Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christmas wasn't kind to Rudolph

I was a bit taken aback to see a Christmas display in Ikebukuro station with a taxidermic reindeer....  I'm a hypocrite - I'll happily eat a stuffed chicken  - but a stuffed Rudolph... it just doesn't seem quite right...

Friday, 7 December 2012

Another quake

Another quake in a very similar location. At 7.3M it's a lot smaller, but things still shook a lot here.  A tsunami warning has been issued. May it turn out to be minor and that there are enough blankets on hand to keep people warm.  It's a very cold night, but thankfully no rain or snow.

JMA 11 March 2011

Friday, 30 November 2012

Signs and English

Usually - in fact almost always - I get irritated by posts that poke fun at strange English.  In most cases it's nice that they made the effort in the first place. (My generous spirit usually doesn't extend to places like the Edo Tokyo Museum which should have someone paid to being doing the job properly.)  
These two I did get a chuckle from.
The Tama Cemetery (nicely called Soul Garden) which is probably
a pretty apt description of the Japanese notion of a cemetery.

Hair Oops... say no more...
I've been going  past it for years and it's still going strong -
I guess not as many Oops happening there as the name suggests.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Inflation by stealth

The rice packets have shrunk! First it was the soy that downsized from 1 litre to 750ml, now it's the rice.  Last night in the supermarket the usually 5kg bags of rice have shrunk to 4.5kg.... Prices to farmers have not increased... increases to cover rising electricity bills? Profiteering?  The end of deflation might not be a bad thing, but I am not sure this inflation reflects any kind of increase demand or economic growth...

Monday, 26 November 2012

Not very responsible marketing...

JR Shin Aomori station... buy a packet of Marlboro cigarettes, get a free coffee (Georgia coffee by Coca Cola). Even dodgier was that the cigarettes were only available in 4 and 6mg... just in case anyone needed incentive to move up a level... 
It's the kind of marketing that you'd expect in Indonesia or China (which uses smoking as a retroactive one child policy)... but less so in the increasingly rigid-about-smoking  Japan.  Hiro often laments that it's no longer a smoker's paradise... can't say I'm sorry about it.

Akita and food

A light breakfast.  I took this before the soup and rice came out.
The dishes are - front tori-dashi oden, the pink is pickled daikon -
it's a variety that goes pink naturally with vinegar, picked cucumbers - green,
to the left of that pickled daikon - a different style, at the far back
hakusai - or white cabbage pickled with kombu and carrot and other bits,
in front of that a korean style sesame and chile flavoured bean,
sweet potato cut up that was left over from yaki-imo the day before.
The soup was nameko - a kind of mushroom that they pick in the autumn
and can.  There's a glass top on the table and important -  must not lose
information gets slid under it.  (Like Hiro's father's medical numbers
which has him weighing fractionally less than me......)

Daikon drying in a kind of annex area of the house

Persimmon in Akita don't get enough sun to be sweet from
the tree. They are picked and dried.

Grose - need a manners sign about this...

The 3 day weekend - thanks to the workers day - coincided with Hiro's brother's one year memorial service  so we took a Hayabusa early Friday morning to Shin Aomori and changed to an express to Odate.  (It was the first time for us to take this route and with a good connection is easily the easiest route despite being a greater distance, but it's not a  patch on the prettiness of the Hanawa line).
The man sitting next to Hiro, a young guy in his twenties, provided a new dimension to the on-the-train-make-up applying  and general personal preening demographic. He spent a good 20 minutes cutting his finger nails with the clippers paying very close attention to the detail.  When he was done with that he pulled out a dental mirror and plucked his eyebrows for ... I don't know how long.. I fell asleep. Hiro was less than impressed with me taking the first photo so I restrained myself with the eyebrow plucking.  The eyebrow plucking bothers me less than the fingernail clipping... not a pleasant sound... though to his credit he did wrap them up properly !

