Saturday, December 29, 2012


It's "marathon" season in Japan again.  Not just races like the Kobe, Osaka or Tokyo Marathons, but at school as well.

When I was in school in Colorado, we had field day in elementary school, with kids in their jeans running and jumping and just having a ball goofing off and having a day without class.  In junior high, our teacher used to shove us out the door in 2 or 3 feet of snow, tell us to run the cross country course, then he'd head off for a cuppa'.  Half the guys would cut through the trees, and a few would stop for a smoke or even a not-then legalized toke (which is why he'd shove us out in the snow, actually - he could track our footprints)

But "Marathon Day" in my town in Japan is a whole 'nother critter. The elementary school has been training for "Run-Run Time" for the last three weeks, my daughter's junior high only for about a week. Then yesterday was "Run-Run Time", and today was the junior high "Marathon Taikai (Competition).

The elementary kids didn't run a marathon, of course, they ran for set times around a 200m track.  1st and 2nd graders ran for 5 minutes, 3rd and 4th graders for 6, and 5th and 6th graders for 7.  And for a bunch of video game-playing townies, they were pretty fast.

Then the junior high kids ran 3km today.  And it was cold.  Here I am, wearing a t-shirt, sweat top and coat, and my daughter comes blazing down the riverbank in shorts and a t-shirt.

I hate getting old!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Slow, Disbelieving Shake of the Head

Wow.  I mean, really...

Some people are fucking idiots.  Excuse my french (with a lower-case f), but I just cannot believe it.

The "We, the People"  idiots (what "we"?  Count me out) have started petitions in 23 states to secede from the union.  All they need are 25,000 signatures within one month, and the White House must address their petitions.

OK, let's see, what do you think their answer will be?.....  I know what my answer is (more on that later).

These dorks lost an election, but like a spoiled 6-year-old, they don't wanna hear "No."  Didn't get what you wanted?  OK, tantrum time.  Let's waste time and money (you know that thing the "Fiscal Cliff" everyone keeps talking about?),  What was that my friend Spike called them?  Oh, yeah, the "wackadoodles".  Even my old school friend who pointed out the story to me, a hard-core conservative who was deeply upset by the election, is "COMPLETELY against the idea."

So let's try to think about this logically.  25,000 people signed Texas' petition to secede, some with addresses in other states like New Mexico, by the way.  People in other states are also hoping to reach that magic number.  Well, even in a state with a very small population like Idaho (1,584,985 at the end of 2011), that number is only 1.5% of the population.  And in Texas, with an estimated 2011 population of 25,674,681, the initial petition number is less than 1/10 of a percentage point.  So, gee, yeah, let's apply for secession for the other 99.9%, because we're special. 

Don't get me wrong:  I'm not trying to knock the fact that some people are deeply upset.  But this has to be the most cockamamie idea I've ever heard of.  

California voted for Obama, so count that out of your little putsch, along with the food production, natural gas and economic zones like LA and San Francisco.  So did Oregon and Washington, two other agricultural powerhouses.  Count out the entire industrial Northeast, Wisconsin dairy, Minnesota and Iowa grains.  Oh, and Michigan's revitalized auto industry and Ohio, too.

How are you going to pay for your new little country?  The states which voted republican are primarily ranching, corn and wheat country.  Important, yes, but with nowhere near the economic reach of the other states.  And you'd have to figure out how to raise and pay for a highly-technological military, because I guarantee Obama wouldn't just give you half.  Taxes?....

So, instant third-world status in a mini country with a military which offers no threat to large militaries like China, North Korea, Iran.  Japan's military spending would be far larger than you could afford, and they certainly wouldn't risk themselves to save you from your own stupidity.

Balkanize the US, and you've just brought about everything that you're supposedly fighting against.

So my answer to you:  If you want to secede so bad, go right ahead.  But don't take our states with you.  Get your ass on a plane, head to parts unknown, disavow your citizenship.  But leave us out of it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Election Musings

Now that the election draws nigh, I have a hope...  Two, actually.

The first is that people will get out there and vote.  Get off your duff, and do the thing that so many people have fought over the years to ensure your right to do.  Whether you support the same candidate I do, or not (naturally I'd prefer you did, but I won't insist).  You don't like either Romney or Obama?  Well, there are 16 parties on my Colorado ballot - pick someone!

