Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tai-chan's Shūji

I finally got around to taking a picture of one of Tai-chan's calligraphic paintings. This is by far not the nicest! And there are 21 more where that came from.

If you're interested in purchasing one, let me know . . . they're $50 each with free shipping.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tai-chan's 13th Birthday -- Unexpectedly Celebrated By a Whole Restaurant

I wasn't quite sure what the folks at Mellow Café -- a pizza restaurant/café in downtown Nara -- meant when they said to please come on Friday night, August the 8th, 2014 -- one day after my son Tai-chan's 13th birthday.

At first I mulled just not going. The Japanese as a race are not renowned for holding charitable birthday parties for people they barely know -- especially an entire restaurant and its staff.

But I have been faithfully going there for two weeks every summer since 2012, which would make this the third. Only a couple of workers are still there who were there when I first started going, but Tai-chan and I, for at least those two weeks every summer, are fixtures there -- we went at least once a day.

So I guess, in one form or another, we're treasured customers. I don't know. The Japanese collective mind works in very mysterious ways, and I would never even in my wildest hallucinations have predicted that the staff of a fairly successful restaurant would all come out to celebrate some foreign guy's son's 13th birthday.

But that is exactly what they did.

For Japanese, this is an extraordinarily unusual thing to do. Trained by rote, no typical Japanese is ever -- ever -- allowed to improvise on their given set of themes. Which means that someone at this restaurant pulled some unusual strings to organize this -- and you will notice that they even programmed the music to play some old disco tune called "Happy Birthday."

Not only is this whole thing unprecedented, it gives me back some faith in the Japanese, a group whom I normally regard with suspicion, and even contempt from time to time.

But I hope that the real gainer from this experience is Tai-chan, who has seen that his own lock-step rote-taught compatriots would go out of their way to celebrate a near-stranger's birthday with an unseen, unheard-of group confluence that I myself would have laughed out of existence as a possibility until I saw it for my own eyes.

So, here is the video -- you can hear from my lack of comment that I am completely at a loss for words.

Thanks, guys at Mellow Café, although you will never see this nor be aware of its existence.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Miksi Suomi taistelemaan natseja toisen maailmansodan?

Tiedän kuka olet, minun ovela ystäväni!

Mene vittuun äläkä tule takaisin, senkin paskiainen.

The translation here, roughly, is "Buzz off, asshole."


Friday, August 15, 2014

Change in Japan

 I    noticed a few odd things about Japan on this trip -- stuff that's completely new, and quite frankly, I don't know the reason for.

But first, let me introduce you to a couple of words Tai-chan taught me that I had never heard or used before:

First, 単品 (たんぴん, tanpin). Apparently this means "à la carte," as opposed to a set menu. Always good to know! Like here, lots of Japanese restaurants have table d'hôtes (what they call "Set menus") where you get a bunch of stuff that you probably don't really want along with the one thing you really do want.

Then, there is 炭酸水 (たんさんすい, tansansui) meaning, basically, sparkling water. I found that in most convenience stores, sparkling water was usually actually just soda, although I'll have to admit I don't know what the differenence is between soda water, artificially carbonated water, and naturally carbonated water (well, obviously I know the last one, but no one has ever explained to me exactly how, say, Perrier water gets its bubbles.)

In the drinks shelves of most Japanese convenience stores, they have an amazingly astonishing array of beverages -- stuff you wouldn't touch with a bargepole (Calpis or Pocari Sweat) plus twelve different kinds of cold coffee in cans -- be careful when orderimg coffee anywhere in Japan, because more likely than not, if you don't specify, you will get an iced coffee -- and a whole bunch of other nameless, indescribable stuff that no Westerner would recognize as a beverage -- milky, sewage-colored, you name it -- plus the usual soft-drink dreck that we have.

Thanks for the new vocab, son!

Note LCD screen on left of customer
Another odd development for which I have no explanation is that most grocery-type or convenience stores now have an outward-facing LCD screen (at least 21") which seemingly lists your purchases and then your total, which is displayed in a large rectangle in the middle of the screen, surrounded by advertising -- for some reason you are supposed to tap on that total amount, but I found that nine times out of ten, the cashier just reached around and tapped it for me. Others just looked at me stupidly until I tapped it.

Also, most of the above-type stores have ATMs which take almost every card known to man (and a few to woman), and in a nice improvement over years past, 90% of all types of businesses take western credit cards, although it's always wise to inquire BEFORE you drag all that stuff to the cash. As far as I could see, no one uses debit cards -- 99% of Japanese use cash.

Another annoying thing is the persistence of the ichi-en dama -- the one-yen coin. It's completely worthless, of course, and even looks fake -- it's made from some extremely light alloy that could be confused with plastic. Even the go-en dama are annoying -- they also are completely worthless, being worth about a nickel here. They have a hole in the middle of them -- might make a nifty necklace. 

