Monthly Archives: February 2009



My co-worker, colleague, mentor and most importantly, friend, got laid off today.  I know that in these times people in every field are losing their jobs and that he is but one of many.  However, reading about these happenings and actually being close to someone to whom it happens are very different.

We worked together for nearly 3 years, seated across from each other.  I’ve gone out to lunch with him on innumerable occasions, have been invited over to share dinner with his lovely family, and have spent about 6 hours with him every week day for 3 years.  He’d worked at our company for about 10 years, applying his knowledge and creativity to ensure that things went smoothly.  And just like that, he’s gone.

He got a phone call yesterday morning, I waved him off as I went to help someone with some issues – and never saw him again.

I don’t understand how or why this all happened, save that it was in the “in the name of cost-cutting”.  I know times are hard for all companies now, and perhaps they really tried everything else they could think of to save money in other areas…but I doubt it.  At least not in a way that would make us little people feel like they cared.  I can’t imagine what my friend is feeling, what it must be like to go home and tell his family that he no longer has a job, but I feel betrayed.

It’s just not right to call someone in, strip them of their badge, and send them home.  Not after so many years of service and dedication.  He didn’t even get a chance to pack up his desk – I’ve just finished putting everything in a couple of boxes and mailing it to him with the help of one of the admin staff.  It’s just not right.

There’s already a replacement set to come in from next week, and I’m sure business will run as usual soon enough.  But it’s a shocking feeling, knowing that one is so…replaceable, an insignificant cog in the corporate machine.

Humor Thoughts

The chicken is the star of the show :)

Used to have pet chickens when I was young – remember one day rescuing a crippled baby chick that we’d found lying on a garbage heap back in Togo.  Took her home, fed her yolk with an eyedropper, and kept her warm with a towel wrapped in a hot water bottle.  Though her feet always remained crippled, twisted so that her “toes” pointed inwards, she survived to have her own little chicks in time. 🙂 In fact, the chicken in the Youtube clip is almost identical to her in terms of color and size!

Still think chickens make better pets than rabbits!  Definitely don’t agree with Herzog’s saying that “…chickens are cannibalistic and horrible. What is most frightening about them is when you look directly into their eyes: what looks back at you is dullness, death and dullness.”  True, chickens do eat meat – but so do gulls, eagles, hawks, vultures, owls… you name it!  Chickens are cute >_<

Sights & Sounds

Neal’s Car!

Neal got hisself a car for Christmas but since I rarely see him these days I wasn’t able to post pictures till now!  It’s a Mazda RX8 sports car – very slick and cool.  He was kind enough to let me practice a little as a warmup for my starting driving lessons hopefully sometime next month or the month after, and I have to say that I have a whole new appreciation for the intricacies of handling a vehicle..

First of all, his car is a manual (which is also the type of license I’ll be aiming for), and learning how to go from 1st to 6th gear seems ridiculously complicated because you have to take the clutch into consideration (only managed to try practicing going from 1st to 2nd over the weekend since we’re trying in a deserted parking lot at 0200 in the morning!).

Second, gauging distances (especially when reversing) seems downright impossible, especially given that you’re just using teensy little mirrors…but I guess at some point it gets easier – I hope!

There’s more, particularly adjusting sensitivity during the switch between clutch and gas (I stalled quite a few times), taking into account slopes (stalling on a hill would be a nightmare!) and… well, it was quite an experience.   I hope to get a few more practice tries before going in to start lessons because I really don’t want to pay more than the minimum cost (already a hefty 158,000 JPY) which only provides 20 hours of practice time.   I know I’ll be bugging Neal (whenever I get to see him next)! (^^;

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Sights & Sounds

Just like sardines

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I know there are already too many articles/discussions on the topic of packed Japanese subways, but having just just “enjoyed” the experience yet again yesterday morning, I thought I’d write a bit about it.

With over 127 million people crammed over a spread of land that is smaller in size than California(!), space is at a premium and a certain amount of elbow-rubbing on a daily basis is almost unavoidable.  One of the worst extremes of “elbow-rubbing” can be experienced on the subways – particularly during the morning rush hours.

