*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Friday 27 April 2012

Death before Derailleur

No metaphor in city traffic.  If you're not shifting, you might be paying attention to the road.  Keep the brakes!

Death before Derailleur

No metaphor in city traffic.  If you're not shifting, you might be paying attention to the road.  Keep the brakes!

Saturday 21 April 2012

The plight of the 'local hire' Gaijin parent.

She has bigger problems.

I've got a friend who is a Anglophone local hire at a company downtown in Tokyo.  It's not education, and she's not on an expat package: there lies her problem.  She's here because she has a Japanese husband, and they have some kids.  Kids are soon to enter school.  She is very worried, and she doesn't have the money to send both to 'international school', which would be more than four-million yen: her full net-income used up.  She'd also have to sell that to her husband.  'Your education was so bad we need to throw away half our coin.'  Being correct never helps.

There's a lot you can say about Japanese schooling, and I have; however, it wouldn't tear me up too much to send my kids to Japanese elementary, with certain caveats.  Japanese JHS and SHS: no fucking way.  If you've a passing experience with Japan, I won't need to spell out the reasons not to do that to your children.  Why would Japanese wealthy enough fill half of 'international schools' with unhybridized whelps?

I am a certified teacher, by which I boast nothing, except that if I were staying through my child's education I would be able to find employment at one of the 'international schools' which include free education for staffs' children: better than half.  Many schools with middling salaries can attract teachers with excellent pedigrees as putting two of their children in the school for free doubles their net income.

A 'foreign hire' with a good (financial) package has nothing to worry about.  The bastards.

What are you going to do if you are not employable at an 'international school', or on an expat package?  Yes, I am looking at you AETs and owners of ESL schools.  I worry for you.  Put it another way: what's wrong with Japanese school for your kid?  You want your child to become an adult who can think.  No, I am not calling Japanese stupid.  I have met a lot of stupid N.Americans, Brits and others.  However, our education systems, if reinforced with good parenting by intelligent and curious parents, sets up kids to be successful for a variety of futures.  Japan's system makes sausages: some filled with choice cuts, and others with sawdust, but all put in the same casings.  Rote learning is not a curiosity-killer in elementary.  I'd even say we should do more rote than we do in English countries in elementary, instead of 'letting children discover' at an age before they know anything, including what they might be curious about - much less capable at.  So send them to Japanese elementary by all means but worry about these: racial insensitivity, English language capability, intellectual agility and university entrance opportunities.

You could make short-work of the racial insensitivities in many parts of urban Japan, so long as you have not bought property yet...  Live in an area with other Gaijin and hybridized families.  There is a lot of it going around in Tokyo.  If my kid's in a class where not more than three-quarters are full-blood Japanese, at the very least a buddy's got his back on the playground.  At best, some poor family a few years ahead of us taught the staff to do their jobs with an unhomogeneous student body (homogeneous Japan is a myth, but never mind that).  If you are in the sticks, this isn't going to help.

That's not going to teach your kid academic English, analytical or rhetorical skills: neither will the Japanese education system or you (certainly not, and realistically not).  So what do you do?  What do you do if you don't have two-million yen to spare for each kid, for fifteen years?  Well, what do ethnic groups in N.America do?  They start their own Saturday language and culture schools.  They go so far as to organize their own cultural centres.  Are Gaijin doing that here?  I don't know.  I could research it, but I bet it would be the more numerous and marginalized in Japan who do: Filipinas, Chinese...  I know the N.Koreans do.  It would take more than Saturdays to make sure your kids were prepared to go to an Anglophone university, but hey, every kid in Tokyo seems to waste their youth at juku on weeknights.  It might be possible to organize one not-for-profit, but my guess is that there are enough parents in a similar boat this is a viable business-plan.

If you keep it below a third of the cost of the 'international schools', you have a winner.  We're gone within two years.  If any reader can make use of this notion, consider it a gift.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Japan Hiking Advice

In some location of the Internet there is a thread about advice for hiking in Japan, to which I gave my two-cents under my real name.  I have changed the wording of my response enough that you won't successfully Google it (tested already).  Mine was far from the most cynical, and among the more family-friendly.
Rainy-season is a wash. Access on weekdays, unless you want to duplicate rush-hour subways, on twisted mountain roads. Ask yourself what's going to cost you less: the cost to your body of your camp on your back, or 9000y/night for the huts. At least in a tent, you can make your own dinner rather than have to take it at 5, and make it in time.  In either case, the locals will wake you at 3a.m. getting up to make the elusive summit sunrise.  J.hikers drink, like the rest of the time: join them or not. You suffer or not by the quality of your boots (Italian!) and your socks (merino!).  Your reward is the hot-spring.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

"Ooh, that smell. Can't you smell that smell? The smell of death all around you."

