Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Everyone loves a day off, right?: Japan’s newest holiday Mountain Day gets approval from Lower House

Japan’s newest holiday Mountain Day gets approval from Lower House

Well, not everyone if the comments attached to this story are any example.  But they do make some good points.  O-Bon (and Golden Week) tend to turn very hectic when everyone hits the roads and rails and airways at the same time.  Adding this day in there doesn't do anything to alleviate the travel congestion, and may just add to it.  Shoot, I don't know.  One comment I definitely agree with is the one about how they should have chosen to make it the third Monday or Friday of August so we could look forward to a regular three-day weekend.  Another is the one about doing something about June now.  June needs a holiday, too.

I suggest Rain Day.

Yesterday was Showa Day, a holiday dedicated to the Showa Emperor.  Next week we have several holidays in a row, hence Golden Week.  If you're lucky, you have the whole of next week off.  I could be mistaken but it seems Showa Day usually comes attached to the rest of the Golden Week.

Do we need a day celebrating mountains?  The way I look at it is, if you're going to have Ocean Day, you might as well have Mountain Day.  Japan has both geographical features in abundance, so at least it's not as if someone suggested Desert Day or Iceberg Day.  Does Japan have any deserts?  Icebergs?  I don't think so, but I love how you can climb a mountain here and see the ocean, or swim in the ocean and see a mountain.  We can't do that in Georgia.  You have to choose one or the other, never both at the same time.

Speaking of days off, I'm doubly lucky.  For one thing, I have flexible paid holidays.  As long as I give notice and don't choose an irresponsible day-- such as one of our pre-test days where I'm expected to record listening tests for students-- I have my choice of time off along with regularly-scheduled vacation time.  For another, I'm a foreigner, so everyone expects me to take those days.  It's what we do.  Oh, I complain and moan about long hours and six-day weeks, but compared to my coworkers, I have it pretty easy.  Expectations of me are lower, therefore I try to give a bit more.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Welcome to Japan, Mr. President: Busy schedule planned for Obama's only full day in Japan

Busy schedule planned for Obama's only full day in Japan

It's stupid I feel obliged to begin this blog post with an explanation about how this isn't meant to be political.  Like a lot of people, I have strong political opinions and partisan beliefs.  And like a lot of people, I love to pretend mine are the correct ones reached after an intense internal dialogue based largely on logic and rationalism.  I don't post about that stuff here because arguing about politics is one of the stupidest things a person can do, only slightly less stupid than arguing about religion and just a bit stupider than arguing about which college football conference is best.  People close to me know my political opinions and that's enough.  This is not meant as a political piece.  It's neither an endorsement nor a criticism.  There's just no way as an American in Japan I can pretend I'm not interested in Barack Obama's visit.

Things in the world being the way they are these days, I'm concerned about safety.  Of course, security levels have been raised in Tokyo.  On any given day, if you ride the Yamanote line train, you see a televised notice of heightened security, with an admonishment to report unattended baggage.  I read yesterday a news story about plastic wrap placed over trash receptacles in the train stations, taking trash cans out of use for the duration of the president's visit.  I've made a couple of trips to the palace to greet the emperor and listen to his New Year's message.  It's a long walk and you have to pass through a long tent where you're scanned and scrutinized.  Cops in uniform and plainclothes loiter nearby to take you down in a worst-case scenario.  I can only imagine the prep for this to be roughly the same.  That's how I imagine it, anyway.  I hope so.

Having made Japan my home throughout his rise to the White House and for most of duration there, I've come to have a kind of outsider's view of America's mixed reaction to his presidency.  A lot of it has been tinged with... well... insanity.  American political discourse has been becoming increasingly unhinged and even demented for the longest time.  I can remember some pretty nutty things said and done way back in the early 90s, but I think 9/11 only made things worse since the turn of the century.  It's as if my country lost its collective mind that day and has never quite gotten it back.  Hence my delicate opening paragraph gambit up there.

So while his every appearance or statement, no matter how innocuous on the face of it, tends to result in wildly divergent reactions back home, but Barack Obama remains hugely popular here.  There's a Japanese town called Obama that's made the most of the name connection, and right after his first election, Gamagori used the "Yes, we can!" catchphrase in a tourist campaign, with an Obama impersonator giving a thumbs-up and telling potential visitors, "Yes, we can enjoy Gamagori!"  He's got that indescribable thing, that certain ineffable quality that catches on in Japan, same as Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga.  He hasn't barfed on a prime minister.  Let's put it that way.

Left, right, middle-of-the-road, whatever you think me, my main feeling is I'm always happy when a fellow American makes a stop here in Japan.  Whether it's some director shilling for a movie or a president pushing an agenda, I'm just glad they're going to have a chance to see the thrilling sights of Tokyo at night, to have some sushi, to spend a little time checking out the place where I've chosen to make my life.  When I saw the photo of Mr. Abe and Mr. Obama tie-less on their way to a meal together at world-famous Jiro's, I could put aside whatever political disagreements or objections I have with their policies and identify with them as people.

On the other hand, I fully endorse their tie-less look.  Anyway, as an American, I welcome the president to Japan.  Have a fun time, absorb the sights and sounds, tell the world how delicious that sushi was and all the best.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Heartbreaking: Confused, chaotic scenes described on sinking ferry

Confused, chaotic scenes described on sinking ferry

My heart goes out to the families of everyone involved in this tragedy.  The loss of so many young, promising lives is tough to take.  That is all.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bob Costas, Ted Williams and John Wayne...

Okay, this has nothing to do with Japan.  And I'm not particularly fond of Bob Costas.  I am, however, a big Ted Williams fan, and this Costas quote about him has always warmed my heart. 

