Thursday, February 25, 2010

I've gotten into buying manga again. Oh dear.

I spent a lot of money on manga before I went to Japan. Back then, the manga I was buying was usually between $12-$15 a volume. I ended up selling a bunch of those to the used books dept. at Barnes & Noble before I left...and most of the rest during my first visit home.

Ranma 1/2, Gunsmith Cats, Maison Ikkoku, Blade of the Immortal, Vagabond, You're Under Arrest, Battle Angel Alita, Inu Yasha, Fushigi Yuugi, Video Girl Ai, Urusei Yatsura...and probably more that I'm forgetting. I guess these are the ones I wish I didn't have to sell.

Nowadays, manga are a bit cheaper than they were. (That never happens, does it?) Perhaps it's because manga and anime are more popular, so they print more copies; it could also be because localizing manga is a lot easier than it was. They no longer flip the artwork to make it read left to right, for example, and that alleviates the need for a lot of retouching. So...I've started buying manga again, but in a more limited fashion. Hikaru no Go, Oh My Goddess! (which I was buying before), and one other, mentioned below.

Also, the development of high-speed internet has greatly affected how quickly manga gets here from Japan. Before, getting the latest chapters of manga took months after its initial Japanese publication. This led to the rise of "scanlation" groups who would buy manga as it came out in Japan, scan them into graphics files, and insert their own translation via Photoshop.

Now, in addition to trying to shut down these sites (which isn't really working), some companies are trying it themselves.

Rumiko Takahashi, of Ranma and Maison Ikkoku fame, started a new manga, Rin-ne, at just about the same time that I left Japan (April of last year). Back in the day, I would've had to wait until, oh, now, to be able to read it. But Viz Media, the American division of Japanese publisher Shogakukan, has been releasing their own digital translation online pretty much simultaneously with the chapters' original publication in Shonen Sunday. The collected editions are also released the same day that the books come out in Japan.

Rin-ne (or 境界のりんね, if you will) is pretty good, but kind of similar to some of Takahashi's previous work. It could be described as a more lighthearted take on the early parts of Inu-Yasha. You've got the high school girl, Mamiya Sakura, who falls in with the mysterious other person, and they find themselves working together to deal with problems stemming from the supernatural world. In this case, the other person is Rokudo Rinne, a classmate of the protagonist, who is forced by circumstance to work as a shinigami, guiding spirits to their final resting place (sometimes forcibly). Often short of resources, he sometimes has to be very creative in doing his job, and Sakura helps out as much as she can.

One of the things that surprised me the first time that I read Rin-ne was that I can pick out several cultural references that somehow were not noticed by the translators...or at least, they didn't see fit to include them in the notes in back.

For example, Sakura makes mention of how Rinne is using a weather station in back of the school like "Kitaro's Demon Post", which is a reference to Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro, a manga drawn by a native of Sakaiminato, the last place in Japan that I lived. In another chapter, one of the devices that Rinne uses in his job says "Zoooooom...IN!" repeatedly. This is a trademark line of the NTV morning show "Zoom In Super!"

...maybe I did live in Japan for too long...

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Random Japan memories

Every morning, I would walk to work at the town hall in Higashiichiki. One railroad crossing, one stoplight-controlled intersection, one small shop owned by an old lady who laughed (at me) a lot. It took maybe 15 minutes to get to work, provided I wasn't distracted by wildflowers, small shiny lizards, or freakin' huge spiders, to name a few things.

There were no sidewalks on the road for most of that walk, but that usually wasn't a problem. Drivers knew to watch for pedestrians, especially on the narrow roads in the area. (I was told that many of the narrow winding roads started out as horse paths way back in the day.) During the one week that snow was on the ground, though, I feared for my life. Kagoshima drivers knew NOTHING about true winter driving...

By the time I had lived there for a couple of years, I grew very familiar with that daily walk. I had even learned exactly how long it took for the light at the one intersection to change. Once, while waiting at the light with a bunch of junior-high students, I took an anticipatory step across, and the kids all went, "OoooOOOOOOOOoooh!" (We teachers were supposed to be only the finest examples of morals and behavior...) I just looked at them, grinned, and snapped my fingers...and the light changed.

"かっこういい〜!"

(It occurs to me that I have probably blogged about this before. Oh, well.)

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Random geeky toy photos 5/some of the only things I've ever gotten from eBay

A few 下敷(pencil boards):

First: Belldandy.
Front:
Back:


Second: Skuld.
(only one side)

And finally, some UFO catcher dolls...

Click pictures for enlarged versions...if you dare.

It's probably a good thing that I don't have easy access to anime toys memorabilia anymore.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

WANT:

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'm hungry

Know what I could go for right now?

Ramen.

No, not this:

I want ramen.

No, DEFINITELY not this:

I want ramen.

You know...

THIS:

味噌チャーシューラーメン。mmmmMMMMMmmmm.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What the...?

For Black Friday this year, Target set up a lot of displays of merchandise that they don't normally carry. One of the displays was of Hello Kitty housewares; the Hello Kitty clock radio, the HK toaster, the HK water cooler, the HK sandwich maker, and the HK gumball machine, if I recall correctly. (A far cry from what is available in Japan, of course. Hello Kitty body-fat monitor, anyone?)

Here's a picture of the packaging of the toaster:One thing about this particular thing always caught my eye. Now, Hello Kitty has no mouth. What the heck is she doing with the grape-jellied toast, just shoving it against her face?

Heh.

P.S. I'm not kidding about the Hello Kitty Body Fat Monitor.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Am I forever dreaming...

