Friday, December 31, 2010

Beating in the New Year

The Drum Beat

Before our roving reporter joined the local Temple Valley drumming group based out of of the Crane View Shinto Shrine no one in the troupe wore costumes for the traditional midnight ceremonies ushering in the New Year. This year our drum beat reporter ditched his tiger stripes and donned more appropriate attire befitting the coming year of the rabbit. On his left is fellow God of Light Drumming group member, J. Guttermouth, who is looking for someone to fill out the rear end of the dragon costume he is planning to wear next year.

Related post: Danger Lurks in the Year of the Tiger

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Screamy

Oh, I could just scream. One of my favorite shirts, which I designed and handcrafted (sort of - I drew the illustration) myself, has a big hole in it. The design, featuring a smiley face à la Edvard Munch, can  only be found on three t-shirts in the whole wide world (Munch also created several versions of his Scream too).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where Would Jesus Go for the Holidays?

Season's Readings from Temple Valley

While it's common knowledge that comes December 26th Santa heads off for Vegas (see: Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Goes on Holiday), where would Jesus go to get away from it all? Why he would go to Tokyo of course and bring his good friend and fellow deity Buddha along for the descent to earth. That’s the premise of Saint Young Men, a Japanese comic book written and illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura that has captivated the imagination of people across the Land of the Rising Sun. The best selling comic book series and last year’s winner of Japan’s prestigious Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for Short Work Manga (or comic book) imagines what it would be like if Jesus and Buddha took a vacation in an old worn out section of Tokyo.
It’s the perfect escape from heaven for the two deities. No one in Tokyo knows who they are. Jesus is mistaken for Johnny Depp while standing in line at the local convenience store and the neighborhood kids make sport of “pushing Buddha's button,” the third eye in the center of his forehead. The comic takes a whimsical look at how the modern 21st century world would welcome this odd couple of divinities with Jesus playing Oscar to Buddha’s Felix. Jesus tends to act on impulse (remember the turning of the money lenders’ tables), wasting the limited funds in the pair’s vacation budget on silly souvenirs while the more contemplative Buddha takes the “middle path” via a moderate lifestyle.
Every panel is as enlightening as it is entertaining with some classic religious references mixed in with the modern day exploits of the divine duo. In one chapter their landlord accuses them of feeding invasive stray cats who have disrupted the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood. Even though they haven’t given the felines a single drop of milk, there is no way they can convince the landlord otherwise. Just as they deny the allegations a stray cat slinks up to the gaunt-looking figure of Jesus and offers himself up as a potential meal. All the animals love them. Despite these troubles, the pair have generally taken to life on earth today. Jesus has a hit website where he blogs on about TV dramas with omniscience. Buddha has fallen in love with comic books, particularly one by Tezuka Osama entitled, “Buddha.”
Those who are familiar with the 5 billion-dollar Japanese comic market will know that some comics aimed at the adult market can feature R- and even X-rated graphics. Saint Young Men avoids putting its protagonists in any compromising poses. While the comic takes liberties with the religious figures there is nothing really naughty about this tale of a couple of the nicest guys to ever walk the face of the earth and there has been virtually no vocal opposition to it from Buddhists or the small Christian community in Japan.
Traditionalists will be quick to note that the tale is long on fantasy and short on fact as presented by either Buddhist or Christian orthodoxies but at the root of this comic is an unspoken theme that may go right to the heart of both religions. If the inspirations behind two of the largest faiths can peacefully live together in cramped, dingy quarters on a shoe-string budget and after two weeks still have nothing but love for each other, there may be some hope for the rest of us. If you can believe God became man and then ascended to heaven to join God once again, this tale may not seem that far-fetched after all. What if God is among us, or all around us, and like the modern day Tokyoites of Saint Young Men we just don’t know it.

Somewhat related posts:
As It Is in Heaven                                         Xmas in Japan                        Comic Subculture

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hey Hon

Cartoon by JTC ca. 1985 exclusive to The Temple Valley Times

This (news release below) hot off the press from Smile Hon You're in Baltimore. In case you forgot, Baltimore is sister city to Temple Valley neighbor, Kawasaki, the manufacturer of at least half the smog-filled air that hovers over our tranquil little vale. The other half is all hometown brewed.

