Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Being a Better Blogger Pt. 2

There are a lot of articles out there about how to be a better blogger, and they'll give you some useful tips like "write some posts ahead of time and save them" and some not-so-helpful tips like "write good posts." But in this article I'm going to tell you what I think makes for being a successful blogger.

As promised, I need to qualify that. By successful, I don't just mean "has a big readership" or "makes money off of ads." Successful means different things to different people. But for our purposes here, I'm defining "successful" as well-trafficked and well-respected in the (blogging) community.

1. Give and take

Read other blogs and websites, and reference or link them when you can. Not only does this give you more credibility as someone who is well-read and involved in what you're talking about, but it gives you the chance to possibly build a relationship with fellow bloggers. Not only is it ok, but sometimes it's a great idea to link to an interesting post on another blog and give your readers some of your thoughts on it. Your readers will be grateful to find another good website and your colleague may be glad, as well. I know I always am!

Just as we all love to see our own names in writing and hear our names spoken (don't try to deny it), bloggers love to see their posts mentioned. Most likely they will remember that you tried to give them a boost.

2. Participate!

Bolded and with an exclamation point. Not only should you be participating (commenting) at other websites, but you should especially be involved in the dialogue going on at your own blog. If you have comments enabled, you should be replying to comments, end of story. It feels good to receive a comment, but it also feels good to receive a reply. If you're not going to engage your readers, how can you expect them to engage you?

Personally if I comment at another blog two or three times in a row without receiving a reply, I quit commenting (and sometimes reading).

3. Post often

This one is probably pretty self explanatory. I think most bloggers who stop posting for weeks or months do so because they have either given up or don't have time to write. But just realize that if you stop posting for weeks or months, you will lose readers, and you will have to work to get them back. Last year when I went home to America in November my posting rate fell off significantly. As you'd expect, I lost readers.

4. Build and maintain your site

I've become convinced that in some ways blogging is like high school. For one thing, looks matter. Sure, there are some good blogs that look kind of plain, but they have the personality to make up for it. Conversely I've seen a lot of nice-looking blogs with content that is plain uninteresting. Some of those same blogs don't even update very often. And yet they get a lot of views. The good-looking blogs can get away with a lot. Now if only I had the cash for a professional makeover...

Along the same vein, I've seen way too many websites with unattended sidebars and blogrolls. I do check out the blogroll links of websites I like. It's disappointing and lowers my opinion of said websites just a tad when only half the blogs are still up and running. Sometimes I'll click on a link only to find it broken or to be taken to a blog that hasn't been updated in two years. Personally, with few exceptions I'll delete a blog from my list if it hasn't been updated in more than a couple months. They can get back on, but they have to be active!

Your links and sidebars are part of your blog. If you have pride in your website, you should maintain it.

5. Focus on quality

When your post is an article, make sure it's neat and well-presented. Spread out your content and make it easy to read. Try to avoid huge blocks of text, and be careful about rushing your writing. Avoid grammatical and spelling mistakes (I'm guilty of often pushing the "publish" button too quickly, myself)!

6. Be visual
See? Don't you feel relieved by this picture?

Along with #5, it always helps to have at least one picture to break up the monotony. It can be kind of a put-off to see nothing but a sea of words! Use pictures you've taken yourself or something online. Just be sure not to steal someone else's property. Wikimedia Commons is a nice resource for pictures of all sorts of things.

7. Develop "your thing"

Every good blog needs a distinguishing characteristic. This could be exceptional quality, a unique voice, a theme of some kind, or just a special atmosphere that you create. Your blog's personality, if you will. To take a couple of examples:

Chris, at his blog, Confessions of a Badboy in Japan uses an almost in-your-face blend of unapologetically telling things how he sees them, and exploring some of the more mature themes about experience in Japan that most blogs avoid.

For a different flavor, there's Kirk's Jamaipanese - a blog that explores both life in Jamaica and a burning interest in Japanese culture.

Both of these blogs have found "their thing." They have distinct personalities, and I gather that's one reason why their readers like them.

8. Pay it forward

I don't believe in karma, but I do believe that ultimately what goes around comes around. I've talked a lot about plugging fellow bloggers and being a part of the community. Let me stress that I don't mean you should ingratiate yourself to others so that they will help you get more readers.  But what I'm saying does include cooperation and empathy.

I've been on both sides of the fence. Not too long ago I emailed both Kirk and Loco, asking for some blogging advice. I received thoughtful replies from both, and Loco tried to plug me, as well. I've also gotten much-appreciated support and feedback from Orchid.

We've also been referenced by other websites on occasion. Let me tell you, I never forget when someone has plugged or promoted JADJ, and I look for chances to get them back in the future. People remember this kind of thing, so don't be stingy!

For those of us who have been around a little while, it can be hard to remember exactly what it was like starting up. I can imagine it must be even harder for the "A-Listers." But just imagine, when you were just a fledgling startup, how much would it have meant to you to get a link from one of the "big guys," and maybe gain a few extra views. A lot.

I'm not saying you should be linking willy-nilly or to websites with little or not good content. But just try to be aware that you could make a big difference for someone with great ability or ideas who just can't attract many readers on his or her own.

9. Use the tools available to you

I resisted for as long as I could, but after a while I realized that by not using resources like Twitter and Facebook, I was depriving myself of valuable ways not only to get JADJ out there, but to consume more media about Japan and discover other worthwhile websites and blogs about Japan. Twitter is a great tool for finding information and learning about any topic, provided you're following the right people.

As for how to effectively promote, I'll have to get back to you on that. I still haven't discovered the secret of how to get people to retweet my posts. But I've seen other bloggers' posts retweeted to hell - that means those links are circulated to hundreds of readers.

While this is by no means a comprehensive article on "how to be a successful blogger," I hope you'll consider my advice. There is no secret or straight and clear path to becoming successful, but there are certainly things you can do to help yourself and others on the way.

