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Here I am sitting on the toilet, jotting
down notes, trying to think of something
to write for Hunkabutta. I'm at a bit of
a loss, but sitting on the can has a tendency
to focus my thoughts.
Now that I think about it, I love the way
that Japanese bathrooms are designed. If
I'm ever lucky enough to build my own home
back in Canada, I'll be sure to have a Japanese-style
What makes the Japanese bathroom different
from the Canadian version? There are a few
things, but the most important is that the
toilet and bath are in separate rooms. This
makes such great sense that I don't know
why we do it differently in Canada. I mean,
given the choice, why would you want to shit
in the same place that you wash? Doesn't
it seem odd when you think about it that
In my apartment we have a general bathroom
area that is actually comprised of three
little rooms. There is the main front room
with a sink and mirror, as well as a small
clothes washer. There is also a little toilet
room with just enough space for the toilet
and a small shelf. Finally, there is the
bath/shower room. The bath/shower room is
without a doubt the best part of the whole
Unlike in Canada, where people have either
a small shower cubical or else shower inside
the bathtub, my Japanese bath/shower actually
encompasses the entire room. The whole room is the shower; it's completely
tiled. You can splash water and soap wherever
you want, it doesn't matter. You can sit
down on a stool and enjoy the steam. There's
tons of room to move around. Having a couple
of friends in there is not a problem. Let
me tell you, it's like having a little spa
right in your own home.
We also have the standard Japanese tub, which
is short and very deep. It has a built in
gas heater that recirculates the water. You
can get the water as hot as you like -- I
suppose you could boil it if you wanted to,
though I've never tried. Anyway, it's a great
soaker tube. Beside the tub is a shower-head
on a hose. You can leave the head on the
wall-mount or else take it in your hand for
easy access to all of those hard-to-reach
cracks and crevices.
The toilet room is pretty straightforward.
Our toilet is just a plain old sit-down one
(i.e., not a squat one), though it's got a neat little sink on
the top of its water tank. Beside the toilet
is an electrical socket, if we wanted to
we could install the latest high tech super toilet. People always make fun of these high tech
crappers, but when you think about it, everyone
spends part of everyday of their life on
the toilet, why not make it the most pleasant
experience that you can?
Well, anyway, it's getting late, and I still
don't know what I'm going to write about
on Hunkabutta. I guess you'll just have to
enjoy the pictures for now. Maybe next time
something will come to me...
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One of the best lines I've read in a newspaper
article in a long time:
|...Yasuko Watanabe led a double life. By
day, the graduate of an elite private university
held a managerial position with Tokyo Electric
Power. By night, she was a prostitute on
the back streets of Shibuya
The above is from an interesting article
on famous crimes committed by foreigners
This particular story seems very appropriate
seeing that Kanagawa (Yokohama) Governor
Shigefumi Matsuzawa has caused a ruckus lately with his racist comments. However, to his credit, he did try to qualify
|Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa qualified
his assertion Sunday that "all"
foreigners are "sneaky thieves,"
stating instead that only "some"
Gee thanks Shigefumi, that makes me
a lot better.
Tokyo's Governor Shintaro Ishihara hasn't
been doing too well lately in the old racial
slur department either, but at least he's
sticking to his guns:
|An unrepentant Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara
on Friday reiterated claims that Koreans
had chosen Japanese rule rather than face
Chinese or Russian governance when Japan
annexed the Korean Peninsula in 1910.
Speaking at a regular news conference, Ishihara
again claimed that political leaders on the
Korean Peninsula had made the decision to
accept Japanese rule, which lasted until
Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945.
No wonder everyone's been looking at
lately, they all think I'm a thief.
thought it was my new haircut...
In other news, Gary, my father-in-law,
his friend Jean are back for another
They'll be touring around Japan for
so expect some Tokyo tourist photos
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I usually sit here and tell you about some
facet of life here in Japan, about some kind
of observation that I've made. Well, today
I have a question for you. What is the deal
with organized crime in Japan? How accepted
and tolerated is it? Do police ever arrest
anybody of significance in these organizations?
For years now I've been reading the Japan Times and every so often I come across a 'gangland'-
related story, usually about a shooting or
some such violent crime. Almost invariably
these stories make some casual reference
to the "office" of the "clan"
involved in the incident. I used to think
to myself, "What the hell is this? These
guys have offices? Not only that, but offices
that everyone knows about."
There seems to be so much public knowledge
of mob, or yakuza in Japanese, activity but so little is done
about it. It's like they're treated as legitimate
businesses. I've heard that the police have
a working relationship with the Yakuza wherein
the police will let them have their gambling
(pachinko), extortion, and prostitution in
exchange for not dealing in firearms and
drugs. I don't know how true this is, but
Japan does seem to be a relatively gun- and
Here's an example of the public nature of
Yakuza business, as reported in some back
page Japan Times article about a new wire-tapping law:
But at the regular monthly meeting in early
July with the heads of the approximately
110 Yamaguchi-gumi-affiliated gangs nationwide,
the Yamaguchi-gumi's top brass issued a new
To guard against police actions under the
wiretapping law, the mob bosses were reportedly
told by Saizo Kishimoto, head of Kishimoto-gumi
and the person in charge of the meeting,
to speak to each other face to face when
important matters had to be discussed.
These guys are having "regular
meetings"? At their offices, no
What is going on here?
As a matter of fact, the reason that this
subject came to mind today is because of
an unbelievable article that I read in the Japan Times yesterday. It turns out that the family
of a slain police officer is suing a mob
boss for 'damages' because some of his underlings
killed the officer by accident while pulling
off some other regularly scheduled whacking.
Mind you, this boss isn't being charged with
murder, it's more like professional negligence.
I quote the article at length:
OSAKA (Kyodo) The head of Yamaguchi-gumi,
the nation's largest crime syndicate, was
slapped with a court order Thursday to pay
damages to the family of a police sargeant
gunned down by members of an affiliate gangster
group in 1995.
The Osaka High Court changed a ruling handed
down by a lower court, which ordered the
two gangsters actually involved in the shooting
and their immediate superior to pay a total
of some 80 million yen in compensation.
Presiding Judge Atsushi Hayashi said Yamaguchi-gumi
leader Yoshinori Watanabe should also be
among those making the payment owing to his
responsibility for hiring those who carried
out the crime.
It is the first time a court has ordered
the top leader of a gangster organization
to pay damages as part of his responsibility
as an employer. Legal experts said it could
have a major impact on similar lawsuits and
serve as an impetus to control intergang
"Intergang fighting is closely linked
to Watanabe's business of maintaining and
expanding his syndicate, and there was a
working supervisory relationship between
Watanabe and the actual shooters," the
Lawyers representing Watanabe plan to appeal
to the Supreme Court.
They said the ruling "has several grave
mistakes in the recognition of
a basic misunderstanding of the
of employer responsibility."
I mean, who do these guys think they are? Sony or Toyota? They refer to Watanabe as
an 'employer'!?! The judge says that intergang
fighting is closely linked to Watanabe's
"business" of maintaining and expanding
his syndicate. Once again I ask you, what
is going on here?
I'm hoping that someone with a more in-depth knowledge
of Japan can answers these questions for
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People have been asking about the name
this site: Hunkabutta. How do you pronounce
it? What does it mean? Why did you
Well I'll tell you. The site's name is a
slangy way of saying 'hunk of butter' --
i.e., something creamy and desirable.
About three years ago I was working as the
webmaster of a now-defunct English-language
web site about Japan called Mixpizza.co.jp.
I was hired as a contract worker when Mixpizza
was bought by Netyear Group, a large Internet
consultancy and web-business incubator.
After about a year or so on the job it became
evident that they were just going to write
off Mixpizza because it was a money drain
with no business model. So, I made a big
effort to get hired on as a regular employee
and placed in the engineering department
of Netyear (web application programming).
The only problem was I'd never done any
kind of programming work before, and as a
matter of fact I had just taught myself how
to use a computer about five months before
I got my webmaster job.
Luckily, during that first year at Mixpizza
I had taught myself rudimentary programming
skills in my spare time, and I had become
a better overall computer user. The big problem
was that I had no experience, references,
credentials, or portfolio to show the manager
of the engineering department. That's when
I figured I'd better get a web site of my
own, and fast. That's how Hunkabutta was
Hunkabutta was only meant to be up on line
for about a month as I went through the hiring
process, and then I was going to let it go.
I chose a blog format because blogs were
something new for me at the time and they
seemed interesting, also I figured that my
friends and family back at home would enjoy
reading about my life here in Japan. I chose
the photoblog format because it just seemed
like a natural fit for blogging, and because
most of the other photos sites about Japan
at the time weren't so hot.
I made the site from scratch. It's not part
of any blogging site or managed with any
kind of software (which is why it's lacking
a lot of modern features). I was trying to
impress the guys in the engineering department
more than anything else. I remember that
they liked the 'add your own link' functionality
(written in Perl).
I thought the site would be about two things:
me and photography. It never crossed my mind
that people would see it as a site about
Japan (which it would eventually become),
and that's one reason why there are no Japanese
elements in the design. I was fooling around
with some Scandinavian-inspired designs for
a while (hence the umlaut over the 'o' in
the '.com'), but eventually moved away from
At the time I was reading a lot of blogs
out of New York and I was kind of in a New
York frame of mind. I think that it was actually
the pictures on David Gallagher's site lightningfield that made me finally decide to do a photoblog.
I'd never been to New York, so my imagination
relied heavily on things that I'd see on
TV and in movies. I kept thinking about that
gossipy Jewish character from New York that
Mike Myers used to play on Saturday Night
Live, the one that would say things like,
"Ohh! Did you see that man's legs? Like
butter, I tell you."
It was hard choosing a site name. I wanted
something euphonic and easy to pronounce
for Japanese people (I guess I kind of screwed
up on that one). I'm a musical person and
sometimes I make up little songs that I
sing to myself for a while and then promptly
forget after about a week or two. At the
time I had this little New York-style rap
(parody) number that I was singing to myself
a lot. It went something like:
U'ma hunk a fuckn' butta.
Like a crazy mothafucka
So that's where I got the name from...