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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Good Grief

We had the funeral for my mother-in-law this afternoon, and I was my usual blubbering mess.

My wife was her usual stoic self, as was my son.

Me... everything everyone said at the service made me cry.

No one else was effing crying. Just me.

Well... my dad, too.

I haven't seen my dad in 11 months, but there he was for my mother-in-law's funeral service.

I realized as we were both crying, that it was actually remembrance of my mom.

How selfish it seems, even if it is true.

My mother died 23 years ago at an age I am fast approaching... an age far too young.

And here I was... and my father too... crying because we both knew deep in side that we were still grieving our own loss from 23 years ago.

Death, it appears, is a reminder to the living of their own mortality, too... that one day soon enough that we won't be here any more... a sobering and frightening thought... because what does it all mean... what is the purpose of life and rife?

I used to think I was invincible.

I would haul myself up onto the roof of my seven-story apartment building in Japan... with one small slip causing me to plummet to my death on the parking lot below.

Driving 240 kph as the world slowed down around me... confident that I could control a car that could easily become uncontrollable.

Running between subway stations or jumping down from the platforms and running across to the other side of the station.

Death wish, stupidity, naivety or just plain luck... or was it the knowledge that it just wasn't my time yet... that I'll die when I'm 87 when I fall through the ice on a pond thanks to a reoccurring dream I have had since I was 3, and not had since I left Japan... has it really been 24 years?

Has it really been 18 years since I first met my mother-in-law, Ruth, after my first date with her daughter? Eleven years + since the birth of my son?

How many years I have been writing this blog? Why? 

Where does the time go?

This is the problem with being introspective... I ask too many questions.

It's also why when I write these blogs I prefer to answer as many anticipated questions YOU might have on any given topic.

But I never have all the answers... and that bothers me.

I'm taking Wednesday off from work because my son is sad and misses his grandmother. I didn't realize his grief because he was practically laughing at me for crying my head off at the service.

I guess we all grieve at different times and in different ways.

And for different lengths of time.

I know we probably have all lost someone dear to them... and I know we all deal with it in different ways... but dammit... after 23 years?

Who knew...

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

All Blacks Save Japan

What we have here is a fantastic television commercial from insurance company AIG Japan, featuring New Zealand's famous national rugby team known globally as The All Blacks (in reference to their kit, of course).

AIG is a global sponsor of The All Blacks. 

Sometimes stupid, sometimes brilliant, Japanese commercials are always fascinating. This commercial isn't stupid, by the way.

Thanks, Vincent!
Andrew Joseph

Monday, June 26, 2017

Japanese Schools Killing Interest In Learning English

According to a national survey conducted by Benesse Holdings Inc., an education services provider, almost half the junior high school students surveyed felt that the English language skills they are taught at school are "useless."

D'uh... I could have told them that without the need for a costly survey.

In fact, almost all the language skills you learn in school are useless, with the best way to learn any language, in my opinion, is to learn it conversationally.

That doesn't mean, however that the "school learnin' ain't" valuable, it just isn't something that you can use in day-to-day living.

Math is like that too. After learning to do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division the AVERAGE person does not require further math skills.

I said AVERAGE... which is what most people on this planet are.

When it comes to learning a foreign language like English - all the rules and regulations you need to know to be considered Japanese capable, are ridiculous.

I know that the junior high school Japanese kids actually know English grammar far better than I do.

Let me clarify that. I know how to write and speak English properly - better than 90% of the population by non-professional estimation - but if you asked me about grammar beyond verbs and nouns, I would be at a loss to point out what's what.

I am sure there are some very smart people out there know what a dangling participle is and why it's important. I just know what sounds right and use it appropriately. But as for as those who know what it is, so what?

How does that work for you in your daily life? Perhaps Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would have cared, but his improper use of a dangling participle worked out well for him: "To boldly go where no man has gone before"... SHOULD HAVE BEEN: "To go boldy where no man has gone before."

Yeah... I see the grammar and yes, Roddenberry was incorrect... but so frickin' what?

Oh Gene Roddenberry, how bad was your grammar? Let me count the dollar signs. Ka-ching!

In Japan, students feel that what they are learning in school is useless.

They are actually taught a ton of grammar - which I can tell you sucks the life out of anyone interested in learning a new language.

It's why the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme was initially created... to help Japanese students hear what real English sounds like. That and internationalization...

While almost every Japanese teacher of English (JTE) has done some studying abroad, there is little opportunity to use their English-speaking skills in Japan... thus it deteriorates... which is why we have Japlish.

You can't teach kids how to speak a language if no one can speak it properly... which was why they were so grammar-heavy, and which was JET participants came in to help kids to speak a less Japlish form of English. I said LESS. I expect a Japanese accent.

JET also realized the its participants from native English-speaking countries would also be placed in a position where they could carry on English conversations with young Japanese students. At least that was a hope.

Speaking a foreign language is always more difficult than understanding it when heard. You can pick up a word here or there and get the gist of something.

Reading and understanding is also difficult, because it's a different alphabet, and there's grammar issues - but the gist cab be understood.

Writing and understanding - holy crap that's difficult. Now this is where grammar really comes into play.You either know it or you don't.

Like I said, when it comes to English, I get it, even if I don;t know why I get it. I'm special. Or lucky.

Perhaps it's because I read a lot that I am more cognizant of English grammar, but again... I don't know what a gerund is. Knowing what it is does not add anything to my enjoyment of writing... I think.

Japanese students want more conversational English because they know that it will benefit them more should they ever travel abroad or want to converse with an English-speaking foreigner.

I had some JTEs teaching English who couldn't speak the language in a manner that made it easy for ME to understand. And that's too bad.

Researchers with Benesse's think tank agree that the grammar-heavy curriculum discourage students from learning English, and have called for reforms to keep students motivated once they reach higher levels of English-learning.

To read an article on the Benesse survey, click HERE to read a Japan Times news article.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Nothing But Fuming

I'm still fuming hours later after my team lost two games at a tournament. The first we had no business losing - two guys thrown out at the plate by an overzealous coach... who did it again in the second game.

And... a botched triple play opportunity.

Runners on first and second, no one out. Batter hits the ball to the 2Bman... the runner on second doesn't move for some reason. All my 2B has to do is tag the runner, step on second base and throw to 1B for a triple play and help the pitcher out of a jam. The score was 4-4 at that time.

But no... despite screaming loud enough for the fans at the other nearby diamond to know what I wanted him to do (tag the guy on second base), he throws to 1B to get one out... runners advance to second and third... and went down hill after that.

I expected to lose this game, but we were playing so well until that point and had a real chance to pull an upset.

It's hard to believe that after five years or more of playing kids don't know what to do. I swear, if I get to pick my own team next year...

Well... what's this got to do with Japan?

Teaching at seven junior high schools in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City) in Tochigi-ken (Prefecture of Tochigi), I had many opportunities to see junior high school teams practice baseball.

I have only ever played baseball two years as an adult... but always hacked around with friends and played everyday in school at recess, lunch and before school... in other words, I had far more baseball experience than MY team does thanks to an inability to do anything outside of organized sports than play video games.

I have no idea what things are like nowadays in Japan re: junior high school baseball... but back then they played ball for about three hours a day six days a week... .which is a lot, but not as much as some Japanese Little League Teams who do that, play have a 10-hour practice on Sunday.

I do recall being invited to play on the Board of Education baseball team against some other local team... my contact lenses were screwing me around... astigmatism in full bloom... and I couldn't hit a damn thing... a completely embarrassing situation for me that day, and probably for my office.

But, even though I sucked as a batter, I played stellar defense... I caught everything hit my way... and this is me without any formal baseball team training... just hacking around.

Nowadays, since my son (a decent player) is involved, I have learned to be a much better hitter... I go out with my son, spend money at the batting cage and hitting clinics, and listen in as he is taught... and now I can hit anything 70mph or slower.

I know I can hit an 80 or 90 mph fastball... I would need maybe 30 pitches to be able to time it, but I know I could hit it... and then my muscle memory would be set from then on...

I know I wouldn't embarrass my BOE office nowadays, even though I'm no longer in shape, have a torn (never healing) meniscus in my knee... but I can play... I just can't.

I just hope that these kids on my team eventually understand that in order to get better at something, you have to practice and practice often. Eventually... they'll regret not being able to play.

It sucks being a coach... but it sucks when you see kids giving an effort, and you realize it could be a greater effort if they actually worked at their craft.

I'm about 15,000 hours in nowadays in writing... well over 3,200 blogs, 100 in the newspaper, 400 magazine articles, and 25 published comic book stories... and I'm still learning... but that's because I practice everyday.

If you have kids... don't have them play organized sports so much, rather take away their tablets, video games and cell phones and tell them to go out and have some fun.

Blah-blah-blah... we'll try again with a better blog about Japan tomorrow after we play another early morning baseball game at the tournament.

Andrew - still fuming and frustrated - Joseph

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Godzilla By Dark Horse Comics

There have been a few American comic book incarnations of Godzilla in the past 35 years, beginning with the entertaining, but ultimately weak Marvel Comics series in 1977-79.

As of 2010, IDW Comics has put out numerous mini-series of Godzilla... but while pretty to look at, I find them confusing to follow, and thus not worth my time.

But sandwiched between them was a series published in the mid-1990s from a comic book company called Dark Horse Comics, who made their initial living by doing comic book adaptions of movie characters, such as Star Wars, Predator and Alien, and even creating the plausible Alien vs Predator series that led to an exciting movie version.

(Ed Note: Predators seed planets with Alien eggs... they hatch... Predators go out and hunt the Aliens. Brilliant.)

Godzilla actually started being published by Dark Horse via one-shots in 1987... and held the rights for 12 years until 1999.

But Dark Horse Comics' Godzilla... was one of the best... with a true movie feel to each issue.

You can actually find reasonably price trade paperback collections of the series at various on-lone stores, or the actual single-issues... beautifully drawn, good dialogue and plots that mimic the feel of a movie... and covers that make you want to crack open the book and read it.

The cover of Issue #4 above is by Arthur Adams, at the time (1995) one of the best artists over the past decade.

Anyhow... I've got a baseball tournament this weekend (Friday's game was rained out), and I've just spent two hours creating line-ups for the team's two games on Saturday... am I wrong to not play a player who doesn't show up for practices and missed our last game without explanation (a game that was our first win out of seven games this year)? I'm playing him... just not as much as the others who have come out and shown improvement.

Anyhow... we'll see what tomorrow's blog will bring...

How can you go wrong with a comic book featuring Godzilla that actually uses the Japanese script for his real name of Gojira? That's in the top left below the company logo.

That's how serious the the series was in capturing the look and feel of the Godzilla movies.

Look for it if you have a few bucks lying around.

As for the baseball stuff... I'm only nervous about getting to the field on time. It gets me every game. But once I'm there... I'm calm. As a player of soccer as a kid, I was nervous right up until the time I had my first touch, and then... focus.

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Andrew Joseph
PS: This particular issue was recently purchased for me by my friend Rob, who has obviously forgotten that I bought the stuff originally when it came out. Still... it sure beats having to look through 35,000 comic books to find my copy. Thanks, Rob.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Chiba Lotte Marines Terrible Mascot Idea

I’ve long called the whole human-sized mascot thing American kabuki - I know I didn’t come up with the term, but did see it in an American parody magazine around 25 years ago when I was in Japan.

Mascots… I have no real idea what their purpose is… to entertain, I suppose… but if that’s the case, few actually succeed.

The original San Diego Chicken, the Phoenix Gorilla, the Toronto Raptors Dino and the Philly Phanatic are a few that have excelled at the art of being entertaining.

Japan… in an effort to try and make as many people outside of its country vomit with an over abundance of cuteness, has taken to using mascots like a cat to a sandbox… yeah, think about that the next time you let your kid play in the local park litterbox.

Anyhow… what we have here, is the mascot(s) for Japanese baseball team the Chiba Lotte Marines.

I have nothing against the team… I’ve bought their Chiba Lotte chewing gum while I was in Japan - it was not an unenjoyable experience… it was gum, you know.

But for some reason… and this is from a YouTube post on June 13, 2017, the team decided to introduce a new mascot.

I think.

Taking its cue from Pokemon, when low-level pocket monsters can evolve into stronger versions of their bloodline, at least twice, the Chiba Lotte Marines decided to show its baseball fanbase the origins of the mascot.

Beginning with a colorful angler fish that featured a cursive capital M on its bulbish esca or illicium (the so-called lure atop its head)… we see the fish take an elevator to appear on the home baseball field as a cross between the same angler fish and a human… with arms and legs…

Okay… while the legs are human-like…. the arms are actually still fins… so scratch that whole arm thing… until later. 

So… while the Chiba Lotte Marines mascot is running around the field, it suddenly stops and barfs up its third form… what looks like the skeleton of a fish, if a fish had arms and legs.

After a little while, the skeleton goes back into the fish’s body by crawling back in through the mouth… runs around some more as the second form of the fish… and barfs up the skeleton again… and repeat, before finally realizing it has scarred enough small children to last well… let’s just say I am never ordering a Filet-O-Fish ever again.

While I won’t apologize for the music which is written in the scale of Sea (that’s two jokes in three words), you can turn down the volume because it is truly unnecessary.

Watch the video and join me and wonder aloud just how anyone thought this was a good marketing ploy for anything.

Man… it just makes the team look so… bush league.

Man... at least add a question mark...

Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks, Vinnie for the heads up!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

WWII Japanese Insult

Because my baseball team won its first game of the season, here's a little something my buddy Vinnie sent me...

It's a baseball card of Babe Ruth that I had never seen before. It's an early one, depicting him as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox... back before one of the greatest home run swatters was still only one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game.

Rather than me blather on too much about it, if you have US$60,000, this rare card - perhaps only 10 known to exist, can be yours.

Did you know that during WWII, the Japanese in an effort to demoralize Americans would shout out the taunt: "To hell with Babe Ruth!"... considered by them to be the greatest insult possible to the American soldiers...

... perhaps another reason why Japan lost WWII.

Should you wish to purchase this card, click HERE to visit the auction site. 

And... just because... below is a photo of myself and my son Hudson taken a couple of weeks ago by my younger brother Ben.
Yes... they make middle-age men dress up in the same uniforms as the 11-13-year-old players. I am, in this photo, wearing uniform No. 47.... a jersey I have since relinquished after signing up a kid who is actually taller and as wide as me.

Andrew Joseph