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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Samurai Vader: A historical take on a favorite from a galaxy far, far away

Samurai Vader: A historical take on a favorite from a galaxy far, far away

Well, I think Samurai Vader looks pretty darned good.  And it's appropriate when you consider how Ralph McQuarrie added a samurai helmet to his original designs as suggested by George Lucas (a big Akira Kurosawa fan I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest) and came up with the villain the world came to know and love.  This takes ol' Anakin Skywalker-- that's Darth Vader to you and me, Russ-- back to his roots. 

Usually I try to ignore Star Wars stuff because the web is choked with it.  It's well past the saturation point.  Actually, that was probably reached about the time Chad Vader hit the scene and well before that "Vader kid" TV commercial.  And trust me, I've got nothing but respect for the Chad Vader guys.  That's funny stuff.  But adding Star Wars to this, that and the other is the Internet crowd's favorite pastime, way ahead of even masturbation.

Okay, so masturbation is still in the lead.  Masturbation and Star Wars-themed masturbation.  But you get the idea.  But as soon as I saw Samurai Vader, I fell in love all over again.  Looking good!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Akihabara’s first rental nerd looking to cash in on his jobless status

Akihabara’s first rental nerd looking to cash in on his jobless status

At least he's cheap.  The problem is, there are thousands of other guys about his age who have the same product to offer who are giving it away for free to their friends.  And if you're loner enough not to have any friends, then you may be in his target demographic but outside his ability to market himself to you.

I have an equally worthless skillset, but I'm at a loss on how to monetize it.  Movie trivia, for example.  Outside of a gameshow with that as a category, my being able to watch any given movie and tell you the resume of everyone on the screen in any given scene.  I have a better-than-layperson's grasp of several historical eras and specific events.  I could bore the hell out of you retelling the Little Bighorn fight, for example, and I'm currently reading a book filled with statistics and in-depth facts about the skeletons of the 7th Cavalry troopers who fought there.  I know a lot about art, both fine and pop.  I can give you biographies of a number of comic book characters in excruciating detail.  And the Beatles?  I'm no Eddie Deezen, but I know enough to qualify as a former member of the group.  Also, more closely related to the NEET in question, I've got plenty of hands-on experience finding different locations in Tokyo.  I could lead some somewhat more than half-assed geek tours around Akihabara, Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya.  I know two locations where to buy American comics there, too.

Who wants to pay me to buddy up?

But one more thing, if anybody's reading, that is.  Nothing scientific.  Purely personal.  But seen from out here, there are a lot of young people who actually work and work hard.  At one of my old jobs I had high school kids who were holding down secret part-time jobs such as fry cook at Denny's.  This is on top of all the time-sucking requirements of Japanese school life, the clubs, the meetings, the special days and after-school activities, the test preparation and cram school studies.  And college students working retail.  My wife has been almost continuously employed since her teenaged years in all kinds of jobs.  She's never been afraid of getting her hands dirty or taking a minimum-wage job just to keep busy and be productive.  I'm the same way.  I may have hated doing so, but I've always been able to pull a crappy job to tide me over until a better one came along.  I appreciate it's not so easy for everyone, and I know the economy isn't in the best shape and those "bubble" years are long in Japan's past now, but if the local job wanted magazines are any indication, there are plenty of restaurants, shops, convenience stores, hairdressers, factories and clinics hiring here, and our city isn't even as bustling as great, big Tokyo.  You could probably get one of those jobs in Tokyo and still find plenty of free time for hanging out in Akihabara, especially if you're fortunate enough to have parents willing to subsidize most of the rest of your life.

But maybe actually making money talking about Gundam models isn't his true motivation.  Maybe he's after something else, something more elusive but potentially more lucrative, like Internet fame he can turn into a regular spot on one of the many inane TV shows we have here where people walk around doing nothing, then pop into a restaurant and do more nothing.  Anyway, best of luck to this guy!  Who knows-- maybe he's found a niche market and will be looked upon as a genius in coming years.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Curious about all the crows in our neighborhood, I did a quick search...

And I tumbled this thorough and fascinating look at crows in Japan.  I may not know a lot about Japanese crows, but what I do I owe to this blog.  Wonderful job!  Why was I thinking about crows?  Well, because we have what I think of as an infestation of them in our neighborhood.  They perch ominously on the overhead wires, they go into our garbage and tear the bags to shreds searching for food (that blog entry shows the garbage netting people in Japan have to cover their trash bags with at the local collection points), they make a racket calling to each other or just because they want to hear their own voices and they beat their wings against the aluminum siding outside our apartment so that it sounds like funeral drums.

Here are a couple of crow-related anecdotes for you to enjoy after you've gone and read someone's intelligent writings about crows via that link.  Click it.  Enjoy.  Come back.

Incident 1:  A Murder of Crows Commits Murder

Years ago, when my friend Mike still lived here, we both enjoyed going to an Indian restaurant for Sunday lunch.  The poor restaurant owners made the mistake of putting Tandoori chicken on their all-you-can-eat buffet and we would feast and no doubt cost them more money than they made.  Eventually, the new ownership banned Tandoori chicken from the buffet line, and I moved out of the neighborhood soon after.  We never went back.

