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An alternative look at life in the Land of the Rising Sun, coming from its southernmost prefecture, the island of Okinawa.
Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/getting-healthy-in-leeds-with-v-physique-body-by-design/

Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England […]

 

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Back to England!

Posted By Dave on November 19th, 2013

It’s been 9 years, 3 months and 19 days since I landed in Tokyo, a little bleary-eyed but eager to see what the Land of the Rising Sun would hold for me.  The plan was to stay here a couple of years and then go back to England and start a career in my real passion: IT.  As we all know, life rarely goes to plan and it’s taken me almost a decade of amazing experiences and life in Japan before I’ve felt ready to return to the UK.  But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing at the start of 2014.

After a difficult year teaching in the Maldives in 2003, things turned around and I was lucky enough to teach at one of the best high schools in Okinawa.  I can honestly say, hand on heart, that throughout the 5 years I was working there I never had a bad day at work.  Weekends were things that gave me a little chance to dive before going back into school, full of energy the following Monday morning.  The principal with a strong idea of where he wanted the school to go, and the staff worked hard to get there.  Combined with some of the most diligent and hard-working students you could come across (many of whom are now experiencing success in life and work throughout Japan and beyond), it created a recipe for success.

Since then I’ve taught at a kindergarten and junior high school, worked as a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, and a copy editor for an Okinawan website and magazine.  But over the past couple of years I’ve been thinking about a return to England, and have been studying a lot to get a foothold in the IT industry.  Cisco, CompTIA and Microsoft exams have been taken and certifications obtained, as well as taking work on and watching online webinars throughout the night whenever I could in order to expand my skillset and experience.  And then I heard that in early November, following a series of interviews, I’d was offered a dream position working in cybersecurity for a multinational business services company.

But a start early in 2014 means that I’ve now got around 7 weeks to tie up all my loose ends (I didn’t even know any of them were loose a couple of weeks ago!), and get set up for life back in the north of England.  There’s a huge amount to do, on both sides of the world, and since I got the news I’ve been running on little sleep; I’m going by the mentality that I can sleep on the plane in late December!  Things to sell, things to buy, people to say goodbye to, workplaces to leave etc.  It’s a lot to do and a lot to think about.  It’s going to be a big change and very challenging, especially in the first couple of months, but I’ve got one chance to make a success of this, and there’s no question that’s what I’m going to do.  Whatever it takes.

So Big in Japan is going to relocate somewhat, but the site and name will stay the same and my fondness for the country (despite my constant cynicism about things) will remain.  I’ve been here almost a third of my life, and right now Okinawa is almost entirely my life.

I’ll write more if I have time over the next month about the things I’ll miss in Okinawa, and of course some of the things I might not miss so much.  For now, thanks as always for reading.

Black Onyx Pacesetters (Okinawa Chapter) Charity Car Wash Event

Posted By Dave on July 16th, 2013

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/black-onyx-pacesetters-okinawa-chapter-charity-car-wash-event/

Went to a nice little event this past Sunday here in Okinawa at Kadena Marina.  The Black Onyx Black Onyx Pacesetters M/CPacesetters (Okinawa Chapter) in conjunction with The Kandi Girls were running a charity bike and car wash, with proceeds going to a local Okinawan orphanage.  It was a very well run event, with food and refreshments for anyone waiting to get their car washed, and all credit to the people stood outside in the baking sun all day.  I was just stood in the shade and I was burning up.

The Black Onyx Pacesetters are a motorcycle club originally from Tennessee, but now with various chapters all over the US, and now in Okinawa.  Their goal, as listed on their website, is:

…to be positive role models to the youth and aid in the development of the community.  We will strive to represent the Black Onyx Pacesetters M/C with respect, honor and to uphold the By-Laws, as well as the laws of the community.  We do fully intend to ride, support and enjoy cycling.

887303_10151649225046245_1058497805_o.jpgIt was with this goal in mind that they decided to hold a car wash, with money raised going to charity.  You could go along, get your car washed by members of the Black Onyx Pacesetters and some of the very photogenic ladies from The Kandi Girls (a group of electronic/rave music dancers here in Okinawa), and then head over and donate whatever you can.  You then get a ticket which can be handed over at another tent for freshly fried fish, potato salad and soft drinks while you wait.  Throw some beautiful weather into the mix and it made for a perfect event, and one I hope was very well supported.  There were quite a few cars coming and going in the hour I was there, so fingers crossed that continued throughout the rest of the day.

Black Onyx Pacesetters M/C & Kandi Girls car wash

The Pacesetters have said they have plans to try and hold these types of charity events every month, and I’m sure as word gets round a little more then the numbers and amount raised will increase.  Only thing I could think of from a car guy’s point of view is maybe holding it a little later in the day.  Something from mid afternoon to early evening would get people coming out as the temperature starts to go down a little, and the chance of a great sunset if it’s at Kadena Marina again, and finally a lot of the car folks might go down there and then stay out for a drive afterwards.

