Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The first immediately followed by the next 27...

      First things first, I think I should date back to my first blog when I wrote about the rediculously high tech toilets that are found in various locations with various capabilities.  I did not realize that in a matter of a day I can find myself utilizing many different kinds of toilets.  So as my first impression of toilets was based on the noise making, private part cleaning toilets found in the seminar house, I soon realized that toilets change drastically from place to place.  The ol' eastern style toilets...not so high tech, but a cultural gem.  Interesting how you can feel as if your being pampered while doing your duty, or feel like you are excercising and just resting for a second in between squats.  Thank you Japan for making it incredibly easy to see first hand a segment of the evolution of toilets.
     Another one of the pre-arrival assumptions about Japan was based on a somewhat stereotypical western idea on why Japanese people are often times so small and skinny.  "It must be because they eat so healthy, rice and fish everyday, right bro?"  Now I'm not trying to see that I have a reason why Japanese people are so skinny, I'm just saying that the food isn't always as healthy as a westerner may assume.  I must say that my decision to come to the Osaka region was based largely on the fact that Osaka is known as the culinary capital of Japan.  Sold.  But I quickly realized that the people in this region, or perhaps all of Japan, have a love for fried foods, and they sure do love their mayonnaise.  Don't get me wrong, I do too.  But I'm pretty sure its not the karage with mayonnaise for dippin that keeps these people so skinny.  But when it comes to skinny people, once again, don't get me wrong, I'm not complainin'.
      On a final brief note, let me just say to all the western men who now what I'm talking about...The assumption you have about Japanese women, for the most part, its not true.  And thats all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hey, Im not complainin'

      First off,  I learned first hand this weekend after several awkward field work attempts, that there is nothing simple about a middle class white man sparking up a conversation with a host club employee busy on the nightly grind.  Is it because I'm a guy, or because it's clear I have no money to give them...either way, smart men, I like these guys.
      So what I decided to write about instead is something that anyone who takes a second to look around the streets of Japan sees daily, Japanese women and their keen sense of fashion.  Fortunatley for the sake of field work I have a lady friend, Ai, who is, of course, part of the Japanese  fashion culture who was available for some questioning, and Misato, who does not mind being photographed and put on the web.  Cool.

Try texting on your Iphone with these bad boys.

   In my three or so months here in Japan,  I have noticed something about the Japanese female fashion.  Although the seasons and temperatures have changed over time, well, the fashion hasnt changed a bit.  I really began to notice this when  a somewhat cold day came by, Japanese girls are the first ones to let you know how samui they are.  "Samui! Samui!"  So this led to a simple question for Ai, why not wear more clothing?  It only seems natural.  She was very straightforawrd with her answer; "For many of us, it is more important to look good, then to be warm and comfortable."  To each his own I guess.  I can't complain.

Nice earrings, fashionable hat, Pretty Japanese
girl rockin a Red Sox hoodie, I like it.

      The fashion can also, at time, be an example or the younger generation of Japanese people having a certain interest in the Western world.  The day I took these pictures of Misato, when I told her it was so I could write about Japanese fasion she made it very clear to me that none of her clothes were manufactured in Japan.  We then talked about how it may not neccesarily the clothes themselves that represent the fasion but the way in which they are assembled together.  They have the skill to take a series of simple outfits and turn them into one extravagant get-up.  Perhaps its the Western girls that could learn a thing or two.
      In closing, I think it is important to also say that its not just the females in Japan that exhibit these strong traits, but also the men.  Perhaps some of the fashion statements wouldnt go over to well in other countries but I think that Japanese pull it off quite well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

WHAT!? you won! WHAT!? you won!  COOL!

