Sunday, January 30, 2011

My favourite Japanese euphemisms

Japan is a land of euphemisms, some obscure, some humourous, some insulting.

The sex industry has produced many.  In a country where prostitution is actually illegal by law, but is worth 1% of the national GDP,  a whole bunch of eumphemisms have emerged to prop up the facade:

Japanese word or phrase                                   Actual meaning

health salon                                                          brothel
soapland                                                              brothel
pink salon                                                            blowjob brothel
cabaret                                                                lapdance club
delivery health                                                      outcall prostitution
love hotel                                                             sex hotel
gift dating                                                            teenage prostitution
lolita con                                                              paedophilia
telephone club                                                     teenage prostitute club
entertainer visa                                                     sex industry visa
water business                                                     hostessing
image club                                                           fancy dress sex club
happening bar                                                      orgy club
pipecut (this makes me cringe)                              vasectomy
Then there are a number of phrases whose meaning only becomes apparent over time:

language exchange                                               cross-culture dating
education                                                             brainwashing
construction                                                         make-work
restructured                                                          fired
university                                                              killing time
Yes                                                                     No
Maybe                                                                 No
It's difficult                                                           No
We'll think about it                                                No
No                                                                       Fuck off

Of course, Japan has been doing this for a long time.  Here are a couple of gems from the Second World War (Of course, other governments are not immune to this kind of doubletalk, witness collateral damage):

Co-prosperity sphere                                              Empire
Comfort woman                                                     sex slave
Nanking incident                                                   Nanking massacre

Friday, January 28, 2011

Japanese T.V. Production Staff Stink

Because they don't get to bathe very often.

That's the word straight from somebody in the business, a friend who works at one of the major TV studios, a production assistant who helps set up on-air interviews with economic experts.  Japanese work culture in general is so severe and unforgiving, the T.V. industry in particular so competitive and cutthroat, program budgets and schedules so tight, that shows are completed in a blur of pain, stress and sleeplessness.

While the celebrites that appear on gameshows and talkshows are fresh to the studio, scrubbed and glistening with forced smiles, for the people behind the cameras it's another story.  Sound and camera operators, decorators, makeup artists, production assistants, editors and directors often do 48 hour shifts.  My friend described a scene where one of the floor staff, crying, begged the director for a few hours off so she could go home and sleep, as she had been working 70 hours straight.  She was refused and told to work harder.

As well as a lack of sleep, production staff often have no time to eat or bathe.  They live off cigarettes, coffee, and drugs.  They run frantically around studios like haggard shambling zombies on meth, lurching from one excruciating deadline to the next.  Mental breakdowns due to stress, fatigue and ill-health are common.

And in the Japanese summer, they start to reek pretty quick.  It is not unusual for first-time 'talents' just being introduced to the business to recoil from the stench when they encounter production staff for the first time.

That's what I remember when I am exposed to the thick ocean of silliness that pours out of the tube into my living room.  That's what I can't help but picture.  That just off-screen, behind the camera and off to the sides, is a small army of walking undead, cadaverous and gaunt, their eyes ringed with black weariness and a homeless-like stench of sweat, stress and despair coming off them in waves.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Japanese TV 2: Being slim is the only important thing in life!

Of all the terrible dross on Japanese TV, one of the worst genres has to be the "I succeeded at massive weight loss pretend to have convulsions when you see me" celebrity program.

A typical example is Majotachi no niju niji, "The Witches at 10 o'clock",which takes a collections of Japanese 'celebrities' who talk about 'personal transformation' and 'improving lives',  and then demonstrate such transformation by dragging into the studio sad diseased middle-aged women who have managed to achieve massive weight loss.  These women are then presented and paraded as the epitome of success and achievement.  First the life story of the woman is given, with extensive presentation of 'before' pictures and videos.  Then the curtain begins to raise on the 'now' reality.  Next you see the celebrities responding to the transformed woman, reacting with exaggerated and concocted excitement, that, if genuine, would have to be associated with demonic possession or methamphetamine overdose.  Just when the curtain is rising above the knee level, and presumably the anticipation and excitement of the home-viewing audience is rising to fever pitch - that's when they go to a commercial break!

The horror, the horror.

When you come back - if you haven't died from anticipation in the meantime - you can see the curtain rise to reveal its pitiful show, an overdressed and over made-up middle aged woman, surrounded by glitter and flashing gaudiness.  A woman who, it is claimed, has lost some ridiculous amount of weight ("23 kilos in 13 weeks!") and is now beaming with beauty and happiness.

And that's the show.  For all the talk of transformation and achievement, there is no mention of things that could really help women fulfill their lives- self-acceptance, education, independence.  Instead success is equated with weight loss and 700 dollars worth of makeup and hair gel.  Far from empowering women, such displays of desperate achievement and bulimia merely perpetuate their powerlessness, because, in the final analysis, this obession with superficial beauty panders to men and their shallowest desires.  Which in Japan is the accepted path towards material security- bagging a guy to support you.

Unfortunately shows like this offer false hope, false for two reasons.  Firstly, such transformations are impossible for the vast majority of women.  But most importantly, men aren't looking for such absurd showgirl displays.  Believe it or not, they value other things.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My wife's arse is not on fire

Last night we went to a Thai restaurant in Yokosuka that we have been known to frequent.  We both had the green curry, which was pretty hot for something in Japan.

So today I do my business and boy, do I have a Ring of Fire going on.  Spicy going in, and spicy coming out.  I mention it to the missus and she doesn't know what I'm talking about.

"That's never happened to me at all.  I've never heard of that."

I thought everybody got that.  But maybe the Japanese don't, or maybe only some Japanese do.

Pretty good curry though.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I don't know who I am

Sometimes.  When I talk with my Japanese family. 

The Japanese in general refrain from using pronouns such as 'I' or 'You'; to determine who did what to whom you often have to rely on context.  In this way the national preference for indirectness and ambiguity can be maintained.  So for example, somebody might say, in Japanese,

"Went to the bank" which you would interpret as "I went to the bank".  This practice alone can be tricky enough for a non-native speaker to deal with.  I have had many a conversation with my wife where I was never quite sure who the agent was.

When I was dating my wife, she would not only use no pronouns, she would not use my name.  Far from calling me "My darling", "Snugglepumpkin", "Love Rocket", "Orgasm Machine" etc, nicknames which I believed I had the right to expect, she would refer to me...not at all.  This left me rather confused at times.

After marriage she has begun to use my name a little more frequently, but now she also occassionally refers to me as 'I'. That is, the Japanese masculine word for 'I', boku.  I can even get away with calling her watashi, the Japanese feminine word for 'I'.  So a conversation may go something like this:

"What video do I (you) want to watch?
"I'm (you're) okay.  It's up to you (me).
"So what about me (you)?"
"That's what I (you) want to know"
"Why can't I (you) make up your (my) mind?
"Whose mind?"
"This conversation is going round in circles"
"I think that's the point"

Her whole family is confusing.  They refer to themselves in the third person.  For example,

Sayaka:  "Sayaka likes this.  Sayaka wants to eat this everyday." 

But at other times she rufuses the third person when it seems most appropriate.  For example, when my son was born, and the family was gathered around the hospital bed, my sister-in-law expressed the opinion the baby looked like his mother.  But she didn't say "He looks like his mother", or "He looks like your wife", while gesturing to me, or "He looks like you", while looking at my wife, or "He looks like Chizuru", which is what I would have said.  She merely said "He looks like my older sister", when said sister was sitting right in front of her nursing, as if her older sister lived in England and had been estranged from the family for two decades following a scandal involving a one-legged Vietnam veteran.

I don't know the source of all these confusing idiosyncrasies.  Maybe it has something to do with the toilets.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Japanese is leading the toilet technology

Recently I attended an academic conference where the keynote speaker had just arrived in Japan for the first time.  As a way of warming up her audience she told them how much she had been looking forward to all the high technology that Japan had to offer, and indeed, she said, she had not been disappointed.

As I waited for her to continue I wondered what Japanese technology could possibly have impressed her.  Perhaps her image of Japan had been robots, flying cars and Artificial Intelligence.  But Japan is actually behind the rest of the world by a decade or more.  Manufacturing, Japan's greatest industry,  peaked about 1995 and will continue to decline as China builds more and more of everything in the world.  The country is decades behind in developments in education, finance, politics and the environment.  And as for culture, philosophy and social science, Japanese progress stopped in about ... 1615. 

Even in areas like phone technology, where until recently Japan has led the world, domestic companies have been rattled by foreign innovations like the Iphone.  So given that the landscape here is more 1984 than Bladerunner, I wondered what could have impressed our keynote speaker. 

Turns out it had been the toilet in her hotel room.

The Last Bastion of Japanese high technology.  Well, she had a point.  A Japanse toilet with all the wingdits is certainly a technological wonder.  A panel on the right hand side has so many buttons you can have fun for hours, and a complex instruction manual is often printed under the lid of the toilet.  There's bidet for your bottom, another one for the ladies, both with adjustable pressure, some with 'pulses', some indeed with pulses of different patterns.  A deodorizer.  Sensors to detect when you have finished, so the loo will flush automatically.  If you are lucky, a blast of warm air will make toilet paper completely unnecessary.

And now, apparently there are now increasing numbers of 'toilet games' attached to male urinals.  These games include a virtual display that the man must 'erase' by using his urine stream as eraser; and a machine that measures the pressure of urine and judges your performance against the previous user.  There's also a game with a 'target' that you have to aim for; scores are kept and displayed above the urinal.

I have yet to encounter any of these games but rest assured when I do you will get a full report.

Back to the standard toilet.  There's also a 'Sound of the Princess' button, ('ote hime') which has to be one of the weirdest things on the planet.  It seems that Japanese women were embarrassed by the sound of ...their pee hitting the water...and were continuously flushing the toilet in order to cover up that sound.  So, in the interest of water conservation, toilets are often installed with speakers that play a recorded flushing sound; this is the Sound of the Princess.  Nowadays you can even find them in male toilets.

I have always found the 'ote hime' abhorrent and ridiculous.  For one, designing, building, installing, using and servicing these machines must be expensive in money and resources.  The resources used would certainly include water, as, for example, considerable amounts of water are used in energy production.  Secondly, it doesn't even sound like real flushing,  it just sounds like a kind of computer-produced white noise half blurred by static.  It could never fool anybody.

But the worst part of the Sound of the Princess is its sheer naked absurdity.  Who are these women who are embarrassed by the sound of pee hitting water?  Why aren't they getting treatment and counselling?  What do they want us to believe?  That they don't pee?  That they are going into the cubicle to read a novel or meditate or smoke a joint or escape through an air vent because they are being chased by Chinese spies that want to steal their DNA and combine it with that of a chimpanzee and make a monstrous hybrid with superhuman strength that can take over the world?  What kind of women are they?  Do they believe that other women can be convinced that they don't have bodily functions, that they are angels or androids?

This absurd primness, this affected modesty is a cancer in Japanese society.  Fear of embarassment affects not only toilets, but sexual and social relations, marriage rates, even language learning success.  It helps explain why the Japanese put up with so much and complain so little, and thus end up with such substandard housing, education, working conditions and governments.

On the other hand, you do get great toilets.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sex-crazed Japanese women?

As my old karate teacher, Mr Miyagi, repeatedly told me:

Every action results in an equal and opposite reaction. 

He was referring to the practice of using an opponent's momentum against them during a fight, but he may as well have been talking about the rise of the carnivorous woman, the nikushokukei joshi (肉食系女), the natural counterpart to the herbivorous man.

Japanese media is running reports of the growing propensity for Japanese women to to freely enjoy sex just as men do.  According to sex writer Yukio Murakami, "Even with steady boyfriends they'll still approach men at train stations as the evening's last train approaches.  The rationale behind such behavior is rooted in simple sexual desire..."

"Most of these ladies", he continues, "aged in their late 20s to late 30s, do not ask for financial compensation.  They are simply looking for excitement."

A similiar typer of woman can be spotted in Shibuya, especially the center-gai area. According to one female writer, "Girls with flexible jobs roam around during the day and give signs, such as a wink, to handsome guys. They approach boys of their liking by saying, "I don't need money so let's go straight to a love hotel."

While it has been known for a decade or more that Japanese women are becoming more assertive, socially confident and financially independent, Murakami attributes this recent upsurge in carnivoralism to a specific cause: “While they say it is due to sexual liberation, that is nominal.  The reality is that they see the unease with North Korea and China’s aggression and find it worrisome. Their maternal instinct is making them aggressive in wanting to leave behind more offspring.”

Well, obviously.  Ask not what your country can do for you, but...

By the way, I am sure I am not the only one who experienced frustration at the lack of naming of those train stations.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Robots teaching English in Korea

Deep in the South Korean countryside, in the town of Daegu, 30 robots are now teaching English to elementary schools. 

Only not really.

They are about a metre high with a TV screen for a face, and they move around the room singing songs, playing games and reading books.  The robots, which display the avatar face of a caucasian woman, are remotely controlled by teachers in the Phillippines, who can see and hear the children at the same time.

So what it comes down to is...outsourcing.

Which is not a bad thing.  Just economics.

The students are responding well to the friendly-faced machines, and administrators are pleased that the robots don't need sick leave, insurance, holidays, and won't "leave in 3 months for a better-paying job in Japan." In addition, officials who want to expand the program say, the machines can be an efficient tool for many people who feel nervous about conversing with flesh-and-blood foreigners.

Which is a clue as to why the whole program is a farce.

In Korea and Japan, there is already a huge gap between classroom English and real life communication.  Having non-humans teach the class turns this gap into an unbridgeable chasm.  If students feel uncomfortable with sympathetic, trained human teachers whose goal is to lead students to language understanding, then they will be completely lost in the face of real world communication complexities.  Intimate, human to human interaction is crucial to learning a foreign language.  It's a difficult slog, two steps forward one step back, a world of embarrassment and miscommunication where social skills are as important as language aptitude.

That's not to say that robot teachers may not become more and more popular in countries like Japan, where actual communication with native speakers is rarely the goal.  In the Japanese English education system, efficacy is not necessary.  Hence the growing popularity of computer-assisted language learning in general, expensive programs which are designed to remove the human element and inevitably lead to failure.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Japan Then, Japan Now

Tokyo 1860

Ii Naosuke, de facto ruler of Japan, and architect of the shogunate's recent resurge in power, was leaving Edo castle through the Sakura gate on a snowy March morning.  He had been warned his enemies sought his death, but he had a retinue of 26 swordsmen, followed by 40 foot-soldiers.

Outside the gate the procession was ambushed by 18 pro-emperor lordless samurai.  In the ensuing melee most of Ii's men were slaughtered.  Ii was stabbed through his palanquin; and his head was cut off and displayed on the point of a katana by his assassin, Arimura Jizaemon, a young samurai from what is now Kagoshima.

Tokyo 2010

Yasuhito Sekine is a member of a new generation of mild-mannered, sensitive Japanese men known as "herbivores." His eyebrows are perfectly groomed.  He works for an Internet service provider and operates Sweets Club, an online group for men who like desserts.  Set up in January last year, it already has over 1,000 members who congregate - online and inperson - to debate the virtues of different brands of strawberry shortcake.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Japanese men not interested in sex

The sexual drive, one of our most basic biological urges, and a species survival imperative, is becoming increasingly absent in Japanese men...
According to  survey research recently released by the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry, Japanese men of all age groups are becoming less and less interested in sex.  Among men aged 16-19, 36 percent are not interested or actually averse to it.  Among men 20-24, the figure is 21 percent.  This is weird enough.  The really alarming thing is that the percentages have doubled since the last survey was done, in 2008.  At this rate there will be no sex in Japan at all in 10 years...
I don't know why Japanese guys no longer have the urge to chat up beautiful women, woo them with wine, wit and flowers, invite them back home, lick every inch of their gorgeous nubile curvy creamy little quivering bodies,  and then shag them until they make noises like Chewbacca and quiver like it's 20 degrees below zero.
I certainly do.
The phenomenon of guys who are not interested in sex is apparently linked with the trend of the soshokukei danshi, young men who live passive lifestyles and are not interested in chasing women, preferring more feminine pursuits.  Soshokukei danshi is usually translated as 'herbivorous men', though personally I prefer the term 'a bunch of hopeless pansies who need to be given 40 lashes and made to fight off packs of starving wolves in a 9000 BC wilderness, then be forced to kill and eat each other in order to survive.'
That will teach them what it is to be men.
To me Japan is a country where men and women can't relate to each other, or don't know how, or don't want to.  Or something.
In my classes of 18, 19, 20 and even 21-year-olds, men and women sit on opposite sides of the room, as if they were 14-year-olds at a school dance.  On trains, hot girls, impossibly hot girls, girls so hot they break the laws of physics, will walk down the carriage attracting not a glance from the young men, a lack of libido and level of obliviousness or disinterest that in a heterosexual male could be explained only by...I don't know, perhaps late stage cancer or an imminent suicide attempt.
And these guys are not gay.  Or at least, not gay in the sense of sleeping with other men.  If they were, there would be so much bum-shagging going on that the entire country would be doing nothing else.  Yokohama would have a bigger gay scene that Sydney, San Francisco and the entire Catholic priesthood combined.
It's not as if they have much to look forward to I guess.  Their fathers, their role models, come home at 11 burnt out and exhausted from a day and a lifetime of small dreams and smaller achievements.  And in Japan that is success, what you strive for in a rigid and unforgiving system, what you are told will be your future if you work hard and you are lucky.
So in that sense it is hard to blame Japanese men if they seem to lack motivation.
But still.  To not be interested in sex.  With Japanese women.

Just about constitutes a crime against humanity that does.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mommy's Boys of gorgeous women...and mommy's boys.

According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 79.4 % of Japanese men aged 20-24 live with their parents.

For guys aged 25-29, the figure is 64 percent.

Men aged 30-34, 47.9 percent.

And even for men aged 35-39, 41.6 percent still live with their mommies and daddies...getting their mommies to wash their underwear for them...unable to take a girl back to their place for seduction, with no knowledge of household finances or how to pay a gas bill, probably unable even to cook for themselves.

No wonder the fertility rate is so low.

When will these chumps grow up and get a life?

Not moving out of the family home delays adulthood indefinitely. The trials and tribulations that accompany the first hesitant steps of independence are a necessary trial of passage for your twenties...if you don't experience them, you can never really attain the maturity necessary to form adult relationships; you will not discover your personal strengths, weaknesses and inclinations; and you will be unable to develop the confidence and abilities to assume your place in society, let alone cope with adversity. The process takes a decade or more.

The phenomenon where many Japanese get to avoid this phase in their lives accounts to a large extent for the infantilism of many Japanese individuals. The average 30-year-old Japanese man is unable to comment on politics, unable to flirt with a woman, unable to assert his own opinion, unable to cope with violence or emergency, unable to make eye contact with a stranger, unable in many cases to use a washing machine.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Guys At The Front Gate

Whenever I am tempted to imagine that Japan is not a desolate hell of waste, despair and useless stupidity, I simply picture The Guys At The Front Gate.

By the front gate of the unversity where I work there is a building that functions as a guard house. Inside there are a number of men. When the university is open that number is never less than 2 and usually 4 or 5. Even when the university is closed there is at least one.

There function is to greet visitors and hand out keys. Officially, office keys are kept with them (on a large hook-covered board in the guardhouse), and handed out to academics as they come in in the morning, and taken back at the end of the day. Naturally the system is meaningless as everybody actually has their own copy of their room key (actually a necessity if you share rooms as I do). Nevertheless TGATFG derive immense satisfaction from handing out and taking back in these keys and placing them onto the correct numbered hook.

Apart from that they do nothing. They are dressed in suits and provide an appearance of professionalism (noticeably in contrast with what I know of class content). Oh yeah, they also help with directions. But most of the time they literally do nothing except fight off boredom. They even appear to be too braindead to perve at the pretty students walking by. And even at the busiest times, when somebody is coming into work every five minutes at 8 o'clock in the morning, there is never enough 'work' to occupy more than one of them. I have seen them spy me, 100 meters away, on the other side of the railway tracks waiting for the crossing gates to open; one of them will take my room key off the hook, hand it to his assistant standing 10 centimeters away,who will then pass it to the designated 'key distributor' who is waiting for me. Then they will wait for me to walk up, greet me and hand over the key.

I used to be upset at the waste of time and money this was, that half a dozen middle-aged-men receive full-time employment for doing something so superficial and so unnecessary. For providing a service to visitors that could be more simply provided with a good map. To me it seemed to scream a failed enterprise, a level of institutionalized inefficiency that would make me refuse to send my own children there.

But nowadays it becomes increasingly difficult to care.

So this evening I spent 15 minutes on the web. According to Wikipedia, there are 923 million undernourised people in the world, and every 5 seconds a child dies of hunger. And according to, half a cup of food (two meals) can be provided to a starving person, including transportation and administration costs, for less than 1 cent, by the United Nations World Food Program.
I don't know exactly how much these guys are paid, but the average salary in Japan is 3.7 million yen a year, about 45000 dollars. Even if we assume their salary is significantly less than that, say $35,000, well, with the salary paid to just one of these guys...

You could feed 9589 starving people. Every day.

Just something to think about tomorrow as I greet TGATFG with a sunny 'Good morning'.

Monday, January 03, 2011

My baby sees ghosts

According to my wife anyway.

Apparently my boy has been known, for minutes at a time, to stare intently into space, as if looking at someone who can't be seen by anybody else, and often accompany this staring with laughter or happy gurglng sounds.

This behaviour, claims my wife, can readily be explained by the presence of ghosts. She told me that at these times my baby boy is being visited by the spirits of his dead ancestors. Or to put it slightly less shamanistically, by his grandma (on my side) or grandpa (on hers), who are coming to say hello and get to know him. When I asked why she or I couldn't see the ghosts, she told me matter-of-factly that our baby's soul or spirit was still 'pure' and thus able to see spirits of the dead.

Although obviously I have my doubts, it's a remarkably satisfying idea. I would very much like to introduce my child to my absent parents and grandparents. To see them get to know him and contribute in their own way to his upbringing and his experience.

I've come across this idea in various forms in Japan, the belief that a child can be introduced to deceased ancestors, or that those ancestors are physically present in some way. For example, it is common for newborns to be brought to graves and formally introduced in a little speech. And during obon, the festival in summer, spirits of departed ancestors are supposed to visit household altars. I also vividly remember a student who told me she took a radio to her family cemetery on the same day each year, so that her grandfather could listen to the baseball final.

My wife's story, and perhaps some intuition of my own mortality sharpened by the birth of my son, has reminded me of Carl Jung's theory that belief in the Afterlife was necessary for human psychological health after middle age. He was very big on the 'personal journey' that ended in 'individuation' and to him somebody approaching his own death had better believe in the Afterlife if they were to be happy in any way. Makes a kind of sense. If just blackness awaits, seems a bit grim after all.

Don't buy this myself, but.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A New Year and a Baby

Well, I am still in Japan and still have reason to write. Japan remains peculiarly repellent, infantile and intellectually vacuous. But personally, I have much to be happy about.

We have a baby. Born a couple of months ago, he has turned me into a walking cliche - I am shamelessly devoted to him, guilty of speaking hours of baby talk, convinced he is the cutest and most lovable thing in the world. My feelings have genuinely surprised me, because I had thought, inasmuch as I had thought about it at all, that I would more or less ignore him until he could do talk or walk or learn. But I have found that even his current modest abilities- the power to cry, feed, poo, pee, laugh, gurgle- seem to me sublime achevements worthy of global recognition.

Fatherhood is a funny thing.

So the wife went back to her hometown to have the baby, which I highly recommend. In fact, the whole experience of the hospital stay, support and nurse care was very positive. The Japanese know what they are doing in this area. Possibly because they have so few babies in her hometown, they were very prepared for mine. The hospital faciltities were excellent. She had her own room, a marvellous room, twice the size of our living room in Yokohama, with attached toilet and sink. The clinic seemed to me to be superb. The staff were professional, kind and attentive - they seemed to have unlimited time and unlimited patience. The nurse who attended my wife the evening after she gave birth, well, I am in awe of her support, advice and practical help. I am, in general, suspicious of things Japanese, but this clinic put me completely at ease. She stayed 5 nights, I was in the room for 2 of them. As for the cost, the usual practice in Japan is for the fee of about 4500 dollars to be taken straight out of the government grant of the same amount.

As for the babe himself, I am happy he has no obvious defects, no third ear, no flapping cowl, no tail, no alien implant under the skin behind the ear. Hard to ask for more at this stage.

The wife's relatives and friends, who came in droves, all had their initial (and in my opinion, absurd) opinions about who he resembled and in what way. His father's eyes, his mother's lips, 30-years-dead great uncle Tsutomu's left ear. Many of these first ideas were cheerfully contradictory but nobody seemed to mind or notice. I guess it's a worldwide woman's birth hobby, this playing with guestimate looks. To me he looked (and still does) merely like a baby, less Japanese than those around him.

My suspicions that the 'who does he resemble game' is a social exercise rather than empirical observation were further confirmed during the visit of Tomiko, the clan's middle-aged and influential social matriarch. She looked at the lad and exclaimed, 'He's the spitting image of his dad'. Her three adult daughters all immediately backed her up, and by the end of the day this idea had become so fixed in the minds of my wife's relatives that it is almost impossible to locate anybody who will admit to ever having a different opinion.

When I pointed out to the boy's grandma that previous to Tomiko's visit she had maintained he looked exactly like her other daughter, the boy's aunt, my mum-in-law matter of factly said,

"That was yesterday"
"So he's changed appearance since yesterday?"
"Of course. They change every day."

Whatever. Considering the fact that there are hardly two people on this green Earth who are more dissimiliar in appearance than myself and my wife's sister, the overnight metamorphosis is noteworth indeed. Myself, rather than believe in the daily magical facial tranformation of infants, I would suggest that the belief that my son is the spitting image of me can be traced, not so much to his actual appearance, but more to the influential social position that Tomiko holds in the family.

I've even wondered whether the whole incident was just a way for Tomiko to inform me as to where the real power lays in the clan.

But I've been told I think too much.

When I sent a pic back to my mate in Yokohama, who is nothing if not an objective observer, who responded, "He just looks like a Japanese baby to me."