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Friday, December 15, 2017

A Brief History of Japan—A Book Review

The fine folks at Tuttle Publishing asked to present a review on the book: A Brief History Of Japan, written by Jonathan Clements.

A paperback selling for US$15.95, excluding the Further Reading, Bibliography, and Index sections, the book comes in at a moderate 265 pages.

Now… less one think that only having 265 pages for the supposed 5,000 year history of Japan isn’t enough, let me state that Clements has presented the history book in an easy-to-read format, doing away with superfluous wording.

IE: It’s easy to read, and more importantly, easy to understand.

You could still do with at least a high school education to understand the words, but A Brief History Of Japan is just as its title suggests.

I’ve read much longer and much more complex historical references on Japan… and holy cow, unless one is committed to earning a OhD in Japanese history, most of what is presented is done so in that typical “OMG! History” exasperation” most of us have experienced.

Maybe I like Clements’ writing because it reminds me of my own. He presents the facts, and does so in a way that ensures the reader actually “gets” what it’s about.

Not quite all thriller no filler—because we are still talking about the history of a country—as opposed to a singular aspect of said history, A Brief History Of Japan will enable enthusiasts of Japan to actually take in and learn and spew facts about the country.

I love history. I do. It’s why I look at it so often within this blog. But dammit, the toughest part of my writing about Japanese historical events, is cutting through the crap to get to the actual meat and potatoes…. or for you vegetarians, tofu and chick peas. I like both of those very much, by the way.

The biggest complaint I have about the book is that it could have used a summary on the initial section of the book that looks at the history of Japan’s emperors and empresses.

By that I mean there should have been a chart listing in order every single such leader, and denoting when each ruled.

Yeah, yeah… Clements takes great pains to ensure us that the earliest part of Japanese history is based on lore and myth, but since historical records of Japan still insist such deity/emperors existed and ruled Japan from a time long before the Japanese were called Japanese… well… at least tell us who “ruled” and when.

That’s my biggest complaint.

A Brief History Of Japan does a nice job of separating the main eras of historical concern that the average person might be concerned with:
  • The Earliest pre-history of Japan;
  • Medieval Japan;
  • The 200-year isolationist era known as the Edo period when it was ruled by a shogun;
  • The restoration and modernization of the mid-1800s;
  • The road to World War II;
  • Occupation and recovery after World War II;
  • My era and how it lead to a bubble economy;
  • The current Cool Japan concept.
What more could you want? Maybe instead of so much on samurai, shogun and zen, maybe more on geisha, Godzilla and its interesting religions and philosophies… but, yes, this is a BRIEF history of Japan.

I heartily recommend visiting the Tuttle Publishing website HERE and ordering a copy of the book.

Oh… and to better avoid losing the reader, add in more charts, images, photos. Yeah… I know why you stick all the photos in the middle of the book—it’s a cost-effective gesture for publishing when glossy, heavier paper is required—but page after page of words can blow a reader’s mind when it doesn’t relate to Game of Thrones.

For example, a photo of an atomic bombs devastation (before and after) is frightening and absorbing at the same time. Or an image of something representative of Cool Japan, such as an AstroBoy image, or a factory making automobiles with robotics…

Minor points to be sure, as I still thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I think I learned something, too.

You know nothing,
Andrew Joseph
PS: My apologies to Tuttle Publishing for not doing the review sooner... I was caught up in reading the five Game of Thrones books. Hmmm... maybe that's why I want to see a list of Japan's emperors and empresses.     

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tōnoharu - A Book Review

Recently, my far too kind friend Vinnie sent me a box of presents... including a three-part graphic novel (comic book) called Tōnoharu.

It's not a manga (Japanese comic book)... but rather a comic book graphic novel done in the classical North American style.

Written and drawn by Lars Martinson, and brought to you in stunning black and white and every shade of grey I can think of... which isn't that many... I had no idea what it was about when I began reading it.

I didn't even read the summary on the OBC (outside back cover), prepared by publisher Pliant Press.

I just dove right in... no expectations...

And so, artwork aside, I began reading about Daniel Wells, who appears to be a junior high school assistant English teacher (AET) in a rural village called Tōnoharu.

It sounds like a real place, and it is... Tōnoharu, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka-shi in Fukuoka-ken (Fukuoka Prefecture).

Because I didn't read any of the notes accompanying this hardcover comic book, I thought it was yet another story about yet another AET who had some fantastic adventure in Japan.

I read 50+ pages of it and thought "Holy crap! This Daniel Wells dude is the most boring person in the world!"

I should know, because when it comes to adventure time in Japan, if I wasn't the king, I was the queen... er, I mean right up there.

But holy crap... the story of this guy Daniel Wells was completely dull and boring... and the only thing that made it bearable were the few interesting characters he met along the way in Tōnoharu - both Japanese and foreigner.

And then it hit me... this wasn't autobiographical at all... because who would create three graphic novels about themselves if it was just one big snorefest? Well... I didn't know who Pliant Press was, so maybe they would... but no... they have to make money on this, too.

Book 2
So... after looking at the front cover and realizing that the author and the protagonist were different people--I really recommend you read the book's backspiece before you read a novel--I began to enjoy the story more... except that protagonist was still pretty damn boring.

Because I always finish what I begin, and because I never look a gift comic book in the mouth (thanks Rob and Vinnie - both of whom have bought comics for me!), and because it's a comic book and it only took about 70 minutes to read all three graphic novels, I was soon finished.

At just under US$35 for the three books, it was a lot of money. And... a lot of money for a whole lotta of nothing to have occurred... I didn't care for the overall plot.

The art was well-done.

But I kept looking at the whole Japanese experience of protagonist Daniel Wells as one huge waste of time.

For him, Japan is all about isolation.

I know all about isolation in Japan... and let me tell you, it takes work to be isolated in Japan.

Maybe it's just me, and my personality that I made up upon arriving on the shores of Japan, but I always had people around me... the Japanese locals in my small, rural city, the other AETs and foreigners living in this city, and even those from other cities and prefectures calling me up.

That's not a complaint... but I would have to unplug my phone, turn off the lights and ignore the doorbell if I truly wanted the isolation that Daniel Wells seems to find everywhere in Tōnoharu.

I think what I found upsetting, was that Daniel didn't seem to try very hard to make friends... and it all seemed like an indictment of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme... pick smart people rather than smart people who can communicate effectively with the rest of humanity.

Like I said... I thought this was an autobiographical story.

But it was, in some degree, as author/artist Lars Martinson lived in Japan for three years and then traveled back to Japan to get a feel for how the Japanese people act... and quite frankly,it didn't register for me.

Obviously... for everyone going to Japan, their experience will vary... and I suppose I have come to realize that my experience was at the high end of the positive extreme.

The graphic novels examine isolation, language barriers and cultural differences - but all for Daniel... the other foreigners seem to be getting along quite well in Japan.

I know not everyone has a great time in Japan, but Daniel didn't appear to be trying very hard, and that pissed me off.

Book 3
Anyhow, like I said... Daniel the character was dull and uninteresting, but the surrounding cast of characters had a bit more life to them.

I think the overall story needed more plot twists and more action... please, Lars, have Daniel get hit by a car! I was hit twice by cars in a one week period in Japan... the latter during a typhoon... and while I lay on the wet asphalt with 10s of my junior high school students gasping in fear from across the street(s), I want to say that no one came to help me or check on me. The assaulting car driver did, however... but he took his time... slowly getting out of his car... but only after getting his umbrella so he wouldn't get soaked by the hurricane's driving rains and winds. I'm still lying on the road, by the way... my bicycle tucked under a leg... and while I'm okay, I'm waiting to see what will happen next. The fact that it took 30 seconds for anyone to come over and say "Daijobu?" is telling... I didn't even know what "daijobu" meant. It means "Okay?", but anyone in Japan could ask in English "You okay?" I screwed up my face in confusion, and so he said "daijobu?" again as he helped me up.

Adding something like this to the story is inconsequential (he could be shown getting lost, or struggling to buy a bottle of coke or something), but perhaps pathos could have been generated... or it could have shown just how naive he was... or how scared the Japanese were should he have killed the local gaijin teacher who had just been in the city newspaper earlier that week.

Would you really have read my blog - specifically the blog about my life in Japan, if I just wrote about me waking up, eating cereal, walking to school and then telling you all about the teaching experience?

I've been there - done that. It ain't no big thang. It's why I rode a bicycle.

The point here, is that if something interesting had actually happened to Daniel... just three pages of something, Lars Martinson would have captured my attention.

I read the story hoping that the protagonist would have sort of epiphany.. but I don't think he's smart enough to understand what one is. Even when something happens within the secondary characters, because I cared little for them, I cared less when bad stuff happened. To care, one must feel a need to care.

I didn't care.

I wanted to care... but only because my friend Vinnie liked the book.

Unfortunately, we saw it through different eyes. Vinnie may know that feeling of isolation better than, or just as well as I do... but dammit... in Japan, I had to force myself to be isolated.

If Vinnie were to go to Japan, and meet the people he has sent books to, he wouldn't feel isolation at all.

Buy Tōnoharu if you must. It gets better and better with each succeeding book. And, like I said Martison's art is pretty good... but for $35 US there should be more "graphic" anything going on... talking heads was a concept popularized by Frank Miller in the Dark Knight comic book graphic novels in the 1980s... but this ain't no Batman as anti-hero.

This does not mean that I didn't care for Vinnie's gift... I love the gift, big brother...

I just didn't car two hoots at Daniel Wells in Tōnoharu.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My Nissan Micra - That's Cold - Updated

For the record, I like my little Micra SV auto. It is indeed a car from Japanese automobile manufacturer Nissan.

It's cheap, good on gas, and I haven't had any problem in getting from point A to point B.

My problem, one that occurred earlier yesterday evening, happened when I heard a bit of whistling from my window.

As an inexpensive car, I assumed it was a crappy rubber seal around the driver side window... except I was feeling a bit of a draft in my ear.

I should add that it was around -10C, which is 14F... so brisk if you are from such wintery climes as most of Canada, Wisconsin, Minnesota et al. It was actually a bit colder with the wind blowing... but whatever.

The remedy is hair and fat and a good winter coat.

Despite being warm in my car thanks to hair, fat, a good winter coat and a fast-acting Micra heating system, that draft in my ear was annoying...

So I lowered the window 2.5cm (1-inch) and then attempted to raise it again... except the window didn't want to move.

So I lowered it again and tried to move it up. Nada.

So I lowered it yet again... and yes, it stayed where I had lowered it to.

Now... today, Wednesday, is supposed to be the coldest day of the year so far here in Toronto... going down to -13C (8.6F), with a wind chill that is supposed to make it feel like -17C (1.4F)... and I have my window down in my car.

I duct taped some garbage bags to the inside for the night - hoping no marauding polar bears try to break in looking for fish... I don't have fish in my car, but you never know with polar bears.

For those of you who thought I was serious, I am. You can't trust a polar bear, but I was only joking that we have those in Toronto. Just at the zoo.

So... I get to take the day off, go to Nissan and try and get them to fix my car asap, or else I'll start writing bad things about the car company every day until I get bored... and considering I've been writing a blog about Japan, a country I visited last in 1993, I may not get bored any time soon.

Of course, I will still write about other things... so twice-a-day blogs could be in the mix. Why? I don't know, but 3.3 million hits is like being on a best-seller list. Angry? No... I'm just rambling.

I do fully expect that my car will be fixed... I just hope it's something that doesn't cost me any money.

I'm not looking forward to removing the garbage bags and driving to the dealership so early in the morning when it will be at its coldest... and when that same ear of mine is even more annoyed by the large draft coming in at it.

Minus frickin' 17.

Andrew Joseph
PS:An update... Nissan was able to fix my window back in place, but says the part needed to make the window go up and down, was on back order, with no definitive date set for its arrival.
I was told that pressing the button up and down when it was frozen shut burnt out the "motor", and that it would not be covered by my warranty.
I'm sure we've all done that up and down on the window button to "break" the window from its frozen status, and this is the first time in 33 years I've had a receptor burn out.
Turns out it'll cost about $300 to replace the "motor" and another one hour's service time at $125/hour. That does not include the one hour of service time to inspect and "fix" the window yesterday. The window is up, but I can not use it until the "motor" comes in and is replaced. 
Turns out I should have been an auto mechanic where one can charge $125 an hour for labor. Holy fug. I have seven years of post-secondary education (graduating university and college) and don't get anywhere near that money. Momma's don't let your babies grow up to be smartass writers.   

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Earthquake-proof Bookshelf

What we have here, is an earthquake-proof bookshelf... a slanting bookshelf that should keep the books in place unless the wall itself collapses, or the earthquake is so violent that it shakes things up and down and side to side.

Uncle Scrooge fans might understand, if they have read the classic Land Beneath The Ground, pardner.

The house is named "House in Shinyoshida" and was designed by Japanese architect Fujii Shinsuke (surname first).

At first glance from the outside, the house does not appear to be anything special - yeah it has a slanting wall... why would it have a slanting wall?

Situated in Yokohama, the house is in a hillside part of the city, with its western-facing wall placed at an angle...

From the inside, you can see why (see images all over here), depicting a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf... that purports to be earthquake-proof.

Forget that... it is also fun to climb to reach books from those hard-to-reach places.

While it's true, I have always wanted to be rich enough to have my own library, replete with moving ladders, but now... even if I lack the money and lack a slanting wall, I could still build a slanting bookshelf in the interior... yeah, I'd lose valuable inside space, but I wouldn't need to invent time travel and go back to Victorian times, freeing me to have more time to climb and read.

In the case of House in Shinyoshida, it appears as though the concept of a slanting bookcase was the reason for building the house's exterior the way it is.

The house, in other words, was built around the family's desire for a cool-looking library... an interesting fact made all the more interesting in this digital age, when people seem to enjoy reading a book on a tablet or some other reading device.

Not to bite the hand that feeds me (I'm starving, by the way), but I am a fan of paper... that tactile feel... even the moldy smell of paper... or whatever it is that makes old paper smell the way it does (Vince?)

I'm not talking about paper that has become so acidic that it becomes brown and brittle, or stinks like last week's garbage (this week's isn't so bad)... certainly modern books are made from a higher quality paper stock - unlike the old days when it could have been low-level newspaper substrate... which browns and becomes weak easily enough. It makes me wonder just how newspapers survive any length of time.

I wouldn't mind having this slanting bookshelf/book case in my house - I do lack the room height, however.

But... I would need more shelf space for my books. I have a lot of books - not even including the 35,000 comic books I have... or the binders full of sports and non-sports trading cards.

It's a lot of paper ensconced in plastic.

I have books in every room of the house... I know... I checked... hundreds and hundreds of the things.

I am a newspaper collection away from being a hoarder.

It's glorious!

I feel like Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone episode before his glasses broke.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, December 11, 2017

BBC Interview With Hiroshima Survivor

A Japanese woman now living in Canada—Setsuko Thurlow—was 13-years-old in August of 1945 when the first atomic bomb exploded above the skies of Hiroshima—and she survived.

She is seen in the link below speaking to Hardtalk's Stephen Sackur together with Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won this year's Noble Peace Prize.

Click on the live link to watch the BBC video:

It’s interesting!

Andrew Joseph

December 1-10 Video Re-Cap

Okay... I tried to shoot a single video of Japan--It's A Wonderful Rife, but for some reason my phone saved them as six small videos... and to be frank, I lack the knowledge or skill to make it into one big video.

I have an Apple iPhone 5s, if that matters.

The following was shot by my 11-year-old son (turns 12 by the time this is published). It's his first attempt as cameraman, my first attempt as spokesperson, the room was dark--which is probably good so you don't see me too well... and despite me insisting that the picture should just be a chest high shot and tight, what we see is a wide view - complete with Freddy the Cat licking himself.

I should have taught my son how to shoot... and I will, as soon as I figure it out.

Here's the six short clips. Seven were filmed in total, with the first one being a wash as my cameraman began laughing at me for no apparent reason, making me waste film... or digital film or whatever the hell is in my phone.

I think next time, I'll film somewhere brighter... like outside or in the bathroom.

As WC Fields probably said, never work with animals or children.

And yeah, that was me chugging a glass of quality sake bought for me by my bud, Rob. That stuff's like water... and unfortunately, I did it in one take.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Happy 12th birthday, Hudson!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Art Of Being Quirky And Winning Friends And Influencing Young Students

On the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme website, someone posted a “pro-tip” about how small quirks can go a long way.

A long way to what, wasn’t specified in the headline, but I’ll cut the writer some slack because… because.

The writer offered five examples of how he (it’s written like it’s a guy) did some funny ha-ha stuff to create an atmosphere where his students and teachers accepted him more.

I’ll show his stuff, and then provide my commentary later. 

TLDR; Just because you don't speak Japanese doesn't mean you can't gain the acceptance of your students and co-workers through various quirks and pranks. Don't assume that your lack of Japanese means you can never have talking points with those around you.
I'm a first year JET and have noticed several people discussing the struggles of assimilating into their work and classroom environments. Yes the language barrier is tough for most of us, but I've found that small quirks can really help open communication and interaction between yourself and your students/co-workers. Being a former math teacher, I believe in learning through examples sooooo....
Exhibit A: The Yakisoba Pan
Literally the dumbest quirk I possess, but also the one that gets kids the most excited. For those who aren't aware, you can purchase yakisoba pan in conbinis. It is essentially a hot dog with yakisoba noodles instead of a processed meat stick. I enjoy this. So much so that I bought a pen case that looks like it at Don Quixote. Students lose their minds over this. I have kids screaming "YAKKIISOOBBAA PAAANNN OOIISHHIII SOOOOOO!!!" down the hallways. Literally one of the strangest things I've bought, but it has now become part of my identity and immediately gets students excited for some bizarre reason. Also my co-workers seem to enjoy this as well. Seriously, carry a weird object around with you and it can start more conversations than you would believe.
Exhibit B: Aloha
I'm from Hawaii. Tourist traps in Hawaii usually start with some man yelling "ALLLOOOOOHHHHHAAAAAAA!!!" For kicks and giggles, I decided to do this to start my intro lesson. I've now dug myself into a hole that I can't escape. The students and teachers will forever greet me this way. I even had a random ojiisan I never met say it to me at the store. Find a quirky word or phrase from your home country/city (preferably a greeting) and say it with a "big voice". Get's em' every time. It also acts as a great segway (Ed. Note: I think he means "segue") to get people talking to you if you aren't the best conversation starter.
Exhibit C: The Cucaracha
I like to mess with people. It's just what I do. I bought a fake cockroach at the 100 yen store and put it in my JTE's phone case (note I strategically chose the JTE I thought would find it the most playful). However, I did not anticipate her opening her phone case in the middle of the morning meeting and screaming like a banshee... What I thought was a moment of my immediate termination has now turned into a school that terrorizes each other by the placement of toy bugs all over. Seriously I now have other teachers trying to scare me by putting fake ants on my desk. Your call on this one. Shall you risk your employment for the immediate acceptance of 80% of your co-workers?
Exhibit D: The Donald
Its no secret that Japanese students and teachers like to joke about Donald Trump and his frequent Twitter escapades. For this reason, I started printed small pictures of his face and leaving them in my JETs' desks and under students' books when they aren't looking. Stupid? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. Find out what your kids are talking about and harass them with it!
Exhibit E: Vincent Van No
I draw like a child. No, strike that. I draw like a monkey. I was never blessed with the hands of an artist and therefore everything I draw looks like utter doo-doo. Oddly enough, kids love this. My JTEs often ask me to talk about my weekend for 1 or 2 minutes at the start of class. I throw in a poorly constructed drawing of a squid and fisherman and it immediately gets the students talking and engaged. It often is also a great way to introduce new vocab. I'm not saying you have to suck at art like me, but doing so has caused students to draw me some of the most horrendous looking things I've ever seen as gifts.
At the end of the day, you don't need to speak fluent Japanese or be the world's most outgoing person to assimilate with your schools. By having a range of quirks at your disposal, you can immediately connect with students and teachers and form relationships early on. It will also help make your time on JET more enjoyable, especially for those of you who are doomed (or blessed) to be an everlasting tape recorder. If you have a quirk that has worked well for you, please feel free to share! I hope this helps someone out there who is desk warming like myself!

My initial reaction (and all subsequent reactions are) is that the advice is solid, if not unspectacular.

Vincent Van No, was actually quite good.

The writer is correct stating that showing off your quirks MIGHT make you seem like an approachable person by JTEs( Japanese teachers of English) and the students… however, one must be careful.

The person who wrote the above advice is from Akita-ken… and like myself and my Ohtawara-shi Board of Education Office, and the then seven junior high schools in the city… we could get away with being “goofy” or quirky.

But not every board of education office or school feels the same way.

For example:

In my second year on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, I decided to grow my hair… real long… ponytail.
Hair, beard and drinking...  three of my favorite things in Japan, not including women, of course.
While my office thought it was cool, one of my buddies was told by his office that his hair (merely touching his shoulders): “Jimu-san, maybe it is time for a haircut.”

Holy crap. Poor fun-loving Jim.

While I don’t recommend acting like a complete quirky goof around the adults, I do recommend you letting your hair down, so to speak, around the kids.

To them, you are already a strange phenomenon… and doing something they like can go a long way to them being interested in what you have to say… IE, listening to you in a classroom.

The writer above offered some pretty juvenile practical jokes. I got the joke, but nothing there made me crack a smile. Maybe I’m getting old.

While I was on JET, I was known for my sense of humor. I was also known for being a “sportsuman” because I could play every North American sport (you know, like we all can), plus I held the respected position of newspaper reporter… which to them implied I mush have some serious communication and writing skills - which I think I do.
Me showing I liked baseball to a bunch of awestruck students.
I also dressed better than the Japanese - always wearing a dress shirt and tie and dress pants - which at least showed them I could be an adult.

I was also friendly, very curious and respectful, and generally easy to approach. Keep a smile on your face. Always.

Of course, I was also probably one of the most childish people on JET that year.

To get the kids interested in me, I think then, as even now when I coach baseball and hockey, that one must relate to the kids in their own language.

I have previously related how once, a group of students stopped me in the hall, and asked me to teach them bad words in English… I said okay (because they asked the question in English!!!), but said they had to teach me the Japanese words. We had a great time that day. They never told anyone who taught them. I think. Who knows. It doesn’t matter.

That first year, a group of students again cornered me in the halls, and asked in English if I knew about the Sandobirdo… which is katakana English for the Thunderbirds, a 1960s British television show that was being shown on television in Japan in 1990. To answer yes, that I knew the Sandobirdo, I began walking around like a marionette (as the characters were on the show), and opening and closing my mouth in a marionette-like manner.
My Thunderbirds-2 model kit bought and built and painted in Japan.
Every kid was on the ground howling in laughter, which instantly gained me “street cred” with those kids, at least.

Later, a group of kids came into a toy/game shop I was already in, and were surprised when I admitted that the Super Famicon (Nintendo SNES) video game system was indeed all for me. What?

An adult who liked video games? Every adult they knew told them video games were childish, and not for kids. Me? I was playing video games at the arcade when they came out, and had the earliest home video game systems… still do (the old and the new). I was in like Flint.

In Japan… when you do something—anything—it gets repeated down the Japanese grapevine. Soon, everyone knows.

Later, I began jogging around a school track late at night… one student was there with his dad doing sprint training. Me… I was trying to get to 10km a night (which I did). That one kid made mention of it to others, and soon there were some of my students out to watch the gaijin-no sensei run laps. In with the jocks…

Others saw me with my American girlfriend and city boy’s high school AET (assistant English teacher), Ashley… always near me… and while she didn’t broadcast it, when they correctly assumed she was my girlfriend and asked me if that was true, I answered truthfully.

They asked if liked Japanese girls and were shocked when I said no. I like women - telling them I don’t care where they are from, as long as they are smart and kind.

They asked me “what about beautiful… must she also be beautiful?”

A loaded question, because not every person is beautiful… and what one thinks is, another may not… it’s all subjective. I answered in that way, too. Why exclude anyone? I didn’t. That’s equally as important as getting some people on your side.
Okay, okay... this is my interpretation of beautiful. Noboko, on the left, only realized I was something special after her students spoke to her on my behalf. I want to make it clear that I did not ask them to do anything of the sort. That was their idea... and one that made me very happy and very sad.
Quirky? I suppose… you know why? Because I was honest. I didn’t care.. nothing I was saying was embarrassing to me and my western ideologies.

In Japan, the people are taught to maintain private dignity… and so everyone lives in their own private Idaho, while outwardly living in the one-true Japanese society.

I knew I could never fit in to Japanese society. I could try, but I had no allusions to my place in Japan. That allowed me to be myself. That and a very cool board of education and very cool school administration.

For me, being allowed to be myself or to be more Japanese, was never an issue in Ohtawara-shi. For my buddy Matthew, too… and it was also available for Ashley… but being a woman, and being the youngest, perhaps she wanted to carry a larger measure of decorum. But she was with me… and unless she wore a big clown wig and nose and floppy shoes, she was never going to be in trouble of being looked upon as anyone but someone with An-do-ryu-sensei.

It’s the truth… people like Matthew and I stand out in a crowd for our personalities and looks (he’s tall with strawberry blonde hair, and me dark-skinned and long-haired)… me (sorry, bud) more so. Ash, bless her, was a shy, quiet person was famous for being a good teacher (amongst her peers), but more infamous by her association with me.

So… being quirky can also be me with a genuine smile on my face all the time… me being a real scaredycat of the giant beetles kids brought in to school one day… me doing all the club activities at school—sports and arts—and even participating in the ones just for the girls. Sports are sports… I’ll play if they’ll have me. That’s quirky to the Japanese… a guy who doesn’t mind playing field hockey? Largely considered a female only sport in high school, it’s also a male sport… as evidenced by the Olympics, and the fact my dad used to play in a league here in Toronto.

Quirky? I won a speed eating contest - eating natto - with chopsticks. I have a non-Japanese style of holding my chopsticks, but it works for me. Also… natto… rotting, fermented soy beans that are sticky, smelly and supposedly horrible-tasting. You slather it on white sticky rice, add soy, some spicy mustard… and while I prefer to add a raw egg before mixing it all up into a even stringier, frothy goo… I like the stuff, while most gaijin find it revolting… as do most western Japanese folk.
Natto. When I feel like it, I'll order it at Japanese restaurants in Canada, where they tell me I won't like it. I tell them I like natto... they stare at me like I'm crazy and then bring me some to see if I actually will eat it. I always do. They walk away shaking their heads i amazement and confusion.
Sometimes you have to out-Japanese the Japanese. It’s why I always had to out-drink them, too.

There’s quirky and there’s quirky.

Maybe practical jokes were what worked for that Akita-ken AET.

I could have done those jokes, too… but those aren’t my style.

Do quirky behavior that matches your style. If you can.

By the way… there’s being quirky and there’s being quirky. Despite my adolescent behavior with my students, almost all like me, and paid rapt attention to anything I said or did in class. I watched them, as they watched me.

But, how does this behavior translate to those you of the opposite sex you might be interested in getting to know better?

Different strokes for different folks… some women might like the funny gaijin. Some might think he’s not husband material… or even boyfriend material… or even one-night stand material. Others might think you are all that and a bag of chips. Tough to say.

I can tell you (again) that having those students on MY side paid dividends when I fell head-over-heels in love with Noboko, a JTE at one of my junior high schools, who arrived in my third year.

She thought I was a complete scuzzball. I was wearing silk clothes, was rocking a ponytail, had a sculpted French-cut beard… and looked quite sharp for 1993.

But those kids saw immediately that I was smitten with that kitten and they took it upon themselves to pump up my character to her… even in weeks where I wasn’t at their school.

Every male teacher and all pubescent boys and probably a few girls were hot for teacher, just as I was.

When I finally got her, and she got me, she described me as being a diamond in the rough. Which means that despite liking my quirks, and being diamond-ish, I was still more coal when compared to the husband material that a standard Japanese male could have been.

Maybe that’s what she meant. It upset me, to be truthful… but I don’t think she meant it to be. She was likening myself to the lead in the Disney cartoon Aladdin, and herself to Princess Jasmine. I couldn’t argue there. I can be a bit rough under the collar. But some women like it rough. See what I mean? I’m joking, but I’m not. Quirky. Diamond in the rough… or maybe I was that one diamond amongst all the rough. Fug… I’m not sure. If she meant the latter, it depresses me even more.

I don’t still hold a torch for Noboko, but I do wonder what things would have been like if she had agreed to marry me. I have to wonder, what with being a curious child.

That’s my real quirk.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Yes… I said bonsai… mini tree bondage… just being quirky.
PPS: Up next… menko… no… this one is meant to be spelled that way.