Renowned Blogger Frederick W. Gundlach Found Mentally Unstable to Blog; Judge Orders Closure of “Hoofin To You”

•June 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

By Sergio Lombardi and Dominique Flemings

(Tokyo) In a stunning decision, a local magistrate has ordered the closure of popular blog “Hoofin To You,” the digital home of famed Frederick W. Gundlach due to the ex-expatriate’s increasing mental instability. The blog, previously a beacon of journalistic integrity, was the last medium through which Gundlach communicated his ranting through the mask of a man most of his followers knew only as Hoofin.

“Hoofin was a nice guy,” said Jeff McBridges, a reader of the blog since its creation. “He started out on the right road, and I had high hopes for his bright future. But it became clear that he wasn’t quite right in the head – conspiracy theories and all that. He lost his marbles a long time ago – maybe it was too much okonomi. He never did watch his kilos.”

Frederick Gundlach showed promise as a graduate of Temple University’s James E. Beasley School of Law (whom, in an ironic twist of fate, he later sued) but things seemed to go south as he went East to Japan, where he was accused of many crimes including an infamous episode of what some newspapers headlined as “panty-pilfering.”

Gundlach, seen hoofing it out of his pad at Tomigaya 1-32-23 – Apt 3B, Shibuya-ku after authorities ordered his site closed (Photo credit, Frederick W. Gundlach)

As his notoriety increased, Hoofin’s madness grew as well. A hallmark of his writing was continual finger-pointing and endless participation in blame games, with Rick Gundlach seeming to be far more willing to launch endless tirades at public figures than suggest useful solutions. The “conspiracy theories” McBridges referred to centered on an innocuous blog review site, The Japan Blog Review. When a review of theirs shed a less-than-positive light upon Gundlach’s already tarnished reputation, he retorted with bizarre graphs, charts and other “information” he dug up to prove to his readers that he was being targeted and that he was still more popular than the Blog Review.

“Sad,” McBridges sighed. “Just sad. Two well-meaning adults try to have some fun, throw around some names and a comparison to, if I may, a very good movie [Shutter Island] and he goes off his rocker. Dug up all these statistics showing how traffic spiked around the negative review, how the blog had been started only weeks before. To be honest, everything that review said, readers were saying themselves. If he’d stop slinging mud about the Japan Blog Review, they would probably stop trying to point out that he’s the only one throwing mud.”

(Frederick W. Gundlach, the man-child, in perhaps younger and happier times)

Gundlach hoofed it out of Japan months prior to the closing of his site, but U.S. marshals and webmasters agreed to cooperate with the Japan authority’s decision. Now living in a suburb of Philadelphia, Hoofin blogs about harmless topics in the U.S., but the Japanese nation worries about the effect on tourism and drops in future “Gaijin” if his site continues to remain online. His landlords are not enthused about his presence well: “We just wish our son would move out of the basement and get a place of his own. Or at least help with the grocery bills – you’d have no idea as to how expensive his favorite, tempeh, for dinner every night can get,” lamented Gundlach’s parents.

The rise and fall of Hoofin has been tragic for these reporters to watch. His progression into a sad state of man-childhood is testament to the fact that Japan may be too harsh an environment for those unprepared to work hard and indulge the Japanese by taking part in the culture of their own nation. Hoofin to You has been a recognizable symbol of his descent into madness, and it is perhaps for the best of those who still had hope for Gundlach that it be shut down, as it has offered nothing but depressing indications of his mental state. As of press time, accessing his former URL will yield nothing but an indefinite closure notice and the last known picture of Gundlach.


The Big Deal about Big Daikon

•April 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

By Dominique Flemings and Sergio Lombardi

One of the most interesting sites on the subject of English teaching in Japan is BigDaikon. Primarily devoted to the JET community (JET, of course, standing for the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, now in its 25th year). While there are a number of official and unofficial JET-related websites serving those who’ve gone through the program, BigDaikon is committed to telling it how it really is (for the most part).

Big Daikon’s population consists of mostly past and present JETs – of course, the number of past teachers increases as time goes on. Site moderators prefer an unbiased view of JET program, although the site is not just about that but also about how JETs perceive life in Japan. As such, the site has a plethora of content, both good and bad, that you won’t find in any tourist guide or JET program brochure. Someone living overseas and wanting to get a good idea of all aspects of life in Japan, or considering a stint in the JET program, would do well to spend some time hanging around Big Daikon. There’s plenty of enjoyable material to be read – but also some that is a bit revolting. More on that, later.

While some JETs wind up in the city, a surprising amount go to schools in the countryside. This, we suspect, is the reason for most of the population of BigDaikon – with little to do in the, the country-locked can enjoy writing about their enjoyment/frustrations about JET life.

The bread and butter of the site is the discussion forum, and it probably consumes most of the attention of the website masters – so much so that some of the other links on the site aren’t really worth your time. But you won’t mind, as the forums are a website unto themselves. The forum is the heart of the site, and “Speak Your Mind” forum is the heart of the forums. This is where the real action is

Here, anything and everything goes, and that perhaps is the biggest downside of Big Daikon. Looking through some of the threads is like rehashing some of your more debaucherous moments from college. It would appear that many BigDaikon regulars are former JETs who looking to join in other has-bens in reminiscing about the wild parties, XXX and other aspects of the good old days. In direct contrast to those, you have the individuals who had a miserable old time in Japan and won’t let you forget it – these folks fester and complain in their own threads. In these aspects, the forum seems to be drifting away from its original course. But, it does offer a bit of insight into some experience, both good and bad (depending on your perspective), so it may be worth perusing if only for a few laughs.

And there are the threads which simply don’t pass the straight face test. There are those who seem to have not advanced beyond freshly-exited puberty in their puerile conversations. But such are forums, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a forum that’s not guilty of it.

The above said, the incoming and potential JETs threads seem to be more mainstream. If any of our readers are considering coming to Japan as a JET, this is the place to start. As said earlier, a lot of what you’ll encounter with in Japan isn’t mentioned by even the most honest of brochures. Here, incoming and potential JETs can get a glimpse into real Japan, in all its quirks and wonders. That honesty can be hard to find and is certainly invaluable when deciding whether to make the move across the world.

As of late, there has been a lot of discussion as to whether the JET program is really worth continuing, with some of that debate playing out in the forums of Big Daikon. Some swear up and down by the program’s virtues – others would like to see it go the way of the horse and buggy. Detractors include not only former students and teachers, but the people who plan the budget who claim the benefits simply no longer justify the costs.

While neither of us has had an actual hands-on experience with the program, we’d like to see the program continued. If not for the education, then surely for the cultural exchange and connection to the rest of the world. Japan is now at a point where the inspiration to come to Japan is at one of the lowest points in post-war history; the JET program, despite its flaws, is one solid connection bringing young and fresh minds to Japan, giving it a chance to showcase its beauty as a nation and people to foreigners through hands-on experience.

Some might argue that the JET program hardly shows foreigners Japan’s good side, and there are anecdotes which would lead us to agree that this can be true. However, the superiority of the JET programs versus its counterpart, the commercial conversation schools, is indubious. While some argue that the wages are low in the JET program, compared to these so-called-eikaiwa schools, wages are fit for a king. JET positions come with a package of health insurance and pension benefits, whereas with the eikaiwa schools are reminiscent of ancient slave galleys: (click this out to see what working at an eikaiwa is like) no stable work hours, no insurance benefits and no chance for advancement. But most surprising is that there are teachers who actually stay in these sweat shops for as long as twenty years or more. It makes one wonder which is more pathetic – the eikaiwas or the people that stay there for year after year.

The JET program does have faults – this is undeniable. But it cannot be blamed for the flaws of those running it, which is from where many of its troubles stem. One suggestion that might fix a significant amount of issues is that former JETs should be brought on board to manage the program. They would know best as to what the flaws and strengths of the program were, and how to build on that. Who knows, they might be able to hire some of the regulars at Big Daikon! Thumbs up to an interesting, entertaining and useful site.

