Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!
Bunkyo-ku is famous for its universities and literary sons. Natsume Soseki, a 19th century novelist is pictured on the 1000 yen note and the site of the house where he wrote I Am A Cat is not too far from our own.
When we first visited it, there was an old stone monolith carved with some of Soseki’s vital statistics. It was the stone equivalent to the historical markers that dot roadsides in the US. Informative. Not terribly imaginative. A record of something worth recalling.
Recently, the nearby university made the property, “Natsume Soseki’s Cat’s House” is how it’s listed on a map, part of its campus. They tore down the old building and monument and erected a lovely, modern structure for classrooms. And the rebuilt the monument.
There’s a new stone monolith with Soseki’s biography. A delightful addition awaits the observant visitor. A grey slate wall runs along the side of the building. Perched on top of the wall, looking out over the neighborhood is a bronze cat sculpted in a lively pose. The perfect touch.
Kakizome is the first calligraphy of the new year. It’s traditionally done on January 2nd and the department stores and shops around Tokyo prepare for this day with enormous displays of writing tools for sale—brushes of many sizes, inkstones with different shades of black ink, traditional papers, scrolls, and decorative plaques.
Shodo (the art of calligraphy) artisans practice every day. The master calligrapher clears his mid, visualises the finished work, takes a deep breath, then begins drawing what he sees in his mind’s eye. In China this summer, I watched men practicing with large brushes and water on the sidewalks at the Temple of Heaven. They moved slowly and gracefully like dancers.
Calligraphy isn’t just for masters—over the winter holiday, many schoolchildren are assigned calligraphy homework. I wonder if they do it on January 2nd?
Oshogatsu is over. We now return to our regularly scheduled life.
I skipped the traditional festivities and just rested. It was six tranquil days for me. I made no temple visit, no trip shout “banzai!” to the Emperor. I didn’t even buy a fukubukuro—a lucky grab bag.
New Years can be dangerous. Six people were injured in the stampede for fukubukuro at Tama Plaza Tokyu Shopping Center in Yokohama. Two people choked to death on mochi, a sticky rice cake said to ensure long life. Ironic, but it happens every year. TV shows demonstrate how to dislodge mochi—a vacuum cleaner is said to do the trick.
So I’m back to a normal schedule today. Except that I’m already running late; I’m overdue to take coffee to Tod…
I’m so caught up in my work now it seems like there was never a holiday at all. I spent all day yesterday writing, producing web sites and catching up on my DigitalEve work. And I’m at it again today, see?
It’s nice to know that foreigners aren’t the only ones with bad handwriting.
A friend called Aizawa filled in her commuter train pass form. A machine scanned the handwriting and printed the name on the pass. Her new name is Fizaku (the bottom line in the example). Close. Very close.
Fortunately, Fizaku is just a nonsense word in Japanese. Aizawa-san thinks it sounds sort of German.
Yakudoshi is an unlucky year for people of certain ages. Everyone has three yakudoshi during their lives. Women’s come at 19, 33, and 37. Men are 25, 42 and 61. But the Shinto way of counting birthdays adds a year to your age, so the Western ages are 18, 32, 36, 24, 41, & 60.
That means this will be an inauspicious year for me. I should make regular trips to the shine and buy lots of amulets for protection. The year before and the year following your yakudoshi are also unlucky—the prelude and poscript to rotten, I guess.
I’m not so sure about the power of amulets, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed this year. Just in case.
Nanakusa-gayu is a rice porridge with seven spring herbs. If you live in the country, you can pick the herbs (which are really just weeds) along the edges of fields and roads. Here in the city, we buy them in plastic containters at the supermarket.
The combination of herbs and rice is thought to cleanse the system after too much rich holiday food. And eating nanakusa-gayu on January 7th ensures health throughout the year. Or so they say. It was part of last night’s dinner, so we will see how the year pans out.
“I was surrounded by monsters and they were scary,” Mike was telling Katie. “But I took out my Henway and they all ran away.”
Katie, who’s in the second grade, was incredulous. “What’s a Henway?” she asked.
“About six pounds,” Mike answered.
Katie just looked confused. She doesn’t always get the jokes she might if she had English-speaking schoolmates.
So Mike tried to explain that ‘what’s’ can also mean ‘how much does.’ Then Tod told the joke, only he had a Penfor to scare away the monsters. The joke fell flat again. Humour is a subtle business, even when the jokes are bad.
Today’s the day to break the kagami mochi and to burn all the holiday decorations.
Kagami mochi is the double-decker offering of sticky rice made at the new year. By now, it’s gone hard and cripy and after scraping off the mold which has no doubt accumulated, you must crack it with a hammer into small pieces. It’s unlucky to use a knife. You can use the shattered fragments in soup, mix them in with rice or any number of dishes.
All of the holiday decorations—bamboo festoons, pine branches warding off evil—all get tossed onto a communal fire at a temple. Any bad luck caught in them is immolated , keeping your home and hearth safe and happy for the remainder of the year.
Japan’s businesses are in deep trouble despite the weakening of the yen which makes the import/export figures look better.
Yesterday MyCal, a national grocery and retail chain, closed its doors after a two-day 80% off sale. eBay Japan is considering how to manage compeition in the online auction market here. One idea is to sell itself to Yahoo Japan. Daiei, is considering selling off its baseball park/hotel complex in Fukuoka and maybe even its baseball team, the Hawks.
I’ve often been surprised that small mom-and-pop boutiques stay in business, but the little shopping streets in our neighborhood are going strong as ever. At least the ones that haven’t been torn down to build megalith apartment complexes. I hope they can hang on through this bad patch.
Sunday afternoon at the free market (aka flea market) in Shinjuku was fun. Sarah, Tod & I gawked at all sorts of old dishes, kimono, and pretty Tibetan style things, but spent most of our time poring over old maps.
Sara ended up with a 1930s hand-tinted map of Tokyo and two vivid reproductions of maps with Latin inscriptions. She bargained with the vendor and got the lot for about 8,000 yen. I found a unique map/postal rate chart from Meiji 44 (about 1912), It’s difficult to describe but I love it. Sarah asked the man for a discount on my behalf since she’d just bought three maps and he gave me mine for only 1,500 yen. The frame will cost more than the map!
Although I’ve never really wanted one before, I picked up a DoCoMo catalog today to look at the cell phones. There are 28 different handsets ranging from ones that can run Java applets to more basic models with greyscale displays. It costs between 3,000 and 45,000 yen to purchase the hardware.
Then come the calling plans. Plan A is 4,500 yen a month and calls are 20-40 yen/minute depending on the time of day. You get 600 yen’s worth of calls for free each month. Or maybe you want to talk lots? You want the Hanashi Plan Big. 9,100 yen per month with 6,600 yen in free calls. Per minute you’ll pay between 22-44 yen. On top of the half dozen different plans are a handful of discount schemes—family discount, business discount, volume plan, even a “thanks for being a customer for a long time discount” that you get automatically.
Needless to say, this makes choosing a cell phone quite a chore. And this is just one of four major cell phone services. I’ haven’t even looked at TuKa, Au or J-phone yet.
I’ve always been a bit behind the times when it comes to adopting new technology. But today I joined the ranks of normal people when I purchased a cell phone.
It’s a sweet little thing—a D211i. In addition to letting me make phone calls, I can surf the web, send e-mail (if I’m willing to enter text using the numeric keypad) and set alarms. I can even download songs for my ring tones, though I’m not sure why I’d want to, since my phone has ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” built-in. Who needs more than that?
Spring might be creeping up on us already. The weather in the past few days has certainly made a turn in that direction. I can tell because it is colder inside the house than outside. It seems crazy that I shiver as I’m putting on my coat and shoes in the hall, then feel toasty when I step outside.
If this really is spring, the heating disparity will continue until late April. Then we’ll experience a few wonderful week before the rainy season begins and the humid heat of summer settles in. I’m already looking forward to May!
I love it when DigitalEve Japan gets good press. We all work so hard at creating an engaging, useful organization that articles like today’s in the Japan Times’ Techno Times section make me grin.
Traditional workman’s clothing is distinctive and very functional. Pants balloon at the knees then fall tight and straight to meet leather-bottomed split-toed socks called tabi A vest with pockets tops the outfit. What’s really nifty is that these traditional uniforms are still in widespread use.
You can buy them online at Tokyo Uniform along with Office Lady outfits, Japanese restaurant uniforms, and security guard armbands. If you want to look like a Tokyo worker, this is the perfect place to shop.
Paying utility bills in Japan is interesting. You take your bill, and the necessary cash, to the post office or to the convenience store and pay there. You can’t mail a check since there are no checks in the Japanese banking system.
At the convenience store, the clerk scans the bar code on the bill and it’s rung up as a sale on the register. You hand over the money, she hands you change and stamps your bill to show you’ve paid. It’s as easy as buying a newspaper if considerably more expensive.
602,089 students took their university entrance examinations yesterday. This is the moment they’ve been working towards throughout their school years. They’ve studied, memorized and crammed their minds full of facts for these examinations.
Some of the hopefuls will make it into their college of choice and face a pretty easy road through university. It’s generally recognised that university years are carefree and fun.Those who fail will spend coming year studying harder so they can to try again next year.
No doubt in the upcoming months while exams are being scored, there will be 6,020,890 nervously bitten fingernails.
I woke up extra early this morning. I wasn’t sure why.
But as it turns out, I stirred at about the same time that our ADSL provider was cutting off our connection. They do this every few months to all their normal customers. Now we have a new IP address for the next couple of months.
For us, it’s not a big deal—we have to restart the connection and update a few settings and then we can get on with what we usually do. For a business, changing an IP address suddenly and out of the blue is a disaster and by cutting the connection, the ADSL provider ensures that businesses pony up the exorbitant fees for continuous, static IP addresses. A clever strategy.
Anyway, waking up at the same time the connection was cut makes me wonder if I’m supernaturally in tune with my Internet connectivity.
Japan’s government has pledged $500 million dollars to help rebuild Afganistan, 1/3 of the total pledges received at this week’s meeting of Afganistan leaders and various nations here in Tokyo. Afghanistan would like to receive $15 billion in aid over the next ten years, and this meeting has given them 10% of their goal.
Japan isn’t allowed to participate in wars, according to its postwar Constitution and is often seen (domestically and internationally) as a bit player on the world political stage as a result. Maybe they are trying to buy their way into a bigger role.
Kani Ryouri is Japanese for “crab cuisine.” There’s a fantastic kani ryouri restaurant in Azabu Juban, about 20 minutes away. I’m sure it has a real name, but we call it the crab restaurant.
Their crab set lunch (1,200 yen) is a delight. It’s hard to decide what’s most delicious: crab sashimi served with tiny shreds of steamed sea vegetable; silken tofu topped with crab and a seasoned soy sauce; rice sprinkled with dried crab crumbles; creamy potato salad laced with crab; a deep-fried crab croquette. Of course there’s miso soup, pickles, and tea, too. It’s quite a treat for lunch.
If you’re headed there, leave Azabu Juban station via Exit 4; walk about two blocks down the small shopping street on the left hand side of Wendy’s. It has a rustic exterior and a small genkan to take of your shoes before stepping into the tatami-carpeted seating area. Sorry that I have no idea what the name is…
It’s that time again and a feeling of dread is building. Our Japanese teacher announced the school’s upcoming (mandatory) speech contest.
This year’s contest theme is “Nihongo ga jouzu ni natara…” which means “When I become skilled in Japanese…” I think my opening sentence is going to have to be “When I become skilled in Japanese, I will be an old lady.” From there, I’m not sure where to go but I have about a month to decide.
Oops, they did it again. Snow Brand’s in the news for some rather unethical actions.
About 18 months ago, their milk products company failed to follow safety procedures (or even basic common sense) and recycled old milk into the new milk supply. Yuck! 10,000 people contracted food poisoning.
This time, their meat group tried to defraud the government by sending 13.8 tons of Australian beef to be destroyed in a federal buyback related to BSE containment. Only Japanese beef was eligible for the program—apparently the meat company intentionally mislabelled their Australian product in order to get the government funding. What were they thinking?
What’s up with Japan’s soft punishments for crimes against young women? This week there have been two remarkable examples.
In the first case, a man abducted a 9 year old girl and held her prisoner in a room of his home for more than nine years. It was reported in the courtroom that girl was fed only once a day, threatened with weapons, and beaten if she stepped outside the taped-down boundary her captor created. The presiding judge said, “The suffering of her family was very grave, and it is natural to impose a severe punishment,” before he sentenced the man to 14 years in jail.
In the second, a man struck out and kicked his 3 year old daughter in the stomach when he discovered she’d eaten some dog food. She died the next day. The father was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
Does this point out that the Japanese justice system is too lenient overall? Or that women and girls are not valued? Or maybe it’s a statement on something else entirely. I’m not sure but these two criminals got away with nothing more than a slap on the hand for some pretty dire crimes.
Well, we’re officially househunting again.
The current house is just too big, too cold and most importantly, too expensive. The rent here is equal to about 7 months of mortgage payments on our house in Pittsburgh. In our Bunkyo neightborhood, one Pittsburgh mortgage payment rents a 9x12 foot room with a galley kitchen and a bathroom. We’re looking for a place to live in the range of “4 months of mortgage payments.”
We’re racking up our 5th home in 4 years here in Japan. I hope that the new one is perfect and we stay there for a while! I think our realtor, Inoue-san, is going to become rich on our commissions.
Foreigners who live in Tokyo are rarely lukewarm about it. They either love it or hate it. It’s a beautiful place or an ugly place. It’s wonderful or terrible.
This is the view from my balcony. I overlook the entrance to another building’s garage (on the left) and collection of low rooves and wires. In the middle distance is the tall new apartment building that has restaurants and our fancy supermarket. Off in the background, as far as you can see, are more tall buildings.
Some say this is ugly. I’m not so sure. Look at the subtle range of colors and the strong geometric shapes cutting the phot into sections. The way the distant buildings are hazy like mountains in classic Chinese paintings. The strong light angling down on a wall in the foreground. Granted, it’s not an idyllic forest, but it has beauty.
Househunting is done. Here’s where we’re going to live, if the contract is successfully completed. It’s on the 2nd floor of a 5 story building near the Marunouchi subway line at Korakuen station—about a fifteen minute walk southeast of where we live now.
The terrace looks out over the Japanese gardens of the downstairs neighbors. It’s really beautiful and southern exposure means sunlight all day. The kitchen is small but efficient; the narrow room marked 9 will be our office, the bedroom (marked 5) is just big enough for our bed—I had to come home and measure before we could decide!
This morning I’m making a list of all the things we need to sell or give away before we move. There’s quite a bit of stuff to shed before we’ll fit into the new, compact apartment.
Some of it we’ll give away to friends. But I don’t think I know anyone who wants a coffee table. Or a big bookcase. So I think those items are going to be auctioned on Yahoo! Japan Auctions . My challenge today is to figure out how to make it work. That means lots of reading and writing in Japanese.
My sensei will be so proud. I wonder if she’d like to buy a washing machine?
Last night in Japanese class, we encountered an example sentence that Tod & I agreed made us uncomfortable.
We were practicing with “teki,” a suffix that’s equivalent to -ish or -like. For each sentence using Nihonteki (Japan-ish or Japanese), we had to describe the qualities of the thing. For example, “This is a Japanese house.” Then we described a Japanese style house. It has tatami floors, it is cold in winter, it has ranma and a pond with koi.
“He has a Japanese face” is the sentence that threw us for a loop. As “politically correct” Americans we’re trained to not look at racial characteristics too closely! What makes a Japanese face Japanese? Sensei said that Japanese faces are more flat that Western ones—not “dekoboko” which means uneven or bumpy.