Thursday, July 31, 2014

Priceless comment at the end of this story: No. of reported stalking, domestic abuse cases in first half of year highest ever

No. of reported stalking, domestic abuse cases in first half of year highest ever

I think this is because women are reporting these more and I think they number of cases is actually much higher.  So what we're seeing isn't an increase in the amount of abuse that goes on-- any of that is too much-- but rather simply a sign that fewer Japanese women are willing to put up with this shit anymore.  I'd love to see a 1-to-1 ratio of cases to cases reported.  People will lose their minds when they see how widespread this is, and then we'll see society change for the better.

In my ideal world.  Where the police here actually get off their asses and do something when women report abuse and stalkers.  You know, other than call the person on his cellphone and ask him to come to the koban to talk about it, which gives him ample warning that he needs to go stab his object of desire or ownership to death.

My favorite part of this story is the comment at the bottom where someone insults all Japanese men by calling their social skills "abysmal," then opines the real problem is Japanese women are becoming less friendly and colder.  "Reporting stalking is good," he tells us.  "However, being stuck up and/or frigid is not."  Then he goes on to further explain we really need to be looking at women withholding sex if we want to understand this problem fully.  But despite telling us we should stop neglecting the role played by "female culpability" in stalking, he's not victim blaming.  No, because he tells us he's not.  But you're a male-hater if you think so, and that's why we have stalking, apparently.

I think we've found a new best friend for Richard Dawkins.

Japan's smoking rate drops to record low

Japan's smoking rate drops to record low

If true, this is good news.  From my anecdotal observations, there may be some truth to it.  I don't think I'm being exposed to secondhand smoke quite as much as when I first moved to Japan.  The amount of smoking in public that goes on here shocked me.  And I grew up in a smoking household, plus I spent a number of years pretty much living in bars.  I didn't think smoking could get to me.  But it did.

In some places you'll see little glass booths now for smokers.  If you want to discourage public smoking, I suppose turning the smokers into something like an aquarium display is a good start.  But there are still smoking sections in restaurants called "family restaurants" here, including one we regularly go to because it's cheap and near our place.  And you know, if one person in a room is smoking, then everyone in the room is.  My wife and I think smoking sections are ridiculous.  Just ban restaurant smoking outright.

My worst smoking experience here was in the Freshness Burger at Act City.  I used to like to go there on weekend afternoons for lunch, have a burger and some delicious fries, then read a book for a little bit while I digested.  You could smoke anywhere in Freshness Burger, and one time I went in and a group of business people were sitting at the table right in front of the cash registers, pretty much the central most location in the entire restaurant.  And all six of them were smoking away, just filling the Freshness Burger with the foulest burning tobacco stench I'd ever experienced, including all those years in bars.  It singed my nostrils and stung my eyes.

Another more recent smoking moment was not quite so bad, but still disgusting.  A few weeks ago, my wife and went to Denny's for lunch and they told us there weren't any non-smoking tables available and asked would we mind sitting in the smoking half of the restaurant.  We agreed, but we didn't last long.  Within moments, my nostrils began twitching and I could taste burned ashes on my lips.  My mouth dried up the way it used to around a lot of smokers and I told my wife we were going to have to move.  She told a server, and we were lucky enough they had a table for us.

Riding in a smoking car on the shinkansen can be unpleasant if you're not a smoker, too.  So for me, seeing smokers behind glass here and signs telling people it's rude to blow smoke in other pedestrians' faces while they walk along the sidewalk are a welcome sight.  As opposed to some dude blazing away in his suit and tie and not giving a rat's ass about the kids playing at the table immediately next to him in the "non-smoking" section.

Anyway, go Japan!

The Dude abides...

I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.

Yesterday we had a little conversation about bowling while on our way to, of all places, McDonald's.  One of the customers at my wife's morning job told her he was happy we now had a bowling alley in our neighborhood, but he wasn't so pleased the gas station across from it was still open because "he hates the owner."

Well, hating someone is his prerogative, I suppose.  But I wasn't sure what to make of this bowling alley remark.  We've been here for three years and haven't seen any bowling alleys.  We usually go to Mainichi Bowl, which is a couple of miles away, when we (and by we, I mean the Royal "we", the editorial... because only I enjoy bowling) want to bowl.

"Maybe he was hallucinating," I told my wife as we gassed up the car.  It had been on empty with the warning light the entire time and we barely made it to the ESSO.  Which is a different station from the one owned by the hated man.

