Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I'm a Blender

I'm a Blender. I'm not speaking of the kind of blender that makes delicious smoothies and exotic cocktails. Although in Japan this kind of blender is called a "mixer" which I'm not referring to either. The kind of blender I am is the kind that blends into their surroundings similar to a chameleon. Which is an animal that changes it's skin to blend into it's surrounding, which I don't. I mean the subtle changes in body language, way of speaking, expressions that allow oneself to blend into society. In Japan its all about being part of a group. Even non-Japanese speaking foreigners who live in Japan for any length tend to add the expression "NE" to ends of sentences. "NE" is the equivalent of the English "Right?" or "You Know". For example: It's a beautiful day today, NE?" Speaking Japanese helps in blending into Japanese society. But speaking Japanese is not just about grammar and vocabulary, it's about attitude and subtle body language. English is spoken using bold body language, expressions and hand gestures. Japanese is about modesty, respect and subtle body language. English is like boxing where as Japanese is like ballet when spoken in it's most polite form. I speak Japanese. I eat Japanese food. I drive a Japanese car and my wife and son are Japanese. I'm a blender.When in Rome do as the Romans do.

Friday, December 12, 2008

With a fresh eye

Artists learn to look at their work, whether it be a painting or a drawing, with a "fresh eye". What this means is taking a step back or putting aside for a while what your are working on so you can see ways to make improvements. But how can you look at your life with a "fresh eye". Coming to Japan for the first time I was (and still am) like a kid visiting Disneyland for the first time. Everything was new and fascinating. But I imagine that even to the people who live in Paris, the Eiffel tower become just "that metal thing" in the background. Or the citizens of Egypt see the Great Pyramids as "those big stones"once and a while. So how do you get the "fresh eye"again? Whenever I return to America to visit my family, I always discover that some things that were part of my everyday life in the past become rare treats and some of them have become "warts". The same goes to Japan. Although I'm from America, when I return to Japan I always feel at home, where my wife and new born son live our everyday lives together. As my son grows and discover the new world around him, I look forward to seeing my life again with a "fresh eye"

Thursday, September 11, 2008


In Japan, shortly after babies learn how to walk and have developed enough dexterity in their little hands, they soon learn the game called “Jun-Ken- Pon”. Jun-Ken-Pon is the Japanese name for the game “Rocks, Paper, Scissors”. This game is played in countries all over the world, but in Japan it is as important to the culture as Sushi and “Hello Kitty”. Everyone knows how to play! It’s as an essential skill as using chopsticks or a Japanese style toilet. Children play it simply for fun or to settle arguments. And the best thing about Jun-Ken Pon is the results are final. No cheaters welcome! In schools, teachers decide which team goes first or who gets the extra dessert. Jun-Ken-Pon! My pudding! Or at home, the kids are fighting over who gets to play with the computer game Jun-Ken-Pon! I’m first. Even adults use it to decide all kinds of things. Who is the designated driver tonight? Jun-Ken-Pon! No sake for me. Who takes the dog for a walk this cold morning? Jun-Ken-Pon! I’ll get my coat.
I think many of the worlds problems can be settled by making Jun-Ken-Pon THE law to decide all kinds of issues. Drill for oil? Jun-Ken-Pon! Human Cloning? Jun-Ken-Pon! Who will be the next President or Prime Minister? Jun-Ken-Pon!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Why am I white?

The other day, I was reminded of my past vacation in the beautiful island of Okinawa when a young boy asked me, “Why are you so white?” Admittedly, I have always been a bit envious of the tan crowd. The men who can take their shirts off in public without fear of blinding the casual passerby. The golden-tan people who enjoy a lifestyle outdoors in the sun not reserved for ones with a ghostly white pallor. Recently, in Japan the pursuit of a tan is not fashionable or healthy. There are many products to prevent the nasty sun of inflicting damage to ones complexion. There are sun blocks, sun repellent umbrellas; sun hats and these strange sleeves women wear when driving that remind me of “The Bride of Frankenstein”. But despite of this, I still want a tan. During my life I have tried many times to get a tan. The results ranged from ” slightly flushed” to “red lobster”, but never “a brown coloration of the skin caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays” as defined by the dictionary. Not being one to give up easily, I decided to try a self- tanning product that promised a tan in five days. I had visions of going on my vacation in Okinawa bronzed and ready for a week of fun in the sun. Diligently, I applied the lotion as instructed for five days, and I no longer looked like I just got out of the hospital. I actually had somewhat of a tan! I was ready to go. I spent a week swimming, snorkeling and canoeing in the sun proudly displaying my first tan. But as the week progressed the self-tanning wore off and I was actually getting whiter! I was the first person in history to return from a trip to a sun drenched tropical island … Whiter!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quiz Society

