Further Lessons in Branding

GOO.N – I never really found out what this product was because this display was next to a shelf full of mysterious products at a drug store that I pass by everyday but never bother to look at. Just background noise, you know. But GOO.N caught my eye. The small Japanese subtext says, “goon.”
This photo is significant in that is the last photo I took with my first camera-equipped phone. I bought a new phone today, the Sony A1402S. I’ll write up a review for it on my main blog soon.

Sayonara, Right Wing News

Fox News Channel To Sign Off In Japan
This was inevitable I think. When they changed to paid subscription in the aftermath of the their first announcement of quitting in 2001, I was happy because the option was there to add the channel to my SkyPerfect TV (satellite broadcaster) plan. The thing is, I half think that they must have wanted an excuse (low subscription numbers) to bail entirely, because the monthly fee was set at 1,000 yen. Not a reasonable amount when you consider that CNN and BBC international editions (in English and Japanese) are free with most basic plans.
So I bookmarked channel 740 as a favorite and it showed up every day (except the 20th of every month, when SkyPerfect unlocked all channels as an incentive to subscribe to more channels) as the single black screen in my slideshow channel surfing routine. Every month for the past year, when my statement for the service would arrive I have considered just making the jump and adding Fox News… In fact, I was thinking about it just yesterday, so this sucks in a way – but then again, I’ll never have to think about it again. It’s not even an option. Nice and clean, black and white, oh so Zen in that it Is or Is Not. And now it Is Not. And I am stuck with Japanese news channels, CNN, or BBC.
I want my news “Fair and Balanced.” (Wow, I almost said that with a straight face.) Let me state that a little better: I’m sick and tired of Paula Zahn in the morning asking people if “Abu Grabe” should be a deciding factor in the continuing existence of the universe as we know it and would like to subscribe to an alternate news channel (other than the Beeb since they are just like CNN in, but blimier). However, 500 yen a month is the maximum amount I’d be willing to pay. I only watch TV news when I’m not in the mood for computers or my hands are busy when cooking, etc. 1,000 yen a month is OK only if there are no commercials (and those 5 minute interval splash screens are in the same category as commercials).

Balloon Bombs

Until today, I had always been under the impression that there were no civilian casualties as a result of Japanese attack on the US mainland during WWII. Wrong:
Sure, I’d heard of the largely ineffective shelling of oil fields in Santa Barbara, a telegraph station in Vancouver (Canada), and Fort Stevens in Oregon by Japanese submarines, as well as forest fires caused by incendiary bombing done by a sub-launched plane (which were fought by the predecessor of modern smoke jumper batallions, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion). I’d also read about the balloon bomb project fugo launched on the emperor’s birthday in 1944. However, most of the reports I had read until now lacked in detail regarding effectiveness of these weapons, or simply stated they had caused forest fires in Washington or Oregon.
Starting from the bibliography in the article linked above I will begin researching this subject further as I find it interesting that a minister’s pregnant wife and children could be killed with so little consequence (although the media blackout convinced the Japanese to stop the program, which may haved saved many more lives). Oh, and that the Japanese could have caused a nuclear accident and prevented or delayed the nuking of their own country with paper balloons floated in the airstream. Read the article, it’s a revelation in many ways.

Wokking Around

How about the ever-popular *hugs* ? (>_< )( >_< ) My intellectual offering for today is a short story written exclusively in the *hugs* format (as in, "You broke up with Brandon? You poor thing! *hugs*”):
*wipes shit out of eyes*
*stir fries kitten with soy sauce*
*breaks wind*
*soils pants*

The Black Bus

You know those yakuza flicks where they roll out the ultra right-wing buses to intimidate politicians, extort businesses, and generally act like assholes by holding up traffic, blaring their horrible anthems and ranting over stadium PA systems? This is a real life example of a Black Bus. I could theoretically get in a lot of trouble for posting this photo (which is at least one reason why I’m posting it; there are plently of people who talk about this kind of shit but the lack the guts to call attention to it). I think everyone should know specific examples of criminal and inherently evil elements of Japanese society that are consistently ignored by the media and law enforcement – which perpetuates the very existence of said elements, of course.
This photo was taken in front of Nara JR station where this bus and two others like it came close to causing accidents several times over the course of an entire afternoon. The cops sitting in the police box in front of the station wouldn’t even get out on the street to direct the traffic overflow. They sure looked nice and cool in their air-conditioned little box, though. What a fucking joke. Almost as funny as the propaganda spewing from the loudspeakers mounted on buses like this. Yeah, take back all the disputed islands from the Koreans and the Russians! Restore the Emperor to power! Return the proud warriors of the Rising Sun to their rightful place in the high court of the Golden Chrysanthemum… Or some such bullshit… Nobody understands or really gives a rat’s ass what their message is anyway. The message is not the point.
The purpose of their noisy crybabying is to draw attention, through being a major pain in the ass to their immediately targeted area, as well as society in general. It’s absolutely amazing to me that these fuckers aren’t even stopped or cautioned by the cops when pedestrians are jumping out of the way and scurrying just to get across the street for fear of being run over.
The saddest thing is that the Black Bus tactic must work, because they seem to be increasing in number every year. We even have one on my island (actually not so surprising since Awajishima is like a yakuza retirement community).

