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

Friday 28 March 2014

Doing the Japanese' work, because they won't.

1.  The hotel restaurant changed wait-staff halfway through our meal, and I had to remind the new staff twice what course came next.

2.  The evening before our departure from a Zao Onsen hotel, I went to the desk to change our departure bus for the next day.  The tool on duty went to a back office to pretend to make a call, and returned to tell us that the bus service was too full to change from an afternoon to morning bus.  On the way back to my room I realized that: at 18:00 any innaka bus office was closed so he got nobody on a phone, there's no way buses were full leaving Zao on a Friday rather than coming, and I could try with somebody else in the morning who might not brush the Gaijin off with BS.  I did, succeeded, with a useful clerk standing right beside the idiot at the desk in the morning.

3.  At Yamagata station I went to the JR Midori-no-Madoguchi office to change our return tickets, and got told I could not, as they were part of a package.  Only after I told that idiot I was certain we could change them once, did he think to send us across the lobby to the JR View travel agency I had bought them from, where I did so successfully.  In both the second and the third, hotel and JR staff would have left a traveller not speaking Japanese to waste a day waiting for a mode of travel, rather than attempt to think outside the box.  Of course, there were no apologies for that.

4.  Just as the first three required a certain persistence and knowledge of Japanese, all but two of the hotel staff insisted on using rapid-fire keigo and passive voice, keeping to the script rather than consider it is more polite to make yourself understood to your customers than insist on the mannerisms of a 'droid.

Just another experience of Japanese tourism industry fail.  I'm usually spared since travelling with the J-wife, but when travelling with a friend from abroad and I have to take charge, it is less shocking than maddening that the lack of English is less of an issue than that of common sense, should Japan have a 'snowflake's chance in hell' of more tourism dollars.  Here's another idea: any restaurant in Japan serving all customers at a table their meals at the same time.

Incidentally, Zao sucks.  Besides the fact every Japanese ski town is a bore, unless one of the few that serves, and has businesses run by, Australians (Hakuba and Niseko), runs are planned without thought to connectivity, scenery or skiing pleasure, and the top third of Zao's ostensible 1000m vertical is a single run.  On-hill food, and rentals in our hotel and outside of it, were middling to poor.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Québec: just what did you expect of nationalism?

Ethnic nationalism makes integration impossible, making living among the ethnicity aggravating or worse, and learning their language and customs well, pointless.  The early nineties were a bad time to live in Québec for ethnic-populism, as it seems the teens are becoming in Japan.  I have made poor choices of language study: living in Montréal in the run-up to the '95 referendum, Tokyo now and just after the Bubble, and a few months in China after Tiananmen.  Or perhaps it is true that only a dominant language, like English, can integrate others.

Jacques Parizeau Votes Ethniques by mediawatchqc Jacques Parizeau Votes Ethniques by mediawatchqc (from 3:30)

I support the right of a significant majority vote to gain independence*: Québec, Scotland or other. 
The only way to respect not only a (far greater than '50%+1') majority, but also all minorities, is both to allow borders to change, and to strongly protect minority rights. Goodbye sign-laws, enforced French schooling, a chunk of greater Montréal, parts of the North Shore and Gaspé... This doesn't even begin to address the treaties Natives and the US have signed with Canada (not Québec), much less monetary policy.

I am unsure if it is more the cynic in me, or the student of human psychology, which suspects the cooler heads in the PQ are happy to use sovereignty, but wary of achieving it.  Once again the "puis des votes ethniques" mongering: 
[Separatist Party Leader] Pauline Marois concerned about ["les votes ethniques"] 2014 Quebec provincial elections
That's exactly why most of Montréal's once vibrant Jewish community are now in Toronto, as well as many ex-Montréalais Anglos (such as myself) and businesses, and the fact that even Francophone immigrants tend to move on.

So many mixed feelings.  Let's start with the ones you won't expect from an Anglo-Canadian:
- Canada is only soverign from, and better than, the US because it includes a more socialist Québec
- only Québec knows how to vote for its class interests, and vote strategically
- Montréal is the only interesting city in Canada

Let's continue with the less positive:
- I felt encouraged in no way to improve my French while in Montréal, whereas I often have my Japanese in Japan
- I felt little more chance of integration in Québec than in Japan, which is saying a lot
- bigotry in sign-laws, schooling, head coverings, and descending to using the 'notwithstanding clause' of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- corruption ubiquitous since well before my father refused to do business there in the 70s

A hint to the PQ: if you have lost referenda twice, the birth rate of 'pur laine' Québécois is below the replacement rate, and there is no way Allophones or 'ethniques' Francophones will vote for Québécois populism, try being inclusive.  If Québec were, I would take my blended family there**, learn French and use it, because Québec society is more economically just than anywhere else in North America

*I do not think the Crimea passes the smell test.
**If I could make a living for them.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Atami photos: homage to 'Spike Japan'

Tetrapods in a fishless tank for the win.  For a change, the pictures are my own.  The tank is real, in a Bubble era residence/hotel where the Arististhenes family stayed two nights.  The tank contained only several sazae: the outer half of which are palatable, but the deeper half of which are best avoided.