Millions of people make use of the subway every day, with Shinjuku station alone estimated to average 3.64 million people per day in 2007 – that’s 3,640,000 people per day at ONE station!  I recall shortly after I first came to Japan and going through Shinjuku – the sheer volume of people around me was more than a little overwhelming and almost claustrophobic.  Fortunately, the Japanese railway system is nothing if not punctual and highly efficient.  It is (almost) accurate to the minute, and generally very dependable.  Things do break down a little though, most noticeably during rush hours and in the event of “accidents” (usually a polite euphemism for jumpings/suicides).  

Rush hours in Japan are typically from 08:00 to 09:30 (though trains are already up and running AND often already contain a number of people by around 05:00).  There are other crowded periods throughout the day, though the only major time period is probably between 17:30 to 22:00, other time slots (usually) less in duration.

Yesterday morning, being a Thursday (when I have a short conference call with other offices), I had to catch an earlier than usual train -got on the 08:02 train from Higashi Kurume- which meant that I got to experience the fun of being forcibly pushed into the train cabin.  I’m used to my first train being extremely crowded actually, at least from Kurume to Ikebukuro.  However, it was even worse on the Marunouchi line, which is almost never the case when I get on around 09:20 (as opposed to getting on that line at around 08:30 yesterday).  One young schoolgirl near by actually broke down with what I believe was a panic attack, crying and breathing so heavily that I thought she was going into shock.  I felt really sorry for her because she was so small and I do believe women really have the worst of it in such physically crushing situations.  Luckily there were a couple of sympathetic women around her who gave her a plastic bag (in case she had to throw up) and helped her get off at the next station so she could recover.

The rush hours can get pretty bad, for various reasons:

  • -They often serve as your very own personal virus exposure chambers.  Just one person with a cold who’s not wearing a mask, hacking and sneezing all over the place, is bad enough in any enclosed space – but in a packed train you don’t have the option of even turning your face away as his/her virus-bearing droplets come flying your way.  I am also positive that the trains serve as breeding grounds for super-powerful viruses given that you have different people with all manners of cold/coughs/flu crammed together.
  • -Some people have distinct personal hygiene issues.  You get people smelling like they haven’t washed for days (especially bad in summer…), at night you have inebriated businessfolk breathing sour fumes of beer/shochu/assorted liquor in your face, and my personal pet peeve – people who have dandruff so bad that you can see large flakes in their hair and a liberal coating on their shoulders – BIG ick for me to be crammed up against someone like that >_<
  • -The crampedness can cause some tempers to flare up.  Sometimes understandably such as when you get someone stepping on your toes (especially bad for women again), or when the flood of people forcibly pushed by you manages to tear a button or two off your coat.  Other times, you have the occasional people who always seem permanently grumpy, who seem to begrudge the fact that they need to share their space.  These people get seriously touchy if they get nudged in the slightest, usually responding by violently shaking their shoulders and elbows to get people away from them.  Not nice.  
  • -The crowded environment is also a perfect hunting ground for that lowest of life forms – molesters, otherwise known as “chikan“.  (well, perhaps they are not THE lowest of life forms -there are even sicker people out there- but they certainly rank among the top 5 in my opinion)  There isn’t much one can do when smashed up against people – there is no avoiding physical contact, some of which can be a little embarrassing.  I have gotten pretty good at twisting around to avoid such situations (see my tip at the end of  this post) but some people deliberately maneuver themselves in such positions where they can “accidentally” brush against women.  It’s very difficult for a woman to do anything in such situations because a) there’s no place that they can move to, and b) that twisted lowlife can just keep on pretending that it’s all accidental.  I’ve even read on the news that there are “clubs” or groups of people who get together just for this, even providing tips on effective ways to act out their twisted desires.  I’m not a violent person, but hearing about such people REALLY angers me. /rant
  • -It can get pretty dangerous, having so many people pushing to get in.  People have been known to pass out from being squeezed in so tightly, and I would never take a child or someone physically fragile onto a rush hour train.  The image of sardines in a can is particularly apt, given that we’re so packed together that there’s no room to fall down – some people even use the opportunity to doze off, using your shoulder as a pillow and counting on their fellow passengers to keep them propped up.  

Despite the negatives I list above (and these are the just ones that immediately come to mind – I know there are more), on the whole the Japanese railway and subway systems are very well maintained and comprise a vital part of the Japanese transportation system.  There is simply no other feasible replacement for this method of transportation given the lack of available space in the country.  Plus they’re fast, efficient- and environmentally friendly!

