Friday, October 30, 2009

Hot For Teacher

There’s a complete industry devoted to the garb of the female Japanese student. That’s me being polite. In this case, however, I’m not talking about the manufacturing of said clothing, rather the predilection of some people (men) who find the catholic school/naval uniform to be sexy. Here’s an example of a kids cartoon that men seem to like: CLICK
I thought it was a sexy look back in high school, but then again, a girl could have been wearing a garbage bag and I would have found it hot. This is not to demean the clothing worn by any of the women I dated, ‘dated’ or had a crush on while in Japan—though Kristine South recently described my choice of women in Japan as “flaky”. I can’t argue with that, Kristine.
Click HERE for an image of the Japanese school girl uniform. Do you know how difficult it was to find an image on-line that wasn’t overly sexual that would label me a pervert? (Be quiet, Matthew).
There are a plethora of men’s magazine’s in Japan, and in every single one of them you can find an adult female model dressed up (or down) in one of these skirts and blouses. Did you see that skirt? Pretty short, huh? Some of the high school girls—and the junior high school girls—just like the one’s in a school near you, would roll up the elastic waistband to make the skirts shorter.
Make-up and jewelry are strictly forbidden additions for the student while at school.
The Japanese teachers do check out the students—but not in the way you think. They check for shirts not tucked in properly, improper shoes, hair colour (like Henry Ford said: "You can have any color you want, as long as it's black.") and the aforementioned make-up jewelry—that includes watches—and I bet you they sure as heck don’t allow them to have cell phones, I-pods, Blackberry’s or any other handheld device. School is for learning. Socializing—that’s called school club activities (like on the tv show GLEE – watch it!).
While I did not ever see this at any of my seven schools, other AETs (Assistant English Teachers) did—and I even read quite a few news stories on it—but teachers would check female students to ensure that they were wearing the correct coloured panties (white, because white stands for purity… and the Japanese want to be pure. I didn’t make that up. I was told that by quite of few of the native Nihonjin {Japanese}). I believe that the news stories involved male teachers doing the checking, so at least there was some moral outrage.
So, to sum up. School girls wear what some consider to be a very sexy uniform. Girls will be girls and many try to make themselves more attractive to boys by shortening their skirts or wearing non-white underwear.
So… there I sat in the teacher’s room at one of the schools—let’s say, Kaneda Minami—after eating my lunch. I was writing down a few Japanese alphabet characters in a shoddy attempt to memorize them and was hunched over my papers when I suddenly felt two warm and soft hands on my shoulders.
I tensed up, but didn’t look around. Instead, I glanced straight across my desk to see a Japanese teacher sitting there having his back thump-thump-thumped by an attentive, acne-charged student. I wondered if my would-be masseuse was as oily a guy as his was.
Hazarding a glance, I espied a cute, young girl—a first year, Grade 7, 12-year-old—smiling at me asking: “An-do-ryu sensei, okay?” It was mostly English, so I said “hai” (yes), but not really understanding what I was hai-ing to.
That’s when she began lightly thumping me about the neck, back and shoulders with her balled up fists.
Just so we’re on the same page here—my back was and is crappy. I had a herniated disc and a disintegrating one, and sleeping on a wafer thin futon on a tatami (grass) mat really wasn’t doing it for me. I even wore a back-strap (brought with me from Toronto) to hold myself erect (I know there’s a joke there, too). 
Anyhow, I was enjoying the massage, drifting in and out of consciousness, when in a moment of clarity, I realized that the massage was now feeling different, and that something had moved. Fans of Seinfeld will know what I mean – not sure? Click HERE.
Being a decent guy (back then), I grabbed the hands working on me and turned around. Gone was the little girl. In her place was a very tall, well-built phys ed. teacher. And female. Very female. She looked at me and smiled, took her hands out from under mine and continued the massage. Glancing around me, I espied several young students staring at her with arms and faces crossed—like I was spoiling their fun. I noticed many of the other male teachers smirking at me—I caught the odd wink, too, as they shook their head and bellowed for a student to come over and work on their back.
Twenty minutes later, when I figured she had enough, I turned and said “Bikurishita. Domo arigato.” (Smokey Hokes! Thank you very much).
She was gorgeous. About the same age as me, 25, black shoulder length hair, tall – 5’10” or so, slender, but built. I quickly peeked at her left hand, and didn’t see a wedding ring (I know, Matthew). So I asked her: “Anatawa do-desu ka.” (ah-gnat-awa doe des ka means ‘How about you?’ – the word “ka” denotes a question – the Japanese do not use question marks in their written language!).
She leaned close to me and in a hushed, breathy voice answered into my ear: “Atode” (ah-toe-day, which means ‘afterwards’). It moved again, Jerry.
Now some of you might be saying – ‘Hey, you idiot! Don’t you have a girlfriend?’ Well, depending on the day of the week or the phase of the moon, I may or may not be dating my southern belle, Ashley. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we were dating, so I merely filed her response for atode should I ever require options.
After my masseuse departed my shoulders, a gaggle of students rushed over to continue.
Five minutes later when the school klaxon sirened denoting that lunch was over and classes were start about to start, my student masseuse, Kimiko Atsushi (Atsushi is the family name, and here in Japan the surname is said prior to the given name – ergo, Atsushi Kimiko or simply as Atsushi-san – in a more familiar setting, girls might be Kimiko-chan and boys might be YY-kun) bowed to me and left while I stammered my thanks.
She turned, came running back and handed me something. If you check out that photo below the title, you’ll notice that the teddy bear is holding a black, plastic gadget—a paw-held massage device for slapping yourself about the neck and shoulders.
I still use it 19 years-later.
Somewhere, my back still hurts.
Andrew Joseph
Title courtesy of Van Halen - with Dave Lee Roth singing!
PS:  I like how the bear knows where the camera is. Work it, baby. Work it!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paradise By The Dashboard Light

