each other.  She also has a group of schoolmates she pals around with and a lot of crazy things happen, like the time she and one boy started hogging their family's telephones to have long conversations with each other.  Eventually, Maruko-chan caught hell for doing this and promised to stop.  At the end, an old guy I believe to be Maruko-chan's grandfather took up the phone habit.  One we saw in December featured a Christmas theme in which Maruko-chan and her grandfather befriended a hard-working young man who enjoys Christmas a lot.  If I remember correctly, they gave him a Christmas cake for a little seasonal cheer while he worked.  Maruko-chan has a slightly raspy voice which I find pleasant and easy to listen to, even when she raises it in protest against some parental outrage.  She also appears on quite a few food packages at our favorite supermarket.

Doraemon is another favorite of ours.  My wife knows a lot more about this one than either Sazae-san or Chibi Maruko-chan.  From her I learned the kid Doraemon helps is a total loser.  He's not even one of those lovable Charlie Brown type losers, either; he's a little shit.  The plots typically involve this kid whining about being bullied or being in trouble at school due to his general worthlessness in almost every aspect of kid life and Doraemon making the mistake of providing him with a magical device that's supposed to help him.  Doraemon relies on basic human goodness to prevent this from becoming a major hassle for everyone involved, but the kid disappoints him every single time because he possesses none.  In fact, at times he's downright cruel.  He puts poor Doraemon through impressive agony before wising up and fixing whatever chaos he's caused with Doraemon's gift. 

Just recently, Doreamon gave him a box with a small gorgon or Medusa in it, the idea being the kid could turn his legs to stone so he could withstand his daily punishment of having to stand in the corridor outside his classroom.  The gorgon escapes and starts turning everyone to stone, and the kid is too cowardly to do anything about it without recruiting some classmates.  In the end, he confronts the gorgon and restores all the stoned people to their natural organic state.  Another time Doreamon gave the kid gloves he could use to control others from afar, which he then abused.  He even roughed up Doraemon something fierce.  Why anyone would want to injure the adorable Doraemon is beyond my capacity for understanding.

I like Doraemon, but I can't stand his little friend.

We'll talk about Tensai Bakabon and Crayon Shin-chan one of these days.  And my wife's absolute favorite cartoon, the one about the cop with the M-shaped eyebrows.  Whatever that one's called.