Monday, January 11, 2010


I shaved my beard!

We'll see how long I can last before growing it back again.

Below are a couple of pictures for proof.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Extra cash, Mixi, Mr. Penkin

Last week I went to Tenjin's "Rainbow Plaza", which is a place for international students and foreigners to find and borrow books and magazines in various foreign languages. They also have a board for you to post advertisements for language services. I posted an ad offering English conversation assistance and I got a reply. I met with her last week at the Seattle's Best Coffee cafe near Junkudo bookstore. I'll be making 1,500 yen per hour! Unfortunately, we'll only be meeting once per week so it's not a whole lot of money. I'm hoping to get at least another response or two.

I've decided to put away any money I get from this アルバイト so that I can have a little savings going. I've also decided to save all of my 500 yen coins. Hopefully in a couple of months it will have added up to quite a bit.


Mixi is the Japanese equivalent of Facebook and Myspace. I got an invite from my Japanese tutor from 3 years ago to create a page. I've made one and found a couple of my Japanese friends on there so far. I've also had a few random requests from people, one of whom I've actually been exchanging messages with fairly frequently. She seems cool...maybe I'll make a friend out of it :)

Mr. Penkin

About 7 months ago I entered some of my musical compositions into a competition on the online gaming site, Kongregate. One of my pieces made it in the top 5 for the week too :D !!! Anyway, I traded compliments with quite a few of the composers in the contest, but one person, Kevin Penkin, a brilliant composer from Australia, I actually got to be pretty good (online) friends with. We've kept in touch via Facebook since the competition.

Last week, he arrived in Japan for 2 week long vacation. He was in Tokyo and Osaka for most of the trip, but yesterday (January 10th) he came to Fukuoka and we were able to meet up and hang out in Tenjin for about 6 hours. He was with his friend Kayla, who he collaborates with on music/animation projects for his site Happy Ramen Studios, and a Japanese girl who lives in Fukuoka but who they had met last year while she was studying abroad in Australia. I took them to a 280 yen ramen place that I knew of. オイシカッタ!Then we hit up a couple of arcades, played some Mario Kart and Guitar Freaks. Then we spent some time browsing books in Junkudo. We vowed that we were going to find some way to play music together when we met up, so we found a really nice piano in a Yamaha store and exchanged a few songs. I played some Yasunori Mitsuda pieces (Nephilim, June Mermaid, Circle of Eternity) and he played a medley of Final Fantasy music including a great arrangement of "To Zanarkand". It was a great day. Hopefully we'll meet up again sometime in the future...maybe even collaborate on a project.

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There's a chance that I'll be involved in translating a feature film into Japanese. There's a company interested in translating "RIP: A Remix Manifesto", a film about remixing, creativity, and the copyright industry, into Japanese and they are looking for volunteers to help with it. I sent them an email so hopefully that will start soon. I'm planning on watching the film tonight so I can get an idea of what I'll have to do. It should be a great experience if I do get involved :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Reflection on "Zoto: the Japanese Custom of Gift Giving"

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"Random thoughts for Valentine's day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap."

This rather cynical sentiment is uttered by Jim Carrey's character, Joel, in the opening line of the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". The idea of gift-giving holidays is received differently in the west than it is in Japan. Joel's character can be thought of as representing the typical, single American male who feels somewhat emasculated by this nationally recognized holiday that expects you to give, and be the recipient of, some sort of gift representing your affection for another. Without a significant other the American, even if he doesn't buy into the holiday itself, can feel left out due to the society he is a part of putting so much weight on the gift giving aspect of this day.

In Japan, this sentiment, I would imagine, would not be held by the majority of the population. Gift-giving in Japan, like many traditional aspects of the culture, seem to be woven tightly into the fabric of society; so much so that it may be even hard to imagine the practice not taking place. While a Japanese may still feel somewhat embarrassed to have not received chocolates on Valentine's day, but I would venture to say that he'd blame the holiday itself for his emotional state.

The west seems to have a fixation with suspecting everything to be a part of some evil corporate machine, themselves being merely the cogs keeping it going. While this metaphor may not be completely off target, capitalism thrives on this very notion, the cynicism towards the harmless, non-entities (such as holidays) is very different than that of Japan's citizens.

"You bought me a present? Why would you do such a thing? I know you think you're being generous, but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven't given me a gift, you've given me an obligation. The essence of the custom is that I now have to go out and purchase for you a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as that represented by the gift you've given me. Ah, it's no wonder suicide rates skyrocket this time of year. Oh, I brought this on myself by being such an endearing and important part of your life..."