Driving Impaired

I’ve got just enough time for a quick rant in between meetings today so – 3… 2… 1… Today’s rant is aimed at stupid drivers who won’t admit they lack multitasking capability: If you don’t have the mental capability to yap on the phone and drive at the same time, STOP DOING IT – YOU ARE A FUCKING MENACE. Coming to work this morning, this fucking guy in a black Mark II (Toyota, what else?) is trying to reach somebody on his cell and I can tell he has a major problem using both sides of his brain at once because every time he raises the phone to his ear, the car drifts to the left… Waaaay left. At first he is conscious of the danger he is posing to pedestrians and bicyclists so he stops fucking with the phone till he gets to the light. Then as he’s dialing or whatever the light turns green but he doesn’t notice. So I sound off with my horn, just a short “wake the fuck up, moron!” beep and not a full “GETTHEFUCKOUTTATHAWAY!” blast, and homeboy panics while shifting because, of course, as a full-fledged Toyota owner he has put the fucking gear in Park. So I start to sweat as his reverse lights come on and he steps on the gas, lurching toward my front bumper, then stopping just as suddenly about 0.117 inches from it. Then – I love this part – he gives me a dirty stare in the rearview as if the whole thing is my fault. He takes off, I follow. And thirty seconds after narrowly avoiding an accident, the guy is fucking with his phone and drifting left again…
My single greatest achievement in the area of anger management/road rage is my conscious prevention of escalation. I credit myself with great foresight because it’s been nearly two years since I stopped carrying a wicked-looking handmade scythe from Kyushu, a brushed metal pull saw, a hockey stick wrapped with black duct tape (nickname: “The Castrator 2000”), and a long-handled sledge in the trunk of my car. It’s not as if I ever really needed that stuff where it really made a difference… And it was much too fun having it in the car. I mean, what the fuck would YOU do if someone came after you with a scythe?
And you guys back in the states have to take this all in context – this is Japan. Ain’t nobody gonna pop a cap in your ass and make witty “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight” remarks. Plus, real katanas are too expensive to keep in the car (fake ones lose against the scythe – I have yet to give it a nickname but it stands in my house’s entryway to ward off the NHK toll collector once every year).

Speed. Power. Focus.

