Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Volcano death toll hits 43 as 7 more bodies found

Volcano death toll hits 43 as 7 more bodies found

Japan is a country with a lot of mountains.  We can see them from our neighborhood whenever we go for a walk or a drive.  When I lived on the Chiba prefecture coast I was mountainless for the first time since I came to Japan, but I've since grown accustomed to sheer faces dropping off into the ocean and clouds sweeping over jagged green horizon that looks to me like roughly-torn construction paper.  As a flatlander by birth, this is interesting to me.  Seeing green slopes rising, snow peaks in the distance in winter.  Mt. Fuji looming above Shin-Fuji when we take trips to Tokyo.  Some of these mountains-- like Fuji-- are volcanic.  Japan is a trembling land, apt to slip and slide.

Since there are so many gorgeous mountains here within easy driving distance, people flock to them on weekends for hiking and camping.  Japan is hot and sticky in summer, so the mountain air can provide relief from the damp heat and crockpot-like cities.  We never boil.  We simmer.  In winter, the mountains are there for skiing and snowboarding.  And in fall, they blaze with red and red-orange leaves, a great sunset-colored glow that radiates from Japan's bony spine.

They provide sport and beauty.  And danger.  A group of climbers froze to death on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, visible from my old apartment.  Not the dead bodies, of course.  But before they were recovered I could see the mountain itself, roughly thumb-sized, and appreciate that it contained corpses despite looking lovely and blameless by daylight.  A famous comic book creator took a fatal spill from a cliff while photographing it a few years ago.  Just this summer, an entire hillside came loose and buried houses and families in Hiroshima.  Geologists have been predicting a major Fuji eruption ever since the big 3/11 quake.  The pressure there is at the point where they say it's inevitable.

Years ago, at my grandfather's house in the mountains of North Carolina-- which look very similar to those in Japan, but are much more well-behaved-- I read a Reader's Digest story about volcanologists caught in an eruption while studying a small volcano.  Where, I can't remember.  But I recall very vividly one of the scientists telling of how hot rocks broke his bones and killed his friends.  And then there are the poison gasses.  I have no desire to experience this firsthand.  I feel for those who so recently have.

You still have to go to the mountains, though.  There's no staying away.  I'm drawn to mountains and to the ocean.  Living in Japan is living between both.  The ocean is a wilderness where you can drown or be eaten, the mountains may choose to shrug you off at any time, or blow you way with thunderous force.  I cannot stay away.

Yikes!: 101 elementary schools in Hamamatsu closed due to bomb threat

101 elementary schools in Hamamatsu closed due to bomb threat

I'm glad the authorities took this seriously.  Usually there's nothing to this kind of threat but you never want to experience that one time when no one listens and a bomb actually goes off.  I can't help but wonder about this guy's motive for disrupting the day of 44,000 school kids, their teachers and school staff, parents and countless law enforcement officers.  The good news is there was no bomb and everyone made it safely through the day.

Still, it's shocking.  I mean, I've heard of many such cases in the US but this is my first time here in Japan and it's right in our own city.  Hamamatsu is generally a clean, orderly place.  A bit sprawling and inconvenient at times, but full of friendly, well-meaning, generous people.  And one asshole who was apparently having a terrible Tuesday.

Explosive devices themselves are not an unknown here.  We've had a couple of cellphone alerts about unexploded ordinance dating back to WWII turning up when construction crews did some digging.  The US dropped a lot of bombs on Hamamatsu back in 1945.  We really don't need anyone blowing things up nowadays, thank you very much.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Indonesia to censor 'pornographic' Japanese cartoon

Indonesia to censor 'pornographic' Japanese cartoon

I may not agree with this decision, but it's their country so they can do what they want to Crayon Shin-chan.  I can see how even in a more liberal country the cartoon could cause some concern.  That kid does the craziest things.  Showing his ass, flirting with older women, generally acting like a fool.  His little antics strike me as hilarious, even when I don't understand the language.  It's knockabout humor.  Lighting farts kind of stuff.    The most recent film, Crayon Shin-chan: Serious Battle! Robot Dad Strikes Back, came out in April of this year.  It has a theme song sung by none other than Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.  The series' creator, Yoshito Usui, was practically a local boy.  He was born in Shizuoka City, right here in Shizuoka prefecture.  Tragically, he fell to his death while hiking alone on Mt. Arafune in 2009.