That being said, you haven’t experienced the “real” Japan till you’ve been shoved in a packed train car by the ever so helpful station attendants, or served as a human cushion for when a drunken businessman decides to do a bellyflop dive into an already overpacked train car (yes, I’ve seen this happen)!  (O.o)

Tip: Keep hands raised in front of chest if possible.  It forms a sort of ‘shield’ that can help expand personal space, as well as showing to women that you’re no molester.  Also, try to maneuver around so that your hips, side, or back are the parts of you that are touching others – not the front.  Trust me, there’s less potential for embarrassment that way. >_<


Random humor :)

Saw the following picture on a bag in a convenience store yesterday while house hunting – so bewilderingly Japanese and definitely rofl-worthy (click on picture for larger size) 🙂

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Here’s what it says, if you have trouble making out the text:

“It is waited that it enters the post and the letter reaches.
The letter is sure to reach from the friend today.
The Mr. postman flower is delivered to the sign.”

It made me think of “Please Mr. Postman” – and I don’t even know why I know that song as it’s a bit before my time!


Addendum to my 2009 resolution list

A couple of weeks back, I posted on a few things I wanted to get done this year, namely the following:

  • Move to a place of my own (a frustrating process this is turning out to be)
  • Get at least one IT certification (I have none to date, and should the insanity that is plaguing the economy negatively affect my employment, I’d better have SOMETHING that can vouch for my minor skills – and it’s already February – need to get cracking on this!)
  • Get better at running (this, at least, has some noticeable progress – upped my weekly run to 11km from 10km)
  • Get a drivers license (putting this on hold until I’ve moved)
  • Save (in these uncertain economic times – I think it’s important to have something saved up for a very possible rainy day)

And I think I’m going to add a couple points here, both expanding on the “Save” resolution, a subset if you will:

  • 1. Buy fewer books!!

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I’ve just realised that I’ve bought 17 books from Amazon since the year has started.  SEVENTEEN.  In just over a month.  Not only (as you can see from the picture) are the space constraints in my current 5.5 jo room being stretched far beyond their limits (yes, those books are on top of a bookshelf, almost hitting the ceiling, and 3 deep – and this is but one bookshelf out of 3) but books are also fairly expensive.  I do love reading… but I think I should at least try to make an effort to limit my book purchases to a more reasonable… 2? 3? a month.

Last year I bought a total of 56 books from Amazon Japan (where I do most of my book buying) – 49 for myself, 7 for various friends and family.   It does not take into account books I’ve purchased off Amazon US or books I bought in brick-and-mortar shops – easily at least another handful apiece at each.  All in all, I probably bought anywhere between 65-75 books last year.  Yipes!

  • 2. Cook!

This is a resolution that, once again, will have to wait until after I find a place of my own.  The reasoning behind this is that by cooking I can save on the costs of eating out, which, together with book buying, probably consists of the bulk of my expenses.  Whether or not this will actually be the case, i.e. whether or not this will actually save me money, remains to be seen, but at least it will be a good hobby/skill to brush up on.  I don’t think I’ve cooked in any way seriously since my family left Japan (even while they were here I didn’t do much cooking!)  For some reason I’ve been having a hankering to start cooking, whether it be baking cakes and cookies, or regular meals.

Alot hinges on my ultimately finding a place of my own.  It’s been a lifesaver staying at my current location in the past for cost-cutting reasons, but now… I really REALLY am ready to have a place of my own.  There are just little things that are gradually coming up in regards to how comfortable I feel where I’m living now and sometimes I feel that I may be wearing out my welcome.  But heck, after 3+ years here… it’s really about time for me to move on.

Wish me luck that I find a decent place in the coming weeks!


And here we go again.. HAKUCHON*!

As the days lengthen and signs of spring start showing themselves in the form of the odd flower bud here, and the less lovely occasional mosquito there, it’s also time for that bane of millions of Japanese – kafunshou or “hay fever”.

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Simply put kafunsho (kafun=pollen, sho=disease/ailment) refers to the apparently bountiful cedar pollen floating about, triggering allergic reactions in roughly 20% of the Japanese population.  I have less than joyously joined the ranks of the sufferers.