I've been digging through my CDs and DVDs, trying to get a handle on what I still have, what I sent home from Japan, and what I don't have anymore. I've been finding a lot of "why did I bother sending THIS home" discs, however. *coughMorningMusumecrapcough*

I have a lot of Utada Hikaru's CDs. She was one of my favorite Japanese artists. However, now she's trying to gain a foothold in the American music scene, and in order to do so, she's changed up her style and sound into electronica/dance music, which is just not my thing. Angela Aki's taken up the number one spot on my Japanese music prefs nowadays, anyway.

I also have a lot of single songs/albums from artists who were flavor of the day for varying periods of time...Hajime Chitose, Nakashima Miyuki, Nana Katase, and several others that have never made a splash outside of Japan.

One pleasant surprise for me was uncovering a couple of video game soundtracks, of all things. Katamari Damashii, because all the tunes on there are really jazzy and catchy, and ICO.

ICO is this really atmospheric game for the PlayStation 2. Very little dialogue, beautiful graphics, challenging puzzles, and a very intriguing setting. The game soundtrack includes one song with vocals (in English, even), that uses some abstract imagery, fitting in very nicely with the game itself.

The island bathes in the sun's bright rays
Distant hills wear a shroud of grey
A lonely breeze whispers in the trees
Sole witness to history

Fleeting memories rise
From the shadows of my mind
Sing "nonomori" - endless corridors
Say "nonomori" - hopeless warriors
You were there
You were there

Am I forever dreaming
How to define the way I'm feeling

You were there
Countless visions they haunt me in my sleep
You were there
Though forgotten all promises we keep

Slaves to our destiny
I recall a melody
Sing "nonomori" - seasons lit with gold
Say "nonomori" - legends yet untold
You were there
You were there

Happiness follows sorrow
Only believing in tomorrow

You were there
Countless visions they haunt me in my sleep
You were there
Though forgotten all promises we keep

The island bathes in the sun's bright rays
Distant hills wear a shroud of grey
A lonely breeze whispers in the trees
Sole key to this mystery


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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Winter is finally here


Picture 1: An atypical Kagoshima winter day (note the still-verdant greenery)

Now that the snow is (finally!) falling here in Minnesota, I realize that I kind of missed Minnesota winters. Sure, I was also glad to not have to deal with the difficulties -- winter driving, badly insulated apartment -- but there was a small bit of homesickness in living in a Japanese winter.

This first picture was taken during the one three-day period when we got snow in Kagoshima. That's three days in three YEARS that we had snow on the ground. I feared for my life when walking to work. Narrow roads + people inexperienced in winter driving = a lot of slip-sliding around.


Picture 2: A typical Tottori winter

Living in Tottori, which is at about the middle of Honshu, on the northern coast, I could look forward to snow every year. Not nearly as bad as the winters of my youth, of course. It was at first amusing then somewhat annoying when my boss would refuse to let me drive during the winter. I've been driving in snow a lot longer than she has...

(I should clarify: It was a company car, so they could set any rules they wanted to, and that was okay. There were enough dry days during winter that I could still go to the grocery store, etc.)

Now, finally, a Minnesota winter. I'm sure that come tomorrow, when the time comes for me to drive to work, the nostalgia factor will be long worn-off.

I'm reminded of a Scott Hansen comedy routine I saw years ago. He said something like this: We all feel the same way about winter. We all feel the same way about that first snowfall. We open the curtains, and look out at that soft white blanket covering the ground, and we all think the same thing. "Oh, $#!+."

Break out the shovels!

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Regrets? I have a few...

One of the things I regret having to do before leaving Japan was the selling off of my DVDs and CDs. I figured that I'd need the money, and the cost of shipping them all safely back to the states would've been impossible. That was before I found out about this:

Anyway, I did put a number of my favorite songs on my iPod before I had to unload them. I was listening to it while driving to work yesterday, when the song 島唄 came on, reminding me of what I sold off...

This CD was also where I got the song 花 from, the song I tried to sing for that NHK talent show a while back. Both songs were covered by 普天間かおり, who did remarkably non-bombastic versions, especially compared with the more popular versions...

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Thank you gifts

In America, on occasions when employers/companies/etc. give thank you gifts to their clients/employees, what do they give, usually? Fruit baskets? Gift certificates?

In Japan, the gifts can be cleaning supplies, coffee sets, Kobe beef (for when you're REALLY grateful), or this:


A gift case of beer.



Got that for Christmas 2007/New Year's 2008. Took most of 2008 to finish off -- even in Japan, I wasn't that much of a drinker.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Even the road construction is polite

In Japan, as in most places, most of the heavy road construction is done on the night shift. Even though they aren't inconveniencing all that many people, they try to be exceedingly polite about it. Witness this inflateable light standard, standing at the beginning/end of the construction area:

工事中 --> Construction in progress
ご迷惑おかけします --> We apologize for the inconvenience

The workers were bemused when, on the way back from the convenience store, I asked permission to take this picture.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two videos

A couple of videos from Japan. The first, fairly cool -- in a "too much free time" sort of way:



And the second, pure unadulterated "Japan -- WHAT THE F&@$?":

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Random geeky toy photos 4/An attempt at mental re-alignment 3

Whenever we (Doug, Jamie, Me, James, et.al.) went to Tenmonkan, one of us would invariably suggest, "Let's get purikura!" (Seriously, guys, how many of these did we do? Every time I open a box of stuff I sent home, three or four more fall out)

プリクラ is Japanese shorthand for the English phrase "Print Club", and it refers to photo stickers taken at booths in game centers all over Japan. After the requisite mugging for the camera, you scoot around to the other side of the booth and use the touch screen/light pen to decorate your picture. Quite popular amongst the young in Japan. Looked kind of odd with 30-year-old bald me doing it, but whatever.