"What does that mean?" she asked.  Her English is excellent enough to tell you about B.F. Skinner and operant conditioning, but there are some words here and there she doesn't know.

"You know, seeing things that aren't there.  Maybe he loves bowling so much, he hallucinated a bowling alley."

She didn't think much of that theory, but she was too polite to tell me to cram it.  So we went and ate.  And yes, we heard mention of Chinese chicken and the food scandal in McDonald's.  First I made some of my own typically corny jokes about wanting my McNuggets straight off the factory floor, then a group of junior high kids came in and my wife translated some of their comments about the same thing for me.   We both ate hamburgers.  And on our way home, as we approached the intersection where we usually turn, she said, "Look, I saw a bowling pin."

"I didn't.  Where?  Behind those pine trees?"

"I think the pine trees are hiding it."

We got past the trees and there it was, a giant bowling pin, white with a red stripe on the neck, standing atop the Aloma sign.  Aloma is a big used goods shop where you can buy second hand surfboards and old manga, plus bicycles, watches, VCRs, jewelry and the kind of hobby gear that appeals to otaku.  You know, plastic figures of nearly-naked anime and manga characters in sexy, come hither poses and robot model kits.

"There is a bowling alley," my wife said, grinning.  "It's on the B1 floor."

"A bowling alley in the basement of the junk shop.  We'll have to try it out," I said.

"My customer was right," she said.  Then she pointed at the corner across from Aloma.  "And that's the gas station where he hates the owner."

It was like walking into someone's short story for real.  "Why does he hate the owner?" I asked.

"Maybe the way he treats the customers," she told me.  "Are you happy?"

She meant about the bowling alley.  I told her I definitely was, but I also hoped they had new lanes and not some salvaged from some old alley that had been demolished.  The one where my friend Mike and I used to bowl every Sunday while forcing everyone to listen to Los Lobos, the Clash and Abba on the video jukebox system came to mind.  They tore it down a month or two before Mike left Japan and we were both depressed over it for a few days.  Then we started going to Mainichi Bowl, where they at least didn't do Disco Bowling and flash strobe lights in your eyes right as you made your approach, knocking you so off your game you guttered.  True story.  8pm Sunday night the place went disco.  Mainichi is for people who really want to bowl, not dance.

"You know, warped lanes and all that," I explained.  "And shoes that have been worn a million times."

Then I thought, No matter where you go the shoes have been worn a million times.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me: Japan evicts over 100 students for breaching no-drinking rules

Japan evicts over 100 students for breaching no-drinking rules

I agree with the first comment following this story.  That headline is ridiculous.  "Japan" did no such thing.  Authorities at this university did, and they're hardly the entire country.  But even news from inside Japan seems to love ascribing the action of a specific group to the nation as a whole.  Playing the Internet's favorite game, "Japan is/does..."

Anyway, wow, this takes me back to my own hard-partying college days.  We didn't just puke out our dorm windows.  We peed.  We did terrible things that seemed funny to us at the time.  We destroyed musical instruments, automobiles, homes, businesses, people.  We used to get drunk so we could go out get drunk.  We drank so heavily, I honestly do not remember most weekends and I was buzzed on many weekdays, as well.  We carried on this behavior well beyond college, too, right into our thirties.  Some of my closest friends drank so heavily they spent time in hospitals and eventually died.  After burying four friends due to drugs and alcohol, I stopped drinking altogether.  I made the decision to do sober the fun (non-destructive) things I used to do drunk.

You know.  Drop inhibitions.  Dance.  Sing.  Talk to people.  Tell jokes.  Get naked.  Show enthusiasm.

Being a non-drinker is kind of a bummer at parties.  I'm not against drinking.  I'm not going to preach temperance or anything like that.  I'm as pro-drinking as they come.  I got as much out of it as I put into it, which is to say, quite a lot.  But here in Japan, drinking together is part of socializing together.  I love the custom where the person you're sitting with refills your glass or mug and you do the same.  This does help build friendship and harmony between people.  Everyone expects me to drink, and I just can't do it.  So when I refuse, people ask questions and I either have to tell the story and horrify them, or politely decline and seem a little anti-social.  Usually I just say, "Health reasons."  But even then people feel as though they shouldn't drink, as if I disapprove.  Dampens spirits.

