On DJs

Found this in my notes for Rokuban, the rewrite of which I've been laboring over for the past year. Almost done, thank God. Time to move on to other works.*


Dé Dale would still call me up every now and again to tell me that there was a good party going on here, or that a famous DJ was performing there, but my heart wasn’t into it anymore. I had spent years with him going to the clubs and to what end? I hardly ever met women I was interested in, and I couldn’t for the life of me get what it was the DJs were doing?

“They’re just spinnin’ vinyl right?”

“It’s more than that,” dé Dale would try to explain. “They read the crowd; they control the mood.”

“Yeah, but in the end all they’re doing is putting LPs on a turntable, right? It’s not as if they’re making the music themselves? They’re just nerdy guys with massive record collections.”

“Some of them are musicians, too,” he replied.

“So what you’re telling me is that most of these guys are not musicians. They’re just guys playing other musician’s records. I don’t get it. Look, I’m feeling tired. I’m going home.”

“Oh, don’t be such an old man.”

“I am an old man and I’m outta here.”

“Let’s go out for drinks later in the week.”

“Fine, see you then.”



*The present version of Rokuban will no longer be available at the end of this year. A new version, the eighth draft, will be available for download in the new year. Selected chapters will be posted at that time.


Up the wall

   If I read another sentence using the word "crafted” to describe cupcakes or careers or wedding vows or anything that is not made by the skilled hands of a craftsman, I swear I am going to "craft" an "artisan" club and brain the writer. And, yes, it "actually" will be “literally” "stunning" and "awesome", and the hack will be “epically owned”, and everybody will "be like", “Dude, he 'nailed it'!"

   People, English is a beautiful language with one of the world's largest vocabularies--over 250,000 distinct words by some estimates--and yet many writers and speakers of the language today have an atrocious habit of describing the world around them with the most trite, banal, and clichéd words and phrases. 

   Stop it.





  In my writing class a student wrote that she had been cooking a lot recently and tried to make kara'agé. The sentence looked something like this:


            Recently I challenged KARAAGE.


  I asked her if she knew how to say kara’agé in English. She thought about if for a while, thought about it some more, gave it some more thought, then shrugged.

  “How do you make kara'agé?”

  “Meat . . . fry . . .”

  “You fry the meat?”


  “What kind of meat?”




  “What kind of bird? Suzume(sparrow)?”

  “No, not suzume! Tori. Bird!”

  “You know the restaurant KFC?”


  “What does KFC stand for?”

  “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

  “So . . .?”

  “Fried chicken!”

  “Yes! So, you had better write: ‘I tried—not challenged—I tried to make fried chicken.’”

  As she was writing this down, I asked her what the difference between fried chicken and kara’agé was.

  “Bones,” she answered.

  “You mean, fried chicken has bones and kara’agé doesn't?”


  “Well, actually, fried chicken and kara’agé are pretty much the same thing. Sometimes fried chicken has bones, sometimes it doesn’t. What I mean to say is the presence of bones is not a determining factor in fried chicken.”


  Moving on, I asked the girl if she knew what the kara (唐) of kara'agé meant.

  She replied with a guess: “Karatto (からっと)?”

  “No, no, no.”

  Karatto means “nice and crisp” or “dry”. Several of the students told me that they had thought the same thing. 

  I then asked one of the students from Kagoshima how to say sweet potato in her local dialect. She thought about it for a moment and answered:


  “No, no, no. ‘Satsumaimo’ (lit. “Satsuma (the former name for Kagoshima) potato”) is standard Japanese. Don’t you have another word for satsumaimo?”

  She gave this some thought and then said, “No.

  “How about kara imo?”

  Her eyes lit up, and, nodding her head, she said, “That’s right, we do say kara imo?”

  “So what does kara mean? It’s written with the same kanji.”

  Another student had the answer: China.

  “Yep,” I said. “Kara means China. Satsumaimo are called kara imo in Kagoshima because they—the potatoes, that is, not the people—originally came form China.” 

  Kara (唐) actually refers to the Táng cháo (唐朝), or Tang Dynasty (618-907). “So . . . kara’agé means ‘Chinese-style fried chicken’.”

