Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Anime & Japanese Films

Pictured, the Giant Buddha of Kamakura, photo by Ikumi Kishiya

While I enjoy well-made anime, it seems that Japan's live-action film industry suffers by comparison. Of Japanese-made films, most of the top-grossing ones in Japaneach year are animated, and mostly aimed at children. It's all part of the kawaii culture that currently dominates Japan at the expense of anything more sophisticated and adult, and I'mnot talking about porno-adult.

While masters of the art, like Miyazaki, continue to entertain and enthrall,most of the anime is fairly disposable and built on long-standing franchises such as OnePiece, Doraemon, Pokemon, & Dragonball. Yes it is refreshing that unlike the narrowlyfocused American comic book industry, which really only supports SuperHero themedprojects, despite impressive books and films based on non-spandex themes, the Japanese manga and anime choices are varied and interestingly diverse. And it's also nice thatcartoon doesn't automatically equal juvenile and childlike. But at the same time, manyJapanese teenagers I talk to rarely read "novels" or any type of book withoutpictures/drawings, and this is also troublesome.

Japan's live-action films have failed to produce anything in recent years thathave had the international success that recent Chinese films have had. Even thoughsuccessful remakes of the one genre Japan seems to excel at, the horror film, introduce someWestern viewers to Japanese films, they almost always come to the original after having seen theremake.

And if Japan wanted to have its films reach a wider audience, one simplesolution would be to add English subtitles to more of the DVD releases. As an American livinghere who doesn't speak fluent Japanese, it's so frustrating to see ads and previews forupcoming Japanese films only to discover the eventual DVD doesn't have any subtitles,meaning I can't watch the film. Recent examples of actual popular films like Shinobi,Densha Otoko and Nana all have only Japanese subtitles on the DVD - not even Korean orChinese subtitels and there are far more people who speak those two language than speakEnglish in Japan.

So I rent what I can, and mostly I'm disappointed at how pedestrian, meanderingand plotless most Japanese films are. I do it anyway as a supplement to my Japaneselanguage study, and am occasionally surprised by a good Japanese film, but there doesn'tseem to be much heart in it - like they know that they're not gonna sell many tickets atthe Box Office and more Japanese rent Western films than Japanese ones. And don't evenget me started on the lack of movie theaters in rural prefectures like Shimane, where Ilive. Offering none of the kick-back money that Pachinko parlors offer, you can drivefor hours without seeing a movie theater but there is a Pachinko place on everycorner.

The last frustrating thing for a movie-fan living here is the staggered releasedates on Western films. Last year for instance, Star Wars Episode III opened in most ofthe known world in May, but didn't open in Japan until July 7th. Narnia, a recentworldwide hit that opened before Christmas in America, just opened in Japan on March 4th.

This summer sees some big films opening, including a new Superman film, a newX-Men film, the Da Vinci Code and a new Pixar film - hopefully I'll see them by theend of the summer if I'm lucky.

Anime is great and I'm glad there is so much of it for every taste, but I wishJapan could refocus on live-action films and bring back some of the heyday of the 50s or80s.

by Jason Taisha, Originally posted at the Japan Living forum

Anime 101

Pictured, a game of
Space Hulk by Games Workshop, often people interested in table top games are interested in Anime as well.

by Jason Hahn

Simply put, anime is a form of cartoon animation created in Japan, which explains animes formerly-popular moniker, Japanimation. Anime's history began at the start of the 20th century. This was when Japanese filmmakers began trying out new animation techniques that were being used in the Western world. Anime did not reach mainstream status until the 1980s, and since then it has blown up not only in Japan, but around the globe.

Part of the draw that anime possesses is the fact that they can target wide ranges of viewers. This is due to the fact that animes are not confined to one category, but run the entire gamut of genres, including action, sci-fi, drama, romance, horror, and yes, even erotica. Many animes do not limit themselves to one particular genre and mix genres together.

Animation itself allows anime creators to convey just about any storyline they desire. It is much easier to make a cartoon about large robots featuring huge action and destruction sequences than it is to produce a live-action film including the same things. With recent advances in CGI animators have even more power to transfer their wildest imaginations on to a screen. Storylines, characters, and settings are limited only to what creators can conjure up in their minds.

Though animes seem to be simple cartoons on the surface, many of them have deeper storylines and character development. This may be conveyed through the use of character-based flashbacks, which portray part of a character's past to the viewer, allowing them to understand why they act a certain way or say the things they say. Juvenile humor may be thrown in sporadically in drama-based animes, but do not be surprised if you see poignant and profound character development in humor-based animes as well.

Needless to say, not all animes are just cartoons for kids. In fact, the majority of animes feature violence, sexual innuendos, and language that may not be suitable for children. This is likely a major reason why anime's popularity has exploded in the past few years across the world. With animes, cartoons are no longer just for kids, and even adults can find themes of romance and drama that they might otherwise find only in real-life television shows. The unique blend of animated characters with more mature themes is undoubtedly an enticing combination for adult-viewers.

Most anime series find their foundations in manga, or Japanese comics. These mangas are usually a few episodes ahead of the actual television series and have become popular among international audiences as well.

When animes are released in theaters, on television, or on DVDs in countries outside of Japan, distributors must decide whether they want to use subtitles or dubbed voices. There are pros to both sides of the issue, and there are strong proponents of both. Some viewers enjoy watching their anime without having to read words on the bottom of the screen, which they say take away from the visual pleasures of the anime. Others prefer to hear the original voice acting and enjoy reading the more literal translations. DVDs offer both sides a satisfying medium, as they allow for either subtitles or English voice tracks.

Now that you know the basics of anime and its history, it is time to find the right animes for you. There are countless resources on the Internet that give recommendations and reviews of numerous anime series, many of which are readily available on DVD and even on television stations. Pick a genre, read up on reviews and summaries of shows that you are interested in, and enjoy.

Happy hunting.Anime

Karen Mystic`s Anime Reviews

Photo of Tokyo by
Norikazu Yamaguchi

What are Anime and Manga?

by Karen Mystic

What are anime and manga? The answer to the questions seems obvious to anyone acquainted with the terms ・"Japanese animation," for anime, and "Japanese comics" for manga ・until some people speakabout cultural diffusion. Because most anime usually starts out asa manga, the two words are congruent and sometimes interchangeablein the anime/manga fandom depending upon how different or similarthe manga and anime are for a certain story. Anime and its comicbook counterpart, manga, have obtained huge audiences worldwide.Reaching out to millions of people, the two artforms have inspiredfans to draw in "anime-style" and "manga-style" which leads to thebasic questions, "What is anime" and "what is manga?" Are theysimply Japanese art, made solely in Japan, or are they a genre, aparticular style of drawing?Anime's birthplace is Japan. What had beencalled "Japanimation" in the `60s and `70s is nowcalled "anime." "Japanimation" simply stood for animation featuredin Japan. The new word is a Japanese cognate of "animation," but ittook hold as a replacement for the original word with thedefinitions remaining the same when fans in other countries duringthe `80s and `90s considered the old word as racist. Both anime andmanga originated in Japan and were aimed directly at Japaneseaudiences; this makes them Japanese in nature.Although they are now dubbed and translated, their point oforigin remains in Japan. In the entertainment industry, they are apart of Japan's cultural identity. To call them a genre is to takeaway what has been cherished as Japanese for the past forty yearsbecause non-Japanese without any major connection to Japan would beable to participate in the fandoms. The artforms then lose theirspecial nature since they would no longer be foreign items.Some fans, however, consider anime and manga genres separatefrom cartoons and comics due to the different drawing styles. Asanime and manga spread and gain popularity throughout the world,aspiring artists who are inspired by this Japanese art are drawingin similar fashions by using the same shapes and patterns thatdeveloped over the past forty years. These artists lead some fansto wonder if anime and manga are a genre rather than a purelyJapanese art. According to the MSN Encarta, what classifies an artform as a genre is dependent upon "the basis of form, style, orsubject matter," of which anime and manga contain an extremely vastarray, making them too diverse and gigantic to be consideredgenres. If the categorization of artworks is paralleled to thecategorization of life ・a genre would be equal to a genus ・thenanime and manga would both fit under the equivalent of an order oranother group higher than a genre. According to those fans andartists, if the art looks like anime, then it must be anime; theyneglect and ignore the history of anime and its foundation, whichwould, when applied to their argument, contradict everything theysaid over the issue.Anime and manga began in Japan, but they have their deeperancestral roots in the Disney Company of America. Tezuka Osamu, whohas been regarded as the founder of anime, fell in love with Disneycartoons and modeled his artwork after Disney. However, despitethis historic fact, those genre-fans feel insulted at the notionthat anime from any age in its history should be called "Disney"or "cartoons." In light of this information, those fans seemhypocritical to consider anime a separate genre. According to theirview, the early anime must be considered "Disney" since Tezuka Osamudrew in "Disney-style." Calling anime and manga a genre also putstoo specific a label on this diverse art. Many different truegenres, such as Mecha and Shojo, exist within anime and only havetheir point of origin ・Japan ・in common. A young child's mindwould be ruined if the child thought Outlaw Star, an anime about thepromiscuous bounty hunter Gene Starwind, was the same as Hamtaro, ananime about hamsters who go on silly adventures; some people saythey are in the same "genre" even though Outlaw Star is gearedtowards adults while Hamtaro is suited to little kids. Since Disneyhad inspired foreign artists, anime ultimately inspiring otherforeign artists is unavoidable. However, those foreign artists, bysimply being foreign, are incapable of making anime or manga unlessthey go to Japan and become involved in the industry over there.Their art may be drawn in "anime-style" or "manga-style" just likehow Tezuka Osamu drew the first manga and anime in "Disney-style."In the end, the name for a broad type of artwork dependsupon the country it came from. Animation native to America must becalled "cartoons" while animation native to Japan must becalled "anime." Americans who want to make anime and manga musttravel to Japan and either become Japanese citizens or work as anemployee in a Japanese production studio. Although some fansconsider anime and manga a separate genre from cartoons and comicsdue to styles, they forget their point of origin is in Japan andthat their origin makes them different. Genre is not just basedupon style but also upon subject matter, of which anime and mangacontain a wide variety, placing them in a currently unnamed category above genre.

Petshop of Horrors

by Maturi Akino

Reviewed by Karen Mystic

This manga, Petshop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino, is really unique.It's one in which I love the story a whole lot, but I really don'tlike either of the characters; it's very iffy there. The tone ineach chapter is vastly different from the other - ranging fromhorrible and sadistic to wonderful and heart-warming. The wholemanga revolves around Count D and his customers who live in theChinatown of Los Angeles. Count D strikes me as being a strictlymoral man with very uncertain morals. His pets can either be normalanimals or mythological creatures. The pets, although animals, canlook exactly like humans and talk as well. However, only certainpeople can see them in their human forms.

The first chapter of the manga is Dream. Since this is the opening,we see all of the things that make Count D. His ambiguity in thathe shows a callous disregard for human life yet he wanted to spare ayoung teenage girl from a horrible devestating sight which couldpossibly ruin her life. D's comical side (his love for chocolate)is also revealed. I don't like the fact that D doesn't tell hiscustomers everything they should know when they buy their pets; theywouldn't break the rules of their contract if they knew what theconsequences would be. However, without the secrets, there would beno plot. I'm also wondering if the fate of the girl's two magicalbirds parallels her decision for her own future. Maybe, maybe not.While the manga does make some statements, not all of it is meant tobe insightful.

The second chapter (Despair) introduces Detective Leon Orcot,although I don't think his full name is mentioned at this point.It's a nice light-hearted chapter in comparason with the rest of thevolume, more comedy than anything else despite the title. I reallyenjoyed the character interaction here.

The third chapter Daughter is the most gruesome and also the mostunbelievable as a wild pack of rabid rabbits stampeed through LosAngeles. I couldn't stand Count D much in this chapter. Eventhough it does make a necessary and important statement which I likeabout the chapter (how kindness and ignorances combined cancorrupt), D acts arrogant and holier-than-thou. He knew what his twocustomers would do with their pet, and giving it to them was likegiving a toddler a loaded gun. Leon Orcot makes another appearance,skeptical about D's magical pets and wondering if there wassomething normal about it.

The fourth chapter (Dreizehn) is the most heart-warming, and I wasso happy at the ending. It's about a girl who was attacked andblinded. Count D gives her a dog to guard her and protect her.Even though D does some good things, I still can't bring myself tolike him after the rabid rabbit incident. Even so, I really lovedthis chapter; it just made me feel good inside. The artwork isawesome. Although the dog looks like a human, the way he positionshimself (when the girl kicked him out and when he sat near her bed) was absolutely like a dog, giving the reader a special insight into what he truly was.

On the whole, this is a good manga for people to love animals,mythology, comedy, and drama.

Speed Racer

by Karen Mystic

Although a very old anime, I doubt many of the younger generationshave watched it. In a sense, this anime's lack of audience over thedecades has made it new again and worthy of a review. I recievedthe recent release of Speed Racer as a Christmas gift, and I learneda lot about its original production and its dubbing from both theDVD and those on my mailing list who are more familiar with theanime.

The original name for the anime was "Mach Go Go Go". Dan Cooperreminded me that the name is a pun since "Go" is the Japanese wordfor "Five" There are three "Go"s in the anime. Go the Mach Five,Mifune Go the aspiring race car driver (Speed Racer), and Go theneed to hurry. It was created in 1967 roughly ten years beforeMobile Suit Gundam by Tatsunoko Productions, which was founded bythree brothers, Yoshida Tatsuo, Kenji,and Toyoharu.The special features say it was based upon their love for Americanculture, and this is certainly apparent throughout the series. Theanime focuses on cars and an aspiring driver. America values carsmore than the Japan does, so a Japanese citizen who loves cars wouldlook up to America. Also, Speed Racer highly resembles ElvisPresley, a prominent American cultural icon at the time. When Istarted watching it, I kept thinking of Elvis in a Jackie Chanmovie.Although it was based upon American culture, it still containsseveral slight fantasy elements commonly found in anime. In thefirst episode, thugs on motorcycles steal the plans for a superiorengine. Speed Racer and his dad then attack them by using wrestlingand martial arts techniques. Drivers take shortcuts near volcanoes,and villianous cars equiped with weaponry challenge the Mach 5.Also, there is a mysterious "Masked Racer" with a shameful past.At first, I thought the names like "Speed Racer", "Sparky,"and "Trixie" were the original Japanese names since they'recategorical. Categorical names are another frequent occurance inanime. However, a member of my mailing list informed me otherwise.Unfortunately, the DVD I recieved only comes in English, so I cannotcompare the dub with the original version.The Mach Five with all of its nifty gadgets is like a super car. Itcan drive over three times as fast as normal cars, it has specialblades to chop vegetation in its way, and it has underwater drivingcapability. Considering that Tatsunoko productions created the showwhen anime was still very young, I wonder if this anime is anancestor of the Mecha genre, which features superior machines(Gundams, Voltron) that characters utlize as though they were a part of the machine itself.

On to Hon Atsugi and ECC

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In late January, I had confided to Craig that I would be leaving for Kanagawa Prefecture and Ikumi. I wanted to give them a couple of months to find my replacement. On March 30th, I handed in my official letter of resignation. In it I told them they should warn all new teachers and students about Craig; and raise the starting salary, a salary that hadn't been raised in many years, and was one of the lowest in Nagoya at the time.

In my heart, I knew they would never warn students about Craig, and hoped he wouldn't do the same to a student as he had done to Brenda and I.

It would be great to be with Ikumi more, and live in a different part of the country. The thought of being able to go into Tokyo sometimes was also intriguing.

I moved on March 30th and my new home was Hon Atsugi, a city of about 400,000 souls, 50 minutes south of Tokyo. My 4 year old apartment was a rokujo or six tatami mat flat. There was one room about 3 and a half metres square. There was a hallway that doubled as a kitchen leading to the room and off the hallway was a tiny unit bath with a toilet. I was about 15-20 minutes walk from the main ECC school I would work at. There was no air conditioner and I didn't feel like paying the huge amount of money I would have had to pay to buy one.

In the summer I had the experience of having a sauna right in my apartment. My boss at ECC was very impressed that I came to work one hour early everyday. I never told him it was because ECC was air conditioned. He didn't need to know!

Hon Atsugi seemed like a cheap imitation of an American city, without the parks and large trees. It was near to many beautiful places though. You could go hiking in the Tanzawa mountains only thirty minutes away by bus.

Chigasaki, a small beach community was nearby. It was home to many famous singers, and artisans, not to mention surf loving Aussies. Enoshima another nice beach town and interesting island was just up the coast from Chigasaki. Hon Atsugi boasted a brand new library with free English movies. I was to love that! Oiso too was a nice little beach town and I was within one hour of Tokyo or Yokohama and close to Ikumi as well.

So I managed to land a job with what was then the largest English school chain in Japan. I was paid 276,000 Yen per month which was pretty good for 20 hours of work per week and being 27 years old! I picked up some private lessons on my own and in four months, I proudly sent home over 10,000 dollars to Canada! In my second year with ECC, my salary went up to 296,000 Yen and with my private lessons I made around 350,000 Yen per month. My rent was only 45,000/month and I could live very cheaply if I wanted to. I was able to save a lot.

I worked a twelve hour teaching day on Tuesdays. I got up at 4 AM, staggered to the train station, and took the earliest train to Tokyo so I could get a seat and sleep. I taught in the fashionable area, Shibuya from 7-9AM, then took the train back to Hon Atsugi, was picked up by my private student and she drove me to my apartment where I taught her for the next hour, I ate lunch, then a Korean couple came by for their lesson from 1-3PM. From 5:20-9:20 I taught at the ECC in Hon Atsugi and after that I taught a doctor and his wife. It was a 30,000 Yen day. It was a killer day but I enjoyed counting the money.

One reason I chose to work for ECC was the fact that I would have my days free. I have always been into more and more freedom. ECC offered a good salary and reputation. The fact that I only had to show up for four hours per night, was also a major attraction. The longer you are in Japan, the more opportunities come your way. If you hustle, you can pick up private lessons on your own as I mentioned. When teachers leave for home, they often have students they need taught. When Mary Ellen left for the States, she mentioned that the Machida YMCA would need to replace her. She put in a good word for me and I ended up with another two mornings of work per week at good pay. The manager was a great guy. Mr. Minamida had lived in Vancouver, and knew Westerners well. He was a great boss and I learned a lot about how to manage from his laid back style. The YMCA had no time clock. You didn't need to punch a time card as you did at ECC. They seemed to trust their teachers more and treated them with more respect.

ECC was an interesting place to work. There were so many different characters there. My constantly sick boss Mr. Suzuki was there 6 days a week at lower pay than the foreign teachers. He was a nice enough man, but I never got to know him very well, although I enjoyed working for him. I really wanted to land a good job near Ikumi, and after striking out in Odawara, the nearest major city to her, I interviewed at other schools. I figured that it was probably pretty rare for a Westerner to walk in the door all dressed up, and asking about employment, as we were relatively far from Tokyo. By doing so, I hoped to make a bit of a splash.

