Journal

 

Thursday
Feb192015

Aspiring Sincerely

Japan is a funny place.

Prostitution is technically illegal in Japan, and yet it is everywhere. Gambling is illegal, but that doesn’t keep the more than 12,000 pachinko parlors nationwide from raking it in. And if pachinko doesn’t sate your masochistic gambling needs there are also mahjong parlors galore, horse races, boat races, and keirin.

The Constitution of Japan also forbids the country from having land, sea and air forces.[1] Japan, however, famously maintains the fifth largest defense budget in the world.[2]

Personally speaking, I do not really care all that much whether Japan has a proper military or not. If the vast majority of the Japanese people want to scrap Article 9, so be it.[3] What I am concerned about, though, is the integrity of the Japanese Constitution. If laws continue to be flouted as they often are, what will stop future leaders from dismissing the Constitution altogether? Now that’s where the real danger lies.

 


[1] Article 9 of the Japanese constitution states: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

[2] Figures vary. In 2013, the Yearbook listed Japan as eighth, just above India and below Germany. The International Institute for Strategic Studies 2013 had Japan in seventh place just below France and above Germany.

Japan’s military budget has a “symbolic ceiling” of 1% of GDP. One percent of the world’s third largest economy, however, adds up to a lot of military hardware.

[3] Fortunately, they don’t.

Prime Minister Abe may be itching to change Japan’s “peace constitution”, but I think he fails to appreciate what a convenient excuse that constitution provides Japan. Whenever her allies have needed military assistance, all the Prime Minister has had to do was point to the constitution and say, “I’d love to help, honestly I would, but my hands are tied.” Why would you want to change that?

Wednesday
Feb182015

Japan's Wild, Wild West

1. Japan’s Wild, Wild West

Despite consistently ranking as one of best cities in the world to live, shop, or eat, Fukuoka also has a reputation among the Japanese as being one of the wildest, most dangerous places in the entire country. Because of its reputation for violence and crime, the prefecture has been called “Ashura no Koku” (阿修羅の国).[1]

So, why the bad rap?

For one, Fukuoka prefecture often tops the country in number of shootings and bombings with hand grenades—yes, that’s hand grenades. The prefecture also has the ignominy of being a leader in accidents caused by drunk drivers. The rate of burglary is high, as is the total number of sex crimes and the rate of sex crimes, and so on.[2]

The cause of the high level of crime has been attributed to the large number of organized crime syndicates operating in the prefecture, its proximity to the Sea of Japan, which is said to facilitate smuggling and exile, and tougher anticrime measures in Kantō and Kansai.

 



[1] Ashura in Buddhism is the name of the lowest ranking deities of the Kāmadhātu (Buddhist cosmology). They are described as having three heads with three faces and four to six arms. The state of an Asura reflects the mental state of a human being obsessed with ego, force and violence, always looking for an excuse to get into a fight, angry with everyone and unable to maintain calm or solve problems peacefully. (Wikipedia)

[2] *Fukuoka also has the highest rate in Japan of unmarried women in their 20s and 30s. This is supposed to be a “bad thing”, but personally, I believe it adds to the city's livability.

 

Thursday
Jan152015

Dubious Science

HRP's campaign poster for the 2014 general election features party president, Shaku Ryōko. The former party head used to be Ōkawa Kyōko, the wife of Happy Science founder Ōkawa Ryūhō. Seems they failed to realize their happiness together.

The first time I heard of Happy Science was during the 2009 Lower House election that would had the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a well-deserved drubbing.

One day during the 12-day campaign period before the election,[1] a noisy political sound truck sped past me with the usual contingent of white gloved hands waving out of the windows and the improbable name Kōfuku Jitsugen Tō (幸福実現党, The Happiness Realization Party, HRP) plastered on the side of it.

“You gotta be kidding,” I said to myself as I waved back listlessly to the enthusiastic lackeys in the van.

In 2009, there was no shortage of minor political parties with silly names, including “The Essentials”, “The Freeway Club”, “Japan Smile Party” and “The Forest and Ocean Party”, none of which would gain any seats in the election. The Happies, however, would press on election after election.

Curiosity getting the better of me, I did a bit of research into the party when I got home that day and I learned that HRP was the political wing of Kōfuku no Kagaku (幸福の科学, Happy Science), a cult founded in 1986 by Ryūhō Ōkawa.

According to an article in The Japan Times, “the Happies have an eye-catching manifesto: multiply Japan’s population by 2 1/2 to 300 million and make it the world’s No. 1 economic power, and rapidly rearm for conflict with North Korea and China. If elected, the party’s lawmakers will invite millions of foreigners to work here, inject religion into all areas of life, and fight to overcome Japan’s ‘colonial’ mentality, which has ‘fettered’ the nation’s true claim to global leadership.”             

I don’t know about you, but it sounded to me as if the person who wrote the manifesto had been smoking meth.

Pipe dream or not, Kōfuku Jitsugen Tō fielded 345 candidates, or nearly one in each electoral district—more than the either the Democratic Party of Japan, which would go on to win the election, or the ruling Liberal Democratic Party—in the 2009 election, yet failed to win any seats in the National Diet. Further bids in 2012 and 2014 with a similar number of candidates also yielded zero seats. At a cost of 3 million yen per individual electoral district and 6 million yen per proportional representation block, The Happies have squandered almost six billion yen (over $50 million) over the past three campaigns.

Or have they?

If the real aim of these hopeless election campaigns has been brand recognition rather than electoral victory, then The Happies must be very happy indeed. Six years ago, I had never heard of either the cult or its leader, but now I have. I’m sure it is no different with your average Tarō in Japan.

Still, fifty-plus million dollars ain’t chump change. By comparison, Mitt Romney spent $42 million of his own money in his failed attempt to win the Republican nomination for presidential candidate in 2007-08, the second most spent by a candidate self-financing his run. All of this got me thinking how The Happies were able to finance not only their election campaigns, but also their construction boom which has seen several gaudy new palaces dedicated to the ego of Ōkawa erected throughout Japan over the past several years.

It’s hardly news that religions, old and new, are able to generate fabulous amounts of tax-free income, but to make money, they’ve got to have adherents to their faith.

According to Happy Science’s, the cult claims to have twelve million followers in ninety countries. I found this number to be highly dubious as it is the exact same figure claimed by another cult, Sōka Gakkai. Although considered a “new religion” in Japan, S.G. International has been around since 1930 and has its origins in Nichiren Buddhism, which itself dates back to the 13th century. Although, I do not know anyone who is a follower of Ryūhō Ōkawa, I have come across quite a few members of Sōka Gakkai over the years. The entertainment world in Japan is famously peopled with followers of the religion.

By comparison, the Mormons[2] have over 15 million followers and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have 8.2 million, thanks to both religions’ aggressive missionary work throughout the world and unfortunately at my doorstep.

The more I ruminated on it, the more Happy Science’s claim of twelve million believers just didn’t add up.

Then it hit me. I knew how to get a fairly accurate estimate of Happy Science’s followers in Japan: the results of the 2009 election.

In the proportional representation blocks, The Happiness Realization Party and Kōmeitō, the party closely tied to Sōka Gakkai, got the following number of votes:

Hokkaidō Block

20,276 votes for HRP vs. 354,886 for Kōmeitō

 
Tōhoku Block

36,295 vs. 516,688

 
Northern Kantō Block

46,867 vs. 855,134

 
Southern Kantō Block

44,162 vs. 862,427

 
Tōkyō Block

35,667 vs. 717,199

 
Hokuriku Block

32,312 vs. 333,084

 
Tōkai Block

57,222 vs. 891,158

 
Kinki Block

80,529 vs 1,449,170

 
Chūgoku Block

32,319 vs. 555,552

 
Shikoku Block

19,507 vs. 293,204

 
Kyūshū Block

54,231 vs. 1,225,505

 
The Happiness Realization Party garnered about 459,000 proportional representational votes, less than 6% of the 8,054,000 votes for the Kōmeitō, which suggests that The Happies actually have around 720,000 followers. After watching this video of Ryūhō Ōkawa’s great psychic power, it makes me wonder how he managed to even get that many.

Obviously, I'm in the wrong business.

 
 
[1] For more on elections in Japan, go here.

[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Sunday
Jan112015

Fresh Answers to Old Questions about an even Older Profession

"You know, long before we married, Haruka surprised me by saying that she would be able to overlook her husband visiting a soapland . . ."

"Pardon me?"

"Soaplands are a uniquely Japanese kind of brothel. Customers pay to take a bath with a woman who washes the man, massages him, and then depending on the customer’s needs and budget, either has sex with, or performs some kind of act on the man resulting in the man’s 'pipes' also getting 'cleaned'. Or so they say; I have never been to one myself."[1]

"Those enigmatic Japanese."

 

 


[1] Prostitution is illegal in Japan. Technically, that is. The definition of prostitution, however, is limited to coitus, meaning that pretty much everything else that one can image is allowed. Also, there is no stipulated penalty for those who are prostitutes or those who use them, so, if a prostitute does have coitus with a John, the act is considered to have been done privately between two consenting adults. (How convenient!) Although the laws regulating “businesses affecting public morals” (風俗法, fūzokuhō) have been amended over the years, prostitution is still going strong in Japan.

Case in point: a few months ago, I was approached by a pimp on a street corner in Nakasū, Fukuoka’s “adult-oriented” entertainment area. He asked me if I was interested in going to a “soapland”.

In my two decades in this country, it was the very first time that any of these black-suited panderers had ever approached me. It left me with the impression that either Japan has come a long way in accepting foreigners or the economy still hasn’t recovered completely, “Abenomics” notwithstanding. A buck is a buck, no matter which schmuck the girl fucks.

I had a minute or two before the traffic signal changed, so I asked the pimp how much a visit to his soapland cost. (No harm in asking, right?) He answered that there was a flat fee of fifteen thousand yen (about $160).

 “So cheap!” Surely there must be some catch, I thought, and asked him if that was just the price you paid to get into the joint, the so-called nyūyoku-ryō (入浴料).

“No. It’s fifteen thousand for sex.”

“Get outta here!”

I then asked if there was an extra charge, known as a shimei-ryō (指名), for choosing the girl, and he said, “No, you may have sex with any girl you like.”

“Really!”

While I didn’t take him up on his offer, I could see why many Japanese men do. When the light changed, I crossed the street and walked away, the modest price of a convenient “affair of the body” niggling at the back of my mind.

 

Saturday
Dec062014

The Future is . . . 

The past ten years or so have really seen remarkable advancements in technology when you think about it. Just off the top of my head, I came up with the following list of products and services which not only did not exist a decade ago, but are for the most part indispensible today.

 

2001 Wikipedia

2003 Skype

2003 IEEE 802.11g, a.k.a. Wi-Fi

2004 iMac G5 with 40 to 500GB. 500GB??? Who would ever need that much storage?

2004 Toyota Prius introduced to US market.

2005 Youtube

2005 Google Maps

2005 Sunnyvale, CA, became first city in the U.S. providing citywide Wi-Fi for free.

2006 Facebook available to the general public

2006 Twitter

2006 Nintendo Wii

2007 iPhone

2007 Google Street View

2010 Instagram

2010 iPad

2011 Siri

2011 Line application

2015 iWatch

 

Makes you wonder what the next ten years will hold. Jetpacks anyone?

Monday
Dec012014

Bushy Brows

   About a year or so ago I was in the ladies cosmetics section of a department store chasing after my son who had escaped from me when I noticed that all of the models pictured in the large photos above the cosmetics sellers had bushy eyebrows. 

   Not long after that, the young women in my college classes started sporting the new look, for better or worse. 

   "What the hell is going on here," I asked a fashionable woman who works in the aparrel industry.

   She replied that, some people say that similar to the length of skirts, eyebrows are an indicator of the economy. The heavier the eyebrows, the better the economy.

   "Ah, eyebrow-nomics."

Monday
Dec012014

Yakuin-henge

Wednesday
Nov262014

The 1% in Japan

   With all the talk in recent years about rising economic inequality in the U.S., I was curious to learn more about what the situation was like in Japan. In researching the issue, I came across an interesting site called heikin shūnyū ("average income", sorry Japanese only) which answers a lot of the questions people have about income and wealth in Japan. I will be translating some of my findings here, so check in on this post from time to time. 

 

  Ten million yen a year

   The first thing that caught my eye was the following:

   "年収1000万円の手取りはいくらかと言いますと、ざっくりですが700~800万となります。ちなみに全体の中で、年収1000万以上もらえる人は全体の3~4%となりかなり少ないです。"

   Take-home pay for someone earning ¥10,000,000 a year (or $84,873 at today's lousy exchange rate) amounts to about ¥7~8,000,000 ($59,000~68,000). Incidentally, only 3-4% earns over ten million yen a year. 3-4% of what is not clarified. I assume it is 3-4% of those who are working and earning an income.

   According to another great site, Trading Economics, the labor force participation rate is 59.9%, giving Japan a workforce of 63,660,000 people. So, if I have calculated correctly, about two million people in Japan earn over 10 million yen a year. That would put them squarely in the top 5%, something I find hard to believe as an income of ¥10,000,000 isn't what I'd call "rich". (See below for the actual stats.)