  “Why does he know this?” someone in the back muttered.

  “Why don’t you?” I asked back. 


Made in England

   The other day I watched Arsenal and Manchester City, arguably two of England’s finest football teams, go head to head. As I was watching the game, though, I started to wonder if I was indeed watching English football. 

   First of all, in the case of Arsenal, the largest shareholder on the team’s board is an American sports tycoon named Stan Kroenke. Kroenke is also the owner of the St. Louis Rams, an American football team. Manchester City is owned outright by the Abu Dhabi United Group, a sovereign wealth fund based in the U.A.E. The club had been previously owned by Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand. 
   Arsenal plays in the Emirates Stadium and is coached by Arsène Wenger, an Alsatian. Man. City is coached by Chilean Manuel Pellegrini. 
   Both teams are sponsored by airlines that are based in the Middle East.
   Arsenal’s kits are made by the German sporting goods giant Puma, while Manchester's uniforms are supplied by the American firm Nike.
   And if that wasn’t enough to make you scratch your head, consider this: Man. City’s two goals were scored by Argentines, Aguero and Demichelis; meanwhile, one of Arsenal’s goals was decided by Chilean Sanchez.
   Made in England, or merely played in England?
   Incidentally, I watched that “English" football game on Turkish television.

Once Upon a Time in NW Portland

   I wander Northwest Portland and look at all the things I can’t afford—cars, Victorian houses, fashionable clothing, beer, girls, hope . . . I wander Northwest in search of someone who can sympathize.

   A friend of mine recently moved to Germany to begin working as an analyst for an English securities firm. He’ll be making $55,000 a year which sounds like a fortune to me, considering I’ve only got two dollars in my wallet and some change in my pocket for the bus home.

   I go to Brian’s apartment on NW. Irving. Or “Oiving” as the Boston native calls it. Brian is always good for a laugh, always listens and soothes if only because he knows what I am going through. I doubt he’ll be in this early in the afternoon, but I’d rather wait on his front porch than head home and face my parents and their questions, their disappointments, and their unwelcomed advice on how to get a job.

   I walk up the rickety wooden steps. I fell down these steps a year ago when I was drunk and cracked my skull on the sidewalk. I sometimes wonder if I did permanent damage.

   To the immediate left of Brian’s place is a shabby halfway house for mental patients. The windows are covered with a filthy film of neglect. In each window hangs a different set of mismatched curtains from the Nixon era or soiled sheets draped across to conceal the depravity within. Though many of the patients seem content to sit on the porch day after day in a lithium-induced daze, there are others bursting with energy; one paces back and forth like a caged animal, another is prone to outbursts of profanity. We have come to call him Pally.

   I twist the aging ringer on Brian’s door.

   “Goddamn cock-sucking sons of bitches!” shouts Pally next door.

   I give the ringer another twist. The door has a large single diamond-shaped window in it that is cracked. The building is in an appalling state. Paint is chipped. The floors creak. The carpets are stained and funky.

   Across the street all the houses have been bought up and remodeled by not-so young anymore, but definitely upwardly mobile professionals. Before long, this side of the street will also be cleaned up and both Brian and his roommates, as well as Pally and the rest will be told to shove off.

   Brian appears at the top of a flight of stairs that rises just behind the door. He waves me up.

   “Yus! What’s up?” He says as I’m climbing the stairs, and then noticing that I’ve gotten my hair cut exclaims, “Yus! What happened to you?”

   I had been growing my hair out for over two years, but this morning went and had it all whacked off.

   “You look like a human being! Respectable, even. What’s with the suit? You gone Mormon on me, Yus? Cuz if you have, you leave NOW! None of that missionary crap in here.”

   “It’s worse than that, Brian,” I say as I plop down on a third-hand couch that came with the apartment. Dust billows up. “I had a job interview.”

   “What for, Yus? President? Yus for President, ninety-two! Yup, it’s Yus! How about that for a campaign slogan? ‘Yup, it’s Yus!’”

   The doctor is in. A smile cracks across my face. All you have to do is listen and laugh your cares away.

   Brian sits down on the floor next to the TV. “So? You had an interview?”

