Friday, December 29, 2006

Christmas Tidings from Japan!

Sayaka and I have been traveling all around Japan this Christmas. I've been so busy that I haven't had time to blog... I didn't even get to finish my last blog, as some of you may have noticed.

As it is I have been emailing my friends from my mobile to try and get all my 'Merry Christmas' greetings out on time. Thank God for Kei-tai (cell phones)! I always think how odd it would be to have Jesus in a era where there is global communication and massive digital data transfer/memory storage, the Internet. I wonder what would that be like? This is truly the digital era.

So as I mentioned, Sayaka and I bounced down to Kumamoto and then darted up to Fukuoko on the 24th for a Christmas Eve wedding for one of Sayaka's friends. Then we took the train back down to Kumamoto and had Christmas dinner with Sayaka's family. They were so cute, because they wanted to have an 'American' style Christmas. They also wanted it to be "Christian" so we had a Secret Santa present exchange. Yeah, I know, the Japanese really don't know how the two traditions come together, it's just a weird Holiday where people dress up as a fat guy in red pajamas and give presents in the name of God. That's about right, however. Santa is based off of the Christian Catholic Bishop, good old Saint Nicholas, who gave to poor children every year. Thus the Christmas song, 'Jolly Old Saint Nicholas'.

A new fad in Japan is illumination and light displays, which were non-existant a year ago. The new popularity stems from the introduction of L.E.D lights into Japan. Coupled with Japan's obsession of cute and pretty things... the light displays have been the major hit of the year. Due to the uber tight and dense living capacity, there was a huge fire hazard when using traditioinal lights. Imagine the city of Tokyo burning down because somebody's Christmas tree got dry and caught on fire from the lights? Yeah, not a pretty picture. However, thanks to the energy efficient L.E.Ds, Japanese aren't afraid to spend a little extra energy looking brilliant this year! Even my small town has gotten into the 'Christmas spirit' of decor.

Imagine my suprise when I saw Kumamoto's main streets and mall area all lit with blinking multi-colored diodes of illumination! Wow, big shock for me, who had a Christmas there 3 years ago with not an inkling of Christmas cheer. The new fad really makes Japan feel more 'cheery', but maybe its just another way to sell stuff. Japan's economy isn't hurting at all, and they don't have the strain and depression of a war effor, nor are they currently at war with anyone, making it necessary to have a hobby. People without hobbies tend to bother other people instead of doing something productive, like having a hobby. Think about how peaceful the middle east would be if people would stop killing each other for no God given reason, and get hobbies, like kite flying. If everyone in Iraq was busy building and flying kites in their spare time, they wouldn't have time to play with their guns. Everyone booed when Bush went in looking for 'weapons of mass disctruction' and didn't find any, but I say, why all the snubs? The people are 'weapons of mass distruction' themselves, and we found a bunch of them. I mean, here's a message to everyone in the ME... stop killing each other, and if you don't like me or my advice I've only got one thing to say to you... GO FLY A KITE.

All in all, Christmas was good. I got a new SONY PSP! It's blue! Eat your heart out video game nerds everywhere! I'm sportin 'electric blue'! Can't get that in America. (Special notice: Video games are also a viable hobby... that's for all you Jews out there). You think there'd be more 'Biblical' video games. No? I would buy a 'Jesus Battles Satan' game. That just sounds cool. Who wouldn't get in on that coin-op? Plugging quarters away like they were pennies just to gain followers, fight evil demons, and save all of humanity! That's like, the best videogame idea ever. It would be an RPG the likes of which mere mortals have never seen! And if you collect the extra 'hidden' Bibles throughout the game you can unlock hidden Characters and Bible verses would actually act as cheat codes! Sweet red beans and carmel corn, it's a brain storm!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Season's Greetings from Japan! And how I molested Santa

'The Festival of Lights' doesn't have to be only a Jewish Holiday. It can be a Christmas thing too, although technically we stole the idea from the Jews and then combined it with the miraculous 'birth' of Jesus, although Jesus was probably born around March 23rd and not December 25th --some new trivia for all of you. Low and behold the combining of two cultures to make one magnificient minora of lights!

