Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tat Tat Tat it up

Here is something that pertains exactly not at all to myself, and yet still manages to infuriate me.

I am not going to say I am for or against them because personally I don't really care. But what I can't stand is the blatant racism towards people that have them. Recently in Japan, a man employed by the city of Osaka showed his tattoo to a child. What the tattoo was, they never said, but what entailed...After hearing of this story, the Osaka mayor demanded to know who on his force, employed by the government anywhere, in any position in Osaka, who had body ink. Now this already infringes upon the rights of people. And to take it a step further the Osaka city mayor, Toru Hashimoto, just said they may as well quit now. It is currently implied that he is looking fire anyone with a tattoo, but of course there is a certain legal battle. How will he get his workers to survey as to whether they have tattoos or not? He is holding promotion above their heads. He states that anyone who fails to answer the survey will be withheld from all promotion possibilities.
Toru Hashimoto is probably the most active politician in Japan and does do some decent things for Osaka, and then apparently some radical things: tattoos, ending relations with the red cross which provides much of the disaster relief to many victims, such as for Fukushima last March. And additionally he is an advocate of dismantling the Tokyo government. He feels it holds too much power and that to dismantle it and start afresh would be in its best interest as it can't but last another 3-5 year (quote).

So what is next?
They have now put forth a motion where any teachers in the employment of Osaka government will have to answer if they have tattoos or not. Remember this does not affect me or my job. I am tattoo free. But the blatant criminalization for freedom of expression is so overwhelming that one cannot help but to be infuriated with the closed-mindedness of the Osaka government. The movement for teacher is luckily facing a lot of opposition from the board for good reason and is in an unpassing stalemate currently.

Tattoos have long been a source of stereotypes and even fear in Japan, as they have long been related to the yakuza, the gang population in Japan. I can't tell you much about gang related tattoos other than that apparently they exist. The situation is probably highly similar to tattoos in the American gang scenarios. Regardless, the yakuza inspire fear in much of the Japan population. And seeing tattoos only increases the knowledge of the person, the affiliation and that fear. And the best way to see tattoos? Get naked. No really. As people began to take notice of these tattoos at public bath houses and onsens, their clientele began to express their worries and take their patronage elsewhere. Action was taken, a rarity for Japan. The public naked places put a ban on anyone entering with tattoos. This means regular Joe with a MOM tattoo can't go either. Why? Because they had to make it fair. They cannot just ban the yakuza that is illegal and infringing upon rights, so they had to make it everybody to be politically correct. At least they got that bit right.

The above is an example of some Japanese yakuza body art. There isn't necessarily one image they stick to but more over a style of images.

So 6 people who admitted that they had tattoos on the survey were recently fired from their positions.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

For Rent

In America we rent DVDs. In Japan there seems to be no limit on things you can rent.

From any given DVD store where you rent the latest Harry Potter movie or what have you, you can also rent the latest CD's to burn and make copies of at your home, or the latest manga or a whole series of manga, and of course their infamous porn. To rent a DVD here it costs about 150 yen to rent a not so new release for about a week and twice that to rent a new one. I actually cant say how much it costs to rent CD's or manga, but I feel like the manga price might be a bit much either way since you can simply go to a good number of cafes and read the manga for free there. Of course you would have to show patronage in some other way, namely coffee. Interestingly Japan does have a bit of a problem with piracy, but it seems not to the degree of the united states...or Korea. The rental business, open 24-7, is still a well sought out place on any given Friday or Saturday night. They often have decently large stores for a place in Japan and I would even say larger than your local Blockbuster store. Their DVDs are largely Japanese as to be expected but there is a surprising amount of foreign films there, and not just American. I see a very good number of BBC originals and French and German ones as well. Korean ones are also present but a bit less popular (Asian competition and all). This is because Japanese rental businesses have to purchase the Japanese DVDs to rent them out. But they do not have to purchase a good number of the foreign films. It seems that the film industry, as least in America, will give them the films but in return they get to claim a certain amount of the profit from each rental.
One of the more gaijin related things that you can rent however is none of the above. A great many gaijins come to Japan and think of one thing (for girls): kimonos. You can rent kimonos. Of course they prices can still be pretty expensive, especially if you are looking in the wrong direction. It also depends where you rent it from.  If you rent it in the Gion district of Kyoto (the large traditional and shopping district) of course it will be more expensive. And sometimes you rent them and they are almost in equal price to one you can purchase and take home with you. Additionally people often rent ones that are extremely low quality, such are they are made of polyester and not silk or cotton. And face it if you rented a cotton one and it is not summer you are being equally ripped off. You will be looked at very strangely indeed. Of course you might be looked at strangely regardless, because after all you are still a gaijin in a kimono. These kimonos-for-rent are often much more colorful and flashy than one a Japanese person might own so as to cater to the western fashion of colors.
Personally, as much as I think it is amusing for gaijins to rent these kimonos (I probably find it amusing because no matter how hard I might try I will never look that part wearing one) and wear them about, I think this is a splendid business venture. It is really an excellent way to discover some traditional aspects and
culture of Japan.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


