Monday, March 28, 2011

Language gap makes ordering an adventure

Language barriers, foreign food and the dreaded group decision can turn travel meals into a stressful situations. Thankfully, our Japan exchange group benefited from having half noted food podcast and blog The Sporkful  team.;By the time we arrived at our hotel, Mark Garrison had scouted the "must eats" from the region. Communicating our dinner plan was another matter.

If and when Mark posts a report, I'll link to it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Three religions

TITAF (Things I think are funny)

Here is what I found in the desk drawer of our hotel room in Osaka

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan trip shortcourse

Here is a link to a gallery of my Japan photos. The fact that I forgot my battery charger didn't stop me from squeezing off more that 400 pictures. I'm of the option that you show your audience more respect by your photos of content and size, thus respecting their time. A good friend suggests a total dump is on order, thus allowing the audience to decide when their seen enough photos. The 50 plus picts in this file represent a compromise. Next step mixing the photos and videos to create more focused multimedia displays.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

International dateline produces double day.

Editor's note: This concludes that material I wrote overseas or on my iphone in route.(Apple has offered no compensation). Now the hard work begins.

Wednesday, March 11 was the longest day of my life -- and I don't mean a 'whew I was so busy' kind of long day, I'm talking about a literal 48-hour day.
It started in Osaka, Japan and ended with me in Honolulu, Hawaii sleeping through two scheduled phone interviews with a local television news station.
8 am Tokyo time -- The first order of business is to pack my bags in preparation for the beginning of my journey home, with a two day stopover in Hawaii. I did a poor job packing to leave the states and I didn't want to repeat the mistake. We had our first free morning in out 10 days but by that point I was too tired to utilize it.
11 am -- I decide i need a hair cut. After looking in the mirror and deciding I look as the brothers on the yard would say "a little raggedy." I haven't had someone cut my hair in six years or more, but without my clippers and numerous upcoming photo opportunities I decide now is the time -- in japan no less.
I found a spot acted out what I wanted done and settled into a chair. As my hair samurai, began his work he'd as questions in Japanese with a word of recognizable English here and there. I said yes to everything. At worst I'd end up with a shaved head and the dirt on my chin would be gone.
Granted I don't have an American cut, shave, head wash, massage to compare it to but I felt like this is what Kobe must get done weekly. By necessity the Japanese develop a much higher level of manual dexterity and discipline -- have you seen kanji -- and as expected my guy was a master with a strait knife.
I left feeling like a million bucks. I grabbed my stuff from the room, checked out and meet the rest of the East West Center visiting American journalists in the lobby.
2:30 pm -- We board a plane to Tokyo's Narita airport. For the first time in 10 days or Japanese guilds from the publishers association are not at our side. (Sleep time 1 hr.)
3:45 pm -- We arrive at Narita.
7:45 pm -- We wave goodbye to Japan in route to Honolulu where we'll finally meet the Japanese journalists that have been traveling the US. (Flight time 7 h.r. sleep time 2.5 hrs.)
** Now here is the magic -- crossing the international date line the day rests **
7:45 am (Wednesday, March 16) Honolulu time -- We gather our bags, board a bus and head strait to Pearl Harbor to tour the Arizona Memorial.
12:45 pm -- We check into our rooms at the East West Center's dorm on the Uni of HI campus.
1:30 pm -- Thankfully the US Pacific Command cancels on us. Curiously it was the first and only appointment that canceled, even after the monster earthquake.
2 pm -- A group of us head out for shaved ice, a drink and the beach.
5:30 pm -- Welcome gather at the East-West Center.
7:30 pm -- meet up with reporter friend also visiting Hawaii for drinks
11 pm -- Meet up with the television ghost hunter Amy Bruni
12:30 am -- Witness bar fight. Get blood on my hands stopping a guy from hurling a chair.
1 am -- Return to dorm
2 am -- Sleep though alarm and first of two phone interviews.
3 am -- call in but told I missed my window.
3:06 am zzz

Back in Sac, more posts to come

I'm back in Sacramento, after 10 days in safe parts of Japan and three days of debriefing in Hawaii.
As I prepared for my trip to Japan, I felt there would by sufficient material to write an ego-stroking blog.
I never did I think a "few every century" earthquake would trigger a monstrosity of a tsunami that would overpower the best countermeasures and wash away whole towns.
Fortunately for my safety, our group left Tokyo hours before the 9.0 quake. Unfortunately that meant watching the events from hundreds of miles away rather than rolling up my sleeves and reporting on the ongoing tragedy.
While in Japan I tried to strike an appropriate balance between chronicling life and living it to the fullest.
In the coming weeks I hope to revisit my notes to share some stories and photos I didn't have the time to share earlier. Eventually, the blog will move on to my more mundane regular life, none-the-less I hope you'll continue reading. And if you have tips or suggestions I hope you'll share this with me in the comments space or at

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Best for last

I just had an incredible afternoon with a delightful Japanese woman who hosted me and a CNN producer for a home visit.
Six years ago she decided to learn English and has done a masterful job. We chatted about local politics, Obama, race and travel over tea.
But just when we thought the afternoon was wrapping up, she showed us her calligraphy. Her work is breathtaking. And I thought buying some of her work would be so much more meaningful than any of the best gift store nick knack I could find. I gently asked if I could buy some.
She would not have it.
Instead she pulled out her supplies and began teaching us the ancient art. I clumsily did a couple then she expertly showed the way. It will be an experience I will remember forever.
Tomorrow afternoon I leave Osaka for Hawaii, then it's back to the states. In a way this trip will be remembered for what I didn't experience, but that experience will be one I cherish.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In the same Japan, but a world away

View Larger Map

Update: I updated the map to show our final location in Japan and to display the route. Osaka is also not affected by power problems and is functioning as normal. Locals have been asked to conserve power, but I don't see any forced measures. There are young women on street corners collecting money for victims, but not all locals trust that the money will get to them.

The map tells me I`m in the country battered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, but it hardly feels like it here in Hiroshima.
As far as I can tell there are no runs on groceries, gas or other goods here. There are no rolling blackouts. And mass transit continues to run on-time. Some 300 km northwest in Tokyo is another story. I can hardly imagine the difficulties getting around there with the subway line in rotating operation. Just days ago I marveled at how their subway system efficiently moved the inhabitants of the world`s largest metropolitan area around.
The still unfolding disaster came up a few times yesterday:
  • The man running the Hiroshima Peace Museum said while the museum`s official position is that nuclear weapons are bad, nuclear power is alright, said he privately felt the meltdown might help turn people against nuclear in all forms,
  • I met an American stuck in Hiroshima a few extra days as a result of the troubles at Tokyo`s airport,
  • And the Buddhist temple had an extra collection bin for quake victims.
But as the sun rises as I sit my room on the sixth floor of a plush hotel in Hiroshima it`s impossible to not feel a world away from the images I`m seeing on my television screen.

Hiroshima drains, fills

Sunday offered as mixed bag as there ever was.
It started with an emotionally draining trip through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and ended with a stroll through beautiful Shinto and Buddhist shrines.
The seeing the effects the US bombing of Hiroshima was something I was looking forward to and something I was dreading. I was not sure how the Japanese would react to Americans. I know how I feel after visiting a slavery exhibit. My fear proved to be for not. The museum was a powerful experience and I hope to offer more pictures soon, but the kicker was walking to the nearby Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims and hearing (and reading poems) written by people who lived though the nightmare. Tomorrow, we`ll actually hear first hand from some victims.
I don`t quite know how to express it but it was a serious kick in the gut.
After lunch we went by ferry to a nearby island that is home to three very impressive temples from the 800s.
With our excellent host leading the way, we learned the ways and I felt like we walked away with an appreciation of the culture. Although my camera battery is running low. I could not resist taking some 100 photos.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I go, news follows

It`s with a bit of irony that our Japan study tour touches down in Hiroshima within hours the Japanese nuclear plant exploding.
Over the next two days, our groups of six American journalists will meet with activists and survivors from the US bombing. The East-West Center, our sponsors, are pushing for us to continue the program despite obvious pressure from some of our news outlets to snap into service. I did file a story, which I hope my employer runs.
Back to the central premise of this post.
The day after we arrived in Tokyo news broke that US diplomat Kevin Maher allegedly made some inflammatory comments denigrating the Okinawan people. Whereever we went in Okinawa people were eager to talk about his allegedly boneheaded rant.
The Mayor of Nago (Okinawa) summed it up well when I asked about his reaction to the comment which among other slights called the Okinawan people "lazy" and "master manipulators:" he acted out his head exploding -- as gesture that needed no translation.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lost without translation

Watching the quake followed by the tsunami unfold in real-time, but without translation, has been a little surreal.
As I earlier wrote, we first got word on the quake as we were meeting with US military leaders about the forces in Japan and plans to reduce the impact on the island state of Okinawa.
They mentioned moving to "alert 1" but did not sound overly alarmed -- for good reason we`re in the southern most part of Japan, while it quake occurred well to the north. After leaving the meeting we began watching footage on our bus ride to a meeting with senior state officials. At that point the footage -- video of toppled store items and the like -- did little to foreshadow the devastation that was to come. Naturally, some of the six journalists on our study tour wished we had not just left Tokyo.
At our brief meeting with director general of the prefecture the level of concern started to come through, but even the worry in his voice did not tell the full story.
We finally checked into our hotel to watch footage of waves of fire and homes being swept away. At this point we have not been told that the plan has been altered. We`re expected to tour a much disputed Marine base here. The agreed upon plan is to move it north, but many of the locals want it gone entirely.
Base realignment is an important long-term US Japan security issue, but given the events over the last 24 hours it seems inconsequnetial.

Quake casualties expected to be high

I can’t tell what they are saying, but the news reports are frantic here. More and more footage of the quake damage keeps coming in. A map of Japan shows a flashing red line around the eastern Japanese seaboard where the Tsunami concern is the greatest.  I don’t have details, but there are expected to be many deaths and significant property damage.
I’m sitting in my hotel room in Okinawa right now. It’s well south of the epicenter. If we had not left Tokyo this morning the story would be much different. We first got news of the quake as we were getting a briefing on the US forces in Japan at Kadena Air Base.
We later had a meeting with the governor of the Okinawa state.
“I’m concerned about the situation,” Susuma Matayoshi, said through an interpreter. He said he had dispatched helicopters to monitor the shores for the effect of the Tsunami.
He said the “the resulting number of casualties will be very high.”
I'm also told that flights to Narita, the main airport in Tokyo have been canceled.
I’m late to meet with some local journalists so this ends this dispatch.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Eat at your own risk

What is the point of going to Sushi in Japan, if you know what you are eating. The crew of American Journalists, minus one, set out for dinner without a plan. After brushing off consideration of safer places, we walked down a flight of stairs to find a restaurant without any English marking. Based on the words "sushi and tempura" we decided to go in.
The two person staff at the increasingly cozy and authentic place spoke no English, we spoke a scant amount of Japanese. It was some work, but Mark, an ABC journalist, eventually ordered for the group. The highlight was the parade of fish, in which the chief showed us fish and said the Japanese name.
We weren't exactly sure what we ate, even after tasting it, but who cares.

Complexities of US Japan alliance examined

Snow falls on the garden outside the International House of Japan.
To be honest, I slept better than I expected. Sure I woke up at 2 a.m., but I was able to get back to bed after a couple hours and at no point Monday did I feel like an extra for the movie Zombieland.
The surprise developments Monday were twofold: the Japanese foreign minster abruptly resigned and moderate rain turned into a late snow (by Tokyo standards).
Our Japanese hosts apologized for the weather no fewer than three times. The program got meaty quickly today we got a program orientation, talked journalism in Japan with association bigwigs and then got off-the-record briefings from U.S. military officials and embassy officials in Tokyo.  
While I can’t write about the specifics of what I learned, it's fair to say that U.S. efforts to consolidate military bases is a sensitive issue that I’m sure we’ll learn plenty more about when we travel to Okinawa in a matter of days.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Africans hussling Asians

My room at the International House of Japan. In addition to housing guest
 intelectuals such as me, it hosts leactures and events.
 After touching down in my compact, but comfortable room at the International House of Japan, I decided I needed to stock my in-room fridge and grab some dinner before crashing.
It wasn’t the flight that wiped me out, rather it was the 90 minute bus ride to downtown Tokyo from the airport. After barely being able to sleep until the last two hours of the flight, I couldn’t keep my eyes open as the bus navigated Tokyo traffic.
I changed clothes and walked the quarter mile or so out to one of the main avenues in an area of the city named Roppongi. If you took away all the Asian people with dust masks on, one might have confused the block with New York city. Bright lights and big screens everywhere. I popped into a store then walking back a brother approched me.
Brother law states that as more rare we become the more defference we’re obligated to offer. So when the brother – likely an African of some sort – told me I should check out this club I felt obligated to take a peek.
I was in the elevator before I discovered that the club he was hussling for was a nudey bar. It was still early Sunday evening, but it appeared I was the only customer (in the front room at least). Kevin now tried to up the buy-in from just take a look to "just stay for a drink." I insisted that I was just off the plane and would not stay.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Advice on Japan: Yes to Karaoke, avoid Yakuza

I've been given a fair amount of advice regarding my trip -- some for formal occasions, other tidbits for my unscheduled time in Tokyo.
My brother's tips include:
  • Be prepared to karaoke (even if I'd sworn it off)
  • The Japanese are incredibly formal -- suit up
  • Be on alert for boys who look like girls
He also shared this gem of a podcast about one of the dark sides of Japan. The "Snap Judgment" audio program talks about a brother seeking fame in Japan.
I've also got some solid advice from my editor and a couple photographers at my gig, but the advice I got from a friend stationed there takes the cake. Fair warning some may view his colorful language as objectionable. I don't. Some of the best stuff comes at the end when he offers advice for dealing with the Yakuza.
If you find yourself going out alone Sunday night in Roppongi, you have to watch out for a lot of stuff. If you have a group present, I suggest going to Shibuya.

Just too many fucking foreigners there looking to mess your night up in Roppongi too. If you see a fight, get the fuck out of there ASAP because Japanese cops will hold everybody for a very long time to sort shit out the slow way.

In Roppongi you better keep positive control of your drink at all times. Don't go into bars you can't see from the street (i.e. climb flights of stairs, take an elevator to get to) as you will probably be ripped off/drugged then ripped off/seduced then ripped off.

Also when in a group you don't run the risk of being held up by a group of men for a tab you owe at a bar you have never patronized.

Not trying to scare you. I can get by alone and have but then again I don't look like a typical white guy ready to be victimized. You, being Ed, will look like a potential pimp to them, so your experience will be much different, but if you get drunk out there, please have some back up.

Then again, if you don't carry too much on you, then being seduced and subsequently ripped off for chump change sounds like a great deal. Those Russian/Japanese women can be juicy.

Not to worry; there are good areas. I only know a couple places in the short time I was there. The good stuff in Roppongi:

Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills Sunset place for pics and drinks
Hobgoblin-british type pub in Roppongi and one in Shibuya too
CityView-Look over Tokyo at night and get a classy pic.
Hildago's-teppanyaki/shabu shabu type restaurant, bring your work buds with you if nothing is planned for dinner.

But business places come and go so easily, ones I recommend could have moved/shut down so go without any expectations and have a blast. Safely. Please don't stay in your room though.

Lastly, if you say fuck it and brave a random seedy bar, you need to know what Yakuza looks like.

-suits with collar popped
-missing joint on a little finger.

If one or more approaches you, thinking you are a small man with local "business interests"(bar promotion, trafficking in bitches, drugs, other assorted hobbies) and asks you to drink with him/them, then motherfucker, you better drink. If you don't entertain the request, the hostess or waitress will remind you to. They like to "one shot" their juice so when he asks you what your weapon of choice is, you better pick the pussiest drink you can think of because that fun party is going to last all night.

Also, they drive flashy cars and usually keep a license plate with the number 1 on it. You can have duplicate plates in Japan so if you see one out front or in a parking lot you may not be wrong in assuming Yakuza has parked and is currently partying and getting paid.

If you hit on one of their bitches, you can tell by butterfly tattoos below the neck/small of back area. I can't tell you in words how smart it would be to avoid this.

No doubt you will be approached by skankilicious Juicers even if you don't try since they all love a bit of the chocolate infusion out there. You have a 100% chance of getting laid your first night. By multiple women.

I'm not even lying about any of this shit because everybody here has a story.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Japan awaits

As I'm contemplating how many pairs of skivvies I need for my two week trip to Japan, it seems a good enough time to pause packing to explain why I'm going to Japan in the first place.
I'll be there as a member of a six-person delegation of American Journalists enlisted to build understanding of and foster the U.S./Japan alliance. Yeah heavy. The program is sponsored by the East-West Center and the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association.
From Day 1, we'll go from meeting to meeting with high level diplomats and officials. We'll also sample the culture with a walking tour of Harajuku pop culture and a world famous fish market. The visit starts in Tokyo but eventually takes us to Hiroshima, Osaka and the island of Okinawa.
I'm extremely grateful to have this opportunity, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling a little over my head.
I'm especially excited to be traveling to Asia for the first time. As an adolescent, I wanted to do everything my brother did. That ended after the umpteenth time being called his name by grade school teachers. From that point, it was about trying to be my own dude. So the fact that my brother went to Japan meant Europe became my world playground.
But here I am, hours before I board a plane bound for one of the world's great cities of a country that is both mysterious and culturally intertwined with the United States. I'm excited to take part in the formal program, but I'm just as excited to experience the vibe and vigor of the city.

Fighting for the future in Chico

The argument could be made that if you need to be drunk for a situation to feel right you shouldn't be there. Case in point, Mardi Gras and Friday night in downtown Chico.
Great times if you're up to speed, but troubling if sobriety persists.
I'm save you some anxiety. I did not hookup with anyone. I was actually in town to talk to journalism students about the troubling future of the industry. But with the program starting at 8 a.m. it made sense to stay in town rather than having to make the nearly two hour drive in the morning.
Call it field observations. Dave Waddell from CSU Chico State had emailed me a few months back asking me to speak about diversity. But as layoffs loomed, I wondered whether they should be majoring in journalism in the first place. Graciously, Dave agreed.
The blurb: "Does your mama know you're here? Journalism in the age of the free Internet."
I didn't want to crush their dreams (they are "Journalism Day") but I feel for all the youngsters trying to find jobs as newspapers shred jobs.
Rather than just offer my own thoughts, in empanelled a panel of Sacramento journalists to talk about the state of the industry.

I hated being such buzz kill but I wanted to have an honest conversation with them about the state of the journalism industry. I did try to offer some hope. If you don't care about money and have a burning passion for the job then journalism is still you for.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Visit to the land of six-foot blonds

My first trip to Asia is hours away. In light of my upcoming excursion, it's worth looking back on my first oversees experience. After graduating from high school, I went to Sweden for a bonus year through Rotary International. Here is an exerpt from what I hope will be a larger project.

Introduction to Sweden

Going to Sweden wasn't the obvious choice for a young brother from the hood.
Just kidding. I am/was far from being from the hood.
I grew up in a lily-white suburb of Sacramento, so going to Sweden was kinda like home, minus the handful of minorities that had somehow found themselves in Orangevale.
I'd hardly left the country before I boarded a Lufthansa flight to Hamburg in-route to Stockholm, but looking back it was one of the easiest decisions I've made in my life.
I'd already graduated from high school and I had no real clue where I wanted to go to college or what to study when I got there so taking a year diversion in land of six-foot blonds made all the sense in the world.
In the interest of full disclosure -- sorry me Swedish peeps -- Sweden was not my first, second or third choice when I went to the interview. Age requirements, me being too old, meant Australia and New Zealand were out. The left Spain and my eventual second homeland.
The brave explorer I am, I boarded the plane and began my journey to the Kragsterman home without the smallest taste of fear.
As it turns out I should have been afraid of one thing, that I'd freeze my ass off.
Oh, the winter months and months were numb your toes cold, but as it turned out, coming from 100 degree weather in California, the first few nights of my inaugural Swedish summer were the most jarring.
I recall sheepishly asking my host mother, Elisabeth, whether I could get another blanket for my bed. To which, she politely told me there was an extra blanket under my bed. To which, I politely informed her I already had that one.

I blog to be free

I can't exactly explain why I've never had a blog before. A modern man -- a journalist at that-- should have a blog. Heck, by this point I should have three. Part of not having a blog can be attributed to my job as a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. Being an upstanding member of the Fourth Estate means giving away a significant portion of your personal freedom in the name of maintaining real or perceived objectivity.

But as the Fourth Estate tumbles into irrelevancy or at least insolvency, I choose now to begin to dabble as a visitor of the Fifth Estate. I don't intend to erode my ability to continue to function as a working journalist by needlessly exposing my bias against the Bull Moose Party. But I'm also increasingly comfortable with the idea that the blossom offered by my employer will not be there for me in my old age. With that comfort comes my assertion that the job can't own my mind and if I'm not paid for these thoughts I have a right to use them elsewhere.

Further, I assert that it's essential for the Fourth Estate to learn from the Fifth Estate if we are to flourish into the future.

I have several different visions for where this blog goes in the future. But without one in clear focus we'll have to see what happens. I can say this it can't nearly be as awesome as it will be starting March 5 when I travel to Japan. (More on than later.)

Ed Fletcher