Thursday, 27 December 2007

The Japanese take on Chinatown...

Ok, I'm probably more Canadian than I am Chinese, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see it. The Chinatown I'm talking about is one of the areas in Yokohama, which is a city to the south of Tokyo, in the Kanagawa prefecture, about a 2 hour train ride from my house, and plays a relatively important role as a port. I went there this Boxing Day which, in Japan, is just a regular plain old Dec. 26th like any other.

I should say, first off, that I thought Yokohama was just another district that could be covered by walking. I have no idea why; I just thought that. And it's not. But luckily, there are a few train stations nearby to the areas I went to, so my obliviousness was saved yet again by the great train system here.

My first stop was the Minato Mirai 21 area pictured above and beside, which is essentially the Yokohama Bay area. The picture to the right is the Landmark Tower and the tallest building in Japan. It's just off the left edge of the picture above, which is looking towards the Cosmo Clock, a giant ferris wheel with a clock on it. When it was built in 1989, it was the largest ferris wheel in the world and the Cosmo Clock is part of an amusement park area.

A 15 min ride of the ferris wheel shows off a lot of what Yokohama offers but unfortunately, as is the case with a lot of elevated views of Japan, the view in-land tends to be a white haze but looking out towards the water is a rather nice view of all the things that happen around the bay area. I also went on the roller coaster but...... well, there are better ones I suppose haha.....

You'll have to forgive the reflection but there is glass there to....... y'know..... keep you from falling out......... that's pretty important.

After that, I went to the Yokohama Chinatown which is apparently one of the largest in the world. The most interesting thing this place, or any places like these, is that a lot of stereotypes get reinforced. I mean, it looks nothing like Chinatown in Vancouver which is rather pragmatic in its look (if it you can even call it a look).

As you can see in the picture here, this is how pretty much all the restaurants are decorated, with lots of red and gold and rather stereotypical "Chinese" features. I suppose a part of it is supposed to be visual attraction (coming here is supposed to be an "event") but I can't help but think that a lot of it is done just because that's what people think other people want to see Chinese buildings look like.

It's like stepping off the plane in Amsterdam and saying, "Well, where are all the windmills??". Of course they're there, but that's not the only thing there.

Aesthetics aside, it really is a bustling little area BUT it's not the same kind of business as Vancouver's Chinatown or even just street markets in Hong Kong. The produce selling, fish and meat dealing kind of Chinatown I always knew is absent save a few places on the edges of the Chinatown. Instead, it's almost all restaurants and people selling dim sum-like foods. I even had one of the better "cha siu bao"s I've had in a long time. The egg tart I had (named "custard tart") was not good, however.
And the popular restaurant offering seems to be all-you-can-eat dim sum....... for dinner. Around $20 or so at the current exchange rate, there's a huge offering of typical dim sum dishes which sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

Aside from the food (and the Starbucks...... go figure), nothing else much happens. There's a temple-like building, lots of people selling panda-themed items, and fortune readers. It's driven nearly completely by tourism, noticable by the number of big gates you walk under even before you've actually entered the Chinatown.

But all in all, it was interesting to see. Yokohama seems like a happenin' place with lots of young people out and about. The Cosmo Clock was fun just because it's always nice to get high up and see the place. And the Chinatown was interesting, even if it was mostly my amazement at how they can afford such ornate buildings. I might go back some time because there are a few more sights that I missed so...... who knows =).

"Excuse me, how do I get to Vancouver from here?"

Monday, 24 December 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"bonenkai". It's derived from three seperate words-

"bo" is part of the word for "forget" (bookyaku suru).
"nen" is "year".
"kai" is "gathering" or "meeting".

And so "bonenkai" is when everyone gets together to celebrate the end of the year, to forget all the troubles of the year, and to look ahead to the next year.

The dojo actually had two bonenkai's, one for the kids in the morning and one for the adults at night. Both followed a final training class before Shiramizu went on holidays and both were very filling. There were also unlimited drinks in the one for adults, which helps when you're trying to forget things =-P........ although from the way the food looked, I'm not likely to forget.
Also during the party is when everyone gets a short speech about how their year went and what they're looking forward to for the next year. My was probably the shortest of them all, due to my limited Japanese, but........ A for effort I suppose ahha......
Aside from that little bit of busy-ness as the year winds down, Christmas is rather low key here. All the stores and all the people go through the formalities of decorating things and giving presents, but underneath it all, the 25th is still a working day for most people.
And, horror of all horrors, they don't do Boxing Day Sales! Oh noes.......
But that's ok, I have some time off so I'll be off to some short day trips around Tokyo to sights I've yet to see. So until then, please have a very Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.
And remember................ don't do anything I wouldn't do =-P........

Monday, 17 December 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"senbontsuki". "Tsuki" you might recognize from the post before, meaning punch. "Sen" means a thousand and "bon" is a counter attachment to large numbers, amongst other things. So it works out to be "1000 punches". And a work out it is.......

That's what happened yesterday at Shiramizu's year end training session. It took place in a big community centre gym in the neighbouring Satte city. There were actually two sessions though, the first one in the morning for younger kids (ie- 7 and under) and one in the afternoon for anyone older. The younger kids weren't subjected to 1000 punches but they did do 120 squats haha....... And I got to dress up as Santa to hand out treats!!! Below is me (I'm a karate Santa; note the black belt haha) handing treats out to the kids from my............ box........ oh well heh....

The 1000 punches, though, was rewardingly interesting. Obviously it starts off as a daunting task, especially since they're done in counts of 10, with one person doing one 10 count each. With 15 in a row, it's freaky to realise you STILL have to go through half the rows available to get to 900. From 900 onward, the row in the back (for adults and regular high school students), do the last 100. And you kiai on every single punch........ and it's in naihanchi stance which is like straddling an exercise ball with your feet pointed slightly inwards.

The first, like, 300 aren't too bad. You just go at it through sheer determination and try not to focus on the fact that you're barely 1/3 of the way through. From 300 to 500, the autopilot kicks in, it starts to become physically straining work, and my legs started to hurt.

But from 500 onward, something amazing happened- my punches actually become faster! With your muscles fatigued, there's no longer any tension to slow your arm down and since all power is generated from your body/hips and not your arm, it absolutely flies. It's a really weird sensation when you're not trying any harder yet your arm is moving faster and faster. It's also one of those things that is always being taught (speed through relaxation, power through speed) but one can never do until they stumble upon the "feeling" of having done it right.

Then I hit 800 and started to feel like I was floating....... THEN I hit 950 and it was my turn to count to ten, and it came out all hoarse and strained. Yeah, that's what happens when you kiai 950 times and then try to project to the whole gym haha........

But all in all, it wasn't too bad when I finished. It took about 15 minutes to do it all and that averages almost exactly to 1 punch every second. Sweet...........

The training ended off with me finding out some clubs do 1000 kicks- 500 per leg. Hardcore haha........

Monday, 10 December 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"mochitsuki". This is actually two words put together. The first is "mochi" which is a Japanese rice cake. "Tsuki", for those of you in martial arts, is the word for punch. In essence then, mochitsuki is a yearly event where everyone gets together and pounds rice into rice cakes (although gelatinous rice balls is probably more accurate). And this is what I did this morning at the nearby Shirayuri (White Lily) Kindergarten.

It starts out rather simple really- people make rice and put it in a big wooden container. Then, using a big and rather heavy wooden hammer, the grains are mashed into one big gelatinous goop of rice. After that, you start hammering it as if you life depended on it. It's actually really hard work because the hammer is heavy and the rice sucks the hammer in so it's like beating a quicksand pit into submission. I suppose that's not the most relevant analogy, but that's how it feels haha....... when it's all beat up and goopy, small balls of gelatinous rice are rolled by hand and dipped in what looked like ground peanut crumbs and served.

The significance of this is that each grain of rice represents one person present and mashing them together represents the spirit and mind of everyone coming together. The circular wooden pot also represents spirit, and so it is the joining of everyone's spirit within a larger one. Lastly, while people eat it soon after, it is also offered religiously to gods when the New Year rolls around.

The picture above is of the kids taking their turn hammering the rice. The "adult's" hammer is about twice as big and equally heavier.

But that wasn't all the fun and exciting things. On Sunday I watched the 35th Japan Cup Karatedo which is a sort of national championship. Top competitors came from different areas of Japan, after having proven their ability regionally, to compete to be the best in Japan. It was a really high profile event, taking place at the Nippon Budokan and having only two rings with two giant TV's to cover both rings' action so there was literally no bad seat in the house.

It goes without saying that it was really great watching the best of the best come together for the tournament.

After that, on Monday, I went to the town of Nikko, which is home to Toshogu Shrine, one of the most famous temples in Japan (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Located west of Saitama, I went there with Arakawa Sensei and Mike Spain, an American visiting for the week. It was gorgeous in a way only historical time periods at one of the peaks of their wealth can be, with gold detailed temples and scenic backdrops.

