Podcasts That Keep Me Sane in Japan

Basically 90% of the media I consume comes from podcasts. I listen to them from the early morning on, and I am always looking out for interesting audio to fill my earbuds as I attempt to zone out on my morning and afternoon commutes. I mix it up quite a bit, sometimes educational, sometimes a bit of music, some comedy splashed in to keep things interesting, even some DIY. There is literally a podcast for any interest you might have, be it a TV show you are following, a extremely niche music you are into, book club discussions, tutorials, lectures on spirituality, sports shows, even random drunk discussions about nothing particular. My podcast playlist runs the gambit.

Here is my curated list of subscribed podcasts with links to their website:

Hobbies / DIY

The DrakeCast – A mix of guests, stories, fishing reports and more from the writers of The Drake, one of the best fly fishing magazines out there. Not a tutorial podcast, more about the people and places on the water.

TanglePod – Yep, that’s right. A podcast about Zentangle art, my latest artistic pursuit. If you remember the SNL sketch with Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer which mocked NPR radio’s uber non-aggressive style, it’s exactly like that but for real. Calming nevertheless, especially while tangling!

Japan and Japanese

Tofugu – A bit snowflakey in its praise of Japan, so hard to swallow being a long time resident (trust me, Japan isn’t that amazing), but it helps put me back in a positive frame of mind and offers excellent tips and tricks for studying the language. Check out their WaniKani site for some great Kanji practice.

History

History of The Cold War Podcast – Somewhere along the line I got very interested in the cold war, which led me to the board game Twilight Struggle (another slowly growing obsession), then to the BBC/CNN Cold War documentary series Cold War. This podcast is rather bland but packed with info. Great to fall asleep to dreaming of a nuclear winter!

Linux and FOSS

Linux Lads – Irreverent talk on Linux and FOSS from several Irish folks who aren’t afraid to get colorful with their language.

Late Night Linux – Another colorful Linux show that tells it like it is and doesn’t pull any punches.

Ubuntu Podcast – Not just about the Ubuntu Linux distro but a little bit of everything for like minded Open Source enthusiasts.

Bad Voltage – Three stalwarts of the Linux community get deep into the nitty-gritty with some fascinating debates about technology and modern life.

Linux Unplugged – The linchpin of Jupiter Broadcasting, this news shows comes at you fast and furious once a week.

User Error – Another Jupiter Broadcasting show that gets a little off-kilter at times but always has something interesting to say about the current state of Linux and open source.

Choose Linux – Linux newbies (to some degree) and Jupiter Broadcasting resident curmudgeon Joe Ressington explore Linux with fresh eyes. Distro Challenges are a staple.

The Linux Gaming News Punch – a short ten minute weekly rundown about the latest in Linux gaming.

Sports

Fanatic @ 5 – I usually start off my day 14 hours in the past (whoa, time travel dude!) and get caught up with all the happenings from the Philadelphia Sports world.

Gargano & Myrtetus Middays – 4 hours of intense sports debate. Anyplace that thinks they are serious about sports has never been to Philly, where there are two 24 hour radio stations dedicated to sports talk.

Test Match Special Podcast – BBC Radio 5 brings you reviews and analysis from English Cricket. A great companion for a sport that still remains #2 in the world behind football (soccer) with approximately 2.5 billion fans.

The Doosra – Also from the BBC, this cricket podcast focuses exclusively on Asian cricket (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan).

Comedy and Interview

Your Mom’s House – Tom Segura and wife Christina Perzinsky are two comics willing to talk about anything with all types of guests in a rambling 2-3 hours of weekly hilarity.

The Joe Rogan Experience – Really the grandaddy of interview podcasts, Rogan brings in everyone from boxers to nuclear scientists and discusses life’s questions big and small. Not a daily auto-download for me but I keep my eye’s peeled if an interesting guest stops by.

Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast – Just one of the best modern masters of stand-up comedy ranting on for an hour or sometimes two about whatever he has to get off his chest. If once a week isn’t enough for you try the Thursdays Afternoon Monday Morning Podcast (same feed) for even more blunt-force-trauma comedy.

The Doug Stanhope Podcast – If you don’t know who this comic is, YouTube him now, read his books, and then when your good and liquored up on a Friday afternoon allow him and his pals to chat for hours on end about God-knows-what. You’ll be better for it in the morning.