   “Yeah, with my exploratory committee. President of the U. S. of A. I’m running, goddamnit!


   “Small company,” I lie, too embarrassed to tell him the truth. “It’s downtown . . . Didn’t expect you to be home.”

   “Oy gevalt, Yus!” he exclaims, wiping his weary eyes with his thick, short fingers. “Uncle Milt was in a historically bad mood today.”

   Milton is my former boss on “The Hill”, the medical university and its related research facilities. It was on The Hill that Brian and I first met, experimenting with mice while we were still students. The two of us continued to work there after graduation despite Milt’s choleric disposition, which kept all of us research assistants constantly on edge.

   In many ways, I did enjoy my time in the lab, I even liked Milt on his good days. But it was exhausting watching out for the old man’s wild mood swings. Add to that the suspicion that my chosen career, Medicine, wasn’t for me, and well I felt I had no choice but to leave when my contract was up. Brian remains, though, working part-time. Until he can find a full-time teaching position, that is.

   “Yus, I was trying to do the experiments that you did, and failed, because Yus doesn’t take very good notes. See, I’m reading Yus’s wonder lab book: ‘Page forty-two. And the method for extracting the protein from the cell is as follows:’ I turn the page, page forty-three. And, it’s BLANK, Yus!!! You didn’t write down any notes, Yus. Let me tell ya, Uncle Milt was really happy about that one. Oy veh, he yells at me and he’s shaking and red in the face. He says, ‘Chemsz, did you have your head up your butt?’”

   Brian starts laughing and I can’t help but laugh too.

   “Yus, you know what I say? I says, ‘You’re right, Milt, as a matter of fact I did have my head up my butt. See, I was only following Yus’s brilliant notes right here on page forty-three. Yus, I’m tellin’ you, I’m sending your lab book to Stockholm. That’s Nobel Laureate material you did on The Hill.”

   We laugh hard and the darkness of that dim living room lifts as if the roof has been torn away from the rafters.

   “Yus, I sometimes feel I ought to be next door with old Pally. After today, I almost went there instead of home.”

   “Well, the way I’m going, me too, Brian.”

   Brian’s apartment is a mess as always. None of his roommates seem to care. The Escape from New York pizza box with a half-eaten peperoni pizza is still on the coffee table where I saw it three days ago. The grease has congealed, the cheese has grown hard. There are plastic cups with flat beer in them. The Oregonian is scattered in piles throughout the room. Finding today’s paper, I pick it up and open up the classified section.

   “By the way, Milt said if you want, he’d hire you back on, but only part-time, like me, Yus.”

   “Great, Brian, but what’s the catch?”

   “No catch,” he says, chuckling. “You only have to work just as much as the full-time staff, but earn less. See how that works? Uncle Milt, gets two people to yell at for the price of one.”

   Accountant, Accountant, Accountant, Accountant . . .

   “Actually, Yus, you’re the only one who knew how to do all the paperwork on the hill. Now he’s got poor Anne doing it and of course she’s making all the same mistakes you used to make, but does Uncle Milt yell at her? Hell no . . .”

   Attendant . . . Appliance Salesman . . . Appliance Serviceman . . . Appliance Technician . . .

   “No, Yus, he yells at me. Me! What did I have to do with . . .”

   Barber, Barber, Barber, Barber . . . Bartender, Bartender . . . A friend of mine was laid off from Paramount Pictures and became a bartender. Good money, he said. Good tips and you can meet girls . . . Then again, his car was repossessed. Maybe the money’s not so good after all . . .

   “Yus, you listenin’ t’me? Yus never listens to me. All he hears is blah, blah, blah, blah.”

   “Sorry,” I say, putting the paper down, but spread out on the pizza box so I can still see it. “Reading the classifieds has become an exercise in futility lately. At times, I just want to give up and say, Fuck it! You heard back from any schools?”

   “Nothing yet,” Brian says, lying down on the floor. “The subbing has been pretty irregular. Good money when it comes around, but it’s only September, so I’m stuck up on The Hill until then. Why don’t you come back? Not with Milty, of course, but in a different lab. It is a job.”

   “Thanks, Mom.”


No doubt about it, God is . . .

