Tagged: Japan

What Has Japan Taught Me About England?

This is my last minute entry into November’s Japan Blog Matsuri. I was going to skip it this month, as the question, “What has Japan taught you about yourself?”, would require me to take a deep look inside and pull out something wise and intelligent. Instead, here are a few things Japan has taught me about England…

Ascending the throne

When I first came to Japan, people would say “Give my regards to the queen!”, but soon after, David Beckham became the name that most Japanese associated with my home country and I couldn’t get through a single introduction without someone mentioning him. What did this teach me about England? It taught me that it doesn’t take much to impress the Japanese.

English food is crap

While I still have a fondness for English food, the general consensus is English food is bland and overpriced. What has this overwhelmingly popular opinion taught me? I love bland and overpriced food.

Englishmen are gentlemen

This is a good example of a lie told again and again becomes the truth. Despite exports such as rule-breaking Harry Potter, foul-mouthed Wayne Rooney, and gun-toting Prince Harry, the Japanese population still believe Englishmen are gentlemen. I think they’ve been watching too much Mary Poppins, but this has taught me that no matter how rude and unsophisticated British society becomes, we will always be gentlemen to the Japanese.

English is really hard

I’ve learned that the English language is incredibly difficult, and have huge respect for anyone who can speak two or more languages. [Edit: I also have huge respect for those who try to learn a second language, but fail miserably. 😉 ]

In summary…

While writing this, I’ve been drinking a hot “One Cup Sake” – perfect for a wintry evening. Unfortunately, it has failed to stimulate my imagination beyond the points above. I’ll see if a few more cups can’t work their magic next month when I host the Japan Blog Matsuri on JapanSoc. Stay tuned!

Kudos to Danielle for hosting this month!

What’s My Name? Revisited

This month’s Japan Blog Matsuri theme is The Language of Japan, and I’ve been scratching my head all month over what to write. I haven’t studied Japanese for years now, and although I have a few amusing stories of miscommunication, nothing worthy of an entire blog post.

So, I delved into the LongCountdown archives and submitted an article I wrote back in March 2007. It’s about the confusion that arises from having a foreign name in Japan. It’s just as appropriate today as it was when I wrote it. Enjoy: What’s My Name?

The deadline for this month’s Japan Blog Matsuri is this Saturday night, September 20th. Get your entries in quick! More info here.

Baked Beans to Save Japan’s Food Crisis?

This post is an oldie, but I’m submitting it to Rocking in Hakata‘s February 2009 Japan Blog Matsuri about Foreign Food. Enjoy!

With food prices soaring, and butter disappearing altogether, there is no doubt that Japan is suffering an unprecedented food crisis.

Learning from the British

At university, balancing the budget to accommodate both food and beer is a skill most Brits have mastered, but it wouldn’t be possible without that staple of the British food industry, baked beans.

Cheap baked beansSupermarket chain, Tesco, is where I used to buy baked beans for as little as 8p (16 yen) a can. I believe you can still find tins of the little beans in tomato sauce for 10p (20 yen). Even a can of the brand name, Heinz Baked Beans, will only set you back 41p (84 yen).

Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that no matter how bad the food crisis gets, the British will prevail due to their willingness to dine on something that would most likely make the Japanese barf.

Poll shows Japanese hate British food

Baked beans on toast9,872 former Japanese exchange students recently took part in a nationwide poll by the Japanese Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Of the respondents who had lived in the UK, a whopping 93.8% rated British food as “bland”, and as “edible as poisoned Chinese gyouza”. The source of this poll has yet to be verified, but I won’t let that get in the way of a good story.

Could baked beans be the answer to Japan’s food crisis?

If Heinz were to sponsor a few Japanese celebrities to try their flagship product on TV, we are guaranteed an orgasmic reaction as the guests scream oishii! and umai! in delight at the orange bean treat. This could lead the way to mass production of the food, and huge eatership numbers among Japan’s soon-to-be-poor population.

If you’ve got the money, why wait?

Heinz baked beansYou don’t have to wait for Japan to accept baked beans as the natural alternative to every other food, you can order a tin of the original, 84 yen Heinz Baked Beans via The Meat Guy for as little as 650 yen with FREE postage and packing! 🙄

Failing that, until Heinz brings to Japan its British operation of 1.5 million cans of baked beans a day, you’ll just have to survive on natto

Thanks to Haikugirl‘s search for baked beans for inspiring this post.

The Same Old Questions

No matter how long you are in Japan, you will always be asked the same questions:

  • Where are you from?
  • Do you like Japanese food?
  • Can you use chopsticks?