 

   Bragging Rights

   How much money would you have to earn for you to feel like you're really raking it in? Minna no Koe ("Everyone's Voice") an online opinion survey run, I believe, by DoCoMo, asked this very question. More than 32,000 people took part in the survey and the results are as follows: 

1. Over ¥10 million 48.8%

2. Over ¥8 million 19.3%

3. Over ¥5 million 12.0%

4. Over ¥20 million 6.3%

5. Over ¥100 million 3.9%

   Interestingly, if you look at the answers of those still in their teens, "over ¥5 million a year" drops from third place to sixth and ¥20 million rises to third place. The second most common answer for those in their twenties, however, is "over ¥5 million a year", reflecting perhaps the harsh reality of working life in Japan today.

 

   Who's Making What

   In 2010, 45,520,000 people in Japan received a "salary", the largest portion, or 18.1% (8.23 million people), earning between ¥3,000,000 ~ ¥3,999,999 a year. The next largest group, or 17.6% or wage-earners (about 8 million people) earned between ¥2,000,000 ~ ¥2,999,999.

   Among men, the largest wage group (19.5% of the total) earned between ¥4,000,000 ~ ¥4,999,999. 26.8% of women earned more than ¥1 million and less than ¥2 million.

¥4,000,000 ~ ¥4,999,999 14.3%

¥5,000,000 ~ ¥5,999,999 9.4%

¥7,000,000 ~ ¥7,999,999 3.9%

¥10,000,000 ~ ¥14,999,999 2.8%

¥15,000,000 ~ ¥19,999,999 0.6%

¥2,500,000 ~   0.2%

   Those earning over ¥10,000,000 account for less than 5% of all wage earners, or about 2.27 million people.

 

   "Kakusa Shakai"

   Kakusa Shakai (格差社会, "gap-widening society") is a term you're sure to hear on TV when the discussion is about the economic in Japan. Like America, Japan has seen growing income inequality over the past few decades, though it hasn't been as conspicuous. Rather than go into the reasons for the rise in inequality, I would like to note that as of 2010, there were some 800,000 people who could be counted among the "well-to-do", namely, those earning over ¥20 million a year. By comparison, there were more than 20 million Japanese living in poverty.

   In my next update, I'll try to look more closely into the stats of poverty in Japan. 

 

 

 

   
Tuesday
Nov252014

Nippon Ichi

   In America, when the local team wins, the town is set on fire. In Japan, however, fans burn through money at victory sales.

   Fukuoka prefecture calculated that a Japan Series win by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks would lead to an economic windfall to the tune of ¥40,400,000,000 ($345,300,000). When the Hawks beat the Chūnichi Dragons in 2011, the economic effect of the win was ¥38,800,000,000.

   Revenue at department stores and other shops alone was expected to increase by ¥25,800,000,000 ($220,000,000) thanks to victory sales held throughout the prefecture.

   The GDP of Fukuoka prefecture is about $170 billion.

Saturday
Nov222014

A monkey on the back, a gorilla on the hood

   It was around the time of the earthquake and both Jean and I were at our very lowest. I was still depressed about the break up with Nacky, my cousin was living with me again, driving me up the wall, and money was tighter than ever.

   Jean had closed all his shops but one, The Zoo, the one down the street from mine, and was struggling to keep that. I knew money had to be tight with him, too, because every now and then he would ask me to “invest money” in his company. I couldn’t help feeling that too many banks had already invested too much in his business and that model of an ever-growing business—grow or die, he liked to say—was coming back to haunt him. His business was dying.

   Shortly before the earthquake, Jean had to give up his übercool apartment in the tony neighborhood of Hirao. That must have hurt. He had always made such a big deal about how he had been living for years “like a monk” in a very simple apartment with very few things cluttering up his life. But then, when business was going exceptionally well, Jean’s real estate agent told him that he needed to be living like a shachō, like the company president he was. He bought the Mercedes, got the apartment with the rent double my own apartment’s, and when I commented once about the running cost of keeping a car, the cost of say parking in it in town every day, he said, “Rémy, I never ask how much something costs. No, I ask myself, how can I afford it.”

   I don’t know if he lifted that from a movie or a self-help book, but it sounded awfully cool to me. That was Jean, though, he could sum things up in one sentence, create a maxim you couldn’t easily disagree with. After that, I remember trying the same philosophy, but every time I asked myself, “How can I afford it?” It always sounded panicked, as if I were saying, “How in God’s name can I ever afford this?”

   Jean was now asking himself the same thing and the answer was: he couldn’t.