Miki Miura, better known as Momoko Sakura, is also from Shizuoka City.  She's famous as the creator of Chibi Maruko-chan, one of my wife's favorites and regular Sunday evening viewing at our place.  Must be something in that Shizuoka water that makes comic book artists want to write and draw family comedies.  Maruko-chan is a gentler show than Shin-chan.  Maruko gets herself in trouble, but only from acting like an ordinary kid.  It's a show not averse to potty humor, though.  Last night's episode featured Maruko-chan battling through an entire day at school with stomach cramps because she has to defecate and can't find the peace or time to relieve herself.  Once home, she hits the toilet room and comes out refreshed, declaring, "My day begins from now!" and drinking in the afternoon sunshine...

Only to find she's flunked the day's math test (20% out of 100), during which she'd experienced an intense wave of gastric distress.

No news stories on whether or not that one's been censored.

A man of action: Longtime anti-suicide crusader patrols cliffs of Tojinbo

Longtime anti-suicide crusader patrols cliffs of Tojinbo

This is a feel-good story with a sad background.  I've lived a life touched by suicide.  Maybe you have, too.  A recent celebrity suicide made news even here in Japan, where the man was much admired.  But some of us know first-hand what it's like to have a close friend or relative commit suicide.  I can't bring myself to judge anyone who takes this drastic step. 

What I really admire about this guy is he doesn't say things like, "Think about the pain you're causing."  He lets people talk, finds out what's wrong, then does something real and practical about it.  Rather than offer cheap sympathy or a lot of advice, he simply takes them to employment agencies and financial aid services.  Without judgment.  Even if the outcome remains the same in the end, at least he gives people at the brink a moment to step back and reassess the situation.  They gain a little more time and, in some cases, a lot more time.  An entire new life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One of those genius things about Japan: Japan's bullet train hits half century

Japan's bullet train hits half century

I've been in love with the shinkansen ever since my first visit to Japan way back in October 2003.  My friend and I bought the JR rail pass, the one you can only buy overseas, and rode the shinkansen all over the place.  It was his idea all the way and a brilliant one.  If you travel here, you have to buy one.  My brother and niece did the same when they came and it paid for itself with all the miles they put on it.

On that first trip, I had a wonderful time zipping along the countryside, taking in wide swaths of scenery while reclining in a comfy, padded seat.  We got to see pretty much everything there is to see along the Tokaido Line from Tokyo to Hiroshima and back.  Mountains and sea, flood plains, rivers, cities, fir and bamboo forests.  Small stations.  Large stations.  Forty-five minutes in Osaka.  These days I've taken the shinkansen here and there so many times I tend to feel complacent about the experience.  It takes an article like this to remind me of the comfort, safety record and efficiency of this amazing feat of engineering.

Now let me tell you one of my fondest shinkansen memories.  A few years ago I was on my way to Tokyo for a New Year's holiday excursion.  The car I rode in was crowded with people in a festive mood.  Families and friends journeying together either back to their hometowns or else to winter resorts.  Reunions with relatives or skiing and snowboarding.  Or maybe all of those things at once.  We all had on bulky jackets, most of us had red cheeks.  People smiled and laughed and talked quietly but cheerfully.  Mt. Fuji rose clear and beautiful on our left, and out came cameras and the voices rose a little more with excitement and getting such a fine view of a huge mountain that is nevertheless frequently clouded or fogged over and all but invisible at times.

The young man sitting next to me had brought along a few boxes of chocolate candy, which he shared with everyone sitting around him.  I was already feeling cheerful about traveling and having some time off and feeling the anticipation of strolling around Shibuya and Shinjuku still lit up with seasonal illuminations.  This guy's generosity to strangers turned a fun trip into something of a moveable party. 

I want to remember that moment.  I want you to think about it when you think about Japan.