It takes exactly seconds for nearly every persons cell phone to go off in all manner of noise on any given railway car alerting them to a quake.
A rather unnerving thing to be sure. But a necessary one in Japan.

Living out in Kansai region, my experiences with such incidents are few and far between. I am relatively safe from the majority of earthquakes. But living in Japan all phones come with a handy little alert that notifies you of an earthquake so as you can take any necessary precautions. Sure you might think what good is a phone alert going to do if the focal point is right beneath you. Well not much. It will even probably be late. But for those who are city and prefectures away that will still feel it, albeit to a much lesser degree, it serves as a good warning.
These warning actually don't go off for every bump Japan has ever faced now, because really at that point phones would not stop ringing! Typically they will alert you to 5 or greater earthquakes, or if you have a more advanced warning system it might tell you any 3 or greater detection.

So now a little more about earthquakes.
Being in Japan I probably with in all reason should have experienced no less than 10 earthquakes. But it appears that I am especially deaf to the noise of their rumbling. No really, I have felt none save for one. This one had an epicenter in Nagoya and was probably a level 1.5 or 2 when it reached me out in Osaka. It all happened when I was at work and I only remember feeling dizzy and thinking man I should have had a bigger breakfast or man it is way too hot out if I am feeling like this. It was really nothing out of the ordinary. No desks shaking, papers falling, or even phone alerts. The only thing that was off was that everyone else had exactly the same sense. So we all looked around a bit and noticed that each other was looking around to see if the room was swaying or if it was our head. After we realized that we were all under the same dizzy spell, we turned on the TV and checked the recent news. Sure enough there was an earthquake a few hundred kilometers away. So for anyone who thinks the ground will rattle and crack...well maybe it will be that way for a greater earthquake, but to my experience it was just a slow gentle rocking or swaying that was unnoticeable until you realize that it wasn't really your head all along.

Grim news.
So of course after the great earthquake up north in 2011, they bolstered the earthquake programs and reinforced their buildings. When I came here all of the schools I taught at were under construction for additional earthquake support. What they also did was amp up their program for predictions and research. What they found was grim in the news for Tokyo. They have forecasted a great earthquake to strike Japan's capital in the next four years with a 7 or greater magnitude. This news brought a lot of hysteria and a bunch of people saying that it will happen tonight. Of course, it hasn't happened yet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A week of Gold

Japan really likes their holidays. So much that they decided to have a bunch of them all at once and call it a week of holidays. This boon was like pure gold to the ordinary working class, who as we all know work crazy hours far into the night and don't understand the meaning of a 40 hour work week, and is thus called Golden Week. Real original right? Well at least that story was.

It is true that Golden week is a conglomeration of holidays the most prominent and known about is likely Childrens Day, which is held on May 5th. This day is celebrated by flying koi nobori which are koi (carp) windsock kites. These kites can actually get to be pretty expensive ( several thousand dollars) and the different fish along the pole each have different meanings. The largest of which is a rather recent addition and is a plan sea blue or deep blue windsock which represents the sea, descending along the pole are black red blue and green fish which in turn symbolize the father, mother, and their sons. I believe there are also a few more recent additions to represent daughters. The reason that daughters were not originally symbolized along this pole with everyone else in the family is that previously this day was known as Boys Day. Girls day was Hinamatsuri and boys day was Tango no Sekku (Feast of Banners...Feast of Crows? anyone?). On the current childrens' day, it is custom for parents or grandparents to gift their children, regardless of boy or girl.

