Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Good and the Frustrating

The frustrations of a young guy in Japan:

and the good things:

Memoirs of a Geisha, the Movie

Called Sayuri here, it has to rank as one of the worst films in years. I read the book years ago, but can't remember many similarities with the film, but some people say it was at least similar. I think it was an Americanized fantasy of something---what, I don't know..

This film was being called controversial when it opened here because, supposedly, Japanese were complaining that non-Japanese actors were being used to portray Japanese. However, no Japanese who I have spoken to has ever heard of such a controversy, although that doesn't prove it to be untrue. The people who were pushing this must have been connected with trying to promote the movie. Even one of the New York Times' Japan-based financial reporters wrote an article about this.

If it's true that Japanese should play Japanese roles and no others, especially Chinese should, then I guess British actors could not play an American-born character, nor could a German play an Italian.

The Japan in the movie was nonsensical (e.g.,the sumo match which seemed more like something from a "Rocky" movie), but that isn't the main problem. It was simply a poor, noisy soap opera about a catfight.
But, many people liked this movie, including a lot of Japanese whom I have spoken to. Others don't: see the post; Reality or Reality in Movies.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Kyoto Blog

Here's the link to a blog by a guy in Kyoto. He has some very good pictures on this blog and it is updated regularly.

Sorry that the link is not clickable. I have to put it in as html to get it to work sometimes when using blogspot. Sometimes not. But Blogspot is free and worth every penny of it.

(I figured it out. I have to post first, then edit and paste the link. Very convenient. It should work now).

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I often post here about Japanese discrimination against non-Japanese. It is a problem in this society, especially because the Japanese government lies about it and claims that it does not exist. Naturally, racism and discrimination exist everywhere, but most modern societies (and governments) at least attempt to address it in some way. I know of none which is in such denial as the Japanese government.

Most Japanese one meets and gets to know personally to some degree are very decent people. One rarely encounters open, aggressive racists in Japan. (It is possible, and they do exist, but even they won't be so open and in your face about it. You may hear "baka gaijin" etc, but rarely more unless the person is in a position where he thinks he can escape if the dangerous "gaijin" decides not to put up with his mouth). Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable, as one could argue that it is better to know if someone hates your guts because you are not "Japanese" than to believe he/she tolerates you when they don't.

It is quite different than some of the racist bigots one meets in other places. When my wife and I were in college at Washington State University in Pullman Washington, we lived in Colfax, Washington for about nine months. Our upstairs neighbors were a couple of boys in their early 20s. They weren't college students as far as I know, but made a living doing god knows what in a town of 2,000 people.

I found out just before we moved that these lowlife sleazeballs got off on coming to our apartment door when I was not home and banging and yelling "Hey, Jap!" at her. She had endured it and never mentioned it to me. The landlord, was basically only interested in getting cash from us (that was pretty much the story in both Pullman and Colfax) and wanted to hear of no problems.

They never did anything else, nor did they ever say anything to me or indicate they had a problem with my wife in any way. But, as I said , they were gutless cowards. That doesn't mean they were not dangerous though. They most likely did not know that I had taught my wife how to shoot and educated her about laws concerning the use of deadly force. She was armed and could have, and would have, sent them to hell had she needed to.

Then there was an African-American friend I had just after graduating high school in Clarksburg, West Virginia. We occasionally rode our motorcycles around the area. We could hardly go through town without some loser screaming "nigger" at him.

So even though I may complain about Japan, I know things could be even worse in some ways. It is just that I am not used to the government and academia consistently being the open leaders of intentionally bigoted policies and ideas and rarely contradicted or challenged by any of its citizens.

Shoveling Snow

Spent an hour this morning shoveling snow for my wife's aunt---our landlord. I loved it. In fact, if it snowed more often, I would spend the winter shoveling snow. It is much more rewarding (and mentally stimulating) than teaching English.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

First Tokyo Area Snow of 2005-06

Many Japanese believe that Japan is the only country on earth with four seasons. And here is the unique Japan snow to prove it. (Remember in the 80s or 90s when the Japanese government tried to justify blocking sales of U.S. and other imported skis by claimed that Japanese snow was different than snow anywhere else. Ahhh, uniquely unique Japan.

These pics were taken today in Kanagawa Prefecture. Mostly around Minami-Machida in Yokohama, and a few around my place.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A New Start

How different it is to be actually teaching---or as close as one gets in Japan---English as a foreign language again. I have taken on more classes with my old company where I can actually use some of my education and some accepted teaching principles instead of trying to glob through Berlitz' nonsense using their "method" which they have difficulty defining themselves. I actually know my students! I know what and why I am teaching something, and so do they. How rare that was at Berlitz. Ask a Berlitz teacher why they are teaching something from the Berlitz text---especially the "pronunciation" material and see what the answer is. Nobody knows.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Discrimination Against Non-Japanese

I suppose there are actually 2-3 people on earth who do not believe that there is any racial, ethnic, or other discrimination in Japan. Some Japanese may believe that, but most I know acknowledge it exists (except for those who try to give me the window-dressing "tatemae" snow job), but then justify it.

This is a site by a Mr. Arudou Debito who became a Japanese citizen several years ago (Is he insane?) He gained fame (notoriety amongst many) for suing a city in Hokkaido for allowing policies of racial discrimination and later wrote a book about it.

