Monthly Archives: October 2015

Neither Cranky Nor Angry Nor Calm But Scary

I was in an odd mood today. I wasn’t angry or cranky and I wasn’t impatient. I was just confrontational in a very calm sort of way.

My first class went well, but I had a couple students try to cheat on the assignment. I saw Student A copying from a completed paper. When I confronted him and his partner they tried the “play dumb and pretend the teacher is dumb” tactic by saying the paper that was being copied actually belonged to Student B. The problem was they couldn’t explain why they had three papers for two students and why Student B’s paper hadn’t been turned over to the correct side to do the writing. I assigned them to memorize it (which was not part of the original assignment) and told them to meet me in the teachers’ office at 1:00 p.m.

They didn’t show up, which means it’s time for me to go hunting and have a little fun.

Then I had my worst class, and they started out bad. Students stayed out in the hall after the bell, other students sat in the wrong seats. I gave them fair warning and got laughs in response. I then went to the hall, grabbed the biggest student by the shirt and dragged him to his chair. This prompted the other students to hurry a bit. (Note to teachers: if you’re going to get physical, take out the biggest guy first and the rest will follow.) Then, during the warm up, a few students refused to ask me questions, thinking they could somehow win. Instead, I started the lesson and left them standing until they asked me a question.

One student stood the entire class because he thought he could out-stubborn me and/or that I would forget. (He can’t and I didn’t.) Another student fell asleep and after I woke him up, he got to stand, too. (I did let him sit, though, after he finished his work.)

After that class things settled down a bit. Mostly because I didn’t have any classes until after lunch.

After lunch the classes went well, although they were noisy (normal for Japan) and I did have to walk around a lot playing enforcer. By the end of the two classes my voice and ears felt as if I’d just spent two hours in a night club trying to talk and listen over loud music.

Oddly, during all this, I never shouted. I just got loud a couple times and acted scary. During my worst class, some students were throwing a pencil case. I looked at the student who had the case and said “Throw it again. I dare you.” He didn’t know exactly what was going on, but knew I looked angry. I repeated “Throw it again. I dare you.”  After a minute, he figured out what I was saying and I hinted that if he threw the case again, it would be mine for a very long time.

He put it away and I never saw it again.

Now I have to decide if I want to keep this mood as part of my teaching persona. If I do, I’ll have to figure out what it was the caused it, first.

For The Times When You Can’t Be Bothered

A while back two people, one friend and one YouTuber, tricked me into playing a game regularly. Lately I’ve found myself watching the game more than playing it. I call this studying.

As much as I enjoy the game, every now and then I’m not in the mood to play it or I’ve been playing it and I’m no longer in the mood to do so. I’ve got a bad internet connection to the USA so playing the game involves watching my tank hop around and die rather than moving around smoothly than dying. (That says a lot about my play style, now that I think about it.) Or, on the Asia server, I’ve got a better connection but the play style there is maddening enough to make me prefer doing work.

However, instead of doing work anything even remotely productive, I inevitably track down a couple people livestreaming the game via and watch them play instead. That’s right, sometimes I’m so lazy I can’t even be bothered to play the game myself. I make someone else play it for me.

The streamers playing World of Tanks fall into several categories: 1) the Ragers, who’ve been known to break their keyboards during play; 2) the Teachers, who carefully explain what they’re doing and why they are doing it in an attempt to make other players better; 3) the Nice Guys, who don’t teach but seem to be having fun; 4) the Hot Chicks who, well, you really don’t care how well they play, and 5) the Scary Good Snobbish Assholes. They are so good they’ve lost the ability to empathize with people just learning to play the game at higher levels. This group is also known as the Whiners.

I have learned a lot about the game and the best streamers are more fun to watch than most television programs in the world. Every now and then life intervenes for some of the streamers–one man’s fiance broke up with him while he was streaming–and they get real to the point that you can’t help but watch even as you want to look away.

Very raw, but it beats playing the game. It also beats working.



Watching What You Eat When it all Looks Good

Looking for a place to eat lunch yesterday was actually kind of painful.

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent yesterday at a knife show and then did some window shopping at a couple stores near the knife show.

The problem was, at some point, I needed to get something to eat. As I’ve been on a weight loss program/lifestyle change–down 10 kilograms/22 pounds as of two days ago–my choices were suddenly limited. Complicating things was the fact I was in Ginza, one of the most expensive shopping districts in the world. (Sukibayashi Jiro, the currently trendy sushi restaurant is there along with other expensive restaurants.)