Don't like any of them?  Use your write-in vote, if your state allows.  Please don't waste your vote on Snoopy ('68, '72), Bill the Cat ('80, '84) or other characters; a write-in vote is certainly a more effective protest if there is a real person that can be counted.  Fictional characters will just make it an invalid ballot, and you might as well not have gone at all.

Help out any neighbors with transportation problems, too, giving them a ride to polling places, or watching someone's little darlings so they can get out and vote.

My second wish is for after the election is over.  If your candidate has won, put away any hubris (there is no room for the "Nyah, nyah" crap).  There will be no "mandate" for any side in this election.  Conversely, if your candidate has lost, put away any bitterness you may feel.  You fought hard for your beliefs, but the majority did not agree.

Now more than almost any other time, politicians need to stop the obstructionism of the last few administrations and actually accomplish something.  Be adults!  You cannot run a democracy of 360 million people without compromise.  Represent your constituents to the best of your ability, all of your constituents.  While there may be portions of your agenda that you are unwilling to compromise on, do what you can to work with the other side(s).

And whatever you do, please don't be like one of my college roommates.  He bitched and moaned incessantly over this politician or that law, just pretty much never stopped.  Yet he refused to vote.  Screw that!  If you can't even be bothered to vote, to make that little bit of effort toward a system that you can support, don't whine to me.  You haven't earned that right.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Japanese Comfort Foods

So, when you think of Japanese food, what do you think of?  The sushi chef with the hachimaki around his forehead, thinly slicing fish and slapping it on pats of rice with a "Hai!"?

Sushi, while the most famous of Japanese foods, is in most cases not a daily food.  You are much more likely to dig into broiled fish, vegetables, maybe a pot of curry.  I love the cooked spinach here, which is doubly surprising, since I despise boiled spinach in the States.  But add some soy sauce, some sesame oil and fresh sesame seeds, and it's a whole other critter.

My kids favorite meal is nikujaga (literally meat and potatoes), a real winter comfort food.  It's a very simple meal to make, why not try this one night?

Take 1 lb of thinly sliced meat (you could substitute hamburger in a pinch) and brown it in a deep pan.
Add 2 onions, sliced into thin wedges, 2 chopped carrots, and 4 or 5 peeled, chopped potatoes.
Pour 3 cups of water in and bring it to a boil, then simmer for 5 or 10 minutes.  Skim off any fat or foam that forms.
Mix up the following sauce, then pour it over the top of the vegetables:  3 T sugar, 3 T mirin (a very sweet sake for cooking - if you can't find it, you can substitute regular sake or cooking sherry, plus 2 more T of sugar), and 6 T soy sauce.
Cover and simmer at very low heat for about an hour, then let some of the water boil off and it's done.

 Stir it carefully (the potatoes will be falling apart), and you'll have a mildly sweet and sour stew which you can eat with white rice or a baguette, maybe a salad or miso soup on the side.

If you try this, please let me know how it goes.  Feel free to add anything that appeals to you, like peas, snap peas or shallots.

1lb beef or pork, thinly sliced or shaved
2 large onions, wedged into 16ths
2 large carrots, randomly chopped into roughly 1-inch segments
4 or 5 potatoes, peeled and cut into large bite-sized pieces
2 or 3 c water
3 T sugar
3 T mirin (you can substitute cooking sherry and sugar, but the mirin has a much richer taste)
6 T soy sauce

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Halloween rapidly approaches, and Japanese monsters are on the prowl.  Or at least the Cutie Honey, pretty witch and princesses are.

In the 20+ years I've been here, Halloween has gone from a virtually unknown holiday with strange gaijin in costumes on the train, to what is rapidly approaching mainstream status, even to the point of being printed on calendars.

One of my students, a 3-yr-old girl, was so excited at getting her new costume that she wore it to class.  On October 2nd....

And Japanese retailers love the holiday.  You can get Halloween versions of virtually every snack, even ones you wouldn't normally associate with Halloween, like seaweed-flavored potato chips.  The 100-yen stores carry all kinds of decorations and costumes (her costume above came from one), there are even events at malls.

The local mall asked me to bring some students for an event yesterday, where the kids played Monster Bingo, then paraded around giving snacks to the customers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Your Feet Are How Big, Exactly?

