39 posts categorized "Japan"

Photo Friday: Public Spaces

Not a great photo, technically, for this Photo Friday.  But the subject reveals much about differences in culture across the globe. 

Like all large cities, Tokyo deals with the homeless.  Homeless sleep under bridges, in vacant lots, in shanty towns, in carboard boxes.  There's little need for them to do this; Japan has a decent social safety net.  But the demons that often live in the heads of the street-dweller demand a place in public.  Perhaps the buzz of people around you tempers your loneliness.

But no matter how much craziness scratches the vinyl of their minds, these homeless people are still Japanese.  A sense of order and cleanliness prevails.  Homeless encampments feature laundry facilities.  A homeless man who lived near us in Toranomon would complain loudly to anyone who dropped a cigarette butt on his patch of pavement. Homelessness is no excuse to abandon etiquette.

This shantytown near Ueno station in 2002 shows a remarkable sense of community.  Local police erected barriers near the tents and cardboard boxes to preserve the residents' privacy—Japanese culture draws a strict line between public space and the privacy of your home.   And notice, you gaijin barbarians, that one always removes one's shoes before entering a Japanese home. 


Reflections on the past two weeks in Japan.

Many have asked if our friends and loved ones are safe.  The answer, for the moment, is yes.

Master Right's family live in western Japan, and our friends in Tokyo are shaken, but OK. We held fears for the family of a dear friend from Fukushima. Luckily her folk live in the inland hills, and so were spared the tsunami.  But the earthquake damaged their property badly, and the family is now together in Tokyo.  As far as situation with the nuclear reactor...well, we'd be fools not to worry desperately for our friends and colleagues in eastern Japan.

As you can imagine, it's been two sombre weeks at our place, glued to N24 and N-TV.   NHK, the Japanese national broadcaster, and the BBC are on our computer screens. 

By now, most of you will have read or heard the facts of what happened, and seen images of the aftermath.  Let's reflect on these things for a moment. 

Lessons from Kobe.

The Hanshin Earthquake of January 1995 horrified Japan, not just with the scale of the destruction, but with government impotence in the face of it.

Kobe lay in ruins, and rescuers simply couldn't reach the worst-hit parts of the city.  Many who survived the quake itself died of exposure, without a place to shelter as the cold winter days dragged on. 

They vowed that such avoidable suffering should never happen again, in one of the richest nations on the planet. 

By 2000, when I arrived in Tokyo, many of the current systems were in place.  Evacuation and refuge centres, and the system of accounting for people's whereabouts, had been established.

When I first moved in to my apartment near Toranomon, the police paid a call.   They provided ample information in English to make sure I knew safety drills and precutions (like securing bookshelves to walls).  They told where to report in a quake's aftermath.  In my case, it was the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.  It comforted me to know that should the need arise, I would share a chemical toilet with the Emperor.

At the office, the drill intensified.  Yebisu Garden Place, then a new development in Tokyo's fashionable inner west, set an example of exceptional earthquake safety in both design and procedure.    An extensive network of building marshalls met regularly to review practice.  That included practice in first aid.

A Tokyo night club opened 1995
Here, we see colleagues brushing up on CPR and wound-dressing at the annual Safety Awareness Day.  German readers will be familiar with this sort of thing.  One needs to undergo such training in Germany to get a driver's license, or to work in a school or public building.  But under few circumstances is one required to brush up as often as the Japanese.

It was easy to giggle at this as over-caution.  But take a look at the video in this link.  At the fifteen second mark, we see people administering CPR with confidence, perhaps learned under such circumstances.

Our local ward government, the City of Shibuya, would provide its Earthquake Simulator on Safety Awareness Day. 

Spectators climb aboard, and take seats in a small room, built to the same standards as earthquake building codes.  An operator begins to shake the building. 

A Tokyo night club opened 1995
As the intensity increases, lights on the wall show the scale reading.  A pendant lamp from the ceiling acts as a reckoner, so that when the earthquake happens, you can judge its magnitude from the swing of the light in the room in which you find yourself. 

This is more than just a curiosity.  It demonstrates that even though the building may shake or sway quite violently, if it is built to withstand Richter 7 quakes, it will.  If you're caught in the middle of a major earthquake, such reassurance unlikely to completely eliminate your panic.  But if it calms you enough so you can think clearly about what to do next, then it serves its purpose.

By the time Friday's earthquake reached land, it was a Richter 7 in northern Japan.  Sure enough, few moden buildings collapsed. It was the tsunami that proved so destructive.

Protection from tsunami relies less on engineering, and more on organisation.  After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Japan accelerated the development of its  Earthquake and Tsunami Early Warning system, which came into effect in 2007.  It detects the early "P" waves, which simply compress the soil, before the more damaging "S" waves which follow when the compression is released—the latter are the waves that actually shake the earth. (For a simple explanation, click here.)

The system is triggered automatically, with no human intervention.  It gives warnings on TV, public media (such as the jumbotrons of Hatchiko Square, loudpeakers on streets and infoscreens in trains or stations) and it can even text your mobile phone. 

It may give only minutes—even seconds—of warning.  But if you're in a speeding train, an elevator, or a plane that's about to land, that can prove crucial.

This was the system in action at around 2.45 last Friday, interrupting NHK's broadcasts of the Japanese Parliament. 


It shows that communities had at least five minutes notice to make a dash, and fortunately, some had more.  Was this warning long enough to save everyone who heeded it?  

Tragically, no.  Like the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Sendai tsunami hit with great speed.  Outrunning the wave as it bore down was impossible. Many of the frail and elderly, often without a car, couldn't have escaped, and had to hope for the best on the upper floors of their homes.

Some lost precious minutes rescuing possessions to take with them. In  rural areas, many would surely try dig out evidence of ancestry.  Ownership of the family farm, having been passed down  for centuries, has an almost religious significance.  Did it cost them their lives?  For some, undoubtedly. 

The system couldn't save everyone. But remember this:

Right now, hundreds of thousands of people huddle in refuges, and over ten thousand are confirmed dead.  There may be more dead.

Were it not for diligent organisation and planning, those figures surely would be reversed. 

In the days since the quake, the Japanese Self Defense Forces have taken nearly 25,000 survivors from the wreckage.  Almost as many, again, have been identified as alive and waiting rescue.  That's fifty thousand more people to add to the list of the living.

The Japanese government mobilised almost 100,000 troops to deal with the crisis.  That's more than the entire US contingent in Afghanistan. (Of course, provisioning these troops creates its own supply-chain problems, but that's another story)

The survivors are miserable.   They're cold, hungry and frightened.  But they're alive.  And we can thank the foresight of those in charge for that.

Trust me, I'm from TEPCO.

The record of some Japanese officials over the past decade or so has not been so virtuous, however.

Has complete atomic catastrophe been averted?  We hope so. Though the news this morning certainly causes concern

It's not as though nobody warned about genpatsu-shinsai, a term coined from the words for earthquake and nuclear meltdown.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (or TEPCO) has given us trouble before.   They have a history of cover-ups, and lax reporting.  That includes at Fukushima.

A whistle-blower once reported TEPCO to the (powerful) Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).  The ministry's only action, apparently, was to blow the whistle back by reporting him to the power company.

Japan was officially prepared for earthquakes and tsunami.  But for atomic catastrophe?  No.  Why?  Because the atomic energy establishment assured us that such an event was far-fetched.

Should we be skeptical of people who reassure us of the safety of anything nuclear, anywhere in the world? 

Three Mile Island showed that the industry can make optimistic statements; not always through malice, but through belief in its own cleverness.   Just read what former governor Richard Thromburgh of Pennsylvania has to say on his experience managing TMI.

The (relatively) smooth handling of TMI—and the pains taken to distinguish the Chernobyl reactor from the sort built elsewhere—made the world complacent about the hazards of nuclear power.  Recent events have given governments pause. 

Especially so here in Germany, where the crisis at Fukushima led to some hasty policy changes.  Bavarians welcome talk of closing the ageing Isar1 reactor at Landshut, north of Munich.   But we remain a tad nervous about the communist-era reactors just over the border in the Czech Republic.  Plans to build reactors in Italy, a known earthquake region, might fray a few nerves, too.

Let me point out a key fact.  The earthquake and tsunami early warning system is a government initiative.  There is little telmptation to cut corners or gouge profits when running it..  On the other hand, nuclear power is a public-private partnership.  The government regulators who control it have close ties to the private sector.  Profit drives the industry, as much as public service. 

One system performed.  The other failed.  Just sayin'.

International Coverage and Response

Andrew Cornell, a journalist for the Australian Financial Review in Tokyo, writes that he and his wife chose Japanese media over international news sources in English.   The Japanese media stay calm, and prioritise fact over drama. 

Many observe, with regret, that entertainment value has replaced editorial judgement in much Western journalism.  The requirements of drama—heroes, villains, conflict, treachery—leach into the fabric of news.  The English-language reporting of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami shows how badly this serves us.

A Chiba-resident British journalist who blogs at Our Man in Abiko, got an invitation to write for the Huffington Post.  He was chuffed, but his pleasure changed to dismay when he discovered that they simply wanted him to seek out, in his words, "disaster porn".

Quakebook cover He is, by the way, publishing a book of crowdsourced experiences of the tragedy, told with respect, and without sensationalism.   He calls it, simply, 2:46, the time of the first shock on the floor of the Pacific on March 11.  I urge you to support the project. 

The media do not respect the memory of those who died, nor the suffering of those who remain, to turn their story into The Poseidon Adventure. Not every tale needs a Bruce Ismay or a Roger Simmons.

As I write, I'm watching CNN's Max Foster as he bullies Noriyuki Shikata, spokesman for the Prime Minister, into using more inflamatory language. No, insists Shikata, unstocked shelves in Tokyo conveninece stores do not translate into mass starvation in the capital. Foster quibbled rather nastily with Shikata's use of such words as "precaution". Perhaps he would have preferred the government spokesman to say omigod we're all going to die.  It would make better television. 

Master Right and other Japanese like him think the western media sensationalising a tragedy which needs no hype. 

The US Embassy actually had to issue an English-language statement telling American residents to listen to Japanese authorities.  And, indeed, to trust the US government, as it works closely alongside.  "There is no double standard," writes Ambassador John Roos, "what we advise our Embassy personnel will be provided to all Americans."   Of course, the US and Japanese governmnets diverged  in their advice later, causing confusion and anger on the Japanese side. 

The US media have used a bullish tone to report the bedlam which followed, inevitably, in the wake of a natural disaster on this scale.   That leaves a bad taste in Japanese mouths.

In Japanese culture, it is ghoulish and insensitive to gawk at others when they are at their most emotionally vulnerable.  Alas, that's pretty much the main reason why Americans turn on the TV, nowadays.


Masa and I were in Tokyo on September 11, 2001.   Our neighbourhood, Atago—a little two-chome district sandwiched in between Toranomon, Shimbashi, Kamiyacho and Shiba Park—was pretty much cordoned off.   The US Embassy was a couple of blocks away from us.

As happened in so many places around the world, the managers of tall buildings added extra precautions. Yebisu Garden Place requested ID to enter the building; standard procedure in many US offices, but extraordinary for low-crime Japan.

Several days later, I passed through the security screening, and picked up my customary Excelsior Latte.  As I  checked emails at the desk (remember, these were pre-Blackberry days) I noticed a request from our New York office.

In a most delicate way, it asked for an opinion on a sensitive subject.  After the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway, how long did it take for public spirit to return to normal? 

That was a very delicate subject. And frankly, wouldn't someone who lives in New York have a lot more to worry about?

Our team looked into the matter.  With the Kobe earthquake in January, and the subway attacks in March, 1995 was truly an annus horribilis.

Japan's econmy took an immediate dip in reponse to the Kobe quake.  And no wonder.  The port of Kobe, Japan's second-busiest after Yokohama, lay in ruins.  The nation could still build the goods that would earn money for reconstruction, but had significantly less capacity to ship them out. 

According to sources,  Japan's economy recovered significantly over the course of the year. A fiscal stiimulus package helped the recovery.  Kobe City had restored water and sewerage in about four months, and officially ended its emergency housing efforts eight months after the event.

It took about a year for consumer sentiment and optimism  to reach pre-1995 levels, even accounting for Japan's sluggish economy at the time. (The same pattern held for the USA, as it happened.)

For several  months, people avoided confined spaces with crowds—which ain't easy in Japan, as you can imagine.  Cinemas, theatres, night clubs and department stores showed steep declines in business.  You can't avoid public transport in Japan, but if people could, they did. 

As always, the human spirit recoves.  In connection with the paper, I read Haruki Murukami's Underground, a book of interviews with survivors of the attack.  It is an amazing testiment to human strength. 

Even playfulness recovered.  Not long after, a night club in Roppongi opened.  Owners called it GASPANIC, a morbid joke about people's reluctance to gather in public places.  It was so successful, there are now three branches.

A Tokyo night club opened 1995
The Gaspanic Party Bus

The scale of the 2011 tragedy makes it different.  Communities, and the nation as a whole, will certainly need more than a year.  You can't whip up buildings, infrastructure, and economic activity out of thin air.  But how long to recover psychologically?

The rhythms of everyday life comfort the spirit.  Children get back to school, shirts get ironed, meals get shared, jokes get cracked and beers get gulped.  How long before such rituals can comfort Japan again?  I don't know.  I fear it may be a very long time for those affected, and equally so for those who share a sense of community wth them.

Gambatte, or Do Your Best.

One of the anchors on the German network ZDF interviewed Jörg Brase, their Tokyo correspondent.  Surely, remarked the host by satellite, you are living among tragedy and chaos?

