Google+ Rurousha 流浪者

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Unsolicited advice for eikaiwa students

Notwithstanding how English is sold in Japan, it's not your teacher's job to entertain you, or to fill empty hours when you don't know what to do with yourself. It's true that learning English can be and possibly even should be fun, and you're allowed to think of your teacher as a host/ess. However, if you accept that learning a language requires blood, sweat and tears as well as laughter, you know what?, you just might actually improve.

If you've spent a fortune on English lessons mainly because it's a better hobby than "cleaning my room", OK, we'll pretend to teach and you'll pretend to learn.

When you arrive late with the excuse "sorry for late", don't be surprised when your teacher looks slightly disgruntled. It's not because we’re angry that you kept us waiting. Our school pays us whether you arrive or not. We really don't mind if you don't. 

It's not a good idea to have a lesson very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning when you’re still recovering from the previous night's izakaya session. So is your teacher.

Neither is it a good idea to book the last two lessons on a Saturday or Sunday. Your teacher will inevitably be gatvol after 8 to 10 lessons of not exactly scintillating small talk.

Do not assume that your teacher is American.

Do not assume that your blond, blue-eyed teacher is a Christian.

Please don't attempt to educate your teacher about Christianity, Judaism or Islam. The chances are truly minuscule that you know more about these religions than your teacher, even if said teacher is an atheist.

Do not assume that your teacher is able to spell correctly, write well or understand grammar. Use it, yes. Understand its DNA, no.

I'm not saying the TOEIC test is useless. I am saying it's deeply flawed.

Oh, all right, it's useless.

Do not, I repeat do NOT, come to class when you're very sick. Don't wear your mask. Don't take off your mask. STAY. AT. HOME. The classrooms are small and stuffy, and we're stuck in there with a sick sniffing coughing hawking person, and we hate it.

Sometimes the teacher says "well done" because it really was well done. Sometimes the teacher says "well done" because the truth would be unpalatable and all is fair in love and war. 

Do not be surprised if your teacher has no insight into Japan. Do not be surprised if that insight exceeds yours.

Do not assume that your teacher is in Japan for only one year to have sex with as many Japanese women as possible.

Actually, as far as that previous one is concerned, maybe …

PS: Also, he might prefer guys.

Do not use the phrase "we Japanese". I have neither the blog space nor the mental energy to explain why. Just don't. Rather come to class early on a Saturday, with Ebola, and ask the teacher to explain the vocative case as used in the King James Bible, or the difference between "Bless thou the LORD" and "Bless ye the LORD", and while we're at it, please note the capital letters and that British English prefers the comma outside the quotation marks if it's not a full sentence.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Hello Kitty and the siege of the ivory tower

This damn cat is everywhere. I was going to use an equivalent expression with f's …

We interrupt ourselves with a dilemma that only a copyeditor / copy-editor / copy editor would understand.

Do you realize that it's not that simple to write the plural of a letter of the alphabet?

The Chicago Manual of Style: "Capital letters used as words, numerals used as nouns, and abbreviations usually form the plural by adding s. To aid comprehension, lowercase letters form the plural with an apostrophe and an s." So, how many Cs in occasion but mind your p's and q's.

Then you dive into The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage; The Times Style and Usage Guide; The Guardian Style Guide; The Associated Press Stylebook; the much-maligned Elements of Style by Strunk and White; A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations; Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers; Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

Then you curse, eat chocolate, curse again and decide that you don't like f's: an apostrophe is for a possessive or a missing letter, not a plural. So you curse again, eat more chocolate and start again.

This damn cat is everywhere. I was going to use an equivalent expression with Fs – figure it out! – but then decided that propriety would prevail.

She has even infiltrated the sanctum sanctorum of Japan, the holiest of holies, the University of Tokyo. You can buy this file in the so-called Co-op, the shop on the university's Hongō campus:

I photographed it: a random photo that was taken at a random moment and randomly posted on Google+. A week later it's had 11 527 views, which is high for a page with a very small followership. Heh: the Followership of the Barbarian.

I once wrote a rather highfalutin post (link) about the Hello Kitty phenomenon. It has to be suitably swotty, since Ms Kitty is, after all, an alumna of above-mentioned institute. 

I'm not going to repeat everything, but I do want to quote myself in this paragraph, written almost three years ago:
What I can't figure out is why women would want to identify with her, or is this identification in itself a denial of adulthood and its unpleasant aspects? "Let me stay a small girl so that Daddy can always look after me; then I don't have to deal with nasty things like decisions and responsibilities."
I was therefore not surprised at all I read the following in a women's magazi …

I interrupt myself again. I never read women's magazines, except at my hairdresser, where there's nothing else to read except whatever I've got stored on my Kindle app. When I'm ensconced under a plastic cape, though, I page through monster publications more hefty than The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (240 000 entries and 1 728 pages). How can you read these magazines without turning into Anderson?

Mind-numbing rubbish about fashion and make-up and socialites and How To Be A Powerhouse Businesswoman While Achieving Orgasms In The Boardroom With The Help of Kegel Exercises And The New Stud Muffin In Sales.


I was not surprised at all when I glanced at the January 2015 issue of Marie Claire UK, which has an article entitled "The 8 Billion Dollar Cat".

Serendipity, and the fact that that damn cat is everywhere. She's more everywhere than elephants, and we all know that elephants follow me and that I follow trails of elephant dung. If you don't know it, you're new on this blog, aren't you?

The article quotes "Manhattan-based marriage and family therapist Dr Paul Hokemeyer", who says as follows:

I read his name as Pokemeyer, of course, but let's get back on topic.

Just after that article, Dru posted this article on Google+:
If you’re heading to Gunma Prefecture, soon one indoor hot spring will give you the chance to soak in the company of Hello Kitty.
Japan’s hardest working feline is branching out into yet another new venture as part of a tie-up with the Shima Grand Hotel … From January 9, the Meruhen no Yu is getting even more visual appeal, in the form of new Hello Kitty decorations, which will let you relax while gazing at the Sanrio icon.
While only guests of the hotel have access to the Meruhen no Yu, anyone is welcome to stop by the hotel’s Café Furo Resta, also scheduled to open January 9. Once again, Hello Kitty plays a starring role in the decor, appearing dressed in both kimono and hakama, the billowing pants which were especially popular among young women during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Aside from dining on fare such as curry and Japanese desserts made with locally grown sweet beans, visitors will be able to take pictures with the retro-clothed Kitty, and, of course, special limited-edition Hello Kitty merchandise is likely to be on sale as well.

Alternatively you can book a Hello Kitty room in the Keio Plaza Hotel:

Don't forget to take your disciplining partner.


Riding crop.


Edit added 15 December because this is just too good to ignore. I discovered it this morning when I Googled "Hello Kitty South Africa" (link).

The Hello Kitty Dictionary, published by Harper Collins, describes a necklace as "a piece of jewellery which a woman wears around her neck" and then adds "in South Africa, a name for a tyre filled with petrol which is placed round a person’s neck and set on fire in order to kill that person". Oh dear. I suppose one cannot shield young children from life's harsher realities for ever, but this might not be the best way to go about it. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

This one's for Cubie

Hallo, Cubie! You asked me about the most glorious ginkgo in the world, and here I am, on Africa time, with an answer and a report. The big ginkgo always changes later than all the other trees at the University of Tokyo. I'm not sure why: perhaps it's simply because there's an awful lot to change! I took these photos with my smartphone, because I don't lug along my big camera every day; and both days were overcast and drizzly. So thus and therefore, the photos aren't particularly good. Excuses excuses excuses. Here we go:

4 December 2014


11 December 2014

Next week it will be over, and the bare trees will cast long shadows through a long winter.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Autumn at Heirin-ji

Heirin-ji, my favourite autumn spot in (or rather near; it's in Saitama) Tokyo. I've written about it before (link), and there's nothing to add except ... egad, gadzooks, zounds and zooterkins, the crowds! Please remember that my definition of "crowd" is 10+. When it reaches a level of thousands, I start panicking. What am I doing in Tokyo then? As I've explained before, I don't know. Next question? Anyway, I usually arrive at this temple so early that I'm already in line when the gate opens at 9 am, but this year I went much later. So many visitors, and 99% of them at least 99 years old. Help. Shoot me when I'm 75. No, really. Read this.

Not particularly autumnish, but I have to start with this one.

The further you move from the main temple, the quieter the paths.

Not Heirin-ji, but along the way from the station to the temple (above and below)

Gingko watch 2014, final

Is it my imagination (or my work schedule?), or has this been a very quick autumn? Tōdai's ginkgos reached their peak last week, and soon there will be nothing but cold bare branches. Skeletons with long shadows. I think of winter as the season of the long shadows, when the sun cowers low on the horizon. Here we go. Last ginkgo photos for this year.

As I've mentioned before, the most glorious ginkgo in the world usually changes a bit later than his underlings.

The signs says "stay off the grass/plants". The leaves clearly believe in civil disobedience. I approve.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Baisouin, the temple of glass and bamboo

It's an old temple. It was established in 1643. This is what it looks like:

Baisōin (or Basouin) in Aoyama, designed by Kengo Kuma

Seriously. Or, in South African English, seriaas!

Baisōin originated 371 years ago, but it was reconstructed in 2003, based on a design by Kengo Kuma*, the same architect who designed the ultra-modern Akagi Jinja in Kagurazaka.

I read about his temple when I researched his shrine, and finally got a chance to visit it last Sunday. I promise – word of honour as fact-obsessed information junkie – that I did consult my books and Google this temple, but don't fix what ain't broke and don't reinvent the wheel. Unless, of course, you replace wheels with this.

I digress.

This shot was taken from the cemetery next to the temple

Point is, the best information about this temple is in its brochure: concise and written in faultless English. I'm therefore going to commit shameless plagiarism, with full credit to Baisōin in Minami-Aoyama. The temple's name can also be transcribed as Baisouin, and you can find more information here, here and here.

Its full name is Chōseizan Hōjuji Baisōin (長青寶樹梅窓). It belongs to the Jōdo-shū (浄土宗) or Pure Land School of Buddhism, and was originally sponsored by Aoyama Yoshinari, a senior statesman in the Tokugawa era. It's served as the Aoyama family's ancestral temple, and thirteen generations of family heads are enshrined here. (Yes, same family that lends its name to the district in which the temple is located.)

It was redesigned by Kuma, a professor at the University of Tokyo, one of Japan's best-known architects and a winner of numerous international awards (link, link).

His design is a beautiful, simple glass-and-steel structure that allows soft light to filter through unhindered. It's approached through an avenue of bamboo that leads to the original temple gate, left intact. 

Simplicity, clean lines, lots of natural light

Stone garden under the steps

This is what he says in the temple's brochure:
My aim was to create a temple with the feeling of an oasis in the middle of the city. To achieve this, the approach from Aoyama-dori, which is heavily trafficked, was important. As one approaches the main gate, the design incorporates bamboo on either side to create a feeling of serenity appropriate for communication with the Buddha … Particular attention was paid to the colour of the bamboo. Using yellow rather than green bamboo created a feeling of quiet, elegant simplicity.
The bamboo-lined entrance of the temple

The original gate still stands. The small structure on the right is a pet cemetery.

The temple's main image is Amida Buddha, referred to as the Buddha of infinite light. It also includes an image of Kannon Bodhisattva, and is one of the temples that form the Edo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage (also called the Tokyo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage in English sources).

The temple … OK, this is now my own commentary, not taken from the brochure … the temple also has a surprisingly large cemetery that's probably the newest and best-maintained I've ever seen in central Tokyo, with a small brook and several shady spots under copses of trees. It's beautiful, but if left me with the same awkward restlessness that I experienced in the very wealthy, very upmarket Tsutaya Books in Daikenyama: lots of style, not so much atmosphere.

(Scribbles note to self: You're such a poverty-stricken barbarian, Ru, that you have no appreciation for the upper echelons of refined society. Or "snotty stuff", as you call it so eruditely. Best shut up.)

(Scribbles second note to self: Three years ago you promised yourself a second visit to Tsutaya. You haven't done it yet. Go.)

Autumn colours in the cemetery

However, let it be stated categorically that the cemetery is lovely and offers a tranquil escape after the crowds in Ichō Namiki. The staff in the information office is graceful and helpful, the brochure is in English, the bamboo is beautiful. Well worth a visit.

* I write his name in the Western way, with his family name last, since he's so well-known in English-speaking countries.

** I dedicate this post to the two architects I know, Du and Cocomino. I have endless admiration for a brain that can combine art and maths.

Added Friday 28 November

Du has shared extra information with us. If you're interested in Kengo Kuma, here's a lecture in which he describes his work and philosophy (it's a video on Vimeo). You can also read more about his designs in Anti-Object, available on Thanks, Du!

The entrance on Aoyama-dori

Two tiny Jizō statues guard the entrance.

Standing in the old gate, looking towards Aoyama-dori


Cemetery detail above and below

This is the kind of thing that amuses my small mind: it may be a tranquil cemetery
in an upmarket suburb, but there's still a vending machine tucked into an impossible corner.

The temple's brochure was my main source of information.


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