Sunday, 29 April 2012

Colonel Mori

Colonel Sanders dressed up as a historical Japanese military leader, of course!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Rainy day 2

After picking up my brand new alien registration card I walked across the street intending to do a bit of shopping at the double shopping center and stumbled in a small park. Tucked behind tall trees and circled with flower beds of tulips, the park is tiny but in the rain the brightly coloured tulips were gorgeous. Just the thing to play around with my iPhone lens on!

Rainy day

Friday Smile

"Hiho hiho, it's off t'city hall I go!"

I sing to myself as I hang out the laundry and putter about late on a weekday morning, then spending far too long trying to rhyme "even though the damn system is changing in a few months I still have to take two days off work to renew my blasted alien registration card."

At midday I finally set out, in the rain, muttering to myself about the stupidity of forgetting my umbrella at work the (rainy) day before a rainy three day weekend (how I managed to forget and still remember the emergency fold-up umbrella in my locker is a mystery). I am almost at the station when I see a small girl with a biiiig umbrella walking down the middle of the residential street toward me. Her grandmother lumbers along on the side, without an umbrella, repeatedly telling the little girl to walk on the side of the road. But the little one had a huge grin on her face as she half sang an unknown tune and jumped in invisible puddles.

As the girl and I approach each other I can't help but smile at her. She looks up and into my eyes, as she does an exclamation escapes her lips. I sigh deeply, the moment ruined, as I know she is about to remark on my foreignness. A grin across her face she skips to her grandma and yells "osanpo!" (walk) her grandmother stops and smiles at the little girl, asking her who. The girl jumps for joy and says "oneisan" (elder sister / young woman) and points to me as I walk past.

I didn't hear what the grandmother said or even know if the grandmother realized I was a foreigner. But the total unexpectedness of the little girl's remark had me smiling again.

At the bottom of the hill by the station there was even a puddle perfect for jumping. For the time being I don't care that I've gotten my socks wet.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Deserted Nikko

For Rorousha... not the greatest pic, but Nikko Toshogu without a visitor in sight!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Slurping Japanese

After working together for over three years and seeing me translate 150 year-old documents and decipher half-illegible hand written memos, one of my coworkers complimented me on my Japanese the other day.

My handle on Japanese customs that is.

My slurping to be exact.

After being taught as a child to eat silently I had to reteach myself to slurp when I first came to Japan. I now slurp udon/ramen/soba noodles without a second thought but not all are so limited in their slurping.

The older man at the table next to us at a nice Italian restaurant did not discriminate between noodles and slurped his carbonara from his plate, fork held aloft.

The guy beside me at Subway last night didn't limit himself to noodles, or even just noodle-shaped sliced onion and shredded cabbage. He slurped his entire subway sandwich, toasted bread and cold cuts and all.

My coworker was obviously just humouring me, I have much to learn.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Plain white walls

A common complaint amongst foreigners living in Japan is the boring white walls throughout ALL rental properties.  My last place had a few heavy duty hooks that could be moved along a track in one of the walls, allowing me to actually hang things from the wall.  Because heaven forbid you put holes in the wall - you will die a horrible death when your landlord finds them, or at least have large portions of your safety deposit withheld.

But plain white walls are boring when you've grown up with wallpaper (not that I want the pink flowers I chose as an 8 year old!) or coloured walls (nor do I want the oppressive dark navy walls and ceiling chosen for the basement bedroom by the teenage son of the previous owner of my dad's last house) or artwork and photographs hanging on the walls (although I must admit given the past year I'm not too keen on having glass hanging anywhere...).

But anyways...

White boring walls.

I don't remember where I first heard about wall stickers - I think it was another Japan blog but I can't remember... I do remember that I did a quick google search and found this design and knew it would would go perfectly in our living/dining area.  (It isn't particularly colourful, being in shades of browns and greys, but it is comforting and relaxing)  But I didn't order it right away.  U wasn't too sure about the whole idea of wall stickers and so I dragged my feet until one day I ordered it half because I simply wanted to close the browser tab with the store's website (that I had had open on my browser the entire time).

The package arrived in the mail and spent nearly a week unopened before I suddenly decided one afternoon, while I was chatting to a friend on Skype, that I wanted to put them up.  And I did.  Never one to stick to the 'way things are done' I didn't want to make the perfectly round tree shown on the website.  I freestyled it, and ended up with a design that I love and has gotten lots of compliments - most importantly from U!

