Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Top Ten Japanese Misconceptions

I've been living here in Japan for 15 years now and I always get a good crack up when I talk to my fellow Americans about Japanese culture and customs. I've written up a top ten list of Japanese misconceptions:

10. Japanese people are worried about "saving face" - I have never even heard a Japanese person use that expression. Japanese people are just like the rest of us and pretty much want to get ahead and could give a flying crap about how people perceive them. The Japanese do however hate to be embarrassed and try to avoid situations that may lead the an embarrassing outcome. Still, the concept that the Japanese are more concerned than the rest of us about how they are perceived is news to me.

9. Japanese women are submissive. Ha! My wife would kick my ass if I tried to make her do some kind of mystical oriental sex technique on me. 99.9 percent of married women do the finances and make the decisions around the house. Granted most married Japanese women don't work but they don't take orders from anyone. Submissive? Don't make me laugh.

8. Japanese guys all know Karate. Ha! I've never even met a Japanese cat who knows Karate. Judo is definitely a better bet because they have a Judo team in high school. Kung Fu is Chinese by the way as well as Bruce Lee.

7. Japanese people have a better appreciation of nature - Oh yeah right! You couldn't find a blade of grass anywhere in this country. Or a natural beach for that matter. Japan is completely paved over. Japanese people like to tell you that they have a special appreciation of nature but it is a bunch of crap. I will say however that Japanese people do keep the place clean. You would be pretty hard pressed to find any garbage anywhere in this country but everything has to be paved over first. Safe and clean, but far from natural.

6. Most people in Japan speak and understand English - No way. Japanese and white Americans are similar in this way. Neither speak a language other than their native tongue. I hear it a lot; "It must have been a big adjustment living in Japan. But most Japanese people speak English right?" Wrong. Although it is true that all Japanese kids start studying English in middle school, they never learn how to speak it. They don't have any desire to do so. The reason is pretty simple: they don't need to, every expensive hotel anywhere in the world caters to the Japanese and has someone who speaks Japanese for them. English and Japanese would seem to be the international hotel language. When you have a bunch of cash, you don't need to be bilingual. Go to Taiwan for example and it seems most everybody speaks a few languages.

5. Japanese, Chinese and Koreans are all pretty much the same - If you believe this you deserve a slap in the head. Geographically, spiritually, culturally completely different. The only thing Japanese have in common with the Chinese is that they borrowed the Chinese characters (known in Japanese as Kanji) ages ago and not until the Heian period (794-1185) did they start developing their own written language. Even though they borrowed Chinese characters a few thousand years ago, the spoken language is completely different. Japan, compared to their Chinese neighbor is tiny, a tiny island or actuall a series of islands, and completely safe and clean. If I had only one thing to say about Japan and nothing else, I would tell you the it is the only place in Asia where it is safe to drink the water. The Chinese and Koreans hate the Japanese for the most part because they have yet to make amends for World War II where China and Korea paid the price for Japanese aggression. Japanese culture was outlawed in Korea until recently but have been enjoying cross cultural exchanges lately. There is a decent sized hall inside the Japanese embassy in Seoul because that was the only place you could hear live Japanese music in Korea at one time (I know because I played there once as a guest of Japan). Although the Japanese love Chinese and Korean food, Japanese food is completely different. Delicate I suppose with the lack garlic and strong spices. Different in every way, don't confuse Japan with its neighbors.

4. Japanese people are all spiritual - You're killing me here. It is pretty much standard behavior for a Japanese person to have a Christian wedding and a Buddhist or Shinto funeral. Japanese people all generally have a formal religion (actually two of them) but are by nature Atheists. But, one thing I will give credit to the Japanese for is that for a bunch of Atheists they have managed to keep their country relatively safe and as a whole the Japanese are pretty scrupulous people. Americans tend to believe in God more and live by his rules less. Japanese tend to follow the rules of their religions and both Buddhism and Shinto do play a part in society but it is more of a tradition more so than a spiritual belief and most Japanese do not believe in a God or spirit or afterlife, heaven or hell. Regardless, I have traveled all over the world and can say honestly that Japan is the safest country I have ever been to. So much for Religion.