A Midnight Winter’s Dream

•February 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

In the cold of the winter, one of my favorite pastimes is visiting the onsen, or geothermal springs, that dot the countryside. I had the idea of doing a review of an onsen blog but couldn’t rummage up one that didn’t seem to lack the quiet, non-commercialized serenity of a truly enjoyable onsen experience. Who knows, I might have to start an onsen review site, someday. It would certainly require more than just one writer, because it would take me my entire life to get around to all the onsen in Japan.

Although there are some onsen in the cities, I find that they pale in comparison the ones you’ll find in the country. Nothing ruins the experience for a peace-loving person like myself like settling down into a steaming pool, almost reaching a state of complete relaxation and then having a tourist group walk in. Most tourists seem to visit the onsen in or near the cities and it rather ruins the experience for me. Plus, the ryokan (traditional Japanese inns, often cute bed-and-breakfasts) built next to the onsen in the country are far more quaint and rustic than the attached facilities found in the city.

There are many kinds of onsen, usually differentiated by the mineral content of their waters. Most are piping hot, but never too hot so long as you take your time getting in. As to particular minerals, I have yet to find a kind more preferable than the other – well, asides from the iron onsen. I chalk this up to growing up with rural ground water and never losing my taste for water with a bit of iron in it. There’s a certain metallic smell about these onsen that reminds me of hot showers on cold winter nights back home.

At any rate, it’s wonderful to escape the hectic and harried life in Tokyo for a trip to an onsen in the countryside. I prefer very cold evenings – in fact, my most pleasurable experience was on a night when it was snowing quite heavily. I first soaked in the onsen indoors to warm up for the trip outside. After a little while, I made my way to the rotenburo, or outside onsen. The sky was aglow with that peculiar light of a full moon hidden behind an overcast sky, and snowflakes were lazily floating down onto the hot water and remaining for a fleeting second or two before melting. It was well below freezing, but my previous onsen bath kept me warm long enough to slip into the still waters, where the cold air was almost unnoticeable. Not a single soul was with me, and I was alone to contemplate the flurries above. Absolute heaven – when you take in a draught of that cold, country air, it seems more crisp and fresh because of the wisps of steam rising from the water around you. It’s delightfully peaceful, and leaves you with the feeling that it is good to be alive.

Times like that remind me of things that are all too easy to forget in the bright lights and big sounds of Tokyo. They make me remember a quieter and simpler way of living, of not being so caught up in the moment that you let it pass by unsavored. In the weeks after an onsen visit as good as the one described above, I find myself indulging in the little things a bit more and working to leave myself some spare time in the day to just think and enjoy life. A proper onsen visit does both mind and body good.


Slippin’ and Slidin’ in Tokyo

•January 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It doesn’t tend to snow much in Tokyo, but it seems that this season is the exception to the rule. Typically, the winter weather keeps to itself along the Japan Sea side or up in more northern longitudes, but not this year. To folks who have spent some quality time in the northern U.S. or Canada, winter weather is nothing unusual. It took quite a few inches to get classes canceled back in college, and the locals didn’t really bundle up until the mercury dipped into the single (Fahrenheit) digits. But in Tokyo, snow is particularly bothersome because people are about as used to it as I was with my first winter up north. A little snow tends to screw things up majorly, and this year even more so. Trains run late, and people slip and fall on the ice. Store owners are out shoveling snow with the wrong kinds of shovels, which is especially humorous to me as I have fond memories of shoveling my roommate’s VW Golf out of a five-foot snow drift after carving a path to it through two feet of snow topped with an inch of ice.

Drivers here would do better to use snow tires or chains, as was the norm in the U.S., but I can understand why no one does – most of the year, there’s simply no use for such things. So you have to make do what you have, which is fine by me; I’m used to driving in snow, though clearly few others here are. Consequently, streets sometime look like a demolition derby featuring driving school students.

It’s kind of fun to watch people from Tokyo slipping and sliding as they try to deal with something that is entirely natural for us who have lived elsewhere. I’ve had a few clients cancel meetings on me due to the weather, so I can’t complain about the off days where I get to loaf about my apartment sipping dark roast, reading the newspaper and working on some projects. As the song goes, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


Merry Christmas to All!

•December 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Dominique Flemings and Sergio Lombardi

The holiday season is fast upon us, and it is hard to believe that Christmas is only a few days away. It has been an unusually busy season for us at both our jobs, and travel plans take up the majority of the few days we have left in Japan before we both return to our respective homes for a few weeks of well-earned (in our opinion) rest and relaxation.
We’d like to wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a happy new year – whether the holidays find you with family, friends or both, enjoy the season and the welcome relief from the fast pace of everyday life. The holidays are a time where hearts and homes grow especially warm with contentment and joy – take a glass of eggnog or cider and enjoy the weeks ahead!

Merry Christmas to all,
Dom and Sergio

Happy Thanksgiving!

•November 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Dominique Flemings

Back home in Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. This became known in my family as “Canadian Thanksgiving” to differentiate from the Thanksgiving that we would celebrate with relatives in the states. My father and his brothers are and were very close; subsequently, since he was the one who lived outside of the Seattle area, we were the ones who had to pack into the station wagon and embark on a journey rivaling most transoceanic voyages in order to enjoy “American Thanksgiving.” I believe I owe my deep love of Vespas to the eons spent in that claustrophobic car, tucked somewhere between luggage and a sibling – but I digress.

Since college, I’ve predominately celebrated the American Thanksgiving, and I would daresay it is my favorite holiday outside of Christmas. An attitude of contentment is something that brightens up any day and life, and especially before the all too consumer-oriented Christmas season. Thanksgiving gets one into a proper mindset for the rest of the year, and it is simply a jolly time for friends, family and conviviality.

Sergio, of course, has quite the feast prepared, and I understand that he is working overtime as we speak (or as I write and you read) so that he can begin cooking tomorrow morning. My contribution will be a bottle of splendid Pinot Noir and dog-sitting a feisty little mutt that Sergio has taken care of the last week for a friend of his. I offered to bring two bottles of wine instead, but Sergio insisted that I take care of the little hellion.

A happy and contenting Thanksgiving to our readers – enjoy the beginning of the holiday season!

– Dom

Bare Bones Can Be Best

•November 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Dominique Flemings

There is something to be said for Spartan simplicity. Such is the case with today’s website. It’s not much to look at, and I am unable to come up with a witty title involving its name, but I think it might prove to be of some use and interest despite the absence of a pronounceable URL. Wander on over to this website and find a veritable Swiss Army knife of translation tools.

This site exceeds other translators like Google Translate because, in reality, it does not translate as it converts. Most translators will try to convey the general sentiment of your sentence, usually in Kanji, but not precisely what you said; this site gives you a word-for-word translation, which is very useful when you’re looking for the katakana for an English word.

The site also features a capable kana/romaji converter; outside of language tools, it also includes a Japanese/Western measurements converter – useful for me, as I grew up in a part of Canada that clung to the imperial standard and I thus irrevocably think in inches and ounces. Also useful is a function into which has you type in the seven digits of a postal code, and it spits out the prefecture, city and bulk of the address in both katakana and kanji. While these tools are available across the web, it’s quite convenient to have them all in one spot.

I wasn’t expecting much from the FAQ section (strangely there does not seem to be links between the FAQ’s and the converters), thinking it to be mostly concerning the website itself. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is more encyclopedic in nature, providing a fairly decent crash course in rudimentary grammar as well as having some good trivia and vocabulary segments. And yes, to the dear younger cousin who is perpetually asking me to teach him Japanese insults (you know who you are), there is a section on that as well. If I hear any particularly salty phrases come out of your mouth this Christmas, I’m having your mother suspend your Japan Blog Review privileges.

It’s a fun and useful site, overall, though I wouldn’t place too much faith on the translators. For the most part, though, results seem quite reliable, and certainly enough to give you a rough idea of what is being said or what to write.

While certainly no replacement for actually taking the time to learn the language, the website is a good guidebook and worth bookmarking if you deal with Japanese script on a regular basis. Despite the rather bland layout and lack of a name, I still think the convenience and usefulness of the site merit it a solid thumbs-up.