I looked over the menu at a steak house (my eating plan involves light carbs not light eating) but couldn’t find any prices on the menu and Ginza is not the kind of place you want to find yourself in an “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” situation.

My next choice was to wander around until something caught my eye. Unfortunately, several fast food places caught my eye and I found myself struggling between my default mode (fast and cheap) and my eating plan (think, moron, think).

That’s when I suddenly felt hungry (in a cranky, burn the world sort of way–oh you like you don’t ever feel that way) and the devil over my left shoulder began whispering “McDonald’s French fries. Hot and crispy. Salty, tasty French fries. Cheese burgers with French fries. Hot crispy salty.”  The devil over my right shoulder suggested KFC, because I could get chicken, wouldn’t have to worry about the bread, and I don’t like their fries. The devil over my left shoulder kept whispering about French fries crispy and hot at the other place.

I fired up the maps on my phone and went looking for the KFC and instead found a large sign advertising a food court in the basement of the building. The sign had color pictures of the restaurants’ signature dishes and I went “yes” to all of them, temporarily forgetting it wasn’t a menu.

I chose a chicken place that turned out to be closed from lack of gas and a sushi place that was also closed because of a lack of gas. I ended up at a tonkatsu, or pork cutlet restaurant. It was exactly my kind of place: a bit grungy and full of locals. The pork was breaded, and the meal came with rice, but it also came with miso soup and a metric ton of cabbage (more or less). Either way, it was fewer carbs than I’d have eaten at a place with French fries hot and crispy and definitely had a lot more vegetables, all for about the same price.

I came out feeling full and, more importantly, didn’t feel hungry later as my body wasn’t searching my meal for traces of nutrition and, finding none, demanding more food.

Next time I go out I’ll carry a healthy snack and I’ll plan where to eat in advance. Or I’ll just burn the world.


Japan Knife Guild Knife Show 2015–Tables Full of Temptation

Today was the Japan Knife Guild annual knife show. It’s the biggest knife show of the year in Tokyo and one of the best. It’s also the last show of the year.

Somehow, I managed to walk away without buying anything. It wasn’t easy, though.

The usual suspects were there with their usual knives and, as in the last show, there was lots of Damascus and a bit of carbon fiber. There were also a few groups of foreigners walking around, and at least one foreigner dropped a bundle of cash on a few knives. There was an attempt to add a few different items. Matrix-AIDA’s table of knife making and knife maintenance goods was a lot larger this time and one woman was even offering handmade paracord bracelets.

I was greatly tempted by a small carbon fiber and Damascus lockback from To-un Ihara. The discussion with the devil over my left shoulder sounded a lot like an old Jack Benny routine:

Devil–The knife or your wife. (pause) (longer pause) I said the knife or your wife.
Me–I’m thinking. I’m thinking.
Doll from Saw (suddenly appearing)–Live or die. Make your choice.

To-un Ihara's knife with Damascus blade and carbon fiber handles. How would you choose?

To-un Ihara’s knife with Damascus blade and carbon fiber handles. How would you have chosen?

I opted to pass this time, but I’ll save up and hope it’s still available in February when the cycle of knife shows starts again.

The other star of the show was the first folding knife from Kiku Knives. Kikuo Matsuda typically makes hefty, overbuilt fixed blades for people in the military and people who like to pretend they are in the military. However, as the flipper knife market in the USA is huge, he appears to be attempting to enter that lucrative market. His first attempt was pretty good, even if it’s not really my style.

The "show" side of Kiku Knives first folder.

The “show” side of Kiku Knives first folder.

The lock side of Kiku Knives first folder.

The lock side of Kiku Knives first folder.

Despite having a thick, heavy blade with most of its weight near the tip, it flipped open well and felt well balanced. He’s also put a lot of detail in the pivot pins and the clip. I’m not a huge fan of his acid washed blades and don’t see how this could be used for anything other than stabbing stuff, but it’s a cool knife. Not $904 dollars cool, but it has possibilities as a collectors’ item. I should also add he didn’t seem that keen on making another one.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s shows. The first two and the last are usually the best and, therefore, the most dangerous to the wallet. I’m hoping for something different, though, next year. It often seemed as if the same show was repeating itself a few times through out the year.

The crowd starts to gather early in the show.

The crowd starts to gather early in the show.


The Twenty Minute Rule

Several hundred years ago, when I was at Ole Miss, I walked out of restaurant without eating. A few months later, I made my then girlfriend leave a restaurant.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I have a 20 minute rule about service in restaurants in the South. In other places it’s a 10 minute rule, but in the South things are a bit more leisurely and you have to make allowances. (I once went to a party 20 minutes or so after the scheduled start time and had to help set up the party because, by Southern time keeping, I’d arrived early.)

I’ve heard of people leaving expensive stores because they couldn’t get a clerk’s attention to get a simple question answered. When I bring this up to Southerners, they usually frown and say a general “on behalf of the South I apologize to you” apology but also add “it’s a Southern thing” and then wonder out loud why I’m so impatient.

The first time I left a place I was looking for lunch. I went to a popular bar and restaurant and sat down at a table. There was a bartender there but he seemed busy with something and I just pulled out a book and started reading. After 10 minutes or so, I realized I hadn’t been served and looked for the bartender, who seemed to still be busy but his job did not, as near as I could tell, involve speaking to me, bringing me water, asking me if I wanted a drink or tracking down a waitress to do all of the above. After 20 minutes of waiting, including 10 minutes of pouting, I got up and left.

As I started to leave, the bartender finally said “can I get you a drink?” and I just said “too late” and left.

Later, my then girlfriend and I decided to go to a famous and fairly expensive restaurant on the square in Oxford, Mississippi (home of Ole Miss). I followed her as she bypassed the reservation stand and commandeered a table. We then waited and waited and waited whilst the wait-staff walked past us and ignored us.

After 20 minutes, I invoked the 20 minute rule and suggested we go to the other side of the square to a different restaurant. She said we’d only been there 20 minutes and needed to wait another seven days before they noticed and served us. (Something like that.) My response was a caring and touching and understanding “why the fuck would we do that?” (Note: I probably didn’t use those exact words, but they convey exactly what I was feeling.)

We went across the square and had a good meal but I suspect it was that moment that doomed the relationship. (More on that in another post.)

I never did eat at that expensive restaurant.

Excavation and Winterification

Taking our apartment from summer mode to winter mode involves a surprising amount of excavation and spelunking.

The transition begins with notice from She Who Must Be Obeyed that it’s time to put the fans away and get our large blanket out of the closet. This is followed by me thinking of every excuse I can to do something else. Luckily, once the decision is made, She Who Must Be Obeyed usually gets distracted by some other task.

When we are finally both ready, we move the “variety pile” from in front of the “variety closet”. (Why the variety pile is not in the variety closet is a long story.) Once the path is cleared, I don a silly hat with a flashlight attached, open the closet door–the closet actually has two doors but one is blocked by the variety shelves–and begin exploring.

Luckily, after the big cleaning I did this past spring there are fewer boxes taking up space and I was quickly able to retrieve our kerosene heaters and our winter blanket. We also only had to find space for one fan as the other one had begun to show its age (its 14) and has been “retired” (i.e. dismantled by me and put in a trash bag for future disposal). Next summer we’ll just buy a new fan.

I also decided we should go ahead and dig out the electric carpet put it in the living room so that we won’t have to get back in to the “variety closet” until the spring. Placing the electric carpet involves moving the piano but not much more than that.

Although we won’t be needing them for a while, and don’t even have any kerosene, we’ve already decided to retire our oldest space heater as it has become temperamental and has a tendency to take random rest breaks. If those issues continue, it might not make it to spring.

Now the at we’re ready for the cold, I suspect it will be warm the next few days.

An Ordinary Day with Phantom Clerks

I had some free time today and, because it was payday, I decided to do some running around/conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, part of my conspicuous consumption was disturbed by bad clerks.

The first part of the day involved banking. Go to the ATM on one corner, encourage the Japanese people who are being slow because they don’t understand the ATMs to go to a bank, teach them how to “pick a finger”, get money and then cross the street to a different ATM and deposit rent money.

Except for the impromptu “gestures lesson”, that part of the day went surprisingly smoothly and we are now able to stay in our apartment for at least another month.

After that, my plan was to head to an electronics shop to buy some lens attachments for my smartphone because “boy” and “toys”. I found the lenses I was looking for but because Japan is such a safe and honest nation they were strapped together by plastic ties like those that keep the dangling labels attached to your clothes. That meant I couldn’t just grab them and head to the register. Also, because Japan doesn’t let me carry a pocket knife (legally. Ahem.) I was forced to try and find a clerk with a pair of scissors to cut the cord.