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A toilet first

From the washlets  that have adjustable sprays and blow driers to the very public public toilets  that have people performing in public view, toilets in Japan are most definitely their own genre.

I was in Okachimachi today and came across a rather unusual combination - a single toilet cubicle with both an old style squat toilet AND a modern style washlet with multiple buttons with various functions...  Take your pick... The sign on the wall requested no smoking (fair enough), and no mobile phone use. I am baffled with the latter..

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Paperwork.... head spinning..... imminent head explosion...

A couple of months back someone in the staffroom of the university I most enjoy teaching at  asked me if I was interested to teach some classes as a different university.   It  would mean a few more teaching hours a week at a humanities university with high level students and also pays comparatively well. (Usually the general rule with part time teaching, is the better the university the lower the salary (people want to work at good universities and will forgo salary for prestige and satisfaction).  It would also give me great satisfaction to flick off this establishment.


Yesterday the paperwork arrived.  Full marks to them for doing it by email.
There are 6 pages of a spreadsheet that need to be filled out.
English and Japanese of my work history, education history, publication history, presentation history.  As if the resume I already sent them doesn't have all this information on it anyway......

Translating the name of the school in Thailand, or my high school in Aus, or the schools that I have worked at into mangled phonetic Japanese that turns my name from Cecilia to Se shi ri a.     Does Rhamkhamheng become ra mu ka mu he n gu  or   ra n ka n he n  .... or ramu ka n hengu.... the possibilities are driving me up the wall.....

If I translate the name of an article I wrote for the Guardian, no-one would ever be able to locate it.... 


As if anyone will ever actually read it.....


As if I don't have better things to do with my time... 

Friday, 12 October 2012

And the gods of Shinto wept - over zealous pruning.

A week or two back, on my way home from work I was confronted with a terrible, and yet perennial sight...  In the morning when I went out, these were trees; on my return... post apocalyptic.... ravaged trunks. Stark, naked... the Agent Orange effect... it happens all the time at this time of year...  According to Hiro, the most likely rationale is that it saves the surroundings from ..... autumn leaf litter.
Shinto is supposed to be a nature worship religion... Japan prides itself on being a nature country attuned to the seasons (though it doesn't take too long being here before that becomes bitterly ironic).... the gods of Shinto must have looked and wept. 
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Monday, 8 October 2012

Rain and "physical" day.

Typhoon season mixed with taiku no hi - poorly translated as physical day, as in the public holiday to celebrate physical exercise - equals teru teru bozu (little "shine shine monks" that look like a cross between a C grade horror movie and C grade Christmas decorations).  They're quite cute actually, and made as charms to keep away the rain - often for school sports events.    I was out in Ochanomizu the other night and stumbled across some in the main street next to the station.  
I was holding my umbrella, everyone else was holding umbrellas....cute they may be, but I am not convinced of their efficacy.

A typhoon & a concert

It's typhoon season here. It's seems like today has been the first fine day for ... ages.  It's hard to remember that a couple of weeks ago I was thinking of finding out where the fire hydrant water supply could be accessed so I could water the azaleas in the neighbourhood which were giving up the ghost with the relentless  hot, dry summer.

Last weekend there was a typhoon forecast, Hiro received free tickets to a Kesennuma concert in Hamamatsucho and were umming and ahhing about whether to go.  I figured we should, typhoon are never very serious in Tokyo, the concert was starring Ikumi Kumagai, whom we had met through mutual friends in Akita, and I wanted to support  Kesennuma was hit badly by the tsunami, ( and is just south of Rikuzen Takada where I spent time last year).

So despite the typhoon, we went.  I assumed was a fund raising concert with Ikumi Kumagai,  as the main draw card,but in fact was a documentary screening / chat about the earthquake / Ikumui Kumagai concert. The chat session was a group  of classmates from Kessenuma,  One was the MC, one Ikumi Kumagai,  one was the silver medalist fencer from the London Olympics and one was a representative of the Japan national rugby team.  Amazing to have 4 such high achieving classmates in a small country town...

