Friday, March 31, 2006

Foreign Minister Aso

He has been in the news a lot recently for bigoted comments, for basically supporting Japan's war crimes in WW2---well excusing and sugar-coating them. Interestingly, the US government, under Bush hasn't the balls to say anything. Well, it isn't only Bush, no US president has in years. We must keep our military in Japan at all costs, because (for one reason) we have to keep an eye on the Japanese government/military. While everyone, most especially the Japanese and their foreign ass-kissers, claim Japan will never go to war again, it doesn't seem that the US government fully believes that. Of course, at the same time, we are encouraging them to re-arm, not so that we may leave and mind our own business, but so that they may continue to do our bidding as much as possible.

Here is an interesting link on this nationalist bigot.

Yea, Japan is a peaceful country that truly regrets any inconveniences that it may have caused (due to the fault of others) in WW2.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Apartment Hunting

We went looking at apartments today, always a disagreeable job. However, it wasn't so bad today. The apartments were ones that my wife's company has contracts with so we needed worry about the often encountered "We don't rent to foreigners" and other type of crap.

We looked at some in Jiyugaoka, Futakotamagawa, and Denenchofu. I liked Denenchofu the best, very quiet and upper-middle class. Actually some of it is very upper-class. (Yea, I know, Japan is mostly middle-class. Remember that and other Eddy O. Reishauer horse manure? How did they define middle class---nobody asked.) The problem is that there are a lot of burglaries in the area. In fact, as we walked through at about 1130 AM, a patrol cars was driving around warning people about burglars and preventing burglaries. In spite of the "Japan is the safest country in the world" myth, Tokyo has always had a high burglary rate, and it isn't the foreigners or the Chinese who are mainly responsible. It is, and always has been professional Japanese crooks, often after jewelry.

The photo is of a children's clothing store shaped like a giant strawberry. I thought it was a big tomato at Denenchofu. The other is of sakura (cherry) blossoms in Futakotamagawa.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Great Sadaharu Oh

Since Japan won the World Baseball Classic, the team manager Sadaharu Oh (a man of non-Japanese lineage who has gained the rare honor of being accepted as Japanese in Japan) has been in the news a lot. He has the career home run record in Japan, and I believe in the world. I remember this fact being mentioned when Hank Aaron was going for the home run record in the 70s. Of course there was some debate about the comparability of the US record and the Japanese record because Japanese park was so much smaller than American baseball parks.

I remember him for something that happened more recently. In 2001, Tuffy Rhodes, an American baseball played had tied Oh's single season record of 55 home runs. When he faced Oh's pitchers with a chance of breaking the record, Oh's pitchers would not pitch to him, throwing 2 strikes of 18 pitches. It wasn't because the game was on the line, it was because they, and Oh, did not want his record broken. They, and Oh, cheated. Period. Japan's baseball commissioner at the time, Hiromori Kawashima, said that walking Rhodes so much was, "completely divorced from the essence of baseball, which values the supremacy of fair play." Oh insisted that he was "out of the loop" of the decision to refuse to pitch to Rhodes. He said it was the pitcher's decision and he couldn't tell his pitchers what to do.

I completely lost all respect for that "man" and consider him as someone who hadn't the personal courage to see his record broken.

Of course, since this is Japan, I must self-censor, so I will state that naturally this may all be lies made up by Americans and some bad Japanese. Even if it is true, it probably happens all the time, even worse in other countries, especially the evil US. End censorship.

A lot of Japanese are very happy with the Cuban player's remark intended to insult American players about baseball not being about money, as if Japanese players are not getting paid huge---by Japanese standards---salaries, or as if Ichiro and Matsui et al, have refused their big fat American baseball salaries to play just for the fun of it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Blogspot continues to have problems

so posting will be sporatic until (or if, it's been a week or more) they fix it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Abu Ghraib

A US Army dog handler has just been convicted of abusing prisoners. This is especially disappointing to me, because I used to be a dog handler and K-9 training NCO in the Air Force. What is disturbing is the fact that all of the convicted people have been enlisted and relatively low on the chain of command.

I find this suspicious at best, and unbelievable at worst. How is it possible that this behavior went on and nobody higher up knew about it? I suspect they didn't want to know about it. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. But they had to know. If they were as ignorant and in-the-dark stupid as is claimed, they ought to be court martialed for dereliction of duty. OK, I forget if that charge would exactly fit in these cases, but it is surely evidence of incompetence.

