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Did I ever tell you about the one Japanese
food that I can't stand? It's called natto. I'm sure that some of you have already
come across this horrid excuse for a food.
It's a source of endless debate. People either
seem to love it or hate it, both Japanese
and foreigner alike.
natto is a gooey brown paste made from fermented
soy beans (at least I think that's what it's
made of). People here tend to eat it for
breakfast on top of rice, although you can
eat it throughout the day.
natto has the dubious distinction of being the
only substance on Earth that is both sticky
and slimy at the same time -- you have to
see it to believe it. It smells like something
out of a 14-year-old's school locker and
tastes like wet cardboard.
Some people say that natto is good for you, but I don't believe it.
Have you tried natto? What do you think of it?
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You must be pissed off because, as one commentor
pointed out, I left you in suspense on Friday
by not telling you what happened to my neighbour
who we thought was being murdered.
Of course there's more to the story
that, but unfortunately it's pretty
The neighbour, let's call her 'G', actually
let the abusive boyfriend back in to her
place after Karen helped her escape from
him earlier. He came back to her door pleading
and apologizing and she let him right back
in, and of course he started to beat her
That police visit that I told you about on
Friday, when the cops came and took off their
shoes before 'raiding' the place, was actually
the second time that they had come that night.
Both times they came because we called them.
The first time the guy had slipped away out
the back window and they couldn't find him.
When the cops came that first time we heard,
through a third neighbour (a Pilipino girl)
who could speak Japanese to the cops, that
the couple had had a run in with the police
earlier that day. The boyfriend had been
beating her at a train station somewhere
and somebody called the police. They put
him on a train going one way and her on a
train going the other.
Later that night he came to her apartment,
she let him in, and that's when he started
to beat her up. When we heard it (through
the paper thin walls), Karen went over there
(against my advice), and banged on the door.
I hid nearby and watched. The boyfriend opened
the door and a tear-streaked G ran pass him
into Karen's arms, she was sobbing hysterically.
Her face was all red and swollen. The boyfriend
looked like something out of a bad Mexican
drug-bust movie: Short, stocky, greasy black
curly hair, sweaty and wearing a stained
'wife-beater' tank top. Karen told him off
and he tried to tell her in mixed Spanish,
English and Japanese that G was crazy.
Karen took G and walked away into the
busy shopping street. After a minute
asshole boyfriend started to secretly
them. After thirty seconds I started
the asshole boyfriend. Karen and G
and the boyfriend couldn't find them
out they actually hid behind a nearby
While the asshole boyfriend and I were out
walking around the shopping street Karen
brought G back to her apartment and told
her to lock the door.
Of course, like the idiot that she was, G
let the guy back in yet again at around 2:00
a.m., and as you would expect he really started
to lay into her then. There was choking and
head banging, gaging and screaming. That's
when we called the cops the second time and
that's when they caught him inside the house
and made their daring shoeless raid.
At the end of it all nothing really happened.
I think that the the cops just took him away
and let him go somewhere else, or they might
have even just left him there. I can't quite
recall, by that point I was seriously pissed
off about the whole affair and had lost all
sympathy for G, who, incidentally, was a
shitty neighbour to us for a long time after
that even though Karen risked her safety
to rescue G.
So there you have it, and it all started
off with seven cops taking their shoes off.
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I think that we need a bit of a change
pace from the serious topics that we've
talking about lately.
So, in the spirit of lightheartedness I offer
you the third installment of my occasional
'Japan Tips': Never, under any circumstances,
leave your house wearing socks that have
holes in them.
The reason for this is simple. You just never
know where you'll end up with your shoes
off and your holes exposed. And you don't
want to be the only one with an old yellow
toe nail sticking out for the world to see.
This always happens to me at after work dinner
You may have heard that the Japanese are
pretty serious when it comes to shoe etiquette,
I've even heard it described as a 'religion'.
We once called the cops on our neighbour,
a woman from Guatemala. It was 2 a.m., she
and her boyfriend had been fighting for hours,
then she started screaming and we heard choking
noises. When the seven police officers eventually
showed up on their bicycles (I don't think
that domestic violence is considered a crime
in Japan) the boyfriend turned off all the
lights and wouldn't answer the door. We told
the police that there was a drunken Guatemalan
guy in there and we thought that he killed
his girlfriend. So, after trying to coax
him out, the cops decide to enter the still
pitch-dark house. They opened the main door,
stepped into the entrance hall, and... bent
over to take off their shoes. Yes. That's
right. The cops all bent over in a dark room
with an accused murderer lurking around to
take off their shoes.
Anyway, remember what I said about
in your socks.
In my self-portraits today I'm having a bit
of fun with my eye infection -- making lemonade
out of my lemons, as they say.
However, if anyone else would like to do
an impression of the Orwellian laws and policies
now being legislated in the U.S., send them
in and I'll post them on the site.
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People have expressed a lot of interest
Thursday's post on the quirky nature
racism. I'd like to take some time
elaborate a bit on what I said that
and to respond to some of the points
in the comments section.
Racism is an interesting topic that affects
most of us in one way or another but it's
generally not talked about enough because
it's such a sensitive issue.
I love a philosophical debate for its own
sake, but one very common problem is that
people have slightly different personal definitions
of the same word. This is especially true
with regards to abstract concepts that are
often used in a rhetorical manner (e.g.,
freedom, democracy, and racism). The topic
of racism also breaks down into other loosely
understood words such as 'race', 'culture',
and 'ethnicity', which is something that
was brought up in the comments.
In order to explain my observations
racism I felt that it was necessary
redefine the term 'racism.' My working
"...racism [as defined here] is a habit
of generalization. It's a way of thinking
vaguely about individuals in terms that you
ascribe to their racial/ethnic/cultural group.
This is not always a negative thing, and
in many cases is unavoidable."
It's problematic to redefine a word for use
in an argument when that word already has
a commonly understood meaning, and generally
this practice should be avoided. Readers
can't forget the original meaning and the
word stills carries all of its connotations
and this taints the argument that you are
trying to make. This was illustrated in the
comments by a reader who, in a well-meaning
way, felt that it was necessary to point
out that by my own definition my post, and
indeed my whole site, was racist. This is
of course true, and is something that I'm
very well aware of, but as I said, not something
that I think is intrinsically negative.
One of the major problems with the subject
of racism, as well as many other issues in
social science, is that there is a tendency
to moralize rather than to analyze. Designations
such as 'good', 'bad', 'evil', 'should be',
'ought to' generally serve to obfuscate a
subject and simplify the context in which
it is to be interpreted. It also makes people
hesitant to express their true feelings for
fear of condemnation.
The best way to come to understand racism
and correct the social ills that are associated
with it is to embrace the idea that racism,
because it is found in every culture and
has been around since the beginning of recorded
history, is a fact of the 'human condition'
and must be accounted for in the design and
maintenance of our society (i.e., in our
legislation). It must be accepted and worked
with rather than moralized, ignored and denied.
I'll give you an example of what I mean by
'work with' a human vice: The role of greed
in American capitalism verses the role of
greed in communism. Most people are greedy
and selfish to some extent, and most human
populations of any size will have a few individuals
who are really greedy. In many cultures (including
our own) this is considered a vice (sin).
The brilliance of the framers of the capitalist
system is that they accepted the fact that
people are greedy and used that knowledge
to construct a system that coralls and controls
greed but nonetheless uses it as a driving
force. Communism on the other hand is idealistic
and moralistic in regards to greed, it doesn't
work with it, it ignores it and hides it.
There are many facets of racism that need
to be addressed in any meaningful debate
on the topic.
For example, everybody tends to view racism
in terms that reflect their local environment.
This is only natural. The American racism
debate tends to focus around the black and
white issue and addresses the problems of
economic inequality and discrimination. The
Canadian racism debate centers on immigrant
integration and First Nations issues. Racism
in South Africa centers around colonial class
divisions. In Nigeria it is tribal and religious
competition. My point is that racism means
different things to different people in different
Another interesting facet of racism is the
role that the perspective of the person making
the racist statement plays. For example,
it's okay for a Jewish person to make a joke
about other Jewish people, but if a gentile
makes a Jewish joke it's assumed to be "racist/anti-Semitic".
This 'insider' rule seems to hold true for
most racial/ethnic groups, with the notable
exception that it's generally okay for anyone
to make fun of white people.
What this tells us is that 'intent' is very
important in racism. A black person making
generalizations about the black community
is assumed to be benevolent. However, if
a white person makes the same generalization,
it can be perceived as racist. The veracity
of the statement is not what's at issue,
the intention of the speaker is.
This raises some interesting questions. For
example, if an East Indian factory owner
in Canada won't hire other East Indians because
he believes they aren't fast workers, is
this racism? It's certainly discrimination.
There are several other issues that I'd like
to touch upon, but this post is becoming
a bit too long for comfort. I think that
I'll leave you with what I've said so far,
and maybe I'll continue this discussion in
a few days.