But all in all a very good event, and well worth supporting.  I’ll try and post up in advance of the next one, and get the word out to a few more people.  As long as people keep coming out, these events will keep being put on and money will keep getting raised for those that need it.  A couple more pictures from the event are here, if you’re interested.

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LASIK: One week Check

Posted By Dave on April 1st, 2013

First of all, if you managed to make it through my initial LASIK article then I do appreciate it.  When I get writing I do tend to ramble a little and I just checked and it weighed in at over 2,500 words!  I wanted to give everyone as full a recount as I could though, as I know LASIK could be a very scary thing to think about, and isn’t cheap either.  So I hope some of you gained something from it.

Right, this weekend just past I was back at the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic in Osaka for my one week checkup.  The clinic recommends one day, one week, one month and three month checkups following the iLASIK procedure, so I took advantage of relatively cheap Jetstar flights once again and headed back up there to see how my eyes were faring.  Vision has been good overall.  My close vision is a night-and-day difference to what it was before – I can read, write, pretty much do anything close up that I needed glasses to do before.  Vision is probably better than with contact lenses close up too.  My middle vision and distance vision is still a little blurry, and I seem to have good and bad days.  Even on the good days, things aren’t quite as clear as I would like them to be, but it has only been a week and I’m still hopeful I won’t need a 2nd bout of LASIK towards the end of the year.

At the clinic, they did a couple of little tests looking into my eye, and then I had the eyesight check.  Typically, my eyes were not having a great day, and I knew before I went into the clinic that I wouldn’t do as well as I could have 2 days previously.  Pre-LASIK my eyesight was 0.4 and 0.5 on the Japanese visual strength scale.  After this check, I saw that 1.1 and 1.2 had been written down as my strength figures.  A lot better, but not the 2.0 we are aiming for.  Seems to take 1-3 months for most people to get their full vision back though so I’m not worried.  And the doctor said the eye was looking great from the tests and what he could see, and he had no concerns at all right now.

I’m probably going to head back up there in 3 weeks’ time too for the one month check.  I could get it done here in Okinawa, but the clinic in mainland Japan knows my eyes, where they’ve come from and how they are doing so far, so they’ll have a baseline to do a comparison from.  And I really don’t want to be taking any chances with my eyes.

Oh, if you did read my article last week about getting LASIK, just hit the link once more and scroll to the bottom as I’ve added a couple of edits.  The clinic very kindly contacted me to help explain a couple of things I experienced (the loss of vision momentarily and the sound I was hearing).  So I’m a bit more in the know now, and if you’re considering LASIK then you will be too.  and that can only be a good thing.

Will hopefully report back in 3 weeks’ time with some more good news about my eyesight progress with the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic.

EDIT: Just a side thought, but if any of you contact the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic after having read this article then the person for you to get in touch with is Richard Masuda (fire him an email by clicking here).  Mention you saw David Webb’s article about the clinic online and my membership number (612-857) and it should make you eligible for a referral discount on your LASIK surgery.  Hope it helps you out a little 🙂

Getting LASIK in Japan

Posted By Dave on March 26th, 2013

Since the age of about 6 or 7 I’d say, I’ve had glasses almost permanently attached to my face.  The first thing I do in the morning is reach over and put them on, and the last thing I do at night before falling asleep is take them off.  The only time I don’t wear them when I’m awake is when I’m diving (when I take the advantage of the water magnifying things naturally for me).  Have had pretty bad farsightedness since I was a child, and coupled with an astigmatism in one eye, even contacts didn’t make things perfectly clear.  The only solution was to keep reaching over to the bedside cabinet each morning for the glasses.  Or so I thought…

At the start of February it was time for me to look for a new pair of glasses.  I was looking around a few places, comparing prices and everything, and then for whatever reason the idea of LASIK laser eye surgery came into my head.  I did a bit of reading and saw lots of acronyms.  LASIK, iLASIK, LASEK, PRK… the list of procedures seemed a bit bewildering, but one thing was certain: I would only find out what procedures would be right for me after a consultation at a clinic.  I also talked to a few friends who’d had it done, and almost everyone said things like, “Life changing experience… best thing I’ve ever done… money well worth spending…”  Definitely worth looking into.  I inquired about getting a check at a clinic in Okinawa, but was given quotes of Y15,000 to see if I would be eligible for LASIK, which may or may not be refunded if they did the procedure for me.  They would tell me that after the check.  Not really something to make you want to use the company.  So then I did a bit more reading into laser eye surgery clinics in Japan online, and one company kept coming up time and time again: the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic.  They offered a free consultation and have a branch in Tokyo, so when I went up to the capital at the end of February to see UFC Japan 2013, I paid them a visit.

Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic, ShinjukuThe clinic is in Shinjuku, and so as soon as I landed in Tokyo I headed over there.  They do a bunch of tests on your eyes to determine the strength of your vision, the types of surgery that would be best for you etc.  Should note that some of these tests involve dilating your pupils, so you probably won’t be in any fit state to drive after the tests for a couple of hours.  At the clinic I met Richard Masuda, the company’s international relations guy but who helped with translations of a few things when my Japanese struggled.  Have to say from entering the door, and especially talking to this guy, the service and professionalism they were offering was spot on, and gave me a lot of confidence that if I was going to get LASIK, it should be with this clinic.

