Friday, 21 January 2011

Japan is a peaceful country

Sometimes television news stories that go on and on about inane minutia - like a prefectural breakdown of the number of people who died from choking on mochi (rice cakes?) over the New Year. And sometimes I roll my eyes. Hiro takes a disturbing amount of consolation from it being an indication that Japan is a peaceful nation...and that is why they have time to devote to nation building through mochi comparisons. But the other day I was out and Jietai (the self defence force - Japan's equivalent of an army since it's bound to have an army) was out and about picking up rubbish in the neighbourhood... Each armed with a plastic bag they were collecting bottle tops and cigarette butts and flyaway paper and plastic....
Maybe Japan really is a peaceful country...

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

3 insignificant oddities

1.  I went to uni today rather cross because I had left my photocopy card with about 3000Y on it (30$) in the photocopy machine outside the graduates lounge yesterday.    The delight of the day was finding it still in the machine... either no one had noticed it, or if they had, they'd decided not to steal it.

2.  I handed in my 5th last assignment of the term today.  I finished it last week.... now that is odd.  I handed in another one a week early on Monday - really odd.  (My undergrad. lecturers would probably have a stroke if they knew..... - a whole term and not a single extension....)  next one nearly done, then 2 to go.....

3. On a less cheery note,  I decided to get a doner kebab from the van parked outside the uni.  I am very partial to doner kebabs and I was hungry.   Hiro has been away most of the week so I have been subsisting on toast & poached eggs with lashing of butter, and Dars chocolate which Hiro bought in bulk because it was on sale (you don't save money on a sale if you weren't going to buy it anyway....)  But I digress.  The doner kebab had cabbage and  tomato sauce (a.k.a ketchup)  eewwwwww.  I should have known that they were cheapskates when there was no beef option there...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Manners have run their course... almost

From youpouch, via Japan Today, these were voted the most annoying manner breaches by consumers.  It's interesting to note they are all infringements to the self rather than concern for the well being of others.... hmm... maybe the posters need to crank it up a notch....

1. Sitting with legs crossed or spread out on a packed train
2. Rushing on to the train when I’m trying to get off
3. Cranking up the volume so I can hear your headphones
4. Dozing off with your head on my shoulder
5. Blocking the door without any intention of moving aside
6. Doing your makeup from start to finish on the train
7. Searching for your commuter pass right in front of the ticket gate
8. Couples: too much public display of affection
9. Bringing a child on to the train during rush hour and shouting, “Don’t push him!”

Survey of users of Pouch (

Manners have run their course...

The narrative of this is hard to work out. The message is be considerate to others and the younger woman has stood up to get the older woman's furoshiki bundle from the overhead space, because she is too short to reach it.But that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. How did it get there in the first place? Why wasn't she standing to give the older woman a seat... puzzling.

The woman here has her feet on the seat... rather unusual, at least she had the good grace to take off her shoes (as per Japanese custom) had I been closer, maybe I would have preferred her shoes were on.

For me the irritation these days is people playing portable play stations engrossed in the game, standing by the door in a trance... oblivious to anyone getting on or off. A particular problem near Akihabara....

Monday, 10 January 2011

Snow Country

Most of these photos were taken on the Hanawa railway line on the way back to Morioka from Odate.  The train line makes its way through the mountains that divide Akita from Iwate, through national forests, tired onsen towns, old mining areas.  In winter the snow can be very deep.   There was serious snow while we were up in Odate - more than 60cm in one day (areas around Tottori much further south had extreme snow).  The snow that was falling was 'bota yuki' - wet and heavy snow (as opposed to dry powdery snow).  My uncle's saying  'snow is pretty on a postcard'  has more than a grain of truth.  It is pretty - and the Hanawa line (which takes longer than the bus, even when it's the express) is one of my favourite trainlines in Japan so far - along with the Uetsu line from Murakami to Sakata in Niigata / Yamagata.   But shovelling snow wears thin after a while, and it makes for treacherous driving conditions, particularly when it melts and refreezes.
The train windows were very foggy, and while I used considerable newspaper to wipe the window clean, some of the photos have  bit of fog on the edges.
Snow but not cold enough to freeze rivers

Not a cemetry with crosses - rows for eggplant or beans?  buried under snow.

Snow halfway up the side of the house

The carpark at Itoku supermarket

Hiro's father with a snow clearing machine

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The toilet god

Kana Uemura  Toilet no Kamisama

During my sojourn in Odate, NHK played a song that I have heard many times, but had never paid any attention to the words.....  My ears must have been tuned in to Japanese a bit better than they often are because this time I did.... I nearly choked..... The Toilet God...   I have pasted the words below, but the gist of the ballad is that the woman singing the song develops deep appreciation for her grandmother who encouraged her to clean the toilet to sparkling clean; there was a beautiful goddess in the toilet and if she cleaned the toilet well, she would become beautiful like the toilet goddess.

There was a bit of culture clash happening...  While Hiro's sister in law was moved almost to tears by the song, I felt immensely grateful that my grandparents had never used such wilful manipulation to get me to do anything.  And actually, I suspect my grandmother (and certainly my grandfather) would have suggested to be wary of anyone spinning such stories to get me to do something unpalatable.

The song is full of Japanese nostalgia, embedded with the paradoxes that often accompany nostalgia.  A theme that comes up in many Japanese songs is the hometown 'furusato' - old village I guess is the literal translation. A yearning for the innocence and familiarity of the countryside where one either grew up or visited ones grandparents.  The people are kind, the food tasty, a stark contrast to the cold calculating city.  Tokyo in particular is a city of domestic migrants, and while the nostalgia runs deep, the reality is rather different.   People are quick to lose their local accents and have disparaging terms for people from the countryside.  People from Tokyo pride themselves on not understanding Kagoshima, Tsugaru ben (dialect) etc. There is still a lingering sense that the countryside is where peasants and day labourers are from.  
I can't imagine a nostalgic song about the toilet in English...

The lyrics come from.

Translation Toire No Kamisama

About the time I was in 3rd grade
I lived with my grandmother
My parent's house was next door but
I lived with my grandmother

Everyday I helped out
I even played gobang
But my grandmother said this to me
because I couldn't clean the toilet

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

From that day on
I started making the toilet shine
I'll definitely become a beautiful woman
Every day I polished it

When we went out to go shopping
We both had roasted duck
My grandmother missed her new comedy show
and cried and blamed me

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

I became an adult
and I bumped heads with grandma
I couldn't make a family
and I had no place to stay

I didn't return home on days off
I was out with my boyfriend
Both of us stopped playing
gobang and eating roasted duck

I wonder why people hurt others
and we lose things close to us
she was always by my side and I left her alone

It's been two years since I left for Tokyo
grandma is in the hospital
She's losing weight and got thin
I went to go see her

I said, "granny, I'm back!"
just like I used to
Even though we spoke a little bit
I said I'll come back and left the room

The next morning grandma
quietly fell asleep
it was just as if
she was waiting for me to come back
Even though she raised me properly
Even though I could repay her back
Even though I wasn't a good grandchild
She waited for me

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

I had a dream to become
a wife in a good dispostion
today I'm going to
make the toilet shine alone

Thank you
Thank you
from the bottom of my heart

This lyric was added by:

Thursday, 6 January 2011

How much for a fish?

Yesterday evening's newspaper gave the results of the first tuna auction for the new year....
How much for a fish?  Caught locally - off Hokkaido....

Photo from the Japan Times

¥32.49 million yen!


($390,452 USD)


95,000 yen /kg
It was bought by two people (half a fish each I guess), one a Hong Kong sushi chain, the other an upscale Ginza sushi restaurant.

I don't see a moratorium on tuna fishing any time soon....

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The supermarket meat section

I have deleted a whole lot of photos by accident.... will take more next time I'm up there for new year.

You can buy most meats in Tokyo, but for a local supermarket the Odate  Itoku supermarket has a vastly bigger variety than anything near us in Tokyo.  In addition to beef, pork, and chicken they have horse and duck and whale.   The range of seafood is not particularly unusual -but still impressive
discounted whale

a sashimi tray with various fish and sea urchin in the middle

Cod eggs - tarako

Salmon eggs - ikura

sazae shell fish from Niigata

Sea urchin

Horse sashimi - to be eaten raw

meat assortment for sukiyaki /shabu shabu - in Tokyo you wouldn't usually see pork in the mix

Japanese beef

Namako - sea cucumber

Sting Ray - popular locally for New Year

A lot of fat on this whale meat

More whale blubber

American tarako - cod ?

Kazunoko - herring roe

Cod internal organs for soup.... mmmm delicious...

Fresh stingray

Octopus looking a very artificial red colour for New Year
(I am not sure how they colour it)

Prawns from Saudi Arabia

Prawns from Argentina

Discounted Whale

Awabi - abalone

ikura - salmon roe

sashimi pack

Sea Urchin

Salted tarako - cod


Sazae shell fish from Niigata

Local specialty 1 - Horse meat ramen

Local speciality 2 - Kiritampo ramen
The three white sticks are 'kiritampo' - made of rice.