3. Japanese chicks are hot for foreign guys - Nope. Sorry, there are some women who like foreign guys but most of them would never marry you. The Japanese women who would marry a foreign guy usually are the ones who want to have careers of their own. Most Japanese women have little interest in working after they are married and most parents would forbid their daughters to marry a gaijin or foreigner anyways. Also, Japanese women hate hairy men. Second, they hate muscles, they prefer men that pluck their eyebrows. Granted they do enjoy the manners of Western men who tend to pull out chairs and open doors for them unlike their Japanese boyfriends. But all and all they find foreign men more of a nuisance than anything else.

2. Japan is too expensive to live a normal life - This has changed in the last fifteen years that I have been here. True, it isn't an inexpensive country but take it from someone who lives in both Tokyo and Los Angeles, Los Angeles is more expensive. Japan has gone through deflation for as long as I have been here and I have slowly watched prices come down. I remember thinking American guitars were out of hand back when I first got here but now it is about the same. Rent is expensive but so is the rent in LA. Both Tokyo and Los Angeles sport about $2,000 a month price tags for a two bedroom in a good area. Rent is cheap in the suburbs, maybe an hour out of Tokyo. Food will set you back a little more here in Tokyo, especially the price of produce but you can still find a health Japanese lunch for about four bucks. You also have to remember that you don't need a car to get around in Tokyo and most companies pay your transportation fees. Also, everybody is on the national health care system so health care is cheap. Property is more expensive in Los Angeles thanks to the Fed. Granted it is safe to assume that per square meter, Japan is more expensive but considering that a condo in LA is 500 grand you have to be making some cash to buy your own place. A slightly smaller place in Tokyo would set you back less. I'm not sure what the statistics are but take it from someone living in both cities, Los Angeles is a money black hole, especially considering that you can make more money in Tokyo and you a guaranteed a bonus two times a year and severance whether you quit or get fired.

1. Japanese put soy sauce on everything - This is one of my pet peeves regarding Americans. Anytime I go out to eat Japanese cuisine in the states, I always get grossed out by the way Americans insist on putting soy sauce in their rice. In Japan I have never seen any Japanese people do this. I think the only reason they put soy sauce on the table on Japanese restaurants in the states is because Americans keep asking for it. The trick with eating Japanese food is balancing out the rich flavor of certain foods with the white rice. Even with Sushi, you are supposed to sort of brush the fish side of the Sushi in the soy sauce, not the rice side. And Sushi and Sashimi, is one of the few foods that you actually put soy sauce on. Japanese tend to cook with soy sauce but it doesn't get too much attention other wise. So see if you can lay off the soy sauce or at least refrain from drowning your rice in it, the cook is peaking out of the kitchen laughing.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Recording Using the new SSL Board

Got the chance to record using the new "Duality" console made by Solid State Logic. It is probably the first commercial recording done using the board, so I sort of made recording history yesterday. SSL consoles are pretty much the standard mixing consoles since the early 90s, they are in just about every commercial recording studio. They became popular because of the advanced automation feature I suppose, in other words, the board remembers the mix and recalls it. The boards are analog and the new one was designed to interact seamlessly with Pro-Tools. I wrote the song for my old flame and Joey Carbone (legendary Los Angeles producer, song writer) came in to play the keyboards and did the perfect arrangement for the tune. There is some stuff I still want to fix (my guitar especially) but it came out pretty good I think. Have a listen but keep in mind it isn't mastered. Takashi Fujimura did the mix. We're a bunch of goofballs so after the session someone said; "Let's all take a photo in front of the SSL console to commemorate the the first ever recording using it!" We took a look at the photo and discovered you can't even see the console because we are blocking it. If you want a good look, check the link below.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Saying Goodbye to Japan - Crime

I'm going to miss not having to worry about violent crime and robbery. You don't realize it living in the states because it is a daily thing, but it is a drag having to deal with danger. I realize it everytime I get into LA, it starts when you get out of the airport. You have to think to yourself; "Where is my suitcase?" and "Where should I lean my guitar while I take a piss?" and "Maybe I shouldn't be carrying this much cash on me." I have never once been concerned for my personal belongings or for my safety for that matter here in Japan. America could take a lesson from the Japanese on scruples and morals.