 I knew Ikumi was relatively well known, but was quite surprised at how good she is.....
(see below)  She mostly writes her own music. As far as I know this is one she wrote for some NHK drama.

The trains were all on reduced services.  The map below shows the whole system yellow - it's not meant to be....   Despite the disruption, it was easy to get home.  I guess most people stayed in or went home early.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

I've been predicting this

I've been predicting this for years. With Japan's aging population, it's a matter of time before all the seets on public transport are "silver seats" (priority seasts).  On Sunday I took the Minato ku "chii-bus' which winds up and down the back streets of Azabu as it makes its way from Hiro-o to the Minato local govt. office.   Every seat on the bus was a priority seat.  The tricky thing is deciding which eligible person should be the one sitting down...
The "chii-buses" are actually a great way to see Tokyo, winding through residential areas and shopping strips, ferrying mostly local oldies around the local govt. area.  It might be time for a chii-bus challenge!

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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Consideration & self restraint

The other day I went to the airport to meet Mum and Dad who were here for a brief visit.  Qantas arrives bright and early - at 6am - so I took the first train for the morning from Nippori (5:07).  There was a woman sitting opposite me, sleeping, like most people on the train.  But she had her bag on the seat - a serious breech of train etiquette. This is fine if there is no one standing, but there were quite a few.   She sat the whole way from Nippori to Narita City.
In the whole hour and a half, not once did anyone attempt to shift the bag or wake her so they could sit down. I am simultaneously impressed by the self restraint and appalled by the lack of initiative.

Monday, 10 September 2012

89 years on - the Great Kanto Earthquake

Hiro's parents were down last week for the week to attend oldest aunt's funeral. Although it breeches norms in some parts of the extended family, they also did their best to do sightseeing in Tokyo and enjoy themselves, as far as possible.

Hiro's father has a thing for the Edo Tokyo Museum. I used to be impressed by the museum, but was less so this time, the history was less cohesive, less comprehensive, more piecemeal. There used to be a wonderful display of Edo newspapers that has been removed to make way for odds and sods that the museum has acquired. The English also seemed lesss than before. Much of the section on the Yoshiwara, which was new, did not have English. I wonder whether there is someone new at the top...

Anyway we wandered out of the Edo Tokyo Museum and I thought it might be interesting to take a detour via the Kanto Earthquake (1923) Memorial Hall in Yokoamicho Park. By sheer fluke it was the 89th anniversary of the earthquake - 1st September 1923. The earthquake, which struck just before midday, must have felt apocalyptic, even in a country accustomed to earthquakes. The earthquake struck at a time when people were cooking and the fires that followed the earthquake were devastating. More than 140,000 people were killed in the earthquake and fires that followed.  Many of those who died, died in the place where the memorial hall is located.  Residents crowded into the defuct Honjo Army Depot hoping to escape the flames and instead were engulfed...

There is no mention inside the hall of the massacre of Koreans that followed the earthquake - spurred on by false rumours that Koreans were poisoning the wells.  The Tokyo metropolitan govt site says there is a memorial to Koreans. I didn't see it - it's certainly not prominent.  Next time I am back there I'll see if I can find it.

The memorial temple built by Ito Chuto, who also built Tsukiji Honganji.

A memorial to child victims of the earthquake
In the shadow of Skytree (and the ipad case)
Inside the temple were memorial wreaths - we were there just prior to a chanting session.
Unusual to have seats in a temple positioned like a church.
Wreaths on the other side with pictures around the wall memorializing the quake.
Graphic scenes of the flames engulfing people
In memory
A floral display, underneath is a repository, see below.
This part has me quite conflicted. The memorial hall has a section where all the names of
those who were killed in the Tokyo air-raids are kept.  The eastern part of Tokyo
was disproportionately affected by both events.  For the person on the street
whether the fires and deaths came from aeroplanes or an earthquake may not make that
much difference, it seems like naive, lazy, or mischievous history depending on your
degree of cynicism.  I don't condone the bombing of civilians at all, but
by placing them together, the imperative for analysis of reasons evaporates.

