Thursday, August 13, 2009

Held for Ransom in Japan

Bing Has Made Friends in Japan

Bing has made new friends in Japan, but they want to keep him there. In fact, they have threatened to hold him for ransom unless his American friends and family do two things:

1. Answer questions about Japan/Nippon culture and cuisine.

2. Donate money to help his mother pay the plane fare for his trip.

It's tempting for a young man to stay in Japan, because so far he has found the food to be awesome and the shopping (even in vending machines) to be, let's say, "unique." In fact, the Japanese students think that if he stays long enough he could use his ninja powers to be Emperor someday. I don't think that this would be a good thing for world peace, as Bing has not worked out his "Megalomania" issues and bad things could happen.

So, here are the questions that they want you to answer:

1. In a Japanese restaurant which serves "family style" what is the polite way to move the food from your platter to the plate when dining with close friends?

a. Using your fingers after washing them in the finger bowl.
b. Using a scoop.
c. Using the back end of your chopsticks.
d. Using the front, sharp end of your chopsticks.

2. In a Japanese restaurant, how long are you going to wait for service from your server?

a. No wait. The server will be at your table immediately.
b. Five minutes, as the custom is to allow the patrons to settle before ordering.
c. No wait if you tip the host/hostess before seating.
d. Until you shout "Sumimasen!" moderately loud. Don't wait all night.

3. What is the customary tip for a meal in Japan?

a. Silly American. Don't tip!
b. 15% - it's the same everywhere.
c. A flat 500 yen, no matter the bill for the meal.
d. 25% - everything is more expensive in Japan.

4. The code of bushido of the Japanese samurai is most similar to:

a. Belief in reincarnation and karma by Hindus
b. Practice of chivalry by European Knights
c. Teachings of Jainism in India
d. The Theory of Natural Rights by the Enlightemnent philosophers

5. The name “Japan” is an exonym. Exonyms are place-names not used in the native language nor by the native people. The endonyms for Japan are “Nippon” (formal) or “Nihon” (informal.) The origin of the word “Japan” is traced back to Portuguese sailors who adapted it from the language of:
a. Vietnam
b. Korea
c. Malaysia
d. Hawai'i

6. A valid generalization about early Japanese culture is that Japan:
a. Had a strong influence on the culture of Korea
b. Spread Shinto throughout Asia
c. Maintained a unique culture while borrowing from other cultures
d. Imported nearly all of its cultural heritage from China, resulting in nearly identical cultures

7. The proper way to answer the telephone in Japan is "Moshi, moshi!" What does it mean?

a. I am not a fox so you know you didn't call the zoo.
b. "Say, say!"
c. "Hello! Hello!"
d. "Ring! Ring!"

8. Who was the first sitting U.S. President to visit Japan?

a. Gerald Ford.
b. Teddy Roosevelt.
c. Woodrow Wilson.
d. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

9. What is the largest of the islands that make up Japan?

a. Hokkaido
b. Kyushi
c. Honshu
d. Shikoku

10. What is the game that Japanese children play called "Kancho?"

a. They try to stick their fingers up your butt.
b. Nothing so gross. It's just "tag."
c. "Speed" haiku. The Japanese value teaching their kids literature.
d. Pin the tail on the monkey.

11. According to Nihonjinron, the Japanese are unique because:
a. They are taller on average than other Asians.
b. They evolved separately, from a superior genus of monkeys.
c. Earthquakes and volcanoes made them more resilient to natural disasters than other people.
d. They know how to train sea jellies.

12. What sandwich dressing/ingredient for salad dressing do the Japanese treat as if it was a meal in itself?

a. Vinegar.
b. Ketchup.
c. Mayonnaise.
d. Teriyake Sauce.

13. What percentage of the landscape of Japan is suitable for human habitation?

a. 18
b. 23
c. 10
d. 35

14. The world's longest underground rail tunnel links Hokkaido to Honshu. How long is it?

a. 54 km
b. 33 km
c. 104 km
d. 86 km

15. In World War 1, the Japanese:

a. Joined the Axis.
b. Joined the Allies.
c. Maintained a strict neutrality.
d. Considered it a European War.

Please provide your response in the comments. Once the donations have reached the ransom price, the answers will be published.

Thanks for playing!

Monday, August 10, 2009


When I first got here to Japan I was really excited to take the bullet train. The trains move as fast as a speeding bullet, so fast that superman would have trouble keeping up with it. In terms of comfort and service compared to an airplane, it wins in comfort because there was much more leg room and better cushions, but it looses in service because the trolley guy does not speak English. Uncle Tom said that the bullet trains are never late but ours was 15 minuets late and it might not sound like much, but when a train goes that fast, it should have no reason to run late. What did it do, forget to set the alarm clock?

As an American, the thing that astounded me was that the temples were shrouded in nature. They all had a peaceful and quiet atmosphere. The temples all had something that made them special, the
Kinkakuji (Golden temple) was, well gold. The Kongobuji temple had the largest stone garden in all of Japan. The Kiyomizu temple was very big, had many large buildings, a place to drink holy water, and a (insert a Berry White voice over here) Love stone (end of voice). While they all had their own main attractions, the all had one major thing in common, a money box. They have them everywhere at the temples. They use them as ways to trick you into giving money as tribute to the gods of as a spiritual blessing.
Shrines are the little buildings inside temples where you pray your face off. They usually have a statue that people put food under, at one of them I saw an watermelon! Do you know how expensive they
are in Japan? About 100 dollars! I'm not a spiritual kind of guy, but I can understand the religious importance of these temples.
One good thing about when I went to the temples is that I went in the middle of the week so we bypassed the BIG crowds, but even so, the place was still crowded. There where people from all different countries like France, Germany, China, and the good ol' United States. While the languages were different, the thoughts were the same, "This place is beautiful!".

Saturday, August 1, 2009

An afternoon out in Japan

On one of my first days in Japan, I visited a popular shopping area called Osu Kannon. It was filled with touches of both traditional culture as well as Japanese pop culture. Gajillions of electronic stores. There was a store that we went in to that had all sorts of cameras and computers up front, but in the back room there was a ton of cool little robots. They could walk, talk, and karate kick. Some of them had remotes that you could control them with, others had cameras and talked to you (in Japanese, of course).

Above yet another electronics shop was a magical guitar store. I was shocked at how many unique guitars and bass guitars it had.

At the back of the guitar store was the most amazing drum set that had ever graced my vision. I gleamed with the holy light that Neil Pert gets any time he even thinks of drums. There were only 2 bad things about this sacred place: there was only one guitar that customers could play, and we were limited to only two minutes per person. The other is that I didn't have nearly enough money to buy a guitar.

Many of the clothing stores we passed sold shirts and other articles of clothing with really weird English on them. They said things like "Gentleness in the world to you DELIVERY," and there was a ape mannequin with a shirt that said something very explicit that I can't repeat here.

The whole area was filled with bizarre art

and other unforgettable images.

One of the last things we did was go to a shrine that was used in the Tom Selleck movie Mr. Baseball. I cleansed my hands there in the same place he did. What makes this one special was that it was the first shrine I had ever been to in my life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Japan's Wonderous Food

I love food. I eat it every day. In Japan, food's different, but that hasn't stopped me from consuming it.

Not all of the restaurants in Japan serve Japanese food, but a great number of them serve Thai, Indian or Chinese food. When I say Thai or Chinese I mean the Japanese version of Thai or Chinese. Like how in America we have our versions of different cultures foods, like Tex-Mex, Japanese do it too. For example, Japanese style Indian curry and Chinese ramen. However, it is always Japanese-style food in Japanese-style restaurants. One thing that I found very interesting was that corn dogs were called "American dogs!"

I can think of only one thing in Japan that has annoyed me: a lot of packaged food in Japan has mayonnaise on it. Not just a little bit of mayonnaise, but a LOT of mayonnaise on it, like somebody spilled the jar in it. I noticed that Japanese people (mainly women) are more likely to get bottled, sugarless green tea then a soft drink from a vending machine, which are everywhere. Almost none of the vending machines in Japan have food in them, only drinks, which surprised me because with THAT many vending machines, they ought to be selling more than just drinks. In America, they have drink machines right next to snack machines, but in Japan, only drinks.

Rice is probably the single most important thing in Japan. Rice is served at every meal, no matter what it is -- beef, pork, fish, vegetables, or chicken. Rice in Japan comes in a few forms, plain sticky white rice, onigiri (rice balls wrapped in seaweed filled with meats or veggies), and in Chinese establishments they serve fried rice. Often served with rice is raw fish like sushi or sashimi (sushi without rice attached); they come with small bowls of rice and a small bowl of miso soup. It is not considered a meal unless rice is served in some form, just as in the US, some form of bread is served at every meal, like corn flakes for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a roll at dinner. As far as I can tell, Japan's sticky rice is what keeps the country together. Take the poll below to give your opinion of Japanese food.

In the month I've spent in Japan so far, I've eaten more than I usually would have in the US. Wonder if I've gained any weight.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My first impressions of Japan

Hey man. Japan is so awesome. It's so much cleaner then America! For example, the subway stations have so much less trash then in America. If you look on the floor you won't see any spit stains or beer cans. Hold on I've got to take a call. Hello? No. Wait, why. Um. Just get me the club sandwich. What do you mean they don't have them?! ARGH! Oh well. Just get me whatever you're getting. No, I'm not even going to eat it. Never mind. Alright, see you. Ok, what were we talking about? Oh right, Japan’s cleanliness. It's good. Wouldn`t you want to travel to Japan if you could?

There are a lot of vending machines here in Japan. So many I think that if you got them all together you couldn’t fill up the Grand Canyon. They sell everything from water, Pocari sweat, canned coffee, soda, and at least 10 kinds of tea. Prices are usually 120 yen to 150 yen which is about $1.20 and $1.50. It's summer time right now so the drinks are cold, but I heard in the winter time the drinks are served hot from the same exact machines.

Driving on the opposite side of the road is very disorienting being from America where we drive on the right side of the road, in a S.U.V, cranking up the music. As far as I can tell, there is no road rage – in Japan everybody drives smoothly. Sitting in the passenger seat feels like sitting in a capsule, not because it's secluded, but because that's where I'm used to the steering wheel being. The roads are a lot more narrow then in the U.S. (presumably to save space).

I have seen more advertising here in one week then I have in one year of my life. Advertising is everywhere here. Almost every inch of the cabin inside the train has some form of advertising. The sneaky ad agencies have even snuck ads under my hand on the escalator. They’re on the steps, the columns, store windows, and even on the sides of trucks. Now that I can read katakana, I can read the ads. They are ads for things you’d expect: ads for shows, bargain sales, department stores, food, baby items, baseball teams, and little burgers with holes in the center -- meat donuts, I guess. These commercials are in the form of banners, stickers, posters, and people in suits. Most ads have some English on them.

Right now in Japan it's the rainy season and it has rained every day that I've been here. Some days it’s not much but it's still rain. During the day it can get very hot, very very very hot. Added to the heat is humidity which makes it even hotter. It may be 86 degrees out but it feels like 96. I don’t know if it gets cooler up in the mountains but I hope so. It's not all that bad –during the morning, evening, and night, it gets cool and comfortable.

Walking around is just so cool-- it gives you ideas for everything. Example: There are bullet trains in Japan. But there aren’t any bullet elevators here, and that makes me cry, because that would be the greatest idea, ever. It would top aerosol cans. It would be EXTREMELY handy for the tallest buildings, like the Empire state building and the Chrysler. Someone with the cash to do this should contact me, so we can get to work on the idea right away.

Next post, coming soon: my second impressions of Japan, like about people. N stuff.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bing has Landed In Japan

I just got word from Bing that he is now in Japan, and is getting ready to send some pictures of what he has seen so far.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I Want to Go to Japan

By Bing

Note - this was edited based on things that Bing has told me. Actually, I don't know where he gets his aversion to writing. It's just talking through keyboards, and he loves to talk!

He sent me a message on Facebook with four key reasons that he wants to go to Japan:

1: great expirence
2. new culture
3. to help uncle tom
4.i'll think of new things

So, really, why would a thirteen-year-old want to travel to a distant land where the food is weird and the language is completely different? Not only is the language different, but they don't even use the same sort of alphabet that we do.

I think it may just to be out of the house for what would otherwise be a long boring summer. There are 12 weeks of summer, and if both parents and a step-parent are at work, drumming up activities is hard for kids that age. They are too old to be at a day camp yet too young to have jobs.

Sure, he could play XBox 360 for the summer. Sure, he could wash dishes, cut grass, update Facebook and listen to his mp3 player for all summer. He likes to read and do all that stuff. But, show of hands, here:

How many of you readers are parents who have taken their kids to the most exciting place in the world, like Disney Land or something like that only to have them say "I'm bored," fifteen minutes after getting back to the hotel room "I am bored. There's nothing to do!" How many?

Sorry, lost count. Too many hands.

Twelve weeks is a very long time in the life of a thirteen year old. I think he wants to go just so he isn't terminally bored at home. Last summer was difficult enough, and his need for entertainment has grown. He's at that age where there are greater risks of kids being on their own for a full day.

But there is something conspiratorial in parents sending their kids to a foreign land. We know that when they go, it may be just to them the exciting idea of being somewhere else than stuck at home.

Here's what they get:

1. Cultural immersion to broaden their horizons. Looking at the world from a different perspective enable them to approach situations back at home in a different way. When I was a kid I went to Mexico. Now, when I look at the illegal immigration issue I have a different perspective than someone who hasn't. For example, I know through simple observations that Mexicans aren't lazy people sneaking across the border for benefits.

2. A broadened cuisine. Bing isn't really a big fan of fast food anyway, but the diet in the U.S. is even without that limited in scope. What we think of as "Italian," "Chinese," "Mexican" and other ethnic foods are generally not foods found in those countries. Try ordering "French Fries" in France, or "Fah-jeetas" in Mexico.

3. The TV is different. Sure, today, we can see snippets of Japanese TV on YouTube, but that is a small sampling of what they have on their screens every freakin' day!

4. The houses are different. People sleep on rice paper, unless they have Americanized their sleeping habits.

5. The money is different

6. People keep cnidarians for pets.

Anyway, Japan is a different world compared to Minnesota. Bing's mother and I need a bit of help to buy the airline tickets to Japan, and that is what this whole blog is about. Maybe Tom will be able to twist Bing's arm enough to get him to "Liveblog" his trip to Japan.

Please help out by clicking on the Paypal donation button on the right sidebar.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My kid is going to Japan, and he'd better bring back a lot more than a t-shirt!

Bing has the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Japan for his summer vacation, working as a research assistant to his Uncle Tom. (No, that's actually his name.)

We could use some help in raising funds for the tickets to get there and back. The PayPal button on the side bar is one great way for you to start adding a few bucks in. Nothing big, just a bunch of people adding in a little here and there will do the trick. Bing will also write some posts while he is there and take photos.

When I was Bing's age, I spent 6 weeks in Mexico City. It changed my outlook on life, as I went far beyond the tourist experience and learned how culture affects perspective. Japan's culture has a great many contrasts to our U.S. culture, even in the digital age when the world is flattening out.

Please donate, and we'll make sure that he brings me back more than a t-shirt.

About Bing

Bing is a Teen-Age kid in Minnesota. He'll be heading to high school in the fall of 2009, and needs to write a killer report on how he spent his summer vacation.