I was a late bloomer, continuing to grow into my early 20's; I stand 180, and my feet are now about size 28.  I curl 28 plus the bar, but my bum knee won't let me squat more than 105.
I could tell you my weight, but then I'd have to kill you (don't worry, I'd have to catch you first...)

Now the Aussies, Kiwis and Brits out there are thinking "So what?"  So are the people from every other country on Earth except the US.

That's because we Americans are imperialists, baby!

I'm not talking about the land-grabbing, resource-gobbling kind of imperialist, I'm talking cups, pounds and inches.  We Americans learn the metric system in junior high or high school, and then promptly forget it, other than in science class.

It's such a simple little thing, really, but something most people (including me) don't think about until they have to deal with it on an everyday basis:  if you want to live in any country other than the US, you'll need to brush up on your metrics.

Grams and kilograms instead of ounces and pounds, meters and centimeters instead of feet and inches, Celsius instead of Fahrenheit.  While spoons and tablespoons have the same volume, an American cup is 240ml, but the Japanese one is only 200ml.  And if you buy Betty Crocker or other American boxed cake mixes, they're probably produced in Australian factories, where the cup is 250ml and the tablespoon is 33% larger (I made a couple of real hockey pucks before I clued into that fact).  My US XXL and XXXL shirts are 6L or 7L here, and too damned short.

Ready to try a little practice with me?

1) As I said, I'm just a smidgen over 180 cm tall.
2) I wear a size 28 shoe.
3) I paid 144 yen per liter for 61.5 liters of gas today.  And my Alphard only gets 8km/l.
4) Winds reached 45 m/s when the typhoon gave us a near miss last week.
5) It was 27 degrees today.
6) My dog weighs 11.5 kg.


1) 5' 11" (and that missing inch was the bane of my college experience!)
2) For men, basically subtract 19 (they're on the narrow side, though)
3) $6.83/gal - (¥144 x $1/¥78) per 1 liter x 3.7 liter per gal = $6.83/gal x 16.6 gal = $113.38
     The car gets 8km/liter x 1 mi/1.6km x 3.7 liter/gal = 18.5 mi/gal
4) 101.3 mi/hr - 45 m/s x 1mi/1600m x 3600s/hr = 101.3 mi/hr
5) 80F - (27C x 1.8) + 32 = 80F
6) 25 lbs 5 oz - 11.5 kg x 2.2 lb/kg

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another Brain Fart

Wow, I just had another one of those mental disconnects that hit periodically, when something doesn't quite fit, but it takes forever to figure out what's wrong.

My wife and I have been shopping and we stopped at a KFC for lunch.  The food was good, but something just didn't feel right.

Went to the bathroom and listened to the background music clearly (nothing else I want to listen to in there, you know?). And it was Luke Bryan, singing about how "rain is a good thang".  Then that was followed by some Lee Ann Rimes to totally dislocate my sense of reality.  A bit of "Sheldon vs the brussel sprouts".

Now they followed that with some Rod Stewart, leading me directly to "Leonard's Land of Lactose Intolerance of the Mind"...


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Nationalized Insurance Anecdotes, pt 2

I got a panicked phone call from my youngest son during class last night: "Dad, come home soon!"  I headed home between classes, and found him broken out into hives, nipple to shoulder blade and shoulder to mid-chest and elbow.  Some of those puppies were the size of my thumb; he looked quite uncomfortable.

Since I had another class, my daughters helped out and took him to the skin doctor down the street, then to the pharmacy and home.

Doctor's consult, steroid cream and oral allergy medicine.  Total cost?  $28

And no deductible.

More Stereotypes

OK, let's knock down a few stereotypes, shall we?

 *Are you an anime fan who expects to see robots walking down the street, along with doe-eyed maids in super-short skirts, emo-haired boys who look and sound like girls, and Super SayaJin fighters with can-a-day hairstyles who can throw fire? Please stay home, because you will be severely disappointed (as will I, if you come).
      While a lot of people do read the manga here, on the train, at the convenience store (they don't tell you to "buy it or leave" here), or at home, it by no means is the center of people's daily lives. The self-proclaimed "otaku" (which, by the way, is extremely uncomplimentary, meaning unhygienic fanatical pervert - a famous one killed 4 girls in Tokyo, drank the blood of one and ate part of her hand) almost certainly have read more, and obsessed more about the manga than the average Japanese. Cosplay, while reasonably accepted here, is really no more prevalent here than here than in the States, and only indulged in in particular areas like Akihabara or Ikebukuro, Tokyo. The only emo-haired boys are JPop idols or wannabes, and any person with eyes like in a manga would scare the bejeezus outa me!

 *Are you a martial artist who watched too many "Karate Kid" movies, with dreams of ninja on the streets, along with maids in kimono and samurai?
      It's a great place to study the martial arts, don't get me wrong. You can find shotokan, aikido, jiu jitsu and judo dojo within 10-minutes drive from my house, and screwing with the wrong person could get you seriously messed up. My older son's school has judo as P.E. once a week, and many high schools have kendo and archery clubs. But you don't see martial artists walking down the street in their gi, nor do you see ninja (which proves nothing at all - they are ninja, after all). The average lady wears a kimono once or twice a year, and may wear the cotton yukata to summer festivals, but otherwise the fashion is the same as what you can buy down the street (just in smaller sizes...), in a "Lolita does Dallas" kind of way.

 *"It's the land of high tech, geek paradise, a real Bladerunner, only not quite so dark (although nearly as rainy)."
     Yes and no. When I came here in 1990, the only high tech was in the factories. Banks performed all transactions on paper, with the teller taking your transaction papers to her immediate supervisor, and he kicking it upstairs for anything other than a routine deposit or bill pay. ATMs were only in bank lobbies, and only open M-F, 8:45-3:00pm. Your monthly salary was handed to you in cash, and since my first payday was on a Friday night, it led to a sleepless weekend.
     PCs were only owned by a very small percentage of the population, and there weren't even pocket pagers. Other than interactive toys, there are no robots in daily life, and most people won't see any voice-recognition software other than their iPhone.

     Communication, however, has become a nerd's wet dream. When then-Prime Minister Mori proposed an ambitious plan to put 90% of the population within reach of affordable broad-band connectivity within 5years (2001), I guffawed. "No friggin' way!" said I. Well, they did it. I had cable Internet 2 years later, graduating to ADSL, and now have optic fiber which boasts trunk line speeds of 1GB, and individual download speeds of up to 100MB/sec. Internet, 2 phone lines and Internet TV run less than $100/month. Most people have cell phones, and a large majority have smart phones or iPhones. Smart phones with unlimited data plans (but not unlimited calls outside the cell company), and with the phone's purchase price paid in over 24 months, will run about $100 as well.

And, last but not least, my personal bane,
*"Japanese women are passive dolls who do whatever their husbands want." You have got to be kidding me. What century do you think this is, exactly? None of the women I know are this way. They aren't the Stepford Wives, they're active, vibrant ladies who rule their homes with an iron fist, controlling the bank book and doling out their husband's allowance every month (betcha think I'm exaggerating, doncha?). The young men that they call "vegetarians" are more passive than any ladies I know.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Summer's Over!

Wow, summer is really over.

Last night it got down to 20 degrees, the lowest temp in about 100 days.  20 degrees!  Unbelievable

Oh, yeah, I forgot, Japan is a metric country.  That's 20 degrees Celsius, 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  For 100 days, the temperature never dropped below 70 degrees.  Today was the first day I've come out of the shower and haven't immediately started sweating.


Nationalized Insurance

Nationalized Insurance

Over the last several years I've been watching the rabid debate about healthcare reform with bemusement.  The sheer amount of vitriol and invective sometimes blows my mind.  I understand both sides of the issue (which doesn't indicate, by the way, agreement with either particular side, merely that I listen before drawing my own conclusions - something that I really wish some folks would try to emulate).

I can, however, give you my own anecdotal experience, having lived in a country which offers national health insurance, and having used the system myself for the last 20 years.

Japan has a national insurance program, which offers coverage at rates set according to your income and family size.  I and my 4 children are on one policy, my wife receives private coverage at her work.  At today's exchange, I pay almost exactly $1000 per month (interestingly enough,  I paid the exact same amount when it was just me, and the children were on my wife's account at her previous job, and again when she changed jobs and wasn't yet covered at work).  For this fee, I get 80/20 coverage, with nearly 100% coverage for young children.  We can go to any doctor or hospital we please,  and while you may need to wait a few hours at a busy doctor's office or clinic, it's no different than any other patient, and there is none of the "we have an open time next Friday at 11:00" bullshit.

