Sunday, November 25, 2012

和製英語: T-Back

You might not think you'd come across this word very often, but believe it or not (and though I can't place any specific instances), this is one I've heard quite a few times. I swear it isn't part of my normal repertoire, though!

What the Japanese know as a "T-back" (Tバック) , we know as...

Yes, the noble thong. I guess the name is apt enough - not really much need to ponder the meaning of the Japanese for this one. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

(Married and) Unmarried Japanese Women

One of the social issues that Japan currently faces is a deflated birth rate. Combined with the country's aging population, this trend, if unaddressed, is going to cause some serious economic (and perhaps other) problems in the future. I'm not sure whether it's related to my own personal feelings and experiences, but for some reason I find myself very interested in this topic.

Recently I came across a couple of pages on Yahoo! Japan related to marriage in Japan. First off - a poll about how married couples met:

Honestly some of the results are a little depressing (as a single guy who'd like to get married at some point), but I don't know how these numbers compare to America. On the right side, the first question asks at what age you met your partner. For women, the average was 24.3 years old. For guys, 25.6. The number below that indicates what percentage of men and women met their partner in their 20's. 82.6% of women and 77.3% of men. The clock is ticking, I guess.

The chart on the left is pretty interesting, if only for #5. It lists the top 5 ways individuals met their partners. The answers are as follows:

#1. At work
#2. Introduced by a friend
#3. Met in school
#4. Gokon (these are kind of like group blind dates that have become a popular way to meet people)
#5. Social networking sites

Online, really? Japanese people have always struck me as very private about their personal information online. I'm pretty surprised that so many Japanese people have actually met in real life and gotten married after meeting online.

The second thing I wanted to share is an article about some findings on why unmarried women in Japan are unmarried. This article highlights the top two reasons why, the second of which strikes me as the larger issue:

#1. Don't have a partner (33.2%) [For example their workplace is filled with mostly women]
#2. Have a partner but "it's difficult" (24%) [Examples include "he isn't interested in marriage," "not enough income," and "don't like his parents."]

One revealing response matches up with something mentioned in a Sapio article I read a little while back (maybe one of these days I can get around to blogging about it, oi!). The respondent says that she wants someone who makes at least 6,000,000 yen per year. That's almost $73,000. Given today's economic climate and the earning potential of younger folk, that strikes me as a somewhat unrealistic expectation.

Not being able to find a boyfriend or girlfriend is a discouraging situation, and that seems to be the #1 case for unmarried J women. As for #2, there are definitely certain practical issues that should inform whether or not someone gets married. Money is a concern, certainly. But no situation is perfect, and personally I'd rather hitch my wagon to someone I love and who treats me well over someone making a couple figures more on her pay check. And although there are some who say "you marry the family," I also wouldn't let the prospect of bad in-laws deter me from being with someone I was otherwise crazy about. But well, each to his (or her) own, I suppose.

I'd be interested to see how these results compare with women from the U.S. and other countries.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heat Tech / Touch Support

One of my coworkers went to Tokyo for business last week (いいな), and he kindly brought me back a souvenir. Pictured above is a pair of Heat Tech gloves with タッチパネル対応 (touch panel support). Apparently we have these in the U.S. too, though I wasn't aware of the existence of this textile technology. Normally when you use a smartphone or tablet, the screen won't respond to your finger if it's encased in some kind of glove or other accessory (chainmail gauntlet?). In this case, some kind of special material (I assume) allows you to use your device while rocking handwear. Thanks Mr. N!

As a side note, when I was living in Japan I bought some Heat Tech t-shirts from Uniqlo and couldn't really tell any difference. How about you? Do you think the Heat Tech is legit or just a scam?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Guest Post: Grasping at Self Worth

The following is a guest post by Canadian author and comedian Bryan Maine. Bryan asked me if he could write a piece about his upcoming Kickstarter book, in which he taps into some intense experiences he had in Japan some years ago. Hats off to a writer and entrepreneur doing his best to make it happen. Good luck to you, Bryan!


Six years ago I was a Canadian university student in Tokyo for the summer with my then girlfriend and needed work.  My friend's father set up a job at a neighbourhood preschool for me within days.  I was weary, expecting to be the warden I rebelled against so strongly only years prior when I was an exchange student in a Japanese high school.  Preschool was completely different.  The children were bubbly and full of life.  I noticed if a child was crying or hurt that the teachers had no fear when  lifting the kid up and kissing the scratch on their arm to make it better.  It wasn't "inappropriate" the way it seems our western culture has made it out to be, it was providing general love and compassion to a child.  

