tsubame: (wings)
Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 01:54 am
I was at Sensei's house one time, and his son, and some of his son's friends, were studying in the kitchen. Sensei asked my then-roommate and I if we would come downstairs so that the kids could try their English on us; we agreed. We went downstairs and answered their questions in our best slow, clear English-teacher voices. I don't remember most of them save the last; they asked us, "what is your favorite place in Kyoto?"

My flatmate said Kiyomizudera, a beautiful temple perched on the mountains to the east of the city. It's the obvious choice, of course: the buildings and grounds are beautiful, there's a view of the city, the temples and relics are old and significant, they illuminate the cherry blossoms in the spring and the maple trees in the autumn, there is a perpetually-flowing spring of pure water you can drink right out of the ground. The road up the mountain is through a charming old district; the shops have been catering to tourists for hundreds of years. The great stage of Kiyomizudera is a miracle of engineering, built without a single nail. It floats among the trees, and catches a refreshing breeze even in the stickiest Kyoto summer. There are fun festivals there; it even boasts credible wisteria which grow on trellises and shade benches where pilgrims can rest. There are charming eateries tucked among the groves of trees beneath the temple. Maiko and geisha regularly come to visit in full regalia, since it is the patron temple of one of Kyoto's "flower towns."

Everyone nodded when my roommate gave her answer; clearly Kiyomizudera is one of the most wonderful places in Kyoto.

Then it was my turn, and I had to think. What place in Kyoto could compare to Kiyomizudera's virtues?

"This house," I said.

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I have no skill at art whatsoever, but I doodle for fun, and thought I might as well put up a few of my slightly-more-credible scribbles. Behind a cut to protect your eyes. Primary mediums are pencil (my favorite cheap-ass Bic mechanicals) and colored pencils.

Pencil Detritus )
Thursday, March 24th, 2011 12:15 am

Here's a truly exotic location, at least by the standards of my journal . . . my hometown. Yep, that's just outside the local Greek restaurant in April of 2008. They have an AMAZING lamb kokkinisto, the dish that taught me that adding a pinch of cinnamon to your average tomato-based sauce results in awesome.

Picture taken to prove to a politely doubtful Japanese colleague that yes, there are blossoming cherry trees in the United States, and they are in fact beautiful-- as beautiful as their Japanese counterparts. The difference between cherry trees in Japan and cherry trees in the US is of course their extreme cultural significance in one place, and near total lack of cultural significance in the other. Sure, people in the US think that the cherry blossoms are pretty, but they're no more significant than other flowers, and a great deal less significant than some (the rose, for instance). Whereas I couldn't even begin to convey just how significant sakura are in Japanese culture.

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I find myself preoccupied with memories often lately-- I who have always been a child of the present moment. Always with me it has been today's dream, not yesterday's or tomorrow's. But again and again my thoughts drift backwards, and I wonder-- what am I seeking there? And why now?

Memories connect one to another, like beads on a string. I think of my brother, digging in the sand-- the sand at the pool that day we three escaped, trying to pass the painful hours-- the gritty, sticky sand at the Jersey shore, the drumming surf-- summer heat-- walking down from Kiyomizudera under the July sun--

Near my house in Japan, a street corner with a traffic light. I would ride my bike out to begin the day's adventure under a bright blue sky. Fly out across the street, standing on my pedals with the wind in my hair, swoop into the turn that would bring me arrowing down the road through the brilliant green of the rice fields. None happier than I, my heart singing inside of me--

A hundred times surely I did this, and now every time is one time, one moment, a single elation, an eternal singing joy.
tsubame: (combini)
Friday, February 25th, 2011 01:01 am

My parents and I took the train up to Takayama from Kyoto. It was a spectacular journey through green mountains and sudden gorges carved by white-water rivers. Takayama itself was also gorgeous, even though it poured rain for just about the entire time we were there.

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I've changed my LJ theme, because I needed a bit of sun to get me through the rest of this bleak season. It should be noted that I dislike daisies. There are flowers that I like, though I find that my preferences are very influenced by scent: lillies of the valley, roses, sweet daphne, hyacinths (which I do not like the look of, but they smell delightful). Plum and cherry blossoms (I prefer the former, but if it's dessert time sakura all the way). Morning glories (though they have no scent at all). I have a fondness for snowdrops because they come up first, and crocuses for coming up after to say that spring's really arrived.