The main character has a contract where she can leave work at 5pm: Ryoko Yonekura returns as Doctor X for third season

Ryoko Yonekura returns as Doctor X for third season

Forget the stuff about wearing a mini-skirt under her lab coat.  That special "after 5" contract means this show is about as realistic as Harry Potter, MD.  It's nice to watch a TV series where characters can do fanciful things like that, as unthinkable in your own life as breathing underwater, casting spells, climbing Mt. Everest or living in a golden palace on the surface of the sun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

You might want to go to this: First ever exhibition dedicated to Oasis coming to Tokyo

First ever exhibition dedicated to Oasis coming to Tokyo

I'm not an Oasis fan, but you might be.  Despite having split in 2009 (as far as I can tell), the band remains resiliently popular here in Japan.  Their songs pop up in TV commercials and the like.  I have students occasionally tell me Oasis is their favorite group.  I mean students who are into rock.  Most other students tell me they like vocaloids.  Or One Direction.

Anyway, despite my Oasis skepticism, there's no denying they were huge in their time.  If rock music can be said to be important, then the article makes a case for the importance of Oasis in its history.  "Landmark albums" and "era-defining two night stand at Knebworth House."  If you understand what that last phrase means, then you might be the audience for this exhibition.

None of this may be quite the stuff of the Ramones on their first UK tour, or the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, but this is what we had in the 1990s.  I'm interested to see they played Club Quattro in Shibuya way back in 1994.  Shoot, I was in a band then, too.  We played no place you ever heard of a couple of times and emptied it out with our beer-infused chaotic noise.   But I've been to Club Quattro a couple of times and, like Oasis, had some fun there.  Only in my case as a spectator.  And sober. 

If you're already an Oasis fan and you live in Japan, you need no such convincing to attend this exhibition.  But I'm going to suggest you go and check it out.  I'll be at the one for Puffy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Judo: Topsy turvy

Topsy turvy

That's a fantastic photo.  We watched a bit of this competition yesterday.  The highlights, I suppose.  Congratulations to the winners.  We were pulling for Japan, but I love good, clean competition where both athletes strive to the utmost.

Immediately afterwards, we watched a short piece on a local high school girl who competes in sumo.  My wife translated the gist of it for me.  The girl discovered wrestling in elementary school but found the weight classes constraining.  She wanted to test herself.  This led her to sumo, where she could fight seemingly lopsided contests against heavier, stronger opponents.  She began cross-training in wrestling and judo to learn quickness from the former and throwing techniques from the latter.  And so she found a practical application for her theory that a smaller, faster fighter with superior skill could defeat a larger one.  If the smaller fighter is this girl, then theory vindicated.  She's had great deal of success in the sumo ring where she soon began toppling big girls by ducking under their attacks, seizing their thighs and using her smaller yet still strong body to lift them, unbalance them and send them flying with video-blurring speed.

Another aspect we enjoyed about this story is the unconditional support given her by her own mother.  Her mother is her biggest fan, cheering happily as her daughter wreaks havoc among her fighting peers. Very heart-warming story.  This girl reminds me of a number of young people I've had the good fortune to come across during my time here in Japan.  Kids who come up with definite ideas and goals for themselves at a young age, sometimes well in advance of their years.  These kids knock me off my feet and make me look back on my own childhood and wonder what happened?  I had ideas and convictions, too, but the difference is these kids put theirs into practice, while mine remained locked in my mind and unexpressed and unrealized.

I'd certainly do a few things differently if I could project my consciousness back along the timestream with the things I've learned since, but I don't feel regret or shame.  Those feelings are for losers.  But what I really want to do is communicate to the next generation the need to try.  Propose, dispose, do.  Strap yourself to a giant arrow of dreams and fire it at the most difficult to attain goal.  If you miss, or fall short, you will still have time to recover.  Failure is nothing to fear.  You can end up with some pretty interesting stories if you take chances and allow yourself to fail once in a while.

And, hey, you might end up like our favorite sumo girl or some of my young students.  You know-- a success.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Are women Japan’s saviours?

Are women Japan’s saviours?