What do you think is most important? Is there anything you would add?

Being a Better Blogger Pt. 1

Blogging was a lot more difficult back then.
Blogging can be hard work. Blogging can be frustrating. And growth can be slow. But you know what? I love it.

Before the advent of the internet, there weren't a lot of practical ways to make yourself heard on a large scale unless you it was your job (i.e. you were a journalist, politician, etc). Nowadays, with tools like Twitter, Facebook, and all manner of blogging services, all you really need is a computer, internet access, time and patience.

But that said, those are just the minimum. If you want to grow and get your stuff out there, you need to consider some other things, too.

In this post, I want to talk a little bit about why I'm writing this and about my experience with this blog. In part 2, I'm going to offer my advice for building up your blog. Careful, though - it will be qualified advice. But more about that later.

So first off, what prompted this reflection? Well, honestly I've been kind of angry lately. Not so much "punch someone in the face" angry as "what am I doing wrong?!" angry. Why? Because as I mentioned, growing a blog takes time.

Now I don't want to tear anyone down, especially those who have worked hard to be successful, but sometimes the appeal of the bigger and more popular blogs in my niche eludes me. But that is a good realization to have - I don't always know what kind of content people enjoy. Something for me to work on.

Then there are the big "A-List" blogs - those guys who have made it to the top of Google search and make part of their living off of ad revenue. Yet so many of them link or reference fellow bloggers about as often as Scrooge allowed Cratchit to throw another piece of coal into the furnace. Don't go looking for crumbs there! 

Perhaps equally frustrating, however, is finding new yet popular blogs, which have only been started in recent months (or less than a year ago) that have more readers or subscribers than I do. It's not that I begrudge their success - it's that I begrudge the speed of their success. 

So I did the mature thing. I complained about it to my friends. And I lamented the unfairness of life. Why, God?! Why don't you send more readers to my blog?

Then I decided to shrug it off and turn that energy towards more productive outlets. 

Earlier I was reading some articles over at Coppyblogger and came across one that struck a chord. It's called "Why No One Links to Your Best Posts (And What to Do About It)". I tweeted the link and got a couple thoughts from Anna and Ashley, and afterwards decided to write this. 

For those of you who are new to the world of blogging and/or don't have the inclination to read the article, it basically says that the fundamental cannon of blogging, "Content is king," is flawed. Yes, you need to post interesting content if you want to attract and keep an audience. But that's not all there is to it. You can have some amazing stuff, but if no one's aware of your site, it may as well be trash. You need to attract readers from somewhere.

According to Cb, the trick is networking. That's something I've been working at for months (at least), but not because I wanted more traffic. Well, at least not mainly for that reason, though I'd be lying if I didn't say that's not added motivation. The real reason is because there is a community of bloggers, no matter what you're writing about. I guarantee you that there is some group of dedicated people writing about whatever niche you're blogging about. 

Whether or not you realize it, you're a part of that community. Sure, there may be some minor competition here or there to attract readers or cover a certain story, but these people are your colleagues and could be your friends. They often have similar experiences and interests and would be happy to talk to you. Often the insights and ideas that you share can benefit both of you.

Most bloggers are number people, even if they won't admit it. It's especially the case when you're starting up, but not significantly less so later on - the numbers can lift you up or break your spirit. Gaining subscribers, seeing your views go up over time, getting comments - these are gold to bloggers. I know those things still make me feel really good, so it's my policy to try to pay it forward where I can.

In my case, it's been almost two years now since I started up this blog. We have almost 50 subscribers and, though there are good days and bad, receive about 100 unique views a day. Although it's hard to measure, I'd say we're in the lower middle section of the totem pole that is the Japan blog-o-sphere. Growth is slow, but definitely observable. And I'm doing my best to refine our content and provide interesting reading/viewing material.

It may not look like it, but I've spent a lot of time on this site. Hours and hours and hours. Not only writing, but playing around with formatting and themes, researching and trying to implement widgets to make the blog more attractive and accessible, and doing my best not to only be a good member of the J-blogging community, but to make this blog somewhat respectable within that community. As you can probably tell, on all counts I've met with mixed success. But I'm still trying, and I'm not going to stop any time soon. 

So while I'm by no means a leading authority on blogging success, there are definitely some important lessons I've learned in these two years that might be of interest to some of my fellow bloggers. 

If you'd like to know what I think makes for a successful blog, come on back for part 2!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

J-Word Play #15

It's been a while, but the last try didn't go so well. I'm still pondering a good prize...I believe the gift card I was going to use last time has expired, so apologies to all. Anyway, in the meantime, here's one that's a little different from what we've done in the past, and may be more accessible to those with minimal Japanese language knowledge (though you may still need it here).

The question is: When is "meat day" in Japan?

Please send your answer to blueshoe [at] along with your website or blog.

If you're right, I'll post your name and plug your site next week. Good luck!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lonely Japan: Tonkatsu

This is part 5 of Lonely Japan, a series written by a friend of mine who used to live in Japan. Read the previous parts here.

Slept a lot for the next two days and stayed away from alcohol. Didn't leave my room much, except when they were serving food downstairs. Tried cleaning up the clothes that were all over the place, but only ending up consolidating them into a large pile in the corner. Changed the blade on the boxcutter with some of the replacement blades that came with it because it was starting to rust. Found some little bottles of liquid antabuse that I had forgotten about. Thought about taking it, noticed it needed to be refrigerated and put it in a drawer.

By the third day I was feeling well enough to leave the dorm, which was good because the kitchen was closed and I was on my own for food. Got on my bicycle sometime in the afternoon and rode off in the direction of the nearby supermarket. Streets were mostly empty. Saw an elderly woman leaning on a concrete wall near an empty playground on the way. Her back was bent and she was carrying a few bags. Not sure what was in them. She must have been waiting for something, though I don't remember there being a bus stop there. Her eyes were fixated on the sidewalk in front of her. She didn't look up as I passed.

Locked my bike to a pole in front of the store and walked inside. They usually had good prepared food that wasn't too expensive. If you waited till the store was almost closed you could usually get it for a significant discount. It wasn't near closing, but I needed to eat. Was trying to decide between some tonkatsu and a hanbagu bento when I noticed a man and an older women shopping not far from me. The man was speaking in a voice that was louder than I was used to hearing from Japanese people, and he moved in awkward jerky motions. He turned towards me and it became apparent that he must have had down syndrome. The woman noticed I was watching them and looked over at me. She smiled and said something to me. I think it was “good afternoon” or something about the weather. I don't remember exactly. I bowed my head, forced a smile and quickly left the aisle. The mans eyes followed me as I walked past. Not sure if he continued to watch me as I grabbed three tall cans of beer and checked out. I didn't look back.

Took my time heading home. Drank two of the beers near the empty playground while watching the shadows from the equipment grow. Drank the third near a park with large sign that said “no sports”. By the time I got back to the dorm the sun had almost set. Sat on my bicycle behind the building where the locks were and watched it go down the rest of the way.   

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Just Eat It: A Kinkan Primer

Where I'm from in the United States, there is a wide variety of fruits available at most grocery stores, not to mention the exotic fare you can find in specialty and Asian markets. But as you might imagine, there are some fruits and vegetables common in Japanese supermarkets that you may see rarely or not at all back home. Take, for example, the kinkan (金柑).

Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is a kinkan?

Kinkans are the Asian variety of what you may know as kumquats. While they seem to have originated in China, they've since been spread to Japan and a number of other Asian countries and certain parts of the Middle East and U.S. As you might suspect, they're citrus fruits, and actually are more hardy than many of their relatives. Their flowers usually bloom in the fall and the fruits develop during the winter. In some countries (including Japan), they are a folk remedy for colds.

The first time I remember seeing these in a Japanese supermarket, I thought they must be dwarf oranges or something. I mean, in size order there were the grapefruits, oranges, mikan, and these things, and they all look similar. But they're so small; it doesn't look worth the trouble of peeling them for the amount of fruit you'd get. Luckily, that's not how they're eaten...

How to eat a kinkan

Just pop one in your mouth and chew. Seriously. While kinkans are also used to make marmalade and jam and in recent years have become increasingly used as drink garnishes or desert ingredients, traditionally they are eaten as is, like grapes. Alternatively, I have read that some people just eat the skin and discard the inner fruit, as counterintuitive as it might sound. Why? Because the skin is the sweetest and most aromatic part of the fruit. The inside is actually rather bitter or tart and sometimes described as "savory." Eating the skin and fruit together can be enjoyable due to the contrasting flavors. Just be careful about eating too many - I found them rather acidic, and my tongue was in a little bit of distress after eating 6 or 7 in one go. Oh, and watch out for seeds!

Nutritional Information

To the left is a little fact chart from on kumquats, which for all intents and purposes are the same thing. As you can see, one kinkan contains a fair amount of Vitamin C, and small amount of Calcium, Iron, Vitamin A, and fiber. They also provide a little potassium. If you don't think your palate can handle enough of these to make a difference, fret not. As is the case with many fruits, a great deal of the nutritional value is found in the skin. That means if you like you can just eat the sweetest part of the kinkan and still enjoy most of the health benefits.

Kinkan juice is also loaded with about the same amount of acid and Vitamin C as lemon juice, so I would imagine it would make a suitable substitute. You know, if you want to squeeze something over your seafood but for some unimaginable reason have a kinkan but no lemons available.

According to some sources, kinkans also contain beta-carotene and Vitamin E, though I didn't see any indications of that on

Yay or Nay?

I only just tried these out recently, and I have to say I'm a little disappointed I never ate them before. While they're not my new favorite fruit or anything, and I don't plan on snacking on them regularly, I think they make a nice little treat or novelty on occasion. But that's just me. You may find you really enjoy them, and fruits are certainly a good and healthy snacking choice. Final words: Just eat it!

More Information

Although there isn't exactly a spate of information about kinkans on the internet (yet), they have been covered by some other bloggers (Japan Newbie and Heenai Heenai for two). And since they are a variety of kumquat, there's also a lot more information that can be found under that designation. Here are my sources for this article - feel free to check them out:
Wikipedia (キンカン)
Wikipedia (Kumquat)

Name the movies

Crank it up! This one is for you movie buffs out there. Think I may have mentioned this in an earlier post, but I'm tickled every time I see this scene (and the rockin' music doesn't hurt).

Can you name both the movie this screen capture is from and the classic it's giving a nod to?

Update: Highlight the bars below to see the answers.

As Tokyo Five pointed out in the comments, this is a reference to This is Spinal Tap, with an amp that goes up to 11. The scene capture is from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as Shadow said. In this particular scene, the Sex Bo-Bombs battle the Katiyanagi Twins, who at one point turn their amps up to 11.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seasons' Greetings

Beginning of the school library newsletter from the beginning of the month:


(Roughly) Greetings from the library committee. It's finally starting to get warmer, but pollen has begun to fill the air, too. Are many of you suffering from allergies?

This one is from the beginning of this week's newsletter from the school health center:


The cold winter is finally coming to a close, and the warm sun is beginning to return. 

When writing a letter or greeting in Japan, it's customary to comment on the weather or the season. I've been noticing this a lot lately, and thinking about it a bit. On one hand, I think it's kind of BSey. No one needs to tell you that it's getting warmer - you already know. And in cases like this season, it can be a little asinine. People have been writing these little "it's spring!" intro's for weeks now, and though the days are in fact getting longer and a little warmer, the friggin winter just won't give up. In fact, it's not finally warm here. Tomorrow is slated to be around 40 F, give or take a few degrees. Spring my ass.