I remember once while in LA I sat down and had a slice of pizza in a restaurant with my guitar sitting next to me in its gig bag. I got up and took 10 steps from where I was sitting and realized I left my guitar back at my seat. I went back and got it and caught a bit of the conversation the guys sitting at the next table were having. One guy said to the other guy; "Shit, he remembered his guitar." They where waiting to steal it. On the other hand, one time here in Japan, I was trying to catch my train one morning to go to the college where I teach guitar. It was a hot summer day with a hundred percent humidity. I was rushing to get my ticket and all of a sudden someone tapped me on my shoulder. I looked behind me and it was this guy in a suit and tie who was sweating and breathing like he had just ran the marathon. He had obviously been chasing me. He told me I dropped some money on the ground and gave it to me, about fifty bucks. Imagine that. In the States it would have been long gone.

It is a cultural difference I guess. I mean, think about it for a minute, we as kids say that stupid saying; "Finders keepers, losers weepers" which basically means that if you find something it is yours and who ever lost it is shit out of luck. In Japan, for the most part nobody would want something that belongs to someone else... Sure to bring you bad luck.

Something that you could not imagine in the sates, shop keepers sometimes have their goods out on the sidewalk in front of their stores. Customers take a look, find what they want and bring it inside to pay for it.

I'm an American patriot but I wish America was a safer place for my family. It could be if we all wanted it to be so.


Crime in Japan

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Saying Goodbye to Japan - Toilets

As many of you may know, I'm relocating my family back to Los Angeles. I'll still be coming back to Japan to teach and play but I will move my home base to the South Bay. I've been living in Japan for 15 years and the Japanese way of thinking and life style has become a part of me and I've decided to post a few memoirs of my life in Japan here on this blog.

I came over from Los Angeles in 1990. I had been to Japan before and have always liked the country, its modern conveniences and love for gadgets contrasting with its Buddhist and Shinto roots. The first thing I recall is the urinals at Narita Airport in Tokyo and the way they automatically flush, once while you are doing your business to prevent any embarrassment and once again when you are done with your business. The Japanese can't imagine actually touching the little lever that flushes the urinal and try to keep things as "touchless" as possible. Not too keen on germs. I've almost never seen a urinal in Japan that doesn't flush itself. Matter of fact, a lot of the toilets are automatic too and are wired to keep your butt warmed. You can control the temperature with a little lever. There is also a button that sends a stream of warm water to clean your nether eye. Go figure... an automatic bidet. American toilets leave a lot to be desired compared to their Japanese cousins. The public toilet stalls are also much better in Japan than in the States. The little room with your heated toilet and automatic bidet has walls that go from the floor to the ceiling so you can escape from reality and don't have to worry about anybody peaking up under the door like in an American stall. In America if you made the stalls like that you would have people living in there or at least having sex. In you home the toilet is in a separate room from your bath tub. Again the Japanese could not imagine something dirty like a toilet could get put in the same room as a bathtub where you want to get yourself clean. I'm going to miss going to the bathroom.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Although I don't consider myself an expert on fine wines, I still enjoy a good glass of wine from time to time. My pal from Toshiba EMI took me out to a wine bar to introduce me to this Chambolle-Musigny. You see the chalky soil at Le Musigny restrict the yield and is responsible for a very delicate wine. Chambolle Musigny is a charming village in the Cote de Nuits, north of Clos Vougeot that is famous for some of the finest red wines in the world today. If you are looking for a great wine (that will set you back a little) this is the one for you.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Joey Carbone

