About Me

I'm Phil! American living in Japan. Teacher. Ex-independent professional wrestler. Student of Japanese. Traveler. Article writer for Mythic Scribes. Also written four manga, novels, and various short stories and poems. For my fantasy-related blog, check out http://www.philipoverbyfantasy.blogspot.jp/.


Drill Bits: random thoughts, bloggy stuff
Japan Hammer: topics about Japan
Story Time: stories I felt like posting

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Japan Hammer: Top 5 Traditional Japan Spots

All pictures taken by Philip and Kumi Overby.

Here's Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. One of the most famous and scenic places in all of Japan. Thousands visit here every year. Today I'm going to talk about traditional Japan. Hope you like it!

Leaving the world of the weird and getting to blog on some traditional Japanese spots that I've enjoyed. This doesn't necessarily mean these are the best spots to go to, but I'll list where I've been and where other of my friends have recommended. If you want traditional Japan away from all the glitz and bright lights of the modern spectacles, then this list may be for you.

5. Tokyo

Yes, Tokyo! While Tokyo is often connected with urban, modern Japan, there are several temples and shrines nestled within the city that one can visit. Also the famous Imperial Palace is located in Tokyo that features beautiful gardens. The Ryogoku Sumo Hall can be a stop if you're interested in seeing sumo during tournament months. Asakusa is also quite a bastion of old style Japan. It's easy to find on the main Yamonote line. Here's a pic from Asakusa:

Here's some pics from near Ryogoku, including me eating the famous sumo stew "chanko nabe." Very delicious!

Pic of a sumo wrestler at the station:

A statue nearby Ryogoku Sumo Hall:

Me in front of Ryogoku:

Enjoying some delicious chanko nabe! It has all sorts of stuff in it!

So if you want a taste of modern and traditional Japan together, Tokyo has plenty of places to visit.

4. Nikko

I've been to Nikko but didn't visit any of the famous places there. However, I did go to a Edo Period recreation park which had lots of samurai walking around and even some traditional food being served. It was a pretty faithful recreation and a fun place to visit.

Here's a pic with a samurai!

And another at an oiran play, a traditional period play.

While these aren't really representative of Nikko completely, you can find tons of traditional stuff there.

3. Kamakura

Kamakura is actually pretty close to where I live. It used to even be the de-facto capital of Japan at one point. The most famous landmark is the Daibutsu or Amida Buddha statue that is rather iconic. I didn't see it when I was there, but I did see some temples and there are plenty of them here.

When I went there it was dark, so I didn't get many good pics. But I did get a pic of some lanterns that were hanging everywhere. This was a nice place to go for a winter stroll.

Kamakura is of course filled with historical sites, so if you're interested you can visit their website for more details.

2. Nara

I've never been to Nara, but it is known for being one of the oldest and most traditional cities in Japan. It's been highly recommended by friends, so I'd like to visit there one day. One remarkable thing about Nara is that deer just wander about and that they are so familiar with humans that they'll just walk right up to you. There are several beautiful temples here as well that are probably best visited in the spring when you can see the sakura (cherry blossoms) in full bloom.

1. Kyoto

The final spot belongs to Kyoto. Widely consider "the" spot to go if you want to experience all that can be found about traditional Japan. You can see maiko (apprentice geisha) walking about and even watch them perform with various instruments such as the koto or shamisen. You can try the local favorite: yatsuhashi. A sweet filled with beans or green tea and often very tasty!

The biggest attraction here seems to be the temples though. The big three seem to be Kiyomizu-dera (Clearwater Temple), Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple), and Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple). I was able to visit two of the three and that wasn't even the tip of the iceberg. There are just so many places to visit in Kyoto it's impossible to get to them all, especially with the main source of transportation being the bus system.

In any case here's another pic at Kiyomizu-dera(same as the one I posted at the top of the blog):

Here's one at Kinkaku-ji. Notice the golden color. I heard this temple was actually burned down and had to be rebuilt.

There's also a famous park where monkeys roam free called Iwatayama Monkey Park. Though I didn't get to visit it, I did get to visit a monkey park in Tochigi that was fun. Here's a pic from there:

So my monkey friend and I must bid you farewell now. With a tip of my hat, I'm off to find new adventures in Japan. What places have you visited that are historical or traditional, in Japan or worldwide?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Japan Hammer: Weird Japan Part 2

So here's part 2 of Weird Japan. I review the weirdness of certain images or ideas from the internet regarding Japan. All credit for linked images goes to their respective sites.

5. Yamanba or Mountain Hags
Nice makeup...

Weirdness: 2/10

This isn't so weird. Maybe this extreme is a bit weird, but the Ganguro style was relatively popular in Japan in the 1990s and early 2000. You don't really see it much outside of Tokyo, so it is weird to see somewhere like Yamanashi or something. This immediately turns heads of foreigners though and is widely regarded as one http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifof the weirder styles. It still exists in smaller and less extreme pockets, but Japanese people don't seem to be very bothered by it.

4. Random People on Food
Tastes like...something.

Weirdness: 4/10

This is Putin Pudding. It's higher on the weird scale as it's not an American or Japanese celebrity on the food. And the last thing I think of when I see pudding is Vladimir Putin. The idea of putting public figures on food probably won't end here. It's definitely eye-catching. And a bit weird.

3. Ridiculous Parodies of American Culture
I am cholesterol incarnate!

Weirdness: 5/10

Almost any time my students think of American food the first thing they say is hamburger. So suffice to say, Japanese have tried to emulate the outrageous, gluttonous extremes of American food by making these monstrosities of beef. I've seen these tower burgers all over the place. I'm assuming they're made for more than one person? Anyway, it's moderately weird when first seeing it but then it starts to become the norm at some burger joints. There's always the "WTF Burger" at any given place.

2. Ridiculous Blends of American and Japanese Culture
Limit Break: McOmnislash!

Weirdness: 8/10
This is only so weird because it's also very creative. Taking Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders and blending them with Final Fantasy 7 characters Sephiroth and Cloud is pretty unique. The most common examples of this sort of splicing of culture are the McDonald's Big America series. Hamburgers with eggs and salsa and whatever other thing they can come up with. Just bizarre mixtures.

The popularity of Colonel Sanders specifically is rather interesting. There's a famous story about a group that threw a Colonel Sanders statue in a river near Osaka that was dredged up like 20 years later. Mysterious!

1. More Stuff for Lonely People
Forever alone...

Weirdness: 9/10

This is just weird to me. It's not really a sex thing. But more of a comfort thing. Which is weird they have pillows shaped like a woman's lap. It makes me sad that people buy these things. I'm hoping they aren't that popular.

I'm assuming this is weird in any culture though.

Well, that's it for part 2. Next blog I'll explore cute Japan! What really is cute and what is just "meh."

So what did you think of the Weird Japan blogs? More? Or any other suggestions?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Japan Hammer: Weird Japan Part 1

Above is the Pokemon train. Which I'll discuss more about later. And no, this isn't that weird.

Since the title of my blog is "A Weird Guy Living in Japan" not necessarily "A Guy Living in Weird Japan" people may get confused as the content of my blog. I post just about anything really, but most of my blogging about Japan has been relatively tame. That is until today.

There is a website called www.japanisweird.com (warning: some images may be graphic or Not Safe for Work) which has random photos depicting some of the weirdness that you may encounter upon coming to Japan.

I'd like to preface with this: these photos are in no way representative of how Japan really is (for the most part). I'd say about 99 percent of Japan is like anywhere else. Normal people doing normal things. There are not many being dressed in cos-play walking about and it's not like one big, happy anime. Get that concept out of your head. If you like that kind of stuff, go to Harajuku or Akihabara. That's where I see the greatest concentration of all that.

So, today I just want to post links to various pics (not sure if I should post them on my blog since they're not mine) and I'll discuss what I think about the pic and whether it's really so weird compared to other things I've seen here.

5. Hattoyama riding space-age scooter thing

Weirdness: 4/10


Hattoyama was the prime minister around 2009 or 2010? I don't know, they change prime ministers here so much I can't keep track. The reason this picture isn't too weird is because Hattoyama himself was considered a pretty weird guy. He was out of touch with common people (sound familiar to your government?) because he was from a rich background and often was referred to by the nickname "Alien." As you can see by him riding this futuristic space car, he doesn't look that weird. But his wife, on the other hand, is weird. She claims she's from Venus or something. Another reason this isn't so weird is because in Japan anything that would normally blow my mind in being really cool or awesome is just sort of like "meh." Now the androids they've developed, those blow my mind.

4. Dinner with a screen saver

Weirdness: 6/10
Creepiness: 9/10


I don't really get this. It's not really as weird as you'd expect, but it's definitely not normal. Some otaku (nerdy folks) have taken to having virtual girlfriends and plastering their room with images of anime and manga girls. It's not really considered healthy, but it's not so weird. Eating dinner with a computer is pretty weird. The strange thing about this "virtual girlfriend" phenomenon is that the men who do this see it as completely rational.

This ties in to the whole obsession with AKB48 and other bizarre idol worship which is widely accepted in main-stream here. Not to say that this doesn't exist in other countries, but it just has a creepier vibe here.

3. Old man wearing school girl outfit

Weirdness: 2/10
Creepiness: 6/10


Cross-dressing is more widely accepted here than I think in other countries. A lot of mainstream celebrities have done it without blow-back from morality groups. I personally don't care if people do it, but when they dress up like school girls...yeah, sorry, that's creepy. Weird, not so much. I've seen this more than enough times on TV that I'm desensitized to it. "New-half" shows (drag queens) are actually quite popular in Kabukicho and Roppongi. I haven't been to one, but then again, I try to avoid those areas (see other blog post about 5 Favorite Places in Japan)

2. Pokemon Bus

Weirdness: 3/10


This isn't so weird either (see Pokemon train at the top of the blog). Anime and manga are integrated a lot into anything involving children. Oftentimes at family restaurants they will have Doraemon, Anpanman, or some other popular kids' character on the special kids' menu. So seeing a Pikachu bus may seem strange to foreigners, but I don't think Japanese people would even flinch at this.

If I saw this I'd probably say "Oh look! A Pikachu bus." Then I'd go about my day like nothing happened.

1. Weird Drinks or Food

Weirdness: 6/10


Ok, so this picture is of Ice Cucumber Pepsi. I'm not sure why anyone would want to drink Cucumber flavored soda, but whatever. I rank this number 1 because this is the most common occurrence. It usually has to do with taking something foreign and then making it really, really Japanese. I'm not sure how well this sold, but they had other flavors that were just as weird.

You can see more details here: http://www.loneleeplanet.com/2011/07/weird-japanese-pepsi-flavours/

I'll list them below though with their weirdness level. Credit goes to loneleeplanet.com for the resources.

1. Ice Cucumber-6/10
2. Shiso (herb?)-4/10
3. Azuki (red beans)-5/10
4. Baobab (citrusy taste)-2/10
5. Blue Hawaii (pineapple and lemon)-1/10
6. White (yogurt)-5/10
7. Mont Blanc (chestnut)-6/10
8. Red (ginger/spicy)-4/10
9. Caribbean Gold (sapote)-3/10
10. Carnival (tropical fruit)-1/10

So the weirdest to me is definitely the Ice Cucumber. I'll post a part 2 for more weirdness!

Let me know if this is interesting to you in the comments!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Story Time: Robert Frost Excellent Warlock Troll Butcher

(This has nothing to do with Japan, but sometimes I feel like posting stories here. I'll call them Story Time! WARNING: May be too explicit for some?)

Reaver buried his Prosaic Axe of the Harpy's Vertebrae into another troll's stinking, wart-riddled flesh. A bluish fluid sprayed into his face, almost getting into his mouth. Yet his Chewing Gum of Warding had created a thin film of red, sparkling, cinnamon magic that kept him safe. Good thing. Reaver couldn't handle another night trying to get the blue stains off his tongue.

Robert Frost headbutted another troll beside him, his steel-gray hair fluttering in the desert wind. He spat. “I must stride again/A winter's delicate kiss/Never-ending fades/Into an encroaching dawn.”

“Why do you talk like that?” Reaver blasted the fallen troll in the face with a Rainbow Grammar Hex spell. Every kind of grammar possible. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, gerunds, conjunctions. Soon the troll's body parts would rot off in a brilliant array of colors: putrid green, neon orange, rose red, and ultra-violet. Pretty parts.

“I must travel these roads/Only I can take/The long winter's come/On this frozen lake.” Frost mumbled to himself as another troll scraped his claws against his ABAB Glyphed Heavy Free Verse Plate.

“Dude, we're in the desert. It's not winter for the last time.” Reaver ignored his verse spouting companion and just waded further into the clump of trolls, letting his axe make music against their bursting flesh. Streams of blood crossing sand, bubbling like brooks along a long forgotten trail. A mystical song of ancient rhymes of ancient mariners--Ah, crap. Now he was thinking like Frost. I've got to get rid of this guy. I don't want him telling my story. He can't write prose. He's a poet and doesn't seem to know it. That he can't write prose, that is. I wasn't try to rhyme. Seriously.

Waves of trolls kept coming. They spouted such barbaric war cries as:

“ur teh suck, lolz!” One of the grisly beasts wailed, his black braids trailing behind him like licorice in a raging snowstor--ah, stop it!

“then he took an arrow in the knee...” Another murmured, his rancid breath hot on Reaver's neck.


“Gross, stop it!” Reaver beat back the mouth-breather. “Why are you all here? Leave us alone!”

Robert Frost suddenly went epic, stream of consciousness. An Infinity Sonnet. The trolls were entranced, dancing in that break-neck, boogie down style that they do. Frost's tongue loosed such epicness that Reaver had never seen before. Allusions. Alliteration. Onomatopoeia.