I think so, but probably not in the way the old men of the LDP think they will be.  I'd love to see women here say, "You know what?  This is stupid.  I refuse to participate in a system that benefits people (i.e., the men in the LDP and their male business cronies) at the top and no one at the bottom and precious few in the middle.  And seems expressly designed to wreck women specifically."  I'd love for them to, as a group, exercise their power to fix some major systemic problems rather than participating in them and exacerbating them.  But that is not going to happen.  Working endless hours is a virtue.

Anyway, my ranting response aside, read the article I'm linking here.  It sums up what's happening and you'll quickly grasp the inherent stupidity in this scheme that's supposed to fix things.

Johnnie Walker is real?: Man arrested for poisoning over 40 cats in Tokyo's Ota Ward

Man arrested for poisoning over 40 cats in Tokyo's Ota Ward

Well, he doesn't seem to have dressed up like the guy from the Johnnie Walker label, but this weirdo is right out of a Haruki Murakami novel.  Specifically, Kafka on the Shore.  Now I'm wondering if there's a man walking around here who can communicate with cats, or a boy living in a library.  I also wonder about this real-life Johnnie Walker's motivation.  Sick hobby?

Officials spray insecticide in Ueno Park after new dengue fever case

Officials spray insecticide in Ueno Park after new dengue fever case

We had our own little scare last night.  We're in fall now, but obviously there are still mosquitos around.  One came into our bedroom while my wife and I were lounging on the bed.  She was reading a job search magazine and I was reading a book.  A quick, dark flitting in front of our eyes and we both saw the mosquito at about the same time.  Little tiger-striped thing, whining as it came in for a drink from one fountain or the other.

Or do the whining ones not drink at all?

I should look that up later.  As soon as we moved, the mosquito zipped away, out of reach.  My wife wanted to gas it, but I favored the ambush approach.  Rather than spray poison all over our bedroom and possibly onto our clothes in the closet, I suggested we just go back to our regular activities as if we were presenting ourselves as a blood banquet.  When the mosquito decided it was safe to attack again, the closest of us would clap it between our hands and smash out its life.  That person turned out to be me, and I blew it.  I clapped and injured the mosquito enough that it landed on the mattress.  It looked like a bundle of black thread.  When I brushed it to see if I'd killed it, the mosquito flew away with a whine.  Sounded as if it had the tiniest of radial engines inside.

"They like to go near these," I said, standing and tapping the ceiling light, a luminous platter that attracts all kinds of insects whenever they come inside our place.  I batted the curtains, swept my hands around our mirror, shook the clothes hanging in the closet and felt around the headboard on the bed.  It has a deep crevasse behind it where mosquitos sometimes lurk and dream their dengue dreams.  My wife got up with her blanket and waved it around it around the room.  None of our efforts stirred the mosquito.

She stayed up to watch a TV program with a comedian she admires.  I went to bed because I had to teach a first period class in the morning.  Once more around the room and no mosquito.  I decided I must have injured it badly enough it was no longer a threat, shut the door and turned out the light.  I felt it would let me know it was still around by zinging near my ear as it came in for a drink, but the darkness held nothing but the muffled sounds of the TV in the next room.

Sometime in the night my wife joined me and when we woke up in the morning, we were both unbitten.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The taste of depression: Black burgers

Black burgers

Just joking.  They're actually quite cheerful!  These Burger King black burgers are like the Hamlet of burgers, at least visually.  I don't know if they're prone to seeing ghosts or indecisive in pursuing revenge.  Or, if you like your cultural references more modern, they're the Darth Vader of burgers.  At least in the photo attached to the article they're somewhat Sith-like in that there are two of them.  Always two.  One master and one apprentice.

Burger King existed in Japan for a while then gave up because they couldn't compete with McDonald's all-pervasive presence and grip on the Japanese fast food consumer's appetite.  Makku has been slipping of late, but Burger King had already made a comeback.  I stop by the outlet in Shibuya on occasion to eat a Whopper, which I find a superior burger to the Big Mac or even Quarter Pounder.  But I haven't seen one of these black burgers.  This is their third go-around and I'll be giving them a miss again this time.