I realize that I am not there and all I have are the usual unreliable, most likely half true, exaggerated or outright false stories from the news media---the same type I was intimately familiar with when I was in---but the court martial convictions were from fellow military members, not by people who have no clue about military life or duties and risks.

One of the things that I heard early one that aroused my suspicions was a report that when the some of the worst abuses were being committed by the most notorious bunch of MPs (now ex-MPs and current convicted felons) an NCO saw some of the abuse happening. According to the report, the NCO simply told them to "knock it off." That is something I cannot imagine, unless the abuse was condoned, winked at, or actively ignored by ranking personnel. An NCO cannot legally observe an illegal action and simply tell someone to "knock it off." There should have been an aggressive follow-up and a report of the incident. But, if that report was true, nothing happened. The NCO would have been derelict in his duties at the very least. That is, unless things have turned upside down since I got out and the UCMJ rewritten. Who knows, perhaps Bush et al have done exactly that.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Culture Shock, Stage 1. Japan the Paradise

Another "The Japanese are so polite," "The Japanese are shy so they won't talk..." infatuated guy who calls himself a "stupid American." One could forgive a little of this as he is only here for a short stay and hasn't gotten much, if any beyond the first stage of culture shock in which one lives in a semi-fantasy world where everything is wonderful in the new culture. If he stays, he'll learn, hopefully. Or else he will become a Japapologist who will spend his whole life excusing and explaining away everything less than pure and perfect about Japan.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

I saw this movie today and it is probably the best I have seen this year. The story was a bit silly in some of the detail; a rookie Border Patrol agent with weekends off who could be home for dinner. Seems he couldn't speak Spanish either, even though that is a requirement to graduate the academy.

However, it was just a movie and had good acting, beautiful American (US and Mexico) scenery, and an overall interesting story that wasn't full of car chases and building exploding like most Hollywood garbage one sees. It was shown here only in a small theater in Ebisu---usually reserved for "art" movies---probably because it was not full of exploding cars.

What was especially attractive was the fact that Tommy Lee Jones' character was straight spoken, said what he meant and would do what he said. A complete, 180 degree opposite of what Japan is like. I miss the ability to do that in a society where straight speaking is not only rare, but would be thought of as abnormal and rude.

It's not that such honesty is commonplace in the US, because we so often have to sugarcoat and asskiss in business or at work, but it is the fact that one can encounter it and at least occasionally does so. Then you can be honest and straightforward too, and while agreement is not always reached, and there can be hard feeling and enemies, at least people can understand where the other stands.

In Japan, the lack of this type of openness gives you the sense that everything is fake and phony and done just for looks and appearances. And that is often true....

Repeated Problems with Blogspot.

This has beeen going on for over a week and they seem to be unable to do anything about it, We keep getting errors when posting, people cannot access their own blogs, one day IE cannot be used, the next, it's Firefox. Right now, on IE one gets a server error with this blog. But my others are fine, Well, I guess blodspot is worth what it costs.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

We Obey the Law in Japan

as everyone "knows." Can you read it? Click and enlarge it and you will see that it is partly in English for all the non-law abiding foreigners who always disobey laws. These bikes seemed to belong to Japanese though.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Interview Shock

I went to an interview for some part-time work today and was asked a few questions which led me to believe that the interviewer had some clue of what he was doing and talking about!

One question which I was asked and hadn't heard in years was, what is your philosophy of teaching. SHOCK. I hadn't thought deeply enough about that recently to give a smooth, well-thought out answer, but I did ok, because at least I have one developed and refined over the years.

Perhaps I should had said what 2 different Berlitz IS told me: "I don't care what you do as long as the students enjoy it and think they learn something." Somehow, I believe that response would have gotten me laughed out of the room, Actually, he would have laughed and thrown rocks at me. Thougn in the end, I am somewhat skeptical that it makes a lot of difference in Japan. Perhaps the Berlitz idea isn't so far off here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Practice JLPT Sunday

The real test in in December each year, but there is one that is apparently used to evaluate tests and test questions this Sunday. The levels are normally 1,2,3,4 with 1 being the highest, but on this one the levels aren't so clearly separated from what I understand.

