Friday, July 31, 2009

Tiltshift

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Just came across this website that allows you to "tiltshift" photos. I had never previously heard that term, but it's pretty cool - makes things look like miniatures. My first experiment looks more blurry than miniature, I think, but it's an interesting application I will probably play with. I bet this would look really cool with a shot looking down at the Osaka skyline. I'll see if I can get on that one of these days (I have to drag myself all the way to the Umeda Sky Building for that).


It looks little...! Kinda...!
Tiltshifted bridge in southern Kyoto.

2-D Love Update

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I recently posted about the noted economic exploitation of a demand for companionship in Japan. In my post, I referred to a New York Times article about a subculture of men who choose to "build relationships" with 2-D women as opposed to the real variety. Adamu, of Mutantfrog's Travelogue, also commented on the article, questioning some of the facts presented in said article. Apparently the author has refused to comment, so we shall see how the NY Times handles the accusation.

Just another picture of the day 7/31/09

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These signs can be found throughout my neighborhood. Two things. One: why is the dog embarrassed? Have you ever seen a dog ashamed to take a crap? Me neither. Two: I can only assume that swirly glob of mayoinaise(without stink lines, I might add) is meant to be doggy doo. Who decided white was a good color for poo? Oh well. To tell you the truth, I'm a little more surprised that the poop isn't smiling. I hope you had as much fun with this one as I did. I enjoyed using multiple words for $*#%. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to employ turd, dookie, excrement, or ca-ca. Incidentally, the Japanese word for it is くそ(kuso) ふん (fun) or うんこ (unko). Enjoy.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stay Sharp

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No matter what country you decide to visit, you should do your best to familiarize yourself with the native laws and customs. It seems obvious enough, but many people (myself probably included) are guilty of slacking when it comes to this important travel safety tip. Granted, though - laziness aside, it can be a difficult thing to prepare for. What are you going to do, seek out a legal codex for said country and search for laws you might violate? No, but it's also not unreasonable to consider certain objects and substances. I'd be careful about anything weapon-related -- guns, knives, bats, battle axes; chemicals; drugs -- be they medicinal or otherwise; etc. Chances are an old Columbian gentleman ignorantly bringing his "medicinal" marijuana into the US is not going to get through customs.

Likewise, be careful what you bring to Japan. This Japan Times submission recounts the story of an old man who surrendered his pocket knife to a police officer and was promptly tossed into the big house (or small house, since everything is miniaturized in Japan). This isn't the first time I've heard this kind of horror story. Honestly the guy probably just always carries around this pocket knife and it never even occurred to him that some countries don't allow them. They're useful tools, and kind of ingrained in American culture (yeah, we do love us some weapons). Looking at this story, the arresting cops do seem like major $%@*heads. If things went down the way this article presents, they saw a foreign tourist, decided to bait him, and got themselves a legal arrest. Yay for them. If he had lied, he probably would have gotten away with it. The lesson here, clearly, is never tell the truth. Ever.

But seriously, think twice about what you're bringing with you when you go abroad. For example, some cold medicines are not allowed in Japan because when broken down into their components they can be used to make meth. They're serious about drugs and weapons here.

Besides, if you're gonna bring a knife, do it right.





This isn't a knife.










This is a knife.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Only in Japan 7/30/09

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You may recall a certain post a couple of weeks ago about a certain invitation that was too early for my tastes. Well, it was an interesting day. My friends and I wound up making udon noodles. Well, we helped. Well, mostly Rachel helped while Joe and I alternated between watching supportively and sitting on the couch. We did stomp on some dough, though. Oh yeah, we stomped it good.

Here's a token shot of me doing a little dough cutting. Prior to this, we placed the dough in plastic bags and stepped on it. I guess it was comparable to kneading (although we did that, too, earlier). After the cutting, the dough was boiled in 出し (dashi), which is soup stock usually made from fish. It came out quite well, but took something like 3 or 4 hours to make.

The meal was also...interesting. We started around 1 and just sat and ate noodles and sushi until about 4 or 5. There were some awkward conversational points, which I will attempt to briefly and diplomatically recount.

First off, let me paint a broad brushstroke by saying that while Japanese people are generally very polite and the Japanese language is built around ambiguity and diplomacy, the Japanese can be very unabashedly blunt and forward, to the point that confrontation can easily arise if the situation is not carefully handled. At one point, one of the other guests asked my friends and I (in Japanese), "Which would you rather work for - a Japanese company or an American company?"

I looked at my friends and inwardly groaned. I could have said "both are good" or something vague and diplomatic, but I was already pissed from an early dialogue.

