Monday, 29 September 2008

Dumb Foreigner

As a white foreigner in Japan I stand out. When I do something stupid (which happens often) I stand out even more.

Sometimes this is a good thing, for example getting directions when lost (which happens embarrassingly often) or getting out of minor troubles - a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card. When done on purpose it is called "playing the gaijin (foreigner) card" and can come in handy sometimes.

On the flip side, however, is the fact that if I make a mistake it is because I'm a foreigner. It may be actually due to the fact that I wasn't listening, or because I'm exhausted, or because I had a brain fart, or - wonder of wonders - I'm just plain dumb, but whatever the situation it will be chalked up to me being a foreigner.

I'm always trying to get rid of change in my wallet. Quite often I'll count out coins and give then to the cashier only to have them smile at me patronizingly as they assume I've just stepped off the plane and haven't figured out the currency - when in actual fact I just can't count!

Tonight, is another good example. I showed up for a class the time of which I had been warned might change. When I checked last week, however, no announcement had been posted in the *terribly technologically advanced* announcement system - aka a cork board on the 19th floor. I was running a bit late tonight and decided just to go right to the class. When I cracked open the door of the room, however, 4 stunned faces greeted me. They looked... well they looked like some half-mad white girl had just barged in on them! (the profs and students of my own department are all used to me and treat me completely normally, but others around the university, especially up on the grad floors, tend to freak out upon seeing me).


Episode 31

Unfortunately I was not able to record episode 30, and while I did watch snippets of it while dad and I had lunch in a random restaurant on a very very very rainy Rebun Island off the north-west coast of Hokkaido, I can't write anything approaching a description so am skipping ahead to episode 31, the last one I agreed to do months ago (sorry for how horribly delayed I am) for Auberginefleur. I still haven't watched episodes after that, but am not planning on writing up any more episodes at this time.


Ii hiked crackdown on those in reverence for the Emperor and the exclusion of foreigners, and Muraoka, who serves the head of Konoe family in Kyoto and attended Tenshoin’s wedding as her mother, was imprisoned. Trying to save Muraoka, Tenshoin sends her a white kimono which she wore at her wedding. Clad in the kimono, Muraoka pressures the interrogators by telling to whom the white kimono belonged and successfully proves her innocence. Meanwhile, Ikushima tells Tenshoin her intention to resign.
(Official NHK Website English plot summary)

Ii’s attacks against Hitotsubashi supporters continue as more an more individuals are targeted, moving closer and closer to Tenshoin herself.

With the end of the year approaching, Tenshoin has all of her kimono brought out in order to give them away to the members of the Ooku, allowing them to chose their favourites. Ikushima becomes very annoyed when one of the ladies asks about a white kimono worn by Tenshoin on her wedding night.

The new shogun, Iemochi, comes to the Ooku to visit Tenshoin. He admits to Tenshoin that he was warned by Ii to focus on governing and to stop visiting the Ooku. Ii told him that it was Ii who was there to assist in governing, not the Ooku, not Tenshoin. Neither Tenshoin nor Iemochi, however, are impressed with Ii's methods of "strengthening" the bakufu, and agree that while they may not always be certain of the right thing to do, they will discuss anything and everything and move forward together.

Tatewaki and Okubo are discussing Nariakira's half-brother Tadayuki and whether or not he was involved in the banishment of Saigo to Oshima. Tatewaki defends Tadayuki and says that he believes the latter is dedicated to following Nariakira’s will.

Ii’s rounding up of anti-bakufu supporters continues, affecting not only masterless samurai, but also those in higher ranked families. Tenshoin discovers that Muraoka of the Konoe family has been arrested for her involvement in passing the letter to Saigo. With Tenshoin's connections to the Konoe family, Tenshoin and Ikushima are desperate to do something for Muraoka. Tenshoin demands to see Ii, but he refuses to see her, sending a low-ranked minister in his place. Tenshoin is greatly angered by this and is only stopped from going to see Ii herself by her new lady-in-waiting, Shigeno (chosen as a replacement by Ikushima). Tenshoin instead instructs the minister to tell Ii that lord Konoe is her father, and Muraoka acted as her mother in her marriage to Iesada. They are important people to Tenshoin and, as such, must be treated properly. When the message is passed to Ii he remarks sardonically that those who supported the Hitotsubashi have yet to figure out the danger they are in.

Konoe is removed from his position as Imperial Minister of the Left. When Ikushima hears of this she begs Tenshoin to speak to Iemochi about it, but Takimiya steps in and says that Tenshoin should not speak to Iemochi about this matter as it would play into Ii’s plans perfectly and involve the Ooku. An angered Ikushima retorts that it was Takimiya who supported Ii's appointment. Takimiya agrees that it was her fault and she regrets it, but that it makes no bearing on the issue, and begs Tenshoin not to involve Iemochi in a personal matter of hers.

Later, when Iemochi and Tenshoin meet at daily prayers, Iemochi can tell that something is wrong. He asks her what is wrong, and tells her she does not need to suffer by herself, but Tenshoin brushes away his worries.

With Muraoka sent to Edo and imprisoned awaiting her trial, Tenshoin and Shigeno discuss what could be done. As Tenshoin is praying to her Buddhist statue, she is suddenly hit by inspiration and calls for Ikushima – who arrives bearing a tray and wrapped gift - the two have both come up with the same plan. Tenshoin calls for a palanquin and is ready to leave when Ikushima stops her, saying that if Tenshoin goes herself things will get too big, and that Ikushima will go instead.