Long-running Baltimore Zine Seeks Submissions
for Special "Hon" Edition
December 14, 2010
For immediate release

BALTIMORE, Md. – Prompted by the recent public furor over a Hampden restaurant-owner's trademarking of the word "hon", award-winning local literary zine Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! announces a call for submissions of stories, essays, poetry, photography and related artwork for an upcoming issue focusing on the term's roots, its celebration and exploitation, and its past, present and future roles in Baltimore's identity.

"Given the anger and pure, raw emotion floating around out there, it's clear that there is much more at play here than a simple three-letter term of endearment," says Smile, Hon Editor William P. Tandy. "That said, what a wonderful thing it would be if we could put this well-nigh unprecedented outrage and energy to positive use – for the city, for ourselves, for each other."

Questions and ideas to consider include ....(continue reading on the Eight-stone Press blog)


Related posts from The Temple Valley Times:

Banana Gone Bad
Unlocking Imagination

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Related post: Flying Over the Serengeti

Never Forget

"Wishing you a holiday filled with memories to share"

That's what it says on the inside of the Xmas cards I'm sending out this year. I picked them because the snow sled pictured on the front reminded me of the one I made my nephew many Christmases ago. I dubbed his "Ev's Chesapeake Slider" and permanently etched the name on the wooden slats covering the runners. Years later I crafted a similar sled for my son, Ichiro, taking lessons learned from the construction of the Chesapeake Slider and incorporating them into the snazzier designed and aerodynamically enhanced Chesapeake Glider. They were both clean, green, sliding machines that delivered hours of snow-packed fun.

After only a few season's snows under the Glider's runners, we were off to distant shores, leaving the sled and other treasures behind. Winters had come and gone, blanketing the Mid-Atlantic landscape in a pure winter white but the Glider remained idle, safely stored away in the care of my eldest sibling.  

Some years later after I returned home for a visit on a summer holiday, I spent  the better part of one particularly sunny morning rummaging through my sister's cellar in search of some personal effects I had squirreled away down there for safekeeping. You can imagine the joy in my heart when I spied Ichiro's Chesapeake Glider beckoning to me from beneath a thick protective layer of dust.

I cradled it in my arms as I carried it aloft into the light of day. As the amber rays of the mid morning sun bathed the oak grain it glistened like a burning ember, rekindling the memories of the sheer delight Ichiro and I shared as we sailed together across the pure white plains. Then suddenly I was jolted back to the present by a sun glass spectaled figure approaching from across the far side of the lawn. It was my brother-in-law, Sparky. His eyes popped wide open as his glasses slid down the bridge of his nose and his jaw dropped to the ground. I stood silent as I waited for him to hail my serendipitous discovery.

"We got to get rid of that bad boy right away. It's rotting, I wouldn't be surprised if it's infested. With all your stuff down in the basement, and Ev's stuff, there's no room to move. This is going out in the trash today."

As the sled was tossed on the gabage heap right before my eyes, I slipped into a state of shock, yet managed to ask: "Can I take a picture of it before the garbage men come to pick it up?"

"What for?" He replied.

"For a keepsake, " I said.

"No, you don't have time for that. Besides you have the best pictures of it already, the ones inside your head - your memories."

I guess he was right but I wish I had a photograph of it just the same. Then I could have made a card just like this one and sent it to him for Christmas because as memories go this is one I'll never forget.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas in Sight

....and X marks the spot! Merriam-Webster is spreading a little holiday cheer this month with a timely installment of their informative Ask the Editor video series. Have a look, and cheers everyone its Xmas time again!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Far Eastern Amish?

Not this buggy. While from the back it looks vaguely like an Amish style horse and coach, this is actually a pedal powered bike tram operated by one of the  intrepid couriers from the Kuro Neko Yamato delivery service.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Making Faces

I found this on my bookshelf today. It's a little tome I scribed (with the help of M) when I was teaching the people of Japan to speak English. That mission accomplished, I packed most of my teaching materials in boxes and tucked them away in the dark recesses of my closet. This one, made using a pen, paper, and photocopier, is useful for learning how to describe facial features. I used it when teaching ESL(English as a second language) to public junior high school kids in Kanagawa, Japan. While it's not perfect, it's not entirely without merit and ideal for a semi low-tech classroom environment.

Here is Making Faces:

If you have a printer, you can make your own Making Faces using these images below. You might want to change some of the labels (like buckteeth, etc.). I used terms I found in textbooks I was working with at the time.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Building Character

Old wooden buildings with corrugated metal siding like this one are quickly disappearing from Temple Valley (this shop is actually in the neighboring village of Shore Valley), replaced by bright, broad-shouldered condominiums and shiny shopping centers that draw would-be residents and shoppers like bears to honey.
Over the years time and weather have chiseled these structures into complex works of art whose beauty is overlooked or, as often is the case with great art, misunderstood. For some curious reason they can be even more imposing and much more uninviting than the gleaming towers that so often take their place. Like all masterpieces though, the real test is time and as years pass by I'm sure they will be missed for what they are and once were.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Know It's Here Somewhere

I remember leaving it parked between two cement columns.

After posting this photo yesterday I spied practically the same, only better, picture on the Japan Today website. Another scoop for TVT. Setting the pace in news, in Temple Valley, Japan, in English, since before we can remember.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cross Section

This picture taken in Higashi Jujo, Tokyo is a familiar sight across the archipelago where customers will brave long lines to be seated in ramen noodle shops that have earned an excellent reputation among self-professed aficionados of this quintessential Japanese cuisine.

Moment of Decision

Construction workers line up to buy boxed lunches at this corner pub in Higashi Jujo, Tokyo where persimmons are hanging to dry under the eaves. I don't know what they're saying but I imagine it's something like:
What are you gonna have.
I dunno. What are you gonna have.
I dunno. What are you gonna have...

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Brush with Art Fortune

Behold, my ticket out of Palookaville, or so I thought. The thought first occurred to me a few years ago as I sat perusing the pages of Time magazine. It was then that I suddenly spied out of the corner of my eye an article on the skyrocketing value of Chinese modern art. Curious, I immediately set out to surf the web for more information when I stumbled on a work by Wang Jiyuan that sold for nearly half a million dollars at auction. Normally I would have just raised my eyebrow (I only have one, it goes straight across my forehead. I used to have two but as I've grown older the hair on top of my head has migrated to various sub polar regions of my body.) an inch or two and surfed on but this startling find stopped me dead in my tracks. It just so happens that my mother was in the possession of a beautiful  ink and water color painting by one Wang Jiyuan that was hanging on her bedroom wall. How did a mild mannered suburban American housewife acquire such a potentially pricey work of art? It's a long story that I won't go into here but suffice it to say that no real criminal wrong doing was involved (the rest I'll leave up to your imagination dear reader).

They say the market never sleeps and that goes for the art market as well, but fortunately my mother does. So one night as she dozed off into dreamland I crept into her chambers to sequester the family fortune for safekeeping and potential marketability (which she didn't really object to I'm sure because she was quite ill at the time). After fashioning a museum quality portfolio case to rest the treasure in for its journey half way around the globe to my home in Japan, I bid my farewell to the family and was on my way. Some time later, securely nestled in my Far Eastern lair I was able to use the cutting-edge photo apparatuses at my disposal to take a digital photograph of the painting that I would send along with a letter of inquiry to the contemporary Asian art departments at a couple of the most prestigious art auction houses in the world.

