Saturday, October 11, 2008

The sinking ship, part one

Yes, I'm still alive but barely.

A recent blog post by my bud, Kemek, about the coming monsoon/typhoon season got me remembering a particular incident when I was in Japan. At the time, I worked for a low-rent English school based in Tokyo but with a Yokohama branch. I liked working at the Yokohama branch because it was just a few stations down the line from where I lived, Kamioooka (yes, there are that many ooooooooo's). Frankly speaking, the building that the school was in was small, dingy, and just across the street from a plastic surgery clinic and around the corner from several love hotels and a porno theater. Technically, that's neither here nor there because a religious sermon in a shoe box shouldn't point out the fact that you're not in a church. I did, however, have to accompany many female students back to the station after class just for my own peace of mind.

Anyway, the autumn of 2003 brought one particularly blustery typhoon to the Kanto area of Japan. I don't remember the number (in Japan, typhoons are numbered rather than named as hurricanes are in the U.S.) but it ended up being bad enough to stall the operations of some major train lines for several hours. News of the storm blowing through Okinawa, Kyushu, then its swooping arc southbound in Chubu and its next target: the greater Kanto region. had already been broadcast for several days prior so it was just a matter of it actually hitting.

The morning of the storm turned out to be one of those terribly humid October days that never turn out good. I remember hoping that the school manager would just call and tell me that he had closed the school down for the day and to just hang tight in my nice, cool apartment, well-stocked with food and Tsutaya rental DVDs. "No such luck," I grumbled to myself as I put on my tie just tight enough to look passingly professional. There wasn't even a guarantee that students would come; they were asked to make class reservations but that information was unknown by teachers until the day of the lesson, thus causing situations in which you would sit for hours without a student. To make matters worse, the Yokohama branch was not particularly popular because of its suspect location as described above and also because the great majority of our students were from Tokyo, which meant a commute of up to an hour to get to the school. I snatched my wallet and keys and was then off to the brave the storm and face a possibly lonely four hours of staring at the wall and wondering how many families of cockroaches lay within. I left my apartment and cursed the dark, looming clouds overhead on my way to the station.

As I arrived to the school with my hands full of snacks and a pachinko magazine bought at a nearby convenience store, I checked the class schedule: one student for all four hours. ONE...FREAKING...STUDENT... This basically meant that I would have to be stuck in the building while the storm raged outside, all the while trying to keep a one-on-one lesson interesting. Luckily, the student was someone whom I knew to be fairly communicative and a football (American football to some of you) fan, a rarity among even Japanese men so, at the very least, if the lesson started getting boring I could teach him how to play fantasy football, something that he had asked me to do sometime.

The student (whom I will name Takashi) arrived just on time for the class and, folding up his umbrella, announced, "It's starting to rain".

(To Be Continued)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008


Darn life...always getting in the way. Work and getting ready for the Fall semester have gotten in the way of hree incomplete film reviews, one incomplete article and now I'm actually taking on a four hour a week teaching job! Yes, I want to die of exhaustion. There is some good news, though, I've taken a bit of a break from Japanese movies (watching them, that is) and have sunk a little more time into English ones. I've started reviewing these films at Varied Celluloid (here) under my real-life name, Jon, so check them out. In the meantime, I hope to have the first episode of my pachinko diaries up soon so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Check out the Road(kill) Show

I started a blog with a slightly different theme here. I will keep this one going as usual but thought it'd be fun to have a place to aggregate good cult/horror/exploitation trailers that I find on YouTube. I was messing around with 1up's (1up is a videogame site) blogging features and they were simple enough and, since I'm there getting my nerd fix daily, I decided to share the world of bad good cinema with everyone over there. There will be no reviews of any of the films, just the visuals.

Feel free to drop by anytime as the blog will be updated with a new trailer or clip daily and, if you're already a 1up member (it's free, if not), comments and thumbs up are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A little catching up

Well, after last week's viral fiasco, I'm finally able to post without having a virus scan or pop-up slow me down, I'll take the time to write one of those personal 'catching up with Jon' posts. My trip to Hawaii was great, caught up with old friends, and ate onolicious ('ono' means 'hella good') food almost every day. I remarked to a friend of mine that it's great taking a vacation to a place you've lived or been to enough (in my case, the former) because you can just relax and enjoy yourself and not get stressed out from all of the tourist itineraries, running from one sightseeing spot to another.

Speaking of the Minutemen (we weren't, but whatever), I recently borrowed several of their albums from a friend mainly for the nostalgia but I've really found myself listening to them with fresh ears again. Glad I got to see fIREHOSE, the Minutemen's successors, in '92. Rock on in heaven, D. Boon.

Back on track (ahem), I'm really happy about the recent announcement by Criterion/Eclipse films to release a boxset of Mizoguchi's films which will be titled "Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women", available on October 21st. Mizoguchi, along with Mikio Naruse, was one of the few Japanese filmmakers who accurately captured the trials and tribulations of the women in modern and postmodern Japan. This set will include four films, the last of which, I believe, has never been released in North America: Street of Shame, Sisters of the Gion, Osaka Elegy, and Women of the Night. I'm slightly bummed that I just recently picked up a copy of Eureka's edition of Street of Shame but I love Mizoguchi enough to double-dip. Now, if only Criterion would release more Naruse films, I would be a happy man.

Speaking of being happy (and spending money), I'd been waiting for several years and finally got myself a cheap copy of the Wonderswan game, Uzumaki. I haven't had a chance to play the game yet but I am looking forward to some swirly horror game goodness. From the back of the box, the game looks like a genre that the Japanese call a "sound novel", basically the game is told with lots of text, audio clips, and minimal graphics. To tell you the truth, these sorts of games tend to be pretty boring, I'd much rather have some sort of action game in which I play Kirie, running from sliced naruto, snails, and renegade washing machines. If you are a little puzzled about what I'm talking about, check out the manga and/or movie and get ready for some supreme wacked out fun.

That's all for now!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

We're OK now, thanks.

Well, a hundred billion scans and countless hours spent in regedit (it actually only took a total of a couple of hours but uninterrupted scans take a long time to complete), my PC finally has a clean bill of health, yay. Just another lesson in "never download anything that looks suspicious even if it's from a friend". Let your guard down and see what happens?

