Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Guardians of Quietness and Random Denialy Things

The girls are away welcoming Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed back from the hospital, which means I’ve got until tomorrow to trash and clean the apartment.

it is hard to explain but there is a difference between having time to yourself during the day knowing someone will eventually come home and knowing that you’re completely on your own. Since I’m already feeling the grind from being back to work after summer, I decided to pretty much waste as much time as humanly possible today.

This time wasting involved going to see Guardians of The Galaxy which, given that there were only seven of us in the theater on a Saturday is unlikely to be extended a few extra days. It also didn’t bode well that I was the only one laughing. I enjoyed the movie a lot even when I was going “Golden net? Really’? Haven’t these space people heard of cruise missiles? You’ve got a green woman, a former Doctor Who companion, a humanoid plant and a talking raccoon but you don’t have Tomahawks or even a couple handy MOABs to drop? What do you people think this is? A movie?

I also had a chance to play with the new iPhones. I like the iPhone 6 as it’s about the same size as my current phone. The iPhone 6 Plus would work a lot better if Apple abandoned the big round button. I have large hands and had to do hand yoga to turn off an app. It’s also way to big to be used as a phone. You might as well get one of those old Gordon Gekko models. It at least would look retro, instead of “I’m sticking a plate on my face”.

Basically, I spent the day not working on a big writing project (novel number three) which has been roughly outlined and world built over the past couple weeks and only needs for me to put butt in chair and start typing. Even Kimberly is getting impatient waiting for me to start.

First, though, I’m serving as judge at another Junior Karate Tournament tomorrow. That will give me a heck of an excuse not to work on the book. Then the girls are coming back.

The Year of Living Bewilderdly

It’s no exaggeration to say that I’d rather relive my high school years than be age 20 again.

The host of a podcast I like to listen to often asks his guests: “If you could go back in time and visit your 20 year old self, what would you tell yourself?” (He clearly doesn’t watch enough Doctor Who to know why that is a bad freaking idea.) In my case, I wouldn’t tell 20 year old me anything. I’d just watch him and make sure I’m not still doing any of the things he was doing.

During age 20 I went to England and, well, let’s just say, fell into obsession with the wrong kind of woman (She Who Must Not Be Named). That would have been bad enough except that she didn’t say “piss off” but rather seemed to enjoy the attention (in the same way a fisherman enjoys the attention the fish pays to the hook). The results were worthy of a novel, but first there was alcohol involved.

Age 20 was when my forehead “visited” a rock and the year when I did my heaviest drinking. (Please note, I was not yet technically of legal drinking age although, under a quirk of Kansas law, I had been when I was in high school.) It was also, fortunately, the year I learned to moderate my drinking.

What I remember most about age 20 was a strange malaise. I was neither a teenager nor was I fully an adult. It was all a very strange time. My grades dropped and I went on pretty impressive money wasting binges involving billiards and arcade games. (For the record, I’m the only person in existence who could ever waste a lot of money playing too much pool and never actually improve my skills. And you all thought I didn’t have any talent.)

As I’ve written about before, age 20 ended on a Tuesday with a police frisking. In an odd way, that frisking snapped me out of the malaise. I was still on the hook at strange times for increasingly strange encounters with She Who Must Not Be Named –she once tried to convince me to help her with “a small murder” but I knew it was the alcohol talking and, luckily, I’d already learned to moderate my own consumption–but I never had that sense of malaise and bewilderment again (well at least not until I fell into obsession again, and then that third time but those are a much longer post).

I do wonder, though, what 20 year old me would have done about the “small murder”.

Oddly Strangely Fun and Symbolic

One of the things I like about Japan is it’s collection of odd museums and odd traditional ceremonies.

My favorite museum is the Tobacco and Salt Museum (currently closed pending a move). It’s owned by Japan Tobacco, which controls 66% of Japan’s tobacco market and is, by law, at least 33% owned by the Japanese government. It is a testament to, well, two things usually considered bad for you in excess, although at least one is essential to survival (hint: not tobacco). It has displays of how Japan produced salt and a few floors of occasionally interesting displays on tobacco and tobacco culture in Japan. It also used to have one of the best cheap coffee shops in Tokyo. I hope the move hasn’t ruined it.

