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I remember this one time as a young boy in
Mississauga, a Toronto suburb, driving around
in the back seat of my parent's navy blue
Hyundai Stellar. We were on our way home
from my uncle's house when my mother saw
a big East Indian family sprawled out and
lounging on their front lawn. Saris and bindhis,
exposed flabby midsections, the kids playing
Frisbee, they had the whole thing going on.
They even had a picnic table set up. The
father's belly was big and distended and
he was wearing a greasy white sleeveless
My mother just took all of this in and clucked
her teeth and rolled her eyes. She hated
this kind of thing. She just thought it was
so unsightly. You see, in the Canadian suburbs,
you're only supposed to hang out in the back
yard, never the front. The front was only
for show. It was very public. So, this immigrant
family was really breaking some major protocol
and stood out quite badly.
Me being the self-righteous kid that I was
tried to defend the immigrants. I said something
like, "They don't mean anything by it.
Where they come from people probably still
do sit out in front of their homes and actually
'talk' to one another. You know, talk to
people walking by. You know, like neighbours.
We just never talk to anybody. We just like
to pretend like we're the only ones living
Yeah, well, that might have been so,
my mother was having none of it. She
thought it was dreadful.
Well, the funny thing is Mom, here I am,
nearly 20 years later, living in Japan, and
now I'm that fat Indian guy eating chicken
on my front lawn and offending all the neigbours.
I'm an immigrant, I'm a foreigner, and I'll
never be able to go back to Canada and look
at all of those Chinese and African and Indian
and whatever people again in the same way.
Because now I can not only just sympathise
with them, I can empathise.
Karen and I haven't committed to staying
here for the long haul, to truly immigrate,
so we haven't really made that much of an
effort to adopt local customs. We take what
we like and leave the rest. I find that newly
arrived people often go overboard in this
respect and try to be more Japanese than
the Japanese themselves. But eventually they
come to realize that to some degree you have
to be true to who you are and where you come
Anyway, I shudder to think at some of the
things that Karen and I do to offend the
neighbours. I'll give you one example that
we always fight over: Hanging the futons
out over the front hallway railing, in public,
instead of off of our own balcony.
Karen insists on hanging them out front where
everyone can see how gross and sweat-stained
they are because that's where the sun is
shining the brightest. I just want to use
the balcony, shade or no shade, like everyone
I can just hear Mrs. Sato from down
talking to her neighour right now,
those damn Canadians. Look at that.
putting their shitty yellow futons
the front railing again! Don't they
any shame? I don't want to look at
Tokyo is a long way from Mississauga, and
my parents got rid of the Stellar years ago,
but people still have the same problems fitting
in no matter where you go.
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A few weeks ago the cicadas, those giant
bugs that make astoundingly loud whirrrring
sounds, started to die and drop out of the
trees, scattering onto the walkways and streets,
and to me that could only mean one thing:
Fall was just about here.
Like a lot of people, Fall is my favourite
season, but I especially love it in Tokyo.
I couldn't imagine nicer weather; it's sunny
and dry and just a little bit warm. Kind
of like a good friend.
The recent sight of all of those cicadas
sprawled out on their backs got me to thinking
about some other signs that Fall is coming
here in Tokyo:
1) A wide variety of Fall jackets appear
In a few months time, after one style begins
to dominate as the 'in look', a critical
mass will be reached and then suddenly everyone
will be wearing the exact same jacket. Last
year it was a light parka with an Inuit-style
Everyone will buy a brand new winter jacket,
and then by January or February the stores
will be full of cheap knock-off varieties.
People will start to look around and say
to themselves, "Hey everyone's got the
same type of jacket as me." At that
point 75% of the people will run out and
buy their second winter coat of the season
and once again people will be wearing a wide
variety of jackets.
2) Half of the cans of coffee and tea in
the vending machines on the streets are now
switched to hot, instead of all cold.
3) Oden (a kind of seafood/turnip/tofu stew) stalls
start popping up on street corners. These
are usually just little carts with a propane
burner and a couple of stools.
4) Your laundry just doesn't seem to
as quickly as it used to.
5) You decide that it's time to turn on the
seat-heating function on your ultra high
That's all that I can come up with for the
moment. I'm sure that a few of you old Tokyo
hands will be able to think of a few of your
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The other day while studying kanji, which are Chinese characters used in written
Japanese, I was thinking about how they must
be read 'in one quick lump'. You all know
what those crazy Chinese characters look
like. You see them up on restaurant signs
and in the instructions that come with your
new TV and you think, 'How in the hell could
anybody ever read or write this stuff, let
alone remember all the little picture things?'
Although they are a kind of pictograph, kanji are usually read phonetically. However,
they often stand alone and sometimes contain
multiple syllables. So sometimes, one Kanji,
which is one 'picture', can stand for one
I was thinking about how different this is
from the Western writing system, which is
purely phonetic, meaning that we sound out
our words based on the phoneme (sound) that
each letter represents. Then I had a realization:
nobody past an elementary reading level actually
does sound out words. What we do is memorize
the shape and meaning of each word. If we
didn't do it this way it would take us forever
to read, and in many languages, such as English,
it's essential to do this because it's not
possible to sound out a lot of words (e.g.,
you can't sound out 'enough').
So in a sense, we read our words in much
the same way that Chinese and Japanese read
The same day that these thoughts were
going through my head, Karen sent me
interesting little email, I don't know
she got it (sorry to all of you non-native
English readers out there who may have
problem with the message below).
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy,
mttaer In waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod
are, the olny imrpoetnt
tihng is that frist and lsat ltteer is at
the rghit pclae. The rset
can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed
it wouthit porbelm. Tihs
is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by
it slef but the wrod as a
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Today I auditioned for a wedding pastor job
at the Ambassador hotel in Tokyo Disneyland.
It went well, but unfortunately I don't think
that I'll be doing weddings there any time
soon. It turns out that even if I make the
cut, I'll only end up at the bottom of the
list of 'substitutes.' I guess Disney likes
to keep a big stable of ministers on hand
in case they need them.
The actual audition was a good exercise --
i.e., ministering under pressure. As usual,
it was a surreal experience, kind of like
Flashdance with priests instead of dancers.