Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to Beat the Heat

It's getting hotter and hotter now as summer kicks into full swing (The big kick is that my daughter is home now everyday for summer vacation, but that is another story.) So recently my English impact students have been brainstorming ways to beat the heat or stay cool (涼しくなる).

The cool thing about brainstorming is that there is no right or wrong answer. Ideas are thrown out freely. In fact, I have learned so many ways to beat the heat Japanese-style - combined with my American-know-how (知識)- that it seemed like an obvious time to write a new blog. You probably have heard most of these suggestions, but anything that can help you survive summer's heat and humidity is welcome, right?

So, in no particular order, here are 10 ways to cool off in summer.

1.) Wear as few clothes as possible. By this I mean, most Japanese adults feel embarrassed to go out in public in shorts, t-shirts and sandals. Americans have no such reservations, but for some reason Japanese feel conscious about showing too much skin. The less you wear, the cooler you'll feel (And, no, this is not an invitation for Americans to show even more skin. Keep it modest.).

2 Eat something cold, like ice cream, cold Chinese noodles (冷やし中華)or shaved ice (かき氷). Instant gratification!

3.) Or eat something hot and spicy like curry & rice or ramen. Other Japanese people think that this makes you sweat which automatically starts cooling down your body. Like I said, with brainstorming there is no wrong answer!

4.) Eat summer fruits and vegetables. They're in season for a reason - tomatoes and mini-tomatoes can help protect your skin from harmful UV rays; watermelons, eggplants (なすび) & cucumbers can help keep you hydrated since they are composed mainly of water.

5.) I know, I know, turning on the air conditioning (A/C) is the quickest relief, but it's also the most expensive and environmentally-unfriendly. Try opening up your windows and running an electric fan, especially at night. Or go to a public place like a library or shopping mall and take advantage of its free A/C.

6.) Go for a swim at your local swimming pool. Or is swimming in such a pool isn't your thing, buy a plastic, inflatable pool for your yard.

7.) Buy a wind chime (風鈴). Most Japanese swear that just by hearing this sound on a hot summer day, they feel cooler. Again, no wrong answers in this game.

8.) Grow a green curtain to cover your windows. Morning glories (朝顔), cucumbers and bitter melons (ゴーヤー) all have vines that can be arranged to cover your windows from the outside, providing cool, beautiful protection from the sunshine.

9.) Sprinkle some water on the sidewalk, driveway or pavement outside your home around sunset. It will help cool off the surrounding area around your home. If you have a garden, sunset is a great time to water the plants to keep them hydrated overnight.

10.) Stay positive. Summer is just one of the four season and will be over soon. Constantly saying, "It's so hot!" or "I'm so hot!" only makes it worse for you and the people around you.

There are lots of ways to beat the heat this summer. Hopefully, reading this blog has cooled you down just a bit. If not, go get some ice cream. Just watch out for a brain freeze (キンキン). It's the only thing worse than brainstorming.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Irresistible Force vs. the Immovable Object in My House

Philosophers (哲学者) have long debated the irresistible force vs. the immovable object conundrum. In the end, which one would win?

Similarly, comic books fans have also long debated who would win if the unstoppable Juggernaut ran into the immovable Blob.

But when the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2017 NBA Championships, many people saw it as proof that the irresistible force - in this case Stephen Curry - always beats the immovable object - or LeBron James as "the object."

But I have another battle for you to consider, a battle that I see every day. My long-haired cat Mashuくん versus my Dyson vacuum cleaner (掃除機). You see, Mashuくん sheds a lot of hair every day, but as the temperature rises in summer, his hair is out of control. It's everywhere - on the carpet, on my clothes, in my food. You get the idea.

So I have a Dyson DC48, one of the most powerful home vacuum cleaners on the planet, to pick up his hair. So which one do you think wins?

The answer is, Mashuくん and his immovable hair. No matter how many times I vacuum back and forth on the carpet, I can't get all of it.  It truly is immovable.

So I do my best each day to pick up as much as I can, knowing it's a losing battle. And hoping that some philosophers with too much free time on their hands will come by and help me do some vacuuming.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Delivery Driver Hates Me.

Led by Amazon in the USA (and Amazon Japan here in the Land of the Rising Sun), e-shopping is fast becoming the most popular and easiest way to shop for things. As an Amazon Prime member myself, I often order running gear (a GPS watch here, a re-fueling gel there [方々]) and clothes (a quick-dry singlet here, a pair of running shoes there). Oh, and food & toiletries for my three cats. Lots and lots of food & toiletries.

And for the reasonably cheap price of only ¥4000 ($35.00) a year, Amazon Japan promises to ship each and every item the next day to its millions of Amazon Prime members. Even those like me out in the middle of nowhere (田舎). 

That's great for Amazon and its customers; not so great for all of the delivery drivers out there who work for Yamato Kuro Neko (Black Cat) and have tons of cardboard boxes (段ボール) to deliver every day. 

You see, Yamato Holding Company thought it was a great deal signing a contract to ship Amazon products back in 2013 when online shopping was still somewhat in its infancy. Unfortunately, it poorly predicted how much business it would have to do and low-balled itself (切り下げ) with cheap delivery rates.

As we speak, Yamato is planning to hire thousands of new delivery drivers and raise prices for its regular customers in September, but that's too little and too late for the delivery driver who shows up almost weekly at my house.

Even though I always greet her with a smile and thank her for her hard work ("お疲れ様でした"), she gives me the evil eye as she shoves the box at me. If looks could kill, I would be on my way to the nearest crematorium (火葬場)- not in her truck, thank you very much! 

And I can understand her thinking. It's no fair being paid so little to do so much work. Or worse, working unpaid overtime (サービス残業).

So maybe I'll buy her a small present to thank her for her hard work. Let me check out today's Lightning Deals and Time Sales for something nice.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day!

Today - April 22 - is Earth Day, an international holiday to raise environmental awareness (アースコンシャス). Don't worry, Japanese readers, if you don't know this because Earth Day doesn't get a lot of press coverage here. For that matter, neither does Green Day (みどりの日) on May 4.

But it's important to think about the environment (環境)- and not just once a year or from time to time. 

Everyday we should try to live as eco-friendly as we can. After all, we only have one planet and 7.5 billion (十億) of us have to share it and pass it on to future generations. 

So in my English impact classes this week, I've been discussing the 3 R's of Ecology with my students. Give yourself a pat on the back (自分に拍手) if you know that the 3 R's are recycle, reuse and reduce. Here are five easy ways you can do that to make the earth a better place.

1. Plant a tree. Or flowers. Or vegetables. Don't have a yard? - then buy a houseplant. Anything green can help to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air and increase the oxygen (O2) level. 

2. Use an eco-bag, a reusable plastic bag or your own grocery basket when you go to the supermarket. Basically, try not to use any plastic bags that are not biodegradable (生分解性). It's easier than you think.

3. Use public transportation as much as possible to reduce gasoline consumption. You can often get some fresh air, too, by walking or cycling to a nearby destination. 

4. Don't buy plastic (PET) bottles of water. Just don't. Drink tap water (水道水). And if you swear that tap water is bad tasting or too polluted to drink, then boil it first or buy a water filter. The same water you are drinking in the plastic bottle also comes from tap water. Don't let the pictures of the mountains and water falls on the label fool you. 

5. Don't throw away old clothes. There are so many better ways to dispose of them. Uniqlo, Japan's largest clothing retailer, has a recycle box in every store for its old clothes to be donated to developing countries' people. You can also donate them yourself to other less fortunate people. Or, if charity is not your thing, sell them on auction sites. Turn them into cleaning rags as a last resort (苦肉の策), just don't carelessly throw them away. 

Do you have any simple ideas to help the environment? I'd love to hear them. I personally try to live my life as simply as possible and I hope the other 7,499,999,999 of you do as well.

Let me close with this blog with a proverb:

"Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.
Kenyan proverb

In other words, make every day Earth Day for future generation of humanity. 

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Whey to Go!

Think about "exercise" for a moment. Do you hate it? Surprisingly, many people do. Exercise turns up on many lists of things people hate to do even though it can make your life so much better in so many ways!

One reason is that people fear the sore muscles (筋肉痛) that inevitably come after a hard workout. If you lift weights, your arm muscles will be sore the next day. If you run, your legs will kill you the next day.

As a crazy runner, I totally understand this. At first, I thought it would be impossible to run approximately 10 km/6.5 miles every day because my legs would be in serious pain. However, I found a solution to my problem - whey protein (ホエイプロテイン).

Now my American friends tell me it is commonplace (普通) for health clubs and gyms to have cafes inside that serve whey protein shakes on the spot.

Wow! We don't have that here in Japan. At least not in Toyama Prefecture, which is considered the countryside (田舎) by 99% of Japanese people.

(Ok, actually I don't belong to a gym or health club so I have no way of knowing what's available in Toyama Prefecture).

I did a little research online about solutions to muscles pain and whey protein popped right up as the recommendation of many online running coaches and exercise trainers. Now I mix two shakes made with water, ice, whey protein and various ingredients every day: one fruity one (banana, berries and flax seeds) after my daily run and the other veggie one (leafy vegetables like spinach & cabbage and oatmeal) an hour before going to bed.

As a result, I don't have nearly as much muscle pain now as when I first began marathon training about three months ago. Also, the whey protein is burning a lot of my stomach fat - call it my "spare tire (メタボ)" - and some abs (腹筋) are starting to appear.

So if you hate exercise because of sore muscles, why not give whey protein a try? You might just learn to love it and all the positive, healthy things it can do for you.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

I love Costco, but....

Since opening on August 22, 2015 in Izumi City, Costco has quickly become my favorite place to shop in Toyama Prefecture. You have probably been to a Costco  at least once so you know it has a cheap food court with free drink refills (フリードリンク), free samples of fruits, desserts & cooked meats, and the most products - really big products - in any brick & mortar store (実店舗) nowadays.

Of course, I love Costco for the above reasons, too, plus it helps me reconnect with my American roots. Every time I enter the store, I take a deep breath and mutter under my breath, "Now this is America," even though I'm on some mountain in the middle of nowhere in Izumi City.

However, the biggest reason I'm such a fan of Costco is because I'm a health food nut, and Costco has some of the biggest, healthiest foods you can buy in the world.

Take flax seeds, for example. I don't know anywhere else in Toyama you can even find them. So when Costco offers a 425 gram/15 ounce bag of them, you can bet I'm going to buy that bag and put those flax seeds in my yogurt, oatmeal and protein shakes.

And that's where the problem starts. It takes a while to eat that many flax seeds so the zip-lock on the bag is very important to keep them fresh.

However - and this might just be me - I have the hardest time getting my big Costco bags to close properly. So I use a lot of rubber bands (輪ゴム) to keep everything fresh.

I know the individual companies are to blame for not making their zip-locks work right, but since Costco is the one selling them under one roof, it bears the most blame. Hence this blog.

Still, I'd rather have too many flax seeds than none at all, which was the case in Toyama prior to August 22, 2015. I guess I'll just need to buy a large box of rubber bands. And I know just the place!

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

You might be a crazy runner if ....

Hello, loyal English impact blog readers. I know I've been testing your loyalty. It seems like forever (ずっと前) since I wrote my last blog.

However, I have a pretty good excuse. I've been running. A lot. Like every day. It's all towards my New Year's resolution of running a sub-4:00 full marathon.

Several weeks ago, I found a free running plan that promises to help me reach my goal at the Kurobe Meisui Marathon in Toyama Prefecture on Sunday, June 4. I've been doing my best to follow it to the detriment of my blog writing.

So it seems pretty crazy to be running on average 10 km a day, right? (If you have trouble converting miles to kilometers or vice versa, just ask Siri.) Part of me knows that. For example, nowadays I'm putting more deodorant on my nipples (オッパイ) than under my arms in order to prevent jogger's nipple, a very painful condition caused by too much chafing.

And that joke about women and too many shoes ... not so funny now that I have so many pairs of running shoes. It's hard to throw away (捨てる) even the "old" ones because while their soles are too worn out to run on any longer, the shoes are still bright and shiny and cool to wear.

Speaking of clothes, I don't think twice about wearing tights for running. Or wearing to the supermarket. Or teaching English in. Actually, I've avoided that last one so far. As long as I remember to put on some jeans over them, it's all good. But the tights are really comfortable. As are the 5-toed socks that sometimes get strange looks by my English impact students. But the odds are that I'm probably going to go running after the lesson.

It's all part of my crazy training to set a sub-4:00 personal record. Wish me luck - because if I don't get it this June, I'll probably start running twice a day. That's really crazy!

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

108 Worldly Desires

Happy New Year, loyal English impact blog readers. 2016 has come and gone and 2017 is here to stay until 2018.  I admit I don't get so excited about New Year's.  It's basically just a digit or number changing. But it is a big deal in Japan. In fact, it's the biggest deal of the year with traditional New Year's dishes (おせち料理), lucky money (お年玉) and the first visit of the year to a shrine (初詣). Oh, and bells. Lots of bells. 

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."
John Donne

Being that you are human, the temple bells in Japan toll or ring for you 108 times at midnight on New Year's Eve (除夜の鐘). That is because in Buddhism, everyone has 108 worldly desires (煩悩). When the bells ring, they symbolically cleanse or purify you so you start the year off fresh.

But maybe you want to ask what exactly are these 108 worldly desires. That's a fair question; I don't think most Japanese people have stopped to figure out all of them. Fortunately, that's where a quick Google search can come in handy (便利). So here they are in no particular order (Because, really, how can you rank worldly desires?):

abusedebasementsexual lustsarcasm
eagerness for powerlyinginsidiousnessself-denial
greed for moneyseducementvindictivenessinsatiability
obsessionprejudicearroganceviolent temper
oppressionprodigalitylack of comprehensionobstinacy
calculationunyieldingdesire for famedeception

In the time it has taken you to read this far, the odds are one or more of these desires has crossed your mind. I'm guilty of "sarcasm (皮肉)" even now as I put the finishing touches on my first blog of the year. 

But the point of this blog - and I'm sure there is a point here or else I'm guilty of "know-it-all (知的な横柄)" - is that New Year's is a chance to look ahead without regret; a chance to improve your personality and the way you act towards other people; and a chance to hear a lot of bells.

There's that "sarcasm again." Well, I have a whole year to work on improving myself. 

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