Monday, September 28, 2009

Picky about produce

There's an interesting article in the Japan Times about the challenges facing Japanese farmers; namely the pickiness of consumers. Apparently "irregular" vegetables, which are either shaped oddly or are too big or small, are bought for lower prices or not at all. One anecdote tells of a farmer who had to resignedly throw out boxes of his broccoli crop because they were too big.

Excuse me? Japan home grows less than 40% of its food, and buyers are rejecting broccoli because it's too big? According to the article I'm not the only one who sees a problem with that - a fledgling company named Vegetable Equality is on the job. I wish them success.

A little aside - this reminded me of a strange fruit-eating habit that I've noticed in Japanese people. They peel all their fruit. Not just oranges and bananas, but apples, peaches, grapes - you name it. I know that's not exclusive to Japan; some people don't like fruit skin. But everyone seems to do it here. When I asked a friend about it, she answered "because of chemicals." But isn't that why we wash fruit before we eat it? There are a lot of valuable nutrients in fruit skin, including vitamins and anti-oxidants - seems like a waste to me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bowing there is half the fun

I'm back, after a brief hiatus where I learned how to speak Russian (and subsequently lost it in a poker game), here today to talk about manners in Japan.

After spending ten ("juu") days in Japan ("Nippon"), it's safe to say I became an expert ("expertashiwaru") on Japanese manners. If you learn nothing else from this blog, know this -- the Japanese like to bow. A lot. Pass a friend on the street? Bow. Cashier hand you your change after buying violent comic book porn? Bow. Someone just bow to you? Bow. I was very happy with this system, as I've been bowing all my life. You see, when I was a young little Tiembi, I didn't talk much. No high-fives, no boistrous greetings to friends...I prefered a subtle, silent nod. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was an entire country out there mainly known for their subtle, silent nodding!

Okay, okay...not all bowing is subtle. Different situations call for different degrees of bowing, it seems. I noticed three distinct levels of bowing. When a cashier handed me my change, I'd fire off a Level 1 nod -- quick nod, barely any neck movement. If I was introduced to someone new, I went for a Level 2 nod -- bowing a little deeper, but nothing crazy or flamboyant...I just threw a little more neck into it. I never got to utilize a Level 3 nod, which is where you bend at the waist, bow deep, and probably close your eyes. I figure bowing at such a degree is reserved for receiving a college diploma or beating the original Mega Man without dying once.

But enough about bowing. We all know the Japanese like bowing. In regards to manners in Japan, what surprised me were the little things I take for granted here. Like sneezing. While on a train, the woman next to me sneezed; my brain must've been on autopilot, because I turned to her and said "bless you," despite not even knowing if she spoke English. Apparently, she didn't. She looked at me for a moment, then apparently got embarassed and quickly turned away. Hoping to clear up the matter, I turned to the beloved blogger, Mr. Blue Shoe, and asked how to say "bless you" in Japanese.

"They don't say that here."
"Then, what do they say?"
"Oh...well, maybe I'll start the trend here."

As of this posting, blessing sneezers has not caught on in Japan. Yet.

I also noticed a lack in male chivarly. Though my experiences were limited, I saw nary a door opened for a lady. In fact, walking into a grocery store, I held the door open so that the woman behind me could walk in, and it was like she could not bow enough to express her gratitude. I think if I helped carry her groceries to her car, I could've gotten a marriage proposal out of it. And speaking of carrying...while in a Costco (a wholesale warehouse that, yes, exists in Japan too), I saw a woman carrying two items -- a giant can of coffee, and a roughly seven month old fetus in her womb. Her husband? He was walking a few steps ahead, staring at the aisles, with his hands in his pockets.

That's not to say all Japanese men are inconsiderate bouchedags. Certainly we have our fair share here in America. But, sad to say, enough of these incidents occured that I couldn't help but take notice. For a society that has roughly 418 ways to apologize (133 of which don't require words), I was surprised that the notion of male chivalry never caught on. It's no wonder the Japanese women seem to adore us Western boys. Let that be a lesson. If you go to Japan, hold a few doors, carry a few bags, and the ladies will be bowing out of the palm of your hand.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Denizens of Japan #3: Giant Robots

I'm sure for many people, the mere mention of Japan conjures up images of skulking ninja and noble samurai. And of course they are integral parts of traditional Japan, but we must not look only backward. We must also look forward, to the future! Do not forget that Japan is the land of the giant robot (or you may not be prepared when our metal overlords make their rise to power).

From Transformers to Zords to Gundam, Japan has long cultivated a fascination of these monstrous machines both at home and abroad. Very recently, a life-sized Gundam statue was erected in Odaiba, Tokyo. South Korea is building a giant robot, as well (Thank God it's not N. Korea, or it would probably be functional and atomic powered).