I was shootin’ the shit with a salesman from TUV (a safety standards certification company) a few years back and found out he was a long time student at a local Shorinji Kenpo (Japanese shorin = Chinese shaolin) dojo. We went out drinking soon after. A few too many beers and hours of talking about favorite kung fu movies and martial arts/fighting in general led to a sloppy session of chop-socky in the parking lot behind the bar. It was just good-natured fun and a testament to how well we got along, but ended with a bloody nose (his) and torn suit pants (mine) because, like I said, we were pretty toasted, and I got in a lucky shot when he challenged me to try to get in a hit. His nose didn’t break or anything, but it did start dripping blood and he got that crazed look in his eye so I used my failsafe technique – the Sir Robin – and ran away… Then promptly tripped over a parking cone, skinning my knee on the gritty pavement and tearing my pants. We both ended up laughing pretty hard at that and it ended the night on a good note.
Our conversations that day stirred up childhood memories of Tae Kwon Do class and our sensei, Master Shin. Master Shin was a former ROK marine hand-to-hand fighting instructor who immigrated to the US in the hopes of hooking up with, in his words, “a fine white lady.” Before deciding on Tae Kwon Do, my mother had taken me and my sibling to several different dojos and I remember very clearly choosing Master Shin’s dojo because he ran the tightest operation. Even through eleven year old eyes, Master Shin was clearly a good teacher, and knew his subject very well. I remember Tae Kwon Do lessons with much fondness, because it was the only time all of us kids were in the same class, so to speak. We are all two years apart in age, with me at top and Merin (the future doctor – maybe) at the bottom (four all together – Justin, Mika, Adam, Merin). I think Merin was around five when she started, and she ended up being Master Shin’s pet student, because she was the youngest in the dojo and an absolute terror. I’m sure she would have ended up biting her opponents to capitulation if she had been old enough to enter tournaments. She was an absolute doll on the dojo floor, still wobbling around on the unsure footing of post-toddlerhood, yet delivering perfect block-feint-roundhouse combos on a munchkin scale.
Master Shin knew how to bring out the killer in us, which I suppose is not a surprise for man who made his previous living teaching soldiers how to kill with their bare hands, and I cannot speak for my sibling, but I basically saw him as a god among men. You know that scene in the Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi breaks the beer bottles that the rednecks put on his truck? Master Shin did that in real life, before that movie ever came out. There was a picture of him doing it in the LA Times, a split second where his ridge hand is chopping through the fifth bottle of eight or nine in a row, his face scowling with fierce concentration. When I saw that picture, I just knew that he was picturing those bottles as enemy soldiers, because he had the gift of being able to channel his anger. Years later when I saw Emperor Palpatine harnessing the power of the Dark Side and shooting energy bolts from his fingertips in Return of the Jedi, I thought, that’s Master Shin. Perhaps that’s not the best analogy, because I never really thought of our sensei as being a bad man, just a real life bad-ass, in every aspect. He would scream at me when I was sparring and I could beat bigger kids several belts above me simply because my fear of getting hit was a lot less than my fear of disappointing my sensei, wasting the training he put us through. I would later carry this attitude into high school sports where it served me well.
Master Shin was from a different culture, a culture of tough guys, and this was one of my first glimpses into Korean culture. I learned from him that a man must back up what he says. This was back in the eighties, I guess, and discrimination against minorities was still out in the open. Local rednecks would sometimes jump students from our dojo who had done nothing more to deserve it than wear a gi out in public. Master Shin vowed to get back at these guys, and I heard from one of the senior students that he did it in a particularly nasty fashion, especially after one of them threatened to pull a gun after they intruded the dojo during an advanced weapons course at night. We never heard the specifics of that situation and never asked, either. I was present when a bodybuilder from a nearby gym came in and wanted to arm wrestle with Master Shin. Guess who won? It was all over in an instant. Master Shin could channel his energy into the “one inch” later alluded to by Mr. Miyagi. While lecturing, he would sometimes hold pine boards at arm’s length with one hand and splinter them in a blur with his free hand. “Always remember,” he would say, “the most important things in a fight are: Speed. Power. Focus. Hit faster, harder, and more accurately than your opponent, and you will never lose. SPEED. POWER. FOCUS.”
Yes, we were taught the art of breaking in our classes. It is often frowned upon by purists these days, but it was definitely one of the most fun parts of training. I guess the downside of this is the various fist-size holes in the walls, broken doors, and other war scars our house accumulated over the years as tempers flared and anger manifested as destructive kinetic energy (sorry, dad).
Back to the musing on culture I started above, I think one should imagine Master Shin in context as having come from a warrior society (specifically, the ROK marines) when I relate stories like the Pig or the Bunny Rabbit:
The Pig:
Master Shin taught us the spear-hand technique, but banned us from using it in practice. Too dangerous, he said. Only a technique for killing. He told us that to pass his advanced course in the old days, one had to kill a boar with his bare hands. This was where the spear hand was employed, a linear strike with fingers extended and slightly curved, designed to penetrate flesh. Apparently, the hardest strikes sometimes result with elbow-deep penetration into the pig’s head.
The Bunny Rabbit:
I have always regretted not having been able to go shooting with Master Shin, because this was before the Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Bill and all that other hoplophobe bullshit and he apparently had quite an arsenal – full auto Tommy guns, Uzis (Did you know these were classified as obsolete in Israel last year?), etc. Anyway, Master Shin decided he wanted some realistic target practice, so he bought a rabbit at the pet store. Which is kind of horrifying from a typical American viewpoint, except that it doesn’t end there. The rabbit, in fear, would not budge, no matter how it was prodded, screamed at, frightened. I have this mental image of Master Shin turning red with anger and screaming at the top of his lungs, maybe firing off shots to scare it into motion, and yet the furry little bunny not moving an inch… A rabbit is not a boar, I guess. Interestingly enough, I don’t remember what happened to the rabbit, but it would be really touching if Master Shin ended up keeping it as a pet… Somehow, I doubt that, though.
I wonder what happened to Master Shin. We never kept up through the years, but I hope he is still teaching. Maybe I’ll look him up the next time we take a trip home. It would be cool to hear some more war stories, I reckon.

Decisions, decisions.

