Japanese People Give a Shit (approx. $130,000USD)

If you read the news you may have read about a donation for disaster relief being found in a public toilet. Apparently it was in a plastic bag, hopefully sealed tight, along with a note saying it was for Tohoku relief efforts. Japanese people are peaches, and the fact that whoever discovered this chose not to pocket the money only goes to show how damn honest most people are in that country. Here’s to wishing that the money gets to the right places to help people in a crappy situation.


Jon versus The Chikan (or why yelled at a Japanese person in English before throwing him off the train)

Last week I played the part of a confused and then horrified observer. I was on my way to work, riding the always overcrowded Saikyo line, when a nervous and (frankly) gross looking man got on the train. He seemed to be with his girlfriend, a man-ish looking woman dressed all in white with a knee-length frilly skirt. During the train ride I was sure some funny business was going on, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. At first they seemed to be together, but I had a nagging feeling they were not. As a foreigner I was also hesitant to step into a situation I knew nothing about. As we all left the train the pieces fell into place, though. The woman seemed slightly disturbed, the man’s hand left from her side and they parted in opposite directions without so much as a look. Clearly, this man was a Chikan! A chikan is a man who rides (usually crowded) trains and gropes women. The word chikan translates to “molester” or “pervert.” At that time I still didn’t know what I could or should do. I was shocked. After a few moments the shock wore off and was replaced by a nauseating wave of disgust. I was sicken by this sleazy looking man’s actions, but (almost more so) I was also sickened by my useless inaction. I felt like an accomplice and a victim at the same time.

Today on the crowded, crowded train I found my chance for a minor redemption. To my surprise I found myself looking across the train at the same black hat with gold waves, the same scruffy face and beady eyes, the same nervous look of arousal and guilt. The Saikyo is almost always packed so full that people literally can’t move, sometimes moving even an arm is impossible. At first he was surrounded by men, but then after the next stop he managed to get next to a young girl as people shuffled off and on the train. I was separated from him by ten feet. In the packed train it might as well have been a mile. I glared at him as hard as I could and managed to catch his eye. At the next stop he moved from the girl. I saw in her face the same look of disgust and shame that I felt just a week before. I walked towards him.

As I approached I had no plan. He half looked at me and in the moment everything became action. I didn’t think, I moved. I yelled in English, “get off this fucking train!” and I pushed him hard. I am not by any means a large man, but to my surprise he flew off the train like he’d been shoved by Andrea the Giant. Having gotten him off the train my senses began to return and I yelled, “fucking chikan!” to make the situation clear to him and everyone who’d witnessed my actions.

Once I arrived at work I told the staff about what had happened and filed a report with the police.

The shame of having done nothing the first time is still a cinder burning in my gut, but today’s action has dulled that ache a bit. I hope that the people who were around me tell their coworkers and friends about the strange occurrence they observed. I hope that my small action plants a seed that allows people to do something if they see this kind of thing happening. But most of all I hope that this girl he attacked felt some small piece of what he’d stolen from her return.

iphone, japan

Brad Pitt Japanese Cell Phone Ad

Brad Pitt has been doing a whole bunch of Softbank ads here in Japan. Softbank is a cellphone company. To be more precise they are the cellphone company that refused to give me a 2 year contract and (nearly) free iPhone just because I wasn’t going to be in Japan for two more years! How dare they see through my evil scheme!!

The question I have is which is cuter for the ladies. Brad Pitt:

Or the Softbank dog (soon to release his own DVD):

japan, travel

Going to Hokkaido (北海道へ行っています) part 1

I went to Hokkaido (北海道) over Golden Week, which takes place over the end of April and the beginning of May.

In this first installment I want to talk about getting there.

I took the long route. Also know as the ferry. I left from Fukushima City (福島市) to sendai (仙台) and from Sendai I took the ferry overnight.

The ferry is by far, the cheapest way to get to Hokkaido. Roundtrip tickets cost a lot less than half the price of a plane ticket. The price you pay is time, it took about seventeen hours to get there.

The “ferry” is more like a cross between the ferries I’ve been on in the US and a cruise ship. There is a range of rooms from suites that can match any four-star hotel to a giant room with fifty futons spread across in the floor. There is a movie theater, a restaurant, a bathhouse, a game room, and a few more fancy things which I didn’t really care about.

