A place for me to post things that I think about.
A place to post the changes that have occurred on this little island since I first arrived almost two decades ago.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Somebody's Gotta Die Part 2

OK. So I divided my train of thought into two posts. Provided I held your interest through the first post you are back for more. Many scandalous practices in Japan promote change but they only come about after somebody has died. The earthquake in 1995 and then in 2011 was my first example.

Next, bullying at schools. Bullying at schools is something that happens practically everywhere. Most people have stories of feeling awkward during their teen years. Japan however has almost a historical and cultural love/hate connection to bullying. Japan's culture practically promotes conformity with the majority. If you are different, if you speak out, if you break the rules then you are wrong. Even corporal punishment was until recently an acceptable way of educating and reforming behavior that was deemed undesirable. Now corporal punishment is illegal but there is no legislation to punish those that break the law. If you rob a bank you go to jail. If you physically abuse a student at school....your boss might give you a stern talking to. While measures to stem the bullying of students by their peers has been in place for many years it is only recently that bullying by teachers or corporal punishment by teachers has come to light.

In late 2012 a high school student in Osaka complained that his school basketball coach had slapped his face on several occasions as punishment for poor performance as the team captain. When his complaint went unanswered and when the slapping continued he committed suicide. It is only after this terrible incident that the country realizes that there might be something wrong with corporal punishment. Not the whole country came to this realization though. Former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara said "Corporal punishment is one process of imprinting" and is necessary for raising a child. If somebody was ever in need of a slap it certainly is this guy.

For more on Corporal Punishment in Japan and Mr. Ishihara's opinion: Japan Times "Two Sides to Corporal Punishment"

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Somebody's Gotta Die Part 1

Something that I've been thinking about from time to time is how scandals hit this country in waves. And when something tragic occurs the government and policy makers react the same. They reexamine, evaluate and try to "fix" what went wrong. The problem that I see is that with the majority of these changes only happen when someone has died.

I think the first incident I experienced was the Hanshin earthquake at the beginning of 1995. This quake was the first major quake in recent history in Japan. At least the first quake in which there was a large loss of life and major damages. At the time I was living in south Osaka in a rundown two story building. It was the first earthquake that I had ever felt and despite not being very close to the epicenter it was still terrifying and it still caused damage to the building I called home. The surprising and scandalous thing about this disaster was the response of the the government and how they mishandled the rescue efforts. First off, the then Prime Minister  Tomiichi Murayama wasn't even informed of the quake until hours after the fact. Then, later when rescue efforts were starting to get underway, the Japanese officials didn't know how to coordinate local or foreign relief groups. Many international rescue workers were left waiting at the airport for days.

In the aftermath of the 1995 quake the flaws in the system were recognized and many improvements were implemented. Namely the early warning broadcast system. Now any earthquake is announced on television stations across the country. Relief and volunteer coordination has improved greatly since 1995 but there is still a "fear" of international help. After the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 the U.S. military had to wait several days before the Japanese government would accept help. Many relief centers wouldn't accept donations that weren't from listed organizations. In frustration, many volunteer groups skipped the bureaucracy and started handing our food and supplies directly to the people.

The scandal taken away from the 2011 earthquake is the abuse of donated funds. The millions of dollars donated to the relief and reconstruction has been used in ways that has nothing to do with the people that need it. (ie a contact lens factory funded by donations).

Earthquakes aren't the only example of changes being made after the fact. I am sure I could ramble on about other earthquake centered scandals for pages and pages but I'd like to show other examples of corruption in hopes of shaking things up. Or at least rattling things up enough that people might actually question the methods of their leaders.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas in Japan

The holidays can be a pretty depressing time if you are an ex-pat. All of the Christmas traditions that are missed. All of the family and friends that are missed. It can make for a pretty lonely time. For me, my first Christmas in Japan was very different from what I was used to. The dormitory style apartment that I was living in didn't have facilities to cook a Christmas dinner. It barely had the facilities to make instant ramen. What it did have was around twenty other people that were in the same situation.

While December 25th is technically not a holiday in Japan the spirit of Christmas has become more and more visible. Even many years ago when I arrived stores decorated with lights and trees to attract seasonal shoppers. Many companies have end of the year parties near Christmas time and couples see December 25th as the second most romantic day of the year.

