Sunday, 30 March 2008

More Scarves

Alright, so by now the novelty has worn off and you're probably thinking "She's still making scarves?!" And it probably doesn't help that my next two scarves were knit from the same wool and in the same fashion, with the only difference being in pattern... and recipient, of course! I had been thinking of starting my first sweater, but I'm going to put it off for now. Scarves satisfy my impatient-ness (they finish relatively quickly), I get to try out different types of yarn, and best of all, I love the reaction I get when I give a handmade scarf to a friend! Perhaps the most important thing, however, is they are easily portable and have simple patterns. Since I am doing most of my knitting on the train these are both very important.

So here is scarf #1 - my first time using circular needles (I'm hooked! er... needled? er... anyways...) I like circular needles because I can tuck my elbows in and knit while seated on a packed Japanese train.

Anyways, scarf #1... I took this one outside for a photo shoot, and managed not to get too many strange looks as I draped a scarf all over the neighbourhood greenery.

There were likely more than a few confused locals wondering when I suddenly made an abrupt turn, approached a flowering plum tree, threw a scarf into its branches and then began taking pictures, but I couldn't resist.

It will be warming the neck of a really sweet older gentleman who works at the museum. He seemed quite chuffed when I gave him the scarf, the ladies he works with at reception complained he was laughing and grinning too much.

He regularly gives the recipient of the pink scarf a brain teaser for "homework." A few weeks back, I listened as he was explaining the puzzle for the day. I didn't think I understood the puzzle, so asked a question about the way he had written it down. Turns out I understood it after all, as he smacked his forehead and pink scarf let out a noise of delight and understanding. My question, it turns out, made the solution obvious (although I still don't understand why!). The following week I was also given homework - serves me right! I was asked to come up with a list of 3 palindromes, sentences or phrases that are the same forwards and backwards. I'm allowed to come up with them in English, but I don't want to cheat by looking online, so far I only have his example "Madam, I'm Adam."

And scarf #2 - yes, I realize it looks almost the same as scarf #1. But it isn't. I insist!!

This scarf is going to a good friend who doesn't appear to own winter gear because he insists he doesn't get cold.

He likes to make fun of me for saying "Brrrrr!" when I am cold. Apparently this is not something he believes people actually say. He is adamant that he never heard it uttered in the nearly a decade he spent in the eastern US. When I put the question to a friend and my cousin (neither of whom had been coached), they both said that while it wasn't something they said, it was used. My friend finally admitted that maybe it was something that us weird Canadians said, what with our cold weather and general strangeness. I'm not sure I can claim that as a victory...

I also have two more colourful projects nearing completion, I had to start a more portable scarf when the shawl I'm knitting became too big to carry about and knit on the train. I'm also still working on the cotton cable scarf on itty bitty needles (it is very slow going and I get discouraged and bored and move on). Even more exciting is a wrapped parcel sitting beside my desk right now, that I am told contains yarn - a birthday gift! Not knowing what the yarn looks like is just about driving me bonkers, so it may not make it all the way to my birthday...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Cherry Blossoms - the Official Word

Below is part of an email I got a few days ago entitled "Study in Japan: A Comprehensive Guide." It appears to be an annual email, sent out to all foreign students on Japanese government scholarships. The section of the email on cherry blossoms seemed to say it so much better than I did, so I thought I would post it here for your reading pleasure...


Approach of the Cherry Blossom Front--Let's Enjoy Ohanami Sakura Viewing

March is the season when many Japanese people begin thinking about the approach of the "cherry blossom front;" that is, the forecast announced by the Japan Meteorological Agency on when cherry blossoms are expected to bloom. In addition to weather, the agency also observes seasonal phenomena through plants, etc., such as when plum or cherry blossoms bloom in an area or when the song of the cicada is first heard.

In the case of cherry blossoms, the agency's meteorological observatories around Japan observe sample cherry trees (primarily those of the Someiyoshino variety, also known as Prunus yedoensis) and announce forecasts of when they expect to see five to six blossoms bloom on the sample tree (probable date of blooming) in their respective areas. The "cherry blossom front;" is a line that shows where cherry blossoms are expected to bloom on the same date.

Many Japanese people have a love for Ohanami Sakura viewing in celebration of the arrival of spring. Some take walks under the blossoms soaking in their beauty, while others enjoy parties under the trees.

Actually, Ohanami is a historic custom, said to have begun during the Heian period (794-1185) when aristocrats enjoyed viewing the cherry blossoms. During the Muromachi period (1336-1573), this custom is said to have spread to the samurai class. Later, during the Edo period (1603-1867), Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa Shogun, is said to have encouraged cherry blossom viewing, spreading this custom to the populace at large.

After all this, you may be wondering if you need to go someplace special to enjoy cherry blossom viewing. Actually, it basically does not matter where you go so long as there are cherry blossoms to be viewed. Your friends are sure to have a favorite Ohanami site or two (an indication of just how much the Japanese people love Ohanami), so try asking them for suggestions.

A common way to enjoy Ohanami is to go to a park or other such area with many cherry trees, lay out a large plastic picnic blanket under a cherry tree where they sit and enjoy an outdoor party with food and drink. Ohanami is often used as one of the ways for people from the same office or members of a hobby circle to promote good fellowship. Why not go on an Ohanami with your new Japanese friends to deepen your friendship with them?

There are also many other ways to enjoy Ohanami. For example, it can be quite lovely to visit Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple gardens for a tranquil cherry blossom viewing experience. Enjoying a meal or drinks at a hotel lounge or restaurant with a beautiful view of the cherry blossoms outside is another good way to do Ohanami. Taking a river boat ride on a Yakatabune (traditional roofed pleasure boat) or sightseeing boat to view cherry trees lining the riverbank is also an Ohanami experience with flavor. Recently, there are also places where the trees are lit up at night creating a fantastical atmosphere for cherry blossom viewing.

According to the Japan Weather Association, cherry blossoms in western and eastern Japan are expected to flower this year (2008) at around the average time in many areas, while it is forecast to be a little earlier than in average years for many areas in the Tohoku region.

The forecasted date for the flowering of cherry blossoms in northern Kyushu is around March 26. Areas famous for cherry blossom viewing include Nishi Koen park in Fukuoka City.

Cherry blossoms are expected to begin blooming around March 30 in Shikoku's Kagawa and Tokushima prefectures. Crowds are expected at places popular for cherry blossom viewing, such as Kotohiki Koen park in Kannonji City, Kagawa Prefecture.

In Nara, cherry blossoms are expected to begin blossoming around April 1. Tourists from all over Japan will be gathering at Yoshino-yama (Mt. Yoshino), with its estimated 30,000 cherry trees of about 200 varieties.

In the heart of Tokyo, cherry blossoms are forecasted to begin blooming from around March 28. Ueno Onshi Koen park is especially famous for its cherry blossoms and extremely large crowds are seen there every year during Ohanami season.

The cherry blossom front will move further north in April, with blossoms flowering in the Tohoku region. Forecasted dates are around April 5 in Fukushima Prefecture, around April 15 in Yamagata Prefecture, around April 17 in Akita Prefecture and around April 20 in Aomori Prefecture.

Finally, the cherry blossom front will reach Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, with the flowering of cherry blossoms in Sapporo expected at around the end of April during the Golden Week holidays.

Will the cherry blossoms bloom as forecasted? Why not observe a cherry tree in your area to find out?

You can find famous Ohanami spots around Japan through travel guidebooks and Internet websites. You can also use the Top 100 Sakura Spots selected by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association as reference.

Last but not least, some comments related to Ohanami etiquette. Enjoying alcohol is often a part of Ohanami, but loud drunken behavior or leaving garbage behind are definitely things that one should never do. Furthermore, breaking off a cherry tree branch to take the blossoms home with you may be considered violating the Minor Offense Act. Let us all enjoy the beautiful blossoms of spring gracefully with others enjoying Ohanami.