I spent most of my time in the lobby area with my friends. There were tables and slightly comfortable chairs, so we stayed up late played a few games and then hit the hay around 1 or 2am.

I was so tired I thought for sure I’d be out the minute my skinny butt hit the futon, but that was not what the night had ready for me. One treat I was offered was a loud guy talking just outside the room all night. He wasn’t Japanese, but he spoke it well enough to hit on a Japanese girl all night, and I do mean all night. Once I figured out how to close the door to the large room I was tossed another delight, the standard super loud snoring guy. This one came with sleep apnea action. The bonus was when he made sounds like he’d just swallowed a golfball at 4am. …And just for good measure he got up and fell on me, giving my leg a taste of pro-wrestling elbow-drop goodness. What a peach that man was!

The only thing that kept me alive the next day was the bathhouse. I’d never been to one before in Japan, but let me tell you this, if you ever need to function after only sleeping an hour and a half a bathhouse is a pretty good way to fight through the day.


Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語 – Japanese for Everyone)

After buying too many Japanese books I’ve finally settled on one. It’s called Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語 – Japanese for Everyone).

The publisher thinks their book is pretty great too:Minna no Nihongo is a great book for learning Japanese.

…Making the most of Kiso’s teaching method – short-term intensive study, easy-to-understand language presentation, cast of characters in practical conversational settings, etc. – these books guarantee that the learner is able to make conversation in everyday life in the shortest time possible.

While I generally agree Minna no Nihongo is however, not the cheapest option. To get the most from the book you need to get the main text and a separate book with the translations and grammar notes. The main textbook is entirely in Japanese with some furigana (a kind of cheat sheet for the simple kanji used in the book). My first thought was this was a way to milk Japanese learners, but then I realized that it is because not everyone learning Japanese speaks English. There are, in fact, Translation and Grammar Notes books in a variety of languages.

Of course there are additional materials as well. You can get the extra work book, a set of CD’s to practice listening, some reading exercises, and a few other books that seem less useful. While these extra materials will help they aren’t necessary.

The books are not really designed for self-study. Of course you can use them for that, but language study from any book will only get you so far. I take a weekly lesson using the book. If I stopped taking lessons I would still use the book and learn from it, but I’d have to look elsewhere for answers to the things I want to know that book doesn’t cover. For me that source of help would be a co-worker, but there are also website discussion boards with people ready to help for those not living in Japan or without a Japanese friend.

Japanese is an amazing language— it’s difficult, but interesting and fun. 日本語はとてもすごい言語です。にほんごは難しがおもしろいと楽しい言語です。


Japan is Proud of their Four Seasons

Coming from the Northeast of the United States I was perplexed the first time a Japanese person asked me how many seasons we had where I lived. “Four,” of course, was my reply.

My confusion deepened as existence of four season was questioned. “But are they all different,” my Japanese friend asked? There was more than a slight hint of disbelief.

“Well… yeah…. We have hot summers, then it gets cool and the leaves change, after that it gets real cold and there is snow, then the snow melts it get warmer and everything blooms.”

“Really,” she asked? Almost like I had hurt her feelings.

People in Japan are proud of many things. It turns out that one of those things is the existence of four discernible seasons. They even have a kanji for it 四季 (shiki). The Japanese love their seasons, haikus were practically invented for the seasons. It is unclear to me where the idea that most, if not the rest, of the world was stuck with less than four seasons, but it is clearly the majority opinion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “here in Japan we have four seasons,” in a tone that clearly signaled I was supposed to be blow-away.

One thing that is clear, the Japanese seem to appreciate their seasons a bit more than folks back home in the US. Sure, we all have a favorite season, but most of us don’t take it to the level that most Japanese people do.

Part of this hyper-awareness may come from the cherry blossom tree. Every spring, throughout Japan these beautiful trees speckled the landscape with massive pink clouds. It is an amazing site, one that some Japanese people follow like groupies— going from region to region as the blossoms hit their peak. Even considering cherry blossoms in DC there is nothing like it in the US. The sheer scale, age, and the dramatic landscape upon which it is imposed make it a sight well worth seeing.

It is a strange ordeal to have to convince a person that your hometown has seasons that are very similar to their hometown. At first I mistook it for a superiority complex, which it maybe for some, but for most it is a simpler combination of a love for nature, pride in their country, and unfamiliarity with the world beyond what they see through TV and movies. A recipe that seems common throughout the world in slight variations.