I Think I’m Turning JapaNEWS

So in my every expending quest to never sleep again, I decided to go the news anchor route and bring some of the news from Japan to you, the beloved reader/viewer/stalker on a new endeavor I am calling I Think I’m Turning JapaNEWS or just JapaNEWS for short.

A little bit of background:  Way back in the day, I used to do a podcast with my friend called The Mark and Stephen Show, a show in which Mark did most of the work while I sat around in the back of the room and did the typical goofy sidekick shtick.  While our numbers weren’t ever mind-blowing or anything, they started to get on a bit of an up-tick thanks to a bit of radio exposure (it’s a long story but Mark has a tendency to make friends with people in convenient places).  And then, things sorta fell apart, burnout ensued, and the Mark and Stephen Show vanished into the ether, never to be heard from again.

That was something like three or four years ago at this point and I seem to remember enjoying the whole semi-organized show thingy far more than I probably did at the time.  So I’ve been looking for any excuse to do a show of some sort and the move to Japan finally provided me with enough fodder for one.  For the past couple of months, I’ve been mulling over the precise format of what it is that I want to do.  Last week, I put out a test podcast on my Soundcloud account (FOUND HERE) but honestly, the end result was a little more bloated than I wanted and, honestly, not that good (which isn’t to say that this new attempt is good either).

Living in Japan, I’ve come to notice how bad most international media is at providing news stories about the country aside from the occasional “FUKUSHIMA IS GOING TO MELT ALL OUR FACES OFF!”, “No one in Japan is having sex!!!!!”, or “Look at how weird Japan is! ROFL” stories.  This of course does nothing to account for the other 99% of things going on in the country at any given time.  I Think I’m Turning JapaNEWS is my sad little attempt at showing off some of these other events (along with the occasional “Japan is into some weird stuff” story).

This show is obviously a work in progress and it will probably be several more weeks before I even begin to feel comfortable reading the news and then subsequently ad-libbing on camera/mic.  As I’m obviously the guy compiling/translating/writing/reading the news stories on this show, the content is going to be a bit smarmier and edgier than a straight forward news show.  (Disclaimer:  I am a huge fan of SNL’s Weekend Update and the Daily Show so that is consequently how I like my news.)

Now, as for how to find my show…

As of right now, I plan on ultimately offering the JapaNEWS via two main channels: a visual newsdesk-style show via my Youtube channel and an audio podcast feed via an as yet unestablished RSS Feed/ Podcast hosting service.  Those of you expecting or wanting a written version of my show will either be sadly disappointed or have to transcribe the show yourself (even if I do have a copy of the script containing the bare bones version of the show itself).  Those of you looking for a Braille version of my show are probably better served just doing something else or listening to the audio feed.

When it comes to the frequency of the show, I am going to try to maintain a weekly schedule, which is of course dependent on how busy I am at work and whether or not I’m sick.  If something major happens, you can probably expect me to issue some special edition episodes to talk about stuff in a timely manner.

If you would like to contact me about the show and/or are an expert in some Japan news related field, please feel free to do so either through my twitter account or the comments section here or via another yet unestablished email address.  Also if an awesome person wants to come up with a cool looking logo for the show, I would love you forever and totally sell you my kidney.

Until next time.


Stephen’s Video Round-Up

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my videos on this page but since I’m feeling sick and much too tired to write up an actual post today, I’m just going to round up some of my non-written content over the past couple of weeks or so, mainly from my youtube channel, on which I usually just eat food and occasionally talk at a camera.

I got a new mic and to test it out I made a couple of videos.  These were the result:

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan

In this long series of videos, I pretty much pull stuff from off the shelves of my local convenience store and claim it’s weird and then eat it.  Not very exciting but if you’re into junk food, this is probably in your wheelhouse.

For more videos and stuff featuring me in general, just check out (or subscribe to… or both) my Youtube Channel page here:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChj5O1kpXH4kxVQqQBFuPVg

Or not.  I honestly don’t really care. #BOSS

Stephen Versus the Japanese Apartment Key, Part II – The Time Candy Crush Almost Won

So there I was, trapped outside my small crappy, 450 dollar a month apartment in Mito, Japan but with the sudden hope that it wouldn’t be like this for long.  With the help line phone number given to me when I signed my lease in hand, help would surely be on the way and I’d be back inside my nice, less-cold-than-outside apartment before long.  That was what I thought.  And I was dead wrong.

