Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Canada Day from Japan.

This is my very first Canada Day in a foreign land. And what a foreign land it is.

I enjoy how Google knows I'm Canadian but in Japan, and so chooses this layout for me on my work computer. Also, apparently you can't say "I'm Feeling Lucky" in Nihongo. True story, I've only ever heard ラッキー (rakkii).

So I have a pretty busy weekend planned.

Tonight is Canada Day, so obviously all the Canadians (and friends/honorary Canadians) in the vicinity are gathering for a bit of a part-ay/nomikai. Tonight we're going all out though, have a private room at a Shabushabu place. You see, Shabushabu (a Nipponese apparently onomatopoeic dish) is Shinto-Jesus' answer to the whole lack of meat in many Japanese dishes. Its pretty much exactly Chinese hot-pot, but not nearly as spicey. And its all-you-can-eat, or tabehodai (most large food!). According to their website, this place has unlimited beef, pork, pork, assorted vegetables, rice and ramen. Yes, they said pork twice. Along with being tabehodai, this place is also nomihodai (most large drink!), meaning all-you-can-drink. This is going to be a bad Thursday night/Friday morning. In addition, when I called and made the reservation for our party, we had a fascinating little conversation like this:

Japanaman: "For how many please?"
Bureiku: "Around 7, but it might be more or less, is that okay?"
Japanaman: "Cancellation fee, so easier if more than less."
Bureiku: "Okay, 6 people then."
Japanaman: "How many boys and girls?"
Bureiku: "No idea. Maybe 3 and 3? Does this really matter?"
Japanaman: "As long as you're not all massive male sumo wrestlers, I think its okay."
Bureiku: "LOLZ. We're all gaijin."
Japanaman: "OMGZ. DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM EATING PORK FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS?" [This guy was seriously concerned, he likes his pork.]
Bureiku: "Nope. Bring on the bacon."
Japanaman: "I don't speak English."
Bureiku: "Thats okay." [Note, this entire conversation, except for "Bring on the bacon", has been in Japanese]
Japanaman: "I speak some Spanish though."
Bureiku: "¡Hasta la vista, baby. That reservation is for Bureiku. Thank you very much."

Reservations in Japan are always so complicated. But this is a new record, three different languages!

Anyway, then Friday my ambitious goal is simply to remain awake all day, and I know thats going to be a tough one after Thursday night.

Saturday I have tentative plans to go five-course-fugu-ing and look death in the face by eating an entire blowfish (other than the poisonous parts). That 1-in-20 pieces is fatal is bullshit, its pretty safe as long as you have a good chef and you eat it while its still moving. Yummm. Its expensive though, so this is a one time thing.

Sunday a new buddy of mine from the Happy Hour for Communication in English (HHCE) at work is taking me to Jiyugaoka in Tokyo to chill with some of his gaijin friends at Tokyo Tech and go to a Spanish restaurant. Followed by an Irish Pub. I'm hoping for some rowdy Irishmen.

Wow, good thing yesterday was pay day. Where has all my money gone?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or oh my god why is it so disgusting outside.

A screenshot from my cellphone, showing the weather forecast for the next week. The 60+% humidex makes it feel soooo much hotter, its almost 35 degrees with that outside right now.

It is supposed to stay like this for a month. Lets hope it doesn't get biblical.

"-- on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights."


Why hath thou forsaken me?


Oh look! There wasn't a thunderstorm today according to my phone! (There was one though, curses)

Screw you, Waterloo. Don't look at me like that! I know I know I know! Oh god.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The single greatest human being I've yet encountered.

Good evening, cats and kittens.

Man, I have officially turned into a softy. Check out this video over at the BBC and tell me you felt nothing. I will send you a self-addressed stamped envelope to turn in your human being card.

Awwww.... Kitty!! This works even on highly educated bionic veterinarians.

Not only has this doctor devoted his research to giving prosthetic feet to cats in need (talk about a niche market), but he is an incredible badass and all around cool guy. In my opinion you can tell a lot about a person in how they treat cats (this may apply to dogs too, but I'm a cat lover). Giving amputee cats prosthetic feet is pretty much a perfect score on this test.

This doctor is a complete champ. He obviously cares a hell of a lot about this animal, hes well versed in both the aesthetic concerns of kitties (brown bionic feet on a black cat, no way) and the usefulness of duct tape in any of life's problems (you're doing it wrong). "Surgical high five, dude!" I mean, I'm not sure thats completely sterile, but it more than makes up for it in awesomeness. The nurses are just shaking their heads at this point at how badass their doc is.

Siks milyon doller kitty can leep tal bildingz, lol. But seriously folks, this probably cost a lot.

Are there any cat related nanotech innovations I can do to emulate the good Dr. Noel? This guy is just my hero.

P.S. @Mikhail: In the first sentence of the article below the video, I read "peg" as "PEG" (ie. polyethylene glycol) and was like "Damnit, I KNEW PEGylation could fix anything!" Then I was disappointed. Throw some TOPO in that shit.

P.P.S. @Jess and any other non-Gourmands: That meal I just ate was a full 2500 calories of KFC chicken and fries and chocolate chip cookie dough-based desert. Ugghhhmmmmmm...

P.P.P.S. @All gBuzz users: I've temporarily turned off the link between here and Buzz because for some reason I'm getting a billion copies in my work inbox and its kinda annoying. Forwarding issue, likely.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

100 posts, woooooo!

Friends, Nihonjin, countrymen, lend me your ears. I've been pouring my heart and soul into this blog for 100 posts and over 7 months now. I've only been in Japan for about 6 months (though, like Sméagol, I've forgotten the taste of bread, the sound of trees and the exquisite aroma of bacon frying), but right now there are only 49 more days until I go to Korea. And only 34 more work days! That's like, no time. I need to institute a countdown applet or something on this site.