Anyway, we will be posting some review(s) and information later this coming week. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Technical Difficulties

No, Gaijinzoku is not moving and getting renamed yet again. I've been back from my vacation for a week and watched several reviewable movies since but my PC contracted a big fat virus (and screw y'all grinning Mac users) so I've been working away at clearing it out and getting everything back to stability.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gaijinzoku is on vacation

Gone to Hawaii for a friend's wedding and a visit to my alma mater. See you all next week!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Review: Message From Space (1978)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Jillucia, a world of peace-loving people, have their planet taken hostage by the evil Gavanas whose leader vaguely looks and dresses like a low rent Optimus Prime. The leader of the Jillucia sends out eight liabe seeds (the titular "messages from space") to the universe to search for the chosen ones who will save their planet, and the whole universe. These saviours end up being a few daredevils (one of which is Hiroyuki Sanada), a grumpy but sensible ex-general (veteran Vic Morrow who looks visibly aware that he's the only one turning in a decent performance) and his robot, and a deposed Gavanas prince (Sonny Chiba). And, yes, since Sonny and Hiroyuki are in the movie, Etsuko Shihomi was also along for the ride, playing the Princess Leia-like Esmeralida of the Jillucians, and looking pretty good in her white satin robe getup. And, YES, Tetsuro Tamba is along for the ride to nibble a little of the scenery as well.

Message From Space
shares other things with Star Wars than Leia-looksortofalikes: there's the requisite cantina scene, Morrow turns in a surly Han Solo-like performance, even the one lone (and extremely perky) female daredevil is named "Meia", even the soundtrack vaguely feels like something that was fished out of John Williams' garbage. Since Message was released a year after Star Wars, it's pretty obvious that Toei was trying to cash in by throwing in some bits from the Lucas epic, then-stars Chiba, Sanada, and Shihomi, and a veteran gaijin actor who needed a paycheck in Morrow. To a degree, and probably more to the credit of Fukasaku, the combination works.
Of all the Japanese films I've seen, if there was ever a film that exemplified the bloat and excess of that country's 1980's bubble era, it is the live-action version of 1988's Tokyo - The Last Megalopolis with its all star cast (Shintaro Katsu, Kyusaku Shimada, Jo Shishido, Tetsuro Tamba), going-everywhere-except-toward-a-conclusion storyline, and its single decent special effect designed by H.R. Giger, the film feels like a "because we want to and because we can" type of affair. Though Fukasaku's Message From Space pre-dated this era of great wealth and waste, it does share some of the bloat. The quality of studio sets and effects range from high school cardboard standups to subpar '70s Battlestar Galactica laser effects. Hell, even the laser guns in the movie look like exotic garden hose attachments than scientifically designed firearms capable of containing and conducting a laser to its destination. Still, though, to Fukasaku's credit, it really looks like he was trying to stretch the budget (the amount of which is unknown to me) instead of cut corners. The film is also well-paced and has enough dogfights and goofball action for every fan of good, cheap sci-fi.

The copy that I watched was the English dubbed version but here's the original Japanese trailer:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Another Bye-Bye

Well, I don't mean to turn this blog into the bearer of bad news but we have another organization to sort of bid a fond farewell to. Some of you might know that Tartan USA shut its doors a couple of months ago and basically liquidated all of the films in their collection. The significance of this information to this blog is that Tartan had their "Asia Extreme" line of films which included some household titles like Oldboy, A Tale of Two Sisters, the re-release of Tetsuo, Vital, Marebito and others. Tartan also had a small but respectable line of other indie titles in their catalog including Battle In Heaven and The Cave of the Yellow Dog. This should have been a foreshadowing of worse things to come. In fact, the worse has come as Tartan's main UK branch appears as if they have done the equivalent of filing chapter 13 bankruptcy.

This is not particularly big news for the US since there is not much of a shortage of indie companies releasing seeming waves of Asian films. In fact, Media Blasters recent stepping up their Tokyo Shock line by dipping into the Shaw Brothers catalog suggests that they could theoretically pick up the Asia Extreme line. For UK and Euro film fans, though, the cut is much deeper since Tartan has been one company that has really pushed indie movies and their catalog certainly shows it; if you dig deep enough you will find that they had releases as diverse as El Topo, Battle Royale, Tokyo Story, and Super Size Me. For our UK and Euro fans' sake, we hope that Tartan can pull through OK.

Monday, June 23, 2008

WaiWai Is Bye-Bye

Going through the news, I noticed that, as of yesterday, Mainichi Daily News has discontinued its controversial corner, WaiWai. WaiWai was a section, headed by Aussie Ryann Connell, in which various articles from tabloid rags were translated into English and published for humor's sake. Apparently, MDN folded under pressure from complaints that content in this corner was "too vulgar"; some recent article headlines have included titles such as "Give me pubic hair, or give me death!", "Sick skating sensei sullies student, leaves wife to handle the heat", and "Suicidal porn princess with a fetish for funny men chooses gassing over flaming'". There were also those who questioned whether a respectable news source should be dealing tabloid stories to begin with. MDN has said that they will retool the corner with different and, in a likelihood, more "acceptable" content.

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about WaiWai's disappearance. On the one hand, it was an interesting (and often hilarious) view into a part of Japanese society that would otherwise be ignored. Tabloids are one of those things that we laugh at, but we have to remember that they make a lot of money so some reader must be taking them seriously. With that in mind, it's interesting to note what sorts of stories are used to keep these reader's attention. One thing that sort of relieves, however, is that we really do not need yet another avenue that only focuses on and laughs at the freakish elements of Japan. It's bugged me for a long time that it has sometimes become hard to talk about Japan without the mention of some fringe element about Japan is. Want to talk about movies? Miike. Anime? Tentacle rape. Tokyo? Soaplands. Food? Raw fish. Now, these are all valid subtopics to bring up but they're sometimes done so with so much derision that it's almost not worth coming up with any sort of explanation. "Err, yes, Japanese eat raw fish but, you know, raw oysters are..oh never mind."

The funny thing is that these images of Japan sometimes give people an extremely false impression of the country. When I was talking to someone about the country recently he marvelled that Japan must be this wild place where everyone has spiky hair and leather bondage clothes and eats sushi everyday when actually the opposite is the case, Japan is a pretty conservative place that has a lot of traditions that guide and govern everyday life. Nothing controversial about that, though, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Review: Viva Chiba Edition

The Bodyguard (1973/1976)

Director: Ryuichi Takamori/Simon Nuchtern

The Bodyguard starts off with a humorously modified version of the biblical passage Ezekiel 25:17, now famously lifted used by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (OK, everyone now...."The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities...blahblahblah"). Unfortunately, the movie which follows this opening is anything less than biblical, unless you're talking about the snoozy Leviticus. The Bodyguard starts promising enough: a mafia boss and henchmen are gunned down by a number of "unknown assailants" (forget that this happened in broad daylight in front of a church in New York City), we then get a martial arts demo that was obviously tacked on by U.S. director Nuchtern for some context. Next, cut to an airplane hijacking, an attempt to flush out Sonny Chiba in a crowd of passengers. This, of course, ends in all of the criminals getting the crap kicked out of them and the audience getting Chiba's hammy fist shaking in its face. Finally, the press conference in which the best line of the movie is spoken:

Interviewer: "You killed five mobsters with your bare hands. It took great courage. Why did you do it?"