Childrens day is considered the last holiday of Golden Week with the other holidays falling on the 29th of April, the 3rd and the 4th of May. The other holidays are seemingly less important and if you ask a normal Japanese they might have a hard time remembering the significance of all the days.

Today May 4th is known as Greenery Day. Though the day has been changed and moved about many times a fact remains that it has always been consistently held in the spring time to better commune with the growing of plants and the celebration of all the new green life. What do Japanese people do on this day? Absolutely nothing. Well a few traditional ones might tend to their garden or perhaps plant something and spruce of the life of their patios. It is a bit like Arbor Day in the States... only we really attempt to celebrate it with the young ones and will plant trees and such. However due to the hodge podge of holidays the significance of this one perhaps gets a bit jumbled and over looked.

May 3rd is now known as the constitution memorial day in Japan. To celebrate, what else, the constitution. Not much is done on this day either except to make the holi-week another day longer. Perhaps some might visit the museum which holds the constitution or some other equally important democracy inspiring sigil.

April 29th has been changed a few times and has finally settled on being known as the emperors birthday. The emperor for which this holiday stood is a few decades past, and the holiday is inconsistent with the current emperors birthday, but the day is more of a reflection of the emperor and his lengthy rule during the wide array of events that manifested and dignified his reign.

Most kids just hang out with their families for a week and might go and visit relatives. It is a big family oriented holiday. You will find many places that closed during this holiday, restaurants, shops, stores of all kinds. Though, in popular areas you will find some places open; for instance if you go and visit a very well known temple, many of the omiyagi shops will be open to make a quick yen. As it turns out, temple going is a very popular venture for most families during this holiday. Many will travel to places like Ise to pay homage to one of the greatest temples in Japan and the birth place of Amaterasu the sun Goddess as well as the sun itself.
This family practice of gathering during the holidays continues to when children are grown. A friend of mine, past her college years, went home to her family during Golden Week all of whom then went and visited Tottori together.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Suffer your Sickness

Something that I have found to be both true in Korea and Japan so far is that they will go to work even when they are dying. Or I can"t possibly think of another name to call it by from what I have seen of their symptoms.
So even though they are hacking and coughing every few minutes and sniffing (because blowing your nose makes you unpopular) every time they breathe, they deem themselves as work ready and suitable to interact with the exterior world. Do they hate man kind that much so as they want to infect every last one of them with what is clearly the plague? Possibly. Do they love their work that much that they find themselves drawn to it even from their deathbeds? Not really. But they find themselves in a position where they do not want to be weak when it is known that certain things are expected of them. They feel like they are the gears in the clockwork that keep the hands turning and you must not allow time to stop. Also they are afraid of being a disappointment.
So where does that lead us?
To several factors actually. For instance, doctors offices. No they don't really go to them. It seems that doctors offices are for the elderly an children and for struggling gaijins like myself. But then again you would never know. Because of the mentality of the typical Japanese white collar worker, doctors offices don't really receive much patronage during what we would consider normal hours of operation. So instead they have  adjusted their hours to accommodate night patrons who are too busy at work to go to the doctor during a sensible hour. Doctors office are normally open in the morning and will close around midday, let's say from noon to four, and will then again re-open from five to eight. So even a doctor visit is not even a good enough excuse to miss work for most Japanese workers.
So what do they do?
They suffer. And try to infect as many people as they possibly can. They continue to go to work and don on a little face mask to designate them among the ranks of the infested and continue to cough and hack and sniff much to the paranoia of their coworkers who could also risk infection. It seems it does not matter how bad the illness, they are always prepared to go to work. I even know some teachers who went to work when they had the flu. I stayed far away from them that day. As a result of their suffering they kind of expect you to suffer as well and think of you are near deaths door if you request a day off or a part day off or well anything. So get your facemask ready kids, to work you go!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Date night

The place where every teenage queen will find herself on a Friday night.

Also one of the most ludicrously expensive places in Japan. Recently I went to the movies for the very first time in Japan. I had the pleasure of seeing Star Wars Episode I in 3D (holy poo was the dialogue and Anakin's always that bad and how was it that I didn't tear a screen the first time I heard Jar Jar talk?). The ticket I bought from a street vendor. If you live in Japan and don't know about them, you can buy lotto tickets from them as well as movie tickets at a cheaper discount price as they often order them whole sale and sell them a few hundred yen cheaper. The ticket total was 1500 yen. A little more than 18 bucks. Yeah already expensive. We get to the theater and have to pay the cinema another 100 for the umm service of their theater? And on top of that you have to purchase your own 3D goggles at the price of 100-500 yen a piece. If you are a family the size of mine, then at this point you have already spent over a hundred US dollars for the family to see a movie. Tad insane no?

To add salt to a festering wound, the movie is never a new release. I don't mean they are all like Star Wars being premiered for the second time or anything. I mean that the premiere date for nearly ANY movie in Japan is insanely late. To use Star Wars as an example, it came out in February in the United States and It cane out at the end of March, such that I actually saw it in April here in Japan. You might be thinking well that is really only two months. You want more proof. The Hunger Games came out in March in the US. There was a CM for it in Japan back in November. Granted a Japanese person had to tell me about the CM and how America was coming out with their own version of Battle Royale ( and arguably similar Japanese movie). Since I don't watch T.V. at all I have not and never did see it. But I also confess that no one has told me of it since. In other words I believe it was either pulled from the air or he was watching an American channel and they let some of the commercials and broadcasts slip. Regardless, it is now May and there is not chatter of it coming. It is very possible and even likely that it will be released here. But as of now the posters at the cinema do not predict its eminent coming.
One easy argument is that the Japan market waits to see how well it does in America before it puts the funding and resources for subtitles to back it in Japan. Well the former is plausible. However the Hunger Games grossed 155million US dollars on it opening weekend in America. Clearly did pretty well. Still no word. And guaranteed blockbusters like the Avengers? You might think they would have the the forethought and know for certain that it would clearly be a box office success.
As for the marketability in Japan. Well they clearly like the idea of people killing people (the Hunger Games). They came up with the idea first with Battle Royale. And they have Universal Studios park with is a constant over flowing attraction with its Marvel themed rides. So it is likely not that either.
Subtitles? How many people take Japanese in your college or university? More than the Chinese students. How many gaijins living in Japan do translation work and could easily have a movie translate for a company in less than 3 months ( the usual difference between an American premiere date and a Japanese one)? Several thousand. Translating here is a pretty common job for many a gaijin. Mangas. Magazines. Television series (both White Collar and Pretty Little Liars seem to be recently popular here in Japan). Websites. And of course movies.
It is not just Japan in this aspect of late arrivals. There are many a Asian country with them. And just try tell me that China doesn't have enough subtitlers for any English movie.

So what takes so long for movies to be released in Japan?
I have no effing clue

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Things on a Train

In many cultures there are things that you should and should not do on a train.
In America, it is perfectly acceptable to eat on a train. There are even snack cars for it. But in Taiwan or Singapore don't dream of it. It is a fine-able offense.

There are similar rules in Japan as well. But the only super important one that will also apply to any bus you take is to not talk on your phone. There is only one car that will say not to use your phone. In fact it tells you to completely power it off. This is because that car is specifically for people with pacemakers. In the other cars phones are allowed and I am not even sure you could have any hope of preventing their usage, but you are not really allowed to talk on them. On the few occasions I have actually seen it happen (I think I have seen it 3 times in the 9 months I have been here), no one will stare you down...well not usually. If there is a particularly disgruntled old maid then perhaps you are in no such luck. Rather more often it is the opposite: people go out of their way to avoid looking at you and make displeased noises and faces.
So rule number one. Don't talk on your phone on the rail or buses, but using it is perfectly fine.