Here goes:

"Well, I interviewed Ted Williams, who some people think is the greatest hitter of all time, in 1988, at a time when he had not done an interview-- radio or television, at all-- in 15, 16 years. And he was amazingly forthcoming. And he's a compelling figure. And at one point I said to him, 'You know, you're the guy who John Wayne played in all those movies. You're actually the guy.'

And he hitched for a moment, a moment of modesty, but then honesty overtook him and he said, 'Yeah, I know it.'"

Hollywood stars doing commercials in Japan: Richard Gere appears as Tora-san again in Orangina ads

Richard Gere appears as Tora-san again in Orangina ads

I like Richard Gere.  My wife likes Richard Gere.  We both enjoyed his movie Hachi: A Dog's Tale, the Americanization of the Hachiko story, but we also found it kind of weird there even had to be an Americanization of the Hachiko story.  My wife couldn't get past the inclusion of an Akita.  She felt they should have changed the breed to a more familiarly American one.  But it's a story of a dog's unconditional love for a human and neither of us can resist such emotional power.  It's not the first time Gere has appeared in a film drawing on Japanese inspiration.  There's also 2004's Shall We Dance, a remake of a 1996 Japanese film.

Anyway, the reason we're talking about Richard Gere is he keeps popping up on our TV in commercials for Orangina, and here comes another one.  I'm never sure what's happening in them.  It seems to me Gere, looking dapper and vaguely European (I associate the jacket over the shoulders look with middle-aged European men, the result of a lifetime of having been exposed to American stereotypes of different cultures), flirts unsuccessfully with some woman or other, then a kid laughs in his face and they drink Orangina together.  I'm too embarrassed to ask my wife to translate and reveal my ignorance.  They're cute commercials, though.

You know all about our big Hollywood stars coming to Japan and picking up a nice payday for shilling.  That's a subplot in Lost in Translation, after all.  Every hipster has seen that.  Japan draws actors who would never do such a thing back in the US.  So you get people like Tommy Lee Jones using his amazing stone face to sell Boss coffee.  When I first saw him in the Boss ads, I assumed the company picked him to represent your typical hard-ass boss type, which Jones could do even while napping.  Apparently, from what I've gathered since then, he's actually playing an alien who visits earth to observe us and learn about our mores while drinking coffee.  This leads him to a fateful encounter with the singing-acting-cooking band SMAP, a delightful study in contrasts.

Leonardo Dicaprio made a Jim Beam commercial, and I've put away a lot of Beam in my time.  But not because of Leo.  Brad Pitt made a commercial for a cellphone company that accomplished something truly rare.  It made me laugh.  I'm a commercial skeptic, you see, and I watch the Super Bowl strictly for the football.  Budweiser commercials with American soldiers do not inspire me to patriotism or thirst for the "King of Beers," but rather a kind of weary head-shaking at the brewer's cynical ploy.  The Darth Vader kid made me want to vomit for both its forced cutesiness and its beyond tired Star Wars bandwagoning.  But for some reason watching Brad Pitt spoof himself and end up walking through a water fountain while talking on a cell phone and ogling a pretty woman cracks me up.

Recently, Elijah Wood has shown up in advertisements for a hybrid car, the Toyota Noah.  The family hybrid.  This one is notable because my brain kept short-circuiting and coming up with Tobey Maguire as I tried to remember Wood's name.  One of my most annoying tendencies besides rolling my eyes at Budweiser commercials (trust me-- I've kept my objection to them to myself in the face of repeated Facebook exposure to video links with messages like, "Doesn't this bring a tear to your eyes?  God bless our troops!") is being able to name every actor who appeared in every movie ever made, plus their co-stars, the directors and a few of the craft service people.  After watching a guy in I Am Sam do the same thing, I've learned to bite my tongue in the interest of celebrating a few wedding anniversaries with my wife rather than mourning a single one alone.  Even so, not being able to think of Elijah Wood's name just about ruined my day.

I've seen those hobbit movies a million times, I tell you!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Animal Koban?

Saitama policeman arrested for damaging trunk of taxi while intoxicated

Of course I'm talking about the Saitama police, you twerp!  This year is going to be different.  This year, we're going to grab the tanuki by the balls and kick those punks off whatever it is they're on.  It's time for someone to set their foot down.  And that foot is me.

Shoot, who am I to judge?  I've never worked while drunk, and I've certainly never been responsible for public safety whether intoxicated or otherwise.  But at the same time, I've done some pretty lousy things while sloshed on alcohol.  Actually, the story doesn't reveal if the police officer in question was on duty or off.  Reading between the lines, I'm going to assume he was on duty.  If so, I hope there's some sort of internal affairs punishment involved.  If not, let it go.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It's probably better to watch where you're going...

Here's a fun article on RocketNews24 about the groundbreaking work NTT DoCoMo is doing in laboratory simulations of the potential for disaster at the Shibuya scramble caused by NTT DoCoMo's products.  Or those of any smartphone provider, to be fair.  Mathematical chaos.  These kinds of things really tickle me.  It must have been pretty fun for the DoCoMo researchers, too.

We do spend a lot of time eyeballing our phones here.  Not just Japanese people, but ex-pats like me as well.  I don't do this while walking, though.  If I'm using maps on my iPhone for navigation, I find an out-of-the-way place along the sidewalk to stop and orient myself.  If I receive a message, I usually wait until I'm sitting down somewhere to check it.  But I have, on rare occasions, walked and phone-gaped, too.  I'm not proud of it.

Never at the Shibuya scramble, though.