Archive for the ‘Focus on Japan 2013’ Category

It’s Relative, I Suppose

December 8th, 2013 6 comments

Did you hear the news? Oklahoma had a big earthquake! A 4.5 on the Richter scale!

OK, nobody’s actually calling it a “big” quake. But it’s making the news. The thing is, hearing about this in Tokyo, it’s kind of risible. I mean, we had a 4.2 just two days ago, on Friday, and a 4.3 the day before that.

In the news report, however, they make note of Oklahoma’s “strongest earthquake on record,” back in November of 2011—a 5.6 on the Richter scale.

Yeah, we know what that’s like. We had a 5.5 last Tuesday. Right after a 4.7, with a 4.6 two days before that. Fact is, we tend to have at least four or five quakes in the 4-range every week, and a five-point-something every week or two. And we tend to get a quake around 7 on the scale every few months.

As for 2011, well, you know what we got that year.

It reminds me of living in Toyama, on the Japan Sea side of Japan,where we got several meters of snow each year, and it was typical to have several feet of snow on the ground at any one time. Then we would watch the news on TV and laugh at the big reports of Tokyo getting a few inches of snow, and everything shut down.

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iPhone in Japan

December 4th, 2013 1 comment

This is kind of crazy. After two months, the iPhone still dominates the top 9 rankings in smartphone sales in Japan. Consistently. That’s something like 9 weeks in a row. And not just because DoCoMo is in the picture now, they occupy only the #5 and #9 spots, compared to Softbank’s dominance of the #1, #3, #4, and #6 positions.

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Ponta Got Bit

May 1st, 2013 5 comments


Ponta got bit today. We took him to the hospital and had him treated. The wound was about an inch long and required four stitches.

We usually take Ponta to Koganei Park, a large park to the south of here. It has a three-pen dog run, big with good trees and running area. The pens are separated into large dogs, small dogs, and an exercise area for retrieving and so forth.

Ponta is small, but too big for the small-dog pen, so we always take him to the large pen. He is aloof from other dogs, but plays with partners that are usually his own size. Today, for example, there was a Shiba mix named “Penne” that Ponta got along great with.

Sometimes there are aggressive dogs. The first time we came, a Shiba mix named Sakura kept bullying Ponta, but he got over it. Several months ago, a chocolate lab named Cocoa was very aggressive with Ponta, to the point where I had to pick Ponta up to protect him.

Today, there were two white shepherds, dogs we had seen at the run several times before. They are sizably bigger than most of the dogs in the run, and tend to be pretty forward—not so much aggressive as they simply are big and imposing. Ponta got along OK with them, at least up until today.

Below is an image of the white shepherds and their owner.


Today, we were at the run, and everything was okay. At one point, a few new dogs, a pair of border collies, were introduced. Ponta didn’t seem to like them very much, but had approached one. He growled and barked a bit, and the other dog growled and barked back—nothing really unusual, but enough for me to get up and stand over them, ready to pull Ponta out should things get dicey.

Just as Ponta and the collie had a bark-and-stance, with one other dog close in, one of the white shepherds jumped into them, and it devolved into what I suppose you could call a scrum—all dogs at close quarters, barking and making such close contact that there was no space between any of them. Almost immediately, within a second or so, I saw the shepherd bite into Ponta’s neck, and had no doubt that this was way more serious than usual. Ponta yelped and more or less screamed, and it was clear that his teeth were deep into Ponta’s neck.

Within a few seconds, the scrum separated, but the shepherd kept coming after Ponta. Ponta was unmistakably scared and defensive, trying to get away. I placed my body between them—the shepherd did not seem like he was dangerous to humans—and then I picked Ponta up. At that point, I was not sure that Ponta’s skin had been broken, but I was fairly sure he had taken some damage, even if just a bruise.

But here was where I became livid at the owner of the shepherds: the jerk didn’t do anything about his dogs. He hadn’t when the one got out of hand, and he didn’t when they started harassing me. I was holding Ponta up, but the shepherd was still going after him, jumping up next to me, barking, and scaring the crap out of Ponta.

And the ass who owned the dog still did nothing.

After 5 or 10 seconds, I got Ponta away from that area and the shepherd lost interest. The owner still took zero interest, though Ponta was clearly hurt. I probed Ponta’s neck and was shocked when I felt my finger go through a puncture in Ponta’s skin—easily big enough that it was clear the wound was bigger than my finger. It felt warm and wet, and when I drew my finger out, it had blood on it.

I turned to the owner, who was peering at us, and I said, rather clearly, “Ana ga aru! Chi ga deru!” (“There’s a hole! Blood is coming out!”)

The owner did not react, but simply turned and walked away, apparently unconcerned.

Ponta was a wreck; he was whimpering and his tail was down, and when I held him his heart was beating like crazy and he was shaking awfully hard. Sick with worry, we got Ponta out of there, back to the car, and took him to the nearest animal hospital. Our usual doctor’s office is closed from 12:30 to 4:00 pm; by the time we got out of the park, it was almost 3:00. The vet’s office answered, and Sachi explained Ponta’s injury while I drove—but they refused to treat Ponta until their break was over.

So instead, we drove to a hospital a bit farther from our house (but very close to our old apartment) where they opened up at 3:30, which was five minutes or so after we arrived. As we were waiting, it became clear that Ponta was bleeding a bit—but his neck fur is so thick, it’s kind of hard to see anything, and it holds the blood in.


That doesn’t look like much, but when I pulled his fur back, the seriousness of the wound was somewhat more clear:


We got in to see the vet, and they started treating Ponta right away. The vet said that they would have to shave the area (which I expected), and then they could assess the damage and do whatever they needed to do. They took Ponta in, and Sachi and I waited outside.

After a few minutes, we started hearing Ponta make frightened noises, so I asked the receptionist if we could come in and calm him down. After another minute, they called us in. As they treated Ponta, we were able to hold him and tell him what a good boy he was. This calmed him considerably, and I am really grateful to the vet for letting us do that.

Ponta was sitting on an exam table, being held bodily by a nurse, with a plastic cone around his neck, the wound being enough below it to not cause a problem. This also helped as Ponta could not see anything but us.

We could see the doctor working, however, and saw the damage—an inch-long crescent-shaped tear (the vet had clipped away excess damaged flesh). I am including the photo, but am hiding it behind a link—it is pretty graphic.

Image of Ponta’s neck wound (will open in new tab or window)

The doc gave Ponta a local anesthetic, cleaned the wound, and then stitched it up and applied an antibiotic ointment before wrapping it; again, I’ve put an image behind a link, this time of the stitches (less gory, but still kind of disturbing):

Image of Ponta’s stitches (will open in new tab or window)

The doc applied gauze to the wound, and wrapped Ponta’s neck with long bands of tape, presumably made to not stick disastrously to fur. He said Ponta would be fine, but told us to bring Ponta in two days later. One thing we like about this hospital: not only do they have better hours, they are open 365 days a year, no holidays. This is Golden Week, a huge vacation season, and two days from now is a national holiday.

We took Ponta home, gave him some nice treats (including some rice with his antibiotic medicine), and lots of love. He seems to have recovered emotionally for now, and is resting fine.



Sachi later called up the park office which oversaw the dog run. To our dismay, they refused not only to identify the owner so we could contact him, but also refused to take any action beyond simply making a record of our call. What the hell good is the registration for the place if people can bring dogs that bite and injure other dogs with no repercussions of any kind?

At the very least, I want to confront this guy and hand him the vet’s bill—though, considering his alarming unconcern at the time, I have the feeling he’s not the kind of person who would take any sort of responsibility for his dogs.

Another possibility I am mulling is to make a handout, showing the dogs and the owner, and a photo of Ponta’s wound, describing what happened, and warning people to watch out for those dogs. Maybe post it up outside the run or something.

But then, I am still more than a little pissed at the jackass; maybe I’ll calm down eventually.

One point about all of this which is less bad than expected: vet bills in Japan are much lower than you’d expect. For injections, shaving & cleaning the wound, stitches, ointment, dressing, and the time spent by a vet and a nurse, in addition to a week’s medication, I expected a bill at least in the hundreds of dollars.

Instead, the bill came out to ¥8,295—just $85.

Sachi, meanwhile, simply does not want to return to the dog run at all—a shame, because it’s the only dog run less than 10 minutes’ drive away; we have been going there every two or three weeks for more than a year and a half now. There’s one in Tokorozawa to which there is no direct driving route; there’s another in Nerima we haven’t tried yet. Both would take about 40-45 minutes to get to. We’ll see….

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Neighborhood Incident

April 24th, 2013 3 comments

I was walking to the station this morning to go to work, and saw something that was rather troubling.

There’s a small candy shop near the station exit, and as I approached, I saw four people standing in front of it: two uniformed police officers, one man in a suit, and one “regular” person, a foreigner. The person in the suit was wearing white gloves.

As I passed, I noted two things: first, the foreigner, a dark-skinned gentleman, spoke English but with an accent that suggested he was a national of an African nation. Second, the man in the suit with gloves spoke English—and was telling the man that he wanted to do a “body search” (I assume he meant a pat-down).

In the 80’s and 90’s it happened constantly. They never patted me down, but they stopped me all the time, very often when I was riding my bicycle, which they always accused me of stealing. They would ask for my ID card (all non-Japanese save for some Koreans are required by law to carry their registration cards with them at all times), sometimes that being the only purpose of the stop.

In recent years, I have not been subjected to this, but it has never stopped for many in the foreign community.

So when I saw what I did this morning, it evoked more than just a little suspicion.

True, it could have been justified—perhaps the man had actually stolen something from the store, maybe it had been caught on video or something. Or it could have been something completely unrelated to the shop.

But here’s the thing: I have never seen police confront anyone on the street in that manner before.

I have seen endless incidents of cops pulling people over in cars for traffic violations, of course. I have seen cops dealing with people in all sorts of situations. But in over 20 years in Japan, I have never see cops stand by as a man in a suit and gloves patted someone down on the street.

As I mentioned, it was somewhat disturbing to see.

First of all, where did the guy in the suit speaking English come from? Certainly not from any local police box, that’s for sure. There were no cop cars parked nearby that could see, no cars at all in fact—the streets there are pretty narrow, it’d be hard to miss. The closest police station of any size is 3km south, a good 12-14 minutes away by car—and even there, I’d be surprised to find English-speaking plain-clothed cops. So where did this guy come from? Was someone holding the man there for a half-hour while they called someone in?

More disturbing, though, was the venue: they were suggesting a pat-down, presumably for shoplifting (though who knows what they were in fact stopping him for), right there in the street.

Is it just me, or is that more than a little improper?

One incident this brought to mind was one of the many times I was stopped on suspicion of stealing the bicycle I was riding, usually in the same area I biked almost every single day. On this one occasion, I was stopped by not one cop, but by about half a dozen, with a squad car and everything. While one peered into my bicycle frame for a serial number to trace, the others grilled me about my job, where I lived, my country of origin, and so on.

Now, at this time—in the late 80’s to early 90’s—there was a great deal of friction between the U.S. and Japan, and part of this played out in police behavior and part in the media. When Americans would appear in TV dramas, they were usually violent, loud, criminal, obnoxious, and/or AIDS carriers. When Japanese pitchers intentionally hit American players with fastballs, the players would rush the mound—prompting media excitation about “害人”, supposed to be the word “foreigner,” gaijin, but spelled with the characters meaning “harmful person.” And so on.

So, when I was surrounded by those cops engaged in the serious business of discovering that I did, indeed, own my own bicycle, I saw Japanese pedestrians walking past and glancing at the tableau—and had no doubt that many were seeing me, and thinking, “So, it’s true.”

Nor did it help that, while I was pulled over with some regularity, and while I saw other foreigners pulled over, I never saw Japanese people pulled over for bike-theft checks. Not that it never happened, but it was pretty clear there was a sharp difference in how such stops were decided.

Ergo I am sensitive to such displays which center on foreign residents.

It is possible that what I saw was completely legit. However, the fact that I never seen anything even resembling this treatment before raises doubts with me.

Am I being unreasonable? I’d be interested in anyone’s thoughts on this…

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Kit Kats

April 23rd, 2013 Comments off

As you may or may not know, the KitKat candy bar in Japan is famous for taking on multitudes of flavors, including some odd ones. I got some wasabi KitKats for my nephews a year or two back, but this one surprised even me: Red Pepper-flavored KitKats. At least, the ones on the right. On the left are Blueberry Cheesecake ones.


And no, I didn’t try the pepper ones (nor, alas, the tastier-looking cheesecake ones).

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April 23rd, 2013 1 comment

This photo was from a building we passed the other day:


When we first started walking Ponta, we saw something similar in our neighborhood: a 2-story building with a slide, not a staircase, from the second floor to the ground. At first I thought it was a kindergarten with a novel route to recess, but then I discovered it was an old folk’s home. The building above is, in fact, a hospital.

As you may have guessed, the slides are not for kids, but for incapacitated people unable to take stairs with any speed, or perhaps at all.

Do we have this in the states? Don’t ever recall seeing or hearing about anything like this.

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Personalized Annoyance

January 25th, 2013 Comments off

Doing my usual morning routine, I could not help noticing a loudspeaker going outside. For a while, I thought it was the usual annoyance: a recycle/secondhand shop truck making the rounds, promising all kinds of stuff about what they’ll take off your hands for free (until you actually try to give them something and it turns out you pay through the nose).

But then I noticed that it was going on for a long time. And it was not changing in volume, as you would expect in a moving vehicle. Nor was it talking about what you could throw away.

Finally, I decided to check it out.

It was a politician. I had no idea there was an election. I don’t think there is one.

Nor was this guy on a truck. He was standing in front of my house speaking into a bullhorn.

I have seen this before in large apartment and condominium complexes, where hundreds or even thousands of people live.

But in front of my house? There were maybe a dozen residences where people could understand the idiot from inside their homes. We’re on a small street. Almost no traffic.

It’s almost like the guy figured, “Hey, let’s go annoy that foreigner and his immediate neighbors!”

I have never felt so close to buying a bullhorn, finding out where that politician lives, and going on a 20-minute tirade in front of his house about how politicians are pointless irritants in this society.

But yeah, I know… compared to what politicians in the states are doing, this guy was a mosquito next to a case of flesh-eating bacteria. Still, an annoyance is an annoyance.

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