To satisfy two other cravings, I recommend what I call the Eat Beef and Shout Competition, which involves consuming delicious dead animal flesh and then going behind a bush and shouting anything you want as loudly as you can. Participants have been known to express their love for someone else or their contempt for their boss. Prizes are given to the loudest shouts.

Niigata, where I used to live has everything for the newlywed couple. Every March Tochio hosts the Hodare Matsuri (link may not be safe for work) in which women can ride, well, some wood carried aloft by some men. Hodare means, more or less, “male naughty bit” and newlywed brides are encouraged to, well, ride the wood, so to speak. Traditionally, the most dangerous moments in the festival occur when an attractive foreign woman, um, rides the tremendous woody, and all the photographers nearby trample each other to get the best pics for next year’s brochure.

Whereas newlywed brides in Niigata get to enjoy a tremendous woody, newlywed grooms in Niigata are thrown off cliffs. Every January 15th in Matsunoyama Hot Spring, newlywed grooms are marched to the top of a snowy cliff, given some booze, tossed up and down and then hurled off a cliff as part of the Muko Nage. The festival ends with a pile of rice straw being burned and everyone rubbing ash all over everyone else’s faces.

The symbolism is obvious: You are now at the peak of life, but soon marriage will cause you to start drinking. You will now fall from the peak of life to the bottom of life where your wife waits for you. Soon you will watch your dreams go up in smoke and have it rubbed in your face. Good luck! Happy marriage! (Something like that.)



The Second Brings the Grind the Third Brings the Pain

One of the things that happens where I work is that, after we come back from summer, we’re a bit rusty but refreshed. The first couple days your legs are sore from standing all day and you begin to seriously reconsider your footwear choices but by the end of the week you are back in the groove. The second week is when it all begins to fall apart.

The second week is when you begin to remember how boring the groove actually is and, well, so do the students. When you come back from summer they’ve 1) forgotten your name 2) forgotten your tricks and 3) forgotten your rules. A lot of energy is spent getting them back into the groove and once they get there they 1) remember your name 2) remember your tricks and 3) remember your weak spots.

Last week I spent a lot of energy getting 8th graders to complete their speech contest speeches. This involved giving them the opportunity to come in at lunch and let me check the script and then me dragging them to detention to write them whilst I paced around glaring and rolling my eyes at everything they did (basically I became a teenager for an hour or so).

This week, even though Monday was a national holiday, it’s already been a long week. The higher level students have begun to push pressure points. My “new” student (he was “somewhere in North America, eh?”–not a real place–last year) doesn’t yet know that I make a sport out of giving returnees low scores. (Just ask the guy who requested a meeting to discuss his 9 (81-90%) and why he didn’t get a 10 (91-100%).

Next week, the real problems will start when the first big projects come due. We’ll hear some interesting excuses: I was absent the day this was assigned and am therefore exempt. I don’t like giving speeches. I hate English! I hate you! (And that’s just from other teachers.)

Luckily, we’re entering Awesome, which means the weather will be getting cool and dry. In fact, it’s already beginning to cool down, which is awesome.



Past My Bed Time For 30 Days

One of my guilty pleasures, and a topic I’ve been slowly acquiring notes on, is reading and following the advice in self-help guides and different self-help guru books and websites–especially those that are free. Every time I do this, though, I always think of the late, great George Carlin’s line “if you’re looking for self help, why would you read a book written by somebody else?! That’s not self help, that’s help!”

Some of the advice I try and it’s quickly clear it’s not going anywhere. I’ve tried meditation and I just don’t get it: Sit around, focus on your breath, think about your thoughts as you think them without thinking about them, sigh, take a sip of coffee, turn on TV. (Those last three are my additions and not, technically, part of the normal meditation process.)

Similarly, I don’t really get “Morning Pages” either. It’s supposed to be like taking a mental dump in three pages every morning and that’s supposed to clear your system. You’re not even supposed to read what you’ve written (and with my handwriting, it’s unlikely I’d be able to anyway). I’m trying them again at the recommendation of a friend, but I’m always aware that I’m wasting 15 minutes that could be spent on other writing and/or drinking coffee.

I also tried, back when I could barely do two pushups, the One Hundred Pushups Plan, which promised to take me from 2 pushups straight to 100 straight in six weeks. Although my total number of pushups improved immensely, I found I hit a plateau and never got near 100 in six weeks. I think part of it was the every-other-day nature of the plan. It was hard to establish a regular habit.