      I have never been one of those people with the ability to avoid my demons, therefore, it was only a matter of time until I found myself in of of Japan's countless Pachinko parlors.  I didn't think that drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette, and gambling would allow me to fit right in on a Sunday afternoon in Japan, but somehow, it did.  Luckily I had my Japanese buddy Takuya with me or I would have been both confused and very bored (its not the most intense game to say the least).
      There are two aspects of this shockingly popular pastime, that stick out to me, one being very different then the norm and one being quite typical.
    The first, after being slightly accustomed to Japanese culture, basically punches you in the head as soon as the doors open.  Japan is a country of very quiet people (for the most part).  You can be shoulder to shoulder on a train and hear a conversation at the other end of the cart.  Well, although nobody is talking in Pachinko (because its too damn loud), it not only by far the loudest place I have been in Japan, but the loudest place I have been anywhere that lacks rock bands and race cars.  The sound of little metallic balls bouncing around and high pitch anime soundtracks echoed through my brain for a while after leaving.
      When we decide to leave we go through the process of turning our marbles into money.  I get my receipt from the first guy and bring it to the second guy.  As I'm waiting in line my buddy says to me, "Hey you know that gambling is illegal in Japan right?"  Interesting.  Then why the hell did I just twist a nob for an hour watching balls bounce around?  Was that supposed to be fun?  Am I about to win a bag of cookies or something?  Well, technically I did win a bag of cookies and some other small weird thing.  Which I had to bring to the third guy, conveniently situated right outside the front door.  I stuck my small weird thing through a tiny hole and then bam, out popped some cash.  This, to me, is another example of how Japan has all of these rules and laws but yet the majority of them are ignored or just not inforced.  I have realized that often times, there is no need to enforce these rules, because for the most part, people just don't break the rules simple because they are not supposed too.  Pachinko is an example of a simple loophole in the system can result in a huge industry found basically everywhere you go in Japan.  Macking the system is not breaking the rules.  Smart people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To the top of Japan!

I have always been a pretty social person, most things I do in life I appreciate having a partner in crime.  But then again, there are times and events that are better off done alone.  My trip to Mt Fuji was just that kind of event.  I feel that the struggle and adventure can be amplified when its all up to you to find you're way.
  I left Hirakata with a backpack full of gear, a bus ticket, and some extremely broken Japanese language skills.  I quickly found the extreme hospitality that is found basically everywhere in Japan.  The hospitality is what I was dependant on the make this solo trip possible.  And it worked, otherwise there would have been only a few times that I was sure I was heading the right way.
      The climbing of Fuji has multiple purposes depending on a specific individuals intentions.  Some are adventure seekers looking to check another summit off of their list, while others use Fuji for its culturally historical traditions, a sort of pilgrimage.   Five different trails on many sides of the mountains are all broken into ten segments, each station marked by a torii.  This is where the religious significance of the mountains becomes apparent.  The packed trails reach a very slow pace when these Torii's are near, it is a time for many of the climbers to stop for prayer.  I enjoyed watching this because it allowed me to do two things that I am very interested in, exploring the outdoors while learning about a culture, religion, and its people, all in one shot.
         Another aspect of the adventure that is important to note is that although I embarked on this journey by myself,  I was never really alone.  This friendliness of the Japanese people combined with the gruelling efforts involved in climbing this sacred beast create a shared feeling of comradery through the people on the mountain.  The climb was the constant exchange of words and encouragement.  While the summit is a feeling that everyone up there is one extended group of friends.  With everyone feeling an extreme sense of accomplishment, a nice pat on the shoulder by whoever you happened to be standing next to was a sign that everyone was feeling proud of you and themselves.  Just after 5:30 AM when the sun poked itself over the horizon and the day began for the entire world,  I was happy to be sharing this lifetime memory with new friends,  friends of whom I will never know their names.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

1000 Words at a Time

Sudan, 1993  -  Famine victim in a feeding center
James Nachtway

John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Annie Leibovitz

Since even before the digital camera hit the scene, the use of cameras by the average person has been very common.  If there are people at any given place or event, most likely there are also cameras, (the majority of of cell phones are equipped with a lens nowadays).  It is the way in which the person behind the camera uses this tool to see and capture the world around them that sets certain people apart fromt he rest.

World famous photographers,  Annie Leibovitz and James Nachtwey, have captured some of the most notable and powerful images in the history of photography. Their work is a perfect example of how incredibly broad the art of photography can be.  While the two of them are similar in the sense that their careers are based on the use of a camera to capture people, places and events...what these two photographers see through these lenses are worlds apart. 

The images shown above exhibit a way in which two photographs can convey immensely different emotions to the viewer.  Annie Leibovitz'z picture of Yoko Ono and the world famous musical icon John Lennon,  is an artistic way of capturing the loving interaction between two people.  Annie uses photography to show the world a part of the popular culture through various abstract methods. While much of Annie's career work is for the Rolling Stone Magazine and others,  James Nachtway worked differently.  He is a war photographer and also those events and people who suffer from the harshness of life such as famine, poverty, terrorism and disease.  James' photography, like the image above, brings to light what many humans in the world would never be aware of if it wasn't for the use of photography in magazine and the internet.  It is far too easy to be ignorant to the horrors of the world. 

These two photographers show the potential power that is held within a camera.  Photography is limitless and the topics can either please the viewer or motivate the viewer to make changes in the world.  It is interesting to look at these two images and what makes them so powerful.  Both men are on the brink of death, whether they are aware of this are not.  The Sudanese man is obviously struggling to survive, while John Lennon was shot and killed five hours after the photo was taken, making this picture even more historical.  What is it that decides the strength of a photo?  Is it death or is it life in its finest?  Photography and what makes it so beautiful is equally vast as life itself, and life and death is the main focus of these two photographers careers.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hamilton! I found them!

As usual, what was intended to be an innocent and simple Saturday afternoon, quickly took a turn towards weird and exciting.  I have been in Hirakata for a little over a month now and have met many people.  The vast majority of the people I have met have not only been females but incredibly fashionable females.  But too be honest, its not at all the fashion I was expecting to see quite a bit of, my best bud Hamilton, who has a deep love and interest in Japanese culture, had me picturing something a little different.  I was looking for people, well, girls, which dress similar to how he dresses back home (plaid skirts, fishnets, spikes, chains, etc.).  Then, suddenly, there they were.
Hanging out at Triangle Park on Saturday I met a few people my age that are interested in what in the US is called the “Industrial Goth” scene.  I didn’t make assumptions based on the way that they were dressed, although I guess that would have been okay, but I talked with them about what they were up to for the night…and of course, they were heading to a concert.  They’re unique style made me feel right at home (or Hamilton’s home).  As you can see, one of the females was wearing more colors then I even knew existed.  From head to toe, and with colors and ornaments hanging everywhere, she was far from subtle.  Although that annoying, ever present language barrier limited our conversation, it was quite obvious that she is not the shy type.
My other two friends, and their spikes, leather bracelets, colored hair, zombie-stomping boots, and fishnets fell under a similar category.  After a short talk about my unsuccessful mission of finding shoes that actually fit, they did what Nihonjins do, they walked me to a new place themselves.  We hung out for a while, my friend let me ride his skateboard around the crowded city streets and then, when the time came, we went our separate ways.  Just like that, I met some people that, like myself, stick out like a sore thumb in the stereotypically westerly fashioned environment.  Thanks guys, let’s all get stared at together.    

Friday, October 1, 2010

These pictures may make this court look like a lonely, quiet place, but indeed it is not.  I decided to write about the small basketball court, which is a few minute walk from the Seminar house that I am living in, as my topic for living in a Hirakata neighborhood. Unfortunately, since I made this decision, there has been about a week straight of rainy days which made it difficult to capture a photo that justifies the vibrancy of this park. The park is one the local hang outs for people who like to play sports, like myself, so I jumped right on in.
              When I first went to the park I rode up on my bicycle feeling slightly uncomfortable.  There were about twenty people, who all knew each and did not speak my language, playing ball with each other.  I walked over and started shooting.  As typical of Japan , all of the people there were very friendly, if your ball got away from you, then they would quickly go chase it down and bring it back for you.  Within, five minutes one of the other players asked me to be on his team for a game of four-on-four.  Good ole fashioned pickup game.
              The basketball court is my way of best describing the all around friendliness and hospitality that is found basically everywhere you go in Hirakata neighborhoods.  I now have friends that I have never even really exchanged a sentence with.  We all have a tiny enough vocabulary to greet each other crack some jokes but that’s about it.  Although we made not speak the same language we all have one thing in common, we ball on the same court, apparently that’s all you need to make friends around these parts.