Skip to main content


Showing posts from March, 2012

The silence of the stones at Jyoumyoin

My recent grammar rant made everybody skrik (that's an Afrikaans verb that means "to catch a fright"), but it also proved that the gods have a sense of humour: I made a few mistakes in my own follow-up comments. Am I allowed to blame my smartphone's tiny keyboard? It's either that or early-onset Alzheimer's, so let's just go with the keyboard option.

I realized I had to write a new post so that we could all ignore linguistic vexations. I decided to do another story about a deity called Jizō (地蔵), because he never fails to calm me down and make me smile. Jizōis the protector of children, pregnant women, firemen, travellers and pilgrims. See why I like him? One of my favourite Jizō temples is Jyoumyoin (浄名院)in Uenosakuragi (上野桜木). You probably won't find information about this temple in any non-Japanese guidebook, and I cannot imagine that too many tourists would find it interesting, yet I can spend hours amongst its graves. I love the tranquillity of Ja…

My pet language peeve

Am I allowed another post about language? I'm a curmudgeon when it comes to slipshod grammar. I have no choice: it's a burden I've been cursed with* since my days as a copy-editor. Lina's husband would probably call me "macam poyo" about grammar. (* Please do not tell me I should say "with which I've been cursed". You are WRONG. This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I shall not put.) 
We all make mistakes in written English, but there's a difference between an honest typo and mental sloppiness, and right now my pet peeve is the stupid cretinous crackbrained habit of using should of instead of should have. It's alarming how common it's become, and it's frightening that its users have no inkling that they might be wrong.

I've given up when it comes to irregardless, literally, impact as a verb, less vs fewer, sort of, kind of, you know and basically, but I will not give up the good fight against the misuse of the apos…

Yogo-no-matsu, the pine that almost pined away

This tree is big. It's BIG.
I've seen taller trees and I've seen prettier trees, but I've never seen another tree that covers 800 square meters. It's 600 years old. Its trunk is 4.5 meters at the stem. It's only 8 meters at its highest point, but its branches extend 30 meters east to west and 28 meters north to south. They have to be supported by wooden poles.
The tree is said to be a bridge between heaven and earth for Buddha and other deities when they come to our world.It's called Yogo-no-matsu (影向の松) and you'll find it at Koiwa Fudōson Zenyōji (小岩不動尊善養寺) in Edogawa-ku.

I first learned about its existence when I researched another big pine, the Zui-ryū-no-matsu (瑞竜の松) in Shibamata, which I wrote about here. I made a mental note to look for its much older granddaddy, and finally had a chance to visit Koiwa earlier this month.
Yogo-no-matsu makes your jaw drop: it's difficult to grasp that all that green belongs to one trunk. If this centuries-old crea…

I can't do American English

"England and America are two countriesseparatedby acommon language," said Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw. He's so right! My biggest culture shock in Japan had nothing to do with Japan; it was coping with the dominance of American English in Japan's education system.
South African English has its own pronunciation, vocabulary and even grammatical structures, but it's largely based on British English. It's given me an inbuilt bias. I find it utterly impossible, for example, to say yeah when I'm reading from my eikaiwa's American textbooks. (We do have British books, too: OUP and Macmillan.) I stage a tiny personal rebellion and change it to yes every single time.
I can do the Aussie yeh, but I balk at yeah. Southern sympathy?
Real Sow Effricans, of course, say ja. It's pronounced a bit like yaw. I do that in class. Unthinkingly. May the gods help my poor students.
Then there's the pronunciation of can't. I battle forth bravely and pronounc…

Lion-hunting in the shitamachi

The lion family started its journey in Trafalgar Square in London. A few cousins travelled overseas and camped out in front of Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi. One of them took off for Mitsukoshi Ikebukuro, but he became homeless and ended up at a small shrine in Mukojima … and I found him! Am I a good hunter or what?
Here he is: an African lion resplendent in front of Mimeguri Jinja in Mukojima. This bipedal African was very happy to meet her quadrupedalcompatriot.

You may be confused by these apparently unrelated facts, but hang in there, I'm about to connect the dots. Mimeguri Jinja rates as one of my best discoveries yet. It's even better than the shrine oftrue love and the temple that ensures beautiful hair.
The story actually starts in 1673, when a tycoon called Mitsui Takatoshi opened a kimono shop in Honchō in old Edo. It was called Echigoya. It was a small operation that initially took samples of kimono fabrics to the homes of potential customers, but then Mitsui started encourag…