Costa Rica's Keylor Navas blocks a shot by Greece's Kostas Mitroglou during extra time in the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the two countries.

   Watching the penalty shoot out between Greece and Costa Rica this morning, I found it amusing to see members from both teams praying--praying to the very same Christian God, mind you--in the hope that He was supporting their team rather than the other guys and would guide the players to victory. 

   Indeed, one of the first things Costa Rica's Navas did after he successfully blocked the third penalty kick was to point towards Heaven and say, "Gracias!"

   While 97% of Greek citizens identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians--79% of them saying that they "believe there is a God" and another 15.8% describing themselves as "very religious", the highest figure among all European countries--a nationwide survey of religion in Costa Rica found that 70.5% of "Ticos" are Roman Catholics, 44.9% of whom are practicing.

   Clearly this says something about the nature of God that has been in dispute since the Great Schism, the medieval division of Chalcedonian Christianity into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches one thousand years ago. Namely, that God is, beyond a doubt, Roman Catholic. (That is, unless those heathen Dutch win the whole shebang.)


Nakagin Capsule Tower

   Completed in 1972, the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza is one of the few remaining examples of Japanese Metabolism, "an architectural movement emblematic of Japan's postwar cultural resurgence". It was designed by Kisho Kurokawa, the architect who also designed The National Art Center in Roppongi, Tōkyō.

   For an interesting interview with the architect Kisho Kurokawa, click here.



Some Advice on Father's Day

Taken in Lebanon before kids threw our lives in happy disarray.


Marry someone beautiful, so your old man can enjoy looking at her.

Marry someone smart and funny, so he can enjoy talking to her. 

Marry someone nice, so he can enjoy spending time with her.

In short, marry someone like the woman your old man was lucky enough to find.




My Car . . . My Gawd!

   I don’t even have a driver’s license so this is all academic for me, but even if I did have a license, I probably wouldn’t own a car. 
   For starters, really like to drink. The real reason, though, is that I live right smack in the heart of the city and most of the places I want to go to—department stores, restaurants, bars, boutiques, parks--are within walking distance. When I do want to go someplace further, I use public transportation which is often much faster and less nerve-wracking than driving. And, several times a month, for convenience sake I hail a cab.
   When people hear about this, they often say something to the effect of, “A taxi? Wow! You must be rolling in the dough!” Mind you, these are often people who own cars. 
   What I tell them, time and time again, is that for someone like me who lives in the city and works six days a week, taking a taxi every now and then is small change compared to the high cost of buying and maintaining a car. I never had proof to support this assertion until this morning when I read an article in Nikkan Gendai which claims that owning a car is “the ultimate waste of money”.
   The article says that while having a car enables the owners to go wherever and whenever they like, in reality most “salarymen” are only weekend drivers.
   When you think about it, nothing eats through money quite like an automobile. In spite of their claims that cars give them freedom and convenience, most drivers do little more with their cars than go shopping at big box retailers on the weekends. A few may take day trips, but for the most part, their cars just sit in the garage, guzzling resources.
   For someone living in the suburbs of Tōkyō, the cost of maintaining a car comes to about ¥30,160 ($295) a month, or ¥380,000 ($3,712) a year. Keep in mind that this does not include the price of the car itself.
   Parking: ¥15,000/month (in my neighborhood, parking is about ¥30,000/month)
   Gasoline: ¥5,0000/month
   Insurance: ¥50,000/year
   Car tax: about ¥40,000/year
   Vehicle inspection: about ¥100,000 every two years
   If the owner of a car were to only drive five times a month, he would be spending the equivalent of ¥6,000 per use. Keiichi Kaya, author of the “The Rich Man’s Textbook” blog, writes, “Owners of cars shouldn’t expect to become even moderately wealthy.” The article goes on to say that even if a person were to use taxis and rental cars frequently, it would still be much cheaper than owning a car.
   I agree. 
   Still, I wouldn’t mind owning a Mini.



Too Clean and Far Too Common

The last public execution in France.   I have been meaning to write about this, but haven't had the time.

   Those of you who are familiar with me and my politics will know I am against the death penalty.1 So, it might seem contradictory for me to argue today that as long as the United States wants to continue killing its deathrow inmates, it ought to do so in a very public and violent way: beheadings.