“Pow! Boom! Bang! Zoom!” Frost's poems were cold as ice, bro. Trolls flew in every direction, befuddled and battered by the waves of pure poetic carnage. One particularly nasty limerick took off a troll's head, leaving a dancing fountain of warty gore popping and locking as it collapsed in a heap.

How does he does he do it? Is the Poetic Way truly better than my own Prosaic Way? Were the darkest arts of Forgotten Verse truly superior to the Paragraph Magicks?

Reaver, in a jealous rage, unleashed his dreaded Ectoplasmic Ban Hammer of Holy Crushingness. The slime of the lime green hammer left trails of corrected grammar sputtering from the mouths of even the foulest trolls with the foulest of comments.

“lolz” became “That is funny.”

“n00b” became “Rather inexperienced gentleman.”

“pwn3d” became “I defeated you both efficiently and succinctly.”

“ROTFL” became “Ha, ha, ha!”

The trolls howled with displeasure in hearing their twisted, guttural, nonsensical language of bastardized tongues transform into something that actually made sense.

Robert Frost was angry too. As angry as a poet can get. His ice blue eyes shimmered with an unearthly rage that could only exist in the warped mind of a poet who's run out of subject matter. Dark, Gothic poetry fell from his lips. Teenage journals. Ramblings of a collapsed MySpace.

“What is happening to me?/Am I losing my poetic gift/Or something/Ugh!” Frost, wading through the slush of devastated troll goo, pointed a crooked, ink-stained finger at Reaver. “Only one of us can tell this story/Dude!”

Reaver's prose had proven stronger than he expected. The trolls were fleeing or lying in quivering mounds. Their grammar had improved and they were scattering to the farthest reaches of the Earth, back into their dark caves with no light and pictures of scantily clad troll vixens.

It was only Reaver and Frost now. In the desert. Poetry vs. prose.

“My art is more coherent and easier to understand, Frost.” Reaver bellowed. “Your poems are old and obsolete. I am the true Word Weaver!”

Frost's pale skin glistened with sweat. Or maybe they were small comma splices. Reaver wasn't sure. The amalgamation of words still hung in the air, clouding the skies. With a wave of his hand, Reaver cleared the hanging words away. Deleted them almost. Frost seethed.

A ghostly sword made of aborted and long-dead poems appeared in Frost's hand. The tears of broken-hearted bards. The buried verse of Emily Dickinson. The cold-fire and old wine of Poe. The white-hot veins of the Beats, snaking their way through the spectral blade.

“I want to try to/Do this attack in haiku/But they suck bad...man!” Frost pushed the last syllable out with a caustic venom. He was bringing the pain this time.

Reaver blinked and rushed forward, Ban Hammer swinging overhead. He'd smash this poet into oblivion and finish his quest to eliminate distorted language from the world forever. “Eat this!”

A jagged bolt of stream of consciousness rippled across the clear blue sky. “The trails of earth are mine alone and yours are mine and sands and glass and broken dreams all hinge upon the tattered seams of fathers' pride and mothers' eyes galactic squid of ten thousand comets--”

“Ah! Shut up!” Reaver battered his way through the poetic bolt. “Just use regular magic! Regular words!” His hammer came down with the force of highlights, red ink, edits, and revisions. The gooey hammer splashed across Frost's silvery, feathered hair, knocking the poet back into the sand, mumbling something about “spidery silk.”

“I yield./I yield./Yield.” Frost stammered. His poetic-ness had been driven out of him like an exorcised demon. “I will take the road less traveled. Or more traveled. Sorry.”

Reaver looked down at Frost with sadness. A tinge of guilt struck him. Who was he to tell others how to tell their story? To practice their craft? To express themselves? Unless they were babbling trolls, everyone had the right to use their own unique style. Their own magic.

“Stand, Frost.” Reaver offered his troll-mush slicked hand. “There's room in this world for two Wordsmiths. If only we can stand together to fight ignorance, bad grammar, and needless flaming, I care not for how you do so.”

Frost nodded, his grandfatherly head bowing in respect to Reaver. “You are right/dear friend/by which way the sands of time lead us/we all stagger in quicksand.”

“Whatever, dude.” Reaver mumbled, putting his arm around the veteran poet-warrior. “Let's just go kill some more trolls.”

And with that Reaver and Robert Frost ventured to the land of Yutoob to find the troll's den, to finally root them out once and for all. But will the dark and mysterious, cloaked bird-man the Twittering Wanderer with his Sword of Limited Text cross their path? Or the much maligned Free I-Pod Knight of Sullied Dreams?

Who knows? But Reaver shall be ready. Wherever there needs to be moderation. Wherever there needs to be correction. Wherever someone's words need to be moved to another section because they don't go where they were originally placed, Reaver will be there.

Waiting. With his weaving words.

Ah, damn alliteration...