Saturday, March 31, 2018.
I visited Canada from Thursday, March 1-to Friday, March 16 this year, arriving back in Tokyo on St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday 17th (because of the international date line). March is a poor time to visit Canada. The weather is iffy - ranging from mild and spring-like to full-blown winter blizzards - the trees are bare, the lawns are brown, the houses all look like they need painting and repair, the roads are pot-holed, the streets are a reservoir of all the sand and salt that was laid down during the winter months to help vehicle tires find traction, and the cars are correspondingly filthy.
The day I left Tokyo it was breezy and the temperature shot up to 22° C. It was the “haru ichiban,” the first warm wind of Spring - sort of like a chinook wind in Canada. It was a glorious spring day with nothing yet to compare in Canada. For a time I felt stupid carrying my winter gear in my suitcase on such a fine day, even though I knew they were a necessity one I arrived in Ontario.
First, I flew to Vancouver, BC, an easy 9-hour hop on an Air Canada 787-9 (a comfortable plane). I felt uncomfortable that the route is almost entirely over water. The direct flight to-and-from Toronto is largely over land, so if there is an in-flight emergency a landing area is always nearby. But that’s not the case when we are flying far out over the sea. Any in-flight emergency there and we’re screwed.
I rarely sleep on an airplane. I doze a little, but I don’t sleep. Reading is difficult because it’s so uncomfortable and noisy, and because the light is so bad. Instead, I watch movies, as many as I can. Towards that end, I always bring my own earbuds onto the plane so that I don’t have to wait for the flight attendants to pass out earphones. I can plug into the plane’s entertainment system immediately and begin browsing the movie menu even while we’re still at the gate. On the way to Vancouver I watched:
1) The Hitman Bodyguard, directed by Patrick Hughs, starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman;
2) Novitiate, directed by Margaret Betts, starring Margret Qualley, Melissa Leo and Julianne Henderson;
3) Working Girl, directed by Mike Nichols, starring Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford;
4) Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branaugh, starring Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton and Kenneth Branaugh;
5) Battle of the Sexes, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell.
My primary goal of visiting Vancouver this year was to rent a bicycle and cycle around the Stanley Park Sea Wall, which I did, but … The weather upon arriving in Vancouver on Thursday 1st was mild with mixed sun and clouds. My plan was to overnight at a downtown Holiday Inn, do some sightseeing on Thursday, then on Friday morning check out of the hotel, check in at the VIA Rail Central Pacific Station on Station Street, then ride the Skytrain back downtown to Waterfront and make my way to the Park. When I woke up on Friday 2nd the weather was heavy rain. I thought my plan was spoiled. But during the morning the rain tapered off and during the time I was pondering my plan while doing those other things I could have been to the Park and done the ride. So, I headed in that direction. By the time I reached the Spokes rental shop at 1798 West Georgia Street the cold rain resumed as a light shower. By then I was committed and I figured that I could do it, even though my winter gear (gloves most especially) were in my suitcase and checked in at the train station.
One feature of cycling around the Stanley Park Seawall is that one has to cycle counter-clockwise. That means that once one starts one is fairly well committed to the entire 9km route. Pedestrians and joggers take one side of the path while cyclists and inline skaters take the other. In a couple areas the path narrows and cyclists are instructed to dismount for a stretch. Because of the poor weather on Friday 2nd I spent an inordinate amount of energy trying to keep on the path without falling down. This robbed me of the chance to enjoy the scenery and take pictures. Should I repeat the excursion on a future trip?
I was interested to see the TRUMP Tower in downtown Vancouver, on Georgia St. West. I thought of taking a picture of it from the sidewalk, but the letters “T-R-U-M-P” were so gigantic that they wouldn’t even fit into my digital camera’s frame. I would have had to cross the street to get it all in frame, and I decided that was more effort than it deserved. The name was too big for its own good. Sort of counter-productive, I thought.
Once more this year I rode the VIA Rail Canadian cross-country train from Vancouver-to-Toronto. It’s a four-day trip on a sleeper train. There is a Coach/Economy car near the front of the train, but passengers there are rarely on the Canadian for the entire cross-country route. They are on it for short legs only. Of course, as an experience a person could cross the country in Coach, akin to crossing it in a Greyhound bus, but why would they want to? Except for about 12-hours of sunny skies in northern Ontario my entire 15-day trip was cloudy, with heavy snow in the West and daily snow flurries in Southern Ontario. My photographs look correspondingly grey.
