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Showing posts from June, 2013

When life is good

Warm summer evening in Tokyo.

Home after having a late lunch, strolling to Sensō-ji and returning via back alleys. All windows and sliding doors wide open. Bach's violin concertos in the background, the world's greatest city at my feet. Sky Tree, sea gulls flying home, kids laughing in the street.

Last night it was possible to smell the ocean in the shitamachi: the air was heavy with a salty tang, seaweed, a heady mixture of freshness and decay.
Eight years later, and at times it still hits me with an FOB magnitude 9 force: omigod I'm in Japan.

I can't help thinking of Mark Twain's wisdom:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. After that poetic flight of fancy, let's return to earth with a bump and a grin. This is what I had for dinner last night:

Don't laugh! Ice cream is goo…

A teacher's most vulnerable asset

The first time I stood in front of a university class was in the 1990s, when I was a guest lecturer at a journalism school in South Africa. I was regarded as an expert in African media, which simply meant I knew

1) that a deadline was a theoretical concept; 2) that full-colour advertising was wishful thinking; and 3) that there was no free lunch, free PR or free anything in Africa.
Eventually I left journalism behind, focused on linguistics, oversaw a few tutorials, marked a few papers, moved to Japan, taught at an English conversation school, progressed (or regressed?) to a university.
Throughout it all, I used to think a teacher's main assets are, in no particular order of importance: a good education, curiosity, patience, compassion, high standards in your work ethic, a passion for your topic, a genuine interest in your students, creativity, flexibility, being organized, the ability to simplify and explain and intrigue, a strong enough ego to cope with criticism, enough humilit…

The gods and legends of the Sumida River

Mukashi-mukashi, a long time ago, there was a river. Peasants had small farms on its banks, a statue of Benten was discovered by two fishermen, a mother found the grave of her long-lost son, a shrine was built in honour of the water god, a future shōgun of Kamakura crossed the river in his uprising against the Taira clan of Kyoto.
The river flowed on. It was diverted, polluted, worshipped, flooded, entombed in concrete. It flowed on.
The entire Sumida River is drenched in history, but a few spots deserve special attention.

It isn't possible to tell the story of the Sumida without referring to what is arguably its most famous landmark, Sensō-ji (浅草寺). According to legend, two fisherman brothers found a statue of the bodhisattva Kannon in the river in 628. They took it to their village chief, who enshrined the statue by remodelling his house into a small temple so that the entire village could worship the deity. The first authentic temple was built on the same site in 645 CE, …

The bridges across the Sumida River

The Sumida River covers a distance of 27 km from Kita-ku to Tokyo Bay, but its most interesting section is – of course! – the one that runs through the shitamachi.
Today, in the second part of my Sumida series, I'll cover the lower section from Shirahigebashi to Eitaibashi. I originally included extra information about the river's main shrines, for example a shrine that's dedicated to the river god himself, but the post got so long that you would've fallen asleep halfway through. Let's focus on the bridges, and then I'll interrupt my series with an extra post about the gods.
This section has the most interesting bridges, several of which were constructed by Kawasaki Steel Construction (currently Kawasaki Heavy Industries) after older bridges collapsed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. The company rebuilt a total of 25 bridges using 16 000 tonnes of steel after that quake, including Shirahigebashi, Kiyosubashi and Eitaibashi. The Sumida bridges became famo…