There are 3 sections, reading/kanji, listening, and grammar. There is no oral evaluation which limits the practical usefulness, but it is good for study motivation. For the practice test, instead of paying the usually 5000 yen, I get paid ¥5,000 to take it. Unfortunately, it lasts from 10AM to 4PM. However, next Tuesday is a holiday, so I'll make up for the lost day off.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

But it snowed

yesterday. I was in Otemachi in Tokyo at about 1PM and there were snow furries. Winter ain't over yet.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spring is on its way

It was 19 degrees centigrade today, the warmest so far this year. It will cool back down tomorrow, but spring is near. Plum blossoms are already starting. Cherry blossums should be starting about a month from now. I even had to buy some potted flowers today to get our balcony flower garden restarted.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Enjoyable Things About Japan

Some things are irritating sometimes, some things could be better. But many things are quite nice.

  • Quiet. In general, it is much quieter here than city life in the states. Yes, there are still noisy people---Japanese or others---but rarely do you have to listen to someone's stereo blasting through your walls. Neighborhoods are quiet, you don't hear people screaming and shouting all over. Strangely, once in a forest this quietness evaporates because like most city people, Tokyoites don't know what to do in the woods.
  • Although there are few big parks, there are a lot of small garden-like areas near building complexes in Tokyo. These have a lot of well-thought out plants and trees. It is always nice to be walking in a big city an catching a whiff of spring flowers from one of these areas. Some are even on rooftops, for example, one is on the to of Takashimaya department store in Futakotamagawa.
  • Overall, people in Tokyo are well-mannered. Yes, these are good manners in the Japanese frame of things, but most of the time, they would be considered good manners nearly anyway. This is not to bring out the old saw that the Japanese are the most polite people in the world or any of that nonsense.
  • Delicious, high-quality restaurant meals are easy to find. It isn't cheap though if you go to a restaurant to eat it. Still, you can find an enjoyable meal even at a low price. The service in the good restaurants is usually quite good. In others it may be so-so, but still beat anything by the local punks at McDonald's in the States. (The local punks often seem to find employment at Moss Burger in Japan.)
  • As a French guy I met on a train in Tokyo about six years ago said: The Japanese have class. Now that is a general statement which I tend to be leary about because it smacks of "The Japanese are the most_______in the world" that one always hears from the Japanese or their foreign apologists. However, in this case, I tend to agree. When you are dealing with a Japanese person---as opposed to interacting with a large anonymous group---they do have class. It is hard to define that I suppose, but they tend to have a reserve and self control and a decent way of treating and showing respect to others. Even under a lot of stress this tends to hold true. Rarely do you run into the type of crass, uncouth behavior that you can find in some places in the US and Canada (perhaps others too) when you are personally interacting with someone, be it a business transaction or otherwise. You do run into crass, uncouth, rude, obnoxious people here too, but it seems to be less common.
  • Most people in Tokyo have a decent sense of style. They own clothing other than blue jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. Generally, people are fairly well-dressed.
  • Even if they think you are a moron and despise you, they generally won't say so or show it in any way to your face. Of course, this can be a very bad point too, but it keeps things smooth on the surface and everyone can pretend to get along. You'll have to figure out whether this is good or bad. I know what I think. It's ok if you are just passing through...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Some Not So Safe Things in Japan

Yes, even though Japan is "the safest country in the world," there are a few things that in my opinion---admittedly as a foreigner who cannot possibly understand Japan---that are less that perfectly safe.
For example:

  • People don't watch where they are going, whether walking or riding a bicycle. Many are reading email or playing games on their cell phones. Some are reading books or newspapers, emailing, riding with an umbrella directly in front of their face, looking behind or to the side of them while on a bike. Others have a finger up to the knuckles in a nostril.

  • Unwrapped food is displayed without sneeze guards or any protection from germs, viruses, children playing with it etc. Often I see delicious looking freshly baked bread, or freshly cooked tempura or other foods on display in area of heavy traffic, where people with very contagious viruses are coughing and sneezing openly. I once watched a young 3-4 year old boy handle almost all the tempura on display at the Tokyu grocery store at Kajigaya station. His mother stood there and watched and said not a word. I donno, this seems to be a health hazard. Yes, I know that the real risks are foreigners spreading AIDS etc.

