Saturday, September 22, 2012

Naturally Polite

「ホントすいません、枯れそうで」 on Twitpic
This beautifully balanced bowing daikon, or white radish, was posted by kataoka_k on Twitter.

While some must be trained to be polite and courteous, to others it just comes naturally.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Picking Up Shock Waves

When I lived in America I used to like listening to National Public Radio (NPR) while driving my car. It's one of the few things I miss about driving. Even if I still had a car and drove I don't think I could find an antenna tall enough to stick on the hood that would pick up the closest NPR affiliate station (which is maybe somewhere in Hawaii - I don't know for sure). Thank goodness I can still tune it in on my computer dashboard while cruising the information highway. 

Here is NPR correspondent Lucy Craft reporting from Tokyo on the local reaction to recent anti-Japan protests that have erupted across China. The violent outbursts are focused on a long standing territorial dispute centered around a few small rocky outcrops in the East China Sea.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where Everything Goes

Click on the photo to enlarge it.
I always hesitate before making use of these typical trash receptacles. Who can figure out what goes where? They are just a little too puzzling for me and the signage doesn't provide much of a reassuring guide either. Like the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey, they give me pause me to ask: What does it all mean? 

There's a slot for "combustible" garbage which I used to find kind of alarming. I always think of the word combustible as being naturally paired with a skull and crossbones.  I could never fathom why so many people would be carrying around so much excess combustible material that there would be a need for a specially designated place to dump it every other block. 

Sometimes the trash cans are labeled "burnable" garbage. I find those a lot less frightening to use than ones labeled "combustible." After all something combustible could potentially explode at any moment. Still, "burnable" garbage presents kind of a head-scratcher for me. Lots of things will burn, especially if you pour something combustible over it, like gasoline. The Japanese, moeru gomi, doesn't provide much of a helpful clue either. It basically means the same as the English, burnable garbage or garbage that can be burned.

It took me a while before I finally figured out that "burnable" or "combustible" garbage really means trash that will be picked up and torched to a crisp in a huge commercial class incinerator that will probably add countless tons of green house gasses to the environment and perhaps just a smattering of toxic pollutants that may find their way to your lungs. That's what the sign should say and the same should go for the stuff that is to be dumped in a landfill adjacent to the bay. Then everybody would know exactly where everything goes.

Post Script

They say that the average American throws out twice as much trash as the average Japanese citizen. If true, that makes me above average because I produce three to four times as much garbage as anyone in Temple Valley. While Yokohama's incinerators do convert "burnable" or "combustible" trash into heat and energy, I look forward to the day when the city begins to make even greater use of its refuse to power a bright new future. I could be its number one resource! 

Further reading: Japan Stanches Stench of Mass Trash Incinerator (Wash. Post)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


It was the strangest sight I've seen in a long time, more of a dream than reality. I was just sitting there minding my own business as I waited for Em, my wife, to appear. There I was patiently sipping on a cup of espresso at an alfresco cafe tucked away in a quiet corner of a quaint little terracotta village dubbed La Cittadella. This Mediterranean marvel built smack dab in the middle of Kawasaki City, a blue collar town at the heart of one of Japan's major industrial belts, is one of my favorite haunts. 

It was there that I noticed something that seemed a little out of the ordinary. All of a sudden a legion of suit-clad middle aged men, every Jack one of them with hair down to their shoulders, started to spill out across the piazza where a DJ was pumping out some hip-swaying Latin rhythms under the shade of a Campari umbrella. 

Never in my life had I seen such a mysterious sea of humanity. Then I spied the source from which they flowed. They were all pouring out of the doors of Club Citta where on that particular night was playing the legendary British progressive rock group, Barclay James Harvest in their first-ever appearance on the shores of this island nation. The group had finally arrived in that place where a rock star's shine never diminishes, no matter how much it may fade elsewhere. They had come to Japan and, for at least one ardent fan (Em) who had waited decades for this moment, it was a dream come true.

Barclay James Harvest playing Child of the Universe


For more on the meaning of rock fans in Japan see: The Story of Anvil (movie trailer)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Not the Only Ones

What could be more silent than the sound of one hand clapping? I guess that would be the sound of not even a single hand clapping. After all, one hand moving from side to side could possibly disturb the air enough to create some sort of butterfly effect that could whip up a round of applause somewhere. On the other hand, there couldn't be anything more crushingly quiet, especially to a performer, than the silence of not even a single hand clapping. 

That might have been exactly what the father and son musical team of  Yuji and Hiromitsu Maehana would have heard a week from today when they play our local 500 seat music venue known as Salvia Hall. Thank goodness my birth many years ago has altered that course of events in a dramatically more upbeat direction.

Hailing from Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, the Maehana's are reputed masters of the sanshina three-stringed instrument (and distant cousin of the banjo) whose soulful sound is synonymous with the strand of southerly islands themselves. I sort of developed an appreciation for the instrument a few years ago when Em, my wife, enrolled me in a two-week-long kankara (tin can) sanshin course. Now everybody has it in their head that I'm a huge fan of the musical genre. When my sister-in-law,Felicity, spied a listing for this act playing on my birthday, she thought a ticket to their show would make the perfect gift.

So far the Maehana's Yokohama debut has been more a comedy of errors than anything else. My sources tell me when the Maehana's concert notice was submitted for publication in a city bulletin of upcoming arts events,something got lost in translation and it wound up under the listings for local recitals, which don't usually draw a big crowd outside of mothers, fathers, siblings, etc. Then when Salvia Hall listed the concert in its own publication for some reason it was placed with traditional comic storytelling (rakugo). I hope they can tell a good story. 

While those two mishaps alone aren't exactly devastating omens, perhaps Felicity's phone call to reserve the tickets was a more revealing sign of things to come. All ticket sales at Salvia Hall are handled by the performers themselves or their agents. When Mr. Maehana picked up his cell phone to answer Felicity's call about buying a ticket, he asked if he could call her back later since he was travelling on the train at that moment. After eight or so hours passed by without a call back, Felicity decided to try calling to purchase the ticket once again. Picking up the phone at home, Mr. Maehana suddenly remembered his earlier conversation and apologized to Felicity for not returning her call. After not a little chit chat he admitted that her earlier inquiry about the tickets had just completely slipped his mind and he promised to send her a ticket right away. When Felicity suggested he wait until he got the money before sending any tickets, the musician confided in her that he really didn't know a lot about all the little details that go along with putting on a concert.

Salvia Hall doesn't have reserved seats, but right now it looks like I may have a seat in the front row, back row or anywhere in between I'd like to sit. While I'm not a super sanshin fanatic, I'm kind of curious to see how this concert plays out. There is sure to be great music and there are sure to be at least two hands clapping (mine) but I sure hope they're not the only ones.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tired Out

What the hell was I thinking? Oh yeah, I remember now. When I bought my son,Jiro, a bicycle I thought long and hard about exactly where we would purchase it and who we would pay for it. 

I finally decided to go with the local mom and pop shop over the bigger and cheaper retail chain. That way I thought I would keep the money circulating in the neighborhood plus take advantage of the excellent repair services offered by the septuagenarian couple that ran the place if the need ever arose. Well, that need finally did arise in the form of a deflated tire late last week. 

Comes early this morning I roll the bike up to the doors of the shop. There just beyond the door frame are two mothers with toddlers in tow. All of them are patiently waiting with their eyes riveted on the bike repair master as he works his magic, massaging a myriad of mechanical parts strewn across the floor back into a working bicycle.

For my part, I had the whole morning perfectly planned out. Drop the bike off, head over to the coffee shop for a cup of steaming joe and a pastry, saunter back and roll along home on tires filled with fresh air. So I wheel the bike into the shop. Even though I bought this ride there over two years ago, the silver haired duo who tend the store somehow remember me and the elderly woman asks how my son is. 

All of a sudden I'm just filled with the same kind of warm glow that I'm sure preferred customers in Mercedes Benz showrooms experience all the time. I explain the problem with the bike and the woman shakes her head knowingly before racing off to a back room. She returns seconds later with a crumpled brown bag from which she pulls out a clenched fist. Opening her hand, she pours into the air four small rubber tubes no bigger than macaroni noodles which I miraculously manage to catch before they hit the floor.

"That will be fifty yen (about four bits)," she says. Suddenly I'm not too sure what's going on. Things aren't going exactly as I had pictured. I never figured on a charge but since it's so small, I assume it's just for appearances sake. All done for the benefit of the other customers so it doesn't look like I am getting any special treatment (it's probably what they do at Mercedes Benz). 

Then all of a sudden she deflates all of my high hopes for the day when she says, "You can fix it yourself right?"  I look left then right at the other two customers who have their sights fixed dead on me waiting for me to make my next move. That's when I look grandma gear head right in the eyes and all my illusions about this quaint little bicycle business come crashing to the ground. It's obvious that she is laying down the gauntlet in what's a clear challenge to my masculinity. "Sure," I fire back as I shrug my shoulders with a gesture that implies "it's a piece of cake." She had played the gender card and she was about to lose big time. After all I'm as mechanically inclined as the next guy.

Sizing up the intricate gadgetry in my hand, all I can think about is the coffee shop running out of fresh brewed coffee and delectable danish and why the heck I didn't buy a bike from that guy with the vest and tie who works in the nice air conditioned three-story shopping emporium right down the road. I couldn't concentrate on anything let alone all those little pieces of rubber melting in my hot palm and where on earth they might possibly fit into the complicated puzzle that is my son's bicycle.

Then she suggests I stick the pieces in a big red bucket filled with brackish water they have sitting in the middle of the workshop floor before I try to "stick one into the tire valve where it's supposed to go." I stand there for a full minute, trying to absorb all the information but the impatient old lady yanks one of the pieces from my hand, dunks it in the dirty drink and motions with two fingers for me to unscrew the tire valve. 

Once it fully sinks in that it's pretty much a do it yourself shop, I resign myself to the task at hand and begin moving around the tight submarine-like quarters of the the bicycle garage with agile moves perfectly choreographed not to interfere with the work of the master mechanic who, through it all, lifts his head only once to look at me with a pained expression. It's a pain I now share.

Moments of fear tend to freeze in time and the whole ordeal that seems like an eternity to me is actually over in the span of fifteen minutes. Who knows, had I gotten the hang of the operation quicker, my senior partner might have put me to work on the next customer's bike. Enslaved to the master mechanic, there's just no telling when I would have gotten out of there. 

As it turns out my big American fingers were just too fat to manipulate the delicate "made in Japan" parts I had to work with and the old lady wound up doing the bulk of the job herself. My hands are better designed for putting together monster trucks and such. The truth is, if I hadn't been in the way (i.e. if I had been at the coffee shop), I think she could have been done in seven and a half minutes flat. My only hope is that the next time I walk in there to get my bicycle fixed she remembers me and before she asks me to fix it myself she asks herself, "What the hell am I thinking?" 

Related post:

Money Don't Grow on Trees but Bicycles Do

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Frozen Soup is Hot!

Akagi Corp., maker of Japan's top ice pop brand, "Gari Gari-kun," rolled out its newest flavor, Corn Potage, earlier this week. The frozen creamy corn soup on a stick sold out in just three days with people across the country asking, "May I have some more, please, Gari Gari-kun?"
Some, like the gentleman in the video above, just can't wait for Akagi to whip up another batch and have taken matters into their own hands while expanding the horizons of possibility for this new frozen food fad.

(Originally posted @ The Japan Snack Times)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kids and Politicians

Radioactive contamination of crops due to the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima continues to be a growing problem for some. Recently high levels of radioactive cesium, detected in some menu items on the elementary school lunch plates provided by the City of Yokohama sparked outrage among concerned parents. Even though the food in question fell within the acceptable limits of radioactive contamination set by the national government, citizens who found the level of contamination to be unacceptable forced the city to eighty six the items from the school lunch menu. 

The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reports that the mayor of Kawasaki City, which borders Yokohama and serves the exact same food product in its school lunches, was asked if his city would do the same. His reply was that the city would continue to serve up the controversial side dish "for the sake of the kids" so that they would have a better understanding of the dangers in their lives. 

Kids and politicians - they say the darndest things.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When the Heart Beats Like a Drum


According to the description accompanying this Youtube video, "Kwon Soon Keun became a worldwide YouTube sensation when someone posted 'Korean Drummer Steals The Show'... several years ago." 

Now a documentary entitled, A Drummer's Passion, lets everyone know exactly how he stole the show and much more than that, how he did it his way.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Restless Summer

Finally slumber came to take me away. Last night was the first night I've been able to catch some shuteye in months. I've had a record-breaking streak of insomnia. It's been just too damn hot to sleep. Thank goodness the mercury is now running cold and with it my streak of sleepless summer nights. 

I was just about at my wits ends and ready to take up the advice of Peanut Butter, a former coworker who I always considered to be kind of an idiot when it came to just about everything. The mind plays terrible tricks on the sleep deprived and as I laid eternally awake, I swear I could hear the echo of Peanut Butter's voice creep inside my ear. Only now it sounded like wonderful words of wisdom. A one time desert rat, Peanut Butter told me that on hot nights he would soak a cotton sheet in cool well water, wring it out until it was damp but not dripping wet, and sleep under its comforting cold touch. By morning the sheet would be bone dry and his body refreshed and cool as a cucumber. 