This is his site, . Should you be interested in how common discrimination is here and how it is supported and encouraged by the Japanese government (who will lie through their teeth denying it), you should visit it. He does piss me off by using "gaijin," a somewhat derogatory term for foreigner (gaikokujin is a bit respectful---if this society can have any real respect for a non-Japanese).

I again have to mention that not all Japanese discriminate against non-Japanese. However, it is part of the history and culture of this society and the Japanese government often actively promotes and encourages racial, ethnic, age, sexual, and other types of discrimination. Recently, the Japanese police and many politicians (e.g. Gov. Ishihara of Tokyo and national figures) supported by the media for the most part tend to blame the rising crime rate in Japan on non-Japanese and basically brand non-Japanese as potential criminals. When you get a society in which people are taught from a young age that they are different in every way (and the difference often turns out to be "better than") other peoples, it is difficult for them to be subjected to this type of lies and propaganda all the time without being susceptible to believing it fully.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Site for Japan Cyclists

This site is operated by some Japanese cyclists. It has a lot of good information about cycling in Japan. They have held a few organized rides too. If you are interested in cycling (mostly road bikes) visit this site. They have a forum if you have any questions about cycling here too.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Law Abiding Japan

You often hear how law abiding the Japanese are. You know they obey all laws and rules. Why, they will even wait for a traffic light to change before crossing a small side street even if no cars are around.

Well, not exactly. These pics were taken at Futakotamagawa station. Notice the no bike parking signs all over the place. Notice the bikes parked all over the place. There is a police station maybe 25 yards away. You can see how the police do their job too. (Which is basically sitting in the box filling out forms and ignoring anything else.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Preparing for Foreign Tourists

I feel a bit guilty about posting this. It is almost as bad as making fun of English writing on T-shirts, bags and such. I can't resist though. Japan has started on a campaign to attract foreign tourists, but it appears they have a lot more to do. Some of the names of buildings on the map are in English---great tourist attractions like a nursery school and government offices---but nothing else. I really doubt that many tourists will learn Japanese before a visit, especially kanji.

Polite Japan

As everyone "knows" the Japanese are very polite. Just ask a Japanese whom you don't know well and who will give you the fairytale version of Japan. Don't hold it against him/her, because it is more important to give this fairytale version of Japan to a foreigner.

Here is an interesting "rant" from a non-Japanese (Chinese) girl who went to school in Japan. Poor girl, she just doesn't understand the universal, flawless purity of the Japanese. But of course, since she is not Japanese, she could never truly understand wonderful Japan anyway.

I shouldn't have to say this, but I suppose that I should: Not all Japanese share those views. It is a part of Japanese society though and cannot be ignored. The idiotic fantasy of many who believe if you just come to Japan and learn Japanese and Japanese customs you will be accepted (like Tom Cruises' charactor in The Last Samurai) is just that---a fantasy.

Visa Renewal

It was that time again, every 3 years I have to renew my spouse visa. Hopefully, this will be the last---or next to last---time as I am eligible to apply for permanent resident status. (No, I have no intention of trading in my American citizenship for Japanese citizenship. What would be the benefit? Rarely would I be considered a Japanese citizen by the majority of Japanese even if I did. "Japaneseness" to the Japanese is racial. Most even consider the Japanese to be a separate "race.")

It is always an adventure to renew a visa. Even though I live closer to the Tokyo immigration office, since I am a resident of Kanagawa, I have to go to the Yokohama office. Getting information in English on the internet about the required documents is almost impossible. You basically have to find out from other foreigners. I had forgotten what was needed, so after searching, I called and was given accurate information. I think they can transfer you to someone who speaks English if necessary. (Should you speak German, Frence, etc, you may have a problem. I don't know.)

Finding the building was another challenge. I could not find it on the map at the station which had nearly every building of importance listed in both Japanese and English. I could not recognize any kanji that I thought had anything to do with an immigration office. So I just walked in the general direction of where I thought it was. Finally, I reached a police box that I remembered from the first time, and I knew it was just across the street. There was no indication that this was the immigration office or any other kind of government office until I went inside. The only kanji that I could recognize was that for Yokohama. (I know about 450-500 kanji. There are over 2,000 used in Japan. Few foreigners learn them all because of the enormous amount of time required. I have heard it takes about 10 years.)

Once I found it and went to the 5th floor, it was pretty smooth going. I did have a few questions to ask, and I went to the information counter. I started in Japanese, but the woman switched to English quickly. She answered my questions---accurately, I believe---and I had everything completed and handed in within 30 minutes. Of course gathering the documents took much more time.

I was lucky yesterday that not many people were there. Now all I have to do is wait and see if I get a new visa. One never knows as things in Japan can often be based on the whims of the bureaucrat reviewing one's application. This is especially true for permanent resident applications where the requirements and standards are very vague.

But you really don't have to worry. If there is a problem, there are holding cells in each immigration center (so I have read) to relax in before you are thrown out of the country. If you are seeking refugee status, you will probably spend all your short and sweet visit to Japan there---if you even get past Narita.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

It was quite cold for Tokyo today. Cloudy skies all day which are not the norm in Tokyo in the winter.

Happy New Year to everyone, even to Berlitz International in New Jersey, which spent quite a bit of time on this blog late in December. Amazing, since there never seemed to be much concern about employee opinion while I worked there. Well, other than giving lip service to it. more Berlitz. No longer my problem.

New Year's Eve Lite Dinner

Roast eel, rice, pickles, and squash. Delicious.