   Sticking needles into the arms of the condemned and putting them to sleep as we have been doing since 1982 has made capital punishment too antiseptic, too "humane", and far, far too common. Were it messy and cruel, the good Christians of America might lose their stomach for executing her prisoners.



1 . . . except in very limited political situations where executions would lead to stability. The execution of Nazi leaders and Osama bin Laden would fall into that narrow scope.


The MET's Online Photo Collection

  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has released some 400,000 photographic images for non-commercial use. Among the these are some excellent photos from the late Edo and early Meiji Periods. It's definitely worth perusing.

Date: 1870s 

   Olga de Meyer Sitting on the Porch of a Japanese House
   Date: 1900s–1910s

    Photographer: Adolf de Meyer (American (born France), Paris 1868–1949 Los Angeles, California)


   Shrine with Monumental Statue of Buddah
   Date: 1890s
   Photographer: Adolf de Meyer (American (born France), Paris 1868–1949 Los Angeles, California)



   Japanese Woman in Traditional Dress Posing Outdoors
   Date: 1870s
   Photographer: Shinichi Suzuki (Japanese, 1835–1919)


   Kusakabe Kimbei (Japanese, 1841–1934)
   Date: 1860s–90s
   Photographer: Kusakabe Kimbei (Japanese, 1841–1934)
   Artists: K Tamamura (Japanese), Raimund von Stillfried (Austrian, 1839–1911), and Felice Beato (British (born Italy), Venice 1832–1909 Luxor, Egypt)


   A Japanese Woman and a Japanese Boy in Traditional Dress
   Photographer: Shinichi Suzuki (Japanese, 1835–1919)
   Date: 1870s  


   Street Minstrel
   Photographer: Shinichi Suzuki
   Date: 1870s 


   La Toilette
   Photographer: Shinichi Suzuki (Japanese, 1835–1919)
   Date: 1870s


   Mutsuhito, The Emperor Meiji
   Photographer: Kyuichi Uchida (Japanese, 1846–1875)
   Date: 1872

   Tea House waitress
   Shinichi Suzuki (Japanese, 1835–1919)
   Date: 1870s


   Geisha Girls
   Photographer: Unknown
   Date: ca. 1880




   Shinsekai Ōsaka: where old men's dreams go to die a long, slow death in the trash-filled gutter.


Children's Day, 2014

   Monday, May fifth was Children’s Day, or Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日), here in Japan, one of the four national holidays that form Golden Week

   Originally called Tango no Sekku (端午の節句),1 Children’s Day used to be celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th moon in the old lunisolar, or Chinese, calendar, but was switched to May fifth after Japan's adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1873The festival is still celebrated in the east Asian countries of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, where it is called the Duanwu (or Drangon Boat) Festival (Tuen Ng in Cantonese); Korea (Dano Festival) and Vietnam (Tết Đoan Ngọ).
   According to the Chinese calendar, the fifth day of the fifth month usually falls near the summer solstice, when the sun, which represents masculine energy, is considered to be at its strongest, and it was for this reason that Tango no Sekku was also known as Boys' Day. (March 3rd, Hina Matsuri, was and still is called Girls' Day) In 1948, the Japanese government renamed the holiday Kodomo no Hi, decreeing the day to one to celebrate the happiness of all children, not just that of boys.
   Well, speaking of children, according to a report released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on Children’s Day, the population of children (aged 0 to 14) in Japan was 16,330,000 as of April 1, 2014, or 160,000 less than last year. This marked the 33rd year in a row that the number of children in Japan has fallen. The last time the population of children increased was in 1977. As a proportion of the total population, children now account for only 12.97%, the lowest figure on record.

   Taking a closer look at the number of children by age group, we see that if nothing changes in the next few years to increase birthrate then the proportion of children to the total population will continue to drop dramatically.

   This graph (pictured above) shows the population of three demographics: blue for those 0-14 years of age; brown for those between the ages of 15 and 64; and green for those 65 and older. As you can see, while the number of those in the middle hasn’t changed very much--indeed, they are at levels today (62.1% of the population) that they were at in 1955 (61.3%)—the number of children has steadily decreased, while the number of elderly has increased. Today, 25.1% of the population is 65 years old or older.