The next one is not really a rule per se but more of a cultural aspect. I have noticed you don't really eat or drink on trains or buses...Though night buses seem to be a bit more of an exception. The cultural part of this quirk comes from how Japanese people don't eat and walk. They believe that you must be sitting (almost anywhere) to eat for it to be acceptable. They also believe that you should enjoy your food (part of the reason why you should sit) and to partake in it leisurely so as to enjoy the flavors to the fullest. Remember this is a country that is very thankful for their food. When searching for a place to eat outside of an establishment a few places seem to be more acceptable than most; a park bench vs. in the alley at the backdoor to some establishment crouching on the ground. I am sure you get the picture. Well I think because when you are on a train you are actually sitting I think it must be occasionally acceptable. However the behavior isn't frequented likely because it makes the interior dirty or possibly because it is eating while transporting again. Granted walking and eating is a lot more physical than train riding and eating, they are both methods of commuting which is one of the only common grounds I can find between the two. If you do decide to eat or drink on a train...Well first of all drinking is just more acceptable over all. Especially in the summer. But if you decide to eat, people really do tend to look. It is not the stare down for talking on a phone kind of look it is more like a 'what's she eating? is it good?' kind of look.
With that here is rule number two: Don't frequent eating and drinking on trains.

And here is one last final things I have noticed.
Make up. Girls really love to put their make up on on trains. I mean the young ones going out for a night or a day. It is a fairly common event really, but you really get stared down for it. Also I can't imagine it being an easy take. All stations have bathrooms and I just think it would be significantly easier to do it while stationary and without having to juggle a mirror and all your cosmetics. The reason they get stared down is because they are seen as cheap by much of the Japanese population. A pro if you will. She may just be a normal girl going out for the night with some friends and didn't want her parents to see her with her new face on before she left (you know since most Japanese people do really live with their parents). But in Japan's eyes any classy kind of girl would not need to put make up on on a train and should go somewhere none public to adorn herself. Additionally Japan seems to really prefer a natural look for most women seeing make up, especially in excessive amounts, as severely cheap or trashy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fax me

Another technology related post for Japan.

Japan relies heavily on fax machines to this date. Seem crazy? Yeah it is a bit, while most of the world has moved on the scanning and emailing things (or merely just emailing them), they seem to be a bit hung up on these devices. Japan invested heavily in them just before the internet was birthed and as a result refuses to give up on them. Instead they continue to upgrade them and modify them so that you now don't even need to scan anything in to send a fax. You can create the fax on a touch screen that has recently become a part of the new designs. Know what that sounds like? Email. Due to the fax machines resilience to things like modern innovations and its own expiring uses, you will be able to find them at any company and the majority of homes as well. It is not too uncommon to hear that someone will fax you something late at night as opposed to emailing.
The primary reason that the fax machine became a tool of Japan-wide use was because kanji was easier to write than to hand type on a computer. As computers were a fairly recent invention at the time, I suspect that there was no efficient way to input the kanji characters when typing and very likely the entirety of the kanji collection might not have even been added yet. Since then it has become much easier to type in kanji; however, like a stain on your favorite shirt, the fax machines' prevalence is a thing that still has yet to meet its tossing.
As such I receive scheduling documents that could easily be draw up in excel and sent via email, via a fax that is in turned scanned in and sent to me via email instead.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I am the 1%

Actually I am the less than one percent.