"An American company," I replied. The man's smile wavered a little. "Japanese salarymen (office workers)," I started.

"I'm a salaryman," he interupted, subtly warning me.

"Yes, well, Japanese salarymen work too much," I finished. "Japanese companies are very strict. In America, we don't work as much overtime. In fact, some companies limit overtime."

He asked about our working hours in America, and tactfully explained that his impression of an American businessman is someone who works 12 hours and eats hamburgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Growing weary of the conversation, I conceeded that maybe there were some people like that, and that certainly the top businessmen at many companies would work many hours and maybe eat a lot of fast food. Eventually we drifted into another topic.

The earlier conversation that really got me annoyed was (of course) political. Let me lay my cards on the table - I am a conservative. I like to consider myself fairly open-minded and open to discourse, though. One of my best friends from college is perhaps one of the most liberal people I know. The trick is to be respectful and not let it get personal.

When Obama came up in conversation, I knew where things were headed. I did my best to smile and nod and say nothing, but apparently they detected a glint of skeptisim in my eye. Or maybe it was the uncomfortable glance I shot at Joe. "You don't like Obama?" asked my VP and his wife. "Why not?" I did my best to explain in Japanese, but lost my composure and resorted to English, which they could basically understand.

"Well, I don't really like politicians in general," I started, trying to keep things light and simple. "Basically I think Obama made a lot of promises that he can't keep." I was being charitable and simplifying my views to the max. "I take it you like him?" I asked with a smile.

"Well, he's a lot better than Bush," remarked the VP. Catching my look (and entirely missing the look his wife was giving him to indicate that a change the topic might be prudent), he returned the question. "You like Bush?" I then muttered something about not loving him, but liking him better than Obama.

Now specifics aside, that exchange really bothered me. If they had disliked Obama, I may have felt more comfortable, but I still would have been bothered. Is it only common knowledge in America that politics and religion are taboo? Or did they just assume that all Americans are of one mind, and that since we elected Mr. Obama, everyone loves him? And what do they know about American politics, aside from keywords and concepts like "Iraq" and "hope"? Most of the Japanese people I've met only seem to know two things about Obama: He's black and "Yes we can." Regardless, I felt it was rather rude of them. I didn't come into their house and start knocking Aso or Abe or Koizumi. I would use an example of a marginally more popular Japanese politician, but there aren't. And God help me if I started talking about the emperor. Sure, American government has and had its problems, but how about cleaning your own house before telling us ours needs to be cleaned, or at least making sure it's a little tidier than ours? Don't even get me started on Japanese government and politics...

Anyhow, my friend and I vented our frustrations afterwards over a pizza. At least the pizza was good, and predictably the waitress was cute.

Blown out of the water

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So apparently it's big sporting news that Phelps lost out in the swimming world championships this week. Japan's Junya Koga took the gold for the men's 100 m. backstroke, as reported here.

What gets me, though, is how there seems to be debate about whether Phelps lost because of his swimming or his swimsuit. Why is this even an issue? Excerpt from the article:

Biedermann is the world champion.

"The suits make a difference," he said. "I hope there will be a time when I can beat Michael Phelps without these suits. I hope next year. I hope it's really soon."

Phelps can't wait.

"It's going to be fun next year," he said, "when swimming is back to swimming."


Wha? When swimming is back to swimming? If it were about the swimsuit, then why the hell didn't Phelps just wear the better one? I mean, maybe I am oversimplifying, but it seems to me like Phelps must have been aware of the fact that his suit was subpar, if that were the case. Or did he jump out of the pool after losing and exclaim "Ohh, that's why - look, that dude totally has a better suit than me!"

In any case, as the article notes, Phelps was served a hearty portion of defeat. Chew on that, Americans...!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just another picture of the day 7/29/09

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I peeked inside, and this joint is basically just a cafe with a small adjacent playroom rigged with some tubes and a ballpit, 'a la McDonalds. Kidxile: For when your kids are driving you *$@#ing nuts.

Capitalism at work

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When there's a servicable market in which demand exceeds supply, supply will increase to meet demand - it's basic economics. Where there's money to be made, someone will be there. Now I'm trying not to be too critical here - every society has its problems, America being far from the exception - but it seems that in Japan there is a great amount of loneliness, which is driving a demand for companionship. Some fill this void with anime idols or what-have-you, but many choose to attend host or hostess bars. These are establishments of varying degress of quality where one may go to pay for the company of (ideally young and attractive) young men or women.

On the lower end of the scale are places called "Snacks," which, despite their name, don't really have snacks. You can get dried squid or something, but for the most part you pay to drink while talking to some middle-aged woman, with some @$$*#& singing karaoke two feet away from you.

The middle and upper-end versions of Snacks (usually just called host or hostess clubs) cost increasingly more to attend, but the youth and beauty of the women keeping you company increase as well. Working at such a place is quite a lucrative (and competitive) job, I've heard. And with the recession and current decline in the amount of available jobs, such employment is very attractive for some, it would seem.

Hmm...you know, teachers aren't exactly rich here, and foreigners are quite popular. I wonder if...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Being "Otaku" is not cool

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For those of you who don't know, an otaku is someone with a deep interest, often in something like manga, anime, video games, or the like (I have heard of sports otaku, too, so it can be virtually anything). I've known foreigners to label themselves freely with this term - a Japanese badge of pride, in their minds. Hey - it's just like a nerd or a dork, right? No, not quite. I think it's important to clarify this for as many people as possible. Try coming over here or encountering a Japanese person in your respective country and telling them "Hey, I love anime. I'm a real otaku - har har!" They will not laugh. If you're lucky they will chuckle or smile uncomfortably. Otaku has a different connotation in Japan - an extra strong anti-social element and the likelihood of unhealthy obsession. This guy is a good example of an otaku.

I don't know what you're into - maybe you really like anime, and you go to all those conventions: Otokan and Comicon and the whole shibang. Wear your "Otaku" t-shirt to those if you must, but please realize the true meaning of the statement you're making about yourself. Remember that the word is Japanese. Would you wear a t-shirt that says, in English, "I am someone who escapes from reality through my particular flavor of obsession"? Probably not.

Or maybe you would. Freak.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Just another picture of the day 7/25/09

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I think most of us already know that Japanese manga are weird, but here's something further. My favorite part is the two exclamation points.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pool and Pith

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I just got back from playing pool in the city with an American friend and two Japanese teachers. Almost a year ago we tried to ask them if Japanese people trash talk in competitions or sports (we wanted to learn some choice phrases) and they seemed unsure what we meant. After tonight I can tell you, Japanese people do trash talk in their native language, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fun with words!

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The last two days I helped out at another high school school (since classes are already over at mine). Throughout each day I cycled through about six small groups of students, leading discussions and playing a few games. Their English was better than that of the kids at my base school, but still - talking and playing games with people who are learning English (especially teenagers) can provide a, um...unique source of fulfillment.

One of the games I played with a group of five girls and one boy was "Two Truths and a Lie." You're probably familiar with it, but if not, it's a game in which each person has to tell the group three things about him or herself, two of which are true and one of which, following the name of the game, is a lie. The girls did well, using stock phrases like "I like _____" and "I have _____."
The boy's three were a little different:

1. I have gone to the toilet two times today.
2. I have to go to the toilet right now.
3. I have two toilets in my home.

There you go - toilet humor is big amongst teenagers all over the world. In case you were wondering, the lie was #2.

News to me

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So Burger King is launching a new product in Japan, apparently: the Angry Whopper. I was surprised because I wasn't aware of the existence of Burger King in Japan. Not big news to all of you, perhaps, but it was somewhat exciting for me.

"Burger King? Here?" I exclaimed. "I must find one!"
And I began to scour the internet for any trace of a Burger King location near me. Alas, the trail was a short and disappointing one: Burger King Japan's website has a section listing all its store locations. As you can clearly see, all of the stores are in Kanto (the region around and including Tokyo). No Whoppers for me, angry or otherwise.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Holding the line

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It's good to see that Japan has been taking a hard line with North Korea, just like the U.S. and the U.N. The Japanese government recently lodged a formal complaint with the North Korean government for firing yet another missile into the Sea of Japan. Take that, Kim Jung Il - Japan is displeased with you!

I suppose I ought to be fair to Japan - at least there's not really much they can do. Their SDF (Self Defense Force) doesn't compare to the U.S. military. I mean, I guess they could launch natto back at North Korea, but that would probably just make things worse, wouldn't it?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Only in Japan 7/19/09

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Of course by "only in Japan" I mostly mean "not in America." Maybe many other countries exhibit similar behavior, but I don't have the luxury of such knowledge to draw comparison.