I’m not sure exactly why or when I started suffering from an allergic reaction to pollen (heck, I’m not even sure if it is pollen-related!), but I do know that I seriously started feeling it about 2 years back and  it’s gotten progressively worse since.  In my case, it’s characterized by itchiness/wateriness in the eyes throughout the day, random and agressive bursts of sneezing, and overall miserableness.  Last year was the worst period to date (I would wake up in the morning with eyes watering furiously and the whites of my eyes completely red), but though I had a blood test in an effort to isolate whatever was triggering my allergic reactions, nothing in particular came up save a small reaction to house dust mites – apparently I had no reaction to sugi (Japanese cedar, traditionally blamed for the majority of allergic reactions in Japan).  This makes no sense because if this were purely due to house dust, then I would suffer all year-round.  My theory at the moment is that somehow cedar pollen combines with house dust, transforming into a super powerful mutant allergen whose sole purpose is to make Jeff feel wretched.

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There are plenty of items available on the Japanese market for sufferers, primarily face masks and medicines.  However, a) I’m not fond of drugs and avoid them whenever I can, and b) masks are an especial PITA to wear if one has glasses.  Though there are some masks that are supposedly made especially for glasses wearers, another factor is that my nose constantly runs (thanks to all the sneezing) and there’s no point wearing a mask if I’ll be constantly be taking it off to blow my nose. (apologies for any gross imagery)

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Last year I started taking flaxseed oil and that did seem to ease the symptoms quite a bit.  The primary downside to taking them is that they are huge honking capsules – and recommended dosage is 3 capsules 3 times daily!  However, I’ve already started taking them, and we’ll see how it goes – so far at least my eyes are watering less, but then again, the kafunshou season has just started…

Mom has also mentioned that she will be sending some eyebright – I’ll try taking that in conjunction with the flaxseed oil and see how it goes.

At the moment, I’m fighting a double battle with a full-blown head cold as well as the onset of kafunshou season and I’m definitely not at my best… thank goodness tomorrow is a holiday…


 * “Hakuchon” or “Hakushon” is apparently the onomatopoeic word for a sneeze in Japanese (ie, the equivalent of “achoo!” in English)

Food & drinks

Bacon explosion…

Despite being American-Japanese, I have never really felt a need to live in the US.  Certainly, there are things I love about America; primarily the amount of space (anyone who’s lived in Tokyo for any length of time will understand),  English is spoken (sometimes it is simply frustrating not being able to express oneself, and for important matters such as looking for a home, lack of language is a major obstacle), and…food.

Yes, America doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to food – roughly 142,000,000 Americans over the age of 20 are considered to be either overweight or obese.  There is just so much food available, and when it tastes good… we eat.  It’s normal and a very natural survival mechanism.  So, I can sympathize.  However, for my own health, it’s just as well that I’m not living there!  (^^;

One of the foods that I LOVE but cannot readily get in Tokyo is bacon.  Real bacon, not the miserly little soggy scraps of paper-thin meat the Japanese call “bacon”.  Real bacon is thick, crunchy, and substantial.  See below for the difference between Japanese bacon, and real bacon.

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Costco is the only place I know of that sells real bacon in Japan, but they are so far away and with individual packs costing over 800 yen, it can get a tad pricey if you want to stock up.

The reason I started this post is because I came across a recipe for what has got to be one of the most artery-clogging dishes ever – but still looks so wrongly good (vegetarians will probably go comatose after reading how to make the bacon explosion).

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I know that this is extremely unhealthy, I KNOW it.  But… I can’t help but want to take one bite of that.  Just one.  Just to see what it’s like… *big sigh*  But I can’t.  I can’t even get a quarter of the amount of bacon needed to create that monstrosity, and living by myself, I wouldn’t do it, even if I could.  But it sure does make me hungry for some real bacon.
I leave you with a link to a place that is unashamedly promoting their extremely unhealthy meals – at least they’re honest about what you’re going to get when you go in there! (and no, these dishes don’t appeal to me – too much beef there.  Just give me a rasher of real bacon and I’ll be happy 🙂

News Thoughts

Minor volcano eruption in Japan

It turns out that a volcano erupted not far from Tokyo almost 3 days ago – and I never knew.  It’s just so easy to be oblivious even to events that occur in the country you happen to live in!  Though I guess my lack of a television probably contributes to why I tend to be a little behind on current events.

In general, I don’t mind the lack of a TV – no time to watch even if I did have one, and I get my TV shows and cartoons using… “alternative” means (^^;  This suits me fine most times.  However, every now and then I worry that something will happen (Gojira might stomp on Tokyo, aliens might invade earth… or volcanoes might erupt.  I think I am most definitely going to get a TV of my own whenever I move into my own place.