But during our Tandoori heyday, we were sitting by the front windows where we had an excellent view across the street of a small parking lot for some business or other.  A dentist's office or a jeweler's shop.  I don't remember and it's not that important, after all.  What is important is one this particular Sunday we were witness to feathered murder.

While we watched, two large crows repeatedly attacked a gray pigeon and slowly pecked it to death with their heavy black beaks.  It wasn't a quick killing, either.  The attack went on for several minutes as the crows took turns.  By the time we noticed, the pigeon was far too injured to fly away and the crows were free to have their way with it.  Why did they kill the pigeon?  We'll never know.  Who can fathom the mind of a crow, or the minds of two?  It was enough they decided the pigeon must die, and die it did.

When the drama ended, Mike and I went back to our meal and consumed even more Tandoori chicken.

Incident 2:  Grocery Snatching at the Tea House

A couple of years after that, my coworker Shayne and I went to a tea ceremony.  One of our students invited us.  The tea house is near Hamamatsu Castle, in the neighborhood behind Concord Hotel.  We enjoyed the ceremony so much we eventually did it again.  I can't remember if this happened after the first one or the second one, but as we were leaving, we passed an older woman toting a couple of plastic grocery bags full of food.

In a scene that would warm Alfred Hitchcock's mayhem-loving heart, we noticed dark shadows passing closely overhead and turned to watch as several large crows descended upon the woman and tried to rip the bags out of her hands, or snatch the groceries from them.  She flailed her arms to warn them off, and they flapped away, only to dive-bomb her again and again.  The poor woman began trotting down the narrow street towards her house as fast as her elderly legs could carry her.  The crows pursued her for as long as we watched, swooping down and stabbing at her groceries, batting against her head and shoulders and terrorizing her completely.

We were at a loss for what to do.  She was far enough away catching up to her was problematic, and we were freaked out enough not to want to get involved.  Maybe someone of more heroic spirit might have sprinted to her rescue, but there was also a pretty good chance she'd be just as frightened of us as she was of the crows.  I was pretty scared.  I know that much.  We never really stopped walking, either.  We just slowed up a little, glancing back over our shoulders as the crows and the woman shrank in the distance.  We passed into the castle's parking lot and lost sight of her, blocked by trees or a wall.  Or both.

Whatever happened to her?  Did the crows steal her food?  Could we have helped?  I guess we'll never know.  Should we have helped?  I think so, but we didn't.  And it's much too late now.  But I do not trust crows.  They're crafty.  They're intelligent.  When they sit on those wires overhead, I have the suspicion they're just waiting for me to walk underneath so they can poop on my head.  Deliberately.

Tokyo rated No. 1 city in the world in Trip Advisor survey

Tokyo rated No. 1 city in the world in Trip Advisor survey

I'm a bit surprised by this.  Not because I think there's nothing to do in Tokyo, or that it's not a fun city.  I love Tokyo.  It's a crazy place at times, with too many people for my comfort.  But when I'm in the mood, a Tokyo junket hits the spot.  I drink in the energy and get high from it in a way, and then after a day or two, I'm exhausted and satisfied but not hung over.

There are probably other cities with as much to do.  I have never been to New York City, London, Paris or Hong Kong, so I can't compare them.  I do imagine they're pretty lively places, though.  Tokyo is a place I've visited twenty or thirty times, maybe more.  I lost count a long time ago.  So I can confidently say if there is something you enjoy, you can find it in Tokyo.

Tokyo isn't as expensive as people make it out to be.  You can save money on lodging by doing a little pre-trip comparison shopping.  The Sakura Hotels are cheap and clean and conveniently located.  They have hostel options, too, and group rooms available.  But there are some very nice business-type hotels scattered all about.  You can find a perfectly serviceable single room for under 100 bucks a night within easy walking distance of a train station just about anywhere in the city you're interested in staying.  Just do a little online research.  My wife and I spent an amazing Christmas in one in Shinjuku that I'd consider pretty hoity-toity compared to my usual choices and it was about 110 bucks a night for a double room.  You have to adjust your expectations a little.  A business hotel is cheap and clean, but yes, the rooms are small by American standards.  You're going to be a little cramped but that's part of the Japan experience.  Paying 90 dollars a night and crabbing because you didn't have room for a dinette set in your room is stupid, and yet you'll see more than a few reviews along those lines while doing your research.  Ignore those fools.

Eating can be expensive, but again, doing some research before your trip will help you save here, too.  And even if you take the lazy person's option and read or do nothing but your luck when you get here, there are quite a number of inexpensive fast food options available all over the city.  If you're willing to eat McDonald's, you can get a meal for 680 yen.  It's not the healthiest food, obviously, but you can also consider nutritious and healthier onigiri at any convenience store-- a couple of those will set you back about 220 yen or so.  That's about 2 dollars.  There are set menu options at healthier restaurants, too.  If you want to pig out, find a Shakey's Pizza for lunch buffet.  That will run you around 11 dollars or so and you can pack in enough calories to keep you going all day.  And part of the next.  If you want sushi, check out one of the conveyer belt sushi restaurants of which there must be thousands.  Not as many of them as there are McDonald's, which number in the millions, approximately one for every single person living in the Tokyo area. But you can fill up on delicious sushi for 15 to 20 dollars.  Again, just do a little research and don't walk into Outback Steakhouse because you know the name and expect to eat cheaply, then complain later you're being gouged.