Ikushima goes to where Muraoka is being held and demands to see the prisoner. The official guarding Muraoka refuses, but Ikushima insists, saying she has a gift from Tenshoin to Muraoka. When he refuses still she draws herself up and insists that turning away a gift from Tenshoin, the widow of the late shogun, is the same as turning away the very bakufu itself. The official is cowed and allows Ikushima to see Muraoka. Ikushima unwraps Tenshoin’s white wedding night kimono – to which Muraoka tears up in gratitude. With the official telling them to hurry up, Ikushima tells Muraoka that she is in the prayers of both Ikushima and Tenshoin.

Muraoka shows up to her trial in the white kimono the judge is shocked by the symbolism, and questions Muraoka harshly. With a dark and stormy backdrop of thunder and lightening, Muraoka explains that the robe is a wedding gown and she is wearing it to represent the occasion. For never in her 72 years did she ever imagine she would be in a situation like this. As if by magic, the weather clears, and she is bathed in a halo of sunlight. The judge demands that the kimono be removed from her. The samurai attempt to do so but she will not let them touch her, insisting that it is a gift from her daughter, Tenshoin, who was married to the shogun, the peak of the Tokugawa family. She says that touching the gown is the same as touching the very symbol of the Tokugawa family, and should not be done lightly. The judge is visibly shaken by this and angrily tells her that he will continue with the trial, simple clothing will not save her. He demands to be told of the meeting between Gessho, the Konoe family and representatives from Satsuma. Muraoka responds that as Rojo she knows nothing of those who visit. He presses for a straight answer, and she repeats forcefully that she knows nothing. It is clear she is not going to say anything. In the end she was held for 30 days and then released.

Having heard about Muraoka and Tenshoin's connections to her, Iemochi asks Tenshoin why she did not tell him. She responds that there was nothing he could have done, and he is angered, telling her that it doesn’t matter, he wanted her to tell him anyways so he could have at least shared her pain. Besides, if she won’t tell him what is bothering her, he will not be able to tell her when things are upsetting him, and that will be a problem. She smiles and tells him how happy she is to have been blessed with such a wonderful son.

In Satsuma, Narioki passes away. With his last breath he regrets that his life is ending just as his role was starting. Tadayuki is now in sole charge of the domain, and announces his intention to follow Nariakira's will to his high-ranking retainers. Some of the low-ranking samurai are meanwhile meeting to discuss Ii and read a letter from compatriots in Edo. The men are angered by Ii’s actions, and get worked up, deciding that if they want something done they’ll have to do it themselves. They are ready to storm off to Edo and do something about Ii, but Okubo stops them, telling them Saigo's advice just before he was banished to Oshima. Saigo told Okubo that if they were to make a move they should wait until things were at a boiling point, or else they’d get burnt themselves. Okubo doesn’t think things are there quite yet, and as a result they should wait before making their move.

Tenshoin’s wedding kimono is returned to her, with the message from Muraoka that at least this one should be kept by Tenshoin. Tenshoin comments that it is remarkable how both she and Ikushima thought of the same thing, the same way to save Muraoka. Ikushima responds that having served Tenshoin for so long she knows what Tenshoin is thinking. Tenshoin asks Ikushima to guess what she is thinking right now. Ikushima responds by reminding Tenshoin that she wants to retire and leave the Ooku. Tenshoin asks why and Ikushima responds that she wants to leave before she creates a problem for Tenshoin. For at some point in the future she knows she would be in the way when Tenshoin had to decide between Satsuma and the Tokugawa family. And besides, she says that there is nothing left for her to teach Tenshoin, that Tenshoin has it in herself to lead the Ooku all by herself now. Tenshoin fondly remembers how far the two have come together, how Ikushima was by her side in Nariakira’s palace in Satsuma, on the tempestuous boat trip to Edo, and throughout her time in the Ooku, Ikushima was her guardian shadow. Tenshoin tells Ikushima she wants her to take the precious wedding night kimono. There is only ever one wedding night in a girl's life, and she wants Ikushima to take the kimono as a memento of everything that the two have been through together. As a final request, Ikushima requests that Tenshoin put on the robe one last time. Seeing Tenshoin dressed in the kimono, Ikushima remembers sending Atsuhime off on her wedding night and starts crying. The two teas each other for their sentimentality as they cry.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Episode 29

Atsuhime is struck with deep grief after learning Iesada's death and blames herself for pressuring him in politics. Atsuhime becomes a Buddhist nun and is named Tenshoin. She faces Ii to pursue Iesada's will to act as Yoshitomi's guardian. Nariakira's death caused confusion in Satsuma which Saigo tries to settle by following the late master's will.
(Official NHK Website English plot summary)

Atsuhime is despondent in her despair over Iesada’s death, sitting in her room and doing nothing, staring into space with tears rolling down her face. Atsuhime confesses to Ikushima that she blames herself for Iesada’s death, feeling that she pushed him into meeting Harris and choosing a successor, forcing him out of his pretense of idiocy. When Atsuhime does not go to morning prayers as usual, Iesada’s mistress, Shiga, begins to worry about Iesada.

Saigo was in Kyoto when he heard of Nariakira’s death. With the bond between Saigo and his lord so strong, the Buddhist monk Gessho is worried that Saigo will commit suicide to follow Nariakira. Urging Saigo to live and ensure the fruition of Nariakira's dreams, Gessho offers to take Nariakira's place, telling Saigo to symbolically place his "life" in the monk's hands. When Muraoka enters the room Saigo attempts to hide his emotions but Muraoka notices nonetheless, and comments on the luck of the Lord of Satsuma in having such good subjects. She then she presents Saigo with a letter from Konoe to the Bakufu, an attempt to put into play Nariakira's dreams. Saigo is requested to present the letter to the Bakufu and is greatly honoured by this request.

After the funeral for Nariakira, Tatewaki is summoned to meet with Nariakira’s half-brother, Tadayuki. Tadayuki remarks that, unlike his worldly brother, he is a country bumpkin and knows nothing of the world outside of Satsuma. He asks Tatewaki to be his advisor, for he is going to require all the help he can get if he is to put into place his brother's dreams. Tadayuki announces his intentions to do just that. Even if it takes many years he wants to build an army and then head for Kyoto and towards Edo. As the two toast the future with red wine from France, Tadayuki worries about how his father, Narioki, could cause trouble for him. Meanwhile, convinced of his son's inability to lead Satsuma, Narioki is planning to return to the domain to take over.

Atsuhime asks Ikushima what Iesada’s mother has been told, and insists that she wants to tell Honjuin about his death. Atsuhime remarks sadly that finding out he had passed away was all the more painful the longer it took for her to be told. She does not want to inflict the same pain on Honjuin and feels that it is especially important for his mother to know he has died.

Shiga visits Atsuhime, bringing with her homemade sweets that make Atsuhime think of Iesada. When Shiga asks abouts Iesada, Atsuhime tells her that it is as she thinks it is. Shiga pushes for a firm answer and Atsuhime tells her that he is no longer of this world, and then immediately apologizes saying that she knew but was sworn to secrecy. A distressed Shiga starts berating Atsuhime for not taking better care of the weak and sickly Iesada, and a stone-faced Atsuhime can do nothing more than apologize. As soon as Shiga leaves, Atsuhime goes to Honjuin’s rooms to tell her as well. At first Honjuin laughs and attempts to shake the news off as some sort of joke. Gradually, however, she realizes that Atsuhime’s story is true and flies into a rage, blaming Atsuhime for killing her son, beating Atsuhime with the flowers she had been arranging. Takiyama goes to stop Honjuin from attaking Atsuhime with wooden arm-rest, but Atsuhime yells not to stop her, apologizing and sayaing that she only just heard her self and she can only imagine the anger of a parent in finding out their son is long dead. When taken to Iesada’s funerary alter, Honjuin breaks down asking Iesada why he went before his mother, why he left her all alone in the world.

In Kyoto the emperor summons the lord of the Mito domain to the court to present him with a chokujo, an imperial order presented directly to the lord and bypassing the bakufu. This blatant disregard for the authority of the bakufu enrages Ii who vows to have revenge on the Mito domain and those who supported Yoshinobu.

Iesada’s remains are interred in Ueno’s Kan’ei-ji, and the women of the Ooku begin to plan for the ceremony marking Atsuhime's new status. With her husband dead, her hair is to be cut and she is to become a Buddhist nun. Ikushima offers to take care of preparing Atsuhime herself, and even manages to coax a smile from the despondent Atsuhime, as she teases the young widow. Ikushima then tells her that when her hair is cut she will be reborn, and Atsuhime comments that she has already lived many different lives. With a soft smile on her face she comments that no matter what, Ikushima will remain beside her. Ikushima's face clouds at this, and she changes the subject deftly. The ceremony is held a few days later, and Atsuhime is given the new name of Tenshoin, which she says makes her feel closer to the departed Iesada who was also given a new name. Shiga decides to withdraw from the Ooku, retiring to become a nun herself In their parting, the two women both beg forgiveness from each other, but Tenshoin tells Shiga she has nothing to apolgoize for, as she was in the right. Shiga responds by asking Tenshoin why she cries, saying that Tenshoin was obviously loved by Iesada, since he showed her his real self instead of pretending to be an idiot. The fact that he never did this for Shiga proves that he did not love her in the same way. Having been loved by one you yourself love, says Shiga, is pure luxury. Shiga’s words prompt Tenshoin out of her despondency, reminding her of Iesada telling her he wanted her to help in the ruling when Yoshitomi became shogun. Tenshoin calls Ii to remind him of Iesada’s wishes, but Ii feigns surprise and says he has never heard of the idea. He insists that Tenshoin should relax in the Ooku, leaving the ruling to be done by him and the others ministers. Tenshoin is angered by this and insists that she will not and cannot ignore the deceased Shogun’s wishes.

Moving on Out!

I sat down the other day and tried to figure out just how many places I've lived in over the years. I had to count, then re-count, then re-count again as I kept reminding myself of somewhere else that I lived. In the end I decided that, over the past 30 years I have lived in 22 different homes in 4 countries. Add in the number of times I went back to somewhere I had lived before, and subtract the 7 years of elementary school when I didn't move once, and I figure I had to go through the entire moving process nearly twice a year! No wonder I have freakishly good abilities when it comes to packing the maximum amount of stuff into the minimum amount of space.

With a track record like that it should come as no surprise that after a relatively lengthy 18 months at the same address I'm on the move again! While I am normally not thrilled about moving, this time around I couldn't be happier! I have definitely been living in the dorm for TOOOOOO long. Yes, I am ready for my own place, a place where I don't have to worry about random unknown sticky substances on the kitchen floor, or 35 strangers leaving their dirty dishes in the sink, or unidentifiable charred substances burnt onto the stove top. (with that description of the communal kitchen on my floor in the dorm I am sure you understand why I don't cook!) I'm also very excited about having a nice deep Japanese bath instead of lockable communal shower stalls.

My new apartment may have only one real room and the kitchen may be in the hall, but the space is mine! (or will be once I've actually moved in) What I like best about my new place, however, is that there are more windows and closets/cabinets. Storage space is severely limited in the average Japanese apartment, but this one has the requisite closet plus an extra closet. The kitchen (aka the hall) is lined with cabinets too. I'm still going to need a few bookshelves, but I am a grad student after all! My room is at one end of the building, and the layout takes advantage of this fact - there is a triangular bit with windows poking out... I'm not sure how to describe it, but it is the first thing I noticed about the room from the floor plan and loved it from the start. When I walked into the room for the first time I immediately had an image in my mind of a nice big table angled into the corner window so I could sit and study and take advantage of the sunlight while also having a nice view of the greenery right outside the window and the park by the river on the other side of the narrow road.

I'm a little further from the station than I had hoped to be, it is apparently a 15 minute walk. But, to balance it out, once I get to the station it is only about 10 minutes to school and a half an hour to work. I'm excited about this, but also somewhat nervous as I'm not sure when I'm going to be able to get any knitting done if my hour commute disappears!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Museum Nerds Unite!

Having attended two different graduate student museum studies study groups in the past four days I've been thinking about the saying "be careful what you wish for" a lot recently!

Today's study group was completely different from the one a few days ago, but was also good fun and was of course followed by a nomi-kai (drinking party). My favourite moment of the night was near the end, when a somewhat tipsy and rather red-faced grad student apologized for having gotten so animated (he had been going on very passionately about one of the presentations made earlier in the evening). He hung his head and grinned sheepishly, saying "I just get so excited when I talk about museums!"

I think I've found kindred spirits!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

One of Those Days

The other day I had one of those days - the kind that has me questioning just why it is I've made the somewhat masochistic decision to live in a foreign country. It seemed that nothing I did was quite right, and everything took two or three times longer than I thought it should. I was finding the easiest things difficult, things I've done before without much trouble. Just one of those days.

A typhoon was approaching and promising torrential rains and I wanted nothing more than to take the train home and listen to the rain fall from the sheltered confines of my dorm. I had agreed to attend a study group and so instead of feeling sorry for myself and hiding, I got on a train and headed off to a university seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Walking to the university through the dark and deserted streets, dodging puddles and attempting to stay dry, I was seriously doubting my decision to go the study group. The deserted university didn't make me feel any better but, surprisingly, my day was about to take a dramatic turn for the better.

This particular university is home to a research centre focusing on ethnology, history and museum studies. Four years ago a small group of graduate students affilliated with the centre formed a museum studies study group. The group has grown and now includes both current students and past graduates. They meet twice a month to listen to and discuss presentations made by their members, and also go on a museum field trip once a month. The talk this past Friday night was short but the discussion that followed was lively. The dinner/drinks that followed were just as lively and had me heading home on close to the last train.

Although it was the first time anybody from outside their university had attended, I felt nothing but 100% welcome. In the space of a few short weeks I've gone from only knowing one other student in museum studies, to meeting neary 2 dozen others and now have the opportunity to attend 4 meetings per month! Wow.

As I walked home from the train station in the pouring rain, not even getting doused by cars hitting puddles could dampen my mood. It had turned into one of those days - the kind that made me shake my head over how much I enjoy what I am doing. I grinned as I thought about how lucky I am to be able to have the opportunity to be studying something that I love. I felt like I belong and this is so right. Just one of those days.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Episode 28

Ii becomes shogun's chief adviser and Yoshitomi is chosen as the next shogun. Iesada orders Ii and Hotta, the chief retainer of the shogunate, to entrust Atsuhime with Yoshitomi in emergency. Suddenly Iesada suffers a stroke which fact the shogunate tries to hide even to Atsuhime and Honjuin. Ii signs a treaty with the U.S. without the shogunate's approval. In Satsuma, Nariakira passes away. Atsuhime shortly learns the death of another important person in her life.
(Official NHK Website English plot summary)

A love struck Atsuhime wanders in the garden daydreaming of Iesada.

Iesada meets with Ii, who requests that he be allowed to name Yoshitomi as the next shogun. Iesada agrees, with the provision that Atsuhime be named as guardian. Ii asks why, remarking that there is no precedent for this type of action. Iesada replies that, as he has told Ii before, Atsuhime is interested and skilled in politics, and would provide the young Yoshitomi with invaluable guidance. Iesada meets with Hotta to tell him the same thing, but refuses to repeat himself with explanations. He storms out to the garden where he sees beautiful flowers, and decides to cut one and send it to Atsuhime. As he is about to cut the flower, however, Iesada collapses.

Ikushima begs Atsuhime once again to urge Iesada to name Yoshinobu as the next shogun. In her impassioned plea, Ikushima says that this will be her final request of Atsuhime, and that it is Nariakira’s order and desire.

Nariakira is telling Tatewaki about his plans to form a Western-style military force, with 3000 guns and a warship ordered from France, when an exhausted and filthy Saigo arrives. With his head to the ground, Saigo announces that Yoshitomi will be named as the next shogun and apologizes for failing his lord. Nariakira does not seem surprised or upset, telling Tatewaki and Saigo that he has other plans, plans involving his Western army and the two of them.

The lower-ranked samurai of Satsuma are greatly excited by the news that Nariakira intends to head to Kyoto. They assume that this is to make war and get so excited by this prospect that they rush off to practice nosily, leaving Tatewaki and Okubo to muse on their lord’s deeper plans.

When Ii hears that Franc and England are approaching the shores of Japan, and that Harris wants the treaty with the US signed before the other countries arrive, Ii tells the negotiators Inoue and Iwase to attempt to do their best to kill time until they can obtain the emperor’s support. Despite this, however, the treaty is signed on board the American ship the Powhattan, on the 19th day of the 6th month of 1858.

Ikushima tells Atsuhime that Ii has had the treaty signed without imperial sanction and Atsuhime wonders why Iesada wasn’t involved. She worries that Iesada may be unwell, causing Ikushima to muse that she has heard nothing of Iesada’s recent actions. Atsuhime calls for the shogun’s doctor to demand news. Meanwhile the doctor is meeting with Honjuin, telling her that Iesada is only somewhat unwell. When Honjuin demands to see Iesada the doctor insists that Iesada be allowed to rest peacefully. Honjuin forbids anybody to tell Atsuhime of Iesada’s illness, saying that Atsuhime will insist on seeing Iesada which will tire him and worsen his condition. Takimiya objects, saying Atsuhime will be just as concerned as Honjuin, but Honjuin will not change her mind. The doctor obliges and, when he visits Atsuhime, lies and says that Iesada is simply too busy to see Atsuhime. Atsuhime does not seem to believe this, but since she cannot see Iesada, asks that the doctor pass him something from her. She sends to Iesada one white Go piece, one of the pieces that she and Iesada had enjoyed playing with. Iesada is touched by her gift, but saddened that she has not come in person. He wonders if he will ever see her again, if she will come and visit him as he can no longer go and see her.

Ii begins to flex his political power, first by barring Hotta from the castle. Yoshinobu goes to Ii to complain of Ii’s behaviour in signing the treaty despite the emperor’s lack of support, but Ii simply offers empty apologies. Yoshinobu’s father, Tokugawa Nariaki also goes to see Ii, but is kept waiting all day and has to return home without having met with Ii. Nariaki and Yoshinobu discuss Ii’s actions, and Yoshinobu apologizes to his father. Nariaki says that he feels that someday soon a large and important role will be assigned to Yoshinobu, but Yoshinobu replies that he does not want the responsibility.

Ii formally presents Yoshitomi as the shogun’s successor, thereby signaling the demise of the hopes of the Hitotsubashi (Yoshinobu) faction. Ii follows this up with orders barring various Hitotsubashi supporters from visiting the castle.

After a day reviewing the troops in the hot sun, Nariakira falls sick with an unknown illness. On his deathbed he tells his half-brother Tadayuki that he has an important message for him. Nariakira says that his son, Tetsumaru, is too young to be lord of the domain and that, in his place, Tadayuki’s son Matajiro should be named lord, with Tadayuki as guardian. Tadayuki, with tears in his eyes, thanks his older brother and promises to follow his wishes. Nariakira then turns to Tatewaki and says that he wanted to see Atsuhime one last time. He then apologizes for having stolen Atsuhime away from Tatewaki. He then dies, wondering if Atsuhime has received his letter.

Atsuhime is worried about Ikushima, who appears listless after the announcement about Yoshitomi despite Atsuhime’s attempts to interest her in delicacies sent from Satsuma. Takimiya presents herself to Atsuhime and tells her that Iesada is sick, but that she does not know any more. Atsuhime insists upon seeing Iesada immediately and Takimiya promises to look into the matter for Atsuhime. While this is going on an urgent messenger arrives from Satsuma with the news that Nariakira has passed away. Atsuhime is in shock and Ikushima laments the loss of such an important figure. Atsuhime finally opens the letter from Nariakira and cries as she reads his words. In the letter Nariakira apologizes for the pain he inflicted upon her, tearing her from her family and sending her far from her homeland. He also apologizes for the day that may come in the future where her new family and her homeland become enemies. He tells her that if and when this time comes, she should be strong and trust her heart for she is the only one who could accomplish what she is doing. As Atsuhime is reading the letter, Takimiya arrives with a shogunal minister. Takimiya tells Atsuhime that Iesada has died, and that his death has only just been announced. In response to Atsuhime’s shocked question, the minister admits that Iesada passed away on the 6th day of the 7th month, nearly a month previously. An inconsolable Atsuhime demands to be taken to Iesada’s room, where she collapses in tears against his funerary altar.

Episode 27

Atsuhime decides not to side with neither Yoshinobu nor Yoshitomi until she is convinced who better suits as the next shogun despite Nariakira's order to push Yoshinobu. Meanwhile, Takiyama asks Atsuhime for her support in recommending Ii as shogun's chief adviser. Although Ikushima urges Atsuhime to turn down the request, Atsuhime doesn't give an immediate answer which widens distrust between the two.
(Official NHK Website English plot summary)

Takimiya presents a formal request to Atsuhime asking for her support in promoting Ii to the position of chief minister (tairō). Ikushima is angered by the request and Atsuhime steps in to stop the argument that develops. Much to Ikushima’s annoyance, Takimiya tells Atsuhime that she is a member of the Tokugawa family, asking Atsuhime to think carefully about the request.