That's okay, I didn't want to go inside my apartment anyways.

That’s okay, I didn’t want to go inside my apartment anyways.

Since it was Saturday, my first call into the national center was immediately sent to the robotic call system, where I was subsequently met by a fast wave of words and the typical “For mental counseling and health services press pound and three, for rent information press pound and four” goodness.  By this time it was around 8 PM and I was beginning to doubt whether or not I’d ever see the inside of my apartment again.  While I can understand a lot of Japanese, it’s slightly more difficult to understand a language when it’s (a) coming at you through a small iPhone speaker and (b) being spoken into what sounded like a 1930’s style rotary phone.  Damn these Japanese apartment companies and their insistence that they give their employees a weekend.  Nevertheless, I forged ahead, traversing the gulf in telephone techonology between the 1920s and the 2000s, and dug down deep to figure out what needed to be figured out.  (Actually I just randomly dialed numbers until I got to the key desk.  Then and only then was I fianlly able to talk to another human being.

The thing about Japanese is that it’s a hard language to learn and Indian dudes aren’t naturally predisposed to speak it meaning Raj from Mumbai isn’t going to the guy on the other side of the line pretending that he’s actually Larry from down the street.  (On a semi-related subject, Slumdog Millionaire is still a really good movie.)  Instead, you encounter some worn out Japanese dude who’s probably been sitting at his desk for ten hours straight imagining that he’s on a date with a cartoon character while waxing his dolphin to convenience store porn mags.  Maybe this is a slight exaggeration but I would not be surprised if this was the case.  Japanese white collar workers love their convenience store porn  (More on that subject to come in a later post).

The encounter pretty much went like this:

Me: “Uh yeah, so my key isn’t working.”

Dude in some office somewhere: “I see… Have you tried putting the card in the right way?”

Me:  “Yeah.  What am I? Five?”

Dude: “Have you tried putting the key in upside down?”

Me (realizing at this point that this was not going all that well):  “Yes.”

Dude:  “And did anything happen?”

Me:  “No because the key isn’t working.”

Dude: “… I see.”  (Long pause) “May I have your address?”

Me: (Address omitted because I don’t want stalkers)

Dude: “And how long have you been living there?”

Me: “About four months.”

Dude: “And what is your name?”

Me: “Stephen Tetsu.”

Dude: “Well, it’s listed here under (name of my company).”

Me: “That’s who I work for.”

Dude: “Okay…”

A minute of awkward silence follows.

Me: “Hello?”

Dude: “Yeah… Uh, we’ll call you back in a bit.”


And so I was left in frozen silence again, the ass of my nice pair of slacks now tan from the fact I’ve been sitting on the cold concrete outside my door for the past thirty-something minutes.  At this point, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to hear back from them and that it would be a better bet to abandon ship and just start looking for a hotel, but, not being one to quit on anything, I decided to wait all the same, each minute bursting with the ache of an eternity.  Three or four minutes couldn’t have passed before the dude from the apartment company called back but it felt like a couple of weeks.

Different (but similar sounding) dude: “Sorry for the wait.  We’ve spoken with the locksmith company and have determined it will possibly be at least two and a half hours before someone can reach you.”

Me: “Hubu-bu- Whaaaaa?!”

Dude:  “We apologize for the inconvenience.  Please be sure to have a proof of identity with you to present when they arrive.”

It occurs to me now how much trouble I would have been in were I not a crazy hoarder person who pretty much carries every single potential item of identification with him at all times but rather a normal human being who just carries a wallet and phone around with him.

Me: “Okay but-”

The apartment company dude hung up on me before I could finish.  And thus the long arduous wait began.

Really, I should have taken the guy at his word when he said the door people would come around in two and a half hours.  But, this being prudent, ultra-timely Japan, I was, for some reason, fairly certain the dude was joking when he said it would take two hours and that the locksmith would be pulling up at any moment to save the day.

It can be said that, to that point, I was but a naive little boy.  The ordeal of that night hardened me into the cynical man that I am today.