  • People riding in trains seems to forget to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing. Japanese consider this very rude, but it is common on trains. Of course even worse is when someone lets loose with a HUGE, LOUD, FULL VOLUME sneeze which actually hurts one's ears. This high decibel sneeze, in addition to being extraordinarily rude and germ spreading, probably causes hearing loss.

  • There seem to be no rules to follow on which side of the road one uses on a bike. People here tend to ride down the middle or pick and choose a side at random. Seems a bit dangerous, that's why Japanese law requires people to stay to the left, the same as driving. However, the law is not enforced.

  • Riding a bicycle on a crowded sidewalk seems slightly risky. More so when you have a finger up to the knuckle in your left nostril and are typing an e-mail while wearing headphones and listening to Puffy's latest.

  • Rudely pushing people, on trains and elsewhere, when there is no conceivable need seems a bit dangerous as well as uncivilized. You could anger some dangerous, evil foreigner. Well, I can't complain, the Chinese do that too.

  • Crossing the road as soon as the walk signal turns green without bothering to check and see if traffic has stopped could potentially cause some sort of problem.

  • Trucks with uncovered loads: rocks, dirt, scrap iron, or big hunks of cement secured by a strap---if anything---might possibly be risky if the truck hits a bump, or has an accident or something similar and the unsecured load flies off and hits someone. May I suggest that the fine Japanese police perhaps actually make some sort of proactive law enforcement effort to deter this? I am sure it is illegal. If a foreign company operated vehicles like that in Japan, wouldn't the police be just a bit more aggressive? Well, naturally, but that is because foreigners are more dangerous and much more likely to be criminals anyway.

  • The yakuza sometimes park in no parking zones within sight of cops. I saw them a few weeks ago doing that on a Sunday morning in front of Ann Millers in Akasakamitsuke. Now I realize that the yakuza very honorable criminal thugs---sorry delete that---but there must be some sort of reason that that is a no parking zone. Perhaps though the police officer who was nearby was thinking of safety---his--when he ignored it.

  • Large, razor sharp butcher knives are freely and openly sold anywhere. It seems a huge percentage of murders and assaults are committed with these. The question is, what does anyone need with such big, sharp knives when a smaller, duller knife could be used in the home. For big butchering jobs. one could go to a professional, licensed butcher. One city in Japan started restricting the sale of knives over a certain size---maybe 10cm as I recall---because of criminal misuse of these assault knives. There is no Second Amendment in Japan, so there would be no constitutional problem with banning them outright. As far as collecting them goes, it should be simple as the Japanese traditionally accept this type of activity. Hideyoshi did it hundreds of years ago to keep the peasants and similar troublemakers in their place. Of course, I am aware that in the US more people are killed with firearms so there is a difference. I suspect you are deader if you are shot than if you are stabbed. Everything is different in Japan. (Note: This is sarcasm. I ain't for banning kitchen knives.)

  • Usually, one considers a crosswalk with a green crossing signal to be a place where cars shouldn't enter. However, in Japan, cars can and do turn into crosswalks when the pedestrian light is green. I don't know if this is legal since I have seen cops stop (!!!!!!!!) a person for doing it---and the person appeared not to be a foreigner---and I have seen the more common reaction of them paying it no mind. Go to Akasakamitsuke near the Goldman Sachs IT building (I forget the name, it houses Oak apartments too) and you can watch this happen and the law enforcement professional sit on his behind and do nothing.

  • People on bicycles in general. They are simply dangerous.

These are just a few for today. I will add more as I have time. I must however state that I am in no way complaining or criticizing. Every other country is probably worse. I will even put up some good points---of which there are zillions---to counter balance these later.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cold Weather is Back

When I left this morning for a bike ride along the Tama River, it was still reasonably warm---about 12 degrees. By the time I got halfway on my planned 50 mile ride, it had turned cloudy and cold. It really screwed up plans I had for some early season training and made it mostly just an endurance ride.

This year has definitely been colder than the last few. A check of my cycling journals easily shows that. Of course, to say it is cold in Tokyo is a bit of an exaggeration, as cold here isn't really cold.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Studying Japanese kanji

I have a "practice" test for the JPLT later this month. It isn't especially important, and like most such tests, it is overly focused on grammar and form. However, I use it as a motivator to see my strong points, and especially the weak points that I may, or may not, focus on improving.