Japan has it bad. I guess Asians are attracted to pretty colors more so than other people's. This may be one explanation for their love of anything bright, glittery, sparkly, shiny, and illuminient. Or it might be that while white people were hitting each other over the heads with clubs and marveling at the concept of fire, the Orient and East Asian empires were busy inventing fireworks. Either way you look at it, Japan has carried on the tradition of 'illumination' in the grandest of ways.

Every year across Japan special arreas have a 'illumi' (as the Japanese say; short for 'illumination') event in keeping with Japanese tradition of festivity. Lucky for Sayaka and I the nearby town of Shobara puts on just such an event of illumination. We caught some amazing light displays and I had some fun with my camera.

Here's a tunnel of light!

Lot's to see! Santa is a heavy smoker! And a drunk!

The giant Santa was causing a ruckus, but I stopped him by attacking his crotch! After that Santa filed a lawsuit against me for sekuharra, or sexual herassment in English. Even though he won this round, I still called him a fatty and words hurt! That sting will stay with him for the rest of his life! Hahaha! Bah-humbug!

All kidding aside...

I even found the planet Krypton. However, it was smaller than I expected.

Here's a friendly goodbye from one of my elementary school classes as they sent me off with a merry Christmas and their precious little smiles!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sushi to Go!

Sushi is a common food in Japan. Whereas in America I'd be eating sushi fresh out of the freezer and off a block of dry ice, the sushi in Japan comes one day fresh from the ocean. This makes even cheap sushi like this extremely delicious. Plate prices are set by the 'color' of the plate. Pink being an expensive $5 piece, red being a $3 piece, yellow being a $2 piece, black being $1. White plates are for special non-sushi things such as desert -cake, icecream, etc. The sushi goes past on a convetor belt and you just grab the plate you want.

Granted not all sushi is apetizing. Some sushi still has all its tentacles, feelers, prongs, anteni, and eyes entact. I still can't eat raw shrimp... but when it's cooked it delishes. Eel sushi is my favorite, followed by salmon, maguro (tuna), kai, and squid. Crawdads, which look like mini-lobsters go by whole, and you peel back their shells and suck out the insides. Yeah, gross. Count me out.

Sushi is often confused with 'sashimi'. Sushi cut length wise and served on top of rise, while sashimi is thinly sliced square pieces of fish (without rice) which is serve with soy-sauce and wasabi to dip in. If you are ever in Japan, I highly recomend the sushi -even if your not a fish person. Sushi here never makes me sick, unlike in America, and so I've developed a love for fresh sushi here in Japan. Most sushi stores, such as my town's local one, do take out too!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

DaiBustu, Todai-ji, and Awesome Buddha stuff!

This is the famous five fier Buddhist pagoda 塔 in Nara city 奈良市, Japan. After our Universal Studios trip Sayaka and I decided to drive the extra hour to Nara to visit one of Japan's most famous historical cite. Nara was initially the first 'Capital City' of Japan, followed by Kyoto, and finally to Tokyo.

This is the Todaiji 東大寺 Temple which houses the largest indoor Buddha statue ever constructed. The Buddha statue sits a whopping 15 meters (53 ft.) tall (and weighs 500 metric tons) in its cross legged meditational stance. Although the Buddha is quite large and quite famous, it is only second in fame to the wooden structure of the Todai temple which surrounds it. The temple is the largest structure ever made out of wood and is catagorized as a World Artifcact along with the Great Wall of China and Egyptian pyramids. At Emperor Shomu's issue in the 8th century, the DaiButsu was established in 745 A.D. and consumed most of Japan's bronze reserve for six years until its completion in 751. Over two-million workers labored to build this massive Buddha.

This is the smaller, 'englightened' form of the Buddha. Notice the rays of light extending from his body.
Here's a close up of the Buddha doing something with his middle finger.

Above you can see the size and contrast of the enormous Buddha statue and the many tourists, many of whom were native Japanese curious about their own historical wonders, all of us were in awe of the mamoth monument. Bellow is one of the largest 'Buddhist' bells I've ever seen. It seems everything in 'Buddhism' is either very larger or very old. Anyway, every Buddhist temple has a bell which traditionally was used as a chime to alert others of the time, season, and special ceremonial events. Now such bells are reserved for only traditional ceremonies, mostly because they are so darn loud that using them all the time would disrupt the tranquil harmony and peace around Japan.

