Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bathing in an Agricultural School in Japan aro...Image via Wikipedia

There was a sudden flash of lightening last night as I was putting my son to bed, followed by a low rumbling of thunder. I started telling my son how to calculate the distance from our house to the lightening strike by counting the seconds between seeing the lightening and hearing the thunder. My son was more interested in discussing what would happen if one were hit by lightening. I was explaining electrocution when I suddenly thought of electric baths or denkiburo. The electric bath is not primative variation on the electric chair, but is a regular feature at public baths in Japan. A simple kanji everyone who goes to a sento or onsen should know is denki: 電, or electricity. This kanji, when coupled with 風呂, bath, means electric bath, or denkiburo. These are tubs and pools, large and small, with electricity running through them. They are a staple at public baths or sento, and sometimes appear at hot springs resorts or onsen. Their therapeutic effects are compared to a full-body massage that increases blood circulation and they are thought to be especially efficacious for the elderly.

During my first years in Japan I rented a studio apartment in a building with shared bathrooms, No bathing facilities were expected or provided: the sento across the river was cheap and offered a variety of soaking and bathing options. I went later than usual one night and upon entering the bathing area noticed, through the steam, a large group of tattooed men relaxing in the main pool. Assuming they were from the yakuza office down the street, I looked for a different place to soak. A smaller pool off in the corner was empty. I advanced through the steam and extended a toe toward it's surface to judge the water temperature. Suddenly I was 5 feet away from the pool gyrating wildly and trying not to fall on my ass. I heard laughter and guffaws behind me. Yes, I had wandered into the denkiburo, and it had taken me by surprise. I joined the yakuza, in the main pool. They were friendly and sympathetic and asked me why I hadn’t seen the sign on the wall above the denkiburo.

I've tried the denkiburo since then. Knowing what I was getting into, I was able to sit down and stretch out without writhing or screaming. Still, the electric pulse was too strong for me, reminding me of periodic embraces of a low voltage electric eel.
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Natsu Matsuri

School's out for summer, Kids celebrate the beginning of summer vacation with sparklers,
roman candles, and a few rounds of lightweight fireworks.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Grade School Dad Part 2

My wife had previously informed me that I and my son would be spending the following Sunday picking up trash along the neighborhood roads and then cleaning the school. As a rookie grade school dad, I asked a veteran mom I had met at my lifeguarding stint what would be going down. I'll paraphrase her reply as, "Absolute hell." She told me that only about 20% of the parents bothered to attend and that peasants during the Tokugawa Period enjoyed lighter workloads than those parents stupid enough to show for the Clean Campaign.

I swore a sacred oath to spend my next summer far from Japan and headed out with Ray for the meeting point at the community hall near the bus stop. Along the way we met a grade school mom and her son. Mom reported that no parents had congregated at the community hall and my deepest fears seemed realized--only mad dogs and chumps turned up to clean the school during the midsummer heat of southern Japan.

But then a pickup truck pulled up and we learned that our meeting point was not at the present bus stop, but at a previous bus stop about a half a mile up the road. We clambered into the bed of the pickup truck and headed up to the end of the the road to meet the rest of the work crew. We picked up our garbage bags and began ambling back toward the school. Ray and I were in the middle of the pack and there was little trash to be found. I wondered if my status as a father would suffer if Ray and I handed in an empty garbage bag.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The School Pool

The School Pool, originally uploaded by bink_d.

Grade School Dad

Summer vacation is upon us, but the grade school dad has a few obligations to fulfill. First up is a 2 hour stint as a lifeguard at the school pool. During vacation the pool remains open and teachers and parents come together to control the mayhem in the pool. The teacher runs the show, while the parents patrol the pool-side, ready to pounce on rule-breakers and rescue those in need. The good: a glass of well-chilled mugi-cha (what tea) and kudos from the teaching staff. The bad: there"s not much to do and time passes slowly. It's hot and sweaty, but not in a good way. The ugly: as a parent lifeguard you are NOT permitted to swim in the pool. You're child may be cool and refreshed, but you are not.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Renewing My Japanese Driver's License