Music

Marc Gunn’s Irish & Celtic Music Podcast – One hour weekly of independent music filled with bagpipes and drinking songs. Really helps to drown out the Japan and goes well with a overpriced can of Guinness.

John’s Old Time Radio Show – Spinning records from Robert Crumb’s record collection directly from his home in the south of France. Hear the needle crackle and pop!

Pod Dylan – This one is for the full on Bob Dylan nerd that lurks in everyone. A single Dylan song, picked apart my the host and a guest, every two weeks. No stone is left unturned, from classics to obscure bootleg B-sides.

The Wheeler Walker Jr. Podcast – The greatest thing to ever happen to country music has a podcast!

The Jazz Treasury – A history of Jazz usually focusing on a specific artists each episode. Brilliant!

Jazz After Dark – An hour of radio Jazz from KDRT, 95.7 FM in Davis, California.

Piano Shorts (NPR) – I could listen to Marian Mcpartland talk to the elite of the Jazz community all day long. Throw in some improvised piano duets to boot!

News and Culture

The Briefing (Monocle) – Daily, hour long news for high brow, pretentious, jet-setters. Tell me about the war in Yemen and then immediately talk about trends in the global yacht marketplace. I consider this more of a fantasy role-play podcast than actual news. It’s also part of an experiment where I have been getting my daily news entirely from this pompous medium.

The New Yorker Radio Hour – Left leaning at times but a decent eclectic mix of politics, literature, music, and all the rest.

TV / Movies

Mission Log – I’m a Star Trek nerd. This podcast analyzes each and every episode of Star Trek, chronologically, starting with the The Original Series. It has already plowed through The Animated Series, The Next Generation, and is now on season three of Deep Space Nine (as of this writing). If that isn’t enough, listen to Mission Log Live, where the host interact with uber Trekkies and nerd boners shoot through the roof.

Transporter Room 3 – Two hollywood insiders go deep into Trek, review episodes and movies, and bring an irreverent vibe to the nerd fest.

Spilling Eve – Killing Eve is one of those shows that completely consumed me. So yeah, I listen to a podcast that recaps every episode. And the recaps are usually a half hour longer than the actual episode!

 


Well, that’s all for now. There’s quite a few that I left out for brevity sake, but this list is a great starting point for anyone looking to fill up their ears with a dense variety of sounds and ideas. Toodles!

Urban Tenkara on the Toyohira

The Toyohira River is the major tributary for Sapporo. Although it snakes its way through much of the ugly urban concrete jungle, there are often a surprising amount of anglers on the water, especially on the weekend. I’ve had moderate success landing a handful of yamame in the upper reaches, close to Makomanai Park, where the water is slowed by boulders and many large islands.

There are pockets of water that have yamame. Nevermind the cement factory and pachinko parlors in the distance.

This time around the whole family (wife, dog) came along on a bike trek, using our k9sportsack, and stopping for an overpriced lunch at dog cafe Silly before getting some fishing in.

The Toyohira has wonderful, well paved, bike paths along both banks that rarely get enough use. You can cruise comfortably along the flat stretches for hours and only encounter ten to twenty other cyclists.

Biking and k9sportsack along the Toyohira
Biking with the k9sportsack along the Toyohira’s bike lanes.

If you want to find the best fishing without traveling hours into the hinterland, ride south from the city center towards the Toyohira River Water Garden. It is at this point that the river starts to slow down and is more manageable for fly fishing and wading. Most of the stretches from here on can be wet waded in the summertime and will give some surprising yamame (cherry salmon) action if your willing to explore a bit.

 

Rainy Day Fishing and The Mushroom Kingdom

Sometime the weather here in Hokkaido fails to cooperate with our fishing schedule. Rain started early last Saturday as just a light drizzle, but quickly turned to a steady downpour. Although we were ready to push through the rain, to a degree, the small Bifue River’s flows quickly surged and basically kept us from any sustained fishing. Maybe got in about 20 minutes of tenkara fishing, but waiving a 4 meter rod with thunder and lighting strikes close by isn’t exactly a relaxing experience. Even though I managed a quick hook up with a tiny yamame, and rises were continuing to come through the raindrops, we quickly decided to pack it in as the rain and danger of electrocution refused to yield.

But because of that drenching and abandonment a new favorite post-fishing-snack-spot has emerged, as my friend reintroduced me to きのこの王国 (The Mushroom Kingdom). This place has it all. Assorted jams made from wild haskap? Check. Meats on a stick? You bet. Some of the best Hokkaido soft cream (¥350) west of Lake Shikotsu. No fisherman could possibly pass that up. Plus, if you thought people watching wasn’t a thing in Japan, just go to The Mushroom Kingdom’s parking lot and soak it in. Bikers wearing every shade of leather. A family of nine falling out of a economy class minivan. Or if your lucky like me, Japanese funeral goers in full mourning garb enjoying a quick snack before their wake down in Hakodate.

So even though our fishing day was a washout, I was glad to get out and about in the environs and enjoy the sites.

(Side Note — There is a second branch of The Mushroom Kingdom to the west of Sapporo, halfway between Yoichi and Kutchan, another prime fishing spot!)

Shopping Baskets of Japan

A recent trip back to ‘Merica has had me really contemplating some of the aesthetics of shopping. One of the primary memories of that last trip was me scouring Super Walmarts (and other like sized storage depots of abundance) looking for a shopping basket. Not a shopping cart. They are everywhere, and getting larger with each passing year I am away from the land of the free. A simple plastic shopping basket. Usually they can be found stacked at the entrances. But I had no such luck finding them. I did occasionally find a few stray ones unattended in some random aisles. But it was a real rarity. Like some kind of shopping Moby Dick. When I did managed to find one in a North Carolina Cabela’s, my friends mocked me for using one.

It seems to be all or nothing in America. Use an enormous shopping cart for the overwhelming amount of products you will be purchasing in that one shopping session. Or, bolt around the store empty handed in order to find that one product you need and then get the hell out of dodge. No in-between. That really is a sticking point with me.

We need more shopping baskets so that people can be reminded that you really don’t need to be buying everything all in one go. Take your time, inspect the wares, compare, and then make a few selections. I understand that not everybody has the convenience of being able to stop by their local butcher, then pick blueberries at the co-op every afternoon. But that’s no excuse to cruise around the cereal aisle in a cart stacked with enough sweets to power a pack of Roman Gypsy children for several weeks. Moderation people.

I enjoy my humble shopping basket. I also often carry around a sturdy reusable shopping bag to carry my goods home in. It’s called and eco-bag (エコバグ) here in old Nippon. Eveybody uses them. Even people driving to the supermarket use them. Their trunks aren’t stuffed to the brim either. Just a few eco-bags at most.

I have an eco-bag in my backpack right now. I will use it to transport three or four alcoholic beverages, which I will by at the Sapporo Drug Store. That’s right, I will buy boos at a drug store. It’s kinda the go to spot for cheap liquor here. I’ll save that oddity for another post.

Think Like a Fish

First fishing trip of the year was a success. Not in terms of fish caught, for there was only one very small yamame which I successfully landed. But my casting was crisp, my equipment was well prepared, and my knots where tied smoothly and without incident. For me that’s a win.

During this excursion I had a conversation with my fishing buddy about how I actually possess a lot of fishing knowledge. Book knowledge. I can tell you that the improved clinch knot has shown to have no advantage over the standard clinch knot when tests have been run on knot strength. I can tell you that a 6X tippet can turn over a #18 size elk hair caddis without issue. None of this info has helped me land a fish as far as I know.

What I have yet to do is put any of this knowledge into real practice on the water. I’ve had moderate success catching yamame using my ultra mini keiryu/tenkara hybrid rod, but only have caught a few legit trout here in Hokkaido. Does that make me a poor fisherman?

My friend has a different problem. What he lacks in uber-specific fishing knowledge he makes up for in sheer abundance in gear. Gear of all sorts. He is a collector of gear. It’s a different problem.

But we enjoy all of it. Fishing is an experience. And it doesn’t require that you catch fish to find it rewarding. When I get a chance to just be out wading in a stream, away from Sapporo’s concrete gridded streets, I make the most of it. This last weekend I followed a small flock of what I believe were Eastern Yellow Wagtail’s along the bank of the Bifue River, a species I have yet to add to my life list. Although I couldn’t make a positive ID, it caught my eye and led me down several bird watching rabbit holes throughout the day.

The Bifue River
The Bifue River outlets into Lake Shikotsu and is about an hour southeast of Sapporo.

I decided that since my rigging on my fly rod was working fairly well, and I was getting decent drifts on an old #18 caddis, I would forgo using my Nissen Pocket Mini and just see what I could accomplish with western fly fishing methods. Not much was rising, and I only managed a handful of tiny yamame strikes throughout the morning. I managed to officially catch one unmeasurable (meaning incredibly small) yamame. So the day was a complete success!

Low Productivity, Japan’s Dirty Little Secret

“The streets are so clean!” “Such excellent service.” “Public Transportation is quiet, clean and efficient.” “Gift wrapping is included with any purchase?!” “Japanese students clean their own classrooms!” “The streets are safe.”

These are the common refrains you hear everywhere about Japan, and I left out quite a few for brevity sake. All these statements are relatively true, but unfortunately Japan and its global marketing team seem to hide behind these staple compliments in order to avoid the most distressing issue that is literally killing the country. That being the utter lack of productivity in the daily lives of its citizens.

Yes, there are some Japanese who lead productive lives for sure. But those outliers really don’t make up for those hordes of salarymen (a dirty word in my household) who toil away way past the standard nine to five (which has become somewhat anachronistic in much of the wider world).

If your average salaryman was being fully productive even half the hours they work in a day, we’d still be talking about Japan as Number One, just like it was back in 1984 and everyone had to have a Sony Walkman. Obviously, somewhere along the line Japan lost its way when it came to productivity in the workplace.

As I mentioned in a previous somewhat tongue and cheek post, most regular employees at Japanese companies “work” incredibly long hours. Some don’t even get paid overtime for it either. But the reality is that most people are “at work”, as in physically there but accomplishing nothing, rather than “working”. If they were producing great products and services, Japan would be in the international business headlines rather than the puff pieces about Harajuku street fashion, women’s panties vending machines, and the abnormal abdication of an abnormal looking emperor. Sorry, I won’t back down, lèse-majesté be damned. (note to readers: Japan has no lèse-majesté laws, but it is very rare to hear anyone crack a joke about the imperial family)

The old trade unions had the right idea!

Instead, people toil away their time at work, abandon their current family or fail to start one of their own. Hobbies and interests basically take a back seat to corporate drudgery once college life ends. No time for such frivolity as an adult. At least not any serious frivolity. Frivolity is for pensioners. But here in live-way-past-your-expiration-date Japan, the pensioner age keeps getting pushed back. So even less time to enjoy your favorite pastime in life’s twilight.

My point is this. Very few of these Japanese firms are setting the world on fire in terms of innovation. They don’t require office workers to be burning the midnight oil. Most everyone can afford, and should take a step back from being “at work” and come home during normal rush hour (5:00-6:00 PM), eat dinner together with their family, and indulge in one or several hobbies. Enjoy it! The nation won’t suddenly sink into the Pacific Ocean if Mr. Takahashi heads home at 5:00. Everything will be OK. I swear.

New Vehicle

Well, I finally bit the bullet and bought a new vehicle. This one takes up much more road and can climb mountains more easily because of its six speed manual transmission. I also managed to find it in a succulent dark mint. All in all, a decent purchase for ¥25,000.

It’s a significant upgrade over my last roadster, and I plan on utilizing it for some semi-urban fishing expeditions in and around Sapporo, as well as my daily commute.

Of course, I am talking about my new bike. Not a gas guzzler. Not even sure what the current price of gas is in this country. Probably not cheap.

This vehicle is powered by my feet. Pretty simple. Easy, cheesey, Japanesey. Yep, I said it.

Social Media Cleanse Complete

Well, it’s been a while. A three week trip back to the US put a monkey wrench in my writing. But I have stayed clear of nearly all social media in that span, which has been a welcome addition to my lifestyle. Basically my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts have been completely canceled after the 30 day non-login period. These social media bloodsuckers don’t let you quit cold turkey. They have to drag it out and are counting on you to log back into your account in order to instantly reactivate it.  But I refused to login for a month, didn’t give in, and now they are gone forever. Who knows how much data they are mining from my content. Oh well, dust in the wind hopefully. All that remains is reddit, although I find myself rarely checking it. More or less I check it every other day as a pseudo-news source. But I don’t contribute any posts.

Without Twitter sucking away my soul, I have been able to focus much more on reading, listening to podcasts, and generally just being more mindful of the immediate world around me. It’s been great. One area in particular that has been affected is my perception and mood about Japan. Frankly, 99% of what occurs in this country doesn’t concern me in any way. The last thing I need is the interwebs ramming down my throat every pessimistic opinion. Out of site, out of mind!

