Two photo societies took a joint trip to Shinojima (篠島) for their Gion Festival (ぎおん祭り) on the 14th and 15th. While shooting at the beach these seven high school girls made me promise to upload their photos to the internet. They were attempting to do a “jump” photo. Here they are:
A title like this could be a sign for hope, if only the increase in question were something positive. Arriving at school this morning I found a memo addressed to all the Principals in Tsu regarding traffic accidents for Board of Education employees. The year ending March 31st, 2010 had the fewest reported accidents over a four year period at 62 incidents. Last year shot up to 95 incidents making it a record year, but a short-lived record. The purpose of the memo was to highlight the fact that figures through the first ten months of this year show 104 incidents, on pace for more than 120.
Following their typical pattern, the memo explains the trouble which will be caused by this trend and makes an appeal to change the problem. As usual their worry is not what people with common sense would focus on and there is no constructive evaluation of why the problem is occurring nor how to affect the desired improvement, merely a demand that the situation improve. Rather than concern about safety, increased costs to the school system, insurance problems, etc. the concern expressed in the memo is that students and guardians will have trouble trusting the Board of Education.
Since the change is so extreme – doubling in two years – I am very curious about the cause, and think it would be instructive in the process of reducing accidents. Has there been an increase in off-site business activities which increased the number of kilometers traveled? Has something increased the number of solo trips or trips using individuals’ vehicles? Has there been a change in time pressure applied by Principals?
While this problem is not pleasant, it actually does not come as a surprise since I often see dangerous activities and try to address them at the schools. In one case, I was almost struck by a Principal leaving a parking space without looking. I really wanted to discuss this incident; however, the Principal never mentioned it at all and I was afraid to bring it up myself since I felt his action was unacceptable. Generally, my observation is that our Board of Education is amply staffed with people who feel they are exemplary; hence there is little chance for honest discussion about improvement.
Little behind the times perhaps, but here is a little Christmas update for the second half of January.
Japanese children sometimes get a visit from Santa, but it is not universal; which makes talking about Christmas a little tricky sometimes. Talking about Santa visiting the “good kids” is not a part of my discussions since, many good little kids in Japan don’t receive a present and I don’t want to be the source of their trauma. Also of note is that children who receive a present generally get only one. For the most part, children in Japan are curious to talk about the little fur-clad elf so December conversations are a lot of fun.
Also in Japan it is very rare for adults to receive Christmas gifts. When I show my stocking which I’ve used for 40 years, people are shocked – and sometimes upset – to hear that I am expecting gifts yet again this year. Not just one of course, but an overflowing stocking full of them.
Christmas morning, I started wondering about my position on the good kids list since my stocking was far from overflowing. My wife however is clearly in good standing with the jiggly-bellied one as her stocking was packed full and had various packages littered beneath it which clearly would not fit inside.
First impressions can be misleading, as I found while burrowing into my stocking. Three presents and an envelope revealed themselves: a book, two chocolate bars, and a note from Santa. As far as my recollection, this is the first time Nicholas has taken the time to put pen to paper for me. Getting to the bottom of his kindly prose, I found a message telling me he had stowed one more item in the back of our micro-van. Much to my amazement it was one of the three items I had been hoping for (but never expecting)… a unicycle.
My Flamingo has to be the largest stocking stuffer to date. Actually this is a present I have hoped for, going on 26 years, since I worked in Development at IBM San Jose. But, that is another story…
With all the posts over the past several years, I am sometimes shocked by what is not there. Apparently I have only made mention of the Coming of Age ceremony three times; and then it was only in passing. January 9th was Coming of Age Day (成人の日・seijin no hi) this year. Since 1948 there has been a holiday and it was originally set for the 15th of January; however, in 2000 they changed it to the 2nd Monday in January as part of a campaign to make three-day weekends.
