Friday, December 31, 2010

Beating in the New Year

The Drum Beat

Before our roving reporter joined the local Temple Valley drumming group based out of of the Crane View Shinto Shrine no one in the troupe wore costumes for the traditional midnight ceremonies ushering in the New Year. This year our drum beat reporter ditched his tiger stripes and donned more appropriate attire befitting the coming year of the rabbit. On his left is fellow God of Light Drumming group member, J. Guttermouth, who is looking for someone to fill out the rear end of the dragon costume he is planning to wear next year.

Related post: Danger Lurks in the Year of the Tiger

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Screamy

Oh, I could just scream. One of my favorite shirts, which I designed and handcrafted (sort of - I drew the illustration) myself, has a big hole in it. The design, featuring a smiley face à la Edvard Munch, can  only be found on three t-shirts in the whole wide world (Munch also created several versions of his Scream too).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where Would Jesus Go for the Holidays?

Season's Readings from Temple Valley

While it's common knowledge that comes December 26th Santa heads off for Vegas (see: Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Goes on Holiday), where would Jesus go to get away from it all? Why he would go to Tokyo of course and bring his good friend and fellow deity Buddha along for the descent to earth. That’s the premise of Saint Young Men, a Japanese comic book written and illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura that has captivated the imagination of people across the Land of the Rising Sun. The best selling comic book series and last year’s winner of Japan’s prestigious Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for Short Work Manga (or comic book) imagines what it would be like if Jesus and Buddha took a vacation in an old worn out section of Tokyo.
It’s the perfect escape from heaven for the two deities. No one in Tokyo knows who they are. Jesus is mistaken for Johnny Depp while standing in line at the local convenience store and the neighborhood kids make sport of “pushing Buddha's button,” the third eye in the center of his forehead. The comic takes a whimsical look at how the modern 21st century world would welcome this odd couple of divinities with Jesus playing Oscar to Buddha’s Felix. Jesus tends to act on impulse (remember the turning of the money lenders’ tables), wasting the limited funds in the pair’s vacation budget on silly souvenirs while the more contemplative Buddha takes the “middle path” via a moderate lifestyle.
Every panel is as enlightening as it is entertaining with some classic religious references mixed in with the modern day exploits of the divine duo. In one chapter their landlord accuses them of feeding invasive stray cats who have disrupted the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood. Even though they haven’t given the felines a single drop of milk, there is no way they can convince the landlord otherwise. Just as they deny the allegations a stray cat slinks up to the gaunt-looking figure of Jesus and offers himself up as a potential meal. All the animals love them. Despite these troubles, the pair have generally taken to life on earth today. Jesus has a hit website where he blogs on about TV dramas with omniscience. Buddha has fallen in love with comic books, particularly one by Tezuka Osama entitled, “Buddha.”
Those who are familiar with the 5 billion-dollar Japanese comic market will know that some comics aimed at the adult market can feature R- and even X-rated graphics. Saint Young Men avoids putting its protagonists in any compromising poses. While the comic takes liberties with the religious figures there is nothing really naughty about this tale of a couple of the nicest guys to ever walk the face of the earth and there has been virtually no vocal opposition to it from Buddhists or the small Christian community in Japan.
Traditionalists will be quick to note that the tale is long on fantasy and short on fact as presented by either Buddhist or Christian orthodoxies but at the root of this comic is an unspoken theme that may go right to the heart of both religions. If the inspirations behind two of the largest faiths can peacefully live together in cramped, dingy quarters on a shoe-string budget and after two weeks still have nothing but love for each other, there may be some hope for the rest of us. If you can believe God became man and then ascended to heaven to join God once again, this tale may not seem that far-fetched after all. What if God is among us, or all around us, and like the modern day Tokyoites of Saint Young Men we just don’t know it.

Somewhat related posts:
As It Is in Heaven                                         Xmas in Japan                        Comic Subculture

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hey Hon

Cartoon by JTC ca. 1985 exclusive to The Temple Valley Times

This (news release below) hot off the press from Smile Hon You're in Baltimore. In case you forgot, Baltimore is sister city to Temple Valley neighbor, Kawasaki, the manufacturer of at least half the smog-filled air that hovers over our tranquil little vale. The other half is all hometown brewed.

Long-running Baltimore Zine Seeks Submissions
for Special "Hon" Edition
December 14, 2010
For immediate release

BALTIMORE, Md. – Prompted by the recent public furor over a Hampden restaurant-owner's trademarking of the word "hon", award-winning local literary zine Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! announces a call for submissions of stories, essays, poetry, photography and related artwork for an upcoming issue focusing on the term's roots, its celebration and exploitation, and its past, present and future roles in Baltimore's identity.

"Given the anger and pure, raw emotion floating around out there, it's clear that there is much more at play here than a simple three-letter term of endearment," says Smile, Hon Editor William P. Tandy. "That said, what a wonderful thing it would be if we could put this well-nigh unprecedented outrage and energy to positive use – for the city, for ourselves, for each other."

Questions and ideas to consider include ....(continue reading on the Eight-stone Press blog)


Related posts from The Temple Valley Times:

Banana Gone Bad
Unlocking Imagination

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Related post: Flying Over the Serengeti

Never Forget

"Wishing you a holiday filled with memories to share"

That's what it says on the inside of the Xmas cards I'm sending out this year. I picked them because the snow sled pictured on the front reminded me of the one I made my nephew many Christmases ago. I dubbed his "Ev's Chesapeake Slider" and permanently etched the name on the wooden slats covering the runners. Years later I crafted a similar sled for my son, Ichiro, taking lessons learned from the construction of the Chesapeake Slider and incorporating them into the snazzier designed and aerodynamically enhanced Chesapeake Glider. They were both clean, green, sliding machines that delivered hours of snow-packed fun.

After only a few season's snows under the Glider's runners, we were off to distant shores, leaving the sled and other treasures behind. Winters had come and gone, blanketing the Mid-Atlantic landscape in a pure winter white but the Glider remained idle, safely stored away in the care of my eldest sibling.  

Some years later after I returned home for a visit on a summer holiday, I spent  the better part of one particularly sunny morning rummaging through my sister's cellar in search of some personal effects I had squirreled away down there for safekeeping. You can imagine the joy in my heart when I spied Ichiro's Chesapeake Glider beckoning to me from beneath a thick protective layer of dust.

I cradled it in my arms as I carried it aloft into the light of day. As the amber rays of the mid morning sun bathed the oak grain it glistened like a burning ember, rekindling the memories of the sheer delight Ichiro and I shared as we sailed together across the pure white plains. Then suddenly I was jolted back to the present by a sun glass spectaled figure approaching from across the far side of the lawn. It was my brother-in-law, Sparky. His eyes popped wide open as his glasses slid down the bridge of his nose and his jaw dropped to the ground. I stood silent as I waited for him to hail my serendipitous discovery.

"We got to get rid of that bad boy right away. It's rotting, I wouldn't be surprised if it's infested. With all your stuff down in the basement, and Ev's stuff, there's no room to move. This is going out in the trash today."

As the sled was tossed on the gabage heap right before my eyes, I slipped into a state of shock, yet managed to ask: "Can I take a picture of it before the garbage men come to pick it up?"

"What for?" He replied.

"For a keepsake, " I said.

"No, you don't have time for that. Besides you have the best pictures of it already, the ones inside your head - your memories."

I guess he was right but I wish I had a photograph of it just the same. Then I could have made a card just like this one and sent it to him for Christmas because as memories go this is one I'll never forget.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas in Sight

....and X marks the spot! Merriam-Webster is spreading a little holiday cheer this month with a timely installment of their informative Ask the Editor video series. Have a look, and cheers everyone its Xmas time again!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Far Eastern Amish?

Not this buggy. While from the back it looks vaguely like an Amish style horse and coach, this is actually a pedal powered bike tram operated by one of the  intrepid couriers from the Kuro Neko Yamato delivery service.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Making Faces

I found this on my bookshelf today. It's a little tome I scribed (with the help of M) when I was teaching the people of Japan to speak English. That mission accomplished, I packed most of my teaching materials in boxes and tucked them away in the dark recesses of my closet. This one, made using a pen, paper, and photocopier, is useful for learning how to describe facial features. I used it when teaching ESL(English as a second language) to public junior high school kids in Kanagawa, Japan. While it's not perfect, it's not entirely without merit and ideal for a semi low-tech classroom environment.

Here is Making Faces:

If you have a printer, you can make your own Making Faces using these images below. You might want to change some of the labels (like buckteeth, etc.). I used terms I found in textbooks I was working with at the time.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Building Character

Old wooden buildings with corrugated metal siding like this one are quickly disappearing from Temple Valley (this shop is actually in the neighboring village of Shore Valley), replaced by bright, broad-shouldered condominiums and shiny shopping centers that draw would-be residents and shoppers like bears to honey.
Over the years time and weather have chiseled these structures into complex works of art whose beauty is overlooked or, as often is the case with great art, misunderstood. For some curious reason they can be even more imposing and much more uninviting than the gleaming towers that so often take their place. Like all masterpieces though, the real test is time and as years pass by I'm sure they will be missed for what they are and once were.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Know It's Here Somewhere

I remember leaving it parked between two cement columns.

After posting this photo yesterday I spied practically the same, only better, picture on the Japan Today website. Another scoop for TVT. Setting the pace in news, in Temple Valley, Japan, in English, since before we can remember.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cross Section

This picture taken in Higashi Jujo, Tokyo is a familiar sight across the archipelago where customers will brave long lines to be seated in ramen noodle shops that have earned an excellent reputation among self-professed aficionados of this quintessential Japanese cuisine.

Moment of Decision

Construction workers line up to buy boxed lunches at this corner pub in Higashi Jujo, Tokyo where persimmons are hanging to dry under the eaves. I don't know what they're saying but I imagine it's something like:
What are you gonna have.
I dunno. What are you gonna have.
I dunno. What are you gonna have...

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Brush with Art Fortune

Behold, my ticket out of Palookaville, or so I thought. The thought first occurred to me a few years ago as I sat perusing the pages of Time magazine. It was then that I suddenly spied out of the corner of my eye an article on the skyrocketing value of Chinese modern art. Curious, I immediately set out to surf the web for more information when I stumbled on a work by Wang Jiyuan that sold for nearly half a million dollars at auction. Normally I would have just raised my eyebrow (I only have one, it goes straight across my forehead. I used to have two but as I've grown older the hair on top of my head has migrated to various sub polar regions of my body.) an inch or two and surfed on but this startling find stopped me dead in my tracks. It just so happens that my mother was in the possession of a beautiful  ink and water color painting by one Wang Jiyuan that was hanging on her bedroom wall. How did a mild mannered suburban American housewife acquire such a potentially pricey work of art? It's a long story that I won't go into here but suffice it to say that no real criminal wrong doing was involved (the rest I'll leave up to your imagination dear reader).

They say the market never sleeps and that goes for the art market as well, but fortunately my mother does. So one night as she dozed off into dreamland I crept into her chambers to sequester the family fortune for safekeeping and potential marketability (which she didn't really object to I'm sure because she was quite ill at the time). After fashioning a museum quality portfolio case to rest the treasure in for its journey half way around the globe to my home in Japan, I bid my farewell to the family and was on my way. Some time later, securely nestled in my Far Eastern lair I was able to use the cutting-edge photo apparatuses at my disposal to take a digital photograph of the painting that I would send along with a letter of inquiry to the contemporary Asian art departments at a couple of the most prestigious art auction houses in the world.

It had been well over a year since I dashed the first letter off. Just imagine the joy in my heart when one day in May, out of the blue, I spied out the corner of my eye, the words "Asian Contemporary and 20th Century Chinese Art Department" neatly laser printed in the corner of an envelope that the  mailman had just dropped in my mail slot. This was the moment I had been waiting for practically all my life. My heart pounding with anticipation, I stooped to pick up the letter and with trembling hands patiently peeled open the sealed flap to reveal the 8 1/2 x 11 inch invitation to the billionaire art collector's club. Spreading the folded sheet out before my eyes, I savored each syllable as they built into a gradual crescendo leading to the words, "immeasurable decorative value."  Yes, yes, "i-m-e-a-s-u-r-a-b-l-e!" The word echoed through the corners of my mind, triggering a chain reaction of synonymous adjectives each accompanied by the distinctive ka-ching of a cash register. There was "incalculable" followed on its heels by "inestimable," with "unprecedented" burning up the outside track and finally, making its way up the field, and through the pack, "unimaginable."

It was all just incredible, then calamity struck. Who could have predicted it, nobody saw it coming. In fact it had been there all along. A big fat "but" just lying there in the middle of the sentence waiting for the reader to trip over Yeah, it had decorative value alright "but," as the esteemed representative from the gallery assured me, not enough monetary value to make it worth auctioning off in their tony showroom. What happened next was horrible, immeasurable slammed into "but" with a Titanic impact leaving the short-lived quartet of "incalculable, inestimable, unprecedented, and imaginable" to sink into oblivion, taking with them the hope they offered for a wealthy life of leisure.

With Mother's Day on the immediate horizon, I decided to cut my losses and hit upon the wonderful idea of having the piece professionally framed and sent to my dear mom as a token of my immense love and affection. As fate would have it, my hopes were dashed once again. It had been over a year since I had photographed the painting and made my inquiries to various auction houses across the globe. Now there was no telling where I stored it for safekeeping. In the closet where I hide my cookies safely out of reach from my two growing boys? No, not there. In the upstairs closet where we put things we don't want to get moldy in a couple of months? No, not there either. Who knows where I put it. The possibilities are in a word, "immeasurable."

There is at least one place where I know it's not:

The wall in my mother's bedroom.

I've been searching in vain for months now and I'm at my wits end. Where the heck could it be? Why the desperate search for something so worthless you ask?  Worthless? That's just another word for "priceless."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cross Section

A Kuro Neko (Black Cat) Yamato parcel delivery worker walks his bicyle aross a walkway in Tsurumi, Yokohama.

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
--Herodotus (from the inscription on the main Post Office building in NYC)

Related: Cross Section 2
             Cross Section 1