The Canadian has a great reputation as one of the outstanding long-distance train services in the world. The scenery, the service, the experience. But I have to mention a caveat. The train dates from the 1950s. It’s 60-year-old technology. Who the hell uses 60-year-old technology anymore? Do you think anyone uses a 60-year-old telephone? (Well, maybe somebody does. If it’s been kept in good condition a 60-year-old telephone should still work, but it would only be good for talking. It wouldn’t connect you to the Internet. And, it would be so big and clunky that it would almost qualify as a piece of furniture by itself.) The elephant in the room is that the train is obsolete. I mentioned to some of my conversation partners on the train that from an Asian perspective the train might be called disgraceful: it’s old; it’s dirty; it’s a slow diesel machine; it can’t keep a schedule, it departs late and arrives late. From a Japanese perspective the technology and the service are pretty bad. To be late (and as a corollary, to be off schedule) is the single worst thing that can happen in Japan. When Japanese tourists are aboard I feel embarrassed. The best hope is that the magnitude of the scenery compensates for the service’s other failings. Many Canadian and American users think it is luxury manifest, and an unqualified fantastic thing, but from an Asian perspective it’s third-rate and provincial. But on the other hand, it should be remembered that between Japan and Canada not only are we comparing two very different cultures, but two very different train cultures as well. So …
Why the delays? In Canada the VIA Rail passenger service runs on tracks owned (mostly) by the Canadian National freight company. Freight is where the money is. Because the rail system is not double tracked nationwide, passenger trains have to yield to freight traffic by pulling off onto the nearest siding. This year there was a lot of westbound freight traffic. Apparently, western farmers had been holding onto their grain, waiting for advantageous prices. When I cam along they were in the midst of flooding the Asian market with commodities, sending their grain to port at Vancouver and Prince Rupert. (Churchill, Manitoba is temporarily out of commission, and Thunder Bay, Ontario is closed for the season, until the St. Lawrence Seaway thaws and opens.) In addition, export from western ports is slow because they are swamped with commodities, over-used and under-staffed.
I like the train partly due to my conviction that it is fitting and proper to take a long time to travel long distances. The duration gives me an appreciation of the geography and the history that occurred there, of the culture that occupies the land, and the other people like myself who experience an Existential boost from the experience. Train travel is a spiritual experience. I haven’t done it yet - it’s another one of my dreams - but long distance sea travel is probably comparable. (I have a dream to cross the ocean as a paying passenger on a cargo ship, not a cruise ship. It’s a little-known fact that when space is available cargo ships rent out rooms to paying passengers.)
I took the cheapest First Class accommodation - an upper berth in a style of sleeper car common on VIA’s western trains called a “Manor Car.” (In eastern Canada VIA sleeper trains feature “Renaissance” sleeper cars and “Chateau” sleeper cars, with different configurations.) All sleeper cars, no matter what the accommodation, are First Class tickets, entitling us to access the entire train, eat in the dining car, use the showers and the domed observation cars. None of that is true for the Economy passengers. A woman from Winnipeg, Robin, had the berth below me. After she got off in Winnipeg there were no more reservations for that space for the duration of the trip, so the porter allowed me to take the lower bed. The lower berth is more expensive than the upper berth because it is a wider space and because it has a window. This is only the second time I’ve taken an upper berth. I was happy enough with it the first time, in 2002, but this time I was unhappy and uncomfortable climbing up and down a ladder to get in and out of it. I’m getting too old for that.
My particular train featured fifteen cars pulled by three locomotives. Of the fifteen cars, one was a baggage car, one was the Coach/Economy Class car, one was the canteen/activity/observation car serving the coach passengers, one was the dining car serving all the First Class passengers, three were empty dead-head cars being returned to Toronto, two more were activity/observation cars serving the First Class, and the rest were First Class sleeper cars. There were only 60 passengers aboard when we left Vancouver’s Central Pacific Station. The winter train is typically much shorter than the summer train, and it runs only twice a week in each direction. The longer, more crowded summer train runs three days a week in each direction. The Vancouver-to-Toronto train is called VIA Rail 1. The Toronto-to-Vancouver train is VIA Rail 2. In Canada, all odd numbers run west-to-east, even numbers run east-to-west. During my trip we passed two westbound number 2 trains - one east of Kamloops, BC, very behind schedule on its approach to Vancouver, and the other east of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
7:00 a.m. Saturday, March 3rd we were in Kamloops, BC and already an hour behind schedule. At 7:05 a.m. the VIA Rail Canadian 1 passed us as I was having breakfast. Snow was on the ground outside. Many passengers this trip seemed to be going all the way to Toronto. A higher number of train travel veterans than I’ve met before, too.
The passengers this trip were quieter than what I have experienced in the past. There was conversation, naturally, but not as much obsessive chatting, run-of-the-mouth-self-centered verbiage as I have sometimes endured on the train.
4:30 p.m. on Saturday 3rd, Alberta time, we crossed the border into Alberta at Yellowhead Pass, the Continental Divide, and began our approach to Jasper. The Yellowhead Pass is one of the lowest passes through the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Pacific trains take a more southerly route, closer to Calgary and Banff, and also cross the Continental Divide at a higher pass. It was -6° Celsius in Jasper.
We arrived at and departed Jasper late. While I was sitting for an early dinner at 6:30 p.m., soon after departure, I looked out the window and saw a herd of elk on the tracks just meters from my passing train. They were eating grain that had fallen from grain cars on the tracks.
In the evening I started a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle in the forward (Coach Class) activity car. I hoped that some passing passengers might notice it and lend a hand, but none did. Passenger traffic in that car was very light first, because there were few Coach passengers and they did not venture to the rear of the car where I was sitting at a table. Second, because almost none of the First Class passengers ventured that far forward in the train. The First Class, sleeper car passengers gathered mostly in the comfortable rear of the train and didn’t venture forward. I did. I’m strange that way.
6:00 a.m. Sunday 4th. I woke up, looked out a window and recognized we were in Edmonton, Alberta. Shit! 6-hours behind schedule!
1:15 P.M., I finished my puzzle by myself just as we were arriving in the town of Unity, Saskatchewan. According to the printed schedule we were supposed to be in Unity at 6:16 a.m. that morning.
3:15 p.m., arrived at Biggar, Saskatchewan.
Monday, March 5th, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and discovered that we were in Rivers, Manitoba, even further behind schedule! We might actually arrive in Toronto 24 hours late.
We arrived in Winnipeg late in the morning. It was -9° Celsius. The city had just endured a snow storm and when we arrived it looked like a Winter Wonderland, like a postcard of winter. I got off the train to take pictures of Union Station’s interior and exterior. The streets were a slushy mess. We finally departed Winnipeg at 12:25 p.m. on Monday, March 5th and passed the second VIA Rail 1 train heading west to Vancouver.
As we crossed into northern Ontario the snow stopped falling for the first time this trip, and the sky was relatively clear for several hours. We crossed into Ontario 14-hours behind schedule. Our scheduled arrival time in Toronto was 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6th. A 14-hour delay meant a midnight arrival, which was no good for me. I had no VIA Rail transfer to Guelph (two trains per day, one in the morning plus one in the evening, in addition to an assortment of Go trains and buses). My plan was to take the new airport shuttle to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and there catch the Guelph Red Car Airport Limousine at the Ground Transportation Desk of Terminal 1. But if I arrive at midnight, that plan would be shot to hell. If I had a VIA connection then VIA Rail would either put me up in a downtown Toronto hotel for the night, or possibly arrange car transportation late at night. But I was in a tight spot because I didn’t have a VIA connection. Other passengers were in their own predicaments, as well. But being out of cell phone range in northern Ontario no one was able to investigate alternate arrangements until we came within cell range, which happened at the town of Capreol north of Sudbury, Ontario.
I have a Japanese cell phone that does not work in Canada. The only reason I have it is because years ago in Japan I was told that without a phone - without the ability of employers to contact me anywhere, anytime - I would not be employable. So, my hand was forced. But once I acquired a phone no one on Earth could force me to use it. I do use it, of course, but not nearly to its capacity. I don’t even know what my phone’s ring tone sounds like because ever since I bought it, it has never ceased being on vibration mode. This trouble with my train’s late arrival, however, impressed me with the advantages of an i-Phone, or Smartphone, or an Android as I sat passively by while other passengers busied themselves making mended connection arrangements as soon as we reached Capreol and came within cell phone range. I have always said that I was not against the technology, only that I would acquire it in time and use it for my own purposes, not another’s purpose. (I figure I am at least ten years behind technologically.) People don’t hear me when I say that, though. They only hear themselves and think that I am anti-technology. Well, I’m not. I have also said for a long time that I would consider upgrading to a more modern phone when the battery on my old cell phone dies, or when the company stops servicing that model - neither of which has happened yet. I admit, though, that having an i-Phone on the train would have greatly simplified my travel connection woes as the magnitude of our late arrival rose up like the iceberg threatening the Titanic. It’s something to think about more in the future in due course, at the appropriate juncture, in the fullness of time, when the moment is ripe, when the necessary procedures have been completed - nothing precipitate, of course. At the end of the 1990s and the early 200s that was my position on acquiring e-mail. Amid a cacophony of advice from friends and acquaintances I eventually got connected - only to meet total incommunicative silence from all those acquaintances who previously eulogized it to me. (The wretched swine.)
In addition to my Stanley Park foray, another goal of this trip was to continue the downsizing of my book collection (in storage in Guelph) that I began last year. Over the years I have come under increasing pressure from family to do something about my books, to make a decision about their disposition. The decision to downsize was taken in 2017 and I made some tentative moves in that direction at that time. In 2018, however, the gates are open and I arrived in Guelph prepared to jettison thousands of books (which I did). Some people ask why I don’t sell them? Because that’s a job, a job that I would have to do myself because my family doesn’t want the responsibility, a job I would have to do myself because my family is unaware of some of the treasures in my possession. It’s easier to give them away, which is my prerogative since they are solely my property. But I cannot redistribute them indiscriminately. I have to use discrimination because some books are keepers. I have to open storage boxes one by one, physically handle and examine every one and make an on-the-spot judgement about their fate.
I emptied half my storage locker in Guelph. By coincidence my March trip neatly coincides with the Elora Festival’s “Annual Giant book Sale.” The music festival itself may be int eh summer time, but the book sale is in May. They accept donations year-round. Festival book sale organizers could send vans to me only two days. The other days they were off emptying houses somewhere - houses full of “loose” unboxed books - a big chore for them (“them” meaning three men, nice fellows, in their sixties). Apparently, I’m not the only one in the area with a large book collection. Afterward, I tried driving some boxes to the collection/drop off point in Fergus myself (I had to visit a friend in nearby Elora anyway) but found it locked when it ought to have been open. I took a few boxes to the large Bibles for Missions thrift store in Guelph. I left a couple boxes in my bedroom with instructions for them to be taken to the Guelph Public Library main branch in early August, when the library starts collecting books for its October book sale.
Maybe the timing of the book sale, plus the fact that they accept donations year-round, are reasons enough for me to plan my next Canada trip for March 2019 in order to take advantage of the next sale, and finish the redistribution job in one giant manoeuvre. I didn’t time this trip to Guelph with the Elora Festival book sale in mind. That was just a happy coincidence that I learned from the director of the Elora Pubic Library in December, after I had already booked my trip. At that time, I was still anticipating downsizing in annual 300-to-500-book increments. What I achieved instead was a purge of nearly 4,000 books. It was heavy physical work. My arms, shoulder and back were quick to ache like I had been shoveling heavy snow, or something.
One feature of this purge was the decision to empty a 4-drawer filing cabinet containing almost all my school notes from primary school through to Divinity College. All that paper was the weight of a human body - I know because when I loaded it on the passenger seat of my mother’s car, the weight of it set off the car’s seat belt alarm. I threw some of it away myself, but now Mom will have to do the job for me and throw it in the garbage in increments over the spring months. (Or take it to the dump in one big purge, although she is too old and weak to do it by herself. There are restrictions in the City on how much trash can be disposed of at the curbside in the weekly garbage pick-up.) But I still have one more 2-drawer filing cabinet in the storage unit somewhere, in the back still concealed by boxes of books, I guess. I also have my entire collection of essay notes written on cue cards housed in file boxes - essay notes from high school through to teachers college.
The contents of the unit are my life. Getting rid of them is the End of a life, a person’s life relegated to garbage. Entropy wins. I’ve tried expressing that idea, but so far only one person has got it - and agreed.
One of the last things I tired to do in my home town was ride a city bus, something I’ve not done since I was a young child and that I’ve been fantasizing about for a few years now. I failed. I didn’t ride the bus. Because I do not have any paper tickets or passes, I first checked online to see what the fare was, figuring that exact fare was in order. $3. On my last night in town I finally had a window of opportunity and $3 in my pocket. I figured I’d better pursue the plan now or leave it for another trip. So, I walked downtown with the intention of taking a bus back towards my neighbourhood. What I wanted was to catch a bus on Carden St. and ride it up Gordon St. until it neared my mother’s home. I abandoned the plan, however, because once down at the transportation hub on Carden St. the system presented itself as inscrutable. I couldn’t make hide nor hair of the routes. University Express? What does that mean? Does that mean it doesn’t stop? Stone Road Mall? Does that go up Gordon? Route maps posted near the bus shelters were little help. Typically Canadian, the signage is notoriously bad. The platforms are not numbered or arranged in a logical manner, and some platforms lack any number at all. I walked around in the evening cold looking for the platform I thought I needed without finding it until I gave up and walked back home inadequately dressed for the sinking mercury. It’s ridiculous how obscure and user unfriendly the bus system is. A good example of something designed to be too clever for its own good by people educated beyond their intelligence.
I flew home on an Air Canada Boeing 777 - the direct flight from Toronto-to-Tokyo that takes 12½-hours and flies over the North American Arctic then skirts down the Pacific coast of Siberia. There are two flights a day from Toronto to Tokyo. One goes to Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture, east of the capital. That’s a couple hours away by Airport Limousine Bus. The other goes to Haneda Airport in the south of the city, much closer. After Narita was built (to much controversy) in the 1970s it became Tokyo’s premier international port of entry, relegating Haneda mostly to domestic flights. However, in the 1990s the government began allowing international flights to use Haneda. First it was flights to and from Hawaii, and those Hawaiian flights became the wedge that reopened Haneda to a full schedule of international routes.
My plane was completely full. It looked to me like most passengers were carrying two carry-on pieces each, stuffing the overhead compartments completely full. (I only ever bring one carry-on on board, and I stow it under the seat in front of me, hear my feet, because I like to keep my stuff close.) The westbound flight goes through daylight all the way, so the flight crew simulates night time by closing window blinds and dimming the lights. However, with a completely full flight there is always activity and there was a steady, uninterrupted pilgrimage to the toilets. I always have an aisle seat, so these ceaseless lavatory expeditions were annoying.
I watched several movies during the flight, but right now the only one I can remember was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. It was good.
When I arrived home, I was met with a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, a laundry machine full of wet clothes, and a balcony full of drying laundry. It’s like no laundry was done in my absence until the day of my return when my kids thought, “Papa is coming home today. Now we should do some laundry.” Thanks. I wasn’t surprised, though. That’s the usual way around here.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018.
The Japanese language and me
Many Westerners think the Japanese language is difficult to learn. Chinese, too. Not only is it a different language but a different writing system and grammar structure as well. There’s a lot more to learn than just memorizing vocabulary, and trying to make sentences by literally translating vocabulary in your mother tongue’s familiar sequence is apt to produce gibberish.
I’ve picked it up as a matter of necessity, first learning useful expressions for everyday life (including work), then expanding as I needed. The matter of need is important because even now I find that if I don’t use a word - I mean, have a need to use it - then I am not likely to remember it. I am constantly learning new words and forgetting old ones in measure with my need to use them. (I keep a small pocket notebook of new words and I add to it frequently.) This is true in reverse as well, in English education, so over the years I have tailored my classroom speech and my supplementary print vocabulary around my ideas of the students’ needs, and my ideas of the best ways to build vocabulary for memory. I categorize vocabulary (Interrogative Pronouns, Greetings, Self-Introduction, Days, Months, Family, Body, Health, Sports, Hobbies, Food, Colors, Shapes, Home, Money, Shopping, Numbers and Counting, Transportation, Directions, School, Jobs, Countries and Nationalities, Everyday Activities, Irregular Plural Nouns, etc.) like rooms in an imaginary mansion, where memories can be stored and enable a student to remember a sting of hundreds of words. My goal is to enable people to use English meaningfully with a few dozen well-chosen verbs (past, present and present perfect tenses), some pleasantries, and a sense of word order.
I follow the same pattern, year after year with growing students, like a spiral returning in on itself but with broader arcs that encompass more vocabulary and more sophisticated grammar each year. Students sometimes say, “We studied this.” Ah, yes, but you didn’t study it like this, with this many new words, and this many new applications!
I have also modified my speech to fit their ears. I speak slowly, use simplified vocabulary, and I repeat myself in such a way that to a native English speaker it might almost sound as if I have a speech impediment. I don’t. The way I speak is calculated and purposefully. But, as I’ve said before, when I am visiting Canada many people think I’m a tourist. They ask me, “Where are you from?”, and “What part of the States are you from?” I tell them I’m not from any part of it, thank God. (I don’t say that last bit out loud. That’s just how I feel inside.)
When I am trying to learn and use Japanese I organize my approach in a similar manner to how I present English to students. I learn categories of words, new verbs, etc., as I need to know them. The need results in usage which results in retention. It inevitably happens that I live my daily life on a plateau of language. It feels like I’m stagnant and not learning. Then eventually I have a boost to a new, higher plateau. (It took me 20 years of hearing the word for basement - “chika” - before I finally understood what I was hearing.)
Japanese represents a challenge to many foreigners because it used a very different writing system, derived from Chinese. The language is not derived from Chinese - meaning there is no “genetic” link - only the writing system has been adopted and adapted, making extensive use of Chinese “kanji” characters - thousands of them. And, it is not an alphabetic language, with one letter, or character, representing one sound. Instead, Japanese is a syllabary. Each character represents a sound ending in a vowel. These sounds are represented by a “kana” syllabary consisting of 50 “hiragana” - used for native Japanese - and 50 more “katakana” (representing the exact same syllabary) used for foreign words. The hiragana are more rounded in appearance than the katakana, maybe somewhat similar to how English lower case/small letters are more rounded than upper case/capital letters.
Latin script, called “romaji,” is used in a limited fashion, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals alongside traditional Chinese numberals.
Japanese has very little emphasis on its syllables. American English has lots of emphasis, and there are a great number of typically American mis-pronunciations of Japanese names and other words. Japanese pronunciation is very flat, with almost all syllables emphasized equally. I have measurably better Japanese pronunciation than most of my British friends (British people are terrible speakers of foreign languages), because my pronunciation is much flatter. Maybe that’s because my native Canadian accent is naturally much flatter than a typical U.K. English accent, or maybe it’s because I’ve meticulously trained myself t pronounce words as closely as I can to native Japanese.
Verbs are conjugated, primarily for tense and voice, but not person. Japanese adjectives are also conjugated. Japanese has a complex system of honorifics with verb forms and vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned. Japanese features gender specific language. Women typically use “onakotoba” - women’s language, which tends to be politer than male speech. But I noticed long ago that when high school girls think they are alone they tend to use male vocabulary amongst themselves. When teachers or other adults are nearby they revert to more feminine speech. They relax their guard near me because they don’t know that I can understand what they’re saying. Or, they underestimate the extent to which I can understand them. Being underestimated has its advantages.
In school students study Old Japanese (“koten”) and also Modern Japanese (“nihongo”). Modern Japanese is considered to begin with the Edo Period, which lasted between 1603 and 1868. Historically, the Kansai dialect of Osaka constituted standard Old Japanese was the de facto standard Japanese nationwide. However, during the Edo period, Edo (now Tokyo) developed into the largest city in Japan, and the Edo-area dialect became standard Japanese. Since the end of Japan's self-imposed isolation in 1853, the flow of loanwords (“gairaigo”) from European languages increased significantly. The period since 1945 has seen a large number of words borrowed from other languages—such as German, Portuguese and English. Many English loan words especially relate to technology—for example, pasokon (short for "personal computer"), intānetto ("internet"), and kamera ("camera"). The large quantity of English loanwords in modern Japanese has led to the development of some distinct sounds - “sh,” “ch, “ji” - found only in loanwords, and nowhere else in the language.
Finally, although there are several distinct dialects in Japan, modern Japanese has become prevalent nationwide (including the Ryūkyū islands in the far south) due to education, mass media, and an increase of mobility within Japan, as well as economic integration.
Monday, February 26, 2018.
2018 Winter Olympics, Alexander Krushelnitsky
Russia had little representation at this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea due to sanctions against the Russia Olympic Committee for systemic cheating via drug enhancement in its sports programs. Russia's team was officially banned from the games because of widespread doping at the Sochi Olympics four years ago, but 168 Russians were allowed by the IOC to compete as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" under the Olympic flag. But despite sanctions and special arrangements to allow for Russian participation the doping just wouldn’t stop. One athlete in particular, Alexander Krushelnitsky, attracted much attention when he was stripped of his bronze medal in curling for use of a banned substance (a heart medication).
Drugged Olympics are the only kind of Olympics that I`m interested in.
As I’ve said before, I don’t care about sports, but as long as we’re on the topic, I kind of admire the gumption of doping athletes for their pursuit of success. Drugged Olympics are the only kind of Olympics that I`m interested in. Sports are stupid and useless, the IOC is corrupt, sycophantic and irrelevant, and the Olympic Games are an economic and cultural disaster. So if we are going to have them foisted on us then what I want to see is the extreme limits of what the human physique is capable of - safety, or good sportsmanship be damned - and the only way to do that is with drugs and hormones. I want to see a man run 100 meters in 4 seconds. I want to see swimmers hold their breath under water for 5 minutes. I want to see a man lift 2,000 kg straight overhead. I`d like whingers to duct-tape shut their self-righteous gobs about drugs in sports. Hell, drugs are the only interesting thing about them! But I could be wrong. The Olympics, by the way, are not the pinnacle of sporting achievement. That status goes to the World Championships of each sport. The Olympic Gold Medalist might also be the World Champion, but if she is then that`s more by chance than by design. So long as we have World Championships, why do the Olympics even exist? It`s such a waste and whinging about any aspect of it is an even greater waste. Or not.
Friday, February 16, 2018.
Every Friday morning I wash my cat, whether he needs it or not.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018.
Japanese Labor strikes
During all of my years living in Japan I have never seen a labor strike. I haven’t seen any, experienced any, read about any, been affected by any, etc. No garbage strike, public or college teachers strike, nurses strike, pilot or air traffic l strike, bus drivers strike, teamsters strike, truck drivers or taxi drivers strike. Nothing. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any strikes (which is what I believe). I simply haven’t known about any. This does not mean that Japanese do not have a right to strike. They do. They just don’t do it very much. Going on strike is not the sort of thing Japanese do. It’s contrary to their work ethic. Japanese believe that the purpose of life is to work. The individual and her rights are subordinate to the good of the group.
I know many young people who have never seen or heard of strikes. In that sense they have no prejudice or preconceived notions either; their minds are blank slates. Article 28 of the Japanese Constitution guarantees workers’ right to solidarity, and that includes the right to strike. This only causes perplexed looks on the faces of many people. If you’ve never seen or even heard of a strike before, it’s hard to really get what it is.
Looking back at why labor laws and unions were created, we see that the purpose was to address the glaring power imbalance. Workers fought to win labor laws and unions, to close the gap, and strikes are their most powerful means of bolstering their negotiating position. Without strikes, workers have no way to stand up to corporate goliaths. I doubt that the apparent decline in labor strikes means that workers are in a position of strength vis-a-vis the company. On the contrary. The decline in strikes might be a symptom here of the decline in the power and influence of unions. More and more young Japanese spend their lives as part-time rather than full-time workers, and unions have failed to recruit many of this younger generation. The younger generation is aging, so now more and more middle-aged people remain part-time or short contract workers. It affects people’s income so much that it might be contributing to the decline in marriage and the birthrate, and population shrinkage. More and more people feel they cannot afford to marry, or have children if they do marry, or have second children. Work is being chopped up into little pieces involving part-time contingent and dispatch workers, making it harder and harder for workers to build solidarity at a workplace and look forward to a stable future. Stable and durable work - the famous lifetime employment regimen - is a historical artifact. But if you think that the employment instability and threat to a middle-class lifestyle that these things represent would motivate more union recruitment and activity, you’d be wrong.
Every spring new contracts are negotiated with unions and everyone gets a raise. It’s like an escalator - although maybe a slow one. If you stick to the job, stick with the program, then you rise.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018.
For old times sake
This train station is the Higashi-Nakano Station on the Sobu Line, the Chuo Line, and the Oedo Subway Line. I never come here. During my first year in Japan I worked at two vocational schools called “senmongakko” near this station and I came here twice a week. On Sunday, January 21st I was passing through and I decided to get off the train and walk around to take a look for the first time in 28 years. For old time's sake. Except for the local shopping street, the "shotengai," everything looks different. (Well, the shotengai looked different, too, but I was glad to find it still there, at least.) First, when I came here regularly the Oedo Subway Line did not exist. Second, the station building has been completed re-made. Third, there are several tall condominium buildings there now which are new, some standing where one of my schools used to be.
I did find one of the schools where I worked, the Japan Hotel School. It must have done well because the two buildings it occupies look new and don't match my memory. The other school was called Travel Journal. They were two separate schools, but related. I did not find the other school, Travel Journal, although I did find another school in the area, nearby JHS, called Trajal Hospitality and Tourism College. Could Travel Journal have changed ownership, changed its name, and changed its location in the neighbourhood?
I've been in Tokyo for 28 years. Holy crap! Imagine someone coming here in 1945, in the ruins of war, and still living here in 1973! I've seen the city change incrementally. Most of the changes are technological and infrastructural. When I came here there was no internet, no Yahoo or Google, no Amazon, no E-mail, blogs, or social media, no cell phones, no iPhones, no Facebook, no digital cameras, no garbage separation and recycling, no 100-yen shops, no Book Off, no Uniqlo. When I arrived the old 500-yen bill was still being used (although it was in its last year of circulation). And the small, crowded, dark Immigration Office was in Otemachi.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018.
The Great Gatsby
I’ve read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) three times. Once in high school English class as a requirement. Twice for my own pleasure. But I never harvested much pleasure from it. It was advertised as the greatest American novel of the century, and at first I was excited to read a book with the word “great” in the title, figuring it must really be great if it’s in the title.
I was excited to read a book with the word “great” in the title, figuring it must really be great if it’s in the title.
But I didn’t get it. I mean, I didn’t understand why it was considered the greatest American novel of the century. I especially did not understand all the importance given in class lectures, discussions, and examinations questions to the optometry billboard on Long Island featuring the eyes of T.J. Eckleberg. They are supposed to be the eyes of God, or something, watching over the characters in the story and, in the end, judging, I suppose. In my memory of the book the eyes of T. J. Eckleberg are large, important, and a major story element. But that’s not the case in reality. In the novel the billboard in question is mentioned only briefly, and once. It’s given cursory treatment. It’s almost marginal. I always thought teachers’ concern with the eyes imagery was out of proportion, mistaken, and wrong.
Jay Gatsby (played in film by Robert Redford in 1974 and by Leonardo DiCaprio in 2014) is a wealthy bootlegger living on Long Island. His mansion home is open to partying guests among whom the source of Gatsby’s wealth is a kind of open secret, but whose invented autobiography is a semi-legendary semi-mystery. The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, a would-be Wall Street trader living in a cottage next door. Caraway’s cousin, Daisy, lives nearby and is the object of Gatsby’s fetish. Gatsby created himself. Never mind that he built his wealth on crime. Never mind that the autobiographical back-story he crafted is a bunch of lies.
So what was the big deal about Gatsby? I was recently discussing books with an American I know who likes to read. Our talk was far-ranging and diverse. At one point, Gatsby came up and during our talk I suddenly - after all these years - realized something about Gatsby and the claim that it is the greatest American novel of the century that I never figured out before. It's the most American of stories. Encoded at the very center of American DNA is admiration for the self-made success story, the mythic figure who pursues and fulfills his dream - someone like Jay Gatsby, a "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" who rises from obscure poverty to immense wealth. In particular, Gatsby’s biography - even though it’s fiction - is his own invention, and American mythology is that it’s the land where people’s origin doesn’t matter, it’s a land where people can write their own story. Not only can they make a different future for themselves than they might otherwise have had in whatever place they came from, but they can change their past by writing / re-writing their own backstory.
You see, I disregard Gatsby because the namesake character is a criminal, a liar, and in the end a failure. There’s no depth to him, no reliable permanency. He is ridiculous, shallow, and temporary.
That’s why it’s a great American novel. It’s ridiculous, shallow, and temporary.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018.
Leslie Van Houten
No one associated with the August 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders has ever been paroled. Good.
When I say this to some people they quickly bring up would-be Gerald Ford assassin Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who was paroled in 2009 for her 1975 attempt to kill the American President. But while Squeaky was a member of the Manson Family, she was not a participant in the Tate-LaBianca murders.
I'm very happy that 68-year-old convicted murderer Leslie Van Houten, who at 19 was the youngest follower of Charles Manson to participate in those murders, has again been denied parole by California Gov. Jerry Brown despite a Parole Board recommendation that she is fit for parole.
Screw the Parole Board.
Van Houten has been in prison for almost fifty years. If this pattern of denied paroles continues she might die in prison of old age and become the longest-incarcerated person - male or female - in U.S. History. Tough. It's not that I disagree with paroling inmates. I certainly do. I believe that we can begin considering parole once they have undone the crimes they committed - not just convicted murderers, but any felons. It’s just easier and more popular to talk about perpetrators of heinous crimes. So when Sharon Tate and her baby are restored to life, when the LaBianca family is returned to life, only then may we begin to consider parole, by regarding other factors in an inmates life, like ‘rehabilitation.’
Being forgiven for your sins does not mean you go to heaven. You still go to hell, only without malice. Being forgiven for your crimes does not mean you get out of jail.
It's not that I'm mean and unforgiving. I am very forgiving. I forgive Van Houten. There, that’s done and I declared it. But forgiveness does not mean absolution. Being forgiven for your sins does not mean you can go to heaven. You still go to hell, only without malice. Being forgiven for your crimes does not mean you get out of jail. Also, I don’t care one iota if an inmate is so old that she is considered no longer a danger to society. Incarcerating people for the protection of society is one view of judicial incarceration. My view is that incarceration is for punishment, and if the courts have the courage of their convictions then if they sentence an offender to life in prison, then life it ought to be. Otherwise, WTF?! It is in a spirit of love and forgiveness that I want her kept in prison until she dies there. That’s a very forgiving attitude, I think. I love her, so please die in prison.
Van Houten could be released by a future state Governor. I hope not.
But I could be wrong.
Saturday, January 27, 2018.
For most of the week of January 22, 2018 I walked past this empty beer can balanced on a roadside fence on Nakano dori near my apartment. It was there since the day after the Big Snow we had at the start of the week. Strange that it hadn't fallen or been blown down yet. Maybe someone stuck it there as a joke, glued it or froze it to the post it sat on. Every time I went out of the house I wondered if I would see it still there, and I sort of looked forward to seeing it. Seeing it still there inspired me with hope, as if its removal would diminish me somehow. Seeing it made it part of my life experience. To remove it would diminish my life experience and therefore diminish me.
I admire durability, reliability, permanence.
I am a permanent foreign resident in Japan. I have no plan. I don't know what I'm doing.
4 月 2018