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A haiku cannot
be ordered, it must spring forth
Friday, January 21st, 2011 12:48 am

Some of my friends in front of one of the great trees of Koya-san in Wakayama-ken. It is the center of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, and it's . . . amazing. There are more than 120 temples there, and a lovely and tranquil graveyard that takes several hours to walk through. It felt like another world, up there amongst the peaks.

I wanted to put up this picture because my incredibly-PC-calendar (it has Thich Nhat Hanh quotes!) lists Thursday as Tu B'Shevat (the Jewish New Year for Trees). According to teh interwebs this is the date when the trees begin to flower in Jereusalem. Other than that I know nothing of the significance of the holiday, but I think it a beautiful thing that there should be a new year devoted to trees.

Of course, since I believe Jewish holidays start on the previous night at sundown, I guess this holiday is already over . . .

Behind which I ramble on insanely about Pandora Hearts. Replete with question marks, because every time I learn something in this blasted series I end up with 5 new questions. er. EDIT: FULL OF SPOILERS. I should have said that before, sorry. )
Thursday, January 20th, 2011 12:54 am

Last spring I was able to go to a huge roller coaster park in Japan with some of my friends. Among the ten coasters in the park they also happen to have the world's largest wooden one; this is a view of it from the nearby Ferris wheel. I rode it once, but found that it gave me a pounding headache. Looks like I've gotten too old for wooden roller coasters. I did fine on the modern ones, though.

I might also have been more prone to headaches at the time, seeing as my parents were visiting. When my parents visited me in Japan I was usually in a state of high stress and constant sleep deprivation/exhaustion.

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Wednesdays are going to be my busy days; biweekly that means class from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, with an hour's break for lunch and dinner/transport each. And then walking 40 minutes home. Today was the first of them, and actually I found myself enjoying it. I like being busy; it makes me feel useful. Which explains why I so mercilessly over-scheduled myself while I lived in Japan; I did in fact enjoy it.

I've actually been rather lazy since coming to Scotland. I think I need to take further steps to remedy this.

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Over the vacation I had a chance for some long talks with my various family members, some of which were quite interesting.

Regarding a conversation with my little brother with attendant thoughts which cover socialism in Sweden, the causes of the American Civil War, rappers, and lottery tickets. )

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I had half an hour during my busiest busy day in which to procure dinner. I wanted to go to the Black Medicine coffee house, because its name is so cool, but I ended up wandering the wrong way. I was thinking thoughts of going into the KFC-- I was running out of time-- it would be easy to order there-- but at the last second I gave in to the terrible yellow plastic beacon of a down-at-the-heels middle eastern place with cheap battered tables and faded posters of deserts on the walls.

And glad I was to have done so. Their baba ganoush was LOVELY. And I found out that the "sh" sound at the end has a bit of a hard "g" sound in it. I am enlightened!

. . . okay, nowhere near. But I get a little closer every day!

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I found some fun and interesting things on the internet recently. Let me share them with you!

A friend who is obsessed with a cartoon show called Phineas and Ferb linked me to this episode which makes reference to Carmell Dansen. At which point I told her that about two years ago Japan discovered this song in its original Swedish. And before long ALL OF JAPAN WAS INFECTED. It caught on so hugely that every anime currently on the air (and many who just have extremely obsessive fans) was making their own version of it (Jack Sparrow's at 2.16, fyi).

The same friend taught me a new French phrase!

déjà moo - the distinct feeling that you've heard this bull before

My stock of French phrases is growing once again! I can now add this gem of wisdom to my recently-acquired "tes moeurs crapuleuses" ("your sordid morals") and "tu cherches à corrompre mon paresseux" ("you are trying to corrupt my sloth"). Thankee, Patrick O'Brian!

This picture is my current desktop walllpaper. About which I said . . . )

To which my adorable sister replied... )

She's so cute! <3

This comic is quite adorable.

Reading through Pandora Hearts led to this string of (mostly) non-spoiler comments on Facebook:

Comments Ahoy! )
tsubame: (reading)
Sunday, January 16th, 2011 04:31 pm
Continuing on yesterday's theme . . .


This is one of the meals that I ate at the Copain Copine, my very favorite Korean restaurant in Tokyo. It's near Tokyo Station on the outskirts of Ginza, tucked under the railway tracks with a bunch of other really cool little restaurants and cafes. Except I never went to any of the others because I would always go back there after the first time. Made it a point to eat there every time I was in Tokyo. The wait staff were very friendly and kind, the host was really pritty, and the decour was homey and yet lovely. Oh, and the food was awesome, too.

And, while I'm at it . . .

The First Dream, by Billy Collins )
tsubame: (reading)
Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 12:03 am
Bach in the D.C. Subway, by David Lee Garrison )

There is a reason why Mozart and Bach and Beethoven are known to this day, and their music played all throughout the world. I bless the technological miracle that lets me have all of them, and all they wrote, great artists and their great art played by great artists, and all for a few minutes' fiddling with search terms.

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An interesting article on one woman's realization of racism in Canada. Because I sadly have had people from various countries-- Canada, Australia, even the US of A (this is just my personal experience, mind)-- try to tell me that racism is a thing of the past in these modern utopias.

. . . yeah, they were white folks. ::le sigh::

I also have a certain familiarity with the feeling of "representing an entire culture," that her boyfriend mentions. Of course it wasn't the same-- even in Japan I was a "favored minority," and furthermore representing my culture was a part of my job-- but it was an incredible amount of pressure, and it did effect my behavior, the way I dressed, the way I expressed myself, and even my thoughts. For the first few weeks, even months, just leaving my apartment was a strain, because I could feel people staring at me wherever I went.

But although Japan became my home, it was not the country of my birth, a place to which I would feel entitled to belong. Although I have experienced my fair amount of abuse over my lifetime for being different, no one ever questioned my right to be in the USA based on how I looked. Which is to say: I can imagine what the feeling is like, but I have never truly experienced it, nor am I likely to.
tsubame: (yue)
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 03:44 pm
I walked out of the train station one evening, and looked up to see the moon, pearlescent yellow and huge, partially obscured by the roof of a nearby house. I stood a while and watched, my mind full and still like water in a chalice. I walked back and forth a little, getting different views, trying to find again the one that had surprised me so when I first came out. But now the view was different, the moon lower, behind the house. The moon is setting, I thought to myself.

Come, said the moon.

I fetched my bike, switched on the lamp, and I followed the moon. Into a maze of shadowed streets and dark houses, sudden islands of light, curves and corners-- but I was not afraid. As long as I go downhill I'll be fine, I thought to myself. I know the streets around here, there's no way I can get lost.

I climbed, upwards and upwards, straining at the pedals. The moon had disappeared behind the mountain, and I tried to head towards where I had last seen it. I just have to get to the other side of this hill, I thought to myself, and took turns with no hesitation, steep roads past shadowy, blocky apartment buildings. Upwards-- a wide road. Upwards-- suburban houses. Upwards-- an elevated sidewalk crossing. Then a glimpse of some shining thing, through the trees-- but further, further--

I found an abrupt corner and left my bike to follow the footpath. And there-- there she was, the moon, serene and alone in the dark sky, far beyond my reach. But I could go no further. Before me was the great bowl of the valley, with Kyoto in the far distance, and a sea of lights between us. The bright lights below, the fainter ones above. And the moon laughing, bright and yellow, slipping behind the unseen mountains. A horn of light spilling over-- and then a yellowed fang, glinting in the night-- and then gone, all at once gone, like a shell slipped under the waves of the night.

The crickets sang as I glided home.
tsubame: (yue)
Saturday, July 31st, 2010 09:23 am
One final adventure. And then, time to dream anew.

A Final Dream, Within Temptation

Lay your head down
And sleep on my shoulder
Lay your head down
And start a new dream

And for tonight the moment is over
Drift in a lullaby
Here where the stars reside
And angels are always seen

And lay your head down
The stars they have whispered
Hear what they say
And know that it means

The moon is your guide
The stars they have kissed her
As she goes gently by
Light as a baby’s sigh
Safe on a fairytale stream

And start a new dream
Wednesday, July 7th, 2010 01:18 am
This is an interesting article about being a grown-up . . . and ties in with some points of my Theory of Being a Responsible Adult, one major point of which is taking responsibility for your own well-being. I liken it to what I learned in the first aid course I took, which specifically addressed how to approach a crisis situation. When faced with a situation where a person is lying before you, injured, the first thing we were taught was to look around, checking for hazards or potential threats before we went to help the person. The reason for this was that if you rushed in without looking around, you could be hurt yourself, and then you would be adding to the problem rather than solving it. Basically, if you really want to help others, make sure that you yourself are taken care of so that you won't become someone else's burden.