The best building, though, was the Yakushi-do Hall which houses the medicine Buddha and the 12 statues enlisted to guard it (each one representing, for lack of better translation, one part of the year). The most amazing feature is the acoustics. Although at first glance the rectangular room seems to be perfectly symmetrical, there is one specific spot just to the right of centre that allows sound to echo clearly, demonstrated by a monk with two wooden blocks resembling square claves. Most interestingly, going to the left of centre by the same distance results in only a dull sound. The specific spot also happens to be directly beneath the mouth of a dragon painted on the ceiling, signifying that the spot is where the dragon can be heard clearest.

The Toshogu shrine is also known for a very steep, 200 step staircase up to a pleasantly simple grave site (for Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first of the Tokugawa shoguns) as well as being the home of the famous "Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil" monkeys, which are cravings on one of the buildings.

So, all in all, a packed few days. The next few aren't letting up either as my schedule is packed with activites as everyone celebrates the end of the year.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

What the deuce?!? - A collection of humourous anecdotes.

I was gonna go with "double u tee eff" but I figured "What the deuce" read better as a legible phrase heh......

Anyway, as I said before, now that I have the ability to, I can starting writing some funny run-ins that I've had while living in Japan. There's no particular order to these as they're written more or less by whatever floats to the top of the disorganized jumble that is my brain..........

I figured I'd start with a pretty simple one. It's no surprise that when you teach people a language, they'll try to communicate to you as best they can with what language they have. Of course, it takes time to learn what they mean so when I want to move on to another topic and one of the kids finishing up the last activity says "One more time!", I had to think for a second before I realised he meant "Just one second". And that's great, because at least it shows they're making connections between words and concepts (time and one unit of it).

The best, however, is a little kid who I teach on Thursdays. His name is Shunta and he's rather smart. Enough so that he has lots of ideas and wants to say them but doesn't yet have enough English to convey them properly. So for a long time all he did was shout "NO!!".

Oh no, I thought, he might be a handful.

"Ok, let's sit down now." "NO!!"

"So Shunta, what day is it?? Write it here on the board." "NO!!!"

"What does this card say??" "NO!!!!"


I swear it was 3 months before I realised that he wasn't trying to be a brat, but he had legitimate reasons to stop. He just couldn't say what it was.

Won't sit down? He wasn't finished putting away his books. Won't write on the board? The whiteboard marker he picked had no ink. Won't read the flashcard? He wasn't done putting his sticker on his folder.

So now everytime he says it, I can't help but laugh. I'm even tempted to start using it but somehow, I'm thinking it comes out differently from a 24 year old so, as hard as it is, I think I might refrain.............. but who knows....... we'll see next year won't we?? heh.....

Monday, 3 December 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"tenshon". Or, at least, that's what it turns out to be if you translate "tension" into katakana and back again. Although, if I'm honest, I think tension is the wrong word for it. You see, while tension has a slight negative connotation to it in English usage, the Japanese view small amounts of tension to be a good thing. It's been explained to me that being way too relaxed means you'll probably miss out or can't react quickly enough (oops heh). I suppose it's like a wire where keeping it taut nets the best performance; too slack and it's useless but too tight and it snaps.

Over the weekend, the context it was used in was the tournament over the weekend. The kids were wraught with tension but I think a better word for it would be...... umm....... anxiety?? Well, not anxiety since that implies hesitant as well. Zealous perhaps. Either way, the kids were rarin' to go.

The tournament was the Wing Cup, this year held in Shin-Kiba at the BumB (pronounced boombu, not bum as I'm sure some of you will read it as haha......) Sports Facility. It's a pretty nice place although that would be expected from a quasi-private country club type place. It had, amongst other things, the gym the tournament used, a kendo hall, a judo hall, an archery range, tennis courts, a futsal field, cafeteria, and even music rooms and living quarters upstairs.

The Wing Cup, on the other hand, is rather interesting in that it's not like most karate tournaments. Usually, tournaments hold both kata and kumite divisions but the Wing Cup does away with all of that and holds only team kumite matches. What's more, it's done in a round-robin fashion so every team is guaranteed as many fights as their division allows with every fighter getting a chance to fight, with the top teams duking it out for the trophies at the end.
This makes for some seriously tired competitors but also for some very interesting matches as teams constantly juggle their fighting order and fighting style against their opponent. And also some very teary-eyed kids as team fights mean there are times when the score is tied and it's up to the last fighter to make or break the deal.

Shiramizu fielded 4 teams- 1st-2nd year elementary, 3rd-4th year elementary, 5th-6th year elementary, and a junior high school team. But the competition was fierce though two of the teams managed to come away with hard fought awards (a 3rd place and a 4th place). More than one person I talked to commented on how a lot of the kids looked like they've only every trained kumite which is not out of the question. Competition, especially in high school and university, often focuses on kumite so there are lots of people who are fighters only, through and through.
The best part of the day was simply the sheer amount of kumite to watch.
Kumite is always difficult to train because of the unpredictability- strong basics need to be combined with a good sense of timing and adaptability and of those 3 things, two can only be learned in real matches. So to be able to spend an entire day watching what works and what doesn't is really useful, especially considering other tournaments offer considerably less kumite time.
Although, I should be honest when I say that another best part of the day was watching a video Garson sent me of the aftermath of someone crashing into the showroom of Richmond Lexus. I should note that it's not the first time someone's crashed into it nor is it even the first time I've heard of someone mixing the throttle and brake. Trust me when I say I've seen some seriously weird stuff at work haha.......
If you're curious, the YouTube link is posted in the comments section of the post just before this. Or you can click here. Even better is that I recognize both the person in the green jacket at the beginning and the voices of the people. Or should I not be admitting that...... hmm haha......

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"dekai". It means huge. Like big, only bigger. The funny thing about this word is that I only learned it about two weeks ago and, within the day I learned it, I heard it about 3 times. Now I have no idea whether that's because I never noticed it before when I didn't understand the meaning or if......... well....... it's just pure coincidence.

But since learning the word, I hear it all the time. I'm really beginning to think that even if I only have a passing knowledge of certain words, having heard it once wires my brain to pick it out from conversations anytime afterward. I would be lying if I said I don't glaze over sometimes while people are chatting around me. It's still work to try and make sense of the language and though it's coming slowly, it's still a conscious effort so my available level of concentration makes a difference.

But no matter- this past weekend was a long weekend as, on Friday, the Japanese celebrated what I was told was a Labour Day of sorts.
On Friday, I went with Matsuda sensei (my home stay) to nearby Miyashiro city to attend some cooking class run by her friends at a community centre. And by attend, I mean sit and watch as they cook, then eat all their food haha........ Even more interesting was this cosplay competition festival thing that was happening across the hall. It's the first time I ever actually saw lots of people gather to do one of these things and, to be honest, it seems a bit unbalanced.

I mean, everyone was sitting in the gym perfecting their overly waxed cartoon hair (many in unnatural shades of colour) and outrageous costumes. And then they headed off to what seemed like a judging only to come back after 5 minutes. Then they all hang around taking pictures of each other with each other. I can understand being totally into something, but how do you justify a 30:1, 60:1, or even greater time ratio between prep and activity??

This was partly the reason why I didn't autocross more. I'd head all the way out there (although cruising down the highway with friends is always fun), spend the day at the track (runway), and run a handful of times. That's also why I never bothered to set up the car. If I had more track time I would've starting adjusting things but as it was, I just wanted to see how my car drove exactly the way I had it driving it everywhere else. It also meant I didn't have to bother with fiddling with things for 10 minutes of driving.

But then again, I always enjoyed autocrossing and I can only assume that to the cosplayers, the prep time was out of love and quality of activity is more important than quantity. And some of those people were pretty crazy. There were two guys who must've showed up as Black Hawk Down or something with desert fatigues, vests with flashlights, M16 replicas, helmets, the whole lot. I just wished they got another friend to dress up as the Black Hawk. That would've be awesome!! haha........ Reminds me of this old old picture I saw of a guy dressed up in a cardboard version of the car from Initial D. I can't find it online though haha.....

But dressing up aside, some of those people have some mad sewing skillz y0. I was a bit too busy eating to take any pictures but some of the costumes were rather well made when seen from 10 feet out....... through a window.......
I didn't take this picture but some of the people there on Friday really did put in a lot of effort and some did look like this. Although, cosplay isn't for everyone........

............... then again, maybe it is =-P............

Monday, 19 November 2007

More structure, more pictures, more more more...

Yes indeed. Now that I have regular access to the online world, I can do some things I never got around to doing.