On the other hand, although I think we're a little more "straight to business" in the West, we have our niceties, too. If you're writing to someone you haven't spoken to, you usually ask them how they've been, even if you aren't interesting in long-winded answer. It's just being polite. This is similar, and it's actually kind of easy to fall into after you've been here for a while. I imagine when I go home, I'll be commenting on the weather more often than I used to. And that's fine. It's just the canned parts of these greetings that usually annoy me. Sure it's spring, but it's not warm yet. So how about an intro like this:


Greetings, everyone. Spring is finally coming, but the coldness of winter is still here, isn't it? The pollen and cold are tough, so let's do our best!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jori Jori Bomb

One of the things I find really interesting about Japanese is the amount of onomatopoeia used on a daily basis. Sometimes it's frustrating as hell, as there are a ton of words that sound really similar. And often their meanings are variable or difficult to express with just one word or idea.

For example, there's ボロボロ (boro boro), which means tattered, worn, or raggedy.  Example: ボロボロの経済 (battered economy). Then there's グシャグシャ (gusha gusha), which can be "squishy" or "crumpled," but is also often used to describe messy hair (髪ぐしゃぐしゃ). 

Be careful not to mix up ボロボロ with ゴロゴロ (goro goro), which expresses either a rumbling sound or the idea of something or someone just lying around (ゴロゴロする means to hang out doing nothing). Swap the "o" for "u" and we have グルグル, expressing the feeling of spinning (グルグル回る - go round and round).

Anyway, I still have trouble using a lot of these even though I hear and see them all the time. One I've become adept at recently, however, is じょりじょり (Jori Jori). This is the sound/feel of a scratchy surface, like sandpaper.* Or my chin if I haven't shaved for the day. Yoshie told me the other day that my unshaven chin is the third most dangerous weapon in existence, right after nukes and napalm. I've dubbed this the Jori Jori bomb, and threaten to employ it unless all of my demands are met. No more stalling - you have one hour!

Horrible to behold!

*Update: As Daniel points out over at How to Japonese, the Yahoo Dictionary definition of じょりじょり is:


So more properly, じょりじょり is the sound of shaving (which can still be a rather rough, scratchy sound). 


Funny - this is the first sign of any deviance from normal behavior I've seen here in Kansai. Everything else in the store was normally stocked, including the bottled water. But as for the toilet paper, only a little of this fancy stuff on the top shelf and a couple of cheap packs on the bottom that looked like they would be none too gentle where softness is greatly appreciated. Hey, I have no problem wiping my butt with Sistie (though the brand name is disconcertingly close to "sister").

I doubt there will be any major panic buying or hoarding down here, but I guess this is what to look out for. As the Ikedas and the Salaryman family would probably tell you, toilet paper is an important commodity.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Go WEST! (and south a bit)

I spent the long weekend in Kyushu; not because of the disaster, but because I hadn't seen Yoshie in a while. By the way, power to the Village People, but I hate that song.

Although I read at one point that Japanese spinach is now radioactive and that Tokyo's water supply has been contaminated, on the whole the little news I read while away seemed positive. Supplies seem to be getting in to Tohoku as infrastructure is slowly rebuilt, and the immediate situation in Fukushima is improving with time. Japan will soon be making the transition from crunch time to long-term recovery. There are a lot of people who have been displaced by the disaster, and they'll need to be clothed, fed, and housed...not necessarily by the government, but for sure there will be many who are too old or too young to make their own way. All most of us can do it to continue to offer prayers and charitable contributions.

For those indirectly or minimally affected, the return to normalcy has already begun. And so long as we don't forget what's going on in northern Japan, that's important. Life must go on. 

As for me, I had an interesting time down south. While visiting a local mall, we were passing by one relatively unremarkable "party" store, when some familiar packaging caught my eye. Star Wars action figures! I have some of these packed away back home, for when they become worth something. Just wait and see. At first glance, a world of possibilities began to swirl through my mind. 8,000 yen for one of these things?! But my scheming was foiled just as quickly. All these figures were signed by the actors who played the respective characters, and some of them were special editions with the actors' portraits on the packaging. What the hell? This is the kind of thing you'd expect to see in a comic book store - not a random mall shop in Japan. I snapped off a couple photos before noticing the "no photos" sign. Oops.

Flies like a kite!
To my delight, they were also selling an R2-D2 trashcan, and this "Parasail Kite" Darth Vader. You know, from that scene in Star Wars where Darth Vadar parachutes out of the Death Star. Ah, I kid. Though maybe they've got that scene lined up for Star Wars in 3D. Keep squeezing, Lucas - think there may be a few more drops of blood left. The depressing thing is that I'm sure there are plenty of people who will pay to see the first three (chronological) movies with an added dimension (so would I if that dimension were plot). But this is quickly devolving into nerd rage. Maybe I need another blog for that.

We also visited the onsen at a hotel where Yoshie works part-time. Apparently some onsens use cannibalized sake-brewing barrels as tubs. They're quite luxurious, I assure you. Think the part I liked best was the fact that it wasn't one degree below scalding. It was hot, but comfortably so; though I suspect that's not due to the fact that the tub was a huge former barrel.

Yesterday evening we checked out the new Hankyu department store in Hakata (Fukuoka), since it's right next to the station and Yoshie hadn't been there yet. It was packed to the point of me getting annoyed at all the people for not having anything better to do but mill around a damn department store. I was a little distressed that we were delayed for lunch and wound up not arriving 'till about 3:00. But just about all the restaurants had queues 5-10 people deep! People had seriously been waiting like two hours just to try out new restaurants. We found a Mexican restaurant but quickly decided we didn't want to stand there for 30-40 minutes for the equivalent of $4 tacos, so we found a nearby Okinawan place where we only had to wait for 3 minutes. The portions were a little small, but the taco rice was good! Also, I discovered that plants can have eggs:

海のぶどう(sea grapes)

Oh, one last leak of nerdiness - I had the chance to watch some episodes of Firefly while Yoshie was at work, and damn...not perfect, but pretty damn good. Leave it to me to get into a half-finished, canceled TV show. At least they made a movie.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Helping out

There's an excellent post over at Tofugu today about how you can help Japan and the disaster victims. In addition to providing some useful links, Koichi is running a promotion for his online Japanese language learning system, TextFugu. He's donating 110% of all proceeds to disaster relief in Japan. That was enough for me to buy a lifetime membership for my sister, who has wanted to learn Japanese for some time now. If you want to donate to the relief effort anyway, why not consider gifting TextFugu to a friend who is studying or wants to learn Japanese? Birds, meet stone.

