Friday, December 21, 2007

The Damnation of Mario

I spend three days a week teaching English conversation and composition to mixed-level classes at a private college in Setagaya. I'm not kidding when I say "mixed-level," either; the huge proficiency overlaps that exist between designated levels often make me wonder how the students have ended up enrolled in the classes they're in. As such, the most proficient students are capable of some really clever humor, while the low-level students are mostly only capable of making lame excuses to explain why they're forty minutes late for class.

One day, during a group writing exercise focusing on "if" clauses, some of my first-year students came up with the scenario below. I supplied only the phrase "If Mario eats a mushroom," and the students did the rest, taking turns completing each other's sentences. Things didn't turn out well for Mario, it turns out:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Welcome to the Stage of History

There's a lot of buzz about Wii Fit these days (and the damn thing is sold out everywhere I go, which is making Christmas shopping for Girlfriend extra-tough). Apparently, the thing is really sensitive. When you stand on the Wii Fit pad and lean to one side, the Wii is capable of telling you that you're leaning to the side. Except....don't you already sort of know you're leaning to the side? Anyway.

Today, a slightly less "healthy" Wii product was released: Namco Bandai's Soulcalibur Legends, a hack-and-slash adventure title based on the Soulcalibur fighting game franchise. After playing it for about thirty minutes, I have the following observations:

  • The monsters in the game are a product of a force which the English-speaking narrator calls "the Evil Seed"...but the Japanese subtitles insist on calling it "Evil Sperm."
  • When you shake the Wii remote and nunchuck wildly to defeat enemies, the remote emits a series of swishing sounds that make me feel like Bruce Lee on crack.
  • The camera is about as easy to control as Bruce Lee on crack.
  • Ivy is pretty hot for a woman with white hair.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Energy Proposal

A while ago I ran across a comment on someone else's blog (I'd post the link if I could remember where I saw it) to the effect of, "Texas should secede from the US and become its own sovereign nation." While talk of Texan secession is usually a warning sign that a lot of hot air about Davy Crockett is about to follow, I suddenly found myself reassessing my views. In light of recent high petroleum prices and talk of an impending fuel crisis, the United States of America might find that allowing Texas to secede from the Union could work in the favor of the remaining forty-nine states.

At present, Texas is the top consumer of oil in the country, with nearly double the consumption of the next thirstiest state, California (source). Amazingly, the needs of Texas alone constitute almost 17% of the current national total consumption of oil, so secession alone would alleviate a considerable amount of US dependence on the black gold.

I know what you're saying. "But Jesse, that black gold is Texas tea! Wouldn't we also be allowing the majority of our domestic oil reserves to walk away, never to return?" Of course not. As you have most certainly noticed, American oil dependence has dictated the actions of our nation's military for some years now. Faced with the supply crisis brought on by Texan secession, the remaining United States (which I propose to name itself USMT: United States Minus Texas) would, in turn, invade Texas to seize control of its oil. Texas's fledgling military, consisting entirely of obese old men in recliners yelling, "REMEMBER THE ALAMO!" would be powerless to stop this invasion (which, by the way, I'm certain would be endorsed by the United Nations). As a result of the invasion, the USMT would be entitled to the benefits of Texas's oil wealth, while remaining completely free of the burden associated with supporting the now war-torn former state's disproportionate energy addiction.

Added bonus: With the recently defeated Texas's economy in ruins, the USMT would be in a position to start outsourcing dirt-cheap labor across the USMT-Texas border. Texas's newly installed puppet dictator would not least not if he wanted to keep his summer home in Michigan.

To find out how you can help Texas secede from the United States (and to see a funny animation of Texas floating out into the Atlantic Ocean), visit

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Tactics

With Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lion War out for the PSP worldwide and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Fuuketsu no Grimoir out for the DS in Japan, I have decided to play referee in a battle royale between the two titles. I have divided the competition into seven fair and comprehensive categories. Reap the benefits of my opinionations: It's time for A Tale of Two Tactics!

ROUND 1: Touch Pen Functionality

The DS game comes out of its corner swinging, but no punches connect. Although FFTA2 is a DS title, it makes no meaningful use of the touch screen. This isn't necessarilly good nor bad; I'd much rather a developer elect to ignore the DS's touch screen entirely than try to force touch pen functionality into a game where it doesn't belong. If you're looking for a scribbling good time, however, you'll have to find it in a different franchise. So at the end of Round 1, we have no score.

Round 1 Result: DRAW

ROUND 2: Run Speed

As you may remember from my angry post back in May, Square Enix's sloppy, emulation-dependent PSP port of Final Fantasy Tactics suffers from some pretty shameful slowdown. The animation associated with something as simple as dumping a potion over a partymember's head causes the game to get arthritic. When the annoyance factor of a game's slowdown exceeds the merits of playing through the game, the game ceases to be worth the time it takes to play it. FFTA2, on the other hand, is DS-native, and was therefore developed with the DS and only the DS in mind. It feels much more like the kind of polished product gamers have come to expect from Square Enix. A2 scores a point this round.

Round 2 Result: Final Fantasy Tactics A2

ROUND 3: Character Design

While I'd like to praise both games for being devoid of Amano Yoshitaka's shitty artwork (seriously, look at his box art for Front Mission will probably be the last thing you ever see), I have give this round to the PSP title. Yoshida Akihiro's character designs for FFT are child-like without being too cute, while the hodgepodge of kids, anthropomorphic rabbits and dog-alligator hybrids that populate FFTA2 is just a little too Pokemon for my tastes. The PSP game wins this round with room to spare.

Round 3 Result: Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lion War

ROUND 4: Magic Casting

In the original FFT and its PSP remake, casting a magic spell entails waiting a turn or two while the magician "charges." Because the turn of the spell's target sometimes occurs before the magic actually happens, the player must constantly consult the turn list to make sure that the knight he's about to zap with lightning isn't about to walk into a crowd of friendlies, causing collateral lightning damage. Where I come from, that kind of micromanagement is more often associated with work than games. Thankfully, FFTA2 does away with this charging system so that a fledgling mage can still lay the magical smack down on his foes without worrying that he might be setting his party up for humiliation. Point, FFTA2.

Round 4 Result: Final Fantasy Tactics A2

ROUND 5: Undoability

In FFT, you can't undo the "MOVE" phase of your turn, even if you haven't yet finished the "ACT" phase. This unnecessarily unforgiving aspect of the game engine can make the "tactics" feel more like "craptics." But with the extra-yasashii battle rules of FFTA2, those "craptics" have changed into "fantastics!" Or, at least, "reasonabletics."

(Remember, after walking in the woods, you should always check yourself for "deertics.")

Round 5 Result: Final Fantasy Tactics A2

ROUND 6: Map Visibility

Although FFT boasts 3D maps that can be rotated and tilted for a total of eight possible viewpoints (and sometimes every single one of those eight viewpoints is unsatisfactory...but I digress), FFTA2 is all 2D, all the time. Of course, the maps are all designed with that in mind, and so shouldn't have blind spots, but sometimes the positions of characters on the map conspire with the map itself to make things hard to see. I'll give this point to the PSP game, but both titles should take a lesson from Wild Arms Crossfire, which features a much more useful in-game camera.

Round 6 Result: Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lion War

ROUND 7: Random Encounters

I HATE random battles in any and all role-playing games. They should be banned from the industry, especially in turn-based strategy RPGs where a single battle can take a half an hour to finish. Since FFTA2 doesn't have little bands of mountain lions, goblins and squid-men jumping out from behind every other bush and boulder while your party is walking around on the map screen, that game takes the winning point in the seventh and final round of my battle royale.

Round 7 Result: FFTA2


FFTA2 for DS: 4 points

FFT for PSP: 2 points

There you have it. Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is better than the PSP remake of the original Tactics. Ah-ah-ah, no arguing. It's settled. I've proven it scientifically.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Japan's Safety Level Same As Before

Today marks the first day of Japan's newly tightened airport security procedures (fingerprinting, photographing and interrogation) for all foreigners entering the country -- even those with legitimate visas. Japan is the only other country besides the US to introduce such measures since 9/11.

Visa holders like myself have cause to be annoyed. With these new "safety" measures, all foreigners are required to go through the same tedious re-entry process and invasions of privacy associated therewith, regardless of whether they live in Japan or are just visiting. This, in turn, makes foreign residents in Japan angry, which makes the country less safe.

Nice going.

Bear in mind that Japan hasn't yet suffered a terror attack at the hands of foreigners. If that happens now, it proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that anti-terrorism legislation doesn't have a positive impact on actual safety. The new rules are also being prematurely touted as having a crime reduction effect. Guess we'll have to wait and see whether or not another English teacher gets put down for a sandbath by some crazy, disappearing Japanese guy. Come to think of it, wouldn't crime in this country decline if Japanese police stopped sending the message, "Don't worry, we'll never catch you?"

[the story]

Monday, November 19, 2007

Best Idea I Didn't Ever Have

In case you haven't heard, there is now a website called This website is devoted to the task of collecting and presenting all the titillating material that Fox News (America's favorite non-news organization) injects into their daily broadcasting. How much titillating material does Fox inject into their daily broadcasting? Well, enough to make a separate website out of it, apparently.

Keep in mind, doesn't show anything that Fox News doesn't show, and Fox News is a basic cable station (which means there isn't really any porn, per se). But after viewing some of the site's videos, one wonders why Fox hasn't changed its name to "News Gone Wild."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Portrait of a Badass: Johnny

Character: Johnny Lawrence
Actor: William Zabka
Film: The Karate Kid (1984)
Badass Moment: Sweep the leg.

Johnny Lawrence was just an ordinary, everyday, all-American boy growing up in sunny California. He was an exemplary student in his karate dojo, he hung out with the popular crowd at school and he was dating Elizabeth Shue. Everything was going great for Johnny Lawrence.


Until that little Jersey slimeball Daniel Larusso showed up with his short temper and his Crane Technique and his intentions to steal Johnny's girlfriend.

This summer....William Zabka IS....The Karate Kid.

That's how the trailer for this movie should have gone.

If The Karate Kid taught me anything, it's that sometimes the protagonist of a movie is not likable in the least. Sometimes he's an annoying, little punk who is doomed to be picked on because he just can't steer clear of trouble. Daniel Larusso is that kind of protagonist and Johnny Lawrence is that kind of trouble. No matter where Larusso's "stupid bike" takes him, all roads lead to a Johnny Lawrence beat-down.

For young viewers of The Karate Kid, an appearance by Johnny elicits the feelings of dread that only a real-life bully can prompt. And for cynical bloggers, watching Johnny beat up Daniel can be a satisfying form of entertainment. In Johnny Lawrence, the filmmakers have thus found a winning combination that transcends age gaps.

Some might say that Johnny's sensei, the diabolical Kreese, was the true villain of The Karate Kid. After all, just like Mr. Miyagi says, "No bad student. Only bad teacher." And it's not as if Kreese wasn't trying his damnedest to be a villain in the movie. I mean, look at him:

That ain't the face of a sane man. But since Johnny has a far more direct influence on the tribulations of Daniel Larusso, I cannot justify awarding Kreese the badass crown. And since Johnny has the guts to defy his insane teacher in the opening scene of The Karate Kid Part II, it's a done deal.

Johnny, you are a badass. When a man meets you on the street, he's an enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy WHAT IS THE PROBLEM MISTER LAWRENCE.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bush Smashes Floor, Invades Basement

The latest Reuters poll reveals a new low approval rating for President George W. "Saddam killed all the Mandelas" Bush:


That ties Richard Nixon's approval rating (at the time of his resignation) for the lowest ever recorded approval rating for any US president in history.

You aren't really surprised by this, are you?

I wonder if someone told Bush that the low end of the approval rating scale was full of petrolium. That would go a long way to explain the zeal with which he has invaded the lower reaches of the spectrum. He can't do anything to boost his approval rating now; that would be too much like "cutting and running."

The United States Congress, meanwhile, has the astonishingly poor approval rating of 11%. How did they earn this mark of shame? By refusing to fight Bush.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Shut Up, Avril Lavigne

I bought the Japanese port of EA's Burnout Dominator for the PSP shortly after it came out, but only started to play it yesterday. I was dismayed to find out that there are four (!) versions of the Avril Lavigne song "Girlfriend" on the game's soundtrack.

That's four too many versions of any Avril Lavigne song.

The song is included in its original incarnation, as well as in three multilingual versions where she sings the chorus in Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish. Now people from countries around the world can become acquainted with Avril Lavigne's tendency for annoying lyrics that sound like they were lifted from the diary of a depressed fourteen-year-old girl. EA's pop music licensing scheme (called EA Trax, a system whereby EA puts annoying songs on game soundtracks but, graciously, allows players to turn individual songs -- or all the songs -- off) is unpopular with game critics...and now, with the decision to flood my auditory canals with four versions of a song I hate, EA Trax is even less popular with me.

Poor Avril Lavigne. She just can't win my favor. The fact that I cannot get my ears to accept her music is incredible when you consider the fact that, in 2005, I began my self-imposed "Be Less of a Music Snob" policy. It was meant to serve as a reform to my traditionally toffee-nosed attitude toward the myriad musicians I don't like, and to replace my feelings of "They suck" with feelings of "To each his own."

The new policy worked and I became a better person...except I still couldn't stand Avril Lavigne and a handful of punk-pop bands.

Avril Lavigne continues to be one of my least favorite singers on Earth. Her song lyrics are so inanely conversational-sounding at times and, yet, so obnoxiously melodramatic at others. You can't just write a song with a lyric like this and get away with it:

She's like, so what ever

Some people's moms say, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." To Avril Lavigne, I say, "If you can't think of an adjective to describe the relationship you're planning to sabotage, don't bother writing a song about it." And I have to wonder, is this song based on true events from Avril's life? Did she really try to steal some guy away from his "so what ever" girlfriend...and use this song to do it? And did it work? It's hard to visualize such a scenario.

AVRIL: Hey! Hey! You! You! I could be your girlfriend!

ME: Hey! Hey! No you can't! You're stupid and annoying! Piss off!

I can dance to that song. But I will say this: For the soundtrack to a Burnout game, Avril Lavigne's music might be the perfect accompaniment, because when I hear her voice my initial reaction is an uncontrollable desire to participate in a spectacular car wreck.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Happy Birthday, Takigawa Christel

I've been meaning to write a blog post about Takigawa Christel, my favorite Tokyo news anchor, for a couple of years now. Since October 1, 2007 marks her 30th birthday, I guess today is a good day to do it.
The sleepy-eyed queen of Fuji TV's evening news was born in Paris to a Japanese mother and French father, who gave her the epic moniker Masami/Christel Takigawa Lardux.
I fully support her decision to shorten her name for TV.
On the evening news, Ms. Takigawa plays second fiddle to an old dude who always sounds like he's lecturing her...and when he's not doing that, he's conducting an interview with a foreign correspondent or politician in really goofy-sounding English. Despite being upstaged, however, Ms. Takigawa continues to charm audiences to no end with her "special move."
I'll bet you didn't know that Japanese newscasters had special moves. Everyone has special moves in Japan. This is the country that spawned Street Fighter, isn't it?
Takigawa Christel's hissatsuwaza is as follows: She glances at an up-and-to-the-left camera, says "Tsuzuite wa, Nyuusu Furasshu desu" ("And now, News Flash"), and does the cutest tight-lipped smile in the entire broadcast world.
The power of this special move is devastating. See for yourself in this fascinating YouTube video why Takigawa Christel is the anchor with the mostest.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Halo, Halo, Halo! Three, Three, Three!

September 27 marked the Japanese release of Bungie's Halo 3, the third installment of a game series on which Microsoft has depended very heavily for Xbox and Xbox 360 sales. As such, this third chapter is Bungie's biggest production number to date, attempting to give first-person shooter fans a pants-wettingly great experience.

So how are my pants, you ask? Drenched in joy, my friend.

Even though I don't consider myself a true fan of the FPS genre, Halo 3 has bought out the majority of shares of stock in my heart with its beautiful design, enjoyable campaign and solid multiplayer mode. And then it completes its hostile takeover of my favor with excellent extras.

When I say "extras," I'm basically just talking about Theater Mode, where players can revisit their recent multiplayer matches and capture clips and screenshots of their finest hours. I have said before that in-game camera functions are a gaming cliché that every game should have, so the ability to take hi-res stills of my character's antics, give them humorous captions and then upload them to Bungie's website (where they can be downloaded to my computer hard drive) is quite honestly the bee's proverbial knees. The veritable cat's pajamas.

The shiz-nit, if you will.

So now, on with the shiz-nit! Here are some shots taken from my very first Halo 3 multiplayer experince...a Slayer match in which an incredible stroke of beginners' luck gave me the power to pwn my oppwnents. (I'm the red guy.)

Join me in my ballet of death!

Why must I be sad?

Fleeing the scene of the pwn.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Portrait of a Badass: Jessica

Character: Jessica Rabbit Actor: Kathleen Turner (speech) / Amy Irving (singing)
Film: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Badass Moment: A weasel who puts his hand down the front of Jessica's dress falls victim to a booby trap.

Few things can affect a boy's development as drastically as the year 1988 affected me. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles poisoned my brain with the notion that women should have gigantic breasts and wear banana-colored jumpsuits like April O'Neil. Double Dragon poisoned my brain with the notion that women should have gigantic breasts and carry whips like Linda. And Who Framed Roger Rabbit poisoned my brain with the notion that women should have gigantic breasts and be married to Jessica Rabbit.
Yes, 1988 was quite a year for breasts. Even the number 88 itself has undeniably mammal qualities.
The movie was a groundbreaking work of art for its deep melding of live action and animated characters, to say nothing of its highly entertaining action, humor and story. But none of that had a prayer of making an impression on me in competition with Jessica and her 88's. I was only ten years old when the movie came out, too young to really appreciate what I was seeing, yet old enough to know that the part when Bob Hoskins accidentally bumps his head on her chest as he stands up was a moment of true film finesse.
Of course, breasts alone don't make Jessica the newest addition to the Hall of Badass. She's the quintessential femme fatale who spends most of her fleeting screentime earning the intrigue and distrust of the audience. And on top of that, she has a hell of a voice. Two voices, technically. The fact that no singular actress could be found who would do justice to both Jessica's speaking voice and singing voice is also a credit to her badassness.
I read somewhere that, in order to give Jessica's breasts their otherworldly motion, animators tried to make them appear to bounce in reverse. That's right, Jessica is so badass, the filmmakers had to violate Newtonian physics in order to bring her to life.
Jessica, you are a badass. And no, you aren't "just drawn that way." We saulte you.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Haven't Made Fun of Bush In a While

Dude. I totally just realized that the president of the United States is a fool.

He thinks Saddam Hussein killed Nelson Mandela.

Seldom are the letters WTF so urgently necessary.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

New Music

After sitting on my computer in an unfinished state for more than two years, my song "Shimokitazawa" is now fit for public consumption. You can hear it at, where it is hopefully destined for a favorable review rating.


(And, for anyone who cares, I do plan to finish posting photos from my summer trip to Kyushu. Further photos will be added to the same post with all the other photos. Just hold your horses, all right?)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Return to Nagasaki

August is the month of the glorious vacation known as obon. For Japanese people, that generally means a lot of fireworks, festivals, ghost stories and graveyard visits. For me, it means twelve fleeting days of time off. This year, six of those twelve days were spent traveling to Japan's southwestern island of Kyushu with Girlfriend. Specifically, we visited Nagasaki City and the Goto Archipelago.

Although it was Girlfriend's first visit to Kyushu, the island has a special place in my heart as it was the site of my first Japan experience: Six weeks in Nagasaki Prefecture during the summer of 1999. Now, for the first time in eight years, it was time for me to revisit that charming locale. Below are some of the best photos we took on our trip, carefully selected from a collection of more than 400.


First order of business after our arrival in Nagasaki was to eat lunch, which we did at a restaurant in the Dejima district. Lunch turned out to be toruko rice (Turkish rice), which is one of the city's signature dishes. It's rice, topped with gravy and a fried pork cutlet (which is also topped with gravy). It's almost always served with spaghetti, which somehow makes it seem significantly less Turkish. It's almost like a recipe designed by committee. Like all things in Nagasaki, one is forced to assume that the city's history of amiable international relations somehow contributed to its dominating atmosphere of cultural confusion. Hence, Turkish rice.

Turkish rice, as it turns out, is heavy-duty food. We walked it off by visiting the recently built replica of Dejima trading post, and then it was on to nearby Chinatown. Nagasaki's colorful Chinatown is a compact four city blocks of shops that deal mainly in Bruce Lee dolls that don't really look like Bruce Lee. I was glad to visit the area again, mainly because I found my single greatest souvenir of the whole trip there: A t-shirt with a simple rendition of a Hotarujaya streetcar sign printed on the back. (Another of the city's claims to fame is its endearing streetcar system, just one more in a list of things that tie present-day Nagasaki to its long-gone counterpart.) The mere sound of the name Hotarujaya -- meaning "Firefly Tea House" -- has a strong, nostalgic ring to it for me as well as for many Japanese.

The aforementioned nostalgia must have had a very profound effect on me, because the next thing we did was jump on the streetcar and ride to Hotarujaya. It's the last stop on the easternmost branch of the tram system, and is located right in front of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, workplace of Ms. Tani, host of my 1999 homestay. By this time the oppressive heat of the afternoon was taking its toll, so Girlfriend and I ducked into Royal Host to eat the first of what would be many servings of shaved ice. By the end of our trip, I think we were averaging about 1.35 shaved ices a day.

Next on the agenda, perhaps my most anticipated part of the whole trip: Teramachi. Stretching southwesterly from Hotarujaya along the foot of Mt. Kazagashira, Teramachi (literally, "Temple Town") is a quiet road lined with Buddhist temples on one side and stonecutters' shops on the other. Altogether there are about twelve temples before you reach the south end of Teramachi, near the Hamanomachi shopping arcade. Since my homestay house was located a couple hundred meters up the mountain from Teramachi, I walked down this tranquil street many times on the way down to the commercial district during my first visit to Nagasaki. Seeing it again was a great experience, although by this time, I had been walking all day and my legs felt like they were going to self-destruct.


Day Two of our travels fell on August 9, the 62nd anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki in 1945. It seemed obvious, therefore, that we should use that day to visit Urakami, the neighborhood where the bomb exploded. First stop: Sannojinja, a Shinto shrine near the bomb's hypocenter. In front of the shrine there are two mighty trees that were gutted by the nuclear explosion, but are kept alive and standing even today by cores of plastic running up their trunks. As you can see from the picture (below, left), both trees are huge and the damage done to them by the bomb was extensive. Girlfriend is shown for scale. And also for cuteness.

The other main feature of Sannojinja is the Ipponbashiratorii (above, right). It's the remainder of a stone arch (called torii), more than half of which was slapped down by the force of the atomic blast.

Next was Peace Park, which was packed with thousands of people attending the Peace Ceremony. Because of the crowds, we couldn't get close enough to the park's famous statue to get any really good pictures of it, although later in the day we were able to sneak behind it and snap a rare shot of its back, something I bet most visitors to Nagasaki never even think of. What we were able to photograph, however, were thousands of origami cranes chained together like Hawaiian leis. After being turned away from the main square because it was full, we decided to leg it to the Hypocenter Monument.

The black monolith in this photo marks the point on the earth, 470 meters above which the bomb exploded at 11:02 AM on August 9, 1945. We arrived at the monument around 10:45, just in time for the commemorative moment of silence. It would be the second time in my life to be in Nagasaki on this anniversary.

Unfortunately, around 11:00, an old Japanese woman who I think was a Christian missionary started talking to Girlfriend and me about her English studies. The incomprehensible description she gave of the American who taught her English was probably the worst possible publicity that teacher could ever receive. She was babbling on and on, completely oblivious to the time, so when the moment of silence started at 11:02 I had to clear my throat and point to all the people with their heads bowed to get the woman to shut up. Girlfriend and I were both annoyed by the woman's lack of tact, and it occurred to me that a Christian missionary talking endlessly while everyone around her prayed was not without irony.

After vising the Atomic Bomb Museum and Urakami Cathedral, we headed back to central Nagasaki to have lunch. JR Nagasaki Station now has a shopping center adjacent to it which was wasn't there the first time I visited. Therein we found food. And after lunch, I feel it is necessary to state, we partook of the biggest shaved ice of the entire vacation.

Known as shirokuma ("polar bear"), this massive conglomerate of shaved ice, fruit and ice cream is a survival staple in Kyushu's oppressive summertime heat. The thing was about the size of a child's head. Girlfriend and I double-teamed the polar bear and destroyed it completely.

Alas, it was time again to tear ourselves away from the air conditioning and continue our sightseeing. We took a short walk to the Twenty-Six Saints Monument, which marks a hill where a bunch of Japanese and foreign Christians were executed in the late sixteenth century (for practicing Christianity, which was forbidden in Japan at the time). I don't know what the temperature was at this point, but our arrival at 26 Saints was, in my memory, the hottest point of our trip. Girlfriend and I could barely move, but we had to push on. After witnessing a stray cat climbing a tree to catch a cicada (which the cat then carried away, chirping angrily in the cat's mouth), we decided to make a quick trip back to the hotel to change clothes and psych ourselves up for more and more walking.

A little later, after a change of clothes and brief recharge at the hotel, we found ourselves in the vicinity of Orandazaka (Dutch Slope), which is famous for its old, western-style buildings. Neither Girlfriend nor I was enthusiastic about the uphill slog entailed therein, but being the essential sightseeing point that Orandazaka is, it seemed necessary in some way. Besides, Orandazaka formed part of the walking route from our hotel to Glover's Garden, another essential stop.

On the way up the hill to Glover's Garden is Oura Tenshudo, one of Nagasaki's best-known cathedrals. Something I thought was funny about every Catholic church we saw in Nagasaki: They all have the word "cathedral" written in Japanese on the facade (barely visible in this photo). Usually a cross on the steeple does the job of denoting a church, but in Nagasaki they I guess they like to spell things out.

We also saw the cutest cat in the whole world hanging around the gate to a temple adjacent to Oura Cathedral. The cat didn't seem to like us all that much, but it sat still long enough for us to take its picture. Girlfriend described it as "a supermodel among cats." But don't take my word for it:

The final destination of the evening was Glover's Garden, site of the home of 19th century Scottish businessman (and co-founder of what is now Kirin Brewery) Thomas Glover. From its hilltop location, the garden commands a beautiful view of the harbor with Inasa-yama visible in the west. Visitors can walk inside the estate's various buildings, which are set up in museum-like still lifes of what the rooms probably looked like in the days of their use. None of these buildings, however, is air-conditioned, and even after sundown it was too hot to be hanging around inside.


On our third day in Nagasaki, we began by walking to Koshibyo, a Confucian shrine in the Oura district. The shrine grounds are a high-density hotbed of lions, dragons and red and gold architecture. I challenge you to find a more Chinese-looking place, even in China.

White stone statues of Confucian disciples are lined up in rows outside the shrine's main structure. I didn't count them, but I later learned that there are 72 of these statues populating the shrine grounds. The one in the photo below waved at Girlfriend and she waved back.

Next: Meganebashi. It's silly, but if you go to Nagasaki there's this unwritten law that you must take a picture of Meganebashi (meaning "Spectacles Bridge," since the bridge and its reflection in the Nakashima River resemble the circular glasses that Thomas Dolby is wearing on the cover of his 1982 album The Golden Age of Wireless). There are stone bridges built in this style in many locations in Japan, so I'm not sure why the one in Nagasaki is so famous.

All right, enough about Meganebashi. I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat waiting to find out where we went next! Aren't you? Wait for it....wait for iiiiiit.....


