Thursday, August 30, 2012

Forgotten Angel

It was a typical Friday night and, like a freight train barreling down the tracks, I could here this one coming well before I ever saw him. I think it was the clish-clash-clang of a long row of parked bicycles crashing to the ground like a string of dominoes that gave away his position. When I turned the corner to cut through the alley, sure enough he was there lying at my feet.

I asked him if he was okay and he responded in a Japanese dialect that sounded older than the hills overlooking Temple Valley. Luckily when I got a whiff of the words coming from his mouth, I recognized them right away. I just so happened to have been studying the language for years. He was speaking Drunkese and he was quite fluent in it.

Stretching out my hand to lift this poor drowning soul off the wet pavement he gazed up at me as if he had just set eyes on an angel. I propped him up against the side of the Good Luck pachinko parlor and quickly went to work untangling the mess of mangled metal until every bike was standing on its own two wheels and order had been fully restored to the alley way. After regaining the sea legs he had lost to the drink the wayward stranger under my wing was up and wobbling on his way down the street in no time. I followed for a few blocks and wondered, as I watched him waiver from side to side, if it might have been better to leave him to the relative safety of the puddle from which I pulled him. Then I thought perhaps providence put him in my path.

The fact was he was on his own now and there was nothing I could do but worry if he had made it home in one piece. I didn't sleep a wink that night. I just laid there listening in silence for the dreaded sound of ambulance sirens that so often pierce the night air and which fortunately never came. Then as luck would have it, later the next day, while passing through that same alley that separates the Good Luck pachinko parlor from the Mister Donut doughnut emporium I once again crossed paths with this same soul I had saved the night before. 

He never gave me a second look. It was as if I were a total stranger. The events that passed less than 24 hours before were at best a blur to him. I was but a forgotten angel, forever shrouded in mystery. There was just no other way to explain it. 

Post Script:

When I was a first grader at St. Martha's Elementary school our teacher, Sister Rose Carrot Top, would always tell us to save some room on our seats for our guardian angels to sit beside us. It's a good thing my guardian angel was skinny because I was on the chubby side and didn't have much seat space to share.

Related post:  Festival Spirits

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No. 2 on Route No. 1

Toto's Toilet Bike Neo on the streets of Japan

She rolled into town straddling the frame of a hog the likes of which no one around these parts had ever seen. It was the Toto Corporation's Toilet Bike Neo, a mean, green, asphalt eating machine. At first glance it looked like she was doing a number two right there on Route One but that just couldn't be.  According to the toilet and bath fixture manufacturer's website, Toto Talk, "Toilet Bike Neo does not have the mechanism to run on the rider's waste. It runs on bio gas fuel provided by Shia-oi Town in Hokkaido and Kobe City. Therefore the NEO Rest seat does not function as a toilet, and has been created for promoting TOTO's environmental efforts."

The Toto label has always been a welcome sight for me. I'm eternally grateful to live in a land that gives you a choice when it comes to even the most basic biological functions. Public lavatories in Japan usually have both the squat Japanese toilet and (thank goodness) the Western style commode. The latter selection often features a heated seat along with a puzzling panel of push buttons that will suddenly launch a surprising array of features like a bidet function and lots more. In light of the cutting-edge porcelain thrones and other state-of-the-art plumbing devices Toto has rolled out over the years, it was kind of a downer to learn the crapper topped chopper is all just for show. I think Toto may have missed a golden opportunity to hit the road with an authentic feces-fueled motorcycle.

More on manure and more


Now Bill Gates is somebody who seizes  opportunity when he sees it. Maybe that's why  the Gates Foundation has dropped three million dollars into developing toilets for the more than 2.6 billion people in the world who are essentially forced to go without. The basic idea is to create cheap toilet seats that don't need water, electricity or a connection to a large sewage system. Ultimately the goal is to prevent the life threatening diseases born of the poor sanitary conditions that plague some of the international community's poorest neighborhoods. 