One September night, I took a rare night off. There was no after-school teaching at the Ohtawara Friendship Association, no Ashley or Matthew over, and no phone calls to other AETs (Catherine Komlodi or Kristine South), whom I had huge crushes on.
Heading home on a week-night after a pleasant day of team-teaching at Sakuyama Junior High School in the south end of Ohtawara (a 20-minute car drive away from the downtown core where I lived), I visited a small grocer to see what pre-cooked meals they offered.
Hey… I’m all about convenience. It probably explains why I only had crushes on the two vastly different women mentioned above. Cryptic? Another blog.
Anyhow, I purchased a 2-litre bottle of Coke (my preferred choice of suicide) and a pre-cooked tonkatsu meal – breaded, deep-fried pork on rice with a nice thick Bulldog sauce—(this LINK has it all) that I only had to heat up in my microwave oven.
Yummers. Geez. Did I actually write that word. Sorry.
While this following statement might sound ridiculously inaccurate to my wife, back then I had a dining room table and I actually sat there while eating my dinner. I did have the television on, though.
It was 6:35PM, and a baseball game had just started between the perennial great Toyko Yomiuri Giants of the Central League and the Kintestsu Buffaloes of the Pacific League – both played in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB – akin to MLB in North America).
The Giants were/are owned by the Yomiuri newspaper—a daily Japanese paper that offers some national Japanese news, as well as the foreign stuff. There’s even an English version of it that I received at my doorstep every morning. I know I didn’t sign-up for it. I never ever paid a newspaper boy for it, and until this very moment never questioned who was paying for it on my behalf. Probably the OBOE. Thank-you!
Here’s a baseball lesson.
The Kintetsu team (not the pork tonkatsu team) was owned by the Kinki Nippon Railway Co. (later the Kintetsu Corp.), and was known through the years as the Kintetsu Pearls (1950-1958), Kintetsu Buffalo (1959-1961), Kintetsu Buffaloes (1962-1998) and Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes (1999-2004).
Unbeknownst to me in 1990, in 2004 the team was sold to Orix Group—the owner of the Orix Blue Wave baseball team. The new owner merged the two teams into the Orix Buffaloes.
The Giants? Those guys are the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball. Sadaharu Oh holds the record for most homeruns in a career with 868. The Giants won nine Japanese League titles prior to 1950 when the NPB started and have since won 20 more championships.
These Giants are named after and have uniforms similar to the former New York and now San Francisco Giants—perennial also-rans to the evil empire that is the Yankees.
After finishing my meal, I laid down on my couch and gently rubbed the bruised areas of my body that still hurt a week after being hit by a car or two.
I should note that earlier this week I was hit a second time – this time right in downtown Ohtawara--and when you are hit in the downtown area, it hurts. I flipped over my handle bars and actually landed on the car’s front hood. I was okay – Japanese cars are mostly plastic. He popped his hood opened, pushed up on it from below and snapped it back into shape – none the worse for wear… although it’s possible I did get a concussion—I’m unsure as I did briefly pass-out.
Back to the couch. I curled up with a Japanese comic book purchased last blog while down in Tokyo with Matthew, and only half-glanced at the television while the game went on.
My telephone rang a few times—but since I was getting annoying phone calls from some Japanese woman who couldn’t speak English, I decided to ignore it—even if it was from any of the people mentioned above. Actually, I knew it wasn’t Kristine, as she was long-distance, and the phone rings differently.
By 8:45PM, it was apparent that Japanese comic books are not understandable by someone with zero Japanese language abilities, so I looked closer at the ensuing baseball game.
It was a tight one, with the Giants and Buffaloes tied at 3 in the 8th inning. The Buffaloes had this whiz kid pitcher named Hideo Nomo who had a twisty tornado-style delivery. The kid was a rookie, and was after his 18th win of the season against 8 losses. Instant favourite player as I watched him whiff a couple of Giants while throwing it 153kph (95mph).
With the Buffaloes going 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, the Giants were up. It was just about to turn 9PM when the television station immediately shifted programming to some inane Japanese western—a samurai drama.
What the fa-?
What happened to the game? Surely it was accidentally switched at the TV station?
I waited a minute… then another… then another. It never came back. The game had gone the way of the samurai (except for this show which was entering its 14 year on tv).
Because the next day was Friday, I went to the OBOE and asked Hanazaki-san what was going on.
He shook his head and said that there is only two-and-a-half hours allotted to the televised baseball games, and if it goes over, too bad for the sports viewer.
I explained how sports in Canada and the U.S. seem to have a precedence over other televised properties, and you could see the tears welling up in Hanazaki-san’s eyes as I described what could only be the promised land for him.
He told me that that is the way things have always been for sports in Japan, and that the Japanese were not likely to change, because change doesn’t necessarily mean change for the better.
I told him it would, in this, be a change for the better. He sharply sucked air between his teeth, and nodded meekly and said that for all things Japanese, change is very difficult.
Ah so-ka (oh, I get it).
I then asked him about Japan inviting all of us foreigner AETs into the country to teach the kids English and internationalization—what about that, then?
He laughed, slapped me on my hurt shoulder (I wish I hadn’t taught them that) and said, “tabun” (maybe).
While I later learned that the Japanese have 47 different ways of saying ‘maybe’ (including sucking air between the teeth) , my ignorance of social custom made me believe I had made them believe that change was possible. Just not likely.
Later that night, the same two teams locked up again and this time made it to extra-innings before the broadcast switched out.
Months later in April of 1991, when Japan came out with its first set of baseball cards, my rookie card of ROY (Rookie-of-the year) Hideo Nomo showed that he had indeed won 18 games. Years later (in 1994)  Nomo-san became the first Japanese-born player to play in the MLB for the Dodgers. At least it wasn’t the Yankees.
Somewhere, this swinger had a miss.
Andrew Joseph

