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Showing posts from 2015

Sherlock the meerkat

Look! Ekaterina drew me a Sherlock meerkat in Japan!
PS: Where's John? We can't have a Sherlock without a John! Kitsune John? Where's his gun?
PPS: Is 2015 over yet? No? Ugh.

Todai ginkgo report 2015: dismal prospects

I interrupt my self-imposed (and still continuing after this post) hiatus to bring you bad news. Todai's glorious ginkgos will not be at their best this year; as a matter of fact, it would be a waste of time to go. The trees were pruned ruthlessly earlier this year. I assume there are good reasons, but it means that this year there are no branches, and therefore no leaves, left. To wit:

The photo above shows the road leading to Yasuda Auditorium. The trees are skeletons. If you want to give it a go anyway, your best option is the road behind Aka-mon. See below.

The Yayoi Campus is another possibility. However, the trees are still mostly green. It's been an unusually warm autumn so far, which might mean a later-than-usual change. Peak time will be towards the end of November. Maybe.

Temporary hiatus

Hello, all!

I'm putting this blog on ice for about two months. (Not that I've been very active this year, but ... ja ... ) I'll be in London this month, and when I get back* I'll crash head first into the new winter semester. I'll be busy.

Enjoy autumn up north and spring down south, read a few books, have a few glasses of red wine. I'll be back in time for another edition of Tokyo's Glorious Ginkgos.

* Yes. Well. The last time I went to a foreign country on what was supposed to be a 3-week holiday, it turned into a 10-year stay. Things tend to go off track when Ru starts wandering across borders. However. I do have a return ticket. So. Enjoy the peace and quiet, because it won't last.

またね!Mata ne! Till later!


Shopping? Meh. Let's rather go grave-crawling.

I'm not normal. Not in any way, but especially not compared to your average Japanese personage.
I've taught hundreds of students, and I don't know of one who's gone to London without visiting Harrods. The female of the species inevitably spends a full day at the store, and regards it as the highlight of the trip. Just last week I talked to a father who's taking his daughter (a university student) to London. Their holiday is 5 days: 2 days travelling, 3 days in London. Day 1: Harrods. Day 2: some Harry Potter theme park thing somewhere. Day 3: shopping for omiyage. Then back to Tokyo. I give up. What's the point of a tour like that?
Neither has one student ever praised London's food, which is, to the Japanese palate, the worst in the world.

Reads books. Peruses websites. Stares at maps. Considers limited time. Harrods? Meh. Let's rather go to Highgate Cemetery.
Reads more books. Peruses further websites. Drools over maps. Considers limited time. Cheese ch…

One might deduce ...

... that my priorities have changed slightly.

Rapunzel becomes Samson

Yesterday I cut off my hair. I went from long flowing Rapunzel locks to a pixie cut. It's 60% liberation, 40% "oh shit I've lost myself".
Random additional information follows:
Yes, it's a big deal. Any woman who's gone from long to short will confirm that.
I've always had more brains than beauty, but my hair is an exception: fine, soft, wavy, gold-brown with natural sun-bleached stripes. I have a lot of hair. A lot. It was my signature, especially here in Tokyo. It was exceptionally easy to meet anybody in a busy public space, even somebody who'd never seen me before. "I'm the one with the hair." "Heh?" "Don't worry. You'll see me."

So why did I cut it?
1) Comfort zone. Always, always, break out.
2) Bored.
3) It's a glorious, defiant, "up yours!" celebration of middle age. Long hair is a sign of youth, fertility, desirability, blablabla. Older women are expected to cut their hair and take care…

Froggy fire protection in Azabu-jūban

I'm a commoner, a peasant and a pleb. I'm also a socialist; as a matter of fact, the older I get, the redder the colour of my personal flag.
That's one of the many reasons why I prefer to live in the shitamachi, the poorer working-class area of Tokyo. Tokyo's sought-after wealthy suburbs either bore me (Daikanyama; what in heaven's name do you do there except shop?) or scare me (Den-en-chōfu is an American suburb and Shōtō in Shibuya is Johannesburg) [both feel like a psychopathic virtual reality game].
However. There's one upmarket area that does appeal, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's Azabu-jūban, which happens to be right next to my pet hate, Roppongi. Perhaps it's the suburb's village-like atmosphere thanks to cobbled streets and a giddy mixture of fru fru cafes and traditional shops. Maybe Asakusa would look like that if it were wealthy.
Whatever the reason may be, I'm always happy to return, as I did this morning whe…

Murder attempts and burqa hot pants

I used Japan's EMS service to mail documents to South Africa. 
Monday 8 June         mailed from Tokyo Thursday 11 June     arrived Johannesburg Friday 12 June          sent to Cape Town Monday 15 June       arrived Cape Town Thursday 18 June     "retention"
Friday 19 June          delivered
It takes South Africa longer to deliver documents from the Cape Town Central Post Office Depot to an address in Cape Town than it takes Japan to send those documents 13 536 km, almost halfway around the world.
Ai, Suid-Afrika. It's not that difficult!
This hasn't been a very rainy rainy season. It's been mostly a blah dreary gray skies season. It hasn't even been very hot: low twenties. I haven't used my air con yet. I have sent roughly 643 LINE messages to my friends complaining about cold trains. The Oedo Line is so cold that it's painful.
Biggest advantage of rainy season: hydrangeas.

You're going to have to try harder to kill me
Japanese pharmacist…

A private tour of the Toguri Museum of porcelain

Seven thousand pieces of antique Japanese porcelain. About one hundred on display at any time. A surprisingly humorous journey into the past.
Well, it surprised and amused me. When I think of antiques, I think of very serious boffins ponderously pontificating on the authenticity of some hideous objet d'art that reminds me rather ominously of the three flying ducks on my grandmother's sitting room wall. It was next to a brass relief of a Cape buffalo. The room also had a riempiesbank and a jonkmanskas and a stinkwood table and other stuff that we thought were uncomfortable and old-fashioned, but were, in fact, quite valuable (eventually) because it was so old.

Anyway. Antiques sound a bit, umm, dusty, so it was a delightful surprise to discover that old equals funny. Serious, beautiful, fascinating, all of that, but also funny: lopsided early pieces full of dirty bits when Japan was still taking baby steps in porcelain production, a fingerprint left in clay, a flop tea cup pra…

Sōji-ji, the centre of Zen in eastern Japan

Sōji-ji is a bit of an odd duck, but it's a very calm, cheerful, wood-chopping, water-carrying duck.
It is, after all, one of Japan's two main Sōtō Zen temples. The famous one is Eihei-ji, which has everything one would expect: remote mountain location, mysterious forests, deep snow. Sōji-ji, on the other hand, is smack-bang in the middle of Tsurumi near Yokohama. It's an industrialized zone with identical apartment buildings and big companies like Toshiba, Nissan, Kirin and Asahi Glass. Not exactly conducive to shikantaza.

That's why I was a bit skeptical when I visited it, but … it won me over very quickly. It's a training temple, and monks carry on with their duties despite a steady stream of visitors. I'm used to Zen temples and monks who ignore you – vow of silence and ascetic seclusion and what-not – but not this bunch! Every one of them greeted me with a cheerful "konnichi wa" and a wide grin: the guys working in the garden, the guys sweeping…