Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Waiting for the Sun

Hipsters across Temple Valley are polishing off their dancing shoes in anticipation of the upcoming release of Special Others' soon-to-be-a-smash-hit song, Dance in Tsurumi. The instrumental group teamed up with Asian Kung Fu Generation lead vocalist, Masafumi Goto, who penned the ode to Yokohama's Tsurumi ward (home to both Temple Valley and Special Others). The number will appear on Special Others' latest CD, aptly entitled Special Others, to be released virtually everywhere beginning tomorrow. 

For now we will all just have to wait until the sun comes up another day. Of course, while we're waiting we can listen to Special Others play Wait for the Sun.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Where Sacred Meets Profane

Along a road to nowhere somewhere in Tokyo

Stopping on the road, I surveyed my choices, and then moved on. I've often paid homage at the alter on the right, without ever giving a glance to the left. The choice has almost always been automatic for me. I guess the road of life is full of choices even if you're headed nowhere in no particular hurry.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dreams of the Awake

I have a recurring nightmare in which I dream that I can't sleep. I awake completely unrested but I still have some sweet Dreams to fall back on during the day, like this one from the Ohashi Trio.

This Cranberries classic has been covered countless times over the years in more than a couple of languages (Faye Wong alone gave us a two tongued dose of the song, once in Cantonese for Wong Kar-wai's cinematic triumph, Chung King Express, and a later recording in Mandarin). Sit back and enjoy as the Ohashi Trio from Japan delivers what the Youtube uploader of this music video calls a "mellow reinvention" of the Cranberries hit tune, Dreams, and may all your dreams come true.

If you were dreaming that one day the Cranberries would get together in the studio again and release a new album, it looks like your dreams have come true. The Cranberries latest recording, Roses, is slated to hit store shelves and elsewhere this Valentine's Day, February 14, 2011.

Can you hear the faint hint of an Irish brogue in the lead Ohashi Trio crooner's voice?

Related post:  No Escape

Friday, November 18, 2011

Things Completed

They, meaning my closest loved ones, say I never finish anything. I know what they are talking about, the half-painted living room, the dining table that's been waiting to get its legs for over a year (it makes a great tap dance platform by the way), etc. It's really not true though. I do complete some things that I start and I've got evidence, photographic evidence, to prove it.

Witness this photo clipping form the local section of one of Japan's major dailies. That's my classmates and I standing with our instructor, master sanshin  player, Yasuhiko Oshiro, for a photo that appeared in the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper some years ago. The sanshin, an instrument that's synonymous with the sounds of Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, is kind of the banjo's three string cousin from the east. The photo was taken shortly before wrapping up a two-week-long class devoted to learning the finer points of playing the kankara sanshin (kind of the Okinawan sanshin version of the cigar box guitar only using a tin can) that was sponsored by the newspaper. So there! That's something I've completed and I have a certificate (somewhere around here) that attests to that fact.

The Mainichi Shinbun didn't have to go too far to find someone with the perfect credentials to teach the class, Yokohama's Tsurumi Ward (where Temple Valley is situated) is home to one of the largest Okinawan communities outside of the tropical island prefecture itself. Dubbed Okitsuru,a linguistic blend of Okinawa and Tsurumi, this unique little corner of Yokohama sitting in the shadows of one of Japan's largest cluster of towering smoke stacks (the Kehein industrial belt) has been an ideal getaway for residents of nearby Temple Valley for years. Yokahama-based journalist/poet Jon Mitchell paints vivid pictures of this vibrant area in a couple of outstanding articles appearing in the Japan Times and Metropolis. You can visit Mitchell's website to learn more about Okitsuru (a.k.a. Okinawa Town)and then visit the place yourself for a taste of tropical meets industrial, it's bound to add a little more spice to your life.


Mitchell's recently completed book of poetry, march and after -poems from tsunami country, which "chronicles life in Japan following the 3.11 earthquake" is now on sale. All proceeds from the book go to the Nobel prize-nominated NPO, Peace Boat, to aid its recovery work in disaster ravaged northeastern Japan.

The Japan Times says: "At its heart, "March and After" tells a contradictory tale of apologetic survival and downward redemption - the fragile and soaring possibilities of man."

Finishing up

I don't think the post would be complete without the following video sampler featuring sanshin master, Yasuhiko Oshiro, playing at this year's Haisai Festa in Kawasaki.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fashion Sense

"Damn!!!" It was ten to nine. I wasn't late though. I had slept well past late and was now  in a time zone somewhere way beyond late. I had to be down by the train station, about ten hill and dale blocks away, by 9 am. It's not like I had to be anywhere important but I told my buddy, Guttermouth (his name sounds and looks much nicer in Japanese - Higuchi or 樋口) that I'd meet him and I didn't want to leave him hanging there - again. 

I grabbed a pair of pants and a shirt out of my dresser drawers and was fully suited up by the time I reached the front door about five paces away. Running into the streets as if I had a mad bull on my heels, I could feel my cardiac muscle swelling to the point that is was pounding so hard against my rib cage, it was only a matter of time before one or the other would burst to smithereens. Luckily the overworked organ pumped just enough blood through my legs to get me to the station in the nick of time before they collapsed beneath me upon my rendezvous with Guttermouth. After dragging my fatigue-ridden body into the just-arrived rail car, Guttermouth began to interrogate me. It was as if he didn't even notice that I was on the death's doorstep. He was, in fact, blinded by  my sartorial style.

Guttermouth (left) and I (right)

"What do the words on your shirt mean?" he asked. I hadn't given my chosen attire a second thought before leaving the house. Gifted to me by a union brother in America, I wore the t-shirt on only a couple of occasions. More of a mobile billboard than an article of clothing, it bore a bold and time sensitive labor rights message that screamed out for attention. It fit in perfectly on the picket line during a strike but not so well on the grocery store checkout line a year or two later.  

Now years and miles away from the the period and place the shirt was designed for, I wear it often. It fits right in here, where the more words a t-shirt has emblazoned on it and the less sense they make, the better. Compared to  many of the t-shirts I see on the backs of people across this island nation, the volume of words printed front and back on mine seems scant even. I didn't think anyone would even notice, especially Guttermouth and especially considering the shirt he was sporting at the time.

Me (left) and Guttermouth (right)

I had to ask him. "So what does, 'Acts of valor lifeguard raise rampant nature conservation keep trying' mean," I queried. 

"I don't know," he replied and then asked, "Don't you know?" 

I had to admit that I didn't and chalked it up to a lack of fashion sense.

Related post: Going to Extremes

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Hariyama Honten advertisement

Something gives me the idea that the folks at the Harimaya Honten rice cracker company have a problem with nuclear power. That something is the company's homepage. While most food businesses try to use the information highway as a means for enticing consumers to buy their products with mouthwatering pictures that send ordinary human beings wild with desire, Harimaya Honten has taken a different route. Go to Harimaya's homepage (the main page) and you won't find even a crumb pictured on it. There's just no room. It seems the company has decided to devote an overwhelming amount of its web space to spreading an anti-nuclear power message (English speakers can type the URL into Google Translate to get a rough idea of that message). That's not the only unique business approach Harimaya Honten has taken in recent years. The company also operates a couple of free cafes in the Tokyo area where visitors can nibble on their tasty products and wash them down with a choice of either tea or coffee all gratis. It all sounds absolutely crackers from a business point of view. Then again Harimaya Honten has been in business for over a century, it probably knows  a thing or two about sustainability.

You can find pictures of Hariyama Honten's products somewhere on its webpage but you have to dig through a mountain of messages on peace,environmentalism and more. People say Hariyama's rice crackers are as good as gold. Despite the fact they give them away for free at some  locations, when it comes to getting a glimpse of those golden brown gems on the net, they make you work for it.

