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Monday, October 24, 2016

Apparent Suicide Blast in Utsunomiya

All I can say, is that if you want to kill yourself, there are better ways to do so than via an explosive.

On Monday morning (Tokyo time) at 11:30AM, multiple explosive blasts rocked Tochigi-ken's capital city of Utsunomiya, killing one person and injuring three - the police believe it's linked to an apparent suicide, as there was an apparent suicide note left at the scene.

The note was found in a house destroyed by the blast and ensuing fire, and belonged to a 72-year-old former member of Japan's Self-Defense Forces.

After the house explosion, two cars in the area also caught fire - one of which is believed to have belonged to the the man.

The blast occurred at 11:31, 11:32 and the final one 15 seconds later.

The explosions seriously hurt two men, with a 14-year-old boy also sustaining leg damage in a nearby park. No-one was injured in the car parking area.

I bring up this story because it's kind of a local story for me, as I lived in Tochigi-ken and frequently visited Utsonomiyashi (city).

In the image above, I like the fact that after an explosive blast or three had gone off, one person can be seen in the far right having a smoke.... cause there's obviously no gas main leak or anything like that.

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Nikko Is Nippon

Last week while Matthew was in Japan, he sent me this photo he took at Nasushiobara JR (Japan Rail) regular train station waiting to catch a train south of Nishinasuno and from there either a taxi or a bus back to Ohtawara-shi where he is staying.

Nozaki-eki (Nozaki station) is in Ohtawara proper, but it is so far west that the ride in to downtown Ohtawara from Nishinasuno-eki is actually quicker.

The framed images on the train station wall are tourist posters to visit Nikko, because “Nikko is Nippon”.

A pretty bold statement, but for travelers to Japan, it’s not inaccurate. Tokyo and Osaka are like New York, London or Toronto - hep, happening places where something is always going on.

But if you want a glimpse into feudal Tokyo, well, along with Kyoto and Nara, Nikko is a great place to visit, with plenty of shrines, temples, parades, stone lanterns, nature - what have you!
  • It would take me: 20 minutes to ride from my apartment in Ohtawara to Nishinasuno-eki;
  • Catch and ride a regular JR train south 40 minutes to Utsunomiya;
  • Catch and ride the JR train northwest 40 minutes to Nikko;
  • Walk 15 minutes to the main Nikko shrine/temple area to begin gawking at the architecture.
I would visit Nikko once every two months, maybe more often. While I only went and saw the shrines and temples maybe six times in three years, I spent a few times visiting friends (Hutchison Family), sightseeing Chuzenji-ko (Lake Chuzenji) and Kegon Taki (Kegon Falls) to take photos.

But really, mots of the time I visited an antique shop and would talk and learn about ukiyo-e art, purchasing a few along the way.

As for the tourist poster, we notice that the 'Nikko is Nippon' tagline is written in English.

Make no mistake, this poster is for the Japanese public. No. 1... Japan's tourist associations are pretty darn savvy. They would never create an ad for the foreign public using the term "Nippon". Yeah, the word Nippon (which is used by Japanese to represent the name of their country Japan - they also use Nihon) all over their postage stamps, but when marketing to foreigners, they would have used the more familiar tern of 'Japan'.

Also, the dialogue on the posters is written in Japanese...

Still 'Nikko is Nippon' is written in English. There's the word "is"... implying the power that English still has over the populace.

It's a little thing, but it is still telling.

Image by Matthew.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, October 22, 2016

It’s Always Sunny In Ohtawara

This past week, my good friend Matthew traveled back to Japan with his family to visit his father-in-law who is sick back in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

Matthew, good buddy that he is, sent along some photos of where he was, taking the time to do two things with the photos here.

1) It’s my old home - Zuiko Haitsu (aka Zuiko Mansion) in downtown Ohtawara-shi… I lived on the 3rd floor of the wing. Note that floor one is not street level. Seeing that family apartment building that was at one time the tallest building in the city of 50,000.. well… I can’t help but think of all the great and fun times I had and how I am never going to sleep with that many women ever again. Sigh. What is particularly interesting about this image (for this point), is that the streets are wider, as all of the old homes have been removed. I don't feel too bad about that, as some of those homes used sheets of corrugated steel panels, and while I respect that not every one has money or dumb luck to live in a Zuiko Mansion, those homes looked completely out of place. The roadway back then in 1993, was essentially one-lane each way.

2) The sky is blue. I am pretty sure it was Matthew who drizzled the nickname Ame Otoko (Rain Man) upon me, as it always seemed to rain whenever I traveled in Japan.
Perhaps starting out as a joke, Matthew would ask me of my future movements before making vacation travel plans. It really was that wet when I traveled.
I could arrive somewhere warm and sunny, and after an hour when the rain clouds that perpetually followed me caught up, it would rain. There was talk amongst my Board of Education office staff about sending me around to some of the areas afflicted with a bit of drought to help save the crops.  As Matthew’s photo proves, it’s always sunny in Ohtawara, when Ame Otoko is stuck in Toronto with the rain.

Granted that the old place looks a little beat up... note that I left there 23 years ago.

Would you believe that Matthew called me from Ohtawara on Thursday night? What a friend.

While I lived at Zuiko Haitsu, Matthew lived a five-minute bicycle ride away in a very nice place. I taught at the then seven junior high schools within the city, while Matthew taught at the junior high schools on the outskirts of the city.

Images are by Matthew.

Andrew Joseph

Friday, October 21, 2016

6.2M Earthquake Hits West Japan

After a 6.2M earthquake (it could be upgraded to 6.6M) shook the western part of Japan within Tottori-ken (Tottori prefecture) on Friday afternoon 2:10 (Japan time), reports indicate that there is no chance the quake will cause a  tsunami, as it is too far inland.

The earthquake was triggered under Tottori at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles), and is a shallow depth, as far as earthquakes go.

Reports have come in of seven people injured, zero deaths, with minor damage (relatively speaking) where two houses collapsed, with standard fare of roof tiles off, walls breaking in a few places (older buildings), and the usual stuff falling off shelves.

An NHK news items says a woman was taken to local hospital after oil she was cooking with splashed upon her at a restaurant. 

Let’s not kid ourselves, a 6.6 or 6.2 earthquake is still pretty darn strong.

The earthquake that smashed Christchurch, New Zealand in February of 2011 was a 6.3M.

The epicenter of this Japanese quake was ~700 kilometers (430 miles) west of Tokyo.

Andrew Joseph

Japan And Pogo Stick Jumping

To be perfectly honest, I never, ever saw a Japanese person, or a gaijin (foreigner) utilize the springy power of a pogo stick in the three years I lived in Japan in 1990-1993. That was 23 years ago, but even still... when was the last time you saw a kid on a pogo stick anywhere?

As much of a weirdness magnet that I am, I have only seen one such weird kid bounce a couple of times—and he was doing it on grass, hardly the smoothest surface, because as weird as that kid was, he knew that one misstep on a pogo stick on concrete or asphalt would leave a mark as permanent as the one in my school file.

Driving my son around the other day, he asked me if I had ever heard of some guy who had used a pogo stick to climb Mount Fuji.

Of course not. Not only am I famous for presenting old news, I also have a well-honed BS button that doesn't immediately believe stuff because I am married and have a soon to be 11-year-old son.

(Also... I wasn't just a terrible liar as a kid, I was a pretty damn successful one, so you have to get up pretty early to fool me.)

But my kid wasn't lying... I figured he just misheard something from some other stupid kid friend of his.

But no, he assured me.. he had read it on-line somewhere... so Hades help me, it had to be true.

Turns out the boy was partially correct, while the Internet was fully correct.

There was a guy who used a pogo stick on Mount Fuji and set a world record.

All of which tells me that the concept of 'world record' sure ain't what it used to be.

I just wanted to know who was the heaviest man, set or twins, most number of kids born in one birth, largest number of kids, tallest man, shortest person... stuff like that.

But today's world records are being created as willing participants create ways they they will get themselves included into the 'record book'.

Back in 1986, an American named  wasted his time bouncing up and down the foothills of Mount Fuji traveling a distance of 18.55 kilometers (11.53 miles) until he either got bored and stopped or fell off like spaz because what he really wished he was doing was to have not had that soda pop an hour earlier that is not causing him to want to urinate.

Fro what I understand, Guinness - they of the world record thingamabob - they allow the pogo stick jumper to take a five-minute break each hour

At that time, he broke his own record for longest distance jumped on a pogo stick. No time was given as to how long it actually took Furman to perform his little stunt. 

Here's what  Furman had to say in his own words ( " While speeding across Japan in a bullet train, I spotted Mount Fuji sparkling in the distance through the window and I was stunned by its majestic beauty. I knew I just had to climb it on a pogo stick! Since I was leaving the Orient in a few days, there was no time to waste. I had my pogo sticks flown over from New York, alerted the media and, with helpers and witnesses in tow, ventured into the unknown.
It was one of the highlights of my life. It was exhilarating ascending towards the snowline and breathing in the fragrant and crisp, thin mountain air. I had a powerful meditation at the turnaround point. Contrary to what I expected, going down was a lot harder, since I was already tired and had to use all my strength to avoid bounding downhill uncontrollably."