Why?  Well, there are no Burger King restaurants in this city.  And I'm not going to Tokyo anytime soon, probably not until the black burgers have retired to whatever mysterious realm of the senses from which they originally sprang.  A culinary dreamland, no doubt.  Nightmare to some, fantasy to others. 

I admit I'm curious about the taste, but I do have two other concerns that are preventing me from finding one or both of these burgers.  One is the cheese looks like a partially-melted plastic square, much like the monstrosity I once created with one of those electric molding toys popular in the 1960s-80s before people decided it was a bad idea to give kids molten rubber goo to play with.  The other is I'm afraid the squid ink will discolor my mouth and make me look like Uncle Fester's skinny Goth little brother.

News of the Dumb: Pop idols’ management demands Y8 million in damages after two members caught dating fans

Pop idols’ management demands Y8 million in damages after two members caught dating fans

The life of a pop idol may seem glamorous from the outside.  What it really amounts to is a kind of indentured servitude.  You're expected to give up all semblance of selfhood in order to embody a set of ideals which, to put it mildly, are complete and utter bullshit.  You're not even paid particularly well to do this. 

When they're finished with you, you "graduate."  This means you may go on to an independent career of some sort, maybe acting or singing.  But most performers, having only debatable ability outside of fitting into their group role, fade into anonymity.  This probably seems like a blessing at the end of their idol years.  At least they go through this process while they're young enough to have at least some chance to recover and rehabilitate themselves.  Every so often, a TV tracks down one of these idols and finds her living as a shufu, working at an "esthe" salon or living abroad.  No word on PTSD after years of managerial abuse, encounters with lunatic fans, being shuttled from appearance to appearance, job after job, all day, most of the night and all the while pretending to be a cartoon of yourself.  The ones we've watched interviewed-- the ones willing to be displayed again-- seem reasonably happy and healthy.  I have to wonder about the disposable others not shown.

Last year we watched a program on Mei and Kei, the two members of Pink Lady, where they were open and honest about the rampant sexual harassment and routine degradation they faced.  The show featured a recreation of one of their photo shoots where a leering photography took shocking liberties with their bodies while they tried to put on a professional front and be tough soldiers about it.  A far cry from the public image of luxury and celebrity sold to us peasants along with all the merchandise from which beloved pop idols typically receive very little-- if any-- remuneration.  I think Pink Lady made out all right, though.  For the rest of these stars, working at a 7-11 would probably be a better choice.

Anyway, can you imagine signing a contract that forbids you from dating?  That's a regular part of an idol's career.  So this news a couple of performers have gotten themselves in hot water for a breach of such a contract is no surprise.  I hope their fans rebel en masse against this kind of exploitation, but I have this cynical feeling they're going to be lambasted for not playing the game correctly.  Apologies and more humiliation to follow.  I furthermore hope all the parties involved-- the women, the fans they dated (although "fan" is difficult to prove; how does anyone really know a person's motivations for dating, and how does one prove such knowledge?) and the legal guardians who signed these asinine documents in the first place all say to the management company, "Take your threatening letters and shove them straight up your asses!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I'm sick of this shit: Visually impaired school girl kicked from behind in Saitama

Visually impaired school girl kicked from behind in Saitama

I'm furious about this, but I'm not going to claim abuse against the visually impaired is some kind of trend here or that it's widespread.  However, this is the second such incident I've read about in the past few weeks so it's on my mind.  August ended with the story of some completely worthless asshole stabbing a guide dog.  And my thinking is this:  even one assault would be too many and now we've had two.  The news article I'm linking to here mentions a few other things that happen to the visually impaired.  Bicycles left on the yellow Braille paths.  Bumping into people.  Hitting them with shopping bags.

People who do these things sicken me.  I hesitate even to call them people, but if we're honest about it, all the bad crap that happens on this planet happens because of human beings.  Volcanoes are blameless, as are mountain lions and grizzly bears.  What they do is beyond notions of right and wrong.  Humans, however, make such distinctions in our behaviors.  We are supposed to have consciences.