Above is a quote from a character named Sheldon from a sitcom called "The Big Bang Theory". Sheldon's character is a genius with an IQ that's off the charts, but has a very hard time with social relationships, reading facial expressions, and getting the hang of social situations. Because he can't understand these things intuitively, he simply feels obligated to fulfill whatever he has learned from society to be the norm. In this scene his neighbor, Penny, has informed him that she has purchased him a Christmas present. His "condition" forces him to immediately stress over his now obligatory reciprocation to Penny by means of matching the value and sentiment of her gift, which is unknown to him, to that of his gift to her.

While this example is a little far-fetched (which is what makes it funny), I'd argue that Sheldon's mind-set is more like that of Japanese person's when it comes to social obligations, reciprocity, or Giri. Unlike in American society where it is not always considered necessary to give a gift in return, in Japanese society it may be the case that, upon receiving a gift, a Japanese person feels burdened by an unavoidable obligation that has been put into motion.

In the scene, Penny's character stresses that she expects nothing in return, but Sheldon (being the Japanese in my metaphor here) can't shake the feeling of obligation to reciprocate. A Japanese person thrown into American society and given a welcoming gift may feel a deep need to reciprocate in kind in order to further establish and maintain the social relationship brought into motion by this simple gesture by the American.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


最近、友人にすごいアメリカのロックバンドを進められた。「Sleeping At Last」というだ。アルバムが三つあるけど、今まで二つだけ聞いたことある。一番新しいのはまだ全部聞いていないんだ。歌手の声は素晴らしい!ライブで も同じ美しさだから、本当に上手だよね。よかったら、下のビデオを見てみて下さい!


ア ルバイトを見つけた!月曜日に天神のRainbow Plazaで英会話の広告を貼った。次の日電話があった。明日の夜、JUNKUDOの隣のSeattle's Best Coffeeで会う予定がある。ミシガン大学の授業料を払わなきゃから、お金が要るよ。奨学金は足りないんだなぁ~。


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Spiritual Reflection

Over the past few years I've found myself straying spiritually further and further from God. It's hard for me to pinpoint when and why this happened. I know that my opinions on religion as an organization have become rather cynical. I don't think I'm in the wrong to question this institution and what it has become. The fault is that I've let that which is made by man misdirect me. God is not a religion. If God leads you by the hand, religion pulls and squeezes you by the arm. I rejected religion's firm grip on me; but God's grasp is so gentle that I'd forgotten it was still there, leading me to all of the wonderful experiences I've had, and leading me through all of the bad ones.

I believe that God, whatever He is, has a message for us. I don't know if that message can be found in any of the world's holy books: corruption runs so deep that it's hard to fully trust any printed word. There are many, many teachings in the Christian bible that I will forever keep with me and try my best to follow. I question the authenticity of much of what is there though. The history of the bible is wrought with evidence pointing to the fact that at a very critical time a select few people in power had a very big say in what was to be left in, and what was to be left out of, the bible. Is it impossible that, whatever God's original plan for the bible and its role in our lives was, at that moment Man's capacity for greed and vanity changed all of that?

I can't believe that God's sole source of communication with us was to be by means of something as easily misunderstood and malleable as the printed word. We're not giving God enough credit if we believe that he can't communicate his message to us in an infinite number of ways. We can sense God's presence if we try. I feel it guiding me. I sense it when I discover the beauty in the nature surrounding me, in music and art, in friendships. I sense it in my conscience, my will. The problem is that lately I've stopped trying to sense this and perhaps even ignore it when it does surface. I allow myself to be moved and although I appreciate these things with all of my heart, without recognizing the divine in them, I can only superficially understand the immensity of their impact on me and my world. In the past few years especially I've had so much to be thankful for and I've rarely taken the time to thank God for any of it. I've worked hard for what I've accomplished, but I don't owe it all to myself. I am the result of the act of creation. I know this deep down; I don't need the bible to tell me that I'm not some cosmic accident. Thus, everything I do is a direct consequence of that original act. I want to recognize again, and in a way, to an even greater degree than before, that I'm a part of something bigger than what I see around me. There is something else here that I can't allow myself to ignore any longer. Although I know he never left, I want to recognize that God is in my life again.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Fukuoka: A Slideshow

I realized today that most of the pictures I have taken are of either special occasions (such as New Years, Christmas, Halloween, etc.) or of special locations (castles, shrines, etc.). So, I decided today to go out and take a bunch of photos of the areas near where I live. I compiled these into a slideshow, slapped on a soundtrack and voilà, everyone has a much better idea of what my surrounding area looks like. The first half of the slideshow is Kashiihama, no more than a 5-minute walk from the kaikan; the second half is in downtown Tenjin.

Music: "West Tumbara" by Yasunori Mitsuda

*note* On Blogger the quality is rather poor, so if you have a Facebook account here's the link to a larger and better quality version of the slideshow on my videos page: