Monday, December 26, 2005

Do They Know T'Was Christmas Time at All?

Monday December 26th 2005
Though its Boxing Day,only one day after Christmas Day,all the decorations have vanished.Done.Sales figures and targets met or exceeded.Or not.Onward to the New Year.More sales.More bargains.
The Christian message behind Christmas is lost, no buried, in the commerical splurge of the festive frenzy.Its a very important season.One source calculated its worth about ¥700 billion to the Japanese economy.

Christmas wasnt widely celebrated in Japan until about 100 years ago.At first trees and decorations appeared in trendy parts of Tokyo such as Ginza.By the 1920's the holiday had become an annual festival even in rural areas.
Christmas acts as a prelude to the more important New Year festivals.In fact Christmas Eve seems to be more important than Christmas Day itself.Especially with couples.
Some original Japanese traditions include expensive Christmas Eve dates and presents along with the eating of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Christmas cake.A local firm Fujiya started the cake eating trend way back in 1911.

My Christmas Day.
Pretty uneventful.Christmas Day here isnt a public holiday neither is the 26th.I worked.After work I went to a nearby sushi restaurant.Just another day for most of the students.The regular Sunday students appeared as usual.

We finish up for the year tomorrow,Tuesday 27th.Back on Jan5th.Eight days.To read.To relax.Catch up on some overdue paper mache projects.Maybe catch a movie.Unfortunately many public facilities such as gardens,galleries and museums are closed over the break.So no real plans.
Plus its still darn cold.Last Thursday we had another dumping of snow.About 12cm.Was fun crunching through it on the way home on foot.Abandoned my bike as too dangerous and slippery to ride.
People huddling and shuffling together like so many penguins on the train platforms as the snow threatened to bury them....

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Big Chill

Monday 19 December 2005
Osu Kannon Temple,Nagoya Central Japan
My local Buddhist temple.I live about a block away.5 minutes on foot.(9 on crutches,the subways also near here).A popular hatsumode or New Years destination theres been a temple here since 1612.The present buildings however date from the 1970's.The grounds are also used twice a month to host a large market of various goods and second hand stuff.Well worth browsing.

Brrr... Part Deux

Monday 19 December 2005
Weatherwise it feels like Christmas.Started to snow politely late Saturday night.I awoke to crunchy footpaths.Too treacherous to ride a bike.Tyre chains flailing against asphalt.Around 20-30cm fell depending where you live or who you believe.The most in 58 years.Usually doesnt arrive till late December or early January.So much for global warming.

I reluctantly trudged in white out condtions last night to our staff party.What a choice either watch a dour World Club Championship game which Liverpool lost 1-0 or attend our staff party.Maybe I thought I`d die of exposure on the way.
It was a 100 minute special deal affair.¥4,500 yen.Somewhat steep.But the food was well presented if a little sparse.
I arrived about three quarters of an hour after it started.Now the problem with most staff parties and this one in particular was that everyone ends up talking shop.Not surprising really given that work is the only thing the diverse characters have in common.But God its so boring.I tuned out and occupied myself by playing alternatively with my cell phone and camera.While our boy wonder boss pontificated and interrogated the newer staff members.Who naively stroked his ego.Im surprised he didnt have his notebook handy as he gathered material to be held against one in the future.Probably had a hidden mic and tape recorder..paranoid? maybe but he's sowing seeds of dissatisfaction...reap what you sow..
I consoled myself by leaving early.Only attended through a misguided sense of duty.I'd told the staff I'd attend and it didnt seem fair for them to be lumbered with having to pay for my non -appearance.

"The Forgotten".The title says it all.Its down there with "Catwoman" as the worst dvd i`ve had the displeasure to see recently.A good cast including Julianne Moore and Gary Sinise.Wasted with a light weight b grade X-File script and poor cheap special effects.It sounded like a vaccum cleaner was used in the abduction scenes.Predictable telegraphed ending.Though it did start intriguing enough,just like the trailer.