The male lead of the manga "Love Hina", Urashima Keitaro, had a hobby of collecting purikura whenever he saw a booth. The sad thing was, he was the only one ever in his pictures. In real life, purikura is most popular among girls -- so much so that many game centers had rules preventing males who were alone hanging around the purikura machines (they'd stick their cameraphones under the curtains, trying for upskirt shots...)

It was always fun when I was at work and saw students exchanging these pictures. They were surprised when I started trading with them.


Clockwise from upper left: Me, Doug, Jamie and James; Students from Kamiichiki Junior High; Students from Higashiichiki Junior High; Japanese tutor and a fellow language-classmate from France, more students from Higashiichiki. (Note the fake cigs in the "No Smoking" pic.)


I used my Canon Wordtank as a repository for purikura and any other stickers that students would give me. Left: My Japanese language class from 2003.

I bought the Wordtank when I was in Akihabara during a trip to Tokyo to visit my buddy Jonny in the winter of 2002. At the time, my Japanese was not great, and after about ten minutes of me trying to tell the shopkeeper what I was looking for, I told him I'd be back later w. a friend who spoke Japanese. Imagine the annoyance on the face of the shopkeeper when I showed up with THIS guy:Now imagine the surprise on the shopkeeper's face when Jonny (who grew up in Kyoto and Kobe) started speaking perfect Japanese.

Good times.

(I paid ¥20,000 for that Wordtank, and the shopkeeper threw in an English manual for free. A week later, I saw the exact same model for sale in Kagoshima City for ¥15,000. Ah, well...)

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Friday, September 25, 2009

An attempt at mental re-alignment 2


Near the end of my time in Kagoshima, Itakura-sensei, one of the teachers at Higashiichiki Middle School, invited me to join her and her family on an outing. We drove off into the countryside around Lake Ikeda and the volcano Kaimondake, south of Kagoshima City.

That's Misato, Itakura-sensei's daughter, enjoying a fine meal...

This was at a restaurant called "Hanamizuki", which means flower-water-trees. Their specialty is nagashi sōmen, cold noodles taken from flowing water and dipped in a light sauce. Traditionally, they are served in a long channel made from bamboo, but in a restaurant like this with many many separate tables, that's impractical. In the center of the table there is a circular basin with water swirling around it. It takes some practice to snare a mouthful of noodles with chopsticks, but it was fun. Yummy.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Random geeky toy photos of the week 3

The Square Minimum Collection.


Fighter, Red Mage, and Black Mage. I don't know why these are greyscale-colored. They came as a bonus for those who bought the "Final Fantasy 1•2 Premium Package." I'm pretty sure that there were different colored versions in different boxes.

Not long after...it became the Square Enix Minimum Collection. And they got even weirder looking.

Rikku, Yuna, and Paine, from Final Fantasy X-2.

Hmm. I feel a Twisted Toyfare Theatre-esqe idea coming on...now if only I could convince myself to open the packages.

Yes, I'm THAT MUCH of a geek.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

I wanna find this tattoo artist and buy him a drink

Take a look at this picture and caption:
Samurai
While spending some time in Japan, I was lucky enough to get the kanji for "Dragon soul" tattooed on my arm at a studio in Tokyo. The artist helped me translate the phrase into kanji.
(Tokyo, JP)
(Picture from the gallery of kanji tattoos at http://www.bmeink.com/kanji001.html -- some pics may be NSFW)

Now take a closer look at this picture:
Does this say "dragon soul?" Nope. "Dragon soul" would be something like 「竜の魂」(and that's a wild guess; for all I know it could be wildly inaccurate).

One thing that I am sure of is that this tattoo says 外人. "Gaijin." It's the impolite word for "foreigner."

Heh.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random geeky toy photos of the week 2

Second in an ongoing series!
Japanese refrigerator magnets. Each one came free with the purchase of an issue of Kodansha's Monthly Afternoon manga magazine. 20 geek points if you can name the characters...
Lum, from Urusei Yatsura. Gotten w. a UFO catcher ("WE WORSHIP THE CLAW. oooOOOOOOOoooo") in Sakaiminato. I just like the gimmick they use to make it look like she's hovering over the desk.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

An attempt at mental re-alignment

Before I left Japan, one of my friends (Hi, Jonny!) lamented with me the fact that it was unfortunate that my last memories of Japan would be my last experiences in Japan...

The previous sentence makes sense. Really.

Anyway, I figure that in order to dispel some of that aura, I should try to recall some of the more entertaining moments of the past eight or so years.

At Kamiichiki Junior High School, the smaller of the two junior highs I regularly visited in Kagoshima, I usually sat next to the math teacher in the staff room. Now he was a Gundam otaku; his desk was covered with various Gundam figurines and toys, as was the shelving unit behind him.

Now, when I started teaching there, I was unsure how to talk to anyone, due to both my limited Japanese language ability, and lack of cultural references. But I was a fan of anime -- a shared interest.

So, one day, I arrived and set up THIS on my desk:

Everyone in the staff room at that time laughed, and most gave me various "thumbs-up" signals. When the Math teacher came back from class, he stared at my desk, dumbfounded.

After a few moments of concentration, he correctly identified the TV series (Chou Jikuu Yousai Macross), the type of mecha it was (Valkyrie), and even the pilot (Ichijou Hikaru).

We got along famously after that.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

There's nothing original on American TV anymore


Last week, I watched the two-hour finale to this year's installment of "I Survived a Japanese Game Show!"

I had heard about this while I was still in Japan, and in fact a friend of mine sent me copies of the first-season shows, which I never got around to watching, alas. (Considering the fact that I could watch real Japanese game shows whenever I wanted to...)

After I got back, I watched a few episodes with that same friend (thank goodness for DVRs), and although I did enjoy what I saw, a lot of the show...didn't really ring true to me. It seemed like they were really overplaying the stereotypes, e.g. high-pitched female voice announcing "Game START" and "Game SHURYO!" in very stilted, artificial fashion, all sorts of Asian/dragon decorations (I do believe that the elaborate dragon motifs are Chinese in origin), random Japanese characters flying about, etc.

Actually, a lot of the Japanese they flash up on screen isn't random at all; the translations of game names are usually accurate enough. The Japanese title that flashes up before the English phrase "Japanese Game Show" is "ム番組を生還したぞ", which translates as "I returned alive from a (TV) program", although that "ム" at the beginning confuses me mightily. (It's like a random letter out of nowhere; "QThe Price is Right") However, sometimes, it's like they chose the Japanese to "look good." For example, when the word SAYONARA pops up in English letters, the Japanese phrase above it is something like "the loser has been chosen."

MAJIDE, the "Japanese Game Show" which the contestants survive, is not in fact an actual Japanese television show. The host, Rome Kanda, is not a host on Japanese TV; he has lived and worked in the U.S. for the last ten years. It's always amusing to hear the contestants and the host talk about how they're now "famous in Japan" when in fact no one outside of the (paid?) audience at Toho Studios knows who they are. Watch the reactions of the passers-by in the second-to-last event, "Let's make new friends in Japan!" One of the rewards in that last episode was a guest appearance on Zoom-in!! SUPER, a (real) morning show on NTV. I found myself wondering if that segment even aired -- the hosts were also going on about how the (final two) contestants were FAMOUS.

The various games portrayed on the show are known as "batsu games", or "punishment games", and although in the past some Japanese game shows did have "humiliate the losers" segments (think MXC/Takeshi's Castle), these stopped being popular even before I got there in 2001. These days, one sees "batsu games" inflicted on minor celebrities ("tarento") in TV variety shows. (The show "DOWNTOWN" leaps to mind...) Even back when they were popular, they weren't the basis for entire programs, I think.

Also, current Japanese game shows -- even the ones not using tarento as contestants -- don't have a single set of contestants lasting through an entire season. "Tokyo Friends Park 2", "Neptune League", "IQ Supli" (that last does have batsu games, although they're generally of the "drink this foul tasting wheat grass shot" variety"), Quiz Millionaire (and yes, that's probably exactly what you think it is), etc.

So YES, it's entertaining, but NO, it's not an accurate view of Japanese culture. Or even Japanese game shows.

(Amusing moment: On the final episode, they had clips of a celebration party for the final two contestants, in a big, BIG auditorium. Rome Kanda introduced Yuriko Koike, first female Minister of Defense, to present them with a commemorative plaque. Later, one of the final two gushed, "The first female Minister of Defense, she's like a GOD!" Note that Kanda didn't mention that Ms. Koike held this position back in 2007, and didn't last two months...)


Another newish ABC show is more directly based on a Japanese program -- WIPEOUT. The Japanese version that I've seen is called SASUKE, which has much more challenging obstacle courses...but you have to be a fit athlete to participate. It's a fun show to watch, in that whole "Oh my god I could never ever do this" sense. The original SASUKE can sometimes be seen on G4 in dubbed and subtitled form...


WIPEOUT, on the other hand, is fun because you're seeing ordinary people surmount nigh-impossible (for ordinary people) obstacles. I swear, the "big balls" obstacle is designed to make EVERYBODY fall in the water. In this way, it's more like Takeshi's Castle, the original basis for MXC on Spike TV -- so much so, that Tokyo Broadcasting System (owners of Takeshi's Castle, co-owners of MXC) filed a copyright infringment suit last year.

New York Times article on both "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" and "Wipeout" (perhaps registration required?)
néojaponisme blog post on "I survived..." criticizing how it's portrayed as actual Japanese TV

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Friday, June 26, 2009

And so, it came down to this.


Breakfast, on my last full day in Japan.

I had just gotten off the overnight bus from Tottori to Tokyo, and navigated the trains to drop off my bags at the hotel...and it was still before 7 AM. It was either this restaurant (note name on check), or McDonalds.

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Well, this will never happen again

Been back in the States for about a month now...still kind of freaked out/shellshocked by how everything went down...

Here's a shot from the day before I left my apartment...Earlier that week, the owner of my place of work presented me with my final month's pay, in cash. That day, I also closed out my bank account.



Kind of weird feeling, carrying around that much cash. Not gonna have to worry about it happening again anytime soon.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spring is surely around the corner...the Yellow Sand is here.

In what has become an annual, unwelcome harbinger of spring, 黄砂 has begun to arrive from the Asian mainland. Not sure what I mean? Here, look:
(Picture from 2001)

Starting in the deserts of Mongolia, and blowing all across southeastern Asia, Asian dust brings with it reduced visibility, increased asthma attacks, dirty cars, dirty laundry, and a heck of a lot of annoyance. It makes me wonder why so many people and organizations in Japan have white cars.

The Japanese name for this crud, 黄砂, translates directly as "Yellow sand". In fact, in most of the languages around here the name for it translates the same.

Could be worse. I could still be living in Kagoshima, where the local volcano has been spouting ash a lot lately. Of course, I lived on the other side of a range of hills from Mount Sakurajima, so I was never really affected by that.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What I do in my free time

(click for full size)

I've been practicing Japanese calligraphy for a while now. Not sure if I'm getting any better, but it's marvelously relaxing...

「信じる道」 roughly translates to something like "The way of trust" or some such.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

New vocabulary

Just came across a disturbing (to me) new concept on Music Station tonight.

On the internet, in places like the 'chans (don't ask...you don't wanna know), they have a derogatory term for Americans who wanna be Japanese -- Wapanese. You may already know the type. They consider themselves well versed in Japanese culture and language based solely on, say, the viewing of a small sampling of anime and/or manga, they...well, that's enough, isn't it?

On Music Station (a late-night pop music show, mixing song rankings, live performances and interviews), they just showed a story on an American, Kevin Kmetz, who has become expert on the shamisen (Japanese three-stringed lute). He has released albums with his band, God of Shamisen. They played several clips of his playing, and he's really good, having won honors at several Japanese shamisen festivals.

How did they refer to this guy on Japanese TV?

和メリカン。

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

McDonald's Japan tries their hand at viral marketing

Well, McDonald's Japan is looking to introduce a new kind of hamburger in 2009. In order to create some buzz about it, they opened up two special stores in November of 2008. These stores, in Omotesando and Shibuya, were decorated solely in black and red, with tasteful trendy furniture (sofas, even!) and absolutely no McDonald's logos anywhere. The menu consisted of two value sets; A single or a double burger, fries and either Coke or coffee.

What is this newfangled special burger?

More info here.
Pictures can be seen here.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

新年明けましておめでとうございます

平成21年始まりました。Happy new year!

Right now, all over Japan, people are crowding up to temples and shrines, throwing money and praying for the new year. Here, the weather is a combination of rain, snow, and thunder, and I'm staying home.

In this year's 紅白歌合戦, the white team won with about 2/3 of the vote. There was a nice medley of music from Studio Ghibli films near the beginning, with full orchestra and chorus conducted by Joe Hisaishi himself.

The Red-White Song Contest is an annual year-end tradition, broadcast on NHK for the past 59 years. It's about four hours long, and there's a break in the middle for a five minute news break. At 11:45, after the contest (and a chorus of 蛍の光, AKA Auld Lang Syne), NHK broadcasts live footage from shrines and temples around the country. Right now, they're showing a picture of some people on a snowy mountain, setting up torches in the shape of a word: 希. Ki, Hope.

Here's hoping that this year is better than the last. G'night, all.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

How odd....

I'm watching the NHK "NewsWatch 9" show right now, and they had been discussing various aspects of Japanese parliamentary politics for about 20 minutes. The opposition party is having a private election to choose a new party president, etc. At one point, the anchors mentioned former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and I idly pondered the fact that although Abe's name is easy for me to remember, I couldn't quickly recall the current prime minister's name.

And then, about five minutes ago, they suddenly broke into the newscast with "Breaking news". Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has just announced that he will resign the office of prime minister, and an emergency press conference will take place at 9:30. (That's in about five minutes.)

Well, that solves that problem...

I'm listening to the English audio (I never used SAP on TVs until I came to Japan), and if the translation was correct, when the news broke, the anchors basically repeated "Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has announced that he will resign. There will be a press conference at 9:30", rephrased slightly, six or seven times in a row.

11:00 edit:
Well, NewsWatch 9 was extended an extra hour, as the NHK announcers and commentators tried to make sense of this surprise retirement.

Apparently, the actual news conference was announced at 6:00 this evening, with its purpose only revealed at 9:20. Fukuda was prime minister for only a year, following Shinzo Abe's surprise resignation last fall. It appears that with his personal approval ratings being very low, he felt that he wouldn't be able to effectively get his coalition's legislative program approved in the upcoming parliamentary session.

NHK was able to get news crews out to the streets of downtown Tokyo, to get the reactions of passers-by. Most were taken by surprise. One expressed hope that Koizumi would come back. I'm not sure if that's even possible.

Anyway, time for the LDP to shake itself down and pick a new leader.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Japanese TV and the Olympic closing ceremonies

Okay, so the Beijing Olympics closing ceremonies are on, and the Japanese announcers WON'T SHUT UP.

The bit where the London 2012 crew did a cultural presentation was odd, but interesting. It started with a modern dance performance...representing a queue at a bus stop. They laid a zebra crossing down on the track and everything. A double-decker bus (marked "London--Beijing--London") pulled up, and everyone jostled to get on board...but they all fell to the track as a girl got off the bus.

She walked to the zebra crossing where she was presented a soccer ball (this will be relevant later), then a crossing guard walked her back to the bus -- on the backs of the people who were waiting in line. (?!)

Then the top of the bus opened up and out, and some famous British singer who I don't know popped up on a lift and sang some wordless song. This was followed by Jimmy Page on a scissor lift, and they swung into "Whole Lotta Love". And THIS is where I noticed that the Japanese announcers weren't shutting up.

There are a lot of moments of drama in a closing ceremony, and each one was ruined by the Japanese commentators over-explaining everything. I don't need to hear a brief history of Led Zeppelin, I just wanna hear Page and (singer's name here) do the song!

Anyway, after that, another scissor lift popped up with the aforementioned little girl standing next to David Beckham, who took the ball and kicked it into the crowd of athletes, while the modern dancers had all grabbed LED umbrellas (rains a lot in London, explain the NHK people) which lit up to show animated London 2012 logos.

The ceremonies are still on, AND THE NHK PEOPLE ARE STILL TALKING TOO MUCH!!! MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!

They just showed a dance routine on a large climbing structure mid-field; the Chinese dancers were wearing body suits that were silver in back and red in front, so that as they twisted on the bars, they would create swirling patterns. As soon as it started, the NHK guys started shouting "OH AMAZING! THE UNIFORMS ARE RED IN FRONT! IT'S MAKING PATTERNS!"

I wonder if they're using the NHK radio feed for audio by accident?

(-_^)

Edited to add: Okay, it's gotten a little better. The announcers shut up for three whole minutes just now.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Google Street View debuts in Japan

(No, that's not a Street View pic, of course.)

Well, it appears that Google Street View has come to Japan. Now you can find images of Japanese neighborhoods in Google Maps, including the candid shots of people doing things that they wouldn't be doing if they knew they were on film, just like Street View anywhere...

...and that may be a problem.

In a lengthy blog post (translated here), Japanese IT professional Osamu Higuchi points out:

The residential roads of Japan's urban areas are a part of people's living space, and it is impolite to photograph other people's living spaces.


This is because traditionally, Japan's residential areas have been very crowded, and it became the cultural norm to "not see" some of the things around you, such as clothes hanging out to dry, old men sitting around in their underwear trying to keep cool...

According to the morals of urban area residents in Japan, the assumption that “it is scenery [viewable] from public roads and therefore it must be public” is in fact incorrect. Quite the contrary, [these morals state that] “people walking along public roads must avert their glance from the living spaces right before their eyes”.


One wonders if Google will take this cultural difference into account and change their practices for Japan. After all, they haven't hesitated before trespassing into private property for better pictures in other countries...

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Gas price update for August

Regular gas prices surge as high as 196 yen per liter after wholesale price increase - Mainichi Daily News

Here in Tottori, it's ¥183 a liter. At today's exchange rates, that's about...$6.44 a gallon.

It's a GOOD thing that the really cool game center, which was underneath the nice movie theater, both of which are a good 40 minute drive away, is closed for remodeling.

Of course, when I say "remodeling," it's in the extreme Japanese sense of "knock down the entire building and put up a new one from scratch."

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gas price update

Like I said before, gasoline prices go up every month, on the first of the month. During the month, the price fluctuates, but never back to what it was the month before.

And the price of gasoline for the month of July in Japan:

$6.50 per gallon.

(¥182 per liter, at today's conversion rates)

I don't go very far away from home these days.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Japanese schools...um...WTF?!

On the news right now, they're talking about how the Ministry of Education has mandated an increase in class hours for elementary schools.

They've read off a list of things that were removed from the curriculum 10 or so years ago when they reduced the number of class hours. Among other things (students must learn about all 47 prefectures, including names and locations, students must learn how to calculate the area of a trapezoid, etc.), they must now use 3.14 as an approximation for pi. Apparently for the last ten years, 3 had been an acceptable estimate.

That's right. For the past ten years, π = 3.

...

....

.....

......WHAT THE F^%@?!

Edited to add:
As Derrick rightly pointed out, how many of us Americans learned about pi and geometry in elementary school, anyway?

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Return of the Son of Futility Watch

This month's gas price here in Tottori: About $6.25 a gallon. (Still better than in Europe.) Some localities in Japan, further away from the processing centers, are over 200 yen a liter...that's over $7 a gallon.

The price of gas in Japan includes a ¥30 or so per liter tax, earmarked for road maintenance and construction projects. This is a temporary, provisional tax. Temporary, despite the fact that it was enacted during the "oil shock" back in the '70s.

Due to some sort of governmental mixup, this tax actually expired back on April 1. The government scrambled to re-enact it, but due to procedural requirements, the earliest they could put it back in was May 1. Almost all gas stations in Japan dropped their prices during April, despite the fact that they were still paying for gas bought from wholesalers in March. This caused a few stations to lose money for April, but it was nice for us consumers. (I wonder what American gas stations would have done?)

Other than April, gas prices usually jump at least 10 yen a liter at the beginning of each month. The lines on the last day bring back vague memories of the Carter years....

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Japan fights children's cell phone addiction

This article caught my interest for a couple reasons...

First of all, because I'm actually thinking about buying a new cell phone. Considering how little I use the one I've got, though...

And second, because at work I see elementary schoolers who, when their parents are late picking them up, whip out a cell phone and give them a call.

According to the article, "About a third of Japanese sixth graders have cell phones, while 60 percent of ninth graders have them, according to the education ministry." It's becoming its own little subculture. For example, if kids don't respond to a cell phone e-mail within thirty minutes, they are made fun of at school the next day.

Now it's been the better part of a decade (!) since I've taught in American schools, so I have to ask: Do a large percentage of elementary schoolers in the States have cell phones?

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Japanese TV has managed to tick me off again.

Every Saturday night there is a popular TV program, called エンタの神様 (God of Entertainment). It's basically a variety show, with various comedian-type people doing five minutes or so of their current act.

Recently, one of the more popular recurring performers is a woman whose shtick is to do an over-the-top lip-sync of an American pop song. She usually chooses songs by black singers, I guess because it's easier for her to overact to them. This week it was Jennifer Hudson's "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going" from Dreamgirls.

My problem with it is that she pretty much does them in blackface.

Now it's not as bad as some other performances I've seen on Japanese TV -- her makeup is more extreme ganguro rather than true blackface -- but still, it's annoying.

Every time I see something like this, I ponder the prospects of having Mickey Rooney tour Japan, reprising his role as Mr. Yuniyoshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's...

Sorry...this week was...a bit more stressful than usual. Maybe I'm a little thin-skinned right now. Thank goodness for weekends.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Old CalorieMate Commercial



Rough translation of Japanese dialogue:

Student 1: Aw, man, we've got another test tomorrow!
Student 2: To be ready in 24 hours is impossible isn't it?

(English dialogue)

Announcer: Real-time balanced nutrition. CalorieMate.

And yes, they made a whole "season" of these. Some were just text-only stories, though.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Today's non-sequitur

Right now, the game show "Neptune League" is on. One of the contestants is wearing a shirt that reads:

FUCK
AUTHORITY
subciety


ooooh...ALMOST a complete thought!

(Remember: Much as Chinese characters are used as decoration without regard to meaning in the west, Engrish is used the same way here)

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Monday, February 18, 2008

An Example of a Japanese Variety Show

In relation to that last "Here's to fail" pic, here's a video of things you can do with a camera that shoots 1 million frames a second.



P.S. to Smaug: You should recognize one of the hosts...

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Back when you least expect it!

Holy cow, it's a Photo Album Update!

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I swear I am not making this up

So NHK news is talking about how Japan is preparing for the upcoming G8 summit meeting in the town of Tōyako, Hokkaidō. Tokyo is going to send their riot police to Tōyako while the summit is in session. This reminds me of the preparations for the World Cup way back when...

"ARE YOU A HOOLIGAN?"*

Also, the local police will concentrate their forces around the meeting area, resulting in a reduced police presence in the rest of the town. The local officials are asking residents with dogs to patrol their own neighborhoods when they can. NHK showed footage of citizens and their impromptu dog patrols.

CHIHUAHUA patrols.

______
*inside joke.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A note or two on the Japanese language

Japanese has an amazing number of abbreviated terms and phrases. When words are taken from other languages and incorporated into Japanese, the words are almost always truncated in some way. I would conjecture that it's because the Japanese syllabry makes a lot of foreign words really long.

Take the term "plastic model". Four syllables, right? In Japanese, it's eight. "purasuchikku moderu". Small wonder that it becomes "puramoderu". Mobile Suit Gundam models have their own abbreviation, "gunpla".

They do this with their own language as well. There was a TV program on tonight, where they had a panel trying to guess what the original terms were. At first, they did a lot of "Gairaigo", foreign words rendered in Japanese, but then they started in on the native stuff, and the panel couldn't figure out about half of them.

One that everybody missed was "Konnichiwa," the standard Japanese greeting. When this one popped up, everyone was shocked that it was an abbreviation. However, if you think about it, こんにちは translates to "As for today," which makes no sense.

As it turns out, こんにちは is short for 今日はご機嫌いかがですか? (Konnichi ha gokigen ikaga desuka?) which translates to "How are you today, honored sir?" (Lit. "As for this day, how is your health, honored sir?") "Konban wa" (Good evening) is similar.

I have a few pet theories as to why there are so many abbreviated phrases in Japanese, but as they are pretty much W.A.Gs, I won't bore you with them here.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

I didn't notice this when it happened

R.I.P.

The NOVA chain of English Language schools is DEAD!

Man, I gotta pay more attention....

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Apropos of nothing, first in a series

Apropos of Nothing: Random stories of little import that I find interesting/amusing.

On our travels around Kyushu, we (the JET gang) once visited a shop called Fukusaya, which specializes in "castella", a kind of sponge cake first brought to Japan by the Portugese way back when. (I think we were in Fukuoka at the time. Airport code for Fukuoka airport: FUK)

Fukusaya (福砂屋) was founded in 1624 in Nagasaki, and has been making castella ever since. They're probably the most famous makers of castella in the country. Naturally, we all bought some to bring back to our various offices/school boards/etc.

When I presented the staff at one of the schools I worked at with some castella, they were very impressed. One of the teachers asked the English teacher if I knew that Fukusaya was famous.

She said, "Of course not."

I fired back from across the room, "YES I DID," in passable Japanese.

I'm not sure, but I think that it was at this point that the rest of the staff began to have a higher opinion of me.

It's the little victories in life that make it worthwhile.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

But it wasn't a wasted trip

It was a nice, albeit brief, getaway. I took the train from Yonago to Okayama, a trip I haven't taken since...the last time I took this test, two years ago. Since then, they've upgraded the trains that run this route, replacing all the old bench-style seats with more comfortable bucket seats...(I kind of liked the bench seats better. Easier to stretch out when you didn't have a seatmate.)

When I first took this particular train, back when I interviewed for my current job, I was struck by the beauty of this region. The train tracks follow a river for most of the route, and although the river is armored and fortified like practically all of Japan's rivers, the powers-that-be decided to let the river retain it's natural meandering course, rather than the straight-line concrete ditch style that is more typical.

[inside joke for Doug] BEHOLD: the power of Nature. [/inside joke]

Also, I went to a Freshness Burger for the first time in years. MmmMMMmmm. There is one near Tenmonkan Dori in Kagoshima City that I often visited. This time, I had their "Classic Double Double Burger." HUGE Double cheeseburger, with real cheddar, and lots of veggie-type toppings. SO greasy. SO bad for me. SO delicious....

They also have a Spam Sandwich that I really like. For some reason mentioning this caused everyone else in the old Kagoshima gang to gag. Oh well. (^_-)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You are now entering the Uncanny Valley...

...from the WRONG DIRECTION.

Seriously, I don't know what makes this guy (I'm pretty sure it's a guy) put on a full-body stocking, a (woman's) anime costume, and a mask, but more power to him.

It's the mask that's the creepy part, though. Here's an example:



It's not as apparent in a still picture, but imagine hanging around with this person, face to face with an immobile mask for a face, making the head look just a little too large for the body...

