The end

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The beginning

(This will be a very short entry today)

As we finally make it to a very hectic and tumultuous year it is good to look back and reflect on what happened and how we can move on from where we are now. It is important to ask questions and look forward.

I have just begun to take social media seriously, started uploading on youtube monthly and am starting a podcast in February (hopefully). It has been a great ride and I look forward to a new year with every challenge and problem. It is my goal this next year to face every challenge and try my best, and have a good outlook no matter what the outcome.

It is important to ask some questions of your self such as:

What did I do this year? – Why?

What didn’t I do this year? – Why not?

What was one regret? – Why do you regret?

How many peoples friendship did you gain? -Why?

How many peoples friendship did you lose (or let them go)? – Why?

How hard did you push this year? – Why?

How could you have pushed harder?

So what are your goals for the next year?

 

Sleeping tight…

Where to sleep in Japan.

Today’s article, if you can call these that, is about a topic that I find to be very interesting and very “Japanese”. A topic that is almost unimaginable for many American’s. If you were to leave your car unattended with the keys in the ignition Aurora, where I grew up, you would more than likely find one or two people looking into your car and scoping it out possible theft. Also, if you were to to leave your car running, while either in the car or out of the car for more than 5 minutes you can be ticketed by the police for pollution.

So, for those of you who know Japan you can probably guess what I am talking about. I am talking about the habit of Japanese people to sleep in their cars. If you travel around Japan for more than a day, especially in Summer and stop at any parking lot, convince store or parking station you undoubtedly see a few dozers sleeping in their car or trucks.

There is no law against sleeping in your can but you will definitely get the police  if you stop at the wrong places for a night. In Japan it isn’t against the law to stop on the side of the street, unless marked, but you will may have to answer a few questions by helpful people. Also, if you stop at a convenience store parking lot for a whole night the manager might come and talk to you. In any case it is probably best have any paperwork, such as drivers licenses and car insurance and other IDs availble when you do get questioned.

So then the question that gets raised is – why do so many Japanese people sleep in their cars? There may be many answers to this question, but I think that it may be answered in one Japanese word – inemuri. This is a Japanese word that means sleeping while on duty. Japanese people are horrible overworked, and spend a lot of time at work, much more than their American counterparts. By sleeping while on duty the Japanese show how they are dedicated to their jobs and willing to sacrifice the comforts of home and a soft bed for their work.

While this may not be the %100 accurate it is the best explanation I can come up with. I would love to hear what you think the reason is that Japanese people sleep in their cars. I have not been all over Japan, just a few prefectures so it would be very interesting to hear about the experiences and explanations other people have had and heard.

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[Not my image]

Socially impared

DSC_0056.JPGRetarded, impaired, handicapped

 

(This was supposed to be written yesterday 12/19, but my kid got sick so I didn’t get a chance to write so this will be a very brief entry.)

 

Eight years ago I can to Japan, and a lot has changed since then. When I first came to Japan, no one had felt an earthquake past 9.0 magnitude. Costco was something only found in fat America, and all my students knew the slogan “Yes, we can” as well as “Change”. But there is one part of Japan that still hasn’t changed much.

 

Almost a decade ago the words special needs were rarely used in schools. That term was reserved for the most mentally handicapped students. Only students which could not possibly survive on their own or were a threat to themselves or were so socially handicapped were considered to be special needs.

 

Meanwhile in other classes students who were clearly special needs but could struggle through classes were put into normal classes. This led to classes having such a stratified level difference that it was nearly impossible for the slower students to keep up.

 

So what has changed? Almost nothing has changed since that time. Students who have impairments are still going to normal classes when they should be in special needs classes because of the parent’s forcing them and the school to do that so their student can “fit in”.

 

Only within the past year or so have schools in the northern Tohoku region of Japan introduced school councilors, certified special needs care takers and school social workers. All of these people have been brought in to schools to support all the students but focus on the special needs students, too.

 

All in all there is a little movement in the right direction to get students the help that they need. However there is still a lot that needs to be done to help the students of Japan. One thing that could be addressed in the stigma parents feel if they hear the words “special-needs” when someone mentions their child. We need to help them learn that the label is not a death sentence, but an option to get the help their student needs to thrive. We need to tell them there is nothing wrong with being a special student… I was considered special needs all my academic life.