Chiba: Because I had to.

Isn't that just bad ass? Everyone should be able to use that line for an incident in their lives and get an immediate pardon. God knows the last few U.S. presidents could have used that power.

From there, though, the movie just kid of goes downhill. Chiba hates drugs, offers his services as a bodyguard to anyone willing to testify against the gangsters bringing in the drugs which gets him mixed up with a woman (Mari Atsumi) who may or may not have information or drugs or...? After a while, it just doesn't matter as the movie gets as stilted as Chiba looks in the outrageously garish suits he has to wear in the movie (see picture). For a Chiba movie, there is fairly low level of action and, for what little there is, it's pretty unexciting and feels cheaply staged. The eye poking and arm-putation scenes were kind of fun, though.

The Bodyguard is obviously a Japanese production with a few scenes (the aforementioned martial arts demo and some New York scenery filler) added in by an American production crew to pad the movie for a few extra minutes. Too bad that they couldn't add in a little more "good" as well.

Sonny Chiba's Dragon Princess (1976)

Director: Yutaka Kohira

With a title like Dragon Princess and with both Sonny Chiba and protegee Etsuko Shihomi, I was expecting some wacky fantasy jidaigeki in the vein of Legend of the Eight Samurai (not coincidentally also starring Chiba, protege Hiroyuki Sanada, and Shiomi) or at least get a chance to see a Japanese midget in tights. Bummer, though, Dragon Princess is the typical martial arts story: student/offspring Shihomi has to avenge father/teacher Chiba who has been beaten badly beaten and run out of town by the owner of a rival dojo (Bin Amatsu). Amatsu, though a grandmaster, has his own stable of crooked students including the "Big Four", a quartet of martial artists who each has his own specialty weapon.

Shihomi stays pretty covered up in monk's robe throughout the movie since she has to stay with her grandfather after Chiba's death. In contrast, many female characters in Japanese movies at the time had to bear some skin, have their breasts stabbed, fondled, or ravished, or tied up and whipped. Shihomi was relatively spared these sorts of trials of being a Japanese actress mainly because of her physicality and ties with Chiba's "Action Club" of young martial-artists. Regarding the former, Shihomi is very convincingly physical during her scenes, no half-assed, floppy-armed choreography that you usually see in the sukeban movies of the same era. You can tell that she's really enjoying herself; in one scene, she performs a standing triple flip then straddles him to the ground and smashes his face in for good measure. After that she kicks and punches her way through about a dozen more enemies and ends with a "want some more, bitch?!?!" look on her face. Shihomi is pretty awesome to watch even if this movie of hers is tepid, at best.

Karate Warriors (1976)

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

Though not as well known as its predecessors, Karate Warriors was actually the fourth, and last, of "The Streetfighter" series in Japan. To the film's fortune, it shows. The story fits well within the series: Chiba plays all-around scumbag "Chico" (in the English dubbed version) caught in a proxy war between two yakuza gangs headed by brothers looking for heroine stashed away by a former boss. When Chiba finds the hidden heroine (by finding the clue conveniently hidden in the dead boss' memorial tablet -- guess nobody bothered touching it previously!), all hell breaks loose as Chiba tries to get away with it and the two gangs hot on his trail.

There are many bizarre idiosyncrasies throughout the film: although obviously a modern film by the '70s fashions the characters wear, one of the gangs employs a samurai, replete with sword and geta, to fight for them. Also, for a film with so many yakuza, there are relatively few guns. My guess is that these were pretty cheap thugs in a stingy town or a pretty cheap film crew in a stingy film company. One thing that wasn't skimped on, though, was camera effects: lots of slo-mo round-house kicks (take that Matrix and Chuck Norris!), punches, sword slashes. Prime stuff for the true Chiba fan.

Final note: All of the above movies are part of the "Welcome to the Grindhouse" series of double features released by Deimos/BCI. Dragon Princess and Karate Warriors are packaged on one disc while The Bodyguard is packaged with Sister Street Fighter (which will be reviewed sometime in the future since this version is not the best). All of these films are dubbed in English with no subtitles or Japanese language options.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Review: Shogun Assassin (1980)

Reprinted from Eigazoku.

Director: Kenji Misumi/Robert Houston

I know that, as soon as I finish this review and hit the "Publish Post" button, a small group of Lone Wolf and Cub fans will be sending their ninja armies to wipe me and any trace of this blog entry. If you don't see a "Trailer of the Week" tomorrow, just know that I meant it to be for the Sonny Chiba vehicle The Executioner. Also, tell my wife and kids that I love them.

It is true that Shogun Assassin is a bit of an unloved bastard flick in the chambara community, discussions of which usually start with the question, "Why see this when you can see the vastly superior originals?". A little confused? OK, here's the story:

In the late '70s, producer and 'director' (used in the very loosest definition of the word) David Weisman and Robert Houston, fans of the Lone Wolf and Cub films, bought the rights of the second in the series, the title of which we now know as Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart At the River Styx as well as some expository bits from the first, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance. Under the auspice of bringing the series to a western audience but presumably worried that the series "orientalism" might not be well received, Weisman and Houston decided to cut their own version by splicing together bits and pieces from both films, overdubbing voices and narration for story purposes, and creating a synth-pop score by ex-Paul Revere and the Raiders lead Mark Lindsay. If this isn't weird enough, a young Sandra Bernhard was also added in as a voiceover part as the lead woman ninja and then the whole package was eventually picked up by Roger Corman's New World Pictures for distribution. I swear all of the video mashup hacks on Youtube couldn't have dreamed of such a scenario.

Well, the question at this point is: does it work? Yes, to a degree it does. The story gets transformed to a straight up adventure tale: main character Ogami's wife gets killed by the shogun's clan after which Ogami and his son walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu to kill the shogun's brother (why they don't want to just kill the shogun himself is not too clear) who is protected by the "Three Masters of Death". All the while, various "ninja" are ordered by the shogun to do them in but Ogami is not one to let just anyone try to get in his grill and dispatches them to their graves.

Now, the final question: does Shogun Assassin deserve a place in the Lone Wolf and Cub pantheon? Well, without sounding like a film snob, HELL NO! Shogun Assassin is the equivalent of someone clipping out pieces of Picasso's paintings, pasting them together, and calling it "A Bunch of Cubes". In its favor, it does move along at a nice pace and has some of the best sword fights and goriest kills of the first two films. Also, in retrospect, we have to consider the film's place in history. At the time of its release, it was all but impossible to see chambara flicks unless you lived near a Chinatown or Japantown and the Lone Wolf and Cub series (incidentally, of which there are six films) was definitely out of the picture even though it had almost been a good decade after the series initial release in Japan. Even Shogun Assassin on VHS was a bit difficult to find if you lived in a suburban American town so this was the only outlet for chambara outside of Kurosawa and Inagaki. You can imagine that this film introduced the genre to thousands and, even though it's not the cinematic experience that its source material is. It might be worth seeing as an oddity or nostalgia piece.

If you prize the originals, though, don't bother.

The trailer, in a nutshell, tells all:

Compare this with the original Toho production trailer of Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart At the River Styx:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another Year...

OK, 1, 2, 3, 4...

Yeah, today is my birthday and I'm 26 *cough*+10*cough* this year. I got a great early present from..hmm..God, throwing my back out so I've been spending the past week lying on my living room floor in complete pain. Related to that, I get to spend my birthday later this afternoon at the doctor's office, yay! That ranks up there with the job interview I had on my 30th birthday (didn't get the job but the interviewer did notice that it was the day) and the countless times that I had to work. What's more, after the doctor, I have a paper to do for school. At least it's the last of the semester, a happy thing onto itself. At least I've been getting some sorely-missed movie watching done (reviews soon...?).

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Having lived in the San Francisco a good two-thirds of my life, I've known the gamut of vegetarians, from those who claim to eat fish "every once in a while" to militant vegans. Yes, I have received an earful from the latter group many times. In the middle of one of my "information sessions" from one of my militant friends, I argued that I would go vegetarian if sausage didn't taste so darn good. Lifestyle jokes aside, I admittedly do like my share of meat but, in Japan, once considered going veg just because meat was so damn expensive. You see, there was the US beef embargo which, for several years, gave us nipponsters Aussie and Kiwi beef as the only relatively inexpensive alternative. Chicken, pork, and fish, too, were all kind of pricey so I made by on lots of tofu, vegetables, and rice for a good chunk of 2003.

Now back home in San Francisco, I can generally eat US beef to my heart's (ironic, no?) content. Just today, I was sitting around thinking that I'd like to snack on some beef jerky so I decided to search the interwebs and see what I could find and I ended up with the snappily named who have their product shot into space--for good reasons nonetheless! They also have this sort of endearingly kitschy site that reminds me of where web design was at about a decade ago so I decided to put part (OK, half) of my refund check toward a pound of beef jerky. That's right, a whole pound! Since I do enough urban hiking, I figure I can add a little dried cow flesh to my rations. Stay tuned and I'll let you all know how it is when it comes later this week.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Japanese Theme Songs Part Four

With this latest entry, I'm just revealing the kind of person that I am. Yes, it's another electronics store theme song. Yes, I am a typical male in that I love my toys, despite currently not owning a cell phone or wrist watch, so shoot me (and I have ex-girlfriends who would probably jump at that chance so wait in line).

This installment's theme song comes from Yamada Denki, a slightly lower rent version of Bic and Yodobashi. The unique thing about Yamada is that you can actually barter for a cheaper price, just like in old school markets. When I went camera-shopping with a friend, she was hemming and hawing and the staff member said that he could take the price down US$100 or give her double member card points. She ended up getting the price down US$50 with double points.

One thing not so unique about Yamada is their theme song. Though cute, it's not much of a musical stretch from their competitor's theme songs as you will soon hear:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


A late happy tax day to everyone. If you are like me, your "economic stimulus" payment check is paying for your taxes. Good job to the U.S. Government! Why not just save the stamp that will be used to mail my check and apply it to my taxes next year?

A little news, if you happened to follow my CD-ripping escapade last post (if not, here it is), you might be happy to know that I'm finished. Well, I'm happy anyway. So, here's a screen cap of the final tally:
56.6GB of space used. Far less than I expected.

One thing that I discovered during this whole ordeal: it seems that, in the earlier days of CDs, several Japanese record labels did not label and tag tracks. I'll assume this is because they thought there would never be a way to rip data from the discs or, for some reason, didn't feel it was important enough. Either way, I found about a couple dozen discs pressed in Japan that I bought over there around '97 or '98 which ripped as unknown artist, unknown album, track #xx so I have to go through each track and relabel it. Doh!

In contrast, I only found one U.S. pressed disc which was not properly labeled and tagged and it's one of those free magazine promo mix-CDs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What is this...Spring...Break?

So, it's Spring Break and, in the grand tradition of this celebration of the Vernal Equinox, I'm in Mazatlan slurping down my sixth Corona and off to the daily wet T-shirt contest. And, hey, it's only 10:30 in the morning so plenty of time to hit the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert then a kegger before evening. Come nightfall, I'll be rolling on the sand with my tongue entangled with a hot undergrad (heck, make that two).

Sadly, though, the cake is a lie. No co-eds, no keggers, no beach, like a lot of other students, Spring Break just means the usual amount of school work: preparing a group presentation, two teaching evaluations, a teaching self-reflection, a reading evaluation, a paper rewrite, and a take home test. Yup, that's right, there's a real college student out there in Mazatlan chugging down the Corona while I'm here at home sucking on the lime.

Spring Break hasn't been all that bad, though. I've been able to catch up on some of my non-school related reading and even played a video game here and there, something I rarely get to do nowadays. Another project I started was converting my CD collection to MP3. I recently picked up a 500GB external hard drive and been working toward filling it up with all of the music that I've collected over the years so, every time I sit at my computer, I pop in a disc to be ripped into my ever growing MP3 collection. Winamp claims that I'm up to 395 individual album artists, 656 albums, and 5209 tracks and I haven't even finished half of my CD collection yet! The funny thing is that I have several CDs that I don't remember buying at all. When I was in Japan, I did make it a point to try and get as many rare jazz, funk, and hip-hop as possible but there are a lot of things that I wonder if I even listened to. If you want to follow these CD conversion shenanigans, you can do so on my LastFM account page here. You're going to find a lot of obscure and interesting stuff in there, I guarantee.

Speaking of LastFM, hope you all enjoy the radio widget I put up over on the sidebar. I'll be putting a custom playlist up as soon as I can gather enough tracks. Be sure to crank your computer speakers up to 11 when I do.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Gaijinzoku is minus two beer buddies

Gaijizoku is bidding a fond farewell to two of its tribe: recent graduate and ex-classmate Kristjan and Kemek at Yakihito and Slash and Burn. Both of these young lads will be moving off to our favorite land of the rising sun, Kristjan to work as an EFL lecturer and research fellow at Kanda Gaigo Gakuin in Chiba and Kemek to attend Oita University for a year as an exchange student. Good luck to you both!

One more thing though: we know you guys will have a great time but remember to heed this warning given to all foreigners abroad:


Monday, March 10, 2008

Thinking about fu

Reprinted from kuzu

So you're kicking back, eating last night's leftover caterpillar roll. To keep it real, you pop open a package of Kikkoman miso soup because, you know, Japanese have miso soup with, like, everything, right? So you drop that freeze-dried miso-like powder into your not quite washed coffee cup. Next comes the dashi pellets, looking like some kind of miniature rabbit pellets. That wakame seaweed stuff then falls out then those little white discs. Now, you think to yourself what the hell are those? Bread? Crackers? Alien mind implant technology? No, it's fu.

Fu is in no way related to tofu, kung fu or even fu man chu for that matter (though there is a confection called Fu-manjū (麸まんじゅう) which is made from it). Fu is one of several purely native Japanese foods and literally, by its kanji, dried wheat gluten. That's right, wheat gluten, the tainted version of which was infesting our pet foods not more than just a month ago. For those who were not familiar with wheat gluten before this incident occurred, let me explain a little bit about its history.

Nama fu (生麩)

Wheat gluten is essentially hard wheat flour dough which has been kneaded and the starch washed from it. From that point, the gluten can be dried (as fu is), steamed, baked, grilled, you name it. Asian countries, for centuries, have been using gluten as a sort of staple as a substitute for meat; Buddhist monks in particular use it for this purpose. For an example of gluten served this way, head down to your local Chinatown and look for canned food enigmatically labelled "vegetarian duck" or "mock lobster". That's gluten which has been cooked and prepared with sauces and/or oil in some way to simulate animal meat. Note the word simulate. In any case, gluten is relatively high in protein and has zero fat making it an ideal substitute.

In Japan, the dried and unflavored gluten fu is less of a staple in the modern era though it does have its history. Its presence as a protein source dates as far back as the Muromachi Era some 700 years ago but, no doubt, due to its history in Asia it was around for far longer than that.
So what exactly can we do with fu? Well, fu in its plain dry state has no flavor and can be added into almost any dish to absorb its flavors, a property it shares with tofu. When I was in Japan, an ex and I were watching a TV documentary about fu and they recommended putting fu in hamburger in place of bread crumbs as a way of both bonding the meat and retaining moisture. That was one of the juiciest hamburgers I had ever eaten. A common way of preparing fu is to, before drying it, combine it with glutinous rice (mochi rice) and boil it. Then skewer it on a stick and put a little sweet miso on it then you have nama fu. Fans of miso oden might recognize this.

Fu has fairly recently experienced a renaissance in Japan owing to its nutritional value and ease of use. A quick search, in fact, yielded a site which has lots of information about fu as well as a section dedicated to recipes. Sadly, though, I was not able to find a site in which you can buy it online. All the more reason to get down to your local Japanese supermarket and buy some for yourself (and get yourself some real miso while you're at it too!).

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Review: Chicken Ramen

Nissin's Chicken Ramen is history in a bowl. At first glance, this instant is the usual squiggly noodles in brown translucent soup and its flavor is, at best, average but Chicken Ramen, invented by Nissin founder Momofuku Ando, holds the distinction of being the first instant ramen in the world. In fact, Chicken Ramen is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, a feat that Mr. Ando, who passed away last year, will never get to witness. So what's the deal with this historic ramen then? Well, as mentioned, there is nothing particularly unique or interesting about it but it does have a sort of special air about it, an almost atmosphere about it that transcends time (yeah, I was reading the Sunday paper book reviews before I started writing this).

Within its standard plastic wrapper, there is a round cake of noodles. That's right, no multiple soup, oil, and freeze-dried vegetable packets; all of the flavor is already in the noodles themselves. There is a small divot on one side of the noodles and the basic idea is that it acts as an "egg pocket" as they call it. So, just put the dried noodles in bowl pocket up, crack a raw egg into it (ignore my picture during this step since my egg aiming skills are a bit lacking), add water, cover and wait three minutes and you'll be in Chicken Ramen heaven.

So, how is the flavor? Well, despite its name, I really don't detect any chicken flavoring in the soup at all. Of course, this could be in its favor because I normally HATE chicken-flavored instant ramen because it always ends up tasting like western-style chicken noodle soup and, if I wanted that, I'd have gone with Lipton's or Mrs. Grass', thank you. Nissin's version of chicken is a little salty with a slight burnt flavor to it. To tell you the truth, the first time I tasted it, I was a little off-put by this flavor but eventually grew to like, if not love, it. The noodles are pretty good, the squiggly kind but flat, not like the rounded type that are defacto in other instant ramen. One thing that's nice about them is that, unlike other brands, Nissin doesn't make this line of ramen oily, something that sometimes leads to an unpleasant aftertaste and/or odor while cooking.

Overall, Chicken Ramen is worth checking out, if only once, just for the historical aspects. As a whole, it's not a particularly filling experience but one which may get you through to the next meal. On the grading scale, this one gets a solid B.

Check out Yukie Nakama, in a recent commercial, enjoy hers "Indian style"with curry and cheese . Yes, I know she has better egg-aiming skills than me, you don't have to mention it. ;)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review: Her Brother (1960)

Reprinted from kuzu

Before we launch into our review, let's first look at some of the historical details of Her Brother (Japanese title: おとうと) :

-Adapted from the best-selling autobiography of Aya Koda, daughter of Rohan Koda, one of Japan's greatest authors of historically-based heroic fiction

-Directed by Kon Ichikawa (R.I.P.) who, up to Her Brother's release, had already released two of his masterworks, Fires On the Plain and The Burmese Harp, as well as his adaptations of Junichiro Tanizaki's The Key and Mishima's Enjo

-Featured at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival where it was also given a technical reward for the now-named "Bleach Bypass" color technique used to give the film its classic feel

-Multi-award winner in its native Japan including prestigious Best Film and Best Director Kinema Junpo awards

-Features an all-star cast of Keiko Kishi (Kwaidan, Early Spring and, in my opinion, has one of the most adorable pouts in film history), Hiroshi Kawaguchi (Floating Weeds, Giants and Toys,), Kinuyo Tanaka (Ballad of Narayama, Ugetsu), Masayuki Mori (Rashomon, The Bad Sleep Well)

-Also features an early acting role by a young Juzo Itami who would later go on to direct the modern classics A Taxing Woman and Tampopo

Her Brother is the story of a dedicated young woman, Gen (Kishi), who must tend to the needs of her brother Hekiro (Kawaguchi), father (Father), and stepmother (Tanaka). By all measures, one would think this film to be yet another classic in the Ichikawa resume but has instead all but sunk into obscurity in the western world. It's a shame because on the surface, though a melodrama, Her Brother is a strong portrait of Japanese families and, more specifically, women's roles within them. Despite the title, the film focuses more on Gen, the daughter in the family, and her forced role as the mother of the family due to the presence of her rheumatic stepmother: she cooks, cleans, runs the errands, and has to discipline and cover debts for Hekiro who is only a few years younger than her. Though the familial relationships are visibly strained, Gen wills herself as the glue that keeps them together even foresaking a domestic married life to do so. It's not until Hekiro becomes ill with tuberculosis that the family is able to come back together as a unit.

Though Ozu, for example, has touched on these issues throughout his career, Ichikawa in His Brother takes a different approach by relying less on visual cues via cinematography and instead relies on the viewer to understand the film through the dialog and actions of its characters. Ichikawa, however, does not skimp on the visuals. The family's home with its thin walls and fusuma (sliding doors) were used brilliantly to show how close people can be and yet how emotionally distant they really are. Passage of time is, likewise, shown very subtly: the chirp of cicadas signals summertime while the different patterns in clothing and layers worn by characters signal the passage of time.

Again, it's a shame that this film is not available for viewing anywhere except at special screenings (the one I attended was once again part of Stanford University's Japan 1960 series). Her Brother is a nice accompanying piece to Mikio Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, released the same year. The former explores female roles in the family while the latter explores their roles within society; both of them excellent studies of this subject.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Japanese Theme Songs Part Three

Along with Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera is one of the larger electronics store chains in Japan with the majority of their locations in the Kanto region. Americans should recognize their theme song, a jazzed-up variation of the anthem "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". It was definitely an interesting experience shopping for a vacuum cleaner and hearing a 19th century war hymn. Maybe I should have been shopping for a musket?

Yodobashi's theme:

The original "Battle Hymn of the Republic":

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Letters From Iwo Jima tonight on AMC

There will be two special commercial-free showings of Letters From Iwo Jima tonight on AMC at 8PM and 10:30PM EST. Information and media here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kon Ichikawa Dead

One of the last of the Japanese master directors has passed away today as reported by The Mainichi Daily News here:

Japanese film director Kon Ichikawa dead at 92

TOKYO (AP) -- Kon Ichikawa, the Japanese director of such films as "Harp of Burma" and "Tokyo Olympiad," has died. He was 92.

Ichikawa died of pneumonia in a Tokyo hospital on Feb. 13, said Chizuko Wagatsuma, a spokeswoman with Toho Co., the company that released "The Makioka Sisters" and many of his other films in the 1970s and 1980s.

He had been hospitalized since mid-January, she said.

11/20/15 - 02/13/08

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Review: House (aka Hausu) (1977)

Reprinted from Eigazoku

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
House is less a movie than an exercise in creativity, ambition, surrealness, as well as annoyance with occasional boredom. Consider that it had a first-time feature director in Nobuhiko Obayashi, soundtrack by folk-rockers Godiego, and a young female lead cast whose syrupy cute chemistry together probably could have been crystallized into the form of a House idol group for a one-off pop single. Even their character names are "hip", pointing to the character type they play: Oshare (which means "fancy" in Japanese) is the fashionable one, Kung-Fu is the athletic one, Mac (for stomache) is the glutton who's always eating and so on. With all of these elements, Obayashi could have made something plain: maybe a youth summer adventure film or maybe a coming-of-age romance story, or even horror. The fact that he chose "all of the above" resulted in House.

The premise is fairly simple: six female classmates, on their summer break, decide to spend some time at Oshare's aunt's old house in the country. As everyone knows, though, old houses have secrets and this one wants to literally consume them. What the film really about, though, is near free-form experimentation. Obayashi, it's said, had wanted to make his film one which would have audiences fall in love with film again. To this end, he and his crew pulled out all stops in producing a film that incorporates nearly every audio and visual effect possible, sometimes several happening at once. There is an abundance of bizarre story elements; for example, when one man literally goes bananas because he doesn't like watermelons. Genre boundaries are frequently crossed from teen film to horror to romance to action to comedy, you really can't guess what the film is going to spit out at you next.

Does Obayashi's grand experiment work though? Yes and no. House is literally a visual feast not unlike, say, Takashi Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris and Tetsuya Nakashima's Kamikaze Girls. However, also like those films, the experimentation can be a little too wink-wink nudge-nudge, a little too cute, and in some sequences, a little too tedious. Ironically, I found several of the scenes in which we learn more about the connection between the house and Oshare's aunt to just simply crawl. In contrast, though, there are also several very clever scenes: a sepia-toned silent film sequence explaining Oshare's family history, and Kung-Fu's several battle scenes were ones that stood out for me. Most of the scenes were filmed in studio sets, the use of mattes give the film an otherworldly feel. One scene showing Tokyo Station, normally one of the most common sites in Japan, was especially surreal and somehow beautiful at the same time.

House did very well upon its release in Japan and one thing's for sure is that this is one of the films that's usually on most Japanese cult movie fan's want list. Seeing as the film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and that it can still manage to be fresh, interesting and bizarre in today's film scene actually says a lot. It's not a film for everyone and it will reward as much as it frustrates but it's a recommended watch, even if only just once.

The trailer was this week's "Trailer of the Week" and can be seen here.

Review copy obtained through and located here in their catalog.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Japanese Theme Songs Part Two

Exhibit two: Bic Camera

Like a true warrior of twisted tastes, the person who recorded the Bic Camera (an electronics store chain) theme song (not me, really!) actually went into a store with a video camera and found an optimal location to record away. He or she even went as far to include the lyrics in the video description which you can check out by clicking through to YouTube. Good work, soldier!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Review: Cruel Story Of Youth (1960)

Reprinted from kuzu.

This showing of Cruel Story Of Youth (dir: Nagisa Oshima, best known for In the Realm of the Senses) was provided through Stanford University's Center For East Asian Studies' Japan 1960 film festival (check their blog here for information on the festival's theme and other showings) . Perhaps unconsciously, I wore one of my kelly green aloha shirts which would become a sort of rebel fashion statement to such rebels of the time onward to being a yakuza-adopted fashion into the '80s. I had even proposed to my old high school friend Adam (his Japanese film blog is here) , whom I attended with, that we stage a fight in front of the auditorum to get ourselves into the mood but he refused. Failed male bonding notwithstanding, we watched the film unscathed even though I felt like I was fighting with the auditorium's old seats for a little back comfort.

Cruel Story Of Youth (Japanese title: 青春残酷物語 and also known as Naked Youth) is a raucous "rebel without a pause" story with scenes of fighting, suggested sex, smoking, aloha shirts (ahem), blood, sweat, and tears, not to mention the requisite "jolt your senses" orchestral hits. The story follows the forever scowling Kiyoshi (actor Yusuke Kawazu) and Makoto (super-actress Miyuki Kuwano), both students, who both meet when Makoto gets mixed up with a salaryman whom she had bummed a ride with. Kiyoshi ends up saving her and shaking the man down for some yen. This shakedown plays itself out throughout the film as they pick up other suckers for the thrills and cash to the point in which the two almost develop a pimp-prostitute relationship. Meanwhile, there's Makoto's disapproving family, Kiyoshi's middle aged sugar mama, and a gang of thugs and a yakuza who popup to further make their lives miserable. Makoto's relationship with her sister is especially volatile. An important backdrop to the film is the year it was filmed in: 1960. While the introductory entry in the Japan 1960 blog best describes the atmosphere of that year, in a nutshell, that year was a time of great turmoil as many activists were protesting against the renewal of the US-Japan Security Alliance. For the purposes of the film, Makoto's sister and a former lover of hers who is a doctor are portrayed as former activists whose ideals have already been sold out.

On its surface, the film can be seen as a somewhat exploitative cautionary tale about wasted youth (this film was released by the Shochiku film studio under the auspice of being a "taiyozoku" youth-oriented film) but Oshima seems to want to say much more. Oshima, a former leftist protestor in his own youth but disillusioned with both the left and right by the time of this film, portrays his characters much as he saw the world: people who are neither find themselves part of the left or right and, in fact, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place instead. This is a recurring theme that would be explored in Oshima's later films: The Sun's Burial, Night and Fog In Japan, and to a certain degree, Boy. Besides the theme, the cinematography is quite good: vivid colors, nice handheld camera work, and good use of light and dark - there's one noir-ish scene in which Kiyoshi is gnawing on an apple that is very striking in showing how he is actually gnawing away at his very soul. Another great shot is when, after the two protagonists have broken up, Makoto is seen walking down a busy street only lit by the headlights of cars, her profile half cutout of the shot. The audio in this scene is nothing but the reverberating sound of her heels on the pavement, the sound of despair and isolation that echoes Kiyoshi's earlier declaration to her (paraphrased): "Whether together or alone, it will all end up [bad] in the end".

Provocative stuff but then Oshima is no stranger to that.

Cultural note: The aforementioned apple scene has Kiyoshi bringing one to Makoto after an illegal abortion (performed by her sister's former lover). It's a Japanese custom to bring fruit to an ailing person as a "get well" gesture.

Film Availability: Currently only on VHS


Thanks to the Japan 1960 series folk, Donald Richie's "A Hundred Years of Japanese Film", and Nelson Kim's article on Oshima on Senses of Cinema site for providing some of the background used in this review.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Japanese Theme Songs Part One

Because of a cold, I ended up staying home from work yesterday. At first, I half-heartedly tried playing some Team Fortress 2 but ended up running around in circles (in the game) because I was half asleep from the cold medicine I had taken in the morning. Thinking it better to move over to a less mentally taxing activity, I did what many in the same condition would do: moved over to YouTube. More specifically, I went through the several hundred videos that I've been favoriting and adding to playlists just to see what gems I deemed worthy of future viewing on a sick afternoon. The vast majority were music videos that I've been saving and forwarding on to friends but I was able to find a playlist of a couple hundred videos related to Japan. Most were sentimental things: pachinko promos, videos of train rides on lines that I used to live on, TV shows and personalities that I liked, music videos, miscellaneous movie trailers (still not sure why I kept the one for Ryuhei Kitamura's epic cheesefest Sky High). Nestled among this treasure chest, though, I found a number of theme songs from stores that I had used to pester some Japanese classmates with lately. And now, in a short series, I bring these treasures to you.

First of this series is the probably one of the more annoying themes but one which you will probably be singing to yourself on your way to work tomorrow morning: Shop 99's.

Shop 99 is something not unlike dollar stores in North America (the 99 stands for 99 yen which everything in the store is priced at and the "kyu" repeated in the song means "9") and many are actually converted from convenience stores that either went belly up or whose owners (7-11, Family Mart, et al) closed down for some reason. In a documentary that I saw on the company, the president claimed it was simpler for them to just buy out the furnishings, front sign and all, rather than try to redecorate or renovate. Makes sense.

Anyway, enjoy the song and comfort in the fact that you're not actually working at a Shop 99 where the tune is played on an endless loop.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Review: Biotherapy (1986)

Reprinted from Eigazoku

Director: Akihiro Kashima
A recent donation of this bootleg to the 'zoku review coffers from Slash and Burn proved to be a two-fold blessing: the first being the ability to see some good ol' mid 80's V-cinema (the Japanese equivalent of "direct-to-video"), most films of which will probably never be seen on DVD, and the second, I didn't have to pay for this crap.

Biotherapy is a horror/sci-fi shocker that clocks in just short of an hour. That's right, short so you know a lot of logic is bound to get pulled out of the story like an eyeball from a screaming scientist. The story is that some scientists at the Hirose Research Institute of Biology have developed a GT (glutamyltransferase, in case you were wondering) serum derived from meteors which speeds up biological growth. As it turns out, not everyone is cool on this serum: an ugly alien-like thing, described as a "miraijin" or time traveller, in the film and probably played by the director's big brother, has been sent to retrieve the serum and cause the most unnecessarily gory violent deaths to those who developed it. Why? At under an hour do you care? Actually, since no edition of this film has any kind of English subtitles, all of the time traveller's dialog was made much harder to understand since it was overdubbed with this cheesy echoplexed "demonic" voice that has been used in Japanese TV and films for, like, ever. Let's just assume that our time traveller friend objected to the scientific and moral ramifications of the serum's use or, heck, maybe he just wanted to tear various limbs and innards from a gang of earthfolk. It's all about the same thing, isn't it?

Gore-wise, Biotherapy has some pretty nifty scenes and did win a special effects award from, of all sources, the manga magazine Young Jump. I've seen comparisons to the Guinea Pig series and, yes it does have its share of entrailsectomies, tonguesectomies, and eyesectomies but this is misleading. If anything, Biotherapy owes a lot to slashers and specifically Friday the 13th; the time traveller wears a mask to cover his face and always breathes heavily a la Jason as he is stalking his victims (and in an unintentionally humorous touch, his appearance is signaled with a lightning-like flash and a synth drum beat). There is one scene in which a character is stabbed in the chest with several test tubes and blood, geyser-like, pumps out of her chest. This is the type of scene I was looking for (and failed to get) in Commando's death-by-pipe-impalement scene.

In all, not an entirely bad film to check out if you can but there are better things you can do instead of watching it. Like watching half of a better film.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Suck 'em down, biznaaachez

When the subject of instant ramen comes up, my friends can testify that I always rave about Marutai brand instant ramen. I 'discovered' this brand of "bo" ("stick", unlike the regular squiggly brick of noodles of other brands, Marutai's are straight and packaged much like soba and somen) ramen at a supermarket near my old apartment in Yokohama. I happened to be staring at a package of the "Kyushu" (ie tonkotsu) flavored noodles wondering if they would be worth spending my hard-earned 110 yen (approx. US $1.00) on. My then-girlfriend told me that she had bought the brand several times and really liked them. This recommendation and her family roots in the Kyushu area convinced me that it was worth a shot. After all, I could blow 10000 yen (approx US$100.00) on an hour of pachinko at the drop of a hat so 100 yen for a potentially mind-expanding session of ramen would probably be worth it or at least humorously disgusting. Much to my fortune (the kind which never showed up during my aforementioned 10000 yen pachinko sessions), the former was the case; though it wasn't as good as an authentic straight-from-Hakata bowl of tonkotsu, it was a very good reproduction of it and, for an instant ramen in general, excellent.

Just a little bit on tonkotsu ramen since it is one of the rarer flavors of ramen outside of Japan: from Hakata located in the Fukuoka prefecture, tonkotsu ramen is characterized by its white full-bodied soup. The word 'tonkotsu' literally means 'pork bone' and these bones are boiled along with various ingredients, onion and garlic among them, for several hours and sometimes even several days. This results in two things: 1) the wonderfully delicious soup and 2) a terrible odor which boiling pig's bones causes. The noodles used in tonkotsu ramen are typically straighter than those used in others and the toppings tend to be less varied as well: benishoga, a couple of slices of char-siu, and sliced up elephant's ear (no, not the real thing but a fungus that is kinda-sorta shaped like one). Tasty stuff.

I was down at Nijiya market in San Jose's Japantown the other day and spotted not only my old favorite Kyushu flavored (far left) but four other flavors, from left to right, Goma-shoyu, yakisoba, regular (which looks to be a shoyu-based flavor), and shoyu-tonkotsu. They also had miso but I've already had that one before and found it to be pretty average -- I'm not a big fan of miso ramen even if it's from a reputable place like Sumire. In future posts, I'll review these new (to me) flavors. Until then, enjoy some more Marutai bo ramen via YouTube:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

So what is it that you want to say?

Unlike those talky Mac commercials on TV, this is what really happens when Apple and the PC try to communicate with each other:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


A little aside: "The Scream" has to be one of the most overused images in the history of blogging since nearly every copy that I found online was linked to one.

Back on topic, California State University students out there know that today was the first day of instruction. If this were back when I was an undergrad, I probably would have felt a greater sense of dread but I'm actually a little anxious to start. I blew off a lot of my undergrad time because I had a fairly easy major (English) at a university not generally very well known for its academics (University of Hawaii). I chose UH because I was more interested in the beaches and women cultural and life experiences that it offered over those I could get in my native California. Simply, I had to get out and live a little.

In contrast, I care a lot more about the education that I'm receiving and, more importantly, shaping and refining myself into being a better ESL instructor and researcher. At SJSU, the TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages - yes, we need a new acronym) and Linguistics departments are merged together and known together as the Linguistics and Language Development department. As things go, it's a pretty small but comfortable department: there are just about 100 graduate students and a handful of professors between the two groups. It is literally the case that you could hang around the LLD office at Clark Hall all day and run into everyone in our program. In fact, just today I was introduced to someone else in the program by a fellow classmate. I had seen this person studying in the halls outside of the LLD office so, with a wink, I said, "I've seen you around the base, soldier."

TESOL and Linguistics students are kind of interesting because, though we fall under the same LLD department, we have different programs and plans that we follow. I would separate TESOL students into three groups: the trench soldiers, the drifters, and the non-native speakers. The first group of students are those who are already teaching ESL at a local community college or adult program and are just slamming through the program as a matter of necessity or formality to get to the next level. These students tend to be older are war-weary and hardened by dealing with school administrations and budgets, are very articulate, what I would consider as the old school ESL teachers. The second group (which I fall in) are those who have drifted around in life, lived abroad and taught EFL as a means to get a visa, and realized that they liked the work and, essentially, are getting a Masters as a means to get another visa in the future. This group is usually a lot rawer and less refined but have a strong personal passion, bordering on naivety, toward the profession. The last group is the newest group of ESL teachers as it's only been fairly recently that a large influx of non-native instructors has received formal training. These students tend to be very serious, hard working, but somewhat distant. Maybe it's the homesickness, maybe it's the extra work that they have to put in to keep with schoolwork not in their own native languages, or maybe it's just that most are just going back to their own countries in a couple of years so there's no need to tie yourself too closely to a place you may never see again.

As for the Linguistics students, I've only interacted with a few of them before and haven't worked out an angle on them just yet. They strike me as being more contemplative and intellectual than the TESOL ones but I'll probably better figure them out in time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Back at the compound....

Though the news is fairly old in the beer community, the recent hops shortage has been making the rounds in mass media lately which has probably made all Joe Beer Guzzlers freak out, stockpile cases of brew, board up their homes, and guard their stockpiles with lethal firearms. This includes yours truly, of course.

During my recent rounds buying buckshot, I dropped by a local Japanese supermarket and happened to spot several bottles of Echigo Stout, brewed by the Echigo Beer Co., itself a division of a sake brewery. I've tried their Koshihikari Echigo beer, which they claim uses real koshihikari rice during the brewing process, and found it to be a very dry German pilsner style of brew. Echigo Stout, on the other hand, is a full-flavored yet medium bodied stout with delicious flavors ranging from dark chocolate to espresso and a nice lingering aftertaste. The latter flavor is the one which is stands out for me because I'm not a coffee drinker (gives me a stomachache for some reason) but I sometimes crave the flavor of coffee and Echigo Stout delivers it. Wish I could sneak this stuff into work in a Starbucks tumbler.

Needless to say, I ran back to that store the day after drinking the single bottle and bought the remaining five. Echigo's line of beers is already pretty rare, you might find them at a local Asian market or Japanese restaurant, but their stout should be considered even moreso since that type of beer has a much smaller audience than the standard ales and lagers. However, if you see it, by all means, pick it up and give it a try for yourself because you'd have to pry mine from my cold, dead hands.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blog, Take Two!

If you happen to be coming from my other two blogs, Kuzu and Eigazoku, a big welcome back to you and me. It's been, to say the least, a while since I've posted in either since I've been spending so much time with schoolwork (got all A's as a result though, go me!). I also became a little disillusioned by having two blogs that only focused on a few interests in my life and really wanted to talk about more. The initial intention of starting my previous two blogs was to cover these things but I just felt that they were too confining to my current life situation. The truth is that, though I lived in Japan for several years, I currently don't and find myself not following goings on enough to be able to make an informed commentary on exactly what's happening over there and, in fact, I've been using the time to fill in gaps in my knowledge of things that occurred while I was living there.

With that said, I will post about other interests: movies, retro gaming, TV, microbrews and use this blog for personal and professional reflections for school. All postings here, though, will be microtagged because undoubtedly there will be a lot of things that you will want to skip.

Enjoy and, as always, feel free to comment.