October 30, 2004
Still Here with New Pictures Coming
For anyone checking in, I'm still here. I've been busy and unable to post anything, but I'll be back soon. Part of the problem is that I took too many pictures recently. My time is limited, so something had to go. Then I started thinking about how I'll be managing all the accumulated pictures I've taken a year from now. That got me thinking about finding a better way to handle my gallery pages. So to make a boring story mercifully short, next time I post I should have new and improved gallery pages.
Today my wife and I managed an escape from the kids. We went to the "super sento" near here. That's a very large bathhouse I've mentioned before. After really relaxing that way, we went to a nearby 100 yen sushi place. We had a LOT of sushi, free tea, and payed about $7 each! That was pretty cool. I just wouldn't want to eat there all the time. I'd be worrying about the mercury level in my blood rising.
I've been thinking about the earthquake each day. It's always in the news, and the images and stories are compelling. I don't know if this traveled far outside Japan, but a couple of days ago I watched a two year old boy rescued from a car after four days of being buried and utterly lost in a landslide. Actually, they spotted the car on the third day, but they waited to come and check inside until the next day. Sadly, his mother and sister died, probably on impact or early on. When the rescuers found the boy, he was standing up in a crawl space between the crushed walls of the car and boulders. Four days alone in the dark. Four cold nights. Surrounded by the silence of death. A lonely breath exhaling and a heart beat that won't quit -- didn't know enough to quit.
There are so many stories and tragedies. 80,000 people are still homeless tonight. Thirty-five people have died, and almost half of those after the quakes. Five have died in their cars from sitting in cramped space too long (they call it "Economy Class Syndrom" or, I think, Pulmonary Thrombosis). You realize that the population in Niigata is very old. And I keep thinking that it shows how just a couple of hours outside of Tokyo you have a part of Japan that still has one foot in the third world. But that's material for another time.
I did appreciate one image. Four older ladies were all sitting around a low table with a big quilt draped over their legs. One was serving some food, and they were having a lively conversation. Another lifted the quilt, slid out an old iron-looking box, opened it and put several fresh brickets of charcoal inside. Then she slid it back into place underneath. She explained that it keeps their legs warm when they sleep at night. Those are some tough women who REMEMBER how to deal with the cold with our without electricity or gas. Winter is coming fast. It's going to get much harder for many in Niigata before it's gets better.
October 23, 2004
Undo Kai Pictures and Plain Talk in Japanese
I feel like I haven't discovered much new about Japan in the past few days. I have reasons: being busy, studying my language books, juggling projects, sick kids, sick self, maybe too much "camera time" etc. But I've got to keep my head out where I can see and learn.
I meet with a Japanese tutor a couple of times a week, and we've been having a conversation about "plain talk" and "polite language." This is a complicated topic, but it's something everyone learning Japanese runs into. You realize pretty soon that the Japanese you are learning in books doesn't match the Japanese on TV or that workers and friends seem to speak to each other. That's because books start off teaching more formal Japanese, and both books and language schools continue to emphasize the kind of language you need for university study and/or working in a Japanese company. But outside of prescribed situations (which make up a significant percentage of the time, to be fair), Japanese people often speak more plainly to each other (depending...).
My tutor says that her students usually want to rush toward learning and using "plain talk," but it's a mistake. She says that to communicate well -- even in friendships -- you need to be 'bilingual' (within Japanese), able to move back and forth from formal to familiar language. Plain talk is not equal to familar language, in her opinion. She sees another category of language suitable for rough conversation play and work relationships but not adequate for developing real, human relationships. She thinks more and more Japanese are losing the ability to communicate deeply. By the way, I'm not quoting my tutor because she's my teacher, but because she's a very sharp and well read person.
I don't know whether I can agree with her yet though.
It's obvious that I must be able to move move back and forth from formal to familiar Japanese. I was reminded of this today when I answered the phone. When my wife asked who called, I told her that I had roughly suggested that the person call back later. After seeing my wife's expression, I knew I needed to improve my phone manners and asked her to coach me for next time. Using formal Japanese shows honor and respect, and at least you can say it's the beginning of most relationships.
On the other hand, I've seen my wife and others related with their friends. My wife uses very plain language almost exclusively with her close friends, and she has very deep relationships with them. She even uses plain language with her more recent friends from my daughter's preschool. Of course, if she's speaking with a close friend about a boss (an older or high status person), for example, and others can overhear the conversation, then she would definately use honorific language in reference to the boss (even though she's speaking to her friend). In life here there are many situations where you have to switch back and forth on the run.
I've opened up this topic but barely touched the surface. I'll have to come back to it later. Feel free to share what you've learned about all this.
October 17, 2004
Undoukai Update, About Those Pictures
I took 300 pictures today at my daughter's Undoukai (a preschool sports day), and about 30 minutes of video. I dumped all the pictures in the computer, but I don't want to think about them now. Well, I looked, and there's some good ones.
At one point today I felt like a professional photographer. I thought, "I'd better stop and cheer, and be a dad. You see the world differently through a camera, or with a camera in your hand. Some of my best memories have come from walking into totally amazing events with no way to "capture" the moment.
Tonight I came home and read this. What a great post from a fellow dad. I could go on and on, but why type more words when his are still hanging in the air? Go check it out.
I'll work on these pictures soon and start posting them in some sort of order. Then I'm going to make a video/slide show and burn it on a DVD for my parents (and us). I wish I could share that here. Anyway, tomorrow we're going to Hanno for a BBQ, and I'm leaving the camera at home. I'm bringing the video camera though.
October 15, 2004
A Few "Best of" Japan Blogs IMHO
I've been wanting to stop and say something about the blogs on the right side of this page. I've chosen to list my favorite blogs in Japan. You and I may disagree on what makes a blog one of the "best," so I'll stop from time to time and highlight a few of them. So without further words...
If I were voting for the best blog in Japan, I'd pick Hamamatsu Hakujin. I really enjoyed reading his recent post about working as an air conditioning installer when he first moved to Japan. I've been hooked ever since. His purpose for blogging is very similar to mine, so I'm biased.
Recently, I've been checking out Coco in Tokyo. This is a great example of the raw blogging of thoughts and emotions from a insightful, somewhat confused and (apparently) intelligent Japanese woman. As she states, "This is my stripped soul for sale." That kind of sums it up. Go peer into her unique and Japanese world.
Confessions of a Grade School Role Model is a great blog. It's frequently updated, full of pictures and stays focused on life in Japan. Again, I'm biased, but I figure anyone can write about blogging, politics, philosophy etc. (and more power to them), but only someone living in Japan can put that experience into words.
I recently found Nihongo No Michi (Japanese Street), a blog about learning Japanese. If you, like me, are learning Japanese then you may enjoy following his progress in the language and insights along the way.
Tokyo Times has some interesting stuff up right now. This is another site where I pretty consistently learn something I didn't know about Japan. It's not always something I care to know, and sometimes when I read this site it reminds me of my age...
But it's a good one! And that wraps up my blog round up of sorts.
Whewww, blogging about other blogs sure is tiring. I don't know how people can stand to type and link, type and link, type and link. I think I'll just try and put in one good link per post from now on.
October 09, 2004
Typhoon Ma-On Coming, River Rising
Typhoons are basically hurricanes by a different name. You can learn more here. Currently, the wind at the center of the typhoon is blowing about 144 km/hour (about 90 miles/hour).
My daughter's preschool "undoukai" (sports competition) was scheduled for this morning, but it was cancelled for obvious reasons. If the typhoon blows through tonight, as expected, they'll have the undoukai tomorrow. Here's a plug. If you can ever go to an undoukai, definately do it. An undoukai is generally a community, cultural event featuring cute kids, smiling parents and a crazy assortment of games, dances and quasi-competitions. Bring your camera or you'll be bummed.
I'll post pictures of the undoukai soon, as long as this river doesn't rise up and wash us away tonight.
[Update: The typhoon turned out to be an anti-climax. Yea, the neighbor's bicycles blew over, but the house didn't shake;, the windows didn't rattle; nada. On a positive note, nobody seems to have died in Tokyo (though I heard about a delivery man on a motorcycle who went missing near a swollen river). On the whole, typhoons that peeter out are a good thing. My wife grew up on the coast, so she has childhood memories of storms shaking the whole house. I've been in that house, and it's a wonder that jumping up and down doesn't bring the whole thing down. Just kidding (although an engineer who checkd to see if the house was "earthquake safe" said emphatically "No.") Anyway, she misses walking out to the beach under a mountain of water pouring down from the sky. Natsukashii, you know. But I asked my friends, the workers at Starbucks, if THEY like typhoons, and they laughed like I was being funny.]
October 06, 2004
Beautiful Bits, Weird Pieces & Cute Kids
Well, I wanted to throw out a few bits and pieces. Here goes.
The other day I turned on the TV just in time to see a man explaining to a group of women how to nurse a baby. He grabbed his "breast" and raised a plastic baby that he was holding up in the cradle position. A semi circle of women watched, mimiced (minus the grabbing) and nodded enthusiastically as if to say, "We've never seen this before." Which was probably true. "Next," he said, "is the 'football' position." I flipped the channel then, but later I came back just in time to see him squeeze a balloon, bring it to his mouth and "latch on." I yelled for my wife to come see. Finally, another guy (a popular American face who speaks fluent Japanese) brought the show to closure by holding up a sign that said, in English, "Beautiful Breasts." Plus, he had illustrated the card with a cartoon drawing of, you guessed it, breasts (which little sunbeams coming out). This was to emphasize the point of the show, to encourage women to breast feed their babies. Japanese women used to universally nurse, but in the past couple of decades many have switched to bottle feeding instead. I won't go into discussing that; I was just amused that they chose a man to deliver (and demonstrate) this message. Maybe someone figured women wouldn't listen to another woman giving "medical" advice. Or that any doctors who might be watching wouldn't care less what a nurse or La Leche expert spokeswoman might have to say. Probably more than 90 percent of the doctors in Japan are men, and so the message (to be heard well) needed to come from a man. Just my thoughts. Or maybe they just didn't think about it. Japanese TV is just weird sometimes.
In other news, I've just switched to the Firefox browser (two thumbs way up). Moving on, I don't know who I'm voting for in the US election. Strike that, I haven't applied for an absentee ballot yet, so I'm too late anyway. I was checking out some other blogs today, and everybody is writing about politics. Everybody in the USA, everyone in Africa, in Australia. At least they've stopped offering GMail referrals. That was pretty sad.
Ok, here is something more related to life in Japan. A couple of weeks ago I sent an email to a photographers email list here in Japan asking if anyone had a Palm type PDA that they weren't using anymore. I was hoping to buy, but a very nice someone offered to give me her old Palm 3xe. I picked it up Monday, went home and loaded up KingKanji. If you want to learn Kanji and own a Palm type PDA (or Win CE device), get this program. You can find it here.
October 01, 2004
Bathing at the Sento in Japan
We put our things in the locker, passed through a semi-curtained doorway and entered the next room. To the right were rows of shower stations. We sat on the small stool in front of one and cleaned up. You do that first. Then we walked around and found four or five different baths of vary sizes and temperatures. The first one we tried to get in didn't work out (too hot for my daughter). The second was a lukewarm 34 degrees Celsius with bubbles pouring up from below. It was VERY nice. After staying there for a while, we walked through another door that went outside. On a private area of rooftop, we found another three baths and sat for awhile in one of those.
We did see several fathers with their kids, including two or three other girls (the oldest was about six). My daughter really enjoyed the time, and I did too. I was able to talk with two of the fathers. They were both friendly. In my experience, bathing at onsen (hot springs) you don't talk much. But this was more social. As a foreigner here, I notice the places where you can more easily meet and talk with Japanese (especially men), because there's a wall of reserve in most public places.
By the way, it may seem like a contradiction that people here, who hide their true selves inwardly in daily life, bathe together this way. But it's probably not so contradictory as it seems. Being naked is not considered as revealing as it is in my own culture. On the contrary, it's a relaxing, equalizing group experience. Rather than becoming more visible, you might say it's a place to become invisible. A 6'4" American isn't necessarily invisible, but I think I blended allright (with only my head sticking out of the water anyway). If you're ever in Japan to live or visit, don't miss out on this experience. You may not find a sento listed in your guide book, but regardless of where you stay, there's bound to be one or more local sento within range of where you are.