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A year that's already gone to the dogs

2018 is the year of the dog. I photographed these ema at Hie Jinja, which always has big variety of designs. Indigenous species such as the shiba inu and the Akita inu feature prominently.


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Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.

It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

A whiter shade of pale

I have become used to the confusion I cause in Japan, but this week delivered a new highlight. Student: Where are you from?
Me: South Africa.
Student: Africa?
Me: Yes.
Student: Is your country very cold?
Me: Cold? No! Africa! Why?
Student: Because your skin is very pale. Which is the roundaboutest way yet of asking but why aren’t you black if you’re from Africa? Wait. It gets better. This specific student is a university lecturer. One would assume a certain level of knowledge about the world. One would be wrong.

Permanent residency ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ

I’ve been granted permanent residency in Japan. This morning – 10 years and 11 months after I arrived here with a work permit, and 5 months and 2 weeks after I'd applied for it – I collected my permanent residency card at Immigration in Shinagawa. 
Epic journey halfway around our globe, this, and it's ... ironic? Freudian? immaterial? ... that my trip to Shinagawa included all my petty irritations about my new permanent home. Gobs of spit on the road to the station, a pool of vomit in front of a Korean restaurant, commuter train jam-packed with sniffing men (and I'd like to point out yet again that we're talking about uvula-rattling snot avalanches, not delicate sniffs into lace handkerchiefs). The guy who stopped in front of me at a red light had his finger halfway up his nose. What is it with gold-digging in this country?  I waited at the relevant counter at Immigration. There were about 100 people in line. Every hue of black and brown; only two of us melanin-deficient.…

We need more babies in infantry schools, damnit!

A recent discussion class focused on the lack of nursery schools in Japan, which is often cited as a major reason for Japan's declining birthrate. One man -- a new father -- was particularly vocal about the issue, but he kept confusing infant with infantry.

"Japan's lack of infantry schools is making us weak!" he thundered forth.

I'm quite sure the prime minister agrees with him.

The ultimate guide to Kanda Myojin

I'm floundering. I don't know how to start a post about Kanda Myōjin (神田明神), because how do you choose a highlight from this collection below?
The decapitated head of a rebellious samurai who's still haunting Ōtemachi is buried in the vicinity, and his deified spirit is enshrined here.It's been called the world's geekiest shrine thanks to its proximity to otaku heaven Akihabara. The shrine has a Facebook, Twitter and LINE account.You can see some extremely generously endowed young ladies on the shrine's ema.It has a horse. A real horse. A tiny living breathing pony.Birds protect it against fire.
See my problem? Where do I start the ultimate guide to the ultimate shrine?

Why Kanda Myōjin?
Let's be boring and kick off with my own connection with Kanda Myōjin, which is very simple: I've always lived within walking distance of the shrine. My first four years in Tokyo were spent in Kanda, blissfully close to the book district Jinbōchō, and I frequently passed …

Leaf worship

Today I fell in love with leaves at a shrine. I stole one and took it home ... and realized it has exactly the same colours as the Bedouin carpet I bought in Egypt seven lifetimes ago.

An X-rated start to 2018 thanks to the Bearded Jizō (髭地蔵)

I really didn't mean to start the year in an X-rated fashion, but what's a woman to do when the situation arises unexpectedly?
You may recall … Well. You probably don't. This was six years ago, before the long hiatus, when I went on a few walkpeditions to find Tokyo's remaining phallic stones. It amused me – still does – that here in the heart of the city of robots and bullet trains you can still find old gods and ancient beliefs, hidden behind neon lights and artisan coffee shops.
There's a phallic stone in the heart of Ueno Park, and nobody knows about it. Or rather, very few do, and certainly no tourists.
It stands on Shōtenjima (聖天島), a small island next to Benten-dō in Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park. It's not easy to see it, though, because the island is fenced off and in a badly neglected state. 
If you look at it from behind, it looks like this …

… but it's not what you think it is. It's actually a Jizō figure. That's clear from the other side, but o…

Kusuo Yasuda House and Garden in Sendagi

Not entirely sure I should write about this house, because I suspect the Lonely Planet hordes haven't discovered it yet, and if there's one thing we have enough of in Tokyo right now, it's tourists. Let me reiterate: I have nothing against solitary travelers [hello, self!] or small groups. I do loathe, with an exponentially growing intensity, tour buses vomiting forth one obnoxious group after the other.
God help the Former Kusuo Yasuda House and Garden, to give it its full English name, if those buses ever arrive.
The house is a Japan National Trust for Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation property, and I'm going to plagiarize / summarize shamelessly from their brochure:
"Located in the quiet Sendagi residential district, the house survived both the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the WWII air-raid bombings. The house was built in 1919 for Yoshisaburo Fujita, a connoisseur of traditional architecture. He sold the house in 1923 to Zenshiro Yasuda. When the latt…

Visiting a dentist in Tokyo

I kept my cool until I saw my dentist's second bill. "Are you insane?" I squealed. "Is this a joke? You expect me to pay this?!"
Never mind teething problems; I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by a bill for ¥550. That's less than you pay for a telephone call to your dentist in South Africa, and I'd just been fitted with a brand-new crown.
Japan, I love you.
Here's the story. My dental dilemma started when a molar that had an old, big filling decided to say sayonara. The back part of the tooth, which held the filling in place, snapped off. I didn't experience any pain, but I realized I wouldn't be able to pretend that nothing had happened. I wanted to do just that, because I'd read so many horror stories about dentists in Japan. 
They suck.They're hideously expensive.You have to go back, like, seven times for just a filling!
Thus spoke colleagues, discussions boards and comments sections. I consulted my best bu…