The oddest experience was a particularly hot day that I was asked to assist with a large steal drum sitting a top cinder blocks in the centre of the play yard.  A hose was draped over the side pumping water as another teacher fanned a tiny fire beneath the barrel.  I asked what the set up was for and they explained that since it had been an extra hot week we were making a pool for the kids to take a dunk in.  On that note another teacher ushered out a parade of 30 small naked humans waiting for their turn, giggling.  I was shocked.  The entire 5 year old class was standing naked in the school yard and right at that moment an old woman road her bicycle past the gate and waved with a smile, completely unaffected by the sight.  With each dunk, the child would give a brief shiver before smiling back at their classmates to the cheers of excitement.  After the moment in the spotlight we hoisted the kid out and wrapped a towel around them on their way inside.  "Why are the kids all naked" I asked, lowering a fresh body into the makeshift hot tub.  "Because they don't have their swimsuits today" the other teacher responded matter of factly.  It wasn't odd that tiny kids were naked in sight of the public, it was odd to wonder why.  

As my time in Tokyo past the girl I was there to be with became more and more distant and as such I became very depressed.  She resented me for all the negativity of her family towards her for dating someone not Japanese.  Each day I arrived at the school in the morning to the joyful smiles of the kids with a level of excitement that expressed hours of anticipation.  One child in particular would run up and tug at my wrist, when I looked down he would laugh with pride that he had gotten my attention.  With a light peck on the back of my hand he turned his face up to grin at me before letting go and returning to the other children.  It was the type of appreciation and excitement I once had in my relationship.  The children of the school were the only thing that kept me sane.  They didn't judge me for being a foreigner but were constantly curious and happy.  Their joy was a reminder to me to try and hold onto mine.

The experiences listed above are all part of my new book Grasping at Self Worth.  The book is available by searching the title at or by clicking the link above. It expresses my experience of travelling to Tokyo with the girl I loved only to have her mother and older sister torture her because I wasn't Japanese and the sacrifice of my own sense of worth in an attempt to please them.

Thank you for your support!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Great Place to Live #2

You can check out Paul's A Great Place to Live #1 here.

Paul pointed out to me that I have written two posts on why Japan is a great place to visit but none on what makes it a great place to live. This is strange since I’ve lived in Japan a lot longer than I’ve been a visitor. I think I lost my visitor status the first time I chose a Japanese squat toilet over a western toilet. I wasn’t trying to get in touch with my Japanese roots or anything, since I don’t have any, but was trying to avoid a cold toilet seat in the middle of winter. Either way, that was the day I became a man. Not really, but whatever.

Today is the day I come of age.

I’ve lived in Japan for over four years. I didn’t always live here for over four years, in fact, there was a time about four years ago that I was new. The plan was to stay in Japan for a year, travel a bit, become perfectly fluent in the language (how naive I was), and get back to America in time for supper. Of course, as all great stories go, our protagonist met a girl, who might have been his antagonist, but she was cute, and continues to be. I got married and now I’m still here. In that way Japan can be a trap, but it’s a happy trap. Like a mosquito getting trapped in sweet, sweet amber and then being used to clone dinosaurs.

"This bug is smiling at me"

Instead of sharing what is great about Japan as a whole I think I’ll use my experience of living in three prefectures as a way to show how, like any place, Japan is different depending on where you go. I’ll give away the ending and say as far as I can tell every place in Japan is A Great Place to Live.

I started my journey in Hyogo prefecture where I lived and worked for three years. Hyogo is in the Kansai region, which is an amazing place to live. I was thirty minutes to both Osaka and Kobe and fifty to Kyoto by train. Of course when any band does a Japanese tour, or whenever there is some neat event, nine times out of ten they will go to Tokyo. Well, eight times out of ten they will then go to Osaka or Kobe. So in a way, you get the convenience of living in a cultural hub city and also the variety that comes with living in a trifecta of metropoli. I'm aware that ‘metropoli’ isn't a word but it sounds much better than ‘metropolises’. Each city is also completely distinct from the others, from their histories to their people to their style of dress. A famous Japanese dialect is the “Kansai dialect” but that’s a bit of a misnomer since it varies between cities and sometimes within the cities themselves. Living in Kansai I loved the fact that in one day I could take a boat tour around Kobe harbor, go to a festival at a shrine in Kyoto, and party the night away in Osaka. I’ve never actually done that in one day, but I could have.

 I finally feel spiritually grounded. Now, to Hooters!

I loved it there but my wife’s company transferred her so I quit my job and moved south to Miyazaki Prefecture. Miyazaki’s current claim to fame is their fruit and meats, though recently they’ve had problems with foot and mouth disease. Thirty or so years ago Miyazaki was better known as a popular vacation and honeymoon spot, but when the yen became strong people started going overseas. A formerly famous place in Miyazaki was Sea Gaia. It was a huge indoor beach that would have been immensely popular had they built it near Tokyo or Dubai, but instead they built it next to the beach. Their target market was the people who want to go to the beach but hate being outside. You may have even seen pictures of this place since it made the rounds on the Internet a couple years back. Miyazaki was a great place to live, especially after all the busyness of being a near a big city. Everyone was laid back as they tend to be in warm places.

Amazing, those people look so lifelike.

I’m now on the newest leg of my journey. Last month my wife was transferred yet again, this time to Tokyo. I quit my job yet again, and followed her. At this moment I’m living it up in the world’s biggest metropolis. I’ve only been here for a week so I can’t pretend Tokyo and me are intimately familiar, but so far I like what I see. Everything I couldn’t get in Miyazaki I can get here, usually just by walking down the street. It’s a bit much sometimes. It was easy to choose a restaurant or bar in Miyazaki since the pickings were slim. Here you have the choice between that cool Thai restaurant, or that other cool Thai restaurant, or the five Indian restaurants, ten Italian and French places, or the fifteen Chinese restaurants, or the hundred Japanese Izakayas, or even an amazing Portuguese place that has quickly become my favorite. There was an event last night where you pay 3,000, go to four participating local restaurants or bars of your choosing, and get a drink and appetizer. All the places I went to were great and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.

So yeah, Japan is A Great Place to Live. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t still be here. Of course I could go on and on about the friendly people, the world’s best customer service, clean streets, excellent public transportation, delicious and healthy food, etc., etc., but I'll have to save those for another post. That's the carrot on the stick. Hope to see you next time!

影響 (Influence)

Sometimes we really don't realize how much people influence who we are unless we stop to think about it. Sometimes that influence isn't even immediately apparent. I've been reflecting on this a bit recently. 

I remember when I was a kid, my dad used to watch a lot of old cowboy movies. He really liked John Wayne, in particular. I wasn't such a huge fan at the time. In the past couple years that's changed, though, and I've gained a new appreciation for Westerns. I can't help but think of my dad.

Another recent "pick-up" of mine was something I guess I got from Yoshie. When we were dating, her drink of choice was nihonshu (日本酒; traditionally known as "sake" to most foreigners). A bit before we broke up, she switched to whiskey (perhaps that was an ominous portend!), but for most of our time together I took a mild interest in acquiring a taste for her preferred poison. I remember stocking a bottle in my apartment, and it took me months to go through it. These days, though, the stuff has grown on me and I like to have a bottle on hand that I can slowly whittle away at.

As you might guess, it's hard to find a lot of different kinds of the stuff here, but there's very large beverage and liquor store nearby called Total Wine, and it stocks a few different kinds of nihonshu. A small number of them are imported from Japan; most of them are made in the U.S.

The other day I picked up a brand I hadn't tried before - Fu-ki Sake (富貴). 富貴 means wealth and high status, incidentally. I believe this brand is from Hokkaido.

I've been going through Total Wine's stock slowly, trying out each kind. There's an American brand called Mura Mura, which infuses its sake. It's definitely not bad, though it might not appeal to purists. 

Kind of makes me wonder about how I've influenced others and if any of my interests or likes have rubbed off onto them.

Thursday, November 8, 2012





Wednesday, November 7, 2012


If you live/have lived in Japan, have you picked up a local dialect (方言)? When I was living in Itami, Kansai-ben (関西弁)gradually became a part of how I spoke in Japanese. I never got to the point where I was splattering every sentence with localisms, but all of my *「超'」s (ちょう)were replaced with 「めっちゃ」's and 「やな」became a common sentence finisher for me.

Having returned to the States, it kind of goes without saying that my Japanese has been in decline, especially my conversational skills. Something else I've noticed, though, is that I've been losing my Kansai dialect. It's not that I don't understand it anymore, and sometimes a 「めっちゃ」or 「まじで」will slip unbidden into my speech, but for the most part when I have a chance to speak to people here, it's in standard, "Tokyo Japanese" (標準語/共通語). My coworkers use it, and a lot of the Japanese people I've met here are from the Kanto area originally.

While there's nothing wrong with the standard dialect, there's something kind of nice about picking up a bit of an accent. I guess it kind of serves to further connect you to the place you live(d). I'm a little sad to have that slipping away.

* 「超」 is a slang-ish word these days used around Tokyo that means "very."

例: 超かわいい、この猫!
(Example: This cat is super cute!)

「めっちゃ」 is kind of the Kansai-regional counterpart.

Friday, November 2, 2012

J-Word Play #30 (Answer)

I regret that I've been slow to post lately - what with the storm and a busy calendar I've been a little pressed to find the time. This weekend I'll be at a wedding in New Jersey, so I just wanted to bust out this overdue answer first.

A kudos to Cocomino (his wife this time, actually) for the correct answer.
Our riddle was: