Monday, June 30, 2008

Spinning Plates

I'm just a bit too busy today to put much thought into posting. I had a phone call a little while ago from Mrs. Cowan and my Mom and they are in the country (at Narita) but won't be joining us in Shikaoi for a couple more days (due to their travel plans in Sapporo). I will try to put some pictures up tomorrow to tide everyone over. (I finally bought a mouse but forgot it today. Go figure.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Are You Metabo?

Metabo is a phrase one now hears often in Japan: "Do you have Metabo?" "Are you Metabo?" Metabo is a Japanese shortened form of Metabolic syndrome. Technically, the term encompasses a constellation of factors, most easily described as fat around internal organs. But to put it more bluntly, if you have it, it means you're fat. I only learned the history and science behind this phrase researching this post. The issue is well covered in a New York Times article which describes a new policy whereby the Japanese government has legistated the measuring of everyone's waists between the ages of 40 and 74. The limits were set - 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women - by the Japanese Diabtic Association. It was approved solely on economic grounds; a slim population is a healthy one, thus reducing healthcare costs. I guess one must just fight on until they are 75 before you can really let yourself go. What exact mechanisms are available to governments to force citizens to closely control their weight? The policy includes previsions, amoung others, that penalize firms whose employees don't lose a certian percentage of weight. Quite amazing really, but not out of line with what I know about Japan employers.

In looking at the empiric evidence, it's just as fuzz as any other time one tries to find consensus in the scientific community. And while it's not so cut-and-dry that these sorts of policies save lives, they will almost certainly save money, which is why the government felt okay to move ahead with what is a pretty radical suggestion. (Incidentally, everyone on the panel agreed a beer belly is ugly.) I can only really speak to the male side of the equation, from which I understand that male belly fat is (metabolically and hormonally) active tissue. This is a curse. It means one's belly fat basically has a mind of its own; it gets hungry, it wants to stay. However, I totally throw my support behind methods that measure total body fat - which is what a tape-measuring method, in rough form, is capturing - than pure weight. I'm not an expert in the field, but its clear enough to me that BF% is a far better indicator of overall life-expectancy and health, furthermore, in an effort to be transparent, I agree with it enough not to even own a scale. (But in an effort to be even more transparent, I must admit it's not really a big concern in my life at this point anyway.)

So suddenly everyone in Japan is looking down at their stomach. Far from having a benign affect, it seems to have given everyone a complex, and I believe this is where the term Metabo actually fits in. It's been written that the term obesity has negitive and exclusive conotations, while the term Metabo is more inclusitive. The myrid of publications sprouting up to deal with the issue portray it as never the fault of the person, as if personal chocies had nothing to do with it. Though I must admit, the shift in perception does seem to give people the feeling they can be cured, and that something can be done about it, which I guess is key it in the first place to taking back your life.

[The photo accompanying this post is popularily assoicted with this term. It's a poster from a company informing employees of the new policy.]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Door to the Men's Bathroom is Out to Get Me

This happened the other day at Sasagawa Elementary School and I'm only getting the opportunity to blog about it now. It continues the theme started in a pervious post of structures trying to kill me - why I can't imagine; I love architecture. For some reason, completely beyond me, beyond the furthest probabilities, the school has recently settled in a very strange way that only allows easy entering of the washroom but jams the door when exiting. It's hard to explain the sheer mathematics of the thing: entering is fine, but somehow, upon exiting, the angles and pressures are such on the jam when pulling the handle it leverages the door tightly shut. And the harder one pulls, the more strongly it gets wedged. Visiting that school for years now, one just expects it to work how it did in the past. It's hard to describe the panic that sets in: not being able to leave, not seeing any obvious problems. It surprising how quickly the human mind jumps to a scenarios whereby one is found days later, eating toilet paper, in a room that was never locked. I mentioned it to the other male teachers and they shared their similar stories and sympathies.

Recently my students have been letting slip they know I'm leaving. When they mention it my heart normally sinks a bit and I feel like I'm losing my balance. It's easier to answer the young kids questions because I'm forced to describe it in super-easy terms. My Family lives far away. Would you want to live far away from you family? etc. However, the older kids deserve more direct and detailed answers. Luckily, a pattern seems to be emerging that hints at a way to solve this dilemma. They are most concerned with the idea of me returning. This lends itself to an explanation where I can admit it hurts to be leaving Japan, but that I will be forever returning and this is not the last time I will be standing on these shores.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Last Epic DJ Gig

[Better late than never. Here given humbly with my apologies. I'd been waiting for pics that still haven't arrived.]

Finally struggling past the gloomy skies that chased us for most of May, we had the perfect summer evening for a party. The headliner turned out to be actually quite famous, a former bassist in a now defunct rock band Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. Judging from the fans' reaction - decked out in leather jackets and black boots, and the type of music he played - it must of been a pretty cool band back in its hey day by my estimation. When introduced I had to confess I had no idea who he was. He all took it in his stride but his groupies did not. But I ended up with my own set of groupies after my set too, so the balance of the universe was restored. As mentioned previously, my set did not go smoothly. At one point completely losing power to the mixer (a nightmare scenario behind the decks) but my tunes were solid and I pulled through.

I envisioned a set that included all of my favorite tracks but not ignoring the fact this had to be played in public to people that wanted to party. I set out to create a set that I would want to hear on a summer Saturday night. I wanted a set that rocked and rock it certainly did. I am especially proud of the fact - possibly I will get a t-shirt made up - that my set caused the party to get a noise citation. "Too much bass." So sadly the last couple of track were missing a bit of "oomph" in the bass compared to the start, but on the otherhand, it's not every day I turn up the music past 11. North American trainspotters would have noticed some of the more mainstream tracks and question my ability to pull it off, but in Japan, I could do it with style and aplomb. My set generated the atmosphere a cool underground party populated by beautiful people. I was especially happy to drop a fave track of mine and a secret weapon or sort; a track so obscure, deep and twisted its name has been lost to the internet, possessed of a bassline that is truly space-alien, planet-smashing, earth-shattering in dimensions, and so epic is begs to be played (very) loudly. It's worth repeating, I felt especially honoured by those friends who joined me to celebrated my last DJ gig on these shores. I hope I gave them a performance to remember.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is my house trying to kill me?

As a jaded 26 year old, I still manage to surprise myself sometimes. Last night during my swim [insert long sad story about my left foot sore from running] I managed to swim 15 minutes continually (actually just a little more to make sure I'm on the safe side of that statement). A feat I never thought possible. And yet, with months of work, I was able to do it at a pretty good pace. I will admit to touching the bottom but only incidentally as the Shikaoi pool is kind of strange in having a mechanical bottom that is set at 120cm. Far too shallow to be called a deep end. I guess if anyone besides me was there they could do pool running. I still hate swimming, but I think it's safe to say I've graduated from being like a rock in water, to a cat, next will be a camel, then raccoon, an apple, then on to a deformed puffin, blind penguin, injured shark, and after that, maybe... maybe... a fish, as my swim teacher keeps encouraging.

As to why my house is out to kill me - I'm sure it's crossed the mind of others - I dinged that soft spot right under the knee cap yesterday when I was getting out of the ofuro (shower). Hurt like heck and I have a bruise today. Who would design such an object to be at that exact height? In anycase, I will be more leery of innocent dealings with my house from now on.

Lastly, and also related to my sore knee, I went running this morning before work and loved it. I felt way more awake for the rest of the day and it was beautiful to run in the stillness of the morning. The fog was burning off the fields as the sun peeked through the clouds. Quite a nice way to the day. I was much more stiff than usual - that wasn't a particularity good feeling - but there are some things I can try to alleviate that (mostly better stretching) before I give up. My only other possible ailment was my sore right knee. The joint was quite sore. But not a sharp pain that would have normally caused me to turn back. Altogether, I've been running injury-free recently - thankfully! - I think this is mostly due to the decrease in milage that has come with swiming. And injury-free running makes me happy.

Also, please don't expect any pictures for the next couple of days as my USB computer mouse died (it was my old counter-strike gaming mouse that served me well) and the idea of photoshopping with my laptop's touchpad causes me to involuntarily shutter and imagine a torture worst that sober karaoke.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

2008 Edmonton Folk Fest Performers Line-up Rant

Remembering it's June, curiosity got the better of me and I meandered over to the folk fest website to checkout whose performing this year. Bad idea. Now I'm jealous. Just taking the highlights of the mainstage: Amiee Mann, beautiful voice, great song writting; Hawksley Workman, good live; Joan Osborne, she was great last time; Michael Franti and Spearhead, always a party; Broken Social Scene, awesome Canadian superband, played Fuji Mountian Rock fest last year; The Duhks, bluegrass-funk? great song writing; Chris Isaak, great chance to see him live. And I've made no mention of the numerous performers doing workshops... Bah! What a year to be in Shikaoi when the Folk Fest line up for 2008 looks so so good!

Monday, June 16, 2008

I haven't forgotten

I haven't forgotten my blog or my promise to post about June 6th's DJ gig. That is still in the pipeline, mostly finished. Things have been slow this week as the weather improves and I get ready for my mother's arrival in two weeks. Running was really awkward yesterday as I wasn't as into as I usually am. Thirty minutes into it I was still considering turning back but I'm glad I didn't because I finally lossened up and enjoyed it, getting in my usual 1h 10min, but at a much slower pace than usual. Thankfully things turned around in the second half. I mention it because I find it curious; normally I love my runs and can't wait to get out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Japanese News for Friday the 13th

I was trolling the Japanese news sites for something funny to post. Normally the entertainment section does not disappoint. Today we learn that Ai Kago, ex-member of the hugely successful girl group Morning Musume, had a cigarette while visiting Hong Kong. How this stands as national news I have no idea, but it might be tied to the fact she was caught smoking as a member of group when she was just 16. Her comments were a bit disturbing, noting on her website, "This is not good. I hate myself." Commenters on the story were less harsh toward the her, leaving their wrath for the website, "This might be the dumbest story ever put on []...which is an amazing feat."

Finding a humorous story this week was difficult as the rampage in Tokyo, whose news I'm sure has spread to North America, has continued to ring across society. A couple of points about where it occurred; Akihabara, now popularly shortened to Akiba, the geeky electronic section of Tokyo, is in the process of evolving, but to what is not clear. The area is becoming more mainstream, tracking the growing popularity of geek culture at home and abroad. Statically, violent crime is down, while during the past couple of years, random violent crime has ticked up slightly. The area were it happened was a Sunday only pedestrian-zone right near the station. Also, the coverage was broad and detailed because of the intense use of video cellphones.

An interesting facet to the case was that the suspect broadcasted his events up to the attack on the massive Japanese web forum 2chan. That is a forum so big it has developed its own culture. It's traffic carefully measured because such a large segment of the population uses it. It is events like these that further solidify the site's influence on Japan. I don't blame the owner for not catching the comments as the site is truly massive. Furthermore, in regards to liability, I picture ISPs and forums like phones line, in that the owners (with some exceptions) can not be responsible for what is said on them. It would completely kill the industry instantly if such a burden was placed on them. No one would ever rationally take on that type of liability.

The attacks in Akiba mark yet another in a series of knife attacks in Japan over the past decade that is important background information to understand the reactions. Story commenters internal to Japan focused on the role violent film and television played plus the stress and pressure Japanese face to conform. Story commenters external to Japan turned the conversation toward Gun Control; that if only guns were easier to own and carry this kind of tragedy would not occur. While I see their point I still believe at least some attempt should be made to stop these tragedies before they happen, which would mean addressing the issue at the bottom of this tragedy: mental illness.

Unfortunately, the Japanese Parliament has also seemly missed the point too. Instead taking the opposite approach of actually considering nationally regulating all blades over 4cm. From my perspective this is just pure absurdity. Arguments of practically and gigantic bureaucracy aside, I suppose some of the misplaced reaction might stem from a cultural stigma toward mental illness, however, in this case, I suspect we are watching a political reflex (to look like one is doing something--anything--about the problem) rather than anything malicious.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Music Comes a Knocking

The delivery man finally came and dropped off my new iPod nano, thus ending one of the longest weeks ever with no music (half a week actually). It's a slick little thing that is far smaller than I remember from handling in the store. I complained about the proportions when it was released but upon handling it for the first time the design really does work. The dimensions are so small and it is unbelievably thin. I haven't tried the photo or video stuff but that looks pretty cool. I don't have all the cd covers inputed in iTunes so it looks kind of lame but I can see the possibilities. Podcast experiences are much improved.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A blog for all Mondays

This blog is just a place holder unit I get a detailed post together about the Sound Festival. I'm actually waiting for pictures becuase it completely skipped my mind to take any with my camera. Everything went great but I cannot say smoothly. I really appreciate the people who came out to enjoy my last DJ gig in Japan with me. Also on Sunday I attended Shikaoi Sho Gakkou's Sport Festival which made for a busy weekend. In years past the weather has been horrible--threatening rain all day but never enough to cancel--yesterday we enjoyed summer in all its glory. I wore a hat and shorts for the first time I can remember. The tug-of-war was monumental, herculean even. And the 5/6 exercise display, where they build a human tower, was epic. It was impressive watching their concentration and gumption. And with one big push they had a 4-story tower.

Friday, June 06, 2008

One Last Day

I've got too many plates in front of me to pretend I can keep the blog updated as well. I have one great post ready to go that I just need to put the finishing touches on. That didn't happen today. I also look forward next week to updating my readers about how how my DJ set went. A huge weather systeming is moving over Hokkaido tonight but there is a high-pressure system right on its heels, which means sun. We could see summer temps as soon as Sunday. I can't wait.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another thing to post about

Past all life saving measures, beyond the collective wisdom of internet forums, my blue iPod mini, gifted to me by my own grandmother, has died. I'm a bit shaken as I had not been planning to upgrade my iPod--not even remotely tempted--so sturdy and steadfast has been its performance over the past 3 years. But replace it I must, and fast, because a day without great tunes is like a day without sunshine. Speaking of no sunshine: I can't believe we've made it 3 weeks with nary a break in the clouds. Though it's now June, the best we can manage today is a half-blue, half-hazy attempt at summer. The reason I suspect by the week's end things could look better is because the forecast warms up. Heretowith the day's high temp could have been mistaken for late Fall or early Spring. I'm getting sick of it. RIP little blue iPod.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Ready, Set, DJ!!!!!!

I showed up at school today and was told class was cancelled, that's okay because that gives me the chance to update cyberland on my upcoming DJ gig June 7th at the Pure Malt Club house. Word on the street is that I'm on right before the headliner. I think I'll be a major disappointment to the headliner (a radio DJ and bass guitarist from Tokyo) because I have no intenion of doing a polite lead-in set: I plan to drop big primetime tracks, blowing the roof off the place and shaking the dance floor in the process. I'm planing to play all my favorite tracks as this is probably the last time I'll DJ in Japan. My evolution of DJing in Japan has been strange, with each gig getting bigger and bigger. This is by far the biggest gig to date (250!?!?), drawing people form the surrounding towns and nearby Obihiro. I kept telling the promoters I'm an amateur--I moved to Japan with only the MP3s on my computer--but they don't care. They must really like my music. I have double checked with the promoters that they'll have a sufficient number of subwoofers on hand because this set is all about bass (and the word "get" shows up in my playlist often; I don't know what that means).

On a related note, there has been some discussion as to whether or not it's me represented on the poster. The only other possibility is that it's the headliner, but the short brown messy hair, pouty lips, and look of complete concentration, not to mention eyebrows that look like live catapillars, suggests it could be me. Your thoughts?