So far The Gates Foundation has awarded sizable grants to engineers across the globe who are coming up with revolutionary commodes that will turn feces into fertilizer, fuel and more. 

Further reading: Why Is the World's Largest Foundation Buying Fake Poop?  

Related post: There's a Girl in the Boy's Bathroom

Monday, August 27, 2012

Don't Go There

Traditional Japanese traffic cone 

A friend asked me if I was afraid that some thief might steal my Cones of Nihon idea since the cat is out of the bag. Now I'm really worried about it. Not because it is such a winning idea but because it had happened to me once before.

The first time it happened, I was sitting next to my friend, Tommy Tango at the Westbury movie theater on Long Island waiting for the next showing of some 80's adventure flick to flash across the screen. Although, it could have been at the Syosset movie theater come to think of it. My friends and I used to go there for the sheer grandeur of the place. It boasted the biggest screen on the east coast of the US and you didn't get the pain in the neck you would wind up with after sitting in the Westbury for a couple of hours. 

The Westbury was an ancient movie house that was converted into a twin cinema. The owners had a wall installed along the center aisle that cut the theater exactly in half. The problem was that they never changed the original orientation of any of the seats so after the renovation they all faced the screen at an angle. Whenever you watched a movie at the Westbury you would have to keep your head turned to the side if you hoped to see what was happening on screen. If it happened to be a summer night when they had the air conditioning cranked up all the way, you would wind up with a crick in your neck by the time the show was over.

It was on one of those sultry summer evenings that I was enjoying the cool of the Westbury and regaling my friend Tommy with my latest entrepreneurial brainstorm. The idea was to have a bus outfitted with pizza ovens, a storehouse of popular movies on video tape, and a two-way radio. Pizza-craving, cinema-starved patrons could call our home base service center (I believe we were thinking that would be a perfect position for one of our mothers) which would relay the order to the bus. The next thing the customers knew, the Pizza Bus would arrive at their door step (we called it a front stoop) with a piping hot pie and video ready to pop into the VCR.

It was a solid gold idea and at the time the only thing stopping us was the lack of a driver's license that would legally enable us to captain our dream on wheels. While we were cooling our heels in wait for the day we would be able to sit behind the wheel of that big bus, somebody had run off with the idea. Six months later the Pizza Bus was on the road but neither of us was on board. My dream was stolen and I have a pretty good idea who the culprit was. I'm sure it was the guy in front of us at the Westbury, the dude with the big hair that partially obstructed our view of the screen. There's little doubt in my mind that underneath all that hair he had his antennas up and knew a good thing when he heard it.

This is how my bright idea will
 look at night with an LED light inside
Despite having given birth to the idea, it was with a healthy dash of schadenfreude  topped by sheer relief that I learned the business model was a miserable failure. Not only was the vehicle a major gas guzzler, the pizza ovens got so hot that they would melt the videos. Eventually the Pizza Bus operators installed a super expensive AC system that never really did the job. The pizzas would arrive cold and the videos a little too hot.

It turned out to be a half-baked idea that would have been best left sitting idle. So let that stand as a warning to anyone looking to make the Cones of Nihon idea their own. Just don't go there.

Post Script 

At around the same time the Westbury Cinema spawned a twin it was taken over by new management. We all thought they were a religious cult of some kind because everyone who worked there was so polite and were known to smile when a customer bought a box of Raisinettes or Nonpareils at the concession stand. Although it made us suspicious, it turned out that it was just some new business model. Unfortunately all that nice customer service was just too revolutionary for the time and place and wound up being a barrier to ticket sales, after a while we just didn't go there.

Related post: The Cone Zone

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Cone Zone

Gone Cone Crazy

Traffic cones -they're everywhere you look here and we're not always too sure what purpose they serve but there's one thing for certain. They aren't ornamental. There is plenty of room to add aesthetic value and a new day in traffic cones may be just around the corner. We hope to see these home grown cones with more traditional color tones and designs coming to spruce up a street near us sometime soon.