After the tests from the nurse, I went in to see the consultant to talk about what they’d found out from my eyes.  They said that usually laser surgery is for myopia (nearsightedness), and they can cope with much worse eyesight than I have, but because I have hyperopia (farsightedness) at a strength of 0.4 and 0.5 on the Japanese scale, I am right at the borderline of whether they can do the procedure, especially with the astigmatism in my right eye.  They said it could be done, but that I may need 2 bouts of laser eye surgery to get my eyes just right, and that it might take a little longer than normal to get good vision and everything to heal as it should.  They recommended the iLASIK procedure, which is a bespoke version of LASIK made for your specific eye condition and structure.  It is also approved by the US Department of Defence, NASA, and the Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare here in Japan.  If it was good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for me!  This procedure is more expensive than the “one size fits all” normal LASIK, but with my eyes it was going to be more beneficial going for this advanced treatment.  Plus, I do skimp on things from time to time, but my vision is not something I take lightly.  I also opted for the TotalCare system, which offers a lifetime of checkups, treatments and further LASIK procedures as I get older.  There is a cheaper 5-year care system, but I opted for the lifetime one, not least because this clinic has a partner company in the UK, and my lifetime care package would carry over to them.  Nice to know if I’m ever back in England I can get check-ups and everything for free.

So I booked treatment at the clinic’s Osaka branch for this past weekend.  Around 10 days before the treatment I received a call from the clinic asking if I could go into their Osaka branch a little early for a couple more tests, which would determine finally whether I was eligible for the laser surgery.  This was a surprise for me, as the consultant had said to me face-to-face that I would be an appropriate candidate, and now that I had booked 2 flights and hotels in Osaka (for my procedure, and my one-week checkup 7 days later) I was told this might not be the case and that I could be told after the checks on the first day that they couldn’t do the procedure and my trips would be wasted.  I was more than a little disappointed at this, which I did stress to the company.  After a few days, I received another call from the clinic, and things explained a little more to me.  Apparently the data-collecting machines in Shinjuku were having trouble getting all the information needed from my eyes, and that was why they needed these further tests, but that I should be eligible for the procedure.  A slight lack of communication within the company, but they got back to me promptly about it and put my mind at ease somewhat.

Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic, OsakaSo the days went by and 3 days before I was due to fly to Osaka I started taking antibacterial eyedrops to make sure my eyes were clean before the surgery.  Got a lunchtime flight up to Kansai Airport and once again, headed straight from the airport to the clinic.  This time the machines got the information they needed from my eyes first time so the procedure was given the green light, and my wallet was made considerably lighter.  Because I was coming from Okinawa, paying by cash, and I was using the referral program, I got some discounts.  It’s still an expensive treatment, but nice that it’s made a little cheaper.

I was taken into a waiting room for the procedure, given some anaesthetic eyedrops, and the chatted to a nurse for 5 minutes while they took effect.  Soon they told me it was time, so feeling excited but a little anxious, I went into the surgery room.  The consultant dealing with me was the company’s leading guy, a Dr. Yoshihiro Kitazawa.  He explained the procedure and told me that the final aim of the surgery would be to give me 2.0 vision in both eyes (2.0 in Japanese terms or 20/10 in American terms; basically perfect eyesight).  I then hopped onto the bed and lay down.  At that point a nurse held my hand and kept hold through the entire procedure.  It’s a very Japanese thing I thought, but is quite reassuring and a nice touch to have in what can be a very stressful procedure.

A speculum was put onto my eye to keep it open and a machine put over my eye with a red dot visible.  “Look at the red dot and we’re going to laser open a flap in your eye” said the consultant.  “Don’t blink and don’t look away from the red dot” he added.  Thanks for that; I had no intention of looking away until you said that, and now it’s all I can think about doing!  I was told that my vision may go blurry or go completely for a few seconds, but not to worry if it did.  While my right eye went blurry, I did lose vision in my left eye for a few scary seconds.  Everything went grey with some strange patterns, and then went black.  But soon enough it came back and I could see, although nothing clearly.  (see EDIT 1 at the bottom of the article)  Within a couple of minutes I had flaps opened in both eyes and the bed spun around to the main machine.  This time a bit more pressure was applied to my eye.  It wasn’t painful at all, but a little uncomfortable.  Some more eyedrops were put into my eye at this time, and this let to probably the strangest experience of the whole surgery.  As each eyedrop fell, because it was going into my eye I guess, I could hear these eyedrops!  Each one made a crackling/white noise type of sound.  A little disconcerting at first to actually hear these noises coming from inside your eyes, but after a few seconds again the crackling faded away.  (see  EDIT 2 at the bottom of the article)  Once again I had a red dot to follow and keep staring at while the laser did its job.  This machine is a bit louder than the other and I could feel something happening, although really had no idea what.