And things to see?  Things to do?  Are you kidding me?  If you can't find a museum, a zoo, a live show, sporting event, a temple or a prime people-watching experience in Tokyo, you don't deserve to be let out of your house, much less travel abroad.  Why would anyone even go to Japan without first finding out things to do?  You can read a couple of complaints in the comments on that linked story, but I guarantee those are from contract workers here who are pretty boring people themselves and not worth the effort.  Or that weird species of human, the disgruntled lifer, those people who hate Japan with ever fiber of their beings but have been here for years and can't seem to gather the energy to go back to wherever or whatever hole spawned them.  Probably due to burning those bridges as well.  Weren't happy at home, not happy here.  I don't give a rip about someone who can't entertain himself or herself in Tokyo.  Go to a movie, for the love of corn, or go get falling down drunk in a hostess bar.  Buy a porno manga and go jerk it in the privacy of your own bathroom.

You can do that much, at least.

My brother came with his daughter and even as raw neophytes, they had a blast, in the heat of high summer.  He found a nice hotel, they ate at restaurants even I'm too shy to go into, they hit Disney, walked around Harajuku and Shibuya and would have caught a Yomiuri Giants game if they hadn't worn themselves out having so much fun beforehand.  They're mountain people, so they took an overnight trip outside the city to experience that but came back wishing they'd just planned an extra night in Tokyo itself.  They wanted more.  But the thing is-- my brother did his research and made an itinerary.  Plus, he's got a brain and can think on his feet for when opportunities unplanned for present themselves.  There's a lot of open-mindedness there, too.

Don't let anyone con you into thinking Tokyo isn't worth it.  The only drawbacks I find with Tokyo are 1) so many people make it difficult to get around and 2) it is unbearably hot and humid in August, which is when my summer vacations always occur.  If you can handle the people and the heat, you will have the time of your life.  Or, you know, go in fall or early spring.  Still have to deal with all the people.  Just writing about it now makes me ache to go back there and find some more fun!

What I'm surprised about is it took Travel Advisor this long to figure it out.

PS-- Yes, it's true my wife does not like Tokyo.  But that's the crowd thing, not the lack of entertainment or the cost.  She just does not like large crowds.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Should you put your child on a leash? Japanese mothers weigh in

Should you put your child on a leash? Japanese mothers weigh in

That's interesting.  I haven't seen anyone with a child on a leash here in Japan, but I have seen people walking cats on leashes.  I had no idea you could even do such a thing.  Japan is, to make a generalization, a safety-conscious society, so the idea child-leashes would eventually make their way here is less surprising than realizing they weren't already here, or a Japanese invention in the first place.

Still, there's a strange disparity between safety and the idea of what constitutes actually being safe.  Kids much younger than would be allowed to in the US take the city buses to and from school.  In the US, there would be concern about the kid being snatched by a human predator.  This happens in Japan, just as it does anywhere.  Some parents here may think along those lines, and others may be entranced by the idea frequently stated by people I've taught here that "Japan is safety," and therefore, nothing can happen to their kid as he or she commutes solo.  And actually, my main concern when I see those kids is they might get so caught up in their DS games they just forget they're supposed to get off at a particular stop and end up at the end of the line.

I think it's necessary for children (and even most adults) to wear sturdy and appropriate protective headgear while riding bicycles, but kids simply walking along their school routes frequently wear plastic helmets.  In some places, this seems to be from fear a piece of the sky may fall on them.  They're walking along with nothing overhead whatsoever.  On the other hand, what possible protection could these flimsy-looking helmets provide if a wall or an electrical tower came down on top of the kid in an earthquake?  Maybe the point is the helmet might help in case of a fall.  The kid would have to do some kind of gymnastic tripping to avoid landing on his or her unprotected chin-- as I did when I was six, and still carry the scar from-- and instead land on the helmet.  Maybe deliberately dive off a garden wall onto the pavement.

Anyway, the leash.  Time for a "curb your kids" campaign.  Probably it would be a good idea to spay and neuter them as well.  Or let society take care of it.  Society seems to do a fantastic job in that department.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

At last, a slushy solution!

Here's a story from Japan TodayJust in time for summer, Asahi begins selling Mitsuya Cider served at a slushy -5℃.  This is a timely move by Asahi not only because summer is upon us-- and it's going to be blistering-- but also because my wife and I were just mutually bemoaning the lack of Slushies and Icees here in Japan.  There may be Slushie-, Slurpee- or Icee-like drinks available (and there's always kakigori), but, if there are, we haven't seen them.  Or we have and we're just not aware of it.

After watching a movie where a character buys a Slushie along with some pornography, my wife and I began reminiscing about very cold nearly-frozen drinks with Coke or cherry flavor you drink until they make your head hurt as if your brain suddenly decided to exit through one of your eye sockets.