Anyway, it's Sunday and I woke up at 7:00 a.m., and not for Mass. The vice-principal of my base school invited me and a couple of other ALTs from his previous school (who I am, coincidentally, friends with) to his house today. I'm not quite sure what we will be doing, but there are rumors of noodle making. We are to meet at the station near his house at 9:00 a.m. I can't come up with any other explanation other than that Japanese people detest sleep. So many perfectly good hours in a day; it's not that I don't appreciate being invited to his home, but wouldn't a more middlish time of day have been more pleasant? Apparently not.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Just another picture of the day 7/17/09

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Memory of Green

Japan is a land of dichotomies. Kyoto, the city of ancient temples and peaceful greenery, stands in stark contrast to the neighboring Osaka, just to the south. This photo was taken just inside the entrance of the Fushimi Inari shrine - in my opinion, one of Japan's most impressive.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter in Japan

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Well, Danny Boy, anyway. I just saw the new Harry Potter movie last night (don't worry, I won't talk about it at this venue) and so the mood struck me to post this interesting bit: Daniel Radcliffe visiting a Japanese girls high school. His reactions are funny but quite polite.

Just another picture of the day 7/16/09

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Most of the times I've spotted ninja(s?) in Japan, they've been too agile to photograph. I caught this one, though - a ninja hanging out at Himeji castle. Not his lucky day. Careful, though, kids - he's still a ninja, and they're dangerous. Look - I think he's about to do something lethal.

(Mere fractions of a second after snapping this picture he flipped out and killed everyone. Even those kids, you ask? Especially those kids.)






[Edit: I don't know why the date and time won't show up at the top of this post, but I chalk it up to Blogger's formating being a poop eater]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Behold the insanity

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Ah, fermentation - the process by which we have so many wonderful alcoholic beverages. For many of us, I think I am safe in assuming, the alcohol in these potent potables is often the ingredient that makes them more appealing than, say, a soft drink. I mean, sure, taste matters - don't get me wrong. Sometimes on a hot day or after eating something really salty, like an entire pallet of squid jerky or a bag of potato chips, a nice, cold beer just hits the spot - am I right?

Before I make my point, and there is one coming, first allow me to concede that I'm not exactly the exemplar of the beer drinker. Sure, I enjoy imbibing a few from time to time, but for me, especially here in Japan, it is more about having something alcoholic that can go down quickly and smoothly. Back home my friends made sure I was nursed at the humble bosoms of the likes of PBR, Coors, and Natty Light. Micro brews and high quality labels have never been my thing, for I am the anti-beer snob (Ben - my wallet salutes you). So it is with this background and in this spirit that I question the sanity of those who buy products such as this. No-alcohol beer? Why even bother? I suppose you may tell me it's about taste, but then I may tell you that you're full of it.

In case you don't care to read the article, Japan's Kirin Brewery just recently busted out what it claims to be the world's first really 100% non-alcoholic beer. And according to the article, it's selling fairly well, especially among truck drivers, pregnant women, hospital patients, and "beer lovers on long-distance golfing trips" (wtf?). Yeah, that's an important demographic right there - good capture.

But what did I expect from the country that sells little baby cans of beer?
Seriously, I think they're like 75 ml - that's roughly 2.5 oz. I guess they're pretty serious about their beer being accessible to everyone - even those women who get drunk after like two sips (over half the Japanese female population).


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jukin' Japan: Episode 8

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Here is Episode 8 of my vlog series. It was a little rushed as I haven't put out any episodes in months, but I hope it's interesting nonetheless.

Welcome

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Hello hello. Welcome to JADJ. Hm...that's not quite as catchy as I'd hoped.

Let me start off by explaining a little bit about why I'm creating this blog. Essentially, this is why.
Japan conjures up different images and impressions depending on who you ask. Maybe it's video games, anime, sushi, beautiful ladies in kimonos, or pervs copping feels and reading porn on the subway. Yeah, Japan is all these things and more. And less. Yeah, they eat fish and rice in Japan; just as we eat bread in America. Is that all we eat? No.

For many people, Japan is an exotic and mysterious land, perhaps even magical. Those bold and lucky few who set out from their homelands to visit the land of the rising sun are an adventerous bunch, aren't they? They must be having crazy adventures every day. Because...because they're in Japan!

Well, yes and no. Japan truly is a unique and interesting place to live. It is a place that values harmony, perhaps above all else, and that is the image they try to sell. But when you look past the surface, this place is a circus. I want to share that with you.

That said, I'm going to contradict myself: Japan is a normal place. Not every day is an adventure; at least not from my vantage point. Things could be different for those who speak no Japanese, have little international experience, or who go out daily seeking their fortunes. What I'm going to relate here is Japan from my point of view. This is Japan as I see it. But feel free to apply your own filter and draw your own conclusions.

I hope this blog will become a place for those who are curious about life in Japan and perhaps a resource for those who seek to follow the path of the expat and live over here.

I encourage comments and questions. Look for more in the coming days. Thank you!

-Paul