Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Manji chan and breaking the golden rule

I broke the cardinal rule of illegal bike parking...
I got to the station as the train was pulling in ... 6 text books, 2 folders and student homework in my overweight bag... needing to do photocopies before class  I made a split second decision to park my
bike alone... by itself... not hidden in the safety of a cluster of illegal bicycles.  Photocopies had to be done....

And so when I returned at close to midnight after visiting a friend who has moved to the depths of Saitama,  I shouldn't have been suprised to see the bike had gone.

Usually the manji move it.  This time they stole it.


Lugging the books home, via the supermarket.... what a drag...

When I picked up my bike from the manji's confiscation area today, and paid a fine, I told them the girl who was dismembered in Hiroshima might be alive if she rode her bike home rather than walking...

They didn't care... I am sure they hear it all the time.

Next time..   golden rule for bike parking..... and perhaps it's metaphorical for Japan.

Safety in numbers !!!!!!!


Friday, 23 April 2010

A breeze of change?

Hiro has been working crazy hours.
I could count on one hand the number of times in the last 6 weeks that  he has been home before midnight.   In Japan this is not so bad really, because 'he has Saturday and Sunday off ... doesn't he?' 
Yes... but...
On Wednesday he called to say  it was dai san suiyoubi  (the third Wednesday of the month) which has just been declared "go home early day" in his division.
He was home by 9!

A fluttering breeze of change...?

An actualization of the 'work life balance' idea that is occassionally cropping up in the media these days?

Attitudes are hard to shift though... the mayor of Tokyo's Bunkyo ward  recently made headlines for taking two weeks of paternity leave.  He copped quite a bit of flack from consitutents concerned about his lack of committment to the job, and there were expressions of concern about how the ward would cope in the event of an emergency.... (a grave problem since Japan has no telephones, faxes, newspapers or other telecommunications infrastructure...)

And so in practice it is with Hiro's work place too.
The 9pm Wednesday was followed by a 3 am Thursday.

Work life balance indeed.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

To futon or not

It's one of those days...
Yesterday it rained.  Today looks overcast, and yet there is sun peeking through the clouds.

The forecast says scattered clouds, 16 degrees.  The forecast for the rest of the week says rain till Sunday,

And so, to hang out the futons or not?

There are rules about futon hanging - futons shouldn't be hung out before 10.  More importantly they must come in before 2pm; a futon out after 2pm is essentially a public admission of slovenliness as moisture will enter the futon.     I've asked about whether the summer rules are different from the rules for winter, when the days are shorter, but the question is invariably met with a puzzled look.... an idiosyncratic question perhaps...

Ideally futons should be hung out once a week at the very least.

But.... hanging out a futon on a day when it rains shows exceptionally poor housekeeping skills, and it would be difficult to meet the gaze of a neigbour after that kind of slip up.
And so... what do do?

Overcast but not raining?   Rain for the rest of the week....

To futon or not?

Easiest solution.  Check whether the reliable housekeepers of the apartment building have theirs out and do the same! :)  Their weather reports always seem more accurate than mine!

Monday, 19 April 2010

The manji chan - bike parking.

One of Tokyo's idiocyncracies is bikes and bike parking.
Around every station are signs stating that parking is forbidden.
Around most suburban stations there are tens sometimes hundreds of bicycles parked illegally.   Mostly illegal parking is OK.  Sometimes you get a note tied to the bike asking you not to park here again. Sometimes they put notes saying any bikes that are here on the date written above will be confiscated.  And if you leave your bike at the station for a couple of days, it probably will get confiscated, and you have to pay a fine to get it back.
But mostly illegal parking co-exists very comfortably alongside the "NO BIKE PARKING HERE" signs.


Today I came back from work, bike parked at the station, a big bag of pasta, parmesan and tinned tomatoes - things that are much cheaper not bought locally - in my hands.  Exiting the station.....the manji chan -  as Hiro and I disrespectfully call them.  Manji  is the Japanese name for the swastika - a figure that Buddhism and Hinduism  had deeply entrenched centuries before Adolf Hitler was born -  chan is a diminutive.  The manji chan  are what we call the bike nazis who work in a voluntary capacity, rousing on people for parking their bike in the wrong place.  They are invariably male, retired and derive satisfaction from having authority.   At one station nearby, I can almost guarantee that my bike will be moved by the manji chan about  50m from where I parked it, moved but still parked illegally.... go figure....
And as I got off, the manji chan  were there in their flourescent yellow patrol jackets.  I had neither the energy nor the inclination to pick a fight with them so decided to go and buy fruit and meat and vegies, hoping they would be gone by the time I was finished....   On returning, the manji chan were still there..... arrgghhhh..... a cup of coffee at nearby coffee shop....  an hour later... venturing out........ safe........ the manji chan had either gone for the day or found somewhere else to assert their authority.

What a whimp I am....

But on the otherhand if I cause them offence......... I have had my tyres let down at the station once before.... and it's such a pain...  a different station and I doubt it was the ever law abiding manji  ... but still I don't want them to black list me, 'cause I kind of stick out.

As tempting as it was, I didn't growl at them to "get a life...."

It's so much more convenient to ride a bike to the station esp. when bringing groceries home....

Acceptably illegal, despite appearance to the contrary
Acceptably illegal
Acceptably illegal - unless there is a manji chan

Illegally parked bikes
But parking on the LHS is really illegal and will get your bike confiscated.
Parking on the RHS is also illegal, but acceptably illegal.

NOTE:  Manji chan is not a word that will be understood by other people - it is one of many words that Hiro and I have coined that blend living in Japan with an English mindset / speaking English with a Japanese  perspective. 


The bus from the end of the walking track took us back to Kofu station.
We were doubly luck. There was a festival of sorts on, which made the castle much more lively that it would usually be, futhermore we were lucky enough to be at the station in time to catch a Yamanashi holiday express - which functions as an express, but still allows seishin juu hachi kippu ticket holders to board.

                                                The remains of Kofu castle

Kofu looking south east
Historical reinactments at Kofu castle
Mt Fuji competes with advertising...

Festival at Kofu castle
An express home ... very nice...
I had seen nothing in the seishun 18 info that mentioned this train - sheer and unexpected bliss :)
No changing trains before Shinjuku and no need to stand.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Shosenkyo - rock formations

We followed the track that runs along side the gorge past bridges, a vegetable patch, shrines, a temple and soba shops.  There were a few cars around, the track will be closed to cars on weekends in a couple of weeks until the end of autumn, and a few other walkers.   Inexplicably, most people walking were opting to go uphill.... unsurprisingly perhaps, they seemed oblivious to the beauty as they pushed upwards.  Towards the end of the path, when the battery and memory card were low, the river was full of intriguing rock formations.   I remember being in Yixing in China and the guide was pointing out 'rabbit rock',  'dragon rock' , 'bear rock' and I could't make out any of them.  Japan too has a tendency to find similarities between the form of rocks and other objects, and there were signs marking 'big budha rock', 'cat rock', among others.
Hiro could see the similarities  immedicately. But for the first time I remember, I could make out most of them too.  There is a rock quiz following, of the non musical variety.
 :) A is tricky.  D requires Japanese cultural knowledge.

Rocks in the gorge
Rocks in the gorge

What is it A?
Hint - it's an animal
What is it B?
Hint - it's food.

What is it C?
Hint - it is neither an animal nor food.
What is it D?


1. Camel rock (the head is the LHS rock - with the humps on the RHS)
2. Tofu rock
3. Canon rock
4. Eboshi rock  (a traditional Japanese hat)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Shosenkyo Gorge

Back down the ropeway, which looks down on the Arakawa dam, to the town at the bottom, aptly named Shosenkyo taki ue. (above the waterfalls of Shosenkyo). The town seems to owes its existence to the ropeway;  the shops mostly sell locally mined crystals to tourists.   As we weren't looking to buy crystals, we made our way to the walking track that runs beside the river through Shosenkyo Gorge. Despite being early spring, and lacking in foliage, it was quite beautiful; there was an elegant pink blossom, that I have on good authority is a type of bauhinia, which added colour to the path.
  (which I suspect is really quartz. They did have clear crystal too.)
A crystal shrine

Behind the waterfall

People often leave small coins in mountain
crevices  or other places that are
deemed spiritual.
Shosenkyo Gorge

Rocks in Shosenkyo Gorge.
Bauhinia blossoms

          In a small clearing by the river, a high fence has been put
around a vegetable patch to keep out wild pigs.

Pink bauhinia blossoms by the river
Shosenkyo foliage

A trip to Kofu: the end of seishun 18 kippu season. p.1

Tokyo's cherry blosssoms have mostly blown away, the seishun 18 kippu sesason has finished and classes for the new academic year have just begun.
With two uses left on the seishun juu hachi (18) kippu,  we decided on a Saturday trip to Kofu in Yamanshi prefecture, just west of Tokyo.  Sleep deprivation accumulated through the week meant a 7 am start was definitely preferable to a catching the first train of the day around 5am.
A train to Shinjuku, a rapid to Takao, and then a local train to Kofu had us there in about 3 hours.  I'd expected that an early morning trip out of Tokyo would have meant few passengers; between private school students who still have Saturday classes and retirees dressed in hiking gear, the train was more crowded than I imagined and we stood part of the way between Takao and Kofu. At Kofu station it was apparent that many passengers, including a group of Chinese students, were using seishun 18 kippu.
Kofu isn't really on the foreigners tourist circuit, though  with stunning views of Mt Fuji and Shosenkyo Gorge,  I'm surprised it's not better known. Hiro had already checked the bus times to Shosenkyo  and we had enough time to supplement the  ume boshi  onigiri I had made in the morning.

The bus went through Kofu and up a narrow winding mountain road and we got off at the terminal station where there was a ropeway.  I suspect Asia contains the vast majority of the world's ropeways... where there is a mountain there shalt be a ropeway. It puzzles me that Mt Fuji has remained ropway free - I guess it's too high and would only be accessible a couple of months of the year.   Against our better judgement we decided to see what there was to see at the top.  The view was pretty, though we couldn't see Mt Fuji.  The shrine and the like on top were a bit tired and tacky - toss some money into a collection box, beat the two sticks of the taiko drum at the same time and good luck would be yours for a long time.... A short wander from the ropeway up was a car road up to the summit... hmmmm...(something that always leave one feeling a bit duped) 

But the view from up top was pretty, and we didn't feel it a waste of time;  on a clearer day I imagine it would be spectacular.

View from the top

Looking down on the Arakawa dam

The shrine to the Taiko drum

The top of the ropeway

Bus times from Kofu to Shosengyo http://yamanashikotsu.co.jp/noriai/timetable01.htm

Thursday, 8 April 2010

A bouquet for Japan Post

Twice this week I have had cause to be impressed with Japan Post.   Japan Post is a bit like a post office in the olden days... a post office where the primary businese is the post  (there are separate counteres for postal banking and insurance).  People aren't queuing for 30 mins to get served.  You don't go there to pay bills.  You can't even buy pens and notebooks let alone calendars, clock radios, i-tunes cards, stuffed toys and plethora of other things that you find in a post office in Autralia (and probably any other country where it has been fully corporatised).

On Monday I received a parcel from Mum and Dad.  The outside was paper wrapping.  It was a wet wet day and it arrived in the mailbox inside a plastic bag, courtesy of Japan Post.  (They didn't realise Mum and Dad are pretty switched on and had put the parcel in a plastic bag before wrapping it in paper).

And then today I was sending a very belated birthday parcel from the main post office in Shinjuku.  There was a German woman there who spoke no Japanese and middling English. (I don't think I have met a German before who did not have fluent English...)    She arrived at the PO to tell them that a parcel she had sent last week to Germany, by EMS, (express mail with a track and trace function) had not arrived.  But she didn't have the parcel number and she wasn't exactly sure if she had sent it Mon or Tues, but  she did know it was the morning...... The post office in Shinjuku would send  hundreds of EMS parcels a day....   I explained the situation to the PO staff and remarkably they got her to write the details of the parcel,  with the intention of looking through all the parcel slips.   I didn't stay long enough  to find out whether they found it but I was quite surprised that they would even try.   She didn't seem like the sharpest tool in the shed, and didn't really seem to get it that they were being exceptionally obliging...I hope they could find it quickly.....

Monday, 5 April 2010

Hanami II

After the throngs of Chidorigafuchi, we walked around the edge of  Kasumigaseki where the govt. buildings are located, to take the Marunouchi line to Shinjuku.  Shinjuku gyoen (garden) is another of Tokyo's famous cherry blossom sites.

I read somewhere once.. perhaps a lonely planet guide book, that Shinjuku gyoen's cherry trees escaped a campaign to cut down cherry trees during the struggle between the imperial forces and troops allied with the Shogun in the mid 1800s. The cherry blossoms were symbolic of the shogun (he imperial family is represented by the chrysanthemum). Whatever the reason, the trees in Shinjuku ARE older and bigger, truely magnificient. Though we arrived after 3pm, when it was cooling off and people were streaming out of the park, the inside was still busy. 
I often marvel at the Japanese ability to behave well in a crowd. (with the glaring exception of WW2 which I will put to once side and perhaps come back to in the future).  There must have been more than a hundred thousand people in Shinjuku gyoen yesterday - probably signifantly more, based on my Sydney festival concerts in the domain. In Tokyo it wouldn't surprise me if there had been more than a million people out and about picnicking and hanami-ing. And yet, it was all so civilised;  no abuse, no fights, not even pushing and shoving....  Even though there was a copious amount of alcohol being drunk, I saw no anti social behaviour other than a man peeing behind a tree outside Shinjuku gyoen... and given the length of loos for the queue, it didn't seem like much of a transgression, even in daylight.

Well done Tokyo!

Not cherries but flowers by the moat near the Imperial Palace

Flowers outside Shinjuku gyoen

Shinjuku gyoen

Cherry blossoms (not the regular kind)
Shinjukuu gyoen

Shinjuku gyoen
Shinjuku gyoen, a different type of cherry tree.


Hanami, the venerable Japanese custom of picnicing under cherry blossoms  frequenly while consuming an excess of alcohol,   was in full swing in Tokyo on the weekend.  It was cool but the weather was kind to Japanese hoping for a hanami lead economic upturn for the new financial year. 

We neither picnicked nor consumed alcohol excessively, but we did enjoy the blossoms.  It's a great excuse for a picnic that gets people out into the sunshine and being sociable. 

Pictures below of some of Tokyo's more famous hanami places: Ueno, Yanaka, Asukayama, Zozoji, and  Chidorigafuchi - near the imperial palace. 

Yanaka Cemetery

Yanaka Cemetery

Ueno Park
Ueno Park

Efficient looking tables at Ueno

Minding seats days ahead... a practice that used to be frowned upon...
At least the tarpaulin is there for anyone else to use in the mean time.
Ueno Park
Asukayama Park Oji
Zozoji temple in Hamamatsucho - Tokyo Tower in the background
Zozoji temple in Hamamatsucho

Sakurazaka in Azabudai - Akasaka (behind the ANA)
Sakurazaka and the ANA
Kita no Maru Park - Chidorigafuchi