That said, as I’ve written before, following some self-help advice, I did manage to stop chewing my nails, with only a few minor relapses.

Right now I’m part of a monthly challenge where participants decide on a new habit and then try to implement it for 30 days. After the 30 days, participants will decide to keep the habit or modify it. Some are writing daily blog posts (fools); some are cutting out pasta (wise); some are giving up coffee (fools without souls). I’m personally giving myself an 11:00 p.m. bedtime and getting up every day, even weekends, at 5:00 a.m. Believe it or not, this is a healthier sleep pattern than I’ve had in years and it’s making my afternoons more productive. To help accomplish this, I’ve stopped drinking coffee after 1:00 p.m. (or so).

In the morning, I’m exercising (pushups and karate leg practice) and doing my morning pages. I’m also using the time to work on some other small projects before going to work.

I suspect I’ll keep the 11-5 schedule, although I’m still not happy with my morning routine. The next monthly challenge might be no morning TV.



When and If You Go There the Price Is the Same

I spent part of today wondering how I was going to spend the rest of the day and how much it was going to cost me.

My first plan was to go see Guardians of the Galaxy but then two things happened. Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed announced she’d be coming home on the 19th of this month which means She Who Must Be Obeyed will go down to help out over the weekend which also means I can’t go but it’s not convenient to take the train which means we had to go buy a car navigation system for our car (there’s a long story about why SWMBO doesn’t have a smart phone, but I’m not in a bad enough mood yet to tell it)

The other thing that happened was our land line phone died in a very interesting way that stopped it from working when the power cord was plugged in but let it work, without any tones, when the power cord was unplugged.

This meant we had to go to an electronics shop. However, this led to some miscommunication. I said I’d take a pass on the movie because the only times I could see it were 11:50-2:05 and 9:30-11:45. The latter was way past my bed/blog writing time and the first had me getting home around three and then us going shopping at an annoying time. I worked on something else and waited for the word to get ready and go. Then all of a sudden, our youngest was studying and practicing piano and then it was lunch time and we hadn’t left yet. We ended up leaving well after three, which had me in a bad mood which is a bad thing to be in when going to a Japanese electronics shop.

Japanese electronics shops are very odd beasts. They are typically huge; very bright and shiny; and full of lots of cool looking stuff. Unfortunately, even though there are several major chains, they all have the same prices. Now, in bookstores, the pricing is set by law. Basically, a book in one shop costs the same as a book in another shop. This is supposed to prevent the consumer from developing any “confusion” or worry that the product might be cheaper somewhere else. (Keep in mind, the Japanese government hasn’t heard of the internet or smartphones yet.) In the electronics shops, the pricing seems to be a gentleman’s agreement. This means shopping around is useless.

This leads to the next problem, which is the staff are not always knowledgeable about the products they are selling or the store they are working in. I’ve been in one major chain where the workers couldn’t tell me what floor I was supposed to go to. In another chain, I was on the correct floor, but no one could tell me anything about the products except where they were.

Luckily, the electronics shop experience went better than expected. The first staff member we spoke to found the correct staff member to help with the car navigation system. Even better, he was actually helpful–although he did tend to favor the more expensive items. Then, when we went to the wrong floor for a new telephone, the staff member we spoke to quickly sent us back upstairs where we ended up in the hands of the same guy, who directed us to a better cheaper phone.

We now have a new phone, with a working cordless phone–the cordless phone on our old system died very early on, but it was used so we couldn’t invoke a warranty–and I get to spend tomorrow afternoon after work installing a navigation system. That should be a simple process, but, well, we’ll see.



Practicing By Myself is Futile Resistance

I haven’t done a sports related post in a while as I had a month long hiatus from karate whilst I babysat a teenage daughter who has few skills other than eye-rolling, tweeting and thinking she’s being sneaky and getting away with something when she’s not.

I’ve been back in the groove for two weeks and things are ugly. Although I try to practice on my own, I’ve found cases where I practiced a kata for two weeks then had to relearn it when I found out I was doing something wrong. The katas are especially nasty during belt test time because I typically have to do five of them. This involves a lot of low stance that starts to make your thighs beg for mercy after the second kata. (Hold a half squat for two minutes. Keep your back straight; don’t bend over. Rest 15 seconds. Then hold it for two more minutes. Rest one minute. Hold it for three minutes. Every now and then punch and kick.) What makes it hurt is that the different moves are slow. It’s like doing 10 slow pushups with the down move and the push up each taking 30 seconds to perform.

