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Showing posts from December, 2011

Shirahige Jinja cleans up for the new year

I was muttering and moping aboutoosōji, the big clean-up that we're supposed to do before New Year's Day. Then I visited Shirahige Jinja in Mukōjima (向島白髭神社) and realized that I should stop grumbling forthwith: at least I don't have to clean my local shrine's mikoshi! Can you imagine taking that apart and polishing every little bit?

They cleaned everything, every lantern, every banner, every paper fan. Yikes. Nothing was spared. The lion mask (shishi-gashira)that is used every June in their lion dance (shishi-mai)was unpacked, clean, polished, cleaned again and polished again. It kept grinning throughout.

Shirahige was founded in 951, but has been rebuilt many times. The deity that is worshipped here is Jurōjin, the god of wisdom and longevity (and one of the seven lucky gods). The interesting thing about this shrine is its Korean history. It's named after Shirahige, a Korean tutelary god who was brought to Japan by immigrants who settled in the Lake Biwa area.
The ma…

Fuji-san is taking a New Year's break in Tanzania

Look! Fuji-san has moved to Tanzania!

I saw this photo on The Big Picture, in an article entitled "50 best photos from the natural world". The mountain is Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano in Tanzania's Rift Valley, and the lake is Lake Natron.

I share it with you in this quiet let's-start-winding-down few days before the 1st. (Actually it's not winding down at all. I still have to tackle oosōji, the big cleaning that we're supposed to do before New Year's Day, but I'm in total denial. It's more fun to look at pretty pictures.)

Fie, dastardly dust, begone from my camera sensor!

I first noticed it during my recent walk to Tokyo Sky Tree: in every single photo there was a fuzzy spot floating in the sky, always in the same place, persistently present. There was only one explanation: dust on the camera's sensor. Out, damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! a photographer, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old camera to have had so much dust in it?Dust on your DSLR's sensor is an inevitable result of changing lenses. Many cameras have a "self-cleaning" feature, but its efficacy is limited. You can buy a cleaning kit and do it yourself, but I'm too clumsy with my hands to attempt that. (I'm really stupid with my hands. If you ever see a screwdriver in my vicinity, run for your life and call the paramedics. There will be blood.) I decided to go to the Canon Service Center in Shinjuku.

The bad thing abo…

Tokyo Sky Tree and the sun goddess's lion-dogs

I don't know what other foreigners in Tokyo do on Christmas – eat Kentucky? – but I go walking, and today I headed for Tokyo Sky Tree.
I love this tower. It's clearly visible from this apartment, and I've been watching its progress over the past two years. The last time I walked there was on 19 March, the day after it reached its maximum height of 634 meters (a week after the big quake). Today I went there again, and wow, it's looking great – not only the tower itself, but also the huge commercial complex that surrounds it.
The area buzzes with sightseers, and it's obvious that many new shops, especially restaurants, have opened in the area. Oshiage Station has undergone a metamorphosis; it will be directly linked to the complex and will become the area's main station. Narihirabashi, the other nearby station, remains as small as always.
A suggestion to Tobu Railways, who developed the complex: I know the opening is still five months away, but you’re going to have …

A cute African Christmas wish from Japan

I'm a heathen whose only religion is to worship at the altar of the book, but Japan has also brainwashed me into becoming a devoted follower of the cult of the cute. Thanks to the latter I succumbed to the temptation of this photo and its accompanying Christmas message. I refuse to go PC and say Happy Holidays. This is a Christian day (with pagan roots, if you want to be historically pedantic). So this zazenning animist would like to say Merry Christmas to my Christian friends.

I spotted this photo in The Guardian. The animal in it is a meerkat, a kind of mongoose that lives in Southern Africa. It's the cutest animal I've ever seen, with the possible exception of Rilakkuma. (Meerkat is an Afrikaans word that means "lake cat", but it's a desert animal. You're right, it doesn't make any sense. It's Africa.)

Tokyo Sky Tree illuminated for three nights

I wasn't planning on doing three stories in one day, but just after I'd posted the previous one, I happened to glance out of the window … and there it was. Tokyo Sky Tree. The tower is illuminated tonight, tomorrow night and on the 31st. It has 1 995 LED lights that will be switched on when it opens in May 2012; but only 720 lights in strategic spots above 125 m will be lit on the three nights this year. More information (Japanese) here.
Fellow blogger Lina of Urutora no hi asked me to take photos of the illuminated tower, so I did. I'm a very bad night photographer, I don't have a tripod and it's freezing on the balcony, but here it is.

A poem about earthquakes by Anthony Thwaite

This week there was another big quake in New Zealand. The earth remains restless. I'm not indifferent towards quakes, but neither do I fret about the next big one. It will come. Shōganai. (The March quake, instead of turning me into an edgy nervous wreck, has actually quietened down my concerns. Now I know what to expect. Roughly.) The recent jitterbugging reminded me of this poem in Anthony Thwaite's collection Letter from Tokyo:

An easing of walls,
A shuddering through soles:
A petal loosens, falls. In the room, alone: It begins, then it has gone. Ripples outlast stone. Rain-smell stirs the heart; Nostrils flare. A breath. We wait For something to start. The flavour of fear, Something fragile in the air, Gone, it remains here.
PS: I've gone into shut-down mode as the year-end approaches. That explains the quotations instead of any original writing. I have posts about Inari shrines and the seven lucky gods and my love affair with Tokyo Sky Tree, all half-written, but they will have t…

A beautiful winter quote

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.  ~Andrew Wyeth

American vs Japanese businessmen

The bulk of my book collection remains in South Africa with my family – there's no space in your average Tokyo apartment for 3 000 tomes – but I've shipped a few boxes to Tokyo. They remain piled on top of each other in the passage, guarded by two bronze lions from Benin.
I bought many books about Japan after I met The Hero, but before I moved to his country. Confront me with something unknown and my instinct is to dive into books. I discovered lots of useful information about the country; I'm still looking for an instruction manual for the man!
It's interesting to re-read these books after I've lived in Japan for several years, and theoretical knowledge has been replaced with real experience. Many books disappoint the second time around. Alan Booth and John W. Dower remain my heroes; but Pico Iyer's The Lady and The Monk now irritates me so much I want to throw it from the balcony. It's condescending and hypocritical.
Yesterday I paged through Dave Barry Does…

The day I turned into an old woman

I'm that rarest of creatures – a woman who doesn't like shopping – but recently the sorry state of my office clothes forced me …

Wait. Let me qualify that statement. I don't like shopping for clothes. Books? Different story altogether. I lament the fact that bookshops don't have shopping trolleys for their customers.
We continue. I've had to admit that maybe I need more than one black skirt, and that perchance you can't fool people into believing that black jeans are actually tailored pants. I mentioned in a conversation with a friend that I needed office clothes. She promptly invited me to go shopping with her in Yokohama.
So that's what we did, in the station area, on a Sunday, just before Christmas. Japan has a too low birth rate? Really? Really?!I felt like that poem The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
Storm'd at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Struggled the two brave women…

The lucky dragon's pine tree at Shibamata Taishakuten

It's so big that you don't realize you're looking at one living creature. You simply assume it's a row of pine trees, neatly planted, until you finally register that underneath those meters of branches there is … count it … only one trunk.

The pine tree stands in front of Shibamata Taishakuten (柴又帝釈天). It's called Zui-ryū-no-matsu (瑞竜の松), which is one of the loveliest Japanese names I've yet encountered. Zui means happy, lucky, good omen; ryū is dragon; matsu is pine. Add it together, and you get the pine tree of the lucky dragon. It's 460 years old, its southern branch is 14,5 meters long and its eastern branch is 12,5 meters long. The secret of its longevity? Sake! To this day, temple priests mix of bit of sake into the fertilizer that is poured on its roots.

Shibamata is mostly famous as the home of Tora-san, the lead character in the TV series Otoko wa tsurai yo(男はつらいよ, It's tough being a man). It follows the adventures of an anti-hero salesman as h…

Peek-a-boo with a cat

I lied, OK, I lied. Koishikawa was not my last autumn photos for 2011, although in my defence, m'lud, I didn't specifically go hunting for autumn leaves. I just went for a walk next to the Kanda River, and then I played peek-a-boo with a cat at a small shrine called Suijinja (水神社), and then I had tea with a friend at the Four Seasons Hotel at Chinzan-so.
The garden at Chinzan-so is breathtaking in autumn, and the hotel offers the best British afternoon tea in Tokyo at their Le Jardin restaurant. Provided you're willing to pay ¥3500 for tea, sandwiches and cakes; or ¥4500 if you add a glass of champagne. Think it's expensive? Afternoon tea at The Ritz in London is between £42 (¥5000) for an ordinary tea and £64 (¥7700) for a "celebration tea with champagne". I think Le Jardin is quite reasonable. I just wish the portions weren't Tokyo-sized!

Dear Japan, here's the thing about bread

Dear Japan
I understand that rice is a sacred food, and that your citizens are reduced to wretched misery when deprived of its nourishment. It's so important to you that you use the same word, gohan, for "cooked rice" and "any meal of any kind". The Hero explains with adorable solemnity that it's an unforgivable sin, not to mention a grave insult to the cook, to leave behind a single grain of rice when you're eating your food.
I watch you quaffing onigiri on station platforms, snarfing it before class, gobbling away happily in restaurants.
I've read long, scholarly dissertations about the effect of rice cultivation on your national character: because rice-farming is labour intensive and requires a lot of cooperation, you developed this group think phenomenon. The scholarly dissertations elucidate it more elegantly, but that's the gist of it.
Incidentally, I've never understood this analogy. I don't think a wheat farmer in Iraq ed-Dubb,circa …

The pain and the pleasure of paying taxes in Japan

I sold my house in South Africa a few years ago, partly because I knew I would not return, partly because it's a pain in the butt to be a long-distance landlord. Initially I invested the money in South Africa – the country has a booming economy and high interest rates – but eventually I transferred some of it to Japan. That's when the fun started.
I didn't declare this as income in Japan, because I'd pay the required tax on the transaction in South Africa. Oops. What I didn't know was that a) Japanese banks inform the tax authorities of any transfer larger than ¥1 million into your account and b) as soon as money enters Japan, it counts as income, regardless of what preceded the transfer. (Keep in mind that there's no tax treaty between Japan and South Africa. Different rules could apply to different countries.)
Thus it came to pass that I received a letter from my local tax office requesting an explanation of "foreign funds". I panicked. Bitter experie…

Autumn grand finale at Koishikawa Kōrakuen

You may recall that Koishikawa Kōrakuen (小石川後楽園) only achieved second place on my list of best spots for autumn leaves in Tokyo; yet that is where I went for my final autumn leaves excursion for 2011. Nostalgia, old friendship, force of habit, call it what you will. I'm glad I went. The garden was much quieter than usual, probably because the Japanese maples are past their peak, but I could still enjoy my favourite little tree. See below.

I know this tree. I've been visiting it for many years. You have to be there at 9 am to catch the sunlight on its leaves. Barely half an hour later it's in shadows.

I've written about komomaki before–straw mats that are placed around pine trees to serve as an insect trap– and this morning I had a chance to take close-ups.

Remember my rant about men with ginormous zoom lenses? I wasn't exaggerating. These two were photographing the leaves a few meters in front of them. Down, boys, down. The eclipse of the moon is over, so you don'…