Sunday, March 30, 2014

We all love paying taxes, right?

Millions go on shopping spree ahead of sales tax hike

There are few things in life people enjoy more than paying a higher sales tax when they buy things.  Time spent with family, photos of cute small animals, paying a high sales tax.  These are the three things that make life worth living.

I haven't seen evidence of these "millions [on a] shopping spree," but we didn't venture out yesterday because of the weather.  Saturday, however, seemed like business as usual here.  But I have witnessed a flurry of news stories on TV covering the subject of the consumption tax increase.  The Japanese public, if they've been paying attention, will certainly be well-informed on this topic and its potential effects.  That's assuming the news reports have provided good information.  And I don't see the why or wherefore of assuming otherwise.  It's pretty straightforward stuff, news stories to the effect of, "Instead of paying an extra 5%, you're now going to pay an extra 8%.  Here are some examples of price changes you'll see as a result."

From my experience, and I'm talking as a person who has only a slightly-more-than basic level of Japanese language ability, news programs here in Japan tend to be demonstrative.  Like the one we watched with the segment on the icebound ship back in December.  The presenter used a scale model to show how it happened.  Another on a sign that fell even resorted to computer animation.  Stories on the tax increase have used actual products and graphics of sales receipts.  Things like that.

Anyway, the sales tax hike.  A three percent increase doesn't seem like much, but we'll be subjected to analysis of the results for years to come.  And, obviously, we'll get to experience it firsthand starting this week.

I can't wait!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Y750,000 left in 29 mailboxes at Nara condo

Y750,000 left in 29 mailboxes at Nara condo

It's cool most people reported their little windfalls to the police.  Honesty.  I like it.  The amount of money is more than likely variable because there may have been a few people who didn't tell the police.  Or perhaps the 750,000 yen amount is right on because others didn't receive any money.  The report doesn't specify.  The comments from readers are worth checking out, too.  The one about wanting people to leave money in his or her bike basket rather than empty cans and trash reminds me...

Many years ago, when I was a drinker, I went with some friends to a bar.  I met them when I was on my bike on my way back to my shared apartment, and I had a 500ml Coke and a water in my basket.  I chained the bike, left the convenience store bag with the drinks in the basket.  After the binging, I felt too drunk to ride my bike safely, so I walked home.  I'd forgotten about the drinks left in the basket.  The next morning when I retrieved my bike, I found the Coke gone.  Only the water remained.  I hope whoever took the Coke enjoyed it, but really, the water would have been the healthier choice.

Very true: Hay fever: nothing to sneeze at | The Japan Times

Hay fever: nothing to sneeze at | The Japan Times

You know about kafunshou season by now.  Hay fever.  It starts in February and lasts through March, maybe into April.  I suppose it depends on where you live.  I never had much trouble with it when I lived downtown, but now that I'm on the north side of the city, way out near the mountains, I have some major sinus problems when the pollen wafts from the cedar trees.

Last year was my first experience with severe kafunshou.  And let me tell you-- it wrecked my life for days on end.  There are certainly worse chronic illnesses to have.  Kafunshou won't kill you unless you have a sneezing fit while driving and run off the road headfirst into a tree, or cross the center line into oncoming traffic.  But imagine having every symptom expect fever of a severe cold for more than a month.  Going without sleep.  Going without breath.

Last year, it felt as if someone had plugged my nostrils with chalk dust.  Probably from breathing in actual chalk dust in the classroom.  From inside my nose came a fine, powdery irritation.  A constant itching that sometimes intensified to burning.  At times I'd sneeze eight, nine, ten blasts in a row and give up counting as it continued, seemingly with no end.  There would also be hours spent with the feeling I had a tennis ball surgically inserted just inside my skull, pressing constantly on my sinuses.  A round pressure from within.  Antihistamines and decongestants at night allowed me to sleep for two or three fitful hours, only to wake up, sneeze once, and fall back asleep.  Sometimes I'd go through the next day with an over-the-counter medication hangover.

Eventually, I received a prescription for some anti-allergy pills and I slowly regained control over my nose.  As spring passed into summer, I began breathing normally.  Never was I so glad for the onset of rainy season.

This year, we saw a commercial for some kind of capsule that promises twelve hours of relief.  I don't know its name.  It comes in a red and white box.  It has made a huge difference.  I still have a bit of a runny nose, especially when eating hot food, and the occasional sneeze.  The medication makes me feel just a bit muzzy.  But at least I'm breathing.  That more than makes up for any side effects.  Passing through kafunshou season without having to resort to a mask.

Imagine that!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Here come the cherry blossoms: Cherry blossom forecast announced

Cherry blossom forecast announced

Looks like late March for cherry blossom season around our area.  This means two weekends of fully-packed parks.  Lots of blue plastic tarps spread out, drunk people rubbing their heads on trees, worn-out office workers using the relative inactivity of a picnic to take a nap (you would be surprised to hear how many people claim "sleeping" as their hobby in Japan, which must be one of the most chronically sleep-deprived nations in the world) and general fun times.  If we have sun to go with the sakura.

Sometimes the weekends are sunny but a little too windy and cold for me, but I still like to visit the castle park here and get a buzz from all the good feelings.  I find cherry blossom season a fine time to pick up on positive vibes and do what the hippies used to call "groove."  Or something like that.  Who the hell knows what hippies really called anything all these years later?  The point is, as Japan's winter turns into spring (and spring is especially nice here), I shed a lot of seasonal drabness and feel recharged and refreshed.  Getting a chance to see so many people having fun for a change really help intensify those feelings.

Of course, because it's Japan, there has to be a schedule for it and when the proper time comes around, just about everybody will do the same thing at that moment.  Changing leaves are beautiful to see, but people read about the peak times in the newspaper then all hit the road to go to the most famous viewing spots which leads to traffic jams all up and down the highways.  "What did you do last weekend?" you might ask a friend.

"Went to see the fall leaves."

"How was it?"

"Too much traffic.  We stayed in our car for three hours."

"One way, or there and back?"

"One way."

This is why when the cherry blossoms peak, it's best to travel to a local park on foot or by bicycle rather than planning a shinkansen trip to some traditional location.  If you're really adventuresome and don't mind a lot of travel hassles, there are famous spots in Kyoto and Tokyo that will be thronged on the best days.  The picnics themselves can possibly make up for any trouble you meet getting to them.  As for me, I prefer spending my sakura season locally and just watching the news for a glimpse of the more legendary locales.  Maybe one day we'll risk it.

Hmm.  I wonder what our hanami fare will be?  McDonald's?  Mos Burger?  Hotto Motto?  I've been to hanami with homemade treats and they were spectacular, but I'm not much of a cook with the equipment we have handy at home and I don't want my wife to have to knock herself out.  I want her to feel as relaxed and at peace as I do under the cherry blossoms.  So it's easier to grab a bucket of KFC or fill a bag with convenience store food and pre-packaged treats.  We have our own blue plastic tarp and a couple of nearby parks we can reach on foot or by bus.

I'm very much looking forward to this.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lucky Guy! Nagasaki man gets back the cash he left at ATM

Nagasaki man gets back the cash he left at ATM

You should read this story.  It's heartwarming.  I'm not sure if this would happen the same way twice.  Perhaps no one used the ATM in the ten minutes between when he left the money there and when he returned in a justified panic.  Perhaps there are a few honest people in Nagasaki.  I prefer to think the latter.  Either way, he's one lucky guy.  I can imagine how I'd feel if I'd done the same thing.  In fact, I can feel it now and all I'm doing is telling you about it.  Jangled nerves, a doomed feeling.  I'm pretty sure my empathetic response is just a ghost of his real thing, though.

Years ago, I dropped a plastic case I carried my ATM and foreign registration cards.  I had a pretty good idea where.  I'd been wearing a pair of shorts, the kind with pockets where things fall out constantly, and I'd been riding a bicycle along a particular route that morning.  Taken altogether, these gave me a pretty clear picture of just how I'd lost the case and cards.  But when I went back to check, the case was not there.  Nor was it anywhere along the path.  I went to the police box, reported the loss, went to the bank and went through the process of getting a new ATM card and all that fun stuff.

Two days later, my cellphone rang.  It was the police.  They told me in Japanese someone had found my case and to come by the police box to pick it up.  I went there on my break from work, and the officer at the desk strongly urged me to call a certain phone number and speak to the guy who'd found and returned my stuff.  So I did.  I thanked him, and we talked a little in English, but I regret not inviting him for a drink or something like that.  I never think of those things until much later.