PS: In the photo below the title: that’s my dog Buster wearing my Kintetsu Buffaloes cap with my mint rookie card of Hideo Nomo. Buster later ate the cap believing it to be tonkatsu. He doesn’t like Bulldog sauce. He does like Meatloaf, who also sang today's title song.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rock On

I have very little sense of direction.
When I had casually mentioned to my OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office that I was heading down to Tokyo on the weekend, there were yells of “bakayaro” and “bikurishita” from my Nihonjin (Japanese) handlers.
Since I had heard those two terms bantered about quite often whenever people discuss me, I decided to look them up—kind of trying to be proactive… though I’m still unsure what that means. I’ll look it up later. Anyhow, my Japanese-English dictionary says “bakayaro” means ‘stupid idiot’ and “bikurishita” means (loosely) ‘oh my gawd’.
Kanemaru san, with the aid of his Japanese-English dictionary slowly pointed out word after word to me in an effort to ask me a question.
If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it again and again—I love that man and his effort.
He asked: “A-sha-ri go with An-do-ryu?”
I shook my head that Ashley wasn’t accompanying me: “Dame” (dah-may – means ‘no way’).
More screams of “bakayaro” and pounding of chests and desks ensued.
I then quietly added: “Mashu-sensei is going with me.”
I must have stunned them, because they all settled down, smiled and went back to work. One or two (okay, it was Kanemaru-san and Hanazaki-san) came over and gently patted me on my shoulder. I’m pretty sure they learned that gesture from me, because MY Japanese have always been pretty good at keeping their space.
Anyhow, I guess Matthew was an acceptable alternative to Ashley. I’m sure Matthew is reading this and grimacing.
So, early on the Saturday morning, Matthew came to my apartment, woke me up, waited while I got ready, and rode our bicycles 20 minutes northwest to Nishinasuno eki (train station). Here’s a modern view of the station. PHOTO.
The overhead concrete structure looks like it is a Shinkansen (bullet train) track.
Following Matthew’s lead I correctly purchased a ticket north to Kuroiso eki to catch the bullet train south to Tokyo. Yes, we traveled north in order to go south, as Kuroiso is the closest stop to pick up the Tohoku bullet train.
The bullet train turns a 2 hours plus regular train ride into a 40 minute one, with speeds reaching about 235 kilometers per hour (146 mph). By the way, if you look at the photo linked into the word Kuroiso above, you’ll notice the regular JR (Japan Rail) passenger train in the bottom right – resplendent in its green and orange livery. We catch the bullet train in the above right corner.
The Japanese rail system is all right in my blog. While you purchase a ticket depending on how far you are traveling, the best feature about it is that it’s never late. Okay, there was a typhoon that once delayed the trains by 20 minutes – it made the news. Anyhow, we got to our Shinkansen with enough time to buy a box lunch (bento) and a coke before getting aboard the train.
Holy smokes! Luxurious is a barely adequate word to describe the seating arrangements. Big comfy chairs, lots of room—like 1st Class in an airplane—at least what I assume it would be if I should ever be afforded the luxury when I fly.
Regardless… after a one-minute stop in the Tochigi capital of Utsunomiya, we arrive in Tokyo’s Ueno station. So… why are Matthew and Andrew heading to Tokyo? Why to go to Akihabara, of course.
Akihabara is the so-called ‘electric city’ district in Tokyo. I can no longer recall why my girlfriend Ashley didn’t come down with us—either she was angry at me and we’d broken up that week, she was sleepy and wanted to stay home or she had no interest in listening to two nerds yammer on about whatever it is nerds tend yammer on about. In the case of Matthew and myself, we yammer on about pretty much everything. And with no Ashley about, we more than likely yammered on about women.
Vaguely recalling how hideously lost I had become while walking with Kristine on my first evening in Tokyo a couple months past, I deferred to Matthew and his keen sense of adventure. By the way… here in 2009, I recently found Kristine again! But more about her royal wittiness later. Just know that I have photos. Who is Kristine? Read this blog. BLOG.
Matthew marched us down to the Japanese subway system—there are a lot of subway systems in Tokyo, and that deserves its own blog. Suffice to say we arrived in Akihabara.
I thought Toronto was huge. It’s not when compared to Tokyo. And Akihabara—it was lit up in neon so bright it threatened to outshine the sun. And the crush of people! Wow!
It beats me how Matthew knew where he was going, but he marched us into a stereo shop—no, not the other hundred plus ones that lines the street—but one he seemed to know. Click HERE for a picture of what Akihabara looks like.
Here’s what the interior of one looks like: PHOTO.
Pointing to a nice stereo system, Matthew said this one would be perfect for my place.
How the heck did he know that that was what I wanted? Matthew seemed to always know what I was thinking before I even thought it.  Yes, I did want a stereo player – one with a CD Player. It also came with a dual cassette tape deck, but some of the younger readers are confused by that term so I’ll leave it alone.
It was a steal at only thirty bills: ¥30,000.
Just look at that number. Scary isn’t it? To get a US$ equivalent (and now Cdn$), simply subtract two of the zeroes from the right. $300.
I bought the overly large monstrosity and then had to cart the heavy boxed stereo around with me over the next six hours in Tokyo—through the thick crowds in the busiest city on the planet. I wonder if Matthew knew what I was thinking at this time.
Whatever… I didn’t have to buy it then… or maybe I did. After numerous other stops into other shops, I only found three places that were selling the exact same stereo system for less. Now, what am I thinking, Matthew?
After a quick lunch at a noodle shop, we headed over to a CD shop where I purchase some music. Along with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, I pick up a pair of mini CDs. See the photo below the title above showing Buck Tick and The Beatles (Let It Be/You Know My Name Look Up The Number). These minis are singles… what we used to call record singles with two songs on them…but again, some of the younger readers are getting confused.
Did you know these little suckers cost ¥937 for The Beatles and ¥930 for Buck Tick? (Just move two numbers from the right and insert a decimal).
And here’s the reason for the blog: In pretty much every single ‘modern’ Japanese song, the artists include English words. Words that are inserted for no other reason than to have English in them because English is considered cool.
Here’s an example from the Japanese punk group, Buck Tick and their song ‘Under The Moon Light’:
“Dreaminess-Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-Stillness-Japanese word-Japanese word-my heart. My lover-Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-Cry out.
I cry out under the moonlight. Darkness-Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-Sadness-Japanese word-Japanese word-My lover-Japanese word- Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-Japanese word-cry out-I cry out under the moonlight.
(refrain – and my favourite part)
Woo good bye my love.
Woo good bye your love.

