Journal

 

Friday
May132016

Bad Christian Art

  Englishbooks.jp e-mailed me this morning with a recommendation for a "tracing dictionary" for kids. Curious, I clicked the link and found pretty much the same thing that I have been doing for my own sons (but not as nice to be quite honest). The "dictionary" looked handmade--in a bad way--so I checked out the publisher and learned that Beacon Hill Publishing "publishes resources for the diverse Christian community".

  Ugh.

  Now, I have nothing against Christianity, but, let me be honest here: many of them are in desperate need for some straight-talk when it comes to design and art.

  There was an article on Facebook a month or so ago that I meant to read, but didn't have the time. The title was something like "Why Christian Movies are So Painfully Bad". Yes! Yes! Yes! (Found it!)

  My working theory is that many good Christians are incentivized to not be artsy because artsy-fartsy is the purview of the Left and the Gays. I could be wrong. I often am.

  I take it that Beacon Hill is publishing "educational" material mainly for home-schoolers. I don't agree with home-schooling in general, but I must admit I am in debt to the home-schooling movement because they provide so many teaching materials online for free which I download with abandon.

  My main concern with homeschooling, though, is that it robs kids the opportunity to have to deal with people different from themselves. If you surround yourself only with fellow travelers throughout your childhood and adolescence, you may find you have difficulty dealing with society at large later on in life. I'm sure there are exceptions. There always are.

  The other problem I have with home-schooling is its half-arsed approach to education. I have met several home-schooled kids here in Japan. Most of them are the sons and daughters of Christian missionaries. While they are very nice people, really sweet, when you talk to them, you find yawning chasms in their knowledge of the world.

  Why? Because many of them did not partake in standard education, they weren't forced to learn subjects they weren't interested in, or simply weren't taught because their parents couldn't or didn't want to teach them.

  Again, there are exceptions, but those exceptions are exactly that: exceptions.

  This is getting too long. What I meant to be a joke has quickly become a sermon. Bless me Children for I have sinned.

  Anyways, seeing that crappy "tracing dictionary" has given me ideas. I'm sure I could put one together that doesn't rely as heavily on Microsoft Word clipart.

Sunday
May082016

Little Boys' Dreams

   Japanese boys were asked what they wanted to become when they grew up. Their dreams have changed considerably over the years.

Whereas the most popular occupations in 1962 were salaryman, baseball player, driver, and salesman (yuck), in 2016, they were soccer player, doctor, YouTuber (God help us), and, ugh, civil servant. Engineer came in 6th, researcher in seventh, and game creator tied for ninth. 

Friday
May062016

Kurosaki Shotengai

   Two decades ago the Kurosaki's shopping arcade was hopping with shoppers. Today, it is virtually bedridden . . . with pneumonia and bedsores.

   Over a quarter of a million people live in Kitakyushu's Yahata Nishi Ward, and yet the heart of that ward feels like a cold wet stone.

Thursday
May052016

The G-Word (Survey)

Hey friends and neighbors, please have a look at this quick online survey about the "G-word".

Thanks!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5F8DN2S

 

Thursday
Mar312016

The Highs and Lows of Women's Expectations

   During the bubble years in Japan, women were said to be looking for the “Three Highs” in men (3高): Height (高身長), High income (高収入), and High education (高学歴). (It was also preferable if the man was not the first-born son due to all the incumbent responsibilities.)

  In the ‘90s, the “Three Cs” were sought after: Comfortable (annual income over ¥7m), Communicative, and Cooperative (i.e. someone who helped around the house).

  In the 2000s, the Four Lows were popular with women (3低): Low Posture (低姿勢, humble), Low Dependency (低依存), Low Risk (底リスク), and Low Maintenance (低燃費).

  Today, modern Japanese women are said to be looking for the “Three Warms” (3温): Kindness, Affection and Peace of Mind. As for the Three Highs of the bubble years, Height now ranks 7th, High Income ranks 10th, and Income is 19th.

  Your thoughts?

Saturday
Mar052016

Jóie de Vivre in Hong Kong

  Donald Richie in one of his collections of essays wrote about how the "narrowness" of the Japanese home forced people to seek places to relax elsewhere--a favorite snack or kissaten (coffee shop). These, he wrote, were extensions of their home.

  I'm sure I have misparaphrased that, but I couldn't help thinking about what the Japanologist had written while I was wandering the streets of Hong Kong. Streets were like dry riverbeds between deep ravines, the walls of which were formed by impossibly tall, impossibly slim apartment buildings. 

  Google "small Hong Kong apartment" and you'll find photos of insane living conditions; apartments no bigger a four-mat room in a Japanese home.

  Decades ago, a girlfriend of mine went to Hong Kong to help her friend with her flower buisness. "They slept on the kitchen floor!" she told me when she returned. I couldn't quite picture people living in conditions so cramped, but now that I've been to the city, I can.

  Richie wrote of the uncomfortably cramped living conditions of modern Japanese, but in reality it isn't all that bad. My 4LD here in Fukuoka would probably house three to four middle class families in Hong Kong. Perhaps more. 

  Another thing, you can see further than fifty meters here in Fukuoka. Visitors to Japan from HK must feel liberated being able to just breathe the air while they're here.

 

 

 

 

Saturday
Mar052016

The Second Noble Truth

Taken at Hong Kong's Victoria Park

  The Origin of Dukkha is that craving for and clinging to what is pleasurable and aversion to what is not pleasurable result in becoming, rebirth, dissatisfaction, and redeath.

  In other words: Drop the goddamn selfie stick, monks! Ye oughta be ashamed of yourselves.

 

 

Saturday
Feb272016

FOB & A-OK

   One of my nephews arrived in Japan last week and stayed with me for several days before moving on to Okayama, where he will spend the next eight months as an assistant language teacher. His visit reminded me of the days when I myself first came to this country, back in the spring of ’92. Let me tell you, things couldn’t be more different today. Read More at Metropolis

Tuesday
Feb232016

Una Cama Vacía

My family in '71 or '72. I was the youngest of eleven brats at the time. Two more girls would pop out of my mother by and by, glutton for punishment that she was. My father worked part-time as Sadam Hussein double during the Iran-Iraq War.

An excerpt from my latest novella, A Woman's Hand, due out eventually. Funny how even fiction has a way of getting to the truth of things.

 

 

The women were a distraction.

From?

From the loneliness that was gnawing at me.

Loneliness?

I’ve always been a lonely person. Many people think that because I often spend time alone, I’m a loner, but nothing could be further from the truth: I crave to be with people. I don’t necessarily need to be the center of attention, but I do like to be surrounded by people.

Why do you think so?

I think it has something to do with growing up in a large family and being at the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak. I was called the “Baby of the Family” as if I were babied, but the fact of the matter is, the lower you are on that totem pole the less of your parents’ tender loving care you receive.

Oh?

Listen: when the first child trips and falls, the parents scoop the child up into their arms and comfort it. The second child gets a hug and some encouragement. The third, a pat on the head. The fourth is told to walk it off. The fifth gets scolded for making so much goddamn noise.

And the sixth?

He’s told he’ll be given something to really cry about if he doesn’t stop crying right this second.

It must be terrible to be the seventh child.

Oh, the seventh child has it easy: the parents are so tired of raising children by then that he usually gets forgotten or neglected. Neglect would have been like a walk in the park on a sunny afternoon compared to what I had to contend with as a child.

Such as?

Older brothers showing their fraternal affection through the administration of the daily Wedgie, Titty-twister, Wet Willy, and other indignities. So, as a consequence of the mild neglect of my parents and quotidian physical and emotional abuse by siblings I developed this inclination for melancholy and loneliness.

Has sleeping around ever helped?

Helped what?

Tame that gnawing loneliness.

Gabriel García Márquez wrote that . . .

Gabo again?

His is the Maestro. He wrote that there was no place in life sadder than an empty bed.[1]

Oh? I can think of places that are worse.

A tad hyperbolic, perhaps, but true, nonetheless. My bed today is far from empty—three young boys sleeping between my wife and me, tangled limbs and leaking diapers and I’m constantly rolling over onto Tomica die-cast cars, Lego blocks, and Kamen Rider blasters—and I couldn’t be happier. When my second son woke the other night to find his younger brother sleeping on my chest he cried, “No! No! No! My Daddy! My Daddy!” Now that I think about it, I haven’t felt lonely or sad since I became a father five years ago. Am I tired? Yes. Woozy from sleep deprivation? Yes! But lonely or sad? No, not at all. As for the sleeping around helping, I would have to say, no, it did not help.

 


[1] The original quote is “Ninguin lugar en la vida más triste que una cama vacía.” Another good one from El Coronel ne tiene quién le escriba is “No hay medicina que cure lo que no cura la felicidad.” (There is no medicine that cures what happiness cannot.)

 

Tuesday
Feb232016

My fingers come to a rest

My fingers come to a rest on the keyboard.

Is this really writing?

So calculated. Each sentence is.

Back space. Correct. Rewrite. Save. Tappity-tap.

Back space. Correct. Rewrite. Save. Tappity-tap. 

Spontaneity has been lost, the flow of words dammed up. Tappity-tap. Back space. Correct. Rewrite. 

How long did it take me to write a grammatically correct, yet insipid and meaningless sentence?

Fuck computers!

Monday
Feb222016

Hoops

Oh, the joy of being an American citizen!

I am finally getting around registering my second son as a Yank, three years after his birth. (Sorry, son.) For those American expats, who are soon to become parents this can be an exasperating, time-consuming process, which entails, in addition to a stiff drink for the patience you’ll find in it, completing the following forms:

DS-2029, Consular Report of Birth Application.

DS-11, Passport application.

SS-5, Social Security application.

The original birth certificate which requires a visit to the Ministry of Justice if the child is a “half”, something I learned only after getting into an altercation with a senior employee at the local Ward Office. (This is so unlike me, but those SOBs at the Ward Office have a way of bringing out the worst in a person.) This, of course, needs to be translated into the blessed Mother Tongue: ‘Murrican.

An affidavit of the child’s name. (Now, one thing nice about the U.S., is that they allow you to choose a name different than the one on the Japanese birth certificate if you like. Your daughter can, for example, be named Hanako Yamada in Japan and Bianca X. Witherspoon in the U.S.)

The original, plus one photocopy, of the parents’ marriage certificate, which in my case will require going back to the ward office, and apologizing for the misunderstanding the other day. (Sigh.) Oh, yes, this needs to be translated into English, too.

Original plus one photocopy of proof of termination of all prior marriages. (As if going through with the divorce wasn’t painful enough, now I have to beg the Ward Office to provide proof that I am a scoundrel. They’re on to me.)

Evidence of parents’ citizenship, original plus one photocopy.

Evidence of physical presence, such as high school and/or college transcripts (which I actually do have and like to whip out from time to time to prove what a marvelous student I was. No one believes me. The impudence!), wage statements (Wages? Y’gotta be kidding. Why do you think I came to Japan in the first place, silly?), credit card bills, former passports, etc.

Both parents’ IDs. Originals and copies, but of course.

The application fee. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Mug shots of the child for the passport.

One self-addressed, “LetterPack Plus” envelope.

Two days in and I’m just scratching the surface of paperwork. Fortunately, the Tokyo Embassy’s website (see Citizen’s services) does an outstanding job in walking you through the process. They also provide templates for translating the necessary Japanese documents.

Now, back to the paperwork. Better fortify myself with another gin and tonic before I take that next step. 

Thursday
Feb182016

My Oasis

  The day is coming to an end.

  The wind stills and the street below my balcony grows quiet.

  A week has come and gone. Time passes too quickly.

  One moment there is a phone call from a familiar voice and a visit by a woman I have come to love.

  But, the next moment, I am saying good-bye, and am alone again,

  My skin can feel it: time and love waits for no one.

  I sometimes think that the only reason we have memories is that we might recall in bad times those times when we were happier. And with those memories, we are accoutred for our journey on,

  Through the desert.

  Small drops of water on a parched tongue.

  I can get so thirsty at times.

  But all I can do is press on,

  One step at a time,

  Each step sinking in the sand as I,

  Search for the next oasis,

  That is you.

Thursday
Feb182016

Queerly Engendered

I came across this earlier today:

"Grants of up to $2,500 each are given twice yearly by the Leeway Foundation to women and transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, or otherwise gender-nonconforming poets, fiction writers, and . . ."

Now, I'm all for gender equality, but I must say the above poses something of a dilemma.

See, writers, by profession, are liars. They just make shit up. They cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

Take Gabriel García Márquez. The shameless liar, wrote in his Memoria de mis putas tristes about a beautiful fourteen-year-old virgin falling in love with a ninety-year-old man. Yeah, right, Gabo! In your dreams, you dirty old man!

So tell me, how are you supposed to take one of these lying bastards (or bastardettes) at his (or her) word, when he (or she) says that he (or she) is "genderqueer", whatever that means.

Monday
Jan252016

100km Walk Around Tokyo

   Jacob is a man after my own heart. Or should I say feet.

 

Wednesday
Jan132016

No Show Gatsu

   In recent years, I have been doing the following activity on the first class after the winter break.

   I split the class up into teams and, while listening to traditional music featuring the koto or shamisen, I have the students write on the blackboard as many words as they can in rōmaji related to the Japanese New Year. 

   In addition to being kind of fun--not barrels of fun, mind you, but fun enough--this activity can be rather instructive.

   For starters, you'll find that many Japanese students, not being proficient in the Hepburn romanization, will write things such as fukubukuro with an "h" rather than an "f" (hukubukuro) or nengajō with a "y" (nengajyo). The reason for this is that many Japanese learn simpler forms of romanization known as kunrei-shiki or Nihon-shiki. For more on this, go here. This is a good chance to briefly re-introduce the students to the Hepburn romanization and encourage them to use it in the future.

   My second year English Communication majors came up with the following words:

   One of the interesting things about this is that while many Japanese students will offer up words like hagoita, a decorative paddle used when playing a game resembling badminton called hanetsuki or even tako-agé (kite-flying), you shouldn't expect to see any of your neighbors playing hanetsuki or flying kites on New Year's Day. (In all my years in Japan, I have never once seen young women in kimono playing this game.)

   I then tell the students to ask one another if they had done any of the things on the board.

  "Did you eat o-sechi or nana-kusa gayu?"

   "Did you decorate your homes with shimenawa and kadomatsu?"

   "Did you send any nengajō?"

   Of the 23 students who attended that day, twenty had eaten o-sechi, four had shimenawa at the entrance of their homes, six had gone to the hatsu-uri New Year's sales, eleven had drunk o-toso, and so on. 

   Erasing those items which few or none of the students had partaken of, we came up with the following significantly pared down list:

   Where New Year's in Japan was once a very colorful, tradition-laden event, all that remains of it today, or so it seems, is the food, the shopping, and banal TV programs. Less than half of the students visited one Shintō shrine (hatsumōde), let alone three, during the holiday. It's kind of sad when you think about it. 

   Now, I'm not suggesting that we need to put the Shintō back in the Shinnen (new year), like some good Christians back home demand Christ be kept in that pagan celebration of the winter solstice also known as Christmas. But, I find it odd that the Japanese are so lackadaisical when it comes to their own heritage and culture.