After I get the katas down–or sensei just gives up on me for the day–we switch to the fighting routines which start out one on one but eventually evolve three to five attackers. What makes these hard is situational awareness (the people behind you are authorized to grab you and/or slash you a good one with a wooden sword) and that several of the moves have to be done with technique only and no strength. This is especially hard to do when you’re trying stay ahead of three to five attackers. Also, you’re not supposed to repeat a technique which means you eventually have to do something you suck at.

I’ve also found it difficult to practice the fighting routines by myself. It’s one thing to image train and pantomime a move, it’s another to actually grab the dogi of a person who’s resisting and pull him down without clinching his lapel in your fist. Instead, we’re supposed to use slow moves and leverage so that even a 70 year old woman could defend herself with the moves against a strong attacker. Great theory; hard to accomplish when adrenaline is flowing.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one stinking things up tonight. All three students stunk the place up at least once.

Dealing With Lots of Rules and Naughty Neighbors

Although Japan is, for the most part, full of polite people who obey rules, both written and unwritten, there are a few exceptions. Most of them seem to live in my neighborhood.

I’ve written before about the train types, but there’s one type, the squatter, that’s a result of Japanese driving and property laws.

First, in order to get a license and registration for your car, you have to prove that you have a legal parking place for it. This involves literally drawing maps of the parking area and a “zoom” map of the parking place onto an application. However, getting a legal parking place isn’t always that easy.

Because Japanese property is expensive, most condos and apartments don’t come with free parking places. We, for example, have pay $60 a month on top of our rent to park our car.  Some condo owners in Tokyo pay hundreds of dollars a month for parking. That fee, though, gives some privileges. The space is ours and no one else can use it. If they do, it counts as a form of theft and we can get the police involved.

However, not everyone who lives in our complex wants to pay the fee. One person has created a space by moving some planters and leaving her car there. This is illegal, but this is where Japanese politeness comes into play. No one seems to want to confront the person and no one seems to want to report it to management. If they have, management doesn’t seem to have time to deal with.

I personally would immediately hand the squatter a flier that says the place is now a rental space and, because it’ s a premium location, it costs $300 a month. If you park your care there, you agree to pay the fee. If you don’t pay it, your car will be taken away. (I know who the squatter is and I know I can kick her ass; however, I don’t know how big her boyfriend is so I should probably do a little research first.)

The other rule breaker is the Foreign Asshole. (Oddly, in this case, not me.Sort of.) The FA breaks rules in two ways: inadvertently (usually accompanied with the phrase “are you joking? There’s a rule for that? Really?) and deliberately (because they think the rule they broke inadvertently is stupid).

One example of a rules is that junior high and high school kids aren’t supposed to be in certain shopping areas after 5:30 p.m. or so. It’s not actually a legal curfew, but parents are encouraged/expected to watch out for other people’s kids and encourage them to go home. Because of this, She Who Must Be Obeyed told a girl from our complex that she needed to get home. Also, because they were traveling the same direction, she also ended up following her home (along with our girls).

This set off the girl’s mother, who hails from Some Other Country in Asia (not it’s real name). She confronted SWMBO in a very rare English shouting match. After a few minutes I stood on our balcony to watch the events and keep them, well, calm. However, after several minutes, even I had to point out that the woman needed to pay more attention to where she was living. This caused her to shout at me and for me to go to 8 on the mega voice power scale (I can out shout a room full of junior high kids, a woman from Some Other Country in Asia is no match). I assured her we would never again make an effort to make sure her daughter was safe. We’d just leave her to her fate. She tried shouting and I went to 9–for the record, this voice goes to 11, and, yes, I am a Foreign Asshole.

This prompted her to threaten to sue me and come after me with her lawyer. I started laughing and double dog dared her to sue me. I told her “Oh, bring it on.  I’m from the USA. We’re practically born with lawyers on retainer.”

I haven’t spoken to her since and told SWMBO to stop speaking to her in English which made it more difficult for the woman to communicate and to argue.

I don’t know if she still lives in the complex. Don’t really care.