My pal Joey Carbone was back in Japan for a visit this month. Let me tell you a little about him if you don't know who he is. Joey is originally from New York (like yours truly) and lives in LA. He was the Music Director for the show "Star Search" back in the days. The interesting thing about Joey is that he writes a ton of music for some of the biggest artists in Japan. One of his songs was recently number one on the Japanese version of the billboard charts. He is probably the premier composer for the Japanese music industry. He knows how to write for the Japanese masses but that is not the only key to his success. Some pointers from Joey for those of you who want to become successful composers:

Your demo - No matter how great your songs are, if your demo isn't happening it doesn't mean very much. You see, directors and producers are getting spoiled these days because the quality of demos are getting better and better. Writers are using software like Pro-Tools, Logic, Digital Performer and/or Q-Base to get almost perfect sounding recordings. They don't want to listen to poorly recorded music anymore and many of them don't have the imagination to visualize what a song would sound like recorded in the hands of professional arrangers and recording engineers. They don't want to listen to flat vocal tracks. That's why it is important to digitally fix any pitch problems before you shop your song around. If you are not a singer, see if you can get a qualified vocalist to do the track for you. Make the demo sound like a "real" recording.

Don't give up - Just because your song gets rejected by one director doesn't mean the next one won't bite. According to Joey, you would actually be surprised how often a song gets rejected before turning into a hit. Sometimes it may even get picked up by the same director who rejected it a year before.

Research - Check the charts and see which artists are writing their own music and which ones have songs written for them. It doesn't make much sense to write for someone who doesn't need a song. See who is moving up and who is moving down. Can you figure out who is the next rising star?

Become an expert salesman - Know who represents who. If you don't know anyone in the business, you may have a tough time meeting people. Use an agency that shops music for composers until you get a name for yourself. Joey makes his rounds with a two CD set of around forty songs that he brings around to various contacts. These contacts could be at record labels, agencies that represent artists, publishers or actual artists.

Be persistent - Nobody is going to come to you. Even someone like Joey Carbone who has a number one hit on the charts has to keep making the rounds. He says that you would figure everyone would want one of your tunes once you write a number one but it isn't the case, you have to keep asking.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Infinite Guitar

I started adding a new lesson every month to my site. I guess it was just my way of spreading my knowlege of the electric guitar around. After all, I've had the opportunity and good fortune to study and work with some of the best musicians in the world and there are plenty of young aspiring guitarists who haven't had the same chances, either because of financial reasons or other hardships. Let's face it, it takes a lot of money to relocate to Los Angeles or New York to study music if you where born in a far away place. My site is my way of helping out, I added a new lesson every month for free. The response was overwelming, thousands of guitarists subscribed to my newsletter and before long I was getting a thousand hits a day to my "lessons" page.

What ended up happening is that a Japanese publisher asked me to rewrite the lessons for a book that they wanted to publish in Japan in Japanese. I didn't imagine I would get rich or anything but what the hell, sounded like a chance to learn something about the "book" business. I rewrote most of the lessons and added a bunch of other sections too and turned the rewritten 266 page book into them and they had it translated into Japanese and released the book. What I ended up with was an unpublished English version with no place to go. I originally considered searching for an American publisher but desided against it because I knew they would want to shorten it and/or charge too much for it which would make me a hipocrite. After all, I started the whole thing because I wanted aspiring guitarists all over the world to be able to study and grow without having to get themselves into financial ruin. So I desided to publish it myself and offer it for a price that most anyone could afford, $25 for the book and $15 for the PDF. Pretty cheap for a book that I think someone could use for years and years.

Was it easy? Absolutely not, it was an enourmous underaking. It erased all my free time but I'm pretty sure it will be worth it. I wish I had this kind of book when I started out. For those of you who use my site as a resourse, continue to do so. The book will simply offer you the expanded lessons in the form of a book. A book is different than the internet, you can read it while you ride the train, lounge around on the beach or in bed. You can leave it on your coffee table and you can also teach from it. Some of the sections are lifted right from the site but there is plenty of new things too.