Today I renewed my license. First there was the long, inconvenient drive to the DMV. It was worse than usual because a combo supermarket/mall was holding grand opening sales a few blocks down the road and the multitudes were out looking for bargains. I finally got to the DMV parking lot. There were no parking spaces in sight, so the wife dropped me off and headed off for the shopping mall. I got in line, paid the renewal fee and passed the eye test. The worrying thing is that I have marginal vision in one eye, need industrial strength glasses, yet almost passed the test without corrective lenses. Only had to go to a 30 minute lecture because I have a gold license, i.e. I don't drive much and haven't racked up any speeding tickets or traffic infractions over the last 3 years. Our instructor wrung his hands and bemoaned the lack to time--there were so many things to talk about, but he was forced to limit himself to a general summary of the state of traffic safety on a national and local scale. He came out from behind the podium, took off his sport coat, folded it neatly, and we off. Here's the highlights.
  • Most traffic fatalities in my part of Japan involve hitting old people who wander out into the road. Constant vigilance is the only recourse.
  • Rear-end collisions at intersections were the most common accidents in the prefecture. People, when the light turns green, look before you press down on the accelerator.
  • The bane of traffic safety is cell phone use by drivers. Violations continue to rise despite stricter laws. And don't even think of using some kind of microphone/earphone system. You won't be able to hear those ambulances coming up behind you carrying the old people who've been hit because they suddenly veered into traffic, and earphone use while driving is illegal anyway.
There was something else about not being able ball the jack in medium-sized trucks without a new, special, medium-truck-driving license. My eyes were glazing over and mercifully a woman arrived and handed out our new licenses. I won't have to renew again for 5 years.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can't Buy a Wii (or a PS3)

The Nitendo Wii is a lot more popular than the Sony PS3, but you can't buy either one where I live. Maybe they sell them all in Tokyo or ship them to other countries. The Wii is more innovative, a lot cheaper, and seems to say ahead of Sony on the fun factor. Sony sold just under 2 million PS3s last year, while Nitendo shipped 3.2 million Wiis.

I have yet to see either a Wii or PS3 for sale. just demo models, stacks of empty packaging and signs saying that models for actual purchase, while currently unavailable, were on their way. While you can check out a game on a PS3, the Wii is encased in a Plexiglas shrine and can only be admired from a distance.

Last Sunday was no exception. I walked into the local Kojima Denki with my son and saw a PS3 demo model in front of the game section. Kids were huddled around the two controllers, so we walked on and looked at the computers.

Later though, the kids left and Ray and I got to do some racing on the PS3. The graphics were great especially on the cars--metallic surfaces, reflections and shadows were all meticulously rendered, but the game was nothing special. We had to flag down some kids to show us how to use the controllers and did a few laps around the track. We kept bouncing off roadside barriers, getting spun around and driving the course backwards, but gradually got the hang of it--good fun, but not worth the yen equivalent of 400 to 500 bucks. People who purchase the PS3 are not buying them to play mere racing games.

After our PS3 experience we walked through the game section and saw the usual signs. Kojima would receive 5 units each of the Wii and Playstation 3 next week. Interested parties should contact the clerk in the games section.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tax Returns Japanese Style

Picture this. Average workers don't have to file a return because their employers do it for them. They get a simple form at work in November, list their deductions and hand it back in at work. The office staff does the rest.

If you have more than one employer, you do have to file a return. It's fairly straight forward and entails filling out a simple, one-page form. You can file online, by mail, or go down to the tax office and do it in person. If you choose the latter, you get your own cubicle with step-by-step instructions, an adding machine, and a bunch of pencils, erasers and pens. People in blue jackets wander around the room giving advice as needed, in fact they'll do your taxes for you.

As a foreigner with middling Japanese skills, I figured I'd go down to the tax office give the income tax form my best shot. I was surrounded by the aged and senile, retired folk who had to file their own taxes. I started plodding through a color coded instruction pamphlet that seemed to be written for a junior high school audience. Do parents in Japan have their kids do their taxes for them? I wanted to see if I could navigate through the tax form by myself, but whenever I slowed down, a guy in a blue jacket would show up and talk me through to the next step. He effectively did my taxes for me and 20 minutes later I was back on the street.Ta