It had been well over a year since I dashed the first letter off. Just imagine the joy in my heart when one day in May, out of the blue, I spied out the corner of my eye, the words "Asian Contemporary and 20th Century Chinese Art Department" neatly laser printed in the corner of an envelope that the  mailman had just dropped in my mail slot. This was the moment I had been waiting for practically all my life. My heart pounding with anticipation, I stooped to pick up the letter and with trembling hands patiently peeled open the sealed flap to reveal the 8 1/2 x 11 inch invitation to the billionaire art collector's club. Spreading the folded sheet out before my eyes, I savored each syllable as they built into a gradual crescendo leading to the words, "immeasurable decorative value."  Yes, yes, "i-m-e-a-s-u-r-a-b-l-e!" The word echoed through the corners of my mind, triggering a chain reaction of synonymous adjectives each accompanied by the distinctive ka-ching of a cash register. There was "incalculable" followed on its heels by "inestimable," with "unprecedented" burning up the outside track and finally, making its way up the field, and through the pack, "unimaginable."

It was all just incredible, then calamity struck. Who could have predicted it, nobody saw it coming. In fact it had been there all along. A big fat "but" just lying there in the middle of the sentence waiting for the reader to trip over Yeah, it had decorative value alright "but," as the esteemed representative from the gallery assured me, not enough monetary value to make it worth auctioning off in their tony showroom. What happened next was horrible, immeasurable slammed into "but" with a Titanic impact leaving the short-lived quartet of "incalculable, inestimable, unprecedented, and imaginable" to sink into oblivion, taking with them the hope they offered for a wealthy life of leisure.

With Mother's Day on the immediate horizon, I decided to cut my losses and hit upon the wonderful idea of having the piece professionally framed and sent to my dear mom as a token of my immense love and affection. As fate would have it, my hopes were dashed once again. It had been over a year since I had photographed the painting and made my inquiries to various auction houses across the globe. Now there was no telling where I stored it for safekeeping. In the closet where I hide my cookies safely out of reach from my two growing boys? No, not there. In the upstairs closet where we put things we don't want to get moldy in a couple of months? No, not there either. Who knows where I put it. The possibilities are in a word, "immeasurable."

There is at least one place where I know it's not:

The wall in my mother's bedroom.

I've been searching in vain for months now and I'm at my wits end. Where the heck could it be? Why the desperate search for something so worthless you ask?  Worthless? That's just another word for "priceless."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cross Section

A Kuro Neko (Black Cat) Yamato parcel delivery worker walks his bicyle aross a walkway in Tsurumi, Yokohama.

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
--Herodotus (from the inscription on the main Post Office building in NYC)

Related: Cross Section 2
             Cross Section 1

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Santa Pissed!

Tokyo - The Mannekin Pis at Tokyo's Hamamatsucho train station is all decked out for Christmas and sprinkling holiday cheer all over the platform. I'm sure there is a lovely Christmas carol about this. I think it goes something like: "I saw la la pissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe last night..."

Related stories: You Too Can Prevent Fires
                   Sanders Claus Is Coming

Divey but Delectable

Bounty Hill, Tsurumi -  This little local eatery, surrounded by train tracks on two sides (top and back), was recently featured on a nationally broadcast Fuji network television show.  The program, Kitanachelin, hosted by the Japanese comic duo known as Tunnels (comprised of Takaaki Ishibashi and Noritake Kinashi) picks up where the famed Michelin restaurant guide leaves off. The show whose name marries the last two symbols of "Michelin" with the Japanese word, "kitanai," (meaning dirty) takes viewers to some of the most dirty but delicious dives in the greater Tokyo area. This week's episode took a peak at this fabulous but filthy restaurant built beneath the rails leading to Japan Railway's Tsurumi train station.  
For years before the segment aired the establishment looked pretty much as it does in the picture above, unassuming, uncleaned, and largely unvisited. Via the power of the tube, overnight it became the talk of the town with customers lined up out the door all day and night.


Related story: Breaking Barriers

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Herb & Dorothy

"Herb & Dorothy tells the extraordinary story of Herbert Vogel, a postal clerk, and Dorothy Vogel, a librarian, who managed to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history with very modest means"....... (read more).