Adulthood officially comes at the age of 20 in Japan. Young women usually dress up in vary ‘festive’ kimonos. Recently there has been a trend toward black-based fabric with shocking pink designs. Personally, I find the new style garish. I suppose this is ensconcing my reputation firmly in the crotchety old fogie category. Most young men will also dress up, but the number wearing traditional kimonos is small. The purpose of the ceremony is to recognize passage into mature adulthood, but like so many traditions around the world it is often more about a chance to party. One Japanese friend, of similar age to me, was upset with the irony yesterday when many people chose to celebrate their passage to adulthood by going to Disneyland for photo ops with Mickey.
Similar to America, rights of adulthood are not all inferred at a magical age.
- Drinking age, 20
- Smoking age, 20
- Marriageable age, 20 (or with parental consent, 18 for boys and 16 for girls)
- Voting age, 20 (debating lowering to 18 since 2007)
- Military service, 18
- Driving license, 18
- Scooter (50cc or less) license, 16
Regardless of the overall meaning of this holiday, for most people it is another three day weekend. I spent my day getting my hair cut for the school opening ceremony today and taking care of paperwork and chores around the house.
Until the latest column of the syllabary there were always five sounds (if archaic characters were included), but the last column of three is threatening to throw off our symmetry. Because the last row is a bit of a hodge podge anyhow, I will take the liberty of adding a couple of special characters this week and next.
First is the Vowel Elongation Mark, written as ‘ー’ (essentially a long dash). As is probably obvious at this point, most Japanese syllables are a consonant sound followed by a vowel sound. Each of these is getting one beat of time. Adding length to the vowel is actually changing the spelling and meaning in Japanese, unlike English were we can elongate or shorten sounds just to express feeling. In hiragana, vowel sounds are elongated by adding one of the vowel only characters which can be seen in Sunday Soundchecks One, Two, Three, Four and Five. Of course this is a little complicated by the fact that ‘o’ sounds are often elongated by adding ‘u’ which leads a lot of learners to the wrong pronunciation.
Katakana however has a simple method to elongate vowels simply by adding the elongation mark. Naturally it never appears at the beginning of a word, but here are a couple words using it:
Kontorooru (コントロール) from the English word ‘control’ used in many of the same ways as the English word.
Enerugii (エネルギー) from the English word ‘energy’ used in the sense of personal energy, not electric power or such.
Japan is a country full of tradition. After living here almost eight years and seeking out culture and tradition, I am still constantly amazed by serendipitous appearances of more traditional activity. Tradition being over-abundant has its downside: in our ever-busier lives, the tedium of preparing for, executing and passing on tradition is causing many to disappear or become only shadowy forms of what they were.
Perhaps this is just one more reason that my wife was delivered into my life. Working in a home for children removed from abusive or neglectful situations, she was charged with providing them plentiful access to tradition. I sometimes tease her about not respecting various traditional arts; however, she has a much deeper knowledge than me. For that matter, I would guess it is much deeper than the average citizen; and it often just comes out naturally, as a matter of practice.
January Seventh is one of five important seasonal festival days called Nanakusa (七種、ななくさ). It is a time to celebrate the passing from winter into spring. Tradition is to make a rice porridge with seven types of young greens in it. There is definitely a strong grassy flavor to it, so I would probably not choose it everyday; however, it was an enjoyable way to celebrate the coming fruitfulness.
When she made this for the children at the home, the flavor was not invited by the young ones: definitely a taste for a mature palate. I imagine this is one reason the tradition is not broadly practiced. Also, most housewives are extremely busy the last week of December and the first few days of the new year taking care of other traditions, so they probably aren’t anxious to put effort into another special day.
Supermarkets sell small kits with the seven essentials in them, so it still carries at least enough popularity to support that business. Finding the greens – especially in the small portions needed – would be a chore without these packages, so they are definitely a nice aide.
Just like Jon Bon Jovi, I am alive and well. Unlike him, nobody has rumored my death (that I am aware of), regardless of my failure to post much. Recently some ongoing troubles have been destroying my motivation and, for the combination punch, I have been extremely busy. Fortunately this means lots of fun bits to write about; however, it leaves me unable to post.