Brase corrected him.  Tragedy, yes. Chaos, no.  He described the Japanese response as "organisiert" and "dizipliniert", both officials and the public at large. 

That's how Japan works, day-to-day, and in moments of crisis.  To the extent that something can be done, it will be done. If nothing can be done, then one forges ahead, doing one's best, no matter how grim the prospect.  Nicholas Kristof, former Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times, writes with admiration at this highly practical philosophy.

Beloved friends, beloved city.

Our hearts ache for those who have lost lives, loved ones, livelihoods, homes and property.   How much more can the nation suffer?  

In particular, what will become of Tokyo, the city we once called home, and our beloved friends there? 

We think about the unthinkable. We can't help it.

I wrote several paragraphs about what might happen to the city under different scenarios, knowing its infrastructure and geography.  I deleted them.  They would upset too many who read this blog.

Rather, I'd like to write about our local liquor store. 

The Atago Konishi Cellars lay just around the corner from us in Tokyo, at the base of Mt. Atago (Atagoyama).  Too often, we overlooked their thoughtful selection of French wine and fine Scots whiskeys, to stock up on jumbo-sized longnecks of Sapporo Black Label beer—its "Polaris" symbol is the world's oldest brand, you know.   For late-night souses, the management provides one of the city's few remaining liquor vending machines, just outside the front door.  Litre cans are available. 

Konishi Cellars first opened its doors in the 1600s, and kept the neighbourhood tipsy ever since. That means our local bottle-o has operated on the same spot for over four hundred years.  Through the great Kanto earthquake of 1923.  Through the fire-bombings of World War II.  

Even in the face of great challenges, Tokyoites will do their best.  They will attend to the demands of the present, and look to the future.  Its citizens will show the courage that has served them in the past.

The city will go on. 

During those years I lived in Japan, my colleagues would worry when I travelled.   I was alone, abroad, and they knew something of my personal carelessness.  Thieves, assailants, strange foods, and countless other dangers lay in wait.  Please, they said, get back to Japan quickly.  Japan, where there's order, where people co-operate, where things work as they should, where you can set your watch by the arrival of the train, where the cab driver will return your phone when you leave it on the back seat, where life makes sense, where it's safe.

Now, it's my turn to worry about you.  And I do.  Our love and thoughts are with you.

Gambatte, or Do Your Best.

One of the anchors on the German network ZDF interviewed Jörg Brase, their Tokyo correspondent.  Surely, remarked the host by satellite, you are living among tragedy and chaos?

Brase corrected him.  Tragedy, yes. Chaos, no.  He described the Japanese response as "organisiert" and "dizipliniert", both officials and the public at large. 

That's how Japan works, day-to-day, and in moments of crisis.  To the extent that something can be done, it will be done. If nothing can be done, then one forges ahead, doing one's best, no matter how grim the prospect.  Nicholas Kristof, former Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times, writes with admiration at this highly practical philosophy.

Fish, the Translator's Nightmare.


A fugu restaurant in Akasaka, Tokyo, November 2000

The word Stör  stumped us.  "Maybe it's sturgeon," I suggested. 

"Impossible," countered our guest, Midori.   She is a well-known gourmet from Tokyo, on a visit to Munich.  "Have you any idea how much a sturgeon costs?"

"Unlikely," said her husband, David, a British journalist.  "Sturgeon must be on an endangered species list, somewhere." 

"Besides, sturgeon isn't a fish.  It's a reptile." added Master Right. "Just look at one."

As luck would have it, we were at a classy restaurant in the Altstadt, with multilingual service.  So we sought help. 

"Can you tell me," asked David, "if this menu item is sturgeon?"

"I'm not sure," replied our waitress. "What kind of fish do you call a sturgeon in English?"

"The one that lays caviar.  Y'know, sort of Russian."   I had to say sort-of, since I don't know where Russia ends, nowadays.

"Actually," Dori-chan corrected, "most caviar comes from Iran."

The waitress smiled, perhaps wondering whether we wanted an answer or a conversation.  To avoid the latter, she replied German.  "Er kommt aus dem Schwarzes Meer.

The Black Sea.  I claimed victory. "Knew it!  Hope the chef squeezed its butt real good before he chopped it up."

Master Right rolled his eyes, as he often must in the company of his husband.

Image by Michelle Minor at The Digipix, used under a Creative Commons license
David frowned.  "I've never eaten sturgeon before.  What's it like?"

"It's ugly." answered Master Right.

"I'm not sure, but I think it's a white fish," explained his wife.

This didn't satisfy him.  "We've eliminated the orange fishes like salmon, and the pink fishes like tuna.  That still leaves a lot of fish." 

I picked up the theme.  "Is it flat and crumbly, or plump and flaky?  Is it a hearty slab, or a slender fillet?    Is it a DIY flip-job, like a trout?  Will it stare at me from the plate?"

The waitress spotted a chance to untangle herself from what could become a lengthy debate, and went to ask the chef.  Our spouses busied themselves with the rest of the menu—probably wondering about the Japanese word for rosenkohl, or the difference between a hirsch and a kirsch—while David and I pondered the fish question in greater depth.

"You know, one of our reporters invited the head of a Japanese bank to lunch in London," he began.  "Mindful of our guest, the paper chose a restaurant known for seafood."

"The bank's translator opened the menu, and sighed.  Fish, she said, is my personal nightmare."

I could see the point, and agreed.  "When you think about it, there are many more species of fish than of other edible animals.  Even in my own native tongue, I haven't a clue.  What's the difference between a flounder and a halibut?  What's so special about barramundi?  And what the hell is a sea bass?"

"Especially tough in Japanese," David reminded me, "where one finds different words for different parts of fish."

I recalled petfood commercials from Tokyo television.  They warned cat-lovers that even a cat can tell the difference among parts of fish.  If you don't serve him the right stuff, he'll become tired and listless.


"And it differs from place to place," I continued. "When our family first arrived in Australia, we encountered a fish and chip shop that sold different varieties of fish."

"My father saw butterfish on the menu, and cheerfully asked what it was.  The lady behind the counter told him it was a pomfret.  Which she thought would help, I guess."

"In the end, he ordered the cheapest item; a tasty, firm-textured fish called flake.   For that evening, and many thereafter, our family dined on it.  It's shark."

Master Right chimed in.  "You know, meat is easy.  Before the Meiji era,  Japanese were farmers and fishermen.  When we started to eat meat, we just borrowed English words.  And not so many.  Cows and pigs are simple creatures."

DSC00019 Cow parts in Japanese. Just look at all that katakana!

Our server returned, declaring that the fish was white with a bit of a pink touch, like snapper.  But we had moved on to the poultry—or rather, the game.   That raised even more questions.

What exactly would appear on the plate if one ordered the partridge, I asked?

"A lighter, firmer version of pheasant," answered the waitress. 

I had a pork chop.  It was delicious.