I just shoved back all the small change -- everything below ten yen -- because it ends up really cluttering your pockets.

That being said, however, if you are a spare-change hoarder, you can literally bring sacks of ichi-en and go-en dama to any bank and just pour them into a funnel of a counting machine, which will deliver your small change in larger change (hyaku-en dama or go-hyaku-en dama) or 1,000 and above yen notes (satsu -- issen satsu, gozen satsu, ichiman-en satsu etc.)

Believe it or not, I have indeed seen a 100,000 yen satsu (about $1,000) but you'd be nuts to carry stuff like that on you, although not from fear of being robbed -- more like accidentally dropping it somewhere. That would definitely be Ouch.

A Void

Have you ever moved out from a place you've lived in for maybe years, and on the last possible day, when all your things have been moved to your new space, sit down in one of the rooms you once did so many thing in, and say goodbye?

I've done that in every single place I have ever lived in as an adult. In some, I deliberately left the boombox as the last thing to go, and I would sit on a bare floor and listen to music and contemplate everything, all the conversations, all the experiences I had had in that room.

Obviously, in places I had only lived for a short time -- to me that's less than six months -- I didn't perform this ritual so faithfully. But in many cases where I had spent two or more years in, it was quite a long, drawn-out affair. Sometimes even tears were shed as I remembered.

There was a theory that I read about once, that said that sounds -- you know, the things that travel in waves at around 750 mp/h -- never actually die completely; they just diminish over time. Lots of time.

And one can't really argue with the theory. After all, once you start looking into the quantum world, things just keep getting smaller and smaller, just as in the macro world, things just keep getting vaster and vaster. And so far, I have heard NO PHYSICIST announce that they had finally found the smallest particle able to exist. Every time they find that, someone else finds something smaller.

So is it so impossible to imagine that an echo never really dies away? That it just keeps getting smaller and smaller, and if you somehow had the audio equipment to find it, you could scan back 20 years and hone in on a particular conversation that was still echoing about a particular room? There is nothing in the laws of physics to say that is impossible.

My family has lived in this house in one form or another since 1979. That isn't such a long time ago, in temporal terms. In fact, it's the quantum blink of an eye; after all, they say that the universe as we know it expanded from an infinitely dense point (whatever THAT is) to space as we almost know it now, ie. billions of light years across -- in a fraction of a second. In a fraction of a second things went from impossibly small to impossibly huge.

So, as I sit here now, in this nearly empty room, I sift through nearly 35 years of memories. Is it so far fetched that a conversation my father and mother had (this was once their bedroom) back in 1982 is still echoing between these walls? If only we could get the equipment sophisticated enough to find it?

I believe yes; in maybe the far future, we will have sophisticated enough equipment to do this.

So, as this room undergoes its umpteenth rebirth, I do what I described above in reverse. I think of all the things that have happened in this room and think of all the things that WILL happen in this room . . . as I sit here now, the music of Bach echoes forlornly against the hard parquet flooring and the newly-painted walls . . . and six months from now, this same space might be filled with objects from top to bottom, undergoing yet another renaissance, with no end in sight, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Perhaps the metaphor of Tony Montana Shooting Steve Jobs, who is offering him an apple, is pertinent here . . . one offers life, while the other offers death.

I only listen to the impossible echoes and wonder if one day, these keys clacking on my keyboard will be resurrected on someone's computer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Kids: Mine and Not Mine

It's become a sort of tradition to at least try to have a "Détente Night" whenever I go to Japan, which means my going out to dinner with my ex-wife, my son, Tai-chan, and her kids by the dick that fathered the kids, then left on some business trip with some slut golddigger and quite literally, never came back! Meaning that he left my ex-wife and the kids he'd fathered, with no knowledge of his whereabouts nor any means of support for his own children.

This, my friends is a regrettably unremarkable example of Japanese maledom -- meaning, it happens all the time! Nothing to see here, folks, move along, move along!

So understandably, these little children must be deeply confused and warped -- who wouldn't be, if you were abandoned absolutely without a trace, only to grow up with no memory of a "father" who presumably lives on somewhere in Japan? No doubt the monstrous amount of guilt this would provoke in any sane individual will eventually come bubbling to the surface of this man's addled cerebral cortex -- or whatever misshapen object that stands in for one, and one day he will come crawling back, begging for forgiveness.

Well, can't say my ex and I get on like houses on fire but I can't help feeling really, really badly for these two little kids who are my son's brother and sister, so whenever I go I try to make them feel loved at least by me, whom they only know as "Daddy," and they seem to be happy whenever I do show up, which is again regrettably only once a year.