The film's director, Megumi Sasaki, says "The Vogels' message is also about access. Art is not limited to the elite few. You don't have to be wealthy or an art school graduate to enjoy art. If you are interested in collecting art you don't have to follow trends or others' advice. Just listen to your own voice. Trust your eyes and instinct. Simply take the time to look, look and look."

Today everyone has access to the bulk of the Vogel's extensive collection since the couple gifted it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC back in 1992 (well after its value had appreciated to become worth millions).

To find out more about Herb & Dorothy visit the website.


Sunday, November 21, 2010


Here's  another interior decorating tip for those living on a shoestring budget ripped from the pages of the "Dual-use" Handbook (that I'm currently writing). Dual-use is an out-of-the-box concept built on the premise that not everything is what it seems to be. Take this ordinary tube of tooth paste for example (the brand pictured here is Meguru purchased via my food coop):

Sure it's great for fighting tooth decay, but that's not all. Observe:

It also makes a jammin' doorstop. This is one product that seamlessly crosses over from hygienic to photogenic in the blink of an eye. It's a dual-use decorator's dream. Oops! Sueezage problem?

We've got something to put a stop to that as well.

Simply retrieve your dual-use handkerchief/flag-of-surrender and ....

start waving.

Voila! You have a floor that's as gleaming as the.....

smile on your face (and the faces of your house guests too)!


Related post: Highly Collectible

Saturday, November 20, 2010


An installation by Yosuke Kobayashi as featured on Digital Stadium, a television program aired by Japan's public broadcasting service, Japan Broadcast Corporation (NHK) sometime last year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tis the Season

Temple Valley - It's that time again. The first bottles of Beaujolais noveau wine have arrived from France, hitting Temple Valley with a bang. The normally restful residents of this once idyllic vale have been licking their lips for weeks in anticipation of the moment that the fermented spirits will slither down their gullet and warm the cockles of their hearts. "People here are really Beaujolais nouveau crazy," I said to M, my wife, as I related the story of a restless mob clomoring to get their hands on one of the countless bottles for sale at the local Seiyu (that's Japanese for Walmart) grocery store. Then she lifted her nose out of the morning paper and trumped my tale with an article about guests of a hotel in the Hakone resort area, just south of Tokyo, who were bathing in the stuff nightly.

Related story: Help Wanted? So much wine, so little time...

Smoke on the Water

You Too Can Prevent Fires

Tokyo - Fire is no laughing matter in Tokyo. As this picture of the Mannekin Pis replica (decked out in a Tokyo Fire Department uniform and propping up a "Fire Protection" placard) adorning Tokyo's Hamamatsucho train station might suggest, everyone is encouraged to "pitch in" and try to prevent fires from occurring.
Tokyo was devastated by hellish fires twice in the last century, once in the aftermath of the 1924 Kanto Earthquake and some two decades later in the fire bombing of the city toward the end of WWII. An article describing the Peshtigo fire, the deadliest fire in U.S. history, in Wikipedia notes an interesting connection between that inferno and the fires that consumed Tokyo and other Japanese urban communities during the war. It states: "The combination of wind, topography, and ignition sources that created the firestorm, primarily representing the conditions at the boundaries of human settlement and natural areas, is known as the Peshtigo Paradigm. This paradigm was closely studied by the American and British military during World War II to learn how to recreate firestorm conditions for bombing campaigns against cities in Germany and Japan. The bombing of Dresden and the even more severe one of Tokyo by incendiary devices resulted in death tolls comparable to or exceeding those of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

About the photo: This replica of Brussel's renowned Mannekin Pis ("Peeing Boy") stands on the southbound platform of Japan Railway East's Hamatsucho Station on the Kehein Tohoku line in Tokyo. Like the Belgian original, the Tokyo statue can be seen donning different outfits throughout the year.

A number of Peeing Boy statues can also be found inhabiting the interior of the Mannekin Pis restaurant in Olney Maryland where they serve up a large selection of Belgian biers (a.k.a. "beers" for our less urbane readers). How do I know all this you ask? Two words: Le Internet  (further note to our less urbane readers: the "t" at the end of Internet is silent).

Now a word on preparedness:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Zombies Are Coming


According to a an article on the Weird Asia News website, the Land of the Rising Sun is at risk from becoming the "Land of the Rising Dead." The report notes that while Japan cremates 99.85% of its deceased citizenry, its still vulnerable to a zombie attack.
The report comes just when we thought it was safe to go outside again, after the departure of the APEC leaders and their entourage. Oh well, in the meantime the denizens of Temple Valley, or at least some of the most sensible among them, have found a way to sharpen their defenses in the event zombies do infiltrate the borders of this island nation. The local Zombie Defense Committee (ZDC) is devoting hours and hours to a digital simulated zombie warfare software application called Plants vs. Zombies by PopCap Games. It's the one-person shooter  that PC Gamer has designated the Game of the Year. Plants vs. Zombies requires you to summon up your best strategy skills as you deploy zombie-battling plants on the front lines (your font lawn in this case) in the ultimate fight to save your brain from being devoured by the living dead. Relax already,  Plants vs. Zombies includes a mini-game featuring a "stress-free Zen Garden" where you can let your troubles disappear.  The Zen garden is also what makes Plants vs. Zombies the perfect training ground for the ZDC.

You can try the free online or download trial version of the product PC Gamer has designated the Game of the Year on Popcap's website. If you decide to try the game, and I strongly urge you to do so, be advised that the software maker warns you to:

"Get ready to soil your plants!
A mob of fun-loving zombies is about to invade your home, and your only defense is an arsenal of zombie-zapping plants. Use peashooters, wall-nuts, cherry bombs and more to mulchify zombies before they reach your front door. The fun never dies!"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

APEC Leaders Lose Their Shirts in Japan

Photo via website of the President of the Russian Federation

So far, this year's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit being held a hop, skip and a jump away from Temple Valley has been a major downer. Not only do the residents of Temple Valley have to put up with the constant drone of security helicopters buzzing above their roof tops, the periodic cavalcade of police buses (some 21,000 police have been deployed to secure the Summit site) and checkpoints have snarled up traffic routes so much  that nobody can easily get to their favorite eatery in Yokohama's Chinatown, located a stone's throw away from the summit. The APEC leaders aren't the only ones who have lost their shirts at this year's summit. Chinatown restauranteurs have noted a steep decline in patron numbers and related earnings since the arrival of the APEC delegates and all the extra security measures, etc. that have come along with them, so much for economic cooperation. 

What's even more disappointing is that Japan has opted to forgo the donning of the silly shirts (see photo above) at this year's APEC Summit. Many analysts have suggested that this decision fits the staid national characteristic of Japan, but there is a back story here that they have overlooked.

It was less than a year ago that a vote of non-confidence in Japan's former prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, swept him out of office. What triggered Japan's highest legislative body's loss of confidence in the former leader you ask? Just take a look at the ousted head of state's sartorial style:

アップロード者 mintianjohns3. - ウェブカムでもっといろいろな人と出会いましょう。

Style always trumps substance. Japan's leaders have learned their lesson and vowed, "never again."

Related AFP story: In Japan's largest Chinatown, people avoid politics

Unlocking Imagination

Unlocking Imagination in Japan

President Obama will be traveling to Yokohama, Japan this week for the APEC summit where one of the items on the agenda will be beefing up the protection of intellectual property rights. Had the summit taken place a month later the delegates could have taken a short train ride to Tokyo’s Big Sight arena and witnessed perhaps the largest gathering of intellectual property criminals ever assembled under one roof.....(read more at Counterpunch) 

Help Wanted?

Domino’s Pizza Japan has advertised a one-hour job paying 2.5 million yen (about $30,000).  The job will go to anyone 18 years and older who comes up with the best way to celebrate the pizza chain's 25 years of operation in Japan and then implement that idea on the date of the anniversary. It's nice work if you can get it, the average hourly wage for part-time workers in Japan is around 1,000 yen (less than $10 if you simply convert it on the basis of the current foreign exchange ratio).