The more adventurous Japanese will ask you questions about your home country:

  • Is summer as hot as in Japan?
  • Do you have cherry blossoms?
  • Do you speak English in England?

All these questions were recently asked of me by the dental assistant, just before I had my teeth drilled.

I can’t take it anymore!

I understand that because I’m a foreigner, people are interested in where I’m from and what I think of Japan. I am always courteous and answer politely, with a few well-practiced jokes included, but what I really want to say is…

Oh god! Here we go again! Leave me alone already! I don’t care where I’m from, so why do you? Of course I like Japanese food, what do you think I’ve been eating for the last decade? Can I use chopsticks? Yes, and I can spell my own name, too! Hot in summer? Al Gore says it is. Cherry blossoms? Now you’re getting desperate for conversation! English in England? Well, duh!

Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but it just never ends. I could be here when I’m 70 and still be asked the same things. At this stage of my life, I am really put off by these kinds of questions, despite the good intentions of the person asking.

What I’d like people to talk to me about

Normal things. Ask me if I watched that new drama, Hokaben, on Wednesday night. Talk to me about sport, politics, my favorite shopping mall… ask me about my family here and what it’s like being a dad. Ask me about my plans for Golden Week. Let’s chat about the new paper recycling rules, or what they are building by the golf course. Anything but chopsticks, natto, or a country I remember very little about.

Any of you feeling the same way?

Arnold Schwarzenegger Calls AEON English School

ArnieWhile I’ve been (and still am) waiting for my websites to move to their new web host, I’ve had some time to catch up on my favorite podcasts. One of those podcasts is from Gaijin-in-Japan.com, and recently in Mike’s 82nd podcast, we got treated to this brilliant prank call to an AEON English school in Japan:

Arnold Calls English School

There are lots of similar ones on ArnoldCalls.com, and you’ll find a load of them here on YouTube, too. Go on, treat yourself to a few laughs! 😀

Earn Money with Japan-Hopper.com

What would happen if you combined Google Maps, Wikipedia, and personal experiences of English speakers in Japan?This is a question that Kiyotaka Maruyama decided to answer by creating Japan-Hopper.com, an interactive website that lets you use English to search for a place in Japan, and then either read a related Wikipedia entry or a review from someone who actually went to the place you searched for.


In the media

Reading personal accounts, together with pictures, and covering details such as access, prices and accommodation is such a good idea that it has earned Japan Hopper a mention in the Japanese newspaper “Nihon Keizai Shimbun” and on Radio Nikkei.

Personal experiences on Japan Hopper

Looking for authors

Japan Hopper has been up and running since 2006, and the database is filling up with articles, but obviously not quickly enough because Kiyotaka is looking for more authors, and he’s willing to pay for it, too!

Earn money with Japan Hopper

Get paid for writing about your experiences in Japan

It’s a deal which should appeal to English teachers who have lots of free time, little money and the desire to see Japan:

Update: Japan-Hopper have changed their site around and it seems impossible to find the page offering the writing work from the website itself. However, you might find it here.   

With japan-hopper.com, we want to recruit people experiencing Japan and wanting to write about it. Although you still don’t having experience in writing articles, you can use this way to achieve experience writing on Japan Hopper.

1. Article requirements
・Article concerning Japan
・The written language has to be English
・The article should contain a minimum of 200 words.

2. Earning
・The average fee for one article, depending on the contents, varies from 1,000 to 2,000 Yen .
・By contributing high quality photographs, the fee will increase.
・By writing more detailed information in the article, the fee will increase.

Contents purchase

Please send the following information to the person in charge’s address, if you are interested.

1. Name
2. Age
3. Gender
4. Article writing experience
5. Good topics


Help our cash-strapped friends, promote Japan Hopper

I think Japan Hopper is a useful site with great potential, and the financial incentive to submit an article is more than fair. However, I don’t think it has had the exposure it needs among the foreign community to really grow, which is why I’m helping to get the word out. I’m sure all of us here in Japan know someone who could do with some extra cash in their pocket, so why not give Japan Hopper a mention?

Thanks to Daily J for the heads up.

Top Sightseeing Spots in Second Life Japan

I’m a regular visitor to the virtual world of Second Life, and one of my favorite ways to spend time there is by visiting some Japanese sightseeing spots. I have shown you Tokyo Tower, and the castles in Osaka, Kumamoto and Himeji before, but here they are again along with some of my other favorites.

Note: Please let me know if any of these places no longer exist, and I’d be happy to add recommendations for other places in Second Life Japan.

