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Showing posts from 2012

Benzaiten and the year of the snake

Snakes alive! It's almost 2013!
It's customary in Japan to visit a shrine or a temple on New Year's Day to pray for good luck, or to go on a mini-pilgrimage to places of worship dedicated to the so-called seven lucky gods. (I wrote about the Fukagawa pilgrimage in this post.) This year I'll walk the Asakusa pilgrimage, and I wouldn't be surprised if Benten-dō – dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten – is the most popular place to visit during this excursion. I also predict a longer than usual queue at other Benten-dō across Japan.
That's because 2013 is the year of the snake, and Benzaiten's messengers or avatars are serpents or dragons. Benzaiten (弁才天, 弁財天) was originally a Hindu river goddess named Sarasvatī. She was introduced to Japan via China in the seventh century, and over the years she became associated with a Japanese kami called Ugajin (宇賀神), who was the kami of water, agriculture and good fortune. He was usually depicted as a white snake with the hea…

James Bond, I hate you. You kill Beetles.

James Bond, I hate you. How dare you destroy Beetles? Beetles?! The cutest car in the world? Ag nee man. (A literal translation of that Afrikaans phrase would be "oh no man". It's mostly used as an expression of irritation, but it's also an indication of resignation or sympathy.)

I recently saw the movie Skyfall. I'm not a particular James Bond fan – I vaguely recall seeing a Pierce Brosnan movie set in North Korea a few years ago – but I figured a buff Daniel Craig might be a better Christmas Eve option than a metabo Santa Claus. So off I went.
I enjoyed it, decided yet again that London is a great city, marvelled at Scotland's rugged beauty and thanked my lucky stars that I don't have to travel on London's Underground every day. (Are the trains and platforms really that narrow and that crowded? I can't recall.)
However! James Bond kills Beetles! He crushes several Beetles with a backhoe while pursuing a baddie on the roof of a train in Turkey. …

Tokyo Sky Tree goes red for Christmas

Peter Jackson I'm not, but here's a video of Tokyo Sky Tree's red Christmas illumination. It won't be the best video by far, but I'm relatively sure it's one of the first. I've been ogling Sky Tree since dusk, because tonight is the first of three キャンドルツリー (candle tree) illuminations. You can see this red illumination tonight, on the 24th and on the 25th.

PS added on 24 December: if you want to see photos taken by a professional, here you go; and for more Sky Tree Christmas photos, head over to Dru's Facebook page.

A cosmopolitan Christmas

Christmas must be Western civilization's most successful export product: everybody gleefully gets onto the Christmas bandwagon, regardless of race, colour, creed, origin, nationality, gender, social status, dis/ability or any other category according to which humankind can be classified.

I don't celebrate it as a religious day (I'm a heathen), but I do enjoy what I call the chaos of Christmas in Japan: unbridled commercialism, unbridled lust after your romantic Christmas dinner, alternatively unbridled indigestion after you KFC family bucket dinner, Christmas carols ad nauseum, Starbucks's cranberry bliss bar, "illumination" (as Christmas lights are called in Japan) and the amazing annual metamorphosis when Christmas decorations disappear overnight and are replaced with traditional New Year's decorations.

Here's a happy hotchpotch of seasonal trivia. I start with funnies from Zapiro, a South African cartoonist who should be declared a National Treasur…

Flummoxed by fonts

I've  been playing with fonts on my blog.

That's after I made a traumatizing discombobulating knocked-for-six discovery that's left me reeling: I caught myself squinting to read the small Arial font that used to be my default. I've been nearsighted since university, but I've never (never!) worn glasses for reading or working on a computer. Now I find myself adjusting my scope, as it were, to find the best distance from a computer screen.

Dang. Doddering dementia has just stepped closer.

Personally I blame air conditioning. My eyes are dry, scratchy and irritated. No wonder everything's blurred.

Anyway. I've decided I prefer serif fonts in print but sans serif on screen, but now the question is, which sans serif?

Arial in a bigger font size?
Maybe Verdana?
Perhaps Trebuchet?
Or how about Calibri?

I confess that I'm rather partial to Calibri, which you should be reading right now provided you're using a relatively new operating system, but it's a font …

Asakusa's Hagoita-ichi (Battledore Market)

A promise is a promise.
That's why I forced myself up early on Tuesday morning, despite the fact that I had watched YouTube and simultaneously swapped emails with a friend in South Africa (seven hours behind Japan) until 2 am. I had promised Merry Witch that I would attend the Asakusa Hagoita-ichi¹ (浅草羽子板市), so off I went.

Am I glad I did! I love Asakusa. That's why I live here.
It’s been described as "not what it used to be", tacky, touristy, poor, run-down, kitsch, dangerous. The latter is an accusation I often hear from my eikaiwa colleagues as well as students, who mostly live in Western Tokyo and are wealthy enough to fork out half a million yen for English lessons. They seem to think the shitamachi, especially Yanaka and Asakusa, is "ii naaa" but they don't really want to live here; all other areas, especially Ueno and Adachi, are very much non-U. I'm not sure what their definition of dangerous is, but I suspect it's a synonym for yakuza…