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Showing posts from October, 2011

Okutama in late October

Happiness is ... the new Murakami

Bought earlier this evening, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, all 925 pages of it. Goodbye. I will resurface when I've finished at least one third of the book. If I read non-stop, as I am wont to do, I will have done that by tomorrow.

The prostitute and the spouse

I saw them at Shinjuku Station. I thought they might be employed in Kabukichō, Shinjuku's red light district, but then reality took hold: here in Japan, ordinary garden-variety girl-next-door women dress in clothes that would make a Nigerian night worker blush.
Both girls were wearing French knickers. Not as underwear, but as outerwear. Not disguised in any way whatsoever. Made of satin and lace. There was only one difference between the real item and what these two (almost) had on: original French knickers have a loose fit, the Shinjuku versions did not. The young ladies had combined their apparel with black stockings (of course), stiletto boots (of course) and bolero-type fur thingies. Fur is apparently big news this winter.
Have you noticed that foreigners stare at such outfits, but Japanese men don't? Perhaps the latter have been bludgeoned into oblivion by an oversupply. As I myself observed the public display, I suddenly remembered a Lagos incident that still makes me chu…

Autumn colours in Gunma

Just to show you where I get ideas for my blog colours. These photos were taken in the mountains of Numata in Gunma, where leaves start changing colour earlier than in Tokyo. Click on the photos to see larger versions.

The world is my mikan

New blog colours. I tried to find a traditional Japanese colour that resembles half-green, half-yellow ginkgo leaves, but it just doesn't work on a blog. I eventually settled for mikan (a kind of citrus fruit) colour. Mikan season only starts when winter arrives in its full glory, but it's a good autumn colour nonetheless. The background colour is mikan-iro (蜜柑色) and the headlines are akadaidai (赤橙) or red-orange. The latter is also known as kinaka (金赤) or gold-red. It happens to be the colour of the Chuo Line, which – incidentally – I've never liked, but it looks a bit better on a blog. I think. Maybe.

Why is the tree wearing a straw mat?

It's wearing a straw mat because winter is coming! See?
Towards the end of October, you'll start seeing straw mats wrapped around pine trees. It’s calledkomomaki(written as 薦巻 or こも巻き), and it's an old Edo period method to control pine moths (Japanese name マツカレハ or matsukareha, scientific name Dendrolimus spectabilis). These insects feed on pine leaves, but when it gets cold in winter, they crawl down the tree to spend the winter in the dead leaves on the ground. The mat serves as a trap: it's loosely tied at the top but tightly fastened at the bottom. The insects crawl into the mat, where it's snug and warm, and then in spring you remove the mat and burn it with all its inhabitants. Bug problem solved.
Komomaki are usually fastened on trees in October and removed at the beginning of February. I've included photos of komomaki taken last year in Tonogayato Teien in Kokubunji andKoishikawa Kōrakuen near Iidabashi Station in Tokyo. Click on the photos to see bigger …

Why do Wednesdays have the worst students?

Why are Wednesdays so ghastly? Is there a communicated-via-osmosis or unique Japanese haragei* rule that Wednesdays are reserved for the worst students? I've been writing more than usual about teaching, but recently I've had more than my fair share of migraine-inducing, Torquemada-torture-inspiring and narcolepsy-imbuing students. All on Wednesdays.
Jabberwocky written by Yoda
One of our regular Wednesday students is an engineer. He's repeated the beginner's book four times. Conversations with him rapidly deteriorate into a surreal hallucination. Yesterday we were doing … or I was trying to do … a very basic chapter about food and mealtimes.
"Good morning! How are you?" "Yes." "Errr. OK. So. Let's talk about breakfast. Did you eat breakfast this morning?" "My office locate Shinagawa." "Do you usually eat breakfast in Shinagawa?" "I have take this coffee." He proudly shows me his vending machine coffee. "This i…

Don't you know you should not use negative questions?

"Don't you ever learn?"

"No, clearly not. That's why I tried to explain negative questions to a beginner student, and ended up in a quagmire from which I only escaped thanks to the bell."

"Shouldn't you have known better?"

"Yes, I should have, but I didn't. Hindsight and 20/20 and all that."

"Can't you let him live in blissful ignorance until he reaches a more advanced level?"

"Yes, but don't you understand that I didn't volunteer this explanation? He saw a negative question in his textbook and asked me about it. A plague on all English textbooks!"

"Wouldn't it have been easier to tell him there's no difference between positive and negative questions?"

"Oh, and aren't we the snotty one? Yes, it would've been easier. Now shut up."
This afternoon I had that conversation with myself. 
Japanese students struggle with negative questions in English. Aren’t you going to Thai…

Japan contamination maps from different viewpoints

I haven't written anything about the quake and its aftermath for a long time, but I've discovered a blog, nanohana, with maps that show which areas are contaminated according to different groups. People will believe what people will believe.

The original post (here) also introduced me to a blog written by Jeff Bayliss,Associate Professor of History at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, about the complex issues that Tōhoku faces after the quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. It's calledWhere does it all go? (Hat tip to The Hero for telling me about these maps.)

The mountain temple bell is ringing, let's go home

They're playing my song again! "The mountain temple bell is ringing, let's go home."

It's a custom in Japan to play a song over public loudspeakers – usually near schools or city halls – when children go home at 5 pm. Different neighbourhoods have different songs. When I lived in Kanda a few years ago, a nearby primary school played the perennial favourite Yūyake koyake (夕焼け小焼け) every day. I fell in love with the song, and have come to associate it very closely with Japan. Then I moved to Taitō, where I had to listen to boring chimes and an announcement in the s-l-o-w-e-s-t woman's voice I've ever heard that "children are now walking home please be kind please be careful". We still have to listen to her torturing a ten-second message into a full minute, but since the schools resumed this month, they've also been playing … my song! Every afternoon! I don't know who made this decision, but my sincerest thanks.
Yūyake koyake was composed eigh…

A teacher has to know when to give up

It was hell. We had to do a chapter about "my hobby" – a topic that inevitably falls flat unless the student's hobby is his (live) scorpion collection or making raku-yaki. This particular group was a wretched torment. He's a 24-year-old salesman with plucked eyebrows; she's a 36-year-old dermatologist with suspiciously heavy make-up. He has a habit of stroking his hair compulsively; she bursts into nervous giggles at the end of every single sentence. His hobby is sleeping; her hobby is watching TV. It's the very essence of scintillating conversation.
The dermatologist was a rude shock. I'm naïve enough to believe that medicine shouldn't be an arbitrary career choice and that it requires a certain level of intelligence. Throughout the course of the lesson, the following questions came up. (I should add that the dermatologist has studied English for two years, two lessons per week, without missing a single lesson. One assumes it was yet another recommend…

It's October, and the gods have absconded

October is called Jūgatsu (十月, tenth month) in Japanese, but it's also known as Kannazuki or Kaminazuki (神無月), which means"the month without gods". This month the Shinto gods, all eight million of them, vacate their homes—the shrines, mountains, rivers, trees and countless other places where they reside—and convene in Shimane Prefecture in Western Japan at Izumo-taisha, one of the most ancient and most important Shinto shrines in the country. Only at Izumo, by the way, is the month called Kamiarizuki (神在月) or "the monthwithgods".
The gods get together at Izumo-taisha to discuss the coming year's births, weddings and deaths. Appropriate topics, since the shrine is dedicated to the god Ōkuninushi-no-mikoto, famous as the Shinto deity of marriage. So they talk a lot, but I would hazard a guess that they also get up to much merry mischief laced with lots of liquor.
Incidentally, when you visit a Shinto shrine, you clap your hands twice during your prayers, but I&…

My pet neighbourhood peeve

My pet peeve in this neighbourhood is the sodai-gomi truck.

Sodai-gomi seishūshūsha. Tēpurokōdā. Terebi. Pasokon. Rajiokase. Sodai-gomi seishūshūsha. Tēpurokōdā. Terebi. Pasokon. Rajiokase. Sodai-gomi seisūshūsha. Tēpurokōdā. Terebi. Pasokon. Rajiokase. 