Can You Be Perfect?
Watched "Friday Night Lights" starring Billy Bob Thorton as a high school football coach in Odessa Texas.The movie is based on a book of the same name detailing the teams 1988 season.It isnt just any team either.It has a history as a 4 time state champ.The game is almost treated like a religion such is the fervent, fanatical support.
The way the movie was edited reminded me of Oliver Stones "Any Given Sunday".Lots of flashy cuts and action shots.Its difficult at times to work out who is who as the the players all look the same in uniform and helmets.At least in soccer you know which player Harry Kewell is.He's the Liverpool player with the ridiculous ponytail thingy hanging off the back of his head.If he paid as much attention to his goalscoring skills as his hairstyle he might make a half decent player yet.
Anyway I digress, the dvd has some extra bonus stuff.The best of these featured the original players some 17 years after the season portrayed in the book and film.
The directors commentary didnt reveal much.The director, Peter Berg, is related to the writer of the book and they shared the commentary.They indulged in what one of my teachers before one school dance warned us about "mutual masturbation".
Lots of self congratulatory pats on the back were exchanged.Between the bonding I learned that the writer is no longer welcome by some sections of the Odessa population for exposing the abuse,racism and intimidation that seems to be part and parcel of the game and community.I also learned the director deliberately used faded tones to show the desolation of the place.mmm subtle.
I did enjoy the movie however.Billy Bob Thorton is always worth catching.One of the few who can convey as much by a look as a page of script.Enjoyed him in "The Alamo" earlier in the year.Watching him almost emotionally implode as he turns away from the team having told them their star players injury is minor and he'll be playing next game.Yet the look tells you, the viewer, he doesnt believe a word of it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Make Merry Christmas

Make Merry Christmas
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I think it should read "Have a Merry Christmas"
Shop sign at a store in Konan Apita Shopping Centre somewhere near Nagoya City Central Japan.


Monday 12 December 2005
Very cold today.A brisk ten minute walk to the daily grind.4 degrees celsius.Light snow falling.
Not a very exciting week gone.Cleaned out my closet of old unwanted clothes.Washed and neatly ironed.I left them in a bag near the garbage area of my building.Hopefully one of the local homeless who rummage through the trash looking for food scraps will find a use for the clothes.I wouldnt be surprised to see them reappear.

Whats the Beef?
As reported earlier after some two weeks of feverish activity a new McDonalds has opened in the vacant space left by KFC.Its located on the ground floor of my apartment building.Open from 7a.m to 9p.m.Most of the customers are from the next door ice skate rink.
You can smell the greasy, carbohydrate clogging stench from the shop as you descend the apartment buildings stairs.It seems to envelope you from the fourth floor down.Its worse at ground level.The atmosphere seems heavy.Thick.Dense.Like a fatty fog.Invasive.Permeating your skin and leaving an oily residue.Much like cigarette smoke in a crowded bar.Theres also the additional litter in the form of advertising flyers and burst balloons strewn about the footpath.
The big story this week, other than the 2006 World Cup draw, was a terrible error by a local securities firm.Basically a Mizuho Securities employee incorrectly inputed information about a clients sell order.He entered the sell order as" sell 610,000 shares at one yen (¥1) each" instead of vice versa.The sell order should have been "sell 1 share at ¥610,000".The latent loss to the company after investors and traders got wind of it amounts to some ¥30 billion.Ouch!!
What surprised me about this, well two things did, was firstly the speed of the whole event. A mere sixteen minutes from the time the sell order was executed through to the time the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Mizuho reacted.In that time via the internet share traders and others were alerted and took advantage of the oppurtunity to snap up most of the 610,000 shares.
The second surprising thing is that it appears the employee seemed to have ignored both Mizuho and the Stock Exchange computer warning systems while incorrectly making the sell order.Another investigation and much public bowing and many apologies can be expected.

The Miracle of Berne.
This is the title of a German dvd I watched last weekend.I only noticed it was German when I got home and played it.No English translation,soundtrack,or subtitles.I sometimes forget in Japan that foreign movies will usually be dubbed in Japanese or have Japanese subtitles rather than English.
Anyway I persevered.Glad I did.The movie is about the 1954 World Cup Finals in Switzeland and the final game between Germany and Hungary.Although its some nine years since the end of World War 2 the defeat still hangs over the country.German troops were still being repatriated from Russia.The movie is about the German team and its effect on a family and the wider German community.
I knew nothing about the 1954 Cup finals before viewing this movie and subsequent internet searches.In a nutshell the German team beat a Hungarian team heavily favored to win after being unbeaten for four and a half years.The victory was seen as a morale booster and energized the German people.
Its no coincidence then that the movie was released to celebrate the fifteeth anniversary of the game as well as cashing in on next years World Cup being hosted in Germany.Incidentally it appears to have been a pretty dramatic game.The German team came back from a 2-0 deficit to lead 3-2 with five minutes of normal time remaining.Only 3 members of the original 1954 team remain.They appear on the dvd in one of its extra features.Also included is footage of the actual game.The goals in the dvd are pretty faithful to those actually scored.One internet article reports the last German goal required five takes.
Also of note is the part played by one Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas.His newly invented screw in studded boots gave the German team a decisive edge in the muddy,rainy conditions of the final.The Adidas website notes that after the game he marketed the boots as "World Champions".

