The karinto lesson: a good nature makes all the difference

My partner was born and raised on Sado and is always telling me stories of growing up there. I’ll try to write some of them down.

This is a tale of two classmates from his elementary school. Both of whom were not smart. the kind of kids other kids like to prank. Like the old ‘hey do you want to eat karinto’ prank. Karinto is delicious but looks, exactly, like dried dog poo. So kids being kids, somebody gets tricked into doing a Pink Flamingos reenactment, eating dried dog poo instead of real karinto. If they’re stupid enough to fall for it they deserve it, lesson learned they’ll never fall for it again.

But there was a crucial difference between the two boys. One was arrogant and thought he was smart, which he decidedly was not. The other was humble and openly good natured about his lack of smarts, ‘”I’m not smart so I should listen to the advice of my friends and family.” Which one do you think got the karinto lesson?

As time went on the two led very different adult lives. The arrogant one refused to listen to anyone, never held a good job for long, never got married and took to drinking, blaming everybody for his problems. A life of endless karinto lessons but never learning. The humble one listened to the advice of those who cared about him, made a lot of friends, got a good steady job, got married and raised a family.

His whole life he’s never had the karinto lesson, in many ways.

Don’t tell papa

Back when we still watched TV, I channel surfed to some kind of Japanese program with the usual mix of ‘talent’ panelists talking with an invited guest, a youngish looking president of a family construction company. He was relaxed and friendly and handsome-ish, the kind of handsome that comes from character more than looks. “I bet he’s gay,” I said jokingly. “Actually he is, I know him. He’s a really nice guy,” said my partner and told me the whole story.

There is a Japanese word 跡継 (ato-tsugi) that doesn’t translate well in English. Heir is the most common interpretation but it has a lot more cultural connotations for family run businesses and the family name attached to it. There are interesting legal institutions attached to it as well, such as a groom marrying into his wife’s family business and adopting her family name and adult adoption. These practical institutions have allowed family businesses to thrive for generations and survive all kinds of challenges.

The young man in question was due to take over the family business at some point but there was one little snag, he was gay. Like other gay men in similar ‘ato-tsugi’ situations, he didn’t really hide it, but out of respect to the family business, he wasn’t open either. He went to gay bars, hung out with gay friends, brushed off ‘when are you getting married’ questions with his friendly easy going good nature. But his mom knew, as all mothers in the world know, and knew what to do. She made a bargain.

“Look, I know you’re gay but if you find a lesbian friend who’ll agree to get married (into a family with money) and have a kid, I’ll raise the kid and you guys can live your private lives however you want.” My partner said, “His mother must have come from a samurai family,” because women from samurai families are famous for being ruthlessly practical keeping the family intact. There was one condition: don’t tell papa.

And so the young man’s gay friends all pitched in helping him find a suitable marry-able partner and planning the wedding. The couple to be went on a trip to ‘practice’ and make sure they could hold up the procreation side of the bargain. The wedding banquet ceremony was a great success with a well known tv announcer gay friend doing MC duty. Mom eventually got her wish fulfilled, twice over. Papa retired, the son took over running the business. Word on the grapevine is that everybody is happy. Papa none the wiser though I suspect he probably knows but plays it dumb.

I’ve always liked the story. To me it illustrates a surprisingly flexible and practical side of traditional Japanese culture. On the surface what seems monolithic and rigid is surprisingly loose on close inspection with lots of safety values. But that’s not really surprising, given the Shinto-Buddhist cultural foundation where nothing is absolute or black and white especially when dealing with human nature. It’s a sentiment by partner expresses from time to time in these pronoun gaga times. “I don’t want to be defined by somebody else’s idea of sexuality whatever, I just want to be me, a human being.” That’s enough for me.

The Weekly

2022-05-14 Early Rainy Season

Will Pixel Watch finally deliver global NFC Google Pay?
Ever since Apple made global NFC standard on all iPhone and Apple Watch models in 2017, global NFC has become a litmus test of ultimate Apple-like user friendliness. When inbound devices can add Suica, it’s not only cool, but also necessary to get around. Garmin and Fitbit wearables do the global NFC thing, but Android remains stubbornly ‘buy a Japanese smartphone to do the Suica FeliCa thing.’

In the global NFC sweepstakes then, every Google Pixel release cycle is a game of ‘will they or won’t they’ finally deliver global NFC. Actually Pixel is already global NFC with Mobile FeliCa ready to go, but Google disables it on all non-Japanese Pixel models.

Which brings us to Pixel Watch which got a sneak peek at Google I/O 2022. The buzz on Japanese Twitter was basically: I want one, but not if it does’t have Suica support. Fair enough, I bet a lot of people are thinking that and not only in Japan. After all, Hong Kong users would love having a Pixel Watch that supports Octopus.

The good news is that Suica appears to be coming to Google Pay for Wear OS. Various Suica string have appeared in recent Google Pay APKs. This is expected: it would certainly be very awkward if Pixel Watch doesn’t support Suica when Fitbit devices do.

But this begs a bigger question. Wouldn’t it be extremely awkward if Pixel 7 doesn’t support Suica out of the box when Pixel Watch does? I would say so. But then again one hopes The Android Ready SE Alliance is working to fix all that, and do away with Android HCE nonsense once and for all.


Digital My Number on track for Android 2022 launch, Apple Wallet due in 2023
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card) is on track to launch in 2022 (October-ish?). The latest MIC Work Group PDF document has a full outline of the digital My Number system and the various services the Japanese government plans to link with it. In late 2020 MIC said they were ‘in discussions’ with Apple to bring digital My Number to Wallet and this has not changed. Nikkei reporter Mayumi Hirosawa saw a chance to grab some eyeballs and published, The My Number iPhone Wall, a typical Nikkei ‘article’ of lazy, subjective, puerile observations angled as big bad Apple, but nothing new.

Meanwhile Yasuhiro Koyama’s online article on Keitai Watch is far more interesting and informative. MIC official Takashi Uekariya, the goto My Number digital guy, says the MIC and Apple are ‘working hard’ to bring digital My Number to Apple Pay Wallet, and that because Apple locks down new iOS features far in advance, timing wise it looks like iOS 17 in fall 2023 is the likely target for My Number on Apple Wallet. It would be nice though if Apple could surprise us later on in the iOS 16 release cycle, always good to raise the bar and deliver above expectations.

Looking at the larger picture, MIC documentation clearly states that My Number digital card requires a GlobalPlatform embedded Secure Element (GPSE) device, and that except for a small amount of SIM Free Android junk, most smartphones sold in Japan (both Apple and Android) are GPSE certified. An interesting sidelight is that ‘FeliCa chip’ Osaifu Keitai Android devices will support My Number NFC-B transactions. Going forward that means nobody in Japan will buy a device without a GPSE that doesn’t support My Number digital card and the associated banking services that will link to it. Kiss HCE goodbye.


The JR East paper ticket booklet replacement problem has a solution: Suica 2 in 1 transit points
It might seem like a great idea for JR East to migrate the legacy paper ticket bundle (the good old buy 10 and get one free) to Suica…but there’s this little problem of JRE POINT. Repeat Point Service has the same basic concept, 10 trips on the same route in the same month earn you a free trip in JRE POINT. Unfortunately, setting up a JRE POINT account is a pain in the ass, and getting the points back into Suica balance is a huge pain in the ass. For Mobile Suica there’s JRE POINT app + Suica app + Suica Pocket. For plastic Suica there’s JRE POINT app + a visit to the local station kiosk. It’s way beyond the ability of elderly transit users who just want to save on expenses.

Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate cards are a much better deal because they have transit points built in. No registration, no setup, just use the transit card and the system does everything for you. Automatically earned points are turned around and automatically used for paying fare. Simple, useful incentive: all one does is use the card for transit and receives a discount in return. This is the way it should be. JR East would be smart if they implemented a similar automatic transit point feature for Tokyo region Suica. JRE POINT is fine for larger more complex integration such shopping and Eki-Net ticket purchase, but integrated, invisible transit points for discounted regular transit would fill a big post-Covid need. I guarantee people would start riding the rails again after the long pandemic pause.

Climbing Mt. Shichimen

I had not been to Mt. Shichimen since golden week vacation 2020, during the very first COVID pandemic ‘state of emergency’. It was a surreal trip to say the least. Shinjuku station and the Chuo Expressway were completely deserted on a Saturday as I rode all alone, the only passenger on the Keio Highway bus to Minobu.

This time, golden week 2022, there were people thank goodness, at Shinjuku station, on the bus and in the highway rest areas. Even Minobu looked somewhat lively with day tourists enjoying a vacation day drive in the countryside. But there were signs of decay from two years of COVID restricted travel. A shop closed here, a vacant lot there. There were visitors, but few pilgrims. The temple inns for them (shukubo) were mostly empty at a time they should have been full.

And because they were mostly empty the staff were generous with food and drink. When I ordered a cup of sake to go along with dinner, the head priest of Chijaku-bo brought an opened sake bottle urging me to finish it off saying, “I don’t drink now and this will go to waste.” I obliged but drank far more than bargained for. I took a bath then stood outside in the cool evening air to let my head settle, listening to the sounds of the river as a crescent moon slid into a black outline of mountain peaks.

Next morning I took the early bus to the Shichimen trail base. The climb is recorded in the video. I tried to capture all 50 ‘chome’ point markers but missed a few. The video is a kind of experiment to see what works and what doesn’t in preparation of another climb to record the protective dragon legend of Mt. Shichimen. Until then…

Sewing Machine Karaoke

Spring is a busy time in Japan, new school year, new college grads starting new jobs, moving, etc. There are all kinds of specials too for new school year clothes, new suits, shoes, business bags. With everybody so busy you might think there is little time for karaoke, so more than a few media heads turned when the mega karaoke chain Joy Sound offered a Brother sewing machine plus room rental campaign running from February to May. Why would anybody want to rent and use a sewing machine at a karaoke place?

There is a good reason behind it all. First graders are required to have a family made tote-bag. It cannot be store bought, and it has to be made by the family. Anybody will do, mom, dad, grandma, aunts, uncles and so on. The school teachers use it as an exercise to closely examine what the family comes up with. Is it sloppy or carefully made? Is it thriftily made with recycled cloths (high marks for that), or made with all new store bought cloth. You can tell a lot about the child’s family and parenting environment this way, and it helps teachers understand what the child’s educational needs are.

And so, spring is also sewing machine season to make all those first grader tote-bags. Offering sewing machine karaoke rentals is clever marketing because karaoke rooms are thoroughly soundproofed which small houses or apartments are not. And if the family member charged with marking the tote-bag wants to take a break, sing a song, order food, a beer, whatever, they can do that too. A win-win, though it does speak volumes on the current state of things when karaoke establishments need to with come up clever marketing ideas to fill their empty karaoke rooms.