In a related story, French news agency, Agence France-Presse, reports that the Japanese government is ordering its embassies to reduce their bloated wine cellars, "including almost 7,900 bottles at one European mission alone."

...So much wine, so little time.

Friday, November 5, 2010


A Toilet Tale

Toilet tales, anyone who has ever visited the Land of the Rising Sun (that's Japan) usually comes home with one. This fall, Toilet, a film by Japanese director Nao Ogagami, made a fabulous addition to that ever rising fountain of fables. My wife and I caught the movie in a cinema located in Yokohama's High Island district one Wednesday morning last month or so. Wednesday is "ladies day" which means the usual ticket price of about 1800 yen (approx. 18 dollars) is cut in half for women. I was the only man in the entire jam-packed theater. Now here is the really weird part: this Japanese movie was entirely in English with Japanese subtitles!
Set in the U.S. and filmed in Canada, the movie stars renowned Japanese actress, Masako Motai, who plays the role of the grandmother to the rest of the lead cast of relatively unknown English-speaking actors. The story revolves around a family of three grown kids whose mother, a Japanese immigrant to the US, has recently died and their evolving relationship with their long lost grandmother who arrives in America just before her daughter's demise. Despite the fact that grandma can't speak a word of English and the children have virtually no knowledge of Japanese, the bonds that tie them together guide them toward overcoming the language barrier that seems to divide them in this humorous, heartwarming tale of human relationships. Running through the entire story is the central theme of, you guessed it, the toilet.

I give this movie eight toilet tissue rolls (using the standard international toilet tissue roll movie rating system, 8 rolls is roughly the equivalent of two thumbs up).

Just a reminder: Christmas is just around the corner. Why not try decorating your tree with toilet tissue instead of garland this year. It's the environmentally friendly choice. Ask yourself, What Jesus would do? Then make the right choice. If you click on the link and order via Amazon, a percentage of the proceeds will somehow eventually go to me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Different Takes

Here are a few different takes on the 80's rock classic, Take On Me, by Norwegian pop band a-ha, beginning with take one above.

Typhoon Hits Temple Valley

Illustration by M.*

Temple Valley - Typhoon Number 14 made land fall today, wreaking minor havoc on the normally placid Temple Valley. This is the 14th windstorm to lay siege to the region this season (hence the moniker "Typhoon Number 14"). There's really not much to say that we haven't mentioned 13 times before. It's wet and windy.

*M. is a former Japanese weather news illustrator.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fitting In

Temple Valley, Tsurumi, Yokohama - The day here begins much as it does across the metropolitan landscape, on the runway. Like clockwork, every weekday morning I view a constant stream of people flowing up and down the street to and from the local train station. The first wave is construction workers, swaggering down the road in MC Hammer pantaloons with towels wrapped around their heads. Following behind come miles and miles of office workers stuffed into black business suits filing down the lane by the dozens. Next come students, boys dressed in their de rigueur 19th century European military uniforms, girls in either sailor suits or white shirts, penny loafers and skirts. Bringing up the end of this fashion parade is usually a couple of kimono-clad women on the way to some social function or work in some traditional Japanese restaurant or industry and if I'm lucky a couple of men in traditional garb also on their way to work in some traditional trade or art form. Throughout the rest of the day are sartorial stragglers of just about every brand, older women in long silk gloves, and young fashionistas and fashionistos straight from the hip streets of Harajuku. Then it all falls apart on Saturday and Sunday when it's not uncommon to see a thirty something businessman in paisley print pajamas and robe, shuffling up to the corner convenience store in his slippers to buy a pack of cigs.
I'm no clothes hound by any stretch of the imagination but I wouldn't be caught dead walking around outside in my jammies. That is until yesterday. As I got dressed to leave the house on a morning errand, I fished a shirt out of my drawer that I had never seen. It was brand new and so I figured it was left there by someone, perhaps my wife, for me to wear. Donning my comfy new shirt and a matching pair of pants I headed out the door for a morning jaunt down to the station flanked by countless others doing just the same. The new shirt made me feel good and put a little extra bounce into my step. It fit me perfectly except for the sleeves, which were a little short and somewhat loose fitting, but I figured that was the style. After many years in this exotic locale, I'm still unaccustomed to all the stylistic nuances.
That evening as I was bathing, my wife returned home and through the closed bathroom door, she asked, "Did you find the new pajamas I put in your drawer?" "Yes I did," I assured her. Panic-stricken, I jumped out of the tub and rifled throug the dirty laundry for the outfit I had been wearing all day. There on the label, printed in bold black capital letters, were the words "NIGHT WEAR." I had worn pajamas in public, and what's worse, no one even gave me a second look!

(Let's keep this between me and my longjohns.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Come Come

Reuters reports that "Japan is planning to recruit dozens of foreigners to visit the country and give advice on how to make things more travel-friendly for non-Japanese speaking visitors." The October 19th article says the Japanese "government will pay travel allowances to about 100 native English, Chinese and Korean speakers to visit key cities and come up with ideas on how to make it easier for travelers to use public transport, stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants..." So come, come everybody!

About the drawing: This drawing of "Joe" Tadaichi Hirakawa is modeled after a photo on the Kaubuki Academy Website. Hirakawa, a.k.a "Uncle Come Come," was a Japanese radio announcer (Time magazine called him the "Arthur Godfrey of Japan") whose post-WWII English language education show earned him the nickname, "Uncle Come Come," after the first line of the radio segment's popular theme song. He has been credited for helping spark the Japanese public's passion for learning English.

Click on the audiovideo player below to listen to Come Come Everybody sung in the style of my mother-in-law who as a young girl used to listen to the program faithfully.

Lyrics to Come Come Everybody:

Come, come, everybody.
How do you do, and how are you?
Won't you have some candy,
One and two and three, four, five?
Let's all sing a happy song,
Sing tra-la la la la.

Related Post: Come Come Everybody!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Love Is in the Air

Photo by Micha L. Reiser via Wikipedia
Temple Valley, Tsurumi, Yokohama - It's that season again. The evidence is just about everywhere you might rest your eyes here in Temple Valley. In golden gossamer threads strewn across the path that leads to my door lie the lifeless bodies of suitors found most unworthy. Oh well, that's life. Well that's life if you're a male joro spider (Nephila Clavita). They say the "courtship" ritual for this colorful species of arachnid can take hours as the smaller male, exercising extreme patience, noiselessly creeps from behind before pulling on a nearby strand of the web and asking the female of the species out on a date with a good chance of her turning and stopping him literally dead in his tracks. While the dead carcass of a scorned lover might be a turn-off for some, not so with these intrepid little buggers, for them the species must go on.
Nephilia Clavita has weaved a lasting impression into the public's imagination in Japan. For ages story tellers here have spun tales of  mythical spider-like creatures with the ability to transform themselves into beautiful maidens who exist only to lure unwitting men into a venomous trap with their seductive charms. If spiders could talk I think they would tell a whole other story.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

As It Is in Heaven

Temple Valley, Tsurumi, Yokohama - It was kind of like belly dancing at the Vatican (and not that there would be anything necessarily wrong with that). The eyes of everyone, including the nearby towering figure of Fudomyoo ("the destroyer of delusion and the protector of Buddhism"), was riveted on the scantily clad samba dancer as she came at the audience "in sections -- more curves than a scenic railway. She was bad. She was dangerous."* She was totally unexpected, especially here at Sojiji, the main temple of the Soto Zen Buddhist sect. Just as surprising, or not, Temple Valley and its immediate environs is home to quite a cosmopolitan community who were  the inspiration and participants of  this recent international festival at Sojiji Temple. While I only caught the samba act, out of a long list of international performers, it was all in all an enlightening experience.

Click on the picture to enlarge (you won't be sorry) and check out the guy in the white shirt who is covering his ears as he runs away from the samba performers.

*From the 1953 motion picture, The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire.

Here is the same performance captured on YouTube. Enjoy!

Related: Cross Section