Apparently this is a semi-widespread offshoot of anime cosplay. Still creeps me out, though.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Now THAT's customer service

Something odd happened to me yesterday.

I had gone to the train station to buy my ticket to Okayama, where I'll be taking the Japanese language proficiency test next month (outlook NOT SO GOOD). The ticket itself was much cheaper than I expected, thank goodness.

Anyway, I had pulled out of the parking lot and was driving down Kitaro Road (no, not THAT Kitaro), when a van pulled up behind me and started honking.

So I looked around, panicking -- did I do something wrong? Are the cops on my tail? -- but I only saw this van, and a lot of pedestrians wondering what was going on.

I pulled over, and the van pulled in behind me. After a few seconds -- I didn't leave the car, of course -- he pulled around, and tried to say something as he passed my window. (I didn't catch what he said.) He then proceeded about fifty meters ahead of me and pulled over.

He got out of his van, opened the sliding door, and hauled out a box, which he waved at me.

Turns out, he's the local driver for one of the parcel delivery companies, and he had a box from Amazon for me. He had just left the distribution center, which was near the station, when he saw me drive by.

I don't get deliveries from Amazon THAT often, but he recognized me -- or at least my car -- and decided to save some time. Since I wasn't home, of course we would've had to play phone tag for a while. Ever try to play phone tag in a language you don't know?

(What was I ordering from Amazon? Um...random anime stuff. Move along, nothing to see here....)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

No fun, continued.

Aftershock. Weak, yet still unsettling. Intensity 1 on the Japanese scale. The odd thing is, less than a kilometer away from here, the intensity was 3. It's odd because that's a kilometer FURTHER away from the epicenter.

It's midnight, almost, but I don't think I'll be going to sleep anytime soon. Whenever one of these events happens, I imagine feeling all sorts of follow up tremors...most of which I'm assuming are just in my head.

Time for a little PS2 action...

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

NOT a fun way to wake up

I'm sure I've blogged about this exact same thing before, but for the record, I must say it again:

A Level 3 intensity (on the Japanese scale of 1~7) earthquake is NOT a fun way to wake up in the morning. (The title link goes to the Japan Meteorological Website.)

Now, a Level 3, while scary enough when one is in the middle of it, isn't strong enough to do a lot of damage. So, this time, the worst thing about it is the fact that IT'S 3 IN THE F%&#ING MORNING, AND THE ADRENALINE WON'T LET ME GO BACK TO SLEEP!!!

Gah. Time to fire up some random video game system and beat the crap out of something.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

One week and counting

I am slowly starting to enter into panic mode. Tomorrow, I'm going to drive out to the town where they will be taping the show, just to make sure that I know how to get there...

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Typhoon #9

One of the good things about living on the Japan Sea side of Japan is that when the typhoons come, they either turn along the Pacific coast, or are somewhat weakened by passing overland before they hit here.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Love Hotels Make Twice as Much as Anime - Anime News Network

From Anime News Network:
According to research cited in Japanese Love Hotels: A Cultural History, by Sarah Chaplin (242p. published by Routledge, available from Amazon), 30,000 Japanese love hotels earn more than 4 trillion yen per year in profit, which is twice the profit of the Japanese anime market. Approximately 1% of the Japanese population checks into a love hotel every day, and according to one study, 50% of all Japanese sex occurs in love hotels. Source: The Japan Times
Four TRILLION yen. That's about 34 BILLION dollars. Yikes.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

McDonalds Japan goes upscale (?!)


Have these hit the States yet?

Gourmet coffee and espresso drinks. Croissant sandwiches and other pastries. Savory soups. NO hamburgers or french fries...

McCafes have opened up in a number of countries, if Google Image Search is to be believed.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

GAIJIN SMASH!

For a unique point of view on the life of a foreigner in Japan, take a look at this article. It's pretty funny, but some bits of it are uncomfortably close to the truth.
Gaijin Telepathy - Our co-workers and supervisors don't tell us anything. Literally. One day, I came into work at the ghetto school and found a straw hat and pair of garden gloves on my desk. OK. I sat in the teachers' room kind of waiting for an explanation, but one never came. Eventually I noticed it had become really quiet. I then noticed that I was the only one around. Odd. I went outside to find the whole school, teachers and students, picking weeds in the soccer and baseball fields. Ah, so that's what the garden hat and gloves were for! However, no one ever actually told me this.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Behind the Scenes, if your computer is of Japanese make

Just something odd that I spotted on the net a while back. Heck, I may have blogged about it before...

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Butt-Biting Bug

A few days ago, I posted about the NHK series "Minna no Uta" (Everyone's songs), and their new hit, おしりかじりむし (The Butt-Biting Bug).

Well, it looks like this song has become a HUGE hit in Japan, with people buying CDs, DVDs, and even ringtones of this song. I guess Japan has its very own "Crazy Frog" now.

Click the post title to read a Mainichi Shimbun article on the song.

English subtitled version here:

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

My reading comprehension in Japanese is improving.

Well, I took another look at that postcard about のど自慢. As it turns out, they'll be taping the auditions, all six hours or so, and then using it as late night/early morning filler material.

In other words, I'm gonna be on TV no matter what, and all that's left to be decided is whether or not I'll be on during daylight hours.

Oh boy.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Japan: The Nation of Rule #34

Rule #34 of the internet, in case you don't know: If you can imagine it, somewhere there is porn of it.

If you click the title, you'll find an article from the Mainichi Shimbun ("Daily Newspaper") detailing a 24-hour charity telethon for AIDS research, run by a Japanese satellite "Adults only" network. Gah.

That's a bit weird, even for Japan.

(both links are safe for work, by the way.)

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