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

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Japanese on English is like Americans on healthcare.

And that's an achievement, of a sort.  The link below wouldn't be worth reading, except the one article encapsulates most of the fallacious arguments for Japan's poor... pathetic?... ludicrous?... English performance.

Abe assaults Japan’s culture by forcing English language

The arguments, such as they are, are entirely refuted by every nation successful at foreign language learning:
- "Most Japanese graduates will work for Japanese firms in the domestic economy."  If they get work at all...
- "domestic companies should have equal access to highly educated graduates who may either be barred from university because they fail the English requirement or refuse to subject themselves to the requirement and, thus, forgo university."  First of all, 'highly educated' in Japan means the opposite of 'innovative', as in: what Japan requires.  Second, if a non-Anglo has had university education and speaks no second language, they are an abject failure (if an Anglo, a failure of a different kind).
- "A better policy would be to offer scholarships, funded by the corporations, to those students who desire to learn English and show individual initiative and English proficiency in high school.  This would result in a more dedicated body of students and create an environment of competition and excellence."  Nope, they stay abroad, marry Gaijin, and/or work for foreign companies in Japan, because you won't accept them back and treat them as a threat.
- "[Japanese] is the means by which the Japanese culture is transmitted from one generation to another...  To speak Japanese is to be Japanese."  'There's your problem.'
- "many – especially English-speaking foreigners – would argue that the Japanese need to talk and think differently (mostly so that these foreigners don’t feel so…well…foreign), it is not for them to determine."  Guilty as charged.  I couldn't give a fuck how you make me feel, and I am out of here, but you losers aren't.
- "The threat to the Japanese culture is the wholesale conversion of the educated class into English-speaking and English-thinking after this policy has been in force for a generation."  Yeah, just like the multi-lingual, split-personality Dutch and Nordic peoples.  Dumbfuck.  Listening to Japanese talk about language-learning is like listening to Americans talk about healthcare.  Fuckwits, everybody else does it better.  Look abroad!
- "Rather than allowing mismanaged and bankrupt banks and companies go under when the asset bubble burst, the government bailed them out at the expense of deflation and economic stagnation....  This English language policy is no different."  Yeah, about that, you know how South Korea's and China's business people speak English?  They are also kicking your ass.
- "the damage done to the psyche of the Japanese children... by forcing them to learn a foreign language, children quickly figure out that the Japanese language is not sufficient in this world  [because... it isn't].  The next step in the logical thought process is to assume that being Japanese is not good enough [because... it isn't].  Perhaps it is already evident in the general malaise found in the Japanese youth."  No, that's probably got to do with the structure of your own culture, and the decline in all Japanese indicators of a life worth living.  Just saying...
- "The government is supposed to be inhabited by the best and brightest that Todai can produce…and this is the best they can do?"  You don't even realize what you have just said.
- "It is not because the Japanese people are lazy or too stupid to learn another language.  It is because they are Japanese and proud of it."  Bullshit.  They aren't.  Japan's like the kid posturing at school because he's a redneck loser, except Japanese can't fight.

Fucking Gaijin is the only way to really learn English for Japanese, but of course, then they learn too much to be 'good Japanese' anymore.  On the other hand, since 'tail' is the best motivator for cultural exchange, maybe this is the textbook they should use...  Yankee would become the most fluent.

What a difference a few inches makes.

Misleading?  I am talking about gear inches on a fixed-gear bicycle for commuting through Tokyo.

I was running a 44 tooth chainring on a 16 tooth cog: 74 gear inches.  I can easily cruise in that, but coming off of the many red lights in Tokyo, and a hill at the end of twenty kilometers, it was a little higher than I wanted.  I switched the chainring for a 42 tooth, which though only 5% easier has made those two things much easier.  I do find myself getting spun-out sometimes, but that's the price you pay.  Suppose it is good for my souplesse.  Fact is I just needed to use that headline for a post.

Here's the best reason to ride fixed: never look away from traffic.  The real reason I have not had an accident yet ('knock on wood') is that I do not look down to shift, especially when I have no other gears, do not look down to clip into my pedals, and do not look at a map/GPS while moving, or when getting my water bottle.  These and a decent sense of propinquity.  Look ahead and shoulder check, and assume nobody's looking for you.

Monday 27 May 2013

Macchiato doppio

710y?!  Was 450y the last time.  No, don't charge me for two separate drinks.  Yes, you verified you pour them into one cup, with Japanese and gestures.  No, you don't understand your own shop doesn't charge double, even in no-value-for-bulk-Japan.  Yes, that's my Gaijin head shaking at you in contempt as I pick my money back up and turn my back on your shop, as there is no way further communication with you in any language can be made up for by a coffee.  Yes, any shred of motivation for communicating beyond my intermediate Japanese dies another death.

Granted you can't buy motivation at retail wages, you can't even get common sense unless you hire foreign students or immigrants.

Japan, craft beer in cans is a damn shame

and you can charge import prices for a Japanese whisky, but you won't get me to buy it.

First, the whisky.  This is probably very good, but it's 9000y.
If I want a 'heavily peated' malt, and I often do, I can go to the source.  Not to mention I wouldn't pour it, or any whisky near the price, into a highball, unlike the locals.  I don't mind that most good Japanese whiskies are a lighter style, and there are some good ones, but unless you are making a unique or superior product to Scotland... try going for value.

This is under 6000y in Japan.
This is under 4000.  Am currently working on a bottle of Caol Isla for some price between the two.  I'd really love to support local distillers, but when I can get great Scotch scotch for less (and half the cost of in Canada!) I am going to support the Scottish ones.

Craft beer in cans... for fucks sakes.  You can get 'premium' beers from the main breweries in standard sized cans for less than 250y, and 'craft beer' in cans for maybe 30y more.  That's no contest: the latter is beer.  Still, it's a damned shame it's in cans.  I've had Yona Yona Ale in can, bottle and on tap.  The bottle was damned close to the tap.  The canned tasted like a can.  Likewise Koedo, Hitachino Nest and a few others I've been able to get in something other than a can to compare to canned.  I can get local 'craft beer' in bottles, but not at most supermarkets, and it will cost me 175% the cost of the same, canned.  It's a canned beer country.  I get why the majors do this, as it's easier to ship and to manage the empties, and their product tastes like shit no matter the container, but for 'craft beer' it is a crime.

You have to understand.  Where I come from, Ontario, all but the poorest beer, and even much of that, comes in bottles.  There is good facilitation of recycling.  I don't think that explains the price difference in Japan: I have seen Qingdao and Lowenbrau in bottles here for the price of canned local beer, though I'd not drink either free.  Is the problem the cost of glass bottles produced in Japan?

At least I have something to look forward to in Toronto, cheaper good beer in a potable medium.

Thursday 23 May 2013

An empire's never had any clothes.

Forty years since this movie and we still don't want to know; 'journalists' don't want to be known to know.

It's simple economics.  Today it's oil, right?  In ten or fifteen years: food...  Now what do you think the people are going to want us to do then?  ... Ask them when people who've never known hunger start going hungry...  They won't want us to ask them.  They'll just want us to get it for them!

Redford walks the spook in front of the New York Times.
SpookYou poor dumb son of a bitch!  It didn't have to end this way...  Hey, Turner! How do you know they'll print it? You can take a walk. But how far if they don't print it?
Redford: They'll print it.
Spook: How do you know?

Did you hear the one about how American troops murdered four women and five children in Iraq in 2006, including a woman over 70 and an infant under five months old, with all the kids under five? All of them were handcuffed and shot in the head. We later called in an airstrike to cover it up, apparently. But it barely registered a blip on the American consciousness.
What if it we're forced to look at all of this for real next time, and what if it turns out we can't accept it? What if murder and corruption is what's holding it all together?  ...this is going to be the implicit argument from the secret-keeping side when this inevitable confrontation comes. They will say to us, in essence, "It's the only way. And you don't want to know." And a lot of us won't.


It's a shock that "The Conversation" was finished months before Watergate, but should it be?

 This is America for the entirety of my life, and my country since more recently.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Japanese: Bike Metaphor

Saw on the way to work this morning.  If you know much about cycling, you know the rider's a twat, and most certainly a Japanese 'man'.  The idiot doesn't know what he wants in a bike.  This isn't even a mullet.  It's a mullet with a french-braid and frosting.

I am shocked to see the saddle above the bars.  Not because it's too uncomfortable a position for me to ride, but because the short-legged locals usually lower the seat too low even for such legs, so they can stay on the saddle flat-footed at stops.  A working light at the rear, the scruffiness of a bike that's not a mamachari, and the U-lock*, might make you think it belonged to a Gaijin, but I am sure it does not.  It's tiny, no Gaijin cyclist would lock that stupidly, and it has a kickstand.

What the hell is that bike trying to be?  It's not an urban fixie for the cool kids, because of the gears and the kickstand - kickstands as common as dirt here, even on fixed-gears and road bikes (twats!).

I've seen what real Tokyo messengers ride: much like in Toronto and New York, but with gears.  It's a hilly city on the west side, and lights are frequent.  But this one?  Kickstand!  Besides, you only run stupid narrow bars like that for dangerous traffic-filtering, which would be twice as dangerous without fixed gearing.

No, this is owned by a Japanese 'man': tries to be cool, but misses the mark by a fucking mile because he doesn't have a clue about the purpose of what he's trying to copy, or his own opinions about the bike best suited for him.  Not just a sheep, but a witless sheep.

*It isn't really: some kind of cable involved.

Friday 17 May 2013


Look at these charts: Canada's housing market's fucked!  Umm... too bad and all that, but YEAH!!!  My children might get to have a yard!  Put away some money now for five years out.

That red bar...  Doesn't that mean a disaster if interest rates change at all...?  From historically unsustainable low rates...?

Debt to GDP chart, Holy $#!+.

What keeps a bubble lofty if not 'consumer confidence'?  About that...

Too bad about all the chumps employed in construction, real estate, mortgages and the people who depend on them (thank god I'm a teacher on the public teat).  There may not be the 50% gutting as in the parts of the States, but I would put down my okozukai on 25% within five years in the Toronto market (and 40% in Vancouver).

I can't say anything to my friends mortgaged to their eyeballs who didn't listen to me when they were buying, and won't be honest enough to recall what I'd said when they file for bankruptcy.  Even though Americans should have known better before the US bust (Wall Street, banks and real-estate agents are definitionally felons, yet they bought what they were selling) I have some sympathy for them, but the Canadians who fueled a bubble hard on the American bust: fuck a bailout!  You own this one.

And you know... even if I'm wrong about this, it's like I've said before about owning being a worse investment than renting and saving in Toronto: 

I won't pay Toronto prices but only get to live in Toronto for it.
Toronto is paying Tokyo prices, but having to live in Saitama.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Tokyo Sanity Strategies

(Yes, I am aware it's Los Angeles in six years.)

These are mine.  Yours may vary.  Mine suit someone for whom the initial charm of the city has worn off (drink and horizontal Orientalism), but is still able to enjoy what it offers (variety) and hopes to minimize the greatest annoyances (ignorant people and concrete).  These have come by accretion the longer I spend here, the longer away from my own culture (Anglo/Western), the closer I get to pushing a salaryman in front of a train...

I would appreciate input, and if they are useful, or just funny, I'll add them to this list.  It's my blog, so I'll alter them from the comments section to suit me.  All of the borrowed ideas are in colour.  Take my alterations or additions as responses.  I did not intend this to trail off to nasty characterizations of Japan; however, it is something of an Anglos-in-Japan Godwin's Law.

There are strategies for the flâneur.

- Going out of my way to walk through a park with an acre of tree canopy: sometimes on a weekend and sometimes on the way home from work.  Yoyogi and Meijijingu are prime for this, and there are others, but too few...

- Dropping into a Segafredo for a doppio machiatto on the way home from work sometimes  as I know nobody else in the city who can make one.

- Do not attempt to put up with smoke.  There is no such thing as a 'non-smoking section' in Japan if there is a 'smoking section' on the same floor.  They understand ventilation about as well as noise control.  If the smoking section is on the second floor of a shop the first floor will be smokeless, but there will not be enough seats as the first floor shares both seating and the work area.  The locals used to chain smoke on train platforms, offices, cafes and restaurants: now they can only do so in cafes and restaurants, and do.  Find smokeless cafes, bars and restaurants, as few as they are, and patronize them: Popeye's!

- A smartphone, or a pocket booklet map if you read characters.  I long used the latter, but a smartphone in this address-randomized city is a revelation.  So is 'streetview'.

- There are no interesting walks between Tokyo centres: blocks separated by noisome avenues are all low to mid-rise light industry and trailer parks, or close to as residences are shit.

- The locals are deltas.  Do not go anywhere when all of the locals will.  It will be miserable.

Shopping strategies.

- Shopping mostly online, which is as true home as here: storefronts only have higher prices and less stock.

- It is simpler to find answers shopping by looking online than by asking a human.  Remember how stupid people are at home?  Now add language/cultural barrier...

- Never buy a Japanese-brand phone, laptop or other technology: too little English on the interface and manual; too little functionality outside of this Galapagos.

- Do buy Japanese cycling equipment: Shimano, Dixna, Sugino, Nitto and others are far cheaper here.  Forget complete bicycles or frames, unless you are as petite as the locals.

For the 'social drinker'.

- Do not bother investing in friendships with locals who have not spent some time abroad, wherever; also true of locals in our own countries, for that matter.

- Beer is served too cold in N.America; it is served colder here.  Just as well for the ubiquitous swill, but for the good beer go to Popeye's or one of the other craft beer places.

- Foreign beer and spirits are as cheap retail as local of the same quality, which begs the question: why pay the locals to imitate Scotch and European beers?  Some do well at this, to be fair, but none make an Isla Scotch.  I do believe in local beer drinking, as it seems absurd to ship ale across oceans.

- Never drink anything called a 'sour', and never drink 'sake'/nihon-shu unless you're sure it is the real stuff.  If the 'sake' is warm best bet is it is bad.  Industry 'sake' and shochu are poisons that will give you your worst yet hangover.  Real 'sake' will give you less hangover than anything you've had yet.  There is no good reason to drink shochu of any quality.

- Craft beer in cans is a damn shame.

Many strategies have to do with the trains.

- Never taking the last, or near to last, train home.  Whatever fun I might have squeezed out of another hour in the evening is more than negated by claustrophobia and disgust with the smell of humanity, not to mention the worsened hangover from the extra drinks I had.

- It is worth paying a bit more in time and money to choose a commuting route to get on at a station where there may still be seats: where a train starts, further out of the city, from the far side of the Yamanote to where you are headed, or a local over an express train.

- Choosing said seat, decide if you want one nearer the door to exit more easily, or further from the door so you are not in the position where you can/should give it up to someone who entered who needs it more; few locals do.

- Check the partition at the end of the bench beside the door.  The end seat is the most popular as nobody sits on one side; however, if it is a short partition some ass will lean on it far into your space.  If it is a tall partition it's gold; if short move along to sit against a pole.

- It is usually best to sit between women, when you can.  They have narrower shoulders, do not open their knees as if they have an infection, smell better about their person as well as launder more often.  They also brush their teeth and refrain from coughing and yawning open-mouthed.

- Any route which requires three trains is poorly planned.

- Any route which requires two train companies may be unavoidable; three is absurd.

'Internationalization', thanks to 'Stephan'.

- Try to avoid [Japanese men] as much as possible, [especially the middle-aged]. If you do encounter them, and get tsk'ed or stared at, immediately answer by doing the same, just longer/louder. They are not used to it and will lose any staring match. The scared expression on their faces is worth it. If don't give back, you will just get angry over time and one day you might hit one of them (don't do that - [the police are of the same genus]).

- If you still bother to learn Japanese, stop right now and start to prepare for your life back home or whatever place you move to next. Use the time more wisely by picking up a new skill or hobby. Or work out more. [Anyone worth speaking to in Japan already knows English from living abroad, or another language in any case.  Moreover, never imagine that Japanese is for communication: the Japanese do not do that.]

- If you still think that living and working in Japan is better than whatever place you come from, you've either not seen the "Ura" yet or are already too far gone.  [Or love concrete, loudspeakers and casual discrimination.]

- As you'll be going home soon anyway, don't bother to give lip service, i.e. answer the frighteningly simplistic questions you get bombarded with by the locals. Don't get entangled into their "like / not like" idiocy and always give long-winded, balanced, pro and con-balancing answers. They will be lost after a couple of sentences and never bring up the topic again, because they are so used to simplistic, fluffy conversation like "oishii ne" or "tenki ii da yo ne" or "gun chan kawaii da yo ne" or "mike-kun, osake sukii darou?"  [I am going to start pretending to be Finnish without any English.  The Japanese don't know that all Europeans, save the French, will speak English better than them (the French can, but are too petulant to do so).]

- Be careful who you fuck/date/marry.  That delicate butterfly who laughs at all of your jokes and lets you do her 'nama'*?  'If it looks too good to be true, it is.'  And class matters here too.  Hope you can tell.

- Just because she says she 'went' doesn't mean she did.  If you have to ask, she didn't.

Related 'internationalization', thanks to 'kathrynoh'.

Best advice I got from a long-termer in Japan was to take everything Japanese people say at face value. Don't look for the hidden meaning, don't try to figure out what they really mean [you won't, and the effort passes no cost-benefit calculation: just because meaning's unclear, doesn't mean it's interesting].

Again, thanks to 'Stephan', there is Media.

- Never, ever turn on the TV. The repetitive childishness of it all will only work as a catalyst for the inevitable realization that the inhabitants of this country will never be able to speak about things in an intellectually stimulating way. You want to defer that as far out as possible.  [Do not buy a TV, but rather a better computer for streaming.  Tell the NHK collectors both that you do not have a TV, and that all Japanese media is shit, including what little they translate.  They know it's true.]

- Don't bother to try to get your news from Japanese sources. There is no really independent press in this country anyway, so the little news from abroad that you get is hopelessly skewered to make Japan look good and abroad look bad.  [When you need news, say during three meltdowns, you will get it abroad first, reported from Japanese news 
a day later once it is all over the Internet, and from the government a day after that.]

Psychological Strategies

- Don't imagine coming to Tokyo already crazy is going to work out well.

- You are not the 'Karate Kid', and neither are your sensei.  The shit they teach wouldn't work in the real world, or by them in it, without the credulousness of the Japanese for arbitrary authority.  It's the opposite of MMA.

- Same goes for Buddhist enlightenment.  And for god's sake, stay away from Soka Gakkai: Buddhism's Mormons.

*Since I have an idea of what you'll get from a search for "do her 'nama'" I'll save you the trauma: without a condom.

Saturday 11 May 2013

"Don't mention the war!"

That's what happens to forty dollars of second rate hardware made of aluminum when you stand on a wrench to get off a bike freewheel stuck with blue lock-tite*.  Oh, it didn't come off.

You want to do that you get a freewheel remover made of steel, from Park Tool or Shimano, and a long wrench for more leverage, also made of steel.  It makes a most satisfying 'ping!' as the threads free their grip.
This is a better wrench to go with the 1" fitting on most Park Tool pieces, but I couldn't see paying four times as much.
Thanks to Japan's witlessness, I have taught myself another skill and bought myself useful tools: never to need to ask a shop here or home to do it for me again.  Yet again, online ordering was the only useful solution: I'd foolishly wasted time looking in bike shops and even asking one to do the the job for me.  Rather, I asked my J-wife to translate for me what I wanted.  The idiot did what Japanese 'professionals' always do: pretend authority, yet know nothing.
There is no special tool for that.  I have to hammer it off.
As he reaches into a tool box of 100円 shop tools.  Yet again, I nearly had a fight with my wife telling her to be polite but we are leaving the shop because I know far more than this idiot.
But he's a bike mechanic.  Are you sure you know what you're talking about?
(I did not answer) Did you see the fucking tool chest or not?  I may not have taken 'the test', but I am Gaijin, I teach myself and I improvise.  I don't use the same broken codes for the whole war.

*Why would I have used lock-tite?  I'd had a fixed cog on that non-standard side, where it is possible to spin a cog off while riding: some lock-tite I'd had on as insurance must have remained.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Tokyo Beer Gardens: better now than summer.

I have not been to one in ages, and am going to one this Friday with people from work.  Now this ain't Munich... not that I've been to Munich.  At least it is outdoor drinking, even if it's swill and the usual over-salted bits of dreck.  This is the season to go: before rainy season and the hell that is July and August.

Here's a few English sites I have come across, but they are limited:
- "Guide to Summer Beer Gardens"
- "Top Five Summer Beer Gardens"
- "Alternative Beer Gardens"

The Japanese links here are far more comprehensive: you can try Google Translate for laughs.

より大きな地図で 東京都内ビアガーデンMAP を表示

I ended up on a patio near work Friday, as my boss owed a few of us a beer so have not been to those that follow; however, these are open now, whereas most are not open until July and August, when it is frankly too hot to enjoy.  That is to say, before rainy season Tokyo has a Toronto summer; after, a hellish one. I have found one on the Tobu building in Ikebukuro that's open, but doesn't look like much.  The next website's information's a year out of date, so do more research to be sure, but in Shinagawa this one.  This one's in Hibiya Park, and looks cool, but recall it reviewed as wildly overpriced.  Another at Yurakucho, and at Ginza. There are many more, even some others open already.

As an afterthought, another link: "Tokyo's best craft beer bars".  I can vouch for Popeye's and Devil Kraft.  I'll point you away from Craftheads (overpriced), Delirium (overpriced and Belgian lambic beers served ice cold!) and Craft Beer Market (cocks expected my brother and I to huddle over a barrel-head by the door when every table was still empty).  I mean to try:
- Harajuku Taproom
- Goodbeer Faucets (Shibuya)
- Shimbashi Dry-Dock
- Swan Lake Pub Edo (Kyobashi)
- Watering Hole (Shinjuku)
- The Aldgate (Shibuya)
- Ushitora (Shimokitazawa)

"Sleep deprivation in pupils..."

"...according to [Japanese] teachers."
Took me seconds to demolish this 'study' and article that some 'educator' is founding his sinecure on.  Too bad they only listen to each other: not me.

I have never seen such sleep deprived people as Japanese between ten and retirement, not that they use their time with any efficiency.  I can't believe anyone still gives any 'expert' money to sample on reported behaviour.  And to do so cross-culturally... Christ.

Tuesday 7 May 2013


Eighteen locals in reflective vests and M.C. Hammer pants to cut one hole in the road.  Even then Japan's unemployed are increasing.
Half of them are there for 'safety' but none of them are in ear protections with a concrete saw...

I'd kill for a machiato in Tokyo about now.

Don't anyone dare tell me to go to Starbucks.  If you're serving a separate premium line of coffee, then what's the story with the regular swill?
For all the coffee shops in this country, chain or otherwise, there is no getting a decent machiato:
- little foam
- no milk
- option of pulling over a bit of hot water

For the second time in my life (Toronto) I have considered getting a machine for the home, other than my moka pot, but the truth is that if spend less than north of $500 it's not worth the trouble.  For that price I can fly to fucking Italy.

All the dark coffee shops here (kissaten) are for chain-smoking oyaji, and if they ever made good pour-over coffee both the owners and customers are too old to have taste-buds anymore, and I am not into pour-over coffee besides.  The chains may make cappuccinos and other baby food, but do not do custom orders.  Segafredo is the only decent chain, though I do not think they do custom either, and even if they did, have you ever tried to go get a Japanese person to improvise...?

Via 'Japan Bash' I have come across the following two in areas I might get to: Bear Pond and Steamer.  Any other suggestions?