Asakusa and Sensoji Temple

Asakusa is a district in Tokyo, and home to the famous Sensoji Temple. Although it has been recreated in Second Life, most of the buildings are just eye candy. However, Sensoji is beautiful both inside and out, so if you are “virtually” Buddhist, I recommend a minute’s pray in this pixel-rich temple.

Asakusa's Sensoji Temple

Beppu Garden Fountain

Beppu City in Kyushu’s Oita prefecture is famous for its hot springs. Home to over one thousand “sacred” onsen, Beppu has more hot water than anywhere else in Japan. The Second Life version of Beppu doesn’t do the real city justice, but the garden fountain is nice and if you look around a bit, there’s a hot spring under a cherry blossom tree. Very relaxing.

Himeji Castle

Japan’s most visited castle is Himeji Castle. Also known as the “White Heron Castle” because of its white walls, it is one of Japan’s “Three Famous Castles”, along with Kumamoto and Matsumoto. I’ve been following the progress of Himejijou in Second Life for a while now, and as I write this it is still under construction, but it is looking likely to be one of the most impressive structures in the whole of Second Life when it is finished.

Japanese Warship Kanrin Maru

The Kanrin Maru was a Dutch-made sail and screw-driven steam warship used in the Naval School of Nagasaki to bring Japan up to speed on the newest advances in ship design. Eventually lost at sea, a bigger replica was bought in 1990 and is currently used as a sightseeing ship. In Second Life, you can explore the ship and play in the boiler room!

Kenroku Garden

Kenrokuen is a beautiful, 25-acre garden outside the gates of Kanazawa castle. It is considered on of Japan’s “Three Great Gardens” and is known for it’s beauty in all seasons. The Second Life version of Kenrokuen also changes by season and, along with Kanazawa Castle, is simply stunning to walk around.

Kinkakuji – Golden Pavilion Temple

The Golden Pavilion is one of Japan’s most visited temples, and a trip to Kyoto wouldn’t be complete without seeing the pure gold-leaf covered Kinkakuji. The Second Life version is also a sightseeing requirement, as is the Kyoto Bakumatsu “sim” it’s located on. The whole place is full of beautiful Japanese-style buildings, many of them based on real buildings from the end of the Edo period, and don’t be surprised to see a few people dressed as virtual geisha walking (or flying) around.

Konpira Grand Theater

The Konpira Grand Theater in Shikoku, also known as Kanamaru-za, is a restored Kabuki theater and possibly Japan’s oldest opera house. Although it has a revolving stage and trap doors in reality, I couldn’t find any in the Second Life version. I did get to kneel down on the tatami and enjoy the beautifully recreated interior before I danced around on the stage while no-one was looking.

Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2007, and considering it was burned down after a 53-day seige in 1877 is quite impressive. Actually, original parts of what was once “an extremely well fortified Japanese castle” do still remain, making it a little more authentic than its Second Life equivalent. The virtual Kumamoto Castle is however, a great-looking reconstruction and if you look through the telescope on the observation deck, you can see photos of the real one!

Mount Fuji

Fuji-san is Japan’s highest mountain, measuring 3,776 meters (12,388 ft). It’s actually a dormant volcano which last erupted in 1707, but could do so again anytime. Mount Fuji is well-known for its symmetrical cone and is a symbol of Japan, depicted in art, photographs and even in Second Life. The SL “Fujiyama” is worth a quick fly around if you can’t visit the real Mount Fuji.

Niseko Hirafu Ski Resort

Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu in Hokkaido is popular with both Japanese and foreign skiers. Niseko in Second Life is represented by a very fun ski course and a digital replica of Yoteizan, one of Hokkaido’s highest mountains. Sadly, I’m just as bad on virtual skis as I am on real ones.

Osaka Castle

The famous Osaka Castle is actually a concrete reconstruction that only looks like a castle from the outside. If I remember rightly, the inside is an air-conditioned museum with modern lighting and elevators. That shouldn’t detract from what was one of the sixteenth century’s most significant castles. In Second Life, the observation deck is the only accessible part of the building which is otherwise a nicely crafted replica of Osaka-jou.

Touji Pagoda

Kyoto is home to so many temples and shrines, but the 5-storey pagoda at the Buddhist temple, Touji, stands out as the tallest wooden structure in Japan at 57 meters. In Second Life it is on the Kyoto Sanjo sim, surrounded by other beautiful Japanese-style buildings you really should see.

Shuri Castle

The bright red walls of Okinawa’s Shuri Castle make this one of Japan’s most unusual yet beautiful castles. Reconstructed after being reduced to rubble in 1945, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It makes up a significant part of Second Life’s Okinawa island, along with shops, a popular beach and a restricted military base. Fortunately Shuri Castle is open to the public so you can enjoy it from inside as well as out.


