Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eat it!

The sub-title for this blog entry is Eating Out in Japan, which might disappoint some of you as you learn that it is only about food.

At this time, I'm merely going to briefly describe some of the weird foods I ate while in Japan - without going into the story of how it came to be. In many cases, those stories are part of future blogs.
When people think of Japanese food, they think of Benihana or sushi. Sushi is sushi. I love it in all of its forms. Sashimi is actually raw fish, and I love it. Sushi utilizes rice., Sashimi is thinly sliced seafood.. But now, here are foods you may never have heard of:
  • Hachi-no-ko (baby bees aka bee larvae) cooked in brown sugar;
  • Inago (grasshoppers) are also cooked in brown sugar. Lemme just say this: Never tell anybody that you really like anything in Japan, lest they ply you with presents. I was pooping bugs for weeks;
  • Natto (rotting, fermented soy beans). Literally, half the Japanese openly detest it, and the other half pretend they like it. Only one gaijin ever ate it when he didn't have to;
  • Shiokara (squid guts) served cold;
  • Tamago gohan (not related to Lindsay Lohan), is essentially a raw egg spilled atop cold rice, and is served for breakfast--only served to me on retreats or at Japanese home stays, which leads me to believe that this is a staple of Japanese breakfasts. Ugh;
  • Takoyaki... a baby octopus covered in dough and deep-fried (like Chinese chicken balls). It's skewered and you eat it like an octopus on a stick. Crunchy, and despite the presence of an octopus beak, I liked it;
  • soup eaten with chopsticks - see the photo above. Is there anything on those chopsticks? No. Because its soup I'm trying to eat!;
  • Japanese pizza: it doesn't matter what variety you order, or if you purchase it an an American pizzareia, it always came with corn on it. And not merely sprinkled atop it - no, it was a can of corn that was unceremoniously dumped on the very centre of it in a pile;
  • Mos burger: Click on the coloured word and you can see what it looks like. It features from the top: a bun, tomato, meat sauce, onions, mayonnaise, mustard, hamburger patty, and bun. It was strangely delicious;
  • Teriyaki McBurger, Green Tea Shake, French Fries with Seaweed from McDonald's;
  • sea turtle phlegm at a Japanese French restaurant, it was served in a tall glass filled with a chilled tomato consomme, with the phlegm sitting all nice and frothy on top. It tastes you as you eat it. Yes, that is written correctly;
  • two Matthew favorites are Kamameshi in the autumn and Nabemono in the winter--not sure what he would eat the rest of the year; 
  • Basashi, which is an equine version of sashimi. Tangy. But mine still had marks where the jockey was whipping it;
  • Gyu riba - cow liver in a sashimi style. Blech.
  • Umeboshi- is what we called a Japanese plum that is so sour it will make you pucker. It's a staple in every Japanese bento box (prepackaged food boxes), with the red plum sitting atop a bed of white rice. It's to make it look like a Japanese flag. Quite ingenious, I think;
  • Shimotsukare... click on the word for a description. Matthew really didn't like it, but, while not a food I would search out, it wasn't anything I would go out of my way to avoid if presented;
  • And last but not least, fugu, featuring selected areas of the fugu fish. It may or may not contain a deadly toxin that could paralyze you or at the worst, kill you. Having tasted it, I think the thrill comes from thinking there's a chance you could die. Taste-wise? No big whoop.
Oh... I suppose you want a link for the fugu. Okay... try this one HERE. While it's all very informative and true-to-life, the actual fugu stuff starts at 2:30.

Somewhere with natto breath,
Andrew Joseph
PS - Title accordioned by Weird Al Yankovic.

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    I Hate To Eat Alone

    Since arriving in Japan, I've joked about not eating food. I know, I know, to look at me nowadays, you'd never think I missed any one of my six square meals a day. But back then, I didn't eat much that first month. The unfamiliarity of the town, the ingredients and the food combined with my fear of failure and an inability to cook overpowered my sense of curiosity. That's a mouthful of a sentence, but it does convey the conflicting emotions of being thrust into a wonderful rife without really preparing myself.
    Even when I was a student, I never prepared... never studied. I trusted instinct and the fact that if it was worth remembering I would have taken it in the first time I heard a teacher say it. It held me in good stead through high school, college and university. It let me down in real life, however. Or did it?
    Because I had a girlfriend - Ashley Benning - I wanted to impress her. She was no great cook, but she at least tried to make spaghetti for us a couple of times. I hungrily gobbled it up, even if by today's standards I would not. I knew how to do eggs and bacon, make a sandwich - though even I still have problems making a grilled cheese sandwich (much to my wife's chagrin).
    But being young, and thinking you're in love (with the first girl who'd sleep with me), I wanted to impress. I remembered, however this one time I was foraging around for food in the kitchen where my mother was cooking dinner.
    Poor mom. She'd make two dinners. A western one for my brother Ben and myself, and an Indian one for her and my dad. Of course, they didn't have to have Indian cuisine...
    So, racking my memories, I recalled her explaining to me how to make chilli con carne. I think I was about 14 years old, and only interested in not listening, so at the time it went in one ear and out the other... but I guess it must have hit something inside my head before exiting. Ten years later, I suddenly was able to recall exactly how to make chilli con carne.
    I'll spare you the details on what the recipe is, but it became a weekly staple of mine (and Ashley's) existence (Matthew,too. That boy could smell a free meal from five kilometres away!). While I did end up making a pot of chilli that could not only feed the three of us, it could also feed me for an additional two meals, as well.
    While the first pot I made was tasty, Ashley did complain that it wasn't hot (spicy) enough. The girl might have been from Augusta, Georgia, but she did go to university at Southern Methodist U, in Texas, so she may have been used to the hot stuff.
    Despite being the offspring of two Indians, and looking like an Indian, I'm not very Indian. I was born in the UK, and for the first three years of my life there I was looked after by a very British woman (Mrs. Goodie) who feed me some pretty bland British foods. You are what you eat, right. I was meat and potatoes. Spicy food and me don't mix at all.
    Still, in an effort to impress, I slowly began turning the heat up on my chilli. For a two week period, I would make small pots of chilli every night to:
    • get the heat up to acceptable Ashley levels;
    • get myself used to eating spicy cuisine.
    Hmm, I thought there were more points, which is why I went to bullet form.
    It was also around this time that Matthew invited me to have dinner with him at an Indian restaurant nearby. Figuring how hot could an Indian restaurant powered by Japanese be, I ordered my meal at a heat rate of 10, with 10 being the hottest. Matthew wasn't stupid... he ordered his at a 7. At first taste, my scalp began to tingle and sweat began pouring off my forehead. The strange thing was that the heat didn't even hit my tongue... no wait, there it is. Holy crap! Where's the fire department when you need them? It was the worst meal my stomach ever had.
    Anyhow, I quickly became acclimatized to the heat and ramped up the spiciness until  I made a pot so hot I nearly killed Ashley. She ate it and then went to lie on the couch complaining about how much her stomach hurt.
    Needless to say, she never complained about my cooking again. As such, I turned it down a notch. Sorry Emeril.
    As well, Matthew and I went back a few more times over the years to that restaurant. I started back down at a 1 and worked my way up to an 8. My mother and father would have been proud, for on that day, their Japanese-Canadian son finally became an Indian. For the whole of the 85 minutes it stayed in my gut. 
    In the next blog, I'll tell you all about some strange and wonderful Japanese foods I ate over the three years in Nihon (Japan), and how I once was actually paid to teach a cooking class.
    Somewhere, it's chilli today,
    Andrew "don't-tick-off-the-cook" Joseph
    This blog's song title brought to you by 10cc. Even I'm surprised I knew that one.

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Yakety Yak

    (Writer’s Note: Before we begin, Mashu/Matthew Hall has been a big help to me in nailing down facts in this and in a lot of the other blogs. I bow deeply in his general direction.
    I know it seems nigh on impossible to think that I am still writing about September when I already have 30 blogs in the can, but I’m on a blog roll (a joke any Brits might appreciate). Anyhow, a lot happened in those first two months – exciting and new, and it will help paint a better picture of what I was up to, and who I was up to it with.
    It happened a month after settling into my new digs in Ohtawara – September 1990. Matthew, who was a frequent visitor to my apartment bringing food and beer, asked Ashley and myself whether or not we'd like to come to a meeting of the Ohtawara International Friendship Association (Ohtawara Kokusai Kouryuu Kai)—henceforth called OIFA, which doesn’t sound enough like a real word to make it a true acronym.
    From what I could tell, the core focus of the OIFA was to meet foreigners, learn about foreign culture and hopefully pick up a few words.
    “C’mon. It’ll be good to come out and meet the townsfolk,” said Matthew. Okay, I can’t remember if that’s exactly what he said as it was a while back and apparently getting older can affect one’s memory. I’m unsure if I knew that, but I know that now. I think.
    I have to admit that I wasn’t that keen on going. Living in Japan had already been quite the fish bowl experience for me – it was only five weeks in the country and a week after teaching at Dai Chu (Ohtawara Junior High). Pretty much everyone in town knew who I was thanks to the local newspaper media featuring a story or four telling everybody that I was coming to Japan, had arrived in Tokyo, had arrived in Ohtawara and had begun teaching at Dai-chu.
    Despite the advance notoriety I had achieved, and the fact that I was a reporter for one of Canada’s top newspapers (Toronto Star) before arriving, I still considered myself to be shy (other people probably considered me to be an egomaniacal loudmouth, but pa-tay-toe – poh-ta-toe).
    I believe Ashley and I did make it out to the first meeting - it started at 7PM and went until 9PM, and factoring in the goodbye's and a half-hour bike ride for Ashley (and thus also me) to her town of Nishinasuno, it meant that she might not get home till sometime after 10 or 10:30PM (and me sometime after 11PM – but that was no big deal as I usually stayed up until 1AM). Ashley, though currently 21 to my 24, got tired easier and claimed to need to be asleep by 10PM, at least on the weekdays, if she was to function. Matthew and I? We not only burned the biggest candle in Ohtawara at both ends, we burned the middle of the candle, too.
    Our first meeting with OIFA was on a Tuesday, and to be fair, not only Ashley, but myself as well, were less than thrilled with being stuck coming out to meet a bunch of old farts in their 30s, 40's and up. (You can see my conundrum now, as I write this all at the relatively young age of 44).
    That first meeting had about 50 people there, and we divided up into groups of 15+ for myself, Ashley and that skunk, Matthew. What the heck had he gotten us into? Why were they dividing us up?
    In a classroom, we arranged the desks in a square circle and I talked to my class of eager adults about who I am. I did it in English, as I really had very limited Japanese-speaking ability (and three years later, I wasn't much better).
    Luckily, I had two Japanese folks watching the class. A short, pensive, 20-something woman named Naoko Kimijima (she's in the bottom right corner wearing blue in the photo above), and a tall, handsome, always smiling, late 30's man, I simply knew as Mr. Suzuki. This is not the same Suzuki-san as Matthew's boss. This Suzuki-san was a farmer who I believe grew rice and standard veggies like tomatoes, green peppers, daikon radishes, etc.
    Anyhow, these two translated my ramblings into coherent Japanese, and then turned the students questions into coherent English for me. It wasn't the best professional translation job, but these folks have nothing to be ashamed of. Really awesome.
    As an aside, the surname Suzuki, translates into "bell/suzu and tree/ki", and is as common in Japan as Smith and Jones are for North America and the UK. Actually, I'm only assuming the UK is included.
    Naoko... her name has a "ko" at the end... while not exclusive, the majority of female names utilize it: Keiko, Naoko, Takako... the equivalent is adding an "a" to the end of a Western name: Andrea. Figures. I try to make a point on the spur of the moment and can only come up with Andrea.
    While the focus of the OIFA seems to have been completely altruistic... no, that's not the word... man, English am difficult even for native speakers like I. .. okay, I have no idea what their focus was, but all I know is that these folk went out of their way to make all of the foreigners living in their town—and there were quite a few of us—feel welcome.
    Despite my original misgivings about speaking to OIFA, I kept on going out whenever asked. Farmer Suzuki would often invite us out to his farm where the OIFA members would bring food, and we gaijin would arrive, talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, and eat and drink ourselves full. They never asked for anything in return except for our friendship. I miss them all terribly because I’m really hungry and want a beer right now.
    Besides Naoko and Farmer Suzuki, some of the OIFA members include: Narita-san, a late 30’s, loud, funny and attractive lady whom we would probably call a cougar nowadays (though very flirty, she kept the boundaries with us all - she's wearing the red outfit in the bottom right corner of the photo above); Maniwa-san, a 50-something, chubby, lascivious man who ran a local pharmacy (he tried to grab Ashley’s boobs a couple of times); Muneo-kun, a guy as old us who ran a barber shop (and the focus of at least two future blogs), plus he was one of the nicest, most soft-spoken guys on the planet; Soma Kenzo-san (who later became a City Councilman); Endo-san; Takase Tsuneo-san; Yoshiko Nakamura, Masashimura-san (owned a flower shop) and his wife; Hashimoto-san; another Suzuki-san, this one is an older woman who always seemed impressed whenever a gaijin was able to use chopsticks (hashi); and Yukitomo Kurita whose claim to fame is that he is Matthew’s father-in-law (am I giving away too much, here?). Okay, Kurita-san was also an Ohtawara City Councilman during our time in the city, and will also be part of a blog coming up very shortly.
    Scary that I have this whole blog thing planned out, isn’t it?Photos of some of the OIFA are HERE.
    I mentioned that I wasn't alone in Japan, as far as English-speakers go (see Matthew & my girlfriend, Ashley). Various Japanese big businesses would occasionally have a foreign worker as part of an exchange program come and work here. Plus, along with a New Zealander or two working in the near-to-my-heart, liver and apartment-bar scene (more on them later!), there was also a school in north Ohtawara that taught Japanese farming techniques to folks from Africa, Indonesia and India. Heck, I wasn't even the only Brown guy in the city!
    While we didn't get to see every foreigner every time, Farmer Suzuki made it his duty to at least try and get as many of us foreign folk out to his farm to chat with the OIFA.
    Sometimes it was a pain in the butt trying to juggle parties with OIFA with all of my other responsibili... sorry, even now I have difficulty saying I had responsibilities. Let's just say that if left solely up to Farmer Suzuki, he'd have had Matthew and myself over at his farm every night just to hang out and talk… but then, when would I have had time to rent all of those movies, do laundry and rack up incredibly high long distance phone bills talking to pretty women like Kristine Minami who lived hundreds of kilometres away in Shiga-ken?
    Ahhh… that long-distance feeling. Yes, I still had a girlfriend, but she was asleep by 10AM. I’m not making excuses. I’m just telling you what I was doing. Okay, since this is a retrospective blog, I can mention that I had become rather popular with a lot of the women on the JET Programme. I’m pretty sure that the majority of the gaijin guys (like Matthew) were chasing Japanese women. That meant that the gaijin women had very few options left as the sexist attitudes of the majority of Japanese men was not a turn on. And that’s where I came in. While it was well-known that Ashley was my girlfriend, it was also well-known that there usually seemed to be friction between us. For those that cared, I became someone that other AET women could talk to without feeling they were stepping on anyone’s toes. Me? I was looking to keep my options open. And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog.
    Anyhow, I guess the three of us must have impressed the OIFA enough for them to ask us to teach a weekly English class—though Ashley decided sleep was more important—Matthew and I decided the equivalent of about $100 for two hours of teaching/talking was worth it. Besides, they always brought us drinks and food. This was important, as I still couldn’t cook (future blog).
    I'm unsure if my beginner's class ever learned anything from me, but I know I enjoyed trying. Heck, I almost felt guilty for taking their money. Almost.

    Somewhere talking with my mouth full,

    An-do-ryu-sensei. Almost.
    Title is by The Coasters

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    We’re Not Gonna Take It

    An-do-ryu Jo-se-fu… su-portsu-man!
    This is how I am introduced to people in Japan by my Japanese handlers, the OBOE (Ohtawara kyoiku inkai/Board of Ed.). At first I thought it was neat, you know, a real nice compliment, because I’m not really a sportsman.
    Y’see, they quite literally believed that the profile I filled out to join the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme was accurate.
    While I did not lie: I did play basketball, volleyball, baseball, soccer, football, judo, etc…. it’s not like I am a professional. Just sports you play as a kid or an adult whenever you can get enough friends together. Okay, baseball, judo and soccer were league organized, but you know what I mean.
    My big mistake, was not correcting their misconception. Ego… thy name is An-do-ryu. Hey, back home I never had a chance to have a big ego, so can you blame me?
    It all started out quite innocently at Kaneda Kita, (kita means North) the second junior high school I taught at—there were seven middle schools in Ohtawara, and I would visit a different one every week between Monday through Thursday.
    The students at this school were a lot more rough around the edges than those at Dai-chu (Ohtawara Junior High School). The kids here were not the offspring of office workers or bankers (the so-called salary men), but had sprung from the loins of farmers. I’m not putting down farmers, I’m just saying these kids were not as couth as the kids I visited last week.
    Rather than take me for the gaijin I am, they wanted to test me.
    The students here—mostly the first years, were coming up to me in the hallway and challenging me to games of jan-ken-pon (rock-paper-scissors). I was highly skilled at the game, and only lost three of 63 matches.
    I guess I created the problem for myself when I didn't just win gracefully--nope, I had to insist on penalties where ya get to whack the loser hard on the arm.
    Despite me playing in their reindeer games, I got the feeling that they didn't quite like me... that I must have appeared a tad to uppity for these rural kids,. As such, I think they wanted to take me down a peg.
    Silly nihonjin (Japanese people) I've been taken down many a peg since arriving here. I mean, besides having coming all the way to Japan to get an American girlfriend, I've discovered I have absolutely no sense of direction and don't want to travel by myself anymore.
    But the Kita-chu (Kaneda Kita Middle School) kids didn't know that, and I'm sure they wouldn't have cared.
    As part of their plan to bring an end to my egomaniacal reign, they switched tactics, and introduced arm wrestling into the equation.
    All of the students who challenged me were pretty big kids, and I nearly lost a few times. One kid almost had me after blowing cigarette smoke in my face.
    The secret to my success, however, was to hold on as long as possible, playing defense, if you will, trying to sap the strength of my younger competition.
    However, after a couple of epic three-minute battles, my arm began to feel like a lead weight. I couldn’t even lift an arm to scratch my butt, not that I had to at that time--but, if I had to...
    Then came Sumo, a third-year student who was both round and thick like his nickname.
    Every school, and every grade, and possibly every class has a heavy boy nicknamed Sumo. There’s also Monkey-boy for the cute, small boy; and Crazy-boy for the class clown. Girls? There's the obvious Crazy -girl, and for the overly girlishly cute ones, Chibi Maruka-chan). I'm not making this stuff up.
    Sumo waddled up, sat down on a Monkey-boy and pointed to his nose and said, “Me next.” Finally, someone spoke English here! Even the English teachers here spoke little recognizable English.
    Anyhow, hating to disappoint a crowd of 41 students and six teachers, we locked up in battle. It took over five minutes, but a victor emerged. Me.
    Victory, however, was not achieved without a price, as I had hurt my wank-, er, I mean my forearm. Grunting in satisfaction at a job well executed, Sumo waddled off with a Monkey-boy still stuck to his bum.
    The school nurse said I had hyper-extended all of the muscles in my arm. Pointing to a Japanese/English dictionary, she explained that it usually occurs when a person is too stupid to know when to quit doing a strenuous activity.
    Not knowing what she meant, I accepted an invitation from the phys ed. teacher to visit the judo club on Tuesday. I took judo when I was 12, and progressed from white, to yellow, to orange, to green belt… with blue, brown and black unrealized.
    The class/club had 30 students—two with white belts (rookies); two brown belts (dangerous buggers); and 26 black belts (effin’ maniacs). The sensei (teacher) outfitted me in a gi (judo suit), and because of my size, had me spar with a 13-year-old with a glandular problem nicknamed, Sumo. Not the Sumo, but another Sumo. Sumo, of course, was a 3rd-degree black belt, which means he has achieved two levels beyond the standard black belt. I’m smart enough to know that in judo, size is not important, so even without his girth, this could be trouble.
    After bowing to each other in a show of respect, we grabbed each other’s gi and grappled for position. Despite Sumo’s size, he was still not as strong as my 175-lbs. (Yes, that’s what I was back then!)
    I pushed him backwards and waited for his reaction. Perhaps not realizing I knew any judo, Sumo quickly pushed me back hard. That’s when I used his momentum to take him in a tomoe nage (stomach throw).
    Maybe it was because I was showing off, or it was because I didn’t know my own strength, but I tossed poor Sumo (not Sumo, but Sumo) 15 feet through the air and into a wall. Uh oh!
    After the next five minutes were spent apologizing to the kid as he tried to sick air back into his collapsed lungs, I spent the remainder of the class working with the judo teacher who showed me the error of my ways in hurting his star pupil and best chance at winning a medal at the provincial championships.
    Hip toss. Andrew is down. Foot sweep. Andrew is down. Stomach toss. An-bluergg is downnnn. Shoulder throw. Blar-drew is having brain damage, and am in pain.
    On Wednesday of that week, the Kita-chu gakko (school) students (gakusei) invite me to come out and play kendo with them. Kendo is Japanese fencing, though I was not aware of that at the time. Though wary of their plans for revenge, I reluctantly agreed to participate.
    Kendo. Oh my Buddha, what a sport. You get to whack your opponent’s head with a bamboo stick while they try to do the same to you. Of course, your head, torso, hands and family jewels are well-covered with a protective uniform. The protection wasn’t enough to make me relax when I saw who I would be fighting.
    Sumo (No, not Sumo or Sumo, but Sumo) was chosen to duel with me. We began.
    WHACK-WHACK-WHACK! I get hit on the head. WHACK-WHACK-WHACK! The same result. Then the kid tries to get cute, and lunges at me to try and hit me on the right side of my body. Now what happens if someone tries to hit you on the side? That’s right, you drop your arm and try and block it.
    Unfortunately, in kendo, other than your hand, there is no protection for the upper arm. And remember, the body is already protected.
    I fell to my knees in severe shock and pain. Red flooded my senses. I lost it.
    Pulling myself up in a berserker rage, I was determined to kill Sumo (it didn’t matter which one). I began to fight back.
    WHACK-WHACK-WHACK! I backed him up with repeated hammer-like blows to the head. In fact, I kept WHACK-WHACK-WHACK!-ing him until he dropped to one knee. And then I hit him some more for good measure. I had won. But at what cost? I was in a lot of pain with a bruised arm, and a headache from the whacks to my covered head.
    You’ll all be pleased to know (or maybe not) that my escapades as a soccer coach the next day went very well, though I did strain my back trying to show the players how to do a really long throw in. I’m now wearing a corset to keep my spine in.
    I won’t even mention the two bicycle accidents that haven’t happened yet. And, I won’t even tell you about the people I’ve nearly killed while pretending to be Rocket Robin Hood in my kyudo (Japanese archery) class, or how I nearly shot myself with my own bow and arrow. Twice. These are future su-portsu-man blogs.
    By the way, if you check out the picture at the top of this blog, the lowest shows all three of the kids named Sumo.
    Somewhere in traction,
    Andrew ready-to-rumble Joseph
    Title spun by Twisted Sister.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Hey, Hey We're The Gaijin

    The following should be sung to the tune of "Hey, Hey We're The Monkey's" after you've had a few beers. It doesn't actually make the shoddy writing better, but at least you'll have a beer. As a reminder, the Japanese term "gaijin" literally means outsider, but is generally recognized as "foreigner". Gaikokujin, I believe, means foreign person.

    "Here we come.
    Walking down the street.
    Get the funniest looks from
    Everyone we meet.


    (refrain) Hey, hey we're the Gaijin.
    People point and stare 'round the town.
    But we're too busy teaching
    To put anybody down.


    Just trying to be friendly.
    Wantta sing, dance drink and smoke.
    We're from a foreign nation.
    That they pay us to speak is a joke.


    Hey, hey we're the Gaijin.
    You never know where we'll be found.
    So you better get ready,
    We're gonna live in your town."
    (and fade out).

    Okay. Stop singing now. No matter how dull and boring a person you are--don't worry, the Japanese probably think you are fascinating and exciting. It's almost an obsession, but like a horrible car accident, they can't look away when they see you. It's why they know everything about you and what you do. Little brother is watching.
    Remember how you once went shopping wearing a shirt with a small rip in it? Well, everybody noticed. They may not have said a word to you, but they noticed and told all of their friends. Didn't you wonder why there were four new shirts stuffed into your mailbox? Creepy? Yes. But really, it's not a bad type of attention.
    There is no such thing as an anonymous foreigner in Japan--especially for those of us who live in a small city, like Ohtawara. Fifty thousand very curious folk.
    It's why I can say with great conviction that I am a G.O.D. That's right--a Gaijin On Display.
    No matter what I do in my city, someone besides myself is taking notes.
    The populace is not only used to seeing me fly down the street on my overly large bicycle, but they also see me crying helplessly in front of the ATM trying to decode the miserable Kanji (an alphabet officially consisting of 1,942 Chinese symbols) buttons on the machine.
    Before becoming a G.O.D.--back when I was just your run-of-the-mill gaijin--people used to point, stare and shout "Gaijin". But, since achieving G.O.D.-hood, now they point, stare and say "Gaijin-san". Yes, they call me mister.
    It's a subtle difference to be sure, but I think it's because they realize I'm not just visiting their city, I've becoming a part of the community.
    I may not have mentioned it yet, but I love Ohtawara.
    As a known entity, you can pretty much kiss your privacy goodbye--especially if you are going to hang out with me. That's what happened to Ashley.
    In my circle of Japanese cohorts, Ashley was known as An-do-ryu's girlfriend. In her circle of cohorts, she was also known as Andrew's girlfriend, but she continually tried to downplay it to the natives by insisting that she had no boyfriend. She said she didn't want people to think we were sleeping together. They knew.
    She had no idea that her bosses were talking to my bosses, and knew the real deal about our relationship. It was important that they knew the truth.
    I asked Hanazaki-san if he had an opinion as to why the people of Ohtawara were so curious about my life in the city. He told me it was because I was a part of their community and they wanted to ensure that everything was all right for me. He also mentioned that at 25-years-of-age (it's still early September of 1990--and my birthday is two months away), I was at the perfect marrying age. It's why they wanted to know my dating situation, and why I was being observed. If I was single, they needed to know if I was good husband material. Really, I love this place.
    Conversely, if Ashley was single, they would want to try and set her up.
    Matthew? He was an enigma to me then (I'd only known him for a month!), and may have been an enigma to a fair chunk of the populace of Ohtawara, as well. I'm pretty sure he was already out chasing Japanese women, so he may not have been an enigma to them. I don't know how a 6'-3" strawberry-blond American can blend in and become invisible, but I think he did alright--in more ways than one.
    I think that for the Japanese it was cool to: talk to, be friends with, or date a foreigner.
    Ashley, if you will recall, taught mainly at the Ohtawara Boys High School, but also taught at the girls high school. I know that I had volunteered to do so, too, but the OBOE was too smart to fall for that one.
    It's probably why I constantly had high school girls (and older) come up to me and shyly introduce themselves in English. They've been told by Ashley that she has no boyfriend, but Andrew in his self-introductions has said he does. Is the Intel. wrong? Could Andrew's information not be up-to-date? Better to be safe than sorry, the girls would press phone numbers into my sweaty hand.
    Why doesn't this kind of stuff ever happen back in Canada?
    Anyhow, for some reason (guilt) I never acted on any of these phone numbers.
    To a nerd like myself, suddenly becoming popular--with women, men, dogs--is ego-blowing. But I wonder... would the Japanese still be enamored and impressed if they found out that I accidentally mailed my bankbook?
    Somewhere G.O.D. has new shirts.
    Andrew "Monkey-boy" Joseph
    PS: The Photo above is from an AET retreat a year later in 1991: If you click on the photo to make it larger and look closely at the TV screen, you can see that we are singing Country Roads. (From left) The funny CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) whose name I can't recall but won't be appearing in this blog, Me, Jeff Seaman, Matthew Hall, Tim Mould. Matthew is wearing very nice socks.
    PPS: I parodied the title from a song by The Monkees.

    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    Freestyle


    Originally titled; Rhyme Time II
    A haiku, if you will recall back to your elementary school days, is a three-line poem, with the first line containing exactly five syllables, the second line exactly seven syllables, and the third line containing exactly five syllables. However, when written in Japanese, the 17 syllables are written in a single line. As well, a haiku will usually contain a kigo (seasonal reference).
    Basho Matsuo (1644 ~ 1694) is one of Japan's most famous haiku poets, and he traveled in and around Tochigi-ken writing some of his most beloved poems.
    The last haiku I wrote helped me get a girlfriend. No, it's not this one. This is one of MY first haiku. It's entitled (in lowercase):
    "memories of a weekend in oyama"


    rain falls all day long
    woodpeckers are in my head
    melissa. vodka.

    Who is Melissa? Obviously that's her on the right in the photo at the top of the page. She is a fellow AET, and we were at a party in Oyama, a city south of the capital Utsonomiya. If I recall correctly, no one else from my neck of the woods made it down there... which kindda explains the photo.
    What's even more bizarre is that aside from the photo and haiku, I actually have no memory of this event.

    Somewhere wishing I had a better memory,
    Andrew "I did what?" Joseph
    PS: Title is by Kid Rock.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Come Together

    Let's backtrack a week.
    It's Friday, September 1, 1990. I still haven't taught a lick of English yet - but I have been told I am expected to teach the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) members some English.
    Hell, no. I haven't even taught the kids yet, and I get to do that with a Japanese Teacher of English--but to teach at the OBOE, oy gevalt! Aside from Hanazaki-san, my next best student is Kanemaru-san... and he's the fastest man in the Far East with a dictionary.
    However, because I am anxious to make a favourable impression of Canadians on the Japanese, I agree. There is much celebrating. OBO(Y)E.
    At lunch, my class of seven anxious OBOE women and two men (my bosses) stare at me with rapt attention. I have no idea how to teach or even what to teach. I ask Hanazaki-san if there is anything they would like to learn. The men say: bad-o words. The women giggle. I wink at the men and say, dame ("da-may" = no way). I give them the basic conversational: "Hello. My name is. - " and "What is your name?" stuff. They are surprisingly good and after 60 minutes are able to say: "Herro. Mayonaise is add your name-o hee-ya. Whato izu yo-a name-o?"
    Better than any Japanese I know.
    After class Hanazaki-san tells me that they are having an enkai (party) in my honour tonight, and ask if I can attend. I didn't have the guts to create a joke answer.
    After work, Kanemaru-san drives me to my apartment throwing my bike in the back of his van. It's NOT a white van, and that confuses me.
    I get dressed and we drive over to the Ohtawara Banquet Hall a mere two minutes away from the OBOE.
    If you've seen one banquet hall, you've seen them all... they all sort of have this crappy Italian look to them. Fake. I'm not saying Italian architecture is fake or crappy... I'm just saying that the hall is crappy. I have photos. Just wait. The click-thru is somewhere below. The wallpaper is gold. The carpeting is red. And it's all quite jarring to my foreign eyes.
    Along the far wall is a lectern sitting atop a two-inch high stage that I discover after tripping over it. On the wall behind the stage is a Canadian flag on the left, a Japanese flag on the right, and a poster with Japanese kanji (one of three alphabets) that I hope welcomes me--who knows, though. The Japanese, as I have been quick to discover, have a delicious sense of humour.
    Thankfully, I am not required to sing my national anthem to get this party started. Instead, the OBOE's Hanazaki-san (I only recently learned he used to be a science teacher) gave a short introductory speech, welcomed me to the stage and asked me to say a few words.
    I have to say that in what would eventually become three years in Japan, this was one of the few times I was NOT surprised to learn I had to do something. Hmmm, it must have got lost in the translation.
    I did get a bit of a surprise, however. As soon as I began giving my prepared speech in English, Shibata-sensei translated for me. Remember, pretty much everybody there was an English teacher and could speak super English, right? Hunh. I'm sure it was translated for my few fellow OBOE staff who came out to celebrate my inaugural meeting with the city's middle school English teachers. Excluding those that I met a couple of weeks earlier in a drunken stupor during Obon. Of course, many of the people I met were also in a drunken stupor, so it's likely no one remembers our first meeting.
    Turns out I was correct. I was drunk and couldn't remember anything. My Japanese counter-parts (IE teachers... at this time, I still considered them my equals---ah, ignorant foreigner)--they knew who I was.
    The speech was fine. I apparently said all the right things, and did not have to apologize to anybody. Bottles of wonderful Kirin Lager beer were opened up, toasts were made (in Japan, rather than 'cheers' or 'salute' the Japanese say 'kanpai' which is pronounced: kahn-pie), and food was served.
    I had a great time meeting the English teachers--and I must say it was a fantastic idea of the OBOE to even think about doing something like that. Sure, any excuse for an enkai, but still, the OBOE really looked after me.
    By 10PM, it was over. I didn't realize it at the time, but all of the good little English teachers had to head home and get some sleep because they had school the next day (Saturday). I had no idea. I had the day off because that is what Westerners do.
    Anyhow some of the bad little English teachers and various members of the OBOE said we should hit the local bars.
    Someone drove us to the drinking area of Ohtawara, which as it turns out is a three-minute walk or 11-minute stagger from my apartment. I recall Kanemaru-san buying me a bowl of hot ramen noodles and beers before we staggered off to a karaoke bar.
    Now, those of you who have heard me speak know I have a decent, powerful voice and a face made for radio--but that doesn't translate well for karaoke...which you might not know means, drunks trying to sing crappy songs.
    I probably had enough to drink seven beers prior (who knows how much I had--- they kept topping up my glass as I drank it down!), and I was sticking around because: it's my party and I'll die if I want to; and I wanted to fit in.In fact... fitting in is what this blog is all about. Successes and failures.
    Kanemaru-san, Hanazaki-san and a few of the English teachers (Tomura-sensei had smartly packed it when the original party broke up, but Shibata-sensei and Inoue-sensei of Dai-chu) were definitely there. The place only had three karaoke songs in English: Country Roads; Love Me Tender, and; My Way.
    I'm not partial to country or western music or Sinatra but I do love Elvis. Unfortunately the English teachers decided to show off and got up on stage to butcher Elvis whereby if he wasn't dead, he would have killed himself.
    It's not their fault... but the voices that stood out were the ones who were either the most drunk or the ones who had a heavier Japanese accent when speaking English. Love Me Tender when sung that night became one of my favourite memories--such as they are--of Japan. The inability of many Japanese to say the letter "L" and transform it into an "R" and the letter "V" into a "B" turned the song into Rub Me Tender.
    I was on the floor and rolling under the table either very drunk or howling with laughter. When they finished I bought them all a drink.
    It was then my turn. I have always liked The Sex Pistols. I had always imagined myself as kind of a suburban punk, which is why I dressed normal and sang My Way like THIS. Including all of the voice cracking, a few leg kicks and lip snarls.
    Let's just say that when I finished and walked back to my stool, the applause was genuinely mild as almost everyone had passed out from alcohol poisoning.
    For some reason Kanemaru-san's wife came into the karaoke bar (she was not at the party), dragged her husband and myself into a van and drove me home. As I poured myself out, she said her first English words to me "Sayanora" (which sounds a lot like Japanese for 'good bye') and drove away as the sun rose. It was 4AM.
    Oh yeah... click HERE to see photos at the banquet hall of my welcome party.

    Somewhere Sinatra is wishing I had done it his way,
    Andrew Vicious Joseph.
    Title is by The Beatles.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Teacher, Teacher

    After my speech at Dai-chu (Ohtawara Junior High) , Shibata-sensei and I walked back to the teacher’s room. I wanted to make a pit stop along the way, and begged Shibata-sensei to wait for me. That was no problem as he also had about six cups of green tea (o-cha) himself. While we stood at the urinals, he shook his head and wondered aloud why the Japanese can’t stand to allow a cup or glass to remain empty. He called it a stupid custom, but noted that since that’s the way it has always been, no one dares to change things.
    (Personally, I enjoy the 'no cup goes empty' tradition here... especially with beer, because after awhile, it does become more difficult to pour one's own beer).
    Shibata-sensei congratulated me on my bowing technique, and how pleased everyone was that I showed respect to the principal and the Japanese flag even though I’m not Japanese.
    I told him that respecting other people and their culture is just something we (Westerners) do. Not everyone, mind you, but most of us. There are jerks everywhere. He nodded, slapped me on my back, did up his zipper and washed his hands.
    In Japan, the first thing you learn about washrooms in public places, is that there is no toilet paper or paper hand towels. You have to bring your own. The sale of small packets of tissue paper is a booming industry in Japan. They are often used in promotional giveaways and are greedily grabbed up by a flatulent population. Hey. Everybody poops.
    Back at the teacher’s office, we fended off the ocha-girls (female teachers), grabbed our textbooks and headed off to class.
    First up was 3-1, a third-year class. Though quiet when we walked in, it quickly became loud as the students became excited when they noticed I was with Shibata-sensei.
    After another brief intro by Shibata-sensei to the students, I began my self-introduction. Because this was my first ever class, and I had no idea what to do, it may not have been my finest hour.
    During my intro, I proferred photos, and no matter what I said, I was able to back it up with a photograph. Remember, this was in the days before PhotoShop.
    I told them nearly everything I could about myself, which was immediately translated by Shibata-sensei. My age, birth date (that was written down by the students!), height, weight, shoe size. Family, born in London, UK, collect comic books, sports cards, played and coached soccer, played baseball, had lots of friends, had three girlfriends… okay, I know… you’ve caught me in my lie already.
    I had three friends who were girls. It’s true that I would have slept with them in a heartbeat, but unfortunately, I was always the guy they would talk to when they needed to talking about what that guy did wrong. Cripes. I was their girlfriend.
    But the Japanese didn’t know that and ate up the photos of brunette, Sue, red-haired Juanita, and blonde-tressed Connie. Photos of them and the rest of my introduction pics will follow, as will shots of me in action giving my intro. I'm not giving away all of my secrets in one fell swoop.
    For some reason, when I said Connie's name (and it was translated), all of the students (and Shibata-sensei) started laughing. Okay, I like a good joke, and wanted to be let in on it. I checked my fly. It was down, and quickly zipped it up, but that wasn’t it. Apparently Connie, when translated phonetically into Japanese, is Ka-ni, which after decoding Shibata-sensei’s mock claw hand gestures, I realized meant ‘crab’ (kani).
    My mock-girlfriend is a crab. I suppose that makes her a mock-crab, or crab with a “K”. That is funny.
    Who the heck said the Japanese are an emotionless bunch of people with no sense of humour? Stupid incorrect stereotypes!
    After finishing my speech and demonstration, I asked if anyone had any questions. Everyone’s hand went up. Cool! I answered every one that did not involve my penis size, so that meant I only answered the girls’ questions.
    They were all curious if I liked Japanese girls. I said “Hai!” (yes) quite eagerly and asked if any had any older sisters. I said that more as a joke for myself, but Shibata-sensei translated that too. There was lots of giggling from the girls, and cries of sukebe (pervert) from the boys. That wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear that word, but despite the kidding around, I was able to show that I’m an open person, and they showed me that they were just kids, too.
    After class, the boys who wanted to know my penis size again waylaid me. They pointed to themselves and said in English, “small, small.” I pointed to myself and said “oki-sai” (big size). They nodded, satisfied that the myth about Westerners was true, slapped me on my back and laughingly said, “goo-bai An-do-ryu sukebe”… which in case you weren’t paying attention is Japlish for: “good-bye Andrew pervert”.
    I’m in like Flint.
    Somewhere with elder sister phone numbers,
    Andrew S. Joseph—the “S” is for Stephen. Or sukebe. Whatever.
    Title is by .38 Special

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Welcome To The Apartment-Ohtawara

    I've delayed posting the concluding part of my first teaching day at school until I can find the photos to go along with it.
    In the mean time, here's a few shots of my apartment: 307 Zuiko Haitsu in Ohtawara, Japan.
    Unlike most people on the JET Programme who spent time in Japan, I did not have a small apartment. It's not to say I was treated better or worse than others on my program, it's... okay, maybe I was treated better.
    The OBOE was pretty liberal. By that I mean they were not strict, and pretty much allowed me free reign in how I chose to live my life. And that was appreciated.
    As an example, I began growing my hair during my second year, and eventually had it down past my shoulder blades, though I did keep it tidy in a pony-tail. one of my fellow AET friends told me that it was suggested by his board of education that he get a hair cut, as it was getting kind of long. It was just past the back of his shirt collar.
    Heck, along with the pony-tail, by my third year I had an earring and a beard... I still recall one of the OBOE women coming up to me and telling me in Japanese that I looked cool, and all of the other men and women there nodded their head emphatically in agreement.
    I did have a wonderful rife in Japan - as I hope you will continue to discover - but it certainly helped that the OBOE helped create a healthy work and living situation for me.
    Anyhow, enough melodrama... check out some pics of my apartment by clicking HERE. By the way... did I mention that my rent for a 3-bedroom, LDK with two balconies, fully furnished place cost me the equivalent of $300 a month?
    I did okay.
    Somewhere scanning photos wishing I had digital camera in Japan.
    Andrew Joseph
    Title is a parody of the great Eagle's tune: Hotel California. 

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    He's So Fine

    Okay, it's not the most inspiring title for a blog, but it is what it is.
    Ryoichi Shibata-sensei was a very good English teacher who made each visit to Ohtawara Junior High School a pleasure for me thanks to his wonderful sense of humour. He and I are both 25 years of age in these photos. To see a few photos of him, click HERE.

    Somewhere wondering what Shibata-sensei is up to,
    Andrew Joseph
    Title is by the Chiffons because all of the female students loved his good looks.

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Be True To Your School

    It’s Tuesday, September 5th and my first day of school at Ohtawara Junior High School, the largest middle school in the city.
    I had actually visited the school the day previous, but had spent the day in the teacher's office, as apparently some standardized student testing was going on. Of course, I didn't know that until after arriving.
    That means I spent two sleepless night worrying about my first day of teaching. To say I was nervous was a complete misunderstanding of the word. Scared spitless… yes, my mouth was dry.
    Leaving my apartment, I rode my large 18-speed bicycle the ten minutes down a newly paved stretch of road with a plethora of rice fields around me. Hundreds of students walked or rode a bicycle in the same direction. Children of the Rice.
    At 8AM, I arrived safely at Ohtawara Junior High School (aka Dai Chu - Big Junior - as it was the biggest junior school in the city.) and parked my bicycle in the already crowded bike rack, and locked it up. Checking out the other bikes, I notice that not one of them was locked up. Despite being in a city, the school is contained within a large area of farmland. Not exactly a hub of criminal activity.
    Walking slowly to the teacher’s office, every single student (gakusei) glances at me, bows deeply and says, “ohio gozaimasu (good morning)!” Respect! Baby, I love this place!
    I’m wearing a light grey suit and tie and have a green backpack with me containing the English language books for years 1-3 that I will be using to team-teach with a Japanese Teacher of English. Hence forth, these folks will always be called “teachers”. Me, I’m an Assistant English Teacher (AET), and by the time I’m done, these brilliant Japanese kids will be speaking English like a native (not like a Texan, Bawstonian or New Yawker) and know all of the idioms like the peace sign and the thumbs up. Okay... they all know the peace sign. More in another blog.
    As soon as I arrive, I make sure I go over and bow first to Principal Mori (kouchou–sensei), the vice-principal (kyouto–sensei) and then to the other teachers (sensei). Everyone is smiling. Everyone is glad to see me. Everyone is speaking Japanese to me.
    That’s cool. This is Japan, afterall. I should be speaking their lingo. I just can’t yet. Luckily, Shibata-sensei comes by. He’s a mid-20’s skinny, hip guy with good hair that has obviously seen some gel, and is pulled back up onto his head with a slight messy tousle. Handsome guy. I'll post some pix of him in the next blog...
    After five minutes of talking with him (in English), it’s obvious that he has a fantastic sense of humour—as do the other young teachers around, as everyone is laughing and cracking funnies in English! Even some of the older teachers join in. Nani? (What?) This teaching thing is going to be friggin’ easy!
    I should mention that as soon as I sat down (next to Ryuichi Shibata), I was immediately brought a small clay-fired mug by one of the pretty women there and poured a nice steaming hot cup of o-cha (green tea). Thanks to Styx, I was able to say domo arigato (thank-you very much), leaving out the Mister Roboto crap. Really, check out this video by the Polysix: HERE. Remember, click on the coloured words in my blogs!
    Because of my dry mouth, I quickly drained my cup. Seconds later, another woman was pouring more tea for me. Thanks again. I drank it. More tea, from another woman. Hmmm, I think I see a trend. Let’s confirm. I threw back another and saw the first three women jan-ken-pon (rock-paper-scissors) to see who would get to serve me. Not sure if it was the winner or the loser.
    So, it appears as though the women make and serve the tea to the teachers… turns out that the women are teachers, too. Young or old, experienced or inexperienced, the women get the tea for the men. It doesn't matter where you work or go, that's the reality of this male-centric country. I’m no male chauvinist, but the guy in me could see that this country was… what’s the word I’m looking for… oh yeah… AWESOME!
    Look… read the intro to the blog under the title… I’m calling myself an idiot, okay?
    Anyhow, I now had four cups of green tea in me, and it flowed right through me. I had to go. Unfortunately, before I could mention my predicament, Shibata-sensei also told me it was time to go. Not sure what he meant, I bit my lip and followed him.
    We went outside to a large building that was obviously the gymnasium. There, all of us teachers took off our shoes and put on some stupid, floppy slippers. Luckily, my large feet were anticipated, so they had slippers for me in size 30. Japanese shoe sizes are measured in centimeters. My 10-1/2 US shoes are equivalent to 30cm Japanese, which equals one foot. How handy. Or footy.
    Did I mention that the slippers were pink with green cartoony frogs on them? Why are all the slippers that fit me, pink? What's with the frogs? Do men like pink?
    Following Shibata-sensei up a set of stairs I suddenly realized that I was now walking on a stage in front of the entire student body of about 700 students. Junior high school, for those unaware, consists of Grades 7, 8 and 9 aka Year 1, 2, and 3.
    The students were in their dress uniforms. They looked resplendent!
    Behind me on the stage (see photo above) was a large flag of Canada, Japan, and one of Ohtawara. Awesome!
    The principal gets up to the podium. Someone yells out “Bey!” All of the student bow in unison. The principal gives a slight nod of acknowledgment. He then gives a speech in Japanese. Concludes. Someone yells “Bey!” again. Another bow by the students. I'm unsure of the spelling of the word bey, or even what it means, but it obviously meant something to the students.
    Shibata-sensei then says it’s time for me to give a speech. Say wha-? No one told me! Or did they? Damn this language thing.
    Okay. No big deal. I majored in political science, I can sling with the best of them.
    I told the crowd how happy I was to be in Japan, and how much I was looking forward to meeting all of the students. I  hoped that as I taught them English, they could also teach me Japanese and about Japan. It was all translated very quickly and efficiently by Shibata-sensei. If he was actually relating what I said, he was very good at English translation.
    Anyhow, when I finished, the thunderous silence was deafening until someone yelled out “Bey!” and everyone bowed. I did the same, brought my head up and smiled my biggest smile. It started a murmur within the crowd of students.
    I think they finally realized I wasn’t your standard teacher, despite my grey suit.
    I looked to go back to my seat on stage, but Shibata-sensie held up a hand and shook his head no.
    A pretty young female student (who’s kidding whom! They were all pretty!) got up on stage with a handsome young male student (this boy, wasn’t so handsome, but that just might be me) who held a large bouquet of flowers.
    They bowed to the Japanese flag, bowed to principal, and then bowed to me. Dammit. I forgot to bow to the Japanese flag and to the principal! Getting to know these social customs is going to be a chore! But I’ll figure it out!
    The girl said, in English: “Welcome to Japan and to our school, An-do-ryu sensei. We look forward to you teaching us English. Thank-you.” Are they all this good at speaking Japanese?
    She grabbed the flowers from the boy, handed them to me, both bowed deeply while I did the same. Awwww. 
    This time, I bowed to the student body, looked up smiled and winked at them (lots more murmuring!), turned, bowed to the principal and then bowed to the Japanese flag. I didn’t bow to the Canadian flag, because that’s not what we Canadians do. I’m not actually sure what we do to our flag, but I’m sure bowing isn’t on the agenda.
    As I sat down, everyone else stood up. Someone yelled “Bey!” Everyone bowed and left the auditorium.
    It’s 9:30AM. I’m emotionally and physically drained. Unfortunately, my kidneys are not. I still have to teach...
    Somewhere bowing to pee-r pressure,
    Andrew Joseph
    Title by The Beach Boys

    Plastic Fantastic Lover

    Crayon Shin-chan is a delightful children’s animated program in Japan that highlights gross examples of child abuse and skimpy two-dimensional art. At least it’s better than that standard Japanimation crap featuring characters with overly large round eyes. And don’t even get me started on Japanese manga (comicbook). Okay, maybe later.
    As of this writing (19 years later), I have seen exactly two episodes of the show - half of which (50%) feature some violent beatings of a five-year-old boy. I have a boy who’s almost five in another year-and-a-half, so that coupled with my viewing history of the cartoon makes me some sot of expert, and thus I feel qualified to write about it.
    In one instance, Shinnosuke (Crayon Shin-chan) Nohara is having a level-headed conversation with his “okaaaaaa-saaaaaan!” (oka-san is Japanese for mother, but the long, drawn out way I have written it is the way all Japanese kids scream it. So I have written it fo-net-ick-ca-lee/phonetically). Anyhow, the next moment, we see his mother’s face contort into an expression of pure loathing. Next we see an image of stars that is used to obstruct the view of the real goings-on.
    When the barrier is finally removed, poor Shin-chan has a bump on his head the size of a large rice ball. Remember that he’s only five-years-old, so a throbbing (perhaps oozing) melon-sized mound of flesh on his head is even larger, relatively speaking.
    Shin is usually oppressed by his mother, though sometimes Papa likes to get involved in the melee. Now he doesn’t use a belt like our dad used on our behind. Nope. He doesn’t even use an open hand smack like a sumo wrestler might. Rather he uses a closed fist and drives his knuckles down onto the skull of his poor defenseless son – just like in pro-wrestling.
    Shin-chan sometimes gets double-teamed by his oka-san and oto-san (father). Hey, shouldn’t he be at work for his 12-hour day, or smoking beside a pachinko machine spending the pittance he earns, or out drinking whiskey with his friends (IE co-workers) while squeezing the breasts of a local bar-fly (also known as a mama-san)?
    Unfortunately, the little fellow (Shin-chan ends up with a pair of goose-eggs on his noggin that could fit into a D-cup brassiere (not generally available in Japan) snugly.
    With all of the raps to the head, it’s no wonder (in the episode I saw) he was taken for a walk by his inu (dog), Shiro (in English, his name is Whitey). No, this time, it’s not a typo. This is a tpyo. His little friends look on in fright as Shin-chan began barking and sniffing their backsides.
    The dog, in typical Japanese fashion, let his pet boy make as much noise as it wanted, seemingly oblivious to the please of the ravaged youngsters to remove the fuzzy little Crayon Shin-chan from their legs.
    I’m sure most of you dear readers are as disgusted as I am at what I have just presented to you. Good. Perhaps with your help we can have the little bugger removed from the ‘care’ of his parents and placed into a different time-slot when I am home more often.
    So why bring all of this up? No one seems to think that physically abusing a small boy in anger is a bad thing here. While the boy certainly says and does things to tick off his parents, the perceived violence is shocking. That’s just bizarre.
    It is a funny show apparently, but it doesn’t quite translate well. You may judge for yourself by clicking HERE to watch a Japanese-language episode--I couldn't find the uber-violent one.
    And speaking of bizarre, on a different subject, I once went through a tv listing for the week and found over 40 shows (60%of the total programs) have a food/or cooking related theme. This is years before the specialty channels made their debut.
    The weirdest one I saw was the 2nd Taxi Driver Food Challenge where contestants (cabbies, I assume) are blindfolded and have to guess what single item food they are tasting. Yes, it’s the second one of these shows. Iron Chef was on at this time, but without the silly English translations, it wasn’t that interesting a show.
    So, why am I talking about food when I started this blog out with cartoon violence? Her's the bridge: my Crayon Shin-chan chopsticks. I figured nearly 20 years ago that I might have kids I'd enjoy beating, I mean feeding.
    Somewhere playing with my remote control,
    A. Cartoon Joseph
    Title is by the Jefferson Airplane - not Jefferson Starship, Starship or The Great Society.

    Lost

    (It’s still late August, I have not started teaching yet even though school has been on for nearly two weeks-—probably trying to acclimatize me rather than traumatize me. I spend my weekdays at the Ohtawara kyoiku inkai (literally the educational authority, but I prefer Ohtawara Board of Education, or OBOE) offices, where I study some Japanese and write letters—speaking of which, as part of a rather innocuous gesture, I decided to write a letter to a cab driver I met a month ago in Toronto who drove me around the entire day while I was on assignment for the Toronto Star newspaper. Little did I know that I would get a life-long friend because of writing. Say hello to Doug McIntosh. If you need a cab in Toronto, he’s your man! I wish I had him for this next adventure…)

    “I never get lost because people always tell me where to go.”
    And so begins yet another epic journey for Andrew in Wonderland.

    This time, I was journeying to Ibaraki-ken (prefecture/province immediately to the east of Tochigi-ken—ken means province) for some fun-filled times of some beach-blanket bingo with some other AETs (assistant English teachers) from my prefecture.
    Gasoline would be there. On a beach. With a bikini (I hoped). And that was all the incentive I truly needed. Gasoline, if you will recall, is the northern representative of the AETs in Tochigi-ken. Her real name is Catherine Komlodi, but because of the Japanese alphabets, Catherine is notoriously difficult to say, making it sound very similar to the word gasoline.
    Click HERE to see a poorly taken photo of her. It does NOT do her justice, and I apologize for how crappy it is. I was sooo shy around her that I felt I had to take the photo clandestinely.
    Gasoline had phoned me up with some directions to the beach. It seemed easy enough: Take the JR (Japanese Railways) train south from Nishinasuno eki (station) to Oyama eki, east to Mito eki and then to Kiwagire eki, followed by a short taxi ride to the Senna Minshiku Hotel. Yup. No problem. How wonderful the innocence of youth can be.
    None of the local AETS were going (I’m free!), so I’d have to go it alone. Despite the opportunity to see my crush, Gasoline, the prospect of traveling by myself scared me.
    Following a confusing night involving girlfriend problems, my day began death, as one of my goldfish decided to give up the ghost. (I had purchased a 10-gallon tank and a pair of large lionhead goldfish that would have cost me $100 back home, but only cost the equivalent of $5 here). Arguments and death. Nope, definitely not a good omen.
    After disposing of the fish, I walked to the shower. Just before turning on the gas heater, I noticed a strange tube dangling from it. That’s the thing about Japan. Every place with running water has a gas heater that must be turned on to heat it.
    So, what to do about the dangling tube? I never even noticed a tube before. Was it a present from an angry girlfriend? Could my apartment blow up if I turned it on? Wanting to smell nice for Gasoline, I figured a hot shower was worth the risk. Life over fantasy. It’s amazing how little one value’s life when there is even the teensiest chance of getting a handshake from a beautiful woman.
    As soon as I finished—it was probably the first time I’d ever sweated in a shower—I began to pack my beachwear, promptly forgetting my towel and trunks, and headed out for my 20-minute bicycle ride to Nishinasuno eki. Rain clouds gathered in the sky awaiting my departure so that it could relieve itself on me as I began my trek.
    Surprise, surprise. I made it to the station, and managed to purchase a train ticket to Oyama. I got on the train feeling pretty smug, settled in and began to read a book on Japanese history—almost oblivious to the stares of a multitude of teenaged girls in Victorian sailor outfits (which is what all female junior and high school students wear. Boys wear the male equivalent. Click HERE to see) who must have to travel by rail to get to school.
    Arriving in Oyama, I disembarked and asked a woman (in Japanese, yet!) how much a ticket to Mito would cost. After telling me in English, she leaves before I can thank her, but more distressingly, she leaves before I can ask her which train I should catch as Oyama is a big city and has 12 active train platforms.
    Swallowing my fear, I walked up to the JR ticket puncher (whose hands clicked a hole punch continuously regardless if a ticket was in reach) to ask in English (I don’t know the Japanese equivalent, okay!): “How do I get to Mito?” He says, and I quote: “Gay-toh 15.” And holds up five fingers. I bow deeply and rush off to find Gate 15.
    There isn’t one. There is a Gate 5, however—and he did hold up five fingers. I hop on the train that is waiting there.
    Since I have never been on this JR line before, I check every single station for my stop even though I know by the price of my ticket that it’s not for another 45 minutes or so (Here in Japan, your ticket price increases the farther you travel).
    After about 30 minutes, the usual fear in my stomach traveled up into my throat and turned to dread. I know I got on the train at the right platform, but still… I’m passing Tochigi-shi and Ashikaga (aren’t those in the west?!) and mountains… near the beach? Uh oh!
    I decided to take the ultimate risk and get off the train at a place called Kiryu. This small Podunk of a place shouldn’t even have a train stop, as everything around it looks like a snapshot of the 1600s.
    I hand my ticket into the JR ticket man (he too seems to have a strange palsy in his hand). He glances at the ticket as I tell him I am looking for Mito. He looks more confused than even I normally do, so I show him my directions while slowly reading out the train stations for him in case he can’t read English (a good decision, it turns out).
    The man looks mortified, as he draws a new map for me. This is what it looks like. Click HERE.
    Now I get it. That first ticket puncher in Oyama gave me a bum steer. I’ll kill him if I ever recognize him again.
    Feeling immensely deflated, I decide to head for home. Gasoline in a bikini! Aargh!
    Passing by Ashikaga-eki a couple of stops east of Kiryu, I notice a train station called—are you ready for this—“Tomita”. Now it all makes sense. The JR guy thought I had asked: “How to I get Tomita?” not “to Mita”. An honest mistake.
    I stopped off at Utsunomiya (Tochigi-ken’s capital a few stops north of Oyama) so that I could go shopping. I met a couple of Australian businessmen who asked me to show them around (in Japan, foreigners tend to congregate whenever they see another foreigner just so that they can feel non-foreign for awhile).
    “Okay… I’m not sure where we are now, but I recognize it as a place I once was lost in.”
    They soon got tired of my hapless tour and got lost somewhere else.
    While this episode was not as physically draining as my three-hour tour around Ohtawara, it was more expensive. On the trains alone, my ride aboard the disoriented express cost me about ¥4,000 which is about $40 US or $700 Cdn. Of course nowadays, the US and Canadian bucks are inching very close to par…
    And, when you factor in the costs for food, drinks and sanity, I’ve come to realize that traveling in Japan is a very costly proposition.
    By the way… there was a Gate 15 in Oyama eki… it was very well hidden, and usually only found by people who need to find it—like this woman. Click HERE.
    And, just so you know I wasn't lying... here's a few pics of my time in Kiryu and the Aussies--click HERE.
    Somewhere chasing rabbits,
    Andrew Joseph
    PS: Title is byColdplay

