Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Japanese Festivals, Technology, and More Perverts?


D-snap

Panasonic has created a new MP3 player to compete with the iPod craze currently sweeping the world. Now all the major electronic companies have chimed in with their version of the popular digital music players. Panasonics new D-Snap series looks hot! Here's Panasonic's official link for the D-Snap: http://d-snap.jp/

In other news the folks over at Kineda Blog have posted some interesting news about a new train simulation which allows for horny business men to go take a ride on the train an allow for "legal" groping of the women passengers. http://www.kineda.com/?p=817

"The record number of women groped on Tokyo’s trains continues to rise. As the suburban trains are usually crowded, bringing the workers to large cities and back to their suburban homes, close physical contact is unavoidable. Many men use this to their advantage, pressing onto women and groping them. The groping problem is so extreme that Tokyo started a campaign of women-only carriages."

The answer to this is stunning rise of perversion is to create "Train Cafe." A train simulation/cafe where people can go to be groped; what? Does this at all sound like something only the Japanese could come up with to you? One distraught citizen was quoted as saying, "This sounds like another poor excuse to make prostitution legal," while another citizen chimed in, "Sounds like it to me. What normal girl would stop by a place like this after work just to be groped!?"



"Chikan chuui" Beware of Perverts (funny T-shirt from J-List.com)
For more information on "women only" train cars in Japan you can read this article by clicking here: Please don't grope.

The private train which is an attraction at Tokyo's Ikebukuro station cost 5,000 yen ($45 American) for a 20 minute ride with all you can grope buffet. The business guarantees that it is not prostitution, but rather a place to go for singles to flirt and meet. And also, apparently, a way to sponsor the continued rise of perverts in Japan.

Japan always seems to have two faces. Just like the Japanese language 日本語 (nihon-go), which uses tatemae 建て前 (hidden/implied meaning) and hone 本音 (real/straight forward meaning), Japanese society also seems to practice this type of two faced mannerisms also. I always find it interesting, because Japan overall is a wonderful country full of intelligent people. This time of year marks the beginning of the Hanami season (typically around late March), otherwise known as flower festivals. All the sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom and quickly fade away. People picnic and entire companies have after work luncheons in the park. It's a wonderful time to celebrate the coming of spring. This is one of my favorite aspects of Japan, the festival.

Japanese have festivities for many different events, and each are a unique celebration of Japan and its heritage. My most memorable times in Japan all center around festival events. The entire country breaks into celebration, and everyone's bottled up frustration is released as they go all out in these wonderful times of celebration. My favorite festivals included the Hanami matsuri 花見祭り (flower festival), the Jokaku-matsuri 城郭祭り (or Castle festival), and the Hanabi matsuri 花火祭り (fireworks festival). All these festivals involve wonderful and traditional events, including food and social gatherings with games, which everyone gets together and enjoys the splendid historical celebration of Japanese culture and customs. It's a wonderful and time honored way to experience Japanese culture.



D-snap by Panasonic

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Christian Wedding vs. Shinto Wedding in Japan


Shinto Shrine

I just finished watching Kevin Costner's film "The Postman." It always seems to fill me up with patriotism. My brother says it's too thick on the melodrama, but it has to be. Otherwise it wouldn't be enjoyable. It's too bad that when this film came out that everyone had started black listing Kevin old bean... because the film is actually quite good indeed.

Well, anyway --that came out of left field. Recently I got asked about what I plan to do for a wedding when I marry my Japanese fiance. About the wedding plans... I intend to do a traditional Japanese style Shinto wedding, and afterward have a brief Christian style reception with a tux and white gown dress for her. We'll do the full tradition male/female kimono dress, have a Shinto priest wed us in Japan. Aterward we will then go downtown to fill out all the legal paperwork, have a hotel reception and put on our western attire, read our vows, have cake, and take everyone singing karaoke downtown. At least that's how I see it.

The Japanese are fond of western styled weddings, and they like big expensive Church weddings, but it's more of a status trend and mega opus of an event rather than a traditional religous custom. I want to have both because to me uniting my family and hers with shared understanding says more than just following the present trend. I'm taking her into my life and visa versa, plus I am fond of the 5,000 year old customs of Japan. They're just plain awesome in my opinion. We're still planning such a big event. Nither of our families speak the other languages, so we have more to consider than just ceremony. We have to figure out how to unite two cultures and races, and hiring a translator is only the first step.

Lots of my hardcore *Christian friends get shocked when I inform them that it was MY choice to do the Shinto wedding. They ask me strange questions like, "But if she's not Christian then...?" and "But if your Christian why would you have a Shinto...?" and "I'd never marry anyone that wasn't a Christian" among other strange comments. I always reply with, "I chose to respect her culture and customs because I respect her, and that's what someone does out of love," and "She may not be Christian, but I won't impose my ideas on her and force her into an unhappy union of bondage" and to those who won't marry any but another Christian I say, "I would never want to marry a Christian who wanted to change me, enslave me, force me to think his/her way without reguard for my own culture. And I could never love someone who couldn't love me for who I am."

As you can tell I get really defensive over my true love. You see, I can't tolerate these pseudo Christians who practice elitism, uncompromising ritual, self righteous, and customs of political ideologies backed by corrupted denominations only to point out in all indignation that I'm not practicing "Christianity." Say what? Any Christian who can't love freely without prejudice is no Christian in my book. They may call themselves such, but until we all open our hearts and learn to love they way Christ taught, we'll only be less than a great man. How can a Christian who doesn't follow the teachings of Christ call himself a Christian? Christ said love each other like brothers. I have no need for bigots to tell me how I should live my life or judge the way I choose to love. Not when their minds and hearts are closed.

Rant finished. As I have found out, being in a multi-racial international relationship causes for unique situations. There is some prejudice which comes from both sides, but we are lucky. Our families support us and our decision. Yet, it still surprises me how myopic certain people's world views can be. Sometimes this is lack of knowledge, sometimes it's imposed social constructs and ideologies, and sometimes it's just cruel people. Learning to navigate this, and learning to be a minority in Japan, have all been valuable lessons for me. Mostly lessons of patience, but I've learned a great deal more of tolerance toward my fellow mankind because of it.

Well, I tend to write lots. I had nothing to do tonight so I just went on and on. I'm probably getting boring now. It's late, or early (?), and so I shall bid you all adieu and adios.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Viva La Revolutione!

V for Vendetta Film Review



V for Vendetta


V for Vendetta, the film, is extraordinarily good. After two years of poor and pathetic excuses of cinema, and I’m saying that sadly Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire has been the highlight film of the past few years, and that isn’t saying much; we finally have a smart intelligent film again.

V for Vendetta is based off of the graphic novel by the same title by creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Now some of you may have been wondering why Alan Moore’s name wasn’t credited on the film? Well, basically Alan Moore is a big cry baby whiny face, and he’s mad that D.C. comics screwed him out of his property. He’s put the blame on everybody but himself. Hey big boy, if you didn’t want D.C. to run with your property and bank a buck or two off of it, then maybe you should have been smarter in the first place before you sold it to them. Alan Moore’s complaints are half scattered as his blame has been shifting from a complaint about loud mouth producer Joel Silver to initial tension with holding past grudges with D.C. comics. Alan Moore just doesn’t seem to get the fact that big American company’s greed means they’ll sell their soul to the devil, and yours too, if it means making a bottom dollar. Not only that, he's been ranting about such injustices since the 80's. My grandmother always used the adage, "fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, and shame on me." As far as I’m concerned, Alan Moore doesn’t even have a right to complain. Last I checked his name wasn’t Ogure Ito, an artist whose property Tenjou Tenge was horribly tarnished by D.C. comics CMX line.

Maybe Moore doesn’t like cinema? Or maybe his artistic sensitivity is borderline girlish, but I’ve known girls that whine less than him. As far as films and comics go, they are slightly different mediums. Well, okay, maybe I’m just trying to sound sympathetic, they are entirely different mediums. Just take a look at the changes to the X-Men movies, and you’ll find that they altered the characters quite a bit. Many changes come at the sake of making the comic stories have more of a cinematic appeal. Cinematic techniques are something necessary to make something two dimensional come to life and pop out at you. No matter how good the art or storytelling of a comic book is, there are certain liberties that film must take in order to insure that the original feeling and message be retold in a way contemporary audiences can understand. This means that often times there will be alterations. Certain movies are handled well and the closer the film to the original work it is based off of, the better the homage will be.

Tank Girl, Ghost World, Batman, Sin City, and V for Vendetta are all films that took the characters and made them accessible to today’s audiences while staying true to their roots. That said, I am proud to say that V for Vendetta belongs at the top of an ever increasing list of good comic book movies.


V for Vendetta poster

Certain reviews have been comparing V for Vendetta to Phantom of the Opera. Granted, both have antagonist anit-heroes who are eloquent speaking and have etiquette whilst murdering people, but that’s about where the similarities end. Perhaps the injection of romance between V and Evey confused some critics. However, as a film the movie would have seemed very dry without just a hint of emotional attachment between the kidnapper and the kidnapped. As it turns out, this type of psychology is more common than not, but in the film there is more going on between the two characters. Evey genuinely feels compassion for V. She is his opposite in most instances. V is power, force, anarchy, fire, and passion. Evey is delicate, sensitive, compassion, water, and love. Together they make an interesting dynamic duo.

One of the main appeals of the movie is Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of V. Not only the voice behind the mask, but the physical acting is brilliant as well! Natalie Portman’s British accent is flawless for the most part, and she is looking as stunning as ever. When I first read the comic, I thought Evey looked like a seventy year old man, but it’s nice to have such a soft human face on the character. This contrast against V’s hard artificial face makes a welcome compliment to the mask. Each character compliments the other, and as the film progresses you can’t help but really enjoy these characters.

Past the wonderful characters, the film has political topics which some deem too sensitive for today. Other critics are sayings it’s about time. Either way, people are split on the political debates the film brings up. I won't say much other than in politics rarely can anybody settle on common ground, but this film brings up the topics of interest intelligently all the while putting a contemporary relevancy to them which work for the story. I could think of a million and one ways that the film could have mucked up the entire relevancy it has for today by making it seem overly outdated. One way would have been going with the original plot from the comic of nuclear war. Instead the film has a more recent conversation as it deals with genetic and chemical warfare. In the past, say in the cold war era, nuclear threats would have been a more terrifying and relevant topic for the times, but in today’s world it holds no real tension. This change makes sense because much like Stan Lee’s comic book creations, there’s only so many times you can do nuclear incident.