Recommended by Laurel in the comments, the SecondLife Tokugawa sim is based on buildings from the Japanese Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled.

Tokugawa and the collection of 6 or more prefectures that surround it is a work of art. There is a massive castle, formal Japanese gardens, Japanese shopping district and soon there will be an urban sim based on Tokyo. Also, tons of Samurai stuff, residential areas, hot springs, temples and a geisha houses where dancers perform regularly. The whole thing was built by Domokun Giotto and if you like Japan, I suggest you check it out. The castle alone takes up an entire sim.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower needs no introduction. It is still Japan’s tallest man-made structure at 332.6 meters (8.6 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower), although it will lose that title, as well as more of its profits when broadcasters move to Sumida Tower in 2011. The Second Life version of the tower is a faithful recreation, with two observation decks, the higher of which offers a 360 degree photo view of the real Tokyo cityscape on a clear day. Having visited the real tower on a cloudy day, I actually think the view is better from the SL Tokyo Tower!

There is still so much to see so please bookmark this page, and come back in the future to see what new places I’ve added.

A Typical Life… In Japan

A Typical LifeShane was one of the first people to register at JapanSoc, and has been active in the community ever since. Some of the many articles she’s submitted come from her own blog, A Typical Life. This is a site she started in November of last year, but Shane has been working hard to fill it with meaningful content, mostly related to Japan, as that is where she will be spending the better part of the next two years.

Bringing memories of Japan to her blog

It won’t be Shane’s first trip to Japan as she was here in 1994. You can read her Memories of Japan, including articles on the language barrier, eating out, and taking the train.

Getting ready for a return to Japan

Now, she’s gearing up for Japan again, and has written a Top Ten list of things she’s most excited about including sumo, 100 Yen shops, art and culture, crafts such as ikebana (flower arrangement), and baseball (as a Brit, I will never understand this!).

Comparing Japan 2008 to Japan 1994

I am looking forward to reading A Typical Life once Shane gets herself set up here. She’s already packing so it won’t be long now, and it will be very interesting to hear if Japan of 2008 lives up to her memories from the early ’90s. Shane has promised some exciting things for her blog, and I will be following along, anxious to hear her stories of fingerprinting at immigration and the demise of 100 yen shops in the wake of China’s bustling economy. 😉

Tips and Tricks for Survival in Japan

One of the first blogs I ever subscribed to was LifeHacker, a blog jammed with tips and tricks to increase productivity. When it comes to living in Japan, the equivalent blog would be NihonHacks, a collection of time and money-saving tips for foreign students, visitors or “lifers”.

Top Tips and Tricks from NihonHacks

NihonHacks.comNihonHacks is the work of Thomas Hjelm, a former exchange student and current JET teacher in Hyogo. Thomas has written articles about using JR Odekake NET for planning trips by train, saving money on cleaning products by buying refills, how to find cheese in Japan, how not to waste rice, how to make miso soup quickly, finding cheap steaks and even winning on a UFO Catcher.

Beyond NihonHacks – BabelHut and TwoFatBrothers

NihonHacks isn’t Thomas’ only project. I know he also writes for BabelHut, a blog dedicated to language learning, and he’s working on a new blog with his brother called “Two Fat Brothers“, a blog which documents their dieting competition. I would follow along if I wasn’t already far too skinny!

JapanSoc and Baby Boys

Thomas was one of the first to support JapanSoc, so I’d really like to thank him for that. Incidentally, we are both fathers of baby boys born last summer, so I’m always looking out for pictures of little Noah on NihonHacks and showing them to my wife. If Noah and Rikuto weren’t growing up so fast, I’d suggest to Thomas we start TwoFatBabies.com!

Making Mochi in the Mountains

We hopped in Mami’s little pink car and took a drive out to Gujo city with our friend, Mr. H, for some traditional new year mochi making. Mochi can be described as “steamed rice pounded into a glutinous cake and used as a staple ingredient in a variety of dishes, including desserts”. This seasonal activity is a Japanese custom I hadn’t experienced until today, so I was quick with my camera to snap some pictures of, and take part in the rice-cake-making ceremony, mochitsuki.

Making Japanese rice cakes - mochi

Below is a short video of our mochi-making, which you can also see here on YouTube. Actually, there are some really amazing videos of people making rice cakes on YouTube (especially here and here) which I urge you to watch.

50% off Fake Christmas Trees in Japan

Rikuto in front of our new Christmas treeAfter reading Thomas’ post about finding Christmas Trees in Japan on NihonHacks.com, I decided to get one for myself. Unlike Thomas, who treated himself to a real “Golden Crest” tree from a home center, I wanted a fake Christmas tree that I could use every year.

Get your Christmas tree now for half-price!

Christmas in Japan is a funny affair. It usually ends on Christmas Eve to give the shops time to decorate for New Year. Likewise, Christmas trees and decorations in the home also come down much earlier than in the West. This means that if someone’s going to buy a Christmas tree, they would have already done it by now.

Despite there being over a week left before Christmas, I found fake trees at a home center for 30% off and at Jusco in the AEON Kakamigahara shopping center for 50% off! All the lights and decorations too, were on sale at half-price. Don’t forget this is on December 16th! Needless to say, I snapped up the one you can see in the photo. The tree, plus lights and a few simple decorations, came to less than 9,000 yen, which I think is pretty good for a reusable tree!

Rikuto’s first Christmas tree

This will be Rikuto’s first Christmas. We moved into our house on December 22nd last year and we were so busy getting things sorted out, we pretty much forgot Christmas was even happening! This year, however, we can relax and enjoy the light show from our new tree. Take a look at the video below (or here on YouTube) to see what I’m talking about.

Japan’s Aging Population Problem – Alternative Solution

Japan is facing a crisis. The population is aging and by 2050, one in three people will be past retirement age. Meanwhile, the birth rate is currently at 1.25 babies per woman, much lower than the 2.1 needed to keep the population stable.

The result is a workforce too small to support the huge number of retirees. Who will do all the work? Will there be enough tax money to pay for pensions? What about the cost of health care?

How to solve Japan’s aging population problem

Plan A would be to increase the number of workers, and you could do that by:

1. Having more babies

Some companies are offering financial incentives to their employees to have more children. The government is also supposed to give a little financial support to parents, although I haven’t yet seen any evidence of this. Will this solve the problem? Not likely.

2. Upping the age of retirement

This might have already been put into action, and I’m sure everyone is thrilled about it (sarcasm). Still, adding an extra five years of labor and taxes to one’s life doesn’t look being the magic bullet.

3. Increasing the number of foreign workers

Easing immigration laws to allow hundreds of thousands of foreigners to live, work and apparently terrorize the natives is not likely to happen. I think most Japanese would rather forfeit their pensions or have robots do the work instead.

An alternative solution – decrease the number of elderly people!

I’m not suggesting genocide or anything quite that evil, but it’s interesting to consider ways the government could reduce the burden of an aging population without people suspecting a thing!

According to my students, a hundred years ago, elderly parents would ask their children to take them into the mountains and leave them there. While this is shocking to hear nowadays, it was considered honorable in the past. We can’t expect and wouldn’t wish to hear such a request from our current generation of pensioners, although putting them in a nursing home might be considered the modern equivalent!

Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting the following is a good idea. I’m just putting it forward as something the government might consider, and don’t give me that “They wouldn’t do that!” argument because that’s just opinion, not fact.  

Plan B: If you wanted to secretly reduce the lifespan of millions of people in a few short years, the best way to do it would be to hit them in the wallet. If people don’t have enough money, they can’t take care of themselves. Necessities such as medicine, food, accomodation, heating, transportation, etc. could all be subject to price increases.

Before you know it, thousands of people aren’t making it through the winter. A few tax increases here and there and the threat of pension reductions because of the shrinking workforce will have the elderly population in a state of panic. As a final measure, scare them to death with news stories of crime against defenseless pensioners.

So what do you think? If Japan can’t manufacture babies, and robots won’t pay tax, is Plan B a likely alternative? Let me know in the comments.

Perhaps there really isn’t a pension problem after all!

To end on a lighter note, one of my students suggested that inheritance tax would cover everybody’s pension because there would be so much of it! Let’s hope he’s right, because that’s much easier to stomach than my alternative solution!

Queen Himiko – Empress of Japan

On September 6th, 2006, Prince and Princess Akishino gave birth to their third child. It was an important event because at 39 years old, it was looking unlikely that the couple would have another child, and had it not been a boy, Japan would have had no heir to the Emperor’s throne. The birth of Prince Hisahito finally ended the debate over whether the country should allow female succession.

Himiko - Female ruler of JapanThe Japanese imperial line had run for over 1500 years, but it was a law as recent as 1947 that forbid a female from assuming the throne. Interestingly, long ago, Japan actually had female Empresses. One of them was Himiko…

Himiko (175?~248) has excited many Japanese minds due to her romantic history as a mysterious Queen who highlighted the ancient history of Japan. [Source: Hiragana Times]

To say Himiko was Queen of Japan is not exactly true. Japan was divided into over a hundred small countries at that time in history, and Himiko was the ruler of Yamataikoku.