In other big news, today its six months since Christmas. It feels like a lifetime ago. In addition, according to my research, this means its only 6 months until Christmas!

I seem to be vulnerable lately to spontaneous bouts of laughter. This may be directly linked to my diminished psychological state (after all, I started talking to myself like 4 months ago, and never stopped) or perhaps I've gotten to the point where some things about Japan amuse me.

I already told yesterday's story about a Nihonjin-ess (I prefer to genderize my Nihonglish, thank you very much) being shocked and appalled that westerners don't eat rice with every meal. I laughed a lot at that, then a lot more again later upon connecting this absurdity with the fact that "rice" in Japanese is the same word as "meal". When I was talking to Ami, an uninformed listener may have understood me saying "No, we don't eat meals in Canada, not usually." Hilarious.

Yesterday after work I stopped at the konbinience store to grab me some soft cream (soft ice cream). They had a new flavour today, so I glanced at the picture, decided it looked good, and said to the guy "Okay, I'll take some..." looking at the sign, I read the katakana as sutoroberii cheezu, and was like "This is strawberry cheese? Sounds wierd"

"Sutoroberii cheezu keki desu yo," says the guy.

In English now, "Strawberry Cheesecake. LOLZ." The guy starts laughing now, because Japanese people love it when your brain makes the connection between their bizarre katakanglish and the actual root word. I join in with near maniacal laughter. I got my strawberry cheesecake soft cream, and by god it was better than Marble Slab. Maybe that was just the 30 degree heat.

And then, this morning I was walking into work, my usual 5 minutes late (which is ages of the earth for Japanese punctuality, but my boss is off today, whatever). By the main building where the cafeteria is, theres often a sale of some kind, different every day. Sometimes its donuts, belts, wallets, coffee, tea, etc. But most often its tires. Yes, car tires. I don't know how often people at the company buy tires from salesmen outside of the cafeteria, but considering they're here almost once a week, it must be profitable.

There are different tire companies, Bridgestone is the only one I can remember right now, but they're mostly American brands. While walking by, it occurred to me that I've never seen Yokohama brand tires here. And I live in Yokohama. Hilarious!

Give me a break guys, seriously. Happy 100th post.

Okay guys, funny story.

So I just ate my dinner (Stew. Nasty shitty ass stew with a few scraps of meat in it but 95% radish by mass. I feel like I'm in a bad prison movie, being served slop at a cafeteria.), and I was eating with these two girls in my dorm, the only two people living here who tend to talk to me at all. Their English is negligible, but they don't seem to hold my skin colour against me too much, which is nice. Well actually I was eating, they were just drinking tea. I always eat my dinner after 10, because I eat a meal when I get home from work, to maximize my caloric intake. They often drink tea at this time.

So anyway I'm eating my very large heaping helping of rice (its unlimited and 250 calories per cup, so I load up), its tasteless and uninviting, but I shovel it down in whopping chopstick loads anyway. So I say to myself in Japanese (my brain is in Japanese mode at this time): "When I get back to Canada, I'm never going to eat rice again."

Well this prompts a response from Ami: "You don't like rice?"

"I like rice fine, I eat it in Canada all the time, but not 2 times a day, every day."

"You don't eat rice for dinner?" Ami asks.

"Nope, not usually."

"Eeeeeyyyyhhhhhh?!?!?!" Out comes the Japanese tone of utter disbelief and shock, "Then what do you eat?"

At this point I start to laugh my ass off. Seriously? This is like an American thinking everyone eats quarter pounders with cheese for dinner every day. Not even an American thinks that, because they have Chinese food places even in the deep south and they can usually guess that Chinese people must eat a lot of fucking Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls. Her look of disbelief completely blows my mind and I laugh until I realize I'm probably offending her.

"Sorry, thats just funny Ami," I say, mostly recovered, "Do they have rice at McDonalds? Because everything they have there, thats what we eat." A complete lie and ridiculous generalization, but it gets my point across.

"Bread? Do you eat bread then for dinner?" Ami asks, interested now.

"Bread? No, well, maybe. I don't really see bread as a fixture in western dinners." Now that I think about that, I have no idea how to say fixture in Japanese, maybe I just said fixture, I dunno. "We have pasta, vegetables, potatoes, sometimes bread, sometimes rice noodles."

I was at a loss at this point, I was trying to picture my usual dinner that I make myself and I was failing miserably. I couldn't think of anything but rice, and it scared me to death. I've been here way too long.

"We eat meat, Ami." I explain, this time with feeling, "We eat a hell of a lot more meat than you guys do. Chicken, pork, beef, lamb, fish, seafood, bacon wrapped steak, bacon wrapped seafood, bacon wrapped bacon." By this point I had definitely switched into English.

My only source of real(ish) bacon in this country is going to McDonalds and ordering a McMuffin or McGriddle with bacon. Everything else is unsalted or uncured or rice. I'm going on Saturday morning, thats a promise.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Kiddie porn is somehow still up for debate in Japan

To begin, some of the content described or mentioned in this post may be disgusting to some, and if you have sensitive sensibilities, then please just look at the pretty picture and move on.

I was reading the Japan Times the other day, and came by a story that caught my attention: "Manga child sex clampdown fails" was a minor headline on the bottom corner of the second page about a week back. Reading this led me on a exploratory journey through Japanese law.