There are a number of efforts going on to help right now. As many Japanese are rightfully proud of how well Japan is handling this catastrophe, I'm also proud of how quick and eager both the U.S. and foreigners of all stripes in Japan have been to give whatever aid they can. There are a number of efforts underway to provide money, supplies, housing, and moral support to the victims in Japan. I'll be posting some resources at JADJ's Facebook page, but here are some I've come across:

(Some of these are mentioned in the above Tofugu post)

- There is a campaign starting up by Jason Kelly called Socks For Japan, which aims to send unused socks to those people who need them most right now.

- Second Harvest Japan is currently accepting food and other supplies as donations to the disaster victims.

- Hope Letters is a letter-writing campaign that began on March 11th, to send letter of support to victims. Morale can also be an important resource.

- CouchSurfing has set up a group for those willing to put up refugees.

- National AJET has set up a Facebook-coordinated effort called Man Up For Japan to donate to the relief effort. It's particularly targeted at asking JET members to donate a portion of their next paycheck, but everyone is welcome.

- Update: Rene from Shoujiki Shindoi is organizing Project Hitori Jyanai (You're Not Alone), another effort at boosting morale through positive messages and photos.

There are also a large number of organizations and charities accepting donations. You can donate through iTunes and, I've heard. If you have the will, there are many ways to help.

If you have any other websites or resources to contribute, please share them in the comments!

I think after today, unless there are any major developments, I'll try to get back to posting as normal.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Intense Video

Over at Gizmodo, watch as someone keeps just above the tsunami as it comes in, moving to higher ground every so often so as not to be swept up. Cars, trucks, and buildings washed away, with a few bystanders being unable to do anything but look on. Sad, scary stuff. Continued prayers and well-wishes to everyone living in the affected areas.

Via Gizmodo, intense tsunami video here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Earthquake, three days later

It's a little difficult to write lately. As Haikugirl writes, life goes on. Still, with all that's going on, I just can't bring myself to write about anything lighter right now. And it's been tough to write about what's happening, too. Some of the larger J-bloggers have been pretty active both on their own websites and on Twitter, keeping people abreast of what's going on ( @survivingnJapan , @gakuranman , @mutantfroginc are some good ones to follow). I haven't done much "real-time" reporting or blogging in the past, so I find myself wanting to write but instead caught up in listening to and watching the news and Twitter.

But for the moment I do want to present some of my thoughts and what's been going on here.

I know some people are still worried about me. That's fair. In their shoes, I might be, too. But things are comparatively normal here, even if transportation, energy, or shop supplies are temporarily affected (though they're not at this moment). There is still an ongoing situation with the nuclear facilities in Fukushima, but I think it is being a little overblown by foreign media. Via @joe4therecord, here's a blog hosting a message from MIT scientist Dr. Josef Oehmen, who says there is little to worry about. I did look into iodine pills and haven't ruled out buying some, but it doesn't look like the amount of radiation released will warrant using them (especially given the distance).

Watching the news is really sobering and moving. Fellow blogger Sixmats is still unaccounted for. Yoshie's aunt is from Sendai and is really torn up. But recently Yoshie told me she is proud to be Japanese. And she should be. Despite all that's happened, I've seen no accounts of looting or other wrongdoing. Everyone seems to be cooperating and trying to help each other. That's more than can be said of some other large disasters. 

The most amazing thing I've seen on the news so far, and perhaps the most moving, was the firsthand account of a woman that was being helped by the SDF. They carried her to a makeshift aid station and asked her if she was ok and what happened. Clearly very shaken up, she explained how she had opened her front door just as the tsunami was approaching, and was carried away by the water. She was able to grab hold of a fallen tree and clung desperately to it. She lost her hold but was able to get onto some floating tatami and held on for dear life. Man, I can only imagine what that must have been like.

There's also a lot of frustrating/angering stuff going on. Some people are tweeting every time there's an aftershock. I don't really blame them, but these aftershocks are going to be happening for a long time! I've also seen both calls for prayer and calls for people to not pray (and do something instead). I regard the later messages as being rather inflammatory. But people are people. Also, the captain of the Sea Shepard wrote a poem about the tsunami being Neptune's revenge upon Japan. Seriously, what a piece-of-crap thing to say. For someone who defends whales, this guy seems to have little sympathy for human life. Joe has vowed to eat nothing but whale from now on. 

With a few exceptions, this has been another experience of human beings pulling together in the face of tragedy. The support and sympathy pouring into Japan from abroad has been extraordinary, and the Japanese people are being admirably brave. Loco draws some comparisons to 9/11, and I can see why.

I hope that soon I'll be able to return to normal posting...but for now this is just too fresh. If you want to read more, I recommend the blogs and twitter accounts I mentioned above, plus I believe Japandra is compiling a list of blogs with firsthand accounts of the quake and tsunami experience.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Big One!

Breaking: There has just been a pretty big earthquake in the northern region of Japan. The epicenter was reportedly in Miyagi-ken, which is a ways above Tokyo, and registered a 7.9 8.8 8.9 9 on the Richter Scale. There are tsunami warnings for the northern prefectures, and I'm seeing that the Philippines have just issued one as well. This is definitely the most intense earthquake I've ever felt, and Hyogo is pretty far away from the epicenter. According to Yahoo Japan's earthquake reporting service, Hyogo  received about a weak 3 on the Japanese scale, whereas Miyagi was a 6 or 7.

