Tuesday, January 12, 2016

判子!Japanese Stamps! NOW WITH MORE SUBTITLES!

In this episode we talk about Japanese stamps. They use stamps in lieu of signatures to sign important documents and such. We previously posted this video without subtitles and our Japanese friends were confused as to who this was supposed to be for, Japanese people or Americans, as Japanese would inherently already know how they work. Now we've subtitled it for your enjoyment. So... ENJOY!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year and all that jazz! Here's a video in Japanese to start off the New Year!


I've just returned from an extended vacation in the beautiful country of Japan and I'm "homesick." I use parentheses because I'm not from there so I can't really call it my home, but I have many friends and a lot of their parents feel like my own, so I can't help but consider Japan a second home country.

And because I am homesick, I've decided to start a video series in Japanese with a good friend of mine. About 2 years ago we got it into our heads to start a Manzai group called "The Kyonshiis." It was named after the Japanese name for a Chinese vampire. But, since no one in this generation seems to know what a Kyonshii is, we've decided to change our name. And our new name is, トカゲ•パラダイス (Lizard Paradise)! Check out our video where we talk about some differences between Japanese New Year and American New Year. It could be good practice for anyone studying Japanese to hear two foreigners speak it. Hopefully. I hope you enjoy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Restaurant Review - Pizza Slice: Possibly the Best Pizza in Tokyo

Recently, a friend of mine and I passed a pizza place, aptly named Pizza Slice, on the way home from Shibuya one night. As we perused the interior, it had a look to it that was trying a little too hard to resemble a New York pizzeria: white tiled floors, neon lights that read "Pizza" beckoning patrons, pizza behind glass, pizza boxes piled ceiling-high, the whole nine yards. And this being Tokyo, their effort most definitely worked as it drew our American eye balls to the wooden menu standing outside the restaurant door.

The price didn't seem half bad for a slice––300 yen for a slice of cheese––so, as we were quite parched at that point in our journey (not eating lunch does that to an individual) we decided to stop in for a couple.

Now, as any American in Tokyo knows the pizza options here can be a little, well, sparse. It ranges from sorta kinda decent (Gust, Saizeria) to probably-okay-but-horrible-for-the-price (Domino's, Pizza Hut, Pizza-La). And they can be on the small side. It was a surprise, then, that Pizza Slice's, ahem, pizza slices were the sizes of slices we were accustomed to in LA from pizza places that attempted to resemble New York joints. I've never been to NY so there's no way I can make an accurate comparison, so I have to go with what I know.

Taste-wise, it was definitely as good as any place you'd find in Los Angeles that serves this kind of pizza. The cheese was nice and mozzarella-y. The pepperoni were big and pepperoni-y. The grease was as runny as you'd expect the grease on pizza to be.

Complete with greasy paper plate.

This place was hidden under the train tracks just like a pizza place in New York would be, so I hear. It's what numerous movies and television shows have also told me. Even the toilet was an American one, complete with palm tree and American flag near the entrance to the bathroom. There was one glaring omission, though. An omission that might be unforgivable to someone more strict than I am, and that was the absence of parmesan cheese on the tables. This may be to due to the relative high price of cheese in Japan, or maybe the owner's just an a horrible asshole that doesn't deserve our business anymore because I wanted some goddamn parmesan cheese, dammit! But I kid. I don't even use that much parmesan cheese on my pizza. But if you're one who does that's one thing from home you will definitely miss, so remember to BYOC.

That blemish aside, you'd be remiss to pass this place up if you're looking for a great piece of pizza in Tokyo. It might quite be the only place you'd find something that matches the stuff from home, assuming you call Los Angeles home. Come on, New York pizza can't be all that different. Can it?

3-1 Sarugakuchō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0033, Japan

Extending a Tourist Visa in Japan: Yes, it is Possible

Of all the times I've been to Japan I wish someone had told me this earlier. Perhaps it's common knowledge and I'm just late to the party. But I used to think that if you were a tourist, it was a strict 90 days max and you're out kind of deal, but apparently, as I was told recently, I can absolutely extend my tourist visa. And you can too!* As soon as I heard this bit of information I headed straight down to my local immigration office, which was in Yokohama.

All you have to do is make a trek down to your nearest immigration office (入国管理局Nyukokukanrikyoku) and fill out an application and you're on your way. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying it, but if you have what you need the first time you go there it should be relatively painless. I did not have what I needed which resulted in a second day visit for me, but if you're smarter than I am you should be on your way to  a longer stay in this beautiful country of Japan.

Things you'll need:

  • Your Passport
  • The address of your current place of residence 
  • A decent reason for wanting to extend your stay

The reasons I have include wanting to visit other friends in other places that I haven't had the chance to yet, and more research for a novel I'm writing (check my other writer's blog if you're interested ;)). And I gotta say, I'm getting a lot of more inspiration for it now that I have a chance to stick around for a bit. 

The great thing is while you're in the interim you're allowed to stay here legally for two months until your results come, in the form of either a phone call or a postcard, which you provide the address for. And then if you get the extension it's good for the specified amount of time––most likely 90 more days––from the point you get the extension. So, you're good to stay for 5 months total, potentially. That should be plenty of enough time for you to get all of your sight-seeing in. All in all, it should cost about ¥4000 for the extension. 

Happy traveling. 

Here is a handy list of immigration offices throughout Japan:

If anyone more knowledgable has contradicting information then please, someone feel free to correct me. 

*This info is for tourists traveling from America. 

Some Advice For Visiting Foreigners in Japan: A Cautionary Tale

Hello all.

I've been visiting Japan for the better part of two months now and I've learned some interesting things about Japan that I wouldn't have thought about before. I will now impart this knowledge in the form of advice to those of you who are planning to or are currently visiting Japan. It's not so much advice as it is common sense, but I had a particular image of Japan before I came here, even despite being here 8 times before.


Now, as many of you who have visited/lived here can attest to, Japan in believed to be a safe haven from crime. Where one does not have look behind him/her a dark street for fear of being mugged or having your things stolen. Where people can leave their belongings unattended in a Starbucks without fear of it being taken. A land where, if you drop cash a friendly native will see it, pick it up, and return it to the nearest koban. While that's still largely true for the most part, this belief will lead people to keep their guard down, much as I did when had my wallet and cell phone stolen in broad day light. I'll spare you the small, useless details, but a friend and I left our belongings in an unlocked car in a small neighborhood in Higashi Totsuka of all places. We were going back and forth moving things between the car and a location from which our car was visible, but it was rainy that day and the thief took advantage of our rain-dulled senses (That's all I got here) and made for the car and took both of our things. The crazy thing was it must have been within a ten minute period as were not away from the car for longer than that. Our stuff was taken by a modern day ninja (allow me this stereotypical description, just this once please).

The irony here is that just before my departure to Japan a Japanese friend and I were trying to convince a non-Japanese friend of mine back home that Japan is the aforementioned land of all that is safe from crime. An ironic situation that she, when told, definitely did not miss the opportunity to reminded me of.

Also lost: a beloved Alf-themed t-shirt, a pair of black jeans and a bag that a friend's parent bought for me. I'll miss that Alf shirt the most, though.


Now, something I've heard you definitely need to do as a foreign tourist is to carry your passport with you at all times just in case you get randomly stopped. And as most people will rightfully think carrying around their passport is tedious. Especially on days you won't necessarily carry a bag of some sort around with you as I have been known not to frequently do. Also, the relatively recent American passport is quite rigid due to the RFID imbedded within it and carrying that around in your back pocket is sure to add unwanted stress to that sucker. So, me being me––I'm quite the mendokusagari––I opted to walk sans passport. I've gotten away with it for the previous 8 trips, so I thought this time would be no different.

One night I decided to take a walk at 1am in the morning from Nishi Nippori back to where I was staying at the time––I figured It'd save me the cost of a typical expensive Tokyo train ticket, and I'd get some much needed exercise out of the deal. It was then when a police car slowed near me. But I thought nothing of it. This is something that hasn't even happened to me in Los Angeles so you can imagine my surprise when it happened to me here in Japan. I was stopped for WWF (Walking While Foreign). Had I had my passport with me, the altercation would have possibly stopped right then and there. But, of course, I did not. So, these fine policemen called for back up in the form of another cop on a bike. They made some radio calls back to the station and they all accompanied back to the station. Not the common neighborhood koban where'd you'd go to ask for directions or some other similar mundane task. No. The actual local headquarters. As I entered the station everybody there stopped what they were doing and stared at me as I walked the down the halls to an empty room. Needless to say I felt like quite the common criminal. Upon further inspection of the faces and attitudes of the officers in the station I surmised the probable reason for my short incarceration: the ever-dreaded BOREDOM. As many places as there are that I want to visit that I have not yet had the chance to in Japan, the inside of a working police station was not one of them.

After a few questions about where I was from and subsequent questions asking me about how Los Angeles is, about an hour and a half later they finally drove me back to where I was staying so I could retrieve my passport and show it to them. But hey, the upside is I totally saved money on a ticket that night. So, in my eyes my mission was absolutely accomplished.

So, rather than actual advice this is a cautionary tale. Some people might think, duh, it's common sense. Don't leave your stuff in an unlocked car and always carry your identification with you. But, as any Japan aficionado, or––as told by the looks of shock upon the faces of my Japanese friends when I told them this story––even the Japanese natives will tell you that being a victim of theft is incredibly rare and not at all expected here. The passport deal, though, is probably a case of sheer stupidity and stubbornness on my part.

Anywho, as you might expect, I now keep my phone, wallet and passport on me at all times no matter where I go here. And anyone other than those with common sense and smarts reading this, please learn from my mistakes and don't ever keep your guard down. Even here in the magical land of Japan.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate for Japan


Just the other day a lovely non-Japanese friend of mine declared to me, I FUCKIN' LOVE JAPANESE PEOPLE! While I too shared her affinity for the island full of people I share half of my heritage with––or is it a fourth, me being half Okinawan (It's all very complicated)––I couldn’t help also thinking, simultaneously, BUT I ALSO FUCKIN' LOATHE JAPANESE PEOPLE!

I mean that somewhat facetiously, but a lot of what they do and how they operate as a culture does indeed infuriate me to no end––do you know how strong an emotion infuriating is?

That then led me to ask myself, if they cause me to feel such a palpable negative reaction to the mere mention of their existence, why then, as many of my friends know of me, do I love the country so dearly and want to exist there so much? It goes well beyond just sharing blood with the people. I have non-Japanese friends whose command of the language and knowledge of the culture far exceeds mine, and who know of the horrors I will soon speak of, yet, still love Japan, seemingly, unconditionally. But why?

I compared it to the oft talked about reason women like broken men (I’m sure it happens the other way, as well): perhaps I believe that if I stay with Japan long enough I can truly change it from the inside out. Foolish and futile, I know, as I am but one lone half-breed guy with zero influence in what I will eat for dinner on any given night, let alone enough to change an entire first-world country. But did the insurmountable odds stop Harry Potter and or Batman from trying? Or, to use a more appropriate, Japanese-themed analogy, Goku? Actually, Goku has his roots in Chinese literature, but hopefully you get the point.

Let’s get the good out of the way.

Since it’s been talked about ad nauseam, I have nothing new to add, so I’ll just lazily blast-list the great I find in Japan:

Food, culture, castles, comedy, porn, technology, efficiency (good lord, the efficiency), the service, the variety in all things tangible, the convenience stores, the vending machines, the trains, music, and, lastly, food.

Yes, I mentioned food twice. It’s that good––certain types not withstanding, of course––that it deserves a second mention. I’m not some idiot that doesn’t proof read my posts to make sure I don’t accidentally mention things twice twice.

Now, the bad.

Working Just to Work: The Japanese Work Ethic

Now, it’s great that they have such good work ethic. Indeed, without I would not have the efficiency, the food, the technology, and pornography that I love so dearly. But, it just seems that the people work just to work.

About two years ago I got the opportunity to work at a small production company that a friend was working at, largely thanks to a favor I did for them that same year. Now, despite the head honcho telling me I could come in at around 11am, my friend, who I was staying with at the time, tended to drag me along as he went there at around 8am, and he also drug me home at around the time the last trains ran, despite being done about four hours prior. During this time I observed what he did, and maybe it was fatigue that clouded my ability to judge things properly, but I could have sworn he wasn’t being especially productive during this extra time in the morning and in the evening. That led me to the conclusion that Japanese people do just work to work, perhaps in some attempt to look good to the boss. I know that’s absolutely the case in probably 90% of the work places in Japan, but the boss at this particular company actually spoke to me of wanting to start a union––a concept which, to my knowledge, doesn’t currently exist in Japan––to change the way Japanese people work, so I was reasonably sure he wasn’t cracking some kind of S & M-styled work whip, forcing my friend to come in when he didn’t need to.

Indeed, I recall another friend, in response to staving off boredom, or some similar subject, saying, “I’ll just work all the time.”

Again, another friend of mine used to talk of working morning, noon and night, often not having the time to properly eat or sleep. Normally, this would be said in the tone of a complaint, but he used to speak of it as some kind of accomplishment, or badge of honor. Like he just did a bunch of reps at the gym. “Yeah, I worked to the point of complete exhaustion and starvation today. How many overnight shifts can you do?”

That’s some deep engrained shit right there.

The real kicker, though, is the word “Karoushi (過労死)” which, by the definition in my Japanese-English dictionary, means “death by overwork and mental stress.” Had I not looked that up I was just going to say “death by work”––a gross underestimation.

They have one single word to describe what it takes a full goddamn six-letter sentence to explain in English. I absolutely detest that that word exists.

The overtime situation can be blamed for that, as people are expected––EXPECTED–– to work overtime shifts, many times, if not in every case, not being compensated for their extra time. People wake up, go to work in the morning, go home on the last train, go to sleep, then repeat that process six more times throughout the week. A position that is great for masochistic workaholics, but not so desirable for 90% of the rest of humanity.

There’s no wonder Japan’s suicide rate is so high. And it’s not like that it’s a recent phenomenon, either. I remember, when in high school, waking up and watching the Japanese news and there would be an almost daily story about some poor student or salary man jumping off of a building or onto the path of an oncoming commuter train effectively ending their existence. And that was eighteen years ago! Suicide is rampant there, the rate of which has rapidly increased since the nineties. Rampant is a word usually used for things like looting, or measles, or teenage sex. It shouldn’t be used for mass self-extinction.

It’s gotten so common that people actually complain about the distressed jumper disrupting the flow of their workday. I hear the jumper’s family actually has to pay for damages. It’s an actual problem for the country that begs the question, at what point does the country stop blaming the victim and start thinking to themselves, hey, maybe we should look internally and figure out that it’s maybe the way we do things that’s the real culprit?

Hey, maybe it’s mass decades-long data collection for all the inevitable robots that they plan to build to do that work in the future. At least that would provide a comforting narrative to all the sad chaos that’s happening.

But, apparently, it's not as bad as I once believed, so there is hope. 

The whole work situation in Japan is probably the one thing I most hate about the country that I love.

Above the sexism, the bureaucracy that I hear so much about, above the robotic nature of the people, above the near non-existence of free available wifi in an industrialized country that should totally have that––that one is a biggy.

And the reason why it takes precedence over everything else is perhaps that I can see change in the other compartments. Japan is like America in the fifties in some aspects. I can see change in sex inequality as years go by, slow as it may be. The opinion many hold of the unfriendliness of some people is something that seems to change by region and not a countrywide thing. And Osaka recently just tried citywide wifi. But years later I see no change in the Japanese workplace.

Now, I know I sound like some kind of whiny lazy American who doesn't like to work, but I just don't believe life should be lived away from it. It's that simple.

Maybe, in a couple of years Japan will change they way they do things and I’ll lose all the efficiency and tasty foodstuff and convenience I gush about to many people, but if that results in a stark drop in the suicide rate than, I believe, it would have been worth it.

In the meantime, I’ll take the good, I’ll take the bad, and I’ll largely shut up about it.

Japan, you beat the shit out of us, but we still love you in spite of the abuse.

your battered foreign boyfriend.