World Cup 2006 Draw
The draw was televised live here 5a.m local time on Saturday.Japan in Group F is drawn with Brazil,Croatia and Australia.
Japan has never beaten Brazil the 5 time Cup holder.Croatia won 7 of its 10 qualifying games and was unbeaten.Australia hasnt been to the finals since 1974 the last time Germany hosted them.Australia does have wonder coach Gus Hiddick who led South Korea in the last finals.It will be interesting to see how Japan fares.I'm not sure it will get past the first round and make the final 16.I await June 12 and Japans first game against Australia......

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tsurumai Park

Tsurumai Park
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Behind the train station where I catch my ride to the daily grind is Tsurumai Park,Replete with its own duck,cat,turtle and homeless population.Living cheek and jowl among the rose beds,cherry trees,lakes and lawns.Theres a band rotunda near the centre of the park.With its own sloping grassy knoll.I recall spending a crisp early summer morn lying on my back counting numerous meterorites on that slope some years ago.I also remember chatting at dusk near the lake in this photo as the resident bats hunted down the last of the days dragonflies in the gathering gloom.

My Clone Sleeps Alone

Monday 5th December 2005
Watched Michael Bays latest screen spectacular "The Island" with Ewan Mcgregor and Scarlett Johansson.One redeeming feature was a short appearance by Steve Buscemi.The movie itself is an untidy amalgam of better movies welded together in a disjointed, overlong storyline.Car chases and explosions are meant to compensate for the lack of plot or character development.
A Saturday night escapist movie.Just leave your brain and credibility on "pause".

Murder They Gloat
Recently in Japan there have been a couple of high profile school child murders.The local media has been feasting on them like vultures.Reporting everything in grisly detail.Flushing out family and friends of the deceased for tearful interviews.Unnecessary.
Often such reports are accompanied with elaborate diagrams and models of the murder scene.One child's diary was displayed on TV.Extracts were read.For what purpose?
Seems the media revels in such tragedy.Voyeuristic.Feverish.Particularly if the suspect is a foreigner.Akin to a witchhunt.Trial by media.
In one of the cases a Japanese Peruvian man was a suspect.He has since confessed and has been charged.The media from the start always referred to him by his Peruvian rather than his Japanese name.The issue of xenophobia raised by this case and the pack mentality of the media was featured in an article in last weeks Japan Times.I'm of the opinion that the murder wouldnt have been so hyped up but for the fact a foreigner was implicated.

The House That JackAss Built
The other story dominating headlines has been a building scandal that keeps on growing.Shortly stated an architect under pressure to meet deadlines and cost cutting targets submitted false building earthquake resistance data.
Local building codes require that buildings can withstand earthquakes up to 5 plus on the Japanese scale of 7.Now its been found that 20 condominum buildings the architect worked on were between 26% and 78% of their required strength.
The number of buildings under suspicion has risen to 201 to date and includes several hotels.
Much finger pointing.Many accusations.Little responsibility being taken.One offical revealed he knew a year ago about the fabricated figures.The scandal has widened to include many building and design companies.Both private and government groups have been implicated.
The ones I feel sorry for are the owners of the condos.Forced to leave their shoddy buildings.Stuck with up to 35 year mortgages.Forced to seek legal redress and incur further costs for something they bought in good faith.....

Finished and thoroughly enjoyed Douglas Couplands "Eleanor Rigby".He can deftly describe a person in a sentence.."He had a complexion that said "I love vodka"..or funny one liners "Once you reach the age of thirty you lose the ability to feel sorry for yourself,instead you turn bitter."
He's good at conversations between characters as well.Whats left unsaid is as important as what is stated.He has an economic style yet it also has depth.He never over -elaborates or describes things.He doesnt hammer you with an issue like say Ben Elton.Not preachy.Not a smug display or a "look at me " of say Nick Hornby.
My final book of the year will be Dostoyevskys "Crime and Punishment".A Penguin classic translation.Told a friend I was starting it.Her reply...."In Russian?".....