Himiko was a female ruler of Yamataikoku, an ancient state-like formation thought to have been located either in the Yamato region or in northern Kyūshū of present-day Japan. [Source: Wikipedia]

With Prince Hisahito’s birth, a few more generations will surely pass before we see a female rule the nation once more. Personally, coming from a country with a history of queens, I think the whole debate is as silly as banning women from the sumo ring. I do wonder though, if Japan’s birthrate continues to decline, there may be no-one left, male or female, to ascend the throne. Maybe then, heaven forbid, they might give the crown to a half-blood! 😯

Do you think the 1947 imperial law should be rewritten to allow a female to rule the country? How about a naturalized Japanese citizen? Where do you draw the line?

Weird Tales from Japan – Ubazakura

One book I enjoyed reading before I came to Japan was Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange ThingsIt was published in 1904 and is a collection of weird and ghostly tales from Japan. Since it’s Halloween, I’ve picked a story called Ubazakura, which couldn’t be more appropriate for a blog about Japan and babies.


The story of UbazakuraThree hundred years ago, in the village called Asamimura, in the district called Onsengori, in the province of Iyo, there lived a good man named Tokubei. This Tokubei was the richest person in the district, and the muraosa, or headman, of the village. In most matters he was fortunate; but he reached the age of forty without knowing the happiness of becoming a father. Therefore he and his wife, in the affliction of their childlessness, addressed many prayers to the divinity Fudo Myo O, who had a famous temple, called Saihoji, in Asamimura.

At last their prayers were heard: the wife of Tokubei gave birth to a daughter. The child was very pretty; and she received the name of Tsuyu. As the mother’s milk was deficient, a milk-nurse, called O-Sode, was hired for the little one.

O-Tsuyu grew up to be a very beautiful girl; but at the age of fifteen she fell sick, and the doctors thought that she was going to die. In that time the nurse O-Sode, who loved O-Tsuyu with a real mother’s love, went to the temple Saihoji, and fervently prayed to Fudo-Sama on behalf of the girl. Every day, for twenty-one days, she went to the temple and prayed; and at the end of that time, O-Tsuyu suddenly and completely recovered.

Then there was great rejoicing in the house of Tokubei; and he gave a feast to all his friends in celebration of the happy event. But on the night of the feast the nurse O-Sode was suddenly taken ill; and on the following morning, the doctor, who had been summoned to attend her, announced that she was dying.

Then the family, in great sorrow, gathered about her bed, to bid her farewell. But she said to them:

“It is time that I should tell you something which you do not know. My prayer has been heard. I besought Fudo-Sama that I might be permitted to die in the place of O-Tsuyu; and this great favor has been granted me. Therefore you must not grieve about my death… But I have one request to make. I promised Fudo-Sama that I would have a cherry-tree planted in the garden of Saihoji, for a thank-offering and a commemoration. Now I shall not be able myself to plant the tree there: so I must beg that you will fulfill that vow for me… Good-bye, dear friends; and remember that I was happy to die for O-Tsuyu’s sake.”

Cherry blossomsAfter the funeral of O-Sode, a young cherry-tree,–the finest that could be found,–was planted in the garden of Saihoji by the parents of O-Tsuyu. The tree grew and flourished; and on the sixteenth day of the second month of the following year,–the anniversary of O-Sode’s death,–it blossomed in a wonderful way. So it continued to blossom for two hundred and fifty-four years,–always upon the sixteenth day of the second month;–and its flowers, pink and white, were like the nipples of a woman’s breasts, bedewed with milk. And the people called it Ubazakura, the Cherry-tree of the Milk-Nurse.

Planning a Lifetime in Japan

Life PlanningOur third visit from Mr. Life Planner was by far the most interesting. Mr. Life Planner works for Sony Life Insurance and part of the sales pitch includes a detailed “Life Simulation”, which is really intended to prove the need for their life insurance. Previously we had given him details of our monthly expenses, earnings and expected future purchases, and he came back with a variety of graphs, charts and tables mapping out our lives under various situations.

Mami and I already have other life insurance policies, but were interested in this one as it benefits Rikuto. In a nutshell, we pay into the plan monthly, and when Rikuto turns 18, we get our money back plus a little extra. If I were to meet my end before then, Mami would get that money early. Ideally, I won’t have an unfortunate early exit, in which case the money will go towards paying Rikuto’s university fees.