I suppose drinking-- specifically underage drinking-- while in college is universal, at least in countries where alcohol isn't prohibited entirely.  Partying in school is traditional.  But this university has probably done the right thing.  These kids will go find other places to drink, but there's no reason for the university to subsidize their behavior by housing it.  Good luck to them all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

McDonald's Japan pulls profit forecast after China meat scandal

McDonald's Japan pulls profit forecast after China meat scandal

We watched clips from Ms. Casanova's press conference on the news last night.  McDonald's Japan has taken a sucker punch from this chicken scandal, hasn't it?  Especially with the news sales are down here.  This is my simple way of putting it.  In the fast food world there are different kinds of sales, some of which are better than others.  My understanding is McDonald's overall isn't very happy with whatever sales they're getting here in Japan.

Which is really hard to imagine because McDonald's is one of those ubiquitous brands here, almost as common as any given convenience store chain.  I mean, they're all over.  Maybe they've oversaturated the market.  Maybe public taste has changed.  For whatever reason, McDonald's isn't having an easy time of it in Japan right now and the news some of their chicken is rotten or else came off the factory floor isn't likely to help.

Back in the US, we rarely eat at McDonald's.  The store quality varies.  Sometimes they're clean and you get excellent service.  Other times the location is a shithole and the employees can't hide how angry they are that you came in to buy food from them.  And then there's the food itself.  Bad for you, not all that tasty, sometimes fresh, sometimes stale and old.  I will admit to craving McDonald's French fries from time to time, but I haven't really had the desire to eat a hamburger there since I was approximately 16 years old.

But in Japan, it's a bit different.  I got into the McDonald's habit when I taught English for the McDonald's of conversation schools and I need a quick lunch or dinner.  That's a poor excuse for poor eating, but there you have it.  The eikawa teaching cliché.  It turned out I have a weakness for burgers with fried eggs on them.  The wife has none of my snobbery and appreciation for the fast food burger hierarchy we adhered to back home, so to her, McDonald's is just another place to eat without stigma or shame.  So we go there when we're feeling lazy or we've been working too hard to contemplate cooking or even going someplace fancier.

Like MosBurger.

Japanese McDonald's tend to be clean and efficient.  You're not likely to get the same level of service you would at the better US locations, where employees might chat with you a little and make you feel like a valued person.  Japanese fast food managers would scold the hell out of an employee taking such liberties here.  Although back in my single days, one employee and I carried on a covert flirtation in my bad Japanese and her scattering of English.  Little bon mots passed sotto voce and the like, little eye contact here and there, extra smiles and sympathetic facial expressions passed before I approached the register.  I mean by Japanese McDonald's standards, she really took liberties.  She even told me her name.  But while you can't always expect that kind of personalized cash register experience, your dealings with McDonald's employees are many times more likely to be pleasant and positive than in the US.  Also, you get a lot of specialty sandwiches that aren't available back home and many of them are surprisingly delicious.  Spicy chicken whatevers and crazy beef this-n-that's.

The last time we went to McDonald's was just a few days before this scandal hit.  And I had a McChicken sandwich, or whatever the hell it's called.  Probably had a chicken patty right off the factory floor, probably walked on, too.  Beats spit on, I suppose.  And at least it was cooked thoroughly.  While I probably guaranteed myself an extra heart attack within the next five years by eating it, I didn't notice any immediate after effects beyond no longer feeling hungry.  Still, it looks as if we'll be eating at MosBurger and Freshness Burger for the foreseeable future.  Sorry, Ronald.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Much respect: Actress/sexpert Aya Sugimoto founds organization for animal welfare

Actress/sexpert Aya Sugimoto founds organization for animal welfare

When I first read this story, I had Ms. Sugimoto confused with another famous Aya.  But no matter.  I admire her for being a sex guru, or "sexpert" (one of the few portmanteau I actually like), but her advocacy for animals really earns my respect.  I come from a family of animal lovers.  Well, on my mom's side.  We strongly believe in adopting.  Rescuing.  My mom rescued a perfectly miserable little wretch of a dog.  Blind in one eye, bottom jaw with teeth sticking out like someone flattened an old fashioned Coke bottle cap, his trembling body completely shaved because of a tick infestation.  Now that little guy lives with her and is at the peak of health and happiness.  His fur has grown back and he's social and friendly.  In return, he's really enriched her life by making her feel vital and necessary.  It gives her a purpose she badly needs.

So if you want a dog, please adopt.  Don't involve yourself with puppy mills and the like.  That goes for cats, as well.  The article and Ms. Sugimoto make it perfectly clear why, so I'm not going to preach.