These cones of Nihon create the perfect 
Japanese tone for any off-limits zone

Related post: When Life Gives You Limits...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Flying in the Face of Danger


I'm not sure if Tokyo's controversial governor, Shintaro Ishihara, is still at war with the Japanese capital's crows but this video might give him more cause for pause than it should fellow conservative from across the Pacific, Dick Cheney (whose likeness appears in the animated short).

Related post:
Carried Away 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Shock to the System

Here stood a neat old cedar shingled building, a medical clinic, with well worn wooden floorboards and hard wood sliding doors with glass panes you would have to open by hand. Now it's gone forever and with it a little bit of the quaint character of the neighborhood. It will no doubt be replaced by a more quake-resistant, fireproof structure but I'll still miss the old building. It reminded me a lot of the little wooden hospital where my son was born. It too is gone now, a physical chunk of our own personal history torn away and discarded onto the scrap heap of life.  

I remember the night of his birth like it was yesterday. It was the first time I had stepped foot into the birthing room of that little neighborhood OB/GYN hospital and I was kind of shocked. I remember thinking it wasn't anywhere in the same neighborhood as clean let alone the sterile environment I had expected to see.

The first thing that met my eyes was the green tiled wall that had this enormous meandering crack running from the ceiling down to the floor. Sticking out of the wall was a huge rusty old sink that really would have been more at home in a janitor's closet, but there it was and leaning next to it was something I could only describe at that moment as serendipitous. 

It was a bucket and mop, thank God! I soooo wanted to put both to good use in scrubbing the place until it was immaculate but I just didn’t possess the linguistic skills to ask if I could borrow them for a moment or two. Besides there was so much commotion going on around my wife, Em, and my emerging new born son that nobody seemed to even notice the imaginative hand gestures I was using to communicate my desperate desire. 

It wasn't like this was the first time for me either. I knew my way around the maternity ward pretty well. Just a few years before, I had front row seats at a state-of-the art birthing room in a lovely hospital across the sea in the City of Baltimore. I wasn't the only one there of course. There was Em, who was the star of the show until she got upstaged by the baby, assisted by my mother-in-law, a team of at least four or five crack medical experts and all the latest digital gadgetry you could imagine.  

There was also a bit more theatre about the whole stateside process  than there was in Japan. The bed on which Em laid was covered half-way down by a curtain so everything that was going on at the business end remained somewhat of a miraculous mystery. When my son finally decided to make his appearance, everything moved along like clockwork. 

Like Doug Henning magically producing a dove from beneath a handkerchief, in a matter of minutes we were handed a fresh, brand spanking new, sparkly clean infant, which is how I thought they came. So you can imagine my surprise in discovering otherwise upon stepping back into what seemed like the dark ages when it came time for the arrival of my next child in Japan. 

It all happened in kind of a blink of an eye and quite unceremoniously at that. I turned my head away from the cracked wall for a moment and whoa! There he was spat out onto the lower end of the stainless steel table, that Em was lying on, covered from head to toe with gook (which is not a medical term). There were no curtains or mystery involved, just a lot of blood and screaming, mostly mine. 

Anyway the whole ordeal, a.k.a. the miracle of childbirth, was over before I knew it and what really needed cleaning up was my newborn son. After getting a look at the mess that covered him, I completely forgot about the condition of the room. I guess everything is relative, especially when it comes to the birth of your child. 

Looking back on it now, perhaps the biggest difference between the birthing experiences in the US and Japan were the price tags. The bill for the eleven hour, overnight, hospital stay (that’s all my HMO would cover at the time) in Baltimore was staggeringly more expensive than the standard week-long stay in the maternity hospital in Yokohama. Yet the biggest shock of all was that the doctor's bill in Japan was practically all covered by national health insurance. I can still remember the feeling of sheer joy that had come over me to learn that the out-of-pocket expenses would be next to nothing. At the time, the national health insurance payment set me back about the same amount as the employee contribution portion for my group HMO plan when I was living and working in America. The near-full coverage came as a total shock and the second best news of the year.

Post Script 

I imagine that when you give birth in the US, you are billed for all the high-tech gizmos, etc., which of course can come in handy. On the other hand - the real shocker may be that, among the world's most developed nations, the U.S. (with all its cutting edge medical technology) tops the infant mortality chart. At the other end of the spectrum lies Japan, ranking near the very bottom with less than three deaths per one thousand live births (only Monaco does better). What makes this picture even more puzzling is that according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the dozens of nations that score better than the US actually spend less on health care. One possible answer to this riddle might be that the lower infant mortality rates and cheaper prices are born from social welfare systems that put prenatal care and people in general before profit. But that really shouldn't come as shocking news to anyone. 

Related post: 

Building Character

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Print is Alive!


"A parody art project, commenting on the ancient origins of modern Japanese game culture"

Whoever said "print is dead" certainly wasn't talking about traditional Japanese woodblock prints. This creative project by artists Jed Henry and David Bull, incorporating the classic Japanese art of ukiyo-e, was fully backed in a little over an hour after it was listed on the crowd funding site, Kickstarter. Attempting to bring the digital world of video games back to what Henry sees as their paper-based roots, the project started out with a goal of $10,400. As of Wednesday it had received pledges from 1,644 supporters totaling $204,344 and with a week's worth of crowd funding left, things are looking up for a medium that had virtually plummeted to the depths of popularity.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rite of Passage

"AGGHHHH!!!"  The shriek pierced my heart like an arrow. Then came a terrible "thud" followed by absolute dead silence. Chasing the source of the sound I soon stumbled upon my son Jiro,  sprawled out across the tatami mats beneath my feet. Cradling his head in his hands, he cried out in anguish, "I HATE this house.

I knew this day would come sooner or later. I'd heard the words before and knew his pain all too well. This happens to all the males in our small but relatively tall family and there is just no stopping it from happening.

It was a growing pain. He's thirteen now and getting too tall to pass through the doorways of our home without bowing his head. He must have sprouted an inch or so overnight because this morning he hit the top of the door frame so hard he wound up with a bump the size of a small egg atop his crown. 

I used to knock my head on that exact same spot at least three times a day when I first moved into this old house. The structure has been renovated since it was first built well over a half century ago but the door height specifications were left to match the standard height of the average Japanese person during the Edo period (1603-1868)- which I gather was not too tall. 

I actually coined the phrase, "AGGHHHH!!! I HATE THIS HOUSE!!!!" It was my signature cry until I developed the poor posture that now allows me to pass through the portals of my home unscathed. I don't think I've stood up straight and tall for years now and my head is in better shape for it. 

When Ichiro, my oldest, hit six-foot at age twelve he made my tag line his own until he grew tall enough to tower above any doorway (Now with nothing and everything standing in his way, he simply longs to pass through life unnoticed).

It's a simple rite of passage in our household where everybody learns that, whether you're at home or not, it never hurts to bow.

Related post: 

A Clash of Cultures

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On the Other Foot


On the Other Foot...

Long before I ever washed up on the shores of this island nation, my wife, Em, had exposed me to some of the ways of the Land of the Rising Sun. I can remember on occasion watching some Hollywood movie where invariably one of the characters would jump on a bed while wearing his/her shoes. Em, who is a product of Japanese culture, would go into immediate shock.

Her jaw would drop and her eyes glaze over, fixated on the offending soles lying atop the bed linens. She would completely lose sight of the story line and in a shell shocked voice ask, "Isn't he going to take off his shoes?" The question was often followed by an impassioned soliloquy about the germs from the street clinging to the soles of shoes. Finally she'd wrap up with a general damnation of the people of an entire nation who would carelessly abandon their infants to crawl on the same floors they soiled with their filthy Buster Browns. Humoring her, I'd just shake my head from side to side and shrug my shoulders, saying "It's barbaric. I know."

Years later when I first stepped foot in Temple Valley I never knew exactly when and where I was required by custom to take my shoes off. I knew enough that I should remove them when entering someone' s home but beyond that I was a clueless about when to go shoeless. Than I discovered that in the foyer of most public places where the custom is practiced, the host or proprietor, etc. usually provides guest slippers that are at least four sizes too small. Just big enough to barely squeeze into, they are perfectly designed to make any ham-toed foreigner like myself trip at the most embarrassing moment possible.

They drive me absolutely crazy! Shedding my shoes for these slippery slip-ons can be maddening. Whenever Em accompanies me on these awkward occasions I often find myself waxing poetically about how our natural immune system shields our bodies from germs of all kinds. I usually wind up threatening to forgo the slippers and boldly walk across the floor in my boots. She just stares at me and shakes her head as a faint hint of a smile crawls across her lips. That's when I realize that the shoe is now on the other foot and stumble along. 

Related post: Outstanding

Monday, August 20, 2012

Make People Happy...

Make People Happy, Not Handbags!

"That's my motto," says Lil Al (a.k.a. Wa-kun), Craineview Ward's very own mascot. Every prefecture, city, town, village, school and what have you has one, some more discernible and better tailored than others. Ours is an affable alligator called Wa-kun in Japanese or 'Lil Al' to most of our readers.

Disclosure: I am actually related to one of these cold-blooded but warm-hearted creatures.

Further Reading: A list of articles on Japanese mascots in the Japan Times.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Sound of Summer

Among all the cicada (a.k.a. locust) recordings on the Soundcloud audio sharing site this one, recorded at Tokyo's Yotsuya train station, sounds closest to home (my favorite cicada sound track is here, live from Nikko). 

If there is a sound that defines summer in Temple Valley it is this symphony of cicadas. There is just no silencing their seasonal serenade. You can even hear them sing in the first few seconds of this YouTube clip from Ping Pongthe 2002 Japanese movie based on the comic book of the same name. Shot in and around Enoshima (not too far south of Tokyo) during the summer months, this chapter of the film is supposed to depict a Decembery scene. Yet no matter how many layers of winter wool the players wear or how well they act, they just can't fool mother nature. The lilting lullaby of the locusts comes through loud and clear. 

The  melodies these insects make by rubbing their wings together never got scrubbed out during editing. It is a minor flaw in an otherwise flawless film. The BBC has described it as the "best Ping Pong movie ever" but it's much more than that. Among other things it just might be the perfect pill to help anyone going through an Olympic withdrawal this summer. 

Here is the trailer for Ping Pong, the film the New York Times has called "stylistically stunning" and "completely nuts." Oh, and that's the other connection between this movie and the song of the cicadas. "Completely nuts" is exactly what the insect's constant call drives a lot of people here every summer. 



Different Japanese onomatopoeic expressions are used to mimic the cries of different locust, or cicada, species. Like:

"min-min" for Hyalessa maculaticollis;

"tsuku-tsuku hoshi" for Meimuna opalifera, whose cry is said to herald summer's end;

and more.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

They're Back

Downtown Temple Valley
They're back. Like swallows returning to Capistrano, they've returned in the same way they left, all together, overnight. 

They're open now but it was just days ago that the few remaining shops on what's left of our near ghost town of a shopping street were all completely shuttered. It had happened before and it happened again. The bike shop, the beauty parlor, the bakery were all closed. There wasn't a sign of life anywhere but after seeing it time and again, I was now immune to the fear that this haunting specter could instill. 

This was Obon. That's the annual holiday period when the people of Temple Valley, like everyone else across the Land of the Rising Sun, return to their familial homesteads en masse to meet the visiting spirits of their departed ancestors (or else maybe go to Hawaii). 

Stepping out into the dead quiet scene that met my eyes not a week ago, I was filled with a sense of excitement. I was almost giddy. Walking those silent streets made me feel as if I was the last living person in all of Temple Valley. I could do just about anything I wanted and by "anything I wanted" I mean I could pirouette my way over to the other side of the train tracks without worrying about anybody critiquing the imperfect form or execution of my baletic whirls. 

Once there I could venture into Esplan, the best boulangerie in town, and get my hands on some mouthwatering crescent rolls. I could carry the still warm buttery pieces of heaven home in open view without having to worry a bit about causing any trade frictions with our local bread purveyor. 

Alas it was not meant to be. Upon my arrival en pointe at the portals of Esplan, I spied hanging on the door a beautifully penned note on parchment saying they were closed for the week. My dream had crumbled to smithereens right there on the sidewalks of the street folks around here refer to as their own little Ginza. No doubt the bakers of Esplan were all on holiday in Paris. I hope they aren't too disappointed when they discover everyone there has the entire month of August off.

Another "They're Back" post: They're Back

Friday, August 17, 2012

Down on the Farm


When I first set foot in Temple Valley I was more than surprised to see so many severely stooped-over senior citizens who called this hill hollow home. I was told that it was years spent bent over working in the fields and rice paddies that led to their crooked posture later in life. Whether that's true or not, the agricultural pursuit is back-breaking work for sure. In the rapidly graying Land of the Rising Sun silver-haired farmers work against the forces of nature, politics, and more to put food on the table for nearly 128 million. Here is a glimpse of life down on the farm in Japan from the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIR) in cooperation with NewsHour, the nightly news program aired by the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The show is part of a larger project called "Food for Nine Billion," a series that takes "a yearlong look at the challenge of feeding the world at a time of social and environmental change." 

Related post: Can't Give It Away

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Butterfly Effect

Butterfly Effect



1:  "A property of chaotic systems (as the
   atmosphere) by which small changes in 
   initial conditions can lead to 
   large-scale and unpredictable
   variations in the future state 
   of the system."

    "Radioactive fallout from the nuclear
   disaster in Fukushima Prefecture
   created abnormalities among the
   nation's butterflies.." 

From a Jiji news agency report citing a study published in Scientific Reports, an on-line journal of the Nature Publishing Group

 3: A kaleidoscope of ordinary citizens 
   lifting their voices in opposition to 
   nuclear power

Every Friday night in front of the Japanese prime minister's official Tokyo residence (and elsewhere in Tokyo and beyond)

Note: It is perhaps  this last
      instance that represents
      the change that will
      alter "the future state
      of the system" and 
      render the second meaning

Related post: Voices in the Wilderness

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Taste of War

I know exactly what I’m going to have for supper tonight. In fact if you asked me a month ago what I would be eating this evening, I would be able to tell you with absolute certainty. It’s the same old dish we have every year on this day. It’s a culinary tradition that began with my mother-in-law, and others of her generation, well over half a century ago and has now been passed on from mother to daughter. 

Tonight is suiton night. Suiton is a meager bowl of dumplings in broth and we eat it without fail every August 15, the day Japan surrendered in defeat to end the wholesale carnage that was WWII. If roast turkey is the dish that defines the feast that is Thanksgiving in America, suiton is the dish that defines this anniversary as it does the nation living on the edge of starvation that was Japan prior to the end and in the wake of WWII. In his Pulitzer prize winning book, historian John Dower writes that during this period “most Japanese were preoccupied with merely obtaining the bare essentials of daily subsistence. Simply putting food on the table became an obsessive undertaking. Hunger and scarcity defined each passing day.” 

Suiton is one of the handful of meals that the hungry masses of Japan could manage to scrape together in the final fearful days and smoldering aftermath of the war. A few dumplings made from flour of maybe questionable purity floating in a flavorless broth was made to sustain an entire population.  