A friend back home once asked me about how Japanese people celebrate Christmas. I thought for a minute and then I answered that Christmas in Japan is celebrated in its purest form. She looked confused so I had to explain that Japan celebrated all of the commercialism and none of the religion and they didn't try to. Some people might find this kind of offensive but I don't. Many Christmas celebrating people don't go to church. And if they do they only go on Christmas. Then they spend the day with family, opening presents and eating too much.

In Japan the holiday season is almost the reverse of most western countries. Christmas is for shopping, parties, and dating. New Years is for family and for going to a temple or a shrine.

So for my first Christmas in Japan sitting with family and exchanging presents was not possible. I didn't know where to find a church service to go to. Another once a year tradition ruled out. The other people I lived with were in the same boat. At the time, the only place we could find that had anything that resembled a traditional Christmas meal was the Hard Rock Cafe. The chicken was rubbery, there was no gravy or stuffing but there was alcohol and there was the camaraderie with people who understood what I was feeling. By the end of the night we had sung songs, danced in the street, made the neighbors yell at us and we certainly drank too much. I guess you could say it was a Christmas in its purest form.   

Friday, November 16, 2012

All-You-Can-Eat Whoppers

30 minutes to get your fill. 30 minutes is not enough time for greatness. 

Burger King Japan is at it again. Since their big return to Japan five years ago they have come up with some amazing deals to set them apart from other fast food restaurants. One of the past deals was 15 extra strips of bacon for 100 yen (83 cents). This lead to one Japanese fanatic ordering a whopper with 1050 extra strips. (Extra bacon Whopper)

This time around BK Japan is offering “all you can eat” deals when you order a large burger combo. They have put in a lot of rules to this deal to prevent people from killing themselves with a beefy overdose but if you’re hungry this definitely a good way to stuff yourself.

Starting November 17th and running until November 30th when you order 1 of 5 large burger combos you have the option of starting the “BiKing” (see side note) campaign. All you have to do is return your wrapper and receipt to the register and you can get another burger (fries, rings, drink also). You now have 30 minutes to eat as much as you want. 

The type of burger you can order under this special plan is spread out over the two week span. From the 17th to the 21st it is the “Black Whopper” (made with bamboo charcoal and squid ink). From the 22nd to the 30th it’s the regular Whopper, Double Whopper, and the Fresh Avocado Whopper.
I’m a big fan of Burger King. I’ve gone to some great lengths to get a Whopper. Up until 18 months ago the only way for me to get my fill was a long trip to Tokyo or to fly to another BK friendly country. But because of this long yearning for Whoppers I have come to revere them more. Rather than spend 30 minutes gorging myself on 3 or 4 Whoppers I think I’d prefer to savor just one….or two…..with 15 extra pieces of bacon.

Side note: “Baikin” in Japanese means buffet. It is a bastardization of English. Buffet = Smorgasbord= Viking= Baikin(phonetic)= BiKing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pepsi and Darth Vadar Energy Cola

Darth! Give me power!.... The power to get through the monotonous, boring day.

I just finished my hour and a half commute from the burbs to work. I followed my daily routine and popped into a convenient store to snag a drink and something for breakfast (I leave the house at 6:30 so no time for food).

Usually I get a Red Bull or the fairly new to Japan "Monster". Monster energy drinks are bigger and therefore keep me motivated longer. The news recently reported that some kid died from drinking Monster so even though I wasn't planning on chugging 3 cans it was in the back of my head to find a different source of caffeine.

Then I saw it! Pepsi Energy Cola with Darth's silhouette on the can. I'm a big Star Wars fan and I think I'm even a bigger fan of new gimmicks. So this was like a dream.

As I've mentioned before Pepsi occasionally introduces a new flavor for a limited time (vanilla, shisou, watermelon etc.) but this is the first time I saw a Pepsi with the catch phrase "Give yourself to the Dark Side".

The contents of the 250ml can weren't as exciting as the can itself. It tasted like cola with a flowery after taste. It was different from a regular Coke or Pepsi but cola all the same. I guess it's not the cola that's inside the can but the magic that's inside the cola that counts. Some of the special stuff includes dashes of royal jelly, hints of argenine, asian ginseng, a pinch of guarana extract and of course the staple of every energy drink...caffeine.

