Archive for the ‘humor’ Category


2013年 1月 9日

Mutton Chop 1Normally I like my hair trimmed short and my beard nicely groomed around the mouth and jaw; however, being a white man in Japan, I am often recruited to be Santa at parties and such. Anyone knows that kids are clever and wearing a fake beard is just inviting the little investigators to invoke accusations of being an impostor. Stemming that tide as well as possible, I often grow out my beard in December.

Sort of tangential to that, I also relied on “hair mascara” in the past to whiten the beard and my eyebrows – to really sell that image. This season, I used no artificial coloring, but found that two years of married life have given me enough whitening.

Recently a friend linked a video about how to shave a beard. One key point was to resist the temptation to play beard games. I’ll just come right out and say, I have never and probably never will be able to resist the play time.

Mutton Chop 2Once all the parties had ended my better half pressed me to take action in the facial hair reduction realm. I hollered out from the vanity announcing that I had trimmed off the cheeks. Delighted responses came back from the kitchen. I made an appearance and for awhile she was cheering with delight; that is, until she really noticed the sideburns. Don’t worry, they are completely gone now, but I made her immortalize them with the camera before hacking away.


Much to My Chagrin

2012年 9月 6日

Every March, when the school year comes to a close, it is common to receive trophies, letters, or other presentations from the students. Sometimes spontaneous movement of the children’s hearts prompts it. Other times, teachers assign it to get pupils to unwittingly practice their language arts skills. Regardless of origin they are always enjoyable to read: first, because they are moving; and second, because they are cute.

Definitely, children say the darndest things and one sadness is that I can’t afford to store all the cards, letters, and presents for posterity: partly for fire safety reasons.

Last Spring, at one of my favorite schools, each second grade class had a representative write a letter for everyone. Instructions from the teacher indicated that group opinion – rather than personal – should be expressed. I included one letter here from a boy who couldn’t resist slipping in a sentence about his regrettable memory from my class. He placed it in the middle and the teacher, busy wrapping up the school year, didn’t catch it; but we had some laughs when I showed it to her.


Dear Erik, thank you for always teaching us so much more than English, like pronunciation and many other things. Your slightly ‘unconventional’ games are also very fun. “Recently when we played the board game, much to my chagrin, I came in fourth.” When you read picture books to us we really enjoy it. Everyone feels that when we play games or you read to us, those are the most enjoyable times. From Second grade, class 1

Riding My Stocking Stuffer

2012年 1月 17日

Little behind the times perhaps, but here is a little Christmas update for the second half of January.

Japanese children sometimes get a visit from Santa, but it is not universal; which makes talking about Christmas a little tricky sometimes. Talking about Santa visiting the “good kids” is not a part of my discussions since, many good little kids in Japan don’t receive a present and I don’t want to be the source of their trauma. Also of note is that children who receive a present generally get only one. For the most part, children in Japan are curious to talk about the little fur-clad elf so December conversations are a lot of fun.

Also in Japan it is very rare for adults to receive Christmas gifts. When I show my stocking which I’ve used for 40 years, people are shocked – and sometimes upset – to hear that I am expecting gifts yet again this year. Not just one of course, but an overflowing stocking full of them.

Christmas morning, I started wondering about my position on the good kids list since my stocking was far from overflowing. My wife however is clearly in good standing with the jiggly-bellied one as her stocking was packed full and had various packages littered beneath it which clearly would not fit inside.

First impressions can be misleading, as I found while burrowing into my stocking. Three presents and an envelope revealed themselves: a book, two chocolate bars, and a note from Santa. As far as my recollection, this is the first time Nicholas has taken the time to put pen to paper for me. Getting to the bottom of his kindly prose, I found a message telling me he had stowed one more item in the back of our micro-van. Much to my amazement it was one of the three items I had been hoping for (but never expecting)… a unicycle.

My Flamingo has to be the largest stocking stuffer to date. Actually this is a present I have hoped for, going on 26 years, since I worked in Development at IBM San Jose. But, that is another story…

Rumors not Exaggerated

2011年 12月 22日

Just like Jon Bon Jovi, I am alive and well. Unlike him, nobody has rumored my death (that I am aware of), regardless of my failure to post much. Recently some ongoing troubles have been destroying my motivation and, for the combination punch, I have been extremely busy. Fortunately this means lots of fun bits to write about; however, it leaves me unable to post.

Winter Solstice occurs tonight and, as usual, I will participate in one of the cutest Japanese traditions I have learned. Eating kabocha (カボチャ・南瓜) – a kind of squash – and soaking in yuzuyu (柚子湯) – a hot bath with fresh citron in it, is said to guarantee one good health during the winter. Perhaps the cutest aspect of this tradition is when a foreigner asks why these items have some special connection to disease prevention, the response is often that they are yellow.

Often in Japanese there is some homophonic meaning behind traditions like this, so one might expect yellow to have another meaning… but it does not. Also, in my Bart Simpson like mind, this always begs the question, “Can I eat something else yellow instead?” This is met with uncomfortable consternation, like so many of my jokes.

Regardless of the ambiguous origin of this tradition, I enjoy getting some tasty and healthy squash in my belly and I really enjoy fresh fruit fragrance while soaking in my 42 degree tub.

On Hold and Backing Up

2011年 10月 25日

Many people think Japan is a kind of wonderland filled with cute cartoons, fancy food, robots and pretty women. While I can’t disagree on any specific point, people who live here for awhile often find themselves complaining about various problems. I have decided that only one of those problems is unbearable. At first I was going to say two, but I have come to accept one.

The two problems were:

  1. Hold music plays loudly from phone (rather than in the line)
  2. Alarm sounds inside car while backing up

Before I go further I should honestly say this is meant to be a little humorous, but still serious – let’s say humerious – since I really have accepted both of these.

School offices are rarely quiet places and the phones are no help. Often calls come in for people who are in classrooms or otherwise need to be hunted down, which means the phone is often put on hold. Doing so plays music in the line so the person on hold realizes they are still connected; however, it also causes loud music to be played from the phone. Personally, I just don’t see such a strong need for it. Contrarily, generally when I use hold it means I need to have another conversation, so I would prefer not having some annoying electronic sound interfering. Clearly this is something one can adapt to, so it’s not so bad. At one’s own place, I’m sure the volume can be reduced or shut off… hmm… perhaps I can do it at the schools as well: I doubt anyone would notice.

Backing a vehicle carries risk of striking something unseen, particularly people are unpredictable. Anyone not realizing a vehicle near them is backing up, dramatically increases the risk of an unpleasant incident. Large trucks or other vehicles with poor visibility in America often have some kind of alarm behind the vehicle to alert people in the area. In Japan, most vehicles – without regard to the size or visibility – also have alarms. Unfortunately the alarms are on the inside of the vehicle serving no beneficial purpose. There is no warning for the pedestrians nearby and it makes noise inside the vehicle, decreasing the driver’s ability to hear what is going on around the vehicle. Some people defend this as “warning the driver that the car is in reverse”; however, any but the least skilled driver should know which gear they are in and  as soon as they release the brake it should be obvious to even the unskilled.

Officially, my opinion is: engineering design is backward and decreases margin of safety. Classification: noisome bother.


2011年 10月 7日

Let’s call today “new word creation day”. My turn. How about ‘nicessary’?

After a bitter struggle of man versus machine which ended with me collapsing onto my pillow after 3am, I returned for round two and beat the evasive, laser-based, internet connection into submission. Some work still needs to be done to make sure it works well with Ubuntu (for a little more security than Windows 7) and to make it talk through my wireless access point (on the off chance my wife wants to surf the net from the powder room), but we are in the home stretch now. We have connectivity and I proudly proclaimed it to a friend who responded, “Sure is nice to have the ‘net.”

My first thought was, “It’s necessary to have the ‘net.” But, I quickly reined in my foolish heart and decided that, yes, it is nice. So, for those situations where something is nice, but you really want to say it is necessary – you can now say it is nicessary.

Silly Boys

2011年 10月 4日

My Tuesday school is a special place. Everyday there are special things happening here. Sometimes when I say special, I mean the difficult and frustrating variety; however, even in those cases amusing things float to the surface.

Just after fourth period began, one of the administrators stood up in the office and looked across the playground exclaiming, “What’s that?” They asked, “Is there a student out there?”

A small child was crouched down in the grass by the sandpile brought in to level the playing field for sports day. We identified the student and she hollered out at him to no avail. As she headed out for a direct interaction, we observed the activity from inside.

He seemed like a kitten prowling around, crouching, pouncing and suddenly – as if to sell this image further – a second playmate came flying in from a distance, nearly running headlong into his friend. The two boys continued scampering around after a grasshopper, including leaping vainly up a wall far higher than their heads. Eventually their awareness that they were being approached came to them and they ran off behind the storage shed.

Once they were corralled, scolded and back in class, I aksed what they were doing. My co-worker uses a very hard to follow dialectical pattern of speaking, but I think I caught the message.

Apparently during third period they were learning about how people used to catch grasshoppers and eat them for their nutritional value, so they set about catching one… Not sure if they planned to eat it or not…

Sunday Soundcheck 69

2011年 10月 2日

Time for a second week of Sunday Soundcheck. Internet should be connected at the new house late this week, making it easier to keep Sunday posts up to date. So, the sound for this week is ‘re’, which we represent as ‘れ’ or ‘レ’ in hiragana or katakana respectively.

So, let’s throw a string of katakana words out today. These all have similar sound, but are very different words. Early on, I was often confused, but have most of these down now.

  • Reesaa (レーサー) is a racer or race car driver.
  • Reezaa (レーザー) is a laser. This word is getting used more and more as this technology finds it’s way into more public contact.
  • Rezaa (レザー) is leather.
  • Rezaa (レザー) is a razor. Yes, it is identical to the previous word. Japanese people will accent it to discriminate the two; however, let context be your guide. After all, one rarely hears about someone being cut with leather in a fight or buying a car with razor seats.
  • Rejaa (レジャー) refers to leisure activity.
  • Ressaa (レッサー) is lesser. This one is in very common usage because to the popularity of the red panda in Japan. In contrast to the giant panda, they refer to the red panda as the lesser panda, or ressaapanda (レッサーパンダ)

And for the hiragana word, let’s go with reigai (れいがい・例外) which refers to an exception. As a teacher of English, I often need this word when I am explaining English spelling or grammar ‘rules’. “Generally, we spell things <this way> but in this case there is an exception.”

The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover

2011年 9月 28日

Currently I am reading two books, but I put both of them on hold for a few days when, through a twisting path worthy of a Kinky Friedman novel – well – I came into temporary possession of… a Kinky Friedman novel. Monkey Boy, a colleague here in Mie, decided to aid his house cleaning efforts by relieving himself of the burden of myriad books left in succession by his predecessors at his work-provided apartment. Perusing the list I selected a number of volumes of which I hope to write forthwith; however, one volume caught my eye in a peculiar way that niggled or tickled my interest, but not to that point where I selected it. I convinced a friend from Nabari – who was coming to my home to receive my former gas range – to tote the books with him on the way. Some juggling occurred when a colleague in Ise asked if I could get that same book from Monkey Boy for him. On Saturday’s range-getting trip my friend delivered The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover by J. Edgar Hoover; and a few emails generated a plan for my Ise colleague to visit Wednesday after work. Mind you, my life is not so lonely that the sole purpose of the visit is to pass a book: we’ll talk over some home-brewed coffee and plot the salvation of the masses while he’s here.

During my time in Texas, I was introduced to Kinky through my subscription to Texas Monthly which contained his column. As a Chicago-born, Jewish cowboy one might consider him unique, but add to that his work as musician, writer and aspiring politician and you’ve got one of a kind.

Having less than four days custody of my colleague’s book, I decided to give it a look. Only 238 pages of moderately large print, divided into 49 chapters of 1 to 10 pages in length made it manageable. The book is one in a series of detective novels written with the author himself as the main character: an under-sexed, vulgar, middle-aged, depressed eccentric, living in meager surroundings, and with an eclectic mix of acquaintances.

Friedman makes almost exclusive use of:

  • puns
  • innuendo
  • name-dropping
  • cultural references (predominantly from the 30s to the 70s)
  • slang (much of his own construction)
  • random trivia (what bird has two feathers for each quill?)

None of which necessarily make for high-quality writing; however, his irreverence and dark satire are probably catchy for a number of readers. All in all, I found that each chapter contained something of interest for me and led me to the next. Under all the dark meandering thoughts of his character, the basic story was amusing and somewhat deep. He chose an interesting little twist of implication on the final page.

I found myself digging through my brain (since I have no internet at the moment) to find the references to historic figures, of which I think I recalled all but one. Since he often mentions fictional characters as if he were name-dropping, it is a little unclear. Many younger readers will find it a challenge unless they are a history buff or are sitting with Google nearby. A few literary references to Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, etc. find their way to the pages as well.

One critique which stands out is that the entire Chapter 42 could be stricken from the book without loss. Basically, two characters participate in a rant against a certain government agency which didn’t serve to advance the story, so much as to just sound preachy. Chapter 43 returned to the same vein as the story and referenced the important points from 42.

Do you like cultural references, satire, irreverence toward powerful government institutions and entendre? This could be for you. Even if you don’t, like me you may find some amusement; after all, any book using the word ‘tump’ has to have a little charm.

Economic Forecast

2011年 9月 15日

Teaching elementary age students is a lot of fun. They have a lot more energy than older students and most of them haven’t learned to hate learning yet. As an educator, there is nothing tougher than trying to work with students who have decided not to learn; particularly if I only see them twice a month, leaving little opportunity to gradually restore their desire.

As enjoyable as the children are, I find I need to talk to learners at higher levels as well. Fortunately, I have a few friends who are working hard on their English skills and I sometimes check in on their progress. One friend has intense interest in business, financial, investing, and political news from around the world. I think he is studying articles everyday in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Stratfor, Financial Times, and several other respected sites.

Looking over a couple articles he was studying today, I spotted something of amusement:

Perhaps the best sign of how difficult it is to know the economy’s direction is that, as a group, the nation’s professional forecasters have failed to predict all the recessions since the 1970s, according to data kept by the Philadelphia Fed. In the last 30 years, the average probability they put on the economy lapsing into recession has never risen above 50 percent – until the economy was already in a recession.

Picturing someone bumping the likelihood numbers from 40% to 60% after a recession has already commenced, makes me think about all the drivers who turn on their turn signal after they have already entered your lane.