Well, actually, first we went to a sort of boring museum, then ate lunch, and then we went to Suwa Jinja. Good thing we ate lunch beforehand, because visiting this massive shrine entails a whole hell of a lot of stair climbing. If my sister had been with us, she'd have done a "Rocky run" up to the top. Or maybe she wouldn't have, because it was like a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I seem to remember spending a lot of money on water from vending machines on this particular day.

Around the back of Suwa Shrine, we found a nice hidden area with a pond full of turtles and a torii-lined path. The path was also buzzing with weird, orange and green flying insects I'd never seen before, but I refused to let these mutants ruin my Suwa experience. The path led to a a stone prification fountain carved with the kanji meaning "heart wash." There, my heart underwent its first cleaning in a long, long time. I had a little laugh to myself when I imagined finding a similar fountain carved with the kanji for "Lung Brush," but I never came upon such a fountain, sadly.

The final item on our final day in Nagasaki City was a reunion with Ms. Tani. She drove us up Mt. Kazagashira (across the harbor from Mt. Inasa), where we took a moment to snap this photo with Sakamoto Ryoma, anti-Tokugawa idealist and key catalyst for the Meiji Restoration. Both in statue form and in photographs, Ryoma carries a Napoleonic air of non-stop badass. This must be because of the cross-armed posture and the skeptical expression he always has. Carrying a sword doesn't hurt, either. (Well, it can potentially hurt if you're clumsy, but I digress.) We had plans to go out to eat with Ms. Tani and her friend Sayumi (accoring to Ms. Tani, Sayumi can be considered my "host aunt"...but Sayumi, always the fountain of humor, insists on the younger-sounding "host sister"), but we still had some time to kill before what do you suppose we did?

Why, we flew a kite, of course.

Near the top of Mt. Kazagashira there is a kite shop. The owner, who cannot be described as anything but a "kite master," gave us a twenty-minute lecture on the history of kites in Nagasaki (another fingerprint of Dutch influence on the city, it turns out) and then took us outside to try our hands at flying a kite. It was only my second time to fly a kite, and my first time to fly a kite properly. We stood at the peak of Mt. Kazagashira with the kite in the air, the sun on our faces and dragonflies buzzing all around us, and boy, did it feel like summer. Sayumi is shown here taking a turn at keeping the thing in the air. The Dutch flag kite we flew is shown in the inset. The guy in the purple happi is the Kite Master, in case you couldn't guess.

After flying the kite and then eating some really high-quality seafood, we drove up Mt. Inasa to take in more of Nagasaki's famous night view. Most of my photos didn't turn out because I couldn't remember how to set the camera for low-light shots without a tripod, but I did get away with one or two nice ones. For the most part, however, the night view from Mt. Inasa is perhaps best left to one's memory. Photos of it, as is often the case, never turn out exactly faithful to the actal sight. I usually shrug off tourism "purists" who avoid travel photography for this reason, but they might be onto something in cases like this.


Only one photo is necessary to summarize the latter half of our vacation (which we spent on Fukue Island, part of the Goto Archipelago):

The entire time we were there, the red flag was flying on the beach, denoting that it was unsafe to swim because of high winds. The only chance we had to enter the water was during the high tide, when a nearby inlet would fill with shallow water. But that water disappeared completely by about 11:00 AM every morning.

I didn't take photos of the most memorable things about the island: The air conditioner that cost 200 yen per hour to use, the ubiquitous wharf roaches scurrying everywhere and the six-inch centipede that turned up in our room. All the same, I believe that the favorable review of the beach we had read beforehand was probably accurate, and the experience could have been immensely better if we hadn't had such back luck with the weather.

This concludes my photographic recap of our summer vacation. It has taken way too long to format so many photos, upload them and then think of interesting things to say about them, so I am done talking about Nagasaki. We now return to Chorus, Isolate, Confirm, already in progress.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's Art....Only More Macho

I have always been enthusiastic about video games that encourage user creativity. When the WWF (or WWE, if you're not into pandas) Smackdown pro-wrestling series invited me to "Create a Superstar," I obliged dutifully. When the Tony Hawk skateboarding series suggested that I "Create a Skatepark," I took that suggestion to heart. So it stands to reason that, when Forza Motorsport 2 vested within me the power to paint my cars, I responded with, "Just show me where the paint is."

On its surface, the paint mode of Forza 2 doesn't look that flexible. You're given a limited pallet of shapes, icons, logos and letters, with no way of importing your own images into the game. Upon closer inspection, however, one finds that each paintable region of the car has room for 1000 of those shapes, all of which can be moved, rotated, resized, recolored, sheared and given transparency. As a result, a gamer with enough time on his hands can come up with ridiculously detailed designs, despite the limitations of the shape pallet. Those pretty cars can, in turn, be auctioned off to the highest bidder for in-game money, so a player's ability to be creative with the paint mode can pay off, in a way.

Not wanting to be left out, I tried my hand at producing a design that my fellow Xbox 360 owners could get enthusiastic about. It's nothing great, but considering how quickly I slapped it together, I think it looks all right. Witness my Gears of War Sprinter Trueno:

It seems inevitable that I eventually use the paint mode to design a Chorus, Isolate, Confirm 1982 Porsche 911 Turbo, but until that time, click HERE for more examples of Forza Motorsport 2 as a medium for graphic design, apparently done by people who really enjoy anime.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Long, Rainy Weekend

Monday, July 16, 2007 is Umi No Hi (Marine Day), a national holiday. That makes this weekend a three-day weekend (or a two-day weekend for people like me who work on Saturdays).

Unfortunately, the majority of that weekend will be spent taking refuge from Typhoon #4, which has been dumping biblical volumes of rain on Miyazaki Prefecture all day long today, and is currently on course to do the same in Tokyo tomorrow. Hopefully this means I'll have plenty of time to come up with an interesting idea for a blog post this weekend.

