Thursday, 28 March 2013

Cats on a bike

Out and about today.  A grotty part of the neighbourhood, but the cats were enjoying it.
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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Australian studies and the Cowra breakout

Blog writting is winding down and preparation for classes is ramping up.
This year I am teaching 11 groups of students 8 different subjects.
The biggest class of students is likely to be just under 40.  If I am lucky one or two might be ten or less.

One of the classes I'll be teaching is Australian Studies.
Honestly, it goes in the same basket as Canadian Studies and  I can't imagine who in their right mind would pick it ....   It's up to me (with the assistance my ever helpful, benevolent mother) to come up with the material for it.

I'm trying to pick topics that will both let them know about Australia but also give them a chance to reflect on Japan - indigenous people, immigration, diversity, formation of nation, and world war II...    The war in China is well known, but less talked about is the war in South East Asia and I think probably most Japanese are unaware that places such as Sydney, Newcastle, Darwin, Townsville and Broome were also bombed. I'm looking at both the Cowra Breakout and either Changi or the Thai Burma Railway, but it has been difficult to find Japanese sources in translation.  By sheer chance this article, with anecdotes from a Cowra Breakout survivor turned up in the Japan Times this week.
The full article is at the link below.


·         MAR 17, 2013
Prisoner A: ” ‘Never live to experience the shame of being taken prisoner by the enemy’ … that’s what the Imperial Japanese Military Regulations say, hence there must be no prisoners. So what’s happening here now are the dreams of ghosts” — from “Cowra no Hancho Kaigi” (“Honchos’ Meeting in Cowra”).
Last week in Tokyo’s bohemian Shimokitazawa quarter, I never expected to encounter one of those “ghosts.” Yet there he was at the Suzunari Theater, one of the few survivors of a breakout by Japanese troops from a POW camp in Australia that featured in a play whose premiere I attended there the night before…
Teruo Murakami, who had come from distant Tottori Prefecture to see the play, told me he was sent to the Cowra camp 300 km west of Sydney in New South Wales a few months before the breakout by 1,104 Japanese captives on Aug. 5, 1944.
After seeing service from Korea to China to Rabaul in New Britain (in present-day Papua New Guinea), this nonagenarian recounted being captured by U.S. soldiers there.
“When I was taken to Cowra, I never imagined I would ever see Japan again,” he said. “And actually, when I finally got home my family said a ghost had returned from the war.”
At the camp, Murakami said he’d lived a rather heavenly life, for the most part killing time playing mah-jongg with his hut-mates using pieces they’d fashioned themselves. “Others played games with cards they’d made and some played baseball with bats they carved,” he recounted, seeing in his mind’s eye episodes I’d only watched being acted out on stage.
But if life at Cowra was so easy-going, why did all the prisoners decide to stage their near-suicidal breakout together? It’s this question, above all, that mystifies many beyond these shores. So I asked Murakami for his explanation.
“The prisoners didn’t know how the war was actually going,” he began. “But we had no doubt about the rule that Imperial Japanese troops must not allow themselves to become prisoners of the enemy. So there was no alternative for us except to die, and we agreed to finish our lives that way. Yet because of a basic human instinct, many of the men — including me — didn’t want to die.”
But when the time came, Murakami was fated to find he’d run down a track to a dead end, where he jumped into a ditch as bullets flew around. Soon, Australian soldiers came and took him back to his fire-damaged hut, where he fully expected to be executed for trying to escape. To his astonishment, though, he was set to work cleaning up the mess.
Since then, Murakami has revisited Cowra several times with other survivors, and now he gives lectures to young Japanese, just as he’d talked at length with the play’s cast during their preparations

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

18 years & o higan.

Today marks the eighteenth anniversary of the Aum Shin Rikyo's  sarin attack on the Tokyo Metro lines.  It is the first year since it happened that none of the people wanted for committing the crime are still on the loose.  The remaining two were arrested last year.  The fatalities may seem relatively low at 13, but more than 1000 people were injured.   For many who survived their injuries were extreme and gruesome - in some cases contact lenses melted into people's eyes.

Hiro was on a business trip in America the day it happened.  He would usually have exited the subway at Kamiyacho, one stop after Kasumigaseki on the Hibiya line at around the time the attacks occurred.

Today is also the equinox, marking the March grave visiting season, ohigan. This year, the cherry blossoms are blooming early and today walking through Yanaka cemetery, the cherry blossoms met the ohigan flowers.  Sakura certainly makes for cheerier grave visiting.  (compare last year's ohigan)
Aum Wanted Poster

The beginning of Sakura blossoms & ohigan flowers


Monday, 18 March 2013

We interrupt the videos with a Tokyo amphibious sightseeing tour

Tohoku Honsen Higashi Shiroishi- Shiroshi

Tohoku Honsen 東北本線, Rikuuchu Orii -Mizusawa

ファイル:鉄道路線図 JR東北本線.svgFrom Kitakami, the trip was south -  one trainline, numerous changes. The Tohouku Mainline goes north-south along the Pacific side of Japan from Morioka (the start of the pink line) through Hanamaki, Kitakami, Ichinoseki, Kogota, Sendai, Koriyamia, Kuroiso, Utsunomiya, Akabane, Ueno. It is one of Japanese longer local lines.  Much of the Tohoku Honsen line runs very close to the Shinkansen line and in terms of scenery is much less picturesque than the east west lines that go through the mountains.

There are some that are pretty.  This stretch of the line, from Rikuchuu Orii to Mizusawa, is not very high on the scenic stretches of Tohoku rail. It does however give an idea of what you would get on the shinkansen lines in the area.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Kitakami sen 北上線 Kurosawa - the appeal of local lines

ファイル:鉄道路線図 JR北上線.svg
Kitakami line
The Kitakami line goes from Yokote, Akita on the Ou line to Kitakami, Iwate, on the Tohoku Main line.  Magnificent scenery - the highlight of the trip back. It's worth enduring the extended  monotony of the Tohoku Honsen just to travel here.

The Rikuu tou sen, which runs parallel to it south of here is also magnificent.  This is the primary reason I keep using seishun 18 enthusiastically.  Infinitely more interesting than the shinkansen line.  The services are relatively infrequent (the timetable below is the timetable from Kitakami to Yokote), so it needs planning.  But the local lines of Tohoku that are far from the Shinkansen lines, are an under-discovered highlight of Japan.

Ou line 奥羽本線 Iizume - Gosannen

Ou 奥羽本線 between Mineyoshikawa and Kariwano

Ou line from North to South
junction cities are
Aomori, Odate, Akita, Omagari
Yokote, Shinjo, Yamagata,
Yonezawa, Fukushima
The Ou line extends the length of Northern Tohoku. It goes from Aomori in the North, through Odate to Akita City, from Akita City to Shinjo, Yamagata via Omagari, Yokote and Yuzawa. From Shinjo it follows the Shinkansen line south through Yamagata City, Yonezawa, terminating at Fukushima City. 

Friday, 15 March 2013

Snow in Odate

It snowed while in Odate.
It snowed a lot...
On the last day it stopped snowing enough to take a shovel to the snow pile.
Cherry blossoms are out in Fukuoka;  Tohoko and Hokkaido... snow, snow, snow.
This is a video of snow in the backyard.  Apparently it has melted a lot - it had been almost to the roof.  The wood against the side of the house is to keep the snow out...
The pictures below the video are of Hiro's niece's school on graduation day.   They had made a good effort to have the carpark clear, but there is to the number of places you can put the snow.  At this time of the year the snow tends to be quite dirty... months of shovelling take their toll.

On the way up - seishun 18

Early morning in Akabane

I wasn't the only  one thinking it was early... fortunately I was
going against the traffic.

Tochigi somewhere

Kooriyama in Fukushima

The Shinkansen line in the background. Somewhere near Sendai

The trains get crowded around the major centres

The train to Nyuko onsen

Nyoko onsen - pretty, a lot of snow, but has seen better days.

like this

glad I'm not doing the shovelling there..

or there

Rikuu Tou sen scenery

Rikuu Tou line scenery.

Not much grave visiting can be done there...
the graves are barely sticking out of the snow.

Rikuu sai line between Shinjo and Sakata

Uetsu line from Sakata... not very many passengers.
 I was fortunate to get a seat on the line to Odate, but the two car train is pretty well empty by the time it gets to Odate, the terminal station.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Another Seishun 18 trip north

I am back from Akita... not via Niigata as I'd planned, but perhaps later in the holiday.

My last post that I realised after I posted it had no English translations.. and didn't make sense entirely in Japanese either as part of the route overlapped.

I went up via the Tohoku Honsen as far as Kogota, and then to the Japan Sea side via the Rikuu Tou line to Shinjo, the Rikuu Sai line to Sakata, the Uetsu line to Akita and the Ou line to Odate.
It involved 11 changes.

The trip is long - 16 hours or so, depending on the route -  and at times seems rather arduous and I'm not very good at using time on the train productively,   but the seishun 18 has two major benefits.

1) It's cheap.  A round trip by Shinkansen is about $350 and takes 6 hours or so.  The seishun 18 works out at $25 or so for one day's unlimited travel. If I have the time (as in the long holidays) it makes more sense than going by Shinkansen.

2) The scenery is so much better.   I've made a series of videos. Katsu, a friend in Kyoto suggested ages ago that I take video of the train lines; with an i pad it has become much more feasible, though I didn't think of that until the return trip.

Videos to follow

View akabane odate rail map in a larger map

Friday, 8 March 2013

Tomorrow's plan...

The Seishun 18 season is here again. Tomorrow looks like it's going to be a looooooooong day.
Better go to bed so I can be up at 5...

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Thursday, 7 March 2013

Impressions of being back after being away

I'm back after a southern sojourn that was long enough to defrost my blood, but not long enough to eat everything or see everyone that I had planned to....

I had four impressions of being back in Aus - two positive, two negative.

1) Sydney is much dirtier than it used to be, though a friend who had visitors from London recently said they marvelled at how clear it is.  Even so it is dirtier than Tokyo and more importantly, dirtier than it used to be.

2) Especially in the CBD and especially women, show a lot of flesh than in the past.  I'm not a prude, really, but skirts are much shorter and worn with no shame about cellulite, muffins, and other unseemly bulges...

3) Sydney is much more diverse than it used to be, and the diversity has spread out.  My hometown of 1000 people has an Indian restaurant, Vietnamese running the bakery, a Chinese restaurant (there's been one of those as long as I can remember).  In Muswellbrook and Tamworth there were women wearing hijab and inter-cultural relationships are very normal.

4) People communicate verbally. I was taken aback alighting the train when the man next to me asked "are you right with that luv" .

OOps make that 5

It's a shock going into boom mentality after being subsumed by recession thinking.

Coming back a couple of impressions.

Japanese people care about the seasons whereas Australians care about how much rain there has been.  Suntory have their cherry blossom happoshu cans out. I was irritated since I am going to Akita in the morning and it is still blanketed in snow.  But if you ask anyone how much rain there was yesterday, no-one would have a clue.  The only time precipitation measurements seem to be broadcast is when they are talking centimetres of snow or extreme rain during typhoons.  Seasons don't make a whole lot of sense in Australia when February one year brings floods and another year continues the drought.

People don't stare at abominable habits here - Survival technique I guess. Today on my way back from Ueno a man near me on the train kept snorting - a hucking deep snort.  I wanted to vomit - preferably on him.  I glared, my stomach queased, but this is Tokyo afterall, no need for verbal communication when you can be passive aggressive...