Tuesday, 25 December 2007
Other locations, often businesses, create smaller but nonetheless beautiful displays. Shinjuku's Takashimaya department store always puts on an impressive display along the boardwalk by their store. The theme this year is the circus, complete with a lion jumping a flaming hoop, an elephant, a seal balancing a ball on its nose, and tightrope walkers...
My favourite illumination, however, was on a much smaller scale. A house just down the road from my dorm had lights up, including these ones...
It may be difficult to tell, but the picture is of the two kayaks hanging in their carport, decked out in full colour!
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
For a girl from the land of Tim Hortons, donut shops are a fact of life. When I first travelled in Japan I knew I could rely on there being a Mr. Donuts (aka Misdo) near the station for a quick and easy breakfast. My favourite was the (healthy?) tofu donut. Over the past few months, however, I have noticed a number of new donut shops.
The most exciting news is tht Mr. Donuts is no longer a slightly seedy bachelor and favourite uncle, he has found himself a young, chic woman with whom to share his life. Misdo, you see, has branched out with a new chain of stores - Andonand. The traditional Misdo is quite similar to your average Tim Hortons, but the new stores are more like a collison of a Starbucks and a ritzy cake cafe.
I am lucky enough to know this because one of the two Andonand cafes has been opeend up just blocks from my university. Purely for research purposes, of course, I went along with a friend to check it out a few days after it had opened, when the congratulatory bouquets still adorned the front door. The spatious interior was clean and sparkly - lots of mirrors had been used in decoration. The donuts, like the cafe itself, are upscale, with exotic flavours and toppings, and at $2-$4 a piece, they have a price tag to match! I had a caramel chocolate crunch and an iced latte, a far cry from a cruller and a double double!
The cafe's name itself amused me. According to the cafe's literature, "Andonand" apparently comes from the Spanish "andando" (defined as progress) and the Japanese "nando" (何度, many times) and the English "and." Put it all together and apparently it means that the restaurant was created for the customer, in the hopes that the customer would keep returning back. Their slogan is simple and surprisingly and very un-Japanesely direct - "Enjoy your donut." Slightly ominous but still lacking the threat of New Hampshire's motto - "Live Free or Die."
A few days latter I found myself wandering around Shinjuku Station when I came accross a food stall that used to sell "bagels" but has now apparently reinvented itself as a donut shop, with the catchy slogal "All you need is love & DONUT." Hmm... I wonder what the Beatles would have to say about that?
Don't even get me started about the long line ups in front of the Krispy Kreme Donuts store in Shinjuku, Tokyo, or the huge boxes people can be seen carrying away from there - I don't understand how people can possible eat THAT many donuts before they go stale! For more info check out the article and youtube video at http://www.japanprobe.com/?p=790
Monday, 26 November 2007
Nowadays a receptionist or security guard may step in to the elevator to push your floor's button before exiting the elevator and bowing you onto your journey. The rest of the time, however, you are left to push your own buttons. I have heard of ingenious places that set the elevator to stop at every floor, but that could take a while, especially since Japan has some tall buildings! Upon entering an elevator in Japan, however, you are likely to find that, with its wonderful ability to adapt itself, Japanese society has solved this potentially disastrous situation.
The solution to this dire problem is that one of the people on the elevator, normally a young woman, will take on the role of the elevator lady, minus the uniform and gloves! While she will not announce each floor and will rarely ask others which button to push, she will stand right by the elevator buttons, pushing and holding 'open door' while others are exiting or entering the elevator and then immediately press 'close door' once said exiting/entering has happened.
There does not seem to be a process for deciding who will take on this role, the passengers do not play a spontaneous game of janken (rock-paper-scissors, the game used in Japan to decide teams/roles/etc, equivalent to flipping a coin or reciting eeny-meeny-miny-moe). Becoming the elevator lady seems to be the role of whoever is standing beside the button panel.
As I mentioned, this is normally taken on by young women. I have also noticed, however, that when I am in an elevator with only men, one of them will step up and take the role. Wanting to show my comprehension of Japanese culture, as well as the fact that I can be just as submissive as any Japanese woman, I recently stepped up and pushed those buttons as if I had a pair of white gloves on - much to the apparent surprise and delight of the all-male elevator passengers. I don't intend to quit my day job and pursue a career as one of the last few elevator ladies, however, as much as a few 5 year-olds I know might want to!
Monday, 19 November 2007
There were about a dozen of us: high school and university teachers, a zoo employee, graduate and undergraduate students and even a fourth grader! We met at a train station about an hour out of Tokyo and were picked up by two vans from the local community centre, where we were to spend that and the following day.
The usual practice is for the centre to bring out a box or so of their un-classified 200-100 year old documents for the group to (attempt to) read and classify, putting each one in a special envelope filled out with the relevant information. This time we were in for a special treat, at my professor's request the centre had brought out some of their damaged documents. These were letters and official documents originally belonging to an important local family. This particular bunch were dirty and dusty and had been (or were still) infested with paper-eating bugs of various sorts. So, we donned aprons and face masks and dug in, some of the worst damaged documents needed to be pried open page by page with a specialized pick.
On day two, our pile of documents to be read was dwindling and a few of the group worked on their own research with some of the documents. A few of us were taken to another room to sort and place in envelopes stacks of very dusty and dirty (but bug-free) shrine and temple prayer papers. They were easier to read and sort than the other documents but after a few hours my fingers were black and my electronic dictionary was covered in dirt.
The community centre provided box lunches for us both days and put us up at a very nice hostel in a large park at the height of its autumn glory.
Everyone was very kind and helpful - the elderly men at the community centre were clearly delighted to have a foreigner join the group and asked me to send them a blurb about the experience. The other students and members were endlessly patient with my questions of what to write where and to verify I was correctly reading the document.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the trip and while I won't be able to join them for the December trip, I am looking forward to the chance of a future trip!
It is very very common to see young women doing their make-up on the train. Now, I'm not talking about simply refreshing their lipstick or blotting their nose and forehead with oil absorbing paper (although both of those happen all the time), I'm talking about women with a large mirror propped on their knees running through their entire make-up routine - including curling their eyelashes with large curling contraptions.
I was still, however, surprised and very amused to notice a guy sitting in the third row of my class last week with a set of tweezers in his hand. Under the cover of the other hand held shielding the lower half of his face, he put the tweezers up his nose, jerked them back out, examined them to see the hairs he had removed, and wiped them off on his notebook before going at it again! I couldn't believe what I was seeing!!
Later that night, when drinking with my advisor (the professor of the class earlier that day), I recounted the story to him. His reaction, however, was one of respect for the guy who had been able to tweeze his nose hairs without reacting to the pain, rather than being annoyed about lack of respect or anything else!
Sunday, 18 November 2007
This is, of course, not to say that I don't love my classes, or that I'm not learning tons, but still...
It is little things like not being able to drink while the professor is lecturing as it is considered rude (but it is fairly common for students to drink and or eat during breaks) have me reminiscing fondly of my days at U of T where the number of Nalgene bottles equalled that of the student population. (I know, I know, me thinking fondly of U of T - yes, it does happen... occasionally!)
What really annoys me (and leaves me feeling old and stuffy) is my Japanese class. This term I am only taking one, an oral presentation class for second year foreign undergrads (Chinese and Korean natives who will be completing their undergrad in Japanese at Meiji). It is a small section, with only 15 students registered. Despite the fact that attendance makes up a large section of the final grade, and missing more than a certain number of classes results in an automatic fail, we never have all present. Class is 90 minutes only once a week, starting at 10:40 am on Tuesday morning. There are normally about 5 people present at the start of class and another 5 or so will meander in over the course of class, with students occasionally arriving past 11:30. In a large class, especially if you sit near the back or hide yourself behind somebody else, nodding off or having a whispered conversation with the person beside you will go over with out comment by the prof at the front. In a class of less than a dozen, however, putting your head down on your arms for a nap is something I'd consider incredibly rude! Carrying on a conversation with the person beside you (at a level loud enough to annoy the stuffy Canadian on the other side of the room) despite being asked to stop doing so by the professor, is something that wasn't accepted in most of my ELEMENTARY SCHOOL classes, but since it has been more than 2 decades since I started elementary school, perhaps my memories are fading with age?! Or, perhaps these other students are simply rude and don't respect the professor or value the education they are receiving?! But that's just my crotchety opinion!
While the students I am referring to are foreigners, they are foreigners who speak Japanese very well and are used to fitting in with Japanese society. My other classes are either much larger or smaller graduate courses, and so can not provide a useful comparaison. Would Japanese students in the same situation do the same thing? The Japanese are famous (infamous?!) for falling asleep just about anywhere and everywhere - especially on trains. It is quite common for people to have a short cat nap after finishing their coffee at Starbucks, and anytime of day roughly half of the students sitting at the university library's study tables are asleep. The average Japanese will explain this phenomenon along the lines of the stereotype of the over-worked and sleep deprived Japanese business man or student.
I must admit to enjoying a nap myself on the train, especially on those lucky nights when I get a seat on the way home after my evening classes!
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Right, so you've been warned!
I had a really good day at the museum today! I've been given more and more responsibility recently and am enjoying all sorts of new projects. In conjunction with the museum's reopening a number of new initiatives are being considered and I'm involved in the rewriting of the museum's promotional material. One of the curators and I began by creating a brand-new 5 page bilingual illustrated leaflet. While I really enjoy variety, one of the few complaints I have about working at the museum is that I seem to be endlessly starting new things but never finishing them. The bilingual pamphlet, however, was an exception as I inputted the Japanese text at the start, translated/wrote the English text, had a voice in lay-out, and then finally copied and folded the first 50 copies before formally presenting a copy to the director and placing them in the exhibit space. I proud to add that those first 50 copies disappeared quickly and a professional printers are to be used for subsequent printings! Now I realize my role was nothing more than that of assistant to the curator, it was still awesome to be involved at all steps along the way! Today I spent about 30 minutes discussing modifications and improvements to be made with the curator in charge.
I've also been involved with the preparation for two different upcoming exhibitions-one with a museum in France and the other an individual in the US. This has me using all my languages and learning lots!
Today the curator I normally work for asked me if I'd like to tag along on a group tour that she and one of the other curators would be giving in the afternoon. It turned out to be 80 grade 4 students from a nearby elementary school! They were divided into two groups and then taken on a tour of the exhibit space and one of the historical buildings in addition to watching a short video. I hung to the back, answered a few questions and explained a few things to the kids during their free time. It was the first time in over a year that I've interacted with visitors to the museum and I both enjoyed it and noticed that it was significantly easier than the last time (taking classes in Japanese improves my language skills a lot more than teaching English ever did!). The curators suggested that I get involved in more of the group tours - both kids and adults, and also asked me to start thinking about ideas for pamphlet/worksheets for kids. (somehow I think that anything I come up with will be geared towards Brownie-age girls?!)
All of this goes along with what I am discovering to be my main interests in the museum field - museum education and visitor services.
Monday, 12 November 2007
"Your maslfhweo (English approximation of Japanese medical term said quickly and under his breath in an attempt that I recognize using myself when unsure of the exact word to use) level is..... NORRRRRRUUUMARU!" (the last a version of 'normal' said at about twice the volume and with four times the oomph as the rest of the sentence) He would then point to the numbers printed on the sheet to confirm my normalness. Now, of course whether one number was 40 and the next number was 0.1, or the other way around would make absolutely no difference to my comprehension. I haven't taken biology or anything like it since grade 10!! Not realizing my lack of comprehension, however, the doctor pushed on... Your lksjfoawr," he said, "level is.... NORRRRRUUUUMARU!!"
All this norumaru-ness is a good thing, and the doctor seems quite confident that there is nothing wrong with me, but I'm still left wondering why if nothing is wrong with me I don't feel quite so norumaru? To his credit the doctor was very understanding and said that I should come back the minute I don't feel right, even going so far as to recommend the best time for me to suddenly feel sick (~3pm on Mondays or Wednesdays, when the hospital is apparently at its emptiest).
On a side note - if I needed confirmation of Japan's rapidly aging population I certainly didn't after a morning in the hospital's waiting area. In the nearly three hours I spent there I only saw one other person under 30. Everybody else seemed either over 70 or was accompanying a parent in said age range.
Monday, 5 November 2007
My professor's major was originally archeology and while he has been heavily involved with digs in Alaska, he has also been involved in numerous digs across Japan. One of the digs, at a 7th century tumulus, unearthed a stunning painted stone burial chamber. The team spent a long time monitoring the conditions inside the chamber before they moved in and built a series of chambers leading up to the stone chamber so that the paintings could be protected and studied. A few decades later the chamber is still in excellent condition and the outer chambers are opened to viewers in the spring and fall (when temperature and humidity are similar inside the stone chamber and outdoors).
The next morning we left our hotel and headed off to see a small museum nearby before heading to an aquarium. I was rather excited to discover that the aquarium had a penguin exhibit and spent most of my time watching them swim about in the underwater viewing area.
When we arrived at the aquarium, however we had yet to have breakfast, so decided to eat at the aquarium's food court. I was quite disturbed to find that the food court specialized in sushi - there has got to be something wrong about an aquarium serving sushi, right?! Not 30 minutes after having eaten a bowl of rice topped with raw tuna and green onions (my absolute favourite) I watched three tuna swim past me. My professor says that his reaction to many aquariums is "mmm - that looks yummy!" I just find this all very disturbing. It didn't stop me from enjoying my negitoro bowl, however! ;)
No Japanese tourist spot would be complete without omiyage - souvenirs. The most popular are edible, and often include the local specialty (grape and peach flavoured candies in Yamanashi prefecture, yuba pickles in Nikko, natto in Mito...). If there is no special local product then cookies or Japanese sweets will be imprinted with the picture of or made in the shape of a local tourist attraction. Dolphin shaped cookies for sale at the aquarium were pretty standard. The stone-tool shaped butter cookies from a stone-age historic site, however got me giggling. Aside for their golden colour, they look very realistic! I was also amused by the wafer sandwich cookies with the same designs as those found on the walls of Torazuka's stone chamber. These souvenirs are bought by Japanese tourists and then taken home and given to friends, family and co-workers in a sort-of apology for the traveler's absence.
Sunday, 21 October 2007
A few weeks back I attended the Tokyo Canadian Club's annual Thanksgiving dinner. A somewhat strange Japanese guy aside, the dinner was good fun. We ate turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes... the whole works! A Japanese friend who came with me wasn't quite sure about sweet cranberry on savoury turkey, but she enjoyed the meal (as you can see in this photo) and it turns out that most of the rest of my Japanese friends were disappointed I didn't invite them too. I'm going to have to make a reservation for 10+ people next year as it seems that having told friends about the traditional Thanksgiving dinner I've apparently fostered a huge following!
I've also inspired interest in another Canadian tradition - hockey. While I have been listening to as many Vancouver Canucks games as possible over the internet I miss actually watching games, especially in person. I found out in the spring that Meiji University has a mens ice hockey team but only recently discovered that that team is in the top Tokyo college league, having won the league championship 33 of the last 69 times, including the past three years running. Perhaps not the level I'm used to watching, but then again my 'Nucks haven't been playing at that level recently either! So, I dragged along a Japanese friend who had never watched a hockey game before, and headed out to a small and rather cold arena to show our school spirit. We had a great time! The game was fast paced and with the exception of a lack of effort on the part of the Meiji team in the first half of the third period (which was the reason the game ended in a tie instead of a win for the purple and gold) mostly well-played. The soundtrack included all of my favourites, especially 'Cotton Eyed Joe' and I had a great time explaining the vital role of the zamboni. There were a few differences - after the game ended and the two teams had lined up on the blue lines and bowed at each other they lined up in front of each section of the stands and bowed to their fans; the opposing team's goalie didn't bang his stick on the ice to advertise the end of a penalty, instead the announcer came over the PA system to let all in the arena know that (insert name and number here) was being released back onto the ice. Oh, and after 2 hours of sitting in a freezing arena I've never enjoyed hot can coffee or heated toilet seats more! The friend I took to the hockey game and the Thanksgiving dinner is the same person and is certainly getting her does of Canadiana! It appears that I've converted her into a hockey fan too, she bought herself a program and promised to read up on the rules for the next game!
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
What made today such a great day, however, was not the fresh new paint on the walls or the larger kitchenette, but the work I did. After having spent a number of months simply translating from English to Japanese or Japanese to English, I got to do something slightly different today. I'm assisting one of the curators with two projects, one is a new bilingual pamphlet with both writing and images that we are going to create based on the exhibits. I was told that this time instead of a straight translation they want something that is going to be easy to understand so I'm being given a fair amount of independance to decide what sort of language and how much of the information to use. This is exciting not only because the work itself is challenging and interesting, but also because the project relates directly to my proposed thesis topic - that of the services offered for foreigners by Japanese museums. Both the director and the curator I am working with realize this project's links to my thesis and are eager to have me be more involved! Yay!! The director also mentioned that for my research purposes we'd have to figure out some way of getting feedback on the pamphlet once it is created! (He also once again commented about how he'd like to be able to hire me as an assistant curator once I graduate!) I love the fact that the people at the museum, the director especially, are so supportive of me and what I am doing!