It goes on with more Japanese words with various other English words tossed in for effect and lots more woo-ing. By the way, clicking on the photo makes them larger.
While I’m sure the majority of the Japanese listeners have no clue to what they are listening (or this English-speaking listener), I would imagine that even the most die-hard anti-establishment Japanese punk would still look up the English words in their English-Japanese dictionary while nodding their heads in appreciation at Buck Tick’s clever English wordplay. I wonder what ‘woo” translates into for them? In the case of the song, it’s really just a doo-wop sound effect… but if they are to look it up (the words are printed in the CD jacket!) ‘woo’ in the dictionary means ‘courting’. Now the song makes even less sense.
I know it looks like I’m mocking Japanese music—and I am, but really, anything that gets them to learn a few English words is okay in my book.

Somewhere going on like a broken record—in stereo!
Andrew Joseph

PS – Matthew and I made it home without incident and my OBOE office was very thankful and presented Matthew’s boss, Mr. Suzuki, with numerous omiyage (souvenir food presents—mostly the ones I had brought back for them) and a hearty slap on the back. I taught them that.
PPS: Today's title is by Humble Pie.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Paperback Writer

Please sir or madam will you read my book…

Perhaps it’s because Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was recently on Larry King Live, but I’m going switch karmic gears here.

A few years ago, I actually e-mailed the Dalai Lama asking for some background information for a story I was writing. Now he may not have physically answered my e-mail – perhaps one of his aides did – but along with the information, I was sent a Tibetan prayer stone as a gift.

I’m not the most spiritual person in the world, but I do like the Buddhist philosophy as a way of living my life—though the only thing Buddhist-like about me in appearance is…hmmm… I’m drawing a blank—does a blank stare count as part of Buddhist philosophy?

Not sure what Buddhist philosophy is? Notice that I call it a philosophy, not a religion, because that’s what it is. It's a philosophy of how to live your life.

