Monday, March 26, 2007

Personnel changes, and the bubonic plague

Ok, I'm covering 2 things this time around. First, I'm getting over a case of the plague... I mean, the flu. The way my boss reacted when I told him I had the flu though, you would've thought it was the plague. They didn't want me in the office for a total of 5 days from the day I first started showing symptoms, I was told to stay home and rest with my meds, and if I did go out to wear one of those stupid surgical masks as to not spread germs. Oh, teh hawtness. Ok, I get it - Japanese people are overly concerned with not inconveniencing their neighbors (even at their own expense), and thus I'm expected to be as well. Whatever. That doesn't mean that I have to enjoy those uncomfortable, itchy, and fashion disaster statements known as masks though. Japanese people, on the other hand, don't mind them at all - they'll wear masks if they have a cold, or just because they don't want to get a cold, or because they have allergies, or because hell everyone else is so why not? Or so it seems sometimes. I remember even seeing someone come out a while back with designer masks, which came in different colors and styles in order to not look so white and... sterile. So yeah anyway, I'll take my quarantine and you can keep your little mask. I was actually in bad shape there for a little bit - fever reaching 102F at one point with no appetite, curled up in a ball in bed for the better part of 2 days or so alternating between sleep and movie time. I've actually downloaded and gone through the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy - extended edition no less.

Ok, so now onto the next point of business, which has absolutely no connection whatsoever (sorry to disappoint): the annual changing of the guard. In Japan and probably some other nearby countries, April is when everything starts, including schools and most job contracts. Everyone graduates in March and following a slight period of ritual binging, moves straight to work the following month, where more ritual binging occurs. You rarely get people coming in any other time of year, except in rare cases like mine where the contract is set for a different period.

That's not the strange part - the strange part is that everyone else in the office will switch periodically around this time of year as well, usually once every 3 or 5 years or so. Not only that, but they do so sometimes at the drop of a hat - people in government offices get 1-2 weeks notice to pack up and move to a different office with a new position, sometimes in a new town... in bigger companies this can mean moving to a whole different part of the country. Now you would think these are promotions, and sometimes they are, but oft times it's just a big shift, moving you to a different section with no relation to what you were doing before, meaning you need to learn a whole new set of rules and skills. In most of these cases, especially lower down the chain, it doesn't really seem like they're asked if they want to move, but rather told where they're going to move.

Personally, I'm a bit boggled by what advantage this system can serve at the moment and how that would balance out sending someone who's been doing a job for 5 years to start over in a different section and replace him with some new guy who has to start from scratch himself. Maybe they do it so they can have their going away parties in late March, followed by their welcoming parties in April. If there's one thing I have realized, it's that Japanese love excuses to have a party and celebrating BS holidays like Spring solstice, which I actually got the day off for, and White Day.

I'll tell you, the second you figure out one thing about this place, something else comes right along to make sure there's always at least that slight tinge of confusion flittering in the background.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

It was a good run...

Well, I made what I thought to be a rather important discovery this past week - CBS decided it would be a good idea to make all games for March Madness available online, both in live feed and recorded playback. I wholeheartedly concur!

So this means that I have seen MD slide by Davidson in the first round, and also means that I woke up at 4:30 this morning to watch Butler squeak by us in the 2nd round. Although I am disappointed as I believe we could've given Florida a run in the sweet 16, I'm still happy with how they finished the season and think that the way they were playing the best team won.

Equally as exciting is the fact that Duke got knocked out in the 1st round, proving that they were over-seeded and that we totally owned them this year. Any year that we make it into the tourney and do better than Duke is a successful one in my book. I guess from here on I can't cheer for MD or anti-Duke, so I'll be behind the rest of the ACC teams left. Here's looking forward to next year!

Daikon makes the news!

And in further proof as to Japan's obsession with food, a radish was in the news today. These giant radishes are known as daikon in Japanese, and this one looks like a giant foot. I remember hearing a while back about them talking about a daikon that was growing up through a sidewalk somewhere in the south and how it represented the Japanese fighting spirit that never dies, haha. What I thought was funny about this was that the headlines read 大根足("daikon ashi", radish foot/leg), which is also one of the worst insults you can give a Japanese girl.

You see, there is a genetic disposition for Japanese to have short and stumpy legs, which resemble this daikon. They're stout, like a good Guinness beer (without the goodness). For some reason though, they don't like people to point this out. There are also a bunch of girls here that are too thin for their own good though, and have the legs to prove it. On a semi-related note, the term for a flat-chested woman is a manaita, which comes from the word for a washboard. They don't like being called this either.

Oh, and I'm watching a food show right now - they talked about making peking duck stuffed with avocado and shrimp fried rice, and just now were talking about a way to serve maguro (tuna steak basically) with yakiniku (Japanese-style Korean BBQ) sauce and rice. Yum.

Japanese food

At home and sick... might as well make the best of it and post something I guess. The weather around here's been crazy lately, so maybe all the temperature changes are doing me in.

So this time around, I shall talk about Japan and its food. Food seems way more important to people out here than it does in the US - I've heard one person describe it as people in the US eat to live whereas Japanese live to eat. I would say there's definitely no denying that they put a lot of care into the food out here, and for the most part it means much better quality and less emphasis on merely getting the most quantity possible... although they do still have all you can eat places out here.

Some proof of the importance of food to the Japanese public:
  • Every 3rd show on tv it seems is either a food show or has a food portion of the show
  • Japanese people will take vacations based solely upon food specialties
  • People know the local specialties of way too many places
  • In Japanese there is a 5th main taste in addition to salty, sour, sweet, and bitter: umami
  • I took courses on Japanese food history in Chiba... I doubt that'd be popular back home
People can go on and on about food out here if you let them... they'll talk about texture, ingredients and what would compliment them, alternate presentations, you name it. The ironic thing though is that despite the fact that food plays such a prominent role in tv out here, they almost inevitably use the same set of like five words to describe things on those shows! You'll never hear them call something nasty, it's always delicious (umai, oishii).

Now onto specialties - I once went down to Tokyo for some business mixed with pleasure, and decided it'd be a good idea to bring something back for peeps at the office since that is the standard when you go on a trip. So what did one of my bosses have to say? "Why didn't you bring something banana-flavored?" Apparently, bananas are the specialty of Tokyo, of which I had no clue. I've seen other people go places and bring back souvenirs (always food btw - another clue), and they'll usually have something to say about why it's special. This sometimes sparks discussions which go on and on... they can talk for a good 15-30mins. about it if nothing else is going on.

Also as I mentioned, when people go on vacations, they search out the specialties of the areas they're going to, and will sometimes even go on food vacations, basing their whole vacations on where specializes in the food they want to try out. For example, Kyushu is famous for tonkotsu ramen, and Osaka is known for its okonomiyaki, although Hiroshima has its own flavor of okonomiyaki which some find to be superior. Likewise Sapporo in the north is known for its fresh seafood, and more recently curry soups. Locally, Sendai is known for cow tongue and zunda mochi. I can't think of half as many examples back home... although there are local specialties I don't think many people really think of them. Japanese people will always ask you what the local specialty of your area is though.

Then there's the umami thing, which I just recently discovered - this is one possible explanation for why although MSG doesn't have any flavor it still makes things taste soooo much better. In fact, MSG was developed by a Japanese guy 100 years ago, who is credited with the discovery of umami in the first place! Umami is apparently a term used even in English among specialists to describe something that isn't really highlighted in the west - the closest term in English would be savoriness, as found in meats among other foods.

There's also how they put just as much care into how the food looks as how it tastes, and how they can take stuff from us and make it taste better like Pizza Hut or McD's... although they do like lots of weird stuff on pizza sometimes. (corn and mayo???) And with McD's, although they do take more care in preparations and actually make things fresh when you order them instead of letting it sit around, in the end it's still the same old McD's we've all come to accept only when it's the last available option. Maybe they spike the cheese on the pizza with MSG or something, but either way it rocks. Food is definitely one of the better points about being in Japan!

Friday, March 09, 2007

maikeru-jakuson, uii rabu yuu!!!

the king of pop returns from exile

Ok, so first off if you can read the title then you have a chance of understanding what some people's English sounds like out here, and second this one's for George. I heard that this was coming up, but now there's video evidence that a rackload of people did indeed drop 400,000yen (3,500USD) each on a chance to speak with Michael Jackson for literally a few seconds. What do you get for your money? No song and dance, but 2 photos together, a handshake, and about a minute or so talk to Michael Jackson personally. At the end of the video the announcer asks the woman if it was worth it, and she says it's a bargain! I even saw quite a few foreign faces in the crowd, which leads me to believe that people not only paid 400,000 to get in but probably also however much international airfare cost them to get over here in the first place as well.

And from the sounds of it, you might want to get used to Michael coming out of his little hole in the sand next to Bin Laden as I hear he's trying to get the Jackson 5 back together to do some shows in Vegas. If he was smart he'd stay out here in Japan though... it's normal to be attracted to kids out here and I'm sure they'd pay more. That, and he seems to be received much better just about anywhere outside the US, but I guess in the end there's no replacement for home.

Oh and btw, this post brought to you by my new favorite source of news from Japan (bizarre or otherwise), Japan Probe.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Go Terps!!!

So just now, as we enter March and its impending madness, am I getting around to seeing a Maryland basketball game, and I am pleased as punch with what I saw. Actually, from what I've seen online maybe it's a good idea that I missed out on the first part of conference play. So I got to see us win in what I would consider rather comfortable fashion for the second time this season over the pathetically slumping Dook Blue Devils. They seem to be rather mediocre this year, but Maryland triumphing over Duke is something that'll never get old to me. Sort of like pizza, or some good Thai curry, or cheese. Ok so I guess if you leave them out too long those things get old, but I still don't tire of them. Anyway, from what I hear I really wish that I got to see the NC game, but I was happy with the play of the team, especially the new kid Greivis (not to be confused with Grievous, although he may inspire more fear in the hearts of his opponents since he probably doesn't do that weird breathing thing) and that (c)Osby kid, which I shall dub "fro guy" for obvious reasons. That'd be cool if he started doing Jell-o pudding pop commercials like 'ol Bill used to do. Or he could be really cool and shave the sides for a Mr. T mohawk! Either way, they're going back to the NCAA's where they belong after 2 long years of a certain crazy runaway point guard and the aftermath he left in his wake. Stupid Gilcrist.

Yeah, and so of course looking around I heard the other disturbing news around the conference - Duke's Gerald Henderson dishing out a brutal elbow to the face of UNC's Tyler Hansbrough, whose nose expelled, gushed and oozed an astronomic proportion of blood and general unpleasantness all over the court and himself. See the video on Youtube. There was a bunch of bru-ha-ha to follow, and the evil Dookie was sent home early to sulk and contemplate what he did. I hear that he then kidnapped a baby from the crowd and bit its head off Ozzy style and spit it in the face of one of the cheerleaders, then kicked a baby seal on his way to the locker room where he met up with a harem of hookers and partook of several illicit controlled substances. Ok, well maybe not.

I also heard several references to an interview with Duke head coach Mike K...shasldfksafsky or however you spell it (heretofore referred to as merely "the devil"), who insists not only that his boy didn't do it intentionally, but that his guys always play nice. P-shaw I say - he is a dirty, dirty man who curses like a sailor on the sidelines, and whose players have been documented for going for blood on several occasions, especially with the likes of a despised cross town rival like UNC. Check out the links above for references to a certain Christian Laettner incident in 1992. He's also been quoted as asking why Hansbrough was still on the floor seeing as there were only 15 or so ticks left on the clock, making it seem like it was UNC's fault that his player, who can do no wrong and reportedly poops cupcakes and gingerbread cakes in his spare time, laid the smackdown on unsuspecting young Tyler's candy ass.

This is cool because:
  1. "The devil" and his team are not happy about it, which makes me happy
  2. Duke also lost again, which is always reason to celebrate
  3. It gives me a new reason to dislike Duke, and "the devil", and sullies their reputation
  4. It means that UNC's big man will have to wear a goofy-looking mask, which will be both funny and possibly make him play tentatively this weekend in the ACC tournament so we can stomp them a new one just like we did before
  5. It was bloodier than a good number of boxing matches I've seen, which is brutal and cool
So yeah, all in all I would say it was a pretty good weekend in the world of college hoops. Please feel free to keep my abreast of any news or developments in the Terp world that I may not be privy to out here in Puroland.

"Thank you for safety driving"

The title is borrowed from a girl that went with me and some others on a trip this weekend. Her English is pretty good actually, but stuff like that just makes me wonder if they get as much of a kick out of my Japanese as I do of their English. Yeah, probably. ;P

So if driving is necessary I'm usually more than happy to oblige, and this past Sunday was one such occasion. We took a day trip down to the next prefecture and took in some sights in scenic Fukushima. All toll I drove us a total of 500km for the day, and it was my first chance thus far to actually drive on the highway and exorcise my speed demon. Cops are a pretty rare sight out here and there's very little enforcement of traffic laws - although I hear they're trying to really crack down on drunk driving lately (zero tolerance policy in Japan btw) - with the rare cop car on the roads and apparently the occasional speed camera on the highway. The only real big pain is that the highways here are pretty expensive. For example, we spent basically 50USD today on tolls. Bleh. Along the way and after going down a nice little windy road that wrapped around a beautiful lake, we stopped by an old Japanese village, a rock formation, a castle, and a lake. For pictorial evidence and further explanations, proceed to flickr.

Oh, and I know how people love drama, so along the way I heard a rather messed up tale of misguided love that I figured I'd share with you guys - don't tell anyone! (like you know who I'm talking about anyway) So this girl was telling us how the night before she slept over at this guy's place that she's seeing, but was rather upset about things so of course we asked for a story. Apparently she gets to his place only to find some feminine undergarments that were not hers. Of course she asks for his story, and here's what she got: "Oh well those are a friend's that slept over, but we didn't do anything." Yeah, because I have girls over and we sleep together in the buff (in the winter, mind you), but it's purely platonic. She proceeds to tell us how there are 3 other girls, that she knows of at least, that are basically in the same boat as her, but it's ok because he says that she's special. Her response? "Well I like him, so I want to believe him."

There's no real point to that story, I just thought I'd relate it to give you an idea what goes through the head of some Japanese girls... or maybe I should say girls in general? I dunno, I could never figure out what they're thinking either way. Oh yeah, and the guy is American, so it shows you the respect some guys that come over here have for the women too... or again, maybe just guys in general. I hear a bunch of people that say they're not really that crazy about dating Japanese guys. I don't have any personal experience on that one, so I can't really say why.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Japanese cell phones are the devil

March on, oh mighty "thumb tribe"!!

Ok, I'll be the first to say that Japanese cell phones rock - although their American counterparts are catching up, they are still hands down better with their many features and niceties. You've been able to watch tv/videos and take pictures/videos (mine's 3 megapixels) on cell phones in Japan for years now, and I've seen other features on phones such as IR ports, debit card capability, dictionaries, and on in addition to the standard texting/internet/phone functions we've all grown to learn and love. They use them to check everything from train schedules to email to movie and restaurant reviews in daily life. Also, a very high percentage of the population carries them everywhere, including grade schoolers and geriatrics, so people are even more dependent on them than in the US as well.

And you see, this is apparently where the problem lies - they're too damn good. Now what you may think is that Japan has all these great toys and gadgets, which means that the average Japanese person should be fairly technically versed and computer savvy, but that couldn't be further from the truth! This study shows proof that high cell phone usage by 20-somethings in Japan is actually keeping them from using computers for internet access - they only use PCs about as much as those in their 50's! And going around, you'd be surprised at how many Japanese have utterly no clue about how many a technological wonder that gets pumped out of their factories every day really functions. It really is true that while Japan itself is rather technologically advanced, Japanese are not necessarily so.

Take my office for instance - all the people in my office have laptops, but I'd estimate that they're all about 5 or so years old, and mine is the only in the office hooked up to the internet besides the one system in the back that everyone uses collectively. My closest friend out here, who's the same age as me, just now bought a computer at 27 - up until now, just the cell phone for him. So what about email, blogs, ebay, google, youtube, wiki, flickr, bittorrent, etc that we've all come to know and love - don't they exist in Japan? Well yeah, they do. Everything's out there, it's just that most people don't really make use of it for the most part. And the ones that do get used get a lot more hits from teens than 20-somethings apparently, which to me is weird.

Oh, and if you're thinking "that's good - less internet time means they're out being productive!!" think again as they just have even more of a passive tv culture than the US does - the randomness of Japanese tv is just about constantly on in the background if they're home. So yeah, Japanese cells are the devil - they make the internet suck.