When the two are together in her rooms, Honjuin tells Iesada that he should choose Yoshitomi as his successor. Iesada remarks that he will decide for himself and Honjuin comments sadly that he has changed. Iesada tells his mother that any changes in him are due to her, as she was the one who brought him such a energetic bride from Satsuma.

Tatewaki (Naogoro) regrets his behaviour towards Nariakira and goes to apologize. Nariakira tells Tatewaki that he has thought of a new way to advance Yoshinobu, by recommending Yoshinaga from Echizen domain for chief minister instead of Ii.

As Iesada is returning to his room from visiting Atsuhime, he comes close to collapsing – grabbing at his heart and clutching a post to keep himself upright.

After much thought, Atsuhime tells Takimiya that she cannot agree to support Ii’s bid to become chief minister. Atsuhime remarks that there is no precedent for the wife of the shogun to become involved in these types of matters. Ikushima is relieved but her pleasure is short-lived as Atsuhime continues and tells Takimiya that she should continue forward in whatever way she sees fit, pretending she never consulted with Atsuhime.

Hotta returns from Kyoto and apologizes to Iesada that he was unable to obtain the emperor’s support for a treaty with America. Hotta requests that Iesada name Yoshinaga chief minister. Meanwhile Ikushima is also begging Atsuhime to convince the shogun to do the same.

Iesada asks Atsuhime to join him when he meets with Ii and Yoshinaga. Both men are surprised by Atsuhime’s presence. When asked about his opinion on politics and ideas for the future, Yoshinaga suggests a new system whereby all daimyo are invited to discuss and make decisions together. In contrast, Ii stresses strengthening the bakufu and the power of the Tokugawa family. After having met with both men, Iesada tells Atsuhime that he favours Ii because it was Ii who said he wanted to protect the Tokugawa. Iesada says he wants to protect his family.

When Ikushima discovers that Ii is to become chief minister she berates Atsuhime, accusing her of not carrying out the duties charged to her by Nariakira. Ikushima then presents Atsuhime with a letter from Nariakira, but Atsuhime says she will read it later, that she needs to speak with Iesada immediately. She goes running through the Ōku and comes to the doors to the rest of the palace – which she demands be opened for her. Iesada is surprised by Atsuhime’s sudden arrival, but agrees to listen to what she has to say. Atsuhime proceeds to apologize, saying that she has not been a proper wife or member of the Tokugawa family. From now on, she tells Iesada, she will endeavour to be a proper wife and work for the good of the family.

Ii becomes chief minister on the 22nd day of the 4th month. Following this, Ikushima goes to Atsuhime in tears, begging her to stop Ii from pushing Yoshitomi as shogunal successor. With tears in her eyes, Atsuhime responds that she is a Tokugawa and must do what her husband says. Atsuhime begs for forgiveness, but Ikushima cries harder and expresses her pain.

As they are getting ready for bed, Iesada tells Atsuhime that he has decided to name Yoshitomi as his successor. Iesada then tells Atsuhime he wants to memorize her face. This strange behaviour frightens Atsuhime who turns away from Iesada. He reaches around and hugs her from behind, asking her if she regrets having married such a weak man. She responds forcefully, telling him she has never once regretted marrying him, that he is the best man in Japan. She says he is number one not just because he is shogun, but that he is number one for her, and for that she is grateful. He tells her he no longer wishes he had been born as a bird, but is happy as himself as that way he is married to her.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Episode 26

I've been watching NHK's historical drama, Atsuhime, since it started in the new year. (links: NHK's Japanese page, English Drama page, and Wikipedia) The NHK's English plot summaries are not terribly detailed, and while I understand most of what's going on (watching it twice a week helps with that!), I still enjoy reading more detailed summaries written by Auberginefleur at Japan Now & Then. Back in June I got an email from Aubergnefleur asking me if I'd be willing to fill-in and write the summaries for July. Between the end of term and my father's visit, July was crazy busy for me and I'm only now getting around to watching the episodes I taped on my cell phone. It is months and months late, but here is the first of my summaries...


While the dispute over shogun's successor heats up, Ii Naosuke, siding with the Kishu-Tokugawa family that pushes Yoshitomi to become shogun, visits Honjuin to ally with her. Atsuhime, under Nariakira's order to make Yoshinobu the next shogun, is driven into a corner. Nariakira submits an official statement declaring his position on the next shogun to the Tokugawa shogunate, which stirs the shogunate including "Ooku."
(Official NHK Website English plot summary)

Honjuin meets with Ii Naosuke and asks him to promise to push for Yoshitomi to become the next shogun. Ii agrees, and Honjuin offers to help Ii in the future, saying he is the only one she can trust.

Atsuhime receives a letter from Nariakira and fights with Ikushima over influencing Iesada to choose Yoshinobu as the next shogun. Meanwhile Nariakira gives a new name to Naogoro (Tatewaki) and charges him with an important role in relations with America. Naogoro asks Nariakira how he wants to change Japan, and is told that Nariakira wants to get rid of the bakufu and create a new country. Naogoro, worried about Atsuhime’s safety, asks how this will affect her. Nariakira assures Naogoro he intends to look after Atsuhime, but Naogoro worries deepen when he hears about the kenpakusho (petition/letter) written by Nariakira. The kenpakusho reaches Ii, who sends a copy to Honjuin. Upon reading the letter Honjuin cannot suppress her rage and just about collapses in anger.

When Atsuhime and Iesada are playing go and discussing politics, Iesada tells Atsuhime about Hotta, who is going to Kyoto in the new year to ask for the Emperor’s blessing for the opening of the country. Atsuhime finally asks Iesada to make Yoshinobu the next shogun, but when she responds to Iesada’s question by stating that Yoshinobu is her choice and not just that of her father, Nariakira, Iesada gets up and leaves the room. As he leaves he tells Atsuhime that he thought she was the only woman he could actually believe.

Hotta goes to Kyoto to speak with the Emperor and Ii sends his retainer Nagano to Kyoto as well. Despite a belief that getting the Emperor’s agreement would be a straightforward matter, Hotta discovers that the Emperor is not pleased with the idea of the sacred earth of Japan being befouled by foreigners. The Emperor refuses to support the treaty with the United States and Hotta returns to Edo in disgrace. Meanwhile Saigo’s actions trying to drum up support for Yoshinobu prove useless as the court decides that matters of succession and who will be the next shogun are internal Tokugawa family matters and not to be interfered with by the court.

Iesada turns to Atsuhime to discuss the emperor’s refusal to support the treaty with the United States and the future of US-Japanese relations. During their discussion Atsuhime remarks that she is happy to have been born at this time in history as she is excited to meet foreigners and feels it is time for Japan to be opened to the rest of the world. Iesada apologizes for having spoken harshly to her about Yoshinobu, and Atsuhime apologizes in turn, admitting that she lied about her true feelings. She admits that she doesn’t know whether she should support Yoshinobu or Yoshitomi and, as a result, has decided not to support either one. As they are falling asleep Iesada says that if he could choose he’d like to have been born a bird so he could fly away and be free. Atsuhime starts to reply that she would still want to be herself, but then stops. Iesada attempts to tickle her answer out of her, but stops when the two get too close. Atsuhime follows him back to his futon, however, and tickles him until he hits his head on the standing mirror. After Iesada falls asleep, Atsuhime completes her answer, saying that even if she could change everything she would want to be herself so that she could be still married to him.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Wild Animal KingdomTM

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to another exciting episode of Wild Animal KingdomTM.

Tonight we're continuing our coverage of the exceedingly rare japonensis museo graduatestudentis canadensis. Since only one has ever been sighted, and the closely related japonensis museo graduatestudentis japonicus was thought to be equally rare, it was believed until recently that the canadensis was headed for extinction.

Last week we shared new research that suggests that it may be possible for the canadensis to cross-breed with the highly shy and secretive museo professionalis japonicus. Despite promising initial research, actual results have not been overwhelmingly positive, however, so tonight we turn our focus to exciting new groundbreaking research that has uncovered previously unknown small population groups of japonensis museo graduatestudentis japonicus at other universities in the Tokyo area.

Tonight's show follows canadensis as she and a friendly lone japonicus encounter one of the newly discovered flocks of japonicus. The pair venture out of their usual feeding grounds, traveling to a watering hole in Shibuya to meet the flock. Unfortunately there were difficulties with diet, our lone canadensis was not being able to eat most of the food prepared by the flock as it contained tomatoes. Despite these problems, however, the initial meeting appears to have been a resounding success.

As you watch the footage taken by our fearless team, be sure to notice how warmly the lonely two are welcomed by the larger flock. Watch their facial expressions turn to ones of excitement and joy as the two groups participate in a complex ritual known as SIRE (self-introductions and research explanations). Listen to their conversations and discussions of future interactions - called "study group meetings" to be held in the larger group's home lair with follow-up trips to new watering holes.

Without further ado, sit back and enjoy our special coverage of this exceptional animal...

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Cleaning

We've been put to work cleaning the special exhibit space at the museum - good exhausting fun.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


In his series of books on the magical land of Xanth, Piers Anthony attributes panties with the ability to shock the male viewer. A view of them can cause a male of a certain age to "freak out" - anything from becoming disoriented to full loss of conciousness (depending on the guy, the girl, and, of course, the colour of the panties.

Japan, however, is no Xanth. The reports of used panties being sold in vending machines is true (there was one by my uni when I came on exchange), but the sight of them being worn doesn't seem to cause any sort of reaction. Nor does showing one's panties seem to be a big deal.

Case in point #1: My Brownies line up for a photo. The front row hunkers down on their heels, knees spread. Their uniforms consist of a blouse and skirt so I am constantly amazed when the other leaders don't say anything. Was I the only little girl taught to keep her knees together and her ankles demurely crossed? Or was that just my mum's traditional proper British background coming through?

Case in point #2: The uniforms of high and high school girls. The girls hike their skirts up high enough that walking up stairs, riding a bike, or even sitting down provide a full view.

Sunday, 7 September 2008


** Note: this post started off as a rant, and then changed as I did a little web surfing. Turns out that maybe I should have humble pie for dinner tonight! But it still seemed kind of interesting...

Nihonjinron (日本人論), literally "theory on the Japanese," is a wide-ranging theory of Japanese uniqueness. Wikipedia gives a detailed explanation and history, and states that the theory has
four premises:

  1. Uniqueness: Japan, its people, culture, ways of thinking, social behaviour, language etc. are unique
  2. This uniqueness of the Japanese is rooted in the distinctive characteristics of the Japanese race or ethnos
  3. Ahistorical essentialism: The peculiarities of the Japanese remain unaltered essentially throughout history, and indeed, it is often asserted, are derived from a prehistorical world
  4. Homogeneity: The Japanese are homogeneous as a people/a race/ or ethnic community

(stolen shamelessly from Wikipedia)

Specific claims include the assertion that the Japanese have longer intestines (repeated to me recently by a professor at my university); that Japanese eyes less sensitive to light, thereby explaining very few Japanese wear sunglasses and why there are more complaints about low light levels in museum exhibits, (explained to me by a US-educated Japanese museum professional); and a range of other cultural and physiological differences.

My initial response to claims such as these is bemused laughter. Longer intestines?! Really?! So I did a little search (Hello Mr. Google!) and, while you can't always believe everything you read online, maybe, just maybe, there is some truth.

For example, this guy certainly appears to have done his homework and can't definitively say that Japanese intestines are or aren't longer. And there is at least anecdotal evidence suggesting blue eyes are more sensitive to light than are brown eyes.


But I still take issue with two concepts - those of an unaltered "Japanese-ness" constant throughout the ages, and the homogeneity of Japan!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Three Years

It has been three years three years since I moved to Japan.

Three years since I uncurled myself from the fetal position and convinced myself that no matter how scared I was, I couldn't let down my friends and family and even some strangers as well. All of whom seemed to believe that one rather crazy Canadian girl could actually work in a Japanese museum. I was pretty convinced I couldn't, but there were too many people to let down and besides, hiding in the basement of my dad's house didn't seem like a very good long-term plan.

Three years since I left my family and friends and stepped onto a plane. I had only just gotten back from a year in India, but there I was leaving again.

Three years since I stepped off of the plane in Tokyo. A city I had visited before but had never lived in. A mega-city home to 5796 people per km2. Of those 12,790,000 people, I knew only 5.

Three years since I walked into the museum for the fist time. I've written about it before, but on that first day when I went in to meet with the director, my stomach was in knots and I was a nervous wreck.

The past three years have seen a lot of changes. I've lived in three different places (hopefully making that four in the not too distant future), had six different jobs/part-time jobs (a few of which I'm still doing), and, most importantly, met and befriended a number of those nearly 13 million people. I've learned a few things about what makes me happy. I've been given the support and confidence to believe in and reach for my dreams. (Don't worry, I've had some not so rosy memories too, but I'm trying to ignore those right now...!)

I don't know where the next three years will take me, but if the last three are anything to go by, I'm excited - bring it on!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Doin' It Mountain Style

In Canada the start of September means the end of summer. Over the Labour Day long-weekend, families with cabins will go up for one last weekend and then close the place up for the winter, and others will have bbqs on the beach or picnics in the park. It is the last great hurrah before the new school year starts and the entire land turns into a frozen wastland covered in metres of snow - alright, so perhaps not quite thaaat bad, but you get the idea. In Tokyo, on the otherhand, the new school year starts in April, with various levels of schooling having different lengths of summer vacations. The younger kids are all back in school now, but us older kids have a few weeks left. With the pace of my summer so far, I am VERY glad that I still have a few weeks before classes start up.

No matter what the calendar might try to tell you, September is still most definitely summer. The weather is still hot and muggy (although we've been having a lot of torrential rain recently), but there are hints of cooler weather to come. I'm finding the evenings are cooling off, if just a little. The cicadas are still noisy, but they are gradually decreasing in both number and pure volume. Fall is just around the corner - a gorgeous season in this country, with trees a blaze of colour and hordes of people out to enjoy them...

The start of September in Tokyo brigs something else - the newest enstallement of the Metro's monthly manners poster.

Japanese mountain climbers and hikers are world famous (infamous?) for their attention to gear - often brand-new and of top quality. The young couple, presumably on their way to/from a hike, may not be decked out in famous brand-name gear, but they certainly have enough to make up for it! Green Eyed Geisha remarks on the woman's footwear and the increasing creepiness of the older guy in glasses. I've got to admit, however, that I'm beginning to feel more and more sorry for the guy. While those around him are enjoying themselves - going on a date in the mountains, or practicing their surfing moves, or listening to tunes - glasses guy is standing there in the background, reliable and terribly dull. I feel sorry for him, is he too much of a robot not to have things that he enjoys and thereby inconvenience and/or annoy the people around him on the train?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Knitting Paper

One of the things I've really been enjoying about knitting is making presents for friends, random gifts that aren't tied to a particular event or day, a just-because gift, to let the person know I appreciate them. Blogging about my knitting has also become a way of recognizing that person, giving me a chance to talk about what they mean to me. I really like that.

I've now made scarves for a number of people I work with, with one big exception. This particular woman was my first friend at the museum, she was the one who listened to my sob story when the English teaching company I had been working for went belly up (no, not Nova, this was nearly 3 years ago). She was the one who suggested and then arranged for me to work full-time at the museum for a few months. She has heart of gold and a kooky sense of humour.

The fact that I had yet to make her a scarf was due to the fact that another co-worker and I decided to pick out the yarn together, and the outing kept getting delayed. We finally managed to go yarn shopping and found a funky wool/rayon/paper mixture in gorgeous reds and orange-y reds. We looked at a lot of different yarn but this one struck us both as perfect. Finally, at long last, I am happy to report that someone very important to me has a Sarah original.

I wanted to make something simple and yet elegant, dressy and yet fun. Kinda like the recipient herself.

see how it even matches her watch?!