I am not going to compare the virulence of the smell of one people against another: people do not smell the same the world round, but smell they do.  In Toronto, the smell of a crowded transit vehicle is a sebaceous pong; in Japan, a fecal fug.  Someone else can do legitimate science to determine if the differences have roots in DNA (possible), diet (likely) or BMI (probable).  I should not leave out gender or age.  Most Japanese women are olofactorily insignificant.  As my conscience does not allow me to ride in the ladies carriage, I am stuck among the men in the others: three-quarters of the riders are men between forty and soon-to-retire, wearing suits which would not be dry-cleaned every day.  Though I am sure most of those 'salarymen' would imagine I smell worse than them*, I doubt it as I bathe both evening and morning, and do not survive solely on a diet of alcohol, grease and despair.

My strong smell-memory should motivate me onto my bike.

*Why else cringe from taking the seat beside me?

Friday 6 April 2012

SIX fucking seasons!

I have written often about what I call 'cultural blind-spots': which Japan has no less than the Anglosphere.  One of the more tedious is that 'Japan has four seasons'.  It's annoying enough that Japan is supposed to be unique, but four-season climates are as common as dirt in both the northern and antipodean temperate zones.  It's stupid enough as a symptom of Nihonjinron-'logic' meant to set-apart the Japanese.  You ought to read how 'kamo' addresses this:
Branding someone as unusual and different is not the best opening gambit if you’re looking to create a shared mutual space. It’s a clear, if unintended, labeling of you as ‘other’ from the outset. ‘You are not one of us. You never will be.'
The witlessness that sets me off is that it's just fucking untrue.

Winter   冬

Spring   春

Good Summer   五月晴れ

Rainy Season   梅雨

Bad Summer   地獄
Autumn      秋
Can't the Japanese count to six?  Yes, and they even have vocabulary for the rainy season and the 'good summer' in May (I coined my own for the 'bad summer', July through September).  Shouldn't they have counted higher than four?  Yes, however, they read too much Chinese Tang Dynasty poetry, and those cats went on about their four seasons: which is fair enough as they were not in the same climate as Japan.  Japan borrow concepts from abroad and apply them without analysis of local conditions?  June weddings make sense in England, where that's the only good month.  In Japan...

Tuesday 3 April 2012


I ran and finished my first half-marathon recently.  This is a marathon-mad country.  Outside of the unendurable summer months, there is almost no weekend in Kanto where you cannot find an event to train towards.

There are cultural differences, as always.  I may have a poor attitude left from HS, but athletic types in N.America tend to be cocks.  This is much less so in Japan, where I would say that not only is there less chance an average Japanese person is a cock than in N.America,* the athletic are also less likely to be a cock in Japan than the athletic at 'home'.  Put another way:
"The average Japanese person likely appreciates that their current emotional state is not the most important thing happening in the room."
It was well organized: the volunteers provided no English, but made sure I understood the Japanese they communicated with me.  And why should they provide English?  I was one of three non-Asian faces among several thousand, and the other two may not even have been Anglos.  The atmosphere provided by the volunteers and the townspeople along the route was very cheerful, from taiko drummers, to children handing out candies, to runners, to the water bearers, and the ancient crones yelling 'ganbate!' from the stoops of their farmhouses.  And for 2500y I got the run, free shuttle-bus and baggage check, water en-route and two bottles after, and an athletic-shirt worth no less than that!

Is it common outside of Japan to see men runners taking a smoke before and after their run?  Good thing they did.  If they had the better lung-capacity they would have kicked my ass.  I did fine for having my first long run, and with better than four decades under the bridge.  I choose a modest pace, and lined up where the sign was posted for the time I estimated: I estimated well.  Interestingly, women (of any age) and older men who started where I did finished with me; younger men often dropped off after the 15km mark.   
"Old age and treachery will beat youth and skill every time."
Or sometimes.

*Even some of the racial 'micro-aggression' I have complained about exists as much in Canada, but people just hide it under niceties better.  Not to mention that bad-attitudes on race, though never acceptable, can be thought more unacceptable in a place where people actually know and rub shoulders with 'different' people frequently: Toronto, etc.  They ought to know better.