The film retains those great angles and action sequences reminiscent of the Watchoski Bros. early Matrix films, however, remains entirely original. The direction by James McTeigue shows that he has the same great instincts as the Watchoski’s, not to mentions he’s able to make a dark film viewable. V for Vendetta has a very slick and sexy cinematography by the late Adrian Biddle. This was the last film of his illustrious carrier before he past away. The writing of the script flows well and the dialogue isn’t thick like the Watchowki Bros. Matrix blather. If anything, V for Vendetta is more accessible to the non-intellectuals all the while remaining intelligent enough to please everyone.


V

Like any other film, there are certain plot holes. Some people have questioned V’s ability to lay train track, refurbish a subway, have half a million masks made, etc. all critiquing that a normal person couldn’t possibly do such feats. Maybe they were watching a different film? The one I saw had a SUPER hero able to overcome any feat! With time and money, couldn’t anyone pay to have track laid down? People’s inability to infer things leave me to believe there is an overwhelming lack of imagination in today's movie going audiences. Do we all need to be spoon fed every moment? The Harry Potter film franchise has had its fair share of illogical moments as well, but you don’t see everyone griping about its leaps of logic.

There were however certain moments which didn’t connect. But these moments had no real emphasis on the main story or the characters interactions. The only real flaw was in the relationship the Bishop had with the political organization and the experiment which created V. But its relevance really wasn’t as important as the fact that it was an allegory for corruption in the Church, and how in the Orwellian, Totalitarian regime, even the most revered had been corrupted. This gives V even more meaning, and whether or not the relationship between the characters made sense, the relationship between the ideas does make sense. V’s television broadcast echoed views about governmental power and citizen’s responsibility to keep it in check. These views echo James Abram Garfield’s speeches about the same issues. Where as many may see the topics in the film as a somewhat forced present day metaphor for “America,” I can assure you that the themes in the film contain a greater allegory, one that transcends time periods and fuels a series of universally shared ideals. V for Vendetta is spot on in it’s stance to bring up these hot topic issues, but lets you think for yourself. It never becomes preachy or tiresome, but rather holds one’s keen interest as it does have relevancy to our times and times past. In the final verdict you only get out of it what you bring into the theater with you.

In my humble opinion, V for Vendetta is worth seeing. After several years of high budget but low quality films, I finally got excited about watching movies again. Go watch this movie!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Rushdie & Me


Salman Rushdie & Me

In 2004 I was chosen as part of a Master's Class of 20 elite students to join Mr. Rushdie and have a round table discussion with the writer, artist, humanitarian. Needless to say we were all impressed with his intellect. All of us were required to have read at least two full works by Rushdie, and the selection process was by recommendation only. Luckily, two English professors new that Rushdie was one of my all time favorite authors, and I was one of the lucky chosen ones to meet and talk with Rushdie.


Professor Sexson (left) with Rushdie

Of course, being an English Lit. Major and a writer meeting one of the worlds most prolific living legends was like meeting a rock star! Rushdie for an English scholar is like an Idol that far surpasses any other, and talking to him was very imformative. Of course, when I was able to get him one on one later, after the formal discussion was over, I talked with him about Japanese Anime and another master story teller Hayao Miyazaki. I mean, why wouldn't I? I'm that crazy English major who studies Japanese? Yeah, and just so all of you know, Mr. Rushdie has seen and admires Miyazaki's "Spirited Away."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I Love Japan

I LOVE JAPAN!

I know sometimes I rant about the negative aspects of Japan (and more often my own country), but when you have two different cultures affecting your life things can be overwhelming. The thing is you have to shift your way of thinking to get buy in any new or different culture. You will often here of people talk about when they use their second language their mind begins to think a different way, as if they have a second personality. It's very true. That aspect of you which adjusts to that specific culture also helps you understand how to relate and communicate, in a sense, you take on a multi-faceted and cultural personality.



Me in Japan

When if comes to life in Japan, I will be the first to admit that I prefer it over my life in America. It's not that I lack patriotism because I love my country; however, in my experience there are benefits to living in Japan which affect my everyday personal life.

For instance, my fiancé always complains about the unhealthy diet I have here in the U.S. Friday nights often consist of one two many cheeseburgers or slices of pizza. Top it off with a super sized fries and milkshake and my Sayaka is sure that I will have an instant heart attack. It is true that Japanese food is extremely healthy and is the best diet you can have. That's why they don't get old or fat! Plus I truly do have a genuine love for Japanese cuisine…its delicious! Sayaka’s cooking is wonderful too, and we can’t always find the right ingredients living here in the U.S. This is just one example of why I would love to live in Japan.

Even though Japanese women's rights are about 30 years behind the U.S. liberation and equalities that American women have the luxury of every day; sitting back and complaining about it never solved anything. Getting involved in politics, local events, etc. are one thing I intend to do while living in Japan. Bringing an awareness of the issues which bother me is one way to help bring awareness to others also. Japan is an interesting country, because they actually do care what outsiders (gaijin) think. Foreigners who live in Japan have lots of influence, even political influence, and several laws have been changed at the beckoning cries of distraught foreigners.


Sayaka's Parents

Living life morally, justly, and with a good heart is another way to show by example how to change things for the better. Ever time I visit Sayaka's family; her parents pay extra close attention to me. As my future in-laws observer me I too notice interesting things about them. When I get up to help Sayaka do the dishes after a big dinner her father used to tell me to go watch some television and let the women do "women's work." However, after repeated polite refusals, I joined my darling at the sink and washed those dishes right by her side. This of course spawned a series of events in which Sayaka's father would get up early and do the dishes. Sometimes, after a meal, he was over energetic and would try clearing the table before some of us were done eating! I think he was trying to show that he wanted to help out, but still wanted to seem manly about it. As Sayaka's mother rolled her eyes we all shot glances at each other and laughed. Even though he didn't get it exactly right, Sayaka's father's heart was in the right place.

Hopefully in the future, my continued love and caringness towards their daughter will show them that a man can be a man, but at the same time, he can also be a gentleman. These are some of the things that one can hope to do to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly. Taking an interesting, staying involved, working together, and being chivalrous is just the first step, but it's a good one.

Photography & Cupid's Pluck Part Two

Once again are some photos from out photography session with Tyson Vick.

Sayaka is the first in my heart, and her culture and customs are as important to me as mine are!

Ah, Cute together.


It's love!


Couples


Happy!


Funny face


Reaction to Mr. Funny Face


Happily Ever After

Monday, March 13, 2006

Growing Up All Too Fast

Americans do push there children to grow up fast. Once they're out of high school we kick em' out of the home. Tell them to go to college or get a job. Also with both parents away working, some kids have to learn to practically raise themselves. You want to know why school shootings happen in the U.S.? Parents are too busy with their own lives to get involved with their children's lives. It's true but sad.

Do you think Bill Cosby and his model on how to raise a family would ever spawn a depression crazed teen bent on high reeming emotions so dangerous as to gun down other children? Not in a million years. It's only when parents don't make a point to nurture and love their children, and be in every aspect of that child's life, that things like this happen. With such acts of violence and desperation, children crying out to be loved, you have to wonder where it all went wrong?

In Japan a similar situation happens, but instead of killing other people the teenagers kill themselves en mass "group" suicide (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060310/ap_on_re_as/japan_group_suicide ). It's extremely eye opening because it shows in both cultures we have a work-aholic problem. We are so addicted to our jobs and making money that we don't give our families the time we should be. We should devore about 87% of our days to our families, not the other way around.

Man's Fantasy Island!


Man's Fantasy Island (also known as Japan)

Quite often in Japan there is exploitation of women. More often than not it is of young women.

I get mad when I hear this type of news, and I'm sure women everywhere will be awe-struck at exactly what goes on each and every day in Japan.

From Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060310/od_nm/japan_priest_dc

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese Buddhist priest who was arrested on suspicion of having paid sex with a teenage girl said he was under stress and had given in to lust. Itsushi Ehara, 73, chief priest at a temple in the western Japanese prefecture of Hiroshima and also head of a nursery school, paid the 15-year-old girl 80,000 yen ($675) to have sex in a hotel in downtown Tokyo, a police spokesman said on Friday.

"I could not resist my lust. A lot of stress built up from running the school," Ehara was quoted by Kyodo news agency as telling police.

Ehara, who is believed to have met the girl through a prostitute-dispatch service, is also suspected of having paid for sex with several other teenage girls over a period of two to three years, Kyodo quoted police as saying.

Japan has long had a relatively lax attitude toward sexual exploitation of young people. Teenage prostitution -- known as "compensated dating" -- was outlawed in 1999, but it still goes on, though less openly than before.

This gender inequality just shows that Japanese women need to get there act together. Older generations of women sit by and watch on appathetically as corrupt Japanese men, so enfatuated with the sick customs they have established, that I don't know what to do. Is anyone really at fault? Is it those specific Japanese men who nurture an economy which cators to their sexual appetites, or the women who go along with it because they are so repressed they don't know what to do with themselves fault? I hardly think that placing the blame for the actions of one pervert is fair, but maybe sitting back and doing nothing about it isn't right either.

May I remind you that not all Japanese men (or men in general) are this perverted, but in Japan the overall acceptance for violence and sexual crimes against women are often glanced over as merely what is, is. Those who are in the category that it's okay to blatantly repress and restrict a woman's rights and privilages have definately created a "man's fantasy island" for themselves to enjoy. They have regulated very precisely the exact amount of repression needed to make women submit to their wild sexual fantasies. This is something I don't agree with and I don't think any woman should have to either. Yet this type of abuse against women isn't anything new, as the news points out, it has gone on long before this particular case, and it will continue as long as people idlely sit by and let it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Manga Style Girl


Click on pic for larger view.

I tend to have a very Manga-ish influenced style. It must be from all those Japanese manga I read. Suprisingly, finding the ballance between detail and simplicity is something I've always struggled with. Most manga are extremely detailed adding textures and layers to an otherwise seemingly simple character drawing. Each and every professional mangaka has a unique style. Mine is stuck somewhere between American Animation style and Manga influence.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Nihon No Etiquette: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

It is a common myth that all Japanese people are courteous and polite. Much the same as Japan is one giant city. By looking at my photos of the country you will see landscapes and country side of all the beautiful nature in Japan as well. As such, it goes without saying that Japan has different mannerisms, qualities, and traits which make it a unique and wonderful country. Of course, as far as manners go, Japan is one that is proficient in all forms of politeness. All the way from the procedure to properly introduce your self and exchange business cards politely down to ordering in a restaurant, one will find that in Japan --courtesy and manners are not a lost art. However, this by no means accounts for the numerous crude and or rude people you may encounter.

