Sunday, December 5, 2021

Does It Matter If My Kid Only Comes In Tenth?

A couple of weeks ago my kids’ elementary school held their annual class-by-class road race. Though I don't think “race” is quite the right word. Standing on the side of the road, watching them all go by, I saw it as a stripping of the soul. A study in human response.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving Shout to a Guy in a Bookstore in Tokyo

This Thanksgiving I want to send a shout out to the one guy in a city of 13 million who was willing to give me a shot.

If writing a book is like climbing a mountain, then marketing one is like taking on Everest. Marketing one in a country where hardly anyone speaks or reads your language is like taking on Everest with no oxygen. And no clothes. Hungover.

The goal was to convince one of the bigger booksellers in Tokyo to let me hold a book signing in one of their stores. So I started calling around.

“Sorry, we don’t do that kind of thing,” said the first person I spoke to once they’d deciphered my Japanese. “We don’t have many foreign customers,” said another. Someone from one of Japan’s largest and best-known chains told me to call back once I was famous – assuring that I wouldn’t.

I put down the phone. This shit was going nowhere.

Monday, November 15, 2021

I Was Plogging and I Didn't Even Know It

I heard once that the French don't care what you do as long as you pronounce it correctly. I don't know how far one can push that idea without garnering some major embarrassment if not a night in Jail du Nord. I do know that my French sucks, so they probably don't want me saying much of anything. After a certain episode in Nice in 1992 they haven't really wanted me there at all.

The Japanese have words for things that in other languages take half a day to explain. But I'm not sure they have a word for what I've been up to recently. Until the other day I didn't think anyone had a word for it. Then I discovered the Swedish term "plogging".

Monday, May 3, 2021

Mark Twain's Pre-Twitter Indictment of the Justice System Applies Even More Today

Mark Twain's aversion to describing anything in simple terms seems to have been so severe one might be forgiven for believing the simple act of writing a trite phrase on a piece of paper would cause him to break out in hives.

Consider this line from "Roughing It", a 500-page account of his time in the American west during the mid-nineteenth-century Gold Rush:

The men who murdered Virginia's original twenty-six cemetery-occupants were never punished."

Cemetery occupants?! If I ever find opportunity to use a phrase of Twain's in conversation I totally want it to be that one. I may get my teeth knocked out for it but I'm absolutely sure it will be worth it.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Japanese Shinto Hits the Maga Nail on the Head

This was going to be a short, snarky post
about a passage from a book I just read.

But some ideas, once explored,
can not be justly ignored.

Shinto, Japan’s ancient indigenous religion, is wrapped in mystery. There are no sacred scriptures or writings. There exists no central authority. There is little, if any, evidence of the origins of their rituals and beliefs. No one knows for sure how many kami there are in the Shinto pantheon; gods inhabit all manner of Nature, from rocks and trees to mountains and oceans. The Shinto priests recite age-old prayers in a language barely resembling Japanese. I don't think they even know what they are saying.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Watching My Kids Take On the World, One Mini-Marathon at a Time

This week the kids at the local grammar school were out once again running their annual mini-marathon. And once again, watching my daughter struggling to keep up – an enormous and ultimately impossible task – my heart was both bursting with pride at her spirit and aching with the knowledge that her struggles will never completely end.
A week or so ago, arriving to pick her up at the after-school center she sometimes goes to, I heard her talking to another girl. From their conversation it was apparent they were in the process of deciding to go outside and play together. It also seemed that they did not know each other too well, because as I stood off to the side trying not to be noticed I heard my daughter tell the other girl very matter-of-factly that she looked kind of funny when she ran – and then asked the girl not to laugh.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Memory, Resonance & My Reptilian Brain

Shiojiri, north of the Kiso Valley.
Saturday morning, and I’m on a train headed for Nagoya. The guy in the seat in front of me is dressed in a suit. His head turns side to side, slowly, barely perceptible as he peruses the newspaper in his hands. Watching him, I think of how each of us takes in the world around us.

For the next twenty minutes we’ll be passing through fields of rice, soba and grapes. Then the land will rise up and close in on both sides and we'll be rolling down into the steep, narrow Kiso Valley. We’ll follow the line cut by the ancient the Kiso River, along the Kyoto-Tokyo path the daimyo traveled when these places were known by different names.

The Kiso Valley
South of Nakatsugawa the land will open up again, bringing more fields and towns I fear are slowly sinking toward extinction. The generations are no longer content with small-town tradition. By the time I get off this train we’ll be in Japan’s third largest city, a place that, though I’ve been to and through it many times, has left me with few lasting memories.