*     *     *     *     *

That little conversation might have stayed forgotten, had we not eaten at a Greek restaurant the other day.  

It's our favourite local joint.  And judging by the free ouzo, free brandy, and generous Weißbier they always pour us, we must be their favourite customers.  I think they admire Master Right's appetite.  For a slender fellow, he enjoys a hearty meal. 

I ordered Kalimari off the German-language Speisekarte.  "We have trouble with that word on our English menu," the waiter remarked, "What's English for Kalimari?"

Their English-language menu translated it as cuttle-fish.  Technically correct, but it crosses the border in an English-speaker's head between fish and seafood, so the word feels odd.  Many would confuse the equally correct squid with a large octopus.   The octopus tentacles they serve here are Paul-sized, so this could create even more misunderstanding.

"The English word for Kalimari," I proclaimed, "is Kalimari."

*     *     *     *     *

Image credit for the sturgeon: Michelle Minor at Digipix through Wikimedia Commons, used under a Creative Commons license.

Fake, But Sincere. Part Two.

Living in Japan taught me a fresh respect for the power of the human imagination.

My Japanese friends (and loved ones) need little encouragement to imagine, for the sheer pleasure of it.  Even a tiny cue—the picture of a palm tree, a postcard from Spain—can trigger a pleasurable journey, inside one's head. 

Concealing a Tokyo construction site

If the thing ain't real, so what?   In your mind—and that's where it counts—it's both perfect and true.  Real doesn't always mean better.  Dreary old real

That's why it gives me great pleasure, once again, to trace a web of imaginative tribute across the globe.  Let's start in Munich, before we travel to Tokyo.  In our minds, of course.

Fake #1: Gothic Noveau

Munich's most photographed building is a Gothic extravaganza: the Town Hall, or Rathaus.  Here, we see it decked out for Munich's annual Christopher Street Day

(By the way, does calling it Christopher Street Day seem more authentically homosexual than plain old Gay Pride, or its direct German translation, Schwulstolz?)


The Munich Town Hall oozes Gothic camp from every crumb of its aging mortar.  Gargoyles, serpents, witches, seraphs, demons and angels abound. 

They're all fraudulent, as well as fictitious.  The so-called Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) opened in 1901.

Let's not call it fake Gothic.  Let's call it Gothic Revival.

Fake #2: Fifties Refurb

Odd that the burghers should build a Gothic Town Hall, when the rest of the city was busy helping to invent art noveau.   Doubly odd, since Munich has a real Gothic town hall, dating back to the 16th century, right next door.  

Well, it's real-ish.   The original was severely damaged in WWII bombing, and Eisenhower ordered remains bulldozed so tanks could roll into the Marienplatz, the city's central square.

It was rebuilt, from scratch, in the 1950s.  So the old Gothic town hall is much newer than the new Gothic town hall.  And much less Gothic, if the truth be known.

Daryl & Cheeling Italy 016

Today, it houses the Munich Toy Museum, showcasing the collection of cartoonist Ivan Steiger.  Speaking of pretend, it just finished a Barbie exhibition

Back to the New Town Hall.  Taking pride of place in front, we see the famous Glockenspiel

The top deck reprises a famous jousting match staged for Duke Wilhelm V on his marriage to Renata of Lothringen.  The lower level shows a bunch of barrel-makers prancing about to celebrate the end of the plague.


Well, the jousting knights were knights errant.  They've been playing a discordant note for two years, and nobody noticed.  It wasn't fake, but it was wrong.

Fake #3.  Make mine a Nama.

You'll hear no discord from the Glockenspiel in the picture below.  It welcomes visitors to Yebisu Garden Place, a commercial and residental development in Tokyo's inner west—my office was in YGP Tower.  It plays a cheerful mp3 file of an accordion and metal xylophone, perfect every time.  And not a word about the plague.


Now, why would the good burghers of Ebisu, which nestles in trendy Shibuya-ku, want to cheese it up with a fake Munich?  

It seems Yebisu Garden Place was built on the former site of the famous Yebisu Brewery, and the complex contains the world HQ of the Sapporo Brewing Group, as well as the splendid Yebisu Beer Museum

The buildings have been designed to feel beery and European, right down to the fake brick facades.  They used plastic tiles which look like terracotta, and draped them over a flexible steel frame.

Brick buildings spell danger in an earthquake-prone nation, and those few real brick buildings which survive in Japan get heavy structural reinforcement.

Fake #4.  Construction Controlleé

One might assume that all the buildings in Yebisu Garden Place are safely fake.  Not so.  The French château which houses Joël Robuchon's Restaurant is a real French château, dissembled block-by-block and reconstructed on the plaza level.  One hopes it's obtained seismic reinforcement, or the people shopping in the Mitsukoshi Department Store Food Hall beneath will be in for a surprise, someday. 

Toranosuke's image of Joel Robuchon's Tokyo Restaurant

Rumour has it that the food is so good, Ayumi Hamasaki keeps an apartment in YGP, just so she can pop across the street for a quick soufflé fromage.

Fake #5   Bavariental.

The East mimics the West more skillfully than the other way around. The story of  the Chinese Tower shows that the good burghers of Munich got a little confused about what they were actually faking.

Daryl & Cheeling Italy 318

The story starts with the birth of a Mr. Benjamin Thompson in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1753.  By a strange turn of events, he found himself an officer of the Wittlesbach court in Munich, earning the title Reichsgraf von Rumford, or Count Rumford to the likes of you and me.  He became the first scientist to properly understand the heat-producing effect of friction.  As well, has the distinction of introducing the potato to Bavaria, thus beginning a centuries-long culinary love affair.

He will remain best-known, though, as the founder of Munich's magnificent English Garden. The "English" part refers to a style of park created by landscape gardener Capability Brown, in which paths meander around free-form lakes, in contrast to the squared-off formality of most noble gardens of the day. 

The model for such a park was Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.  As you may know, Kew Gardens features a bloody great pagoda in the middle of it.  Muncheners felt, logically, for their garden to be a proper English one, it should feature one of those pagoda-thingys, too.  Except nobody knew that they were called pagodas, so they called it the Chinese Tower.  A Bavarian oompah band plays daily, on the second floor.

Fake #6.  Arrrr.  Or should that be allll?

You'd need to look long and hard to find such gauche fakery in the east.  But the Pirate Ships of Lake Ashi, near Hakone in Japan, come close.  These boats are really just commuter ferries that have been done up to look like pirate ships, as much as a commuter ferry ever can. The wrapped-up sail on the mast never unfurls; each is, in fact, but a plastic moulding of a furled-up sail. 


This particular Japanese pirate ship seems to bear the Australian flag.  Now, someone should point out that unless Australia has come adrift and floated into the Caribbean, one is unlikely to find an Australian pirate on the high seas.

No pirates. but plenty of thieves.  The convict stock which settled Australia had light fingers around many things, and none so much as British names.  Four Australian capital cities christened a suburb Cheltenham; three lifted Richmond; along with several Canterburys, Henleys, Hamptons, Hyde Parks and Darlingtons. 

Mark Twain, in his book Following the Equator, bemoaned the lack of originality in antipodean place names. He sighed whenever he passed through yet another spot named Victoria. 

(Interestingly, Twain's tour of Australia was entirely motivated by fraud.  In the days before photography was common, fake Twains would tour the globe, and make a pretty penny reading from his books.  Twain thought that he, too, should get in on the racket.)

However, like most fakes, the Australian places are better than the originals.  Except—South Australians will back me up on this—the Adelaide suburb of Southwark.

And on that note, let me conclude our homage to homages.  Echt is ugh.  


Interview 2009: Surfing to Serenity

Neil Kramer takes blogging seriously. And he wants you to take it seriously, too.

That's why he used his blog to create the Great Interview Experiment, in which he invites his readers to interview each other. Last year's Experiment was so successful, that A Free Man ripped it off paid tribute. Neil has repeated the Experiment this year.

As readers of this blog will know, I share their belief that the stories we write online are a new form of folk wisdom.  The oral tradition has become a digital one.  Social historians wish they had such rich material from the past. That's why I participate.

This year, Neil's blog revealed an intriguing writer, who calls herself Long Story Longer.  An astonishing woman. 

If you zip over to her blog, you'll that her current preoccupation is learning to surf, as an adult.  She writes about it with calm and poise. 

She writes about surfing with such thoughtfulness, that any question I might ask about it would seem superficial.  So I checked her back catalogue. 

I'm glad I did. It turns out she and I were both expats in Japan at about the same time.

In my experience, there are some expats who "get" Japan, and love it.  Others find it a frustration and a misery.  I asked her what makes a successful expat in Japan.

"Hmmmm. I think the thing that makes a successful expat in Japan is close to the same thing that makes a good international traveler in general - an openness, a curiosity, an appreciation for things that are different from what you know," she began.

"Having said that, Japan is pretty weird! I've done quite a bit of traveling, and Japan is one of the weirder cultures I've explored. I think it can take an extra bit of openness. I think there's some discrimination and misogyny that runs pretty deep in Japanese culture (for many reasons), and you just have to be really open to the "different, not wrong" idea.

"I adore, adore, ADORE Japan. It's an easy place to visit and to live as an expat, and after almost four years I felt like I could have explored and enjoyed it for a dozen more years without it getting old. It was very hard to leave. I've always said it's an easy place to feel peaceful. I miss it often."

It changed her life so much, that she actually felt some reverse culture shock. 

"My transition back to the States from Japan was difficult in so many ways," she replied.  "I just felt lost. I remember not being able to figure out the credit card machines here (Japan is a cash-based society; I basically went 4 years without using my credit cards), the ubiquity of advertising almost gave me panic attacks, cell phones suck here; just so much.

There were logistical issues - driving on the opposite side of the road (this still gets me—it makes so much more sense to drive on the left!).

More important than the practical side, LSL felt some ennui on returning to normal on her return.

And then the emotional issues—feeling displaced and lost. I'd figured out how to "do" life in Japan. It took me a long time to figure out again how to do life here. I could go on and on. I think the toughest part is that no one in the US knows what you've gone through. I didn't talk or blog very much about my transition because you don't even know where to start. Repatriating was a lonely process. Therapy helped me a great deal."

If the feelings were so strong, why not work abroad again?

I would LOVE to work overseas again and hope very much that I get to do so at some point. I have a feeling I will. I'm particularly drawn to service in the Peace Corps.

However, I was overseas for almost 4 years before, and there is a degree to which it can really put your life on hold. I didn't date while in Japan, and I missed my family a great deal. It can also be difficult in small but irritating ways. I've been back for 3 years and I'm still regularly thankful for the conveniences of living in the States and for being in close proximity to my family.

Every westerner who lives in Japan has a tale of karaoke triumph, or of karaoke disgrace. I asked her about her greatest moments in front of the "Ghost Orchestra".

"Unfortunately, I don't have many fun karaoke stories. I ADORE karaoke, but I was such a sick workaholic in Japan that I only went a handful of times.

Each time, each song involved both triumph and disgrace. Isn't that part of the fun? I do remember singing Leaving on a Jet Plane with a group of Americans once. I remember thinking about the transitory nature of our lives in Japan and getting a little choked up. And I do remember bombing enthusiastically on a Backstreet Boys song. Man, I stunk. But I love karaoke. I miss those private rooms, and the phone that brings you more beer."

Though not a uniformed soldier, LSL's job in Japan was on a military base.   I suggested that Americans hold the profession of "soldier" in greater respect than many other nations around the world.  It is almost assumed that one becomes a soldier as a moral calling, rather than just another highly dangerous job.  I asked for her take on the subject.  Do people become soldiers for the wrong reasons? 

"This is such an interesting subject to me. I knew very little about the military before taking this job...managing banking offices on multiple US military bases. I learned a lot about the military, and the people in it through my position.

My guess is that people join the military for a lot of different reasons, and probably few do it to fulfill a moral calling. However, once they're in, I have a feeling it all changes. I don't know if it was the Vietnam experience or something else, but I think Americans do hold military members in high respect in general. I feel that way. It's such a tough, tough job. I couldn't do it. I take issue with a great deal about the military, but I do have deep respect for those that volunteer."

Since she knows  so many of the US bases in Japan, I asked why the ones on Okinawa have such trouble getting along with the locals, in a way that, say, Yokosuka (near Yokohama) and others don't?

"Regarding the bases issue, I think some of it has to do with the type of base (Marine, Navy, etc.) and the age of the military members.

I had some young, tough bases and those kids were getting in all kinds of trouble. It's understandably very tough on the local population."

LSL takes a strong stance against homophobia.  I asked her if it was a stance she took on principle, or is there a personal connection?

"I have personal connections to equality issues and the gay community, but I guess you could call it a stance on principle. I don't know if I'll ever understand the discrimination that goes on against GLBT people. The short answer is this: I like to hope that if I had been alive during the civil rights movement in the 50's and 60's, I would have been on the right side of that fight.

I try to take an active role in decreasing homophobia and supporting equal rights for gay and lesbian sisters and brothers because I believe it's the right side of this fight. If I say more, I won't stop for pages and pages! This is a hot button for me."

This positive and principled attitude pervades LSL's blog.  It led me to suspect she might be part of a programme like Al-Anon—she confirmed this in her About pages.  It was obvious from her subject matter: the serenity about life, the pleasure in the moment, the heartfelt gratitude for experiences both good and bad.  It's against Al-Anon traditions to tout, and against the fundamental principle of anonymity to reveal too much about yourself or qualifier.  But I was curious to hear about her personal response to the programme.  What was step one, where she decided that trying to control the uncontrollable (like your relative's drinking) was futile?

"Thanks for saying these nice things. I've been going to Al-Anon off and on (mostly off lately - I need to get back) for at least 15 years. I love step one! However, I never had a single step one experience. I have step ones over and over, sometimes multiple times a day. For some reason, admitting that I'm powerless over something and that my life has become unmanageable is so easy for me. I don't have to look very far to see evidence of that. It keeps me humble and reminds me that I can't do it alone, which is a core belief of mine - no one can do it alone. That's part of the challenge and the fun."

Learning to surf in middle age?  I asked LSL if this were a response to a mid-life crisis.   Lots has been written about mid-life crises for men, but little about the mid-life for women, lest it merely concern biological clocks and such.  Is there a difference?  Will it perhaps result in changing career?

"You know, I would say that I'm going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, but it's pretty normal for me. I've been going through a mid-life crisis since around age 8; it's just how my brain works. I'm constantly (daily!) evaluating and reevaluating my personal happiness, my beliefs, my ability to bring meaning to my life and the lives of others. It's just who I am. I'm walking mid-life crisis."

If you haven't clicked the link already, I urge you to visit Long Story Longer.  When you're feeling down, or troubled, or just jaded, her optimism is a tonic.  And to LSL, a hearty どうも有り難とう.  Long live The Phone that Brings You Beer.

Fake, But Sincere. Part One.


The Expat Bloggers's Meetup in Munich came around in September.  And it posed a paradox.

Several visitors  said they would look forward to seeing Munich from the locals' point of view.  The real Munich.  Not the Munich of alpine kitsch and cutesy schmarm.  Not phony tourist traps with a gingerbread facade, and schmuck hanging from every eave. Not the fake Munich.

As one of the locals, a little shiver of panic went up my spine.  I mean, Bavarian culture actually is kitsch, even by German standards.  Take away the the Alps, the classic beer gardens, the palaces and the churches. You're left with....um, I dunno. BMW Welt?  The Hauptbahnhof?

Maybe I exaggerate.  Munich is a powerhouse of high tech, and a hub for avant-garde art in middle Europe.  The splendid Munich Daily Photo captures much of the city's extraordinary, vibrant culture.  A culture which integrates both heritage and modernity.

P1130974But the visitor's eye is drawn, inescapably, toward classic symbols.  The impossibly large beer steins, the lederhosen-clad people on the street, the ornate archtecture, the statuary, the noble boulevards.  And yes, the kitsch.

 None of that is fake.  People do wear Tracht as an alternative to business attire.  They tell time with cukoo clocks. They build houses with steep-pitched roofs, white walls, oak parquet and impossibly-fertile window boxes. They really do drink beer by the litre, and they sure as hell put cheese on everything.

Most cheesy, fairy-tale fakery in the modern world is modelled on the cheesy, fairy-tale reality of Bavaria.  Southeastern Germany exports many things, and the most  prominent is a mental picture of what cute should look like. 

Peonies aplenty

An actual, not-fake hotel in Oberammergau.

Compare the actual Bavaria in the photo above with America's best phony Bavaria, below. Leavenworth, Washington, bids visitors a Herzlich Wilkommen on arrival and a hearty Bis Bald when they leave. And you know what?  They almost pull it off.Leavenworth, Washington, as snapped by Long Story Longer

Close, but no Zigarre.
Picture via Long Story Longer.

Fake credentials.

Anyway, The Honourable Husband is the wrong person to judge what's real and what isn't. 

First, I work in advertising. 

Second, I'm an American of sorts, and I have a Japanese partner.  Both nations, from time to time, seem to prefer a good fake to the real thing.   Just ask Umberto Eco.  

What's up with this authenticity fetish?  Why do we look down on fakes?  Just because it's fake, doesn't mean it's wrong. Right?

Let's take a brief dip into the world of the fake.

Godzilla's Dildo.

A copy is a chance to improve on the original.  When Tokyo needed a TV transmitter in the late fifties, they built one in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.  Bucking the Japanese instinct for miniaturisation, they made it 13 metres taller.   And painted it orange, for safety's sake.

Tokyo Tower. No mistaking it for the original, right?

When we lived in Japan, Master Right and I could see the tower from our home.  How lucky we are to live in Tokyo, I thought!   We could enjoy this handsome, hazard-free landmark, rather than having to suffer the scrawny, colourless original, as we would if we lived in silly old Paris. 

When a fake fakes a fake

Neuschwanstein Castle weaves a perplexing tale of  false authenticity.

Most visitors to Bavaria want to see the "real" building whose image has been seared into our brains as the archetypal mediaeval fortress.  One in which fairy-tale characters frolicked, fought, or found love.  Disney acknowledges Neuschwanstein as inspiration for its theme parks. 

A story circulates about a Californian family visiting Neuschwanstein.  Standing before the drawbridge, the mother declared "There it is! Sleeping Beauty's palace!"

Her ten-year old son shook his head skeptically.  "Does Disney know about this?" he asked.

Neuschwanstein, getting a touch-up from the Imagineers

Neuschwanstein, getting a fakeover

And ask, he well might.  This castle is no more mediaeval than Groucho Marx, Sigmund Freud or Charlie Chaplin.

Completed in the late 1880s, Neuschwanstein was one of the many follies of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. 

(Yes, that king.   Texts describe him variously as manic-depressive, autistic, or gay.  (All were considered a slur in his lifetime. None should be considered a slur today.) 


A fake Ludwig, waiting to be installed at Oktoberfest 2009

The castle surprises visitors with its modernity.  Its kitchen would be considered up-to-date well into the twentieth century.  Wiggy even installed central heating—he planned flush toilets, too, but never lived to see them. 

In spite of it all, Neuschwanstein feels mediaeval; you expect a dragon to fly in and perch on a turret. 

Nobody can pin down which actual mediaeval castle served as the model for Neuschwanstein; the Burg Eltz comes close.  But somehow, the imitation seems as genuine as the real thing.

The picture below, of the marvellous Arizaphale and her Baby Angel on New Year's Day in 2002, is faked.  It was not taken at the real Disneyland.  It was taken at Tokyo Disneyland.  Which makes it a doubleplussgood fake.


The picture does not show Sleeping Beauty's castle.  It shows Cinderella's Castle, since Tokyo Disneyland is not a fake Disneyland, but rather, a fake Disney World

The Japanese designers chose to fake Cinderella's castle because it is larger than the original Sleeping Beauty's castle, which is in turn smaller than the original original at Neuschwanstein, which is much larger than the original original original at Burg Eltz.

(Interesting aside: check out the Cinderella Castle Suite at Disney World—here are some pictures of it.  Now that's fake.)

When it came time to design EuroDisney outside Paris, the tables turned. 

Every French schoolkid knows that Sleeping Beauty is a version of LaBelle au bois dormant, written by Charles Perrault in 1696.  The real Sleeping Beauty's Castle is the Château d'Ussé

According to Wikipedia —and why would they lie?—the designers of EuroDisney felt it necessary to fake more carefully.  In Europe, castles are, y'know, like everywhere.  They sought influence from more diverse and sophiticated sources, such as the monastery at  Mont San Michel.  Do French schoolchildren snigger when they visit EuroDisney, knowing that the Imagineers faked the wrong thing?


Drag queens.  Are they not the ultimate example of "fakes" which are always often better than the originals? 

(I put the word fake in quotes because drag artists are, indeed, true originals.)

Like the city in which they live, Munich drag queens really lay it on with a trowel.  I caught this grande dame at the Hauptbahnhof, on her way to Fasching in 2008.

 Fasching Drag Queen
Ah, one could go on.  But for that, you'll need to wait for Part Two, where we trace another path of fakery from Bavaria to Japan, and back again. Bis bald.


So Taunt Me, Part Two

Morton Gould was a soul in anguish.  He couldn't work out if he wanted to be Charles Ives or Nelson Riddle. 

Like most American composers of his day, Gould paid the bills through  pop music—he was the first musical director for Radio City Music Hall—but  also conducted every major American orchestra, often in his own compositions.

It was his mainstream musicianship that made Master Right swoon, as you can read in Part One. Gould's version of Cole Porter's So in Love signed off the Sunday Night Western Movie Theater across Japan for much of the Showa emperor's reign.  My husband, and many like him, grew to treasure this musical piece, many thinking that it was penned by, say, a Russian impressionist.

It caused such a fog of nostalgia to settle on Master Right's head, we had to track it down. We managed to find some downloadable copies, but most of the sources smelled a bit shifty.  And even now, when everything is e-biquitous, it was harder to find in hard-copy than you'd think. 

Morton Ghoul

A man of prolific brilliance, Gould was a bit of an oddball among mid-century American composers.  George Gershwin, Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein put the energy and innocent optimism of a young nation into melody.   Gould..well, good vibes weren't his strong suit.

 As I type this, an album plays in the background.  It contains Gould's Fall River Legend.   

In Fall River Legend, Gould composed a ballet around Lizzie Borden, who put the term axe murderer into the vernacular.   Other well-known pieces are Ghost Walzes and the Jekyll and Hyde Variations.  The centrepiece of his most successful broadway musical, Billion Dollar Baby, is a funeral procession. 

So when this album arrived in the post, it didn't surprise me to discover Gould dressed a little like an undertaker.

Ah...words like Living Stereo and High Fidelity take me back to a childhood soundtracked by my mother's collection of Dean Martin, Henry Mancini and the lightest of classics, etched into those lazy new LPs which took almost two full seconds to make a complete turn.  (Of course, all the really interesting music of that era, like Elvis and the Beatles, spun much faster on the turntable, mostly in Lo-Fi mono).  

Astro-Sonic 3 Our family coughed for a 1968 Magnavox Astro Sonic specifically to play such albums.  Fresh from elementary school science class, I joked about the badge which read Solid State.  "What?  Do other stereos play with gas?"

I didn't know how misinformed that joke was.  Record players had, unitil then, used an absence of gas, in the form of a vacuum tube.  The handsome cabinets you see to the left were largely empty, save for a small chip full of pills on prongs.  I looked.

Few of us realised the radical change it meant for sound quality. 

Gould experimented with the many different forms of sound that a record could now reproduce, mainly through pizzacato that bordered on  violin torture. In his version of  I Get A Kick Out Of You, Gould uses that pointless technique where you bounce the bow off the strings.  Glorious Hi-Fi makes it sound like a choir of castanets.

Missing the obvious.

Now, you'd think that anyone who is putting together a greatest hits album for Cole Porter would include his masterpiece, So in Love.  Wouldn't you?

Bozo here forgot to check the track list.  WTF?  A Cole Porter tribute that doesn't cover So in Love? 

So we were back to square one.

We googled until our cache was sore, but we couldn't find a copy of Morton Gould's arrangement of So in Love from Curtain Time. Neither on CD nor vinyl.  But one source held hope.

To be Frank.

Frank Bristow holds a vast knowledge  of music in his head.  I'm not sure how he accumulated his collection of Music from the Past, but it's a treasure-trove of mid-century song.  His father was a Captain in the entertainment section of the Australian army, and the teenaged Frank got plenty of scarce vinyl on the sly during the War.  After his own discharge from the RAAF, Frank continued to collect.

As the century progressed, he grew frustrated by record companies who refused to re-release these gems of popular culture, and began to do it himself.  He netwoked extensively with music lovers at home and abroad, and became an authority of some standing.   For many years, he consulted for both Ivan Hutchinson and Bill Collins, two Australian celebrities who held much the same role as movie-critic/national treasure which Yodogawa filled in Japan.

(An aside: Collins is such a film authority that other Australian Bill Collinses have had to take great steps to disambiguate their web presence).

The disc art included a suitably gloomy caricature of the distinguished composer.  We couldn't wait to play it.

The Husbands were trite and as gay as a daisy in May as we set ol' Mort aspin on the digital whirligig.  But it didn't take long for Master Right's smile to go south.

"That's not it," he said.

"What do you mean that's not it?" I sputtered, aghast.  "Frank Bristow, Melbourne's Mr. Mid-Century Music, assures us that this is, undisputably, the one-and-only Morton Gould and his fucking orchestra, fiddling a lushly-stringed So in Love, just for us!" 

"If this disc were any more genuine, it would be lighting a Lucky from a Verdura cigarettte case as it watched Monty Woolley blow a sailor in Central Park."

"Sorry," he repeated, "that's not it."

OK, Morton Gould recorded more than one version.  We were back to square one.

The Vinyl Route

Square one felt quite familiar, by now.  What to do?

The internet proper didn'r seem much help.  Odd, since I thought the internet knew everything.   But like most people with full heads, the internet forgets.  Or at least it has things shoved into a corner and forgotten.

Cached copies seem to sink to the bottom of a million-strong list of hits, and we ignore them.  Sometimes, Google doesn't keep up with pages that appear and disappear in a short time.  (Well that's my theory).  So you can hit gold if you go straight to the source. 

Like eBay.

We found this curiosity for sale.  Odd, since it was clearly labelled not for sale.

It seems that poor old Curtain Time was chained up in syndication hell.  Why?  Here's my theory.

As lush strings made way for mellow rock on stereos across the planet, Gould's back catalogue would have tanked.  This calls for sales psychology. 

 If something costs a buck and it doesn't sell, what do you do?  Drop the price to fifty cents, or sell three for $2.00?  Perversely, the latter works better.

Who was the Unforgettable Glenn Miller?So the sixties and seventies gave rise to direct marketing schemes and record clubs that promised vast amounts of music, offered personally and exclusively to astute collectors.   You would get the offer because you were a member of a elite group of who appreciated such things—like, say, subscribers to the Reader's Digest.

My parents were two such highbrows. Here are two of the boxed sets that our home music library wouldn't be complete without.