I thought I'd give it a whirl. Then just as I was about to dip my sheet into a bucket of cold spring water, I stopped myself. I suddenly remembered the science experiment that I once wore on my feet. It happened one day after getting caught in a terrific rainstorm that swept across all of Yokohama. The minute I got home, I kicked my still slightly waterlogged clogs off my feet and right into the closet by the front door. 

Imagine my surprise less than eight hours later when I discovered my damp Dr. Martens had spawned the fungal cure to perhaps some of the worst diseases known to man. It was a science lesson I never forgot and the thought of those greenish mold covered shoes was what prevented me from meeting a similar fate under the cool wrap of a soaked cotton sheet.

As previously noted on these electronic pages, there’s basically only one season here in Temple Valley, that's “moldy.” That's it, just the one, with a few variations thereof. There's mildly moldy, sweltering hot and moldy (what some refer to as summer), again mildly moldy, and finally, painfully freezing cold and moldy. 

Like it or not, that startling growth is one of the constants you can count on all year round here. Another is that, like a lot of places on Earth, the temperatures of this island nation tend to run hot and cold just about everywhere. I would recommend resting somewhere between the two extremes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

This Is It

This is it. This is my ticket out of Palookaville. I haven't done the market research so I don't know if it's been done already or not but this could be it.

Inspired by a brand of clothing I recently discovered at a local department store, I'm thinking of marketing this coffee mug & pen set to learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) but I'm not limiting myself. All options are on the table.

Related post: Don't Go There

Know What You're Getting Into

My gray T-shirt

The label says it all. When I bought the article that it's attached to I knew exactly what I was getting into. It's not food. It's not a household cleaning product. It's not a decorative item. It's just what the label says it is. It's clothing, a shirt to be more precise. I picked it up at the local Seiyu Department store adjacent to the Craneview Train Station. Seiyu is Japanese for Walmart. It's the local subsidiary of the U.S. based big box retailer. While I can't speak to the conditions under which the workers who made it labored, the shirt fits me to a tee. I don't really have a favorite brand of clothing (I usually just wear the hand me ups my sons grow out of) but if I did, Clothing would be it.

Related posts: Fashion Sense
                                    The Screamy

Monday, September 3, 2012

Minus 100 Candles

Happy Birthday Doraemon!

                                        Doraemon 100 by Tomax Hui (tomax) on
                                          Doraemon 100 by Tomax Hui

Japan's most beloved animated character, Doraemon (that adorable robot cat from the future), turns minus 100 today.

About the photo: I believe the picture above, embedded via the 500px photo website, was shot somewhere in Hong Kong. It just goes to show you that love, especially the affection for this little blue robot cat from the future, really knows no bounds. 

Riding the Red Line


The Japanese rock sensation, Quruli, singing akai densha(The Red Train),the band's ode to the Keikyu train company's Kehein Kyukou train line.

They say this is the fastest train, barring the bullet train (a.k.a. the Shinkansen), between Yokohama and Tokyo. It isn't really though, it just looks that way. Although it's built for speed, boasting a rail width that measures up to the Shinkansen's track gauge, it's actually the narrow corridor on which the little red train runs that gives it the appearance of travelling at ultra-high velocity. 

Keikyu Corporation's Kehein Kyukou railway is a major Tokyo metropolitan area commuter line. Every morning it ferries countless people from in and around Kanagawa prefecture's urban centers of Yokosuka, Yokohama and Kawasaki to labor somewhere in the concrete jungle of Tokyo. Then in the evening it dutifully brings them back from wherever they came. 

While the borders of Japan's capitol lie but a few minutes away from the Craneview Keikyu Station, it's always with some fear and trepidation that I cross the Tamagawa River into Tokyo and leave behind the more familiar ground of Kawasaki and Yokohama. Then later, like many travelers from these parts, I breathe a small sigh of relief upon crossing back and returning "home."


You know you're on the Keikyu when you hear the signature sound it makes as it pulls out of the station. No other train in the world makes music that can match it. You can hear it in the music video above and here on Youtube.

Related post: Miraculous

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Hombrella

I've been waiting all my life for someone to make these.

Parasols for tough hombres... 


and maybe the not so tough.

Holding a parasol above their heads is as close to walking down a shady, tree-lined lane as some denizens of Temple Valley will maybe ever get. While there are a few tall trees that dot the streets here and there, they are kept more closely cropped than a french poodle in the fanciest part of New York City and are just as sorry a sight to see.

Related post:
The Anti-nuclear 

Umbrellas around the globe: Colorful Umbrellas Magically Float in Mid-air (