Turns out the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (somewhat analogous to a provincial or state government, as Tokyo is administered as a prefecture of its own) had proposed a bill which toughened restrictions on selling pornographic depictions of children in comic books and animation, as well as content depicting rape and other heinous acts of sexual violence. The bill as proposed was highly vague and liberal. Using the concept of "nonexistent minors" for characters in manga and anime that appear to be under the age of 18, the proposal would have urged bookstores and other vendors not to sell content depicting minors engaged in sexual intercourse to children. It would have URGED them. No bans, no enforcement, just URGING. Of course in Japan these things might be tantamount, but the point remains; this bill was not strict at all. The only note that would be enforced was the selling of such material to minors; this was to be made illegal. Note that right now these types of materials are sold to anyone who wants them at bookstores, convenience stores, and stalls on the side of the street.

To western eyes this seems like a pretty decent (if not completely obvious) proposal. Who wants to see prepubescent school girls getting raped on magazine covers when you're picking up some coffee and a doughnut in the morning? Even if it is animated? And obviously we don't want kids being exposed to such disgusting stuff, right? And much more importantly, what kind of person buys this stuff? The answer: a hell of a lot of Japanese men. So the diet (parliament) shot down the bill, saying it violated freedom of expression. Also noting that minors should be exposed to sex, not sheltered from it. Wow, Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Diet. Just wow. (N.B. To contrast, all "real life" pornography in any form in Japan is censored, or at least the babymaking parts are.)

And it gets worse.

Japan is the only country in the G8 in which possession of child porn is legal. And not just animated stuff, real life stuff, with real life children. Of course production, distribution and possession with the intent to distribute is illegal, but owning it is fine. Really, Japan? Seriously?

The bans on production and distribution theoretically make getting one's hands on such materials somewhat difficult (though in the days of the internet... likely not that difficult in practice), but of course the Japanese entertainment industry want to give their customers what they want. So here comes the "Idol" magazine. These are "adult" magazines which are full of semi-nude (lingerie, tight, scant or revealing clothing, schoolgirl outfits, maids, etc) underage models in provocative poses, clearly being sold for a pornographic purpose. These magazines come in age ranges, and to quote Wikipedia:

"The primary divisions are divided by years U-18, U-15, and U-12 but there are also more recent partitions designated as U-10, U-6, and U-3 to reflect changes in the marketplace and idol fan communities"

So U-18 is the cut off for real porn, and the models in this range are around 18 years old. I'm so glad that recently the producers have moved on to "models" aged 10, 6 and 3 fucking years old due to changes in the marketplace and fan communities. Disgusted yet? These magazines are also sold to anyone who wants them at bookstores, convenience stores and stalls on the side of the street.

A photo I stole from another Japan Times article on this topic, showing an "adult" magazine with a bold pronouncement on the cover: "Our youngest cover model ever! She just turned 14!"

This really is all kinda disturbing to my western sensibilities, where such things would likely be at the very least frowned upon. But 3 or 4 million of these books were sold in 2006, so its not like they're a fringe group.

Just going into any of the seedier shops on the main road of Akihabara will give more insight into some of the more disgusting sides of Japanese culture. The walls are plastered with obcene (animated) sex acts. Now you might say "whatever, if its your thing, power to you, porn to the people! who are you to criticize such things, and when did you turn into such a prude, Blake?"

Well, anonymous and theoretical critic, if anime and manga depicting rape, torture, mutilation and humiliation of young children is your thing, then in my not-so-humble opinion, something is seriously amiss. Again, in my opinion, the consumption of such images and videos in a country's populace should not be cultivated or commercialized in such a way. Granted, its better than real kiddie porn, but hey, having that is legal too. WHY, JAPAN? Why are you so backward?

Its amazing how pervasive in the culture and people acceptance of this stuff is. A bunch of us gaijins were discussing this bill (before it was overturned) in front of a lone nihonjin. We were saying how ridiculous it was (implying that it was obvious and should have come into law ages ago), when the nihonjin was like "Oh ya, it is SOOOOO ridiculous? I mean, what are they thinking?"

"Wait a second... -name redacted-, in what way is it ridiculous? Ridiculous good or ridiculous bad?"

Lets just say he thought it was a bad idea, and this tends to be the overwhelming opinion here.

Regarding the selling of the materials to children, the people in power say that exposing sexual acts to children does much to generate a healthy and open view of sex, while sheltering leads to an unhealthy fear or embarrassment linked to sex. They say selling animes and mangas depicting the rape of children to be obviously advantageous to their society, and promptly cite this United Nations statistic:

NationTotal recorded rape per 100,000 inhabitants (2004)[17]Total number of reported child pornography websites (2008)[18]
United States32.05 (2000)[19]560
England and Wales26.632 (UK)
Russian Federation4.78 (2000)[19]259
Japan1.78 (2000)[19]6

So Japan has the lowest rape rate in the G8. And wow, Canada has like 50x more rapes per capita than Japan. Crazy. (Also wow @ Germany kiddie porn presence on the internet!)

If this is the case, why the fuck are there special train-cars on every busy train for women only, with signs explaining that its for women's safety and avoiding sexual abuse? The problem must have gotten pretty extreme for train companies to add such a feature. Why do girls fear going on crowded trains without said train-cars? Maybe I'm completely off base, maybe the sexually crazed view of Japanese people (think tentacles, robots and lolicon) is a result of something lost in translation, or instead of the media being a result of a sexually crazy people, the sexually crazed media serves as an outlet and ends up with a more peaceable and non-raping people.

Who knows, but this is all kinda weird to me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Safety Drill, or More Evidence Against Gaijin Telepathy

I got to work this morning somewhat refreshed, having slept in another 20 minutes past my normal time. I had picked up my donut (590 cal) and green tea (0 cal) as is my custom, and was ingesting and imbibing while reading the UW Daily Bulletin (omg, the Warrior football program is being suspended, c’est domage!) at my desk in my usual normal fashion. I should note that there were announcements being played over the PA system, but I was tuning them out quite effectively as I read about a steroid scandal in the ‘loo.