I’m going to tell you about a book I recently read called: Something You Forgot ... Along the Way (Stories of Wisdom and Learning) written by a gentleman named Kentetsu Takamori. It's a book that offers insights on how to live your life.

Takamori-san is a Pure Land Budhist teacher, born in 1929 in Japan. He has lectured all over the world on the teachings of Buddhism for over 50 years and has authored several best-selling titles written in Japanese. He is currently the chair of the Buddhist organization Jodo Shinshu Shinrankai which spreads the teachings of Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), the founder of his Buddhist sect.

His latest book, Something You Forgot…Along the Way, offers the reader 65 short stories—each highly entertaining in their own right—but containing a message that will make you go ‘hmmm’. Or at least that’s what I did.

I’m not saying we should all go out and become Buddhists, though I’m sure that Takamori-san would appreciate it if we did—rather, I think there are many lessons contained within the stories that we could put to practical use to not only better ourselves, but those around us. Uh-oh! Better others? That’s a story in the book, but the implication is that by simply being nice or happy, we can affect how others live their life.

Takamori wants everyone to know the message is far more important when it comes to human nature. He cautions us that nothing is permanent… I feel that way often when writing about my wonderful rife in Japan.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Tell Yourself You Have Just One Arrow
The Art of Focusing the Mind
As the youth standing in the archery ground faced the target with a pair of arrows, the grizzled old master beside him said bluntly, “You’re still a beginner. Make it one.” To hold two arrows was customary. Why should he, a beginner, use only one? The advice made no sense.
Despite his misgivings, the youth obediently cast one arrow aside. Then the thought struck him, “Now I have only one.” He focused all his mind on it, and successfully hit the target. The onlookers erupted in applause, surprised to see one so inexperienced perform so well. Still, the archer puzzled over the advice he had been given. Finally he sought out the master and asked him for an explanation.
“It’s simple,” said the old man with a twinkle. “Knowing you have a second arrow to fall back on prevents you from focusing on the first. Your guard goes down. Unless you are prepared to stake all on a single arrow, you could have dozens and it wouldn’t be enough.”

Pretty cool, huh?

Having done kyudo (Japanese archery) – future blog – I can relate to the advice on a physical level, and the message within the story on a human nature level.

“Once this reality sinks in,” Takamori says, “we cannot help treasuring each moment of our association.”

The stories contained within focus on such basics as the importance of perseverance, the real meaning of honour, and how success is not gained by chance, but by the fruit of our efforts. The stories aim to give guidance and help the reader see deeper into life.

Individuals looking for answers may find them in Something You Forgot…Along the Way. Those who accept the inevitability of change may have taken their first steps toward a brighter future.

It really is a wonderful read - written in such an easy-to-understand manner that belies the profound nature of the topic.

Released by Ichimannendo Publishing, Inc., Something You Forgot…Along the Way follows on the heels Takamori’s previous self-help bestseller in his native Japan, You Were Born for a Reason.
Translated from Takamori’s Japanese to English by Juliet Winters Carpenter, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

To purchase it, visit www.i-ipi.com.

Somewhere remembering along the way,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Title is by The Beatles - who could probably provide a song for every blog entry I come up with. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Here Comes The Sun

Although I may have first surfed the so-called Internet back in 1980 with my Atari 400 computer and the telephone placed onto a modem, all that was available then were message boards. Ten years later in 1990 when I first got to Japan, it was still much the same.
Al Gore didn’t invent the real Internet until about 1992 or so, and even then, information contained within should have been taken with a grain of salt thanks to 90 per cent of the information that wasn’t porn, was inaccurate. The porn may have been inaccurate, too.
I mention this because in 1990, I really had no concept of what Japan was like, except that all of my pre-conceived notions may have been incorrect.
I knew there were navy-blue suit clad Japanese men with glasses and Moe Howard haircuts; there were radioactive monsters; and there was sushi, which every kid on the playground knew was raw fish.
Readers of It’s A Wonderful Rife now know that not all men have the Moe haircut (see Shibata-sensei), the only monsters I’ve seen aren’t radioactive (giant spiders), and that sashimi is the raw fish meal and sushi is actually various fish, cephalopod, eggs and/or veggies wrapped in cooked sticky long-grained Japanese gohan (rice)--not American or Indian rice!--and nori (dried seaweed).
What I didn’t know about Japan could fill a blog every few days for years—see what you’ve signed up for!?
Here for your edification is some information about Japan’s climate, and because some of you have asked for it (okay only one of you), a brief mention about the time difference.
Weather you’re ready or not: Not all of Japan is created equally weather-wise because of its geographical layout. A map of Japan will show you what I mean: MAP.
While a lot of the country is situated east-west, you’ll notice that a lot of it also stretches north-south. It’s because of this verticality that Japan has a very varied climate.
There’s teeth-chattering Sub-Arctic weather to the north (Hokkaido or the disputed Kuril Islands claimed by Japan, but occupied by Russia since 1947), Sub-Tropical (Okinawa) to the very south (Okinawa), while the larger Kansai, Chubu and Kanto regions on the mainland are considered Humid-subtropical and have the variable four seasons just like Toronto.
Honestly, the weather for Ohtawara is very similar to Toronto—so, I lucked-in (-out… what the heck is the correct term?)
Winter is December 21-March 20; Spring is March 21-June 20; Summer is June 21-September 20; and Winter is September 20-December 20. Officially.
It starts to get very rainy in August and September, though August is also the hottest month and on average 11 of the 30 days of September are wet.
It cools down quickly in October and November, is downright frigid in December, with some snow (maybe three or four storms) between January and February—more if you are closer to the mountains. March is wet and windy, but cool. April is warm enough for you to wear shorts. May through July it’s hot and you’re going to do a lot of sweating.
Temperature for Ohtawara is (on average): 1.2 Celsius in January up to 23.1 degrees Celsius in August, with an annual average temperature of 12.5 degrees Celsius.
Hmmm, I’m reading this as I write it, and for the three years I was there, those summer month temperatures—especially August were always in the mid to high 30s where it was mushii atsui (humid & hot). Could some of this information I’ve glommed from the Internet be wrong?
Ohtawara averages about 158.7-mm of rain a year, with the wettest months being June through September (I’ll actually say September, as it always has about five typhoons roaring through the country).
Weird fact #1: Approximately 50 per cent of Ohtawara is covered by rice fields.
Weird fact #2: Ohtawara is 217.76 m above sea level.
Weird fact #3: Ohtawara’s official flower is the kiku (chrysanthemum).
Weird fact #4: Japan does not follow daylight savings time.
Weird fact #5: Japan is 14 or 15 hours ahead of the U.S. and Canada’s eastern standard time (EST) and 10 or 11 hours ahead of the U.K. Why the inability to peg down the actual time difference? Remember, o noble reader, we all have daylight savings time to shift on us.

Somewhere, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet
Andrew (my blog is on the Internet) Joseph
PS: I might exaggerate, but you can always believe your stupid guide-jin, An-do-ryu.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

There's a typhoon a-blowing and I'm leaving Dai-Chu (Ohtawara Junior High School) in my first week of teaching in September 1990. 
So, I ride off for home—along a new roadway that seems like it was recently paved prior to my arrival. (It was, actually, but not because of me, despite my thoughts). Wonders of wonders! The wind is at my back, pushing me along at about 50 kilometres an hour—with the only thing saving me being the constant application of brakes.
Believe it or not, I manage to come to a stop at a three-way T-intersection. My road ends, and I need to go left to get to my apartment. I stop first. A car comes from the left and stops.
Since I was there first, I have the right of way. So I proceed to make my left turn. That’s when the car decides to drive forward.
Now I know he saw me.
As I tumbled in slow motion over the hood of his tiny red car (it must have been a white car painted red with the blood of other victims), I noticed his eyes grow wide as he mouthed the word “gaijin”.
I rolled off the car, and lay there in the road. I was in shock. I don’t think I was hurt, so I lay there, curious to see what this kamikaze pilot would do.
Ten seconds. Twenty Seconds. Nothing. What the heck? Peeking, I can see him fumbling around for something in his car.  But still he hasn’t even opened a car door. There were a small score of 40 students watching all of this go down… where were they? Ah, probably in shock too at seeing the gaijin-sensei get plowed by a car. Especially one that isn’t moving.
And still, raindrops keep splattering on my head.
Finally, I hear the car door open. I close my eyes and squint through them to try and keep the rain out. I see him squat over my face. He has a red umbrella in his hand. Was that what he was looking for?
And where did my umbrella fall off too? With the wind, it probably blew away to Korea.
He stares at me for a few seconds and utters the most bizarre phrase I have yet to hear here in Japan: Daijobu (pronounced: die-joe-boo)?
Daijobu? What the heck is that?
He speaks again: Daijobu, gaijin-san?
I answered: Huh?
He began putting his hands on my arms and legs, slightly squeezing and asking: Daijobu?
Okay, now I get it… he’s asking if I’m okay?
I let him off the hook with a quick ‘hai’ (yes) and get up just as a small elementary school student had begun to draw an outline around my body. Screaming in fright he ran off. In his place and bowing deeply, a young girl handed me my umbrella… hmmm, must have been a lull in the gusty winds.
Anyhow, my kamikaze pilot picked up my bike, straightened out the frame to the best of his ability and asked a group of students (of the junior high school ones who had finally wandered over) if they knew where I lived. About six of them gave my full address—including postal code. Privacy. Heh. It’s funny now nearly 20 years later.
Cramming my bike into the back of his car, he drove me home – chatting all the way in Japanese, in a very friendly manner. He’s a bad driver who can’t locate an umbrella, not necessarily a bad person.
I got home, collapsed in my chair with a coke.
DING-DONG.
Crap. I get up and open the door to a stern-looking Hanazaki-san and Kanemaru-san who have already heard about my accident. I’d only been home for four minutes! Twitter ain’t got nuthin’ on the Ohtawara gaijin hotline!
While I was in the process of convincing them I was daijobu-desu (die-joe-boo-dess, meaning I’m okay) the doorbell rang again – Kanemaru-san answered it—and in marched three of the ladies from the OBOE office, complete with homemade food.
Of course, for the next couple of months, my right shoulder was hurting—a bone bruise—meaning I couldn’t play sports properly. Or at least shouldn’t (Remember THIS?)
Somewhere nothing’s bothering me… except that pain in my distended abdomen,
Andrew Raindance Joseph
Title is by BJ Thomas

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rock You Like A Hurricane

Y’know, I didn’t really do a lot of research on Japan before arriving. Honestly, I thought I’d chicken out because I’d get hired on full-time by the Toronto Star newspaper with whom I had been working for since April of 1990.
What I hadn’t counted on was an economic recession to hit meaning no one was hiring—especially the Star, as it generates the majority of its revenues through advertising, which is always the first victim of a downturn.
So, I had no idea what the weather was like—I assumed that it was a sub-tropical place, and that was that. If I had been smarter, I would have recalled that Japan had played host to the Winter Olympics in 1972 in the city of Sapporo (It was also the host of the Olympics in 1964, in Tokyo). Ya can’t have a winter Olympics without snow.
Fortunately my mother and father were paying attention and told me to take along my winter boots—a pair of so-called construction boots, and a winter coat, gloves, scarves and hats—just in case.
They knew what was up, but either didn’t tell me (not likely), or they did repeatedly and I just never listened (more than likely).
As you know, when I arrived it was bloody hot and humid in Tokyo, and my adoptive hometown of Ohtawara. It did not rain once all month leading me to believe that this sauna of a city was always going to be wet with humidity.
Being an idiot has its advantages, and its drawbacks.
When September came, so too did the rain. Kind of a constant rain – not overly hard – but one that lasted several days. And then it got wetter.
No one told me, but Japan has a typhoon season. Apparently most of the typhoons (what us North Americaners call hurricanes) hit Japan between May and October, with the months of August and September usually being the peak season. Well, if August was part of that equation, then September shouldn’t be such a big deal, ne (eh)?
It started raining on Tuesday night—after the first day of teaching for me at Dai Chu (Ohtawara Junior High School). No big deal.
For Wednesday, I wore a windbreaker with a cap on it. I then rode the 15 minutes to school on my bicycle built for gaijin. I rode into a headwind. The wind was howling and pelting me with shards of rain, making my face hurt.
To be fair, it wasn’t just me… the students had to make the journey, too. Worse yet, the primary school kids had to as well. Tiny little 6 - 11 year-old children blown about by the winds.
When I got to school, I was soaked right through to my skin. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes with me—just my school books placed carefully in my backpack—apparently it was waterproof, and allowed my back to remain reasonably dry.
Fortunately, there was a teacher there taller than me—if Shibata-sensei was a heartthrob to the female students, then this guy was the heartburst, as I often heard little girls sighing lustfully after he would walk by. Anyhow, the guy was about 6’4”, super friendly and had a great sense of humour.
Okay. Stop for a second. Having a sense of humour and being Japanese sounds like an oxymoron (a lot of stupid bull), but what I learned—and will show over the course of these blogs, is that the Japanese are just like every other peoples on this planet—struggling to make ends meet, worries about family, work, like to have a good time. Some are not so nice, and some are nice. Got it? Good.
Back to the wetness protection program.
So, he gave me a set of track pants, a t-shirt and a track top. Shibata sensei lent me some hair gel, and I was set like my hair.
I’ve previously explained my day (Click HERE for a revisit), but let me tell you about the ride home.
Informed that this was the beginning of a typhoon that was expected to eventually become a Category 3, I was offered an umbrella for the ride home.
An umbrella in a hurricane. Sure it sounds silly, but I’d never experienced a typhoon before, so what did I know?
Stepping out the door, I saw students and teachers alike pop their umbrellas open and watched as the wind quickly inverted them into so much worthless fabric and metal. Others—well, let’s just say I saw one or two umbrellas reach for the sky. Learning by example, I lowered the head of the umbrella into the driving rain and then opened it. Keeping the head pointed directly into the wind, the umbrella did a reasonable job of keeping me not completely soaked. My shoes had been skwooshing all day—that ginormous, heartburst guy didn’t have an extra pair of shoes, and they would have been a good 3-centimetres too small anyway.
Then I got on my bicyle.
I’m going to end things here—and we’ll pick of the pieces in the next blog.
Somewhere moist,
Andrew Joseph
Title sung by The Scorpions.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sticky Sweet

