Portlandia - The Count

I was in Portland for the first half of September. This is the tally after my first week there. (I have included the corresponding numbers after a week back in Japan.)
Fatsos riding Rascals
11ーAs with obese children, this affluent neighborhood doesn’t seem to have very many super-obese people. Fat people abound, but the fire-up-the-forklift type were not as common as I had expected. I suppose that if I were to go out to the suburbs, the case would be different.
0--Obesity just isn't as huge a problem in Japan. I did count three very overweight women during the past week.
Old Ladies Peering over the Steering Wheel of Massive Jalopies
1ーOnly saw one. Also, I only came across one car that was broken down on the side of the road. I take this as a sign that the economy has recovered considerably. 
0ーFew old ladies drive here and there are even fewer massive cars from the 70s and 80s here.
Men in Navy Suits with White Shirts and Red Ties
0ーDidn’t see many people wearing the full regalia of the businessman.
0ーLots of men in suits, though.
The Use of the Words:
2ーSubway’s hand-crafted foot-longs” (Seems this word is finally dying out. Thank God.)
             7ーbread, coffee roastery, artisanal wine, Blue Diamond Artisan Nut Thins, Trader Joe’s Artisan Bread, Artisan Carpets, and so on. (This word is still going strong, but not as prevalent as I had expected.)
TV Commercials for Medicine/Pharmaceuticals
1 (Haven’t watched much TV) The one commercial I saw was for a drug for Crone’s Disease. The warning at the end of the commercial was almost as long as the bit praising the benefits of the drug.
0ーHaven't watched TV. In general, you won't find commercials for prescription drugs on TV here.
Obese Children
17 (Far fewer than expected. Must be all the amphetamines the kids are hopped up on, that or the fact that we are staying in a reasonably affluent neighborhood.)  There were quite a few at the Wings & Waves Water Park in McMinville, but considering how expensive the place was, they were probably not getting children from the lower echelons of society that tend to be more overweight. The same goes with the Children’s Museum.)
0ーKids are definitely getting bigger, both horizontally and vertically, but childhood obesity isn't a problem yet.
Nutters Talking to Himself
1ーjust saw one. I think the old guy was drunk.
Bums with Signs
15; popular places are Powell's and Salt and Straw; some people seem to be camped out at a particular place with their handwritten on cardboard sign.
0ーSee below.
Homeless People 
148 (Have lost count; hit the mother load at Couch Park and the North Park Blocks)
2ーI asked my wife if she had seen any homeless people. She thought about it a while and replied that she had seen an old man digging cans out of the garbage. Even the bums here are industrious.
     17; surprisingly few smokers, many of them have been homeless; haven’t seen anyone smoking inside, even in bars, something I have liked.
A handfulーFar fewer than I had expected
Cops on Bikes
0ーNo cops on bikes, horses, Segways, etc.
Cops on Horesback
High-end Sports Cars 
 2, Mazerati, Tesla
A fewーDidn't really pay attention to cars when I got back to Japan.
Asked for Money
        1ー"Sir, can you help me? Could you give some money for food?"
0ーIt's rare to see panhandlers in Japan. I think I've only seen one in my 23 years here and that was in Ōsaka which doesn't really count.
Unappreciated Buskers
0ーThere are an awful lot of street musicians here but unlike America they don't do it for money so much as exposure.
New Slang/Words
“Epic" is being overused on TV.
Cultural Refrences/Terms I don't Get
Too many to keep track of . . . Such as “Line”, “Data”, LTE, Fantasy Football, . . . 
People Referring to Church/God
0ーThis ain’t the South and this ain’t the ‘burbs.
0ーAlmost no one talks about their faith here
People with Face Tattoos
0 (Seems everyone—men, women, young and old—has sleeves of tattoos here. Many tattooed necks and body piercing, but no tattooed faces . . .yet.)
0ーHave only seen one person with tatts so far.
Men with Prospector Beards
35ーThis fad is still going strong, much to the chagrin of Messrs. Schick and Gillette. (Should have also counted men with wild mustaches, but it’s too late. My survey is done.)
1ーAnd he's a friend.
Men with Wild Mustaches
2ーShould have started counting this sooner.
Men with Hoops in their Earlobes
2 or 3ー
Women with Shaved Heads
5ーMany, many, many lesbians in town. They seem far more prevalent/visible than gay men.
Strangers Talking to me on the Train (telling me much too much about their lives) 
0ーHardly anyone will talk to you here.
People I Know Eating Burgers in Front of Me.
4ーYou know who you are.
0ーBurgers are rather popular right now, just not in my immediate family.
Doggy Bags
2ーStopped keeping track of this. I don’t think there has been any meal I have been able to completely finish so far. The servings are HUGE.
Unpalatable Cocktails
Good Cocktails
6 (Taught the bartender how to make three of these; went to Trader Vic’s for the other two; Matador had an alright margarita) 50/50 is pretty lousy odds for a town that considers itself a Food/Beverage Mecca. 
0ーHaven't been out drinking
Pyramid Curve Ball Blonde Ale, not bad
       Big Leaf Maple by Anchor, not bad
Something Cream Ale, pretty damn good
FIVO Hoppy, so so
Stone IPA, so so
Noble Scot by Portland Brewing, so so
Proletariat (Red Ale) by Lompoc Brewing, great name, not bad
Widmer Hefeweizen, and oldie but goodie.
1ーI had an Oktoberfest brew yesterday that hit the spot.)
Getting Barked at by People in Service Industry 
My Type-ish (not a knockout, but I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers)
?ーFar too many to count.
?ーFar too many to count.
The words “literally”, “like”, “basically”, “actually”, etc.
        2 (Haven’t really been keeping count. Girl at restaurant yesterday said “like” like every like two or three words and it was like super annoying like . . . I was like, Stop saying like! You sound like, like an idiot.)
        13 (May be the same one I’m seeing; quite a few around the main synagogue in NW. Jewish squirrels?)
Hypodermic Needles, probably used for drugs
3ーMary Jane’s Glassware
Medicinal Marijuana Shops
6ーCanabliss, Mind Rite, Oregon Weedery. I suggested to my 85-year-old mother that she might put herb on her Bucket List, but she wasn’t interested.
The Smell of Pot in the Air
1ーOn 23rd
Vending Machines
3ー(one was empty, none are outside)



How many more mass shootings will it take for the US to act?


You'd think it would only take one, but the NRA, and other gun-rights advocatesーread shills for the gun industryーhave got politicians by the balls. I mean, the things the guys say defending the indefensible.

"More guns make us safe."

 "More laws will only affect the law-abiding people."

"This is a mental health issue."

"Don't politicize this!"

"Guns don't kill people . . ."


I've thought a lot about this, and the only way I see the US moving forward on it is by first getting money out of politics. Public financing of all elections, period, and overturning rulings such as Citizens United that have warped the election process.

The public at large is for sweeping gun control. Even members of the NRA support many of the proposals put forth after Newtown, but politicians from both parties, yes, but more significantly among "right-to-life/right-to-kill" Republicans, were, and still are, afraid to touch it.

Profiles in Cowardice


Voice of America


  A friend asked me, "How could anyone vote for a guy with an accent like that? He sounds like Rodney Dangerfield under the influence..."

  The guy in question is Bernie Sanders.

  To be honest, I don't mind the way Bernie sounds. I think a populist needs to have a unique voice like his, one that lends the speaker the air of a back alley pugilist. The voice of Democratice Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio fits the role perfectly.          

  I may have mentioned this before, but I usually "listen" to the news via podcasts, rather than "watch" it, and I often find myself asking, "Do I really want to listen to that voice for the next four years?"

  No disrepect to Democratic favorite, Hillary Clinton, but her voice grates on my nerves. And the woman couldn't deliver a punchline even if her life depended on it. (David Brooks made a funny comment last week that Hillary will be coming out with a plan in a week's time to be more spontaneous.)

  Jindal sounds like he has his mouth full o' grits whenever he talks. How could the Chinese ever negotiate with him? "Mr. President?" Mumble, mumble. "Mr. President?" Munch, munch. "Mr. President?" Yes? "Are you finished eating?"

  Rubio sounds like the student body president of an all-boy Christian high school who mistakenly put his chastity ring on his tiny weenie.

  Cruz's voice has all the appeal of a table saw stuck grinding away on a rusty nail.

  Donald Trump's voice is both annoying and entertaining at the same time. It's your fiftieth hit of meth when you know deep in your heart that you should just put the pipe down and get some goddamn sleep for once.

  Perry sounds too much like W. Thank God the Lord spoke to this Christian soldier loud enough that he finally got the hint and stepped out of the race. "Guess I shouldn' a tried runnin' again. Oops."

  Lindsey Graham? Oh, dear, no.

  Santorum sounds like he was just shown a photo of three adults have inappropriate sexual contact with each other and doesn't know whether to be titilated or disgusted by it all.

  Christie should be at the end of a counter at a sports bar in Jersey, wearing a Joe Namath jersey, a Bud Lite in his meaty hand, rather than on a debate stage.

  Rand Paul has a dry whiny voice; he sounds like he'd scream "Uncle" even before the titty-twister commenced. And you expect him to look into Putin's eyes and . . . "Uncle!"


  I could go on and on and on. 



Average Annual Salary

   More depressing stats from one of my favorite websites of late, Heikin Nenshū Labo. This shows the trend in average salaries in Japan between the years 1995 and 2013. 

   In 1995, the average yearly salary for a "salaryman" in Japan was ¥4,570,000. The average salary peaked in 1997 at ¥4.67 million, but has fallen ever since. In 2009, the average salary was only ¥4.06 million, due to the recession that followed the "Lehman Brothers Shock" and stock market crash of 2008. Growth in salaries has been anemic in the years since. 

   Looking at this chart, I am curious to know, one, what the average salary was during the bubble years of the late 1980s, and, two, whether salaries have increased in 2014 and 2015. I would also like to know how "salaryman" is defined.

   In 2013, the average male salaryman earned ¥5,110,000, compared to an average of only ¥2,720,000 for women.

   This graph shows the average salary for men (blue) and women (red) according to age. 

   Doda has a pretty good breakdown of income according to age. The average fortynine-year-old man in Japan earns ¥6,830,000. 46% of those men earn more than seven million yen. Only 13% of men and 5% of women in their late forties earn more than a ten million yen a year. 

   At Career Connection, you can get information on the average salary paid by a particular company and read reviews by people who are working or have worked for the company. Nomura Securities, for example, pays workers in their forties an average of ¥16,240,000 a year. Not bad. TEPCO pays its forty-year-old employees an average of ¥12,170,000.


Four Burners

Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove. 

“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter. 

This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

Pat has her own business, a good one that’s allowing her to retire at fifty-five. She owns three houses, and two cars, but, even without the stuff, she seems like a genuinely happy person. And that alone constitutes success.

I asked which two burners she had cut off, and she said that the first to go had been family. After that, she switched off her health. “How about you?”

I thought for a moment, and said that I’d cut off my friends. “It’s nothing to be proud of, but after meeting Hugh I quit making an effort.” 

“And what else?” she asked.

“Health, I guess.”

Hugh’s answer was work.


“Just work,” he said.


From "Laugh, Kookaburra" by David Sedaris, printed in The New Yorker


   I normally don’t read Sederis for mind-bending existential content, but his short story “Laugh, Kookaburra” had me thinking about life changes I have made over the past ten years and the “burners” I have turned off or down.

   Shortly before I remarried, my fiancée would take me over to her parents’ home in the suburbs on Sundays and lock me up in their washitsu, forcing me to write for five or six hours straight. I had a good idea for a book that just needed to be written down, but I was having a devil of a time making any progress on it.

   Being locked up in that Japanese room for hours on end was torture at first. Whenever I would try to venture out of the room, my girlfriend, who kept guard over me in the adjacent room, would turn me around, shove me back in and say, “Two more hours!”

   “Two more? Can’t I have a drink of something or a smoke?”


   So back in I would go, and kneel down on the tatami only to stare for minutes on end at the empty white page on my MacBook, the cursor flash-flash-flashing as if to taunt me: “You got nothing. And you used to think you had what it took to be a writer! Hah! You got nothing!"

   But it worked. After a few weeks, I started to get into the groove and before I knew it I was writing almost every day, usually in the morning, but sometimes at night until I had finished Rokuban. And when I finished Rokuban, I did a major overhaul of A Woman’s Nails and finished that. Then went on to the next work, and the next.

   Where just completing a novel had once seemed like an insurmountable task, now I was faced with a new challenge: how to sell the novels I was now finishing.

   The improved productivity came partially from turning down one of those four burners: friends. I seldom go out for drinks or dinner anymore. If I do, it’s usually by myself. I used to hate being alone, but nowadays it doesn’t bother me in the least. Sometimes I prefer it as I can get stuff done while I’m eating.



   More later . . . 




Where it all goes

   I had the girls in one of my classes make mini presentations today, the purpose of which was to learn how to present data. One student gave a short presentation on how the typical Japanese student spent her money. It contained some surprises.

   As you can see from the chart, the two largest expenses are social (drinking, dating, hanging out with friends) and food. The third largest expense was clothing and beauty products. 

   What struck me as somewhat odd was that rent accounted for only 4% of their expenses the same as the phone bill.

   I'm not sure how the data was collected or who was asked, but I assume that the reason rent does not amount to much is because the average student even if he is living alone does not pay for his own rent. His parents do. Such is the rough life of the typical student in Japan.

   My own experience couldn't have been more different. 

   In my second year of college, three of my friends and I shared a two-bedroom two-bath apartment in La Jolla just north of San Diego. The rent was $800, which came to $200 each. At the time I had a "part-time" job, working 32-plus hours a week (M-Th, swing shift) at the La Jolla Cove Hotel, a real dive, that paid about four bucks an hour. I took home about a hundred dollars a week, half of which went for rent and the remaining half I had to somehow feed and clothe myself with. It was no day at the beach, let me tell you. 


   According to the Department of Industrial Relations, the minimum wage in California in the early 80s was $3.35 an hour. In 1988, it was raised to $4.25.

   I remember taking the job, one, because of the location--it was just a few blocks down the street from the apartment--and, two, because I thought the pay and work schedule were pretty good.

   One of the interesting things about the job was that in an age when computers were starting to take off, the hotel continued to do everything in completely analog fashion.

   We had several large boards measuring about a two and a half feet by two feet on which all the bookings were recorded. If someone called to reserve a room we would first have to ask when and how long the guest intended to stay and in what kind of room. The usual questions? But, then we would have to go over these boards and see if there was an availabilty. It would sometimes take five minutes just to confirm whether a room was available or not. If we had a room and the price was right, the guest would reserve it which consisted of my physically writing down the guest's name on the board. Surprisingly, there weren't many mistakes. Guests weren't always happy with the room they got, but we seldom forgot a reservation.