As far as Japan is concerned, it is the Etiquette capitol of the world. But here are some things foreigners may experience while living in Japan which break down the illusion of perfect etiquette 24/7. But before you make judgements about the situations I have listed (with the help of my Japanese friends and people still living in Japan) you should know that they are isolated incidences like any --and are not the normal behavior of people. Rather, these events are a common shared experience by a specific demographic -mainly the 3% foriegners living in Japan today. I highly recommend that anyone interested in going to Japan ---DO!!! It's the best experience you will ever have!


This is Sayaka's greatest pet peeve... cigarette smoke. I must admit, it is annoying when your trying to eat a nice piece of yaki-niku but all you can taste is ash and smoke in your mouth. Also, just the close proximity of everybody makes smoking EVERYONE'S bad habbit in Japan. For a people who stress health a lot, it's suprising how hypocrytical they are as they smoke their 200 million cigarettes a day.

1) Cigarette smoke in your face. 90% of the population smokes, and so they think they have a right to smoke up your space too.

2) When you open a door, men walk through like it’s their inalienable right to have such service-not even a nod of a head. Even hardened western women’s lib independents will find the timing alone is a jolt, as they get trampled by Japanese men rushing to wherever they need to be.

3) Personal space and privacy doesn’t exist. You want a quite booth to eat at, expect more smoke in your face.

4) Japanese who think it’s cute to take a quick photo of the interesting looking foreigner without so much as a smile or nod of thank you. Not to mention those who follow you around just to snap a quick shot of the gaijin and then run off to show all their friends. (The first week I was in Japan I counted 23 snapshots taken of me. There of course was probably more I missed, but after a while you get used to it and ignore it. However this doesn't excuse the rudeness of the action.)

5) English Paparazzi, or those Japanese people so enamored with learning English, that they will stalk you halfway around town just to try and corner you into a little one on one English conversation practice. (One Japanese girl followed me all the way back to my dormitory five blocks away from Uni. when she cornered me and begged to speak English with me. I had to politely reject her. Another time, a guy from a totally different campus was sitting in our building's lobby waiting to talk to the first English speaking foriegner that walked in.)

6) Old business men who look up school girl’s skirts and when you try to voice your disdain you are ignored or shrugged off –reminding you that you are a worthless foreigner and to mind your own business. In a patriarchal and man dominated society chivalry is lost even on those who should know better. (I had this experience, but the Japanese school girls explained the rules of the game to me. "Japanese men are perverts," one girl told me. Her friend chimed in, "Yeah, so we let them look. If they try anything we take a picture of their faces and report them to the police." It was an informative experience, and the girls were nice enough to make me feel welcome by sharing their time and explaing what just happened; even though the grandpa age man practically spit on me for questioning his public & moral etiquette.)


7) Japanese men that stare at MY Japanese fiance, and oogle her with their mouths gaping, as if I'm not even there. (Again, this happens all the time. I know my girl is beautiful, and I don't mind the glances or turning heads, because half the time it's people that are curious about US as a couple. It's neat to see a bi-racial couple, but many times I have had the rare privilage to experience a rudeness to both Japanese women and foriegners. When men stare at my girl like I'm not there, disrespecting her and me, I feel like stopping in my tracks, do a 180 spin, and stare them down. However, with how often it happens I would probably only spin in circles until I get dizzy and fall over. It's best just to ignore such rudeness.)

8) Its ok to sleep at one's desk if you had a long night or too many drinks. Just don’t let the boss catch you.

9) Your boss will take naps at his desk anytime he damn well pleases. Even after he has just scolded you for falling asleep at your desk.

10) Snobbish elitism and rejection when you try to get into some of the classier drinking establishments on your own. Sometimes even when accompanied by a Japanese friend, they will reject your entrance with no other excuse than: we don’t allow foreigners.


Frustrtrating if you ever experienced this. J-List (source of the picture) sells other amusing t-shirts which bring an outsiders perspective on some of the cultural tension one may experience in Japan. But things like this are only funny in retrospect. They're never funny when you're experiencing them.

11) Women who try to pay for their English tutoring session with sex because they want to have bragging rights that they slept with a foreigner. (God knows there is an unlimited supply of foreign men willing to take this advantage, but what's really uncomfortable is trying to convince the girl that you can't sleep with her, especially when she is an attractive Asian woman who is offering you something she wouldn't easily give up to any normal non-English speaking guy. It still doesn't make it right; morally or professionally. But take away the moral conscience, the sexual taboos of society, and everyone's fair game --it's practically free sex with no emotional comitment, right? No. The downside, I know a guy who got fired from his English teaching job because he was sleeping with his students. Which begs one to question, who's etiquette is really lacking?)

12) Japanese who very openly and blatantly move away from you while standing on the train platform. What’s worse are those who move their kids away from you as if you are some sort of dangerous criminal.