The book started off at about number 2,000 on the lulu.com best sellers list but recently moved up to about 820. Still a long way to the top 100 but still pretty cool.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

World Domination - Peru

In my unwavering attempt at world domination I have hit a milestone by registering a sale in the wonderful country of Peru. As you can see, the red countries in South America are growing. I am still dying for a sale in Russia and India and of course a few African countries would be nice too. If you haven't read the original "World Domination" post, the Abiku Record label is offering the "Big Bad Sun" CD for half price (8 bucks, shipping included) to anyone buying the CD from a country not yet on the list. E-mail me directly for information. Here is the list once again of countries where the CD has been sold: Albania, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.

I have also decided that since someone in a far off country has parted with their hard earned pay to support independent music, the least I can do is to learn a little about their country. This is what I have found:

Up until the early 1500's Peru was the homeland to the Inca Empire, which was at the time the most advanced civilization on the American continent. The empire stretched from Ecuador to Chile and by some estimates date back as far as 1,200 AD although agriculture can be traced back 5,000 years earlier. The Spaniards conquered the area and brought with them a campaign of evangelization and doctrinisation, which in the end made Peru an authentic Spanish colony.

Peru is known worldwide for its fascinating Inca ruins, impressive colonial architecture, spectacular mountains, and volcanoes, and lush Amazon rainforest with amazing varieties of flora and fauna.


Friday, August 25, 2006

The Housing Bubble - Reality Check

As some of you may know, I'm picking up and heading back to Los Angeles around year-end with my wife and daughter in tow. I'll be heading back to Japan for work here and there but want to settle down back in California. I first figured I would buy a nice house for us, but have changed my mind. I remember when I came to Japan 15 years ago, a "normal" house in LA was around three hundred grand, now the same house is rubbing up against a clean million. That's right, three times! Now let me ask you, have salaries gone up three times? Something is out of whack and you better watch out because property prices are beginning to wobble as the news has been telling us.

Last week, the National Association of Realtors said that home sale prices are down from last year's levels in 26 major metropolitan areas. And the Commerce Department reported that housing prices are down by more than 15 percent from their highs and on top of that, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that applications for home purchase mortgages have dropped by more than 20 percent from last year's levels. I've been doing a little research and this is what I have found:

As we speak there is $2.7 trillion worth of adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) that will reset at a higher interest rate in 2006 and 2007. That means that homeowners are going to have to fork out more cash every month for their mortgage. Do you know how much a six hundred thousand-dollar mortgage costs you a month? Around $3,400 and it is going to cost more pretty soon. Inflation has not been tamed and is not going away, there is a good chance that the Fed will raise rates again. You also have to remember here, you can't even get into a decent place in a good area of LA for six-hundred grand, you would have had to put up another hundred grand or so on top of that. Add in insurance, school for the kids, gas, cars and credit cards and you are looking at a nation of people in debt over their head. A time bomb.

You also have to keep in mind that lenders have come up with all these wacky loan inventions to fuel the whole thing. There are these interest only loans, which means that your first loan payments only cover the interest and zero of the actual home. When these buyers have to start covering the equity, they are not going to be happy because they won't be able to make their payments and won't be able to get out of the house because people like me aren't biting. That is right, 10% of homeowners are paying mortgages and have zero equity in their places.