It was going to take the key guy a couple of hours to get to my apartment despite the fact I lived in a city with a population of 225,000.  Why?  Well, first off, it was Saturday night.  Secondly, my apartment’s wonderful state-of-the-art lock system requires special attention that normal key people can’t provide.  Lastly, it’s Japan, so you know there was probably half an hour worth of standing at the magazine rack in a convenience store looking at a manga girl’s boobs to account for somewhere in that two hour time frame.

So with this massive wait ahead of me, what did I do?  Did I abandon ship and head somewhere warm to wait out the frigid night until the key man got to my apartment or did I do the dumb, manly thing and spend two freaking hours waiting out there in the cold?  Hint: When in doubt, just assume that I’ve made the stupidest choice possible.

So I waited.

I waited two long, frozen, blustery hours.  I waited and felt the heat radiating from my extremities, leaving me shivering and chittering in the Mito night.  In the process, I saw my neighbor for the first time, some dude in full business attire leaving his apartment to presumably go to work at nine at night.

The wait was so unbearable that I fell into crevaces so deep in my soul that I hardly even knew they existed, the depths of my depravity knowing no bounds.  Yes, I was so distraught, so traumatized that I almost floundered into the cold, lifeless depths of playing Candy Crush, the storm ocean from which there can be no return.

A fate worse than Hell.

A fate worse than Hell.

Then finally, when all hope seemed to be lost and my numb, frost-bitten fingers inched closer and closer to the ‘download’ button, a phone call.  It was the door guy.  He was on his way.

Were my tear ducts not frozen solid by the below freezing weather, I would have cried tears of joy.

By the time the locksmith showed up, it was rounding 11 PM, almost a full four hours after the ordeal began.  But of course, this being Japan, there was tons of administrative time wasting stuff to get through first.

“Do you have a form of picture I.D. ready?”

Whipping out my California Driver’s License, I gave an emphatic, frozen croak of agreement.  One problem:  It didn’t have my Japanese name on it but rather my American one which is obviously an issue because my Japanese name was on all the paperwork.

“Let me make a call,” said the pasty pencil-thin dude tasked with letting me into the safety of my home.  Two minutes on the phone later, he could confirm that the California Driver’s License was in fact a picture of me but not proof of my identity.

This wasn’t going to stop me though as, my hoarding tendencies shining through, I quickly whipped out a copy of my Proof of Residence certificate.  After a brief glance though, this also would not prove to be enough thanks to my company being supernice and signing my lease for me.

“Do you have anything with your company’s name on it?”

Panic quickly set in once again.  This time I was sure I was screwed.  I knew I had a bloodstained copy of my contract somewhere in my backpack but (a) I didn’t want to have to deal with the surefire questions about how the blood got there in the first place and (b) I was pretty sure the contract wouldn’t serve as proof of my existence.  At this point, I was just digging through my backpack in an effort to not look like a total moron who was permanently locked out of his apartment.  Then, to my luck, I struck gold.

Deep within the recesses of my backpack, lodged somewhere between the family of rats and the video tape that proves Bigfoot is real, I found an envelope stuffed to the brink with loads of important health insurance stuff that I had completely forgotten about.  (I’m a relatively healthy 22-year-old, what the hell do I need health insurance for?  YOLO, amirite?)  Without really thinking, I retrieved the small packet from its dark, synthetic fabricky grave, really grasping at strings at this point like a dude who was completely unprepared for a marathon around the 20 KM mark.

As it turns out, this was good enough as my blue healthcare booklet thing was registered with my company (Health insurance in Japan involves a lot of, surprise, surprise, paperwork.  Thanks Obama.)  After a quick call to the mothership back in Tsukuba (a convenient one and a half hour car ride from my city, helping to account for the time discrepancy), the man was right on the task and my long nightmare was finally drawing to a close.

As soon as the key guy pried my door open with a crowbar like an enforcer infiltrating a crack den in an HBO copshow, I was inside my apartment with the heater on full blast, desperately trying to regain feeling in my extremities.  It was but a matter of minutes before my skinny, pale savior had the old lock and keys replaced with an identical set.