I love my wife. My wife loves TV. I want to be with my wife. Therefore, I watch TV. Surfing the channels on any given night, it might look like this: drama, quiz show, people eating, quiz show, stupid comedians, quiz show, men that look like women and quiz show. Japan is obsessed with quizzes! You can’t escape them. Here is how a typical show goes: There is this monkey. The monkey wants a banana. A banana is in an upside-down bucket submerged underwater. How does the monkey get the banana? The panel of the quiz show consists of famous and semi-famous people, called “talent”. When I ask my wife what these “talent” do? She replies by saying that they are “talent”. “Yes, but what IS their talent?” I ask meekly. “They are JUST TALENT!” she retorts. Anyway, these “talent”, draw their answers on cards as the audience eagerly waits for the answer to the monkey’s dilemma. “Why can’t they just TELL me how the monkey gets the banana? Why does it need to be a quiz?” I ask, reluctantly. My wife shouts, “Urusai” which means “shut up” in Japanese. Next follows, endless commercials for cell phones, green tea, instant ramen, beer, and cosmetics to name a few. In the meantime, I could have gone to Africa to give the monkey a banana and STILL have time to see the answer. Finally, the “talent” reveal their answers (sometimes acting out their answers) and all are satisfied (including the monkey). Actually these types of low budget quiz shows are a brilliant way of extending a one-minute film clip (in this case a monkey) into a 30-minute program. The obsession with quizzes is not limited to just TV. It extends into every aspect of life in Japan. The other day a boy asked me, “ Do you know what my favorite sport is? “No, I don’t” I replied. “Is it, A: baseball, B: soccer or C: basketball?”

Monday, December 03, 2007

The sound of noodles

Noodles can't talk, but they can make a sound. It's a sound you will hear if you go to one of Japan's many noodle shops. Slurrrrrrrrp! Slurrrrrrrrp! Slurrrrrrrrp! This is the sound Japanese make when eating noodles. There are various degrees of slurping ranging from the "water draining from the bathtub slurp" to "dinosaur stuck in the tar pits slurp". Both are alarming. The latter can be unnerving even to Japanese and not for the feign of heart! The reason for the behavior can be baffling to a visitor. The noodles are sucked, along with the outside cooler air, which cools down the noodles and enables one to eat the noodles while hot. What about cold noodles? They are eaten in the same manner. Whatever the reasons are, noodles are slurped with gusto in Japan. None of your sissy, "don't make a noise while you eat" philosophy of the western world! Generally, you can a judge a persons age by the degree of slurp. Young men and woman tend to have a more reserve slurp, while the more mature person's slurp resounds with the experience of life.
The norm in Japan is to go quietly and politely about your business in public, but when it comes to eating noodles it's time to let loose your hangups about keeping the peace. Slurrrrrrrrp! Slurrrrrrrrp! Slurrrrrrrrp!The hills are alive with the sound of noodles!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Summer and the art of "Gaman"

"Gaman" loosely translated means to "tolerate, put up with, bear (not the animal)". It is also the art of patience. Which is a quality the Japanese excel. It allows 127,433,494 Japanese to wait in long lines, be stuffed in to subways, deal with earthquakes and live in crowded cities in relative peace, on land about the size of California. No better is "the art of Gaman" put to use then summer.
Summers on the main island of Japan are hot. Not the "dry hot" of deserts, but the hot, muggy and damp weather that conjures images of the Amazon jungle, New York subway stations and wet blankets. There is even a summer malady called "Natsu-bate". "Natsu-bate" is a summer lethargy caused by the heat. Symptoms are fatigue, lack of appetite and generally feeling lousy. However, there are many traditional ways to distract your mind from the oppressing sultriness. Small chimes are hung from houses , which sound like a cool breeze. Festivals with fireworks and shaved ice abound during the summer.
Still, "Gaman" "put up with it" is the method most Japanese use to survive the discomforts of Summer. As a former resident of the fraction world, I am still improving my skills in the art of "Gaman". In the mean time, I'll turn on the air conditioner and wait for autumn.