Good god I miss Spike, and the Fixes blog seems suspended.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Guest in Tokyo: recommendations?

A friend of mine is visiting next week, and we have two and a half days in the city.  He's about forty, and he's been here before when we were both in our twenties.  No need to do all of the main sights then.  I'm going for a more interesting Tokyo, but tell me what I am missing that is worth not missing, given the short duration, and him having seen all the guidebook crap near two decades back.

Here's what's on the plan on three days:

Yanaka-Nezu-Sendagi area
Ameyoko-cho, Kappa-bashi since in the area
An arts/crafts place he wants to see I know nothing about, Aki-Oka.
Bridgestone or Idemitsu museums
Asakusa Amuse Museum

View Larger Map

Shimokitazawa and Ushi Tora
Swallows baseball game (his idea)
Mori building observatory sunset 18:00

Shinjuku - streets closed to traffic Sundays
Shinjuku-gyoen for cherry blossoms, drunk locals

Saturday 15 March 2014

Blogger sucks

Anyone else noticed that Blogger's starting to become very inconsistent?  If Google's going to sell me upriver to the NSA they can at least keep product decent. The titles to all of my blog link lists have disappeared.  Why, exactly?

Thursday 13 March 2014

Japan: *&^% the local mores.

I had a minor altercation today.

Assholes and prison-bitches* have been on my mind, on every commute.  Are there are only two ways to play being Japanese: asshole or assholes' prison-bitch?*  It would explain a lot:
- sempai/kohai
- ubiquitous bullying and hazing
hikikomori and futōkō
- shoving on commute
- open-mouthed coughing and other blatant public hygiene transgressions
- salarymen in general
- sexism
- racism
- general xenophobia and Nihonjinron
- the lack of compelling characters in Japanese novels, or other media**
- a lot of couples without warmth, children, or warmth to their children
- passive-aggression
- their politics, mafia, and corporatism
- 'sho-ga-nai'

It's as if a nation was designed by someone who poorly understood both Rand and Nietzsche, who are bad enough if you understand them, and came up with Japanese society.  If you are a born Japanese asshole, it's rather easy to live in Japan, because the majority of pounded-nails will do nothing against you, and the only people who will are other assholes above you.  As for the shit you take from them?  Well, you just 'pay that forward', don't you?
What altercation?  I have to remember that Yankee will push back, and that the prison-bitches will give me the stink-eye (and lie to the police, because 'ware-ware-Nihon-jin'),# but I am glad I did what I did, yet more glad nothing came of it.

Purple tobi-panted, Yankee comes smashing through salarymen, which isn't interesting or worrying, because he wasn't going to bang into me, because we Gaijin are unpredictable and the Japanese can't process that.  However, he body-checked a woman right in front of me, and I am happy to say that I reacted sooner than I considered how to.  I shoved him and shouted:
You don't push women, you cunt! [Sorry about the word choice.]
We had a desultory shoving match, during which he replied, of course:
Nihongo-hanase! [Speak Japanese]
I know plenty of ear-blistering expressions in Japanese, but I have it on my J-wife's authority that I sound much too cute saying them, which is not the way I wanted to go.
Fuck you, asshole!
If a Yankee remembers any English from his last year of school in JHS, it's that.

And all the prison-bitches around us gave me the stink-eye for causing a scene; not him for body-checking half a dozen people, some of them women, on his way through a crowd.  (White people, this is how it is for visible minorities in your country every day, so don't get too smug.)  Certainly nobody was going to stick their neck out for a Gaijin who'd stood up to a woman-bashing asshole.  I just turned my back on him, as I long have on affection for this culture, and walked off.  I could deal with a sucker-punch if it had come to that.  I didn't want to deal with Japanese authorities of any kind.

Tokyo is full of assholes.  Maybe not all of Japan is, but I am in Tokyo, and I am done with Japan.  I used to live on the suburban/rural divide of Kanto near twenty years ago and don't remember quite as many assholes, though remember enough; I used to find people on rural trips nicer than I do now, it's worth noting; I think it is true both that Tokyoities have always been bigger assholes than most of the rest of Japan, and that they are bigger assholes now than before, now that the curtain has been pulled back on Japan having no future.  I am not the first person to have made a connection to 'Children of Men.'

There isn't a compelling social reason to treat strangers well in Japanese culture, because obligations depended only on the type of relationship between the people: there were none between strangers.  Even if it can be argued pre-State Shintoism did not have a moral code (and that of State-Shintoism, militaristic), Buddhism has, but it isn't the code that expresses Buddhism in Japan, but the rituals... as ever.  This is why I insist that Japanese culture is not polite, it is merely mannered.  It's inevitable in the alienation of the largest city, in an increasingly hopeless and alienated culture, that civilities continue to decline among people who have little empathy for each other.

The faults of Christian churches and their members are legion, but the moral message of the Gospels is enduring.  How the Gospels have been used for moral code in 'Western' countries is a deeply troubled history, yet it's not unrelated that some people stood for my pregnant wife in Toronto, yet so few in Tokyo.  Even we atheists are influenced by the moral codes of our culture, and whether they extend to strangers, which those of 'the Book' do.  The troubling thought I've had is that as North American politics and discourse starts to mirror the xenophobia, selfishness and alienation of Japanese urban culture, the more we begin to mirror Japanese culture in how we behave with strangers.  We are becoming assholes too.

*It's not a gender thing: there are versions in all genders and persuasions.
**Never anyone like Milton's Satan: an asshole, but a compelling one.  To be fair,  Shusaku Endo's 'Samurai' was interesting: a Christian.
#Reverse-Orientalism, because everything's back-asswards in Japan, for the sake of it.

Monday 10 March 2014

Tokyo/Kanto Long Rides and Brevet

'Billy' and I have something in common: we are both not making enough use of our bicycles.  This post is for me as much as for him, but also for the public: information for rides and for Tokyo cycling clubs.

I am no joiner, but for those who are, there are these clubs in English.  You can also look to my side-bar links for more cycling information around the city.

Most of the major rivers have great to poor 'cycling roads' along them.  What they lack in variety they make up for in less traffic, but be careful of witless plodders and holiday crowds.  I have a good (Japanese) app showing all of the cycling roads along major rivers, though it can be slow.  I haven't tried this (Japanese) app yet, but might.  Android both.  There are (almost) no bike lanes in the city, so put them out of your mind.

What I have been meaning to do for a few years now is brevets (really fucking long rides), and this is the (Japanese) link you want.  If you mean to do any, or foot races, Japan needs booking early or there are no spaces left for you.  I have to decide on the 200km ones by 4/01, and the 300 by 3/17 (which is back-assward).  Since I've already bodged doing a half or full marathon this spring or summer, I am on the fence to committing to doing the following, not least because of having to meet up with some organization's schedule, which I have never found pleasant in this country.

- a 200km brevet in Chiba, 5/10
- another 200km brevet in Gunma, 5/24
- a 300km brevet from Utsunomiya, 6/14

Other routes I hope to do before I leave, now that I have used up three and a half years and not done them, are in order of easiest to hardest:

- down the Tonegawa cycling road to the sea

- bottom of Boso after getting the Kurihama-Kanaya ferry (or the other way, and get sunset on the boat)

- down the green heart of Boso

- Chichibu

- Izu Oshima

 The better parts of 'Japan Romantic Road' done in two days, which includes climbing the 'Irohazaka' if done east to west.


'Yona Yona Beer Kitchen' 'Blogger Night'

Can't you see us in the back?  'Billy' and the 'TokyoOctopus' joined me Saturday evening at Yona Yona Beer Kitchen in Akasaka Mitsuke.  We went for another drink (well, they may have stayed longer for more) at friends of 'Billy's in Ebisu.  It's a low-key but comfortable place.  'Billy', comment here with that information and I'll include it, if you like.

Yona Yona Beer Kitchen

A more complete review is here, but I'll add a few reasons I won't make an effort to return.  Some of these reasons are my own and some are agreements with 'Billy', so don't blame him for the reasons you don't agree with, or give me all the credit for ones you do.

I live on the rougher, aged, shabbier, east side of the city, so when I go to Akasaka or the like it feels shiny, though I'm happy for the eye-candy decades younger than myself.  The pub fits the location, and whether it's fake in some way or just hasn't had time to develop a patina, it's a bleached-wood warehouse for professionals to consume beer that you could find in any modern city or airport in the world. 'There's no there, there.'

The food was all very salty.  I mean fuck, I live in Japan so have some tolerance for salt, but it was salty.  Japan is so salty that I use none when I cook but can still taste the salt salting it from my saliva.  This was saltier.  Also greasy.  I am aware that it is in Japan, an izakaya, and salt makes people drink more, but it was saltier and greasier than that.  Apart from this caveat, the food was fine: if you are on any kind of salt or fat reduced diet you'll die.