Who was the Unforgettable Glenn Miller?
Curtain Time had been reduced to a gift-with-purchase. Columbia also renamed it, and I'm not surprised.

That's neither here nor there.  While googling the track titles individually didn't yield much, googling track list did.  We found many of the tracks on Curtain Time scattered across a number of syndicated collections, skipping from record vault to record vault, reissued in a number of guises.

And it lurked here.  On a used CD, available online.

Master Right now owns a copy of  Morton Gould's version of So In Love. He's put it away someplace safe, to thrill his Japanese baby-boomer pals later. 

Why am I telling you all this?  Because the other day, we found the damn thing on YouTube.  Life's like that, I guess.


Photo Friday: Big and Small

Edo Museum 095_2

The Edo Museum in Tokyo faces a daunting task.  How does one take the largest, most complicated city in the developed world, and make sense of it?  To show any meaningful detail, maps and scale models must be so large, that visitors sometimes need to walk over glass floors to take them in.

Edo Museum 092

What we now call Tokyo was once the Second City of Japan; a merchant city called Edo, built on the banks of the Sumida River.  When the capital moved to Edo for political reasons, the shogunate built a new palace to the west, and the centre of the city shifted with it. 

Edo Museum 057

The museum occupies a spot in Shitomachi, which was old downtown area. The gentleman with the backpack stands on the museum site, in more ways than one.
Edo Museum 042

The arts flourished alongside commerce, especially the visual arts.  The world's first books with colour illustration were printed here, and thus manga was born. 

Edo Museum 063

Edo Museum 066

Edo Museum 060

Edo Museum 104

A little off the beaten track for most tourists, but well worth a visit. This last bit has wandered of the subject, hasn't it?

Edo Museum 072

Photo Friday home

The Bishop Has a Headache

Gay romance is tempered by a realistic understanding of male psychology.

Like any good stay-at home-spouse, Master Right fares me well every morning with a kiss at the front door.  "Do your best." he says, in a literal translation of the Japanese gambatte.
Wurst, Semmel and Senf
"What have you got  planned for today?" I once asked him.

"Nothing much. As usual."

A smile crossed my lips. "OK, dear. Be sure to think about me when you masturbate."

"I will." he said. "Mostly."

My heart filled with sentimental goo. How sweet! Mostly!  He always knows the right thing to say.

Let us segue, deftly, into a related subject.  That Queer Expatriate reminds us that May is International Masturbation Month.  At the annual Masturbateathon in San Francisco, a Japanese national, Mr. Masanobu Sato, beat his own record with almost ten hours of tuggery. 

One would need to check his kanji to be sure, but Masanobu literally means "a proper hermit".  Because Japanese has so many homonyms, it can also mean "polished knob".  No, really.  Check out the Denshi Jisho for masa and nobu.

Mr. Sato wanks for a crust, as it were.  He's the leading stunt-dick for Tenga K.K., a manufacturer of masturbation aids—big business in Japan

(Sato-san to boss: "I have some good news, and some bad news, Bucho-san.  The bad news is that I didn't win.  The good news is that I came first.")

With a tendency toward shyness, an ample supply of erotica, and many helpful devices to hand, one could conclude that Japanese men prefer a quiet buff to the genuine article. 

So from time to time, on taking leave in the the morning, I will ask my husband to say hello to Mrs. Palmer for me.  He smiles politely. But he hasn't yet figured out exactly what I mean.

Shop Local

Yelli lives with her husband and toddler son in suburban Berlin.  Life is pleasant,  safe and rewarding.   Her blog paints a rich picture of days filled with children's birthday parties, choral music, trying out new recipies, personal scholarship, and moments of reflection.

So imgine her surprise—and delight, no doubt, since cookies and choir practice can amuse one only so far—to find a flyer on her windscreen which promised hot steamy raunch.  That was just from the neighbourhood beauty parlor.  Hair and nail salon, and Salon Kitty salon

Beside it, she found a piece from her local sex club.  The two ads are pictured to your left.  A certain similarity, wouldn't you agree?

The latter promised table dancing and all-you-can-eat pizza.  Not sure how that would work.

Yelli read about the forty feminine artistes who would beguile the visitor, and the large discounts which men (and certain hardy women) could enjoy if they stayed for breakfast.  So intrigued was she, that she tastefully airbrushed out the gooby bits, shared it with her blog readers, and invited them to post photos in response.

Yelli was unfazed by this flyer under the wiper.   Many of her countrymen (she is American) may not have been.

One of the things which can unsettle Americans who live or travel abroad, is the matter-of-fact way in which sexual occupations ply their trade.  Pretty much all sex-work is a legit job in Australia, Europe, and US states such as Nevada, where the industry's legal staus affords some safeguards. 

Sexual occupations hold inherent risks—as this recent post from As Long as There's Sidewalks, I'll Have a Job reminds us—and the law can't eliminate every hazard.  But if our Berlin table-dancer breaks her leg after treading on a slippery bit of pepperoni, at least she'll get workers comp.

The Honourable Husband is a man-of-the-world, who has thoroughly acclimatised to a more liberal environment after spending a large part of his life abroad, right?    Our recent trip to Barcelona proved otherwise.  On being approached by prostitutes, I disappointed myself with white-bread hangups.  Hubby's white-rice hangups were even worse.  My reaction was quite disrespectful of the working men and women I have come to know over the years.

For the moment, let's leave aside the manner in which such occupations, under some circumstances, may exploit workers.  (If you need a refresher course on the topic, consult Spinster Aunt Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy.  In fact, consult her anyway; she's brilliant.)

But I digress.  On to Yelli's challenge.

Though Americans are among the most prolific pornographers on the planet, we are the most coy.  By contrast, the Japanese display adult material in abundance, almost everywhere, some of it quite violently sexualised.  The only concession to good taste is that actual genitalia are "mosaiced" electronically. 

Early this decade, we lived not far from Shimbashi, in central Tokyo.  It's quite an important transport hub, where bored salarymen linger after a hard day, enjoying gentlemen's entertainments of every kind. 

Adult section at my local vid store 3

Stars of adult stage and screen would often make promo visits to the local Tsutaya Culture Convenience Club, otherwise known as a video library.  I'm not entirely sure what their autographed photos say.  My guess is that they send a greeting to fans or the management, since we find "san-he" after the kanji

To my eye, one or two of the letters look a bit Korean.  In a perverse way, one shouldn't be surprised.  

I once heard a (female)  Japanese client  make a remark about "those hot-blooded Koreans".   I pressed her on it, and asked if that were meant to be disparaging.  "A little," she admitted, "It's rather like you Americans talking about a hot-blooded Latina. Koreans have a license to be emotional in a way that we don't.   You may notice that our most popular soap operas are Korean."   It seems many Japanese look on Koreans the way some Americans look on Mexicans.  

So, Yelli, that's my contribution to Funny Photo Freitag.  Um, probably not what you were expecting!

On a lamp-post in Roppongi, 2001