And I can't help but notice the two most egregious assaults both occurred in Saitama.  I ask the people of Saitama, "What the hell?  Do you like this kind of stuff?  Is this the way the people of Saitama treat their fellow Japanese?"

I'd like to believe you don't.  I'd love to see all the decent people of Saitama getting on the ball and making it known this is not acceptable behavior there or anywhere.  Be like the guy who offered a 1 million yen reward in the guide dog case, who is a living monument to the best in human behavior and a hero to me at the moment.  Start a citizen's movement.  Saitama Supports Civility for All.  Except for the people who attack the visually impaired or their guide dogs.  Whatever happens to those people is too good for them.

Or if not, then to hell with you, Saitama.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I'm for it: Halloween season kicks off at theme parks, stores

Halloween season kicks off at theme parks, stores

I noticed down in the comments attached to this story a few people have a problem with starting Halloween before October.  They echo the constant complaint in the US of Christmas seemingly coming earlier and earlier each year.  I remember one Halloween evening when I was on my way to a party and didn't have a costume.  I stopped at Target to check what they had left, hoping for a simple skeleton mask or something at a hefty discount and all they had were ballerina tutus and a new Christmas display.  I agree Christmas season needs to be confined to the post-Thanksgiving weeks, but I understand the 4Q reasoning retailers and their brand suppliers use to justify lengthening the holiday spending period.

On the other hand, give me more Halloween.  While Christmas has its religious and spiritual meaning and over-commercialization corrupts that, our modern Halloween is pure fun.  Yes, I know it once had religious significance as well.  For me, Halloween is a Ray Bradburyian dance in the cemetery.  We all know we're going to die, at least those of us not surnamed Kardashian do.  Mortal thoughts can terrify.  Halloween with its tombs, mummies, vampires, ghosts, its yowling black cats and dead leaves, its dry fields and dryer bones stalking the night, takes this finality and celebrates it.  It's a graveyard fling with our harvest plenty as the world dies around us.

This past weekend I bought our first holiday-packaged goodies-- which I meant to photograph and show you, but someone couldn't keep her hands off and shredded the bag-- and we saw stores decorated with paper pumpkins and the like.  Baskin-Robbins didn't have its new Halloween flavors yet (although the line length made me assume so before I checked the menu board), but the article promises some good ones this year.  A mixed apple and grape sherbet?  Yes, please, regular double in a cup.  I might be convinced to challenge the triple.  Freshness Burger will probably dress up for Halloween, too, with creepy cobwebs and lurid wall-hangers, cartoon cats and witches. Krispy Kreme has some seasonal goodies I can't wait to try.  Conversation schools will have Halloween parties and force their foreign teachers to dress up.  I will watch Halloween and read horror novels and short story collections starting...

Well, now.

I'm all for it.  I can't get enough Halloween.  I'm no cynic.

Friday, September 5, 2014

'Legroom war' rages as planes grow more cramped

'Legroom war' rages as planes grow more cramped

Most of this is ridiculous.  The problem isn't recliners or non-recliners.  The problem is the airlines themselves.  They provide the bare minimum of comfort in order to maximize profits without actually harming the customers.  Or at least keep harm to customers a collateral effect that's within acceptable operating parameters rather than a goal unto itself.  The seats themselves are designed with comfort and ergonomics as considerations equal or even secondary to the contradictory notion of cramming in as many people as possible within a limited space to make as much money on each flight as they can.  And we've finally reached the point where it's physically torturous to fly economy class.

So now we're pitted against each other in a Darwinian struggle.  Your options are to resort to guerilla tactics in the rows to defend your right to recline versus  your right to have your kneecaps unbruised and to not go crosseyed trying to watch a movie or play computer Solitaire.  Or you can pay more and fly business class.  And we know that's not always possible.

But rather give into air rage and cause problems for other passengers, we need to establish a level of flying etiquette that takes each side's needs into account.  Recliners should recline a little less and maybe buy some kind of head rest-- aren't there some available?-- and non-recliners need to ease up on the Leg Defenders and this idea everyone has to bend to their need to fart around with laptops rather than use the airline-provided entertainment system.  I don't really see the need to use a laptop on a plane when you can read a book or play a handheld game system or something that's less space-involved, but we have these things now and people are wed to them more than they are to other human beings so that's just part of our flying experience nowadays.

More importantly, though, we need to band together as consumers and demand the airlines provide more services and space for their ever-increasing airfares and service charges.  This situation continues because this idea the need of a company to make a profit is an absolute right greater than the need of human beings to be treated with dignity.  And that is just not working.  I can agree to a certain loss of comfort, but if I'm paying a huge dollar amount for a service, I expect that service not to injure me or put me in bodily danger from the other customers.  We shouldn't be locked into a metal tube and poked and prodded by everyone around us-- and then toss alcohol into that volatile mix-- within a space that's barely less cramped than a Mercury space capsule (and their seats were custom molded to their bodies) for hours at a time.  It's inhumane.  And we're paying to be treated inhumanely.

And no, flying is not a right.  I understand that.  But it also used to be a luxurious experience and it used to be customer-oriented rather than treating them as cargo to which a certain amount of damage is to be expected.  The democratization of air travel has been a boon, but it's also increasingly become a disaster, even on short haul flights.  So clearly something has to give.  And as long as we're willing to pay more for less, it's going to be a privilege way pay for in order to spindled, folded and mutilated... and then pitted against each other in gladiatorial combat, apparently.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gory Japanese war film shocks, thrills Venice film festival

Gory Japanese war film shocks, thrills Venice film festival

This will be the second film adaptation of Shohei Ooka's novel Fires on the Plain.  The first came out in 1959.  I read the novel a few years ago.  It straddled a period when I moved from Japan back to the US, so I read it both here and there.  WWII remains a popular film subject here.  I've avoided all of these movies because, frankly, while I've read extensively about the fighting in Europe, I'm just not that interested in the Pacific theater unless it involves the air combat and aircraft carriers.

Also, it's something of a prickly subject.  Like Ooka, my grandfather-in-law fought in the Philippines.  He's way up in his 90s now and I've met him a couple of times.  I have a feeling there are unresolved issues hanging over our heads.  That may just be me.  If his experiences were anything like Ooka's then he must have some complicated emotions about my being in his family.  Or maybe he's over it as much as anyone could be and hardly gives me a thought.  Actually, I'm pretty sure he rarely thinks about me.  He's got his own world and interests.

Still, you can't avoid entirely that period in the 20th century.  One of the first trips I took inside Japan was to Hiroshima where I saw the chains of origami cranes and took photos of the A-Bomb dome.  The city I live in now was back then-- as it is now-- an industrial center.  So it was a target.  Bombed flat from the air, shelled from the sea.  An older student I had at my first job showed me scars on his forearm he said came from burns suffered as a toddler during an air-raid.  Another student cheerfully told me of being given candy by American soldiers in the war's immediate aftermath and how her mother told her not to eat it.  She hid it in her dresser drawer and simply looked at it from time to time.  One more, one of the most brilliant minds I've ever encountered, asked me what "Hubba hubba" means, as it had puzzled him since he heard our GIs saying it when he was a child.  His older brother was a fighter pilot trainer during the war, but we never discussed whether or not he survived.  One of my junior high-aged students once listed for me his favorite WWII fighter planes, as he was something of a vintage aviation buff.

"I like the Zero and the P-51 Mustang," he said.  I think he added a couple of others, because I remember being very impressed at his ability to remember all the designations and names.  After that he said, "But I do not like the B-29."

"I think I can guess why," I replied.  "And I understand completely."

My mom remembers blackout curtains and watching Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral train pass through her hometown on its way from Georgia back to Washington, D.C.  She also remembers anti-Japanese propaganda.  And I grew up watching WWII-era Bugs Bunny cartoons with their casual racism and that one episode of Gilligan's Island with the goggle-glasses wearing Imperial Japanese holdout menacing the castaways in comedic fashion, the depiction of which I cringe at whenever I think about it.

You know, like now.