Falling in Love Twice for the First Time

Mothers seem to have an instant connection with their children that fathers, in my experience, don’t have. For the mother birth is physical and painful and personal. For the father it’s pretty much wine, flowers and a certain amount of patience followed by a couple hours of pacing and saying “breathe breath” whilst being cursed. (Well, in at least one case.) The children are part of the mother. They are not part of the father.

(Although it should be mentioned that when they were in their misshapen, badly formed lizard looking newborn phase was when my girls most looked like me. Which says a lot about how I look.)

As such, I think fathers eventually have a moment where they fall in love with their kids. A moment when protecting them, killing for them and living for them becomes part of you and not just part of a legally mandated series of responsibilities.

In my case, I fell for my oldest when she was two or so. We’d enrolled her to receive a series of videos and books featuring Shimajiro, a little boy tiger (this makes sense when you realize Hello Kitty is a girl not a cat) who learns a lot of lessons in preschool about manners and study skills, usually accompanied by music. (It is not as annoying as Barney.) The package contains a Shimajiro puppet that remains a must have toy for preschoolers.

When the kit arrived our oldest was excited to the point of hopping up and down. She immediately went for the Shimajiro doll and started playing with it. She started going around and having Shimajiro say hello to all of us. When her friend came over she said an adorable (in Japanese) “Shimajiro came to our house!” It was annoyingly cute and I was smitten, and still am, even though all our internet capable electronics now have to have passwords on them to keep her off the internet.

With our youngest, there was a bit of set up. Our oldest had, over time, acquired change from various places (grandparents) and that meant she had to have a coin purse. Following the code of “Monkey see. Monkey wants her own.” This meant our youngest had to have a coin purse of her own, even though hers only contained slips of paper we called “her money” because we didn’t want her choking on coins (she was still under two). During a trip to a 100 yen shop our oldest bought some sort of trinket from a capsule toy machine and then went to find something else.

I watched our youngest study the machine and then squat down in front of it. She got a serious look on her face as she took out one of the slips of “her money” and tried to put it in the machine. I was smitten. I ended up buying her one of the “less likely to choke on it” toys. I’m still smitten, even though she’s developed an impressive back-talking skill for a nine year old.



Early Finish Often Means Well Done

One of the things I like about Japanese TV is very similar to what I like about British TV: The seasons are short, only really popular shows come back and the come back seasons are short.

A Japanese drama typically runs for 12 episodes shown in 12 straight weeks (which is much better than US broadcast television’s two episodes now and three months later we’ll give you three new episodes in a row before a one month hiatus).

Also, because each series is short it doesn’t run the risk of getting stale and being forced to have every living human on the show and one or two robots have relationships with every other living human on the show and one or two robots. The truth is that, even in “gun free” Chicago, someone at County General would have gone into jealous rage and killed at least three people in the e.r. whilst trying to remember who they were in a relationship with.

I find the notion that any woman on E.R. actually spoke to any other woman on E.R. to be absurd. (Even I can’t suspend disbelief about that and I’m looking forward to the chance to see a movie with a talking tree and a talking raccoon when it arrives in Japan in a couple days.)

The other good thing about a Japanese drama is even if it’s not popular you always get a resolution to the story.

The most popular shows, however, will eventually be brought back. Since I’ve been here that’s happened to only a handful of shows. Shomuni, about a group of, well, super office ladies came back for two more series and a couple movies. The most popular, though, was Hero, starring the ubiquitous Takuya Kimura of the (still) ubiquitous SMAP. The show was a huge hit in 2001–and people still quote the bartender’s one line–but the full sequel didn’t get released until this year. Instead there was a special in 2006 and a movie in 2007.

The result is that good shows never get a chance to go stale and actors get a chance to play different types of roles. Takuya Kimura has played a quirky crime solving scientist in Mr. Brain and a kind of terminator in the surprisingly clever sci fi drama (with the terrible title) Ando Lloyd – A.I. Knows Love?   You don’t have to worry about Kate getting shot or Ziva leaving or the Doctor regenerating into a right wanker.  You also don’t have to worry about the writers making up crap as they go along and then stumbling into absurd/bullshit endings. (Lost, Battlestar Galactica, etc.)

Mind you, there aren’t that many good shows and there are far too many RomComs. Also, there are exceptions to the 12 episode rule, but those are for another post.