Not long after I started getting really fed up with the boring white walls in our bedroom so I turned to google again.  We bought some brightly coloured fabric in Indonesia that I am hoping to some day turn into a bedspread/quilt for our bed, so I was looking for a very specific set of colours and design.  Surprisingly it didn't take me long to find exactly what I wanted - with a HUGE range of colours to chose from.  This time U was just as excited as I was and helped me put them up too!

our Indonesian fabric and the plain colours I've bought to make the bedspread...

Our new, colourful and fun bedroom! (the stickers are in orange, blue, and green, and match the fabric perfectly!)

No more plain boring walls for us!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Tracking Sakura - Final Day

It is with great sadness that I post today's photograph. The single blossom that had been holding on, outlasting the others in a show of independence and will, has fallen.

Late-blooming sakura are still a mass of pink, but The Branch is now almost entirely green (one petal is hanging on but...).

But there are other flowers yet to bloom, right??!?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day 23

There it is, one perfect blossom, still stubbornly hanging on!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day 22

It is a sakura miracle! All the trees around it are bare of blossoms but The Branch has one perfect flower still hanging on!

3 Commuter Letters

Dear iPad User,

I deeply appreciate your hushed voice whileD you enthusiastically showed your friend/girlfriend/wife/?? various apps and webpages on your iPad.  Your concern and consideration for your fellow commuters is admirable and I can assure you that there is no higher praise than us all falling asleep around you.  Allow me to point out, however, an unfortunate oversight on your part.  While your outfit was likely the height of fashion and your electronics undeniably top-notch, I regret to inform you that your scent was also the height of… well something.  Your BO was so overpoweringly bad that I, sitting right beside you, found myself sleeping with my head turned around to the young woman beside me (who thankfully smelt neither badly nor strongly of some expensive perfume).  So while I was able to sleep peacefully on my commute, the effect was rather negated by the kink in my neck that I still have not been able to get rid of.  I realize men’s deodorant is still a relatively unknown product in Japan, and while the swarms of scantily-clad gorgeous women swarming you as promised in the commercials for some brands may be a tad over-exaggerated, I can promise you that if you were to start using such a product your fellow commuters would thank you for it.


A sore-necked commuter


Dear Morning Sprinter,

I understand your need to rush to the train.  I do it most mornings too.  But then I tend to walk pretty quickly generally.  I think it has to do with the fact that my legs reach your arm pits.  This is no slight to you, short people can move fast too, as you amply demonstrated.  It does mean, however, that my average step is at least twice yours.  So when you raced past me only to slam on the brakes and go from full-on stiletto-heeled dash to baby-step shuffle in the blink of an eye, you’ll have to forgive me for bumping into you.  I wasn’t expecting you to suddenly appear in front of me and I most definitely wasn’t expecting you to go from 100 to 5 so immediately.  I hope I didn’t cause you any lasting harm (beyond perhaps the realization that cutting in front of somebody and then stopping is not a smart idea).

Yours truly,

A long-legged foreign barbarian


Dear Sleepy Foreigner,

I know it was Monday morning and Mondays are always tough.  I know it was early and many people aren’t at their best early in the morning.  I know how confusing it can be to live in a foreign country sometimes.  I’m guessing you hadn’t yet had your morning coffee and were looking ahead to your morning nap on the long commute to work.  But for crying out loud, did you really need to hold up all those people while you tried THREE times with your wallet before you remembered that you had moved your Suica pass out of your wallet to the cute pink card case that U’s mother gave you for your birthday?  Here’s a hint, if your Suica is not in your wallet, swiping the wallet when you go through the gate isn’t going to do anything besides making the gates give a warning flash of lights and close on you.  Perhaps not the greatest way to start your commute, hey?

Best wishes,

Your embarrassed self

Sunday, 15 April 2012

What did KMU do to you?

At work yesterday I spent the day checking the output of automatic recognition software and came to two conclusions.

1) The developer wanted to keep users on their feet. I got through four articles yesterday and one was almost perfect, one the software read horizontally from left-right (which would be fine except that the original text was vertical top-bottom!), one was read top-bottom but ignoring section breaks meaning that the first line of each section was one sentence and separating them out became a tedious process of cutting and pasting, and the fourth just misread every fifth character.

2) Based on my highly academic (heh!) analysis of the misread characters, I deduced that the developer was (a) male and (b) had been in a S&M relationship with a woman with the initials KMU. The relationship ended so badly that the software developer forswore the opposite sex and immersed himself in his work. He couldn't quite forget how mercilessly the mysterious KMU had been, however, and worked her and his pent-up negativity into his programs so that, when confronted with an article on the beginnings of higher education for women in Japan, his program failed to recognize the character for woman (女) properly even once. The compound 女子 (joshi, girl) mostly became KMU but elsewhere the character was replaced by the character for stand (立) or even bug (虫).

The moral of the story? Be careful of women with the initials KMU, avoid crossing software developers, and, most importantly, spending six hours by yourself editing articles captured by character recognition software can do funny things to your mind...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day 20

I worked today instead of yesterday so that I could get some official paperwork dealt with on a week day and was rewarded by a wet, cold, and generally miserable day today. I did take a picture of The Branch, and it does have a few blossoms still hanging on bravely, but not much left at all... sigh...

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day 18

Only a few blossoms survived yesterday's wind and rain. But the sky is blue, the weather is warm, and petals are falling from above and carpeting everything.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day 17

A lot fewer blossoms on The Branch and the windy rainy weather promises there will be even fewer by the end of the day...

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Hanami stroll 2

The next day we headed off with U's parents after a late breakfast. We set out and just kept walking, stopping for a very late lunch and then turning around and heading back, arriving back home just before dinnertime!

At one point there was even a kids group paddling about the river in kayaks! Missing my own kayak I was sorely tempted to jump in one and take it for a spin, but they were in a tiny spot of deepish water and I wouldn't have gotten far...

Hanami stroll 1

We spent the weekend at U's parents' place and I fell in love. Not with U (done that already!), or with his father (despite the amazing award winning honey umeshu he plied us with on Saturday night), but with the neighbourhood.

U grew up in Saitama, a suburb prefecture of Tokyo, that derisively gets referred to as "da-sai-tama" (a combination of "dasai," unsophisticated/not fashionable, and the name of the prefecture). After this weekend I can no longer think of the prefecture, or at least one particular corner of it, as anything of the sort!

U's mother's family has long lived in the same spot near the Azuma River in Tokorozawa, a river that is lined with cherry blossoms (some planted when U was little, others plannted when his mother was little, and others much older). Pink and white lanterns are strung along the entire route and in the evening some spots are lit by spot lights. Every few hundred metres a small pedestrian bridge crosses the river but with the steep sides of the river there aren't many spots for sitting and hanami-ing. U and I both decided that the last was immaterial, as strolling along (stopping regularly for photos) made for much better enjoyment of the blossoms and was healthier besides!

We started with an evening stroll - bundled up against the chilly night...

Just as we were thinking it was time to turn around and head home we saw the nearly full moon shining down on the pink blossoms...

Playing hanami favourites

Asukayama Park is one of my favourite places for cherry blossoms and when Rurousha threatened to take it off her recommended list I just had to defend it.

Sure it gets crowded, but not nearly as badly as Ueno or other major spots, and unlike those, where the bulk is students intent on drinking, Asukayama's hanami-ers tend to be mostly families and seniors. Spots to spread your required "blue sheet" picnic blanket can be tricky to find and garbage can get out of hand at the peak of the blossoms

but even then peace is not hard to find in the gated part of the park off to one side. This grassy and forested area has a no eating and drinking rule but some people sit on the lawn and artists sit in front of easels sketching. There may be only a few sakura trees in this area, but they stand out against the surrounding greenery

and frame the historic buildings also found in this part of the park.

They also frame the museums...

did I mention there were THREE museums in the park? (I admit that my love of museums and history may have something to do with my love of Asukayama... ;)

But in the evening, after the museums close, most of the hanami-ers head home but the sakura remain and seem to glow in the early evening light.

So, what do you think Rorousha?

Tracking Sakura - Day 16

More green leaves and lots of petals on the ground...

Monday, 9 April 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day 15

Hanami-ing (and the mountain of garbage) have increased with the warm sunny weather, but The Branch is showing signs of the end, as green leaves have appeared and a few flowers have lost their petals.