As I left, the police officer gave me that "hang loose" surfer gesture with one hand and actually said, "Hang loose."  I smiled and thanked him, and left feeling pretty good about life in general.  Later, I felt like a heel for reasons I've already explained.  I can only hope my poor performance didn't sour that nice guy on helping strangers.

Getting back to the ATM story, one amusing detail is ATMs here warn you not to leave anything behind.  As soon as you finish your transaction, you get a recorded voice telling you to make sure you take all you belongings and your money, and there's even a warning beep.  I'm sure I've come close to walking away without my money, my bank card or my receipt, but I'm also sure I've always turned back because of the warning.  If it's something you do everyday, though, and your actions become automatic, all it takes is a moment's distraction and your body tells you everything is cool.  You've got all your stuff, walk away.  It's a lie.

Sometimes, though, you body starts sending you a silent message along your nerves.  A sense of disquiet.  Unease.  That's your body telling your forgetful brain there's something it hasn't done, that it needs to do from years of conditioning.  It needs to reach down, grab that money, that card and that little slip of paper with your transaction and account information on it.  Sometimes the body is smarter than the brain.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Fab Four

This is a link to a photo featuring a Beatles tribute band posing in Sgt. Peppers-style uniforms along with Ayano Fukuda.  The band is (are?) performing a show at several locations around Japan right now, while Fukuda "does imitations."  I believe we've watched her on television, but I don't know what that means.  Does she do celebrity voices, bird calls, sound-alike singing?

Years ago, I sang and played rhythm guitar in a band.  Although calling what I did with my guitar "playing rhythm" is putting it charitably.  We did a cover of the Beatles' "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," which generally went over pretty well live.  When we weren't too drunk to finger chords and our more rhythmic guitarist wasn't turned up to 10 after doing sound check at 6 or 7, that is.  We tried to write songs that sounded as if the Beatles might have written them and this was years before anyone in the US had ever heard of Oasis and their melding of Beatles and Rolling Stones songs into "originals."  Saying our own originals sucked is also putting it charitably.

My greatest ambition was to tour with a Beatles tribute band.  Not as my main musical job.  Just as a fun experience.  My tenor isn't as clear as Paul's, but I could in those days do a passable John impression.

Monday, March 3, 2014

This seems excessive: Yamato deliveryman kept 2,723 packages at home because he was 'too busy' to deliver them

Yamato deliveryman kept 2,723 packages at home because he was 'too busy' to deliver them

I find the delivery services and the post office here in Japan to be fairly reliable.  One of the best aspects of their business is they allow you to call an English-speaking help line to schedule re-deliveries if you're not at home when they stop by.  The information you need will be on the "notice of undeliverable item" the delivery person leaves in your mailbox.  Most of the things I receive come via Sagawa, and I've ordered enough crap the guy who brings it and I have developed a rapport.  He knows to come after 6pm.

When I moved from Chiba to Shizuoka, I had a negative experience with Yamato.  I scheduled a pick-up on the day I was supposed to leave and they never came.  I trucked my baggage to a store in the rain, found I couldn't send it from there because of size limits, then had to lug it all back to my apartment... again, in the rain.  Time was tight that day because I had to be at some friends' house by early evening so they could go on vacation.  My friends were able to get a Yamato truck to me and I made it within my built-in leeway (I always include tolerances), but it was an unpleasantly close experience.  Since then, though, I've had nothing but positives with Yamato.  I especially like being able to reschedule same-day deliveries.

We hear about letter carriers in the US hoarding mail from time-to-time, but this is the first I can remember of something like this happening in Japan.  I'm not saying it's the only time or even the historically first time.  Just the first time for me.  When my dad was a letter carrier, he was extremely diligent about making sure his customers got their mail.  A number of them were elderly people totally dependent on those monthly checks, and Dad took that responsibility very seriously.  I can promise you that man delivered every circular, mailer, catalog, personal letter, bill, check or credit card offer that came through his route.  His sense of right and wrong would not allow him to do otherwise.

And he worked part-time jobs after hours and on weekends.  For a guy who called himself lazy pretty often, Dad was one hard-working dude.

Those days are long gone, as is Dad.  There are probably some very responsible letter carriers still working for the post office, but you know if that includes the person handling your route.  I doubt anyone could stack up to the job my father did.  I guess I take package and mail delivery personally.