Saturday, October 30, 2010

Different Takes

Here are a few different takes on the 80's rock classic, Take On Me, by Norwegian pop band a-ha, beginning with take one above.

Typhoon Hits Temple Valley

Illustration by M.*

Temple Valley - Typhoon Number 14 made land fall today, wreaking minor havoc on the normally placid Temple Valley. This is the 14th windstorm to lay siege to the region this season (hence the moniker "Typhoon Number 14"). There's really not much to say that we haven't mentioned 13 times before. It's wet and windy.

*M. is a former Japanese weather news illustrator.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fitting In

Temple Valley, Tsurumi, Yokohama - The day here begins much as it does across the metropolitan landscape, on the runway. Like clockwork, every weekday morning I view a constant stream of people flowing up and down the street to and from the local train station. The first wave is construction workers, swaggering down the road in MC Hammer pantaloons with towels wrapped around their heads. Following behind come miles and miles of office workers stuffed into black business suits filing down the lane by the dozens. Next come students, boys dressed in their de rigueur 19th century European military uniforms, girls in either sailor suits or white shirts, penny loafers and skirts. Bringing up the end of this fashion parade is usually a couple of kimono-clad women on the way to some social function or work in some traditional Japanese restaurant or industry and if I'm lucky a couple of men in traditional garb also on their way to work in some traditional trade or art form. Throughout the rest of the day are sartorial stragglers of just about every brand, older women in long silk gloves, and young fashionistas and fashionistos straight from the hip streets of Harajuku. Then it all falls apart on Saturday and Sunday when it's not uncommon to see a thirty something businessman in paisley print pajamas and robe, shuffling up to the corner convenience store in his slippers to buy a pack of cigs.
I'm no clothes hound by any stretch of the imagination but I wouldn't be caught dead walking around outside in my jammies. That is until yesterday. As I got dressed to leave the house on a morning errand, I fished a shirt out of my drawer that I had never seen. It was brand new and so I figured it was left there by someone, perhaps my wife, for me to wear. Donning my comfy new shirt and a matching pair of pants I headed out the door for a morning jaunt down to the station flanked by countless others doing just the same. The new shirt made me feel good and put a little extra bounce into my step. It fit me perfectly except for the sleeves, which were a little short and somewhat loose fitting, but I figured that was the style. After many years in this exotic locale, I'm still unaccustomed to all the stylistic nuances.
That evening as I was bathing, my wife returned home and through the closed bathroom door, she asked, "Did you find the new pajamas I put in your drawer?" "Yes I did," I assured her. Panic-stricken, I jumped out of the tub and rifled throug the dirty laundry for the outfit I had been wearing all day. There on the label, printed in bold black capital letters, were the words "NIGHT WEAR." I had worn pajamas in public, and what's worse, no one even gave me a second look!

(Let's keep this between me and my longjohns.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Come Come

Reuters reports that "Japan is planning to recruit dozens of foreigners to visit the country and give advice on how to make things more travel-friendly for non-Japanese speaking visitors." The October 19th article says the Japanese "government will pay travel allowances to about 100 native English, Chinese and Korean speakers to visit key cities and come up with ideas on how to make it easier for travelers to use public transport, stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants..." So come, come everybody!

About the drawing: This drawing of "Joe" Tadaichi Hirakawa is modeled after a photo on the Kaubuki Academy Website. Hirakawa, a.k.a "Uncle Come Come," was a Japanese radio announcer (Time magazine called him the "Arthur Godfrey of Japan") whose post-WWII English language education show earned him the nickname, "Uncle Come Come," after the first line of the radio segment's popular theme song. He has been credited for helping spark the Japanese public's passion for learning English.

Click on the audiovideo player below to listen to Come Come Everybody sung in the style of my mother-in-law who as a young girl used to listen to the program faithfully.

Lyrics to Come Come Everybody:

Come, come, everybody.
How do you do, and how are you?
Won't you have some candy,
One and two and three, four, five?
Let's all sing a happy song,
Sing tra-la la la la.

Related Post: Come Come Everybody!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Love Is in the Air

Photo by Micha L. Reiser via Wikipedia
Temple Valley, Tsurumi, Yokohama - It's that season again. The evidence is just about everywhere you might rest your eyes here in Temple Valley. In golden gossamer threads strewn across the path that leads to my door lie the lifeless bodies of suitors found most unworthy. Oh well, that's life. Well that's life if you're a male joro spider (Nephila Clavita). They say the "courtship" ritual for this colorful species of arachnid can take hours as the smaller male, exercising extreme patience, noiselessly creeps from behind before pulling on a nearby strand of the web and asking the female of the species out on a date with a good chance of her turning and stopping him literally dead in his tracks. While the dead carcass of a scorned lover might be a turn-off for some, not so with these intrepid little buggers, for them the species must go on.
Nephilia Clavita has weaved a lasting impression into the public's imagination in Japan. For ages story tellers here have spun tales of  mythical spider-like creatures with the ability to transform themselves into beautiful maidens who exist only to lure unwitting men into a venomous trap with their seductive charms. If spiders could talk I think they would tell a whole other story.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

As It Is in Heaven

Temple Valley, Tsurumi, Yokohama - It was kind of like belly dancing at the Vatican (and not that there would be anything necessarily wrong with that). The eyes of everyone, including the nearby towering figure of Fudomyoo ("the destroyer of delusion and the protector of Buddhism"), was riveted on the scantily clad samba dancer as she came at the audience "in sections -- more curves than a scenic railway. She was bad. She was dangerous."* She was totally unexpected, especially here at Sojiji, the main temple of the Soto Zen Buddhist sect. Just as surprising, or not, Temple Valley and its immediate environs is home to quite a cosmopolitan community who were  the inspiration and participants of  this recent international festival at Sojiji Temple. While I only caught the samba act, out of a long list of international performers, it was all in all an enlightening experience.

Click on the picture to enlarge (you won't be sorry) and check out the guy in the white shirt who is covering his ears as he runs away from the samba performers.

*From the 1953 motion picture, The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire.

Here is the same performance captured on YouTube. Enjoy!

Related: Cross Section

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Boy in the Yellow Hat

Temple Valley, Tsurumi, Yokohama - Today Jiro (my number two son, in order of birth) and the rest of the entire sixth grade from Bounty Hill Public Elementary School went on an overnight school excursion to one of Japan's most treasured ancient cities, Nikko. His mother spent a good part of the weekend packing all the items that were required to be inside his knapsack. By Sunday night the bag weighed a good thirty pounds. When she finally packed the lunch box (bento) that she had gotten up extra early to prepare, the bag had gained an extra four-to-five pounds. He is a big kid, bigger than most in his school, so I was confident he could handle the pack on the mile-long trek to school and points beyond. M, his mother, was a bit worried so she tagged along with him to the bottom of the block-long hill where we live. Kids around here are pretty independent when it comes to getting around. Tiny first graders on their way to their private schools jam into train cars packed like sardines, nudging the knees of tired old businessmen with their elbows as they carve out a niche of their own within a crush of dark suits filled with near lifeless bodies slowly emerging from a semi-somnombulant state. While each of the Bounty Hill parents, grandparents, etc. take turns as crossing guards at the busier intersections ,the kids for the most part are all on their own for the rest of the journey. Sometimes on my way home at 9:30 at night, or there abouts, I'll even run into one of Jiro's classmates returning from a tough night at cram school (and that's on top of a regular eight hour school day) where they study the tricks it takes to pass the entrance exam for a private junior high (or high school) and if they are lucky become one of the chosen who enter a junior high school that is a stepping stone to Todai (Tokyo University) or maybe some other hallowed institution of higher ed. Jiro has eschewed this harried academic pursuit to focus more on arts and leisure. He's set his sights on, let's say the more inclusive, local public junior high where the better half (meaning most, not necessarily the best) of his classmates will join him.
Like most of the kids in his class he can get to school on his own, no problem. So I wasn't at all worried when he left home this morning at 7:55 am, even with the burden of the extra-heavy load. That is until I heard him huffing and puffing back up the hill to our house at about ten after eight. He collapsed in the portico, out of breath, and on the verge of tears. "I forgot something."  His body pinned to the floor under the massive weight attached to his back, he managed to crawl to his school bag and started digging in desperation until finally... "Ah! Here it is." It was a yellow satin ribbon with his name scribbled by the teacher in black magic marker that each student was to wear tied around his or her arm for identification purposes. He was sure they only had exactly enough yellow ribbon to go around the arms of every 6th grader in school, no more, no less, and if anyone showed up without one perhaps they would be barred from the expedition. Then he started burrowing again. He still hadn't found the plastic luggage tag distributed by the travel agency that had arranged the trip for the school. Somehow his mother convinced him it wasn't all that important. I think it was the fact that she told him he had only five more minutes before everyone departed the school grounds and marched off to the train station. He was soon back out the door and running like Peter Rabbit with Farmer McGregor on his tail, down the hill for a five minute dash across Temple Valley and up to the gates of Bounty Hill Elementary School.
That's when a deep sense of anxiety began to seize my entire being. I straddled my bicycle and rode as quick as my feet could peddle up to the train station where I searched high and low for a place to park my bike for free (the bicycle garage near the train station charges about a dollar to park and it's usually full by 8am anyway) where it wouldn't get loaded on a truck and taken away by the city. I spied a cluster of bikes parked in front of a pediatric clinic, tucked mine in between, then darted off to the station to see if I could catch a glimpse of Jiro and make sure he had made it there okay. The kids were all assembled in a staging area off to one side of the station plaza. When they stand in a group I can usually spot Jiro in a second since he stands head and shoulders over the crowd. When they're sitting, his light brown hair is like a buoy in a shiny black sea of typically jet black Japanese hair (while maybe half off all women and a good proportion of men in Japan seem to dye their hair brown or some lighter tone, the fad hasn't really caught on with the grade school set just yet thank goodness). Then my eyes were suddenly blinded by a yellow flash of light. NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Every single one of them was wearing his or her school issue yellow excursion hat. They all looked exactly alike! I tried my best to spot him, squinting to keep the glaring reflection of the early morning sun off their hats from piercing my pupils. Jiro was no where in sight. I tried panning the crowd through my half baked lenses in search of the white T-shirt he had been wearing when I last saw him only to be foiled again. Everyone was wearing the jackets they were required to bring and if Jiro was wearing his, it would have been the first time he had ever worn anything more than a flimsy T-shirt and I had no idea what color it was since M. had done all the packing.  Aware that I stuck out in the crowd even more than Jiro usually does, I decided to observe the school kids from a less visible vantage point to avoid any the usual embarrassment my mere presence causes my offspring. Just then I noticed a window situated next to the train platform with a perfect view of the plaza. I purchased the cheapest fare ticket, passed through the turnstile and made a beeline for the window. Peering from my secret station platform perch I spied the smiling face of Jiro, yucking it up with his pals on the plaza below.
Everything was alright, only now where was I headed? I was on the train platform but I didn't have anywhere to go so I decided to go back from whence I came. Jinxed again!!! When I inserted my ticket into the turnstile to exit the station, instead of the usual swish of the gate opening, bells started ringing and lights blaring as the machine spit the ticket back in my face. Now I was forced to confront the station master with my ticket in hand as he sat in his office lair at the end of  the long row of impenetrable turnstile machines. "I forgot something," I explained as he took my ticket, then quickly exited the train station as fast as my feet could take me, and on that note neatly rounded off a morning in which I had run around in a completely perfect circle.

Post Script
I've actually been through this before with Ichiro (my number one son, in order of birth). He went to Nikko when he was in 6th grade too. He left with a pack as big as Jiro's, filled with a two-day supply of clean clothes, a jacket, snacks toiletries etc. He had a great time, saw some great sights and had loads of fun. When he returned he was wearing the same clothes that he was wearing when he left, only covered with two days worth of dirt and grime, and it was plain as day that Ichiro had been no where near the vicinity of a bath since we last met.When quizzed on why he didn't take a bath, he simply said, "I forgot." Maybe we should have just forgot about packing altogether then there would have been nothing to wear or not to wear and best of all nothing to forget.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pigs Can't Fly

But they sure can swim. The Japanese Coast Guard captured video of this wild boar taking a dip in the waters off Nagasaki sometime earlier this week.