Now, this system is not perfect.  With Japan's rapidly aging society, it is creaking under an increasing load, dropping from 90/10 coverage a few years back, and looks likely to drop even further to a 70/30 copay in the future.  But no one is without insurance.  People don't die because they lack coverage (as long as they take the time to actually sign up, that is).  There are no 'death panels' that the scaremongers constantly harp about, deciding who gets coverage.  Medical quality does not suffer because of the insurance system.

In my personal opinion, offering bare bones insurance for those who cannot afford to get their own would be a major cost, perhaps, but it seems to me that it should pretty much balance out with all the uninsured people who now clog American emergency rooms, receiving care for which they cannot pay, the cost of which must be passed on to other patients, thus making the US one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to receive medical care.  I took an ambulance ride after a motorcycle accident in college, and paid $250 for a 3-mile ride, with another $150 for the gauze they used to wrap my open-break toe, and $50 for the iodine they used on the scrapes on my legs (not to mention the $5000 for outpatient surgery to put one 5mm screw in my toe to hold a bone fragment in place).  I paid a hell of a lot less for a vasectomy here in Japan!

And there is the ethical issue.  I'm sorry, but I'd just like to believe that we won't leave people sick or dying when it is within our power to do something about it.  I'm not talking about 'Kicks' and iPhones for people on the dole, just basic human dignity.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Family values...

 Family values...

What the f--- does that mean exactly?  And why has the American Christian Right come to feel that only they have them?

Let's see...  Family values...  Do you love your spouse/partner?  Do you promise to be faithful to that person, in sickness or in health, until death do you part?  Will you respect them, honor them, desire their happiness?  Treat your children well, love them without reservation, teach them right from wrong, provide for them, even deny them what they want when necessary for their physical and spiritual growth?  Communicate with your family?  Sounds like family values to me.

To say that only far-right, Republican American Christians have family values offends me.  It taxes me.  How can you say that only you have "family values"?

My wife has all those values, and more.  But she is Japanese, and while she did go to a Catholic school, she is not Christian.  Nor are almost all of the people around me (only 1% of Japanese are Christian).  Yet they love.  They respect.  They honor.  They raise families, cherish their children, teach them proper behavior and to respect others.

My gay friend John -- God, I hate prefacing his name that way --  My high-school friend John has those values, as did my college friends Bo and Scott, and numerous other gay or lesbian friends.  My Iranian friend, Bobby, has the same family values.  So do I..

Are intolerance and bigotry "family values"?  I should hope not..

An unfortunate choice of acronyms

I receive a newsletter from a sporting goods shop where I get training supplies.  They have a good name for a training and martial arts shop, BodyMaker.

Can you guess where I'm going yet (pun not intended, yet, oh, so apropos).

Look at the newsletter subject line:

会員 だれだれ様へ[BM NEWS]日本応援!!今日は重量挙げ☆【BODYMAKER】

BM NEWS?  Kinda makes you hesitate to open it and see the pictures, now don:t it?  Big steaming piles of ...

Check out some of their web pages, which are, again, unintentionally funny (life is what you make of it, my friend).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Well, here's a new wrinkle on the nuclear power issue here in Japan.

A report came out detailing all the errors and bad procedures which led to the fire/explosion and resulting radiation leak in Fukushima after last year's earthquake and tsunami.  The cause was, surprise, surprise, human error.  The entire glow-in-the-dark, 25-km exclusion zone, modern ghost town mess was, even with the tsunami factored in, completely avoidable; the result of excessive micromanagement by the Prime Minister's office, and general passivity on the part of TEPCO executives (Tokyo Electric Power Co).

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, the bozos at another nearby reprocessing plant actually hand printed a manual that said it was OK to mix sub-critical masses in freakin' buckets that led to an incident in 1999 that killed 2 workers.

A subsequent check of other facilities led to all Japanese power plants being taken offline, while issues of safety and procedure were addressed.

And thus we reach my point for this post, which is brownouts.  Kansai power has asked all residents of the Osaka-Himeji and points west to conserve power (they just restarted the Oi plant, which led to mass spontaneous demonstrations by folks opposed to sloppy handling of the nuclear material.  Kinda reminds me of John Travolta in "Broken Arrow":  "How many times do I have to tell you, please don't shoot at the thermal nuclear weapons!")