   He kept the car, but gave up the apartment. He closed most of his shops and even let go of his office building in Yakuin, moving into a more modest apartment in Imaizumi out of which he was now working. When I visited him, shortly after the move, the place was a disaster area. Products lay in disarray, furniture—his wonderful mid-century modern furniture—remained in boxes, a futon was thrown on one of the floors.

   It wasn’t long thereafter that Nori left him. When I asked why, he told me that she had said it just wasn’t fun being around him anymore. “I tried to talk to the bitch about my problems, and they aren’t little, and she got tired of hearing it. Can you believe that? Excuse me for trying to confide in you! Forgive me for caring so much about you that I thought you’d be interested!”

   He acted as though losing Nori was like water off a ducks back. It didn’t bother him, or so he claimed. He was, after all, now screwing a skinny 18-year-old American girl with huge tits.

   “Hey, I’m going to getting together with Shinji later this week. Interested?”

   I told him I wasn’t. I was pretty much off drugs by then, even the modafinl that had kept me going for years after quitting shabu was history.

   I think it hurt losing Nori. The two of them had been together for almost five years and had had some very good times together.

   Several months later, he would tell me that Nori and he had got back together and were going to get married.

   “That’s great news!” I said.

   It didn’t last, of course. The two of them were together for only a few months and then Nori split to never be heard from again.

   And, so I started putting distance between myself and Jean, too. Where we once met two, three, even four times a week, we were now meeting only once in a blue moon. And every time we did I saw a man who was slowing falling apart. Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was the stress of trying to do business in a struggling economy.

   I met him one time and seeing that his hand was swollen and purple asked what had happened.

   Oh this, he said, laughing. Then he told me how he was coming back from Itoshima where he had spent the day at the beach with a Russian chick. Some jerk behind him was on his tail the whole way back, riding his tail the whole way back. Jean let him pass, but when he did, the guy then slowed down to a crawl. When the two cars came to a red light, Jean jumped out of his car and ran to the driver’s seat, opened the door and started whaling away on the asshole’s face.

   “You should have seen the look on his girlfriend’s face,” Jean said laughing. “Tell you one thing, that is the last time the bastards pulls something like that.”

   At about the same time Jean told me another story.

   He had been riding his bike in town and had stopped at an intersection, waiting to cross the street when a car, one of those sedans with the dark windows that the yakuza like to cruise around in, pulled up behind him and started honking its horn. Traffic was heavy, so there was nothing he could do but wait until it cleared up before he crossed the street but the bastard in the car behind him kept honking its horn.

   “When I didn’t get out of the way, the car moved forward to nudge my bicycle, can you believe that? And get this, when it did so a second time, the car’s bumper rode the rear wheel of my bike and got stuck there. Well, I lost it then. I got of my bike, and it was still standing. Still standing! I started yelling at them, ‘Get the hell out of the car!’ But they wouldn’t get out. There were four of them, yakuza punks, and they wouldn’t get out of the car and that pissed me off even more, so I banged my hand down hard on the hood, and yelled, at them, ‘Get the fuck out of the car!’ But they still wouldn’t get out, so I kicked the headlight. Still they wouldn’t get out. Four tough yakuza pricks and they’re afraid of me, can you believe it? Well, I lost it, and I must confess, I was pretty high at the time and hadn’t been sleeping for a few days. So, finally, I yanked my bicycle free and tossed it onto the hood of their car. And when I was doing that, the road cleared up and they drove off. Pussies! They ran away.”

   I’d probably run away, too, if a gorilla like Jean were attacking my car.

   And that’s kind of the way it was for a while with Jean. Getting into fights with Nori and breaking up with her for good, bashing in the heads of strangers for riding his tail, smashing up a car that had bumped into him, chewing his staff out and firing them. 

 

 

 

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010-2015. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The complete version of No. 6 is now available for a variety of devices at Amazon's Kindle store.

Tuesday
Nov112014

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.

Wednesday
Oct152014

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.

 

 

Wednesday
Oct012014

Deep-fried

  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?”

  “Yes.”

  “What kind of meat?”

  “Bird.”

  “Bird?!?!

  “Yes.”

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

  “No, not suzume! Tori. Bird!”

  “You know the restaurant KFC?”

  “Yes.”

  “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?”

  “Yes.”

  “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.”

  Silence. 

  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:

  “Satsumaimo.”

  “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. 

Tuesday
Sep302014

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.
Sunday
Aug172014

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!

   “Where?”

   “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.”

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