Inside the museum - a seisomgraph that is well...
almost off the Reichter...

A badly taken photo, but you can get some idea of Ginza after the quake and today.
1 Sept is Disaster Prevention day, to commeorate the earthquake.
Local people were handing out onigiri  - to get people used to the idea of what
emergency supplies might be like.  But Tohoku is any guide, it might be a fair bit more than
the anticipated 3 days before food becomes available.
Emergency food corner
Hiro's parents lined up for onigiri - Hiro & I were aghast - though to be fair,
I guess they were just old enough to remember
the war and post war deprivation.  Unsurprisingly they were not very tasty...
A Japanese garden. One of the lessons of the Kanto earthquake was the need
for public space as evacuation areas.
The back, though it looks more like the front.

Horseracing at Funabashi

A while ago I mentioned to Hiro that I was curious to go to the horse racing.  Despite the best efforts of the Japan Racing Association, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Agriculture Fishing and Forestry charged with the responsibility of popularizing horse racing,  horse racing in Japan does not have a genteel image of Ascot, Flemington or Randwick with chicly dressed socialites, champagne breakfasts, Pimms and lemonade, or strawberries and cream.  I've mentioned it on here before, but the mass image of keiba (horse racing) is shuffling, somewhat unkempt men, shuffling along with a cigarrette in their mouth and a formguide under their arm.    Afficiondos are quite content to hang out at WINS  for the day (equivalent to the TAB in Aus - not sure what it is elsewhere) standing, smoking, watching the tv screens and checking the form guide.

I was curious to know how different the race track was...

Hiro has been entering competitions for free tickets with guided tour... and got lucky! (or perhaps there aren't a whole lot of applicants... ) So on Saturday we went to Funabashi.  Apparently they were minor races - main races tend to be held on Sundays.

Despite having zero interest in betting, it was a very pleasant day... Hiro lost only a little more than he won, but still enjoyed himself, despite the addition of smoking rooms and the lack of litter.  For details about horse racing and tracks and all sorts of interesting trivia like who the most profitable owners, jockeys horses etc are.

The entrance to Nakayama - Funabashi race track
Pink and grey... built in the 80s I guess...
Hiro was shocked to see smoking rooms - he hadn't been there for ages... he
became nostalgic for the good old days where you could spit & smoke anywhere.
(Note, he doesn't spit...) Even worse there was no one in it...
We had balcony seats in the "Crystal rooms"  - corporate boxes.
There was a distinct lack of crystal
And they're racing at Nakayama....
Early in the day - very thin crowd.
Perhaps unremarkably few people in corporate boxes left the air con to watch the
races, despite the breeze and shade.
Racing on the sand track - the steeple chase track is inside again.
There is some attempt here to make it genteel... sushi, eel...
But it seemed like most people were happy with McDonalds or beef bowls.
But that's hardly unique to the race track.

Katsu-curry (fried pork with curry)
Superstition about winning carries over to the food -
note the katsu is spelt as a pun on katsu meaning winー

After each race there was an army of workers checking for....
not sure...  I thought a jockey might have lost his/her wedding ring...
Hiro assures me that would not have been the case...
A bonding experience
In the centre of the racetrack a kids playground
With wagon rides.  Whoever thought of the idea of having black asphalt
on the wagon track was thinking of the comfort of neither the horses nor
the patrons... 
More playground
Free water and tea until 4.15 - interestingly coffee was not available..
TV screens, betting windows - all the betting attendants were women.

Part of the tour... "the paddock"
 Respect for the horses

One would be hard pressed to find a more suitable offering

Out the window of the crystal rooms - a very pleasant balcony to sit on.

The sand racing track

Raked to look rather zen - garden like.