Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nuria's going away Party

On 8/30/07 we had a going away party for my very good friend Nuria. She will be returning to Cataluña in Spain to begin her career as a teacher. Her husband David will be returning at the end of the month, so we still have time to bother him for a while. We all got together in one of our most frequented restaurant (they have normal food and an English menu!!!) to say see you later (I don't like good byes) to Nuria. I made a little album with a bunch of pictures of our adventures together. In the process I realized that most of our memories of Japan will always be tied to the people that where with us during any given adventure. So 20 years from now when I find an album of Japan while doing some spring cleaning at home, I will look at it and wonder "How is Nuria doing?".
I gave a speech (is anyone shocked?) at the end of the meal and let her know how lucky we all where to have spend the last year or so hanging out around Japan together and how much we would miss her excessive use of the letter Z. It actually took me a while (and vice-versa) to get used to her thick Spanish accent but in the end we both got used to it and I taught each other some slang works (for example: hangeo from hanging around and Vale for OK). Unfortunately my Spanish did not get more proper (like every good Puerto Rican I skip the last syllable of almost every word and Z's sound like S's) in any way.
Here is our diverse group of friends (Filipino, American, Japanese, Catalan and anyone else who shows up is fine too):

Where do you go after dinner in Japan? To sing Karaoke off course!!! Was there ever any doubt? Every time we go (which is allot) it's a ton of fun. At first I had no interest in it but now I already know which songs I'm going to sing and with who, in case of a duet. Orlando and I always sing any song from Oasis, Erin and I always sing "Baby got back" by Sir Mix Allot (great song, don't knock it) and Nuria and I sing anything in Spanish.
In this particular picture I think we did "Camisa Negra" by Juanes. This song works well because even the people who don't understand a words of Spanish get really into it and even sings along (all you have to do is read).
This is my second really good friend (hard to find true friends in any country) that goes back to their home country while I have been in Japan. I realized that one fact about these international assignments is that you know it's for a specific amount of time, but when the time comes to go back to normal life everyone I have met so far does not want it to end. I wonder if the same will happen to us? I guess only time will tell.

Hector and Miriam's visit

The past week our good friends Hector and Miriam flew in from Michigan to explore Japan for 10 days. The stayed with us a few of these days and we all had a great time!!! Here we are in hanging around in Miyajima island. I have been here a few times already with different people and every time it's a completely different experience from the last one.

Miriam and I had been planning this trip for MONTHS!!! It's not easy to decide what places are worth seeing and how to get there, but in the end I think they saw the most important parts of Japan in a very short period of time. They bought the Japan Rail pass tickets in which you can use all the trains for 2 weeks for a fixed rate. They explored the nearby cities (Kyoto and Nara) by their brave little selves. Unfortunately this pass is only available to tourists and Orlando and I can't buy it because we are currently residents of Japan.

Every night Miriam and I would sit down in front of the computer and figure out what trains to take in order to get to Kyoto, Nara, Himeji and Tokyo among others, but after that they where on their own in this very complicated country where you can't read any signs or ask anyone for directions. I have to give them props (compliments) on finding their own way around Japan, that takes true bravery and no shyness what so ever.
Here we are after a tea ceremony near our apartment. If our faces look red in this picture it's because they are!!! It's so hot and humid here (I should not complain but it is worse than in Puerto Rico) that I'm surprised we survived sitting like this for half an hour with no air conditioning what so ever.
There was no way we would let our friends leave without going into one of the 10,000 arcades around town. Here are Hector and Orlando trying their best to keep up with the drum machine (always fun when it's going really fast).
In general my friends did a really good job finding they way around Japan (check out their blog [there is a link on the right hand side] and facebook accounts to see more of their trip) and that is why they deserve this:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Interesting article

'Net cafe refugee' population put at 5,400

Around 5,400 people with no fixed address spend their nights at 24-hour Internet cafes across Japan, of whom 27 percent are in their 20s, the health ministry said Tuesday.
In its first survey on so-called Net cafe refugees, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also determined that people in their 50s comprise 23 percent of the total, and half of them work low-paying day-hire jobs.
In the survey conducted in June and July, the ministry gave questionnaires to about 1,700 sleepover customers at 87 Net cafes across Japan, while separately interviewing 362 people outside Net cafes in Tokyo and Osaka.
The ministry found that 8 percent of the respondents sleep in Net cafes because they have no home. Based on this figure, the ministry estimated that about 5,400 people in Japan use Net cafes as a home substitute.
In Tokyo, 58 percent are short-term laborers and 17 percent are unemployed.
The monthly income of those in Tokyo averages ¥110,000, compared with ¥80,000 in Osaka, with more than 40 percent of the respondents having experienced sleeping on the streets.
In Tokyo, 33 percent lost their home after quitting work and 20 percent said they left dorms and live-in housing after leaving their jobs.
The survey also found 66 percent of the respondents experience difficulty in saving money to rent an apartment while 38 percent were concerned whether they could continue paying rent.
Many said looking for a job is difficult because they lack a fixed address.
"We are just beginning to understand the underlying dynamics," ministry official Jun Teraoka said. "This survey will help us identify and tackle the many labor and welfare issues involved in this phenomenon."
Takeshi Ikuta, who heads a support group for homeless people in Osaka, said Net cafe refugees should be considered homeless, and the younger ones should be viewed as vulnerable.
"The government should take support measures for people working under unstable labor conditions before they are trapped in a pattern of sleeping in Net cafes," Ikuta said.
Customers at a typical Net cafe can stay overnight for ¥1,000 to ¥2,000 in a small cubicle equipped with a reclining chair, computer and TV. Many cafes offer free soft-drink refills and some even have showers.
The ministry attributes the rise in people making such cafes their home to the ballooning number of young people who hop from one temporary job to the next. Estimates put the figure at 2 million.
The job-hoppers are a byproduct of the economic crisis that hit a decade ago, as well as a shift in values among younger generations less ready to conform to Japan's more traditional corporate work ethic, analysts say.
Many Net cafe inhabitants rely on their cell phones to arrange day jobs that don't require a fixed address. But the casual nature of the work means they often receive low wages and no training, social security or health insurance.
The phenomenon has also raised health concerns. In 2005, 13 people contracted tuberculosis at a Net cafe in Kawasaki that health officials suspect originated from the cafe's homeless population.
Refuge sought by the homeless is not limited to Net cafes. Many also congregate in all-night saunas and 24-hour fast food outlets, according to the study.
A government survey released earlier this year found about 18,500 people — mostly 40 or older — live on the street nationwide, down 27 percent from a similar survey four years ago.
But analysts say the Net cafe refugees signal the existence of hidden forms of homelessness not counted in previous tallies, especially among younger people.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Our favorite vehicles

This is definitely or ichi ban (number one in Japanese) vehicle. La puta literally mean the slut in Spanish. Every time we see one of these "feisty" vehicles we always bust our laughing!!! To make it even better, Yes it's a Mazda vehicle!!!

In second place we have the always entertaining Nissan Moco. Moco means mucus in Spanish... eewwwwww how gross!!! Atleast the car is not green.I know Japan does not have many foreigners but someone should have taken time (and considering the long ours they work ) to investigate the meaning of the names given to actual vehicles!!! Seriously just think of how in the world will a marketing campaign be developed in Spanish speaking countries? The possibilities are endless...

Our First Visitors

As I had mentioned before my family came to visit us in Japan for 2 weeks. They literally saw most of the country!!! The first week I scheduled a series of tours for them. They went to Tokyo first and enjoyed the sights. Here is my little sister Vicky in the hotel.
The next day they were off to Mount Fuji, here is Vicky with my mom.
After that they where off to Nara. They where very excited because they used the shinkansen (bullet train) for the first time.

After checking out the giant Budda (refer to August 2006 posting) they spend the day sightseeing in Kyoto. Here they are in front of the Golden Temple. The girl in the curly hair is my cousin Maritere who also came to hang out.
Finally they made their way down (props to them for figuring out how to use the bullet train) to good old Hiroshima. Here they are in front of the Peace Dome.
Once they where here Orlando and I took them around the sights close by. Here we are in Miyajima on Saturday 7/28/07.
We visited Iwakuni (1 hour away) on Sunday.
We also took time to do some "musts" in Japan like singing karaoke (after that we where humming and singing Mr. Roboto the whole time) and dress up in Yukatas (summer kimonos) as you can see below:

If this seems like a really long blog entry it's because they saw more things in 2 weeks that we have in one whole year!!! Imagine that we have not been to Tokyo yet and hey have!!! Crazy no? In general we all had a good time and survived sharing one bathroom for 5 people. I think my cousin summed it up the best when she said "Japan is very interesting and the people are very cordial, it would be perfect it it where not so freaking far away!!!". Agreed. Our main goal the past two weeks was for my family to feel that the 24 hour journey each way was worth it.