Mr. Suzuki was suitably impressed when I waltzed in, in my tailored suit with my "Japanese fiance." The fiancé part really was a lie. We had no firm plans to marry, but we were both thinking of heading in that direction, but needed more time to get to know each other. I figured the Japanese fiancé part, would further my chances for the job, and I really didn't mind calling Ikumi my fiancé, and she didn't either.

Mr. Suzuki and I had a long talk and he seemed interested in me. He told me to talk with ECC's head office, and I had the impression that he would too.

A few weeks later I went to Shinjuku in Tokyo for an intense interview at ECC's head office. I was interviewed by a couple of staff from the Personnel Section, and then given thirty minutes to prepare a lesson. I felt good about the lesson I taught to my fellow interviewee and I was hired shortly after. I was so happy to get the chance to work for this famous school, and to be near Ikumi!

Kevin Burns

I Will Never, Ever touch the English Department Director Again!

Photo of Roppongi Hills by Norikazu Yamaguchi

Jan-March, 1990, Nagoya, Japan
From almost the first day of working at St. Maria College I was warned, "Don't ever touch Craig." Even Craig himself had warned me. There were stories of full-grown teachers, being spanked over Craig's lap for transgressing his personal space. "You're joking?" I said one day to Cathy. She wasn't.

Being a pretty touchy guy, it is hard for me not to pat someone on the shoulder or give someone a playful,light punch on the arm. Craig seemed harmless to me, he came from mymother`s native land, and we got along well. He sometimes took me out for beer and steak at his expense. What wasn't there to like? One day in a humorous mood, as I am apt to be, I tickled Craig as I walked by. Next thing I knew, I was grabbed from behind, punched very hard in the shoulder, spun around, and had an English Director, screaming in my face in Scottish brogue about how I should never, ever touch him again! In a daze I continued to the staff room my heart pounding. The man had a definite problem that really required counselling. Everyone knew it, but Craig I surmise had never paid for a doctor.

This man I had considered to be a friend was totally changed for me. I felt I had to be on guard around him, always having to remember to never, ever touch him for fear of being physically assaulted. I never entertained taking him to court, but instead felt sorry for him. He was single and I imagined this phobia about being touched was caused by some kind of child abuse many years before. But I never found out the reason why. Craig very sweetly apologized to me the next day, but also said that he had warned me. I had forgotten the warning. I never would again. Neither would Brenda, the fellow Canadian who had been spanked over her boss's knee a year earlier. After bawling during this episode, she would never forget the warnings either.

As the weeks turned into months, my culture shock eased. Nagoya became more interesting and more bearable to look at. New colleagues arrived and they made work more interesting. Kim Robinson from Boston was a breath of fresh air and so was Margaret from Australia. We had a great time joking around and chumming around the city. Jeff, Brian and I joined a multicultural soccer team and this helped fill the hours too. There was dancing at some of the crazy night-clubs of Sakae-cho and barbecue parties in the countryside. I missed my family and friends back home, but I was making a new life.

Ikumi, a beautiful 27 year old woman I had met during my days working for Columbia College kept coming out to visit me and taking me places, showing me her beautiful country. She had gorgeous almond eyes, a cute laugh and smile, and was one of the most exotic women I had ever met. She had a sense of humour too and she was smart. I went out to visit her a few times in her hometown of Minami Ashigara. She owned a small boutique, could speak English well, and was the top tennis player of her area. Being a tennis nut myself,I felt I had met my match. As a child, I had always felt I should go to Japan, maybe Ikumi was the reason why. After a trip together to Thailand in December, (partly to visit my gomi collecting friend), I felt I should move out to be with her, and set my mind to doing so. It would be hard starting over yet again, but the thought of being near her was exciting.

By the end of March, 1990 my goldfish cutting boss at my other school, due perhaps to a little karmic retribution, didn't have enough students to employ me. So I had picked up more hours at St. Maria's.

by Kevin Burns
Some names have been changed to preserve anonymity

Without a Telephone, No One Can Hear You Scream!

"Nemo!!!! Where are you Nemo!!!!!!?????"

Fall 1989, Nagoya, Aichi

To get a phone at this time, you had to fork over about 800 dollars US. I couldn't afford it! Now you can get a reasonably priced cell phone, but back then there weren't any...

I lie here in my apartment in Nagoya, staring at the ceiling. It is scary running a temperature when you are all alone in a foreign country. If this isn't just the flu, I don't even have a phone to call an ambulance. I realize in my pyrexic daze that I don't know what to say in Japanese, had I had a phone. I might be able to get across my address with my poor pronunciation, and if they are smart enough to assume I'm in trouble and not making a crank call, they might send someone. If I do need to call, I'll have to stagger or crawl to the public phone down the street.

Although it's freezing, I am hot. Central heating is virtually unknown in Japan. I have two small electric heaters to heat my whole apartment (not that I need them tonight). In the morning, I see my breath inside my apartment. (Which is another new experience for me!) I can see the stars outside as I don't even have curtains. I am not alone in feeling it is often warmer outside than it is inside my place. The cockroaches agree. They stay outside as they know it is warmer!

My first impression of the biggest city in Aichi Prefecture is of a grey concrete city of no discernable personality. It is depressingly ugly. So ugly in fact that I feel the need to talk about it with the other foreigners I've met, just to be sure that I am not being too negative about it. Am I going through culture shock I ask myself? Probably. It's funny, few people will ever admit they are going through culture shock. It seems to be a very embarrassing topic for many people-as if they would have to admit to some flaw of character. Yet I am not ashamed and feel a need to talk about this ugly city. My foreign friends agree though, that Nagoya is one of the ugliest cities they have ever been to. The concensus amongst us seems to be that because Nagoya was rebuilt in a big hurry after the war, money was scarce and during the 40's and 50's concrete was in vogue. So you get this butt- ugly city called Nagoya with many 5-10 story, concrete, shoe box buildings. There isn't much foliage to interrupt the endless boxlike flow towards downtown.

Yet I walk around, and their are vestiges of beauty. There are delightful old Japanese houses with traditional style gardens including bonsai trees. The river near my apartment is tree lined with cherry trees and I contemplate a Spring of beautiful pink cherry blossoms floating down on me. Thankfully Nagoya is nicer than first appearances. The neighbourhoods are her saving grace.

English School

I work for a small school near my apartment. They have sponsored me for my visa along with another school. My boss, Mark from Minnesota, is fond of four letter words in both English and Japanese, talking about how he would like to "do it with that little high school girl..." and he is fond of cutting gold fish with scissors, hoping his pirahnas will attack them. They never do; and look bored in fact. I am called "squeamish" when I protest his ritual of cutting the goldfish. This is the man I work for. Minnesota; is that where many people are in-bred? I can't remember.

I also work for another school called St. Maria College. It is a women's two year college coupled with a language school. There we use a method similar to Berlitz. It is quite classy looking inside. Unfortunately, most of the students are not very serious about their studies, and seem content to pass the time until the day they get married.

Working there to some extent is like being a child in a candy story. There are a bevy of beautiful, eligable young women, but for a young teacher, they are off limits of course. I am advised by Craig, the Scottish head of the English Department, to "...have the students call you Mr. Burns. You being a young teacher, I think it is important that you keep some distance from the young women students we have here. If they call you Kevin, they will feel closer to you." What's wrong with that? I secretly conspired. But I agreed with Craig, Mr. Burns it was. I looked but didn't touch.

Every English School has a personality, as does every class in fact. Both are shaped by the teachers and students, and in the case of a school, the office staff as well.

I was a friendly, small town Canadian guy, coming to live and work in Japan for the first time. It was rough at first to say the least.

To come to Japan takes guts. You have to leave your friends and family back home, you no longer have the social supports you did in your hometown. From scratch you have to make a new life for yourself, and other people of course, may not want to be a part of "KEVIN"S NEW LIFE IN JAPAN!--the maudlin game show announcer wailed. "So Jack are you going to watch the Superbowl on Sunday?"--I asked hoping to start a conversation. "Of course I am!" He practically yelled in disgust. I soon learned that I reminded Jack of someone he knew during the war-- perhaps someone he had wanted to strangle with his bare hands. I never broached the Superbowl topic again. I wanted to see my 27th birthday! Jack was high strung and had just gone through a painful divorce. Can't imagine why--what a delightful personality. He was working twelve hours a day, six days a week. Can you say, "on edge?" I asked a mutual friend, "What's up with Jack?" She said, "He finds you too friendly."

I decided I would back off. I took to wearing turtle necks in case Jack lost it--hoping somehow the material would help me to slip out of his sanguinary hands. It worked. He lightened up and started talking to me more. He turned out to be a pretty good guy once you got to know him. I lived to see my 27th birthday.

by Kevin Burns

Gomi & Cults in the Tokai City of Concrete

Pictured: Sake barrel, courtesy of Fuji Film staff

by Kevin Burns

Nagoya, Aichi
My friend John, had bragged of furnishing his whole apartment with garbage, during his stint in Japan. Maybe that was why I preferred not to introduce him to close friends. Not without a warning anyway. "I'm going to introduce you to my friend John, you know the one who brags about garbage?" John had worked for a securities firm in Tokyo for a couple of years called Marui Securities. He was the editor of their English newsletter and the company English teacher. He had left for other lands in Asia after that commenting, "The Japanese are some of the most tight-assed people in the world." I got the impression that he didn't like them much.