Maia, the ALT sitting next to me, was the first to vocalize it. As we sat there, the teachers around us began to take notice and comment, kind of amusedly, about it. The main quake lasted about 3 minutes here, and I still feel kind of queasy.

Twitter and Facebook are going crazy (if you happen to be following or friends with people living in Japan), and apparently there's coverage of the tsunami damage going on as we speak. I'll write more if anything major develops.

Update 15:51: It's been about an hour since the initial quake. I was just upstairs watching the news with some other teachers. At least one major fire broke out in Odaibai, Tokyo, but it seems to be under control. In Miyagi, there appears to be massive flooding, with cars being carried by the water. Also significant tsunami damage in Iwate. Tsunami warnings have also been issued along all of the Pacific Japanese coast line, although decreasing in severity further south. Around Hyogo the warning level is orange, on a scale of yellow-orange-red.

Update 16:04: According to NHK World, the SDF is being deployed to assist affected prefectures. This is one of the worst earthquakes in Japanese history, on par with the great Hanshin quake of 1995. Tsunami warnings have now been issued for parts of Russia, Guam, Taiwan, and other Asian countries.

Update 3/12/11 00:08: Things are still a mess up north. I've been in periodic contact with a friend of mine in Tokyo, and he's stuck spending the night at his office. Hasn't been able to get in touch with his girlfriend, so quite nerve-wracking. The cell phone networks still appear to be down. I can only imagine what people must be going through at the epicenter. If you're religious, pray for them.

There's a Wikipedia page up and running...apparently this is the biggest earthquake Japan has experienced. For more information about what's going on and for links and resources about how to find people, I recommend visiting Surviving in Japan blog. There's also a video up of the quake in Tokyo at This Japanese Life.

For those of you who understand Japanese or who just want to see what's going on in the news here, this is a live stream.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Green Tea Time

Green tea. Sitting there, all smug.
I don't really like green tea. There, I said it. But it's one of the most popular beverages and flavors in Japan, so if offered some tea or a matcha (抹茶) flavored pastry, I suck it up and act like I'm delighted. There are exceptions - soft cream, Kit-Kats, I'm looking at you - you rock!

Recently, though, I've been trying to drink it at work. A lot of it. Why? Because it's healthy, and it's free. Let's start with the healthy part. It's no secret that drinking green tea has been linked with a variety of health benefits. It can reduce stress, lower the risk of certain cancers, increase mental awareness, and speed up your metabolism, among other things. Part of this is due to the fact that tea in general is pretty damn healthy. Another part is that the antioxidants found in green tea are particularly potent. The last part is, well, uncertain. In reference to taking green tea containing supplements, WebMD says:

"I don't think it can hurt to drink it. I'd focus on dietary sources rather than supplements because there are several compounds in green tea that might need to be consumed together. We just don't know yet,"[...]

So really there's a mystery element to green tea. It's good's good. Now as the WebMD article notes, green tea isn't going to cure anything, but certainly doesn't hurt to drink. At the moment I'm trying to drink a lot of the stuff so that I can acquire a taste for it, as I have with so many other consumables.

Luckily for me, right now I'm in a situation where I can drink all the green tea I want at no cost! At work, anyhow. Why is that? Well, at each of my schools, we have the Japanese equivalent of a water cooler. It looks like this:

Serves tea and also hosts the school's computer network.

I know what you're thinking "Oh, so instead of water coolers in Japan, they just havee green tea coolers. Figures." Phff, no. Racist. They have water, too. Err...well, the one at my part time school has cold water. This one only has hot water and hot green tea. Decisions, decisions.


While green tea is largely considered to be a very healthy drink, there are a few things you should keep in mind. I wasn't aware of these things, but I want you to be. It's my thanks to you for reading. Really, thank you!

  • Green tea and caffeine - I've heard that green tea doesn't have caffeine. This isn't quite a statistic, but it might qualify as a damn lie. The truth is, it's variable. There are many factors that play into it. Younger tea leaves contain more caffeine. First infusions contain more caffeine. Cold tea generally has more caffeine than hot tea. Tea from teabags often has more. Man, I'm glad I learned that. That could be why I've been feeling particularly antsy the past few days. For more information, see this Wikihow page on how to minimize green tea caffeine. Update: As Ashely points out in the comment section, tea still contains a lot less caffeine than coffee, so it's a great alternative if you're trying to cut back.
  • Tea stones! - You should be fine so long as you drink in moderation, but certain components of green tea can lead to kidney stones.
  • Green tea with milk and lemon - You can, of course, drink green tea plain, but studies have shown that adding milk actually decreases its beneficial effects. Conversely, adding citrus such as lemon helps the body absorb more antioxidants. Maybe I should start bringing lemons with me to work.
There you have it. While this is by no means a comprehensive guide to green tea, I hope you learned something you didn't know before. I know I did!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My friend Steve

This post is a submission to the March 2011 Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted this month over at Haikugirl's Japan. Thanks, Ali!

The theme of this month's Matsuri is "Faces of Japan." I thought a lot about who I wanted to write about, and ultimately decided to break the rules of the theme. Sorry, Ali! I was supposed to write about a Japanese person in my life, and while there are plenty of people more than deserving of a blog post, I decided to write about a non-Japanese friend of mine. A friend named Stephen.

I have a knack for photoing people as they blink.

Living in Japan, I've met a lot of amazing people, both Japanese and non. Going through some old photos on my computer the other day, I came across a few of Steve and it jogged some memories. I'm really glad to have met this guy. Let me tell you a little about him.

Steve and I both entered the JET Program in 2008 and were placed in Hyogo-ken, right between Osaka and Kobe. I think we first met at the orientation for new JET ALTs at Yashiro (lovingly called "Yashiro Prison" by all who attend), where we were roommates along with two other guys. Incidentally, one of them was our very own Joe. I remember my impression of Steve was positive right off the bat. He was often grinning, friendly, and positive, though not in the same way that wide-eyed Japanophiles tend to be.

Over the months we met up a few times to either grab a bite or go hiking, and though we didn't hang out often, I felt like the time we did spend together was quality. I know this is sounding more and more like a man-crush, but I just mean he was both a fun guy to hang out with and the kind of person who one can learn from. And no, he's not dead or anything, but I'm gonna keep talking about him in the past tense anyway.

If he were a professional photographer, this would be his bio picture.

Our hikes to Fushimi Inari in Kyoto and Mt. Rokko near Kobe are great memories. He was a big fan of hiking and also into photography, so he set up a number of these scenic hikes and always issued an open invitation to anyone interested. Now that I'm thinking of going hiking once or twice in the spring, I regret that I didn't go with him more often.

931 meters up, baby.

On our hikes we had some good talks. He really was an interesting guy - originally a businessman working for Nike (apologies if I'm mistaken, Steve! I remember it was a footwear company), he decided that he wanted to try something different, something more fulfilling. While a lot of people would (and do) just stay where they are and be miserable (hey, at least they have a paycheck), he decided to go out there and try something different. So he went to go teach English in Japan. I remember him telling me that he used to be a stressed out person, often getting angry and worrying all the time. One day he decided that he didn't want to be that kind of person, and committed to becoming happier and more positive. He accomplished that, but still managed to maintain a somewhat cynical edge, which became evident especially when talking about business or politics. That's what I saw, anyway, and I greatly admired that about him.

Steve only stayed on for one year - his then girlfriend, now wife, was waiting for him back home. Though I wish I had gotten to know him a little better, we do still keep in touch, though infrequently. Regardless, I'm glad to have met him. He's one of the friends I've made here in Japan, and was a kind of mentor to me, as well. If you read this, Steve, thanks for all the advice and friendship. It's a small world - if our paths ever cross again, let's have a beer. It won't be at an udon shop at the top of a mountain, and it may not even be Japanese beer, but it'll be in good company!

This post is also a submission to Budget Trouble's Show Me Japan. Check it out for more posts about Japan! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The vitamin C is a lie

Emptor caveat. Or "buyer beware."

Many Japanese (and foreign) people I've met consider Japan to be a pretty healthy society. Physically, anyway. People here exercise and eat well. But for such a supposedly health-conscious people, it's a little startling to realize that nutritional information doesn't seem to be very important to most people here. Whether this is the cause or result of the fact that it's often a bit confusing or unavailable, I'm unsure. But then, nutritional information doesn't seem to be as heavily regulated as it is in some countries, particularly the U.S. This was surprising for me, given the bureaucratic nature of so many elements of Japanese society.

But what exactly am I going on about? Japanese food has nutritional information labels! Well yes, it generally does. But most people don't know how to interpret it, and the labels don't do you any favors. I've already written about how to understand Japanese nutrition labels, along with a warning about serving sizes and hidden sugar. You should also be careful about overly vague labeling.

Let me compare two products so you can get an idea what I mean. On one hand, we have Japanese Vitamin Water, which clearly advertises on the label: "1000 mg of Vitamin C." I'm not too crazy about the amount of sugar in the drink, which is disguised by reduced serving size information (I don't have one available, but off the top of my head I believe it's about 4.5 grams of sugar per 100 ml, with a total of about 500 ml pr bottle).

Then we have Fiber 7500 Plus Vitamin C, which says that it has 7500 mg of fiber per bottle. When I saw this drink, I was a little hopeful. Fiber and vitamin C, huh? Well, it's  カロリーゼロ (0 calorie), so no sugar. If I don't get cancer from this thing, I could be onto something here. But if it sounds too good to be true... usually is. Looks like Fiber 7500 Plus Vitamin C packs between 16 and 84 mg of Vitamin C per 100 ml. Again, this is a 500 ml bottle, so we must multiply that by 5. That means there's between 80 mg and 420 mg per bottle. I'd say that's a pretty big variance. Ok, to be fair, all we really need is about 60 mg a day, though more Vitamin C never hurts (our bodies constantly use the stuff, but since it's one of the only water-soluable vitamins it can't be stored). So in that respect, this drink is adequate. But if you're looking to pump Vitamin C, like if you have a cold or something, you'd be much better off with either supplements or something like Vitamin Water, which contains about 2.3 - 12.5 times as much.

For those of you who aren't as interested in looking for and crunching the numbers for stuff like Vitamin C content, just be aware that vague labels are a reason for caution. You may not be getting exactly what you think.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Just Another Manga Monday #7

American Manga? Yay or Nay?

Every time I walk into a Borders, Books a Million or Barnes n Nobles I immediately head straight for the manga aisle. I can’t even control it anymore; it’s just instinctive. Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed some American mangas permeating the section…which I do not appreciate. I think the first title I saw that confused me was a World of Warcraft series. I guess there is a general assumption that anyone who reads manga is therefore nerdy and must be into video games as well. Next, I saw a Star Trek series. I don’t think it was too long after the newest movie came out. Once again, I was turned off and never opened it. Last year the newest craze in American manga was the Scott Pilgrim series *(though actually Canadian). I admit I was a little intrigued because my friends were so into it and it was rumored to have many nerdy references. Eventually I saw the movie, courtesy of my brother. I decided to give the series a read, but I was more curious to see why it is placed in the manga section as opposed to the graphic novel section.