So now, at the beginning of the hot-as-hell season, oops, summer, they want us to not run our air conditioners, etc, and will institute rolling brownouts.  My classroom is gonna become one of those toy Betty Crocker ovens, and the lack of power to my fan will make it totally unbearable.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Men's Club

Recently someone asked me if Japan was still a patriarchal society, and I said that things were changing.  Women have more opportunities in the workplace:  they aren't pressured to quit their jobs when they get married, some even keep them after having a child (I said it was getting better, I didn't say it was fair).  Well, the Japan Olympic Committee just put the lie to that..

This is ridiculous.

The Japanese women's soccer team, the current Women's World Cup champion team, will be flying to London by Economy Premier class, at about 500K yen per seat (someone should teach the JOC about discount tickets and early purchase).

Yet the men's team, currently ranked #20 in the world, gets to fly Executive Class at 750K a pop.  Nothing against the men, but...


She Was From Detroit...

I was walking my dog a while ago, when something just felt weird, tugging at my attention, demanding a second look.  So I looked again, and, man, was she worth it.  Big bodied, muscular; so sexy, you just wanted to touch her; so strong, she could eat you alive.  No rice eater, this one.

Now, I don't usually drool over cars.  But after years of seeing K cars (mini Cooper sized, w/o the personality) named Parsley, Fit and March, some good ol' Detroit rolling iron gets the blood moving.

Oh, and check out the Schwinn next to it.  Someone's dished out some serious money for these two.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I'm Twice the Man I Used to Be

I'm more than a gaijin, so much more.

When I came to Japan, I was just shy of 6ft tall, fit and 180lbs.  One of my first students, a doctor, said he was concerned, because I was "fat".  Then, what with the different foods, and the fact that we tended to drink our dinners (beer and whiskey vending machines on every corner, remember?), I dropped 10lbs in the first 3 months.  My student the doctor said he was worried about me, I was too thin.  Can't friggin' win with this guy...

Boy, if he could see me now...

That is to say, I'm fat.  I used to be built like William Shatner in the original "Star Trek"; now I'm built like William Shatner in "Boston Legal".  I super-sized myself.  Sumo, minus the muscle...  I'm still just shy of 6' tall, though.

No excuses.  I've been lazy, haven't eaten well (or have eaten too well).  My wife popped out 4 kids and lost the baby weight every time.  I didn't.  Gotta tell you, I would have gladly tried breastfeeding if it would have helped.

Other than the obvious health and aesthetic issues of being overweight, you'd be surprised at some of the things that arise.  I said arise, not rise, Dirty Mind, and not that thing, either, thank you very much.

1)  Good fucking luck finding clothes.  I had real problems finding XXL shirts and jackets before (4L in Japanese size).  Now?  Forget it!

2)  I've known some really good doctors here.  My wife's father was the best doctor I've ever known (not trying to stay out of the doghouse here, he really was).  But I went to this quack nearby after her father retired, suffering from breathing problems while we were renovating the kids' rooms, and he ignored everything I said and dismissed me with a quick "It's because you're fat".  Two weeks later we finished the renovations, and even as I painted the walls my breathing went back to normal.  Turns out I've developed a severe allergy to the cedar wood used in my home's frame, and was having an extreme asthma attack.

3)  My doctor now is helping me try to lose some major weight, and keeps saying "Stop eating hamburgers.  Eat Japanese." I want to scream, "How do you think I got this way?  Eating Japanese!"  I must be Jeffrey friggin' Dahmer, I've eaten so many Japanese.  What is this, the Donner Diet?

Oh...   so much Japanese...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name...

is just a flower.

So, what's your name?  You do remember it, right?  Got it?  Are you sure?

OK, now just chuck it out the window.  Names are not so important here, titles are.  When you address people face-to-face, you often use a title which expresses your relationship to that person.  Doctor, Nurse, Teacher, Customer, Professor, even Supervisor, Area Manager and Company President.  Could you imagine what some IBM blue suit would do if you just said, "Good morning, Company President."?.

I used to get offended when students didn't use my name:  "Hey, Teacher. Good morning!".  Then I opened my eyes and ears and realized that Japanese teachers were addressed in the same way.  "Sensei" is used for doctors, professors, crazy karate instructors in the States, et al.  Unless they have a reason to know your name, you will be called "Kyaku-san" at shops.  Hell, even freshly-arrested folk have "the Accused" tacked on after their surname, and convicted criminals have a different suffix.

My kids call me 'Daddy'.  So do all the neighborhood kids.  And most of their moms, too.  Makes me wish I had had my kids call me "Daddy-O".  Then the whole neighborhood would sound like a bunch of beatniks:

"Good morning, Daddy-O!"


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dealing with Disappointment

Boy, talk about disappointing.

I love typhoons!  Strange, maybe, but there you have it.  I like the high winds, the powerful rain, the occasional thunder and lightning.

Here in Kansai, the weather is usually really gentle.  I'm talking bo-o-o-ring.  When it rains, the clouds just kind of condense evenly out of the sky, then a mild mist comes down, followed by a gentle rain.  No towering black cumulonimbus clouds, no sheets of rain rolling across the landscape until they slash across your house, no Zeus-is-pissed-at-you lightning storms like in Tom Cruise's "War of the Worlds".  Just a gentle piss out of the slate grey mist (I'm always afraid I'm gonna come out of the store and find myself in Steven King's "The Mist").

Typhoon 4 hit us yesterday, with weather maps showing the eye expected to run over us.  I was bouncing around, excited, looking forward to the extreme winds.  When we got up in the morning, there were already weather warnings (heavy rain, flooding, mudslides) in effect, then my kids' schools were cancelled.  We were afraid the trains would be halted, so I told my oldest not to go to classes at her college.  Then a high-wind warning was issued, so college classes were shut down, too.  I had to cancel all my classes as well.

Yea, yea!  I can't wait!

The storm turned.  It hung a right and headed off to Tokyo instead (everyone always wants to go to Tokyo...).  Talk about disappointing:  no strong winds, the strongest rain was when I got up.  Nothing exciting, just wet.

"Here I sit all broken-hearted.  Paid my dime and only f....."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

AudreyII "Hey, Seymour. Feed me!"

So, I just came in from doing a little gardening.

Sounds relaxing, right?  Phhppt!  My idea of relaxing is an ice cold beer and a plate of nachos, while sitting on the deck watching you garden.  Let's relax together, shall we...

Anyways, in case I haven't mentioned it recently, I'm a mountain boy.  A Colorado mountain boy, which means I come from a really bumpy desert with trees.  My idea of gardening was to sit outside on the deck and listen to the wind pass through the trees.  Damn trees didn't need my help (unless the pine beetle moved in), weeds didn't grow.  Just yucca.  If the pine beetle did move in, and they came in hard one year, my older brother was really good about taking care of the beetle-kill trees (of course, the Hayman fire put paid to that).  Either he was very responsible, or he just liked the loud sounds of a chainsaw and yelling "Timber!"

But here, the weeds are on steroids.  I tried to grow a lawn, but I've given that up as a bad job.  My kids liked to play with seeds when they were younger, and they brought home all kinds of weed seeds and dumped most of them in the yard.  And these f---ers can really grow!  I did one section of my yard 2 weeks ago, then got busy with my school.  Looked out there this morning, and I'll be damned if there weren't some 3-ft tall weeds there again!

And 3-ft seems to be the magic number.  When I trim my trees every fall, they've grown about 3 ft.  Skip a year, and the branches I lop off are taller than I am.

So far this spring, I've filled 16 garbage bags with weeds, and I still haven't done under the trees.  So I've decided to try a Japanese rock garden instead.  Who cares if it gets really hot in summer.  At least the rocks don't grow!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Worst Part of Life Overseas

I've been asked many times what are the greatest issues about living overseas. Well, the worst one by far is one that you don't really think about (or just try not to), until it becomes an issue you have to deal with right now.

That issue is health emergencies in your family back home. My mother had been suffering from COPD for years, with gradually declining health and mobility, most of which I hadn't even seen. My sister had to deal with the everyday emergencies and issues, while I only saw part of what was going on when I visited the home country every 2 to 3 years. And to be honest, I didn't really see it even then; Mom would put her best face on when I brought my family back, and try her hardest to be upbeat and energetic.

Then you get the call: Mom is in bad shape, you need to come back as quickly as possible. The first such call was luckily last June. Why luckily? Because not so many Japanese are traveling at that time. I could get a ticket, didn't have to go to the airport and sit on standby and hope some other poor sap would get sick so I could take their seat. And not to be tacky, but there is also the expense: buy a ticket at less than 5 days notice, and you will pay at least 50% more than when you reserve in advance. (I know, you're thinking "What a whining douche-bag!" - we'll get back to that later).

Luckily, my mom stabilized at that time. After a 5-day turnaround, I was able to Skype her several times a week.

Then I heard from my sister that she was deteriorating more quickly, culminating in another call in early January that mom was in hospice. Now the expense raises its ugly head. You see, I had used all my cash, and half my credit, getting back the last time (the douche-bag was broke). Luckily, I had a fair amount of mileage racked up (13,000 round-trip), so I could get tickets, and just had to pay the reservation and short notice fees. So I headed back for 3 days this time, arriving late Monday night and leaving very early on Friday. Not much time to say goodbye, but at least I got the chance to say goodbye.

Then Mom passed away 3 weeks ago. I didn't go back for the funeral, it just wasn't possible. My family has been wonderful, supportive, telling me that it was more important that I came home when she was alive; and I do believe that. But they had to make all the arrangements, I couldn't help. My brother stepped up to the plate and did a lot of that. And it is just surreal to get pictures of her grave, to get video of the memorial service by email, and to know that I won't even be able to say goodbye until my next trip home in a few years.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Graduation!

Tuesday was my eldest daughter's high school graduation.

"What? In the middle of February?" Yes, because the Japanese school and business years run from April to March. So, now she has 6 weeks of free time before she heads off to college (from home, by train, almost 2 hours each way...)

Did I mention it was on Tuesday? You know, that day after Monday, one of those 5 days when most people work? Yep, and I didn't go. Does that make me father-of-the-year? Maybe, but neither did most other fathers, nor quite a few mothers, actually.

It kinda surprised me. Kindergarten graduation is a big deal, held on Saturday so both parents have a chance to come and watch their 6-yr-old sit and fidget through a series of speeches before heading back to their classrooms to receive a graduation scroll (and you thought it was hard to sit through your high school graduation). Mothers dress up in their best kimonos, having their hair pinned up; fathers come in suit and tie. Mothers beam with pride, and sob with joy.

Elementary school graduation ramps it up another notch, having the kids parade in by pairs to "Pomp and Circumstance". After the requisite speeches (they do love their speeches here), they get called up to the podium one-by-one to receive their scrolls, bowing and holding the scroll straight out in front of them. Mothers sob with joy, fathers beam with pride.

Junior high school was more of the same, adding in the parade out through the grounds to the front gate, while mothers sob with joy. I was just about the only father there.

But high school? Nope. Guess they ran out of ideas or something. There were a few speeches, then each teacher read out the names of their students while the class stood at attention. Then the class shouted "Hai!" (basically, 'here!' in this context) and sat down again. That's it. All done.

Then my daughter came home, ate a quick lunch, and headed to the beauty salon for a color job, while some of her friends got permanents (they aren't allowed to do either, or even to wear makeup, while in high school). There will be a lot of frizzy-haired young raccoons with light brown or red hair walking around by the end of the month....

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...

On January 9th, I was on the road again, taking a quick jaunt back to Colorado, and I couldn't have picked a better day to travel. Mostly clear skies, 50 degrees, and beautiful young ladies everywhere.

Now, before you run and tell my wife what I just said, let me say that she was once one of those ladies. Wait a minute, that didn't come out right.
I meant to say that about 20 years ago....

Nope. That's no good. Hmmm.... Let's back up on that one.

The 2nd Monday in January is Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day), when 20-yr old Japanese celebrate becoming adults by attending ceremonies in their hometowns in the morning, then going out in the evening to drink (legally) with friends or heading to the karaoke studio.

The young men wear suits or hakama (a kind of kimono pantalooon) with a tunic. But the young ladies are truly elegant - their hair is styled, pulled back/up and decorated with colorful accessories, then they don gorgeous, colorful, flowered kimono with ornate obi belts and wooden sandals.

My train to Osaka was filled with young ladies heading to Kobe or Osaka to meet friends and head out on the town. Sure beats drunken salarymen.

(Kinda looks like a scene in The Bachelor, that movie with Chris O'Donnell, doesn't it? "Aaauuugghhh! They're chasing me....")

Oh, and FYI - my wife is still gorgeous in a kimono (or blue jeans, or whatever).

Where's Wally?