The charts weren’t pretty. This first graph is based on us staying healthy, working (me full-time and Mami part-time) and having one child. Despite the money from the life insurance policy going towards Rikuto’s education when he turns 18, the cost of studying is just so great, it throws us into the red and interest rates on the inevitable loans keep us struggling until we’re both 65.

Life Plan - Dad, Mum and Rikuto

This next chart uses the same data as the first, but shows us what would happen to our finances if we had two children. Now you know why Japan’s birth rate has fallen; people just can’t afford more than one child.

Life Plan 2 - Dad, Mum and two children

Interestingly, this final chart shows what would happen to Mami and Rikuto if I popped my clogs long before my time.

Life Plan 3 - Mami and Rikuto (Dad popped his clogs)

In this case, the mortgage is wiped out, the insurance policy kicks in, and of course all my expenses no longer exist. Mami would need to work full-time, but that’s to be expected.

It gives me a great sense of comfort to know that my family would be financially sound if I had an early exit, but I need to look carefully at our expenses to see if I can’t wipe out that horrible red dip in the first graph, because that’s definitely my preferred life plan.

Tokyo – Video Montage

I’ve probably only been to Tokyo a dozen times in my 10+ years in Japan, but given the chance I’d love to go again. If I were a rapper, I’d put my baseball cap on backwards, wave my hands around and describe Tokyo like this:

Here we go, to To-ki-yo, where’s the gents? It’s so immense, intense, can’t pay the rents. Feelin’ crowded, astounded, tradition surrounded by concrete towers, 24 hours, pick up the pace, it’s in your face, live in a suitcase, international taste and waste. Shoulder to shoulder, wall to wall, culture, vulture, Tokyo sprawl.

Ahem. Fortunately I’m not a rapper, so I won’t expose you to anymore of my lyrical creations! Instead, watch this great video montage of Tokyo. You’ll either wish you were there, or be glad you’re not!

Can’t see the video? View it here on Youtube.

Japan’s 30-hour day

In my last post, Double without you, I talked about how the Japanese may need to go back to basics and re-learn English from simple ABCs. What they lack in English skills however, you would think they’d make up for in mathematics, right? Well, I’m not so sure…

When you walk around the backstreets of Japan’s sprawling cities, you’ll see bars and restaurants with opening hours displayed in their windows and on their doors. One might wonder why so many of these establishments close at 25 o’clock. Nightclubs, too, are often open until the bizarre hour of 27 o’clock!

I’ve never really adjusted to Japan’s dependence on dates over days and the 24-hour clock over the 12-hour one. Many of my students simply can’t comprehend the question “What are you going to do next Friday?”, but they have no problems with “What are you going to do on June 1st?”

Personally, I struggle with the 24-hour clock, so I was baffled when I saw on Yahoo Japan’s TV guide that this year’s Champion’s League final was scheduled for May 23rd (Wed) 27:35-29:45.

Champions League Final times

I’ll assume the reason for Japan’s 30-hour day, or at least for Yahoo’s confusing TV schedule, is to help people understand that these programs are part of the previous day’s scheduling. Hmm…

Anyway, I’ve been writing this while watching Liverpool lose in underserving fashion to AC Milan, and since it’s nearly 30 o’clock, I really should get to bed!

Cherry Blossoms

A close-up of some cherry blossoms.With Japan’s hanami season underway, Mami and I thought we would take a stroll down the river to see what this year’s “cherry blossom viewing” season had to offer. While we were walking under the sakura, I told Mami a story I had heard from one of my students a couple of weeks ago.

Apparently, K-chan was walking her dog in Gifu park when she saw a large group of youngsters having a picnic, drinking beer, and singing under the cherry blossom trees. Although this is typical behaviour during hanami season, these guys were far too early, and there wasn’t one cherry blossom in sight.

However, they weren’t as dumb as you might think. They had brought along bunches of fake cherry blossoms to hang over their heads, and in doing so they avoided the crowds that fill the park in peak season, and still had a great time!

Now the flowers are in full bloom, we opted to avoid the crowded parks and walk down the quiet river bank. A pleasant afternoon, and since I’ve done nothing but stare at the computer screen during my week off, it was a good chance to get outside and give my aching eyeballs a rest!

Visit Japan with Google Earth

The earth as we know it.

Last month I got a new computer, a Windows Vista PC with enough power to run Google Earth! I’ve been playing with Google Maps a lot lately, particularly after I discovered you can manually alter the zoom level to go in further than you thought possible, like this section of Africa in which you can clearly see a man with his camel.

Google Earth is even more fun than playing with the satellite photos on Google Maps.

Google Earth combines the power of Google Search with satellite imagery, maps, terrain and 3D buildings to put the world’s geographic information at your fingertips.

Fly to your house. Just type in an address, press Search, and you’ll zoom right in.

Search for schools, parks, restaurants, and hotels. Get driving directions.

Tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings.

Save and share your searches and favorites.

Here are some screenshots I took on my ‘flight’ from space to the Imperial Palace Gardens in Tokyo.

Approaching Japan

Tokyo, one of the world’s most densely populated cities…

Coming down in Tokyo

Zooming in on the Imperial Palace Gardens…

And hovering over the Imperial Palace Gardens

And across to the Mori Building in Roppongi Hills…

A quick trip to the Mori Building in Roppongi Hills.

Google Earth is a great toy. It’s free to download and you’ll find yourself checking out sights you’ve never seen before, from angles rarely seen by anyone. Zooming in on the Mori building as I did above, brings up a plethora of little buttons which show beautiful photographs taken from the skyscraper and surrounding areas. Fly around Mount Fuji, visit the Japanese alps, or go to Okinawa. You’ve got the whole world at your fingertips.

The Google Earth download page lists the requirements your PC or Mac needs to run the program, and I guarantee that if your machine is up to it, you’ll zoom in and out, and glide around the globe so smoothly, you’ll think you are flying.

It’s a KFC Christmas.

When I first came to Japan, I was told that Kentucky Fried Chicken, or simply ‘Kentucky’ as it’s known in Japan, is a Christmas tradition. I was told that people flock to KFC for their annual Christmas Eve dinner. I didn’t really take it seriously until I saw people lining up for three blocks one Christmas Eve, just to get their dose of chicken!

Although it exists, turkey isn’t common in Japan, and it certainly isn’t associated with Christmas. Colonel Saunders and his massive advertising campaigns have embedded “KFC = Christmas” into the minds of most naive Japanese. I say ‘naive’ because Christmas in Japan is purely commerical with no religious strings attached. Therefore everything the Japanese understand about Christmas has been fed to them through TV, radio and magazines, including commercials for chicken.

Maybe it’s because Colonel Saunders bears a resemblance to Santa Claus himself, and his statue outside every KFC is wearing a Santa suit. Or maybe the American occupation after the war is the reason for KFC’s success, that is assuming the Americans all ate chicken at Christmas due to the lack of turkey. I really have no idea… and neither do the Japanese.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

KFC is so prevalent in Japan that many Japanese unknowingly consider it to be a Japanese Company. On Christmas day many families (who have made reservations weeks in advance), have their traditional Christmas dinner at KFC. Colonel Sanders has become somewhat of a cult figure in Japan. Not only is there a life-sized statue of the Colonel in front of every KFC, but his memorabilia like wind-up toys and figurines can be found at many toy stores throughout Japan.

Japanese baseball team Hanshin Tigers is thought to be under the Curse of the Colonel, a curse coming from when an enthusiastic fan threw a store-front statue of Colonel Sanders into a local canal during a celebration for the Tigers victory in the 1985 Japan Series. The curse says that the Tigers will not win again until the statue is recovered.

I thought that comment about the Hanshin Tigers was worth looking into elsewhere on the web and this is what I found on this Hanshin Tigers page:

The year 1985 is still fondly remembered by all Hanshin fans. Not only did the club win the Japan Series for the first (and so far only) time, but their first baseman Randy Bass won the Triple Crown award AND the Japan Series MVP award as well – in the process elevating himself to God-like status in the Kansai region.

When the Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series in 1985, the fans went delirious. Among other things, they hijacked a train in Tokyo, and at Dotonbori, one of the entertainment districts in Osaka, people were jumping into the polluted river. The story goes that as the crowd yelled their way through the Hanshin roster, someone who looked like each of the players jumped into the river.

Apparently nobody looked like Randy Bass, so some bright spark thought the life-sized statue of Colonel Sanders outside the local KFC would do. Well, he had a beard, he wasn’t Japanese…

Anyway, you can guess the rest – Colonel Sanders found himself at the bottom of the river.

The whereabouts of the Colonel remain a mystery to this day. They’ve even had divers down in the murky depths trying to find him, but to no avail. It is said that the Hanshin Tigers will never win again until he is found.

That page goes on to say the Tigers finally won the Central League pennant in 2003 but failed to win the Japan Series, so the curse supposedly continues.

As for Colonel Santa, erm, I mean Saunders, I guess I’ll be seeing him on Christmas Eve if I can reserve my chicken.

What’s that Mami? You’re kidding!? KFC is already fully booked?!

I guess we’ll be eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets for Christmas this year….