“RAAAAEEERRRRRR RAAAAAEEEERRRRR,” goes the siren. As I look around everyone already seems to have their hard hats on and are under their desks. My first (and completely illogical) thought was “Air raid? Fuck those North Koreans.”

“Get under your desk!” shouts Saita-san, “Get your –Japanese word for helmet— on!”

“My what? Oh, helmet. Okay. Gotcha.” I say as I scramble under the desk that has barely enough room for my legs, and promptly slam my head against the edge of it; “Hence the helmet. Ouchy.”

Before I know it everyone is out from their desks and running (RUNNING) out of the building. I follow, catching up to Saita-san and asking him what the fuck was up, as I was a bit worried I’d left my laptop and Kindle inside uncomfortably near the flammables cabinet. A small but loud part of my mind is thinking; “Any kind of disaster of sufficient magnitude will probably get me a free pass out of here. Come on North Korea… I didn’t leave anything of value in my dorm, it’s a sweet target!”

“Safety drill, didn’t you know?” Saita-san explains, “Did nobody tell you?.”

“Fucking gaijin telepathy, I need to work on that,” I mumble, switching to English, for obscenity comfort. Calmed down now, I realize I must have panicked a little, as I’m sweating buckets and I don’t think it was just because of the rainforest-y climes.

“You should not smile or laugh or look like you’re having fun,” contributes Saita-san, “This is a very serious exercise, almost like a military drill.”

As we form up in a line outside the building, everyone starts yelling out numbers in no apparent order that I can see. Suddenly there is silence, and everyone looks at me. “Say your number, Blake,” suggests Saita-san.

“What number, employee number? Its like 10 digits long.” Turns out my number is 6. I don’t know how this was assigned or how I was supposed to know it, but there you go. You can call me number 6, same as that blonde Cylon from BSG.

Now everyone begins to jog at a leisurely pace away from the building. To the Nipponese, a leisurely pace of jogging is something approximately equal to my normal walking speed, so I just walk alongside.

“Run!” utters Saita-san in a terrified whisper, “You must run to the –Japanese word I didn’t recognize, probably checkpoint or something.— Else we will fail this exercise!“ So I ran as slow and comically as humanly possible. With my too-small hard hat, extremely baggy and ill-fitting uniform, generally white complexion and towering height, I’m sure I was a funny sight.

Now we arrive at the tennis courts, for which maintenance has recently been shut down (along with the pools, gyms, and ping pong rooms) due to funding cuts, and now are in a somewhat dismal state of disrepair. Turns out this is our checkpoint.

Here is where it gets funny. Some guy comes up with a megaphone and starts spewing highly muffled rapid-fire Japanese that I can’t seem to get much meaning from. Then he salutes, rigidly and professionally. Then suddenly everyone around me is saluting.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Gets me a look from Saita-san, so I salute in my best form and try not to smile. Everyone then assumes a military posture with their hands straight at their sides, looking straight ahead. Now there is an announcement over the PA, that I try to listen to.

“We’ve just been through a level 5 earthquake (Japanese level 5 is pretty big, definitely 8+ on Richter), so remain standing in –some word, probably referring to our stance— position.“

Silence for long minutes in the sweltering heat and humidity. Then another announcement.

“2 people are stuck in an elevator, we are endeavoring to rescue them now. Rescue teams, assemble!”

Silence for many enduring minutes. Nothing happens.

“The trapped people have been rescued, but a fire has broken out in Building 1. Fire teams, assemble!”

10 minutes later, nothing continues to happen. Then it begins to rain. First lightly, then a full, torrential downpour, all without a word. It was like that scene in that movie, you know?

“We’re still fighting the fire, at ease, everyone.”

The people around let out their breath and move for the first time in like half an hour. I of course had been lolling (the real act, not the acronym) for a while, but the gaijin shield saved me from all but a few looks. Saita-san turns around, his face completely and disgustingly covered in sweat and warm rain, and says “Almost done now.”

“Whats next? Comet impact? Godzilla vs. Mothra? Neo vs. Agent Smith? Weather seems good for it.” I ask him, deadpan.

“I don’t think anyone will make a comment.” He responds usefully.

“Attention, Attention,” blares the loudspeaker, “The fire has been extinguished, please return to your laboratories.”

People cheer. THEY CHEER. I don’t know if they’re cheering at the extinguished and imaginary fire we’ve conquered, or the fact that they get to return after 45 minutes in the heat and rain.

Was all that strictly necessary? I’m soaked to my skin, my feet are killing me, and I dislike subtropical climates.

That is all.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heated Toilet Seat in 30 degree Summer Heat, or Creature Comforts: You’re doing it wrong.

I imagine I feel somewhat like the intrepid explorers heading west into the unexplored Amazon basin in centuries past: my feet are wet and covered in open sores, I’m overheating to the point of exhaustion, the natives aren’t friendly, and I have some mountain climbing ahead of me.

It is official: The rainy season has begun. According to the Japanamen I’ve spoken to about this, (which is a lot, they love to talk about weather, so my vocabulary in that topic is nearly complete) we didn’t get much of a spring/early summer season. It was unnaturally cold for a long time (which suited me just fine – 15-20 degrees isn’t unnaturally cold to me, where I come from we call that perfect refreshing T-shirt weather) and then suddenly now it’s insanely hot and humid and rainy. I distinctly recall about one year ago (it seems like an age of the earth has passed since this time) periodically checking the weather in Japan just to see what I was getting myself into. I remember weeks and weeks where I would see a string of “Thunder Storm” icons on my iPhone weather app every day. Along with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s. I now find myself in the same boat. I woke up on Monday morning (not at all refreshed – I had gone to sleep maybe 3 hours before) and looked at the weather to find the familiar row of thunderstorms and sweltering heat for the next week – and likely beyond. Since sick days count against my paid holidays (and I’ve already used them all up for my Korea trip in August) I didn’t let the ensuing wave of revulsion and depression keep me from rolling (literally – its an advantage to sleeping on the floor) out of bed and into another day.

Little tangent here. Shortly before I left Canada my shoes were beginning to fall apart, so I tossed them and went back to an older pair that still fit and hadn’t been used much. In retrospect this was a very bad move considering I only brought one pair of real shoes with me (I brought some Nike Frees, but they’re woefully inadequate for water protection, and don’t look like safety shoes, so I can’t pretend like they’re steel toed and get out of wearing the tiny hard pieces of shit they provided me here) and hence wear them nearly every day. Well as expected, these shoes are now falling apart and completely water permeable. I need new ones but definitely can’t buy them here (size 13 American, approximately 31.5 Japanese – nigh unheard of here) so I guess I’m stuck until I head back and buy me some fresh new Pumas. To continue on the shoe/foot tangent a bit longer, on Sunday I was craving me some Golden Mango (one of my Waterloo haunts – cheap Thai food place) so I found a place with good reviews in nearby Yokohama and headed out. It was a beautiful day, and quite dry, so I decided to pull out my sandals which I haven’t worn since my Ishigaki trip in March. There was a lot of walking involved in finding this Thai restaurant, and going to the only open-during-the-weekend post office in the ward on my way, so when I returned – tired and satiated from a magnificently large and only slightly depressing meal of Pad Thai with spring rolls – I found sores from a couple pressure points which had lost their sandal-calluses from last summer. Now fastforward to 2 days later after wearing wet and hot shoes all day, and I’ve got myself a problem. They’re open and red and oozing and really not something you want to read about on a blog in the morning. I got some bandaids though, (can you think of a word for bandaid that isn’t a brand? I had trouble explaining this one to a Nipponese… adhesive bandage?) so hopefully they heal up good, but for the moment there are serious pains in my feet. Maybe I should talk to the chiropodist of the family.

Anyway, where was I? Something about bad weather and thunderstorms – they’re bad and I don’t have the shoes for them. The rainy season is officially my worst favourite season. Winter was fantastic and warm. Now its so hot and humid. Once it starts to rain, you're like "yay, its raining!" and you hope the humidity will go away. Then the humidity comes right back and punches you in the face with its energy legs. And the rain is WARM. WARM RAIN DO NOT LIKE. The only rain which should be warm is chocolate rain. (Youtube meme density for this paragraph: above average)

Oh ya, heated toilet seat. This thing is a god-send during the wintery months, but when its 30 degrees outside and nearly that inside (the bathrooms aren’t eakon-ed, wtf?) it’s a most disturbing and uncomfortable feeling. Thankfully my office space is cooled to almost chilly levels, and I control the AC in my lab, so things aren’t so bad once I get inside. Walking home and to work in the morning are going to be terrible though. I told my boss that the weather today was pretty much as hot/humid as it ever gets in Canada, and he got worried – saying that it was going to get much, much worse.

Great, Saita-san. 素晴-fucking-らしい.

Oh, and the mountain climbing I have ahead is Fuji-san, in the beginning of July. I'm looking forward to it big time.

View of Mount Fuji from my dorm balcony. Taken during sakura bloom in April.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I hardly think "Coffee-stain effect" is a scientific term

You know coffee nanoparticles is the name of this blog (with a much more apropos subtitle – which I will have to change once I return to the western world. Except for the steampunk romance part – that was pure clairvoyance), I haven’t actually spoken about coffee nanoparticles since my very first (and very brief) post. There I proposed the question: “Coffee – nanoparticle suspension or dissolved solution?”

Well now, my pretties, I feel I may have come to an answer. I do a lot of reading of recently published papers in a few of my favourite scientific journals (JACS, Nanoletters, Langmuir, Advanced Functional Materials, Nature Materials/Nano, etc) since I feel like this practice increases my chances of having a basic understanding of most problems or systems I’m likely to come across in work and at school.

Yesterday I was perusing Langmuir (a surface science paper, nanos can recall that this is the Langmuir of Langmuir isotherm/Blodgett films fame) and came across this paper: “Coffee-Ring Effect-Based Three Dimensional Patterning of Micro/Nanoparticle Assembly with a Single Droplet” by a group out of Berkeley. Obviously the first word caught my eye, the rest is just icing on the mocha, so to speak. The paper is pretty self explanatory, they just suspend some micro and nanoparticles in some solution, make a droplet, wait for it to evapourate, then watch the “coffee-ring effect” do its work in the form of a self-assembled circular microscructure composed of your particles. Take a looksee at the figure below.

Mmmm, coffee self assembly.

Anyway this isn’t what is important at all. This is just a new take on existing methods that exist to make such shapes and structures that we’ve looked into ad nauseum and inscribed in the tiniest of hands on our Nanofab cheat sheets. What’s important comes later:

And I quote: “Our technique is mainly grounded on the coffee-ring effect of solutes in an evaporating suspension. When a spilled drop of coffee dries on a solid surface, it leaves a dense, ring-like deposit along the perimeter. Such ring deposits are common wherever drops containing dispersed [nano]particulate solids evaporate on a surface.”
[Editor's node: I added a prefix I think the authors accidentally missed.]

There it is, spelled out in black and white in a peer reviewed journal. He even cites a reference for the last claim, so you know its legit. Coffee is a [nano]particulate solid dispersion. Just so we’re all clear now. I drank coffee nanoparticles this morning.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Random thoughts.

I was talking to Jess the other day, and confessed that something rather stupid had just occurred to me. I realized that I had never seen a stop sign in Japan. She thought this was weird, as they definitely have stop signs in Korea, and as far as I can recall, they had them in China too. Of course in Korea they have 정지('jeong ji', yah, I can read Korean now guys. eat it. its approximately one billion times easier than Japanese) in China they have 停 ('tíng', though I couldn't read that in Chinese. I'm maybe vaguely familiar with the uncommon Japanese kanji which is the same, but pronounced 'toma'). Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, etc, all the countries I've been to have this common feature, a big red octagonal sign with STOP and/or their preferred localization on it in white typeface.

But I don't recall seeing these anywhere during my extensive travels of Japan.

The Japanese stop sign. (Tomare, for those who can't read. The e is an é (accent aigu) sound.)

Well, turns out the brain is a rather stupid organ. I've probably seen this sign about a billion times here, but it never clicked in my mind that it was a stop sign, even though I'm completely capable of reading the Japanese on it. The reason? Its a triangle. Come on, Japan. The rest of the world adopts a standard octagon, and you've got to go and screw things up for everyone. If I ever had to drive a car in Japan, I'd be up shit creek. No wonder Sony does the shit they do.

This is definitely an over reaction, but whatever. Now that I know that this sign exists, I see it everywhere.

On a similar topic, there seems to be this strange prevailing craziness among Japanese and Koreans (and perhaps others - Chinamen please comment). Whenever referred to in writing and very often in speech, the colour of the "Go" light of a traffic light is always referred to as "the BLUE light". Jess first told me this and it blew my mind, as apparently it was a region-dependent thing or something (Busan vs. Seoul). Then I talked to a Japanese friend of mine who told me that it was a blue light in Japan, too. He didn't seem to understand when the group of gaijins around him was like "Yoichi, its obviously a green light. Not blue."

Turns out the Japanese only invented the colour green in the Heian period. And they only started teaching kids to tell the difference between Green and Blue starting after World War 2. Forever it seems, all shades of green were always seen as simply more shades for blue. So the "Green" light can be generally referred to as the "Blue" light. The word "midori" for green has a kanji (緑), but apparently its almost always substituted with ao, for blue (青). Koreans have the same mild delusion it seems. Maybe something the Japanese left over there after their 30 year occupation of Korea.

This seems pretty insane to me, but I suppose the delineations in our colour wheel are mostly artificial... aren't they? I remember reading somewhere that the human eye is most sensitive to the colour green, which is why image sensors in cameras usually automatically process with a 4-colour filter, RGBE (red, green, blue, emerald). This must have something to do with the cone cells in your eye, I feel like red, green and blue are the only colours actually picked up, with green being the most sensitive. Kinda weird to ignore a primary colour, Japan.

The moon as seen from Japan.

In other news, the predominant opinion is that the sun is red here (as it is in the flag), and that the moon is yellow. Like cheese. Cheddar cheese. Crazy Nipponese.

Okay one more tangent that just occurred to me. I was waiting for a TG/Mass result the other day, and so I started reading up on the Second Sino-Japanese war and the conflict between China and Japan during WWII.

I have a little exercise for you guys. Without Googling or Wikiing or anything like that, take a while guess as to the number of Chinese killed during WWII. Also make note that most - if not all - of the conflict entered by the Chinese was against the Japanese. You can record your guess as a comment, even though you're about to be given the actual answer.



I don't want your peripheral vision to see the number of zeros below.




Mickey's estimation was ridiculously low, some number measured in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. Try this on for size: estimates start at around 10 000 000 civilian deaths and 4 000 000 military deaths. Thats 14 000 000 people. The Chinese claim it was over 20 000 000 deaths, with total casualties (dead and wounded) at over 35 000 000. At one time Japan had overtaken Shanghai and the then-capital of China, Nanching, forcing the Chinese government to move a wartime capital to Chongqing. Yah, in the 1940s, Japan ruled Shanghai. The Chinese defended Shanghai to the last as they felt it was a symbol of Chinese civilization to the west, and hoped that the Allies would intervene and help them out. Of course the Americans didn't lift a finger other than promising "spiritual support" until Pearl Harbour happened. How did I not know this? I feel woefully ignorant of the far-Eastern campaign of WWII. Some of the acts mentioned in the Nanching Massacre Wikipedia article are mind blasting and far too vulgar to be uttered here. Imperial Japan was full of seriously, crazy psychopathic dicks, it seems.

Its what happens when a race has a superiority complex which reduces another group in their eyes to something less than human. For Nazi Germany, it was the Jews' inferiority (and Poles, gypsies, Slavs, etc) and the Holocaust. For Japan, this second, arguably more deadly holocaust against the Chinese (and to a lesser extent the Koreans, and Pacific islanders, not to mention the American POWs) was caused not by hate of the Chinese, but by superiority felt by Imperial Japan over everyone else. At the time the Japanese Empire hoped to achieve 八紘一宇 (or 'hakkoo ichiu', eight corners [of the earth], one roof), a Japanese dominion over the peoples of the world. Yah, the Germans wanted to be uber alles, but the viscousness and racism and depravity demonstrated by Imperial Japan seems to have fallen to the wayside, at least in my experience.

I could totally let bygones be bygones if they didn't still have these xenophobic and racist undertones in their cultural psyche.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Its take your readers to work day!

ユッッッッッッッッッミ メガマフィン.

I thank god every morning that I'm not one of the greeters at the gates of my company. These poor unfortunate souls (there are usually 2 or 3 of them) have the fascinating job of yelling "Good Morning" to every single person who walks through. And then "Much appreciated!" to every person who leaves. I suppose they also serve a security purpose, but I like to think their primary job is to yell at me in the morning.

The thing is, considering they have to say "Good Morning" 2000+ times in the morning, they tend to get a bit sloppy. "Ohayou gozaimasu" is often shortened to "gozaimasu" colloquially, but these guys devolve it all the way to "masu!!" Of course the 'u' is silent, so when people are quickly walking through (often in large crowds when a bus arrives), these greeters simply MUST say good morning to everyone, so all you hear is a cacophony of "Masssss! Massss! Massss! Mas! Mas!" coming from the gate. Talk about annoying and not a good greeting at all.

In japanese there are different words to use to say goodbye whether you're the one leaving work or talking to someone leaving work, etc. Its pretty complicated, but the greeters stick with "Otsukaresama deshita" which translates to something like "Much appreciated" but with more formality than that phrase has in English. But at 6:00 when I'm leaving with with a massive crowd, this phrase gets shortened beyond all hope of understanding to "Shita! Shita! Shita!" Which isn't pronounced "Shit-ah" but more like "Shta".

This is a shining example of how Japanese people seem to have missed the memo. If you have these greeters to make people feel welcome and appreciated in the morning/at night, atleast have them say words, amirite? And have them say it to the people, instead of blindly yelling "Mas mas mas mas mas!" when a group runs through. Its like shortening "Have a good day" to "Day!" or "Good morning" to "Ning!" (I guess I've been known to shorten "Good morning" to "Mrnng", and Aussies do shorten "Have a good day" to "G'day", but whatever, this is taking it to far, mmkay?)

I realized I hadn't really talked about work very much on this blog. Upon very brief thought, this is because of the numerous NDAs which I signed before starting (which unfortunately seem to prevent me even from writing a work term report that will ever leave Japan, but I digress). So I can't talk about the actual work that I do (which is pretty kick-ass - at least on paper - thanks for asking), but I don't remember anyone telling me that I couldn't take photos! (Note: They definitely did, but I probably couldn't understand at the time. Ignorance is the best defense for a gaijin smash.)

So the first thing that needs to be known about my workplace (or perhaps more generally, Japanese workplaces), is that they really, really want to keep track of you.

The name board thingy at my dorm.

When I leave the dorm in the morning, I'm supposed to flip my little name-plate thing from white to red to show that I'm not longer there. Who can find my slave-name on one of the name-plates? (its ファロー ブレイク).

When I get to work, there's this digital name board thing at the entrance that I rub my ID card against, and a pretty digital nameplate pops up and flips around. I didn't take a picture of this, as there is always a very loud (OHAIYO GOZAIMASU!!!) guard watching the place, and he likely frowns on the shashin-ing.

The name board thingy at my building.

Then I go to my building (C41, if you're interested [yah, there is at least 41 buildings in the place]). I head up to my office (which is a room full of semi-cubicles), where I find another nameboard, this time changing things up by having magnets to move between “Yah I’m here” and “Nope, I’m out”.

No other gaijins here :(

After reading my morning web comics (which were really updated sometime the previous afternoon/evening, stupid time difference) and eat my morning donut, I head down to my lab, which has yet ANOTHER name board, but this time I have a personalized magnet with a happy sun beside my name.

I don't feel like a happy sun right now. Its 9am.

Needless to say I’m constantly forgetting to announce my presence or absence on one or all of these nameboards. Thankfully someone dutifully puts a magnet over mine, or a little plate over mine, when it’s obvious that it’s not representative of my location. I can’t read the kanji on this dunce-marker, but I assume it says “The underwritten is an idiot”.

This is my desk. Its pretty standard fare. Except for the fact that when sitting straight, the table level is below my knees. It bothered me a hell of a lot for the first few days, but now I have just assumed a constant slouch. Theres also no leg room though, so my legs are always in some awkward contorted position.

My desk/cubicle area. I've never used that hardhat, it has my slave-name on it.

The glove box in my lab. I always think these things look so funny with the arms sticking out, like that robot from Lost in Space.

The bizarre metal steam-punk Schlenk line in my lab. N.B. the kanji for Nitrogen and Gas are not that different.

Saita-san's collection of extremely outdated electronics, including a lot of MiniDisc stuff (anyone remember the MiniDisc?). Too bad it never took off. I think thats the Powerbook from Independence Day.

Sooo many glove boxes in the clean room.

A dark corridor that leads to nowhere right outside of my lab.

A MiniDisc recording music mixing board on my boss's desk. What do you do with this, Saita-san? Judging by the dust layer, not very much.

You should be able to guess part of what I do (or did, I've since abandoned this course) from these reagents.

Saita-san, seriously? Have you HEARD of Wikipedia? I admit Encarta was all the rage in 98, but times have changed my friend. At least you got Deluxe.

Saita-san keeps his gloves in the desiccator. I don't know why, nor do I ask. Wouldn't they be really, really dry after a while? I guess its a good thing he never actually uses them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A little bit on public transit and a hell of a tangent on Japanese work and shame

Not having a motor vehicle to call your own in Canada kind of wrecks havoc on your freedom to get out and do stuff, you know? Normally I don't miss my (t)rusty Neon so much over here in the exceedingly far east, since (as I've said before) the public transportation is top knotch. Well, perhaps second to top knotch. There are some issues.

1. The buses cost a fortune.

My dormitory is 15 minutes away at a brisk walking pace from the Aobadai train station (on the Tokyu Den-entoshi Line). This station is hella convenient for getting into downtown Tokyo proper (240 yen and about 24 minutes). But sometimes I don't want to walk 15 minutes to get to my station.

My dormitory is also a 15 minute walk away from my work (maybe closer to 20 door to door, but I usually stop and get a doughnut). Unfortunately its 15 minutes in the opposite direction to Aobadai station, which sucks when I want to get to Tokyo lickedy-split after work.

So the easy answer to these problems is "take a bus, dude." I would absolutely love to take a bus to work in the morning and take a bus to Aobadai and all, but that just ain't in the cards. It would cost me 420 yen to take a bus to work in the morning (I've got to change buses which are 210 yen each, and there is no "transfer" as far as I can tell - and my boss didn't know what the hell I was talking about). If I pay 240 yen to go 23 km into the heart of Tokyo, there's no way I'm paying double to go to work when I can just drag my lazy ass out of bed a bit earlier and walk.

My cheap and bitter self (who is being ridiculously frugal these days, with exceptions like billion yen trips to Korea) is even too cheap usually to take the bus to get to Aobadai if I'm on my way to Tokyo. It doubles my costs, man. Why are buses so expensive?

I'm pretty sure its just my being spoiled by free buses at Waterloo and Notre Dame (South Bend).

Of course all these problems could also be solved by getting a bike, but those are also crazy expensive considering they're all one-speed pieces of shit. Come on, Japan. You have holographic screens in your airports and robotic garbage men, but you can't put gears in your bikes? These Nipponese don't even know what they're missing when they're pumpin those pedals to maintain a moderate pace on level ground. I feel like some kind of mechanical energy Prometheus.

2. Midnight train to Georgia Nagatsuta.

The last train that I can take to get home from Tokyo at night leaves Shibuya station at 12:25am. Its not so early and its usually as decent time as any to end a night (unless its a karaoke night, in which case its not in Tokyo and it only ends when the sun comes up). The problem I have with this train is its passengers. I've found myself on this train on weekdays a few times, but mostly on weekends, and every day, without fail, it is packed to the brim full of drunk salarymen in suits. And not just tipsy-I-got-a-beer-with-the-guys drunk, full on passing-out-after-a-14-hour-workday-and-2-bottles-of-shochu drunk.

I don't know how many of you have been on a busy train in Japan, but they're BUSY. I'm up close and personal with some Ichiro Sato who is having trouble focusing his eyes and keeping his head on straight, all the while breathing noxious shochu fumes into my face. And 100 or so of these people in a traincar makes the thing stink. They're all leaning on eachother drunkenly, burping and trying in vain to look presentable. The other day one went to the little room between traincars and peed through the hole there onto the tracks. Have they no shame?


How do these guys do it? They follow the "work long, not hard" philosophy that guarantees respect and advance in the Japanese workplace and neccessitates working until 10 or 11 at night. And then they all go out as a group and get shitfaced drunk (not just on weekends, often everyday). And then they go home on a train with a nearly-puking gaijin. Finally they arrive home after 1am to their "families" (I'd prefer to call them sporadic cohabitants) and likely collapse into bed. And of course it begins again at 5am the next morning. I repeat, how do these guys do it?

I don't expect these guys to head home at 6pm and watch Touched by an Angel with their families, but how is this a manageable lifestype? Don't the 20-something salarymen look at the 50-something salaryman beside them on the train and engage in a little self inspection? Do they really want this lifestyle for the rest of their life? Do they know there is an alternative?

In the Japanese workplace you need to work long days; the guy who works 8 hours and gets a lot done will fall far behind the guy who does shit all and stays later than his boss. In the Japanese workplace you need to go out drinking with "the guys" as much as possible. If you don't you will not be seen as a team player and a part of the company. In the Japanese workplace, once you're hired by a corporation, you're expected to work there for life. Any attitude other than this is seen as anti-company, and highly undesirable. How Japanese people go to America or the western world for education and then come back to Japan to be a salaryman is completely beyond me.

This is an oh-so-common occurrence. On a busy train there are enough of them to support eachother standing upright.

Wikipedia has articles on Karooshi (death by overwork), Suicide in Japan, Salaryman, Japanese work environment and Shame Society. This is freaky stuff. Japan and South Korea have the highest suicide rates of industrial countries (by a significant margin) yet their definition of suicide is highly conservative, and generally covers only 1/3 of cases the WHO would class as suicide. Suicide has never been criminalized in South Korea or Japan, and they are generally tolerant towards it. These shame based societies are depressing as hell.

Whats worse, indoctrinating children towards organized religion or indoctrinating children to constantly fear the inculcation of shame and the complementary threat of ostracism leading way too often to self-harm?

Wikipedia puts it well:

"Shame is a reaction to other people's criticism, an acute personal chagrin at our failure to live up to our obligations and the expectations others have of us. In true shame oriented cultures, every person has a place and a duty in the society. One maintains self-respect, not by choosing what is good rather than what is evil, but by choosing what is expected of one.

Personal desires are sunk in the collective expectation. Those who fail will often turn their aggression against themselves instead of using violence against others. By punishing themselves they maintain their self-respect before others, for shame cannot be relieved, as guilt can be, by confession and atonement. Shame is removed and honor restored only when a person does what the society expects of him or her in the situation, including committing suicide if necessary. (Hiebert 1985, 212)

Yah I'm being judgemental, but this just seems like a terrible idea to my radical western sensibilities.

That was a hell of a tangent that deserves a blog post of all its own.


3. Umm, the shinkansen is expensive?

Yah I don't remember what this third point was anymore. I'm all up in a fuss about the clay of the every day faced by these Nipponese salarymen.

I hope you can find it in your tiny simian heart to forgive me.

Happy June everybody.

I still haven't gotten any monkey waiters videos from Shaun, but Yoichi put a bunch on Facebook, so I'll put a few teasers on here for now, and add the videos later.

Heres me with the baby monkey. It might look like I'm smothering him, but I'm really not. He was crying for his mommy the whole time, but he was just so gosh darned cute. He smelled like monkey though.

This is Fuku-chan the mommy monkey that was viciously attacking me. I left her a note in the guest book when I left:

Dearest Fuku-chan-

I don't know what I did to make you so angry and decide to make it your mission to rip out my eyes, but I hope you can find it in your tiny simian heart to forgive me, whatever my transgression.


Gossip Girl Blake

If she ever comes after me again, I'm totally sending this picture to her monkey-husband:

Yah, it got racy. You know the Japanese.