Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off....

I recently heard they are making a remake of the 1984 classic, Karate Kid, with Jackie Chan taking on Pat Morita's old role as Mr. Miyagi and Jaden Smith (Jada Pinket and Will Smith's son) filling Ralph Machio's shoes as Daniel LaRusso.  Ralph Macchio could probably still play a believable Karate Kid today. I think he was like thirty when he played the role of 16 year-old Daniel. He's one of those people that just never ages.

I got to wondering about whatever happened to Ralph Macchio so I went searching for him on the Internet. I discovered he is in a new movie, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead, also starring Jake Hoffman (son of Dustin Hoffman) and scored by Sean Lennon. I'm not too sure what part Ralph Macchio plays but after watching the trailer I know exactly why he is in this flick. The movie involves vampires, who like Macchio, never age! Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Is your spine tingling?

View the trailer for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead:

Macchio in top form, playing opposite Hoffman in the limo scene.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bus Topped

You can find his book on
While I recently discovered that I'm not the only one with a dream to photograph every manhole cover in Japan, I'm also not the first to document its bus stops either (see: A Seat for Sore Eyes). I spied this article in the the Tokyo Shinbun daily newspaper about a guy (Shuuichiro Shibata) who just had a book of photos published that captures the beauty of bus stops across the archipelago.

In case you missed the "classic" soda bottle
ashtray in the photo above, here's a close up.

Uniquely Similar

Like most homes in Japan, ours has an umbrella stand in the foyer, or genkan.

I brought it inside one day to to examine the exquisite detail in a better light. Wondering what hand might have framed the delicate symmetry of this delightful creature, I turned it round in hopes that the artist had graced us with some signature marking when lo and behold an inscription revealed itself.

With growing anticipation I moved in for closer inspection and read these words....

MANY!!! I wonder, could it be the same Many we have heard so much about in recent years whose prolific works have been single handedly fueling the economies of China and other emerging economies. Oh what a Many splendored thing this is.

My Cup Runneth Over...

with joy each time I press my lips against my ....


My parents got this china set (by Mita of Japan) back in the 1950's but it wasn't until a couple of years ago that we spied the "Sweatheart" imprinted on the bottom of every piece.   

Warning Signs

Yokohama - City ordinances here strictly stipulate that whenever residents discard broken glass, etc. that could pose the risk of injury to trash collectors, such refuse must be clearly labeled as "ワレモノ," or "shattered item(s)."

I hope they got the message.

Always Changing Always the Same

Kids in traditional Japanese garb hover around a Nintendo DS hand-held video game at a festival .

Down the Drain

I've been taking photos of manhole covers in the area. Some of them are really interesting. I had intended to make a photo montage of the most beautiful sewer caps I could find when the other day I found this:

Evidently somebody else (with a better camera and more talent) has had their eye on manholes too. There go all my hopes for publishing an in-depth treatise on the manholes of Japan right down the drain.

Read what the Amazon review of Drainspotting by Remo Camerota says:

 "In Japan, modern sewer systems began to appear during the late 19th century, though evidence of sewage systems in the country dates back to over 2,000 years ago. Foreign engineers introduced the Japanese to modern, underground sewer systems with above ground access points called manhoru (manholes). At that time, manhole covers utilized the geometric designs similar to those used in other countries. In the 1980s, as communities outside of Japan?s major cities were slated to receive new sewer systems these public works projects were met with resistance, until one dedicated bureaucrat solved the problem by devising a way to make these mostly invisible systems aesthetically appreciated aboveground: customized manhole covers."


This cap bears the official seal of the City of Yokohama. It's a symbol combining the katakana characters for "ha (ハ)" and "ma (マ)."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Pretty in Pink

Tama River Embankment
Ando Hiroshige

Yokohama, Japan - The last petal of the last cherry blossom of spring has finally fallen to the ground signaling the official end to the hanami season. Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is an annual spring ritual celebrated by everyone, young and old, form one end of this archipelago to the other. Practically every major (and minor) league corporation will send some of their best scouts out in the wee hours of the morning to stake out prime sections of real estate in local city parks where the rest of the corporate team will join them later for hours of drunken revelry in a hazy swirl of falling posies. Shrines noted for their abundance of cherry trees will rope off their entrance ways where long lines of people wait an eternity, poised to enjoy a picture perfect picnic. While pink is not alway a flattering color, Tokyo wears it well. If you pack yourself a boxed lunch and sit in the shade of your computer,  you can enjoy your own virtual hanami at the Tokyo Times website.

My wife, M.Y. (perhaps you know her dear reader), was so busy this past month she didn't have any time to sit on a soft the blanketed landscape and take in the wonder of the season. That's why when the other day I spied the dead branch of a cherry tree, I knew I had the perfect gift in sight. I sawed a small sliver of the branch and after noticing that the grain of the wood resembled a tree trunk, I adorned it with a painstakingly hand painted cluster of pink posies and voila! M.Y. was tickled pink with it. What can I say it's just a very special, unique, lovingly handcrafted work of art made exrpressly for the one I love.

I'm thinking maybe I'll cut up the rest of the branch into a few hundred more slivers, paint 'em up exactly the same and sell them for a buck a piece (half price if you order now).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stairway to Nowhere

I discovered this stairway lying in the middle of a secret bamboo forest, tucked away in quiet corner of Yokohama. I've tried to return but I've been unable to find it again. It's another mystery of the Orient.  

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Koi Boy is Coming!

You better watch out,
Koi Boy is coming!
May 5th is Children's Day (formerly known as Boys' Day) in Japan. Usually household's with young boys will hang carp-shaped streamers (koinobori)and maybe display a samurai-like figure (Kintaro) or ornamental samurai helmet (kabuto) inside the home on this day. There are a few other customs too. Actually I don't know what the heck your supposed to do on this day but in my household every year Koi Boy comes bearing gifts for all good little girls and boys. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Hero

Found on Youtube

All That Glitters...

Yokohama, Japan - It's Golden Week in Japan. The whole country has the week off (everyone likes to do things together here, even vacation) and everywhere you go it looks like this:

Now let me zoom out.

Well actually this is a picture of the Japanese labor movement's first May Day march dated 1920, but you get the picture. Long lines, crowds, everywhere you go.

This year the anniversary of Emperor Hirohito's birthday (April 29th, a national holiday) fell on a Thursday, then Golden Week kicked off on Saturday and runs through Wednesday which is May 5th, Children's Day (which used to be known as Boy's Day). Sandwiched in between is Constitution Day on the 3rd, celebrating the adoption of Japan's war renouncing constitution. Largely handed down by the post WWII US occupational administration, the foundation of the war renouncing part of that constitution, article number nine, in recent years has been chipped away at by conservative forces both within the Japanese government as well as the US, the original architect of Japan's peace constitution. For most people the day is an opportunity to spend quality time standing in long lines, stuck in traffic, or most importantly with their family and/or a few bottles of sake.

Then comes Green Day (Midori no Hi). If you thought the explanation of Constitution Day was long-winded, hold on to your hats. April 29th was a national holiday in honor of Emperor Hirohito's (the Showa Emperor) actual birthday. Usually when an emperor dies, the new emperor's birthday replaces the old emperor's birthday as a national holiday. Since Emperor Hirohito's birthday fell on the first day of Golden Week, when he died, the government realized that abolishing the holiday would put a wrinkle in everyone's travel plans and a real damper on Golden Week so they decided to keep the holiday. While the new emperor's birthday fell on December 23rd, they could have two holidays called the Emperor's Birthday so they changed the name of the holiday for the former emperor's birthday (Emperor Hirohito's birthday) to Midori no Hi, or Green Day, in honor of his love of not the 90's rock band of the same name but nature.

Some years later the government decided there was a shortage of holidays so they came up with a law making any day that fell between two national holidays a national holiday as well. That made the day between Constitution Day on May 3rd and Children's Day on May 5th a new national holiday. That holdiay was labeled with the decidedly lackluster nomer of May 4th. The holiday didn't have a name (or a significant reason for being) and that was a problem. Then a couple of years ago the national government decided to change the name of Green Day (Midori no Hi) to Showa no Hi (in honor of the reign of Emperor Hirohito, the Showa emperor) for no apparent reason. When somebody asked, "What will happen to Green Day?" the light bulb switched on somebody else's head. The bright light realized they had an open slot on May 4th, the holiday without a name, and so that's how May 4th came to be known as Green Day in Japan. They might as well have named it after the 90's rock band as far as I'm concerned, the important thing is that everybody gets the day off.

According to a recent oped by Loyola University New Orleans law professor, Bill Quigley, " it is only workers in the US who have no guaranteed days of paid leave at all. Korea is the next lowest to the US and it has a minimum of 8 paid annual days of leave. Most of the other 30 [advanced] countries require a minimum of 20 days of annual paid leave for their workers."

Now something is definitely wrong with that picture.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day May Day!

May Day  festivities at National Park Seminary (Forest Glen, Maryland), 1907

Don't forget May Day is also International Workers Day. Read about it here on Tikkun Daily.
On behalf of the folks that brought you the (now endangered) 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, and more, Happy May Day!

How could you forget that!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Open and Shut

Futamatagawa, Yokohama - The Japanese kanji characters for "open" and "close" are extremely similar and the source of much consternation for me, especially when riding the elevator. Here is a scene from a day in my life some years ago while riding the elevator at the local department of motor vehicles office. I was on my way to pick up my Japanese driver's license. 

1. Waiting      2. "WAIT!"     3. 50-50          4. Oops!

What about reading Japanese road signs you ask? That's a whole other story.


Springing Up

Farmers Planting Rice, 1890s, Hand-colored albumen print
NYPL Digital Gallery, The New York Public Library

The festival climaxes with the appearance
of these two douke (clowns). That's  
Kamezo on the left and Otsuru on the right.
Yokohama - Once again I participated in the local planting festival with my drumming group(the God of Light Drummers). While the rice paddies in this town where I live are long gone, the age old fertility festival known as Tamatsuri continues to this day. The festival always end on a high note and with          
what no self respecting fertility festival should be without.....

You can catch a glimpse of some highlights of the nightime ceremony here:

The whole thing is a little like Mardi Gras sans the flashing. Throughout the evening the "actors" on stage periodically throw money and/or snacks to the audience below. I was lucky enough to get this special box of manju cakes, etc. You can see Kamezo and Otsuru depicted on the wrapper, only in this picture the male character is carrying a broom instead of a massive reproductive organ.