The Japanese are a very complex people--nothing like the one-dimensional stereotype we are afforded in our television and movies. While I hope to be able to show some of the complexity within my blogs, at this time, I'm going to look at their nationalistic pride.
Hey, I'm all for having pride in one's country. I wish that people living in Canada felt that way, as I've always found a lot of Canadians to be what I call "hyphen-Canadians"... describing some place their parents were born like it's the promised land. As an example, I was born in London, England and lived there for three years.  My parents were born and raised in India. I have spent the majority of my life in Canada, with the obvious detour to Japan. A lot of Indians will call themselves Anglo-Indian, or Indian or an Indian-Canadian. I am a Canadian. No hyphen for me.
The Japanese are like this, too. There is a sense of nationalistic pride that at first glance could be a tad annoying, but hey, at least they aren't trying to take over countries anymore. In a very near blog, I'll post some photos I own showing Japanese expansionism.
But what the heck does any of this have to do with that obviously sexual title. Sticky Sweet? What the heck could he mean?
I mean rice. But not just any rice, I'm here to tell you about Japanese rice. Ah so-ka (roughly, oh yeahhhh).
Japan--up until the end of WWII, was known as an agrarian society, with rice being the staple of life in Nihon (Nihon is Japanese for Japan, and translates into "rising sun").
During my first couple of weeks at school (and hence at every school I would visit), I would eat lunch with a class in their home room. In all honesty, in three years of lunches, I can not ever recall not having rice with my meal.
I was told by Hanazaki-san that it was like how we Westerners eat bread as part of our meal--but the Japanese will eat rice three times a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, while it's possible that we might actually eat bread thrice a day, it's not likely. And if you are, fer gosh sakes, lay off it!
Whenever I eat, there is always someone--either a curious student who has just learned the word "what", or a teacher who will ask me this question, and I quote:
"What do you like Japanese rice?"
(Other variations include but aren't limited to, "What do you like: sports, sex, ski"?)
Yes, I like Japanese rice.
Okay... then comes the next zinger... and I have been asked it by students, parents, teachers, OBOE members, etc. Okay, it's more of a statement, but the appropriate response is awaited.
"Japanese rice is very tasty, ne?"
(That ne, is the Japanese equivalent of a Canadian "eh").
I don't know how to answer that. It's  rice. It has no taste. It's rice-flavour, which is nothing to me. And why are we talking about Japanese rice? Isn't rice rice?
I actually asked Kanemaru-san that one. After rousing him from his faint, he went and conferred with the rest of the OBOE staff members, who stood around me and provided me with an intervention.
"An-do-ryu-sensei. We like you, but your lack of knowledge is an embarrassment."
I was then taught everything I know about rice--except how to cook it.
Japanese rice when it is ready for harvest, bows deep from the weight of the grain (is a grain a vegetable?). The honourable rice bows to the farmer. How Japanese of it. I'm sure all rice plants do that, but how Japanese of the folks to notice it bows. I think it's pretty cool.
Japanese rice is a long-grained, sticky rice that clumps together after cooking.
American rice comes in both a long grain, and a short grain, and is not sticky, meaning that should you try and pick up a clump with chopsticks, it won't clump.
Indian rice is a short grain rice and is sticky, but because it's a short-grain, and because it's not Japanese, this variety is apparently not tasty.
As for the American varieties, I have been told that even despite its lack of stickiness, it is not a very tasty fruit... vegetable... what the heck is it?... Personally, I believe it's because America is not superior to Japan when it comes to the production of rice. (In our next blog, Andrew will describe the use of American English in Japanese society). The lack of stickiness is a major factor in the Japanese not wanting to import American rice into Japan--who needs non-sticky rice that is really useless when one is using chopsticks? It doesn't matter if the US might also produce a sticky rice for the Japanese market--it's just not tasty.
That is what I was told by darn near anyone with an opinion on rice in Japan (which is everyone). I just wonder where they got a chance to try the US rice? Pride in their country would not really allow them to sample it, so where are they getting their information?  
Apparently the media is to blame. Newspapers, magazine, and television. Oh, how could TV let me down so?
Anyhow, okay, you're gonna love this one... the Kanji (Chinese-derived symbols) used for rice is THIS.
When writing America, the Japanese use: Amerika (亜米利加) or for short, Beikoku (米国), which literally means "Rice Country". Rice = America = Rice.
They hate American rice--though they do respect America--but have given America the same symbol as rice. Confusing, ne?
Anyhow, I decided to see if I could find out just what it was that gave Japanese rice its wonderful Japanese... I can't call it flavour... because honestly, it tastes like rice... so let's just call it riceyness.
One morning after spending an enjoyable time at Ashley's I rode my bicycle home at around 5AM. The sun had been up for an hour--there's no day-light savings time here (really, it's the land of the rising sun. Ya can't screw with the sun!). My 22 minute journey takes me through 21-minutes of rice paddies.
Anyhow, there it was, clear as a stream. I saw Japanese farmers peeing in their rice field--several farmers, in fact. And it wasn't just golden arcs, either. Nope. The hunchbacked women who spend all day long hunched over picking weeds or planting rice plants had their dresses scrunched high as they let go jets of urine. There is no real morning mist in Japan, it's merely warm pee hitting the wet rice paddies.
So, is that what makes Japanese rice so tasty? Is there a sake-flavoured rice? There must be.
What do you like urine?
Somewhere outstanding in his field,
Andrew stream of consciousness Joseph

Pee S: The two drums are representative of how rice used to be bundled back in the samurai days. It still is, actually - for show. These two drums are actually sake containers... appropriate as sake is fermented rice wine.
PPS: Title was brought to my attention by Motley Crue.
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