FUN FACT: Rainy days are responsible for some of the greatest inventions in history. Among those innovations that sprung from inclement weather:

The umbrella (invented in China thousands of years ago; successfully miniaturized by restaurants that serve tropical cocktails)

The gollosh (a waterproof boot named after the delicious Hungarian casserole of the same name)

The rain curtain (invented by Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid)

The gutter (If it weren't for gutters, where would people like Edgar Allen Poe go to die?)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Portrait of a Badass: Elliott

Character: Elliott
Actor:Henry Thomas
Film: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Badass Moment: In a drunken rage, Elliott frees all the frogs from his biology class and kisses a young Erika Eleniak.

The Month of Fury known as June is over and now it's time for some more positively-charged blogging. The only thing that can correct my mood is a tribute to one of my earliest cinematic memories. E.T. is at or near the top of many people's Greatest Movies of All Time lists, but too few of those lists actually delve into the science of badass. Well, pull yourself up to a sitting position and take notes, brotha. Science class starts now.

Elliott is the middle child in a fatherless family. His older brother won't let him in on Dungeons & Dragons. His younger sister is a twisted firestarter. As a result of these disadvantages, Elliott harbors pent-up frustrations which occasionally leak out in the form of abusive language like "penis breath."

Doesn't sound very badass so far, does he? Well, pay attention because this WILL be on the test. One scene alone gives Elliott his badass status: The scene where E.T. gets Elliott drunk and his resulting subversion gets him kicked out of school. You might recall that I cited a similar scene in my Badass post about Donnie Darko. I guess, since I never did anything to get myself kicked out of school as a youngster, I find it especially gratifying to see someone do so in a film. Furthermore, that scene's final shot (of the girl's feet surrounded by escaping frogs in the foreground, with Elliott being led away by a teacher in the background) is probably my favorite bit of cinematic imagery ever.

Elliott, you are a badass. (Underage drunkenness is wrong.) We salute you.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Weep Not For Engrish

June must be The Month When I Yell Angrily At Other Foreigners In Tokyo, because this week I'm at it again. This time the object of my all-destroying disdain is Beau Miller's essay (entitled Farewell, My Government Abuse Chicken) which was printed in the Last Word section of issue #692 of Metropolis. In it, Mr. Miller laments recent efforts to rid Beijing of "Engrish" (bastardized English born of computerized translation).

"Engrish" is one of my least favorite words in the world. It's like a thick, juicy slab of "I find your country quaint and humorous" wrapped in a "Your inability to understand English is an endless font of delight" tortilla.

With his mouth full of the burrito I just described, Beau Miller complains that, without all this "Engrish" (and "Chinglish," just in case you weren't already offended), cities like Beijing and Tokyo will become tiresome, boring and generally less of a barrel of laughs for him. If he knew that an endless supply of "Engrish" was always available at Yahoo's babel fish page, he might not be in such a panic.

While Mr. Miller frames his essay by stressing that Beijing has "more important matters to address," his decision to illustrate that point with a stack of "ha ha ha, these people can't even speak English good" observations is counter-productive to his cause. I do, however, approve of his decision not to identify himself as a freelance writer. Most Last Word authors do. After all, "freelance writer" sounds a lot cooler than "ESL instructor."

Below is the letter I wrote to Metropolis in response. I kept it short, and so perhaps oversimplified my argument (and may subsequently be accused of missing the point of Miller's essay), but I wrote it more for my own benefit than anyone else's.

The disappearance of allegedly comical English from cities like Beijing and Tokyo is no crisis. Rather, if this change means people will stop using condescending words like "Engrish" and "Chinglish," I hope it happens sooner than later. The "Engrish" in question is usually the product of babel fish translation services (available for free all over the Internet), so if Beau Miller's top priority is indeed his own entertainment at the expense of language, why not just go to the source?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Megane Suupaa Rap Craze

A few months ago I noticed that the hawker standing in front of the Megane Suupaa eyewear shop in front of the Electric Town exit of JR Akihabara Station was freestyle rapping about glasses. His ad lib Japanese rhymes contained goofy lines such as, "Check out the third floor, yo!" and "It's hard to see at night! Get some corrective lenses, yo!"

I'm not exaggerating or trying to be funny. He really did suggest corrective lenses to help with night-time driving, and he really did say "yo."

Today I saw the hawker rapping again, although I can't be sure that the guy I saw today is the same guy I saw a few months ago, because -- check this out, yo! -- it turns out that numerous Megane Suupaa hawkers at locations across Tokyo are using this atypical sales strategy these days. A quick search of YouTube reveals a treasure trove of videos of rapping hawkers, most of them working at Megane Suupaa. The Akihabara guy even uses a little boombox playing a hiphop beat to help him bust it out fresh, yo! He also uses the "faux gaijin" pronunciation style that is popular with Japanese rappers, who desperately wish they were foreign.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Simmer Down Now

One of my co-workers once observed that foreigners in Japan can be arranged on a spectrum. At one extreme end you have those who absolutely love 100% of Japan 100% of the time, who will defend every aspect of it until they choke to death on mochi in their living room in Utsunomiya at age 99. At the other extreme end you have the jaded, jilted, angry foreigners who act like they decided to live in Japan specifically for the purpose of complaining about it and comparing it to their (far superior) home country all the time.
Both extremes, my co-worker said, are goddamn annoying to foreigners who fall someplace in between.
That observation occurred to me today when I read this enthusiastic essay by enthusiastic Tokyo enthusiast Erica Belling in the June 1, 2007 issue of Tokyo Notice Board. For that razor-thin minority of people who don't know but, for what ever reason, would like to know: Tokyo Notice Board is a free 60-page assemblage of classifieds, personals, advertisements for strip clubs and, lest we forget, often uninteresting works of opinion, fiction, poetry and satire created by foreign residents of the Kanto Plain. For example, the work of our new friend Erica. Walk with me through this garden of joy-induced despair, won't you?
First, she starts us off with this:

Where else in the world would you see Rockabillies, bagpipe-players, girls dressed as ‘Little Bo Beep’ and J-Pop bands all in an afternoon?
Speaking content-wise, I have nothing against this opening paragraph, except I didn't know some people said "Little Bo Beep" instead of "Little Bo Peep." Even stranger, in the Tokyo Notice Board appearance of this article, it says "Little Bo Bee." What ever. She could have said "Little Beau Bridges" and the essay wouldn't have lost nor gained any impact. Let's push onward, for now the garden becomes a jungle:

This is my take on Tokyo – eclectic at the least, crazy at best. And I’ve only been in Tokyo for 8 days! So far I have explored the streets of Harajuku, the bright lights of Shinjuku, the shopping of Shibuya and the 6 floors of Don Quijote (you really can find ANYTHING you need there!)

Again, a discrepancy: in the web version, she says she's been in Tokyo for eight days. In the TNB version, six days. WHICH IS IT, ERICA? YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! Speaking of capital letters, yeah, I guess you can find "ANYTHING you need" at Don long as your needs are limited to an array of goofy neckties, novelty gifts, sex toys and fake Rolexes. Both the printed and the online version of the article are missing a period at the end of this paragraph, so I don't know what Erica's doing in Tokyo, but she had better not be teaching English. Next:

I’ve had hot coffee from a can, tea from a can, soup from a can, traveled the subway in rush hour, bought a bicycle (a must in Tokyo), strolled Omotesando and been cleansed at the Meiji Jingu shrine. I’ve tackled the underground maze of endless stairs and escalators at Roppongi subway station, I’ve basked in the beauty of Yoyogi Park and stared in amazement at the architecture of Roppongi Hills – and the price of mangoes - $300 Australian dollars a box!

Jesus, all this canned food! What are you, homeless? Oh yeah, I guess you are, since you decided to take a bath at Meiji Shrine, of all places. Better find some income so you can afford those mangoes.
In the next paragraph, Erica starts to say some things against which I must contend:

From the perfectly presented Tokyo women to the punks to the straight-faced business men, I have found they all have something in common – a respect for one-another. This is how Tokyo works.
Wait a ding-dang minute here, Little Bo Beep. I thought you just said you've only been in Tokyo for six to eight days. I think that pretty much disqualifies you from telling me how Tokyo "works." And your observation that everyone in Tokyo respects one another is an easy mistake, for what you've wrongly perceived as respect is actually indifference. Like New York City, Tokyo is full of people who, in the words of Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters II, "would just as soon step on your face as look at you." If you'd moved here from any other city in Japan, you'd perceive the order and efficiency of Tokyo as coldness and impersonality. But no, you obviously moved here from a place where mangoes are cheap and canned food is a luxury and bicycles are frowned upon.
Erica blathers for another paragraph and a half more about how absolutely super everyone is, and then finishes with a final burst of positivity, to the tune of "When You Wish Upon a Star":

I see Tokyo as a city of endless opportunity and daily challenges. My mind is already overloaded with plans for my life here. Challenge number one: learn Japanese!
Yeah, Erica. Get right on that. You're a blank slate. An unspoiled innocent in a brave new world where nothing can go wrong. And you'll be that way until you get hassled by the police for your gaijin card and registration every time they see you riding your bicycle, you get touched up by a helpful businessman on the subway, or an earthquake sucks you into the underground maze of Roppongi Station while simultaneously bringing a million tons of amazing architecture down on you and your mangoes.
Technorati: mango / architecture / Ghostbusters II

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Let's Learn Japanese: Dame usagi

Dame usagi
Stupid rabbit ("Dame" can be translated as "no good," "unacceptable," "hapless" or "stupid." In this case, let's go with "stupid.")

This week Osaka-based Nova Corporation, proprietor of the omnipresent Nova English Conversation School chain (whose mascot is an allegedly cute, pink rabbit with a yellow beak), was ordered by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to suspend recruitment of new long-term contract customers for six months as punishment for illegal bait-and-switch practices and contractural misrepresentation.

[the story]

This is just one more troublesome black mark on the reputation of a company that has, in recent months, been especially troubled with bad press. In 1997, Nova repaid 3.8 million yen to a group of 18 students who complained of false advertising and had been subsequently forbidden by the company to cancel their contracts. In January 2007, seven Nova teachers were arrested for possession of cannabis and cocaine. And in March of 2007, a Nova teacher from the UK named Lindsay Ann Hawker was found strangled to death, presumeably by one of her students. Her body was found buried in a bathtub full of sand (one hand protruding) on the balcony of the student's apartment. The suspect remains at large.

Going from strange to stranger, consider this letter printed in February 2005 in Metropolis, Tokyo's self-proclaimed #1 English magazine. The writer claims to be Gil Cruz, a Nova employee who firmly believes that "Nova rocks," despite the fact that Nova employees are forbidden by their employer to speak publicly as representatives of the company. The letter sparked a mixed response of yeas and nays from others who had worked for Nova, and the question of whether Gil Cruz actually exists (and whether Nova does, indeed, rock) has yet to be answered.

This latest slap on the wrist by the government has caused a sudden 10% drop in Nova's stock value and many are unsure of what will become of the overgrown language giant. One thing is certain: If Nova ceases to exist, Tokyo pedestrians will have to figure out a new way navigating. Once, you could simply look up for the nearest Nova sign and know that the nearest rail station was not far away.

Technorati: Nova