One of the biggest challenges is learning kanji. There are over 2,000 of them which Japanese high school graduate must learn. For someone working full time who is still learning and improving his/her speaking ability, this presents an enormous challenge. I have heard that it takes roughly 10 years for a non-native speaker without the use of Chinese characters in the native language to master kanji.

By the time I graduated college, I knew about 400-450. Most of these ---plus others which I have since learned---I still remember, at least the basic meanings. So if I see them, I generally understand what is written. I have forgotten how to write a lot of them, and it takes constant practice to remember. Even then, my written kanji are so poorly written that most Japanese have some difficulty reading and understanding them.

To make things even tougher, the meaning, as well as the reading changes when 2 or more kanji are combined. So one has to remember the combinations too.

I suppose I could just forget about learning kanji, and not read much Japanese. However, I don't see how anyone could live in a country over the long term without being able to read. I read tons of books and magazines in English, and would like to be able to do so in Japanese too.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hakone area (more)

Around Hakone

A few pics from the town and around Fujiya Hotel.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I almost forgot the octopus

Actually, I gave this to my wife. There are few things I don't like, but octopus, Japanese, Korea, Italian-- whatever-- I cannot eat.

More of Our Dinner at Kikka-so Ryokan

The last 2 courses. Everything was delicious. A lot of the entrees were seasonal dishes. Trying all types of Japanese food has become a real interest for me.

Kikkasou Ryokan (a ryokan is a Japanese style inn) used to be used by the Japanese Imperial family years ago. Fujiya Hotel itself is said to be the oldest hotel in Japan, built I believe around 1878.

Dinner at Kikka-so ryokan last weekend

Some of what we were served for dinner. Kikkasou is the ryokan belonging to Fujiya Hotel in Hakone where we stayed last week. We were served a private dinner. We had sashimi, cod eggs, a variety of Japanese vegetables, some type of bird---quail I believe, although it tasted different (it was also ground) and miso soup among other things.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Outside Grounds

It did clear up on Monday.

Inside the ryokan

Nice big rooms, three plus toilet and bath.

A Few Pics from Fujiya Hotel in Hakone

We actually styed in the ryokan next door. We have stayed in the main hotel before too. Both are beautiful. As I said, it poured all day last Sunday.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Another Evil Foreign-looking Devil Busted!!! (Oops!)

(Note: This post has been self-censored.)
This is probably part of the "Justice" Ministry's policy, which as I recall is termed something like "anti-internationalization." The ever vigilant Japanese law enforcement professionals saw a suspicious gaijin-looking woman who averted her foreign-looking eyes from them and they immediately sprang into action and stopped and questioned her. When she could not prove in a way which they would accept that she was not a foreigner, they arrested her for not carrying the ID card which all non-Japanese are required to possess and carry at all times. Even worse, she was in possession of an envelope which had dirty gaijin Portuguese words on it. My god, did this woman have no shame?

Well, it turns out that she was Japanese! She just looked "south-Asian." Isn't it funny how when the Memoirs of a Geisha movie came out there was such a fuss by a few Japanese and many foreigners about the use of Chinese actors, because they claimed that it is always so easy to tell the difference between the Japanese and the Chinese and other Asians by physical appearance alone? (Many believe the Japanese are a separate race. In fact, the mistaken idea that ethnic and national groups are separate races is not uncommon in a lot of Asian countries and probably elsewhere too. Can you accurately and consistently tell what country a Caucasian is from by his/her physical appearance?) Gotta wonder how the wonderful, super sharp, nearly perfect, Japanese police could make such an error.

But don't worry, I am sure that after holding her for nearly 24 hours for lookin' like a furriner, they apologized to her. It was wrong to arrest a Japanese citizen by mistake. Now, were a non-Japanese arrested by mistake, that might be less of a problem.

See the story at:


I wonder how long it will be before that link is removed. I just found that this blog is being translated into Japanese. (I guess that can help me study Japanese, if the translation is accurate. It is automatically translated---it updates the Japanese as soon as I post in English. Automatic translation is often terribly inaccurate as to be worthless*. I can usually do better reading the Japanese, even with so a poor knowledge of kanji.) *Just checked, it translated my use of Japanese, meaning language, to Japanese meaning people.

I have had several links disappear in the last few weeks.