Despite the store having just opened and despite the fact there were only a few customers, I couldn’t find a clerk. I finally found one guy in a uniform but he ignored me as he is apparently only involved with shipping and/or repairs and/or being an asshole.

I tried to teach him how to pick a finger, but he wasn’t looking at me. I kept trying to find a clerk, but the only one’s I could see were working the registers or helping a customer.

After a few minutes of looking around, I gave up on the purchase and went to the next phase of my day. That involved a haircut and whisky and trying to find a safe place for lunch. (More on that in a future post.)

Confusion and Speeches and Dilemmas

In my worst class, today, three students had to do speeches. Despite sending messages to them via their homeroom teacher, most of them seem surprised about this.

Two of them had failed miserably and/or cheated during the actual speech day and were required to repeat their performances. Granted, they were supposed to have done this at lunch some time in the past week, but I’m not sure if the message was actually delivered or if they would have heeded it if it were.

The third was absent on speech day and was given extra time to practice.

The first two started practicing right away. One of them, student A, then decided to take a 15 minute break to “wash his hands”. I suspect that he was hoping that I’d somehow forget that he was supposed to do his speech. When I didn’t, he seemed annoyed but he did manage to get through his speech. (I had them face me, not the class, so there was no way for them to get help.)

The second student, let’s call him B, had one of the best speeches in the class. He’d met and exceeded the assignment and, if he hadn’t cheated, would have been finished. Today, though, he did a kind of triage on his speech by cutting out almost half of it. I am now faced with a dilemma. Do I send him on to the school speech contest but tell him to use the long speech, or do I send someone else? Either way, he failed the speech, but he doesn’t know that yet.

The third guy, let’s call him Mr. Absent, didn’t understand why he had to do his speech. I reminded him about his absence and he kind of nodded in a teenaged “yes, I notice there are words coming out of your mouth” sort of way but it was clear he didn’t understand how his absence hadn’t absolved him of the need to do his speech. He started talking to his friend. I eventually called him up and he acted angry. He then couldn’t get through the first two sentences of his speech. I made him sit down and memorize it and he eventually got through it.

I’m glad to be done with that part of the speeches, especially with that class. I’m still not sure it was worth the energy.

A Movie With Pens and Ads and the Sounds of Pens

Today I took our youngest out on a Daddy/Daughter Date (whilst our oldest stayed home and “studied” for her mid-term exams tomorrow). By request, we saw the movie Bakuman, which is based on the manga of the same name.

I was struck by three things in the movie: 1) how reliant it was on  sound even though it was a movie about visual images; 2) how it may be the most effective example of native advertising I’ve ever seen; and 3) how much of a pen nerd I am to try and figure out what pens and pencils were being used.

Bakuman is the story of two high school students who come together to create a manga worthy of being included in Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine. The movie tracks their trials and tribulations and although you’ve probably seen this movie before in other forms and know what’s going to happen, the way it happens is often done surprisingly well.

For the uninitiated, Jump and its publisher Shueisha are the grandfathers/grandmasters of all manga magazines in Japan (and probably the world). Jump‘s history includes Mazinger-Z (which came to the USA as Tranzor Z and spawned the Shogun Warriors toys), City Hunter, Dragon Ball, Hunter x Hunter, Yu-Gi-Oh, Naruto, One Piece and Death Note, and those are just the ones people in the West might know.

(Note: If you recognize none of these you are either completely normal and/or don’t have young kids or relatives.)

Jump‘s earlier incarnation also spawned MahaGoGoGo, which came to the USA as Speed Racer, and one of its affiliates spawned All You Need is Kill, which begat the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow. (At one point, in the closing credits, the camera spends two minutes scanning over a bookshelf full of Weekly Shōnen Jump titles.)

Jump and its offices are major stars in the movie, but the other stars are the pens they use. After the protagonists have decided to collaborate on the manga, Mashiro Moritaka, played by Takeru Satoh, picks up a dip pen that used to belong to his manga artist uncle–the uncle’s death years before is a major plot point in the movie–and begins to draw with it. He’s immediately impressed by how much more expressive it is than a ball-point pen or a pencil. (The pen geek in me was going “damn straight, brother, damn straight” and trying to figure out a way to bring She Who Must Be Obeyed to the movie, if only for that part.)

The best part about that scene is the excellent sound design as the pen scratches across the paper. It was enough to bring chills to the spine of this pen addict. In fact, one of the movie’s best accomplishments is the different sounds of the different pens and pencils on paper. At one point, the scratch of the nib serves as the snare drum part in a music video sequence where the anime they are drawing is projection-mapped onto the paper and the room around them. (You can see bits of it in the trailer here. Note: it’s all in Japanese.)

Of course, the whole time any pens were on screen I was doing a Rainman monologue: “I think it’s a Copic, I don’t think it’s a Pigma Micron. I think it’s a Copic. It’s definitely not an Ohto. I think it’s a Copic.” Given that there were no complaints from other viewers, including our youngest, I’m pretty sure I kept that internal monologue internal.

The movie’s weakness is that it relies too much on its Sakanaction soundtrack. The music is excellent, but it’s often overwhelming as if the director were saying “Listen! This is awesome!” as it stops moving forward for a short (with one exception) music video.

It also suffers from a noticeable lack of women. Weekly Shōnen Jump is apparently staffed completely by men and the only woman to get a speaking part disappears early. Nana Komatsu plays Miho Azuki, Moritaka’s love interest and muse. In the few scene’s she’s actually around, Komatsu does a good job, but she’s mostly there to smile and look radiantly beautiful. As such, she is always shot in glowing, angelic soft focus (which you can even notice in the trailer). There were comic moments where she is in angelic soft focus and the person she is talking to is shot in regular light. At first I thought she might be imaginary, but she was apparently real.

The rest of the actors are well cast. However, because they are based off a manga, they walk the line between wacky and good. One manga artist has a brass knuckles phone case and gets his accurate fight depictions by having his friends take pictures of him being kicked and punched. However, when his work is accepted by Jump, he giddily announces his acceptance over the pachinko parlor loudspeaker. Another strips down to work while another drinks lots of sake and acts depressed.

For no particular reason other than soundtrack filler, there is a manga style fight between Moritaka and his collaborator Akito Takagi  (played by Ryunosuke Kamiki) and their rival Eiji Niizuma, played by Shota Sometani. They fight with ink and pens to excellent music and at first it’s kind of funny, but it goes on way too long.

The most impressive acting happens near the end when Niizuma and Moritaka come together over the latter’s drawing table. I won’t spoil it too much, so let’s just ask “what would you do if your rival was scribbling on your true love’s face?” Satoh’s reaction is brilliant–and proves he can act–and it was not even close what I was fearing was about to happen.

I was glad our youngest dragged me to it and I would happily take our oldest and/or She Who Must Be Obeyed to see it. I think it’s also worth seeing, even if you don’t like manga. (Also, pen and stationery addicts should definitely stay for the closing credits. There’s a taste at the end of the trailer.)


Tasting the Devil’s Brew

We talked about booze tonight with our youngest, and our oldest had, at least officially as far as her parents know, her first taste of beer. It ended badly. Which is kind of good.

I’ve mentioned before about how I had my first taste of bourbon at the age of 10 and about how my parents would give us watered down wine with either Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. It turns out there’s also a tradition like that here in Japan, but we haven’t really acted on it until today.

At supper, our youngest asked She Who Must Be Obeyed about the beer we were drinking. Our youngest seemed to know from reading and/or television, that beer is made with hops which makes it bitter and it’s the bitterness that makes it beer. (Something like that; she seems to know more about it than I do so ask her for clarification.) SWMBO tried to explain it and then gave up and offered her a taste instead.

Our youngest was surprised and didn’t act interested, even when we assured her one sip wouldn’t make her drunk. Now that I think about it, though, that’s probably not the best way to get her try it. She ended up refusing.

Our oldest seemed more interested and finally agreed to try a sip. Keep in mind, we were drinking Yebisu All Malt Beer, which is one of my favorite beers in Japan. In fact, it was the first beer I drank after I moved to Japan which also means it’s a sentimental favorite. It is, however, more bitter than most national beers which is part of what I like about it. It isn’t alcohol infused soda water, it’s got flavor.

Our oldest, though, was unimpressed. She took one sip. Made a face that was one part “you tricked me” and one part “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntu onnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!” and ran to the sink to spit the beer out and flush her mouth with water.

One part of me was pleased she’d had that reaction. Another part, though, was thinking “Don’t waste the beer you little idiot! Don’t waste the beer! You’re no daughter of mine!”

The next step, I suspect, will be a taste of sake with New Year’s breakfast. I need to find some bad sake for that event, though. Just in case.