[Sorry for the short entry, my daughter got sick and so I didn’t have much time to write today.]

Hold of Fold?

You gotta know when to hold them..

Gambling in Japan is very restricted and enforced by the government. Generally speaking there are a few different methods of gambling that are allowed under government supervision. Those methods are bicycle racing, horse racing, car racing among a few other methods.

One other method that is considered “leisure” is pachinko, this is the closest thing to a casino that Japan has for now. However there is a bill that might legitimize casinos, however I don’t have enough background on that so I won&t talk about it you can check more about it at this following link.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/12/08/editorials/casino-legislation-fast-track/#.WFPk3n3ieBs

So today I thought I would talk about something I have seen a lot and had the misfortune to have to go to while my parents were visiting… Pachinko. So what is pachinko, it is a slot type game where people pay money to watch metal bearings fall down into a series of holes. If the bearings make it into certain holes the players get more bearings.

Now when a person plays they can “cash in” their bearings for prizes on site. the prizes are usually household items like soap and other things. However, this is where pachinko crosses over into gambling. Many places will offer a player a ticket for the amount of balls that they earned they can then take those to an offsite “shop”where they can trade them for cash or coins they can exchange for money.

Now the pachinko buildings are a very prosperous business but it spreads much more past that. Because pachink is considered leisure by the government they can legally be put in arcades next to childrens games. So it is not uncommon to find many parents playing pachinko while their kids play the newest Dragonball-Cho card arcade.Thee are even pachinko machines run by private entities “AKA Yakuza” in tattoo shops,, porn shops and sometimes even bus stops.

All in all gambling in Japan is a contradiction of the law, but something that Japan struggles with a lot. New laws may make it legal in the future to create casinos and exasperate the problem. But the prime minister Shinzo Abe sees it as a great way to increase tourism. Pachinko in all of its forms will be sure to be a present source of entertainment no matter what happent in the future.dsc_3456

 

Let it snow

Oh the weather outside is frightful.

 

Well, here in North Japan we have finally begun to see the turning of the weather to more wintery conditions. Last week we finally got our first blanket of snow which covered the ground for 2 days. After this short stint of snow we have been getting warnings over the radio and TVs about a coming snow storm, but as of yet we only experienced slush.

 

So this is the perfect time to fill in people living in Japan for the first year, or looking to come to Japan, as to how snow removal is handled in Japan. Before I begin, I would like to remind everyone reading that I am by no means an expert and all the information I will put out on this entry is mostly from my personal experiences and I encourage you to do your own research because every place is different.

 

So what should you expect from a snow storm in Japan? Well for starters if the wind is blowing over 10KmPH while it is snowing the transportation board will generally close down the highways and airports. The JR Shinkansen and train lines may be shut down as well, so it pays to be connected to your local JR office if you take the train every day (http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/ticket/changes.html).

 

Now if you are a commuter and don’t bother with the trains then you will have to deal with the Japanese plowing system, or lack of it. In my 8 years here in the Northern part of Hanshu I have never seen a plow within the city limits, instead citizens have their roads plowed by street scrapers and front end loaders. This leads to large mountains of show flanking the streets making it difficult for pedestrians walking down the street and people exiting the side streets the plows just went by.

 

As a pedestrian in Japan you have to be very careful during winter because not many businesses shovel the sidewalks unless you are in a main area, and even then the massive amount of snow and the sure size eventually topples the snow onto the walking path. And even with this there is little to no salt or chemicals laid down to keep pedestrians safe.

 

So, now that I have scared you enough, I can lift your spirits about snow patrol in Japan. If you ever Google Japan and snow you are likely to come across pictures of an isolated street with two towering walls of snow equaling up to 65 feet tall in some places. That is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route which is a famous area in North Japan. Those roads lead to housing and skiing and is an example of just how the Japanese have improvised to create a solution to a big problem. (Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route)

 

Japan has one of the largest concentration of ski resorts in the world and so have to keep the streets clear. So many inventions have been created to help fight the snow and keep access to areas and housing. Some of those include “slush highways” and heated streets as well as natural hot spring towns that syphon some of the hot water from the natural hot streams under the streets to melt the snow.  (www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/01/japansnow-country/426738/)

 

In the end, Japan is a place where a lot of snow falls and while there is a lot they can improve on, there is also a lot they have created that sets them apart in the snowy world. What has been your experiences in Japan and the winter time? Have you seen any solutions to the snow problem I haven’t mentioned? I would love to hear them. Leave a comment below.

