I'm not sure what this is - I suppose I've always thought this was a barn - it's one of those things you don't discuss and forget to ask about. or like a brand you see everyday but never say outloud and when you do it sounds alien. the proportions and openings at odd heights make me think it's some kind of a barn - perhaps for drying crops and storing equipment (it's not unusual for this to be within the city as rice paddies can be found well into the urban area). these days you're much more likely to see a thrown together corrugated iron shack than a well kept traditional structure like this and so it's lovely to see one in such good condition as a reminder of how beautiful japanese architecture once was. can anyone clarify what this is?
I eventually tracked down the straw sandals I was after in the yukata section of takashimaya - the department was doing a rare trade. my clarks sandals are good for the british climate but my soles are continually wet with sweat from the suede. zori are far more breathable but still sans-intelligent fibres. I wanted a tatami soled sandal but I was also asking for seta which usually have a kind of moulded, laquered straw look. some of them were up to 50000 yen or 250 quid so I headed off in search of something more affordable. geta, are of course the big wooden numbers which clack with every step but I managed to find some bigger square numbers that look and smell like hessian flooring (not for long). interestingly the strap of japanese sandals meets in the middle which means all the sandals are symmetrical. japanese people have a huge big toe and tiny wee piglets.
Posted by stupot at 11:17 AM Sunday 30 Jul
yoda and the babelfish
douglas adams was a real influence when I was a kid - the babelfish translating device used in the hitchhikers guide was genius. now that we live in the future, of course, we have flawless peices of technology like the sony talkman and babelfish on the internet. but it's just that they're not.
a simple message from a friend about a weekend meeting translates on babelfish like this: Good morning it is. Then, it pours and this obtains and starts and would like to decide with the around. You will pass to be pleasant! ! Saturday it is the pleasure! ! Then. if you say it in a yoda accent it makes more sense. it's kind of poetic in a way and you get the jist but I certainly wouldn't translate my will on it. I had to help with some translation the other day and I now realise how difficult it is. Japanese is just so formal and english so flexible. to study I must go. for my convenience life.
Posted by stupot at 02:20 PM Friday 28 Jul
had a meeting and some research to do so I was wandering around the city centre flitting from air-conditioned space to air-conditioned space, from shade to underground arcade like an animal. I eventually headed to meal muji in nanba for a cheeky coffee and melon pan. a regular haunt, it is thankfully mildly air conditioned opposed to my local supermarket which could be mistaken for a walk-in freezer. It takes a keen eye to spot the mildly air-conditioned carriage on the train as well - I find the cold carriages an uncomfortable environment to mix with sweat.
meal muji reminds me of a minimal version of 'hendersons' vegetarian cafe in edinburgh and it's a fine place to go and have a bit of space, decent scran and do some thinking. It's nice that there is a good range of seating options - from a huge circular table to high stools and shelf. I talked myself out of buying a yukata coz I think I'll look like a fanny but function might yet win over.
I met up with benjamin and satoko in kyoto who managed to make it down for the weekend on their visit from NY to kamakura. it's been two years since I saw ben and the first time I met satoko who was, as I'd suspected, just lovely: we had a wonderfully relaxed time being lazy tourists. on saturday we strolled up the west side of town from kiyomizutera, through gion, and watched the live music being played below the stilted, outdoor restaurants on the river. after checking into our ryokan we had the much anticipated hot bath which ben, never one to pass up the opportunity of getting naked, was really getting into during his brief stay in japan.
I had a meeting near shibuya today in daikanyama. nice gaff: all the fashion names (APC, 45rpm etc) seem to have their main shops and headquarters there. as a visitor, the yamanote line was an enjoyable exercise in information graphics and whilst tokyo does it much better than osaka, it's also horrifically busy. to be honest it's the first time I've been squeezed solid against others and hopefully I won't do it again in a while. terribly uncivillised. I did take the advantage of groping some young women as I read it was 'de rigueur' last year. the information is great though - exactly what you need: amoungst other things - tv's telling you how long til your next station and where the exits are relative to your carriage. basic, but so rarely available elsewhere. every design student should visit tokyo.
now I've got the weekend in kyoto which will be a welcome relief.
Posted by stupot at 11:55 PM Friday 21 Jul
one of the first necessities you need to get after arriving in japan is a personal seal to act as your signature. the hanko or inkan is still used for everything from opening a bank account to 'signing' for a couriered parcel. it's kind of your ID. I love mine - each one is personally designed, and although you can get ready made ones, I found everyone seemed to be out of stock of 'Kerr' seals when I was looking. many people have a few of them, one for everyday use and one, perhaps more stylised, for official use. I wanted to blog about a hanko shop I used to pass but I never got a snap. as the product is so small, the shops tend to be tiny. this one was about a meter wide and 4 meters long but as demand is sporadic you really don't need much more. some non japanese use the sylable sounds of their name to choose a fitting kanji to make up a 'japanese' name but as I had already been documented in the simple katakana form there just would have been too much red tape to change it. but not to worry.
Posted by stupot at 08:11 PM Friday 14 Jul
mugi tea for muggy weather
it's official - osaka is on fire again. the temperature and humidity have soared over the past 2 weeks to tropical levels. the heat bumps on my hands are back. now my fan (jesus - I'm turning into a spanish granny) and copious amounts of mugi cha have become as much a part of the daily routine as sweating like a glass-blower at the furnace (not as much of an exaggeration as you might think). mugi tea is basically wheat or barley tea - and we keep a vat in the fridge to quench the inevitable thirst. It can have a bit of a chocolate taste in my opinion, and it's very refreshing. in the same way irn-bru infamously out sells coke-a-cola, tea commands a massive market share in japan. It's funny to think that we sometimes refer to tea in the UK as 'cha' but I personally didn't have a clue why. where did it come from?
Posted by stupot at 05:35 PM Friday 14 Jul
saru, sento, yugen
This weekend was the Oodaigahara hill climb. some of the guys had talked about the climb and how brutal it was, which only made me more keen to race. the mountain is in deepest nara - towards where nara meets wakayama and mie prefectures, south of osaka. it's real middle of nowhere country which added to the sense of mystery.
so the tour de france has started amid a now fairly typical fanfare of controversy. Ullrich and Basso (the two main favourites), amoungst others, were withdrawn on the eve of the race as a new drugs dispute hit the headlines. I can't really be arsed with it all - I love the mountains with a passion, but the flat just doesn't do it for me and I don't read about the big names and their woes - most of them dope and so I cannae be bothered anymore. I used to defend the sport until I read a few books including willy voet's 'breaking the chain'. he was the physiotherapist (dealer) for the festina team in the 1998 tour (infamously coined the tour de farce) who was caught by french customs carrying more drugs than you'd have found on a friday night in the hacienda. as a traditionalist I've always liked the good old days when pro's would think nothing of stopping at the foot of an alpine 'haute' category climb, snorting a few grams of charlie and necking a couple of cognacs. I think, though, that the death rate was a lot higher. anyway - it's been crash central in the first few days alone with dekker (above) and valverde out, but the crashes always make it more of a spectator sport, don't they?
Posted by stupot at 08:00 PM Wednesday 5 Jul
origami never ceases to amaze me and the ability of japanese children to remember and nail origami is a wonder to watch. I now teach, part time, at a primary school in the bronx of osaka. today, after they'd been swimming on the roof, the kids taught me how to make a fully inflated ball out of paper. fantastic. if you've got time and haven't made origami for a while, I recommend finding a square bit of paper and follow these instructions. very theraputic................
saw japan versus fiji at nagai stadium yesterday with sam and brendan and sam's brother tom. japan held up pretty well but the sheer physical difference was enough for fiji to pull away at the end and win. whilst nagai is a nice stadium it doubles as an athletic arena too, so you find yourself straining to see the far end. murrayfield is a lovely stadium for being up close and personal, starting from the touch line and rising steeply. anyway - the incredible thing was that the nagai pitch stops just after the football corner flag and so the try area is almost all astroturf flooring - not a highly appealing surface for anyone to skid across, let alone some of the best players in the world. amazing that the recent ¥43,491,000,000 upgrade failed to include 2 bits of turf that even the poorest rugby grounds boast.
Posted by stupot at 06:54 PM Sunday 2 Jul
get out of town
I've become obsessed with overpasses. even as a kid the sight of the 'spaghetti' junction just east of glasgow filled me with awe and a subconcious respect for that level of engineering. I remember watching bladerunner and metropolis and wondering if places like that really would become reality. how wonderful they looked and how free we could be.
Designing a motorway to run through the centre of a city is, of course, crazy: people have to live there. a city is not somewhere you just travel to to work - cities are for people and not cars. last year we saw some soul destroying apartments which sat between overpasses and shook like new york apartments from those movies in the sixties and seventies.