“OK, we’re finished” said the consultant, about 2 minutes later.  The little flaps that had been opened on the surface of my eyes were brushed closed,I can see! and the lights in the room slowly came up.  I was helped up to my feet and I looked around.  The first thing I did notice was that things were a little blurry, but then I was told to look at something relatively close, and that I should see a difference.  So I glanced down at my watch, and realised I could see the small makers’ names on the watch face; something I’d never been able to do without glasses.  I could actually see!  And with that, the LASIK was finished.  I waited in the waiting room for 5-10 minutes after that taking everything in, and getting used to the slight blurriness that I was experiencing at the time.  But I got my phone out, and was able to send messages and use it with no problems.  I donned my protective eyeglasses as I stepped outside into a new, and slightly magnified but blurry, world!  One thing I should note is that mid-evening I received a call from Mr Masuda up in Tokyo to ask how I was doing after the surgery, and how everything had gone for me.  That’s the kind of customer service I really like; the contact that isn’t necessary, but that is made as a courtesy to you.

I was given a painkiller and special painkilling eyedrops if it got really bad, and about 30 minutes after on the walk to the hotel, I did start to feel my eyes aching.  It was painful, but not to the point where I needed a painkiller, and about an hour later it had subsided.  Got back to the hotel and did a little reading (I was amusing and amazing myself by putting paper in front of my eyes and actually being able to read it!) before having an early night.  The next day I got up and put the first of my 4-times a day, 3 sets of eyedrops in (antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and dry-eye prevention), and at lunchtime I headed over to the clinic for my 1-day checkup.  The clinic recommends checks 1 day, 1 week, 1 month and 3 months following iLASIK to check how your eyes and eyesight are recovering.  In the morning my eyes started off very good but after a couple of hours I could feel my midrange and long distance blurring somewhat.  Everything was magnified where it should be, but things just weren’t clear.  That really frustrated me at the checkup as I could probably only get as far as I could pre-LASIK on the eyechart, yet I knew a few hours earlier I could have done.  The doctor reassured me though and told me that 24 hours had not even passed, and for the first week or 2 my eyesight will be very unstable as my eyes and brain adjust to their new window to the world.  I was told that the LASIK had been an easier procedure on me than they thought, and that they were hoping this would correspond to better vision and maybe would mean I don’t need a second bout of surgery in 3-6 months’ time.  In addition, an examination of the eye revealed no scarring from the surgery.  Very encouraging stuff.

As I type this I’m about 100 hours since the eye surgery, and I’ve had a smile on my face almost constantly since then.  Throughout the day, my vision does change, and it even has as I typed this article (the screen is getting ever so slightly more blurry than it was before), but just the fact that I can walk around and I don’t have to fumble around for my glasses every morning when I wake up is an amazing feeling.  It’s still very early days, and I know I will have bad days and good days, and that my eyes could take 3-4 months to heal completely.  But I will keep you informed about how everything goes.  If I stop writing completely, then I’ve gone blind!

But right now I would say the LASIK for me has been a huge life-changer, and hopefully things will just keep getting better as my eyes heal and adjust.  And I would heartily recommend the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic for their customer service from initial contact until now, which I fully expect to continue.  If you’re in Japan and tired of wearing glasses or contacts, then get in touch with them.  They’ve got clinics throughout mainland Japan, and will give you great service I’m sure.  Make sure you mention David Webb, and this website too!

Read about my one-week check and how my eyes are doing by clicking here!

EDIT 1: A bit more info about your eyes going dark momentarily during the LASIK procedure.  I’m told it’s because when there is pressure on your eye you can momentarily lose vision.  Because they push the speculum down on your eye with a bit of pressure (blinking right now would be a bad thing), it can sometimes cause everything to go black.  But once the pressure is released then your vision returns.  Not sure of the exact biology behind that, but it definitely explains why things went dark a couple of times.

EDIT 2: And I now know what was causing that strange sound I said I experienced after they had opened the flap at the front of my eye.  The second speculum to keep my eyes open actually had a small vacuum hose in it, kind of like a dentist would stick into your mouth.  So the noise I was hearing was the sound of the eyedrops/wash getting sucked away so they wouldn’t interfere with the laser.  When it was mentioned to me (the clinic actually called me to tell me about these things after reading the article) it makes perfect sense, and I don’t know why I didn’t realise it initially.  I must have been concentrating too much on that dot in front of me!

EDIT 3: Just a side thought, but if any of you contact the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic after having read this article then the person for you to get in touch with is Richard Masuda (fire him an email by clicking here).  Mention you saw David Webb’s article about the clinic online and my membership number (612-857) and it should make you eligible for a referral discount on your LASIK surgery.  Hope it helps you out a little 🙂

UFC Japan 2013 (UFC on Fuel TV 8) Weigh-ins

Posted By Dave on March 6th, 2013

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/ufc-japan-2013-ufc-weigh-ins/

ufc_2013_weigh-ins-187.jpg

Well the dust has only just settled and already the UFC bandwagon is making its way to Canada for UFC 158 this coming weekend, but last Sunday morning’s UFC on Fuel TV 8 (called UFC Japan 2013 domestically) has got to be regarded as another success for the organization.  The success and credit has to be put down in large part to the 2 main events of the night, Stefan Struve vs Mark Hunt, followed by Wanderlei Silva (pictured right) vs Brian Stann.  Will focus on the weigh-ins right here, but my next post later today will look at the main event itself.