I do recall the time I bumped into my friend Hiroshi as we were both changing trains at Nagoya Station. He was on his way to nearby Gifu, to visit family still living in the town he grew up in. I was on my way further south with my then-girlfriend. All three of us were living in Fukushima at the time. In the middle of a crowded platform we laughed at our chance meeting. We snapped a quick picture to memorialize it. Then we continued on our respective ways.

If not for Hiroshi I might not remember I’d gone through Nagoya at all.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Jobs YO! Pay LO!

Online Job-Hunting in Japan

As a self-employed individual I am always on the lookout for new opportunities that will pay me for my creativity (such that it is). My wife might beg to differ, maintaining I am always on the lookout for opportunities that will get me out of doing the dishes.

Regardless, my vigilance recently paid off when I discovered an employment site here in Japan called YOLO.

Already you’re certainly wondering: ‘Kevin, what sort of lucrative creative outlet did you find?’

Answer: Are you kidding me?

YOLO may be a great job resource for some people. And I wish them well. But for me, YOLO is a gold mine of another sort.

I ran into yet another foreigner the day who said he was looking for pretty much anything besides teaching English. He was the kind of guy who, in the space of twenty seconds, could shift from that to the cost of living in Japan to his screaming extroversion to his friends’ opinions of him to the Rape of Nanking. It was all I could do to keep up. So I never got around to telling him about YOLO and how he could work outside where there are always tons of people to talk to as he took his aggressions out on the pigeons for poverty-level pay.

I just noticed the picture next to this ad. This pigeon-coping work looks like serious business. And how about the job listed right below. How exciting it would apparently be to work in a convenience store for up to $12 an hour!

I’m sorry. For some people – college students or illegal visa overstayers from China, for example – this would be the perfect opportunity. Easy, part-time work for some pocket change (or, like, food), where all the Japanese you need to know are numbers, a few standard bits of politeness and “Do you want this piece of processed shit warmed up?” Since this is Japan there’s no Christmas bonus, but also since this is Japan there’s pretty much zero chance you’ll get held up at gunpoint.

Speaking of not getting held up at gunpoint, here’s an interesting gig.

The uniform for this job in Tokyo’s hoity-toity Shinagawa neighborhood evidently includes a one-size-fits-one-size necktie, possibly the one used by the last employee who we might guess was fired for patrolling his nethers in the bathroom on company time.

As I look through these job postings I’m starting to think that somewhere there’s got to be a need for a marketing consultant. Not for this place in Osaka, where the employees enjoy a yellow safety vest and lenient facial hair rules and are therefore happy…

…but for this place, where at least one employee looks about ready to puke in her box and chuck it at her boss.

The companies I suspect will get the most applicants are the ones who can show that the job involves sombreros, booze and little gothic mariachi voodoo dolls – clearly a winning combo.

So maybe I’ll track that guy down and tell him what I found. Meantime I should keep a closer eye on YOLO myself. This opportunity was just posted two days ago.

Six articles. Six hundred bucks. My kind of gig.

Posted two flipping days ago - and the application period has already closed.

Maybe they’ll bump up the hourly on that gig with the pigeons…

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Short Post About Short Kids

and snacks on a pile of ancient dirt.

We could have just sat at the kitchen table and had cocoa. But the crisp blue sky was too much to ignore. So I bundled up the kids and tossed them in the car for the quick ride to Kobo-yama.

It's usually just a few minutes' walk from the creek where we park and through the tree-covered slopes up to the top of this oversized hill. On this day it took a bit longer with all the snow that still prevails on the northern side but for the kids, who already have little sense of time, how long it takes is irrelevant. Only the fun factor matters. At least until the frostbite sets in.

We'd been here before, in the spring, when the west-facing half of the hill becomes a pink and white blanket of cherry blossoms. Then too I'd tried to impress my kids with the fact that the top of this big hill is actually a burial mound dating back to the 3rd Century. They didn't care then, and they didn't care now - particularly my daughter, who thinks anything that happened anytime in her four years of existence was 'yesterday'. That none of us will be here in another century is equally unimpressive.

And that's cool.

I'm just happy they like it out here enough to forget all about the kitchen table.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Indonesia Takes China & Japan For A Ride

Question: How do you get the second and third largest economies in the world to kiss your ass?

Answer: Tell them you want to spend $5 billion on a train that goes really fast.

Indonesia, as the fourth most populous nation in the world, is bound to have a few clever characters hanging around. And one of them, we find, has been stringing China and Japan along for months with talk of wanting to build a high-speed railway linking Jakarta and Bandung. China and Japan, blinded by the amount of cash to be made - mainly by the politicians bucking for the deal - have been going totally ga-ga over the idea.

It's a scientific fact that you can't think straight when you are going totally ga-ga.

"Thanks so much for dinner, but...I'm just not ready to commit..."