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.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

I don't think this would happen in Aus.

Last weekend we had grass-picking day at our apartment building....again ... Today was the turn of JR East Yotsuya.  At the station there were three staff out grass picking in 35 degree temperatures.  Pulling out weeds and bundling them.... all day...  I thought to myself  "lawnmower" and "whipper snipper" and "roundup".  And then I reminded myself I am in Japan.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Sunflowers.... under duress...

While in Odate, Hiro's parents set about drying some sunflowers that had been in the garden. Hiro's mother was grumbling about it, which puzzled me... She's not usually given to complaining, particularly not about the vegetable patch.

 It turns out growing the sunflowers was not their idea. For that matter neither was drying the sunflowers. The sunflowers were being grown because the local chonaikai had instructed every household with a vegetable patch to grow sunflowers. (Rather similar to the Chinese Great Leap forward where every household had to provide metal for the smelters...) Whether or not people actually wanted to grow sunflowers wasn't part of the equation.

 Any anthropology 101 book of Japan will talk about chonaikai - neighbourhood associations which blur the lines between government and civil society. They are sometimes placed in the civil society basket, as joining is voluntary. But in rural places it's not very easy not to be members.

 I probed a little deeper... 
Q. Why do they want you to grow sunflowers....
A. "to give them to the local school"
Q. I see...  And what will the school do with them...
A. "hmmm we're not exactly sure.... maybe make sunflower oil."
Q. Oh... to use in school lunches...
A. "hmm not really sure, maybe but maybe they'll sell it.... we always buy canola oil because sunflower oil is a lot more expensive."

Q. Oh.. OK... so you got a note from the school asking you to grow....?
A. "No we were just instructed by the chonaikai."
Q.  So did they actually ask you?
A.  No, we just got the instruction.
Q.  And you didn't ask why...
A.   a vague answer that could have implied they didn't but didn't get an answer, or that they didn't because it didn't matter what the answer was.

Hiro's father was quite stressed about whether they were doing it properly.... No instructions on how  to grow, or how to dry, or how to hand in. Just an instruction to grow, dry and hand in..
Hiro's mother was taking it less seriously  - "if they don't tell is, they can get what they get".

Q So I guess the school kids aren't going to write you all thank you notes...
A. I don't think so.

Compared with this, grasspicking day doesn't seem so extreme after all...
Just a spot of courtesy  - asking, explaining, thanking,  would make all the difference...
Sunflowers drying

Sunday, 2 September 2012


Japan has a thing about bugs. Bug collecting for Japanese children is akin to going to the swimming pool / beach for Australian children.

See here for "bugs as pets" information.

Cicadas are deep in the literary culture of Japan as well...
Rurousha has done much more justice to the topic than I could (or would want to.)

The other day I was out with Hiro's parents. (They were here for a week and we did a LOT of walking) They are avid bug spotters. I am not sure that I had ever seen a live cicada chirping in a tree... they spotted them the whole way along the Shakuji gawa.

The Shakuji gawa

The shrieking at the end is not me....