The UFC’s last trip to Japan was UFC 144 last February, which was a sell-out and regarded as a very big success after not visiting the country for so long.  There were a few concerns about the crowd numbers though, as no ticket sales figures had been released and tickets were still being advertised as available.  But the organizers had been very smart, and placed well-known fighters in Japan (from Pride FC days) along with almost all Japanese fighters they have on their roster.  Throw in a smattering of Koreans and you’ve got a card everyone can get behind.

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Unbeknownst to me, the events actually started on Friday, with a signing session and part of Shibuya 109 being transformed into a temporary UFC Store.  If I’d have known about that then I’d have been there, but unfortunately I missed out on that one (must be slipping in my old age, and probably a little dazed after my pre-LASIK check – more on that in another post).  The weigh-ins were on Saturday at 13:00 Japan time, but I decided to get there very early and do some writing in Starbucks for this site.  As it turns out, I got there at 9:00 and there were already some people queuing!  Now the Japanese like queues so I thought they might be lining up just for the hell of it, but then I saw it was a signing of some sort.  Decided to join them and was about number 30 in the queue.  Standing and waiting in the bitter cold & wind, and wearing a T-shirt and a not-too-thick sweatshirt, every minute made Starbucks and a hot coffee more attractive, but I decided to stick it out, and about an hour later the doors opened and we shuffled inside.

2013-03-02 10.43.03.jpg

Turns out there was UFC Hall of Famer Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, and Glover Teixiera doing a signing.  Well worth a little frostbite for!  The queuing system was an absolute shambles though; a sentiment echoed by some of the American UFC officials there.  You lined up for the signing and went past the merchandise stand where you could take advantage of smaller lines before tomorrow’s event.  But after buying a programme and a poster I was then told I had to go right to the back of the queue and start the process again for signing.  And then if you wanted to see the weigh-ins you had to line up again!  The signing queue was now about 300 people or so deep, and there was no way I was going to the back of the line for that, but luckily I managed to sneak in with a guy from San Diego who was there lining up and who I’d chatted to earlier.  Definitely the most disorganized part of the whole event though.

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So I got my merchandise, and I got signatures from both Liddell and Teixiera.  I’ll tell you what though: those guys look big on TV, but it’s not until you get up close & personal with them that you realise how big they actually are.  But very cool to chat briefly with them both and the first fighters I’ve met.

So with all that out of the way I joined the final line for the actual weigh-ins.  From around 11:00-12:00 there was an interview and Q&A segment with UFC fighters “Sexiyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Hatsu Hioki.  Not a huge fan of Akiyama, but he came across much better when talking to the crowd and on a microphone.  Hioki definitely looked nervous or shy about the whole thing.  The interview segment ended at 12:00 but then there was a one-hour wait until the actual weigh-ins.  They showed some video previewing the fights but that was a 15 minute video and was just looped.  Think they really should have shown something else to keep people entertained, as plenty were getting bored.  Show some older UFC fights or something.

13:00 came around though and Jon Anik (Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg don’t travel out to the non-PPV events, I believe) came out to announce the fighters, along with Korean Octagon girl Su Jung Lee.  I managed to get photos of most of the fighters as they stepped on the scales (everyone made weight except Diego Sanchez, who was 2lbs overweight), as well as the staredowns, and you can see the gallery of them here.

ufc_2013_weigh-ins-57.jpg

Best staredown had to be Kazuki Tokudome and Cristiano Marcello (see above), with most amusing unsurprisingly being Stefan Struve versus Mark Hunt.  If you can’t see the picture of it below then imagine Gandalf standing next to Gimli from Lord of the Rings!  Should also be noted that when Miesha Tate came out with her boyfriend Brian Caraway for his weigh-in, she was getting more shouts from the crowd than he was.  Make of that what you will.

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Best crowd reactions were given to both Mark Hunt and Wanderlei Silva; both well-known from their past fights in Japan over the years.  The reaction from Su Jung Lee at the sight of 7′ tall Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve was pretty funny too, as you can see to the left here.  An after 45 minutes or so the weigh-ins were over.  The fighters went off to hydrate and I headed out of the arena for some ramen and a drink.

The crowd at the weigh-ins wasn’t as much as last year, but there were still a fair few people there so it left me pretty positive for a good attendance tomorrow.  The reaction to Silva also told me it was going to be a very good event early on Sunday morning.

UFC Japan 2013 Fight Card Announced

Posted By Dave on December 13th, 2012

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/ufc-japan-2013-fight-card-announced/

The Axe Murderer is coming back to Japanese soil!  On March 3rd the UFC will be coming back across the Pacific to the shores of Japan for UFC on Fuel TV 8, and they’ve announced a pretty good fight card for it too, as well as releasing the tickets this afternoon.

One year after Benson Henderson won the UFC Lightweight Championship belt at UFC 144 The main event will be Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva vs Brian Stann.  Japan is something a little special for both of these fighters.  For Silva, it is where he became a legend in the eyes of the Japanese MMA fans.  His all-out fighting style won him masses of fans, and the middleweight belt back in the Pride FC days.  While his best days are probably behind him, there’s no doubt he’ll be wanting to put on a big show for the people who gave him almost god-like status for a number of years.  And Brian Stann, former US Marine, was born on Yokota Air Base in Japan.  He’s a solid fighter, and getting top billing on the card should ensure he gets plenty of support from the US military community around Japan.

Mark Hunt is also on the main card and he’s got a big following too in Japan, following his Pride FC days.  His fight with Stefan Struve should be a very good one, with an interesting mix of styles and body shapes!

The rest of the card doesn’t shape up too badly either.  The card in full at the moment is:

  • Wanderlei Silva vs Brian Stann
  • Stefan Struve vs Mark Hunt
  • Takanori Gomi vs Diego Sanchez
  • Dong-Hyun Kim vs Siyar Bahadurzada
  • Riki fukuda vs Brad Tavares
  • Takeya Mizugaki vs Brian Caraway
  • Hyun Gyu Lim vs  Marcelo Guimaraes
  • Kyung Ho Kang vs Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres
  • Kazuki Tokudome vs Christiano Marcello

Am pretty pleased they’re stacking the card with Japanese talent too.  They’ve also announced the UFC Fight Club Japan which I’m considering joining too, and seem to be making a strong effort to promote Japanese fighters and the UFC within Japan.

The UFC also released tickets today on the almost impossible to navigate well ticket.tickebo.jp.  I think I’ve got myself a pair of tickets but to be honest I’ve no idea and will only find out for sure when I go to the convenience store to pay for them.  The much more professional E-Plus site will have tickets available from next Friday, but I like to be first in line to try and get good seats for my money.

More to come as news is released.  I do know this: the tickets are following the same seating and price plan from UFC 144.  Check my link here for more info on that.

Looking forward to the card already, especially as I’ve gone up a rank in seats this time so will be a little closer to the action.

UFC_144-69.jpg

NK Missile Launch Flies Over Okinawa, Japan

Posted By Dave on December 12th, 2012

At 9:51 this morning a rocket was fired from northwestern DPRK into the skies, heading south.  The rocket flew over southern Japan, namely Okinawa and going right over the island of Ishigaki, with the last pieces of debris falling into the ocean near the Philippines, early reports are saying.

Whether this was actually an attempted satellite launch (unknown yet if it was a success or not) as the DPRK are claiming, or a long-range missile test is up for debate, but it seems to have traveled further than previous attempts, and I think I’ve lost on the sweepstake (my money was on a flight time of 2 minutes).

The launch was followed by the phones at work suddenly going crazy with emails from the Prefectural Office warning everyone of impending doom, and just as they were coming through I heard fighters scramble from Kadena US Air Force base here in Okinawa.  And with fair reason, if you look below at this image from BBC News.NK missile trajectory

 

The planned launch was due to fly right over Ishigaki, and early reports are saying it stuck to its course pretty well.  Now I haven’t got my ruler and measuring tape out, but it certainly looks like it’s gone much further than any previous launches, and the DPRK government, you would expect, would be pleased.  If it was a satellite launch, whether the satellite has actually reached an orbit will be determined over the coming hours and days.

But once again the theme from the Japanese government has been, “Lots of rhetoric, no action”.  Just days ago, we were told that the Japanese military had been told by the government to shoot down the rocket should any part of it threaten to fall on Japanese territory.  If the rocket has stuck to its course then it’s gone right over a Japanese island and through the Okinawan prefecture, with the Japanese government stating no attempt was made to bring it down.  Now the only explanations are:

  • The Defence Ministry had supreme confidence that the launch was successful and was therefore posing no danger to Japanese people.
  • They thought seeing as it was going over Okinawa it wasn’t worth the effort.

Now call me a cynic (probably one of the kinder things I’ve been called) but if that launch had gone over Tokyo (where they’d put PAC 3 launchers on the top of the Defence Ministry building) then there’s no doubt it would have been downed.

Anyway, that’s the excitement from Japan right now.  I’m expecting some disappointment from the opposition LDP party, who are expected to come back into power at next week’s election.  I am fairly confident they were hoping it would come closer to the mainland, so they could shoot it down and strengthen their claims that Japan’s military (sorry, self-defence forces) should be expanded.

Will update if I hear anything more of real interest.

UPDATE:  The Japanese government has made a statement regarding the launch.  They have described it as… wait for it… “extremely regrettable”.  Almost spat out my coffee when I read that!  You just knew that word was going to crop up!

UPDATE 2: The US is now reporting that an object has been put into space by the rocket.  So it’s looking like this launch was a clear success.

Japan 4th in Global Education Rankings: Shurely Shome Mishtake?