We happen to live in a very dog-centric area.  Nearly every morning I run into a friendly older woman who walks two or three dogs.  She's not the only one.  I don't see many cats, but there are plenty of people who also take their dogs for outings here.  Few things make me as happy as the sight of a dog or two or three trotting along beside a proud parent.  One of those things that do is seeing a dog in a car.  Dogs love riding in cars or trucks, don't they?  The pure joy they express is contagious. 

Update: Sasebo girl says she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone

Sasebo girl says she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone

Horrifying story.  I'm not completely surprised by the motive.  It's something we've heard before, not just in Japan but in my home country as well.  Some people are curious about the wrong things.  Most can take care of this curiosity simply by reading, but others are not so easily satisfied.  If the comments following the story contain any truth, adults failed both these girls.  This would not be the first time authorities overlooked or failed to notice warning signs that seem obvious in hindsight.  Unfortunately, this became a worst case scenario.

Incredibly stupid idea fails to work: Ice wall to contain Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant isn’t freezing

Ice wall to contain Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant isn’t freezing

Next up-- asking Doraemon for help.  And if that doesn't work, we'll try singing to it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Didn't follow the script: NHK apologizes to Obokata after she is injured while fleeing reporters

NHK apologizes to Obokata after she is injured while fleeing reporters

I think what's got these NHK reporters so freaked out they've lost all sense of civilized behavior is Dr. Obokata (I'm using doctor as a courtesy because even though she's offered to withdraw her doctoral dissertation, I don't know how far along this process is) hasn't followed the script for someone publicly disgraced here in Japan.  She has consistently defended herself rather than prostrating herself before her seniors and the public at large in contrition and offering tears and multiple apologies.  She hasn't resigned her position.  She hasn't allowed the controversy to shame her into isolation.  And, most tellingly, she hasn't killed herself. 

So the media doesn't know how to handle her or her story.  This is all most unexpected behavior from a controversy's central player, and it's making them insane.

This crime shocked the hell out of us yesterday: 15-year-old girl arrested for beheading classmate in Sasebo

15-year-old girl arrested for beheading classmate in Sasebo

We saw this on the news yesterday afternoon and ended up discussing it for quite a while.  Horrific in its details, this crime isn't unique.  There have been other high-profile kid killings in Japan.  We're interested in motivation.  What caused this?  The circumstances leading up to it-- a 15-year-old girl living on her own-- have their own sickly fascination, too.  While some teens lead highly supervised lives with little or no free time, going from home to school to clubs to cram schools back home with hardly a break or a moment's respite, others seem to roam untended and unwatched even from very young ages.  People tend to take for granted the wearing of plastic helmets and the use of GPS devices will protect their children because, as they tell their English conversation instructors, "Japan is safety."  But what can protect a teen from one of her friends?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Well, we like her at our house: Rola changing DNA of Japanese pop culture

Rola changing DNA of Japanese pop culture

Having married a Japanese woman, I get a big dose of Japanese TV almost daily.  Japanese TV is largely crap.  The culture snob in all of us might sniff, "Well, so is all of TV, no matter the country of origin.  All mass culture is crap."  But Japanese TV is REALLY crap, by just about any standard.  Even my wife thinks so, although she enjoys the game shows where celebrities try to figure out the correct kanji before a giant computer graphic ape out of a video game throws bees at them or whatever the hell is happening. 

We also both get a big charge out of Itte Q and another show staring Seiji, a big, affable galoot of a guy in loud clothes who drags his roller suitcase all over Africa looking for lone Japanese living in small towns and villages there.  I have no quarrel with J-Dramas, either.  Or anime.  Or the show with the old guy in overalls walking his cute dog around town meeting ordinary people.

What I can't bear, however, are the endless shows about people going to restaurants, or the endless shows where people sit around on a brightly decorated stage and sample ordinary Japanese dishes.  Or the shows where celebrities watch videos of other celebrities going to restaurants.  Or the shows that just seem to be a group of celebrities shouting at each other while watching videos of other celebrities going to restaurants.  Or shows about restaurants.

Many of these shows feature Rola.  Rola has a nasal voice that sounds as if she could shatter glass, but just as that article I lined to points out, she has a "carefree" charm.  We know to always bet against her in any guessing game, but there's just something appealing about her lack of pretentiousness.  Which is the opposite of me, a creature composed largely of pretentions and mistaken assumptions.  Granted, I know nothing of the real Rola, but if she has a talent beyond being approachably pretty, it's projecting an honest, open demeanor.  Certainly, there's a cloying quality about her, too, but it's largely overshadowed by that apparent honesty.  You feel with Rola you're getting a genuine person, beyond the trademark poses and pouts.

Which is to say, if you must air a show where celebrities watch video of other celebrities going to restaurants or talking about food (and if you're a Japanese broadcaster, you absolutely must or suffer the consequences), you could do a lot worse than to add Rola to your cast.  And yes, she's pretty much everywhere these days, so you just have to get used to her and not worry so much about all-Rola, all the time.  I'm pretty sure she's not losing any sleep over it, except for when she's working, which must be all the time.  You know what I mean, though, right?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

But open for business here: Typhoon makes landfall on Kyushu; 3 dead so far

Typhoon makes landfall on Kyushu; 3 dead so far

The typhoon has been the major news story since yesterday.  Here, probably 12 or so hours ahead of the arrival of a weakened form of this storm, we're open for business.  The staff are making plans for sending the kids home early if it comes to that, but we probably won't see any bad weather until late tonight.  But this is what I'm gathering with my smattering of office Japanese.

Typhoon days here are like snow days back home.  For the kids, they can be a joy.  For adults, a misery.  Many offices and businesses will remain open, meaning extra-long and extra-difficult commutes in the morning and evening.  Tomorrow will find broken convenience store umbrellas, the clear plastic cheapies, lying on the sidewalks like dead fish on the beach after a storm at sea.  I'm pretty lucky in that even if the weather hits earlier than I expect, I only have a 5 minute walk back to our apartment. 

Even with high winds whipping my umbrella back and forth and leaving my biceps sore from the fight-- I beat nature with a TKO fifty-one seconds into the third round-- at least I don't have to drive or take a bus or train.  Bus and train service may be delayed or even cancelled outright and even if they're not, everyone will be packed in with the extra bulk of raincoats and umbrellas.  It will be extra oppressively hot and humid and your wet clothes will cling to your clammy body like a monstrous leech out of a sci-fi-horror flick.  I've actually commuted to work on a bicycle in typhoons, way back before the city passed a "no umbrellas while riding bikes" law, complete with hefty fine.

Not that an umbrella does much good in a gale, when the wind blows the rain horizontally or even upwards into your face at times.  Muscling a bike against the wind with an umbrella acting like a sail or a wing threatening to take you airborne is yet another great cardiovascular workout that also shapes and tones your muscles.  You end up wet not only from the rain but also from slimy sweat for a regular "oil and water" coating guaranteed to leave you feeling slimy and in need of a shower or a long soak in a cold pool somewhere far from the city.

My poor wife may have to drive in it!  I'm going to be constantly checking the front door until she gets home.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The newest, most annoying excuse for doing stupid, asinine things: Man arrested for pouring ink, ketchup into mailboxes

Man arrested for pouring ink, ketchup into mailboxes

And what did this arch-fiend, this master criminal, this rogue genius, tell the high-tech, multi-national taskforce that finally brought him to justice after a worldwide hunt?

"[He] told [the Science Patrol, Sherlock Holmes, Batman and Charlie's Angels] he poured the liquids into at least 13 mailboxes because it helped him forget his stress at work." 

This is the second crime this week where the suspect has confessed all and used the same excuse.  The first guy admitted to slashing seat covers on a local train line.  Stress relief, he said.  At least the jackass who uploaded a video of himself drowning a cat had a specific anti-feline agenda he was trying to promote.  These two boobs need to be locked in a cell together so they discuss ways of coping with work stress.

I have a lot of stress at my job, too, but I handle it the American way.  I suck it up and complain at home.  I read a book.  I write a short story.  I make a drawing.  I go hit some baseballs at the batting center.  I search the job ads.  I read stupid news and write smart ass blog entries about it.  Whatever happened to the grand old Japanese tradition of getting blotto, tying your tie around your forehead, and screaming out Blue Hearts at the karaoke box?  Joining the local festival and spending three days half-naked and drunk out of your mind?  Building intricately detailed Gundam models accurate down to the atomic level?  I guess that's not good enough for some people.  On the other hand, this country really could use the de-stigmatization of seeking professional help for mental problems.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rumors swirl after case of mass bullshit at Fukuoka school

Rumors swirl after girls mysteriously collapse at Fukuoka school

The first thing I thought of was good ol' Arthur Miller and his play The Crucible.  This is an interesting way to get a couple of days off around test time, nothing more.