Because of my friend's love of Japanese trash, we decided to try our luck. It was tough though as there were others out to do the same. A couple of Japanese guys went around in a van and often took the pickings before we could get there. Apart from free porno magazines we didn't find much of interest. (About the porno magazines--I just read the articles).

Brian and I did find two beautiful pots, that turned out to be the old Japanese hibachi, or heaters. I now use them as pots for plants. I am still surprised that someone had thrown them away!

One day Jeff came to my place and first having me promise not to breath a word about what he was going to say, he told me his story. Soon after Jeff started working at Simpson, he noticed that all of the secretaries spent long hours at their desks studying Korean. When Jeff asked why they were studying the language, they replied that they would soon move to Korea and get married. Every few months it seemed, a new group of secretaries would start work, to replace the others who had left for Seoul. This bothered Jeff. What was going on?

He was convinced his school was owned by a cult. He wasn't very comfortable with the thought of working for a cult owned school. Neither was I! The thought of a group of hooded members taking Jeff away in the middle of the night, entered my thoughts. I quickly thought of cockroach hockey games to take my mind off of this nightmare Jeff was in. I locked the door after he left.

Arriving in Nagoya

Pictured: Actress, Singer and Mother Yuki Uchida

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At 6AM Enka music that would wake all the dead in a Stephen King novel, rang out from the old, tinny Nagoya youth hostel speakers. Apparently it was time to get up. After a cheap, but grueling 30 hour journey (with various stop overs), Korean airlines had finally deposited me in Nagoya, Japan. Next I was whisked away to this youth hostel by seven Japanese women, whom I'd met while working as a program assistant for Columbia College in Vancouver. These young, kind, attractive Japanese women had done a homestay in Canada, and my job was to take them around the city.

I got to go out with some of the most beautiful, exotic women from around the world, take them hiking, sightseeing, dancing, out to dinner, and on romantic cruises. And they paid me!

In my sleepy reverie I staggered to the showers and almost bumped into two Californians named Jeff and Brian. They were both planning to teach English though neither had a job lined up yet. I had arranged my position before I came. Whether this was a mistake or not, I had yet to find out. After talking for a bit, Jeff, Brian and I exchanged contact information, and promised to keep in touch.

My friend Naomi picked me up at around noon and we went to meet my boss Mark for lunch at a local family restaurant. It was strange to see a restaurant that looked like home, but of course, was filled almost entirely with Japanese people. I felt uncomfortable as I was an object of attention as we waited for our table. This would be a challenge I would need to conquer, getting used to being stared at, almost everywhere I went. Being very tall for Japan, I stand over 6'2," I got a lot of attention wherever I went, even in a large city like Nagoya. Although, this Aichi city boasted over 2 million people, it was not very cosmopolitan, and I had vaulted into being a member of an extremely small minority, almost overnight. It has been said that for a caucasian, coming to Japan can give one an idea of what it must be like to be African North American back home. To a small extent, I think this is true. It is definitely a worthwhile experience to be a member of a minority for a while. It opens one's eyes to what it must feel like to be the only Chinese boy in an all caucasian class for example.

I spent the night in Mark's apartment having dinner and getting to know he and his family. The next day he proudly showed me the apartment and I tried to hide my shock. Even though I had read in Wharton's book, "Working in Japan," that Japanese apartments didn't come with much, it was still surprising to see that I didn't even have any lights. Mark handed me a small plastic light fixture, that if I am nice about, I would say looked like a K-Mart reject. "A friend gave me this." I could see why, I thought. Obviously not a good friend. We screwed it into the kitchen ceiling. At least I would be able to see what I was chewing!

According to him this apartment was huge. According to me, it wasn't much bigger than my bedroom back home in Vancouver. It was a 2DK in Japanese apartment lingo. I had a Japanese oil heated bath, which everyone should try at least once. It was very deep; like a big cube in shape. Although tall, I fit in it nicely and the water came up to my neck. It was very nice on those cold Nagoya mornings.

Jeff and Brian came over to my apartment a day or two later. I offered them the second bedroom until they found a place of their own. I'm happy I did as Jeff and I ended up becoming good friends.

Jeff being the taller and more striking of the two, landed his teaching position first. Brian struggled for a while, and finally was hired by a chain called Bilingual. Jeff worked for a school called Simpson. If either had been of an Asian minority or African North American, securing a teaching position would have been more difficult. Fitting the general image of what an English teacher should look and sound like (according to Japanese English School managers ) however, they both found positions relatively easily. Americans tend to be the most in demand, Britons too have their English school manager fans. Canadians rank as quasi- Americans, and New Zealanders and Aussies seem to have a tougher time landing a teaching position. Though thisseems to be changing. Aussies lately seemto have their fans.

My new friends were good company, often having spirited hockey games in the kitchen with the cockroaches. The roaches being black, almost looked like miniature pucks, and we would cheer as Jeff shot them out the door. "He scores!" They were very good hockey players for Californians! Do they have roach hockey in the USA? It really should be an Olympic sport, especially if they are going to include the luge! Be honest, when was the last time you luged? My friend back home is a real luger.(Bad Pun!) I won't mention his name though for fear of his being ostracized.

Fishing with Akihiko

Photo of archer on horseback, courtesy of Fuji Film Staff

Hakone, Kanagawa
In the middle of Lake Ashi near the beautiful tourist town of Hakone, Akihiko and I are aboard a small open boat with an outboard engine. Few people know that Lake Ashi is actually a volcanic crater. Extinct I hope! Yes I think it is. Fuji is not and looks very beautiful from here. Her foggy brilliance belying her danger and power. An earthquake in this region would set her fiery bowels aflame, hurtling boulder size volcanic rock and debris for kilometres around and causing the evacuation of the Canadian-like city of Gotemba. Gotemba, is the Abbotsford, BC of Japan. The people of Gotemba don't seem to know this though, but someone should tell them. It is interesting how other places can remind you so much of home at times. I am brought back from by daydream by Akihiko.

"Today we are fishing for salmon," he informs me. "I think you mean trout don't you?" "No salmon, they put salmon in this lake, "he corrects. Apparently the sports fisherman like fishing for salmon, so salmon were added to Lake Ashi. I'm not sure if this is a good idea environmentally, but the fishermen seem happy about it. I end the day with a sunburn, but enjoy the sight of the water and the forest.

In Tanzawa

It is sunrise on a Sunday morning and Akihiko picks me up, bleary eyed from my one room apartment. It is a beautiful day, and I enjoy the drive through the woods surrounding Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture. The narrow, winding road takes us through a forest filled with large, leafy trees. I finally lose my sense of being in such a crowded country. We could be in Canada or in the European countryside. We finally round a bend and down in a small, rocky valley is the river.

My feelings of being alone in the Japanese countryside are soon dashed as it looks as though everyone in Tokyo has gotten there first. There are clearly demarcated pools with numbers clearly painted on the rocks to delineate which pool each group has been assigned to. This isn't exactly what I had imagined to be fishing in Japan, but I decide to make the best of it. Akihiko turns to me as we get to pool E-13 and says, "The fish will come at 9 o'clock." I laugh heartily. Akihiko can be such a card at times. But at 9 o'clock a large green dump truck rolls up to E-13 and the driver gets out. Papers are signed and the fish are poured into pool E-13. I am astounded. Akihiko wasn't joking. This is fishing in Japan--atleast one kind of fishing.

Our excited compatriots, all friends and colleagues of Akihiko, eagerly start "fishing." Some of the fish are caught and released again into our pool. But as the morning goes on, more and more are caught and put on the barbecue. "Today we are fishing for salmon," Akihiko kids me. And they are small salmon.

I decide to try out my slowly improving Japanese on one of Akihiko's hapless friends. I think I have said, "I used to fish in Canada too." But the woman's reaction is rather strange-- she moves away from me. Akihiko informs me that I said, "In Canada I used to be a pick-pocket too." I stare over at my conversation partner and she is checking the contents of her wallet. Fearing the police will show up at E-13 at any moment, I tell Mariko what I had meant to say. She stills seems wary, so I decide to go back and talk to the fish. They are safer; though they move away from me too.

The Challenge of Global Citizenship

by Ann Spiers and Dr. Alain Youell

Pictured: Geisha, courtesy of the Fuji Film Staff

Pictured bottom: Model Ikumi Kishiya

Living in Japan for however long, you have been totally immersed in a culture as far from your Westernlifestyle as you can get. So, by now the fruits and vegetables in the store are familiar; you don't look twiceat the kanji you can't read; you sidesteip millimetres from a moving car without even thinking about it; andthe murmur of Japanese around you is familiar as a lullabye. Whether you understand it or not, the worldof Japan has shaped you, made you face things, made you grow. You take it for granted, and memories ofyour home country are becoming tinged with nostalgia or romance, increasingly unreal--something longed forthat is out of reach and out of sight.

As a rule, without even being aware of it, you have expanded your sense of who you are and the nature of theworld, to include cultures and people you were only superficially aware of before. You are on your way to becominga global citizen. You have some practical and emotional experience of another culture FROM THE INSIDE, fromparticipating in it. You can never go back to a view of the solitary home country; you have begun to understand thedeeper currents that move and unite the entire globe, from a very personal and practical level, rather than anintellectual one garnered solely from the media.

This is what global citizenship is about--the idea that we are, first and foremost, citizens of this planet, united onthat level with all others, no matter how different their culture; and only secondarily a citizen of the country ofbirth or passport. This is the increasing practical not intellectual understanding that we are all interconnected,that no one country's or races's or religion's ideas can dominate without injuring us all. Most people arevoyeurs or "guests" on the world scene, and do not participate in the rough and tumble of being a part of theglobal scene. Only a few years ago we would never have thought the collapse of the Communist Bloc possible,nor that ethnic wars would again start all over the world scene, but that is what is happening, and all on centerstage.

A true, rather pedantic sense of global citizenship can only be gained by having the kind of intensive cross-culturalexperience you have participated in. This will become very obvious when you return home. People want to hear ofyour adventures at first, but you quickly find that they do not want to hear your preceptions, for they are too un-comfortable with their own lack of knowledge. You have changed; You no longer fit in. "Friends" quickly driftback into more comfortable topics of conversation on a more parochial level. If you persist in trying to share whatyou have learned, they quietly drift away. You cannot participate in "your" culture in the old way; your view is toobroad.

Uncomfortable though this may be, and most returnees find it to be true, it is the harbinger of change on a worldwide level, and you are one of its' pioneers. For there is an increasing body of people who have participated deeplyin several cultures, who no longer consider themselves simply the citizen of a country, who are asking what itreally means to be part of a broader group that transcends the boundaries of politics and takes in a globalperspective. There is now opportunity, as never before, for voices to be heard and acknowledged. One can bepart of a changing world order. Many are reaching for this, but without having really lived in another culture,the understanding is pedantic instead of experiential.

How do you put your experiences into practice, and move out of the sense of isolation that is apt to be yourrexperience upon returning "home?" First, reach out to others who have also been there, even if it takes a lot ofeffort to find them and connect. Find those who are comfortable, interesed and aware of the larger world whichyou have experienced. A global support network is an important step. Then find ways that work for you to liveand express your expanded view. Use your experience, rather than hide or give up. You are pioneers, forging anew experience of truly living as global citizens. The hardships and struggles blaze a trail that eventually thewhole world will follow.

Being a part of the world means that all of one's prejudices and biases, as well as the excitement and wonder,are brought into focus. They are there to be used, to reflect on ourselves as well as the country of residence.An American novelist wrote: "You can't go home again," and that truth is absolute. You are never the samewhen you have gone outside your own tight little world and joined the world at large, and this you have done inthe truest sense after your experience in Japan. Cicero reflected that one's homeland is whereever one doeswell, and since one has to make one's homeland where one is, the success comes when we look honestly at ourparticipation, and stop trying to hide or avoid our responsiblilites, for then everyone loses.

Japanese Police & Crime in Japan

Photo of Hotel in Enoshima by Norikazu Yamaguchi

by Chris Cutts

The Japanese have an almost unique system of policing which despite its embracing of high tech in most of its processess it is also a strangely quaint mirroring of the British police prior to the 1980's from which I will draw comparisons for which I apologize to North American readers. Japan has the lowest crime rate of any of the major industrialised countries in the world; coupled with a detection rate which is the envy of the civilized world, it would appear on paper that Japan is a utopia with regard to crime.

But all is not as it seems. The Japanese like any society past or present has its own almost unique profile of crimes with most crimes recognised as such by all societies(murder,robbery,dropping litter etc.) Japan does not recognise or account other problems which would drastically change the paper figures and bring a more realisting picture of the situation. The situation with regard to the Japanese not recognise an offence is best exemplified by the chikans who would in any other country would be doing at least 3-5 years for persistant sexual assault remembering that sexual assault is but one step down from rape but because of Japan's extreme "one of the boys"culture it is recognised as a crime only on the statue book.

The other issue which is missing from Japanese figures is that civil law is outside the perview of the police and are handled by other agencies and do not appear on the end figures. So why has this situation arouse and the answer is probably in the structure of Japanese law enforcement which was founded on the basic model created by sir Robert Peel and has kept to its basic original structure, principals and biasts more than any of its contemperies in modern societies inheriting both its strengths and its weaknesses. Basic unit is the police box( koban's in urban areas and chuzaisho's in rural areas unfortunately only as Doctor who's TARDIS in Britain) and not the patrol car and are very similar to the original peel principal of the section house with a compliment of 12 uniformed officers with a sergeant( junsa-bucho) and 3 policemen( junsa) on a four shift rotation working the local beats and in my opinion give the japanese police one of its greatest strengths and a lesson to other modern police that you can learn more about your area on foot or on a bicycle than driving round at high speeds trying to look cool in a patrol car.The junkai-ren which is probably the best idea to come out of Japanese law enforcement in that this twice a year residence survey forefills in one swoop the two main functions of the uniformed patrol officer that of crime prevention and collation of local information.

However the main weakness is that it takes probably two years before an officer really gets to know his area. The next one up are the police stations which are similar to British divsional stations and are the headquarters for the local kobans and home for officers of the more specialilized sections who carry out roles such as traffic and criminal detection and because they consider themselves on a higher plane have there own versions of the british nickname "woodentops" too describe uniformed beat officers for their poorer detection rates but that is not uniforms principal function Above these are the ivory towers of Tokyo metropolitan police department and prefecturial police headquarters the home of the highest ranking officers such as the keishi-sokan(superintendant general of the Tokyo metropolitan department) and keshi-kan(superintendant supervisor) equal to met commissioners and provincial chief constables respectively.

So where do the problems really set in, firstly when the post war police were set in 1948 with a new police law the police became limited in their duties and many social problems other police forces in the world help to tackle come outside the scope of the Japanese police this makes the figures look good but does not help solve the problems.

Secondly the training system is so class room oriented probably because with all officers must be at least high school graduate and 40% having a degree from a four year university.High school graduates spend one year of police shool, three months field work and then six months of training and disscussion for college graduates its eight months,three mnoths and four months with the curriculum set by the national police agency.You do not get a coppers nose or the mysterious meathods of "the ways and means act" fom a book but only from experience on the beat and with the exception of fraud the last man to be caught by using a book was Al Capone.

Thirdly 98.1% of officers are male,come on chaps thats why some things don't prosicuted because it's boys will be boys, a villains does not show discrimination on the grounds of sex so why should the police show discrimination.Female officers are normally not allowed to carry firearms(what do they expect them to use bad language!) and the old predjudice of only limited duties the shame being that nothing deflaits the "one of the boys" more than a wpc slapping on the plum duffs (hand cuffs).They can do the job as well in most cases and better in some.

Finally although extremely polite to outsiders the Japanese attitude to outsiders breaking the law seems strange.From the killing of Charles Richardson in 1862 (early example of road rage) to demanding and getting suspect marine Kurt K. Billie for trial in a Japanese court when a perfectly good court martial would have been carried out by the USMC although the Japanese goverment constantly refuses to extradite Japanese citizens for crimes committed abroad but tries them in Japan and if guilty imprisons them in Japanese prisons seems very partisan at best. Oh yes, the thought for the day if you ladies have problems with chikans on a crowed trains do not try punching they isn't the room try stamping on the top of the ankle joint because 1) it hurts more, 2)you can claim it was an accidental stumble on a moving train, 3).it doesn't half cramp their style.

Furikome Sagi: The Superbly Executed Telephone Crime

"Furikome Sagi" is Japanese for the crime of impersonating someone on the phone in order to rob the person called, of money.

At their state of the art recording studio, the Kawaguchi Gumi branch of the yakuza (Japanese mafia), have a meeting and talk about how they will pull off this latest furikome sagi crime. Toshino kicks back in his chair. Piece of cake he thinks. He`s been doing this kind of crime for five years now. He`s a veteran. He can`t count how much money he has earned for his yakuza branch, indeed his boss is very proud of him.

It was Toshino who broached the topic with the boss of getting high tech recording equipment. "It will pay for itself in the long run," he pleaded. "We will make the money back with two calls!" "Boss the initial impression is paramount when making the call to the parents. Those sounds, that miserable sobbing, that is what gets us 90% to the bank. Have I ever let you down before?"

The equipment was purchased and Toshino`s monthly proceeds had increased 50%. A new sports car from the boss followed. Crime does pay Toshino decided.

The wheels were set in motion. Aoki, one of Toshino`s colleagues repeatedly calls Hiroyuki Yoshida. "Moshi, moshi."(Hello) "Do you wanna suck my cock!!?" Aoki screams into the receiver. After the fifth call to *Hiroyuki, Hiroyuki turns off his cell phone.

Aoki calls every few minutes just to be sure that Hiroyuki Yoshida`s cell phone stays off. They can`t have him answering his phone. It will destroy the operation; and the boss doesn`t tolerate many failures.

Yoshida is needed to unwittingly play his part in the drama the Kawaguchi Gumi are enacting. Most people switch off their phones after about five calls the yakuza have discovered. Things are working perfectly. Almost as perfectly as Toshino`s brand new cherry red Fairlady Z.

It`s 4 PM. Tonegawa picks up the phone and dials Hiroyuki`s 45 year old mother. It`s Friday, a workday for both Hiroyuki and his father. So they are out. Only the mother is home. The Yakuza like it better when only one parent is home to receive the call. They can`t think as clearly on their own. There is no one to confer with. Like an isolated wildebeest, the lions will make their kill.

These Yakuza know that Hiroyuki`s mother is always home at 4PM on Fridays. They`ve been watching her. Their eyes for the past month has been what most in the neighbourhood have assumed was a pizza delivery boy, but who actually is a "chimpira" or low level yakuza. Atsuko comes home after tea ceremony at about 3:30PM. Most people are as predictable as Atsuko Yoshida.

The phone rings. Mrs. Yoshida answers it. She can hear sirens in the background, crying, traffic noise, and was that a scream? It sounds like there has been an accident!

"Am I speaking to Mrs. Yoshida?" asks Tonegawa very officially.


"Your son has been in a terrible accident."

"Is he okay?"

"Yes he is, it is the gentleman he hit who isn`t. He`s dead. A father of three. I don`t know what we are going to tell his wife. What a tragedy."

"Oh my, that`s terrible."

"Yes it is. Your son was driving recklessly. I`m afraid we are going to have to arrest him on the spot. I`m very sorry to have to tell you this, but Hiroyuki must go to traffic prison immediately."


"Well Mrs. Yoshida because of the magnitude of what he has done. I`m happy to have caught you at home, Hiroyuki said you would be back from tea ceremony by now."

"I`d like to speak with my son."

"I can put him on if you`d like?"

"No that`s okay, I`ll call his cell phone number."

"Okay I`ll call you back in a few minutes,"

Tonegawa says. Atsuko Yoshida in a gut wrenching panic calls her only son, but his cell phone is still turned off. Tonegawa calls back.

"Mrs. Yoshida, did you talk with your son?"

"No I couldn`t get through. His cell phone appears to be turned off or something. Is he there? Can I speak to him please?"

"Yes of course." (Aoki one of the best "actors" in the Kawaguchi Gumi comes on the phone) Wailing, he can`t even speak he is so upset. Mrs. Yoshida tries to comfort who she thinks is her son but he continues to cry. Tonegawa comes back on the phone.

"As you can hear Mrs. Yoshida, he is extremely upset. I`m sure you can understand."

"Doesn`t he at least get a trial, he is only 23."

"No he doesn`t in this case. A man is dead, a father of three. Hiroyuki has admitted that he was speeding, it really is cut and dry Mrs. Yoshida. There is one thing though. Governor Ishihara in a special motion last month, granted leniency in cases such as your son`s."

"What is that exactly?"

"Well you can get a waiver by making a payment of 2 million yen, but it has to be agreed to while your son is still at the crime scene. This will get Hiroyuki off on probation, but he will lose his licence for one year. In order to do this, and get the paperwork processed, we would have to act fast. Oh look at the time, it`s 4:05, the office stops processing paperwork at 4:15. "

Yes of course. What should I do?"

"You must go to the bank now, and transfer the money to account....."

Mrs. Yoshida did as she was told. She sent the money by express. She was very surprised when Hiroyuki came home from work at the usual time; and complained as soon as he had gotten in the door, about some jerk calling him at work and screaming very rude things into the phone.

"I shut if off after the fifth call."

Atsuko Yoshida started to cry.

Afterword: This story was based on a lecture given by the Matsuda Police of Kanagawa Prefecture. In the lecture the police detective attempted to describe how intelligent people can be duped by a crime like this. It happens all the time he stated and the criminals are very professional. By knowing how it is done, he felt that perhaps we could avoid being victimized. My wife attended the lecture then told me all about it.

*First names are rarely used in Japan. To make this story more understandable, the name of Hiroyuki was used. In an actual furikome sagi call probably "Uchi no musuko" or some phrase like that would be used. Uchi no musuko means literally "your home`s son," or "the son of your house." In plain English: "your son."

by Kevin Burns

The Tribes of Midnight

Photo of Kaisei Town by Sandra Isaka

Kaisei Town, Kanagawa

Hiroyuki Sakamoto talks with Suzukisan: "You should come out with us on Friday nightSakamotosan, we have a lot of fun! We cruise around on our 'bikes' (motorcycles), drinkbeer and meet girls. Hope to see ya!"

Hiroyuki ponders this invitation. Everyone has told him the bosozoku or Japanese bike gangs are dangerous and a dead end road to oblivion. Not the kind of thing a Japanese mother wishes for her youngsters. Suzukisan seems so nice however, and Friday nights have been pretty boring of late. Hiroyuki doesn't have many friends, and the thought of spending another Friday nightstudying for high school entrance exams doesn't enthuse him.

On Friday night, Hiroyuki approaches the local bosozoku gang hanging out in front of Daiyuzan Station. One of the gang members is hassling the frustrated O'bento ladies, and preventing her from closing the shutter to her shop. A tall American accosts him and he relents, but marks the American in his head as a potential target for assault at a later more convenient date and place; preferably when he will be outnumbered ten to one he smiles inwardly. The American knows he could be a target, he has lived in Japan long enough to know that, and his Japanesegirlfriend had the unfortunate experience of being rammed by one of the bikers one night. As she tried to dial for the police to report the accident, her cell phone was ripped from her hand and thrown into a rice field."We will kill you if you report this accident. We have your licence plate number, we can find you." This incident still angersthe California native, so it gives him satisfaction to scold this repulsive bosozoku. They wouldn't dareattack me he thinks. He hopes. He finds it a little difficult to sleep that night. Maybe another beer will help.

Hiroyuki is welcomed on Friday night. All of the members ask him about himself and are very kind and caring about him."Do you want to sit on my bike, it's the latest Honda?" one asks him. The prettiest girl in the gang comes up and tells him he is "kakoi," -cute. He hasn't had this much fun in a long time. Not only that, these peoplelisten to him. Before the night is over he is asked if he wants to join. He unhesitatingly says, "yes."He thinks people have the wrong impression about the bosozoku. They must not know about them like he does--never having spent any time with them like he has. They seem a far cry from the gang that baseballbatted a 24 year old Buddhist monk to death only months before; leaving his fiance and parents to ask why? Why my son? Why my fiance? Why didn't the police do anything to prevent this tragedy? Why don't they act? The same gang attacked a local businessman and father, beating him until hebegged, "yamete," --stop. Some of the members still gloat about this crime in front of the cigarette machine, embellishing the story with whiny imitations of the salaryman's protestations.

Could these really be the same people Hiroyuki asked himself? And if theyare really so bad, why do the police let them continue to drive around? They can't be so bad he decides.

The next Friday comes in slow anticipation and Hiroyuki is formally welcomed into the gang at the party that night. The night starts off well but after they go to the riverside things turn ugly. Hiroyuki is told that to be a member of the gang you have to be tough, so he will have to fight every member of the gang to prove hisworth. Not ever having had a fight in his life Hiroyuki is badly beaten up. He is told he can never leave the gang. "Don't even think about it!" chimes one member. "You try to quit or you tell anyone we beat you upand your mother and sister will be next. We know who they are, and where they live. Here are their photos if you doubt us." Hiroyuki is horrified, but he cannot quit. He can't get beaten like this again, and he can'tbring the same thing onto his family. So in typical Japanese style he "gamans"--perseveres.

Slowly he is initiated into committing crimes. Stealing from convenience stores, houses in the neighbourhood, and bullying students at school for money. While he continues to attend junior high school, his cell phone rings during class time, and his local leader tells him to be at the next "meeting." His frazzled junior high schoolEnglish teacher is too scared to raise a word in protest, knowing Hiroyuki's gang connections. He also knows about the teacher who was mysteriously pushed down the stairs in Yokohama a few years ago. Just asmysteriously it never made the papers. It would be too much bad press for the schools in Yokohama the rumour goes. The beating of a pregnant teacher in Matsuda, just an urban rumour, or a horrifying fact?His friend, a teacher in the next town swears it's true. He doesn't want to ponder it.It is just too scary when he has to face these members everyday in his classes. The schools in New York don't seem so different afterall he decides.

Another American, we'll call him Dave, goes to the local police station with his Japanese wife.

They complain that the bosozoku make noise every night on their street, people are beaten, and we have children he worries. The policeman is somewhat sympathetic but patiently explains this is not America.He has children too and his street is noisy as well, but if he makes a mistake while trying to arrest gang members, he could lose his job. "In Fujisawa a good policeman lost his job. He was trying to arrest the bosozoku and one of the gang members drove his motorcycle into a fence. He was injured. The policeman was fired. The citizens protested, they signeda petition in support of the hapless policeman saying they were proud of what he had done, trying to end theassault on their ears. It was to no avail, the man has a family and he is out of work. It is difficult to find a jobin this economy right Davesan?" Dave has to agree but cannot fathom this country sometimes.

Why can a bike gang member get away with driving dangerously, not stopping for the police and creating noise pollution?Why is the policeman punished? It should be that as long as the police use reasonable methods of catchingcriminals, the police will not be punished if a criminal is injured fleeing a crime. If the rules prevent the police fromacting, why aren't the rules changed giving the police more power? Surely the people want their sleep to bemore restful and their neighbourhoods safer? Why don't people get involved? His long suffering wife listensto his frustration, knowing he is right, but unable to do anything but listen.

The Japanese people are patient. But somewhere someone decides he has had enough. His wife screams,"No, don't go out there," but he shakes her off. If the police won't handle it he will. He walks out into thestreet in his pajamas, he would look comical if the situation weren't so serious. "Pipe down!" he yells tothe bike gang assaulting his and the whole neighbourhood's ears for blocks around. The bikers circle andsurround him. His crying wife watches from their bedroom window as he is attacked by a 17 year old.The attacking high school student knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he also knows that under Japaneselaw, you will not be severely punished for killing someone when you are 17--some time spent at a reform school perhapsis all he would receive, even if he is caught. He will also rise in the ranks of his bike gang.

Another father lies dead on the street in front of his home. Another family is left asking why. Another policeman,feeling guilty, sits in his koban (police box) wishing he could do more but knowing he can't. I have a family to feed hedecides, I can't risk losing this job. Besides the law doesn't punish these punks anyway he knows.A Suzuki blares down the street, waking babies and overworked salarymen. The tribes of midnight, marktheir territory, and speed off into the dawn.

by Kevin Burns

"Okamoto's fiancee arrived outside the convenience store where they had agreed to meet at just after 10:30 p.m. Five minutes later Okamoto called her on her mobile phone. "I'll be there any minute," he said. Fifteen minutes later he had yet to arrive. In the meantime, a blur of bosozoku bikes had raced by. Used to seeing them around, she gave them little thought, and headed back to her nearby apartment to wait.

A siren's wail started her running; first to the convenience store, then towards the spot where an ambulance had stopped 100 metres away. Alongside it, she saw a body face down. Its legs and torso were in the gutter, its head in the road. As she got closer, she saw blood, a deep indentation in the back of the skull and a crater above the left eye. "Priest dies in beating," the Kanagawa Shimbun, a local daily, declared in a headline the next day. "--Velisarios Kattoulas, Far Eastern Economic Review

" gangs like the one that killed Okamoto remain the most visible sign of the breakdown in law and order in Yokohama. When bosozoku first took to the streets in the mid 1960s, they were relatively tame. However, as Japan's birth rate declined and bosozoku grew smaller, they began to defend with violence turf that they had once guarded solely by force of numbers. The National Police Agency says serious crime by bosozoku has more than doubled since 1996, and now accounts for a stunning 80% of all serious crime committed by juveniles. Moreover, yakuza organized-crime syndicates increasingly target bosozoku as buyers for the amphetamines and other drugs that are now their biggest source of income. " --Velisarios Kattoulas, Far Eastern Economic Review

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Just a Typical Day in Japan?

Jonah is digging in the sand. He is making a train line he says.A couple of women new to the park and their children, playin the same sandbox. One woman's five year old girl, not three metres away, is saying in a very loud voice that I am "scary! scary!!"Why doesn't the mother stop her? Tell her to be quiet or tell her thatisn't a very nice thing to say. She could takeher aside and tell her not to say that about someone. Instead shedoes nothing.

I had been enjoying my time withJonah and forgotten that I didn't fit in. Sometimes I can ignoresilly incidents like this and often do, but her hysterics have gottento me. It is one of those days.

"Urusai!" I say. "Shut Up!" The mothers gasp. I'm more angry with the mother though. Why didn't she stop her?That's what I would have done had she been my child. Sometimes the Japanese are really inept about the feelings of others, and especially about the feelings of foreigners. Yet I know I haven't helped international relations muchwith this exchange either. I try to patch things up by asking themothers why she thinks I'm scary, but am greeted with embarrassedsilence. Soon Jonah and I leave the park to them.

I learn from this incident. God with his karmic wisdom gives meanother chance. On another day, two other neighbourhood girlsrun to their mothers screaming, "scary! scary!"and I cannot fail tonotice as they are wildly gesticulating towards me. I am on myway to work dressed in a tailored suit. And the mother does, getthis: absolutely nothing. A foreigner doesn't have feelingsyou know, or they don't understand Japanese, it's such a difficultlanguage. Since a foreigner is not in possession of feelingsor can't possibly understand what has been said, there is no apologyrequired. It can be ignored and chuckled about inembarrassment. I am hurt though. I do possess feelings and I dounderstand Japanese. I imagine going beserk andusing my briefcase to give the ten year old's head a SWACK! but I don't.

I complain to my long suffering wife about it. She gives me agem. "Why don't you follow them home next timeand talk with the mother, and tell her about our latest sale onclasses for children." Sometimes my wife lightsup my world with her brilliance. I do so. The girl who a moment agowas screaming "scary!" is now struck dumb asa 6'2" blue eyed "gaijin" is now towering in her doorway. "Can youget your mother please?" I ask aspartamesweetly.

"Hello, sorry to trouble you, but I am Kevin Burns and I justwanted to ask if you knew about our English school.It is nearby."

"Why yes, I am friends with your assistant Mitsuko Yoshida."

"Wow is that right?" We are having a sale on classes now, and itmight be good if your daughters study English.""I will think about that, thank you!""You're welcome! Thank you for your time, goodbye."

Both daughters decide to study at our schools. They never yell,"scary!" at me again. In fact they are very goodstudents and very nice girls. I feel proud that we haveinternationalized two local girls, if only in a small way.My wife is great! Sometimes she can see things so clearly, which I can't in my angry muddle.

The Japanese Media--Sensationalist or Factual?

by Ben Cook

"As for the media...well the Japanese media is like the western media. They're out there to make a buck. They report on what people will watch and read. Morbid curiosity perhaps. I just hate the fact that the media everywhere turns someone's personal tragedy into a huge story with little or no consideration for the families involved."

I think it's a little bit of both in this case. Just yesterday actually I was out swimming with my son and niece at a nearby public outdoor pool, and was thinking about these recent news stories. (About children dying in public pools in Japan-Editor)

The pool area for children is quite large and there are no lifeguards. The water isn't terribly deep, maybe 2" or 2 1/2" at the center. Of course it doesn't take that much water to drown in either.

Forget sanitation. The pool had plenty of chlorine in it sure, but that doesn't help when there is long standing algae growing in sections of the pool. It needs to be emptied, scrubbed, cleaned, and then filled again and treated regularly with chlorine. And when a little girl scrapped her knee and I took her to the first aid station, the people there had NO CLUE whatto do about a simple scrape. Then 10 minutes later after the girl calmed down, I see her back in the kids pool with a bad aid and blood still tickling down her leg. Sigh.

I think if the local government is going to run a pool, (and they should because it's so freaking hot), I think they should train their people and keep their facilities in good order. In the US, if there's any kind of public or semi-public pool, it has to meet health standards set by the government, and it's employees have to be trained in basic things like first aid and CPR. Not to mention that most all of these pools have at least somelifeguards. Not even enough there in the US either, but at least there's someone watching the swimmers.

It's not just Japan either though. So many kids drown every year all over the world. In the US, even with it's gun loving people, a child is much much more likely to drown in the backyard pool than to get accidentally shot from the gun in the house. Now that I live in a city with LOTS of canals and standing water ditches, it was one of my first priorities to start to teachmy son how to swim and float. He's four now, and I wish I had even started a little bit sooner.

As for the media...well the Japanese media is like the western media. They're out there to make a buck. They report on what people will watch and read. Morbid curiosity perhaps. I just hate the fact that the media everywhere turns someone's personal tragedy into a huge story with little or no consideration for the families involved.

Personally I don't watch the news so much in the morning as I catch the headlines at work on the computer where I can pick and choose what I read and see from more than one sourcepreferably. RSS feeds are a wonderful thing for this. What about everyone else?

Japan & Global Citizenship

Japan is the last place to go to study "Global Citizenship" . It's a country where facing the truth about anything is taboo. Hide the facts and statistics, and everyone is blissfully satisfied. Massage the longevity figures so that people will think they are living longer, even though a large percentage of the population still smoke quite heavily (some behind closed doors), and salt is consumed in high quantities.

Tell them they are special because they eat rotting or reconstituted soya beans in different forms, instead of fresh vegetables or fruit. Give them any food that still has it's natural fresh taste, and they will hunt high and low for soy sauce, or ginger with which to "flavour" it .

"Cute" means a way for the men to maintain their power over the women. Keep them like children then they can be controlled. Make them think it's good to be childish and emit high pitched giggles even when they are fifty years old. The average Japanese person has a good salary yet has one of the lowest domestic standards of living amongst any of the civilized countries, although perhaps it's not fair to call Japan completely civilized. By the way, the hot summer is not the only problem in Japan. In winter, anywhere North of Tokyo is freezing.

They have no central heating and just hover over a smelly oil heater which they have to fill every day, or huddle together with their feet in a hole in the floor in which is a "half bar" electric fire. Their working conditions are grim. They live in great fear of their senior colleagues and usually take only a few days of their official holidays because they worry about their image. Oh yes, "image" is very important in Japan, but anything goes if you can do it without getting caught in the act. Wear a disguise to go to a "love" hotel with someone else's wife or husband, that's fine. But don't hold hands with any of the opposite sex in the street ! Sadly the Japanese have been misfits for many centuries, mostly of their own making because they wanted to remain seemingly "special", but one hopes the youth will change all thatnow that they can travel more easily.

Yes the culture shock for them is to realize just how pathetic things are in their own country after they have been brainwashed into thinking Japan was best. Soseki the famous Japanese writer hadthe same experience in London in the early 1900's. He was extremely shocked and depressed to see that London even then was far in advance of Tokyo in terms of living standards, after he had alwaysbeen told to the contrary. How do I know all this ? I lived and worked in Japan. I married a Japanese woman, but thank God, she was already aware of the grotesque lifestyle being lived there, and we are now happy to live in another country.

Japanese friends visit us and are never the same again. Their "bubble" is burst and they become unwilling discontented citizens of their own world back home. No, the Japanese are not Global Citizens by any stretch of theimagination. However, if you want to study "IsolatedCommunities", then do go to Japan. After which, you will reallyappreciate your own country.


Suicide Takes 600 Japanese a Week!

TOKYO — "Six people were found dead Sunday in two cases of suspected group suicide in Fukuoka and in Sasayama, Hyogo Prefecture, by inhaling carbon monoxide from burning charcoal in vehicles, police said.

In Fukuoka, the police found a 20-year-old female part-timer from Kitaamabe, Oita Prefecture, a 21-year-old male college student from Fukuoka's Nishi Ward, and another man believed to be in his 20s in the student's minivan on a forest road. In Sasayama, three men were also found dead in a minivan with three charcoal braziers." (Kyodo News)

With an English accent he spoke. Jet black hair and big black eyes. He was a handsome young man.If a young man can look distuinguished he did. Although, I always had a penchant for English accents.

Hide was an English teacher at the ECC English school in Machida, an area of southern Tokyo. Hispoliteness was in sharp contrast to Don the loud American from Seattle. Don was boarish where Hide wassoft spoken. Perhaps that was part of the problem. How was the meek Hide to deal with some of the aggressive, obnoxious "gaijin?"

We had beer a few times after work. Hide had an attractive girlfriend who lived in Osaka. He saw her as often as he could.

I liked him for his kindness, self-effacing manner and his sensitivity. I couldn't imagine him ever hurting anyone. It was interesting to hear a British accent coming from his Japanese face.

We went hiking one time with his students. Jeff another Canadian like myself, and Hide frolicked in the mountainstream in Tanzawa. We joked around with Hide's students. One time I met Hide's girlfriend--a nice lady.

Before Christmas break, on the last day of classes, it was announced that Hide would be the new Assistant Manager.Mr. Tanaka announced it in the staff room. I turned to congratulate Hide but he looked shocked rather than happy.I didn't think too much about it at the time.

After the Christmas holidays we returned to work and I asked one staff member, "Where's Hide?" She wasembarrassed and said,k "He doesn't want to come to work." Nobody seemed to know why. The next week I asked whenHide would come to work next and was informed, "Hide is dead."

Some people are too kind and sensitive for this world. I miss Hide. I wish he could have talked to someone--anyoneabout his problems. He had so much potential. He was such a great person. I would have listened to him and tried tohelp had I known.

R.I.P. It`s my birthday let`s go to a funeral!

Sunset at Miyajima, courtesy of Fuji Film staff

Here I stand on a street corner near my house. I try to keep the rain off my suit. The rain in Japan sometimes comes from the side due to the wind. We live in a very windy city. It`s my birthday today. I am 41. But I don`t get to celebrate it. I am directing traffic for a local funeral. The people of Iizawa get quite a thrill seeing this tall, foreign visage, mystically appearing before them through the drizzle. "Get a load of that gaijin (outside person or foreigner)," they seem to be intimating to each other, as they drive on their way. The Japanese hearse actually stops right in front of me, and asks me where the funeral is: "Where is the Takahashi`s house?" the driver asks. For a moment I feel I am in a comedy-drama about a Canadian living in Japan. Where are the cameras? Although there are no cameras, I really am in a comedy-drama about a Canadian in Japan. Not only am I directing traffic and telling the funeral goers where to go, but the hearse driver is even asking me for directions to the funeral. I guess I look like I know what I`m doing! People always look more authoritative with a lighted traffic baton in their hand.

Instead of feeling bitter about having to do this on my birthday. I try to figure out the lesson in it. I know there has to be a reason why I am forced to do this on my birthday. I don`t believe in accidents anymore. I have read too many Richard Bach and Wayne Dyer books for that.

I didn`t know the woman who died. She was 94. Being the head of our kumicho (leader of our neighbourhood group) I am required to help out with the funeral. I pride myself on being able to pick and choose which Japanese customs I will partake in, and usually I can get away with it, but not today I have to help with this one. It isn`t so bad though. I can see the purpose behind it all. Maybe that is one of the lessons. I can only opt out of Japanese customs so much. I can`t control everything. I will be required to participate whether I like it or not at times. I have always participated when I thought it would be fun. Today I have no choice though. The spirit of Japan has caught up to me.

This country is arguably the busiest in the world. Former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, said the Japanese were like a nation of ants. It isn`t far off the mark. The people here work and work some more. Through the death of someone, Japanese people become closer. I never knew Mr. Machida nor Mr. Hatano before this weekend. Mr. Machida in fact, scared me a little. He`s a hunter, and hasn`t seemed too friendly over the years. I never want to get on the bad side of a man with a gun! It always seems that one of my friends has parked his car in the way of Mr. Machida. I have never gotten used to being in his sites nor the foul looks he and his wife have given me. Today though, I am surprised to realise that Machidasan is a nice guy and funny too. (I do my best to chuckle at each joke not knowing for sure whether that bulge under his funeral jacket is his wallet or Colt 45).

Mr. Hatano too is a laugh a minute. This is a funeral, but due to the deceased`s age, there is a festival atmosphere at times. The three of us are like a small group of errant school boys, trying not to get caught by the teacher.

Last night, after helping to direct traffic. We all met under a big tent, drank beer and joked around. I had a great time--at a funeral! Sometimes Japanese funerals are more like Irish wakes. It seems to be okay to laugh and smile as long as you don`t do it at an inopportune moment. It is a funeral afterall.

Everyone who knows anyone who knew the deceased goes to the ceremony, so you literally have hundreds if not a thousand people going to the funeral. The reason behind this, that I can surmise anyway, is that it helps to pay for it all. It also shows everyone how important this person was. On the surface it doesn`t seem logical to go to the funeral of someone you don`t know. Yet everyone who goes, pays some money, and that helps to offset the horrendous cost of it all.

Japanese society is often so closed, but occasions like this open everyone up. I was really impressed with my neighbours. They really tried to help me out, and took care of me. Not having helped with a funeral before, I really didn`t know what to expect. We are closer for this woman`s death.

It is an honour to get to pick up the bones of the deceased with long chopsticks. I missed the bus to the crematorium amd thankfully missed out on that custom! It is good luck to do it, and it is done to show the deceased that you care. I care, but don`t want to see her bones. That is a much more than I bargained for this weekend.

After 49 days, there is another funeral ceremony. We get together then too. There will be another ceremony held one year later, three years later, then seven years later and it goes on for a while with more ceremonies held at different gradually increasing intervals, until at some point no relative is still around, who directly knew the deceased.

More on Japanese Funerals:

All this getting together serves another purpose too. Japan really is a nation on the edge. If you want to see how the earth was formed, how Hawaii got made for example, there are many places to do that in Japan. There are quite a few active volcanoes here. It was in Japan where I learned the term, pyroplastic flow.

We get 10% of the worlds earthquakes. I happen to live in an area that is overdo. All of this getting together serves to solidify our local group, in the event of some major tragedy. We are rocked by typhoons and occasionally a good old thunderstorm. In the event of some calamity, I know that my neighbours will dig me out, and vice versa. That is why I am standing here on my birthday. And that is why we were put on this earth, to help each other.

Where has the adventure gone?

Photo of Yokohama, by Norikazu Yamaguchi

On the Coming of English to Japan

While riding on the train the other night, trying in vain to crane my eyes over to discreetly look at my neighbors interesting Manga, I realized that I had something of a bone to pick with the JR Corporation. They have too many signs in English these days.

Anybody ridden the Yamanote line lately? Instead of just announcements in Japanese, they have the voice of a well known NHK instructor of English, politely intoning, “Next station, Ebisu. Please change here for the Hibiya line”. Where’s the challenge in that?

Now about this point, you are probably thinking that I have taken leave of my senses. How could increased use of English be anything but a positive development? Any thing that makes the stations easier to navigate, takes the fear out of missing ones’ stop and makes life easier on us poor foreigners has to be useful. Maybe…. However at the same time, it is taking some of the well earned sense of accomplishment away from those of us who have been here for a while.

I’ve spent a lot of yen, doing battle with the Japanese language, trying my best to learn it and overcome it. My Japanese spouse probably would tell you it is a wasted effort…My spoken Japanese is still quite simple and very child like. I’ve given up hoping I will ever sound natural. So much for my dream of replacing Pat-kun on NHK some day.

I can understand what other folks say to me reasonably well though. About a week ago I was able to understand fully when the train engineer came on the announcing system, and told all of us that, because some bonehead had run a train signal and caused an accident, I was going to get to spend an extra 20 minutes squished up between 3 drunk salary men. (And I still can’t see their Manga—damn the luck.). In spite of that, I was feeling pretty proud of my self. Like I had accomplished something. Something that just 5 years ago I never would have imagined I could do. I thought about it all the way home.

Many of us can remeber those first days we came to Japan. Huddled on the train, English train map in hand counting the stops and hoping we counted correctly. Of being afraid to fall asleep on the train, for fear of sleeping through our stop. And when we did, being gently prodded by the station person, informing us that , “OKyakusama, Sakuragicho shuten desu. Hayaku dete kudasai” – A truly ignoble end to a big night in Roppongi.

Or running up the platform and hopping on the train knowing it was going to Shinagawa, because all the trains on this platform go to Tokyo; the sign on the platform said so. Only to get that rude awakening when the train started rolling through unfamiliar scenes and the little voice came up to make our mistake complete --by saying, “ Tsugi wa Totuska de gozaimasu---You are now on the train to Atami” Oh the humanity!

However over time, those mistakes stopped happening. We learned certain key words like mamonaku (soon) and wasuremono nai yo ni, and Shuten ( terminus). We stopped being unsure and slowly but surely became seasoned Japan veterans. As my knowledge of the language grew I was ready to face down that surly Eki-in ( station employee) and buy my ticket on the Shindaisha(sleeper train). (Or as the first time I tried it….the neru densha….the lady at Shibuya station thought that was funny).

Because I think one of the real joys of living in Japan is the ability to overcome its challenges. To realize that it’s very different here than Europe and it’s a lot tougher to fake your way through language wise. At least in Spain you can sort of read the signs. Not here. To thrive in that environment and adapt, as you realize that you are not in Kansas anymore. This not just adapting an air of doing like the natives…..its full all out war with a world very different than the one Dorothy lived in.

So as time goes by, and we each win our own little victories of a “system” that our Japanese neighbors don’t think twice about because they grow up in it, confidence and a feeling of achieving something grows. At least it did for me. Now the folks at JR are depriving a whole new generation that feeling of frustration and accomplishment. As I said, while probably good in the long run, I weep for the new breed that will never have to experience it.

Now if they would just get the salary men to buy Manga in English……..

by Marty Church