Am I Other People?

I now have a keitai, a cell phone, that kicks your keitai's ass. The nifty and oh-so-bleeding edge J-Phone J-SH53 is mine, all mine. The main selling point for me, besides getting rid of my nasty old-model TuKa phone, which was already pushing around a walker when I got it for free in my first week here, was the uber-spiffarific one megapixel camera. Now that I have a phone that is more of a true communication device - I think it may have the ability to play mp3's, but I have to look into that - instead of a yet another way for somebody to yell at me, I've begun perusing ways to update this site from the phone. Kevin's Moblogging for Other People, Too and Kurt's Mo-bar Tutorial are what I'm reading; other suggestions are of course appreciated. This is a tres-uber-culo-bleeding edge pupster. Updating a web site, from a cell phone. Wow. The Internet moves in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform...

Explosions of color on cloth

Three friends wearing yukata, Yamanote Line, two. The yukata is a summer-weight kimono, made of lighter material but used year-round in the privacy of the home or bath. I haven't decided to buy one yet - my re-appropriated hospital scrubs do quite nicely, thank you very much - but what's interesting about the yukata has nothing to do with bedtime fashion victims. The yukata's big sister, the kimono, is virtually shunned by the modern Japanese. It's fiscally prohibitive, it's difficult to put on without assistance by somebody who knows how to tie the four-meter-long obi, or belt. Usually, it's worn once during a coming-of-age ceremony, and that's often the only kimono that the wearer will ever own. Wedding kimono are almost always rented, and that's when the couple opts for a traditional wedding. The yukata, on the other hand, is affordable, looks (and I've been told is) comfortable and interestingly, provides an uncumbersome way to connect modern life in Japan, Inc. to traditional Edo stylings. As soon as the fireworks and festival season began, yukata began pouring out of the woodwork, and mostly on younger Japanese teens and twentysomethings. I've even pasty gaijin wearing them in train stations. Life in Japan can often be reduced to a philosophical struggle of accepting change, and then how much let go. The recent Howard French articles in the New York Times bear witness to that. However, it's encouraging to see a group like the three pictured above, keitais in one hand and bleached-lightened hair atop their heads. Maybe there is hope for a future Japan, where Western concepts of equality are as common as the yukata in summer.

Always look on the seedy side of life

Cultural grime in Japan is like gold. I love wandering around the not-so-nice areas at night, seeing who is propositioning who and for what. I have no desire to actually blow cash in a soapland theater, but the sleaze factor makes suffering the hawkers worthwhile. Shibuya and Kabukicho makes for good, close-to-home slumming. The aforementioned Login party was held at the Ruby Room, which sits just a bit inside the periphery of Shibuya's naughtiness. This apple sums up the Japanese approach to commercial sex. In the west, everything is approached from the lust angle. Bras and panties are as revealing as possible, for example. Japan takes a more "cutesy" approach. At first blush, it's just an apple with a cartoon face. Interesting nose that face has got there, though. And cute is how it's all approached: girls strive to be "kawaii," cute, lingerie shops pass over the low-cut and revealing in favor of the thickly padded with little blue or pink flowers or hearts. Of course, none of this is absolute. Kevin over at bastish.net talks about one ad that takes a sharp left when it hits cute and heads straight for sexual innuendo. But in general, it's cute over sexy here. All of which reminds me of the Tiny Toons scene where Dot screams out, "I. am. not. CUTE!"

Come, all ye gaijin

Rob Pongi and friend. The infamous Rob Pongi at tonight's Login party in Shibuya. Another fun time had by all, where geek-centric foreigners and a handful of natives hung out and exchanged business cards.

“Why doesn’t Kenny stay dead?” and other pressing concerns answerable only in Enlgish

I'm not sure why, but for some reason my students keep bringing up South Park. Earlier last week I was talking with one student about favorite comedies. I named South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut as one of mine, and she pulls the DVD out of her bag. Today, in another random South Parking, I had the pleasure of explaining who Mrs. Choksondik is and just why her name is funny. Like all things American, SP gets exported to Japan. I suppose it's kind of like learning about Gundam and Robotech back in the 80's. Unlike the amazing anime that the U.S. gets from Japan, we send over group of foul-mouthed kids who inspire questions from my students that could get me neck-deep in horseshit if I answer truthfully. So of course I answer truthfully. Even when the student asks, "What does 'chokes on dick' mean?" Who wants to lie to a student? Corrupting the education process can be a terrible thing, but damn is it fun. And, it makes for conversation that doesn't put me to sleep. I can't wait until I start getting questions about Futurama or Invader Zim. Hoo boy....

Why does Japan shine?

Here's a hint: it's not the natural lighting. Sometimes, there are Good Japan Days. And sometimes, Chuocide doesn't seem like such a bad idea. In honor of all those Bad Japan Days, I spent a train ride the other day taking the lyrics to They Might Be Giants' "Why Does the Sun Shine?" and reworked them. If you're one of those weirdos who doesn't enjoy the musical stylings of TMBG, you can listen to WDTSS here. Please note, this is not going to be pretty: Japan is a mass of consumerism and trash, A gigantic money-sucking furnace, Where cash is turned into useless junk, At a rate of millions of yen. Yo ho it's hot, To-kyo is not, A place to spend the summer, But I love my job, oh so much, Correcting those who say "more funner."

Deep Thoughts with Kenji

A couple of prominent news sources have been publishing interesting articles on the future of Japan. The Economist ran a piece back at the beginning of the month focusing on the - and this will come as a shock to, oh, nobody - the economic history of Japan in the global economy and the ramifications of Japan's current condition. Yeah, talking about the economy is about as exciting as a conversation with a salaryman, but there are some interesting points and connections made between seemingly disparate historical events. It's worth slogging through. The Economist also has just run an editorial on the re-evaluation going on here of the purpose and use of the Self-Defense Forces, or what other countries like to call the military. The New York Times has run three articles focusing on the future of Japan, as well. These stories are looking at the importance of change for the country's future and why change here is so gosh-darn difficult. In a display of good journalism, something that the Gray Lady needs solid doses of these days, it seems that no major topics are being left under rocks. The first article focuses on the growing desire here to re-arm the country. The second looks at the future importance and current difficulty of immigration. The third examines what I consider to be the deplorable treatment of Japanese women by their society. (The Economist is free, the New York Times is also but you need to register to read the articles.) Now, this is all well and good, this kind of re-examination of Japanese society as its dominance declines. But as much as I appreicate and enjoy it, I don't think much of this kind of talk goes on in Japan. For one thing, it's very un-Japanese. For another, much limited language ability means even if it did, I wouldn't understand it. Maybe most importantly, the English-language newspapers don't carry this kind of news unless it originates outside of Japan. There seems to be very little self-critique going on in Japan - even among the tiny community of foreigners, who ostensibly come from cultures where change is not tantamount to suicide - making growth nearly impossible.

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