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The Sickness

Get up, come on get down with the sickness!

Well hello!

I hope you had a great weekend. I had the first relaxing weekend since June and I got sick. So that is going to be the topic of this blog entry – “being sick in Japan”.

 

Japan has a universal health care system that is managed by the central government. When I first moved to Japan my father told me how horrible universal healthcare was. He said you had to go to certain doctors only and you could only get certain medicines and only get certain medical procedures, only after going through several layers of red tape.

 

While he was correct about the red tape he was wrong about most everything else. A brief overview of the system is that every person in Japan who is working is required to be enrolled in the healthcare system. There are private health care providers, too but I don’t know much about them so I won’t write about them. Under the national health care plan, patients can undergo most medical procedures paying %30 of the bill while the government will pick up the rest of the bill.

 

Unlike what my dad thought, patients can choose any physician they want to go to as well as any hospital or clinic and cannot be denied access by law (unless that facility cannot do the procedure the patient wants). All hospitals and clinics are run by physicians by law and not businesses which leads to great health care but not so good looking or maintained medical facilities (sometimes).

 

One of the biggest benefits of living in Japan is also one of the downfalls of living in Japan. Access to medical equipment like MRI machines and other high quality machines are higher in Japan than almost any other developed country (Wikepedia). This coupled with the medical rates, leads to a lot of shortages because everyone is using them. One of the biggest and most cited examples is that of the use of ambulances. Japanese people are notorious for calling ambulances for the most minor of problems.

 

For example my neighbor is 90 and he recently died, but before he died he called the ambulance three times in a week for simple things like a headache, a splinter and other minor issues. This issue is a double edged sword, on one side it is good because the people have access whenever they want to medical facilities, but at the same time it ties up resources that could be used for others who are really in trouble. This is why the medical rates and access may change in the future under “Abenomics”.

So, what do you think? What experiences have you had with healthcare and how could Japan change their healthcare system to make it even better? Leave your comments, I would love to hear what you have to say!

(Also ten bouns points if you can tell me what song and artist the title of the blog is from)

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One of the first…

The first thing to notice

So you have come to Japan or seen a movie about Japan and notice something strange, at lease for westerners. Beyond the vending machines seemingly everywhere, the fashion of Harajuku and the abundance of pocket tissue the think most foreigners notice first is shoes. Now, why shoes you ask – do Japanese people have the most fantastic shoes in teh world, are they self lacing, do they make you jump higher?

Well, the answer is no. Japanese people actually have shoes that are just the same as anyone elses. The big difference you will notice, especially woith teenagers is that the heel of the shoe has been crushed in, or there are even some companies that make shoes with collapasible heels. Why is this you ask, well it is a long time honored tradition that is slowly being lost.

So what tradition could lead to shoes being treated this way? It is the tradition of taking your shoes before entering a building (unless told otherwise). This is a long tradition that spans centuries back, actually no one knows when this tradition first started but many Japanese people I talk with have told me that it has been around since the Japanese settled down in permanent housing structures (So after the Jomon and Yayoi periods).

So why do they do this? Well according to web-japan.org (Housing explained) the tradition started because Japanese traditionally use tatami mats and sleep on roll out beds called futons so the tradition began in order to keep the floor clean. This echos the opinions of many Japanese people I have met and what they thougth the meaning of the removal of shoes meant.

Another theory about this is that most Japanese over history were farmers and didn’t have paved roads so their feet would be very muddy. I can attest to this because I live on a farm and no matter how much I try I always track in dirt and my wife gets angry at me, even if I take off my shoes at the entry way. So taking off your shoes to prevent mud from tracking in is another valid thoery.

No matter what the reason this is a tradition that is slowly dying out. Many newer homes are being built with western stlye entry ways and many younger Japanese don’t even bother taking off their shoes in the house. This could come from the constant prescence of westerners and their cultural influences on the young or just a the Japanese mind set changing with time.

So what do you think? Do you take off your shoes at your house? Why do many younger Japanese not take off their shoes? Share your opinion, I would like to know.

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[Sorry I couldn’t find any pictures of shoes in my library… So enjoy this instead!]