    Black Dog

    Dog I’m bored.
    I wish I had something to do and someone to do it with. I’d even settle for some pesky flies, but no, it’s raining so they’ve all gone inside the house. Lucky them. I hate the rain.
    The human who said ‘It’s a dog’s life’ in reference to our Zen-like existence must have had worms, ‘cause it really sucks.
    I have no friends. No one plays with me. No one talks to me… well not really. I’m a German Shepard and I don’t understand their Japanese when they do talk.
    Nothing to do but try and annoy that foreigner across the street with my… what did he call it? Incessant, bloody barking. Arf.
    I just want him to talk with me. It works, too. He screams all sorts of things at me from his balcony. Of course, I don’t understand everything because he doesn’t speak German, and as I said, I’m a German Shepard.
    Sometimes he even throws things to me. I caught an egg once. I missed the other 23 times as it often hit me about my head and body, but he was always willing to try again when I barked my encouragement.
    I like him. I’d bark to him now, but I saw him leave his apartment. Dog, I’m bored.
    I remember a long time ago… yesterday, I think, when he came over to talk with my Master. I guess that makes me his slave. Anyhow, I think they were talking about me. The foreigner was making barking noises like a Rottweiler. I understood him, because those are German dogs. He said he had three of those dogs.
    The foreigner said, “My dog has no nose.” Master asked, “How does he smell?” The foreigner said, “Awful.” Master bowed and said, “Mine, too.”
    If he doesn’t like it, why doesn’t he give me a bath? If I were his white car, I would get a bath every week. Lazy. I guess that’s why I’m out in the rain now. It really doesn’t do that great a job as anybody who has smelled a wet dog or aardvark will testify. Dog, I’m bored.
    Hey! Is Master looking at me? Probably not. I wonder what it’s like in the house? I can’t even begin to imagine what must be in there. Black and white splendour, I suppose. I wonder when they are going to feed me? I hope it isn’t that cold shiokara (squid guts) again. That stuff smells worse than I do! Dog, I’m bored.
    Uh oh! I’ve got an itch! Hmmmmmmm. Rrrrrrrrrrr. I can’t scratch it or nip at it. I guess I’ll have to roll on the ground. Verdammen Sie es! (dammit!) I hate that! I guess I’ll have to pick a piece of ground with the fewest number of rocks on it… over there! There’s only eleventeen… Now I’ve got to be careful. I don’t want to strangle myself again with this stupid short chain about my neck. Oh wait! Here comes that foreigner on his over-sized novelty bicycle. I’ll bark at him and say hello… Goody! He’s stopping. He smells funny, too. I guess dogs and aardvarks aren’t the only smelly things in the rain.
    Hey! He scratched my itch! Lucky! Now he’s going. Wow! Great!
    I think I’ll chase my tail! Bark-ark-ark-ark-arUrrrrrrk! Verdamnt chain.
    Somewhere it’s a dog day afternoon for life.
    Andrew Fido Joseph
    Title by Led Zeppelin

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Would I Lie To You?

    Sometimes you can get lucky. It’s said that virtually no home here is completely devoid of them. If there’s one, there could be 100. And, if there are 100, there could be thousands. Etcetera.
    Thanks in part to an exo-skeleton, they may the only survivors after we blow ourselves to Heaven, Hell or Tahiti, if you are a sun-loving atheist.
    Still, if you must live in Japan, there are solutions to the problem. Here are some that I tried:

    A Dozen Ways To Handle A Cockroach
    1. Stomp on it.
    2. Do it again. It’s still running.
    3. Scream like the sissy you are, hoping that it has eardrums, and that they might burst.
    4. Stomp on it some more. Why won’t it die?
    5. Buy some bug spray and try not to blind yourself.
    6. Burn it with a can of bug spray and matches.
    7. Try not to blind yourself (again).
    8. Shoot it with an elastic band and paper clip.
    9. Try not to blind—ah, you know.
    10. Ask someone to kill it for you (no one was home!).
    11. Let it eat your girlfriend’s cooking (is there trouble in paradise?).
    12. Move out and concede defeat. Besides your rent will go up once the landlord/superintendent finds out you have multiple occupancy.

    Number 11 did not happen. Even I could not be that cruel.
    Somewhere Kafka is laughing,
    Andrew Joseph
    Musical title by The Eurythmics.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    I Believe In You

    Hi troops!
    Here's something non-Japanese, but one I'm pushing anyways.
    I'd like you to check out the two blogs I follow (located under the Blog archive): Suddenly Mommy and The Circle talk show.
    My friend Anne Marie writes Suddenly Mommy. She's a very funny person - in fact, on the week-end, I saw an old (2004) comedy show of hers on the Comedy Network. If you ever get the chance to see her in person, do not hesitate to do so... and tell her Andrew sent ya.
    As for the Circle talk show, my pal Deb is attempting to get a television talk show off the ground. It's similar to The View but not anything like it, as this show has brains! Check it out. Yes, I'm involved in it too. Obviously not the "brains" part.
    Somewhere doing the unabashed plug-thing,
    Andrew Joseph
    Title is by Sonny & Cher.

    Old Time Rock And Roll

    (Here’s a story I wrote after viewing a painting of a small boy chasing after a rabbit in the mountains. I did do a bit of research, too. This is one look at the rural way of life in Japan in the 1600’s… because, like I was there. Ego, eh?).

    STILL LIFE
    With his axe in hand, the ragged, bare-foot boy leaped over the two-metre wide chasm in hot pursuit.
    His prey was a plump grey rabbit with a wildly tufted chest. Had Saburo looked below in his instant of leaping, he would have seen the raging river over 1,000 metres below.
    It was autumn in Hokkaido (northern region of eastern Japan), and the multi-coloured death suits of the trees were unable to distract him from his appointed task.
    His father and two older brothers had traveled southwest to join the Osaka Wars as hired swordsmen 10 years ago. Saburo was now the man of the house… he was only 12-years-old.
    His mother and twin sister, Mai, depended on him for food. Mai worked the Daiymo’s (samurai lord) rice paddies in the valley below for a pittance, while his mother took in a few coppers by doing laundry in the freezing river. Survival was a day-to-day concern.
    With the cold winter nearly upon the land, Saburo knew the rabbit would be both a welcome meal and a warm garment.
    A trivial matter like a leap across a gorge could not stop him. Even if he fell, and death be inevitable, it would at least be a release from the harshness of his existence. But no. He had his mother and sister to think of. No sacrifice could be too large.
    With goat-like ability, Saburo kept his quarry close. He knew his axe would only have one chance to find its mark.
    On seemingly tireless legs, the pursuer and his prey ran along the mountainous trails and through the brush.
    Suddenly, the impossible happened.
    The rabbit’s over-sized feet lost its grip on a gravely stretch of rock.
    Pouncing and deftly swinging the axe in one motion, he caught his prize.
    Tying its legs to a stick found nearby, Saburo ran back to his home.

    Somewhere staring at a painting,
    Andrew Joseph
    Today's blog title is by Bob Segar & The Silver Bullet Band.
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