That is how many of us white kids are in Japan. The total foreigner tally of Japan marks up to a good 2.5 billion but then you have to subtract all the Korean Pachinko owners and their families and also the Chinese businessmen stealing Japanese tech and retired manpower. Also the Brazilians who for some weird reason took Japan by storm a few years back and have been good friends ever since. And there you have the rest of us; the Indians and their restaurants, the Filipinos and their Japanese obsessions, and the White people and their English. Turns out that 100,000 for all of these nationalities and almost any other, is a pretty charitable number.
Japan's population is a whopping 127.5 million people, that is ever decreasing as their birthrate is in decline. Japan is a wonderful place for tourism, but it turns out that it might just not be the place for foreigners to settle down and spend a few years for life. Well it is for the English teachers, but for many other professions, it just might not be the place.
Living here I have on ever met one other employed foreigner who did not work for anything other than the English language. He was from France, Lyon, and worked at Uniqlo and was the better part of trilingual. He was studying at a university in Kyoto and had a part time job to help him get by. There are actually plenty of foreigners who actually go to school here. I love right next to a university that has perhaps 50 foreigners going there. And if you have read anything else I have written, you would know that I live in a really small city that has not that much to offer (and thus the students don't actually live here, they live in more lively areas and just come to school here everyday). But I consider myself very lucky for this passing foreigner recognition. There are many out in the inaka that don't have these opportunities and are faced with much fewer encounters to even utilize their English in a natural conversation. At least I have the opportunity.
The few foreigners that I know of who have jobs other than English-related careers are people I have never really met. They are or were the CEO's of large company's, or a supposed statistic of businessmen who have been position here on a contract for a few years, located in large places like Tokyo. The CEO's of which I speak are actually no longer. It turns out it is very difficult to change the way Japanese people might think leading to some having to step down from the positions. The only one I know in a current position of major recognition, is the CEO of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn.
The major reason for the minority of foreigners in Japan is probably due to the high cost of living here and the inability to purchase the comforts of home. For example, or for redundancy since I know that everyone who has ever been to Japan has mentioned this, fruits are an extreme sore point as the prices in Japan are skyrocketed 500yen (perhaps 6 USD) for strawberries. Year round. I mean unless they are damaged. Actually during Christmas, strawberries prices are inflated to 900yen due to the Christmas cakes and everybody needing to make one. Another super good example. For anyone who knows the game Skyrim, the price of the game here in Japan is 7180yen, the price back home is 49.99USD - or less depending on where you buy it! Another ridiculous example. Fans. The normal electric kind you plug in and enjoy in the summer heat. I was walking around a department store and saw a perhaps meter and a half tall with 40cm rotating blade or so and it looked very normal. It was also 12,000yen. Over a hundred dollars. Ovens here are not sold for less than 10000 yen (cheap is about 30000yen and they go over 100000yen) and are about the size of a normal kitchen microwave. Actually I mistook them microwaves at first. As they are electric and not gas (or at least not that I have seen yet).
So there is definitely a huge tourism draw to the country with their ancient shrines and temples and numerous historic sites, but the limited job market and the ridiculous cost of living make it a fairly uninhabitable environment for most foreigners to stay too long. Thus making me a very small percent indeed.
And a side note, imagine the percentage of and African or African-American people here trying to make a living. We consider them a minority in America, but it seems to me that we, Americans as a population, have no idea what minority means until we live in an environment where we are such a small percent that there can be a day or even a week that goes by where we do not see anyone who we can have a chat with (in our natural tongue of course). Though that of course depends on where you live and how out going you are.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pet Shop of Surprises

I can't resist a good pet shop.

In general pet shops in Japan and America are the same. They have you usual puppies and kitties and insanely high prices. I have not actually found a breeder here yet or anyone selling animals in general. It seems like once you buy it, you are stuck with it...even if you don't want it. I think that might be one of the more interesting things to me. When I first got here I searched up and down for a bird or dog that someone was selling (getting rid of) and needed a new home. However they were not to be found. Japanese people either really love their pets or they just don't give up. It is a touch inspiring.
But back to the pet stores! You can find pretty much the same things as an American store with a few exepctions. Those exceptions being meerkats, owls, and monkeys. But yup! Pretty similar.
I must admit, when I first saw the meerkat I thought to myself what an oddly restless and unbeautiful dog. It was no dog. It was right next to the dogs. And in a dogs kennel. And evidently people buy them and want to have them, as in three weeks time it was sold. The monkeys are small I-fit-inside-your-hat type of monkeys. And are adorable and a bit reserved. For whatever reason I did not find it incredibly odd they were there. Well, I mean they were no longer odd after I found the meerkat. Lastly, when visiting and playing with the birds as I always do, I came upon a very large barn owl cooped up in a darkened cage that really seemed way too small for it. Now this was surprising. I thought you had to have licenses or something to own one? Perhaps you still do and need to present it upon purchase. The owl was beautiful and it seemed to have been there a while as it was immune to all the noise and hubbub that filtered in from the busy street. It could be that pet owls became a popular item after the Harry Potter movies. I can't say.
In addition to the few featured unusual pets, the pet stores differ in that they are exceedingly expensive. A Shiba Inu dog can set you back nearly 200000yen. The older they get the cheaper they are as people prefer them to be very young at the time of purchase. And thus you can buy one for 98000 or so yen. Other dogs are less in demand or perhaps they are just in surplus and are typically cheaper, but not by much. I actually did not look at how much it would be to own an owl or a meerkat. But I promise to do so upon my next visit.