I've been needing a bit of that support recently as term started off with a bang (the entrance exams) and has not slowed down and in addition to getting sick (I'm feeling much better now, thanks!!) I've also been feeling frustrated with seemingly useless things I've been having to do and just how much extra work I have to put into things because of the language barrier. Its a roller coaster, with its ups (today) and its downs (yesterday - I joked about quitting everything to move to Vancouver and open my very own chocolate shop but was convinced to stay in Tokyo for the time being due to Vancouver's lack of high quality frozen green tea drinks). Despite the fact that I hate actual roller coasters (ever since I was tricked into riding in the very front of one at the tender age of 5) I love this particular ride - most of the time!
Saturday, 6 October 2007
First of all, let me explain that in the Japanese health care system if you are sick you go to either a clinic or a hospital. These vary in size and may end up being not much different from the North American family doctor, but there is no concept here of a family doctor.
My friend (who took altogether too much delight in a rather subdued and anything but sure of herself version of me) took me to what a hospital that would compare to a very very small hospital back home. The staff there were kind, and the doctor very kindly worked hard to do the check-up in English. It took him a good few minutes to come up with the word "fever" (I don't have one) and in the meantime I was imagining all sorts of things he was trying to ask me. Since we both knew that overall my language skills were better than his, by asking me all the questions in English he was trying hard to make me feel a bit more at ease. I'm not sure I'm ever going to feel fully comfortable in any hospital but this particular doctor and the rest of the staff made an effort for which I am very grateful.
Oh, and just so you don't worry I am fine. I've been given antibiotics and should make a full recovery in under 5 days - which is a good thing, term may have only started a few weeks ago but already I've got a pile of reports to write and presentations to prepare! I'm also determined to feel up for the Canadian Thanksgiving dinner I've signed up for tomorrow night - turkey!!!
Thursday, 4 October 2007
On the weekend I joined two other friends from my time in India and a few of their friends at the annual Indian festival in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. There were food stalls that smelt a whole lot better than India but unfortunately the curies, biriyani, lassis and chai on sale just didn't quite measure up (the mango juice, however, was divine!). There was a stage with musical presentations from classical to modern - the crowd (us included) enthusiastically dancing along with the Bollywood dancers. And there were stalls selling dry goods, clothing, jewelery, embroidered bags, bedcovers... The alleyways in between the stalls were much too wide and the cool and rainy weather didn't quite fit, but it still felt a whole lot like Laxmi Road!
Saturday, 29 September 2007
and a Western type bust of a woman wearing a large helmet. Now the prospect of watching professors demonstrate how to pack up these two objects may not seem all that exciting but I found it fascinating - I guess that is why I chose this new major, eh?!
(Before I go any further I want to apologize for the poor quality of the images I've included. I scanned in some of the images from our text/handbook and the poor quality is not due to my scanner, the originals are just as bad.!)
The Japanese have developped traditional techniques and have a very highly developped speciality in packing museum and art objects. The basic technique starts with specialized "blankets" of cotton batting pads that are then ripped to the right size and wrapped in sheets of Japanese tissue paper.
These are then fastened to the object by tying strips of the same tissue paper around the middle.
Once the object has been fully padded by these "blankets" it is then wrapped in what is somewhat like a special cotton tensor bandage and
then tied in multiple directions by cord.
It sounds all rather confusing but it is a rather neat process, figuring out how to position everything and how big or small to make each indvidual blanket. I'm looking forward to next year when I'll get to try my hand at it myself!
In reality, however, even if any of the students trying their hand at packing in this class actually become curators it is unlikely that they will ever be in charge of packing an item for anything more than a short cross-city hand delivery. Major packing at a Japanese museum is usually done by outside specialized staff, a special branch of one of Japanese delivery companies. If they are shipping an item they want to be the ones who have the responsibility for the packing. Two years ago I had the opportunity to visit the offices of such a place two years ago with the director of the museum where I work and a visiting American curator. We were sending objects that had been on display in Tokyo back to her museum in Saint Louis. It was a really neat experience and I have two strong memories - I remember how disgusted the specialized staff were by the state in which the items had been packed for their shipment to Japan and how impressed the American curator was by the specialization and obvious skill of the Japanese packers! This is one area, as my professors today pointed out, that the Japanese do very well. But I suppose that won't come as a surprise to anybody who has ever purchased anything in a Japanese store and been treated to mulitple layers of packaging and bags!!