The beer was as good as Yona Yona beer is: every beer tasted like the keg was fresh, unlike some Yona Yona I have had elsewhere.  'Billy' was less than happy with prices for the beer, and since they serve their own he is likely right.  With two kids I get out so little it hardly matters.  They do have their two 'real ales' on tap,* but I can't say I paid enough attention to the one I had, except it was good.  The fundamental flaw with craft beer bars is that after two pints you could drink swill for all the taste left in your palate.  I should have gone for their beer sampler platter if I'd thought to do it.

The bloggers

It was nice to have some join me, and put faces to online identities.  We even shared our real names, which I won't, of course.  Too bad a few of the others couldn't join us, but then again I wasn't up for drinking up to the reputation of 'Mr. Salaryman', nor could 'kamo' make it in from whatever innaka he calls home.  It was only 'Billy', the 'TokyoOctopus' and myself.  We were later graced with the loveliness of 'Billy's partner, where we met fine friends of his who own a bar.

The bloggers blogs speak for them better than I can after meeting for a few hours, and I expect the same is true for mine.  The type of person who keeps at writing a blog and with whom you have regular online communication with in comments sections is someone you should get on with, and I am glad to say I did.  'Billy' kept us talking, and I appreciated him for doing it.  I have a bad habit of being too interested in what I want to talk about, so I'm very happy someone else took the role of facilitator because they're likely to do it better.  He did.  'TokyoOctopus' has if not a quieter personality than 'Billy' or I, in general a less talkative one.

That is the end of my thumb nail sketch, as poor as it is.  I hope to meet them again before I leave this summer, and I'd be happy to meet more of you.  An ideal place would be at 'Billy's bar, which opens in a few months, but I'll leave that up to him.  No, I do not know precisely where it will be.


*Bottom two beers on the pdf.

'Tokyo Beer Drinker' blog

より大きな地図で Tokyo Beer Drinker Map を表示

Not much to this post but to promote his blog: 'Tokyo Beer Drinker'.  He's listed far more places to get craft beer than I knew existed, and I agree with his take on the ones I have been to.  I haven't met him, and know nothing more about him than is on his blog.  I have never seen more information in one place on the topic in English.  Start there.

Friday 7 March 2014

'Real Ale' in Japan

Found a website that lists them,* and where to drink them.  This post of mine has some listed.  Go here also.

*'Real ale' means cask-fermented and naturally carbonated, often with living yeast remaining: that is to say beer, not the 'beer' we've been drinking.  Also see CAMRA.

Monday 3 March 2014

'State of Grace'; serving Mammon

As our politicians wrap themselves in the cassock, this matters.  If the churches were a shade as divine as mundane, the sacraments would be refused most of the politicians we have: that we have ever had.  Or under Catholic catechism which doesn't allow refusing the sacraments, offered to them while counseled they do not receive the grace of the sacraments in their present 'state of sin'.  I will never believe again, but I might respect the Church, and churches if, ex cathedra, the names of 'leaders' who cannot receive the grace of the sacraments was announced, and what restitution, penance and contrition would be required to undo that judgment.  Churches may be created by dreamers like me, but they are not run by them.

This is encouraging, except much the same could have been said by Borgia popes.
Members of the Church of England are much more hostile to benefit claimants than their bishops or clergy.
25 [Anglican] bishops have blamed "cutbacks to and failures in the benefit system" for forcing people to use food banks. They are joined by two bishops from the Church in Wales, 14 Methodist districts chairs and two Quakers.  [Note, no RCs, except maybe the one in the next quotation.]
David Cameron’s Big Society initiative is toothless and could be used to allow ministers to wash their hands of responsibility for the impact of spending cuts, the Archbishop of Westminster warned. 
Maybe, only just maybe, the leaderships of churches could remember the words and actions of Christ...

... rather than run wash the blood from the hands of princes and their bankers.

I am no Christian anymore: hypocrisy is the ultimate cause of my atheism, religious and political; finding other traditions are full of the same is the proximate cause.  However, 'Western' leaders purport to be, and so must be called on it, as should their churches' bishops, their clergy and the laity.  Resorting to the Old Testament is the surest sign of it: establishment churches are the refuge of, and cover for, the usual sociopaths and their fellow travelers.  It would be nice to believe, if I were able, that those ambitious in churches are enough unlike those ambitious for Mammon, but they dine together, went to the same colleges, have relatives...

There are good priests.  I insist on that, because I have known them.  Good priests do not become bishops, cardinals, popes, so who does?  Good priests quote the New Testament, and act in good faith to it, as Giles Fraser did when he let Occupy into St. Paul's, London.  Chris Hedges isn't ordained, but studied to be, and has sabotaged his career remaining true to his understanding of Christ's message.  Good priests are willing to become martyrs, because in this world you'll be made one.
For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?" And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me."