Over and over and over, in a singsong syrupy female voice that's worse than nails on blackboard, asking residents if they have any big garbage items for collection. Why are they talking about tape recorders and radio cassettes anyway? Tape recorders? Radio cassettes? Shouldn't that have been chucked out twenty years ago?

Japan has draconian garbage disposal laws, and that's good, but it's also a pain in the butt. Where I come from, South Africa, you either give what you don't want to your "domestic" (i.e. maid) and/or gardener, or you dump it on the pavement in front of your house on garbage collection days. Anything that's remotely reusable, from clothes to refrigerators, will be gone long before the …

Autumn in Shinjuku Gyoen

Red copper wins

I like the red copper colour so much that I've applied it to the entire blog, not just the headlines. We shouldn't be too subdued. Autumn isn't a wishy-washy season in Japan, and we can try brown shades in mid-winter. Red copper is called shaku-do-iro (赤銅色) in Japanese. PS: I suspect this colour has caught my fancy because it reminds me of Africa: red soil, red dust, red sunsets.

Yellow acorns and red copper

Colours change constantly in autumn, and the blog has to keep up. The current colour scheme is yellow acorn (黄橡 ki-tsurubami) for the background and red copper colour(赤銅色 shaku-do-iro) for the titles. When I started this experiment with autumn colours, I had my doubts, but I've fallen under the charm of both the subdued browns and the vibrant reds. I really like that red copper colour.

Fire! Call 119!

We had a bit of a commotion in the neighbourhood this morning: a fire! I heard sirens approaching, but ignored it as usual. I heard more sirens – nearer, louder, more urgent – and I thought, "Maybe they're chasing a yakuza." (That's probably not how they do it, but never mind, I have a bookworm's imagination.) Then the sirens, screaming full blast, stopped right underneath this apartment, and I thought, "What? Eeek! Help!" So I looked, and oh my poor heart, there was a fire almost next door.
I think it was a fairly big one, because several streets were cordoned off and there were dozens of fire trucks. I didn't go closer to investigate. Firstly, stay out of the emergency services' way so that they can do their job. Secondly, I find bystanders' fascination with mayhem rather disturbing. We're still mesmerized by blood spilled in the arena.
I did watch from the balcony, but my eyes were mostly on the sexy firemen running around and the curio…

Autumn has arrived

First autumn colours at Tōkei-ji (東慶寺) in Kita-Kamakura. The small orange flowers in the second photo are fragrant olive (Japanese name kinmokusei, Latin nameOsmanthus fragrans). Click on the photos for bigger versions.

Happiness is gardening, says the god of happiness

"The treasure you are looking for is next to you," says the entrance gate to Jōchi-ji. Or, to use the Japanese, 寶所在近 (hōsho zaikin, treasure's place exists near). The temple's full name is Kinpōzan Jōchi-ji (金宝山浄智寺), and it's ranked fourth among Kamakura's great Zen temples. It's only a few minutes on foot from Kita-Kamakura Station and well worth a visit, especially in the upcoming autumn leaves season. My favourite attraction is the statue of Hotei, the god of happiness and contentment, that stands in a cave towards the rear of the complex.

If you add two and two, you'll discover the secret of happiness at this temple. Let me lead you on this journey of discovery. Here's the front gate with its message.

I walked into the temple's first graveyard, looked next to me, and met a local resident who told me which way to go to Hotei's statue.

A bit further on, I saw this sign:

I looked next to me again, as instructed at the entrance gate, and saw .…

A scarlet dance of death

Red spider lilies are known as higanbana, the flower of the dead, in Japanese. (You can read an explanation here.) I discovered this graveyard while wandering around Shibamata, home of Tora-san. The graveyard is at Hoteison (布袋尊), also known as Ryōkan-ji, and red spider lilies were in full bloom among the graves. It was a stunning sight: the vibrant red flowers performing a Danse Macabre on the somber graves. It's made more poignant by the fact that this temple is dedicated to Hotei, the deity of happiness and contentment.

I've written several posts about higanbana. (Yup, you're right, I love this flower.) You can read a general explanation here, and see photos of higanbana at Kinchakuda in Saitamahere and here.

Cordelia should take another carriage ...

... but Goneril and Regan are welcome.