Born of necessity, it's on this day eaten in remembrance of those meaner and leaner years. Loaded with tasty veggies, in a flavorful soup stock, the dumpling dish to be ladled in my bowl tonight is nothing like it was back then. Ask anyone old enough to recall what the dish tasted like on those countless hungry nights so many years ago, you’re likely to hear words like “terrible,” “nasty,” or “horrible.” They are all fitting adjectives that pair aptly with war and that's enough to make suiton a meal to remember.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Marked Man

   An ode to Sparky (a.k.a. Mark), a long-time TVT subscriber and kin to the editor, as he marks the anniversary of his emergence into this world.


                            (penned entirely with a magic marker)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Goes Great in Coffee

Cream Hair

Cream Hair is just one of countless (meaning more numerous than all the fingers and toes on my body) beauty parlors that dot the main thoroughfare and side streets leading up to the west side of nearby Craneview train station. These lanes boast more hair salons per thousand feet than there are hairs on my head. Perhaps they are the reason for all the beautiful people I meet along the way.

Related post: Returns Accepted


Saturday, August 11, 2012

How the Ball Bounces

Everybody in Temple Valley is bummed out over the loss of the Japanese women's soccer team (a.k.a. Nadeshiko Japan) to the U.S. Well maybe not everybody, but let's say the majority are a little down in the dumps over the defeat. Some people blame the loss on bad luck, others on a bad call by one of the refs, but I know better.

The team had a sure fire secret to success and they let the cat out of the bag shortly before taking home the World Cup in 2011. That's when some of the players took part in the "Algorithmic Exercise" segment regularly featured on the children's television programming aired every morning on Japanese public TV. It's the only logical conclusion I can draw. The competition was able to see them in action and copy their winning moves. I guess that's the way the ball bounces.

Related post: On the Ball

Friday, August 10, 2012


Media Mistakes

Yes We Can! - Get to the Bottom of It

The media monitoring site, MediaBugs, reports:

Back in October, 2009 James Fallows wrote on his Atlantic Monthly blog about how a newly coined word, “obamu,” had “gained currency among some Japanese youths.” The word according to the blog entry was a verb rooted in the name Obama, as in President Obama. Essentially this new addition to the Japanese lexicon implied the same hopeful concept embraced by Obama’s famous campaign slogan, “Yes we can!” It was a great story from that so often “inscrutable and mysterious” land known as Japan. The trouble is the newly minted expression had about all the weight of cheap counterfeit knock-off. Upon closer inspection, CNN.GO’s Daniel Krieger, in an article entitled “Obamu: Obama gets his own (imaginary?) verb,” discovered that all that glitters isn’t gold. His research findings are perhaps best summed up in the CNN.GO articles subtitle that says “There's been a lot of buzz about a new verb based on Barack Obama's name, but we don't uncover any evidence of actual usage.” The main source for Fallows’ post is a blog by “a foreigner living in Japan.” The site's author prides himself on being free of the cultural blinders that so often obscure the truth in media reports, blogs, etc. covering Japan.  Unfortunately in this case the self-proclaimed unbiased portrayal of Japan as it really is, may really be in short nothing more than another tall tale.In light of Krieger’s work the Atlantic story looks like it could easily dovetail with the famed urban legend about the Tokyo department store whose Christmas window display featured a crucified Santa Claus and so many other tales born from Western imaginations. Sure, facts may not be as entertaining as fancy but they’re worth more than hearsay any day, and those are words you can bank on.

Another related report ("Putting Words in People's Mouths")on the same site by the same "bug reporter" (me) cites: 

... a Schott’s Vocab blog post in The New York Times (“Obamu” October 29, 2009) noting how President Barack Obama had inspired the coining of a new Japanese word, “Obamu.” Fascinated by the article I scoured the Internet in search of more about it. I soon discovered an article by Daniel Krieger on CNN.GO (Obamu: Obama gets his own(imaginary?) verb) stating that “There's been a lot of buzz about a new verb based on Barack Obama's name, but we don't uncover any evidence of actual usage.”  Schott’s article looks to be based entirely on the casual observations of one US expat blogger living in Japan. Krieger on the other hand seems to have done some research surveys to test Schott’s findings and came up with nothing that bears them out. While they were both interesting and entertaining articles that were super enjoyable to read, they left me with a question that now weighs kind of heavy on my mind. Was (is) the Obama-inspired “Obamu” really a newly-coined word in the Japanese lexicon or is it a counterfeit being passed off on the reader as the genuine article?In his blog post, Schott tips his hat to James Fallows at The Atlantic, who evidently wrote about the new expression after discovering it on the Internet. George Stephanopoulos supposedly blogged about it as well. While the word apparently racked up a lot of media mileage, it looks like Krieger was the only one to look under the hood and see if it was worthy of passing inspection.