Prices are starting to fall and it has only just begun. There are still people who say things will get back on track next year. I really doubt it. My reasoning is simple: No middle class person can afford a million dollar home unless salaries change (which they haven't, matter of fact they are half of what they should be to justify the price of the average house) or Americans save money (which they haven't). If all construction of new homes stopped today, it would still take six months to sell off all the inventory. Americans have overextended themselves once again and the market is heading for the abyss.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

World Domination

In my never-ending quest for world domination, I have decided to take some new daring steps. Take a good look at the map next to this text, the red countries are where I have sold CDs, the other countries are countries where I have yet to sell a CD. To make the map light up like a Christmas tree I need a sale in Russia. India and a few African countries would also be nice. I get played on a lot of Spanish language podcasts but have never sold a CD in Mexico or any other Central American countries yet either. How about Greenland, it used to be part of Denmark (where I have sold many CDs) but now is an independent country of its own. It would be cool to sell some CDs there too. I've been doing some thinking here and have come to the conclusion that it is not that people don't like me in those places but the cost of my CD, around 16 bucks (including shipping) may be a little more than the average person can swing, so this is what I'm going to do: I will sell it for half price to the first person in a country not yet painted red (on the list). Yes that's right, $8.00 including shipping. I won't make much but what the hell, I'm not in the game to be rich, I'm after world domination. The only rule is that you have to buy it directly from chrisjuergensen.com through paypal. E-mail me directly for details. Here is the list of where I have sold CDs, if your country is not listed, you are eligible for the discount. CDs have been sold in: Albania, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Podcasting - Radio Reinvented

The commercial music business is getting it again, this time from the podcasters. Podcasts have only been around for a few years yet millions of people have heard one. Basically podcasters create a thirty-minute to one-hour internet radio program that can be downloaded and listened to at the listener's leisure. A constant internet connection is not necessary. A podcast can be listened to directly from ones computer or from his or hers iPod. Podcasters are looking for podsafe music, music that can be broadcast without having to pay a royalty. One would assume that both the paperwork and the financial obligations of playing music that is not royalty free is a hindrance. Regardless, podcasters are not looking for typical commercial music. They are looking for new music, music that their listeners have not heard before. Let's face it; if the listener wanted to hear platinum selling hits, they would prefer FM radio. Podcasts are a blessing to independent artists like myself.

Unlike commercial radio, there is no real money trading hands. This means that podcasters are free to play what they like (as long as it is podsafe). If you are older than me, you are saying to yourself; "That is what commercial radio was doing half a century ago, DJs played what they believed in." But those days are gone for commercial radio, the decisions about what is played is made behind closed doors after the money is counted.

Podcasts are fun, like old time radio. You get to hear music you never heard before in combinations FM radio could never do (for example the podcast
Eclectic Mix recently featured me along with "American Baroque" performing a Mozart Oboe quartet). Listeners are growing and that is trouble for the record industry. Music buyers are becoming more and more likely to listen to a podcast, go to the artist's site and buy some music, cutting out the record industry, CD retailers and distributors in the process. FM's crowd is shrinking and with it CD sales. Independent labels like magnatune have been offering their music to podcasters for a long time and I have begun to notice some mainstream record labels jumping in on the action by offering their catalog royalty free to podcasters, fair I guess. God bless podcasters and independent music for making things fun and interesting again.

Podcasts I like:

Article I've Written:

Friday, August 11, 2006

Washing Away Blood With Blood

When will it end? I look at my sleeping daughter's face and can't help but think about the children dying in Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and everywhere else where there is conflict. Missles falling to them in the silent night, awakening them from their innocent dreams and bringing them home to a compassionate God where they can finally find peace. They are called martyrs only because it sounds better than "dead." The children are the ones paying the terrible price for the hatred and ignorance of governments and their tailor-made philosophies and ideologies. The rest of us say; "It doesn't have anything to do with us, it is their fight." Yet the bombs are made not by them, and the money is not theirs. The aggression has its financiers. We are the silent cogs in the war machine, gas for its engine, part of the plan. It doesn't have to be so, you can be heard. If we truly love our children it is our duty to stand up against violence, in whatever form it comes. Regardless of ideology, of religious beliefs and political convictions, bloodshed must be condemned. It will be our children next if we refuse to look, if we do not stop it now. Do you understand the Middle East Conflict? Use your brain and then use your voice.

Links that will shine some light on the Middle East Conflict: