Posted by stupot at 05:08 PM Monday 31 Oct
the kotatsu is quintessentially japanese - given the preference for sitting on the floor this heated table with blanket is the main substitute for lack of central heating during the winter. I'm so glad that it's 'that' time of the year again when we can lounge about under it to keep warm and not feel guilty. in the summer it's just too bloody hot to do anything else and you kind of get depressed about the fact you never have the stamina to do anything - even though it's 'nice' out.
everyone comes together around the kotatsu as we would a fire in scotland but the lack of flame is certainly missed. traditionally these used charcoal but now it's dry, electric heat. despite this it's very cosy and the chances of falling asleep under the kotatsu on most nights in winter is about 90%.
I stumbled home from the pub last year at my in-laws house and thought no-one was around. so I grabbed a nightcap from the fridge and headed for the living room where the father-in-law emerged like a vampire from a coffin from under the blanket to scare the wits out of me. the old 'dozed off during the baseball game' story is one that most japanese families can relate to.
Posted by stupot at 05:07 PM Monday 31 Oct
Posted by stupot at 01:29 PM Monday 31 Oct
for all the glowing reports that japanese trains get, there is one element that lets it all down: the human one. for starters there's the well documented groping on the sardine like rush hour trains that led to female only carriages (like there isn't enough segregation in the country as it is). there's also the fairly frequent and extremely selfish exploitaion for suicide (it's often said that JR lines have cheaper 'clean up' costs for the bereaved and so it's therefor a more popular choice). but more sinister and anonymous, are the ill that use public transport as a very effective petri dish to spread germs. I'm no hypochondriac but the full, bronchial hack of a cough I heard on saturday evening on the train I was sure would come back and haunt me. on monday morning I crawled out of bed thinner and a lot weaker than when I had entered it on saturday night.
all of which brings me to masks. here these are worn by those with a cough or something catchy so that they don't spread it. granted when you first see people wearing them you think it must be because of something far more deadly but in fact it's often just mildly sick people being thoughtful. like a bicycle helmet though - there's often a feeling that they are a bit unnecessary or unfashionable but it's just another necessity in the world of compact living.
if only the bloke on the train had been wearing one I might have had a weekend and got to wear my other mask to the hallowe'en party. boo.
Posted by stupot at 01:26 PM Monday 31 Oct
Posted by stupot at 10:52 PM Monday 24 Oct
today was stereotypically autumnal. as I cycled over the mountains to Koyasan in the sun, the smell of burning crops was all around, fruit was ripe on the trees and in the shadows, the air had a definite bite to it. the combination reminded me of Hallowe'en and it's only a week away (it was the smells mainly).
Japanese Obon, or 'ancestors day', in August is the largest celebration after New Year and it's all a bit like Hallowe'en. for me, a lot of traditional religious practice in Japan is much like Paganism. the Japanese light up their houses to guide their departed back and offer food for them to eat during the three days of Obon just as Celtic Pagans traditionally did the same thing.
In Scotland we tend to celebrate New Year more than Christmas so infact living in Japan doesn't feel particularly alien to me at that time of year. given Scottish weather I tend to have a lot of respect for the sun too - you can certainly understand the pagans perspective.
I headed back over Kimitoge ('toge' is pass, 'ki' the old name for the wakayama area and presumably the 'mi' is the verb to see), which was a key part of the original pilgrimage trail to Koyasan, where this time last year a wee farmer stopped and chatted. I remember he went to his van to get me a key? but I later found out Kaki is the name for Persimmon which sounds quite similar. he was on his way to market and gave me 4: bless his cotton socks. the road to Koyasan today was littered with makeshift shops selling the fruit. no sign of my farmer today (and I could have done with the fuel) but I got back home eventually after a near miss with a lorry and then a chase with the sun before it set. before you know it the gloves'll be out and everyone will be complaining about the cold!
Posted by stupot at 10:51 PM Monday 24 Oct
no.47: kari pan
the humble curry bun rivals irn-bru in its ability to ease the suffering of a hangover. infact the combination of the two should probably be researched more thoroughly. it should be noted that japanese curry is a mild, sweet stew-like food - not sharp and hot.
for some reason last night it slipped our minds that mixing hot sake, beer and an islay malt is not the best preparation for a busy sunday morning. ah well. life trundles on regardless.
Posted by stupot at 03:45 PM Sunday 23 Oct
Posted by stupot at 11:31 PM Friday 21 Oct
surrounded by palaces and mansions
the word choices to describe housing can be a bit misleading as times. for one, a modern apartment is refered to as a mansion but perhaps the most misconstrued is the palace, or to be exact, leo palace. the leo palace is a masterclass in space management, though the living spaces are perhaps more suited to a corgi than a queen.
the white and grey striped boxes can be seen all over japan which are generally 3 storeys and made up of around 20 units. designed for single occupancy, the main draw is that these waive utilities costs, deposit, 'key money' and a guarantors signature - all important factors of renting in japan. key money specifically is a difficult concept for most foriegners to either grasp or want to agree to: essentially it's an initial, non-refundable type of deposit. it pays for new tatami mats and finishes as well as general wear that you subject a property to. we payed about 1000 quid (by no means a lot in japanese standards) for the privilege of moving into our 'mansion' - but I look at it this way: we pay less per month than we would in glasgow (which describes the current house buying climate in scotland and the UK as a whole) and if you break this down over 3 years then it only adds up to 28 quid more a month.
anyway - the palace. the units are essentially one room of 9m2 with a balcony. leading in from the front door you have a toiletroom, shower room and open kitchen. the kitchen is little more than a fridge, 2 ring burner and cupboard - it kind of curbs any thoughts of creative cooking: prep area is virtually nil. above this entrance area is the bed area - accessed by a ladder in the main room and with just enough room to sit up. sounds cosy, huh?
rent is pretty high for what you get but the advantage being that you can let for a short period - as little as a week - and all the other reasons mentioned above. the rooms are tiny by western standards and it's not exactly somewhere you'd plan to bring up children, but it's cosy, manageable and with the ladder up to the bed - a bit like being a kid again!
Posted by stupot at 11:07 PM Friday 21 Oct
Posted by stupot at 12:06 AM Thursday 20 Oct
I pass a few industrial concrete buildings on my train ride to work but one sits out on its own, on top of a hill. Sayama pond lies about 30 minutes from Namba station on the Koya line and has been irrigating the land around for 1400 years: it's a very significant place. the museum, a tadao ando creation, is pretty bleak (or magnificent, depending on your stance) in true ando style, but it does have a real section of the levee where you can see all the different stages of growth over the centuries. it seems amazing that the early method of using branches and leaves between layers to prevent landslides is actually pretty close to the modern version of using cloth. the place still felt like a morgue but perhaps that was intentional.
it has to be said though, that I see enough concrete everyday without wishing to see it inside a museum when I'm trying to relax. pesky minimalists.
Posted by stupot at 11:40 PM Wednesday 19 Oct
cafe au ma god
it might seem fitting that as the leaves change from blue to red, so too do the labels underneath the vending machine coffee. an urban sign to tell you that autumn has once again arrived. during the summer you can subject yourself to not only vending machine coffee but cold vending machine coffee and you generally have no choice. that is not to say that it's 'iced coffee' - this is simply cold nescafe. a sobering thought. it's surprising what an addiction can lower you to.
which reminded me of some of my better cups of tea or coffee and alistair gow of clachan of campsie.
alistair is a legend in central scotland not only for his ability to build the best bike wheel around, but also to keep you in conversation for two hours longer than you had anticipated. despite having heard about him for many years, I only got to know him shortly before I left - his shop sits at the foot of the campsie hills in a tiny, sleepy village (clachan). he sorted a few wheels for me while I supped on fantastic tea that was in endless supply - if the pot ran dry his assistant would be called to brew some fresh. alistair, like a farmers wife offering seconds, looked personally offended if you declined.
his shop could be described as a disaster zone: it really gives meaning to the phrase "looks like a bomb hit it", but sitting in the far corner and only occaisionally looking up from his bastard of a truing jig, he could answer almost any product related question pointing to a toppling stack of boxes to find a jersey, or an old wooden chest drawer to help find a fixing. calls would come in, in the background, from all over the UK and the interesting thing I noticed was that most of the crap lying about was far from that - it was new, high quality goods ready for shipping.
the best thing about alistairs and any good bike shop is the personal service, blether and cup of tea. my goal now is to find the japanese equivalent of big al - the only trouble is, is that even though I've gotten friendly with some local bike shops they're all so terribly well organised. I can work on that though.........
Posted by stupot at 11:28 PM Tuesday 18 Oct
Posted by stupot at 06:54 PM Monday 17 Oct
times gone by
we were walking in our local neighbourhood the other night when the tune to 'auld lang syne' came pumping out of several shops as the merchandise was being taken inside for the night. it's a funny tradition in a country so culturally and geographically apart from scotland but one used throughout the service industry: golf driving ranges use it to usher you out, convenience stores too, as well as random wee local places. the japanese version 'hotaru no hikari' (fireflies light) is most commonly associated with graduation ceremonies where similar feelings are presumably felt with the passing of a big day. I'm sure rabbie would be very happy.
on a related theme I bought some dog like biscuits the other day - the packaging for which had caught my eye on more than one occaision. trying to reduce my sweet-tooth related after dinner nibble purchases I thought these looked ideal. yuka said some people keep them for emergencies because they are very simple and last a long time. I still don't get the whole piper thing but they certainly are bland and have enough carbohydrates to pass as scottish cuisine.
Posted by stupot at 06:48 PM Monday 17 Oct
Posted by stupot at 11:57 PM Sunday 16 Oct
It's a joy to be in the majority on the bike in asia and unsurprisingly, foldable bikes are becoming an increasingly popular choice for new buyers. out and about today we saw the usual amount of good examples which only made my hunger to buy one more apparent. I really want one for town riding / hopping on and off the train and although cheap and cheerful versions from china and taiwan continue to flood the market, they are also often cumbersome and heavy. muji-rushi, for example, has some beautifully plain bikes at the moment but most of these weigh approximately the same as a small family car. naturally the choice is such that you could also spend the same amount as you might on a small family car.
interestingly, england still seems to have some of the best foldable designs to date including the brompton, moulton and strida. the latter does not use a chain but has a kevlar belt, weighs only 10kgs and is just over 200 quid. I'm being swayed rather heavily in that direction.....
japanese men don't get stage fright
having a single fish in japan is usually a pretty public affair if you're male.
seeing a sober business man pishing in the street is perhaps becoming slightly less common but seeing a bunch of old women and some schoolgirls pass you on your right as you settle in at the urinal in the station takes some getting used to.
I remember visiting a bar where they had a unisex toilet and you were confronted with 10 glass cubicles on entering. tentatively you step forward, into the cubicle and when you turn around to close the door you can still see out. only when engaging the lock did the gel sandwiched between the glass turn opaque and you could kind of relax. it's a bit like that here but without the gel or the glass.
also - I've nothing scientific to go on but I have recently had a hunch that japanese guys are slightly more vocal when they're dropping off the kids at the pool. it could just be the universally sad truth that toilets, with some of the most horrendous, boak inducing noises, are also quieter than your average shrine. the few times in my life I've begged for elavator music were infact in public toilets and not in lifts.
so if you pop in for a jonny cash when you're out-and-about, be prepared for the feeling of being watched.............it's probably true.
Posted by stupot at 11:45 PM Thursday 13 Oct
today was a very pleasant 26 degrees and for the past week and for the week to come it will be around the same. there was a also a good amount of sun today which is still very bright and hot.
which begs the question: circulation aside, why do offices insist on having their air-conditioning switched on all day, at the ambient temperature? one thought that occurred to me was that perhaps if the government spent more time cracking down on air-conditioning use in autumn and spring when the temperature is comfortable they could worry less in the summer when temperatures get unbearable. or I am on crack again?
Posted by stupot at 10:44 PM Wednesday 12 Oct
Posted by stupot at 03:59 PM Monday 10 Oct
spotted by a friend in a local convenience store, here we have battle of the bread (called pan here). looks like maple hot cakes are selling like, well......hot cakes. but what's this?! - look out for marbled cocoa bread at number four!
incidentally, one of the big manga sensations of the hour is 'yakitate!! japan' - a story about a young guy who trys to make a national bread for japan. yakitate means freshly baked and the second part is a pun, or as the japanese might pronounce: "pan!"
Posted by stupot at 03:35 PM Monday 10 Oct
unbelievable - it's another public holiday!
as a result of all these single days off, getting proper time off (for a real holiday) for many japanese can be difficult to say the least, certainly more than a few days at a time. people talking of 2 week holidays abroad are usually met with intakes of breath and an astonished "aaaaaaaayyyyyyy?". I suppose these hand-outs are meant to keep you sweet by thinking you've had so much time off that you couldn't possibly need a change of scenery. it's staggering: I count 23 public holidays this year - some official - some unofficial*.
anyway - all this means that the japanese are the masters of short trips. yuka's off to pick pears in Hyougo with a bus load of old biddies from her mum's town (long story) but today happens to be school sports day - coinciding with that very thing, but also signifying the fact that it's now cool enough to go outside and not get sun stroke. so back to excercise it is........just as the baseball season seems to be ending?
on that topic, a 13 year old died last week of exhaustion after playing baseball. 2 lost games, 1 long telling off from the coach and several hours of punishment practice later saw him collapse after about 12 hours near the park. heavy stuff.
Posted by stupot at 06:36 PM Friday 7 Oct
you see it alot in japan. sometimes you can be walking down a quiet street and you glance into a joiners workshop and he's taking a break to do it. often, when people are hanging around waiting for a train they do it. I know a guy who does it waiting for his food to warm in the microwave. in any case, practicing your swing is as much a national pastime as actually playing. with prices to do the real thing often matching the stereotype, most people make use of the free alternative. so put down your psp, go somewhere public and make an arse of yourself - this is even cheaper than the driving range.
Posted by stupot at 06:26 PM Friday 7 Oct
Posted by stupot at 11:58 PM Thursday 6 Oct
when I was a kid it only took wee things to keep me amused. playing against invisible teams from other nations, I could invent endless ball games to stay content. I would even get timed running around the block. you could say I had a lot of energy, a decent imagination and I was easily amused. and it's very much like japanese TV.
the premise for so many shows is incredibly simple - especially the phenomenon of 'endurance' running. the most recent running show had different age groups making a relay team of 3 and running around the block of the television centre. the teams ranged from the 20 something 'tv talent' being very unfit to the 50 somethings being ex-professional - an interesting method of handicap.
games, challenge and competition are very important in all areas of life here but I do find it odd that the generally talentless 'tv talent' are the guests and competitors on almost every show. winning prizes on cooking shows and money on millionaire. in the UK, andy warhols suggestion of widespread fame has certainly come true, but in japan you have to earn it.
perhaps I should find something better to do with my sunday nights!
Posted by stupot at 11:57 PM Thursday 6 Oct
being away from the big smoke recently meant I could witness manners once again - for one thing, I did a years worth of bowing in three days. in the scottish countryside too, of course, we similarly acknowledge others out of courtesy when there are not many around - but in todays society even this can fall on deaf ears and blind eyes.
the lowered head of a bow is in contrast with the spasm of a nod you receive in scotland - and it's perhaps no coincidence that a fuller and faster version of this can be used, quite successfully, for fighting.
which makes you wonder just how aggressive thrusting a hand in a strangers direction must seem to the japanese. I wondered if the strength of handshake and depth of bow may hold some comparisons but they are very different. the bow is uniform, it conveys a respect and it shows trust in its vulnerability whereas the handshake is quite individual, sometimes secretive and only really conveys levels of confidence. significantly though, the lack of physical contact when bowing describes the less aggressive culture in japan: worlds away from the post-pub, scottish martial art of splitting someones nose open with your forehead. ahhh - the memories.
Posted by stupot at 11:42 PM Sunday 2 Oct
yet more plastic
unlike glasgow, where people are surprised so much by downpours they will just open up a newspaper and wear it like a hat whilst darting from doorway to doorway, the world of umbrellas in Japan is such a civilised affair. for starters my local station had a rack of about 50 free umbrellas during the rainy season. or at least I think they were.
today it pished it down.
to try and generate more use of plastic, the government has issued these dispensers when you visit shops in town - a disposable plastic sheath covering your disposable plastic brolly from dripping all over the over-packaged disposable merchandising. then you whip it off, bin it, get out in the rain and start all over again in the next shop. waterproofing the waterproof is as much ridiculous as it is a waste. isn't it?
Posted by stupot at 11:09 PM Sunday 2 Oct