But where did it all begin? Most likely right here in Kansai, in the city of Kobe. The first manga to feature a giant robot was a series called Tetsujin 28-go (鉄人28ー号) - that's Iron Man #28 in English. It was created by a man named Mitsuteru Yokoyama, while he was living in Kobe. Tetsujin #28 was the result of a Japanese project conducted during World War II to create a super robot as a trump card, and assure a Japanese victory. Fortunately for the Allies, there were 27 failures. The 28th model was a late success, being completed just after the end of the war. With no war to fight, Tetsujin #28 was put to work fighting criminals and (apparently) other giant robots. The show has been redone a few times and has even had a stint in America, although redubbed "Gigantor."

Personally I think the "Gigantor" theme is catchier. Anyway, Tokyo isn't the only one with a giant robot. In honor of Yokoyama, Kobe has constructed a giant Tetsujin #28 statue in a park near Shin-nagata (新長田). I went to check it out the other day, as it was scheduled to be done by the end of this month. Unfortunately the scaffolds were still up and the smell of paint was quite strong. Luckily, it's just about finished.

Just another picture of the day 9/24/09

Or three, actually. Before anyone says "Wow, these are great!" and then boos me when they find out - yes, they were taken with the color swap visual effect. The trees and grass were so damn green at this park that they were perfect for this little tool.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just another picture of the day 9/22/09

An assertive ad at Osaka station.

High School Music

The other day I attended my high school's annual band concert. Throughout the school year and even during vacation, band members can be heard after school practicing all around the school grounds. And they practice hard. I'm talking hours a day, every day, for months. These concerts are the culmination of their efforts. Unfortunately, I was only able to stick around for the first half of the performance, but I liked what I heard. Here is a clip of their first piece, and my favorite of what I stuck around for. It's a selection of pieces from the movie "Kiki's Delivery Service," which I've never seen but have heard good things about.

I just want to say again that these kids are really impressive. I think they practice a lot more than American high schoolers, and it shows. That's not to say that American high school bands are necessarily inferior (I enjoyed my school's and my sister's band concerts, as well), but...well, that's not a discussion I want to delve into now. I'm just proud of these students. If they don't sound excellent, the fault lies with my camera, not with them.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Curry Cup Noodles Commercial

Via Japan Probe. This commercial gave me a good laugh.

Basically the dude is just singing the name Korochan (not sure what that is) Curry (Cup Noodle). He adds that that's all he wants to say. The girl comes in and sings that since it's a commercial, it might be a good idea to add that it tastes good, too. He replies that he's so confident that he won't mention that (he only needs to say that name - it's that good).

Personally I don't eat this stuff. I buy the brand that's like 20 yen cheaper.

Just another picture of the day 9/20/09

I'm not quite sure this product is exactly what it claims to be.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just another picture of the day 9/19/09

Here's some stuff

Well, Silver Week has begun. That is, we're now at the start of a 5-day weekend. I have to teach on Thursday, but have taken Friday off, which means only one day of work in the next 9 days. I expect to do some blogging, but please forgive me if I slow down slightly - I may be running or lazing around quite a bit, as well.

Anyway, here are a couple cool links for today:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boys and girls

I've noticed that in Japan the genders tend to be somewhat segregated. Guys and girls don't seem to hang out in mixed company as friends in the same way or with the same frequency as in the States. They don't tend to mix unless romantically involved or thrown together circumstantially (a circle, club, organization, etc.). Of course I'm generalizing, but the difference from back home is noticeable.

The effects of this behavior sometimes spill over into the classroom. Of course there are boys and girls who are friends and who have no problem talking to each other or joking around. Sometimes, though, I've noticed when doing pair work some co-ed couples have trouble. Today, for example, the students were practicing a dialogue in pairs. They were told to partner up with the student next to them. Two pairs of boys and girls wound up partnered, and they didn't seem to know how to handle it. I noticed them just sitting there, looking shyly at their papers and not speaking to each other. I went over and asked them in Japanese what was wrong. None of them answered - all they could do was look at me (the boys managed to smile coyly). I wound up rearranging them so the two boys were paired as were the two girls. Problem solved.

Still, seems rather silly to me. I went to an all-boys high school, so I can't exactly relate, but I don't remember having any problems talking to girls in class before or after that. Is this a common phenomenon in other countries, or just here?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A pleasant morning surprise...

So I get up this morning, go through my usual routine, and then head out to jump on my bike. I'm just about to turn the corner around the building and hop on, when I come face-to-face with this.

My first thought, after my heart slid down my throat and back into my chest cavity, was "Holy $%&^ that's a big, creepy spider!" And, as you can see, it was blocking my bike. Unbe-friggin-lievable. This thing wasn't here yesterday. Must have been some night.

Anyway, I grabbed a rock and tore down half its web, careful not to get closer than I had to to the infernal arachnid. Incidentally, when I came home today, all that remained was a pile of weeds on the ground. The landscaper or whoever must have come by for his yearly destruction of the jungle that is the building's little front yard. Good timing...hopefully the spider won't be back, but I will remain vigilant. Man, I hate these things. Not as much as I hate deer, though.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just another picture of the day 9/16/09

Warning: Explicit Content

Well, at least this one makes sense...aside from that oddly placed period.

Japan: King of Convenience #1

You know, Japan is such a convenient place to live that sometimes it can be really easy to forget how inconvenient a place it is. In this series I want to share some of the more convenient elements of living in Japan (日本の生活).

On of the things that I think the Japanese have really gotten down well is fast food. Sure, they have McDonalds and KFC, and all that jazz, but that's not what I'm referring to. No, I refer to the ticket restaurant. Usually they are little joints with long counters and bar-stool style seats that specialize in noodle or rice-bowl-based fare. My favorite haunt is a chain called なか卯 (Nakau), and mainly offers curry, udon, and soba.

First, you walk in and find the ticket vending machine. Decide what you want and insert your money. Wow, you're almost done!

Place your ticket on the counter and wait for the waiter or waitress to take it. Then play with your cellphone or look around at all the other weirdos in the place. After a couple minutes, tops, your server will place your food in front of you. Bon appetite.

At Nakau, they give you a complimentary glass of green tea-tinted water when you sit down. At many places, they also place several pitchers of ice water at each counter so that you can serve yourself. As I drink a lot of water when I eat, this is much appreciated by yours truly.
When you're finished, just get up and leave. No need to clean up after yourself, you lazy slob. I like to thank the servers for the meal as I leave, but most people don't seem to say anything.

In my experience, many cafeterias in Japan operate by this ticket vending machine system, as well.

Have you eaten at this kind of restaurant before? If so, did you like this style of service?

Denizens of Japan #2: Shika

The symbol of Nara, the old capital, deer (or 鹿) can be found throughout Japan. In Shinto, deer were thought to be the messengers of the gods. Graceful and swift, these elegant creatures...nah, I can't do it. My experiences in Japan have soured me on the species. Screw deer.

As you can see in the picture above, everyone always wants to pet and feed the deer. "Ohhh, they're so cute." Yeah, until they bite your friggin hand off, eat it, and then come back for more. Seriously, I've never gotten close enough to a wild deer in America to know if they're any different, but the deer here are mangy, scruffy, perpetually hungry, and often mean. They're like goats with slightly more charm. The people in the picture were all too happy to buy those stupid deer wafers that you find for sale around Nara, but shortly after they ran out of the animal snacks, the deer started trying to get into their bags. I pitied them somewhat as I watched, but serves them right for feeding the damn deer. It's not uncommon to see a deer trying to eat a plastic bag someone is holding, or attempting to lick some poor kid's ice cream cone.

My derision for deer was most fully formed by an experience I had at Miyajima - a beautiful island temple right off of Hiroshima that is, unfortunately, a haven for these animals. When the tide goes out from the island, people go down to the beach to look for clams and oysters. As a friend and I were walking along, we noticed that some careless individual had left his bags unattended at the edge of the beach, and a deer was beginning to riffle through them. Being the thoughtful young men that we were, we ran over and tried to shoo the deer away. Result: we almost got kicked in the face. Not only was the dear not scared of us, but it started stomping its leg in our direction. It may not sound that scary, but a stomping deer is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you've never seen a deer stomp at someone before. I hadn't. We backed off, our chivalry and courage dying just short of driving us to tangle with the cervine island-hobo. Oh, you won that day, deer. But you gained more than my surrender; you won my undying contempt.

There aren't many creatures I outright dislike over here. Deer are one of the few.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just another picture of the day 9/14/09

This place drives me nuts. Every time I see it I wonder "For...who?" Students? Travelers? Hobos? Sasquatch? Unfortunately, I will never know.

Just another random thought 9/13/09

Today I went for a hike in Kyoto with a group of outdoor/hiking enthuthiasts called the Ramblers. It's a Kansai-based group that organizes monthly hikes and is open to everyone. Today about 50 people showed up, which I'm told is a little smaller than usual. I was struck by the fact that of the Japanese I talked to (there were some foreigners, too), most of them seemed almost fluent or at least at a conversational level of proficiency with English. Random experiences like these make me skeptical whenever I hear someone voice the opinion that Japanese are not good at foreign languages. Based on my personal experiences, I would beg to differ.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Osaka Thai Festival 2009

For the past seven years, every summer Osaka has played host to a Thai Festival in Tennoji Park. 2009's incarnation was held last weekend on the 5th and 6th of September. Honestly I really don't know much about Thailand other than I like their food, they have like biweekly political uprisings, and their alphabet looks to me a lot like Sanskrit. A friend of mine is studying the Thai language, however, and I have no quarrels with expanding my cultural horizons, we went!

It was a nice day and the festival showcased some great aspects of Thai culture.

There was Muay Thai (Thai boxing).

There was food. Oh boy, was there food.

There was beer.

There was traditional Thai beating the sh*t out of some kid (don't worry - the fight was rigged and the big guy wound up throwing the match).

There was even a big papaya walking around.

There was also a lot of stuff for sale, and some freshly imported Thai pop singers and idols, but I didn't waste my digital film. It was a pretty fun time. If you think you might enjoy it and you live in the Kansai area, I'd recommend dropping in next year to check it out.

Just another picture of the day 9/11/09

(Photo by Gobbler)

There's something very wrong about this...I'm just not sure what exactly.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Take that, Mr. James!

Or rather, take that, McDonalds.

A friend of mine asked in a comment a while back what I think of the whole Mr. James thing. While I'm not so completely turned off that I'm going to boycott McDonalds, I think it was a stupid and insensitive move on their part, and an unwise marketing decision. Perhaps some Japanese find it funny, but I think the more publicity this campaign receives, the more negatively it will reflect on McDonalds. A large, multinational corporation such as McDonalds with such extensive experience should know better than to run a campaign based on a stereotype (especially a negative one).

The Daily Yo-ji just released a spoof of Mr. James promoting Mos Burger, one of Japan's leading burger chains. They also sent a letter with their proposal to Mos Burger. Pretty funny. I really hope someone from Mos decides to pick up this counter-marketing plan and run with it.

H/t to Japan Probe. Here's the link for the video, if you can't view it embedded.

Just another picture of the day 9/10/09

Sometimes nothing hits the spot like a nice, cold bottle of For.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Denizens of Japan #1: Jorou Gumo

It's that time of the year again. Time for...Jorou gumo![/日本語]

These little buggers freaked me out quite a bit last year as I ran into them on several occassions. They errected some webs near the cafeteria at my high school, and seemed to rule quietly and creepily over a stretch of highway in the mountains near Nagasaki. Luckily the couple times I lived in Kanto I was never around for their life cycle. They seem to pop up around late summer and hang around until late fall or early winter.

From what I can tell, they aren't horribly dangerous. They're venomous, but not life-threateningly so. But man, are they creeeepy. I mean, look at those colors - black and yellow, and females have red blotches on their abdomens. That's the kind of spider that in my mind bites you and gives you mutant superpowers. Or kills you.

Autumn is my favorite season in Japan, but I could certainly do without these little guys.

A noodle riddle

What's the difference between Cup Noodle and Soup Noodle?


About 40 yen

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bees, meet badass

Ok, so they're not technically bees, but still - this guy rocks. I thought this video appropriate considering the amount of space I've given bees and hornets lately. Watch to the end - the hives are of ridiculous size!

H/t to Japan Probe.

Ok, Japan is weird, but...

You won't get any denials from me - Japan can be a strange, strange place. Where else do grown men wearing suits look at pornographic comics on the subway without attracting uncomfortable or disapproving looks? Where else can you pay to sit at a cafe and be waited upon by a maid dressed in Lolita goth who addresses you as "master," or perhaps a girl who pretends to be your sister? Collectible girls' bikini butts? I could go on and on...

However, having just been home in the States for a couple weeks, I experienced another Smurfs moment. So yes, this is ready-trodden territory, but I feel a compulsion to share. Ever been to a Renaissance Fair? Well I have. Now, I'm somewhat of a nerd - I play a lot of RPGs, I like a good fantasy novel every now and then, and I know my way around D&D - let's just get that out there. Renaissance Fairs can be good fun, but I've never been the type that can jump in and fully enjoy myself. I guess it's just too close to LARPing for my comfort zone - a line that must never be crossed. I actually have friends who have sworn blood oaths to release me from my mortal coil should I ever slip so far from reality. But I digress. Japan has some weird $^@%. So do we in America. I think these pictures can speak for themselves:

If you don't think that stuff is weird, you are a product of your native society...and a freak. Oh, and if I offended any LARPers that may happen to be reading, I cast a charm of forgetfulness on your ass, so, uh...don't scroll back up - this post isn't worth reading, anyway.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Just another picture of the day 9/03/09

Tee-hee...This Indian restaurant in Kobe was quite good, despite the awkward name.

Bee Update

Well, despite all the forces of the universe working against me, I made it back to Japan last night. I won't go into all my grievances, but let's just say I'm never going to voluntarily fly United again.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that an unwanted guest had moved in next to my washing machine. I checked out the hole this morning and didn't see anything inside, so I'm hoping the boric acid did the trick. If it turns out that she was just out getting breakfast and is still residing with me, I'll keep you aware of whatever further measures I need to take.

I will do my best to update over the next few days, but bear with me - this jet lag is rough.