[The American Years]

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Greetings from Japan, a land with the natural resources of fish and… and …. gimme a minute. There must be something else here to maintain the worlds second biggest economy.

Some recent photos to get us started.

Kathleen's Japanese cooking is really getting better....


A couple of friends over here on a business trip saw this and took the pictures. I wasn’t there but I’ll try to explain. One of them noticed something interesting in the scene below.

Look closer.

Yes, the person in the pink wig and skirt is a man dressed as a woman.

This picture begs to have funny captions put to it. Please post a comment.

I was going to say that it’s not something you see every day in Japan, a place where most people want to fit in. Their preferred ‘homo-’ word is homogeneity. People are driven to not stand out. In America we have the phrase. ”The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” In Japan, the similar phrase goes ”The nail that sticks up gets the hammer.”

Back to the pictures. I was going to say that it’s not something you see every day here. But honestly maybe I see it everyday and don’t notice. There are not huge body differences between men and women in Japan. You put a dress and some make up on a Japanese man, and you’re way more than half way there. It’s like the whole country is made up of people who haven’t hit puberty yet.
They must view American body types as exaggerated and probably disgusting. Especially the ones they see on TV.
This discovery of a seemingly alternative lifestyle in Japan raises a question that I’m just crass enough to ask. How does someone speak with a lisp when your language has no ’TH’ sound?


Full service gas is more the norm here. Though self serve has made big gains here in the last 5 years. Especially when gas is over 130 yen per liter. Please do the conversions on your own. I prefer not to know what it is in dollars per gallon. Having someone to pump gas for you used to be a 'necessary' luxury here. Full service here includes washing the windows (even when it's raining) and two attendants to facilitate your exit. One to stop oncoming traffic, and one to wave you out. Then they both give a waist level bow that you can watch in your mirror as you drive away. I've decided it's worth the 130 yen per liter.

Here's the story on driving long distances. There are no free expressways in Japan. It’s all toll roads. And the cost is about $20 for every hour you drive. We drove to Kyoto on July 1 weekend. 2 hours and about $40 to get there. It’s cheaper to take the train if you are traveling solo. (Of course, parking costs have to be factored in.) But with 2 people or more, the car is almost always cheaper.

But a toll road in the states? Better be a good reason for it. We want our driving in the states to be free. Or to seem free. Just spread the taxes over everyone so that you don’t think you’re paying for your traveling. Maybe it makes better sense to pay for what you actually use…. Hmmm. Freedom of choice, where if you use it, you pay for it, and if you don’t use it you don’t pay for it. Is that more "American" than the method we use in America now of taxing everyone across the board no matter whether you use it or not. Great question.

The toll roads do serve to preserve regional differences between places. There are dialectic and food differences across Japan that have been preserved. Maybe the food availability has been falsely preserved in order to have a tourism appeal across regions. But the language differences are surprising given a country this small… Maybe if they traveled more.

Japanese Proverb:
After victory, tighten your helmet chord.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where archaic, useless and disturbing practices (whaling, cormorant fishing) are continued because of tradition. Cormorant fishing is where birds are tied by the neck with long ropes to a boat. The trained birds pull fish out of the water and since they can’t swallow for the ropes tied around their necks, they drop the fish in the boat. It’s preserved as a tourist attraction here. And you better believe I'm going to go check it out.
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A few photos just for fun.

People collect all sorts of things. I collect bad English on Japanese SUV's.

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We now have a functioning webcam. And thanks to Skippy it's been tried and tested. If someone out there wants to webcam-phone-talk with us, drop me an email.

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The hardhats here, which I occasionally must wear, have chinstraps. And you must wear the strap. My company has become sticklers about that in the last years. I believe the strap is not to hold the hat on you in the case of a strong wind. My second guess that it’s in case you are climbing upside down into a machine, which is fairly common. My true belief is that the chinstrap is used when a big cheese comes through the jobsite, so that your hat will stay on when you give the required full waist-level bow to the big boss.

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I have a cell phone over here. Not expecting to make many calls, I got a prepaid version. All across Japan, all incoming calls on all cellular plans are free. (Just one more way Japan is superior!) Since I have a pretty low end phone I don’t have a wide range of ringtones. No problem for me. The Japanese love to personalize their ringtones. Fancy songs, crazy beats, wacky voices. I guess it’s not so different in America.
Well, I didn’t want to call attention to myself, so I set my phone to the simplest, least obtrusive tone it had on it, which was a little bell sound. Ding…… Ding….. Ding. Perfect, I thought. Then two or three times in a row, my phone rang and people hearing it laughed. I thought it was because it was such a cheap phone and such a simple ringtone. But it kept getting laughs, so I asked someone.
Turns out that the bell that rings on my phone is a signature sound, associated with a certain type of bell only rung at… funerals.
So my bell ringing is the equivalent of the death march.
That’s what I get for trying to not stick out… I stick out more than anyone.

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So July is the month when Sumo comes to Nagoya. Sumo is a 2 week tournament held during odd numbered months. It's usually in Tokyo, except once a year in Nagoya and once in Osaka. Below is the picture that I expect to grace everyone's computer desktop. The Japanese have had more than 1000 years of Sumo to get over the fact that these are big huge men wearing almost nothing. Given another 1000 years, maybe I'd be able to get over it also.

That's pure Sumo, baby.

Here is a slideshow of my pictures from the event. Since the Japanese don't break rules, they don't have someone checking your tickets to make sure you're not trying to improve yourself to a better seat. And because they don't have anyone checking, that's exactly what I did. I got a little closer to the action for these photos.

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Japanese proverb:

A pig used to dirt turns its nose up at rice.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where sitting down onto a pre-warmed toilet seat gives one comfort, not discomfort.

The weekend of July 1, we went to Kyoto. The American equivalent of Kyoto is maybe Washington DC, where there are historical points of interest throughout the city. Kyoto used to be the capitol of Japan, but now it's mostly a tourism and university town. There are more temples and shrines than you can see in a weekend, so we'll probably go back.

We stayed in a Ryokan, or traditional Japanese traveler's inn. Most are family run and the family lives on site as well. Ours was lower scale, as they can get quite fancy. We slept on futons on the tatami floors, and took nice hot baths in the shared tub. It was great.

Some photos.

Going to so many temples and shrines, I must have caught some of the Buddhist mindset of giving no value to physical goods. In a fit of Zen, I passed the camera off to the kids to do most of the documenting of our trip. And they did just fine.

The results are below, narrated by the artists.

Veronica's first.

And now Zane's

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where the denominations of paper money are slightly different sizes, for the benefit of blind people. Smart!

In late June our sea shipment arrived, so we have FURNITURE now! Also included was my new wide angle lens, which makes our furnished home look cavernous. It's comfortable, but not as huge as it seems here.

Veronica on the last day of school.

There are products over here not available in the states. No surprises there. But I recently was made aware of the Japanese enjoyment of eye drops. Very powerful eye drops.
Zane has allergies. And they are worse over here, especially if we ride the subway. I think it’s the mold in the tunnels. We had some soothing eye drops that I brought from the states, and when we were getting low, I went shopping for some local variety. I knew about the powerful eye drops over here, so I made sure to avoid packaging which suggested power or activity. I looked for packaging suggesting comfort and soothing.
The ones I found were from Visine, trusted brand. They said ‘cool’ something-something on the package. Sounds nice and soothing. Well, I tested them on myself before giving them to Zane. Turns out the ‘cool’ described in the packaging is like the cool sensation of mouthwash. Like putting minty fresh Listerine in your eyes. Actually it was only one eye. I stopped there. My testing was complete. I knew enough to not give this to anyone, unless I can put it in a spray bottle and use it like mace.


These picutres are from our visit to Toyota City’s Kuragaike park. We went for our Father’s Day outing. It was lovely. If you know me, you know that I enjoy a lovely paddle on the water. Kayak, inner tube, canoe, I like it all. So when I saw rowboats for rent, I was happy. Kathleen was also happy. Happy to stay ashore and take pictures.

Later in our voyage, the oars were handed over to the kids to give their dad a nice Father’s Day trip around the lake. I didn’t know it at the time, but to look at our vessel, it appears that our cargo is a bit unbalanced with me in the rear of the boat. Our Father’s Day rowboat nearly went the way of Melvilles’ Pequod. Seems like our weight is unbalanced toward the aft. Yes, it might be that the boat has a fat aft aboard, indeed.

This badger or hedgehog or whatever has to be addressed. I can no longer withhold comment. The little guy is everywhere. Especially near the front doors of restaurants. But often also outside the front doors of private homes. In our neighborhood about one house in 5 has him gracing the front porch. He is (I’ve heard) a symbol of hospitality and good luck.

I really like him, mostly because of his… let’s call it immodesty. He lets it all hang out, literally. This little version of him was part of my Father’s Day gift from Kathleen. The more common version of him is about 18 inches tall and standing up.

Here’s one in Kyoto. But he’s everywhere. As you can see, he stands very stably, supported by two big feet and two big… Yes, his very personal parcel is very large, and very evident, and resting on the ground as he stands. And to the Japanese, this means hospitality and good fortune? OK. Well, in colonial American architecture the image of a pineapple was the symbol that hospitality is found within. Does that make any better sense? Neither of them make any sense, but at least the pineapple wouldn’t benefit from a nice pair of pants.

Maybe it works like this. The badger means that there are nice people inside. People so nice that even a naked badger with an embarrassing case of elephantitis is welcome.

So we’ve named him. I call him “Sacky the Badger”. If anyone wants one, please let me know. We can start a new trend in America of having anatomically exaggerated animals on your front porches.


If you believe everything you read, better not read - Japanese Proverb.