I'm not too sure if Fallows, Schott, and Stephanopoulos are mistaken or not. If they are, it's certainly too small of an error to spill all this digital ink over. On the other hand it could be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It may just point the way to how more serious mistakes in larger stories dealing with war or the economy, etc. find their way into print, on the Internet or over the airwaves. If Krieger, the intrepid CNN.GO reporter, is right, then the MediaBugs reports show just how easily an uncorroborated story can make its way around the media merry-go-round and in the process turn the truth completely around.

Related post: Picture Imperfect

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On Wings of Cranes

"i will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world"
                                                                                                      - Sadako Sasaki                                             

Origami cranes
If people like me tend to forget the anniversary that is August 6, today is a day even more are likely not to remember. The anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, the last place on Earth where a nuclear weapon was ever used for human slaughter on a massive scale, seems to lie hidden in the shadow of the deadly mushroom cloud that fell over Hiroshima. More than that first one though, it's this second drop that prompts me to question why? The other question that remains is how to prevent it from ever happening again.

Further reading: Nagasaki peace declaration on 67th anniversary of A-bombing

Related Post: Caught Off Guard

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Chat Club

"The first rule of Chat Club is that you must chat at least once in a while or else you have to profess your love to the girl you have the biggest crush on." That's the opening line taken from the bylaws for Chat Club, a very exclusive institution that just popped up here in Temple Valley. 

I must confess that I'm actually quite honored to personally know one of the club's founding fathers, my son Jiro. While only he and two of his friends, Giant and Ari, make up the entire roster at the moment, the rules of Chat Club are quite voluminous. 

Actually all the chatting in Chat Club is done in virtual silence via the three young teenagers' mobile phones. Practically all of Jiro's friends at Craneview Junior High have one of the handy communication devices. Half of them have owned one since they were in grammar school. Still none dare bring it to school for fear of losing it to the clutches of some school administrator. 

Now if they do happen to carry one over the school boundaries, they dutifully turn it into their homeroom teacher. Like modern day Wyatt Earps, these enforcers of the rules aim to keep the school real peaceful like. That includes ridding it of phoneslingers as well as their annoying ring tones that follow on their boot heels. 

Comes the end of the day, the young phonepokes can pick up their gear and head off into the sunset. Wherever they may roam you can rest assured their cellphone is right by their side. As a matter of fact there have been some mornings where I've recoiled in fear upon discovering the sight of Jiro curled up in his bed roll with his fingers still curved around his unhinged mobile handset. No doubt he was sitting around the light of the phone all night swapping tales with the Chat Club gang.  

Rule two of Chat Club is: "If you get a real life [that is a life beyond the realm of playing video games, going to school, going to cram school after school, or engage in any activity beyond the normal routine of your average ninth grader, which I think may imply having a sweetheart] you must confess that development to the other members of Chat Club."

Next comes one of my favorites in the list of do's and don'ts. Rule three is: "You can talk about your real life as long as it doesn't get on the nerves of the other members of the club." 

From there it descends into a spiraling list of other rules spelled out in a complicated legalese my atrophied brain muscle couldn't hope to grasp. Finally at the end there is one regulation that stands out from the rest. Unlike the movie with a similar sounding title, there is no fighting allowed in Chat Club. It's a good rule that everyone should abide by in their lives, both virtual and real. 

Related post: On Track