Posted By Dave on November 27th, 2012

To say my jaw dropped when I read this story was something of an understatement.  Education firm, Pearson, have just released global rankings for the quality of education, which have placed the top 5 countries as:

  1. Finland
  2. South Korea
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Japan
  5. Singapore

With the UK coming in at 6th and the US in 17th.  The test measures test results globally, as well as the proportion of students who go on to university.

Now I’ve racked my brains since reading this and I really have no idea how Japan can rank so highly in education rankings.  And I’m not just talking about it from being a cynical English teacher living and working here for the past 8 years.  Education standards on the whole seem to be slipping, and especially when viewing comparisons to countries like Hong Kong with it’s tutoring “kings and queens”, and seeing the levels of students in South Korea.  The fact that Japan is even above the UK is very surprising to me to be honest.  The report talks about the top countries having an understanding of education’s “underlying moral purpose” which, after seeing a number of students coming out of schools recently, appears to be completely absent.  All I can think is that since the data was collected 3-4 years ago, much has changed in Japan for the worse.  Or my memory of education in the UK is through very strong rose-tinted glasses.

It then mentions about how in the best countries, that teachers are respected and efforts are made to recruit the best people for teaching through salaries and status.  The former definitely isn’t the case for the normal teacher in Japan, and gets even worse as the students get lower.  A friend of mine was talking about their job at a kindergarten.  She had just started working there, and took a test to be classified as a fully qualified teacher which comes with increased benefits.  Six teachers at the school were told to take the test, which they all worked hard for and passed.  The school then turned around and told them they were only going to give two of the six the benefits that come with being classed as a fully qualified teacher.  The others would continue to be classed and paid as juniors, regardless of their performance.  And paying someone a salary of around USD$1300 (£840) a month is not really the way to make someone want to remain in the education profession.

The only possible reasoning I can find is that the rankings are formed in part from test scores achieved by students.  I would hope that these are the same type of test conducted all over the world to provide a benchmark for results.  But it’s possible that these tests may be done individually on a country, board of education, or even school level.  And that is where the distortions start to occur.

I have seen numerous times where a student is going to fail an English exam (usually through lack of effort, as the tests are made simple so any student who works can get a passing grade).  In addition, the student has not written anything in their books all year and failed to hand in a single homework.  But the teacher needs to make the student pass because the rule is that the student has to pass.  So they are given letters or words to copy on paper.  This paper is only given to the students who are definitely not going to pass, and then a huge emphasis is placed on this paper, instead of the test (which is the case for the majority of students).  What this means is that the student will sleep through the English exam, get maybe 5%, and then get final grades which are not so much lower than the students who worked harder but were graded more harshly as the goalposts were moved.  It’s this type of distortion which can easily affect figures like this.

But maybe I’m being far too critical.  I have been wrong on a couple of rare occasions, and maybe the Japanese education system is one that the rest of the world should be looking up at.  I just have this niggling feeling that if I’d have never handed in any homework and school and then slept in class, I’d have had a blackboard eraser thrown at me by the teacher, and given adequate reward/punishment to motivate me to try and improve my scores.

What do you think?

Police Finally Admit Bullying Caused Suicide of 13-Year Old

Posted By Dave on July 21st, 2012

I just come to Starbucks to relax with a copy of the Daily Yomiuri to catch up with the week’s news, and 30 minutes later I’m logging into my site because of a story I’ve read.  As you read I’m sure you’ll understand why I was compelled to write.

The story itself goes back to October of last year, although the origins of it are some time before that.  The place is a 14th floor apartment in Otsu City, Shiga prefecture in Japan.  A 13-year old junior high school boy leaps to his death from the balcony one evening, after finally taking more than he could handle.

An initial investigation into the suicide found instances of severe bullying of the boy by 3 other students.  Some of the things the boy had been subjected to by the 3 other students included:

  • Being beaten while held, and burned with cigarette butts.
  • Being forced to give them money and a PIN number to a bank account.
  • Being forced to practice committing suicide repeatedly while they watched.
  • Being forced to shoplift for them.
  • Having his property and school books ripped up and damaged by them.

Before he died one of his last acts was to send voicemail messages to the 3 that had bullied him, saying simply, “I am going to die”.  The reply from one of them was just as simple.  “You should die”.  In addition, it was also said that the teachers had been told about the bullying of this boy occurring, but had done nothing.  To pretty much everyone, it was clear that the actions of these 3 students had driven the boy to his death.  To everyone it seems, except the police.

Three times the father had gone to the police filing reports that his son had died as a result of bullying, and three times the police had refused to accept his reports.  Their excuse, sorry, reason, was that they said it wasn’t clear what had caused the boy’s suicide, as teachers had told them they thought the boy may have been having some problems at home too.  The teachers didn’t think the bullying was even worth mentioning.

The board of education had surveyed some of the school’s students following the suicide, and asked them about bullying.  In their initial reports though, only some of the findings were not made public (namely the forced practice suicides).  I’m guessing because the BoE was worried that it might reveal there was a big problem at the school or in the area, and force further investigation and more work for them.  In fact, it wasn’t until this story started to get more press attention both in Japan and overseas that the BoE released the full (so far as we know) results of the survey, and the police decided to accept the father’s reports.  I am guessing the latter is because the police want to be perceived as doing something.  I have no doubt that if the press hadn’t kept reporting about this story and it started to spread more that the police would have been happy to continue refusing to accept the father’s report and commence an investigation.  So they asked the 3 suspects to voluntarily come in with their parents to answer some questions.

Apparently, the boys didn’t deny anything that was accused of them, but in a statement that said “It wasn’t bullying.  It was just a prank”.  Of course – it’s normal for kids to force their classmates to practice committing suicide.  Just fun and games.  Simple open and shut case.  It was just a joke that the 13 year old boy who threw himself from his apartment balcony didn’t get the punchline of.  No remorse at all seems to be being shown by the boys, and it is because of the victim taking things too seriously that there is a problem.

And to be honest that’s probably as far as the investigation will go, especially as more than a few Japanese blogs are stating that one of the suspect’s fathers is someone the police would not want to upset.  That usually means either member of a Yakuza group, government official or a senior police officer.  The former is often flung around but wouldn’t surprise mel like father like son, maybe?  And there’s also the fact that the kids are untouchable here in Japan, even more so than in other countries.  They can shoplift, steal cars & motorbikes and then crash them, cause damage to property etc and nothing can be done because they are just children until they are 20.

Now while the teachers should take some part of the blame for what has happened, especially if they were fully aware of what was going on and simply turned a blind eye, I can understand their position.  Teachers are put under a lot of pressure from parents, and are blamed for almost every problem a student has.  If a student is caused smoking, it is because the teachers haven’t educated them well enough.  If a student is absent from school, the teachers are responsible and frequently go out to try to find them.  If bullying occurs in a school, it is down to the atmosphere the teachers have created.  Parents are removed from any responsibility in the bringing up of their child as soon as they enter.  Thus the 2 people that should be the most authoritative figures in a child’s life are no longer respected or listened to by them.  By the time a student (especially a boy, who is given much more freedom to do whatever he wants, regardless of the consequences) hits junior high school, the parents have no control at all.  And the final result can be what you have just read about here.

Now the police have said they’ll investigate, I’m pretty sure that’s the last we will hear of this story.  Everything will be forgotten about until the next bullying-caused suicide in a year or so’s time, when it will be brought to the public’s eye again before once again fading away.  It’s a sad state of affairs, but is another one of those situations you just don’t see changing any time soon.

The Japanese PM Roundabout

Posted By Dave on July 9th, 2012

Well 12 months has almost passed so it’s just about time for Japan to elect it’s next annual Prime Minister.  If you keep up to date with this site (not difficult given the pitiful number of updates I’ve been producing recently) or with things happening in Japan, you have to laugh at the state of politics here.  Well, it’s either laugh or cry with despair.  Since the “suntanned lizard” Junichiro Koizumi (also about the only PM in recent history with any sort of personality, see right) left office in 2006, no Premier has lasted longer than 14 months in the job.

The Democratic Party of Japan took over office from the Liberal Democratic Party (different name, same old types and ideas) in 2009 and they didn’t want to break the trend, currently on their third Prime Minster.  Elections are meant to be held every 4 years, but that has been unthinkable in the last decade.  And it looks like we could be due for one in the next few months.

The ruling party, “led” by Yoshihiko Noda (see left) has been wanting to raise the level of consumption tax from it’s current 5% level up to 10%.  They are claiming it is needed for the rebuilding of northern Japan after the 2011 earthquake & tsunami, coupled with the “man-made disaster” at Fukushima.  Of course they couldn’t hold TEPCO responsible as they are a big company and line the pockets of many, so they had to get money somehow to rebuild the pachinko parlours (Japan’s most popular way of getting around its laws against gambling) that were lost.  Although it is also very possible that they decided Noda’s popularity wasn’t dropping as quickly as it should do, and so had to take drastic action.  Well, maybe not “very possible” but definitely within the realms of possibility.  A consumption tax would also be more preferable to an income-based tax rise, as the latter would most likely affect the higher earners more.  Couldn’t have that, so the consumption tax will affect all equally.

When the DPJ propsed this raising of consumption tax, the LDP fought against it.  Mainly because it was an idea from the opposition.  I did hear some arguments mentioned by LDP members, but to anyone that dabbles in logic they weren’t really substantiated.  This lack of support from the opposition upset Noda and so he tried pushing harder against the LDP to get them to agree to this rise.  They didn’t budge and the stalemate continued.  Eventually the PM came up with an ingenious ultimatum.  “If you opposition don’t support me, I’ll be forced to dissolve parliament and have a general election!”.  The noise that followed was that of 307 palms slapping against their foreheads in disbelief at what had just been said.  “OK.  Do it” was the general opposition response.  Unbelievably, Noda hadn’t been expecting this!

Since then there have been fractures in the ruling party, with a former leader leaving the DPJ along with 49 other members, and Noda’s popularity is dropping faster than Andy Murray’s chance of ever winning a Grand Slam event.  Am fully expecting an election come September, and the the prospect of yet another prime minister until late 2013.  And then it will all start again…

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