And so I look out for my own mental, emotional, and physical well-being. For instance, I try to eat right and get exercise, to go out when I feel restless and stay in when I'm reaching the end of my endurance. When I start feeling sick, I stop drinking coffee and start drowning myself in orange juice. When I'm sad, I pursue those activities most likely to return to me my mental equilibrium. When I need company, I arrange a dinner or time with my friends. I do many things for the simple reason that I enjoy them.

So in keeping with my theory, as I would be unhappy if I didn't have a birthday party each year, I make it a point to arrange one. And while I take other people into account somewhat (I try not to choose anywhere too expensive, and people can come or go from the festivities according to the demands of their schedules or wallets), I always do things that I enjoy.

This year was no different, but of course. I was so excited beforehand that I was practically bursting at the seams over it. I was actually dreaming of it before the fact. And it was just as awesome as I hoped!

A very merry Be-Day to MEEEEEEEEE! )

And that was my wonderful, fabulous, exciting, fun birthday. <3
Saturday, December 16th, 2006 11:36 am
Reasons to be happy:

In one week, I get to see my family. One week!

Sensei is back from his trip. I adore Sensei, and Sensei's family. He found some Flemish paintings in Belgium that he really liked, and I was able to tell him a lot about them due to my own interest in religion and having taken my mother's art history course. Not to mention, well, living with my mother. Then spent a half-hour after lesson talking to Sensei, Satoshi, and . . . um, their guest, I forget her name. It was wonderful.

It stopped raining! The sun came out! My laundry might finally dry!

Kuttaro and karaoke tonight!

I'm a millionaire! Well, we'll ignore the fact that it's in yen, that I won't be a millionaire anymore once rent and bills are drawn out, and that I'm about to buy a new computer. But still. There aren't many people who can claim at 23 to have about $10,000 in the bank. $10,000 that they earned themselves, by their own hard work. I think I have a right to be proud of myself. This is the first time in my life that I've ever felt rich, even though comparatively it's not that much money. I should start thinking of investing.

Collaborating on the Saiunkoku AU project with [livejournal.com profile] majochan is a cause for great happiness. I love co-writing. When you have an eager recipient of your ideas, and you get more ideas from your co-writer, and the everything builds with breathless speed-- the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. I can't even begin to say how much I've missed having someone to write with.

Even I have fallen to the fanservice. Saiunkoku episode 29! )

I'm buying a new computer! No more random shutdowns, no more freezes, no more not being able to do just about ANYTHING other than browse on the internet! I will be able to download once again! I will be able to burn CDs and DVDs! I will rock the entire world!

Making cookies with Ashley tomorrow! And then, yet another lesson with Sensei!

My students are wonderful. And nothing but fun Christmas lessons until the time I leave! I get to wear my Santa hat and listen to my favorite Christmas music and a few students might even make me lovely Christmas cards. I get paid to do this? Why yes, yes I do!

Tchaicovsky's Nutcracker ballet.

Baked goods. And speaking of, tons of rye bread to be eaten upon my return! And brie, don't forget the brie! And a grilled cheese sandwich, my mother promised me a grilled cheese sandwich . . .

Now, must get a move on if I'm to go Christmas shopping in Kyoto this afternoon.
Wednesday, December 13th, 2006 08:44 pm
Wednesday is my "free night," such as it were, and now that my stomach's complaints have been satisfied, at least for the time being, I'm free to sit at my kotatsu and do not much of anything. The apartment is cold despite the electric heater's constant blowing, and every ten minutes or so I'm forced to put my hands under the kotatsu blanket to warm them.

I have two episodes of Saiunkoku to watch, the sub of 23 and the raw of 29, both of which are finally available on YouTube. Indeed, they're already qued up on my computer, waiting for me, but despite my eagerness to see them I'm holding back. Right now the Nutcracker by Tchaicovsky is in the CD player, and I'm most of the way through the first act. In fact, as I'm typing, the snowflakes are beginning their dance. I can see them twirl, remember exactly the white balls of fluff they carried on delicate wands.

The Nutcracker has for a long time been a Christmas tradition for my family. Three out of every four years, we'd all pack ourselves into the station wagon for the trip to Manhattan, then park and walk together to the Met. Sometimes it was cold and bitter, and the sidewalks covered in ice. But the time that I remember most clearly it was warm and sunny, enough so that I wore short sleeves and removed my motorcycle jacket during the wait in the courtyard. A picture of the moment exists still: me sitting on the black marble ledge before the dancing plumes of white, my younger sister contentedly wrapped in my arms, the sky a perfect pale blue.

Listening to the music, I know exactly what happens, who is dancing and when. The story plays out in perfect time to the music. Now the Prince is re-enacting his battle with the mice before his court, and Marie and her shoe are coming to his rescue. Soon his various courtiers will dance for him and Marie . . . my favorites will come, the energetic Candy Canes, Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles, the leaping Cavalier, elegant Coffee, mischeivious Tea, the warm, dark-clad Trepak . . . Other things, as well, I can see; the chandeliers in the ceiling, the sweeping marble staircases, the huge pane windows. My father used to take us up to the top teir that ran by those windows, using the long, hanging ball-chain blinds to demonstrate the movement of a wave. I remember standing by him, watching the ripple travel all the way to the end of the rope, then turn in a split second and head back up to me.

Bizarrely, all my memories associated with the ballet are good ones. Even the year when our car actually caught on fire as we entered the toll gate for the G.W. Bridge is a good memory, because somehow no one really cared that the car had caught on fire, and that we had to have it towed. No, we all happily piled into my sister's boyfriend's car and continued right across the bridge despite it all, and had a wonderful time. Despite the fact that we had all just experienced it together, the rest of the trip was spent recounting the adventure to each other and laughing about it.

When we had all gotten to the point where we could easily identify when one of the dancers made a mistake, we unanimously and silently decided to give our attendance a break for a couple of years. Still I listen to the music every year at Christmas, and no matter how cold it may be I always feel warm.
Friday, December 1st, 2006 03:11 pm
Great good gods, I can't believe I not only managed to pull off that class, but actually made it into a decent lesson. That was nothing short of a miracle.

Now I have a week of just about nothing to do at school, beyond planning future lessons. Feel free to give me some ideas. 3v1l is preferred!
Saturday, November 18th, 2006 11:52 pm
I am alive, in case anyone was wondering.

For some reason this fall the weather has been bad . . . on weekends. During the week, when I'm at work, it's sunny and lovely and, while not warm, certainly it is not raw and miserable. During the week, it has been an utterly ideal autumn.

On weekends, however, it's been grey, rainy, and cold. According to Accuweather they're expecting this trend to continue next weekend, as well. Perfect weather for sitting around one's apartment reading and browsing on the internet; not so good for seeing the justifiably-famous momiji of Kyoto at their spectactular autumn best.

I grabbed my umbrella, stuck A Clash of Kings in my bag, and went to Tofukuji anyway.

I'm glad that I did, because this week it looks like the leaves are at their peak. They're late this year, but then it's been a fairly warm autumn. And Tofukuji is one of the most famous places to view the leaves, with a high stage overlooking a valley full of brilliant momiji. The hordes of Japanese tourists were somewhat less than they would have been due to the threatening weather and the lateness of the hour at which I dragged myself reluctantly out the door, and so I was able to enjoy myself. The rain managed to mostly hold off until I was leaving, too.

After that I spent some time in Kyoto, shopping for Christmas presents. I was not able to resist picking up a copy of Beans Ace, though. The reason for picking up this particular magazine, of course, is also one of the reasons that I've disappeared from livejournal for a month and a half. That would be Saiunkoku Monogatari, which I will obsess about behind this cut. )

I grabbed some taiyaki before I went further into the city-proper . . . taiyaki with custard cream! The more I eat them, the more I like them. They're not as sweet as the red bean ones, and though I do like the red bean ones it is a well known fact that I'm not a big fan of sweet things. This seems to be a good weekend for deserts, though. The chocolate mushrooms that I bought yesterday turned out excellent. Apparently they're some sort of winter special. I love the fact that they have crushed macademias mixed in with their chocolate caps, it's delicious. And just the other night, for the first time in a long time, I sat down with a carton of ice cream and had as much as I wanted-- the equivalent of a full bowl! I haven't done that in . . . ages and ages.

These small mundanities are the foundation of my life.
Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 03:09 pm
I had one of those bad in-Japan experiences just a little while ago. Well, not that bad, and a social issue that I'm already aware of, but still. It was enough that I needed to go up to the library to settle my mind.

I was sitting with a teacher, discussing the next day's lesson, which was on traveling abroad by air. The goal of the lesson is idealistically three-fold: teach some English, encourage students to give foreign travel a try, and show them that English is in fact a useful language to know. There are several activities involved in the lesson, and while it's not one of the most fun or communicative ones it's the best I could come up with given the limitations that face me (and routinely counter my attempts at ingenuity).

About which the less said the better; it's too long to go into and doubtless uninteresting to other people.

At one point in the lesson we have the students fill in an Embarkation/Disembarkation card, to show them what kind of paperwork they'd deal with on the plane. I found the real thing on the internet through the auspices of Google, so they're not going to be looking at one of my simplified fakes.

My teacher looked through the various fields in the form. I commented that the students wouldn't be able to fill out things like the flight number, since obviously they aren't actually flying anywhere, it's just a class exercise. My teacher replied that they could just make something up for the fields they couldn't fill in. His eyes caught on the "Nationality" field. "Like this one," he said. "I heard that one of the students is not Japanese. I will tell the students that they don't have to write the truth . . . no, I will tell them to put any country they want there, not just Japan."

I lost my mental feet at that moment. Anger came not long after, though my rational mind suppressed it. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt if at all possible. My teacher was not saying that he himself had a problem with a student not being Japanese, after all. He was simply implying that the non-Japanese student might want to keep that a secret-- and thus also implying that they could have problems if the rest of the school found out said student was not Japanese.

What infuriates me is that it should be necessary to keep something like that a secret. Racism is of course a common malady world-wide, and though I like to think myself free of it I am still a product of the society in which I grew up. The U.S. of A. of course has racism, and thus it's entirely possible that some lingering remnant of that heritage clouds my perception. Who knows what lurks in their subconscious, waiting for the opportunity to slip out?

But to my rational mind racism is the antithesis of the thinking person, and contrary to my upbringing. I try to be aware of my own thought processes and perceptions in that regard and weed them out as best I might. Certainly I can't imagine being cruel to someone due to their country of origin.

I remember, back in the second grade, that my class got a student who was from Holland. I remember that my teacher stressed to all of us that she wouldn't know anyone and so we should make her feel as welcome as we could. I remember that she and I became friends, and that I often went to her house during the time she lived in the States. Her name was Kirsten Gench, and I still have a photo of her: she and I and one other girl (that other my worst enemy of the time, bizarrely enough, but through no fault of mine. She just seemed to enjoy tormenting me. She was also, coincidentally, half Japanese) with our arms around each other's shoulders, beaming foolishly into the camera. I can't remember anyone giving her a bad time because she was from a different country; somehow I with my 300-year-old Yankee ancestry was the better target.

I once read an interview with one of the story writers for CLAMP regarding Card Captor Sakura. They were talking about the various social issues present in the manga, and the first one mentioned was not the male-male relationships, or the female-female relationships, or the teacher-student relationships, or the violence in a kid's manga, or any of the issues that so fascinate the American censors. No, the huge thing about Card Captor Sakura was that one of the characters was from Hong Kong. And not only was he from Hong Kong, but he was also the love-interest of the Japanese heroine. And the creator said that she had put that in there deliberately, because she was hoping that by showing kids that such a relationship was not merely possible but perfectly fine, she would encourage them to be more accepting of people from other countries when they grew up.

I don't have any particularly grand conclusions to draw from this. Racism is a consistent problem around the world; Japan is no different. It's not something you can close your eyes to; in fact, it's one of the specific reasons why my program exists (say what you will regarding that; I assure you it's been said before. This is a pet topic on one of the program discussion mailing lists I'm on). It just really bothers me. To me, people are people, no matter where they come from and what they look like. I decide on who I like and who I don't like on an individual basis, not by general groupings if I can avoid it. It even makes me unhappy that you have to belong to a country, and thus carry with you all the attendant problems and issues of your country wherever you go.
Wednesday, August 16th, 2006 01:05 am
Siblings are over, so while events are many updates are few and far between. When did my brother get so freaking handsome? When did my sister get so freaking beautiful? They astound me. The things you miss when you move out . . . of course they were handsome/beautiful when I was home for Christmas, but now it's x10. Crazy.

I have an alarming tendancy to make inadvertant and horrible puns. I never actually realize until after I've said them, and I feel deep remorse akin to agony upon realization, but they are just horrible enough to deserve recounting.

One of my worst, to my recollection, occurred earlier this spring. Japan can get quite hazy around then, and I remarked on it to one of my teachers.

"Oh, yes," he said. "That's because the wind picks up sand from the Gobi Desert in China during this time, and carries it through the air and drops it on Japan."

I recounted what he said to a friend of mine who was also curious about the reason, but she seemed somewhat dubious about his story. "I mean, sand from the Gobi Desert? Do you really think that's true?" she asked me.

"Dunno," I said. "It seems a little far-fetched to me . . ."


All of this comes up, of course, because I made another one tonight. My mother recently came back from Venice. While she was there, she visited Verona and saw this medeival statue of Cangrande della Scala. He's an interesting man with an interesting history. She told me a possibly apocryphal tale of how he got his name: christened Francesco, he was so impressed by Marco Polo's tales of Ghengis Khan that he decided to take the Khan's name as his own. However, he misinterpretted it as meaning "cane," "dog" in Italian. And so he was called the Big Dog of the della Scala family, and took the dog as his personal symbol.

Wikipedia disagrees on the origin of the name, but I like the story.

His family name, della Scala, translates to "of the stairs" or "of the ladder," because his family originally made their fortune by building ladders. She then told me that they rose from that position, acquiring wealth and power, until through military might Cangrande came to rule all of Verona.

"Wow," I said. "They went from making ladders to ruling Verona? That's a bit of a step up . . ."


I promised my mother I would commit seppuku immediately, but as I didn't have a sword handy, my vow was broken not long after it was made.
Sunday, August 6th, 2006 06:47 pm
Back, safe, home again.
Saturday, June 17th, 2006 12:47 pm
First, a link: this blog has an interesting comic published which sparked off a rather intense discussion of human rights, culture, racism, etc, especially as these topics relate to Japan. Said discussion is very extensive, but it makes for interesting reading. Most of it is also intelligent, which I appreciate. And, as it should be with good debate, you find yourself constantly changing your mind as the discussion continues and those on opposite sides (or even different sides of the same side) answer each other and bring up new points.

Be informed, and make up your mind for yourself. That's my general rule.

* * * * *

I woke up at 5:30 this morning to a loud sound similar to the crunching of an aluminum can, the bizarrely musical tinkle of shattering glass, and a loud electronic wailing that put me in mind of an ignored alarm clock on steroids. The first two sounds lasted a mere second; the third lasted for ten minutes. By the time the policemen who arrived at the scene of the car crash finally managed to shut it off, I was well and truly awake.

As was most of the neighborhood, of course.

After several attempts to go back to sleep, I finally gave it up as a bad job. At 6 AM the weather was still cool, the sky a perfect blue around the perfect white clouds . . . so I decided to go for a run out into the rice fields.

And I decided to take my camera with me. Early Morning Odyssey )
Thursday, June 15th, 2006 10:06 pm
"My heart, listen as only
saints have listened: until some colossal
sound lifted them right off the ground; yet,
they listened so intently that, impossible
creatures, they kept on kneeling."

I am in strange humor tonight, frantic with undirected creativity and an energy that perhaps comes from coffee, perhaps from pain, perhaps from a lovely concert, or perhaps a heady mixture of all three.

* * * * *

My hair despises humidity more than anything, and progressively moves towards anarchy. By the end of the day I have a halo of angry curls and ringlets that climb like aggressive vines in every conceivable direction that is contrary to my wishes. There is no way to cut back the progressive creep short of dunking my head in a vat of hair product; obviously out of the question.

I commented on the rain to one of my teachers as we walked through the hallway together (constant pouring since last night), and she nodded knowingly. "That's right, you've never experienced the Japanese rainy season before."

The Japanese, it seems to me, are bizarrely proud of their various climate extremes. Of course they know it's not so, but to hear people talk you'd think that no other country in the world is so hot and humid, or so cold and dry, or so wet in the rainy season, or so cursed by earthquakes, or so plagued by typhoons, or so very beautiful in the fall or spring. They tell people very proudly and seriously that Japan is blessed with four distinct seasons, as if it were the only place in the world to be so honored. The weather here doesn't seem particularly different from the weather in my hometown to me-- perhaps our rainstorms are of shorter duration, the summers slightly less humid-- certainly there is more snow where I come from than Kyoto has ever experienced-- but as more time passes I find myself chiming in to these meteorological flights of fancy. As if they were merely another custom of acceptable social behavior to adopt.

* * * * *

Things to love about Japan:

One of my teachers has a young daughter. I was talking with him one day, and noticed and commented on his attire. "That's a very cute tie."

"Ah, yes," he said. "Do you know? This is Miffy-chan."

Miffy-chan is a small cartoon rabbit of fairly simplistic design and bright primary colors. Miffy-chan wears a red dress and generally adorns merchandise intended for kids in elementary school or younger.

My teacher's tie was adorned with a regular pattern of small, tasteful Miffy-chans.

"I've seen Miffy-chan before," I said. "It's adorable. Did your daughter pick it out for you?"

"No," said my teacher.

This conversation comes to mind because the very serious, very professional-looking businessman sitting next to me on the train this evening had a tie that bore a regular pattern of small, tasteful teddy bears.

A teenager sitting on the train near me wore a baseball cap off the side of his head, low and very loose jeans, chains and dogtags, and a baggy shirt showing pictures of various WWE characters. His hair beneath the hat was bleached blond where it was not buzzed short. He sprawled across two seats-worth of train bench in the wide-legged straddle of the arrogant, aggressively straight self-assured male, and he had a slim, elegant Lois Vuitton wallet sticking out of the front of the waistband of his pants.

* * * * *

Why I don't like French harp music. )
Saturday, June 3rd, 2006 04:50 pm
From the Wikipedia entry on Toyotomi Hideyoshi:

Japanese grammar schools even today impart to children an intriguing story intended to offer an insight into the different characters of these three great historical contemporaries: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. First a brief background:

Nobunaga wanted to unify the many mini-kingdoms of Japan and become sole ruler. An aggressive and brilliant military tactician and commander, he was a very impetuous man and not surprisingly, rather callous and coarse even toward trusted subordinates. He came very close to attaining his goal of a unified nation, but in the end his recklessness and closely associated lack of any real understanding of the men serving him eventually led to his assassination. Hideyoshi, on the other hand, as well as being a fine military commander, had long held a reputation for being a brilliant manipulator as well - an excellent reader of people: the very skill in which his boss, Nobunaga, was most sorely lacking. Hideyoshi's subtle methods in the long run thus proved far more successful than Nobunaga's brash methods and he succeeded where Nobunaga had failed, unifying the many separate domains into one country and becoming the first military ruler of a unified land. Tokugawa meanwhile, had long coveted the same position, but did not have the power base or support equal to Nobunaga or Hideyoshi, and thus could not compete with either; he had to settle for demonstrating his skill in the art of being patient - but in his case, the "all good things come to him who waits" folk saying could not have been more true: in the end, Tokugawa came to power after Hideyoshi, and his clan proceeded to rule the country for the next 200 years. Under the Tokugawas, the Samurai caste was eventually put out of work since regulations were issued which greatly curbed the use and even carrying of swords (this as a means of reducing potential rebellion - which was not always successful).

The story told in Japanese grammar schools today regards these three famous men, and their individual approach to a problem, as being faced with a songbird (known as a "Hototogisu") which will not sing. When asked what he would do in this situation:

* Nobunaga replies: "Kill it."

* Hideyoshi replies: "Make it want to sing", while

* Tokugawa replies: "Wait."