Here Sayaka gets hounded by several deer who were bent on getting an afternoon 'snack'. The deer have no fear of human's, mostly because (again) Japanese culture is peaceful. This reflects Japanese society -everything is about being 'one-big-family' and not causing a ruckus for others. In America I'm afraid you'd have ill-parented rambunctious tweeny-highschoolers running around trying to stick fire-crackers up the deer's hind end, not to mention ride and herrass the poor deer to death.

The main difference in cultures here is obvious -American's lack 'social' grace because they're not worried about what others might think and society as a whole. As such, we Americans' are often more concerned with our own sittuation -not anyone elses. Recently this type of thinking has become an epidemic -because as you maywell know 'America' has an extremely negative world-view at the moment. Thus you get a never ending string of 'desperate for attention do-what-I-wanters' who think its amusing to misbehave at the sake of others. This type of arogant and unsympathetic attitude is definately one of the reasons I think most American's have a poor image and reputation around the world today.

Here I am standing before the huge temple. Walking into the temple I couldn't help but notice the wood pillars supporting it. What amazed me was that the pillars were single logs, unaltered, but aparently cut down from ancient 'gigantic' trees. I doubt such trees exist in the world today, and I was taken aback by the grandure and beauty of this monumental construct.

A begging Monk. They ask for charity, which would seem to go against the main concepts of 'Buddhism' but how else are you going to maintain a multi-million dollar maintenence program on such world artifcacts like the 'Daibustu' and 'Todaiji'? Not to mention a few thousands other such relics, statues, and sacred temples. Also because these monks believe in 'ownership' to a degree, they have constructed a vast amount of artwork to coincide with their beliefs. From the Toba-e scrolls to large idolic statues, magnificent architecture, contemporary 'omamori' お守りgood luck charms sold by professional caligraphy monks, the artistic 'image' of Buddhism has survived and managed to export itself to outside cultures, which otherwise, would never have picked up on the religion. Even to Sumo wrestling, a Buddhist fertility ritual now a major athletic sport, has played a big part in the world-wide recognition of Buddhism and the tradditional customs of Japan.

We were lucky to catch the Autumn folliage as it reached its most vivid colors. Nara is also famous for all the crazy deer they let loose around the part. I had to constantly dodge and shoo away deer who were getting in my pictures as they were begging for food. The smart deer would lay down in front of the entrances of the temples trying to give you their big 'bambi' eyes in hopes of sympathy servings of food. Between the monks and the deer I didn't know who needed more charity, and so I kicked a few of each and sent them on their way. No, just kidding. I wouldn't kick those poor cute deer, but those darn pesky monks, they had a thing or two comming to them! (Thank you folks, I'm here all night!)

Heres is a large temple for prayer, cleansing, and reflection. Even though most Japanese consider themselves 'non-religious', which is true, almost all of them have a keen sense of ancestor worship 'built in' or 'hard-wired' into their daily cultural values. That's why you will see even the most 'non-religious' Japanese folk stopping to pray and cleanse themselves with burning incense. It's not seen as religous, but rather, traditional in a cultural sense. I guess it's nice to have thousands of years of History and Tradition to rely upon. Which is probably a larger reason for Japanese societies over-all pleasantness. Nobody has been too overly concerned with 'religion' for thousands of years -because Buddhism is the staple belief and has led to Era after Era of unwaving peace. Compared to other parts of the world, I'd say this feat is unrivalled by anything in History.

Initially there were two such pagoda temples constructed, each standing over 100 meters high, but sadly they didn't survived a larger Earthquake -which also ruined the first Daibustu Buddha. Although the Buddha got rebuilt several time throughout history, only several slightly smaller 60 ft. tall pagodas remains. At the time, the two pagoda's were the tallest structures in the world, only rivalled by the largest pyramids in Egypt. The pagoda behind me is one of my favorite 'Japan' sights, and definately impressed me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


This weekend Sayaka and I made a mad dash over to Osaka. It was my first time driving in a mega-metropolitan city. Osaka is Japan's second largest city at an estimated nine million people, and has just about everything you could want... including a Universal Studios theme park! Oh, and a rockin' Hard Rock cafe. Not to mention the famous Nanba district, i.e. the coolest river-walk shopping district I've ever seen!

If you climb into this ford explorer, will you really be safe from dinosaurs? That John Hammond was full of crap. But a more serious question is, with all the low skirst and stylin' boots walking around, how can you tell if Japanese girls ever wear pants? The girl behind me has one of those winter coats to keep warm, yet insisted on wearing her mostly invisible skirt, making the illusion that she's going 'camando' under her army green jacket. Anyway, I love Japan. Not because of the crazy dinosaurs running amuck, but because of all the sexy mini-skirts. Seriously, it's more aethsetic and leaves more to the imagination.

Always a classic. Sayaka poses next to the Dellorian from 'Back to the Future 2'. It's a little worse for wear, but I guess time travel will do that to you. If you're wondering if its a real GMC Dellorian in Japan, all you need to do it look for the rust to know that there is none -thus it's the real deal. Just a heads up to all you unsavvy car people, Dellorians were made from stainless steel making them extremely heavy and rust resistant. Only a handful of them were ever produced, but I can't help but like the little brute.

Sayaka and I pose together for a 'self-photo' at Universal Studios Japan.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Osaka Buzz!

It's night and the people come out! Hundreds of thousands flow through here every night. Most of them Japanese. Do you see Starbucks?

This is the entrance into the Nanba shopping district in Osaka. It's about twelve square city blocks of pure department stores, lites, restaurants, and the night life of Japan's second largest city.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Cute Ones

Another one of my Elementary school classes. These kids are so cute!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gearing up for Christmas Japan style!

Yes, it's Colonel Sanders with a big bag of goodness! Mainly KFC chicken, crispy style! The Japanese still haven't figured out the difference between Santa and the KFC mascot, er... I mean founder, but how can you blame them? Both old farts have really white beards and rosy cheeks and a twinkle in their eye. Santa’s twinkle is magical, whereas Colonel Sanders twinkle is because he drinks way too much spiked eggnog and most likely is snookered out of his mind.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pink Koala

Inside the shrine.

Ton Katsu! It's a fried pork chop with special sauce, miso soup, salad, and bowl of rice. It's the best meal ever invented!

Bridge in Kozan

War memorial shaped like a 'bomb'.

Spider Attack!

My phones tiny micro SD card. 256 MB strong.

Here's an odd mushroom. This is your $300 variety.

$150 dollar mushrooms. Eat'em, poop'em, $150 gone down the toilet. That's my opinion... and I'm stickin' with it.

Cutie love

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Japanese Newspaper and the art of Verticle Writing

Can you read this?!

It's safe to say that most people struggle reading Japanese, but the Japanese newspaper is the most feared obstacle of any non-native speaker who tackles the language. The standard newspaper in Japan uses a daily average of 1,500 Kanji characters. Now, if you want to know the real difficulty, try figuring the permutations of such symbols which break their own 'linquistic' rules while conjugating, and you get one impossilbe test.

Some advertisements 'Japanese style'. Nottice the extreme visual overload to the layout and how they utilize three seperate alphabets simultaneous to create one text. Practically impossible to understand entirely, and well, they don't call it the hardest language to learn for nothing.

The truth is I can read only bits of news articles at the moment. The average Japanese middle schooler can't read a newspaper through and through, and even Japanese adults struggle to get through a whole paper. In a country which has the highest litteracy rate on the planet, it's almost hard to believe, but knowing the language and how to read it isn't the problem. The problem comes in the incaculable amount of kanji symbols (Chinese ideograms) a person has to memorize, use, and then use coupled with two other distinct alphabets (almost a seperat language themselves). Thus, the Japanese language becomes truly challenging for anybody.

Of course, there are always a few archaic or rarely used kanji symbols (which haven't been used since the age of the Samurai which ocassionally pop up) which have a bad habit of throwing everyone for a loop; not to mention people's names don't follow any grammatic rules what-so-ever, reading a Japanese newspapers becomes the true test of fluency.

A close up of the verticle writing.

Give me the sports section!

The 'Fighters' win the Japan Major League Championship! American baseball is more of a past time here in Japan than it is in America. Just to get even for the Japanese adopting our sport, I think all Americans should take up Sumo wrestling. God knows there's enough fatties state side to keep that sport going indefinately. We could even start the first womans division. Instead of an anouncer screaming 'get ready to rumble' he could yell, 'Get ready to jiggle!' It'd be great fun!