I suppose that's kindda neat, but I don't think owning that kind of title is going to help you get laid anytime soon. Am I right? Still... if you look at the photo up above.. the guy is ripped. So maybe I'm wrong.

In 1993, Ashrita Furman was at it again on Mount Fuji, this time bouncing over a distance of 25.7 kilometers (16 miles)… which took him 6 hours and 40 minutes. The 16-miles was the distance he was aiming for to garner the new distance record.

Says Furman: "My handler was a professor of biology who used to raise butterflies as a hobby. As I was racing down the mountain in the pouring icy rain, deeply concentrating on not sliding off the road and trying to finish before I cramped up, I saw the professor in the distance frantically waving his arms. “STOP, STOP!” he cried out. I thought there must have been a serious accident or something, but, both to my relief and disbelief, when I reached my friend he pointed to a big, brown, ugly moth perched on a tree. Excitedly he exclaimed, “Look, it’s the rare Lepidoptera saturniid! Isn’t it marvelous?"

What’s sad is that it also had to viewed and verified by a world record holder judge in order to be substantiated… so that’s at least three people who apparently had nothing better to do that say.

For some reason, Furman's record has been broken many times, the last (but probable not the last) time it was done by Jack Sexty (that can't be his real name) from Great Britain (U-S-A! U-S-A!) who hopped around Manchester U.K. on April 6 and 7, 2014 for 16 hours and 24 minutes, at which time he traveled 42.195 kilometers (26.22 miles).

No... I am not jealous. Maybe of his name.

And, for whatever reason, another American named Fred Grzybowski performed the most back-flips on a pogo stick in December of 2013 (the site doesn't offer an actual date, and to be honest, does it matter?) - when he performed 17 in a succession without failing or falling off.

So... 17 backflips is actually pretty cool because there's a high level of danger and pain involved in the failure to perform even one of these pogo tricks.

Anyhow... my point remains... if you look at Furman's website comments, it's pretty much all kids who are working the pogo stick.

I am jealous, however, that Furman et al actually got into the world record book.

Sexty. Hee.

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Great Postcard Mystery #3

Once again, thanks to the generosity of Vinnie, we have ourselves the third great postcard mystery where he sends me an antique postcard and I try to figure out what the heck it’s all about.

Disclaimer #1. I had help. Lots of it from Takako, the lovely wife of my friend Matthew who lived nearby in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken when we were AETs (assistant English teachers) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme a few years (ahem) ago.

I looked at the front of the postcard above and had no clue who was in the airplane. The guy with the wicked mustache looked French. I also assumed he was French because there were a lot of famous French aviators in that era.

What era?

For that, we have to examine the postage stamp on postcard. Interesting, by the way, that postcard is stamped, but there was no message or address written atop it, meaning it was done for show - perhaps to be sold to a stamp collector at a later date. A keen reason why the postcard is in excellent shape for its age.

The Japanese postage stamp (Sakura Catalog # C27 - part of the commemorative and special issue releases) was my first clue as to age, issued on November 1, 1920, the 3-Sen stamp depicts the Dedication of the Meiji Shrine. It is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken only, and does not contain the emperor's grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto.

So… either the stamp was produced before the postcard was issued (IE, the stamp was made and held onto for a while before use) or the postcard was made previous to the postage stamp (IE (postcard was made and held onto for a while until it was decided to be used in the promotion, and then stamped with a then-current postage stamp). 

So we have an event depicted on the postcard that is more than likely from before November 1, 1920 and featuring a French aviator.

I looked up famous French aviators in Japan—sure, in Japan, because this is a Japanese postcard… but failed to make any headway.

Then I looked up famous French aviators looking at images - and failed to see the man on the left.

Looking up French and bald, gave me a whole different thing that we won’t get into here.

Then I looked up famous British, then American, then German and Canadian aviators from 1925 and earlier, without any luck.

Then I gave up and asked Matthew who asked Takako who responded quickly, telling me that the Japanese writing essentially states: Italy. The man on the left is Mr D'Annunzio. The aircraft is an Italian bomber called SVA. (ズバ).

Waitaminute… the guy is Italian? D’oh!

Dapper little near-fascist Gabriele D'Annunzio, was more of a poet than a fighter, even though he loved to fight. Wars that is, with other people doing the actual soldiering.
And then Matthew and Takako provided me with a wiki on the D’Annunzio fellow, essentially solving the whole mystery in mere seconds.

Except… who is the second guy (on the right), why are they important enough to Japan that they would create a Japanese postcard of it?

This little mystery takes us to the Meiji Shrine, an examination of postage stamps, Italy and Austria, plus the wackiness of artists who think they are warriors.

Who is D’Annunzio? Well, he is Gabriele D’Annunizio, born March 12, 1863, died March 1, 1938, and he was a poet.

Which doesn’t explain why he is in the SVA airplane.

He was, more than likely at the time of the postage stamp being produced, the president of the Free State of Fiume.

Never heard of it? It’s like a Marx Brother’s movie. 

The Free State of Fiume existed between 1919 and 1924 and called officially "Stato Libero di Fiume". Its territory of 28 km2 (11 sq mi) comprised the city of Fiume (now in Croatia and, since the end of World War II, known as Rijeka) and rural areas to its north, with a corridor to its west connecting it to Italy. D’Annunzio was its head of state from September 12 through December 30, 1920 - the Duce!

For you stamp collector's out there, you already know how much history one can learn from the philately hobby. This is a 1921 Fiume postage stamp with D'Annunzio's portrait, bearing the State's motto in Latin: Hic Manebimus Optime, which translates to "Here we'll stay wonderfully." What a rife!

Apparently a man’s home IS his castle.

Along with being a poet, writer, playwright and journalist (so was/am I),  he was also a soldier during WWI between 1915-1918 as  major, Lt. colonel and general (honorary).

Let’s see… how old would he have been?

37 + 15… 52 years-old in 1915?

He was actually a well-known person of interest in Italian literature from 1889-1910, and after his foray into politics following the Free State of Fiume… 

So what was a poet doing in an airplane?

In the months before the end of WWI, D’Annunzio helped spearhead an air raid on August 9, 1918 known as The Flight Over Vienna.

Never heard of it? It was a big deal to Italy. 

The plan was for 11 Italian-built Ansaldo SVA aircraft flown by his squadron La Serenissima to fly 1,200 kilometers non-stop in a round trip from its military airfield Due Carrare in Padua, Italy to Vienna to drop some 50,000 propaganda leaflets.

The wonderful plan by D'Annunzio was actually thought of a year previously, but there was that whole logistical problem of the airplanes of the day lacking the fuel capacity to pull it off - especially if any of them wanted to return alive, which was a key part of the plan.

After essentially adding larger fuel tanks to the planes, the first attempt was on August 2, 1918, but heavy fog caused the squadron to return to home base.

On August 8, 1918, a second attempt was made, but the wind was too strong... and recall that this is 98 years ago, so airplanes (really aeroplanes) weren't as strong or secure as they are nowadays.

On August 9, 1918... success.

The La Serenissima squadron flew over Vienna and dropped the three-colored card leaflets (red, green and white - the colors of the Italian flag).

What is interesting to people who like this sort of thing, the message on the leaflet to the Austrian enemies of Italy were written by D'Annunzio himself in his native Italian.

Waitaminute! Did he really drop leaflets written in Italian onto the German-speaking populace of Vienna? 50,000 Italian leaflets?

Pasta fazool! No wonder they let Mussolini come to power in 1922.

50,000 leaflets wafting gently over Vienna as dropped by Italy's D'Annunzio and the La Serenissima squadron on August 9, 1918.
So, what did D'Annunzio have to say to the people of Vienna who had no clue what he was rambling on about?

Here's an English translation for you, because I'm not a crazy Italian poet, and boy do I know it:

"On this August morning, while the fourth year of your desperate convulsion comes to an end and luminously begins the year of our full power, suddenly there appears the three-color wing as an indication of the destiny that is turning.

Destiny turns. It turns towards us with an iron certainty. The hour of that Germany that thrashes you, and humiliates you, and infects you is now forever passed.
Your hour is passed. As our faith was the strongest, behold how our will prevails and will prevail until the end. The victorious combatants of Piave, the victorious combatants of Marna feel it, they know it, with an ecstasy that multiplies the impetus. But if the impetus were not enough, the number would be; and this is said for those that try fighting ten against one. The Atlantic is a path already closing, and it's an heroic path, as demonstrated by the new chasers who colored the Ourcq with German blood.
On the wind of victory that rises from freedom's rivers, we didn't come except for the joy of the daring, we didn't come except to prove what we could venture and do whenever we want, in an hour of our choice.
The rumble of the young Italian wing does not sound like the one of the funereal bronze, in the morning sky. Nevertheless the joyful boldness suspends between Saint Stephen and the Graben an irrevocable sentence, o Viennese.
 Long live Italy!"
(signed) Gabriele d'Annunzio

The actual leaflet - just in case you didn't believe me.

Who knows... maybe it worked. Germany and its partners officially ended WWI on November 11, 1918, just three months later. Riiiiight.

Which brings me back to the WTF aspect of the Japanese postcard honoring this event.

Why would Japan create a postcard honoring the exploits of a crazy Italian poet who had the intestinal fortitude to drop propaganda leaflets over enemy territory during WWI? Japan was on the side of the Allies in WWI. Of course, so was Italy.

As near as I can tell, the reason this postage stamp was created was to actually honor Italian aviators who dared to fly out to Japan. And if one postage stamp honoring them is a cash bonanza, then surely multiple postcards with different images would also be a cash bonanza, pardner.

In 1920—the same year the postage stamp on the topmost postcard was issued—famed Italian aviators Arturo Ferrarin and Guido Masiero flew 18,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) from Rome to Tokyo in a pair of Ansaldo SVA-9 airplanes, making multiple stops along the way, thanks to re-fueling, crashes and more. Originally it was 11 pilots - but those... accidents... still, it was an impressive undertaking... especially when you consider the true infancy of aviation at that time.

For the Japanese, the arrival of these two pilots was quite the hubbub, and the populace gobbled up all information and souvenirs on their arrival... hence the creation of postcards of other great Italian aviation achievements such as the Flight Over Vienna. At least that's what I figure.

There was another great Italian flight through Japan a few years later, but that is a story for another day.

Andrew Joseph
Thanks again, Vinnie!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tom Hanks Knows Everything About Japan

So… Tom Hanks—movie and television star and voice-over animation actor—was visiting Japan back in September and has decided to write his own informational blog.

It’s called Gaijin in Japan. Or it will be.

I don’t know what I find more galling… the fact that a guy who has spent all of several days in japan feels like he has enough knowledge to properly write about Japan, or the fact that the blog title “Gaijin in Japan” is STILL available as a blog title despite the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of blogs written about Japan.

My blog, this one: Japan—It’s A Wonderful Rife, is of course a parody of a movie (It's A Wonderful Life) starring that other famous every-man star. No, not Mickey Mouse, but rather Jimmy Stewart.

Tom Hanks is a very good actor—and I loved watching him on TV in Bosom Buddies (1980-82)—but he ain’t no-no-no Jimmy Ssshtewart, and I think Tom is a gentleman enough to agree, but secretly hate that others are aware of the fact.

According to Tom - you don’t mind if I call you Tom, do you?

Mr. Hanks says he hasn’t actually begun his blog yet, but the first topic du jour may be “Top 10 Ways You Shouldn’t Use Chopsticks”, with future topics perhaps being “The 10 Types of Gaijin in Japan”, and “Japanese People Should Stop Generalizing Foreigners.”

Excellent, Mr. Hankie, sorry… Hanks… perhaps a Top 10 List on Top 10 Lists featuring a Japanese subject.

Okay… I admit I am intrigued by the 10 types of Gaijin, as I can think of more than that, but it really depends on the subjective style he wishes to follow.

The key, is to not really know what I just wrote, but just to accept it as fact.

That’s what Mr. Hanks will hope for, too. Unless he’s getting fed information directly from his translators, rather than experiencing it directly for himself… and really… he’s Tom-frickin’Hanks… how can this guy experience Japan when he’s sheltered by handlers? And has an itinerary where he is actually told about the itinerary, and the itinerary is followed perfectly.

When the heck does that ever happen to the average foreigner in Japan?

Anyhow, Tom Hanks, sorry… Mr. Hanks has also taken video of himself… or maybe he’s had others film him… I mean, wouldn’t you, if you were a movie/tv… IE film star… and is thinking of creating a gaijin YouTube channel.

By the way… the article on Mr. Hanks in Japan… and his plans to start a blog… it was from The Rising Wasabi… a bilingual, satirical publication on news from Japan.

I really should have looked at the name of the publication first. Wasabi... Onion... damn... a parody publication.

So… while it may be true that Tom Hanks visited Japan, odds are really great that he’s not creating a blog about Japan.

I didn’t know that when I sent the original story (HERE) to my buddy Matthew who was just touching down in Japan with his son to visit the boy’s sick grandfather.

It’s funny only because Matthew commented to the story writers as though it was serious… still, I do feel bad… I didn’t know it wasn’t true, either, at the time.Of course, I hadn't actually read the article until after I sent it to Matthew - having just gleaned the headline figuring Matthew might enjoy reading it while on the train(s) to Ohtawara-shi.

My intentions were good, even if the end result was funny for at least one of us.

Gomen, ne,
Andrew Joseph