First off, I've added some really basic labels to my posts for easy referencing. I'll be expanding them as the number of topics increases but for now you can, for example, view all the Japanese words of the week posts in one go. Whether or not that interests people is beyond my control but the option is there =-).......

Secondly, some have asked for pictures of cars, so you'll find some more below. Including the one of the two bikes I liked the most from the show (I'm not only crazy about cars heh).......

Lastly, the "more more more" part refers to more frequent posting. I always seem to draw myself into these regular "segments" such as my old MSN "Did you know" facts and now my "Japanese word of the week" posts. I've been keeping a list of funny incidents so now that I have time to transcribe them all, I'll slowly be introducing yet another regular to my blog. It has no name yet but I'm sure one will make itself known heh........... til then, enjoy the pictures (I hope you can load them to a larger size, I haven't yet figured out what lets some pictures load up while not others).......

That's me getting out of a brand new Nissan GT-R at the Nissan showroom in Ginza. To be honest, the outside of the car is more impressive than the inside, which I found to be a bit to vertical and not very cohesive in terms of design. But if it's fast enough, I can over look fiddly little interior bits. Also, if you've been looking at pictures online, I should note that they don't do the car justice as it uses its size to make all its styling elements work.

Next up is the Ducati Desmosedici RR. Ducati's are a bit like the Alfa Romeo of the bike world. Distinctly Italian, they always seem to have styling elements that, like Alfa, only they themselves are able to pull off properly. You could probably get bikes just as fast from a Japanese company, but that's not the point. Although I will concede my second favourite bike from the show was the Honda CBR600RR- cost effective and fast?? Yessss.......

If cost were no object, the Ferrari F430 Scuderia is what I would've taken home without even blinking. What's not to love about one of the most brilliant cars in the world stripped out and jacked up on an even bigger dose of speed. In red though.......

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"ryooshin". It means "parents". And however candid I may be at times linking my chosen words to my topics, this one is rather straight forward. They came. To Japan.

They actually arrived later Thursday night with my uncle and step-aunt. Friday morning started out interestingly with a phone call at 7am telling me that they're at the train station (Kudanshita, in Tokyo) ready to come over. "What?!?" was my reply haha....... but all was well time-wise as it took then a while to actually take the train to my place.

After touring my house (room......) and the dojo as well as meeting all the people associated, Arakawa sensei took us to Tokyo Tower where the 4 of us went to the upper observation deck almost 250m up. Great view of the city although some bits were obscured by the constant haze that's out there. Hong Kong and San Francisco have similar problems.

Unfortunately, time ran short and after lunch, I had to leave to go to work while my parents went back to the hotel to rest. But I headed back into Tokyo after work with Richard sensei to have dinner in a street side restaurant near Ginza.

Having stayed the night at the hotel, Saturday was a big tour day with the 5 of us (parents, uncle, step-aunt, and me) all over Tokyo. We saw the Nippon Budokan (check my WadoKai National Championship post) as well as the near by emporer's palace. From there we headed to Ginza to walk the street and I got to sit in a new Nissan GT-R!! Then it was off to Hinode to ride the boat up the Sumida river towards Asakusa temple. The picture above shows a building with a funky........... well........... let's say comet shaped thing =-P. That's the Asahi Beer headquarter at the end of the Sumida boat ride. The afternoon was capped off with a short look around Akihabara.

Sunday morning we went to the Meiji-jingu shrine for some amazing scenery and a short walk through Takeshita street in Harajuku. Feel free to misread the street's name as it's a big joke for foreigners =-).

Unfortunately, Sunday was when their visit stopped because, really, this was only added onto their original vacation plans after they found out I was coming to Japan so now they're off to India for 3 weeks. But a little is better than none and I'm really grateful both to my family for visiting and to everyone here to who welcomed them so openly, albeit for a short time.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"jishin". It means earthquake and that's exactly what happened on sunday. Although I wouldn't consider earthquakes "common" in Japan, they aren't exactly once in a blue moon. The last time there was an earthquake (that I felt) was when I first arrived in Japan back in July. It was Natural Disaster Week for me since I arrived in the midst of a typhoon and the day after there was a massive earthquake. Quite the weclome =)..... the one yesterday was a smaller and happened around early evening, local time. By the time I realised that I wasn't just tired and that it really was an earthquake, it was over.

But that wasn't the highlight by a long shot. The most exciting part of the day was going to the Tokyo Motor Show with Arakawa sensei. It was just a great time to bond with he who has so graciously taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes. I probably can't even begin to decribe all the things he's gone out of the way to do for me or the doors he's opened.It's a bit difficult to describe the Tokyo Motor Show especially if the only motor show you've been to is the one in Vancouver. The Tokyo one is more like the Tokyo Motor Spectacle, with flashing lights and music, expensive displays and presentation, and massiveness that is almost difficult to comprehend. It's not cars only either, with motorcycles and trucks and automotive technology on display too. And they have things to DO as well, such as the rider's safety course for children using mini-motorcycles.

So, I've decided to present it in the form of awards (trimmed down to 6 because I realise not everyone is as manic about cars as I am haha.........

First up, the "Most Incorrect Colour" award goes to the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti- in white. As much as I like white or black coloured cars, they just never work for me on Ferraris. Red (of course) and yellow seem best because they're bright enough to show off the styling to be appreciated. White just drowns it out and black just hides it too much. The exception is, of course, a black Enzo, which is wicked.

Next, the "Most Underappreciated Car" award belongs to the Maserati Gran Turismo. I don't think many people give Maserati much thought since they had such a horrible time through the 90s, but they're back now with their MC12R race car dominating and the new Gran Turismo offering great Italian stylist flair and performance.

"Most Awesomest Detail" award goes to none other than the super-sleeper, the Audi RS6 Avant. You get a big, practical Audi wagon that has a twin-turbo V10 but it wins the award because it houses 15" ceramic composite brakes. They have to be seen in person to be believed.

"Biggest Cop-out" goes to the McLaren Mercedes SLR Roadster. Why?? Because 15 years ago, McLaren used their Formula 1 expertise and built a car that had a 627bhp V12, sat 3 people, had luggage space for a weekend trip, active aerodynamics, carbon fibre structure, 60 litre fuel tank, and is still one of the quickest accelerating and fastest cars in the world, all in a package smaller than a Boxster. This new SLR is more Mercedes than anything and McLaren was forced to develop it within the confines of Mercedes management. McLaren did their part brilliantly, but it still uses a pre-determined Mercedes engine, Mercedes gearbox, and Mercedes styling. The worst part is that the brake calipers say, in big letters, "Mercedes Benz". How sad.......

Back to the good stuff though....... "Most Important Car Of The Show" was easily the Nissan GT-R. It took nearly 20 minutes to get close enough for a clear picture and even then, it was with the camera held as high up as possible. The sheer continuous size of the crowd and the technology it packs makes is probably the most anticipated car of the year.

"Car I'd Most Like To Drive Home" would be the Ferrari F430 Scuderia. What'd you expect?? haha......... but if I had to make payments, it would be the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Again, what'd you expect?? haha.........

January is a 3 day modified car even known as the Tokyo Auto Salon. I'll be going to that too so there will be more awards.

Lastly, in other news, my parents are coming at the end of the week! Now I just have to remember how to speak Chinese.............

Thursday, 8 November 2007

What the.....

Really, this kind of thing doesn't surprise me although it does interest me. I mean, when Westerns import Japanese to use, it can also, at times, not make any sense either (ie- no one here has ever heard of "oyster motoyaki"). Regardless, I still find it really amusing because I always try to figure out what exactly they TRIED to say.

Take the above as an example. The first half of the sentence makes perfect sense- to produce the world's elites. That's all fine and dandy, but what about the method by which they produce these elites? An English shower?? When I read that, the first thing that came to mind was a lot of elementary school kids huddled in a group in a soccer field while teachers on ladders rained flashcards down on them. At least all these years of claiming to "learn by osmosis" actually makes sense in this context =).

But then again, what did they REALLY mean? A flood of English? Are the children immersed/submerged in a constant English environment? Perhaps they really meant shower and all the water tanks are murky with pulp from all the textbooks they've soaked in them........... perhaps =P........

Then there was another one at a store. It was a garbage can but on the front it said:

"Would you like to review your purpose in life?"

Wha-........ why would I want to read that when I throw things away?? It could be potentially disastrous y'know....... I'd imagine more than a few people being reduced to a quivering ball, hugging the garbage can and bawling their eyes out as they review their life only to realise they weren't very happy with where they were. But then again, maybe it's inspirational, as said people pick themselves up and gather their resolve (against the garbage can) to better themselves.

But again, what does it REALLY mean? To review my wastefulness? Am I to look at my broad over-consumption and change my evil ways? What I really want to review is what they wanted to say in Japanese to get a good feel for what they want.

Then again, I'm looking too deeply into it all since the big point of having English on the can is just to have English. No one needs to know what it means or even if it makes sense- having English is just cool. It's just like people with clothes or tattoos of foreign alphabet or characters. It may not make sense but the foreign-ness is what makes it interesting.

But if you're like me and question these things, then perhaps this is for you. I stumbled across this while reading The Economist (don't ask =P). The John Templeton Foundation asks a bunch of top flight scientists or scholars really broad questions, not unlike the one asked by the humble garbage can. Currently they're discussing the purpose of the Universe, almost as if the Universe itself bought the garbage can, questioned its own meaning, and asked these scientists to help.

There's some really interesting things in there. More than one author claims that if there was a purpose, perhaps it is to give life to sentient beings to question it. Afterall, the fact alone that carbon just happen to have all the right properties to give rise to life should be celebrated, right? But then again, as another author points out, if indeed the purpose was to give rise to life, it's odd that all the life that we know has only existed for a extremely miniscule portion of the Universe's timeline. In other words, it was pretty inefficient at acting upon it's purpose, a singular purpose at that, so perhaps life wasn't part of the plan at all.

Of course, the most interesting part is how so many authors easy tread the line between religion and science. Almost all of them leave the option of a Creator open, yet subject it to the same objectivity as they do when they review physical or chemical options.

Above all this, it's really interesting to read............................. and really serves to draw out my nerdiness haha. So if you happen to have some spare time or you truly are interested, holds some rather intriguing statements. Of course, I get quite a bit of intriguing statements regularly being exposed to Japanese-imported English =).........

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"bikkuri". It means "surprised". I should point out that it's the verb form of surprise so it's more the state of a person being surprised. And so if you ever find yourself behind a tree unbeknownst to your approaching friends, jumping out and shouting "BIKKURI!!" doesn't work. Don't ask how I know =).........

Having said that, this weekend was filled with new things, some more surprising than others.

On saturday, I went to the Kita-ku (North Tokyo area) Taikai which is one of the oldest tournaments in Tokyo and thus hold quite a reputation even if it was run in a bit of an old-schooled fashion. I was registered to compete under Richard sensei's school's kumite team but my role was more support than competitor. If, for instance, the individual kumite division and team kumite division ran parallel and one of the boys had to go fight in the other division, I would have filled in for the team. But everything ran just fine so I didn't even have to get changed. Even better was that Richard's team won gold in all 3 divisions they entered in (adult men's kata, adult men's individual kumite, and the much coveted adult men's team kumite). I even got to meet a multi-time Japan National paralympic karate champion!

On sunday, I went with Okano (who I met at the dojo) for lunch and to watch this new karate movie, Kuro-Obi ("Black belt"). We had lunch at this all you can eat yakitori (bbq) place in Ginza and I managed to find out from him that "viking style" restaurants are indeed an umbrella term for any buffet. After we stuffed ourselves way beyond our limits, we went to movie.

Although I only understood about 10% of the script, it wasn't hard to follow since it was mostly action. Sort of predictable action movie plot and although some of the acting wasn't superb, the action was fun.

After that, he took me to the Tsukiji fish market. Known for being the largest fish market in the world, it's just a massive dock/warehouse where shipments of fish come in and wholesalers sell them off to restaurants or stores. "Regular" people aren't allowed to buy there and, at 7pm on a sunday, it's closed. But we just wandered through the gates and no one really seemed to care.

It was a pretty awesome place to be in at night. With a huge amount of space, boxes and boxes of fish (one area was for fruit as well), and alternating areas of light and dark, it's the kind of place that's perfectly for climatic action sequences. The smell of the fish (and diesel from trucks) mix with the lapping waves of the river and you just want to hunch over and run zig zags between rows of parked trucks and pillars, ready to exact your devastating special barrage of smelt on unsuspecting forklift drivers (how's THAT for bikkuri haha.......).

An interesting thing about the place is that they actually auction off a lot of the wares (the auction starts at 1am so let chefs get started on prepping the fish), which is a great idea to boost income since good quality fish commands such high prices with customers. And it really is huge and the sporadic lighting makes for fun pictures. The one above is a view from the edge of the market looking down the river towards the southern part of Tokyo although, without a tripod, it's hard to take a steady low light picture. But it'd be a great place for car photography hehe........

But the absolute most surprising thing of all was a small trailer that happened before the start of the movie. It had a clip of somebody walking through a busy part of Tokyo asking young people questions. It was shocking to hear two 20-some Japanese girls wondering aloud what happened in early August some 62 years ago. Bikkuri doesn't really describe it..............

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Merry Halloween!!

Or is it Happy Christmas?? Either way, holidays are approached a bit differently in Japan. I asked the kids in my English classes if they did anything for Halloween and the reply was, consistently, that nobody does anything on Halloween.

What the...........??

It seems a bit at odds considering the bombardment of Halloween themed items at nearly every store I went to. You could almost get Halloween themed anything if you happened upon the right store. I even found some Halloween beer, although I didn't buy any. Perhaps it's made with pumpkin and it's orange. Or perhaps it comes with a free broom. Or maybe it was brewed in a cauldron with old ladies defiling your drink with omens. Oh even, perhaps, it contains essence of bat. Mmmm............. or maybe it's just a label.

But come the actual Halloween date, nothing happens. It's like a giant anti-climatic ending to the festival that is store decorations. Nobody dressed up, nobody trick or treats, and nobody hands out candy.

What does happen though is about a week before Halloween, the Christmas decorations go up inside some stores BESIDE the Halloween stalls. No really, I went to Joyful Honda last week and there it was, a Halloween area right next to the Christmas area.

You could, conceivably, combine purchases to deck you halls with boughs of skeletons if you so wished. Or give Rudolph a wart-infested witch's nose. Celebrating two holidays with one shopping trip?? That's like baking two cakes with one oven (which, Daniel so deftly pointed out, wouldn't work =P). Or like killing two stones with one bird......... or....... wait......... yeah =).........

I think I'll go back next week and see if the Halloween decorations are still up. I really wouldn't know what to think if I saw pumpkins and haunted houses all the way til mid-November but hey, anything can happen right?? haha...........

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"kayu". It's translated in the dictionary as "rice porridge" but if you read the kanji (or even into the word itself a bit more), you realise is "congee". There's actually two types, one being kayu and the other being jiko (or jika..... I forget exactly, but it's something similar haha). Kayu is a bit more like plain congee whereas the other has much more stuff put in it. I haven't actually had any yet but I will try some the next time I have a chance to.

I bring up food because in Japan, oh so many things follow a particular standard or process. The society itself is set up around formalities so things like greeting someone are just a touch more structured than it would be in Canada or America.

I bring THAT up because yesterday, I had my very first random encounter on the train. It was a rather nice man in a rather nice suit who asked me........... well.... I don't know actually haha..... it was something about Saitama and in Japanese, perhaps how nice it was. I pointed out that I'm not Japanese and thus began the explaining that I'm from Canada and the subsequent double take on how I look Japanese.

But, to my utter amazement, the follow 10 minutes of conversation were entirely comprehendable (did I mention it was all in Japanese?? haha). I wasn't just nodding and going off on tangents like I have been doing the past few months, but it was actually talk. Although, the conversation is buoyed by the fact that, as I mentioned just now, many things in Japan follow patterns.

And so, when talking to a foreigner, there are many things that people are bound to ask someone new to their country. Where are you from, why are you here, how long are you here for- those things aren't a surprise as anyone from anywhere asks those. But Japanese, I find, always like to ask if I like Japanese food. And they always act surprised when I tell them I do.

Which ties right back into the food point. I get asked how Japanese food is all the time perhaps because some Japanese food really is an acquired taste. I'm not a big fan of natto, for instance. Nor do I like umeboshi, which is a sort of uber-sour plum. But I always point out that Vancouver has lots of different styles of food available and while the Japanese food there isn't always what the Japanese eat, at least you give your tastebuds a try.

Case in point, I haven't seen beef teriyaki in any Japanese restaurant as of yet. And maki sushi rolls (with the seaweed on the outside) are really only eaten by kids or families on picnics. They're sort of "food for when you really need ease of access". But then again, some restaurants here offer what's called a "Hamburg steak" which is basically a ground beef patty the size of a small steak (it's a steak made of hamburger meat, go figure heh). They serve it on a hot plate with rice, kind of like what you'd get in a HK style cafe. The changes some food goes through as they cross the border is interesting.

Anyways, the point of today's ramble is that I'm very thankful for such patterns of conversation because, really, it means I can narrow down all the possibilities I will come across. This happens in any country of course, but I never realise what a boon it was to have. And, seeing as discussing how a foreigner likes Japanese food is such a fish and rice topic (they don't really do meat and potatoes here =P), it's all the better to keep the conversation going.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"face". Ok, you're right, it's not a Japanese word, but I do want to highlight it as a very dangerous word to teach children. See, I always try to encourage the kids to sound out the words they don't know based on the sounds of the alphabet and, with relatively simple topics like adjectives or body parts, it usually works. The only problem is that each letter usually has two sounds so when faced with a word such as....... well....... "face", rote memorisation sometimes beats out learning the theory that "ce" sounds like "s". So it inevitably ends up sounding something like this:

"F-.......... fah-.......... fah-?..... faaaa.... K! fak? FA-kuh?? fa-kee? fak! FAK!!"

The last one is usually the loudest since that's when they think they've got it. Really, above all else, it's ok because no one else realises what other word they're vocalising and, to be honest, you can buy shirts that full on spell it out in big letters from stores. People don't know what it means so it's just a nonsensical accumulation of the letters K, U, F, and C. But I still can't help myself but to not let them sound out that particular word.............. y'know, just in case.

However, I'm pretty sure I let a few of those words slip yesterday at the Sugito tournament. Held at the Sugito Takanodai Elementary school gym, it hosted dojos from Sugito itself and neighbouring cities like Satte and Miyashiro. The gym wasn't very big but still managed to pack 4 rings and 3 rows of chairs on three sides for spectators.

Starting at about 9, the nearly 400 competitors started off with kata. I didn't make it out of my kata division with a placing so I looked forward to the afternoon's kumite match. That's where it all went sour.

See, I don't really mind losing. I realise that a lot of the people here have trained just as long if not longer than I have, and a lot more seriously/frequently. Not to mention that I needed a lot of catching up to do when I arrived, which is really the overall goal of being here. But there's still some difficultly translating what I can do in training to doing the same in competition. My first opponent really wasn't that strong but perhaps I set the bar too high for myself and my lack of experience means I should be aiming for more realistic goals, but I was pretty upset with the loss. It didn't help that we were the last division so everyone was watching. I know I shouldn't be as vain as to really worry about what other people think and just to do my best, but I feel more like I let them down than myself.

But today is a new day and tomorrow is the start of another week of training. I just gotta keep my head down, really work on everything, and let the competition experience build as, really, the only place to gain it is in competition. The next one is Nov 3rd, where I fight with Richard sensei in the Kita-ku (North Tokyo) competition. He works in a high school in the northern area of Tokyo and I'm fighting for the school's "team kumite" group.

Onwards and upwards =)..........

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Your World. On Time.

Yes, FedEx had a very similar slogan a few years back, but they've since changed it. It's now "Relax, it's FedEx". I sort of liked the old one better. And being in Japan, it really gets under your skin. You've probably heard that punctuality is important in Japan and while people ARE late sometimes (they're not robots, despite what the economy and stereotypes are famous for), things always run according to schedule.

Take, for instance, one of my older students in my English class. Her lesson starts at 1:30 and she walks through the door when the clock (and my watch) shows 1:30. I've been teaching her weekly for nearly two months and she has yet to stray from that time. And it's not the west coast idea of "on-time" where its punctuality "give or take 5 minutes". Her margin for chronological error is down to the near side of 2 minutes. I don't know how close or far she lives, but it still rather intrigues me when this kindly old grandmother strolls in at 1:30.

And it's not only starting on time too. Tournaments, for example, said to end at a certain time are usually all packed up and ending at that time. The Japanese run a pretty tight ship and it's not long before you get on that ship and start aiming for that strike of the hour to show up for something.

The other part that promotes such promptness is that lots of people take the train, and the trains here, like they are known for in Germany of Switzerland, are accurate to the minute. It takes a lot of planning to have this many trains run this close together to move nearly 12 million people in Tokyo, so it's no surprise that they are accurate.

But taking the trains regularly means you're subject to this accurateness so if you leave work at your regular time, walk your normal pace to the station and get on your regular train, you're bound to get where you're going are almost exactly the same time, every time.

The punctuality begets more punctuality until your schedule is refined to the minute. And because transport is so important, it eventually sorts out the rest of your schedule for you. I certainly always have to fight the tendency to want to be "fashionably late" but here, fashion is only what you wear.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"kusai". It means "smelly" or "stinky". In recent memory, the most literally smelly thing around has been the farmer's gardens or fields. They work very hard, no doubt, but it appears that they favour smoldering piles of waste-flora as opposed to garbage removal (although that's fine, since it doesn't take up space in landfills) or, better yet, compost. So on occasion, perhaps once or twice a month, I end up biking past what looks like a mini-teepee of vegetable stalks sending smoke signals to the heavens. They do a good job of keeping it under control but it doesn't change the fact that as you bike into the smoke, you realise that while it doesn't smell putrid, it isn't exactly pleasant. It smells like necessity and I can usually smell it a few minutes out, especially since the wind always seems to blow against the direction I'm biking. That last one is something that continues to perplex me as I huff and puff my way across town much slower than I could be going because, it appears, I'm disastrously un-aerodynamic. Maybe it's the glasses =)...........

Thankfully, I need not have to bike to my recent outing this past weekend in Shinagawa, conveniently (if you call a nearly two hour train ride convenient) located in the southern end of Tokyo. I was there because a friend (really "a" friend, as in, one of two friends thus far that I talk to that I didn't meet from karate or work) invited me to her friend's daughter's dance show.
The dance school was called Soul and Motion and had probably 150+ students and nearly 20 teachers. The show took place in a wickedly high end hall with a massive stage, tons of stage lighting, a smoke machine, and a projector. How a simple dance school could afford such a place is beyond me, though having tons of students and charging almost $30 a ticket probably covers the expenses.

Regardless, it was a pretty great show. The choreography was pretty good even if, at times, there were some moves I recognized from lots of music videos. And the costumes were always interesting. The really interesting bit was that since I've arrived in Japan, I don't like I've heard as much swearing, sexually driven lyrics, and flat out gangster themes, let alone hearing 3 months worth of it in an hour and a half. Oh the bliss of not understanding the language =).

But then again, that's what is perceived as the current trend in western culture and so the Japanese assimilate it with much haste. And they ALL assimilate it. It's ok when anyone of the legal age wants to do it, and even I don't mind the music as it's great to dance to and not any different than what I'd hear in a Vancouver club, but when little 8 or 9 year old girls are gyrating to reggae music in pseduo-bikinis or 11 year olds waving home-made "Brooklyn" flags and pretending to "busta cap in yo ass", I can't help but laugh. Especially when half the audience is parents and grandparents. But it only looks weird when the children do it. It just seems to suddenly look more natural when the 18+ year olds do it. Even the 40+ year old adult class doing hip hop wasn't too bad =).

Which goes back to the not-understanding part. No one really knows what the words mean and in the lyrically twisted world of hip hop, even fewer can connect the dots to flesh out the true meaning between the lines.

And!... everyone loved it. No one found the scantily clad 10 year olds disturbing. They all comment on how cute they look or, as my friend proclaimed in her Japanese laced English, "sekushii ne!". It could, really, just be praise for the parents and their children which is ok, but I couldn't really bring myself to say such a thing. I think they genuinely like seeing people, especially their children, have a chance to break out from the world of school uniforms to really do something that captures the feeling of the world their in, in this case, hip hop. I think I genuinely think too much................

But prepubescent costumes aside, it really was a great show. The dancing was great overall, even down to the kids, and the final act by all the teachers was really great in that it wasn't just a 5 minute try out for a Snoop Dogg video. There were lots of different styles of dance and themes and, my most favourite bit of all, I noticed that the teachers had varying styles they preferred, but all made an effort to try all the other styles. It was easy to see since it never looked as natural as some others, but variety is the spice of life and I liked that the teachers embraced that.

So kusai the dance show was not, figuretively and literally. I would even go as far as to say the $30 was worth it. Well, some costuming aspects aside =). Hey, at least no Janet Jackson style wardrobe malfunctions......................

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"saikoo". It means best. Or supreme. Someone used it to describe my attitude when I told them I always try to be positive- "Saikoo desu" (It's the best). Of course, I'm not Japanese as you might have caught on, and so the first thought that entered my head was, what's so psycho about being happy?? Thankfully, I've been here long enough to probe for translations before I jump to conclusions... or jump kick whoever praised my optimism, for that would truly be psycho. Of course, saikoo and psycho are pronounced slightly differently (sa-i-ko-o vs psy-ko) but when people are speaking quickly, they do sound vaguely similar.

But no matter- this week I had some time and went shopping! Not in any place fancy mind you. Just around town and smaller areas near my work. One thing that really struck me is that some of the clothes here are really cheap! Perhaps I spent too much time in Vancouver malls and never really went out of my way to find smaller places, but I found even the smaller niche stores tended to be pretty pricey in Vancouver, marketing their niche-ness as a selling point.

Not so here. I suppose because fashion is such an integral part of Japanese culture (argue as you might how trendy Vancouverites can be, the proportion of people who care about every piece of their wardrobe is greater here I find), the demand drives the prices down. There are still the wallet-crushingly expensive areas of town with fancy brand names, but stray from that and there still some good stuff to choose from.

For instance, I bought a jacket for what amounts to about $40 CDN when, 4 or 5 months ago, I nearly bought a similar one in Vancouver for nearly $150. It looks good and the fabric feels decently nice (for $40, it's pretty darn good) so why not.

Then there's a store near my house called Avail. It sells tons of stuff, really rather trendy stuff too. Rather nice looking shoes even, for $20 although it's there where you start to see why they can afford to be cheap. For instance, when the inside of the shoe is faintly bright from the thinness of the material, that's a hint. Or the insole being made out of plastic and having a shape resembling a melted fish, that's another sign.

Really, I see some people wearing shoes that look pretty nice from 3 feet out but upon looking a little more closely (subtly, mind you, wouldn't want to be labelled as a psycho =P), it looks they just wrapped some construction paper around their foot. The clothes tend to fair better but when outward image and low cost are priorities, the quality stumbles at times.

So while Japan is sort of like shopping central, it's more quantity than quality. It still takes the keen eye to find the good stuff, it's just that with sooo much more stuff, it's easier to find =).

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"taikai". It means competition or tournament. A "senshu" is an athlete or competitor. Note that "senshuu" is a completely different word meaning "last week". So take heed in that if you hear someone drag out that last "u" sound a bit, you've missed the taikai rather than having a chance at competing =).
Ueno-san, me, and Yuu

Jokes aside, this Tobu Taikai (Tobu meaning East, as in Eastern Saitama) was my first Japanese competition and indeed, first competition in a long time. The heavy rain couldn't keep dojos all over from coming out and there were lots of very good competition.

It was a pretty great experience although that's not what I could say about the results. Regardless, I was pretty happy with my performance, especially in kumite where final score was close enough that I thought I did better than I expected. I won't go as far as to say I could have won, but I think I could have won. Although in could've-would've-should've land, anything is possible, but results are the only things that matter.

The best part was that losing is by no means discouraging. I walked away from the ring unscathed, aside from a really sore left side of my jaw where I took a good punch, and eager to train more and improve my standings next time (on the 21st, for the Sugito City competition). I don't have such grandiose images of winning everything though, as progress is my only goal. There will be lots more opportunities to test my mettle and the results will come on its own.

The dojo on a whole, however, did very well- Shiramizu students placed or won their category often. Particularly exciting were the elementary and high school boys team kumite, which Shiramizu took top honours in.

At night, there was a party to celebrate both the good work done at the competition (Shiramizu senseis and staff all contributed is some form either as refs, volunteers, managers, competitor support staff, etc.) and, more important, to celebrate Hachizuka sensei, Iwazaki sensei, Yamazaki sensei, and Yoshiwara sensei's recently attained 3rd degree black belt standing. The night was full of speeches and good times, no doubt partly due to the "all you can drink" feature at the restaurant.

All in all though, and excellent first time out I thought, and I can only hope I have better things to say about the results next time haha.......

Shiramizu's Mikiya Kikuchi (red gloves) scoring a point in the high school boys team kumite match.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

"How's the crime rate in Vancouver?"

Wow, how do you answer that one and stay fashionable??

Well, I suppose it has its ups and downs and bad parts of town, but on a whole I always felt it a pretty good place.

Then I was met with a quizzical stare.

"............................ I hear it wasn't too hot this summer."

Oh............ climate. I see.....

This rather fun conversation happened recently at one of the dojo classes. Arakawa sensei has taken on two seniors who, I was told, wanted to learn karate as a means to protect themselves and their grandchildren. Sort of a self-defense class, if you will. He merged them with the on-going Wednesday morning adult class and one of the new students happens to speak very good English. He told me he used to be a banker or bank manager of sorts and I can only presume he needed English rather often.

Of course, it's never easy learning the pace and pronunciation of any new language and it goes just as well for me. In one of my private lessons, my student want to learn how to sound out words properly and I never realised how complex English was to speak.

Sometimes though, nothing needs to be said at all and everyone knows what each other is thinking. For instance, last week, whilst packed like sardines into gigantic moving sardine cans otherwise known as trains, it ground to a halt in an emergency stop.

Emergency stops on trains are rather sudden, despite the obvious name. It's worse when you don't really realise that the train is slowing because it happens so smoothly. It's only when the train stops fully that the momentum of the sardine car flings you forward. Or, it would, were it not for everyone else around you.

But worst of all is that because you are so crammed in, you can't move your arm to grab a handle or move your leg to stabilize yourself. So you end up keeling over backwards like Neo from the Matrix and you rely on (or pray that) the uniform keeling over of everyone in the train will hold you up.

Then comes the emergency stop explanation/announcement and there is no confusion there about the general mood of the cabin. I wish I could tell you why it stopped but...... well, you know =).

Rather more weirdly, that was only the first of two emergency stops that nice. The escalator I was riding on about 20 minutes later also stopped suddenly and for no reason I could see. Note to self- always hold the railing on the escalator lest I be flung face first into the lower back of whoever is ahead of me.

As for the crime rate here................. fall is coming but it's still hot occassionally during the day. But the evenings are relaxingly cool.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"yuubinkyoku". It means post office. Really that's it. No fancy double meanings or jokes with this one. Although, interestingly, the post office also acts as a bank, so you can set up a "yuubinkyo koza" (post office account) to store all your money. There are private banks as well, but the post office banks are what most people use and they're standardized across Japan, which is helpful if you're travelling and need to get some money. I had to go twice with Arakawa sensei because, as expected, it's all set up in Japanese and I don't speak any of that.

So today, when I went back by myself, I managed to nearly grind all the yuubinkyoku work to a halt.

See, Paul, who was in my position before me, needs to wire me some money because I paid a cell phone bill for a time period when only he used it. Sounds easy enough, right?? I was kindly sent a email (to my phone) by Richard's wife stating, in Japanese, that I need the bank info so Paul can thus wire the money to me and not some offshore mafia drug laundering account.

As if not showing up at the counter holding my cell phone out at arms length was enough, the lady (who, despite having helped this foreigner nearly everytime I went to the post office, was very nice) needed to speak to the manager about how best to do what I needed. Then another worker joined in the discussion. I lured 3 of 4 bank workers into my cause and that didn't bode well for the people who needed to pay bills and the like.

Regardless, after about 5 minutes she came back and said some stuff that ended in "dekinai"- otherwise known as "cannot". So, it turns out I can't receive money from Canada through wire transfers. Sweet................

Anyway, long story short, I went to a post office whereby most people do send things internationally only to be told I can receive anything internationally. But I'm sure there are ways around it so........ who knows =).

Oh, and I attended the Wado-Kai East Japan Regional camp this past Sunday and Monday. It was a great chance to train with some very high level instructors (some of which are on the National team) in preparation for my first tournament this weekend. Fun but unbelievably tiring as the training lasts for about 2 hours each morning and then about an average of 3 hours in the afternoon.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Hallo. My name is...

"ryuu". According to one of the teachers in my Japanese class, my last name (the Chinese character for it) is pronounced "ryuu". In case you read Richard sensei's comment, it is indeed the same pronunciation as the Japanese word for dragon. Unfortunately, my name doesn't exist in the dictionary whilst "dragon" does, which can only lead me to the perhaps obvious observation that my name doesn't mean dragon at all.

What it means, I have no idea. Equally apparent is that the middle chinese character is pronounced "ritsu". In Japanese, it means to stand, although the pronunciation varies since Japanese kanji has two pronunciations, depending on whether their written singularly or paired up with other kanji. Confusing, no??

The last character no one recognized but someone deftly translated the Cantonese pronunciation of "kay" to "kii".

That makes my name "ryuu ritsu kii". Just thought you'd like to know =).

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"kouzui". It means flood, as in, too much water. This relates to me rather directly in that I managed to flood the main floor of my house over the weekend.......... haha........... ha.........

See, the place I live in isn't really a "house" per se. It's a side building attached to a restaurant that has the amenities of a house. There's a kitchen, bathroom, shower, etc. The room I'm in is more like a living room, hence it's rather large size. I have 9 tatami mats which, judging by people's reactions when I tell them, is about the equivalent of eastern Europe.

But what it doesn't really have is provisions for laundry piping. The water comes from the bath tub and drains into the shower. That's not really a problem except that the drain pipe and shower door can't be used at the same time. So Matsuda sensei (who lives upstairs and is a yoga instructor) and I have to make sure we put the the pipe to drain into the shower come laundry time.

As you might be able to guess, I forgot over the weekend and proceeded to flood the floor with a few mm of water. Luckily, the floor is a hard surface so cleaning was as simple as opening the side make-shift porch door and sweeping it all out into the 30 degree day. Then we wiped the floor down and that was that- it took about 15 minutes. Of course, I only found out about this method after I spent an hour trying to mop up the water. But now I know...............

I also distinctly recall having told Matsuda sensei that I would never ever flood the house when I first got to Japan, to which she just nodded and laughed. Now I know why haha........... she said Paul, who was here before me, has done it three times. And herself three times. So I'm allowed two more times as well. Four is too much, but 3.5 times is ok too, if I can figure out how to half-flood something...........

But, always positive, Matsuda sensei just considered it summer cleaning and proclaimed how beautiful the floor was afterwards ("kirei", if you remember the past Japanese word of the week =P). So all is well.

I had some time left over to go to Ikebukuro to visit the Toyota Amlux Salon before meeting a friend for dinner that night. The Amlux Salon is a sort of glorified-dealership-cum-museum, with 4 floors of Toyota models and some bits and pieces of racing heritage.

Staffed with impeccably uniformed women, it was pretty interesting to browse. One rather interesting display was of something called the i-Unit. It's Toyota vision of personal, multi-purpose transport. It even had a video where people in space-rabbit suits galloped around a dry ice rink..................... apparently that will be our future............. sweet!

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"oshare". It means to be "fashion conscious". As you can gather from my post a while ago, it's not so bad to be considered "oshare". Although, really, my consciousness is usually dominated by other thoughts.

Such as the fact that I forgot my lizard friend is not a lizard at all. It was brought to my attention that he's a salamander. So colour me wrong- Sorry! haha........... also, he still has yet to have a name. Suggestions such as Koopa and Harry are nice, so maybe throw a few more and I'll pick the best one. He is, by the way, still there, and still outside heh........

The other thought is how mentally strenuous is it to be in a foreign country. I never noticed it until someone pointed it out to me that it's a lot of freakin' work trying to make sense of a new language and you end up mentally exhausted at the end of each day. The amount of processing you have to do even for the simplest tasks makes it pretty rough. It's not so bad in the first month because a lot of people are looking after you and there's still the novelty of it all. But after a while, doing even the most mundane things is a pain. Like getting a haircut, which I managed to successfully do without coming out looking like a palm tree. Although that could be considered "oshare" in this country.............. hmm heh........

To go with the mental exhaustion is physical exhaustion as I prepare for competition. I still feel I'm quite far away from competitive level, but there's no better barometer than to actually try. The first one is set for Sept 30th, the next is Oct 21st, then one more on Nov 3rd. I was actually just informed I was enter in men's team kumite for the Nov 3rd one about 30 min ago, so....... yay!

But in no way is this post supposed to suggest that I'm disliking where I am. On the contrary, it makes every day a challenge and every night a reward for having faced it. That would make next year a culmination of 365 nights worth of reward. And that's good for a whole life time of reminiscing...

Thursday, 6 September 2007

"Bring The Rain!"...

Yeah, it sounded pretty wicked in Transformers when Tyrese Gibson shouts that into the phone and then the AC-130 Spectre gunship comes in and blasts the living electrons out of Scorponok. I remember my permanently immature brain shouting "OMG!! THAT'S SO COOOOOLLLL!!!!!!". It was, in my opinion, probably the best scene in the movie. Even better than when Bumblebee turned into the concept Camaro. Of interesting note is that the only Chevy versions of that car that are around don't actually run, being a show car. So they commissioned Saleen Inc. (known for their Ford tuning abilities and builders of the Saleen S281E Mustang in the movie, aka Barricade) to build them a working version. They converted a Pontiac GTO from the ground up to a fully functional 2009 concept Camaro in 30 days. That's impressive.

But when Japan brings the rain, it's nowhere near as cool. At this time of year, the rain is usually brought by means of typhoon (in Japanese, it's taifuu). Torrential downpours and winds tend to make life very difficult; trains stop running, streets flood, buildings sway, clothes get soaked, and umbrellas tend not to be effective against rain that falls sideways.

But luckily, those treacherous winds also mean the typhoon moves rather quickly and this one has been moving prefectures by the day. So by now, it off harassing other poor locals in Tochigi or something by now, just north of Saitama, where I am.

So, I made it through unscathed. The only casualty was my cheapest pair of dress pants, but that's nothing a bit of dry cleaning won't fix. Even better than that is that mid-September is coming up, which means fall is arriving and, soon after that, my first Japanese karate competition! "Bring The Rain" indeed......

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"futsukayoi". Translated literally is means "two days drunk". For those of you really on the ball, you probably have already figured out that it means a hangover. Of course, a hangover and being drunk aren't exactly the same so if you do actually find yourself still drunk the second day, might I suggest that rather than traipsing around your house (or whatever area you wake up in) declaring your newfound Japanese knowledge, you admit yourself to a hospital instead. Preventing alcohol posioning is more important than being bilingual I would think.........

What is also important, I've found, is to make sure the windows or bug screens are shut properly at night. But it's not a preventative measure against the bugs though, since their onslaught has since subsided with the rather sudden drop in temperature (25 degrees is cool if you compare it to 39). What it is useful for is keeping me from having to kill my new friend.

This is the lizard that lives on my door. Strange as it sounds, amphibians really aren't a surprise considering the climate, the abundant insect food, and the small river that flows through the town (and behind the house).

The unspoken (well, it would have to be, wouldn't it?? haha) relationship that I've imposed on him (her.... I don't know heh) is that as long as he stays on the outside part of the glass, he can be my friend. As the idea of his webbed feet crawling on my face as I sleep isn't very appealing, I afraid I will have to be mean to him should he ever come inside. I suppose I could catch him and put him back outside, but again, the communication barrier means he would try to run away and I would have to chase him. I really have better things to do with my time.

But, for now, he's upholding his end of the bargain so life goes on- figuratively and literally, in his case. Although the predicament I have now is what to call him. So feel free to suggest some names for Mr. Non-English-Speaking-Lizard-On-My-Door. And please don't say N.E.S.L.O.M.D. as that's just lazy haha........... although, it is interesting.

Anyways, suggest away and I'll pick a name later this week. Thanks! =)

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

It's LOUD!!

At first, my post was going to talk about a very loud bug I failed to mention in my previous bug-bashing post. But, at the specific moment in time, the loudness has been eclipsed by a snoring man, asleep in his private internet cafe booth. I suppose someone should wake him up but really, the net cafe's being paid his the time he spends sleeping. And being in a booth, he's paying more. So it's more good business practice that I make sure this net cafe has the profits to stay open since I need it.

Anyway, back to my planned idea. One bug I forgot to mention was the cicada, famously (perhaps only to me) described by a certain Jeremy Clarkson as one of the world's most useless animals. According to Wikipedia, everyone's favourite non-source of information, it's also known as a jar fly and has what is basically a drum on its belly. It's actually more of a washboard stomach, I suppose, and as they flex this membrane, it makes an awful racket. Awful enough that they drive away birds. Yet they're around 2 inches in length.

So, the bird repelling cicada was supposed to be one of the loudest things I've heard in Japan but that's since been replaced by Mr. Snore. Of course, all of that pales in comparison to these political broadcast cars that come around during voting times.

No really, imagine that but about 7 or 8 of them. As you can probably guess by the speakers atop the (seemingly overloaded) car, people drive around in them asking you to vote for whoever they're working for- Ms. Ishii, in this case. The speech is usually rife with "Thank you"s and "We appreciate"s but overall, they trundle around town waving at you with white gloved hands and asking you to vote.

I was told Japan is famous for these but I had never heard of them until I came here. And they're LOUD. Piercing through the tranquility that is the quite suburban town of Sugito, these are about the only things that drown out the sound of the cicada. It's supposed to be an expression of free speech expressed to the max which is interesting because in pretty much every other aspect of Japanese life, keeping quiet and keeping to yourself is paramount to anything else. Talking on your phone on the train, for instance, is a huge cultural faux pas.

Being Japan, of course, there are rather extreme versions of these glorified speeches-on-wheels and that would be the blacked-out ultra-nationalist micro-van that was zooming around Tokyo while Richard took me on tour. He explained that they're basically people fed up with foreigners and that they were driving around telling everyone to go home, with much derogatory-nessness to their words.

They've even gone so far as to screech to a stop, jump out, and beat up the unfortunate foreigner closest to the van- sort of like those old Hong Kong gangster movies. Again, speech is free so why not speak freely?? Beating people up isn't allowed, but booting around Tokyo in a perilously unstable-looking black van is, so the abuse that right.

It's instances like these that really confound the new guy in Japan. I mean, there are so many unspoken rules and etiquette codes yet total violation of them is seemingly possible so long as you can justify with some law somewhere that you are allowed to. But the easy solution to it all is........ when in Rome..... although I don't intend on paying to sleep at the net cafe. That isn't really something practiced by the "Romans" here......... Speaking of which, he's just stopp- oh no, wait, he hasn't........... oh well haha.......

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"kirei". It means pretty or beautiul. Feel free to toss the word around to your lover or friend or friend-with-benefits or whathaveyou. Do not, however, feel as free to toss around the word "kirai" when talking about your life partner's aesthetics. That word happens to mean hate and it would also happen to have you life partner-less. A malfunction of the brain-mouth connection wouldn't be very pretty. Once again, why two polar opposite words must sound so similar is beyond me. At some point I will say "Wow, I really think that pollution is gorgeous!!". Graceful, no??
But how ungraceful I may be was in rather stark contrast to some of the grace I witnessed at the Wado-Kai National Competition over the weekend. It was two days filled with kata, kumite, wins, losses, and all around learning through observation.

"The 43rd Wado-Kai National Karate Competition"

Saturday's events took place at the rather large Urayasu Gym, conveniently (and distractingly) located across the street from Tokyo Disneyland. I watched kumite all day mostly because my lack of Japanese understanding meant I didn't know there was a seperate gym where the kata competition was located. Of course, the file of people wandering up the staircase outside should have tipped me off but............ well........ I won't make any excuses haha........

On sunday, the finals were at the impressive Nippon Budokan (that the Budokan in the picture above) in the heart of Tokyo. An extremely thoughtfully designed place surrounded by a nice park, it was a great place for the best of the Wado-Kai to show their wares.

It's pretty impossibly to describe all that I saw but it was eye opening in that there is much for me to learn both about competing and about being at a level to compete comfortable. But one thing that's for sure is that without competing, you really have no idea where you stand. You can volley a ball or deke a puck all day long but without playing a game, you don't know how useful or effective it will be. Competition improves the breed, and so shall the improvement begin.

Above would be Arakawa Sensei dismantling his opponent in his Team Kumite match.

And this is Furuhashi Sensei enroute to yet another of his many Wado National Kata gold medal wins.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

They say drowning is the most peaceful of all death...

It's supposed to feel like you're falling asleep as the water fills your lungs and you float (well, sink) off quietly to that light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, the typical question that follows is, how does anyone who has REALLY drowned tell anyone else how great it really is?? It's not like you can undrown yourself for death is a rather permanent occasion in one's life. Nor are people dunking their heads in toilets in an attempt to cure their insomnia. Or calling in sick- "I'm sorry, I really can't come to work today. I drowned last night. But I think I should be ok for next week."

You could argue, I suppose, that almost drowning and then being resuscitated gives you a fair idea of what it's like to drown completely and that may be so. And if that is the case, then living in Japan gives you a fair idea of what it's like to be cannabalized.

The insects here, you see, are extreme in many ways, all of them bad. First off, there are lots of them. Humidity and heat seem to favour exoskeletal beings and Japan is proof of that- you just can't get away from the fact that they are everywhere.

And they're huge, too. I saw a bee about 4 or 5 feet away from me in Chiba and it was the first time I ever managed to flat out see every strand of hair on a bee. Or pretty much be able to count its wings beating. And then there are the tiny gnats or spiders you find conveniently hiding exactly where you need to be. And the mosquitos. Viscious little buggers that'll eat you alive with multiple bites the span of ten seconds.

The bites, of course, swell to look like giant tumours on your arm. Or my arm anyway as it seems native Japanese people don't have any problems with them. One of the bites I had on my calf got swollen enough that I could barely walk for a day. How sad is that?? To be defeated by a bug.

Good thing though that the swelling happened on the weekend so it didn't really interfere with training, which has picked up this past week because of the huge tournament that's coming this weekend. I'll be going- not competing this time around, but I will bring back lots of pictures and attached commentary. And, being indoors, it'll be a good escape from the bugs.

OH! And one more thing. After going to the Sekiyado-Jo with Hachi last week, I found this rather amusing facility in a nearby mall.

Sounds like quite the party- some snippin' and some twiddlin'. The favourite "pastime" of many people I'm assuming. Although I don't even know what a pas-TEE-mey is (note the digital sarcasm =P)...........

Two points for anyone who guesses what this store offers........

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"poi". You use it by attaching it to the end of any adjective to create a word that means "like (adjective)". For example, if you're walking around in dress, you're rather "woman-poi". If you're fanning yourself with a flourescent pink hand fan, it's a bit "gay-poi". A girl dressed like Avril Lavigne is a bit "punk-poi". And in around Tokyo, you often see the first two "pois" a bit often. Men with purple plaid pants and green shirts that say "Lovin the best of the environment is the sweetest uniform for life!!". Or styling themselves in the faint reflection of the train window. Of course, they're not ALL like that. I would say under 10% of men are like that. So just low enough that you know they're the rarity but just enough that you can't get away from it.
But, like everything else in Japan, there's a time and/or a place for it. Example- I went back to Akihabara to look for some items a friend wanted me to get. You will never ever see any of the above mentioned men loitering around the multitude of anime/comic shops, electronics shops, and model toy shops. Instead, as you might expect, you see lots of guys with t-shirts tucked into their jeans, very large glasses perched atop oily noses, and a rather "always looking at the floor" lack of confidence. And BO- a few of them tend to smell like they only left their room to buy another comic to peruse.

I say this because I've been here a little over and month now and one thing to realize about Japan is that it is incredibly image conscious. Like, super duper you-just-wouldn't-believe-how-dressing-apprioriately-will-solve-all-your-problems image conscious. Those anime lovers may not be dressing like that on purpose, but believe me, talking the talk is sometimes more important than walking the walk.

If you're going painting, you will get all decked out in painter's coveralls and a bandana and buy some fancy paint brushes even if you only intend to show up and sit around. If you're going to a soccer match you will not only have the right clothes to play in, but the right kind of sports wear to travel to and from the field. Everyone has to be able to see what you're doing without you ever having to say a single thing.

The worst, however, is when you see a Japanese girl on a date with some foreigner (and white guys are usually the worst). As Richard so knowingly pointed out, the girl is on the date because she's bored of "regular" Japanese guys and it's a great chance to practice her English (that, apparently, is a huge deal). The guy is on the date because he's a guy. But the girl, being Japanese, will get all dressed up according to whatever lifestyle she has in an effort to look her best. The white guy will be in shorts and a t-shirt, sandals, be unshaved, and usually have some kind of dirty ponytail going on. Think average American scrub and you get the picture.

The Japanese call it "dasai", (yes, you get two words this week =P ) which is when you're not dressed appriopriately, either for the occassion or on a whole. White foreigners tend to be very dasai.

And thus, in a very round-about way, explains both why the Japanese have such eccentric styles and why dressing the part is so crucial. You have to look the part to play the part, and if you lead an eccentric life then eccentric style broadcasts to the world that you indeed do live that life.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Embassy party!!

Well, the embassy party was at the end of the day. The rest of the day was left for Richard and I to tour Tokyo.

We started out going to see Seiritsu High School, where he works as the International Department Manager and school karate team coach.

From there, we headed to Akihabara- better known as the electronics capital of Tokyo. Tons and tons of stores for all things electronic and otherwise hobby-esque. Replica bb-gun shops to model airplanes to Gundam figurines to comics to video games- it's all there.

After that, we went to the Sumo museum and the Edo-Tokyo museum which chronicles the change from Edo Japan to the more modern Tokyo Japan. That's the Edo-Tokyo Museum in the picture.
From there, we headed to Harajuku to find oddly dressed people although, being a public holiday, they weren't out in full force. But some of those people wear some pretty darn wacky clothes. They don't even usually dress up as anything in particular, they just like giant polka dot cat ears and hooker boots with tutus and stuff. Weird.
Then, two rather large shopping districts are reachable- Shibuya and Shinjuku. As is the rest of Tokyo, each district caters to a specific taste and lifestyle so there's a district to suit your needs and wants. Shibuya is also home to the world's busiest intersection crossing, with what basically boils down to as ensuing madness once the cars stop for the light. It's pretty interesting to be a part of but ever more interesting to watch from the second story giant Starbucks right on the corner.
After that, we headed to the embassy to watch some fireworks (which lasted for an hour!) and met some Canadian officials and embassy workers. The ambassador was there and I saw a bit of his house near the embassy. It looks a bit like the white house. Unfortunately, my camera died so you'll have to wait til I get the pictures from Richard before I can put up more.
But all in all, a whirlwind day- although most of those places in Tokyo deserve a revisited. You can spend more than one day in one district to really see it all and seing as I have many many days left, I intend on doing that.