Friday, October 14, 2016

Something Unexpected

From the Sept. 24, 2015 issue of the Hokkaido Shimbun
I found this gem of a newspaper article surrounding some sun-ripened, farm fresh produce from Japan’s northern-most prefecture of Hokkaido.

The story describes one hundred and five-year-old, Hidekichi Miyazaki, a born runner, but also somewhat of a late bloomer. Leading the life of a typical pensioner, Miyazaki would often pass his time in the company of friends, chatting away over a Go board (a game of strategy akin to Reversi or Othello). According to his Wikipedia page, as time wore on he sat by and watched as his fellow elderly Go partners passed away one by one. That's when he decided to run. 

At the ripe old age of 92 the theretofore not-so-athletically inclined Miyazaki was moved to give up the game of Go as well as other sedentary pursuits and take up sprinting. Thirteen years later the centenarian is still running strong with the 100 meter dash title, for his age category of 105 to 109-year-olds, firmly under his belt (although it’s unclear from the article I discovered exactly how wide the field of competition is for that class of runners). 

Despite his win with a time well under forty three seconds, Miyazaki was upset that he couldn’t finish in thirty five as he had hoped. It would seem like an unlikely goal to reach at this point but maybe we can expect the unexpected from someone who has already gone the extra mile to make up for lost time.

Post Script

I sent the article to my 92-year-old mother as a source of inspiration. She can expect to get a pair of sneakers for her birthday this year.

To find out more about Hidekichi Miyazawa visit his Wikipedia page.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Go Positively Ape

Or is it the year of the monkey? In any case, go positively ape this year. Speak only good, see only good, and hear only good things (like the Monkees).

Happy new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Punch

Pictures Don't Lie 
Even when the captions that lie below them do

It’s that time of year again. The time when we step back and survey all we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months. And if nobody has noticed your deeds, you can either count yourself lucky or toot your own horn depending on what you’ve done. News outlets in particular... (read on at Counterpunch)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Stacked Deck

...of New Year's Cards

"Eureka!" I cried as I stood on the sidewalk gazing into the window of my local discount gift certificate shop. The place pays cash for unwanted gift certificates, etc. and then sells them below their retail value. It's a win-win deal for everyone and today I hit the jackpot. Sitting on the other side of the storefront window were bundles of freshly minted, postage-paid, blank New Year's cards ready to slap a message of good cheer on and send off to friends, family, people I'm not particularly fond of but because they send me a card, I send them one to, and more. The folks on my list all add up to a lot of postage and finally I caught a little break this year. 

After approaching the counter with a spring in my step, I happily forked over three thousand yen for 60 cards that normally sell for fifty two yen each at the post office. That's a ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEN SAVINGS (about one US dollar)!!!! It was starting to shape up into the best New Year's holiday ever I though, but rattling around in the back of my mind was this nagging question that wouldn't quit asking. "How could they sell postcards printed by Japan Post for less than the face value of the stamp?

Unable to contain the puzzlement within the confines of my skull, the question spilled off my tongue, in turn triggering this valley's rumor mill that runs all hours of the day and night. The word is that Japan's poor postal workers are saddled with the burden of selling a certain quota of cards. Denizens of Temple Valley say that many wind up purchasing them on their own and selling them to these aforementioned discount gift certificate shops. I've heard tell of some, working in far-flung areas where such shops are scant, that wind up taking a pricey bullet train ride into Tokyo where they try and peddle their cards to one of the many shops that dot the big city.

Okay now remember, this is just the word echoing through Temple Valley. I haven't fact checked any of it at all but it wouldn't surprise me if a government agency was trying to balance its budget on the backs of its workers. No matter how you cut the cards, it sounds like the deck might be stacked against these poor slobs and if what I've heard is true it's nothing to be happy about.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cutting Back

Measured against the signpost to his right,
 Wa-kun seems smaller than he was in 2011.

It seems as if Abenomics, the fiscal policies of Japan's right-wing prime minister Shinzo Abe, have forced people across the country to cut back. Even our local mascot, Wa-kun ("Lil' Al"), seems to have suffered a drastic cutback. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Sacred and the Profane

Two Shrines

One sacred the other profane, I automatically bow at the shrine on the right (he's the Boss, or so it's written).

Forgotten post: Where Sacred Meets Profane

Friday, September 25, 2015

Resting Places

When you can't tell the difference between
 a bus stop and a bulk garbage pickup point.

It's a mystery as to who placed these chairs here and there, but bus stops across Temple Valley are the final resting place for these worn out seats where tired travelers rest their weary feet.

Related post: Bus Topped

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Just Thoughts

Originally published September 19, 2015 on the OpEd News website as Japanese Democracy and Pacifist Heart Dead on ArrivalThe demise of Japan's pacifist constitution and its implications for the U.S.


When Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visits President Obama in Washington later this month, he will come bearing a special souvenir from Japan. It will be a death certificate, one that reads "Japan's Peace Constitution R.I.P." Despite overwhelming public opposition, at around 2 AM Saturday morning Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party rammed through legislation designed to unleash the nation's military might.

The "gift" is likely to bring a smile to Obama's face. Over the past few decades American officials have lamented the constitutional constraints that have tied Japan's hands in providing the US with military support. Beating at the pacifist heart of Japan's constitution is its Article 9 which states, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." That Article 9 has continually stopped Japan's defense forces dead in their tracks whenever it has come to joining U.S. forces with boots on the ground.

That all changed in the wee hours of Saturday morning when legislators hastily passed new laws skirting that provision. Japan's fighting forces now have the green light to battle shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. in armed conflicts potentially anywhere around the world. That should come as good news to the U.S. as its military gets stretched thinner and thinner in an ever widening war on terrorism. While Americans might be happy to dance on Article 9's grave, we ought to give pause for just a minute and think about what has passed.

Essentially drafted and imposed by a victorious U.S. in the wake of WWII, the Japanese constitution is "one of the few if any alien documents that have ever been as thoroughly internalized and vigorously defended," writes historian John Dower. No ordinary document, you could say this set of laws was penned with the blood of over a hundred thousand American GIs who died in WWII's Pacific theater along with countless Japanese soldiers and citizens.

Outside the Diet Building(Sept. 18, 2015)
Today the emotional attachment to that unique American document is visible on the faces of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens, both young and old, who have been pouring into the streets surrounding Japan's national Diet building in opposition to the new laws. In the week before the laws were passed there had been a constant tide of people flowing through the capitol in peaceful protest to the Abe administration's bulldozing of a foundation of peace that has stood for nearly three quarters of a century. The massive outpouring is but a small representation of the majority across this island nation that is squarely opposed to what have been dubbed "the war laws." According to a recent poll by the Asahi newspaper, one of Japan's top three dailies, the country is unevenly split with 54% against enactment of the laws and a mere 29% for it. Numbers don't lie but they appear to be no match for political machinations that trump the machinery of democracy.

While time has healed the wounds of WWII for most Americans, memories of that bloody conflict remain raw in the Japanese psyche. Forged by a burning desire for peace in the smoldering fires of that great conflagration, Japan's democratic government is being quickly dismantled before the public's eyes. The question now is: when Mr. Abe hands President Obama his special gift, what will be his response? Will our leader smile in appreciation as he stands in the shadow of the graves of the brave men and women who died for American as well as Japanese democracy on the battlefields of the Pacific not that long ago? Perhaps those departed souls are owed more than that for their sacrifice. Maybe we should start paying down the debt we owe by refusing to stand in silence as Japan's ruling political party drives democracy into the ground.

While casting his "no" vote in Japan's Upper House, one opposition party member shouted out in defiance, "the fight has just begun." Today a battle that began more than seven decades ago seems to be far from over. The difference is Americans now have a chance to stand with the majority of Japanese citizens who are standing up for democracy. It would be a shame to let them down now after all these years.

Monday, April 27, 2015

If the Belt Fits...

In college I took a class in karate, Okinawan Kenpo to be exact, to fulfill part of the school's phys ed requirement. On the first day of class the sensei, an honest-to-God living legend in the world of martial arts (he was in Fist of Fear, Touch of Death for gosh sake - it said so on his business card), presented each and every one of us with a brand-spanking-new, starch-white, plastic-wrapped karate gi that he pulled from this ancient and mysterious-looking brown corrugated box. 

I can still sense the excitement that filled the air that afternoon. When the last kid in line got her hands on the last gi in the box, she begged our new martial arts master to ink her "Japanese name" on the accompanying white belt, the color belt worn by all karate greenhorns. 

He gladly obliged with a smile on his face and then with a twinkle in his eye proceeded to brand each and every one of the belts belonging to about fifty or so students with their own "Japanese name" to brandish about their waists. Penned with broad sweeping strokes, the indecipherable Japanese lettering transformed my most ordinary of names into a thing of beauty. It had to have been the pinnacle of my educational career up until that point. 

It was just sooo cool! I wore my karate gi like all the time, around the house mostly but on occasion outside the home. It was on one such occasion, a few months down the road, that I was informed by someone more erudite than myself that the inscrutable word penned so stylishly on my belt said "STUPID." While I was sure the master meant it as a compliment, I soon grew out of the belt anyway. Thanks largely to a steady intake of pizza along with barrels of beer, a common diet fad among my peers at the time, I was forced to eventually hang the belt up for good.

The funny thing though is that now, a lifetime later, I live in Japan, where people, more often than not, refer to me by my same old "Japanese name." I guess the belt still fits. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Minimal Pair

A minimal pair

English can be a tricky business for second language learners and a lot of it has to do with the "art of perception."  

I met a Japanese guy the other day who said he worked at an “ass fart” company. “You make ass farts for a living?!” I cried out in disbelief (it sounded like easy work for which I was well qualified). “For the street,” he said. Then it hit me. He worked for an asphalt company. He made asphalt!

Here in Temple Valley and across Japan the difference between an ass fart and asphalt is minimal at best. In the end, the thing that separates an "ass fart" from "asphalt" all boils down to a matter of perception. That is what Japanese second language learners make of the English "r" and "l" sounds and how native speakers perceive those folks when they hit the streets and it all gets mixed up. 

Related post: Watch Your A's