Appearing at the top of Hariyama's list of frequently asked questions is this: "Is it true that your company leans toward the right wing?" The answer is a resounding "no."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupying APEC

The Common Dreams website notes: "Performing at what was probably the most secure place on the planet - an APEC dinner attended by President Obama and about 20 world leaders - Hawaiian musician Makana opened his suit jacket to reveal an “Occupy with Aloha” T-shirt and then spent 45 minutes repeatedly singing his terrific, newly released protest song We Are the Many." The artist later wrote that he dedicated "this action to those who would speak truth to power but were not allowed the opportunity." You can hear more about it from Makana via the Yes Lab website (APEC World Leaders' Dinner Gets Occupied).

"Many" related post: Uniquely Similar

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Read On!

My letter to the editor at the Japan Times, which I vaguely remember dashing off late last Thursday night(but have no idea why I wrote it since I'm not so passionate about the subject), was printed in the paper's Readers in Council section today. Entitled Why Not Do the Write Thing, the letter urges the newspaper to hire a prolific Readers in Council writer, Grant Piper, as a columnist. The last time I wrote a letter it was to New York City's Mayor Bloomberg. At the time, the city was threatening to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park. Surprisingly or not, the day after I sent off my epistle the city administration backed down. So if that's any indication of the power of my pen, Japan Times readers will likely be seeing (like it or not) a column periodically penned by Piper pretty soon.

A lot of folks think we here at The Temple Valley Times are in competition with The Japan Times but we're not. While we're not afraid to scale the mountains and peek over the top in the search for truth, we're pretty much focused on what's going on down low in the valley. We view them more as a supplement to the Temple Valley Times. If you're looking for a story that they don't have, we've probably got it and vice versa. Sometimes what they do there is sheer serendipity. Like the time a newspaper delivery man slipped a copy of the Japan Times in my news slot at 4:30 in the morning. I had always dreamed of having a subscription to the paper and while the rattling sound of the paper being shoved through the metal mail slot in my front door jarred me from my sweet slumber, peering at the paper in dawn's early light practically brought tears to my eyes. It was, without a doubt, a dream come true. Then again sometimes they miss the mark. Half an hour later (5 am!!!) that same morning the same newspaper delivery man came knocking at my door to retrieve the paper for it's rightful owner. All I can say is that we're lucky the Japan Times delivers the news instead of anything else. The truth is it's always better to share news with a stranger than share an open container of milk. 

Related post: Definitely Worth Reading

Friday, November 11, 2011

Once in a Century

A day like today (11/11/11) happens but once every hundred years. It's Pocky (pronounced [poʔkiː]) day! Pocky is a chocolate-covered pretzel stick-like snack made by the Glico confectionery company that has been doing its darnedest to put at least a couple of extra ounces on the Japanese public's waistline (How can they be so skinny if they eat stuff like this? I guess it's true. You are what you eat.).

Actually Pocky Day (11/11) comes around once every year but this being 2011 makes it that much more special. I guess you could celebrate the day with any stick-shaped object resembling the number one, from celery sticks to cigarettes. I suggest you stick with Pocky's, or is it Pockies?  Anyway eat'em if you got'em.

It's Pocky time!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can't Give It Away

Photo by GJKend via Wikipedia

“Who put a can of fried grasshoppers in the food drive basket?” That was the question that triggered the explosion of laughter that rocked Class 4-A. Never in the history of St. Martha’s Elementary School had so much mirth filled a classroom. Sister Rose, our teacher, quickly put an end to all the joviality with a big bang as she slam dunked the offensive tin can into the depths of the metal trash basket sitting in the far corner of the room.

Under the shroud of silence that soon fell over us, Sister Rose asked the same question again and again. She was a firm believer in tough love and she spread it around liberally. Throughout the lengthy interrogation I never cracked an inch but I knew exactly who the culprit was. It was my mother. She put me up to it. Gifted to her as a gag souvenir from some exotic locale, the can of bugs had occupied a lonely corner of our kitchen cupboard for the better part of a year.

It was actually a pretty bleak year for our pantry and the curious looking can was the first to be sacrificed for my elementary school’s annual canned food drive. Mom assured me that the canned grasshoppers would be routed back to its country of origin where some hungry soul would appreciate it. Rather than refuse to do her bidding, I slipped the can in the basket when nobody was looking but in the end I couldn’t give it away.

Miles away and decades later, that can of bugs has turned up again. This year has been exceptionally bleak for those in Japan whose lives have been turned upside down by the massive March 11 earthquake and multiple disasters that followed on its heels. Among those who continue to walk on shaky ground  are the farmers who work the land that is downwind from the leaking nuclear reactors in Fukushima. The government has declared large swaths of this once fertile farm belt officially off limits, uprooting thousands of people who once called the contamination zone home. Times are almost as tough for those whose farms lie outside the no-go zone as they watch once loyal customers turn their noses up at products bearing the Fukushima label. Although everything sold on the market falls within the contamination limit set by the national government, lack of trust in elected officials coupled with the fear of radioactive poisoning is keeping many customers at a distance.

Recently the Japanese government came up with a plan to help these farmers get back on their feet by getting their products in the hands of consumers. The plan is to give it all away. The Shingetsu News Agency (SNA), an independent Tokyo based news service, reports that the Japanese government intends to buy Fukushima agricultural products and give them away as aid to developing countries across the globe. While it sounds like a win-win solution, some fear the foreign aid offer will ring hollow with the international community. Even though the food to be exported meets the same criteria for produce sold in any Japanese market, there are those who question the government’s safety limits in light of international standards. SNA reports on one group of concerned citizens who are convinced that crops raised in the dark shadow of the Fukushima nuclear power plant are nothing less than toxic. They have petitioned the Japanese government to withdraw what they believe is tainted aid. Among the group is a mother from Tokyo who says she just wants to protect children around the world from exposure to dangerous radiation. These protesters, who have voiced their objections at home also carry a broader message for the world. One placard held up for the TV media cameras is neatly penned in English. It reads: “Stop spreading radioactive substances around the world with our tax money. Spread love.” I just wonder what Sister Rose would do if she were here.

Related post: Extra Extra...Terrestrials

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Abolishing Slavery...

There's An App for That

I used a dozen slaves to help me type this sentence. Not grossly underpaid sweatshop workers mind you, but genuine trafficked human beings. Don't be so quick to judge me though. An equal number of slaves probably worked for you just so you could read it. Don't believe me? Make tracks for Slavery Footprint  and see just how many slaves work for you. After taking the website's survey I was surprised to learn that my family and I have about 50 slaves working for us. According to the information provided by Slavery Footprint, the modern day supply chain that is our link to food, clothing, electronic goodies and practically everything else holds more people in bondage now than have ever been enslaved at anytime in human history.

The trail of our oppressive boot print can be found everywhere. It's crossing right in front of my eyes at the moment. In fact most of our cutting-edge devices are built with this most archaic and brutal form of labor. The mineral columbite-tantalite (aka coltan), an excellent superconductor employed widely in electronic appliances and more, is dug out of the earth mainly by enslaved children and adults. Profits from the coltan trade have been reportedly used to fuel conflicts on the African continent in much the same way as "blood diamonds" have. Slavery Footprint notes how a US State Department official being interviewed about coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo pointed to the reporter's smartphone and replied: "The likelihood that one of these was not touched by a slave is pretty low."

The shocking truth is that we live in an age where slavery touches every corner of the globe and every facet of our lives. The folks at Slavery Footprint don't necessarily want to make you feel guilty about enjoying the fruits of slave labor, they just want you to buy things made in a free world and they just so happen to have a free app to help you do just that.