Charlie Brown Face Palm

The Nickname and Terrible Joke That Followed Me 6500 Miles

I guess I grew up lucky. Charlie-boy, Chas — my nicknames were rarely more exciting. Well, of course, the intelligentsia of my high school sometimes got really clever, transforming my last name from Hayward to Gayward. Get it?

More often, I got what were apparently hilarious question and answer exchanges that always risked the asker cracking a rib, so effective were they at “busting a gut.”

“What’s upChuck? Get it? Upchuck!” Seinfelds, every one of you.

The most abused joke, though, has to do with a certain character from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts.

“Your name is Charlie? Charlie Brown?”

None of this was terribly egregious. Very few things I was called were homophobic or otherwise too hurtful. No, my nicknames were so dull and unimaginative, they could only be rendered offensive by frequency.

I haven’t heard any of these jokes or names in years. Charlie-boy is an exception; it’s a term of endearment used by my family and, occasionally, ex-girlfriends who think it’s an acceptable moniker. Imagine my bewilderment, then, when that wonderfully comical Charlie Brown joke made an appearance, here in Japan, a full 6500 miles from where I first heard it. Continue reading →

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Midori Matsuri Sabae Fukui

Japanese Hospitality and Summer Hangovers

Summer in Japan: hot, humid days that turn the act of sandwich building into an Olympic event;  cold noodles with equally chilled dipping sauces; and festivals offering grilled food, live music, and a chance to embarrass yourself on a public karaoke stage.

I have no trouble taking part in the latter two summer experiences alone. Heading to my local festival — or matsuri (お祭り) — alone, however, seemed more daunting. There is a sizable population of foreigners in this part of Fukui prefecture, but most tend to come from socially oppressed parts of Southeast or Central Asia. White faces tend to stick out like the proverbially painful non-finger appendage. Woe is the fate of the white man.

Despite my reservations, I went to the festival armed with a budget of 1200 yen (~10 USD) and the certainty that, at best, I’d be stared at uncertainly as I munched my way around the festival. My meager budget proved more than enough for a wonderful experience, and my assumption about my reception, well, that was more than just a little cynical.  Continue reading →

Through the Lens Thursday: Philosoraptor Lives in Japan

You quickly come to notice just how many characters there are in day to day life in Japan. Pikachu smiles cheerfully from the side of a bus; Anpanman gives the peace sign outside of the local agricultural co-op; Hello Kitty warns you to keep the air clean for everyone and not smoke at the local train station.

Character advertisement is nothing new. Mickey Mouse and his ilk are plastered across the U.S. trying to get people to buy junk, visit the Happiest Place on Earth, and what have you. Here, though, it’s taken to another level. My Japanese teacher put it like this: movies, companies, etc. that have good characters succeed. The rest don’t.”

Which is why you can find the prefecture’s mascot printed on 100-yen shop tissues. It’s why every town you visit offers its own spin on anthropomorphic creatures, ranging from the marine to the avian, the cute to the ridiculous.

Tsuruga, a hub city that connects central Fukui prefecture to the coast, recently upped its character game by installing a riff on the famous “Philosoraptor” at the local JR station. Fukui is quite famous for its important role in dinosaur finds, research, and the like, so the move makes sense.

He or she isn’t called Philosoraptor outright, mind you; might be somebody would have to be compensated for that. Instead, the Hamlet-esque pose is just enough to get those of us who spend too much time on the web thinking.

If you’ve spent some time in Japan, what’s the most interesting or absurd character you’ve come across? Let me know in the comments below! 

Mountains around Sabae Japan Monjuusan

Chasing My White Whale in the Mountains of Fukui

After four months of trying to find my way to the top of the mountain, I was sure I’d finally found the trail. A cement torii framed aged cement steps that eased the sharp ascent through sun-spotted bamboo and humidity. A place that looked like the beginning of a level in Uncharted or a new iteration of Tomb Raider couldn’t possibly be anything other than the trailhead I’d looked for in snow, rain, and oppressive heat. And yet, it was just another dead-end.

Sabae Torii Gate

Continue reading →