Not a one of my male relatives of the correct generation fought in the Pacific.  My father's oldest brother serviced B-17s in the UK during the last months of the war, but spent most of his stint in the military during the post-war era.  He wasn't a backwards-looking guy by nature, so we only talked about it one time because I asked.  My mom's uncle ripped across Europe under Patton, but he only mentioned it once.  My mom's stepfather, a man she still worships to this day, father to her half-brothers, went over the Channel in a glider on D-Day as an army doctor with the 82nd Airborne.  My dad didn't go into the armed forces until the Korean War, which he spent in the USAF largely in the UK but also, strangely enough, back in Georgia, not far from his hometown.  There's still a huge air base there.  He was in a motor transport squadron so he drove trucks and taught driving.

All Europe guys.

I've never been to war.  Never been in the military.  I only read about it in books and watch it in movies.  But I suppose I think about it way too often.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It's not just Hello Kitty: Japan's character craze

It's not just Hello Kitty: Japan's character craze

Well, I like 'em.  People tend to love their cute characters here and there are some artists who really know how to bring it.  The cute, that is. 

Hello Kitty, or Kitty White if you prefer, is the undisputed Empress of Kawaii.  I never imagined when a Sanrio shop opened in the mall in my hometown I'd ever learn to love Kitty.  Eventually, I had to surrender to her charms.  I blame a close friend who spent the happiest portion of her professional art life working for the company and handling their North American website.  If you sent a Hello Kitty themed e-card during the 2000s, chances are she created it.  She even did some of their product design.  She has internalized kawaii and I've picked up an appreciation of it from her, I suppose.  Also some stationery.

Our local cute character is a version of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a person I think is a bizarre choice for kawaii-ification, but the kids are really into his round head.  We call him Ieyasu-kun.  Kumamon is a particular favorite of mine.  I find the simple design very appealing.  Funashi is freaky fun.  There are even Funashi impersonators on TV from time to time.  That's impact.

More fuel for my love for these cute characters comes from having designed hundreds or even thousands of characters in my life, and not having a single one of them gain any sort of popularity.  Not even within my circle of friends.  To do something that gains broad popularity takes talent and skill that has eluded me.  But I recognize it in others and bow to their winning ways!

Monday, September 1, 2014

What habits have you picked up from living in Japan that you sometimes have to try and stop yourself doing when you go overseas because you don't think it will look right?

What habits have you picked up from living in Japan that you sometimes have to try and stop yourself doing when you go overseas because you don't think it will look right?

The comments are worth reading.  There are different gestures used here, body language and different things to lubricate social interaction that go beyond simple vocabulary.  If you live here for any length of time and have cultural sensitivity and a desire to adapt, you learn to do many of these.  Bowing, handling someone's business card the correct way, the hand chop meaning "I need to pass through here/in front of you," the giving of obligatory souvenir snacks to coworkers after taking a trip. Three little examples of behaviors I've adopted to get along. 

Some other adaptations we make seem counter-productive or flat out dumb to me, such as using Japanese nouns when speaking English to other ex-pats.  Why say keitai when you mean cellphone when you're talking to another American?  Others are as necessary because you're in someone else's country and you need to learn their ways.  I think this is one of your important tasks when living abroad.

I'm very independent, and even in my home country I often felt like an alien observer.  I had learn the niceties the hard way, with many difficulties and with much practice.  Those little things, such as saying "Good morning" fifty times in five minutes because you pass fifty different people in the hallway when arriving at work.  Making small talk or engaging in conversations that don't interest you in the least because you want the other person to feel validated.  Using certain utensils in a certain order while dining.  Drinking a single glass of wine and maintaining proper decorum at a dinner party rather than giving into social anxiety and chugging a 12-pack of beer in as little time as possible, then peeing in the bathtub because the toilet is too small a target and keeps leaping about.

Now that I live in Japan and I am a perpetual outsider, I make an effort to walk the line between my homegrown American ways and personal identity and the one I'm expected to adopt here to get along, make friends and be a productive member of Japanese society.  When I go back to the US, though, I quickly revert to my original state.  Maybe I don't internalize place as much as others do, or maybe there's something severely wrong with me.