13) Japanese Hot Springs and Spas which won’t admit you because you are not Japanese. (My roomates joked that this was the dreaded "penis envy" excuse not to admit foriegners.)

14) Being refused more food at a tabehodai (all you can eat restaurant buffet, i.e. “Viking”) because you’ve eaten too much food already. Even when you pull out the bulging wallet with cash, they refuse you but politely ask you to come again.


15) Japanese who know full well you speak their language but who speak down to you using tatemae 建て前 (implied meaning) as if you’re too stupid to understand what they’re really saying. (Strangely enough older people my grandparents age often tend to talk under their breath about you within earshot. My roomate from Texas once got called a "stupid gaijin monkey" by two bitter elderly women. He politely ignored them. I still haven't figured out if this is just latent built up anomosity or if they are just marking their territory by letting you know you're not one of them. It NEVER happens with people my age. The worst I ever got from a Japanese youth was two middle school girls whispering to each other how cute I was when I passed by them. It's a cute way of flirting with a foriegner (assuming he knows the language), and one I like. It beats getting called a monkey practically to your face.)

16) People who make a meeting with you but break it off at the last possible minute. (Surprisingly it happens more often than you think. This makes joining clubs at a Japanese university challenging, because it seems that only the sports clubs meet with clockwork timing and any regularity. Meeting someone for tutoring? They'll most likely call you up 15 minutes after you've been waiting downtown to greet them and cancel on you; waisting your time, money, and patience. The myth that Japanese are prompt and timely is just that, a myth.)

17) Annoying moped & scooter gangs which ride around revving their tiny motors all night long making them sound like an angry pack of mosquitoes.

18) That one drunken businessman who uses his inebriation to gain enough courage to come over and put his arm around you, unwontedly inviting himself into your group, and not leave until you have him forcibly removed. (In some cases it's a drunken businesswoman. In one such case a classy looking drunken OL kidnapped one of my roomates and took him home with her. Although, I think he was hoping to get lucky, she just was drunk and wanted a free English speaking session. As far as I know nothing ever happened, but there is no end to the limit of romantically challenged and sexually frustrated single office ladies in Japan.)

19) That person who leaves their cell phone or mobile on in the theater (although this is more of a universal pet peeve, this occurs quite frequently in crowded Japanese theaters also. I've actually had this happen more in Japanese theaters than American ones.)

20) Corporate policies and stupid regulations that get in the way of living life to its fullest. (My Japanese fiance mentioned something that's not necessarily rude as it is a major set back for life as a woman in Japan. Companies always have age limits, often time 25 yrs. old, placed on women so that they ensure beauty and youth. Yet when girls want to become flight attendants with JAL or ANA they rush out of college to take the tests before they're too old. It's fierce competition, and with lack of female job employment, it really causes a problem for women who might be 26 and want to do that same job.) The lack of women's liberation makes this not only a pet peeve, but something that reall infuriates women like my Japanese fiance. As far as Japan goes, this is an outdated and antiquaited practice which forces women (not men) to be bound to stupid rules made by men. (Not to mention it makes no sense considering Japan's graying population. With an estimate that by the year 3000 only 23 people will be alive in Japan, shouldn't they promote the economy by offering jobs to anyone? Including vibrant 26 yr. old women?) School teaching is the ONLY good job a woman over 26 can get in the commercial sector. Although private jobs may be available there aren't enough that will higher women at all. How does that make you feel?

Well, these are some of the moments I have experienced in Japan which lack etiquette. I’m sure those who have lived in Japan longer than I have can find more instances in which manners are lacking. Yet, I must say that compared to my own American culture, the reverse culture shock of coming back to “no manners America” and “I can treat you however the hell I want because I’m the most important thing in the world” attitude was one of the hardest adjustments I ever had to make and re-acclimate into.

Needless to say, Japan is more polite on a day to day and moment to moment basis. So much so that I find Japan’s super strict adherence to politeness and manners, not only in the household but in public as well, something I miss daily. It is indeed one of the more enduring traits of Japanese society and says a lot about the wonderful people who DO take the time to treat others with dignity and think before they speak.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Muslim Protests Make A Strong Point: What-huh?

Maybe it’s just me. Or perhaps it’s my dark sense of humor. In the February edition of the magazine U.S. News, there was an article entitled “On the Hot Seat.” The accompanying picture was of a mob of Muslim protestors (assumedly Islamic radicals) burning a man. Half stunned I took a closer inspection of the human figure being burned to death only to find it was a Ronald McDonald statue. I paused as I thought about this, and then without so much as a second hesitation, I burst into uncontrolled laughter.


It's funny, because it's a Clown!

Maybe it’s just me. But then again, it could be the hilarity of the situation. As morbid as my humor can be sometimes, nothing prepared me for the tears which streamed down my face as I held back gasps and giggles. The article begins with a simple enough comment on the escalation of anger, “As anger over European cartoons satirizing the prophet Muhammad continued to roil the Muslim world, Pakistani protesters last week destroyed the most visible symbols of western consumer culture –American icons McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut…”

Wait, protesters of European cartoons are burning American consumerist Icons? I think this is what most people would call a leap in logic.