Winter Solstice occurs tonight and, as usual, I will participate in one of the cutest Japanese traditions I have learned. Eating kabocha (カボチャ・南瓜) – a kind of squash – and soaking in yuzuyu (柚子湯) – a hot bath with fresh citron in it, is said to guarantee one good health during the winter. Perhaps the cutest aspect of this tradition is when a foreigner asks why these items have some special connection to disease prevention, the response is often that they are yellow.
Often in Japanese there is some homophonic meaning behind traditions like this, so one might expect yellow to have another meaning… but it does not. Also, in my Bart Simpson like mind, this always begs the question, “Can I eat something else yellow instead?” This is met with uncomfortable consternation, like so many of my jokes.
Regardless of the ambiguous origin of this tradition, I enjoy getting some tasty and healthy squash in my belly and I really enjoy fresh fruit fragrance while soaking in my 42 degree tub.
As promised, this week is a simple one: today’s sound is n, written in hiragana as ん and katakana as ン. It sounds pretty much like one might expect; however, in the middle of words it is more like an ‘ng’ sound with the ‘g’ being weak.
So why would this week be so simple? The answer is that this sound never appears at the beginning of a word in Japanese. Sunday Soundcheck lists words commonly used, but not commonly found in language texts which start with whatever character we are discussing. Okinawa dialect varies dramatically from common Japanese and there is an amusing souvenir shirt which lists words starting with n.
Interestingly, I found a foreign word Njamena (ンジャメナ) which is N’Djamena, the capitol of Chad, formerly Fort Lamy.
There is a game in Japanese called shiritori (尻取り) in which players – usually children – take turns making words which start with the last character of the previous person’s word. The game has a natural end when a player accidentally says a word ending in n, earning that player a bad point.
Recently a friend introduced me to Geocaching. My initial reaction was lackluster at best, as I described it as orienteering without the orienteering (or orienteering without the thinking). After experiencing a bit of it, I would have to dramatically soften my initial criticism.
Esentially it is a game of hiding geocaches or searching for caches hidden by others. Typical caches are small tupperware containers with a log sheet and other items inside which has been hidden in a relatively public location; although micro-caches, consisting of a log sheet in a tiny ziplock bag, are quite popular as well. After hiding a cache, the creator registers the name and GPS location on the Geocaching website. Information about the location and hints can be included as well.
Traditional orienteering involves checking compass directions and distances in order to arrive at the proper destination. Most people looking for caches are using GPS devices (including smart phones), so there is no calculation involved in getting to the location. Although this gray matter engaging process has been removed, there are other creative thought process needed. Many caches are magnetic, so they can be hidden under a railing or such. One time I discovered a cache inside an aluminum railing with velcro. Sometimes they are in disguised containers looking like a rock or a vent or something. While this may occasionally turn into a Legend of Zelda type of mindless trial and error, there are also opportunities to try getting inside the mind of the owner.
A little light fun is added by including presents or tradable items in the caches. For tradable items, the searcher may place a new item in a container and remove a different item. There are also “trackable” items with log numbers. Generally the owner wants the searcher to move this item to another location and log it on the internet, so they can follow their item around the world. Mostly these activities are just dressing on an idle pursuit.
My friend who introduced me has pointed out that many of the locations are historic sites which he would not have otherwise known to visit. Due to my pedantic nature, I haven’t seen anything near my home which I wasn’t aware of already; however, if I venture out another 10 or 20 kilometers, I should learn about local history a bit more. The average person of moderate curiosity would most likely enjoy this aspect of the game.
We are going to a presentation in Kyoto Saturday. I will probably seek out a couple caches within walking distance of the meeting place.
For the hobbyist, this game could carry great excitement from the aspect of creating caches. My friend has already placed a few caches and his kitchen is filling with PVC pipes, cements, magnets, etc. When I look for his creations, I should be amused.
One group whom I would definitely recommend this game to is parents. My friend’s two year old is already going on about the treasure they are hunting. Keeping kids curious and outdoors and active is a tougher and tougher battle in the age of PSP and DS.