Now, I don’t know if there is a definition of what ‘manga’ is supposed to be in the United States so I’m just going to go with what’s obvious to me based on years of experience. Words tend to change their meaning based on geography and culture so if you’re in Japan you can probably offer some different insights and I can’t wait to hear them. (For example I was thinking of the word ‘anime.’ In Japan doesn’t it refer to any cartoon, whereas in the states it would only be used in the context of Japanese animation?) Well, anyway, ‘manga’ to me is a Japanese style comic book, generally read from left to right, which follows certain themes (friendship, love, conquering opposition, etc.).

In reading Scott Pilgrim I tried to determine- would I consider this a manga?

Similarities and Differences:
Style. The most obvious difference to me was the artistic style. The characters are drawn in a more ‘chibi’ fashion I guess you could say- short, stout. Maybe this is because they’re *North American and fatter? The eyes are still drawn large but the style is just a little sloppier in comparison to Japanese books. It is not as inspiring or breath-taking to me. I wouldn’t consider it art as I would often consider the other manga that I read.

Ultimate Venus and Scott Pilgrim
Alichino and Chobits below

Content. The content is so very very different. I don’t think I’ve ever read a manga where a character is called an ‘Asshat.’ I guess that’s something a translator would never put in. Maybe I’m not reading vulgar enough manga to make the comparison, but I stick to my guns that the content is different. The sense of humor and references are very *North American. I don’t know if I can describe it any better than that; it would be like trying to describe British humor. You know it when you see it but can’t especially put it into words.

Themes. Friendship and Love. Finally a match! Based on the themes alone, I would put Scott Pilgrim into the manga category. The series is basically a gigantic love triangle. Scratch that.. octagon? Too many to count. But within the story exists the overlying theme of true love between Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers and the relationships with many friends along the way. Now I can be nitpicky here and point how completely different the dynamic in these friendships are between those of other manga friendships, but I was just happy to find a match. Unfortunately that is still in the back of my head. They’re so *North American about it. Sarcasm, making fun of each other, the prolific use of ‘your mom’ jokes…

In conclusion, I’m going to have to say that… whoever decided *North American graphic novels like Scott Pilgrim should go into the manga section is a complete Noob! The artwork doesn’t do the category justice and the content doesn’t fit the spirit of the genre.

If you liked the movie Scott Pilgrim though you should definitely give the books a read (there’s only six). Like all book/movie pairs there are many differences and you will be surprised.

* = Edited as of 4/08/2011

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pedestrian Rage

I'm taking a little break from my tonsil adventures to revisit an old topic I covered in my Four Biggest Aggravations of Japan. There has since been some rearranging and I decided my number four ranked aggravation has shot up to number one: "Nobody Pays Attention While Walking". Actually it shot way past one. Putting it on a list of aggravations is like putting Jack Nicholson from The Shining on a list of people with a case of the Mondays.

I'm a pretty happy guy. My emotions stay level and I never lose my temper. Yet whenever I'm outside and walking in Japan I am constantly angry. And not just a little T.O.ed, I'm talking a barely contained simmering rage. Why is this? NOBODY PAYS ATTENTION WHILE WALKING. Actually, that's not fair. I can't make such a broad sweeping generalization about a society. I'll be generous and say half the people don't pay attention while walking. Meaning 50% of the population are pedestrian inept, sidewalk novices, incompetent at strolling, and jerks. In video game terms, they have poor path-finding.

The other day I was making my weekly trek to Tsutaya to rent some DVDs. As usual, people weren't paying attention, but that's OK. When I see someone down the block walking towards me on one side of the sidewalk while they are engrossed in a novel, I always move to the other side. I don't mind getting out of the way of people with everything being equal. But there are some times when I refuse to move out of someone's way. One of those times is when a precedent has been set:

Diagram 1

As you can see in diagram 1, me and the Green Guy are simply walking down the block like two normal human beings about to pass each other. Jerk Salaryman isn't aligned with either of us, but that's OK. He can keep walking straight and we'll still be able to pass without trouble, though a bit close, or he could take a step over and fall in line with Green Guy thereby making this problem free. Green Guy passes me which set the precedent. Everyone now should walk on their left!

Diagram 2

I've been here long enough to know better than to assume people will simply use their senses to take in information, process that information, and decide on what logical action to take. So I looked at Jerk Salaryman to see what he would do. We briefly made eye contact at which point he ignored the precedent and did not take the only two options available. In diagram 2 you can see instead he fell in line with me and began to look absolutely anywhere except straight ahead. He exaggeratedly examined signs, looked straight up at the sky, straight down at his shoes, and in general made a big show of how he was not paying attention.

This is unacceptable.

Similar things happen every time I'm out walking but this time, for once I am sure, was absolutely on purpose. I refused to move over and continued to look right at him as he pretended to not notice that I existed. As we were about to collide he finally relented, looked at me, and stepped out of the way. I glared at him. And that was it. But that wasn't it! I was still angry! Angrier than I had been in a long time. And it was mostly from confusion. WHY DO THAT? Why purposely walk at someone, pretend to not pay attention, and try to get them to move out of your way? Why does this sort of thing happen so often? I replayed that brief couple of seconds in my head as I walked, this time grabbing him, shaking him, and demanding an answer. Why do you and your ilk do this?! I must know what thought process can end with trying to make simply walking down the sidewalk difficult!

Even if I had imagined the part in the beginning where we made eye contact and he really was oblivious to my existence, he still inexplicably moved to one side of the sidewalk without first checking if anyone was there. At best he deserves to go to foot-traffic court and lose his walker's license for such a grievous moving violation.

The most frustrating part about all of this is there is nothing I can do about it. I can't adapt now and purposely not pay attention. I'd feel like a jerk if I was always playing chicken to see who could pay attention the least. Also, not watching where you're going seems awfully dangerous.

Anyway, am I alone in getting angry about this? When I'm out walking I feel like the last bastion of sanity on the sidewalk but they say crazy people think everyone else is crazy so... maybe I am! Maybe people see me and say, "look at that maniac, using his eyes in order to avoid obstacles. What a loon!"

Please comment on my sanity below.

(I like turtles.)