Snowshoeing Sapporo

I am a snowshoe junkie. Love it. Go about 3 times a week. And the thing about snowshoeing in Japan, in my humble opinion, is that it is underrepresented as an outdoor activity. That’s sad. Skiing gets all the love. But skiing has it’s own issues. It’s prohibitively expensive, often crowded, and honestly a bit bourgeois. When I hear that someone has a year long ski pass they might as well say they belong to a country club. Plus skiing isn’t really exercise when you have a lift magically transport your fat ass uphill to the summit.

Snowshoeing is comparatively cheap and is a rigorous cardio workout. You can get a decent pair of Tubbs for between 100-200 USD (Japanese prices tend to be much higher and lean towards Atlus and MSR brands) . Parks with unplowed trails are everywhere, especially inside Sapporo.

Asahiyama snowshoeing

My local park of choice has always been Asahiyama. In the winter it becomes the perfect snowshoeing haven. Most of the main trails are plowed either by machine or natural foot traffic. But there are also numerous trails that remain ungroomed, making for some excellent snowshoeing. Most importantly, the whole backside of the mountain is a snowshoe paradise. You won’t see a soul, which is a hard find in this dense archipelago.

When it comes to population density, Japan is at the top of most lists. And it’s an island, so there is no where to run. Finding a patch of solitude is always a chore.

This past winter of 2018-19 seems to have stalled out in the latter part of February. For several weeks now, daytime temperatures have hovered between 3 and 7 degrees Centigrade (even higher if the sun is shining). Snow is turning to slush, only to refreeze in the morning and start all over again. Snowshoeing in the surrounding mountains has been less than ideal. Things could always spike back up. I’ve snowshoed as late as April in the past, but more than likely we are entering the worst season for Sapporo outdoor enthusiasts. Brown sludgy snow, mud, and untraversable trails. Get used to doing indoor jumping jacks.

Asahiyama night view
The night view of Asahiyama rivals some of the best panoramic views within Japan.
Snowshoes by Tubbs. Gaiters by Sea to Summit. Pants by Mont-Bell. Waterproof upper shell by Patagonia. Fanny-Pack by United Colors of Benetton, Poles by Atlus.

Christmas Where Nobody Cares

Does Japan celebrate Christmas?

No.

Sure you will see Christmas trees in the shopping malls and illuminations throughout the winter, but those have little to do with the actual holiday. There are holiday sales galore, because who doesn’t love a good sale? But that warm, hearthy, childlike anticipation that reaches crescendo in the early hours of December 25th (amongst children and adults alike) just doesn’t exist.

That isn’t to say that families are completely oblivious to the holiday. But most children receive just one gift on Christmas day. And those that have a tree (always artificial), have one that rivals the one from Charlie Brown Christmas. So it’s difficult to describe to my Japanese extended family the sheer gluttony of the American upper-middle class Christmas as I experienced it.

I think my Japanese wife gets it. She’s seen it in person. She seems to be into it. So when Christmas rolls around we really go full-on creating a holiday ambiance in our rabbit hutch of an apartment. Our artificial tree is larger than most, the lights twinkling each and every evening, and is overflowing with ornaments. We have stockings hanging in the doorway, even one for the dog. Christmas music from Accuradio is basically the background music from December 1st (even earlier sometimes).

And here’s the real kicker. It never really has to end! Back in ‘Merica there comes a point after the new year where keeping your tree up (even artificial ones) is guaranteed to get some eye rolls. It’s gotta be down by February at least. And get those Christmas lights off the hedges or else you might as well declare yourself mentally unstable.

But here in Japan, because you don’t necessarily receive a lot of house guests and because few have any real understanding of Christmas etiquette, you can take certain liberties. It’s February 7th as I write this, and our apartment remains fully in the Christmas spirit. The tree won’t come down until at least after Valentine’s Day and “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is on permanent repeat. Whatever keeps the hygge rolling is fair game as far as I am concerned. The only reason to pack all those decorations up is the joy I get setting it all up again. Too much of a good thing might diminish the holiday experience, so a Christmas intermission is probably necessary.

Maybe when the ice thaws we’ ll get around to sweeping up the tinsel, but I ain’t in any rush. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!