All of these things are supposed to make your work day not suck. And they did work for a little while. Then the caffeine high wore off (or maybe it was the high from finding a cool can), but I lost power. I could feel the grey cloud forming over my head. I was giving myself to the Dark Side.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Arrival Part Four

It took me a bit of time to get down the stairs of Daikokucho station. I was exhausted after a long flight, being abandoned at the airport, and then a taxi ride to the other end of Osaka city. As I got further underground a giddy smile formed on my face. The sauna like temperature was cooling off. They have air conditioning in the subways! I headed to the platform for the train to Suminoekoen and parked myself in front of an air conditioning vent. I had 2 minutes before the train was set to arrive. I was just beginning to dry off when the train pulled in. I thought that there would be more people. I had heard that trains in Japan were crowded but the one I just got on was all but empty. At the end of the car was a man and his son. I made my way towards them as the doors were closing. Using a series of gestures and a few words we shared I learned that Suminoekoen wasn't two stops away like the Australian had told me. I would have to get off at the fifth stop. At about the third stop the man and his boy got off and I was alone. If things had been surreal before they definitely were now. I was alone, on a train, heading into the unknown. I would have liked to sit a little longer but the train pulled in at Suminoekoen. I gathered my stuff and got off the train.

From a payphone in the station I called the Australian again. He answered quite quickly and told me to take the stairs to street level at exit number 4. He said that he would meet me and bring me to the apartment. I hung up the phone and headed to exit 4. At the top of the stairs I was greeted by darkness and the unrelenting, sauna like heat. The area seemed kind of industrial and there wasn't any people walking around but I didn't really notice that. The only thing I could think about was getting to a bed, any bed.

I waited for the Australian. And I waited. And I waited some more. After about 45 minutes I went back down into the subway station and called the apartment again. The Australian answered the phone and sounded kind of pissed off. He asked me where I was and I said I had been waiting at exit 4 for the past 45 minutes. He said he went to exit four and no gaijin was there. I said that I was at exit four and not only was I the only gaijin but I was the only person there at all. I was feeling quite frustrated because how could he miss me when Suminokoen station was practically deserted.

"Suminoekoen? Why the hell are you at Suminoekoen? I told you to take the train towards Suminoekoen and get off the train after two stops." He was telling me this and I could swear that his accent was getting harder and hard to understand with each word he spoke. I had to swallow the stress, fatigue and frustration I was feeling because I still needed this guy to get me to the apartment. I got the name of the station out of him and said I'd call again from exit four.

Back on the train. At least I had the air conditioning again. I didn't bother sitting down this time. I thought that if I sat I might not get up again. It didn't take long for the train to get to Kishinosato (surprisingly my destination had a name. I don't remember hearing it from the Austrailian though). I went up the stairs and was looking for a phone when a short, stocky, blond haired gaijin walked up and said "Are you Oliver?"....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Arrival Part Three

The lights...All the pretty lights. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat driving south in the back of a taxi cab at 10:30 at night through a city that is sparkling with neon. Then  I remember a story from a friend back home about a taxi ride from Narita airport to downtown Tokyo...He said the fair was $500. My eyes flash from the neon lights outside to the red lights of the taxi meter. 4,000 yen so far. "OK" I think. I have enough cash to pay that but how much will it cost to get me to Daikokucho? The conversation with the taxi driver went something like this:

Me: "Daikokucho"
Driver: "Daikokucho!"
Me:"How much money?"
Me:"Moooney?"*shrug**point at meter*

At this point the driver got it. He gave me some reply that I couldn't understand. I gave him my best, over-exaggerated shrug and he tried again. "seven hundred eight hundred." I rechecked with "seven thousand?" and he confirmed it with "seven zero, zero, zero."

Alright. I could now relax. The trip would be about $100 but I could handle that. I sat back and enjoyed the neon light show as the city zipped by.

After another 20 minutes or so the driver pulled over and said "Daikokucho". I paid him with a 10,000 yen bill and he gave me the exact change. I remembered that I didn't have to tip him but felt a little guilty.

Before attempting to take the subway I thought I'd call the dormitory and get further instructions from my Aussie guide.

I found a phone and called the number again. Thankfully the Aussie answered. I told him I was at Daikokucho. He told me to get on the blue train and head towards "Suminoekoen", two stops.

I hung up the phone, took a T-shirt out of my bag (to mop up the sweat from my face) and headed down the stairs to the trains.