Monday, 24 March 2008

They’re Baaaaa-ck!

It is that time of year again in Japan – when the entire country goes batty over blossoms, cherry blossoms. The symbolism of the cherry blossom - the ephemeral or transient beauty of life - resonates deeply with the Japanese aesthetic. The cherry blossom season can be one of the best to visit Japan, as trees turn the cities delicate shades of white or pink. If I contort myself a bit I can look down on a flowering tree from my window, but I certainly don’t have to go out of my way to find them anywhere else. Newscasts run special reports with the prediction for which day will herald the opening of the buds; TV weather reports are replaced by blossom forecasts,

showing the progression of the opening of buds across the country; and advertisements of popular blossom viewing locations are plastered all over trains and train stations. There are websites (for example HERE and HERE and even in English) with interactive maps and other features that provide detailed flower reports and all the information you could possibly need about hundreds upon hundreds of flower-viewing spots across the country.

Hana-mi (literally "flower viewing") parties are held underneath the blossom laden branches, and are really an excuse to start drinking before noon. You have to get there early to get a good spot, after all! The hardcore picnickers will even have portable stoves to cook food or warm up sake. These parties are a great opportunity for the usually reserved Japanese populace to let loose and, as such, are also good fun for people viewing!

The museum is located in a park long known for its cherry blossoms. Here are some views through the years...

The hordes of people, the drunken craziness, and even the stone monument haven't changed a bit through the years! Although unfortunately Mount Fuji is no longer visible from the park.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Spring has Sprung!

While spring has not officially arrived (that is Thursday), and I realize I am setting myself (and the rest of Tokyo) up for months of cold and rainy weather, it appears that spring has sprung! The past few days have been warm and sunny. I had my camera in my bag when I ran errands today, and thought that I would give a glimpse of spring to those of you still shivering and shoveling in Canada...

This one was (obviously!) not what I was going for, but I thought it was kind of neat anyways!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork!

I submitted my first round of paperwork for my scholarship to the Japanese consulate in Vancouver two years ago now. I submitted much of the same paperwork to my university the first time a few months later. When I entered the university last April as a research student I had to resubmit most of that paperwork. My fourth round of paperwork came in the summer when I applied to the MA program and sat the entrance exams. Having passed my exams I am currently in the fifth round of paperwork - in preparation for being a full student as of this April. Round six will be starting in a few weeks - when I will get my student card and sign up for classes. The amount of trees I have gone through is quite incredible, especially since each time I have to submit many of the same documents (copies of my passport, official copies of my foreign registration, transcripts...). My history creates even more of a paper trail, since I attended three universities during undergrad, two high schools, one middle school (for only 4 months), and four elementary schools. Japanese forms invariably include a table for this information to be supplied, but only offer space for one of each school. Add to that the fact that although I am entering an MA program, I already have an MA...

I had to submit a different set of paperwork in December in regards to my scholarship. It was originally for two years, but since I will be starting a two year program this April, I applied to have my funding extended by one year. I am happy to report that this application has been accepted, and the Japanese government will be paying for me to complete my MA. Yay!

I also had to submit some paperwork (and still have more to submit in the next week or so) to the personnel department. My advisor has asked me to be the TA for the hands-on portion of the 4th year final curatorial certificate course. The students learn how to properly handle and care for traditional objects (hanging scrolls, picture scrolls, tea bowls...), and how to pack objects (see my blog post about that here). My role will not be to teach directly (thank goodness!), but to assist the professors, guide the students through the hands-on portions, and help with set-up and clean-up. I am a little unsure about being a TA for this course, as I sat in on the class this past year and will be taking it come April, but my advisor says he sees no problems. I am, however, very excited about this challenge must admit I am also feeling a borderline diabolical anticipation of the shock the undergrads will have when they find out their TA is a foreigner... tee hee!!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Scarf Update

I know you were all worried about my blue scarf and hat, and how they were missing Japan. Any doubts that they'll miss the urban sprawl that is Tokyo after this?!

I may have yarn for four other projects, but now that my first scarf set is no longer missing me I felt it was time to go to the yarn store so that I wasn't missing it either...

This is destined to be a surprise gift for a friend here in Tokyo... I've already cast it on, lengthwise on circular needles. It is an easy knit, which is kinda nice right now.

As for finished projects... The first was a very simple scarf to make, but great fun. The wool, Noro Silk Garden, jumped out at me as the perfect colours for my friend / tutor / sempai (student senior to me). The colours are gorgeous - blue/purple, pink, green, yellow, and beige. Following a simple pattern, the self-striping Noro is combined with a solid contrasting colour (chocolate brown in this case).

It may seem simple, but watching each colour come up and seeing how it changed and added to the scarf was really great fun. The scarf made it in time for the last bit of winter, and will be warming her neck on her early morning commute to her new job.

Doesn't she look happy?!

Rather more complicated and time consuming was this pink scarf for a coworker / friend. Made even more time-consuming as I had to frog back three times - once with nearly half the scarf done! Once I got the hang of the multiple patterns, however, I really enjoyed watching this one develop.

The day I took the scarf in to work, my friend wasn't there. I left the scarf on her desk, but with most of the female staff eyeing it I wasn't sure it would still be on her desk the next morning! This is the photo she sent me taken on her cell phone...

Since a number of people saw me put it on her desk, I now have a whole bunch more people wanting scarves... Not that that is a bad thing, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish before next winter, and I'm certainly not going to be able to graduate to a sweater as I had been contemplating!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Kindred Spirit in a Taxi

My little cousin (who is a full head taller than me and legal just about everywhere so no longer so "little") spent a week in Tokyo on his way home from visiting his sister in Australia. It was his first visit to a non-English speaking country and it was really interesting for me to see Japan through his eyes. As often happens when I spend time with a non-Japanese speaking foreigner, I found people around me assuming I didn't speak the language, which is always interesting.

We spent most of our time exploring the modern urban centre that is Tokyo - electronics shopping in Akihabara, riding the 5 floor escalator in Ikebukuro, people watching in Shibuya, exploring the Sony Showroom in Ginza, and taking puri-kura photos.

I did sneak in a museum visit - taking him to the Tokyo Electric Company's Denryokukan (complete with a "scent computer" that randomly enough has a library of Canadian recipes complete with olfactory accompaniment). We also explored some more traditional sites - wandering around Ueno park with a friend, getting fortunes at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, and going to Kamakura to see Enoshima and the big Buddha. We ate lots - sukiyaki, Korean BBQ, Krispy Kremes, giant tako-yaki, sushi rice-bowls, Japanese pub fare, pork katsu rice-bowls, monaka (Japanese ice cream sandwiches)...

People watching is one of my favourite sports, and rarely does Japan fail to provide interesting fodder. We spent an amusing 30 minutes in the Starbucks overlooking the famous Shibuya crossing, looking down at the masses of humanity moving everywhere, and imagining stories for a few interesting characters. I must admit I am rather glad that there seemed to be nobody who understood English around us - from the 60 year-old lovers eloping to Brazil, and the drunken fight master rendez-vous-ing with his gang contact, our stories were quite fanciful! My favourite people watching moment came in Shinjuku, however. We were sitting outside of Krispy Kremes, eating our doughnuts in the sun. I looked up and saw an older woman approaching us carrying two rather incongruous items. The fresh cut flowers under her left arm were not surprising. The large hockey stick in her right hand, however, made my jaw drop!

While I see my cousin every time I go through Vancouver, and would say that I am close to that part of my family, it was our first time to spend an extended amount of time together. We've always teased each other a fair amount, however, and our sibling-like antics surprised a few of my friends! (Another was un-impressed by my nagging of my little cousin... sorry 'bout that cuz!)

