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Archive for October, 2006

Comments Off on Japan Part 2 of 3: Domestic

Japan Part 2 of 3: Domestic

In our continuing series on figuring out Japan, today, why don’t you learn a bit about Japan domestically? Seriously, why don’t you?

Japan is roughly the size of California – just a bit smaller – with a population of 127.5 million, while the Golden State has just over 36 million residents.

What might account for Japan being smaller than California but having 3.5 times as many citizens? Well, the Japanese live longer, that’s for sure. Life expectancy in Japan is over 81-years-old putting it in the top ten among the world’s oldest living people, a list topped by the people of the small, western European country of Andorra, whose population can expect to live to 84-years of age. For some perspective, the title of lowest age expectancy goes to the landlocked south African country of Swaziland. There, citizens can be called lucky for crossing the threshold of 33-years-old.

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Comments Off on Japan Part 1 of 3: Tokyo

Japan Part 1 of 3: Tokyo

This is a month in the making and perhaps even tardier than that. As your disorientated guide, uninformed teacher and uninspiring leader, I apologize. Let’s figure out Japan.

NBC has done a lot of things right in this, the premiere season of what I hope to be a show of divergent course in the nascence of online-only media. What they didn’t do was give you viewers nearly enough information about our countries of travel. But, then, I suppose that is just what I am supposed to do, and so I am here to do it now.

So here it is: my first in a three part series that might just be my bid for an Encyclopedia Asiananica. I hope all of this will give you a better understanding of one of the world’s more interesting and powerful nation-states. Today, we’re going to very briefly and generally discuss Tokyo in every way I could think you might want to break it down. I will follow with two posts on Japan, a domestic breakdown and then try to place the country in a global concept. If you’re actually still reading, you’re probably alone, so keep going, if only out of pride.

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Donald Richie: Episode Four

By most standards, I am not particularly cultured. So, it might surprise you to hear that recently I was in a small, basement club in Tokyo watching Japanese avant-garde films from the 1960s. Yeah, it surprised me too.

I was there to see the event’s host, an 82-year-old author who has lived in Tokyo for some 60 years. Anyone who takes cinema seriously or who knows anything about Japanese culture has heard of Donald Richie. He is considered a central figure on Japanese film, and the man has pounded out more than 40 books on Japanese culture, in addition to his own films and weekly columns. There is scare a scholar known more widely than he.

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Comments Off on Travel


I am taking a short rest from Tokyo-telling. I was eating my daily breakfast of rice, egg and a soy sauce splash, and got to thinking that your college guidance counselor and showy and nosy neighbor are right, a point that even I continue to harp upon, the strange importance of travel. Between you and me, I don’t even think you have to do much once you do travel to get anything out of it. You certainly won’t learn as much as you can, but if you were to sit on a couch in a different country or a different time zone for just a week or so, I bet you’d see something differently. Don’t think this type of experiential learning requires great lengths.

Still, the grandness of so-labeled “study abroad” is exceptionally altering. I can tell you. I can tell you because I sit writing this at a university in Tokyo, Japan. I can tell you because I took classes at the University of Ghana in West Africa. I can tell you because I even did more than just sit on a couch at these places.

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Comments Off on Bicycle


I made a purchase ten days ago. Ten days is long enough for me to decide that the 9,999 yen ($85 USD) I spent on that hill-clobbering, three-geared, two-wheeled Japanese bicycle was well spent.


I closed my Tokyo bus school-commuting tenure after a month of slobbering on those wide, tinted bus windows as I stared at the skyline above. After finishing my bus pass, I find myself wheeling through those very skylines.

Now it’s me that is swooping past hand-holding couples and ringing my bell at slow-moving elderly men, always with, “sumi ma sen,” excuse me, floating over my shoulder. The ride to school is a hilly trip, which always hastens a sweat on my forehead, even with the increasingly cooler winds of a late Tokyo September riding along my side.

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Climbing Mount Fuji: Episode Three

In my sixth episode, I scaled the iconic 13,000 foot dormant volcano south of Tokyo.

Read about my experience in greater detail: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Comments Off on Jaa mata

Jaa mata

So I have this peculiar habit of ending my entries with, “jaa mata.” From a recent blog comment, it has occurred to me that I never mentioned what that meant. How absurdly anti-educational that is. It comes in closing, so, yes, some of you are savvy enough to understand it is, indeed, a Japanse farewell. “Jaa mata” can be translated to mean “See you again,” while its shortened, and more commonly used, form is “Jaa ne,” which I sneak in from time to time, means, basically, “See you.” Dreadfully complicated isn’t it?

Anyway, for those of you hoping to expand your everyday Japanese, here’s Christopher’s pronounciation guide, (JYA maTAH) yes, JYA being the first sound, not the name of this dreadful show you’re experiencing.

(JYA nay)

That being said, what you should know is what the Japanese call Japan: Nihon. If you are to continue to travel with me in Tokyo, you need to know this, that is just respectful. Nihon, get it, (NEE hone)

And a particularly literate comment brought forth, “Fuku wa uchi,” which, someone far more capable of Japanese translating than I tells me means literally, “Fortune comes in.” (Ignore what Googling the phrase tells you, my source is more reliable)

Commonly the phrase runs as, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi” The Devil is out! Fortune comes in.”

(OH nee wah so TOE. FOO koo wah oochi)

And, while we’re on this subject, I should clarify the two Japanese words I knew before I started learning in the months preceding my Tokyo arrival. “Sayanora” and “kon’nichi wa.” They meant goodbye and hello to me before I learned better.

“Sayanora” is really only used when referring to a goodbye with a sense of finality, as if the departing will not return for a long time. And “kon’nichi wa” is “good afternoon,” though it is used widely, from 10am to well past sunset for some.

See, who among us can say we didn’t learn something new today? Who, I demand!


Comments Off on My Fingernails

My Fingernails

It is 3:53pm on Sunday and it is raining.

This whole typhoon season is no joke. I don’t know if I ever been anywhere that endured so much rain so regularly. It has allowed me to get a great deal of schoolwork done, but it has also kept me munching. I have had two cups of rice, an egg, and a peanut butter and blueberry jelly sandwich. Oh, and plenty of apple juice. Yes, I am terribly wild.

The rain has also made me think which makes me write. I am sorry for those here enduring my verbose incoherence.

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