Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas

Off to America for the holidays. Have a good one, I'll be back in about 3 weeks.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to Lose Weight (in Japan)

(photos from some the Christmas illuminations in Tokyo)

I will go back to San Francisco for the holidays. It's been over two and a half years since I stepped on American soil. Suffice it to say, I'm a little different.

Maybe my personality has changed. Maybe I now talk as if I'd gotten drunk and took a quick nap with my lips in the snow. Yeah, if I talk to you like you are a 5 year old Japanese child, just remember... I've been talking to 5 year old Japanese children for a while now.

But no, the biggest change is not mental, it's physical. Besides a kick ass goatee and some stunner shades, there's a massive difference.

A 95 pound difference.

I have lost almost 100 pounds, 40 kilograms. I was a hefty guy back in the states, but at 6'4" (192cm) tall, it didn't really show. I think jovial is a good way to describe my look. Other words to describe my look would be stretch marks and giant nipples. Anyways, I came to Japan.

In Japan the pounds just melted off, with no end in sight. Is it ironic that one of my favorite movies is The Machinist?

"Tell me your secret!" cries every Japanese housewife I tell this too. It ain't Billy's Boot Camp or banana diets. It's actually pretty simple.

Step 1 - Diet

Just stop eating refined sugar. That's all I did and I lost about 25 pounds. Depending where you live, you are probably consuming a ton of refined sugar and corn syrup in your diet. You know how much sugar is in a Starbucks Frappucino? Neither do I, but stop buying those.

This is the only diet change I recommend. Most diets require additions or replacements. Replace all carbohydrates with more protein. Add some crazy shake that you have to buy mail order. Replace meat with this traditional African grain that has been used by natives for 2000 years. Add a couple mystery pills to your daily routine.

Subtraction of something you don't really need is easier than addition of something you aren't accustomed to. After a month of no sugar, I didn't even want it anymore. The occasional taste was nasty. 3 years later and I'm still pretty sparse with that stuff.

Step 2 - Exercise

You need to exercise about an hour a day. But actually this is impossible, because you are lazy. You could join a gym, and maybe you would go for a week. But then you'd never go again... ever. No one actually ever goes to the gym. The only time I actually heard of someone going to a gym was on the internet. And the internet is full of liars. I was about to expose this farce by infiltrating a gym in Japan. But they thwarted me by having a "No Tattoos" policy in their membership agreement.

So what to do? Get a job that requires you to ride a bicycle to work about 30 minutes each way. Then wake up late every day and you will be forced to ride at a heart exploding speed every morning. You will burn / sweat / vomit away the pounds.

Step 3 - Stress

I can't stress this enough, you need to remove stress from your life. If your job is stressful, change it. If your girlfriend gives you grief, get out. If your hobby is playing video games that you can never win, fucking quit it.

I went from staring at a computer screen for 10 hours a day at work to a job where I interact with children all day. My hobbies went from sitting in front of a computer playing video games to... well... sitting in front of a computer writing lame articles about losing weight I guess.

I could write a lot more about being happy at all times in life, but I'm actually very serious about that part of my life, and don't want to subject it to the sarcasm that is all over the place here. If you really want to know about meditation, neuro linguistic programming, and living in the moment, you can email me.

Step 4 - No Prescription Medication

If you are an American, you are probably over medicated. If you are lucky enough to have health insurance, it's like "Sweet, I need to get the most out of this before I lose it. Ride the gravy train all the way to healthsville! Hey doc, sometimes I can't sleep, but sometimes I get too tired. You have some pills for that?" Seriously, my doctor at the big HMO told me, "You might sleep better if you don't drink 4 espressos ,play 6 hours of XBox when you get home, and then go to Taco Bell at 1am every day... but I have these 3 pills you can take instead!"

Of course, if you need some medication to survive, like insulin, you should take it.

But honestly, is anyone really going to follow my advice?

I mean, I tell everyone about the no sugar thing, but do they listen? Never. A Japanese housewife wants cake like a fat kid wants... cake. Have you noticed that every street near every station has at least 3 hairstylists and 3 cake shops?

Has your weight changed in Japan? Most people tend to lose a bit when they are over here. Some other, only in Japan, reasons might be
  • Summer is like being in a god damn jungle on the hottest day of the year, wearing a down jacket, next to a volcano. It's hot and it sucks.
  • The toilets have a special button that gives you an enema with hot water. Sparkling is a good adjective to describe my level of cleanliness.
  • The only bread is this horrid Wonder Bread type stuff at the supermarkets. And it always comes in packs with 5 or 7 slices. Turkey is non-existent in Japan. And cheese is hella expensive. You guessed it, I haven't had a real sandwich in years.
Yeah... 95 pounds.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Studying Kanji

Dude! You're doing it wrong!

For anyone who uses SRS methods to study, or more specifically, the Remembering the Kanji method, you can see that I've become... lazy lately.

I'll outline the way I've been studying Japanese for the past 6 or 7 months. If you have any advice, please let me know in a comment. This is an important thing for me, and I could use as much help as possible.
  • Study grammar and basic vocabulary from theGenki textbooks. There are basically 3 different beginner books out there, with Minna no Nihongo and Japanese for Busy People being the others.
  • Enter all the new vocabulary into Anki, the SRS program I use.
  • Each night I review vocab and basic grammar structures with Anki.
  • Study Kanji seperately using the Remembering the Kanji method. This is the method where you study the pieces of Kanji and make stories for each word. There is a separate SRS application on that website. I've gotten into the habit of only studying Kanji on the weekends, when I have downtime at my weekend job. As you can see from the above screenshot, I've been neglecting this lately.
  • Recently I found this site, Read The Kanji, and I really like it. Lately I've been using this a lot and entering the tough ones into Anki for my nightly studies.
This is how I study at home when I'm on my own. I practice all the time with friends, language exchange partners, and Junior High students.

I'd love to say I study a good hour a day, but it's more like 30 minutes on average.

Advice please!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Caves and Buddhas in Okutama

Set out early on what would be the last ride of 2008. It's to the point now where you can only comfortable ride between 10 and 2. Outside those hours, it's damn cold. Maybe Santa will bring me an electrically heated motorcycle jacket and gloves this year.

The destination was these huge Buddha that I found last year. I sort of knew where they were, but the fun is in the hunt.

A couple wrong turns, some mountain road, and I was somehow lost. Checking the map, I noticed something random near me.

The Nippara cave. Turns out the Chichibu mountain range west of Tokyo is a lot of limestone, so naturally there are some caves. In is the only direction to go.

For some reason, the good luck thing is to stick your 1 yen coins anywhere they will go. So the whole cave ends up being a big dumping ground for trash money. No idea how they got on the ceiling though.

Onward, in search of Buddhas.

Or freakishly huge haunted limestone processing plants.

Finally found the temple. Last time I went, I was all alone. It was past closing time, so no one was there. Today I was able to actually enter the Buddha.

Once inside this 35 meter statue, you can climb a spiral staircase to the crest of Buddha's head.

Another interesting detail, the inside was covered with tens of thousands of tiny versions. I asked someone, and each small one costs 20,000 yen, about $200.

To be honest, though, this place is magical. If I had money to burn I would gladly donate to something like this. I know, I know, it's some crazy Buddhist offshoot cult place, but it's the thought that counts.

Then I had to ride down the temple's mountain road, which is maybe a 50% grade. On balding tires. On wet leaves. And I was drunk.

Drunk on beauty that can only be found in the mountains of Japan.

Monday, December 08, 2008

JLPT Test 2008


The JLPT is an annual language proficiency test for the Japanese language. It is in 4 levels, with level 1 being the highest knowledge of the language. So level 4 would be best described as gettin' by. Last weekend I tested my knowledge of gettin' by in Japanese.

Immediately on entering the classroom, I notice the smell. Damn, white people are hella stinky! Seriously, you have some nasty BO.

Smell aside, the test was pretty easy. First was a vocabulary and kanji skills section. Out of 40 questions I wasn't totally sure on 3. And these were minor pronunciation issues, which only really matter on a test I think. Next was the listening section. I had no practice for this before, but it was pretty simple too.

Random side note. There was a little girl, maybe 6 years old taking the test. One of the listening questions was like this:

Guy: Hey, you want something to drink?
Girl: You know it.
Guy: I got coffee, tea, or juice.
Girl: Tea please!
Guy: You want me to put some liquor in that tea? Cmon, lemme make that oolong into an oolong-hi.
Girl: What the fuck? You're crazy, I don't want no booze in my tea!

So some little 6 year old girl had to answer a question relating to putting alcohol into tea.

Last was a grammar section, which was the toughest section. Grammar is learned naturally, and when we speak, we use grammar that sounds right. Of course, there are rules behind the usage. For this test I had to memorize all sorts of rules. I also had to do other things in my life, like watch True Blood, which took priority. But it doesn't matter, because passing is 60%. So, yeah, a grade of F is passing. Word.

Is there even a point to taking anything below level 2? Level 2 is the qualification to be hired by an international company. But, honestly, with something like language, I don't think a company would give a shit if you have a piece of paper or not. They'd probably just... I don't know... try talking with you in the language. But, hey, I don't tell you how to do your thing.

Does anyone have any funny stories from the test? Like in mine, these two dudes showed up after the first section of the test was finished. Then they still sat for the rest of the 3 hours. Also, I heard at the level 3 test, some girl's phone went off with 2 minutes left in the test, and she was disqualified. POW!

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Ja-ge = Japanese Game

Maybe you read my previous post about Japanese Game. The one where I accidentally told a group of 12 year old boys that fucking is called Japanese Game. Well, my slip up spread like wildfire and was cleverly shortened to just ジャーゲー (pronounced Jah Gay). So now every student in the 1st grade of Junior High mentions Ja-Ge when they see me in the hall. That's about 120 students.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. So far the other teachers seem oblivious to it, and actually it doesn't distract from any of their learning. If anything, it makes them listen.

Listen for any chance to answer a question of mine with a ja-ge answer.

What do you like?
I like ja-ge!

What will you do after school?
I will ja-ge!

When is you birthday?
It''s... it's... JA-GE!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Driving Ticket

This lovely sheet of paper and matching 6000 yen bill is courtesy of Tokyo's finest.

You know that lane that says バス専用? Yeah, that lane isn't for motorcycles.

バス is basu... bus.

専用 is senyo... exclusive.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hong Kong

I went to Hong Kong. It's a long story, but some I have some older, wealthy friends in Japan who took me. The likely answer to any questions you might have are either "No" or "Shut the fuck up, I can't believe you'd ask me something like that". So yeah, I went to Hong Kong.

It was a crazy rushed Japanese style tour.

Arrived at the hotel, checked in, and took a walk. I'm proud to say that my first conversation with a resident of Hong Kong was with the prostitutes in the park just outside. Sweet girl, but she did the whole grab your arm and then violently push it away when you are clearly not buying thing. They totally do that in Japan too. If you can't sell something in 2 minutes, do you yell at the customer?

I woke up at 8, and began my tour. Not just any tour, but a Japanese tour. I'd heard that Japanese people love to be led around, told what to do, and taken to places that cater to Japanese taste on their organized tours abroad. I don't think I'm being an insensitive jerk because I've heard this from Japanese people, foreigners, and people who actually work as tour guides. Am I in the wrong here? I was about to find out if this was true. I'll save you the suspense. It's totally true. Japanese tours are whack!

The first stop after a traditional Hong Kong breakfast or rice porridge, fried noodles, and dim sum was Victoria Peak. You take a tram up to one of the best cityscapes in the world. It's breathtaking. I could spend a few hours up there easily.

But, being a Japanese tour, we took a photo and left after literally 1 minute.

The tour bus drove for 30 minutes to Stanley Market where were given an hour to shop. "Given an hour to shop" will be a recurring theme.

The next stop was this fly beach with some crazy temple. Seriously, this shrine was filled with mosaic statues of all sorts of animals and deities. All at the water's edge. 1 minute for a photo, then back to the bus.

At about forever on the bus o'clock, we got to the jade "factory". Followed by the silk "factory". These are just warehouses that cater to tourists who want to buy traditional things. They also excel at getting people who don't want to buy shit to buy some shit. Actually, I kind of want a silk suit.

On to another temple. This one was really intriquit and I could easily take a couple hours to wander around. Sorry, 1 minute to take a photo and have our fortunes told by a fortune teller with an internet connection. They type in your stats and hit the print button. I know that all this palm reading and astrology is all math and logic, but I don't want to hear it unless it's from the mouth of some ancient guy who knows nothing but where the stars were on my birthday 30 years ago.

Oh snap, this dude totally has on a Dexter's Lab backpack. He's like 40 years old. That's kind of awesome.

Another hour of shopping, this time at the duty free shop. They don't sell fake stuff at the duty free, so what's the point. This is Hong Kong dammit! I want some phoney Luis Vuitton gear.

After the tour I walked around by myself for a bit. Hella shady dudes kept coming up to me trying to sell their stuff. Like every block some new guy is talking in a low voice trying to get me hooked on his product.

In the States, if some dude comes out of an alley to slang something, I'm expecting drugs. In Japan, it's gonna be blow jobs from an Asian girl who is pretending that she is a native Japanese girl. But in Hong Kong... it's a tailor. A damn tailor pimp. These guys are everywhere. And their as pushy as the whores in the park at night. Some dude tried to physically force me into his shop to take my measurements.

There's an Avenue of the Stars with a sick statue of Bruce Lee. I caught the morning sun as it glistened through his fingers.

The Hong Kong Avenue of the Stars is only for Chinese people. Like Jet Li.

Bruce Lee.

Also fish.

Did you know that Hong Kong is known for french toast and "pantyhose" tea? Well it is. According to the guidebook in my hotel room. It seems like they needed filler space. "Let's see... we have dim sum, egg tarts, fish ball soup, but we still need to fill half a page. What did I have for breakfast?"

Also famous for duck pancakes. Yeah, a fucking dried duck flattened like a pancake.

Check out these weekend warriors! The Hong Kong Harley group was chock full of rich wall street guys decked out in pristine leathers. I'm being bitter because I'm jealous. It was god damn 25 degrees in Hong Kong! Tokyo is like 10. I had to have a finger amputated because it froze off on a motorcycle ride last weekend.

Jumbo is a famous boat slash restaurant. The waitress rolled her eyes at us and got mad when we took too long to order.

Mong Kok is where to go for the fake goods. Hundreds of street side shops selling jewelry, bags, and clothes. I bought some Ed Hardy shirts for myself. Word.

I also found the only alleyway with decent street art in Hong Kong.

Most of Sunday was spent looking for motorcycle gear (I heard stuff is about half price in Hong Kong) only to find that motorcycle shops are closed on Sunday. Whatever.

That night, the tour bus forgot to pick us up at the hotel and we had to take a taxi. The end.

Meanwhile... back in Japan.