“Maybe you should try opening the door more slowly,” he said with some of that trademark Japanese hesitancy that comes out whenever they have say something that isn’t glowingly nice about another person.  And then he was gone.  No money exchanged hands, my apartment company apparently eating the cost of having a guy drive clear out from the other side of the prefecture on a Saturday night (I suppose I’ll find out when next month’s bill rolls around).  Total time spent waiting for the locksmith? 3 hours.  Total time the locksmith spent replacing my keys and lock? 10 minutes.   And did I learn anything from the experience?  Probably not.

This goes without saying but I slept like a baby that night.

Stephen versus the Japanese Apartment Key Part I

So, as I’ve made perfectly clear in just about every post before this one, my life in Japan’s been pretty cushy and awesome thus far.  While the weather’s been cold, it hasn’t been unbearable and, while my utility bills haven’t been cheap, I’m not really spending my money on much else at this point.  That all being said, a few days ago, I had my first Japanese horror story experience (aside from the unfortunate choking baby in the classroom experience, of course), an experience that I shall share with you as follows.  This is the story of the new David and Goliath:  Me and my apartment’s faulty door system.

#@$$ you, mother#!$$er!

#@$$ you, mother#!$$er!

As most anyone who knows me can tell you, I am among the most unorganized, scatterbrained klutzes you will ever meet, somehow skirting the line between being a functional member of society and being one of those people that winds up being on TLC for hoarding newspapers or whatever.  Thus, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I made it halfway back to my apartment from my office before I realized that I left my key sitting in the pocket of my sports coat (I like to leave one of my suits jackets at the office so I don’t have to wear one walkign to and from work everyday- I know, I’m lazy.  Deal with it.).  On any normal day, this would probably mean that I would be S.O.L right there and then as the office would have been locked up and the back entrance to the entire building shuttered for the night (Things tend to close reallllllly early in the not-Tokyo or Osaka parts of Japan).  As luck would have it, however, it was a Saturday, meaning I got to leave the office a half-hour earlier than most of my co-workers, meaning that I managed to slink back into the office and retrieve my key before the school manager shut things down for the night.

I bet at this point most of y’all are wondering what the big deal is with all this.  “Why is this even a blog post, Stephen?” you ask, one furtive brow furrowed in disgust at the minute of your time wasted on the previous two paragraphs.  “You got your key back before you got locked out of your office, dude.  What’s the big deal?”

The answer: Yes, I got my key.  But that didn’t prevent me from getting locked out of my apartment anyways.  You see, this being ultra-modern Japan, my apartment company couldn’t just settle for a normal phallic shove-it-in-and-turn key like the rest of the world.  No, they had to go all twenty-first century on our asses and equip each and every one of the apartments in their vast empire (some 60,000 rooms in all) with a hotel-style key-card system.  Sure this sounds cool and dandy on paper but, as anyone who has ever stayed at a hotel with a guy at the front desk who isn’t a meth-head can tell you, key-cards maybe the single faultiest product of human innovation since Caveman Jack invented the square wheel.  Seriously, for something created to make locking and unlocking things easier, having to re-insert your key-card twenty times until the door finally registers it and lets you inside sure is time consuming.  But since this is ultra-modern Japan (the 1980’s version of the future), they couldn’t just stop there.  No, my apartment lock combines the best of both words: electronic key coding AND turning things.  In other words, my door is malfunction/ pain-in-the-ass paradise as I unfortunately found out on Saturday.

I got home around 7:30, my innocence still intact, blissfully unaware of the ordeal to follow.  My first attempt at opening my door was met with mild amusement.  “Must’ve put the key in the wrong way,” I mumbled to myself, still thinking about what I wanted to eat for dinner.  So I tried it again.  And again.  By that point, I was pretty damn sure I was sticking the stupid piece of crap in there the way the apartment people had told me to.  Maybe I just wasn’t putting the key in fast enough.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

So I tried again.  And again.  And again.  Panic began to set in.  Even though it was below freezing outside, I could feel the nervous sweat welling up in my pores.  Where could I go?  What could I do?  It was a Saturday, was the apartment company even open on the weekends?  How about a place to stay?  Was I going to have to break the bank to get a hotel room for the night?  With the Kairakuen Plum Festival season in full bloom was there even going to be a room available.  Doomsday scenarios poured through my head lift mental diarrhea.  I was screwed, S.O.L.

Thankfully, that was the point where my hoarder tendencies finally came through.  (See mom?  I told you me keeping every single scrap of paper ever given to me would pay off one day!)  Buried deep within the recesses of my book bag was a crumpled copy of my initial lease agreement and on it my potential salvation: the phone number of the company’s national trouble line.

Maybe, just maybe, I’d be sleeping in my own bed after all.  Hope sprang eternal once again.



But, as with everything, life had a few more dog turds to throw in my path…


3/11: Three Years Later (A Newcomer’s View: The Meaning of 頑張る)

The rallying cry of an entire nation

The rallying cry of an entire nation

Three years ago around this time, the lives of millions of people living along the entire northeastern side of Japan changed forever.  Only a few kilometers east of where I sit today, tsunami waves ravaged coastal communities, obliterating centuries worth of traditions and family businesses in the blink of an eye.  Several dozen kilometers north of me, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant would also be hit by massive waves that reached a reported 133 feet high in some areas, setting off a chain of events that have removed thousands of people from their long-standing homes in its radius.  Even today, more than 267,000 people remain displaced by the events of March 11th, 2011, many residents of communities that no longer exist after being swallowed whole by the churning arms of the angry sea.

Living where I do, between the greater Tokyo community and Tohoku, I am placed in the interesting position of being in a place that was spared of much of the earthquake’s wrath but one that has still suffered much of its psychological damage, affected by the disaster nevertheless.  One of my co-workers is originally from Fukushima but moved for the sake of his young family following the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.  But a short train ride away, the coastal port town of Oarai is struggling to return to normal after being hit by the tsunami (though it was further down the coast than the hardest hit areas,  the town was still hit with a considerable amount of water).  Many of you may have seen images of a whirlpool in a harbor from that day.  That harbor was Oarai.

Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture shortly after being hit by the March 11th tsunami. (photo credit: Kyodo)

Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture shortly after being hit by the March 11th tsunami. (photo credit: Kyodo)

But only an one hour train ride away is Fukushima prefecture, a name that has now become synonymous with nuclear disasters and radiation leaks but was even ravaged more by waves of biblical proportions that ripped out the hearts of entire communities with unwavering cruelty.  The train line that once ran from Tokyo, through Mito and Fukushima, to Sendai in the heart of the northeast now effectively stops at the border between Ibaraki and Fukushima, the tracks from that point on either washed away or smack-dab in the middle of a nuclear exclusion zone.

I ride this train ever week just about an hour from where this picture was taken.

I ride this train ever week just about an hour from where this picture was taken. (Kyodo)

Almost everywhere I look, I can see banners, signs, flyers, ads, streamers all sporting the same message: 「がんばっぺ茨城」 (ganbappe Ibaraki).  がんばっぺ, or it’s more common form がんばれ, is an interesting phrase in that while there are various ways people can translate it into English, there’s really no term in English that really comes close to capture it’s meaning.  I’ve seen がんばれ translated as “fight” (Keep fighting, Ibaraki!), “keep at it”, “do your best”, and various other forward momentum terms for putting 120% of one’s effort into doing something but none of them really seem to come close to the Japanese word, no matter how many syntactic hoops one jumps through.  So I could try to tell people in Tohoku, Ibaraki, and all of Japan to keep on fighting and to keep on keeping on, but, at the end of the day, がんばれ is all that needs to be said.  And that’s the mentality here and all across the northeastern portion of Japan I now seem to call home.  Something terrible happened but there’s nothing to do but keep がんばれ-ing until those terrible days have somehow vanished from the land.

People don’t seem to smile here as much as they should.  And after what they’ve had to go through, who can blame them?  In many ways, the March 11th earthquake signified the end of a way of life for the people of Tohoku.  While most of the international media world has decidedly turned its eye from the plight of the survivors of the earthquake save for the occasional nuclear meltdown fear-mongering, people are still struggling to this day.  Over 11,000 people were killed that day, thousands more still missing.  The number of stress-related deaths attributed to 3/11 has increased year by year.  Over 267,000 people remain refugees, countless more have been forced to move away from the long-time familial homelands.  Entire cities remain empty or washed away in the North, many never to be populated again.  It’s all enough to make someone’s head spin.  Millions of lives changed forever in the blink of an eye.  Think about that next time you complain because you can’t find a parking spot at Walmart or you have to wait ten minutes in line before you can order your triple-milk soy latte from Starbucks.

Having moved here only four months ago, I did not have to experience those terrible days after the earthquake and tsunami, the uncertainty of the fates of those that I love, the despair when someone dear never came home, the ache of a hometown lost, never to return again.  The worst thing that almost happened to my hometown was our basketball team leaving.  In other words, I will never be able to comprehend the events that continue to rock Tohoku.  I can’t relate to their sadness so all I can try to do is make them smile.  A foolish sentiment maybe, but one that increasingly drives me forward.  I want to see people laugh.  I want people to forget the troubles of their life if only for one fleeting moment.

Today is a day to be thankful for the lives that we do have, to be thankful that our loved ones are safe and sound, to be thankful for the roofs over our heads, the clothes on our back, the times we laugh when something funny happens.  Today is a day to remind ourselves of those people who unfortunately cannot do the same, a day to keep the victims of one of the worst natural disasters the world has ever seen in our hearts.  Today is a day to remember to take a page out of the Tohoku playbook.  When things are rough, when times are dark, grit your teeth, tighten your belt, lace up your work boots, and がんばれ like it’s the last thing you’ll ever do.  Maybe you’ll even learn something in the process.

Kamiashi in Iwate-ken in 2011 and 2014

Kamiashi in Iwate Prefecture in 2011 and 2014 (Kyodo)

Oh hey, I have a blog still.

Howdy do, folks.  Sorry for the complete and utter lack of updates and posts over the past couple of weeks, work’s been busier for reasons that I don’t really want to get into, I’ve gone through a weird bit of soul-searching and all that jazz, and honestly I haven’t really found there to be anything that I really have wanted to write about for a while.

It’s been a cold year.  On Friday, I went down to Tokyo to meet up with some friends (more specifically the founders and operators) from my days working at SCOA and promptly got snowed on.  According to the news, this is a once in thirty year thing since the middle of March is typically spring flower blossom viewing season.  With temperatures that usually go below freezing at night, I’m fairly certain that the Japanese climate just hates me and wants me to leave.  Feh.  Good luck with that, buddy.

Life’s been good here in Japan.  Aside from an unfortunate apartment key incident (something that I will go into in greater detail at a later date), it’s been relatively smooth sailing.  Sure there’s no Mexican food here and my utility bills are astronomical but when those are your biggest issues in life, you really have no room to complain.

Anyways, life’s been good to me so far but that doesn’t ever really stop someone from striving for something more.  I like my job (aside from the hours and the typical stuff that comes up in one of these contract English instructor jobs) but I don’t really want to be doing this forever.  So I’ve been looking at other avenues.  I’m a performer, a storyteller… okay, maybe just an attention whore, at heart.  I love entertaining people.  I also like being weird.  And maybe that’s about as deep into the subject as I’m going to get for now.  Maybe I missed all the deadlines this year but 2015 lies ahead.  There’s no use in never trying.  Things may end up being more uncomfortable for me but weird hours, corporate teaching, and 250,000 yen a month (minus pension, health insurance costs [Thanks Japanese Obama], and company union fees, so really 200,00 yen a month) isn’t my ultimate end goal.

Everything I do from now on is going to be in anticipation of the next year.  I need to improve my Japanese speaking ability (I’m good enough to talk to a locksmith but I want more), I need to stop relying on my dictionary for every other kanji I don’t know how to read.  I need to improve my sleep schedule.  And most of all, I need to starting being a creator once again.

Sorry if this is all sounding a bit cryptic but one never knows who might be reading these things.

Now that I’m all settled into my life in Japan, complacency must be avoided at all costs.  I think I have  a goal now, just gotta start running the race.

Anyways, find me on all the usual avenues: Twitter, Youtube, Japanese Twitter, Japanese Youtube, Instagram, all that jazz.  I’m pretty bored at work most of the time so I’ll probably reverse stalk you in return.