Well, the Ex doesn't have wads of cash lying around, so I took the kids out to an outdoors-type mega-outlet and let them roam wild and choose what they wanted -- for the little boy, Kōta-chan, I bought a cool snorkel, and for the little doll, Kahō-chan, I bought I-can't-remember-what.

My son, Tai-chan, has already received his customary expansive gifts -- a bike and an ultra-cool guitar amp -- so he was totally taken care of for his 13th birthday.

We all five of us went to dinner on a Friday night to one of those amazing sushi palaces -- factories, really -- where everything is so smooth and automated that it makes McDonald's look like Abe and Amy's Homemade Pies.

And here is the stitched-together result. See the beautiful cake we got for Tai-chan in the last minute of so of this video. As usual, if you want this in all its 1080p glory, watch it on YouTube (click the YouTube icon at the bottom right) open it to fill the screen and make sure the little cog is set for "1080p HD".)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Students: Take Note

In my absence, Brigitte has gutted the room in which I teach.

It is going to become a much more pleasant place in which to learn Japanese.

At any rate, this is what it looks like today . . .

Finnish It Up Already

I have no idea who is following ALL my blogs from Finland, but I would like them to either identify themselves or just stop coming, as I note that the pages they come from are usually porn pages and that makes me uncomfortable.

So: either ID yourself or buzz clean away.

Landing in YUL

And here's the proof . . . at 8:19 p.m. on Monday, August 11, after having successfully dodged surface-to air-missiles from the FLQ, hijacking by a deranged Yazidi immigrant, and food poisoning by Air Canada, I touched down safely at Pierre Eliott Trudeau airport.
I'm home. But this blog is not done; I have a mountain of videos to be sorted through, processed and uploaded to MeTube. So, check back often!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Parting Shot

I have so many stray videos lying around on this computer from this trip that I haven't put on the blog -- just because I'm leaving doesn't mean the blog is done. I'll try to find sone of the more interesting ones when I get home and maybe do an iMovie job on them -- editing, soundtracks and so forth -- that are difficult to do here because it's so time-consuming.

But here's a good parting shot for you -- the famed "rush hour" on Japanese trains.

This is actually a pathetic understatement -- you could actually move several inches in every direction on this train, which Tai-chan and I were taking on Thursday night -- whereas the REAL deal -- rush hour trains from central Osaka, for example -- live, seared into my brain from the very few times i had to experience them.

And it was quite frightening. On those trains, you were packed in so tightly that you could not even lift your hand to your face. This journey was nothing like that at all, but it was still more crowded than I like.

They call it here "Gyū-gyū zume" (ぎゅうぎゅう詰め) -- not sure quite what it means but it definitely is something like "sardines in a can."


Sunday, August 10, 2014


Just grabbed this shot of yesterday's typhoon passing by my hotel. And Tai-chan dreaming his technoid dreams. I remember when I used to LOVE sleeping in my clothes.


Hey! I arrived! I'm sitting at the counter of the McDonald's at Kansai New International Airport, having been checked through all the way to Toronto, and relieved of my bag!

I actually consumed a Big Mac, because last night I had no appetite -- so this should carry me through to Toronto at least, eats-wise.

Thank you, Brigitte! Her expert rescheduling job has put me on a completely hassle-free trip all the way downhill to Montreal. I just don't know how I can possibly thank her for coming through with this coup -- because coup it is!

Meanwhile, I thought I would share with you the spectacle of two Japanese women obviously on leave from their "webcam" job who decided to do their hair and makeup right here at McDonald's, right next to me.


It's On. Is It On?

Looks like Brigitte back in Montreal might have pulled off a miracle.

She says she has scheduled me on the exact same flights today as I had yesterday (but missed.)

Can it be true? If she has really done it, I'll find out -- I'm on the 9 a.m. bus to Kansai airport. Yes, my flight is not until 2, but I like to get places EARLY.

If I get a chance, I will post at Kansai airport.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Little Wizard at Work

I found a movie I made the other day featuring Tai-chan actually creating his masterworks.

We See Our Favorite Guy

I must be somehow blessed, because this hotel is less than a block away from two different places -- a shop that deals with insatsu -- printing, of all kinds, though mainly people's personal inkan, or name-stamp, that if you're anybody you absolutely need here, and then there is my other favorite place, a shodōten, or calligraphy shop, which to me, is a match made in heaven.

This is because Taishi, my son, is skilled (at age 13!) at the traditional Japanese (originally Chinese) art of calligraphic "painting," which is basically using a brush of some sort -- usually horsehair or sable -- and "sumi," or black ink. You might write a proverb, or a haiku, or pretty much anything you want.

But it's like a fish needs water -- the two shops compliment each other perfectly. I buy the red ink for his inkan at the first place, then all the art boards and frames at the other place.

Please see this series of videos that illustrate all the trouble I went to early this year getting Taishi his own, old-style name stamps, which were hand-carved for me by a Chinese practitioner of this ancient art out of the Bay Area in California.

Well, it paid off in spades. It's too bad I have carefully packed them all away but Tai-chan has made about 25 of these exquisite calligraphic paintings, stamped with his exquisite hand-carved personal seals (and if you're one of my students -- you MIGHT be getting one) which are frankly, worth their weight in GOLD for what I went through to get them.

Who knows. I might just keep them ALL and put them up on my newly redone teaching room. This will all have to be decided if I ever get out of this bloody country, which is looking less likely with each passing minute -- the rain is positively hammering down and I am VERY glad I am not bound for that flight to Tokyo.

Meanwhile, here is a video of my last visit to my lovable insatsu guy (students, please pay attention to sensei's Japanese!) :

Maybe I Was Wrong About God

Umm . . . how to say this? My "prayers" have been answered.

As you are probably not aware, there is a typhoon -- you know, kind of like a rain shower only a little stronger -- sweeping Japan.

Sweeping this hotel as I type! (pictures to come).

I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m. Showered. As usual, WAAAYYYY earlier than I had to, simply because I NEVER WANT TO BE LATE.

I was slated for a 2 p.m flight from Kansai airport to Tokyo's Haneda airport. I was on tenterhooks (remember that vintage phrase?) and on Skype with Brigitte, as I have been (it's now 9 a.m. -- I've been on since 6 a.m.) checking on ANA's website and Air Canada's website to see what was going on.

I'm not generally a nervous flyer, but, for various reasons, I do NOT like flying into Tokyo. Possibly because at both its main airports, Narita and Haneda, wind is always kind of wild. And in the late summer, like now, Japan attracts typhoons like dung attracts beetles.

And I will never forget that FedEx crash. So, I dislike Tokyo's airports on the finest of days.

Tai-chan is here with me -- his mother was supposed to drive us all to the airport this morning. But even she, last night, was warning me about this typhoon. "They close the bridge from the mainland to the airport (Kansai airport is a man-made island) when the winds are high. As they are today.

So, given a choice -- and not having much -- I really did nor want to fly anywhere today.

Yet here I sit in my suit, bag packed and zipped up, waiting for Tai-chan's mother to come take him and his guitar and amp and HIM away, while I was doomed to go to the bus station in this driving rain and bus all the way to the airport -- a good hour and some drive -- but all that is thankfully NOT TO BE.

Even Tai-chan gets to stay with me (it's now several hours later). But now I'm on the "Call THEM, not US" merry-go-round.

And of course, it's SUNDAY.

So, dear, faithful flock, I might be here for quite some time.

I will post when I get anything of note. Meanwhile, I'll rummage around in all my video files to see if there is one worth posting.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What Are You Looking At #2

As usual, open in YouTube, make full-screen and click on the CC button

Upon Another Incredible Milestone

At 12:05 a.m.,  Japan time, (midnight) Tai-chan became 13 years old.

And what a day! He showed up at the hotel this afternoon at about four, but with bad news: he hadn't been able to find the signature seals that I laboriously had custom made by a person in California earlier this year.

These were to have been the stamps he put on the shodou (Japanese calligraphy) -- his personal, hand-carved square signatures that were al much a part of his creations as Picasso's signature on HIS creations.

Needless to say, I went ballistic. If I left Japan without his personal stamps on all these calligraphy paintings he's done, I din't want any one of them . . . without his stamp they were nothing.

So I'm afraid I boiled over a tad.  He said he had last seen them at his grandmother's; upon the basis of a quick phone call it was established that she had no idea where they were and had *no* interest in going looking for them.

Strike one for the the Nipponese!

I, however, was not going to back down. Okay, I said, we're getting on the train now (now? asked a disturbed Tai-chan -- yes NOW, was my reply) and this we did.

I made it clear that I was not angry with Tai-chan, although if you know the history of these seals I think you would probably take my side.

SO . . .  we went on a hysterical unwanted rush-hour ride of which you have the benefit -- here it is in all its glory: rush hour from Somewhere in Nara to Somewhere else in Nara.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Playing Tai-chan's Guitar With His New Amp

I bought Tai-chan a cool new guitar amplifier for his birthday. It does everything except bake pizzas. And this is what it sounds like . . . even though I haven't touched a guitar for a couple of years . . .

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tai-chan's Lecture to My Students

Words from the wise to the wizened. As usual, open the video on YouTube by clicking on the tiny YouTube icon on the bottom right, click on the cog to make the video 1080p and then make sure "CC" is clicked.