   For more on this, go here (Japanese only).

   In somewhat related news, the number of stalking cases involving suspects over the age of sixty has continued to rise in recent years. While cases involving suspects between the ages of 20 and 59 have risen 1.5 to 2.0 times over the past ten years, those involving these “silver stalkers” has almost quadrupled.
   Although only accounting for a small minority of all stalking cases (less than 10%), the number of incidents committed by stalkers in their sixties is up 3.4 times since 2003, while those perpretrated by stalkers in their 70s have increased 5.6 times.
   One man in his eighties, who was arrested for “gatecrashing” into the home of a woman who was in her seventies, confessed to the police that he had been lonely since the death of his wife. After she passed away, the man asked the younger woman, with whom he had once had an affair, to get back together with him, begging her to “die with him”.
   I almost feel sorry for the randy old sod.

1 From Wikipedia: "Tan means ‘beginning' and go means ‘horse', referring to the Chinese zodiac name for the fifth lunar month. Sekku means a seasonal festival. There are five sekku, including O-Shogatsu (January 1st), Hina Matsuri (March 3rd), Tanabata (July 7th) and Kiku Matsuri (September 9th) along with Tango. Tango no Sekku marks the beginning of summer or the rainy season." 



The Sewol Tragedy

   A little reported footnote (in the English language media, at least) to the Sewol ferry tragedy, which claimed as many as 300 lives, is the origin of the ship.

   The Sewol, which sank on the morning of April 16th off of the southwestern coast of Korea, was built by Hayashi Kane Senkyo (林兼船渠), a shipbuilder located in Nagasaki, in 1994. From June of that year until September 2012, Maru A Ferry used the ferry, then called Ferry Nami no Ue to service its Kagoshima - Amami Ōshima - Okinawa route.

   During the 18 years that the ship was owned by Maru A, the only trouble she experienced was an oil leak. There were no reports of collisions with reefs or quays. 

   In October of 2012, the ship was sold off to a Korean shipping company named the Cheonghaejin Marine Company and refurbished.1 Originally, a five-storey ship, the lowest floor was used for cargo, the second floor for cars. It had a capacity of 200 vehicles. The third floor contained restaurants and shops, and passenger rooms were located on the third to fifth floors. Modifications, however, included the addition of extra passenger cabins on the third, fourth and fifth decks, raising the passenger capacity by 156, and increasing the weight of the ship by 239 tons.

   It has been argued that the addition of extra passenger cabins on the third, fourth and fifth decks was the main cause behind the accident. The additions caused the center of the ships gravity to shift 51 centimetres (1.67 ft) higher. (To read about other possible causes, go here.)

   A crew member, however, has attempted to shift the blame for the accident on to the Japanese shipbuilder, claiming yesterday that the ship hadn't been strong enough to withstand the additions. If such is the case, it begs the question: why did they go ahead with the renovation?

Maru A Ferry


The Sewol 


1 According to Maru A Ferry, it is common for passenger ships in Japan to be replaced every fifteen to twenty years, with the older ships being sold mainly to companies in Southeast Asia.


Five-yenned and Ten-yenned


   Ever since the consumption tax was raised from 5% to 8% at the start of April, I've noticed that my wallet empties faster than it used to. I have to charge the IC card I use for my commute more often than before, too. 

  A three-point increase in the sales tax really doesn't amount to much, when you think about it. Something that used to cost ¥105, now costs ¥3 more. Dinner and drinks at a nice restaurant which set you back ¥10,500 in March is today only ¥300 more expensive. Big deal, right?

  Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working out quite that way. 

  As I have written before, the Oronamin C I buy at the station in the morning is now 9% more expensive than it was only three weeks ago. Where it used to cost ¥110, I now have to pay ¥120. The commute, too, is more expensive than before: I am now paying about ¥50~¥60 more every day to get to work every day.

   I can't help but feel like I'm being nickel and dimed, or rather five-yenned and ten-yenned, now. Those less fortunate than myself must surely be feeling the pinch. 

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