So when I dropped him off at the airport and came home to my dorm room I was feeling rather sad and lonely. Since I had a suitcase I caught a cab from the station. The driver, commenting on my baggage, asked if I returned home to my country. I replied that I had been staying in a hotel in Tokyo with a visiting family member, and the driver made approving sounds. Half to myself I added "but then it is lonely when they leave, isn't it?" My driver sighed deeply and agreed with me. It turns out he's from outside of Tokyo, and his wife and children still live there. He works in Tokyo and can only go home infrequently. We commiserated and bonded over a discussion of the trials of living far from one's family. From there we chatted about what I was doing in Japan, the differences of Japanese and Canadian climates... This simple conversation made me feel far less lonely. As I got out of the cab, the driver offered a piece of fatherly advice that put a big smile on my face... He told me to focus on my studies and not let any bad Japanese boys distract me (perhaps better advice than he realized!).

I've unpacked, done a load of laundry, and begun to think about the million things I have to do before school starts in early April... Sigh, back to my real life!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Lessons from a Translation - Take two

Having now finished the translation, and gotten a bit of sleep so that my brain is working again (or as close to it as I can get), I got to rethinking my “lessons learned” post. There are a few things I want to add.

  1. Friends – I am so incredibly lucky to have such wonderful friends. Every time I go “home” to Canada the realization that my life is in Tokyo comes a little bit stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I am Canadian and dang proud of it, but my life is in Tokyo, and that is where I feel I belong. I have a challenging and rewarding academic/professional life, a good support network, and, most importantly amazing friends. I turned to three friends for help on the translation in three different ways. One dropped everything and spent 24 hours translating for me. One spent hours the night before his university entrance exams to track down people to help me with translations. One gave up his only free day in about two weeks and spent hours in transit to check draft translations in the galleries. I had also met each of these three for coffee or a meal while I was working on the translation, and the social contact was also greatly appreciated! To these three people, my thanks. Just typing these words isn't enough to describe how grateful that I have people like you to lean on in my life! I hope someday to be able to repay you for your kindness.

  2. Translation is hard. Writing is something I enjoy. My friends at school and grad school were always shocked when I admitted that I enjoyed writing papers. I do. I love writing, putting into words the thoughts and ideas in my mind. (I guess that’s why I enjoy this blog too) Translation is similar to writing in that you are putting words onto paper (or a computer screen). It is not your own voice or ideas, however, but those of somebody else. You have to be faithful to the words and tone they chose, and yet make it understandable in the new language. It is a delicate balancing act. For museum-related translations there are two further complications. One is subject matter. When translating text on historical or cultural subjects the problem is that quite often no one specific word exists for a direct translation. That means that either a foreign word gets used, or a long explanation is needed (or both). The second complication is something I don’t feel I took into consideration adequately enough while working on this latest contract, and that is the issue of media. When writing text for a brochure or panel text, you can get an idea of what it will look like while you are still working on it. You can put text into the layout to be used and see immediately how it works for length, etc. But for an audio guide? I thought it would be enough to simply read it aloud, but it isn’t, as that is my voice and I am looking at the words as I read it aloud. Listening to somebody else read it, without the text in front of me, while I look at objects in the gallery, would be completely different. I don’t feel I kept that in mind well enough while translating and so I am unhappy with the appropriateness of the finished product.

  3. Endurance – I realized just how far the human body (or at least my particular body) can be pushed. I’ve pulled all nighters before, every grad student has, I’m sure. But I had never pushed myself quite so hard as I did this week. In the space of 50 hours I was in bed for about two hours and had two short naps on the train. I also missed meals and didn’t eat properly. I drank large amounts of caffeinated beverages. After 40 hours my brain was no longer processing thoughts properly, but after two short naps and non-sugared food, I was able to think (somewhat) coherently again. After just 2 hours of sleep I was able to spend another 5 hours of editing/rewriting. The human body is incredible. But I am very lucky. I feel healthy and fine, but I also know that I owe my body. I intend to treat it very well for a bit now. I am trying to get good nights of solid sleep, eat good food, and maybe get in a soak in a hot springs to thank my body for all it has put up with.