Friday, 29 January 2010


Maybe it was a blond moment (the fact that I am a brunette has not stopped countless Japanese people from commenting on my "blond" hair), perhaps it was the cold medicine I had taken, or perhaps it was the nasty sinus cold that has had me sneezing every few minutes for the past two days. Whatever the reason, I felt pretty silly when I realized - nearly 8 hours later!

Let me explain...

I headed off to school early-ish this morning, and went with my advisor's office assitant to the museum storage space to collect a few tea bowls, illustrated scrolls, hanging scrolls, buddhst sculptures, and a few other objects. I was then interviewed for a Chinese-language publication on my university (my chance to become famous in China?!). I was asked about my background, experiences stdying in Japan, and any advice I had for potential foreign students. Then I was photographed - with my advisor, with some of the objects we had brought out, by the entrance to the university's museum...

After that I had just enough time to grab lunch and write up an English translation of the table of contents for a journal put out by the curatrial training program, and then took part in a 5 hour hands-on class on photographing museum objects. Learning how to use the big cameras was interesting, and it was fun watching what the students came up with to photograph - one guy brought in two pairs of old runnign shoes (the soles worn almost completely away), another guy spent 10 minutes arranging a box of tissues and getting the kleenex poking out in just the right shape. It was while the shoe guy was re-arranging his second pair for the 10th time that I looked down at my own shoes.

I stood there looking at my feet feeling that something was wrong but I just couldn't quite figure it out. Then I realized that my socks were odd - the sock showing through the top of my Mary-Jane type shoes had different patterns. I slipped one shoe off and tried to adjust the sock, figuring it had gotten bunched up somehow. But it still didn't look right. A few minutes more of concentrated and confused staring at my feet and I finally realized that not only was the pattern slightly different, but the colours weren't quite right... my right foot had stripes and diamonds of beige, turquoise, and brown on grey, while my left foot had stripes and snowflakes of beige, blue, and grey on brown... Yup. I was wearing two different socks.


Monday, 25 January 2010

A Bird's Eye View

I went to a art museum on Sunday afternoon. Not surprising or out of the ordinary for me, and as usual my fellow museum-nerd buddy and I had a great time - having to remind each other to look at the actual objects and not just the display techniques, dissecting the exhibits, and chatting about just about everything.

Two hanging picture scrolls got us talking about differences between English and Japanese. For example, the Japanese hato (鳩) translates into English as both "dove" and "pigeon." In Japanese, while many different types exist with different names, the two birds are not largely differentiated between (as based on the opinions of the three Japanese friends I went with, feel free to disagree) but in English, however, there is most definitely a differentiation! Common pigeons can be called the rat of the bird world and are often considered dirty pests while white doves are a symbol of peace. On the flip side, the English "duck" covers two terms in Japanese - kamo (鴨, sometimes translated as "wild duck") and ahiru (アヒル).

And then there is the "three-coloured ware horse" which I know isn't Japanese, but still doesn't look like English to me!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

U & Wii

U and I went on a short hike on Saturday that turned out to be very expensive.

First of all, we didn't actually hike most of the way to the top of the mountain, instead wimping out and taking the overpriced cable car.

Then, as we were clambering up to the peak and I was complaining I wasn't wearing the right type of shoes, U finally decided he had to do something about his shoes. He's admitted for months that his shoes were falling apart and it was time to replace them, but hasn't done anything. We came down of the mountain and went shopping, where U bought a new pair - brown suede Merrel slip-ons that are super comfortable and great for every-day wear (he wore them out of the store and just about refused to take his old ones with him!)

But that wasn't his only purchase, as our short "hike" made him realize that we are both out of shape. Sucking back air as we climbed U decided that perhaps it would be better to make attempts to get back in shape and then go hiking, as opposed to just heading to the nearest mountain. He's been muttering recently about getting a Wii, but it wasn't until he dragged me into Toys R Us yesterday to "look" at Wiis, and then picked up a purchase tag, that I realized he was actually serious. 10 minutes later we were wlking out of the store with a Wii console and WiiFit (and a Toys R Us point card, because you must have a points card!)

Since he has a very small room in an all-male company dorm (that I am not even allowed to enter) it has been decided that th Wii will live with me. We had good fun last night setting up our individual settings (our 'Mii') and trying out the WiiFit games. I was't too sure just how much help a video game console would be in getting us back into shape, but after trying a few of the games I'm beginning to see that if done religiously, this could be a good thing... now we just have to get into the habit of using it!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Brought to you by the colour white and the letter "U"

A few snapshots from a wonderful white weekend away made possible by a wonderful guy called U...

The small wooden shrine in the dark forest is lit by a sunbeam sneaking through the dense trees. The golden wood of the shrine seems to glow in the light, and is visible even after we walk back to the car along the overgrown trail.

The deserted shrine and neglected garden are covered with a dusting of snow. The forest behind the temple hides a seemingly endless number of small shrines. Their stone is old and worn, the characters indiscernible. One is broken and half buried by decomposing leave and underbrush.

The snow-covered balcony of our hotel with a private wooden bath continuously being filled by natural hot springs.

The source of the hot springs, where the hot sulphuric water bubbles up through the ground. Squat wooden huts and wooden walkways covered in snow dot the steaming mud. Pooling water create splashes of colour - mint green, turquoise, an emerald.

Yunoko Lake and Yutaki Falls covered in ice and snow except where the hot springs warm the water. Cold with a biting wind one minute, sparkling in the bright sunlight the next minute.

Oku-nikko's "Winter Festival" was the only disappointment - a dozen open igloos with ice sculptures by artists from hotels around the country. The mermaids, dancers, and warrior princesses demonstrate the (fully-endowed) interests of their creators (and much of the male population of Japan)

Most of the year Nikko Toshogu is teeming with visitors from around the world and across the country. Bus tours follow the flag of their guide, school groups run from spot to spot yelling and squealing. But late on a cold but sunny Sunday afternoon the crowds are small and subdued. One father holds the leashes of three small dogs as his wife and daughter rush to see the sleeping cat. Slowly the crowds depart and the blue suited security guard pulls a barricade across the famous gate. The shrine, like the cedar forest that surrounds it, descends into quiet stillness.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Cultural Divide

So Christmas was a bit of a bust, and I was rather upset about it, especially it was U's first "real" Christmas. The silver lining is that we got another chance at a whole different holiday almost right away! By the time New Years rolled around we were both over our bouts of sickness and although my thesis and a paper he is way past due on meant we didn't have a lot of time for relaxing (and opted to spend it just the two of us at my place instead of turning it into me meeting his parents for the first time - wheeeeeee!) But in the end we had a great time, traditional and low-key and still lots of fun.

We started with decorations - kagami mochi (rice cake).

And then we watched the traditional New Year's eve TV programs Kohaku uta gassen - (literally "red-white song battle" a sing-off between the women/red and the men/white).

This year's surprise guest was Susan Boyle, who looked a little overwhelmed at being flown all the way around the world and showered with all the adoration (apparently she was randomly proposed to by a couple of different young cute Japanese guys!).

Then we bundled up in warm gear and headed out just before midnight. We were waiting for a train as it ticked down to midnight so we didn't have a countdown, and I didn't even get a New Year's kiss! (although I bullied poor U into giving me a quick peck on the cheek - aaack! public displays of affection - oooh! the horror!!) We headed into Tokyo, to Zojoji - or rather to the small Shiba Toshogu shrine next door. (I've had a thing for Toshogu ever since I first went to the biggest one in Nikko, and for a while was planning on studying the shrines as my PhD. That plan is no longer in play, but I still have a thing for Toshogu and U has developed a liking for them too, we've been known to spend hours trying to track an itty bitty one down...) Anyways, so we headed off to Zojoji...

Which, I found out later, is where a big count-down happens, so there were hordes of people there. Luckily, however, they were mostly leaving when we were arriving.

Shiba Toshogu lit up with paper lanterns was magical. I'd only ever seen it deserted in the middle of the day, so it was really special to see so many people there and see it so festive.

It was great fun, but we were getting cold and sleepy so we headed back to the station - walking past Starbucks that was both open and PACKED at 3 am! The train too was full, and it seemed surreal that it really was 3 am.