Yesterday being “big trash” day, when one can dispose of the unnecessities that clutter life, liberty, and the, um, American way with impunity – you know, old furniture, broken appliances, the big stack of bathroom reading material that’s been piling up for eighteen months – I made a major life decision and threw away all of my frying pans. Five, to be exact. They were all used extensively over the years and starting to sport bald spots in the Teflon coating or rust spots at the handle joint, so I threw them out. People who know my packrat ways will not be surprised to hear that I found it extremely difficult. It was like parting with old friends, or shooting Old Yeller at the end of the book. Tragic, unforseen, yet in retrospect, inevitable. For that is the sad-but-true way of the world – all good dogs die too soon.
These were, after all, the tools that enabled me to provide fine fare for myself and those I care about for several years. Some of these pans had followed me around since college, you see. One funny thing is that more than anything I couldn’t bear to stand the thought of someone else finding them in the trash and for some digusting reason deciding to take them home and use them. I guess I’m just extremely possessive in that sense – I would have melted them down into stainless steel ingots if I’d had the equipment. As it was, I did the next best thing by cooking garlic-heavy dishes in each one, methodically creating smelly carbon buildup on the frying surfaces, and then throwing them out without washing. Jesus, tossing that shopping bag full of frying pans on the garbage pile felt like drowning a sackful of kittens in the river.
Now that I have used both cat and dog analogies, perhaps we can move on.
My house hasn’t been panless for many a year and as the designated Fryer of Meats, today I could think of nothing except what kind of pans I would buy after work finished. I mean, I know I can be a weird, lonely introvert at times, but I’m pretty sure this was a new low. But hey, I figure that life is short and if getting older entails being excited over the choice of new cookingware, then true feelings I must express. I was really happy to go shopping for new pans.
For the past hour I was browsing the kitchen section of Jusco, feeling the heft of each and every frying pan they had for sale. I compared stainless steel to cast iron to titanium, and coated to non-coated to dimpled, ridged, and scalloped. I evaluated the top contenders mentally on a point scale, and almost ended up with a mixed set of the winners. Then, craving unification, I almost broke down and shelled out 150 bones for a set of T-Fal pans because they have some nice shapes in the right sizes. In the end, I bought a cheapie pan and am doing the nerdiest thing imaginable. I’m doing research on the net before investing in a matching set. And yet, it makes me immensely happy. It somehow provides me with purpose in life.
I am turning 30 this year. This whole aging thing is getting pretty scary. By the time I’m forty I’ll probably be collecting spoons and driving a white Toyota. So if you love me like I love you, you will shoot me sometime before then.

Coca-Cola C2 Review

Behold the bold statement of my camera-pic in the sidebar (if you are a late comer see it here), gritty resolution and all… Beach, blue sky, familiar-yet-slightly-changed beverage container (as people in countries that the Mekong river flows through are fond of saying, “same same but different”). What does it all mean? Say it with me now: Guarana!
That’s right, Coca-Cola’s new C2 drink tastes like a watery guarana-based drink. I have no idea if it actually contains guarana or not because I only had the patience to read the first line or so of the ingredients in heavily katakana-ed Japanese. It listed the usual suspects, you know, sucralose, phenylkeurolepticemphasemiatidisestablishmentitariffic acid, and the common marigold, so it didn’t really capture my attention, so to speak. One sip was all I needed to determine that I had tasted a similar soda pop before: Antarctica Guarana, a product of Brazil. I am quite sure of this because I remember downing a six pack of it mixed with a fifth of cane sugar alcohol, then getting sick in a garbage can all night with Los Fabulosos Cadillacs jamming incessantly in the background. Ay. Anyway, C2 tastes like a watery version of Antarctica Guarana. As in, not quite ass but not very good, either. As such, I predict C2 will be a failure because of the numbers:
Calories: Half
Sugar: Half
Carbs: Half
Taste: Much less than half as good as regular Coke.
Coca-Cola is apparently after the fence-sitting target segment of consumerland with this product – people who can’t decide on Coke or Diet Coke. A possible indication of failure to come is this: I would rather drink half a portion of regular Coke than a full portion of C2, and surprisingly, I also prefer the taste of Diet Coke to C2. In fact, I’d rather STICK MY LEFT NIPPLE IN THE BLENDER WITH TWO HEAPING TABLESPOONS OF ABORTED MONKEY FETUS AND SET THE BEER BONG TO “STUN” THAN DRINK C FUCKING 2.
Note: In the middle of the last paragraph I bit the inside of my mouth pretty hard while chomping down on a cough drop. Could ya tell? Sorry. Those are just the breaks. I’d edit it but – time constraints, you know? (If you are an influential member of the Great Cola Conspiracy, I might be able to find the time to rewrite it before the US release. For a Small Fee. If you make me bite myself again, however, I will retaliate by changing the title of this post to: C2 Review: Low-carb Felchwater!.)

In Memory of a Great Man

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.”
– Ronald Reagan
Without a doubt, that’s the most useful leadership advice anyone has ever given me. My own tribute is simple:
I cried for you with my classmates and my teacher the day you got shot. The principal came by the classroom to make sure everyone understood what had happened. He said, “a very bad man tried to kill our president.” I’m not sure we all understood the full meaning of this statement. What I do know is that you were a hero to us, and none of us wanted to see you go.
Rest in peace.