I paused again, looked back at the photograph, and laughed some more. I couldn’t help it; in all honesty, the message is kind of lost by the noise of the image. They’re angry Muslims burning a CLOWN!!! Not that clowns are specifically American in nature, they’re not. It’s just that clowns are funny, and no matter how angry they wanted to portray themselves, or how vicious and powerful they want to seem in their protesting the entire idea of clowns overrides any message they may have been attempting to say. They’re hatred, violence, and lack of tolerance can be easily drowned out by a steady roar of not fire or cries of hate, but fierce torrent of laughter and cries of amusement.

With disinterest in whatever wounded pride these Muslim people may be feeling towards the disjointed logic of “We’ll hate everything different than us” I flipped over the facing page.

Again, I was caught with my pants half down (metaphorically speaking of course.) Sitting with my mouth gaping I flipped the page back, did a double take, looked again just to be sure, and after a brief moment to gather my thoughts, I started rolling around on the floor. I was floored by the acute observation that Kermit the Frog was standing on the facing page selling American consumerists a new Ford Explorer. Not to mention the irony that on the prefacing page was poor Ronald McDonald lying in flames.

Then it occurred to me. No matter how angry Muslims may be at the so called infidels that won’t respect their man made religion, I realized that there was an unlimited supply of effigies and icons that over zealous Muslims would have to go through in order to prove… what? What were they trying to prove again? I wasn’t sure. All I was sure of was that there was still Kermit the Frog to go through before you could hurt me!


Clowns are funny, but Muppets are funny too!

My red blooded American sensitivities took hold. I sat making a list of icons that the poor Islamic radicals would have to deface before they could ever hurt my pride, although I was still a bit soar about that needless comparison to European newspapers with bad taste. It’s not like they actually sat down to think about their actions, does getting all bent out of shape and causing a ruckus really get you what you want? A child having a hissing fit in front of its mother because it didn’t get what it wanted can tell you the answer to that. Never mind that Muslims everywhere united together to voice their opinions, never mind that they chose to side on the losing side of history. No amount of tyrannical whining can lay claims to the number of artists which have been persecuted over the course of human history. Maybe that’s why Ronald McDonald is burning in that picture, because men like Voltaire and Jonathan Swift wrote such controversial satire? Never mind the fact that the logic doesn’t make sense. Never mind the fact that not everyone believes the same thing. The Muslim out bursts amounted to trying to make other’s believe what they do. Never mind that’s impossible, kind of like changing your piss into wine. Never mind that, because no amount of burnings is going to prove a damn thing.

So I rambled of the list of icons that angry Muslims protestors (mainly the ones in the phot) would have to deface in order to even dent the universal awareness they hoped to invoke, fear. By fear they hoped to gain respect by dominance, but not respect by respecting others via love. But never mind, there was a list to tackle first. There is Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy for that matter, Snoopy, the Michelin tire Puff, Felix the Cat, Pop-Eye, the Jolly Green Giant, Darth Vader, the Aflac Duck, all the way down to the Toys R US Giraffe, among many others. At around Superman, Bugs Bunny, and Mr. Kool-Aid I started to realize that it was a losing battle. No matter how many angry Muslim protestors there were (again, those people in the picture, because I don't want to generalize, not all Muslims hate Ronald McDonald), and no matter how furious they had become over a cartoon which challenged their ideals and insulted their pride, there was a much unrelated and infinite library of cartoon characters waiting for their chance to share a little sense of humor with those wacky religious zealots, who appear to be without a sense of humor.

After much contemplation I tried to recall what the article was about. Really, I had no idea. I had read it, after a fit of giggles, but the image was so burned into my minds eye that all I could see was a clown on fire. It was a good laugh. And all thanks to my wacky Muslim brothers clowning around and sharing their extreme hatred of… well, whatever it was, it was a riot!

My Essential Guide to Japanese Fluency


Looks impossible to read? Don't fret, because you too can learn Japanese!

There are several ways to learn a new language. But among them hard work and diligence seems to work the best. Without a desire and love to learn, the process will be tedious and perhaps even painful. But if you truly are interested, tackeling a new language can be tons of fun, not to mention extremely rewarding!

As I have progressed through the various levels of Japanese language proficiency I've used a myriad of study aids and text books including both the Yokoso and Genki textbooks. Yokoso tends to have more vocabulary, but Genki was more well ballanced and easier for me to follow/comprehend.

The transition from beginner book to intermediate is also smoother in Genki. Both Yokoso and Genki books are accompanied by chapter work book excersizes and lessons as well as a CD companion for listening comprehension practice.


Japanese Alphabet

After I passed the intermediate state I found the 200 Essential Japanese Expressions guide book. This and the subsequent 500 Essential Japanese expressions for advanced users have been the best texts I have ever used. They focus on the multiple forms of conversational grammar with notes on the difference of written types. These books are deffinately for intermediate and above, but are the best grammar aids I have seen.

For first time learners, I would recommend Marc Bernabes Japanese in Mangaland series. These text books combine manga drawings with practical Japanese language lessons which are excellent if you want to learn how to read, learn some Japanese, and be able to understand certain elements in manga that differ from every day language.

As for my dictionaries I ust the Kodansha's Essential Kanji Dictionary for looking up 2,000 plus Kanji Characters (Chinese ideograms). It has three easy kanji look up methods including: by radical, on/kun readings look up, stroke order/number look up, which make finding the exact kanji you need to locate easy and efficient (often times faster than using the electronic dictionary).

I also use an electronic dictionary, and for any Japanese person or advanced Japanese speaker, this becomes the must have tool for high end users. It also works well for beginner, but I recommend you study hard & memorize as much as possible before relying on just an electronic dictionary. They may be marvelous tools, but they can act as a crutch as well. My model is a few years old, but I use a CANON IDF-4600 Intelligent Dictionary series.


Kanji are ideograms derived from real life images!

Choosing the right Dictionary for you can be tricky. Especially electronic dictionaries which cator to specific user types. Some offer full dictionaries with language support, and others have thesaurus functions with full color displays. Buying the right denshi-jishou (electronic dictionary) isn't always easy. I had to take my Japanese friend to the electronic store with me when I bought mine, just to make sure I got the right dictionary for me.

Top that off with four years of formal university language classes, and having lived in Japan I am considered fluent in Japanese. This means I can hold a fluent conversation for considerable time with listening around 90% comprehension, and read a book with limited assistance. The goal of almost any Japanese language student is to be able to read a Japanese newspaper, as it is the most complex form of the language. However, it's not exactly a language you can peg as being 100% fluent in, because there's always more kanji or new hogen (regional dilect), and zokugo (slang) to learn. Not to mention the difficulties of kego (honorific) words, which is a language itself within the language. The only way to really get a grasp of the language, like anything else, is to experience it first hand by going to the country where it is spoken.

Another way I learned was by studying Japanese comic books i.e. manga. Manga isn't cake however, because reading it and knowing all the kanji and words doesn't necessarily mean you'll understand it. Manga uses so much contemporary slang and is written in conversational format (much like American comics) that understanding the conversational style dialogue means having an awareness and comprehension of certain "speaking" elements of Japanese that you typically don't see in standardized text books or written works such as novels.



Tenjou Tenge by Ogure Ito

Although, there are manga for most every level of reader, so finding something within your skill level range is doable. For instance most SHONEN JUMP titles have furigana (the small hiragana a katakana) printed alongside the difficult kanji so understanding the words becomes easier. These books are typically targeted at a 15 age group. However books like Tenjou Tenge or Vagabond are targeted for more adult level readers and so the furigana is non-existant making these books more advanced reading.

These are just the means I have implimented in learning the Japanese language. Manga itself becomes one of the best tools later on, as my drive and love for the medium forced me to study manga and so study my vocabulary & grammar too. It really does help you improve if you're motivate to do it correctly and take the necessary time to work hard at it. One of my roomates wasn't big on manga but loved J-Pop music and so he translated the Japanese from the lyrics inside the CD booklets and improved his Japanese that way. Japanese is not a language you can learn overnight. It's not Latin based like Spanish or other languages, so picking it up by ear or merely reading thoroughly won't happen at all.
Here's a haiku poem I wrote. One with and one without kanji. Contrary to popular belief, haiku poems are not easy. In Japanese, finding the right syllables is limited by their phonetic language. Since the language is already formatted by a consonant/vowel, consonant/vowel pattern, making the haiku work it slighty more diffucult. In English, anything goes, but in Japanese one must pay close attention to details. However, this focus gives a serene beauty to the poem whereas most my English haiku's sound like random surreal babble.

きれい雲
空に浮かんで
きれいだな

きれいくも
そらにうかんで
きれいだな



You can find all of the textbooks and certain electronic dictionaries at www.j-list.com. Although they are a bit expensive, you still can find things there that most American books stores don't carry.

I hope this infromation helps those who want to take on a challenging new language, or just for curious fans of Japanese culture. If you have any other questions feel free to drop me a line!


All photos and images are copyrighted with a known source. It is believed that the copyright holder has granted permission for use in works such as educational purposes, in the alternative, it may be used under the fair use provision of United States copyright law.

“Tenjou Tenge,” tankobon Manga, vol. 12.
© Ogure Ito/ factory Edie, 2004. Young Jump Comics. Shueisha Inc., Japan.

Bernabe, Marc. Japanese in MangaLand. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Death, Torpedos, & a Visit from Grandma


Grandma

This evening my Grandma came to visit and we all had dinner.

My grandma once had an arguement about cremation. Her old fashioned friend thought it would be wrong to do such a thing, because if your bones all burned up, how would Jesus put your body back together when he returned? I guess her friend forgot we were ash and dust to begin with. This happens a lot to people who grew up on Bible stories. They still believe in the magic, but years of logic has confused their wonder, and then they run into paradoxes like this. But don't worry folks, God is omnipotent, and can wink you into existance at the time of the second comming.

Then, my grandma said, "What's with building coffins so they lay down? Why not put them vertical, and make them tubes instead, so when Christ returns you... Fwoosh! Launch into the sky like a torpedo from the ground." I said, "Grandma, you are so wise. That would be a heck'uva'lot more fun." Not to mention it would save space. Coffins which lay down take up six feet of space at a time, but if we burried people standing upright then there would be head room to spare. That and the hope of the torpedo thing really make me want to make a request to be burried upright so that I can launch into the sky a thousand years later, when Christ returns. I guess I'll just settle for cremation, as it seems the economic thing to do.