We came home and slept, getting up around midday on the first. U was in charge of food, but we had wimped out and bought a selection of traditional fare. I had tried various types of osechi (New Year's food) made by friends in Canada, and really liked it, but apparently it wasn't the "traditional stuff" that it turns out most people don't like much (or at least don't like unless they've had copious amounts of sake!) But both U and I like ozoni, a New Year's soup that varies widely from house to house and region to region. So I convinced U he should call his mom and ask for her recipe. As I suspected she was THRILLED that her son was making me ozoni and was even more thrilled that he wanted HER recipe (which turned out to be so basic it wasn't even a recipe!).

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Looking Back

With my thesis finished (juuuust barely in time) and handed in, and graduation looming ahead in March, I have to figure out what I am doing next. But before that, I wanted to jump on the decade-look-back bandwagon that has been making the rounds on blogs... Here goes...

2000 - First year at the University of Toronto after a year at UNBC and a year on exchange in Japan, so really not a first year student. Lived in a boarding house with a crack addict, a couple of crazies and a few more recluses, a girl who gave up waitressing and bought herself 50 sheep and went back home to the farm, and a wacky and loveable Irish girl. Moved out of the boarding house. Spent the summer in the Canadian Rockies working in Jasper. Began dating a great British guy two heads shorter than me. Began second year at U of T. Moved into an apartment with a nice-seeming girl who gradually got more and more depressed over her job. Learned to start closing my bedroom door and not making annnny noise at all. Broke up with British bloke after one too many once-weekly trans-Atlantic phone calls from him on his way home from the pub after more than a few pints.

2001 - Roommate got better when she got a new job, but then worse again when she was fired at the end of the initial trial period for "no reason." Worked in Jasper for a second summer. Bought a kayak. Dated a co-worker with a very sexy French accent. Began third year at U of T. Was president of the East Asian Studies Department's student union. Began planning grad school.

2002 - Having finished all my courses at Christmas so instead of school for the second term I spent a month travelling around Japan where I was in the middle of nowhere when I phoned home to my dad and discovered that I had been offered a scholarship to Harvard (was the last one in my family to find this out). Went to the UK with my dad. Finally made it to France! Graduated from U of T . Spent my third summer working in Jasper. Dated a very cute co-worker. Started my MA at Harvard. Lived in a BEAUTIFUL studio apartment right on campus. Volunteered to help organize a grad student conference.

2003 - Got laughed at for handing in all my papers on time. Held the conference. Learned how to ask for an extension on papers. Spent the summer in Yokohama at a Japanese language summer program. Started dating one of the other students. Spent a week in the Canadian Rockies doing thesis research. Began a Philly-Boston long distance weekend relationship. Took a boy home for Christmas for the first time.

2004 - Managed to just barely satisfy the page requirements on my thesis. Graduated from Harvard. Was unable to actually hear Kofi Annan speak at the graduation ceremonies. Surprised my family, friends, and professors by announcing I wasn't going into the PhD program, but was instead taking a year off to go to India. Went to India where in addition to my volunteer work I learned to tie a sari, watched a snake have its brains bashed out, was infected with a love of Bollywood movies... Spent my first Christmas away from my family, surrounded by my Guiding family and my (ex) boyfriend.

2005 - Finished up my 10 months at the Guiding centre in India, then spent 6 weeks travelling around India - the experience of a lifetime. Stopped in the UK on my way back, visiting friends and hitting up two more Guiding centres in London and Switzerland. Was a passenger as my (ex) boyfriend drove us (and all my stuff) from New Jersey to Boston to Toronto to Prince George and then back again through the US. A trip that took up most of the summer and saw me behind the wheel for about two hours through the Rockies! Moved to Japan and started working at the museum. Got a job working for Bing Bang Boom Club that then went bust leaving me to submit piles and piles of paperwork to get a portion of my owed wages.

2006 - My working holiday visa running out I made the decision I wanted to stay in Japan and with the support of the director of the museum applied for the governmental scholarship. Moved to the hicks of Chiba and began working as an English teacher for a cram school. Refused to give up my dream and "return to the US" to be with my ex, so he became my ex. Was lonely and unhappy in the hicks of Chiba (sorta has a ring to it, doesn't it?)

2007 - Was awarded a Japanese government scholarship to study Museum Studies in Japan. Quit teaching English and left the hicks of Chiba. Moved back to Tokyo and into a dump of a foreign student dorm in a lovely neighbourhood. Took the entrance exam to actually become a full student and go after a second master's degree. Went drinking with my professor at least once a week, it didn't take the master-san of our regular watering hole to remember my beverage of choice - umeshu with soda.

2008 - Entered my university formally. Began TAing a hands-on 4th year course for the curatorial certificate. Started thinking about the thesis. Decided I needed to move out of the dorm. Told a good friend I liked him. Spent the summer travelling about Japan - Girl Scout event in Nara, Girl Scout camp in Ishikawa, museum internship in Nagano. Began looking for a new apartment and loved the first place I looked at. Moved. Had my "friend" completely cut me off without any explanation or contact.

2009 - Second year of the MA program. Began thinking about buckling down on the thesis. Had a brief pseudo chance of something with a American navy guy. Met U. Went to Germany where I ate lots of good food and went to many museums. Actually began working on the thesis instead of just talking about working on it. Spent my second Christmas away from my family and first in Japan. Had a bad Christmas dinner and no holiday due to the thesis, but things were looking up by New Years (more to come on that...)

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The problem with dictionaries...

With now just over a week before my thesis is due (EEEEEEK!) I've been spending a lot of time at home or in coffee shops / 24 hour diner type restaurants. I've of course been spending a lot of time with the love of my life - my little Vaio P, and my long-time best friend - my electronic dictionary (I've had this particular one for nearly 7 years now, and two friends who bought them at the same time have had theirs die, I live in fear that the same thing will happen and I'll have to "upgrade" to a newer model that doesn't have dust from 400 year old bug-eaten documents ingrained into the frame...).

Anyways. I've been spending a lot of time with my dictionary. And most of the time I love it. I love the jump function (that my previous one didn't have, so that 7 years later having the feature still makes me happy). I love the example sentences. But sometimes I don't particularly love the words it spits out at me. For example - I have a small section on multi-cultural services in libraries - which in the Japanese case includes programs for both foreigners and Japanese (ie returnees from time abroad and mixed families). I look up something slightly more formal than the common "haafu" (half - for biracial kids) but my dictionary doesn't have an entry for "biracial." So I look up "mixed-marriage." I find "sakkon," made up of the characters for "miscellany" and "marriage" but there is no definition given when I jump over to the Japanese dictionary. All it says is "same as rankon." So I jump over to the definition for "rankon" and the first word of the Japanese definition in the Japanese dictionary is an English word in parenthesis - PROMISCUITY.

I actually read through the definition and apparently it is a specific term based on mid-19th century theories of the American anthropologist and sociologist Lewis Henry Morgan. I don't have the time to let myself procrastinate enough to actually find out what he said, or figure out why a few jumps on my Japanese dictionary led me from "mixed-marriage" to "promiscuity," but it did make me shake my head over just how much I could read into this on the general Japanese outlook on mixed-marriages.

Right. Enough procrastination. Back to thesising...

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year's Dream

Last night (or rather this morning) U told me lucky New Year dreams - the kind you have when you sleep. He said that the best thing to dream about was Mt Fuji - that foretells great fortune and good luck. An eagle is second in line and an eggplant is third.

I don't tend to dream much, or at least I don't remember my dreams. When I'm particularly stressed or busy I tend to dream about whatever is stressing me - which is even more stressful as I can't get away from whatever it is even when I sleep! When I do remember my dreams they tend to be a weird mixture of things happened the previous day and whatever else is on my mind.

I didn't dream about the "big three" last night, but I woke up this morning with the vivid memory (that has since disappeared completely) of a dream of kado matsu - New Year's decorations with the triple good luck combination of pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms. Only the one in my dream didn't have any pine (besides the name - which literally means "gate pine") but it did have a strange animal - a cow that seemed to be dressed up as a tiger, or trying to change into a tiger. It wasn't until I was telling U about my dream for the second time that we both suddenly realized the symbolism - last year was the year of the cow, this year is the year of the tiger... U is convinced that my combination of all three of pine and bamboo and plum and the cow-turning-into-a-tiger animal in one dream completely trumps even Mount Fuji, ensuring only the best of luck for me in the coming year.

With my thesis due in less than two weeks I'm willing to take ANY suggestion of good luck!

Happy New Year!